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December, 2003:

A couple of redistricting links

Rob Booth has pointers to two stories that I’ve overlooked which are worth reading. Here he found this story in which US Rep. Max Sandlin (D, Marshall) predicts that the courts will overturn the new Congressional map, and here he found the reason why you haven’t gotten your new voter’s reg card yet.

Voter registration certificates, or cards, that are usually mailed between Nov. 15 to Dec. 6 will not be in the mail until after Jan. 11, 2004.

Due to the redistricting plan adopted by the Texas Legislature, a Three-Judge Federal Panel has ordered all county voter registrars to delay the issuance of the voter registration certificates. The court did not include a specific deadline for the registration certificates to be issued; however, the Texas Secretary of State has advised county registrars to mail the certificates as soon as possible beginning on Jan. 11.

All Texas counties have been instructed to redraw county election precinct lines if new precincts are required to conform with the redistricting plan which affects only 28 counties.

I didn’t know that, either. Not sure why unaffected counties have to redraw precinct lines – that seems unnecessary to me. Someone correct me if I’m wrong here, but I seem to recall that the state didn’t set aside any money to the counties to offset the cost of all this. That would be typical of the Perry/Craddick mindset if so.

Two down, ? to go

Today marks the end of my second full year of blogging. It’s been a fun ride, and I expect it to continue to be for the foreseeable future. Thanks to everyone for riding along with me.

I don’t do a whole lot of navel-gazing around here, but anniversaries do have a way of bringing out that impulse. I’ll try to keep it brief. I find that one of the things I’ve been successful at here is following a story as it goes along, often helped by people like AJ Garcia who send me links to stories I might’ve otherwise missed. I worry sometimes, though, that in spending that much time on a given topic I might be boring people. So I’d like to ask: Are there any topics you’d like to see me write about more often, or less often, in the coming year? Please leave any feedback in the comments, or drop me a note at the address above.

One of the things that I thought worked very well this year was our Texas Blogburst, though I must say I’m very disappointed to have gotten exactly zero responses from any of the county party officials that I wrote to. It’s great that we’ve got a state party blog and a few local group blogs, but I don’t think we’ve come close to getting full value for them. If I have one wish for 2004, it’s to get these groups and others like them linking, and more importantly talking to each other. Howard Dean’s been a successful candidate so far not because he’s got a blog and online fundraising but because he’s built a community. Blogging was just a means to that end. It’s the networking – the people – that make the difference. I’m going to do what I can to make some of this happen here next year. I welcome any suggestions on how to do that.

All right, my navel’s pretty well-inspected now. Thanks for your indulgence in this matter.

Can we get a candidate over here, please?

As of today, there are no Democratic candidates on the ballot for any statewide office in 2004. Well, there’s one, anyway.

AUSTIN — No Democratic candidate has yet filed to run for statewide office in Texas in 2004, but party officials say they expect a couple of hopefuls to emerge before Friday’s filing deadline.

San Antonio lawyer David Van Os said Tuesday he’ll be one of them, as a candidate for the Texas Supreme Court.

“I am going to file. That’s definite,” Van Os said.

The only statewide offices on the ballot in the 2004 presidential election year are a Railroad Commission seat and three seats apiece on the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Like every other statewide office, each has a Republican incumbent, some of whom already have drawn Republican opponents.

Van Os plans to run for the seat held by Scott Brister, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in November to replace Craig Enoch, who resigned.

That’s not stopping the state party from sounding optimistic.

State Democratic Chairman Charles Soechting said the party is concentrating its efforts on fielding candidates for the Texas House, saying voters are primed to punish Republican lawmakers for issues such as congressional redistricting and deep cuts in social service spending.

“The backlash has begun,” Soechting said in a news release. “A full year of the over-the-top Republican partisanship has sparked a movement to restore common sense and mainstream values to the Texas Legislature.”

Soechting did not give the names of the Democratic candidates he said would file in the House races or which Republicans would be targeted.

Ted Royer, a spokesman for the Texas Republican Party, which has not lost a statewide race since 1994, said he was unimpressed with Soechting’s plans or his analysis of the voters’ mood.

“I haven’t seen their news release,” Royer said. “We’re very confident heading into next year’s elections.”

Redistricting has certainly been a rallying point for Democrats here, and I certainly hope that will help to turn out the base in November, but let’s face it: Their base is bigger than ours right now. I’m not convinced that independents looked at the whole saga with anything more than a “pox on both their houses” mentality. I don’t see redistricting as the best way to bring more people into the Democratic fold.

Democratic Party spokesman Sean Michael Byrne and strategist Kelly Fero, who advises Soechting, said they are not aware of any candidates who planned to step forward in the statewide races.

For years, the party made a conscious effort to bypass statewide races, saying it was regrouping for a strong comeback in 2002. But that plan backfired when Republicans again swept all statewide offices while strengthening their majority in the state Senate and winning control of the Texas House for the first time since the Reconstruction.

Fero echoed Soechting’s prediction that a slate of formidable Democrats would emerge for the legislative races.

“You’ll have to wait until 5 o’clock Friday when filing ends, but I think you’ll see about two dozen strong candidates step up,” Fero said.

I hope you’re right, but I’ll be holding off on the champagne until then. Bill Howell fears a repeat of the disastrous strategy from 2000. I’m not as downbeat as he is, but I see where he’s coming from.

I’ll say this: It’d be nice if whoever the eventual Democratic Presidential nominee is spends a little time here campaigning. Not because he thinks Texas is winnable, but because it would help turnout for all of the downballot races. Al Gore got about as many votes in 2000 as Bill Clinton did in 1996, while George Bush got one million more than Bob Dole did. I don’t know about you, but I think that has an effect on other races. Anything to minimize that effect would be good.

The cows are coming home

Looks like the Chick-Fil-A cows will be hibernating for awhile.

Chick-fil-A is postponing its latest advertising featuring those iconic bovines to avoid appearing insensitive to concerns about the first U.S. case of mad cow disease.

The Atlanta-based restaurant chain had planned to unveil a new round of in-store and direct-mail advertising in January. In addition to shelving that campaign, the company will examine advertising such as billboards.

“It’s not the intention of Chick-fil-A to make light or take advantage of any food health crisis,” Chick-fil-A spokesman Jerry Johnston said Tuesday. “We are voluntarily withdrawing or delaying our advertising. We don’t want people to perceive that we are taking advantage of what is happening in any way.”

Like others in the fast-food industry, Chick-fil-A reported a sales slump in early 2003 because of a straining economy and concerns about the war in Iraq. But Chick-fil-A has seen its same-store sales rise during the past six months as the economy has picked up steam.

Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries consultants, said holding off on the ads is a smart idea. No matter how clever or inoffensive Chick-fil-A tries to make its marketing, the company doesn’t want to do anything — even indirectly — that would associate itself with the disease.

“There is no need to throw salt on a wound, so to speak,” she said. “You always want to lie low in these situations.”

Johnston said Chick-fil-A’s cow campaign, in its ninth year, has avoided any association with mad cow disease.

I’m sure they’ll be back soon enough. Tiffany has a real weakness for Chick-Fil-A. I get her one of their coupon-loaded cow calendars every year as a stocking stuffer.

The shrinking axis

It is with no small amount of sadness that I note the news that Michael Croft and Ginger Stampley will be leaving Houston in the very near future for the metro New York area. Their departure means that the Greater Heights Area Axis of Left-Leaning Bloggers will be down to three members (Ted, Rob, and me). Thankfully, the Greater Houston Area Axis of Left-Leaning Bloggers has grown considerably over the past two years.

The sadness I feel is for myself as I see these two good friends of long standing move away. I’m very happy for Michael and Ginger, who are about to embark on a grand adventure. Our loss is very much your gain, New York.

Bringing you the tech flops of the future today

Larry points to this article in which Jim Louderback predicts the Tech Flops of the Future.

I’ve got a simple rule I apply to suss out success for a new product (modestly, I call it Louderback’s Rule). It states that any new product must offer at least two dimensions of improvement over what it’s trying to replace – without losing anything in the process. Why has the camera phone been such a success? First, it’s a phone with a camera – that’s one. But the second dimension – easy upload and communication of pictures -ensured the runaway success of the camera phone. Without the communications, the camera would be useless.


Oh, I should note the corollary to Louderback’s Rule: beware the cow-path. Just as cows follow each other, creating well-defined trails through a pasture, I’m especially leery of new products that layer a shiny high-tech patina on a low-tech process. Remember the electric pasta maker? Turns out buying pasta in the store is actually easier. Or the bread machine? How many people really want to make their own bread?

Lair is quite properly exercised over the bread machine diss. Having sampled his garlic parmesan bread (mmmmmmmmm…recipe here), I can attest that in the right hands, a bread machine is a Good Thing. A Very Good Thing.

My grandmother, who knew a thing or two about pasta, had one of those low-tech pasta makers back in the day. She did all the hard work, mixing together the ingredients to make the pasta dough, then she stuffed it into the pasta maker, turned the hand crank, and presto! Strands of fettucine would come out. It worked kinda like a manually-powered paper shredder. I don’t remember if it could be adjusted to give you noodles of different widths. Not that it mattered to me, since fettucine alfredo was my favoritest dish ever as a kid.

As for the Louderback Loser List, I’m sorry to hear that the Dick Tracyesque SPOT watches probably won’t cut it. It’d be just the thing to go with my Blackberry, cell phone, and pager. I can’t help but feel that if you’re going to wear a Two-Way Wrist Radio, you really ought to have Headquarters somewhere. I mean, otherwise what’s the point?

Driving the Districts

The Statesman has a pretty interesting series going about its proposed new Congressional districts, which tie Austin and the nearby Hill Country to Houston, South Texas, and Midland. Here are their reports on District 11, also known as the Craddick Special, District 10, which I mentioned yesterday, and District 25. Their index page also has some demographics and maps to pore over. Sure would be nice if the Chron did something like this, wouldn’t it?

The terror threat at home

Bill emailed me to ask if I’d seen this story about William Krar, the man from Noonday, Texas, who recently pled guilty to various charges stemming from a few items he had in his house:

Inside the home and storage facilities of William Krar, investigators found a sodium-cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands, more than a hundred explosives, half a million rounds of ammunition, dozens of illegal weapons, and a mound of white-supremacist and antigovernment literature.

I said I had a passing familiarity with the story and said I’d do some looking into it. Turns out I don’t really have to, for David Niewert has been on the case for some time now. As a public service, here are the links to his coverage:

The Wrong Kind Of Terrorist

Why Domestic Terrorism Matters

Cyanide Bombers: An Update

Levitas Weighs In

Armed to the Teeth

Missing the Threat

Marketing Terror

David was scheduled to be on Faux News’ The Big Story yesterday, but as of this writing I didn’t see anything on that web page from the show, nor has he posted a report yet. I’ll check back later and update as needed.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention when I first posted this: I searched the Chron archives and found not one single mention of William Krar. I think that’s just pathetic.

UPDATE: Here’s the transcript from David Niewert’s visit to Faux News. Check out Joe Carter’s comment to this post, too.

You Can’t Go Home Again Dept.

Normally, I wouldn’t take too much notice of a movie theater that’s about to be closed and torn down, even one that’s profitable and getting shafted by its landlord. In this case, however, I must give a salute to the soon-to-be-doomed Meyerland 8, because it’s where Tiffany and I had our first date.

(All together now: Awwww.)

We saw Inventing the Abbotts, a nice if not very exciting little film in which the not-yet-famous Jennifer Connelly gets nekkid. I confess, that was probably the last movie I ever saw at the Meyerland 8, as I have since succumbed to the charms of stadium seating, which can only be found at the various Googleplexes. Nonetheless, I’m sorry to see it go. There’s not a whole lot of places like it left around here.

The local impact of Mad Cow

This article from yesterday’s Chron about the impact of the Mad Cow discovery on ranchers in Gonzales was presumably written to help us empathize with them and to reassure us that it Can’t Happen Here. I’m fine with the empathy, but I’m not 100% reassured just yet.

On Sunday, local rancher Jim Selman was relieved to learn that the infected cow was from Canada and its butchered parts may have been shipped only to Washington, California, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana and Guam.

“I think this will probably help our situation,” he said. “I think it makes us more confident that all of our fail-safe measures are in place.”

If it’s not too much trouble, could you tell me what those failsafes are? Are they regulations enforced by an external entity, or are they just your personal code of conduct? I’m not questioning your integrity if it’s the latter, but I will wonder if everyone else has the same standards.

My concerns are partially addressed later.

“Nobody makes their living on the cattle industry,” said Jay Gray, a cattle rancher and general manager of Graham Land and Cattle Co., the feedlot that supplies 30,000 cows a year to the market. The beef from these cows is sold at Kroger Co. stores under the Nolan Ryan brand.


Gray pointed out the precautions his feedlot takes, such as not feeding animal products to cattle, which is how inspectors found the disease was transmitted. And each cow at his feedlot is tagged, with something akin to plastic earrings, so the animal’s background can be easily traced.

“We’ve rehearsed this for a long time,” he said.

Not feeding animal products to animals is very good, and goes a long way towards making me feel better. But I still want to know: What do you do with the so-called “downers”? What determines a sick animal, and how to you ensure that they don’t get processed along with the healthy ones?

If you want to point out to me that I used to be blissfully ignorant of such things and accepted the beef on my plate with complacent faith, I’ll agree with you. I’m asking these questions now because I know I can’t afford to be that way any more.

UPDATE: Barefoot and Naked has a lot of BSE-related links (here, here, and here).

Chuck’s yer uncle

Congratulations to my sister Eileen and her husband Jason for the birth of their first child, Declan Charles, over the weekend. Mother and baby are doing fine, though since the little guy wasn’t due until February 5, he’s going to stay in the hospital for a few more days.

(Congratulations to them as well for their excellent taste in middle names. My father’s gonna claim credit for it, but I know better.)

That’s two nephews and one niece for me, and a grand total of 27 great-grandchildren for Nana. Our plans for world domination are right on track.

Life in the new CD 10

This Statesman article gives an overview of the proposed new CD 10, one of the three districts that would carve up Austin under the Republican map. This is the one that stretches from Austin to west Houston, from suburb to suburb with a swath of rural in between. The folks in the rural areas think that the suburbanites don’t know or really care about them, while the folks in the suburban areas talk about themselves.

A couple of quotes of interest, first from U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, who currently represents much of this area:

“That area is very similar to the Round Rock area — very fast growth,” Carter said of the Harris County suburbs in the new 10th. “That’s a hugely pro-life area. These folks are conservative almost to the point of being Libertarians.”

Somewhere, Jim Henley just got a nosebleed.

If you need another reason why I generally don’t like these conservative-almost-to-the-point-of-being-Libertarian folks, you need only look at this:

Cherry Tree Republicans President Paul O’Finan, whose Houston area club includes members in the new 10th, believes he has a feel for concerns of area residents.

“They are outraged with what’s going on with illegal immigration,” he said, adding that immigrants are “laughing at us because they are destroying our culture from within.”

Yeah, these are the people I want running my country. Thanks for the reminder, sir. Oh, and give my regards to everyone in your local DAR chapter.

Analysis of the Mayoral race

Via Yellow Dog comes this analysis of the 2003 Houston Mayoral race. I kind of wish now that I’d looked for this earlier, because the cited paper by Richard Murray no longer appears to be posted at the stated URL. Regardless, the long passages quoted have some familiar stuff about the Sanchez and White campaigns, plus something that I hadn’t heard before:

Much of the support Orlando Sanchez received in 2001 election was an anti-Lee Brown vote. In a number of polls done in 2002 and 2003, only about 60% of the respondents who said they had voted for Sanchez in 2001 said they expected to vote for him in 2001.

I had long believed that Sanchez wouldn’t get the same level of Hispanic support that he did in 2001, but this is the first I’ve heard that his support across the board was so shallow. I’d love to know where these polls are that Dr. Murray is talking about. I for one wouldn’t have given in to the conventional-wisdom description of Sanchez as the frontrunner if I’d known this.

One other item for your consideration, for which I’ll try to clean up the formatting:

Estimated Vote Share in Different Voter
Precinct Groupings in 2003

General Election          Runoff

White% Sanchez% Turner%   White% Sanchez%
Racial/Ethnic Anglos     46%      48%      6%      48%      52%
Blacks                   18%       1%     81%      96%       4%
Hispanics                46%      47%      7%      56%      44%
Asians                   70%      25%      5%      72%      28%

No matter how you slice it, that’s what I call broad-based support for Bill White.

UPDATE: Greg found Richard Murray’s full report (PDF). I did come across this link yesterday, but it came up blank on my screen. Oh, well.

Targeting Ardmoreites

As expected, the GOP will be putting up some challengers to Democrats who participated in the legislative boycotts during the last session. Here’s the scoop from San Antonio.

A group of GOP newcomers has targeted incumbent Democratic state legislators, thinking they can hang the albatross of breaking Texas Senate and House quorums around the Democrats’ necks.

Depending on what happens in March, some potential November races include Jim Valdez against District 26 state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, Steve Salyer vs. District 118 state Rep. Carlos Uresti, Chris Shindler against District 116 state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, and Sandra Ojeda Medina vs. District 123 state Rep. Mike Villarreal.

The thinking of these Republicans is that voters will not look kindly on the Democrats who fled across state lines in a failed attempt to derail congressional redistricting.

Similarly, much could be made of Van de Putte’s unproven allegation that a Republican colleague slurred Mexicans during the divisive debate.

But despite those perceived advantages, some longtime local Republicans don’t see the merit in such a strategy. All of the districts lean Democratic, and none of the GOP hopefuls have proved they can raise the funds necessary to beat an incumbent.

At the same time, the Democratic incumbents now will run full-scale campaigns that could help raise overall Democratic turnout, making life more difficult for Republican judges on the countywide ballot.

All of these incumbents except for Mike Villareal (who won 63%-35% over a different Republican challenger) ran unopposed in 2002. The state House boundaries were redrawn in 2001 to create more favorable districts for GOP candidates, so many existing Democratic districts were packed. As such, I’m not particularly worried about these races.

If anyone should be vulnerable, it’s Sen. Van de Putte, who did not distinguish herself with that claim about a racial slur allegedly made by a Republican colleague. Her Senate seat would also be a bigger prize, especially if the Democrats snatch back SD 1 on January 20. Again, I’ll be surprised if she’s seriously challenged.

As for other locations, I know that someplace I’ve seen a link to a listing of candidates who have already filed for the March 9 primary, but I’ll be damned if I can find it now. Any help for my failing memory would be appreciated.

And the spam keeps coming

Seems like there’s been an uptick in comment spams lately. I’ve had new comments to delete and new URLs to add to my spam blacklist most days over the last two weeks. I even had my first trackback spam in there. The blacklist has been successful at stopping about half of the spammers, but new URLs keep popping up.

I see that one of the features of Movable Type 3.0 will be comment registration. That’s not a road I want to go down, as it seems more trouble than it’s worth. I’ve got plenty of logons and passwords to remember, and I don’t want to add to anyone else’s burden on that. And all to deal with people who want to take advantage of sites like this for their own gain. Such an annoyance.

UPDATE: Naturally, in the time it took me to write this, another comment spam appeared. Grrr.

Best for you maybe

I agree with Big Media Matt – the criteria used in this Best Places to Live guide sounds exactly like a formula to determine the richest exurban areas and not much else. The $50,000 median income cutoff is a guarantee that all major urban areas are excluded, while the 60-mile radius around a major urban center cuts off all rural areas. (Just out of curiosity, are there any places that clear the income and employment hurdles and which aren’t within 60 miles of a “major city”?)

This “survey” is nothing more than a litmus test. Either one would only ever live in places like The Woodlands and Sugar Land, or one would sooner be broken on the rack than live there. I know a few people who live in the burbs because that’s where they work, and a few people who live out there because that’s what they could afford, but I don’t know anyone who feels like they have a choice in the city-versus-suburbs matter who’s indifferent to it.

I don’t know how granular their financial data is in this, but in some parts of the Big City, there’s a real wide range within a small area. I live in a ZIP code where a lot of folks live at or below the poverty level, but you couldn’t tell that from my neighborhood. And I’ll take it over any “soulless exurban sprawl zone”, even and especially master planned soulless exurban sprawl zones.

There’s more to a place to live than just income levels, and any survey that undertakes to rank them without considering these things will produce bogus results. Keep that in mind before you buy that sprawling swankienda out in Fort Bend or Montgomery County.

Yeah, but who’ll play Snookums and Snowflake?

Every once in awhile, you can actually learn something from those end of the year Weird Stories wrapups.

Tom Hanks was signed to play flamboyant congressman Charlie Wilson of Lufkin, who helped Afghani mujahedeen oust the Soviets, in a movie based on the book Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.

That could be really cool, or it could suck all kinds of rocks. I just have one request: Hire Molly Ivins as a script consultant. She has some great stories to tell about ol’ Charlie.

The madness of King Beef

Julia has a fine collection of news links to get you up to speed on the Mad Cow story. Here’s one link that I’d like to highlight.

During a House debate last summer over a possible ban on using sick and injured cows for meat, Representative Gary L. Ackerman, a Democrat from New York, held up a photo of a crippled cow and cautioned that such “downer animals” carried the highest risk for mad cow disease.

But Representative Charles W. Stenholm, a powerful Texas Democrat and a rancher, countered that the government’s screening program was tight enough to prevent any problems.

“The picture the gentleman is showing, that sick animal, will never find its way into the food chain,” Mr. Stenholm said. “Period.”

Thanks, Charlie. Of course, it was just such a cow that caused all this ruckus in the first place. I call this Exhibit A for why faith-based regulations don’t work. Go read the rest for more.

How self-absorbed can you get?

I must not be as jaded as I thought I was, because I really can’t believe I just read this headline in today’s Chron: Amid backdrop of war, Houston reborn in 2003.

With the chutzpah of a city that put man on the moon and built the world’s first domed stadium, Houston — an amalgamation of sprawling suburbs — in 2003 became a city with a downtown heart.


Against a backdrop of war, Houstonians in 2003 grappled with controversies involving police and school officials. In May, tragedy struck again when 19 illegal immigrants died after they were abandoned in a sweltering, airless truck near Victoria.

Are you kidding me? Are you seriously trying to tell me that whateve Houston “overcame” in 2003, the eventual invasion of Iraq made it somehow more compelling? Heroic, even? Please.

If this isn’t the worst example ever of the Chron mindlessly shilling for Houston, it’s got to be pretty close. For shame.

Choose Costco

Ezra Klein and Kevin Thurman both print the following quote, which in my mind is the Best Reason Ever to avoid WalMart and Sam’s Club.

Wal-Mart is “the unstoppable, insatiable force” in retailing, “rul[ing] the commercial strip the way Julius Caesar once ruled the Roman republic.” That isn’t hyperbole. Against the Wal-Mart bulldozer, nothing can stand. Yet somehow Goliath’s Sam’s Club operation is being thrashed by Costco.

Sam’s Club has 71 percent more U.S. stores than Costco, yet Costco’s total sales are 5 percent higher. The average Costco store generates almost double the revenue of a Sam’s Club. By any hard-nosed business measure, Costco is succeeding brilliantly against what may be the most formidable competitor in any industry on Earth.

Furthermore, Costco’s success translates directly into benefits for workers and customers in the very manner that cheerleaders for corporate America have long described. The company offers “the best wages and benefits in retail.” Its starting hourly wage is $10. Full-time hourly workers earn annual salaries of $40,000 after four years.

And get this: Whenever Costco buyers negotiate a good deal on products, the savings are actually passed on to customers. No, seriously; markups are capped at 14 percent.

Well then, you say to yourself, Costco CEO James D. Sinegal, the architect of this marvel, must be taking bows as a Hero of the Republic. Wrong. Instead he’s defending himself from powerful forces that better understand how a business ought to be run.

In a single paragraph tucked matter-of-factly into Fortune’s hymn to Sinegal and his company, as if it were one more piece of incidental data, we learn that “some of the practices that made Costco great have lately come under attack by Wall Street.” What the complaint boils down to is that Sinegal is too generous to the peasants. Stock analysts have “pounded on” him to trim workers’ health benefits “and to otherwise reduce labor costs.” The critics’ view is summarized by “Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Dreher, who recently wrote, ‘Costco continues to be a company that is better at serving the club member and employee than the shareholder.’ ”

For whatever reason, both of them got the URL to the piece that contains this quote wrong. It’s here, which a commenter on the Pandagon post noted. The Fortune article it references is here, though you can only see the beginning of it unless you’re a subscriber.

I don’t quite get Ezra’s conclusion that Wall Street’s disdain for Costco’s generosity towards its employees means that businesses need regulation. Some amount of regulation (we can certainly argue over how much) is necessary in our capitalistic society, but I don’t see the connection here. I’d say what’s needed is more a reevaluation of our priorities. Why should a successful company have its stock denigrated by analysts because of its health care plan? Aren’t profitability, good growth prospects, and a loyal customer base enough? The implication seems to be that shareholders are somehow more important, and should be more rewarded, than employees. Suffice it to say that this is a value system that I just don’t understand, and I speak as an owner of various stocks.

(I keep wondering when, in this age of offshoring, downsizing, increased productivity, and automation, executive compensation will start to be treated as an out-of-control cost that needs to be reined in to enhance long-term competitiveness. Oh, shareholders and the business press have been grumbling for some time, but it hasn’t had any effect as yet. We’re talking tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars, often going to one person while the company in question is bleeding. Applying a little of the hardheaded realism and dedication to cutting costs here would go a long way, it seems to me. But I digress.)

Anyway, for those here in the Houston area, we’ve had a Costco for some time now. Now that I know the difference, I’m going to make sure we have a membership.

Shrillness alert

The ever-so-shrill, I-liked-him-so-much-better-when-he-stuck-with-economics Paul Krugman has a few suggestions for the press on how to cover the 2004 elections.

• Don’t talk about clothes.

• Actually look at the candidates’ policy proposals.

• Beware of personal anecdotes.

• Look at the candidates’ records.

• Don’t fall for political histrionics.

• It’s not about you.

How totally naive. You won’t get any ratings with that. Where’s the horse race, the inside baseball, the validation of one’s personal worldview? No wonder the guy toils in such obscurity.

Unfortunately, via Atrios, it looks like there ain’t much hope for what Krugman hopes. Oh, well. Maybe in 2008.

The Tackle

Here’s a great article on Dicky Maegle and Tommy Lewis, the two protagonists in the wildest play ever in college football. Lewis’ off-the-bench tackle of Maegle while Maegle was headed for a 95-yard touchdown run during the 1954 Cotton Bowl will be 50 years old on January 1.

This is something I didn’t know:

Lewis and Maegle appeared on the popular Ed Sullivan TV show in New York two days after the game, and Sullivan asked Lewis why he did it. Lewis’ response became the most repeated line associated with the tackle.

“Mr. Sullivan,” Lewis said, “I was just so full of Alabama.”

Fifty years later, Lewis said Sullivan put him up to the line.

“We were sitting in his office trying to figure out something for me to say,” Lewis said. “All I could do was apologize, so Sullivan told me to say I was ‘full of Alabama.’ That’s not something that would normally come out of my mouth.”

For his part, Maegle protested Sullivan putting he and Lewis in the same hotel room while in New York for the show.

“Mr. Sullivan,” Maegle argued privately to the gregarious TV host, “I’m not rooming with this guy. He might have a nightmare and try to throw me out the window.”

Sullivan obliged.

“After what Lewis had done in the Cotton Bowl,” Maegle said, “I didn’t know if he was all there (mentally) or not.”

On a side note, in this year’s Rice-Nevada game, Owl quarterback Kyle Herm matched Maegle’s feat by running for a 95-yard touchdown. Most of his run was along the Rice sideline, so there was never any real danger that history would repeat itself a little too faithfully.

Merry Christmas from Pancho Claus

I’m sorry I missed this.

They drove through Houston’s barrios Christmas morning in low-riders that jerked up from the pavement, blaring horns as loud as those on a train and wearing wildly-colored zoot suits that screamed for attention.

Children ran. Dogs barked. Police sirens wailed.

It was sheer joy.

Once again, hundreds of families in some of Houston’s Hispanic neighborhoods received a bit of raucous holiday cheer Thursday from local hero “Pancho Claus” and his friends in low gear.

The procession of 10 souped-up cars wound its way through the streets of the East End, the north side and the Heights from morning into the afternoon, dispensing toys and smiles to many children who found nothing under their Christmas trees.

“We’re trying to give them a Christmas surprise,” yelled Richard Reyes from the bed of a pickup piled high with toys as dozens of children gleefully clamored for gifts. “To some of these kids, this will be the only gift they have.”

Reyes, a 52-year-old actor, has become legendary in the barrios for his annual Christmas appearances as Pancho Claus. Donning a red zoot suit with a matching red tie and a black fedora, the tall and goateed Reyes easily stood out from the couple of dozen helpers who wore more subdued suits or regular clothing with Santa hats.

Reyes said this was his 20th consecutive Christmas passing out presents as Pancho Claus. Members of the Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club took part for their 12th annual appearance. For several years, Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino has provided officers to accompany the procession of cars.

“We’re very thankful and happy for the presents,” said J. Refugio Hernandez from the porch of his home on Runnels at Everton. “The economy is bad and I lost my job, so I wasn’t able to buy my (four) kids presents.”

Jasmine Corona grinned as she ran back to her mother clutching a baton covered in colorful sparkles.

“I’m very happy,” the 7-year-old said shyly.

“Christmas is a little better,” said her mother, Aurora Corona.

Pancho Claus is a revered icon in many Hispanic areas in Texas, but he typically wears a red poncho and a large sombrero in serving as a symbolic bridge between Latino and Anglo cultures.

Reyes said he thought of the zoot suit get-up to infuse cultural pride in the poor neighborhoods he visits. The outfits, which consist of baggy pants and matching-color jackets, were popular in the 1940s, and often were worn by Mexican-Americans and blacks.

“We want to give the kids something to look at with pride and let them know we have a history in fashion,” Reyes said.

Reyes, who operates the Web site, has an acting troupe that performs Pancho Claus plays throughout Houston. He also plays in a rhythm and blues band with the same name.

He said he could not reach so many children and give so many presents without the help of two primary sponsors, Union Pacific and Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts.

The Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club raised $3,000 for the Christmas giveaway in a recent car show called Juguetes Para El Barrio, or “Toys for the Neighborhood.”

“I always ask people, ‘Do you believe in Santa Claus?’ ” said Sotero “Shorty” Villarreal, owner of Shorty’s Hydraulics low-rider shop, who distributed presents with his wife and four children Thursday. “If they say no, I tell them, ‘That’s the wrong answer.’ ”

You said it, dude.

You pay how much?

When I first glanced at the headline of this Chron op-ed piece, which reads “Why should hospital district cover illegals?”, I figured it would be the standard-issue ignorant nativist rant, and I started to prepare some responses as I read through it. About midway through, I realized there was no point in arguing with it, because it was such a poorly written muddle that I had no idea what author Eric Yollick was actually talking about.

Then I got to this paragraph, which stopped me dead in my tracks:

The real beneficiaries of illegal immigration are the businesses that employ them illegally. You and I pay approximately 72 percent of our disposable income to taxes — local, state and federal — in many different forms — income, ad valorem, sales and use. Illegal immigrants do not pay nearly those amounts. Employers get the benefit of these employees. Why, then, should they not bear the burden instead of spreading that burden across all taxpayers, rich and poor alike (which is what we do through the ad valorem taxes that MCHD assesses)?

Emphasis mine. Seventy-two percent? Of disposable income, which to my mind means the money you have after you pay for the things you have to pay for? Jumping Jehosaphat, what planet do you live on? Even the guy who draws “Mallard Fillmore” only claimed he was paying “more than 50%” of his income in taxes.

I’ve seen statistics pulled out of the air before, but this one takes the cake. Eric Yollick, if you’re reading this, I officially triple-dog dare you to document that 72% figure. Feel free to drop me a note or leave me a comment. In return, I’ll recommend a few good accountants for you so you can bring that burden down a tad. It’s the least I can do for you.

UH beats UH

Hawaii defeated Houston 54-48 in triple overtime in the Battle of the UHes yesterday. Congratulations to all of you who were wise enough to bet on the over.

Bad Santa!

From the Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time Dept:

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Bad Santa isn’t just a holiday movie. A seemingly harmless Christmas promotion arranged by the New York Islanders turned ugly, and all because of the team’s fierce rivalry with the New York Rangers.

And the Rangers were nowhere near when trouble broke out. The promotion invited fans to dress up as Santa Claus for Tuesday night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers and be admitted to the Nassau Coliseum for free. What’s more, they were permitted to parade across the ice between periods.

About 1,000 Santa Clauses showed up and as promised, they were invited on the ice after the first period.

This turned out to be not such a good idea. As the Santas milled around, two of them removed their red jackets to reveal jerseys of the rival Rangers — not a good thing to do in the home of the Islanders.

Ignoring the holiday spirit, some of the other St. Nicks turned into Bad Santas, jumping the Ranger fans. The interlopers were knocked to the ice and had the shirts ripped off. Other Santas went sliding across the ice during the melee that took six minutes to settle down.

The entire parade took nearly nine minutes, and almost delayed the start of the second period. The players were unaware of what was happening on the ice until after the game, won by the Islanders 4-2.

Maybe it was the presence of the Flyers that set off the fans. Philadelphia, remember, is where Santa was once booed in a holiday parade.

When New York’s Arron Asham learned about what had happened, he grinned.

What did he think about the episode?

“Awesome,” Asham said.

Sounds like the most exciting promotion at a sporting event since Disco Demolition Night in Chicago. Eric McErlain was there but managed to miss the fun. You can see a few pictures of the pranksters and the result of their ingenuity here.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say

On a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day

That’s the island greeting that we send to you

From the land where palm trees sway

Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright

The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night

Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way

To say “Merry Christmas to you.”


OK, it’s not Hawaii here, but it is sunny and warm and there are a few palm trees to be found. Whatever your weather is like, Merry Christmas!

Going to the Galleria

I believe it’s been well known for a long time now that a sizeable percentage of shoppers at Houston’s high end mall the Galleria are from Mexico, but I’m still a bit surprised to see it expressed in such stark terms.

Red, green and white are more than just traditional holiday colors to Patricia Porto.

The many wealthy shoppers visiting her boutique this Christmas season make her think of another color scheme — that of the Mexican flag.

The Galleria has long been a favorite among both Mexico’s elite and middle class.

At least 20 percent of the shopping center’s customers come from Mexico.

“Without the Mexicans, there is no Galleria,” said Porto, who counts Mexican customers as 70 percent of her business.

Now that’s just one shopkeeper’s opinion, and what it may mean could be “Without the Mexicans, I’d be out of business”. That’s clearly the case here, but it doesn’t have to be sitewide. I’m inclined to believe that she’s discussed this with some colleagues who are in a similar position, though, and if it’s true for enough of them, that’s close enough.

Not too surprisingly, most of the business from these foreign visitors is for the real expensive stuff, but the story did note that some middle class folks make a regular trek up north, too. The fear of terror attacks slowed things down recently, but there’s a bigger factor at work:

[Porto] remembers when, in the 1980s after two peso devaluations and a recession, fewer Mexican customers shopped at Galleria stores.

And for the last two years, business was slow. Many Mexicans were afraid to travel to the United States because of the terrorist attacks.

But business has picked up again, despite the recent weakening of the Mexican peso against the U.S. dollar. And, for some middle-class Mexican shoppers, that’s an important factor in the decision of whether to come to the United States.

“When there’s a big difference in the exchange rate, it affects how they want to spend their money,” Tourneau’s general manager, Ed Gelber, said. “If they have so much money that it doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter.”

Nice to know our weak-dollar policy is good for something.

Calpundit on the neocons

Damn straight.

There’s the basic contradiction all at once: Wolfowitz and the neocons seem to truly believe that they’re motivated by an idealistic devotion to democracy, but at the same time they’re willfully blind to the fact that their own Cold War history makes a shambles of that supposed devotion.

After all, this is the same group that spent much of the 70s and 80s so intent on interpreting everything as part of a war of civilizations between the West and a resurgent communism that they ignored — or in some cases actively encouraged — the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. (Remember Afghanistan and Iran-Contra?) The very single-mindedness that neocons are famous for blinded them to the fact that they were contributing to the rise of an even bigger problem, one that had nothing at all to do with communism.

A more expansive approach to the Cold War would almost certainly have worked nearly as well — after all, communism was rotting from within and the Soviet Union was never as strong as the neocons insisted it was — and might have left room for a more democratically inclined Mideast policy as well. But instead of learning this lesson the neocons have simply shifted their familiar monomania to the very fundamentalism they helped midwife into creation. Even the methods are familiar: proxy wars around the world, domino theories, demonization of the left, and an insistence on huge military buildups. The old hatred of Europe is back too, this time even more virulent than before.

Having failed so spectacularly in the 80s to understand the consequences of a single-minded foreign policy, they are now asking us to give them another chance against a different enemy. But wouldn’t it be better, instead, to try a cure that hasn’t already been proven worse than the disease?


River Oaks and Star Trek

Tom Spencer visited home here in Houston and took a look at compassion and class mixing through a Star Trek prism. Check it out.

Mall Santas going extinct?

Are shopping mall Santas going extinct?

Santa isn’t the big man at Christmas that he used to be, at least not at the mall.

While appearances by St. Nick remain a holiday ritual at most of the nation’s 1,130 enclosed shopping centers, there are bearish signs for mall-based Santas, according to a review of five years of “holiday fun facts” from the International Council of Shopping Centers.

There is evidence of Santa fatigue:

· The number of Santa photos sold per mall in 2002 was 4,683. Those are 54 percent fewer Kodak moments than the 10,250 photos snapped per mall in 2000, the only other year for which figures are available.

· The average number of children sitting on Santa’s lap per mall in 2002 was 8,758. That’s down 13 percent from the five-year high of 10,119 in 2001.

· The average mall, like many businesses, got leaner and meaner in 2002, using one full-time and one part-time Father Christmas. That compares with one full-time and two part-timers in 2001. The recent peak of Santa staffing was in 1998, when the average mall had 1.2 full-time Santas and 2.8 part-timers.

That last bullet item is a clear demonstration of the dark side of those rising productivity numbers.

Ah, well. At least this is one job they can’t offshore.

Exactly right

I agree with this post on TAPPED about the latest DLC/Howard Dean dustup so much, I’m going to quote most of it.

[T]he DLC really hasn’t been offering a “Bush-lite” agenda for America. On the other hand, “Democratic centrists” really have been “cravenly supporting much of George W. Bush’s agenda” and the DLC needs to learn to deal with that reality. Bush’s big-government conservatism has provoked a small, but steady, stream of defections from Republican moderates, deficit hawks, and principled conservatives which, combined with the GOP’s narrow margins in the congress, has meant that none of Bush’s major domestic initiatives — not the tax cuts, not the Medicare bill, not the energy bill — had the votes to pass without cooperation from Democrats.

And cooperation is exactly what they’ve gotten, from folks like Zell Miller, John Breaux, and Max Baucus, who’ve helped move terrible legislation to the president’s desk and let the GOP get away with running the most partisan congress in generations. The DLC didn’t support any of these bills, but I haven’t seen them criticizing those who did, many of them card-carrying New Democrats. We know the DLC doesn’t shy away from condemning Democrats from the left wing of the party who cast votes that displease them, but they’ve been utterly silent on the craven behavior of the party’s right wing.

Under those circumstances, is it any wonder people have the impression that the DLC itself endorses the “Bush lite” politics that legislators associated with the group seem to be following? Instead of facing up to the reality of today’s politics — a narrow Republican majority allying with a handful of conservative Democrats to pass frighteningly bad legislation — they seem to want to endlessly re-fight the battles of 15 years ago, even though they know perfectly well that Dean is no kind of crazed far-lefty.

Damn straight. We’re about to enter our fourth accursed year of this Presidency. You would think that by now some people would have learned that crossing the aisle to vote for Bush’s legislation brings no reward – ask Max Cleland and Jean Carnahan how much their votes for the Bush tax cuts and the Iraq resolution helped them – but you would be wrong. That as much as anything is what is driving the anger of many Democrats, and most of them I’d bet are Dean supporters. It’s high time the DLC fully grasped this.

Sadler for Senate

Byron is helping to lead the charge to give support to State Rep. Paul Sadler, who is running in a special election on January 20 to replace the retiring Bill Ratliff. Sadler is the only Democrat on the ballot, and if he wins it’s a pickup for the Dems, making the Senate balance 18-13. He’s a strong candidate with a good legislative record, so I’m happy to give him what little support I can.

You can make a donation to his campaign if you’d like to help. I’m going to add that link to my sidebar along with ones for Richard Morrison and Stephanie Herseth, which I’d unaccountably forgotten to do before now.

I keep promising to do that blog post on what Official Political Party blogs like the Yellow Dog Blog ought to do in order to get a return on their investments, but until I get around to it, something they ought to do is help promote candidacies like Sadler’s and Morrison’s. If there’s one lesson we’ve learned from the 78th Lege, it’s that politicians who aren’t on your own ballot can have a pretty big effect on your life, including who your representatives are. It matters to all of us how many Democrats there are in Austin and in DC, and that’s a message that should be broadcast on every channel.

Schlitterbahn Galveston update

Construction of new Schlitterbahn in Galveston is another step closer to reality as the Galveston City Council approved a lease on the property in question.

The water park will be between Galveston’s Lone Star Flight Museum and Moody Gardens, two of the island’s busiest tourist attractions.

The Schlitterbahn lease covers about 25 acres at Galveston’s Scholes International Airport. Schlitterbahn will pay $7,400 a month, or $88,800 a year, in rent.

Other businesses lease property at the airport, which serves mainly private pilots and several offshore helicopter firms but is not served by commercial airlines. Formerly known as Scholes Field, the airport property was a huge World War II flight training site.

“Even though we have great tourism, the Schlitterbahn will really fill a gap in that it will have things that teenagers in particular will want to do,” LeBlanc said.

“It will raise the city to a new level of tourism.”

Plans for the park’s attractions are not complete, Schlitterbahn spokeswoman Sherrie Brammall said Monday.

“We would hope to unveil plans for the new water park by spring and, if everything falls into place, the construction should be under way this summer,” Brammall said.

Opening is expected by May 2005.

Depending on weather, the water park could be open as many as 200 days a year.

Two hundred days a year? Wow. The original park in New Braunfels is basically only open for the summer, with some weekends in May and early September. I guess the labor pool is deeper in Galveston than it is in New Braunfels – the original park pretty much runs on teenagers out of school for the summer.

The water park is expected to pump up to $500,000 a year in sales and other taxes into this cash-strapped city’s coffers and have an economic ripple effect in the area of $30 million to $35 million a year, said Jeff Sjostrom, executive director of the Galveston Economic Development Partnership.


Sjostrom said the planned water park is expected to induce many families who vacation in Galveston to stay longer.

“Instead of coming to the island for one or two days, they’ll stay maybe three or four days,” he said.

Early estimates put the number of water park jobs at 900, many of which will be part time, LeBlanc said.

I’ve pretty much decided that all forecasts of economic gain resulting from new businesses in a given location are wildly optimistic, but I nonetheless hope this one is accurate. It’s certainly true that Galveston could use another big attraction to keep people in town longer, and a visit to the ‘Bahn is an all-day affair.