The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I've Been Meaning To Tell You...

I've been meaning to tell you all about this trip that I've mentioned.

About two weeks ago, I was approached by a group called the "Financial Services Volunteer Corps" about the possibility of joining a delegation heading over to Morocco. After getting permission from the appropriate parties (namely my bosses at NFIB and my wife), I agreed.

The project is funded by the US Agency for International Development and is looking at ways to reform the political, legal, and economic systems in Morocco to improve the climate for small and medium enterprises. Morocco is apparently the most westernized of islamic and North African nations (given its history and proximity to Europe), but its economy is fairly middling.

This isn't surprising when you consider the close ties it has historically had with France. No, this isn't an excuse to beat up on the French. Merely that if you've been watching the news and reading the papers lately (especially the Washington Post), you know about the economic struggles France has been having.

Considering that most businesses within an economy are small businesses (90% of businesses in the US are small), and considering that small businesses are generally accepted to be the engines of innovation and job creation (notwithstanding the "research" of AEI's Veronique DeRugy, which I will devote a separate post to), then if a system wishes to boost its economic vitality, it has to look at what is going on with its small and medium enterprise sector. Thus this trip.

My role will be to lend the perspective on property rights and regulatory issues and their impacts on small business. Apparently the Moroccan bureaucracy and the legal systems are quite something to behold. The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom has this to say:

"[T]he inefficiency of the judicial system is holding back economic development.… [T]he courts move too slowly in dealing with cases, bankruptcy protection and liquidation procedures are inefficient and the courts often fail to enforce legal rulings.… [M]any of those working in the judiciary had inadequate expertise…. [T]he courts have [an estimated] backlog of 600,000 cases." A survey among businesses by the American Chamber of Commerce in Morocco revealed that corruption in the legal system is regarded as one of the main impediments to doing business...

"Regulations and bureaucracy remain significantly burdensome despite the government's attempts at reform... According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, "Even in areas where the regulations are favorable on paper, there are often problems in practice. Government procedures are not always transparent, efficient or quick. Routine permits, especially those required by local governments, can be difficult to obtain."

I leave this Saturday, and will return the following Saturday. The trip will take me to Rabat and Casablanca (but not, unfortunately, Fes or Marrakech).

I'll try to post messages (and pictures) while I'm gone, but I can't promise anything.

- Andrew Langer

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hokey Smokes, Bullwinkle!!!!!


Great law school, great regulation wonks, great economists....

Truly great basketball...

Sorry all you UCONN fans.... (kinda.... ;-D )

- Andrew Langer

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Inn at Little Washington (And other Travels)

Whew! What a week! Sorry I haven't posted since Friday, but there's been a lot going on. Birthday weeks are always like that - and you throw a business trip into the mix, and it makes for a whirlwind.

First, a bit of news - I'm going to Morocco! I'm going to give the details in a separate post, but really couldn't hold off on telling everyone. It was up in the air a few weeks ago, and got cemented the week of the 13th, really. I'm going as part of a USAID-funded trip to consult with the Moroccan government on improving their economy by reducing regulatory burdens on small and medium enterprises (that's a mouthful!).

So, I got shots on Thursday. This, after a quick turnaround trip to St. Louis to give a speech on eminent domain. Really hit some culinary extremes this week - the Inn at Little Washington early on to grabbing some belly-bombs at a White Castle in St. Louis on my way to my hotel. Thank you again to the hotel shuttle driver who graciously agreed to my request (and the request of another shuttle passenger) to stop.

I don't indulge in White Castle's very often - especially since they moved out of DC and now out of Philly - but you want to talk about sense memories?

But really, this post is about my trip to the Inn at Little Washington. My wife arranged this for my birthday, and got us a table in the kitchen. I'd done this once before as the guest of an inn regular, but this occasion was tremendously special - for reasons not the least of which was that Chef Patrick O'Connell was in the kitchen that night.

There's nothing like being in the presence of greatness, and it was somewhat overwhelming. But here is a picture of me with Chef O'Connell at the end of the meal:

What's amazing is how calm the Chef's kitchen is. Mondavi called him, "The Pope of American Cuisine" and this kitchen is his cathedral (complete with gregorian chants). The staff works seamlessly, without the clanging and yelling that you find in a lot of other kitchens.

The meal started with a rosewater hand-washing ceremony, taken straight from Moroccan custom. Upon telling our waiter about my upcoming trip, he went straight over to the Chef, who returned to our table to talk about his travels to Morocco, one of his favorite places.

The meal itself was amazing from start to finish. You start with two small snacks of tempura green beans and some parmesan crisps. The green beans come with this asian dipping sauce - and the first time I tried it, I was taken back to some distant memory. I'd had this sauce before, but couldn't quite place where.

Eventually, I realized that this was really similar to the dipping sauce my friend's mother, used to make. It was Boze Casten's birthday one year that his mother, Judy Casten, had some of us over to make spring rolls - and I had the task of helping her make the dipping sauce.

From that course, we went to an amuse bouche course, with five tiny bits - a tiny barbecued rabbit empanada, for instance, and a tiny ham biscuit. Then our first courses. I had a trio of seafood appetizers - tuna tartare, a ceviche, and a lobster maki, all just a few bites themselves. My wife had the "fire and ice" -sashimi grade tuna, seared and sliced, arranged in a ginger-soy-daikon sauce, with a dollop of cucumber sorbet masquerading as wasabi.

Then there was the white bean soup, served in tiny tea cups, for just a few sips. The intermezzo course was stunning -my wife had the signature scallop dish that can now be found on Chef O'Connell's new cookbook. I had the sauteed squab lettuce wraps - and had the treat of watching one of the chef's debone and chop up the squab in front of us.

Dinner. Sigh. Truly amazing. While my wife had the sea bass in an incredible broth, I had veal done two ways, pictured at left. That's braised veal cheek at the 11 o'clock position on the plate, unctuous and perfectly tender. At the 2 o'clock position is a roasted veal tenderloin, succulent and flavorful. Below the veal cheek are two virginia ham ravioli (one of the reasons I got the dish in the first place). The sauce was based on a veal stock that takes three days to make, and you'll notice that there are a variety of different mushrooms throughout the sauce. Those mushrooms have the dish a woody, almost rustic quality. And take a good look at the carrot cubes - these were sauteed, and marvelously carmelized on one side.

And then dessert. It was a tought choice, complicated by a wonderful surprise...

As we were sitting there, having ordered our dessert choices, all of a sudden our waiter signals to the Chef, and there appears this intricate spun sugar cage. With a flourish and a smile, the Chef lifted it up to reveal a perfect present inside.

The present was a gold-infused fondant ribbon-festooned chocolate ice-cream cake. Below, you can see what was revealed when our waiter cut it in half: there is a checkerboard of vanilla and pistachio ice creams within.

But dessert didn't stop there. I tried uploading the video, but still haven't worked out the kinks. My preferred dessert is pictured at left - it's a white chocolate ice-cream sundae with a warm dark chocolate sauce. It is delivered with a disc of white chocolate covering the top, and the waiter pours the warm chocolate sauce on top of the disc.

As you can see, as the warm dark chocolate reaches the edges of the white chocolate disc, the heat from the sauce melts the white chocolate below, and the two fall delectably on top of the white chocolate ice cream below.

All in all, it was a truly spectacular meal. The breakfast the next morning was incredible as well (at some point I'll have to write about the perfectly-cooked cubes of potato that were served as minimalist home-fries - heck, I'll explain now. Eight cubes of potato, stacked into pyramids of four, with perfectly-crisped exteriors and unbelievably creamy interiors. The secret, according to our server, is that they are cooked in duck fat, and not turned en masse by spatula. Instead, using kitchen tongs, each tiny cube is turned individually, by hand. The result is perfect home fry control.).

My first meal at the Inn last year was, at that point in time, the finest I had ever had. Chef O'Connell outdid that memory, and then some.

Of course, Nizam Ali at Ben's Chili Bowl made Friday's lunch meal a perfect bookend to the week. Sometimes a man can be amazed by a tiny cube of duck fat-cooked potato. Sometimes he can be amazed by a grilled half smoke and an order of chili-cheese fries.

- Andrew Langer

Friday, March 17, 2006

As Predicted Here on the Liberty Blog...

Governor Dirk Kempthorne

The Next Secretary of the Interior

At the top of my list the other day was Dirk Kempthorne, former Senator, Governor of Idaho and now the designee for Secretary of the Interior. There had been some talk that it might be Ben Nighthorse Campbell, but that didn't come to pass (clearly).

Here is what the AP had to say:

Idaho Governor Named Interior Secretary - Friday, March 17, 2006
(03-17) 02:17 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) --
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a pro-development Western Republican, will be President Bush's chief advocate for more oil and gas drilling from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska's North Slope if confirmed as the nation's next interior secretary.

Kempthorne's chances of getting the post are greatly increased by his six years as a senator from 1993 through 1998. The Senate, which must approve the nomination, rarely turns down one of its former members for the Cabinet, and Republicans hold the majority with 55 of 100 seats.

"Dirk is a strong nominee," Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Thursday following Bush's announcement. "He's an outspoken advocate for America's parks and has a wealth of public service experience at both the state and federal levels. I look forward to his swift confirmation by the Senate."

One Democrat, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, said she welcomed the appointment. "He understands the Northwest and a lot of Interior issues," she said, adding that Kempthorne had "stood up to the administration" over nuclear waste cleanup at a federal facility in Idaho.

The League of Conservation Voters, the main lobbying arm for environmental groups, said its scorekeeping shows Kempthorne hostile to their interests.

"During his career in Congress, Governor Kempthorne earned a paltry 1 percent lifetime LCV score. Enough said," declared Tony Massaro, a senior vice president of the group.

Kempthorne, 54, would replace departing Interior Secretary Gale Norton. He would take over managing areas as diverse as the Grand Canyon and the Gettysburg battlefield. Norton announced her resignation last week after five years of running a department that manages one-fifth of the nation's land.

"Dirk has had a long and abiding love for nature," Bush said as he announced the appointment.

The president said Kempthorne has broad experience needed for managing the 388 parts of the National Park system, 544 wildlife refuges and more than 260 million acres of multiple-use lands located mainly in 12 Western states.

"Dirk understands that those who live closest to the land know how to manage it best, and he will work closely with state and local leaders to ensure wise stewardship of our resources," Bush said.

Kempthorne promised to be "a responsible steward of the land and the natural resources with which our nation has been blessed."

On a new interior secretary's agenda is the administration's desire to open 3.6 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling over vehement objections from the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He also would push the administration's campaign to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

After his one term in the Senate, Kempthorne was elected governor in 1998 and easily won a second term in 2002 with more than 55 percent of the vote in his reliably Republican, conservative state. He spent the past year pushing for more state parks and improving and expanding the state's roads with money raised from bonds.

Two days before Bush took office, Kempthorne sued to block the Clinton administration's plan to reintroduce up to 25 grizzly bears over five years into the Bitterroot wilderness of Idaho and Montana. Norton withdrew the plan five months later.

Kempthorne also was part of a four-state salmon recovery effort, working with Indian tribes and the Northwest Power Planning Council to try to help the endangered fish without removing dams or curtailing hydroelectric power output.


Here is a picture of Kempthorne with the President in the summer of 2005.

- Andrew Langer

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It's Deja Vu All Over Again...

I've said it here before, abusive eminent domain is particularly hard-hitting on those least able to defend themselves: the poor, the elderly, the elderly poor, etc. Think about the disproportionality - invariably it is older, less-valuable pieces of property that are targeted for private-to-private eminent domain, and these are invariably inhabited by those who can only afford those pieces of property, or have lived in those properties for lengthy periods of time.

Nevertheless, it hits me right in the gut when Susette Kelo's scenario is repeated over and over and over again.

Like today. In Cincinnati.

Magistrate says city can take 80-year-old woman's property
Associated Press

CINCINNATI - A magistrate ruled Tuesday that an 80-year-old woman will have to give up the house she's lived in for almost half a century to make way for a road project.

City officials say the project is in the interest of public safety, but Emma Dimasi argued the real reason the city wants her house is to help a nearby hospital with its expansion. She has said taking her home violates a one-year ban in Ohio on seizing property that will end up in the hands of another private owner.

Good Samaritan Hospital is contributing $1.28 million toward the $4 million project, which will give the hospital more room for its $122 million expansion. The hospital also gets whatever land is left over after construction for $1.

Cities and states have the power to take private property to give to another private owner. But the U.S. Supreme Court also has said states can enact stronger rights for property owners.
Hamilton County Common Pleas Magistrate Richard Bernat ruled that the city did not commit fraud or abuse its discretion when it took the land.

Dimasi's son and attorney, Vincent Dimasi, said he would file an objection with Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Melba Marsh within two weeks.

Dimasi said his mother was upset, but he had been preparing her for the possibility that the ruling could go against her.

"She's 80 years old and has lived in that house most of her life," Dimasi said. "She's always been adamant about maintaining her own independence for as long as possible, and this is difficult for her."

The son, who owns adjoining property that is also being taken, said if Marsh does not overrule the magistrate, the decision cannot be appealed to a higher court.

"The presumption in these cases is that the city has the right to take property under eminent domain, and it's very difficult for an individual to overcome that," he said.

Dimasi said there are important legal issues beyond trying to help his mother keep the small brick home she moved into in 1959.

"The hospital has essentially purchased the city's eminent domain power to use for its own purposes," Dimasi said.

City officials haven't denied the project's connection with the hospital expansion, but city spokeswoman Meg Olberding said the hospital's plan came along at a time when it helped both the city and the hospital. The city has been concerned about safety issues with car and foot traffic in the area, she said.

"It's a project that does have beneficial impact to the general public and to the expansion of the hospital, but the hospital was going to do the project whether or not the road was relocated," said Timothy Burke, the attorney representing TriHealth Partnership, which includes Good Samaritan. "This project is not economic development."

Gov. Bob Taft signed a law last year that put a hold on eminent domain actions for economic development while a state task force studies the issue, but Cincinnati City Council adopted the ordinance to take the Dimasi properties before that ban took effect.

The Ohio Supreme Court is considering whether Norwood, a Cincinnati suburb, can take residential property by eminent domain and give it to a developer for a shopping mall.


- Andrew Langer

Some Cool New Blogs...

I was over at CEI this afternoon trying to track down Wayne Crews and John Berlau, in lieu of returning a phone call. Neither of them were there, but I got to talking to a few people, and was asked if I'd seen CEI's new blog.

No, I haven't. Neither have you, I'm certain.

Well, now you can:

Also, though I haven't met her, Richard Morrison told me about one of the new CEIers who, of course, has her own blog, Brooke Oberwetter. Funny stuff - check out the pics of Hermione, and the commentary:

And moving away from the CEI vein, I had been meaning to post about a blog started by one of the Liberty Blog's faithful readers.


- Andrew Langer

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Info from Reg Affairs Hearing Now Live and Available

The House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs has put up the info on last week's hearing, including my testimony. I've been wanting to post my oral testimony, but haven't had it handy.

The link to the webpage is here:

My testimony is here:

In lieu of my oral testimony, I'll post the press release:

NFIB Recommends Improvements to Paperwork Reduction Act
03/ 08/ 2006
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The National Federation of Independent Business testified today before a congressional committee in support of improvements to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980.

In testimony before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives' Government Reform Committee, NFIB made the case to update, strengthen and improve the 25-year-old law. Manager of Regulatory Policy Andrew Langer represented NFIB, demonstrating the ongoing paperwork burden small businesses face and offering several recommendations for improvement.

"NFIB members want to be in compliance with the law. They want to keep their workers and their communities safe and secure, and the last thing they want is for a government inspector to show up at their business and fine them for some transgression. Unfortunately, the current regulatory state is so complex that it is next to impossible for any small business to be in compliance with 100 percent of the law 100 percent of the time. The system is broken and needs to be fixed," said Langer.

The NFIB Research Foundation's most recent member poll on the subject of paperwork was in December of 2003. It found that the cost of paperwork averages nearly $50 per hour, with tax and accounting costs at nearly $75 per hour, maintenance and repair paperwork at about $36 per hour, and other costs such as licenses, permits and personnel in between.

Regarding tax paperwork in particular, Langer said, "Tax paperwork accounts for a staggering 80 percent of the paperwork burden. Congress must revise the conditions upon which the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs approves information collection requests associated with the collection of taxes."

Other recommendations for improvement include:

- Full funding for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is a gatekeeper for new regulations.
- Development of the "Business Gateway" system proposed by the Small Business Administration, which would allow businesses to access, via computer, a single site containing all of the forms they must fill out based on their size, type of business, etc.
- Limit the number of "Information Collection Requests" an agency can make in any year. This would force all agencies to prioritize use of ICRs.
- Regulatory sunsetting. NFIB testified that "every federal regulation be reviewed for its impact and effectiveness within 10 years of its implementation and for a regulation to remain in place, its existence would have to be justified."

- Andrew Langer

Friday, March 10, 2006

And No, It's Not Because She's Being Appointed to the High Court


Because I know if I don't say anything, I'll get a flurry of e-mails asking me why (much in the same way that I got a flurry of e-mails asking me if I'd heard). Yes, I heard. I got the e-mail from Interior six times.

Gale A. Norton, Secretary of the Interior, has resigned, effective at the end of this month...

"After five years of leading cooperative conservation efforts and responsible energy development, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton today announced she will leave the President’s Cabinet at the end of March. In a letter to President Bush, Secretary Norton thanked the President, “for inviting me to be part of your Administration for a meaningful and rewarding five years.”

Norton was the first woman to head the Interior Department, having had a distinguished career serving the public, both in official office and doing public interest law. She succeeded my former boss, Roger Marzulla, as the head of Mountain States Legal Foundation, and in 1991 became Attorney General of Colorado. She was CO AG until 1998, when she made an unsuccessful bid for the US Senate.

There was some talk that Norton might run for governor of Colorado, but that never came to pass (and I assume, it being March already, that it's too late). And yes, the rumor circulated, started right here, that Norton ought to be considered for the high court.

Who knows what could happen should another vacancy come open this spring?

Anyway, Madam Secretary, it has been a pleasure to work with you. The best of luck to you in your future endeavors.

Possible successors?

- Former Sen. Dirk Kempthorne
- Lynn Scarlett, currently Deputy Secretary
- James Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality
- Judge Craig Manson, head of Fish and Wildlife

I'm open to other suggestions.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Report: Today's Testimony...

It really couldn't have gone any better today - well, except that there were five votes called just after I gave my testimony and Rep. Lynch didn't return to the hearing afterwards. I wanted to answer some of his concerns about TRI reform.

As it was, I was on a panel with, among others, Robert Shull from OMB Watch, and he and I had a bit of back and forth as we answered questions from Chairman Miller.

The Arizona Republic reported on the hearing, too:

Feds assigning 9.5 billion hours of homework

U.S. takes new swipe at reducing red tape

Jon Kamman The Arizona Republic Mar. 8, 2006 12:00 AM

About 9.5 billion hours.That's how much time the public is expected to spend this fiscal year providing information to the federal government for anything from an income-tax return to a report of an injury to a whale.In all, the nation will devote the equivalent of nearly 1.1 million years of round-the-clock work to completing the 8,459 forms, reports, applications, questionnaires, surveys and assorted detritus required under federal regulations.

"Enough!" Congress cried in 1980, when federal collection of information was consuming a little more than 1 billion hours of the public's time.That year, lawmakers passed and President Carter signed a package of would-be restraints known as the Paperwork Reduction Act. Today, with clear evidence that the act and a major overhaul in 1995 aren't working, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Reform will hear ideas for curbing the seemingly insatiable federal appetite for collecting information.If the annual demand were spread equally among the nation's 298 million people, fulfilling it would consume about 32 hours per man, woman and child. The burden includes time spent figuring out what is requested, gathering data, making calculations if needed and, perhaps easiest, actually filling out forms.


Efforts to cut paperwork are inseparable from the perennial campaign to eliminate many regulations themselves. Andrew Langer, manager of regulatory policy for the National Federation of Independent Businesses and a witness at today's hearing, said he will emphasize the need for "regulations that make sense" and efficient ways of reporting.


The burden hits small businesses especially hard, and laws passed in 2002 to give relief have been slow to make much difference, Langer said.

The Small Business Administration calculates that for a business with fewer than 20 employees, the cost of regulatory compliance is about $7,750 per employee per year. How much of that is attributable to fulfilling reporting requirements isn't broken out, but Langer said it remains a major drag on productivity.

Langer said one of his appeals in testimony will be for a computerized system consolidating all rules applying to to various kinds of businesses and allow electronic reporting of data. Forms filled out for one agency could be routed to others that need parts of the information, he said.A computer gateway is now in operation at the business .gov Web site, but it is only in its earliest stages, he said.

"This is 2006, and we should be able to do this," Langer said. "We've got to get serious about this and have the leadership needed to get it done."


Walking over to Rayburn

On the stairs in Cannon

Me with Jim Miller, former OMB Chief and first head of OIRA

Behind us is Sally Katzen, who was OIRA director under Clinton


Monday, March 06, 2006

A Texan's View on Texas Redistricting

A break from property rights issues today. Horace Cooper sent me his latest article, a thoughtful examination of the Texas redistricting case, and I thought I'd share it with all of you:

Sour grapes motivate redistricting lawsuit
By Horace Cooper
Mar 4, 2006

Among many important cases that the Supreme Court will be considering this spring is the Texas redistricting case, LULAC v. Perry. The litigants claim that the Texas redistricting plan of 2003 unfairly suppresses the political opposition and deprives millions of state residents of any effective franchise. But as we say in Texas, "This dog won’t hunt." In fact, a close examination of the facts reveals that this suit is most likely a case of partisan sour grapes.

The Supreme Court will be looking at three specific issues: the question of what standard should be used in judging whether partisan gerrymandering is excessive; whether it is lawful for a state to undertake more than one round of congressional redistricting in a single decade and finally whether the plan itself properly complies with the Voting Rights Act.

But what’s really at stake here is whether state legislatures should have the primary right to draw their own state redistricting plans or whether the plans should be decided by judges as a result of the legal machinations of partisans and special interests.

First a little bit of history. Since the late 1980s the state of Texas (like many of the states of the South) has experienced a significant tilt toward the GOP and each subsequent year Texas voters have moved more in the GOP’s direction. Starting at the top and slowly filtering down, Texas shifted from being a state that supported conservative Democrats to one which supports conservative Republicans. Much of this loss for Democrats in Texas can be laid at the hands of the leftward lurch of the national party in the 60’s and 70’s.

But whatever the cause the dramatic shift is real. Since 1972, Democrats have carried Texas in a presidential election once. And while at one time the party was competitive in gubernatorial races, Democrats have been able to win the governor’s race only once since 1986. Finally, by 1994 the meltdown was nearly obvious to everyone once no Democrat was able to get elected in Texas to any statewide office that year or any since.

Masking the hemorrhaging of the party’s appeal across the state, Democrats prized the sizeable number of Congressional seats they held. Even here the cracks were showing. The GOP received upwards of 55% of all Congressional votes cast throughout the 1990’s even though they held fewer than 40% of Congressional seats.

How was it possible that Democrats could hold a near supermajority of Congressional seats in the midst of a GOP upswing state-wide? One word: gerrymandering. The Almanac of American politics called the state’s map the “shrewdest gerrymander of the 1990s.”

Where were the voices criticizing this state of affairs? Ironically when it was the GOP which suffered there were no charges of disenfranchisement by electoral watchdogs. No one filed lawsuits arguing that the political opposition had been unfairly suppressed. The national media didn’t carry front page stories lamenting the unfair treatment of Republicans in Texas.

And this state of affairs would have continued for at least another decade if not for the seismic earthquakes that hit Austin when in 2000 and 2002 first the State Senate and then the State House shifted from Democrat to Republican control. Happening for the first time in 130 years, it eliminated any possible doubts about the GOP’s dominance in the state once and for all.

In 2001 the newly elected Republican state senate pushed for a balanced redistricting plan but because Democrats in the House were able to use a variety of obstructionist tactics to create a legislative deadlock that effort was stymied. This meant that a judicial panel would draft the state’s redistricting plan. And you guessed it, the panel kept the Democrats gerrymander largely in place.

But after 2002 when both Houses were under GOP control the state legislature decided that it would develop its own plan. And after a series of negotiations (during which Democrats in the state House and Senate fled the state in a desperate bid to prevent the state from acting) the Texas legislature finally passed a redistricting plan into law.

It is this map (passed by the bona fide state legislature) which is being challenged. This map increased the number of African-American majority districts and the number of majority Hispanic districts. It also shifted a majority of seats from Democrat to Republican control. And if the suit is successful the map and these seats will be eliminated.

So why the lawsuit? Because the plan no longer favors Democrats. Instead of giving Democrats nearly 2/3 of the seats while requiring them to obtain less than half the votes, the newly enacted plan districts is lot more equitable giving the GOP 60% of the seats matching more closely the 55% majority GOP preference by Texas voters.

And what about the claim that Texas is getting two bites at the redistricting apple? Not true. The U.S. Constitution explicitly vests this authority in the state legislature, not unelected judicial panels. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that this was Texas’ first plan and that the plan in place was an interim plan created by the federal courts. And just because it wasn’t until 2003 that Texas finally adopted a plan, doesn’t mean the state should lose. After all, the U.S. Constitution places no restriction on the timing of redistricting.

The Justice Department formally cleared this plan as lawful under the Voting Rights Act. To bootstrap their case, the lawsuits supporters have attempted to twist the VRA in order to find a violation. Rather than protect minorities voting rights, they argue that the interests of political parties should be protected – even though doing so could come at the cost of losing minority seats. But the VRA has never been construed by Courts to protect political parties and it shouldn’t be.

When all is said and done the Supreme Court is likely to uphold Texas’ redistricting plan. To do otherwise would confound the purpose of the VRA and most importantly prevent Texas voters from having a congressional map that elects representatives more in sync with their own philosophy.

Horace Cooper is an Assistant Professor at George Mason University School of Law.

Copyright © 2006

Find this story at:

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Heads-Up... I'm Testifying Before Congress!!!!

Wanted to post yesterday, but time got away from me. I was crunching on some last-minute testimony. What testimony?

Well, on Wednesday I found out that I'm testifying next Wednesday before the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs! The subject? Reducing the federal paperwork burden, specifically on America's small business.

Yes, it's a dry subject, but it is an important one. I'm really looking forward to it -and in drafting my testimony over the last couple of days, I found that I've got some new things to say on the subject. I find that in DC, as you continue to fight the same sorts of battles over and over again, it can sometimes be hard to find something new to say on a subject.

The Subcommittee's Website can be found here:

If you're in DC, the hearing's on Wednesday at 2pm in Rayburn. Not sure which room.

I'm going to try and have pictures and maybe video to share!

- Andrew Langer

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Presenting Two Sides of the Same Side: The Fieldston Assembly Controversy

Yes, I’d promised to say something about the Fieldston assembly controversy, and now one of the Liberty Blog’s readers has reminded me that I’d made that promise. For me, it’s been a matter of letting my thoughts on the matter coalesce a bit. It’s easy for me to jot down a few paragraphs on the justice of a former employer vindictively suing their employee when they’ve made a king’s ransom off of him, or to talk about some property rights issue that’s been near and dear to my heart.

But when it comes to some slightly more obscure issues, I’ve got to think about it a little more. Such it is with the Fieldston issue, which has a lot of different aspects to it. I’ve actually asked some of my friends, non-Fieldston friends, for their takes on it, given the New York Times article, as a way of having a sounding board.

Anyhow, I got an e-mail a few weeks back, letting me know about the controversy. Then I pulled up the article in the Times, and read through it some more. Essentially, here’s the situation, as reported:

Shelving of Panel on Mideast Roils School February 17, 2006

When the principal of the elite Fieldston school notified parents by e-mail of an assembly that was to feature two Palestinian speakers, he said that it would further the school's "progressive reputation" and that the Palestinian viewpoint was one that "few of us, students or faculty, are familiar with or can claim to understand."

Then came a flurry of e-mail messages and telephone calls from parents who objected to one of the speakers, who has advocated a boycott of Israel, as well as the fact that no Israelis were on the panel. On Tuesday, the high school's principal, John Love, sent another e-mail message canceling the event and explaining that the forum was "not appropriate given the sensitivity and complexity of the issue."

The controversy started on Friday, when Dr. Love, principal of the Fieldston Upper School — the 9th- through 12th-grade component of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School — sent an e-mail message to parents about the assembly, planned for next Thursday. He said it would feature two 10-minute speeches followed by questions.

Muhammad Muslih, a Long Island University professor, would speak in favor of a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he wrote, while Mazin Qumsiyeh, identified as an associate professor at Yale, would speak in favor of a "one-state solution." (A two-state solution envisions Israeli and Palestinian states side-by-side; a one-state solution envisions a single state in which Jews and Palestinians live together, and there is no longer a country of Israel.)

The Israeli perspective, Dr. Love wrote, would be the subject of a future assembly. But in a school with a substantial Jewish population, that did not sit right. Then Zach Tumin, a parent, sent an e-mail message to other parents, describing Dr. Qumsiyeh as an "unfortunate choice."

He included portions of an Anti-Defamation League press release describing Dr. Qumsiyeh as an "extremist anti-Israel activist." The release was issued amid a controversy last month, in which the World Economic Forum published, then apologized for, a magazine with an article in which Dr. Qumsiyeh called for a boycott of Israel and compared Israel's policies toward Palestinians to apartheid.

In canceling the assembly, Dr. Love wrote to parents that he had received "many thoughtful phone calls and e-mails." "Many of you who were most concerned about our plan framed your concerns in the most positive and constructive terms, and I deeply regret the unhappiness that my letter and support for this project has caused you," he wrote.

That note, however, generated even more unhappiness. "It may not have been the best planned event, but the symbolism of canceling it is terrible," said Kenneth Roth, a Fieldston parent who is executive director of Human Rights Watch but said he was speaking privately. "It suggests that some parents who supposedly believe in progressive education and trust their kids to hear all sides of disputes don't extend that principle to disputes about Israel."

Renée Berliner Rush, a parent who opposed the assembly, was irate at the way in which it was canceled, saying school officials should have apologized for planning a one-sided forum in the first place.

"It basically blamed a group of parents, which is not a reason to cancel an assembly," she said.

"This wasn't about Palestinians. This was about equality and bigotry and a fair, open forum."

…At an assembly on gender roles held yesterday, and in yet another e-mail message to parents, Dr. Love announced that a special "modified awareness day" about the Middle East would take place in the spring. The longer format, he wrote, would enable "the widest possible perspective on this complex issue."

Ms. Curwen, the school spokeswoman, explained: "This is a volatile and complicated topic for the world, let alone for a school. And we decided it deserved more than a 40-minute assembly."

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I’m of a lot of minds on this, and it’s gotten a host of different reactions from people I’ve talked to. Someone thought it was more than a bit pretentious for a high school to take itself and its dedication to issues so seriously. Perhaps, but then, Fieldston isn’t a normal high school in that regard, and has always prided itself on such a dedication.

I'll say at the outset that I am ardently pro-Israel. Yes, I am jewish, but religious affinities aside, I also believe that Israel has a right to exist, has been a tremendous friend and ally of the United States, and as a free nation in the Middle East, must be supported and protected by this nation.

That's not to say that Israel is perfect and hasn't made mistakes in the course of its history. But given its reason for being and the overwhelming threats it faces on all sides, when compared to the nations that surround it Israel compares favorably.

But on to the issue at hand. First and foremost, I have to agree with the initial unhappiness with the program as proposed. All too often in the media, for instance, we see a viewpoint presented, and then the reporters have to find that one person with the most extreme opposing viewpoint, and it gets presented as a balanced debate. In this instance, we have two people with divergent viewpoints essentially coming from the same perspective and reaching similar conclusions. But for those in the audience unsophisticated or uninformed as to the pro-Israel viewpoint (and yes, there are a range of viewpoints within that set, too), they would be left with a view of the subject that was missing some pretty important elements.

Then again, Fieldston has always prided itself on challenging dogmas (as long as the challenge comes from a “progressive” viewpoint, of course). Philosophically, they want students to continue thinking critically about things, and be moved to the edges of their comfort zones—and Friday assemblies (do they still do them on Fridays, I wonder?) were one way that they would do that.

Yes, when I was in school at Fieldston, just about every Friday was an assembly, just after, what 2nd period? 3rd period? Each advisory (or “homeroom”) would have it’s own seats, and we’d go there. When I was luckily put in Mal Goodman’s advisory my junior year, I was with such a good group of people that we’d usually whisper among ourselves when something in an assembly sparked a comment – I’d say something to David, David would offer it to Sam, who’d offer it to Gideon, who’d offer it to Larry, etc, etc, etc. Like during Senior year, when someone we all knew came back from her freshman year in college to do an assembly on world hunger.

She mentioned something about being able to feed people, if only we’d shut down the US military for two weeks! David, who can sometimes be more hawkish than I think he’d like to admit, and I looked at each other and passed along a few choice comments about that (understand, this was before the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union was still very much an ominous enemy to the East).

What’s interesting about Fieldston students is their response to such things – and I guess here is where Fieldston might have missed the boat. Yes, Fieldston should have offered a pro-Israel perspective in their assembly. And yes, they are probably right that the issue is much too complex to be solved within a 40 minute assembly program – or even adequately considered. So a longer half-day program might be more appropriate (and I say, “might” – after all, are there other issues that are important to other people at Fieldston that those people might want to spend half-days having the school discuss?).

But the administration can’t be so cavalier about canceling the event and then be surprised at the response. They can’t have it both ways – you want your students to be critical, then you should expect the following:

That if your students think that a program is less-than-scholarly, that they’re going to say something;

That if you respond to less than their satisfaction; they’re going to say something;

What’s more, they’re going to do so in a myriad of ways, and do it prominently.

It’s like the time we had an assembly with a band. The band invited students to dance on the stage and in the aisles. A few authority figures took exception to this, and began to re-seat those students who were dancing. Then, when the assembly was over, one of the students who had been re-seated took the opportunity to walk up to the mike on stage, to thank the band for coming, and to thank the administrators for their fascism.

He was suspended for that, which then prompted a number of students to put up posters denouncing the police state (I still applaud you for your quick thinking and quick wit, JB).

So those are my thoughts. Yes, they’re all over the place. But then again, I’m a Fieldston alumnus, and was educated to see a variety of sides to an issue.

- Andrew Langer