Oh Deliciously Deadly Trans Fats!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

We know the stuff in them will inevitably kill us, but who doesn't occasionally indulge in a handful of hot and crispy French fries or a box of icy-glazed donuts? New York doesn't care if you do, just as long as those delectable treats don't contain any artery-clogging trans fats by July 1 of the new year. Is this law against trans fats necessary?

As a follower of the trans fat threat long before it became a widely known fact that said hydrogenated oils are potentially worse than saturated fats, I knew it would be a matter of time before they would be legally unwelcome in public restaurants.

But even as the first city to ban trans fats in public establishments, NYC is hardly the driving force behind the movement to eliminate trans in the food we consume. When the public became aware of trans fats a few years back, companies began finding new ways to prepare their products without compromising taste - and with much success.

Can you tell the difference between an Oreo today and one you enjoyed five years ago? How about a Doritos chip? Did you even know a difference existed? With companies making the transition on their own why are city legislators trying to get involved when they clearly don't have to?

Universal followed Disney having just announced that hey will begin phasing out trans fats from there theme park menus in 2007. Before you know it you won't be able to find a product with trans fats anywhere.

The point is that government intervention is not always necessary. When it does step in the consequences can be worse than the problem it tries to resolve. In an effort to protect the public from the dangers of secondhand smoke, countless restaurants and businesses found themselves closing down after devastating smoking-bans sent smokers home early with fuller wallets.

In Florida the law is extremely tough on restaurant owners and one friend of mine in particular really felt the crunch. Apparently Florida legislators and those in other states believe they should be able to decide how private restaurants should be run, even though no one is ever forced to go into one and inhale secondhand smoke. You know what you're getting into when you venture into an establishment frequented by smokers.

Similarly, you know what you're doing every time you chomp into a greasy hamburger. And by all means if that's what you want to do then you should be allowed to do it. Fortunately companies are smoothly switching from trans fats to healthier oils with not much of a cost adjustment, and patrons are hardly noticing.

Most are doing it voluntarily, and so far the NYC trans fat ban hasn't resulted in any businesses closing down. But we should not be comfortable with the government prying itself into the restaurant industry. Now it's a trans-fat ban, but what will it be tomorrow? Portion restrictions, carb limits? I wouldn't be surprised by any of it.

The Impact of Buttons

Saturday, December 16, 2006

In a somewhat surprising 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals erred when it ordered a new trial for a murder defendant whose victim's relatives wore buttons with the victim's picture on them at his trial.

The Ninth Circuit believed Mathew Musladin was denied his right to a fair trial because the buttons were prejudicial, and because they were in plain view of the jury, the said buttons may have influenced the jury's verdict.

Without deciding if the buttons could have indeed had that effect, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision because the Ninth Circuit didn't apply a legal principle the Supreme Court had adopted.

In a way the High Court dodged the issue because it didn't set a clear principle or standard for wearing buttons at a defendant's trial. The likely reason is because the opinion's author - polarizing Justice Clarence Thomas - might not have had enough votes on his side had he tried to convince them that it's reasonable in most or all circumstances to wear buttons at a defendant's trial.

Instead, Justice Thomas utilized the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which states that a writ of habeas corpus "shall not be granted" by a federal court unless a state court issued a decision "that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States."

Taking that avenue the justices determined that the Ninth Circuit was wrong in granting habeas corpus because the state court that tried and convicted Musladin didn't run contrary to federal law.

Musladin was convicted in 1994 of killing his estranged wife's boyfriend, Tom Studer. At his trial, Musladin's lawyer objected to the buttons that were worn by the victim's family. The judge however, said the buttons presented "no possible prejudice to the defendant."

A California appeals court agreed and upheld the conviction because they saw the buttons as nothing more than a sign of "normal grief" by the family. The first federal court to look at the case also upheld the conviction, until it finally got thrown out when it got to the predictably liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco.

I am positive Justice Thomas would have written a broader decision if he could have that would have permitted buttons at trials because victims' relatives have a right to grieve in public. The decision to wear those buttons should be allowed if they aren't prejudicing the jury or influencing the outcome of the trial.

But waiting in the wings were Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy and David H. Souter who wrote separately and did not sign Justice Thomas's opinion because they wanted to explore the possibility that such buttons could be a problem in the courtroom.

With Justice Kennedy being viewed as the critical swing vote on a lot of cases that stand 4-4 before his vote, the more conservative justices such as Thomas have to be careful in their writings if they don't want to lose him. And in the attempt to appease Justice Kennedy the justices sometimes have to write narrowly enough to also satisfy the remaining members of the court.

Should the Supreme Court eventually get to decide if wearing buttons in court is permissible? I see no problem with them. A jury is going to see the grieving family anyway, and if that doesn't influence their verdict I don't see how the addition of an attached button is going to either.

You can read the decision here.

And They're Back

Friday, December 15, 2006

And just like that the boneheaded decision to take down the “Holiday” trees at Sea-Tac airport was reversed:

SEATAC, Wash. (AP) -- Christmas trees are going back up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Pat Davis, president of the Port of Seattle commission, which directs airport operations, said late Monday that maintenance staff would restore the 14 plastic holiday trees, festooned with red ribbons and bows, that were removed over the weekend because of a rabbi's complaint that holiday decor did not include a menorah.
This is of course good news. Airports are hardly a cheery place to be at - especially on Christmas Eve/Day -- and the inclusion of a few harmless plastic trees symbolizing the most popular holiday on Earth is a sensible way to brighten the mood.

Fry Mumia

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Michelle Malkin reminds us that 25 years ago today Mumia Abu-Jamal, an Islam convert, shot and killed a Philadelphia police officer in cold blood and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death. The death sentence was later thrown out on appeal but Abu-Jamal remains in prison serving a life term.

For reasons that still boggle my mind Abu-Jamal is a celebrated hero with a street named after him in the French city of St. Denis. I guess being a member of the Black Panther Party automatically makes you a political prisoner, but in my mind he's just another dirt bag off our streets.

Not a Merry Christmas in the Skies

Unfortunately this Christmas I will be one of countless Americans having to spend part of it in the sky, but the good news is I won't be going through Sea-Tac Airport which has caved in to the demands of a few citizens who didn't like the presence of "Holiday" trees in the airport because they didn't "represent all cultures and religions."

Having to fly on Christmas alone will be depressing enough for some people, and now they will be robbed of the last sense of the holidays because Sea-Tac has taken down its trees down indefinitely. So anybody who wants to say there is no War on Christmas is obviously not paying any attention to stories like this.

I will personally do my part and raise a complaint or two if the airports I'm at on Christmas are as bare as Sea-Tac.