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June 19th, 2010:

Saturday video break: Never trust a cartoon that comes to life

Because we’re all about the 80s here, I give you the literal video version of A-ha’s “Take On Me”:

The gold standard for the Literal Videos is still Total Eclipse of the Heart, but this one’s pretty good, too. And finding it led me to this version of the song by Reel Big Fish:

That manages to simultaneously be the only pop culture reference to the movie “BASEketball” I’ve ever seen, a pretty good modern interpretation of the 80s music video, and a snappy version of the song. Oh, and an excuse for a video twofer. Enjoy!

Harper-Brown’s hand in the cookie jar

Oops.

State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown (R-Irving) and her husband are driving cars owned by a highway contractor doing millions of dollars of business with the state. All the while, Harper-Brown sits on the influential House Transportation Committee. Her husband claims the deal is pay for work he does separate from his wife, but others question the arrangement.

Harper-Brown lives in a modest house in Irving that has been appraised at $132,000, yet she drives a 2010 Mercedes Benz sedan valued at about $55,000. She and her husband own the house, but not the car.

[…]

State records show since her 2002 election, Harper-Brown has driven cars purchased by Durable Enterprises Equipment, a company owned by Jeffrey Bryan, of Arlington.

Bryan also owns Durable Specialties in Grand Prairie and Paradigm Traffic Systems in Arlington. The state comptroller’s office shows that over the last three years, they’ve done $12 million in work, like installing and managing highway cameras, for TxDOT. In one campaign picture, Harper-Brown can even be seen wearing a Durable Specialties jacket as she stands next to Bryan.

The Lone Star Project is all over this, as you might imagine. They’ve got a bunch of supporting documents for your perusal, and they make a provocative observation:

Earlier this year, former State Representative Terri Hodge was sentenced to a year in prison for accepting reduced rent and home improvements in return for official favors – less in compensation than it appears has been received by Linda Harper-Brown (Dallas Morning News, June 16, 2010). If it is proven that Linda Harper-Brown was given use of the car(s) in return for her actions as a legislator, she will be guilty of bribery.

That’s a big “if”, of course, though the WFAA story notes that information has been turned over to the U.S. Attorney in Dallas and state prosecutors in Austin. Even if there is something there, I would not expect any action until after the election, as that is the norm in these situations. Harper-Brown’s unpersuasive response is here, and BOR has more.

New “booking center” proposed

As we know, Sheriff Garcia has been trying to rework the jail bond referendum that failed in 2007 into something that can be passed. On Tuesday, Commissioners Court will have a look at the new proposal, which calls for a 1200-inmate “booking center” that’s being touted as a gateway into and out of the jail system, aimed primarily at arrestees with mental health issues.

“It’s much more than a booking facility,” said Steven Schnee, executive director of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. The current booking center is so crowded that there is space for neither specialists nor places to send the incoming other than cells.

What the new center would offer is a “Door B,” Schnee said. He does not know what exactly will be behind the door, but he envisions a place where various agencies that serve the mentally ill can set up a one-stop area that avoids the complications of shuffling a patient from one organization to another — or finding a particular inmate among the 9,400 distributed in three downtown buildings.

[…]

“If all of the money is being pulled toward the jail, there may not be the funds to focus on the alternatives,” said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The costs of running a new building – utilities, staffing, maintenance – will compete for tight budget dollars with reforms that would divert more mentally ill arrestees into treatment instead of cells, said Levin and Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

“When economies get really difficult,” Yanez-Correa said, “the first things that are cut are treatment programs.” Such a scenario removes programs that could save taxpayer money in avoided jail costs while retaining the debt, interest and operational costs of a new facility.

The devil is in the details here. The goal is to reduce the inmate population, which in turn will reduce the amount that Harris County spends on locking people up. I do not and will not support anything that expands our capacity to warehouse inmates. If this new facility is geared towards moving people who will be better served by treatment out of the jails and into mental health programs, then I will most likely be in favor of it. I will need to know what specifically this is for, and how it will be funded. Yanez-Correa’s concerns are well-taken, especially since that’s what’s happening right now at the state level. If we’ll be depending on the state to provide the money for mental health and other treatment services, what will happen if and when that money gets cut? I’m willing to hear what the Sheriff has to say, but these are the things I’ll need to see answers for.

Claude Jones

Claude Jones was a Texas inmate who was executed ten years ago. He protested his innocence of the crime for which he was put to death till the end. Now we may get to see if he was telling the truth about that.

Visiting Judge Paul C. Murphy this week ordered testing of a strand of hair from Claude Jones’ case that death penalty opponents believe might provide the first DNA proof that an innocent man was executed.

Murphy issued a summary judgment in favor of the New York-based Innocence Project and The Texas Observer, an Austin newsmagazine, which three years ago petitioned to do mitochondrial DNA testing on a hair fragment recovered from the counter of Zell’s liquor store in Point Blank, about 65 miles north of Houston.

San Jacinto District Attorney Bill Burnett, who had assisted in the prosecution and died this month from pancreatic cancer, blocked the hair’s release. He argued state law provided no legal avenue for him to relinquish the 1-inch strand after Claude Jones’ death.

Neither Burnett’s attorney, David Walker, nor the first assistant, Jonathan Petix, who has temporarily replaced Burnett, could be reached for comment on whether they will appeal.

[…]

A key witness during the trial, Timothy Jordan, has recently recanted his testimony that Claude Jones had confessed being the triggerman to him. Jordan now says [co-defendant Kerry] Dixon told him that Claude Jones did it. Dixon, who has made no police statements, is currently serving a life sentence for his part.

But Walker has contended DNA testing cannot provide conclusive proof of Claude Jones’ innocence, only propaganda for those opposing the death penalty. He notes two other witnesses described seeing a pot-bellied, middle-aged man wearing clothing like Claude Jones’ enter the store, although neither could positively identify him.

Petix has also said releasing the hair could open a “floodgate” of requests for things such as O.J. Simpson’s gloves. They contended state law only allows a defendant to request DNA testing.

That’s kind of a tough standard for Jones to meet, what with him being dead and all. You can get some more details on the case, and the case for Jones’ innocence, from the Observer. I have two points to make:

1. To this day, I do not understand the fierce resistance that DAs like Bill Burnett put up to post-facto DNA testing. I get that at some point you have to declare a case over, but the Burnetts of the world always come across as fearful to me. If you’re so damn sure you’ve convicted the right guy and that this whole exercise is nothing but a propaganda ploy by death penalty opponents, why not call their bluff? If I knew I was right I’d welcome the opportunity to prove it to God and everyone. What better way to give the middle finger to all those annoying activists who’ve been pestering you all these years? Unless of course you’re really not at all sure you’re right and you’ll do anything in your power to find out. Which is why these guys all look like a bunch of fraidy cats to me.

2. The oft-made “it would open the floodgates” claim is specious on its face. Only a small percentage of crimes involve DNA evidence, and in many cases where it existed it wasn’t preserved after the conviction. Dallas, the hotbed of DNA exonerations, is that way because its longtime DA, Henry Wade, was bizarrely obsessed with preserving evidence, and they’ve basically run out of cases to review in less than four years. There would be an initial spike, sure, but it wouldn’t take more than a couple of years to work through it all. Just eliminating the drawn-out court battles over whether or not to do the testing in the first place would make it all go a lot faster.

Anyway. We don’t know what that DNA evidence will tell us, but we’ll be better off when we do know. Grits and Matt Kelly have more.

Green burials

If you don’t like the idea of being embalmed and buried in an expensive casket, perhaps a “green burial” is for you.

[‘Green burials” are] part of a growing movement to eliminate toxic chemicals or nonbiodegradable materials from end-of-life rituals by forgoing embalming, vaults, tombstones and metal caskets.

Green services cost an average of $4,900, about one-third the price of more traditional options.

Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery near Austin is Texas’ only cemetery to be recognized so far by the emerging industry’s leading organization.

As the environmentally friendly burial movement grows, others, including a Houston land developer who recently bought a picturesque piece of land outside Brenham, are aiming to capitalize on the demand.

The movement’s popularity has increased in the past decade as aging baby boomers — who grew up challenging social norms and examining their relationships to religion, family and the environment — consider their mortality, according to the nonprofit Green Burial Council.

“This concept resonates with Texans more than any other state,” the council’s founder, Joe Sehee, said. Those favoring the green option here often are not doing it as a final act of environmental activism, he said, but out of a desire to be close to the land, to return to biblical practices or as an alternative to embalming without choosing cremation.

Personally, if the “Star Trek” method of having your particles beamed into space isn’t yet practical, I plan to request cremation. But maybe this method is for you.