Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Bit Humbling

You may have heard about the air crash that occurred yesterday in at Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; an Airbus A320 skidded off the end of the runway in bad weather.  That Torcontin airport is in the middle of the city (which in turn is ringed by mountains) and has a far-too-short-for-comfort runway probably didn't help either.  Here's what a successful landing of a large jet there looks like:


It's a little odd realizing that the difficulty of that single one-minute long feat pretty much trumps any task I'll ever encounter in the legal profession.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

While we should of course keep in mind the various sacrifices of all those who have served and served our country in the armed forces, and do so throughout the year, it is fitting that we should give particular thought today to those who have given "the last full measure of devotion" to their comrades and their nation.  It is impossible to pay adequate respect to those who have given their lives on a blog such as this, but allow me to point to a just a couple of Memorial Day articles worth your time.  This editorial from the Boston Globe outlines the heroic deeds of the five servicemen who have been awarded the Medal of Honor (all posthumously) for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This column from Bill Kristol encourages us to remember the nearly incredible progress that our forces in Iraq have brought about in the last 18 months.

And one final thing: the Gettysburg Address, as read by actor Sam Waterston in Ken Burns's The Civil War:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Where Oh Where Is Liberal Outrage About Privacy Now?

You know all the criticisms (some justified, some not) that privacy advocates on the left have leveled at various anti-terrorism measures undertaken by the Bush Administration?  Well, it seems that commitment to privacy changes a bit when it comes to issues outside of the national security context.  From a post on Openmarket, the Competitive Enterprise Institute's blog:

Fingerprints are considered to be among the most personal of information, and fingerprint databases created and proposed in the name of national security have generated much debate. Recently, “Server in the Sky” — a proposed international database of the fingerprints of suspected criminals and terrorists to be shared among the U.S., U.K. and Canada — has ignited a firestorm of controversy. As have cavalier comments by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that fingerprints aren’t “personal data.”

Yet earlier this week, a measure creating a federal fingerprint registry totally unrelated to national security passed a U.S. Senate committee almost without notice. The legislation would require thousands of individuals working even tangentially in the mortgage and real estate industries — and not suspected of anything — to send their prints to the feds. The database and fingerprint mandates were tucked into housing and foreclosure assistance bills that on Tuesday passed the Senate Banking Committee by a vote of 19-2.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hillary's Last Hope

In case you haven't seen it, here's what she said today when asked by a newspaper editorial board about calls for her to drop out of the race:

My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know I just, I don't understand it.

I'm sure she didn't intend to say that she was staying in the race so that she would be ready to assume the Democratic mantle if Obama was assassinated -she's not that politically stupid- but that's about as bad as a gaffe can sound.  Mike Huckabee's off the hook for worst Obama assassination reference.

A Sunny Story to Start Off Your Memorial Day Weekend

Ducklings Die in Pool Drain At American Indian Museum.

The money graph:

"The children were standing there oohing and aahing" at the site of the ducks paddling along placidly, Crane said in a telephone interview. "And that's when they were sucked into the filtration system."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

That'll Show Em!

The House passed a bill on Tuesday authorizing the Justice Department to sue member countries of the OPEC cartel under U.S. anti-trust laws.  Any judgment won in such a suit could only be enforced, as a practical matter, against assets held by those nations in the U.S., meaning that the only effect of the legislation would be to discourage foreign investment by those nations in the U.S.

Meanwhile on Wednesday the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee engaged in some more pointless grandstanding about oil company profits.

An Embarrassing Day for Congressional Republicans and Democrats

The House of Representatives voted this evening to override President Bush's veto of the $307 billion 2008 farm bill.  Despite pleas from fiscal conservatives, 100 Republicans joined 216 Democrats in voting to override the veto and enact the payoff-laden boondoggle (interestingly, a few urban liberals sided with opponents of the bill).

However, it seems that the override vote may actually be for nought.  Why?  Because when the original bill passed the House a passage related to international agricultural aid and trade was accidentally omitted from the version that was sent to and vetoed by the president.  It looks like the Democrats will have to pass the bill and send it to Bush all over again.  Of course, unless a large number of congressmen and senators suddenly decide to put the interests of their country ahead of placating their own political supporters the end outcome won't be different, but I guess when it comes to Congress we should be grateful for whatever small favors we can get.

The office House roll call is here; it's valuable info for getting a better sense of how corrupt your representative has become.  For the gratification of fellow West Virginians in my readership, Capito (R), Mollohan (D), and Rahall (D) all voted in favor.  (Incidentally, that's the end of my respect for our state's lone non-judicial major Republican officeholder.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

U.S. Dollars Illegal

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has violated the Rehabilitation Act (a predecessor to the Americans with Disabilities Act that prohibits disability discrimination in federal programs) by discriminating against the blind in designing and printing the current generation of U.S. bills because bills of one denomination cannot be distinguished from another denomination by touch (try it).  The 2-to-1 panel majority concluded that the failure to make U.S. notes distinguishable by touch denies the blind "meaningful access" to U.S. currency and implementing measures to remedy that would not constitute an "undue burden" on the government.  The opinion is here.

The result seems quite salutary to me.  The plaintiffs in the case are apparently not seeking an immediate resign of U.S. currency, but instead are trying to get the Bureau to incorporate new touch features in the next wave of note redesigns.  That seems pretty feasible, as the vast majority of other currency systems in the world use such features -- a fact that did not go unnoticed by the panel.  It seems implausible that adding a tactilely-distinguishable feature, such as raised printing or braille-like dots, will vastly increase the cost of the next redesign or cause great problems for optical readers (like those found in vending machines).  Indeed, the Bureau has studied such options over the last few years.  It seems that the only true reason one hasn't been added yet is that the Bureau hasn't made it much of a priority.  

Saturday, May 17, 2008

If You Heard A Strange Noise Yesterday, It Was the Sound of Mike Huckabee's VP Hopes Dying

If anyone ever gives out an award for the most shockingly unfunny and inappropriate joke of the 2008 election cycle, Mike Huckabee offered a very strong entry in a speech to the NRA on Friday.  If you haven't seen the video yet, you really have to:

As one commenter joked, sometimes you vet VP candidates, and sometimes VP candidates vet themselves.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Dumbest Thing Said About the 2008 West Virginia Primary (So Far)

David Broder writes that Obama might have been able to pull off the upset in West Virginia if only he had campaigned hard here.

Uh, no he couldn't have.

Gay Marriage in California: Meh

So the California Supreme Court has ruled that California must offer homosexuals the right to marry, not just the right to enter into "civil unions."  Maybe it's the fact that the Court based it's decision on the California Constitution instead of the U.S. Constitution, or the fact that I don't really have strong feelings against gay marriage as a policy matter (actually, I'd like to see governments gradually get out of the marriage business altogether), or the fact that California voters will probably pass a constitutional amendment overturning the ruling this fall, but I'm having trouble mustering up a lot of outrage over the case.  Don't get me wrong, though I haven't read the opinion yet I'll bet the majority's legal arguments are probably quite weak, but it's a bit hard for me to get terrifically exercised about a state court decision on state law that likely won't be stand for long.

Though, maybe I'm just outraged out for the time being.

A Quick Follow Up on the West Virginia Primary

So indeed Hillary did win the West Virginia primary by 40-plus points, and although the margin of that victory has stirred up arguments about Obama's problems with less-educated white voters his drubbing hasn't led to any large scale shift in allegiances among the powers-that-be in the Democratic Party.  In other words, things have played out pretty much as expected this week.  The last really important day of the Democratic race will likely be next Tuesday, when voters in Kentucky and Oregon go to the polls.  There's little doubt that Hillary will win decisively in Kentucky (though almost certainly not by the kind of margin she got in West Virginia) but unless she somehow pulls the upset over Obama in Oregon the last of her momentum, and therefore the last of her hopes, will be extinguished.  She'll probably stay in the race through the last of the nomination contests --Puerto Rico, South Dakota, and Montana-- but it will be clear to her supporters that things are over.

As for the actual West Virginia results, a look at the county-by-county presidential numbers provided vivid evidence of something which is appreciated by West Virginians but apparently by few outside pundits: how strikingly different the various parts of the state can be politically.  Here are the four counties in which Barack Obama did best in the state and his respective margins of defeat (rounded to the nearest half-percentage point):

Jefferson County Clinton +3.5
Berkeley County Clinton +14.5
Monongalia County Clinton +17
Morgan County Clinton +22.5


For you non-West Virginians, Jefferson, Berkeley, and Morgan are the three counties that make up the easternmost portion of the Eastern Panhandle and are culturally part of the D.C. metro area.  Monongalia County, home to West Virginia University and culturally influenced by Pittsburgh, is (of course) the state's center of learning.  All four counties are in the vanguard of West Virginia counties in prosperity, population growth, and diversity.

Here are the four counties in which Obama did worst:

Lincoln County Clinton +67
Wyoming County Clinton +69
Logan County Clinton +74.5
Mingo County Clinton +79.5


All four, with high rates of poverty and low levels of education, are in the heart of the southern part of the state.

Obama didn't win a single county on Tuesday, but the differences in how he performed between counties are strong proof against any notion that West Virginia is a politically and culturally homogenous state.

(County-by-county results obtained from this Politico interactive map.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Good News and Less-Than-Good News on the Assimilation of Immigrants

A Washington Post story today covers the results of a major new study on the assimilation of the modern wave of immigrants into American life, as measured by the political, economic, and social similarities of immigrants to native-born Americans.  The good news is that the pace of assimilation seems to be running quite fast:

In general, the longer an immigrant lives in the United States, the more characteristics of native citizens he or she tends to take on, said Jacob L. Vigdor, a professor at Duke University and author of the study. During periods of intense immigration, such as from 1870 to 1920, or during the immigration wave that began in the 1970s, new arrivals tend to drag down the average assimilation index of the foreign-born population as a whole.

The report found, however, that the speed with which new arrivals take on native-born traits has increased since the 1990s. As a result, even though the foreign population doubled during that period, the newcomers did not drive down the overall assimilation index of the foreign-born population. Instead, it held relatively steady from 1990 to 2006.

"This is something unprecedented in U.S. history," Vigdor said. "It shows that the nation's capacity to assimilate new immigrants is strong."

The not-so-good news is that immigrants in  the modern wave of newcomers have less in common with native-born citizens than immigrants in previous waves did, largely because so many do not know English:

Although new arrivals at the turn of the 20th century were most likely to be eastern and southern Europeans, [Vigdor] said, "one of the top five origin countries was England, and close to 100 percent of them spoke English." By contrast, the majority of immigrants today are Mexicans and other Latin Americans, with the next largest share coming from a range of developing nations with languages other than English.

While there's a bit of something for everyone to be gleaned from the  results, I'm sure advocates for immigration restriction will not take the study author's conclusion about the fast rate of immigrant assimilation lying down.  Should be interesting to see how the impending controversy on that point plays out.

First Time in 25 Years

On Monday the Supreme Court issued an order affirming the lower court's decision in American Isuzu Motors v. Ntsebeza because the Court lacked a quorum (six Justices) to hear the case.  Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Alito recused themselves from consideration of the petition for cert. because of investments in(or, in Kennedy's case, familial connections to) some of the many corporations involved in the dispute.  For more, check out SCOTUSblog's discussion here.


(By the way, expect a lot of "catching up" posts about the Court on here over the next few days .)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Another Great Day for West Virginia's Reputation

The Financial Times has an article up right now --linked to on Drudge-- about Obama's inability to win West Virginia.  To sum up the piece, Obama has no chance of prevailing here in the primary or the general election because West Virginia voters, and Democratic voters in the southern part of the state in particular, are racist hillbillies.  Unfortunately for our state's reputation, the reporter on the story found his way down to Mingo County (which is in the heart of southern West Virginia, for those not from our great state) , where he ran across more than one... well, racist hillbilly.  The beginning of the article:

Like most people in Mingo County, West Virginia, Leonard Simpson is a lifelong Democrat. But given a choice between Barack Obama and John McCain in November, the 67-year-old retired coalminer [sic] would vote Republican.

“I heard that Obama is a Muslim and his wife’s an atheist,” said Mr Simpson, drawing on a cigarette outside the fire station in Williamson, a coalmining [sic] town of 3,400 people surrounded by lush wooded hillsides.

Mr Simpson’s remarks help explain why Mr Obama is trailing Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, by 40 percentage points ahead of Tuesday’s primary election in the heavily white and rural state, according to recent opinion polls.

I opined a while ago that I didn't think Democrats in West Virginia were ready to vote for a black presidential candidate.  I took some flack for that argument because I didn't have any empirical data to back it up (a point that was well taken, as I later conceded).  The FT story doesn't really present any empirical evidence on the point either, but it certainly demonstrates that it's not hard to find a racist dumbass in Mingo County.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Perils of Not Hiring a Lawyer To Go Over Your Policies

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Three small-town eighth-graders in Minnesota were suspended by their principal for not standing Thursday morning for the Pledge of Allegiance, violating a district policy that the principal now says may soon be reworded to protect free speech rights.


The school's handbook says all students are required to stand but are not required to recite the pledge. The same is true for all four schools in the district, a school official said.

Apparently, news of West Virginia State Board of Ed. v. Barnette hasn't fully penetrated into the wilds of Minnesota yet.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Is Hillary Toast? Yeah. Almost Certainly. Probably. Without (Much) Doubt.

If Hillary Clinton had won Indiana by a double digit margin on Tuesday and made North Carolina a close fight the talk now would be about whether Barack Obama's candidacy was on the verge of going under.  But although the overall winner in each of those states was the same as in that Hillary-triumphant hypothetical, in the wake of Hillary's narrow win in Indiana and decisive loss in Carolina the punditocracy has pronounced Obama the winner of the Democratic nomination.  So what's Hillary's strategy in pushing onward?  Simply put, to rack up landslide victories among the very white and rather conservative Democratic voters in West Virginia and Kentucky and hope that some massive new Obama scandal emeges.  Thus, the thinking of her adherents must go, to avoid the nomination of a clearly unelectable Obama Democratic power brokers would allow Hillary's delegates from Michigan and Florida to be seated at the convention and the superdelegates would shift in mass to her camp.

The chances of that series of events happening?  Very low, of course.  Still, it appears that the first prong of her strategy may well bear fruit: a recent poll taken in regard to the May 13th primary  shows her ahead by a two to one margin among West Virginia Democrats.  Hillary's chances are now very long indeed, but still it will still be quite interesting to see what the media buzz is on Wednesday (especially regarding Obama's continuingly poor performance among non-highly educated whites) if Obama loses West Virginia by 30 points on Tuesday.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Yet More Good News From D.C.

Via the AP:

WASHINGTON - Federal agents raided the office and home of U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch on Tuesday while investigating whether the nation's top protector of whistle-blowers destroyed evidence potentially showing he retaliated against his own staff.

Computers and documents were seized during the raid on the special counsel's downtown office, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing inquiry. At least 20 agents were still on the scene as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.

Bloch's home, in a Virginia suburb of Washington, also was raided, the officials said.

More here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Jindal on Leno

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (a.k.a. "The New Hope") was on Leno last week, talking about the progress that's been made in combating corruption in Louisiana and addressing the speculation that he's on McCain's short list for the GOP vice-presidential nomination.  The segment is embedded below:


Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Big Conservative Win... in London

In case you missed it, "Red" Ken Livingston, the socialist mayor of London and great friend/defender of anti-American leaders like Hugo Chavez, has been dumped by the electorate of that city in favor of Tory candidate Boris Johnson.  Now granted, Johnson is a conservative by British standards rather than American standards, but his victory in what might now be once again the greatest city in the English-speaking world (sorry, New York) is still worth a hearty cheer.

Friday, May 2, 2008

William Jefferson Clinton, Firsthand

As my West Virginia readers should know, the West Virginia primary is coming up on May 13.  Although there's little doubt that Hillary will decisively win our state's Democratic nod for the presidential nomination on that day, on Thursday this week the would-be First Gentleman made a couple of campaign stops in Morgantown and Clarksburg.  I had some free time on Thursday morning and went down to see his "front porch" stump speech in a nearby run-of-the-mill residential neighborhood.

My impressions?   Clinton completely lived up to at least one of his reputations: he was quite late in arriving for the event.  As for the substance of the speech itself, it was a typical Democratic bread and circuses address (I really wish I could take credit for that descriptor), promising --on Hillary's behalf, or course-- everything and anything to everyone and anyone.  The crowd was somewhat small and only somewhat enthusiastic, though they did respond when Clinton  flashed a bit of his charisma and rhetorical skills. 

Most noteworthy portions of his speech:  at the beginning and end when he told West Virginia Democrats not to vote for a candidate "who looks down on you."  Most unintentionally funny portion: when, rambling a bit, he said something to the effect of "when I was in office, we had rules."  Even many of the hardcore Democrats in the crowd chuckled/cringed a bit at that one.

The High Cost of Health Care Is Caused by Insurance Companies (Not)

Beating up on health insurers is one of the favorite pastimes of American politicians (though they don't catch nearly as much flack as oil companies, of course).  Mark Gimein at Slate debunks three oft-stated myths about health insurers: the profits of private insurance companies are a big component of health care costs, private insurance clearly costs more than government-run plans offering the same coverage, and mergers of health insurance companies drive up health care costs.

So if private insurers aren't to blame, who is?  The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, and especially in our constant hunger for the latest and greatest medical techniques, devices, and drugs, whether or not their increased cost is justified by increased benefit.