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May, 2003:

Powerball still in limbo

Looks like I may have spoken too soon about Powerball. The House and Senate have not agreed on a bill to authorize it yet, and the clock is ticking.

If the two chambers can’t agree on lottery by Monday, dreams of Powerball go away — along with the Texas Lottery Commission and all its games. The House and Senate versions of Senate Bill 270 both continue the commission for the next 12 years, but the big difference is that the Senate did not include Powerball and did not pass provisions tightening up the regulation of bingo as the House did.

House Ways and Means Chairman Ron Wilson, D-Houston, said he doesn’t expect the Senate to concur with the House’s version of the lottery sunset bill, meaning the two sides must beat the clock or risk busting a balanced budget. If that happens, the odds of a special summer session are extremely high.

Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, said he hasn’t decided whether to agree with the House yet, but he said Powerball wasn’t the problem. “I’m more worried about the bad bingo language,” he said.


The revenue expected from Powerball — an extra $101 million — also has been spent in the budget bill.

The House would toughen the state’s regulation of charitable bingo games by requiring bingo money handlers to pay $25 a year for a state license. About $1.2 billion is raised each two-year budget cycle from bingo, but only $60 million goes to charities, Wilson says. The rest of the money is kept by bingo operators and those who lease halls, he says.

The hang-up appeared to be more about those regulations than Powerball.

I’m not quite sure what the fuss is, but I can’t help but be reminded of that old bumper sticker: “Support Bingo. Keep Grandma Off The Streets.”

UPDATE: Amazingly, Powerball is probably dead. I’m frankly shocked that a hangup over regulating charity bingo could derail this.

UPDATE: Powerball lives! Never say never, I guess.

And starring as…

The Gunther Concept, who avoids the Blogger permalink problem by not having permalinks enabled at all, has what I think is the proper response to the news that a made for TV movie about 9/11 is going to show Dubya as an articulate action hero. He suggests a cast list which I think is pure genious:

G.W. Bush – Ray Romano
Laura Bush – Rosie O’Donnell
Dick Cheney – William Shatner
Donald Rumsfeld – Rip Torn
Condaleeza Rice – Rosie Perez
Colin Powell – Richard Roundtree
Tom Daschle – Alan Alda
Dennis Hassert – doesn’t matter; no one knows what he looks like anyway
Tom DeLay – Kevin Sorbo
Osama Bin Laden – Nicholas Cage
Ari Fleischer – Verne Troyer

Scroll down to the May 28 entry, entitled “Better Than ‘Showgirls’?” and leave a comment if you have any suggested additions. I’m thinking Will Ferrell as Karen Hughes and Colin Mochrie as Karl Rove.

Faint, fading, and the FCC

I haven’t been beating the drums over the FCC’s proposed rules to allow even more media consolidation, but it’s gaining a reasonable amount of attention. This article raises an interesting question:

Here’s a quiz for you: Name the best-known and most influential conservative commentators in America? Rush Limbaugh? George F. Will? Bill O’Reilly? Now, quick, who are their liberal counterparts?

If you can’t think of any, you’re not alone. Conservatives love to rant that liberals dominate the news media. Trouble is, it’s just not true. In fact, I’d argue that the biggest problem with America’s public discourse today is that the left is barely represented at all on mainstream TV and radio talk shows and in major newspapers and magazines.

Via Rhetoric & Rhythm (permalinks bloggered), a left-leaning blogger from San Antonio who digs baseball. He goes on in his subsequent post to list some liberal voices, which leads me to ponder which of these people would you most like to see on the air, and which unlisted liberals would you like to tune in to. Leave a comment with your nominations.

Meanwhile, the Economist looks at how radio frequencies are allocated and what the future may hold there. If I were convinced that the spectrum is not really a scarce resource, I’d feel a lot less apprehensive about whatever mischief Michael Powell is up to.

Tell us how you really feel

Jim Henley works up a pretty heavy froth over the current state of affairs in Iraq. Go read it and see if you get as angry as he does.

Here’s an idle question to chew on, by the way. Team Bush has passed all of its tax cuts and knocked off Saddam Hussein, wherever he may be. What, exactly, do they plan to do between now and next November?

Look at it this way: After however many huge tax cuts, the economy is still in the crapper, and despite some encouraging growth numbers, payrolls continue to shrink, meaning that to many people, things feel more like recession than recovery. What will Bush do if this is still happening next year? Given that this latest tax cut was sold as a surefire way to get the economy humming and to create jobs, will anyone believe him if he proposes yet another tax cut as the cure for what’s still ailing us? Will people begin to see what’s happened already as snake oil?

As for Iraq, despite declaration of victory, US armed forces are still taking casualties, more and more pro-invasion advocates are complaining about the brazen lying over WMDs, and the price tag for rebuilding Iraq is now over $100 billion. If Iraq is still in chaos, if al Qaeda continues to strike, if the where-are-the-WMDs drumbeat gets louder, and if the soldiers are forced to stay on for longer and longer hitches, where does that leave Bush? Somehow, I don’t think invading Iran or Syria will do him any good, assuming they even bother to try that approach.

If I were the kind of hack writer who dragged out sports cliches at every opportunity, I’d observe that Bush appears to resemble a team that has peaked too early on its quest for a championship, and is now vulnerable to a foe it would have vanquished earlier. Fortunately, I’m not that kind of hack writer.

There are straws in the wind here, from polling numbers to murmurs about what Bush knew before September 11. What does Team Bush have left in its arsenal to counter them?

Go west, young man

John McKay and Kos have both made some interesting points about the Western states and the Democrats’ prospects there in the near term and farther out. Check them out, and be sure to read Kos’ comments.

Yard sign silliness

The top story in today’s Chron is about a dustup over yard signs between a homeowner and the neighborhood association.

The way Michael Skadden sees it, there is little difference between a sign supporting Bill White for mayor and one supporting President Bush.

Both, the lawyer reasons, are political in nature.

That’s why he is perplexed that his neighborhood association wants him to remove the “Bill White / Get Houston Moving Sign” from his yard.

At the same time, the southwest Houston neighborhood is dotted with signs that say “We support President Bush and Our Troops.”

His neighborhood association says that you can’t have “temporary signs, such as political signs” on your lawn more than 90 days before an election. Judith Jones, the association secretary, who informed Skadden that he must remove the sign, says that the Bush signs are OK because they don’t say anything about supporting Bush for re-election.

I say that’s ridiculous. It’s a loophole, like the one that allows unrestricted “issue ads” as long as they don’t say the magic words “elect” or “defeat”. If you think that those pro-Bush-and-troops signs aren’t “political”, you’ve got your head in the sand. If you need evidence, consider this:

After the war began in Iraq, the Harris County Republican Party produced thousands of signs supporting Bush and the troops. The party requested a $1 donation for each sign.

How is that not political? Even if you could somehow imagine that the message isn’t overtly political, the Republican Party is earning a buck a sign. Don’t you think that maybe that might have a political purpose?

Did I mention, by the way, that the person who issued this egregious ruling is a GOP precinct judge? Who had one of those pro-Bush signs in her yard for many weeks?

“He has turned a teeny, tiny ant hill into something big,” Jones said of Skadden. “He had the nerve to tell me that the Constitution protects people from people like me.”

He’s right. Get over yourself. Either both signs are okay, or neither of them are. You can’t have it both ways.

UPDATE: From John Williams’ column on Monday, which I meant to blog about but forgot:

Last week, the Houston Chronicle detailed a lawyer’s fight with his civic association to keep a campaign sign for mayoral candidate Bill White posted in his yard.

The lawyer, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, says free speech laws protect the sign.

The association says the sign violates deed restrictions because it was planted more than 90 days before the November election. But the association allows signs distributed by the Harris County Republican Party that say “We Support President Bush and Our Troops.”

And the association’s president? Linda Sanchez Kroneman.

If that maiden name rings a political bell, maybe it’s because she is also known as the sister of mayoral candidate Orlando Sanchez.

Kroneman says she wasn’t involved in the efforts to remove the White sign. She plans to discuss the association’s political sign policy with its board later this month.

Oh, yeah. I’ll bet she’s looking forward to the conversation.

Governor utters the “S” word

Governor Perry has declared his intent to call a special legislative session, but not for any of the issues (budget, school finance, redistricting) that have been anticipated so far. He’s vowed to keep legislators in Austin until they pass a tort reform bill that’s to his liking.

House and Senate leaders have been in a standoff over the proposal, House Bill 4, for days. The Senate favors a more flexible cap that would allow up to $750,000 in damages for pain, suffering, disfigurement and loss of companionship, but Perry and Speaker Tom Craddick back the $250,000 cap in the House version.

Craddick said Perry has been saying for weeks that he would immediately call a special session if the $250,000 cap was not written into law.

Rep. Joe Nixon, the bill’s author, said Wednesday that Perry told him on the House floor Monday that he would call a special session on the issue after the regular session ends Monday if the bill isn’t passed.

“He told me to tell everybody, `Don’t pack your bags,’ ” said Nixon, R-Houston.

“That is an appropriate recollection of the conversation,” Perry said hours later, according to the Associated Press. “I don’t know why we would want to go home.

“We’re trying to limit litigation here,” Perry said. “I think the House numbers are appropriate.”

The House last week refused to concur in the Senate amendments to the bill and named five members to serve on a committee to work out a compromise. But Sen. Bill Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, so far has refused to ask Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to appoint senators to that conference committee.

This bill has a strange history, having attracted opposition from anti-abortion activists who think it will make it easier for doctors to perform abortions (given all of the abortion-restricting laws this Lege has passed so far, I wouldn’t worry about that too much if I were they).

Ratliff said a zero cap on noneconomic damages would reduce insurance costs even more, “but that doesn’t mean it’s right.”

Ratliff acknowledged he’s getting pressured about the bill. But as one of the Senate’s most respected members, Ratliff likely can count on his colleagues to back him up.

“The Senate trusted me to hear the testimony and propose a reasonable solution,” said Ratliff, who listened to 60 hours of testimony from doctors as well as patients who had been severely injured. “I won’t violate the very trust the Senate put in me. I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to walk away just because of the heat.”

Senator Ratliff, who was the acting Lt. Governor when Perry took over for Bush in 2001, seems likely to compromise to me. He’s a pragmatic sort, but he also supposedly has no big love for Perry, so if he feels he’s getting bullied he may very well dig in his heels. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, as Clay Robison notes, whatever law gets passed will ultimately be a constitutional amendment that the voters can approve or reject this fall. Unlike most such amendments, this one will be voted on in a special election on September 13, instead of in November. Proponents of the bill are afraid that Houston voters, who will be electing a mayor, will have too much effect on its outcome. It’s a slick yet sleazy maneuver, sure to reduce turnout.

I believe the bill deserves to die a swift death, but that ain’t gonna happen. Tort reform is an illusion, a false solution to a manufactured crisis that aims to screw the little guy. And as Dwight Meredith asked, if politicians like Rick Perry have so little faith in civil juries, why do they trust criminal juries so much?

Council passes “unconstitutional” law

Sometimes, I just don’t know what to make of our City Council. Yesterday, they passed an anti-prostitution law which they themselves acknowledge is unconstitutional and a surefire bet to be challenged in court.

Under the ordinance, effective within five days, any officer may arrest a “known prostitute” — someone convicted of prostitution within the last year — for loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution, demonstrated by enticing, soliciting or procuring someone.

“This ordinance makes it a crime for looking like you want to proposition someone for sex,” said Annette Lamoreaux, East Texas regional director for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“In this country, we only arrest people for committing a crime, not for looking like they are about to commit a crime.”

Lamoreaux said her office will decide whether to file a lawsuit immediately or wait for someone to be arrested and seek a plaintiff, adding that council was irresponsible for passing the law based on political expediency.

Look, I get that the Council is responding to residents – in a neighborhood not far from my own, I might add – who have legitimate complaints. But what good will this law do if it’s sure to be struck down by the courts? Now you’re not only right back where you started, you’re out court costs at a time when you’re already cash strapped. Who’s being served here? There’s a million lawyers in this town – couldn’t we come up with something, you know, more effective than this?

It is not just the act of prostitution that affects neighborhoods, said Paula Parshall, a member of Northline’s Super Neighborhood, but also its side effects.

“Prostitution brings other crimes into our communities. It causes a deterioration of our neighborhoods. It knows no boundaries,” she said.

Well, then, why not try cracking down on those who commit the other crimes as well? It’s called broken windows policing, and it’s got a lot of support behind it (and some opposition as well). Unfortunately, it’s also associated with the infamous Captain Mark Aguirre, so I’m not holding my breath. The point is that attacking the other crimes will pretty much by definition make any neighborhood less hospitable to hookers as well. Doesn’t that sound like a win-win?

I admit, it’s possible this has been tried and has been insufficient. The article gives no indication. A search of the Chronicle archives turns up some interesting stuff, though. On February 20, there was an article about the “storefront” police department in the Independence Heights, and it mentioned one of the anti-prostitution strategies that the officers there use:

Instead of simply arresting a single drug dealer, the [Differential Response Team]-trained officers now look at the overlapping crimes to connect the transporters, buyers and owners of the house or apartment used for illicit business, he said.

Rather than arrest a prostitute, [Sgt. Frank] Escobedo and his officers will spend more time tracking down the owner of the rent-by-the-hour motel the prostitute operates from. If the owners are not cooperative in helping reduce the illegal trade, officers will look into electrical or plumbing violations with which to eventually shutdown the operation, he said.

Guess that wasn’t working so well, because on March 7 the residents were complaining to Council member Gabriel Vasquez and District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal:

“I’m at my wit’s end; they need to do something to stop this,” said Amanda Augustine. “Maybe the police can do more undercover sting operations or investigations.”

Augustine said prostitutes and johns will often do their business in or near an abandoned 18-wheeler trailer in a field behind her house. She said it was distasteful to see the same women walking up to the same cars at all hours along Airline between Crosstimbers and the North Loop.

So it’s hard to say. One last thing about this law is that it was modelled after an ordinance passed in Dallas in 1976. There must be some differences if Houston’s statute is clearly unconstitutional, for the Dallas law is apparently still on the books, as this May 2 article indicates:

Dallas’ law has been on the books since 1976, and [HPD Captain David] Cutler said it has been successful in reducing prostitution.

Houston’s legal department drafted a similar ordinance at the city council’s request but has warned members that, if passed, it could be overturned because of possible civil rights violations.

Annette Lamoreaux, the East Texas Regional Director for the American Civil Liberties Union, made it clear during Thursday’s public safety committee meeting that her organization would fight it.

“Any criminal defense lawyer worth their salt is going to run a truck through this,” she said. “Don’t be lulled into a sense of security that because the Dallas law is on the books, that this will go unchallenged.”

So I guess we’ll have to see. If the city ultimately prevails in court, then this will have been worth it. I trust you’ll pardon me if I don’t have a lot of faith.

Why we fought

I don’t want to be the last blogger on the planet to link to Billmon’s collection of quotes from Team Bush about why we invaded Iraq. You shouldn’t be the last blog reader to see what he’s got.

Once you’ve read that, go read this, about why it matters. Here’s a taste:

A strong case might have been made to go after Hussein just because he posed a potential threat to us and the region, because of his support for suicide bombers, and because of his ruthless oppression of his own people. But this is not the case our President chose to make.

Truth in public life has always been a slippery commodity. We expect campaigning politicians or debating journalists to pitch and spin. Facts are marshaled to support arguments and causes; convenient ones are trumpeted and inconvenient ones played down or ignored. This is the political game.

But when the President of the United States addresses the nation and the world, I expect the spinning to stop. He represents not just a party or a cause, but the American people. When President Bush argued that Hussein possessed stockpiles of illicit and deadly poisons, he was presumably doing so on the basis of intelligence briefings and evidence that the public could not see. He was asking us to trust him, to trust his office, to trust that he was acting legitimately in our self-defense. That’s something very different from engaging in a bold policy of attempting to remake the Middle East, or undertaking a humanitarian mission to end oppression. Neither of these two justifications would have been likely to garner widespread public support. But national defense? That’s an argument the President can always win.

I never doubted for a minute that Team Bush was being dishonest about why we were invading Iraq, but I admit that I went along with the premise that Iraq had WMDs up the yingyang. I knew they were conning me, and I still fell for it. Shame on me.

The Green[e]house Reloaded

Congrats to Greg Greene of The Green[e]house Effect for getting his own domain and doing the Movable Type migration. Update those bookmarks and drop in to say Hi.

Out of the House

State Rep. Kevin Bailey (D-Houston) has announced that his committee has finished its investigation of record-shredding by DPS and the security tapes.

“It may have been a technical violation of the law to destroy the documents. I don’t think there was an intent to cover up anything. So I don’t think there’s a need to look at it any further,” said Rep. Kevin Bailey, D-Houston, chairman of the House General Investigation Committee.


The committee chairman said his office talked to a DPS officer who called the federal Department of Homeland Security to help track a missing lawmaker’s plane. That investigator told the committee staff that he did not recall who initiated the phone call but denied the federal agency’s statements that he misled officials to make them believe the plane may have crashed.

Mr. Bailey said the committee can go no further concerning whether federal homeland security assets were abused.

And, he said, there is nothing more to pursue on the subject of Deputy Texas Attorney General Jay Kimbrough, the top state homeland security official, who was seen on a surveillance tape at a DPS command post for the manhunt.

Mr. Bailey said he has no choice but to accept statements from the Texas attorney general’s office that Mr. Kimbrough was present in his capacity as a state lawyer, advising DPS and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on legal issues related to the hunt.

“And if that’s the case, I don’t see a problem. On the other hand, obviously, if they used the federal agency that’s designed to get terrorists, that might be a problem,” Mr. Bailey said. “I’m not sure it’s anything that I can really, or we can really, get information on.”

With his involvement over, the rest of the work will be done by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle, who has convened a grand jury to determine if any laws were broken by DPS and its magical miracle shredding machine. There are also internal investigations being conducted by Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation regarding the propriety of DPS’s request to help them look for Laney’s plane.

Speaking of Homeland Security, they say that their investigation is almost over, but it’s not clear when their full findings will be made public.

James Burke, a deputy assistant inspector general at the Homeland Security Department, said Wednesday that the investigation will be concluded in the next few days.

But he said tapes shielded from public release because of the investigation will not be immediately available.

Those tapes are expected to illuminate facts surrounding the Texas Department of Public Safety’s request for help from the anti-terrorism agency’s air interdiction service to locate an airplane of former House Speaker Pete Laney of Hale Center, one of the runaway Democrats.

“Our investigation is wrapping up soon,” Burke said. “We’re talking days, versus weeks. But there’s the report process, and that could take a while.”

Once the report on the investigation is complete, Burke said, it will be available to the public only through Freedom of Information Act requests.

It was unclear at what point the tapes of conversations between DPS and the Air & Marine Interdiction Coordination Center, an agency of the Homeland Security Department, will be made public.

Back in Texas, keep your eyes on State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth), who has filed a lawsuit to prevent DPS from destroying any more records related to their search for the Killer D’s. Burnam had filed an open records request for the DPS data before it was revealed to have been deleted, then got a temporary restraining order against DPS to halt any further records destruction. He has claimed to have a source inside DPS who has intimate knowledge of what DPS knew and when they knew it. Attorney General Greg Abbott has demanded to know who that source is, and now Burnam has pledged to reveal his source in a sworn deposition on Monday after a judge ruled that he must testify.

The ruling set up a showdown of sorts between Burnam and the Texas attorney general’s office, which Burnam suggested was trying to hide links between top Republicans and the DPS actions by fighting to squelch his lawsuit against the DPS.

At a hearing set for Monday, the Fort Worth Democrat will be asked to reveal the identity of a “well placed source inside DPS” on which Burnam based much of his lawsuit.

He said the source can corroborate his charge that DPS officials destroyed records illegally.

The records were sought by Burnam in an attempt to prove improper use of law enforcement assets in the hunt for AWOL Democrats who fled to Oklahoma two weeks ago, preventing a quorum and derailing a congressional redistricting bill favored by Republicans.

In court Wednesday, the deputy attorney general defending the DPS said he had doubts about Burnam’s source.

“If he knows of egregious acts going on now, why is he stalling? Why is he reluctant to come tell us about it?” Jeff Boyd asked visiting state District Judge Charles Campbell.

Outside the courtroom, Boyd, the state’s deputy attorney general for litigation, said he doubted Burnam’s source exists.

“He is calling me a liar, and I highly resent that,” Burnam said.

“The source does indeed exist, and it’s (a person) who is well placed inside DPS, and I will reveal that source” under oath on Monday, he said.

He charged that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office “is apparently trying to find out who a whistle-blower is rather than stopping the illegal shredding of documents.”

“I wonder what they have to cover up, especially with those AG people coming in and out of the command post,” Burnam said.

That should be fun.

The Austin American Statesman has a sharp editorial which deplores the use of Homeland Security for inappropriate purposes:

Homeland Security became linked to a partisan political squabble in Texas because the state Department of Public Safety called the federal agency and intimated that Laney’s plane might be missing. Who authorized the bogus call and who made it have been obscured by foggy memories and shredded records.

What isn’t in doubt is that the state police department called in a false alarm to the Homeland Security Department about Laney’s plane, bringing the federal authorities into a local political dispute. Nor is it in doubt that a DPS commander ordered the records of the call and investigation destroyed, and that an assistant state attorney general who is Gov. Rick Perry’s contact for Homeland Security was in and out of the command center set up to search for the missing Democrats by House Speaker Tom Craddick.

The attorney general’s office says that the assistant in question, Jay Kimbrough, was there on official business and doesn’t know whether he gave the Homeland Security number to DPS to make the call. It all smells like a backroom brainstorm that exploded and is being covered up.

Finally, Josh Marshall clues in Joe Biden about what’s been going on lately.

[We] now know that DeLay was personally involved in the effort to track down Laney’s plane. The chain of events went something like this:

Early on May 12, DeLay’s office called the FAA and received information about the whereabouts of Laney’s plane. Not long after that, DeLay spoke to Craddick by phone and passed along that information. Then, a short time later, Lt. Will Crais, a Texas state trooper working out of the command center in the conference room adjoining Craddick’s office, called the DHS and tricked them into helping search for the missing aircraft. The information Crais used was the information DeLay had passed on to Craddick.

It ain’t over yet.

UPDATE: From Josh Marshall:

On Thursday afternoon, I spoke to Burnam. He told me that he has “multiple sources” at the DPS who told him about the alleged document destruction. He also says he will identify his sources at the deposition on Monday, though he is currently trying to arrange some sort of whistleblower protection for them. When I asked Burnam why he thought the AG’s office placed such importance on finding out the identity of his sources, he said he thought “they are trying to find out what I know and who I know it from and how they can get to them.”

Can’t wait to hear it.

Separate trials in K-Mart case

District Judge Carol Davies has granted a motion by K-Mart Kiddie Roundup defendant Sgt. Ken Wenzel to sever his trial from that of Captian Mark Aguirre.

In requesting the severance, [Wenzel’s defense attorney Joe] Bailey argued several points that he said could prejudice the jury against Wenzel if he were tried with Aguirre. They included the fact that Wenzel did not participate in formulating or directing the police raid from which the charges arise; that Wenzel did not participate in a raid the day before at another location; and that Wenzel might not be able to call Aguirre as a witness if they were tried together.

Wenzel and Aguirre “have inconsistent and incompatible defenses,” the motion stated. “When evidence is admitted against one co-defendant, but is inadmissible against the other co-defendant, severance is necessary … ”

Two items of interest here. One is that Wenzel clearly fears that Aguirre, as the designated villain of this drama, could sink him by association. Wenzel’s name never came up in any of the news stories until the original indictments were handed down, while Aguirre’s been in the news repeatedly from the get-go. Frankly, I think Wenzel is wise to be concerned. Idle thought – might he plead out in return for testimony against Aguirre? Probably not, especially since Aguirre’s trial appears to be first, but you never know.

Second, as Aguirre’s trial is set to begin on Monday, we might finally get the answers to some questions about the raid itself and Chief C.O. “BAMF”‘s involvement in it. Well, maybe it’ll be wild speculation and assorted allegations, but that’s even more fun. Stay tuned, hijinx will surely be ensuing in short order.

Howard Dean, the Open Source Candidate

Archpundit reminds me that I hadn’t yet read Ryan Lizza’s piece about the Howard Dean blogger action network. And I was struck by a thought, right about the time I finished reading this paragraph:

Once a month, thousands of self-organized Dean supporters across the country get together at coffee shops and bars to discuss their candidate and ways they can help his campaign. This ability to get people to meetings, Trippi says, bodes well for Dean in the Iowa caucuses. “What do you do in a caucus?” he asks. “You go to a meeting.” And Trippi has plans beyond the caucuses and primaries. He speaks of using Meetup and other Web tools to build a million-person-strong network of small donors who could raise the cash needed to take on President Bush. “There’s only one way you could ever get to a million people in this country,” he says before pausing dramatically. “That’s the Internet.”

I said to myself, “Holy crap, it’s an open source campaign!”

A lot of this is nothing new, of course. Dean’s grassroots/outsider campaign has quite a bit in common with John McCain, Ross Perot, John Anderson, and every other outside-the-Beltway insurgent. What he has that others didn’t is not just the technology to harness that energy, but the recognition of its potential and the willingness to use it. That’s pretty impressive. And if the Dean campaign actually pays attention when someone at a Meetup suggests a good idea, well, I can just about guarantee that any Bush supporter below the Pioneer level will never share that experience.

Back in April, I wrote that the existence of a Gary Hart blog was a sure sign that he wouldn’t run for President. Turned out I was right about Hart’s candidacy, but wrong about the likelihood of a serious Presidential candidate maintaining a blog. (In my defense, the official Dean weblog was still a relative newcomer when I wrote that. I just hadn’t really noticed it at the time.) I still think there’s a potential liabilty for a candidate to link to bloggers, but I admit I may have overblown the danger. Dean at least has a disclaimer at the bottom of his page which states that he’s not responsible for someone else’s content. I’m still not convinced that mainstream pundits will be clueful enough to tell the story properly if it ever comes to this, but then I’m just extra cynical these days.

One thing I am curious about is if the Dean campaign can maintain this kind of connection to their base of supporters if and when he achieves frontrunner status among the Democrats. If big money donors start to knock on Dean’s door, will that disaffect the legions of small money loyalists? I don’t know if Dean (or anyone) can keep his little-guy cred if he cozies up to the usual fat cats, and I don’t know if any candidate can run against Bush and his war chest effectively without big money. I can see a parallel between the Dean phenomenon and a successful startup company as it goes through a growth spurt, when the originals start to complain that the place has lost the atmosphere and amenities that attracted them to it in the first place. That doesn’t have to happen, of course, and I think the Dean team is prepared to deal with that. It’ll be interesting to watch, and if they can pull it off, it’ll validate the thesis that this is an actual paradigm shift and not a fluke.

Feel the Powerball

The Texas House has approved a bill that would allow Texas to join with other states in the Powerball lottery, a move that supporters say could bring in another $100 million per year. I guess that means the answer to my question is “this year if all goes as planned”.

As the investigation turns

Now that all of the security tapes have arrived intact from DPS, a new star is born: Assistant Attorney General Jay Kimbrough, the governor’s “point man” for the Department of Homeland Security, who was there in the command post on the day that Homeland Security was contacted with the cock-and-bull story about Pete Laney’s plane.

[House General Investigating Committee Chairman Kevin Bailey, D-Houston] said Kimbrough, one of Perry’s former deputy chiefs of staff, was in the DPS command center that was set up May 12 in the speaker’s reception room.

“We don’t know how much of a role he played, but it does appear he was very heavily involved in the process,” Bailey said.

Angela Hale, spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, said Kimbrough was in the room in his capacity as an assistant attorney general, not as homeland defense coordinator.

Hale said Kimbrough had gone to the command center with Abbott’s first assistant, Barry McBee, to offer legal assistance to Craddick and the DPS. McBee is Perry’s former chief of staff.

Hale said McBee called U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in San Antonio to see if the FBI could be used to bring the lawmakers back from Oklahoma or whether the DPS could arrest them across the state line. She said Sutton’s office said “no” to both questions.

As Josh Marshall notes, the clearest thing to come out of all this so far is the probable identity of the fall guy.

Another person who made an appearance in the command center that day is none other than the Governor himself, though only the Chronicle made any real mention of it.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt refused to discuss what Perry did while in the command center but denied he had any role in the use of federal Homeland Security resources.

“I’ve never had any inkling that anybody on our staff, including the governor, called Homeland Security,” Walt said.

Whatever. If Perry had taken any questionable actions here, I fully expect that he’d have done it through vague phrases and several layers of underlings, so that like a mafia don he’d be hard to nail down.

The tapes did show that Tom DeLay’s aide Jim Ellis did nothing noticeable, meaning that the missing six hours was just the result of honest incompetence and not anything sinister. We can all breathe easier now.

Rep. Bailey’s investigation appears to be winding down, but that doesn’t mean it’s all over, as the Austin American Statesman reports:

Bailey said his committee probably will play no major role in any further investigations.

The committee’s preliminary inquiry has satisfied him that DPS probably did nothing criminal when it rushed to destroy all of its records of the search, Bailey said, even though “they probably shouldn’t have done it.”

Because Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is already investigating the records destruction, Bailey said, the committee plans no further inquiry into that.

Marshall Caskey, chief of criminal law enforcement for DPS, has already testified before a county grand jury, and more witnesses are expected to testify Thursday.

Bailey said his committee will probably leave it to federal authorities to sort out whether the Homeland Security Agency did anything improper during the search because his committee does not have the power to demand federal records.

So we’ve got Kimbrough’s as-yet-undetermined role, we’ve got Ronnie Earle deposing DPS, and we’ve got Joe Lieberman pestering the White House. I’m beginning to get the feeling that unless there’s another revelation coming, this thing is about to peter out. We can mutter all we want about the DPS’ lightning reflexes when it comes to records disposal, but without those records it’ll be nigh impossible to tie the smoke to any fires. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m a bit pessimistic right now.

Backup bill for Tulia 13 passes

There are now two bills to free the remaining 13 defendants of the Tulia drug bust who are stil in prison, thanks to an amendment on another bill that just passed the House.

A special prosecutor has said the cases would be dismissed if new trials were ordered. But it could take the appellate court as long as two years to complete its review of the cases, some legislators and lawyers believe.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, responded by filing Senate Bill 1948, which would allow the bonds to be set. That bill was unanimously approved by the Senate on May 14 and is set for routine approval Wednesday on the House’s last “local and consent” calendar of the session. Such special handling is reserved for noncontroversial legislation.

Not wanting to take any chances, however, Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, tacked identical language onto another criminal justice bill by Whitmire that won House approval on Sunday.

The only difference between the two, Keel said, is that Senate Bill 1948, Whitmire’s original Tulia bill, could go into effect immediately once the governor signs it. The backup measure, Senate Bill 826, wouldn’t go into effect until Sept. 1.

Keel said he still expects to win House approval of the original bill but wanted some insurance since the session ends Monday.

“I know of no opposition to the bill,” Keel said.

Hopefully, Whitmire’s SB 1948 will pass the House without any problems, but I suppose it never hurts to have a backup plan.

Joe versus Tom

I agree with Big Media Matt that Joe Lieberman can only help himself in the Presidential primaries by pushing for an investigation of Tom DeLay. It’s an issue that will resonate with partisan Democrats without forcing him to tack left or right, and so far he’s the only one out there doing it. It won’t change the minds of those who really dislike Lieberman for one reason or another, but he certainly won’t lose any ground with this. And who knows? He might eventually get the David Broders and Tim Russerts, also known as “DC’s wizards of high dudgeon”, as Josh Marshall called them, to start talking about this. That would be fun.

DPS continues its Keystone Kops routine

You know things are going badly at the Department of Public Safety when they can’t even dupe a tape without screwing it up:

“I don’t know if people are trying to run out the clock so we’re not in town any more or if it’s just incompetence. Either one is bothersome,” said Rep. Kevin Bailey, D-Houston, chairman of the House General Investigating Committee.

Bailey’s committee is looking into how the Texas Department of Public Safety coordinated its search for 55 missing legislators on May 12, whether anyone associated with U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay helped direct the search and why DPS officials ordered some records on the issue destroyed on May 14.

As part of the probe, Bailey had asked DPS to turn over Capitol security tapes for the hallway outside of House Speaker Tom Craddick’s office. A DPS command post was set up May 12 in Craddick’s reception room, and Bailey said he wants to know who went in and out of that room.

Bailey said the DPS provided his staff with copies of the security tapes late Friday. As the staff watched them over the weekend, the entire week was available except for the afternoon of May 12. He said the tape stopped at 12:47 p.m. and did not begin again until 6 p.m.

“It’s odd that it was the day and time that we wanted,” Bailey said. “It’s fine all week, except for that one period.”

DPS officials scrambled to make a new copy of the May 12 afternoon tape, which was given to the lawmaker Monday evening.

“It’s a simple malfunction,” said DPS spokesman Tom Vinger. “They’re copying hours and hours of tape. They just didn’t notice some was missing.”

Y’know, maybe setting up DPS to oversee state crime labs isn’t such a good idea after all.

UPDATE: DPS managed to copy the missing tape without overwriting it with the last Buffy episode or some such. As Josh Marshall notes, the missing segment has quite a bit of potential for muckraking:

[House Investigations Committee Chairman Kevin Bailey, D-Houston] also indicated that a Travis County grand jury investigating the destruction of records has apparently extended to some House members; [Jim] Ellis, an aide to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay; and perhaps DeLay himself.

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle was unavailable for comment.

Last week, Earle quietly convened a grand jury and took testimony from DPS law enforcement chief Marshall Caskey. His focus was on the agency’s role in destroying files that DPS criminal investigators compiled during the two days that state troopers and Texas Rangers were searching for the runaway legislators.

Bailey’s committee and Earle apparently have zeroed in on a six-hour period May 12 as the likeliest time DPS officials called federal Homeland Security officers to seek their help in tracking down the Democrats.

It was that time period that was missing on the tape.

What a shame that grand jury proceedings are confidential.

Lege does poorly in poll

A poll taken before the Killer D’s walkout occurred says that 53% of Texans disapprove of the job the Legislature is doing. Governor Goodhair is at 50% approval, pretty much where he was in January but with slightly higher negatives (44% compared to 40%). A few items of interest:

While the opposition of Perry and other Republican leaders to higher state taxes will result in spending cuts, 64 percent of Texans believe state government is already doing a “poor” or “only fair” job of providing services to the needy, according to the poll.

And 59 percent believe Texas is doing a “poor” or “only fair” job of providing a quality education in the public schools.

Moreover, despite the state leadership’s opposition to higher taxes, 56 percent of people responding to the Texas Poll said they backed a combination of tax increases and spending cuts to balance the new budget.

Anyone want to alert the state Democratic Party that there just might possibly be a campaign issue or two here?

Too bad this all happened before the Killer D walkout. The only poll regarding that event that I’ve heard of so far is one that was conducted by Rick Perry’s pollster, so I’m not inclined to put any stock in it. Frankly, I think if there will be any fallout from this it’ll be from one party’s base being more energized than the other as a result of this. I could be wrong, but I don’t think too many non-junkies cared one way or the other.

DOT investigating DeLay

I’ve been out of town for most of this weekend, so I’ll just point you to Josh Marshall, who’s been on the Tom DeLay story like Rush Limbaugh on an all-you-can-eat buffet. Marshall notes that now the Department of Transoprtation is now investigating what DeLay knew and when he knew it during the Killer D’s standoff. The crux of the issue is that DeLay apparently used his office to get FAA data that’s not available to the public and gave it to Tom Craddick and the DPS.

Will this lead to anything that actually sticks to DeLay? Who knows? I think Marshall is exactly right when he says that DeLay benefits from his reputation as being a power-hungry jerk, because journalists don’t really consider that to be news. Obviously, the soft bigotry of low expectations is not a universally negative thing.

Someone who could really use some low expectations right about now is Speaker Craddick:

Craddick spokesman Bob Richter said Friday that Craddick and DeLay spoke about the matter May 12, but that Craddick does not remember who initiated the call.

“He doesn’t remember any details at all about that day,” Richter said. Acting on a vote of House members present May 12, Craddick ordered the missing representatives arrested and returned to the Capitol, as allowed under House rules.

Apparently, the ghost of Elizabeth Ray works in Craddick’s office. What a joke.

And so it ends

The Twins played their final game last night. They played hard and they played well, but they came up short. We finished the season as we started it, looking for our first win.

The final loss was really tough. We were down 9-7 to start the bottom of the fourth, and with a little more than 15 minutes left before the time limit kicked in, I figured we needed a 1-2-3 inning to get another chance. When the first three batters got on to load the bases with no outs, I was sure we were doomed.

Not so fast! The next batter hit a line drive right at the third baseman, who snatched it for out number one. On the very next pitch, a sharp ground ball was hit to the shortstop, who grabbed it, tagged the runner heading to third, then stepped on second base to complete a spectactular unassisted doubleplay. We hustled everyone into the dugout and were able to start a fifth inning.

Now the kids were fired up. We were drawing walks and hitting the ball, and when the dust cleared, we’d scored the maximum five runs to take a 12-9 lead. All we had to do was shut them down for the win.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. I could see some jitters out there, and when the opponents started to come back, the pressure may have gotten to us. In the end, we lost 13-12.

The guys took it pretty hard. I told them they had nothing to be ashamed of, that they’d given their best and they’d gone down fighting. I told them they were all better players than they’d been at the start of the season, and that I was proud of them.

The team parents took everyone out for pizza afterwards, which no doubt helped take some of the sting out of losing (that and some Shiner Bock sure helped for me). They presented me with an autographed team ball, and a card with a gift certificate at Oshman’s Sporting Goods as a thank you. I was really touched.

Before the game, I asked each player in private to tell me who his pick for team Most Valuable Player was. I told them that I would announce the MVP and the All Star Game selections afterwards. We were limited to three All Star choices, which was tough for me, since I had four legitimate candidates. The three kids who got picked, one of whom was the team’s MVP choice, were pumped when they heard the news. One of them had been in the league for four years, and this was the first time he’d been picked.

Several parents told me later that they really liked the team MVP concept. It helped each kid think about the other guys’ contributions. They chose a worthy candidate, who was given a “season ball” as his prize.

I lingered at the pizza parlour after the bill was paid, saying goodbye to everyone. There were some rough patches during the season, and plenty of times when I wondered if I had any clue about what I was doing, but looking back over it, I can say it was really rewarding. The kids were generally responsive, the parents were involved and helpful, and it was just plain fun. I was asked several times if I’ll do this again. I deflected the questions because I wanted to take some time and think about it. I do think I will, though.

So that’s the story of my season as coach. I’ll be at the All Star Game – each team coach is expected to be there – but for all practical purposes I’m done. I do know one thing: if I do wind up doing this again, my won-lost record can only improve. How many other coaches have that assurance?

Diane Zamora to get married

Convicted murderer Diane Zamora, who had petitioned the state for permission to marry another inmate named Steven Mora, has been granted that permission.

The strange love story got official Bexar County attention earlier this year, when County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff received letters from both inmates asking for permission to get a marriage license.

“This is the first time this office has had a request like this from two people in prison, one serving a life sentence,” said Rickhoff, who secured legal approval from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

In her letter dated April 29, Zamora wrote: “Sir, I do not take marriage lightly and am certainly not marrying someone I haven’t already met, despite all you’ve heard.”

The marriage would be a double-proxy union, meaning there would be a ceremony at each prison with stand-ins for the bride and groom.

Mora and Zamora, who are restricted to their cells for 23 hours a day, would have to use the hour they get for daily recreation to say “I do,” said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“These types of marriages are performed by volunteer chaplains,” Lyons said. “It’s rare for one inmate to marry another — most marriages by proxy are between an inmate and someone living outside prison walls.”

The union would exempt Mora and Zamora from restrictions imposed by the department in March prohibiting the exchange of letters between inmates in different prisons, Lyons said.

Whatever. It’s a long way to 2036, when Zamora is eligible for parole, so don’t expect too much out of this.

DeLay admits involvement, and other news

In the Sky Is Blue And Water Is Wet Department, Tom DeLay has admitted that yes, he did have a role in the DPS investigation of the Killer D’s.

DeLay said his staff used public information at the Federal Aviation Administration to track former Texas Speaker Pete Laney’s airplane.

Laney was among 55 Democrats who broke a House quorum on May 12 to kill a congressional redistricting bill sought by DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Craddick and DeLay wanted the errant legislators arrested and returned to the House to force a vote on the bill.

“I was told at the time that that plane was in the air coming from Ardmore, Oklahoma, back to Georgetown, Texas,” DeLay said of the FAA’s information, which he said was also available on the agency’s Web site. “I relayed that information to Tom Craddick.”

Texas Department of Public Safety officers working in Craddick’s office had the same information when it contacted a federal air interdiction agency to seek its help in finding Laney’s airplane. The federal agency has since said it was misled into believing Laney’s airplane was missing and possibly had crashed.

Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge, meanwhile, said Thursday his agency is investigating “potentially criminal” misuse of the federal air interdiction service by the DPS.

DeLay said he played no part in the DPS’ decision to contact the federal air interdiction service. And Craddick denies knowing anything about how the DPS came to call the agency.

“I don’t know who contacted who,” Craddick said.

I’ll pause a moment so you can catch your breath and/or stop guffawing. In the meantime, if you’re in the vicinity of Austin or Tom DeLay’s office in Washington, watch out for pointed fingers. Someone could lose an eye.

Meanwhile, in Austin, the Travis County DA’s investigation of search records destroyed by DPS is underway as the chief of DPS was questioned by the grand jury.

The sworn testimony of Marshall Caskey came two days after his agency acknowledged he ordered the destruction of all investigative files the state police accumulated while tracking the lawmakers.

It wasn’t immediately clear who besides Caskey testified Thursday. But the investigation by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle clearly ratchets up the scrutiny on the role the DPS and the federal Homeland Security Department played in the search for the legislators.

Both Earle and the DPS declined to comment on the grand jury proceeding. Late in the day, Earle issued a statement saying his office is “examining the circumstances surrounding the destruction of (DPS) records. The questions (being asked) include what records were destroyed, under what authority and why the records were destroyed so quickly.”

The statement also noted the DPS is cooperating with the probe.

Also Thursday, Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, sought and secured a temporary restraining order in state district court in Austin to prevent the DPS from destroying any more of its records.

Burnam, one of the Democrats who fled to Oklahoma, earlier this week filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all the materials the DPS accumulated during the two days it said it searched for the lawmakers.

While this has the potential to be juicy, they do take time and often disappear off the radar screen. I haven’t heard much about any of the other investigations since they first made news.

The Austin American Statesman‘s John Kelso notes an irony in all this:

Where DPS started looking real screwy is when it destroyed all the records they had compiled about the search for the Democrats — with one exception. The Cops of the Keystone Kind forgot to ditch the incriminating e-mail.

Yes, I know, it’s not as easy as just hitting the Delete key. But still, that’s pretty funny.

The Star Telegram has possibly the ugliest photos of Tom Ridge and Tom DeLay you’ll ever see, plus a reminder from DeLay that like Lord Voldemort and Darth Vader, he may have retreated but he hasn’t been defeated:

“I’m not giving up,” DeLay said. “And I will not be intimidated. This is not over yet.”

There was no indication if he rubbed his hands maniacally amidst evil laughter and lightning strikes in the background.

Finally, from the Dallas Morning News, some more good news for the Democrats:

In related matter, a DPS spokeswoman said a Travis County prosecutor has told the DPS that there was insufficient evidence to press charges in the reported theft of a GOP redistricting map. A Craddick aide said that an aide to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Arlington, took draft redistricting maps from his briefcase, which he had left unattended in a Capitol committee room.

A surveillance camera showed that Frost aide leaving the room with documents.

Given how crappy surveillance camera video often is, that’s no surprise. Call the CSI folks next time, fellas. They’re always able to pull the right pixels out of the image.

It’s a Catch-22 for DPS

In the comments to this post, Morat suggests the statute that DPS was talking about, and goes to show why it’s not applicable. Josh Marshall is on the same page, and he’s quoted from this Star Telegram article and this Statesman article to show the contradiction that DPS is in.

“The mere invocation of it is nothing more than an attempt to find an excuse, to find some sort of cover for what is clearly an embarrassing action that was probably taken hastily,” said Houston attorney Rob Wiley, a former president of the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation. “It seems on its face to be ludicrous.”

Wiley and Austin media law attorney Bill Aleshire said the records destruction might have violated state open records laws, or worse.

“We’ve got DPS using the criminal investigation apparatus of the U.S. to track the Killer Ds, and then they destroy the evidence of the tracking on the grounds that it wasn’t a criminal matter,” Aleshire said. “DPS knew the first day they were looking for the Killer Ds that it was not a criminal investigation. If they violated federal regulations, if not other laws, in using the criminal investigation apparatus for this political purpose, the destruction of the records that were created could be considered obstruction of justice.”

Aleshire noted that the federal code the department cited to destroy the records also seems to prohibit it from using its criminal intelligence program to collect information on the missing lawmakers.

The code is a lengthy federal provision setting guidelines for handling records in far-ranging criminal investigations such as loan sharking and drug trafficking.

Among other things, the code requires that law enforcement agencies “shall make assurances that there will be no harassment or interference with any lawful political activities as part of the intelligence operation.”

The Chron has a new front page story which indicates that Tom Ridge is acknowledging what the Democrats have said all along:

Ridge made the statement near the end of a hearing before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, as Democrats repeated their request that he release tapes of conversations between the Texas Department of Public Safety, which was searching for the missing Democrats, and an agency of Ridge’s department.

“This is now potentially a criminal investigation,” Ridge responded to a question from Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J. “The tapes are part of the evidentiary chain. When you’re involved in a criminal investigation involving information and pieces of evidence, they’re not necessarily available for public review right now. At some point in time I suspect it will be available.”

It’s not the act but the coverup. It’s not just impropriety but the appearance of impropriety. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Liberal radio

Jesse points to this interesting article which indicates that the specter of liberal-themed talk radio may be more than just vaporware:

At a Saturday talk radio industry event put on by Talkers Magazine, Gabe Hobbs, Clear Channel Radio’s vice president of News/Talk/Sports, announced that in the near future this corporate owner of over 1200 radio stations is considering programming some of their talk stations “in markets where there are already one or two stations doing conservative talk” with all-day back-to-back all-liberal talk show hosts.

Using the analogy of how music radio stations wouldn’t run different categories of music on a single programming day, Hobbs said talk radio was similarly “all about format.” This, he said, is why liberal talkers haven’t succeeded when sandwiched between conservatives – radio stations shouldn’t mix formats but instead should market to specific listener niches. Understanding this, it’s clear that only all-liberal/all-day programming can fill the demand for liberal talk radio, Hobbs’ comments suggested.

I suppose I should be happy about this, and certainly a pragmatic part of me is, but isn’t this sort of market segmentation exactly what’s wrong with music radio today? Maybe I’m just being cranky, since talk radio is different in many ways, but when Clear Channel starts talking about why its rigid programming style is a Good Thing, I instinctively recoil.

I’ll get over it. The article makes some other good points about market saturation and the timing of this announcement, so check it out.

Coverups and criminality

It’s really amusing that Texas State GOP Chair Sarah Weddington told her colleagues to use phrases like “on the lam” when describing the Killer D’s walkout because it connotes “criminal wrongdoing”, especially given that the justification being bandied about by the Texas Department of Public Safety for destroying all records having to do with the search for the Killer D’s is that it was not a criminal matter.

DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said the agency acted appropriately in destroying the records because federal law mandates that law enforcement agencies cannot keep intelligence information on individuals who are not suspected of a crime. The missing lawmakers were not accused of any crimes.

Which leads to a question that Josh Marshall asked:

Does this regulation even exist? In each of the stories I’ve read this evening, the writer passes on that claim without any comment giving the reader a clue as to whether it has any validity.

Is there really a federal regulation stipulating that nothing that police agencies compile — pictures, notes, phone logs, anything — can be kept unless it pertains to a specific criminal investigation? I find it really hard to believe that such a sweeping regulation exists. Now, mind you, my question is not purely rhetorical. I have certainly asked such questions before, with great incredulity, only to find out that yes, believe it or not, the answer is ‘yes.’ It just doesn’t sound true to me, though — and I think the failure to mention any specific regulation and the, shall we say, diminishing credibility of the source [DPS] makes me think so even more.

If this “regulation” does in fact exist, it isn’t used all that much:

It also was not immediately revealed today whether the DPS had ever before destroyed documents under the federal regulations it cited in its prepared statement.

I’m finding it harder and harder to not lapse into Dana Carvey mode and make with the “How Conveeeeenient” asides, let me tell you.

Darlie Routier loses appeal

The state Court of Criminal Appeals has unanimously rejected Darlie Routier’s appeal for a new trial. Routier’s attorneys had argued that the trial transcript, which was known to contain many errors, prevented them from raising legal issues, but the court rejected that argument. She still has a federal appeal pending on her death sentence. I wrote about this case last year, and I still feel the same way about it today.

Baseball, money, and meaning

Unlearned Hand, who just finished watching the 1950s episode of Ken Burns’ Baseball miniseries, has a question:

It really is a shame how the money has corrupted baseball. I have no doubt that this is equally true of other sports, but am I so wrong in thinking that baseball really used to mean something in this country? Something special?

The answer to the question is Yes, but the implication is that this is no longer the case. I’d argue that’s very much not so, as anyone who watched the 2001 World Series would attest. Attendance figures bear that out as well – take a look at the yearly attendance and average league attendance for the Braves, Cubs, and Yankees, and observe that average attendance in 2002 was nearly triple that of 1952, and with twice as many teams to boot. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – there’s never been a better time than now to be a baseball fan.

As for money, well, the entire history of professional baseball is all about money. Entire leagues, including the Federal League, whose unsuccessful 1915 lawsuit against Major League Baseball gave rise to its antitrust exemption, were formed in response to team owners’ penurious practices. High profile players frequently held out, from Home Run Baker (who jumped to the Federal League in 1915 after playing on the pennant-winning A’s team) to Babe Ruth (who justified getting paid more than President Hoover in 1930 with the immortal line “I had a better year than he did”) to Joe DiMaggio (who got hate mail from parents of GIs in 1942 after he demanded that his salary not be cut following his storied 1941 season) to Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale (who held out together in 1966), sometimes for entire seasons, in order to be paid what they thought they were worth.

As it happens, by the way, one side effect of the Yankees’ dominance in the 1950s was reduced attendance among other American League teams. The minor leagues also declined, with only 38 teams in existence in 1957.

I loved Ken Burns’ miniseries, and I loved The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and many other things about baseball’s history, but they all paint the past with excessively bright colors. To paraphrase a famous baseball fan, the good old days weren’t always good, and today’s a lot better than it seems.

DPS covers its tracks

The Texas Department of Public Safety is under heavy criticism for how it handled the search for the missing Democratic legislators last week, with allegations of harassment of the legislators’ families and misleading the Department of Homeland Security about Pete Laney’s plane. In response to the accusations, the DPS has announced that it has destroyed all records related to their actions last week.

“We can maintain intelligence information only if there is a reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in criminal activity and the information is relevant to that criminal activity,” an agency statement said.

“Any kind of intelligence information that we can maintain or disseminate must not be used in violation of the privacy and constitutional rights of individuals.”

The unsigned DPS statement said the Democratic walkout on May 12 was not a criminal investigation so the agency could not legally maintain the information. The order to destroy the documents came on May 15.

I’m just speechless. There’s no way you can spin this as protecting privacy because the people whose privacy would be affected by the investigation are the ones who are demanding it. This is a hamhanded coverup, as clumsy and bullheaded as torching a jewelry store to hide evidence of a burglary. I can’t imagine anything the DPS could have done that would have been less likely to make this issue go away.

Of course, they’re not the only ones who are stonewalling:

Congressional Democrats also raised questions May 14 about whether the DPS misused a federal Homeland Security Department agency in searching for former Speaker Pete Laney’s airplane the day of the walkout.

A DPS officer had called the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center asking for help locating Laney’s aircraft.

The federal agency last Thursday put out a statement saying the DPS had mislead the interdiction service into believing it was searching for an aircraft that was missing and had possibly crashed.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has refused to release tapes of the telephone call from DPS.

The Fort Worth Star Telegram has a fuller story that names the person responsible for giving the order to destroy:

AUSTIN – One day before Democrats ended their boycott of the Texas House last week, the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered the destruction of all records and photos gathered in the search for them, documents obtained Tuesday show.

A one-sentence order sent by e-mail on the morning of May 14 was apparently carried out, a DPS spokesman said Tuesday. The revelation comes as federal authorities are investigating how a division of the federal Homeland Security Department was dragged into the hunt for the missing Democrats — at the request of the state police agency.

Addressed to “Captains,” the order said: “Any notes, correspondence, photos, etc. that were obtained pursuant to the absconded House of Representative members shall be destroyed immediately. No copies are to be kept. Any questions please contact me.”

It was signed by the commander of the DPS Special Crimes Service, L.C. “Tony” Marshall.

As vile as this act is, it’s not clear that it’s a crime:

State law generally requires that records be kept for a certain period of time, but it was unclear late Tuesday how those guidelines would affect DPS’ actions.

Angela Hale, spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, said it would be a crime to destroy records that had been requested under the Texas Open Records Act. It could not be determined late Tuesday if there was a standing request for the records before they were destroyed.

Hale said destroying records before state guidelines allow it would not be within the purview of the attorney general.

Rob Wiley, past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said it may not be a crime, but it is not how state agencies typically handle records.

“As a general rule, government agencies don’t destroy records this quickly … that is very unusual,” he said.

“A reasonable person would certainly believe that somebody thinks something ought to be hidden,” Wiley said. “The likelihood was there was some kind of attempt to use the governmental processes for what was clearly a partisan political issue.”

This AP wire story notes that there was a request for the DPS information:

State Reps. Lon Burnam, Yvonne Davis and Timoteo Garza — members of the House law enforcement committee who were among the fleeing lawmakers — filed a Texas Public Information Act request Monday seeking all printed and electronic documents about the DPS involvement in the search.

By Monday all of the records were already destroyed, though of course that was not yet known. Whether a Texas Public Information Act request meets the standard that Attorney General Abbott’s spokeswoman mentioned for a criminal case is something I couldn’t say. Bear in mind, though, that when these reps asked about these records at a Public Safety Commission meeting, they were not told they had been destroyed.

Democratic Reps. Lon Burnam, Yvonne Davis and Timoteo Garza filed a Texas Public Information Act request Monday seeking all printed and electronic documents about how the agency searched after the legislators didn’t show up for the House session May 12.

But officials did not answer Burnam’s questions during a Public Safety Commission meeting Tuesday, saying a response would not be appropriate because it was during the public comment period.

“It was very gracious and polite stonewalling,” said Burnam, D-Fort Worth.

So if this was during the public comment period, then why had the records already been destroyed? That doesn’t add up.

On a side note, Josh Marshall outlines Tom DeLay’s role in all this, in DeLay’s own words, here.

Talk Like A Pirate Online

One of the most popular posts I wrote last year, at least in terms of Google searches that led to this site, was this one about National Talk Like A Pirate Day. Well, thanks to an email I received last night from NTLAPD co-founder John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur, I can tell you that all of your pirate talking needs can be satisfied here. Be sure to read the brief history of NTLAPD, which contains the following amazing bit of information:

Chase’s Calendar of Events, the annual listing every holiday under the sun (and many under the moon, for you Wiccans out there) asked us to submit the event for inclusion in their 2004 listing (2003 has already gone to press.) So that makes it official, as far as we’re concerned.

Pretty darned cool. They couldn’t have done it without the help of Dave Barry, whose influential column on the subject can be found here.

So mark your calendars, for September 19 is less than four months away. Arr!

Have petard, will hoist

Seems like just yesterday that the main leg breakerpolitical consultant for mayoral candidate Michael “Boy Wonder” Berry was accusing Orlando Sanchez for being soft on tax scofflaws. Turns out that Berry has issues of his own:

Monday, Berry’s campaign consultant blasted Sanchez for scheduling a fund-raiser at the home of people who owed back property taxes.

As it turns out, one of Berry’s own steering committee members, lawyer Mark Dulworth, had the same problem — overdue taxes of $2,770 on a house he bought last year in West University Place.

Berry spokesman Chris Begala said Dulworth’s mortgage company was supposed to have escrowed money to pay the tax bill that became due Jan. 31.

After learning that had not happened, Dulworth paid his back taxes on Tuesday, Begala said.

Begala said that Dulworth has contributed $100 to the Berry campaign in addition to being a steering committee member.

This is all just incredibly petty and tawdry, and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Keep it coming, fellas, I need something to tide me over until I get to see Matrix Reloaded.

One month to Harry

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be released on June 21, which will probably do more to stimulate the economy than any Bush tax cut ever will. Book Magazine has several articles on Harry and author JK Rowling in this month’s issue, a subset of which is online. Spoiler warning: Strictly speaking, not much, certainly nothing in particular, but there are speculations, hints, and allegations, so the more spoiler-sensitive among us should stay away.

Cry havoc, and unleash the consultants of war

Ah, the sweet sound of conservative candidates trashing each other:

The political consultant to mayoral candidate Michael Berry has talked about finding a “silver bullet” of an issue to aim at opponent Orlando Sanchez.

Monday, the consultant, Allen Blakemore, came forward with more of a burr under the Sanchez saddle blanket.

Blakemore conducted a news conference blasting Sanchez for scheduling a fund-raiser today at the home of a couple that owes more than $16,000 in back property taxes for the current year.

Blakemore said the fund-raiser indicates Sanchez is not abiding by his campaign promise to meet “the highest standards of honesty and integrity.”

He noted that City Council recently approved an ordinance prohibiting the city from doing business with companies that owe more than $100 in city taxes.

Blakemore said the couple chose to give campaign contributions rather than pay property taxes.

“This type of behavior is indicative of Orlando Sanchez, and the Michael Berry campaign is going to point this out throughout the entire mayoral election campaign,” Blakemore said.


Blakemore has said Berry’s campaign strategy includes taking the offensive against Sanchez in a fight for the conservative Republican voters both need.

In February, Blakemore said, “We’re going to get to the right of Orlando and see if we can work him over.”

That noise you hear is Kevin Whited banging his head against a wall.

Allen Blakemore accusing anyone of being unethical is, of course, hysterical. He’s got quite a track record in Houston. This race may be more entertaining than I first thought.

New venue denied for K-Mart trial

The attempt by attorneys for former HPD Captain Mark Aguirre and former HPD Sergeant Ken Wenzel to get a change of venue in their upcoming trial on five counts of official oppression has failed. State District Judge Carol Davies made essentially the same point I did back then:

“We have certainly seen many high-profile cases in which we’ve been successful at getting jurors,” Davies said in handing down her ruling. Earlier this year Davies presided over the murder trial of Clara Harris, the dentist convicted of running over and killing her adulterous husband. That case drew national media attention.

She’ll let the defense team raise the issue again during voir dire if need be, which is reasonable enough. Now let’s get this show on the road!