This page includes posts from February 23-March 1, 2003 in the usual reverse
order. Each posting on the home page is perma-linked to these
March 1, 2003
It's Saturday. Maybe somebody is just not taking the weekend news seriously.
Whatever the cause, the AP headline in this story about Rwanda's reaction to the Iraq situation couldn't be more wrong.
As published on the web at 19:09:33 GMT today, the headline reads as follows:
When one reads the story below, however, it's obvious that the Rwandan government leaders actually support action against Hussein, not diplomacy. The United Nations' sorry history involving the genocidal atrocities committed in that tiny African country played a major role in the Rwandans' views about what to do now:
The headline fits with the spin-job attempted by French President Jacques Chirac, but is jarringly offline compared to the Rwandans' real feelings:
I just hope the folks at AP find some way to fix this screw-up, and quickly.
The Rwandans deserve better treatment than this.
March 1, 2003
Called America's Blood Centers, a consortium of 6 banks will handle direct transfers of blood to the Defense Department. The remaining 69, including my blood bank, will serve as replenishment sources for the lead six.
The civilian blood will be the back-up supply, if the military's usual stocks run low.
The deal will naturally require increased contributions:
Personally, I'm hoping that the military eventually learns it has no need to request a single pint from this consortium.
In the meantime:
February 28, 2003
We have a few Democrats vying for campaign contributions from party activists in New Hampshire this week.
New Hampshire is among the first states to hold a presidential primary that means something to the two major political parties.
Party activists from either party, at least this early in the presidential election process, can be counted upon to be the most partisan, and therefore well-disposed to listening to and responding well to some of the more harshly-toned campaign rhetoric.
In some circles, in fact, these folks would be called the political party’s "meat-eaters".
(In other political circles, of course, that phrase alone would be considered hurtful and demeaning, thus immediately disqualifying the user from any further serious political consideration.)
In this environment, AP reporter Mike Glover wrote up a pretty good story about a fund-raising dinner before 500 New Hampshire Democrats, with speakers including Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman, and Al Sharpton.
As Glover reported, the speeches were fiery, partisan, and apparently well received. In addition, the piece noted a few promising curiosities that the headline writers could have pounced upon:
This is fascinating. I can’t wait to read the always well-dressed Sharpton’s own tax returns, and read all the details about his own personal charitable contributions for the truly needy.
Oh wait. Were those returns ever filed?
The former governor of Vermont doesn’t want to go after Iraq? I’d be okay with a reasoned debate on that position based on facts, but "unilateral action"? Last time I checked, Great Britain, Spain, and a whole bunch of other allies are not actually part of the United States.
So the AP headline folks had some great material to work with here. But do they take advantage of it?
They just palm off this lame Claude candidate instead:
I give it four Claudes for obviousness.
Next time, give it a bit more effort, okay? I know it’s early, but these kinds of rhetorical pratfalls should be highlighted, not buried under some stunningly pedestrian announcement.
February 27, 2003
On several occasions I've had some very pleasant professional conversations with FBI agents. Whenever the discussion turned to crime, the agents almost always said the same thing:
The Sixth Circuit issued
an opinion today that
Frank H. Roche managed to be caught committing a bank robbery in Michigan. He faced significant jail time as a result.
In an effort to reduce the length of his prison term, however, the robber turned to the creative arts:
The scheme almost worked. The Federal district judge thought the documents were real, and sentenced Roche to only 18 months for the bank robbery charge, down from the normal guideline range of 30-37 months.
The good times didn't last.
Ms. Kulberg contacted the court about the fraudulent letter involving her, which led to Roche's arrest for obstruction of justice.
Finding himself in a hole, and not content to stop digging, Roche then proceeded to make it worse:
Kulberg then told the authorities about this request.
As one might imagine, the new district court judge handling the new charges tended to be a bit stern when sentencing Roche after he pled guilty to a single charge of obstruction of justice.
Roche will now spend 33 more months in prison, enhanced by two levels because of his attempt to suborn Kulberg into committing perjury.
Roche faired no better on appeal, with the Sixth Circuit turning down the case in short order.
February 27, 2003
In 1985, Sally Field won an Oscar. Her acceptance remarks were quickly recognized as truly special, if not timeless:
I'm feeling that way today, thanks to some rare and pleasant feedback.
In the mail I also received a collection of extremely flattering evaluation comments from those who attended a Continuing Legal Education presentation I recently made to the Sussex County Bar Association.
These ratings and 79 cents will buy me a cup of coffee at WaWa, but it's nonetheless really nice to receive this response from one's peers.
February 27, 2003
There was a fine picture of Glenn Reynolds at his site today, showing the smiling law professor giving blood.
Some folks might have been surprised to see absolute proof that an attorney's blood is in fact the same familiar red color found in humans and other mammals.
Wonders never cease.
Regardless of one's choice of profession, for those who can surpass the increasing medical limitations that limit the potential participants, donating blood is a great way to connect with one's community.
There are also other benefits, as I saw when I donated a pint of Type O last December at our local blood bank. The organization's banner put it succinctly:
Perhaps other bloggers would be interested in a joint effort to help maintain the nation's critical blood supplies.
Here's a little banner that might help. Feel free to copy it, if you'd like:
February 26, 2003
Unfortunately, not everyone feels all warm and fuzzy about the Arkansas-based retail giant. Last April Jim Hightower wrote a fairly scathing piece about Walmart, for example.
In addition, some of Santa’s elves recently decided that Walmart needed to rethink its relations with at least one supplier. Yesterday the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
General Trading International, Inc. (GTI) sells seasonal craft items to Walmart and other retailers. GTI entered into a standard sales agreement to provide 250,000 vine reindeer for the 1999 Christmas season. The first deliveries would arrive at Walmart’s warehouses in August 1999.
These reindeer were to be made in Haiti. This fact needs to be kept in mind for two reasons:
1. Reindeer are not native to the Island of Hispaniola. The popular holiday critters’ natural habitat is closer to the Arctic Circle than the Tropic of Cancer.
2. Given the Haitians' unfamiliarity with reindeer, it’s entirely possible that the elves at Santa’s Workshop (Southern Division) might have a little trouble making a “craft” item depicting Rudolph, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, or any of the other reindeer, especially in vine form.
These issues may have played a role in the creative problems that ensued.
Shortly after the first shipments arrived at Walmart, the buyers noticed some serious problems:
These results eventually led to cancellation of any further shipments, a flurry of e-mails and other contacts, harsh feelings, and, of course, litigation.
As it turned out, GTI was not interested in playing any games about these reindeer.
The company sued Walmart for a $200,000 markdown that the retailer took off the billings, along with other unpaid charges. GTI alleged that it delivered 176,217 vine reindeer, for which Walmart owed $1,839,777.96, but on which Walmart had only paid $1,444,093.79. Walmart counter-claimed.
GTI eventually won $263,280 in the lawsuit, including the $200,000 from the markdown. On the other hand, GTI failed to win an additional claim for over $107,000 in attorney’s fees, which can be awarded under Arkansas law relating to these contract claims.
Both sides appealed.
The Eighth Circuit panel made short work of Walmart’s arguments that portions of the post-shipment e-mails acted to alter the terms of the original contract. In addition, the court noted that the Arkansas statute on attorney’s fees was permissive, not mandatory. Then they upheld the determination by the trial court that there was no compelling basis to award the fees in this case.
Accordingly, GTI is out the $107,000, which will cut into the $263,000 judgment somewhat.
That’s probably a just result all around, in my opinion.
After all, when you move Santa’s workshop that far south, you should probably also know that there might be some potential risks involved.
February 25, 2003
I am sometimes impressed by the purity of motives of some folks who sue government agencies about alleged environmental violations.
These motives may not be public-spirited, but they are nonetheless pure.
In fact, some folks are extremely open about the driving principle behind the litigation—their own self-interest.
Last Friday the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt fairly summarily with two of these kinds of plaintiffs.
In Henrico County, Virginia, a prime piece of land for a shopping mall sits at the intersection of Interstate 64 and Interstate 295 (Oooh—two Interstates).
A developer went to county officials and managed to obtain approval for a brand new mall at this spot, to be called the Short Pump Town Center.
It’s no secret that the owners of regional shopping malls dearly love to have close access to these major highways. This recent story is a good example from my own state.
On the other hand, in Henrico County an existing regional shopping center sits only five miles away from Short Pump. The owners of that mall didn’t think this new mall was such a hot idea from their perspective. They decided to do what they could to keep it from being built.
Using two novel theories of liability, the plaintiffs not only went after Henrico County—they also sued USDOT Secretary Norm Mineta and his Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), under the Federal-Aid Highway Act (FAHA) as well as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA):
After the District Court dismissed the claims without prejudice, the plaintiffs appealed to the Circuit Court.
They lost there, too, primarily because these competitors had no standing to bring their federal claims:
The owners of the other mall will likely continue their efforts against Henrico County and the developers of Short Pump. On the other hand, I think it’s unlikely that they will try to keep their competitors away by continuing to try to sue the Feds over this relatively routine local land use decision.
Even those with the purest of motives must comply with the basic rules about who can sue a government.
February 24, 2003
State governments throughout the country are searching for money, as usual. The current budget crisis facing most of them has only increased their efforts.
Some are now thinking about tapping a few accounts they originally earmarked for special purposes.
On a personal level, remember the time that you dipped into the money you put away for a new roof, and used it for groceries instead? That’s the idea, but on a very large scale.
This is not a new concept among governments. The Feds did it for years, and some states used a version of this tactic on prior occasions.
In today’s Washington Post, Michael Shear and Lori Montgomery reported on proposals by the Governors of Virginia and Maryland to take money set aside for transportation and apply it to other uses:
These two governors are simply taking a page out of the Federal budget playbook. During the Clinton Administration, for example, the money raised from 4.3 of the 18.3 cents per gallon in federal fuel taxes went to the Treasury's general fund for deficit reduction, instead of being applied to the Federal Highway Trust Fund. (For some reason, this fact went unnoticed in this longish WaPo article, although a similar Bush Administration suggestion is duly noted.)
Not everyone is pleased about this bipartisan approach to finding money:
Voters elsewhere caught wise to this funding switch a long time ago. As the WaPo article notes, several states are now legally required to spend transportation money on transportation.
Other states have been a bit clever about it--mine, for instance.
In the mid-1980s, Delaware created a Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).
The state dedicated specific revenue sources to the TTF, such as fuel taxes, tolls, driver’s license fees, and motor vehicle document fees. The money was earmarked for debt issuing, debt service, and the state’s capital spending on transportation.
Not too long after the TTF's creation, however, the early 90s’ recession caused a major hit on Delaware’s General Fund revenues.
Over the course of a few tight budget years, therefore, the General Assembly shifted the entire operating expenses for DelDOT to the TTF. This freed up a whole pile of General Fund money, and it now pays for most of the rest of the state’s programs other than transportation.
In practice, the TTF's spending priorities now follow this order: first, debt service; second, operating expense; and third, capital projects.
This year’s General Fund revenue estimates for Delaware remain diminished, primarily due to reduced business tax receipts. As part of her solution to this problem, Governor Minner proposed to shift the entire Division of Motor Vehicles from the Department of Public Safety to DelDOT. She quantified this impact in her budget address:
Note that she didn’t say it would be a cost saving to the taxpayers.
The real impact is that the TTF simply picks up an additional operating expense, thus reducing the money available for capital projects. This point is not lost on Delaware’s highway construction industry.
Word is that these folks are expressing a few quiet grumbles about the proposal. They have probably also figured out that the Administration is reluctant to request an increase in transportation taxes and fees to make up the difference.
Jack Shafer’s recent cogent comments on state budget woes focused on the last decade’s state spending sprees that helped produce the current deficits so many states now face. He may find a look at how the states search under the couch cushions for money they already have to be equally worthy of notice.
February 24, 2003
I'm not immune to having similar thoughts on occasion.
Try as I might, however, my contemplations invariably involve this foursome:
No horses are involved, although I admit that Margaret DuMont sometimes is.
February 23, 2003
Very few people enjoy the prospect of a police encounter along the highways.
The police aren’t so keen on it, either.
They’re never exactly sure who it is they’ve pulled over. The tension is often high on both sides, and the police video shows frequently broadcast instances where the police become the victims of assaults or worse.
The fact that criminals sometimes pass themselves off as police officers certainly doesn’t help matters. In addition to the immediate harm they cause, the stories about these fakes produce even more wariness among drivers when they are stopped by legitimate cops for legitimate reasons.
An AP story this weekend shows what can happen:
Fortunately in this case, the faker drove off when a Colorado state trooper drove by.
In other cases, the fakers sometimes learn while they might think it fun to pretend, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to meet a real cop when they commit their particular favorite crime.
In an incident reported by Ananova, a Canadian flashed a fake police ID and tried to obtain some free sexual favors from a prostitute.
The whore was a fake herself, however, a cop apparently assigned to the Edmonton vice squad. The prosecutors dropped the solicitation charge, and the idiot pled guilty to the impersonating charge.
Two U.S. teenagers also made a bad choice of victim when they used their modified Dodge Intrepid to pull over a guy in a classic family car.
It was one of those times when one wishes that a camera recorded the event:
The police chief showed a flair for understatement:
While these two cases ended happily and appropriately, the fact is that fake cops do no one any good and cause a lot of harm.
As soon as word spreads about one of these characters in a given area, I’d like to see the police use as many decoys as they can spare to catch them as soon as possible. There’s also a chance that the increasing ubiquity of cell phones will help reduce these incidents, if the folks pushing to outlaw their use in cars don’t get in the way.
Official small print disclaimer: This is, after all, a personal web site. Any opinions or comments I express here are my own, and don't necessarily reflect the official position of my work as a government attorney or any of my clients.
That fact may become obvious later on, but it needs to be said here anyway.
© Frederick H. Schranck 2002-2003