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July 3rd, 2015:

Friday random ten: Revisiting the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list, part 2

Here’s their list, and here’s mine for this week:

1. How Soon Is Now? – Love Spit Love (#477, orig. The Smiths)
2. Where Did Our Love Go? – Diana Ross and The Supremes (#475)
3. Into the Mystic – Van Morrison (#474)
4. Surrender – Cheap Trick (#471)
5. Rain – Flying Fish Sailors (#469, orig. The Beatles)
6. Respect Yourself – Huey Lewis and The News (#468, orig. The Staple Singers)
7. Soul Man – The Blues Brothers (#463, orig. Sam and Dave)
8. Pressure Drop – Toots and The Maytals (#453)
9. Come As You Are – Midnight Juggernauts (#452, orig. Nirvana)
10. Come Go With Me – The Georgetown Chimes (#449, orig. The Dell-Vikings)

Song I used to have but don’t any more #1: “Do Right Woman – Do Right Man”, The Commitments (#476, orig. Aretha Franklin). Had it on CD, but I think it went with my former roomie Matt when he moved to New York. I just need to buy the whole soundtrack again.
Song I used to have but don’t any more #2: “Runaway”, Del Shannon (#472). Had it on a collection of hits from 1961 that I had on vinyl. Don’t remember when or where or why I got it, but I don’t have it any more.
Song I don’t have but should: “Welcome To The Jungle”, Guns ‘n’ Roses (#473). Formerly the semi-official song for the Rice Owls basketball team when their home court didn’t have air conditioning. Yes, you read that right, a gym in Houston with no air conditioning. And we liked it that way. Well, we liked taunting our opponents about it, anyway. Not being dumb and in my 20s any more, I much prefer the mod cons of the new gym now, thanks.
Song I heard often enough while watching “Groundhog Day”: “I Got You Babe”, Sonny and Cher (#451). Seriously, Rolling Stone?

Paxton could be in real trouble

Whoa.

Ken Paxton

The criminal investigation against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has taken a more serious turn, with special prosecutors now planning to present a first-degree felony securities fraud case against him to a Collin County grand jury, News 8 has learned.

Special prosecutor Kent Schaffer told News 8 Wednesday afternoon that the Texas Rangers uncovered new evidence during the investigation that led to the securities fraud allegations against the sitting attorney general.

“The Rangers went out to investigate one thing, and they came back with information on something else,” Schaffer told News 8. “It’s turned into something different than when they started.”

Schaffer, a Houston criminal defense attorney, said the securities fraud allegations involve amounts well in excess of $100,000. He declined to comment specifics of the fraud allegations.

A first-degree felony conviction is punishable by up to life in prison.

Ponder that for a moment – “punishable by up to life in prison”. Not that I expect any such outcome, but how often do you hear that sort of thing said about an incumbent elected official? Again, this may very well turn out to be nothing, or at least something a lot less than that. But still.

Schaffer said he and the other special prosecutor will begin presenting their case to a Collin County grand jury within the next few weeks. He said he anticipates eight to nine witnesses will appear before the grand jury.

“We believe that there’s sufficient evidence to present to a grand jury,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer said he also anticipates presenting a case involving failing to register, which is a third-degree felony.

The investigation had started with allegations that Paxton violated the law when he failed to register as an investment advisor with the state.

News 8 also learned Wednesday that Paxton had hired a former federal district judge.

“I met with General Paxton and he had retained me to look into the matter,” said Joe Kendall, who practices in Dallas. “I am honored that he did. He’s a good man.”

Kendall told News 8 that he met with Paxton “very recently” in Dallas and confirmed that he was hired within the past two days.

“I’m going to be helping look into the matter,” Kendall said, declining to comment further.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Chron story dredges up a quote from Paxton’s longtime flak Anthony Holm in which he says that “at least three other entities have thoroughly reviewed these matters and each chose not to proceed”. One of them was the Travis County DA’s office, which concluded it didn’t have jurisdiction. One was the Dallas County DA’s office, which didn’t say why it declined to move forward. I’m not sure who the third was, but this sure is beginning to sound like whistling past the graveyard.

Perhaps that’s why Paxton was so aggressive in his response.

“This appears to be a politically motivated effort to ruin the career of a longtime public servant,” Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm said in a statement that also accused the two attorneys of building their case in the press. “These attacks on Ken Paxton appear to have become a political hit-job in the media, perhaps having the effect of inappropriately influencing the grand jury.”

[…]

Holm said Thursday that neither Schaffer nor Wice have “significant prosecutorial experience,” adding that it appears only one case has been prosecuted between the two of them. Neither Schaffer nor Wice has worked as a prosecutor, but both have extensive backgrounds in criminal defense. Wice was on the team that defended former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, against corruption and money laundering charges.

“Not only do they appear inexperienced as prosecutors, they are from Houston,” Holm said. “Meanwhile thousands of experienced prosecutors and former prosecutors are in the Dallas area.”

Wow. One wonders who it is that authored this “hit job” on Paxton, given that (as a commenter on this Trib story noted) he’s been “indicted in one of the most Republican counties – Collin County – by a special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge who is a friend of Paxton, in an investigation that was led by the Texas Rangers, which is part of the state government, which is led by all Republicans”. I know he’s just playing to the cheap seats, but you’d think he could at least let us know who he thinks is persecuting him. As for the dig on the special prosecutors, I’m pretty sure that Schaffer and Wice know their way around a criminal courtroom, regardless of what table they’re sitting at. When was the last time Paxton himself was in a courtroom? If this were the runup to a sporting event, we’d say that he just provided some bulletin board material for his opponents. I don’t know if this would be motivational to Schaffer and Wice, but they’re human beings, too. I know I’d focus a little harder after being insulted like that.

Anyway. In case anyone is wondering, if at some point Paxton resigns, the Governor appoints a replacement, who must be confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. That could get interesting, but we’re way ahead of ourselves. I can’t wait till the grand jury proceedings begin. A statement from Texans for Public Justice is beneath the fold, and Burka, PDiddie, Campos, Juanite, the Current, and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: Well, this sure answers my questions about Schaffer and Wice.

Reached for comment late Thursday, Schaffer said Holm “never denies the criminal conduct.”

“I noticed that in Mr. Holm’s obligatory statement there was not one time that he said that Mr. Paxton did not do the things that we are looking at,” said Schaffer. “I found (that) very concerning.”

Wice and Schaffer issued a lengthy statement criticizing Holm’s remarks as “the usual sound bites, culled from the play book of any public official whose conduct places them in the cross-hairs of a grand jury investigation.

“Tellingly, Mr. Paxton feels that a Dallas address or a career spent as a prosecutor somehow trumps our over seven decades of trial and appellate experience as two of Texas’s most respected criminal lawyers,” the statement reads. “We were brought in from Houston to ensure that an investigation that could have easily been driven by partisan politics and political agendas would not.”

It adds, “The facts, which Mr. Paxton would rather ignore than acknowledge, are, as Churchill said, stubborn things. And that’s exactly what we will provide the grand jury with: the facts. Our investigation will continue to be informed by what our oaths as special prosecutors commands: to do justice. And sound bites and personal attacks won’t change that.”

It. Is. On. Get that popcorn popping.

(more…)

Now Texas is suing the EPA over its clean water plan

Another day, another anti-environmental lawsuit. It’s what we do.

For the 20th time since the Obama administration took office in 2009, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is facing a lawsuit from Texas.

Joined by Louisiana and Mississippi, Texas is challenging the “Waters of the U.S.” rule which the EPA finalized Monday. That rule is aimed at better defining the scope of bodies of water protected under the Clean Water Act. Members of the farm lobby and Republican leaders say the rule will lead to more regulation and a takeover of private property.

In a statement, Attorney General Ken Paxton called the rule “so broad and open to interpretation that everything from ditches and dry creek beds, to gullies, to isolated ponds formed after a big rain could be considered a ‘water of the United States.'”

The EPA has claimed it does not plan to expand the waters under its jurisdiction, only to clarify what they are.

“The very structure of the Constitution, and therefore liberty itself, is threatened when administrative agencies attempt to assert independent sovereignty and lawmaking authority that is superior to the states, Congress, and the courts,” the states’ lawsuit reads.

I’m reminded of a bit of dialog from a classic TV show:

Giles: It’s the end of the world.
Buffy, Willow, and Xander: Again?!

I’m just saying. The usual suspects scored a victory the other day, but overall the EPA and the Obama administration have done very well. We’ll see how it goes this time. ThinkProgress has more.

What about LGBT asylum seekers?

Good question.

Sulma Franco

As millions waited this week for a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, dozens of LGBT immigrants sat in American detention centers after fleeing what they say is persecution in their homelands because of their sexual orientation.

Now, a coalition of attorneys, lawmakers and immigrant rights groups are calling on the federal government to release some of the asylum-seekers, arguing they remain at risk for violence while they are locked up. The groups also want the government to collect better data that would shed more light on how many people are fleeing because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Opponents of releasing asylum-seekers from detention centers say such immigrants would be unlikely to show up for hearings.

The issue hit close to home for many LGBT Texans when earlier this month, Sulma Franco, a lesbian from Guatemala, sought sanctuary in a Central Austin church after being denied asylum.

Immigration Equality, a New York-based group that advocates and provides legal services for LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants across the country, recorded more than 500 cases involving LGBT asylum-seekers from 2010 to 2014. But that number is only a fraction of the bigger picture, said Sharita Gruberg, a policy analyst with the Center for American Progress.

Though immigration agents question asylum-seekers about their concerns, the federal government does not track the number of people seeking asylum specifically because they are LGBT.

“We’ve been advocating for the government to collect data on this,” she said. “We don’t get a good picture of who’s seeking protection.”

LGBT asylum-seekers who are released from detention are likely to show up for their hearings because their cases have merit, said Vanessa Allyn, a managing attorney at Human Rights First, an advocacy group whose Houston office has secured two asylum claims for LGBT people in the past year and has five more pending.

“The real question is: Why are we detaining these individuals in the first instance? If they can articulate a credible claim of fear on recognized grounds for protection, then they are going to show up for their hearings,” she said. “There is no reason for them to disappear into the ether of the United States. They are definitely going to come and they are going to articulate their claim and they are probably going to be granted relief.”

Ms. Allyn’s claim is based on a 1994 ruling by AG Janet Reno in which a gay Cuban man was granted asylum due to his sexual orientation, known as the Toboso-Alonso case. Cuba’s a class by itself in immigration law, but the argument for asylum is strong on its own. We granted asylum on grounds of religious persecution to plenty of immigrants in the 70s and 80s, often to folks from countries whose (Communist) governments we didn’t like. Lord knows, there are plenty of countries in which being LGBT can put your life in danger. We’ve spent the past few days celebrating the victory won at the Supreme Court, but this deserves the same attention, too. It’s why Jennicet Gutiérrez spoke out at the White House during the annual LGBT Pride reception.

Whatever you think of Ms. Gutiérrez’s actions, they had an effect.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement will implement new guidelines designed to better protect transgender people in immigration detention facilities, the agency announced Monday.

The announcement comes after 35 congressional Democrats wrote to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson earlier this month asking ICE to change it’s policies toward those detainees. The lawmakers also asked ICE to collect better data on how many people flee their homelands for fear of persecution because they are gay, lesbian transgender or bisexual.

“We want to make sure our employees have the tools and resources available to learn more about how to interact with transgender individuals and ensure effective standards exist to house and care for them throughout the custody cycle,” Thomas Homan, executive assistant director for ICE’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, said in a statement.

According to the memorandum, ICE will now collect data on how many immigrants in its custody are transgender, and provide training and guidance to ICE officers to keep those detainees safe. ICE will also name of a special coordinator to manage such issues for each of its 24 field offices.

It’s a small step forward and it is one of the things that immigration activists asked for, but it’s not that much and it’s not going to get anyone out of detention. Activists were critical of this and will continue to push for asylum. I think the President needs to listen to them.