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November 22nd, 2009:

Weekend link dump for November 22

Have you started defrosting your turkey yet?

Avoid black luggage. My grandmother used to travel with a piece of puke-green Samsonite that had the letter K (for Kuffner) plastered on it in lime-green masking tape. No one would ever claim to have picked that off the carousel by “accident”.

Scientist announces that she is call girl and blogger Belle de Jour. If someone isn’t working on a movie treatment for this already, my understanding of how the world works will be totally upset.

The Bloggess visits a sex dungeon in Japan (moderately NSFW). What could possibly go wrong?

The cause of all those spam DMs you’re getting on Twitter.

How to get the most out of that all-you-can-eat buffet.

The statistical case for Bill Belichick’s call on 4th and 2. I’d add in the possibility that the Colts score quickly enough after a failure to convert in favor of the call, and add in their frivolous timeout-calling beforehand as a detriment. David Pinto is more sympathetic to Belichick, and gives a parallel situation in baseball. Oh, and here’s the quantum physics explanation of it as well.

The word of the year is “unfriend”.

Bud flips the bird in Buffalo. You think people might be a bit fired up for tomorrow night’s game?

Clearly, the MOB was ahead of its time.

KBH’s “I’m not resigning” speech, annotated.

Jeffy speaks.

Funny, isn’t it, how only some things need to be deficit-neutral.

Rules are for wusses.

Cash for caulkers!

More ways to get ripped off.

House freshman report card.

Now that’s truth in advertising.

Everything you want to know about Chrome OS.

Fame can be a very fickle thing.

Endorsement watch: For Annise

As noted yesterday, the Chronicle endorsed Annise Parker for Mayor in the runoff election.

With city tax revenues eroded by the continuing recession, the next occupant of the office must be a prudent fiscal manager as well as a leader who can make hard decisions on spending priorities. That will require a detailed knowledge of the city departments that deliver services to citizens in order to wisely prioritize cuts and stretch available revenues to the maximum.

At the same time, the new mayor must also be a visionary focused not just on how things are in Houston but how they should be in the coming decades. Despite a hostile economy, the incoming administration will have to continue improving the quality of life in our increasingly urbanized metropolis. That will entail strengthening public safety, reducing air and water pollution, completing an area-wide mass transit system including light rail, and guiding land development to protect the character of long-established residential neighborhoods.

In the general election the Chronicle endorsed both Parker and former city attorney and public agency lawyer Gene Locke, her opponent in the run-off. As we noted then, they each “offer deep roots in the city and a dazzling range of life experiences and public service.” And our endorsement of Parker should not be taken as a diminution of the skills and qualifications of Locke, whose back story as a civil rights activist, steelworker and successful major law firm attorney offers a compelling narrative.

Houstonians are lucky to face such a difficult choice. But Parker’s background and experience offer a better fit for the mayor’s office at this point in time.

Obviously, I agree with all of that. As Nancy Sims points out, the Chron isn’t alone in coming to this conclusion for the runoff. If there is such a thing as campaign momentum, I believe she has it.

On a related note, you probably missed Friday night’s showing of Red, White, and Blue on KUHT channel 8. It was intended to be a straight up debate between Annise Parker and Gene Locke, except that Locke did not attend. So instead, it was a one-on-one conversation between hosts David Jones and Gary Polland and Parker about the issues of importance. It will be rerun tonight at 5:30, or you can watch the YouTube videos below:

Coby and Greg have more.

Sheriff to try again for new jail facility

Sheriff Adrian Garcia wants to take another crack at building a new jail facility. As was the case in 2007, when a referendum to float bonds for a new jail was voted down, this too would be voted on by the public. Garcia recognizes he has work to do to make it happen.

On Tuesday, Commissioners Court is scheduled to consider County Budget Officer Dick Raycraft’s recommendation that his office, the sheriff’s department and the Public Infrastructure Department tackle the jail problem. The result, Raycraft said, could be a recommendation to the court in June to put a jail bond measure on the November 2010 ballot.

[…]

Garcia pledged to be an active participant in the campaign by educating voters on the need for new facilities. In addition, he said, a new bond measure likely would come with the approval of the county’s new Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The council was formed earlier this year to bring together elected officials to find ways to alleviate jail overcrowding.

Garcia’s plan would establish a new booking center that could hold 2,193 prisoners. It would have about 1,200 beds and capacity to hold another 1,000 people for the processing involved in being booked into or released from jail.

Garcia said the current facility is stretched far beyond capacity.

“I’m concerned about the safety of my employees, as well as the safety of the people we’re processing,” he said.

My position on this has not changed. Rather than repeat myself, I’m going to reprint an email sent by Alan Bernstein, Sheriff Garcia’s Director of Public Affairs, to Carl Whitmarsh in response to a previous email that criticized the Sheriff for pursuing a new jail:

When it comes to the county’s long-range planning for its entire criminal justice system, this is not the time for critics to shoot first and ask questions later..

First of all, the discussion of the potential construction of a new Central Processing Center is being promulgated by County Budget Director Dick Raycraft, and Sheriff Garcia is glad the subject is being broached.

Second, what my friend David Jones refers to as a jail is a facility primarily intended to take in and release jail inmates for the city of Houston and the county. (Note the title of the facility). Taking over the city’s booking operation, and having the city reimburse the county for doing so, would eliminate duplicative efforts and spending for both governments. Yes, this facility would also include functions that most think of as jail housing functions, such as better facilities for mentally ill inmates and a separate housing area for many female inmates. But, as supporting documents show, the Central Processing Center will not, and is not intended to, solve the county’s jail population problem by adding new beds. Raycraft’s proposal actually states that the construction proposal would have to be interwoven with the efforts of the new Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to reduce jail population through policy changes at the prosecutorial and judicial level as well as elsewhere.

In other words, the sheriff hopes that the number of inmates sent to him will decrease, but we still need a new processing center.

Third, one of the problems with the bond referendum for such a facility in 2007 is crystal clear in David’s e-mail. It was widely understood to merely be another jail space. This was unfortunate, because the facility primarily is meant for something else, as explained above.

Fourth, the current inmate processing center at the county jail is woefully outmoded, including being cramped with incoming inmates. The sheriff has explained that this creates a potential safety problem for inmates and staff. These are conditions that David and others, I trust, would never condone.

So there you have it. Clearly, as noted in the story, there needs to be a much better effort to communicate what this facility is for. Showing real progress in reducing the inmate population through better bail and probation policies would go a long way as well. Note further that we are apparently headed in the direction of eliminating the city’s jail facility, which is in line with stated objectives of each of the remaining Mayoral candidates. That too will bear watching over the next year as the county readies this proposal for a vote.

UPDATE: Grits pushes back, and spells out what should be done to reduce the inmate population.

UPDATE: Alan Bernstein works a little overtime by leaving the following comment on that Grits post:

So much misinformation!

The new Central Processing Center would not add 2,500 beds. It would add about half that, and reserve most of those for special facilities for females and mentally ill inmates. Its prime function would be booking and releasing for the county and for the city, which would pay the county to take over those functions. Inmates would be sent to existing beds faster, and would be released faster when their jail stay is over. A new front door is not a new bedroom, si?

The current processing center is overrun, cramped, outmoded – presenting an unsafe situation that no one wants. The new facility would never “build our way out” of a jail population problem. The sheriff, the county budget director and others involved acknowledge that by 2014, when this new facility would open, there will have to be new policies in place across the entire justice system to avert a continuing inmate population then. Fortunately, all of those things are already under discussion.

The sheriff is moving forward on multiple fronts. George Parnham, chairman of the sheriff’s mental health advisory committee, last month briefed Commissioners Court about plans for a Reintegration Center for the mentally ill, as an example. But we have to plan now to avoid a continuation of the problems we already have with an outmoded, too-small inmate processing center.

The sheriff has not rejected “cite-and-release” but wants to make sure it would make things better, not backfire, before seriously considering it.

The jail has no “immigrant detainees” other than those who would be there as non-immigrants dealing with criminal charges under state law. The county jail does not house inmates solely because they are facing immigration charges.

The public defender’s office, new bonding policies and other ideas, all of which are beyond the sheriff’s authority, are also being considered already.

What has changed since the “jail” (wrong title, to be fair) bond was rejected in 2007 besides there now being a new sheriff? For one, there is now a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of 11 elected officials who are hashing out the ideas presented on this blog. Many of these officials are restless and eager to move forward.

UPDATE: And here’s Grits’ response to Bernstein’s comment.

2009 Runoff Candidate Meet and Greet

Want to meet the candidates who are in the December 12 runoff? Here’s your chance:

You are invited to attend …

2009 Runoff Candidate Meet and Greet

DECEMBER 3, 2009 – 6:30 PM – The Upper Kirby Building
(details below)

CNU-HoustonHouston TomorrowEmerging Green Builders, and Citizens’ Transportation Coalition are proud to host a Meet and Greet event for the 2009 Houston Runoff Election Candidates.

We’ve invited the following candidates to come to this social event where they can get to know our organization members and friends:

Mayor: Annise Parker, Gene Locke
Controller: Ron Green, MJ Khan
District A: Brenda Stardig, Lane Lewis
District F: Mike Laster, Al Hoang
At-large 1: Stephen Costello, Karen Derr
At-large 2: Sue Lovell, Andrew Burks
At-large 5: Jack Christie, Jolanda Jones

Not only will this event be an excellent chance for us to get to know the runoff candidates, this will be a great opportunity for the members of these organizations to get to know each other better as well. We’re really looking forward to this unique event, and we hope that you’ll join us!

Please let us know you’re coming, this helps us plan our space and refreshment needs!Attend Event

For more information about the sponsoring organizations, follow the links below:

CNU-Houston
Houston Tomorrow
Emerging Green Builders
Citizens’ Transportation Coalition
Event Details:
Thursday, December 3, 2009 from 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM

Here’s a Google map of the location if you need it. Hope you can make it.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, the At Large 5 candidates were inadvertently left out. This has now been corrected. See here or here for more.

Houston Women Fire Fighters Calendar

Via Mike McGuff, the women of the Houston Fire Department have gotten in on the calendar-for-charity act, something their make colleagues have been doing for awhile. Here’s what it’s all about.

Our mission is to represent the diversity, strength, and femininity of the mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives in our department while benefiting breast cancer research and assistance programs locally. Our service to the community is not limited to fighting fires or Emergency Medical Services. We are honored to support those in their fight against the second leading cause of cancer death among women. All of the participants in this calendar have a family member or close friend who have had breast cancer or have been diagnosed with the disease themselves.

Proceeds collected from the sales of the Houston Women Firefighters calendar will be presented to the Houston Affiliation of Susan G. Komen for the cure. This affiliate group supports the men and women of Houston by providing breast health education and resources to the seven county areas it services and whom lack the resources for adequate screening and treatment.

According to Hair Balls, the women will be holding a signing event for the calendar this Friday at The Drinkery on Washington Avenue. You can also order it online. I wish them all much success with this venture.