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December, 2010:

Friday random ten: The top 500, part 7

We end the year with another set of songs in my collection from the Rolling Stone Top 500 list.

1. Foxy Lady – Jimi Hendrix (#152)
2. A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (#153)
3. Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival (#155)
4. The Sound of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel (#156)
5. Rock Around The Clock – Bill Haley & The Comets (#158)
6. I Can’t Stop Loving You – Ray Charles (#161)
7. Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor (#162)
8. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen (#163)
9. Fast Car – Tracy Chapman (#165)
10. Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye (#167)

Wow, a whole list with no cover versions. I do have the Ike and Tina version of “Proud Mary”, but since I also have the original, that’s what gets included. I’ll add as an honorable mention that song #166 is “Lose Yourself”, by Eminem. I don’t have that, but I do have the Weird Al parody “Couch Potato”. So there you have it.

Entire song list report: Being home with the family is not conducive to listening to one’s iPod, so I took the week off from this. It’ll resume next week.

TPA announces its Texan of the Year for 2010

While this was a pretty lousy year for progressive politics in terms of election results, it was in many ways a great year for progressive achievements, from the passage of the Affordable Care Act to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Along the way, many individuals and groups distinguished themselves through their words and deeds. The Texas Progressive Alliance, as it has done since 2006, recognizes these people and their accomplishments through its annual Texan of the Year selection. This year, the TPA has named Fort Worth City Council Member Joel Burns for this honor. From our press release:

Burns, Fort Worth’s District 9 City Councilman, received international attention and acclaim in October after delivering a speech at a Forth Worth City Council meeting concerning suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign.

In his speech, Burns spoke eloquently and emotionally about his experiences as a teen facing bullying in Crowley because of his sexual orientation. Burns’ speech, which became an internet sensation, resulted in interviews on CNN, NPR’s All Things Considered, an in-studio interview with the Today Show’s Matt Lauer, and an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“Joel Burns’ speech did more to raise awareness of the difficulties LGBT youth in Texas face on a daily basis perhaps more than anything else this year,” said Vince Leibowitz, Chair of the Texas Progressive Alliance. “His courageous action in delivering this speech was worthy of recognition, and progressives everywhere should salute him,” Leibowitz continued.

Here’s the video, in case you haven’t seen it:

Joel Burns, we in the TPA salute you.

The TPA also honors Administrator for Region 6 of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Texas DREAMers as Honorable Mentions.

Armendariz was recognized for cracking down on polluters in Texas in spite of immense political pressure from state leaders and corporations. Armendariz issued the first Emergency Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order against a natural gas operator in Parker County which caused high levels of methane in private water wells.

The Texas DREAMers–students and activists involved in supporting the DREAM Act through peaceful protest and other means, were recognized for their work in Texas which has included everything from organizing phone banks to call and persuade U.S. Senators, to staging sit-ins and demonstrations at the offices of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The group has even staged hunger strikes in support of its efforts.

Armendariz and the EPA are of course also engaged in a huge struggle against basically the entire state government to actually enforce the laws that protect us from all kinds of pollution. As for the DREAMers, I must confess that I’m completely unable to comprehend why we wouldn’t welcome them with open arms. (For those of you who are about to say something about “getting in line”, please note that the line in question is now up to 22 years long. You think maybe we ought to do something about that?) We in the TPA stand with them in their fight to make our state and our country a better place. Our thanks and our congratulations to all our honorees.

Willingham documentary

From the Trib:

As you’re reading this, Steve Mims and Joe Bailey Jr. are putting the finishing touches onIncendiary, a new documentary about theCameron Todd Willingham case that focuses almost entirely on forensics — on the science behind arson investigations like the one that led to the Corsicana man’s arrest, conviction and execution following the death of his three small children in a 1991 house fire.

Mims and Bailey aren’t political activists; the former lectures in the University of Texas’ Department of Radio-Television-Film, while the latter is a graduate of UT’s law school. But they were so moved by an article about the Willingham case in The New Yorker that they decided to tackle one of the most controversial topics in the modern era of state’s criminal justice system.

Featured in the film are two arson science experts, Gerald Hurst and John Lentini, talking about the case and about forensics in general. Willingham’s original defense attorney, David Martin, also gets a lot of screen time — although, given his skepticism about any wrongdoing by the authorities, he could easily be mistaken for a prosecutor. Barry Scheck, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project (and best known as a member of O.J. Simpson’s criminal defense team), plays a leading role as well.

But the breakout performance is that of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who was appointed by Rick Perry to chair the Texas Forensic Science Commission just as the commission and its previous chair were inconveniently set to weigh in on the Willingham case during the gubernatorial campaign. Bradley is combative, bordering on hostile, from the moment he appears in Incendiary, both in his dealings with the press and with his fellow commissioners.

There’s an 8-minute preview at the Trib link, which is well worth your time to watch, plus a brief Q&A with the filmmakers. I look forward to seeing the finished product.

Amicus briefs filed in Galveston beach case

Good for you, Vince Ryan.

Harris County today joined other public agencies and activists in urging the Texas Supreme Court to reconsider a recent opinion that critics contend blocks public access to most beaches on Galveston island.

County Attorney Vince Ryan filed a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of the county and the Texas Conference of Urban Counties. The brief supports a request by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for a rehearing on a Nov. 5 decision he says amounts to the overturning of the state Open Beaches Act, which voters made part of the Texas Constitution last year.


Similar briefs have been filed by the city of Galveston, environmental attorney Jim Blackburn and former legislator A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, who helped write the Open Beaches Act. Kendall County was expected to file an amicus brief today.

So far all the amicus briefs filed since Nov. 5 support the attorney general, who is defending Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson in a lawsuit brought by San Diego attorney Carol Severance that led to the state Supreme Court decision.


Terry O’Rourke, first assistant Harris County attorney, said that every beach in Texas eventually will be hit by a storm.

“If you read the opinion as written, you are looking at the end of public beaches,” O’Rourke said.

The decision created private beaches on Galveston island and the frequency of storms eventually will render all public beaches private, O’Rourke says.

The vagueness of the decision allows beachfront property owners to point to the last storm and declare their beach private, Blackburn says in his brief.

I still don’t quite understand why the 2009 amendment that basically added the Open Beaches Act to the state constitution doesn’t moot this ruling, but clearly it didn’t, so here we are. I also still think that the best solution here is going to be a legislative one, perhaps another amendment, which ought to be doable given the support for overturning the Court’s decision from the likes of Patterson and Abbott. Someone will need to step up and sponsor a bill or joint resolution first, though.

A brief history of Houston-based political corruption

Nice overview of the political crime scene.

Houston’s political landscape is littered with careers wrecked or damaged by allegations of wrongdoing, and for watchers of the political scene, the sight of [County Commissioner Jerry] Eversole in cuffs likely rekindled memories of fabled transgressors of yore.

“Brilab,” Sharpstown, former City Councilman Ben Reyes and former County Commissioner Bob Eckels — all conjure images of the fallibility of politicians under temptation.

Rice University political science chairman Mark Jones attributed some of the corruption that has tainted local politics to the “freewheeling culture” that pervades the city and state. There is such interaction between businessmen and politicians, he said, that it does not seem strange when an elected official is treated to dinner or lunch.

“Then golf,” Jones said. “Then a luxury suite at the game. Then paying off a mortgage. … It’s a slippery slope.”

I should note that the Bob Eckels mentioned above is not the County Judge that preceded Ed Emmett, but his father. Most of the names and cases cited in this story will be familiar to anyone who’s lived around here for awhile, but it’s a good refresher anyway.

The story was of course inspired by the recent woes of Jerry Eversole, to which Rick Casey added a nicely stinging assessment of Eversole’s claim that the feds were criminalizing his friendship with Mike Surface.

Eversole’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, says, “It is not against the law to be friends (or) to do mutual things on behalf of friends.”

They’re right. Which makes me blue.

My friends are nice guys and gals, mainly.

But they never take me on expense-paid golfing trips to Arizona and New Mexico. Or to Las Vegas. Or South Carolina. Or San Antonio. Or Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. Or Reno.

Nor do my friends buy me thousands of dollars worth of guns.

And the last time I bought a house, not a single friend gave me a cashier’s check for $63,000 to help pay for it.

What’s more, none of my friends chipped in $27,000 for the landscaping.

I can’t remember the last time a friend bought me a thousand-dollar suit.

It’s my fault, of course. I’m not that good a friend to them.

I’m not in a position to vote for multimillion dollar contracts for them, or to appoint them to sports authority boards and such.


What now for Sylvia Garcia

This story about Sylvia Garcia’s last Commissioners Court meeting leads to the obvious question of what she might do next.

A former Houston city controller and an attorney who hasn’t practiced for more than 25 years, she’s still interested in seeking public office, perhaps trying to win back her courthouse job in 2014 or running for what is expected to be a newly drawn, Hispanic-majority congressional seat. (She ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 1992.)

She leaves office with close to $1 million in her campaign account, although most of that money can’t be spent on a race for Congress.

“I’m not ruling anything in, and I’m not ruling anything out,” she said. “In politics it’s all about window of opportunity. Sometimes some unusual or unforeseen turn of events changes things just overnight, so I’m just going to have to look at every opportunity that comes available and look at it closely and see if it’s a good fit.”

Would she consider running for mayor?

“I wouldn’t rule it out, but it has to be the right opportunity,” she said. “I support Mayor Parker and certainly wouldn’t even consider running against her, so that would require waiting five years, because I feel confident she’s going to get reelected two more terms. So again, I’ve made no decision; this was such an unexpected turn of events that I’ve not had time, quite frankly, to even focus on where I’m going to be even in the next 60 days.”

Greg deals with the “newly drawn, Hispanic-majority congressional seat” possibility, which to make a long story short is almost certainly an illusion. If Commissioner Garcia wants to run for Congress, it’ll almost certainly be either via a rematch against Rep. Gene Green, or waiting for Green to retire. I don’t know that I’d bet on that being any sooner than 2014.

Given that basically no one runs for a less prestigious office than the last one they held, which in this case would eliminate City Council, school board, and the Lege as possibilities, Garcia’s options if she really does want to run for something are somewhat limited. Running for her old seat means waiting four years, which is forever in political terms, and may mean gunning for something that has been made less Dem-friendly in the upcoming redistricting. It occurs to me, though, that there is an office available sooner than that which is of equivalent prestige and well suited to Garcia’s past experiences. I’m referring of course to Harris County Tax Assessor, which will be up for its normal four-year term in 2012. I feel confident that the field would be cleared for her if she chose to run for Tax Assessor – I love Diane Trautman, and in a just universe she’d be our Tax Assessor now, but I think it’s fair to say that after two tries, it’s time to consider other options – and with her campaign cash reserves, her presence on the countywide ticket would be a boon for the rest of the Democratic slate as well. Finally, Lord knows that Garcia will present a contrast sharp enough to cut diamonds against the clown that currently inhabits that office. This is such a no-brainer I’m surprised there isn’t already a movement for it. Who’s with me on this?

On a somewhat related note, it should be clear from this that the biggest beneficiary of the election that Garcia lost is Steve Radack, who now effectively controls two seats on the Court; if and when Jerry Eversole resigns, given that the Court will choose his replacement, we could be looking at a Court of Radack, two mini-Radacks, and El Franco Lee. Have I mentioned before that the most important local election for Harris County Democrats in 2012 will be the one against Radack? Well, this is me mentioning it again.

UPDATE: I received a call from Joe Stinebaker in Judge Emmett’s office to let me know that in fact Judge Emmett would select Eversole’s replacement if Eversole were to step down, not the Court. I apologize for the error, and I thank Stinebaker for the feedback.

The coming fight over class sizes

We’ve discussed the looming cuts to public education, in which the focus of the battle will be class size limits, which are currently mandated at 22 students per classroom. That was part of the sweeping 1984 overhaul of the education code that was spurred by Ross Perot, which included the no-pass no-play law. Research since then has shown a benefit to students resulting from the lower student/teacher ratios, though much of that research is now several years old.

Maintaining these class size limits is expensive, however, so as this DMN story reminds us, it’s a natural place for legislators to look to for cost savings. And it makes me wonder about something.

[Comptroller Susan] Combs, a Republican, renewed attention on the issue recently after recommending that lawmakers scrap the 22-student limit in kindergarten through fourth grade and switch to an average class-size standard of 22.

In practical terms, that means an extra three students per class on average in those five grades. The current average with the 22-pupil limit is 19.3 students per class, according to figures gathered by the comptroller’s office.

Combs, noting that many school superintendents support the idea, said the change would save an estimated $558 million a year – primarily through elimination of thousands of teaching jobs.


The class-size standard has been in place since the Legislature approved a landmark school reform law in 1984. Among the highlights and other results:

•The law included the no-pass, no-play rule, pre-kindergarten for low-income children, and the state’s high school graduation test. It was passed under the leadership of Perot and former Democratic Gov. Mark White.

•There is no doubt the 22-pupil limit is costly because every time a class in the five affected grade levels hits 23 or more students, a new class must be created with an additional teacher and classroom. One superintendent from the Houston area said each new class costs his district $100,000 to $150,000.

•The law allows school districts to get a state waiver if they can’t find enough teachers or have insufficient classroom space. The state rarely turns down waivers, and last year 145 districts received waivers that allowed larger classes at 548 elementary schools. The Dallas school district had waivers at 31 campuses.

Whether or not we think 22 is a magic number for class size limits – Rep. Rob Eissler has said that you don’t really see a benefit from smaller class sizes until you get considerably under 22 per class – there is broad agreement that student performance benefited from the 1984 reforms. I have yet to see any claims about what the effect of larger class sizes might mean, but it seems to me that with all the waivers that have been granted in recent years, there ought to be enough data to allow us to draw some conclusions. Why not commission a study to compare the districts that have received waivers to similar districts that have not, and see what it tells us? And if such a study has already been done, please show it to us. Why fly blind when we don’t have to?

Which leads to a second question. Given that we don’t necessarily know what the effect of undoing the 22:1 ratio will be, and given that school districts have been able to get waivers to that whenever they’ve needed to, why make a permanent change? Why not just suspend the rules related to getting waivers for two years, and let the school districts work it out as best they can? Because otherwise it sure looks to me like the goal here is to force school districts to fire a bunch of teachers – for which superintendents and school board members will be blamed, not the Lege – while using the discussion of the class size limit as a distraction. If the Republican intent is to increase unemployment, the least they can do is be honest about it.

Whatever happened to renaming UH-Downtown?

It’s been more than two years since regents at UH-Downtown first proposed changing the school’s name to something that didn’t include “UH” in it. An attempt to get a bill through the Lege in 2009 failed, in part to there not being an accepted alternative. Earlier this year, a consulting firm proposed a couple of possible new names, “City University” and “Houston City University”, but nobody liked them. With another legislative session about to begin, it’s looking like nothing will change again.

State Sen. Mario Gallegos, who graduated from UH-Downtown and represents the campus, said he will sponsor a bill if his colleagues in the Legislature think it’s a good idea.

“If they say no, then no,” said Gallegos, a Houston Democrat who said he has heard mixed opinions from other alumni. “There’s no use in filing a bill if my colleagues aren’t going to be for it.”

Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar, Democrats who represent the campus in the House, say they have yet to be sold on the idea.

“I haven’t been convinced that taking the name University of Houston off is advantageous to the University of Houston-Downtown,” Coleman said. “The rationale that has been given for a name change just doesn’t compute, in my book.”

Farrar said she understands the reasons the university is seeking the change.

“But my concern was to make sure it’s what the university community wanted to do,” she said. “I don’t think it would be successful without that support.”

UH-Downtown President William Flores and Carroll Ray, chairwoman of the UH board of regents, insisted the issue isn’t dead.

“We’re trying to develop a next step,” said Flores, who inherited the idea when he was hired last year.

It may not be dead, but it sure sounds moribund. I think it’s pretty clear that in the absence of a true consensus for one specific alternative, UH-Downtown will continue to be UH-Downtown. Which is fine by me – I kind of liked “Houston Metropolitan University”, but there’s nothing really wrong with “UH-Downtown”. There’s an old saying in baseball that sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make. Perhaps that applies here as well.

What today’s budget cuts will mean tomorrow

We know cuts are coming to public education and higher education. Let’s turn once again to Steve Murdock, the former State Demographer who is now a professor at Rice University, to hear what that will mean for Texas’ future.

Texas’ prosperity hinges on education. The numbers are troubling, however. The state ranks 36th in the nation, with just 71.9 percent of students graduating from high school, according to the U.S. Department of Education. African-American and Hispanic students are twice as likely to drop out as Anglo students. By 2040, at least 30 percent of Texas’ work force will consist of workers without a high-school diploma if current trends continue, Murdock says. “If we don’t close the gaps now, there’s going to be a significant reduction in household income later,” he says.

A high school dropout is more likely to earn poverty-level wages of about $14,500 a year. That’s at least $7,000 less than someone with a high school diploma. The mounting costs for social services and the prison system should worry state leaders. Nearly 75 percent of state prison inmates are high school dropouts. Every year’s worth of dropouts means a loss of $377 million in Medicaid, prison expenses and lost tax revenue, according to the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation.

Another challenge is enrolling more students in higher education. Hispanics trail other students, making up just 29 percent of total college enrollment. In 2000, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board created the “Closing the Gaps 2015” program, with the goal of enrolling 630,000 more Texans in college, including 5.7 percent of the Hispanic population, by 2015.

Enrollment is increasing, but slower than educators hoped. The agency admitted in its 2009 report that it had fallen behind on its goals to recruit more African-American males and Hispanics. One big hurdle is cost. Those who do have high school diplomas struggle to pay increasing tuition rates. More than 60 percent of students apply for student aid. But state-based grant and loan programs like the Texas Grant Program and B-On-Time Loan Program have run out of funding. With an estimated $24 billion state budget shortfall in 2011, it’s doubtful that those coffers will be replenished any time soon. For many, a four-year college degree is already out of reach.

The economic gap will continue to widen if more Texans don’t seek higher education degrees. A person with a college diploma can expect to make $1 million more on average in a lifetime than a person without a high school diploma, says economist Ray Perryman, president of the Perryman Group, a financial-analysis firm.


The state’s economic health in 2040 depends on whether its leaders today take a shortsighted approach to governing or choose to invest for the long term. With an estimated $24 billion budget shortfall this legislative session, lawmakers will be facing tough decisions that will have a ripple effect for future generations. “I hope that we don’t get into across-the-board cuts,” says Perryman. “When there’s budget cuts, education always seems to take it on the chin. We need some real leadership to prioritize our needs and make some tough decisions.”

If state leaders don’t make those tough decisions now, future generations could be less educated, less economically competitive, have higher levels of poverty and be in greater need of government assistance. It’s up to the state’s leadership and its people to reverse that course.

Sadly, this is the leadership we’ve got, and we all know what to expect from it. This will be Rick Perry’s legacy.

Deferred adjudication for DWI

There are thousands of drunk driving cases on district court dockets around the state. To try and help get them cleared out, a bill has been filed to allow first time offenders to get deferred adjudication.

First-time offenders could be acquitted of the offense if they complete supervision and treatment. If the offense were repeated, it would become grounds to boost future punishments.

“Generally we do not support deferred adjudication bills, but we are going to support this one,” said Bill Lewis, public policy liaison for the Irving-based nonprofit group MADD. “Right now, we are hearing that many cases are not getting prosecuted for DWI but for a bogus charge. We hope the practice of reducing charges will be reduced if this bill does indeed pass.”

The proposal, filed by Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless, marks a shift away from a long-standing notion in Texas that all drunken drivers should face fines and jail time. Deferred adjudication for such offenses was abolished in the state in the mid-1980s when opponents, including MADD, argued that prosecuting offices and judges were accepting the form of probation for repeat offenders.

Supporters say the plan could ease court backlogs by routing cases out of courtrooms, give prosecutors a new negotiating tool and remove the threat of jail that makes some first-timers refuse guilty pleas in DWI cases.

By the time a House legislative committee held a hearing on the issue in August, more than 122,000 misdemeanor DWI cases were pending in state district courts. Prosecutors argue they are too limited in the options they can offer first-time offenders.

“Our alternatives that we can offer have diminished such that our bargaining positions have weakened, and cases are backing up,” testified Richard Alpert, a 24-year Tarrant County prosecutor who has become a key figure in the fight against drunken driving.

The bill in question appears to be HB 189. My initial impression on reading this story was that it sounded like a good idea. But I’m not a defense attorney, and no one from the criminal defense bar was quoted reacting to Rep. Smith’s bill. Someone should have called Mark Bennett for an opinion, because that would have significantly changed the way this was presented:

What would deferred-adjudication probation add to defendants’ options, either in Harris County or elsewhere?

A deferred-adjudication probation is not, as the Chronicle article would have it, an acquittal. It cannot be expunged. In most non-DWI cases, deferred-adjudication probation has two advantages over straight probation: 1) it is not, for purposes of Texas criminal law (but is, for purposes of Federal sentencing and immigration law, among other things), a conviction; and 2) it can be sealed from public view with a petition for nondisclosure at some point after the probation is successfully completed.

Nondisclosure is important because of the opprobrium that attaches to many criminal convictions. Try renting an apartment with a felony drug offense on your public record; try getting hired when the boss finds out about your misdemeanor theft deferred. While deferred is not technically a conviction, there is nothing to stop private individuals from treating it as one, so they do.

But nondisclosure would be less important in DWI cases because the stigma of a DWI conviction is not nearly that of a crime involving dishonesty, violence, or even drugs. It would not be unimportant—there might be some employers reluctant to hire (or eager to fire) employees with DWI—but I’m betting that if deferred adjudication becomes available for DWI, nondisclosure will be unavailable for DWI (as it is for sex-offender-registration and family violence offenses, among others). So deferred adjudication will not provide an advantage to DWI defendants over straight probation.

What about the fact that a DWI deferred would not, for purposes of Texas criminal law, be a conviction? The only real effect of a deferred not being a conviction is that it is not available for enhancement, as a conviction would be, if the accused gets charged with something else. The supporters of DWI deferred have a plan to wire around that: “[I]f they do reoffend, it can be used to enhance their punishment,” says Tarrant County prosecutor David Alpert.

(Note: Mark linked to the Chron reprint of this story.) Doesn’t sound so appealing now, does it? Well, it likely would help clear out that backlog, but not in a way that is helpful to anyone facing a DWI charge. I think this bill has enough support from the usual suspects that it has a decent chance of passing, so it’s worth keeping an eye on it. Grits, who reacts favorably to the story, has more.

Killing the DREAM in Texas

Something else to look forward to.

State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington) has filed legislation that would abolish Texas law granting in-state tuition to certain undocumented college students. The 2001 law, written by then-state Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston), was a precursor to the federal DREAM Act recently defeated by GOP members of the U.S. Senate.

State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) said he would file legislation to abolish the law if it survives an ongoing legal challenge in Houston, according to a November story in theTexas Independent. At the time, Noriega said that if the law was repealed, “Essentially, we’d be stamping out hope. Frankly, as a Texan, I just don’t think that’s who we are.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 1403 into law in June 2001. The Texas Senate passed the bill with a final vote of 27-3 (with GOP Sens. Mike Jackson, Jane Nelson and Jeff Wentworth voting ‘nay’), and the Texas House passed the bill with a final vote of 130-2 (with GOP Reps. Will Hartnett and Jerry Madden voting ‘nay’).

Kleinschmidt’s HB 464 would tie a dependent student’s residency status to his/her parents’ domicile. According to the bill, “A person who is not authorized by law to be present in the United States may not be considered a resident of this state” to qualify for reduced in-state tuition.

A few points…

1. It cannot be said often enough: This is the team Aaron Pena decided to join. You own this now, Aaron.

2. One wonders if Rick Perry, who has generally not joined up with the Berman/Riddle xenophobia group, will have the cojones to veto this bill if it comes before him. I for one would not count on it.

3. Having said that, if the Senate maintains some form of the 2/3 rule, in whole or (more likely) in part by simply excluding voter ID legislation from it as they did in 2009, then perhaps Perry will be spared the decision. I suspect that would be his preferred option.

Howard files formal response to Neil’s election contest

Just before Christmas, Dan Neil filed an election contest that challenged the result of his race against Rep. Donna Howard in HD 48, in which Neil lost by 12 votes. Howard filed a response called “special exceptions” at that time, and now she has filed her official response to Neil’s contest.

Every allegation made by Republican Dan Neil “is either wrong under the law or has no factual basis,” Democratic state Rep. Donna Howard said today in her formal response to Neil’s contest to her narrow victory in the House District 48 election.

“I am still troubled by the lack of detail Mr. Neil has provided thus far,” Howard, D-Austin, said in a statement. “If his motives aren’t purely political, then he should have no problem answering questions about the allegations he has made.”

Also today, she filed a notice of intent to take Neil’s oral deposition.

Zach Vaughn, Neil’s campaign manager, said today that Neil “is perfectly willing to answer any questions.” Vaughn said that the campaign does not yet have all the information it needs from Travis County and has more research to do on information it received last week.

“She’ll get the details as we get the details,” Vaughn said of Howard. “We believe that once we get the information we originally requested, we’ll have proof of our case.”

That deposition, which is requested for January 4 at Buck Wood’s law office, ought to be fun. You can see Howard’s answer here and her deposition notice here. Among other things, Howard says that “In one glaring instance, Neil seeks to have ballots counted in this race which should not be counted but which, if counted, would increase Howard’s margin of victory from 12 votes to 38 votes.” Wonder what Neil’s answer to that will be.

In related news, Speaker Straus has appointed Rep. Will Hartnett to be the master of discovery for the contest. Hartnett was the master for the 2004 Heflin/Vo contest, and did a commendable job. I have no reason to doubt that he’ll do another good job this time around.

Teaching safe social networking skills

This seems like a good idea.

The all-boys San Antonio Academy has long used an internal e-mail system provided by a company called Gaggle. So when Gaggle launched the Social Learning Wall application this year, the private academy’s administrators jumped at the opportunity to train their students on safe and respectful social networking techniques. The social wall allows students to create profiles that can be viewed internally and be filtered and monitored for content.

“Does it not make sense for us to help prepare (students) for the world they’re already facing and help teach them to avoid pitfalls that could cost them dearly?” Head of School John Webster said after reflecting on reports of people who had lost jobs or marred reputations through inappropriate social networking.

The academy has about 350 students in pre-K through eighth grade. But only the 200 or so fourth-graders through eighth-graders are allowed to use the social wall, Webster said.


If students do get into trouble, Webster said there will be consequences. For example, a student may lose e-mail or social wall privileges for a week or two for spreading an inappropriate joke. But Webster said using the site is meant to be a learning experience where any missteps taken will be in the contained school environment.

Linda Gielen, the academy’s technology facilitator, monitors the site. Gielen said thus far she has only had to speak with students about such things as using too many exclamation points, rambling or typing in capital letters.

Frankly, just teaching proper use of the CAPS LOCK KEY makes this a worthwhile effort to me. I don’t know how practical this would be for a public school to attempt, but I’m glad to see someone is thinking about it nonetheless.

More non-specific cuts discussed: Film at 11

I have three things to say about this story about impending budget cuts to public higher education.

Colleges and universities expect double-digit cuts. Financial aid may be cut, too.

“There’s no way to get through this without somebody being impacted,” said Brenda Hellyer, chancellor of San Jacinto College.

Schools will react by increasing class sizes, cutting class sections and, maybe, offering fewer degree programs. Many schools will order layoffs or furloughs; the state’s two largest universities already have implemented early retirement programs for faculty.

Faculty members who still have jobs may have to teach more classes. Tuition will go up, even though governing boards are leery of dramatic increases.

And community colleges, which depend on property taxes for part of their budgets, will consider raising tax rates.

“If there are areas where we can be more efficient, we ought to do it, whether we’re talking about teaching loads or research loads,” said Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas and chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. “We don’t want systems that have too much bureaucracy and prove the perception that higher education is not as efficient as it can be.”

1. We have seen, and will continue to see over the next week or two, many stories that speculate about how this section of the state’s budget or that will be cut and by how much and what they’ll do about it. What all of these stories have in common is a distinct lack of specifics, both in terms of what types of things will get cut, and how much money will be trimmed out. Rep. Branch’s quote is an excellent illustration of this. This suggests to me that nobody who will be responsible for making these decisions – that is, Republicans – have a clear idea about what they will attempt to do. I believe this is partly because they haven’t fully grasped the magnitude of it – there’s a lot of denial out there about the size of the deficit, never mind the cause of it – partly because there was very little campaigning about anything specific related to the budget, and partly because the Republicans have boxed themselves into a corner by taking tax increases and potentially the Rainy Day Fund off the table. The first meeting of the Appropriations and Ways And Means committees are going to be a splash of cold water in the face for a lot of people.

2. Even without much in the way of specifics, I still get the impression that what is being talked around doesn’t really add up to much. I admit, this is hard to say for sure, given how vague and hand-wavey everything has been so far. But when you’re talking $25 billion, which is about a third of the state’s revenue, you can’t bridge that gap by little cuts here and there. I really don’t think these guys have any idea what they’re in for, and that’s just scary.

3. As with public education, one wonders how much the people in charge care about the end results. If all of the benchmarks that we’ve claimed to have been working to improve – test scores, graduation rates, college enrollment rates, and so forth – take a plunge after the Lege does its dirty work, how will we react? Will we accept that this was a bad policy decision to make and work to fix it, or will we frantically search for scapegoats to blame it all on? I don’t know about you, but I’d bet on the latter. Martha, who has one kid in college and another a year out, has more.

“Children of God”

You really need to read this Houston Press story about homeless students and how one HISD elementary school tries to deal with them.

Of the 800 kids at Grissom Elementary, 300 of them — or 37 percent — are classified as homeless (a number not reached until the end of the school year last year). And Grissom isn’t unique or even the school with the most homeless in the Houston Independent School District — that distinction probably goes to Ruby Thompson, which is tied into the Star of Hope family shelter.

Homeless doesn’t always mean kids are out on the street or living in a shelter. At Grissom, most have moved in with another family, whether friends or relatives — that’s called “doubling up.”

They can be classified as homeless while they’re still in their houses or apartments but have no utilities because the family can’t afford to pay for them. “You have the shell of the house, but you have no running water, no electricity; you’re basically camping in the house,” said Peter Messiah, head of the HISD Homeless Education Office.

Across the sprawling urban-suburban-rural district that is HISD, there are 3,000 kids identified as homeless, Messiah said. He predicts with confidence that actually there are a lot more with families too embarrassed to “self-identify,” to say they have no place to call their own.

At schools with heavy percentages of homeless kids, problems and needs occur that aren’t going to happen en masse at, say, a River Oaks or West U elementary.

Math specialist Paula Correa said it’s not unusual for students to come to school and tell her: “My dad has just been deported. My mom has to go back to Mexico, but I’m born here and I want to stay here.” In one case, the father had been deported twice, and the mother was left with seven children. Edwards put a note in teachers’ boxes asking for donations, and when they took them over, “They acted as if we’d brought Jesus to the house.”

Sometimes the nonacademic endeavors include combing out a girl’s hair in the morning when a depressed parent has abandoned the task or whisking someone off to the restroom for a quick scrub when personal hygiene has lapsed. A kid who shows up in shorts on a freezing day is taken to the counselor’s office, where Deborah Coleman dips into her closet and comes out with something warm.

“We have extra coats. We have extra food. We do a lot of work with the whole child and not just the classroom piece of the child,” said Principal Cynthia Smith.

They even teach elementary-age kids how to wash their own clothes in the sink at night.

It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Read it and see for yourself. Kudos to the Press for reporting on this.

Driver records available online

You know how you need to mail a request to get a copy of your driver’s record when you request to take a defensive driving course to get a ticket dismissed? Now you can save yourself a stamp and order it online.

“We are pleased to offer this new service, which is available 24/7 to our customers,” said Rebecca Davio, the [Texas Department of Public Safety]’s assistant director for driver licenses. “The convenience of ordering your driver record online and then printing it out yourself will save everyone time and money.”

Drivers can place their order using a credit card and their driver license, and then print out their record, which is available in a certified version suitable for submitting to a court for permission to take defensive driving, officials said. Cost is $12.

Go to and click the link to order driver record. There’s other stuff on there as well. Looks like a useful service, if you can ignore the creepy photo of Rick Perry in the top right of the page.

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 27

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes Santa Claus was good to you as it delivers the last blog roundup for 2010.


Don’t fall for it, Mr. President

I have two things to say about this.

Congressional Republicans are pronouncing President Obama’s proposal that the next Congress overhaul the country’s immigration laws as dead before arrival.

In his year-end news conference Wednesday, Obama said his biggest regret about the recent lame-duck session of Congress was the defeat of the DREAM Act, a measure that offered a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

“It is heartbreaking,” Obama said, as he talked about how such immigrants often realize they are without legal status only when they try to go to college or join the military. “That can’t be who we are. To have our kids, classmates of our children, who are suddenly under this shadow of fear through no fault of their own. They didn’t break the law – they were kids.”

Congressional Republicans said in interviews Thursday that their concerns about the measure remain strong, and both House and Senate GOP leaders said they would fight any attempt to legalize any of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country before the administration secured the nation’s southern border with Mexico.

“It is pointless to talk about any new immigration bills that grant amnesty until we secure the border, since such bills will only encourage more illegal immigration,” incoming House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said in a statement.

1. This is a trap. There is no amount of “border security” that will appease the likes of Lamar Smith. If you try to give him what you think he wants, he’ll just move the goalposts. Going along with this will generate far more ill will among the President’s supporters than good will among his detractors. Don’t fall for it. Keep pushing for a sane and compassionate comprehensive immigration reform bill and the DREAM Act instead, which will put pressure on the Republicans and cause fractures in their coalition. It’s the right thing to do, and will be a political winner.

2. I’m saying it again because it just can’t be said enough: This is the team Aaron Pena chose to play for. Lamar Smith, Ted Poe, Louie Gohmert – they’re all his peeps now.

A little nuclear waste in your stocking

There’s a reason why stories like this tend to appear just before a big holiday weekend.

Potentially sidestepping political obstacles, a commission overseeing radioactive waste disposal could decide in early January to open a radioactive waste dump in West Texas to 36 other states.

The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission will meet to decide whether Texas can import radioactive waste from outside Texas and Vermont. In a political and geographical peculiarity, the two states are the sole members of the compact, which grew out of federal laws encouraging agreements between states to dispose of the low-level waste.

The commission consists of six Texans — all named by Gov. Rick Perry — and two Vermonters.

The waste, which will be buried in concrete canisters, does not include spent nuclear fuel or waste from nuclear weapons. Most of it is material or hardware from nuclear power plants or syringes, protective clothing, glassware and rags from hospitals and academic labs. The vast majority of it, if sealed in a drum, would be safe enough to sit atop and will lose its radioactivity within a century.

Disposal of the waste could be worth billions of dollars, and the decision would benefit a single company, Waste Control Specialists , which is owned by one of Perry’s chief donors and is the sole company licensed by the Texas environmental agency to accept the low-level waste, at its facility in Andrews County.

The commission will meet Jan. 4, two days before Vermont’s governor-elect, who has expressed reservations about expanding the site to other states, takes office. The inauguration “was a consideration, but not the sole basis for choosing that date,” said commission Chairman Michael Ford.

The Perry sugar daddy in question is Harold Simmons, who’s graced him with over a million bucks in total. You just knew there’d be a sugar daddy prominently featured in this story, right? Putting aside all of the questions and concerns about this action, when was the last time our state government did something that didn’t directly benefit one or more of Perry’s bug supporters? Anyway, the Chron story is here, and it includes an email address – [email protected] – to which you may address any input you may have regarding this. Texas Vox has more.

Here comes the EPA

The EPA has seized control of the permitting process in Texas for refineries, power plants, and the like.

In a letter sent this week to state regulators, an EPA official wrote that 167 facilities in Texas – many of them power plants and oil refineries – would come under the rules.

As of Jan. 2, those plants will have to seek greenhouse-gas permits if modifications increase their greenhouse-gas emissions by 75,000 tons per year. New facilities that emit more than 100,000 tons annually become subject to the permit rule in July.

Texas has sued to stop EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, and [Governor Rick] Perry has accused the EPA of interfering in Texas’ successful air-permitting program. In June, the EPA rejected a separate Texas permit program that, according to federal officials, let some companies avoid certain federal clean-air requirements.

That action required those businesses to seek revised permits from the EPA.

By assuming control for greenhouse gas permits, the EPA said businesses would avoid the uncertainty that plagued the other clean-air program.

“We are simply now going to supplement the state actions to insure that we have an emission standard that … governs greenhouse gases,” EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy said Thursday. Permits “will be legally defensible. The industries will be able to rely on them and have certainty they are enforceable under federal law.”

If you’re downwind, you can probably smell the smoke now being emitted from Perry’s ears. Hope he’s got a permit for that. Anyway, see the Chron, Greenwire and Hair Balls for more, and my archives for some background. Needless to say, this will be fun to watch.

Spin insurance

Some things just defy parody.

If things go really wrong for the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority in the coming year, an insurer now will cover what the public agency spends on spin.

This new kind of insurance kicks in, according to a policy summary, when an event “has caused or is reasonably likely to result in adverse publicity.”

Examples of such an event include the indictment of a board member or the agency declaring bankruptcy. It does not cover the cost of the board member’s legal defense or the financial expertise needed to unwind a fiscal disaster. Instead, it pays up to $50,000 for explaining to the public what went wrong.

“Basically, this is a PR coverage,” said Bill Jones, whose W.M. Jones & Company sells the Sports Authority its liability insurance. The authority receives it at no cost.

The so-called “special event management” coverage can apply to crisis management expenses incurred on public relations, marketing and legal experts.

The question of whether the Sports Authority is the local government agency most in need of this type of coverage or not is left as an exercise for the reader. I got nothing.

Weekend link dump for December 26

Happy Boxing Day!

Not all regulatory agencies need to be adversarial.

The US Chamber of Commerce is truly vile. Why any local organization would want to be linked to them is beyond me.

No sexy time on your Kinect. Yet.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for this to happen.

They guided us with science.

A fascinating look at the future of the tech industry.

“Liberals should take a page from the Tea Partiers and wave their pocket Constitutions around and ask, what part of regulating commerce between the states don’t you understand?”

Sometimes, the kids are more mature than the grownups.

The decline and fall of John McCain, continued.

I guess I should worry about my photos on Flickr now.

Testing the Chrome OS netbook. I’m jealous.

First they came for the Methodists

There’s a reason it’s called whitewashing history.

Who would have guessed that Republicans would be such flaming hypocrites about paying federal employees?

It’s been five years since a federal court ruled that the teaching of “intelligent design” was unconstitutional.

Good for you, Shep Smith.

We really are all alike in some ways.

From the “What’s in a name?” department.

Is a fake Christmas tree better or worse for the environment than a real one?

Choose what game shows you audition for carefully.

This is how you respond to a complaint.

Pat Robertson is now pro-pot. Whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing is an interesting question.

It’s a bro’s world after all.

A great waitperson is a joy to behold.

The NCAA really is a mess.

Some other big accomplishments of the 111th Congress, which tend to get lost underneath the really really big accomplishments.

Are you ready for some tax reform proposals?

If you need help explaining how Santa does it to your kids.

Trying Eversole

The Chron wonders if the freshly-indicted Jerry Eversole can beat the rap.

That will depend on whether federal prosecutors can convince a jury that the gifts Surface gave Eversole and the actions the commissioner took that benefited Surface constitute conspiracy and bribery. The burden is on the prosecution to prove what legal observers variously call “a criminal state of mind” or “improper purpose.” In other words, that Eversole and Surface made a deal.

All the while, if Tuesday’s courthouse press conference pronouncements foreshadow a legal strategy, defense attorneys Rusty Hardin and Chip Lewis will be telling jurors that Eversole and Surface were motivated by affection, not avarice, and accusing the government of “criminalizing a 30-year friendship.”

“Bribery can be a little tricky to prove because it requires proof of a quid pro quo agreement,” said Sandra Guerra Thompson, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. “It’s not enough to prove gifts on day one and then something that the public official does on day two. There has to be proof of that agreement.”

Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin sees a high bar to clear: “Gifts between personal friends, even if one is a public official that deals with a business that a friend has are not only permissible, they’re completely lawful. Tying any gift to any specific action is another problem that I see.”

I’m sure all of that is true. I can’t help but think, however, that many people (myself included) had spoken about how hard it would be for the prosecution to convict Tom DeLay without any direct evidence. We know how that turned out. I know this isn’t how it’s supposed to work, but I have a feeling that if the government has a decent circumstantial case, a jury isn’t going to give a known miscreant like Eversole much benefit of the doubt. We’ll see how it goes.

A message from Metro

Spotted by me at the Smithlands light rail station:

Who knew that Muppets rode the light rail?

I believe this subject came up in my interview with Gilbert Garcia and Christoph Spieler but figured it deserved its own mention regardless. Expect the Board to explore further changes to the Q card program, including possibly bringing back day passes.

One more time, Merry Christmas, Mel Torme

Every year on Christmas Day, I link to my favorite Christmas story, which stars Mel Torme. Apparently, this story is so popular now that it gets ripped off a lot, which sure seems to be contrary to the Christmas spirit if you ask me.

Speaking of the Christmas spirit, you couldn’t find a better example of it than what Jenny Lawson, aka the Bloggess, recently demonstrated.

When Lawson offered $30 gift cards to the first 20 people to comment saying they needed help this Christmas, her readers chipped in to take things even further.

Through her blog, she connected 689 generous readers with 450 families requesting holiday help. Collectively, they spanned the globe, from the U.S. and Canada to Europe and Singapore, and came from across religious traditions — atheists, Christians, Jews and Muslims.

“For me, this renewed the feeling of Christmas, that there really is a Christmas spirit and that people are good in such amazing and deep ways,” said Lawson, whose daughter, Hailey, is 6. “On Christmas Day, when my daughter is opening her toys, I’ll think of all the people who were able to give their kids presents and didn’t have to say, ‘There is no Santa’ because they couldn’t afford it.”

Read the posts in question here and here. May we all feel as good about our own Christmases this year. See you tomorrow.

Katz’s finally kloses

An era comes to an end.

Marc Katz’s delicatessen on West Sixth Street is finally closing.

Katz, whose business M&M Katz Inc., has been mired in U.S. Bankruptcy Court since 2004, said his business is shutting down Jan. 2 after 31 years in operation.

“I have to go,” he said. “It has been 31 years. I want to leave while I am happy and suppliers and employees are taken care of. I just think it is time.”

Katz informed the 70 workers at the restaurant a few weeks ago that the restaurant would soon shut down.

“We rode so high for so many years. I just don’t want to do it anymore,” he said.


Katz said he will take a month off after the business closes to decide what he will do next.

“We are going to have a party on Jan. 2,” he said. “We expect a big crowd. We are going to have a time.”

And with that, Austin becomes ever so much less weird. At least we still have the Katz’s in Houston. This is their last Christmas at that location, so if this was part of your holiday tradition, better hurry up and get over there.

Special Friday video break: Dash away all

Once more with my favorite narration of “Twas The Night Before Christmas”:

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Friday random ten: The Top 500, part 6

Continuing on with the songs in my collection from the Rolling Stone Top 500 list.

1. Will You Love Me Tomorrow? – Carole King (#125, orig. The Shirelles)
2. Shake, Rattle & Roll – Bill Haley and The Comets (#126, orig. Big Joe Turner)
3. With Or Without You – U2 (#131)
4. Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who (#133)
5. Your Song – Rod Stewart (#136, orig. Elton John)
6. Eleanor Rigby – Ray Charles (#137, orig. The Beatles)
7. I Saw Her Standing There – The Beatles (#139)
8. Purple Rain – Big Daddy (#143, orig. Prince)
9. Rock Lobster – The B-52’s (#146)
10. Me and Bobby McGee – Modern Barbershop Quartet (#148, “orig.” by Janis Joplin)

The MOB has an excellent version of “Rock Lobster” in its library, and I know we’ve recorded it, but I don’t have that recording even though I’m quite certain I did at one point. Oh, well. Other than noting that I love barbershop quartet music, I don’t think I have anything else to add.

Entire song list report: Started with “Sleepyhead”, by Passion Pit. Finished with “Smackwater Jack”, by Carole King, song #4788. That’s an appropriately holiday-week-shortened 45 tunes. Now go get ready to listen to the prancing and pawing of some little hooves, and enjoy the rest of your Christmas Eve.

Preparing to implement Prop 1

Proposition 1, originally known as Renew Houston but now apparently dubbed “Rebuilding Houston”, was passed by voters last month, which means that the Mayor and City Council must come up with a way to raise the $125 million per year for the dedicated fund. Mayor Parker has laid out the basic steps for making this happen.

The 20-year, $8 billion infrastructure program will be paid for with property taxes, developer impact fees and drainage fees ranging from $5 to $10 a month for an average Houston homeowner.

Only properties receiving drainage services will pay drainage fees, and only those properties that state law exempts from a such fees will escape the Houston charge. State law exempts state government facilities, as well as institutions of higher education, including Rice University and the city’s other private institutions.

“We are following the state statute,” Parker said. “Somebody got a legislator’s ear, and they exempted institutions of higher learning. I don’t know who it was and which legislator did it, but that’s just a factor we have to put in.”

Churches will not be exempt. The mayor noted that eight of the state’s 10 largest cities have drainage fees; none of the eight exempt churches. For cities with a fee, only Austin and Lubbock exempt schools, while El Paso has a 10 percent discount for schools.

“I have yet to talk to any entity where there is any evidence that (the ordinance) will financially cripple that institution,” Parker said in response to a question about opposition to Proposition 1 from churches and other nonprofit institutions.

According to the mayor’s timeline, City Council will vote on a fee rate for the city’s 575,000 property owners by March or April. The city also has to develop a drainage billing process, most likely piggy-backing on water bills. Engineering studies will identify the greatest needs and a schedule for meeting them.

The information about what other cities with drainage fees do about churches and schools is news to me. Would have been nice to know before the election, when HISD was pitching a fit about it, but better late than never. I’ll say again, to me the drainage fee is basically no different than your water bill, and no one claims that schools and churches should be exempt from that. Won’t stop them from trying, of course, and there’s a non-trivial chance they’ll prevail, so we’ll see what happens.

Where the state cuts meet the local budgets

Via Grits, an editorial in the Longview News-Journal of interest:

Routine mental health services were the first to fall during the 2003 budget crisis, which was preceded by pre-session cuts the fall and summer of 2002.

East Texas mental health professionals, judges, law enforcement and elected officials tell us such cuts already have curtailed routine services with demonstrated success keeping patients faithful to their prescription drug regimens. That, in turn, keeps them from falling into the behaviors that land them in jail or emergency rooms where costs are at their highest.

Effectively mandating such inefficient use of resources certainly is not what we consider a conservative approach from state lawmakers. Local officials and agencies, seeing the problem the state has pushed onto them, are cobbling together innovative programs to fill the gap, but they acknowledge problems remain.

So we were pleased to hear Rep.-elect David Simpson, a Longview Republican among 22 freshman GOP legislators voted into office this fall on a tea party platform of smaller government, tell us such programs would be low on his list of targets for further cuts.

“The weak, the poor are the last place to look,” Simpson told the News-Journal’s Glenn Evans. “And we don’t want to just push down the cost. If we cut them back, we’re just pushing it down” to local governments.
Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Tyler Republican, agreed.

“We do not need to shove these costs to another level of government,” Eltife told Evans. “At one time, cuts were made to mental health, and (patients) all showed up in emergency rooms.”

They show up in the jails, too. Greg notes that the last line of defense against cuts to state mental health services may be the county judges, which includes a fair number of newly-elected Republicans. Surely these folks are aware of the stakes, and the consequences for their own bottom lines. Go back and listen to my interview with Ed Emmett, as we discussed this very subject. Being a Republican who wanted to see more Republicans get elected, Emmett downplayed concerns about what the state might do to mental health services. That’s fine – I’d have expected an equally partisan answer from a Democratic County Judge – but now that all those Republicans have been elected, it’s on him and his colleagues to make sure they don’t turn around and screw them and their counties next spring. Which they will do, unhesitatingly and unrepentantly, in the absence of any meaningful pushback. I look forward to seeing that happen, since my tax dollars are on the line, too.


I’m always amused by stories like this.

From casual get-togethers to catered affairs, the once-common act of replying to invitations has become an often lost and much lamented cause.

Parenting and bridal blogs seethe with tales of tracking down invitees like festive fugitives. Electronic invitation systems try to streamline head counting but sometimes just turn into a public display of ambivalence (Yes: 2. No: 15. Maybe: 147). Newspaper columns have bewailed the death of the R.S.V.P., and a popular gauge of generational shifts has declared that today’s college students don’t even know what the phrase means.

As the holiday party season swings into gear, it’s time to be merry, at least until you have to decide whether to make deviled eggs for four dozen or four.


While there don’t appear to be solid statistics on a decline of (who’d respond to a survey about not responding?), here’s a signpost: Last year’s Beloit College Mindset List included R.S.V.P. among cultural touchstones turned fossils from a freshman’s perspective.

The list, compiled anecdotally by Beloit English professor Tom McBride and retired college spokesman Ron Nief, proclaimed that the class of 2013 has “never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.,” though some students say otherwise.

R.S.V.P. rates have become enough of a sore point to engender op-ed grousing in newspapers including the New York Times, where novelist Rand Richards Cooper in March described trying to lasso responses for a book reading that entailed food service at a restaurant. He got some sympathy from online commenters, but “the overall sentiment was: ‘You’re just going to have to adjust your expectations,’ ” says Cooper, 50, who lives in Hartford, Conn.

I’m too young to be a Baby Boomer and too old to be one of Those Damn Kids, so I don’t know how applicable my experiences are to the generational spectrum. For what it’s worth, we got a very solid head count for our wedding in 1998, with only a few people needing to be prodded for a response; in most of those cases. More recent experiences – my 40th birthday party in 2006, and birthday parties for the girls – have been similar. Maybe we’re just lucky, I don’t know.

I will say this: When we use Evite, we don’t get more than a handful of “Maybe” responses. The biggest group is invariably those who have not yet responded. As a general rule, I count on the people who don’t respond to not attend, and that is almost always the case. I’m rather surprised that the article didn’t mention the fact that to a lot of people, “RSVP” seems to mean “only reply if the answer is Yes”, and that that seems to apply to many folks in the over-50 crowd, too. You can gnash your teeth and write heartfelt letters to Miss Manners about that if you want, but I think the better advice is to adjust your expectations as noted, and plan accordingly. If that doesn’t work out – if your guest list includes too many people whose attendance doesn’t correlate to their response or lack thereof – then the standard Miss Manners solution of adjusting your guest list for future events is still your best strategy.

Texas blog roundup for the week of December 20

The Texas Progressive Alliance is tracking reports of sugar plum sightings as it brings you this week’s blog roundup.


Special Thursday video break: It’s hard out here on an elf

The Elf’s Lament, by the Barenaked Ladies:

Thanks to Ezra for the link.

Civil rights complaint against Texas curriculum

This ought to be interesting.

Two civil rights organizations are seeking a federal review of public school education in Texas, accusing state school administrators of violating federal civil rights laws after curriculum changes approved earlier this year by the Texas Board of Education.

The request to the U.S. Department of Education made by the Texas NAACP and Texas League of United Latin American Citizens on Monday contended that the curriculum changes passed in May “were made with the intention to discriminate” and would have a “stigmatizing impact” on African-American and Latino students.

“The State of Texas is failing to provide many of its minority students with equal educational opportunities,” documents sent to the federal department said.

The request, signed by Gary Bledsoe, president of the state NAACP, and Joey D. Cardenas Jr., state director of Texas LULAC, asked that implementation of the curriculum changes and new standardized tests be stopped for being racially or ethnically offensive or historically inaccurate.

Besides the curriculum complaint, they accused the state, the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Board of Education of “miseducation” of minority students, disparate discipline for minority students, using accountability standards to impose sanctions on schools with high numbers of minority students and rules leading to underrepresentation of minorities in gifted and talented school programs.

That was an AP story; here’s the Chron version. Here’s a press release and a talking points document. This is not a lawsuit, but could possibly turn into one. I wish I could show you the documents they presented, but neither the Texas NAACP nor the Texas LULAC websites had anything relevant. I have no idea what if anything may come of this, but I look forward to seeing whatever does happen. The DMN has more.