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October 27, 2005

Traveling notes

Been out running 'round Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, enjoying the fall weather and doing whatever else I felt like.

Highlight of the trip was the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City. The Arabia was hauling 200 tons of goods to frontier merchants when it hit a snag and sank in the Missouri River just upstream from KC in 1856.

In 1988, it was dug out of a Kansas farm field, a half-mile from the current riverbed. The astonishingly well preserved cargo, cleaned up, is on display at the museum, opened a few years later. Like walking into a well-stocked 1856 Home Depot, with the addition of a luxury foods section.

Well worth a stop the next time you're in KC. Well worth the trip, actually, if your interest in history runs a little deep.

Hit Mo. a little early from the best color, but the disappointment was eased by visits with old friends.

Stopped in Springfield, Ill., on trip's last leg, for a look at the new Lincoln Museum. Was interesting, but a bit disappointing; seems not all that substantive.

The exhibit featuring the 1860 presidential race as it might have been presented in TV news and ads was particularly grating. But maybe that's just because all TV poltical ads are grating, including imaginary ones for a 165-year-old election.

Anyway, back in the real world now, waiting for Patrick Fitzgerald to make his move.

Posted by jcb at 02:50 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 20, 2005

Friends, in deed

The Friends of Lane Evans are friends indeed. The Rock Island congressman's fund-raising committee took in $239,962 in the July-September reporting period, enough to cover $80,000 in fines to the Federal Election Commission and leave Mr. Evans with $178,000 on hand.

He still owes the FEC $85,000 to settle a complaint about fund-raising improprieties in previous campaigns, but with twice that much in the bank and the major fund-raising periods still ahead, he seems to be in pretty good shape, financially.

Thirty or so unions -- strong Evans backers throughout his career -- came through. The auto workers, the machinists and the food & commericial workers led the givers with $10,000 each.
The 2005 effort dwarfs fundraising in the same period in 2003, the last non-election year, when Mr. Evans raised just $45,135.

On the Republican side, Jim Mowen remains the person to watch if money-raising ability is important. He took in $30,616 and had $43,881 on hand as of Sept. 30. The bulk of his money came from individuals in the Illinois Q-C, a good many of them business owners.

Andrea Zinga, who lost to Evans in 2004, took in just $2,645, and had $1,697 on hand Sept. 30. She also lists debts of $55,000 from the 2004 campaign.

Brian Gilliland, the third announced candidate for the GOP nod, apparently hasn't raised or spent enough to require a report.

Stay tuned.

Posted by jcb at 02:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A rare politican yells "whoa"

It's a rare politician who'll throw up his hands and yell "whoa" when the stampede's at full speed, when every official from city hall to the statehouse is frantically trying to be tougher on something than the next guy.

Ed Fallon's saying "whoa!" The state rep from Des Moines said last week the escalating restrictions on where sex offenders can live isn't helping anything. "It's not ... about tough or soft on crime; it's (about) intelligent policy and this doesn't work," he said.

So far:

The Legislature in 2002 passed a law forbidding people who've committed sex offenses against minors from living within 2,000 feet of a school or day care center. A county judge and a federal district judge both ruled against the law, noting among other things that the targeted offenders could still go anywhere they wanted, which renders the housing restriction pretty much worthless as a preventative measure.

But the Iowa Supreme Court and a federal appeals court said the Legislature was within its powers, wisely used or not. Law enforcement officials around the state are scrambling to devise ways to enforce the restrictions.

Small towns, fearing an influx of undesireables from bigger places, added parks and school bus stops to the list of 2,000-foot offender-free zones and thus effectively barred them from living anywhere in town.

Des Moines wasted no time adding enough public places to the list that the city, Iowa's largest, is off limits.

Ald. Ray Ambrose wants to do the same in Davenport.

Several border cities in Nebraska are talking about matching the Iowa restrictions.

In the Illinois Q-C, police anticipate the displaced Iowans will soon be looking for homes in their communities. A bill expanding the Illinois "offender-free" zone around schools from 500 feet to 2,000 -- or 2,500 -- feet can't be far behind.

The inexorable result, if the logic at work is followed to its end, will be little reservations in some desert, where we'll herd these new lepers. And, of course, if we're to get the maximum benefit, they'll have to be forbidden ever to step foot off.

A good many people will say "fine." But such a policy sells short both the civic concept of debt repayment, and the religious concept of redemption. Perhaps Mr. Fallon, who's seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, can persuasively explain how both those concepts are invaluable to us.

Posted by jcb at 02:56 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 18, 2005

Indictment? What indictment?

A historical note, amid the speculation on whether resignations will be forthcoming if presidential advisor Karl Rove and/or vice presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby are indicted in the CIA leak case.

Various news outlets report there is a "general expectation" that resignations would follow charges by Special Prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald's grand jury, the report of which is expected anytime now.

The guy who set precedent in this area was no less than Aaron Burr, who while vice president was indicted for murder after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. Both New York and New Jersey issued indictments, and Burr fled south. He did show up in Washington when Congress re-convened, and presided over the Senate as usual.

He finished his term in office, and his life, without returning to New York or New Jersey.

Posted by jcb at 02:13 PM | Comments (1)

October 17, 2005

We're easily conditioned

Among the weekend headlines was one that said Analyst: Gas may hit $2

Six months ago, woulda been a scary headline, provoking worry and anger. Now, it's good news, provoking relief.

We're easily conditioned.

Posted by jcb at 04:37 PM | Comments (2)

October 13, 2005

On religion and the Supreme Court ...

The conversation about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers' experience didn't last long, since there's so little to talk about.

The conversation about her long relationship with President Bush is somewhat meatier, but it's trailing off.

Front and central now is her religion, to a degree that I'm thinking is unique in our history. For this office, religion is largely irrelevant. Presidents and senates have, until now, treated it as such.

The reason for that is succinctly explained by Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, who is arguing for the confirmation of his friend Miers. He's said in various forums that "... she is pro-life and she has been for 25 years."

That does not mean, he adds, that she would vote to overturn the landmark abortion rights case Roe vs. Wade. "Legal issues and personal issues are just two different things. Judges do it all the time. ... you have to set aside your personal views in deciding the case." (Transcript)

Justice Hecht's assessment of judges' conduct is generally correct, I think. The nation's judiciary, now and in the past, has on the whole found its guidance in the law books rather than in personal beliefs. That's as it should be, in a country with founding documents providing that civil and religious issues be kept separate.

Founding documents aside, the impulse toward theocracy has always run strongly through our politics. It has manifested itself in ways ranging from the burning of witches through the old ``blue laws'' forbidding the conduct of business on Sunday to today's insistence that creationism be taught in the schools -- all ways to use the civil law to enforce the tenets of religion in general or of the majority religion in particular.

The theocrats' underlying justification, of course, is that the nation simply would be a better place is we did it their way.

But would the nation be better? Those of us who instinctively love Mr. Jefferson's wall of separation don't think so.
There also are new grounds for doubt, given the results of a groundbreaking study by evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul, who reported his findings in the most recent issue of the Journal of Science and Religion, published by the Center for the Study of Religion at Creighton University in Omaha.

In brief, Mr. Paul did a statistical analysis using figures from 18 democracies, including the United States. His chief finding: The greater the percentage of people in a given country who absolutely believe in God, the greater that nation's social dysfunction as measured by rates of homicide, sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy, abortion and child mortality.

The United States in general has more absolute believers than other countries, and correspondingly higher rates of dysfunction. The correlation holds true even among the states, Mr. Paul writes.

He hastens to point out that "correlation is not cause" and that his study is "a first look" at a complex issue. Still, it is a first look we all should take at a time when the theocrats have many friends in high places.

Our president wears his religion on his sleeve. He has declared his support for creationism in the schools. His minions, the leaker Karl Rove in particular, are privately urging political activists of a religious bent to focus on a Supreme Court nominee's religion. The president himself says Ms. Miers' religion is an important aspect to be considered by senators as they decide her fate. His party attacks the judiciary in general, most viciously when some judge follows the law rather than the dictates of Tom DeLay's conscience. Remember Terry Schaivo?

We are at a point when our top leaders talk of God with a frequency and intensity that is unmatched outside the Muslim world -- and when Muslim leaders talk openly about God and God's will, we brand them extremists and terrorists because their God seems to think we and our God should get out of their part of the world.

It is no time for rallying around the theocrats. "Religious" is not a qualification for the Supreme Court. Mr. Bush does neither his nominee nor the country a favor by elevating that issue to the top of the list.

Posted by jcb at 03:03 PM | Comments (2)

October 08, 2005

So, Mr. Roberts, is it us or them?

Given his first case, we'll know soon enough if new Chief Justice John Roberts is with us or them.

It's a control case, a who's-in-charge case. Us or them.

The people of Oregon -- me and you, 'cept they live there and we live here -- have twice affirmed through referenda that if a mentally-with-it dying person wants to skip the last part, it's OK for the doctor to prescribe and the pharmacist to fill a fatal prescription.

The Oregon Legislature, being the servant of the people that it is, did the necessary paperwork in 1997, including the law providing that no criminal or civil penalty could befall the doctors and the pharmacists for their part in carrying out the dying person's wishes. Janet Reno, then attorney general of the United States, said in response to a question from Congress that it was Oregon's business.

All makes sense to most anybody who's sat with a dying relative or friend, and most of us of many years have done so. In such circumstances, I'm sure not gonna be the one saying, "oh, don't be silly ..." if there's a deathbed declaration that the time is now.

But I'm not John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales.

When Mr. Ashcroft ascended to the attorney general's office in 2001, he lost no time finding a way to thwart the people of Oregon.

His tool was a routine housekeeping chore assigned the attorney general by the federal Drug Control Act of 1970. The act requires docs and pharmacists to have a federal license to handle drugs; the AG's in charge of the licenses. Mr. Ashcroft parsed the wording of the license requirements, found meaning in phrases Ms. Reno hadn't divined, and announced he'd yank the license of any doctor or pharmacist who followed a patient's dying request.

The people of Oregon appealed and have won through the federal appellate court level. Mr. Gonzales, who's since replaced Mr. Ashcroft, carried the case to the Supreme Court. The arguments were the first heard by the Roberts court.

You should note here that the issue of great import to you and I -- the range of options available to us in the most of trying of exceedingly personal circumstances -- is not being argued, or at best peripherally.

No, the arguments are about what Congress meant with this phrase or that when it wrote the Drug Control Act 35 years ago, and how much control that grants a federal bureaucrat. Paper-shuffling stuff, when core human issues are on the line.

History dictates pessimism.

The question of balancing power between the states and the central government bedeviled us even as we became "us." It is the question that split the revolutionaries of the 1770s into political parties as they turned from guns to pens.

It is the reason they added the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The Tenth, of course, was the first of the amendments to become a dead letter, done in primarily by Congress's power to regulate commerce among the states, and the Supreme Court's 200-year-willingness to endorse ever broader definitions of "interstate commerce."

The court's also been mostly willing to endorse executive branch power grabs, like the one Mr. Ashcroft's launched.

So, Mr. Chief Justice Roberts, will your court continue the tradition?

Will it be us, or them?


Footnote: In the eight years of its operation, 208 people have used the alternative offered by the Oregon Death with Dignity law.

Critical links

Briefs filed in the U. S. Supreme Court by parties to "Gonzalez v. Oregon"
History of Oregon Department of Justice filings in "Oregon v. Gonzalez"
Oregon's Death with Dignity site

Posted by jcb at 10:06 PM | Comments (5)

October 05, 2005

Miers -- just another good ol' boy

The River of Harriet Miers Information is full and overflowing -- Googling the name of President Bush's new Supreme Court nominee produces about four and a half million documents.

My favorite bits, among the flotsam and jetsam I've examined, are these two statements:

From Ms. Miers: "(President Bush) is the most brilliant man I have ever met."

From President Bush: "I picked the best person I could find."

Accepting that both are speaking the truth, you gotta conclude that Ms. Miers doesn't know very many men and that President Bush didn't look very hard.

Ms. Miers' background is strong enough to provide talking points for her partisans, but "the best person I could find"?

Don't fault her for never having been a judge; that's not a critical line on a nominee's resume. If it's missing, though, there needs to be something extraordinarily compelling to replace it.

Ms. Miers made her career in Texas. High points:

-- Co-managing partner of major Dallas law firm.

-- President of the Dallas Bar Association (first for a woman).

-- President of the Texas State Bar Association (first for a woman).

-- One term on the Dallas city council.

-- Five years as chair of the Texas Lottery Commission, to which then Gov. Bush appointed her in 1995, after she assisted in his 1994 gubernatorial run.

She followed Mr. Bush to Washington after his election as president, and has served in various staff positions since.

Impressive? Yup. Extraordinarily compelling? Nope.

The record may seem even less impressive if the senators on the Judiciary Committee start asking really hard questions about a few episodes in her past.

-- Her law firm in 2000 paid $22 million to settle a law suit alleging it aided a client in defrauding investors in what described as a "Ponzi scheme." (If you follow this link, search the document for "locke liddell".)

-- During her time at the Texas Lottery Commission, she fired two executive directors, including one who was poking around into money ties between Gtech, the company that held the lottery operations contract, and Texas politicians. (Scroll down to the lottery commission section.) He filed a lawsuit alleging he was fired in retaliation for that investigation. Gtech paid him $300,000 to settle the case.

-- During Bush's 1998 gubernatorial campaign, she was the lawyer he hired to look for issues in his past that might be a problem in a presidential race. His questionable record in the Texas National Guard was one issue she warned him about and gave advice on.

Add it all up and my book on Ms. Miers is: Light credentials and heavy personal loyalty to the "brilliant" Mr. Bush. That combination is something we've seen too many times in people he's advanced to high and important offices. Can anybody say "Michael Brown." Or "Julie Myers." Or "Joe Albaugh." Or ....

Mr. Bush did better than his usual hapless picks when he nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Whatever Mr. Roberts turns out to mean to the court and to the country, he's a heavyweight, with a record to prove it.

Not Ms. Miers. She's just another crony. For the Supreme Court, we deserve better than yet one more Texas good ol' boy, even if this one is a woman.

Posted by jcb at 03:50 PM | Comments (2)

October 03, 2005

Ahhh, the smell of fresh air

In Moline's great to-burn-or-not debate, the critical info to be considered is to be found, among other places, at the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program page at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website; and at the Public Health Policy Advisory Board's update on asthma.

In short, the incidence of asthma in the U. S. is increasing sharply -- "epidemic" is used to describe what's happened in the last 30 years or so, particularly among children. No reason at all to think Moline and the Q-C are escaping the impact.

While the causes of the increase in the number of asthma victims isn't known, various of the triggers that set off attacks are. Smoke is a prime trigger for them, just as it triggers problems for people with a variety of non-asthma respiratory problems.

For some people, leaf-burning season "merely" makes life uncomfortable; for others, it is life-threatening. Whatever the precise effect, the number of people who suffer some affect is significant enough to justify a burn ban in a place as big and leafy as Moline.

Adjustments will be required. But good examples are near by, when the city staff considers what must come next if burning is banned. Davenport and Bettendorf have been smoke-free for years. No big issue, now, in either town. People have adjusted; the expense isn't burdensome; and everyone gets to breathe more freely. 'cept, of course, on those days when the wind lets the Iowa side share in Illinois' smoke production.

Posted by jcb at 07:19 PM | Comments (3)

Oh, deer, how bizarre....

I know, the law's the law and you gotta be sportsmanlike and blah blah blah...

Still, headlines like Three charged and fined for poaching deer (from the Iowa AP today) seem, well, bizarre, given the rest of the deer news out of the state.

A sampling of 2005 headlines:
-- Legislature sends governor measure to thin deer herd
-- DNR officials to ask commission for extra deer hunting
-- Deer hunt in Dubuque opens this weekend
-- Cedar Rapids deer kill to start Oct. 1
-- Ottumwa OKs bow hunting in city
-- Scott County deer hunts showing results
-- etc. etc. etc.

The legislature's even talking about dragooning the insurance industry into hitting Iowa residents with a surcharge to pay for thinning the state's deer herd.

The Department of Natural Resources, incidentally said the three arrests reported today, which produced charges that seven deer were illegally taken, resulted from a 10-month investigation.


Posted by jcb at 02:21 PM | Comments (1)