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January 21st, 2011:

Another complaint filed against Keller

This ought to be interesting.

A civil rights group is asking the state to revoke the law license of a judge who has been a lightning rod in debates over the death penalty.

The Austin-based Texas Civil Rights Project filed a grievance Wednesday with the State Bar of Texas against Justice Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, saying she is unfit to retain her license to practice law. Records show Keller has been licensed since graduating from SMU’s law school in 1978.

The group alleges she is untrustworthy and dishonest, citing:

A review by the Texas Ethics Commission that found she failed to disclose several sources of income, as required by law.

Her refusal in 2007 to keep the court open after 5 p.m. at the request of lawyers drafting an appeal on behalf of death row inmate Michael Richard, who was executed that evening.

Statements she made in a federal lawsuit filed by Richard’s widow that purportedly contradict what she told the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Well, yeah. All of these things are true. I don’t have any particular reason to think the State Bar will hold her accountable, but what the heck. Having gotten off on a technicality before, I’m convinced she’s made of Teflon. Let’s just say I don’t have my hopes up for this.

Friday random ten: The top 500, part 10

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

1. All The Young Dudes – Billy Bragg (#253, orig. Mott The Hoople)
2. I Can See For Miles – The Who (#258)
3. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley (#259, cover of Leonard Cohen)
4. Sail Away – Randy Newman (#264)
5. Sunday, Bloody Sunday – U2 (#268)
6. Sloop John B – Lager Rhythms (#271, orig. The Beach Boys)
7. Somebody To Love – Unknown (#274, orig. Jefferson Airplane)
8. Born In The USA – Bruce Springsteen (#275)
9. Money (That’s What I Want) – The Beatles (#288, orig. Barrett Strong)
10. Can’t Buy Me Love – The Beatles (#289)

To me, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” is a top-ten all-time song. I have no idea why Rolling Stone rated it this far down on the list. Yes, I somehow have a version of “Somebody To Love” whose artist is unknown to me. No, I don’t know how that came to be. As for “Hallelujah”, for which the Buckley cover and not the Cohen original is on the RS list, I’ve linked before to this essay about the song’s evolution from the Cohen original to one of the most-covered and used-by-TV-and-movies songs around, but apparently the domain on which that appeared is now offline. Thankfully, someone created and uploaded a document of that post, so you can still read it. Which you should if you haven’t before, it’s well worth it.

Entire song list report: Started with “Stolen Car”, by Bruce Springsteen. I apparently have two versions of this song, one from “The River” and the other from “Tracks”. This is the sort of thing you learn about your collection when you play it all in alphabetical order. The version from “The River” is listed first, so it’s what I began with. Finished with “Sukiyaki”, by Big Daddy, song #5103, for 63 tunes this week. Among them were the five movements of the Suite of Old American Dances, by Robert Russell Bennett, performed and recorded by the Trinity University Wind Symphony circa 1987, which included yours truly on the alto saxophone. Thankfully, the other, more talented, members of the ensemble largely succeeded in drowning out my contribution. What are you listening to this week?

Defining “emergency” down

Governor Perry finds a few more “emergencies” for the Lege to deal with.

Today, Gov. Rick Perry added two more issues, including controversial voter ID legislation, to his list of “emergency items” that legislators can begin deliberating on right away instead of waiting until after the first 60 days of the session.

He also wants legislators to get cracking on legislation encouraging an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring the federal budget be balanced. Already on the “emergency items” list are reforming eminent domain laws and abolishing sanctuary cities.

I understand that he was going to include an item about “finding the damn remote for the TV”, but then someone reminded him that his wife had confiscated it because his channel-surfing annoyed her. Hey, it’s no less urgent than anything else he’s identified so far.

There’s nothing to stop the GOP from finally getting the voter ID legislation it’s been dreaming about since 2005, and there’s no point in noting how stupid the whole thing is any more. If you believe that swarms of illegal aliens are going from precinct to precinct casting ballots in the name of dead people and fictional characters in an effort to throw elections to the Democrats – except, one presumes, in 2010 – there’s nothing I can say that will change your mind. Naturally, the Senate will take it up first thing Monday, because who knows how many elections those illegal aliens could steal if they wait any longer. As for the balanced budget nonsense, beyond the economic illiteracy of the idea, I will simply note that for some reason, this was not considered an emergency in 2003, 2005, or 2007. I will leave it to you to decide why that may be. Juanita and Abby Rapoport have more.

UPDATE: Harold brings some quality snark to the issue. You will no doubt be delighted to know that after declaring this emergency, Rick Perry jetted off to Vegas to sell some books and hobnob with the swells. Because that’s what leaders do in emergencies.

UH gets a boost in its rankings

Good news for UH:

The University of Houston’s quest to become the state’s next top tier university — a designation that would put it alongside Rice University, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University — received a major boost Tuesday.

The latest rankings from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching move UH to its highest category, for universities with “very high research activity.”

That ranking is updated every five years, based upon criteria including research expenditures, number of doctorate degrees awarded and the size of the university’s research staff.

UH previously ranked in Carnegie’s second tier, for “high research activity.”

Rice, UT-Austin and A&M are the only other Texas universities on the list, which is considered an indication of Tier One status.

That’s a nice accomplishment, which is the result of a lot of work. My congratulations to UH for achieving it, and my best wishes for completing the journey to full-fledged Tier One status.

The bad news:

[E]ven if UH were to qualify for the Tier One funding this year, it and other public colleges and universities are likely to sustain cuts — maybe significant ones — in basic state support for higher education.

That’s because the state is facing a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall, and higher education is expected to be one of the main targets for cuts.

[UH President Renu] Khator acknowledged concerns that Tuesday’s announcement could be interpreted as a sign UH doesn’t need additional money from the state.

It does, she said, and the Carnegie designation proves that it will use it wisely.

“We have shown the state that the investment is worth it,” she said.

Sadly, the state isn’t interested in making any investments right now. Dan Patrick’s property tax cuts don’t pay for themselves, you know. Better luck next biennium.

Closing loopholes

From the inbox, from Rep. Mike Villarreal:

Rep. Villarreal announced legislation to close a $20 million corporate tax giveaway, citing it as an example of how the state’s outmoded tax system created the current fiscal crisis.

“With the state’s fiscal crisis threatening our ability to educate our children, there is no excuse for wasting money on corporate tax loopholes,” said Rep. Villarreal.

The bill, HB 658, would eliminate an obscure tax refund provided to businesses that receive property tax breaks from cities or counties. The Legislature established the refund in 1995 as a temporary way to reimburse companies after the state ended their school property tax abatements. However, the state never eliminated the refund. As a result, new companies that were never “victims” of the elimination of the school district tax breaks continue to sign-up to receive compensation if they have city and county tax abatements.

“State leaders have failed to take responsibility for ending corporate tax loopholes, creating the current financial crisis that threatens funding for our schools,” explained Rep. Villarreal.

The text of the bill is here. Given the massive, job-reducing impact of the Pitts budget, it seems to me we can ask a few corporations to give up a “temporary” tax break that was supposed to have expired years ago to help mitigate that just a teeny bit.

Houston: A nice, cheap place to visit

According to CultureMap, our fair city is among the Top 10 Budget Travel Destinations for 2011. What do the folks at Budget Travel have to say about us?

Why in 2011: Houston is home to Texas’s biggest shopping mall at 2.2 million square feet; 56,000 acres of green space; and the third most Fortune 500 companies in the country, but when it comes to prices, the U.S.’s fourth-largest city is all about scaling down. Hotel rates have dropped 5 percent since 2009 and four-star rooms are going for $96 according to a recent Hotwire report. And while the city has 8,000 restaurants and a growing culinary scene—local restaurateurs Bryan Caswell and Monica Pope both snagged Best Chef nominations from the James Beard Foundation—good grub doesn’t require a splurge. The typical meal in Houston runs $32.50, more than $2.50 cheaper than the national average. Plus, the city is flexing its cultural muscle (the Houston Zoo just unveiled its African Forest exhibit), and encouraging tourists to explore to their heart’s content with the Houston CityPASS, which offers access to any combination of six attractions—Space Center Houston, Houston Aquarium and Museum of Fine Arts included—for $39 (a bargain when you consider that a similar pass goes for anywhere from $64 in San Francisco to $79 in New York).

Best time to go to Houston: The best odds for T-shirt weather and minimal rain are in late spring (April, May) and mid-autumn (October, November), but even in January, the coldest month, temperatures rarely dip below 63 degrees.

I presume they mean that the daytime high rarely dips below 63 in January; anyone who took their advice and traveled here last week was probably shivering miserably and cursing under their breath. Of course, if they’d flown in from anywhere north of here, it had to look pretty decent in comparison. Be that as it may, it’s always nice to get a little positive press.