Friday, June 29, 2007
On this day:

Siegelman, Scrushy go to jail

See various news reports at the following links:
B'ham News: "Siegelman, Scrushy go straight to jail"

Mobile Register: "Siegelman gets 7-plus years"

Montgomery Advertiser: "Sentenced! Siegelman, Scrushy get a combined 170 months"

Montgomery Advertiser: "Siegelman, Scrushy led off in shackles"

AP: "Attorneys for former Alabama Governor and ex-Healthsouth CEO to appeal"

AP: "Two years after fraud acquittal, Scrushy sent to jail"

AP: "Siegelman, the lawyer, makes most important argument for himself"

AP: "Siegelman, Scrushy sent to Atlanta prison as appeals prepared"

Fueling Iran

No one in his right mind wants a war with Iran. Fortunately, the West and its Arab allies are capable of making life very difficult for President Ahmadinejad's regime without having to resort to military force. It looks like the stanglehold may have already begun.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007
On this day:

Huntsville Times calls for fairness and proportionality in Siegelman sentencing

Today's Huntsville Times editorial on the Siegelman case echoes some of the same concerns that I raised in yesterday's post.

Here are the Times editors:
No Alabamian, regardless of political party, should take pleasure in Siegelman's conviction or the sentence he may face.
Here's me: much as I dislike Don Siegelman, I'm not at all thrilled that he will be spending time in jail for this.
The Times editors again:
Now federal prosecutors are asking U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller to send Siegelman to prison for 30 years - a life sentence, in other words. It's hard to tell if prosecutors are serious or merely posturing. ...

Still, the enormity of a crime and the nature of a crime should determine the punishment, not political popularity or partisan allegiance.

Property crimes are not the same as crimes against people. Corruption isn't the same as murder, but murderers sometimes get far less than 30 years.

If it was acceptable for one judge in one court venue to keep Guy Hunt, a Republican, out of prison, it would be acceptable for another judge in another venue to do the same for Don Siegelman, a Democrat.

It's not as if the former governor will go scot-free. He will probably be legally barred from holding elective office and may have his license to practice law revoked.

The Siegelman case is not about compassion. It's about fairness, as defined by equitable treatment, and about proportionality. Prison time is not justified on either count.

And me:
Prosecutors are seeking 30 years in the hoosegow for Don Siegelman and 25 years for Richard Scrushy. Given the nature and magnitude of their crimes (or at least the crimes that they were actually convicted of), that seems far too excessive. In fact, I think that anything more than a year in jail and a big fine would be excessive. The fact that federal law would even allow the imposition of such stiff penalties for crimes of so little significance (i.e. non-violent offenses stemming from run-of-the-mill "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" forms of public corruption) strikes me as absurd.
Always nice to see the Times get something right.

Monday, June 25, 2007
On this day:

Siegelman, Scushy sentencing hearing begins tomorrow

Here are links to reports from the Huntsville Times, the Birmingham News, and the Associated Press.

And here are a few of my thoughts:

Prosecutors are seeking 30 years in the hoosegow for Don Siegelman and 25 years for Richard Scrushy. Given the nature and magnitude of their crimes (or at least the crimes that they were actually convicted of), that seems far too excessive. In fact, I think that anything more than a year in jail and a big fine would be excessive. The fact that federal law would even allow the imposition of such stiff penalties for crimes of so little significance (i.e. non-violent offenses stemming from run-of-the-mill "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" forms of public corruption) strikes me as absurd.

The crimes Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted of involved payments totaling $500,000 from then-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to Gov. Siegelman; Scrushy made these payments in exchange for an appointment to the Alabama Certificate of Need (CON) Review Board, whose job is to regulate the supply of health care in the state and to thereby serve as a prime example of big government at its worst. All-in-all, this sounds an awful lot like run-of-the-mill politicking to me; the fact that Scrushy's $500,000 went into Siegelman's lottery campaign fund - and apparently not into his bank account - makes it hard for me to see how that particular exchange constitutes "bribery." Still, both Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted of bribery, in addition to several related counts of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. (Siegelman was also convicted of obstruction of justice in a matter unrelated to the Scrushy contribution/appointment.)

I've had a tough time figuring out how this whole sordid affair was any of the federal government's business to begin with, and I remain unconvinced. The "bribe" was between a the Governor of Alabama and a businessman who resided in Alabama. The money went into a campaign fund that was used to support a statewide referendum. The Certificate of Need Review Board - to which Scrushy was appointed - is a state-run board. So far, so good. I understand it, the CON review board only exists because federal law requires (or at least strongly suggests) that states implement CON procedures in order to eat in Washington's hospital cafeteria; that is, to receive federal funding for various health care planning activities. Apparently, that's the hook that gave federal prosecutors their "in" to go after Siegelman and Scrushy. In my humble New Deal/Great Society-bashing opinion, if anyone is guilty of bribery here, it's the whole d--ned federal gu'mint.

Alabama has had more than its fair share of ethically-challenged politicians. Don Siegelman was among the worst. If he and his buddies violated state ethics laws, then they should be punished under the laws of Alabama. Even if they didn't, Siegelman's actions as Governor were reprehensible. If there has been anything good to come out of this trial, it's that we got confirmation of just how corrupt he really was. Still, as much as I dislike Don Siegelman, I'm not at all thrilled that he will be spending time in jail for this.

Update/correction (6/27/07): I stated in my post that "as I understand it, the CON review board only exists because federal law requires (or at least strongly suggests) that states implement CON procedures in order to eat in Washington's hospital cafeteria; that is, to receive federal funding for various health care planning activities." My understanding wasn't quite right. The federal mandate requiring states to establish a CON process in order to get federal funding was repealed in 1987, although 36 states, including Alabama, still maintain CON programs.

Polyester curtains, a redwood deck...and a weather radio

Congressman Spencer Bachus (R.-Vestavia Hills Country Club) wants the federal nanny to be queen of every double-wide trailer in America.

(B'ham News) WASHINGTON - All new manufactured homes would have to come with a weather alert radio under legislation introduced this week by Rep. Spencer Bachus and others.

"I was almost stunned that such a wonderful idea as this, that we hadn't done it before," Bachus said Thursday.

Named for a 2-year-old boy killed in tornado in Indiana in 2005, C.J.'s Home Protection Act would change the federal safety standards for manufactured homes and make the industry pay for the receivers and their installation before the homes are delivered.

"I say it makes the mobile home that much more valuable," said Bachus, a Vestavia Hills Republican who was wearing a large lapel button with C.J's picture on it.

Contacted earlier today, Rep. Bachus's office confirms that his bill would not require a weather radio to be installed in the Clinton Presidential Library, since construction there has already been completed and the wheels removed.

Friday, June 22, 2007
On this day:

State senator looks to Cuba for "state-of-the-art" health care

When Parker Griffith (D.-Huntsville) ran for State Senate last year, he promised to do all he could to improve the quality of health care in Alabama. According to his campaign web site:

As a doctor, Griffith was the first radiation oncologist in North Alabama and a pioneer in the early diagnosis and treatment of cancer, establishing the first of its kind comprehensive cancer center to treat all types of cancer. He is known throughout the community as a doctor who cared about his patients and provided free and discounted care to many who did not have insurance. Parker believes this experience will help him address the healthcare needs of Alabama. “We need to reduce the cost of healthcare for everyone and see that our children are covered by health insurance. As Senator, I will introduce legislation to provide tax credits to small businesses that provide family insurance coverage for their employees. I will make it my mission to see that every child in our community can get coverage.”

Griffith, a current member of the Alabama Medical Association and Madison County Medical Society believes his background as a physician will help him understand and cultivate Huntsville’s expanding biotechnology industry. “As a doctor, I understand first hand the importance of research to help diagnose and treat disease. This industry also holds enormous economic potential for our community.”

Now, it appears that Griffith is looking to Castro's Cuba as a model. From Sunday's Huntsville Times:
In all, Alabama is selling upwards of $140 million in agricultural and forest products to Cuba, according to the latest figures from the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries.

State Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, would like to see pharmaceutical products added to the mix. ...

Griffith, a retired doctor, said Thursday he's anxious to join one of those missions to examine the country's free health system.

He said intends to speak with the CEOs of two large generic drug manufacturers in Huntsville to gauge their interest in selling medicine to Cuba.

"I have not done that yet because I want to go to Cuba to see firsthand what's going on," Griffin said. "I want to see the state-of-the-art of their medicine. I know that's one of the real points of (Castro's) communist regime."

Thursday, June 21, 2007
On this day:

Sessions on immigration reform

Sen. Jeff Sessions says that we should enforce the laws we already have. More here.

The science of Gaydar

Which way does your hair whorl go? From what I can tell, mine's clockwise. It's also a lot thinner up there than I had thought. Sigh.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007
On this day:

Anniston Star publisher: Reagan diaries reveal a "man who brought with him no overarching philosophical principles"

Liberals have criticized Ronald Reagan for everything under the sun, but until I read this op-ed by Anniston Red Star chairman, publisher, and Grand Pooh-bah Brandt Ayers, I don't believe I had ever heard anyone - even a liberal - say that Mr. Reagan was unprincipled. In his June 3 column, Mr. Ayers wrote:

How fitting that Ronald Reagan's diaries should be published at a time when we can see the end of an era his spirit dominated: an era that extolled corporate wealth, conventional values and militant democracy.

The narrative of his presidency, told in simple, unadorned language, reveals a straightforward, uncomplicated man who brought with him no overarching philosophical principles, who wrestled with no internal demons such as the ones that plagued Nixon, nor anguished over decisions as Johnson did on Vietnam.

How anyone could live through the Reagan presidency, or listen to his speeches, or read his writings (including his recently-released diaries), and still conclude that he had "no overarching philosophical principles" is beyond me. Men of the Left like Mr. Ayers may not have liked President Reagan's political philosophy, but the fact that he had one is a matter that is beyond serious dispute.

Mr. Ayers is a serious man, though. It's just that in this case, it appears that he is serious only in his desire to disparage Ronald Reagan. I say that because just three years ago, Ayers was singing a different tune - accusing President Reagan of being too principled. In a column dated July 11, 2004, a little over a month after President Reagan passed away, Mr. Ayers wrote:
[Reagan's] intellectual curiosity ended when he quit reading Reader’s Digest as his political career began to absorb him. From that point on, every new thought or deed had to fit in the tight box of his conservative philosophy.

Gee whiz. And they say that President Reagan was a man of contradictions.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007
On this day:

A presidential visit

President Bush will be flying into Huntsville on Thursday. Sounds like the main purpose of his visit is to tour the newly restarted Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant in Athens.

Welsh cell phone selling opera guy wins

His name is Paul Potts. Here's his winning performance and here's the announcement of the results (both via YouTube). Here's a pretty good writeup.

Tired, hungry, ill...and wet

I see that Huntsville Utilities is asking its customers to conserve water. So why - pray tell - did I just get sprayed by every dad-gummed sidewalk-splattering sprinkler in Research Park during my evening run?

This is particularly annoying given that 1) the City of Huntsville owns Huntsville Utilities; 2) the city also maintains the grounds in Research Park, including its obnoxious concrete-watering "irrigation systems"; and 3) I am more irritable than usual right now because I ran my "long route" today (about 5 miles or so) and my body is having a hard time retrieving enough calories to nourish my more charitable instincts.

Hopefully, I'll be in a much better mood after I go to Friday's and have some food and a beer or two.

Sunday, June 17, 2007
On this day:

The Obama girl

She's got a crush.

Thursday, June 14, 2007
On this day:

Britain's Got Talent

I'll say it does. A cell phone salesman sings opera on Britain's version of American Idol. Absolutely amazing. Listen here:

And here:

Now tell me that didn't make chills go down your spine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007
On this day:

Another fight 151 years ago

The Bishop-Barron brouhaha made me think of the time back in 1856 when Rep. Preston Brooks (D.-South Carolina) went into the chamber of the United States Senate and whipped the living daylights out of Sen. Charles Sumner (R.-Massachusetts) with a walking stick. Brooks, who walked with a cane due to an injury he had received in an earlier duel, was offended by a speech Sumner had made three days earlier. Brooks took the speech to be an attack on both his home state of South Carolina and on his uncle, Andrew Butler, who happened to be a U.S. Senator.

From the U.S. Senate web site:

The inspiration for this clash came three days earlier when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. In his "Crime Against Kansas" speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. He characterized Douglas to his face as a "noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator." Andrew Butler, who was not present, received more elaborate treatment. Mocking the South Carolina senator's stance as a man of chivalry, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean," added Sumner, "the harlot, Slavery."

Representative Preston Brooks was Butler's South Carolina kinsman. If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel. Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his "Crime Against Kansas" speech.

Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner's head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.

Bleeding profusely, Sumner was carried away. Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.

Surviving a House censure resolution, Brooks resigned, was immediately reelected, and soon thereafter died at age 37. Sumner recovered slowly and returned to the Senate, where he remained for another 18 years. The nation, suffering from the breakdown of reasoned discourse that this event symbolized, tumbled onward toward the catastrophe of civil war.

I guess things could be a lot worse.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007
On this day:

Yo mama

Last Thursday's fracas in the Alabama Senate between the Honorables Charles Bishop (R.-Jasper) and Lowell Barron (D.-Fyffe) - which came to an unfortunate end after Sen. Bishop punched Sen. Barron in the face - has made headlines near and far, from our own Huntsville Times to CNN, FoxNews, and the U.K. Guardian.

According to Sen. Bishop, "My mother has long been dead, and he called me a son of a bitch. That's somebody talking bad about your mother, and when he did, I responded with my right hand."

If Sen. Bishop's ill-tempered overreaction is any indication of his usual demeanor, I'd say that he has probably been called worse.

Just in case you haven't seen it yet, here's the video from Youtube:

Tear down this wall!

Twenty years ago today, President Ronald Reagan issued a challenge that would become among the most memorable moments of the Twentieth Century. Here's President Reagan's recollection of that day from An American Life, his autobiography:
In early June 1987, after the economic summit in Venice, Nancy and I flew to West Berlin where we were reminded again of the vast gulf between our system and that of the Communists. I was reminded of the Marshall Plan and how America spent billions after World War II helping rebuild the shattered economies of Europe, including those of two of our former enemies, and I wondered what other nation on earth would have done that. I saw an exhibit honoring the courageous pilots - three of whom I met - who had kept the city alive during the Berlin Airlift. And then I saw the Berlin Wall, as stark a symbol as anyone could ever expect to see of the contrast between two different political systems; on one side, people held captive by a failed and corrupt totalitarian government, on the other, freedom, enterprise, prosperity.

I had accepted an invitation to speak to an outdoor gathering at the Brandenburg Gate at the dividing line between West Berlin and East Berlin. Before it was my turn to speak, I met with my West German hosts in a government building not far from the wall. From the window, I could see the graffiti and prodemocracy slogans scrawled on liberty's side of the wall and, across the wall, a government building in East Berlin where I was told there was long-distance monitoring apparatus that could eavesdrop on our conversations.

"Watch what you say," one German official said. Well, when I heard that, I went out to a landing that was even closer to the building and began sounding off about what I thought of a government that penned in its people like farm animals.

I can't remember exactly what I said, but I may have used a little profanity in expressing my opinion of Communism, hoping I would be heard. ...

From this building, we went to the Brandenburg Gate, where tens of thousands of Berliners were gathered.
Minutes later, Reagan delivered the shot that would be heard around the world.
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
And what a proud moment it was.

Earlier today in Washington, D.C., a memorial was dedicated in honor of the millions of people who suffered and are still suffering under communist tyranny. That today's ceremony was held on the 20th anniversary of President Reagan's speech at the Berlin Wall is a fitting tribute to the man who came into the office as a Great Communicator and is now known to millions around the world as the Great Liberator.

(The full text of President Reagan's 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate is available here. A YouTube excerpt is below.)

Birmingham: The Tragic City

The FBI reported last week that in 2006, Birmingham had the fourth highest murder rate in the nation. If that's not evidence that the city's leaders should redirect their focus towards controlling violent crime, I don't know what is. Birmingham has spent a tremendous amount of time and money trying to lobby taxpayers and their representatives in the legislature to build domes for stadiums. It sounds like the city should concentrate on building homes for criminals instead- preferably behind bars.

Amendment One passes

This is week-old news, but here's the story from last Wednesday's Birmingham News:

MONTGOMERY - Alabama voters by wide margins Tuesday decided to let the state borrow an extra $400 million for industry recruitment and to ban spending from two trusts on anything but health care for retired teachers and other retired public employees.

"This is a great victory for Alabama," Gov. Bob Riley said. "The people made the right choice, and I thank them. Their vote will bring more jobs to our state."

Voters agreed to add Amendment 1, on industry incentives, and Amendment 2, on the health-care trusts, to the state constitution. State lawmakers in March unanimously proposed both changes.

Amendment 1, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, received 188,929 yes votes, or 80 percent, and 48,395 no votes, or 20 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Amendment 2, with 99 percent of the precincts reporting, received 200,418 yes votes, or 84 percent, and 38,755 no votes, or 16 percent. ...

Voter turnout statewide was about 9.6 percent of active registered voters.

I already spelled out why I was opposed to Amendment One a couple of posts back, so I won't go into it again. Considering that the opposition to this amendment was virtually non-existent and voter turnout was so low, the lop-sided result is not surprising. We can only hope that the officials responsible for handing out the money will act in the state's best interests.

Monday, June 11, 2007
On this day:

Back home

I made it back to Huntsville last night around 11. I'm kinda tired right now, but I'll have a writeup on the week's many adventures sometime tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007
On this day:

Off to the desert

Sorry...I've been a real slacker about blogging over the past couple of weeks. Posting will be pretty light this week, as well. I'm headed out later this morning for Yuma, AZ and will be there through at least Friday. After that, I'm planning to hang out in San Diego over the weekend, then return to Huntsville on Sunday.

It looks like I may luck out weather-wise. Tomorrow's high temp in Yuma is forecast to be 106 degrees, but it looks like we'll be in store a nice little cool snap for the rest of the week, with highs Wednesday through Friday only reaching the mid to upper 90's. The weekend in San Diego looks great - sunny with highs (and lows!) in the 60's.

Anyways...I'll see y'all when I get back.

In Tuesday's referendum: NO on Amendment One

I'll be voting NO on Amendment One later today, even though I think it highly likely that my side will lose miserably. To say that the opposition to this amendment is poorly organized is an understatement, since there is absolutely no organized opposition to speak of. Just a few lonely voices in the wilderness.

Brian at Flash Point has posted a memo from Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks that pretty much sums up the major arguments for a NO vote.

A lot of this just echoes what Brian and Commissioner Brooks have already said, but here's my take:

1. Basically, Amendment One is an example of corporate welfare at its worst. It would authorize an additional $400 million in borrowing authority for the state's Capital Improvement Trust Fund. A large portion of that money would then be used to provide direct subsidies to ThyssenKrupp, the German steel producer that recently announced its intentions to build a new facility near Mobile.

2. This is not about whether the state should build roads and infrastructure to support new and existing industries. I'm somewhat favorable towards those types of projects, since they address what I believe to be government's legitimate interests. The main reason I oppose this amendment is that it would provide public funding for what are essentially private activities, such as constructing facilities, training workers, etc.

3. We might as well call Amendment One the ThyssenKrupp Amendment. If the state hadn't been trying to woo that company to locate here, this amendment would never have been proposed. That just doesn't sit right with me. Here we are amending our state's fundamental law in order to provide preferential treatment for a single private corporation that has somehow managed to gain the favor of our state's leadership.

4. When government shows favoritism towards certain corporations - either through use of direct cash handouts, special tax incentives, or both, as the state proposes to do in the case of ThyssenKrupp - it places other businesses (especially those in the same industry as the "favored" business) at a competitive disadvantage. This type of government intervention is unjust, counterproductive, and unnecessary. If we currently have to pay people to come to Alabama ( which I am unconvinced that we do), then we might need to take a long, hard look at the state's business environment. Tax policies should be equitable and growth-oriented. Regulations should be balanced and reasonable. Lawsuit abuse should be minimized. The more adept we are in addressing those issues, the less we need to resort to corporate welfare.

4. Government favoritism breeds corruption. Whenever we give politicians the opportunity to pick and choose businesses or industries for special treatment, we're asking for trouble.

One of the great virtues of Alabama's constitution (yes, it does have a few) is that it makes it very difficult for the state to give handouts to private corporations. Unfortunately, year after year, Governors and legislators have sought after every way possible to bypass those constitutional barriers and all too often, voters have given their assent. Amendment One would allow the current Governor and legislature to go even further down the road - to the tune of $400 million - towards making those barriers irrelevant.

5. Not long ago, a large number of Alabama Democrats would have stood up against this kind of grandiose taxpayer-financed handout to big business. Where are those Democrats now?

On a similar note, where are the free-market conservatives in the Alabama Republican Party? The ones who say they are devoted to limited government and economic liberty? Aside from Commissioner Mo Brooks, I don't know of a single Republican elected official who has publicly opposed this amendment. In fact, this amendment's biggest proponent is none other than Governor Bob Riley, a Republican. Is the Republican Party still the party of limited government and economic liberty, or has it reverted to what its detractors have always accused it of being - merely a marriage of convenience between big government and big business?