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June 8th, 2008:

Fire at the Governor’s mansion


An early morning fire at the Governor’s Mansion today was intentionally set, a state fire investigator said.

State Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado declined to discuss further details but said there was no indication the fire was intended as a direct threat to Gov. Rick Perry.

No one was in the building, which has been closed several months for renovation, when the fire broke out. The governor has been living in a rented house in suburban Austin since last fall.

He and his wife, Anita, are in Stockholm, Sweden, finishing up a weeklong, trade-related trip to Europe.

The fire, discovered by security officers about 1:45 a.m., was under control by 6:30 a.m., but there were still hot spots in the building. Flames broke through a portion of the roof about 9:30 a.m. but were quickly extinguished.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was assisting the state Fire Marshal’s office in the investigation. Maldonado indicated security cameras posted around the building were helpful to investigators.

But officials declined to discuss more details, including how an arsonist could have gone undetected by Department of Public Safety troopers assigned to secure the building and its grounds.

Damage to the 152-year-old historic structure is “extraordinary, bordering on catastrophic,” including a partially collapsed roof, said Perry spokesman Robert Black.

Millions of dollars worth of antique furnishings, portraits and other heirlooms had been removed from the mansion and placed in storage before renovation began. But Black said it was impossible to calculate the historic value of the building itself.

He said officials hoped the first floor could be structurally salvaged, but there was more uncertainty about saving the second floor.


Former Gov. Mark White, who lived in the Mansion from 1983-1986 and took office shortly before a fire heavily damaged the state Capitol, said he was devasted by the latest fire.

“We just must rebuild it,” he said, urging state officials to use the occasion to fully restore the Mansion to its original structure, much as state government did to the Capitol following the 1983 fire.

I’m very glad no one was injured, I hope whoever did this is caught, and I join with Governor White in calling for a full rebuild of the Mansion.

UPDATE: Here’s some video from KXAN, and also from KVUE.

Chertoff goes on the offensive and gets offensive

Apparently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has decided that the way to get the border fence done is to demonize the opposition.

Chertoff, speaking during an interview with the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle, pitted the safety of Border Patrol agents against the efforts of environmentalists to stymie Bush administration plans to complete a border fence before leaving office in January. Some 670 miles of pedestrian fencing or vehicle barriers are planned along the 1,947-mile U.S.-Mexico boundary.

Chertoff, who has set aside some environmental restrictions to speed fence construction, said he didn’t want to “get enmeshed in endless litigation” with environmentalists who he said opposed fencing, lighting and other improvements along the border that would help the Border Patrol seize undocumented immigrants, smugglers and drug traffickers.

“I’ve gone to too many memorial services where agents were killed in rollover accidents pursuing smugglers because there wasn’t an all-weather road,” Chertoff said. “I have to tell you in all honesty as between the sensitivity of an owl and having to look a family in the eye and say, ‘I’m sorry you lost a loved one because we can’t build a road.’ I’m going with protecting the family and protecting the Border Patrol agent.”

The Border Patrol lists eight officers who have died in the line of duty since Chertoff took office in 2005. Wayne Bartholomew, executive director with Frontera Audubon, a nonprofit conservation organization in Lower Rio Grande Valley, called Chertoff’s comments “disingenuous, false and misleading.”

Bartholomew said the federal government had short-cut the environmental review process with the border fence project, failing to fully consider the potential impact on other public safety issues, including air and water pollution.

“This isn’t about building an all-weather road,” Bartholomew said. “It’s about following a process, and that process includes over 100 years of laws established by the United States Congress. He has put communities at risk by waiving these laws and unilaterally charging ahead without any oversight at all.”

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the equating of an all-weather road with the fence, which is what people are truly fighting against. This fight is and has always been about the fence. If all Congress wanted to do was improve conditions for Border Patrol agents by doing things like building them a better road system, it would have passed without any noticeable opposition. But that isn’t what this is about, and to claim otherwise is like saying the invasion of Iraq was about bringing democracy to the country after the WMD claims were debunked. It’s completely dishonest.

Secondly, how exactly is a fence going to make Border Patrol’s job safer? I suppose you could believe that its mere presence will be enough to deter immigrants and especially smugglers; if that describes you, I’ve got some property in Berlin I’d like to sell you. South Texas Chisme notes that “Some people think that the fence will endanger agents by trapping them”. I have no idea if that’s true, but I do know that we have some existing fencing in urban areas like San Diego – surely there’s some way of evaluating these claims. But Chertoff doesn’t come equipped with that kind of empirical evidence. He goes straight to the scaremongering, which suggests to me either the evidence is against him or he just doesn’t care one way or the other. Either way, it’s pretty reprehensible.

Finally, the subtext to what he’s saying is anyone who opposes what he wants to do – which remember isn’t just to build a fence, but to brush aside existing environmental regulations in order to build it as fast as possible – is putting Border Patrol agents’ lives at stake. This is old-fashioned “you’re either with us or you’re against us” crap, through which large numbers of American citizens have been branded as America-haters by the Bush administration and its enablers. I don’t really need to go into all the ways this is wrong and disgraceful, do I? I just hope that the Chron’s editorial board, to whom Chertoff delivered these repugnant remarks, has the courage to call it like it is on their pages.

If you want to know more about what Chertoff has to say, you can listen to him in all his glory in this uncut interview by KTRK’s Tom Abraham. I haven’t gotten to it yet; maybe it’s not as bad as I fear it is. Give it a listen if you think you can handle it and let me know what you think.

My pics from the Bloggers Caucus

My photos from the Bloggers Caucus in Austin are here. There’s fewer than I thought, but then I was so busy meeting and talking to people it’s a bit amazing I managed to remember to take any at all. And I managed to not lose the camera afterwards. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

More news and pics from the parties and the scene in general:

Mean Rachel, and again; she also has video. Rachel was one of many cool new bloggers I met in Austin, and now I have some blogroll maintenance to do.

Muse has photos of Chelsea Clinton giving her speech, and of her blogging buddies.

BOR reports that Boyd Richie easily won re-election as TDP Chair. My congrats to Boyd, who would have gotten my vote had I been a delegate.

Speaking of such things, my congrats as well to my blogging colleague Brian Hamon on his election to the Senate District 5 Executive Committee.

And finally, the Observer reports on Rick Noriega’s speech and on the Texas Muslim Democratic Caucus, which is apparently the first of its kind in the nation.

What not to watch

Sooner or later, the subject always turns to bad movies, doesn’t it? Well, movie badness is something Americans care deeply about. I’ll just point you to my personal list of bad movies, which thanks in no small part to my subsequent parenthood hasn’t changed much, though you might be able to talk me into adding the Send In The Clones episode of Star Wars, which to my mind made The Phantom Menace look like The Empire Strikes Back.

I will say this: If you don’t have a ready list of ten or so bad movies you’ve sat through and lived to tell about, you haven’t seen enough movies in your life. So leave your regrettable choices in the comments, and we’ll all have a good cringe together.