Thursday, December 8, 2011

I'm on Alec Baldwin's Side

One of America's most annoying personalities, Alec Baldwin, got tossed off an American Airlines flight for playing Words with Friends on his iPad.  Ordinarily, I would applaud this turn of events, but I have to say that, this one time, I'm on Alec Baldwin's side.

Words with Friends should be banned.  It's far more addictive than meth or crack or Ghirardelli peppermint bark.  I know.  I've been there.  I live with an addict.

Read my tragic story here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

In the law biz, conflict is constant, and unpleasantness abounds.  And yet, I truly appreciate the opportunity to be of service to so many over the last 29 years.  Still, I am most thankful for my beautiful wife, who endures so much, and my two amazing children, who bring us such joy and laughter.

To celebrate the holiday and recall those things that are most important to me, I am re-linking letters to my children.  Please take a look here and here, then embrace your own family in the true spirit of Thanksgiving.

Have a wonderful holiday!  God bless you.

The Wiz.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Last Word

Ron Paul gets the last word in the debate.

Why can't anyone get the name of Oakland's mascot right?  It's Golden Grizzlies, not just Grizzlies.

All told, not that much elucidation.  Here's my take on their performances (in stage order, from left to right):

Santorum:  He does well on every question.  They just won't ask him enough of them.  If he was in the middle of the stage and got 10 questions, the dynamics of this race would change instantly.

Bachmann:  Can't seem to find her voice.  She's got the facts and her instincts are good, but she needs polish.  Example:  "The Chinese army is the number one employer of the world," when she really means, "The Chinese army is the largest employer in the world."

Gingrich:  Helped himself tonight, although he needs to stop looking for opportunities to pick fights with the moderators.  He is the most knowledgeable, and he will be more formidable if he can stay in the race long enough to be one of the last 2 or 3 or 4 standing.

Romney:  Had the most questions, handled them well, no major gaffes.  Another plus night for Mitt.

Cain:  He did okay, but he is starting to sound like a broken record.  He relates everything to his 9-9-9 plan and doesn't stretch out beyond it.  We may look back at this night as the night when Cain's candidacy began to recede.

Perry:  Thanks for playing, Governor, we have some lovely parting gifts for you.  We could overlook an uneven performance if it varies within a fairly high range.  Perry fluctuated significantly; at times he was good and seemed to hit his stride, only to falter again.  Then, that enormous gaffe when he couldn't remember the name of the third agency he wanted to get rid of.  For him to recover now would be nothing short of miraculous.

Paul -- The usual stuff.  I don't really see him gaining any traction.

Huntsman -- A thoroughly mediocre performance.  And again, what's with the one raised eyebrow all the time?  He alsways looks half-suprised.

Winners tonight:  Romney, Gingrich

No significant damage:  Santorum, Bachmann, Cain, Paul.

Time to pack it in:  Perry, Huntsman.

My final unofficial question count:

Santorum:  4
Bachmann:  6
Gingrich:  7
Romney:  14
Cain:  8
Perry:  7
Paul:  5
Huntsman:  6

The Homestretch

Cain gets a laugh with his customary opening to his answer on a California bridge question, "That's why I have proposed a bold plan. . . "  I don't think he meant it to be funny.

Romney says he would bring an action "at the WTO level," charging China as a currency manipulator.  Is that a real solution or is it an acceptance of our subservience to the global economy?

Gingrich says we have to "dramatically raise the pain level for the Chinese" for cheating.

Huntsman should avoid any attempts at humor. 

Huntsman accuses Romney of "pandering" by "throwing out applause lines" about tariffs.  But he offers nothing of substance.

Bachmann has a pretty good grasp on the Chinese problem.  "We need to stop enriching China with our money." 

Cain's answers and his style seem repetitive and, at times, condescending.  He always comes back to his 9-9-9 plan, and he is starting to seem like a one-trick pony.

Oh, wait -- great line from Herman Cain:  There are two other big problems with Dodd-Frank -- Dodd and Frank.

It's feast or famine with Rick Perry.  Either he's good or he's not.

Education and Knowledge

Gingrich demonstrates -- again -- his knowledge, this time on higher education.  I think he is the most knowledgeable on the stage, and he would demolish Obama in a debate.  But, can he get the nomination and overcome his personal and political baggage?

Perry says governors and legislatures need to force higher education to lower tuition and increase quality.  Another weak moment for him, as he sidesteps a question on student loans.

At the third break, by my unofficial count, here are the question totals:

Santorum:  4
Bachmann:  5
Gingrich:  6
Romney:  12
Cain:  6
Perry:  6
Paul:  4
Huntsman:  6

Questions on the Budget and a Huge Stumble for Perry

Gingrich looks like he's in pain.  I don't think he has much regard for the intellectual abilities of the other candidates.

After a video from Caterpillar's CEO, Perry deftly points out, "There's a reason Caterpillar moved to Texas, and it doesn't have anything to do with Republicans or Democrats." 

Oh no, Perry can't remember the third agency he'd get rid of -- Energy, Commerce, and ...?  A terrible moment.  (He meant Education, right?)

Romney:  The issue of deficits and spending is a moral imperative.

Bachmann says she opposed reducing payroll taxes because it would "blow a hole" in the social security trust fund."  Pretty gutsy.

Huntsman says he would "clean up the balance sheet."  How?  He doesn't say, just switches to the "trust gap."  Then he goes back to taxes, and says he's the only one who delivered a flat tax while governor. 

Ron Paul needs to see his tailor -- his suit jacket doesn't fit properly, and it makes him look like Irwin Corey with a haircut.  He is right on student loans, however. 

A question

Are they giving Romney additional time to help him or hurt him?

These speakers need to learn to first answer the question, then use that answer as a springboard to talk about what they want to, if necessary.  So often, they seem to sidestep.

After the First Break

Gingrich compliments Bachmann on her idea to repeal Dodd-Frank, and Romney compliments Gingrich.  It's a lovefest!

Romney:  "Markets work."  Well said.  He's scoring points tonight.

Perry kudos to Santorum.  He falters slightly, then seems to get going in an answer on jobs and energy.

Bachmann:  "Freddie and Fannie -- this is the epicenter of crony capitalism."

Gingrich questioned about money from Fannie and Freddie -- "I have never done any lobbying."  "We advised them on things they didn't do." 

Cain:  Fannie and Freddie should be turned into private entities, unwind them so the market can work.

What's with Huntsman's one raised eyebrow?

Huntsman says we should charge banks a fee to set up "some sort of fund."  What's he on?

Maria:  If you repeal Obamacare, what's the answer?

Huntsman:  Sit down with the 50 governors; harmonize medical records; let free market to close the gap on the uninsured.

Paul:  Get government out of the business.  Medical savings accounts.  This is a bipartisan mess.

Perry:  Have to have an insurance program on the Medicare side.  Incentives for well care.  Send Medicaid back to the states.

Cain:  HR 3000, stopped previously by "Princess Nancy."

Romney:  Send it back to the states.  Get health care working like a market (agrees with Ron Paul).  Reform malpractice.

Gingrich:  An absurd question to ask this in 30 seconds.  I want to debate Obama. 

Maria bears down, so Gingrich says:  Go back to doctor/patient relationships.  Medicaid to states.  Focus on brain science.  Fix health, not health bureacracy.

Bachmann:  The issue is cost.  Allow every American to buy any health insurance policy anywhere in the U.S. without any federal mandate.  Let people pay with pre-tax dollars.  Med mal reform.

Santorum:  I introduced HSA legislation, and proposed block grants for Medicaid.  Get government out of the health care business.  I argued for curbs on Fannie and Freddie, harry Reid killed it.  I opposed government bailout -- 5 of 8 people here supported bailouts. 

Romney gets a chance to respond?  Why?

Some Good Lines

Cain:  "Tax rates don't raise taxes, politicians do."

Bachmann:  "Obama continues to go to General Axelrod in Chicago for his orders."

(Frankly, her answers are confusing.  I know what she's saying, and her instincts are good, but it's so jumbled.  She needs some serious coaching.)

Paul:  "I propose in the first year cutting $1 trillion."  (Then gets tripped up arguing the benefits of higher interest rates, before he regains his footing to say he is urging that markets set interest rates instead of the Fed.)

At the first break, here are the question totals:

Santorum:  2
Bachmann:  2
Gingrich:  2
Romney:  5
Cain:  4
Perry:  2 (both 30-second follow-ups to questions to other candidates)
Paul:  2
Huntsman:  2

Early leaders:  Romney, Cain, Gingrich (who needs to stop forcing attacks on the media)

Here We Go

8:22 p.m. -- First question on Cain's sexual harassment allegations.  He's answering directly, but Mitt looks like he smells blood or he feels sorry for Cain, I'm not sure which.

Would Romney keep Cain on if he bought Cain's company?  Romney, who has a couple of hairs out of place(!), says Cain is the man to respond to those questions, and Harwood moves on to Huntsman and the economy.  The crowd cheers.

Whoa -- Huntsman uses the 99% term, and says this nation is divided.  "This country is never again going to bail out corporations."   A smattering of applause.  Huntsman comes out against the auto bailout, suggests a reorganization (hey, that's bankruptcy).

Cramer asks Romney, should corporations create profits or jobs?  Romney answers skillfully, saying they go hand-in-hand.  Romney has good energy tonight.  Perry gets a follow-up, but that's it for him so far -- 2 follow-ups.

Gingrich is impressive, going after the media again.  Maria:  "What is the media reporting inaccurately?"  Gingrich:  Not a single reporter has asked a single occupier a single question about how the economy works, like, who will pay for this park you're in without business?

Round Two

Back to Romney again, for a question about the auto industry.  He's firm on it, but Harwood presses him on whether he's going to stay consistent.  Romney:  "I'm a man of steadiness and constancy."  He uses his marriage, church membership, and his first job as evidence.  Sidestepping the question.

Harwood tosses the flip-flop issue to Perry, who says we need to send a message that "America is gonna be America again," and "If you are too big to fail, you are too big."  What does that mean?

Maria asks Gingrich about tax reform based on Bernanke's statement that unemployment is a national crisis.  Gingrich says Bernanke should be fired asap and that he's glad Bernanke "recognizes the wreckage his policies have caused."  He's strong.

Over to Michele Bachmann, who cites historical statistics to say that the rest of the world is attracting capital with lower taxes and we need to get rid of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.  Also, we need to deal with immigration.  She stumbles a bit, but she stays with it.

Santorum up, regarding his plan for zero taxes on manufacturers -- "Government has made us uncompetitive."  He's purposeful.

The Opening Salvo

As the candidates walk out, a big cheer for Herman Cain, who appears to be wearing Oakland University colors.  All black or blue suits, except for Michele Bachmann, who's resplendent in a black skirt and a white jacket with black trim.  (Welcome to The Wizard of Fashion).

Maria Bartiromo says the debate will focus "almost exclusively" on jobs and the economy.

First question to Herman Cain, about Italy's economic problems.  Cain responds directly, but I'm not crazy about his "stuff in the caboose" reference -- what does that mean anyway?  His response doesn't even mention Italy until the follow-up, when he says there's nothing we can do, let them fail.

Romney next, suggests Europe is big enough to handle their own problems, we shouldn't bail out banks here or in Italy. 

Maria going a little overboard, trying to put words in the candidates' mouths early on.  But Romney doesn't take the bait, and he is very strong in his response.

Jim Cramer?  For cryin' out loud. There goes any shot at a dignified evening.

Ron Paul says to let Italy go down the drain, to do otherwise is "prolonging the agony."  He's right on the necessity to "clear the market." 

Cramer asks whether the possibility of the world banking system failing means anything.  Huntsman says there's a "metastasy" effect.  There's no such word.

Debate Pregame

7:20 p.m. -- Just had the national anthem, beautifully sung without unnecessary embellishment.  Now, Bobby Schostak and Reince Preibus are whipping the crowd into a frenzy. 

Okay, not exactly a frenzy, but there is a tremendous energy in the room.  People are very excited to have this debate at Oakland University, and the University has done a tremendous job.  The arena looks great, everything works in the Media Center, and this should be a fascinating evening.

Dr. Gary Russi, Oakland's president, is speaking now.  He has done a great job here, and the faculty have fought him at every step.  He is a very classy, gentle guy and, but for his devotion to higher education, he would make a great governor or senator.

Uh, oh -- Brooks Patterson is up.  He's playing it pretty straight, talking up Oakland County.  He's got a lot to brag about.  Now he's ripping into the President's record.  Well done.

Now comes our governor -- wearing a tie!  And his hair is parted with a draftsman's precision.  He's talking about his record and goals now, focusing on Michigan-specific ideas.  His enthusiasm and optimism are infectious, and, frankly, I like his approach to problem-solving.  You may disagree with his policies or his legislation, but it's tough to argue with his approach to problems -- "No blame, no credit, focus on solutions."

And there's a pause in the action.

The Debate Ahead

Tonight, eight Republican presidential candidates square off again for two hours of highly structured questions and answers.  This time, the debate takes place on the campus of Oakland University and will be televised by CNBC. 

What to expect?

At a correspondents breakfast this morning, debate moderators Maria Bartiromo and John Harwood forecast that the debate would center primarily around jobs and the economy.  The Michigan setting lends itself to that discussion, since the Enchanted Mitten is home to a reawakening automobile industry and a burgeoning renaissance of its own, courtesy of a Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature.

Still, we won't escape more questions on the Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations.  Should this be a topic during this precious time?  Good question, but here's why I think these questions will get asked:

1.  This is television, it's about viewers and ratings.  The prurient element is a big ratings-getter.

2.  It's the topic of the day, especially with Cain's press conference yesterday.

3.  The moderators will want to see whether the other seven will rise to the occasion (sorry about that) and try to take advantage of Cain's misfortune.

4.  Voters are certainly interested in whether a candidate can handle a crisis, especially since Obama has demonstrated he cannot.  These unconfirmed allegations may not be worthy of much, it's hard to say, but this is a situation where a nonsubstantive issue bumps up against the need to discern character, composure, and integrity.

We'll see how it goes.

Debate me? Debate you!

As the result of some extraordinary oversight, your faithful Wizard has snagged a media credential and will be blogging the GOP debate tonight.  Stationed in the media center, I may have the opportunity to ask some of the candidates or their surrogates questions during the post-debate spin-o-rama.

Panelists at the Correspondents Breakfast
this morning in Rochester, MI.

Have a question you would like asked?  Post it in the comments on RightMichigan or on The Wizard of Laws, and I'll see what I can do.  Don't want your suggestion public?  Email me at

Here's a few I won't be asking:
To  Michele Bachmann:  If you had your life to live over again, would you live it as a blonde?
Again to MB:  Have you ever been harassed by Herman Cain?
To Mitt Romney (from my son):  So, Mitt, Mormonism -- what's that all about?

To all:  Your hair -- gel or mousse?

To all:  When you were on Oakland University's campus and saw the deer, was your first thought (a) How sweet; (b) Look, it's Bambi; or (c) Mmmm, venison?
As you can see, I could use a little help, so let me hear from you!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Letter to My Son

Some time ago, I posted a letter to my daughter, which I wrote for her senior retreat in high school.  Now, my son is a senior, and he is on a retreat.  He attended the same retreat last year, but this year he is one of the seven seniors chosen to lead the four-day journey.   Parents are asked to write letters to their sons, to be read during the retreat.  Here's the one I wrote a few days ago:

Dear Alex:

In the 10 months since I wrote your last retreat letter, much has changed, but the important things are still the same, and the best things have gotten better.
This past January, you were working hard to make the varsity baseball team.  Since then, you have lettered in track and cross-country, become a cross-country co-captain, and gotten into the best shape of your life. 

Ten months ago, you were starting to rehearse a play in which you had a good, but small role.  Today, you are rehearsing for a play in which you have the lead, and getting ready to audition for a play in which you hope to be the lead. 

In January, you were thinking (occasionally) about school and (rarely) your AP exams.  Now, you are thinking about college and even pausing once in a while to reflect on possible careers.

It should be obvious that this is a time of transitions for you.  While you still have unfinished business at De La Salle, you are right to look ahead and plan ahead, because that’s the only way you will move ahead. 

This is an exciting time for you, Alex, and it will get better (although, at times, there will be some moments of anxiety).  Enjoy this time, and keep doing the things you need to do to enhance your life experience – focus on your classes, the play, and getting ready for the next track season – but keep looking forward.

While change swirls about you, the important things have not changed.  What I wrote in January remains true today:  “You are a fantastic person.  You have a wonderful heart and care deeply about your family and friends.  I marvel at your relationship with Tori, and I love hearing you talk to your mother about the events of the day or the latest drama in your life.  I never get tired of talking to you (as you know all too well), and I really never get tired of listening to you.  You have a wisdom and insight beyond your years, and it is endlessly fascinating to me.”

And while so many good things have been constant, the best things have gotten better.  You have a deeper faith and appreciation of what it means to be a Christian in our world.  You have begun to understand the positive impact you can have on others if you utilize the gifts God has given you.

As you move forward, always remember Jeremiah 29:11: 

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." 

Prosperity, hope, a future – these are the wonderful things that await you if you remain steadfast in your studies, your virtues, and your heart.

You and I have spoken many times of the need to build a strong foundation.  You are nearing the time when that foundation will be most severely tested, when you go off to college and live, work, succeed or fail, on your own.  I know the kind of man you are, and I see the kind of man you can become.  It makes me smile to think of you reaching your potential.

The great American soldier, General Douglas MacArthur, prayed:

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Alex, you have these qualities and so much more.  I do not like to think about next year,  because when you leave for college, there will be an incredible emptiness in my home and in my heart.  But as painful as that will be, it is the inescapable companion and irrefutable evidence of the extraordinary joy you bring me every day.
You, your sister, and your mother are gifts from God, Alex, and I love you with the depth and emotion that such gifts deserve.  I love you without condition, wholeheartedly.  You are my son and, along with Tori and your mother, you are my life.


Monday, October 17, 2011

It's My Fault The Tigers Lost

Explanations abound for the Tigers' ALCS defeat at the hands of the Texas Rangers -- injuries, rainouts, the Rangers' bullpen, the ridiculous Nelson Cruz, etc.  But really, there is only one reason the Tigers lost.

It's my fault.

You might wonder how it could possibly be that I caused the Tigers to lose when I was here in the Emerald City, thousands of miles from Arlington, TX.  The truth is, it's my fault because I did not prevent my wife from getting a glimpse of the game.  She is a jinx, you see, and even the slightest acknowledgment that a game is in progress, let alone actual viewing, is enough to trigger her super jinx powers.  During the game this past Saturday, when I wasn't looking, she turned on the game (giving her usual excuse, "I just wanted to see what the score was.").  At the time, the Tigers led 2-0.  Seconds after she turned on the game, the previously comatose Michael Young awoke from his slumber and ripped a 2-run double down the left field line, opening the floodgates to a 9-run third inning and sending the Bengals home for the winter.

As soon as it happened, my wife found me and apologized.  I am not kidding.  She kept saying, "That was my fault, that was my fault, I just wanted to see what the score was, that was my fault . . ."

No, I accept the blame, because her jinxness (jinxion? jinxiousness?  jinxity?) is well-documented, and I should have taken steps to prohibit her from accessing live programming.  Here are just a few examples:

1997 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 4 -- Up three games to none, Red Wings led 2-0 late in the third period, looking for a sweep.  With about a minute to go, my wife tuned in "to see the celebration," and Eric Lindros scored with 15 seconds left, making it a 2-1 game and putting some anxiety into the final seconds.

2008 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 5 -- Leading the series three games to one, the Red Wings were trying to close out the finals on home ice and led 3-2 in the last minute of the third period.  Once again, looking to watch the celebration, my wife turned on the game, and the Penguins scored with 34.3 seconds left to force overtime. In fact, they forced triple overtime and the Penguins won that game.  So, not only did she cost the Wings a game, she cost me three overtimes of stress and anxiety which were not rewarded by a Wings victory.

Our history together is marred by incident after incident of this nature, too numerous to mention or even to recall.  Now, you might think that these were isolated instances, merely coincidental.  You would be wrong, because I subjected the wife-as-jinx hypothesis to a scientific test years ago.  You be the judge:

Ohio State trailed LSU 33-20 with 2:31 remaining in the game in a 1988 clash of Big Ten and SEC powers.  Watching the game and cheering for OSU, I was joined by my wife, who casually asked who was playing and what was the score.  After I told her, she inquired, "Who are you rooting for?"  Always on alert when my wife and sports intermingle, I nimbly replied, "LSU."  What ensued was one of the great comebacks in college football history, with OSU winning 36-33.  The Buckeyes may have thought their victory was the result of an outstanding team effort or incredible individual performances, but it was preordained as soon as my wife (a) started watching and (b) thought I was rooting for LSU.

Unfortunately, she knows I root for the Detroit teams and for the Spartans, so I can't pull the OSU-LSU switcheroo.  The only thing I can do is try to keep her away from the television while their games are on.  And, even more frightening, I cannot even tell her the score of a game I'm interested in.

Case in point:  Michigan-Michigan State from this past Saturday.  The Spartans led 21-7.  My stress level was through the roof, higher than a Valverde ninth inning, when she asked me, "What's the score?"  Without thinking, I replied, "21-7, Michigan State."  She said, "Really?"  I thought, "What have I done!?" 

I raced back to the television and saw Michigan score a touchdown in six seconds.  SIX SECONDS!!  They had done nothing all day, then my wife THINKS about the game, and Michigan scores in SIX SECONDS!!

So, when you understand what can happen if she only thinks about a game, imagine the destructive force when she watches it.  And that's what happened to the Tigers.  For this, I am truly sorry.

As Maxwell Smart used to say, "If only she used her powers for niceness, instead of evil."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Court of Appeals Holds State Cannot Increase Taxes on Civil Service Employees

Okay, so the Court of Appeals didn't exactly say that, but that's certainly one interpretation of the court's opinion in AFSCME v State Employees Retirement System, published yesterday.  And it's a troubling one.

Here's the background:  The State Civil Service Commission has the authority under the Michigan constitution to fix the compensation for all civil service employees, although its decisions can be changed by 2/3 vote of the Michigan legislature within 60 days of the CSC's recommendation.  During the last days of the Granholm administration, the state and its civil service employee unions agreed to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that froze hourly wages for the fiscal year 2008-2009, but increased them by one percent for fiscal year 2009-2010 by three percent for fiscal year 2010-2011.  Various resolutions were introduced in the legislature to reject these increases, but none were passed.

Fast forward to 2011, in which the legislature enacted and the governor signed MCL 38.35, requiring a three percent employee compensation contribution to finance public employee retirement health care.

In a series of consolidated lawsuits, the unions and their employees argued that MCL 38.35 was unconstitutional, because it reduced employee compensation and had not been passed by 2/3 vote of the legislature within 60 days of the CSC's recommendation.  The court stated:

In the present case, civil service employees were not given the option of participating in the retiree health care funding act.  Moreover, there is no correlation between the three percent reduction in compensation for individual civil service employee and the contribution into the system.  That is, there is no escrow of the individual’s contribution into a fund for that individual.

So, requiring civil service employees to pay 3 percent of their compensation into the state retirement fund is unconstitutional because (1) it wasn't voted on properly, (2) employees have no option of participating or not, and (3) the individual's contribution isn't escrowed into a separate fund for that employee's benefit.

So what's the difference between the 3 percent contribution and taxes?  Taxes are not voted on according to the civil service schedule and rarely pass with 2/3 of the vote, employees have no option of paying taxes or not, and their individual "contributions" aren't escrowed for the employee's benefit.  According to the court's reasoning, therefore, any tax increase not voted on within 60 days of a CSC recommendation and passed with 2/3 of the vote is unconstitutional.

How does the court answer this?  With one sentence:

Taxes imposed by the federal and state government are standard rates that apply based on income levels.

In the words of Joe Pesci as the title character in My Cousin Vinny, "That's it??"  "Standard rates that apply based on income levels"  -- that's your reasoning?  How does that even relate to the issues here? 

The CSC set the compensation levels.  The legislature did nothing to change those levels, other than order a deduction for retirement savings.  That does not change the total compensation ordered by the CSC.  If it does, so do taxes.  The court is clearly wrong here, unless it also believes that civil service employees are exempt from tax increases unless the legislature enacts them by 2/3 vote within 60 days of any CSC recommendation.  Of course, the court won't go that far, but that is the inescapable conclusion of its opinion.

The only way out of this box is to say, as the court tried but could not bring itself to say, that taxes are different.  No reason, no logic, just a statement, as though it is axiomatic:  taxes are different.

By the way, of the three judges on this panel, one was elected and two were appointed by Granholm.  All were Democrats before assuming their non-partisan positions on the bench.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Micromanaging in the Wrong Direction

Credit buying is much like being drunk.  The buzz happens immediately, and it gives you a lift.  The hangover comes the day after.         -- Dr. Joyce Brothers
Many of us have felt the effects -- both positive and negative -- of a buying binge.  Sometimes, we spend wisely.  At other times, our decisions are rational, but circumstances change, or we just get in a bit too deep.  Regardless of the reasons or the outcomes, we make these decisions voluntarily, ourselves.  No one puts a gun to our heads and says, "Buy this fridge on credit or else!"

Our credit histories can affect us in many ways, not least of which is in our efforts to find new employment.  Over recent years, employers have grown more sophisticated in screening employment applications and using all of the tools available to them, include credit reports.

Apart from the ongoing attack on using criminal histories to screen applicants, about which I will write more in the near future, there is a new bill pending in the Michigan House of Representatives, sponsored by the usual suspects, that would prohibit employers from using credit histories to screen potential employees.  Well, some employers would be prohibited.  The bill's drafters have apparently discerned that, in some cases, it might be a bad idea to have an employee with credit problems.

Under the bill, HB 4363, banks, credit unions, accounting firms, casinos, and insurance companies are largely exempted and thus able to use credit histories to screen employees.  All other employers are prohibited from doing so.


There are a couple of reasons supporters of this type of legislation will give.  The first is that a person's credit history is irrelevant to her job performance.  Is it really?  If so, why the exemptions for certain employers?  And since when does the government get to decide what is deemed relevant for a particular job?  Granted, certain broad categories related to personal characteristics (mostly involuntary) are prohibited bases for employment decisions under our civil rights laws -- sex, age, race, creed, national origin, religion, height, weight, etc.  But credit history?  That's usually the result of a voluntary act -- assuming credit obligations and the risk that payment will become difficult.  And if an employer determines, for example, that credit history is a good indicator of an employee's judgment and reliability, why shouldn't she be able to use it as a hiring tool?

A second reason offered by credit history opponents is that it has a disparate impact on minority applicants, presumable because they tend to have worse credit histories than white applicants.  Again, if this is true, why the exemptions?  Putting an exemption in the law does not wash away the discriminatory aspects of the hiring process, if there are any -- it enshrines them for those sectors who benefit from the exemptions. 

The exempt industries regularly handle cash or information pertaining to other persons' credit.  By exempting them, the law assumes that people with poor credit histories can't be trusted around money or others' personal financial information.  So why isn't there an exemption for cashiers? or lawyers' offices? or doctors' offices? or pharmacies? or any other business that handles money or confidential information?

To be consistent, this law should have no exemptions whatsoever.  As drafted, it is internally inconsistent and contradictory.  As conceived, it is simply stupid.

This is what happens when political hacks micromanage the millions of basic, everyday decisions made by employers and business owners.  They get it wrong.  In fact, they are incapable of getting it right, so they just need to get out.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time for a March on Grand Rapids!

All of our most sacred institutions are under assault.

From government to the courts to the church, we are accustomed to defending the castle.  But now, they have gone too far.

Recently, plans were announced to mount a frontal assault on that most sacred of institutions -- ballpark food.  Ground zero in this battle?  Fifth Third Ballpark in Grand Rapids, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps.

FTB is a great minor league park and boasts one of the greatest culinary feats since man began to walk upright -- The Fifth Third Burger.  Checking in at 4 pounds and 4,800 calories, the Fifth Third Burger is the Eighth Wonder of the World (with apologies to Pampero Firpo).

The Wiz has honored the Fifth Third Burger twice before -- read about it here and here.

But, the good folks over in Amway-land just couldn't leave well enough alone.  They held a contest recently to pick a new food item to offer at the ballpark, and the winner was something called "Chicks with Sticks."  Okay, a cool name, I'll give you that -- makes me think of a female hockey team.  (Manon Rheaume, anyone?)  Don't let the name fool you -- Chicks with Sticks is definitely not cool.  Here's the description:
"fresh-cut vegetables with hummus."

Vegetables and hummus are NOT ballpark food.  These things have no place in a ballpark.  Reading about this new menu item, I experienced the same disoriented feeling I had years ago in San Francisco's Candlestick Park when I heard a female public address announcer for the first time and saw vendors walking through the stands hawking iced cappucino. 

So, make the signs, gas up the vans, initiate the email, blog, and Facebook campaigns, and let's get to Grand Rapids!  No beef, no peace!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Being a Judge Means Following the Law, No Matter How Distasteful

Last year's Michigan Supreme Court race featured a fairly clear choice between rule-of-law judges and empathy judges.  The former discern the law and apply it as they find it; the latter rule based on personal whim and feeling, contorting the law to fit their preordained results. 

Sometimes, the rule of law is painful to watch, but it is in these moments when it is most needed.  Judges don't get to make only the easy calls; they have to make tough, occasionally excruciating decisions.  This is the situation that confronted the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Snyder v Phelps, the anxiosly awaited First Amendment case addressing picketing by the Westboro Baptist Church.  The Court issued its opinion today, available here.

Here are the facts, from the case syllabus:
For the past 20 years, the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church has picketed military funerals to communicate its belief that God hates the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality, particularly in America’s military. The church’s picketing has also condemned the Catholic Church for scandals involving its clergy. Fred Phelps, who founded the church, and six Westboro Baptist parishioners (all relatives of Phelps) traveled to Maryland to picket the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in the line of duty. The picketing took place on public land approximately 1,000 feet from the church where the funeral was held, in accordance with guidance from local law enforcement officers. The picketers peacefully displayed their signs—stating, e.g., “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “America is Doomed,” “Priests Rape Boys,” and “You’re Going to Hell”—for about 30 minutes before the funeral began. Matthew Snyder’s father (Snyder), petitioner here, saw the tops of the picketers’ signs when driving to the funeral, but did not learn what was written on the signs until watching a news broadcast later that night.
Snyder filed a diversity action against Phelps, his daughters—who participated in the picketing—and the church (collectively Westboro) alleging, as relevant here, state tort claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy. A jury held Westboro liable for millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. Westboro challenged the verdict as grossly excessive and sought judgment as a matter of law on the ground that the First Amendment fully protected its speech. The District Court reduced the punitive damages award, but left the verdict otherwise intact. The Fourth Circuit reversed, concluding that Westboro’s statements were entitled to First Amendment protection because those statements were on matters of public concern, were not provably false, and were expressed solely through hyperbolic rhetoric.

Held: The First Amendment shields Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.
Can there be anything more distasteful and sickening than the hate-filled rants of these Westboro kooks?  Does the First Amendment really protect this bigotry and invective?

No and yes, respectively.

Legally, this turned out not to be even a close question -- the margin on the Court was 8-1, with only Justice Alito dissenting.  One has to concede admiration for Chief Justice Roberts, who authored the majority opinion and who, I am certain, wishes he had been able to lead a unanimous court in this important case.  Chief Justice Roberts concluded his opinion this way:
Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro’s funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. But Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials. The speech was indeed planned to coincide with Matthew Snyder’s funeral, but did not itself disrupt that funeral, and Westboro’s choice to conduct its picketing at that time and place did not alter the nature of its speech.
Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.
Undoubtedly, there will be many who decry this decision and call for, oh, something to be done.  But what?  Congress can pass a law making Westboro's conduct illegal, but such a law would itself be unconstitutional under the principles outlined in the Snyder decision.  
The First Amendment makes blogging possible.  Yes, it protects flag burning and Nazi marches, but it also prohibits speech codes and attempts to muzzle a free press and the free expression of ideas that characterizes healthy political discourse. 
The Snyder decision is not an endorsement of Westboro or its lamebrained antics; rather, it's a example of the majesty and breadth of the First Amendment and a reminder that the rule of law can be extremely difficult.  It is at these times, at the outer edges of freedom, that we must demonstrate our commitment to the Constitution and the exraordinary framework the Founders gave us.

And we must thank God for the Constitution and pray for all the men and women in our military.  And while we're at it, let's pray for the misguided souls at Westboro, that God may touch their hearts and minds, showing them His way.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Moment of Reason

One of the problems with public discourse these days is that many people can't bring themselves to state their cases without engaging in wild histrionics.  How many times have you read something described as the most shocking, the most outrageous, the most ridiculous, etc.?  Not everything can be the most outrageous -- only one thing can be.  And yet, that doesn't stop people from launching into ludicrous hyperbole or, just as bad, cobbling together lists that supposedly divine some pattern of thought or action.

This is the case currently with a list floating around the internet, first finding publication on a noted left-wing site, titled "Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP's War on Women."  The site reports, "The Republicans are on a rampage attacking women's health and rights this year."  Really?  A rampage?  Do all of the Republican legislators who happen to be women know about this?

Let's take a look at a couple of these items.  Here's the first one:
"Republicans not only want to reduce women's access to abortion care, they're actually trying to redefine rape. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven't yet. Shocker."
Of course, Republicans are not redefining rape (when did we start using that word again, anyway?  Isn't it supposed to be "criminal sexual conduct"?).  Rather, in those instances in which federal funding is available for abortion, the range of circumstances in which abortions are covered is being narrowed.  Also, there are 10 Democrat and 18 women cosponsors of this bill -- are they engaged in a war on women?

Here's another one:
"In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real.)"
For real?  Really?  No, not really.  Here's the language of HB 1171, the South Dakota bill in question, in its entirety:
Section 1. That § 22-16-34 be amended to read as follows:

22-16-34. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to harm the unborn child of such person in a manner and to a degree likely to result in the death of the unborn child, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.
Section 2. That § 22-16-35 be amended to read as follows:
22-16-35. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, or the unborn child of any such enumerated person, if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.
Let's put aside the fact that this legislation has been tabled, and ignore the fact that nine of the sponsors are women.  What does this legislation actually do?  It acknowledges the protections afforded by South Dakota law to a fetal human being and plugs a hole in the state law, allowing a person to come to the aid of a pregnant woman where the object of the attack is specifically the unborn child she is carrying.  While the wording could be clearer, the bill's sponsor has clarified that the bill is unrelated to abortion:
"It would if abortion was illegal," he told me. "This code only deals with illegal acts. Abortion is legal in this country. This has nothing to do with abortion."
You can see what kind of problems this list causes.  People who read only the headline think there really is a "war on women," and people who read the blurbs in this list are told these issues are "for real."  To figure out why these are lies takes time and effort and knowing where to find and how to interpret the source documents.  Relatively few people have the time or know where to look, with the end result being that the lies are accepted at face value, a result upon which the left depends. 

The left cannot long survive in a thinking, rational society, so we need to keep up our efforts to educate our families, our friends, and our children.  And, when we're confronted with the kind of prevarication that teaches there is a "war on women," we can defeat it with a simple, logical, moment of reason.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Please, Ms. Weaver, Just Retire Already!

Remember the music from Jaws that heralded the shark's return?  I hear that music in my head just before Elizabeth Weaver launches another one of her loony broadsides against the Supreme Court and the process for selecting justices.

The latest is her harebrained idea for choosing justices.  You can find it here.  After taking advantage of the current system for two terms, Ms. Weaver has decided that the entire process has to be scrapped (this will, of course, require that our Constitution be amended).  Her notion is that, instead of party nominations, all Supreme Court candidates would have to file nominating petitions, use public money only, and be elected by district, with the state being divided into seven districts.

Why?  Well, because "people in varying parts of the state look at life in different ways" and all current members of the Court live in "the Detroit/Lansing beltway." 

First, I-96 is not a beltway.  It does not circle Detroit or Lansing.  A corridor?  Maybe, but definitely not a beltway.  Ms. Weaver's incorrect use of the term "beltway" reflects her sloppy thinking while on the Court.  All members of the Court are elected by all of Michigan.  It's not a "Court of Representatives," it's the Michigan Supreme Court, deciding cases for the entire state. 

Second, the Court does not exist to look at life; it exists to render decisions on the law.  "Looking at life" is a hallmark of an empathy court, which makes decisions based on the whim of the moment, not the will of the people as expressed by its legislature and in its Constitution.

In the event of a vacancy, Ms. Weaver channels the following proposal:
  •  A 30 to 40-member "Qualifications Commission" would meet and provide two non-binding recommendations to the governor.
  • The Commission would be comprised of "all stakeholders in the justice system.  For example, representatives from labor, business, law enforcement, doctors, lawyers, prosecutors, environmental groups, corrections, education, insurance, local government and the like. Each organization would choose its own representative."
  • The governor can choose one of the two recommendations, or not.  But, if not, the governor must justify the appointee in writing, "giving written reasons why her or his appointee is the best choice[.]"
  • The Senate has 60 days to hold a public hearing on the governor's nomination.  If the Senate takes no action, the appointment becomes effective.  If the Senate rejects the nominee, the whole process starts over again.  If for some reason the process doesn't restart, the vacancy gets filled at the next general election.
Can you imagine the mischief in this system?  How will the Commission be chosen?  Who decides which group represents which segment of "stakeholders in the justice system"?  How long will it take to establish a commission and come up with agreement on two nominees?  How long will vacancies remain open?  It would be a nightmare.

Ms. Weaver also argues for "public scrutiny" of the "inner workings on our Supreme Court."  It's not clear what she means by this, particularly since she also concedes that "there are certain things that must be done at the court in private."  Where does she draw the line?  She never says.  Presumably, since she secretly recorded and then released selected portions of confidential Court deliberations, she values neither confidentiality nor the need for frank and open discussions during case conferences.

The notion of public deliberation may well lead to greater divisions over the Court's decisions. David Stasavage of the London School of Economics did an interesting study of public versus private deliberations in representative democracies.  He concluded in part:
[P]rivate deliberation may, in many instances, actually do more to reduce polarization of opinions in society than will public deliberation. This runs contrary to the common suggestion that public discussions will produce greater social consensus. When members of society have divided opinions about the eects of a policy, if “responsiveness” is the unique equilibrium under public deliberation, then representatives will articulate the opinions of their constituencies, but the public will not actually learn anything from observing public deliberation, because it knows that representatives are simply mirroring the attitudes of their constituents. In contrast, when an “independence” equilibrium prevails, which is more likely to be the case under private deliberation, then even if it does not observe the actions of individual representatives, the public will know that the policy outcome has depended upon the private information held by representatives.  As a consequence, members of the public will be able to draw inferences from the policy outcome, and they will revise their beliefs about which policy outcome is preferable. If beliefs are initially polarized, then they will tend to converge.

It would be a shame if anyone took Ms. Weaver's proposals seriously.  There will be some, of course, but our time would be much better spent if we focus on re-electing the rule-of-law judges currently on the Court and electing rule-of-law judges to all positions in the future.

Ms. Weaver, thank you for your service.  Now, please, go away.