Tuesday, January 31, 2006

2006 State of the Union Address

President Bush gave his 2006 State of the Union Address tonight. He mentioned many good policy proposals, and one in particular stood out:
So tonight, I ask you to join me in creating a commission to examine the full impact of baby boom retirements on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This commission should include members of Congress of both parties, and offer bipartisan solutions. We need to put aside partisan politics and work together and get this problem solved.
This is good for two reasons. First, it will highlight the demographic problems that Democrats have refused to acknowledge even as their costs increase and solutions become more difficult to implement. Second, it will address the full range of problems. Hopefully recognizing the full scope of the problem will lead to a more comprehensive solution.

Nutjob leftist Cindy Sheehan was arrested inside the Capitol, although her behavior was so predictable that she never should have been allowed in at all. Perhaps her sponsor, Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey (D-CA), should face an ethics investigation.

Like most Americans, I didn't bother to watch the Democrat/eyebrow response.

Afterwards, news reporters reported receiving press releases attacking the President's speech two hours before the speech began.

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Congratulations, Justice Alito

Senate Confirms Alito to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON (AP) - Samuel Anthony Alito Jr. became the nation's 110th Supreme Court justice on Tuesday, confirmed with one of the most partisan victories in modern history after a fierce battle over the future direction of the high court.

The Senate voted 58-42 to confirm Alito - a former federal appellate judge, U.S. attorney, and conservative lawyer for the Reagan administration from New Jersey - as the replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been a moderate swing vote on the court.

All but one of the Senate's majority Republicans voted for his confirmation, while all but four of the Democrats voted against Alito.

The one Republican voting against Alito was Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. The four Democrats voting for Alito were from states President Bush carried in the 2000 and 2004 elections - Nelson (NE), Conrad (ND), Johnson (SD), Byrd (WV) (from FoxNews).

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Fear and Ignorance in the Washington Post

In The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson writes:
Once upon a time we had a great wartime president who told Americans they had nothing to fear but fear itself. Now we have George W. Bush, who uses fear as a tool of executive power and as a political weapon against his opponents.
Over at Observant Observations, I explain the astounding ignorance of this statement and highlight some of FDR's wartime policies of fear, starting with internment.

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Filibuster, please.

As I sit here just barely inside the Beltway watching Ted Kennedy go nuts during the Alito debate on C-SPAN, I can only wish there would be a filibuster. Reports say there will be more than enough votes to break any filibuster and more than enough for confirmation, but it would be so entertaining.

The cloture vote should begin in 15 minutes. C-SPAN reports that the final vote will take place tomorrow morning.

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China More Powerful Than the EU

As far as internet behemoth Google is concerned, China is more powerful than the EU:

Google, the giant internet search company, is to lead industry opposition to new proposals from the European Commission to regulate online content.

The company, which last week said it would self-censor its Chinese search engine to appease the country's government, objects to the commission's proposals to extend regulations in the Television Without Frontiers directive (TWFD) to cover video content shown on the internet...

Last week Google was criticised for bowing to pressure from Beijing to stop Chinese citizens using the company's new google.cn portal to search for websites that refer to Tibetan independence, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the banned Falun Gong organisation. An executive with links to Google, whose motto is "Don't be evil", said yesterday: "Better to allow Chinese citizens to access 99 per cent of information on the web than nothing at all."

The country runs a sophisticated system of internet control, known as "The Great Firewall of China", which blocks access to Western sites.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sheehan Finds a New Reason to Run Against Feinstein

Since yesterday's report on nutjob leftist Cindy Sheehan's "threat" to run against Senator Feinstein over the Alito nomination, Sheehan has returned to her usual subject of complaint: war. Speaking from Castro's closest American ally:

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Cindy Sheehan, the peace activist who set up camp near President Bush's Texas ranch last summer, said Saturday she is considering running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein to protest what she called the California lawmaker's support for the war in Iraq.

"She voted for the war. She continues to vote for the funding. She won't call for an immediate withdrawal of the troops," Sheehan told The Associated Press in an interview while attending the World Social Forum in Venezuela along with thousands of other anti-war and anti-globalization activists.
I wonder what her reason will be tomorrow.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Cindy Sheehan for Senate?

Leftist nutjob Cindy Sheehan "threatens" to run against California Senator Dianne Feinstein this year if she doesn't filibuster the Alito nomination.

That race would be just plain fun.

We also note that Sheehan's apparent adoption of a reverse-Psycho approach to life.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Virginia Marriage Amendment Update

We previously reported that Virginia's marriage amendment passed the Senate and was headed to the House of Delegates. It appears that the remaining votes are actually quite minor:
The Senate voted 28 to 11 to follow the House of Delegates in approving the amendment. Though each chamber still must pass the measure adopted by the other, their wording is identical and support among the senators and delegates is strong.
The amendment will then go directly to the ballot - a process that does not involve the governor:

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) does not have to review the amendment resolution. He could veto a separate bill that specifically calls for the November referendum, but press secretary Delacey Skinner said he will not do so.

"The governor's position is that a marriage is between one man and one woman," Skinner said.

Eighteen state constitutions define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, many through amendments approved since 2003, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures...

Virginia law already defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and does not allow for civil unions, but proponents said the amendment is needed in case courts try to force the state to recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions performed in other states.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Policies of Pity

In The Washington Times, Adrienne Washington reminds us how little politicians and reporters understand (or care) about economics, business, and the real world.
It's about time workers, many of them single mothers and struggling students, got a tiny break. People want to work, but they need decent jobs with a livable wage and basic benefits for their labor.
No matter how nice that sounds, why should those people be prohibited from taking jobs that aren't as high as some pretentious politicians decide? I don't need to support a family of four and "benefits" are merely alternative forms of payment. Instead we'll increase the struggle by making it harder for people to work and legislating how their wages should be paid. (Already have health insurance? Too bad, we're going to make you buy another policy whether you want it or not.)
You've got to wonder how many well-heeled politicians could make it on minimum wage...
I bet many of them did when they started out.
A person who works 40 hours a week at the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour will earn $10,700 a year, which is $5,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.
So now they're making policy based on a theoretical single mother with two children as your lowest possible employee? There's no reason to expect that every single minimum wage employee is a single parent with two children. Haven't these people heard of teenagers? Minimum wage jobs exist because that's what the labor is worth, not to fund a theoretical sympathetic person's lifestyle.
Bad for business? What could be better for businesses than people having more money to buy their products and services?
Yeah, it's really good for business when you take two dollars away from them and give one back. Thanks be to the almighty government which decided not to steal everything I had after all.

Maryland follows at least 12 states and the District in raising pay rates to help those who need it most. To their credit, these jurisdictions are not waiting for federal crumbs. So, an estimated 50,000 Maryland workers might be able to buy more beans and rice or cereal and milk to feed their families by this time next month.

And some economists reportedly predict there will be a ripple effect as employers grant raises to those currently earning above minimum wage.

Meanwhile, the cost of gas, utilities, food, clothing, health care and tuition continue to skyrocket. Let's not even talk about the inability of the working poor to find a decent roof over their heads. Area shelters struggle to house the homeless, who are increasingly working-class families who cannot afford their rent.

So the ripple effect on wages is ok, but the ripple effect on prices is incomprehensible?

Maryland, as you may remember, is the state that recently decided to increase the cost of living for its poorest residents and discourage new business development.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mexico to Mexicans: "Go Away!"

From the BBC:

A Mexican government agency is to issue some 70,000 maps marking main roads and water tanks for people wanting to cross illegally into the US.

The National Human Rights Commission says the maps will be aimed at cutting the death toll among migrants.

US advocates of tougher border controls have criticised the move, saying it will encourage illegal immigration.

Relations between the US and Mexico have cooled recently over US plans to build a fence on parts of the border.

The Mexican government is taking the easy way out - instead of trying to improve its citizens' lives, it's telling them to leave the country.

...a spokesman for the US homeland security department said maps would not improve safety for those trying to cross the border.

"It is not helpful for anyone, no matter how well intended they might be, to produce road maps that lead aliens into the desolate and dangerous areas along the border, and potentially invite criminal activity, human exploitation and personal risk," said Russ Knocke.

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A Marriage Amendment for Virginia

The Washington Post reports:

A proposal to write a ban on same-sex marriage into the Virginia Constitution has won easy Senate passage... on a 28-to-11 vote.

That sends it to the House where easy passage is also expected. After that, it heads to the statewide ballot in November for the required voter approval to amend it to the Constitution...

Meanwhile, a Republican state delegate in Maryland said he is close to forcing a vote on whether same-sex marriages should be banned in that state's constitution.

Del. H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel) said he has 44 of 47 signatures needed to bring his proposed amendment to a full House vote. Republicans began pushing for the gay marriage question to be on this fall's ballot after a Baltimore judge ruled last week that state law banning same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. That decision is being appealed.

It is good to see legislators doing their jobs instead of choosing total reliance on the courts.

Click here for earlier coverage of the situation in Maryland.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Alito Goes to Full Senate

The Washington Post reports:

By a 10-8 party line vote with sometimes bitter partisan debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee today recommended that Samuel A. Alito Jr. be confirmed by the full Senate as associate justice of the Supreme Court.

The nomination will move to the full Senate Wednesday with a vote expected by the end of the week, according to the committee chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)...

While Democrats promised to make a fight of the Alito nomination on the floor, there are no signs now of any Republican opposition and confirmation is likely.

The partisan outcome prompted ominous-sounding comments about future nominations from both sides of the aisle.

At least one Senator (who also claims to be Solicitor General) demanded a stealth appointment:
Democrats were equally critical of the president for nominating a man they consider a polarizing force. "I wish we could have someone who has the support of all Americans," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.,) the committee's ranking Democrat. "There are many, many, many people in this country who would have had 90 to 100 votes in the Senate."
And no, Senator, we can't have O'Connor again - and you'd vote against her if you could. You only like her now because of that looming threat of legal stability and predictability.

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Virginia May Revise Telecom Taxes

The Washington Post reports:

A House of Delegates panel passed a bill Monday that would revamp the way Virginia taxes telecommunications services in light of the new phone, cable, wireless and Internet options available to consumers.

The new tax system would replace what supporters of the bill call an antiquated mix of local levies placed on services that Virginians use to communicate and to receive information and entertainment.

The proposal before the General Assembly would impose a flat 5 percent tax statewide on various communication and information technologies and would eliminate the taxes imposed by each locality, which in some cases reach 35 percent on local calls, mobile services and paging. It would also eliminate cable franchising fees. The measure would impose taxes on monthly satellite television bills, Internet calling technology and long-distance service, which currently aren't taxed.

"Fifty years ago the only way to communicate with others was with a plain old telephone line," said Del. Samuel A. Nixon Jr. (R-Chesterfield), the bill's chief sponsor. "Technology has evolved but our taxing policies have not."

"It's fair, it's balanced and adheres to the principles of taxes being low as possible and broadly applied as possible," Nixon added. He said Virginia has the highest taxes on basic telephone service in the nation...

Supporters said the taxes would raise the same amount of revenue -- about $425 million annually -- that localities now receive from local taxes and franchise agreements. A new state law would not affect federal fees.

This sounds like a good idea if it does a good job of equalizing taxes between the various technologies. The nature of the opposition suggests this is the case:

The effort faces serious hurdles again this year. Satellite companies have lobbied hard to defeat the bill, arguing that their customers are unfairly bearing the brunt of the state's attempt to standardize the way the industry is taxed. There are two dozen states that tax satellite service.

Several rural lawmakers, including Sen. William C. Wampler Jr. (R-Bristol), chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, have said that their constituents would be harmed by the creation of a tax on satellite service, which many rely on because cable does not reach their areas.

"The bill puts the interests of local governments over citizens," said Del. Benjamin L. Cline (R-Rockbridge), who said he voted against the bill because he is concerned about placing a new tax on satellite users.

I am concerned that satellite users aren't taxed. They haven't explained why cable should be taxed while satellite service is tax free. The tax might be new, but so is the service. Greater uniformity in taxes will help maintain the tax base while avoiding discrimination against established technologies.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

It's (Probably) Not a War

The Washington Post reports:

An air defense exercise that had been scheduled to be held last night and early today in the Washington area was postponed because of poor weather, but will be held tonight and early tomorrow if skies are clear enough, military officials said.

The exercise is to use fighters, helicopters and small aircraft flying at low altitudes along the Potomac River and around the District. It is designed to test plans for identifying and intercepting air threats.

The exercises are being conducted by the continental U.S. component of the North American Aerospace Defense Command --NORAD--in coordination with a number of other government agencies. Such exercises have been conducted since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

I'm going to give the military the benefit of the doubt here and assume the weather requirements have more to do with observing the exercise than actual performance. Either that or we all must pray for endless years of clear weather.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

US Navy Captures Pirates

From the BBC:

The US navy says it has captured a number of suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia.

The guided missile destroyer USS Winston S Churchill went in pursuit of a suspect vessel after receiving a report of piracy, the navy said.

When other efforts failed, the Churchill fired warning shots to bring the boat to a halt.

There have been numerous attacks by pirates off Somalia, some of the most dangerous waters in the world.

The US navy's Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and patrols the Indian Ocean, received reports of "an attempted act of piracy" approximately 50 miles (80km) off the Somali coast on Friday, it said in a statement.


Piracy, including hijackings and hostage-taking, has become common off anarchic Somalia, where there has been no effective central government since 1991.

An attack late last year against a luxury cruise liner was repelled by an ear-splitting acoustic device.

The International Maritime Bureau has already advised ships to stay 150 miles off the Somali coast, much farther than where the reported attack took place. For more on Somalia, check out "Is Somalia Even a Country?" and "Somaliland: Somalia Part II". For more commentary on piracy under international law, hire me. Piracy coverage is also available here.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Marriage in Maryland

A court ruling may leave it up to Maryland politicians to decide whether marriage can have any legal definition. The Washington Times reports:

A Circuit Court judge yesterday ruled that Maryland's 33-year-old ban on same-sex "marriage" is unconstitutional.

In issuing her ruling, Judge M. Brooke Murdock imposed a stay on it pending an anticipated appeal -- and preventing a rush to the altar by homosexual couples...

The law defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman violates the state constitution's Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees "equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged or denied because of sex," the judge said.

The Maryland Attorney General's Office yesterday appealed the decision to the Court of Special Appeals. The case appears destined for the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court...

The state's position is that marriage is not a fundamental right but a privilege and that the 1973 law does not discriminate based on sex because both men and women are prohibited from entering into same-sex "marriage."

Democrats may be left without a reasonable excuse to oppose a state constitutional amendment defining marriage:

Judge Murdock's ruling has fueled a drive by conservative state lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment that would ban homosexual "marriage."

Democratic leaders had cited the 1973 law in defending their opposition to the amendment, which would have to be ratified by voters.

"It is a sad day for Maryland, and I can assure you there will be legislative consequences," said Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., an Anne Arundel Republican leading the constitutional amendment effort.

"The majority party has been steadfast in blocking my every attempt to get a vote on a constitutional amendment," he said. "They don't want their members spotlighted on voting against marriage.

Democratic leaders also may resist putting a marriage amendment on the ballot this election year because it could energize conservative voters and help Republican candidates, including Mr. Ehrlich in his re-election bid and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in his run for the U.S. Senate.

If there is no ballot initiative, I would like to see Maryland Republicans unite on the issue and promise one. Democrats that are too spineless to act and too partisan to support bipartisan movements don't deserve to be in office.

The Washington Post adds:

Even before the ruling yesterday, House Democrats took steps to try to prevent a constitutional ban from reaching a vote on the floor. House leaders made a technical change in procedural rules Thursday, over the objections of Republicans. Residual resentment from that move spilled into yesterday's floor session.

Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) admonished his Democratic colleagues for what he said was an attempt to shield them from casting a tough vote in an election year. "We should not fear having a debate," he said...

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), who chairs the Senate committee that would have to approve an amendment for it to advance, said he saw no reason to act before the Court of Appeals has ruled. "One Circuit Court judge's opinion is not cause for amending the constitution," Frosh said.

Actually, it is a perfect cause. Instead of ceding their power to the courts, Maryland's elected leaders should take the lead, defend Maryland law, and preclude a Massachusetts-style constitutional crisis.

For commentary on the federal definition of marriage, check out Defining Marriage.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

Eyebrow to Speak, Will Anyone Listen?

The rumors from last month are true - Virginia Governor Tim "Eyebrow" Kaine will give the Democrat response to President Bush's January 31st State of the Union speech.

As I commented originally, Kaine doesn't have to do very well to outperform his predecessors - and most viewers will have changed channels by the time he starts talking.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Truth Destroys

From The AP:

The Washington Post shut down one of its blogs Thursday after the newspaper's ombudsman raised the ire of readers by writing that lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to the Democrats as well as to Republicans...

In her Sunday column, ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote that Abramoff "had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties," prompting a wave of nasty reader postings on post.blog.

There were so many personal attacks that the newspaper's staff could not "keep the board clean, there was some pretty filthy stuff," and so the Post shut down comments on the blog, or Web log, said Jim Brady, executive editor of washingtonpost.com.

This probably should not have been such a surprise. The hatred of the far-left combined with the cowardly irresponsibility of anonymity often creates some wild results. The Post's statement can be found here.

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Allen Leads Miller by 30 Points

The Washington Times reports:

Democrats face an uphill battle in their attempt to unseat Virginia Sen. George Allen, a new statewide poll shows.

So far, Northern Virginia businessman Harris Miller is the only announced Democrat to seek his party's nomination to challenge the Republican senator on the Nov. 7 ballot.

If the election were held today, Mr. Allen would receive 57 percent of the vote, and Mr. Miller would get 27 percent, according to a telephone survey of 500 likely Virginia voters conducted last week by Rasmussen Reports.


Because Mr. Miller has not yet campaigned publicly, most learning of the poll results cautioned it is too early to get a clear picture of how he will perform at the polls on Election Day.

However, it is hard to argue with Mr. Allen's popularity.

Thirty points is not a bad lead, although I would been interested in seeing how Miller polls against a generic Democrat. Miller is holding roughly the same ground as other theoretical opponents in a December poll, including one who had recently run a statewide race. That seems to suggest that Miller is a generic Democrat.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

"Free File" Your Taxes

As I mentioned earlier in "Two More Days to Put Off Doing Your Taxes", the IRS has created a "Free File Alliance" of companies that provide free electronic tax filing subject to certain qualifications:
for millions of eligible taxpayers, with an Adjusted Gross Income of $50,000 or less, there is Free File. Free File is online tax preparation and electronic filing through a partnership agreement between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, LLC. In other words, you can e-file... free.
I used TurboTax's version last year. There was some problem that required me to print out the forms and mail them in instead of submitting them electronically, but even that was easier than doing it all by hand.

Now, send me my W-2's so I can get my money back!

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Meaningless Delay

From The Washington Post:

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee reached an agreement yesterday evening to wait until next Tuesday to vote on the nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.

The agreement alters the schedule announced Friday, during the final moments of Alito's week-long confirmation hearings, by Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who said he would conduct the panel's vote today. His announcement sparked a quarrel with the panel's ranking Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), who said he would seek a delay. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) vowed that a vote in the full Senate, which has final say over all judicial candidates chosen by the president, would take place by the end of the week.

In the end, Specter and Frist essentially acknowledged the prerogative Democrats have under Senate rules to postpone any committee decision for one week. GOP leaders grumbled that Democrats had reneged on an earlier agreement about when the Alito vote would take place -- an agreement that Democrats denied ever existed.


Democrats, anticipating that Alito ultimately will be confirmed, are trying to deny the White House that victory as long as possible, particularly in the days before the State of the Union address President Bush is to deliver Jan. 31. Although Senate rules do not enable them to defer the confirmation vote until after the speech, Democratic senators would like to reduce the victory period immediately before the speech, one of the broadest public stages the president commands each year.

Democrats are delaying in a partisan calculation, but also to make sure they get their marching orders:
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, most of whom have indicated they will vote against Alito's confirmation, were reluctant to cast their votes before a meeting tomorrow of the Senate's Democratic Caucus, at which senators plan to consider their strategy for the final phases of the confirmation process.
They'll also lose their vacation over it:

Frist announced that, unless the final vote takes place this week, he would cancel a week-long Senate vacation next week -- a step that he took yesterday, according to his chief of staff, Eric Ueland.

Ueland said last night that Frist planned to start debate over Alito in the full Senate on Jan. 25, the day after the committee's vote, adding, "We'll stay on the nomination until the judge is the justice."

Since the Supreme Court is in recess until February 21, the delay should have little effect. Meanwhile, even the Post argues Alito should be confirmed:

A Supreme Court nomination isn't a forum to refight a presidential election. The president's choice is due deference -- the same deference that Democratic senators would expect a Republican Senate to accord the well-qualified nominee of a Democratic president.

And Judge Alito is superbly qualified. His record on the bench is that of a thoughtful conservative, not a raging ideologue. He pays careful attention to the record and doesn't reach for the political outcomes he desires. His colleagues of all stripes speak highly of him. His integrity, notwithstanding efforts to smear him, remains unimpeached.

...No president should be denied the prerogative of putting a person as qualified as Judge Alito on the Supreme Court.

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Maryland Wal-Mart Update

We have new details on our earlier report on Maryland's legislative mugging of Wal-Mart. The Washington Times reports on Wal-Mart's future in Maryland:

Executives for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are debating whether to cancel plans for new outlets in Maryland in response to a new state law requiring the discount retailer to provide a certain level of employee health benefits, a company official said yesterday.

Officials at the Arkansas-based company also are considering challenging the law in federal court, in addition to scrapping plans to build outlets such as a store at Capital Plaza Mall in Landover Hills and a distribution center on the Eastern Shore, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rhoda M. Washington said.

The legal basis for Wal-Mart's potential challenge is actually pretty simple:

Baltimore lawyer Henry A. Smith, who reviewed the law for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said it violates the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Associated Press reported yesterday.

"Any state attempt to regulate an employee benefit plan is pre-empted by the federal employee benefit law because of the Congress' belief that a single federal regulatory scheme for employee benefits is preferable to 51 separate, varying state schemes," Mr. Smith said.

He said there have been no court cases dealing with a law identical to Maryland's. But he cited "a very close case" from the District in which a federal court struck down a law mandating employee benefit levels because it was pre-empted under federal law.

I'm not an ERISA expert, but it sounds like a promising approach.

The Washington Post adds:

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have argued that the bill is preempted by ERISA...

It's unlikely Wal-Mart will move out of Maryland, though the fate of a distribution center planned for Somerset County, one of the state's least wealthy, hangs in the balance. It could be located in Delaware instead.

It might not be worth withdrawing entirely from Maryland, especially if various solutions are implemented, but the distribution center should be built in Delaware whether the law is overturned or not. By passing the law in the first place, Maryland has demonstrated its hostility to business. Delaware has not.

I should also add some important statistics for the policy debate (from the Times):
"More than three-fourths of Wal-Mart associates have health insurance," company spokeswoman Sarah Clark said Thursday. "And every Wal-Mart [worker] in Maryland -- both full-time and part-time -- can become eligible for health coverage that costs as little as $23 per month."
And from the Post:
[Wal-mart's 2004] health care spending amounted to about 5 percent of payroll. Last year... it had risen to more than 7 percent. Recently, Wal-Mart began offering a more affordable benefits plan, costing as little as $23 a month for a single worker in Maryland.
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A Solution for Puerto Rico?

From a December AP story:

The Bush administration on Thursday gingerly stepped into the debate over Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States, asking Congress to set yet another vote for the island's citizens to voice their opinion about their future.

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. commonwealth since 1952, when Congress approved the relationship. Puerto Ricans voted to keep that status quo and reject statehood in nonbinding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998.

But deep divisions remain, with a sizable number supporting the call for statehood and a much smaller group backing full independence.

I currently support independence for Puerto Rico, largely because the island's population has more in common with its Caribbean neighbors than with the United States. It could maintain a close relationship with the U.S. and might even play a leadership role in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico might be a good partner, but I'm not sure that it needs to be a U.S.-subsidized territory.

President Bush's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status concluded that another vote by Puerto Ricans is the best next step. Releasing its final report Thursday, the task force urged Congress to set a vote, or at least hold hearings on the issue, by the end of next year.

The task force took no position on which of the three options - continued commonwealth status, statehood or independence - is preferable. It said the vote should ask Puerto Ricans to choose between remaining a U.S. territory or moving toward a permanent solution.

If Puerto Ricans supported a permanent status option, another vote should be set to choose between statehood and independence, the task force said.

It would be difficult to change Puerto Rico's status without popular approval, so this is probably a good approach. Instead of offering three options at once and risking that none of the choices would get a majority, it could eventually force Puerto Ricans to make a choice about their future.

The island's nearly 4 million people have been U.S. citizens since 1917. Islanders can serve in the U.S. military but are barred from voting for president, have no voting representation in Congress and pay no federal income taxes.

The Caribbean island has become one of the wealthiest places in Latin America, though poverty remains more severe than on the U.S. mainland.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Alito Confirmation Moves Forward

The Washington Post reports:
Samuel A. Alito Jr., an appellate judge who could shift the Supreme Court significantly to the right, appeared headed for the high court yesterday after completing three days of interrogation without a serious misstep.
The more significant shift won't be to the right, it will likely be towards consistency and predictability. Alito's judicial philosophy seems to reject O'Connor's litigation-encouraging need to put her role as a "swing vote" ahead of legal clarity.

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Executed Man's Guilt Reaffirmed

From The Washington Post:

DNA tests [have] confirmed the guilt of a Virginia man who had proclaimed his innocence in a slaying and rape even as he was strapped into the state's electric chair in 1992.


Coleman, a coal miner from the small Appalachian town of Grundy, drew nationwide attention when he proclaimed his innocence in a series of newspaper and television interviews in the months before his death. After he was strapped into the electric chair on May 20, 1992 he declared: "An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight."

Coleman was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1981 rape and stabbing of his sister-in-law, 19-year-old Wanda McCoy.


Coleman said he had an alibi and would not have had time to commit the killing. Defense attorneys also have gathered affidavits from people who said another man boasted of killing McCoy. Time magazine featured his case in a cover story titled "Must This Man Die?"

I'll trust a jury over Time magazine any day.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Wal-Mart: Fire Your Greeters

From The Washington Post:

The Maryland Senate today bucked the will of the state's Republican governor and the nation's largest retailer, voting to require Wal-Mart effectively to spend more on employee health care.

In a vote that was closely watched nationally, the Democratic-led chamber overrode Gov. Robert L. Erhlich Jr.'s veto by 30-17...

The Democrat-led House was expected to follow suit tonight, handing Ehrlich Jr. a defeat early in the legislative session on a bill he argues is an unwarranted government intrusion into business.

The bill would require private companies with more than 10,000 employees in Maryland to spend at least 8 percent of payroll on employee health benefits or make a contribution to the state's insurance program for the poor. Wal-Mart is the only known employer that does not meet that spending requirement.

Wal-Mart should to three things because of this bill:
  1. Fire all of its greeters. This is an essentially useless position that does nothing but provide jobs to people that would otherwise be unemployed. Let the all-knowing state take care of them.

  2. Cut wages. The workers who are left will be now paid more money indirectly. Cut their wages in proportion to any gained benefits.

  3. Raise prices. The poorer residents of Maryland who shop at Wal-Mart can start paying for their peers' health care.
As a policy matter, this bill is ridiculous. It targets one company to the exclusion of all others and micromanages the labor relations of a company that provides jobs, goods, and services to the poorest Americans. As a Post editorial pointed out:

The Maryland bill is a legislative mugging masquerading as an act of benevolent social engineering.
Now is anyone out there watching the Target lobbyists?

Update, Jan. 14th: New details on Wal-Mart's potential legal and business responses.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cameras, Cameras, Everywhere

For today's Alito Confirmation Hearings update, there isn't much substance to report that didn't get covered yesterday. Some backstage drama was reported, but watching C-SPAN Just Barely Inside the Beltway we also noticed a lesson for female members of the army of staffers seated behind the senators - if you want to avoid some potential embarrassment, don't wear short skirts to televised hearings:

It took about five minutes of C-SPAN coverage before she fled and was eventually replaced by a guy. We're trying to decide whether someone whispered in her ear or if she got a message on her Blackberry.

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DC Tries to Control Spending?

The Washington Post reports on efforts to get DC government spending under control. At least one city councilman doesn't even think there's a problem:

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and top city officials said yesterday that the District is taking steps to tighten controls on spending for government travel, sole-source contracts and highly paid consultants, a move expected to save millions of taxpayer dollars.


The mayor's remarks were made during the third hearing held by council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5), the committee chairman, since The Washington Post reported in November that hundreds of millions of dollars were spent annually in violation of laws and policies intended to avoid waste and fraud. Orange had threatened to subpoena Williams if he did not agree to testify.

"Clearly there is no evidence of government waste, fraud and abuse," Orange said and added that the procurement issues raised in the news articles in November were outdated and had been corrected. The executive branch appears to be "on top of the entire issue, although we still have a long way to go."

The article describes some of the suggested improvements, but I'm not optimistic.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Democrats Ask Alito: Why Aren't You Sandra Day O'Connor?

Judge Alito began his first day of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Reporting live from watching C-SPAN, it looks like the Democrats' questions today can be summed up in one question:
Judge Alito, why aren't you Sandra Day O'Connor?
I doubt any of them would be such big O'Connor fans if they were reviewing a Democrat nominee.

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The Capitol Visitor Center

The Washington Post reports on the construction of the Capitol Visitor Center:

[The Capitol Visitor Center] began as a $71 million anteroom and rest stop for visitors. It has turned into an approximately $550 million extension of the U.S. Capitol that looks like an underground football stadium.

The project is so plagued by delays, a ballooning budget and growing scope that the Senate appropriations subcommittee took the unusual step in the spring of requiring monthly reports and hearings to try to rein it in.

In November, in the last hearing of 2005, the monthly report estimated that workers would have to labor nine days a week for the next 10 months to stick to the project's proposed timeline. It is the third time in as many years that the cost of the project has escalated and its opening been pushed back.

The various rooms, museums, and other facilities have drawn criticism:

The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste wrote a report last year that denounced these Congressional additions and called them "rooms for parties and receptions; and possibly the creation of more hideaways and small private offices that members can go to when they want to escape their regular office."

When ground was broken for the project in 2002, the cost estimate was $373.5 million, and the center was supposed to open in January of last year. The idea was to give visitors someplace to wait for tours, rather than standing in lines across the street in all kinds of weather.

I should point out that at least in this case, as opposed to the DC baseball stadium, the cost increase has been due to added facilities and functions, not merely "enhanced architecture". Some of the expansions were required for security, but this set is somewhat strange:
There is a 450-seat auditorium that can accommodate an emergency legislative session. There is a high-tech hearing room, office space and meeting rooms, which added about $88 million, Allard said. The space that resulted from all the add-ons is almost large enough to move the entire Congress and its operations underground.
Congress should have a backup location, but should it really be under the current capitol? What kind of event would render the capitol unusable above ground without threatening the safety and security of its underground sections?

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Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Commission Enjoys Surplus

The Washington Times reports:

Virginia legislators are considering whether to impose more state control over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which is run by a commission that has been criticized for excessive spending of toll revenues.


The Daily Press reported in June that commissioners spent toll revenue on expensive trips to attend seminars and want to spend almost $900 million for two more tunnels on the little-used span that connects Virginia Beach to the state's Eastern Shore.

The bridge commission spent $37,625 on staff travel in 2004 and paid for commissioners and spouses to travel to Paris in 2003, at a cost of $20,000.

The trips were financed by bridge-tunnel tolls, which were raised last year to $12 each way for most vehicles.

The bridge commission has a $90 million surplus.

The General Assembly's auditing arm has questioned the need for two new tunnels and asked bridge commissioners for a traffic study to show whether the new tunnels will be necessary in 2020, when they are slated for completion.

It sounds like something may need to be done here. Besides the junket to Paris (lots of bay bridges in that inland city?), the surplus and debate over the necessity of new tunnels suggests that tolls might be too high. It's a bit disturbing if a travel-happy bureaucracy is making major infrastructure decisions in place of a legislature considering the needs of the whole state.

The article mentions several proposed changes. Most seem worthy of consideration as long as they improve the situation over the long term and avoid micromanagement.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

What Next for Israel?

With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in critical condition and not expected to return to office, many are asking what will happen to Israel if he cannot return to lead it.

Over at Observant Observations, optimistic and pessimistic views are presented on the basic question - can Sharon's new political party, Kadima, survive and win without him?

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Alito Hearings Begin

The Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito began today. The schedule can be found in this AP story. The Senate schedule can be found here, but not with the same level of detail. All times are Eastern.


Noon EST: The committee convenes and senators begin 10-minute opening statements.

3:15 p.m.: afternoon break.

3:45 p.m.: Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman introduce Alito.

4 p.m.: Alito is sworn in and makes opening statement.


9:30 a.m.: Questioning begins with each of the committee's 18 senators getting a 30-minute round. It will continue into night, with a dinner break from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.


9:30 a.m.: 20-minute rounds of questioning Alito begin.

7 p.m. Questioning resumes after a dinner break. If questioning is completed, the committee will go into closed session to review Alito's FBI background check.


9:30 a.m.: More questioning of Alito or closed session if necessary. Questioning of outside witnesses.


The confirmation hearing continues, if necessary.

Monday, Jan. 16:

Martin Luther King Jr. holiday; no committee meeting.

Tuesday, Jan. 17:

The committee meets.

Out of boredom, I've wandered away from the monologues a few times. So far Republicans seem generally positive, noting Judge Alito's qualifications and pointing out that he would be the first former federal prosecutor on the Court. Democrats are asking many questions that the nominee will not and should not answer.

One of the more amusing moments was a few minutes ago when Senator Schumer complained that Harriet Miers, having withdrawn her nomination, would not get an up or down vote. I'm guessing that he is bitterly disappointed that she withdrew before he had the chance attack her uncertain qualifications himself.

A while earlier, a racist Senator complained about Alito's European ancestry. A genital-counting Senator complained that the number of women on the Court will be cut in half because of Justice O'Connor's retirement. Senators also enjoy fawning over O'Connor out of what appears to be a fear of legal clarity - preferring a "swing vote" over a principled one.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Top Ten Outside the Beltway Stories of 2005

Since both Nick and April actually lived outside the Beltway for most of 2005 (and Nick was very very very outside of it) it seemed appropriate to follow up the Top Ten Inside the Beltway Stories of 2005 with a list of news stories from outside the Beltway.

I give you the Top Ten Outside the Beltway Stories of 2005:
  1. Iraqis vote in three national elections and approving a new constitution.

  2. The EU Constitution is rejected by French and Dutch voters.

  3. The Pope dies, many are shocked that his successor is Catholic.

  4. Terrorists attack London subways. The UK, unlike Spain, does not surrender.

  5. Saddam Hussein's first trial begins.

  6. Hurricanes hit hurricane country, areas below sea level get especially wet.

  7. Paris burns.

  8. Non-citizens gave John Kerry eight electoral votes in 2004.

  9. The Second Roadtrip Across America.

  10. Michael Jackson is not convicted, but everyone still thinks he's creepy.
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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Two More Days to Put Off Doing Your Taxes

The IRS reports:
For 2006, tax returns must be filed by April 17 because the traditional date of April 15 falls on a weekend this year. However, some taxpayers living in the Northeast — Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia — will have a filing deadline of April 18th because of a state holiday in Massachusetts where the IRS has a processing facility.
I'm filing as soon as possible - I need my money back!

Also, I used this last year:
Free File. The IRS and a consortium of tax software manufacturers will begin the fourth year of the popular service to income-eligible individuals later this month. Free File provides free tax preparation software and free e-filing to individuals who earn approximately $50,000 or less. Each manufacturer offers a proprietary product and sets its eligibility criteria within certain limits. Taxpayers who formerly used Telefile should give Free File a try. Users must access Free File through IRS.gov to qualify.
It didn't work quite right for me, probably because the IRS is confused about how to spell my name. I had to print and mail the final form, but software can work through the various deductions, credits, etc. pretty well.

Update, Jan. 18th: Free File providers have been announced.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

ABA Approves Alito

From The Washington Post:

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito received an unanimous well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association on Wednesday, giving his nomination momentum as the Senate prepares for confirmation hearings next week.

The rating came after a vote of the ABA federal judiciary committee and was delivered in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will launch Alito's confirmation hearings on Monday. Alito will face almost an hour of questioning from each of the 18 senators on the committee.

"As a result of our investigation, the committee is of the unanimous opinion that Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. is well-qualified for appointment as associate justice of the United States Supreme Court," said Stephen L. Tober, chairman of the ABA panel.

The ABA rating _ the highest _ is the same that Alito received back in 1990, when President Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, nominated him to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


The ABA's highest rating won't stop some from attacking Alito, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Unfortunately, the hard left groups decided long before these ratings were announced that they would oppose his nomination," Cornyn said Wednesday. "And some Senate Democrats, including some who have previously described the ABA's evaluation as the gold standard, will now dismiss the rating as meaningless."

If we're lucky, those Senators will make fools of themselves on television, creating quite entertaining hearings.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

History Books: Impeachment Not Just About Sex

With Bill Clinton's defenders constantly repeating that his impeachment was "just about sex," I was intrigued by an AP article about how history books treat the issue. If it was all about sex, how do you teach it in grade school?

Seven years after he was impeached in a scandal of sex, perjury and bitter politics, Clinton has become a fixture in major high school texts.


The House impeached Clinton on charges of lying to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice to conceal his affair with Lewinsky, a White House intern. Although he was acquitted in a Senate trial, Clinton was branded as the second president impeached for conduct in office.

The topic is covered briefly in middle school texts. McGraw Hill's "The American Journey" offers a description that is representative of other accounts - balanced and methodical.

"Although there was general agreement that the president had lied, Congress was divided over whether his actions justified impeachment," the book says.


Sometimes, the language gets blunt.

"A History of the United States," a Pearson Prentice Hall high school text, refers to the impeachment scandal as "a sorry mess" that diminished Clinton and his rivals.

Polls showed most Americans did not believe Clinton's "tortured explanations of his behavior," the book says, but also did not think his offenses warranted his removal.

By the time students get to college, the textbooks, as expected, offer more sophisticated detail of the impeachment and the way it all changed American public life.

Yet at all levels, the salacious details of the Lewinsky affair are nowhere to be found.

Middle school texts describe it as "a personal relationship between the president and a White House intern." In high school books, it is Clinton's "improper relationship with a young White House intern," or Clinton "denied having sexual relations" with an intern.

Students don't need the bawdy details to grasp the impeachment struggle, said Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian and professor at American University. But they do need textbooks that present the issue with as much depth as is practical, he said.

Perjury isn't that hard to understand. It shows the strength of the charges against President Clinton that the events can be described without "bawdy details."

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A Fuzzy Prediction for 2006

I've already addressed the issue mathematically (GOP gains 7 House and 7 Senate seats), so today I'm going to predict the outcome of the 2006 elections based on geography.

Looking at all the Senate seats up for election this year and the results of the 2004 presidential election, I'm projecting a Republican pickup of two Senate seats.

If every state that supported President Bush elects a Republican Senator and every state that supported John Kerry elects a Democrat, Republicans will continue to make progress towards having 60+ Senate seats by advancing to 57 in 2006. The lesson for Democrats - find Republicans to run and then call them Democrats (some are still hoping for this in Virginia).

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An Opponent for Senator Allen

We were starting to wonder if there were any Democrats out there willing to run for Senate in Virginia in 2006. One finally declared his candidacy. WTOP reports:

FAIRFAX, Va. -- The year is only three days old, but already the political season is heating up in Virginia. WTOP Radio has learned Harris Miller will challenge Republican incumbent George Allen in November...

The 54-year-old McLean resident is currently the President of the Information Technology Association of America. He wants to see more done by the Federal government...

Republican George Allen, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for President, is seeking re-election for a second term.

Democrat Jim Webb has also been mentioned for a Senate run, but the party leadership, including Gov. Warner, wants Miller on the ticket.

Webb posed an interesting problem reminiscent of Wesley Clark's brief run for the presidency (but without that whole trying to start World War III issue) - I couldn't find any evidence that he is actually a Democrat.

As for Miller, I'll be especially glad to oppose another big government Democrat.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Alito Hearings Approach

The New York Times reports on preparations for Judge Samuel Alito's Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 1 - As Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. enters his final week of dress rehearsals for his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, participants say his performance has already made one thing clear: he will never be as polished and camera-ready as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was at his own hearings a few months ago.

"He is not going to be the well-manicured nominee," said one participant in the rehearsals, known as murder boards, at which Republican lawyers have played the roles of interrogating senators. "That is not to say it is going to be worse. It is just going to be different."


"He will have a couple hairs out of place," one participant said. "I am not sure his glasses fit his facial features. He might not wear the right color tie. He won't be tanned. He will look like he is from New Jersey, because he is. That is a very useful look, because it is a natural look. He's able to go toe-to-toe with senators, and at the same time he could be your son's Little League coach."

What is more, this participant said, Judge Alito displayed a "street smart" New Jerseyan's willingness to talk back to his questioners. Unlike Chief Justice Roberts, Judge Alito often turned inquiries back on the lawyers who were quizzing him, politely asking them to spell out exactly what they meant, two participants said.

Judge Alito "had no bones about coming back for clarification," the same person said, adding that the judge sometimes stumped the legal experts acting in the roles of senators and suggesting that he could pose an even greater challenge to actual senators reading from staff talking points. Still, both participants emphasized that during the practice sessions, Judge Alito never became heated or combative.

This could be fun!

If I'm not working at the time, I'll be watching for the educational value.
In two weeks of murder boards organized last month by Rachel Brand of the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department, Judge Alito spoke confidently without notes, just as Chief Justice Roberts did before the committee. Like the chief justice, Judge Alito displayed an encyclopedic mastery of Supreme Court rulings. And again like the chief justice, he spoke at length without drinking from the pitcher of water or sampling the cookies on the table before him, participants said.
I would suggest that more job interviews should come with water and cookies, but there may be too many ways for that to go horribly wrong.

The hearings appear to be scheduled to begin Monday January 9th.

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Are You Afraid of Starbucks?

The Washington Post reports on some Annapolis, Maryland residents' fear of Starbucks:

Controversy Brews in Downtown Annapolis
Proposal for Starbucks in Historic Building Gives Some Preservationists a Jolt

The King of France Tavern opened in 1784, when Annapolis served as the nation's capital, and has hosted generations of lawmakers ever since. Legend has it that a secret tunnel still leads from the tavern's wine cellar to the State House, an ancient escape route for heads of state.

Now the old tavern is about to be reinvented: as the Annapolis area's sixth Starbucks.

The prospect of bringing the ubiquitous coffee retailer to the basement of the Maryland Inn, which has operated continuously at Church Circle since 1780, has some residents and town stewards dismayed.

Not prepared to put their money into an alternative project, just "dismayed."

But Starbucks has influential supporters in town, including the president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, who say the tavern could suffer far worse indignities than housing a coffee shop.

"It strikes me as kind of a historically appropriate use for the place," said Greg Stiverson, the foundation president. "Coffeehouses were very popular in Annapolis and other 18th-century cities, both here and in England. They were a gathering place, and that's basically what this Starbucks is planned to be."

Starbucks, he said, "seems much more appropriate than, say, a mini-mart."


City leaders don't actually have much say about who rents the empty space, which was occupied by the old tavern until 2003. The choice is the inn owners', so long as they conform to the city code, zoning rules and architectural concerns that govern the historic district...

Any alteration to the exterior of a building in the historic district must go before the town's seven-member Historic Preservation Commission, a group that is notoriously picky about such things as corporate logos and garish displays. With Starbucks, concern centers on the circular sign, 36 inches in diameter, that would hang outside the inn. It would bear the company's familiar green-and-black logo, a beacon to the Starbucks faithful.


In notes submitted to the historic commission, consulting architect C. Richard Bierce declared the sign "too large" and quite out of proportion with the "scale and refinement" of the architectural setting. Inn owners may be asked to shrink the sign or replace it with something more historically fitting.

That seems fair. If the old imperial cities of Europe have found a way to fit in McDonald's, Annapolis can handle Starbucks (see my photos of McDonald's signs in Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Prague).

Both the inn owners and the Starbucks company say they intend to preserve the exposed brick and stone walls, wooden rafters and low-slung brick archway that give the shuttered King of France an ambience reminiscent of Tolkien's Middle Earth.


Another Starbucks is already located at the City Dock, a few blocks away. Ben and Jerry's, White House Black Market and Subway also have spots in the historic corridor, where high rents and cramped spaces deter many chains. The Gap, Banana Republic and Burger King have come and gone.

No one drove the stores away. But no one seems to miss them much, either.

"When you come down here," said Stacey Garland, "you expect to find specialty stores, not the places you'd find in the mall."

Attitudes like that are what cause visitors like myself to visit the city briefly, but then retreat to the suburbs for lunch. Some people aren't wealthy or pretentious enough for "specialty stores."

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Analyzing Alito

The Washington Post has published an analysis of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's decisions as a federal appellate judge. While I'm skeptical of the methodology, it does give an interesting overview of some of the cases that have come before him.

My objections to the analysis are that it looks at parties rather than law and continues with the media's basic assumption that an appellate judge charged with applying or anticipating Supreme Court rulings would rule exactly the same way when actually on the Supreme Court.

With that out of the way, a summary:

During 15 years as an appeals court judge, Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. has been highly sympathetic to prosecutors, skeptical of immigrants trying to avoid deportation, and supportive of a lower wall between church and state...

Alito has taken a harder line on criminal and immigration cases than most federal appellate judges nationwide...

In civil rights cases, Alito has sided against three of every four people who claimed to have been victims of discrimination...

Still, in a few areas of the law, Alito's record resembles that of the average U.S. appellate judge. His decisions on First Amendment cases have been mixed. And when workers have sued for pay or benefits, he has agreed with them about half the time...

Overall, the analysis shows, Alito does not disagree with majority opinions more frequently than most federal appeals judges do in similar cases.

The article continues with various examples and statistics, but one case demonstrates the problems with the Post's methods:

In 1991, his was the sole vote siding with 228 Philippine seamen working on Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf who alleged that they deserved to be paid minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was around the time of the Persian Gulf War, and their ships had temporarily been reflagged under the U.S. flag because it was dangerous in that region for vessels from neutral countries.

The court majority ruled the sailors did not deserve the pay because they were outside U.S. waters and their ships were only temporarily reflagged. Alito countered that the legislative history of the labor law "makes clear that Congress intended for the minimum wage requirement to apply to all seamen on all American vessels."

While I can't comment on the intricacies of the Fair Labor Standards Act, I have extensively studied the issue of ships' flags. Under international law, a vessel reflagged under the U.S. flag becomes subject to U.S. law (this can even happen to some degree without reflagging). It seems strange to create a class of U.S. vessels that are not subject to U.S. law without a clear statutory exemption.

Overall, I'm encouraged by the overview of Judge Alito's decisions. I have a few ideas about why a judge might tend to rule for one type of party over another, but Chief Justice Roberts dealt with the issue best in his confirmation hearings:

If the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy's going to win in court before me.

But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then the big guy's going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution.

In related news, an AP article suggests that "the Roberts court also has the potential to craft a consistent philosophy on business issues, something that several academics argue has been lacking in recent years since the departure of Lewis Powell in 1987." The main argument is that narrowly reading statutes benefits business. This could be true, but it's only a side effect. If we want far-reaching statutes, Congress, not the courts, should make them that way.

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Monday, January 02, 2006

DC Area Murders Increase in 2005

The Washington Post reports:

The Washington region saw a rise in bloodshed in 2005, largely fueled by a spike in slayings in the D.C. suburbs, most dramatically in Prince George's County.

It was a reversal of the trend in the 1980s and 1990s, when the District gained notoriety as the country's "murder capital" during the crack wars of those decades. The District still has the largest share of area killings, with 194 slayings in 2005, close to 2004's total of 198.

Across the region, there were 466 homicides in 2005, compared with 420 in 2004 -- a rise of about 11 percent. About half of those slayings have been solved.

It was the first time the District has recorded fewer than 200 homicides in consecutive years since the mid-1980s. At the same time, the total in Prince George's climbed from 148 to 173, a grim record for the county.

The article also reviews murders in other DC-area cities and counties. Some blame the movement to the suburbs on DC-residents moving to the suburbs:

Outside experts and former police officials have said they believe that crime-prone populations in the District moved to the county in the last decade.

The migration began in the early 1990s as people tried to escape the city's high rate of violence. Others moved because the city knocked down several public housing buildings over the years, and the problems followed them, the experts and former police officials have said.

"When you have gentrification, there is another word that goes along with that: displacement," said Andrew Karmen, a criminologist and sociology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "People bring their problems with them where they settle."

The Post also reports that DC and Prince George's police "agreed to work together to target border crime" several months ago - but without explaining why this didn't happen decades ago.

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Welcome to 2006!

Happy New Year from Just Barely Inside the Beltway!

I must get back to seeking fortune and saving the world, but for now I think I will go to sleep.

But first, I have to get some extra job searching in tonight to make up for the three hours I lost this year while the rest of the world gained a second. Unfortunately:
No ball will drop. The leap second will not be observed with a countdown broadcast live from Times Square.
Oh, and there should still be time to get those tasty Christmas candies for half off or better!