Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

March 25th, 2004:

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.