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January, 2005:

Pardon me?

Via Atrios, this rather stunning bit of testimony from the Gonzales confirmation hearings.

Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy to describe “in detail” the only court appearance he ever made on behalf of Bush, Gonzales—who was then chief counsel to the Texas governor—wrote that he had accompanied Bush the day he went to court “prepared to serve on a jury.” While there, Gonzales wrote, he “observed” the defense lawyer make a motion to strike Bush from the jury panel “to which the prosecutor did not object.” Asked by the judge whether he had “any views on this,” Gonzales recalled, he said he did not.

While Gonzales’s account tracks with the official court transcript, it leaves out a key part of what happened that day, according to Travis County Judge David Crain. In separate interviews, Crain—along with Wahlberg and prosecutor John Lastovica—told NEWSWEEK that, before the case began, Gonzales asked to have an off-the-record conference in the judge’s chambers. Gonzales then asked Crain to “consider” striking Bush from the jury, making the novel “conflict of interest” argument that the Texas governor might one day be asked to pardon the defendant (who worked at an Austin nightclub called Sugar’s), the judge said.

Um. Where I come from, we call Sugar’s a gentlemen’s club (not safe for work). Didn’t anyone think it was, you know, a bit odd that then-Governor Bush knew someone well enough at such a place to maybe pardon him some day? Whatever will we tell the Rev. Dobson? I’m just asking.

UPDATE: I should have been clearer about this. The idea that then-Governor Bush could have been concerned enough about the prospect of some day pardoning a strip club employee (and anyone who’s spent more than a day in Austin knows that Sugar’s is a strip club) for a drunk-driving offense to see it as a possible “conflict of interest” is so ridiculous on its face that I just can’t believe a judge would buy it. Liberty in the comments is correct – if this is the case, then he couldn’t have been “prepared to serve” because the same argument would work for any defendant ever.

Anyway. I posted this because I was amused by the reference to Sugar’s as a “nightclub”, and because seeing that took what I thought was an already-silly argument to new heights of ludicrousness.

Will Andy Taylor put out for us?

Andy Taylor, chief mouthpiece for Talmadge Heflin, was supposed to have a press conference this afternoon at 2:30 in which he would present irrefutable evidence that those nasty Democrats stole the HD149 election from poor ol’ Talmadge. He’s been saying that all along now (modulo the occasional backtrack), but as there’s no news stories about this momentous event just yet, I can’t say if he’s finally come forth with something resembling evidence or not or if this is just more of the same. Consider this post a placeholder for now.

In the meantime, both Gary Scharrer and Harvey Kronberg note that the state GOP is putting a lot of pressure on its foot soldiers to fall in line and support overthrowing Hubert Vo for Heflin. Kronberg:

While Heflin was popular among his peers, virtually every Republican I have interviewed – including the most senior leadership – has stressed that only overwhelming evidence of serious and systemic voter fraud would persuade them throw to out an election.

Proving substantial voter fraud is a high standard and the burden rests exclusively with Heflin. Last week’s filings by Heflin point to some election irregularities, but I am not sure there is much evidence of fraud.

Meanwhile, Republican Party chairman Tina Benkiser has been ratcheting up the rhetoric, calling for a GOP grassroots uprising. Alleging a history of Democrats stealing elections, she has called upon the Republican faithful to lean on their legislators. She claims outside pressure is being exerted to keep the challenge from reaching the floor of the House. But with a Republican super majority and a fearless Republican speaker who is firmly in charge, Benkiser’s claims of outside pressure ring hollow.

Of course, the so-called “stolen” elections to which Benkiser refers were in South Texas where Democrats administered the elections.

This election was held in Houston where Republicans administered the election and counted the votes.

Scharrer:

Democrats warn of dire consequences if Republicans call a new election for Heflin.

“I’m going to let loose unless they do what’s right,” says Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso.

Individual Republicans have told Moreno they are under pressure to push a conservative agenda “no matter what” and might have to support Heflin, Moreno says.

File all that away for later. We should know more soon.

UPDATE: Rob reminds me that many contest-related documents can be found here. I do know that each side’s full briefs are not there, however. Initial and rather unexcited coverage is here.

Taking back Congress, one step at a time

Last week, Chris Bowers of MyDD looked at a number of Congressional races that ought to be priority targets for the Democrats in 2006. He has a goal of targeting 80 races, with every seat being challenged.

As a proponent of a 254-county strategy in Texas, I’d like nothing more than to see strong Democrats running in all 32 races here. It’s hard to say right now what the Congressional race landscape will look like next year. There will be two high profile races for sure – whoever goes against Chet Edwards for the last of the redistricting-targeted seats, and a DeLay/Morrison rematch in CD22. Beyond that, other than a likely rematch between Henry Cuellar and Ciro Rodriguez in the Democratic primary for CD28, it’s hard to say what races of interest, if any, will develop.

As I noted in the comments, races I’d like to see on the map next year include CD23 which, depending on what KBH does, may involve an open seat, CD21, and CD14. I still have fond hopes that someone with a recognizable name and an ability to raise cash will take a shot at CD07, but I expect to be sadly disappointed there.

Something that I keep coming back to as I look at different districts is that Democrats need to be more aggressive in challenging for State House seats, almost as a prerequisite for mounting more serious challenges in Congressional races. As an example, Andrew D recently intruduced us to a potential rising star on the Democratic side:

Another pleasant experience was meeting the man who I have bestowed the sobriquet “Gov” on- Lt. Cmdr. Juan M. Garica (USN-Ret.) of Corpus Christi. Sounds great, right? A Military guy. But his resume only begins there. LCDR Garcia is also a graduate of UCLA, Harvard Law and the Kennedy School of Government. In terms of charisma he is second only to John Edwards in people I have met. He had ladies (and some of the guys) turning their heads and the rest of the guys (and all the ladies) ready to open their wallets. His family is great too- his beautiful wife Danielle came with him, though they left their 4 kids (straight out of a commercial cute) in Corpus. He is also bilingual. Garcia was approached by the Republican Party to run for office, but made it clear that he was not on their side and is now planning to take on Republican State Rep. Gene Seaman in 2006. Keep your eye on this guy- he is going places. The Latino John Kennedy I called him.

In 2002, Gene Seamon won reelection by beating Democrat Josephine Miller 53.35%-46.65%. In 2004, he ran unopposed. His district in 2002 split 58-42 Republican, dead on the state average, meaning he underperformed by more than four percentage points. So why in the world did he not draw a challenger in 2004? He should have been a top target, but instead he got a free ride. I’m just boggled.

And what does that have to do with Congressional races? Well, HD32 contains Calhoun and Aransas counties, both of which are represented by the unchallenged-in-2004 Ron Paul. I don’t know about you, but I think it’d be an easier task to knock off Paul with a Democratic state rep in those districts, especially if Paul’s 2006 challenger comes from the opposite end of that nearly-bifurcated district (i.e., someone like Galveston’s Craig Eiland). But no challenger to Seaman in 2004 means no chance to have that help there for Paul’s putative challenger in 2006. So sorry.

Another example: Williamson County, home base of CD31’s John Carter, appears to be on a modest Democratic trend – George Bush did three points worse there this past year than he did in 2000 despite running two points better overall in Texas. CD31 is as few cycles away from being competitive, but wouldn’t it be nice to have already unseated one or both of Williamson’s Republican State Reps for when that does happen? Hey, Jon Porter, what do you think about that?

Basically, having a stronger and broader slate of State House candidates (and, one hopes) a larger share of the State House membership means having a deeper bench from which to recruit candidates for the next level. Democrats didn’t do a good job of building its bench in 2004 despite its (so far) one-seat gain. If there’s one concrete thing the Democratic Party can do better in 2006, that’s it.

There are ancillary benefits to running aggressively in the State House races – Greg and I are (very slowly) working on a thesis that having candidates in these races, even sacrificial lambs running in abandon-all-hope districts, help to boost other candidates on your ticket. That’s something Democrats should really want to have wherever they can find it if they want to have any hope of winning statewide (or, more modestly, Harris County-wide) elections. (The same is true at other levels – one reason I keep harping on CD07 is the belief that a strong Democratic challenger to John Culberson would help to swamp Martha Wong and maybe Joe Nixon’s boats.) And even though State Rep races are more expensive than they used to be, they’re still dirt cheap compared to Congressional races; in addition, as Hubert Vo demonstrated, good strategy and lots of shoe leather can make up for a big funding gap. It’s just good value for the investment, and the eventual payoff can be big indeed.

One last thing: We’ll be redistricting again in 2011, and assuming that Jeff Wentworth’s perennial proposal to have that chore done by a nonpartisan commission remains a beautiful theory, it would be awfully nice to have a Democratic House by then. Wishing for a favorable ruling from the courts only gets you so far, you know?

Cell phone directory still a no-go

For the foreseeable future, there still won’t be a comprehensive directory of cell phone numbers.

Nearly half of the 175 million cell phone users in the United States will not have a chance to sign up for the directory when it is unveiled later this year because they use one of three major carriers that have chosen not to participate.

Among them are Sprint and Alltel, which backed away from the project for at least this year because of bad publicity over the directory and possible regulations that could make the service less profitable. Verizon from the onset said it would not participate because it felt consumer privacy needs could not be guaranteed.

“With Sprint, Alltel and Verizon out, the power of the tool is greatly diminished,” said Julie Ask, an industry analyst with Jupiter Research.

[…]

Analysts believe the wireless industry itself should be faulted for coming up short. They say it should have anticipated consumer concerns and been aggressive about countering them through advertising or public relations.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, which spearheaded the directory, is taking the brunt of such criticism.

“The CTIA did a bad job of PR, quite frankly,” said Michele Pierz of the Pierz Group, a consulting firm that analyzes directory assistance and has done consumer studies on the wireless directory.

As an example, Pierz points to a mad rush by cell phone users to register their numbers on a federal no-call list aimed at preventing calls from telemarketers.

Bogus e-mails circulating around the country last month incorrectly told wireless consumers that inclusion in the directory would mean telemarketers would have access to their numbers.

Millions of wireless consumers responded by registering their cell phones on the national do-not-call registry.

Telemarketers, by law, are not allowed to call cell phones.

[…]

A Pierz Group study published in August illustrates the confusion, Pierz said.

Only 10 percent of the wireless consumers polled in Pierz’s survey said they would want their phone listed in the directory when no privacy measures were clearly explained to them.

But once consumers understood the service, they overwhelmingly favored it.

She said consumers were especially attracted to any directory service offering technologies that carriers have successfully tested but are not yet including.

“If you gave people a choice of different privacy protections, 74 percent said they would list their cell phone numbers,” Pierz said.

I’m not so worried about the privacy issues here. As long as telemarketers are forbidden to call my cellphone, I’m happy. I’m not sure how much I personally would use this service, but it sure seems like this kind of directory will be really needed real soon now. Guess I’ll keep programming the numbers I need into my own cell for the time being.

I-45, westward ho?

The latest crazy-ass proposal for I-45 north of downtown: Move it west, where Houston Avenue is. Just say no.

First Ward leaders reacted with alarm when a Downtown Management District board member proposed rerouting a section of Interstate 45 to run along Houston Avenue, which would require eliminating some homes and businesses. It was the latest in a series of recent proposals for development or transportation projects that would affect neighborhoods north of downtown.

“We’re very concerned, and it’s part of that whole sweep across the north side that we’re trying to track that’s threatening these older neighborhoods,” said David Bush, the director of programs and information for the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

[…]

The latest flare-up is response to a proposal by Mark Cover, an executive of the Hines real estate firm who serves on the board of the Houston Downtown Management District. His idea calls for shifting a segment of Interstate 45 westward to align with Houston Avenue, opening up space for a new urban park and related development projects.

In October, the district proposed a more modest realignment of the freeway to public land near the site of the old Houston Police Station on Riesner Street. This proposal, part of a broad 20-year vision for downtown, would not affect the First Ward or other nearby neighborhoods, said Guy Hagstette, the district’s planning and capital projects director.

Cover could not be reached for comment. Hagstette said Cover thought the district’s proposal “wasn’t bold enough,” but he emphasized the district had not endorsed Cover’s idea.

“This is still just in the discovery stage. This is extremely preliminary,” Hagstette said.

[…]

The alarm caused by the I-45 ideas might seem premature, since the Texas Department of Transportation says its study of the freeway’s northern segment does not envision any change from its current alignment. Agency spokeswoman Janelle Gbur said she could not recall a section of any Houston freeway having been moved.

Gbur said, however, said the I-45 planning process is in an early enough stage that new ideas can be considered.

“Now is the time to be engaging TxDOT in this dialogue,” Gbur said. “We can entertain some different options for Interstate 45’s future, but we can only build what the public will endure.”

Here’s my dialogue, Janelle: Hell, no!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Until someone can explain to me why the already-existing and heavily-underutilized Hardy Toll Road isn’t the better solution to I-45’s congestion than tearing up neighborhoods to widen that accursed freeway, I will oppose any alteration to what we’ve got now.

RIP, Johnny Carson

Good night, Johnny.

As always with all things showbiz, Mark Evanier‘s blog is the place to go for the best information. Start here and work your way forward.

Round Two with Three Judges

The Stakeholder points to the UPI coverage of the re-arguments of re-redistricting in the federal appeals court. I agree it covers the main points well, but there’s a glaring factual error that needs to be corrected:

The old Texas map was drawn shortly after the 2000 census, which is the custom every 10 years in states. Ironically, the same three-judge panel approved that map after the Democratic-controlled Legislature failed to reach agreement.

The State House was under Democratic control in 2001, but the State Senate was not. Each chamber passed its own plan, and it was the failure to reconcile those two plans that led to the court-drawn map in 2001.

A thought occurred to me as I read this:

Attorneys for Latino voters complained to the three-judge panel that the plan violated “one-man, one-vote” because the lawmakers failed to use the most up-to-date census figures.

Jose Garza, an attorney for the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the Legislature used census figures from 2000 when there were more accurate figures available in 2003 that reflected the state’s growth.

“The time has come to place restraint on the state’s mischief,” he said.

The state’s population increased from just less than 21 million to 22 million from 2000 to 2003, according to U.S. Census figures. The percentage of Latino citizens in the Lone Star State climbed from 32 percent to 34 percent in that period.

Lucas Powe, a University of Texas law professor, also complained about the failure to use up-to-date figures, and he argued that a Legislature should not attempt mid-decade redistricting unless there is a necessity.

“Any redistricting plan that replaces a valid plan must be to meet one-man, one-vote and a compelling state interest,” he said.

I still have my doubts that the court will accept that argument, but if they are inclined to do something other than reiterate their original ruling, they could use that as a fulcrum. The 23rd CD was a point of contention in the ruling last January because of the reduction in Hispanic voters in it. What might a re-review of the map with 2003 Census data reveal? I don’t know, but it’s not out of the question that the judges might consider doing it. Stay tuned.

Get well soon, Eleanor

A couple of emails have hit my inbox this week with the news that former Houston City Council member Eleanor Tinsley has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I just want to take this opportunity to offer her my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.

A question as the Heflin challenge draws nearer

One of the advantages of occasionally dawdling before posting on something is that sometimes someone else will do the heavy lifting for you, which Greg has done on this story regarding the state of the Heflin challenge. Basically, he covered the important bits, and I agree with what he said.

One little thing:

Vo raised $114,000 during the period between Oct. 24 and Dec. 31, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission this week.

Among the post-election donors were political action committees representing farmers, architects, doctors, hospitals, automobile dealers, the restaurant association and beer distributors.

Heflin raised $184,000 in that same period.

Contributing to Heflin after the election were Houston home builder Bob Perry, who wrote a $50,000 check, and Gov. Rick Perry, who chipped in $10,000 from his campaign fund.

According to the TEC report on Heflin, Texans for Rick Perry made that contribution on November 9. Was that to help retire debt, or perhaps to help pay for the inevitable recount, or did Perry already know by then that Heflin would be challenging the result? We know that Hubert Vo had been declared the winner in the official canvass by November 9. What was Rick Perry giving Talmadge Heflin that money for? Has anyone asked him? Does he agree with what Tina Benkhiser and Sherry Sylvester have been saying?

Some Republicans have suggested privately that Heflin should accept his loss to avoid disruption of a busy session and to prevent the appearance of a partisan grab.

The Texas Republican Party, however, is putting pressure on GOP lawmakers not to sweep the case under the rug.

An e-mail from state Republican Chairman Tina Benkiser to thousands of members encourages them to contact their representatives to ensure that the election contest goes to the House floor.

“There are people who would just like this to go away,” said party spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester. “People have been very discreet, but it’s clear representatives are receiving pressure to not take it seriously and not consider the evidence.”

Maybe someone ought to ask the Governor where he stands on this. I’d sure like to know. Wouldn’t you?

Postcards from the Responsibility Era

Letter to the Editor:

Do all the Bush-bashers really believe that if John Kerry had won that he would not have had an even grander inaugural ceremony? Please!

LINDA SNYDER
Sugar Land

Memo to Linda Snyder’s children: The next time your mom tries to punish you for misbehavior, remember that “Everyone else does it!” is now considered to be an affirmative defense. Somewhere, Harvey Richards is smiling.

Prosecution appeals Yates order

The Harris County DA office has appealed the order for a new trial for Andrea Yates.

In a motion filed Thursday, prosecutors say the 1st Texas Court of Appeals erred Jan. 6 when it ordered a new trial, citing an expert prosecution witness who gave erroneous testimony about a TV program.

In Yates’ March 2002 murder trial, forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz told jurors that she might have patterned the killings after an episode of Law & Order, in which a mother drowned her children and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. It later was found that no such episode existed.

Prosecutors say the remark about the TV show had no bearing on Dietz’s assertion that Yates was sane when she killed her five children in June 2001.

Dietz’s remark “does not impact in any degree upon the jurors’ determination as to whether (she) knew what she was doing was wrong at the time that she committed the offenses,” prosecutors said in court papers.

[…]

Citing 23 other cases, prosecutors contend the law cited by the appeals court about false testimony requiring a new trial applies only if the testimony had a direct bearing on the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

They said the testimony arguably could have helped Yates’ insanity claim. “If (Yates) had watched a Law & Order episode, (her) expert witnesses clearly would have viewed that as just another ingredient to (her) increasingly psychotic thoughts,” prosecutors said.

I feel that if the false testimony was enough for Sam Nuchia to order a reversal, it ought to be enough for anyone. That said, never underestimate what kind of “logic” the Court of Criminal Appeals will (eventually) bring to bear. Stay tuned.

Lisa Diaz and Park Dietz

In September of 2003, Plano housewife Lisa Diaz obeyed the voices in her head that ordered her to kill her children. She drowned her two daughters in a bathtub, then stabbed herself repeatedly in an ultimately unsuccessful suicide attempt. In August last year, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Read her story in the Houston Press, including how her attorneys learned from those who had defended Deanna Laney, but beware – some of the details are quite gruesome.

There’s also a good sidebar story about the recent developments in the Andrea Yates case. Meanwhile, Ginger points to this Newsweek article in which Park Dietz whines and stamps his feet about how it’s soooo unfair that his “honest mistake” has caused him soooo much grief. Poor baby.

“Bright college days, oh carefree days that fly”

One of the things that attracted me to Trinity University while I was going through the college applications process was getting personal letters from the chairs of the math and music departments telling me about their programs. Now that I see what colleges are doing these days, it all seems kind of quaint.

Forget course catalogs and colorful pamphlets. Think sex, skiing and rock ‘n’ roll.

When it comes to recruiting students for college, admissions officials are turning to increasingly outlandish stunts to get the attention of high schoolers. Colleges and universities are using birthday cards, ski weekends and even reality TV shows to get an edge.

Personal contact with students is in. Indiscriminate mass mailings are out.

“Everybody’s trying to do something that isn’t the mundane,” said Dan Kunzman, vice president of admissions at Doane College in Crete in southeast Nebraska.

[…]

But not all of the gimmicks are received with open arms.

After the University of Nebraska-Lincoln agreed to let Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee film his reality show, Tommy Lee Goes to College, on campus, some faculty members protested. Local domestic violence and family groups also expressed concern that having the rock star representing the university may not be the best image to project. Lee spent about four months in jail after pleading no contest to kicking his then-wife, Pamela Anderson, in February 1998.

The show is tentatively scheduled to air this summer.

At Doane College, school officials apologized after receiving complaints about recruiting postcards sent to 13,500 prospective students that showed a male student surrounded by women, encouraging students to “play the field.”

Meanwhile, Saint Vincent College, in Latrobe, Pa., is planning a ski trip for potential students. Between snowboarding and skiing, students will be given information about financial aid, academic programs and life at the college.

Gaudeamus igitur, indeed. And that doesn’t even take into account the U of H hot tubs. Kids today, I swear.

More Trans Texas Corridor stories

I’m glad to see stories skeptical of the Trans Texas Corridor being run, especially on the TV news. There’s quite a bit that’s good in this KHOU piece from earlier this week, but before I get to that, I need to getan annoyance off my chest first.

It’s no secret that Texas is in a jam — a traffic jam.

Freeways are overcrowded and the state can’t afford to build new ones. It can barely maintain the ones we have.

One might get the impression from this that the reason the state can’t afford to build more roads or maintain the existing ones is something beyond its control. Which is bollocks – the Legislature and the Governor have made a choice, and that choice is to not raise the gas tax, which is where road funding comes from. The state of Washington made the opposite choice, but Texas did not, and so here we are with the $175 billion pie in the sky toll road plan. Does KHOU not have an economist in their Rolodex who could give them a sound-bite-friendly opinion as to how much we’d have to raise the gas tax to deal with our highway congestion problems?

Having gotten that off my chest, I’ll say that the rest of the story did a good job hitting on the main points of contention with the TTC. More like that would be nice.

Elsewhere, the NBC affiliate in Waco has a piece on the skeptical response that the TTC got from McLennan County commissioners.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is one of the boldest highways ever proposed, but what will be the economic impact be on McLennan County? That’s what commissioners tried to figure out from state transportation officials at their weekly meeting.

Many of the concerns surrounded the county’s tax base because as much as 4,000 acres of rural land would be taken to build the highway. That’s tax money the county would lose.

Commissioners are also concerned the county and the state may not have the final say because a private company is building the highway and development of I-35 could be slowed if the focus shifts to the Trans-Texas Corridor.

County Commissioner Wendall Crunk says, “Just about everything I’ve looked at has been negative for McLennan County.”

[…]

TxDOT officials and county commissioners talked for about two hours, but in the end, some commissioners were still not convinced the Trans-Texas Corridor is the best thing.

Commissioner Lester Gibson says, “I did not get any specific answers. The gentleman tried to answer, but it was still vague.”

I’ll say it again: The TTC is a big, fat opportunity for whoever carries the Democratic banner in the 2006 gubernatorial election. The more we talk about it, the better.

Welcome to Your-Name-Here Stadium

This was bound to happen sooner or later: HISD ponders selling naming rights to high school football stadia.

If HISD goes forward with the proposal, Houston would join a small but growing list of Texas school districts to plaster corporate names on their stadium facades.

“These things are worth discussing,” said HISD trustee Greg Meyers. “It’s probably a fine idea.”

Businesses have paid more than $1 million each to put their names on at least three Texas high school football stadiums, in Midland, Forney and Tyler.

HISD’s three sports complexes — Barnett, Butler and Delmar-Dyer — would be enticing advertising venues to many companies, said Dave Stephenson, president of Titus Sports Marketing in Dallas.

“With so many campuses and students tied into their facilities, if they look at an umbrella proposal, there’s tremendous prospects for that,” Stephenson said of HISD. Last year, his company negotiated a 12-year, $1.9 million deal with a hospital system that changed the Tyler stadium name to Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.

Although most naming deals have involved advertisers seeking suburban and rural audiences, Stephenson said he believes urban school districts will attract interest as well.

“There’s a lot of companies that want to get involved with inner-city students,” he said. “They may like HISD because they want to give back to the community and see their name put into helping disadvantaged kids.”

Honestly, I’m surprised it hadn’t already happened in Houston. Of course, maybe it’s just as well that nobody thought of it while Enron was still throwing money around. And let’s face it, I don’t think “Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium” would inspire much trembling from one’s opponents.

There are those, however, who believe public school facilities should be commercial-free zones.

“What schools have to understand is that naming a stadium after a corporation is basically saying to the kids, ‘Buy this. These are the good guys.’ And should a school be doing that?” said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and founding member of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “We used to name buildings after heroes, and now what we’re doing is naming buildings after the highest bidder.”

Eh, I don’t know. Are all high school stadia completely advertising-free to begin with? I mean, no signs, banners, anything with a logo on it? If not, why is this any more pernicious? I understand the point, I just don’t think it’s a big deal in this case.

UPDATE: KPRC did a story on this during the 5 PM news tonight. In one shot, they showed the scoreboard at some named-for-a-person stadium. In each of the corners of the scoreboard was a big red Coca Cola logo. Yeah, changing the name from Obscure Rich Guy Who Once Gave The School A Pile Of Money Stadium to Three Initial Corporation Stadium is really gonna send a message to the kids.

In the comments, Dru Stevenson mentions an interesting possibility, which is that one of the Houston megachurches, who already do a lot of advertising, might be in the market for a stadium name. It could happen. Lakewood Church already owns the Compaq CenterSummit, so adding an Oasis Of Love Stadium to their portfolio might make sense. I’d love to hear the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on that one if they try.

The perils of pop culture deprivation

I thought that James Dobson’s bizarre obsession with SpongeBob’s sexuality would easily be the dumbest thing I’d read this week, but damn if Jim Henley didn’t find something even dumber. Do we need to start putting warning labels that read “This is fiction. That means it’s not real.” on all pop-culture products for the benefit of clueless conservative commentators?

More CHIP carping from KBH

Once again without directly attacking Governor Perry, Senator Hutchison is talking about how much money Texas has lost in CHIP funds.

Texas forfeited $104 million in federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program when it failed to spend all that was allocated to the state in 2002, according to recent figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

[…]

“I regret that another significant allotment of Texas taxpayer dollars that could have helped local governments pay for their health care bills has again been voluntarily forfeited,” Hutchison said. “As a simple matter of fiscal conservatism, this does not make much sense.”

[…]

Jennifer Harris, a spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the unspent federal money is mostly a result of Texas starting its CHIP program late.

Congress allowed states to begin drawing down CHIP money in 1998, but Texas did not start its program until later, Harris said. Texas has received federal money every year since 1998 even though the program didn’t start in the state until 2000.

Gov. Rick Perry’s office criticized Hutchison and Congress for not passing legislation that would allow the state to keep all the money allocated to the program.

“This is a problem of the senator’s own making,” said Perry spokesman Robert Black. “Texas didn’t lose this money, the federal government took it away because we have no effective voice on the federal health subcommittee looking out for the interests of Texas uninsured.”

States have three years to spend each year’s CHIP allotment before the money is redistributed to other states.

We’ve already heard a lot about CHIP, mostly from Comptroller Strayhorn, and I expect we’ll keep hearing a lot about it as the pre-primary campaigning intensifies. The issue of CHIP funding was a big factor in the defeat of Arlene Wohlgemuth, and it was a factor in Talmadge Heflin’s loss as well. The fact that restoring CHIP funding has been a stated priority of quite a few Republicans in Austin this year tells you they know that Wohlgemuthian stinginess on CHIP is a loser. Everybody who runs against Rick Perry from now until next November will hammer away at his responsibility for those cuts. If there’s any justice, he’ll suffer the same fate for pushing them as the others have.

Jackson v. Perry, Take Two

The Supreme Court-ordered review of the federal lawsuits filed against the Texas re-redistricting of 2003 is scheduled for tomorrow. SCOTUS has ordered the lower court to reconsider its ruling in light of the Vieth v Jubelirir case that it decided subsequently. Rick Hasen gives some background.

The case puts the lower court in a really tough position, because four Justices in Vieth ruled that partisan gerrymandering cases are non-justiciable, four dissenters proposed (at least) three different standards for judging the constitutionality of partisan gerrymander, and Justice Kennedy simply could not decide: he left the door open for future challenges, but rejected all the proposed standards that have been set forth so far.

If I’m reading Hasen correctly, it’s unlikely that the lower court can or will do anything different this time around. Regardless of that, the Texas cases will wend their way back to SCOTUS in good time. What’s very interesting is his suggestion that the ultimate key to determining what a justiciable standard for partisan gerrymandering is (or even if there is one) could hinge on William Rehnquist’s replacement. Check it out.

One other thing to note is that the federal court is supposed to take the result of the 2004 elections into account. It seems to me that if at some point the new boundaries are eventually tossed on the grounds that they’re too partisan to be legal, that could be a fatal blow to Tom DeLay (assuming he hasn’t been indicted or voted out of office by then). His role in pushing for the new boundaries, and the fact that the GOP would have lost seats in the House otherwise, was frequently cited as a reason to support him during the DeLay Rule dustup. So what happens when that stone is removed from his foundation? Maybe we’ll get to find out.

Hasen link via Kimberly, who is also the author of this AusChron story which notes another new development in the case.

Attorney General Greg Abbott released a series of briefs late Friday afternoon, including a response to an amicus brief filed by University of Texas law professors, Travis County, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, who wrote that mid-decade redistricting should take into account the “phenomenal growth” and population shifts in Texas between 2000 and 2003.

[…]

The UT professors, along with Travis County and LULAC, argued that the state’s redistricting plans violated “one person, one vote.” As the minority population shifts and changes, those groups are no longer accurately represented by 2000 census data. The amicus brief argues that the state did not make a “good faith effort” to take those population shifts into account when the map was redrawn in 2003.

In its response, the state argues that a “one person, one vote” argument is “an undisguised attempt at a backdoor judicial prohibition on ‘mid-decade’ redistricting” that the court has already concluded was both legal and permissible. Decennial census data is considered “presumptively valid for redistricting,” absent a substantial showing to the contrary. The state goes on to say the claim failed because the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of pointing out any equal-population violation the new map created.

The brief cites a number of Supreme Court cases that support the use of decennial data as the ‘best population data available,’ lacking any replacement data of equal validity. The fact that the census data is the “best available” is undisputed, according to the state’s brief, and the plaintiffs didn’t offer an alternative or provide a map that demonstrates how the lines could have been redrawn for a fairer balance.

“That the University Professors and Travis County have not offered legal authority is no slight on their research skills,” wrote the state in its brief. “Rather, it reflects that the rules they propose are both novel and contrary to law. Their arguments – by demanding a presumption of unconstitutionality – ask this Court to overrule binding Supreme Court precedent establishing that the burden of proof in equal-population claims falls on the plaintiff and the requirement that the plaintiff offer a means of achieving a lower population inequality.”

It’s an interesting argument, but I don’t think it will get anywhere. The Daily Texan has more.

The bottom 100

Norbizness dares us to list all the movies in the IMDB Bottom 100 that we’ve seen. This one is easy for me:

Jaws 3-D

That’s it. Sometimes not being a big moviegoer has its advantages.

In case you missed it last time around, my personal Bottom 10 is here. Read the comments at your peril – you will be forcibly reminded of many, many really bad movies.

UPDATE: Both Michael in the comments, and The Chunk note that the IMDB list is skewed towards recent bad movies. This is true, which is why the staying power of a flick like Jaws 3-D is so impressive to me. Too recent to be an MST3K-style classic, too old to be on anyone’s mind, too irrelevant to warrant a DVD release, and yet still crappy enough to be a Bottom 100 movie. You just have to respect that.

One thing leads to another

Parole, probation violators add to prison overcrowding

Scarce Texas prison beds are increasingly being used by offenders who have violated a condition of their parole or probation, often for something as minor as missing a meeting or failing to pay a fee.

Parents weigh in on zero tolerance

As Texas lawmakers ponder ways to revamp the law on student discipline both to ensure fairness and keep schools safe, parents are frustrated and worried about the pervasiveness of so-called “zero tolerance” discipline.

Critics say this policy gives school districts the green light to impose strict, uniform penalties for misbehavior without considering extenuating circumstances such as the students’ intent to do harm or prior disciplinary records.

Am I the only one who thinks these two problems might be connected somehow?

Math is hard

Just for the record, in my junior year of college, I took an upper level math class (Real Analysis, in case you’re curious) in which I was the only male. That includes the professor, who happened to be my major advisor. While I knew the composition of this class was not a common one, it never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about it.

That’s pretty much all I have to say about Lawrence Summers’ silly statement. Oh, and that my daughter is going to grow up to think there’s nothing unusual about my Real Analysis class, either. For more on the subject, see Bitch PhD and PZ Myers. Via many bloggers, including Kriston.

Let’s keep it right here

The trials of Rick Causey, Jeff Skilling, and Kenny Boy Lay will not be moved to another venue.

Despite their plea to be tried outside of Houston, a federal judge ruled today that the fate and future freedom of ex-Enron chieftains Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling will be put in the hands of a Houston-area jury.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake found that the two former top executives and their chief accounting officer, Richard Causey, all accused of multiple counts of fraud and other felonies, could indeed find a fair jury among the citizens of Harris County and 13 adjacent counties.

“Although news coverage about Enron’s collapse, this case, and these defendants has been extensive, the court is not persuaded that it has been so inflammatory or pervasive as to create a presumption that there exists a reasonable likelihood that pretrial publicity will prevent a fair trial,” Judge Lake wrote in a 24-page opinion.

Though the judge cited several instances of the Houston Chronicle and other media columns and feature items poking fun at the defendants, the judge said “isolated incidents of intemperate commentary about the alleged crimes and their perpetrators do not rise to the level of ‘inflammatory’ where, as here, for the most part, the reporting appears to have been objective and unemotional.”

Lake said “the facts of this case are neither heinous nor sensational” as he said were most of the cases cited by the defendants requesting the case be moved.

Lord knows the blogging community has done its part to mock the defendants, but apparently we just weren’t intemperate enough. We’ll do better next time, I promise.

Blogrolling update

Since Bloglines is my tool of choice for blogreading, I don’t update my blogroll as frequently as I should. I finally did so today, adding some sites that were long overdue for the sidebar. When I get in a frenzy like that, I tend to overlook things, so if you think you belong there but you’re not, please let me know. Thanks.

No room in the pen

Once again I got those overcrowdwd penitentiary blues.

Texas prisons are running out of beds more quickly than expected and may need to lease space in county jails by March. But there is no money in the prison system’s budget to pay the jails.

Prison officials confirmed Tuesday that they may need to ask lawmakers for an emergency appropriation to get through fiscal 2005, which ends Aug. 30.

That sound you hear is the so-called budget surplus being kissed goodbye.

Robert Black, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, said the governor asked TDCJ last year to begin identifying potential leased space and to assess whether the Legislature needs to build facilities.

“The governor was aware of this certainly last year,” Black said.

Black would not say whether Perry will call for new prison capacity when he gives his State of the State speech Jan. 26.

In 2001, Perry proposed spending $95 million to construct facilities to house 1,000 inmates who need to be segregated from the general prison population and 800 “geriatric” inmates. At the time, his staff said the prison capacity would be needed by 2004-05.

Lawmakers questioned whether the beds were needed and said it was more important to raise pay for prison guards.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, objected to Perry’s proposal at the time and is again questioning whether new prisons are the answer. Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, discussed prison crowding Tuesday with TDCJ Executive Director Brad Livingston.

Whitmire is concerned that 46 percent of the 77,000 inmates who were sent to prison during fiscal 2004 were there because their parole or probation had been revoked.

“It’s just unbelievable. We almost sent as many people to prison for violating probation and parole as we did by sending them directly from court,” he said.

“It sounds tough, but it’s not smart because we’re out of space. And we’re going to spend millions of dollars that we don’t have for additional capacity that we could be using for drug and alcohol treatment,” Whitmire added.

We do seem to have the same approach to prison overcrowding that we do with traffic congestion, don’t we? Build more, and when it all fills up again, build more. Scalability? Never heard of it.

Here’s a site that has a few ideas for how to handle this problem without building more prisons. Check it out.

It’s like high school all over again

Omigod! Carole says that, like, Rickie totally dissed her and all. As if!

Her name missing from an invitation letter to an upcoming Texas Republican Party fund-raiser, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn cried foul Tuesday and blamed the perceived snub on Gov. Rick Perry.

Spokespersons for Perry and the party dodged responsibility for the omission, the latest flap to erupt between the governor and the comptroller, who is eyeing a challenge to Perry in next year’s Republican primary.

The event, which will benefit the state party, is scheduled for Feb. 22 in Austin. With ticket prices ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, it is being billed as a tribute to Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick.

An invitation letter mailed this week was signed by all other elected statewide officials except Strayhorn, members of the judiciary and the two U.S. senators from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn. Hutchison also is considering a race against Perry.

Mark Sanders, a spokesman for the comptroller, said Strayhorn wasn’t invited to sign the letter or attend the event.

“The governor is doing the party a disservice by excluding the top vote-getter in the state last time (the 2002 election) and one tough grandma who has proved herself to be one phenomenal fund-raiser,” Sanders said. “His fear of her presence is a truly self-absorbed disservice to the electorate.”

Luis Saenz, director of Perry’s political committee, said the event was the Republican Party’s business.

“The Republican Party of Texas knows best how to raise money from true Republicans,” he said.

Next thing you know, she won’t be allowed to sit at his table in the cafeteria any more. This is, like, so harsh, you know?

Another Enron movie

No, not a sequel to The Crooked E, but a documentary called Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, based on the book by the same name.

The movie, which will have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah later this month, will likely show in Landmark Theaters such as the River Oaks and Greenway and maybe others too, [filmmaker Alex] Gibney said Tuesday.

[…]

“Using insider accounts and incendiary corporate audio and videotapes, Gibney shows the almost unimaginable personal excesses of the Enron hierarchy and the utter moral vacuum that posed as corporate philosophy,” reads the press release about the distribution deal.

It promises “a harrowing denouement” as audiences hear traders pull profits from the California energy crisis and offers understanding on how Enron executives’ avarice “had a shocking and profound domino effect that may shape the face of our economy for years to come.”

[…]

“I have high expectations,” said Philip Hilder, the Houston lawyer for ex-Enron executive Sherron Watkins, who penned the now-famous memo predicting corporate scandal. Hilder and Watkins were interviewed for the film.

“These filmmakers seemed to understand the significance of the Enron story, and I expect they will treat it in an important manner,” Hilder said.

Sounds interesting enough. Look for it in Houston in the spring.

Spector is in

Former State Supreme Court Justice Rose Spector has officially entered the race for the now-vacant HD121 seat in San Antonio. There’s two Republicans and an independent as well. Like Greg says, the demographics aren’t favorable, but anything can happen in a race like this. I’ll echo the kudos for whoever recruited Spector for this race, and hope this is the beginning of a more aggressive challenge-every-seat trend. Meanwhile, stay tuned for a Texas Tuesdays profile of Spector.

The Statesman blogs the Lege

Yoo hoo! James Howard Gibbons! If you want to learn the right way for a newspaper to embrace the blogging concept, look here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to send a box of chocolates to the Statesman’s news room.

On Martin Frost for DNC Chair

Let me start by saying that I agree with what Sam Rosenfeld says regarding Martin Frost and his candidacy for DNC Chair. There are plenty of reasons to oppose Frost’s candidacy for this position, but on balance I’d say how he ran his campaign against Pete Sessions is a point in his favor. You want a no-holds-barred fighter, Martin Frost is your guy.

Something to keep in mind that though the outcomes were different, Frost’s campaign was tactically very similar to Chet Edwards’ in that they both touted areas of agreement with President Bush. It’s hard not to do that when some 60-65% of the voters in your district will be pushing the button for Bush. Edwards won, so people are willing to overlook that sort of thing because we all know he’s infinitely better to have in Congress than Arlene Wohlgemuth would have been. Edwards has been widely lauded for his odds-against victory, and justly so, but if he were in Frost’s position, he’d be vulnerable to the same criticism. See Andrew D’s comments in this post for more.

One thing I want to make clear: Martin Frost is not my first choice for DNC Chair. He’s not in the top three – I favor Rosenberg, Fowler, Dean, and Wellington Webb in more or less that order. I’m just saying that if you’re going to oppose Martin Frost, do it for the right reasons.

UPDATE: Southpaw weighs in.

Erik Slotboom and Camino Columbia

Nice article in the Press about Erik Slotboom and his work disputing the need for the Trans Texas Corridor. One thing I learned in reading this piece is that we already have a shining example of a private toll road in Texas, the Camino Columbia down in Laredo. How’d that work out? Not so well.

The state’s only private toll road, a $90 million link to Mexico that opened just three years ago, was auctioned back to the bank Tuesday for $12 million and may close.

The 22-mile Camino Columbia route between Mexico and Interstate 35 had investors expecting to get rich because of increased Mexico-U.S. truck traffic linked to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The landowners along the route invested a total of $15 million, in addition to providing strips of property 400 feet wide.

Tony Sanchez’s International Bank of Commerce provided an initial $6 million funding for the road. John Hancock and New York Life Insurance Co. loaned an additional $75 million.

But motorists weren’t buying the $16-per-truck, $3-per-car trip from a bridge 23 miles northwest of the city, and traffic was only 13 percent of expectations.

Less than a year after it opened landowners were filing lawsuits claiming they’d been duped.

That sure makes the Cintra-built PerryPike from San Antonio to Dallas look appetizing, doesn’t it? But don’t worry, state officials know their salesmanship:

Still, the state sees privately run toll roads in its future, as population growth puts a strain on existing roads. Gov. Rick Perry’s proposed $175 billion Trans Texas Corridor, is a 4,000-mile network of superhighways, high-speed rail lines and private toll roads.

“Basically, across the state we’ve got a transportation crisis,” TxDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said. “The demand is growing exponentially. … Tolls are an option that we’re going to consider. We have no choice.”

Emphasis mine. So many crises, so little time to worry about them all.

In any event, TxDOT bought Camino Columbia in May, and their diagnosis of why it crashed and burned is what should really be worrying us.

The state has agreed to purchase the 22-mile Camino Columbia private toll road that disappointed investors and ended up on the auction block.

The Texas Department of Transportation will pay $20 million for Camino Columbia, which cost $90 million to build.

[…]

TXDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said the road was a good deal for the state.

“It’s just a matter of waiting for the traffic to come in,” she said in Friday’s San Antonio Express-News. “Unfortunately, the previous owners weren’t able to hang in for the long haul because they had debt to pay and the revenue they had coming in to pay it wasn’t there yet.”

Cintra is putting up a lot of cash on this deal. What happens if they hit a liquidity problem? Do we have a contingency plan? At least I know the state of Texas isn’t going to go belly up.

Something to keep in mind here, going back to the original story:

He points out that the toll fee from Dallas to San Antonio would be about $40. “The nightmare scenario is that these highways are underutilized because the people won’t pay tolls, and then they’ll toll existing interstates to make up the cost,” says Slotboom.

I just checked, and you can fly on Southwest between San Antonio and Dallas for as little as $39 (not including fees) each way. Throw in two or three tanks of gas for the trip, and flying is easily cheaper (especially if you can use public transportation or get rides from others in the city you’re visiting) as well as faster than the incipient toll road. Southwest has always said that cars and highways were its main competition. Would you bet on the PerryPike against them? I wouldn’t.

Finally, this snarky column by Ed Wallace, who if the picture is to be believed has a bit of a young-Johnny-Cash thing going for him, gives some more background on Camino Columbia and how Washington State solved its “transportation crisis”. Check it out.

Harry Carson

As a lifelong Giants fan, I’m saddened to see this.

Harry Carson, an all-time great Giant, plans to stage an unprecedented protest if this is the year he makes it from finalist to enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He insists he will be a no-show in Canton for the Aug. 7 induction.

It will be humiliating for the Hall of Fame and subject Carson to ridicule. But he’s not backing down. He’s faced enough rejection from the Hall and is prepared to dish it right back. His bronze bust might be in Canton, but not him. He received the overnight letter last week from Canton informing him he’s made it to the final 15. It’s the sixth year in a row.

Carson sent a letter to Hall of Fame officials in mid-March demanding his name be removed from consideration after 11 years of failing to pick up enough votes. They didn’t listen.

“I made the decision to take myself out of the process,” Carson said the other day after being notified he’s a finalist again. “It wasn’t sour grapes. I’m not bitter or angry. By taking this stance, I understand I’m cutting my own throat. I’m crashing my ship. If I make it and go back on my word, then I come off as being hypocritical. I’ve thought long and hard about the position I’m taking. I didn’t wake up one day and say take my name off. It’s something I can live with.”

He believes the constant scrutiny of the board members judging whether he’s worthy of induction has tarnished what he accomplished in his 13-year career – nine Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl title, dominant player even before Lawrence Taylor arrived – and he no longer wants to subject his family and close friends to the pain and disappointment if doesn’t make it.

Carson has a long explanation of his position on his web page.

I confess, it hadn’t actually occurred to me that Harry Carson wasn’t already in the NFL Hall of Fame. He was the Giants before the likes of Simms, Parcells, and LT showed up. I wish I knew what the voters thought he lacked in his resume. In his open letter, Carson says he doesn’t want to be like Susan Lucci, remembered for his failure to win an honor voted on by others instead of his own stellar accomplishments. I can totally understand that. I’m just sad it came to that, and I hope that if and when the Hall voters come to their senses, Carson will reconsider his stance.

More red light debates

Supporters and detractors of traffic light cameras duke it out with competing studies which may or may not show that such cameras reduce collisions at intersections. I’ll simply note again that Fritz Schranck has discussed this issue in the past, and leave it to you to figure out which side’s scientists can beat up the other’s.

One item of interest from the article:

In discussing alternatives to red-light cameras, [Eric Skrum, spokesman for the National Motorists Association of Waunakee, Wis., a nonprofit group that opposes camera enforcement] said that lengthening the time of yellow lights can reduce violations and that the [Transportation Research Board] underplayed that possibility. He contends that most drivers run red lights because yellow lights are too short and don’t allow time to stop safely.

For example, Skrum said a 2002 San Diego study that reported a reduction in red-light running buried the fact that the greatest reduction in red-light violations, 88 percent, was at an intersection where the yellow light duration was increased from 3.1 to 4.7 seconds. At five other San Diego intersections, the number of violations also significantly dropped due to longer yellow lights.

Additionally, Skrum said, increasing the yellow-light duration from 4 seconds to 5.5 seconds in an intersection in Fairfax County, Va. — already equipped with red-light cameras — reduced red-light violations by 96 percent.

He said communities that install red-light cameras rather than lengthening yellow lights or making other engineering changes are more interested in increasing their cash flow than reducing accidents.

I’m very skeptical that lengthening yellow light durations could have such a dramatic effect on red light running. Ninety-six percent reduction? Show me the data. Frankly, I’m not convinced that longer yellows wouldn’t lead to an increase in red light running, since people approaching a light that has just turned yellow will think “no problem, the yellow lasts forever” and speed up.

Getting back to the cameras themselves, you may recall the story about Dallas’ Deep Ellum installing surveillance cameras. According to the CrimProf Blog, such cameras are a lot more widespread than you might think. Does that make you a little uncomfortable? I know I am.

Banjo Jones on NPR

Banjo Jones tells his story of getting fired by the Chron for blogging to NPR. Also see the Houston Press story from the time.

Reflections from Tulia

The Rev. Alan Bean files his last dispatch from the Lubbock County courtroom in which Tom Coleman was convicted of perjury. I’ll say it again – if this man started a blog, I’d not only read it every day, I’d badger other people to read it until I drove them crazy. Read and enjoy. Grits also provides a one-stop archive of all things Coleman trial-related. May this sordid chapter in our history be buried, but never forgotten.