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October 31st, 2002:

Fastow indicted on 78 counts

Not much new in the story, which is hot off the presses. I just like the sound of “78-count indictment”.

Give your throat a nice spritz, bubbe. It’s time to start singing.

40% turnout predicted

Texas Secretary of State Gwyn Smith is predicting 40% turnout, or approximately 5 million voters, in this year’s election. That compares to 32.4% and 3.7 million voters in 1998, though it’s nowhere near the level of Presidential elections (6.4 million and 51.8% in 2000, 5.6 million and 53.2% in 1996).

Interestingly, if you look at turnout over the years, the turnout for the governor’s race in 1994 was over 50%. However, a much smaller percentage of the voting age population was registered (66.09% in 1994 versus 78.75% for the primaries in 2002). The big jump appears to have taken place in 1996. Given that Texas instituted a Motor Voter law in 1991, two years before the NVRA was enacted in 1993, I wonder why it took so long for the registration gap to start to close.

Sleazy tech tactics

I received this in a Windows 2000 tech newsletter today. It’s amazingly sleazy. Don’t fall for it.

* SNEAK ATTACK THROUGH A LICENSE AGREEMENT

Have you ever received a Web-based greeting card from a friend or relative? They’re common these days, and they seem to be taken for granted, in that people trust the intent of someone who might send them a greeting card. People like to be greeted with kindness, so they’re inclined to look at and read the greeting card. It’s one of the feel-good things that many people simply can’t resist.

Have you ever wondered why a company would spend its Internet resources delivering free greeting cards on behalf of people with whom it conducts no business otherwise? How does such an entity profit from those endeavors? What might its motives be?

Last week, a user posted an interesting message to our HowTo for Security mailing list regarding one company that delivers Web-based greeting cards. That company, Permissioned Media, runs a Web site called FriendGreetings.com, which lets one person send another person an electronic greeting card. The friendly facilitation seems simple and harmless, but it has a rather insidious side.

When you receive a greeting from FriendGreetings.com, the message says that someone sent you the greeting and that to read it, you must click a URL that takes you to the Web site hosting the greeting. When you click the URL, you’re prompted to install an ActiveX control before you view the greeting. As the greeting-card recipient, you would probably assume that you must install the ActiveX control to view the greeting; however, that’s not the case. Instead, FriendGreetings.com has designed the ActiveX control, complete with an End User License Agreement (EULA), to interact with your mail client software and harvest information about your email contacts. After the ActiveX control obtains your private contact list information, it sends a similar greeting card to everyone in your contact list, probably unbeknownst to you!

If you took time to read the EULA from FriendGreetings.com, you’d discover that the EULA clearly states Permissioned Media’s intention to do just that. A section of the EULA reads, “As part of the installation process, Permissioned Media will access your Microsoft Outlook contacts list and send an e-mail to persons on your contacts list inviting them to download FriendGreetings or related products.” By accepting the EULA and installing the ActiveX control, you give the company permission to perform that activity.

In essence, the greeting cards that FriendGreetings.com delivers resemble many worms that travel the Internet: They’re parasitic, intrusive, devious, elusive, and most of all, probably unwanted. Even some antivirus vendors issued warnings about the greeting card last week. However, we can’t completely blame FriendGreetings.com for its use because, although the company counts on most users’ acceptance of the unread EULA, the EULA does spell out some of its intention. By agreeing to the EULA, users agree to the ActiveX control activity. Nevertheless, the lesson here should be obvious: When you encounter a EULA, don’t take anything for granted. Read it word for word to understand exactly what you’re accepting and think through what the consequences of acceptance might be.

Permissioned Media bills itself as a “behavioral marketing network” with more than 100 clients that advertise online. The company also operates Cool-Downloads.com. You can read Permissioned Media’s EULA at this URL. Take note that it grants the company “the right to add additional features or functions to the version of PerMedia you install, or to add new applications to PerMedia, at any time.” Yikes!

If you’ve received a greeting card from FriendGreetings.com and installed the associated ActiveX control, you might want to remove its software from your system. To find out how, be sure to read the related news article, “Protect Your Contact List: Read the EULA!” in this newsletter.

And if you’re a security administrator for your network, consider blocking FriendGreetings.com to help ensure that none of your network users inadvertently compromise private contact information by accepting a greeting card from that Web site.

Be careful what you click on, folks.

More poll numbers

A Scripps Howard poll is showing a sizeable lead for Governor Goodhair over Tony Sanchez, a tie in the Lt. Governor race, and slight leads for the Republicans in the Senate and Attorney General race.

I’ll get to all that in a minute. First, compare and contrast the related story in the Brownsville Herald to the one in our own newspaper. John Williams is normally an astute writer. I can’t say if his piece was cut for space or if he simply did a cursory cut-n-paste job because he was late to buy a round at the bar, but you’d think the Chron might be a teensy bit embarrassed at being out-covered by a small town paper.

Anyway, the usual caveats apply. How did they determine “likely voters”? What turnout model did they use? You know the drill.

There is one thing in the Herald‘s coverage that sounds right:

If the election for governor were today, 50 percent of likely voters would choose Perry compared with 35 percent who favor Sanchez. Fourteen percent are undecided. In August, 42 percent preferred Perry while 28 percent picked Sanchez.

Texans are almost split in their views about Perry’s job performance. While 44 percent say he has done an excellent or good job as governor, 43 percent say his performance has been fair or poor.

“People are looking (at the governor’s race) as the lesser of two evils,” said Bruce Buchanan, political science professor at the University of Texas. “Voters are not enamored with Perry, but people don’t see Sanchez as the answer. I think that’s it in a nutshell.”

[…]

Meanwhile, 37 percent of likely voters say neither Perry nor Sanchez is talking about the issues important to them. Thirty-two percent say the candidates are talking about important issues and 22 percent say the candidates talk about the issues sometimes

Unfortunately, I think that’s a problem. I’ve criticized Sanchez before for lack of specifics – his “scrub the budget” answer for the deficits is baloney, for example. (Not that Goodhair has been forthcoming about the deficit; his response has been to say “well, maybe it won’t be that bad”.) He had a chance to be bold and to talk about how Goodhair and Bush squandered years of prosperity as well as the state’s rainy-day fund, and he failed to do so.

Of course, it’s easy for me as an Unpaid Political Pundit to sit back and wax pompously about Boldness and The Vision Thing because I can use weaselly pundit words and overlook inconvenient facts such as the fact that boldness in this context would have meant talking about taxes. In particular, it would have meant talking about raising taxes, or at least rolling back some of the tax cuts that Dubya implemented. Some of this is going to happen whether people like it or not, but the first person to mention it in a campaign in this state is going to get tarred and feathered for it. It’s hard to crime Sanchez too harshly for realizing that once he mentioned the T word, the campaign would be about nothing else.

And hey, we still don’t know what’s going to happen. Even if Sanchez loses, it doesn’t mean it was because he wasn’t sufficiently bold for me. If he does lose (and I’m certainly not willing to concede that he will), we’ll know sometime after November 5 why he did. He’s played his cards. We’ll see how it goes.

The 25th CD race

I haven’t paid much attention to the Congressional races around here, mostly because I live in Sheila Jackson Lee’s district, which means for me there is no race. Over in the 25th CD, which is an open seat due to Ken Bentsen’s decision to run for Senate, things are getting ugly. Republican candidate Tom Reiser is running an ad which alleges that his opponent, former City Councilman Chris Bell, sexually harassed a woman who was on Mayor Lee Brown’s staff. Bell has called this allegation a lie, and he’s got quite a bit of support for his defense, including the woman who he supposedly harassed:

The allegation of sexual harassment dates to a debate at Houston City Hall in the summer of 2001, when Bell was a council member and [Carol] Alvarado worked for Mayor Lee Brown.

At the time, the council was considering a proposal to prevent city employees from running for political office. The Bell-supported proposal was aimed at Alvarado, who then was running for the council seat she won last fall.

Shortly after a private meeting with Bell, then-Councilman Rob Todd said Bell made a “sexual comment” regarding Alvarado. The Houston Press later quoted Todd as saying that Bell had said, “You make sure to tell (Alvarado) how well you argued on her side when she is repaying the favor tonight.”

Bell denied making any comment that could have been construed that way.

Bell and Todd were frequent combatants when they served on the council. Todd could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Reiser spokesman Dugan said the allegation in the commercial is backed up in a letter written Aug. 8, 2001 by Brown ally Cindy Clifford and three other women demanding an apology from Bell.

“Clearly, the four who wrote the letter were offended by the comment as I would be, as the women of Mr. Reiser’s staff would be,” Dugan said.

Clifford, who supports Bell, said she “barely remembers” the letter in which she wrote, “It’s remarks such as these that make life more difficult for all women in the workplace.”

“But I have always felt that Chris was very, very interested in women’s issues,” Clifford said. “He’s obviously worked out the issues with Carol.”

Alvarado said she never believed Todd’s allegation, and she called on voters to “Please call Tom Reiser and ask him to stop lying.”

George Biggs, a former aide to Todd who now works for Alvarado, and City Councilwoman Annise Parker were among the supporters who appeared with Bell Wednesday.

Both said they don’t believe Bell made any sexually suggestive comments to Todd about Alvarado.

At some point you have to wonder: Do attack ads based on really flimsy evidence actually help the attacker? Reiser’s alleged victim says he’s full of it. How is that supposed to help him? I don’t get it. Reiser has also attacked Bell for a violation of City Council rules about accepting gifts. He calls it “bribery”, which is an overstatement (and besides, Bell was cleared), but this is at least a charge with some validity. Why make a charge you can’t back up?

Coming attractions

The big thing next year in Houston is going to be the mayoral election, which will be wide open since Mayor Lee Brown is prohibited from running again by our stoopid term-limits law. Former City Councilman Joe Roach, who announced his candidacy a few months ago, has now announced that he will drop out of the race, citing concerns about his wife’s health. This leaves one known candidate, first-term Councilman Michael “Boy Wonder” Berry, and a whole lotta speculation.

Anyway, as I noted before, Roach would not have been my first choice but he was a serious candidate who would have run a good campaign. I’m sorry to see him drop out and wish him and his wife well.