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June 6th, 2006:

Au revoir, suckers

Au revoir, mes amis. Il a été bon de vous connaître.

Texas pals of former House majority leader Tom DeLay are bidding adieu to their retiring leader with a single question: “Parlez-vous Francais?”

DeLay doesn’t speak a lot of French, but he relied on a few choice French phrases to taunt Democrats and the country of France for criticizing President Bush’s policies in Iraq at the start of the war. His fellow Texas GOP House members chose an expensive contemporary French restaurant in Washington, Le Paradou, to toast the outgoing 22-year congressman Tuesday night in a private dinner.

“France and Iraq are losing credibility by the day and they are, I think, losing status in the world,” DeLay said in February 2003 as the war loomed. “They are walking a fine line that is very dangerous.”

During the 2004 presidential race, national Republicans made much of Sen. John Kerry’s French relatives. DeLay would open speeches saying: “Good afternoon, or, as John Kerry might say, ‘Bonjour.'”

After former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle criticized President Bush saying he had failed at diplomacy so miserably the country was forced to war, DeLay fired back in a news release: “Fermez la bouche, Monsieur Daschle,” telling the South Dakota Democrat to shut up in French.

But when Congress renamed french fries “freedom fries” in retaliation for the French position on Iraq, DeLay didn’t see the need for it.

“I don’t think we have to retaliate against France. They’ve isolated themselves pretty well,” he said then.

DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty was unhappy with any references to the restaurant as French. “This is an American restaurant (last I checked the owner came here from France some 30 years ago) that serves French cuisine,” she said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

“I trust that you do know Mr. DeLay is French,” she said.

Yes. And the French word for “self-hating” is “se-détestant”. Merci beaucoup.

UPDATE: Fixed the French (thanks to Amerloc in the comments). I swear, I tried a half-dozen auto-translaters, and “individu-détester” was the most frequent result. C’est la guerre.

Kinky: I do too have issues!

Let’s check and see how the Kinky Friedman campaign is going.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, best known for his satire and cigar, took his first halting steps toward dispelling the rap that he isn’t versed on the issues.

He met with reporters for an hour to discuss political reforms and other issues.

Appearing uneasy at times and often deferring to his campaign director, Friedman said citizens should be allowed to place measures, such as casino gambling, on the ballot through a process called initiative and referendum.

You know, for a guy who’s been running for Governor since 2003, it sure took him long enough to define some issues and articulate stances on them.

Friedman acknowledged his inexperience dealing with public policy details.

“I’m not the world’s authority on this stuff. I’m not pretending to be,” Friedman said as two documentary crews filmed the news conference.

Just what we need, another amiable but clueless guy in the big chair. That’s worked so well for the country these past few years.

Look, Friedman’s actual proposals are fine. Not original, mind you, and I agree with Chris Bell when he says they don’t go far enough, but there’s nothing objectionable to me. I even support his proposal to allow primary voters to sign a petition for independent candidates. I doubt that amounts to much in practical terms, but I’ve no problems with it.

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s clear from reading all the coverage of this little press event that Friedman is a not-ready-for-prime-time player. Stuff like this doesn’t cut it:

Meat-and-potatoes on issues were a natural next course, his staff said, now that the petitions needed for Mr. Friedman to get on the ballot have been filed for review by the secretary of state.

“Everyone wanted to know if Kinky was going to get serious, and we said ‘Yes,’ ” said campaign spokeswoman Laura Stromberg. “We weren’t going to spend time and resources coming up with political proposals when we weren’t even assured a spot on the ballot.”

Putting aside the fact that he’s had nearly three years to come up with any proposals at all, perhaps if Friedman had spent one-tenth of the time he’s given to documentaries, reality TV shows, and general self-promotion, he’d have been able to produce a little substance by now. But that’s not the campaign he’s run, and if there was any doubt about it before now, it should be dispelled.

“Outdated office”

The Chron editorializes on the recent Radack-Sanchez smackdown and the growing realization that the time is now to abolish the office of Harris County Treasurer.

During an joint appearance before the Chronicle editorial board during the primary campaign, Sanchez criticized Cato’s handling of his office. He said that if he won the $96,000-a-year post he would use it as a platform to express his views on immigration and would travel to Washington if necessary.

The county treasurer supervises 15 employees who process payments authorized by county commissioners; it has nothing to do with immigration policy. During his tenure Cato stuck to its mandated duties and avoided embroiling the office in controversy.

To be blunt, Cato did almost nothing newsworthy during his tenure. I’d say that’s a feature of the Treasurer’s office, and I daresay the Chron would agree with that.

The state of Texas and several other counties have already gone the route of eliminating their treasurer positions. The two Democratic Harris County commissioners, Sylvia Garcia, and El Franco Lee, have indicated they would support such an action.

With Cato’s passing, the time is right to consider whether this appendage of county government is worth the cost. Sanchez has made it clear he would use the office for a political agenda having little or nothing to do with its job description. The Democratic candidate, Richard Garcia, is running on a platform of abolishing it.

In a time when public sentiment demands lower taxes and greater economy of public services, why should taxpayers provide $96,000 a year for an extraneous position to be used only to revive flagging political careers? Harris County commissioners and state lawmakers should give voters the opportunity to answer that question in the near future.

Obviously, I agree. Judging from the letters to the editor, however, not everybody else does.

In regard to the June 3 Chronicle article “GOP in a squabble over treasurer post”: Jack Cato’s predecessor, Don Sumners, was anything but obscure.

He called for tax cuts and more fiscal responsibility and was written about in many articles in the Chronicle.

Sumners was at the forefront of efforts to limit government growth, coauthoring the Tax Vote 97 effort to limit property taxes.

A political office is what you make of it; and judging from the wrath Sumners received from other county officials for working to bring reform to government, the office of treasurer amounted to a lot more than just disbursing funds.

Also, the idea of abolishing the treasurer’s office was tried before, but obviously unsuccessfully.

Sumners testified in Austin, that with today’s complicated financial transactions, a qualified county treasurer is needed more than ever.

And, at that time [in 1997], the Chronicle supported his position in an editorial that said that the county needed a fiscal watchdog.

JERRY C. LARSEN Seabrook

I find this all singularly unpersuasive. Everything listed here – calling for tax cuts (there’s a courageous stance for you), working to put referenda on the local ballot, being a general pain in the butt to other county officials – can be accomplished quite readily by private citizens. None of this explains why we need an office called “County Treasurer”. The fact that the Chron thought we did in 1997 is not relevant to 2006. Agree with him or not, Paul Bettencourt does anything you might want a “fiscal watchdog” to do, and he does it from an office that has actual power. So I ask again: what is it that the Treasurer does that no one else can do? I can’t see anything.

State hurricane evacuation plan now online

A updated version of the official state hurricane evacuation plan is now online.

The state’s 157-page plan was posted online late Friday, the day after the Atlantic hurricane season began. Some local emergency management officials said Monday that they did not know the plan was ready.

But several who had seen it said the plan sufficiently addresses some of the most crucial concerns from last year, including traffic management, fuel availability along evacuation routes and the evacuation of people who can’t move themselves.

“Clearly, the governor and his staff . . . have listened to the community, assessed our lessons learned (from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina), and the outcome is the best plan that we could have,” said Rudy Garza, an assistant city manager for Austin.

The plan includes several new components, such as “comfort stations” that would provide food, water and medical assistance along evacuation routes and a point-to-point system that would pair coastal cities with inland cities for special needs evacuations. Galveston’s special needs evacuees would be brought to Austin.

You can find it here. I’ll look at it shortly and report back if I se anything weird.

Two!

I don’t care what kind of crazy stuff some people may believe about today and today’s date. Here’s all you need to know:

Today is Olivia’s second birthday. She started the celebration a little early by coming down with a stomach bug over the weekend (I’m sure that by the time she gets to college she’ll figure out that it’s party first, be sick second). She’s feeling better now, and there’s cupcakes waiting for her later on at daycare.

Since her first birthday, Olivia has continued to amaze us with her growth and development. She’s a little chatterbox (most of the time; she gets shy around new people) and still just loves loves loves books. It’s hard to say what her favorites are because she makes us read so much of her library on a regular basis, but there are a couple of books that stand out. I’ll quote you a couple of lines from each (from memory, naturally – I’ve read these books a lot now). See if you can identify them. Those of you with small children will have no problem, the rest of you will have to think back.

1. My brothers read a little bit
Little words like “If” and “It”
My father can read big words, too
Like “Constantinople” and “Timbuktu”

2. Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me now!
It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how!

Answers and another Olivia picture are beneath the fold.

Today is also the 40th birthday of my good friend Martha. Yes, that means she was born on 6-6-66. With a debut like that, how could she not have turned out to be cool?

Happy Birthday, Olivia and Martha!

(more…)

Dallas is your place for bad driving

Wherever I go, there’s always someone to tell me that their city features the world’s worst drivers. It’s like a point of pride – “You wussies in [city X] have it easy. Here in [city Y], only the strong survive the freeways!” Well, here’s a little empirical evidence to help you out the next time you engage in one of these debates.

Who would have thought it? Laredo, a historically wild and woolly border town just across the Rio Grande from a continuing drug war, is the safest city in Texas to drive in. And fellow border cities Brownsville and El Paso are right up there.

At the other end of the risk pool, you’re more likely to have a collision in Dallas than any other Texas city. Its suburbs of Carrollton, Grand Prairie, Garland, Irving and Mesquite are almost as bad.

Or so says Allstate Insurance Co., whose 2006 report on “America’s Best Drivers” is at least a conversation-starter.

The company based the findings on its own policyholders’ accident claims in 2003 and 2004. Because Allstate has a 12 percent share of the market, its clients are probably typical of drivers around the country, said the company’s Texas spokeswoman, Kim Whitaker, in Dallas.

The report compares the average number of years between car crashes for residents of 200 U.S. cities. The national average is about 10 years, it says.

The safest city of all, it found, was Sioux Falls, S.D., where drivers average 14.3 years between collisions. For Laredo, the interval was 10.8 years, 34th-best overall.

Houston, where the average span of crash-free driving was eight years, ranked 163rd among the 200, but fifth among the biggest cities, beating out Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Congratulations, Dallas! I confess, I usually concede the point when someone from the Metroplex tells me the drivers there are worse than they are here. Now I can feel justified in doing so.