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May 7th, 2004:

What they knew and when they knew it

Rafe Colburn is keeping track of who knew what about Abu Ghraib and when they knew it. The Stakeholder has a similar list. None of the items on those lists support the conclusion that the pictures we’ve seen are from an “isolated incident” involving a few “bad apples”.

Max makes a good point about “politicizing” something like this, which seems to be the line of attack now.

Somebody has to walk the plank on this, no matter what your politics are. Somebody important — not some waif from Cumberland, Md. (Why does her name keep coming up? There were guys in the pictures too.) Rummy evidently knew but didn’t want to know and found other things with which to concern himself. This was a miserable failure.

Politics is the way we are supposed to make decisions in this democracy of ours. Public opinion, acting through the instrumentality of elections, among other devices, chooses leadership based on performance. Aspiring leaders compete in the political arena by attacking each other. Politicization is precisely what is required for problems to be addressed.

Politicization can be founded on false, stupid, or trivial premises. For instance, the nation’s business was significantly absorbed in the practice of oral sex, not too long ago. Making something out of nothing would merit scorn. The prison practices are not nothing. I seem to recall that Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson was attacked for stuff going on several layers below him at nuclear labs in the desert.

We cannot begin to undo the damage that we have wrought here until we make people accountable for causing it. Donald Rumsfeld is one of those people (he is by far not the only one, make no mistake about that), and as long as he’s still in a position of power, we’re saying to the world that we’d rather scapegoat than stand up. President Bush, acting more and more like a bad CEO, does not understand that. Maybe if enough of us tell him this, by signing the petition or other means, he’ll come to understand it.

UPDATE: Greg Morrow provides more evidence that Rumsfeld should be held accountable.

Encore, anyone?

Now that the Senate is trying to figure out what to do with the dead raccoon the House left on its doorstep, the question must be asked: Will there be a second session if nothing happens in this one?

The Senate will try to construct a new school finance plan before the special session ends May 19, but it will be difficult to do since the House dismantled most of its school package, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday.

Gov. Rick Perry, meanwhile, repeated his earlier threat to keep lawmakers in Austin for another 30-day session if this one ends in failure.

Several senators said there is strong support in the Senate for legalizing video lottery terminals, or slot machines, at racetracks, despite the House’s rejection of that revenue source.

Dewhurst said senators are still determined to cut school property taxes by as much as one-third or one-half and that a number of options for replacing the lost revenue are still being considered.

Among them, he said, are an expanded business franchise tax and higher or expanded sales taxes, as well as the gambling idea.

“I cannot understate how difficult this is going to be,” he said, blaming “this week’s events,” which began when Perry, on the eve of House debate, announced his opposition to a business payroll tax, a cornerstone of the House plan.

Dewhurst met privately with senators on Thursday before the Senate adjourned until Monday afternoon, when senators hope to begin deliberations on a draft of legislation.

Dewhurst said he will continue private meetings with groups of senators today to “try to move the ball forward.”

Monday is the 10th. The session will expire on the following Wednesday the 19th. That ain’t a lot of time.

Dewhurst said that despite the setback, Speaker Tom Craddick had assured him that he still wanted a “permanent and comprehensive” replacement for the present school finance system, which relies heavily on local property taxes and requires wealthy school districts to share revenue with poor schools.

But many senators now are reluctant to vote for a major tax increase — which would carry potential political risk — for fear the House will reject it.

Dewhurst didn’t rule out the possibility that some of the Senate’s education goals may have to wait for the next regular legislative session, which convenes next January. But he added, “We’re trying to do all of it here in the special session.”

“I will keep calling lawmakers back until we have found the right mix of revenue options to improve our schools, eliminate Robin Hood (the present law), maintain equity, cut property taxes and preserve Texas’ strong job-creation climate,” Perry said.

Perry’s saber-rattling aside, I don’t think he’ll be able to call session after session this time around. Unlike the redistricting fiasco, there’s no clear end goal in mind, and there are sharp divisions on pretty much all of the major proposals. The most likely thing to get enough of a consensus to pass, in my mind, is something small and incremental that can be built on for the future, but this is not what the Lege wants, and I don’t think any Republican sees that as a win for them, at least not after all the talk and grand plans.

Last time around, Perry had a basically unified Party and a lot of support from the national GOP, as well as some political capital to spend in the wake of the regular session, where he could claim victory on his “no new taxes” pledge. He has none of that now, and I think there’s a decent chance he’ll have a revolt on his hands if he tries to call more sessions when there’s no consensus in sight. He could get away with one more, on grounds of running out of time, but beyond that I think he needs to see this as a hung jury that has no hope of returning a verdict and declare a mistrial. It’ll be his failure of leadership if that happens, of course, but that doesn’t mean he can’t try to blame it on the Lege for not doing his bidding. Who knows, the voters might even buy it.

On a side note, this article and its sidebar about how each local legislator will do under the proposed property tax rollback is worth reading. Must be nice to have a $2 million house, right, Rep. Woolley?

The paper trail

Kevin Drum and Nick Confessore discuss paper receipts for electronic voting machines. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think that the various e-voting machines should be the interface, and the paper receipts should be the actual ballots that get counted. Combined with optical scan readers, they should be highly accurate, and will provide defenses against fraud and tampering that are already well known and well understood. Best of all, their ease of use would eliminate any concerns about accessibility for the disabled – in the specific case of the visually impaired, as cited by Kevin, the came principle would apply: use the fancy electronics as the interface, then print it out for the official record.

I really don’t see what’s wrong with this idea. It solves the problems that we faced in 2000, and it’s only marginally more expensive than the electronic-only solution we have now. What do you think?

It’s a go in Galveston

Schlitterbahn Galveston – Full speed ahead!

The planning commission on Tuesday gave the New Braunfels-based company the green light to break ground. Officials say the $30 million water park will be constructed on 25 acres at the Galveston airport.

Construction could begin as early as this summer and the goal is to have it finished within a year.

Woo hoo! The original park in New Braunfels will always be the best, and will continue to be an annual pilgrimage for me, but having another version of it nearby is a Very Good Thing, especially if as Pete notes, they make it year-round. I can’t wait to see what it looks like.

John Lopez is making sense

Somebody slap me – this is now twice that I’ve favorably cited John Lopez.

The passionate fight you want to wage in order to keep sports at Rice, especially football, is shared by many. By me.

But it is emotion talking. It is the raw, guttural reaction to someone daring to suggest that Rice athletics be scaled back, played at a diminished level or even vaporized.

We are sports fans. Houston sports fans to boot. To be unemotional about it, specifically a drop from Division I-A football, would be akin to turning down half-price beer at Reliant Stadium. Or free barbecue at Rice Stadium.

Who here would actually want to see Rice athletics remade into something less than top shelf? I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t. No one would.

But knee-jerk emotions do not pay bills that stack $10 million deep every year and will not change significantly with a move to the more geographically friendly Conference USA.

Raw emotions do not change consumer trends. Demographics will not suddenly reroute a path that was set long ago — before, even, the breakup of the Southwest Conference, which many Owls supporters consider the beginning of this talk about an end.

The truth, in fact, is that Rice long ago began losing its appeal to its most significant potential audience — us, the beer-and-barbecue crowd. The interested but uninvolved parties.

He’s right. There just aren’t enough people in Houston, whether affiliated with Rice or not, who care to pay for the privilege of watching Rice football games. Rice can keep its head above the current Division IA requirement of a 15,000 per game minimum home attendance average, but it has to rely on opponents who travel well and an annual Operation Sellout to do it. And though it’s Rice who is navel-gazing about its future in football, it’s not just Rice with this problem – the Cougars suffer from a similar infection of indifference.

I don’t know what the trustees will eventually do. My personal choice would be to make a real commitment to excellence in athletics, at the same level of standard as they have in academics. That would necessarily mean spending a ton of money, from improvements on Rice Stadium and building a real basketball court to doing some actual marketing. We all know how likely that’ll be.

There is one thing that I do know, and that’s what will not happen:

[W]hy not form a “Southern Ivy League”? Rice, SMU, Texas Christian, Tulane, Vanderbilt … no football scholarships … real students playing football for fun, instead of for money.

This little fantasy comes up all the time on the Owlzone fan forum. I’m just going to say this once, so please pay attention: The “Southern Ivy League” is never going to happen. Put aside the fact that Vanderbilt is a member of a BCS conference, and that TCU has now abandoned two conferences with Rice in them in order to position itself as a national football powerhouse. No other school in this wish list (which sometimes includes Baylor) is considering a change in their status as Division IA football teams. Why should they? What benefit would they get from it? What makes you think that Rice could convince them to abandon their current paths and play non-scholarship football in a league of their own? And finally, why do you say that the 80+% of Rice football players who graduated are not “real students”? What exactly would you call them?

With cheesy ad gimmicks come great responsibility

I’m not really sure who came up with this Spider-Man on the bases idea, but I’m glad it didn’t fly.

A day after announcing a novel promotion to put advertisements on bases next month, Major League Baseball reversed course Thursday and eliminated that part of its marketing deal for Spider-Man 2.

“It isn’t worth, frankly, having a debate about,” commissioner Bud Selig said.

Boy, I sure can’t argue with that. Let’s not go all NASCAR here, OK? Leave the ads off the field of play and let’s get on with our lives.

GOP accuses Laney

The state GOP has filed an ethics complaint against Democratic State Rep and former House Speaker Pete Laney, alleging that he used campaign contributions improperly as reimbursement for his personal plane.

Republicans have repeatedly attacked Laney on the issue since 1996, but this is the first known time the party has filed a formal complaint against him.

Laney, who still represents his Hale Center district in the House, said he has never done anything illegal in paying for his airplane with campaign donations.

“My political opponents made this same attack against me in 1996 and 2001, and there was no substance to their claims then or now,” Laney said. “My campaign funds have always been handled in total compliance with the laws and rules of our state.”

The formal complaint, filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, centers on Laney’s use of nearly $1.7 million in campaign funds since 1995 to operate and maintain his private airplane.

“These outrageous sums simply don’t pass the smell test,” said Texas GOP Chairman Tina Benkiser.

Karen Lundquist, executive director of the Texas Ethics Commission, said state law requires that she neither confirm nor deny that such a complaint has been filed.

A search of the commission’s Web site found no record of the commission ever acting on a complaint against Laney since 1996.

“If the commission finds credible evidence of a violation, the order would be on the Web site,” Lundquist said.

Whatever. Seems to me that if they’ve been complaining since 1996, either there’s no evidence of any wrongdoing or he’s really really good at covering it up. One wonders, if the Ethic Commission finds Laney to be in violation, if there will suddenly be a Republican clamor to give it some actual enforcement capabilities. Needless to say, I won’t be holding my breath in anticipation. Lastly, you’ll forgive me, I trust, if I guffaw indelicately at Ms. Benkhiser’s shock at the incredibly large sum of $1.7 million. We all know how uncomfortable the state GOP is around money, after all.