Saturday, October 29, 2005


McCain attaches "detainees' rights" amendment to military spending bill

The McCain Amendment -- SA 1977 -- says the following..."No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment."

I'm posting this language so you can evaluate it for yourself. Some will no doubt see it as a "terrorists' bill of rights" being enacted as US law. Others will see it as necessary human rights protection.

I have two questions: does this mean anyone detained by any US agency for any reason for any period of time anywhere in the world automatically, as a matter of US law, becomes entitled to access to the federal courts, which will necessarily then entitle them to an appointed lawyer and full Constitutional Due Process?

Probably so. Certainly, many federal courts would so construe it.

Second question, what is "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment or punishment? Is the standard subjective or objective? "Good cop bad cop"? Solitary confinement? Confinement in a coed facility? Confinement without a prayer rug or a Koran? Confinement without your headscarf? Without your prayer beads or magic crystals? Having your Koran touched by a non-muslim not wearing gloves? Britain has seen bans of piggy banks and Winnie the Pooh's pal piglet because muslims find them offensive. Would detention within earshot of pigs, or the smell of a kitchen where pork is being prepared be "degrading"? How about being served meals from a kitchen where pork is cooked? How about not being fed your preferred diet? How about not allowing animal sacrifices to someone whose religion does that sort of thing?

Think some of these are ridiculous? They're all actual complaints, either by muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay, or from lawsuits filed by prison inmates in the US.

The language of this provision is so broad that it essentially has the effect of guaranteeing US Constitutional Due Process rights to anyone stopped at a US military checkpoint anywhere in the world. In any house search in any combat zone anywhere in the world, US military personnel would be subject to these requirements. Ridiculous? This would become a federal statute applicable to any person anywhere "in the custody or under the physical control" of US soldiers. Persons at a checkpoint or in a house being searched would be "under physical control" of the soldiers.

The following links are furnished by the Center for Individual Freedom, with which I have no connection, for the purpose of contacting President Bush and the members of the Senate Conference Committee to object to this amendment. Use the links at your own discretion, I make no representation regarding them. You might also consider contacting your own Senators and House representative directly.

AOL Members Use This Hyperlink

Friday, October 28, 2005


Iraq's Constitutional Referendum: some interesting numbers

This Washington Times piece reflects the political progress being made in Iraq:

Nearly 70 percent of Iraqis voted in this month's constitutional referendum. The Bush administration and Iraq allies consider it a success. Here are some statistics that might explain why, compared with January's elections for the interim government.

• Polling centers: 6,235 vs. 5,677
• Poll workers: 171,000 vs. 102,000
• Applications to be poll workers: 450,000 vs. 110,000
• In violence-ridden al Anbar Province: 171 polling places vs. 33

The refusal of the MSM to rationally discuss and honestly report events in Iraq is appalling. The progress made in 2 1/2 years, measured by any objective standard, is astonishing.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


The Miers nomination: the right was wrong

yeah, I heard. I have a different take on that than most "conservatives"...I'd rather have Bush pick someone he's pretty confident he knows, as opposed to a) another "Souter" off a list who looks qualified and seems to lean "conservative" or b) a bona-fide well-documented right-wing ideologue who will not be confirmed anyway. "Conservatives" like to forget that the Republican Senate majority includes social moderates and liberals who are not going to support an obvious hard right-winger.

I have a real problem with the way "conservatives" have acted on this. Many of them have made it quite clear, while laboring mightily to make it appear otherwise, that what they really want is a right-wing ideologue, a conservative judicial activist. I'm a strict constructionist, and no more interested in having "conservative activists" than "liberal activists". I'm for a "judicial self-restraintist". I liked Rehnquist, who tried, with varying degrees of success, to push the Court back to a more "federalist" and less "nationalist" orientation.

I also think the right has done exactly what they've been complaining about, bitterly and justifiably, for years. Just like the left, they now think they should insist on an "ideologically" acceptable candidate, with a "paper trail" made available for inspection. Sorry, that's what the left has been doing to block judicial appointments, it's wrong for them and it's just as wrong for the right.

I think the hard right is becoming as detached from reality as the hard left.

First, there is no massive voting group called "conservatives" that "elected" George Bush. Bush, in both 2000 and 2004, in places like Ohio and Florida, Arkansas and Missouri, pulled an awful lot of votes from Reagan Democrats - these voters are neither anti-abortion nor libertarians, they're very much middle-of-the-road on balance (and many are, on "social" issues, a bit left-of center).

"Conservatives" didn't elect Bush, but they came darn close to electing Gore by not bothering to vote, or wasting a vote on Buchanan, in 2000.

Second, the "conservative" label is being applied as if it refers to a monolithic block of right-of center voters. In fact, there are two much smaller blocks of "conservatives" - religious conservatives and personal liberty conservatives (and a large block of “sort of” conservatives). Their interests are not only not always identical they are sometimes diametrically opposed. The recent Supreme Court case on assisted suicide is a perfect example. "Liberty" conservatives will see it as a states' rights issue, the federal government should butt out. Religious conservatives see it as a "respect for life" issue, and think the federal government should prohibit the practice.

The right-wing blather about her "not being qualified" was a smokescreen to try to avoid coming out and admitting they want a demonstrated ideologue. These are, after all, the same folks who piously insist that what they want is strict construction of the letter of the Constitution. The Constitutional qualifications for the Supreme Court are...absolutely none. No previous judicial experience, no legal professional... nothing. The idea wasn't to appoint "great legal scholars", it was to appoint people with common sense and good judgment, as determined by the President.

While many of the Founders were lawyers by education (if not really by trade...most were career politicians) most had little or no use for the long-tenured legalistic pseudo-scholar judges of the British court system. Remember, at that time equity jurisdiction was still maintained strictly separately from legal jurisdiction, the law courts and processes having been rendered so technical and hair-splittingly "scholarly" as to be useless for most purposes. I have a hunch the Founders would see our overly academic and legalistic federal judiciary in much the same way.

Miers was obviously no idiot. And as for not being a Constitutional "scholar", just once I'd like someone like her to sit at the "deliberations" table and say, to all those “constitutional scholars” , something like "I'm sorry, but where does it SAY THAT in the Constitution?"

The "qualification" issue is a non-starter. She was at least as qualified as Rehnquist or the 1/2 of the last 100 nominees who had no judicial experience. And surely as "qualified" as another guy criticized as "mediocre" who got the nomination through "cronyism". That guy was John Marshall, and heck, he turned out OK.

Well...that's surely more of a response than you were expecting!

[sent as an e-mail in response to an e-mail asking if I’d heard Miers withdrew]

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Senate operating in full stupid mode

Last post, I noted hopeful signs of congressional intelligence. Unfortunately, the rational interlude was short-lived.

The Senate voted 82-15 to table the Coburn amendment. The Coburn amendment was the provision that would have reallocated $223 million in pork spending for Alaska's "Bridge to Nowhere" to Katrina reconstruction. If you're not familiar with the issue, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R-Ak), possibly the world's champion pork collector, secured total funding of $320 million federal dollars to build a bridge to an island off Alaska with 50 inhabitants. The island has ferry service. For a pretty good, detailed piece on this ridiculous bridge project,
look here.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok) proposed to reallocate that money to Katrina reconstruction, and specifically to bridge reconstruction.

Senator Patty Murray (D-Wa)
actually said during debate that for anyone voting for the amendment, "we on the Appropriations Committee will take a 'long, hard look' at any projects in your state."

Nice, huh? The Senate Appropriations committee is apparently now operating a protection racket to insure the continued ability of US Senators to spend vast amounts of tax dollars on stupid, wasteful projects.

Didn't these 50 people notice it was an island before they moved there? Didn't the ferry ride to look at the property clue them in? Do they really have any right to expect the taxpayers of the United States to spend around FIVE MILLION DOLLARS per person to furnish them with a bridge?

Unfortunately, this idiotic expenditure is not unique, and it is nothing new. And apparently, this kind of crap is going to continue.

"Damn the taxpayers, full speed ahead."

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Congress shows signs of intelligent life

In passing H.R. 3971, the US Congress is showing signs of actually being inhabited by intelligent life:

The Senate on Wednesday passed without debate and sent to the president legislation that ends Medicare and Medicaid payments for erectile dysfunction drugs as part of a package that extends medical help for the poor and provides unemployment benefit aid to states hit by Hurricane Katrina.

"This legislation extends very important benefits for people who live on the edge of poverty," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

"And the provision included to offset the cost of these programs recognizes that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for certain lifestyle prescription drugs through Medicare and Medicaid."
The measure ends federal Medicaid payments for erectile dysfunction drugs as of Jan. 1, 2006. Medicare payments for such drugs will be terminated Jan. 1, 2007.

Two important things here: first, ending the federal subsidies for viagra, et al. Sorry, but I don’t believe the federal government (that means you and me, the taxpayers) need to finance recreational drugs of ANY kind for anybody, any more than it (we) should pay for things like breast enlargements or body piercings.

Second, the bill embraces the notion of offset spending: if we’re going to furnish this that or the other aid to hurricane victims, we need to offset that by cutting spending on something else. (I’ll leave for another day the discussion of how much and what kind of aid we should be furnishing to hurricane victims.)

Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., who sponsored the original House bill, said the government could save $690 million over five years by stopping federal subsidies for sexual performance drugs.

The savings will allow the government to extend for two years the Qualified Individual program that helps low-income families with their Medicare Part B premiums. It extends for three months a temporary medical assistance program that helps families make the transition from welfare to work.

Now the bad news: the spending bill spends a heck of a lot more than it saves, even with the concept of offset spending being embraced:

Deal said the legislation also would provide $500 million in federal unemployment funds to hurricane-affected states to help them pay benefits to out-of-work people: $400 million to Louisiana, $85 million to Mississippi and $15 million to Alabama.

States will still be able to furnish ED drugs to the poor based on a finding of medical necessity, but won’t get federal matching funds for such Medicaid expenditures.

And here’s a further side benefit of this piece of legislation: no more free ED drugs for sex offenders:

A survey by The Associated Press earlier this year showed nearly 800 convicted sex offenders in 14 states received erectile dysfunction drugs filled by Medicaid.

Here’s hoping this is just the tip of the iceberg, with more common-sense legislation to follow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


China plans spacewalk, lunar exploration

Following the successful completion of China’s second manned space flight, Chinese plans for space exploration appear to be running full speed ahead, with an ambitious agenda including spacewalks, lunar landers and orbiters, and a possible manned base on the moon, as reported by CNN:

BEIJING, China (AP) -- China hopes to conduct a spacewalk in 2007 and might recruit women into its next group of astronaut candidates, a senior space program official said Monday following the safe completion of the nation's second manned mission.

The Shenzhou 6 flight ended the first stage of China's plan, which focused on development of space vehicles, said Tang Xianming, director of the China Space Engineering Office.

The next stage focuses on developing ways for astronauts to walk in space and the ability to rendezvous and dock with other spacecraft, he said
"Our estimate is that around 2007 we will be able to achieve extravehicular activity by our astronauts and they will walk in space," he said at a news conference.

Those who dismiss the Chinese space program as simply doing what’s already been done, thirty years ago, by the Americans and Soviets, are missing the point. Japan and a European consortium have failed in efforts aimed at manned flight, largely abandoning those plans, although Japan still occasionally seems interested. Likewise, those who dismiss the Chinese efforts as little more than “buying” space travel vehicles and equipment from the Soviets are underestimating Chinese technology.

True, the Chinese are not doing anything that hasn’t been done before, but the fact is, no space mission, especially a manned mission, is a small accomplishment. And the Chinese program is obviously gaining confidence. This mission was far more complicated, and sophisticated, than the first Chinese manned flight in 2003.

Shenzhou 6 flew 2 million miles in 115 hours and 32 minutes in space, the official Xinhua News Agency said. The mission was far longer and more complex than the 2003 flight, when astronaut Yang Liwei orbited for 211/2 hours.

The Shenzhou 6 mission demonstrates that "China has grasped the core technology of manned space engineering and shows that China can independently solve high-technology problems and has earned a seat in the upper echelons of the world's science and technology fields," Tang said.

The Shenzhou 6 is a modified version of Russia's Soyuz capsule. China also bought Russian technology for spacesuits, life-support systems and other equipment. But space officials say all the items launched into orbit were Chinese-made.

The government already has announced plans to land an unmanned probe on the moon by 2010 and eventually send up an orbiting laboratory.

China said last year it would launch a moon-orbiting satellite in 2006. The 2-ton Chang'e satellite would orbit at least a year and record three-dimensional images of the lunar surface.

The lunar program -- named Chang'e after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon -- includes plans to land a vehicle by 2020 that would collect soil samples and conduct other tests, possibly in preparation for a manned moon base.

China clearly now has the ability, and apparently, the will, to become a third player in the outer space arena. To what end this ability may be directed is still anybody’s guess. But NASA and the US might want to consider this a wake-up call. Because of the pioneering efforts of the US and the Soviet Union, along with rapidly advancing technology, space, reachable only by science fiction writers fifty years ago, may get to be a pretty crowded place in the next fifty years.

(The photo reproduced above accompanied the CNN article linked in the post)

Monday, October 17, 2005


2005 deficit down over 22%, better than Europe and Japan

USA Today reports on the federal government’s deficit figures for the 2005 fiscal year, which ended September 30. As I have previously reported, increased tax revenues resulting from the tax cut-fueled economic expansion (growth rate at around 4%) has resulted in a huge increase in tax revenues collected by the government.. The result is that the deficit has dropped nearly 23% in one year, leaving the US with a lower deficit rate than western European nations or Japan.

So why do so many on the left and in the mainstream media continue to talk about the economy in negative terms and harp on “skyrocketing” deficits? Because that’s what the agenda calls for, no matter what the actual facts may be.

WASHINGTON — The federal deficit hit $319 billion for the budget year that just ended, down significantly from last year's record red ink, although a surge in Katrina-driven spending promises to drive the shortfall up again.

The improvement from the record $412 billion recorded in the 2004 budget year, which the Treasury Department reported on Friday, is largely due to a surge in federal revenues from an improving economy.

Although the 2005 shortfall was the third-highest ever recorded in absolute terms, White House officials -- and most economists -- say the most important measure of the deficit is its size compared to the economy.

In those terms, the deficit measured 2.6% of gross domestic product. The 2004 deficit, by contrast, equaled 3.6% of GDP. That is well below the post-World War II worst-ever record, a 6% figure set in 1983 under President Reagan.

It is also lower than the government budget deficits for many industrialized countries. Although the European Union officially requires its members to keep deficits at 3% or lower, France, Germany and the United Kingdom currently run government budget deficits exceeding that goal, while Italy's budget deficit tops 4%. Japan's budget deficit averaged almost 6% from 1994 to 2003 and now approaches 7%.

So deficits are not skyrocketing, our deficit compares very favorably with other major industrialized nations, and, best of all, these are real figures for the past year, not imaginary numbers. You would think all this economic good news would be big news, front page news, tv newscast lead story news.

Well, you would think so, if the goal of the news organizations was to actually report news.

UPDATE: Welcome WIZBANGERS, and a big "thanks" to Kevin for the link. Previous posts regarding the increase in tax revenues, decrease in the deficit, and slowdown in the rate of goverment spending in 2005 can be found here and here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Schroeder refuses to participate in German coalition government

Just weeks after being narrowly defeated in German national elections, after which he demanded in a televised speech that votes should be recounted, and counted according to different standards, and vowed that his Social Democrats would “never” enter into a coalition government with the victorious Christian Democrats led by Angela Merkel, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder announced that he would not participate as a cabinet minister in the newly-formed coalition government. Merkel will head that government.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Wednesday he will not participate in Germany's new coalition government, ending seven years in power marked by a newly assertive foreign policy and efforts to prune welfare benefits that were a drag on Europe's biggest economy.

In a speech to a trade union conference in his hometown of Hanover, Schroeder also took swipes at President Bush and Tony Blair, opponents in the debate over the Iraq war.

Schroeder's Social Democrats lost last month's parliamentary elections to conservative Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, and Merkel struck a power-sharing deal Monday to become Germany's first female chancellor.

"I will not belong to the next government, definitely not," Schroeder said in his televised speech.
He thanked union members for their support during his seven years of government and urged the new leadership to push through economic reforms while maintaining the nation's social welfare programs.

It’s no surprise that Schroeder felt the need to take parting shots at Blair and Bush. Like Jacques Chirac in France, Schroeder spent the last several years propping up his largely ineffective government by demonizing the “Anglo-Saxon speaking” countries. The “newly assertive foreign policy” referred to in the news article amounted to little more than the reflexive opposition of every American and British initiative, from the Iraq war to European economic reforms.

France and Germany share the same economic stagnation caused largely by an aging population collecting huge social welfare benefits and a socialist state in which wages and benefits are pricing their workforce out of the international market. Both countries have apparently permanent double-digit unemployment figures and negligible economic growth. Yet both cling to a socialist economic model, placing them at increasing disadvantage in competing with the emerging free market economies of Eastern European democracies like the Czech and Slovak Republics and the ever-more privatized British economy.

In Schroeder’s case, he went to the anti-American well once too often, trying to make the Iran nuclear issue and American economic policy the central issues of the German campaign. But his “I stand up to the Americans” schtick had worn thin with German voters.

Ironically, Schroeder had originally been elected promising economic reforms. But it quickly became apparent that he could accomplish nothing with respect to the bloated socialist welfare economy of Germany, and so in the absence of any other policy he made opposition of Britain in European affairs and America in all things the centerpiece of his administration.

A cynic might be inclined to assume that Schroeder, who appears to be unable to accept that he lost the election, is putting some distance between himself and the coalition government in order to be in a better position to return to power in the future.

For a post describing Schroeder’s bizarre post-election television appearance, and his apparent refusal to accept the election results, go here.


New Orleans: "Toxic Soup" floodwaters not all that toxic, after all

Another Katrina horror story turns out to be nothing but a myth:

First we learned that state and local officials had no idea what was going on, that Nagin’s “10,000 dead” and the police commisioner’s “43 incidents involving officers taking fire” were nonsense based on nothing in particular.

Then we learned that much of the reporting about the horrific aftermath was nothing more than just reporters reporting rumors reported by other reporters. There were no armed mobs roaming the city, no mass rapes, no bodies stacked like cordwood in the freezer at the convention center.

Now we learn that
the “toxic soup” of floodwaters wasn’t really all that toxic after all. In fact, it was pretty much just like any storm water from any other rainstorm in New Orleans. Except, obviously, there was an awful lot of it:

The floodwaters that inundated New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina were not as toxic as some had feared, according to a new study.

Researchers at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge found that the water was similar in content to the city's normal storm water. The findings are published in the online edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"What we had in New Orleans was basically a year's worth of storm water flowing through the city in only a few days," said study leader John Pardue, director of the Louisiana Water Resources Research Institute at LSU. "We still don't think the floodwaters were safe, but it could have been a lot worse. It was not the chemical catastrophe some had expected."

Some experts had predicted that the floodwaters from Katrina could destroy chemical plants and refineries in the area, releasing a deadly brew containing toxic levels of benzene, hydrochloric acid and chlorine.

Actually, many "experts" stated the "toxic soup" myth as established fact. And the media dutifully reported it over and over, like the all the other exaggerated and fabricated nonsense.

Here's a link to the "Overview" of the original report, published in Environmental Science and Technology Online. And here's a link to the full study.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


China to launch second manned space flight

The AP is reporting that China's second manned space flight is scheduled for Wednesday. As planned, the mission would be considerably more advanced than the first Chinese flight in 2003.

BEIJING -- China plans to launch two astronauts into orbit Wednesday for a mission lasting several days that is meant to seal its status as an emerging space power.

The mission, which reportedly could last up to five days, is more ambitious and riskier than China's first manned space flight two years ago, which lasted less than 22 hours.
The manned space program is a high-profile prestige project for the ruling Communist Party. The 2003 flight made China only the third nation, after Russia and the United States, to send a human into orbit on its own.

A rocket carrying the Shenzhou VI capsule will blast off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert of China's orthwest, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday. It didn't give a time but said there would be a live television broadcast from the launch site.

Live coverage would be a first for the Chinese space program, which is at least as secretive as the Soviet space program ever was. The 2003 flight had no live coverage, and earlier reports indicated that the coverage of this flight will be shown “almost live” on Chinese television, but with a delay. Foreign reporters are not permitted at the lainch site, located in the Gobi desert, and Chinese journalists permitted to cover the event do so with the understanding that all photos, videos, etc., are subject to confiscation if the authorities deem it necessary. Presumably this restriction and the delayed television broadcast are to enable the government to keep a lid on things in case something goes wrong.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, this flight is much more involved than China’s fist manned flight, which like the American and Soviet flights of the early 1960’s, involved little more than a few orbits.

The flight this week will be more complicated than the 2003 mission, according to state media.
Reports say the two astronauts will take off their 22-pound space suits to travel back and forth between the two halves of their vessel -- a re-entry capsule and an orbiter that is to stay aloft after they land.


The Shenzhou -- or Divine Vessel -- capsule is based on Russia's three-seat Soyuz, though with extensive modifications. Space suits, life-support systems and other equipment are based on technology purchased from Russia.

"Divine Vessel"... funny name for a communist country to tag onto such a high-profile piece of equipment.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Police departments find new source of revenue

According to this published report, inventive police departments around the midwest have discovered a new source of revenue: billing drivers for making out accident reports.

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Police chiefs facing tight budgets are turning to a new source for money -- drivers who cause fender benders or more serious accidents.

A few dozen police departments in the Midwest began charging drivers and their insurers within the past year for the cost of investigating traffic accidents and writing up reports.

Bills for drivers range from $120 to $500.

"That's money we can use to buy a patrol car or pay for gas," said Lt. Don McCarter of the Griffith, Ind., police department. "Everybody's always looking for extra money."

How it works varies from city to city. Some charge only non-residents, while other departments just send the bill to the insurer and don't seek payment from drivers whose policies won't cover the cost.

Police officials say they are targeting drivers and their insurers because officers are spending an increasing amount of time gathering information on traffic accidents -- information that is only useful to the insurance companies.

Some police reports now require officers to note details such as the damage to the vehicle and whether air bags were used.

"We don't have any use for that," said Huron Police Chief Randy Glovinsky. "The only thing I need to know is the accident location and the severity."

Michael Gurich, police chief in Sheffield Village near Cleveland, said his officers are doing the work of insurers. "We have adjusters come here every day getting our accident reports. They're tapping into this for their own benefit."

The first question that comes to mind is, if the police don’t need the information for any purpose, why are they collecting it? Are the accident report forms mandated by the state? If so, why is the state requiring the collection of information by the police which the police don’t need and which is apparently only of use to insurance adjusters?

It’s an open secret in Ohio that the insurance industry has huge influence with the Supreme Court. One justice, elected recently, publicly stated after the votes were tallied that those who supported her campaign would “get what they paid for.” Most observers thought that meant the insurance industry. Does that influence extend to the legislature? Is the legislature prescribing forms, to be completed at public expense, that benefit only private insurance companies? Or is it some unelected administrative agency that prescribes the forms?

If the forms are not mandated by the state, what the heck are the police using them for? Why are they gathering information which is not relevant to performing police duties?

Predictably enough, there are differing views on the propriety of this new, but apparently growing, practice:

Although only a few departments, mainly in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, are billing for accident investigations, insurers are watching the issue closely, said Mary Bonelli, spokeswoman for the Ohio Insurance Institute, a trade group.

If the trend continues to grow, it could lead to higher rates or insurance companies may exclude coverage for fire and police runs, she said.

Bonelli said it's unfair for cities to charge drivers for this because they are already paying city taxes for such services. "In reality, you're paying for it twice," she said.

Another problem, she said, is that there is no consistency in how the fees are applied and that the departments are only going after insured drivers.

Cost Recovery Corp., based in Dayton, is one of a handful of companies that does the billing for about a dozen police departments. It also has been working with fire departments for several years to charge for ambulance and fire runs.

"It's fairer to have a user fee for those who are causing the situation," said Terry Henley, the company's president. "The alternative is to cut police officers."

About half of the insurers are paying the bills, he said, while others are refusing, leaving the cost with the driver in some cases.

Here’s another question. Presumably, you would not be “billed” for an accident that is not your fault. Are the police then waiting for the outcome of any court proceeding, and sending a bill only upon conviction or a guilty plea? Isn’t this then an unconstitutional additional element of punishment being handed out by a non-judicial government entity with no lawful authority to do so? Wouldn’t an alleged offender be entitled to notice that this might be a consequence of a guilty or no contest plea? And how much time are the police spending following up on these cases in order to bill only the guilty parties? Or have they simply farmed that out to the same collection agency that does the billing?

Anybody else see an equal protection problem here? If you follow the law (or act responsibly) and have insurance, you are subject to this additional penalty. If you are uninsured, you are exempt. And how come “the alternative is to cut police officers”? Wouldn’t the alternative be to have the police stop collecting information they don’t need, but that the insurance companies want to use?

I have to say, I have a problem with public officers billing taxpayers for performing the tax-financed service that their public employment requires, even though it is apparently unnecessary for the accomplishment of their public purpose. For that matter, I have a problem with the police collecting information they do not need for police purposes.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


"No more Souters!"

I had planned a lengthy post on why the people claiming the Meiers nomination is a bad one because of “qualifications” or “cronyism” are full of crap. And that goes for the extremists at BOTH ends of the spectrum. Then I found this post by Beldar and decided, what the heck, why write something when I can cut-n-paste something even better than what I had to say…

Prof. Barnett asks: "Given her lack of experience, does anyone doubt that Ms. Miers's only qualification to be a Supreme Court justice is her close connection to the president?" To which I answer: Absolutely and emphatically, I do indeed doubt that! I challenge that assertion, and I fortunately have something more than sneering innuendo to refute it. By historical American standards, any Supreme Court nominee would be considered qualified based on a successful career in a sophisticated private business law practice — at the head of a large, first-rate law firm in a large city of a large state — that has also included leadership positions in the local, state, and national bar, plus a substantial tenure in public service as counsel to her home state's governor and then the President of the United States. Ms. Miers' overall qualifications compare quite favorably to those Sandra Day O'Connor had when she was nominated. Indeed, her qualifications are very much in the mold of, and quite arguably superior to, those of the late
Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., who had led a comparable law firm (Hunton & Williams) to Ms. Miers' and had been President of the American Bar Association (in an era in which it was still an apolitical service organization instead of just another special interest pleader). Only someone uninformed or unfairly dismissive of excellence in the private practice of law could ask a question like Prof. Barnett's, even rhetorically.

But the saddest and most troubling part of the early, reflexive opposition to the Miers nomination is from people who, like Prof. Barnett, are muttering darkly (and necessarily vaguely) that this nomination is comparable to LBJ's nomination of Abe Fortas to become Chief Justice in 1968. The Fortas comparison is badly, badly misleading — a genuine cheap shot. Abe Fortas' nomination to become Chief Justice was doomed if for no reason other than it came at the end of LBJ's term. That he was LBJ's longtime close friend and adviser, however, is not what leaves the lingering smell; many, many other Justices have been close friends of Presidents. Rather, the lingering smell comes from the fact that Abe Fortas had routinely engaged in ethically questionable conduct — including possible financial corruption — that made him unfit to be a judge at any level. He'd sometimes used his undeniable skills and intellect in the service of wicked causes, among them securing Lyndon Johnson's senate election through vote fraud. He'd maintained relationships that involved extra-judicial compensation even while he was an Associate Justice. Unless and until Prof. Barnett is able to make and back up comparable allegations against Harriet Miers, then he owes her an apology for even mentioning her name in the same paragraph with Abe Fortas'. It's an unjustified smear, and it's beneath his dignity (and certainly beneath hers).


Moreover, the classic meaning of "cronyism" is selecting someone for a position that they're incapable of earning and totally unfit for on their own. If all Harriet Miers had to commend her, as Prof. Barnett claims, is that she's been George W. Bush's lawyer, and if we could find no reason in her record, other than Dubya's friendship, even for her to have held that position, then a charge of "cronyism" might be appropriate. But Harriet Miers was already an accomplished and respected lawyer and leader before she ever represented George W. Bush. She's had accomplishments aplenty that are entirely unrelated to him. She well merited, based on demonstrated ability, the positions through which they became better and better acquainted. By every report, she's discharged those positions competently and effectively, rather than just skating by on the basis of the President's favor. Prof. Barnett and the others who are crying "Cronyism!" are using friendship and trust that's developed through superb service with the President as a disqualifying factor, irrespective of the nominee's other credentials and experience. That's a mistake. Alexander Hamilton was not against friendship, he was against incompetence and incompetents being promoted due to friendship. Hamilton himself was both George Washington's friend and his military and then political protégé, the "son Washington never had" and also his most effective cabinet secretary.

It certainly seems to me that Prof. Barnett is using the facts that Ms. Miers comes from a practicing lawyer's background, and that she's become a trusted friend while serving capably as Counsel for the Governor of Texas and the President of the United States, as his sole bases for arguing against her nomination. I believe the nicest term for that is "snotty." It's an unbecoming attitude, and this essay is just not up to his usual high standards of reasoning and writing. There may be persuasive reasons for opposing the Miers nomination, but I don't think these reasons are them.

And as long as I'm shoplifting from Beldar, you need to see
this full post, too:

I think Ms. Miers' nomination is, comparatively, a safe play, but I don't think it's the product of Dubya's standing in recent, or any, public opinion polls. I think it's mostly a product of two factors. The first factor — the one that became logically precedent to, albeit not more important than, the other key factor — was the unique-to-this-slot "need" to pick another woman to follow Sandra Day O'Connor. The first attribute used to narrow the field was thus whether a potential nominee had a Y chromosome, although being first didn't make an XX pair the most important criterion. No, the second and ultimately determinative factor can be completely summarized in three words: "No more Souters."

To you, me, the Senate, and the public, Harriet Miers may seem as much of a blank slate as David Souter was when Bush-41 nominated him. "Another 'stealth' candidate," many will say, "another blank slate about whom we know too little to make confident predictions!" That's already the official party line of the Dems, and it's something being muttered less loudly among puzzled Republicans as well.
But that is emphatically not the case from the perspective of George W. Bush. And the Constitution does, after all, give him the nomination power — not "the White House," not "the Republican Party," nor "conservatives generally," nor even "us'n who put him back into office." And he knows, and he's always known, that the blame for an appointee who turned out to become "another Souter" would likewise be placed on him. It's a responsibility and an opportunity whose benefits and risks he sought, but that he obviously takes very seriously indeed, because from Dubya's perspective, Harriet Miers was the one prospective female nominee about whom he personally felt that he could be most certain in predicting what sort of Justice she will become.

In fact, Beldar, to my way of thinking one of the most sensible and down-to-earth legal types in the blogosphere, has a series of excellent posts on the subject. It is absolute must read stuff... unless, of course, you're one of those left or right wing extremists who already has his mind made up and would prefer not to actually think about the issue. By the way, another nominee who was criticized as lacking experience and being qualified only by being a crony of two successive administrations comes to mind. His name was John Marshall, and he turned out OK.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


NBC News misrepresents "weak levee warning" documents

"New Orleans levee reported weak in 1990s

Records: Construction firm alerted engineers, but no action was taken"

That's the headline from this MSNBC report, alleging that "legal documents" show the Army Corps of Engineers was warned in the 1990's that the 17th Street Canal Floodwall was weak. However, a review of the actual document in question makes it clear that NBC is misrepresenting the contents of the document and making conclusions not supported by that document.

NBC News has obtained what may be a key clue, hidden in long forgotten legal documents. They reveal that when the floodwall on the 17th Street Canal was built a decade ago, there were major construction problems — problems brought to the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A 1998 ruling, by an administrative judge for the Corps' Board of Contract Appeals, shows that the contractor, Pittman Construction, told the Corps that the soil and the foundation for the walls were “not of sufficient strength, rigidity and stability” to build on.

The construction company said as a result of these problems the walls were shifting and “out of tolerance,” meaning they did not meet some design specifications. Nevertheless, the Army Corps of Engineers accepted the work.

Before we all leap to the conclusion the MSM wants us to reach, go have a look at the actual "court papers" in question. The PDF is available
HERE. The contractor was trying to collect an extra $800,000 on the contract. "Out of tolerance" in this context means "not plumb" (or "vertically straight") and has absolutely nothing to do with the strength or adequacy of the levee... in fact the contractor admitted and agreed that the levee was adequate for its intended purpose.

This was actually a dispute where a contractor was claiming the site conditions caused delays and extra expense (and the failure to produce walls plumb to within 1/4") and the gov't claimed the contractor caused its own problems the way it placed its forms for concrete. And produced another contractor who had built a similar levee who encountered similar problems and solved them without incurring an additional $800,000 in time and expense and delays. It may well be that somebody had reason to expect that the levee wasn't adequate...but these documents have no bearing whatsoever on that question.

There's nothing in these documents that indicates anybody ever claimed the contractor (or the completed levee) didn't meet specs, resulting in a "weak" levee (or wall). The only spec the contractor didn't meet was being out of plumb more than the "tolerance" (ie margin of error) in the contract.

The argument the contractor made was to claim soil conditions and the existing sheet piling was too "weak" to support the framing for its poured concrete, causing the walls to be out of plumb. The government position was that they shouldn't have been supporting their framing with the sheet pilings and could have waited a few days for the soil to firm up.

Contrary to what NBC is suggesting, the contractor did not “warn” anybody “that the soil and the foundation for the walls were “not of sufficient strength, rigidity and stability” to build on.” This strongly suggests that the contractor warned that the levee as completed would be "weak". In fact, the contractor never raised the issue at all until after the wall was mostly constructed and the government complained about the plumb issue and construction delays and withheld some payments. And at that point, the contractor was not arguing that there was a problem with the levee as completed, it was only arguing that unexpected conditions made the job more expensive and caused delays in construction.

Keep in mind, the contractor went ahead and actually built the levy and accepted payment.

There's NOTHING in these documents that says ANY party ever said the levee as completed was "weak" or in any way inadequate or defective. It may have been defective in some way, I obviously don't know that. But these documents certainly don't lead to that conclusion.

By the way, NBC appears to also be wrong in asserting that concrete was just "poured over top" of an existing earthen levee. From the document they reference, it appears that a "cofferdam", a sort of temporary levee, was constructed to keep water back from the construction area, the earth levee was excavated, and the concrete seawall or levee was constructed around the sheet metal pilings used to anchor and support the original earthen levee. Additional sheet pilings apparently were added, and the government argued that the contractor would have had less problem framing for concrete if they'd waited a few days for the soil to "recover" after being drained and having pilings driven into it.

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