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January, 2003:

The state of education

Awhile back I asked When is a tax increase not a tax increase?

Answer: When you can get someone else to do the tax-increasing for you, as the Lege is fixing to do by cutting $1 billion out of their education allocation, thus passing the bucket to individual school districts. Those that can raise tax assessments likely will; those that are already maxed out will either agitate for higher property valuations or start sharpening the knife.

Between this and George Bush’s 1997 property tax cut, there’s a lot of pressure on local school districts and their rising populations to find money for classrooms. So what does our Lege propose to do to help? Why, slash the maximum amount that an appraisal can be raised by, of course.

The bills would lower the maximum increase on a home’s appraised value from the current 10 percent. Freshman Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, has proposed cutting the cap to 5 percent. Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, has filed a bill to drop the limit to 1 percent.

Both bills would require that Texas voters approve constitutional amendments before the cap could be changed in 2004.


Proponents argue that lowering the cap will not preclude elected officials from raising tax rates to generate the money they need.

In fact, Wong and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt say bringing the cap down would force accountability on local officials, who have reaped record revenue increases in recent years without having to take the political risk of increasing tax rates.

“It’s really aimed to help the taxpayers,” Wong says. “But at the same time, requires taxing entities, if they need more money, to raise their rates.”

Bettencourt said local governments have not altered their taxation policies to reflect economic fluctuations.

“What is happening is simply that they (local governments) are plastering the homeowners for their overbudgeting or for their spending,” Bettencourt says. “This is the way we’re really forced to go about it because, over the last few years, there has been no control over government spending.”

Amazing, and I say this as someone who paid an awful lot in property and HISD taxes last year. The level of denial is incredible. Has anyone told Paul frigging Bettencourt that many school districts have already maxed out their tax rates? Not that he cares, of course – he wants vouchers, and damn the consequences.

I’m just gona say this once, because there’s a greater chance that I’ll be the next “Joe Millionaire” than of this happening in my lifetime, but here it is anyway: Texas needs a state income tax.

We get revenue in this state from various fees, various corporate taxes (some of which are extremely sensitive to volatile market forces), sales taxes, and property taxes. Sales taxes place a big burden on low income folks. Property taxes are felt most strongly by middle income folks. There’s nothing that puts a remotely comparable burden on high-income households. As such, especially in a year when sales tax and Natural Gas Production Tax revenues are in the crapper, budget crises ensue with no obvious answers for them.

Oh, and by the way: One of the biggest and fastest-growing revenue sources for Texas in recent years has been federal aid. What are the odds that trend will continue this year?

I can only hope that the system isn’t irrevocably broken by the time someone gets around to trying to fix it.

The state of the state

Things were pretty busy for me this past week, so I haven’t had much time to write any analytical stuff. I’m finally getting things back to normal, so in that spirit let’s take a look at the state of the Texas budget.

As we know, Texas is staring down a $10 billion deficit. It’s a little misleading to say that without any qualifications, since Texas budgets are biennial. What we’ve really got is a $1.8 billion shortfall for this fiscal year, which ends in August, and a projected $8 billion or so shortfall for the following year.

You may recall that last year, Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn insisted that Texas was short about $5 billion for its budget, despite warnings that her projections were based on optimistic growth estimates. Only recently, in particular after the November election, did Strayhorn change her tune. This has caused some Democratic legislators to accuse her of sandbagging.

“Y’all held it back,” [Sen. John] Whitmire [D-Houston] told Strayhorn’s staff at the first meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. “To quote you, you didn’t want to create a crisis in fall. You just wanted to drop it on us in January. If they give an award on accuracy in projections, you better hope they grade on a curve.”


Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston and a current member of the House Appropriations Committee, said trouble was obvious by last summer and that Strayhorn might just be “the world’s greatest optimist.”

He said instead of sales taxes growing at the projected 4 percent for the biennium, they began sloping downward last spring, particularly in May. In order to meet the projection, the sales tax would have to grow even faster to catch up.

In May, they would have needed to start growing 6 percent and by early December they would have needed to grow 11 percent, Hochberg said. Yet, the gap just kept widening.

The real problem now is the $1.8 billion that comes due in August. About $400 million can be borrowed from unencumbered state accounts. State department heads were recently given a directive to cut $700 million immediately from their budgets. That still leaves $700 million with no obvious way to get it. You can be very sure that various accounting tricks, such as deferring payments, will be used to bring the budget into “balance” as mandated by the state Constitution.

While $700 million is a small piece of the overall budget, it’s nearly 20% of what’s needed just to run the state government:

If the state’s 80 general government agencies turned out the lights, locked the doors and completely shut down for the next two years, it would pay for a little more than a third of the shortfall.

If there were no governor, no attorney general, no comptroller, no Public Utility Commission, no Department of Insurance, no judiciary, no Legislature or any other general agency of state government, it would save $3.5 billion in state spending.

In that context, $700 million by August is a huge undertaking.

Long term, of course, the two biggest items in the budget (as I’ve noted before) are education and Health and Human Services. There’s an excellent reason why these line items have boomed: The population that most needs them has also boomed.

The driving forces of state spending since 1992 have been a 21 percent increase in public school enrollment, a 25 percent increase in junior college enrollment, a 23 percent increase in the Medicaid caseload of health care for the poor and a jump in the state prison population from 50,900 in 1992 to 147,157 last year, according to the Legislative Budget Board.

The jump in public school enrollment and Medicaid caseloads reflects the dramatic rise in the state’s Hispanic population over the past decade, a population that is mostly young and poor.

There are about 5,000 fewer Anglo students attending Texas public schools today than there were a decade ago, and the black public school population has grown by about 90,000 students. But there are almost 500,000 more Hispanic students in the state’s schools today, according to the Texas Education Agency.

The Texas Department of Health and Human Services reports that the number of Anglos receiving Medicaid grew by 30,000 between 1995 and 2002, and the number of blacks in the program declined by almost 20,000. But almost 250,000 more Hispanics enrolled in the state-sponsored health care program.

Thirty-one percent of the state’s population was Hispanic in 2000, but Hispanics make up 42 percent of the student population and half the Medicaid enrollment.

Which in my mind neatly demolishes the argument by Republicans like Sen. Florence Shapiro that Texas’ spending is “out of control”. Texas is like a fast-growing company that needs to make large an increasing capital investments to keep up with the explosion in its work force. Unlike a business, though, we can’t initiate a hiring freeze to slow growth down. What we get is a lot of denial about our spending problems instead of our revenue problems.

Even worse, the Legislature is practically designed to be in denial about the budget:

More than two-thirds of the Republican lawmakers come from districts that are more than 60 percent Anglo. Almost all of the Republicans come from districts with family incomes above the statewide mean of $45,861 a year — with a fifth of the House Republicans in districts with family incomes of more than twice that.

“A lot of representatives who are on House Appropriations or Senate Finance (Committees) are going to have to do a lot of dual thinking of what’s good for my constituents and what’s for the state as a whole,” said [Eva de Luna Castro of the Center for Public Policy Priorities]. “At times, those are going to be at cross-purposes.”

So it’s really propitious timing for new Speaker Tom Craddick to make wholesale changes in committe memberships.

As he had promised, Craddick made major changes in the appropriations panel after winning a change in the House rules to eliminate seniority as a factor in the committee’s makeup.

Only eight of his 29 appointees served on the committee in 2001 under Laney. Seventeen members of the revised panel are Republicans, including two freshmen.

You can thank redistricting for a lot of this, which means it’ll be another ten years before demographic changes will be likely to have any effect.

So what we’ve got, in short, is a rapidly growing population that’s increasingly in need of government services, and a Legislature that’s largely made up of people who don’t represent those people. This is a recipe for disaster. I am not looking forward to the next few months.

Dubious Distinctions Department

One of the underappreciated aspects of our Governor Goodhair is his high standards. How else can you explain his recent remarks in which he said that he doesn’t want Texas to be “like Mississippi”?

[Rick] Perry, a Republican, was quoted as saying on Jan. 18: “I don’t want to become Mississippi.” He went on to mention transportation, economic development and education — three areas in which states are struggling in tight economic times.

For some odd reason, the folks in Mississippi didn’t take this as a compliment.

Mississippi House Speaker Tim Ford said Perry was being just plain undiplomatic, and he told the Texas governor as much in a two-page letter Thursday.

Ford, a Democrat, told Perry he didn’t want to launch “an achievement contest” between the two states, but he mentioned a $1.5 billion Nissan plant that is opening this year in Mississippi and bragged on the state’s lawmakers for working early this session on a comprehensive education funding plan.

“We elected officials in Mississippi are of the opinion that denigrating a sister state is not statesmanlike conduct,” Ford wrote.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor had not received a copy of Ford’s letter.

“His comments certainly were not meant to cast any bad light on the state or its citizens,” Walt said. “His father-in-law is a Mississippi native.”

But Ford said the remark offended many Mississippians.

“I invite you to come visit us to learn more about Mississippi, and I respectfully request that you refrain from criticizing Mississippi and its many assets and accomplishments,” Ford wrote.

Some Texans just have a superiority complex, a trait that explains most local TV commercials and a whole subcategory of country music. When you combine the two, it can be really scary. I can still recall a Lone Star Beer commercial jingle from the 80s:

Give me love, give me Lone Star, give me Texas
Give me hard work, soft ladies, and good friends
Don’t mess with me or mess around with Texas
The Lone Star is on the rise again (yee-hah!)

I’m not sure what’s worse, the rhythmic structure of this little verse, or the many possibly useful facts that have been displaced by its retention in my memory. But I digress.

Once in awhile, this tendency to self-aggrandization really riles up another state. About 10 years ago there was a debate in the Lege over a proposed motto that was to be added to license plates. Noting that “Texas” is derived from a word (“tejas”) that means “friendship”, one lawmaker proposed putting “The Friendship State” on plates. Apparently, some other lawmaker thought this was not in keeping with Texas’ image (in his mind, anyway) of rugged cowboys and whatnot. He complained that “the Friendship State” was the sort of “wimpy” slogan you’d find in places like Kansas.

Well. Kansas didn’t much care for being called wimpy. One newspaper there held a contest to suggest a more appropriate slogan for Texas’ license plates. There were a number of good entries – “The Blowhard State” and “The Savings and Loan Failure State” were two examples – but the winner was truly the best: “Texas – Half As Big As Alaska”. I don’t know if these suggestions were forwarded to Austin, but if so they must have gotten lost in the mail.

If nothing else, it’s nice to know that our Governor is in tune with tradition. Let’s hope we can get a budget passed without any other state declaring a need for “regime change” here.

What if there are others?

By now I expect most of you have heard about the affair of John “More Guns, Less Crime” Lott and his missing survey and bogus statistics. Were it not for the revelation that Lott has posted defenses of himself under an assumed name in various fora, even going so far as to post a glowing review of his own book as his alter ego/sock puppet “Mary Rosh”, I’d chalk the whole thing up as just another case study of academic fraud. The Mary Rosh thing brings in a whole new level of absurdity, the sort of thing that you’d immediately dismiss as ridiculous in any other context.

But now that we know it can and has been done, I have to wonder: Do you think any other writer with credibility issues has been doing the same thing but just hasn’t been caught at it yet? The mind reels at the possibilities…

posted by Hairy Tush Reading Ann Coulter’s Slander has totally changed my life! I used to be a pathetic America-hating liberal who took his marching orders directly from Dan Rather and Hillary Clinton, but now that Ann Coulter has opened my eyes I won’t be fooled again. Her writing is crisp and unassailable, and anyone who doesn’t agree with her should be shot as an example to the others.

Oh, and for those who’d say that Ann has a bony ass, I recently had the opportunity to feel it for myself, and I can assure you that not only is it squeezably soft, it’s irresistable. So there!

Wait, here’s another one:

posted by Terry Posh When Mickey Kaus writes that welfare reform is the most important issue facing American today, I can say from personal experience that he’s totally correct. I used to be on welfare, and for the entire time that I was receiving government checks I had no self esteem and actually blamed the government for my sorry state of mind. But once they passed that beautiful, life-altering, far-sighted welfare reform bill, I got off my lazy ass and found a job, and now I live in the suburbs and send my kids to private school. And I don’t have any icky terroristic urges any more!

PS – I don’t know why so many people make fun of Mickey’s baldheadedness. Don’t you know that it’s testosterone that turns a bushy haired man into a chrome dome? (ed. They do now!)

Help me out here, people. I know they’re out there.

The state of the union today

One look at today’s business section and it’s obvious why President Bush had so little to say about the state of the Union in his State of the Union address. We’ll start with Markets Dipping in Shaky Session, in which we see the Dow threaten to dip below 8000. Drilling and oil equipment companies had bad fourth quarters and have gloomy outlooks for 2003, despite the fact that oil prices are rising due to fears of supply shortages. The number of new jobless claims increased for the second straight week. AOL Time Warner posts a ridiculously huge loss, and closer to home Reliant posts a larger-than-expected loss. Luby’s Cafeterias may default on an $80 million loan payment.

Overall, war jitters put the brakes on the economy last quarter. And how about President Bush’s demonstration of Genuine Leadership? Well, at least the press is buying it:

To help jolt economic growth, Bush has offered a 10-year, $674 billion tax-cut proposal. Democrats have their own, smaller-scale plans.

There goes that darned Liberal Media again. I guess I should be glad they didn’t call it a “bold” plan.

He’s gone

Didn’t take long to find out Captain Mark Aguirre’s fate: He’s fired.

Acting Police Chief Tim Oettmeier announced Aguirre’s firing during a briefing to City Council on the Kmart raids.

“What we witnessed was nothing more than the political lynching of Aguirre and they used Oettmeier as the henchman,” said Aguirre’s attorney, Terry Yates.

Aguirre, who had his first chance to speak out today, said the department is using him as a scapegoat and HPD is trying to paint him as a rogue.

“They treated me like a department pinata,” Aguirre said. “This department is hopelessly corrupt and this is a grotesque charade posing as justice.”

It should get more fun from here, now that Aguirre has no reason not to speak up. I don’t expect any bombshell revelations from Aguirre, but the bluster ought to be worth a few giggles.

One thing not mentioned in this story but noted on the Channel 11 newscast is that the union is not standing by Aguirre. Given that they vocally backed all of the other officers who were up for discipline, that says something to me. I don’t know what will happen at Aguirre’s trial, but it’s pretty much him against the world at this point.

Will he stay or will he go?

Now that we know that while Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford may have a potty mouth, he at least doesn’t lie about it (and I for one am sleeping better at night with the security that this knowledge brings), we can safely turn our attention to the disposition of Captain Mark Aguirre, who will find out this week if HPD plans on terminating him.

Aguirre, indicted on five counts of official oppression in connection with the raid on a Kmart parking lot, attended his Loudermill hearing in acting Police Chief Tim Oettmeier’s office.

Lawyer Terry Yates, who represents Aguirre in the department investigation into the raid, said Oettmeier told Aguirre he will announce his decision soon.


Loudermill hearings take the name of a Cleveland, Ohio, school bus mechanic who was fired after he failed an eye examination. The mechanic appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1985 that tenured employees must be granted a hearing before being terminated.

After Oettmeier read the allegations against Aguirre, “we spoke our piece,” Yates said. “Our position is, we did nothing wrong, either criminally or administratively.”

Oettmeier listened attentively to his points, Yates said. “I’m going to take him at his word,” he said. “He said his mind was open.”

All well and good, though apparently no one has ever come out of a Loudermill hearing at HPD with his job intact. Fellow indictee Sgt. Ken Wenzel chose to resign rather than go through with it. But we’ll see.

RIP, Maury Maverick, Jr.

Attorney and writer Maury Maverick, Jr., died Tuesday at the age of 82.

SAN ANTONIO — Attorney Maury Maverick Jr., a descendant of early Texas settlers and known for his passionate legal defense of the downtrodden, feisty wit and unrelenting opposition to war, died of kidney cancer Tuesday at the age of 82.

In recent years, many knew Maverick as a cantankerous Sunday columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, where he penned more than 1,000 columns — the last on Jan. 5.

But San Antonians who lived through the end of segregation in the 1950s, the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the end of the Vietnam War in the 1970s recalled him as a giant of his time who made a mark as a rebellious state lawmaker and a flamboyant lawyer for liberal causes.

Never a wealthy man, Maverick did have a rich family history. His father was a congressman and mayor and his great-grandfather was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836. Another ancestor perished in the Boston Massacre. The family’s history is so colorful, its name was converted into a common English expression dating to the 1870s that, according to Webster’s Dictionary, means “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.”

Born Jan. 3, 1921, Maverick as a youth had a front-row seat for the making of San Antonio history. His father presided as mayor during construction of the city’s famed River Walk, and in 1939 he saw his father deal with rioting that ensued when he allowed Communist Party members to meet in Municipal Auditorium.

A few years later during World War II, wearing the uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps, Maverick was fighting his own battles on the Solomon Islands. Returning from military service, he earned a law degree from St. Mary’s University in 1949. Working without pay, he gradually became an outspoken lawyer for hundreds of disenfranchised individuals and groups.


In his final column published earlier this month, Maverick pondered the legitimacy of a possible war with Iraq, saying “why, for some 60 years since World War II, have we the people tolerated a non-declaration of war? Patriotism includes showing a proper respect for the professional military. Members of the military cannot speak up. We civilians must,” he said.

They don’t make ’em like that any more. Rest in peace, Maury.

Room for one

Interesting article in the NYT about how colleges are starting to accomodate the growing number of students who’ve never shared a room with anyone and don’t want to start now.

Colleges have always offered single rooms, and students have long moved off campus in search of greater privacy. But for the last decade, colleges across the country, in a high-priced competition for students who may be just as concerned with residential amenities as they are with the number of volumes in the library, have been responding by creating housing in which the single bedroom is the mainstay.

College administrators say they feel compelled, in part, to create more singles to keep students, mainly upperclassmen, on campus, where they will be more engaged in college life. In addition, the revenue that would go to private landlords is attractive.

The new buildings are called residence halls or even living/learning centers. (Do not call them dorms; to housing officials and builders, the term is as obsolete as the dorm mother or the telephone down the hall.) Students often live in suites, where they share living rooms and, sometimes, kitchens, but can retreat to their own bedrooms, with their own computers, television sets, DVD players and telephones.

“It’s a statement about the affluence of America,” said William Rawn, a Boston architect who is building residence halls, many of them with single bedrooms, at Northeastern University here in Boston, Trinity College in Hartford, Amherst, Swarthmore and Grinnell College, in Iowa. “And part of that affluence is that we lose the ability to share.”

I had pretty good luck with roommates and suitemates in college (at Trinity, two rooms share a bathroom; the people in that other room are called “suitemates”). After freshman year, you can pick who you want to live with, which helps a lot.

The first roommate I had was a guy who had clearly never shared a room with anyone else in his life. He had no clue how to get dressed or undressed while someone else was in the room sleeping. (This was never much of a problem when I lived with my buddy Greg for my junior and senior years. We usually went to bed at the same time, I always got up earlier than he did, and he could sleep through Armageddon. The only problem was his chainsaw-like snoring, which I eventually learned to tune out – another life experience that a roommate-free existence deprives you of.) Other people had issues with things like boundaries, food ownership, taste in music, and of course, roommates’ boyfriends/girlfriends. If nothing else, the worse the experience, the better the war stories. A guy I know has a story about a tennis ball in the toilet bowl, which is still one of the funniest (and most disgusting) roommate tales I’ve ever heard.

Not that any of this is a big deal. Given the costs of the colleges listed, only a privileged few will make it out into the Real World without ever having to share a bathroom or refrigerator with non-family members. Those who go on to live with a spouse or partner will undoubtedly come to wish they’d learned a few basic lessons in Roommate Maintenance first. Karma always evens out in the end.

A little obsessiveness goes a long way

A national figure makes a racially insensitive remark. The mainstream media doesn’t pick up the story for several days. Meanwhile, a lone website operator who operates anonymously beats the drum until the rest of the world is forced to take notice.

Sound familiar? It’s the story of Shaquille O’Neal and the operator of, as told in this Houston Press article.

Although a columnist for AsianWeek blasted O’Neal’s pronouncement as racist and alerted mainstream media in early January, the comments by the Laker big man went unreported by TV and the big dailies. Unlike other sports gaffes by the likes of pitcher John Rocker, it seemed that when Shaq Daddy made fun of Chinese folks, it wasn’t considered newsworthy.

That’s when the half-Asian Houston Webmaster, a lifelong Rockets fan who goes by the nom-de-Internet “John,” decided to take things onto his own keyboard.

“It’s unusual for me to post an article and make a comment, but in this case I feel it’s warranted,” wrote John. The thirtysomething asked The Insider not to divulge his real name because it would cause problems with his employer, an Internet company. “As much of a disappointment as it is for the media to not cover this story, it’s more deplorable what Shaq said about Yao.”

John’s Web site proclaims itself “100% dedicated to Yao Ming’s life in the NBA.” No way was he going to let O’Neal’s blather go unchallenged.

He posted a link to the AsianWeek column by Irwin Tang and encouraged site visitors to contact sportswriters at the L.A. Times and the Houston Chronicle to express their outrage. Within three days of the posting on the heavily traveled Web site, the national media finally picked up the story of Shaq’s insult. It provoked a less-than-convincing apology by O’Neal, who could not resist a few sarcastic kung fu feints as he walked away from reporters.

Chalk up one more testimonial to the growing power of Web site commentators like Matt Drudge.

It’s a good story, even if The Insider hasn’t figured out that Matt Drudge is, like, so 1998. The original Asian Week article is here. And on a side note, the next Asian basketball star in America may be a woman.

Politics, schmolitics

Ginger says the following in the comments to this entry about the decision to prosecute Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford for perjury:

Anyone who didn’t think this was all about HPD internal politics wasn’t paying attention. At least it didn’t result in arresting hundreds of people the way other parts of the Aguirre-Bradford feud have done.

Today, Chron metro politics columnist John Williams speculates on that very topic and decides that there’s at least a little smoke, if not a raging fire as he compares Bradford’s treatment to that of Republican activist/kingmaker Steven Hotze, who was nobilled on a drunk driving charge awhile back:

On Oct. 26, 2000, Hotze failed a field sobriety test after his car was seen weaving and crowding several vehicles, including a police car that veered onto a curb to avoid a collision. He refused to take a breath test.

While humiliating for almost anyone, drunken driving charges could have been politically devastating for Hotze, who believes that biblical teachings should play a bigger role in government. He has said that laws against drunken driving are among the moral laws derived from religion.

The DWI case lay dormant in Rosenthal’s office until last summer because the officer who administered Hotze’s field sobriety test was accused, in an unrelated case, of tampering with a document. Prosecutors were concerned that the cloud could damage his credibility in cases requiring his testimony, such as Hotze’s.

After the officer was cleared, Rosenthal’s office took the unusual step of presenting Hotze’s misdemeanor DWI case to a grand jury because of the high-profile suspect.

Hotze’s attorney, Terry Yates, said at the time that Hotze was innocent and suggested he was the victim of selective prosecution. Last July, a grand jury threw out the DWI case, saying it lacked sufficient evidence for an indictment.

Since grand jury proceedings are secret, we don’t know exactly what evidence prosecutors presented or whether they made a recommendation. We do know that grand juries typically follow the lead of the district attorney, and nothing suggests the Hotze grand jury was an exception.

Similarly, nothing suggests there was a runaway grand jury in the Bradford case.

To the contrary, Rosenthal’s office has said it had enough evidence to justify an indictment and conviction against the chief, who was accused of lying under oath.

Note that Hotze’s attorney is Terry Yates, the same man who is representing Captain Mark Aguirre in his official oppression trial, which was a result of the K-Mart case. Recall that Yates has alleged that the charges against Aguirre were the result of personal animus between him and Bradford, and you might begin to see some possibilities.

Williams concludes that while there may have been different standards for Hotze and Bradford, the more likely result is that neither man should have been indicted. Maybe. I still think Hotze’s treatment was easier than Bradford’s was rough, but since grand jury proceedings are secret, we’ll never know. Only Rosenthal can say for sure, and either you trust his impartiality or you don’t. This certainly won’t make him look good in the eyes of those who believe that the appearance of impropriety is at least as important as actual impropriety.

Tell me more about that work/life balance thing

Nothing like putting in a 15-hour day at the job on a Saturday, especially after having been there till 1:30 AM on Friday. Yes, I was affected by the latest Internet worm. No, it wasn’t my job to fix it (thank $deity). I was here (and am here again on Sunday, hoping to make it to my inlaws in time for the Super Bowl) as part of a project. The worm caused some delays, but we overcame.

I’m not too cheesed about losing the weekend, though. The weather sucked, and I’ll get it back in comp time. The main annoying thing was that Tiffany was out of town from Wednesday through Friday, so I didn’t really get to see her until I returned home last night at nearly 11. Life is scheduled to return to normal (whatever that is) this week.

Let the second guessing begin!

Now that a judge has unceremoniously tossed the perjury charge against Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford, the dogs are howling about the District Attorney’s lack of judgment:

“I bet if you spent the rest of your days looking for a lawyer outside the district attorney’s office who thought that was a good prosecution, I don’t think you’ll find one,” said trial lawyer David Berg.


Six lawyers who followed the case were dumbfounded that those remarks were the basis of a perjury prosecution.

“It was extremely bad judgment to bring the case,” said Ron Woods, former U.S. attorney in Houston and now a white-collar criminal defense lawyer. “The statement by the chief was vague enough that it never should have been brought before the grand jury.” .

People are not convicted of perjury based on equivocal statements, several lawyers said.

“The answer has to be the total opposite of the truth,” Berg said. “Here’s a guy searching his memory. What made Chief Bradford’s indictment incapable of being proven was the equivocation in his answers.”

David Crump, who teaches criminal law at the University of Houston Law Center, said, “An equivocal answer that shows you are struggling and can’t remember is not perjury.”

Several lawyers said they were astonished a prosecutor convinced a grand jury to indict Bradford.

The indictment provides further proof of the system’s inadequacies, said trial lawyer Joel Androphy, a longtime critic of the grand jury system.

“The grand jury system doesn’t work and hasn’t worked,” he said. “They only get the evidence the prosecuting office shows them.”

Once Bradford was indicted, Androphy said, District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal or a prosecutor should have made sure the case went no further.

Woods agreed: “The district attorney’s office dismisses cases all the the time after an indictment.”

Others said Bradford’s case was so flimsy, prosecutors should never have taken it to a grand jury. “It should have been trash-canned the day it came in,” said veteran trial lawyer Tom Alexander. “The reason it wasn’t was politics at the Police Department.”

Prosecutor Don Smyth gave it his best shot:

“He was very Clintonesque in his responses,” Smyth said. “I would prosecute this case again (if given a second chance) and might very well get a different result in a different court.”

Yeah, maybe the next judge will be less polite and snicker audibly when granting the motion for a directed verdict.

Smyth said he believed in the perjury case and that no one had pressured him to prosecute Bradford.

Once Bradford was indicted, he said, “We would have been condemned regardless of what we did. If we failed to prosecute the chief, people would have written letters to the editor and said we didn’t prosecute because the chief is a highly placed person.

“And if we went forward, people would be saying we were after him because he was a highly-placed person. It was a no-win situation.”

Dude, we’re on Internet time. No one would ever remember that a complaint had been brought. You went scalp hunting and you missed. Get over it while you still have a shred of dignity left.

The sex offender next door

Here’s one of those stories that’s so forehead-slappingly obvious it makes you wonder why, exactly, it’s news: Residents of poor neighborhoods are shocked to find registered sex offenders living among them, and where you find one, you tend to find many.

The house at 3514 Canal is an extreme example of a trend that’s beginning to concern many cities: clusters of sex offenders that infect low-income neighborhoods.

The Canal rooming house is just one of 16 sex offender residences clustered in an area of about a square mile just east of downtown and south of Buffalo Bayou.

The area takes in one other multiple-offender address, a small apartment building in the 400 block of Hutcheson where three registered sex offenders live.

That’s a total of 24 registered sex offenders in the area. All but two were convicted of offenses involving children.

Look, I don’t mean to make light of legitimate concerns here, but where do you think registered sex offenders are going to live? Every time one of them turns up in a “good” neighborhood, it leads the local TV newscast that night amidst screaming graphics that ask “Could They Be Next Door To You?”

The problem is growing in other cities as well.

The Arizona Legislature has formed the House Ad Hoc Sex Offender Clustering Committee to deal with the problem there.


In St. Petersburg, Fla., civic associations are banding together to fight sex offender clusters at cheap motels revealed in a St. Petersburg Times article last year.

Again, where else are they going to live? We’ve broadened the definition of “sex offender” these days to the point where it covers a lot of relatively minor crimes, so locking them up for good is not really an option. Given that many of them will sooner or later be back on the streets, would you rather have them clustered or spread out? Which is the greater risk?

Probation and parole rules prevent registered child sex offenders from living near places where children gather: schools, daycares, parks, playgrounds, youth centers, public pools, video arcades.

“It’s so limited, so strict,” Enax said, “and there are so many parks and schools.”

Yet another reason why you’d expect to find them grouped together. There’s only so many places they can be without violating parole. Some of them can’t visit their attorneys without violating parole. I’m certainly not going to weep for them, but it seems a bit hysterical to put such stringent restrictions on their movements and then get bent out of shape when you realize they’re all in the same places.

Although studies proliferate on recidivism among sex offenders and how it is affected by treatment, notification laws and other factors, no research could be found on whether living in proximity to other sex offenders affected them negatively, or at all.

We sure will feel silly if it turns out this has no negative effect on their treatment and recidivism, won’t we?

I certainly understand why people would be frightened and upset to realize that a bunch of sex offenders live in their neighborhood. All I’m saying is, what are we going to do about it that won’t simply push the problem into someone else’s neighborhood?

Man versus dog

Came across this story on Larry’s page about a man who attempted to beat his dog to death with a shotgun and wound up shooting himself dead instead. It would be nice to say that this is a case of poetic justice being served, but alas, the ending isn’t so happy. Via Greg Hlatky, I see that the dog was euthanized by request of its owner, the dead man’s wife.

I have exactly no sympathy for anyone who would try to beat a dog to death for any reason. I’m going to give Harry a few extra treats today in this dog’s memory.

I’ll stick with Supercuts, thanks

Female office workers in Japan have a thing for English soccer star David Beckham. They like him so much, in fact, that the hip thing to do is to have their pubic hair styled to match Beckham’s hair.

“All women put a lot of care into their hair, but they don’t do so much with the hair down below. About the most they’d do is brush it back from behind the bikini line,” Yuri, a 22-year-old electronics company employee, tells Shukan Jitsuwa. “(Pubic hairstyling) can make the difference for a girl when she’s competing with another girl whose looks are about the same as hers.”

Minako, a co-worker, concurs.

“Some women’s magazines have carried articles about styling your pubic hair and they referred to the Beckham look. But we’d been doing it for a while before those stories came out,” she says. “By the way, I like (crew cut Japanese midfielder Shinji) Ono, but I don’t think I want to copy his hairstyle down there.”

Kids these days, I tell ya. Via Justin Slotman.

Jerry! Jerry!

Once again I marvel at The Onion‘s ability to stay ahead of the satire curve as I read this story about Jerry Springer, who’s contemplating a run for US Senate in Ohio in 2004.

Springer, a Democrat, said he’ll decide by summer whether to challenge George Voinovich, a Republican who has said he’ll run for a second term in 2004.

He acknowledged that his nationally syndicated “Jerry Springer Show” could work against him. Guests divulge their intimate secrets — and frequently strip down to their intimate apparel — on episodes with titles like “Your Lover Is Mine!” and “Explosive Betrayals!”

“Intimate apparel” must be some code for “bare-assed pixillated nekkidness”, without which products like this would never make it to the market, let alone be top sellers. But whatever.

“There are pluses and minuses,” Springer said. “The plus is that I’m known by everybody. The minus is that I’m known by everybody.”

Springer figures it would take $20 million to beat Voinovich and as much as $5 million to win a Democratic primary.

“I have the resources,” the 59-year-old millionaire said Wednesday night before speaking at the winter meeting of the Ohio Democratic Party Chairs Association.

Springer is a former Cincinnati mayor and councilman who lost the Democratic primary for governor in 1982 and considered running for the Senate in 2000. He said he also may run for Cincinnati mayor in 2005 or governor in 2006.

“I want to be helpful in rebuilding the party,” he said. “Whether I have to be a candidate is a totally separate issue. … I don’t need a job.”

Well, hell. If Ted Nugent can think about running for Governor in Michigan as a Republican, I guess Jerry Springer can think about running for Senate as a Democrat. I don’t think it’ll do much to help the national ticket, but I won’t be surprised if conditions are such that the result is preordained one way or the other, so I may as well have something entertaining to look forward to.

Bradford speaks

Along with the story about the directed verdict of “not guilty” in his perjury trial, the Chron has a short interview with Police Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford. Nothing much of great interest, though it’s pretty clear that he plans to return to his chiefly duties and believes he has the support of the rank and file.

We now return you to the drudgery of daily life. You’ll have to wait for the next sideshow to come along.

Bradford acquitted by judge

Houston Police Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford was acquitted by a directed verdict this afternoon. That’s pretty much a slam dunk for those who thought this whole trial was borderline at best.

Minutes after the state rested its case against Bradford, state District Judge Brian Rains directed the jury to find Bradford not guilty.

The quiet of the court crackled with the applause of more than 50 supporters who had packed into the courtroom during the two-day trial. Supporters wanting to shake hands and hug Bradford made it impossible for the chief to even leave.

As the jurors left the courthouse, several of them said all 12 would have voted to acquit Bradford anyway.

“You’re innocent until you’re proven guilty. They could not prove it,” said juror Rosia Moore. “All 12 of us were on the same page. We all agreed.”

I thought this was a thin case, but I’m still surprised that the judge granted the motion to acquit. Harris County is not known for being friendly to defendants. I’m truly amazed.

The prosecutor, naturally, defended his efforts:

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutor Don Smyth said he did not agree with the Rains’ ruling.

“There’s no question the chief knew what these questions were all about because he had had notice that they were coming, he had notice exactly what words were going to be attributed to him and the setting. . . ” Smyth said.

Smyth defended his prosecution of the chief.

“We got a complaint,” Smyth said. “Now, is it my job to take that complaint and flush it? Or is it my job to investigate it and present it to a grand jury if there is evidence to show that it may be a truthful complaint. . .

“The grand jury heard the same witnesses and even more than the judge and that jury heard. And the grand jury returned a true bill of indictment.”

Yeah, yeah. We all know how little an indictment means. Simply put, someone in the DA’s office should have asked themselves if there really was enough evidence to have a decent shot at a conviction. They misjudged pretty badly, and they look foolish as a result. I don’t blame them for investigating. I blame them for hubris.

Anyway. Mark Aguirre’s official oppression trial is still a few months away. That’ll be the real fun. This was just a minor diversion. In a year’s time, I doubt anyone will even remember it.

Yes, you can change the world for the better

Here’s a fantastic story about the international campaign by the Rotarians to eradicate polio. They started in 1985, have raised $1.8 billion, worked with WHO and UNICEF and government health agencies everywhere, and have reduced polio outbreaks to almost nothing. Go read it, it’s the best thing you’ll read today. Via Nathan Newman.

Your daily Chief Bradford Perjury Update

The trial of Houston Police Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford has begun, and the fur is flying. Bradford’s lawyers say the whole thing is a political vendetta. The prosecutor says it isn’t. I can barely keep track of who’s saying what, which suggests to me that the jury may get a tad confused.

It does look like Bradford is getting full value out of his high-priced mouthpieces:

Tina Snelling, the hearing examiner who presided over Aguirre’s grievance hearing, testified Wednesday that she thought the chief had lied and felt his punishment was too harsh for Aguirre. Her ruling was later reversed by a civil service commission.

“I was embarrassed for the chief that day,” Snelling said.

Snelling told prosecutor Lester Blizzard that the chief should have remembered using such language in a meeting.

“If I got in your face and called you a mother ——, would you remember it?” Blizzard asked.

Snelling responded, “I remember calling my boss an ass—- in 1984.”

But Snelling often seemed confused about her own testimony Wednesday under cross-examination by Rusty Hardin. At one point, Hardin had Snelling admit her conflicting statements might be considered perjury.

That can’t be good for the prosecution. The state will be calling Assistant Chief J.L. Breshears today before it rests its case. It was Breshears being called the bad word by Bradford that led to where we are today. If there’s a chance of conviction, we’ll know it after he testifies.

Roosters from the sky

What does it mean when you and your dog are nearly beaned by a rooster that’s falling from the sky? In this particular case, it means a neighborhood pet has had a close encounter with a hawk.

On a cold, gray afternoon last week, Becky Earle was visiting her Woodland Heights neighbor Margaret Storer. Their chat in Storer’s back driveway off Tenth Street was interrupted by the sudden barking of Storer’s white boxer, Tilly. Earle recalls that the yelping sounded “like a danger bark,” but the two neighbors saw nothing unusual in the backyard to upset the dog.
Then Earle glanced skyward.

A large brown mass came flying toward her, swerving and diving erratically toward the ground. “I thought, ‘Holy shit! Look at the size of that thing!’ ”

Two birds — a powerful red-tailed hawk and a rooster struggling in its clutches — were zooming in. Earle says the rooster was putting up a game fight to free itself from the hawk’s sharp talons. Within seconds, the hawk dropped its dinner about ten feet from Earle. “It went plop! right on the driveway,” she says. “It landed like a wet bag of cement, except feathers flew up.”

The rooster is a pet that belongs to a neighborhood boy. He came through the ordeal unscathed and was reunited with his master later that day. Who says you need to live in the country to see this kind of Wild Kingdom stuff in your backyard?

For thee but not for me

Rob reports on this article about abstinence-only education as it’s practiced in Lubbock, Texas (which as Rob also notes has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in Texas). Abstinence-only is how Team Bush wants sex ed taught around the country, with an emphasis on the dangers of sex and contraception.

I’m curious about something. If sex is as dangerous as they make it out to be, then surely everyone in the Bush White House would have practiced celibacy before marriage. I mean, I’m certain they would never tell Americans not to do something which they themselves have done. Still, perhaps a few reporters should start to ask about it just so we can be sure:

“Ari, you were married last year. Were you and your wife virgins at the time of your marriage?”

“Ari, I understand that Condi Rice has never been married. Is it fair to say that she’s a virgin?”

“Ari, I know that President Bush considers sex before marriage to be risky and unhealthy behavior. Would Jenna and Barbara say that their parents have taught them to remain chaste before marriage, and would they say they have listened to their parents?”

I feel confident that President Bush, his staff, and his family have been leading us by example on this important issue. Don’t you?

Why blogging is better than old media

Blogging is better than old media because I can do things like quote Ted Barlow:

From today’s Howard Kurtz profile of Paul Krugman:

Online columnist Andrew Sullivan, a frequent Krugman antagonist, derides “the extreme partisanship, the self-righteousness and the moral condescension toward his opponents, who are obviously evil to him.”

If you listen closely, you can actually hear Irony dying.

I thought I heard some moaning earlier, but I’d attributed it to the heater clicking on. Silly me.

Next on COPS: When political extortionists attack

Michael Morales, brother of onetime Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Attorney General Dan Morales, will plead guilty to a charge that he attempted to extort money from the Tony Sanchez For Governor campaign.

The criminal investigation began churning last September when Sanchez campaign manager Glenn Smith received telephone calls and faxes from a man claiming to have evidence that Sanchez committed a felony crime more than 30 years ago.

Smith said the man wanted between $200,000 and $500,000. Smith turned the information over to the FBI.

Dan Morales said his primary campaign was approached last year by a San Antonio woman who had been urged to come forward by her psychiatrist. He said the woman accused Sanchez of a crime while he was attending St. Mary’s University law school.

Morales said he turned the woman’s information over to a lawyer, who could not find evidence to prove her allegations were true.

“There was insufficient corroboration for us to come to any other conclusion than there was simply no role for our campaign to play with her allegations,” Morales said.

Printed copies of the woman’s statements were included in the materials sent to the Sanchez campaign with a threat to make them public

The guilty plea has not yet been entered, so no word yet on sentence, though the charge carries a maximum of two years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

The Bradford trial: Why are we here?

Several jurors in the perjury trial of Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford expressed confusion and frustration about why they were all there in the first place:

“I don’t see how this issue is worth the court’s time. … It seems like a trivial matter,” said juror No. 51, who was not selected.


Although 58 percent of the jury pool said they had heard of the case through the media and friends, several seemed confused about the alleged crime. Some thought Bradford was on trial for using the profane words.

The most vocal prospective jurors often engaged in a give-and-take with prosecutor Don Smyth about whether the chief intentionally lied.

“I do think it’s trivial,” said juror No. 15. “Hell, the president of the United States didn’t get convicted of perjury.”

The pool erupted into applause at the reference to former President Clinton.

But when Smyth asked the group how many thought “lying under oath was no big deal,” the group was silent.

The prosecutor’s question has merit, and in fact is the only reason for this trial at all. The perjury charge stems from testimony Bradford gave at a grievance hearing. Bradford had issued a letter of reprimand to Captain Mark Aguirre for using harsh language on his subordinates. (Ironically, this overruled a sterner five day suspension sentence for Aguirre.) Aguirre appealed, and Bradford was questioned about whether he had cussed at his subordinates as Aguirre had done. He denied it and was later contradicted by one of those subordinates, and here we are today.

Perjury is obviously a serious charge, and if the chief really is guilty of it he deserves punishment. I think the main reason for the disgruntlement is that anyone who’s read about this case would have a hard time believing that the prosecution can prove this.

What we have here is basically two pieces of evidence: Bradford’s testimony, which is vague and waffling, and the eyewitness account that contradicted his testimony. The eyewitness is likely credible, but I can’t get past the chief’s words, as seen in the transcript:

“I don’t remember calling Joe that in any casual term much less in a mandatorily called meeting where I’m talking to supervisors or subordinates. No, I categorically deny having done that. Do not have any recollection of it. And would be thoroughly embarrassed. And if I did it, I would be wrong, and it’s still not acceptable,” Bradford said at the hearing, according to the transcript.

That sounds to me like a man who doesn’t remember. I guess the DA sees it differently. We’ll know what the jurors think in a week or so.

Fifty thousand

Well, by my inexact and arbitrary reckoning, my 50,000th visitor arrived last night at 11:54 PM CST. Woo hoo!

At my current traffic rate, visitor number 100,000 will likely arrive in September. Thanks again to everyone for reading.

Bradford trial begins

Jury selection is complete for the cussin’-and-lyin’-about-it trial of Houston Police Chief C.O. “BAMF” Bradford. Twelve stouthearted and true fellow citizens will get to decide if he perjured himself or just has a (possibly convenient) leaky memory.

Twenty potential jurors were excused because they were related to police officers. One was excused when she indicated the case was “a waste of time.”

I’ve said before that I have no patience for whining about jury duty, but I gotta say, were I in this panel, I’d be vigorously agreeing with that one woman.

Latino voting

Received a link to this interesting study of Latino voting patterns in my mailbox the other day. Here are the highlights:

* The Latino vote for GOP Senate candidates was similar to prior years, at about one-third; gubernatorial candidates fared better, at close to one-half.

* But Latinos who voted in 2002 had higher income and education levels than the Latino electorate as a whole. Turnout of lower and middle income Latinos was much lower in 2002 than in 2000.

* Latino voters who identify themselves as “independents” are, in fact, likely to vote Democratic. The fact that many of these independents stayed home in 2002 helped Republicans.

* There is no “Latino” voting bloc, as such — after controlling for party identification, income, and education, there is no difference between Latino voting and the voting pattern of non-Hispanic whites in either the Senate or gubernatorial races of 2002. This is not true of African Americans, who are a distinctive voting bloc even after controlling for education, income, and party identification.

Pretty interesting. The polling data comes from Fox News, for those who care. One subject of some controversy is how Latinos voted in the 2002 Texas elections:

What about the Florida and Texas governorships? Didn’t Hispanic Democrats surge into Republican ranks in these two states? Not according to the FOX News polls. In Texas, almost no Latinos who had supported Gore in 2000 cast votes for GOP Senate candidate John Cronyn. And in the governors’ races, about 8 percent of Latinos who had supported Al Gore cast votes for Rick Perry and Jeb Bush — a respectable improvement, but no evidence of a surge. In Florida, Jeb Bush polled much worse among Latinos in 2002 (57 percent) than he had in his narrow loss to Lawton Chiles in 1994 (71 percent). If I learned first grade mathematics correctly, these figures are headed in the wrong direction — surprising given that 2002 found the President’s brother a well-entrenched incumbent whereas 1994 found him a relative neophyte. Moreover, the Latino Democrats who voted for Perry and Bush look very much like Republicans, and most of them voted Republican in the 2000 election — so there is meager evidence of Latino political movement between 2000 and 2002. The consultants who consider themselves so adept at manipulating voters’ allegiances are living in a dream world. The evidence strongly supports the conventional view of political science — that partisan commitments and policy preferences are highly stable, and campaign messages matter much less than political consultants would have gullible politicians believe (Green, Palmquist, and Schickler 2002).

It still doesn’t settle the question of how many Latinos actually voted for Rick Perry, but I’ll take what information I can get.


Salon has a nice article (in Premium, alas) about how executions are often seen as giving “closure” to the families of the victims, when in reality this is not the case. Here’s an excerpt:

No psychological study has ever concluded that the death penalty brings “closure” to anyone except the person who dies, and there’s circumstantial evidence that it can prolong the suffering of grieving families. That’s why Bud Welch, an Oklahoma gas station owner who lost his 23-year-old daughter Julie in the Oklahoma City bombing, says, “George Ryan in Illinois did a tremendous service to the victims’ family members, though they don’t realize it. Now those people will understand that it’s over with and they have to move forward.”


McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001. Since then, Welch says, “Not a single person has told me they benefited from it. I’ve had about five people tell me that it really didn’t help them any,” he says. Some came to that realization while McVeigh was still alive. Welch says that at one survivors’ meeting several years after the bombing, a widower who’d wanted the death penalty suddenly said, “You know what? Hell, it ain’t going to help me when they kill that guy.”


“If anything prevents closure, it’s the death penalty,” says Richard Moran, the author of last year’s “Executioner’s Current: Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and the Invention of the Electric Chair” and a criminologist at Mount Holyoke. “If you have a trial in which the person is sentenced to life imprisonment, it’s over, that’s it. If the person is sentenced to death, you will be contacted by authorities and will relive that murder every two years for the next 15 years. Then, if they finally do execute the person, then you can start beginning your closure. What it does is, it puts off any healing. Wounds are being reopened and whole process is being prolonged.”


“Most of the psychiatric literature would say those who forgive have a better chance of letting go of it. Some people can find it in themselves to forgive, and they do the best. I don’t know if I would be capable, but if I were to advise myself on what I needed to do to survive if something like that happened to me, that’s the strategy I would try to follow. It’s the only one that works.”

Meanwhile, Dwight Meredith has a post about litigation versus the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for people who are damaged by vaccines, possibly including parents whose autistic children may have gotten that way as a result of thimerisol:

More than 85% of marriages into which an autistic child is born fail within 5 years. In order to save one’s marriage, raise children and move forward with life, the parents and siblings of an autistic child have to find some level of acceptance of their circumstances.

That acceptance can only be found when moving forward and focusing on the future. Becoming obsessed with the causes of a child’s disability and the assessment of blame does not aid the search for acceptance.

Litigation is by definition backwards looking. Litigation is solely focused on the cause, blame and damages for something that happened in the past. Liitgation focuses on the problem and not the solution.

Unlike litigation, life must be lived looking forward not backward. The qualities that make for successful litigation often make for an unsuccessful life.

Having a functional family and a functional life is far more important than unlimited damages for pain and suffering. Functionality is achieved only through accomodation and acceptance. We have spent more than five years trying to find acceptance. While we may not have reached that goal, we have traveled some distance towards it.

I find the parallel to be striking.

Sponsored by…

Today is Inauguration Day in Texas, and like many things here and elsewhere it’s being brought to you by the generosity of a variety of corporate sponsors.

Atop the list of contributors is ACS, a Dallas-based government services firm awarded a contract last year to become the state’s primary Medicaid contractor; telecommunications giant AT&T; and Philip Morris, which has a former lobbyist now serving as Perry’s chief of staff.

They were among nine “Gold Underwriters” that contributed $50,000 each to help pay for the inauguration, which includes a downtown parade.

Sixteen companies and individuals made $25,000 “Silver”-level contributions, including Houston-based Reliant Energy; TXU, a Dallas-based electrical provider; and the Houston-based law firms of Fulbright & Jaworski and Vinson & Elkins. Forty-one others gave $10,000 each.

On the one hand, I have to applaud not using state money to pay for an essentially private party, especially in a lean budget year. On the other hand, $1.5 million is chickenfeed (0.015% of the projected $10 billion shortfall) and it would avoid any appearance of impropriety if this shindig were underwritten by someone other than these not-exactly-disinterested parties. Surely in a state where the likes of Bo Pilgrim have been known to hand out $10,000 checks on the Senate floor just before a vote that affected his business came up, one can understand why suspicious minds may do a little gritching about this.

I’ll stipulate that people would also get crabby if the Inauguration were publicly funded – indeed, I might be one of those crabs if I thought the planners were a bit too free with the funding. Overall, though, I think that’s a much lesser concern.

Companies say political contributions are part of doing business in the state, and that every inauguration, for both Democrats and Republicans, has had corporate sponsors.

“I’ve been around here since ’85, and it’s the way it’s always been,” said Bill Miller, a consultant whose firm lobbies for AT&T. “It’s the way it’ll always be.”

I’m sure that’s true, which is why you haven’t seen me type the name of any political party in this post. It’s still a bad idea.

Kathy Walt, a Perry spokeswoman, said corporate sponsors, by helping underwrite the costs, are making the inauguration more affordable.

“These companies and individuals are helping sponsor inaugural festivities so that the cost to attend can be lowered for Texans from all across the state,” she said.

Audrey Rowe, spokeswoman for ACS, said the $50,000 contribution is among the firm’s myriad political and philanthropic activities as corporate citizens.

“If there are a few concerns that this contribution is giving us access, that is an incorrect perception,” she said.

Since the pundit class is often accused of pointing out problems without offering constructive solutions, I want to make a suggestion as to how to make a corporate-sponsored event like this more palatable to me: Require all of the inaugurees to wear jumpsuits containing corporate-logo patches of all of the sponsors, NASCAR style. In addition, display large banners that spells out who paid for what – “This barbecue stand is brought to you by a generous grant from ACS, the worldwide leader in government services”. If we’re so damn proud of our underwriters and how they help serve the public good, then let’s be up front about it.

Can idiots ever really be useful?

Jim Henley, Oliver Willis, Atrios, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden say they are not bothered by protesting the specter of war in Iraq alongside some extremely disreputable characters. Tacitus and Greg Wythe say they should be.

I’d like to come out foursquare in Jim/Oliver/Atrios/Patrick’s corner, but there’s the inconvenient fact that I bashed Christian conservatives awhile back for working with various rogue regimes in the United Nations to push their anti-sex agenda (see here, here, here,and here). How can I dismiss allying, however loosely and narrowly, with a bunch of brutal-dictator-loving jerks like A.N.S.W.E.R. on a cause I support when I decry allying with brutal dictatorships on causes I oppose? How close must your association be before you’re guilty by association?

I think we know that in the real world, just about any cause that one might consider worthy of support is going to also be supported by some unsavory groups and individuals. We also know it’s good politics to attack causes we oppose by tying their mainstream supporters to their undesireables, however dirty our own hands might be on this score.

It’s easy to say that one’s cause is sufficiently worthy that it swamps any negatives generated by unsightly sympathizers. It’s easy to say that your alliance with whichever thugs you’re yoked to is strictly limited to this one crusade for righteousness. Even goons can be pointing in the right direction, and when they are shouldn’t they be put to good use?

Of course, when dealing with people who have their own agenda, it’s hard to say they you’re not helping them, they’re just helping you. Can you be sure they’re not building on this achievement? Do you really know that you haven’t made them a teeny bit stronger? How far do you have to advance that worthy cause if the answer to either of these questions is No?

I don’t know. I really don’t. I believe that the antiwar marchers were right and the Christian conservatives were wrong, but I know that I’m standing on rhetorical sand. I want to draw a line, but if I do it’ll look more like the coastline of Norway than it will the Colorado/Arizona border.

I oppose this war. Had I been in DC, I’d have been marching. I can’t help it if bad people marched, too. In the end, I do believe that opposing this war is the greater good and that any aid given to the likes of A.N.S.W.E.R. is unfortunate but of secondary concern. I don’t believe the conservatives at the UN can make that claim. I just don’t think I can defend both positions.

UPDATE Max has a pretty clear conscience, too. Patrick, in my comments, thinks I’m bending too far backwards to be fair, and that I’d get no such consideration in return. He’s very likely right.

To the Batcave!

Now here’s a made-for-TV movie that looks promising:

Hollywood- Holy blast from the past, Batman! Adam West and Burt Ward are reuniting for a TV movie they hope will score bop-socko-pow ratings for CBS.

But West and Ward aren’t playing Batman and Robin in “Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt.” The former co-stars of ABC’s “Batman” series play themselves in a comedy-adventure about a plot to steal the original Batmobile from a charity event.

While they try to solve the mystery of the missing mobile, flashback sequences explore some of the batty and bizarre moments that occurred during their show’s 1966-68 run, from run-ins with network executives to encounters with overenthusiastic fans.

Along for the wacky ride are three of Gotham City’s beloved Bat-villains: Julie Newmar (Catwoman in some episodes of the series), Lee Meriwether (Catwoman in the 1966 “Batman” film starring West and Ward) and Frank Gorshin (the Riddler in the series and the film).

“We decided we should do something that was fresh – a modern-day caper comedy-adventure with Adam and Burt and an occasional allusion or reference to some of the escapades in our past,” West said of the TV movie, which has finished production but has not yet been scheduled. “You know, there are things in there that are true, but mostly it’s fabrication.”

I’m so there. If only Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith were still alive. Via Mark Evanier.

“The Crooked E” wrapup

Former Enron employees pretty much hated The Crooked E, that cheeserrific made-for-CBS movie from a couple of weeks ago.

Of nearly 200 SEEC [Severed Enron Employees Coalition] members who responded to an e-mail survey, 58 percent found the CBS movie, which aired Jan. 5, offensive and insulting. Another 36 percent said it was trash and that former employees should just forget it. Only 6 percent said they liked the movie. And 14 members said they didn’t tune in.

Of course, that means that over 90% of them did in fact watch. The Nielsens don’t care if you’re lobbing spitballs at the screen.