Highway 431 Blog

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Cold And Blustery Tuesday Evening ::

I am more than ready for spring this year, but I have noticed that the Ironweed seems to be blooming a bit earlier than usual. I had to run down to Guntersville Sunday and on the way back I stopped to shoot this photograph of an Ironweed pasture:

I know that this stuff drives a lot of people crazy although it has never really bothered me and it dies quickly when warm weather finally comes. It is easily killed with an application of liquid weed killer and you don't even need anything very expensive. The cheapest should more than suffice!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

60 Minutes: The Siegelman Story: Tin Foil Hat Time ::

I had to run out for a while and knew that I would miss the first part of 60 minutes so I set the TiVo to record the entire program. Surprise, surprise, surprise: seems there was a technical glitch (so they say) with CBS programming out of New York. Yeah, right! Here is a blurb from WHNT's web site:

We apologize that you missed the first segment of 60 Minutes tonight featuring "The Prosecution of Don Siegelman."

It was a techincal problem with CBS out of New York. We are working with them right now to see if we can re-broadcast the segment.

Please be patient with us during this time. We are doing our best to correct the problem.

I'll be calling WHNT first thing tomorrow morning, but I imagine that if this program is rebroadcast then it will be very late at night with little, if any, publicity.

I just sent WHNT's programming department an e-mail urging a re-broadcast in prime time and I will follow up with a telephone call tomorrow morning. The number is: (256) 533-1919. Make your voice heard!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse Tonight ::

We have some cloud cover, but it looks like that may be clearing up some. Don't forget to watch. I will be breaking out the binoculars for a better view and I'm hoping to see Saturn. In North Alabama the eclipse should start at around 7:43 pm.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Wit And Wisdom Of Charles Barkley ::

Barkley quotes lifted from a post at King of Zembla:

On racism: "Any time something bad happens to a black person because of racism, I feel it in my soul. I really do. You take the Abner Louima case. That let me know one thing: If some white guys wanted to stick a plunger up a black guy's butt, and I'm the black guy who happened to be around, I'd have a plunger up my butt."

On Saddam Hussein: "I think he's still alive. . . . Look at Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein - they used to both work for the United States and now they're enemies. That's part of the hypocrisy that goes on here."

On the flak celebrities get for their anti-war beliefs: "That's part of the hypocrisy that goes on when you're in the limelight - if you say something, you're anti-American or unpatriotic or too liberal. We're all free to say what we want to, but if you ever forget your place, we'll put you back in your place."

On politics: "Politics is too corrupt," Barkley said. "You know how you can tell politics is corrupt? President Bush is going to raise $250 million for a job that pays $400,000. Now tell me there isn't something wrong there?"

On his priority in life: "My No. 1 priority is to help poor people. In this country, 90% of the money is controlled by 10% of the people, and that's not right."

I wonder if Sir Charles is still considering a run for the governorship of Alabama? That would be a hoot!

A Video Shot In Lynchburg ::

This is what supporters of Obama will face:

Ignorance must surely be bliss!

Huntsville Art Blog ::

I have planned to add The Huntsville Art Blog to the links for some time but my mind kept wandering. If you wish to find out what is happening in the arts community around Huntsville and North Alabama be sure and book mark it.

When I lived in Atlanta I became one of the first members of The Atlanta Photography Group which is a non-profit co-operative effort. We had a modest gallery space in midtown Atlanta and offered members a venue for displaying their work. I was hoping that something such as this would develop in Huntsville, but so far I have been disappointed.

The APG is now located in the Tula Arts Center on Bennett Street in Atlanta. Visit it if you're going to be in Atlanta and see what the developing young photographers are producing.

Friday, February 15, 2008

International Space Station/Shuttle Viewing For Tonight ::

The two are linked and will be flying over North Alabama at 6:50PM.
They will approach from 10 degrees above the Northwest horizon and depart at 22 degrees over the North northeast horizon. The maximum elevation will be 81 degrees so it will be high in the sky. The maximum visibility duration is 3 minutes.

Look for a bright light moving really fast. Tomorrow and Sunday should also present good viewing opportunities and I will post that information later.

Go out and look for it if you can, especially if you live in an area that is not troubled by city lights.

[edit] I started working on something else and totally forgot about checking, but we're pretty overcast this evening and I doubt if there was any chance of my seeing the fly-by.

[further edit] I just noticed that I hammered the title of this post which I have belatedly corrected. I am generally obsessive about proofreading what I write, but I obviously fell down on the job with this post!

John Lewis Now For Obama ::

Representative John Lewis, an elder statesman from the civil rights era and one of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s most prominent black supporters, said Thursday night that he planned to cast his vote as a superdelegate for Senator Barack Obama in hopes of preventing a fight at the Democratic convention.

“In recent days, there is a sense of movement and a sense of spirit,” said Mr. Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who endorsed Mrs. Clinton last fall. “Something is happening in America, and people are prepared and ready to make that great leap.”

Mr. Lewis, who carries great influence among other members of Congress, disclosed his decision in an interview in which he said that as a superdelegate he could “never, ever do anything to reverse the action” of the voters of his district, who overwhelmingly supported Mr. Obama.

This is a huge endorsement of Obama and makes me wonder if Joe Reed will continue to endorse Hillary!

[update] This story is still evolving and be less a personal endorsement of Obama by John Lewis than it is his ethical resolve to accede to the votes of his constituency. Either way I see nothing but positive vibes for Obama.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Serving Subpoenas ::

And hoping for some answers! Here are some snippets from an editorial in todays New York Times:

Alberto Gonzales may be out, but the country is still waiting for a full accounting of how he and his White House patrons cynically politicized the Justice Department. Congress is rightly asking questions about the actions of yet another United States attorney: New Jersey’s Christopher J. Christie. The House also needs to stop procrastinating and vote to hold witnesses in contempt for refusing to testify in the wider scandal.


Some of the people who likely know the most about the role politics has played in the Bush Justice Department have defied Congressional subpoenas to testify. Joshua Bolten, the White House chief of staff, and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, contend that they are protected from testifying by executive privilege. That is not enough. They have a legal obligation to appear before Congress and plead that privilege to specific questions.

The House Judiciary Committee voted in July to hold Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers in contempt. The House’s Democratic leadership has been trying to figure out the pros and cons ever since. The public needs to hear the testimony of these officials (along with Karl Rove, who is also refusing to appear), and the full House should vote as quickly as possible to hold them in contempt.

Thankfully the case of Don Siegelman does not go unnoticed:

The stakes are high. There are people in jail today, including a former governor of Alabama, who have raised credible charges that they were put there for political reasons. Congress’s constitutionally guaranteed powers are also at risk. If Congress fails to enforce its own subpoenas, it would effectively be ceding its subpoena power. It would also be giving its tacit consent to the dangerous idea of an imperial president — above the law and beyond the reach of checks and balances.

The founders did not want that when they wrote the Constitution, and the voters who elected this Congress do not want it today.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Nasty Wreck ::

Usually I go to and from work on Hobbs Island Road and there was an especially nasty wreck there at about 4:30pm today. It was at the only spot on the entire road where traffic could be routed around the accident, but as I approached the scene one LifeFlight helicopter was lifting off and there was another taking on accident victims. I am not one to gawk at accident scenes, although I will chase a firetruck, so I don't know what happened. I have driven Hobbs Island Road for years and I have always considered it to be one of the most dangerous roads I have been on but this accident happened on what should have been the safest stretch of the entire road.

I continue to be amazed at the impatience of drivers wherever they are on the road.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Home Construction In Madison County ::

I have been following the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and the effects of the lending collapse nationwide for some time and I'm curious about several things regarding the local housing economy.

Each day I drive by several relatively large developments: some well under construction and others just beginning. These are in south Huntsville. Every few weeks I drive up Martin Road from Redstone Arsenal into Madison and there are several very large developments going in there. Meridianville, the Hampton Cove area, and Gurley are also experiencing rapid growth. I just can't see the influx of BRAC employees justifying this housing boom and I'm wondering just how long this is sustainable. Even down in New Hope, where I live, there are several smaller housing developments going in.

I also wonder how many of these new homes are "spec homes", or those built with the hopes that someone will buy just before or after they're finished. Before his death my stepfather was a building contractor. At times we would build a spec house, but most of what we did was contracting for an individual. This was, of course, many years ago and these days the building industry is dominated by large companies who have learned the benefits of scale. I have a feeling that Madison County is about to be hit hard by the housing bust.

Around New Year I was talking with a friend who paints and hangs wallpaper and she is beginning to see a downturn or, at least, a slowdown already. Most foreclosure sales are listed in the Huntsville Times and I glance over them occasionally. I noticed that this past Wednesday there were 2 smaller local builders with several foreclosures listed. This doesn't bode well for the local housing industry!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Karl Rove→Bob Riley→Birmingham News→Sue Schmitz

Scott Horton has a new article up this morning in his continuing chronicle of how the Riley administration plans to bring the Alabama legislature back into Republican control. I should have thrown Alice Martin into the headline somewhere, but she will become a prominent enough player as we go along. (Any emphasis added throughout is mine)

Bob Riley has a dilemma. He has one major objective to achieve to conclude his term as governor of Alabama, and that is to put the state’s legislature in Republican hands. And he has two key allies in this struggle, determined to facilitate his struggle. The first are two key Newhouse newspapers, the Mobile Press-Register and the Birmingham News. The publishers of both are fully committed to the success of his campaign for a Republican legislature. The second is Alice Martin, the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham who figures high on the list of what Kyle Sampson called the “loyal Bushies” and who has a well-documented penchant for political prosecutions and a well-articulated desire for elected office or a judgeship.

Horton gives a short history how the 2 year Alabama college system and its employees who also serve in state government have become the path for the Republicans to take back control of the legislature and, eventually, where Sue Schmitz fits into all of this. Apparently there are 33 employees of the 2 year college system serving in the state legislature, but 30 of them are Democrats. If Rove, Riley and cronies (sounds like a law firm, doesn't it?)can hound some or all of these out of office then there is a good chance that the legislature would once again be in Republican hands. Complicit in their plans are the Newhouse owned newspapers here in Alabama, specifically The Birmingham News.

Riley and his team reason, if they can take out this group, they will accomplish their objective of crafting a new G.O.P. legislature. Hence the hew and cry of “double dipping” pursued in perfect concert between Riley, the Birmingham News and Alice Martin. Of course, legislators who teach in universities and 4-year colleges arguably face the same issues. And indeed, so do doctors, lawyers, accountants, insurance men–professionals who may regularly sell their services to the state–or even car dealers, like Bob Riley. Why aren’t we discussing them as well? There’s a simple answer to that undeniably logical question: run the numbers and look at the party affiliations of those involved. You’ll see that it wouldn’t serve the objective of creating a Republican legislature to push the question so far. So two-year colleges is just fine, thank you.

Here's a portion of an editorial as published by the Birmingham News and reproduced in the Harpers article:

State Rep. Sue Schmitz faces criminal charges in connection with a paycheck she collected for more than three years in Alabama’s two-year college system. State Rep. Sue Schmitz’s arrest in the two-year college scandal may or may not end in a criminal conviction. But even at this early stage in the process, Schmitz’s legal problems should serve as notice to current and future members of the Legislature: A legislative seat is not a license to steal.

So, just who is this master criminal deserving of federal prosecution?

Sue Schmitz is a 63-year-old retired social studies teacher. She was dragged from her home before the break of dawn. Her husband was forced to stand outside shirtless in the cold while a team of federal agents drags this woman, a respected member of the community, from her bathroom, tearing her flesh in the process so that she left her home dripping blood. All of this was done as part of a conscious attempt to humiliate and shame her, steps directed by Alice Martin. And steps in which the News now joins cause.

What are the charges against her? That she did not adequately perform on a contract she had with a non-governmental organization to support a civics education project.


This woman is viewed as a pillar of her community, is the recipient of a long list of awards and distinctions for her selfless and outstanding teaching work. You won’t read any of that in the News, either. And they don’t tell you that this woman, whom they would have you believe is a parasite and a leach, in fact worked her heart out on programs for disadvantaged kids for no compensation whatsoever over a period of many years.

This article follows on the heels of CBS's 60 minutes delaying, at best, airing its story on the Siegelman prosecution. There are differing opinions on whether or not the Siegalman story was merely delayed or killed, but the prosecution of both Siegelman and Sue Schmitz are getting some national play on the blogs, at least.

The Left Coaster has a blurb up this morning on the Harpers article I have quoted from. Left In Alabama has more, and Glynn Wilson over at The Locust Fork Journal adds to the 60 Minutes story.

[update] Oops,I forgot The Legal Schnauzer. He's all over this story also! Sorry!

I look forward to seeing how The Huntsville Times, also a Newhouse daily newspaper, chooses to report this story, but I think the editors will do what they do best and bury it as much as possible letting the Birmingham News lead the way.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Obama Wins Madison County ::


This is about what I had expected, but I still find it fascinating. I was curious about the turnout and it looks like only around 39,000 or so voted Democratic in the Madison County primary. Given the hype and excitement of this election cycle I would have thought that the turnout would have been much larger. Curious!

Off to find the Republican numbers. (we're having a thunderstorm here and where I live in the county has notoriously bad power-it's already winked off once!).

Yep, there went the power.

The Republican race was much closer


That's with roughly 40,000 voting in the Republican primary so their turnout pretty much mirrored the Democrats.

One surprising thing to me is the ability of Ron Paul's supporters to raise money, but his campaign cannot seem to raise supporters.

[update] I posted these numbers from CNN this morning. I have since seen some that give Clinton a few more % points and Obama a few less. I don't know which numbers are correct, but the final results still stand. Obama by a bunch!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Election Night At 8:30 PM ::

I'm curious about why CNN hasn't called Alabama for Barack given that he has a huge lead. Both he and Hillary have been given other states with much narrower margins.

Nationally I'm surprised at how badly Ron Paul is doing. I think the largest % I have seen for him is 7 and most of the states he is hovering around 4 to 5%. Tonight should be the end of him and Huckleberry!

Primary Voting ::

I went over to my polling place which happens to be city hall in downtown New Hope and J. and I cast our ballots at about 4:30pm. The turnout seemed to be pretty good, and I'm looking forward to the results from this precinct.

I was in a small local store last summer and one of the local residents came in just ranting and raving about what a miserable failure George Bush and his entire administration was. I was taken aback as I had expected just the opposite from this small rural community, but, as it turned out, we had a lively discussion and everyone in the store was in agreement that Bush was driving us down a one-way road to disaster!

Gave me faith in the intelligence of my fellow man!

Plan Now For Upcoming Events! ::

A friend called a short while ago with news of the upcoming Alabama Chicken and Egg Festival at the Lions Club fairground in Moulton. I had never heard of this festival before, but the musical guests this year are supposed to be Webb Wilder and Pure Prairie League. I may have to make the trip as I'm a big Webb fan and wouldn't mind at all seeing Pure Prairie League. I try to live by the Webb Wilder Credo:

Monday, February 4, 2008

Alabama's Tuesday Primary ::

Like many I was a John Edwards supporter and was mightily disappointed when he dropped out although I can understand why he made this choice. I struggled to make a decision on who to support in tomorrows primary, but I finally decided on Barack Obama. I was at the grand opening of his local headquarters, before Edwards dropped out, and I was very impressed by the energy of his support and the depth of his organization.

There are things I disagree with on his platform, but I have decided that he will be best to lead us into the morass that will be the undoing of 8 years of the criminal Bush administration.

My prediction is that Obama will win big in Alabama tomorrow!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Sue Schmitz Story

Has been picked up over at The Left Coaster. I haven't checked any of the other blogs this morning, but I'm hoping this will get huge play!

[I had done a long update to this post, but it seems to have disappeared into the cyber-ether, so I'm going to try to recreate what I had to say as best I can)

The Sue Schmitz tale is beginning to get wider play and Susie Madrak led me to the story as told by Scott Horton over at Harpers:

The morning calm in the small Alabama town of Toney, located near Huntsville, was broken at 6:15 a.m. yesterday morning. A team of five FBI agents, accompanied by a prison matron, pounded on the door. When the man of the house answered, he was forced into the yard, shirtless in the early morning cold. The team had come for his wife, Sue Schmitz. She was dragged out of her bathroom, where she was taking a shower, handcuffed, breaking her flesh and scraping her wrists, and hustled off to prison.

Who was this threat to the community? Sue Schmitz is a diminutive, 63-year-old retired social studies teacher who has lived in the town for 38 years, roughly 20 of them as a civics teacher. She is loved in the community and among her students is legendary for her passion for civics and her outreach to the disadvantaged. The dream of her life was to let the fire of civic spirit catch on in communities and among families on the margin of society, where the danger of drug abuse and criminality are the highest. She dedicated her life to it. She launched a program called “We the People,” designed to build civic spirit and interest in participatory democracy among school children. And Sue Schmitz’s advocacy of civic engagement led directly to her conflict with U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, who considers it to be criminal. But one other fact figures directly in this drama. Schmitz is a Democratic member of the state legislature.

The U.S. Attorneys office in Alabama seems to be focused on prosecuting Democrats during state election cycles and Sue Schmitz is their latest sacrificial lamb. Here is a bit more:

And today we see the typical pincer movement involving the Alabama G.O.P. election campaign’s third arm, the U.S. Attorney’s office. Specifically, Alice Martin, the sometime U.S. Attorney, sometime G.O.P. candidate for elective office. Martin fully understands the benefit to the party and its election efforts of criminal prosecutions being commenced that target elected Democrats, are geared carefully to the election cycle, and are hyped extensively to the party media apparatus. And yesterday, as Sue Schmitz was dramatically dragged from her home in Toney, Alice Martin went before the press with an announcement which will feature prominently in Republican campaign literature for the coming years. She announced an indictment that Blackledge signaled, with his usual perfect clairvoyance in all things prosecutorial, was in the works months back.

Here is how the AP characterizes the charges:

The indictment claims Schmitz made as much as $53,403 annually as a program coordinator despite rarely showing up and doing virtually nothing for the money.

Schmitz was charged with mail fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine, and fraud involving a program receiving federal funds, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000.

Schmitz is scheduled to enter a plea during a hearing set for Feb. 11 in Huntsville. She was the latest in a string of state officials swept up in a joint federal-state investigation of the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education.

Oh yeah, the same AP story chronicles what Sue Schmitz is best known for in the legislature:

Legislatively, Schmitz is best known for introducing a bill to give Alabama a new official insect by replacing the monarch butterfly with the queen honey bee. The measure passed the House but died on the final days of the 2005 session.

And just who is U.S. Attorney Alice Martin? Well, she was at the forefront of the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman and she seems to have some ethical problems of her own. Again, from Scott Horton:

U.S. Attorney Martin seems to have a problem with the truth. She’s currently under investigation for giving perjured testimony in connection with an employment litigation. I lay out the details of the accusations against her, which are quite compelling, here. However, Martin serves at the pleasure of the president, and, as comedian Jon Stewart would say, it clearly pleasures him for her to continue to serve. And it pleasures Karl Rove and the G.O.P. state organizers even more.

The emphasis above is mine. I have a feeling this is going to be a high profile prosecution and I hope someone will start a defense fund because I have a feeling that Sue Schmitz is going to need all of the help she can get!

I almost forgot this little bit of theater from the arrest courtesy of what passes for the Huntsville Times web presence:

The legislator worked for a prevention program for troubled youth based at the college from January 2003 until October 2008. During at least part of that time, she also sat on the House Education Appropriations Committee.

That committee wields considerable power over the budget of her employer, although it isn't clear at this point to what extent, if any, she was active in deciding the school's budget.

As for the claim that the prosecutor could have tipped the press if she wanted to humiliate Schmitz, at least one other reason for not doing so seems as likely. Pictures of the tiny woman in handcuffs might have generated sympathy for Schmitz and criticism of Martin.

"I can't see where she has committed any crime," Watson said Friday.

Ironically, Schmitz was arrested on the same day she planned to go to Montgomery with a group of high school students to participate in the government study program "We the People."

After signing her bond, she traveled to Montgomery to join her students. When she got there, Schmitz and the students definitely had something to talk about.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Representative Sue Schmitz Indicted And Arrested ::

I have been kinda following this 2 year college probe for the past couple of years, but I am clueless about what this is actually about, but I'm beginning to wonder if it is nothing more or less than a witch hunt started at the behest of the U.S. Attorney, Alice Martin since only Democrats seem to be targeted.

The Legal Schnauzer has a bit more. I'm going to excerpt some of his comments, but I urge you to go to his blog and savor his take on this:

I haven't seen the full indictment, and I look forward to checking it out so I can better understand what could make a 63-year-old retired social-studies teacher a federal criminal. But according to a quote from Martin in one news report, the indictment is based partly on the fact that Schmitz allegedly "generated virtually no work product."

Don't know about you, but I know all kinds of people who generate virtually no work product. They are called managers. If we are going to indict all of them, we'd better start a serious program to build more courthouses and prisons.

My tongue is bleeding after reading The Legal Schnauzer's take on the work output of managers!

Breaking For Obama ::

Or at least that will be my vote, as well as J's, in the Tuesday primary. Since Edwards pulled out I have been severely conflicted about which candidate to support in the primary although J has been unwavering in her support for Obama. I still have my concerns, but I would really like to ride the wave of change both in Alabama and in America. Neither Obama nor Clinton convince me on their plan for what is my major concern which is universal health care, but I can see the kernel which could grow into a true universal health care package. I am just not convinced that either of these candidates truly care enough to make it happen, but we'll see.

So it's Barack Obama for me and J. Whatever your political persuasion I urge every reader to get out and vote on Tuesday, February 5, 2008. Let's make our voice heard!