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October, 2003:

Falwell on Boykin and Clinton

Mark Evanier catches Jerry Falwell saying something really dumb on Crossfire.

BEGALA: General Boykin said — and I’m quoting him here about our president — “Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him.” He’s right about that. “Why is he there? And I tell you this morning, he’s in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this.” Now, in case General Boykin is watching, and for our folks at home, let me show a couple of images here. First, this is God. God is depicted, actually, by Michelangelo in his masterpiece in ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. On the right side of your screen is William Rehnquist. He’s the chief justice of the Supreme Court. He’s the one who put George Bush in the White House, isn’t he, Reverend Falwell? Not God.

FALWELL: Well, if — if you don’t take the Bible seriously, what you and Hussein just said would be true. But the vast majority of believers worldwide, Christian, followers of Christ, believe that God rules in the affairs of men. And history would support that.

BEGALA: So God put President Clinton in office?

FALWELL: You worked for a long time for Bill Clinton. You worked for a long time for Bill Clinton.

BEGALA: So God put him there?

FALWELL: I think that we needed Bill Clinton, because we turned our backs on the lord and we needed a bad president to get our attention again to pray for a good president. That’s what I believe.

You know, if one looks at it that way, that is a pretty good reason for believing that God put Bush in the White House. Falwell was just wrong about which President God installed as a means to get our attention. Makes as much sense as anything else does.

Full transcript here. It should be noted that there was laughter after Falwell’s last line, so perhaps it was all intended and interpreted as a joke, I don’t know. Doesn’t change what I said, though.

That’s not the point

Ezra attempts to answer a question that President Bush recently posed:

Who can possibly think that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein still in power?

The problem here is that this is the wrong question to be asked. It’s a meaningless question meant to distract us from looking at the implications of how we went about removing Saddam from power and what it has cost us in money, lives, missed opportunities, and international reputation.

Who can possibly think that I would be better off not buying and eating food? No one, of course. But if you were to learn that my entire food budget was spent on Cheetos and vodka, would you think that this was a good use of my resources? What if you found out that I was spending so much on food that I could no longer pay for my mortgage? That doesn’t sound very smart, either.

Let’s play what-if for a second. Suppose we could turn back the clock to before Bush’s speech in fron of the UN, before we really started to beat the drums about Iraq. Suppose at that time we made a deal that Saddam would immediately step down from power and disappear from the earth as his army was disbanded, and in return we’d withdraw $150 billion from our Treasury and burn it. In other words, we’d achieve the end of deposing Saddam, which as time goes on seems to be the only justification for this adventure, and all it would cost us is the money we wound up spending anyway. No soliders or Iraqi citizens killed, “Old Europe” is still our buddy, and the fate of Iraq is left up to the Iraqis themselves. Is this preferable to what actually happened?

If so, then we can begin to discuss the real questions, such as “Did we do the right thing in deposing Saddam the way we did? Was the cost of our actions – in blood, in money, in everything – worth the results that we gained? Were there other goals in our war against terrorism that we should have focused on first before we dealt with Saddam?” Those are questions that don’t have answers anywhere near as easy as the one our President would like to ask. But if Don Rumsfeld can ask some tough questions about whether or not we’ve been doing the right things, then so can the rest of us.

Slacktivist takes on “Left Behind”

Allow me, somewhat belatedly, to add my voice to those (such as Patrick) who have cited and praised Slacktivist‘s ongoing series of posts about the “Left Behind” books (start here and look for posts whose titles begin with “L.B.”) As others have noted, Slacktivist is himself a devout Christian who brings a deep understanding of the Bible and theology to this discussion. He’s only up to page 15 of the first book (this could turn out to be the longest book review ever) and there’s a ton of material for him, which he handles with wit and aplomb. Check it out.

Oh, yeah, that election

I don’t know how many people get mail from the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus PAC and the Harris County GOP PAC on the same day, but it sure feels special to be in that group. The HCGOPers endorsed pretty much the same group as the Conservative Republicans of Harris County, with three exceptions: MJ Khan instead of Terry McConn in District F, Jeff Daily instead of Greg Myers in the all-GOP District G, and fascinatingly, no one in At Large #5. I’m not sure if they’ve got an axe to grind with Boy Wonder Berry or what, but that oversight really stands out to me.

Not too surprisingly, there’s no intersection with the HGLPCPAC, whose picks are: Bill White for Mayor, Annise Parker for Controller, Brian Wozniak, Gordon Quan, Jolanda Jones, Sue Lovell, and Dwight Boykins for At Large #1-5, Malaki Sims, Ada Edwards, Vickie Keller, Derrick Wesley, and Adrian Garcia for District C, D, E, F, and H, plus Michael Gomez and Dr. G. San Miguel for HISD #3 and 4. For the most part, these line up with my own choices, which I’ll post about shortly.

We also got a mailer from the Houston Police Officers Union, who endorsed White for Mayor and the Republican candidates for At Large 1, 3, 4, and 5 as well as Districts C and E. Say this for White, he’s got support that crosses ideological boundaries.

If all that ain’t enough for you, the Harris County Democratic Party and the Harris County GOP both have useful candidate info pages with links to their email addresses and relevant websites. Take some time and check it all out, there’s a lot of new names and faces to learn about.

Pop goes the X10

Normally, I consider business bankruptcies to be a Bad Thing, but every once in a while there’s one that makes you reconsider.

SEATTLE – X10 Wireless Technology, known for ubiquitous Internet ads showing scantily clad women as seen from miniature wireless cameras, has filed for protection in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition.

Strangely enough, the story did not display in a popup window.

Concordes retiring

So long, supersonic.

LONDON — British Airways’ last Concorde flight for fare-paying passengers took off for New York today, a day before scheduled supersonic service ends for good.

Both today’s London-New York flight and Friday’s final trans-Atlantic return are expected to be full, but Friday’s passengers will all be invited guests of the airline, including actress Joan Collins and Concorde frequent flyer Sir David Frost.

Thousands of planespotters are expected to gather near Heathrow Airport on Friday to watch the near-simultaneous landing of the New York flight and two other Concordes — one carrying competition winners from Edinburgh, the other taking guests on a circular flight from Heathrow over the Bay of Biscay.

With that, the era of supersonic commercial flight will be over, at least for now.

I don’t really have anything to add to this, just that I thought the Concorde was cool. Too bad it was too expensive and environmentally unfriendly. I also didn’t realize just how strong the opposition was to the Concorde in New York. I’d probably feel less affection for it if my house was underneath its flight path.

Dems send some money home

Looks like some of the external fundraising that the Killer D’s/Texas 11 did has borne some fruit.

Since the redistricting fight erupted last spring, 13 of the 17 Texas Democrats in Congress have donated more than $230,000 to the state Democratic Party and a political fund dedicated to re-electing state lawmakers.

Some of the funds have been used to rally public opposition to the redistricting effort, party leaders said, while much of it has been set aside to help re-elect Democrats in the Texas House who managed to delay the process by hiding out in Oklahoma.

“Some of those members put their political lives on the line,” said Rep. Gene Green of Houston, who has given $15,000 to the state party this summer and another $25,000 to the Majority Political Action Committee of Texas, or MPACT, formed this year to re-elect Democrats to the Texas House.

“I think all of us have realized that if you’re going to be in the battle, you have to be there with everything you can. So sure, we talked with each other and said, ‘We need to help these folks,’ ” he said.

[…]

Quarterly financial reports filed by last week show that 13 of the state’s 17 incumbent Democrats donated a total of $141,000 from their campaign funds to the state Democratic Party, ranging from $5,000 from Reps. Nick Lampson of Beaumont and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston to $50,000 from Rep. Martin Frost of Arlington, dean of the delegation.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that Martin’s been a supporter of the Texas Democratic Party for at least the 25 years he’s been in Congress,” said spokesman Jess Fassler.

The reports also show that nine of the Democrats sent checks totaling $91,200 to MPACT, formed this year as a counterbalance to various GOP political action committees. The bulk came from three congressmen who each gave $25,000: Mr. Green, Chet Edwards of Waco and Rubén Hinojosa of Mercedes.

Most of the incumbents have also put up $5,000 to $20,000 each for legal fees, and that is expected the grow. The last big legal fight over the state’s congressional districts cost Democrats about $1.7 million.

[…]

State Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, chairman of the Democratic Caucus in the Texas House, said the congressional money has been vital to get the MPACT up and running, but the committee has raised “considerably more” at events last weekend in Maine and fund-raisers in Colorado, Austin, Dallas and elsewhere.

“We’re trying to save money and use it to help re-elect Democrats next year,” Mr. Dunnam said, adding that the donations show the solidarity forged this year among Democrats in Congress and the Legislature.

“We really are in the same boat together. We fight for the same things, we just do it different places. Too much in the past the delegations have sort of not paid much attention to one another, and that’s one thing we were able to change this year,” he said. “Frankly it took Tom DeLay to get us unified.”

Can I just say, “About damn time!” I frequently hear Republicans talk about how Democrats in Texas need to adjust to being the minority party and out of power. Well, this is a part of that. The majority party, the party that controls all levels of state government and enjoys a big lead in voter registrations, can afford to be lazy about things like this (not that the Republican Party has, which is a big part of the reason why they’ve become the majority party and will be tough to dislodge), but as someone once said, when you’re #2 you need to try harder. That message finally seems to be sinking in, and not a moment too soon.

Now if we could only get all of the Houston-area incumbents to send a few bucks back to the Harris County Democratic Party, then we’d really be on to something.

Chron endorses Davila Martinez

The Chron has endorsed Diana Davila Martinez for City Council District H, which is where I live, citing her past experience as the key.

Davila Martinez served ably in the Legislature from 1993-1999. A graduate of Harvard University, she spent much of her time in Austin giving neighborhoods and civic clubs the tools and powers they need to clean up blight and shut down or control irresponsibly or illegally operated bars.

Davila Martinez has served on the boards of Catholic Charities, Association for Community Television, Children At Risk and other charitable endeavors. She promises to support mass transit improvements, prudent spending and better performance by city employees.

I had a message on my answering machine on Tuesday from Ms. Davila Martinez, and spoke to her yesterday. She objected to Diane Mosier’s statement that Adrian Garcia has been endorsed by “every local democratic elected official”. I have invited her to email me a response, and when I get it I will print it.

Beef! It’s expensive for dinner

Before I get to the main purpose of this post, I’d first like to address this, which was cited by Atrios.

CHANGE OF MENU. Jeffrey’s at the Watergate, a restaurant that served Texas cooking, has closed its doors, reports The Washington Post. The restaurant, which claimed to be a “‘hot spot’ of the First Couple,” served such meals as “Secretary Evans Roquefort and tomato salad” and “Condoleezza Rice lemon meringue tart with raspberry sauce.”

The restaurant has returned to its old name, Aquarelle, which was a popular spot during the Clinton administration; it now serves Mediterranean cuisine. The Post writes that this is “not a symbol or a sign or a portent.” Ever the optimists, we beg to differ.

“Secretary Evans Roquefort and tomato salad” and “Condoleezza Rice lemon meringue tart with raspberry sauce”??? What the hell kind of “Texas cooking” is that? That’s the sort of frippery that faux-populist Texas politicians (of all stripes, I might add) mock about places like Washington and New York.

Look, it’s very simple: There are many restaurants in Texas at which one can find a wide variety of cuisines (see here for a sample of what’s available in Houston, for example), but there are only a few styles (such as barbecue and Tex-Mex, to name two) that can be correctly called “Texas cooking”. The examples cited are not among them.

Now then. According to this front-page Chron story, the high price of beef is giving restauranteurs heartburn.

“It’s killing us,” Sambuca Jazz Cafe chef Carl “C.J.” Johnston moans. “It’s gotten to where every time we sell beef, we lose money.”

[…]

“When you come to my restaurant, the waiters are going to push the fresh seafood specials,” Johnston confesses. “If we sell equal amounts of seafood and equal amounts of beef, we’ll be OK. We’ve got to get creative because it’s not economically sound right now to raise prices.”

Six months ago, a 10-ounce beef filet cost Johnston $8. Today, he’s paying $10.60, and by December, he expects to pay $12 or more for the same cut.

“It’s scary,” he said. “But can we not serve beef and stay open as a restaurant? I don’t think so. In Houston, Texas, you’ve got to have beef.”

You can blame Canada, at least partially, for the problem, but there’s an even bigger factor at work.

The United States shut down cattle imports from Canada after a lone cow was diagnosed with mad cow disease in May. According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Canada provided 7 percent of our beef supply prior to the ban. Although the U.S. government has partially lifted the embargo, the amount coming in is shy of earlier levels because live Canadian cattle are still barred.

“But that’s just a small part of it,” said Rick Hamilton of Chicago-based Allen Bros., which supplies beef to high-end restaurants nationwide. “This has actually been going on for several years. There’s been a steady decline of cattle because of drought conditions (in Nebraska and Kansas). The ranchers have nothing to feed them on. The number of cattle on feed has dropped by 8 percent. Right now, they’re holding back heifers to build up stock. But it’ll take 30 months before we really start to see results.”

While cattle production has slackened in the last decade, the demand for beef has increased.

Casual steakhouses saw a 12 percent rise in consumer spending over the past two years. And U.S. demand for beef has increased 10 percent since 1998, Texas Beef Council marketing manager Russell Woodward said.

The reason?

“People are very confident in the safety of beef,” Woodward said. “Now they’ve got permission to consume it.”

Blame Dr. Atkins.

“We did a little survey,” said Texas Land & Cattle Steak House President David Franklin, “and it indicated that 30-40 percent of our customers are on the (high-protein) Atkins diet.”

So far, restaurants here have not raised prices, but that may not last. You’re getting a bargain when you order that porterhouse, so enjoy it while you can.

…And the rest

Today we get to meet the low profile candidates in this year’s Mayoral race. It’s quite a collection.

Come Jan. 1, Houston will have a new mayor.

It will not be Anthony Dutrow, Douglas Robb, Jack Terence, Ralph Ullrich or John WorldPeace.

That much is known.

Dutrow is the Socialist Workers’ Party candidate and the only one of the five that I’m certain had announced a candidacy prior to the filing deadline. There were two who had announced but did not file. Annoyingly, both of them participated in the one candidates’ forum that I got to attend. The only way their participation could have been a bigger waste of time was for them to ultimately not run.

Anyway, you may recall John WorldPeace from his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Jack Josey Terence, also known as Jailbird, has run for Mayor before, on the same ballot as “The Outlaw Josey Wales IV”. I thought the two might have been the same person, but apparently not. Luis Ralph Ullrich has run for Mayor before, but other than a citation in a ten-year-old copy of the U of Houston Daily Cougar which says he’s also known as “Ralph the Plumber”, I couldn’t find anything interesting about him. I could find nothing about Douglas Robb or Veronique Gregory, either.

In my Copious Spare Time, I’d love to interview some of these people to get a better feel for why they do this. The article hints at some of the reasons, such as a desire to get a message out and a belief they can actually win, but there’s only so much you can cover in an overview like this. It could be very enlightening, or it could be a complete trip down the rabbit hole, I don’t know. I just think someone ought to find out.

Oh, and on a side note, a pet peeve of mine. From the article:

To call them campaigns of ideas is apropos, as there seems to be little else in the way of traditional electioneering and fund raising.

Argh. Here’s the definition of “apropos” from Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: 1ap·ro·pos
Pronunciation: “a-pr&-‘pO, ‘a-pr&-”
Function: adverb
Etymology: French à propos, literally, to the purpose
Date: 1668

1 : at an opportune time : SEASONABLY
2 : by way of interjection or further comment: with regard to the present topic

“Apropos” does not mean “appropriate”. It’s not even an adjective. Please don’t make me grind my teeth by using it inappropriately. That is all.

RIP, Rerun

It’s a sad day today: Fred “Rerun” Berry has passed away, apparently from natural causes, at the age of 52. By his passing, he leaves behind an eternal mystery:

He wore his red beret and suspenders in real life, and it was unclear whether he originally brought his own style to the character of Rerun or whether he was forever mimicking the goofball character that made him famous.

Perhaps some day, a future episode of “The E! True Hollywood Story” will get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, rest in peace, Fred Berry.

De Clunibus Magnis Amandis Oratio

I think we can all agree that what the world needs now is more Latin translations of hiphop music, such as this stunning effort to bring the words of Sir Mix-a-Lot into the realm of Cicero, which inspired an equally compelling continuation here. I think the English re-translation would make for an excellent dramatic reading, as Steve Allen once did for Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”, a Babelfish English->Italian->English version of which can be found here.

(Thanks to Matt for bringing this to my attention.)

Blog doings

Kos points out an interesting new blog called the Swing State Project, which aims to analyze the upcoming Presidential race in 19 states that were decided by less than 5 points in 2000 (full methodology explained here). It looks pretty promising so far.

You’ve probably already heard that Jeff Cooper is going on an indefinite hiatus due to some unfortunate health problems his young son is experiencing, but in case you haven’t, drop by and leave him a note of well-wishes.

Jim Capozzola is also going through some hard times, in his case more of an economic nature. He’s got a PayPal button if you are inclined to toss him a few coins.

There is some good news out there: Dwight Meredith, who retired his well-respected PLA blog recently, is now guest posting (second chairing?) at Wampum. It’s good to have him back.

Finally, I linked to one of his posts earlier, but I want to give a full intro to Jonathan Ichikawa, who is now the third current or former member of the Rice MOB to enter the blog world, joining myself and Doug Haunsperger. He’s doing the philosophy grad student thing at Brown and has some interesting stuff on his blog. Check it out.

UPDATE: I am covered with shame as Michael (a one-year MOBster himself from before my tenure there) reminds me in the comments that my own blogfather, Mike Tremoulet, is yet another former MOB member. Argh! Sorry about that, Mikey!

Extremism in the name of preventing fraud can be a vice

Jonathan Ichikawa points out the case of tax loony Irwin Schiff, who was recently hit with a restraining order that forbids him from distributing his latest tome, Federal Mafia: How the Government Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes, from speaking about income taxes, and from preparing someone else’s tax return. It also required him to turn over his customer list to the government, an order which was stayed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

I’ve written about guys like Schiff and the scams they peddle (most recently here), and it’s vitally important to understand that what he is doing, no matter how fervently he may believe in it, is fraud. People go to jail and pay hefty penalties to the IRS for following his advice. Check out the invaluable Tax Protesters FAQ and see how often Schiff is mentioned by name or by court decision and you’ll see the extent of the problem. As such, I totally understand the government’s desire to keep him from getting even more otherwise law-abiding citizens into trouble.

That said, this order overreaches by at least half. Preventing Schiff from preparing tax returns strikes me as within the bounds of constitutionality, and preventing the sale of his book could be justified as an anti-fraud measure (had he been giving it away, he’d have a clearer free speech argument in my mind). Preventing him from speaking about the income tax, however, is wrong. He still has the right to his stupid opinions. The practical effect of doing this is to make him seem like a rebel or a martyr instead of just a grifter. In a perfect unlimited-resources world, the ideal answer would be to have someone follow him around at all times to counter what he says. We can’t do that, so some folks will have to learn the hard way.

As for his customer list, no way in hell, and I’d say that even if the Attorney General wasn’t John Ashcroft. I’d like to believe that the government is motivated at least in part by a desire to give those customers some education and the opportunity to voluntarily amend their returns, but that won’t be what happens. I’m sure all Schiff-inspired tax returns have a fair amount of commonality among themselves, so fire up the computers and let the pattern-matchers do their thing. Nice try, but no dice.

Who’s afraid of Richard Gephardt?

Big Media Matt says he’s “puzzled” by this story in which a majority of GOP politicians and strategists polled named Rep. Richard Gephardt as the Democratic candidate that they think is the strongest challenger to Bush. I can understand his lack of enthusiasm for Gephardt, but I don’t think there’s anything puzzling about this, nor do I think there’s anything as sinister as a feint by the GOP to get us gullible Dems to back the wrong horse.

No, I think this simply means that the GOP is as unsure right now who the most “electable” Democrat is as the Democrats are. Each of the six major candidates has different strengths, and if you focus solely on those strengths, as appears to be the case here, it’s easy enough to construct a solid case for this guy or that one. The fact of the matter is that any Democratic candidate who succeeds at using his strengths and minimizing his weaknesses will have a good shot at the Presidency. It’s just that none of us right now knows who is the most likely do this, so we pass the time speculating. Maybe these Republicans are right and maybe they’re wrong, but the bottom line is nobody knows, and we won’t know until it’s too late for us Democrats to change our minds. That more than anything is what scares me about this race.

I do have one nit to pick with this article:

One of the main reasons many other Republicans fret about Gephardt is the electoral map, which many in the GOP say points to the Midwest as the region that will decide the presidency.

It says here that the party that obsesses the most over one part of the country will lose. There are key swing states all over the map – New Hampshire, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado. Focusing on one region means not paying enough attention to voters elsewhere who may be receptive to your message. Al Gore ignored the Mountain West area, and lost Colorado 883,000-738,000 with 91,000 people choosing Nader, Nevada 301,000-279,000 with 15,000 people choosing Nader, and Arizona 781,000-685,000 with 45,000 people choosing Nader (source). Voters are ignored at a candidate’s peril.

UPDATE: Nick Confessore has a good take on this at TAPPED.

UPDATE: A very different take on the merits of a Dean candidacy at Tacitus.

How the other half votes

I’m not exactly sure how “The Kuffner Family” got on a mailing list for the Conservative Republicans of Harris County, but we got their voting guide for the upcoming election in the mail yesterday. As a public service, here’s who they recommend. I trust you will use it as a guide of whom to avoid, something that’s not always obvious on these nonpartisan ballots. Click on the More link for the list. I’ll publish my own endorsements later this week.

(more…)

TAB gives it up

The Texas Association of Business has finally surrendered documents to Travis County investigators who are looking to see if secret donations had been made last year that helped pay for campaign ads.

Since January, the association has fought — and lost — at every appellate level to stop the investigation into how it raised and spent $1.9 million in secret corporate donations in 24 state legislative campaigns.

Association President Bill Hammond refused to surrender correspondence, billing records and other details about the ads. Association employees Jack Campbell and Cathy DeWitt refused to testify about their roles in the ad campaign.

[…]

State law forbids corporations from spending corporate money for electioneering. [TAB attorney Andy] Taylor said his client’s ads were beyond regulation because they educated voters without advocating election or defeat of candidates.

The association’s argument that the ads were protected free speech would be undercut if [Travis County DA Ronnie] Earle proves coordination between the association and the candidates or their campaigns.

We’ll see what happens next. Individual donor names are currently blacked out per agreement with the judge and the DA’s office. The investigators are looking for evidence that the TAB was in bed with the candidates.

You can see all of the Statesman’s coverage of this story, which kicks the Chron’s butt from here to Galveston, here. The Austin Chronicle has also been all over it.

Interview with a war correspondent

Hope has a friend who’s a reporter for the Associated Press, and he was kind enough to respond to a few questions she emailed him. He spent time in Afghanistan and was embedded in Iraq, and he’s now in East Africa. Check it out.

Be careful what you wish for

It would appear that some of Rep. John Culberson’s constituents are not happy with his ideas about mobility solutions.

Residents of the 7th congressional district this week launched a petition to oust U.S. Representative John Culberson. Leading the effort is Paul Staton a Katy freeway daily commuter who accused Culberson of representing the Texas highway lobby and not the “little guy stuck on the freeway” when it comes to local transportation issues.

Staton is a longtime Houston oilman who identifies politically as independent. He said he is just one in a “groundswell” of voters who first bristled when Culberson referred to opponents of the I-10 expansion project as “environmental whackos” on a local talk radio call-in show lastyear.

Culberson denied making the remarks even after he repeated them at a town hall meeting weeks later.

“He’s not a bad man and we’re not trying to be malicious, but we’re his constituents and he needs to treat us better,” Staton said. He called Culberson a bully and accused him of using intimidation tactics to try to kill the Metro light rail plan.

Culberson drew fire last month when he sponsored legislation requiring Metro to list each section of rail on the November 4 ballot.

[…]

Staton said in three weeks he plans to collect 1,000 signatures, enough, he hopes, to get the Congressman’s attention. He says he’s using word of mouth and a free web site to advance the cause.

“This isn’t militancy, it’s not an attack. It’s just the only way we could get his attention,” he said. “In the strongest terms we’re shouting out please listen to us.”

Culberson said it won’t matter how many names Staton collects. The only way he’ll leave office, is if constituents vote him out in 2004.

Far be it from me to pee in someone’s punch bowl, but I checked Staton’s petition this morning, and as of then he had 24 names. Even if he succeeds at getting 1000 signatures, he’s unlikely to impress a man who had no Democratic opponent in 2002 (beating a Libertarian candidate by 90,000 votes) and who crushed a Democrat by 120,000 votes in 2000 after the seat had been vacated by Bill Archer. Maybe 10,000 names would get Culberson to take a look, but you’re still a long way off from threatening him.

On the other hand, if the new Congressional map does stand up in court, Culberson may have bought himself a bigger pro-rail constituency.

In the new map adopted by the Legislature, the Texas Medical Center and the University of Texas Medical Center move into the 7th District of U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

The rail line that’s now under construction, which any future Metro expansion will connect to, runs right through the Medical Center and is intended to relieve the godawful traffic and even worse parking in that part of town. Culberson may well find that the folks who live and work around there take a different view of rail than the people in Hunter’s Creek and Memorial. It’d be pretty funny if Culberson and his anti-rail fervor were some day jeopardized by the Medical Center getting redistricted into CD 7.

Van de Putte retracts remark, accepts apology

From the Things That Happened While I Was Out Department: Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has retracted her charge that a Republican Senator, whom she has not named, made an ethnic slur to her in the presence of others.

The San Antonio Democrat also said the unidentified senator has apologized and called it “a closed matter.”

“I have nothing but respect for the men and women of the Texas Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike,” Van de Putte told the San Antonio Express-News after the Legislature adjourned. “And I am withdrawing any statements about comments in the members lounge.”

“What does that mean?” asked Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, among the 19 Senate Republicans who signed a letter to Van de Putte demanding she reveal who made the comment or retract her story.

“At a minimum, she’s admitting she misspoke,” Wentworth said. “I guess it’s a step in the right direction.”

[…]

Van de Putte said she had intended to retract the account in remarks on the Senate floor Sunday during debate on a motion to remove 11 Democratic senators from probation — a penalty leveled by the GOP majority after the Democrats returned from holding out in New Mexico at the start of the session.

But the matter wasn’t taken up, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said, because there was not a majority in favor of lifting probation.

Van de Putte said she fielded an apology for the slur after it became public last week.

“Apology was made. Apology accepted,” she said. “It’s a closed matter.”

Wentworth said Van de Putte’s comment about the apology “continues to leave a cloud over all Republican senators. That is unfair.”

Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, informed of Van de Putte’s withdrawal, called the action “ambiguous” and said the 31 senators might need to sort out the issue in a closed-door caucus.

“The case would be closed if she were more forthcoming,” Janek said. “If it (the slur) was said, someone needs to come clean.

“If it wasn’t said, someone else needs to come clean.”

I suppose that’s the last we’ll hear of this, and I must say I have some sympathy for what Wentworth and Janek are saying. The most charitable explanation I can come up with is that she simply (and rather thoroughly) misheard something, and no one recognizes what it was that she actually heard. There must be some collegiality left in the Senate if Wentworth and Janek’s seeming willingness to let the matter drop is any measure, and for that she ought to be grateful.

There’s another possible interpretation of what happened, given more recent relevations that she’s experiencing health problems.

Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte revealed Thursday she is undergoing treatment for a serious medical condition, but is “absolutely not resigning” from the Texas Senate.

The San Antonio senator, who’ll be undergoing more tests today for several tumors found in her thyroid and other areas, responded to rumors raised by an online publication that she may step down from the Senate.

“This is a health problem but it’s not something worth resigning over,” said Van de Putte, 49, who has been under fire recently for alleging an unnamed Republican senator directed racist comments at her.

Van de Putte, up for re-election in 2004, said she went in for routine exams last week and a shadow appeared on one of the test results.

She declined to be more specific until doctors perform biopsies to determine a diagnosis.

“The weekend was kind of a scary time,” she said. “People need to be reminded to get stuff checked.”

Who knows, maybe that had an effect on what she thought she heard. In any event, whatever else may be the case, I’m sure we all wish her well with her diagnosis and treatment. Let’s hope she has some good news.

District H candidates overview

It’s District H’s turn to get a quick candidate overview in the Chron. No one says anything shocking or profound in the two paragraphs or so they’re allotted, but if you’re still unfamiliar with the names this ought to help.

I came home last night to find a message on our voice mail from Adrian Garcia. Apparently, Diane Mosier of the Heights Democratic Caucus emailed him about my earlier blog ruminations as well. I called him back and we had a nice chat. As it happens, I received a mailer from his campaign yesterday, the first one I’d gotten from him (I’d gotten several from the obviously well-financed Longoria campaign prior to this), and later in the evening a call from a campaign volunteer asking for support. Garcia didn’t get off to an early start, but he’s making up for it now. I also noticed while walking the dog yesterday that yard signs, mostly for him with a few for Gonzalo Camacho thrown in, have sprouted up all over. Early voting has started, Election Day is two weeks off – play ball!

So are you gonna talk about redistricting again or what?

I have to say, after obsessing over the whole redistricting thing for waaaaay too long, it was good to head off to a foreign country where I had no Internet connection and only the International Herald Tribune for any news. I knew that a deal had been reached, and I saw a brief note in the IHT about the Senate finally passing the new map, and that was about it. If the next thing I hear about redistricting is a ruling from the courts, that’ll be fine by me. I think I speak for many people when I say that I’m glad and relieved that our Semi-Permanent Legislature has finally gone on hiatus, at least until the dreaded special session on school finance reform finally gets called.

I don’t believe that the map which passed will survive the various legal challenges (two and counting so far) to it, so I’m not going to follow speculation too closely about who may run where and who may win or lose where. We’ll know soon enough which map will be in place, and we can go from there.

There was lots of coverage and analysis while I was gone. There’s good stuff here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. With luck, Rob will keep his promise to post about the mistakes the GOP made.

There was a brief moment yesterday when I wondered if I’d find anything to blog about now that redistricting has been put to bed. I got over it pretty quickly, though.

Bacardi update

Seems Tom DeLay is catching a little flak for his attempts to shoehorn an amendment favorable to Bacardi into an unrelated bill.

Watchdog groups and some business interests have already objected to the Texas Republican’s efforts.

Last week, four House Judiciary Committee members protested after an article in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported that DeLay planned to slip an amendment revising U.S. trademark statutes into the annual defense authorization bill.

The amendment had not been properly vetted by their panel, which is supposed to oversee trademark law, said the letter signed by the Judiciary Committee objectors.

Sure would be nice to know who those House Judiciary Committee members are, so we can at least tell if this is more than standard partisan griping, but I’ve been unable to find any earlier articles that mentions their names. Outside the House, at least, the criticism is bipartisan.

Several major corporations have joined in asking Congress to repeal Section 211 altogether to avoid possible retaliation by Cuba’s President Fidel Castro against their own trademarks.

Citizens Against Government Waste, a conservative watchdog group, also opposes special treatment for Bacardi.

“We think it has an adverse influence on the taxpayers, on consumers and on the economy,” said the group’s president, Thomas Schatz.

Also objecting is a liberal group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, whose director Melanie Sloan links Bacardi’s success in Congress to its donations. The company has spread more than $650,000 to political party committees since 1997, with a little more than half going to Republicans. Bacardi has also been one of DeLay’s top benefactors, giving a total of $40,000 to political action committees that he founded.

Some of those “major corporations” are Dupont, Ford and General Motors, according to this account.

This is fun and all, but the most eyecatching part of the article is this quote from DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella.

“It’s wrong and unethical to link legislative activity to campaign contributions.”

Wow. DeLay and his ilk have argued all along that campaign contributions never amount to quid pro quo even when legislation favorable to the donors gets passed. I suppose that’s a reasonable position to take, though it depends entirely on a certain level of trust in the integrity of the beneficiaries as well as a certain level of naievete in the donors.

But “unethical”? I’m somehow “unethical” for thinking that maybe a politician who’s been given a large check by Three Initial Corporation and coincidentally happens to sponsor legislation that directly benefits TIC’s bottom line at the expense of everyone else was perhaps not doing so because he believes from the bottom of his heart that he was serving the greater public good? I’m somehow “unethical” for thinking that a rational profit-maximizing entity might give thousands if not millions of dollars to those who mold law and policy without considering it an investment on which they might hope to see a return? I’m somehow “unethical” for noticing a pattern and wondering what its underlying structure may be? Why stop there, Jonathan? Why not take it to the logical conclusion and call me stupid for ever daring to question your boss’ motives? It’s what you clearly believe.

(Thanks to the intrepid AJ Garcia for the tip.)

UPDATE: Also via AJ, Molly Ivins was as gobsmacked by Grella’s comment as I was. How nice it would be if the so-called Liberal Media (SCLM) were to report this a bit more widely.

Endorsement in District H

I just got some feedback regarding my dilemma about who to vote for in the District H City Council race. The following is from an email from Diane Mosier, President of the Greater Heights Democratic Club, which has made an endorsement in the race:

ADRIAN GARCIA has been endorsed by every local democratic elected official, Harris County Tejano Democrats, AFL-CIO, HGLPC, Houston Police Officers Assn, Harris County Council of Organizations, and many, many other progressive organizations.

The other candidates are: Diana Davila-Martinez, whose husband has been on the Orlando Sanchez website as an endorsee; Richard Cantu, who is a Democratic Precinct Chair but who has very little connection to other areas in District H except the east end; Gonzalo Camocho, who would not declare himself to be a democrat at our last democratic club meeting. Gonzalo has been a U.S. citizen for one year and told me that he has never voted. I asked him point blank if he leaned toward democratic or republican issues and he said that he is neither. He is very nice and well meaning but we felt that he not quite ready for the rough and tumble of city politics. Then, there is Hector Longoria, the republican who switched races. He initially raced $75,000 for an at-large position and then moved into District H which is a historic district. $30,000 of his money comes from the Bob Perry family… that would be high-density builder, Perry Homes.

Bob Perry isn’t just a developer of evil soulless lotbusting townhouses, he’s also a major Republican and tort “reform” donor, meaning he’s just exactly the kind of person we want influencing historic neighborhoods. Not that I was ever in danger of voting for Hector Longoria, mind you.

So there you have it. That’s a good enough reason for me to punch the chad by Adrian Garcia’s name. Let’s hope he can make it to the runoff against Longoria.

Enron rap

You know, I was just thinking that what the world really needs right now is a rap CD about the fall of Enron.

The words “Enron” and “rap” don’t normally go together unless someone’s talking about “taking the rap for Enron.”

But if a former Enron employee has his way, we’ll associate the corporate deadbeat with the thumping bass and braggadocio of rap music.

David Tonsall, 39, a former technical manager for Enron Energy Services, is unleashing rhyming words of wrath against the disgraced company under the hip-hop moniker “NRun.”

His CD, Corporate America, drops Dec. 3, the second anniversary of the day Enron laid off 4,000 employees, including him.

“It’s a spin on Enron,” Tonsall said of his hip-hop handle. It also stands for “never run.”

Is it any good? You be the judge:

“Skilling, going to find you, rain, sleet or snow,” go some of his lyrics. “There’s nowhere on earth that you can go … ready to get you for the Enron scam. Consider yourself a sacrifice for the pipeline workers that gave their lives, maintaining (the) lines that made you rich. When justice comes around you’re going to get hit.”

Another line from the rap goes: “America, NRun has a story to tell, how the judiciary system slowed down like a snail. Gave … corporate crooks time to plan their escape. So when I see you, Jeffrey, I won’t hesitate.”

Tonsall said his lyrics are set to the bangin’ beats created by his producer, Slim Pimp.

(Is it legal in a rap song to say “going to” instead of “gonna”? I’m gonna need a ruling on this one.) Too bad this wasn’t out when they made that crappy TV movie, they could have used it for the soundtrack. Anyway, you can get a taste of the music here. I think I’ll go listen to some nice demographically-correct classic rock now.

How ’bout those insurance rates?

Hey, remember when Governor Perry took credit for a reduction in homeowner’s insurance rates? Yeah, right.

Gov. Rick Perry last week listed among his accomplishments saving taxpayers more than half a billion dollars in lower home insurance costs.

But rate relief is coming slowly, if at all, to most Texas homeowners.

Acting under authority given him in a new law, Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor in August ordered insurers operating in the state to drop their rates by a collective $510 million.

However, two large insurers that jointly write 42 percent of policies, State Farm and Farmers, are challenging their rate cuts in court. And most other insurers reached a settlement with the department that cut their rate rollbacks in half, with a promise that the balance of the rate cuts will be given to policyholders next year if the weather holds and there isn’t an unexpected surge in claims.

In addition, consumer groups and lawmakers are criticizing Montemayor for two proposed rules affecting how insurers use credit history and neighborhood location to calculate rates.

“The reforms were modest, and now they’ve been watered down even more,” said Dan Lambe, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Texas Watch.

Typical. Remember, kids, when Rick Perry claims credit for something, check your wallet ASAP.

Carole and Kay and Rick

Both Clay Robison and Cragg Hines speculate about the next governor’s race in 2006 and which of Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kay Bailey Hutchison will be more likely to challenge Rick Perry at that time. Robison does a good job of summarizing the contradiction that is Strayhorn. On the one hand, it’s fun to watch her slap around the feckless Perry for his lack of budget leadership, his disingenuousness about “no new taxes”, and his misplaced priorities. On the other hand, Strayhorn is a shameless opportunist who sandbagged us all on the budget last year, stupidly tried to pin the blame for the deficit on a “spending party” by the Legislature (when you tot up reasons for the recently-passed bill that clips her wings, you can start right there), and didn’t really bring anything to the table herself when it counted.

I just don’t know what to make of Strayhorn. I was as vocal as anyone in criticizing her ever-changing budget projections lasy year, and I stand by that. Yet if she really does want to take on Perry in 2006, she may find that it makes more sense for her to do so as a Democrat rather than a Republican, a scenario Greg has been rooting for. If she does make the switch, I’ll certainly support her, but I’ll feel more than a little unclean for doing so. Yeah, I know, a party that doesn’t welcome new members, especially converts, is a party doomed to eternal irrelevance. I’m just saying it’ll take some time before she gets on my Christmas card list, you know?

Is Perry really worried about Strayhorn? Rob does the math and thinks he ought to be. I’m not fully convinced by this, though. Perry had a well-financed opponent who flung a lot of mud at him and his record, and as such I’d expect he managed to convince a few people to not vote for him. Strayhorn ran against a nobody (quick, do you remember his name?) and surely got all but the true yellow-dog vote. The question is really “How many of those Republicans who voted for both Strayhorn and Perry will choose her instead of him?”, and it’s a question I can’t answer.

Well, Cragg Hines suggests some of them would, but the person Perry really ought to worry about is KB Hutchison. For sure, Kay Bailey has led a charmed political life since moving to Washington, having not had a credible opponent since 1994 and being generally well-liked. She’d have no baggage to carry along with her aura of goodness, and that’s got to be scary to Rick Perry.

A lot can happen between now and 2006. Perry still has to deliver on school finance reform, and I think that will be a bigger determinant of his ultimate fate than redistricting or the 2003 budget will be. If the economy continues to stumble, the 2005 budget process may make us all nostalgic for this summer, and if so Perry will really be in the soup, but if things turn around Perry can use the fatter receipts to give something to everyone and claim credit for all of it. It’s fun to speculate about the season, but we’re not even in spring training yet.

(Greg has a take on this as well.)

Missed opportunities

Such a shame we didn’t have time to visit Austria while we were overseas, or we could have stopped in on the Schwarzeneggar Museum.

In Graz, travelers can visit the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum in the Fitnessparadies gym, with photo displays of Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding victories alongside his old metal barbells. Or they can take in an event at the 15,350-seat Arnold Schwarzenegger Soccer Stadium, dedicated on his 50th birthday in 1997.

According to a report in the Orange County (California) Register, recent plans for a massive 82-foot-tall steel statue of Schwarzenegger were “terminated,” as the local media liked to say, by the movie star’s assertion that the estimated $5 million cost would have been better spent on local charities and services.

Alas. Maybe next time.

Endorsement season

The Chron has started endorsing candidates in the last week or so. I’m not at all surprised to see today’s endorsement of Bill White for Mayor, since White is exactly the kind of candidate the Chron generally endorses. I’m moderately but pleasantly surprised to see yesterday’s endorsement of Annise Parker for City Comptroller, mostly because Bruce Tatro and Gabriel Vasquez good candidates who also fit the Chron’s endorsement profile. And I’m disappointed but not too surprised that they endorsed Boy Wonder Berry for City Council At Large Position 5.

Two items of interest in the Chron’s endorsement of White. First is how they handled the Other Bill White mini-scandal.

White, in a much publicized incident, paid political activist Brenda Flores $5,000 for “information on effort to confuse voters,” when he learned of a scheme to get a second man named William “Bill” White to enter the mayoral race. Flores said she took money from a consultant for another mayoral candidate but backed out of the trick and needed to pay the money back.

Candidate White demonstrated at best a remarkable political naivete and appalling lack of judgment, and worse, a troubling tin ear on how engaging in murky dealings with campaign cash might be interpreted.

We believe, however, that White will learn from the mistake.

All things considered, White couldn’t have asked for a better treatment on that. Item Two concerns an aspect of White’s experience, which was the major factor in his getting the Chron’s pick.

White has risen to challenges and shown innovation, as when in 2001 he headed a civic task force that formulated a plan to restructure city debt and raise millions of dollars for parks and libraries without increasing taxes or damaging the city’s bond ratings.

That provided some fodder in yesterday’s debate.

Mayoral candidates Sylvester Turner and Orlando Sanchez used a televised debate Saturday to double-team opponent Bill White, criticizing him for helping Mayor Lee Brown with city finances in 2001.

Turner said White’s assistance in refinancing bond debt, which helped the city find an additional $120 million for parks and libraries, also created $51 million in additional debt payments.

[…]

[In 2001], White responded to a request by Brown, the Greater Houston Partnership and the City Council to restructure the city’s debt. His plan also included suggestions on how the city could finance its capital improvements program over the next decade, replenish its “rainy day” coffers, and still allow future councils and administrations the financial flexibility to handle contingencies.

The bond package White helped devise allowed the city to issue $776 million in bonds for streets, drainage, police and fire facilities, parks, libraries, housing, and general improvements without a tax increase.

During the debate, Turner said a better plan would have been a debt restructuring that did not cause any additional debt payments.

“Let’s not restructure it like we restructure a debt on a credit card, because I think homeowners try to avoid that,” Turner said.

White responded that while the average maturity of the debt lengthened from just over six years to eight years, the annual debt payments were lower.

“This is why this plan was endorsed by the major employers in town, the Greater Houston Partnership, was passed through council, was endorsed by the city controller and had no organized opposition,” said White, a member of the partnership’s executive committee. “The voters of this community voted 80 percent in favor of the bond issue.”

I’m not exactly sure what Turner had in mind for a different restructuring here. I doubt that getting a significantly lower interest rate was a viable option, so extending the terms in return for lower individual payments is pretty much all that’s left. For sure, you can argue against it, but what would have been Plan B? Orlando Sanchez voted to put the debt plan up for approval via referendum, so he had no grounds for griping there.

Anyway, with the election two weeks off, expect to see an endorsement a day from here on out. I can’t wait to see who they select for District H.

Ferry crash

During one of the brief times that I got to do a little websurfing last week, I was shocked to read (via Making Light) that there had been a deadly crash involving the Staten Island Ferry. I took the Ferry every day through four years of high school and two summer jobs, and though I was once on board for a ferry accident, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around this one.

It was May 6, 1981, during my freshman year at Stuyvesant High School. I was on the 7 AM ferry, the American Legion, sitting on the top deck with other Stuy kids. It was a very foggy day, a common enough occurrance, but sufficiently foggy that visibility was a few feet. I was peacefully reading the New York Post (my usual habit back then – we got the Daily News home-delivered, and I could get the Times at school) when out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone a row away get up and run towards the back of the boat. I was puzzling over this when I realized that everyone, myself included, was now doing the same thing, and the reason was immediately apparent – another ship was headed right at us, on the right.

It was, I later learned, a Norwegian freighter called the Hoek Orchid. It wasn’t going very fast, but it was a lot bigger than the Legion, and it plowed right into us. Wood splintered, glass shattered, the Legion groaned and rocked leftward, and we all watched in awe. The impact slowed the Orchid to a stop, then after a few seconds it backed out and disappeared into the fog again.

I don’t really know how far the ferry was from Manhattan, but it reversed engines and headed back to Staten Island, where a bunch of ambulances dealt with the injured. My friends and I were all fine, just shaken up. As it happened, my parents were visiting England at the time and my grandparents were staying with us. I called home and had my grandmother come and get me, figuring that the stars were telling me that this was not a good day to go to school. It was the only day I missed that year.

My next door neighbor Lizzie, who attended the High School for the Performing Arts (you know, the school from Fame, which we just called “PA”), remembered in time that she was carrying a camera with her. She took a roll of photos, including some that showed the bow of the Orchid piercing the walls of the Legion, and sold them to the Post for $500. They ran one of her pics on the front page of their afternoon edition and another the next day.

When I returned to school the next day, one of my homeroom classmates, a girl named Jan, told me that she was really glad to see me. Everyone knew about the crash, and when I didn’t show up she was worried I’d been killed. Thankfully, there were no fatalities in that crash.

The Staten Island Advance has a page dedicated to crash coverage, including a listing of ferry accidents since 1871, when a boiler explosion killed 126 people. The most bizarre incident is surely the 1986 one where a deranged man pulled out a machete and went on a rampage, killing two people and wounding nine others. I see that the boat involved in this crash, the Andrew J. Barberi, had a similar but less deadly incident in 1995, in which the same operator was at the helm. That man, Richard Smith, fled the scene of this accident and tried to commit suicide shortly thereafter. We’ll see what he has to say about what happened. I’ll be checking back, that’s for sure.

What’s the big secret?

Among the things that went down while I was off eating cheese and swilling champagne was the revelation that the folks behind the anti-Metro referendum group don’t want you to know who they are.

Texans for True Mobility has declined since Monday to release statements about the money it has collected and spent in its campaign to defeat the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Nov. 4 expansion referendum.

State Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, a member of the group’s advisory board, said that in general, political contributions should be open for public review.

“It is always good when people disclose,” Janek said. “When you get into these political issues, I think disclosure is better than nondisclosure.”

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill, also a TTM adviser, said he would have no problem disclosing the names of contributors who don’t specifically ask to remain anonymous.

Texans for True Mobility, led by developer Michael Stevens, has blitzed voters with advertisements this week trashing Metro’s expansion plan, the centerpiece of which is a $640 million bond issue to add 22 miles of light rail by 2012.

How is it that they are getting away with this? By exploiting a loophole, of course.

Advocates for open political campaigns decried TTM’s decision to form two separate entities bearing the same name: a nonprofit corporation to “educate” voters about the flaws in Metro’s plan and a political action committee to “advocate” for the referendum’s defeat.

Donations to nonprofit corporations are not required to be disclosed under state election laws. Contributions to political action committees, on the other hand, must be disclosed.

TTM’s nonprofit arm funded the initial ad blitz, which is why the group said it did not file a campaign finance disclosure by Monday’s deadline. But those ads cross the line from education into advocating against the Metro plan, several observers said Thursday.

A four-page color mailer from TTM arriving in mailboxes this week, for example, has phrases such as, “Metro’s Rail Plan: Costs Too Much … Does Too Little,” “What’s Wrong With Metro’s Plan? Just About Everything,” and “We cannot afford to waste these precious public dollars.”

I cannot understand how this mailer could be considered anything but advocacy. I know there are certain magic words that turn an “informational” piece into one that calls for a specific vote, but anyone who could read TTM’s mailer and not conclude that TTM really really thinks you ought to vote against Metro’s proposal is someone who would flunk the fourth-grade TAKS test on reading comprehension. But this is the fig leaf that TTM is hiding behind.

TTM responds it has a First Amendment right to speak out on a plan proposed by a government agency so long as does not advocate “vote no Nov. 4” or “kill this plan.” Andy Taylor, the group’s attorney, said it is carefully following the Texas Election Code.

Though the code appears on its face to broadly require disclosure of any spending “in connection with an election on a measure,” Taylor said, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled such a provision is unconstitutional unless interpreted to ban only spending advocating for passage or failure.

If the name Andy Taylor sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the guy who’s defending the Texas Association of Business against allegations currently being investigated by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle that they broke campaign finance laws last year in supporting Republican candidates for the state House. As in that case, Taylor is zealously protecting corporations from having to disclose the nature of their contributions, something that led to some TAB officials being cited for contempt after getting an unfavorable ruling from a state judge.

I suppose one can believe in the principle of a First Amendment right of corporations to make secret campaign contributions, but I personally think it’s nuts. As Bob Stein alludes to in this article, the only conclusion that I can reach is that these folks don’t want to let the masses know what they’re up to, presumably because we wouldn’t like it if we did know.

Of course, by the time the courts and our toothless Ethics Commission rule on this, we’ll all have forgotten about it. The Chronicle is trying to get a list of these contributors and has asked Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal to investigate, but he won’t reveal anything till after the election. In short, TTM can thumb its nose at all of us and has nothing to worry about. That’s democracy for you.

Rice makes it official

Rice has signed on the dotted line to join Conference USA, along with SMU and Tulsa, thus rejoining its former mates Houston and TCU.

Rice University president Malcolm Gillis signed an agreement Friday with Conference USA, paving the way for the Owls to begin play in the league beginning with the 2005-06 academic year.

In a statement released by the university Friday, Gillis said the agreement is “contingent upon certain other changes in the national athletic scene,” most likely the anticipated departure of current C-USA members Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and DePaul to the Big East.

“We’re still waiting for the last little piece to the puzzle, but the agreement is in place,” Rice athletic director Bobby May said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to be a part of Conference USA. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and it’s going to be challenging. We’re very excited.”

SMU president Gerald Turner and Tulsa president Robert Lawless issued similar statements, meaning both schools will follow Rice to a revamped 12-team league.

Rice, SMU and Tulsa will join Houston, Tulane and TCU in a Western Division of C-USA, which the schools hope will ease the demanding travel burdens they’ve found in the WAC and help foster regional rivalries.

“This configuration will allow for very substantial savings in travel costs,” Gillis said in the statement. “Even more important, the proximity of these schools will benefit our men’s and women’s athletic teams through large reductions in time away from class.

“We especially welcome the opportunity to renew old Southwest Conference rivalries with TCU and the University of Houston. We expect to have in the near future a formal announcement with Conference USA regarding its membership realignment.”

I guess that means the MOB will be able to dust off its Annual Salute To The New Conference for 2005. Maybe now we’ll finally get some stability.

As for the WAC, the future looks kinda grim to me.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson had been hoping to lure TCU, UH and Tulane away from C-USA but lost the tug of war between the two leagues.

“I’m obviously disappointed and wanted Rice, SMU and Tulsa to be part of a Central Time Zone division that would have provided them exactly what they expect to receive from Conference USA,” Benson said. “I knew that one of us was probably going to lose, and Conference USA probably had the advantage in that they had the existing claim to the region. We’ll certainly miss those schools, but I strongly believe the WAC will recover and go on and be successful in some configuration.”

Benson had tried to get Rice, Tulsa and SMU to sign an agreement binding them to the WAC, but the schools were concerned about the lack of commitment from the teams in the western portion of the league. The Mountain West Conference is eyeing some WAC teams for expansion, including Fresno State, Nevada, Boise State and Hawaii.

The WAC could perhaps add schools like Utah State and New Mexico State and retrench as a mostly Western conference, or it could give up the ghost and let the MWC pick off its ripest fruit. Either way, the school that gets most screwed is Louisiana Tech, who loses its three closest rivals and probably faces the choice of lousy travel, independent status, or rejoining the conference it had previously spurned, the Sun Belt. UTEP is also a loser, though less so if the WAC stays toegther and adds NMSU. We’ll see what happens, but I expect it to be as bumpy in the WAC between now and 2005 as it was the year that the eight MWC schools dropped their surprise departure on us.

Rice to C-USA?

I caught a bit of this in the IHT earlier this week (thankfully, both our B&B and the hotel in Paris had this lifeline for me), but the story has advanced since the last I’d read of it. Apparently, the falling conference dominoes will result in Rice rejoining some traditional rivals in Conference USA.

Rice, a member of the Western Athletic Conference since 1996, will be invited to join C-USA along with fellow WAC schools Tulsa and SMU in the near future, and sources say Rice will accept. Marshall and Central Florida of the Mid-American Conference will also get invitations.

[…]

By joining C-USA, Rice and SMU would be reunited with former Southwest Conference foes Houston and TCU. Rice competed in the SWC from 1914 until the league broke up in 1996.

[…]

The four Texas schools would join Tulsa and current C-USA member Tulane in a six-team Western Division that would ease travel burdens and perhaps promote regional rivalries.

The Eastern Division would include Memphis, Southern Mississippi, East Carolina, Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida and Marshall. Saint Louis and Charlotte, current C-USA non-football members, reportedly will join the Atlantic 10.

There’s much here to be happy about, but if this does happen, I’ll be sad to see the last of the WAC. I was kinda rooting for the Yoda Plan, even if I didn’t think there was much chance of it occurring. I have to admit, though, from a geographic and fan-interest perspective, this setup would be hard to beat.

We’re back

We have returned, and in true Houston fashion our arrival was greeted by an overturned 18-wheeler on I-45, thus adding a half hour to our 20-minute drive home. Ah, well, we were enthusiastically greeted by our dog, who’d been picked up from the kennel by our neighbor. We’ll be sorting through laundry and mail for the rest of the weekend, but for now it’s good to be home. Regular posting will resume tomorrow. Thanks to everyone for the good wishes on our trip!