Wednesday, January 31, 2007
On this day:

Police allow protesters to vandalize Capitol

During Saturday's peace protests in Washington, U.S. Capitol Police were apparently ordered to stand idly by while anti-war protesters vandalized the Capitol building.

If this story is accurate, the Capitol Police have got a lot of explaining to do. Why did they allow people to spray-paint the Capitol steps without intervening (preferably with billy-clubs) to stop them? Why was no one arrested and sent to a cool, dark dungeon someplace where the only way to make graffiti would be to scrawl it into concrete walls with one's fingernails? Who gave the order to stand by and watch this happen, and why was that person not demoted to janitor on the spot?

The Capitol is one of the most honored symbols of our Republic. At the very least, the band of miscreants who desecrated it should be forced to compensate its owners - the citizens of the United States - for the mess they made. Due to the irresponsiblity of the Capitol Police, even that minimal remedy seems impossible.

At least one member of Congress is taking this matter seriously:
[AP] Also on Monday, Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., asked for a meeting with U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse to discuss why police on Saturday did not stop a group of demonstrators who spray-painted steps on the west side of the Capitol.

"It is my understanding protesters were allowed to spray-paint the Capitol steps and deface buildings around the area while Capitol Police were instructed to not arrest anyone engaged in these unlawful acts," he wrote in a letter to Morse.

Schneider said police used "measured police crowd control practices" with the protesters. She said the writing was cleaned off quickly.
Ms. Schneider may call this method of crowd control "measured." I call it cowardly. The job of the Capitol Police is to protect the Capitol building and grounds. If they can be so easily intimidated by a few peacenik vandals armed with spray-paint, what message does that send to those with more devious intentions?

Friday, January 26, 2007
On this day:

McCain names Rep. Bachus as Southeast Co-Chairman

From the AP:
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama will serve as Southeast co-chairman of U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential exploratory committee, the Arizona Republican announced Thursday.

Bachus, a Republican from Vestavia Hills, will provide guidance and leadership in Southeastern states as McCain considers whether to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.

"There is no one that better represents common sense conservative values than John McCain," said Bachus, a former state representative, state senator and state school board member who has served in Congress since 1992.

McCain said in a press release that part of Bachus' duties will be to help build grassroots support for McCain in the region.

Romney explores Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has named U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers as co-chair of his presidential exploratory committee in Alabama.

Romney's announcement Tuesday came two weeks after he announced that State Treasurer Kay Ivey would be chair of the panel.

Mike Shula update

He's got a new job.

America demoralized

Mona Charen says that America needs a mood change:
Drawing the lessons from our 20th-century confrontation with totalitarian menaces, Ronald Reagan counseled that weakness is provocative. That insight is eternal. Today, America has the economic and military capacity to lead the world — but our psychological fitness for the part is in serious doubt. There is no end to the malevolent forces who will be eager to fill the role if we decline it — and we will find a world dominated by them far more horrifying than anything we face in Iraq.

Thursday, January 25, 2007
On this day:

Charles Barkley for Governor in 2014?

NOT. This item from the Mobile Press-Register's "Political Skinny" shows why:
Charles Barkley says he is continuing to lay the groundwork for a run for governor of Alabama.

"I'm planning on running in 2014. I live in Phoenix, and it takes seven years to establish residency in Alabama, so I'm working on that now," Barkley told the Sacramento Bee in a recent interview, adding that he was leaning toward running "as an independent, though maybe as a Democrat."

"I'm very disappointed in the Republicans. I don't like (President) Bush at all. He might be a good guy, but he has taken the Republicans too far to the right," said Barkley, who previously suggested that he would seek the Republican Party's nomination in Alabama. "I never have been a Republican. I said I was rich like a Republican. I don't think the Democrats are much better, though I loved Bill Clinton."

Barkley, however, said he wasn't likely to support Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., in her bid for president in 2008.

"I like Barack Obama and John Edwards . I think America is sexist. I don't think she could be elected. I don't think they'll elect a black man, either, but maybe as vice president."
Just one comment; the rest speaks for itself: Anyone who thinks that President Bush has taken the Republican Party "too far to the right" just doesn't have a clue - about President Bush or the Republican Party or conservatism or the history of the past six years.

Politics in Alabama - 2007

On the bright side...this little episode in the Alabama Senate serves to illustrate a few trends in Alabama politics these days...all of which are good news for the GOP.

  1. Democrats in the legislature are as divided as they've ever been.

  2. Republicans are as united as they've ever been.

  3. As the number of Republican legislators has continued to grow, the GOP has become more successful in exploiting Democratic divisions. As a result, the Democratic Party leadership has responded with increasingly desperate measures (like this one, for example) which threaten to tear the party apart even further.

  4. Republican candidates do not need to win a majority of legislative races in order to achieve a working majority in the legislature; they only need to attain a "critical mass" of membership in each house - enough to persuade conservative Democrats that their political interests are best served by either aligning themselves with the Republican Party in organizing or by switching parties outright.
Those are just some thoughts. Republicans have been very successful in national and statewide elections in Alabama. They now hold a majority of executive branch offices, and with the exception of the Chief Justice, they completely dominate the state's appeals courts. It seems to me that there is a real opportunity now to extend that success to local elections, including races for state legislature. All the GOP needs is good candidates, a good message, and a good deal of money.

Politics as usual in the Alabama legislature

From the AP:

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Education Association gave a $10,000 campaign contribution to state Sen. Phil Poole one day before he switched sides in the Senate's organizational struggle and voted to put AEA allies in control of the chamber.

A campaign finance report filed by AEA's political action committee shows the $10,000 donation occurred on Jan. 8. The next day, Poole was on the winning side of an 18-17 vote to elect Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, as the Senate's new president pro tem. ...

Poole was originally one of seven Democrats who planned to side with the Senate's 12 Republicans and help Republican Gov. Bob Riley organize the Senate. Their goal was to elect Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, as president pro tem.

But shortly before the vote, Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, changed sides and then Poole followed. Poole provided the deciding vote that made Mitchem pro tem and kept in power many of the Democrats who had controlled the Senate for the last eight years. ...

The Jan. 9 vote wasn't the first time Poole switched sides in a Senate organization battle. He did the same thing in 1999 and provided the winning vote that helped then-Gov. Don Siegelman's allies organize the Senate. Afer that vote, Siegelman announced a major road project for Poole's district, but both said there was no connection between the project and Poole's vote.

Rep. Rodger Smitherman, the other side-switcher in the contest over this session's Senate leadership, also managed to benefit handily from his treachery. From the Jan. 10 Tuscaloosa News:

Mitchem, 68, of Union Grove, said the deal to elect him includes an agreement on a second vote in late 2008 or early 2009 to support Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, as president pro tem for the remaining two years of the four-year quadrennium.

“I requested that," Smitherman said. “I hope they do that."
Nice to know we have such men of principle serving us in the legislature, huh?

Games like this are all too common in the Alabama legislature, as they are in every place where politicians gather. Usually, though, elected officials try to hide their brazen politicking a little better than these two guys did. It's so transparent what Reps. Smitherman and Poole were doing that you can't even look at it and say, "Damn, I can't believe they were smart enough to get away with that." It's more like, "Damn, I can't believe everyone else was dumb enough to play along."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
On this day:

Nancy Worley

She officially left office last week, but she's still causing problems.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007
On this day:

The new battle cry in Tuscaloosa: "Save our Strip"

If the University of Alabama has its way, the row of bars and restaurants just off campus commonly known as "The Strip" may soon be just a memory.

After 67 years in operation, David Jones Jr. said he feels as if his family's business and the other businesses on the Strip are under invasion - a Martian invasion - by the University.

"It's kind of like a Martian attack," Jones Jr. said. "They're coming in and taking up land where they aren't really wanted."

He and his father, David Jones, own and operate the Alabama Bookstore, which has been in their family for three generations. The University buying property on the Strip and around campus surprised both men, so now they are doing what they can to save the rest of the businesses, including their own.

Jones Jr. said when he first found out about the University purchasing property, he sent an e-mail to all 18,000 people on the Alabama Bookstore's mailing list to let them know what was going on.

The reaction from several alumni and other customers was outrage.

"All of the e-mails I got in response were furious except for one," he said. "Everyone is very upset about it, so now I have to keep 18,000 people informed."

Additionally, Jones Jr. created, a Web site to let the public know what has happened, which businesses are or will be affected and how people can help. ...

...Jones has been vocal in Tuscaloosa, speaking out against what he knows about the University's plans. He said the University's purchases have been motivated by their "anti-bar" sentiments.

The University has said there are 17 bars on the Strip, but David Jones said that he only counts five restaurants with liquor licenses and five bars. UA spokeswoman Cathy Andreen said that to the best of her knowledge, 17 is the accurate number.

"I'm really just trying to get people aware that the University is buying everything," David Jones said.

In particular, David Jones is trying to save his own business, which he leases although he does own the parking lot.

He said Lynda Gilbert, vice president for financial affairs, told him in a meeting that the University wants to buy his store, build a parking deck and then give him a space in the parking deck for the Alabama Bookstore.

UA spokeswoman Cathy Andreen said the University would not comment about the Alabama Bookstore or any private negotiations.

Jones also said UA officials including Gilbert have said that they will use eminent domain if they have to in order to use the property. And if the Alabama Bookstore goes, Jones said that Gallettes Bar and the Campus Party Store will be purchased also.

"I don't think the University should be a landlord to their competitors," he said. "We could all live in harmony, but that's not working."

But Andreen said the University is not planning to use eminent domain at this time.

"The University is negotiating in a good faith effort with the property owners to remove any doubts," she said.

David Jones said he thinks University officials will try to take his property, so he is trying to get public sentiment on his side, because he said he wouldn't be able to fight the University's lawyers.

"They have so many alternatives for where they could build a parking deck," Jones said. "I think that it's not the American way to put your competition out of business."

The University says it is negotiating in "good faith." How so? By holding the threat of eminent domain over the heads of property owners who stand in the way of its latest land grab? If the University seeks to inspire confidence that it will act as a good faith negotiator, its early resort to such intimidating tactics isn't the way to go about it. Far from it. The message I'm hearing is exactly the opposite: that the University stands ready to abuse its power in order to achieve its objectives, however misguided they may be.

Justice Alito to speak at UA School of Law

Justice Samuel Alito will be in Tuscaloosa on February 13:
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. will deliver the eighth Albritton Lecture at The University of Alabama School of Law onTuesday, Feb. 13 at 2 p.m. in McMillan Lecture Hall at the Law School. ...

The Albritton Lecture Series was established in 1996 by U.S. District Judge Harold Albritton III to honor several generations of lawyers from the Albritton family of Andalusia. Alito will be the eighth U.S. Supreme Court Justice to speak at the UA School of Law. In addition to delivering a lecture, visiting justices traditionally teach a class session for first-year law students. ...

Alito’s lecture is open to the public.

Monday, January 22, 2007
On this day:

Hillary is running

Some people may react to this news like a weatherman to a cockroach, but really - this is nothing to get too excited about. If Hillary wins the Dem nomination, Republicans should have a pretty easy time of it in 2008 - assuming, of course, that the GOP nominee doesn't screw up royally. If she loses, the nation will have been spared the prospect of Another Clinton Presidency. Seems to me like a win-win situation.

Friday, January 19, 2007
On this day:

Busybody alert

From the San Jose Mercury News:

SACRAMENTO - The state Legislature is about to weigh in on a question that stirs impassioned debate among moms and dads: Should parents spank their children?

Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, wants to outlaw spanking children up to 3 years old. If she succeeds, California would become the first state in the nation to explicitly ban parents from smacking their kids.

Making a swat on the behind a misdemeanor might seem a bit much for some -- and the chances of the idea becoming law appear slim, at best -- but Lieber begs to differ.

``I think it's pretty hard to argue you need to beat a child 3 years old or younger,'' Lieber said. ``Is it OK to whip a 1-year-old or a 6-month-old or a newborn?''

The bill, which is still being drafted, will be written broadly, she added, prohibiting ``any striking of a child, any corporal punishment, smacking, hitting, punching, any of that.'' Lieber said it would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine up to $1,000, although a legal expert advising her on the proposal said first-time offenders would probably only have to attend parenting classes.
I think that a year in jail would be much more palatable than attending a parenting class taught by the likes of someone like Ms. Lieber - a San Francisco Democrat who clearly didn't get spanked enough as a child.

Monday, January 15, 2007
On this day:

McCain: "Bob Riley has every potential to be a national figure"

Sen. John McCain was in Montgomery today for Gov. Riley's inauguration. The press seemed far too intrigued by the possibility that McCain may be considering Riley as a possible running mate should he win the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination. This early in the game, that kind of speculation is just plain silly.

Sen. McCain's purpose in visiting Alabama wasn't to interview a potential veep nominee, but to enlist support for his 2008 Presidential bid. He's been courting the Governor and other Alabama Republicans for quite some time now, and so far, those efforts have been quite fruitful. Attorney General Troy King has been named chairman of McCain's Straight Talk America PAC in Alabama, and several Republican legislators have signed on to his campaign. An endorsement from Bob Riley would be the icing on the cake.

Alabama is now reaping the benefits (if you can call it that) of having made its primary one of the earliest in the nation. We're not used to this kind of attention, but we'll be getting alot more of it between now and February 2008.

The best thing about this inauguration day

Nancy Worley is no longer Alabama's Secretary of State.

Inauguration Day in Alabama

Gov. Riley and other statewide elected officials took their oaths of office today. The text of Gov. Riley's inaugural address is here.

Sunday, January 14, 2007
On this day:

Cramer, Davis vote to fund embryo-destroying stem cell research

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research - a type of research that involves the destruction of human embryos for the purpose of harvesting their stem cells. All five of Alabama's Republican Representatives voted against the legislation, whereas both Democrats - Reps. Bud Cramer and Artur Davis - voted for it.

A few points:

It goes without saying that embryonic stem cell research raises profound ethical questions: questions which become particularly relevant when such research is done in the name of "the people of the United States." One does not have to be either "pro-life" or a member of the religious right to understand the urgency both of asking these questions and of answering them correctly. Columnist Charles Krauthammer emphasized this point in a piece from National Review Online last week. He said:

I have long supported legal abortion. And I don’t believe that life — meaning the attributes and protections of personhood — begins at conception. Yet many secularly inclined people like me have great trepidation about the inherent dangers of wanton and unrestricted manipulation — to the point of dismemberment — of human embryos.

You don’t need religion to tremble at the thought of unrestricted embryo research. You simply have to have a healthy respect for the human capacity for doing evil in pursuit of the good. Once we have taken the position of many stem-cell advocates that embryos are discardable tissue with no more intrinsic value than a hangnail or an appendix, then all barriers are down. What is to prevent us from producing not just tissues and organs, but human-like organisms for preservation as a source of future body parts on demand? ...

The slope is very slippery. Which is why, even though I disagreed with where the president drew the line — I would have permitted the use of fertility-clinic embryos that are discarded and going to die anyway — I applauded his insistence that some line must be drawn, that human embryos are not nothing, and that societal values, not just the scientific imperative, should determine how they are treated.

It is beyond disingenuous to accuse opponents of publicly-funded embryonic stem cell research of conducting a "war on science." Federal funding is already available for other types of stem cell research that do not involve killing embryos, including those forms which use stem cells taken from adults or umbilical cords. Just last week, we learned that scientists have found yet another promising source of stem cells - amniotic fluid. These fields of research are supported (or in the very least, not opposed) by most conservatives for two simple reasons: 1) they hold great promise for developing cures to a myriad of human diseases, and 2) their success isn't contingent on taking human life or on treating human embryos as property that can be manipulated, traded, and destroyed at will.

Doubtless, a great deal of scientific progress could certainly be made if we would only remove all of the moral and ethical barriers that stand in the way. If we were to do that, though, what sort of world would we be creating? Is it a world we would want to live in? Is it one we would wish on our children and grandchildren?

From the dawn of human history, man has searched for the "fountain of youth" that would preserve him from the ravages of sickness and old age. Today, that fountain seems to lie just beyond our grasp, and the urge to reach out in desperation - by "temporarily" setting aside all of our knowledge about right and wrong - has become difficult to resist. When you think about it, that urge isn't too terribly different from the trials that each of us face in our day to day lives. So, what's to do when we're confronted with such difficult decisions? Well, just like our parents told us: we should take a breath and consider the consequences of our actions. Now would be a good time to read Brave New World, in case you haven't already, because the world it describes may not be too far off.

Thursday, January 11, 2007
On this day:

Saban's salary

Think it's too high? James Joyner addresses that concern in this TCS Daily piece, entitled "Crimson with Envy: Why Nick Saban Makes More Than Your Kid's Teacher." Here are a few excerpts:
While the juxtaposition of low performance in education with enormous spending on athletics at institutions of higher learning makes for great headlines, it is a ridiculous apples to oranges comparison. The money comes from different sources, based on entirely different market forces that are hardly zero sum.

Saban's salary simply has no bearing whatever on what college presidents or CEOs are paid, much less how education is funded. His paycheck will come entirely from the University's $68.6 million athletic budget, which is derived from ticket sales and licensing agreements rather than taxes.

If Saban is able to return the Crimson Tide to its former glory, he'll more than pay for himself. Between July 1, 2005, and June 30, 2006, the football team alone brought in more than $44 million. Indeed, football at successful programs like Alabama's not only pays for itself, it helps pay for all the other sports programs on campus and pours millions into the school's academic scholarship funds.

Those are all valid points. The same sentiment is echoed in this Mobile Press-Register editorial from last Sunday.

All seven in Alabama House delegation votes to pass minimum wage bill

Or alternately - "Alabama delegation votes to raise unemployment among the unskilled and undereducated." Because, that - in effect - is exactly what they did.

The roll call is here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007
On this day:

New leadership in the state Senate

Unfortunately for the Governor and his bipartisan coalition, it's not the leadership they expected.

Setting the Huntsville Times straight

It's a tough job sometimes, but someone's got to do it.

In Saturday's editorial, Times editor John Ehinger wrote: "If an argument can be made for gasoline price controls, it can be made more effectively for a ceiling, not a floor."

I disagree. Price ceilings and price floors are equally subversive to the workings of the free market. Although upper limits on prices may attract more public sentiment than lower limits (with at least one notable exception - the price of labor), both should be resisted. There are plenty of reasons for this; I'll try to outline a few:

1) The imposition of price controls rests on the false assumption that legislators and bureaucrats are more competent than the market to determine price levels. Now, despite my admiration for legislators and bureaucrats, they constitute a class that is generally incompetent when it comes to economic matters. Not incompetent as in "dumb," but incompetent as Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines it in definition 3A: "lacking the qualities needed for effective action."

As a result of their small numbers with respect to the total number of participants in the economy (which is to say practically every man, woman, and child in the U.S. and in those nations with whom we trade), politicians and bureaucrats have very limited accessibility to the type of information that would be critical to any effective effort to control prices without adverse economic effects. In fact, even if the number of would-be government price-controllers were larger - much larger - they would still be constrained in that respect, since feedback from millions of individual micro-markets cannot possibly be accumulated and processed by any number of human beings, particularly by those whose chief concerns are political, not economic. Even if they were to lay aside all of their political biases and were assisted by all the computing power in the world, they still could not overcome the fact that markets are animated by human activity, constrained by the forces of nature, and entirely dependent on the interaction between the two.

The most "natural" way to regulate prices is through the free market; that is also the most effective mechanism for ensuring that prices are what they should be.

2) It is undeniable that government-imposed price controls have an adverse economic impact. They create shortages and surpluses where such maladies would not exist otherwise. When prices are set artificially high, suppliers tend to produce more and consumers tend to demand less, resulting in a surplus. Likewise, when prices are set artificially low, suppliers tend to produce less and consumers demand more, resulting in a shortage. Both surpluses and shortages involve misallocations of resources that can only be remedied through the imposition of additional restrictions in the form of quotas, either on production (in the case of surpluses) or on consumption (in the case of shortages).

3) The liberties that government assumes by imposing price controls and then by providing the "remedies" for the undesirable results which necessarily follow come at the expense of individual liberty. As the sphere of government power grows, the sphere of individual liberty shrinks.

Price controls say to the producer: "You cannot sell your goods or services at a price either above or below what the government has dictated." Likewise, they say to the consumer: "You cannot buy these goods or services except within the constraints imposed by government." To give government the power to control gas prices is also to give it the power to control the price of any other good or service imaginable. If there were a good reason to do so, such a surrender of individual liberty might be warranted...but there's not. See 1) and 2) above.

4) Alabama already has a ceiling, of sorts, on the price of gasoline and other commodities. It's called the Alabama Unconscionable Pricing Act (more commonly known as the "price-gouging law"), and although it is only invoked only when a state of emergency has been declared by the Governor, the arguments I made in 1) and 2) above still apply. Here's what the law says:
It is prima facie evidence that a price is unconscionable if any person, during a state of emergency declared pursuant to the powers granted to the Governor...charges a price that exceeds, by an amount equal to or in excess of twenty-five percent the average price at which the same or similar commodity or rental facility was obtainable in the affected area during the last 30 days immediately prior to the declared state of emergency and the increase in the price charged is not attributable to reasonable costs incurred in connection with the rental or sale of the commodity.

We only need to think back to last year to see how this particular law helped to make a bad situation even worse. After Hurricane Katrina, the Governor declared a state of emergency (statewide, I believe, due to the disruptions in gas supplies) and this law was invoked.

It's difficult to gauge "what might have been" had the law not been in effect, especially since its price caps are relatively mild, but I think it's safe to say that many of the shortages that followed in the storm's wake are directly attributable to the threat of prosecution that suppliers of gasoline, generators, ice, home repairs, tree-cutting services, etc. would have faced had they charged prices that the market would have supported at that time. There's little doubt that "price-gouging" laws inhibit businesses and individual citizens from delivering goods and services to disaster areas when they are most needed. Then, when the inevitable shortages occur, who is called in to "save the day," even though they are at least partially at fault? The government, of course.

Which brings me back to number 3) and a question: why is the idea of liberty such a hard sell these days?

More on gas prices, Kangaroo, and Costco

Saturday, the Huntsville Times editorialized on the Kangaroo-Costco squabble:
Free market?

Well, it's either a free market or it isn't. You can't have it both ways, but some people apparently want to try.

A chain of convenience stores has sued the warehouse-buying club Costco on the grounds that Costco, which operates two stores in Alabama and 500 nationwide, is violating the state's gasoline-price law.

The suit, filed in federal court by The Pantry Inc., owner of the Kangaroo Express convenience store chain, alleges that Costco sells gasoline at below cost, according to The Birmingham News.

"Cost" here is defined as the wholesale cost of the gasoline plus the cost of facilities, equipment and employees necessary to deliver it to customers.

Alabama's law, spurious as it may seem, was upheld by the federal courts in the 1990s. The greatest impact of the law is felt not by Costco - with its two state stores - but by retail giant Wal-Mart, with no fewer than nine locations in Madison County (several of which sell gasoline) and many more statewide.

The idea behind the law is that gasoline, for some reason, should be subject to a price floor. That, in turn, keeps smaller gasoline retailers in business. But such laws are not applied to soft drinks, sport jackets or toilet paper. Stores, large and small, regularly advertise some items at below cost as loss leaders to attract customers.

If an argument can be made for gasoline price controls, it can be made more effectively for a ceiling, not a floor.

Remember: In the case of Costco, people can't buy gas there unless they are members, and household memberships start at $45 a year. In addition, Costco gas pumps are usually open hours earlier than the store itself, so cheap gas as a loss leader seems a marginal idea at best.

Consumers, if they wish, ought to be able to buy gasoline at the lowest prices offered in the marketplace, even if that means paying $45 a year and driving across town or farther to save 4 cents, or whatever, on each gallon.

Costco is not for everyone. Neither is the corner convenience store. Let people vote with their hard-earned dollars.

I agree with that, and would add that in this case, the only way to "let people vote with their hard-earned dollars" is for the legislature to repeal the ill-conceived Alabama Motor Fuel Marketing Act.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007
On this day:

We could be paying less for gas

A year ago, gasoline retailers in Alabama were fending off accusations of "price-gouging" following the supply disruptions associated with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Now, one convenience store chain has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that a competitor is charging customers too little for filling up at the pump:

(B'ham News) Retailing giant Costco is facing a lawsuit from Alabama convenience stores that say the warehouse club is selling gasoline at unlawful prices.

The Pantry Inc., the North Carolina company that operates the Kangaroo Express convenience store chain, filed its suit in U.S. District Court in Birmingham last week.

The chain is seeking an injunction requiring Costco to comply with the Alabama Motor Fuel Marketing Act, which makes it illegal to sell gasoline to the public for less than it costs to buy it, truck it to a retail outlet and pay the costs associated with operating a store or gas station. ...

Dean Mooty, the Montgomery lawyer representing The Pantry, said big retailers such as Costco use low gas prices to lure customers, hoping they will lay out cash for big ticket items such as refrigerators. By comparison, he said convenience stores must make a profit on gas sales to remain in business.

"They use gasoline in the truest sense as a loss leader," Mooty said, speaking of chains such as Wal-Mart and Costco.

And that's a bad thing why?

Well, it's bad in the eyes of the law because Alabama's Motor Fuel Marketing Act says that it is. Back in 1984, the legislature enacted that law ostensibly to help "mom-and-pop" convenience stores compete against the predatory pricing of their larger competitors. Today, mom-and-pop stores are few and far between, and big-name chains like Kangaroo (owned by The Pantry, Inc.) are now using the law to fend off unwanted competition from other chains whose business model differs from their own.

The Federal Trade Commission commented on the AMFMA back in 2004, when an effort was under way in the legislature to repeal it. In a letter to Rep. Demetrius Newton, the FTC concluded that:
...the staffs of the FTC's Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of Policy Planning believe that the Alabama Motor Fuels Marketing Act harms competition. The Act addresses a problem that is unlikely to occur. To the extent that anticompetitive below-cost pricing and price discrimination are dangers in the retail gasoline market, federal antitrust laws are sufficient to address the problem. Moreover, we believe that the Act most likely deters procompetitive price-cutting and causes some vendors to raise their prices, to the detriment of Alabama's consumers.

In spite of the FTC's conclusions, which are supported both by common sense and empirical evidence, the bill to repeal the AMFMA failed, and Alabama's consumers are still paying the price.

You can read my previous posts on this topic (from December 2004 and May 2005) here and here.

My new pet peeve

From the "things that annoy me but I don't really know why" department:

This fad of appending "nation" to team nicknames in order to identify groups of college sports fans and alumni gets on my nerves. Over the past week, I've heard fans, sports writers, and coaches mention the "Bama Nation," the "Tiger Nation," the "Gator Nation," and the "Buckeye Nation." A quick internet search yields the (Wake Forest) "Demon Deacon Nation," the (Virginia Tech) "Hokie Nation," and the (Boise State) "Bronco Nation." It goes on and on.

On the scale of life's minor annoyances, this one probably doesn't rank very high. Take the "pretentious E," for example. You know what I'm talking about, right? Think subdivisions and shopping centers. Developers and builders. Pointe, Towne, Oake, Olde, and Grille. If the good Lord had meant for those words to have an "e" at the end, he'd have put it there himself.

Don't get me started on developers and the goofy names they come up with. This guy says it all. And in case you're really bored, here's a random subdivision name generator.

How 'bout them Gators!

Hopefully, you won't ever hear me say that again. I'm not a Florida fan and I'm not an Urban Meyer fan, but it's sure good to see an SEC team win the national championship.

Sunday, January 07, 2007
On this day:

A big week in the state Senate

The Alabama Senate will determine its leadership Tuesday. We'll see then whether the "pro-Riley" coalition of 12 Republicans and 7 Democrats can hold together.

Saturday, January 06, 2007
On this day:


Word of the day...

Halfback: "a Yankee who moves to Florida and then decides to move halfway back."

Apparently, lots of 'em are buying land in northeast Alabama these days. I can't say that I blame them. I mean, this is God's country. Still, maybe we should recruit a few more fullbacks just to balance things out. ;)

Turf's up

The city of Gardendale is auctioning off the original turf from Birmingham's Legion Field. The Birmingham News reports:

A piece of the turf where Bear walked is for sale.

That's Bear, as in Bear Bryant, and that's turf, as in the original PolyTurf that was put down at Legion Field back in 1970.

"We're having a garage sale," said Gardendale Mayor Kenny Clemons, "and one of the things we're selling is the original turf from Legion Field. Actually, it will be an auction, and we have hundreds of items to be sold. But the star of the show will be the turf."

Clemons said the yard markings can still be seen on the rolls of turf. And Clemons insists, tongue firmly in cheek, that Bryant's footprints can still be seen, and for Auburn fans, perhaps the imprint of David Langner's cleats where he picked up two blocked punts and returned them for touchdowns in the Tigers' comeback win over Alabama in 1972.

"Oh, I'm sure those footprints are still there," Clemons said, "but I don't know which pieces. Folks will just have to buy them and look real hard." ...

The city will auction it all together, or in pieces.

The sale of the turf is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Jan. 20 at the old Anderson boat dealership in north Gardendale. Along with the turf will be other items declared surplus, including office equipment, automobiles, tractor equipment, things confiscated by the police department and never used, and other treasures.

Too bad the University of Alabama didn't its hands on this stuff first. They could sell it and use the money to pay for Nick Saban's first hour on the clock.

Friday, January 05, 2007
On this day:

Hey Bud...whose side are you on, anyway?

Yesterday, Rep. Bud Cramer (D.-Alabama) said, "I've always been a conservative Democrat who's been a bit of a thorn in the side of our leadership. I'll continue to be a thorn in the side of our leadership." Just a few hours before he made that statement, Cramer cast his vote for Nancy Pelosi (D.-San Francisco) to be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives.

So, how can any conservative - regardless of his party affiliation - justify voting to elect one of the most liberal members of Congress to an office which is just two heartbeats away from the Presidency?

In yesterday's vote, Cramer had an opportunity to prove that his self-proclaimed conservatism trumps his loyalty the Democratic party leadership. He could have voted for the Republican candidate for Speaker - Rep. John Boehner - a man whose views are very much in line with those of most people in Alabama's Fifth Congressional District, which Cramer represents. If that option was a little too thorny, he could have chosen to withhold his endorsement altogether by simply voting "present." Either of those choices would have represented the views and interests of his constituents more faithfully than a vote for Nancy Pelosi.

If Bud Cramer is serious about being a "thorn in the side" of his party's leadership, then pinning a rose to Mrs. Pelosi's lapel was certainly an odd way to start.

Thursday, January 04, 2007
On this day:

George Will: Abolish the minimum wage

George Will writes today that the federal minimum wage should be abolished. I couldn't agree more, as the regulation of wages is an activity that lies outside both the authority and competence of the federal government.

Bama resets the market

On December 5, the Mobile Press-Register reported that "A University of Alabama source said the school does not intend to 'reset the market' for college football coaches with its new hire, meaning an offer in the neighborhood of $2 million annually should be expected."

Today, we learned that the University has changed its mind since last month. If early news reports are accurate, newly-hired UA coach Nick Saban is likely to become the highest paid coach in college football, receiving an average salary of $4 million per year over the course of his contract. Presumably, that doesn't include bonuses, benefits, and endorsements. His closest competition will be Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, who received $3.4 million in 2006, a figure that does include endorsements and bonuses. (Sources: Here and here.)

I don't know that this is a "problem," but even if it were, I can't think of a single solution that wouldn't involve what is certain to be a losing battle against the forces of the marketplace. What do y'all think?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007
On this day:

Saban's coming to Bama

The Birmingham News is reporting:
Saban accepts job, source says

Miami Dolphins Coach Nick Saban told Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore this morning that he will accept the University of Alabama head football coaching job, according to a source close to the situation.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007
On this day:

Targeting Che

Target has stopped selling Che Guevara CD cases. Good for them, but why did they choose to stock them to begin with?

I read about this little controversy shortly before Christmas in this Investor's Business Daily editorial, so in my last-minute shopping (which was all of my shopping, come to think of it) I made a point to verify it at the local Target store here in Huntsville. Sure enough, they had one (and only one) - a CD case with Che's ugly thug-mug emblazoned on the front.

This may not be anything to get terribly excited about, but it certainly indicates poor judgment on Target's part. Aren't there any adults in charge at Target? Do they really think it's a good idea to play into youthful idolization an unrepentant murderer like Guevara?

I want to like Target - I really do. They are keeping other retailers on their toes, and that's a good thing, but there's not much that gets on my nerves more than glorifying dead Communists. On that note, they could make up for this particular lapse by stocking some of these.

A good neighbor

I didn't realize until this weekend when a friend brought it up that John O'Sullivan - author of a recently-released book that I absolutely have to read entitled The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister - lives just down the road in Decatur, Alabama.

O'Sullivan has had a remarkable career, having served as a special adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (yes, he, too, is a Brit), Editor-in-Chief of The National Interest magazine, and Editor-in-Chief of the United Press International. He is currently Editor-at-Large of National Review, and he frequently contributes to the magazine in both its print and online forms. His writing reflects his political conservatism, but it is conservative in tone and style, as well. I like that. This October 2005 article from the Decatur Daily gives a little background on how Mr. O'Sullivan came to reside in North Alabama.

O'Sullivan's latest book explores how President Reagan, Prime Minister Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II were instrumental - both individually and collectively - to the collapse of the Soviet empire and the fall of Communism throughout Europe. The world owes a great deal to these three great leaders for their courage and perseverance in facing down the great evil of their time, and gifted writers like Mr. O'Sullivan speak for freedom-lovers the world over in giving them the recognition they so richly deserve.

An offer he can't refuse?

Looks like Alabama is offering Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban a deal that would make him the highest-paid coach in college football.

Monday, January 01, 2007
On this day:

Happy New Year!

I hope y'all had a happy New Year's Day and that everyone was able to recover quickly from any overindulging they may have done on New Year's Eve. As for me, I didn't get up till about noon or so today - not because of a hangover, as I didn't overindulge last night, amazingly enough (except by eating too much) - but because I was just plain lazy and didn't want to get out of bed. Not really a good way to get started on that "early to bed, early to rise" resolution I set for this year, but hey - there'll be 364 more days to make good on it.