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October, 2003:

Morales sentenced

Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales has been sentenced to four years in Club Fed for the mail fraud and tax evasion charges to which he pled guilty in July.

The mail fraud charge stems from Morales’ lawsuit against U.S. tobacco companies, claiming they owed Texas reimbursement for smoking-related health care. The lawsuit ended with the companies agreeing to pay $17.3 billion to the state.

When it came time to pay the lawyers their fees, which reached $3.3 billion, Morales added his friend Marc Murr to the attorney list and tried to get him 3 percent of the settlement. The other lawyers protested that Murr, a Houston lawyer, did little to nothing on the case.

Morales later admitted to back-dating a contract to make it look as if Murr had done more work than he had. It was a federal crime because he shipped the contract across state lines to the California arbitrators appointed to decide how to divide the legal fees.

Murr, who later declined payment, pleaded guilty earlier this month to mail fraud. Prosecutors recommended six months imprisonment, five years on probation and a fine of up to $250,000. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Morales’ tax evasion charge comes from $420,000 he took from his campaign account for “personal use” — money that he didn’t report to the IRS.

Via Burnt Orange.

Endorsements and a mini-scandal

I went and voted this morning, so all you candidates out there can stop calling and mailing me, at least until the runoffs begin. My slate of candidates is remarkably similar to Greg Wythe‘s. Here’s how I voted:

Mayor: Bill White
Controller: Annise Parker
At Large #1: Brian Wozniak
At Large #2: Gordon Quan
At Large #3: Peter Brown
At Large #4: Sue Lovell
At Large #5: Beulah Shepard
District H: Adrian Garcia
Metro: Yes
Collective bargaining for firefighters: Yes

Like Greg, I was torn on At Large #1. What eventually tipped it for me was that Brian Wozniak had an actual web page that I could read and get a feel for his positions, while Andrew Burks didn’t. As for Beulah Shepard, I kinda went with the heart over the head on this one, but she’s got a pretty strong resume, too.

District H was another tough call. In my opinion, there are two excellent candidates. The rules say I can only pick one, and it was Adrian Garcia by a nose. I should note that my next-door neighbors are in a sense the mirror image of Greg on this one – they broke the tie in favor of Diana Davila Martinez because they know and like her husband. In any event, I can endorse a vote for either, and I will put a sign in my yard for whichever one ends up in a runoff against Hector Longoria.

Speaking of District H: There’s some buzz in my neighborhood over a campaign flyer that was received in the mail yesterday by many Heights residents. The flyer, which purports to be from a group called “Citizens for a Better America”, is a straight-on hatchet job on Adrian Garcia, including grainy photos, three context-free quotes (none of which, in my opinion, were particularly damning) from the Chron, the Statesman, and the Express-News going back as far as 1991, and an exhortation to “call Adrian Garcia at 713 xxx xxxx and tell him to stop messing with our neighborhoods” or words to that effect. I’ve been mailed a copy of the flyer in PDF format from a neighbor, but it’s 2MB in size so I haven’t FTPed it to the site. I may put it up over the weekend if there’s interest in seeing it.

Anyway, the only contact info on the flyer is the name “Citizens for a Better America” and a return address. It turns out there is such a group, and they’re a traditional-values organization in the Moral Majority mold. If you actually click on that link, you’ll note that they have specifically denied any involvement in the mailer. From their “Open Letter to the Citizens of Houston”:

Citizens For A Better America ® has not sent out any mailings or spent any money to influence the Nov. 4, 2003 election in Houston, Texas. Any use of our name is unauthorized and is identify theft and will be treated as such.

Citizens For A Better America ® is a registered trademark with the United States Patents and Trademarks office, Registration Number: 2500525. Any search of the name Citizens For A Better America ® on the internet brings up our website at http://www.cfaba.org. We have been an organization, using our name, since October 15, 1992. We are on file with the Federal Election Commission our number is C00278333. We have a very high national visibility and we do not consider the unauthorized use of our name to be accidental.

We take it very seriously when someone(s) uses our name without our permission. If you have any information about the individual or individuals who are using our name please contact us by either e-mail, regular mail or phone.

In other words, whoever did this is a criminal in the minds of the actual CFABA folks. The Woodland Heights has a chat board, where this flyer has been discussed at length. (Some of the info and links for this post came from the message thread on the board about this.) According to the board, the return address on the flyer can be traced to a non-Texas based public affairs group with ties to the Republican Party and which does direct mail. Since I have no idea if they were involved or not – after all, if someone can use CFABA’s name without authorization, they can fake a return address – I won’t give any further information about them. I do know that several people, myself included, have contacted reporters about this (I called Tim Fleck at the Houston Press), so maybe we’ll find out.

The better question is who in Houston is responsible. George Strong thinks it could be Longoria.

Could it be that the Chair of the Harris County Republican Party, Jared Woodfill, whose law partner is running against Garcia got that group involved the that race? Hector Longoria is that candidate and his jumping into the District H race at the last minute has been of some concern. Longoria claimed he made his switch from At-Large 5 to District H the day of the filing deadline, on Monday September 22. In Thursday’s mail, that same week, voters in District H got a very specific Longoria mailer, clearly not something that was created & mailed in 3 days. Longoria’s next mailer, that came a few days later, claimed endorsements that have actually gone to other District H candidates, but which Longoria had when he was in his first race, for At-large 5. It including the Houston Police Officer Union, HPOU, which later went to its member a fellow police officer, Adrian Garcia. The Gossips are told that Bob Perry of Perry Homes is the largest contributor to Hector. Perry has lots of Condos in the Heights and apparently wants to build more.

Strong says that CFABA was behind some earlier attack ads on radio about Bill White. For what it’s worth, I searched CFABA’s website and found no mention at all of Bill White and no recent mention of Houston. Strong wrote his post before the CFABA founder disavowed the anti-Garcia mailer, so perhaps the “identity theft” they speak of has been going on longer than anyone thought, or perhaps Strong is just confused. I don’t know.

Finally, at least two other candidates in District H have specifically denied any knowledge about this mailer. I myself got to ask Diana Davila Martinez about it, last night at a happy hour for the Houston Democratic Forum, and she said she knew nothing about it. She has since replied to an email from a WH message board poster, which he replicated on the board, again saying that “neither I nor my campaign had any knowledge of this effort”. Gonzalo Camacho was also contacted via email by a member and gave a similar denial. Hector Longoria was emailed as well but as of this writing had not replied. I will keep an eye on that and will post an update here if I see a reply from him.

A letter from Congress

I don’t have any guest posters here, but once in awhile I’ll publish someone else’s words here. This is one of those times. One of my readers is a legislative assistant to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D, Dallas). He sent me the following op-ed she wrote about Rep. Joe Barton’s clandestine effort to delay a deadline for compliance on the federal Clean Air Act in the upcoming energy bill, which you can see underneath the More link. It was intended for the Dallas Morning News, but since they printed an op-ed piece from her on this topic last week, they passed on this one. Their loss is our gain. Without further ado, here’s Rep. Johnson’s piece, entitled “Clean Air Horror Story”.

(more…)

Timbergrove update

Chron columnist Rick Casey follows up on the story of the disappearing yard signs in Timbergrove (see here for Part One). If you can get past his cutesy tone, he actually did some good reporting, as he discovered what happened the last time a homeowner and a homeowner’s association battled over this point.

It was 1992 and a couple in Meyerland had the audacity to display a Clinton-for-President sign in their yard.

It disappeared, replaced by a notice of deed restrictions prohibiting political signs.

They put up a second sign. Same result.

They lost five signs during that campaign.

Two years later, they posted a “Paul Colbert for U.S. Congress” yard sign.

Again it disappeared.

A discussion with the Meyerland Community Improvement Association over First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech did not help. The consensus was that tacky political signs damage property values.

The couple, Marco and Jeanette DuBose, finally had enough. They hired attorney David A. Furlow, who specializes in fighting homeowners associations.

The association hired attorney Stephen K. Hamilton, who specializes in defending homeowners associations.

They ended up in the court of state District Judge Tony Lindsay. I asked if she is a pinko liberal commie, and she assured me she isn’t. I believe her because Republicans keep electing her.

Furlow made the case that a neighborhood organization could not deprive people of the fundamental constitutional right to freedom of speech.

He also called a prominent real estate broker as an expert witness. She testified that River Oaks was often festooned with political signs and it didn’t seem to hurt the property values.

Hamilton agreed that the U.S. Supreme Court had prohibited cities from banning political signs by ordinance, but he argued that this was different. By accepting the deed restrictions when they bought the house, the DuBoses had contractually agreed not to put the signs up.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Lindsay ruled for the DuBoses. She found the deed restriction to be a violation of both the Texas and the U.S. constitutions.

She entered a permanent injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the restriction by the Meyerland Community Improvement Association — an injunction that remains in force today.

The association accepted the advice of its attorney not to appeal. As it is now, the ruling is not binding on other associations. But if the association appealed and lost, it would be.

So there you go. Note that the “contractual” argument failed – you can’t bargain away your rights, which is as it should be. While Timbergrove is not bound by this ruling, the precedent is against them, and what’s more, as Casey then notes, the loser can be ordered to pay the winner’s legal fees in cases like these. How risk-averse are you, Timbergrove?

Another one bites the dust

Yet another Enron exec has copped a plea.

Former Enron executive David Delainey, a close business associate of former CEO Jeff Skilling, pleaded guilty today to one count of insider trading and agreed to cooperate in the government’s Enron investigations.

Delainey agreed to pay the government $4.2 million, and he also entered into an agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission to hand over an additional $3.7 million. As part of that deal, he has agreed not to serve as an officer or director of any traded company.

Delainey, a 37-year-old Canadian citizen, left Enron in March 2002 as the chief executive officer of Enron Energy Services, the retail contracting business arm of the company. He’s also been CEO of Enron North America.

Delainey was said to have been a favorite of Skilling in the company. He took over EES in 2001 and was one of the names bandied about on Wall Street in the late summer of 2001, just before the company’s fall, for a top position at the company after Skilling left and Lay was looking to groom someone new.

[…]

Attorneys watching the Enron cases believe Delainey could help the government get to Skilling.

One can damn well only hope. The Frog March Orchestra is awaiting its cue. Don’t let them down.

Hogwarts Headaches

I can see a future Surgeon General’s warning: Reading too much Harry Potter may be hazardous to your health.

A Washington doctor warned that he has seen three children complain of headaches caused by the physical stress of relentlessly plowing through the epic 870-page adventure.

Call them Hogwarts headaches, named after the wizard school that Harry attends.

Dr. Howard Bennett of George Washington University Medical Center wrote in a letter to this week’s New England Journal of Medicine that the three children, ages 8 to 10, experienced a dull headache for two or three days.

Each had spent many hours reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

After ruling out other potential causes, Bennett told his patients to give their eyes a rest. But the spell cast by the book was clearly too powerful.

“The obvious cure for this malady — that is, taking a break from reading — was rejected by two of the patients,” Bennett said, adding that the children took acetaminophen instead.

In each case, the headache went away only after the patient turned the final page.

Order of the Phoenix, the fifth book in the series, has nearly three times as many pages as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book, and J.K. Rowling still plans two more tomes.

“If this escalation continues as Rowling concludes the saga, there may be an epidemic of Hogwarts headaches in the years to come,” Bennett predicted.

And you thought video gamer’s thumb was a big deal.

Now, I may not be a doctor, but I bet I can diagnose the real problem here.

[voice of every woman I’m related to, wife and any future daughters included]

“How can you read in the dark like that? You’re going to hurt your eyes!”

[/voice]

Someone tell the NEJM they can expect my monograph real soon now.

And still nastier

In the final televised debate before the election (and may I say that with all the debates and candidate fora we’ve had, no one can legitimately claim to be unfamiliar with the three hopefuls), Bill White and Orlando Sanchez stepped up their attacks on each other.

White, CEO of a large investment firm, questioned whether Sanchez would be capable of running City Hall with its staff of 20,000, asking how many employees he has had in his work history.

Sanchez responded with an attack of his own.

“You’re running to represent big business, Enron-size business,” Sanchez said. “I’m a small-business person.”

White pointed out that Sanchez did not answer the question.

“I’ve built many small businesses, and I know how many people report to me,” he said.

The runoff will be such fun if this is the lineup for it. While Sylvester Turner threw jabs of his own, the other two mostly let him be.

Given an opportunity to question each other, White and Sanchez acted more like runoff opponents, attacking each other instead of Turner. White even complimented Turner’s commitment to after-school programs.

The most recent polls show a fairly close race, with White leading the field and Sanchez in second place. If the two do make it into a runoff, neither would want to alienate Turner’s supporters.

Some time ago in a world championship bridge tournament, a highly regarded team from Poland seemed to try to throw a round-robin match against an overmatched opponent. Their apparent strategy was to alter where they finished among the top four qualifiers so that they would face a squad from Iceland in the semifinals instead of a Brazilian team that was considered to be stronger. The Poles wound up winning that match anyway, so their gambit failed. As it happened, Poland beat Brazil, and faced Iceland in the finals, where the team they thought they’d handle easily in the semifinals clobbered them.

I was reminded of that story as I read about how Turner, currently running third in the polls, is being allowed to be above the fray while White and Sanchez attack each other. It would be pretty ironic if the negativity turned off enough voters to allow Turner to get into the runoff. White has more to lose from this in the general election, since Turner seems to be likelier to pick up disaffected White supporters, but if he makes it to the runoff he should be in good shape. I can’t see Sanchez successfully wooing too many Turner voters, not after his orgy of using the Clintons as a club against White. As noted before, Kevin sees it differently.

It’s almost jarring after reading that article to peruse this Houston Press cover story on Bill White. No one in this piece, and that includes White’s ex-wife and a former boss who lost a million bucks investing in a business White set up a few years back, had anything negative to say about him. That’s pretty amazing, and quite the contrast to this earlier profile of Michael Berry, in which there was no shortage of naysayers.

UPDATE: Christine comments on a Sanchez TV ad that has stuck in her mind.

The Pearl brewery

Here’s a great story about the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio, which was purchased last July (not longer after I’d noted that it was having difficulty finding a buyer) by a San Antonio-baed company that appears to be committed to preserving and restoring the historic site. That’s excellent news. Check it out.

Well, SLAPP me silly

Has it really come to this? Don Luskin threatening to sue Atrios for…well, what, exactly? Definition of character? Excessive snarkiness? Operating a blog without the express written consent of Major League Baseball? Hell if I know. Didn’t anyone learn from the O’Reilly-sues-Franken fiasco? I’m with Orcinus – if this is anything but unadulterated bluster, discovery ought to be a hoot. (Speaking of hoots, as always The Poor Man has the best response. Standard beverage warning applies. Oh, and I’m with Jesse.)

Let me be up front here: Luskin is a snivelling crybaby who deserves to be mocked mercilessly. Go ahead, big boy, sue me for that. Maybe you can have your mommy serve me the papers.

Atrios has a roundup of comments, some of Don Luskin’s more charming behaviors, and his original response to Luskin.

It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media plays this – and make no mistake, this will be in the mainstream media. I wonder if Luskin’s attorney will be as laughable and ungracious as O’Reilly’s were. Hard to imagine, but then so was this.

Meanwhile, in another corporate scandal

In case you’re bored with Enron’s shenanigans, there’s always Tyco, where former CEO Dennis Kozlowski sure knew how to throw a party.

Jurors saw a videotape Tuesday of dancing women, half-naked male models and “Margaritaville” singer Jimmy Buffett at a $2 million party that L. Dennis Kozlowski, former CEO of Tyco International, threw for his wife’s birthday on a Mediterranean island.

Prosecutors maintained the party, more than half of which was paid for with company money, was a “stark example” of how Kozlowski and former chief financial officer Mark Swartz looted hundreds of millions from Tyco for their personal benefit.

“It’s going to be a fun week,” the tape shows Kozlowski telling about 75 guests arriving to celebrate Karen Mayo’s 40th birthday on the Italian island of Sardinia on June 11, 2001. “Eating, drinking, whatever. All the things we’re best known for.”

The tape shows five young women in scanty, diaphanous frocks cavorting around a swimming pool, half-naked male models posing in snapshots with female guests and a performance from a pop star.

It goes on from there. Be sure to check out the photos here and here for the full effect. The pop star in question, by the way, is Jimmy Buffett, flown in at a cost of 250 grand.

It’s worth keeping in mind what Kozlowski and his minion Mark Swartz are on trial for:

Prosecutors say the two stole $170 million from Tyco by taking and hiding unauthorized pay and bonuses, raiding company loan programs and forgiving loans to themselves. They say the defendants made another $430 million on their Tyco stock by lying about the conglomerate’s financial condition from 1995 into 2002.

Defense lawyers say Kozlowski and Swartz earned all the compensation they got from Tyco and all the appropriate overseers knew about their compensation and loans.

A total of $600 million is in question here. Somehow, professional athletes don’t sound quite so overpaid when compared to that, no? In case you think they really could have “earned” all that money, take a look at this. Do you think shareholders would have put up with any other expense tripling over a five year period with no abatement in sight and no plan to do anything about it?

UPDATE: Damn. As Jim D notes in the comments, Kozlowski outspent P Diddy by a 2-1 margin. Of course, it was only P Diddy’s 33rd birthday, while Mrs. Kozlowski was celebrating the big 4-0. Pretty impressive, though, no matter how you slice it.

Will Lea Fastow’s trial be moved?

I guess I hadn’t been following the recent Enron goings-on all that closely, because I was unaware that Lea Fastow’s lawyers had petitioned for a change of venue, a request that the judge will rule on shortly. I knew they’d been working on delaying her trial until after her husband’s, a move that failed awhile back. The reason for the change-of-venue request: too many people in Houston, amazingly enough, have heard of Enron and have an opinion on it.

“We have no confidence in people who say they can set aside opinion. We want a jury that doesn’t have opinions,” said Mike DeGeurin, the lead attorney for Lea Fastow, who attended the hearing today. DeGeurin complained that the Houston community has been saturated with publicity, enormously effected and that even just the pictures of Lea Fastow in handcuffs the day of her May 1 arrest creates undue prejudice.

He asked the judge to allow individual questioning of potential jurors by the lawyers and in the judge’s chambers.

DeGeurin suggested Galveston, New Orleans or Austin as alternative settings if Hittner does not agree to extensive questioning of potential jurors.

DeGeurin said that a survey conducted in this federal district about Andrew Fastow showed that 84 percent of people in Houston had heard of his case, but only 54 percent had heard about it in Galveston.

I’ve said it before, and it looks like I’ll have to keep saying it forevermore, but if Andrea Yates can get a fair trial here, then anyone can.

Enron Task Force prosecutor Linda Lacewell agreed to questioning potential jurors but noted that the jury pool need not have ignored all the publicity about Enron.

Lacewell indicated the government does not think preset individual questioning would be necessary.

“A defendant, yes, is entitled to an impartial jury. But she is not entitled to an ignorant or uninformed jury,” Lacewell said.

Damn straight. Let’s get on with this.

What’s Special About This Number?

Here’s a cute site for people who like numbers and random odd facts about them. Clearly, the author missed an opportunity here – what’s special about the number 138 is that it’s the smallest number about which there is nothing special. One can iterate from there, but it’s probably not what he had in mind. Anyway, check it out. Thanks to Binkley for the tip.

Civic silliness

Here’s another example of how private entities can restrict your freedom more effectively than the big, evil guvmint can in some situations. A homeowner named Claire Gonzales in Timbergrove Manor (a neighborhood not far from my own – it’s where the Little League team that I coached played its games) has had “Bill White for Mayor” signs removed from her yard, with a note left behind saying that the signs violate Timbergrove deed restrictions.

Gonzales did what citizens do these days. She went online and found the Web site for Timbergrove Manor Civic Club, to which she voluntarily pays dues. There she found the deed restrictions.

“Section 10. No signs, advertisements, political placards, or billboards shall be erected on any Lot,” except for-sale or rent signs, small signs saying the house is protected by a security service, or plaques awarded by a governmental entity.

Gonzales put the sign back up and delivered a lengthy but respectful letter to Randy Klein, the civic club’s president, protesting the deed restriction and asking that the Civic Club inform all residents “that it is illegal to go on someone else’s property to ‘enforce’ a deed restriction.”

Later her sign was stolen. Some neighbors had Orlando Sanchez signs stolen, she said.

But a deed restriction prohibiting political signs is likely no more legal than the once-common deed restrictions prohibiting the sale of houses to persons other than those of the Caucasian persuasion.

In a 1994 decision, City of Ladue v. Gilleo, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down an ordinance prohibiting political signs in a River Oaks-like suburb of St. Louis.

Stephen Schueler, attorney for the civic club, says this case was different because it dealt with an ordinance, not a deed restriction.

“These restrictions are agreed to before they purchase the property,” he said.

In reference to racist deed restrictions, Schueler says, “There are certain deed restrictions that the courts have held are so against public policy that they cannot be enforced.”

He believes the restriction of political signs is not in that category, but it’s not at all clear the Supreme Court would agree.

In a 1971 case, the court said, “Speech on public issues occupies the ‘highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values’ and is entitled to special protection.” Can a person be forced to sign away something so valuable in order to buy a house?

Good question. The right answer is pretty clear to me.

I should note here that I’m not anti-deed restrictions. Our neighborhood has them, and I enthusiastically support them. Our restrictions are there to prevent developers from subdividing lots and building to the property line, which is the only option we have in our zoning-free city. I also don’t object to restricting yard signs to a reasonable degree, but this is a pretty clearcut case of taking a well-intentioned idea way too far. As such, we now need a state entity to come in and enforce the rights that a private entity wants to deny. Don’t you just love irony?

(For an earlier example of private entities restricting your rights, see here. At least Timbergrove appears to be an equal-opportunity sign-remover, unlike some other neighborhoods.)

“24” season three

Man, I love 24. I think Season 3 is going to kick even more butt. Don’t read this Chronicle story about the season premier until and unless you’ve seen it.

I gotta get me the season 1 and 2 DVDs…

One week to go

Election day is a week from today, so the most expensive mayoral race in Houston’s history is, well, not exactly drawing to a close, but about to enter a new phase. Greg notes that Sylvester Turner has the most cash on hand right now, so he should be in good shape to get his supporters out on Tuesday. He also notes that George Strong has projected a Sanchez/White runoff, but Turner’s total is sufficiently close to White’s to keep him from resting easily. Strong has presumably made some different assumptions about turnout than this poll, which shows White leading Sanchez and Turner by 38-32-26. It’s a Survey USA poll, though, with a 4.7% margin of error, so take it with some salt.

Meanwhile, Kevin thinks Turner might be stronger in a runoff against Sanchez than White would, and Steve Bates has already cast his ballot for Turner. Early voting ends Friday, so there’s not much time to waste.

We got a mailer from the Sanchez campaign today that was a total “Bill White is a big Clinton-loving LIBERAL!!!” piece, including the de rigeur grainy photo of White with Her Hillaryness, presumably taken during a weekly meeting of the Communists for Totally Confiscatory Taxes Club. Some free advice, Orlando: If you’re still courting voters who aren’t already Republicans, this is probably not your most effective message.

I know who I’m voting for in the Mayoral and Controller races, but I still have to figure out who I’m voting for in some of the Council races. It’s hard to judge some of the candidates because they either have no websites (something I completely fail to understand in this day and age – more on that in a later post) or their websites are, for lack of a better word, crappy. Since I got such good information on Adrian Garcia and Diana Davila Martinez by writing about my indecision in District H earlier, I’ll try again. If any of the following candidates want to contact me and give a short pitch as to why I and anyone reading this should vote for you, pleaes drop me a note at kuff-at-offthekuff-dot-com: Andrew Burks, Brian Wozniak, Peter Brown, Jolanda Jones, Sue Lovell, Ronald Green, Dwight Boykins, and Beulah Shepard. Short notice, I know, but at least you know people have started to pay attention.

A couple of sites of interest

It’s a bit late in the game for this, but Rock the Vote is sponsoring a contest aimed at registering people to vote. They’ve got some good prizes, and it’s certainly a worthy cause, so check it out. The contest ends on October 31, so don’t dawdle.

Also new on the radar screen is American Choices by E The People, which aims to help people understand foreign policy debates. The design is cool, and they appear to have some useful stuff, so click over and take a look.

Space couple together at last

Those crazy kids Yuri Malenchenko and Yekaterina Dmitriyeva, who got married while he was aboard the International Space Station (see here, here, and here for the details) are finally together after a near-perfect touchdown in Kazakhstan, meaning they can finally have their honeymoon.

“It’s wonderful. Now I just have to wait for a few hours and I’ll see him — for real, not by phone,” [Dmitriyeva] reported [from Moscow].

“Yuri is always full of energy,” she said. “I cannot even say how excited I am.”

That kinda borders on Too Much Information, but what the heck, they’re newlyweds. Knock yourselves out, y’all.

Mexico City: The next franchise frontier

The Chron has a longish article about the prospects of an American sports franchise moving to or being founded in Mexico City. It has the standard reasons why a league (most likely the NBA or Major League Baseball) might do this, but I think it overlooks some obvious reasons why not.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle will be finding a suitable stadium. The mayor has talked of two options — building a new stadium in the district of Azcapotzalco (the northwest part of the city) or renovating and covering the existing Foro Sol, home of Mexico City’s Diablos Rojos of the Mexican Baseball League.

I can think of two other hurdles that would need to be surmounted before anything serious happens. One is distance, as Mexico City is about 700 miles from Houston. It’s a five-hour flight to Mexico City from New York, not much less than a flight to Los Angeles. Any franchise located there will easily have the most grueling travel schedule in its league. Probably not a deal-breaker, but it’s a burden on that club both in terms of player recruitment and player fatigue.

More important is the question of currency. Canadian teams are often at a disadvantage in signing and retaining players because they pay in Canadian dollars and are subject to Canadian taxes. I can’t imagine any player accepting his salary in pesos, and I can’t help but think that having to continually exchange between pesos and dollars will be a big headache, not to mention a unique operating expense. Again, this may or may not be a dealbreaker, but it certainly deserves a mention in a story about the feasibility of locating a franchise in Mexico.

I do think southward expansion is coming, perhaps as a single franchise up front, perhaps as a subsidiary league a la the World League of American Football. It’s been talked about for some time now, though, and I’m not convinced we’re any closer to overcoming the associated obstacles than we were back in 1994 when the Oilers and Cowboys played their exhibition game in Azteca Stadium. I figure I’ll read a lot more of these articles before I read one about an actual relocation or expansion.

UPDATE: I stand corrected. As Greg V. notes in the comments, Canadian sports franchises pay salaries in American dollars as a rule. Of course, while that does mean they shouldn’t have problems with player recruitment as I had thought, the fact that they generate revenues in Canadian dollars serves to support the point I was making: currency conversion issues, especially for a team that will be operating in Mexico, will be a significant obstacle to overcome before a franchise can be located there.

Strayhorn pounds Perry again

It’s Carole vs. Rick again, in what’s sure to be the longest-running soap opera between now and 2006.

On Monday, Strayhorn repeated her earlier attacks against Perry over budget cuts in health care and funding deficiencies in the public schools and added community colleges to her list.

“The community college finance system was built around the notion that the state should cover instructional costs and the local (college) district should be responsible for providing the buildings and other facilities,” she said.

“This administration, however, has not funded the formula at a level where the state’s paying the full cost of instruction. Instead, community colleges through local revenues have been paying a chunk of instructional costs, as well as paying for facilities.”

The comptroller said community colleges, which raise local revenue from property taxes, will see a further decline in state funding while their enrollments continue to increase.

The state funded 67 percent of the instructional formula in 2002-03, but that will drop to 52 percent during the 2004-05 biennium, Strayhorn added.

“That’s unacceptable,” she said.

You think Presidential campaigns are long? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

I still have, and will probably always have, my issues with our Comptroller and her self-aggrandizing ways. I may never fully forgive her for sandbagging on the 2003 revenue projections and for blaming the shortfall on the 2001 Lege. She still doesn’t have the right solutions – raising cigarette taxes and promoting video gambling are short term fixes that do nothing to address the erosion of the sales tax base and the continued upward pressure on local property taxes – but she’s consistently right on about the problems and Governor Perry’s utter inability to even recognize them. If she doesn’t make Greg‘s party-switching dreams come true, I will have to give serious thought to voting for her in the 2006 GOP primary. We already get the Republican campaign mail, so what the hell.

On being a top blogger

Halley Suitt has brought up an issue that’s come up in the past: is there gender bias in the blog world? Says she:

This week as we looked into the Perseus Study, which David Weinberger linked to in his excellent post “When Blogs Get Really Popular” to find out that “56% of hosted blogs” are created by women.

Connect that with Dana Blankenhorn’s interesting post on Corante called Everybody Wants To Rule The World and his assessment that the most striking thing one might notice when reading Blogstreet’s 100 Most Influential Blogs is how many are about politics … call me crazy, but isn’t the MOST STRIKING THING rather that in a new technology dominated by women so few women are in the list? This would be like reading a list of the Most Influential Civil Rights Leaders and not having any African Americans in the top 100. Imagine a list that read “Lyndon Johnson, Bob Dylan, Robert Kennedy, Joan Baez,” and on and on. Martin Luther who?

Halley undercounted the number of female-written or -cowritten blogs (she guessed three; it’s more like 20) in the Top 100 list, a point that was noted later on. She goes on to ask a great question:

Which, of course, gets us to the definition of “influential” and Blogstreet’s algorithm for determining who is influential. They say it is based on who blogrolls whom. I will email them today to ask about this in greater detail. If you look at some of the most influential blogger’s blogrolls, they all have women listed. Many have the same women listed — so how is it that none of these women are on the Top 100 list? Women like Shelley Powers, Virginia Postrel, Mena Trott, GnomeGirl Cheyenne, Jeneane Sessum, Elaine Kalily, Asparagirl, Esther Dyson, Karlin Lillington, Elizabeth Spiers, Reverse Cowgirl, Denise Howell, Moxie, Betsy Devine, Xeni, Susan Mernit, Jennifer Balderama, Amy Wohl, Jenny (Shifted Library) Levine, Elizabeth Lane Lawley. I am throwing this list up in no particular order — actually referring to the top 5 male blogger’s blogrolls. [If I forgot you, remind me.]

It’s clear that the top male bloggers are not denying women their blogroll inks, for the most part. It’s clear that the top male bloggers take every chance to list women bloggers and engage the topics that they raise. These men are too smart not to take us seriously. We are their colleagues, friends, girlfriends, sisters, bosses, moms, daughters. They want the best for us. Guys, feel free to blogroll us anytime.

Still we are almost inviisble and I want to know why. What are we doing wrong? Are we not publishing our blogs in RSS? Are we not promoting ourselves enough? Are we not expressing ourselves clearly? Our footprint is illegible, although our actual influence is not inconsequential. If you take a look at the list of women above, there are a few pioneers listed who could actually be considered founding fathers … whoops, I mean, founding mothers, no, … well you get the idea.

As it happens, Ginger does a swell job addressing these queries in the comments here. I have a couple of additional thoughts.

First, as far as I can tell, being among the Top 100 Most Influential Blogs is like being one of the top prizewinners on the Professional Bowlers’ Tour, without the money and glamour. It’s a big deal to a very small audience, and meaningless to everyone else. For what it’s worth, I get something like one or two referrals a month from that Top 100 list, according to my Sitemeter stats, so even within this small audience, it has little practical effect beyond a button on my sidebar and some egoboo.

Second, despite Ginger’s skepticism about the “women blog personally and men blog politically” meme, all I can say is that counting expats and at least one blog that hasn’t updated since February, there are 14 blogs among the 91 Texas political blogs that I know of which are at least co-written by women. Given Ginger’s accurate observations about how Blogstreet compiles its list, if this ratio is representative (which of course it doesn’t have to be), it goes a long way towards explaining the discrepancy.

Compare this, by the way, to the list of all Houston bloggers, a group that’s overwhelmingly nonpolitical. Just click on a few at random – they’re mostly written by women. For sure, turnout at the various get-togethers we have are usually majority female. I don’t see a single blog in the Blogstreet list that’s in the personal-diary style that most of the H-Town Blogs are.

I don’t know what Blogstreet’s algorithm is, and I don’t know if being a “most influential” blog is something anyone should worry about. I do know that every time this issue comes up, a bunch of interesting and new-to-me blogs written by women get publicized here and there. That’s reason enough to be happy to see it again.

(Link to Halley’s post via Joanne McNeil.)

Help wanted

This is somewhat unusual, but I’m willing to try this out once and see what happens. I received the following email from a reader:

Do you know who (attorneys) are all involved beyond the ones you listed in your June 27 piece?

Major curiosity here that has implications with a legal hearing I am having in the near future. My attorney dumped my case to supposedly go to work on Dan’s…Won’t give his name as the above mentioned hearing is one of those “closed” ones that the legal system blinds us all to their machinisms.

It would be a GREAT help to know if in fact this individual did actually go to work on Dan’s team.

The post to which this reader refers has to do with the legal travails of our former Attorney General, Dan Morales. If anyone reading this has any knowledge about who is currently on Morales’ legal team and is willing/able to share it, please drop me a note at kuff-at-offthekuff-dot-com, and I will pass it along. Thanks!

It’s good to be rich

It’s been said that Bambi was the best piece of anti-hunting propaganda ever produced. From this description of two new reality-based TV shows, there are some new contenders for the title of best anti-wealth propaganda out there.

Television’s embarrassment of rich kids begins this week on cable’s two most trend-setting channels. HBO presents the documentary Born Rich at 9 tonight, followed Tuesday by MTV’s Rich Girls at 9:30 p.m.

As you might guess, Rich Girls is the more lighthearted, if less entertaining, of the two. It replaces the courageously stupid adventures of marginal pop idols with the materialistic odysseys of Tommy Hilfiger’s teenage daughter Ally and her best friend, Jaime Gleicher.

How Rich Girls and Born Rich will strike the average viewer just scraping by, though, is hard to say. If you have any element of class consciousness in you, enjoying these socialites can be difficult.

[…]

Go ahead, nod in wistful appreciation as Gleicher declares, “Shopping is a drug. It’s my drug.” Force a giggle as Jaime laments being used by false friends while sharing a lollipop with her teacup Maltese, Star. But just in case we begin to think them shallow, spoiled brats, Ally says: “Just because we’re rich doesn’t mean we’re not good people.”

Since we don’t see the girls hammering any nails into a Habitat for Humanity home, we’ll just have to take her at her word.

On the flip side, the kids in Born Rich are brutal in their honesty, but in a way you kind of appreciate, like the whole “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it” line.

[Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie] Johnson directed the film as part of his 21st-birthday quest to figure out what he called “the voodoo of inherited wealth.” To help, he called upon moneyed pals such as Georgianna Bloomberg, S.I. Newhouse IV, Ivanka Trump and Josiah Hornblower, heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes, all sources of forthright interviews about the taboo subject of wealth.

“I live in a country that everyone wants to believe is a meritocracy,” he says as the documentary opens on a Gatsbyesque celebration overflowing with champagne. “We want to think that everyone earns what they have. I guess if it makes you feel better, keep telling yourself that.”

Blunt but refreshingly honest. The same can’t be said of most his subjects; the unabashedly snobbish statements of model, socialite and all-around jerk Cody Franchetti, who feels “no moral obligation for anyone,” might make the average kindhearted person green with illness, not envy.

I’m imaginging a campaign ad showing some of these kids with captions like “George Bush wants to give these people a tax cut. He thinks giving them a tax cut will help you get a job. Democrats think the best way to help the average American is to actually help the average American. Heirs and heiresses don’t need any more help.” I bet that would have an effect. I’m currently HBO-disabled, since we’re between Sopranos seasons, so I won’t be able to see if director Johnson softens the impact on some of his buddies, but if I were to place a wager, I’d say the Democrats should be prepared to inquire about licensing the rights to this sucker.

Bringing the suburbs into town

An interesting article from Sunday about the battles, philosophical and otherwise, between residents in Midtown, which is just south of downtown Houston, and developers. Midtown is one of the few places now where you can see real mixed-use development. With its close proximity to downtown, and with the free downtown shuttle that passes through, it’s an attractive place for people who don’t want a long commute to live.

IAN Rosenberg watches every move in Midtown. A passionate advocate of urban living, he has been pleased with some of the neighborhood’s development.

But the sight of a bulldozer at Gray and Bagby makes his blood boil.

He and other Midtown community leaders are trying to create something unique in Houston: a charming neighborhood where people walk to their favorite bookshop, diner, movie house and grocery — a bustling retail and residential mix.

It’s a challenge, because they’re going against the Houston grain.

At Gray and Bagby, CVS Pharmacy is constructing a suburban-style store, with a parking lot in front, next to the spot Midtown leaders are holding up as the model of what the neighborhood should be. They say the drugstore’s suburban design may destroy much of what they’re trying to do.

The CVS/Midtown conflict is emblematic of a bigger struggle in Houston, pitting the developer-friendly, suburban car culture against the effort to create a walkable urban environment designed to attract the “creative class” of young professionals who are said to drive 21st century economies.

CVS sees it differently: Focused on the present, it wants to lure the tens of thousands of commuters driving to and from downtown each day with easy parking.

“You can’t have a store that looks pretty but creates barriers to customer use,” said Todd Andrews, CVS’ director of corporate communications. “They’ll go somewhere else.”

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I think CVS is wrong, as Midtown really didn’t exist a decade ago and is pretty clearly populated by people who want to live in a mixed-use area, but that doesn’t mean it will suffer at the cash register. It’s only now that amenities like drugstores and grocery stores are being built in this area, and so residents may not have much choice about who they patronize unless they want to drive elsewhere, which defeats the whole point. On the other hand, the more pedestrian-friendly Randall’s may wind up giving CVS a lesson in being a good neighbor. It’ll be fun to watch.

Mayoral race gets ugly down the home stretch

Well, we’ve seen the Sanchez and White camps go negative lately, and now there’s a flyer being circulated by some fringe elements which accuses Bill White and several City Council candidates of conspiring to “eliminate black leadership”.

After a decorous debate earlier this month, the mayoral candidates and their entourages emerged from a local television station to find splashy fliers pinned under the windshield wipers of their cars.

“Is Bill White secretly funding a campaign to eliminate black leadership?” the flier read as it advertised a town hall meeting in the Third Ward to “preserve black leadership now.” The meeting was convened by grass-roots activists, including Robert Muhammad of the Nation of Islam, Quanell X of the New Black Panther Party and several Baptist ministers.

They apparently were reacting to news stories about a scheme to dilute the share of mayoral candidate White’s vote by getting another man with the same name to run for mayor. Candidate White paid a woman engineering the scheme $5,000 after she abandoned it, and she claimed she had been paid by Sylvester Turner’s campaign to put it together. Turner angrily denied any connection, and his supporters suggested White was trying to discredit Turner.

That fake-Bill-White story still has legs, doesn’t it? It’s not front and center, but it’s still there, and if this effort is taken at all seriously, it could really hurt White in a runoff.

Anyway, the story has some intriguing angles in it.

White’s campaign says the attacks are unfounded and unfair.

“It’s offensive, especially for those of us who know how committed Bill is to inclusion,” said White campaign spokeswoman Myra Jolivet, who is black. “That inclusion is very visible in our campaign. You can come over to our headquarters any day and see people of every ethnicity, race and walk of life.”

Other racial overtones are peculiar to this race.

Former Harris County Democratic Chairwoman Sue Schechter, a former state representative who worked alongside Turner in the House and has endorsed him, says most of her white Democratic friends automatically assumed she would back White.

“Turner’s done incredible work in the time he’s been in the Legislature and no one can dispute that. He’s also speaker pro tem and serves on the appropriations committee overseeing the state’s budget. Why can’t that be enough to show he can be trusted? It’s a subtle racial issue that I’m arguing over and over everyday,” Schechter says.

“The money factor also poses the same kind of racial barrier because there are not that many minorities in the upper financial echelon here to do what White is doing,” she adds, pointing to the more than $2 million of his own money White is pouring into his campaign.

[Marc] Campos, the Turner consultant, bluntly calls it “the great white hope factor.”

“A lot of white Democrats, particularly in this state, are frustrated because there’s less and less opportunity for them to vote for other white Democrats. Most single-member districts go for minorities and most Republicans vote for whites,” Campos says.

You know, somewhere Grover Norquist is reading this and patting himself on the back. Do we really need to make his job any easier? For what it’s worth, Marc, this white Democrat is frustrated because there’s less and less opportunity to vote for Democrats who win. Think about that for awhile and get back to me when you’re ready to talk about it.

Over on today’s editorial page, Andrea Georgsson adds a little gasoline to the fire by speculating about Turner as Houston’s Ralph Nader. After concluding that “voters who want a competent mayor” must choose between White and Turner, she wonders if voting for Turner will ultimately help Sanchez.

The nail-biting decision for many voters who support Turner is that they might be throwing their vote away on him, either by preventing Bill White from winning outright — dubious — or putting Turner in a runoff with Sanchez, where Turner could lose in a two-man match-up. As much as some might want to see Turner win what he, some say unfairly, lost to Bob Lanier in ’91, they don’t want to live with the kind of regrets some Democrats have because they voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000, sinking Al Gore’s candidacy and putting George W. Bush in the White House.

The real question is why there is this undercurrent to Turner’s campaign. Is it lingering doubt that there really was something to the news reports linking Turner to a scandal, one that most people have long forgotten the details of? Or is it because Turner is black? Some people believe that some voters won’t vote for a black candidate no matter what his qualifications are. Some people believe that because Mayor Lee Brown — despite his successes on rail, the new ballpark, the new football stadium, the convention center hotel, the Super Bowl — is perceived to have been a mediocre black mayor, Turner will be tainted because he’s also black.

Turner, for his part, has worked hard to court broad support. He shows a certain amount of frustration with race-based questions: He answered a question about whether Houstonians would be willing to elect a second black mayor in a row with glossed-over, but obvious frustration.

Naturally, many voters will agree with the Chronicle Editorial Board that Bill White would be the best choice for Houston’s next mayor. But if voters look at Turner’s record and qualifications, decide he is the best candidate and then reject him because they don’t believe he can beat Orlando Sanchez, then Houston has not come as far as I have so fervently hoped.

Brown has been a mediocre mayor, full stop. I think Turner would be a decent mayor, I just think he’s the second best candidate behind White. I also think White has a much better shot at beating Sanchez in a runoff than Turner would, though I will certainly support Turner in that runoff. If someone wants to impute racial motives into that, I can’t stop them.

New State Democratic Party chair

I don’t really have much to say about the election of Charles Soechting as the state Democratic Party chair on an interim basis to finish out Molly Beth Malcolm’s term, but StoutDem, Greg Wythe and Andrew D all do. Sounds like this isn’t over yet. I just have one request of the powers that be in the state party: Can we all remember that we’re supposed to be fighting against the Republican Party? You know, those guys who win all the elections? Thanks.

Jon Matthews off the air

Good grief, how in the world did I miss this?

Popular radio talk show host Jon Matthews is off the air and we’ve learned Sugar Land police are investigating him.

Houstonians have been listening to the conservative radio talk show host for more than 15 years. He’s a former Marine with loyal listeners, but on Friday those listeners didn’t hear him because his boss took him off the air.

“I think that was the best thing to do,” said KSEV General Manager Dan Patrick.

Patrick yanked Matthews off the air after learning from Eyewitness News about the investigation and then speaking to detectives.

“I just told him, ‘John, since there’s an investigation going on, it’s just not the wise thing for you to be on the air until all the facts are known’,” said Patrick.

The Sugar Land Police Department would not talk about this case on camera, but they do say on the record that they’re investigating Matthews after an allegation of indecency with a child. They are, however, reluctant to release any specifics.

Sugar Land Police Captain Mike Lund says, “We have an ongoing investigation and I’m not going to go there.”

Matthews shut the door on us when we tried to talk to him on Friday. He wouldn’t discuss the investigation. His boss hopes people will reserve judgment until the truth is determined by police or a jury.

“Let the investigation play out,” said Patrick. “Let’s see if there are any charges brought, if there are not. I don’t know what else you’d like me to say.”

Congressman John Culberson, who appears weekly on Matthews’ show says he can’t imagine the talk show host being involved in any indecency with a child. He said “I just can’t even imagine…I refuse to believe it…It must be a mistake.”

It’s important to stress that at this time, Matthews has not been arrested or charged with any crime.

Via Atrios. Finding this story explains a comment that was left yesterday on an older post of mine, one which shows the type of discourse that Jon Matthews is famous for. I’ll keep my eyes open for any updates on this.

UPDATE: Since everyone seems to be coming to this post via their Google searches, an update is posted here.

Congrats to the Marlins

Congratulations to the Florida Marlins, a very deserving World Series champion. Josh Beckett was amazing, and he needed to be since Andy Pettite pitched very well also. I’m rather surprised that the one name no one mentioned during the game last night in talking about Beckett was Johnny Podres, who threw a 2-hit shutout in Game 7 of the 1955 Series to give the Brooklyn Dodgers their only title. Whoever you want to compare Beckett and his effort to, the comparison will be favorable to the Marlin hurler.

The Yankees, by necessity, will be a very different team next year. I’ve got a longish post working on that, but I’m a little too depressed to do it right now. Enjoy it while you can, all you Yankee haters. We’ll be back.

September traffic report

Better get to this before October ends – September continued a trend of Best Months Ever, a trend that will be broken this month thanks both to a perfect storm of events that pushed me to new heights and my travel schedule. Some 33,000 visitors stopped by last month, drawn here by the soon-to-be-resolved redistricting saga, the What Texas Democrats Should Do Next blogburst, and National Talk Like A Pirate Day, which attracted gobs of search engine requests. As always, thanks to everyone for reading and for returning. I really appreciate it.

Top referrers and search terms are under the More link.

(more…)

Texans for True Mobility and anonymity

This is hard for me to comprehend.

[Ed Wulfe, the Houston developer who heads Citizens for Public Transportation, the pro-rail political action committee] said Texans for True Mobility’s refusal to reveal its backers demonstrated the organization’s “contempt for voters.” Wulfe further said the organization is running ads based on the “misleading information conjured up by Mr. Culberson” and should pull them off the air.

[Chris Begala, spokesman for Texans for True Mobility] said the campaign had no plans to do so and called Wulfe’s demands “absolutely ludicrous.”

The backers of Texans for True Mobility did not wish to reveal themselves to the public, Begala said, because “they are scared of (retaliation from) very powerful entities affecting their ability to live and work in this community.”

There’s a lot of anonymous bloggers out there, and I respect their reasons for doing so. Hell, there are times when I wish I’d chosen to use a nom de blog. I started writing this post as a snarky attack on the TTM supporters who refuse to make themselves known, but I can’t quite do it without attacking the principle of anonymity in political discourse, and that’s not a step I’m prepared to take.

That said, I have a hard time taking the TTM members’ stated reason for wanting anonymity seriously. We’re not talking about lowly proles who are worried about being fired or evicted for being troublemakers. We’re talking about people who have the wherewithal to make contributions, very likely large contributions, to a political action committee. People like this have money, power, and connections. They are, in short, very powerful entities themselves, and they would very much be not without recourse if there were retaliation against them for their contributions. What are they really afraid of? If it’s the idea of being associated with this anti-transit group, then maybe they should think about why it engenders such shame in them.

There’s another point to consider here, which is that we just have Chris Begala’s word for it that it really is individuals who are balking at having their names released and not corporations. I’ll say it again: the notion that there’s a First Amendment right for corporations to make anonymous campaign contributions is ludicrous on its face.

Finally, as Rick Casey notes, the pro-rail side has no such compunctions about being publicly known, and as I noted before, the fact that TTM is exploiting a legal loophole to be anonymous seriously undercuts any moral force they may have to their choice. If these guys want to be players, they ought to have the guts to appear in the scorecard.

Houston’s electronic voting machines

Harris County has had electronic voting machines for some time now. Not the crappy Diebold machines, but that doesn’t mean that people haven’t been voicing concerns about them since before their adoption. Recent events have not done anything to change skeptics’ minds.

Birnberg said some voters don’t trust the machines because there is no way to prove to them that the vote counts are accurate and confidential.

“If you have ever hooked up a computer, you know they come with glitches,” he said.

In the 2002 election, about 25 local Democratic voters complained that they used eSlate to select a “straight party” vote for every Democrat on the ballot, only to find on the summary screen that the machine had not recorded a vote for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Ron Kirk, Birnberg said. The voters were able to go back and mark a vote for Kirk before pressing the “cast ballot” button, but suspicion was born.

Election workers impounded the eSlates in question, checked them and found no sign of a technical problem, Kaufman said.

She said the voters may have been confused by campaign literature urging them to vote for Kirk and all other Democratic candidates. Choosing the “straight party” option and then marking a single candidate might make the machine “de-select” that candidate.

Birnberg surmises that voters accidentally pressed a different sequence of buttons that somehow canceled some of their votes, meaning the machines — not the voters — made a mistake.

The Democratic chairman acknowledged that because of the Florida voting debacle and more recent controversies such as the drawing of new boundaries for U.S. House districts in Texas, Democrats across the nation are on edge about voting systems chosen by GOP election officials.

In contrast, Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill said voters seem satisfied with eSlate and that he has heard no complaints.

I suppose when you’re winning all the elections it’s easier to feel comfortable with the equipment. Be that as it may, there are nonpartisan questions as well.

“The burden is not on me to say it is flawed. The burden on them is to prove it is safe and they have not done that,” Rice University computer science professor Dan Wallach said of electronic voting system manufacturers, including eSlate’s.

Election officials test voting machines to see if they have recorded votes correctly, but Wallach said the machines can be programmed to report they have worked correctly when in fact they have not. So when local officials said they have found no evidence of tampering or error, that is not evidence that such a thing never took place.

Like some of his counterparts at other colleges, Wallach says the best voting system would use machines like eSlate only as sophisticated printers that produce paper ballots, which would then be tabulated by a computerized “optical scanner” like the ones used to produce standardized academic test scores. Creating a “paper trail” would increase voters’ confidence that their selections are recorded correctly and provide an independent backup record for all votes, Wallach said.

Full disclosure: Dan’s a good friend of mine. He’s also absolutely right, and I think his quote about the eSlate machines should be the mantra of every skeptic across the country. All they have to do is make their code available to outside experts. I have no sympathy to their wailing about their competitors possibly seeing it. This is too important for that.

Those pesky EPA rules

I found out about this through editorials: The Double Secret Energy Bill, which the Republicans in Congress are working on and the rest of us proles will only learn about 48 hours before it’s up for a vote, contains a provision that would give nonattainment areas, such as Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, another two years to get in shape. One can argue the merits or demerits of such an idea, but wouldn’t it have been nice to have known about them in order to argue them, instead of finding out about it by accident? Rep. Joe Barton is the culprit here, and he gets taken to task by the WaPo and the DMN. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who unlike Barton actually represents Dallas, also chastises him. Not fully related, but still amusing and worthwhile, is this Toles cartoon.

Unintelligently Designed Policy

The title to this post is cribbed from Angry Bear, who reminds me that the forces of darkness are gathering again in Texas for the annual vote on textbook purchases. From Bob Park’s What’s New newsletter.

3. INTELLIGENT DESIGN: URGENT APPEAL TO TEXAS SCIENTISTS.

The Texas Board of Education has scheduled the science textbook vote for November 6. The books they approve will be used by Texas students for several years and will influence the choice in many other states. The Discovery Institute, based in Washington state, pushes I.D., and seeks to dilute arguments for evolution. C.A. Quarles, the Chair of the Texas Section of APS, is gathering signatures on a letter to the Texas Board of Education. For info Texas scientists and teachers should e-mail [email protected].

As in many states, the state Board of Education here was hijacked by the religious right some years ago, and this is the fruit that their efforts have borne. This is an issue that never goes away, and since Texas is the 900 pound gorilla of textbook purchases, what happens here will affect you next.

Reponse from Diana Davila Martinez

As I mentioned earlier, I got a call from Diana Davila Martinez after I’d published an email from Diane Mosier of the Greater Heights Democratic Club. Ms. Davila Martinez objected to some of the things that had been said about her, and I promised her an opportunity to respond. Here’s the email she sent me, so you can judge for yourself.

Let me start by saying that we are excited about the widespread support we are receiving in this effort. In addition to the Houston Chronicle endorsement I am proud to have received yesterday, I have been endorsed by Houston Voters Against Flooding, Council Members Gordan Quan and Carroll Robinson, State Representative Harold Dutton, Former District H City Council Member Felix Fraga, Latina PAC, HCC Trustees Bruce Austin and Herlinda Garcia, Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Vicinity, Houston Black American Democrats and Harris County Democratic Party Secretary Francisco Sanchez.

While I understand politics well, I like most voters detest backroom politics and strong armed maneuvers by political bosses. I am very disappointed that several organizations, including HGLPC and Harris County Democrats, totally denied me, the only candidate with a solid voting record of support for their issues, the opportunity to even screen before them.

I am a Democrat, one that not only espouses the principles of the party, but has as a State Representative for three terms fought hard to implement them in
public policy. I have been a strong voice on redistricting, affirmative action, labor issues, education, women’s rights, and civil rights. And contrary to some of the misinformation that is being circulated or insinuated about me, I am not supporting any Republican candidates and I have not received any money from Mr. Perry.

As a candidate, being afforded a fair opportunity to present my qualifications and what I hope to accomplish through this office is all I can ask of voters. I grew up in District H and I’m rearing my boys in District H. District H will be well served with my academic training and legislative experience. I intend to be a strong independent voice on Council who can effectively represent the residents of District H.

So there you have it. It’s a difficult choice in District H, but at least it’s a choice between good candidates rather than lesser evils. I expect that either Davila Martinez or Adrian Garcia will wind up in a runoff with Hector Longoria, and when that happens I will support whoever that person is.

Friday dog blogging

Let Calpundit have his cats. For those of us right-thinking people who prefer dogs, here’s a great article in the Times about how to tell where someone lives in the City by what kind of dog they own. Be sure to look at the slide show – in the second picture, the one that features the jumping fox terrier named Bosco, the dog next to Bosco looks an awful lot like Harry, enough so that I’m starting to wonder just what he was up to while we were in Paris.

Speaking of Paris, it’s another city that’s full of dogs, and unlike most places in the States, they’re allowed to go pretty much anywhere their owners want to take them. We saw them in the lobby of our hotel, in the Galeries Lafayette department store, and in various restaurants. One side effect of taking your dog everywhere is that it gets to be very socialized, and thus more comfortable in crowded, noisy situations. Only once in the entire week do I recall hearing a dog bark. Keep that in mind the next time you’re swearing about a yapping dog in a backyard somewhere.