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May 10th, 2009:

Weekend link dump for May 10

M is for the many links she brought me…

I know we’ve never gotten those flying cars that were promised us. But I could settle for an invisible car.

Wanna buy the original recipe for Dr Pepper?

Leave Janet Jackson’s nipple aloooooooooone!

Our Republicans may be crazy here in Texas, but even they aren’t quite as crazy as Oklahoma Republicans. As far as we know, anyway.

“Why would you promote Sessions?”

From the cold case files: Gauguin and Van Gogh.

I know exactly how Joe the Plumber feels. I personally don’t allow egregious, phony rightwing hacks anywhere near my children. I’m sure he’d be understanding about that.

Does your Congressperson really represent your district? Here’s one way to tell.

You know, I’d often wondered just what exactly it is Paris Hilton does all day. And I’m still wondering.

I was disinclined to believe a lot of the latest A-Rod allegations anyway. Now I’m glad to see that this inclination was perfectly justified.

How the Texas GOP thinks.

Twitter @reply spam. Had to happen sooner or later.

Translating “Garfield” into Japanese and then back into English. Somewhat more hilarity than you get with unadulterated “Garfield” results.

Eat faster, weigh more. Maybe.

Note to any city of Houston employees who might be in possession of naughty pictures of themselves or a coworker: Do not hide said naughty pictures in the ceiling tiles of the Mayor’s office. That trick never works.

A legislative agenda for moms.

Happy Mother’s Day, everyone. Now put this blog down and go call your Mom already.

Metro’s costs and critics

I have two things to say about this story regarding different cost estimates for the construction of the four remaining light rail lines.

The price tag for the city’s four new light rail lines will be: A) $1.46 billion; B) $1.9 billion; C) impossible to say exactly until they’re built; D) all of the above.

The correct answer is D. Confused? So are some Metro critics, who claim the transit agency is hiding the true costs of the 20-mile expansion. The Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to build four new lines by 2012.

Metro learned Friday that $150 million in federal funds has been designated for the North and Southeast lines in President Barack Obama’s proposed 2010 budget.

“We’ve never had this much enthusiasm about rail in Houston as this, from the federal government,” said U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, who pushed for the funds.

Jackson Lee said the city has had trouble in the past getting federal support because of lack of local agreement and momentum on light rail. Now, she said, “We have a fair amount of consensus.”

Yet consensus remains elusive when it comes to the total bill facing taxpayers. Metro critic Paul Magaziner, for example, has accused the agency of “strategic misrepresentation” for not including land purchases and the possibility of cost overruns in its public pronouncements.

Metro officials told the Chronicle that they are being “open and transparent” during this planning period, but that the different price tags reflect various ways of calculating the cost of a massive construction project.

The story and its headline both refer to “critics”, but the only critic mentioned is Paul Magaziner, who as far as I can tell from a Google search is a fellow who attends Metro meetings and criticizes Metro. Which is fine, every governmental agency needs people who keep watch on them, but it would be nice to know who besides one persistent critic is raising the questions on which this story is based. If it really is the case that “some Metro critics” are saying Metro is playing games with cost estimates, then we really ought to hear from more than one critic.

As far as the criticism itself goes, I have to say that for an agency that’s not exactly renowned for its ability to communicate, I thought Metro gave a pretty reasonable accounting of the different numbers. It’s not like there’s ever been a construction project of this size for which the factors affecting the bottom line were set in stone at the beginning and never changed. And in comparison to the initial cost estimates for the Katy Freeway expansion, which as far as I can tell originated in someone’s nether regions, Metro’s figures look pretty darned detailed. I actually feel better about where they stand now. So, thanks for that.

Statewide smoking ban still stuck

It’s stuck in the Senate, which is a bit odd.

The woman standing in the way of a Senate vote is Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who joined [Lance] Armstrong on the Capitol steps in February in a pledge to support it.

Nelson, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, has not allowed a vote on the bill [SB544], frustrating supporters who considered her advocacy a major boost in getting the bill passed into law.

“I have asked over and over again,” said Sen. Rodney Ellis, the Houston Democrat sponsoring the measure. Ellis said Wednesday that Republican Gov. Rick Perry said he’d allow the bill to become law if it gets to his desk.

Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said she was unaware of any conversation the governor had with Ellis, but said Perry would review the smoking ban bill if and when it reaches his desk.

Nelson said she still supports the bill and that there’s time to address it before the session ends June 1.

“Everybody wants to panic,” Nelson said. “Things may shake loose very soon.”
Asked why she hasn’t allowed a vote, Nelson said she and Ellis had “an agreement” but wouldn’t elaborate.

Interestingly, the companion bill HB5 got voted out of State Affairs even though at last report committee chair Rep. Burt Solomons had said he didn’t support it and hadn’t asked committee members about it. Well, a watered-down version that exempts bars and limits it to the 26 counties that have over 115,000 people. (Which is an interesting number to pick. According to the Census, six counties had between 100,000 and 115,000 people in 2000: Ellis, Grayson, Gregg, Potter, Randall, and Tom Green. Midland checked in at 116,000. There may be some debate as to just where this law would apply.) Kudos to him for bringing it up anyway. I don’t know what Sen. Nelson’s master plan is, but the clock is ticking. Thanks to Elise for the tip.

Voting right on climate change

It is, of course, a good thing that President Obama has Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress as he tries to get his agenda implemented. That doesn’t mean he’ll have smooth sailing, of course – between the weirdly ahistorical insistence on a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate to pass anything and the outsized influence of the so-called “moderates”, the upper chamber has been his biggest obstacle so far. But the House can be a challenge as well, as we see in this piece on Rep. Gene Green and the fight over climate change legislation.

A 17-year veteran of Washington politics known for his low-key style and behind-the-scenes approach to legislation, Rep. Gene Green has seen his popularity skyrocket in recent days — at least with lawmakers eager to write new climate change rules.

The celebrity status comes courtesy of Green’s role as one of a handful of moderate Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee. His support is crucial to advancing a sweeping energy and climate change bill.

Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., are courting the Houston Democrat and other wary lawmakers to build backing for their legislation that would cap carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming. Under their bill, power plants, manufacturers and other industrial operations could stay within the new limits by buying and trading emissions allowances, or permits, to spew the pollutant.

The good news for Waxman, Markey and other proponents of the so-called cap-and-trade plan is that Green believes “the United States has to lead” in limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The bad news? Green worries about the potential price tag for oil refiners along the Houston Ship Channel he represents.

“I’d like to vote for a bill,” Green said. “But I’m not going to vote for one unless I think it’s going to be good for the area I represent.”

His eastern Harris County district is home to five refineries and “more chemical plants than I can count.”

Green has told congressional leaders and President Barack Obama that some carbon dioxide emission allowances will have to be given for free to refiners in order to win his support .

Green isn’t the only member of the Texas delegation to present a roadblock. San Antonio’s Rep. Charlie Gonzalez has voiced similar concerns, and gotten some heavy pushback in his district for it. is now running a TV ad in San Antonio urging Rep. Gonzalez to support forward-thinking legislation on climate change. A different ad with the same kind of message is running in Houston – I saw it on KTRK the other night – asking people to call on Rep. Green. Public Citizen, which is among those leading the charge on this, responds to Rep. Green’s concerns. I can appreciate his position, but it’s important to remember that the cost of doing nothing will be far more substantial than any cap-and-trade implementation. Taking action now, however painful it may appear to be, will be cheaper and easier than putting it off and having to take more drastic action later.