Friday, January 30, 2009

GOP searches for relevance *update*

They won't be able to find it with a mirror and both hands:

Who am I? Why am I? Where am I going?

So very, very much for the Republicans to ponder in this Winter of the Democrats' Contentment. So many questions. Even the reliable color scheme has gone blurry. Isn't that big-shot GOP strategist Alex Castellanos swirling Republican red with Democrat blue, and coming up with a Washington consulting shop called -- heavens! -- "Purple?" Why, yes.

"Sit tight," the new firm's Web site says. "We are still mixing the colors."


"We're in this rebuilding time," Monica Notzon, a Washington-based Republican fundraiser, helpfully explained this month. "Trying to figure out who we are."

It is into this new world order, this Washington version of an existential whorl, that a steadfastly loyal group of Republicans descend this week, skidding into an iced-over landscape and holing up at the Capital Hilton beginning yesterday for a four-day winter meeting of the Republican National Committee. (Not to be missed on the restorative agenda: a "Reboot the RNC" open house.) They've themed the whole get-together "Republican for a Reason," and left it at that.

"Republican for a reason?" says Stephen Scheffler, a committeeman from Iowa, pausing before a banner carrying the slogan. "I don't know what that means."

Why, it means obstruction and blockage. It means they are against American economic recovery because not a single one of them voted for an American economic stimulus plan. It means they don't want torturers in the past administration prosecuted, and it means they still hate France.

Contenders for the RNC slot include former Ohio vote suppressor Ken Blackwell, and and the Great State's very own Tina Fish of Texas, who promise more kow-towing to the extreme right-wing.

I think that's going to work out real well:

The more conservative, partisan, and strident their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base -- but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself.

No matter how miserably the GOP may fail at a comeback nationally, I would imagine that the freaks here in Texas who keep electing them will remain at least ten years behind the times.

: Annnnnnnnnnd it's Michael Steele.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Limbaugh found dead, thousands commit suicide

Popular right-wing radio host and titular head of the Republican party Rush Limbaugh was found dead tonight in his home of an apparent heart attack.

Preliminary results indicate a prescription drug overdose aggravated by Limbaugh's morbid obesity. Several empty bottles of the prescription drugs Viagra and Oxycontin were found littering the scene.

An attending coroner said that Limbaugh had ingested enough medication "to kill Elvis ten times over", and admitted to having never seen such a high level of the drugs in any human being. Limbaugh was found in an upright position on his $743,000 solid gold, extra-large commode, with a microphone in one hand. (The toliet had recently been acquired from former Texas House speaker Tom Craddick, who previously had it installed in the plush living quarters afforded the head of the Lone Star State's legislative body.)

As initial reports of Limbaugh's demise hit the airways, thousands of his devoted listeners began to take their own lives in various gruesome ways, many leaving behind suicide notes indicating that they simply couldn't go on without their daily 3 hours of right wing propaganda five times a week.

Hundreds of mortuaries across the nation are overflowing with deceased dittoheads, and emergency rooms are full of botched suicides and hundreds of 'walking dead' Limbaugh devotees, all of whom seem to be in a semi-catatonic state. Numerous accounts from around the nation report that conservatives are walking into heavy traffic, into the sea, off of cliffs and high buildings, and killing or injuring themselves in bizarre mass suicides from copycat drug ingestion to group shootings.

Law enforcement agencies in all fifty states are urging citizens to be on the lookout for the large numbers of the radio host's listeners wandering the streets of America, trying to take their own lives by any means available.

"Obviously anyone who looks or behaves like a zombie is to be considered a Rush Limbaugh fan, but other indications are a blank stare, profuse drooling and speaking in gibberish", said Sergeant David Scroggins of the Houston Police Dept.

Hundreds of bodies of dead and rotting dittoheads clutter the streets around the various radio studios across the country from which the deceased entertainer's radio show was broadcast, and more are stumbling to the scenes in various stages of catatonia, leaving traffic at a standstill and overwhelming the makeshift morgues popping up along the streets. "I haven't seen anything like this since those Jim Jones cultists drank the Kool-Aid," said HPD Captain Leon Jones.

Funeral services pending at this time, but preparations are being made to dig the largest grave in history to inter Limbaugh near one of his favorite places, the parking lot of the Denny's in Palm Beach, Florida where he was rumored to have acquired the drugs that took his life from his former housekeeper.

Notable deceased fans who have been identified to date include former Texas congressman Dick Armey, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, and former White House staffer Mary Matalin.


Too bad it's just satire, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike 1932 - 2009

Endowed with an art student’s pictorial imagination, a journalist’s sociological eye and a poet’s gift for metaphor, John Updike — who died on Tuesday at 76 — was arguably this country’s one true all-around man of letters. He moved fluently from fiction to criticism, from light verse to short stories to the long-distance form of the novel: a literary decathlete in our age of electronic distraction and willful specialization, Victorian in his industriousness and almost blogger-like in his determination to turn every scrap of knowledge and experience into words.

It is as a novelist who opened a big picture window on the American middle class in the second half of the 20th century, however, that he will be best remembered. In his most resonant work, Mr. Updike gave “the mundane its beautiful due,” as he once put it, memorializing the everyday mysteries of love and faith and domesticity with extraordinary nuance and precision. In Kodachrome-sharp snapshots, he gave us the 50’s and early 60’s of suburban adultery, big cars and wide lawns, radios and hi-fi sets, and he charted the changing landscape of America in the 70’s and 80’s, as malls and subdivisions swallowed up small towns and sexual and social mores underwent a bewildering metamorphosis.

Mr. Updike’s four keenly observed Rabbit novels (“Rabbit, Run,” 1960; “Rabbit Redux,” 1971; “Rabbit Is Rich,” 1981; and “Rabbit at Rest,” 1990) chronicled the adventures of one Harry Rabbit Angstrom — high school basketball star turned car salesman, householder and errant husband — and his efforts to cope with the seismic public changes (from feminism to the counterculture to antiwar protests) that rattled his cozy nest. Harry, who self-importantly compared his own fall from grace to this country’s waning power on the global stage, his business woes to the national deficit, was both a representative American of his generation and a kind of scientific specimen — an index to the human species and its propensity for doubt and narcissism and self immolation.

He wrote about the mundane, and underneath his pen it became spectacular.

“I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles, if I had to,” he told The Paris Review in 1967. “The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.”

His essays and criticism alone filled more than a dozen volumes, and ranged from “Golf Dreams: Writings on Art” (1996) to “Just Looking: Essays on Art” (1989) and “Still Looking: Essays on American Art” (2005) to “Self-Consciousness: Memoirs” (1989) to his famous piece on the baseball star Ted Williams’s last game, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” (1977), which first appeared in The New Yorker on Oct. 22, 1960.

While his vast output of poetry tended toward light verse, in “Midpoint and Other Poems” (1969), the title work undertakes a self-examination at age 35, comically combining a homage to past great poets, autobiography and experimental typography in what the author called “a joke on the antique genre of the long poem.”

The poem concludes:

Born laughing, I’ve believed in the absurd,
Which brought me this far; henceforth, if I can,
I must impersonate a serious man.

As his fiction matured, Mr. Updike’s prose grew leaner and more muscular, and his novels waxed more exotic in form, locale and subject matter, especially in “The Coup” (1978), set in an imaginary African country; “Brazil” (1994), a venture in magic realism; “Toward the End of Time” (1997), whose story occurs in 2020, following a war between the United States and China; “Gertrude and Claudius” (2000), about Hamlet’s mother and uncle, and “The Terrorist” (2006), a fictional study of a convert to Islam who tries to blow up the Lincoln Tunnel.

Godspeed to one of the great American authors.

The demise of Jared Woodfill (?) *update*

Perhaps exaggeration, but Alan Bernstein passes it along anyway:

Smarting over their party's losses in the November election in Harris County, some local Republican precinct chairmen are poised to try to restructure party leadership, effectively deposing party chairman Jared Woodfill -- tonight.

Precinct leaders meet at 7 p.m. at the Houston Community College campus on the West Loop, and the show is free and open to the public.

Restive GOPers will try to get the assemblage to create a seven-member steering committee to set a new course for the party and then yield to whomever is elected party chairman in the county's March 2010 primary.

They allege that under Woodfill, the party failed to coordinate effectively with like-minded folks in adjacent counties, to raise enough money to run party operations, to recruit enough candidates for public office and to expand the party's voter base, among other things.

Woodfill has been preaching some of the same goals: expand the party's appeal to new voters; use new technologies to spread the word. But he's the one who was in charge when the party lost two-dozen judgeships and other local seats in November in the face of a Democratic vote wave that was generated by President Obama's candidacy, scandals involving local GOP officials (as depicted here by Democrats) and other factors.

I'll believe it when I read about it, Alan. And I'm standing by ready to update the news here when you report it.

Update: Kevin Whited, in the comments to the above, links a Twit who reported that Woodfill repelled the overthrow attempt. Alan followed shortly after with this:

The Rev. Gene Pack prayed at the start of tonight's 7 o'clock Harris County Republican leadership meeting for blessings upon party chairman Jared Woodfill "in these times of rebellion."

When the meeting was adjourned after 9:30, Woodfill's critics hadn't even tried to introduce a resolution that .. would have essentially taken away much of his authority.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pre-Super Week Wrangle

It's the first Monday of the new Obama Administration, and that means it's time for another edition of the Texas Progressive Alliance Weekly Round-Up.

Would you like a Cheeseburger in Paradise made from Texas Black Angus raised on drilling waste? Get yours at Bluedaze: Drilling Reform for Texas. Served up by TXsharon.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wonders why John Cornyn is dropping poo in our collective punch bowl. Why be reasonable when you can be a Republican?

WhosPlayin was glued to the TV all day Tuesday, popping the cork on champagne at 11 AM. But ultimately there were more important things.

jobsanger thinks it was wrong for federal and state representatives to threaten the El Paso city council with cutting off state and federal funds if they passed a resolution asking the government to reconsider the failed "war on drugs" in Legislators Threaten El Paso Council.

At McBlogger, we're all about things that make your taco go POP!

Off the Kuff commented on the actions of the State Board of Education in which efforts by religious conservatives to weaken science education were (mostly) thwarted.

John Coby at Bay Area Houston has posted how much money Bob Perry has donated in 2008.

Gay divorce comes to Texas once again, forcing the hand of the judicial system to do what is right in civil law. The Texas Cloverleaf examines the case in Dallas.

Neil at Texas Liberal inquires about Barack Obama's urban policy.

The Texas Congressional GOP delegation is still voting to deny poor children their health insurance, and John Cornyn continues acting like a massive bleeding hemorrhoid. It's just a gambit to establish himself as the conservative foil to President Obama, and perhaps presage a White House bid of his own in 2012. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs has the bloody details.

BossKitty at TruthHugger illustrates how Homeland Security can justify any risk. All euphemisms aside, taking the most lethal pathogens in the US arsenal into America's heartland and breadbasket seems suicidal. Plum Island to Manhattan - Pathogens On The Move. Instead of taking researchers to the lethal experiment, they are placing the experiment among us.

Burnt Orange Report formalizes and announces its Right to Respond Policy.

Though the Three Wise Men have been as critical of Israel's actions in Gaza as anyone, we're as quick to point out -- as historian Mark LeVine makes clear -- that Hamas' embrace of violence hasn't exactly helped the cause of Palestinian self-determination either.

Vince from Capitol Annex takes a look at Houston mayor Bill White's campaign finance reports and notes that White is spending money from his municipal campaign account on his race for U.S. Senate.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A sad report on Galveston and Chambers County

From Bill King, in an e-mail entitled "Driving Bolivar":


... Currently, there are about 38 persons confirmed to have been killed by the Hurricane Ike with about 40 others still missing. The governor's office estimates the total economic impact of Hurricanes Ike and Dolly to be a staggering $29 billion. To put this in perspective, it is $4 billion more than the automakers' proposed bailout.

We also went on a bus tour of some of the damage, including a stop at UTMB. (Click here for a video clip). The physical damage is extensive, but the economic impact is overwhelming. On the Strand, we passed business after business that were still boarded up. The City of Galveston estimates that is has lost almost a third of its pre-Ike population of 57,000. UTMB, the island's largest employer has cut its workforce from 12,500 before Ike to 10,000. It will clearly take years for Galveston to recover from Hurricane Ike, a process that is being further handicapped by the larger economic woes.

One of the more intriguing issues discussed during the day was the so-called Ike Dike. This is a proposal to extend the existing Galveston seawall from High Island to Freeport. Preliminary costs are estimated at around $4 billion, which is a lot of money, but when compared to $29 billion in damages it looks like a bargain. My friends in the environmental community are greatly concerned about the environmental impact of such a project and rightly so. However, hurricanes also do a great deal of environmental damage to the bay system. In any event, it will be fascinating to follow this issue.

After the commission meeting I decided to drive back to Houston through Chambers County and see Ike's impact on Bolivar peninsula for myself. During the day, county judge Jim Yarbrough had shared with us that approximately 80% of Bolivar's 5,300 structures had been destroyed and showed a number of aerial photographs of the damages. However, that briefing did not prepare me for what I saw. The extent of the devastation can not be truly appreciated without seeing it personally.

On exiting the ferry, the signs of damage are immediately obvious. But on that far west end, many structures survived. As you drive farther east the extent of the damage worsens. By Gilchrist, which is a little over half way to High Island, it is nearly complete devastation. I counted only eight houses still standing in Gilchrist.

Before Hurricane Ike, Rollover Pass (which is the only waterway between the Gulf and East Bay and located in Gilchrist) was a hub of activity on the Bolivar Peninsula. It was a favorite of fishermen with a number of bait camps, docks and "joints." When I crossed the bridge at Rollover Pass on Friday there was nothing left. In fact, there was hardly any sign that there had ever been anything there.

The one encouraging note I have to offer is that in both Galveston and on Bolivar the newer buildings that had been constructed to more rigid building codes appeared to have survived the storm with relatively little damage. All of the homes that survived near Gilchrist were newer structures.

As I turned north into Chambers County I saw about a dozen plumes of black smoke on the horizon. Earlier in the day, County officials had described a bureaucratic dilemma that accounted for these plumes. FEMA will not reimburse local governments for removing debris from private property. If the property owner can push the debris on his/her property to the public right-of-way, FEMA will pay for the removal. The problem is that in Chambers County ranchers and farmers have debris fields that go on for miles. Just moving the debris to a public right-of-way would bankrupt these folks. One official told us that he expected to see a good deal of "accidental" fires. And there they were.

As you can easily imagine, burning the debris is not helpful with our air quality problems. Much of the debris fields are made up of "treated timber." Burning treated timber is particularly problematic. Once again, our government agencies are working at cross purposes . . . FEMA imposing a moronic rule to save an insignificant sum of money and the EPA beating us over the head and shoulders about our air quality.

As I turned back to Houston, my thoughts were on the 40-80 souls lost in the storm. Most have lived, and died, within a few hundred feet of the route I had just driven. The recovery challenges facing this community are daunting, but they will be overcome. The loss of these individuals was, for the most part, avoidable. It is always difficult to understand why some people stay in harm's way notwithstanding the warnings available today.

When preparing this blog entry, I checked the list of those persons still missing from the storm maintained by The Laura Recovery Center. There photos and some personal information posted on eight victims. Several were elderly. As I was looking at the faces of these individuals I began to get a sick feeling in my stomach, wondering if they stayed voluntarily or if they had simply been unable to evacuate themselves.

The state of the GOP in Texas

The last frontier of ignorance and meanness in the country:

With President Barack Obama a strong supporter (of SCHIP) and bipartisan Senate support precluding the possibility of a filibuster, many GOP members of Congress who had previously opposed the program joined the majority. ... No such rethinking of previous partisan positions was evident in the Texas delegation, where 20 Republicans voted against the SCHIP bill. The state leads the nation in percentage of uninsured children, with Harris County having the largest rate of unprotected youngsters.

That’s why the continuing opposition of Houston-region GOP representatives John Culberson, Pete Olson, Kevin Brady, Michael McCaul, Ted Poe and Ron Paul is so unfathomable. The Southeast Texas medical safety net is already stretched to breaking by the burden of treating uninsured patients in overcrowded hospital emergency rooms and absorbing the costs of their care.

In opposing SCHIP on the grounds it is socialized medicine, too costly and subsidizes illegal alien health care, the lawmakers are ignoring this fact: Taxpayers already bear the cost of treatment for the uninsured. Every child covered by the state-supplied private policies is one less expense for area health care providers, who otherwise pass the cost of indigent care on to insured patients.

Maybe they're taking advanced asshole lessons from John Cornyn:

“I think he has decided that the only chance Republicans have is to be very aggressive,” political scientist Larry Sabato said of the Texan, who
came to Washington six years ago as a defender of President George W. Bush.

Don't you wish he was half as aggressive about his dental hygiene?

New York Gov. David Paterson, who appointed Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand as Clinton’s successor, called Cornyn’s maneuvering “grandstanding and self-promotion.”

And some Republican Senate colleagues want less partisanship and more collaboration. As Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., put it: “The message that the American people are sending us now is that they want us to work together and get to work.”


And Cornyn pointedly challenged Reid about alleged ties to lobbyists. A Reid spokesman dismissed the criticism by Cornyn as having “everything to do with raising money.”

The article goes on to acknowledge Cornhole's White House aspirations, perhaps as early as 2012.

Bring. It. On.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Texas public education WILL evolve

... whether the Christianists want it to, or not. Kathy Miller of TFN sent this late yesterday:

Just hours ago, the State Board of Education (SBOE) voted 8-7 to reject efforts by creationists to reinsert into draft curriculum standards sweeping language -- "strengths and weaknesses" -- used to undermine sound science education. If this vote stands, a key weapon creationists have used to attack evolution will be swept from the standards.

But creationists on the board managed to sneak through other changes that complicate important parts of the standards. One change would have students question a core concept of evolutionary biology, common descent. It was a stunning display of arrogance, with the board's far-right faction pretending to know more about science than the teachers and scientists who crafted the standards draft.

So the Young Earthers rose up to strike at the rising moon with their rocks and clubs and spears, but were once again beaten back by the forces of intelligence and rational thought. It was awfully close, though. There will be a rematch in the spring, when the final SBOE vote on science curriculum standards will take place.

Muse has more, as does North Texas Liberal.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cornyn will now stall Holder

Having been spanked into submission yesterday after embarrassing himself over the blockage of the confirmation of Secretary of State Clinton, John Cornyn will now stall the approval of Eric Holder as Attorney General ... because John disapproves of the fact that waterboarding is torture. Really:

Holder told the Judiciary Committee last week that waterboarding is "torture" and therefore illegal. Susan J. Crawford, the top Bush administration official overseeing the trials of detainees, told the Washington Post that at least one individual held at the prison center at Guantanamo Bay was "tortured."

The question Republicans want answered before Holder is confirmed: Will you prosecute those who took part in that torture?

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that he would block committee proceedings, scheduled to resume at 2:30 pm on Wednesday, if he did not receive answer from Holder. "I'm not going to allow things to proceed," he said. He added that it was "physically impossible" for Holder to get the answers to him by then, thus assuring a conflict would ensue. ...

"Part of my concern, frankly, relates to some of his statements at the hearing in regard to torture and what his intentions are with regard to intelligence personnel who were operating in good faith based upon their understanding of what the law was," said Cornyn.

"There were provisions providing immunity to intelligence officials based up on good faith and what they understood the law to be," said Cornyn. "I want to know if he's going to enforce congressional intent not to second-guess those things in a way that could jeopardize those officials but also could cause our intelligence officials to be risk averse -- the very kind of risk aversion...that the 9/11 commission talked about when they talked about what set us up for 9/11."

After all, they were just following orders, so they shouldn't be held to account.

This is different from the Nazis how?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction

Y'all know I'm not much of a God guy, but this is as powerful and inspiring as words can ever be.


God of our weary years, god of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our god, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.

Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day.

We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.

He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you are able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.

And while we have sown the seeds of greed -- the wind of greed and corruption -- and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, first lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.

With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around . . .

. . . when yellow will be mellow . . .

. . . when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

Kennedy, Byrd stricken at luncheon

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., battling a brain tumor, became ill at a post-inauguration luncheon for President Barack Obama on Tuesday and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. There was no immediate word from medical personnel on his condition.

"It looked like a seizure," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who said he was with Kennedy until they reached the ambulance.

Kennedy, 76, had appeared in good health and spirits hours earlier when he stepped out of the Capitol and onto the inauguration platform where Obama took the oath of office.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, 91, also was taken from the luncheon but it was not clear whether his departure was prompted by his health.

Subsequent reporting indicates both men are showing improvement.

President to the United States of America

Farewell Salute

More blockage from Cornyn

Not content to obstruct the seating of Senator Al Franken, the junior fool from the Great State has apparently failed once again to get enough fiber into his diet. We're going to have to forcibly insert a suppository into Big John:

Hillary Clinton has rejected a request by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) to increase oversight of her husband's foundation -- so Cornyn is expected to scuttle Democratic attempts to confirm her as Secretary of State today by a voice vote, sources say.

Moments ago, Our Corndog in Washington made official his welcoming gift to the new President (the news is breaking on your teevee somewhere; I heard it on CBS from Bob Schieffer).

Now this a terribly obnoxious opening to Cornhole's second term and new stint as RSCC head. OTOH, it's likely that if he keeps this up it's going to result in more Democratic Senators in 2010 rather than less, as is his charge.

I can see that I'm going to rapidly use up my rollover cell minutes verbally abusing his staff in DC that has the sad task of answering his phone.

The most pressing issue facing Texas

... is quite obviously not what the Texas Senate thinks it is:

Apparently unaware that average folk are tired of brazen power plays and politicians who don't get that it's about the economy, every Senate Republican except Dallas' John Carona circumvented long-standing legislative protocol to address a bill that solves no crisis.

The Republican majority — in its first act of the session — suspended the rule requiring the acquiescence of two-thirds of the body to bring a bill to the floor in order to ensure passage of a so-called voter ID law.

The proposed law would require Texans to show a photo ID before being allowed to vote.

Republicans, who used to run circles around Democrats in the political message department, took this issue up before addressing job creation, cash-strapped public schools and soaring higher education costs.

And for what? There is no evidence that unauthorized immigrants are voting even in a trickle in Texas.

Last year, the Bexar County district attorney's office completed a 16-month investigation into illegal voting. It resulted in misdemeanor perjury charges against two people — both of whom are U.S. citizens.

To boot, their cases had nothing to do with voting, but rather lying about citizenship status to get out of jury duty.

A slumping national and state economy, a disappearing budget surplus, children without health insurance and skyrocketing tuition costs, and the Texas Senate takes up, as its first order of business, a bill to outlaw unicorns:

You've seen them lined up around the block, the hordes of Mexican illegals waiting to get into the polls so they can vote twice.

They've sneaked across the border — not for roofing jobs, or to send money back home to their relatives. No, they've come here for EZ voting — that is, to vote for everybody whose name ends in EZ: Hernandez, Rodriguez, Martinez.

Texas Republicans know of this voter fraud problem. It's right up there in frequency with leprechaun sightings.

Then there's the old folks on fixed incomes. You know how those people are. They vote for Democrats, too. So the Republicans in the Texas Senate have passed a resolution that would allow a bill to be brought up that would require a photo ID to vote in Texas.

Hey, it's a jobs program. The Republican senators know that if they can keep enough Democrats from voting, they can keep their jobs.

So not surprised to see my spunky little senator Joan Huffman on the list.

The Texas House appears to be the chamber that will act with some measure of reason and tolerance during the 81st.

Oh wait; WTF am I thinking?

(T)he honeymoon for House Speaker Joe Straus was short lived. In fact, it ended on Friday, the minute he told reporters he favored Voter Identification:

VOTER ID — He voted for it in 2007 and thinks another examination of whether photo IDs are needed to combat polling fraud is appropriate. He said he does not yet know whether there are sufficient votes in the House to pass a bill.

I’m sorry, were House Democrats just so damned eager to get rid of Tom Craddick that they forgot to get any concessions worth a damned for all their troubles?

Somehow, I thought I heard whispered along the corridors of power in Austin that voter identification was dead because Straus wouldn’t bring it up in the House, no matter what the Senate did. I guess that’s changed in a week’s time. With rumors that he’ll leave State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) in charge of the House Committee on Elections as a concession to the rightwing members of his party running rampant as well, one has to wonder if House Democrats cobbled together a majority to elect a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

What’s going on? Is Straus just playing non-committal and not really going to let Voter ID have a chance, or is he seriously going to give it a chance, or did he just betray the Democrats–without whose support he would still be the junior legislator from Bexar County?

Denial of quorum, anyone?

Conservative martyrs/thug border agents spared

Thank goodness the right-wing freaks can stop their wailing and gnashing of teeth for a few minutes.

The not-so-curious case of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean has been a Republican scratching post for years now. The Goons of Hate Radio kept the frenzy whipped up, their acolytes in Congress bowed low before their masters, and the Pretzledent, taking a break from riding his bike and playing online Solitaire in his last full day in the Oval, finally relented (though like Scooter Libby before them, the two thugs didn't get granted a full pardon).

There's a cornucopia of irony and hypocrisy involved, as there always is when the GOP caterwauling reaches eardrum-shattering levels. Federal agents run amuck is a thing to be praised if they are shooting Mexicans in the back (no cries of "Remember Ruby Ridge!" and "Avenge Waco!" heard among the gun-nut set this time). Law-and-order conservatives remove their hats and place them over their eyes as the same rogues fail at concealing their crime. And then those damned liberal activist prosecutors, judges, and juries that convict (and uphold on appeal) the prison sentences are, ah, "overturned".

Suck slowly on that little mint, Republicans. Its sweetness is going to have to last you for a good long while. I'm predicting that the rest of the planet is still going to be forced to endure your halitosis for much of the next eight years.

jobsanger has the more rational viewpoint.

T-minus 6.5 hours

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Weekly Wrangle

A new Speaker last week, a new President this week ... the times they are a' changin'. Here's your TPA Round-up of the best of the Texas left from last week.

Easter Lemming Liberal News is pondering the future of newspapers with net marketing guru Seth Godin and the Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism.

John Coby at Bay Area Houston is counting down to the end of an error.

The Texas Cloverleaf looks at an outgoing Denton County Commissioner becoming a TxDOT spokesperson.

Off the Kuff takes a look at the early campaign finance reports for KBH and Rick Perry.

CouldBeTrue at South Texas Chisme notes that while the house plays nice with Straus, the senate went all Craddick/DeLay/Rove batsh*t crazy. Many think that Republican bully partisanship will continue to bite them at the polls.

Neil at Texas Liberal contuines to wonder how Houston Democratic Councilman James Rodriguez, and others, can support a Republican for citywide office. This post also includes a happy picture of dancing from Singing In The Rain.

McBlogger gets some answers from John Carona (well, from Steve Polunsky who was channeling Sen. Carona) about why Carona is still keeping CDA's on the table. It'll come as a HUGE shock that McBlogger is still not buying it.

jobsanger takes on a couple of the Panhandle's worst legislators. He notes that while the Panhandle is a natural for renewable wind energy, Sen. Kel Seliger is pushing coal energy in Has Seliger Flipped Out Or Sold Out? and points out that Rep. Warren Chisum is the Panhandle's
Biggest Embarrassment.

As Kay Bailey Hutchison starts her semi-annual tease about running for governor, Texas Kaos diarist Libby Shaw notes that Fat Cats (are) Emptying Pockets for Senator-Will-She-or-Wont-She. Some folks never learn. At least with this week's Quorum Report analysis about Henry Cisneros as a potential candidate there will be something else to talk about for 2010...

After Twittering his experiences in the Capitol on the first two days of the 81st Session of the Texas Legislature, Vince at Capitol Annex takes a look at why Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has adopted the personality of former House Speaker Tom Craddick.

refinish69 continues his harrowing journey through the homeless situation. Part 6 of the series leaves more questions than answers but gives some insight into his situation. While not having access to Doing My Part For The Left, he does appreciate Texas Kaos and other blogs for allowing him to post his story.

Burnt Orange Report compiles all the information from the first campaign finance reports for candidates seeking to join the Austin City Council or become the city's Mayor.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson takes a look at Diana Maldonado's first day in the Texas Legislature.

Big Oil is just exactly like Big Tobacco so even though the Texas Railroad Commission recommended legal action against Braden Exploration for illegally dumping drilling waste in Wise County, TXsharon won't be surprised if nothing much happens. We just keep trying over at Bluedaze: Drilling Reform for Texas (DRTX).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

You might notice a theme

"Fox News tells us that torture is wonderful, that we have saved humanity because we torture, and that Jack Bauer is a real-life hero because he always foils the bad guys and saves American lives because he tortures them into revealing where the ticking time bomb is! These 'religious' people must be Devil-worshipers because Fox News tells us that God wants us to torture people. After all, if God didn’t support torture, why did he allow his son to be tortured to death on the cross?"

Uh oh. That ought to wake a few people up. From the comments here.

"Many people will disagree over many aspects of the Bush legacy, but on Katrina ... It is impossible to challenge what so many of us witnessed firsthand, what the entire country witnessed through the images on our television screens day and night. Mr. President, you cannot pat yourself on the back for that one. We will debate the war in Iraq, debate national security, the economy, and the rest of your legacy. Those debates will continue for years to come. But on how you handled Katrina, there is no debate."

-- Campbell Brown

Nearly all the Republicans I know who stepped off the Bush bus called Katrina the straw that broke the camel's back for them.

Even during the anti-GOP climate of last year's campaign, you'd have been hard pressed to find someone who seriously believed the Democrats could make a real play for one of Texas' Senate seats. But now, Politico reports, Republicans are asking Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to remain in her post and not run for governor -- they're worried her retirement could be the key piece of the puzzle for Democrats looking to get a 60-seat super-majority in the Senate.

In part, the concern is that the GOP would have to expend precious resources defending what should be a safe seat, resources that they'll need both to prevent losses in swing states and to have any shot at capturing a Democrat's spot. But there is a certain amount of worry that the party could actually lose Hutchison's seat if she runs for governor, and besides -- the idea that Republicans would have to spend money on a Senate race in Texas would have been crazy earlier this decade.

This could be the first sign of a very real danger for the GOP. The state has been a stronghold, and considering its 34 Electoral College votes, it's a vital one. But several experts I spoke to for an article I wrote in November about the Hispanic vote said they believed the state's sizeable Hispanic population could make Democrats a real force in Texas within the next decade. "The future's bright in Texas," Cuauhtemoc "Temo" Figueroa, the Obama campaign's Latino vote director, said. "Whether in four years or whether in eight years, I do see potential there in Texas, because of just the sheer magnitude of the numbers."

It's always the Bronx lament: "Just wait'll next year." But even the Dodgers managed a World Series title over the Yanks.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dinner with John Sharp and a photo with James Rodriguez

Two items creating a minor stir in the blogosphere. Matt and Vince had a sit-down with Sharp at Sullivan's Monday night ( I was invited but was unable to be in Austin for the session's opening). Matt wasn't bowled over:

Sharp is knowledgeable on the history of our party in Texas. His credentials are hard to argue with, but he has made some choice that make it hard to call him a Democratic devotee. Something White can't claim either after this election cycle.

However as much as I disagreed with Sharp on certain points, it was hard not to be impressed that he was courting the online community. The over-priced steaks, sides, and cocktails made that clear, but what wasn't clear is why. He clearly has an antiquated way of looking at the possible solutions to our economic plight. He rarely offered a statement of hope or a vision for a better tomorrow. What we heard was doom and gloom over ahi tuna and potatoes au gratin.

The event only left me more skeptical than when I entered.

I remain uncommitted in the race, but I also remain unimpressed and uneasy. It is hard to imagine a world were the Republican Party actually let's Kay run for Governor. While she might loathe, D.C. the margins are too narrow for the Republican Party to let her go quietly into the sunset and run for her dream job.

For a race that doesn't exist yet, we give it too many mentions and too many inches. We are being courted, but not the way it needs to happen. Chocolate fountains will never be the way. As one blogger put it tonight, a phone call or personal e-mail will suffice or perhaps a cup of coffee or a bagel.

It was interesting to meet John Sharp. His story is one of the final chapters of Democratic dominance in Texas, but his legacy may not be Texas' future.

But Vince was:

Given that it was a blogger gathering, Sharp also got a lot of questions about strategy–specifically strategies about a statewide GOTV effort. Though we’re not going to go into details on that so as not to let Republicans know what his early strategy is, Sharp has a plan for a statewide GOTV effort that would be a much greater and truly statewide effort that we haven’t seen in Texas in a while. And, we’re not talking a bunch of robocalls, either.

On that topic, it is interesting to note that Sharp grasps an important point: East Texas can’t be written off in a statewide campaign. For one thing, it is necessary to run up numbers in East Texas to offset Republican strongholds like Collin County.

Sharp, who is Catholic, also clarified his stance on a woman’s right to choose. Sharp has been referred to as “pro-life,” in a number of instances, but to take that to mean he is anti-choice is simply incorrect, as we heard tonight.

The best way of saying it is that Sharp, along with most people, doesn’t like abortions. But, overturning Roe v. Wade is another story. While Sharp, as a Catholic doesn’t like the practice, he does not believe it is appropriate for lawmakers (or anyone), “to say that because you don’t agree with [me] on that issue, you are a criminal or it should be made criminal or you should go to jail.”

Here is what I took from the discussion, and I think it is an accurate assessment: Sharp is both pro-life and pro-choice. While he may personally dislike the thought of an abortion (pro-life), he’s not going to vote to take away a woman’s right to choose (pro-choice). It is a sentiment similar to the one expressed by Chris Bell and other statewide candidates in 2006, and legislative candidates in 2008. As a progressive, it is a statement I’m comfortable with, because I don’t believe we’d see John Sharp vote against confirmation of a pro-choice judicial nominee or vote for additional restrictions on a woman’s right to choose. I may be wrong, but that is what I took away from the discussion.

And Mean Rachel didn't like Vince's take. Meanwhile Neal at Texas Liberal has stirred up a little something with this:

Should we trust Councilman Rodriguez? Will he be an effective representative of Houston’s Hispanic population, and for all persons in his district and in our city?
In Houston, it can be hard to pin down just where our political leaders stand. Party identification is easily obscured in our so-called non-partisan municipal elections. (Voter turnout is always low. And once elected, incumbent councilmembers are nearly unaccountable at the ballot box until term limits force them out.) Take, for example, the photo above. In the center you see Republican Bill King. On either side of Mr. King are members of his so-called issue study group.
Mr. King has been considering a run for citywide office in 2009. So why is a Democrat like Mr. Rodriguez sitting with Mr. King? Seated to the right of Mr. King is Democratic State Representative Senfronia Thompson and, next to Rep. Thompson, one Jessica Colon. Ms. Colon is identified as ”national chair of the Young Republicans.”

Neil also posted responses to that from Carl Whitmarsh and others who reacted with disdain. Stace also had a comment about Rodriguez.

These items are worth following because our little blogger's clubhouse is still growing in influence. That we disagree over candidates and campaigns, and don't simply blow one horn or sound the same tune reflects IMHO a healthy diversity.

Be sure and follow the conversations.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The festivities today *updated*

... at the Pink Dome are televised here for those of us who cannot be there in person.

Tom Craddick's BFF Frank Corte gave up his big office in the Capitol so that Otto wouldn't have to be in the extension:

In his final days as House speaker, Tom Craddick escaped what might have been severe Capitol culture shock – plummeting from a plush, newly renovated, historic apartment behind the House chamber to a meager underground office that amounts to a closet.

But, as they've done for most of his tenure, his Republican friends in the House came to his aid at the last second, made sacrifices, created a new rule, and yanked him back from the precipice.

Rep. Frank Corte, a House committee chairman elected 15 years ago, took one for the team and gave Craddick his airy, first-floor digs. He didn't want to see Craddick forced to trade offices with Joe Straus, elected four years go, who is about to replace him in the speaker's chair. ...

The office shuffle comes as Craddick prepares to step down after six years at the helm – and just two years after spending $1 million in private donations to turn the run-down speaker's apartment, the only one of its kind in the country, into a high-class living space for him and his wife, Nadine. ...

Offices are doled out partly based on seniority, and proximity to the House chamber is a rough measurement of power. Once members pick their offices, they have them until they either choose to change or they leave their posts. Every session, there's a little shuffle – members depart and leave vacant gorgeous offices with balconies and picture windows.

Normally, Craddick would have his pick of the offices, since he's been there longer than any other lawmaker. But by the time it became clear he would no longer be speaker, members had long since moved into their offices. ...

Craddick had asked if he could get his pre-speakership office back, but that's now occupied by Rep. Al Edwards –- a longtime Houston Democrat returning to the House after being out for one term.

On Friday morning, Edwards, having fought hard for his first-floor digs, declined to give them up. Corte insisted that Craddick take his.

What a guy.

Two years ago this morning, I and a couple of hundred others were on our way to Austin for the inauguration of Borris Miles as the new representative of HD-146, and the drama swirling around the speaker's race. Yesterday, Miles went on trial:

A former state lawmaker accused of pulling a pistol during a party and at a Houston Rockets game goes on trial Monday in a case that could sent him to jail if he is convicted.

Borris Miles, who was defeated in the Democratic primary last year in his bid for another term, is charged with two counts of deadly conduct. The charge is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine on each count if he is convicted.

A six-member jury was chosen Monday in County Court 13 and is scheduled to begin hearing testimony this afternoon before Court at Law Judge Mark Atkinson.

Miles was indicted in connection with two incidents that took place in December 2007. He has pleaded not guilty.

In the first incident, Miles is accused of showing a pistol and threatening Texas Southern University regent Willard Jackson and his wife during a Rockets game at the Toyota Center.

The second incident occurred at the St. Regis Hotel ballroom, where Miles is accused of displaying a pistol and forcibly kissing another man’s wife while crashing a party.

World keeps turnin'.

Update (1/16): Not guilty. I'm pretty sure Greg knows the difference between 'not guilty' and 'innocent'. Muse has the merlot details.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A pre-legislative session Wrangle

It's the day before the 81st session of the Texas Legislature convenes; time for another edition of the Texas Progressive Alliance's weekly blog round up. Each week's round-up is compiled based on submissions made by member bloggers.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Nine days remaining

... to remind Republicans just what they hath wrought upon the Earth:

Asked by People magazine what moments from the last eight years he revisited most often, W. talked passionately about the pitch he threw out at the World Series in 2001: “I never felt that anxious any other time during my presidency, curiously enough.”

Asked by Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard if he had made progress in some areas for which he hasn’t gotten credit, the president put trying to privatize Social Security at the top of his list. It’s frightening to think where a lot of people would be now if that effort had succeeded.

A complete lack of guilt, much less empathy. That's typically how sociopaths are clinically described. Some think Bush is simply too brain-damaged or retarded or autistic or something-else-impaired to get it. I'm not one of those, however. He's quite obviously not the only one, nor even the worst, for that matter ...

Asked last week by Mark Knoller of CBS Radio in one of his exit interviews to name the “biggest mis-impression” people had about him, Cheney replied with a laugh, “That I’m actually a warm, lovable sort.” He went on to seriously assert that his image as “a private, Darth Vader-type personality” has been “pretty dramatically overdone.”

“I think we made good decisions,” he told Knoller, adding with even grander delusion, “I think we knew what we were doing.”

He protested “the notion that somehow I was pulling strings or making presidential-level decisions. I was not. There was never any question about who was in charge. It was George Bush. And that’s the way we operated. This whole notion that somehow I exceeded my authority here, was usurping his authority, is simply not true. It’s an urban legend, never happened.”

This is the most obvious reason why Cheney should simply be turned over to extra-national authorities for prosecution; so that someone can finally impress upon him the seriousness of his crimes. It's not like a Democratic Congress led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid -- or a president hungry for bipartisanship -- is going to concern itself with administering some justice in this area.

On the other hand, Donald Rumsfeld should just be taken out and summarily executed by firing squad:

“My conscience is clear,” Rummy volunteered to Bob Woodward, talking about how he’s interviewing people for his memoir.

Woodward was stunned. “I was as speechless as I was in July 2006 when I interviewed him and he said he was not a military commander, that he could make the case that he was ‘by indirection, two or three steps removed,’ ” Woodward told me afterward.

What about Herr General Rove? He's still working a few "problems":

What was considered a smooth path to confirmation has recently been complicated as signs of hostility toward (Attorney-General-designate Eric) Holder have increased over the past month. Political operative Karl Rove and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for example, singled out the longtime Washington lawyer as the candidate who would face bruising questions.

And Beto Gonzales? Stupid, malicious, or maliciously stupid? You decide:

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.

During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

Republican Poutrage over Senator Franken

Six years of suck-it for conservatives:

With only a longshot court appeal standing in the way of Democrat Al Franken’s election to the Senate, Republicans are gritting their teeth and bracing for the arrival of a new senator whose every utterance will sound like nails on a chalkboard to them.

While Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) has filed suit to contest the results of a disputed recount process that turned his narrow lead into a 225-vote deficit, his likely defeat stands to turn Franken, the polarizing former “Saturday Night Live” writer, into the senator who launched a thousand direct mail fundraising appeals.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had an opponent who is so disliked by Republicans as Al Franken,” said Minnesota Republican Party Chair Ron Carey, who cautioned that Coleman’s election challenge could still turn the results back his way. “It’s one thing to lose to an honorable opponent, but Al Franken is not considered an honorable opponent by Minnesota Republicans.”

And here I was thinking I was just going to feel gratified that a true Minnesota liberal was going to Washington to reclaim Paul Welllstone's desk. To know that the Republicks are this bitter about Senator Stuart Smalley is ... well, pretty freaking schadenfreude.

Domingo Cómico

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What do you call a newspaper without a printing press?

Or one that doesn't print a paper at all? Serious question.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which first rolled off the presses in 1863 and has been the state's longest-publishing newspaper, is up for sale.

The newspaper's staff was called into a closed meeting today by Publisher Roger Oglesby. Present at the meeting was Hearst Newspaper President Steve Swartz, who told the newsroom that Hearst Corp. is starting a 60-day process to find a buyer. If a buyer is not found, possible options include creating an all-digital operation with a greatly reduced staff, or closing its operations entirely.

In no case will Hearst continue to publish the P-I in printed form, Swartz said.

Regardless, he said, if no buyer is found, the P-I as a newspaper will not publish after the two months is up.

The joint operating agreement that the Post-Intelligencer performs in conjunction with the Seattle Times requires a minimum of thirty days for Hearst to find a buyer before they shut it down. Hearst has previously bought out JOA partners and then sold its own newspaper (The Examiner, the paper that W.R. Hearst parlayed into a empire) in San Francisco, and bought out the competition only to shutter its own property (The Light) in San Antonio.

This is NOT a newspaper company big on sentimentality for its brands.

In the wake of Ike last September, the Beaumont Enterprise gave up trying to publish its own paper:

The Beaumont Enterprise is eliminating its pressroom and mailroom operations and outsourcing its daily printing and packaging to the Houston Chronicle, a sister Hearst newspaper, Publisher John E. Newhouse II announced (September 29).

The move, effective immediately, was necessary because of deteriorating business conditions and the high cost of repairing or replacing the newspaper's 34-year-old press, which has been inoperable since Hurricane Ike, Newhouse said.

Twenty employees were affected by the shutdown of the platemaking, press and mailroom departments. Seventeen were laid off and received severance packages. Three were reassigned to new jobs. ...

The move is part of a newspaper industry trend toward consolidation and outsourcing in response to the high cost of replacing antiquated and worn-out equipment. In The Enterprise's case, that could be more than $30 million for a new printing facility, Newhouse said.

The Houston Chronicle, whose presses can accommodate the additional color preferred by advertisers and readers, has been printing some sections of the Sunday Enterprise since last year and all of the newspaper's weekly products since early this year.

The entire Enterprise has been printed in Houston since the day after Hurricane Ike struck Southeast Texas.

So if a newspaper doesn't print a paper, what is it exactly?

Junior Brown last night at the Mucky Duck

The Texas legend (well, Indiana or maybe Arizona) sawed on his guit-steel and drawled through Long Walk Back to San Antone, Highway Patrol, My Wife Thinks You're Dead and a solid handful of other classics. It might have been the best evening of entertainment for the year 2009 (but I hope it gets better from here on).

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Real or not?

Is God real, or is he imaginary? It is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself.

If God is real and if God inspired the Bible, then we should worship God as the Bible demands. We should certainly post the Ten Commandments in our courthouses and shopping centers, put "In God We Trust" on the money and pray in our schools. We should focus our society on God and his infallible Word because our everlasting souls hang in the balance.

On the other hand, if God is imaginary, then religion is a complete illusion. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are pointless. Belief in God is nothing but a silly superstition, and this superstition leads a significant portion of the population to be delusional.

But how can we decide, conclusively, whether God is real or imaginary?

Don't click and read on unless you want your thoughts really, really provoked.

As if we needed any more

Additional evidence that Texas attorney general Greg Abbott is simply the very worst of a wretched lot in Austin. Emphasis is mine, first person voice is Rick Casey's:

Five years ago I asked readers to feel sorry for Assistant Attorney General Gena Bunn.

Now I'm asking you to feel sorry for Assistant Attorney General Katherine Hayes.

It was Bunn's job, I wrote, to go "with a straight face" before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of death row inmate Delma Banks "and argue that the state of Texas should be able to suborn perjury and hide evidence with impunity in its quest to get the death penalty."

She had to admit that prosecutors had stood silent while two key witnesses lied under oath during Banks' two-day trial in 1980 for the murder of a 16-year-old co-worker.

She argued that defense attorneys had waited too long to raise the issue, even though the delay was caused by the prosecutors' cover-up of the evidence.

The justices were not receptive.

"Wasn't it the obligation of the prosecution, having deceived the jury and the court, to come clean?" asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"So the prosecution can lie and conceal, and the defense still has the burden to discover the evidence?" challenged Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

The arguments advanced by Bunn had worked at the prosecution-oriented U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but Bunn found no sympathy at the Supreme Court. It took that body — including archconservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — just 10 weeks to issue a stinging slap to the state of Texas and to the 5th Circuit.

In the unanimous opinion, Ginsburg wrote that it was "appropriate for Banks to assume that his prosecutors would not stoop to improper litigation conduct to advance prospects for getting a conviction."

The court sent the case back down, ordering a full examination of the facts to determine whether Banks should get a new trial. It also overturned the death sentence. (Scalia joined Thomas in dissenting from this portion, though Thomas called it a "close call.")

After examining the evidence and hearing arguments from both sides, U.S. District Judge David Folsom of Texarkana ruled that Banks must be either retried or freed.

He noted that Charles Cook was a key witness at the trial, being the only witness to testify that Banks had said he killed the victim and the only one to provide a motive.

And, wrote Folsom, "Cook's testimony on these issues was uncorroborated."

It is undisputed that on the stand Cook said three times he had not talked to anyone before giving his testimony. For 16 years, prosecutors hid proof that Cook was lying.

Only in 1996, under a federal court order, did they turn over a 38-page transcript of a coaching session Cook received just days before he testified. Present were a prosecutor, a DA's investigator and the deputy who led the murder investigation.

Quoting the transcript, Folsom writes: "Cook's misrepresentation at trial — claiming that he had not been coached — is particularly significant in light of how extensively Cook was coached."

For example, a number of things Cook said during that session differed from the statements he had given originally, the kinds of inconsistencies defense attorneys thrive on.

What's more, Cook admitted on the stand he had been convicted of felony assault but "forgot" who the victim was.

Yet during the coaching session a few days earlier he had identified her as a schoolteacher. The AG's office argued that Cook thought the defense attorney was asking for a name, but Folsom wrote that the "name is clearly not what the defense was seeking."

And a handwritten note by one of Cook's handlers on the coaching session transcript next to the mention of the schoolteacher said, "do not say."

Prosecutors didn't want the jurors knowing their star witness beat up schoolteachers.

(Yesterday) Assistant Attorney General Hayes (appeared) in New Orleans and, based on a technicality, ask the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Folsom.

A major argument amounts to raising a technicality. The state argues that Banks' attorneys didn't give proper notice that they were using the coaching transcript in their case.

Having hidden the damning transcript for 16 years, prosecutors are saying defense attorneys aren't playing fair.

Both a federal magistrate and Judge Folsom ruled that proper notice was given when Banks' attorneys, without objection from the state, introduced the transcript at an earlier hearing and asked witnesses numerous questions about it.

Hayes may get a favorable reception in New Orleans. It's the same three-judge panel that didn't see any problems years ago. But then this already outrageously long legal process will go back to the high court.

There's a better course. Shouldn't Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose job presumably bears some relationship to the pursuit of justice, be chastising prosecutors for breaking the law rather than defending them?

I certainly hope all of the Republicans who read and comment at remember this when Abbott announces his intention to run for re-election (or lt. governor, or governor) in 2010 and beyond.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

So THAT's why Tom DeLay isn't in prison yet

Scott Horton at Harper's:

In theory, our legal system affords equal access to justice. But, as George Orwell offers in Animal Farm, some of us are more equal than others, and Tom DeLay is, in Texas politics, the most equal of all. Texas courts, which are notoriously political, are packed with Republicans who owe their careers to Tom DeLay, directly or indirectly. That makes the justice dealt out in the DeLay case justice without equal.

DeLay is now facing trial in Austin on charges of money-laundering. But his case has been bottled up by an appeals court dominated by Republicans. Ronnie Earle, a legendary prosecutor who has taken down far more Democrats than Republicans in his day, had hoped to end his career with this trial–but DeLay’s fellow Republicans insured that this would not happen. They waited patiently for Earle to retire and then handed down a preliminary ruling. The Republican judges find no reason why one of their colleagues who, before coming on the bench, said the DeLay prosecution was “politically motivated” could not then rule on the case. That reflects a novel understanding of the canons of judicial ethics, which–at least in places other than Texas–require that a judge handle his matters impartially. When a judge expresses an opinion on the merits of a case before it comes to him, that is prejudgment. It disqualifies him from participating in the case. Why this extraordinary departure from settled rules of judicial ethics? It appears that with one Republican recused, the court would have a tie vote, and DeLay would be denied the deus ex machina he is waiting for: a court ruling that the prosecution’s case is fatally defective.

As the Houston Chronicle reports today, the Republican majority on the court even blocked the two Democratic justices from filing dissenting opinions.

And what did the Houston Chronicle report yesterday?

The polarized state appeals court has ruled that Republican Justice Alan Waldrop did not have to excuse himself from a case against two associates of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

The ruling from the 3rd Court of Appeals does not immediately affect the money-laundering charges against DeLay and his associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis.

DeLay and his associates, John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of Washington, have been accused of laundering corporate money into political donations to Republican candidates in 2002. Use of corporate money is generally banned from state campaigns.

Before any trial, Ellis and Colyandro challenged the constitutionality of the law.

Last September, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle asked the court to remove Waldrop because Earle claimed Waldrop betrayed his bias four years ago, before he became a judge. Earle alleged that bias was betrayed when Waldrop called a similar money-laundering allegation in a related civil lawsuit "politically motivated" and an attempt to "harass political opponents." At the time, Waldrop was representing a client who was a political ally of DeLay.

Waldrop wrote an opinion in August that upheld the constitutionality of the law on money laundering but warned that the prosecutors had a fatal flaw in their case, a view that two trial judges and one other appellate judges have disagreed with.

Waldrop, Chief Justice Ken Law and a third Republican justice, Robert Pemberton, wrote that the charges against DeLay and his associates should be dismissed because they used a check, not cash, in their transaction. Waldrop argued that the law — before it was changed in 2005 — did not cover checks during the 2002 election.

Two Democratic justices on the 3rd Court objected.

Justice Jan Patterson, a Democrat on the Austin-based state appeals court, claimed last year that Law, blocked the filing of her dissent to a ruling in October. The ruling overruled a motion asking Waldrop to step aside in the money-laundering case involving DeLay's associates.

Justice Diane Henson complained that her GOP colleagues were wrong about the money-laundering law and had bottled up the case for years to thwart prosecution of the high-profile case.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority struck back in an opinion written by Justice David Puryear. Law and Pemberton joined in Puryear's opinion. Puryear criticized Patterson's "attempts to insert suspicion and intrigue into what have been routine decisions by this Court," the Austin American-Statesman reported in an online story Friday.

Henson argued that a reasonable person would question whether Waldrop might favor DeLay's associates because of his earlier work with DeLay's political allies.

"One might also question why, if Justice Waldrop's lack of bias or partiality is so obvious, a 38-page opinion, including personal attacks on dissenting justices, was necessary to explain why the motion to recuse was denied," she wrote.

Earle just retired and Law's term ended Wednesday.

The old "it's not money-laundering if it's a check" trick again. Let' see now; where have we written about Alan Waldrop and David Puryear before?

Back to Horton for the obvious conclusion ...

Texas was once famous for Judge Roy Bean, who following various homicides and petty offenses established himself as the “law west of the Pecos.” Bean’s first act in judicial office was to shoot up the saloon of a Jewish competitor. Now Texas is home to Tulia, where in the governorship of George W. Bush forty African-Americans were arrested on bogus drug charges by a racist cop, and it’s the state that sent Alberto Gonzales to Washington as attorney general. Its notions of justice are transparent from cases like the DeLay prosecution, in which we get a glimpse of the most ferociously partisan judges in the country. Did Reconstruction end too soon?