Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Justice for All

I found this post at Andrew Sullivan's. In it, he links to a Houston Chronicle article wherein Former AG AG speaks about the importance of holding open trials:

"He also said Mexico should have oral, public trials of major organized crime figures rather than having trials consist of written testimony read by a judge behind closed doors.

Doing things in private breeds corruption, he said."

Yes, it does.

Unintended Consequences

One of the bright sides about having to work for several hours last night is that it forced me to avoid watching CSI: Miami.

The downside is that I don't get to share just how inane the show's plot is with my (three) readers. But I'm guessing they're OK with that.

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's a Long Long Evening

I'm taking a five minute break from working to do a quick post. I need the break; I've been pulling docs for 12 of the last 14 hours.

I don't mind doing document review. It's kind of like hunting - you know the goods are out there, you just need to know where to find it. That said; I would like something a little more dynamic to hang my hat on than "doc review attorney." I'm still not certain I want anything to do with playing first chair in a trial setting, but poring through thousands of internal documents every day to find the 5-10 decent ones isn't the most gratifying of work - and it doesn't exactly feel "lawyerly."

Still, it's amazing how finding new information on a topic can change how you view it. I'm no longer convinced that pharmaceuticals are looking out for the customer. If they were, they'd research all illnesses, not just the fiscally rewarding ones.

Oh well, back to work

Sunday, March 29, 2009

But Does it Work?

When we lived in San Angelo ("where weeks feel like years"), we had a little piece on one of the news channels occasionally called "But Does it Work?" In the vignette, they would test various As Seen On TV products to see if they were as advertised. The one I remember watching was for the BaconWave - a device used to cook bacon in a microwave.

The same question could be applied elsewhere, however, particularly to the question of whether Torture leads to usable information. The answer, at best is "sometimes." And I'd be willing to bet that it's less often than that. We know that it did not work on at least one instance (H/T to DB at Inevitable Conflict). The Washington Post article can be found here (courtesy of Andrew Sullivan's fine post on the matter).

But perhaps he was *really* part of the mosaic they were trying to build...


It's less than 3 months in the Obama administration and already Sarah Palin has her Political Action Committee out scouting a potential run at 2012. I don't doubt that other politicians have their eyes on that prize as well, but hers is the only one I know cold-calling in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Perhaps I'd be less concerned about Palin running for President, if she didn't come across as such a train wreck. Much like the previous administration, nothing is her fault - she blames staffers, managers, etc. on anything that doesn't work out immediately in her favor. There are the compulsive lies, the bad ones that don't need to be told. These differ from the campaign promises that all candidates make. These are lies that are told apparently because her world differs from everyone else's. Again, all politicians lie - some recent examples involve not having sex with that woman, cutting the greeting short due to sniper fire, "we do not torture," Read my lips, etc.

Palin in Alaska might work fine. Palin as POTUS? Bad combination.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

This is Serious

It's been serious for some time. Senator Leahy has encouraged a Truth and Reconciliation commission to find out what happened. I support this. I don't support criminal investigations unless there is some evidence made available that might show criminal culpability.

However, in the international community, not everybody shares that opinion. One nation that doesn't agree with my assessment is Spain, who according to this article on The Moderate Voice is opening a criminal investigation into some Bush Administration officials.

We've made a fine mess for ourselves.

I highly recommend reading the article linked above. I'll look at giving a better synopsis later, but we have company over, and I would like to entertain.


I went shopping online today. I don't buy things often, but every now and then I will get an itch to make a purchase.

I bought 3 movies - To Kill a Mockingbird, 12 Angry Men, and Inherit the Wind. Now, I've seen the first two already, but it's been about 20 years since I've seen either of them. I've not yet seen Inherit the Wind, though I did my research paper on Intelligent Design, which includes the Scopes trial.

In addition to these films, I also bought an exercise bike. I find I don't have time to go to a gym, and while I'd like an elliptical trainer, we really don't have room for one in our house at this time (Maybe as the kids get older, and our debt gets to be a little more in control). So instead, I bought a miniature exercise bike, the Magnetrainer. While I've not used it, the different sites I've gone to have all had rave reviews. The bike is 18 inches high, and can easily fit under a desk - I haven't decided if I'm going to take it to work or leave it here for use, but either way, I expect to get some good use out of it. We'll cross our fingers and see how it works out.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rats From a Sinking Ship?

Another former Bush Administration official concedes that we tortured under the previous administration.

What went on during the previous administration, and to what level of culpability needs to be known. This is what Congress SHOULD do. But they won't. Because when you sweep out from under the carpet, all the dirt comes out. And it's not just the Executive branch that did wrong. It's not just one party who did wrong. And those wrongdoers don't want their dirt out on display. Accountability should matter as an elected official. If you did wrong, cop to it. Demand the others cop to it. Until you do, the self-inflicted wounds of the past 6 years cannot begin to heal.


It's been a long week. I'm going to be in overtime within 2 hours of arriving at work (I'm not complaining), and I'm likely going to have to put in some time over the weekend.

Deadlines keep coming, one after the other, and invariably, there are scores of requests interspersed that demand attention (the "could you do this URGENT?" requests, which usually aren't urgent). It is one of those things.

But, until I can find a way to be independently wealthy, it's what I have to do.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

He Who Pays the Piper

Calls the tunes. This is an old phrase that doesn't get nearly enough attention. It's beautiful in its simplicity - if you accept the money, you have to accept the conditions surrounding it. This is very much the assessment given to the law schools who argued against having military recruiters on campus because of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy when their position was shot down in the courts. The schools accepted federal dollars, and in exchange for receiving these funds, the schools were obliged to accept recruiters as a condition. The schools wanted the sweet, but didn't want the bitter, and thus fought against this requirement, and were rightly defeated.

While this lesson has been learned in the law school financing sector, apparently, this lesson was lost on the Christian Legal Association at the Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. The Association sought formal recognition from the law school. There's nothing wrong with that, our law school had a Christian Law Society; I knew several members and the faculty advisor and they are all good people. They sought funding in the form of activity fees. This is absolutely fine - again, it's a student organization and they are allowed to seek these funds. Finally, they wanted the right to deny entry into their club all non-Christians and any gay students. This they cannot do. You see, the school has a policy that requires an open membership policy of all their student groups - in other words, you can't discriminate, something stipulated in the Court document holding against the Christian Law Society. This is perfectly a Constitutional holding, as the requirement passes the Lemon Test - there is clearly a legitimate secular purpose whose primary effect neither promotes nor hinders a particular religious belief, and the activity clearly does not foster excessive entanglement between the government activity and religious concerns.

The school is a public (state funded) school. The students pay for the student activities. The funds for student activities comes from the funds paid by the students. It should be a no-brainer that if an organization wants access to these funds, they're going to have to accept the conditions that come with having that access.

Whoever pays the piper calls the tunes. The school says nothing about what this Christian Law Society's members should believe. It says nothing about what any member of any student organization should believe. It merely says - "if you want to be a recognized student organization, then you have to have an open membership policy." Perfectly reasonable.

Now, the Society had an option - they could have remained an unrecognized student organization, which would then have allowed them to alienate anyone they wanted. But, they wanted recognition, and thus needed to accept the restrictions given them.

I have no issue with student organizations, even Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or Taoist ones. What I take issue with is the absurd premise that by forcing one organization to play by the same rules as all other student organizations, the school is somehow restricting their First Amendment rights, or assaulting Christianity.

For more on this topic, I suggest reading this post at Americans United.

Random Trivia

Hangnail stems from the same root as anguish.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's a First Amendment Issue, Just the Wrong Clause

In 2006, Brittany McComb delivered her valedictorian speech at her high school in Nevada. According to this article on Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, her speech was interrupted by school officials, who pulled the plug on her microphone after she stated "[God's love] is something that we all desire, it's unprejudiced, it's merciful, it's free, it's real, it's huge, it's everlasting... God's love is so great that He gave up His only son."

You see, the school officials warned her that while she was able to reference her faith during her speech, she would not be allowed to proselytize. She apparently decided she didn't need to obey the officials. She even went on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes, arguing that the school district violated her First Amendment rights, (again from the article linked above), "[the school district] denied me free speech, and it denied me the right to be who I am and who, you know, God made me to be."

While to an 18 year old who feels like she's been wronged, perhaps this could seem like the case. While she got the correct Amendment, she's unfortunately viewing the wrong clause. You see, the school district was right. Let's see why.

All right, the short answer is that the school district was right because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said so. Of course, those Christian Conservatives out there looking for a reason to discount this will point to this being the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is full of those "Activist Judges," you know, the ones whose opinions don't match your own. So let's delve just a little deeper, shall we?

First off, we have the Supremacy Clause - i.e. The Constitution and all laws and treaties entered pursuant to it shall be the "Supreme Law of the Land," (see U.S. Const. Art. VI). Then, you look at Marbury v. Madison 5 U.S. 137 (1803), which says that the interpretation of the law is the province of the judicial department. This is all background to the part that matters with respect to this case.

The two cases that bear most heavily on McCombs's situation are Lee v. Weisman and Santa Fe ISD v. Doe. The former case, Lee v. Weisman 505 U.S. 577 (1992), involved a school in New Jersey that invited local clergy to deliver invocations at graduation ceremonies. The Court held that unconstitutional coercion occurs when 1. the government directs 2. a formal religious exercise 3. in such a way as to oblige the participation of objectors," (See Jones v. Clear Creek ISD, 977 F.2d 963, 971 [5th Cir. 1992]). You see, you can't create a situation where a student is obliged (even if the ceremony isn't *mandatory,* it's still a rite of passage and the alternative to avoid this to avoid being preached to fails any rational balancing. Of course, Lee involved a rabbi who had been invited to speak. McCombs is a student. Surely that's different, right?

Wrong. This situation was addressed just a few years ago in Santa Fe ISD v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, (2000). This involved a school district in Texas that would invite a student from the high school to deliver an invocation at a football game. Here, the Court differentiates between private (protected speech) and public speech,

The delivery of a message such as the invocation here–on school property, at school-sponsored events, over the school’s public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty, and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer–is not properly characterized as “private” speech.

This is, as you may have guessed, unacceptable, and not unlike the facts presented in McCombs's situation.

What the school and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals are saying, in a nutshell, is that there is nobody preventing McCombs from being a Christian, or believing in God, or worshipping God. In fact, there's nothing wrong with anybody believing anything they want. However, nobody, not McCombs, not any of the other students at the school, can use the public forum to proselytize to a captive audience. This was absolutely the right decision.

Wednesday is Haiku Day

In-laws went home - sad.
House mostly quiet again
Normalcy returns.

As always, I look forward to your contributions

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Nothing says "whole lotta fun" like working from home at night. Fortunately, I only put in an hour - unfortunately, I could have easily put in 2 or 3, had I not been so tired.

I'll get more done tomorrow at work if I get myself some sleep now.

I need to buy those exercise pedals for under my desk.

Good Morning (After)

I certainly believe that people are entitled to their own opinion on the question of Abortion. While I remain officially "pro choice," I mean just that.

I remember a bit of a kerfuffle at the end of the Bush presidency regarding pharmacists who didn't want to provide the morning after pill (or was it all contraception) because it violated their religious beliefs. Perhaps someone with some research skills could link to that for me, as I'm not inclined to go searching for it tonight. My response to that was basically "if you don't want to sell birth control, then don't work in a profession that involves selling birth control." It seems to me akin to a Luddite apprenticing as an Electrical Engineer.

I also remember some discussion on the FDA appointments made by President Bush being premised on this topic (again, links are welcome).

The reason I bring this up is because I was reading this article by Professor Friedman at Religion Clause Blogspot that discusses a Court case (Tummino v. Torti, ED NY Mar, 2009) wherein the Judge ordered the FDA to reconsider its restriction on Plan B ("The Abortion Pill"). The reasoning, as Professor Friedman notes, is that the Judge felt that the FDA's position was premised on political motives, rather than "good faith agency decision making" (from Professor Friedman's article).

What I find interesting about this is the Family Research Council's response - "This ruling jeopardizes girls' health and the ability of parents to care for their daughters' physical and emotional well-being." I'm not entirely sure I follow that logic, as, if the child finds herself in a situation where she needs the medication, then isn't it entirely possible that she found herself in that situation particularly because of her parent's inability or unwillingness to care for her physical and emotional well-being? I leave the answer to you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I Hate CSI Miami

Let's play some "what are the odds?"

Clothing that is bullet-proof. That's interesting enough. Getting hit with a bullet and not shifting when running off? interesting enough. Then, getting attacked by a dog that just happens to bite the exact same spot that the bullet hit (so that the fabric would be compromised) and the dog can get a piece off that just happens to stick in the pooch's teeth long enough for the CSI guys to recover it? Sure, why not? Going to the CSI bullet-proof fabric website and finding the designer in the same day as the stabbing? Naturally. Getting in and questioning the designer while the assistant is telling the police to not be on the property, in clear violation of the 4th amendment? Hey, it's the product of the Bush administration. Then threatening to get a warrant to get a client list, after you've already violated the 4th amendment? Maybe the designer's just really stupid?

But when the pictures on the camera of the papparazzi are from the exact same angles as the camera shots from the previous episodes (which were presumably from other CSI's vantage points? Come on!

Half Truths and Obfuscation

They just seem to follow Sarah Palin, don't they? While it shouldn't matter what her PAC strategist believes, I'm sure having a follower of Xenu in charge can't be all good for the Christianist party's starburst. Now, having a journalist misstate a relationship with a politician - that's probably a little more egregious.

My Good Friend's Wedding

I've been neglecting my blog and my friends' blogs. This is something I feel badly about, but work and family needs dictate and this brings no returns, so it's the most expendable. I try to average at least one post per day, however, as I find it a welcome chance to opine in a relatively harmless fashion.

My good friend at work got married this past weekend, and the in-laws were in town to babysit. Yes, they drove 900 miles to watch the kids for one night and then left (OK, they stayed for 4 days, but they'll be driving for just as many days, so it's basically a wash). I like when my in-laws are here, however I also find myself always a little stressed out anymore when they're here. I'm sure a lot of it has to do with a sense of obligation to entertain - they're family, but they aren't "my" family in that I didn't grow up with them. With that and my basketball picks going south, I've been a little stressed. But I still was able to grill last night (hamburgers and hot dogs - yum!). And in all, it was a good weekend.

Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness

I broke my leg on Mar 7, 1996. I spent 4 days in the hospital. I remember watching some of the NCAA tournament in the hospital - it was the first time I'd watched television in quite some time.

I mention this to point out that at one point in time, March Madness occurred entirely in March.

This year, I've filled out my bracket. I have done well for me - 21 of the 28 games so far. If things hold as they are now, I'll end up with 23. That's no tbad for me. I'm usually lucky to be at 20.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I don't understand how

You can lose a t-shirt. We're going on our fourth daycare t-shirt in 8 months. Granted, this is for two children, but still...

Monday, March 16, 2009

North Korea Tortures!

That's what this article suggests. Frankly, I'm shocked. We can't allow such a thing - such treatment shouldn't be allowed in the 21st Century. We need to cut off all aid to this backwards, repressive regime and show them that this is NOT how civilized countries act... oh, wait.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Read a Book!

I am proud to announce that I finished a book yesterday! I start a lot of books - right now I'm working on The Conservative Soul, The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Siege, and if I can find where I left it, Democracy in America. I'm also still thumbing my way through Jefferson and Madison on Separation of Church and State, which is a book those with an interest in the First Amendment should definitely read.

I do read, not as often as I should, but I do read. I would say that one of my favorite authors is David L. Robbins. He has a way of writing that draws you in, almost without you realizing it. The book I finished yesterday is Scorched Earth. It took me a bit to get into this one, it didn't grab me as quickly as some of his other novels, like Last Citadel or (in my opinion, his best) The War of the Rats. However, after about 100 pages, it picked up the pace, and turned out to be one of the better books I've read in the past year. I won't ruin the story for you outside the summary linked above, but suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

Today, I'm taking the kids to the movies, and when I get back, maybe I'll put some time in on one of these remaining books. As much as I like starting things, it's a nice feeling when you've finished something, as well.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day!


I did our taxes today. And the kids watched Return of the Jedi about 4 times.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why the Republican Party is in Trouble

It's not because their platform, in and of itself is bad (small government, low taxes, state's rights, etc.). It's because there are so many in the party's authoritative positions that take all-or-nothing approaches to the party - you're either completely with us, or not at all. This exclusionary style would be bad enough, but then to try to connect that polarizing form of politics with religion is beyond the pale.

From the article linked above:
We believe to have 'fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness' for the sake of political expediency, or any other reason for that matter, is to offend a holy God, from whom the blessings bestowed upon this country flow.... For that reason, sir, the Grand Prairie Republican Club holds strong to our Christian heritage and will take no part in knowingly excepting [sic] or promoting any immorality (by attending or promoting your organization) that may hasten the death of the American Government.
Right. God will allow torture, murder, wars based on spurious intelligence, and the usurpation of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. But damnit, you'd better not let them gays be a part of this country!

Words fail.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Drawing a Line Where No Line Should Be

Sean Hannity spoke, and said something troubling: "If we capture an enemy combatant in the battlefield -- or we can use Osama bin Laden -- who may have information about a pending attack. You know what, I don't have any problem taking his head sticking it underwater and scaring the living daylights out of him and making him think we're drowning him, and I'm a Christian,"

Now, you can debate whether this is "justifiable" or not if the person was Osama Bin Laden. I personally think it's not. Even if you did do this to him, there is absolutely no way of knowing that what he's saying is credible or not. Use the ticking time bomb argument - there's a time bomb that will go off in 2 days. All he has to do, the zealot, the fanatic who believes he's doing Allah's work, is lie to us for 2 days until the bomb goes off, and he's succeeded. What's the motivation to tell the truth? That's the fault of this situation, and the practical reason why I am opposed to torture.

As I've mentioned before, I went through basic training and was taught that torture was what the bad guys did. We were above that. We were, that is, until the Bush Administration, who not only authorized it, but also reportedly led an "Executive Assassination Ring" with absolutely no oversight (except to Dick Cheney). Hat tip to Vim and Vinegar for directing me to this must read article. But I digress. The point is, I've long lived under the premise that we were better than them, and as such, we didn't torture. That's part of my philisophical opposition to torture.

Then there's the rational opposition to torture, which stems from the position of "Who are we torturing?" It's one thing to say you'd be willing to torture Osama Bin Laden. It's something completely different to say you're torturing a 15 year old boy you picked up near a place where a grenade was thrown in the direction of U.S. Soldiers. Or when you're torturing a 22 year old medical student at the University of Michigan who has returned to his home in Iraq during break and you picked up in his apartment because he fit the profile of a terrorist. I am rationally opposed to torture because there is no adequate way to ensure that the only people who are exposed to "enhanced interrogation techniques" are the people who truly hold the information you want to elicit from them.

When we began torturing, we started down a road that destroys our freedom. And that's a road I don't want to be on.

What's He Protecting?

That's the question about Obama poised by The Slate this morning. I think it's a fair question. We have an administration that used the specious memos written by John Yoo and staff at the OLC to justify the argument that the President has unilateral authority to ignore the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment if he's doing so in the name of fighting "terror," even domestically, as well as the power to shut down the Freedom of the Press. We have an administration that has used torture as a means of gleaning information, and attempting to justify it.

One of the key moments, and perhaps the great contradiction in positions offered by the administration is summed up in this paragraph from the above-linked article:
Former Bush administration officials do themselves no good when they simultaneously argue that their actions were lawful and necessary—and saved our lives many times over—and that they should also be excused because they were terrified. Stephen Bradbury, then acting head of OLC tells us that the appalling work in the newly declassified memos should be filtered through the prism of temporary insanity: "It is important to understand the context of the [2001] Memorandum," Bradbury wrote, in a memo to the file. "It was the product of an extraordinary—indeed, we hope, a unique—period in the history of the Nation: the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 9/11."
It's important to see just what was authorized and ordered. The most plausible reasons for the reluctance of the Obama administration to make inquiries and release findings on this are: 1. there are too many pressing issues that need to be taken care of. That's true. The previous administration did more grave damage to our country than any administration in the past 120 years. But that doesn't mean he can't take a strong position in favor of transparency, not just in the present but in the past. This works its way directly to the alternative explanation - that President Obama wants to continue with the same shroud of secrecy and privilege that President Bush created. I hope this isn't the case, as this would clearly demonstrate that our country isn't where it was 9 years ago, and in that instance, the Terrorists will have won.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Time to Relax

This is the first day I've not had to work or travel in about 2 weeks. I'm taking it easy. The wife is taking The Boy to see Coraline, which I have little desire to see, but they're both interested in. I have the Michigan State Spartans game on tv and am pretty much just resting.

I do have work that I could be doing, but my remote server is acting up and I'm not really in the mood to try to drive the Apple and the Princess downtown while I try to get something done.

It's pretty much an open thread, what do y'all want to talk about?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Seriously, Sign the Petition

We know that torture took place. We know the Bush Administration and some in Congress were involved. The question that remains is, who was involved?

Remember, George Bush dismissed these incidents as "a few bad eggs." But if the chicken laying them doesn't have to answer, then where are we going?

Larison has the best line I've read so far:
Of course, the use of the phrase “witch hunt” today implies a hunt in pursuit of something that does not exist, while we are fairly certain that there were criminals in the outgoing administration who have thus far escaped the appropriate sanctions of the law. The best argument that witnesses testifying against the idea of forming a commission seem to have had is that the abuses of power and crimes in question are not as numerous as they were under Pinochet and apartheid. Now that’s a claim to moral authority.

It's So Hard to Fly to Indiana (Part 3)

In our last episode, The Binjo Ditch was in Atlanta, where Delta was frantically trying to find the plane it lost. Delta could have sworn they had it when they left the hangar, but when they checked their pockets, it wasn't there. So they had to retrace their steps and see if they could track it down.

Ultimately, at about 11:15 (remember, departure time was 2:42), they get the plane to the gate. This means that we just have to wait a few minutes for the security inspection, and we'll be on our way. The inspection goes without incident, and they start boarding, with a sigh of relief from all the passengers. I get on the plane, and trade places with the wife of the man I had been sitting next to on the flight that blew up. We're all kind of milling around in our seats getting ready, and we notice there are far fewer people than there had been on the original attempt. We chalk it up to people having given up and getting a hotel room, and we start switching seats, and kind of joking about lying down and taking naps on the flight. Unfortunately, this is when the flight attendant comes down and informs us that we're going to have to deplane.

You see, the FAA has these regulations that bar pilots and flight crews from being on duty for more than X hours. Because of the delays and the plane blowing up, our plane's flight crew went over their allotted hours and were unable to fly us at 11:45 at night. They don't have a replacement crew and therefore we are not going to be able to fly out Monday night. My interview is at 1 on Tuesday afternoon. This is perfectly understandable and a very easy mistake to make provided you are completely incapable of doing basic math. I don't quite understand why they started boarding the plane, or even continued to attempt to get the plane before yanking out a calculator to see if the crew could do their job. Hell, we had only been there 11 hours, fingers and a nose should have been sufficient. But apparently the Delta staff at the Atlanta Airport never mastered counting without help.

Anyway, we are told we have bad news and good news. The bad news is that we're not going to be able to fly. The good news is that they are going to give us free hotel rooms! And they're goign to have a special flight at 8 the next morning! It's now midnight. Even better news! They are going to let us have our luggage so that we can change our clothes! Now I have never, technically, *won* the lottery, but I imagine if I did, the joy I felt would pale in comparison to the pure unadulterated glee that this good news provided. Well, it takes us about 45 minutes to get our tickets processed so that we can get on the 8:00 flight, and then we get our luggage and take the shuttle to our hotel. I get checked in to my room (at the end of the hall at the end of the hall at the end of the hall on the top floor, natch), and set my alarm and set up a wakeup call for 5:15 so that I can be sure to get to the airport at least 90 minutes before my flight, lest it leave without me, though I'm not sure anything leaves Atlanta at this point. I finally crawl into bed at about 1:30 and have a terrific catnap.

The good news is that our flight in the morning was only 10 minutes late taking off, which is a minor miracle.

So I call Delta after this debacle and complain about the quality of my flight, and the fact that my compensation so far has been a free hotel room that I wouldn't have needed but for their inability to get a plane that works where it's supposed to be in under 10 hours. Delta, in their magnanimous, supplicantive way, offers me a $100 travel voucher. You can't fly anywhere with $100. What this is is a discount on your next flight. Delta will still make money off of me if I use this, no matter where I fly. It's an absurd attempt at compensation. They wouldn't even give me a first class upgrade over the phone. Fortunately, I got an upgrade when I asked at the check in for my return flight, and let me say, it was nice. But it doesn't make up for the piss-poor service that I received flying Delta Airlines.

Now that you know how the story ends, go back and read parts 1 and 2 of this adventure in absurdity. I don't think I'll fly Delta again, which is a shame, because they're merging with Northwest, and I always had a soft spot for Northwest.

It's So Hard to Fly to Indiana (Part 2)

(You can read part 1 here and part 3 here)

So our last episode had the Intrepid Binjo Ditch making his flight with minutes to spare. He's happy to report that he made it to Atlanta a few minutes early, which he knew would be helpful in getting a meal, and just relaxing that little bit more. As I deplaned, I went and checked the screen for where my connection would be - gate B10. I'm at gate B34 (or something), and thus have to walk halfway across the state. I get to the gate and attempt to get my boarding pass only to find out that my gate has been changed, I now have to go to gate B25. Joy. I get to the gate and get my boarding pass and find something nice to eat (Nathan's hot dog and fries, not bad, but definitely overpriced). I enjoy my meal and have a pleasant conversation with a woman who is waiting to fly to Nashville, but her flight has been delayed. As I'm sitting, and with about an hour before our scheduled departure, we get a notification of gate change for our flight. I have to move again - this time it's only 3 gates (to B22), but it's now my third gate at Atlanta.

We get to the gate, and notice that the departure time is about 30 minutes later than what is scheduled on our ticket. A few minutes later, the concierge gets on the speaker and informs us that due to the weather (I think this is what we were told), our plane did not arrive, so we are in the queue to get a new plane from the hangar and we should have it here in about 30 minutes. It will then take about 15-30 minutes to do a security sweep of the plane (Threat Level Orange) and stock it for the flight. Great. I was expecting to get in to town at 4:15 and have time for a nice leisurely dinner with my in-laws who were planning on driving in to meet me. I'd then be able to relax, go over my resume and notes, jot down some questions of my own, and just be relaxed for the meeting. A 1 hour delay isn't going to be deadly - an inconvenience, yes, but not deadly.

Of course, this isn't the end of the delay. Apparently it takes some effort to get a plane to a gate from the hangar, as this brief 30-60 minute delay gets delayed by half hour increments (and one one hour increment), until such time as our plane arrives at 7:30. I'm chatting with another passenger who was part of a group that had been snowed in the previous day, and part of their group decided to charter a bus, which was 2/3 of the way to Indianapolis by this time. We also make various jokes about how long it will be before the plane arrives, etc. We get on the plane and a German individual I met who was on his way to Indianapolis as well looks up and says "we're finally on our way." I reply that I'm not taking anything for granted and want to wait until the plane is in the air before I trust anything after a 5-hour delay.

But, we get fully loaded, do a thorough pre-flight check, and we start our taxi out to the runway. We get up to next in line, and are ready for departure. We accelerate, getting up to lift-off speed, just about to take off, and there's this loud "pop!" Our right engine blew. The pilot thinks some debris hit the engine, but regardless, it's going to kep us from leaving. We then have to sit on the tarmac for 30 minutes waiting for a tow truck. We get back to the gate (B15) and are told that they will have a replacement plane ready for us at gate B11, if we wish to wait a few more minutes to take off. Most of us decide to wait, we're told it will only be a few minutes. One of the passengers, about 15 minutes later, decides to check on the status of the new plane, which we note is conspicuously absent from the gate. We are told it's on the way from the hangar and that it should be there in 15 minutes. Fine, we can handle that.

About an hour and a half later (it's now about 9:45), we check on the plane that was supposed to be there in 15 minutes. The concierge checks with the hangar and gets in the intercom to inform us that "our plane left the hangar about 30 minutes ago and should be here by now, but they need to see what's going on because it's not here and we don't know where it is." Now, I'm not entirely sure how one goes about losing a plane, but my first thought is "did you check your pockets," because oftentimes if I'm looking for a pen or keys or something, I find that they are in my pockets. I'm also somewhat bemused that a major airline can LOSE A PLANE!

I thought I'd be able to finish in 2 parts, but unfortunately, I need to get to work, so I expect there will be a part 3 in the making this evening.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

It's So Hard to Fly to Indiana (Part 1)

So, as a few of you know, I had to take a trip to Indiana this week for a job interview with a Federal Agency. Being a federal position, I wanted to ensure I took a little extra effort in getting prepared, and one thing that I sorely needed was business cards. As a staff attorney, I don't rate business cards at my practice, so I had to order some on my own. This meant going to Kinko's as they have 24-hour turnaround. I made my order Thursday, which, with 24-hour turnaround means they will be ready by Monday.

I call Sunday to check on the cards, just to see if maybe a delivery has been made, and the employee puts me on hold, checks, comes back on the line and tells me they are in. This is about 10:30 on Sunday. So I go to Kinko's to pick them up. They aren't there. Not only that, but the worker can't find the order that was placed on Thursday. She asks if I have a copy of the style I was looking for. Of course, I don't, because I left the copy with the person who took my order. I ask if they have something she could make really quickly and, fortunately, they do have "quick cards," which are extremely basic, but fit the bill. We then spend the next 2 hours making these quick cards, and then trying to cut them - which is a difficult task, because the cards come out crooked on the paper as she's trying to print them (not operator error). Finally, we get the cards, after 4 tries. They still aren't completely straight, but I don't care, because they are nearly straight, and it's 8 hours before my flight and I've not yet slept. Let me note that the woman working was quite helpful and very apologetic about the difficulty getting this together. She did more than she needed to (really), as she was conveniencing me even though my order wasn't scheduled to be ready until the next morning. She also decided to not charge me for my cards, which was rather nice, as well.

Next morning (this is Monday), I get up and start getting the kids ready for school. The Apple, who's been wanting to go to daycare with Mom for over a week, chooses today to decide he wants me to take him. The Boy and the Princess's bus shows up at 7:15 and my flight is at 9:35, with about a 40 minute commute to the airport during rush hour, so I'm already going to be within the "at least 2 hours early" window. Fortunately, the Apple is convinced (grudgingly) to ride with Mommy to daycare, so I can just drive straight to the airport.

I get to the airport at 7:55, find a terrific parking spot right next to the elevators, and make my way to baggage check. As I get to the escalator, I make a mental note that my bags seem awfully light, which allows the realization that I only have my laptop, and not my suitcase with me, to come to the forefront. I have about 1.5 hours until my plane leaves, and my suitcase (with my suit) is at home. I do some quick math and figure if it takes about 30 minutes there and back, I should have just enough time to get back to the airport and get checked in and through security to make my flight. So I do this. I make better time than I thought I would and check my bag with about 45 minutes to spare, thanks to a helpful clerk who allowed me to cut in line. I then get to go through security. Unfortunately, the Airport had a power outage and the metal detector you walk through is not yet on line, which means they have to use the wands on everyone. This means I get to get in a line about 30 people long with about 30 minutes until my plane is scheduled to depart. I make it through, though the 3 men in line after me all get to get scanned and pass through before I do (not really a slight, but kind of annoying given my status as being in a hurry). But I make it to the plane in time, and even get to take a bathroom break.

That was the first in a 3 part series. You can read part 2 here, and part 3 here.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Victory for States' Rights

The Supreme Court issued its ruling in Wyeth v. Levine. In a nutshell, the story is that Wyeth, a drug manufacturer makes the medication Phenergan, an anti-nausea medication that can be administered via the "IV Push" method. This method of administration involved injecting the medication directly into the vein of the patient, which differs from the "IV Drip" method which would involved placing the Phenergan into a solution which would then drip (like you see with all the sick patients at the hospital, that kind of bag). Unfortunately for Levine, this medication was administered to her via the IV Push method, which carries the risk of the medication inadvertently being injected into arterial blood or "migrating" to the artery through a process called "perivascular extravasation," and, as a result, she developed gangrene which resulted in her losing her arm - a painful blow to a musician. The trial court in Vermont found that had there been an adequate warning on the label of this risk, that this injury would not have occurred (ed. note: or that the decision would have been an informed one by the client). Wyeth appealed on the premise that because the FDA (A Federal Executive Branch office) approved the medication, that approval pre-empted any state failure to warn claims. This, of course, is patently absurd.

in a 6-3 decision, the Court held that "Federal law does not pre-empt Levine’s claim that Phenergan’s label did not contain an adequate warning about the IV-push method of administration." Ironically, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, and Justice Alito were the dissenters - who opined that the Executive Branch can pre-empt state law (strict constructionist? Only when it serves their position).

Essentially, what Wyeth said was that it was impossible to comport with both FDA regulations AND state law, which is absurd. he FDA's "Changes being effected" regulation would allow Wyeth to add a stronger warning about the drug's risks in advance of a supplement application being approved - probably to protect from potential injury to American Citizens who would be placed in harm's way between when the risk became known (a causal connection is NOT required) and when the label change could be effected.

While I have read the Opinion, it is 80 pages long and it's a little late this evening to do an adequate summary.

Understand that Wyeth conceded that But For their label being inadequate, the injury would not have occurred. They also conceded that the inadequate label was also the proximate cause of the injury. Their ONLY leg to stand on was the pre-emption argument after the jury found for the Plaintiff. The ramifications of this could have had lasting, damaging effects for people who use pharmaceuticals (i.e. Everybody) had the Court held in favor of pre-emption.

The approach to the decision was based on two pre-emption "cornerstones." from the opinion:
First, “the purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone in everypre-emption case.” Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr, 518 U. S. 470, 485 (1996) (internal quotation marks omitted); see Retail Clerks v. Schermerhorn, 375 U. S. 96, 103 (1963). Second, “[i]n all pre-emption cases, and particularly in those inwhich Congress has ‘legislated . . . in a field which the States have traditionally occupied,’ . . . we ‘start with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.’” Lohr, 518 U. S., at 485 (quoting Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U. S. 218, 230 (1947)).
In other words, the presumption is that the States traditionally have the power unless it clearly states in the Federal Act that Congress intended the States' rights to be pre-empted. Wyeth argued (and this is somewhat rich) that this presumption doesn't apply here because the Federal Government has regulated drug labeling for over a century. That doesn't touch on whether the label was adequate, and clearly doesn't touch on whether remedies were available to Wyeth. Moreover, it ignores the fact that the presumption exists out of respect for State Sovereignty. The dissenters, those Strict Constructionist ardent fans of stare decisis they are, adopt a position strikingly opposite that of precedent, and argue that when the claim is one of an implied conflict pre-emption, the presumption against the pre-emption should not apply. This is would be akin to saying that there should be times that strict scrutiny should be presumed to be pre-empted, hypothetically, a law that prohibits people who are registered Libertarians from voting (a fundamental right). In a word, that's absurd.

This is already a very long post, and I don't want it to go on too much longer. You have the holding, you have the facts, and you have a bit of what Wyeth's premise was. Now it's time to (briefly) discuss the potential ramifications to you and me had the Court sided with those Strict Constructionists. The primary problem would be that it would create an enormous shield for drug companies to protect them from liability for harmful and potentially deadly products. It also would create a situation in which drug companies would be tempted to not be as forthcoming with facts about potential harmful side effects in order to get the indication approved so they can start selling their drug sooner. It would encourage the withholding of information necessary for the FDA to allow for an accurate label, and would provide no incentive for the drug companies to remedy potential harm from side effects discovered after their mad rush to get the drug approved for sale as quickly as possible.

For those who might argue that this just encourages more litigation, I have a couple things to say - first - the drug companies can avoid their problems a couple different ways, first and foremost is to change the label or send out the DHCP letters as soon as possible and not try to use fancy math to hid the dangers posed by the drug. Second, don't push the approval so hard. In a related vein, it should be noted that had this case gone the other way, it could have dried up the litigation in this arena, but it also would have dried up the defense in this arena as well. This is probably why the attorneys for Wyeth, who aren't stupid, had been trying to get this holding to be reserved to the facts in this case - in other words, the cases would have continued regardless. Wyeth's attorneys didn't want to put themselves out of a job either.

That's a long summary, and I didn't touch on Justice Thomas's concurring opinion, which is very well written and supports the position that the three dissenters claim to advocate. But, it's important that this holding came out as it did, for all Americans, not just those whose last name is Inc., LLP, or the like.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Stories to Tell

It's been a long 48 hours. I'm still at the airport, so I won't have an update until I get home, but I promise, it'll have you either laughing or outraged.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Will They Ever Learn?

Rush Limbaugh is a Conservative Talk-Show host with a lot of pull. He apparently thinks pretty highly of himself, as Papamoka points out.

To get a snippet of the talk-show host's speech, particularly the great line, "One thing we can all do is stop assuming that the way to beat [the Democrats] is with better policy ideas," go to Andrew Sullivan.

Yes, Americans don't want their politicians to come up with good policy ideas - that would be absurd.

This, my friends, is the loudest voice on the Right.