Archive for September, 2007

Yet More Good News

Friday, September 28th, 2007

I meant to include this in the previous post, hence the “Other Good News…” title. Oh well. Life distracts me sometimes.

Mychal Bell, the only one of the Jena 6 to remain in prison, was freed yesterday on reduced bond after the district attorney gave up his quest to try the teenager as an adult. Bell, who was 16 at the time of his arrest, was tried and convicted of aggravated battery as an adult and could have faced 15 years in prison, but the conviction was overturned by the Circuit Court of Appeals because of his age. He still faces retrial as a juvenile and could be held till he turns 21 if convicted.

This seems like a reasonable outcome to me. Yes, I know he had a juvenile record, which apparently influenced the DA’s decision to try him as an adult. How I know is problematic; aren’t juvenile records supposed to be sealed? The initial attempted murder charges smacked of gross overreaction, and the disparity between those charges and the ones faced by a white kid who jumped and beat up a black kid at an off-campus party sure smelled like racism. The DA’s insistence on trying Bell as an adult just ended up wasting resources.

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Other Good News of the Week

Friday, September 28th, 2007

The Senate passed the Matthew Shepard Act yesterday on a voice vote after nine Republicans joined in a 60-39 vote to end debate. The Act was attached to the defense authorization bill, which makes a threatened veto at least somewhat problematic (the House passed the bill as a standalone in May). The Bush administration says it just wants to prosecute all violent crimes the same way, but I haven’t heard it proposing a repeal of existing federal hate crimes law, which covers race, religion, color, and national origin.

The Matthew Shepard Act adds sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability, and authorizes the federal government to provide assistance to states in tracking, investigating, and prosecuting these crimes — or to step in and prosecute if state governments fail to do so. That’s what they’d have to do in Alabama, which, despite repeated efforts, has not added sexual orientation or gender identity to its existing law. (And, of course, Alabama Sens. Shelby and Sessions both voted no on the cloture motion.)

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Senate Passes SCHIP

Friday, September 28th, 2007

The Senate passed the reauthorization and expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program yesterday 67-29. Eighteen Republicans crossed party lines to give the bill enough votes to override Bush’s expected veto. They did not include Richard Shelby (R-AL) or Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who voted no despite Gov. Bob Riley’s support for the program. Yeah, I was surprised too. Not.

Now the ball is in Bush’s court, and I feel sure he’ll dig in his heels no matter what anyone says to him. The House vote, unfortunately, was not veto-proof, and I doubt there will be a 14-vote swing when the bill comes back.

To the bipartisan backers, I say stick to your guns. If Bush wants to add to his legacy by vetoing a program that has helped to provide health insurance coverage for millions of children, you can’t stop him, and you shouldn’t enable him. Keep sending the bill till either he or fourteen more House members come to their senses.

Talk Is Cheap

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

According to the Birmingham News, three Republican members of the Jefferson County Commission are all fired up after their trip to Denver, and they think the greater Birmingham area needs a regional transit system. To that I can only reply, “Welcome to the late 20th century!” The greater Birmingham area has needed a regional transit system for at least a couple of decades to address the incredible housing boom that started in Shelby County and spread around the outer perimeter of the “old” Birmingham area. Before that, it could have used a good local bus service. And still could.

Somehow, neither of those things developed. Well, actually, a combination of our current constitution’s concentration of power in the legislature and the balkanization of the Birmingham area pretty much doomed any real progress. Regional leaders have planned and pleaded, but our legislative delegation and myriad local governments just couldn’t ever get their collective act together, repeatedly leaving millions in 80/20 federal matching funds on the table.

Now a group from Alabama has visited Denver and seen, I imagine, actual white people, who might even be Republicans, using public transportation. Twenty years too late, County Commissioners Bettye Fine Collins, (former legislator) Bobby Humphryes, and (former legislator) Jim Carns have seen the light. Woohoo!

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Rep. Terry Everett To Retire

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Danny is reporting that Rep. Terry Everett (R-AL 2nd District) plans to retire at the end of his current term. He’s also covering the rumors and certainties of who will run to take Everett’s place. The district, which encompasses Montgomery and several counties south (see map here), leans Republican — but not as much as my very own 6th District.  Stay tuned.

SCHIP Passes the House

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

The US House passed the reauthorization and expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program yesterday, 265-159 (roll call here). Forty-five Republicans voted for the bill, while eight Democrats voted no. The bill is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate before week’s end. Of course, Bush plans to veto it (even though it was co-authored by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley), and it didn’t get the 289 votes necessary to override in the House.

I called Spencer Bachus’ (R-AL) office yesterday to register my support for the bill, and the nice young man who answered the phone was careful to get my name and address. I figured he was making sure I’d get my polite letter a couple of weeks down the road explaining why Rep. Bachus couldn’t possibly vote the way I asked, although he’s just pleased as punch that I provided my input. What a surprise to look at the vote count today and see that he voted NO. I guess he figures none of the estimated 85,000+ uninsured children in Alabama lives in his district.

Ready for a Woman President

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Samantha Bee had a semi-funny segment on the Daily Show the other night called “Is America Ready for a Woman President?” It wasn’t her best work, but it did have an interesting bit featuring LaShawn Barber. LaShawn is a blogger who “offers politically conservative commentary from a Christian point of view”, and she makes it clear that she doesn’t believe any woman has the temperament to be president. Apparently, women are too “nurturing”, or something like that.

You know, I bet she’d change her tune pretty fast if the “Draft Condi Rice movement has its way.

MoveOn’s Ad Is Not the Problem!

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Exhibit A:

David Shuster points out a little problem with Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) MoveOn obsession (partial transcript via Crooks & Liars):

Shuster: “Let’s talk about the public trust. You represent, of course, a district in western Tennessee. What was the name of the last solider from your district who was killed in Iraq?”

Blackburn:”The name of the last soldier killed in Iraq uh – from my district I – I do not know his name -”

Shuster: “Ok, his name was Jeremy Bohannon, he was killed August the 9th, 2007. How come you didn’t know the name?”

Blackburn: “I – I, you know, I – I do not know why I did not know the name…” [Snip]

Shuster: “But you weren’t appreciative enough to know the name of this young man, he was 18 years old who was killed, and yet you can say chapter and verse about what’s going on with the New York Times and Move On.org.” [Snip]

Shuster: “But don’t you understand, the problems that a lot of people would have, that you’re so focused on an ad — when was the last time a New York Times ad ever killed somebody? I mean, here we have a war that took the life of an 18 year old kid, Jeremy Bohannon from your district, and you didn’t even know his name.”

Former City Councilor Indicted for Child Porn

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Don McDermott, former Birmingham City Councilor for District 1, was indicted today on two federal counts of child pornography. He’s already under indictment in Jefferson County.

You may remember that McDermott was defeated after serving one term — by Joel Montgomery. It’s hard to believe, but in retrospect that looks like a step up.

We’re #1?

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

riley-number-1.jpg
Special to the Birmingham News

Well, not exactly — but we’re getting better.

Alabama fourth-graders scored the nation’s greatest gains in reading, according to a report released today by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The fourth-graders’ scores were up by eight points from the assessment released two years ago, but their score of 216 was still below the national average of 220. In math, the score of Alabama’s fourth-graders was up by four points to 229, below the national average of 239.

With two children in Alabama public schools, I know how strongly they emphasize reading skills. Clearly the efforts are reaping results, and the improvement is good for everyone in the state. Reading comprehension is essential to successful study of any subject, whether arts or sciences. Many of the kids in school today will be part of Alabama’s work force in the future. Well-educated employees are an asset to existing business and a great drawing card for companies that might open facilities or relocate here.

Apart from that benefit, educated citizens tend to demand better government — you know, the kind that emphasizes competence and actually works as it was intended, not the half-drowned-in-the-bathtub mess we have now. So go fourth-graders!