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February, 2005:

Sam Johnson is stark raving nuts

Apparently, the gentleman from the third Congressional District thinks we should nuke Syria, and that he himself is the man for the job.

Now we know where Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) thinks the weapons of mass destruction are buried: in Syria, which he said he’d like to nuke to smithereens.

Speaking at a veterans’ celebration at Suncreek United Methodist Church in Allen, Texas, on Feb. 19, Johnson told the crowd that he explained his theory to President Bush and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) on the porch of the White House one night.

Johnson said he told the president that night, “Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on ‘em and I’ll make one pass. We won’t have to worry about Syria anymore.”

The quote is from the subscription-only Roll Call. Big Media Matt asks a few pertinent questions about Rep. Johnson’s words here and here. I’ve got a question of my own: As I write this, the only result I get doing a Google News search on +”sam johnson” +syria is a blog post on Will anyone in the Texas mainstream media pick this story up, or will this wish for mass murder by a senior Congressman expressed to the President be deemed non-newsworthy? Tune in tomorrow and I’ll see if there are any new Google News results.

UPDATE: The Carpetbagger Report has one more line from that Roll Call article: “The crowd roared with applause.” I guess the featured sermon that day did not discuss the thou-shalt-not-kill commandment.

TAB trial gets underway

I’ll undoubtedly have more on this tomorrow, but for now here’s the opening story from the AP wire about the lawsuit against Bill Ceverha of the Texas Association of Business. Clean Up Texas Politics has a bunch of links from pre-trial coverage: here, here, here, and here. Meanwhile, Nathan from Drive Democracy was in the courtroom and gives his initial impressions here while promising a longer post later. And finally, In the Pink Texas is bummed out that Speaker Craddick will be a no-show. More later as the stories get filed.

Congrats to Michael Harris

I’d like to take a moment to congratulate Rice forward Michael Harris, whose 30 points and 24 rebounds against Hawaii yesterday made him the all time career leader for the Owls in each category, surpassing Brent Scott on both counts. Harris has been a fantastic player for the Owls since he arrived, and though he’s probably too undersized to play in the NBA, he’ll be remembered at Autry Court forever. I hope that someday soon we’ll be seeing his #33 uniform hanging from the rafters at Autry. Heck, maybe this will spur the Rice AD’s office to finally give that honor to Scott as well. Anyway, my congratulations to you, Michael Harris. Thanks for playing the game so well.

More backlash against USA Next

Fantastic. Richard M. Raymen and Steven P. Hansen, the couple shown in the hateful anti-AARP ad run by USA Next has sent USA Next a cease and desist letter (PDF) regarding use of their images. Details here:

“In 2004, our clients allowed their picture to be taken at their public celebration, as couples getting married do every day,” Christopher Wolf, a partner in the Washington, DC office of the New York-based law firm Proskauer Rose LLP and counsel for Raymen and Hansen. “They did not volunteer to be models for a 2005 right-wing hate campaign, and never would have consented to having their images plastered in an ad of any kind, much less the one USA Next chose to run. USA Next has violated the law and must take responsibility for the consequences. Tort law is quite clear that USA Next acted illegally.”

“The USA Next ad communicates the false message that gay marriages generally, and our clients specifically, are the antithesis of supporting American troops during wartime,” said Wolf. “Gay marriage, and our clients’ ceremony, have nothing to do with support of the troops. Our clients are patriotic Americans who strongly support our service members.”

USA Next’s ad campaign has generated heated debate about the organization. Ramen and Hansen have been the subject of hate-filled messages and ridicule as a result of the ad campaign, and have suffered a significant invasion of privacy.

“We never signed up to be Harry and Louise for a hate-mongering group,” Raymen said, referring to the fictional couple used in television commercials to scuttle then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s health care proposal. “USA Next is illegally using our photo to portray us as a threat to American values. How would any citizen like having their image stolen and broadcast for the purpose of tarring our troops and suggesting that you’re un-American?”

Good for you, Richard M. Raymen and Steven P. Hansen. May USA Next come to regret its sins. Via the Swing State Project.

The next election of any major consequence in Texas will be May 7 in San Antonio, where they’ll be voting for a new Mayor and all members of the City Council. Those of you who live in the Alamo City should take a minute and check out, which is a new site devoted to the nuts and bolts of election information there. Note well this bit from their FAQ:

Why hasn’t the City of San Antonio made this information available in a more user friendly way on its own website thus eliminating the need for a site like

This is perhaps the most pertinent question of all. Of course the answer is, “with what the City currently spends on MIS services, if they wanted to they could and indeed they should.” Virtually all the information on this site was researched, collated, organized into a usable format and turned into a website through the efforts of one person in less than three weeks time. This is neither intellectually nor economically rocket science. By way of a couple of constructive suggestions to the City, the forms for these Campaign Finance Reports could be made available and filled out online. Technology could be employed to ensure that all blanks on the forms are filled out completely before it would accept the filings. This would also eliminate the problem of handwritten forms. What is more, this would make it easier for those who were inclined to import this information into a database that could be easily queried to help trace the connections between particular contributors and specific campaigns, or determine when multiple donations have been made from a given household at one address.

It’s not just the city of San Antonio that could do a better job of presenting this kind of information – the data on the Bexar County Elections Department‘s page are done in a way to make them nearly useless. The Harris County Clerk does a much better job, and it’s still not that great.

Anyway. You San Antonians have until April 6 to register for this election, so check out and prepare to do your civic duty.

Rumble in Dallas, rumblings in Bexar

Tonight’s the night that Democrats in Dallas have it out with DCDP Chair Susan Hays over a list of grievances with her. Read all about it at BOR, StoutDem, 100 Monkeys Typing, and (for a different perspective) Pink Dome. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s wrapup of the meeting – I just hope this can get resolved in a relatively bloodless manner so we can move on to more important business, like the next elections.

Meanwhile, Latinos for Texas notes that there are problems with the Bexar County Democratic Party. Sheesh. Greg is right – warts and all, the Harris County Democratic Party is in much better shape, comparatively speaking. I happen to know that something cool will be forthcoming from the HCDP in the next few days, but can’t say more than that at this time. Look for an announcement shortly.

Buffalo Nickel, won’t you come out tonight?

In the Everything Old Is New Again Department, we have the return of the buffalo nickel.

Sixty-seven years after the government minted its last buffalo nickel, the symbol of the American West is returning to the 5-cent piece.

The United States Mint has shipped 97 million of the new coins to the Federal Reserve’s 12 regional banks, and they will start distributing the coins to local banks Monday. The nickels should start showing up in stores’ change drawers within a couple of weeks.

For those who can’t wait that long, the Mint has planned an elaborate launch ceremony in Washington on Tuesday, complete with a live bison, tribal dances and American Indian speakers. People will be able to show up at Union Station and buy $2 rolls of the shiny new 5-cent pieces. The coins will also be on sale at the Mint’s Web site starting Monday.


The Westward Journey Nickel Series is commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition, both of which occurred during the administration of the country’s third president, Thomas Jefferson.

The first two nickels were introduced last year. One featured two hands clasping, a replica of the friendship medallion that Lewis and Clark handed out to Indian tribes along the way. The second had a depiction of the keelboat they used to journey up the Missouri River in 1804.

The series represents the first change in the nickel since 1938 when the Mint switched from the buffalo nickel with an American Indian on the opposite side to the Jefferson nickel that had a picture of Jefferson on one side and Monticello, Jefferson’s home, on the other.

While the traditional portrait of Jefferson appeared on the two new nickels introduced last year, the new bison nickel has replaced the old version of Jefferson with a view that shows him in bolder profile and also features the word “Liberty” in Jefferson’s handwriting.

This summer, the fourth and final new nickel in the series will go into circulation, depicting the Pacific Ocean, and an entry from William Clark’s journal — “Ocean in view! O! The joy!”

But the big draw for nostalgia buffs is likely to be the return of the American buffalo to the nickel.

“Coin collectors have been eagerly awaiting this because it evokes the Indian head, buffalo nickel that we minted from 1913 to 1938,” Fore said. “There has been a strong pent-up demand for this coin.”

Awesome. Can’t wait to get one in my pocket. Now how about bringing back the two and three cent coins?

Van Os announces for Attorney General

David Van Os has thrown his hat into the ring for Attorney General in 2006. Vince says that the announcement was not unexpected, and he includes some other tidbits about who may or may not be running for what.

The post I did a couple of weeks ago about Van Os generated a fair amount of email chatter, the details of which I won’t get into since it’s way too inside-baseball, but one thing I got out of it was a wish to see Van Os run against Lamar Smith in CD21. Doesn’t look like I’ll get that wish, however. Regardless, if I’m going to commend Barbara Radnofsky for making a commitment at this stage in the game, then I will commend Van Os for doing the same. May I have many more of these commendations to offer in the near future.

On we go with Abramoff

The more digging is done into the life and times of Jack Abramoff, the more malfeasance is discovered.

Tracking what happened to $175,000 contributed by two Indian tribes to a political group called CREA leads from a disgraced lobbyist to an elusive environmental organization spawned by Gale Norton before she became secretary of the Interior.

The money, which the tribes say they contributed to the group at the direction of a Washington, D.C., lobbyist now under federal investigation, is unaccounted for in public records where federal regulations say it should be listed.

The absence of an accounting adds another layer to the mystery of what became of more than two dozen contributions missing among $300,000 in checks issued by a Texas tribe to 79 political committees selected by lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

CREA stands for Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy. According to its filings with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt organization, it has operated for more than four years without receiving any contributions or making any expenditures.

The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana said it issued checks for $50,000 to CREA in 2001 and $100,000 in 2002.

Also, the Tigua Indians, whose Ysleta del Sur Pueblo adjoins El Paso, said they issued a $25,000 check to CREA in 2002 and included it in a bundle of other political contributions they sent to Abramoff to distribute. Tribal Lt. Gov. Carlos Hisa said the check was cashed, but he would not disclose how it was endorsed.

Who can keep track of such piddling amounts? Details are for little people, not the likes of Jack Abramoff. Thanks as always to AJ Garcia for the tip (story also spotted at The Stakeholder).

The Armadillo Palace

There’s a new member of the Goode Company family in town, a beer-and-chili place called the Armadillo Palace, located where the now-defunct Barbecue Hall of Flame was.

Restaurateur [Jim] Goode has mostly had the golden touch since opening his first restaurant in 1977. Each of his five eateries do huge business, but his 10-year-old Texas-themed gift shop, Barbeque Hall of Flame, flamed out.

Either March 3 or March 10 — depending on when it’s ready — he’ll unveil the Armadillo Palace at the former home of the Hall of Flame on Kirby near U.S. 59.

The Palace is a saloon featuring live Texas music and a Texas lunch menu of chicken-fried steak, hot roast beef sandwiches, venison chili and more.

I’ll be happy to check it out, that’s for sure. If there’s one cause for concern, it’s parking, especially if the new place will be using the same already-crowded lots that Goode Company Barbecue does. I’m sure they’ve thought of that, though. I’ll know when I visit.

That’s good barbecue

Do you have what it takes to be a barbecue contest judge? Read this and find out.

And the new Texas blogs keep coming

Two more Texas blogs for your perusal: Secure the Blessing, written by a husband-and-wife pair of expats now in Washington, DC, which promises a “Progressive Christian perspective on current events”; and the interestingly named Canal Water Review, who has a modest proposal for the Texas delegation in the Social Security debate. Check ’em out.

Dems to put forth their version of HB2

Inside the Texas Capitol brings us this interesting tidbit:

The word on the street is that the Republicans’ committee substitute for HB 2 will come out Monday night. The Democrats will wait 24 hours “to let the media digest it” then unveil their plan, which will include broader tax relief and more money for schools. No one expects that the Democratic plan will pass, it’s just something that Democrats will use to attack HB 2, which Dem’s say is more about property tax relief than improving schools.

This is excellent politics. The state GOP has all kinds of constraints on itself here, mostly due to its stubbornness regarding taxes. Putting forth an alternate proposal that recognizes reality and doesn’t try to play fast and loose with funding would serve as an excellent club with which to hit the actual House Bill 2 while demonstrating that the Democrats have the capacity to do more than criticize. Of course, it still has to be an appealing plan, but ItTC seems to think it is. We’ll see.

Other commentary on HB2 that’s worth reading comes from Rio Grande Valley Politics. Meanwhile, Latinos for Texas has some more on State Rep. Eddie Rodgiruez’s income tax proposal, for which they are working to get a hearing from Rep. Kent Grusendorf, Chair of the Public Education Committee, and Save Texas Reps has a press release from the Mexican American Legislative Caucus that sharply criticizes HB2. Check it out.

An evening with Barbara Radnofsky

Greg gets a chance to talk to Barbara Radnofsky and comes away suitably impressed. Among other observations, I think he’s spot-on here:

Campaigns revolve around candidates and not being a candidate right now does nothing to move your party forward. If you’re a potential candidate for anything in 2006, you’re either sitting at home knowing whether you’re going to run or not. And statewide, that’s even more critical. Another shutout at the statewide level raises the serious proposition that Texas Democrats may go the way of Idaho Democrats. Alleviating that situation is not going to be a mere one-year solution.


If and when Kay Bailey decides on her electoral fate, an open race for the Senate will no doubt flush out a few candidates. They’ll all have to answer the then-fair question about where the hell they were for the previous year.

That’s exactly right. Look, winning races we’ve been losing isn’t the first step back for Democrats – it’s the last step. Running credible races with credible candidates where we haven’t been is the first step. At some point, and that point may be 2006, the grassroots needs to stop being patient with candidates who aren’t willing to run as an underdog. It’s the races where we “can’t” win where you’ll find the voters whose minds we need to change so that we “can” win. If you’ve been reading this blog or Greg’s blog at all lately, you know that we firmly believe in taking the fight everywhere. For that, we need more candidates like Barbara Radnofsky.

TAB lawsuit begins tomorrow

The Chron gives an overview of the lawsuit against the Texas Association of Business and its treasurer Bill Ceverha by five defeated Democratic candidates for state legislature which begins tomorrow. Most of this is review material, but I do want to highlight something:

“This trial is about whether clandestine corporations can buy elections in Texas and corrupt the political process,” said Cris Feldman, a lawyer representing the Democrats. “Do we want a legislature beholden to out-of-state corporate board rooms or Texas living rooms?”

TRMPAC lawyer Terry Scarborough said the lawsuit turns only on whether the committee’s spending of corporate money to pay for polling or phone banks was a legitimate administrative expense under Texas law.

I believe that if the defense argument that polling and phone banking constitutes “administrative expenses” is accepted, then the existing law against corporate and union donations to candidates is meaningless. The Smith-Eiland bill would supersede the old law anyway (assuming it ever gets passed), but this is in my mind a test of whether there ever really was a law in the first place. We’ll soon see.

Caffeinated soap

First there was caffeinated beer. Now there’s caffeinated soap.

Shower Shock (aka “The Original Caffeinated Soap”) is the hygiene equivalent of Jolt (aka “The World’s Most Powerful Cola”). At 200 milligrams of caffeine per wash, consider Shower Shock your own Jolt-on-a-Rope or “the ultimate clean buzz,” as the makers of Shower Shock call it. “Mornings have never been so invigorating!” say the press materials for Shower Shock, distributed by

A vegetable-based glycerine soap, Shower Shock is scented with peppermint oil — lots of peppermint oil. Picture sudsing yourself up with a big breath mint.

It smells so minty fresh it may take great self restraint to stop yourself from washing your mouth out with it.

In addition, each 4-ounce bar is infused with caffeine anhydrous. There are 12 “servings,” or showers, per bar with 200 milligrams of caffeine per serving, say the folks at The caffeine is absorbed through the skin.

So. What will be the next consumer good to be infused with caffeine? Bacon? Milk? Tobacco? Shaving cream? Marital aids? Feel free to speculate in the comments.

Craddick makes a deal to avoid testifying

Very interesting.

Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick has struck a deal not to appear in Monday’s corporate electioneering trial, saying he might have shredded any communications he had with Texans for a Republican Majority two years ago.

Five Democratic state legislative candidates who lost in 2002 are suing Bill Ceverha, the treasurer of the Texans for a Republican Majority political action committee, accusing him of spending illegal corporate donations in their campaigns.

Lawyers for the Democrats had subpoenaed Craddick to testify and produce documents. But this week Roy Minton, the speaker’s lawyer, negotiated the deal that excused Craddick from appearing.

In the stipulation, Craddick acknowledges what has been widely reported — the political action committee sent $152,000 in noncorporate donations to his Midland office, where Craddick’s staff distributed the checks to Republican candidates running for the Texas House of Representatives.

Questions have been raised about whether the PAC and Craddick violated a state law barring outside groups from assisting a candidate for speaker. Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle is investigating that, as well as allegations that associates of Texans for a Republican Majority laundered corporate money and violated state elections laws. (Three officials with the political committee were indicted last fall.)

The stipulation also said the documents requested by the Democrats “do not currently exist.”

Furthermore, “to the extent such records ever existed, they were shredded in 2003,” according to the stipulation.

In February 2004, Earle subpoenaed Craddick’s records after news reports indicated that Craddick’s staff distributed the PAC’s campaign donations to House members who eventually voted in the members-only contest to elect the next speaker.

The key to all this is the stipulation for the record that Craddick was the middleman for that $152,000 check. The money could be legally given to the candidates, but using Craddick as a conduit is a problem. This post from September covers most of the relevant info regarding the $152K check and the documents Ronnie Earle sought. Here’s the nub of the issue:

[Indicted TRMPAC Executive Directorr John] Colyandro sent $152,000 in noncorporate donations, intended for Republican House candidates, to Craddick’s Midland office. That money then was sent to the candidates. Those candidates, once elected, voted for Craddick for House speaker.

Craddick has said he had already secured enough pledges from House members to become speaker before the $152,000 was routed through his office.

State law forbids outside groups from trying to influence a speaker’s race in which only House members can vote. It also prohibits a candidate from accepting outside help.

Seems to me that Craddick has now admitted he did something at least potentially illegal, though the lack of a paper trail would make it hard to convict him of it. If stipulating to this was better than getting grilled on the stand, then he must have really not wanted to testify. I believe the next move is yours, Ronnie.

The ChoicePoint chronicles

Have you been following the ChoicePoint story at all? ChoicePoint is a big credit-reporting firm, and they recently admitted that they sold some 150,000 credit reports to a gang of crooks that had posed as legitimate businessmen. At first they were only going to notify Californians who were affected since California law required them to do so, but after the predictable outcry they agreed to notify the non-Californians as well. Later we learned that they underreported the number of affected people at first, and that they had the data stolen in October but didn’t say anything about it until much later, and finally that two executives made a fortune selling shares between the discovery of the theft and the public announcement of it. If you’ve ever wondered why Hollywood makes corporations and their executives out to be greedy, soulless, evil bastards, this would be a pretty good example.

And after all that, ChoicePoint CEO thinks he’s the real victim here.

ChoicePoint Chief Executive Derek Smith said Thursday he supports congressional hearings and tighter regulation of the data collection industry, if necessary, after revelations his company was duped into giving criminals access to its massive database of consumers’ personal information.

His face drawn and eyes weary from two days of meetings in New York with investors, Smith said Thursday in his most extensive interview to date that he is working around the clock to keep shareholders and customers from running away.

He said his company is investigating whether anyone internally was involved in the breach, but he stressed there has been no evidence of that.

“If we knew somebody had done something internally, we would tell you that,” Smith said in an hourlong interview.

Smith said he believes his company is as much a victim in the episode as the roughly 145,000 Americans whose personal information may have been viewed by criminals.

“I wish we would have caught it sooner,” Smith said.

He added, “The painful part for me is that our mission is being called into question.”

ChoicePoint says its mission is to arm customers with the information necessary to verify that the people they are doing business with are who they say they are. That selling point has been turned on its head by bandits who were given access to the company’s database by duping it into thinking they were someone they were not.

Oh, cry me a river already. Your mission is selling personal data about people who didn’t give you permission to use it and who have no power to stop you from selling it. Why might anyone question that?

Anyway. This Chron story has some more on the real victims here. Bruce Schneier says this will happen again unless the government forces the ChoicePoints of the world to behave, since they have no economic incentive to do so.

One good thing that may come out of this is a new law that would give Texans the same right to be notified of a security breach as Californians. Latinos for Texas has the story.

On the heels of the revelation of a major security breach at data broker Choicepoint, a State Representative Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) has introduced a measure to give Texas consumers the right to know when crooks infringe on their financial DNA.

“We only know about the Choicepoint fiasco because security breach legislation enacted in California requires notification when consumer data are compromised,” said Representative Eddie Rodriguez. “Texans should have the same right to know, so they can take steps to protect themselves.”

The bill, HB 1527, would require companies to alert their customers if a breach of security has put them at risk of identity theft. Recent reports that a fraud ring gained access to the personal and financial information of an estimated 11,081 Texans from computer databases maintained by ChoicePoint, Inc. This incidence underscores the need for tougher safeguards to protect Texas consumers against identity theft. The ChoicePoint files that were compromised contained such sensitive information as Social Security numbers linked to names and addresses. Already, an estimated 750 people were reportedly targets of an identity theft scheme as a result of the ChoicePoint security breach.

Good for you, Rep. Rodriguez. Let’s hope your colleagues rally behind this common-sense provision.

Searches at traffic stops

According to the ACLU, in 2003 blacks and Latinos were more likely to be searched by law enforcement officers at traffic stops than white drivers were.

Blacks were 3.2 times more likely than Anglos to be searched by the Houston Police Department, the report said, down slightly from 2002. Those rates are higher than those reported in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and El Paso.

Latinos were 2.5 times more likely than Anglos to be searched by the HPD, up slightly from 2002 and higher than departments in Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth and El Paso reported.


“Racial profiling is getting in the way of good policing,” said Scott Henson, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “The disparities that were evidenced in last year’s report for the most part remained in this year’s report at more or less the same levels or sometimes even more significant.”

Yes, that’s this Scott Henson talking. He’s got more coverage at that link, and a link to the report over here.

TIERS of frustration

Father John points to a story about major problems with a new computer system used by Colorado to handle its food stamps, Medicaid, and other relief services:

[T]he explosion in hunger across the state is the direct result of problems with the state’s $200 million Colorado Benefits Management System, a nightmare computer-software program that has thrown food stamps, Medicaid, Old Age Pensions and other relief services into chaos since it was brought online Sept. 1.

Ed Kahn, attorney for the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, said the state’s own statistics, as well as calls to the center from people seeking help, indicate the problems in processing aid applications have not eased.

“There were more applications overdue at the end of January than there were in December” when Denver District Court Judge John Coughlin gave the state until Feb. 28 to reduce the backlog by 40 percent, Kahn said.

Liz McDonough, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Human Services, admitted as much. “We still have a considerable backlog,” she said.

And guess what? Texas is about to implement a new HHS system of its own, and Father John fears we could be in for what Colorado has experienced.

The old system does need to be replaced, because it is an old DOS based system that was created in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and has been increasingly hard to make work with contemporary computer systems that are available.

I’m going to pause here for a second to pick myself up off the floor. I am utterly flabbergasted at the thought of such programs still being in place five years after Y2K, even in a tightwad state like Texas. The IT professional in me is wailing, gnashing his teeth, and rending his garments.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is planning on implementing Call Centers to process most of the work done in conjunction with the Food Stamp, TANF, and Medicaid programs. The problem is they are pushing this through without having tested the premises that they have based their model on, and one of them is that the TIERS system is going to save time, and require fewer people (who will be paid less than the already low wages paid to the current staff). The reality is that this program is still flawed, and it takes longer to process a case action than the old system does. They also assume that they can cut about half of our agencies staff, and possibly privatize these call centers, and still get the same or better end resulst that the current system produces. There is no reason to believe that this will turn out to be the case.

TIERS stands for “Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System”. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s probably because there ain’t much that’s been written about it. This story about government IT consolidations nationally was the only result I got in Google News for “Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System”. A straight Google search got a bunch of Texas government web pages, this story about the overall HHS privatization/consolidation plan that resulted from 2003’s HB2292 (note that both of those stories are from about a year ago, when our old friend Gregg Phillips was still in charge) and three links that had negative things to say about HB2292 and TIERS:

From a Slashdot thread on an ill-fated FBI software project:

Sounds just like the TIERS Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System [] software my agency has been trying develop. The Texas Department of Human Services, now the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, has contracted to Deloitte to develop a web based system similar to what is described in the article. $3 million a month (according to some) has been spent on this for a couple of years now and it is a HORRIBLE excuse of a system. I know case workers that are being forced to test the software that say it takes at LEAST twice as long to work a case now than it did with the old system that was developed in the 80’s. This has been a boondoggle in the worst sense and any Texas taxpayer should be pissed off about it.

From a letter to the editor of the Texarkana Gazette:

Eligibility for services will be done by telephone and/or the Internet. How many Texans do not have computers, Internet access or even a telephone- or still don’t know how to use computers? A lot of our poor, disabled and elderly will fall through the cracks because they cannot utilize new technology. Children will lose Medicaid and will be taken to emergency rooms instead of a doctor’s office. When parents cannot pay the bill, hospitals will recoup their costs from those who do pay. When parents cannot feed and provide for their children, crime will increase. Our elderly will spend money they saved for medicine on food because they could not get certified for food stamps.

The justification behind this plan is a new computer system that was supposed to roll out statewide in 2003. It was piloted in a select area. Clients in that area went months without benefits. Some are still doing without! TIERS-Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System-is not working! What will happen when offices close and the system still doesn’t work?

From the Marshall News Messenger:

Deloitte Consulting has a contract to develop the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System, Ms. Seals said.

Ms. Goodman said they do use consultants who have a specific task. Either they perform it or don’t get paid.

Ms. Seals said Arlene Wohlegemuth of Burleson, who sponsored HB 2292 to reorganize Health and Human Services, isn’t getting support for the bill from the people in her own county. Burleson lies in both Tarrant and Johnson counties.

“It’s so crazy. She’s not even doing what people in her county want (the bill) to do,” Ms. Seals said, noting nobody thought the bill would work this way.

Even Rep. Bryan Hughes said it’s not what he voted for.

Ms. Seals said 39 counties have passed resolutions to fight HB 2292 including a county represented by the bill’s author.

Ms. Seals asked to be put on the Harrison County commissioners May 25 agenda. She said Judge Wayne McWhorter has to approve it, but she hasn’t gotten a response. She said she just wants them to hear what she has to say because “something’s not right.”

“The county’s budget is $18 million. Now if something happens to us what are they (the county) going to do?” Ms. Seals said.

Ms. Goodman said HB 2292, directed the commission to look at call centers for eligibility services as a means of saving at least $389 million over the next five years. Because offices are as close as one mile apart, staffed once a week and they still pay rent, it’s time to help taxpayers.

But, Ms. Seals has questions about the savings.

“We’re not sure how much it’ll save. We’ve never seen figures,” Ms. Seals said. She noted the only savings they see from their point of view are employees out of a job while consultant companies are making millions.

Plus, the approximate $389 million savings is over a five-year period, “not off the top,” Ms. Seals noted.

“They’re not showing us this is the bottom line,” she added, noting she supervises in Cass County as well and cuts will affect the staff she works with in eligibility and functional assessment.

“Everything they (commission) say is always positive and never reality,” she said.

Ms. Seals said the starting costs of the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS) system alone was $160 million and it still doesn’t work.

Ms. Seals said she sent two employees to Austin for training on the system in the last two months and they reported there’s many errors with the system.

“They spent $160 million on the contract and issued $400,000 worth of benefits. They didn’t say half of them were in error and how many people it took to fix the mistakes,” Ms. Seals said.

In an e-mail, Ms. Goodman said the TIERS application is working.

This is the extent of my knowledge of TIERS, so make of it what you will. Maybe it’s time an investigative journalist looked into it, because it sure sounds like there’s a story in there to me.

Abramoff and DeLay’s Foreign Adventures

The Stakeholder excerpts from a National Journal article detailing the long history between Tom DeLay and the disgraced casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The Raw Story has more. Check it out.


I just want to say that any day which includes the Rockets re-acquiring Moochie Norris is a good day. Hair stylists all over Houston will be celebrating tonight.

Update on the municipal wireless ban

Save Muni Wireless reports from the public hearings over HB 789, which would prohibit municipalities from offering network services, with news of the testimony favoring and opposing the proposed ban. He also notes that bill sponsor Rep. Phil King (R, Weatherford), may be open to changes in the legislation. Via Dwight Silverman.

Another way to combat blog spam

Netaloid has been studying the recent uptick in comment, trackback, and referral log spamming, and has come to some interesting conclusions as well as a suggested course of action. Read the whole saga here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, via rc3, blog spam is hitting Technorati hard. This has inspired Brad DeLong to think about the issue in economic terms.

Yet another toll road through a residential area proposed

Boy, that Houston-Galveston Area Council 2025 Regional Transportation Plan sure is a gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it? I’ve got a note from Andrea Warren, the Public Relations Committee Chair for the Oak Forest Homeowner’s Association, informing me that the latest proposal is a toll road from Tomball to 610 at TC Jester, cutting through the Oak Forest neighborhood along the BNSF rail line. From Andrea’s email:

The issue at hand is the idea of a 4 lane toll road where the BNSF rail line is now. That is the rail line that actually goes though Oak Forest, crosses 43rd at Mangum and borders the southern edge of Oak Forest. This is a highly residential area as you know. This proposed toll way would run all the way to Tomball bringing commuter though the heart of Oak Forest.

At the Citizens’ Transportation Coalition (CTC) meeting last Thursday the toll roads were the featured topic. The CTC has put together a draft document that outlines that we as Houston resident’s should approve all toll roads proposed to enter the City of Houston city limits. In order for this to happen, we will need the state legislature to pass a bill. In order for that to happen, we need to press or state reps and state senators about getting this legislation. It seems that the city itself was caught somewhat unaware about this bit of the HGAC 2025 document in that the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) does not need the approval of the city to build a toll road through it. I encourage you to attend their meetings, see their website [for details].

In addition to this, HCTRA will be announcing in the coming months that it will have the financing for the new toll roads. We need to act quickly and decisively. The CTC and neighborhood groups will be convening on city hall in the next few weeks to ask the council to approve this proposal allowing for city residents to vote on the measure. The hope is that with the city government accepting it, it will significantly legitimize it.

Apart from the passage of a bill from the state, or an amendment to vote on, pressure will need to be applied from us, the taxpayers and residents to the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, specifically Judge Eckels and Precinct One Commissioner Jerry Eversole.

We are in the process of scheduling a “town hall” format meeting with the HGAC, Harris County, the City of Houston, the Harris County Toll Road Authority and neighborhood groups for the northwest region at either Waltrip or Scarborough HS. We hope we will get some questions answered, as well as voice our opposition to these new road proposals, the toll road in particular.

This meeting will unfortunately convene before the next scheduled newsletter, so we will be sending a special mailing to everyone in Oak Forest outlining what is happening, how to get involved, and where and when this meeting is going to be, so be looking for it and tell your neighbors.

The OFHA is currently in the process of making a section of the website where you can get all the info you need.

The particulars of the bill the CTC wants to pass, which they’ve asked State Rep. Martha Wong and State Sen. Kyle Janek to sponsor, are on the main page of their website. If we’ve learned anything in the past couple of months, it’s that the next toll road may be coming through your own neighborhood, so stay on top of this and support the CTC’s proposal to give localities a say in that development. I’ll pass on info of the town hall meeting when I get it.

Again with the casinos

There’s another move afoot to install casinos in Texas, but this time it’s a little different than before.

Downtown Houston and Galveston Island could become casino destinations to compete with anything Las Vegas has to offer, a Houston senator said Thursday.

“Why should we subsidize Louisiana and Nevada when we can create jobs and boost economic development here at home?” Sen. Rodney Ellis asked.

Ellis filed a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday that would let Texans decide whether to allow seven casinos in urban areas, two on Gulf Coast islands and three in targeted economic development areas.

His measure, Senate Joint Resolution 18, would require a statewide vote and then local option elections in each county where a casino is proposed.


The proposed constitutional amendment filed by Ellis differs considerably from one filed earlier this month by Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. Turner’s House Joint Resolution 38 would allow state-taxed slot machines at horse and dog tracks and Indian reservations, as well as at one location in each of nine areas around the state.

Ellis said track owners would have to compete along with everyone else for casino licenses.

If there’s going to be expanded gambling of some kind in Texas, this is the way it should be done, with no special favors to an existing industry and with voter approval at both the statewide and local levels. Moreover, this does not appear to be getting sold as a panacea for school funding. I’m still generally opposed to expanded gambling in Texas, but I’m not fanatically opposed to this plan.

There’s quite a bit of backstory that needs to be considered here. First, note that in this report, Sen. Ellis was much more pointed about the potential to keep gambling dollars in-state:

“You could just about shut down gaming in Louisiana if you legalized it in Texas,” Ellis said. “What I want to do is let the people of Texas finally decide this issue.”

If you think that won’t sit well with the Louisiana gambling industry, you’d be right. According to Inside the Texas Capitol, there’s already a lobbying effort from Louisiana as well as Oklahoma and New Mexico to defeat expanded gambling in Texas. ItTC’s post is actually about the Sylvester Turner bill, which would legalize slot machines and dog and horse tracks, but you can be sure the same will be true for the Ellis bill, which is cosponsored in the House by Charlie Geren (R, Fort Worth). Closer to home, one wonders if State GOP hatchetwoman Tina Benkiser will show Ellis and Geren the same kind of love she showed Turner.

Note this quote from ItTC:

Freshman Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) said it best: “This item is the one on which we [Dem’s] have the most leverage because a lot of Republicans want this bill – but they don’t want to have to vote for it.” To clarify, this is the only issue that Democrats have leverage on this session. Maybe tuition re-regulation, if they’re lucky.

What might the Democrats get for their support (and their cover) if they play their cards right? Whatever it is, I hope it’s worth it.

Finally, no issue is so serious that it can’t be made fun of. Thankfully, In the Pink Texas is on the job.

Woodfill gets whacked

Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill’s petulant whine about insufficient partisanship on City Council gets roundly panned today in this Chron editorial and in the letters to the editor. blogHOUSTON is also critical, though more of Woodfill’s Jared-come-lately tactic.

I attended a Houston Democratic Forum event last night at which City Council member Ron Green was the featured guest. Green was asked about yesterday’s story and reported that no one on the Council took it very seriously – they all joked about it that morning. The consensus opinion among people I spoke to at the HDF meeting was that Woodfill was prodded to do this by Republicans in Austin – Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in particular. That’s all speculation, so take it for what it’s worth. If I were to guess, I’d say we probably haven’t heard the end of this, though I don’t think there will be anything more at this time. We’ll see how it goes, but if there really is concern about Bill White being a rising star, then there will be an effort to dim his luster. Next time I’d bet it’s done better.

Hensarling and Brady get flack on Social Security privatization

Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands and Rep. Jeb Hensarling of North Texas are finding out that selling Social Security privatization is harder than they thought. Check it out.

Raymond, Cuellar, and Rodriguez

Want more evidence that State Rep. Richard Raymond is a candidate for Congress in 2006? You got it.

A statehouse resolution opposing President Bush’s plans to privatize a portion of Social Security could be a harbinger to a Democratic primary fight for a South Texas congressional seat.

The entire delegation of Texas Democrats in Congress, except for Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, has signed a letter supporting the resolution by state Rep. Richard Raymond.

It is no coincidence Cuellar withheld support for Raymond, D-Laredo, who is making it clear he is eyeing a run for Congress and possibly challenging Cuellar in the 28th Congressional District of Texas.

“I am interested,” Raymond, 44, told the San Antonio Express-News on Wednesday. “And I certainly won’t run unless I think I can win.”

Raymond said he would wait until after this session of the Texas Legislature to make a decision on a congressional race.

The article also notes that former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, who lost to Cuellar in a tight and bitterly contested primary in 2004, has already declared his intent to run again. Stace Medellin analyzes the permutations of this potential three-way race.

This bit is music to my ears:

Raymond also is considered a potential candidate for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas if Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, runs for the U.S. Senate.

Bonilla has said he will run if Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, challenges Gov. Rick Perry in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

“I have been approached by people who have encouraged me to run for both,” Raymond said.

Both the 23rd and 28th congressional districts include Laredo, Raymond’s hometown.

Raymond said he would not rule out a race in the 23rd District, but noted he lives in the 28th Congressional District.

A minor detail that can be easily overcome. I know that the 23rd would be a steep hill to climb, but especially if it’s an open seat it’s doable. Keep those options open, Rep. Raymond.

Barnes and Hutchison deny rumors

Via PerryVsWorld, the subscription-only Texas Weekly reports that both Ben Barnes and Kay Bailey Hutchison have denied the rumors that he’s preparing to support her in a race for Governor. PerryVsWorld had previously quoted from an email denying this report which claimed the rumor was started by the Perry campaign, something which Barnes also suggests. Make of all that what you will.

No early sping for Lea Fastow

Sorry, Lea. No early release for you.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner said he could find no legal grounds in her lawyer’s motion to have her one-year sentence vacated and replaced with the seven months she’s served for not reporting personal income from an Enron side deal on her 2000 tax return.

Her attorney, Mike DeGeurin, argued that her sentence, which began July 12, is twice what people normally serve for the misdemeanor tax crime.

DeGeurin also said Fastow has been in a maximum-security detention center in downtown Houston, while most tax offenders are in more amenable minimum-security institutions.

“I take full responsibility for this effort to bring Lea’s sentence in line with others across the nation in similar circumstances. This is not something Lea requested,” DeGeurin said.

“On the other hand, the hope to resume her life with her family that this effort fostered has been dashed, leaving a feeling of great emptiness. But I am sure Lea and her family will weather this too without complaint.”

The judge, who refused to even suggest a minimum-security facility for Lea Fastow though he knew her lawyers requested it and most tax offenders serve in such facilities, did mention the harshness of her prison term. The prison bureau tries to accommodate judicial recommendations but does not guarantee it will follow them.

“While the court recognizes Fastow … is serving her sentence under conditions that may be more harsh as compared to other first-time tax offenders, designation of offenders for place of imprisonment is subject to the complete discretion of the Bureau of Prisons,” the judge wrote.

Prosecutors didn’t object entirely to DeGeurin’s motion to set Lea Fastow free, saying through him that a release now would still be more than the five-month sentence the government initially had sought.

The judge had indicated he would seriously consider the motion, but in 10 pages said he lacked jurisdiction since the government didn’t say Fastow had provided substantial cooperation, the Bureau of Prisons didn’t ask for her release and the judge declined to find she had ineffective counsel, the three ways she could be released.

Sounds fine to me. Nice try by her attorneys, but that’s the way it goes.

Meanwhile, we’ll have to wait till next year for the trial of the Big Three.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake ordered today that jury selection for ex-Chairman Ken Lay, ex-CEO Jeff Skilling begin Jan. 17, 2006. He’d been considering starting the trial as as early as this summer.

Judge Lake said he pushed the case into next year to accommodate the trial schedules of the multiple top-flight lawyers involved. “All these good lawyers are fully employed,” the judge joked. “I appreciate you giving me the time of day.”

Lay, Skilling and former top accountant Rick Causey all recently asked for a December trial date, saying there is no time before then when Causey’s two main lawyers can be fully prepared or don’t have other trials. The judge said he chose to skip to January to avoid holiday travel problems.

Ah, well. Who wants to pay attention to a summer trial, right? Now we can enjoy our trashy books and Star Wars movies with a clear conscience.

Woodfill’s whining

I keep trying to blog about this story, in which Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill cries about Republicans on City Council voting on issues like SafeClear as they see fit rather than by party fiat, but I keep laughing every time I start. Suffice it to say that my morning cereal was more enjoyable than usual today with this as my reading material. See Greg for more.

All right, there is one serious thing I can say. Woodfill may be shaking his fist at these particular poltroons, but for the most part, he has no real leverage over any of them. Only first-termers Pam Holm, who won in 2003 by 29 votes over the more hard-edged Kevin Elfant, and MJ Khan, who’s rumored to be a candidate for At Large 1 or 2, are in any real position to be hurt by a party-led revolt. This is clearly aimed at future Council members, in particular the eventual replacements for Mark Ellis and Michael Berry since they could then be more aggressive than their predecessors in opposing Mayor White. Of course, Woodfill might want to keep in mind that the city of Houston (not Harris County, at least not yet, just the city) is majority Democratic. Put that together with a popular Mayor White, and Woodfill may not have anyone in those positions to threaten retribution against. Not that this would be a terrible thing, mind you.

What about the post-Council political future of these folks? I’m sure Woodfill had that in mind as well, but honestly, what’s available for them? Back when re-redistricting was still a theoretical possibility, there was talk of making Gene Green’s CD29 and/or Chris Bell’s CD25 more amenable to GOP challengers. That didn’t happen, and unless Tom DeLay gets unseated by Richard Morrison this time around none of the four GOP-held seats that touch Harris County are likely to be vacated by their current occupants any time soon. There’ll be a couple of State Rep slots, I guess – Hubert Vo will certainly draw an opponent (though I’d bet the field gets cleared for Heflin if he really does want a rematch), and Joe Nixon’s seat may be open. The most fertile ground, at least for as long as Harris County is majority Republican, is probably the bench. I can’t see Doctor Shelly running for a judgeship, but maybe some of the others might. All I’m saying is that I don’t see a whole lot of golden opportunities around here.

Well, there is still one to consider. We all know Michael Berry has his eye on bigger things. What’s the one bigger thing we know for a fact he’s wanted? That would be Mayor. Do you think his chances will be better as a good Republican soldier (like, oh, I don’t know, Orlando Sanchez), or as a middle-ground consensus-builder? I’ll bet he’s given that question some thought. If so, it doesn’t look like Jared Woodfill cares for his answer. Alas.

Nixon files bill to weaken ethics rules

State Rep. Joe Nixon wants to be the champion of compulsory charity.

The House Elections Committee on Wednesday heard a bill by Rep. Joe Nixon, R-Houston, that is meant to overturn Texas Ethics Commission opinions that Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, ran into when he tried to host a lobby pheasant hunting trip last December.

Swinford had bought the birds and reserved the hotel rooms for his annual lobby pheasant hunt to raise money for his political account. Then he discovered the hunt date was set for after the 30-day cutoff when legislators are prohibited from raising political money prior to a legislative session.

So Swinford tried to change the event into a fund-raiser for his local 4-H Club with his name on the invitation.

That’s when Swinford discovered ethics commission opinions for 1992, 1993 and 2000 that say it is a violation of the state penal and lobby laws for a public official to solicit a charitable donation to be made in his own name.

“The only difference was my name was on the invitation. Otherwise, that 4-H Club has hunts all the time. The issue was my name being on the invitation was going to mess us up,” Swinford said.

Swinford said he had the hunt, but no one was charged.

Nixon’s bill says a charitable donation solicited by a public official would not be considered a political donation, a benefit to the official or “an expenditure made to influence” legislative or administrative action.

“If I say … ‘Give money to the Boy Scouts,’ that could be an ethics violation. That’s nuts. I can’t put on an apron and sell pancakes at my church,” Nixon said.

However, the ethics opinion is not that simple.

Ethics Advisory Opinion 427 from 2003 says a public official may legally solicit contributions for a charity so long as the money goes directly to the charity and is not made in the official’s name. The opinion also says an unsolicited donation may be made to a charity in an official’s name.

The opinion said it is only when the official raises the money, controls the money or has the money donated in his or her name that state law is violated by becoming a benefit for the official.

Nixon said the opinion would halt Speaker Tom Craddick’s annual golf tournament to raise money for children’s charities. He said the tournament last year raised $150,000.

To be blunt, Nixon’s reasoning is crap. The point of the Ethics Commission’s opinion is to ensure that charitable events remain about the charities and not about their sponsors. Note that he didn’t claim that the opinion did halt Craddick’s golf tournament – he said it would halt it. How is that so if the opinions were given between 1992 and 2000 and Craddick did his thing last year?

The issue here is very basic. Charitable donations do not have to be publicly reported. If Nixon has his way, then any politician can use the guise of charity to solicit large contributions made in secret. I fail to see how less disclosure in these matters is in any way preferable. It’s fascinating how there can be this kind of push at the same time as the push to tighten regulations and raise ethical standards. Who will win? Whether he likes it or not, I think Tom Craddick is going to have to take a side sooner or later. Then maybe we’ll know.

Craddick subpoenaed

Tom Craddick has been called to testify in the civil suit against TRMPAC Treasurer Bill Ceverha.

In addition to Craddick, a subpoena also has been issued to Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond. He once bragged that TAB had spent more than $1.9 million in corporate money to help Republican House candidates in the 2002 campaign, which resulted in a GOP takeover of the Texas House.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs want to show that Hammond’s activities were coordinated with those of Texans for a Republican Majority, or TRMPAC.


Though Craddick is not a defendant in the trial, the case may shed more light on what role he played in helping TRMPAC raise and spend corporate money.

The trial begins Monday. Craddick’s lawyer Roy Minton said the speaker has been subpoenaed to testify Tuesday, but he has asked lawyers for the Democratic plaintiffs to set a time when Craddick’s testimony would not conflict with House business.

“There’s no problem. He’ll testify and answer whatever questions are asked of him,” Minton said.

Minton said he has no concerns about Craddick testifying in the civil case while the grand jury investigation is proceeding.


Hammond also is tentatively scheduled to testify Tuesday, said his lawyer, Andy Taylor.

Taylor said he does not think Hammond will be asked to testify about the direct mail campaign TAB used in the elections. He said subpoenas indicate Hammond’s testimony will be limited to how TRMPAC used a TAB mailing and helped pay for a telephone bank operation.

It all starts Monday, so get ready. I do hope these guys have a surprise or two in store, because you can be sure that Craddick and Hammond will have their answers prepared.

One more thing:

Another lawsuit against TRMPAC and one against TAB are not close to going to trial, said attorney Randall “Buck” Wood.

The lawsuit that begins Monday before state District Judge Joseph Hart of Austin was brought by Paul Clayton of Orange, Mike Head of Athens, David Lengenfeld of Hamilton, Ann Kitchen of Austin and Danny Duncan of Commerce.

With so much legal activity surrounding the 2002 elections, it’s hard to keep it all straight. The first lawsuit that I know of is apparently the one against TAB. I’ll have to check the Chronicle archives, but as I recall former Rep. Debra Danburg of Houston was one of the plaintiffs.