The New Blog Is Ready

Posted August 2, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Blogging

If anyone still cares, here it is. I’ve only got one post up so far, a summary of our two week trip to NJ and PA, with new baby pics, too, and also my thoughts on some of the BIG NEWS from the last few weeks.

That means this is it for the Alablawg.

One final note, though, I forgot to announce the winners of the final picture contest. Susan and Barry both got it right: The remnants of US Steel’s Ensley Works. (This guy has some pics of the works at work, if you’re curious).

Anyway, it was fun. Maybe I’ll hear from you at the new place. Hope so.

I’m Working On The New Blog

Posted July 16, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Blogging

I hope to get it finished sometime early next week. Probably won’t be much posting at all until then. Two reasons.

One, living in Louisiana and posting on the Alablawg makes me feel like one of those couples who still hang out even after they break up. Or like one of these Evander Holyfield “now I’m retired, now I’m not” types. Come on folks, it’s over, move on.

Two, we’re about to pack up the van for a three day drive to points Northeast, where we’ll spend a week or so before trekking back here. The stated purpose is a wedding, but the real reason is so I can pick up a tandem that my uncle is giving me. I’m really stoked (ha ha, get it?) about the whole thing, but the traveling makes posting tough.

Btw, and on the topic of long trips, why has no one thought of something like “Child Care Airlines?” Set apart on the plane is a room for kids under, oh, like four or so. In the room are professional attendants, toys, cribs, all that stuff. You buy spots in there just like tickets and then check your kids into it when you board the plane. Speaking as the parent of eight month old twins, I know I would probably be willing to pay double the price of a normal ticket for a ticket on that airline. And for kidless people, how much would you pay for a guarantee that all screaming kids would be locked in a sound proof room during the flight? Surely the amount is enough to make up for the costs of the extra space and employees. This is winner all the way around, I think.

“we are Christians and patriots”

Posted July 12, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: God and government, Goobers

And jerks:

A Hindu clergyman made history Thursday by offering the U.S. Senate’s morning prayer, but only after police officers removed three shouting protesters from the visitors’ gallery.

Rajan Zed, director of interfaith relations at a Hindu temple, gave the brief prayer that opens each day’s Senate session. As he stood at the chamber’s podium in a bright orange and burgundy robe, two women and a man began shouting “this is an abomination” and other complaints from the gallery.

Police officers quickly arrested them and charged them with disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor. The male protester told an Associated Press reporter, “we are Christians and patriots” before police handcuffed them and led them away.

Lest you think this is just a few nutcases . . .

For several days, the Mississippi-based American Family Association has urged its members to object to the prayer because Zed would be “seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god.”

See, that’s the thing about eliminating the wall of separation: you never know who is going cross the boundary. Much better, I think, to let the government perform it’s duties without any civic religion.

The President’s Contempt For The Constitution

Posted July 12, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: National Politics

By now you’ve all heard the White House’s latest “F – You” to Congress. Claiming executive privilege, W won’t let any of his underlings testify about the US Attorney firings. Two things ought to really disturb all of us about this situation, regardless of whatever label we claim for ourselves.

First, this video

Sorry, folks, there is no defense for a high ranking executive official claiming she swore an oath to the president.

Second, about this executive privilege thing. The claim is not just that W himself is immune from testifying, nor only that W and current White House officials are immune, but that those two and even former officials – i.e. Harriet Miers – are immune.

Now consider this statement from W in a 2000 presidential debate.

I’ll put competent judges on the bench, people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and will not use the bench to write social policy. I believe that the judges ought not to take the place of the legislative branch of government, that they’re appointed for life and that they ought to look at the Constitution as sacred. I don’t believe in liberal, activist judges. I believe in strict constructionists. And those are the kind of judges I will appoint.

O.k., now find “executive privilege” in the Constitution. Of course, you won’t find anything about privileges for the president, nor anything about his underlings, and certainly nothing about former underlings. It ain’t in there. If it exists, it’s as one of those penumbra things.

I have no problem with penumbras. I do have a problem with W’s hypocrisy. In his mind, when the issue is individual rights for folks like you and me, we have to read the constitution strictly. (We can’t let people have too much freedom, that’s why the terrists hate us, you know.) But when the issue is power for the executive branch, well, then, Earl Warren’s methods of interpretation would be a great place to start.

That, to me, is the absolute worst possible way to interpret the constitution. I can see reading the whole thing broadly, or reading the Bill of Rights broadly but the rest of it narrowly, but to read it so as to maximize the power of one branch of government while minimizing individual rights? I think that would be anathema to all the founding fathers.

In other words, once again, we’ve got one law for all of us, and another for W and his buddies.

“That’s When The Whores Come In”

Posted July 10, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Goobers, Louisiana's Senators, The Homosexual Agenda

My Senator, David Vitter, just a few years ago:

Louisiana Senator David Vitter, speaking at a Lafayette Parish Republican Executive Committee luncheon, referred to hurricanes Katrina and Rita coming through the same areas as a same-sex marriage.

In his statements at the luncheon, Vitter referred to the impact of both hurricanes on the Lafayette area. “Unfortunately, it’s the crossroads where Katrina meets Rita,” said Vitter. “I always knew I was against same-sex unions.”

And again, this time speaking in the U.S. Senate about the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment:

“I don’t believe there’s any issue that’s more important than this one,”

Those statements, like similar ones made by other idiots, are patently ridiculous. But they are even more astoundingly moronic in light of today’s news:

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, whose telephone number was disclosed by the so-called “D.C. Madam” accused of running a prostitution ring, says he is sorry for a “serious sin” and that he has already made peace with his wife.

“This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible,” Vitter said Monday in a printed statement. “Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there — with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.”

Remember now, gay folks who want to marry are assaulting marriage and destroying America; conservative Christian right wing Republican straight white American males who go out whoring it up while wifey is oblivious at home, well, they’re just defending traditional values. Oh, and gay love is such a matter of public concern that we need a constitution amendment to prevent it’s public recognition. When married elected officials use their tax payer paid salary on whores, well, that’s a matter solely between the sinner and God.

“I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.”

O.k., now that I’m done puking, let me make a few points.

One, this would be a really dumb reason for anyone to vote against Vitter in the next election. Sorry, but my only concern is how well he represents Louisiana. What he does in his own time matters only in so far as it affects his representation. I don’t see how picking up a whore is relevant.

While the general principle in point one remains true, it doesn’t apply to Vitter. Why not? Here’s why not:

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) first got his start in Congress after replacing former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), who “abruptly resigned after disclosures of numerous affairs” in 1998. At the time, Vitter argued that an extramarital affair was grounds for resignation:

“I think Livingston’s stepping down makes a very powerful argument that Clinton should resign as well and move beyond this mess,” he said. [Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 12/20/98]

Two, even for people who would take this into account, when it comes time to vote, I don’t think it will matter. I mean, it’s not like it was a male crack whore, or a teenage kid. Heck, Vitter can’t even hold a candle to his fellow Louisianans when it comes to scandals. The standard has been set too low; compared to the Haggards, Foleys and Jeffersons of the world, Vitter is an angel.

Third, I can respect an honest fundamentalist, for folks like Vitter, though, I have nothing but disdain. He’s out cheating on his wife with a f**king whore while at the same time telling committed and loving gay couples across this country that their love is more dangerous than a Category five hurricane? That’s some serious chutzpah. And the guy is Harvard educated; he can’t be so stupid that he actually failed to see the hypocrisy. He just didn’t care. Honesty? Integrity? Wisdom? Hell, basic human decency? He traded ’em all for a chance to pander to ignorant a**holes.

Wait, who’s the whore, again?

Now he says the issue is between him and God. Well, I hope God introduces him to a few of the committed gay couples he feared, so that they can explain to him what marriage is really about.

The Sun! A Ride! A Great Morning!

Posted July 7, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Cycling - Road

Maybe because Louisianans pray too much (or sin too much), we have had nothing but rain since we moved to S’port, culminating in record amounts yesterday. Whatever may be the relationship between God and the weather, I was sure thankful when I woke up this morning and saw the sun rising. Really, I completely understand why suicide rates go up in rainy areas. The last week really drove me nuts. So the clear skies and green-free radar had me almost more excited than my new Saturday morning routine.

And the ride was just as nice as the weather. I stayed with the faster group this week. Not THE fast group, as those guys were doing time trials to coincide with the prologue of the Tour de France (which started this morning), but fast enough. We did 40 miles at twenty mph. Fun stuff.

Better yet I met a couple of local teachers, so I got to talk shop with them. Even cooler, they live near me, and often ride from the neighborhood. We exchanged e-mails, so I’m sure we’ll be riding together soon, maybe even some mornings this week. That’s great for two reasons. One, they seemed like cool guys and they appeared to be about the same level riders as me. Hence, ideal riding buddies. Two, I have this pet peeve about driving my car in order to ride my bike. Thus, I’m thrilled to discover the safe bike routes through town and out into cycling country.

As if the ride wasn’t good enough, I got home in time to catch the prologue to the tour. It’s an individual time trial of 8 kilometers. Fabian Cancellara, a time trial specialist, won it with a time of 8 minutes 50 seconds. That’s an average of about 33 mph. About more 2 miles an hour more than my top speed this morning, which I held for about fifteen seconds. Amazing.

Anyway, great day thus far.

KS: Local Muslims Oppose BBQ On Fridays

Posted July 6, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: God and government, Goobers

Here’s the story:

A belief that [Fridays] “should be set aside for the worship of God” is the reason a spokesman for a coalition of [Mosques] and other [Muslims] in Wichita, Kansas, says they made a strong push to finish obtaining enough signatures yesterday to turn in a petition opposing their city’s [Friday Pork BBQ] sales. . . .

“It’s a moral issue,” claims [Mullah] Moore. “It is [Friday]. I don’t think that [BBQ] stores should be open on [Friday], because [Friday] is a day of worship …. it’s a day of rest.”

O.K., so I changed a few things, but nothing material.

Special Rights For Churches

Posted July 5, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Uncategorized

Dan’s already highlighted this story about opposition in Hoover (a white-flight suburb of B’ham) to a proposed Muslim center. The stated reason for the opposition is fears of increased traffic in a residential area. We can all guess what the real reason probably is. Let’s assume, though, that these folks would be just as upset if something like Six Flags Over Jesus wanted to build in the neighborhood. They just do not want the increased noise, traffic, lights, and etc. that come with a big church, of any type.

So what could the good neighborhood folks do to stop it? Nothing, other than hoping the church will on its own find another location.

What about zoning laws, you ask? If the area is strictly residential, won’t that prohibit the church? Or couldn’t they change the regs so as to prohibit things like a church? No, and no. If it was any other type of business, the city would be free to protect the integrity of its neighborhood through zoning laws. Thanks to something called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, however, churches get special protection from zoning laws. To apply a zoning law to a church – a law to which every other business and person is subject – the city has to show that the law is essential to a compelling city interest. That’s called strict scrutiny. It comes from ConLaw, and anyone even passingly familiar with it knows that strict scrutiny is almost never satisfied. In other words, if the church wants to build bad enough go to court, the church is going to win.

And if they win, guess who pays the attorney’s fees? The city.

In short, Hooverites, I hope you like your new neighbors.

ACLU: “American Taliban” or True Patriots?

Posted July 5, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: Establishment Clause, God and government, Goobers

Of course, the real American Taliban is all over this:

Unless a federal judge orders it down, an icon of Jesus holding biblical quotations about justice will stay up in the [Slidell, La] city court lobby, a judge said Saturday.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it will take the court to court unless the icon and a plaque below it reading “To Know Peace, Obey These Laws” are removed by Monday.

And the Mayor of Slidell’s incredibly ridiculous reaction sounds like it came straight from the mouth of Roy Moore or one of his sycophants:

Mayor Ben Morris said he was ready to fight. “I fight daily with FEMA for the recovery of our city, and now we must fight with these tyrants, this American Taliban who seek to destroy our culture and our heritage,” he said.

Let me get this straight, Mayor. You want to give official government endorsement to a particular type of Christianity, while the ACLU wants to force the government to be neutral in all matters religious, yet it’s the ACLU who is the Taliban? If that’s how it is, let’s just stop talking right now, because words have no meaning.

As for the “our culture and our heritage” thing, the picture is a reproduction of a 16th Century Russian Orthodox painting in which Jesus is holding a Russian Bible, hence this reply from a fellow Louisiana blogger:

“Our culture and our heritage”? What heritage?!! Our Russian Orthodox heritage!? No one knew what the hell the words on the portrait even meant, and now everyone is going apenuts! People were being instructed, in the courthouse, to “obey” laws written in a language they didn’t understand, yet when someone complains and wants the picture removed, the judges and mayors raise hell about how “our” sacred “culture” is being destroyed.

As another La Blogger says, it’s a good thing for the mayor that

the ACLU respects your right to spout off like an idiot…

Seriously, though, I understand people who wonder why anyone would get irritated at a silly painting, especially if no-one can even read it. It does seem like de minimis harm.

I happen to think otherwise. I would not want to go to court and have to look at a picture of Muhammad telling me to obey his rules. Hence, I’m not going to make anyone look at pictures of my God. The golden rule, and all that.

But still, even if I thought this was a de minimis injury, I’d be happy that the ACLU was suing the city (and others who do similar stuff). Why? Mostly because the ACLU’s fights in these little cases are what prevents big problems. In other words, because government officials know that doing something as innocuous as putting up a ten commandments monument in a park can lead to a lawsuit, those same officials are very unlikely to do something really crazy like mandating church attendance. Or to put the same thing another way, if no one opposed Roy Moore and his types in these government religious display cases, what do suppose their next idea would be?

We enjoy religious freedom not because our government officials are wise and good. We enjoy it because people like those with the ACLU have the courage to fight for it.

The Scoot Man

Posted July 3, 2007 by Wheeler
Categories: National Politics

O.K., let me preface this by saying I’ve not followed the saga very closely. (Mostly because I knew it would end in a manner something like it has). Nevertheless . . .

One, W’s rationale for the commutation is a load of b.s. Here’s his statement:

Mr. Libby was sentenced to 30 months of prison, two years of probation and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.

I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend 30 months in prison.

My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant and private citizen will be long-lasting.

The Constitution gives the president the power of clemency to be used when he deems it to be warranted. It is my judgment that a commutation of the prison term in Mr. Libby’s case is an appropriate exercise of this power.

This is a pretext. When it comes to clemency, W is the stingiest president of the last hundred years. I’m sure he’s denied hundreds of cases with much more compelling facts than Scooter’s. And in Scooter’s case W did not even follow his own procedures for clemency requests. Normally he ignores them for years – until long after the appeals are finished – then gets the opinions of attorneys on the appropriatness of clemency before perfunctorily denying the requests. Here, though, he unilatterally commuted the sentence prior to even the beginning of the appeal. In other words, it’s not like W is a guy in the habit of sua sponte granting clemency requests prior to the end of the appeals process. The gift he just gave to Scooter is an aberration in procedure and results. Here’s what Orin Kerr had to say about it:

I find Bush’s action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead. Come to think of it, I don’t know if Bush has ever actually used his powers to get one single person out of jail even one day early. If there are such cases, they are certainly few and far between. So Libby’s treatment was very special indeed.

So why the special treatment for Scooter?

Well, it isn’t that he thinks Scooter is innocent. In the statement, W said “I respect the jury’s verdict.” In other words, he admits that Scoot-man did obstruct justice and committ perjury.

And it can’t be that he thinks perjury or obstrucion of justice are less than serious crimes, as DOJ prosecutes them every day.

Nor could the problem be that the sentence was somehow unreasonable or disproportionate to the crime, as the administration recently argued in favor of a similar sentence on nearly identical facts.

Could it be that the whole thing was a politically motivated witch hunt? Well, as someone much smarter than me explains, if that’s what W thinks, he’s pretty much insane:

As I understand it, Bush political appointee James Comey named Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Plame leak. Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Fitzgerald filed an indictment and went to trial before Bush political appointee Reggie Walton. A jury convicted Libby, and Bush political appointee Walton sentenced him. At sentencing, Bush political appointee Judge Walton described the evidence against Libby as “overwhelming” and concluded that a 30-month sentence was appropriate. And yet the claim, as I understand it, is that the Libby prosecution was the work of political enemies who were just trying to hurt the Bush Administration.

I find this claim bizarre. I’m open to arguments that parts of the case against Libby were unfair. But for the case to have been purely political, doesn’t that require the involvement of someone who was not a Bush political appointee? Who are the political opponents who brought the case? Is the idea that Fitzgerald is secretly a Democratic party operative? That Judge Walton is a double agent? Or is the idea that Fitzgerald and Walton were hypnotized by “the Mainstream Media” like Raymond Shaw in the Manchurian Candidate? Seriously, I don’t get it.

If the decision was based on any of those reasons, I’d be fine with it. I was a criminal defense attorney, after all. No one would be happier than me if this was actually a signal that W was about to begin making real use of his clemency power. There’s no shortage of folks serving unjust sentences.

Unfortunately, W’s actions offer little hope to Genarlow Wilson and others who are truly suffering from draconian sentences, because it appears that the reason for the commutation was pure cronyism and self interest. That is, this was the reward W gave to Scooter for keeping his mouth shut, and at the same time – by removing the coercive effect of prison – it ensures Scooter will never reveal the truth. So what this means is that if you do the crime, you’ll do the time, unless you’re a friend of the president. If you’re just a poor black kid from Georgia, well, you’re shit out of luck.

Second point, listening to all the party drones on T.V. discuss this issue has once again left me shaking my head in amazement at how anyone could ever become an active supporter of one of the major parties. The reaction from both parties was as predictable as it was hypocritical. One side goes on and on about how serious these crimes were and how the penalty was appropriate; the other acts like perjury is a technicality and that the commutation is a just act. I’m not even going to bother taking each quote and googling the speaker’s name and “Clinton impeachment.” We all know exactly what I’d find.

Really, folks, party and personal loyalties should never be absolute. If you are one of the people who is defending W here, well, your party loyalties have trumped your ability to think indendantly and reasonable. I’m not saying the Dems are independant and rational, though. Just that this time their blind loyalty happens to coincide with reason. Both parties are blind hogs, just the Dems happened to find the acorn this time.

Finally, Sentencing Law and Policy is the place to be for news and commentary on the commutation.