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May 4th, 2005:

Van Gundy feels the love

Well, at least Rockets owner Les Alexander is standing by his man, at least within the bounds of Commissioner Stern’s temper.

“He’s a tough guy,” Alexander, the Rockets’ owner, said admiringly. “He’s always willing to battle as hard as he can. That’s why the city loves him.”


“My concern is that I don’t want to say anything that might cause more problems,” Alexander said, also declining to discuss his conversation with Stern. “I called Jeff. In no way were his any of his actions meant to impugn the ethics of the league. He was making the point that big men in the league, all big men, are not treated the same way as smaller players.

“I’ve been associated with Jeff for almost two years. I have never known him to be anything other than completely honest. He said he didn’t do it to impugn anyone at the league and I believe him 100 percent.”

What will Alexander do if Stern really puts the squeeze on Van Gundy to name his “anonymous” source that supposedly tipped him to the anti-Yao officiating?

When asked his reaction to Stern’s anger, threat and apparent determination to uncover Van Gundy’s source, Alexander would not comment.

Asked if he would advise Van Gundy to show more contrition about his comments, Alexander said, “If that is something I would do, I would not advise him in the newspaper.”

I’m pretty sure Alexander won’t let David Stern fire his coach. Look for Van Gundy to find some kind of face-saving weasel words real soon now to get out from under the Commish’s thumb.

In the meantime, at least JVG doesn’t have to worry about his cash flow.

First, Houston Rockets center Yao Ming offered to pick up half of coach Jeff Van Gundy’s $100,000 fine from the NBA.

Now, Gallery Furniture store owner Jim McIngvale says he would like to pay the fine the NBA gave Van Gundy after the coach’s accusation that officials are targeting Yao this postseason.

“I would be willing to pay the $100,000 fine that the NBA levied against Mr. Van Gundy because I just admire him for standing up for his employees,” McIngvale told Houston television station KRIV on Tuesday.

McIngvale said he knows some will laugh at his offer and see it as nothing but a publicity stunt.

“I’ve got the $100,000 and I’m ready to pay it. I like coach Van Gundy because he does the right thing whether it’s popular or not. I’m ready to pay it because he stood up for employees. I think it’s great.”

To be honest, I take Mattress Mack at his word on this. I think if he were an order of magnitude richer, he’d be a professional sports team owner much like Mark Cuban. Does anyone doubt that Cuban would be picking up the tab for his coach if it were Avery Johnson who’d been fined for a similar outburst? This may be good publicity for McIngvale (who we all know has a knack for finding the spotlight), but it’s also 100% in character.

TTC protest roundup

Eye on Williamson County has a great roundup of local news coverage of the anti-Trans-Texas Corridor rally yesterday. Be sure to also check out this post on his state rep’s role in the care and feeding of the TTC.

I should have updated my earlier post to include a link to the Chron‘s non-wire coverage of the protest. Comptroller Strayhorn must have really been whipping them up.

“Perry and his hand-picked highway henchmen say we have a choice: no roads, slow roads or toll roads,” Strayhorn said. “I say to Governor Perry and his highway henchmen: Hogwash. Vote our way today for freeways.”

Strayhorn, a potential challenger to Perry in next year’s GOP primary, never personally called for the governor’s impeachment or election defeat. But she fanned the flames of a crowd that mostly came from Wharton, El Campo and Fayetteville and obviously was already against Perry.

The yellow-shirted people at the rally were Republicans and Democrats, members of the Texas Farm Bureau and the Texas Farmers Union and average people afraid they will lose their land.

“No more Perry!” the crowd shouted, “Impeach Perry!”

Strayhorn “never personally called for the governor’s impeachment”? Tell us what you really think, Carole. I don’t know how broad these sentiments about the TTC are in the GOP, but they seem to run pretty deep.

The toll-road issue has the potential to take support away from Perry in rural areas. The rural vote was the cornerstone of Perry’s base when he began his statewide political career as agriculture commissioner and campaigned for landowner property rights against government environmental regulations.

“It’s not a critters, birds, bees, foxes, jaguars issue,” Perry told a landowners rally near Austin in 1994. “It’s about land control. You’ve got it, and the (federal government) wants to control it.”

There’s a quote I think we’ll be seeing again between now and next November.

Avoid these intersections

Yesterday, the Chron listed the ten worst intersections in Houston for accidents caused by red light running. Today, Anne notes a letter to the editor which points out that one of those intersections, Richmond and Dunlavy,is problematic because there’s no protected left. This prompts Anne to ask about the others on the list.

Well, I used to live a stone’s throw from Richmond and Dunlavy, and I now live not too far from the #2 entry, Waugh and D’Amico. That one almost doesn’t count as an intersection, since D’Amico doesn’t go through Waugh, it becomes an entrance to the parking garage for the American General office tower. And yes, there’s no protected left from the D’Amico side (there is one on Waugh). I happened to drive by this yesterday, and saw a person trying to make a left from D’Amico sitting in the middle of the intersection while a stream of cars coming out from the AG tower turned right onto Waugh. Of course, since Waugh has three lanes on each side at that juncture, there’s technically no reason why all these turns couldn’t have happened simultaneously, but I guess no one remembers the bit from Driver’s Ed where you’re supposed to turn into the lane closest to you – certainly, none of the drivers I observed demonstrated any recall of that lesson.

Anyway. All that said, I don’t think the lack of left turn signals is a big factor in the red light accidents. Most of those other intersections do have protected lefts. And look at the KTRK list, which is chock full of crossings that include highway service roads, almost all of which feature a green light for only one of the four directions at any time. I guarantee you the vast majority of those crashes are caused by people too impatient to sit through a second (or third or fourth) light cycle. Whatever the merits of red-light cameras may be, those are the people such cameras would aim to deter.

The tale of the tape

Having been caught with the wrong tape during Ken Rice’s testimony in the Enron Broadband trial, the prosecution has to explain the error while underscoring the fact that the bit they cared about, in which EBS honcho Rex Shelby made false statements about the company, did exist and was intended to have been shown to investors. To do this, they’ve trotted out former Enron employee and video collector Beth Stier.

Beth Stier, who made and kept a multitude of videos for Enron and who is now working for Skilling’s defense, was called by prosecutors to testify in U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore’s court. Videotapes she made have become an issue in the third week of the trial of five former Enron Broadband Services executives.

It was Stier’s company, which once depended on Enron for most of its revenue, that taped the January 2000 conference that’s key to the government’s case.


Stier testified Tuesday she taped the segment with Shelby and was irritated when it wasn’t used. She said she inserted it into the final edited version of the conference at the request of Enron’s investor relations department.

She said she gave the government the edited tape it used in court and the raw footage that caused the defendants to discover the Shelby segment was added after the fact.

But she said she never gave prosecutors another tape showing only the PowerPoint slides used at the conference. The government received that tape through the defendants.

OK, so an outside expert screwed up. These things happen, you just can’t get good help these days, etc etc etc. So far so good.

Prosecutor Cliff Stricklin asked if Stier lied to prosecutors when called to their courthouse offices Sunday night to discuss the tapes.

She said she “hedged” when asked about her relationship with Skilling’s lawyer Daniel Petrocelli, whose law firm has paid her more than $150,000 for work related to Enron’s library of videotapes she maintains.

Skilling is scheduled to be tried in January and is also accused of lying about the value of the Internet division.

Stier said she was vague with prosecutors. She said she apologized for the “hedging.”

“You guys scare me to death. I do not want to lie to you,” Stier told Stricklin.

Tom thinks this is the wrong approach by the prosecution.

As noted in this earlier post, the damage from the prosecution’s use of the wrong video on Mr. Rice’s direct examination could have been limited by the prosecution’s forthright admission of its mistake. However, from the report of today’s proceedings, the prosecution not only failed to adopt that approach, but inexplicably compounded the damage from its previous error by attempting to shift the blame to a frightened woman on the witness stand before a predominantly male jury. Such a major tactical blunder is a clear sign of a panicked prosecution.

I’m not so sure that I agree with this. One could interpret this exchange as the prosecution reassuring the jury that they have high standards for truth and accuracy, that they expect the same from everyone else, and that they take transgressions seriously. Ms. Stier therefore should have a little fear of God in her for her sins. Not being in the courtroom, of course, I can’t judge how the jury may have reacted to all this, but I can see what the prosecution may have been going for, and if I’m right it’s sensible enough. We’ll know soon enough.

DA appeals Yates decision

I’m not surprised that the Harris County DA’s office has asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn the lower court ruling that threw out Andrea Yates’ conviction. It would have been a major shock had they not done so, especially given the friendly reception they’re likely to get from the CCA. I wish there were more concern about justice and less about the scoreboard, but I can’t say that such a thing is unique to Chuck Rosenthal, however little I may think of him. I certainly understand why Ginger is pissed about this, and I know I’ll feel as vehemently as she does if the CCA cooks up another cockamamie rationale for excusing anything the prosecution does, but for now I’m choosing to remain optimistic. Maybe this time the system will work as advertised. Stranger things have happened.

Municipal Wi-Fi around the country

Dwight points to this story about the battle over free municipal WiFi elsewhere in the country. HB789 and its ilk are popping up in state leges all over the country, and the telcos are duking it out with the cities that want to invest in the new technology.

I suppose I’d have more sympathy for the telcos if their track record weren’t so abysmal. The reason I have a cable modem and not DSL is that when we moved into our new house three years ago, DSL was not available in my area. I don’t live out in the far-flung suburbs – I live less than two miles from downtown, but my (former) ISP couldn’t provide the service to me, and Southwestern Bell couldn’t tell me when the infrastructure would be in place. Yes, that was 2002, but c’mon. DSL was not brand new at that time. I knew plenty of people who’d had it for awhile, including two who lived less than a mile from me. If DSL access was so spotty in the heart of Houston, then what hope is there for the little towns in rural Texas?

That article had a link to this piece about the plans that the telcos have to compete with cable TV once they’re allowed to do so. That’s what the fuss (and the TV ads) about HB3179 is about. I admit I’m curious as to what a non-satellite competitor to Time-Warner Cable would look like, but I think they’ll have a hard time gaining traction in this market. Not so much because people dearly love their local cable company, but because of inertia. I have a setup that works and that isn’t too expensive, so you’ve got some hurdles to clear just to get me to listen to your sales pitch in the first place. It’ll take a really good deal to make me risk mucking around with what I’ve got. I put a high cost on inconvenience and downtime, and I bet I’m not alone in that.

That said, I do think the telcos would have a decent chance to succeed in the TV-delivery market if they’re given a chance and they’re willing to take the time and money to give it a fair shot, and I do think that service and cost to consumers would improve as a result. I’m just not sure that HB3179, with all its lard and with the (in my opinion legitimate) concerns that TWC has raised about coverage, PEG channels, and right-of-way fees, is the way to let them in.

Trans-Texas Corridor protest

The protest against the Trans-Texas Corridor, which I noted previously, took place as planned, with an interesting cheerleader getting out in front.

Farmers and ranchers flocked to the Capitol on Tuesday with their sights set on stopping Gov. Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor, a huge highway project that rural landowners say will gobble up their property.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn – one of Mr. Perry’s potential Republican opponents in 2006 – joined the angry rally and called the governor’s associates “land-grabbing highway henchmen.”

“Governor Perry and his Department of Transportation want to cram toll roads down Texans’ throats. He calls it Trans-Texas Corridor. We call it Trans-Texas Catastrophe,” she said.

With all the attention paid lately to KBH, it’s nice to see CKS remind everyone that she’s still around. PerryVsWorld certainly noticed.

A spokesman for Mr. Perry watched the rally and chastised Mrs. Strayhorn for criticizing toll roads. He cited records showing her support for them in the past and said those who criticize should offer their own solutions.

“Would they raise the gas tax by one dollar? … Would they expand I-35 through our cities, which is some of the most expensive real estate in the state? Or would they do nothing and continue to allow congestion to increase?” asked the spokesman, Robert Black.

First of all, support for toll roads in general has nothing to do with opposition to the TTC. I have no problem with the concept of toll roads – they certainly have their place in the transportation ecology – but that doesn’t make the TTC any less a boondoggle. As for the claim about raising gas taxes by a dollar, I’ve dealt with that before and still haven’t seen anything resembling an explanation for its genesis or justification.

Republican and Democratic legislators addressed the rally, urging that limits be placed on the corridor plan.

“The government is out of control. They’re trying to take our property rights away from us,” said Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville.

Some in the crowd identified themselves as conservative Republicans and said this was the first political rally they’d ever attended.

“I already wrote a note to his e-mail and said he needs to be run out of town on a rail. But that’s too good for him,” said Betty Meischen of Austin County.

Ms. Meischen said one proposed corridor road would divide the 160-acre farm that has been in her family for generations.

Cattle rancher Leroy Bacak of El Campo and his wife, Laverne, said they have two pieces of property totaling 250 acres. One corridor proposal could place a major highway between the two, preventing the movement of ranch equipment back and forth, Mr. Bacak said.

I continue to believe that the TTC, which is now officially opposed by the Republican Party of Texas, will be a political liability for Rick Perry next year. I’m glad to see Chris Bell is picking up on that. More like this, please.

Lampson’s official filing

As of noon today, Nick Lampson will be an official, declared candidate for CD22 in 2006. His press release, which notes his family’s ties to the Fort Bend area, is included beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Here’s the WaPo coverage of Lampson’s announcement, which has so far gone unnoticed by the Chron.

UPDATE: Greg comments on the money that may get spent on this race and the hometown-versus-outsider dynamic that it may take.