Monday, October 31, 2005

And Alito it is...

This morning, President Bush nominated Samuel A. Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Connor as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

Below I discussed a bit about Judge Alito. My initial reaction this morning was that I think that Alito is a vey good pick for Bush. He is a fiercely conservative judge (along with Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia they will make up a fiercely conservative wing of the court...maybe the most conservative ever??!??!??!?? The Four Horsemen ride again...), yet very qualified, and quite respected. I don't think this is a selection that can (or should) be filibustered. (The puzzeling thing is simply why this wasn't Bush's initial pick, instead of his Best Buddy Ever!!!)

I will be interested to read more about Judge Alito over the coming weeks, and listen intently to his confirmation hearings.

My initial reaction is similar to my reaction to the nomination of Chief Justice Roberts - that he was a good pick, will be confirmed, but if I were a Senator I would vote know. As you may recall, reading about C.J. Roberts, and then listening to a large amount of the confirmation hearings changed my mind, and had I been a Senator I would have voted for Roberts...not because I think that he will decide cases the same as I would, but because of his clear qualification, clear intelligence and understanding of Constitutional law, and because he appeared clearly to be in the mainstream of legal thought - even if on the right side of that mainstream.

Although today, I doubt I would vote for Judge Alito - I'm interested in how that will/might change as I learn more about him.

Congratulations to Judge Alito on this nomination.
Bush nominates Alito to high court
Bush nominates conservative for Supreme Court
Samuel Alito's conservative viewsearned him nickname 'Scalito'
Alito would be fifth Catholic justice on Supreme Court
President names Alito
Profile of Potential Supreme Court Nominee - Judge Samuel Alito
Justice Alito? Some Say He's a New High Court Favorite

Friday, October 28, 2005

Rumors of the next nomination...

The guess I made yesterday as to who would be the next Supreme Court Justice nominee was 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, and highly respected law professor, Michael McConnell. My guess of McConnell was based on three factors:

-1- McConnell is unquestionably qualified, and unquestionably conservative...but he is so well-respected (and so well qualified) that when he was nominated for the 10th Circuit, a large number of liberal law professors signed a letter urging Democrats in the Senate to approve of his nomination. That was simply do to their respect for him;
-2- McConnell is on the record (in various law review artilcles, interviews, and other public statements) as absolutely anti-Roe. There is no question about his (very public) stance on Roe, which will mollify enough of the right-wing to have him pass their gauntlet;
-3- McConnell is (at least somewhat) on the record for stare decises - and therefore it is not 100% certain that he would vote to directly overturn Casey/Roe. When you combine this uncertainty with the respect he commands from academia, and his clear (on their face - no "trust me" needed) qualifications, this will appease Senate Democrats and moderate Republicans to support him.

He would be the perfect candidate to follow Miers, because he is essentially opposite everything she was (where she was unqualified, had no overt stance on Roe, but was expected to vote the way the President told her to; he is imminently qualified, has a clear and public stance on Roe, but there is some uncertainty to how he would vote on the matter).

This morning, however, the rumors seem to be going in a different seems that much word of mouth is focusing upon 3d Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito. Judge Alito is called in some circles "ScAlito" due to his fierce brand of conservatism which is very similar to Justice Antonin Scalia. He is well qualified, well respected, and has clear conservative bona fides - which would appeal to the radical right-wing base.

Here is a Supreme Court shortlist that Slate published last summer, which includes both McConnell and Alito. Following is each judge's Slate profile:

Michael McConnell
Age: 50
Graduated from: University of Chicago Law School.
He clerked for: Judge Skelly Wright, Justice William Brennan.
He used to be: a law professor at the University of Chicago and the University of Utah, an appellate attorney for Mayer Brown.
He's now: a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit (appointed 2002).
His confirmation battle: When McConnell was nominated to the 10th Circuit three years ago, he had the support of liberal law professors who called him Bush's "most distinguished" nominee and signed a letter of support for him. Other liberal groups, on the other hand, fought hard against his confirmation, highlighting his support for expanding the role of religion in the public sphere. How to account for the split? As a respected and well-liked law professor, McConnell was well-placed to win support in the academy, and one of the arguments made on his behalf was that, as an advocate of judicial restraint, he'd be sure to follow the Supreme Court's directives. McConnell wouldn't be similarly bound by precedent, however, if he joined the high court himself. Instead, the combination of his hard-line conservative views and his sunny disposition could make him extremely effective at bringing about change.

Civil Rights and Liberties
In a law review article, argued that the support for school desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education is consistent with the intentions of the framers of the 14th Amendment to guarantee equal protection under the law. McConnell's remains the minority view.
In a Slate dialogue, opposed a constitutional right to assisted suicide.
Before the Supreme Court, represented the Boy Scouts in their successful suit to keep out gay scoutmasters. (Boys Scouts of America v. Dale, 2000)
On the bench, dissented from a ruling in favor of Jessica Gonzales, who sued the city of Castle Rock, Colo., when her three children were killed by her ex-husband after the police failed to enforce a restraining order against him, despite her repeated calls. McConnell said that the majority's ruling would "expand greatly the liability of state and local governments." A Supreme Court ruling is pending in this case. (Gonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 2004) [Blake's Update: the Supreme Court reversed the 10 Circuit, siding with McConnell.]

Separation of Church and State
In a law review article, argued that the framers intended to provide for broader protections for religiously motivated conduct than modern jurisprudence allows for.
In a law review article, questioned the outcome of Bob Jones University v. United States, the 1983 Supreme Court decision that revoked the school's tax-exempt status because it forbade interracial dating. McConnell argued that even if Bob Jones' policy is "morally repugnant to most of us" the rule affected "only those who choose to become part of the religious community defined by Bob Jones" and so should come under the constitution's protections of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
In a Slate dialogue, backed government-funded school vouchers that can be used at parochial schools. Argued that religious activity in a public setting or paid for by public funds is OK, as long as the government remains neutral rather than supporting a particular faith.
Agreed to grant a preliminary injunction to a New Mexico sect to stop the government from prosecuting its members for using a hallucinogenic tea during worship. In a concurrence, McConnell argued that the sect's interest in religious observance trumped the health risk to the sect's members and the interests of the federal government in enforcing its drug laws. (O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal v. Ashcroft, 2003)

Environmental Protection and Property Rights
For a unanimous panel, upheld a law that Congress passed specifically to permit logging in the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota. The law upended a court settlement designed to prevent the logging from going forward. (Biodiversity Associates v. Cables, 2004)

Criminal Law
For a unanimous panel, held that the federal prosecution of a child pornographer—who paid a boy to photograph him and transported him across states lines—was consistent with Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. (U.S. v. Riccardi, 2005)

In 1996, signed a statement supporting a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. "We believe that the abortion license is a critical factor in America's virtue-deficit," the statement reads.
Before Congress, testified in opposition to a bill designed to limit the access of protesters to abortion clinics.

Judicial Philosophy
Supports the originalist approach to constitutional analysis, which urges judges to interpret the Constitution in accordance with the understandings of its framers.

Samuel Alito
Age: 55
Graduated from: Yale Law School.
He clerked for: Judge Leonard Garth.
He used to be: deputy assistant attorney general under Reagan, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.
He's now: a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit (appointed 1990).
His confirmation battle: Alito has the Scalia-esque nickname "Little Nino" and the Italian background to match it. As the author of a widely noted dissent urging his court to uphold restrictions on abortion that the Supreme Court then struck down, in a decision that reaffirmed Roe v. Wade, Alito could be especially filibuster-prone. Like Scalia, he frequently makes his mark in dissent.

Separation of Church and State
For a unanimous panel, upheld a lower-court order requiring a school district to allow a Bible-study group to set up an information table at an elementary-school back-to-school night. Reasoned that by preventing the group from displaying its literature, the district was discriminating on the basis of viewpoint. (Child Evangelism Fellowship of N.J., Inc. v. Stafford Township School District, 2004)
For a unanimous panel, denied standing to a group seeking to take down a municipal holiday display that included a menorah and a crèche. Alito said that the group couldn't challenge the display as taxpayers because the items were donated rather than bought by the town. (ACLU-NJ v. Township of Wall, 2001)
Dissented from a ruling by the 3rd Circuit as a whole that an elementary school did not violate the First Amendment rights of a kindergartener by taking down (and then putting back up) a Thanksgiving poster he'd made that said the thing he was most thankful for was Jesus. The majority decided to throw out the case on a technicality; Alito protested that the child's claim should go forward. (C.H. v. Oliva, 2000)

Criminal Law
Allowed a federal probation office in Delaware to condition the release of a man who had pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography on his willingness to submit to random polygraph tests about whether he'd had impermissible contact with children. (United States v. Warren, 2003)
Dissented from a refusal to grant police officers immunity from a civil suit brought by a mother and her 10-year-old daughter who'd each been strip-searched because they lived in the home of a suspected drug dealer. Alito felt the police had behaved reasonably because the warrant led them to conclude that there was probable cause to search everyone in the house for drugs. (Doe v. Groody, 2004)

Habeas Corpus
Granted the habeas claim of an African-American defendant who sought to introduce evidence that a juror made a racist remark after the jury reached its verdict. (Williams v. Price, 2003)

Dissented from a decision holding that Pennsylvania could not require women to inform their husbands before getting abortions. Alito argued that because the law only required the husbands to have notice and did not give them a veto over their wives' decisions, it did not pose an "undue burden" for women. This approach was rejected by the Supreme Court. (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1991)
Agreed that an immigration judge was within his discretion to find not credible an application for asylum based on China's forced-abortion policy. (Xue-Jie Chen v. Ashcroft, 2004)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Congratulations to the Houston Astros...

...on the best season in team history.

Although it ended in a loss in the World Series, it was still a magnificient season, and everyone in the organization - and all Houston fans - should be proud of this hard-working, never-say-die team.

Getting swept was a bit of an unfair result, in my opinion. Each of the games were extremely close, and were only decided by a total of six runs. Sure, I'm a homer, but I think the teams were quite evenly matched, and the White Sox simply took advantage of their opportunities much better than the Astros.

I was fortunate enough to be able to be at both Games 3 and 4 - and had an absolute blast, even in defeat. It was actually quite surreal to be at a World Series game - something that's been a dream since elementary school days - in the same ballpark that you've been to 50 other games at. It's all normal and ordinary and yet completely new and hard-to-believe.

Great season, and it's hard to be upset, even if the result was not ideal.

Our long national nightmare is over...

Okay. It's been painfully clear that I have ignored the entire Harriet Miers ordeal/nomination for the past month. Although I was posting on rumors leading up to the Roberts nomination, the nomination itself, and then profiles of Roberts afterward, I could not bring myself to post on the Miers nomination.

It appears to me that Ms. Miers is a fine person, and a terrific attorney. Those things are not questioned.

Having said that, I could not post on the subject because she was such a wholly, uncomprehendingly, and embarrassingly unfit and unqualified nominee. The President looks ridiculous, and frankly, he should - because this was a historically bad nomination.

In my opinion there are only two legitimate explanations for such an absolute disaster of a nomination:
-1- This was a grand scheme; appoint an unfit candidate, so that you could follow up with an extemely right-wing ideolouge with a reasonable resume and get her/him passed with little effort. This is intriguing, but such a scheme would carry EXTREME risk if the original nomination was actually confirmed.

-2- The grand jury investigation, and potential indictments, of White House and VP officials seriously had this Admin. distracted - and those people with the power in the Admin, the decision makers (Rove, Cheney, Libby) were unable to focus on the Supreme Court nomination - leaving Bush to decide on his own, and he bungled that choice. I think that is the more reasonable assumption.

Regardless, it's good to know that as nice a person, and as good a lawyer as Ms. Miers may be, that she will not be sitting on the Supreme Court bench. Now, we must hope that a qualified, good nominee (such as C.J. Roberts) will be brought forth.

More info here:
Miers withdraws Supreme Court nomination
Miers Nomination Withdrawn
Miers withdraws nomination
Nominee Failed to Win Support of Key Senators and Conservatives
Miers Withdraws
Absolutely pathetic drivel
Miers withdrawal coverage
Interesting reports starting to emerge…

Monday, October 24, 2005

Politics as usual...

Got this from Think Progress.

Yesterday on the Sunday talk show circuit, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (of Texas) tried to downplay the potential for indictiments coming against high-ups in the abusive Bush regime. She tried to dismiss potential indictments for perjury and obstruction of justice as mere "technicalities," as noted in this WaPost article.
Ms. Hutchison said she hoped “that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn’t indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.” does that remind you of a former political witchhunt? Well, I wonder what Sen. Hutchison thought of that former "investigation?" I'm sure that her position was consistent..right? Well, in her own words:

[S]omething needs to be said that is a clear message that our rule of law is intact and the standards for perjury and obstruction of justice are not gray. And I think it is most important that we make that statement and that it be on the record for history.

I very much worry that with the evidence that we have seen that grand juries across America are going to start asking questions about what is obstruction of justice, what is perjury. And I don’t want there to be any lessening of the standard. Because our system of criminal justice depends on people telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That is the lynch pin of our criminal justice system and I don’t want it to be faded in any way.

What?!? Okay, so when we're talking about perjury in an opponent political party, it is "the lynch pin of our criminal justice system," but when we're talking about perjury in Republican allies it's "some...technicality" and not a crime. Huh?!? What sense does that make?

Oh yes, I forgot, the Republican mantra - Party before Principle.

Quote of the day...

From this article in the Washington Times:

"Who would have believed the wheels would be coming off this early in the second term, and with our own people firing at us?" a White House aide confided yesterday.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A pennant, at last...

2005 National League Champion Houston Astros

That just sounds so right.

I don't think I've ever been so thrilled to be so wrong. I just didn't think that the Astros could come back from such a devastating loss, but those guys showed such amazing character to come back and jump out and control that game last night the whole way.

It's been a long time coming. This team has been very good for a while now, and it's nice to see that they get over the hump while some of the veterans (Bagwell and Biggio) are still with the team. It's been 44 years since the Colt .45s started playing baseball in Houston, and Saturday we will revel in the first ever World Series appearance - and Tuesday, we'll actually host our first World Series game. Craig Biggio had played over 2500 games (18 years) in Houston, Bagwell over 2100 - and now they get a shot at winning it all. It couldn't happen to two more gritty, class teammates.

When I was in seventh grade - about 13 years old - I played Rotisserie baseball for the first time. And back all those many years ago, Craig Biggio was my starting catcher. (Yeah, remember, he used to catch.) Then I moved to Houston back in 1999 and got Astros season tickets, and spent many, many summer nights at the Dome. Of course, I still remember my most heartbreaking sports moment (before Monday night) there in the Dome too - 1999 playoffs against the Braves; bases loaded; no outs; and Walt Weiss makes one of the most unbelieveable defensive plays I've ever seen and the Astros get no runs that inning and lose the game. That's kind of what it had been like to be an Astros fan - the big one always seemed to slip through your fingers.

But not anymore. What a storybook season. Look at this from this ESPN article:
OK, let's try to make this compute: A mere 21 weeks ago, the only team in the National League with a worse record than the Houston Astros was the Colorado Rockies. The only teams in the entire sport with a worse record were the Rockies and Royals. That means the Devil Rays had a better record back then. And the Pirates had a better record back then. And so did the Reds, the Tigers, and the Mariners. You won't be finding any of those other teams playing in the World Series this October, though. Only the Astros get to do that. And any team that can climb out of the crypt to do that should have Bela Lugosi hitting cleanup -- not Morgan Ensberg.
Asked what he thought the odds were of a team that once was 15 games under .500 winding up in the World Series, Lance Berkman gave it some thought.
"Well, how many times has it happened -- ever?" Berkman replied. "Once in history, right? (Right.) And that was in 1914, right? (Right -- by the old 'Miracle' Braves.) So what does that tell you? That it's virtually impossible. But somehow, we did it. It's hard to believe, really."
It really is hard to believe. Really. The best part is it's not over...

On to Chicago. Go Astros!!!

White Sox up next for the new NL champions
Behind NLCS MVP Oswalt, Astros earn first World Series berth
The joy of Game 6 erases a painful past
Oswalt hurls masterpiece at Cardinals
Dominant starting pitching for both sides
Houston, hello
Oswalt launches clinch

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

When you get punched in the stomach by a sporting event...

Houston, we have a problem

Bill Simmons (aka the Sports Guy) article on the Astros loss the other night. As he so often opines - I feel like I just thew up in my mouth...

Weird things happen when you haven't won in a long time; the poor Astros have never even appeared in a World Series. After a while, in that situation, you start expecting to lose. Then one of those seasons rolls around when good things keep happening, and they keep happening, and you wait for the other shoe to drop ... only it never does. Eventually, you reach a point that Houston fans reached Monday night -- you drop your guard, assume everything is different this season, give in to the moment -- and that's when sports can truly crush you. It's happened to me. I didn't want it to happen to them.

So I was fearing the worst, and I'm not even an Astros fan. Two pitches later, Pujols crushed a hanging slider about 900 feet to give St. Louis the lead, followed by the worst sound in sports -- a sellout crowd shrieking in horror, followed by a prolonged, wailing-like noise, followed by a creepy silence where you only hear the visitors celebrating.

And I hate to say it, but teams rarely rally back from that moment. In my "Levels of Losing" column from three years ago, Monday night's nightmare qualifies as a full-fledged Stomach Punch (Level 2, one from the top) for Astros fans -- it only would have been worse if they were one strike from winning the World Series.

Sadly, the rest of the Astros-Cards series seems predictably depressing (unless you're a St. Louis fan). Not only are the Cardinals back at home, not only have they been handed a second life, but out of every sport, baseball hinges on emotion and momentum more than anything else. ... Once you have the momentum, the other team has to take it back. And they can't do that when they're reeling on the road and wondering what the hell just happened. That's why I believe the Astros are finished, just like that '86 Angels team was.

And yes, I hope I'm wrong. Actually, I would love to be wrong. As the e-mails started pouring into my mailbox from Astros fans last night -- some venting incoherently, some wondering what they did to deserve the Pujols homer, others wondering if they were stupid for still thinking the Astros had a chance -- I could feel the despair seeping through my laptop screen. A local named Amar summed it up best: "I was there [at Minute Maid], and the electricity in the air when there were 2 outs until just after [Pujols] unloaded the big guns was just something I can't describe. In fact, I can't type any more. I feel too sick."

Amar, I know the feeling. You could even call me an expert. And according to my research, your team is cooked unless they can create a new Level of Losing for the Cardinals -- the "Reverse Dead Man Walking" Game on either Wednesday or Thursday. ...

Hang in there, Houston. You never know.

Read this too.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Peak Oil goes mainstream...

How about this on the front page of USAToday (otherwise known as McNews) this morning:

Debate brews: Has oil production peaked?

Peak oil goes mainstream??? 18 to 24 months ago, those writing and talking about Peak Oil were considered conspiracy theorists and crazies. Today, it makes the front page of the national newspaper. (Admitedly, USAToday is not exactly considered the most rigorous news source - but that makes it all the more stunning.)

[A] vocal minority of experts says world oil production is at or near its peak. Existing wells are tiring. New discoveries have disappointed for a decade. And standard assessments of what remains in the biggest reservoirs in the Middle East, they argue, are little more than guesses.
"There isn't a middle argument. It's a finite resource. The only debate should be over when we peak," says Matthew Simmons, a Houston investment banker and author of a new book that questions Saudi Arabia's oil reserves.

If the "peak oil" advocates are correct, however, today's transient shortages and high prices will soon become a permanent way of life. Just as individual oil fields inevitably reach a point at which it gets harder and more expensive to extract the oil before output declines, global oil production is about to crest, they say. Since 2000, the cost of finding and developing new sources of oil has risen about 15% annually, according to the John S. Herold consulting firm.
... "The least-bad scenario is a hard landing, global recession worse than the 1930s," says Kenneth Deffeyes, a Princeton University professor emeritus of geosciences. "The worst-case borrows from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: war, famine, pestilence and death."
He's not kidding: Production of pesticides and fertilizers needed to sustain crop yields rely on large quantities of chemicals derived from petroleum. And Stanford University's Amos Nur says China and the United States could "slide into a military conflict" over oil.

In recent months, the peak oil camp has received support from some fairly sober quarters, including the U.S. government. A 91-page study prepared in February for the Energy Department concluded: "The world is fast approaching the inevitable peaking of conventional world oil production ... (a problem) unlike any yet faced by modern industrial society."
So far, almost no one in government is calling for immediate action because of the peak oil argument. But in a recent interview with USA TODAY, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman sounded less than sanguine about the future.
"There's plenty of oil to deal with this over the near term, five years. But if you look out over the next 20, 25 years, we expect demand to grow 50% to 120 million barrels a day. I wouldn't want to opine that's available," says Bodman, a former professor of chemical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "It could be, but I don't know."
Now, I am no scientist, or researcher, and I can't claim to have reviewed extensive amounts of data. But...Peak Oil makes logical sense. There has to be a limited supply, and at some point, we're going to have to be on the "back side" of that supply. And, the back side of that supply is going to be an ugly place - with rising commodity prices, trasportation prices, raw material prices, etc., etc., etc. There is very little in today's economies which is not in one way (plastics) or another (transportation costs) dependent upon the price of petroleum.

Is that tomorrow? Or 2010? Who knows. But it is coming. The positive thing is that as oil prices rise (and rise, and rise...) it becomes much more cost-efficient to develop new, renewable energy resources. But at some point, oil will no longer be the future.

More shakeups in US Auto...

It started a week ago at Delphi.

Delphi files for bankruptcy

Auto parts maker Delphi said Saturday it filed for bankruptcy after warning for months that a filing was in the cards.
Delphi is the largest U.S. auto parts maker. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for itself and 38 U.S. units in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. Delphi's non-U.S. units were not included.
It is the biggest bankruptcy filing in U.S. automotive history and promises to have a broad impact across the industry.

Almost 150,000 of its employees at the end of 2005 were union members, with 25,000 in the United Autoworkers here in the United States.
Then there was speculation that GM would follow.

Will GM follow Delphi into bankruptcy?

The chances that General Motors will file for bankruptcy are now about 30 percent, according to one industry analyst, following the bankruptcy filing by the company's former parts unit, Delphi.

But, GM has cut a deal with UAW that may help it forestall such a drastic step.

UAW agreement will help lower GM's health costs
GM, UAW reach deal

The tentative agreement on health care is projected to reduce GM's retiree health-care liabilities by about 25 percent, or $15 billion, and cut GM's annual employee health-care expense by about $3 billion, CEO and Chairman Rick Wagoner said. Cash savings are estimated to be about $1 billion a year.

Even with the agreement on health care costs, GM will need further steps to return to profitability.
The world's No. 1 automaker said it lost $1.1 billion, or $1.92 a share, in the third quarter, excluding special items, compared with income of $315 million, or 56 cents a share a year earlier.
Analysts surveyed by earnings tracker First Call were looking for a loss of 87 cents a share.
The company also announced it is looking at possibly selling a majority stake in its finance unit, GMAC, by far its most profitable operation, as a way to restoring the unit's credit rating. GM was downgraded to junk bond status earlier this year due to ongoing losses.

There are sure to be more aftershocks from both the Delphi bankruptcy and the GM/UAW deal to come. These are ugly days for US Auto.

Read more:
The China Syndrome...
GM pushing Union on healthcare cuts...

Friday, October 14, 2005

365...and counting!!!

Today marks the end of my first year of blogging. My first post was Oct. 15, 2004. I have really enjoyed this as a reposit of the things I am thinking, reading, and discussing. I haven't exactly established much of a readership of anybody out there???...but the point of this is really to record my thoughts.

So how do I mark the end of one good year of blogging? Just as any self-inflated person should: run a BEST OF...

So here are some of my favorite pieces from the past 12 months. Where do we start? Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start...

October 2004:
First Post!

And I can remember such an odd feeling - because as I was becoming a father, I remembered sitting in that old station wagon as this little kid in the 70's singing along...

Shouldn't every Lord's Day be extraordinary?... - but somewhere along the way (at least for me) it becomes everyday.

November 2004:
I love election day. ... Today is a great day - today American can take a step, even if a baby step, forward to being a better country for our grandchildren than it is for us. What a wonderful system.

Today democracy and religion engage in a bizarre dance. ... The night of celebration ends in prayer and everyone returns home full, honored and satisfied . . . except for Lazarus who remains unseen outside the gate. -Larry James

But it’s a hollow, cold victory. It’s no victory at all, if you ask me.

He sat up, looked me dead in the eyes and said firmly, "BALL. ... GAME." I couldn't help but laugh. And I couldn't help but think - That's my boy!!!

December 2004:
When I got Noah out of the car and he and I were walking up to the park Noah was singing/shouting over and over: Bu-bu-bue Kismus He really couldn't say blue or Christmas...but it is one of my best memories of Christmas 2004!!!

February 2005:
It was such an amazing time - and truly showed that God indeed can do anything, far above what we could even ask or imagine. It brought much of our body to tears, and it showed us once again, that God is alive...working...and blessing us with extraordinary glimpses of Him.

April 2005:
Look, we don’t always understand it, and we may not always like it, but what our judges are supposed to do is look at a set of facts, look at the law that relates to those facts, and apply that law to those facts. ... It is not these jurists “fault” for following the law if that law proves unpopular. It is their job to apply the law. Coldly.

May 2005:
Now, fortunately (for the things I believe at least), the progressive movement is starting to “get itself together” a bit. ... But in order to be successful, one has to be able to identify where you want to go and then with discipline, with rigorous preparation, and with a determined plan go there. That is my opinion at least.

There are many of us out here that are politically progressive PRECISELY because of that now-commercialized question - what would Jesus do...

[I]n my very first subject in law school, ... I finally said, "our law has to be able to provide justice." He looked at me and smirked and said, "Do you think Law has anything to do with Justice?" I meekly replied, "yes, I would hope so." He smiled and said, "Law has nothing to do with justice - and if anyone else here has such thoughts, we will beat them out of you before you leave law school." He said that and laughed, and the class laughed, and I laughed. He was joking after all...sort of.

June 2005:
On a day like today, I long to be a Constitutional Law professor. If I taught ConLaw for a living today, it would actually be my job to spend time reading and analyzing today's Supreme Court decision in Gonzales (Ashcroft) v. Raich. Unfortunately, I'm not...

I believe in a Constitution that is alive. We do not live in 1787. ... We do not live in 1787, and our Constitution is not dead.

There are many variables affecting the slide of Hollywood, but the key is that they are making putrid movies. This is why when my wife and I do head out to the movies these days, as often as not we skip the megaplex and head to the indie theatre - non-stadium seating and all, it's still a higher quality experience.

The system is wrong because it is arbitrary, because it is not justice being carried out, it is 'lightening striking.' As he sums up at the end - the death penalty is not the rule of law, it is the rule of the mob.

Frankly, I couldn't care less about some showy aparatus extolling the 10 Commandments on government property - if we don't have a government with the moral compass to step up and take responsibility for protecting our kids when it is their responsibility to do so.

July 2005:
It is time for people who love the Constitution and believe in the Bill of Rights to stand up and make their voice heard - lest we find some of our basic American rights truly put into exile.

There is no question that I'm too old. Companies named Yahoo!, products named Konfabulator which include modules called Widgets. And this is all serious!!! I can't wait for my son to get to elementary school so he can show me how to use this stuff...

August 2005:
It has never made sense to me that judges who will be running for reelection later in the year, and are facing opposition who will be promising a vengeful electorate that they are willing to be "tougher on criminals", are making life-and-death decisions in court rooms.

Well, I for one stand with Brennan. ... The beauty . . . one of the many beauties of our Constitution is that it was written broadly - to encompass the passing of time and maturing of society.

September 2005:
The situation in the city, and for the people still in there, is deteriorating every hour. ... In this day and age I would never have dreamed this could be the result.

Regardless, this case shows very specifically that the death penalty process in the United States is broken...and it cannot be fixed. There is no "fair" way to take a life. (Especially when that life is poor and black and in Texas.)

J. Blackmun dissenting - From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.

October 2005:
But it does appear that the New Federalism is a thing of the past, and traditional, Marshall-style federalism will re-emerge under the Roberts Court.

As Slate put it: You might have your own ideas, but that's the point—when you listen to a Democrat with ideas, you don't fall into a deep funk or get hungry again half an hour later.

Instead of slowly phasing out the idea of TIRZs completely, my proposal would allow for more neighborhoods, and neighborhoods in greater need to benefit from the program - which would bring more benefit to Houston long-term.

Hopefully, there will be much more to come during the next year.

Happy anniversary to Famous Last Words...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Crash course in Con Law...

I found this very good (and quite amusing) article from Prof. Michael Dorf on Findlaw:

A Crash Course in Constitutional Law for Harriet Miers--and Everybody Else

The title is a play on Sen. Specter's comments about Ms. Miers over the weekend, but the article is a quick four-page breakdown of U.S. Constitutional law. It is highly informative, thorough, concise, and witty. I thought others might enjoy it.
Michael C. Dorf is the Michael I. Sovern Professor of Law at Columbia University in New York City. His 2004 book, Constitutional Law Stories, is published by Foundation Press, and tells the stories behind fifteen leading constitutional cases. His next book, No Litmus Test: Law and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in early 2006.

Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones...

Interesting article in the Houston Chronicle today about Mayor Bill White reviewing Houston's 22 tax increment reinvestment zones: Mayor plans review of tax zones' funding: In call for better oversight, White says the city's 'first obligation is public safety'

Tax increment reinvestment zones (TIRZs) are "special districts created by City Council to attract new investment to an area. TIRZs help finance the cost of redeveloping or encouraging infill development in an area that would otherwise not attract sufficient market development in a timely manner. Taxes attributable to new improvements (tax increment) are set-aside in a fund to finance public improvements in the zone. Zones in the City of Houston have been created for one of three reasons:
-1- to address inner city deterioration;
-2- to develop raw land in suburban fringe areas; or
-3- to proactively address the decline of major activity centers "

The idea is that as development comes to these zones, property values will rise - then the resulting tax revenue above a certain base level is directed back into the zone to fund infrastructure projects and other improvements to attract more private investment.

Mayor Bill White wants to reduce funding to some of the city's tax increment reinvestment zones as part of a move toward better oversight of their success at nurturing neighborhood development.
White, who's hinted for months that his administration would more thoroughly examine the 22 such zones, known as TIRZ, gave a memo Wednesday to the City Council broadly outlining a plan to re-examine them.
He wants to ensure that they're spending wisely and not wasting money that could go to police and fire budgets.

The Mayor is not making an argument here that TIRZs are ineffective or obsolete completely. Just that certain areas have outlived their usefulness. Therefore, he plans to have some zones get smaller increments in the next year, while others would go dormant.

I think that this is really good for Houston in two ways. First, there are areas that have developed well and are very commercially robust. It makes sense that those areas are in much less need of the TIRZ status. If you click here, you can access a PDF map of Houston with each of the zones outlined. Areas such as Greenspoint, Uptown, Memorial City, and I would also include Upper Kirby are areas that are absolutely burgeoning with business and rising property values. Those areas have much less need of TIRZ status, and it makes sense to use the monies earmarked for those areas elsewhere. The second reason the Mayor's plan is a good one is this: it gives the City more flexibility. The Mayor's idea is to take that extra money and invest it back into basic city protection services: police and fire. Of course that can't be a bad idea. But I would propose this: shorter-term, rotating TIRZs. This way, you could provide targeted tax incentive-ized investment to neighborhoods who need it for specific projects, then when those projects are complete, that TIRZ would expire, and could be used in the next neighborhood of need.

Instead of slowly phasing out the idea of TIRZs completely, my proposal would allow for more neighborhoods, and neighborhoods in greater need to benefit from the program - which would bring more benefit to Houston long-term. The Mayor's plan is definitely a step in the right direction. But hopefully, he will have a vision to provide more opportunities to more neighborhoods going forward.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rights groups condemn US juvenile life sentences...

From Jurist: Paperchase

Human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch Wednesday called on US federal and state lawmakers to change mandatory sentencing schemes under which thousands of juvenile prisoners face the prospect of life sentences without parole. A new joint report entitled The Rest of Their Lives says that some 2225 prisoners are incarcerated indefinitely in the United States for crimes committed while they were minors; some 59% were put away for life for first offences. While researchers said the offenders shouldn't go "scot-free" there should be alterantives allowing the courts to set other types of punishment that are perhaps more effective; the report cites no data suggesting that life incarceration is an effective deterrent to juvenile crime, and notes that many imprisoned juveniles have suffered ill-treatment and abuse, ranging from violence to rape. Review the full report, an executive summary, and a state-by-state breakdown of relevant laws. AFP has more.

The summary notes:
In fact, an estimated 59 percent received the sentence for their first-ever criminal conviction. Sixteen percent were between thirteen and fifteen years old at the time they committed their crimes. ... Racial disparities are marked. Nationwide, the estimated rate at which black youth receive life without parole sentences (6.6 per 10,000) is ten times greater than the rate for white youth (0.6 per 10,000).

For example, in 1990 there were 2,234 youth convicted of murder in the United States, 2.9 percent of whom were sentenced to life without parole. Ten years later, in 2000, the number of youth murderers had dropped to 1,006, but 9.1 percent were sentenced to life without parole.

At least 132 countries reject life without parole for child offenders in domestic law or practice. And all countries except the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which explicitly forbids "life imprisonment without possibility of release" for "offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age." Of the 154 countries for which Human Rights Watch was able to obtain data, only three currently have people serving life without parole for crimes they committed as children, and it appears that those four countries combined have only about a dozen such cases.
... One third of the youth offenders now serving life without parole entered prison while they were still children, in violation of international human rights standards that prohibit the incarceration of children with adults.
That's a sad state of affairs.

Go Astros...

Last year I was silent about the Astros run through the playoffs for fear of jinxing anything. They lost.

So this year I'll be up front about my support. This is going to be a very tough series - similar to the Braves series, I think the 'stros have the better pitching, the Cards' have the better bats. But the Cardinals are much better than the Braves, so this will be tougher. But...Pettite, Oswalt, Clemens - I'm cautiously optimistic.

Here is some reading:
Pettitte, Carpenter front and center a year later: Both sidelined for 2004 playoffs, starters make up for lost time in big way

No long faces over new faces: Skippers like what moves did to help their teams

Pitching's good reason to be relaxed

Cards on another level

Two loaded pitching staffs face off in NLCS rematch

Let's go Astros!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Positive signs...

There have been a couple of really positive signs for progressives the past week or two. Although the right has been in absolute disaster mode for 3 + months now, it's been somewhat demoralizing that there has been no real leadership shown by progressives to show American how we can move forward from where we are. But maybe that is changing...two really interesting and forward-thinking statements made the past few weeks.

On Tim Russert's show a couple of Sunday's ago, he asked a question that usually generates either nothing, or little more than a listing of Republican disasters: What are the Democratic ideas? But an actual answer came from Illinois congressman Rahm Emanuel, who noted five specific ideas - (1) making college universal; (2) demanding a budget summit; (3) cutting energy dependence in half with a hybrid economy; (4) creating a science and technology institute to rival NIH; and (5) making health care universal over the next 10 years.

Hey, look at that, it's actual productive ideas ... that take leadership to implement ... from the Left. Wonderful. As Slate put it: You might have your own ideas, but that's the point—when you listen to a Democrat with ideas, you don't fall into a deep funk or get hungry again half an hour later.

In addition, there was a TERRIFIC message by rising-star Barack Obama cross posted at Daily KOS and Senate blog. His message was in response to some of the dispute in the aftermath of the Roberts confirmation, but what he specifically addressed was the heart and soul - and future - of the progressive movement in the United States. You can read the entire - wonderful - message here, but here are a few highlights:

From traveling throughout Illinois and more recently around the country, I can tell you that Americans are suspicious of labels and suspicious of jargon. They don't think George Bush is mean-spirited or prejudiced, but have become aware that his administration is irresponsible and often incompetent. They don't think that corporations are inherently evil (a lot of them work in corporations), but they recognize that big business, unchecked, can fix the game to the detriment of working people and small entrepreneurs. They don't think America is an imperialist brute, but are angry that the case to invade Iraq was exaggerated, are worried that we have unnecessarily alienated existing and potential allies around the world, and are ashamed by events like those at Abu Ghraib which violate our ideals as a country. ...
I am not drawing a facile equivalence here between progressive advocacy groups nd right-wing advocacy groups. The consequences of their ideas are vastly ifferent. Fighting on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable is not the same as fighting for homophobia and Halliburton. But to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, "true" progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive "checklist," then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.
Beyond that, by applying such tests, we are hamstringing our ability to build a majority. We won't be able to transform the country with such a polarized electorate. Because the truth of the matter is this: Most of the issues this country faces are hard. They require tough choices, and they require sacrifice. The Bush Administration and the Republican Congress may have made the problems worse, but they won't go away after President Bush is gone. Unless we are open to new ideas, and not just new packaging, we won't change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy or fiscal policy that calls for serious sacrifice. We won't have the popular support to craft a foreign policy that meets the challenges of globalization or terrorism while avoiding isolationism and protecting civil liberties. We certainly won't have a mandate to overhaul a health care policy that overcomes all the entrenched interests that are the legacy of a jerry-rigged health care system. And we won't have the broad political support, or the effective strategies, required to lift large numbers of our fellow citizens out of numbing poverty.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives' job. After all, it's easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it's harder to craft a foreign policy that's tough and smart. It's easy to dismantle government safety nets; it's harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It's easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it's harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that's our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate. ...

But I do think that being bold involves more than just putting more money into existing programs and will instead require us to admit that some existing programs and policies don't work very well. And further, it will require us to innovate and experiment with whatever ideas hold promise (including market- or faith-based ideas that originate from Republicans). ...

Finally, I am not arguing that we "unilaterally disarm" in the face of Republican attacks, or bite our tongue when this Administration screws up. Whenever they are wrong, inept, or dishonest, we should say so clearly and repeatedly; and whenever they gear up their attack machine, we should respond quickly and forcefully. I am suggesting that the tone we take matters, and that truth, as best we know it, be the hallmark of our response. ...

I would argue that the most powerful voices of change in the country, from Lincoln to King, have been those who can speak with the utmost conviction about the great issues of the day without ever belittling those who opposed them, and without denying the limits of their own perspectives.

A powerful vision for the future of progressive-ism. This was in direct response to the Roberts confirmation (and much of the balance of the message deals with some of that directly), but on the whole, it goes to the future, and the hope of a true, deep, and comprehesive plan for America which people can dig their teeth into, and believe in again.

Hat-tip: the has been at Slate.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Commerce Clause is dead. Long live the Commerce Clause...

I realize that it's only geeks like me who get fired up about these little things, but I just caught the following tonight and was so excited about it.

The following was posted on SCOTUSblog by Tom Goldstein (one of America's leading Supreme Court advocates) today regarding yesterday's oral arguments in the interesting and tightly contested Oregon assisted suicide case (Gonzales v. Oregon (04-623)). This was just a throwaway in his lengthy discussion here.

JGR [John G. Roberts] pointed out to the State that Congress had heavily regulated drugs and that things "have changed" a great deal since Gibbons v. Ogden. (Note to Rick Garnett and other states-rights conservatives: told you so; the federalism "revolution" was actually more of a "petty insurrection" and George Bush has now officially put it down with the change from WHR [William H. Rehnquist] to JGR. Sorry.)

I've said it before, but Commerce Clause jurisprudence was one of the most important issues during the 18+ years of the Rehnquist Court, and the former Chief, along with Justices Scalia and Thomas (I believe) truly did want to turn back the clock on federalism. But it does appear that the New Federalism is a thing of the past, and traditional, Marshall-style federalism will re-emerge under the Roberts Court.

Roberts' answers on Commerce Clause questioning during his confirmation hearings was one of the instrumental things that led me to decide he should be confirmed, and that he would have had my vote if I were a Senator.