May 2003 Archives

Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine has a great response to Blair's allegations of racism over at the NY Times:

"He doesn't just play the race card. He plays the race casino."

Be wary of women with PMS

PMS = Possible Murder Suspect

Now you know!

Political Parties

I've been wondering lately about what the Democrats and Republican really stand for in their platforms. I consider myself to be generally conservative, but from what I've seen in the news and political discussions, I'm not sure that I'm comfortable with either parties' platforms. I don't think I really know beyond just some vague generalizations. I was thinking about registering to vote for the first time in my life. I took a look at the California voter registration form and was surprised when I got to the part about choosing a party affiliation. Here's the choices for political parties in California:

American Independent Party
Democratic Party
Green Party
Libertarian Party
Natural Law Party
Peace & Freedom Party
Republican Party

There's also unaffiliated / undeclared / independent ("I decline to state a political party") and other (write in your favorite party if its not in the above list). I know a little bit about Libertarians. The others I've never heard of, let alone know anything about them. I guess I'm going to have to make up a list of issues and try to find out where each party stands on them. Could be interesting, but I doubt it. I have the feeling that the other parties are "fringe" parties. I saw some figures showing that the Dems and Reps have memberships in the millions of voters here in California, while the others have less than 100,000 each.

Blog Posting

I've been finding that what I initially intended with this blog is different from reality. I thought that I had well thought out opinions on issues and events. I am finding that this is not the case. I have a feeling about an event, a flash of an idea about a political issue. But it's not as easy as I thought to take those and translate them into words.

The cure: Read more, write more, engage other in discussion, ask lots of questions. No one has all the answers, but no one learns anything either by remaining in isolation.

There's also some changes that I think I would like to make to the blog. It does not help that I basically don't know squat about html coding.


I have a pretty keen interest in politics and the areas that it is intertwined with - law, economics, tax policy, morality and community standards, rights and interests of individuals, businesses, property owners.....the list seems endless. Then there's also the different levels of politics: city, county, state, federal. For reasons I don't fully understand, I am most interested in national politics and issues. My interest decreases as the political level gets closer and closer to home.

The more I watch politicians in action, the more disappointed I am in their performance. Politicians don't seem to understand their proper role in government, do not truly represent the interests of their constituency at large, and make wrong choices at every turn. Just as long as they get re-elected.

Sometimes I get the idea that I should get involved and try to make a difference. Then I think about the extremely low probability that I would actually succeed in this. So I have never gotten involved in politics even to the extent of participating in a single election. Kind of sad, considering that I've had the right to vote for over 20 years.

Texas Democrats Running to Oklahoma

51 state Representatives (Democrats) fled the state of Texas to Ardmore, Oklahoma to break quorum and prevent the Texas House of Representatives from voting on a redistricting bill (which the Democrats would lose). They've been camping out at a local Holiday Inn for most of this week and making a nice little spectacle of themselves.

A lot of words come to mind. Sore losers. Chickenshits. Pussies. I understand that they have *serious* objections to the redistricting bill, but this was the wrong way to fight it. Many thanks to the governor of Oklahoma for not granting Texas state troopers the authority to arrest them and bring them back to Texas. (The same thanks also should go to the governor of New Mexico, but it would seem that none of the errant Democrats ran into that state.) I sincerely hope that someday the state of Texas can repay the favor in spades.

Red Light Traffic Cameras

I believe that red light cameras are a useful law enforcement tool and should be used where there is a definite need. My main objection to use of the cameras is that cities appear to do this for financial reasons, not safety ones. I do not believe it is an appropriate function of law enforcement to try to raise as much money as possible for their own budgets or for city coffers.

I had some other objections to red light cameras, but they just don't hold up to logical scrutiny. They are for the most part psychological and emotional. I've run my share of red lights. Do I want to be ticketed for every single one of them. Not particularly. After paying the first or second one, I would feel like the cameras were the equivalent of having a police officer driving around behind me, waiting for me to break a law so they could write me a ticket and I have to pay another fine.

And this stems from something I think is relatively common - it's okay for the police to write other people tickets, but I want them to cut me some slack. Running a red light is dangerous. If you don't get into an accident because of it, you should consider yourself lucky. A red light runner should consider themselves doubly lucky if a police officer didn't see them do it. Even if an officer did see you and writes you a ticket, they can sometimes be beaten in court, which would be a third stroke of luck. With a red light camera at the intersection, everyone's second and third strokes of luck just ran out.

NY Times / Jayson Blair

Remember the saying "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."? If you're the NY Times, realizing that Jayson Blair fooled you 50+ times, what exactly do you say to that? I'd vote for "We're dumbasses!"

There's a lot of interest in why it happened (whether affirmative action policies played any role or not). I can see why there's interest in it, but in the overall scheme of things, does it really matter? Jayson Blair is indeed at fault for what he did at the Times. But executive editor Howell Raines deserves as much blame for allowing it to occur. At any company I've ever worked at, if a manager fails to catch 50+ incidents of anything that serious, they're gone. It doesn't matter why a manager was asleep at the wheel - it only matters that he was.

Employees at the Times asked Raines if he would resign, and he said he would not. And then Raines' boss, publisher Arthur Sulzberger, said that he would not accept Raines' resignation if it were offered. The fact that neither of them seem to think that Raines' resignation is warranted is further evidence of how messed up management is at the Times. (This earns a second vote of "dumbass" from me.)

What's Wrong With Health Insurance

Insurance is supposed to protect you in the case of a catastrophic event. Health insurance was that way, once upon a time. Nowadays, people seem to think that health insurance should cover every little medical expense, whether you can afford it or not. If car insurance were like health insurance, we would be using our auto insurance to cover gas and maintenance on our cars. Wouldn't that be just great!

National Healthcare

At the center of the problems with health care and health insurance is something that is not very pleasant to think about: The health care industry profits off of the sick and injured, and the health insurance industry profits from people concerned about being sick or hurt.

Any national health insurance plan that does not address this is not going to work. If it also does not address cost containment, it is going to be very expensive too.

New Word

Thanks to Rachel Lucas for the new addition that just fit right into my vocabulary.


Gotta love it!

Bill Quick posted yesterday about a report on local governments using eminent domain to condemn homes and business then transfer the properties to another private owner (developers and other businesses) for their own private use.

I first heard about eminent domain being used to take property for private use when I lived in Dallas. When The Ballpark at Arlington was in development, eminent domain was used to condemn homes sitting on property that the Ballpark's developers wanted to use for parking. I was amazed that this was even legal - the government taking someone's property by force in order to build a parking lot for a sports stadium.

When I heard about that report yesterday, I was curious again as to why exactly this is legal. I decided to look it up today.

The power of (federal) eminent domain is implied in the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: ".....nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." The government has the right to take any property it wishes for public use, but the owner must be paid the value of the property taken. State constitutions have a similar if not identical provision in them regarding eminent domain.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided a case regarding eminent domain in 1954, giving a green light to the government (Congress and state legislatures) to use the power of eminent domain to condemn any property for any public use, public purpose, or public benefit. That case was BERMAN v. PARKER, 348 U.S. 26 (1954).

The Court said that Congress and Congress alone determines the valid reasons (public use, purpose or benefit) to take property by eminent domain and that the Court has little authority to challenge Congress in its determinations. (State legislatures have the same authority at the state level.)

In addition, the fact that the property passes through or ends up in private hands for private use is of no relevance as long as it conforms to the stated goals and purposes of Congress.

Takings such as the one at The Ballpark in Arlington and hundreds more all over the country have been done because the state legislatures passed laws defining the justification and authorizing it. One method that seems to be popular is to designate a neighborhood "blighted" condemn the properties, then turn them over to a developer who promises to build more expensive housing, shopping centers - practically anything that will bring the city more tax dollars. Costco stores do this as a standard business practice.

I find this practice unconscionable. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live in a home for 20 years, then receive a notice on my door that my home has been condemned and I have to move out because Costco wants to build a store and put a parking lot where my home currently sits. Since the courts have already ruled that this is legal and constitutional, the only to stop this is to have the lawmakers repeal the legislation authorizing these takings to occur in the first place. Even better would be legislation that outlawed these types of takings. Somehow, I think that is going to be an uphill battle.

Update 02-Aug-2004: Michigan State Supreme Court overturns landmark eminent domain decision

The award of millions of dollars in damages smacks of "I've won the lottery"

Clayton Cramer says the above in a discussion about punitive damages awarded in lawsuits.

Sasha Volokh offers the following in response:

Why does it matter that it seems like a lottery (which, as far as I can tell, only means a large payment that you might get with some probability). If these damage awards are necessary to deter or punish bad conduct, then they're justifiable, and it shouldn't make a difference that they might enrich certain plaintiffs who are otherwise undeserving. After all, the actual lottery also rewards the undeserving, but surely there's nothing wrong with giving people huge payments unless you can also tell a story why that money should have gone elsewhere.

As a non-lawyer, I would like to offer the following:

1. Why should an award of punitive damages be like a lottery at all? Based on the facts, evidence and law, the defendant either deserves to have to pay them or not. Why are there any odds at all? Juries. (Whether the plaintiff deserves to receive them is a different question.)

2. When punitive damages are awarded, juries seem to like to award truly staggering damages. It's almost like a jury wants to destroy a defendant, not merely punish.

3. There was some discussion about the woman who sued McDonald's over hot coffee she spilled on herself. From what I understand, the reason punitive damages were awarded to the plaintiff was because there were at least 700 previous burn incidents over the previous 10 years and McDonald's had never taken any corrective action. If McDonald's inaction was truly egregious, why did this plaintiff alone get awarded the punitive damages but none of the prior accident victims? Was it because she was number 701 as opposed to number 700? Will the next burn victim get punitive damages too? Will they be just as high? (Higher? Lower?) This looks like winning a prize for being the one millionth shopper at a store (another type of lottery).

Bottom line: Having punitive damages appear to be awarded in a lottery style (random) gives the impression (and perhaps actuality) of inconsistent and arbitrary justice.

Some additional thoughts: Justice did prevail eventually in the McDonald's case (sort of) - the "excessive" punitive damages awarded to the plaintiff were reduced significantly on appeal. The trial jury ruled that McDonald's was 80 percent at fault and the plaintiff was 20 percent at fault. From what I read of the case, I would have been hard pressed to find McDonald's at fault at all because the woman caused the coffee to be spilled on herself. If I had to rule against McDonald's, it would have been a 20/80 split instead of an 80/20 one.