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June 27th, 2007:

Welcome to the club

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you our newest member of City Council, Melissa Noriega.

I wasn’t there for the swearing-in or the Council meeting that followed, but I trust that by now someone has asked Council Member Noriega her position on the all-important Dr Pepper question. How that managed to avoid being a campaign issue, I’ll never know.

Just kidding. Stace has more on her oath-taking. Congratulations, Council Member Noriega!

CCA upholds DeLay

The Court of Criminal Appeals, which is not known for being friendly to defendants, has refused to reinstate the conspiracy charge against Tom DeLay.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and political consultants Jim Ellis and John Colyandro were accused of conspiring to violate state election laws in the 2002 elections for the Texas House. But lower courts threw out the indictment on grounds that conspiracy to violate the election code was not a crime until 2003.

A majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed.

DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro were charged with plotting to funnel illegal corporate campaign contributions to several Republican House candidates in 2002, when the GOP gained its first House majority of modern times.

The three also were charged with money laundering, but a trial on those charges has been held up pending a resolution of the conspiracy charges.

So now we may finally get around to having the actual trials, now that all the appeals have run their course. In the meantime, I’m sure there will be more to this story soon. Stay tuned.

More on J. Fred Duckett

For those of you who want to pay your respects to iconic Houston sports announcer J. Fred Duckett, the Rice Athletics Department has the details.

A visitation will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday evening at the George H Lewis & Sons Funeral Home, 1010 Bering Drive in Houston. The Memorial Service will be at 1 pm on Friday at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1015 Holman at Main in Houston. The family is also formulating plans for donations in lieu of flowers and those details will also be announced shortly.

More memories of J. Fred can be found here.

The Mayor and the veterans

I didn’t get around to yesterday’s front page story about Mayor White and his plan to help wounded veterans in the Houston area.

One in 11 soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan is Texan, according to the Department of Defense. A quarter of the state’s population comes from the Houston-Galveston area.

“You do the math,” Mayor Bill White said Monday.

He has. To help returning wounded veterans, White pulled together about 200 community and military leaders Monday to announce plans for a bureaucracy-busting, problem-solving coalition similar to the one organized for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett will co-lead the effort.

”Though the issues facing our wounded vets may not get the 24-hour media coverage that Katrina did, there are storms occurring in individual lives and individual families when people come back,” White said.

He did not pledge any government money but said the city could assist by building a database to connect veterans to local nonprofits, veteran organizations, faith-based charities, corporate recruiters and other members of the coalition.

White also urged citizens to become mentors to returning veterans, to help them find resources and navigate bureaucratic red tape. A goal of the public-private coalition, he said, should be to respond to veteran requests in 24 hours, if possible.

“One by one with mentors and hope, (we can) take them under our wings and express our gratitude as a nation,” White said.

[…]

Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, defended the quality of care at VA hospitals.

But he conceded the bureaucracy could be “frustrating” for disabled veterans. He said Houston’s model, if successful, could work in other cities.

“We have something to learn here in Houston,” Casscells said.

So, does this count as a new idea for Mayor White, or is he still fresh out of them? Because, I have to say, this sounds like a new idea to me. And a pretty darned good one, too.

(If you want more discussion of that particular column of Kristin Mack’s, go read Greg. It’s worth it.)

Anyway. I applaud this initiative, and I look forward to seeing what becomes of it. Well done, Mayor White.

For that kind of revenue stream, I’d be a Pepper

Hey, I’m a Diet Coke guy myself, but business is business, you know?

Several [Council] members are in a fizz after learning that the Dr Pepper Bottling Co. of Houston soon will take over exclusive rights to vending machines at City Hall. That means staples like Coca-Cola and Pepsi will be scarce.

“I love Dr Pepper,” said Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck, who attended Baylor University in Waco, birthplace of the sweet, syrupy pop. “But I’m a Diet Coke gal, now.”

The council two years ago approved a five-year deal with Dr Pepper to supply its various soft drinks to 320 vending machines in 150 city buildings. The company gradually has been taking over service to various departments, including parks, fire, airports and health.

[…]

City officials who crafted the deal, which already has brought $700,000 in revenue, say it helps the city because Dr Pepper has agreed to return 45 percent of the proceeds — much more than Coca-Cola and Pepsi — in exchange for exclusivity.

“It’s a tripling of revenue,” said Tina Paez, a deputy director in the city’s Finance and Administration Department.

Look on the bright side – at least there’s a Diet Dr Pepper, too. Greg and Alex have more.

Next time, ask Tory first

While I agree with Tom that the Harris County Toll Road Authority would have done well to have simply consulted with Tory Gattis before they implemented their ill-received and short-lived congestion-pricing plan, it seems to me that the stark differences between Tory’s plan and theirs suggests theirs wasn’t very sensible. I don’t have any particular objections to the concept of congestion pricing (though Max Concrete’s comment on Tory’s post is well worth noting), but the goal is supposed to be about incentivizing people to change their driving behavior. The HCTRA plan was far too blunt an instrument for that. As very few normal commuters have the option of not going to or from work during the 6-9 AM and 4-7 PM time frames, the choice everybody else had was to pay a whole lot more, or not take the toll road at all. That’s not an incentive to alter one’s habits, it’s a shakedown. The response to that was neither irrational nor over the top.

As for the conspiracy theory that HCTRA used this as a cover for their overall 25 cent price hike, I’ll borrow from the response that Coca Cola CEO Donald Keough once famously gave when in a similar position: They’re not that dumb, and they’re not that smart.

Teen suicide

PinkDome gets serious about a subject that really is no laughing matter: Teen suicide.

Texas is taking a new step to combat suicide, a serious public health problem.

Jeannine Von Stultz, psychologist and director of mental health services for Bexar County’s Juvenile Probation Department, says many young people who don’t intend to go through with suicide still end up dying as they cry out for help.

“This is an urgent need. It’s a crisis. And they’re trying to do whatever they can to reach out,” Von Stultz said.

Each day in Texas an average of six people take their own lives. For people between the ages of 15 to 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death behind car accidents and homicides.

“What we’re concerned about is that we’re seeing more lethal methods being used. So kids used to take pills. Now we’re seeing higher rates of children hanging themselves,” Von Stultz said.

Now the Texas Suicide Prevention Council and Mental Health America in Texas have launched a Web site, www.texassuicideprevention.org, to help educate Texans about suicide warning signs and how to help someone in a crisis.

The Web site is a tool for parents, teachers, counselors, and in many cases, individuals who are suicidal and may use the Internet to look for help.

“The information that’s provided is downloadable. So you print it out and then disseminate it,” Von Stultz said. “If you are a local agency or a school or a doctor’s office — it’s accessible to everybody.”

Part of a national strategy put in place in 1999 by then-Surgeon General David Satcher, the site is bilingual and, according to mental health professionals, long overdue.

I consider myself exceptionally lucky that I have had far less personal contact with suicide than PD, who writes very movingly about the people he knew who killed themselves. Take a moment to read what PD has to say, then go visit www.texassuicideprevention.org and be better prepared to confront this issue.

Well, somebody likes those fifty-dollar lottery tickets

I’ll never understand it, but plenty of people are snapping up those fifty-dollar scratch-off Lottery tickets.

For all the naysayers who couldn’t imagine folks gambling on $50 on a single lottery ticket….Turns out, the state is making out like a bandit on its high-priced $130 Million Spectacular. Players have forked over close to $49 million dollars in the game’s first six weeks. Or $1.2 million a day.

Robust sales of the $50 game, amongst the priciest in the nation, are reversing what had been declining overall lottery sales. Total sales this year for all games are down 2.3 percent over last year, but they were down nearly 5 percent before the $50 game was introduced, on May 7. “The $50 game has had a definite impact on instant and overall sales,” Texas Lottery Commission projects manager Robert Tirloni told agency commissioners at their monthly meeting this morning.

The $50 game now accounts for 2 percent of all scratch-off sales. The most popular games are those selling for $5. They accounted for nearly 28 percent of all scratch-off sales, followed by the $2 tickets (20 percent of all scratch-off sales) and the $10 tickets (14 percent of all scratch-off sales).

As long as we’re not too concerned about who’s buying all those high-end games, then I suppose this is a bonanza for the state. I don’t believe this pace can possibly be maintained, but then I was one of those pesky “naysayers” about the $50 game concept, so what do I know?

Those four little letters

Okay, is there anyone out there who really doesn’t know what NSFW means? Right, then. Please put the Internet down, and slowly back away.

So it seems only right to ask: What is and isn’t “NSFW” anymore?

“We’re not trying to arbitrarily post work-sensitive material,” said [Alex Blagg, the managing editor of VH1’s Best Week Ever blog], who oversees the 15 to 17 entries that end up on BestWeekEver.tv each weekday. “We’re doing it because it’s funny, and we hope the readers take upon themselves the responsibility to know what is and isn’t safe for their own offices.”

My criteria is simple: If it’s something that would have been zapped by our fairly sensitive corporate net.nanny software, it’s NSFW as far as I’m concerned. That, or if it features loud audio, out of respect for my cubicle and open-floor-plan-dwelling brethren and sistren (now there’s an opportunity for the gender-neutral pronoun folks). Better to err on the side of caution. People can always follow the link at home.

(And if you really want to be a mensch, consider adding a brief description of what the link delivers, so people can be better informed in the cases where your idea of NSFW and theirs do not overlap.)