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October 11th, 2005:

Offline and loving it

Dwight writes about the “hardcore offline” – folks who don’t use the Internet, either from never trying it or from trying it and not liking it. There’s an interview here with the scoop, and his post and comments have some interesting insights.

I’ve been online since 1989, back when Usenet ruled the world. At this point, just about all of my family is online – the main exceptions are Tiffany’s grandmothers, both of whom are over 80. Everyone else at least uses email, and thanks to the proclivity of us kids to put pictures of our children on the web, most of them fire up their browser once in awhile. I just want to highlight one thing here, which I think is a key difference-maker:

Internet users who remain on dial-up connections are less likely to go online on a typical day than those who have a fast, broadband connection at home. Further, dial-up users are less likely than broadband users to have used the internet for a host of activities.

My in-laws still use dialup at home, despite some not-so-subtle hints from Tiffany and me about the wonders of cable modems. Both of them are into email now, and of course they love seeing pix of Olivia, but neither of those are incentive enough to switch. I think they’re approaching a tipping point, though, because Tiffany tells me her mom is beginning to learn the joys of online shopping. Given Sharon’s prowess in these matters, I figure the rest will follow naturally. We shall see.

Thanks to Kimberly for the link.

A look at the law

The Chron takes a closer look at the law used to indict Tom DeLay on criminal conspiracy charges.

Tired of absentee ballot fraud in his races for the Texas House and in his wife’s first race for Dallas mayor, then-Rep. Steve Wolens pushed a bill in 2003 making it a crime to mark a mail ballot without a voter’s consent.

Wolens, a Dallas Democrat, said his bill was written to address an ongoing problem in Dallas County where campaign workers went to nursing homes and the residences of elderly voters and told them how to mark their ballots. The ballots often were delivered in bulk to the county’s election office and may have affected the outcome of some low-turnout races.

That bill, which made conspiracy to violate state election laws a felony, was made law Sept. 1, 2003. It has become a key point of contention in an indictment of Congressman Tom DeLay, accusing him of conspiring to violate a century-old ban on corporate contributions to political candidates.

Lawyers for DeLay said that before Wolens’ conspiracy bill became law, the alleged crime did not exist, and the charge should be dismissed.

Other charges are pending against DeLay, R-Sugar Land, who was forced to give up his position of House majority leader because of the indictment.

Wolens said fraud involving mail-in ballots occurred in one of his races for the House in the mid-’80s.

“We continued to have problems in my race and other races. When it happened in Laura’s first race for mayor, I decided that was enough,” said Wolens, referring to his wife, Laura Miller, who was elected mayor of Dallas in 2002.

Wolens, who did not seek re-election last year, said he wrote the bill to make sure there would be no question that conspiring to commit ballot fraud could be prosecuted. So the bill included language linking the Penal Code conspiracy charge to the Election Code.

In this Statesman story from Friday, Wolens makes the Lege’s intentions clearer:

“We thought conspiracy for violation of the election code was already covered,” he said. “But we wanted to make sure there was no question about it. I included it to make it clear.”

Wonder if he’ll get called as a witness at the hearing for DeGuerin’s motion to dismiss. That should be relevant, shouldn’t it?

My uneducated guess is that this particular indictment will stand, though if I’m reading this correctly even if it were tossed there would still be charges pending against DeLay. More troubling, though also amusing, are the allegations Team DeLay has made about the actions that prosecutors took in securing that last indictment. I’ll let you read their laundry list in the Statesman article, but I got a good chuckle out of this:

DeLay’s lawyers offered no evidence to back up the allegations, but they promised to provide it.

“It doesn’t stop here, for sure,” said Bill White, an Austin member of DeLay’s defense team.

Sounds to me like they’ve been taking lessons from the Andy Taylor School of Irrefutable Evidence. Can’t wait to see what they come up with this time.

As a side note, Dwight looked up the relevant statutes a little while back. I’ll leave it to the lawyer types to sort it out from here.

Rep. Kevin Brady arrested for DUI

Speaking of US Rep. Kevin Brady, it looks like he had a bit too much fun at Homecoming Weekend.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from The Woodlands, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence Friday night in South Dakota.

Mr. Brady, 50, was pulled over by a state trooper for a problem with the taillights of his vehicle, said Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe.

Sheriff Howe said law enforcement officials were being especially vigilant about driving violations, including manning sobriety checkpoints, because it was homecoming weekend at the University of South Dakota.

“It’s like the busiest night of the year here,” the sheriff said.

Mr. Brady, who was born in Vermillion, S.D., is a graduate of the University of South Dakota.

The offense is a misdemeanor with a penalty up to a $1,000 fine or year in county jail or both. A typical penalty for a first offense is “generally in the neighborhood of $300 to 400,” Sheriff Howe said.

He said authorities were waiting for results from a blood test to determine Mr. Brady’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the arrest. In South Dakota, the legal blood-alcohol limit is .08.

Sarah Stephens, a spokesman for Mr. Brady, said the congressman was in East Texas for meetings Monday and could not be reached for comment.

As noted in my previous entry, Brady is wearing a bulletproof vest to those meetings at the request of the Texas Department of Public Safety due to a reported death threat against him. This has probably not been the best week of his life.

FEMA fouling up in East Texas

The people of East Texas are not happy with the assistance they have gotten from FEMA since Hurricane Rita devastated their cities.

Widespread confusion and inconsistency over who is entitled to grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency is inspiring Chambers County officials to tell residents affected by Hurricane Rita to appeal to statewide assistance for help.

“There’s no rhyme or reason why some are getting it and some are not,” said County Commissioner Judy Edmonds. “I think it all depends on who you get when you fill out an application.”

County Judge Jimmy Sylvia appealed to residents who had experienced problems in dealing with FEMA to contact senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, along with Congressman Ron Paul, who represents Chambers County.

“We were declared 100 percent disaster county, and I was told we would be treated just like Katrina victims and that all households in Chambers County would receive $2,000 in emergency funds,” Sylvia said in the press release. “Some have received it, others have not. I encourage those of you who have had problems with FEMA to contact your federal representatives…”

[…]

Jeanette Rhame, a resident of Hankamer, said it seemed FEMA phone representatives had been inadequately trained.

“First they said I was not under an mandatory evacuation, then it was that we have insurance so we’re not entitled to the $2,000,” she said. “But I had expenses too. I had to leave, find food to eat and a place to sleep.”

Ross Fredenburg, a FEMA public affairs officer, acknowledged that some applicants had been given incorrect information concerning the availability of financial assistance to them.

“Some people are being inappropriately told they are being denied assistance and that’s something that shouldn’t be happening,” Fredenburg said.

[…]

“I know some that have home insurance have no damage to their house and yet they receive $2,000,” Edmonds said. “I have seen others that had damage but they have been denied.”

“I got word that our people are going to be treated just like Katrina evacuees because there was a mandatory evacuation,” Sylvia added. “We’ve talked to FEMA officials and I don’t know — there’s still a lot of confusion, so we’re going up ladder to elected officials.”

[…]

Chambers County is not the only area that has expressed frustration over FEMA assistance.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who wore a bulletproof vest while he attended meetings in Jasper, Newton, Deweyville and Buna on Monday. He plans to visit Orange, Vidor, Kountze and Woodville on Tuesday.

Brady spokeswoman Sarah Stephens said Brady had received a death threat, but wouldn’t go into specifics. She said the Texas Department of Public Safety asked Brady to wear the vest.

As Brady stepped up to the church altar, four DPS troopers lined up in front of the lectern, separating the congressman and other federal officials from the rural residents who say their needs have been neglected.

Calvin Ebner, 78, said those who were honest on aid applications have been denied $2,000 in FEMA money while those who cheated got a check. Ebner ran a Deweyville Christmas tree farm and restaurant before Rita hit.

“The problem seems to be that some of those who answered questions truthfully are not getting the $2,000,” he said, adding that a FEMA representative told him some had been denied because of information entered into a computer program that figures a formula upon which aid amounts are based. “Is there not someone who can circumvent a stupid computer program and do what is right?”

I recognize that any relief effort like this will have bumps in the road, and I recognize that FEMA’s resources are strained due to Hurricane Katrina. That said, it’s been more than two weeks since Rita made landfall, and we all knew that it was coming for quite some time before that. They need to do better than this.

Prop 2: It’s about letting people protect their assets

I had the pleasure of meeting Tammi Wallace of the Houston Equal Rights Alliance at an anti-Prop 2 meetup a couple of weeks ago. She gave what I thought was an excellent and broadly appealing talk about why Proposition 2 is so wrongheaded, so I asked her to write it all down and let me publish it for my audience. Here it is:

All Texans including gays and lesbians deserve the right to protect their relationship, assets, and families.

I talked to a voter in Bellaire last year while exit polling. I asked her what she thought of a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and her thoughts on give gay and lesbian couples the right to civil marriage. Her response was that her husband was an attorney and he had indicated that gay and lesbian couples can create legal documents that would allow for the same protections as civil marriage. I asked her she felt it was fair that heterosexual couples can get a marriage license for $41.00 in Harris County and gay and lesbian couples have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees. She thought about this for a moment and responded that this did not seem fair. I proceeded to educate her as well on the aspects of legal contracts in that they can be contested by family as well as they do not necessarily have to be honored in other states. At that moment, you could see the light bulb going off.

I posed another scenario to her. We know that $41.00 versus $1,000+ dollars is clearly unfair. What about gay and lesbian couples that cannot afford $1,000+ dollars to simply protect their relationships? Gay and lesbian couples that struggle to keep the lights on, put food on the table, buy school supplies and clothes, pay medical bills, etc., are penalized twice. Once because they are gay or lesbian and also because of their financial situation. Again, we are talking about protections that can be granted to heterosexual couples for $41.00.

A couple of other examples (there are many, many more) we’ve shared with voters over the past year and a half in an effort to educate people on the harmful impacts on this legislation:

Constitutional Amendment #2 penalizes and hurts real Texas families. Gay and lesbian couples will continue to have and support children regardless of whether Constitutional Amendment #2 passes. The difference is that children with gay and lesbian parents will not have the same rights and protections that children with heterosexual parents enjoy. Don’t these children deserve the same rights and protections as children with heterosexual parents? Voting for Constitutional Amendment #2 absolutely hurts Texas children!

I work all my life and contribute to the social security system. Shouldn’t I be able to designate my beneficiary? I cannot designate my partner of 9+ years to receive my social security benefits in the event of my death.

Right after right….the ability to make medical decisions for your partner, burial rights, right to inherit property, health insurance, etc….so many rights and responsibilities as well! Yet, I don’t have access to these simply because of the person I love.

Constitutional Amendment #2 amends the state Constitution for no other reason than discrimination. Marrying a person of the same sex was not allowed by Texas law prior to the start of the 2005 legislative session. Voters need to ask their legislators why they chose to spend time and money on this amendment when school finance, healthcare and other pressing issues continue to be ignored at the expense of ALL Texans.

ALL Texans deserve full and equal rights. Regardless of personal opinion, denying people fundamental rights and responsibilities to protect their relationships, assets, etc., is wrong.

Tammi provided a document (Word doc) which enumerates many of the rights that would be denied not just to gay and lesbian couples but potentially to all unmarried couples who wish to protect them through contracts. If you know someone who plans to vote for Prop 2 because they think they’re standing up for traditional marriage, I urge you to show this to them and to ask if that’s what they really want to do.

I’m pleased to note that more newspapers are joining the anti-Prop 2 drumbeat: both the Statesman and the Victoria Advocate clearly understand what’s at stake. I just hope their readers do, too. Links via BOR.