June 30, 2004
Perry hedges on special session

I guess they aren't making all that much progress after all.

With state leaders still unable to agree on a new way to pay for the public schools, Gov. Rick Perry is dimming the prospects for another special session on education this summer.

He said legislators wrestling with the issue need to outline an agreement within the next few weeks or another session would be futile.

"If we can't agree on the major points by August, there's no reason to call Leo Berman (and other legislators) down to Austin," he said, referring to the Republican state representative from Tyler.

Perry spokesman Robert Black confirmed the remarks, published Tuesday in the Tyler Morning Telegraph. They were made Monday while the governor was in East Texas to announce some health center grants.

"I think the governor's sentiment hasn't changed. He wants to bring the Legislature back only if there is agreement among the leadership," Black said.

He said Perry would like to call a special session because he wants legislators to be able to focus on education and not be distracted by other issues.

"He's still hopeful. He's still optimistic something is going to happen. (But) the clock is ticking, no doubt -- at least in his mind it is," Black said.

Perry called the Legislature into special session April 20 despite a lack of agreement on key funding proposals, and it ended in failure four weeks later. There was strong support for reducing local school property taxes, but there were also strong differences over how to replace the lost revenue.

Many legislators, especially in the House, opposed the governor's proposal to legalize video lottery terminals, a form of slot machine, at racetracks and on Indian reservations. Perry opposed an expansion of business taxes, which was favored by many lawmakers.

Those key differences apparently remain, although until recently Perry had been strongly hinting he would call lawmakers back to Austin to try again later this summer.

Black said August was key because the Legislature had to complete work on any constitutional amendments during that month to have time to put them on the November ballot for voter review.

Several school-related proposals would require constitutional changes. They include the governor's proposal to set new limits on local property tax appraisals, the gambling plan and a statewide property tax, another potential funding source.

Black said the governor believes a comprehensive school solution would require a constitutional amendment. He left open the possibility, however, that Perry could call a special session in September or October for less comprehensive educational changes.

The Chron story, printed two days after the Tyler Morning Telegraph story, paints a more pessimistic picture than the original report.

During a Monday stop in Tyler to announce a grant for a local health center, Perry said a second special session on school finance is possible for later in the summer - but not definite.

"The end of August is really the deadline to get any questions we need to get before the voters on the (November) ballot," said Perry. "So I would think that late July or early August will be our only window of opportunity."

The date of a second special session has been in question since the first session broke down without a solution to the state's school finance dilemma. Though lawmakers seemed to agree that property taxes need to be cut and new funding sources identified, they couldn't agree on what those sources might be, or how best to replace the Robin Hood funding system.

Perry said he hopes that failure won't be repeated. He said he won't call a second session if lawmakers now meeting in Austin can't hammer out the basics in the next two to four weeks.

"If we can't agree on the major points by August, there's no reason to call Leo Berman (and other legislators) down to Austin," he said.

But he distanced himself from the disappointment of the first session.

"Like the old adage says, I can lead a horse to water," said Perry.

Well, at least we know that the Governor has a realistic assessment of his own leadership capabilities. With such small steps do we make progress. I can almost hear Kay Bailey Hutchison gearing up her campaign machine in the background.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Howard Stern coming to Houston airwaves

Well, well - I may have a new morning radio alternative.

NEW YORK -- Howard Stern announced today that his syndicated morning show would appear in nine new markets, including four where his show was axed by the nation's largest radio chain for alleged indecency.

Stern said his program would air on stations in Houston; San Diego; Tampa, Fla.; Pittsburgh; Orlando, Fla.; Austin, Texas; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Rochester, N.Y.; and Fresno, Calif., all owned by Infinity Broadcasting.

In Houston, Business Radio KIKK-AM (650) will air the Stern show beginning July 19. Clear Channel Communications suspended Stern in February and dropped the country's best-known shock jock from its stations in Rochester, Orlando, San Diego, Pittsburgh and two other markets after complaints by federal regulators.


Clear Channel, in dumping Stern, said it feared any continued association with the DJ and his raunchy show might led to losing their station licenses.

Joel Hollander, president and chief operating officer of Infinity, expressed his support for Stern.

"Howard has dominated the radio landscape for more than 20 years," Hollander said. Stern's listeners are "one of the most loyal audiences in radio who will no doubt embrace his return."

For years, Chron columnist Ken Hoffman would get asked by readers why Howard Stern was not on the Houston dials. His answer was always that KLOL's Stevens and Pruett filled that niche, and no other station was interested in competing for it. If nothing else, this is at least a recognition that the mouthbreathers who currently drool out KLOL's morning show are no Stevens and Pruett.

I haven't listened to Howard Stern on the radio since 1984, when I drove my grandmother's 1969 Nova, which at the time only had AM radio, to a crappy summer job in Staten Island's south shore. WNBC-AM 660 had Imus in the morning, Stern in the afternoon, and Soupy Sales in between. I may or may not tune in regularly to Stern now - frankly, it'll depend on how long their between-commercial programming breaks are, plus how sick I am of the music rotations on KKRW and KHPT - but I'll set a button to AM 650, and I'll check it out on the 19th.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Joel Steinberg goes free

Joel Steinberg, the man responsible for the awful, brutal death of his illegally adopted daughter Lisa Steinberg in 1987, will get out of jail today. I'm getting sick just thinking about it. (Please note: if you don't have a strong stomach, DO NOT follow that Crime Library link.) He spent sixteen years in jail, as his conviction was for first-degree manslaughter rather than murder. It's not enough. It never could have been enough.

The first-season Law and Order episode "Indifference" was based on this case; the producers started including those "Although inspired by true events..." disclaimers because of this one.

Via TalkLeft.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Sudan

This is a petition urging President Bush to take action against the ongoing genocide in the Sudan. I've signed it and I urge you to sign it as well.

That said, it's somewhat hard to imagine what exactly the United States can do other than tell them to stop it. The Army has no spare capacity, a situation which I remind you is entirely the President's fault. What other bad choices will we have to make in the coming months because we have no other viable options?

UPDATE: The Poor Man comments on this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Abramoff scandal reaches Ralph Reed

According to The Nation, the burgeoning scandal/investigation into the activities of DeLay cohorts Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon is about to reach out and touch former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed.

In early 2002 the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana was desperately trying to kill a planned competing casino that the rival Jena Band wanted to build in southwestern Louisiana. This new casino would have broken the Coushattas' geographical monopoly and cost the tribe--whose casino was grossing $300 million a year-- an estimated $1 billion in gambling revenue over five years. The Jena Band had hired former GOP national chairman Haley Barbour to make sure its casino compact was approved by the heavily politicized Bureau of Indian Affairs. So the Coushatta tribe, which already was in the process of paying Abramoff and Scanlon some $32 million over three years, also hired Reed, according to three witnesses and documents obtained by The Nation. This was not a crime, just furtive hypocrisy.

Two casino industry lobbyists--Philip Thompson and Bill Grimes--say they were in a meeting in Baton Rouge early in 2002 and heard William Worfel, vice chair of the Coushatta tribe, say he was hiring Reed to lobby for the tribe with the BIA to neutralize the influence Barbour had with the Bush Administration. According to Thompson, Worfel, who also did not return phone calls, "said he was putting Reed on his payroll. He said, 'If they have Barbour, we need Reed.'" A third casino lobbyist at the meeting, who requested anonymity, says Reed helped "mobilize Christian radio and ministers against the casino." But, he says, "He wanted to be able to deny it. Or if it came out, he wanted to be able to claim he was against the Jena casino, without anybody knowing he was getting paid by a bigger tribe with a bigger gambling operation."

The documents obtained by The Nation show that Reed sent bills to Abramoff and Scanlon and that one of his consulting companies, Century Strategies of Duluth, Georgia, received $250,000 from one of Scanlon's companies, Capitol Campaign Strategies. An invoice to Abramoff from another Reed company, Capitol Media, for $100,000, states only that the payment is for "Louisiana Project Mgmt. Fee." (The main thrust of the Justice Department investigation involves money laundering among Scanlon, Abramoff and Republican campaigns. Abramoff was fired by his firm for not disclosing $10 million in payments from Scanlon.)

Liberal Oasis linked to this yesterday. You can find some more background on the Abramoff/Scanlon story here, here, here, and here.

And speaking of Abramoff and the Senate investigation, the next stop may be Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Court officials have heard through "unofficial channels" that a Senate investigative committee may visit the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam to investigate lobbying activities.

"The court has not received any visits or any inquiries yet thus far from any Senate staff or any Senate officials," said Dan Tydingco, the Judiciary of Guam director of policy, planning and community relations. "But we have heard from unofficial channels that there was to be a Senate investigative committee coming out to Guam and (CNMI) to investigate the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff."

Tydingco, who was the former Supreme Court executive officer, said Abramoff did not do lobbying work for the Supreme Court and would not comment on what type of work he did for the Superior Court of Guam. Tydingco did not know when the committee will come to Guam.

A Senate committee is investigating millions of dollars in fees paid to powerful Republican lobbyist Abramoff and public relations executive Michael Scanlon, according to a May 18 Washington Post article.

Scanlon, a former aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Abramoff, a top Republican lobbyist and adviser to DeLay, are both under investigation by the Senate Commerce Committee. The panel, under the direction of Sen. John McCain, is seeking to determine the legality of $45 million paid by Indian tribes to the pair for lobbying and public affairs work, the Washington Post reported.

Tydingco could not say what the connection was between Abramoff and former Superior Court lobbyist Howard Hills.

Former Superior Court Administrator Tony Sanchez has said the court hired Hills, an off-island attorney, in 2002 to do work for the court, including lobbying against a proposed federal legislation that would make the Supreme Court of Guam the head of Guam's judicial branch of government. The Superior Court paid Hills about $500,000 for his work, according to Pacific Daily News files.

I don't know about you, but those places sound to me like they'd be pretty good for stashing money that you'd rather not have to explain. Thanks as always to AJ Garcia for the tip.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Big Time booed at Yankee game

Say what you will about Yankee fans, they're not afraid to express an opinion.

[Vice President Dick] Cheney, who visited both clubhouses after batting practice, watched part of the game from the box of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and part from a first-row seat next to the Yankees dugout, where he sat between New York Gov. George Pataki and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Cheney was booed when he was shown on the right-field videoboard during the seventh-inning.

Well, I'm sure they all felt better after they'd done it. Via AMERICAblog and Atrios.

UPDATE: Mike Lupica on Cheney-booing and Yankee domination. Via The Poor Man, hie poor taste in baseball teams notwithstanding.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Jake Gilbreath wrapup

Thanks as always to everyone who helped spread the word about Jake Gilbreath, a name I'm sure you'll be hearing many times in the future. Be sure to check out this report on Jake that Byron filed later in the day yesterday. Next stop - Mark Strama, another name you'll be getting very familiar with real soon.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 29, 2004
Francis/McGrady trade finally happens

And so it goes.

The Rockets’ long pursuit of NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady was completed today with a seven-player trade that will send McGrady to the Rockets and Steve Francis to the Magic, sources close to the talks said this afternoon.

The NBA had received the contracts of the players involved and the conference call approving the deal was complete, sources said.

Official announcement of the trade is not expected until Wednesday. Officials from both teams declined comment.

The Rockets will acquire McGrady, veteran power forward Juwan Howard and guards Tyronn Lue and Reece Gaines with the Rockets sending their starting backcourt of the past four seasons, Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley, and center/forward Kelvin Cato to the Magic.

Francis, Mobley and Cato were in Orlando today to visit with team officials, more than a week after Francis’ agent, Jeff Fried, told his client that the deal was "close."

After Francis initial trepidation about going to the Magic, 21-61 last season, several conversations between his representative and Magic officials and himself with Magic general manager John Weisbrod had made him much more open to the idea of the trade and apparently moved the Magic to complete the deal.

McGrady led the NBA in scoring the past two seasons, averaging 28 points last season and 32.1 in the 2002-2003 season.

Say this about the Rockets under Les Alexander: They've never been afraid to shake things up and take a risk. Look at the players they've traded or traded for: Clyde Drexler (midseason, no less), Charles Barkley, Scottie Pippen, now Steve Francis (himself acquired via trade) and Tracy McGrady. The record has been mixed, but I don't think any of the moves were reckless or thoughtless at the time. However you slice it, they've not been complacent, and I think as a fan you have to appreciate that.

Anyway. So long and best wishes to Francis, Mobley, and Cato. Whatever happens, I'll still miss them.

UPDATE: Here's today's story, plus Mickey Hersokowitz' goodbye to Stevie Franchise, and a farewell to Cuttino Mobley.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Bishop responds to Klinkner

I've been trading emails with "Great Divide" author Bill Bishop regarding this Gadflyer article by Philip Klinkner, and he was kind enough to send me an official response from himself and coauthor Robert Cushing. With his permission, I've posted it here (Word doc). Executive summary: Klinkner is misreading their data and by doing so is obfuscating clearly visible trends.

I understand there's another installment of the Great Divide series in the works. I'll be looking for it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner

I've not seen "Farenheit 9/11", and to be honest, with the baby's arrival, I probably won't get to see it before it comes out on DVD. I just wanted to note, as a point of data, that the movie sold out over the weekend in the following Bush-hating bastions of liberal elitism: Williamson County, and Amarillo.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Another Bushie seeking office in Texas?

How does Matthew Dowd for Comptroller grab you?

After years of behind-the-scenes work for candidates ranging from Democrats Lloyd Bentsen and Bob Bullock to Republican Bush, Dowd will soon be looking to act on the dream he has harbored for years: making the move to candidate.

"I really would like to do it when this is over," Dowd said on the eighth floor of the suburban office building that houses Bush-Cheney headquarters.

Dowd, 43, is evasive about exactly what elected office he would like to occupy. He rules out a legislative post and says he is most interested in a statewide post in which "I could do something."

Privately, he has told friends that state comptroller is the job that fits his love of numbers and desire to have an impact.

All Dowd will 'fess up to publicly is that he wants to run for something, and wouldn't run against a Republican incumbent, but has no qualms about running against a Republican who "is trying to move up." In 2006, the Texas comptroller could fit those parameters. Incumbent Carole Keeton Strayhorn is looking at challenging Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican primary, and GOP Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs has said she will run for comptroller if Strayhorn moves on.

Boy howdy, after all the success of the Bush budgets, he'll sure have some accomplishments to crow about, eh?

Just a gut opinion on my part, but I'd root for him over Susan Combs on the grounds that I think he'd be easier to beat. Either way, it'll take a good candidate and a fair amount of money to make it a race, but I still like the Democrats' odds against him more than I do against Combs. One wonders what he'll do if Carole Keeton Strayhorn defies projections and stays put in 06.

Via Political Wire, which also notes that the Chron picked up the Don Evans speculation story.

Oh, and I've finally given in to the inevitable and created an Election 2006 category. Now I just have to go through my archives and figure out which previous entries to migrate over there. Sigh.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Lay seeks sitdown

Kenny Boy Lay and his lawyer are in Washington to have a chat with federal prosecutors. Well, they hope to have a chat, anyway.

Ex-Enron Chairman Ken Lay and his criminal defense lawyer are in Washington, D.C., this week, hoping the lawyer can get a chance to speak to Enron prosecutors. Mike Ramsey, contacted in Washington on Monday, said "we're here to meet with prosecutors." Lay himself would not meet with prosecutors; only his lawyers would attend. Some involved said they expect the meeting today.

Ramsey has previously said he would go to Washington to answer prosecutors' questions. But it is unclear whether prosecutors, who have been investigating Lay for more than two years and have taken witnesses about Lay to the grand jury in recent weeks, have questions for Lay's lawyers.

Enron Task Force Director Andrew Weissmann would not comment Monday about any meeting with Ramsey.

Federal prosecutors plan to ask a grand jury to indict Ken Lay on charges relating to the last few months he was at the helm of Enron as the company spiraled into its stunning 2001 collapse, according to lawyers for witnesses in the case. They said the indictment request could be as soon as this week.

Ramsey said at a news conference in Houston last week he would be surprised if Lay is indicted.

Attorneys for ex-Enron CEO Jeff Skilling had hoped to make a last presentation before prosecutors decided whether to indict him. They got a last-minute meeting with prosecutors but say minds were already made up because Skilling was indicted within a day of that meeting.

Bruce Hiler, one of Skilling's Washington, D.C.-based lawyers, said he doesn't know if any meeting could help the ex-chairman's cause. But Hiler said Monday he's worried that there is an unstoppable effort to vilify those at the top of Enron.

Hiler said, "The only hope may be to finally get juries to listen to the facts."

Can't imagine what they all might have done to bring such vilification on them, can you? I'd be more than happy to let a few juries sort it all out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas Tuesdays: Jake Gilbreath

And we start our look at the State House candidates with Jake Gilbreath, who as a student at George Washington University is the youngest candidate running for state office in Texas this year. We've got an intro to Jake, an overview of the district, and an interview with Jake up on the TT site, so check him out and if you like what you see make a donation. Go Jake!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 28, 2004
I got those orange traffic cone blues

This is going to be my life for the next year and a half: construction on the main road through my neighborhood. What a lovely complement that will be to the messes on Loop 610, I-10, and US 59. And this latest project is forcing my favorite bakery to move, too. Argh.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Adam Everett??

Now hear this: if Adam Everett is voted as the starting shortstop in the All-Star Game, then the term "All-Star shortstop" will cease to have any meaning.

OK, that's a bit harsh, as this is not a banner year for National League shortstops, mind you. I'd go with either Barry Larkin or Edgar Renteria on past performance, or Jack Wilson for having the best first half. But still, how can you vote in a guy with a .669 OPS? That's just not right, hometown boy or no.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Dividing over The Great Divide

This article in The Gadflyer is a direct challenge to the findings of the Statesman series The Great Divide, which claims that America is becoming more segregated by politics. Author Philip Klinkner makes some interesting points, but I have to say I thought he relied quite a bit on numbers of unknown (to me, anyway) origin, and a nontrivial amount of handwaving. For example:

Other measures of recent election results show that while segregation along political lines has increased, the change is not remarkable. For example, in the 2000 election approximately two-thirds of voters lived in a county where the Democratic vote was within a range of 12 percentage points from the national average. Thus, most voters live in counties that are not all that different from the national results. Moreover, this range is not significantly different from that in past presidential elections.

Isn't this basically saying that the standard deviation of Democratic voter percentage by county is twelve points? That actually sounds pretty high to me. Beyond that, though, give me the numbers. What's their source? Can you show me a graph? And for crying out loud, can't you tell me how this compares to, say, 1980 or 1960 or even 1992? I'd feel a lot more confident in this data if I didn't feel like it were being pulled out of a hat.

I sent a note to Bill Bishop, coauthor of the Great Divide articles, to point this out to him. I'm interested to see how he responds to it.

UPDATE: I've received a reply from Bishop, along with an attached Word doc that goes into some detail to rebut Klinkner's assertions. I'll post it later - it appears to have been a Statesman article from June 13, but it's not available online any more as far as I can tell. For now, I'm calling it for Bishop - if nothing else, he's unafraid to show you his R^2 values, and I respect that.

In the meantime, check out this article on softening support for Bush in rural areas.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
More bad parenting ideas

Before anyone asks, no, this was not an option when we were considering baby names.

PAMPA, Texas -- A Texas couple who named their son ESPN after the cable sports network will soon be getting a visit from the toddler's namesake.

An ESPN film crew is coming to this Panhandle town next month to interview the family of 2-year-old ESPN Malachi McCall for a feature on several children around the country named after the network.

ESPN (pronounced Espen) McCall is one of at least three children in the United States known to be named for the sports network. A couple in Corpus Christi named their son Espn Curiel in 2000, the same year Espen Blondeel was born in Michigan.

ESPN spokesman Dave Nagle said the feature will air Sept. 6 as part of a two-hour special celebrating the network's 25th anniversary. The special focuses on the company's history, growth and impact.

"We don't have viewers. We have fans," Nagle said Saturday. "And I guess there's no better testament than when someone names their child after your product. It just shows the bond we have with people."

Rebecca and Michael McCall said their son's name started as a joke after they heard on the radio about another couple naming their son "Espen."

"He looked at me and said, 'That's a cool name,'" Rebecca McCall said in Saturday's editions of the Amarillo Globe-News.

Here's the Amarillo Globe-News story. It gets even more deranged.

At the time, though, Rebecca said she "totally disagreed with it."

As her pregnancy wore on, the name grew on her. She and her mother made a trip to an ESPN store while in Chicago and bought shirts almost four months before his birth. Rebecca's oldest daughter, Haylei, now almost 5, called the baby in her mother's tummy "ESPN."

"I didn't like it until he was born," Rebecca said.

Then she couldn't think of calling him anything else.

So, it was official: ESPN Malachi McCall. His middle name is a biblical messenger of God, so his parents sometimes call him "the sports messenger."


Rebecca said people have called the name cruel, but she doesn't think it's any worse than an outdated family name. She admits it might be a challenge to understand the lack of vowels in his name when he's older, but thinks her son was given the gift of a unique and beautiful name.

Rebecca said people react mainly with confusion as to his name's pronunciation. And he's small-town gossip in Pampa, Rebecca said, but that doesn't bother her.

"I want him to grow up and be strong," she said. "I don't think his name can tear him down."


His parents said ESPN loves baseball, basketball and football, and Rebecca said she's hoping to have his room done in sports theme before the TV ESPN comes.

And, of course, ESPN enjoys watching SportsCenter every night with his father.

However, Michael and Rebecca said they don't think the name will put pressure on him to become a superstar athlete; they're just catering to his interests at the moment.

All in all, Rebecca said, she likes unique names. She wanted to name her two younger daughters "Disney" but was shot down both times by Michael. They compromised on Sterling, now 21 months, and Kendall, now 11 months.

If the McCalls have another son, would he be "The Deuce?"

Well, if ESPN had a twin, his name would be "EXPN." However, the McCalls don't watch solely ESPN for their sports. They planned "Fox Sports McCall" for a second son.

I sincerely hope that last bit is a joke, but if the rest of the article is sincere, I can't say it is. Maybe the McCalls should just skip the middleman and name their next kid KickMe.

AP link via Vince.

UPDATE: Jesse is down with that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Come on, get horrified

I have no words to describe this: David Cassidy, Danny Bonaduce, and Shirley Jones are reviving The Partridge Family.

Cassidy will co-executive produce both the reality-themed In Search of the Partridge Family for VH1 and a half-hour pilot for the rejuvenated sitcom to follow. Cassidy and fellow Partridge cast members Shirley Jones and Danny Bonaduce plan to cross the country looking for a next generation of Partridges. The star search begins airing in September.

"We want to do it right," says Cassidy. "I've been carrying the torch for the last 25 years, and I want to make sure the show will be funny and have integrity. We don't want to taint the brand of the show I will forever be associated with."


Cassidy, who lives in Florida with his wife and their teenage son, believes the timing is right again for In Search of the Partridge Family and its sequel sitcom.

"I wasn't lured by the money," he said. "But what we're faced with in America and the world, I think, is not unlike the mood of the country when we were in Vietnam and The Partridge Family originally aired. What we're experiencing now with Iraq -- it's time to get happy."

I'm going to go lie down with a cold compress on my forehead. Maybe when I wake up this will all have been a bad dream.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Corporate blogging

John Lyon sent me this link about Blogging With The Boss' Blessing a week ago, and despite meaning to blog it I'd forgotten about it until I saw it again in Lis Riba's journal. I expect to see more of this, too, and frankly I'm a little surprised that newspapers have been so slow to figure out how to use blogs to expand and enhance their online readership. I don't think it's a hard concept to grasp, and I don't think it'd take much of an investment in money or personpower to make it pay off. Hell, I've got a dozen ideas for how the Chron could blog effectively, and I'd be more than happy to share them for a small but reasonable fee. (Yes, I know it's not quite the same thing as Microsofties musing about product features, but it's a first cousin to it.)

Anyway, it's a good read, so check it out. And who knows? Maybe you can convince your boss that you should be your company's Official Corporate Blogger. I can think of worse things to do during one's nine-to-five.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 27, 2004
No more Nader

Ralph Nader will not be the Green Party nominee for President. Hallelujah! And may I say, what Julia says.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
CD28 update

I usually crosspost my stuff from the Political State Report here, but my entry today on the latest news and notes from the longstanding and increasingly bizarre recount fight in the 28th Congressional District is fairly lengthy, so I'll just link to it and encourage you to click over to it. And don't ask me how this one's gonna end, 'cause I don't know and neither does anyone else.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Tarrant County for nobody

Apparently, there are no official Presidential campaigns in Fort Worth.

As popular as he is in Tarrant County, President Bush is lacking one thing here: someone to organize his local re-election campaign.

The Texas Republican and former governor has plenty of campaign "co-chairs" in Tarrant County, but they are involved mainly in raising money, said Pat Carlson, chairwoman of the local GOP.

Someone is needed, she said, to be the point person for Bush's grassroots troops, charged with such duties as putting out yard signs and handing out T-shirts.

Bush is not alone in lacking an official county campaign chief. Neither does Democrat John Kerry, although his supporters say there are plenty of "Kerry clubs" in the area, mostly coordinated by Lynda Brender, wife of local Democratic Party Chairman Art Brender.

Hey, no rush, folks. Plenty of time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Kenny Boy speaks

Kenny Boy Lay rues his Bush family friendship, blames Fast Andy Fastow, and asks us to pity him for being down to his last million in this interview.

There was a time when Kenneth L. Lay's close relationship with President Bush brought him power and influence in Washington that was virtually unparalleled among his colleagues in corporate America.

Now, Lay, the former chairman and chief executive of Enron, fears those ties may only serve to bring him criminal charges.

"If anything, being friends with the Bush family, including the president, has made my situation more difficult," Lay said in a recent interview, "because it's probably a tougher decision not to indict me than to indict me."

For more than two years, he has been the nation's silent pariah.

Now, on the eve of what may be the government's final decision on whether to charge him with a crime, Lay is talking for the first time about the company's collapse in 2001 and the scandal that enveloped it. In more than six hours of interviews with The New York Times, Lay remained steadfast in his expressions of innocence, even as he acknowledged, as head of the company, responsibility for the debacle rests rightfully with him.

"I take full responsibility for what happened at Enron," said Lay, 62. "But saying that, I know in my mind that I did nothing criminal."


The years since the Enron collapse have transformed Lay. The changes in his financial status are stunning. At the beginning of 2001, Lay said, he had a net worth in excess of $400 million -- almost all of it in Enron stock. Today, his worth is below $20 million, and his total available cash not earmarked for legal fees or repayment of debt is less than $1 million.

But the changes amount to more than just money. A man once celebrated in business and political circles, today he is widely vilified as bearing significant responsibility for Enron's downfall, a debacle that cost thousands of employees their jobs, millions of investors their savings, and, for a time, forced a nation to question the capital markets system. He is often portrayed as a man who bailed out of his company as it was sinking, selling millions of shares even while telling investors and employees that he believed in the company's future.

It is a portrait, he insists, that disregards the realities of Enron's last months, a time in which he describes himself as first working hard to improve the company, then struggling desperately to keep it afloat.


In the end, Lay said, the Enron story is one of corrupt executives in a finance organization led by Fastow who took advantage of the company for their own personal benefit and ultimately destroyed it. Fastow has pleaded guilty to fraud and is cooperating with the government.

"At our core, regrettably, we had a chief financial officer and a few other people who in fact mismanaged the company's balance sheet and finances and enriched themselves in a way that once we got into a stressful environment in the marketplace, the company collapsed," he said. "But by the same token, most and I mean 98 percent of the people who worked at Enron were good, honest, hardworking individuals. They were not crooks."

Still, Lay said he clung to a belief that the outcomes of certain corporate decisions that ultimately proved devastating to the company could not have been anticipated. The use of such partnerships was widespread throughout the business world, as corporations attempted to use a technique authorized under the accounting rules to pretty up their reported financial picture. But Enron took those efforts much further, adopting policies that were unheard of, such as allowing Fastow to operate an off-books investment fund that did business with the company and provided financing for some of the partnerships.

Lay labels criticisms of that set-up as 20-20 hindsight, because the world now knows that Fastow used the vehicles to manipulate Enron's earnings and loot the company -- all without his knowledge, Lay said.

"At the time it seemed the appropriate thing to do," he said. "And I had no reason to doubt or distrust Fastow."

But legal experts dismiss the entire venture as foolhardy from inception. "It's just not common-sense thinking," said John J. Fahy, a former federal prosecutor now with Fahy Choi in Rutherford, N. J. "Your CFO cannot be put in a position where he is in conflict with the company. He is simply too important. The idea is just crazy."

While he has been subjected in recent years to withering personal criticism on Capitol Hill, by the media, on late night talk shows and across the Internet, Lay said that in his hometown many longtime friends and associates remained supportive, and he continued to serve on multiple charitable boards in town.


Lay was asked whether he believed he owed employees a fuller response, and an explanation that he was selling shares, forced or not.

"Let me put it this way, it just didn't cross my mind," he said. "I was doing my best to hang on to as much as I could because I was convinced that the fundamentals of the company were so strong."

Despite the rumblings that criminal charges against him could well be imminent, Lay says he is sanguine.

"I know in my mind I did nothing wrong and nothing criminal," he said. "But I'd say if it does happen, it's a great miscarriage of justice."

But, if faced with indictment, would Lay consider pleading guilty?

"Absolutely not."

Yeah, whatever. It's a long and very interesting article, though oddly only a much-condensed AP wire feed of the story, which does mention that Lay has not granted any interview requests to the Chron, appears in the print edition. Tom Kirkendall, who's also been following all things Enron closely, also links to it.

Meanwhile, in the business section, read about Eric Christensen, the man who uncovered Grandma Millie.

The main impetus was his customers, the people of Snohomish County, Wash., where Christensen is assistant general counsel of the Snohomish Public Utility District, which provides gas and electricity for 290,000 households in Snohomish and Camano Island.

During the energy crisis, the county bought power from Enron at sky-high prices because there were no alternatives.

A week before Enron spectacularly flamed out in the largest corporate bankruptcy for the time in December 2001, Snohomish canceled the contracts, exercising a provision that let it off the hook if Enron's financial situation became unstable. Eight months later, Enron sued the county for a termination fee of $122 million, which would cost every Snohomish ratepayer $420.

That kind of money would be a big hit to many in a county where 10 percent of the population is classified as having "poverty wages," according to Market Facts 2004, a publication profiling the local economy.


So when Enron -- by then bankrupt -- slapped Snohomish with the $122 million lawsuit in the summer of 2002, the utility district wasn't going to take it lying down.

Enron and other energy companies routinely taped traders' discussions to keep a record of the fast-paced wheeling and dealing in case of disputes. Given what Snohomish and others suspected about Enron -- that it had engaged in fraud and illegal market manipulation -- Christensen and his colleagues had a hunch that there might be evidence on those tapes.

The utility sought and got a subpoena for tapes of three key months in 2000 and 2001 from Enron's Western trading desk in Portland, Ore. Timothy Belden, the head of that office, has pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with manipulating the electricity market.

Christensen is particularly indignant that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the country's main watchdog over the energy markets, has appeared to him as toothless in going after Enron and even tried to block Snohomish from getting the tapes.

FERC's lack of support may have ultimately helped Snohomish, though.

"They forced us to prove that we were being ripped off," Christensen said.

"I think that's looking at the glass as being half empty rather than half full," FERC spokesman Bryan Lee said.

Although the agency initially opposed the subpoena because the tapes were part of an ongoing criminal investigation, it later helped Snohomish get the tapes, according to Lee.

Thanks from all of us, Eric Christensen.

Posted by Charles Kuffner

This op-ed by Ed Shack, an "attorney specializing in First Amendment law and state and national election and campaign laws and regulations" makes the case that no one really knows how to follow campaign finance laws because it's all so complicated. He does a pretty good job of it, too, which makes the omission from his byline that he represents the Texas Association of Business, one of the main targets of Travis County DA Ronnie Earle's investigation into misuse of corporate campaign donations, that much more glaring. Whether through indifference or incompetence, the Chron's editorial page has a very blemished history of printing op-eds by people who aren't the disinterested observers their bylines claim them to be. See "Rushing, David" for an earlier and equally egregious example.

The Chron also printed Rep. John Carter's fact-free attack piece on Rep. Chris Bell on page one of the Outlook section. For whatever the reason, it doesn't appear to be online, so you'll have to take my word for it or buy a copy of the dead-tree version yourself. If you'd like to give the Chron some feedback about printing ad hominems, send an email to [email protected].

On a side note, this unsigned editorial from yesterday asked why Bell's complaint merely mentioned Tom DeLay's Bacardi fixation as a footnote. Good question, though a better question might be "why hasn't the Chron done any real reporting on the DeLay/Bacardi connection?"

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 26, 2004
More special session talk

Yellow Dog Blog, quoting from Capitol Inside, and Alan D. Williams, citing this Morning News story, think Governor Perry might call another special session in July where it will overlap the Democratic national convention. That would screw a number of state legislators who are also convention delegates.

A full 30-day session called as early as next week would run into the Democrats' convention July 26-29.

"The governor feels that political conventions are a pretty important part of the electoral process in this country. However, I don't think the governor is going to let a political convention get in the way of a special session if one is ready to be called," spokesman Robert Black said.

"Obviously, he believes Texas comes first," Mr. Black said.

Mr. Perry has said that the deadline for a plan is Aug. 25, the last day for adopting a constitutional amendment for voter consideration in November on changes to the state's tax system or allowing gambling.

"At the end of August, it turns into a pumpkin," he said. Beyond August, lawmakers would wait until the regular session in January to tackle the problem.

If the governor waited until after the convention to call a session, lawmakers would have just 23 days to complete the work.

More than 30 Democratic lawmakers have long-standing plans to attend the convention, including 29 who have been elected state delegates.

"I think there'd be considerable disappointment and resentment," said Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, who has served on key House education committees. He also is a Texas delegate to the national convention.

"I can't shirk my legislative responsibilities or my duties to millions of kids. I'd have to stay in Austin," he said.

Mr. Oliveira said that going to Boston is not just a matter of balloon drops and receptions. He is planning on joining other Hispanic officials working on a list of national policy priorities for presumptive nominee John Kerry.

The governor "has been to Italy, the Bahamas, Mexico, wherever. I would think there would be mutual respect recognized here," Mr. Oliveira said.

House Business and Industry Chairwoman Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, also is a delegate and said she would be surprised if the governor called a session during the national convention.

"I don't think it would be well received, and it would be problematic at a time when we would need to cooperate and work together if we're going to make something happen," she said.

For what it's worth, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst thinks Perry will wait until August.

"I see August as a more realistic date ... than July to work out the details between the two chambers," Dewhurst said Friday after speaking at the 59th annual meeting of the 13,000-member Texas Public Employees Association.

Gubernatorial spokesman Robert Black said the governor has not decided on a date for a special session. He said Perry "will call the second special session when be believes that the leadership of the House and Senate reach an agreement" on how the state's public school system will be financed.

Perry has hinted he might call the session in August. This week Perry said a replacement of the current Robin Hood school finance system would have to be passed by the end of August for the constitutional amendment that the new measure would require to be placed on the November ballot.

Under Robin Hood, property-wealthy school districts are required to share their tax dollars with property-poor districts.

Since the first special session ended in failure, joint working groups of Senate and House members have been meeting for more than a month trying to reach an agreement on a proposal that would be acceptable to both chambers.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee said Friday that he believes "progress is being made" in narrowing House and Senate differences.

But he acknowledged the task becomes "more difficult" when group members are uncertain what portions of a proposed bill might be acceptable to House Speaker Tom Craddick.

"It is one of the large ... unanswered questions, what it is the speaker wants" in the bill, Ogden said. "Not knowing that makes it harder" for the working groups to reach accord without a clear indication of what elements of the bill Craddick would favor.

Ogden and Dewhurst said they were sympathetic to the state worker's legislative priority, an across-the-board pay raise. But they said they were unsure how much would remain in the 2005-06 biennial budget that could be allocated to employee pay raises, and they said state worker pay raises should be tied to increased productivity.

This is the first time I can recall someone other than Perry claiming progress on school finance issues, though note that Sen. Ogden did not specify where progress was being made. I continue to believe that the previously unreconciled issues like increased gambling and the business activity tax are no closer to a settlement than before. It is possible that the cited progress is on issues where the differences were less entrenched, like expanding the sales tax. We'll see. Note also that no one is yet certain where Speaker Craddick, who wants to wait until the lawsuits have been decided, will come down on anything.

Again, for what it's worth, I lean slightly towards the August time frame. As tempting as it must be for Perry to want to extract payback for the Ardmore exodus, I'd think he's got to realize that he'll really get reamed if another session, especially one that could be characterized as being called prematurely for partisan purposes, fails as abjectly as the last one did. But you never know, and I'm the last person to credit him with extra smarts. So stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
TRM/TAB focus shifting to businesses

According to this Statesman article, Travis County DA Ronnie Earle is saying that the corporations that financed the 2002 GOP takeover of the state Legislature is facing greater scrutiny than Tom DeLay himself.

The shift in emphasis is just the latest twist over the past 20 months as prosecutors wrestle with mounds of evidence and a long list of witnesses in the biggest political investigation of District Attorney Ronnie Earle's 27-year career.

On Friday, the direction of the massive investigation, with repercussions from the Legislature to the halls of Congress, became clearer as Earle updated its progress and defense lawyers weighed in with their speculation.

In a 90-minute interview, Earle acknowledged he would have retired this year if not for the investigation, which he said he is determined to pursue to the end.

Lawyers for DeLay said Friday that prosecutors have told them their client is not a specific target of the investigation, a claim Earle didn't fully dispute, though he added, "It's too early to pass out get-out-of-jail-free cards."

Earle said portions of the investigation could be completed later this summer, but some complaints might take longer.

Over the 20 months, Earle hasn't cooled his populist message about the significance of the investigation: "Democracy can't depend on who owns the microphone, and that's the issue here: unbridled wealth controlling the electoral process."

Earle said the investigation has expanded to include at least five political organizations, many individuals and the corporations that financed them.

"This isn't about Tom DeLay," Earle said of the investigation's breadth. "It's about corporate greed. They can always find another Tom DeLay."


The allegation behind the expansive grand jury investigation is whether Republicans and their business allies violated state laws that prohibit corporate money being spent on campaign activity.

The focus is on Texans for a Republican Majority; Texas Association of Business; Law Enforcement Alliance of America; Americans for Job Security; and the Lone Star Fund, a Democratic committee added recently when Republicans filed a complaint.

Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and his Democratic predecessor, Pete Laney, are subplots to the overall investigation. Prosecutors are checking whether Craddick violated any laws when Texans for a Republican Majority turned over $152,000 to Craddick's office to be distributed to his supporters in the Legislature. Craddick has claimed he didn't do anything that Laney and the Democrats haven't done in the past -- a charge Laney denied.

The newest wrinkle, however, is prosecutors' interest in the corporations that gave the money.

Sources close to the investigation say legal liability for corporations varies from case to case because of different laws and the defenses that corporations can offer.

For example, corporations that gave $1.9 million for ads by the Association of Business can argue that they gave the money with assurances from the association's lawyers that the donations were legal. Corporations that gave the $600,000 to Texans for a Republican Majority might not have the same defense, the sources said.

Indicting corporations also has a political benefit.

"Earle versus Enron -- Ronnie likes the sound of that," one source said, using Enron generically though it did not donate in this case.

On Friday, Earle insisted that no one -- individual or corporation -- is in the clear yet.

"Anybody who committed a crime is a target," Earle said. "The only pressure I feel is not to stop until we get to all of the truth."

Very interesting. It's a long article, so read it all. I don't know if this will undermine Chris Bell's ethics complaint against DeLay - he's alleging that DeLay broke House rules, not Texas law, after all - but it looks like it might be a little ammo for DeLay's defenders, if they ever feel like ceasing with the slime attacks for a minute.

And to an extent, I agree with what Earle is saying. The picture is bigger than Tom DeLay, and there will always be someone like him looking to exploit any weakness in the rules for their purposes. If the process he set in motion gets shut down but he gets away, I'll still take that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Don Evans??

Andrew D and Vince Leibowitz both quote from a Capitol Inside report which says that Commerce Secretary Don Evans is considering a run for Governor when his service in DC is up, either 2006 or 2010. Both of them see him as having credible prospects.

My reaction is more "Don Evans? Why?" I guess I don't see what his appeal is, whether compared to Kay Bailey Hutchison, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, or Rick Perry. "Closer to George Bush than those other guys", maybe. I'm also not sure where he'll get the funds he'll need to raise his name ID enough to compete with them and their already-large campaign coffers.

I don't know. I don't have any reason to doubt this report, I just doubt Evans' reasons for thinking he can win. I certainly could be wrong, and I certainly wouldn't object to a bloody, expensive three- or four-way GOP primary in the Governor's race. I'm just having a hard time envisioning any excitement over a former Commerce Secretary coming home to run for Governor.

UPDATE: The Chron reports on this as well.

Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, a former Texas oilman and longtime friend of President Bush, is being encouraged to return home and run for governor, a Republican insider said Monday.

The source, a longtime political player in Austin and Washington, said Evans hasn't dismissed the idea but doesn't plan to seriously consider it until after the November presidential election.

Evans was out of the country Monday. But Ron Bonjean, a Commerce Department spokesman, said Evans isn't planning to run for governor.

"Secretary Evans is 100 percent committed to serving President Bush as secretary of commerce," Bonjean said. But he couldn't confirm or deny whether Evans has been asked to consider a gubernatorial race.

"He has had some people approach him, and he is thinking about it," said the Republican source, who spoke on condition he not be identified. He wouldn't say who was encouraging Evans but said a gubernatorial race in either 2006 or 2010 was a possibility.

Sounds like the definite possibility of a firm maybe to me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The return of the roach

I may be a staunch defender of Houston as a place to live, but even I will never claim that it's one of the more scenic places in the world. This is not to say that there aren't interesting things to see as one travels along Houston's roads, and it appears that one of the more distinctive sights is about to return.

The giant neon cockroach glowed for 42 years and was a beacon for Southwest Freeway drivers. He glows no more.

Bubba, the 8-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide Holder's Pest Control roach, was taken down in April, but the sign could make a comeback.

You can't keep a big roach down, not when he's worth more than his weight in gold as a branding tool.

In 1998, Holder's moved to a southwest Houston shopping center that would not allow the display of a mammoth insect, so Bubba stayed behind. He was eventually taken down, because of an ordinance that forbids a commercial sign when the company has left the premises. Bubba now spends his days in a Holder's warehouse.

But Holder's wants Bubba back in the spotlight, said Jen Boedecker, marketing coordinator at Copesan Services, a national alliance of pest control companies that includes Holder's.

A number of businesses, mostly restaurants, have tried to buy Bubba, but Copesan is interested only in leasing the sign as a form of advertising.

"We'd consider putting him at someone else's site, as long as we maintained ownership," she said. "He's been like a mascot and is so highly recognized."

In terms of branding, Bubba is invaluable, said Kevin Keller, professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College: "It's iconic and part of their equity."

Bubba is "heritage," and "when positioning a brand, it's very hard to compete against heritage," said Keller, who noted: "Anything that gets on consumers' radar matters. It's so hard to break through these days."

Bubba does have a way with people. When they took him down, Holder's received a number of e-mails, including this one:

"I've been watching for that roach as a landmark for most of my life, and I'll miss the old boy."

Here's a picture, which unfortunately doesn't give you the full giant-glowing-roach-in-the-sky experience. Trust me on this, you have to see it to understand.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 25, 2004
Tort "reform" yet again

Why do I keep harping on all the tort "reform" baloney around us? Because it's such an easy target.

For today's discussion, start with this Star-Telegram op-ed which Andrew D found.

Since damage caps became effective in September 2003, the number of medical negligence lawsuits filed in Texas has dropped dramatically. But in that same time, most of the malpractice insurers in the state have raised their rates.

G.E. Medical Protective, a company that insures 20 percent of the state's physicians, recently increased its rates by 10 percent and changed its products to avoid regulation by the Texas Department of Insurance. This was in response to the state's denial of its previous request to raise rates by 19 percent.

The Joint Underwriting Association asked for a 35 percent rate increase. The largest malpractice insurer in the state, TMLT, agreed to lower its rates by 12 percent, but it had raised its rates more than 100 percent in the previous two years.

Why? Because doctors and legislators are either unable or unwilling to stand up to the malpractice carriers and demand change.

With the backing of the Texas Medical Association, legislators could have required mandatory rate reductions in return for stripping away a patient's right to recover full damages. They did not.

They could have included a provision repealing the damage caps if rates did not decline. They did not.

They could have placed the insurance executives under oath and subject to the penalties of perjury before giving testimony about the true basis of the insurance crisis. They did not.

And so the plundering continues.

U.S. insurance companies saw their profits explode to almost $30 billion in 2003 -- a ten-fold increase from the previous year -- yet rates continue to rise. All the while, insurers avoid any real scrutiny or oversight. Instead, they count their money, impose frequent rate increases and chortle as the doctors and lawyers flog one another.

Next, check out Greg's take on this S-T op-ed, written by a doctor in a laughable attempt to pin the blame for rising malpractice rates on lawyers. Try to keep a straight face.

I have made changes in my practice to try to decrease the chance of financial devastation due to some rapacious attorney. I used to take emergency call at five different hospitals. I've dropped off the staff of all but one. I get more sleep and assume less risk.

Do we doctors like doing this? No! At least here in Texas there is now a $250,000 cap on "pain and suffering." Nonetheless, my liability insurance went up another 10 percent this year.

Cause and effect? What's that?

There's one thing that really needs to be harped on any time a doctor blames lawyers for his or her medmal premiums, and that's this: There's almost no mechanism to remove the bad doctors, the ones who actually get sued, from the market. The AMA wants to protect its incompetents on the one hand while preventing proper redress to the unwitting patients they butcher on the other hand. And President Bush is leading the charge for them.

You think I'm exaggerating? Check this out, from Bob Herbert.

In looking at medical malpractice cases, I've been amazed by the cold-blooded attitude so many people have taken toward patients who have been seriously, and sometimes grotesquely, harmed. Referring to a Wisconsin woman who had both of her breasts removed after a laboratory mix-up mistakenly indicated she had cancer, a doctor from South Carolina told a Congressional subcommittee:

"She did not lose her life, and with the plastic surgery she'll have breast reconstruction better than she had before."

Right. So if I chop your hands off and replace them with equally functioning mechanical units that will never get arthritis or need their nails clipped, you should thank me. I've apparently done you a favor, at least by this doctor's logic.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
No Senate funds for Hutchison in Governor's race?

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison may have to make up her mind quickly if she wants to run for Governor in 2006. As things stand right now, it's not clear if she'll be able to use any of her Senate campaign funds for a state election.

WASHINGTON -- Adding another twist to the parlor game of will she or won't she run for Texas governor in 2006, federal officials say U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison cannot spend her $6.5 million Senate campaign fund on a gubernatorial bid.


Campaign finance reform of 2002 did not specifically ban using federal campaign money on statewide races. However, the law deleted one phrase -- which allows federal candidates to use excess money for "any lawful purpose but personal use" -- once used to justify the transfer.

"The way the law is written, it doesn't look like they could take that money and use it for a state race," said Federal Election Commission spokeswoman Kelly Huff.

Anybody seeking a more definitive answer would have to ask the six-member election commission for an advisory opinion, Huff said. So far, nobody has.

Karl Sandstrom, a former FEC commissioner now in private practice specializing in election law, said an FEC opinion in March did not bode well for Hutchison.

Although Rep. Cal Dooley, D-Calif., sought clarification on an unrelated matter, the FEC applied a standard that would bear directly on a Hutchison bid, ruling that campaign money cannot be used for any purpose not specifically listed in federal law.

"There is no indication as of yet that the commission is reversing the decision taken in Dooley, which clearly states that if it is not identified as a permissible purpose, it's prohibited," Sandstrom said.

Hutchison, a Republican, refuses to speculate about 2006, when her Senate term expires and when fellow Republican Rick Perry is expected to seek re-election as governor.

But practically speaking, an FEC restriction means Hutchison cannot wait too long beyond November's elections to announce a candidacy for governor. Potential primary opponents already have substantial sums on hand -- more than $4 million for Perry, and more than $3 million for Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Frankly, the best scenario for Democrats is that KBH simply retires. That'd make one more race at least potentially competitive, as I wouldn't bet against her wherever she ran. That'd also allow her to donate that 6 mil to other Republican candidates, but you can't have everything.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
And the slime machine cranks up

May as well get used to this sort of thing now that Chris Bell has taken his stand against Tom DeLay. You will note that nowhere in this piece does Rep. John Carter offer any kind of rebuttal to any of Bell's charges. Not a single word given in evidence to support the position that the actions which Bell claims violate House rules do not in fact do any such thing. Nothing but slime and more slime, much of which as Greg notes is inaccurate, misleading, or downright dishonest. If this is the best DeLay's defenders can do, then he really is in deep doo-doo, as someone once said.

By the way, if you want to let the Statesman know what you think of Carter's little hatchet job, you can do so here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Comdex cancelled

Holy cow.

Computer trade show Comdex, once the biggest event on the tech calendar, has been canceled this year, a victim of the growing interest in shows emphasizing consumer electronics and specialist IT gear.

Eric Faurot, vice president of Comdex organizer MediaLive International, revealed the plans in an exclusive interview with CNET News.com, saying the company plans to give Comdex a breather after years of falling attendance, in the number of both attendees and vendors.

"We feel that while we could run Comdex profitably this year, it really wouldn't serve the interests of the broader IT industry," he said. The international versions of the show are expected to continue as planned.

Though the article describes the ways that Comdex has gradually ceased to be relevant, this is still a shame in my eyes. I have very fond memories of attending Comdex in 1991. I would like to see it rise again in a better format, even if I'm unlikely to go again. Via Liberty.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Astros get Carlos Beltran

This is a great trade for the Stros.

The Astros finally landed the classic center fielder they have craved for years, acquiring Kansas City Royals star Carlos Beltran on Thursday night in a three-team deal that club officials compared to the trade that brought Randy Johnson to Houston in 1998.

To land Beltran, the Astros sent closer Octavio Dotel and catching prospect John Buck to the Royals, who shipped Dotel to the Oakland Athletics for two prospects.

Industry sources confirmed that the Astros also gave the A's nearly $1 million.

"How lucky is Houston? They're very, very lucky," Royals manager Tony Peña said of Beltran, who is earning $9 million this season and plans to test free agency this winter.

"You're very, very lucky to get a talent like him. He was my best player, and one of the best players in the majors. Unfortunately, we can't afford him."

The Astros are indeed lucky to get him. Put any thoughts of replacing their departed closer out of your head. Brad Lidge will do fine, and even if not it's much easier to cobble together a competent bullpen from spare parts, retreads, and prospects than it is to get an All-Star centerfielder. Even better, letting Craig Biggio slide over to left field helps their outfield D considerably. There's almost no downside to this.

Elsewhere, David Pinto likes the trade and justly criticizes KC for their financial shortsightedness regarding Beltran. Tom Kirkendall isn't quite as excited but thinks the trade is a reasonable gamble for Houston. Kevin likes the trade. Rafe puts this trade in context with the Richard Hidalgo trade and comes away impressed with Gerry Hunsickers ability to squeeze something extra out of the roster. Pretty good reviews overall, I'd say.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
McNeely on Morrison

Dave McNeely pays a little attention to Richard Morrison in the Statesman.

Morrison, who'll turn 37 on July 4, also lives in Sugar Land. Before and since winning a contested primary, he's campaigned all over the parts of four counties south and west of Houston that make up the 22nd Congressional District.

Morrison concedes DeLay is powerful but charges the power has been used more to help DeLay than his constituents. In particular, Morrison cites DeLay's longtime opposition to spending federal money to bring rail lines from Houston to Sugar Land, when many people and even several mayors in the area have requested it.

Part of DeLay's power comes from his stunning effectiveness at raising money to help other Republicans win and hold office. And his method of funneling corporate money into politics, not just in Washington but in Texas, has drawn the investigative attention of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle.

DeLay dismisses the investigation by Earle, a Democrat, as a partisan witch hunt. As for Bell's complaint, DeLay called it frivolous and designed for political gain. But the House Ethics Committee decided Tuesday to investigate it anyway.

The 2002 GOP takeover of the Texas Legislature that DeLay helped engineer brought congressional redistricting that redrew Bell's district to elect an African American. Democratic activists from outside DeLay's district, incensed about the redistricting, plan to go door to door to help unseat DeLay.

Morrison said he's already raised more than $200,000, and hopes to top $1 million — even though he expects DeLay to spend five times that much.

Morrison has been endorsed by unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who proved an Energizer bunny for some dormant Democrats. That's helped to bring national attention, through talk radio and CNN, which followed Morrison around for a day just before the Democratic convention.

Morrison, a plaintiff's lawyer like his father, who was appointed a Texas parks and wildlife commissioner by then-Gov. Mark White in 1983, knows his first political race is into the wind.

But he says area Democratic clubs are more pumped up than in years and that his candidacy at least has forced DeLay to run an active campaign.

"I think," Morrison said, smiling,"that he's taken notice of us."

This article has made me realize that Morrison is a year younger than I am. I'm suddenly reminded of that Tom Lehrer line, which is also sadly operable for me: "It is disconcerting to realize that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for three years." If you'll excuse me, I hear some Geritol calling.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 24, 2004
Strayhorn claims she's targeted by Perry

And the Rick 'n Carole Chronicles continue: Strayhorn says Perry behind audit of office.

The sniping between Comptroller Carole Strayhorn and fellow Republican Gov. Rick Perry heated up today when she accused Perry of directly orchestrating a "political witch hunt" by getting the state Auditor's Office to investigate her office.

Strayhorn said she had e-mails, notes and other documents that she said "absolutely" pointed at Perry as the reason the state auditor has performed three separate audits, none released, of comptroller's office functions.

Citing what she termed a Perry-led effort last year that stripped her office of two of its more popular programs, Strayhorn said the governor was wasting tax dollars by manipulating the Auditor's Office into conducting the probes. She said the audits, which should have been released last year, gave her agency a clean bill of fiscal health.

Perry's office denied her allegation, and Frank Vito, director of assurance services at the Auditor's Office, said the state conducted only one audit of the Comptroller's Office, which will be released in October.

He said the probe already was under way last year when the Legislature passed HB 7, which requires state audits to look at what relationship, if any, exists between an audited agency and campaign contributions made to the agency's boss.

Perry is in Mexico promoting Texas business. Spokesman Robert Black said the governor was not aware of the auditor's investigation into Strayhorn's office, and pointed out the state auditor answers to a committee made up of the lieutenant governor, the Texas House speaker and other lawmakers.

"If (Strayhorn) has a problem, she should take it up with the Legislature, not with us," Black said. "What's the fuss? If she is not trading tax decisions for political contributions, than what is she worried about?"

I have to say, it really is impressive the way Strayhorn has gathered enemies over the past year or two. Beyond her obvious (and often entertaining) feud with Perry, she pissed off much of the Lege last year when she blamed the budget shortfall on a spending party they'd supposedly had in 2001. The Senate took some revenge on her by stripping her office of some audit-related functions. Greg Wythe has been saying for some time now that he doesn't see any likely scenarios in which Strayhorn is on any Republican ballot in 2006, and I'm increasingly in agreement with him. However many votes she got last time around (and remember, she ran against a no-name, no-fund, no-hope opponent), she just doesn't seem to have much of a base, and she surely doesn't have the appearance of a person overburdened with political allies. I may be wrong, but I think she's on her last legs. I also definitely think she doesn't see it that way.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Iacocca for Kerry

And another one-time Bush supporter switches horses:

Four years after former Chrysler Corp. chairman Lee Iacocca cut ads supporting George W. Bush's election, he's switching alliances to presidential challenger John Kerry.

Iacocca decided to announce his endorsement in person at a Kerry speech today on creating high-tech industry jobs in Silicon Valley.

Iacocca, 79, gained a reputation as a champion of innovation within the automotive industry. He oversaw the development of the Ford Mustang in the 1960s and later the minivan and electric vehicles while at Chrysler Corp. He is the chairman and founder of EV Global Motors Co., a Los Angeles-based firm that designs electronic bicycles.

In a television ad that aired in Michigan during the 2000 campaign, Iacocca criticized Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore on automotive issues, contending that Gore's environmentally "extreme ideas" could cost autoworkers their jobs.

Iacocca retired as chairman of Chrysler Corp. in 1992. He was president of Ford Motor Co. before joining financially ailing Chrysler in 1978.

In prepared remarks, Kerry said today that the United States is losing its technological edge under President Bush's leadership, with the disappearance of 800,000 high-tech jobs and falling from 4th to 10th in the use of broadband. He said countries such as South Korea and Japan are deploying networks that are 20-50 times faster than what is available in the United States.

He vowed to create jobs in the high-tech industry through an investment of $30 billion raised by auctioning off broadcast airwaves.

"This technological revolution is the foundation of a 21st century economy," Kerry said. "But it's up to us to build on that foundation so that we can create and expand 21st century jobs. We won't get very far with a government that wants to stifle or ignore the creativity and entrepreneurship that will produce the next big idea: We need to encourage it and invest in it."

Three cheers for Lee Iacocca!

UPDATE: Oooh. And Ron Reagan doesn't like Shrub, either.

"We lied our way into the war," he said on CNN's "Larry King Live" on Wednesday, referring to allegations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and direct connections to al-Qaida. "It's a terrible mistake, a terrible foreign policy error."

Reagan, 44, a vocal opponent of his father's conservative politics, said he would vote for anyone who could beat the current president.

Reagan also said he was angered over the administration's restriction of federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research.

"It's shameful," he said. "We're not talking about fetuses, human beings being killed. We're talking about collections of cells in a petri dish that are never ever going to be a human being."

Reagan said he expected his mother to continue to speak out in favor of stem cell research. Nancy Reagan has long argued that such work could lead to cures for a number of diseases like the Alzheimer's that afflicted her husband.

He said Nancy Reagan was doing "pretty well."

"I've got to hand it to her. She's 83 years old. She doesn't get around as well as she used to, a little glaucoma," he said. But, "She's a professional."

Yo, John Kerry - this here is what we call an "opportunity". Please answer the door, OK?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Why not a subway?

Now that Metro is discussing the plans for the first round of expansions to the light rail line, a new idea has emerged: Have some of it run underground to avoid problems that have plagued the existing line.

Transit planners presented two options for the downtown segment of the seven-mile Southeast light rail line to about 70 people attending a meeting at Drexler's World Famous Bar-B-Que & Grill in East Downtown.

The leading contender would place the tracks in a tunnel under Walker Street from roughly Dowling Street to City Hall. The other possibility is laying the rails on Capitol Street. In either case, the rest of the line is currently envisioned to run at grade similar to the existing Main Street light rail.

"At first blush, when you look at it, a subway seems to be an `are you kidding me?' type of thing," said Robert Eury, director of the Houston Downtown Management District. "But the truth of the matter is, why would we not look at such a thing if it makes the most sense?"

The Metropolitan Transit Authority has not finished cost estimates for the two options. While a subway would likely be significantly more pricey than a surface route, proponents cite numerous reasons for making the investment.

In a dedicated tunnel, trains could travel much faster and would have zero risk of colliding with automobiles -- a major problem on the current line that opened Jan. 1. There would be no disruption of automobile traffic if the line runs underground, and passengers transferring between lines would have an easy connection to the existing light rail platforms at Main Street Square.

Another factor lending support to a subway: Businesses fear the impact of another lengthy street project. Many along Main Street were forced to close as patronage plummeted during three years of construction on the first line. Tunneling would likely involve fewer street impacts.

Steve Pittman, spokesman for the East Downtown Management District, said his neighborhood is excited about the prospect of a subway station east of U.S. 59 before the rail line would pop up to the surface near Dowling and continue southeast on Scott Street past the University of Houston to South Wayside at Loop 610.

"Our position is that the rail line remain underground until they get to approximately Dowling," Pittman said. "A subway would blend with our master plan better than a surface alignment."

Some downtown interests are particularly excited about the prospect of a subway connected to the four-mile pedestrian tunnel system that links numerous office buildings housing tens of thousands of workers. Under such a scenario, a rider getting off a train at the Main Street Square subway station could reach dozens of buildings without ever having to face a downpour or scorching summer day.

"Think about it," Eury said. "You could walk much farther than you would be willing to walk on the street to get over to the station."

The subway also would likely include a stop under the George R. Brown Convention Center, and perhaps also at City Hall. It could later be extended west under Buffalo Bayou and surface onto Washington Avenue, where a long-term plan envisions a rail line west toward the Galleria.

Critics, however, are blasting the subway plan as "lunacy." The Business Committee Against Rail, which handed out fliers at the meeting in opposition to MetroRail expansion, warns that a downtown subway would be prohibitively expensive and could end up flooding like some downtown parking garages and tunnels during Tropical Storm Allison three years ago. Some other attendees were overheard voicing concerns to Metro consultants about the flood danger.

Metro and its supporters counter it is a myth that a subway can't be built in Houston because the city is so flood prone. They point to downtown's extensive system of underground walkways, utility tunnels, and parking garages, noting only a few portions flooded during Allison, and lessons have been learned on how to better engineer subsurface infrastructure. Backers also point out there is an interterminal underground people-mover at Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Boy, I can just see the veins popping and necks bulging on some of those rail opponents, can't you?

I do think the flooding issue can be overcome, but I fear that to do so would add to the already high cost of such an undertaking. I can't see any harm in at least exploring the option, though. Nothing is lost if we decide it's a nonstarter. So let the discussion begin. And if you've ever been tempted to attend one of these Metro public hearings, you'll probably never get to be in a more entertaining one than now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Rodriguez stays alive

Well, well, well. The fight for the 28th CD Democratic nomination is not over yet.

U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez was brought back from the brink of political extinction Wednesday when a 4th Court of Appeals' panel overturned a lower court's ruling that prevented him from presenting evidence of illegal votes for Laredo lawyer Henry Cuellar.

The ruling breathed new life into Rodriguez's quest to overturn Cuellar's 58-vote victory.

The justices ordered a new trial, and Cuellar pledged to seek a ruling from the full 4th Court of Appeals.

"We feel good about it," Rodriguez said from Washington. "We are elated. We just want to be sure the true winner of the 28th Congressional District is elected."

The 22-page majority opinion said the trial court erred by not allowing evidence contesting the disputed results of the election and ordered a new trial in state district court before Judge Joseph Hart in Laredo.

Chief Justice Alma Lopez and Justice Catherine Stone, both Democrats, sided with Rodriguez in the 2-1 decision. Justice Paul Green, a Republican, wrote the dissenting opinion.

"Obviously, we're disappointed by the court's decision," Cuellar said, who said he remained "extremely confident" that he'll hold onto the Democratic nomination.

"To throw out 58 votes, that's an uphill battle," he said.

Cuellar said he would seek a ruling by the full 4th Court of Appeals, which is comprised of five Republicans and two Democrats. He has five days to file an appeal.


During the original case, Rodriguez attorney Buck Wood provided Cuellar's attorneys — but not the court — with a list of 262 names and addresses of voters he claims may have voted illegally in Webb County.

But Hart ruled Rodriguez could not present that evidence because it was not part of his original lawsuit, an issue that became the crux of the appeal.

Specifically, the appellate panel said Hart wrongfully disallowed Rodriguez to present his claim of unqualified voters. The justices ordered a new trial where evidence would be permitted "on both the validity of the recount and the qualifications of the individual voters."


In legal filings, Cuellar cited the 2000 presidential fiasco in Florida to argue that challenging votes in Webb County was "fundamentally unfair and constitutionally infirm" because it singled out voters in only one part of the expansive congressional district.

But the appellate court ruled that in Bush vs. Gore, the state of Florida lacked specific standards to determine the legality of votes, unlike Texas where votes are presumed to be legal unless proven otherwise.

"Although the task of reviewing the 300-and-some ballots Rodriguez contends were cast by unqualified voters may be an arduous one, it is a task our Legislature has indicated that the courts must undertake," the majority opinion read.

Cuellar spokesman T.J. Connolly said Green's dissenting opinion was "equally clear and strong that Judge Hart's rulings should in fact be upheld."

"It is our view that the full court, in hearing all the facts, may well concur with Judge Green and Judge Hart that Henry Cuellar has won," Connolly said.

I have to say, I lean somewhat towards what Mr. Connolly is saying here. Rodriguez has a reprieve, but I think he's still very much in jeopardy. Still, we won't know until we see his evidence, andnow he's got the chance to show it. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 23, 2004
Principles, schminciples

From the "Core Principles" of the 2004 Texas Republican Platform:

The family is responsible for its own welfare, education, moral training, conduct, and property

From today's LA Times:

Over Hollywood's long-standing objections, some members of Congress are endorsing legislation that would allow DVDs to be "sanitized" — stripped of scenes that parents don't want their children to see or hear — without first requiring the consent of studios or directors.


Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, told a congressional committee last week that such editing without the input of the directors and studios "disfigures the original vision of the creator."

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-North Hollywood) mustered a different argument against the legislation, saying it would send the wrong message to parents. "Technology should not become an excuse for avoiding the hard work of parenting," he said.

But Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), the bill's chief sponsor, suggested that Berman's position didn't reflect the challenges facing households in which kids are constantly being bombarded by the media.

"It's unrealistic and impractical to expect parents to monitor their children's video habits 24 hours a day," Smith said. "They need help."

Emphasis mine. Need I say more? LAT link via Pandagon.

UPDATE: I may not have had more to say, but Julia did. And how.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Blog news briefs

Jeff Cooper is back in action. This is a good thing.

Happy one-year blogiversary to the fine folks at the Appalachia Alumni Association. They may claim to be "inconsistent in subject matter, irregular in posting and lazy in updating links", but I say they're one of my favorites.

And may I just say, I love this picture of Christine from her wedding. I can't wait to see Disco Mike tomorrow.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Diving off the platform

I haven't written anything yet about the state GOP's 2004 platform (PDF), partly because other people like Kevin Drum and the Burnt Orange Report guys were on top of it, and partly because some things just defy parody. There are a couple of things I've noticed recently that bear mentioning, though.

One, picked up by Vince and Byron, is this letter from the Anti-Defamation League to the state GOP about its stated disrespect for other religions.

We are writing to you today to express our dismay that similar to the Texas Republican Party's 2002 platform, the section of its 2004 platform entitled "Promoting Individual Freedom and Personal Safety" contains a sub-heading called "Christian Nation" which "affirms that the United States is a Christian nation." We are also deeply concerned by the platform's reference to "the myth of the separation of church and state."

On behalf of our constituency across the State of Texas, we are again deeply concerned by this statement. As our founding documents demonstrate, our nation is not based on any one particular faith. Rather, our nation is a democratic one, founded on the principles of pluralism and diversity, including protecting the rights of the individual.

America was founded on the belief that freedom of religion requires that the government take no official stance on, or participate in, religious activity or religion. In addition, our United States Constitution prohibits a state religion and forbids a religious test for holding public office.

We realize that the party platform also states that Americans have the right as individuals to "practice their faith free from persecution, intimidation, and violence." However, this sentiment in no way cures the error of labeling America a "Christian nation." In fact, such a choice might seem illusory if a state religion were declared and may indeed help to undermine the democratic fabric of our society.

Finally, the separation of church and state is no myth; rather it is a fundamental principle of our democracy.

As Byron notes, the story has been picked up by Reuters. Don't you think it would be interesting if some enterprising Washington reporter were to ask President Bush about this? Not that you should hold your breath in anticipation, of course.

Here's something I'll bet you didn't know. According to Jonathan Ichikawa, the state GOP apparently believes that homosexuality is disability protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Americans with Disabilities Act – The Party supports amendment of the Americans with Disabilities Act to exclude from its definition those persons with infectious diseases, substance addiction, learning disabilities, behavior disorders, homosexual practices and mental stress, thereby reducing abuse of the Act.

As Jonathan notes, the ADA specifically excludes homosexuality as a protected condition:

The current law is very clear on the matter. Here's 42 U.S.C. §12211(a) (on the books since 1990, the same as the rest of the ADA):

(a) Homosexuality and bisexuality.—For purposes of the definition of "disability" in section 12102(2) of this title, homosexuality and bisexuality are not impairments and as such are not disabilities under this chapter.

So why does the Texas GOP platform include REMOVING an item from the list that wasn't on it in the first place?

Good question. Anyone?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
New Sandlin site

Rep. Max Sandlin's campaign site has undergone a redesign, and the index page now features a blog. Check it out, it looks pretty cool.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
No deal yet

Well, the Francis/McGrady trade has not happened yet, and the word is that other teams, including Phoenix and Indiana, have upped their offers. So the Rockets are at least temporarily in the lurch. What will happen? Don't ask Mark Cuban - he doesn't know any more than you or I do.

For what it's worth, the sports guy on KKRW this morning (filling in from the local WB TV station) thinks that if the trade doesn't go through, Cuttino Mobley will be OK with it but Steve Francis won't be. I think one way or another, Stevie will come to see this as a wake-up call, and will want to prove that everyone was wrong to be down on him. At least, that's the way he ought to see this if he knows what's good for him. We'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Ethics panel to hear complaint against DeLay

I suspect this was a formality, but it's still nice to see it happen.

The House ethics committee decided Tuesday to proceed with its own investigation into allegations filed against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay by Rep. Chris Bell, D-Houston.

In a ruling that does not address the substance of Bell's charges that DeLay engaged in extortion, bribery and abuse of power, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct said the complaint was filed properly and warrants a look.

The decision "in no way addresses, or constitutes a determination on the substance of any of the allegations," said Committee Chairman Joel Heffley, R-Colo., and ranking Democrat Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia.

Their announcement sets in motion a series of steps that could take months before a decision on whether the Republican leader from Sugar Land violated House rules. The panel could have held off until a related criminal investigation in Texas runs its course, and may still do so.

The effort to silence Chris Bell continues as well.

However some Republicans, including Rep. John Culberson of Houston, will press ahead today with an effort to disqualify Bell's complaint, arguing that he should not have the right to file ethics charges because he is a lame-duck congressman and has no stake in the House's future.


House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., privately has expressed his opposition to an effort by Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., Culberson and others, to disqualify Bell from filing the ethics complaint. LaHood said he will propose today a ban on lame-duck lawmakers filing ethics complaints, and have it apply to Bell to bring a quick end to the DeLay case.

In the end, I think LaHood and Culberson will fail, and once again I think they should be happy if they do. After all, if these charges are as empty and baseless as they insist they are, isn't it better to let Bell go ahead and make a fool of himself? Won't that pretty much forever inoculate DeLay against any further charges like this? Remember, he's going to be judged by the world's most sympathetic jury. What are they so worried about?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 22, 2004
Songs in the key of W

Via Michael and Avedon, I bring you the George W. Bush Singers, featuring Texas' own Guy Forsyth. They have MP3s and T-shirts for your listening and wearing pleasure.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Bell dukes it out with Culberson on KPFT

Looks like I missed out on some radio fun this afternoon, as Chris Bell and John Culberson went at it on Pacifica station KPFT this afternoon. Rob posts his impressions, while Greg has some actual MP3s of the show from KPFT's website. Check it out.

Greg also posts this Roll Call article about the GOP's denial of two Dear Colleague letters that Bell wanted to send. This just gets more and more interesting.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
For those keeping score at home

Here's a handy dandy guide to the various scandals, investigations, and allegations of impropriety currently being bandied about in our fair state. Even I had lost track of one or two of these. No clue when any of them will be wrapped up, but at least there's a list to look at. Via Free State Standard.

One point of interest:

[Phil] King, the Weatherford Republican, said Texas could prevent some of the partisan back-and-forth with clearer ethics laws. Because of ambiguities, he said, some politicians "step over the line" with regards to campaign ethics and others lodge unfair complaints.

"I believe we need a special committee to review the ethics laws, and to clarify the ambiguities, and to try to come up with something that is workable, clear and understandable," King said.

I'll believe it when I see it, Phil. As with independent nonpartisan redistricting committees, the minority party usually has a much greater interest in tougher ethics rules since they usually have more to gain from them, so I'd expect him to get the same response from his partymates that Jeff Wentworth has gotten. But if he's serious, and more to the point if he's successful, I'll give him his props for it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
So long, Stevie Franchise?

I don't know if the Rockets will go forward with the reported trade of Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato for Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue, and some spare parts, but I do know that after being so hastily kissed goodbye by Fran Blinebury and Richard Justice, the Rockets clubhouse may be an awkward place if the deal does fall through. Not that a failed deal would necessarily cast a pall over things - remember the Robert Horry trade in 1994 that didn't happen after Sean Elliott failed a physical? The team did all right after that, you know. But still.

Kevin is falling out of his chair with anticipation over this, and though I'm still enough of a Francis fan to be sorry to see him go, I think this is a good deal. Justice is right about one thing - no one will be able to accuse the team of being complacent and risk averse, that's for sure. I just wonder if Orlando won't think they can do better. We'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Ryan v. Ryan

As I'd expect, ArchPundit is your one-stop shop for all things on the Jack 'n' Jeri Ryan divorce saga. If you need a little extra helping of snark, I recommend Pete and Julia (be sure to read all of the comments).

Talk about your good news/bad news for President Bush: On the one hand, this story has the potential to distract everyone from Iraq for a few days. On the other hand, well, you know.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Wi-Fi wants to be free

And here we have the dark side of Wi-Fi everywhere: It's damn tough to monetize.

Small companies, some publicly traded, are burning cash trying to turn WiFi into viable business. Some have already shut down.

Faster than you can say "industry bubble," skeptics are asking whether wireless Internet connections will become similar to the wired Internet of the late 1990s — hot but rarely profitable.

"Anyone trying to build a stand-alone business on WiFi access should be worried," said analyst John Yunker of Byte Level Research. "It's not a stand-alone business, it's an add-on to other communications businesses, the cable bill or the DSL bill."

Well, I did sort of wonder about that. It'll be interesting to see how this market shakes out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Behold the power of Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman writes about William Krar, the terrorist John Ashcroft hasn't bothered to tell you about. Result: Already several hundred Google search referrals to this post, which is currently the #2 search result. In a just world, of course, Orcinus would be getting all of this traffic, as he's written boatloads about Krar (scroll down for his complete linkage to that point), but then Google, like life, isn't always fair. Don't let that stop you from clicking over to Orcinus and reading up on all this, though.

UPDATE: Over 500 search referrals for some variation of "william krar", in fact.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Murray Memo

One of the buzzworthy items that came out of the state convention was the news that UH political science professor Richard Murray was circulating a memo in which he proposed "to set up a Democratic Party think tank that will develop issues for candidates, conduct polling and network activists". That memo is now online (PDF) thanks to Greg, and it's very much worth your attention.

Like Greg, I'll have much to say about this soon. But for now, I'll begin with a section that George Strong quoted from (via Cate Read):

[W]on't the Kerry campaign help get things rolling here when they realize Bush is much more vulnerable in 2004 than 2000? I certainly hope so. There are excellent reasons why the national campaign should make a much greater effort in Texas than was done in 1992, 1996, or 2000. Let's cite three. First, it would relatively easy to dramatically cut George W. Bush's inflated popular vote margin of 2000 in Texas (3.80 million to just 2.43 million for Gore) because his job approval rating, according to the latest Texas Poll, had fallen to 48%, compared to his job rating (as governor) of over 60% in 2000. Slicing Bush's Texas margin by 800,000 votes, which I believe is entirely possible, would make it much more likely that even if President Bush squeaks by again in the electoral college and wins a second term, he would be a two-time loser of the popular vote. Denied a popular mandate, it would be considerably more difficult to stack the Supreme Court with right wing appointees in 2005 and 2006. A second reason why it makes a lot of sense for national Democrats to put Texas into play is we have 5 endangered Democratic House members running for re-election this fall. Absent help from the presidential campaign, getting the Democratic vote out in these districts will be all the more difficult. Three, Texas is a great stage for Kerry to use to attack the President on a wide range of issues. No one expects the Kerry campaign to spend much of their post-convention $75 million in hard cash in the state, but it makes a lot of sense to play hard here before the convention, and afterwards, as much as possible, given financial constraints. However, unless there is good evidence on the ground that Texas Democrats are geared up for the fight here is 2004, the chances of the national party doing anything here are greatly diminished. In my opinion, if Texas Democrats are going to start a comeback in 2004, it has to be from the ground up within the state, although it would sure be nice to be on the national party's radar this time around."

Several points to ponder:

1. Slicing Bush's margin in Texas and the likely benefit it'd bring to the endangered incumbents (and perhaps even to a challenger or two) is something I've touched on before and continue to believe. I'd guess that among the Redistricted Five, the expected benefit would be greatest for Frost and least for Stenholm and Sandlin, with Lampson and Edwards in between, based on how urban their districts are.

2. Another way to slice into Bush's margin would be for Kerry to dispatch the likes of John Edwards and Wesley Clark to Texas to act as his proxies (all the better if either or both are expected to be part of a Kerry Administration). Clark was endorsed by several of the Redistricted Five in the primary (including Frost and Stenholm), and I'd guess that he'd be the most valuable one to appear with them.

3. I believe an even bigger benefit to raised Democratic turnout would be in the State House races. Many of the ones that represent Democratic pickup opportunities are in big city areas where most of these hoped-for extra Democratic voters live. I know the campaign of Reginald McKamie, running for Harris County District Attorney, is working to make this happen for that reason.

4. I need to get my hands on that Texas Poll Murray cites. Forty-eight percent?? If that's accurate, it's flabbergasting.

More to come later.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The road forward

Now that the state convention is behind us (there's a slightly updated list of convention reports here), it's time to regroup and focus even more on the many important races going on in Texas. Towards that end, Texas Tuesdays will start featuring candidates for the State House. Many of these names will be less familiar to you, and many of these races will seem a bit remote, but we saw last summer how important control of the State House is, and these candidates represent hope for retaking that control. Please check out the still-to-grow list of candidates that we plan on featuring in the coming weeks, and follow the links to the candidates' websites to learn more about them. With your help, we can send Tom Craddick and his cronies back to the sidelines where they belong.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Holy bad apples, Batman!

I know that political satire was alive and well long before the advent of Photoshop, but really, what would we do without it? I'll bet old Thomas Nast would be the king of Fark if he were still around.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 21, 2004
Those third parties

Here's another article about the potential of the Libertarian and Constitution Parties to peel votes away from President Bush. Not a whole lot of new ground covered here, though they do at least talk to an actual Republican (from Ohio! a swing state!) who has abandoned Bush for the third-party siren song. I thought the most interesting bit was at the end here:

But if his candidacy does siphon away enough conservatives from Bush to put Kerry in the White House, Libertarian presidential nominee Michael Badnarik says that is fine with him. There is little difference between the major parties, he said, and playing the spoiler in a presidential election would greatly enhance Libertarians' national profile.

Jim Henley discusses the rationales for genuine libertarians to vote for the big-L Party, in case you wanted something other than Naderesque logic. Not that having the other guy on the receiving end of it will keep me awake at night, mind you.

[Michael] Peroutka, the Constitution nominee, said a Kerry victory could even help the conservative cause by prompting Republicans in Congress, who have approved Bush's spending increases, to oppose similar measures proposed by Kerry.

Mark Schmitt has some useful advice for John Kerry in the hoped-for event that he finds himself needing to push legislation through a recalcitrant Congress. The good news is that if Kerry's smart about it, he can probably neutralize the pushback Peroutka visualizes.

(Reuters story via Alan D. Williams.)

Speaking of Nader, I see he's named a Greenie as his running mate, presumably to win their nomination again so he can get on more state ballots, something he's having a hard time doing even in places where he's claimed to collect enough signatures, like Arizona. As Ezra points out, there's not much else that his choice does for him, and that's assuming he actually does get the Green nod, something which is not exactly assured.

I've been getting emails from the folks at The Nader Factor, whose mission is "dedicated to building a dynamic grassroots community of former Nader voters, Nader supporters, progressive Democrats and others who are uniting to change the destructive White House policies." More power to them and all, but I can't say I have a whole lot of hope that any remaining Nader supporters will truly change their minds between now and November. Still, if they can help to keep the ones they've got now in the Kerry camp, they'll get huzzahs from me.

UPDATE: Liberal Oasis suggests that John Kerry should come out in favor of altering the Commission on Presidential Debates' rules to allow all of these candidates a place at the podium. I doubt Kerry will do that, but LO makes a decent case for it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Matthews pleads guilty

Former right-wing talk show host Jon Matthews has pleaded guilty to one count of indecency with a child.

Matthews, 59, who resigned from his position at KSEV-AM 700 last year, was to go to trial June 28 but decided to accept the agreement after rejecting it last week, said Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey.

In a pre-trial hearing this morning in the court of state District Judge Brady Elliott, Matthews' attorney, Stephen Doggett, said he wanted to speak with prosecutors about reconsidering the offer.

Healey said prosecutors were surprised by Matthews' decision.

"It was a possibility, but it was not anticipated," Healey said.

Matthews left the courtroom with his attorney and declined to comment.

The judge deferred the official finding of guilt and the sentencing until Aug. 2.

According to court documents, Matthews is to be placed on deferred adjudication for seven years.

Criminal defendants who successfully complete the terms of deferred adjudication avoid final conviction, but the fact that they were charged remains a part of their record.

The arrangement calls for Matthews to register as a sex offender, perform community service and move from his Sugar Land house.

Prosecutors said Matthews can no longer reside at the house on Rolling Mill because it is too close to Sugar Land Middle School. State law prohibits sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school.

Matthews also must make a $5,000 donation to Crime Stoppers.

He was indicted Nov. 11 on a charge alleging that he had exposed himself to an 11-year-old girl at his home on Oct. 9. He was arrested two days later and released on $10,000 bail.

There are an awful lot of snarky comments that I could be making here, and I've no doubt that were this story about a prominent liberal, Matthews would be right there on the air making them and condemning everyone remotely connected to that person, but I'll refrain from anything beyond that. Not out of any respect for Matthews, for whom I have never had any, but out of respect for the child involved. No matter how you slice it, there's nothing funny about that.

UPDATE: Today's Chron story gives more detail about the crime Matthews will plead guilty to.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Getting an early start

I see here that Mike McCaul, the Least Insane Republican Candidate from CD10, is hoping for a leadership position once he gets to Congress and finishes shining all of Tom DeLay's shoes.

WASHINGTON -- While most congressional candidates remain focused on November's elections, Austin's Michael McCaul is preparing a different campaign -- one he hopes will yield a leadership role among House Republicans when the 109th Congress convenes in January.

With no Democrat to face in November beyond a potential write-in candidate, McCaul has been free to spread his name around Washington, meeting House Speaker Dennis Hastert, White House political strategist Karl Rove and other Republicans serving in Congress.

"He's already a-moving and a-shaking," said U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, McCaul's former boss at the Texas attorney general's office. "He's able to start building his staff (and) get to meet and know the powers-that-be."

"It's given me a tremendous advantage," said McCaul, a former federal prosecutor. "I'd like to have one of those leadership positions."

I got this link from SurlyEdition, and I confess I'm not as worked up about it as he is. That's the way the House works, and were the partisan tables turned I'd expect no less for a freshman Democrat. It's a bit obnoxious of McCaul to be preemptively brownnosing when he still has an opponent in November, but it's also a little hard to crime him for feeling confident about his chances.

That said, it's worth mentioning again why the failure to field a non-write-in candidate is a damning indictment of the state Democratic Party:

McCaul, 42, also plans to tread another well-worn path to power: money.

He will campaign for other Republicans and hold an Austin fund-raiser for Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, who thanks to redistricting is embroiled in a nationally prominent race with 13-term Democratic Rep. Martin Frost of Dallas.

"I'll be focusing my time now on helping the other Republican candidates get elected. Besides being the right thing to do, it puts me in good stead with leadership," McCaul said.

On the plus side, McCaul does actually have to spend some time worrying about his own finances:

McCaul -- already thinking about re-election in 2006 -- hopes to whittle away at his $1.6 million campaign debt (financed by his half of a $3 million home he owns with his wife, Linda). After a fund-raiser in Washington and another today at former Austin Mayor Roy Butler's house, he expects to have raised about $100,000 toward that goal. Other events are planned in Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.

Better that than enriching Pete Sessions, I guess, not that either would have been my first choice.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Attacking the attackers

Fed up with denial-of-service attacks? Well, how about fighting fire with fire?

Symbiot Security, based in Austin, says its new Intelligent Security Infrastructure Management Systems not only defends networks but lets them fight back, too. Symbiot says the product is already in use in some corporate, government and military networks.


The offering, known as iSIMS, comes amid growing frustration over computer intruders. The U.S.-government-funded CERT Coordination Center handled 137,529 computer security incidents in 2003, up from 82,094 last year and 52,658 in 2001.

Hackers, worms and data attacks are costing companies dearly and open the door to identity theft and the loss of intellectual property.

"Make no mistake," reads a document on Symbiot's Web site, "we are in the midst of an information warfare conflict which we have not been fighting."

Symbiot's iSIMS consists of hardware, software and support services. Much of it is focused on traditional defensive measures like blocking unwanted traffic or deflecting it to where it can do no harm. But it can also escalate the response and return fire.

In documents on the company's Web site, Symbiot advocates a gradual escalation of action based on the best information available and the customer's preference.

However, privately held Symbiot won't reveal what shape the most aggressive attacks might take.

It also won't say whether any iSIMS clients, whom it will not name, have taken aggressive offensive measures. It did say, however, that iSIMS has been deployed on "several enterprise, government and military networks."

"When we're talking about this, the technical details become extremely important," said Tim Mullen, chief software architect of the secure accounting program maker AnchorIS.

Mullen, who has no relationship with Symbiot, says he supports striking back in certain situations.

A position paper attributed to Symbiot's executives and posted on its Web site broadly outlines the counterstrike philosophy. "On the Rules of Engagement for Information Warfare" says computer intrusions deserve a response in kind — including "asymmetric" countermeasures that can include flooding the attacking computers with data, rendering them Internet-blind and other measures to neutralize the problem.

Needless to say, this is a controversial approach, and there are a number of quotes from other experts who give their reasons for doubting the efficacy of Symbiot's tactics. I suspect that it will be as popular and as polarizing as the Realtime Blacklist is for fighting spam. I do know that I'd want to know an awful lot more about it before I risked becoming a legal precedent for liability in the event that my counterattack caused collateral damage.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Stu likes them

The Stakeholder highlights three Congressional candidates who recently got a bit of love from Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg. One of them is Lois Murphy, who was named today as the seventh member of the dKos 8. Be sure to marvel at the PA-6 district map. Who knew that gerrymandering software could do fractals?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
And now these messages

I'm with Alex - it really is appalling and off-putting how many commercials are playing on radio these days. It's worst in morning drivetime, as far as I can tell from my own listening experience, but whenever it happens there's nothing like hearing five solid minutes of car dealer ads to make you want to scream. Have I mentioned how much I miss my CD player?

Anyway, it's interesting to note that the glut of ads on radio appears to be not working very well. Alex wonders if this means that listenership is also down. I think if it isn't now, it will be soon, as satellite radio becomes more ubiquitous - how many new cars have them as standard equipment now? If I were them, I'd be very worried about now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Poker time

Note to self: Never agree to play poker at The Poor Man's house. But do read about it, as long as you abide by the standard beverage warning.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Convention wrapups

Quite a few bloggers attended the state Democratic Convention this past weekend, and many of them have written up their experiences. There's a lot of good stuff out there, so check out these links if you want to know what really happened.

Byron has an early report. He and Karl-Thomas should have their wrapups done later today.

Greg Wythe has two long posts, both of which are very informative.

Cate Read, who appears to be a neighbor of mine (how in the world is it that I'd not heard of her before now?), is going to be a national delegate.

Tom Fowler will not be a national delegate, but he's okay with that. He also has a report from Richard Morrison's Brazoria County manager.

Gary Denton has some links now and will have some more later, including a "surprise" email interview. I'll check back and see what that's about.

Thanks to Gary I've found another new blogger, Aggro, who reports on the Technology Caucus.

Vince Leibowitz has all kinds of stuff, including this report from the Credentials Committee, this chat with Congressional candidate Jim Nickerson, running in CD04 against Ralph Hall, and this impressive bit of name-dropping. You da man, Vince.

Shannon Sizemore has a couple of photos up.

Sarah reports on the Young Dems, Drive Democracy, and obstreporous cabbies.

Finally (for now), the convention was a big success for Richard Morrison. The one event I did get to attend was a party for Morrison thrown by the Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association. The room was packed, with many people wearing "Morrison for Congress" T-shirts. There's a lot of energy in that campaign, and I believe only good things will come of it.

If I missed your writeup, please let me know. Thanks!

UPDATE: George Strong adds something I didn't realize:

And the Democrats were loving the Hilton Americas Hotel and the fact that it is now the largest and the only Union hotel in the City. The Gossips think that the hotel will see lots of Democratic events held there just because they know that union members will benefit.


UPDATE: More from the Morrison campaign, and the Joe Hill Dispatch.

UPDATE: Here's Stephen Bates' report. Hope you're feeling better, Steve!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 20, 2004
Bell lays out his case

Rep. Chris Bell gives his reasons for filing the ethics complaint against Tom DeLay in today's Chron. I can't wait to see the letters-to-the-editor this will draw in response. I've reproduced the whole piece at the Texas Tuesdays site for future reference. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
A tale of two injustices

The top story in today's Chron is a status report on the unjustly convicted citizens of Tulia. They're still miles away from any kind of genuinely happy ending.

Last June, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill freeing those who were still in prison, but their legal battles continue as they try to get the bogus convictions expunged.

More important, most of the 46 people ensnared in the corrupt 1999 drug sting have been trying to put their lives back together. Of those arrested, 38 people, most of them black, were convicted.

For some, there is not much to restore. They live on the most economically depressed side of a town in a two-decade slump.

And though they may not have committed the crimes they went to jail for, several have admitted using drugs and some have had scrapes with the law that previously landed them at least on probation.

Soon they will be rich -- at least by Tulia standards. Swisher County paid them $12,000 each as part of a settlement for their wrongful convictions. They also await a decision from the judge in charge of dividing $4 million among them.

For some, buying cars was one of the first steps in defining their new lives. Dealers, anticipating the settlement, made it easier by deferring payments until the money came in. Finding a modicum of normalcy may be more elusive.

"Everyone is poor, and there aren't good jobs in Tulia," said Vanita Gupta, an NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney who argued the cases on appeal. "The town still has a lot of resentment about the tarnishing of their town's name, so they are not interested in hiring the former defendants.

"And until they have the convictions wiped from the record, they also do not have access to public housing or student loans to go to school. Tulia has become the name for everything wrong with the war on drugs."

Miles and miles to go.

Over on the op-ed pages, there's this strong piece by Suzanne O'Malley, author of Are You There Alone?: The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates. Two bits worth quoting, though the whole thing should be read:

"[What] made it challenging for me is that I wished she were insane, but she wasn't, not within the law of Texas. And yet, the reason I wished she were insane is that this was a very good woman before she became ill who was a very sick woman after she became ill. It's a rare combination, of the people that I see, to have someone of good character who is profoundly sick. She, despite having nearly incapacitating symptoms of mental illness, nonetheless knew that her actions in killing the children were to be condemned by God and by society, and that they were illegal. [S]he believed that [her children's] best chance of heaven was to die now, before they were corrupted [by Satan]."

That's Dr. Park Dietz today, speaking about Andrea Yates. And then there's this, regarding the nearly identical case of Deanna Laney:

Were the verdicts different because Yates followed orders from Satan and Laney from God? It seemed incredible, but many were tempted to think Texas jurors might be that biased. I had a different take: Andrea Yates' legal misfortune was that her delusion included knowing that the drownings were wrong, fitting snugly -- though perhaps too literally -- within the Texas sanity test. Indeed, some of the think tank members seemed surprised that Dr. Dietz had sliced legal sanity so thin. That the jury had gone along with him when, clinically, Yates was clearly insane.

I thought the public awareness generated by the Yates case was the reason for the different verdicts. For more than a year, daily Yates press coverage had taken the nation to school. In the Laney case, even psychiatrists for the defense and prosecution (again including Dr. Dietz) and the presiding judge unanimously agreed Laney was insane, the district attorney felt citizens deserved a full public hearing of the controversial case. The Laney trial became a referendum on how the public wanted to deal with sick moms who harm their infants.

The jury's acquittal of Laney spoke loud and clear. Even under Texas law -- which like numerous states uses the strictest legal definition of insanity -- the public no longer supported million-dollar trials for the crime of infanticide when commitment to a state mental institution could be negotiated without one.

So in a sense, one of the think tank experts said, Deanna Laney got Andrea Yates' verdict? Exactly, I answered. That was my opinion. (Following Laney's acquittal, she was automatically transferred to a state maximum security psychiatric hospital where she may remain for as long as 40 years.)

Emphasis mine. While I largely concur with Ms. O'Malley's conclusion, I will always believe that if Andrea Yates' jury had known what an acquittal had actually meant for her, they never would have convicted. That's something that really needs to be rectified.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Happy Father's Day

Olivia is two weeks old today. This is my first official Father's Day. I've even received my first official Father's Day cards, from my sister-in-law and one of Tiffany's cousins. Pretty darned cool.

We made our first trip as a family yesterday. Olivia slept through all of it, which needless to say made it a lot easier. There's a grocery store run on our agenda today - wish us luck.

Happy Father's Day!

UPDATE: Made it back from the grocery store. We used the sling instead of the stroller this time, and once again she slept right through it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 19, 2004
Gonna make you sweat

Via Amblongus and Lasso, I see that El Paso has been named "America's Sweatiest City", and that El Pasoans are not happy about it. I don't claim to be an expert about this, but I'm scratching my head at the concept of a city with zero humidity being sweatier than Houston. Some time ago, the lead singer for the Mollys, a band out of Tucson, said "They say that living in Arizona is like living in an oven. True, but in my experience living in Houston must be like living in a dishwasher." Hard to argue with that if you ask me.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Happy Juneteenth!

Norbizness reminds me that today is Juneteenth, the holiday which celebrates the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching Texas. He's got some good linkage, so check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Fiorenza opposes politicizing Communion

Good for Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, archbishop of the Houston/Galveston diocese, for stating that he does not favor making the Eucharist a political football.

Wading into a national debate that has entwined presidential politics with religion, Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston said he does not favor denying Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.

In a column published in diocesan newspaper the Texas Catholic Herald, Fiorenza wrote that denying someone Communion would, in effect, excommunicate the person — a "very serious sanction" that requires "strict criteria before it can be imposed.

"The tradition of the church does not make a public judgment on those who wish to receive Holy Communion," Fiorenza wrote in the June 11 letter. "The burden for judging one to be free of serious sin and worthy to receive the Eucharist is each person's own conscience."

He also said that denying Communion "would be counterproductive and, at the end of the day, would harm the pro-life movement."

Catholic politicians with positions that differ from church teaching have become a hot topic in churches and on the campaign trail in recent months. Presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry is Catholic and supports abortion rights. Some church leaders, most notably Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, have said they would deny Communion to him and other politicians with similar views.

"The reality is that it has only been in the current election year where there has been serious discussion of denying people Communion by some bishops," said John Francis Burke, professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas. "You notice it is a few isolated bishops. It is not the majority."

This week, Fiorenza was in Englewood, Colo., at a closed meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that ends today. At the meeting, the Task Force on Catholics in Public Life presented a progress report on its work on this issue. The task force, headed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington state, is scheduled to make its recommendations at the bishops' annual November meeting after the presidential election.

In his letter, Fiorenza said he wished church leaders had waited for the task force report before speaking out. Fiorenza spoke out because Houston-area Catholics had asked him about his position, said Monsignor Frank H. Rossi, area diocese chancellor.

"What is significant about (Fiorenza) weighing in on the issue is that he is the past president of the (bishops) conference, so he has some stature nationally," said Burke, who is also chairman of St. Thomas' Social Justice Committee.

Fiorenza outlined church teaching on Communion in his letter. He also mentioned Pope John Paul II's January 2003 "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life," which "emphasized the grave moral evil of abortion and legislation which supports it."

The bishop said he hopes the current debate "will greatly influence Catholic politicians who support abortion to rethink their political position on this most serious of human-rights issues."

Maybe we can finally put this issue to rest now.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Prosecutors turn towards Kenny Boy

The moment we've all been waiting for is nigh: Prosecutors seeking Lay indictment.

Federal prosecutors plan to ask a grand jury to indict Ken Lay on charges relating to the last few months he was at the helm of Enron as the company spiralled into its stunning 2001 collapse.

The indictments are expected within two weeks, according to lawyers close to the case.

For the past 2 1/2 years, the Justice Department's Enron Task Force has been investigating Lay -- the company's former chairman -- and recently the probe has picked up steam.

Over the past few weeks, witnesses about Lay have appeared before the Enron grand jury in increasing numbers. At the same time, prosecutors have been separately interviewing other witnesses and shoring up details about Lay.

Government lawyers have been playing their cards close to their vests, and lawyers for witnesses acknowledge that prosecutors could postpone the final presentation of the case.

Prosecutors are barred from speaking publicly about grand jury business, and Enron Task Force Director Andrew Weissmann would not comment for this story.

But the Houston-based grand jury has already heard five days of testimony this month, all focused on Lay. Enron Task Force prosecutors John Hemann and John Hueston, who are investigating Lay, have taken in witness after witness, including Lay's Chief of Staff Steven Kean and ex-Enron General Counsel Jim Derrick.

Topics that prosecutors have been quizzing witnesses about include:

·Lay's receipt of three memos or e-mails warning of financial trouble and fraud at the company within weeks of Jeff Skilling's abrupt August 2001 departure as CEO.

·His public statements to investors and analysts.

·Lay's attempt to find an alternative to having to substantially write down the "goodwill" or excess price paid for assets.

·His trades of company stock for millions of dollars in company cash in those last months.

Lay's Houston-based lawyer, Mike Ramsey, said Friday that while he knows there is an active investigation into his client, he will be surprised if there's an indictment.

"Indict him for what?" Ramsey said Friday. "I don't know what they could charge him with."

Lay's lawyers have noted Lay has a good defense to insider trading charges because he held on to much of his Enron stock even as the company went bankrupt. And they said most of the millions in cash he borrowed from the company and paid back with stock was used to pay off other debt created by the fall of the price of Enron stock.

Andy Fastow, Ben Glisan, and Paula Rieker are potential witnesses against him. Stay tuned, the good part is coming up.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 18, 2004
Blogger caucus

Richard Morrison meets the bloggers at Kaveh Kanes and answers a few questions. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner

In addition to the Blogger Caucus, I will be attending one convention-related activity this weekend, a party tonight for Richard Morrison. Look for me there if you attend.

The Chron says that the state Dems are pinning their hopes on a couple of "upsets" in this year's elections, though they don't really spend much time exploring that, nor do they examine anything beyond the races involving redistricted candidates. The sidebar that looks ahead to 2006 is interesting, though.

The Express-News looks at some grumbling over a keynote address being delivered by State Rep. Sylvester Turner. Greg asks the logical question - since the convention is being held in State Rep. Garnet Coleman's district, why not have him speak instead? Byron has a few more details to chip in.

Shannon and Sarah have some Day One reports from Houston for you.

Curious quote du jour, in the Star-Telegram:

Pat Carlson, chairwoman of the GOP in Tarrant County, said predictions of Democratic victories are nothing more than "wishful thinking."

"And I wish they would put Hillary [Rodham Clinton] on the ticket, because then we'd have it in the bag," Carlson said.

So, um, does that mean you're worried about your chances of winning otherwise? And if so, that makes us thinking wishfully how?

Finally, though normally taking the advice of Republicans on how to rebuild the state Democratic Party, especially when printed in a Republican-friendly venue like the Dallas Morning News, is akin to taking the croupier's advice on which bet to place at craps, I must note that there is some good stuff contained therein. And also, perhaps inadvertently, one clear window into just how the Ronald Reagan path to success that these GOP veterans extol really worked.

As Democratic officeholders began converting to the GOP, Mr. Strake said, party luminaries – such as U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm and Vice President George Bush – would call some Democrats to give them a nudge.

"I'd tell them you'll sleep much better under the party of Ronald Reagan than Jesse Jackson," Mr. Strake recalled.

Need I say more?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Religion and popular culture

I'm not a blog triumphalist, but it's hard not to consider this medium superior to other forms when you can see such an intelligent discussion of religion and pop culture as the one that was started by Amy Sullivan, picked up by Fred Clark here, here, and here, and continued by Kevin at Lean Left. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Hispanic press and the Presidential race

We all know that there's a ton of money being spent on advertising and outreach to Hispanic citizens in this year's Presidential election, but as this fascinating piece in CJR's Campaign Desk shows, outreach to Hispanic media itself is sorely lacking on all sides. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Money, money, money

Here's another reason why we may continue to have special sessions, regardless of their actual legislative utility: Campaign fundraisers held during special sessions are very lucrative, at least for some people.

Three top state officeholders together collected more than $1 million for their campaign war chests during the recent special legislative session, according to reports filed Wednesday with the Texas Ethics Commission. Thanks to reader Michael for the heads-up on the first article.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst raised the most – nearly $540,000. He held four fund-raisers and one appreciation luncheon for past donors during the special session on school finance.

The session ended May 17, two days early and without a school finance plan.

Gov. Rick Perry, who called the session, held three fund-raisers, including one on the night after the House gutted a bill to cut property taxes and change how schools are funded.

He added almost $450,000 to his political coffers.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who postponed all her out-of-town fund-raisers during the special session, held one in Austin. She raised nearly $130,000.

State law bars officeholders from raising money during regular legislative sessions to prevent attempts at influence peddling, but no such law applies to the 30-day special sessions that can be called by the governor. Special sessions trigger a reporting requirement, but the officeholders and candidates don't have to paint a complete picture.

Don't you just love loopholes? There's no valid reason for this one to exist, but of course no one who benefits from it has any interest in closing it. And as you can see, there's a lot of benefit.

Even with all of that, it's not enough to make Governor Perry the top cash hoarder in the state.

Two high-profile Republicans who may run for Texas governor in 2006 have piles of campaign money, which they had to disclose this week.

But Gov. Rick Perry's $4.4 million balance and Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's $3.2 million look modest next to the stack that belongs to a third possible GOP contender – U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Her campaign kitty had more than $6.5 million on hand as of March 31.

The question is whether Ms. Hutchison could transfer money raised for federal office to fund a run for governor.

For many years, federal officeholders could do so. But the McCain-Feingold legislation that Congress passed two years ago deleted from a list of permissible uses of campaign funds the phrase "for any other lawful purpose."

The Federal Election Commission used to cite the language to allow transfer of unspent money to local races and recently urged Congress to restore it.

"It may be they didn't intend to take it out, but it's out," said commission spokesman Ian Stirton.

He said he now ducks questions about using congressional war chests to run for state office back home "because we don't have that provision in our regulation anymore."

Whether that language gets reinstated or not would also have an effect on potential statewide candidacies for folks like Reps. Jim Turner and Chris Bell. Not as big an effect as on KBH, of course, but an effect nonetheless.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Another reason why it's hard to stay ahead of the satire curve

And here I thought Ted was kidding about seeing John Kerry in a Members Only jacket. I'm so out of touch sometimes.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
GOP moves to silence complaint

I suppose we should have seen this one coming: In response to Rep. Chris Bell's ethics complaint against Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a GOP flack has moved to forbid the filing of such complaints by lame-duck members.

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., took steps Thursday to throw out the complaint by Bell, a Democrat whose Houston-area district borders DeLay's.

LaHood said that because Bell is a lame-duck congressman, after losing the Democratic primary this year in his freshman term, he "has no stake in the institution" and should be disqualified from filing the charges. Bell's term expires at the end of the year.

A spokesman for House GOP leaders said the series of events in defense of DeLay was not a coordinated effort.

"We're trying to make sure people follow the rules. We always do that," said John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

"And if that means we have to change to rules midstream, then so be it," he did not add.

In DeLay's office, spokesman Stuart Roy said he did not know of any organized attempt to mute Democratic criticism.

"Chris Bell and other Democrats love to moan and whine and play the victim card because they have nothing else to offer," Roy said.

Well fine then. Why not let his baseless, meaningless complaint go forward so that all the world can see it for its lack of merit? It's not like DeLay is putting his fate into the hands of twelve strangers who couldn't weasel their way out of jury duty, after all. He'll be judged by his professional colleagues, at least half of whom will be Republicans. How much fairer a shake could he ask for? For Rep. LaHood to take this action says to me that he fears Bell's charges.

At least one Republican is being mature about this:

In a twist, ethics Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., who has a cool relationship with DeLay, disagreed with LaHood's attempt to cripple Bell because of his lame-duck status.

"I don't think that's appropriate. Anybody who is here and is a legitimate member of Congress, whether this is their last term or not, if they think there have been some indiscretions, they have a right to bring it to our attention," Hefley said.

We'll see if Rep. Hefley finds himself out on a limb. I sure hope not. I also sure hope that if Rep. LaHood carries the day, some non-lame duck Democrat will pick up the ball for Chris Bell and refile the complaint. It just shouldn't have to come to that.

Meanwhile, there are developments on two other fronts. First, the Miami Daily Business Review has another installment in the Bacardi Follies. Second, according to Roll Call, the Senate Indian Affairs Panel is going forward with subpoenas for Jack Abramoff and Mike Scanlon, lobbysists and DeLay associates, for their roles in charging huge fees to tribes for casino-related work. Both are subscription-only, so click the More link for the stories. Thanks as always to AJ Garcia for the tips.

As donations flowed, heavyweight lawmakers pleaded spirits giant’s case for Havana Club

June 18, 2004

By: Dan Christensen

Three powerful members of Congress who received campaign money from Miami-based Bacardi USA put pressure on the Bush administration to help the rum giant in its long-running trademark dispute over the Havana Club rum label.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, and Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., each sent nearly identical letters to Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans in November 2001, seeking to influence the outcome of then-pending administrative proceedings over the rights to the Havana Club trademark.

According to information that emerged during Senate Judiciary Committee proceedings, the letters urged Evans to intervene and cancel the Havana Club trademark registration held by CubaExport, which is owned by the Cuban government.

Those proceedings at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, an agency directly under Secretary Evans, pitted Bacardi against French liquor titan Pernod Ricard and CubaExport. Bacardi was seeking the right to use the Havana Club rum label in the United States.

Before and after the three members of Congress sent their letters to Evans, Bacardi money flowed to the political causes of the three members. Political groups controlled by DeLay received the most — $43,000, according to records kept by the Internal Revenue Service and the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property Jonathan W. Dudas last month disclosed the existence of the letters after inquiries made during Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation proceedings. Dudas has been nominated by President Bush to be director of the Patent and Trademark Office. He currently is acting director.

In a related development Tuesday, outgoing Texas Congressman Chris Bell, D-Houston, filed an ethics complaint with the House that accused DeLay of backing a pro-Bacardi bill in exchange for a $20,000 contribution in July 2002 to his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority.

“In exchange for Bacardi’s financial support, DeLay has pushed a piece of legislation — often referred to as ‘the Bacardi bill’ — that would alter U.S. trademark rules to benefit Bacardi,” said the complaint that seeks an investigation of that and other allegations against DeLay by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The bill is opposed by numerous other U.S. businesses including Kodak, General Motors and DuPont who fear it could damage existing trademark protections.

The disclosure of the letters is the latest revelation in the emerging story of Bacardi USA’s long-running lobbying campaign to win the rights to sell Havana Club rum in the United States.

Bacardi sought the cancellation of CubaExport’s U.S. trademark registration for Havana Club. That would have short-circuited proceedings before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board and allowed Bacardi to press its own application to register the Havana Club mark.

But Secretary Evans declined to cancel CubaExport’s registration. In response letters written to DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings in late 2001 and early 2002, Evans said he didn’t have the authority “to take the action you have suggested.”

Last January, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board dismissed Bacardi’s claim to the Havana Club label. Bacardi is appealing that decision in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Bacardi spokeswoman Patricia Neal said she did not know whether anyone at her company had asked the members of Congress to write those letters. But she said that Bacardi enjoys broad, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill on a number of issues. “Some members feel strongly about certain issues and write letters,” she said.

Neither DeLay nor Bonilla’s offices responded to telephone requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Hollings said there was no connection between Bacardi’s contribution and his letter to Evans. “He’s a longtime advocate on trade issues and he believes that [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro had no right to these trademarks,” said spokeswoman Ilene Zeldin.

WTO weighs in

Cuba registered the Havana Club trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1976 after its former owners let it lapse in 1973. Havana Club Holdings, a joint venture of the Cuban government and Pernod Ricard, currently sells Havana Club rum in more than 80 countries.

In 1997, Bacardi announced it had purchased the Havana Club trademark from its original owner, Jose Arechabala S.A. When Bacardi started testing Havana Club in the U.S. market, Havana Club Holdings filed a federal trademark infringement lawsuit.

But Havana Club Holdings’ lawsuit was short-circuited in 1999 when Congress, under prodding by Florida Sens. Connie Mack and Bob Graham, passed Section 211 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act. The law prohibits the U.S. from honoring trademarks confiscated by foreign governments.

The World Trade Organization later got involved after the European Union filed suit on behalf of France in October 2000. Ultimately, the WTO held that Section 211 violated international intellectual property protections because it disadvantaged foreigners over U.S. nationals. The U.S. has until the end of 2004 to comply WTO rules or face sanctions.

Gov. Bush’s role

The disclosure of the letters from DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings that sought to influence the outcome of that legal fight came as a result of questions by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He asked Dudas about his knowledge of “press accounts” about Gov. Jeb Bush’s lobbying efforts for Bacardi regarding the Havana Club dispute. Many details of those lobbying efforts were first reported in an October 2002 story in the Daily Business Review.

Bacardi USA recruited Gov. Bush in 2002 to lobby its case in Washington, D.C., with political appointees of his brother, President Bush. All the while, Bacardi officials poured tens of thousands of dollars into the treasuries of Florida’s Republican Party and the governor’s re-election campaign.

Dudas was deputy PTO director in February 2002 when he met with Bacardi executive Jorge Rodriguez Marquez and a member of Gov. Bush’s staff, Melissa Freedman, to discuss the Havana Club dispute. In response to Sen. Leahy’s questions, Dudas summarized that meeting.

In his written answer to Leahy, Dudas recounted Gov. Bush’s personal letter to then-PTO Director James E. Rogan on June 13, 2002, “calling for cancellation of the Havana Club registration.” He also said that “to supplement my answer” he was providing the Judiciary Committee with the DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings letters.

The letters from the three members of Congress urged Evans to have the PTO cancel CubaExport’s Havana Club trademark, No. 1,031,651. In support, each cited a 1997 federal court ruling as requiring such action.

But as Secretary Evans pointed out in his reply to each, that ruling did not require such an action. “The court did not order cancellation … therefore the U.S. PTO is without authority to take the action you have suggested,” he wrote, enclosing with each reply a copy of the court’s actual judgment.

Timely contributions

As it did while enlisting Gov. Bush’s lobbying support, Bacardi made large and timely contributions to DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings’ political causes.

In Gov. Bush’s case, Bacardi made a $50,000 contribution to the Florida Republican Party two weeks before the governor sent his June 13, 2002, letter to PTO Director Rogan. A spokeswoman for the governor previously told the Review that there was no “quid pro quo.” She said Bush helped Bacardi because it’s a big employer in Florida.

The dates on which Bacardi gave money to organizations associated with DeLay, Bonilla and Hollings, who is retiring this year, aren’t publicly known. Applicable federal reporting rules require only that those donations be attributed within semi-annual, quarterly or monthly reporting periods.

IRS and U.S. House clerk records show that between July 1, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2001 — the time during which DeLay wrote his letter to Secretary Evans — Bacardi pumped $20,000 in soft money into DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee. It also gave $3,000 to the Tom DeLay Legal Expense Trust, an account set up to defend a civil action filed against him by House Democrats.

The following July, Bacardi contributed $20,000 more to DeLay’s state political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority. That contribution to TRMPAC is a focus of a continuing investigation by a Travis County, Texas, grand jury into allegedly illegal spending of corporation contributions by TRMPAC.

Rep. Bonilla’s leadership PAC, the American Dream PAC, received $10,000 in from Bacardi between April 1 and June 30, 2002. Bacardi gave American Dream another $10,000 between July 1, 2000, and Sept. 30, 2000.

Sen. Hollings’ leadership PAC, Citizens for a Competitive America, received a $5,000 contribution from Bacardi between Jan. 1, 2002, and March 31, 2002.

There’s currently a fight in Congress about how to respond to the WTO’s ruling and sanctions threat over Section 211. Rep. Bonilla and Sen. Hollings are co-sponsors of pro-Bacardi bills introduced this spring that seek to bring the United States into compliance with the WTO ruling while leaving Section 211 in force. Rep. DeLay is not a co-sponsor, but was a key player in a failed effort last year to get the same language included in a defense authorization bill.

Opponents, led by Reps. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., are backing competing legislation to repeal Section 211. The National Foreign Trade Council and companies such as General Motors and DuPont are endorsing that legislation. They have expressed fears that Section 211 jeopardizes existing trademark protections and future access to Cuban markets.

Indian Affairs Panel OKs Subpoenas for Abramoff

June 17, 2004
By Paul Kane, Roll Call Staff

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee has approved issuing broad subpoenas to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a former aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in connection with the more than $45 million in fees they charged tribal clients. In what panel members later described as a unanimous decision, the committee on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for issuing subpoenas to Abramoff and Mike Scanlon as well as to some businesses and firms they have been associated with over the past few years.

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), the committee’s chairman, said the subpoenas would start going out later this week or early next week, although he held out the possibility that the tribal clients themselves might not be subpoenaed — an issue that Campbell and ranking member Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) expect to work out over the next few days.

“We’re looking at individuals and corporations much more than tribes,” Campbell said. He confirmed that Abramoff and Scanlon are among those who would receive summonses.

“A lot of people have been subpoenaed,” Inouye said after the closed-door executive session in which they were issued. He put the number at “more than 10,” while Campbell said the figure could be “as many as 15.”

Wednesday’s developments are the latest twist in the three-month-old committee investigation initiated by Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the panel’s No. 2 Republican and the heir apparent to the chairmanship next year.

Abramoff, who resigned earlier this year from the law and lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig, billed four different tribes about $15 million between 2001 and 2003 while at the same time referred them to Scanlon, the former DeLay aide who worked closely with Abramoff as a public relations and grassroots campaign expert. According to internal audits and press reports in The Washington Post and other media outlets, Scanlon appears to have raked in twice as much as Abramoff — more than $30 million, and possibly much more.

There is evidence that the FBI is looking into how some of the tribes spent their money. The Interior Department is doing its own investigation. Once McCain went public with his complaints and coaxed Campbell into launching the investigation, Greenberg Traurig ousted Abramoff, citing its own preliminary internal inquiry that turned up unspecified actions that violated firm policy.

The firm is close to completing its own internal probe, for which it hired outside counsel, and may seek further retribution against Abramoff.

The firm declined to comment about the committee’s actions Wednesday. Abramoff’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, released a statement declining to comment on the specifics of the committee’s actions because of its decision to act in secrecy. “Because the committee apparently decided to act in closed session, we don’t know what it did or what, if any, subpoenas have been issued,” Lowell said.

A lawyer for Scanlon did not reply to a request for comment.

Inouye said he expects Abramoff and his old firm to try to beat back the subpoena. “I would anticipate that they will try to resist,” he said.

At particular issue with Abramoff will be the work he did for several tribes who apparently have attorney-client confidentiality privilege with Greenberg Traurig. A few of the tribes are in internal feuds, with warring camps divided by their stance on the Abramoff-Scanlon work. It’s unclear whether those tribes will ever fully waive their confidentiality.

One tribe, the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan, is now officially being run by a tribal council that has waived all confidentiality claims, and it appears any and all documents related to that tribe are probably in the committee’s possession. Scanlon has said that he turned over all his Saginaw documents.

While Campbell, the only American Indian in the Senate, said the tribes have a level of sovereignty that allows them to run their own affairs, he added that longstanding trusts between them and the U.S. government give Congress the right to oversee their actions. He suggested that Abramoff and Scanlon may have engaged in financial wrongdoing similar to how telemarketers take advantage of elderly customers — something that tribal sovereignty doesn’t protect Abramoff and Scanlon from.

“That does not give them the right to have two people take advantage of them,” he said.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 17, 2004
Notes from the tort "reform" wars

Time again to check in on how the tort "reform" measure Prop 12 is affecting insurance rates.

[Lt. Gov. David] Dewhurst criticized G.E. Medical Protective Co., or MedPro, for seeking a 19 percent increase in the rates it charges doctors and dentists for malpractice insurance, after the Legislature enacted new limits on civil justice lawsuits.

Jay Thompson, an attorney for the company, said higher rates were justified. The company is now seeking a 10 percent increase.

Maybe someone ought to tell Chris Hawk, that paragon of Hippocrates, that he should consider not treating anyone associated with the insurance industry, too.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Convention time

The Democrats arrive today for three days of fellowship and non-insane party platform construction. As noted before, I'll be mostly limited to the blogger caucus tomorrow - and if you can, you really should try to make it - but many familiar Texas bloggers will be a bigger presence throughout, and at least one of them promises some live conventionblogging.

Meanwhile, Byron notes this bit of optimism from Dem State Chair Charles Soechting.

The leader of the state party intends to help Democrats wrangle control of the Texas House away from Republican power this November. He'll attempt to give the anemic party a boost at the Texas Democratic Convention Thursday through Saturday in Houston.

"It starts this time. You can't violate the voters' trust and insult the voters' intelligence and be as arrogant as they have been about their method of governing and not expect that you have consequences," he said.

Republicans now hold an 88-62 advantage in the House. Winning back the majority will be a tall order to fill for Democrats, but ever-optimistic Soechting has set his sights on wresting 15 seats from the GOP in the November election.


Soechting began his battle by recruiting 35 candidates to oppose Republicans in state House races. His plan of attack: recapture the "forgotten" middle class.

"This middle class is a tremendous group of people who get up and go to work everyday and play by the rules and do everything the way they're supposed to, and then just watch government take advantage of them with no regard for what's going on in their lives," he said.

By Soechting's calculations, soaring gasoline prices, unaffordable prescription drug costs, millions wasted on redistricting efforts and a failure to untangle the state's current school funding quagmire are just a few of the ills suffered by Middle America at the hands of Republicans in power.

Sounds good to me. We'll be featuring some state rep candidates on Texas Tuesdays in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Earle investigates Frost

Travis County DA Ronnie Earle is looking into a complaint by State Sen. Bob Deuell that Rep. Martin Frost misused corporate funds in 2000.

Travis County prosecutors said Wednesday they are investigating an allegation that U.S. Rep. Martin Frost illegally funneled more than $100,000 in corporate donations to Texas legislative candidates in the 2000 election.

Frost, D-Dallas, denied the accusation, saying the criminal complaint against him is a Republican attempt to deflect attention from an ethics investigation of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has been investigating DeLay, R-Sugar Land, after allegations of similar activity in 2002. Earle expanded his investigation to include Frost after receiving a complaint last month from state Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville.

"The complaint filed by Sen. Deuell clearly was a smokescreen put up by the Republicans to divert attention away from the investigation into Tom DeLay's activities," Frost said.

"I have directed my campaign counsel in Washington to fully cooperate with District Attorney Earle's office and to provide documentation to demonstrate there is absolutely no basis in Sen. Deuell's complaint."

Assistant District Attorney Gregg Cox said Deuell's complaint contained "very similar allegations" to what Earle has been investigating in the DeLay case. Cox said Earle took Deuell's complaint seriously.

"We are definitely looking into it, and we are calling it an investigation at this point," Cox said.

Obviously, my rooting interest in this case is the opposite of what it is for the DeLay/TRM/TAB investigation, and I'm as sure that there's nothing in the one as there is something in the other. I just want to note once again that Tina Benkhiser and Ted Royer and all the other whiners who've labelled Earle's investigation of Tom DeLay as a "partisan witchhunt" have been proven wrong.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Now how much would you pay for that?

Price tag to widen I-10 rises to $2.2 billion.

The costs of widening the chronically congested Katy Freeway are expected to reach $2.2 billion, more than 50 percent higher than the 2001 estimate, the Texas Department of Transportation said Wednesday.

TxDOT's initial estimate was $1.4 billion in March 2001. Last July, the Houston Chronicle put the likely cost at $1.7 billion, based on data provided by TxDOT, which did not vouch for that total.

Department spokeswoman Janelle Gbur said the increases should not be described as overruns because when the 2001 estimate was made, detailed design work had just begun. The estimates are also very likely to climb higher, she said.

For the record, $2.2 billion over 20 miles works out to $1736.11 per inch. And counting. Via Ginger, who has a few things to say about this herself.

UPDATE: Greg asks "Where's Steve Radack?" Good question.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
And the licensing scheme is...

SixApart has announced its licensing and pricing scheme for MovableType 3.0. It looks like they really listened to the voluminous feedback they got from their users about how they actually used the product. Good news for me: I can continue to use their software for free if I choose to do so (if they start accepting credit card payment, I'm more likely to buy a license, as I've never been able to get my wife's PayPal account to work for me (and yes, she knows that I've wanted to use it)). Good news for SixApart: Michael is gruntled again. Like Michael, I'm in no rush to update, and for the same reason. But I'm glad to know that when I'm ready there's a viable path for me.

Oh, and if you're into the heavy magic, their plugin contest is still running. Start your coding engines!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Wythe on Bell/DeLay

Greg has some useful things to say about the two main players in the Chris Bell/Tom DeLay ethics complaint saga. Check it out.

On a separate note, see The Stakeholder for some more DeLay-related shenanigans. I can't believe he's still pushing that bogus "Leadership Award" scam, but then shame has never been a part of the DeLay makeup.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Nick O'Brien followup

You've all heard of the Nick O'Brien story by now - indeed, more than 300 Googlers dropped by yesterday looking for news of the four-year-old baseball fan. Well, it turns out that he's going to get that baseball after all, as the fan who shoved him out of the way has publicly apologized for his actions. Good for him.

Now then. Before I quote from today's story, I want you to take a guess what Matt Starr, the fan in question, does in his spare time. Ready?

The Texas Rangers' most maligned fan, who belly-flopped over a 4-year-old to shag a foul ball Sunday afternoon, promised Wednesday to mail the poisoned prize, a letter of apology and an undisclosed number of game tickets to the Plano family on the receiving end of his enthusiasm.

"He doesn't want any more publicity about this," said Gregg Elkin, spokesman for the baseball team. "He's hoping this will bring some sort of closure."

Mr. Starr notified the Rangers of his goodwill gesture Wednesday, and a representative for the team contacted the O'Brien family – young Nick and his parents, Jeff and Edie – in New York City, where they were on deck for a possible morning appearance on Good Morning America.

Mr. Starr's refusal to give Nick the ball drew blistering commentary Sunday from Rangers TV announcer Tom Grieve – and national attention afterward. On Wednesday, friends continued to defend Mr. Starr, a Sachse resident.

"I've known Matt for seven or eight years, and he is without exception the greatest baseball fan that I know. He could tell you anything about baseball," said Hadley Baker of Garland, who added that he and Mr. Starr ministered to children at Sachse Assembly of God. "Kids were our whole lives."

He said Mr. Starr had retreated from what he called the media's hyped and hysterical coverage.

"They're just making way too much out of it," Mr. Baker said. "It's completely ludicrous. They need someone to stand up for him."

One of Mr. Starr's neighbors, Kendra Stout, said she was upset by what her children watched an adult neighbor do on national television.

"Any adult with the right mind would have handed [the ball] over," Ms. Stout said. "He's probably learned a sad lesson."

You know, call me crazy, but I'd think that one of the first things they'd teach you in Youth Minister School is to not knock over four-year-olds in pursuit of material gain. But maybe I'm wrong.

OK, I'm done with Mr. Starr. He's apologized, and the odds are pretty good that he'll have to live with this for a long time. Enough is enough, so let's move on.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 16, 2004
Dewhurst wants another session

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has called on Governor Perry to call another special session on school finance reform.

"What I'm worried about is if we don't get to school finance until the regular session, we're going to have a lot of competing needs for money," Dewhurst said to a group of about 250 members of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Once the Legislature gathers for its biennial session in 2005, Dewhurst said lawmakers' attention will be divided among other funding priorities.

"I'm concerned we won't be able to allocate the resources, we won't have the will to allocate the resources, and we won't be able to cut our local property taxes as much as we need to in order to spur more economic development in the state," he said.

Dewhurst has favored reducing local property taxes by replacing the state's existing franchise tax with a broad-based business tax.

Perry, who has not confirmed speculation that he would call another special session as soon as mid-July, recently said he is gauging whether consensus on the issue can be reached.

"I think there's still a good possibility (of a special session)," Perry said. "The Legislature's making good progress. ... Unless something gets stuck in the machinery to stop it, I see us continuing to move forward."

David Dewhurst isn't anywhere close to being back in my good graces, but he still has a lot more credibility with me than Perry, so if he thinks that something useful can come out of another special session, I'll at least grant the possibility. He's the first person in Austin besides Perry to make this call, though you'll note that he neither addresses the "consensus" question nor the differences between his own ideas and those of Perry, specifically on the scope of the changes desired and the reform of the corporate franchise tax. I'll give his words some weight, but until he and Perry announce that they've come to an agreement among themselves on how to proceed, this strikes me as not much more than wishful thinking.

And speaking of consensus:

Dewhurst said it would be a bad idea for the Legislature to put off addressing school finance until a lawsuit filed by hundreds of school districts charging the state with inadequately funding schools is resolved.

House Speaker Tom Craddick is among those who have advocated waiting for a ruling on the suit, set for trial in August.

"If we wait until next year, next summer, one of two things can happen — and they're both bad," Dewhurst said.

If the state loses the suit, Dewhurst said lawmakers "might be inclined to do only the minimum required" to rectify funding issues. If the state wins, he said, lawmakers might not pursue dramatic reforms "because the pressure has been taken off."

I have no doubt that Craddick's wait-and-hope-to-be-taken-off-the-hook approach is popular among the membership. Once again, until that sort of underlying fracture is healed, I say it's all a waste of time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Bill Bernstein

Vince Leibowitz of the Free State Standard is looking to raise a few bucks for Bill Bernstein, who's running against Jeb Hensarling in the 5th CD. I have some mixed thoughts about this, so please bear with me while I work my way through them.

I'm more than happy to support a good Democrat against any of the endless DeLay clones that litter our landscape. I'm a firm believer in contesting every race, which is why I support the D-435 project, why I have such strong feelings about the failure to field a candidate for the 10th CD (and why I'm glad that Lorenzo Sadun eventually jumped in), and why I agree with Greg in his assessment of Martin Frost's contest-only-some-seats strategy. I note that Vince's goal for Bernstein is extremely modest, and finally, it's hard not to support someone who's running against a guy who says things like this:

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who is leading [House] conservatives in their effort to reform the budget process, said, “A number of members ... are not indifferent about what kind of Republicans take these seats,” referring to the contested Senate seats.

“A number of Republicans worked against Pat Toomey, and he’s one of the men I most admire,” Hensarling added.

So what's my hesitation? Simple - there's only so much money available to candidates, and no amount of money that Bill Bernstein is likely to raise is going to make any difference in that race. It's thus very difficult for me to fully endorse giving to a huge underdog like Bernstein when those same dollars might have a real effect in some other races of interest to us all. Efficient utilization of scarce resources and all that.

That said, though, it's important for me to keep in mind that everyone who might consider donating to certain races will have different criteria for evaluating them. The more options you have for making your voice heard, the more likely you are to feel satisfied that it has been heard. I know what my priorities are, and I know where I want my scarce resources allocated, but we're all individuals here. So in the end, it's with a clear conscience that I'm linking to Vince's appeal. The rest is up to you.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
I thank you, too

I'm not sure where the Chron found new bidness columnist Loren Steffy, but so far I've generally enjoyed his work. I particularly like today's column about the lottery, written as the record jackpot is luring suckers hopefuls from out of state.

I want to thank all of you who helped pay my taxes during the past week.

Last Friday alone, more than 400,000 of you were chipping in each hour, and I really appreciate it.

You probably didn't realize the favor you were doing me, of course. You were out buying up lottery tickets, chasing a jackpot that, with no winner last weekend, has hit $120 million.

There's another drawing tonight, and if no one claims a prize, I win again.

He goes on to run the numbers and explain why the lottery is such a loser's bet. If you don't like it when people tell you the odds, consider this:

We feed the beast in the name of public service. The lottery, after all, is a strange animal. It's administered by a state agency, which takes 7 cents of every dollar you spend on the lottery to pay for itself. It gives 5 more cents to the retailers who sell the tickets.

Fifty-eight cents goes to fund prizes, the carrot used to keep everyone lining up at the convenience store. And 30 cents goes to the state.

If the lottery were simply "raising money" for schools, 30 cents on the dollar would be a lousy margin.

The Better Business Bureau, for example, says fund-raisers should keep their administrative expenses to less than 35 percent of total revenue. Counting prize money and administrative costs, the lottery's operating costs run at 70 percent.

Keep that in mind if the Governor's infernal slot-machine-as-school-funding plan rears its ugly head again.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Cell phone virus

This was bound to happen sooner or later.

The first ever computer virus spread by mobile phones has been sent to anti-virus firms.

No infections have been reported and the worm is harmless but it is proof that mobiles are at risk from virus writers.

The worm, known as Cabir, infects phones and devices running the Symbian operating system.

Anti-virus firms are divided on whether it will open the floodgate to similar viruses.

I lean more towards "yes" on the floodgate question, but I'll be happy to be proven wrong. Via Rafe Colburn.

UPDATE: Simson Garfinkel thinks this is a big deal.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Electoral vote change?

So there's an initiative being proposed in Colorado that would change their winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes to a proportional allocation. I'm neutral on this for now - it seems to me that if this idea catches on, we may as well eliminate the middle man altogether and just go with the popular vote for the Presidency. As I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other regarding such a change, I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other regarding Colorado's proposal. I will say that if it's in place for 2004, it's more likely to benefit John Kerry than George Bush - as Kos says, Colorado is still on the fringes of being a true swing state.

The Bonassus sees several other possible implications in this proposal.

Under current rules, winning a plurality of the state's votes nets a candidate a big prize: the sum total of Colorado's electors. If Colorado is a swing state, both candidates will pay a lot of attention in such a situation. The incumbent is likely to use his office to send government dollars to the state. The challenger is likely to do what he can to woo voters as well (although this might take the form of unenforceable campaign promises rather than sweet cold cash). But remember that both candidates have limited budgets of time, money and political influence. In this situation, it becomes clear that if Colorado moves away from a system which disproportionally rewards a tiny plurality of votes (where one extra vote can mean the difference between 9 electors and zero) to a proportional system (where the value of an extra vote is limited to an increase of one elector, if that), suddenly Colorado looks like a much less attractive investment.

On the other hand, if the state is dominated by one party, but the nation as a whole is more or less evenly divided, a candidate from the disadvantaged party has no incentive to pay any attention to Colorado under current rules (think of Democrats in Oklahoma or Republicans in Massachusetts). Under the proposed rules, however, the prospect of the disadvantaged candidate winning one elector might attract attention from both parties.

All this is merely to point out that electoral college reform, which is usually thought of in terms of fairness, decency, and democratic norms, has implications for pork, campaign spending, and the future tilt of political attention as well. It's best not to forget.

Indeed. Denver Post link via Political Wire.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Bell makes it official

Rep. Chris Bell has officially filed his ethics complaint against Tom DeLay. Hold on to your hats, it could get bumpy from here.

Talk of retaliation is already in the air.

A DeLay ally, Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), said Republicans "are going to have to respond in kind" by filing ethics charges against key Democrats. From now on, he said in an interview, it's a matter of "you kill my dog, I'll kill your cat." Doolittle said he plans to file ethics charges against a prominent Democrat but would not name the target.

Cooler heads may yet prevail, though it's still too early to say.

Bell called Doolittle's comments "incredibly irresponsible."

Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., said he would urge his colleagues to avoid retaliation.

"I would hope Republicans resist the temptation to do tit-for-tat," he said.

Bell also said that he expects DeLay to retaliate.

"I expect the full wrath of Mr. DeLay's attack machine," he said. "Sadly, I've heard reports that he and his cronies are already talking of retaliation."

Some more background can be found in these two articles, courteously located by Greg.

Obviously, it's too early to tell how this will play out. I think DeLay may finally be in some trouble, but I freely admit that I'm influenced by what I want to happen. In any event, the entertainment potential here is pretty high. DeLay has already made a major contribution:

"Evidently he is very bitter about losing his primary and is using the ethics committee to express his bitterness," DeLay said of Bell. "I have never liked the politics of personal destruction."

Bwah hah hah! Even the Chron couldn't keep a straight face at that:

DeLay called for President Clinton to resign after his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Thanks, Tom. I needed a good laugh.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 15, 2004
Detroit rock city

Congrats to the Detroit Pistons on their well-deserved NBA championship. Damn, but they kicked butt. Ben Wallace is the best natural rebounder I've seen since Moses Malone, and he had a lot of help. They were just the better team, in every sense of the word. And in this day and age of grinding defense, whoever thought they'd see winning basketball with the fast break again? Woo hoo!

By the way, is it just me, or does Shelley (Mrs. Larry) Brown look a lot like Catherine Bell?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Max speaks

Just when I thought we'd have a quiet week at the Texas Tuesdays site, we received a guest post from Max Sandlin's campaign manager. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Great moments in career change

Sometimes, reading a story is superfluous after reading the headline: Spam king quits, becomes drummer in rock band. What more do you need to know?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Blogger caucus

Texas Tuesdays is taking the week off due to the Democratic convention, which starts this Thursday. I've mentioned the Friday Blogger Caucus before, so consider this a reminder to come by and meet up with some of your favorite Texas progressive political bloggers from 1 to 3 at Kaveh Kanes downtown. Directions and details can be found here, and as an extra added bonus, Congressional candidate Richard Morrison has promised to make an appearance as well. Hope to see you there!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
More on Bell's complaint

Roll Call answers some of the questions I had asked about the ethics complaint Rep. Chris Bell will be filing today against Tom DeLay.

Bell’s action is a blow to the unofficial ethics truce that has existed between the two parties since Democrats used multiple ethics filings to help undermine support for then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Since that time, House ethics rules have been changed so that only Members can file against one another. The ethics committee can take up a case on its own authority, as has happened recently with allegations that some House Republicans improperly pressured Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) during a Nov. 22, 2003, vote on Medicare reform, or in response to a criminal case.

Several well-placed Democratic aides said party leaders got little advance warning about Bell’s complaint. These sources said that late last week, Bell’s staff contacted the offices of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to give them a heads up, but the Texas Democrat has yet to talk to the leaders directly.

“The decision to file it was Congressman Bell’s,” said Brendan Daly, Pelosi’s spokesman. “Once he files it, the ethics committee should look into it. These are serious allegations.”

Democratic insiders acknowledged an ethics war might ensue once Bell files his complaint, but party leaders will not discourage him or any other Member from pursuing a legitimate charge.

“We can’t be worried about that,” said a Democratic leadership aide.

“If we have to turn a blind eye on all the complaints that come our way from citizens’ private groups or groups that follow these issues, we’re doing this Congress a disservice and admitting the majority party can get away with murder,” added another leadership staffer.

Bell’s spokesman said the Texas Democrat had been working on the complaint “for months, since well before Thanksgiving,” and denied it was political payback for Bell’s defeat in his primary.

GOP insiders don’t believe that Bell’s filing against DeLay will result in Republican retaliation against Democrats, and DeLay isn’t expected to urge any GOP lawmakers to file their own charges.

“We’ll have to see how it goes,” said one House GOP staffer close to the issue. “If all Bell has is press reports, then this will go away soon. If not, we’ll have to see.”

I've reproducd the full article beneath the More link. Note the involvement of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)'s Melanie Sloan. CREW has not surprisingly applauded Bell's action.

Sloan said, "Only Chris Bell, a freshman Member of Congress, has had the courage to call for an investigation into DeLay's shameless if not criminal conduct — conduct that has gone unchallenged for years because of the fear DeLay inspires in his colleagues." Sloan continued, "Only Chris Bell is willing to suffer the inevitable personal attacks that will result from the filing of this complaint. Only Chris Bell is willing to stand up for the integrity of the House of Representatives. Only Chris Bell has been willing to say that the emperor has no clothes. This is what makes Bell an American hero."

Pretty lavish praise. The Roll Call article seems to indicate that if there is any direct retribution aimed at Bell, it will come later - one wonders if it's more likely to come if his complaint is taken seriously or dismissed as nothing more than "press reports". One also wonders if a few GOP Congressfolk will offer Bell some tacit support - surely there are some Republicans in Washington who'd just as soon see DeLay go away. Stay tuned. Thanks to AJ Garcia for the tip.

UPDATE: Richard Morrison links to the official notice of the complaint, Bell's official statement (PDF), and a summary of the complaint (PDF).

In the latest threat to the tenuous “truce” between the two parties on ethics matters, Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas) will file a complaint today alleging that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has engaged in a variety of illicit activities over the past several years.

Among the allegations Bell is forwarding to the ethics panel are that a DeLay-affiliated group improperly accepted campaign contributions from Westar Energy Corp. in return for a legislative favor, and that he helped illegally funnel corporate money to GOP candidates in Lone Star State legislative races.

Bell’s office would not release a copy of the complaint Monday, although the freshman Democrat, who is leaving Congress at the end of this session thanks to a DeLay-backed redistricting plan, is expected to file it this afternoon and will follow with a press conference.

Eric Burns, Bell’s communications director, said the complaint being submitted “is substantial and it is serious.” Burns said his boss believes that filing a complaint with the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as the ethics panel is formally known, will force the House to look into DeLay’s activities.

Bell’s intention to file an ethics complaint against DeLay was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.

The ethics committee will have 14 calendar days or five legislative days, whichever elapses first, to determine whether Bell’s complaint satisfies panel guidelines for a properly submitted complaint.

If it does, the chairman and ranking member, Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), will then have another 45 calendar days or five legislative days (whichever period is longer) to act on the complaint, either by dismissing it outright, forming an investigative subcommittee using members of the full committee, or seeking more time to study it.

DeLay will also be given 30 days from the time the ethics committee formally notifies him that a complaint has been filed to reply to the charges.

Bell’s office openly admits that most of the information that the Texas Democrat will use for his filing comes from press reports, and Bell has been working with Melanie Sloan, a former aide to Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) who now runs a Congressional watchdog group, to draft the complaint.

Sloan is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and has been pressing for an investigation of DeLay on several fronts. Sloan’s group has asked the IRS to audit DeLay’s leadership political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority PAC, after it failed to disclose that liquor company Bacardi provided free alcohal and merchandise to lawmakers during a February 2002 fundraiser for ARMPAC in Puerto Rico.

Sloan also filed a complaint recently with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Bacardi violated federal law by failing to report some campaign contributions, including $2,500 it gave to ARMPAC last year.

In March of this year Sloan wrote to all Members, seeking someone to file an ethics complaint against DeLay, Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) over their dealings with Westar. No charges were ever filed.

Sloan did file a complaint against Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) on the Westar case, but that complaint was dismissed.

DeLay aides characterized Bell’s charges as a last-ditch attempt to smear the Majority Leader from a Democrat who was forced from office through DeLay’s efforts to push through a new redistricting plan. Bell was defeated by Al Green in the March Democratic primary for the new 9th district seat.

“These are warmed-over and factually deficient allegations from a bitter partisan on his way out of office. This election year scorched-earth strategy is doomed to fail, as have all previous attempts of this cynical and sad sort that make a mockery of the process,” said Jonathan Grella, a DeLay spokesman, in a statement released by the Majority Leader’s office.

“In the absence of an agenda or leadership, Democrats’ desperate over-reliance on ‘caricature assassination’ is a clear signal that they do not take seriously the challenges our country faces.”

Bell’s action is a blow to the unofficial ethics truce that has existed between the two parties since Democrats used multiple ethics filings to help undermine support for then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Since that time, House ethics rules have been changed so that only Members can file against one another. The ethics committee can take up a case on its own authority, as has happened recently with allegations that some House Republicans improperly pressured Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.) during a Nov. 22, 2003, vote on Medicare reform, or in response to a criminal case.

Several well-placed Democratic aides said party leaders got little advance warning about Bell’s complaint. These sources said that late last week, Bell’s staff contacted the offices of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to give them a heads up, but the Texas Democrat has yet to talk to the leaders directly.

“The decision to file it was Congressman Bell’s,” said Brendan Daly, Pelosi’s spokesman. “Once he files it, the ethics committee should look into it. These are serious allegations.”

Democratic insiders acknowledged an ethics war might ensue once Bell files his complaint, but party leaders will not discourage him or any other Member from pursuing a legitimate charge.

“We can’t be worried about that,” said a Democratic leadership aide.

“If we have to turn a blind eye on all the complaints that come our way from citizens’ private groups or groups that follow these issues, we’re doing this Congress a disservice and admitting the majority party can get away with murder,” added another leadership staffer.

Bell’s spokesman said the Texas Democrat had been working on the complaint “for months, since well before Thanksgiving,” and denied it was political payback for Bell’s defeat in his primary.

GOP insiders don’t believe that Bell’s filing against DeLay will result in Republican retaliation against Democrats, and DeLay isn’t expected to urge any GOP lawmakers to file their own charges.

“We’ll have to see how it goes,” said one House GOP staffer close to the issue. “If all Bell has is press reports, then this will go away soon. If not, we’ll have to see.”

Bell’s allegations against DeLay cover several areas.

In mid-2002, executives at Kansas-based Westar Energy steered more than $56,000 in hard- and soft-money contributions to DeLay, Barton, Tauzin and other GOP lawmakers as Westar sought their help in inserting a provision, potentially worth billions of dollars to the company, into an energy bill then making its way through Congress.

Of that total, $25,000 went to Texans for a Republican Majority, a PAC focusing on Texas races that was founded by DeLay. Westar executives attended a TRMPAC-sponsored retreat with DeLay at a Virginia resort soon after the donation was made.

Internal Westar e-mails describe a plan to use the campaign donations to “get a seat at the table” of a House-Senate conference committee that was working on the energy bill, and said DeLay’s “agreement was necessary” before Westar could move forward on getting its measure placed in the energy package. The Westar provision, which was inserted in the bill by Barton, was later dropped after Westar came under investigation for alleged wrongdoing, including securities fraud.

At the time, DeLay’s office insisted that DeLay didn’t solicit the Westar donation to TRMPAC and rejected any suggestion that there was a link between campaign donations and legislative actions by the then Majority Whip.

TRMPAC has also come under scrutiny for its role in the 2002 legislative races in Texas. It raised more than $570,000 in corporate contributions during the 2001-02 cycle, money that could not be used on Texas state races. TRMPAC reportedly used those corporate funds to pay for polling, consultants and other campaign-related activities, but TRMPAC officials claim not to have passed on any corporate donations to state candidates, although the group did donate more than $150,000 to those races.

TRMPAC did not disclose the corporate donations on its filings with Texas authorities, but it did report them to the IRS. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is probing TRMPAC and the Texas Association of Business for their activities in the 2002 Texas state races, and he has issued dozens of subpoenas during his investigation.

Republicans won their first majority in the Texas Legislature since Reconstruction, and jammed through a Congressional redistricting plan that has already led one House Democrat to retire, two primary defeats and a party switch. Bell was one of those Members who lost his primary.

DeLay has denied having any oversight of TRMPAC’s operations, and has formally cut his ties with the group.

But the Texas Republican has been a frequent target for Democratic ethics charges over the past decade.

In 1998, the ethics committee investigated whether DeLay had improperly pressured the Electronics Industry Association after it hired former Democratic Rep. Dave McCurdy (Okla.). DeLay wanted former Rep. Bill Paxon (N.Y.) or another Republican hired instead. The ethics committee sent DeLay a private letter admonishing him.

In May 2000, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filed a racketeering lawsuit against DeLay charging that the Texas Republican and several of his former aides, as well as groups they controlled, engaged in a host of illegal actions, including extortion and money laundering.

DeLay vehemently denied the charges, which, like the Bell complaint, were based on press reports. The DCCC later dropped the suit, but not before DeLay ran up more than $500,000 in legal bills.

Last year, watchdog group Common Cause sought support for an ethics complaint against DeLay after he set up a new charity to help underwrite the cost of parties and other events at this year’s GOP convention in New York City. For $500,000, potential donors even got dinner with DeLay and his wife, Christine.

No Member agreed to file a complaint against DeLay, and he later said the new charity would not participate in any convention-related events.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Austin Wireless City Project

Everywhere I look I'm seeing more and more articles about Wi-Fi and the places it's popping up. Here's one about Richard MacKinnon, the guru of free wireless Internet access in Austin. One thing that this article doesn't really touch on but that I'm curious to see is how existing broadband providers like SWB and AOLTimeWarnerofBorg view such efforts. Are they seen as a long-term strategic threat, or just a quaint little project that won't have any effect on their bottom line? I'd like to know. Anyway, check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Fan of the year nominee

You know, I attended many baseball games before ever catching a foul ball (the experience in Tokyo was my second time), but I was never ever tempted to act like this guy did.

ARLINGTON – Four-year-old Nick O'Brien proved why baseball will always be a kid's game.

The Plano resident, who was watching his first major league game with his parents, Edie and Jeff, became the sympathetic figure of fans when he was pushed aside in the scramble for a foul ball at Ameriquest Field in Arlington on Sunday.

But the ugliness had a happy ending. Nick went home with two big league bats and four baseballs. Two of the items came personally from St. Louis outfielder Reggie Sanders.

"I felt in my heart I should do something," Sanders said. "You gotta remember, it's all about the kids. As a player, we're able to reach out more."

In the bottom of the third inning of St. Louis' 13-2 victory, an unidentified fan crushed Nick on a foul ball hit by Gary Matthews Jr. in a section near the St. Louis dugout.

Witnesses said the stockily built fan, who appeared to be in his 30s, jumped over his row into O'Brien's. He then pinned Nick against the seats with his legs and grabbed the ball.

Mom, dad and other fans weren't happy. Edie scolded the fan. Nick didn't appear to be hurt but was shaken up.

"I couldn't believe someone would do something like that to a 4-year-old boy," Edie said. "He wasn't friendly."

It didn't take long for fans to respond. Mike Hall of Fort Worth, about 10 rows behind the incident, stood up and shouted, "Give him the ball!" The chant mushroomed to nearby sections. Even Rangers announcer Tom Grieve voiced his disapproval on TV. But the fan refused and was booed.

Eventually, the distraction reached the Texas and St. Louis dugouts. Sanders, who saw what happened on TV, went to the section and called Nick and Edie down to the rail to give them a bat and ball. The Rangers also gave Nick a bat from outfielder Kevin Mench. By the next inning, Nick had three more baseballs.

Asked on television what he thought about the whole thing, Nick said, "Cool."

The offending fan and his female companion left the game after the fourth inning.

"He's had a rough time," Edie said of Nick. "I think he thinks this is what is supposed to happen at every game."

What a jerk. Too bad for him his picture appeared on the front page of the DMN website yesterday. I suspect he won't be unknown for long.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 14, 2004
Ted rocks

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ted Barlow, the nattering nabob Nostradamus with the mostest.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The other MOB

You may have seen their BlogAd, now here they are in the mainstream media: Mothers Opposing Bush.

Casual chats about Harry Potter matinees and the best places for family vacations were peppered with a very different conversation topic Sunday afternoon in Dallas: politics.

A group of mothers gathered at a local park for a play date and political meeting. Its aim: Get President Bush out of the White House in November.

The Dallas chapter of Mothers Opposing Bush, or MOB, formed last month to stand up for what members call "mom issues" such as education and health care.

The play date attracted about 50 people at Dallas' Reverchon Park.

"We have a lot of moms who are concerned about everything from the deficit to air quality, particularly in North Texas," said Melody Townsel, a member of the group.


Fathers and grandparents also joined the rally Sunday. Organizers said that the group is nonpartisan and that several people in the grass-roots effort voted for Mr. Bush in 2000.

"My mother has always voted Republican, but she says she just can't do it this year," said Dallas resident Marsha Fishman.

She said she joined Mothers Opposing Bush because she was disappointed in the Bush administration's stance on gun control.

Ms. Townsel said the group – part of a national effort – is planning voter registration drives and hopes to sponsor children's health screenings – and more play dates.

Carol and Owen Ware of Poetry, in northern Kaufman County, said they attended the event to meet like-minded people.

"These moms are gathering not because they have degrees in foreign policy, not because they are experts, but because they have a gut feeling that this administration is wrong," Mr. Ware said.

I'm very curious what real-world effect a group like this will have. By putting up a web page and getting free media mentions, it can reach a lot more people than grassroots organizations used to be able to do, but will they bring more voters to the polls? Will they change anyone's mind? I'm not attempting to belittle here - hell, I love seeing stuff like this - I'd just dearly love to know of a metric that could be used to calibrate their outreach. There's gotta be a dissertation or three for some PoliSci grad students in all this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner

Nice article on the conclusion of the "Bone" and "Cerebus" comic sagas. I've been a big fan of "Bone" since my ex-roommie Matt introduced me to it a few years ago. I have all of the bound collections of the "Bone" comics, since they're much easier to store and keep track of than the comics themselves, and I'm glad to see that the last chapters will be available soon, though of course I'm sorry to see it come to an end. I totally agree with this:

More than any other current comic title, "Bone" deserves -- and could support -- the kind of popular attention that elevated Harry Potter from the rank and file of children's books.

Yep. I'd love to see this adapted as a full-length animated feature, though sadly I know it'd never get the support it needed to justify the expense. Anyway, do yourself a favor and check out "Bone". You'll be glad you did.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
RIP, Brenda Flores

Brenda Flores, the woman involved in the bizarre "other Bill White" incident from last year's Mayoral election, has passed away from cancer at the age of 51.

Flores made an unsuccessful run for City Council in 1997, had served as a Democratic precinct chairwoman, and attended numerous demonstrations.


In Houston's last mayoral election, Flores was in the news for arranging to enter a second man named Bill White in the race. The Bill White who later won the election learned of the plan, talked Flores out of following through with it, and paid her $5,000 from his campaign funds.

Dennis Keim said he met Flores in 1992, and the two became close friends and often were allies despite being members of opposing political parties. He said he helped to keep her computer running so she could update her Web page, www.housnitch.com.

"When it came to government spending, she was the watchdog," Keim said. "One little renegade lady who was taking on the City of Houston."

He said she had "a network of people who fed her information," and her "biggest, latest fight" has been trying to get the city to pass an ordinance to protect whistle-blowers.

Rest in peace.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Bell v. DeLay

Outgoing Rep. Chris Bell, a casualty of the DeLay-engineered redistricting, is fighting back by filing an ethics complaint against The Hammer. This is sure to send shock waves around DC, as it is the first real ethic complaint since the House rules were changed in 1997.

Bell's move against DeLay is unusual in that it defies an unofficial but widely acknowledged truce among House lawmakers against filing ethics complaints against each other.

Under House rules, only a member can file an ethics complaint against another member. In seven years, there has been little activity in House ethics investigations, said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"I think this filing will really push the ethics committee to take a hard look at this," said Sloan, a federal prosecutor who worked with Bell in drafting the complaint. "When no one has been willing to do this for seven years, it is not an easy thing to suddenly go and file a complaint against DeLay, who is known to be one of the most vindictive people in government."


[Bell spokesman Eric] Burns declined to provide the document until it is filed and would only confirm that the complaint is in the works. However, two people who have seen the complaint say it will allege, among other things, that DeLay:

· Improperly accepted campaign contributions from Kansas-based Westar Energy Corp. in exchange for help securing a special exemption from federal regulation.

· Funneled illegal corporate contributions, including from Westar and others, through the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee to GOP candidates for the Texas House.

· Solicited the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration to track more than 50 Texas Democratic lawmakers who fled from Austin to Ardmore, Okla., in 2003. Their exodus denied the state House a quorum and temporarily stalled work on the DeLay-backed redistricting program.

In each instance, DeLay has denied any wrongdoing. [DeLay spokesman Jonathan] Grella said Bell's allegations rely on a shopworn "caricature" of DeLay as an ethics violator.


Norman Ornstein, a political scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Bell's filing against DeLay will be a test of the House ethics system.

"It's not like the Republicans are suddenly going to say, `Oh, we have this bad guy in our midst,'" Ornstein said. "What it will do is provide yet another story about DeLay, and it puts him right back into the controversy that he has courted for so long."

Under rules of the House committee, members have between five and 14 days to determine whether a complaint meets the committee standards. Members can ask for successive 45-day periods to consider the matter.

"The odds of the committee doing anything in the short-term are very slim," Ornstein said. "What is also true is that the last thing House Republicans want to do is rush to judgment against Tom DeLay."

Well, this will surely be worth keeping an eye on. Democrats have maintained this truce despite all kinds of Republican misbehavior lately, even coming under some criticism for it by good-government types. Will Bell get the tacit or not-so-tacit support of the leadership, or will he get pressure from his own team to back off? I hope The Stakeholder, which also noted this story, will have some insider scoop in the coming days.

Check out the comments in this Kos diary entry for some more background on the House Ethics Committee and the longstanding ceasefire that Bell has broken.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Kinky op-ed

Kinky Friedman makes another pitch for his gubernatorial candidacy on the Sunday Chron op-ed pages. I'm a bit reluctant to say this, but having followed the Kinkster's as-yet-unofficial candidacy from the beginning, he's either going to have to keep coming up with fresh material, or he's going to have to start taking it seriously. I'm at the point where I can recite most of his standard campaign quips, and for a candidate whose raison d'etre is based on one-liners, the last thing he needs is to sound like an old rerun of himself.

I know, every politician that ever was has a stump speech, and anyone who follows that politician at all closely hears that same speech a jillion times. It's just that most politicians can't get the bulk of their stump speech quoted by reporters or printed on the Sunday op-ed pages, so it's way more noticeable here. Kinky did have a little bit of policy in his piece - his "I'm not anti-death penalty, I'm anti-executing the wrong guy" bit is brilliant and something I'd like to hear a lot more of - and for that I'm grateful. But the bottom line for me is this: If Kinky Friedman is going to be on the ballot, I want him to either play to win, or simply serve as comic relief. I do not want him to be somewhere in the middle, serving as a place for anti-Rick Perry voters to let off steam while hurting the chances of a serious Democrat. I'm a big Kinky Friedman fan now, but I'll be much less of one if he turns out to be our local copy of Ralph Nader in 2006.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 13, 2004
Am I my brother's lobbyist?

Sometimes, connections aren't everything:

The estranged brother of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, is negotiating a $1.2 million lobbying contract with Nueces County officials who want to protect the area's military installations from a new round of base closings to be announced next year.

If he gets the contract, Randolph DeLay will not be knocking on the doors of his brother, the second-highest Republican in the House. A 10-year-old dispute between the brothers over Randolph DeLay's lobbying led to a House Ethics Committee probe and strained relations between the siblings. For now, the lobbyist is barred from contacting DeLay or his staff.

That has not made a difference in Randolph DeLay's effectiveness, said Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, who favors the county hiring a lobbyist to protect the four military bases in its area.

He "has been very successful because he does not depend on Tom to do his job," said Ortiz, who has known Randolph DeLay for about 30 years and also considers Tom DeLay a good friend.

See here for more background on the DeLay family.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
TiVo's fight for survival

Via Mark Evanier comes this article on TiVo and its litigious strategy for long-term survival. I love me some TiVo, and we bought the lifetime pass on the theory that they'll be around long enough to make it a better deal than the monthly fee, but I confess I've always had some doubt about its prospects. I worry about their cash flow, since it seems to me that a sizeable number of their customers will pay them once and then never again, forcing them to always be looking for new customers, which is more expensive than reselling to existing ones. Maybe their Home Network option will be more of a cash cow, and of course maybe they'll figure out a way to get existing TiVoheads to upgrade units every couple of years. Who knows? Anyway, the article is a good read, so check it out.

UPDATE: And now TiVo has integrated downloading music into its standard service. And they're not charging existing users extra for it. Great for me, but it doesn't alleviate my concerns. Via Technology Review.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Clutch City, ten years after

The Chron has a nice lookback on the Houston Rockets championship team of 1994 as the ten-year anniversary of that title approaches, along with sidebar stories on the opponents they overcame and the bizarre OJ Simpson white Bronco interlude which interrupted Game 5 of the finals. Read and reminisce.

Two personal memories: I watched Game 2 of the quarterfinals against Phoenix at a packed sports bar (Griff's, as I recall). That was the infamous game in which the Rockets, already down 1-0 and playing for a split at home, coughed up a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost in overtime. The screaming headline in the Chron the next morning was "Choke City", from which the eventual "Clutch City" moniker came. I was at Griff's because back in those days, early home playoff games were pay-per-view only. I didn't even have cable at that time, so it was that or radio. I wish I could have filmed the crowd and its collective reactions over the period where the Suns made their comeback. Visions of too many spectacular Astro and Oiler flameouts were haunting us as we watched the disaster unfold on the screen. You could have made a boatload of money right there betting people as they departed that the Rockets were about to be swept. They'd have been thrilled to pay you later on when proven wrong.

The entire city reveled in the championship. I was working downtown at the time, in a building that overlooked the parade that was thrown, and for about a two-week stretch, every third person you saw was wearing some kind of Rockets shirt. Casual Friday meant nothing - nobody blinked at guys wearing Clutch City T-shirts and wingtips. Every other vehicle on the highway had a victory slogan soaped into the windows or a Clutch City sign taped up somewhere. It was the longest citywide hangover you've ever seen, and no one wanted it to end.

Those were good times. May they happen again soon.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 12, 2004
Regional transportation plan criticized

The road-oriented 2025 Regional Transportation Plan was criticized by a host of local activists on Thursday. This probably doesn't have much interest to folks outside Houston, but I have to comment on this:

Council members limited themselves to questions and did not criticize the plan, but several have expressed dismay about such items as the proposed conversion of segments of South Main, Kirby, Gessner and other thoroughfares into "smart streets."

These are envisioned as almost-freeways with computerized signals, grade-separated intersections and added lanes, enabling traffic to zip along.

Now, I drive on Kirby quite a bit. It's a potholed mess, and the traffic lights are badly coordinated, making a short drive an interminable ordeal. But what exactly does this "smart street" concept mean in reality? Does the term "grade-separated intersections" mean that overpasses will be built so that stoplights can be skipped if you're not turning? If so, does anyone else think that's going to be butt-ugly, noisy, and at least as bad smogwise as the current situation is?

And how are all of the businesses along Kirby going to be accomodated? There's no room to expand the road, and the problem with traffic "zipping along" is that it'll make getting in and out of the parking lots that line the Kirby business district a real hazard. Maybe I'm visualizing what this means incorrectly, and given what I am thinking of I hope that's so, but what else could they mean?

To me, the answer is to make it easier to get around Kirby without a car. I've already made one suggestion along these lines, and there's no reason the concept can't be expanded, especially when we get to building a new rail line along the Southwest Freeway, one that would connect the Greenway Plaza area to the downtown line. Can't happen soon enough, as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Berkowitz denied parole

David Berkowitz, the notorious "Son of Sam" killer, has been denied parole.

Berkowitz, serving 25 years to life in prison for the ambush killings of six people, was told by the state parole board that his "excellent disciplinary record" behind bars was given consideration.

"However, the brutality of your criminal acts which resulted in so much harm to your victims and society necessitate that you remain in prison," the board added.

"This panel feels that to release you at this time would seriously deprecate the nature of your extreme violent criminal acts and greatly undermine respect for law."

Berkowitz, who became a born-again Christian in 1987, faced the parole board this week at maximum-security Sullivan Correctional Facility in the Catskills, 80 miles north of New York City.

He will be eligible for release again in June 2006 - and under the law, must be considered for parole every two years.

It's fine by me that he must be considered for parole, and it's fine by me that he be denied it. One of the more vivid memories of my childhood in New York is the headlines generated by this creep and the sense of fear he put in all of us. The story notes that he's all of 51 now. Far as I'm concerned, he needs to stay put until he's quite a bit older.

Oh, and you had to know this was going to happen: Berkowitz has a blog, according to the Smoking Gun, which reproduces several of his entries. The Wash Times gives the URL. I will not be linking to it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Down to the wire for Rodriguez

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez is arguing his case before an appeals court in what is likely his last shot at overturning the recount results from the 28th CD Democratic primary in which challenger Henry Cuellar was declared the winner.

During oral arguments before a trio of 4th Court of Appeals justices, Rodriguez attorney Buck Wood defended his contention that a district judge erred last month when he barred evidence of voting irregularities, including illegally cast ballots, in his election lawsuit.

The panel, composed of Chief Justice Alma Lopez, Judge Catherine M. Stone and Judge Paul W. Green, peppered Wood with questions about whether his attempt to amend his initial lawsuit was too vague and represented a wholesale departure from his original case.

The justices did not reach a decision Friday, but a court spokesman said a ruling could come early next week.

According to the Texas Election Code, any ruling by the appeals court is not reviewable by the Texas Supreme Court.

The panel quizzed Wood on whether his description of "voting irregularities" involving an initial recount of the 28th Congressional District race opened the door to other potential voting problems in an amended lawsuit.

The Rodriguez camp contends there were hundreds of illegally cast ballots in Cuellar's home county of Webb by felons, who are prohibited from voting, or voters who either do not live in the congressional district or did not live at the address listed on voter registration records.

"Is it, as Mr. Cuellar says, to plead everything is to plead nothing?" Stone asked.

"It is certainly a broad pleading, but it is not supposed to be anything but that," Wood responded, noting that he used language straight from the state's election code and was working under a tight deadline because of the expedited schedule of an election case.

The justices also reserved pointed questions for Cuellar's attorney, Bob Heath, who said Wood's original lawsuit only pertained to the first recount and not election day voting.

"The pleading was broad enough to include both things, wasn't it?" Green asked.

Heath responded, "Had they presented facts (of illegally cast ballots), yes."

Heath later added, "It's as if I came and filed a suit in district court and said you were negligent, but then I didn't tell you if it was an auto crash, an airplane crash or what you were negligent of."

We should know by next week what happens.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
More on blogging and advertising

My old Trinity classmate Robert Nagle extends on my recent post about BlogAds. His interest is more from a literary perspective, but I agree that the issues faced by small site operators are basically the same. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Wi-Fi on the highway

Everywhere I look, there's another Wi-Fi installation popping up. Via Aziz, I see that the next frontier is highway rest stops.

Texas is the first state in the nation to provide free wireless Internet access at its safety rest areas, the Texas Department of Transportation announced today.

TxDOT began experimenting with wireless Internet service last fall, when the department provided the capability at twin rest areas on U.S. 287 in Donley County. Free wireless service also is available at two rest areas on the same highway in Hardeman County.

“The feedback we’ve received so far has been very positive,” said Andy Keith, Safety Rest Area Program Manager for TxDOT’s Maintenance Division. “Texas’ highways are seeing an increasing number of business travelers, truckers and RVers and access to email is important to them. They have really responded favorably to our four ‘hot spots’ on U.S. 287.”

TxDOT has taken the first step to expand the service to all of its 84 safety rest areas and 12 Travel Information Centers by issuing a request for offer seeking vendors able to provide free wireless Internet service and pay telephone-like Internet access at kiosks.

Keith said he envisions computers in the kiosks being available in 15 minute increments by swiping a credit card through a reader. But wireless access will be free for anyone with their own equipment.

We've been talking about getting a wireless-enabled laptop so Tiffany can do some work downstairs while she's home with the baby. Looks like the fringe benefits for doing so are piling up. Sweet!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 11, 2004
Blogger caucus

For obvious reasons, I'll be pretty much a no-show at the Democratic convention, but I will be able to make it to the first ever Texas political bloggers caucus next Friday the 17th from 1-3 PM at Kaveh Kanes downtown. Come join us if you can. Leave a comment at the Texas Tuesdays post if you have any questions. See you there!

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Meter this!

Budget crunches sure can lead to some unorthodox solutions. How about more parking meters downtown?

Downtown would have twice as many metered parking spaces and visitors would have to feed the meters until 2 a.m. under a plan presented to a City Council committee Thursday.

The proposal by Mayor Bill White, who is seeking ways to raise city revenue in the face of a budget crunch, drew criticism from some City Council members and from downtown bar and restaurant operators who said the change would be bad for business.

Street parking is now free after 6 p.m. and the business owners said charging for it later would discourage nighttime visitors.

"You need to nuture downtown. We are not there yet," said Peter Garcia, who owns the Twelve Spot bar. "This could be catastrophic to our industry."

Many downtown businesses are just beginning to rebound from years of street construction and the building of the Main Street light rail.

As a concession, the administration has offered to exclude from the plan a 15-block area on the north end of downtown that was hit especially hard by the construction.

The plan also would retain free parking during the day on Sunday, and downtown residents would be able to purchase a decal allowing them to park in metered spaces without additional charge.

Downtown now has 4,200 metered parking spaces. David Saperstein, who heads the Mayor's Office of Mobility, said Thursday the city can double that number, still allowing for limits on curb parking because of fire hydrants, driveways and other restrictions.

Planners still haven't worked out some of the details, including locations of new meters and parking fees.

I just want to know one thing: Where are all the non-metered spaces? I've always had to pay to park somewhere downtown during business hours - one reason I'm so fond of the light rail line - but what are they looking to convert into metered spaces? I must be missing out.

I will say this: I don't mind more meters, and I don't mind a hike in meter rates. But I'd really prefer not to see meter times extended to 2 AM. I like parking for free when I go to Comets and Astros games. Alas.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Larry Bird

I recommend King Kaufman's take on Larry Bird's remarks about the NBA "needing" a few more white star players. I thought he covered the topic thoroughly and insightfully. One thing I'd like to note:

What the NBA can do, though, is work harder to chip away at another part of Bird's comment: "The majority of the fans are white America." That will always be true too. Seventy-five percent of Americans are white, according to the 2000 census, though in the big cities where the NBA has teams that figure is lower.

Crowds in NBA arenas won't and shouldn't ever look like NBA rosters, overwhelmingly black. But right now they're overwhelmingly white. If they looked a little more like the population outside the arena, then the lack of white American superstars would mean even less than it does now.

As it happens, I've noticed that the crowds at the Houston Comets games are not at all overwhelmingly white, but quite racially mixed. This is just my own observation, so take it with the anecdotal grain of salt that it's worth, but I'd be willing to bet that a real survey would bear that out. In contrast, the WNBA has always had marketable American-born white star players, from Rebecca Lobo and Nancy Lieberman to Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird (and Ruth Riley and Katie Smith). Make of that what you will.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas quarter launches

The Texas quarter, with its Lone Star design, has officially been released. And may I just say that this is the most retarded thing you'll read about any of the state coins.

The new Texas quarters are the same size as the quarters made for other states.

"I suppose," reasoned a U.S. Mint spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., "when people go to use them in parking meters and vending machines, we'd get a lot of complaints if they were bigger."

I can't believe that even Thom Marshall would ask such a question. It would have been hokey for a grade-school article. Thankfully, the rest of the piece is useful. But still.

UPDATE: It's been suggested that this was a joke and I didn't get it. That could be, but I offer two reasons why I think otherwise:

1. This came at the very beginning of the article. Seems to me that a joke would've been more towards the end, after whatever useful information had been imparted. It also might have contained a lead-in to indicate that the writer was just kidding.

2. The story author is Thom Marshall. That may mean nothing to you if you're not a regular Chronicle reader, but take it from me - he's sappy enough to have asked that question in earnest.

UPDATE: Norbizness gets all snarky. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Abbott rules in favor of Earle

The poor Texas GOP can't even get its own Attorney General to cut them some slack in the TAB/TRM grand jury investigations.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, has ruled that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle does not have to publicly disclose details of his grand jury investigation into 2002 Republican campaign finance activities.

Earle is investigating whether the Texas Association of Business and a political committee called Texans for a Republican Majority violated state law by using corporate money to pay for candidate-related campaign activities. TRM was founded by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.

In a pair of extensive rulings, Abbott said Earle does not have to comply with most of the open records requests filed by Texas Republican Chairman Tina Benkiser and Texas Association of Business attorney Andy Taylor.

Rosemary Lehmberg, Earle's chief assistant, said much of what Taylor and Benkiser had requested was released to them. Lehmberg said the information Earle did not want to release related directly to the investigation.

"We withheld only information we believed would compromise the investigation," Lehmberg said.

Taylor and Benkiser had hit Earle's office with numerous open records requests in March and April in an effort to show the Democratic district attorney's investigation is politically motivated.

Abbott said several records indicating telephone calls to members of the news media and some desk calendars must be released.

But he said Earle can keep private information regarding his grand jury investigation, records indicating the hiring of an outside lawyer in the case, the personal cell phone records of his prosecutors and his county cell phone because Earle is a member of a law enforcement agency.

Let us hear no more bull about partisan witch hunts.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 10, 2004
Haven't we heard this before?

Perry: Special session possible this summer

AUSTIN -- As lawmakers discuss changes to the way the state pays for public schools, Gov. Rick Perry said today there is still a chance for another special session on the issue this summer.

"I think there's still a good possibility. The Legislature is making good progress," Perry said. "Unless something gets stuck in the machinery to stop it, I see us continuing to move forward."

Lawmakers ended a special legislative session last month without passing a school funding plan to replace the current system that relies heavily on local property taxes and requires property-rich districts to send money to property-poor ones.

Perry has said he would call as many special sessions as necessary to get a plan approved but he has not said when the next session would start.

Sen. Steve Ogden, a Republican from Bryan who heads the Senate Finance Committee, said this week that for an overhaul to work the Legislature would need to approve amendments to the Texas Constitution. Constitutional amendments require support from two-thirds of the members in both chambers.

Some of the measures Ogden mentioned that would require a constitutional amendment include capping property and business taxes and legalizing video gambling. The Legislature would need to approve the proposals by late August to get the issue on the November general election ballot.

Rep. Talmadge Heflin, a Houston Republican who is chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said there was not support in the House to pass any constitutional amendments and Ogden said he was unsure if enough senators would agree.

Same bull, different day. I am just amazed at how much of a clown our governor is. It's like he expects this to happen by magic, because he sure isn't contributing to the solution. I cannot wait for 2006.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
RIP, Ray Charles

The legendary Ray Charles has passed away at the age of 73.

Ray Charles, the Grammy-winning crooner who blended gospel and blues in such crowd-pleasers as "What'd I Say" and ballads like "Georgia on My Mind," died Thursday, a spokesman said. He was 73.

Charles died at his Beverly Hills home surrounded by family and friends, said spokesman Jerry Digney.

Charles last public appearance was alongside Clint Eastwood on April 30, when the city of Los Angeles designated the singer's studios, built 40 years ago in central Los Angeles, as a historic landmark.

Blind by age 7 and an orphan at 15, Charles spent his life shattering any notion of musical boundaries and defying easy definition. A gifted pianist and saxophonist, he dabbled in country, jazz, big band and blues, and put his stamp on it all with a deep, warm voice roughened by heartbreak from a hardscrabble childhood in the segregated South.

"His sound was stunning - it was the blues, it was R&B, it was gospel, it was swing - it was all the stuff I was listening to before that but rolled into one amazing, soulful thing," singer Van Morrison told Rolling Stone magazine in April.

Charles won nine of his 12 Grammy Awards between 1960 and 1966, including the best R&B recording three consecutive years ("Hit the Road Jack," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Busted").

His versions of other songs are also well known, including "Makin' Whoopee" and a stirring "America the Beautiful." Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell wrote "Georgia on My Mind" in 1931 but it didn't become Georgia's official state song until 1979, long after Charles turned it into an American standard.

"I was born with music inside me. That's the only explanation I know of," Charles said in his 1978 autobiography, "Brother Ray." "Music was one of my parts ... Like my blood. It was a force already with me when I arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me, like food or water."

As far as I'm concerned, if we replaced the "Star Spangled Banner" and any lingering seventh-inning-stretch versions of "God Bless America" at all sporting events with Ray Charles' version of "America the Beautiful", the world would be a better place. Rest in peace, Ray Charles.

(Via Lean Left.)

UPDATE: Two things I could have mentioned earlier about Ray Charles but forgot:

1. Flip Wilson as Queen Isabella talking about how Christopher Columbus is gonna discover Ray Charles. Avedon remembers.

2. Dave Barry once wrote that "Hit The Road, Jack" is a quick and easy way to test if you have any rhythm. If you can figure out where to clap in HTRJ, you have basic rhythm.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Salon on BlogAds

Nice article by Farhad Manjoo in Salon on the BlogAds experience. He touches on all of the things that I think need to be said when discussing candidates buying ad space on blogs - bloggers and blog readers don't like to be seen as just money machines (though they don't object to the idea of being pandered to, as well they shouldn't), the 40-fold return that Ben Chandler got on his investment (and the lesser but still great return Stephanie Herseth got) involved a lot of special and non-repeatable circumstances, and the long-term model for success involves real interaction with the world of blogging, as Jim Newberry is cited for. I touched on many of these points myself back in February.

There are a fair number of campaign weblogs out there now (including four that I know of in Texas). I've been pondering what will happen to them after the election. In my opinion, win or lose, they ought to be continued. Winners can use them to maintain a connection to the people who supported them through the campaign. As I've said before, among the things that blogs provide a candidate is direct exposure unfiltered by some newspaper's city desk. The same is true for an officeholder. It's your words, your way, to your supporters, and it's postage-free.

Losing candidates, whether they intend to run again later or were just running this time to "get their ideas out there", can similarly maintain a microphone and an audience. They may not get a paid pundit deal like Howard Dean has done, but continued blogging will enable them to test, refine, and repeat their message for as long as they want to broadcast it. Once again, it's a very cheap form of networking and public relations.

To be honest, I'll be surprised if any candidates, successful or not, maintains their blogs after November. It's still too new, too out there, and for a losing candidate it will likely have a whiff of let-go-already to it. But it will happen sooner or later.

Steve Gilliard also makes a good point:

What I think the article is missing is that blogads clients will shift after the election. Bloggers are going to have to offer more information on their users and seek demographic friendly advertisers beyond politics. The lack of tech ads is noticible. Blogs are attracting an audience way beyond the techies we had on NetSlaves. But once numbers become clear, and bloggers start forming networks, it will be far easier for ads to be sold on them. The technology works, it's not obtrusive and it is flexible. It would be perfect for sporting events, anything which requires quick updating and timeliness. The problem with blogs is that they don 't stress the regional nature of their publications and will miss out on the bonanza of local ads.

I do think blogger networks are inevitable, and will have some potency when they form. To a certain extent, that's what Texas Tuesdays (and hopefully maybe similar organizations in other states) are all about. I'd like nothing more than to get some kind of organization around the Texas progressive bloggers - consider it a long-term project, with an eye on 2006. Several of my Texas colleagues will be in town next weekend for the state Democratic convention, and there's talk of a get-together which (time permitting) I hope to attend. Gotta start somewhere, after all.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Oh, no, you don't

Governor Rick Perry says he knows how the State Supreme Court justices are going to vote on a school finance reform lawsuit. One of those justices says oh, no, you don't.

If Gov. Rick Perry thinks he knows how the Texas Supreme Court will rule on a school finance lawsuit, he didn't pick up any insider information from court members, Justice Wallace Jefferson said Wednesday.

Jefferson, one of three Perry appointees on the high court, said he has never discussed school finance or any other issue with the governor. He said he doubted that any justice had, although people often try to guess how the court will rule on pending litigation.

"This court is independent, vigorously independent. We consider the facts and the law when they're presented," Jefferson said in an interview.

A lawsuit brought by a number of school districts, rich and poor alike, seeking to overturn the current school law is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 9 in state district court in Austin. Among other issues, the plaintiffs are seeking more state funding for public education.

A likely appeal of the district court's ruling will be decided by the nine-member Supreme Court, perhaps as early as next year.

Perry, in a private meeting in Dallas on May 13, predicted the lawsuit will fail because his appointees to the high court won't force the Legislature to make changes in the school law, one participant in the meeting said this week.

The governor said he knew where his appointees "stand on this," recalled John Carpenter, who then was president of the Highland Park school board. Highland Park, one of the state's wealthiest districts, is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said he has not discussed the school lawsuit with the justices but does believe the state ultimately will win the case.

"I've had no conversations with the governor on this issue, either while I was being considered for this appointment or since," Jefferson said.

"I don't think the governor is saying otherwise," he said.

Jefferson, a lawyer from San Antonio, was Perry's first appointee to a high-court vacancy in 2001. He kept his seat by winning election in 2002.

You know, it's not inconceivable to me that Perry may have reverse-psychologied himself here. If these justices really want you to believe they're independent, bending over backwards to seek equity in this lawsuit would surely do it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 09, 2004
A government of laws, not of men

I'm more in link mode than analysis mode right now, but I trust that this article doesn't need a whole lot of comment.

Gov. Rick Perry recently predicted, in a private meeting in Dallas, that a lawsuit challenging the state's school finance law will fail because his appointees to the Texas Supreme Court won't force changes on the Legislature.

Perry said he knew where his appointees "stand on this" and was confident they wouldn't attempt to rewrite the school law, one participant in the meeting recalled Tuesday. As many as five of the nine court members could be Perry appointees by the time an appeal of the case reaches the panel.

"He didn't say he had spoken to them (the justices), but I just couldn't believe it, and a lot of other people couldn't believe it either. They were stunned that a governor would say something like that," said John Carpenter, who on Tuesday ended a term as president of the Highland Park school board.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt did not dispute Carpenter's account of the meeting, but said Carpenter had "totally misconstrued" the governor's remarks.

Walt said the governor hasn't discussed the school finance lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in state district court in Austin on Aug. 9, or any other case with Supreme Court members. Such discussions could result in disciplinary actions against the judges.

"The makeup of the court is substantially different than it was previously, and the governor believes the state will win the lawsuit," Walt said.

Texas has a "fair and very independent judiciary," she added. But the governor appoints judges "who do not legislate from the bench."

Carpenter said about 25 to 30 Highland Park school officials and residents of the heavily Republican district, one of the state's wealthiest, attended the meeting with Perry at a private home in Dallas on May 13.

That was only a few days before a special session on school finance ended in failure because lawmakers and Perry couldn't agree on how to replace revenue lost from a proposed cut in local school property taxes. Legislators rejected Perry's plan to legalize video slot machines at racetracks, and the governor turned down lawmakers' proposals for expanded business taxes.

Perry proposed some funding increases for the public schools, mostly tied to improved student performance and other incentives.

He has indicated he may call another special session later this summer on school finance.

Plaintiffs in the school finance lawsuit include about 300 school districts, both rich and poor. Despite other differences, all agree that the state, which now pays for less than 40 percent of school operating costs, must increase its share, Carpenter said. Highland Park is a plaintiff.

Carpenter said the governor told the Dallas group that Democratic legislators were being encouraged not to vote for a new school bill now because they believed the courts were likely to rule in favor of the school districts and order a plan that would increase state funding for public schools.

But Perry said the plaintiffs don't stand a chance with the Texas Supreme Court, which ultimately will decide any appeal of the case, Carpenter said.

"He said he's talked to his attorney and that the attorney general said the state is in good shape," Carpenter recalled.

Carpenter said the governor also commented to him and one or two other people, as Perry was leaving, that he and state Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley "could cut 20 percent out of the school district budgets of the state."

"I think his perception is -- and I think it's wrong -- is that school districts across the state are inefficient and spending too much money," Carpenter added. "I've supported him (Perry) in the past. But he doesn't have a clue about what's going on in school finance."

Walt, who was at the meeting, said she didn't hear the governor's parting remarks.

You may recall that Highland Park is the ritzy Dallas suburb whose hometown paper pined for Kay Bailey Hutchison last summer. This story was apparently broken by the Quorum Report and also picked up by the Express-News, which contained this odd bit:

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, Senate Education Committee chairwoman, said of Perry's reported forecast: "I'm shocked. I would never preclude what the Supreme Court would do."

I presume she said or meant "predict", though I suppose strictly speaking what she was quoted as saying is true.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Schlitterbahn Galveston lease signed

The Schlitterbahn and the city of Galveston have signed the deal to bring the water park there, though at the last minute it was revealed that there was another partner involved.

The city had originally planned to sign an agreement with the owners of Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort in New Braunfels. Officials learned recently that the deal, signed Friday, would include American National Insurance Co., headed by Robert L. Moody.

Schlitterbahn formed a limited partnership known as Galveston Island Water with two American National subsidiaries.

Sherrie Brammall, Schlitterbahn spokeswoman, declined to say how much of the $30 million cost of the park would be covered by American National.

The Henry family, which owns Schlitterbahn, has looked for ways to finance the park since talks of bringing it to Galveston began, Brammall said. The family settled on American National because it is a publicly traded lender in Galveston.

But the deal with American National took former Mayor Roger Quiroga by surprise.

"We had a suspicion that either Moody Gardens or one of the subsidiaries was involved in this in some sort of way," said Quiroga, who was mayor when the deal was approved. "We originally thought American National would be a lender."

I'm no expert on Galveston's politics, but it sure seems to me like there's more to this story than what we're reading here. This Galveston News article gives a little taste of it:

Originally city officials thought Schlitterbahn, a New Braunfels-based water park giant, was going into the deal alone.

“This is taking me by total surprise,” said Roger “Bo” Quiroga, who was mayor when the deal was approved by city council. “What it tells me is that the Henrys are not as financially strong as they led us to believe.”

Schlitterbahn is headed by brothers Jeff and Gary Henry.


Although the park will be next to Moody Gardens, a nonprofit attraction subsidized by the billion-dollar Moody Foundation and controlled by the Moody family, [ Moody representative Irwin “Buddy”] Herz said there will be no relationship between the two attractions.

The partnership papers for Galveston Island Water Park were signed on Friday. That afternoon, Hertz and Jeff Henry, a Schlitterbahn principal who has been negotiating the deal, signed the lease for airport land. City Manager Steve LeBlanc and City Attorney Susie Green left a retreat with the new city council to finalize the deal.

Herz said the Moody family kept their negotiations with the Henrys a secret out of fear that some council members, including Quiroga, would try to kill the deal if they knew about the partnership.

“We were told there were four votes to kill it if there was any Moody money in it. That’s why the negotiations were extremely private,” he said.

Quiroga called this statement “asinine.” He said he only would have had reservations with the partnership if Schlitterbahn property was taken off the tax rolls.

“Just as long as they are paying taxes they can build whatever they want to build,” he said.

Moody Gardens, as a nonprofit entity, does not pay taxes.

All very strange to me. Galvestonian Jim D noted the GalvNews story - can you fill us in here, Jim?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Another straw in the wind?

Kos, writing for The Gadflyer, argues that the recent special-election wins by Stephanie Herseth and Ben Chandler in reliably red districts is a portent that 2004 will be an abnormal election, one that may disproportinately favor Democratic Congressional candidates. He strikes a very optimistic tone, but here's a piece of evidence that he's on to something. Via Archpundit, here's the story of Rep. Phil Crane, an 18-term incumbent and one-time Presidential primary challenger to Ronald Reagan who is now needing some help raising money.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is asking Illinois Republicans to do everything possible to help Rep. Phil Crane (R-Ill.) beat back a strong challenge from Democrat Melissa Bean, Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) said late last week.

Crane is seeking an 18th term representing the suburban Chicago 8th District.

“It’s a race to watch,” LaHood said. “Every year there’s the November surprise, and a lot of people are worried that the November surprise could be Phil Crane. The problem is he just has not really worked [his district] that well, and he hasn’t paid attention to it.”

Bean, a business consultant who unsuccessfully challenged Crane in 2002, said she would not be outspent 3 to 1 in 2004, as she was last time. She estimated that her campaign cash on hand is within $130,000 to $150,000 of Crane’s.

Crane’s campaign spokeswoman, Tami Stough, said: “We have an opponent this year … and the Speaker is just trying to do all he can.” Hastert is scheduled to appear at a June 27 fundraiser with Crane, Stough said. Other members, she said, are helping to raise money.

Every dollar spent protecting a fossil like Phil Crane is a dollar not spent on races that are more attractive to the GOP. This is a good thing.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Noriega to Afghanistan

State Rep. Rick Noriega of Houston is being deployed to Afghanistan.

Noriega, a major in the Army National Guard, now is making plans to head off to a war zone. From a camp near Kabul, Afghanistan, he will train Afghans in basic Army skills.

The Democrat from Houston, who is in his third term, is scheduled to report to Camp Mabry in Austin on June 16. After weeks of training, he expects to be deployed to Afghanistan in August.

Sitting in the living room of his home in the Eastwood area Monday, Noriega, 46, talked about his assignment and joked about capturing terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

The fourth-generation Houstonian chose to keep some subjects private, however, including the tears he and his family have shed. He shrugged off his situation, saying he is just another soldier serving his country.

"I'm fortunate I have a lot of support. Some of these kids don't have what we have," said Noriega, who works as a manager in CenterPoint Energy's economic development department.

"I don't want to trivialize where I'm going," he added. "Being in the military is serious business. That is what you accept as part of the contract. I signed up to serve the people of Texas and this country."

In the short time he has before leaving, Noriega and his wife, Melissa, have some decisions to make: arranging insurance coverage, making sure the mortgage is covered, finding time to put up a security fence, and selling his 2000 Chevrolet Suburban to avoid carrying a note and insurance on it.

"It's impacting everyone," he said. "We've got a lot of men and women being called up. It's my obligation. I've been training for 22 years and it's my turn."

Noriega, who represents District 145 on Houston's east and southeast sides, isn't the only member of the Texas House in active military service.

Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, is a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve who has not been called to active duty. Rep. Frank Corte Jr., R- San Antonio, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, also is awaiting possible activation.

Corte spent 40 days on active duty in Egypt after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He recently finished six months of active service in South Korea.

During World War II, 13 state legislators from Texas were called to active military service; eight were called during the Korean War.

"There's been people before us," said Corte. "I think Rick, Carl and myself are ready to do what needs to be done."

A state constitutional amendment approved last November allows Noriega to appoint someone to his seat, pending approval from the House, if he is absent.

Noriega suggested that his wife of 13 years would make a good replacement.

"My plan is to cross that bridge when we get to it," he said. "And if we get to that point, I'll say I think my wife would do a great job."

Melissa Noriega, a project coordinator for the Houston Independent School District, said she would do whatever she could for the district.

"Women have been picking up plows and hammers to cover the home front," she said. "I don't see this as much different. I would do whatever I need to do to bridge the gap."

Noriega's one of the good guys in the Lege. I wish him and his family well while he's overseas serving his country. Byron also noted this story.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
DeLay "charity" update

I must have missed the op-ed in the April 21 Chron in which Tom DeLay boasted of the construction of the Oaks at Rio Bend, which is a residential campus for foster children and their families. According to this Press story, it's been under construction since September and doesn't appear to have made much progress. Check it out, there's a lot of good background on all the other DeLay stuff as well. Via The Stakeholder.

UPDATE: The subpoenas are coming for DeLay cronies Mike Scanlon and Jack Abroamoff. See the extended entry for the story. Via AJ Garcia.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee is set to issue subpoenas in its investigation into the tens of millions of dollars spent by tribes on a pair of high-profile GOP lobbying and public relations specialists earlier this decade. Indian Affairs Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) said it would mark the first time the panel has ever issued subpoenas.

Faced with what he called “very little” cooperation from the targets of his probe, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) convinced Campbell to ratchet up the pressure by including the subpoenas on the agenda for the panel’s June 16 business meeting.

With both Campbell and McCain, the No. 2 ranking Republican on the panel, in support of issuing subpoenas it is virtually certain Indian Affairs will approve them, although it remains unclear how broad they will be and precisely who will receive them.

Campbell said Tuesday that he would limit his support of compelling documents and testimony only to “individuals.” That comment suggests Campbell wants to limit subpoenas to the two K Street figures at the center of the case and the firms they worked for: Jack Abramoff, once a high-flying lobbyist at Greenberg Traurig who was pushed out the door when the investigations into his work began, and Mike Scanlon, the public relations expert and former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) who collected at least $30 million from four tribes in three years.

“I am not supporting any movement to subpoena tribes,” Campbell said, adding that the tribes had a “sovereign” status that Congress shouldn’t impede upon. “That’ll be the first time in history we’ve issued subpoenas from the committee.”

McCain said he wants to work “in coordination” with Campbell, who gave McCain an almost free hand to conduct the probe of Abramoff, Scanlon and their work for the tribes. Campbell’s committee even hired a special investigator recently to work specifically with McCain’s staff on this investigation. But McCain left open the option of pushing to get more information from the tribes themselves.

“We’ll have to discuss it,” he said Tuesday. “We have to do whatever is necessary.” McCain declined to specify who he wanted to subpoena, saying his staff was “still putting together the list.”

He began the probe after media reports documented how Abramoff, while at Greenberg Traurig, billed just four tribes for about $15 million over three years and Scanlon collected at least the $30 million in PR contracts from the same tribes, who hired Scanlon’s firm at Abramoff’s prompting. Additional questions have centered around a think tank founded by Scanlon that paid $1.6 million in lobbying fees through the end of 2003 to Abramoff that appeared to do little work in its field and then folded in mid-2002.

And The Washington Post reported earlier this year that McCain sent Abramoff a letter saying the lobbyist, who is now working as a consultant at Cassidy & Associates, had received $10 million in payments from Scanlon and his firms. McCain is exploring what services the tribes actually received for what were some of the highest payments from any clients to a lobbyist from 2001 through 2003.

Scanlon has provided the committee with his documents related to his work with one tribe, the Saginaw Chippewas of Michigan. That tribe is under the control of a new tribal council that has blasted its previous leaders for spending so much on Abramoff and Scanlon, doling out $4.3 million to Abramoff and about $10 million to Scanlon.

In an interview before McCain and Campbell decided to push ahead with subpoenas, Scanlon said his pricing was “reasonable” when put in the context of the “sheer enormity of the industry,” noting that tribal gaming has become a multi-billion-dollar business.

“The work product that I provided to the committee will hopefully be helpful not only with regard to this specific tribe but also helpful to educating people about the industry overall,” he said. “This particular client made $1.8 billion in the three years I worked for them. I believe it’s necessary for tribes like this to actively participate in the public affairs arena to stay competitive.”

Lawyers for Abramoff did not return calls seeking comment, and Greenberg Traurig also declined to comment. The firm, however, is closing in on the completion of its own internal investigation of Abramoff’s business dealings and, in prior statements, has indicated that it may seek some form of retribution against Abramoff.

In the process of taking in so much money from the tribes, Scanlon also became one of the top donors to Republicans, cutting $500,000 worth of checks to the Republican Governors Association late in the 2002 election cycle. Abramoff has also been a major donor to GOP candidates and is a “Pioneer” for President Bush’s re-election campaign, having raised at least $100,000 from other donors for Bush.

Supporters of Scanlon and Abramoff’s work note that the Chippewa are still pouring millions of dollars into public affairs projects after firing their Washington-based consultants. Early last month the tribe agreed to put up almost $3 million as part of a $14 million petition drive organized by a dozen gaming interests in Michigan to get an initiative on the November ballot to halt an expansion of gambling to allow slot machines into racetracks.

McCain’s investigators initially thought they would be receiving a huge amount of documentation from the tribes — including the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians — but internal disputes have left it unclear in some cases which wings of the tribes are running their governing councils.

Only the Chippewa have been clearly taken over by a council that opposes Abramoff, making their waiver of confidentiality from all attorney-client privileges valid.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 08, 2004
Further evidence that I've made it as a blogger

Someone once said that true fame is to be the answer to 8 Down or 14 Across in the Sunday crossword puzzle. Given a choice, I'll take being the subject of a Norbizness captionapalooza. I may have to print that out and frame it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Home again

All members of the household are home. Harry has been introduced to Olivia, but was more interested in seeing Tiffany again. He wasn't quite sure what to make of it when she cried. I think they will do fine, though holding the baby with one hand and petting the dog with the other presents some odd challenges.

On the plus side, I have determined that I can blog one-handed - this entire post was done without my left arm, in which Olivia is currently cradled. My typing is slower and less accurate, and the shift key is not my friend, but I can do it. This opens up all kinds of possibilities.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Colorado re-redistricting officially dead

I doubt this will be any kind of portent for the upcoming Jackson v. Perry case, as the issue had turned on the Colorado state constitution, but SCOTUS has denied cert to the GOP in their attempt to get a last-minute redraw of Congressional lines through their legislature. Byron and Luis have more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas Tuesday: Martin Frost

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor sleep deprivation caused by new babies can stop us from bringing you another Texas Tuesday, with this week's feature being Rep. Martin Frost. We've also got a reposting of the interviews that Byron and I did awhile back. Check it out and lend a hand if you can.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Aguirre wants his job back

Former HPD Captain Mark Aguirre, fired for his role in the K-Mart Kiddie Roundup fiasco, has filed an appeal with an arbitrator to get his old job back. He claims that his firing was personally motivated.

Houston police officials on Monday defended their investigation of a 2002 raid that became a legal fiasco for the department, denying that then-Police Chief C.O. Bradford influenced the probe.

Attorneys for former Capt. Mark Aguirre, who was fired in January 2003 for his handling of the botched raid at a west Houston parking lot, argued that long-standing hard feelings between Aguirre and Bradford may have motivated Aguirre's downfall.

In a hearing before an independent arbitrator, Aguirre's attorneys tried to spotlight a feud between him and Bradford that worsened significantly in the months before the captain's termination.

But Assistant Police Chief Vickie King, who led the investigation while she was a lieutenant in the Internal Affairs Division, said Bradford did not influence the investigation.

"Anyone who tried to manipulate something of this magnitude, there's no way. We had over 500 people giving statements," King said during a hearing before an independent arbitrator, who will decide whether Aguirre should be reinstated. "You'd have to be an incredible puppet master."

King made her comments while being questioned by Aguirre's attorneys. The Aguirre team has promised to unveil some "surprises" about HPD's command staff when the hearing resumes next Monday.

This could be a lot of fun. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Thank you

Thank you all very much for the kind words and thoughts on Olivia's arrival. They really mean a lot. The last couple of days have been pretty overwhelming (in a good way, of course), and all the good will Tiffany and I have received has been wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Everyone should be coming home today. I got the baby seat installed yesterday, so at the very least I won't be turned away at the door. A neighbor who's also a fairly new dad helped me out. You know how they say that you can go to any fire station and get help installing a child safety seat? The one he went to after his son was born had never heard of that. Fortunately, one of the firefighters helped him anyway.

I'm already learning new skills with Olivia. The one I'm proudest of so far is the ability to use my Blackberry one-handed. I figure that's a warmup for learing to use the computer one-handed, something for which I already have a certain amount of skill because of Harry's penchant for demanding to be petted while I'm surfing.

Speaking of Harry, he's back home from our next-door neighbor's house. I've strewn some of the clothes and blankets that Olivia has used around the place to acclimate him to her scent. The sooner he realizes there's a new sherriff in town, the better.

I can't wait to bring her home. I'm so excited.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 07, 2004
The baby has arrived

It is with great joy, excitement, and relief that Tiffany and I announce the arrival of Olivia Rose Kuffner, who made her debut yesterday, June 6, at 5:58 PM, weighing in at 7 pounds 15.5 ounces (3.615 kg for the metric fans among us). Mother and daughter are dong beautifully and will be home tomorrow. I don't expect to post a whole lot of pictures here, but here's one for you:

Olivia and me

Yes, I'm wearing a Yankees shirt in that picture. Gotta start 'em out right.

Needless to say, blogging will be very sporadic this week. Thanks for understanding.

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle and fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chimed
Whole world whispering
You're born at the right time

-- Paul Simon

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 05, 2004
Meyer campaign blog

The Morris Meyer campaign blog appears to be up and running. Note that by having an RSS feed, I discovered its activity sooner rather than later. Yes, I'm going to preach the RSS gospel until I've converted everyone. What's the point of being a convert oneself if one can't be obnoxiously zealous about it?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Rasmussen does Texas

Jim D brings us (via Kos) the Rasmussen poll numbers for Texas:

May 1 - May 31
(Purported Margin of Error: +/- 3%)

Bush 55%
Kerry 38%
Other 3%
Not Sure 4%

Both Jim and Rasmussen note that Bush carried Texas by a 59-38 margin in 2000, though while Rasmussen calls this an "expected" result, Jim thinks Bush will hold at about 55% and predicts a 55-43 split this November.

I'm going to make a prediction of my own. If Jim is right and Bush beats Kerry here by 55-43, then I believe the Democrats will keep most, maybe even all, of their endangered incumbent Congressmen. If on the other hand it's more like 59-38 again, they'll be lucky to keep any one of them. Until I see some reliable polling on these individual races, I'm going to consider the statewide Presidential poll numbers as a proxy for them as a whole. Let's keep an eye on this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Citywide Wi-Fi?

Well, we may not get Wi-Fi parks, but according to Dwight Silverman, the city of Houston is looking at Wi-Fi everywhere.

While it's still at the "what if we did this" stage, the plan under consideration borrows from a successful system that's more than 30 years old.

Richard Lewis, the city's chief technology officer, says he is looking a system that would break Houston into about 100 six-square-mile "hot zones," each controlled by a wireless Internet provider that's won a bid for exclusive rights to control that territory.


The network would be built first in the parts of town with the densest populations, such as downtown or the Galleria area, then expanded, even into residential areas. It would give residential users another choice for high-speed broadband access in the home.

The cost for setting up the network would be borne by private companies that would get a part of the fees paid by subscribers to use the network. The service providers would also get a cut.

Billing issues still have to be worked out, but the service would not be free. Lewis said the city is looking at using the same type of billing arrangement planned for WiFi access now being set up at Houston's two big airports. There, users will be billed through their existing Internet service providers, thanks to a consortium of providers, Lewis said. Airport WiFi access should be available by the end of this year.

The city already is experimenting with the benefits of WiFi access for its workers and the public. Lewis said building inspectors no longer report to a central office, but get their assignments wirelessly in the morning and go directly to work. He estimated it saves two hours of travel time and provides a 15 percent boost in productivity.

The city's library is installing WiFi access at its branches, while all the Harris County Public Library's branches already have it.

Very cool. I'm hoping it'll have a salutary effect on high-speed Internet access prices for home users as well. Looks like it may be time to start spec'ing out that new laptop.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Herseth speaks

The Stakeholder has a report from a rally in South Dakota honoring their new Congressperson Stephanie Herseth, and a guest post from Rep. Herseth and many of the volunteers who helped get her into the House. Two down, eleven more to go.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 04, 2004
Making the sales tax deductible

According to the Star-Telegram, legislation is in place to allow residents of states with no state income tax to deduct sales taxes from their federal income tax.

[Tom] DeLay, R-Sugar Land, said in an interview with the Star-Telegram that the breakthrough in long-running negotiations will be announced today as a provision in a major corporate tax bill.

DeLay said he had been trying to restore the sales tax deduction in states that have no state income tax since Congress eliminated the deduction in the sweeping 1986 tax overhaul. The other states with no state income tax are Tennessee, South Dakota, Nevada, Florida, Washington and Wyoming. Residents of other states can deduct their state income tax on their federal returns; they would be able to choose to deduct sales taxes instead.

"It's a matter of fairness," DeLay said.

The deductibility provision would be retroactive to Jan. 1, meaning it would take effect for this tax year.

"It's pretty assured it's going to happen," said DeLay. "This is a major piece of legislation that happens to include sales tax deductibility."

There is no major opposition yet to the tax deduction provision, but supporters expect some resistance from lawmakers who are concerned about the estimated $21.6 billion it would cost over the next 10 years.

The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to approve the corporate tax bill next week, and DeLay expects it to clear the full House by mid-June. He is confident the Senate will accept the sales-tax provision.

The prospect of restoring the deduction has gained momentum from the combined push of DeLay and other key lawmakers in both parties from other states without income taxes, most notably Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Senate Democratic Whip Harry Reid of Nevada.

Moreover, President Bush is a former Texas governor, and DeLay said the White House is "all for it."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also has been working on the issue. Last year she introduced a separate bill to restore the deduction.

The provision would allow U.S. taxpayers who itemize deductions on their federal returns to deduct state and local sales taxes. Taxpayers who pay state income tax could choose to deduct that instead.

Before 1986, all taxpayers who itemized could deduct state income taxes and sales taxes.

Texans pay $14 billion a year in the 6.25 percent state sales tax and up to an additional 2 percent local sales tax. The deduction would save Texans an estimated $921 million a year in federal taxes, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The deductibility provision will cost the Treasury $21.6 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

The Internal Revenue Service would develop a chart with estimates of sales taxes paid by taxpayers in different income brackets. Before 1986, the IRS developed those charts and taxpayers could use them or save all their sales-tax receipts.

Obviously, this is going to benefit me. Unfortunately, I don't think it'll do much for lower-income folks, for whom the sales tax is their greatest tax burden. How many households near the poverty line itemize their taxes? I also fear that with this law on the books, there'll be even more incentive to push sales taxes for state funds instead of less regressive measures.

I should note that this is something Rep. Martin Frost has been pushing, though of course since this story was primarily based on an interview with DeLay he doesn't get mentioned here. Frost has been bashing Pete Sessions for not supporting the measure even though he's listed as a cosponsor. The political gain for Frost is undeniable, but you can count me among those who are "concerned" about the cost. $21 billion over ten years is fairly small potatoes all things considered, but I'd much rather defer adding to our already insane deficits until we can get a government in place that has a modicum of fiscal responsibility about it. And you know, with a war going on and all, I just feel there are higher priorities than handing out more tax breaks to people who don't necessarily need them.

And of course, as this involves Tom DeLay, those three little Latin words must make an appearance:

DeLay said he has coordinated with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, both Republicans. "The governor calls me once every two weeks," DeLay said. "Every time I was down in Texas during redistricting I would hear about the sales tax deduction. I wanted to talk about redistricting, and they wanted to talk about the sales tax."

DeLay made clear that there was "no quid pro quo" between last year's redistricting battle and the sales-tax issue but said he also felt strongly that the deduction had to be restored.

As I recall, when questioned about his involvement in redistricting last year, DeLay claimed to be just another concerned citizen who wanted to make sure his viewpoint was being heard by the Legislature. I suppose that's not really operational any more. Via Lasso.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
StarBock update

The legal battle between Starbucks and a Galveston brewpub over its "StarBock" beer, first noted here, will enter mediation shortly.

U.S. Judge Samuel Kent ordered the parties to mediate the case and set it for trial in 2005. Kent wants a report by July 30 on efforts to settle the case.

"That is the next step in the long process of getting through this agonizing ordeal," said John Egbert, the Houston attorney who represents bar owner, Rex Bell.

Bell operates the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe. He sells the beer from one of bar's taps.

"That is pretty much all he does with it," Egbert said of the beer Bell has sold for about a year. Egbert told the Galveston Daily News in Thursday's editions that Bell obtained U.S. Trademark Office approval for his beer's name.

Bell came up with the name after he combined Lone Star beer and Shiner Bock beer into a glass for a customer, suggesting he try a "Starbock." Egbert said Bell's beer is brewed in Texas from a "special recipe."

"The name just stuck in my head, and I knew I was onto something," Bell said.

Seattle-based Starbucks claims Bell's beer has infringed on its brand. Starbucks appealed the trademark office ruling in February.

A month later, Egbert filed a complaint in federal court, pushing the coffee company to prove its case in court.

Starbucks filed a counterclaim alleging Bell chose the beer name "which he knew would be associated by consumers with Starbucks and its products."

Unless Starbucks is willing to let Bell keep the name, "I really don't see where we would go from there," Egbert told the newspaper.

Michael, who may or may not be able to find Shiner Bock beer in his new Jersey digs, tells us a little bit more about Rex Bell.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Rodriguez appeal update

The next stage of the legal dispute between Rep. Ciro Rodriguez and Henry Cuellar over the primary result will take place on June 24.

A three-judge panel of the 4th Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on June 24 in the election lawsuit of U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who is trying to overturn his Democratic primary loss to Henry Cuellar.

Earlier this week, the appellate court randomly selected three judges to hear the case. They are Chief Justice Alma Lopez, Judge Catherine M. Stone and Judge Paul W. Green.

Oral arguments are expected to take about one hour. The judges will prepare and issue an opinion in the case at a later date, according to a court official.

Cuellar has been certified as the winner by the Secretary of State, though of course that can be changed by the court.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Cognitive dissonance watch

The Governor speaks.

Gov. Rick Perry assured Republican Party activists on Thursday that he is a conservative after their own hearts and, in a campaign-style speech kicking off the GOP state convention, he sidestepped a controversy over gambling that could become an issue against him in the 2006 primary.


"I make no apologies for being an optimistic conservative who is pro-jobs, pro-growth, pro-family and pro-life," Perry said to applause from several thousand delegates and alternates.

"I will pursue the conservative mandate voters entrusted to me. I know who elected me, and I know why they elected me. And I will always stand my ground," he added.

Translation: "It's not important that I support state-sponsored gambling. What's important is that I'm not the kind of politician who would support state-sponsored gambling." Apparently, Rob Corddry has joined Perry's speechwriting team.

More here.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The Slurpee Generation

Thank heaven for the Internet and its ability to reach an elusive demographic.

Young people – those in their teens to 30s – have so many ways to communicate that reaching them has become a guessing game for marketers.

That's why 7-Eleven Inc. is taking its No. 1 brand, Slurpee, to the Internet.

The Dallas-based convenience store chain on Tuesday launched www.slurpee.com and a summertime Slurpee promotion with partners Nokia, Musicmatch and Coca-Cola.

Customers can buy Slurpee apparel on the site and access downloadable songs and wireless phone rings.

7-Eleven came up with the multichannel promotion after it discovered in focus groups that there's a huge "Slurpee generation" out there that's been difficult to reach, said John Ryckevic, 7-Eleven category manager for Slurpee and fountain drinks.

"We know they love music and spend a lot of time on the Internet, and they all have cellphones and they all tell us they love Slurpees," he said.

"Communication methods are constantly changing. It's a challenge to reach our youngest customers, who are the first to try something new."

I resolve that from here on out, I will always collectively refer to those younger than me as the "Slurpee Generation". This is a meme that needs to be spread, don't you think?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 03, 2004
May traffic report

May was by far my busiest month ever, with about 56,000 visitors. I have Comptroller Strayhorn and the Unitarian Universalist Church to thank for that, as both my original post and my followup on the reversal were linked all over creation, with Atrios as usual providing the bulk of the referrals (over 15,000 of them, which just boggles my mind).

After a couple of big weeks like that, I'm never sure if my traffic will slide back to previous levels or step up to a new plateau. Whatever does happen, I'm grateful as always to you for dropping by. June is my 30th month of blogging, and having the great readership that I do keeps it fresh and fun for me. Thanks very much, and click on the More link for the top referrers.

Aggregators, collections, indices, etc ====================================== 496: http://www.bloglines.com 244: http://www.technorati.com/ 173: http://blo.gs/ 92: http://blogdex.net

Weblog referrers
15007: Atrios

1800: Daily Kos


240: BeliefNet

214: Pandagon

212: Political Animal

173: SixApart

169: The Agonist

143: Sisyphus Shrugged

128: Safety for Dummies

108: Fark

105: Kicking Ass

98: Nosey Online

Top search terms
#reqs: search term
-----: -----------
1731: real men of genius
1082: ugly people
387: american idol tryouts
323: jon matthews
302: extreme home makeovers
153: schlitterbahn galveston
116: diane zamora
108: schlitterbahn
107: lynndie england sex pictures
103: budweiser real men of genius
90: wichita falls tornado
82: william krar
80: little hipps
75: lynndie england sex video
72: if you love something set it free
66: deanna laney
66: women of enron
63: andy pettite
57: prime number algorithm
55: world's largest rat

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas news briefs

Some days there's so much stuff you just have to do a little linkdumping...

Tom DeLay makes a modest proposal to Nancy Pelosi.

A staffer for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), trying to whip up television bookings for his boss, approached an aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last month with an unusual proposal.

The DeLay aide suggested that they jointly complain to television political talk show bookers that House members are routinely ignored in favor of senators in talking about the Iraq prison abuse scandal.

Pelosi’s aide rebuffed the deal, according to her spokesman, Brendan Daly, who called the offer “absurd.” The senators deserved to be on the shows, he said, “because the Senate is actually having hearings” into the scandal. DeLay’s office declined to give its version of the offer.

Meanwhile, Pelosi was joined by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) in writing House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on May 24 to ask for House hearings on the Abu Ghraib prison. But it’s a no go, according to Hastert spokesman John Feehery.

Via The Joe Hill Dispatch

Here's an insider's look at the race for State GOP Chair. And speaking of the GOP convention, guess who's coming for dinner?

[Candidate for Chair Gina] Parker will bring a note of controversy to the convention Thursday night when former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is the featured guest at a reception she is holding. Moore was removed from office last year after he defied a court order to take the Ten Commandments out of the Alabama Supreme Court building.

Let's hear it for mainstream values. Via Byron.

What's up with John Cornyn and his flaming desire to amend the Constitution?

Sen. John Cornyn led efforts Wednesday to advance a constitutional amendment allowing flag burning to become a criminal act -- one of five changes to the U.S. Constitution the Texas Republican favors.

Cornyn is in a unique position to fulfill his constitutional desires as chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee: He gets first crack at all proposed amendments, and he is pushing several high-profile, high-controversy changes, including the Federal Marriage Amendment to outlaw same-sex marriages.


Cornyn said he is not itchy to amend the Constitution. Instead, he blamed activist judges -- those he says interpret the law to suit their own political beliefs -- with forcing his hand.

"I think it's appropriate to amend the Constitution when the federal courts take it upon themselves to change the original understanding of the Constitution in a way that contradicts the feelings of the American people," Cornyn said. "I'm not suggesting that all these amendments would pass, but I'm certainly in favor of giving the American people a choice."

Frankly, sir, I think we have more to fear from activist Senators at this point. Just what exactly does he think we can't live without after all these years?

Of the 13 amendments submitted to the Senate, Cornyn supports the flag measure and four others:

* The Federal Marriage Amendment, which Cornyn called a response to last year's Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision forcing the state to recognize same-sex marriages. Cornyn recently embraced the amendment and expects to shepherd it through his subcommittee this year.

* The Victims Rights Amendment, which senators abandoned in April after eight unsuccessful years. Instead, the Senate passed a law protecting crime victims from defendants and giving victims or their families the right to speak at federal court sentencing hearings and plea agreements. House approval is expected. Cornyn was a co-sponsor of the amendment.

* A balanced budget amendment to limit government spending, which Cornyn said Wednesday he favors. Two such bills are pending in the Judiciary Committee.

* The Continuity of Congress Amendment, which provides for the rapid appointment of Congress members killed or incapacitated by terrorists. This is the only amendment Cornyn has introduced, and it was poorly received by the House.

The irony of a Republican pushing a balanced-budget amendment after three years of Bush's deficit enhancement program-related activities is rich. As far as I'm concerned, the only one of these that's even worth talking about is the Continuity of Congress Amendment, and even that doesn't strike me as a need-to-have. Didn't the word "conservative" once imply a reluctance to mess with things?

The Richard Morrison blog brings news of some signs of Democratic life in Fort Bend County. Doing a little link-following, I see that the Bay Area New Democrats are having a fundraiser this Saturday at 8 PM in Clear Lake at which Morrison will be the featured guest.

Liberty has an update on the criminal case of a certain local right-wing talk radio host who shall go nameless because I don't want any more of his fans to find this entry and turn it into a chat board like they did before.

Finally, it's not directly Texas-related, but I can't resist pointing to Greg's post on The Postrelization of Employment. Check it out, you'll be glad you did.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Comment spam alert

I just checked my activity log, and I'm seeing hundreds upon hundreds of comment spam attempts for "listbanx.com" and "leadbanx.com", all coming from the same IP address ( and all in the last two days or so. Do yourself a favor and make sure your Comment Spam Master Blacklist is up to date (both those domains are in there), or at least ban that IP address and save yourself some grief.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Who was on the naming committee for this?

Sarah notes that the GOP counterpart to John Kerry Thursdays is called Wictory Wednesday.

"Wictory". Yeah, me too.

Remember when Diane Chambers got involved in politics?

Carla: "Wim with Jim?"
Diane: I thought it up. It's very Joycian.
Carla: If that means stupid, I agree.

That about sums it up.

(Psst! Luis! There's an 80s pop-culture reference for you!)

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Contract with America redux

Earlier, in shilling for progressive bloggers in other states to adopt the Texas Tuesdays concept, I noted that Nick Confessore downplayed the impact of the "Contract with America" on the GOP sweep in 1994. The Bonassus (just added to my Bloglines subscriptions, btw) disputes that assertion. More research is called for, but I say Bonassus is ahead on points right now. Check it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
New administration, same budget battles

In one of his last pieces for the Press, Tim Fleck suggested that Mayor Bill White and Comptroller Annise Parker would sooner or later butt heads. I'm sure that he nodded knowingly as he read this story today.

Mayor Bill White's budget revenue projections are off by $18.2 million, according to Controller Annise Parker.

Parker is predicting that White's numbers are too optimistic, and she refuses to recognize his projected increase in fines and expected extra money from the Metropolitan Transit Authority, she said Wednesday.

Also, the mayor's plan to cut back on the city's property tax revenue would have an impact on his proposed budget, Parker said.


The controller does not have a vote on the mayor's budget. But the controller must certify how much money the city can spend.

White downplayed the differences in revenue projections, saying once he provides the controller with additional information there won't be a dispute.

"We are confident in our numbers," he said. "I think those (differences) can all be resolved."


In past administrations, the mayor and controller often have disagreed about the amount of money the city will take in and -- as a result -- how much it should spend. Last year, the controller projected that the mayor's budget would fall short by $20.7 million.

After hearing Parker's report, Councilman Mark Ellis asked that the controller make a presention before the Fiscal Affairs Committee so council members can ask more questions about the discrepancies.

"I don't think it's that big a deal," Ellis said of the difference. "If the controller and the mayor's revenue projections were exactly the same, I would think they were in cahoots."

The mayor's proposed general fund budget is $1.454 billion -- a 3.3 percent increase from this year. Some council members find the mayor's plan overly optimistic.

"I think we need to have a thorough analysis," Councilman Gordon Quan said. "I think there are still a lot of questions out there. The controller is supposed to be the watchdog of the mayor. I want to see what she's watching."

In the grand scheme of things, this probably isn't that big a deal. Eighteen million bucks sounds like a lot of money, but it's barely more than 1% of the total budget. It shouldn't be that hard to split the differences, and if Parker and White come to blows over it then neither one is as good a politician as I think they are. I suspect this will get resolved amicably, though I also suspect this will be the easiest one to deal with.

One more item:

Some of the ways White's administration plans to close the gap include passing the increased cost of health benefits to city employees, refinancing debt, reducing pension fund payments and laying off employees.

He also is anticipating an additional $6.1 million in fees and plans to transfer $10 million in Metro general mobility money to the city's general fund.

"We are entitled, by contract, to a certain amount of money from Metro," White said.

Former Mayor Bob Lanier used to pump $50 million a year into the city's general fund with an annual cash payment from Metro. But White's predecessor, Mayor Lee Brown, phased that out in exchange for more Metro funding for city transportation projects.

White said his plan to add Metro money into the general fund "is not the same thing" as what Lanier did. He says he is simply counting on Metro to repay money that is due the city, primarily for the construction of Metro's rail line. The money placed in the general fund, he promised, will still be used for mobility projects.

"We've been consulting with Metro. It's been cordial and not adversarial, and we expect prompt payment," White said.

Mayorbob's penchant for using Metro funds to supplement other city spending projects was a disaster from a mass-transit perspective. Ending that practice is one thing Lee Brown did right. I'll take White's word for it here, but this is something to keep an eye on.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Voting in America

Public service announcement for those in the Houston area: I've been asked to pass along an invitation to a fundraiser for a new documentary called "Voting in America", a work in progress that has room for you in the final cut. It'll be next Wednesday, June 16th, in the Heights. Click on the More link for the details.

A provocative collection of short films involving the collaborative efforts of a
highly diverse group of award-winning filmmakers from around the country.

Join us for an evening of music, food and freedom, in support of
a new documentary film by
Laura Harrison & Charlotte Lagarde

- Register to Vote
- Be interviewed for potential inclusion in the Final Cut
- Enjoy live music by The Rosta Jazz Avengers
- Raffle tickets $5

Wednesday, June 16, 2004
7:00pm to 11:00pm
Advance Tickets $25
Door Tickets $30
The Art Guys World Headquarters
631 West 22nd Street
Houston, TX 77008 (Map)

If you are unable to attend the fundraiser, but would like to make a secured
contribution via PayPal, please visit www.votinginamerica.org

Please RSVP by June 8, 2004 to:
Laura Harrison ( [email protected])

Posted by Charles Kuffner
You have the right to an attorney

In re: the President hiring an attorney in the Plame case, I think Josh Marshall is asking the right question: When will the Vice President get a lawyer, too?

Tangential but not entirely unrelated observation: Whoever was responsible for enabling Ahmed Chalabi to spill secrets to Iran had better get himself a damn good lawyer.

(You do remember Mr. Chalabi, don't you, Mr. President? Just checking.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner
RIP, Town and Country Mall

Say goodbye to Town and Country Mall.

The long-awaited demise of Town & Country Mall became a reality on Wednesday for the few tenants still left operating in the 20-year-old property, which never seemed to hit its stride.

The mall was quietly sold to a developer last week, and store owners received notification Wednesday afternoon that they would have to vacate the property by July 31.


The enclosed shopping center, at the southeast corner of the Katy Freeway and Beltway 8, will be demolished and redeveloped as part of the new owner's sweeping plan to revive the ailing west Houston property.


The property's new owner has revealed little about its future vision for the site, which spans some 35 acres.

"We are studying projects around the country to make sure we bring the very best mixed-use lifestyle development to Houston and the Memorial area," said Mark Anawaty, executive vice president for Midway.

Real estate sources say the new development could include a combination of high-density housing and new retail stores.

The sale to Midway included the Neiman Marcus department store, which was the last remaining mall tenant that owned its own real estate.

Neiman's signed a long-term lease with the new owner and has no plans to move, said Thomas Wensinger, general manager for the Town & Country store.

"We're meeting with people in Dallas to talk about fall plans," he said. "To us, it is business as usual."

Officials from Midway said the mall's demise opens up an opportunity for a long-awaited rebirth.

Apart from the nearly vacant mall, most of the surrounding development is thriving.

Town & Country Village, an adjacent outdoor shopping center, offers a more accurate picture of the area's potential, Anawaty said.

"This area's purchasing power is undeniable," he said.

Located near the high-end Memorial neighborhood, the three-level property opened in 1983, but never took off.

Town & Country has suffered from poor visibility and access because it is set back from the access road along Interstate 10, making it harder to see and to get to.

It deteriorated further amid heavy competition, namely nearby Memorial City Mall, which was recently renovated.

Tiffany and I were at Memorial City Mall this weekend, as it offered a place for her to do a little walking without getting overheated. I was amazed at how nice it looked - the owners had recently spent a ton renovating the place, and it showed. In her opinion, the owners of Town and Country never cared nearly as much as the Memorial City owners did.

It's also hard to overstate the inaccessibility of T&C. There's essentially one entrance point, from the service road on I-10. It's not well marked, and it's real easy to drive past. Even though T&C is adjacent to Beltway 8, there's no entrance to it from there. That's a cardinal sin in Houston. In a way, it's amazing the place has lasted this long. We'll see what happens next.

UPDATE: In the comments, Katy notes there are other entrances to T&C Mall, including from the Beltway, and there is signage to indicate those entrances. Obviously, I just never noticed. My bad.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 02, 2004
Berman piece hits Texas papers

The op-ed by UT law prof Mitchell Berman, which was originally printed in the LA Times, ran today in the Statesman. I'm glad to see it get some airtime in Texas and hope it spawns some debate.

In related news, SCOTUS has requested a response from the Texas Attorney General to this lawsuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court has told Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to respond by June 28 to Democratic claims that the Republican-dominated Legislature had no compelling governmental reason to redraw congressional lines last year.

It was unclear Tuesday whether the request indicates that the Supreme Court might hear arguments in the Texas redistricting appeals.

Abbott initially did not file a response to the Democrats' request to argue before the Supreme Court. On Friday, the clerk of the court sent Abbott's solicitor general, Ted Cruz, a letter asking Texas to tell the court why it should not hear the cases.

The Seventh Edition of Supreme Court Practice, a handbook for lawyers taking cases before the court, says responses such as that asked of Cruz are seldom necessary. The court will ask for one if it thinks the party asking to be heard "may have some merit," and the court wants the other party to explain why it does not, the handbook says.

A three-judge federal panel ruled in January that congressional lines produced after three special sessions in Austin would stand. Lawyers representing five sets of Texas plaintiffs appealed that ruling to the high court, which has yet to decide whether it will hear the Texas cases.

Of five Democratic lawsuits challenging the new lines, four relied heavily on arguments that the new lines diluted minority voting strength. But one lawsuit filed by three East Texans directly challenged lawmakers' authority to take up redistricting outside the once-a-decade format.

That mid-decade question is similar to a Colorado case the court also might hear.

The Supreme Court has rescheduled discussion of whether to hear the Colorado case at least four times. That lawsuit turns on whether the Colorado Constitution stands up to U.S. Constitutional muster in forbidding mid-decade redistricting.

The court's latest decision to reschedule that discussion was Thursday, the day before its clerk sent the letter to Texas.

In a Pennsylvania case decided by the high court earlier this year, most judges agreed that purely partisan justification for redrawing lines doesn't meet the constitutional requirement that there be a legitimate governmental purpose for mid-decade redistricting.

They let that state's GOP-driven lines stand, though, with four justices saying a clear line could never be drawn separating decisions meant to favor one party from those that incidentally favor that party. A fifth judge in the 5-4 decision also noted that Pennsylvania, unlike Texas, did not have any lines in place other than the ones drawn after the 1990 census.

Also noted by Southpaw and the Free State Standard. As Southpaw notes, this may give SCOTUS a way to not hear the Texas case at all, but we'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Max Sandlin interview

My Texas Tuesdays colleage Gary Beason has a nice interview with Rep. Max Sandlin up on the TT site. Check it out. If nothing else, this ought to impress you about Sandlin:

Chili Pepper Magazine called you the “Zestiest Legislator.” Can you still eat eight peppers and chug a bottle of Tabasco sauce?

Two years ago I ate eight peppers and chugged a bottle of Tabasco sauce in five minutes as part of a competition between chili pepper providing states. Last year, I ate 42 peppers in five minutes along with the Tabasco closer.


I wish they would think of a new competition—enough is enough!


There's a second post about some lies Sandlin's opponent is spreading in his early campaign advertising. Now, I certainly wish that Sandlin had voted against the so-called (and currently deemed to be unconstitutional) "Partial Birth Abortion" ban, but I cannot understand the utility of claiming that he did when a little websurfing proves it to be untrue. If Louie Gohmert is going to lie about easily-checked facts, what will he do about stuff that's harder to check, or stuff that requires taking his word for it?

Posted by Charles Kuffner
How cozy is that?

Remember when it was revealed that the state government threw a quarter million bucks at a Las Vegas consulting firm so it could draw up some custom slot machine legislation? Turns out that the point man for that firm is good buddies with a top legislator, and that he was hired at the recommendation of Governor Perry's chief of staff.

Lottery Executive Director Reagan Greer said during testimony to a House committee Tuesday that he instructed the Las Vegas law firm of Lionel, Sawyer and Collins to hire gaming industry expert William Watson as a subcontractor.

Greer was called before a House committee that is critical of the lottery commission's decision to hire an out-of-state law firm with ties to the gambling industry to draft proposed gambling laws for Texas.


Greer said during the three-hour hearing that he told the firm to hire Watson after receiving a telephone call from Perry's chief of staff, Mike Toomey. Toomey received Watson's name from House Public Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, who is a personal friend of Watson.

"It was a suggestion to move forward with, and I did," Greer said. "He (Toomey) said he (Watson) had a high level of expertise."

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said Toomey did nothing more than pass a name along.

"Mike Toomey passed Mr. Watson's name on to the lottery commission, to Reagan Greer, as an FYI from Grusendorf as someone with expertise on the subject," Walt said. "That was the extent of Toomey's involvement in that."

Neither Grusendorf nor Watson could be reached for comment.

Watson is a former senior vice president with Alliance Gaming's Bally Gaming and Systems division, a casino technology company.

Watson billed the law firm $27,200 for two weeks of work in February testing assumptions of how much money would be generated for the state by the legalization of video lottery terminals.

The law firm has billed the state $176,743 for its work, including that done by Watson. The state has not yet paid the bill.

A proposed state constitutional amendment to legalize video lottery failed in the Texas House in the recent special legislative session. But Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have indicated they would like to revive the issue if there is another special session on school finance.

Both Democratic and Republican legislators have been critical of the lottery for hiring an out-of-state law firm to write video lottery legislation under a $250,000 contract.

Members of the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee on Tuesday grilled Greer, lottery staff, commission members and First Assistant Attorney General Barry McBee about how the Lionel, Sawyer and Collins firm was hired and paid for.

Isn't that special? Underneath the More link is a recapitulation of the testimony as complied by Telicon and provided to me by The Princess, whose company subscribes to their services. (Thanks, Princess!)

Almost uncharacteristically, the Chron nearly gets indignant about the whole affair (though the role that Mike Toomey and Kent Gruesendorf played in it goes unmentioned).

The Lottery Commission operates on the sale of lottery tickets. If the commission has a spare quarter of a million dollars to pay Las Vegas lawyers to write gambling legislation for Texas, it has too much money it's not passing on to the state for education.

The law firm, Lionel, Sawyer and Collins, represents some of the nation's largest makers of video lottery machines. It stands to benefit if Texas law one day allows the law firm's clients to sell tens of thousands of VLTs here. The firm should register as a lobbyist and provide its expertise at no cost to taxpayers.

If the gambling industry won't offer free advice, then racetrack owners, who make up the narrow special interest that would receive the video lottery profits after the state's cut, ought to foot the bill.

Not too bad. Now that they've broken the story, let's see them keep up with it.

Original Chron link via YDB.

AUSTIN (6/1/2004, 10 AM, E2.026)

The House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee met this morning under the direction of Chairman Flores. Rep. Van Arsdale, not a member of the committee, was also present.

Chairman Flores opened the meeting by saying he hoped to find out why it was necessary to hire outside counsel to draft proposed VLT language. Flores said he hoped those responsible could demonstrate why, despite the great resources available in Texas, a law firm from Nevada was hired. Flores said the state would have had to pay for representatives from the law firm to attend the meeting, and he didn't want to spend any more of the taxpayers' money than has already been spent.

Reagan Greer, Executive Director of the Texas Lottery Commission, agreed with Chairman Flores that the issue of outside counsel was not brought up at a meeting on Dec. 12 between staff members from the Governor's office, OAG , Lottery Commission, and lawyers representing the Indian tribes, in which Flores was also present.

Barry McBee, Office of the Attorney General, said the Nevada firm was hired because he did not feel the expertise was available in the state. McBee said that spoke to the complexity of VLTs and Indian gaming issues. Chairman Flores said that shows there was a lack of confidence.

Rep. Delwin Jones, reminding the witnesses that they were under oath, asked if prior to the 12/12 meeting, did anyone at OAG talk to the Nevada law firm. McBee said no. McBee also said a contract went into effect with the law firm on 12/16 after negotiations that went through the weekend, but he was not sure when it was signed.

Rep. Jones said his "country-bumpkin" mind didn't believe the schedule laid out by the witnesses, in regards to when the law firm was first contacted and when the contract went into effect. This took place over 4 days.

Chairman Flores questioned a phone call billed by the Nevada firm to the Lottery Commission on 12/12. The commission's deputy general counsel, Ridgely Bennett, requested to know the time of the phone call, and also said it was probably placed after the meeting.

The Nevada law firm, Lionel Sawyer & Collins (www.lionelsawyer.com), is the largest firm in the state and is an expert on gambling and tribal gaming.

The committee was told that Kim Kiplin, General Counsel for the Lottery Commission, contacted the firm on the afternoon of 12/12.

Chairman Flores commented that right after the 12/12 meeting, the commission had phone #s, etc. of the law firm, but they have said they didn't have contact with the firm prior to the meeting. "Somebody help me out, somebody help me out," said Flores.

Texas Lottery Commissioner Jim Cox said he recalled having a conversation with Kim Kiplin about the Nevada firm, telling her it would be a good place to start. Cox talked to a partner on the phone that day, and later that afternoon the firm called Kiplin. Cox also mentioned Nelson Rose, Professor at the Whittier College School of Law, to Kiplin.

Chairman Flores asked who contacted Professor Rose. The witnesses said they didn't know. "Here we go again: don't know, don't remember, don't recollect," said Flores.

Rep. Delwin Jones asked Flores if the committee had the power of subpoena; Flores said yes. Jones said the committee needed to hear from Kiplin. Jones asked why Kiplin was not available to testify. The committee was told she is on a pre-planned vacation.

Chairman Flores sited the comptroller requirement of a state agency to receive prior approval from the OAG to consult with an outside law firm. Flores said they needed to get a definition of the word 'prior'.

McBee said due to the urgency of the matter, a request was made orally by the Lottery Commission. Flores responded by saying "what urgency?" Flores said everyone knew nobody wanted gambling.

McBee said a meeting with the Indian tribes on 12/19 made the request urgent. The committee was told no one at the 12/12 meeting was aware of the request.

McBee said the tribal gaming issue was the main reason the Nevada firm was hired.

Rep. Van Arsdale asked if any D.C. firms were contacted; he was told no.

Chairman Flores was told e-mails between the Lottery Commission and OAG were made on 12/12 initiating the process. The e-mails were not made available to the committee due to issues of privilege. Flores said he has been involved in government for over 20 years and that's the first he's heard of it.

Rep. Van Arsdale asked why there were no dates alongside the signatures on the contract with the Nevada firm. Van Arsdale said since the dates were left off, there was no way to really know.

Chairman Flores said getting a contract done in 36 hours is unheard of, particularly when government is frequently criticized for being too slow to get things done.

Commissioner Cox said he had a personal relationship with the Nevada law firm.

Rep. Raymond asked if conflict of interest issues were considered before hiring the firm, due to Commissioner Cox's relationship. Raymond said he didn't have a lot of confidence that the firm would steer itself clear of conflicts of interest. Raymond said the firm basically said they know they represent clients who have an interest in any proposed legislation, but the firm will not have a conflict.

Rep. Homer said he was still trying to grasp how the contract was put together so quickly.

Director Greer said former Lottery Commission staff member T.C. Mallett was one of the subcontractors used by the Nevada firm. Chairman Flores requested the dates when Mallett worked for the commission.

Chairman Flores said 18 other states operate under class 3 gaming, and none of them hired outside counsel.

Rep. Goolsby asked how the $250,000 fee was agreed to with the firm. $175,000 has been paid so far.

McBee said at the end of the last special session, the OAG informed the firm their services would no longer be needed. Ridgely Bennett said they would still need outside assistance in the future.

Rep. Goolsby said there was a rumor running around the capitol that since the Nevada firm was brought in, there would be a push for full- blown casinos in the state. Chairman Flores said the rumor is not true. The proposed VLT language's intent was not to expand the footprint of gambling in Texas.

Rep. Goolsby said he did not mean to imply the commission spent too much money on the firm, he assumes they will be conservative in their spending much like the legislature.

Chairman Flores asked where the money came from that paid the firm. Bennett said it came from line item A.1.5. Flores corrected him, saying it came from account # ending in 5025. "You need to be careful with your answers; we know the answers and half of yours have been wrong," said Flores.

Flores said payment from the account is not allowed. "You went out and did what you cannot do," said Flores.

The committee was told that nobody from the Speaker, Lt. Governor, or Governor's Office spoke about the Nevada law firm.

Rep. Goolsby said he did not believe the Speaker's office assisted in hiring the firm.

Rep. Van Arsdale asked if the firm disclosed which of their clients would be affected by the legislation. Van Arsdale was told the firm did not, and the OAG did not ask for a list of clients.

The firm gave the state a government discount of $60,000.

Chairman Flores asked why wasn't the Governor's office billed instead of the Lottery Commission.

Chairman Flores told the panel "I'm having a hard time believing your justification." "You're bordering on lying, I think." Flores later said "I used the word lying, and that may have been too harsh."

Flores said the committee needed to get Kim Kiplin in for questioning, as well as have the current panel back for additional testimony. Until then, the committee would have an opportunity to review the testimony and come up with more questions.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
The cool parents

Something for me to strive for as I enter fatherhood (real soon now).

It is not always a rosy path through adolescence for these mothers and daughters, but there is an upbeat teen spirit wafting through their lives that smells nothing like Generation X disaffection.

And unlike the chasm that separated baby-boom parents from their parents, these teenagers' tastes in clothes and music, and many of their political and social beliefs, dovetail with those of their parents. They are part of a generation from 9 to 19 that looks up to Mom and Dad as role models.

Studies have shown that teenagers' relationships with their parents have steadily improved since the early 1970s. In 1983, about 75 percent of teenagers said they had "no serious problems" with their parents, up from about 50 percent in 1974, according to the Mood of American Youth survey, conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, an education group. By 1996, the survey found 94 percent of teenagers were "very happy" or "fairly happy" with their mothers, and 81 percent were happy with their fathers.

In 1997 the mood study became the State of Our Nation's Youth survey, conducted annually. The latest data suggest that children's admiration of parents, though measured differently, is still very high. When students ages 13 to 19 were asked last year to name their role model, the greatest share — 44 percent — chose a family member (overwhelmingly, their mother or father), up from 42 percent in 2002. The percentage of teenagers who most admired a friend or celebrity declined.

Teenagers "are looking for structure and safety — you can't trust government, religion, corporations — they want someone to get along with," said Jane Buckingham, president of Youth Intelligence, a market research and consulting company. "Whereas before, it was 'rebel against your parents' because everyone knew the rules and regulations, now it is 'hold on to your parents' because no one knows what the rules and regulations are."

Beyond the stock characters in teenage movies, pop culture has plenty of celebrity role models who have made it cool to admire one's parents. The Grammy Award-winning singer Beyoncé, who is 22, has turned to her mother, Tina Knowles, to design nouveau-Motown clothes for her group, Destiny's Child. Recently the two announced a deal with a New York company to collaborate on a clothing line.

Remember that story about how kids today like classic rock? Apparently, our everything-old-is-new-again pop culture has a role to play in the New Parental Coolness trend.

The canyon that opened between the generations in the 1950s and '60s over rock 'n' roll, Vietnam and the sexual revolution, and continued in some ways through the '80s, has reinforced the notion that teenagers are rebels by nature.

Today, much of what passes for hip taste is recycled from the past 30 years. Teenagers who fall for the garage rock of the Strokes are led back to their parents' collections of Blondie and Lou Reed records, and the hip-huggers they buy at the Gap could be unearthed from their parents' closets.

Standing outside Carnegie Hall before a Jewel concert last month, Sara Jacobson, 13, and her mother, Linda, 38, wore matching black leather jackets and crisp eyeliner. The concert was Sara's mother's idea, as was the AC/DC show they caught two years ago with Sara's father, but Sara likes the music, too.

I confess, I can't imagine catching an AC/DC show with my parents. In our defense, however, I should note that I did attend a Maynard Ferguson concert with them, and I was mostly responsible for wearing out my dad's Glenn Miller 8-track in the car. So there's hope that my kid will some day clamor to come along to the Mucky Duck with us.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Crawford Mayor backs Kerry

Just for the record, not everyone in Crawford, home of the Bush ranch, is a Bush backer. The Mayor of Crawford, for example.

Crawford may be the heart of Bush country, but the town's mayor says John Kerry is the best choice for president.

"I don't see where I'm better off than I was four years ago," Robert Campbell said Tuesday. "I don't see where the city is any better off."

The Kerry campaign recently listed Mr. Campbell as one of 100 black mayors around the country – seven of them Texans – who support the Massachusetts senator over President Bush. But the campaign has not focused particular attention on the endorsement.

With his sprawling ranch near Crawford, Mr. Bush is the area's most famous resident. Tourists flood the Central Texas city's tiny downtown on weekends to purchase Bush memorabilia and eat the Presidential cheeseburger basket at the Coffee Station, the restaurant that Mr. Bush occasionally visits while on vacation.

Mr. Campbell, a Democrat who has been mayor since 1999, said he's met Mr. Bush once but doesn't feel inclined to support the former Texas governor. He voted for Al Gore in 2000.

"I would say the city has a mix of Bush and Kerry supporters," he said. "The Kerry supporters feel like Bush has not delivered on his promises."

Some Texas Republicans took the endorsement in stride.

"You will find a few Kerry supporters in Texas," said Victor Carrillo, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. "But the majority of Texans support President Bush."

Mr. Campbell says he's not worried about a backlash among constituents.

"I have the right to vote for who I want to be president," he said. "If some people around here don't like it, they can vote for someone else for mayor."

Note that Mr. Campbell voted for Al Gore in 2000. Now take a minute and revisit those thrilling days of yesteryear when Chron reporter Rachel Graves "blogged" from Crawford while "covering" one of the President's many vacations there. Let's roll the tape:

There are, I have confirmed, Democrats in Crawford, albeit ones who voted for President Bush.

Mary Abel said her parents would probably "roll over in their graves" if they knew she had crossed party lines in the last election, but she liked Bush's policies better than Gore's.

I found Abel playing canasta at a friend's house.

In true small-town fashion, Crawford's street signs are faded past legibility and few of the houses have addresses. The county Democratic party gave me the addresses of four Democrats living here, but I couldn't find a couple houses and the others weren't home.

I asked a man pulling into a driveway for help finding Democrats, he invited me into the home of the friend he was visiting, and there was Abel, whose door I had just knocked on. That just wouldn't happen in Houston.

Apparently, it never occurred to her to inquire with the town's Mayor. You'd think, especially given Bush's vaunted outreach efforts to minority voters, that it would have been natural to ask this prominent African-American citizen if he'd voted for Bush in 2000. But you'd have been wrong. Besides, it's ever so much cuter to assume that because one canasta-playing Democrat voted for Bush, every Democrat in town voted for him. Well, now you know. You can thank me later, Rachel.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Steal this idea

Morat says:

For the record, I think Texas Tuesdays is a great resource to those of us living in Texas, and hope similar sites spring up for the other 49 states. Nothing beats an informed electorate.

Nothing would please me more than to see progressive bloggers in other states steal this idea. I'd love to see some Pennsylvania bloggers do this, and some Ohio bloggers, and some Colorado bloggers, and...you get the idea. Any of you folks, or anyone else, want to know more about what we're doing and why we're doing it, please drop me a line.

I continue to see straws in the wind that make me think this could be a year for sweeping changes. It's been ten years since the Republican takeover in 1994. Dick Armey thinks the time may be right to make a case for throwing the current set of bums out. The Bonassus reminds us that a big chunk of the "Contract With America" was more about reforms within Congress than about sweeping visionary legislation. With all of the DeLay scandals, the Medicare vote including the Nick Smith bribery allegations, and so on and so forth, turning those tables should be easily doable.

But even if you put all that aside, what this has been about as much as anything has been banding together for a common goal. It's about doing something rather than hoping someone else will. It's about taking part in this allegedly participatory democracy that we have. It's about trying to make a difference. I could keep reaching into the bag of pompous, high-minded syllogisms here, but you get the point.

So yeah, steal this idea. Do us one better. I don't mind at all.

UPDATE: Nick Confessore pours a little cold water on the "Contract with America" logic.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Herseth wins

Congratulations to Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth for her victory in the South Dakota special election last night. Turned out to be a close race, meaning that loser Larry Diedrich's weird statement about moral victories will either be taken as vindication or an indication that he blew a real chance by engaging in mind games. However you slice it, there's one more Democrat in the House.

The Stakeholder has a congratulatory message from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a wrapup note from Congressional Quarterly, and a boatload of pictures from Herseth's victory party last night. Kos has a few thoughts as well.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Chet Edwards wrapup

Props to Byron for doing such a great job with yesterday's Texas Tuesday posts on Rep. Chet Edwards, and thanks to all the bloggers who participated. Special thanks to Richard Morrison for giving back to the effort with a blog link. If you need one last reason why you should make that donation to the Edwards campaign, may I suggest reading this article about the huge drop in the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollment, and note that the principle architect behind it was Edwards' opponent in November.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
June 01, 2004
Fame clock watch

Dwight Meredith gets a mention in the LA Times, thus shaving a few seconds off his fame clock. I'd say that's a good trade. Via Julia.

He then goes on to demonstrate why in a just world he'd be in the papers every damn day of the week.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Wi-Fi parks

If I had to guess where this was happening, Austin would have been my first guess. Hell, it would have been my second and third guesses, too.

Free wireless Internet access has come to Austin's oldest park, where nature apparently is no longer enough to draw people into the urban outdoors.

"In these economically challenging times, we're still able to think outside the box and come up with new ways to enhance the park user's experience," said Jay Stone, acting assistant director of the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

Stone said turning four downtown parks into free wireless hotspots is costing taxpayers only city staff time.

The project's $3,000 primary cost is underwritten by the Austin-based Schlotzsky's deli sandwich chain, which says it is the first national chain restaurant to offer free, wireless Internet access.

Hmm. I distinctly remember hearing that McDonald's was going to offer Wi-Fi with its burgers and fries. Perhaps Schlotzsky's isn't making you buy something first. I'm not sure how that helps them sell more sandwiches, but it is cool.

For Schlotzsky's, the project is a matter of marketing goodwill in a city that claims more free wireless Internet hotspots -- 114 by one recent count -- than any other city worldwide.

"I think it's because we're so hip, and we're on the cutting edge as a technology center here," said the restaurant's spokeswoman, Monica Landers. "I think Austinites love to be on the cutting edge."

Well, there you go.

So, will Houstonians be able to soon send romantic e-mail messages while sitting next to Hermann Park's duck pond?

"No. In a nutshell, no," said Shirley Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. "It sounds like a really novel idea, but with 57 community centers in Houston, it's just not something that we could consider at this time. We're having trouble even getting computers into these sites."

Hmph. All I know is that Dallas better not get wi-fi parks before Houston does. Some things just can't be tolerated.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Schlotzsky's was offering Wi-Fi, at least in Austin, before McDonald's was, so the article's assertion about Schlotzsky's being the first to do so is correct.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
More on Edwards

Byron's working hard today at the Texas Tuesdays page, with two excellent updates on Rep. Chet Edwards. Check 'em out here and here, and please remember to kick in to the cause.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Urban redevelopment update

Great news for my neighborhood: an old industrial area just north of I-10 will be redeveloped as commercial property.

A major shopping center is being planned for a long-overlooked industrial site just west of downtown.

Property Commerce, a local retail developer, will build the project on land that was once home to a tool manufacturer.

Situated at the junction of Interstate 10 and Taylor, the center will feature Target as its first big tenant. The discount shopping giant also will be the first so-called big-box retailer to move into the area in years.

Industry watchers say the move indicates a significant demographic change.

"We're developing a more mature inner city, and the retailers are recognizing the demographics," said Lawrence Plotsky of the Plotsky group, a retail brokerage firm.

Tiffany will be thrilled to have a Target this close to home. We're talking about a mile away, right next door to the Adickes studio and the giant Presidential heads.

Developers from the company recently met with area residents and District H City Councilman Adrian Garcia to notify them of the project.

They were greeted with open arms.

"Almost everyone sees it as an improvement," said Marcia Perry, president of the First Ward Civic Council.

Indeed, the surrounding neighborhoods, including the Heights, the near north side, the Sixth Ward, downtown and the First Ward, have seen their residential population increase, while retail development has been minimal.

That's primarily because of the complexity of amassing large tracts of close-in land, developers said.

Most of the retail development in the area has been small strip centers.

According to the developer, Target is the only retailer signed up for the new center. But that will likely change.

If Property Commerce can secure all of the 30 acres, the final product could rival other Houston shopping centers like Meyerland Plaza.

"This will be a godsend in terms of making it less necessary to drive out to Memorial City, the Galleria or Greens-point," Perry said. "We have good feelings about it."

If we're going to have big-box retailers around, I'd much rather see them reuse old developments rather than dig up green spaces. This project is a perfect example of that, and I hope it's the start of a trend. There is one thing I'd like to know, though. Taylor Street, which will be the route to this shopping center from I-10, is a narrow, potholed mess. It also passes over two sets of train tracks, one of which is like the worst speed bump you've ever encountered. Will there be any improvements to this road in conjunction with the overall construction? If so - and I can't imagine this coming to fruition otherwise - will the city do it, or will they give some huge tax incentives to the developer to do it for them? I'm not nitpicking here (yet), but I do want to know the answers to those questions.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
GOP convention this week

The Texas GOP has its convention this week in San Antonio.

More than 17,000 people are expected to descend on the Convention Center beginning Thursday for three days of party-building through speeches, rallies and elections.

Officials say it is the largest political convention in the country, with nearly three times as many delegates as the Republican National Convention.


In the absence of a mobilizing presidential race, Texas Republicans instead are focusing on statewide contests.

The race for Texas governor in 2006 is expected to tinge the atmosphere at this year's convention. Gov. Rick Perry faces potential opposition from state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who hasn't defused rumors that she's interested in the state's highest elected office.

All three are scheduled to speak at the event.

"That is obviously going to lie below the surface, but it won't necessarily be a referendum on what could happen in 2006," former Texas Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Weddington said. "People are extremely focused on re-electing George Bush and on sending a congressional delegation to Washington that would be majority Republican."

All snark aside, those speeches will be worth paying attention to, if for no other reason than to get a read on the 2006 tea leaves. And of course, the Congressional races are a huge deal, though there's no indication from this article that any of the candidates will be prominently featured.

Although the convention is taking place against the geopolitical backdrop of the war in Iraq, the focus of this week's convention likely will be on housecleaning within a state party that some say is beginning to show cracks.

"The Republican Party has a lot of things to worry about," said Char Miller, a history professor at Trinity University. "We've already gone through four special (legislative) sessions with very little movement on the critical issue of education funding, and the party really has to wrestle with that issue. Internally, they're battling."

Additionally, Miller said, the disarray that has reigned within the Democratic Party for so long is slowly being supplanted by signs of unity.

"The confusion is what the Republicans have used to keep themselves in power, but there seem to be some re-awakenings in the Democratic Party, and it opens up the possibility that the Democrats could move into power," he said.

Nice to see Char Miller, one of my favorite profs from Trinity, get the expert-quote gig, even if there's not much new here.

The event will feature many state and national Republican officials, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Reps. Henry Bonilla and Lamar Smith.

State party spokesman Ted Royer said a blanket invitation has been made to the Bush administration, but no one has confirmed attendance from anyone there.

"We'd love to have the president, we'd love to have the first lady, we'd love to have the vice president, but we realize they have to allocate resources where they are best spent," he said.

"Texas is such a strong Bush state that they might decide their time is better spent elsewhere."

Putting that another way: "He can't afford to screw around here when polls are showing him tanking in Ohio, Nevada, Missouri, Arizona, etc etc etc."

Anyway, this ought to provide a little light entertainment before the Dem convention in two weeks. If they get around to updating their official state party platform - Lord knows I've spent many a night lying awake thinking about how we could get the Panama Canal back - that would be even better.

Via Free State Standard.

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Moral victories in South Dakota

How bad do you think you're going to lose if you concede defeat before you begin?

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Republican congressional hopeful Larry Diedrich is effectively conceding defeat in today’s South Dakota special House election before the polling booths even open.

The former state senator dramatically ratcheted down expectations during an interview with The Hill at his campaign headquarters, saying he would be happy to lose to Democrat Stephanie Herseth by only five percentage points.

He has trailed her by seven or more points in recent polls, and, if he loses, it would be the GOP’s second special-election defeat this year. In February, Alice Forgy Kerr (R) lost to Ben Chandler (D) in Kentucky’s 6th District; it was the first time since 1991 that a Democrat won a Republican-held seat in a special election.

The battle for the House seat will continue tomorrow because the winner of the
special election must face the voters for a second time, in November. Both Diedrich and Herseth will be running in the fall election, so today’s contest amounts to a precursor of their upcoming race for a full, two-year term.

“I think as long as it’s close, I don’t think I have a lot of opposition at all,” Diedrich said.

Pointing out that he was 30 points behind Herseth when he entered the race in late January, Diedrich said that as his name recognition has jumped, so have his poll numbers.

What matters, Diedrich said, is that South Dakotans see that momentum is on his side. If he loses by a narrow margin, he added, voters will think the June 1 election came too soon.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, Timberwolves Coach Flip Saunders noted that he's encouraged by his team's close showing against the Lakers. "Momentum is clearly on our side," Saunders said. "I think the fans feel as though the Finals have come too soon. We'll be ready for LA in November, that's for sure."

(via Kos)

Posted by Charles Kuffner
Texas Tuesdays: Chet Edwards

I know, it feels like Monday today. But it's not, and that can only mean one thing: It's time for another Texas Tuesday, with our very special guest star Rep. Chet Edwards. Byron has a nice intro to Rep. Edwards and the race that he faces (also analyzed by Greg Wythe), and as always he'll have more later today. Drop by, check out Rep. Edwards, and if you can please lend him a hand.

Posted by Charles Kuffner