legal nuggets

The LA Times has a piece on the continuing controversy over the insanity defense. In Nevada, a young man who stabbed a friend without warning at a party and was acquitted by reason of insanity has been declared cured by his doctors after only ten months in a mental facility. Under Nevada law, he is now eligible for release.

In North Carolina, a former state Supreme Court justice has filed a lawsuit challenging the policy of granting large incentive packages to corporations so that they will locate in a given state. Justice Robert Orr claims that this practice violates the commerce clause, as it discriminates in favor of in-state activity. His complaint cited the 6th Circuit's ruling last year in Cuno v. DaimlerChrysler, which struck incentives granted to the corporation in 1998 to build a plant in Toledo.

Convicted murderer and Crips gang founder Stanley Williams has received the President's Call to Service award for his good deeds on death row. Williams has been an anti-gang activist during his many years on death row at San Quentin State Prison, where he was sent after being convicted in 1981 for killing four people.

Amnesty International is challenging the ongoing detention of two Yemeni men who were held and interrogated for 18 months without charges or any contact with the outside world. They are now being held in Yemeni prison, where prison officials say they have no reason for holding the men, other than the fact that it was a condition for their release from US detention.


David Gelernter, a computer science prof at Yale, wrote a guest column for the LA Times a few weeks ago calling for an end to affirmative action, and declaring that "[t]here are no more outsiders in American life." He also compared affirmative action to Vietnam, but I will leave that aside as too absurd (and demeaning) for comment. What wowed me about his column was his praise of Bush for nominating Roberts, a "garden-variety white male," which was apparently meant to be a beacon of hope to all those who thought discrimination still exists. The fact that Bush didn't nominate a minority means there is no more need to pay any attention to that, becuase there is no more discrimination! I must confess I have not yet achieved the good professor's lofty heights of logical reasoning.

You will perhaps not be shocked to learn that Gelenter is a white male who attended Yale as an undergrad, where presumeably he felt a little overwhelmed by legions of black and brown students pretty much running the show.


birth control illegal?

I have heard many friends say over the years that the other side would not have the nerve to go after birth control. Think again.

Republicans around the country are moving full steam ahead on their baby agenda. A bill recently introduced in Wisconsin prohibits University of Wisconsin campuses from prescribing, dispensing and advertising all forms of birth control and emergency contraceptives. That means college women, who are particularly susceptable to sexual assault, will be forced into extremely difficult circumstances.

Furthermore, pharmacists continue to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions.

Oh, and lest you think you are safe in California, New York or Massachusetts, consider this: If the Supreme Court rolls back Roe and/or Griswald, the Federal Congress will be free to render these things illegal across the country (under the strong reading of the commerce clause that we have promoted for so long). That means that this is in your back yard.

why isn't wal-mart cheaper?

This page offers suggestions to communities that want to organize against Wal-Mart. One thing I was not aware of is that Wal-Mart does not actually have the lowest prices around, and in some cases, far from it. Ever wonder why Wal-Mart doesn't just blow Costco out of the water with its prices? Costco, after all, pays its employees extremely well, whereas Wal-Mart has bravely cut back in that area. Here is an exerpt:
How does the number-one retailer maintain an image of low prices? First, by actually making sure its prices are lower than its competitors, at least on key items. These items are called "price-sensitive" items in the industry, and it is commonly believed that the average consumer knows the "going price" of fewer than 100 items. These tend to be commodities that are purchased frequently.

A mid-size Wal-Mart supercenter may offer for sale 100,000 separate items, or stock-keeping units (skus). Wal-Mart and other major retailers believe that the general public knows the going price of only 1 to 2 percent of these items. Therefore, each Wal-Mart store shops for the prices of only about 1,500 items in their competitors' stores. If it is ever found that a competitor has a lower price on one of these items than Wal-Mart, the store manager will immediately lower his or her price to be the lowest in the area.

Price-sensitive merchandise is displayed in prominent places such as the kiosk at the entrance to the store, as well as on end caps, in dump bins, and in gondolas down the main aisles. Consequently, when Wal-Mart customers see the items of which they know the price, the ones always priced lower in Wal-Mart, they start assuming that everything else is also priced lower than at competing stores. This assumption is simply not true.

My barber has offered me a simple example. He sells a nonbreakable pocket comb for 25 cents that he procures from his vendor for eight cents. Wal-Mart sells a lower-quality comb for 98 cents, and one would assume that Wal-Mart pays less for it than the barber does. People keep buying Wal-Mart combs, however, because the average person does not know the going price of a pocket comb, and it is automatically assumed that the Wal-Mart price is the lowest.

Costco, by the way, has been catching flak for being such a great employer. Wall street is miffed that their iron clad rules of market forces are not playing out. Costco responds to this investor talk by pointing out that it saves tens of millions of dollars by strong employee retention and satisfaction rates - it doesn't have to constaintly retrain new people, employees rarely steal, and everyone is happy and friendly. Sounds good to me...

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