Category: Current Events


Al Zarqawi and the Marriage Amendment

Within hours after the U.S. Senate refuses to write discrimination into the Constitution, the U.S. Air Force is led to and kills #1 Iraq terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

It can’t be a coincidence. Jerry Falwell must be right after all:

I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’

Well done.


One Way to Stop Cheating: Jail

Chinese educators have been dealing with an outbreak of cheating via cellphones on college entrance examinations. Further, plagiarism of research papers is becoming a problem too. Apparently the Chinese government has now gotten involved:

Earlier this month, three people were arrested for selling fake exam papers over the Internet for 1,000 yuan a subject [.]

The government warned the public not to fall for the scam, noting that exam papers are state secrets and those caught leaking them face three to seven years in prison, it said.

I am generally in favor of harsh punishments against those who cheat or plagiarize their academic work. In the instances where it has happened, I have taken it personally. How dare someone cheat in *my* class?@!??$ However, in this instance, even I will admit that perhaps the punishment may not fit the crime. Aside from hard jail time, what are the best ways to keep students honest?


This is Democracy

The Philadelphia Inquirer, under new management, has a shocking good article on tomorrow’s ward leader elections. The entire article reminded me quite a bit of The Last Hurrah. Here’s a taste of what big city politics still look like, at least in my neck of the woods:

In the 18th Ward in Fishtown and South Kensington, City Councilman Juan Ramos ran a slate of committee candidates, knocking out several incumbents, and is seeking to unseat eight-year leader Lynn Farrell . . . . “I wanted to keep a close eye on my neighborhood, but she apparently did not want me to be part of the ward structure,” Ramos said. He said he would make the party “more active” and open.

It will be up to 34 committee members, meeting at Farrell’s home on East Montgomery Avenue. The incumbent says she has 22 votes locked up, but anything can happen. Ramos considers the race too close to call. Farrell has collected sworn affidavits from poll workers who say that Ramos and his supporters browbeat voters on primary day. For their part, Ramos forces protest the location of the meeting and say they have notified the 26th Police District that they may need help.

[And elsewhere in the city . . . ] John J. Dougherty, leader of the electricians’ union and a potential mayoral candidate [is running for re-election as party treasurer.] A source of friction was the 73 electricians Dougherty encouraged to run as ward committee members. He said 68 won . . . .

The strange thing about Philly, in light of all of this sausage making mess, is that the corruption that comes to light is petty ante. You rarely see the huge swindles here that you do in other towns, and local politicians, when caught, have stolen merely in the five to six figures. That really isn’t much, given that we’re still a moderately large town, with an operating budget of around $4 billion. Shucks, our pols can’t even wipe their data efficiently!


Don’t Know Much About Driving

In the spirit of fair and balanced reporting, here now some positive news about our non-East Coast readers. According to a new study, the nation’s drivers with the least knowledge of the rules of the road are in the East: in Rhode Island to be exact–followed by Washington D.C., Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. Next time you cross a street in Providence, Boston, Newark or Brooklyn, keep in mind that one in three drivers don’t think they have to stop or slow down for pedestrians and one in five have no idea roads are more slippery when wet. Oregon has the most knowledgable drivers, followed by Washington State. Vermont is third–the only Eastern state in the top twenty-five.

In fairness to East Coasters, knowing how to drive might not necessarily translate into skill behind the wheel. New York cabbies seem oblivious to rules but their passengers are rarely injured.


The Conservatives’ Gay Kids

With the Federal Marriage Amendment coming before the Senate this month, it’s a good time to ask: why do so many conservatives have gay offspring? To name just a few: Phyllis Schlafly (son, John), Dick & Lynne Cheney (Mary), Randall Terry (Jamiel), Sonny Bono (Chastity), Alan Keyes (Maya) and Pete Knight (David). Meanwhile, those liberal Kennedys of Massachusetts appear to have no gay children of record. Is there something about the Republican lifestyle that leads to homosexuality?


The Longest Pending FOIA Request

In 1989, William Aceves, a graduate student at USC, requested information under the Freedom of Information Act about a federal “Freedom of Navigation” program. Seventeen years later, the request is still pending. Since making the request, William Aceves finished graduate school (presumably having found a different topic) and law school and he is now a tenured professor at California Western School of Law.


Homeland Security Funding–Again

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would allocate homeland security grants among states and cities based on an assessment of their vulnerability to attack.

That sounds obvious but it represented a big change. In prior years, a pork barrel formula had funneled a share of funds to everyone—with the result that some towns, facing little risk, used the money to buy snow blowers, while high-risk locales scrambled to find the resources to keep their residents safe.

This week, DHS announced the recipients of 2006 homeland security grants under the new risk-based approach. New York City, which received $207 million from DHS last year, will get $124 million in funds.

New York officials are rightly outraged by this strange result. The City spends some $5 million per week on counter-terrorism.

In assessing risk, DHS, instead of convening impartial experts to figure out sensible numbers, relied upon input from governors, mayors and local homeland security officials around the country. In deciding that New York City was not so vulnerable, these folks concluded that the City has no national monuments or icons to attract the interests of terrorists.

As I have argued at length in a law review article, homeland security funding needs to be completely overhauled.

Rather than leave things in the hands of DHS bureaucrats (the same people who bungled the Katrina response), Congress, in accordance with its constitutional duties to protect the states and cities, should reimburse states and cities for all of the reasonable counter-terrorism costs they incur. This is how things were done for much of the history of the Republic.


Filling Ken Lay’s Chair

The Department of Economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia has an opening: the Kenneth L. Lay Chair in International Economics. The Chair was endowed in 1999 but so far there have been no takers. With Ken off to the Big House, the odds of filling the Chair have dropped even further.

Which raises an interesting question: which endowed Chairs (if any) would law professors refuse? The Martha Stewart Chair in Business Ethics? The Fred Phelps Chair in Family Law? The Roger Taney Chair in Law and History?

Would Dan Solove, for example, take the Michael Hayden Chair in Privacy Law? What if it came with a fat salary, no teaching requirements, and a guarantee to increase blogger readership ten fold?


Terrorists Among Us

All of the 9/11 hijackers were foreigners, admitted into the United States on non-immigrant visas. Since 9/11, therefore, there has been substantially increased attention to policing the borders—on the theory that terrorists can’t strike here again if they can’t get in.

The British Government has just published its Report of the Official Account of the Bombings in London on 7th July 2005. Much of the report emphasizes how the young suicide bombers who struck the London transit system last summer were second-generation British citizens. They had lived their entire lives in Britain, in ethnically mixed neighborhoods, and attended British schools. One of the bombers had worked as a government bureaucrat and done volunteer work with disadvantaged youth. Another worked with special needs children at a local primary school. A third was an avid sportsman and worked in his father’s fish and chip shop. The men were not well off but nor were they destitute. Their Muslim communities provided them with resources and support.

“Why did they do it?” asks one major section of the government report.

There are no clear answers—nothing in the report that explains why one morning these British men blew themselves up and killed dozens of commuters and injured hundreds more.

According to the report, the men were serious about their religion—but then so are thousands of other members of the very same community. The men spoke out about politics at times but, of course, plenty of people do that.

Some evidence suggests that a local gym the young men attended attracted people with radical views. A local bookstore was rumored to stock radical writings and DVDs. The men liked to go on camping trips—leading to speculation that the trips were training programs. The report finds little significance in any of these things. The men had visited Pakistan with their families. Again, though, many Britons make the very same trip.

The report reaches some chilling conclusions. “The case demonstrates,” it says, “the real difficulty for law enforcement agencies and local communities in identifying potential terrorists.” There was “little in the backgrounds” of the London bombers to “mark them out as particularly vulnerable to radicalization.” On the whole, the men were “well integrated into British society.” While they may have experienced moments of “instability” there was nothing “extraordinary” about their life circumstances.


The Election Lottery

Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest of all democracies. While pointy-headed professors have offered various proposals for increasing turnout at the polls–mandatory voting (as in countries like Australia), internet voting, easier registration, and a national holiday so voters don’t have to take time off work–an opthamologist in Arizona has come up with a proposal that could have have mass appeal.

Dr. Mark Osterloh is leading a ballot initiative that would make available a $1 million prize in each election in the state. The prize funds would come from unclaimed state lottery winnings. Upon casting a vote, the voter would have a chance at the loot.

My guess, having seen hordes of people line up for hours for powerball tickets, is that a chance at prize money would bring some people to the polls who would otherwise stay away–but that $1 million is probably too low to have much overall effect.