Monday, April 30, 2012

How Do You Kill 11 Million People?

           Talk about a provocative title.  I can’t claim it; it’s lifted from a work from the best-selling author, Andy Andrews.  If you are not familiar with Andy’s work, then we have something in common.  As I understand it, there are two big reasons why you and I should both become more familiar with Andy’s efforts.  1) He’s a New York Times Bestselling Author.  2) He’s local, at least if you are reading this in Alabama. 

            In one of his latest works, How Do You Kill 11 Million People?, the Orange Beach native begins by explaining his purpose: to write something that can present a serious point in less than 15 minutes – and to do so in a way that everyone, conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, can agree with.  In today’s political culture, getting everyone to agree that rain is wet can be a difficult task, so Andy has his work cut out for him.

            The book presents a sobering depiction of what led to the genocide of so many people during Hitler’s evil Holocaust, with a focus not on the methodologies used or the psychological makeup of Hitler himself, but, instead, with a focus on the victims.  You’ll have to read the book for a better understanding of this, but he draws excellent and, at the same time, frightening parallels between the naïveté of the Holocaust victims and that of citizens of our country.  While not exactly a “call to arms,” his book is a challenge to us all as Americans. 

            While conservatives and liberals may all generally agree with the premise set forth, the current political leaders in control of our country most assuredly will not. 

            If you haven’t bought the book already, you should.  It is very short and you can easily read it in one sitting.  It’s available at all bookstores,, etc.  Here is a link to his website:, where the book is also available, and where you can learn more about Andy Andrews and his work.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Is "Obamacare" Destined for a Quick Death?

            If you weren’t aware of it, the United States Supreme Court recently took up the issue of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, affectionately known as Obamacare.  One of the major aspects at issue is whether the federal government can require individuals, like you and me, to purchase health insurance, or face a stiff penalty for the failure to do so.  This is called the “individual mandate.”  This provision has become the most important and talked about part of the controversial legislation. 

The liberal viewpoint argues that the “common good” is promoted by the mandate because the uninsured are just as likely to get sick or injured as the insured, and they either delay seeking medical treatment to avoid the costs, which only makes treatment more costly down the road, or they fill the emergency rooms, receiving treatment on the taxpayer dime anyways.  Many liberals also argue that healthcare is a fundamental right of Americans, much like the freedom of speech, religion, etc.

The conservative viewpoint argues that individual liberties and responsibilities are at the core of our country’s values and the federal government has no constitutional grounds for requiring a private citizen to purchase anything he or she doesn’t want to purchase.  Further, this viewpoint states that we all have a responsibility to plan for the inevitable “oh, crap!” moments that we face, such as illness or injury. 

My personal opinion on Obamacare may appear in a future post (perhaps leading up to the Supreme Court ruling this summer), but I will briefly state that I am, by default, skeptical of most actions of the federal government.  Not all actions, but most.  Never before has a citizen been required by the government to buy anything, and such a requirement seems to be a constitutional no-no to me.  (And before you bring up mandatory automobile liability insurance, nobody requires that you drive a car, just that you purchase liability insurance if you choose to do so.)

So the Supreme Court is comprised of 9 Justices.  Typically, 4 are safely in the conservative camp, 4 comfortably in the liberal camp, and then there is Justice Kennedy.  While he tends to lean more conservative, he has certainly been that “swing vote” either way on a number of decisions, and the opponents’ oral arguments are often influential on his ultimate decision.   In the recent oral arguments on Obamacare, Kennedy seemed unimpressed with the Obama Administration’s argument, inquiring “when you are changing the relation of the individual to the government in this…do you not have a heavy burden of justification to show authorization under the Constitution?”  Justice Kennedy goes on to say “the reason this is concerning is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act.

I know what you’re thinking – this Kennedy fella made the same argument as this Slam the Gavel blogger, about requiring the individual to do an affirmative act (buy something).  Blogger must be a legal scholar or something.  Well, maybe that’s not what you’re thinking, but you should be thinking that Kennedy’s comments may spell doom for Obamacare. 

Has a College Football Playoff Finally Arrived?

            News comes out today that all of the major NCAA conference commissioners are on board with installing a 4-team playoff, sometimes called a “plus-one” system, in college football.  I have never had a beef with the current BCS system.  To me, it has worked every time.  At the end of every season, I feel like the best team in the country takes home the crystal ball. 

            However, after a decade of critics (mostly made up of sore-loser conferences) bashing the system for its “inequities,” the last of the playoff opponents are now on board, mainly because they realize the SEC will continue to dominate the field until college football changes its rules.  Kind of like letting your little brother get a head start just to make it a fair race, the SEC has been more than willing to move away from a system in which it has brought home the hardware 6 straight years.  But the SEC’s little brother, the Big Ten conference, has refused to discuss the playoff possibility – until now.

            The proposed system will essentially make the last 3 games “playoff games,” with 2 semi-final games, and a championship game between the winners.  Not yet decided is whether the 4 teams participating in this system would be the top 4 BCS ranked teams, the conference champions from the top 4 conferences, or some other arbitrary assignment.  Also yet to be determined, is whether the university presidents, who I believe have the final say on these matters, will go along with the change at all.

What do you think?  Do we need a change to the current system and is this the solution?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Legal Documents That Every (Responsible) Adult Should Have

If you are like most people, you probably don't give a lot of thought as to end-of-life or what I will call "special circumstances" documents.  Most of us are busy enough worrying over work, getting kids to little-league practice, and unfortunately for many, figuring out how to pay this month's bills.  We often believe that we will have time down the road to take care of things like our Will, Living Will, etc.  However, while death and taxes are both certainties, we only know the due date for one. Because of this, it is important that we plan accordingly now, so that we, and those we leave behind, may enjoy the blessings of the future.  Here are three legal documents that every adult should have, and a couple of others that may be useful, in special circumstances. 

Will (or more formally, Last Will & Testament)

Most people without a will cite one of two reasons.  First, they argue that they don’t have much in the bank and they don’t own any property so there is nothing to “give away.”  A will’s primary function may indeed be to devise and dispose of the deceased’s (testator’s) property, but there are other important functions of a will.  Most importantly, if there is a minor child of the testator, unless the will names a guardian to take over the parental duties of that child, a court-battle could ensue.  The simple act of having a will and naming a guardian within that will, can save hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal fees, and more importantly, the heartache and strain a legal fight can cause for surviving family members and the child or children themselves. 

            Second, many believe that if they have no property and no children, a will serves no purpose.  However, what may be true today may not be true a year from now.  After getting married, having children, buying a house, or any of the other major life changes we encounter, the last thing people tend to do is run down to their attorney’s office and execute important legal documents.  They are busy enjoying their new lives.  By executing a will now, before those things happen, most future problems can be eliminated, even if you don’t know what property you may later acquire, or the name of your future wife or kids.  If nothing else, because of state law provisions and attorney fees, not having a will can cost your surviving loved ones substantially more in the event probating the estate becomes necessary.  Investing a couple hundred dollars now can save thousands after you’re gone. 

Living Will (or Advance Directive)

            Most of us remember the Terri Schiavo case from 2005.  After she fell into a prolonged vegetative state, her husband and parents fought in court over whether she should be taken off of life support.  After 7 years and 14 appeals, her feeding tube was finally removed for the final time and she passed away.  The reason I bring up Ms. Schiavo is to illustrate how a simple legal document could have saved some of the pain that both sides must have gone through in litigating this for so long.  The court wasn’t easily able to determine whether Ms. Shiavo would have wanted her feeding tube removed or not because she had never executed a Living Will.  This important document simply asks a series of questions about whether the signor wishes to receive certain life sustaining treatments in the event he or she is unable to speak for him or herself.  Everyone should have a Living Will.

Medical Power of Attorney/Healthcare Proxy

            This document is used to name a person that will be authorized to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.  Unlike the Living Will above, this is not just for permanently unconscious situations.  It may be used while suffering from a temporary ailment, which nonetheless, renders you unable to communicate with your doctor.  Everyone should have a document naming a healthcare proxy, and this can often be done within the same document as the Living Will. 

Durable Power of Attorney

            In 2012, Alabama passed and codified legislation radically changing many aspects of Power of Attorney (or POA) law.  POAs executed prior to 2012 are still valid, as long as they were valid under previous law.  But new POAs need to comply with this new legislation.  This document authorizes another person (called your agent) to handle your personal or business affairs, such as check and bank transactions, signing contracts, conveying real estate, executing income tax forms, etc.  It is possible to grant your agent a “general” power, allowing them to handle most matters on your behalf or any of several “specific” powers.  While POAs are an important tool for many people, they are not for everybody, and great care should be taken to avoid granting a POA to someone you do not trust completely.  By definition, you are giving great power over your life and finances to another person, and such a decision should not be taken lightly.

Trust Instrument

            Revocable and/or Irrevocable trusts can be an important aspect of your estate planning.  This is one of my “special circumstances” documents, and like the Power of Attorney above, may not be for everybody.  It is typically for somewhat wealthy individuals who are trying to avoid estate tax and probate implications associated with death.  Unfortunately, for most of us a trust may not be useful, however it is worth discussing with your attorney or estate planner.

Who am I?

I guess we are all a lot of things.  Some of us are husbands, some wives.  All of us are sons or daughters. Some are dads or moms, others of us are not.  Some of us are electricians, teachers, full-time moms, salesmen, or office workers.  I am a son (to Bobby & Susan Hornsby) and a husband (to the beautiful Aleicia Hornsby).  I also happen to be an attorney, or a lawyer, whichever label you prefer.  But no matter what we do for a living, we are human beings, complete with thoughts and opinions on things significant and insignificant.  Hence the existence of the Blog, I guess.  This is my first blog, and the idea of blogging kinda scares me.  While public speaking and falling off of tall buildings tend to be the most popular fears, most of us are equally afraid of being boring...of being totally incapable of captivating someone's interest and then keeping it for any duration of time. 

I hope that I can use this blog, for as long as it lasts, to do 2 things.  First, to provide insight into the legal areas that touch all of our lives, and hopefully point folks in the right direction as to how to treat certain legal obstacles or events.  Second, to conquer my fear of boring the reader so much that I quickly become the only person reading Slam The Gavel.  Given the subject matter of this blog, those two goals may not be compatible, however we will try.  In an effort to ease my burden, for every serious discussion on a legal aspect or Supreme Court decision, there will probably be multiple blogs on general news stories, such as the latest tribulations of Octomom, sports thoughts such as the struggles of Albert Pujols at the plate, and my suggestions of great books or TV shows, because don't we all love being told what to read and watch?