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June 30th, 2006:

Library, schmibrary

This is what happens when reacting takes precedence over thinking.

The Dean of Library Services at University of the Incarnate Word canceled the library’s subscription to the New York Times Wednesday to protest recent stories exposing a secret government program that monitors international financial transactions in the hunt for terrorists.

“Since no one elected the New York Times to determine national security policy, the only action I know to register protest for their irresponsible action (treason?) is to withdraw support of their operations by canceling our subscription as many others are doing,” Mendell D. Morgan, Jr. wrote in a June 28 email to library staff. “If enough do, perhaps they will get the point.”

Notice how the fact that the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal also printed this story plays no role in Morgan’s actions. Who needs consistency when you’re making a point?

Morgan did not return a call for comment this morning. The university released a statement saying that Morgan had the authority to remove the newspaper.

“The University of the Incarnate Word does not take an official position on the recent decision to cancel the subscription of the New York Times at the university’s library” the statement said. ” This decision was made by the administrator in charge of the library whose authority extends to the contents of the library, and thus it was within his purview to make this decision. The University is supportive of the First Amendment, a free press and of the presentation of diverse points of view.”

Boy, they sure don’t have his back on this one, do they? We’ll see if that’s enough to get him to back off.

Staff member Jennifer Romo said she and her coworkers were shocked when they received Morgan’s email.

“The censorship is just unspeakable,” Romo said. “There is no reason, no matter what your beliefs, to deny a source of information to students.”

The removal also runs counter to the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights, which states: “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

Who cares? It’s just a library. Now that we’ve settled what’s important, Dean Morgan can start going through the stacks to see what else offends him enough to merit removal. It’s a whole new world out there.

At least one media-watcher said she doubts Morgan’s move will have much impact.

“In the real world, it’s an almost futile act on many levels,” said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla. “From what we know about the reading habits of college students, it will not make a difference because they read online.”

That can be dealt with, too, you know. Does Dean Morgan have any sway with UIW’s IT department?

In all seriousness, I don’t expect this decision to stand. University presidents don’t much like it when underlings bring negative publicity to their schools. Head coaches have gotten forced out for similar things. If you want to help the process along to its natural conclusion, The Agonist has some contact information for you. I’ll second his call to be polite to UIW’s President. He didn’t do this, and there’s no point in yelling at him. If you get a response, let me know.

The 1996 timeline

Despite the Chron’s archives being unavailable, I did a little Googling and was able to find enough information about the 1996 Supreme Court decision on Texas’ Congressional districts to make a determination about when the new map was in place for the November open primary that followed. I’ve written about it at Kuff’s World.

More on the re-re-redistricting timetable

Here’s some more information on the timetable to fix CD23 as announced yesterday by the three-judge panel.

U.S. District Judge John T. Ward of Marshall set oral arguments in the case for Aug. 3. Other judges on the panel include U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Higginbotham of Dallas and U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal of Houston.

Those eligible to submit maps include 14 individuals, the state of Texas and 15 local governments and organizations.

The groups include the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American GI Forum, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Texas NAACP, the Texas Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Texas.

However, it’s unlikely that each party will submit a different map. Some individuals who are parties in the lawsuit are citizen representatives of the groups involved. Also, some groups may cooperate to produce a single map to present to the court.

It’ll be interesting to see who works together on this, and what their final products will look like. Bear in mind that not everyone who was an ally in the lawsuit will necessarily be an ally in the redrawing process. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson and former Rep. Martin Frost, both Dallas Dems, were famously at odds over the 1991 effort, which eventually led to the 1996 court-ordered do-over. Everyone has their own interests in this sort of thing, and people you wouldn’t expect can get crosswise with each other.

When a three-judge panel drew the state’s congressional districts in 2001 after the Legislature failed to do so, about 20 days elapsed between the end of the trial and the time the court ordered new districts.

That makes the ETA for a new map about August 23. Perry is skeptical that this leaves enough time to have an open primary in November, but I think it can work. If you set a short filing deadline – say, September 5 – that gives two full months for the campaign, which is no less than what we have now for regular primaries. You can have such a deadline for filing because by August 3, everyone will at least know what maps are in play, and can make whatever contingency plans they need to based on that. So, I continue to think this can be made to work, and I continue to think that however imperfect it may be, it’s better than having another election for the illegal CD23.

I wanted to do a Chron archive search to see what the time frame was for the 1996 situation, but as I write this their 1985-2000 stuff is unavailable. Anyone remember when the new map was put into place back then?

(UPDATE: August 6, 1996. See Kuff’s World for more.)

Dallas Blog has a copy of Judge Ward’s order (PDF), if anyone is interested in that.

One more thing:

Gov. Rick Perry declined to say whether he would call the Legislature into special session to change the congressional districts.

“It’s always been my preference that the Legislature take care of these issues,” Perry told reporters Thursday before learning of the panel’s order.

Except of course when he thinks it suits his purposes, as was the case in 2001. I’m going to repeat that every time Governor Perry opens his self-serving mouth on this point. It’s my fond hope that some time between now and (say) July 14, some enterprising reporter brings it up.

UPDATE: Valley Politico makes an interesting observation:

If the congressional changes are in place by November, a member of the Texas Legislature could be on their regular ballot for re-election, and they can also be on the special election ballot for Congress.

Hmm… I wonder who from the Valley legislative delegation would run…

The Lloyd Bentsen Rule rides again! I think we already know one such rep with an itch to run (see the end of this post if you’re not sure who I mean). Does anyone else have that itch? We may get to see.

One indictment against TAB tossed

A state district judge has thrown out one of the four indictments against the Texas Association of Business for activities related to the 2002 election.

District Judge Mike Lynch ruled that 2002 pre-election ads produced by the group did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of Texas legislative candidates. Travis County prosecutors had said the group broke state election law by using corporate money to support candidates.

Lynch’s ruling put in doubt two other similar indictments pending against the organization by also discounting prosecutors’ alternative theory that the ads became illegal when the association coordinated them with other political groups. Lynch called the prosecutors’ argument “innovative” but concluded that state law does not cover it.

Austin lawyer Roy Minton, who represents the business association, predicted that Lynch’s decision ultimately would be the end of the lengthy prosecution: “I believe the basic position the court has taken is going to make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the state to prosecute TAB.”

Even as critics warned that the ruling would open the floodgates to more secret money in state politics, District Attorney Ronnie Earle said he would pursue prosecution of a fourth indictment accusing the association of making an illegal contribution to its own political action committee. He also will probably appeal Lynch’s ruling.

Here’s the original story, from last September. The indictments that were handed down were for the following:

14 counts of prohibited political contributions by a corporation (TAB) for paying Hammond and staffer Jack Campbell to do political work.

28 additional counts for fraudulently soliciting money from corporations to use in the 2002 election..

83 additional counts of prohibited political contributions by a corporation for paying for political mailers and TV commercials.

Three counts of prohibited political expenditures by a corporation for spending money in connection with 23 legislative campaigns.

It’s a little confusing, but I believe the “fourth indictment” that Earle will still be pursuing is the one listed first here, the 14 counts of “prohibited political contributions by a corporation”. I believe the tossed indictment is the last one, for “prohibited political expenditures by a corporation”. If anyone knows better, please say so in the comments.

In his four-page order, Lynch acknowledged that many people would read the ads as campaign material.

“The advertisements . . . irrespective of political philosophy, are troublesome because they engage in what most non-technical, common-sense people (i.e. non-lawyers) would think of as clear support for specific candidates,” Lynch wrote. The judge called some of the ads “patently offensive” – they attacked candidates based on actions they took as defense lawyers representing the accused.

However, Lynch concluded that the ads did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates under the Texas Election Code, which he called “an archaic, cumbersome, confusing, poorly written document in need of serious legislative overhaul.”

The judge wrote that the prosecution’s legal theory on coordination between political groups is a “convoluted maze” that would not give a defendant adequate warning about what they are charged with.

Lynch noted that Earle eloquently argued that the association unfairly attempted to subvert the electoral process. But citing the deficiencies of the indictment and state law, he concluded:

“You simply cannot make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear.”

I can’t say this surprises me. Like Vince, I think the intent of these ads is clearcut, and I’m disappointed that the judge didn’t follow that instinct to its logical conclusion. But I’ve never doubted the need to make the election code clearer and more relevant on these points. I continue to have hope this will happen, but frankly until it’s a priority among the state’s leadership, it will be very much an uphill fight.

Lawyers defending the association and its corporate donors in several civil lawsuits applauded Lynch’s decision.

Austin lawyer Terry Scarborough, who represents AT&T Inc., which donated money to the 2002 ad campaign, said the decision will have a broad effect: “Judge Lynch agrees with what we have argued for three years: The Texas election code is unconstitutionally vague. The only way the district attorney or the plaintiffs in the civil suits can win is if the election code is unconstitutionally applied.”

Austin lawyer Cris Feldman, who is suing the business group on behalf of Democrats, won a similar lawsuit against its ally Texans for a Republican Majority last year.

He noted that the legal standards for criminal cases are much higher than for civil lawsuits.

“Our case is as strong as it was Day One,” Feldman said. “We will continue to pursue enforcement of the election code and upholding the 100-year-old doctrine that corporate money has no place in Texas elections.”

Although Lynch’s decision does not relate directly to the money-laundering charges pending against DeLay and two associates, DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin said it helps his arguments that Earle’s prosecution is based on political philosophy.

“The judges that will have some say-so read the newspapers like ordinary people do,” DeGuerin said. “They will see the opinion. It certainly can’t hurt us.”

It can’t hurt, but I doubt it will matter much. Certainly, Dick DeGuerin didn’t need this to make his case effectively. And if you really want to press the matter, it’s clear that Judge Lynch thought the ads were bad and the prosecution’s cause was good. He just didn’t think the laws applied to TAB in this case. It’s not a stretch to argue that Tom DeLay isn’t TAB, and that the situation is different in his case.

But we’ll see. Earle is likely to appeal this ruling, and there are still other appeals in other matters pending. Lord only knows when all this will get wrapped up.

MyDD interviews Radnofsky

Check it out.

On to the defense in the Yates 2.0 trial

I’m a little surprised to realize that the prosecution has already rested its case against Andrea Yates in the retrial. I don’t remember it being this quick last time, and I’m not sure how it could be virtually the same evidence when they also presented testimony from a former cellmate of Yates’. On that score, I don’t think the prosecution landed a solid blow.

[Felicia] Doe told jurors that Yates initiated a conversation about her children’s deaths while the women shared a cell at the Harris County Jail’s psychiatric unit for several days in May 2002.

“She talked about the baby, Mary, being easy (to drown),” Doe said, as she took a deep breath and fought back tears. Noah, she said, “was crying really hard and throwing up and it made her mad. … Once he was in the water, it took a long time for him to stop moving.”

She said Yates described chasing Noah through the house and how the boy pulled on some window blinds, breaking them, during their struggle.

Yates’ attorneys tried to cast doubt on Doe’s testimony, noting that the children were clad in pajamas and play clothes, not their “Sunday best,” as Doe said Yates had told her.

The defense spotlighted Doe’s criminal and mental health history, and her capacity for truthfulness, during cross-examination.

“Did you tell (one) doctor you have a problem with being honest?” defense attorney Wendell Odom asked.

“Yes,” Doe said.

She said she once thought she suffered from bipolar disorder, but actually was just extremely depressed when she was placed in the County Jail’s psychiatric unit. Doe confirmed that she had been sent to prison after failing to comply with the terms of her probation for failure to stop and render aid, but said she has since been released.

As Odom grabbed a photo of the clothes the children wore when they died, Doe broke into tears.

“What does this appear to be to you?” Odom asked, holding the large picture in front of her.

Doe turned her head away and said, “All the boys’ clothes.” She refused to look at a photo of four of the children’s bodies, side by side on a bed, where Yates had placed them.

“Do they appear to be wearing their Sunday best to you?” Odom asked.

“No sir, they don’t,” Doe said, weeping.

My I-wasn’t-there impression of this is that she doesn’t seem too credible. Maybe you could say she was just embellishing a bit, but if you’re going to do that, what else might you add?

A bit of irony there, too, in bringing up mental health issues for Doe. Since Yates will probably not testify, that shouldn’t boomerang on the defense. I of course don’t know what the jury thought of her, and I have my own perspective on things, but I’m not impressed. We’ll see.

Doe has alleged that Yates described how to feign mental illness, but prosecutors did not ask about that claim.

That can’t be a factor in their eventual deliberations, but I wonder what the jury would have made of that. And I wonder what George Parnham would have made of it had it come up on direct.

Meanwhile, it looks like the defense got off to a compelling start.

Jurors in Yates’ capital murder trial listened closely this morning as [Dr. Melissa] Ferguson, the first psychiatrist to assess Yates in the jail’s Mental Health and Mental Retardation unit, recounted their discussions. Ferguson was the jail’s medical director of psychiatric services at the time.

[…]

Ferguson said that, after their first meeting, she concluded that Yates “had major depressive disorder, severe, with psychotic features with onset in (her) postpartum period.”

After lead defense attorney George Parnham asked if Ferguson considered Yates psychotic, she replied, “Yes, she was.”

[…]

Yates told her that “she was hearing a message from the TV while the children were watching cartoons,” Ferguson said.

“She said that the message had something to do with the children and herself. It was sometime in the weeks leading up to the drownings.”

In addition to telling Yates that she was a bad mother, they delivered messages to the children, Yates told Ferguson.

She said she could hear the cartoons telling the youngsters, “Don’t eat so much candy. Your mother is feeding you too much cereal.”

[…]

Jurors leaned forward in their seats and listened closely, even when Ferguson was defining psychiatric terms as psychosis and delusion, and clarifying issues such as whether someone could still believe a delusion is real, even after being told that it isn’t.

As we know, being mentally ill is not grounds for being acquitted on grounds of insanity. Insanity is a legal term, not a psychiatric one. The reason the prosecution mostly focused on things like how Yates called 911 and complied with instructions given to her by the police is because they have to prove she knew what she was doing. Since proving that for a specific time and incident is tough, the defense wants to show that she was so out of touch with reality as a general rule that you pretty much have to assume she was always out of it.

You all know my opinion on this, so I’ll just leave it at that. I expect there will be a lot more to the defense case, and I’ll be interested to see how the prosecution handles cross examination of their witnesses.

Speed trap city?

What do you think of when you think of Houston? I can name many things, but being a top ten speed trap would not have crossed my mind.

Houston is one of the top speed-trap cities in America, according to the National Motorists Association.

In its Top 10, Houston is fifth. Detroit’s suburbs lead the list, followed by Washington D.C.; Orlando, Fla.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Houston, Virginia Beach, Va.; Austin, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Fresno Calif.

The grassroots group that says it represents the rights and interests of of U.S. drivers is warning people ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, one of the heaviest travel times of the year, to be aware of heavy traffic-law enforcement.

The Waunakee, Wisc.-based group blames speed traps on bureaucracies trying to boost their budgets with fines from traffic tickets given in situations that are not fair to drivers, such as roads with no posted speed limit, the targeting of out-of-town drivers, and the like.

This list was created from the NMA’s SpeedTrap Exchange, a site devoted to identifying the location of speed traps.

Um, okay. You sure you’re not thinking of West University Place, or maybe Bellaire?

The page lists a bunch of locations, apparently entered by residents who have encountered them. Many have 2004 and 2005 dates on the entries, so make of that what you will. I’ll stipulate to this one, as I got nailed there once a couple of years ago. I’ve since realized that you can see the cops pretty clearly as soon as you hit the off-ramp, and as such I’ve not had any problems getting down to the posted speed in time. For what it’s worth, they’re not there very often – offhand, I can’t recall the last time.

Beyond that, I don’t know how to respond to this. Yes, there are speed traps in Houston. If anyone wants to claim we’re by and large a city that respects speed limits, you go right ahead and make that case. Everyone knows that traffic enforcement is basically a crapshoot, and that being just a little bit over the speed limit is no excuse and no guarantee. You pay your money and you take your chances. What else is there to say?