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March, 2004:

Yet another moralizing pharmacist

What an outrage.

A pharmacist refused to fill a North Richland Hills woman’s prescription for birth-control pills this week, but the woman hopes her experience will provoke an examination of pharmacists’ power over patient care.

Julee Lacey, 32, a first-grade teacher and mother of two, ran out of birth-control pills Sunday night and went to her local CVS pharmacy for a last-minute refill. The new pharmacist at the branch told her, “I’m sorry, but I personally do not believe in birth control, so I will not fill your prescription,” Mrs. Lacey recalled.

Her husband and the assistant manager could not persuade the pharmacist to change her mind.

When pressed, the pharmacist added that birth-control pills “cause cancer.”

“I think my doctor should make these decisions,” Mrs. Lacey said. “If they’re going to decide not to do birth-control pills, where are they going to draw the line?”

CVS officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but a company spokesman told KXAS-TV (Channel 5) that a pharmacist who cannot fill a prescription because of a deeply held belief should ask another pharmacist to do so or call a competing store, if needed.

The incident may stoke a national debate that has put pharmacists on the front lines of the abortion issue.

In January, Eckerd drugstores fired a Denton pharmacist and two co-workers for refusing to sell the “morning-after” emergency contraceptive to a woman identified as a rape victim.

This jerk deserves to get fired just like the Eckerd’s idiots did. Here’s CVS’ corporate contact info if you’d like to help them come to the right decision.

Officials at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which dispenses contraception and medical care, including abortions, decried what appeared to be “a dangerous trend” and called birth-control pills “basic health care.”

But Elizabeth Graham, director of the Houston-based Texas Right to Life Committee, has said pharmacists have a moral right to refuse to fill some prescriptions.

According to the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, pharmacists may decline to fill prescriptions if they might harm patients, but not on moral grounds.

Moral right, my uvula. Would you expect a steakhouse to keep a waiter who refused to serve beef because he believes meat is murder? It’s the same damn thing.

One more thing: Anyone want to bet that if Julee Lacey’s husband had gone into this CVS to buy a box of condoms, the pharmacist would have rung up the sale without batting an eye?

Via Retrogrouch.

Les Francais, ils aiment McDonalds

Ah, French cuisine. Escargot. Crepes Suzettes. Big Mac and fries.

Call the French snooty, or just demanding, for their attention to good food, good wine, good atmosphere in their restaurants. But the French have a dirty little secret: Of all the people in Europe, they like McDonald’s more than anyone else.

Pound for quarter-pound, they eat more of it, more often, than any other nationality on the continent, and the naysayers here who predicted the French would give up their beloved aged cheese before adopting the fried meat patties so often seen as emblematic of America’s bad taste, have been proven as wrong as red wine with fish.

Yes, we ate at McDonald’s a couple of times while in France last October (something we almost never do here). Sometimes you need a little taste of home, and sometimes you just need to eat cheaply (relatively, anyway – a Big Mac’ll set you back over $3.50). We also ate lots of good French food, so don’t get all indignant on me.

My theory for why the French love Mickey D’s: The fries. Pommes frites are a common side dish over there, at least at the restaurants we visited, which included some pretty fancy ones. Ever have fries with veal medallions in a nice brown gravy? If there’s one thing better than french fries, it’s french fries with gravy. My arteries are hardening just thinking about it, but boy was it good.

Casey v. Neeley

I’ve done my share of ragging on Rick Casey, the Chron’s hotshot columnist, who by and large hasn’t been all that impressive to me. I have to say, though, when he connects he can hit it out of the park. His series on the hype versus the reality for Shirley Neeley, the Galena Park ISD superintendant who was named State Commissioner of Education in January (see Part One and Part Two; Part Three is Friday) is a great read. Check it out.

Doing good works

There’s been some good discussion of the theological implications of John Kerry’s use of Scripture and Team Bush’s fierce response to it. In particular, I suggest you check out Lean Left, Political Aims (Happy Blogiversary, Amy, by the way), Slacktivist, and The Talent Show, who makes use of a Jack Chick tract to illustrate the point of contention. Those of you not familiar with Chick might not realize that the “millions of people who are trusting in their good works” yet are doomed to hell are Catholics – Kevin at Lean Left picked up on the Catholicism of Kerry’s remarks, and as a one-time nice Catholic boy myself, they made perfect sense to me as well.

Anyway, some good reading there, so check it out.

Pop ups???

I first saw this in a Kos diary, but without a link I was not willing to believe it. Now that I’ve done a little Googling, I can see for myself that it’s true: The GOP’s Internet “strategy” is ludicrous.

In a possible harbinger of future e-campaigns, visitors to websites such as, and in recent days have been greeted by one of the year’s first online political attacks.

The banner and pop-up ads placed by the Republican National Committee on about 1,400 sites starting March 19 attacked presumptive Democratic nominee John F. Kerry for his vote last year against spending $87 billion for military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pop-up ads? POP-UP ADS? Are they on crack? Have they never heard of the X10 camera and the violent hatred those ads inspired? Are they not at all familiar with the range of popup blocking technologies, from Mozilla to Google’s Toolbar, from AdSubtract to Earthlink? I was going to make a snarky comment about the GOP’s support for Microsoft throughout its antitrust trial, but it turns out that even Internet Explorer will soon have the ability to kill the accursed things. What century are these guys living in?

Of course, as a good Democrat, I heartily cheer this effort. You go, guys! Spread those popups like kudzu!

“It’s one more way to reach out to voters, but it’s a very new medium,” said RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson. “We’re on the frontier right now of figuring out how to use the Internet effectively for political communications.”

Take your time. No rush.

UPDATE: Rob Booth and WhiteHouseForSale have various nits to pick with me, which I address in the comments.

DeLay denies indictment reports

Tom DeLay is denying earlier reports that he has taken steps to deal with the possibility of being indicted by a Travis County grand jury in its investigation of TRM/TAB (see here).

“If the law is the standard in the state of Texas, then we have no problems and we don’t anticipate a problem,” DeLay, R-Sugar Land, said emphatically during a news conference in Washington.

“I have not been notified that I am being investigated; I have not been subpoenaed,” he said.

Targets of grand jury investigations aren’t always notified, however.

The Houston Chronicle reported last week that DeLay had told a group of Houston supporters March 8 that he may need to raise more money for a legal defense fund. There also have been reports in Washington that DeLay has discussed with some House Republicans a GOP conference rule that requires party leaders to step aside if they are indicted on a felony punishable by at least two years in prison. DeLay is the second-highest-ranking Republican in the House.

“All the reports are wrong. The reports in Washington are particularly wrong,” DeLay said. Speculation that he would consider stepping aside is “ridiculous,” he added.

DeLay acknowledged that during a recent meeting with financial supporters in Houston, he discussed what he called a political witch hunt by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat. DeLay denied there were discussions about a legal defense fund for this case.

“None of that happened,” DeLay said. “I don’t have a transcript of everything that I said. Obviously, somebody sitting in that room — even though he gives me money, does not exactly support me — ran quickly to the Houston Chronicle. I don’t know what he said, and I really don’t care what he said.”

I’m not quite sure what he meant by that first sentence; as I understand it, the point of the earlier speculation was that Republican Party rules require a temporary abdication of leadership positions for someone who’s under indictment. That has nothing to do with Texas law. DeLay is clearly saying that he doesn’t expect to be indicted, and he may well be right, but that seems a bit tangential to the subject.

Anyway. New grand jury is in next week, and things ought to pick up from there.

Cuellar takes the lead

Some 300 new ballots have been found in Zapata County, and they have combined to give Henry Cuellar a slim lead in his primary race against Rep. Ciro Rodriguez.

More than 300 votes were discovered during a Zapata County recount in the District 28 congressional battle, giving Laredo’s Henry Cuellar a slight lead over U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez.

The votes apparently came from one of the two early vote boxes, according to officials with the Zapata County Elections Department.

It was unclear this afternoon how large Cuellar’s lead is.

The discovery of the missing votes is highly suspicious, according to Rodriguez.

“There’s no doubt that there’s some fraud going on, some illegal activities,” he said today.

Rodriguez is planning to file a lawsuit contesting the recount results, said his Austin-based attorney Buck Wood.

“I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and I’ve never seen 300 or so ballots appear suddenly,” said Wood, a former elections director for the Texas secretary of state’s office.“To tell you that I’m suspicious and baffled is an understatement.”

Cuellar officials were not immediately available to comment today.Although Cuellar lives in Webb County, his mother lives in Zapata County.

The recount, which began Friday in Atascosa and Wilson counties, came after a hotly contested race in the battle for the seat, which represents 11 counties stretching from Hays in the north to Zapata in the south. Rodriguez, who led at the beginning of the recount by 145 votes, had increased his margin by five votes after recounts in five of the district’s 11 counties.

Officials were conducting a recount in Webb County this afternoon and were scheduled to proceed with Bexar County and Hays County on Wednesday.

Well, isn’t that special? I wonder if Cuellar has erected an altar to LBJ in his back yard. That’s as good an explanation of the newly-discovered ballots as anything I can think of.

This AP report gives Cuellar a 30-vote lead, but the Quorum Report puts it at a 20-vote margin, and makes a slight correction to the E-N story:

Challenger Henry Cuellar has picked up a net gain of 170 votes in Zapata County following this morning’s recount, giving him a lead of 30 votes over incumbent Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-San Antonio) in the Congressional District 28 Democratic primary.

You may recall that Zapata County’s optical scanner machine was programmed wrongly and local high school students had to hand-count the vote all through election night.

The Zapata County vote was completed [just after noon]. The recount provided 304 new votes – not ballots – were found, with 237 going to Cuellar and 67 going to Rodriguez.

The recount in Webb County, Cuellar’s base, starts at 2 p.m. today.

According to the AP story, Bexar County (San Antonio) and Hays County (San Marcos) recount on Wednesday, while Guadaloupe (Seguin) and Comal (New Braunfels) do their thing on Thursday. If Rodriguez is going to regain ground, it’ll be in those counties. We should have an answer by then, though QR also reports that the Rodriguez camp is ready to file a lawsuit to block the results. So who knows? Stay tuned.

UPDATE: And it just gets weirder:

In a dramatic turnaround certain to add to the lore of South Texas politics, Laredo lawyer Henry Cuellar first took a 197-vote lead over U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez after recounts in Webb and Zapata counties Tuesday.

Then, just a few hours later, state Democratic Party officials said the final recount tally in Webb County showed 115 more votes than there were ballots cast. A re-recount won’t be done until Sunday, officials said.

Meanwhile, Bexar and Hays will have their recounts today, and Comal and Guadalupe will conduct theirs Thursday.


“There will be a shadow over the election almost no matter which one comes ahead now,” said Jerry Polinard, a political scientist at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.

It was unclear late Tuesday what the problem was in Webb, but in Zapata, a tabulation error apparently missed 304 early votes, said Zapata Democratic Party Chairman Teo Garza.

Contrary to rumors that new ballots were discovered, Garza stressed that the 304 votes had been counted, but weren’t properly recorded.

“There’s no funny business going on,” said Garza, who’s running his first election as party chairman.

If you say so. I’d like to know more about that 115-vote discrepancy before I sign off on that one.

I wasn’t the only one thinking of Landslide Lyndon when hearing about this:

The mother of all South Texas corruption stories is the legend of Box 13, a cache of 202 votes found after the 1948 primary with similar handwriting in the same color ink

The votes, which came out of Jim Wells County, put LBJ narrowly over the top and earned him the tongue-in-cheek name “Landslide Lyndon.”

But some cautioned against drawing too close a comparison between the ghosts of elections past and the situation in Zapata County.

Short of any clear evidence of corruption, the shift in votes in Zapata is “tiddlywinks” compared to the blatant skullduggery involving Box 13, said Bob Bezdek, a political scientist at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

“This is a different era,” said Bezdek, who has studied the fabled election. “Box 13 was a blatant attempt to get votes after the election was over. This appears to be minor stuff.”

Everything may be on the up and up, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t about to get very messy. Let’s see what happens in Bexar and neighboring counties, but be ready for a lawsuit one way or another when it’s all done.

“The Complete Peanuts”, Volume One

Mark Evanier reviews the first of the Complete Peanuts volumes and explains why you should spend a few extra bucks and order it straight from the publisher instead of Amazon. Check it out.


I’ve been migrating all of my regular reads into the Bloglines RSS aggregator. I’ve been wanting some kind of aggregator for my blogroll for awhile now, and as I’ve been getting a good number of referrals from Bloglines pages, I figured I’d give it a try. Here are the pros and cons of my experience so far.


Blogrolling has a feature that shows when a blog has been updated, but it’s never been very useful to me because it doesn’t toggle off after you’ve followed the link. As such, I find myself re-visiting blogs that haven’t been updated since the last time I looked, and not getting to all the blogs I want to see on a given day. Bloglines shows me who’s updated, how many updates they have, what those updates are, and best of all, it toggles off when I’ve checked it out. That right there is a big win for me.

I think the biggest benefit here will be from blogs that update very often, and blogs that update infrequently. I can keep up with ever-updated sites like Pandagon, instead of facing a long page of new posts. Or I can find out when a favored low-frequency site like Soundbitten has updated without having to remember to check it on a regular basis. Bottom line: fewer wasted clicks, less compunction to skim.

Another benefit: By being able to see the beginning of each entry, I can if I want simply pick the posts I really want to read. I love Off Wing Opinion, but I’m not a big hockey fan, so rather than click and scroll, I can click over when there’s something there that is more interesting to me. Same thing with Unqualified Offerings and his comics blogging (note to Jim: Your Fanboy Free feed has the same URL as your Everything feed.) There’s a lot of blogs out there that I want to read, and only so much time during the day. Any efficiency I can squeeze out of the system will help me do what I want to do.

Finally, I can organize and categorize the blogs I read in a more useful-to-me fashion. Yes, I know, Blogrolling has that feature in its paid version. Bloglines has it in the free service. Which would you prefer?


Not everybody has an RSS feed. Mostly Blogspot and handrolled blogs fall into this bucket, but somewhat to my surprise so does Kos. I’d rather just use one tool for my blogreading if I could, but until I can convince everyone to generate an RSS feed, I’ll still have to check some blogs via my blogroll. Note to Blogger users: check out Atom, which can be used on Blogspot. There are other RSS generators out there – drop me a line if you have a question.

Bloglines doesn’t see new posts right away. Not a really big deal – most of ’em seem to show up within a few minutes. I have seen some RSS feeds that have either been abandoned or just not updated much, though.

Referral logs won’t tell you who that Bloglines visitor is, so my regular reads may see fewer links in their stats. I swear, I’m visiting – maybe even more often than before! – but I can’t prove it by your logs. Sorry about that.

So far, I’m pretty happy with it. I’ve even added a couple of blogs that were off my main blogroll, on the (possibly deluded) belief that this newfound efficiency will really enable me to get around more. We’ll see. Anyone else out there using Bloglines? Let me know what you think about it.

UPDATE: Thanks to Ravi in the comments for pointing out that Kos does too have an RSS feed: It’s just apparently not published in any way that Bloglines or I could find it, it’s pretty skimpy, and of course it exlcudes the diaries. But it’s there, and it accomplishes my main goal of knowing when Kos has updated (and I can avoid his open threads if I want to).

One other thing that I forgot to add: Bloglines in conjunction with Mozilla’s tabbed browsing really really rocks. Trust me on this.

She got game


In what could prove a significant step in the evolution of women’s athletics, a high school girls basketball player did more than just compete in a slam dunk contest Monday against five of the nation’s best high school boys players.

Candace Parker, a 6-3 17-year-old from Naperville, Ill., won the event, beating a field of male competitors that included at least two who could be playing in the NBA next season.

“I was saying earlier that I hope 10 years from now this isn’t a big deal,” said Parker, who will play at Tennessee next season. “That would be my dream. That 10 years from now three or four girls enter the dunk contest and it’s not a big deal. It’s not like, ‘Wow, she won.’ I hope that happens.”

You can catch her winning act on ESPN tomorrow night. Surprising as that was, I’m more amazed by this:

The unlikely winner upstaged, at least for the moment, a highly-anticipated McDonald’s All-American boys’ game that will include as many as 12 players who could skip college and enter the NBA draft. Some players have likened the game to an NBA tryout that will determine draft positioning and salaries.

Emphasis mine. Gonzaga may have flamed out in the NCAAs this year, but I still believe that their ability to retain players through their senior years is a competitive advantage.

Via Eric McErlain.

BlogAds followup

Martin Frost is the latest candidate to run BlogAds, joining fellow Texan Morris Meyer in tapping this market. I’ve been wondering ever since Ben Chandler’s much-ballyhooed (and now copied) success at running BlogAds how other candidates would do now that there’s more of them in the mix and almost none of them are in a high-visibility special election in which their candidacy and fundraising needs have been shilled all around the blog world. So, I took it upon myself to ask all of them campaigns that have run these ads what their opinion of them was. I’m a bit annoyed that I only got three responses – you would think that if a candidate’s strategy includes this kind of Internet outreach, they’d be a bit more solicitous about replying to email – but that’s the way it goes. I’ve reproduced the questions and answers below the More link. Short answer: Good news for BlogAds and the candidates who want to use them.

UPDATE: As March comes to a close, you can help all of the BlogAds-buying candidates make their quarterly numbers look better. Kos has all the links.



I’ll let Julia explain it all to you about Lynne Cheney’s hot lesbian Western bodice-ripper. I just wanted to note that I knew some people at Rice who considered it a good time to crack open a few brewskies and do dramatic readings from the pages of Penthouse Forum. Having now sampled some of Mrs. Cheney’s prose, I think her book would have made an excellent proxy for those times when the latest issue hadn’t arrived in the mail yet. Just remember that you can get totally different shades of meaning depending on whether you use the William Shatner intonation or the “In a world where…” Movie Trailer Voiceover intonation.

How do you say “Opening Day” in Japanese?

The Devil Rays beat the Yankees earlier today by the score of 8-3 in the Tokyo Dome.

The hosts did their best to duplicate the atmosphere of games back home, with some twists, of course.

The Yankees, including Hall of Famers Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson, were introduced to “New York, New York,” while the Devil Rays came out to Anastacia.

Even though New York was the visiting team, the Yankees wore their famous pinstripes — the Hall of Fame couldn’t find any records of them having done that before.

That’s cool. Someone will win a bar bet with that trivia question this year.

Women in pink-and-green kimonos presented Torre and Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella with bouquets. Many of the ads on the outfield walls were in Japanese kanji script, and women vendors walked through the aisles selling whiskey.

Hmm. I don’t remember whiskey vendors at the game I attended, but then I was at Jingu Stadium and not the Tokyo Dome.

The two teams play again tomorrow, then fly back for the real Opening Day on Sunday. Hope the D-Rays enjoy their temporary stay in first place. I doubt that’s gonna last much longer.

Calvin Murphy charged

I’m in shock.

Hall of Fame basketball player and Houston icon Calvin Murphy was charged Monday with sexually molesting five of his daughters more than a decade ago.

Murphy, a television commentator for the Rockets, surrendered to authorities after being charged with three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and three counts of indecency with a child, said Lance Long, a Harris County assistant district attorney.

The charges involve five grown daughters who said Murphy sexually abused them between 1988 and 1991, when they were under 17, according to an affidavit by the Texas Rangers.


“He adamantly denies the charges,” Hardin said. “We’ve investigated these charges for a couple weeks and we are just as convinced it did not happen as the district attorney’s office is that it did.”

Hardin said Murphy is “absolutely devastated” by the allegations because “he spent his whole life in the public arena and he knows people are going to assume it’s true.” Hardin said he wished the charges had been presented to a grand jury.

Hardin said the allegations are an attempt to get back at Murphy because he wouldn’t give the women money. He said that three daughters wanted retirement money their mother left to Murphy after she died in a car accident. Hardin also said that because of past financial troubles Murphy doesn’t have the financial means people assume he has.


If convicted of the charges, Murphy faces five years to life for the aggravated offenses and two to 20 years for the indecency violations, Long said. Because Murphy doesn’t have a criminal history, he could also be eligible for probation if he’s convicted, Long added.

District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said late Monday that Murphy may also face additional charges, but he did not elaborate.

Long would not reveal the origin of the investigation, which he said had been ongoing for several weeks.

Hardin said Murphy, a Sugar Land resident, cooperated with the investigation and that he even escorted witnesses to the district attorney’s office for questioning. Hardin said many witnesses, including one of the daughters named in the charges, told authorities the alleged abuses didn’t occur.

Hardin questioned why the women are only coming forward 13 years after the most recent incident was alleged to have happened.

I don’t know what to say. Whether the charges are true or Rusty Hardin’s counterallegation that this is some kind of extortion scheme is true, it’s horrible either way. I just hope that justice is done in the end.

Progress yes, consensus no

Over the weekend, our only Governor reported that progress has been made towards a consensus that would allow for him to call for a special session on school finance reform.

Perry, a Republican, said his meeting with about 50 members of the House Republican Caucus at a retreat in nearby Boerne was constructive and “moved the ball forward.”

He didn’t discuss specifics but said he believes a consensus is developing on how to tackle the state’s school finance problem.

One area of agreement among lawmakers, Perry said, appears to be in what he calls his “excellence initiative,” which would provide financial rewards for schools that meet certain testing and dropout standards. He also said Republicans and Democrats want property tax relief.

“I have had no Democrats that have come up to me, and send any messages to me, that they want to see property taxes rise,” he said. “So, I think there’s some clear agreement there.”

However, there is no agreement among Perry and the two Republican leaders of the Legislature — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick — on how to replenish money lost through potential property tax valuation caps. The three also do not agree on how to come up with additional money that might be pumped into the school system.

Legislators are divided over whether to overhaul the school finance system now or to make smaller changes with an eye toward replacing it in the future.

I’m giving up trying to read the tea leaves on this one. I have no idea if there’ll be a special session or not, and I have no idea if the intent of a special session would be radical overhaul or incremental tinkering. Just keep in mind that even though after all this time nobody has any clue, last year at this time some Republicans were proposing to eliminate the current Robin Hood plan by 2005 without having a replacement plan in the pipe. You may consider working without a net to be a good way to focus on the issue at hand. I consider it a good way to wind up dead on the floor.

More people seem to be thinking that there will be no special session, and some of them are just fine with that idea.

A spokesman for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which has been modeling the impact of tax changes on the Texas economy, said: “Be careful.”

“As upset as any of us may be about taxes and education, we don’t want things to be made inadvertently worse,” Michael Sullivan said. “Simply not calling a special session shouldn’t be a bad thing.”

School districts, many of them suing the state, fret that lawmakers intent on lower taxes — including Perry’s proposal to require voter action if local governments want to outspend inflation and population growth — will neglect education aid.

Catherine Clark of the Texas Association of School Boards favors “the plan where the special session never happens.”

Of course, waiting in the wings, is another force to be reckoned with:

Districts have a July 26 trial date for their lawsuit charging a failure to adequately support schools.

They say a World War II-era law limiting local taxes for school maintenance and operations to $1.50 per $100 valuation amounts to a restrictive, unconstitutional statewide property tax.

As of 2003, nearly 500 of the state’s 1,000-plus districts were at the cap, including 13 Bexar County districts: Alamo Heights, East Central, Edgewood, Harlandale, Judson, North East, Northside, San Antonio, Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City, Somerset, Southwest, South San Antonio and Southside.

Like others, the judge hearing the suit awaits Perry’s decision.

“Are they going to address it?” state District Judge John Dietz of Austin asked. “If the Legislature doesn’t speak, then the judiciary is going to have to.”

I’m not sure which we should fear more.

Boo Boos in Paradise

Well, thanks to my enforced silence this morning, pretty much everyone else has beaten me to the punch on this excellent deconstruction of David Brooks. I guess I don’t have a whole lot more to add to what’s already been said (see here, here, and here for a sample), but I will say that I’ve never quite understood the appeal of arguing by sweeping generalization. Maybe it’s just me, but my first reaction whenever I hear someone state a “fact” about a group of people that includes me is almost always “no, that’s not what it’s like for me”. As such, I have a hard time relating to any of the people that Brooks writes about. Of course, since he appears to have made most of it up, perhaps the fault is his and not mine. Anyway, check it out.

UPDATE: Okay, I just said I don’t like generalizations, but this is too funny to resist. From CrispyShot’s comment here about the difference between Minnesota friendliness and Texas friendliness:

The folks here are very helpful and friendly, but in a more reserved, Germanic, respect-your-personal-space kinda way, at least compared to Texas. Minnesotans say, “Hi, nice to meet you, how do you like it here?” Texans will take you for their best friend immediately: “Hon, how’d you get that scar?”

Naturally, Minnesota was a Blue State in 2000, while Texas is redder than a peck of unpickled peppers. Someone get me Brooksie on the line, I’ll bet he can get a whole column out of this.

Pledge the Preamble!

This is my preferred solution to the whole Pledge of Allegiance “under God” situation.

The best solution to this problem — one that respects both the community’s desire to instill patriotism and the conscience of religious dissenters — is to end recitation not just of the words “under God” but of the entire Pledge of Allegiance. In its place would go a much better statement of our national values: the Preamble to the Constitution.

Damn straight. Extra bonus points to any school board that proposes singing it, which as all of us who grew up in the 70s know is the One True Way to recite the preamble.

Seriously, I love this idea. I’ve never liked the Pledge (with or without any “ceremonial deism” thrown in), I don’t like loyalty oaths, and I think we don’t spend nearly enough time in our schools teaching the Constitution. Who could object to this?

And as long as I’m wishing for things that’ll never happen, how about teaching the younger kids what the words in the Preamble mean so they’ll have some idea what they’re saying? (Even growing up doesn’t always help those of us who have problems understanding the Pledge.) I don’t know about you, but I’d been reciting the Pledge for many years before I even knew what the phrase “I pledge allegiance” meant. Surely we don’t still consider rote memorization to be a virtue these days.

Thanks to Hope for finding this.


Apparently, my webhost is having some mySQL problems today. Slow response and an involuntary morning hiatus are the symptoms, but it appears they are finding a cure. Obviously, since here I am. Right, then.

One week to go

Opening Day for the Timbergrove Little League is this coming Saturday. We’ll finally get to play on the brand-new fields that were supposed to be ready for last year’s season but were delayed due to drainage problems. We were able to practice there last Tuesday, and with two batting cages we were able to really multitask effectively. Gary worked with pitchers and catchers while rotating everyone through for a few swings while I hit grounders and fly balls for some defensive drills. It was really sweet.

There have been a couple of bumps and bruises in recent practices, thanks to some bad hops and some bad glove-holding technique. The former can’t be avoided, but I’m hoping that the latter will help convince some of the kids who hold their gloves pocket-side up all the time that there’s a better way. We made it through last year without anyone getting really dinged up, and I hope that continues this year.

One of the mothers approached me after Thursday’s practice to ask if we were going to work with the kids on how to slide. That’s something I didn’t do last year, and truth be told it’s not a really high priority this year, not when the basics of throwing and catching are still big needs. Besides, though I’ve not forgotten how to do it, I’m not sure how easily I’ll get back up after demonstrating a slide. Seeing a coach injure himself will surely leave an impression, though it may not be the impression you want to leave.

We definitely have some pitching power this year – four guys who can throw fastballs that will be hard for the average kid to hit. Defense is always a shaky thing for any team, so the more Ks you can rack up, the better your odds will be. The catchers will come from this same group of kids, so we might also be able to control the running game a bit. The rule is that you can’t leave a base until the ball passes the batter. For the most part, if the pitch is caught by the catcher, runners stay put. Our guys will have a chance at making a play at least some of the time when they don’t catch the ball cleanly.

We’ve had good weather karma so far – no practices lost to rain as yet. Fridays are the designated rain days during the season. I hope we don’t need them.

Six days to go. I’m getting excited.

Let us all now join together

This is what Democratic unity looks like.

John Kerry is getting fund-raising and message-making help from his former Democratic primary foes, some of whom are potential running mates and big financial draws in important parts of the country.

Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, Florida Sen. Bob Graham, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards are opening doors and wallets for Kerry as he tries to raise $80 million for his presidential campaign by midsummer.

Kerry began this month $5 million in the hole, but he’s raised about $1 million a day on the Internet for the past 10 days. However, he still lags far behind President Bush, who has $108 million on hand and is expected to raise as much as $200 million by the end of summer.

Nevertheless, the speed with which Kerry has recruited his former rivals as allies has stunned many Democrats and unsettled Republicans, who worry that the Democrats’ animosity to Bush, doubts about the war in Iraq and fears about the economy are helping Kerry unite his often fractious party.

“This is the only time that I can remember where all of the groups that make up the Democratic Party, everyone has said, you don’t have to be with us 100 percent,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.

The money and the willingness to give are there – Atrios would now be a John Kerry Pioneer if Kerry were into giving out nicknames and decoder rings. It’s Joe Biden’s line about not having to be with us 100% that really gets me fired up, though. We can reconvene the circular firing squads after November if we want to, but for now we’re focused, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Kerry’s former rivals are starting to ramp up their roles. Gephardt will campaign with Kerry in Missouri on Saturday. Clark and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean are tapping their Internet networks and soliciting help for Kerry. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is expected to campaign for Kerry soon in Florida. Edwards, a former trial lawyer who’s been on vacation, has told Kerry aides that he’s ready to hit the stump and has made his extensive contacts among deep-pocketed lawyers available to Kerry.

“They’ve all offered to do both money and surrogate stuff,” said Steve Elmendorf, Kerry’s deputy campaign manager. “We’ll be utilizing them a lot.”

Just wanted to note that last bit for those who might have wondered why not all of the candidates were mentioned in the opening grafs. Yes, even Lieberman is helping out, and Florida is one place he can really make a difference. Those of you who spit when you hear his name should keep that in mind.

More commuter rail considered

Another day, another commuter rail study.

Harris County is casting its eye on five additional corridors to study for potential commuter rail lines.

Commissioners Court is expected next Tuesday to tell the county’s Public Infrastructure Department to begin negotiations with a consultant to conduct a preliminary study of existing freight lines along Texas 3, Mykawa Road, FM 521, Hardy Road and U.S. 59 North.

The consultant, DMJM+Harris, already has performed a preliminary assessment of potential commuter rail corridors along U.S. 290, Texas 249 and U.S. 90A.

That study, completed last December, concluded that by using existing freight lines, the county could get more than 80 miles of commuter rail in northwest Harris County at a cost of about $295 million, or about $3.5 million per mile.

Since then, Eckels and Commissioners Court have said they wanted to look at other potential corridors. Eckels and Commissioner Steve Radack have championed the idea of commuter rail, arguing that it would be cheaper to implement than the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s $5.8 billion rail plan.

Eckels, who could not be reached for comment Friday, has said he believes the county could have as much as 100 miles of commuter rail within five years.

I know that being not-Metro is one of the things that’s motivating Robert Eckels here, but if the end result is commuter rail, then I don’t care what his reasons are. It’s the right thing to do and that’s what really matters. Now if someone could only convince him that rail along the I-10 corridor would have more riders and would do more to relieve traffic congestion than any three of those five new lines under consideration combined likely would, then we’d really be getting somewhere.

David Crossley, head of the Gulf Coast Institute, said he favors all the planning and study the region can get on transportation issues. But he questioned whether the new corridors identified by the county would interfere with Metro’s rail plans.

Crossley also questioned how commuter lines would be integrated into other mass transit options and whether the proposed corridors would be suitable for stations serving new or existing neighborhoods.

“All we’re really doing is encouraging people to move much further out,” Crossley said. “It’s just a matter of fact that commuter rail needs to be looked at carefully because commuter rail is one of the precursors to sprawl.”

David, I love you and all, but let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good here. Cheap housing and the perception of better schools is what encourages people to live farther out. The option of commuter rail into downtown may someday make the top ten list of reasons to live in exurbia, but I’m not holding my breath. Sprawl is going to happen whether commuter rail is there or not. Why not put in a hedge against the insatiable highway-construction monster?


It’s been a good spring for wildflowers.

Colonies of bluebonnets have claimed embankments in Memorial Park and gardens in the Heights. The blooms, densely packed on 1-foot stems, quietly herald the wildflower season.

Follow the showy pink primroses, dropped like petals from a flower girl’s basket, west on U.S. 290, and the wildflower revelry grows louder.

Droves of Sunday drivers travel Texas roadways to ooh and aah at the spring flowers March through May.

Mother Nature is promising a stellar season in many areas of the state, having mixed the right proportions of cold and rain, followed by warm, sunny days and cool nights to color roadsides and fields in the weeks to come.

Washington and Waller counties should have an above-average crop of bluebonnets, the state flower. And if the rains continue, it will be an abundant wildflower season overall, said Ben Bowers, Texas Department of Transportation’s vegetation manager.

Just drive along 290 outside of Houston for a good, colorful look at springtime in Texas. Brenham is a prime location, or you can go visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Erica is usually on top of all things flowery as well.

You may have heard it’s illegal to pick wild bluebonnets in Texas. That’s not true, but I wouldn’t do it anyway.

The TxDOT Travel Division receives enough queries on the subject each year that they’ve compiled an information sheet. Joe Slocum, voice of the TxDOT Travel Division’s Wildflower Information Hotline and fan of Texas Twisted, shared this passage: “From a purely legal standpoint, there is no law currently existing which establishes picking wildflowers as a criminal offense.”

Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, confirmed the statement. “It’s bad karma to pick them,” she said, “but it’s not illegal.” She added, “I know at least one state trooper who says it’s state law … and every time we run into each other, I hand him a law book and say, ‘Come on, show me.’ And he’s not able to find it.”

Bad karma indeed. Go back to that Chron story and be sure to check out their wildflower slideshow for some good karma to counteract it.

A pounding from the people

Looks like Governor Perry’s Bahamian getaway was not appreciated by some Texans who weren’t afraid to tell him about it.

“With all due respect, have you LOST YOUR MIND?” asked a Lockhart woman in an e-mail to Perry. “This little trip to the Bahamas … has convinced a long-term, middle-aged conservative to vote you out of office.”


A San Angelo woman wrote that she was disappointed over the campaign fund use.

“My husband and I work hard for our money, and we don’t have time to take vacations, much less trips to the Bahamas,” she wrote. “I have contacted the Republican Party of Texas with instructions to remove us from their mailing/phone lists. We will no longer contribute to the Republican Party of Texas as long as you are in office.”

The possibility that publicly funded vouchers for private school tuition might have been discussed drew concern from a woman identified as a Dallas-area PTA leader. Perry, Leininger, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Norquist have supported vouchers.

“Richardson Independent School District is broke, and you are being sweet talked into … diverting money to vouchers!” the woman wrote. “Wake up and smell the coffee, governor.”

A Richardson man said: “A select few seem to have your ear.”

A woman identifying herself as a Houston teacher wrote: “Thank you for humiliating the teachers of this city with such an extravagantly made-up way to spend money in the name of all underpaid educators. Oh, and just in case there are extra funds for the study of educational finance, I myself would be willing to go to the Bahamas and discuss reform with you.”

You can sign me up for that trip, too. I’ll even play shuffleboard with Grover Norquist if it’ll help.

Rules are for the other guy

News of the potential indictment and step-aside of Tom DeLay has hit the Chron, and it seems that DeLay has reacted to his situation the way he reacts to pretty much everything else: Cry “partisanship” and raise funds.

U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay apparently is preparing for the possibility that a Travis County grand jury may indict him on charges of violating state campaign finance laws.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, told a group of Houston supporters earlier this month he may need to raise more money for a legal defense fund.


DeLay and an aide in a March 8 private meeting at the Omni Houston Hotel talked to Houston supporters about the possible need to pay for a legal defense in connection with the grand jury investigation, according to two people who attended the meeting.

The meeting at the Omni was part of a regular event DeLay holds every three months for supporters called the “Congressional Quarterly Luncheon.” The two people interviewed by the Chronicle spoke on condition of anonymity.

DeLay talked about the grand jury investigation only after being asked about it by one of the 40 to 50 people in attendance, sources told the Chronicle.

DeLay talked briefly about a legal defense and then had an unidentified aide discuss the possible need for raising money for a legal defense fund.

One of those interviewed quoted DeLay as saying, “I fully anticipate being indicted.”

The other person did not remember hearing DeLay say anything like that, “but I gathered the money he might raise would be for him,” he said.

The Chronicle attempted to contact others who are known to have been at the meeting, but none responded.

Grella said neither DeLay nor the aide talked about setting up a new fund or of having any expectation of needing one.

Grella said the aide, whom he declined to name, explained to the crowd that a legal defense can be expensive. He said DeLay found that out when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sued him for racketeering in 2000, a lawsuit that was later dropped.

“One staffer discussed the Democrats’ previous frivolous lawsuit that was thrown out of court, but didn’t discuss a new legal defense fund,” Grella said.

The Tom Delay Legal Expense Trust was set up in July 2000, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. Through November 2001 it had paid out $320,222 — about half the legal bill owed to the Houston law firm of Bracewell & Patterson to defend DeLay in the lawsuit.

Make of that what you will. Meanwhile, Roll Call is now reporting (via TAPPED) that DeLay may not step aside if he’s indicted after all.

Republican Conference rules state that a member of the elected leadership who has been indicted on a felony carrying a penalty of at least two years in prison must temporarily step down from the post. He or she may return to the job if found not guilty or if the charges are reduced below a felony or dismissed.

Texas Rep. John Carter (R), a former Williamson County district judge, said an indictment “is not intended to be a declaration of guilt” and that it would be “pretty rough” if DeLay had to relinquish the Majority Leader post without having been convicted of anything.

Repeating a well-known legal adage, Carter said, “A DA can indict a ham sandwich given the opportunity.”

It’s way too early to say what could happen – this is all speculation on top of speculation. As a new grand jury get empanelled, things ought to pick up shortly. So stay tuned.

UPDATE: Missed this story in The Hill, which suggests DeLay may have another Democratic prosecutor sniffing around him, in this case because of his sham charity, Celebrations for Children.

[Common Cause] recently made inquiries with Eliot Spitzer, New York attorney general, to determine whether the charity was properly registered. That may lead to a formal request for an investigation.

[They] allege that DeLay plans to use the charity improperly to fund political activities in New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention.


Common Cause has made inquiries about DeLay’s charity with Spitzer (D) that may lead to a formal request by the group for his office investigate the charity.

An official at Common Cause said: “We’ve had contact with the office, and they are aware of the situation. The New York attorney general is one of the most aggressive enforcers of charities in the country.”

Spitzer, who would arguably have jurisdiction over the matter because DeLay’s charity would raise money in New York during the convention, which begins Aug. 29, could imperil the majority leader’s plans.

Spitzer has made a reputation by aggressively pursuing allegations of corporate crime when other government enforcement agencies have tread carefully. And many political observers believe he wants to run for governor some day.

More fun to look forward to. Via New Democrats Online.

Woodland Heights Home Tour

A little plug for my neighborhood here, which is hosting a Home Tour this weekend. Come on down and see some interesting houses built before evil soulless developers like Bob Perry got his hooks into Houston. You can buy tickets ($15) at these locations and get a preview of the featured houses here. I believe Metro trolleys will be running to take you to each house. I’ve taken these tours before, and they’re always a lot of fun. Hope to see you there!

Governor steps into Ellis County mess

Governor Perry waded into the pollution controversy around cement plants in Ellis County and their effect on the Dallas/Fort Worth area’s nonattainment status for clean air, and managed to piss off everyone involved. First, here’s what our only governor proposed:

The plan being considered by Perry and Mike Leavitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, would group the heavily industrial northwest corner of Ellis County with the Metroplex. Industries there would have to significantly reduce pollution, but the rest of the mostly rural county would be shielded from severe sanctions, including the loss of millions in federal highway transportation dollars.


Perry says his goal is to solve the debate about whether Ellis County should be considered part of the Metroplex when tough new ozone regulations take effect. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, has lobbied the EPA to not include his home county, but leaders in Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton counties insist that the region might never comply if pollution in Ellis County is not significantly curtailed.

“The storm over whether Ellis County must be designated might be calmed if only the industrial part of Ellis County is designated as nonattainment,” Perry wrote in a Feb. 25 letter to Leavitt. “Such an approach that is based on science and common sense is likely to be recognized as the best solution by all concerned.”

Basically, what Perry is suggesting is that since it’s only one part of Ellis County (namely, the part where all of the smoke-belching cement plants are) that’s degrading DFW’s air, then that part of Ellis County should be thrown in with the other counties that are subject to EPA sanctions, while the rest of it gets exempted. On the surface, this makes some sense. The problem, though, is that the counties that are adversely affected by the Ellis polluters don’t have any direct jurisdictional control over them, and thus they would have no stick to use to get them to do their fair share of the cleanup that will be needed to get DFW into compliance. Only by making all of Ellis County accountable can pressure be brought to bear on their pollution scofflaws.

And as noted, no one liked the Governor’s “solution”:

“It’s outrageous that it’s just one small portion of the county, and it allows the rest of the county to be developed,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group in Austin. “The state has consistently failed to require Ellis County to do its fair share to clean the air.”

Collin County Judge Ron Harris said all of Ellis County needs to be included in any plan to improve air quality. If not, he said, Dallas-Fort Worth leaders must consider suing the EPA.

“We think all of Ellis County needs to be in,” Harris said. “We have reason to question why the governor would consider a special treatment for Ellis County.”

Ellis County Judge Chad Adams gave the proposal a lukewarm endorsement, saying he wants more details. But Ellis County industrial leaders aren’t pleased. They say it’s unfair to single out the county’s cement kilns and power plants for increased enforcement.

“Ellis County should not be included at all in the nonattainment zone,” said Keith Depew, plant manager at the Holcim cement plant in Midlothian.

Barton’s office said Thursday that the plan is not an acceptable compromise.

“His position remains that the county should not be included,” said Samantha Jordan, Barton’s deputy chief of staff.

Barton and Ellis County officials say that the county contributes only a small amount of ozone-producing pollutants to the region. But a preliminary report released last month by an environmental consulting firm found that industrial pollution from the county is at least partly to blame for some of the highest concentrations of ozone measured in the Metroplex.

Smokey Joe’s position is that since Ellis County itself is in compliance, the rest of the Metroplex can go pound sand. Apparently, he believes that Ellis County’s pollution doesn’t travel past the county line. One wonders how he’d feel if he had a neighbor whose trashy yard was reducing his own property values.

One other thing to note about Perry’s suggestion is that it’s been made before and hasn’t been accepted yet:

State leaders in North Carolina and South Carolina have attempted, and thus far failed, to persuade the EPA to designate only parts of counties.

[EPA Region 6 Administrator Richard] Greene said federal regulators are reviewing partial nonattainment in other areas across the country, including North and South Carolina, Ohio and Mississippi.

“If EPA does a partial designation in some counties in one state, say Texas, but nowhere else, we certainly wouldn’t think they’re dealing with us in an evenhanded way,” said Tom Mather, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Environment & Natural Resources.

Indeed. Of course, given the general track record of the Bush administration, I fear the solution will be to make less strict rules the norm. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if Smokey Joe has floated that idea to someone higher up.

Top 25, baby

Houston has cracked Travel & Leisure’s list of America’s 25 Favorite Cities for the first time. We may be at the bottom of that list, but by Gawd we’re on it. You can see the list and how we fared here.

It’s funny, but as much as I like Houston I think of it more as a good place to live rather than a good place to visit. There’s certainly plenty of stuff to see and do if you’re visiting, but some of the best attractions (such as Johnson Space Center and the Battleship Texas) are outside of town, and just about everything requires a car. I’ve already mentioned what I like about this place, and I think if you’ve flown here to visit with friends or family who can take you around to their favorite places to eat, drink, and shop, you’ll have an excellent time. If you’re here staying in a hotel downtown or in the Galleria area, there’s also plenty of stuff to see and do nearby. Beyond that, you need to be adventurous, especially behind the wheel of your rental car.

For the record, I’ve visited all of the cities listed except for Minneapolis/St Paul, Phoenix (though I have been to Tucson), and Honolulu. San Juan only counts as a technicality, as the Windjammer cruise we took for our honeymoon embarked from there. It’s a tough call, but I’d probably pick Chicago as my favorite place among those 25 to visit, with San Diego a close second. I’m not counting New York since I grew up there and don’t consider myself a visitor in the traditional sense when I’m there.

Around the blogs

Some days there’s just a ton of stuff to look at, so let’s get started.

The College Democrats have a blog, which among other things tells us that one of their own is a candidate for the State House in Texas this fall.

Also in college-related news, Andrew Dobbs of the Burnt Orange Report joined up with the Young Conservatives of Texas to give the prestigious “Enemy of Higher Education Award” to House Speaker Tom Craddick for his role in passing tuition deregulation. Way to go, Andrew!

Moving up to graduate school, Jonathan Ichikawa discovers that the Georgia House has taken an intense interest in women’s genitals.

Whatever you do, don’t piss Julia off. She’s mightier than you are.

The AFL-CIO is embarking on a cross-country Show Us The Jobs tour and is blogging about it for your convenience.

Morat finds a discrepancy in the AP story on Richard Clarke’s testimony.

Blah, blah, blah, blogcakes is a new blog from Sue, who’s a recent transplant to Houston and quite clearly a fan of Television Without Pity, based on her chosen title.

Greg is already looking ahead to the 2006 elections here.

I’m sure you’re already reading A Perfectly Cromulent Blog, so you don’t need me to tell you that Pete is your main source for zombie movie criticism, but I will anyway just to be on the safe side.

A blog called American Amnesia has some interesting interviews to check out.

John Scalzi is a much better writer than I am. Not that he cares what I think. Via Making Light.

The Panda’s Thumb is a group blog of mostly science types who are dedicated to beating back stoopid anti-evolution arguments, something which is sadly a full-time multi-person task. It’s Crooked Timber for the lab rats.

Finally, MIT’s Technology Review blog points to this story about how the musical landscape may change now that downloading is so prevalent.

Tulia prosecutor may face sanctions

This seems appropriate to me.

State Bar of Texas officials announced Tuesday they will file a lawsuit seeking sanctions against the prosecutor from the controversial 1999 Tulia drug bust.

The case against 64th District Attorney Terry McEachern will be heard in a Panhandle district court and could result in anything from a public reprimand to McEachern losing his law license if convicted, according to Dawn Miller, chief disciplinary counsel with the State Bar of Texas.

The case is in a sort of legal limbo between the previously secret State Bar investigation and the upcoming public trial, so Miller was limited in the amount of information she could provide about the matter.

“Without going into any details, you can assume that if a case has gotten to a point where a lawyer has elected to have the case heard in district court, that means an investigative panel of a grievance committee found just cause to believe a lawyer had committed misconduct,” Miller said.

McEachern said he could not comment about the suit due to secrecy rules, but he still believes in the cases he prosecuted.

“I still feel the same way I did back then,” McEachern said. “Of course, looking back, I would have done some things differently. But it’s easy playing Monday morning quarterback.”


The action against McEachern is still secret enough that Miller could not confirm it was related to Tulia, but it has been public knowledge since August that McEachern was fighting a State Bar grievance in the Tulia matter.

McEachern’s opponents have said he unethically withheld evidence about misdeeds in Coleman’s background during the trials, a charge McEachern has repeatedly denied.

Miller said most State Bar grievances are worked out through an agreement with the attorney and the grievance committee. With no agreement, McEachern chose to go with a civil suit in district court, rather than a hearing in front of the grievance committee.

State Bar attorneys will file suit with the Texas Supreme Court in the next couple of weeks, Miller said.

The high court usually takes about two months to assign a judge from outside the district, then the case will be filed in McEachern’s home county, meaning Swisher or Hale counties.

A trial will be conducted in which the judge or a jury, if requested, will decide if a preponderance of the evidence shows McEachern committed misconduct.

If the answer is yes, the judge will then decide what sanctions to hand down.

It should be noted that Terry McEachern has already lost his job, as voters turned him out in the Republican primary last month. If he’s cleared of these charges, then I’d say that’s enough, but if not, losing his law license is a small price to pay.

McEachern does get some sympathy from a somewhat unlikely source.

Amarillo lawyer Jeff Blackburn said he and his fellow lawyers were seeking to clear their clients not to personally harm anyone from the other side.

But Blackburn said the trial could have a positive outcome if it results in a reaffirmation of the ideal that district attorneys must not yield to public pressure to secure convictions at all costs, even in a part of the state where people believe deeply in law and order.

“Prosecutors are charged under our laws with seeking justice, not just convictions,” Blackburn said. “One of the problems in Tulia was that this law was broken and that the prosecution just got caught up in the desire to convict.

“On the other hand, I understand the pressures somebody like Mr. McEachern comes under. But a lot of times, the district attorney has to be the person who stands up for the law and against popular sentiment.”

That’s a more generous response than what McEachern got from his county commissioners.

Embattled district attorney Terry McEachern asked the Swisher County commission for help fighting a State Bar of Texas grievance Thursday, but county officials said they had to turn him down.

Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter said McEachern requested a special session Thursday to ask the commission to help pay for the legal cost of fighting a grievance based on McEachern’s role in the controversial 1999 Tulia drug sting. The board voted unanimously to deny the request.

“This is strictly a personal grievance against the district attorney and his law license,” Keeter said. “It’s not directed at Swisher County. We have no standing in the grievance and no stake in it.”

That article has a bit more on the specific charges McEachern is likely to be facing, based on the findings of fact by visiting Judge Ron Chapman, who recommended that all of the convictions be vacated back in May:

The findings of fact allege McEachern committed the following questionable acts:

– The state knew or should have known at the time of the trials Coleman “had a reputation for dishonesty, for disobeying the law, and for abdicating his duties and responsibilities as a peace officer in multiple communities.”

– The state “did not disclose to defense counsel that Coleman committed crimes of dishonesty in Cochran County, namely theft and abuse of official capacity.”

– McEachern in several trials made statements about Coleman’s record to the jury that would tend to bolster the agent’s credibility when McEachern knew Coleman had been indicted on charges from Cochran County.

– At the trial of William Cash Love, McEachern said he was willing to sign an affidavit that he did not know about Coleman’s charges prior to that trial. McEachern then said in an affidavit preceding the findings of fact he knew about Coleman’s arrest before any of the arrests happened in 1999.

Like I said, if he’s found guilty, merely losing his license is a small price to pay.

More immigration division

Yet another Texas poll shows that there’s a roughly even split of opinion over President Bush’s immigration reform plan.

Forty-eight percent of the 1,000 Texans surveyed randomly by telephone endorsed Bush’s plan, 45 percent opposed it and 7 percent declined to give an opinion. The proposal drew the most support among Hispanics — 55 percent — compared with 49 percent among Anglos and 37 percent among black people.


In addition to underscoring the polarized views on Bush’s proposal, the Texas Poll also showed that Texans are increasingly frustrated with the flow of undocumented immigrants across the border. As many as 700,000 undocumented workers are believed to be living in Texas.

The poll was conducted by the Scripps Howard media organization Feb. 12-March 3 for the Star-Telegram and several other Texas news outlets. The margin of error due to sampling is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Sixty-nine percent of Texans say the government is not doing enough to stop unauthorized immigration, an 11-point increase from August 2001. An almost identical percentage — 68 percent — said the U.S. government should not make it easier for undocumented residents to obtain U.S. citizenship.

The survey also shows strikingly different racial and ethnic attitudes on virtually every category. Hispanics, constituting the nation’s biggest and fastest growing minority, tended to be more sympathetic toward undocumented immigrants, though there was sharp disagreement within that group as well.

I’d love to know how the breakdown was across party lines, but oh well. I’ve talked about this before, and while this is clearly an opportunity for Bush and the Republicans to gain some ground among Hispanic voters, I think it won’t mean anything if they don’t actually succeed in passing some form of legislation; in fact, I believe their failure to do so after making such a public pronouncement of their intentions will do them more harm than passage would have done them good. That’s the thing about controlling both houses of Congress and the Presidency – if you really want to make something happen, you don’t have any excuse if you fail.

And what are the odds of something passing this year?

At a joint news conference during the visit, Bush expressed hope that Congress would pass the measure but conceded that “there’s no telling what’s going to happen in an election year.” Lawmakers in both parties have issued the same assessment.

“The prospects for legislation this year are pretty dim,” said Dan Griswold, an immigration expert at the Cato Institute in Washington.

More on that from Sen. John Cornyn, who has his own immigration reform legislation in the pipe.

Sen. John Cornyn conceded Tuesday that immigration reform, and a proposal to extend the length of stay of Mexican visitors to the United States, are receiving opposition in Congress during a heated election year.

Cornyn, R-Texas, told border business leaders that changes to current laws face an uphill battle because “political extremists” dominate the debate.

“We are having to educate people in Congress and elsewhere,” Cornyn told the Border Trade Alliance conference at the Watergate Hotel.

The senator’s comments came an hour before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on immigration policy and U.S.-Mexico relations.

Yglesias thinks Bush deserves some credit for his immigration reform proposal, and I suppose he does. However short of perfection it may fall, it is an improvement over the status quo, and it’s always good to see immigration and immigrants treated as something other than a menace to the American way of life, again something on which Bush has a good track record. But I’ll say it again: It doesn’t mean diddly until Bush puts some actual political capital on the line and whips his own party into shape on this.

The president’s proposal has received opposition from House Republicans who have characterized citizenship and guest worker programs as amnesty to undocumented workers.

Democrats say the president’s proposal falls far short of providing significant protections for immigrant laborers and workers, and accuse Bush of using the issue as an election-year pitch to Hispanic voters.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., argued that if Bush were serious about immigration reform, he’d use the White House to push his proposal through the House over Republican opposition.

Senator Dodd is exactly right. You get partial credit for bringing the issue to the table in the first place, but you don’t get a passing grade unless you act like you really mean it.

And hey, you don’t even have to push for the whole legislative enchilada to call yourself a success. You can advocate for non-controversial things like implementing the proper technology so already-instituted programs can do what they’re supposed to. How’re we doing on that score?

A new entry/exit system to track visitors to the United States is part of the US-VISIT program and must be implemented at 50 land ports by Jan. 1, 2005.

Border business leaders are concerned the new program will bottleneck traffic for Mexican nationals who own property in the United States and shop at American retail stores.

Cornyn has urged the administration to complete technology and infrastructure requirements, and to make sure the program will not harm border economies, before implementing US-VISIT.

“It is bad policy, it is a mistake, to implement a program before we know how it is going to impact the economy,” Cornyn said. “That is what we are risking if we implement US-VISIT on our border before we know what we are doing.”

Cornyn said the Homeland Security Department has yet to determine specifications, plans and costs for implementing the program at most border ports of entry.

“That worries me a great deal,” Cornyn said. “I can assure you we are not going to implement the US-VISIT program in such a haphazard way.”

These are your opportunities, Mr. President. What are you going to do with them?

Blog Maverick

Mark Cuban, the hyperactive owner of the Dallas Mavericks, has a blog. It’s actually pretty good, and it’s very much in line with the general blog philosophy of “a place for one’s ramblings”. He’s busy flogging his hobbyhorses of officiating and the media, and doing so with some style. Check out this entry for a look at some context to a quote attributed to him. Interesting stuff. Via David Pinto.

Escalation on another DeLay front

Byron points to this WaPo article in which watchdog groups call for a House ethics investigation of another Tom DeLay moneymaking machine, in this case one masquerading as a charitable organization.

Democracy 21 contends that the charity, Celebrations for Children Inc., is a political scheme established to let DeLay raise huge sums from interest groups and supporters to host lavish parties at this summer’s Republican National Convention.

DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella said at least three-fourths of the charity’s income will go to needy children, with the remainder paying for dinners, a golf tournament, a rock concert, Broadway tickets and the other fundraising events DeLay plans to host at the convention in New York City.

House ethics committee rules prohibit investigations based solely on an outside group’s complaint. But a complaint is deemed to be lodged if any House member forwards an outsider’s allegations with a letter saying the information is filed in good faith and warrants a review.

Democracy 21’s action is meant to put each House member on the spot — either challenge DeLay’s operation or silently condone it — said the group’s president, veteran open-government advocate Fred Wertheimer.

Wertheimer’s group had complained about Celebrations for Children in a Jan. 28 letter to the ethics panel, formally called the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. “There is no public information, however, indicating that the Ethics Committee is pursuing this matter,” says Wertheimer’s latest letter to the panel.

Yesterday, he sent a copy to all 434 House members (one seat is vacant), saying, in part, “If just one House member is willing to act to defend the institutional integrity of the House, the Ethics Committee will be forced to proceed with an inquiry.”

House rules prohibit behavior by members or staffers that fails to “reflect creditably” on the House. Federal laws governing tax-exempt charities allow no more than an insubstantial portion of a group’s revenue to be spent on activities other than the charity’s main stated purpose.

Celebrations for Children fails both tests, alleges Wertheimer’s complaint.

“Tax-exempt charitable organizations are not supposed to be used as political playthings by Members of Congress,” his letter says. “The DeLay scheme will allow House members to attend, free of charge, such events as Broadway shows, golfing tournaments, yacht cruises, dinners, parties and other events, with the events being paid for by a ‘charitable’ organization and funded by big donors to the ‘charity,’ many of whom are likely to have important interests pending in Congress.”

Here is Democracy 21’s press release, which appears to be a followup to this statement decrying the lack of such an investigation as yet. The formal complaint is here (PDF). I’ve blogged on Celebrations for Children and the complaints surrounding it before (see here and here).

Shockingly, there are straws in the wind that DeLay might step down from his leadership position, as reported by Roll Call:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has begun quiet discussions with a handful of colleagues about the possibility that he will have to step down from his leadership post temporarily if he is indicted by a Texas grand jury investigating alleged campaign finance abuses.

…Republican Conference rules state that a member of the elected leadership who has been indicted on a felony carrying a penalty of at least two years in prison must temporarily step down from the post.

Could it be that DeLay really fears the TAB/TRM investigations in Austin? The ferocious response from the GOP here, ranging from a blizzard of open record requests to a petition to move the Public Integrity Unit to the Attorney General’s office, suggest they feel the need to be vigilant. I still never thought DeLay would blink, though. On the other hand, he’s smart enough to know that grand juries often deliver for prosecutors, and he ought to have a Plan B in hand. So this is probably just pragmatism and not trepidation.

The possible implications are staggering. For sure, a big cog in the GOP’s fundraising machine would be gummed up. DeLay might even find himself in some electoral trouble, though it’d probably take a conviction to really do him in. Of course, if he’s forced to drop out of the race, would the GOP be able to field a backup candidate? I can’t quite figure out what the state law has to say. Whatever the case, you can of course give a hand to Richard Morrison, who will hopefully get a boost from all this.

Wow. Stay tuned.

The trickle down effect, Perry-style

Here’s an example of how that “no tax increase” pledge from the last legislative session works in real life, from Lubbock.

Cuts in Medicaid and a state insurance program for children as well as decreases in private employee insurance are contributing to a health care “crisis” in Texas, University Medical Center president James Courtney said Monday.

UMC is expected to lose $17.8 million throughout the current two-year state budget cycle, mostly because of Medicaid cuts, the Lubbock County Hospital Board heard Monday. Cost control measures and a tax increase have helped UMC absorb the blow.

Of the $8.9 million UMC expects to lose a year, the biggest hits are $3.5 million lost because of more stringent Medicaid eligibility and $2.7 million in Medicaid funds to pay for resident physicians, also known as graduate medical education (GME).

Dr. Richard Homan, dean of Texas Tech School of Medicine, said he plans to testify before the state House Appropria tions Committee today with officials from the University of Texas and Texas A&M in an effort to restore GME funds.

Cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the loss of private insurance among patients are placing great strains on public teaching hospitals in Texas, Court ney said.

“I believe these cuts disproportionately are affecting our types of organizations,” Court ney said. “The health care system in the state of Texas is in a state of crisis.”

Many employers are dropping commercial insurance for their employees because of high costs, UMC officials said.

The loss of insurance appears to be driving more unpaid visits to UMC’s emergency room.

So far in 2004, the percentage of nonpaying emergency room visits at UMC is 33.2 percent, up from 32 percent last year. The percentage of nonpaying inpatient and out patient services so far in 2004 are 19.2, up from 17.5 percent in 2003.

“We’re seeing people drop their coverage,” said David Allison, UMC’s chief executive officer. “We’re seeing people, just in general, not being covered. We’re seeing that decrease in our financial mix.”

So because the state refused to fund CHIP, federal dollars that would have helped to cover public hospital costs were left on the table. It’s up to the cities and counties to foot the bill for those who would have been covered before but aren’t covered now. Add in the people who’ve lost private health insurance, and you can see why Perry’s proposed property tax appraisal cap is such an anathema in municipal government. Just another success story from the 78th Lege.

“Dream Team 2: Senate Boogaloo”

Cara Morris has been beating the drums lately for the Democrats’ enhanced electoral prospects in the Senate. She quotes from this Roll Call article in which DSCC Chair Jon Corzine talks about promoting some of their candidates as a package deal.

Senate Democrats will send out an e-mail fundraising appeal today to more than 90,000 donors aimed at capitalizing on the growing diversity of their 2004 recruiting class.

“The dream team is here,” Donna Brazile, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Voting Rights Institute, writes in the missive. “The emergence of Barack Obama, Ken Salazar and Congressman Brad Carson … makes ours the most diverse class of U.S. Senate candidates in history.”

Obama, a black state Senator, cruised to the Democratic nomination in Illinois last Tuesday, while Salazar, the Hispanic state attorney general, has emerged as the establishment’s choice in the race to replace Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.). Carson is a member of the Cherokee Nation and is essentially unopposed for the Democratic nomination in Oklahoma.

Obama would be only the third black Senator since Reconstruction; no Hispanic has served in the Senate in the last 27 years. Carson is one of the eight American Indians to serve in Congress.

“The historic opportunity to increase diversity in the U.S. Senate, and thus the diversity of views, background and cultures … is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss,” writes Brazile, who is also a contributing writer to Roll Call.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee officials hinted that the fundraising appeal is the first in a series of events aimed at creating a “national story” around their candidates.

“We are going to have a class that I would like to sell as a group because of the strength of their credentials,” said DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.). “We can take this crew on the road to help us on the financial side.”

Nationalizing the fundraising and promoting these three terrific candidates is a fine idea, but seeing the words “Dream Team” in this context makes me wince a bit. You may recall the reason why:

[S]ome Democrats warned of the impact of grouping candidates like Obama, Salazar and Carson, pointing out that much the same pitch was made on behalf of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (D) in the 2002 Texas Senate race — to no avail.

Kirk, who is black, was part of the so-called Texas dream team comprised of himself and Hispanic businessman Tony Sanchez, the Democratic candidate for governor.

The former Dallas mayor became a staple on the Democratic fundraising circuit, raising and spending more than $9 million. Sanchez spent freely from his own pocket, eventually donating $67 million to the campaign.

On Election Day 2002, however, neither candidate came close to winning or turning out the record black and Hispanic vote that was predicted.

Kirk lost to then-state Attorney General John Cornyn (R) 55 percent to 43 percent; Sanchez was defeated by Gov. Rick Perry (R) 58 percent to 40 percent.

In a recent interview, Kirk said Texas turned into “much more of a national race than a local race,” adding that the best advice he could give Obama is to find “a message that resonates much broader than the African-American community.”

“He’s got to make the issue about Illinois,” Kirk said.

Couple points: First, the third member of the “Dream Team” in 2002 was John Sharp, the Anglo in that rainbow coalition. He lost a close race to David Dewhurst for Lt. Governor. Second, given the GOP trend of the state, the high popularity of President Bush, and the whole runup to Iraq that characterized the 2002 elections, and it’s hard to say that Ron Kirk could have done all that much better. Finally, and this is important, Tony Sanchez was a lousy candidate who not only didn’t pull his weight on the top of the ticket, he was more of a liability than an asset.

That said, whatever factors may have affected the 2002 race, the “Dream Team” concept was basically a flop. Way too much attention was paid early on to Ron Kirk as “the black candidate” who was one-third of this black/white/brown ticket, and not nearly enough attention was paid to the fact that Kirk was an excellent and well-qualified candidate with a strong track record in public service. He was more of a symbol than a person, and it served him poorly. The end result what that Kirk got only about 30% of the Anglo vote statewide, which was not nearly enough.

Therefore, it’s my sincere hope that if the DSCC takes Obama, Salazar, and Carson on the road, it’s to tout their credentials as shining examples of smart, hard-working, and dedicated people who will make the Senate a better place. That they also come from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds is nothing more than what one should expect from a party that truly reflects and represents all of America. Kirk has it exactly right: These races should be about what’s best for everyone in their states. That’s how they’ll win.