8.31.2009

At the Corner


Of yesterday and today.

Overleveraged - Okay for Me, But Not for You

Isn't this basically what the financial institutions were doing...the lack of prudence that upended the entire economy?

The FDIC is assuming most of the risk on nearly $80 billion in loans and other assets as it encourages a handful of healthy banks to help clean up the toxic banking environment through a series of takeovers and consolidations. As the FDIC moves into an aggressive "clean up mode," the agency's total exposure "is about six times the amount remaining in its fund that guarantees consumers' deposits," a huge potential risk for taxpayers. But with high risk comes the opportunity of high rewards.

With high risk comes the opportunity of high rewards?  That's how the government is supposed to be acting - guaranteeing accounts far beyond its ability to back them?  I know some see the central government's financial arms as lenders or bailors of last resort that can balloon out like some invincible blowfish.

I don't think that's the place of the federal government - not in a nation of ostensibly limited government.  I've taken note of the recent articles noting, rather glowingly, the "return on investment" of federal programs that bailed out financial institutions.  I worry that too many public figures will find the returns a tempting way forward...a legitimate action of government, and, instead of using the returns as a reason to exit the field, find further moral-hazard inducing interventions tolerable.

I'm also concerned about pushing toxic assets onto the healthy financial institutions that do exist.

Batten Down the Hatches

The Maritime Law Journal launches a twitter account.

Two Intellectually Stimulating Events

1. Debate at TLS:

Tuesday, September 01, 2009 - 3:00PM to 5:00PM:
What Role Should Foreign Law Play in Constitutional Interpretation?
The Federalist Society is hosting a debate between Ilya Shapiro, of the Cato Institute, and Professor Copeland.



2. Ron Paul speaks at Loyola University - New Orleans:

Date: Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Time: 7:05pm - 10:05pm
Location: Nunemaker Hall. 2nd and 3rd floors of Monroe
City/Town: New Orleans, LA

New Orleans Blogging

Unmasked.

I think this passage captures the New Orleans blogging scene I found upon arrival - 

The sparring match between Ellis and Berry serves as a marker of the local blogosphere's growing influence on city politics and culture. The storm helped unleash a wave of citizen activism that extended beyond New Orleanians' flooded homes into neighborhood meetings, City Council hearings, planning forums -- and the Internet.

Four years later, many of the "Katrina blogs" that chronicled residents' post-disaster experiences and concerns have been retired, but the New Orleans blogosphere nonetheless has remained vital.

- the Katrina genesis of many local blogs imbued them with what I found to be a rather harsh, somewhat clicquish, almost angry tone.  And don't get me wrong - sometimes the emotions were not undeserved given the incompetence and obstacles in the way.

Still, after attending the Rising Tide III conference last year (a gathering of local bloggers), I didn't attend this year.  While I was busy (as is too often the case), I also felt as though my approach to blogging is a bit different than most who attend.

I respect those bloggers who dig up new facts and genuinely pressure the local government as citizens.  I would do more of it if I had the time to apply my journalism training.  But behind the vanguard of the true local gumshoes marches a number of somewhat shrill, not always helpful voices.  Character, to be sure.  But a group of characters that knows itself so well that it's a bit imposing for new voices to enter the circle with ease.

8.30.2009

Farmer City

What a skyline!

It sounds like where a tv show or movie would be set. There's something oxymoronic about the name of the town, like a place named Hill Valley or Dry Lake.

Double Debate

















Any time things got too heated, the candle would go out, a respite before we carried on.

Jindal goes FDR

On shrimp. 

A Tulane Law Alum to fill the Kennedy Seat?

Republican Orrin Hatch suggests the possibility. 



But she's from Louisiana.  And she definitely attended Tulane for both undergraduate and graduate school.

Obama Coming to New Orleans

The President, responding to the Times-Picayune's front page editorial, promises to visit within the year. 

While I'm glad the newspaper got his attention, I worry that the editorial placed too much hope in Obama - and the federal government - and not enough in New Orleanians and Louisianians.

8.29.2009

Up From the Mud: NOLA Gets its Footing Back at Four

This time, coming back to New Orleans felt different.

Returning after this summer, NOLA didn't feel quite as precarious.  It didn't feel like the raft was 95% underwater anymore.  It didn't seem like the whole damn post-Katrina thing could tip over at any moment, upending everything and everyone.

We're still fragile, a little addled, that's for sure.  But New Orleans is back.   It's palpable.  There are still hundreds of thousands of abandoned, cat's-claw-covered buildings peppered across the cityscape like the ugly remnants of some giant blast of scatter shot - but this place will not die.  Mud, for all its drawbacks, is a fertile thing.  It seems there's a critical mass of intrepid people and development at this point, enough to ensure that things continue to move forward.

It's been truly amazing to see seeds germinate in the wastelands over the past two years.  Some changes are drastic, some are more gradual (still in progress), and some changes are barely perceptible.  There's a great deal of work to be done - and there are some nearly insurmountable obstacles to overcome in many corners of town.  But things are different now.






Stats on the Recovery

The New York Times looks at a number of metrics in its assessment of the rebirth of New Orleans.

UPDATE: Here's a link that works...enter this article and click through to the interesting graphic on the upper left side.

The tangled webs

Paul Krugman has chosen to wax blasé about the pile of debt the US is building today, claiming that because Belgium and Italy, of all the powerhouse economies of the EU, haven't faced economic ruin, the US should dig its own hole a bit deeper. After all, now the government owns more stuff!
[T]here have been large outlays on financial rescues. These are counted as part of the deficit, although the government is acquiring assets in the process and will eventually get at least part of its money back.

For a country rooted in the idea that government should really not own businesses, it seems odd to suggest now that, wait, sure -- let's have the government just buy up any old thing it pleases. And that moral hazard is indeed playing out -- or maybe Krugman just doesn't read the news:
A year after the near-collapse of the financial system last September, the federal response has redefined how Americans get mortgages, student loans and other kinds of credit and has made a national spectacle of executive pay. But no consequence of the crisis alarms top regulators more than having banks that were already too big to fail grow even larger and more interconnected.

But back to Krugman. He goes on to argue that passing the so-far-vaguely-defined health care reform package will help to lower government spending:
Over the really long term, however, the U.S. government will have big problems unless it makes some major changes. In particular, it has to rein in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending.

That shouldn’t be hard in the context of overall health care reform.

My mathematical mind fails to grasp how expanding medical coverage to everyone, not just senior citizens, and having the government pay for it, will in fact lower costs to the government. But that doesn't seem to matter in Krugman-land. Indeed, in his magical realm, this European counter-example doesn't seem to have any relevance, even though it serves to give the lie to the idea that more governmental spending is inevitably a good thing. Meanwhile, the Japanese seem to be taking to its logical conclusion what America has just begun:
"It is not clear that either party has an economic philosophy, besides let’s spend more money," said Robert Feldman, an economist in Tokyo for Morgan Stanley.

8.28.2009

The rain drops

Last night the sky opened and a thunderstorm poured for at least an hour on the city. Local reports are between 2-4".

I got soaked running the three blocks from a restaurant to my campus building, where I waited for the rain to stop.

There's a stream, Boneyard Creek, that runs through the city and across the campus and Engineering quad. It's usually a trickle in a landscaped ditch. Last night after I left, I crossed it on the sidewalk and I noticed that the water was all the way up to the top of the ditch. Here's what it looked like this morning:

It's still a foot or two higher than it usually is. Last night it was up to the 3rd from the top row of stones, about a foot lower than the level of the sidewalk.

For a lot of its route, the creek is penned in or underground. A guy went through it with pictures.

There happens to be a gage station on that bridge in the photo. I looked it up today. Here's the water height:

It increased by 9-10 feet for a short time. Another graph shows the flow rate, it was about 2.5 cubic feet per second for the prior few days and peaked at about 900 last night.

Riding home, some streets were flooded. A few cars were dead in the middle of the street. Elsewhere people had come out of their houses to evaluate their cars parked on a flooded street. On one street there was flotsam marking the crest in a lawn at least a foot higher than when I passed through.

A fun fact I learned last week is that Champaign sits on the divide between the Mississippi and the Ohio, so this creek and Urbana drain to the Ohio whereas the western side of Campaign flows into the Decatur and Mississippi.

President Obama Has My Full Support

Congratulations, sir, on biking without a helmet.

Tomorrow is the Fourth Anniversary of Katrina

If anyone in New Orleans would like to reflect on how things have changed "from your perspective," please feel free to send me a guest post.

8.27.2009

For our readers' further amusement and edification

+Have you heard the joke about Muammar Qaddafi coming to speak at the UN? His problems are in-tents.

+The horrible beauty of oil; and here's one from Azerbaijan -- a refinery in Baku:



+Rarely seen photos from the Soviet Union.

+"The collision of reality-show kitsch with murder and suicide inevitably places the story of this funny and now defunct show in the tradition of tales of the Hollywood fringe that stretches from Nathanial West's Day of the Locust to Joan Didion's essay "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream" to the dark weirdness of the Phil Spector trial."

+some curious coverage; maybe it would dissuade some illegal immigration?

Coming home

After a second deployment to Kuwait and Iraq - a grand total of 20 months in the desert - I am coming home.

This deployment was very different from my time here in 2005. I spent the first two months driving a truck and hauling equipment from Kuwait into Iraq, but for the last six months, I've been in the rear, acting as liaison between battalion and our soldiers on the road. I sat behind a desk, not a steering wheel.

Before I share my thoughts on Iraq's past and future, I want to share with you what Iraq is like as a landscape. The south and west is dominated by desert. It is an expanse so flat and desolate it is a wonder that any man or animal could survive in such a place. For me, looking out across the desert - even at daybreak when it is it's most beautiful - I cannot shake the enormity and harshness of it. It is an unforgiving landscape.


Of course, in the desert there are always camels. They are literally everywhere. It is not uncommon to see herds of several hundred while driving in southern Iraq and even northern Kuwait. And, yes, we do have to stop for them from time to time when they cross the road.


Iraq is not all desolation and harsh desert. It is, after all, home to Mesopotamia. The lush, fertile valley between the Euphrates and the Tigris still exist, and on the rare times that we were not running at night, it was possible to catch glimpses of the beauty Iraq has to offer.

I am amazed by how much has changed since 2005.

Four years ago the Iraqis were just beginning to stand up their army and police force. No one traveled the roads after dark. Today, as I prepare to leave, the Iraqis are in control of their country. We have begun the responsible withdrawal of troops and equipment and the Iraqi people are in charge of their own security.

The images that struck me most during my time on the road were the number of cars and trucks on the road. In 2005, very few people drove in southern Iraq and even fewer at night, but now the roads are filled with trucks hauling goods from north to south. It was common to pass half a dozen makeshift truck stops on some stretches. If we happened to be still on the road as dawn approached, we would see many trucks filled with produce and other goods that were being taken to local markets to be sold. Four years ago, that would have been impossible.

There is a long way to go for the people of Iraq and I believe the next six to twelve months are crucial for their long term security, but I am confident that the security forces are well-trained and the people have the political will to defeat the remaining insurgents and usher in an era of peace and democracy.

I can't say that I enjoyed all of my time spent here, but it is an experience that I would never wish to replace. I leave with no fondness for the desert and its stinging winds and relentless sun, but I leave with a profound respect for the pride and dignity of the people of Iraq and the courage and bravery of men and women I have been privileged to call my comrades.

This Brave New World

 
All I can say to students is this: it's time, more than ever before, to be creative and unorthodox in your approach to advancing your career during and after law school.

8.26.2009

Going Viral at TLS

"Ignorantia virus neminem excusat."

After hearing of one case of H1N1 last evening, I heard one report of swine flu after another as today progressed.

At present, I know of four students who are ostensibly confirmed cases of H1N1, including two who were referenced by a faculty member.

This evening, at my own journal kickoff meeting, one new member was out sick, supposedly with swine flu, one had to leave before our meeting even began, and several others had sniffles and sore throats.

I'm not saying it's time to panic - many outlets indicate swine flu is basically going to be as common as the normal bouts of influenza.

Still, I don't know why the school has not yet sent out an email to inform the student body of the presence of swine flu in students. If the school fears panic, I would say this: I would prefer panic informed by the official understanding of the situation instead of uninformed panic fed by rumors and half-information.

At 9:27 am, an additional posting on the intranet went up which informed students of "Flu Symptoms & Treatment" - but did not mention the fact that students in the school have swine flu.

Is it true that students have swine flu? If they do (or if they did), what is the school doing about it? If nobody has swine flu, please quell the rumors. It's simply about communicating. It's a common courtesy, I would think.

ADDED: Some context.

The Last Scrap of Land

The new focus

With the war in Iraq on the downswing, with troop withdrawals planned and greater stability of the government there, focus is rightly shifting back to Afghanistan, the original battlefield in the broader War on Terrorism and, along with Pakistan perhaps, still its grayest area; the renewed focus has generated an interesting amount of debate about what America's role is there.

Sitting down with the Post-Crescent this week, Senator Russ Feingold jumped on the "timeline" bandwagon, disappointingly urging the US to set a date for withdrawal and work toward that goal.

He actually makes an important argument, one that has unfortunately not been given enough of an airing since the Taliban advances in Pakistan: that is, the intermeshing of Afghanistan and Pakistan in fighting the Taliban. Feingold argues that keeping soldiers in Afghanistan takes focus away from Pakistan:
"And of course Pakistan is where a witches’ brew of every kind of nightmare comes together in a nuclear country and I think it’s not a very well-thought-out strategy," Feingold said.

He's right to worry that insurgent victories in Pakistan destabilize one of the newest members of the nuclear club, but I think he's off the mark, and this article over at Registan.net begins a series that promises to lay out a case for remaining in Afghanistan, and one dig seems especially apropos of Feingold's position:
When the nation’s top military officer continues to insist on teevee that al Qaeda is still capable of striking the U.S., that carries tremendous import, and building the case that even another 9/11 is an acceptable risk requires a sophistication of argument—exhaustive, comprehensive, meticulous—that simply is not evident in the "withdraw now" folks. In other words, they need to build an air tight case, which hasn’t happened yet.

The calls from the left during the previous administration to set a timeline for Iraq, rather than focusing on measurable achievements toward stability, would have meant a withdrawal from that country before it was ready. I fear the same is true for Afghanistan; leaving that instability on the border of Pakistan is a much greater long-term threat than leaving instability in Iraq.

New and Old

It's encouraging to hear that Goodwill's headquarters in New Orleans is opening in a new home at Tulane and Jefferson Davis.
 
But what about the old Katrina-damaged Goodwill building mouldering just across the interstate in Gert Town on Jefferson Davis at Drexel Street?
 
I'm not certain who owns the abandoned property at this point, but last I checked, the Goodwill signage is still emblazoned on the front of the dilapidated building, which markes for rather poor PR.

The Lion of the Senate will no longer roar

Senator Ted Kennedy has died.

I have no words to offer other than a major chapter in US history has ended. From the perspective of his political adversaries, I think these posts from the Corner are among the best:

Suddenly, he [Kennedy] found himself swarmed by admirers—ordinary Americans, as opposed to professional Washingtonians. They wanted to shake his hand, take pictures with him, and so on. He obliged, beaming the whole time. You just know that when these provincials returned home and people asked about visiting the capital, they would blurt out, "I met Ted Kennedy!" This sort of thing doesn't happen to Kent Conrad, or even Harry Reid.

--------


He assaulted our causes and nominees with vigor and rancor. Still, in his day he was a powerful orator—and historians will mark his speech to the 1980 Democratic convention as a high water mark and example. To his supporters, I simply give them his words, and leave the rest to historians: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.” To the American Left, he was their lion. To the American conservative movement, he was our bane. But today, we put the politics aside and wish him and his family God’s peace.

--------


Ted Kennedy did not go gentle into that good night. He fought for his beliefs as long as he could, and he struggled to stay alive when others might have given up. He and the other Kennedys loved one another and looked out for one another. There was no cost-benefit analysis in their family life, no sense that age, illness, injury, or disability would diminish their value.

Ted Kennedy's death is an occasion to reflect that every life is precious, from the very beginning to the very end.

8.25.2009

H1N1

In the law school?

Multiple sources say yes.

Stealth Chassis

Round in Circles: Wisconsin's DOT Imposes Roundabouts on Communities

Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz penned a glowing piece on the coming of roundabouts to many intersections across the state.  He even notes the community input process that accompanies the coming of roundabouts:

Fortunately, in Wisconsin we have state laws that require multiple alternative designs to be considered and, thanks to the practice of "community sensitive design," community members have the opportunity to participate in the decision making process on whether a roundabout or a new intersection makes sense for a neighborhood.

I hope all of the benefits are realized in southern Wisconsin, but I wonder if Senator Schultz is familiar with the story of the roundabouts in Kiel - the roundabouts on Highway 67 that are essentially being imposed on the community by the State Department of Transportation despite open opposition by numerous - I would wager a clear majority based on comments from an alderman I know and trust - members of the community.














Driving home from the airport in Milwaukee this summer, I wove in past the dairy farms on the outskirts of my home town to find a mess of orange road construction signs and an unfamiliar intersection.  

Half of the land in front of Larry's Good Time Inn had disappeared under a roadway that was not part of the roundabout.  It was the road that got everyone around the roundabout construction zone, one that, somewhat aburdly I thought, would be removed after the roundabout was completed.  There did not appear to be any direct route north on Highway 67 anymore.

Visiting my old babysitter Virgie later that weekend, I heard what seemed to be a typical a reaction to the ongoing project.  "Why are they spending all this money on a thing we didn't want when they should be spending money on other roads that are in bad shape?"

Some might simply dismiss any opposition as reactionary, but I think locals pointed out a great deal of folly in the projects as they opposed them.

Local officials, including State Senator Joe Leibham, did what they could to stop the roundabouts, but the state DOT essentially told them the project was too far along to change course:

“Then when the cost came in between $1 (million) and $2 million, it really blew up,” Keller said. “People were asking us, ‘Can’t you do something to stop it?’ So we looked for ways to postpone or eliminate it.”

The total costs exceed even those numbers.  The entire episode is really a glaring example of the audacity of a state agency in a time of scarcity.  A local government body with a rigorous fiscal conservative outlook took a good hard glance at a project through the eyes of people on the ground and recognized the project as unnecessary, improperly prioritized, and, at best, mis-timed.  

For all of their safety benefits, roundabouts also have the potential ancillary impacts of offending notions of local control, property rights, convenience, and fiscal responsibility.

I sincerely hope that the episode has made it clear to the DOT that it has a ways to go before it actually puts into practice the hopeful statutory language referenced by Senator Schultz.  Roundabouts are not always necessarily the most enlightened approach.

The Fed Loses in Court on Freedom of Information Case

This is excellent news.  I've been following this story for months now, and it's great to see this result.

"When an unprecedented amount of taxpayer dollars were lent to financial institutions in unprecedented ways and the Federal Reserve refused to make public any of the details of its extraordinary lending, Bloomberg News asked the court why U.S. citizens don't have the right to know," said Matthew Winkler, the editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News. "We're gratified the court is defending the public's right to know what is being done in the public interest."

Kudos, once again, to Bloomberg News for its journalistic vigor.  If the Federal Reserve wants to avoid encroachment on its independence, such as Ron Paul's popular oversight bill, it needs to stop believing it can get away with being opaque.

8.24.2009

Another TLS Blogger

A 1L tells tales. 

The New Projects















From the mucky ashes of the Magnolia (C.J. Peete) projects, new housing construction has risen along Simon Bolivar Avenue over the summer.

I snapped these photos while biking past, and I recalled biking a similar route in bewilderment at the new world around me back in August of 2007.  I have to ask - what exactly is going to be different? What exactly made razing the old buildings such a superior option?

Plus, financing for the rebuilding of the public housing complexes has now hit turbulence.

Missing the point on the Public Option

Paul Krugman's latest scribbling on the health care debate is pure nonsense. He tries to blame the failure of the Obama administration and the Democrat leadership to sell their plan on Reaganism. In fact he blames the entire financial and economic mess that we are in on Reagan's views on deregulation and tax cuts.

In doing so Krugman is irresponsibly misleading - especially for a Nobel laureate - in his description of what Reaganism actually accomplished. I don't argue that there was deregulation in the 1980's and '90's, but Krugman's description is such that it gives the reader the impression that Republicans were so reckless that we ended up with no more regulation than just before the Great Depression. This is nutty.

The mess that we are in today is the result of a combination of ill-planned regulation and deregulation. The government interfered when it should not have - encouraging sub-prime mortgages through Fannie and Freddie while not providing appropriate penalties for making risky loans. This is not a failure of Reaganism, but a failure of common sense.

More to the point of Krugman's column, though, is the notion that Americans are fearful of any government action at any time. Again, this is far from the point. Most Americans understand that government action is sometimes necessary. We are willing to accept that the Fed has a major role to play in economics and agencies such as the SEC are necessary to keep businesses honest. What Americans fear in this debate is government intervention when none is necessary.

Americans are opposed to a public option because they don't trust the government to run something as complex as health care. They don't trust government to keep to a budget. They don't trust government to act in their best interests.

Given the government's recent track record - the bailout, the stimulus, cash for clunkers - it is little wonder why Americans are nervous about bigger and more expensive government. It also has a little to do with common sense: the White House just revised its budget projections up to $9 trillion in debt over the next 10 years. We can't afford the government we have now, why would we want to add more?

One would think that a Nobel laureate would understand that.

If you're new to Tulane...

...and new to New Orleans, here's something that might be of interest to you.

And even if you're not new to Tulane or New Orleans, the event might be of interest.

3L year begins today.  It's strange, but also a great relief to be near the top of the law school totem pole at last.  It's also great to head into this final year with a job offer in my pocket.  This is going to be a good year.

8.23.2009

"O happy dagger!"

A Fond du Lac labor union chooses what amounts to mass employment suicide.

I truly don't understand what would prompt an individual, in the present economic environment, to vote in a way that guarantees his or her job will depart for another state.

Interestingly, some observers close to the situations seem to think there's still a sliver of hope that a last minute deal might be struck.

A Colorful Addition
















I haven't made it in to try the fusion food yet (the Cuban sandwich sounds great), but I've watched the transformation of an old storefront and restaurant into the newly opened Sarita's Grill on Freret Street.  

It's located near the boxing gym.  Here's a synopsis:

A few blocks down the street, the new Sarita’s Grill (4520 Freret St., 324-3562) bills itself as a Latin fusion café. It took over a storefront that has been a succession of more conventional Latin American restaurants, most recently Las Penitas. As Sarita’s, it remains a very casual, inexpensive place with menu highlights like tacos, Cuban sandwiches and “Sarita’s bowls,” filled with yellow rice and topped with a selection of meats and vegetables.

8.22.2009

Curious Comments from Joseph Cao

New Orleans Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao made some curious comments recently about a business looking to establish itself in his district - especially curious, I must say, even for a moderate/unorthodox Republican:

"Through my research, plasma gasification is not an economically viable project because of the cost of the construction and the amount of energy the plant would consume," Cao said.

It's great to know that Cao did his homework, but isn't it the place of a private business to take and bear those risks?  

"We cannot support a project whose business plan is suspect, whose technology has not been fully tested, and whose intent is simply to make a profit on the backs of New Orleans residents," Cao said.

Cao's statements sound strangely like the decision of an abbot declaring that the monastery will not pursue the erection of a dairy on the grounds.  

I understand that Cao probably wants to placate some district residents afraid that the Sun Energy plant - which seeks to convert garbage into some amount of usable energy - would hurt local property values.  But the objections stated by a politician usually tie back to something understandable - like potential property value reduction, excessive increased traffic, or the like.  Opposing a business because it is taking competitive risks in pursuing technological solutions to reduce garbage, recycle, and generate power seems rather odd.  

Finally, I think opposition to siting the business in the Regional Business Park - near where I-10 crosses the Industrial Canal, where a good number of businesses departed from after Katrina - is rather silly.  The spot seems like one of the better possible locations for the enterprise in the city:
It would be nice to hear more from Cao on precisely how he came to his conclusions.

The Closure of McAlister Drive - The Imprudence Unfolds

What a mess.

The Sconz

Over the summer, a new voice emerged in the isthmusphere back on the island.

"700 people were buried in mass graves"














Cheniere Caminada Cemetery, Grand Isle, Louisiana

"This cemetery is located on the right side of Louisiana Highway 1, just as you approach Cheniere Caminada. Caminadaville was a thriving community of about 1200 people in 1893. In the early 1880’s a wooden church named Notre Dame of Lourdes was built adjacent to the cemetery. It was destroyed in the October 1, 1893 hurricane. More that 700 people were buried in mass graves in and around the cemetery as the result of this tragedy. Only a few graves remain, some badly deteriorated."

8.21.2009

Oh that's why

Lately I've been wondering why the UW has a prominently located Abe Lincoln statue. It seemed to be misplaced one state too north. There were only two connections I could think of, the land grant act Lincoln signed which helped to establish universities--but why Madison in particular out of a bunch of universities--or Old Abe the Wisconsin eagle from the Civil War--indirect and rather obscure. But this article solves that puzzle.

I was also wondering if the Bascom Hill Abe Lincoln happened to be connected to the sculptures down here in Lincolnland. This one is very prominent on campus. Its image is also on the ID cards.

Turns out: no, different sculptors. Taft did Illinois and Weinman did the Lincoln.

Also, I noticed the land grant article mentions: New York carefully selected valuable timber land in Wisconsin to fund Cornell University

Van Hollen Takes the Proper Course on Domestic Partner Registry - For Now

There will likely be bluster on both sides.

Gay marriage advocates will no doubt chastise Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen for refusing to represent the state in a suit to defend a law instituting the state's new same-sex couple registry. (ADDED: Check.)

On the other hand, opponents of not just gay marriage but also civil unions will assert that of course Van Hollen is right - the Wisconsin Constitution, under an Amendment passed in 2006, prohibits any state recognition of same-sex relationships substantially similar to marriage.

I think Van Hollen's decision is correct, but not necessarily "right."

I think his office's technical legal interpretation of the Wisconsin Constitution is correct. It finds that Chapter 770, which creates a domestic partner legal status, facially violates the language of the 2006 Amendment, which bars a same sex relationship status similar to marriage. It makes sense to refuse to fight for a law that blatantly runs contrary to the express intent of a Constitutional provision, especially when it's possible for the state to appoint replacement counsel in the matter, should the state's Supreme Court take up the matter. Frankly, it's probably a good political move for Van Hollen at the moment.

I think the "second clause" of the 2006 Marriage Amendment - the provision that makes Van Hollen's assertion correct - is wrong, however, and I believe it should be struck from the Constitution via a Constitional Amendment.

It's one thing to ban gay marriage, but it's another thing entirely to bar civil unions between homosexuals wholesale. I can see the argument for semantic resistance to the use of the term "marriage" for a biologically distinct type of relationship, but I have trouble seeing the validity of an argument that bars one consenting adult invidual from entering into a relational contract with one other consenting adult individual, one which has few, if any, harmful effects on third parties.

In the end, substantive rights equality matters more than the labels attached, but I wouldn't be surprised if even the "first clause," the term marriage of the 2006 Marriage Amendment, must be ceded in the legal realm because resistance parallels the defunct "separate but equal" rhetoric about full citizenship quite closely.

I never discussed this distinction fully here - although I discussed the point with a few supporters of the bill on the campaign trail - while I was off the blog in the summer and fall of 2006. It's the reason I ultimately voted against the Constitutional Amendment that November. It's overbroad for the stated purpose of preventing gay marriage at the very least.

Thus, I think Van Hollen is taking the proper approach on domestic partnership legislation under present Wisconsin Constitutional law. But I think that Constitutional provision ought to be changed.

My Personal Cash for Clunker Quest

On Monday, the federal government's "Cash for Clunkers" program is set to expire.

Unfortunately, my clunker was destroyed back in March, so I have nothing to turn in except a scorched, torn portion of a bumper sticker (although I would probably refrain from participating in the program out of sheer principled disdain for it anyway).

In that vein, now that I'm back in a city where a car can be handy, I'm searching for a vehicle. Even a clunker, really. And I'm willing to pay cash.

I'm looking for a used vehicle that's under $5,000, gets roughly over 20 mpg, and has under 100k miles on it. I have a strong familial preference for Chevys, and I like the Chevy Cobalt. If you know of anything for sale in the greater NOLA area that vaguely falls within those guidelines, please let me know.

Snoballs - With Brazilian Juices














A few friends of mine are already repeat customers of this quirky little Freret Street establishment that sprang up over the summer.  People generally seem to love it on Yelp.

A snoball, for those outside NOLA, is what is typically known as a snow cone elsewhere.

Good government and the DNR Secretary debate

I've ignored most of the debate surrounding how the DNR Secretary is appointed. It's not that it isn't important, but rather it's one of those boring, government process stories that isn't exactly going to get constituents all across the state burning up the switchboard at the Capitol.

But here's the thing: The question of who appoints the DNR Secretary - or any cabinet secretary - is extremely important for how government works in Wisconsin.

It's my belief that we have far too many panels and commissions in state government. Too many decisions are made by unelected officials and bureaucrats. We elect a governor to be the chief executive of the state and hold him - or eventually her - responsible for the successes and failures during their time in office. Under the commission system, if something goes wrong at the DNR or the VA - as happened recently with the overspending at one of the VA facilities - the governor will almost certainly be held responsible, but will have played almost no role in appointing the secretary in charge of the department.

Proponents of the commission system will argue that it takes politics out of the equation, but it also takes away any sense of responsibility to the voters. As Bill Kraus points out at FightingBob - and yes I'm actually agreeing with a column posted over there - the commission system can lead to the department being influenced and controlled solely by the special interest groups that are directly affected by it. Kraus also hits on the most important aspect: such a system is anti-democratic. For some reason, very few people want to mention that.

If anyone is concerned with the competency of a governor-appointed DNR secretary, any nominee still needs to be confirmed by the Senate. If the Senate does it's job with hearings and floor debate, this shouldn't be an issue. Again, that's if the Senate does it's job, and one would hope that if they don't they will be replaced.

If we're truly committed to responsive and responsible government then we need to overhaul state government entirely. All cabinet officials should be appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. Legislative committees should have oversight over the different agencies and their budgets. Cabinet officials should be required to testify or report to those committees in much the same way the federal government works.

If we had a government like that then we the people would have more power over all aspects of government. As Bill Kraus rightly points out:

They and everyone else in favor of non-cabinet government should also be asked, “If this is such a great idea, shouldn’t it be adopted by the federal government as well?”

Unless on second thought it would not have been a good idea for leftover Clinton commissioners and leftover Bush commissioners to be running the Bush and Obama programs until and unless those commissioners were ultimately replaced.

In short. If you don’t like the governor, elect a new one. Don’t hobble the one you have elected.

8.20.2009

It's a rare day when I agree with Rachel Maddow

She gets the facts pretty much right on this one, and I can forgive her for glossing over the history of the conflict -- but if you want a deeper look at it, Wikipedia is a good place to start.

And I can actually affirm, having watched it, that one variant of Azerbaijani Idol is pretty sweet, and one is pretty boring.

Union South update

Before I left Madison for the last time last week, I took a few photos of the Union South site.


The building across the street is coming in nicely.

Freret Flourishes - and NOLA Too

A number of new things have sprouted up in New Orleans or come to fruition over the course of the summer.  It's genuinely heartening to return and see the positive changes after a three month absence.

I'll do my best to highlight some of the new establishments and improvements here on the blog in the next week.

Please send any reviews or tips regarding places that weren't here before summer rolled around.

The first new character in the neighborhood is Village Coffee, an establishment right at the gateway to the Freret commercial corridor:















Stepping inside, I found the place surprisingly dark for a coffeeshop that seems, by its hours of 6am-9pm, to be focused on more of a morning clientele. The black ceiling, dark gold walls, and heavy wood seemed a tad subdued compared to the inviting red umbrellas outside on the ground level patio overlooking the corner of Jefferson and Freret streets.  Local artwork decks the walls, and a number of students were studying already - I predict the hours will extend toward midnight as the owners recognize that student patrons from the neighborhood will desire a study spot after 9 p.m.

The service was briskly professional, almost excessively so, and there seemed to be a trifle too much adherence to some sort of written procedure for how to get food to customers when a simpler "Here is your muffin." would do. Still, it was responsive and nice. The place seemed clean. And, in addition to regular coffeeshop drink and food fare, there's an ice cream counter off in one corner - which might be handy down the road (although again, having a late night ice cream option within walking distance would probably be ideal).

It appears the upper balcony and upper level of the building is reserved for a different tenant. But overall, the landscaping changes - a profusion of greenery along the back parking lot the fronts on Freret - really has the corner looking much better than before.

Overall, it's a welcome addition to the neighborhood, although I will be watching to see how the rather template-driven coffee shop adapts to the micro-environmental forces of the neighborhood.

What are the odds?














What do you think - will we have to evacuate NOLA this fall due to a hurricane?

Oh Yeah














I was in Wisconsin for about 24 hours in the past few days.  I missed my sister's graduation in June, so there was no way I was missing the belated party.

What are the odds that Janesville could be on the short list for the new Harley plant?

Well, probably not that good. I don't mean to be too negative here, but the state's record for even pretending to bring business to the state - unless of course it's a no-bid train contract for a non-existent rail line - is pretty unimpressive.

That's a real shame too. Harley already has three of the four finalists picked and they'll announce the fourth after they make an official visit to the site. I hope that Janesville makes the cut.

We already have a large assembly plant with a skilled workforce. As a state we should be offering whatever package we can afford to help retool the former GM plant and put another Harley plant in Wisconsin. I realize we may not find out until after the fact if we even tried, but this is the type of situation that requires proactive leadership.

Sen. Robson, Speaker Sheridan and Reps. Benedict and Hixson should be calling the Governor's office everyday urging him to act and contact Harley to bring the plant to Janesville. They represent one of the worst hit counties in the state when it comes to unemployment and should be doing everything they can to bring jobs to the area.

If our "leaders" don't even try, they have no business being in office. If Wisconsin loses out again to Tennessee or Indiana or Kentucky it won't be because we don't have the people or the workforce, it will be another indictment against the business climate in Wisconsin, our elected leaders and our high taxes and fees.

I hope that I'm wrong. I hope that Gov. Doyle and his administration try everything they can to get Harley to come to Janesville. We'll just have to wait and see if we make Harley's list.

8.19.2009

Is this some sort of pan-European slang I wasn't aware of?

A year ago in Georgia (the country, natch), I saw this:





Now, I see this. I guess it's like they say -- things come in twos, but trouble comes in threes.

A Blog at Tulane Law

A visiting French student maintains a prolific output in advance of his year at TLS.

Now, if only I could read French...

Cheers

The latest installment of The Economist is chock full of excellent pieces - especially one on China's economic moves into Latin America and the Caribbean. 

You should take a look at the entire issue if you get a chance. 

But the gem of the whole ensemble, really, is the final piece - a delightfully overwrought obituary to an infamous giant English carp named Benson. 

8.18.2009

On the Passing of Robert Novak













In 2004, I met Robert Novak after a rather contentious speaking engagement at the University of Wisconsin - Madison's Memorial Union Theater.

Novak struck me as rather more libertarian than straight up Bush II-era conservative in his remarks than I had anticipated, I recall.

When I shook his hand, I mentioned a bit about the campus climate and thanked him for bringing a bit of intellectual diversity to the school's speaker line up.  He seemed to enjoy that, and he wrote on a scrap of paper: "Hurrah for intellectual diversity, Robert Novak"

Novak, by his positioning, made himself someone you had to read if you wanted to be in the know about national politics.  He added an element of realpolitik to his observations, which many, it seems, found a bit scary.  While he wasn't always spot on, I thought his style was a bit refreshing.

Some choose sifting to get at the truth, and others, as Novak did, stick to winnowing.

Staring at Stare

Orin Kerr takes a hard look at the notion that the U.S. Supreme Court could operate without any notion of adherence to precedent.

I like what he has to say.

In the Nick of Time

Nickelodeon eyes up the old, abandoned Six Flags "Jazzland" amusement park in New Orleans East, which was shuttered since Katrina.

This could be great news for New Orleans, if all goes well.

While I've never been in the park, I've heard through the grapevine that people who have visited the tangle of rollercoasters and carnival stands in recent years say it was rapidly turning into a shambles.

Walking around the exterior in 2007, I noticed the site, like much of New Orleans East, was very low lying.  This map shows it falls in the .5 to 1 meter above sealevel range (it falls just east of the big red rectangle of New Orleans East in the image).  Here's the satellite view of the site.

Joseph Cao's Second Healthcare Townhall Tonight

This could be interesting - especially given the Congressman's stance at the first townhall...

Cao held a similar meeting last week in New Orleans where he told about 150 people gathered at an Irish Channel Neighborhood Association meeting that he was leaning toward supporting the House Democrats' health care proposals provided that government-funded abortions would be banned.

...and the different location and possible constituencies in attendance.

Back in NOLA

Hella - Reykjavik - Brooklyn - New York - Queens - Milwaukee - Kiel - Milwaukee - St. Louis - Kenner - New Orleans.

It's been one wild whirlwind of a ride over the past 72 hours, but everything worked out.

The vines have grown a bit higher on the windows here, Village Coffee is now open, and Inge downstairs is taking a minor run in with skin cancer in stride.

Today, I assist with student orientation at TLS.  It's interesting to finally be up near the top of the totem pole rather than flailing around down at the bottom.

And it's good to be back.

8.17.2009

The twit campaign: week two -- a thudding silence

Silence, as the saying goes, can speak volumes -- and so it does today in regards to our campaign to find out whether or not our Wisconsin legislators have read the health care bill that they have all, theoretically, taken positions regarding.

And so the Twitter messages were sent out(a confession -- I'm sending the e-mails this week to those who don't have Twitter accounts; last week's internet connection, being up in the great wilds of northern Wisconsin, was tenuous). And a yawning silence ensued. The same messages will be sent again tomorrow, giving our elected officials a full week to respond this time; maybe they're all just so busy parsing the exact wording of the health care bill that they simply didn't have time to reply to my tedious request. But I doubt it.

I think there are two initial ideas we can draw from this. One is about the effectiveness of Twitter -- it's so much easier to ignore someone there. Of course, e-mail and letters can also be ignored, and even phone calls to a much smaller extent. But Twitter has a tenuousness to it that these other, more solid, forms of communication don't.

The other idea is actually my personal disappointment: a lack of response from Rep. Paul Ryan. He's established himself as a crusader on spending generally, and has something of a reputation of being a wonk who really dives into the fine details. This blog is on the record as being fairly impressed with him, and I feel that is justified. So his silence on this issue, which really should be his, is saddening.

I'd like to encourage all of our readers -- both left and right -- to take up this campaign. Whether you agree with the positions LiB writers have sketched out or not, no good decision can be had when nobody knows what it is they're talking about.

The Critical Badger Takes a Bow

I would cry "Encore!" for what was truly the University of Wisconsin Madison's all-time best blog...but I know 1L year can be a bit trying.

The Critical Badger is now on indefinite hiatus, going out on top.

Congratulations on a great run, Danny.  I watch now - a bit warily - to see who will pick up the torch.

Unpacking from Iceland

















I had such a good time visiting my old roommate Gylfi in Iceland. 

As I told him as my visit neared an end, I had run out of superlatives to describe how impressed I was with the country.  I also didn't have time to make any more posts.  So, here are a few photos, several of which reflect our shift into the interior of the island.  I'll do my best to update with captions when I return to NOLA tonight.

***ADDED:

In the photo above, Gylfi stands at the Lögberg.




















That spot, the "Law Rock," was the focal point of Þingvellir, the "Assembly Fields," a great meadow sited along the mid-Atlantic tectonic rift. In that spot, the Icelandic parliament, or Alþingi, met from 930 A.D. until 1799.














This shot depicts the dramatic rift behind the Logberg where the Eurasian and North American plates are pulling apart.




















Iceland has a great deal of geothermal activity, including "Geysir," the geyser from which the general term derives. The one shown here, which likes to pulsate and shake the ground a bit before erupting, is Strokkur.
















The house in the photo sits along the shore of Reykjavik's harbor. It was the site of the momentous 1986 meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev, "the beginning of the end."



















Reykjavik does not have a Starbucks, but it does have a handful of great coffee houses, including this one, which I refer to simply as H & V. It's decorated like an Icelandic grandma's living room, and it was the perfect setting for a concert with the roving duo, Mysterious Marta and Ivar.













Sunset near Langjökull, Iceland's second largest glacier.


















The grand double waterfall of Gullfoss took my breath away. The two of us reached it just after sunset and largely had the place to ourselves. No touristy kitsch within miles. Raw nature.













Reykjavik from the Perlan, with Mt. Esja off in the distance.

















Icelandic horses roaming out on the way to Laugarvatn.
















A surprise visit to the Southern coast. We trekked up a lush, remote valley below one of the glaciers for a swim in an uncrowded pool heated by water cascading naturally from little waterfalls above.




















Steingrímur, or "Steiny" - one of the fun people I met in Iceland, waits in line outside one of the packed clubs in downtown Reykjavik.




















Steiny and the whale. The whale we ate for dinner. Quite delicious. Great with parsley.
















A lighthouse off Reykjavik and the brooding, iconic Mt. Keilir, a volcano some distance from the city.

















Thar she blows!



















Midnight Sun.

This week's sign of the apocalypse

Via the Corner: Tom DeLay is going to be on Dancing with the Stars.

There's just something not right about that.

The big news in Wisconsin

So, I guess Governor Doyle is calling it quits. (Here is the text of his announcement.) I'm thrilled, mainly because there will be no chance of him screwing things up for another four years. There is a lot of speculation about what this means for 2010. Your guess is as good as mine, so here's the analysis from a few of the other blogs I like to read:

First, from Lakeshore Laments, the winners and losers.

From the always entertaining Christian Schneider, Handicapping the contenders.

The other big news is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett getting beat with a metal pipe outside the State Fair. From all the reports, it appears that the Mayor was doing the right thing by trying to call 911 and defuse the situation. Even though he got attacked himself, it seems he was able to land a punch that broke his own hand. I hope that means the guy he hit has a broken jaw or a few less teeth.

My favorite take on this story? That’s Wisconsin for you. Even our Democrats aren’t afraid of drunk assholes with metal pipes.

I wish Mayor Barrett a speedy recovery.

A little more weekend rambling

A few shots taken while driving around south of Madison a few weeks back: