Sunday, August 29, 2010

Anniversaries and updates

-- Five years since Katrina hit New Orleans. You can read my previous takes as the event unfolded at the top of the August 2005 archives, and from 9/05, some accounts from the Astrodome as evacuation center, Katrina's evacuees and Houston by the numbers, the days before Katrina we spent at Camp Casey, my own Astrodome volunteering experience (as well as dining at Brennan's a few days later), some of the ridiculous things said during the crisis, and a few posts about Hurricane Rita, which came to Southeast Texas a week later and caused its own bit of havoc.

Among current reading, see this account by the Louisiana Superdome's director in which he is haunted by an evacuee whom he saw for several days and then didn't, ever again. And this one about the farm which now grows in the Ninth Ward. And these three stories of survival and life after the storm.

-- Twenty years since Stevie Ray Vaughn died in a helicopter crash. I'll direct you to Charles Kuffner for the videos.

-- Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman is putting on a happy face about her burned-up election machines ...

"I'm very optimistic in spite of this great challenge," she said. "We've had floods and other issues in the past and we've always come out and provided the service people expect, and I expect we will do the same here. There is no dout in my mind that we will have a timely election and take care of our voters."

...but Burka isn't buying it (nor is anybody else, for that matter):

The continuing investigation into the origin of the fire that destroyed all of Harris County’s voting machines has not arrived at a conclusion. I’m not going to jump the gun. But I will say this: If arson proves to be the cause, the feds are going to be swarming into Harris County. With early voting less than two months away, the election has been seriously disrupted. If the fire was deliberately set, the immediate question is, who benefits from consequences of the fire, which will be long lines, changes in polling places, tens of thousand of people trying to figure out where they go to vote, and, possibly, the use of paper ballots and all the uncertainties that go with them? We could see a replay of Florida 2000.

No doubt the Democrats will feel that they are the losers in the fire. Bill White has been counting on a big turnout in Harris County to propel him to victory. The disruptions will surely depress turnout, but you can argue that two ways: (1) Republicans are more motivated than Democrats in this election cycle, so if turnout is depressed, Perry is damaged more than White. Or, (2) The confusion about polling places is more likely to depress turnout among minorities, who, of course, are likely Democratic voters.

Right now we are just at the beginning of this story. If the cause of the fire turns out to be bad wiring, much of the drama evaporates. But if it is arson, look out. Already Democrats have expressed concern that the courthouse Republicans who control the voting system will compress the number of polling places, making it more difficult for Democratic voters to find where to cast their ballots. This could get really ugly.

John Cobarruvias also compiles the conspiracies.

-- Houston Votes hits back at Leo Vasquez (bold emphasis mine).

Fred Lewis, head of Houston Votes, said, “Those who propagate lies and distortions like those of Mr. Vasquez and his partisan allies are eroding our democracy, and we ask the Voting Rights Section of the Justice Department to immediately investigate and monitor his office and his radical allies.”

Mr. Vasquez’s histrionic complaints are false and defamatory. Houston Votes seeks to register as many Houstonians as are eligible, which Mr. Vasquez unfortunately sees as a “burden” and a threat. Rather than celebrate new registrants, Mr. Vasquez apparently intends to reduce his workload by intimidating people from registering. He and his staff are paid with taxpayer dollars to process voter registration cards. They should do their jobs without complaining or engaging in partisan, political activity.

The recklessness and falseness of Mr. Vasquez’s allegations, combined with his unprofessional and partisan actions, raise serious questions about his political motivations. Houston Votes is asking the Justice Department to investigate voting rights violations by Mr. Vasquez and his office through a political campaign to intimidate voter registration. The Registrar’s Office has a long history of voter suppression. We have reason to believe that his office is continuing its systematic practice of illegally not approving registration applications from eligible citizens despite public outcry and costly litigation.

Mr. Vasquez’s press conference, as part of his official non-partisan duties, was a political circus, with dozens of partisan operatives present. Mr. Vasquez appears to have abused the power of his office by collaborating with the King Street Patriots, a partisan organization that took credit for uncovering the “fraud” alleged against Houston Votes This political organization’s website states “that current political initiatives must be focused on mobilizing the conservative electorate”. It appears that Leo Vasquez openly coordinated with King Street Patriots to further personal political goals and retard the efforts of Houston Votes in registering people. He also appears to have shared legally confidential voter registration data with partisan political third parties, which is unlawful. Both activities warrant a criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

Neil Aquino made it to the press conferences by HV as well as the Liberty Institute (affiliated with the KSP) and reported on them here.

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