Archive for the ‘Texas’ Category

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#39 in a series)

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Sherry Cook is retiring May 23rd.

Ms. Cook, if you didn’t know, was the executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the agency that enforces the state’s liquor laws. (And yes, I recognize the…irony?…in having someone named “Sherry” in that role. Onward!) She’s been in that post since 2012.

Why retire now?

The decision comes a month after the Texas Tribune reported that Cook and other agency employees spent thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for trips to resorts in Florida and Hawaii, among other places, for meetings hosted by the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, an industry trade group.

But the thing that seems to have really upset people?

Cook was grilled last week during a House General Investigating and Ethics Committee hearing about, among other things, a flyer that depicted Cook and other top agency officials holding or drinking Lone Star Beer as they rode on a plane on their way to a liquor administrators conference.
According to the Tribune, Cook told lawmakers that the flyer was an “inappropriate use of our time” and agreed it was a misuse of state resources to exchange emails about creating it.

You get the feeling that this would have kept on, if she hadn’t rubbed her travel in the faces of her employees? Seems like an important safety tip or two: if you’ve got to go to conferences, make them someplace not exotic, like Buffalo in January. Or if you do have to go somewhere exotic, complain the whole time. Don’t make up a flyer with shiny happy beer drinking people on a plane to Cali.

Reacting to the announcement, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a tweet: “It’s time to clean house from regulators not spending taxpayer money wisely. This is a good start.”

Memo from the police beat.

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

The past few days have been busy ones for law enforcement in and around Austin, and not just because of South By So What. Here’s a quick survey of some things that I’ve found interesting.

There’s a new plan for the APD DNA lab: get Texas DPS to run it.

Under a proposed contract, the city of Austin will pay the Texas Department of Public Safety $800,000 a year to manage all aspects of the lab, including procedures for analyzing forensic evidence and the oversight of employees hired by the DPS to work there.
The newly named Department of Public Safety Capital Area Regional Lab will focus exclusively on Austin police cases, Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay said.

I suppose this is better than nothing, or the current state of affairs. And $800,000 sounds like a reasonable amount of money if the new management from DPS is going to fix all the problems and claw through the backlog. But I still think we’d be better off with an independent lab like Houston’s, or making the existing lab am arm of the courts.

Speaking of the DNA lab, here’s a story I haven’t seen reported anywhere else:

In the first legislation of its kind, the lawmaker, State Representative Victoria Neave, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced the bill in February to solicit donations of $1 or more from people when they renew or apply for driver’s licenses. The money would underwrite a grant for the Department of Public Safety to test what are commonly called “rape kits,” which consist of evidence samples including hair, semen, fabric fibers and skin cells.

(Note that the paper of record characterizes this as “crowdfunding”, which I find a bit misleading.)

If adopted, it could generate an estimated $1 million a year, based on similar donations collected for veterans from driver’s license applications, according to a legislative budget document. When administrative costs are deducted, that would leave more than $800,000 every fiscal year that local governments could tap to push through testing of evidence collected from the victims of sexual assault during a physical examination that can take four to six hours.

Where have I heard $800,000 recently? Oh, yeah.

The donations are intended to supplement rather than replace a budget for the testing, which can cost $1,000 to $1,500 for each kit. The Legislature, which is now in budget talks, is also considering allocating $4 million to fund the process, said Rebecca Acuna, Ms. Neave’s chief of staff.

You know what I’d really like to see? A breakdown of where that “$1,000 to $1,500 for each kit” goes. I’m not against rape kit testing – quite the opposite – but I’m curious why it costs that much. I’m also curious if this cost has increased or decreased over time, with improved technology. And are there possibly better, faster, and cheaper ways of testing rape kits without sacrificing accuracy?

Two people shot and killed last night, and a third airlifted with “critical, life-threatening” injuries.

If you look at the Stateman‘s handy Google map, you’ll see this took place not terribly far from the Lake Travis High School/Education Center complex. My mother and I were down there last night with a bunch of other people….attending the Lakeway Police Department’s Citzens Police Academy class. As a matter of fact, right around the time of the shooting, we were out in the parking lot looking at the Lakeway PD patrol cars (Chevy Tahoes. This led someone to ask, “Why the switch to SUVs?” I suspect most of my readers know the answer already, but in case you don’t: “Because Ford stopped making the Crown Vic, the greatest patrol car ever given to us by God.”) and the Lakeway PD police motorcycles (Harley Davidsons). I don’t recall hearing any shots or even the Starflight helicopter.

Even better, we had just finished listening to a presentation from one of the people who does the Lakeway PD statistical analysis about how safe Lakeway was, how many calls for service/stops/arrests there were year to year, and what the major categories were. “Homicide” didn’t even register. (Technically, it’s probably still true that Lakeway is relatively safe, even though the shooter is at large: I believe the shooting happened near, but outside of, the Lakeway city limits, so it would be chalked up as “unincorporated Travis County”.)

The first we knew about it was when we were breaking up for the night: the second in command of the department (who also runs the classes, and who usually jokes around a lot) came in and said “I want everyone to listen to me very closely. Two people have been shot near here and the shooter is still at large. We are going to walk everyone to the parking lot and make sure you all get into your cars safely. I need for you to leave the area as quickly as you possibly can.” That will put some spring in your step.

Reports are that this was “an isolated incident”, possibly a “disgruntled contractor” who shot these people because he didn’t get paid. Which is just stupid: if you shoot people, they can’t pay you.

And speaking of the Lakeway CPA, for reasons: a interesting and contrarian point of view from Grits For Breakfast in opposition to a statewide ban on “texting and driving”.

We need a Class D fire extinguisher.

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Flaming hyenas update, for the record:

A federal judge on Thursday dismissed, for a second and final time, a lawsuit by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of securities fraud in private business deals in 2011.

(Warning: auto-play video.)

(Previously.)

I thought the criminal case against AG Paxton had been dismissed and I just forgot to note it. But, according to the linked Statesnan article, that’s still on track to start May 1st.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#35 in a series)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Lawrence beat me to it, but only because I have to wait until my lunch hour to blog.

According to “a person with knowledge of the case”, state representative Dawnna Dukes has been indicted by a grand jury.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, faces two misdemeanor counts of abuse of official capacity and 13 felony counts of tampering with public records, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

She could get 28 years in prison, but we all know there’s no way in heck she’s going to get that much of a sentence if she is convicted. (I know, these are state, not federal, charges, but Ken’s principle still applies.)

You may remember Rep. Dukes was playing “Let’s Make a Deal” with DA Lehmburg late last year. Ms. Dukes decided she wasn’t going to resign after all because “the people” wanted her to stay (in spite of her poor attendance record).

We don’t need no education…

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Hoping to reduce violent confrontations during traffic stops and other encounters with police, an influential Texas senator filed a bill Wednesday to require all public high school freshmen to take a course in how to interact with law officers.

Show your children the classic Chris Rock video, “How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By the Police”. Problem solved in five minutes. No need for a course. As a public service to those of you who have children, I’ll even embed it here for you.

I’m really about 80% serious when I say that: there’s actually a lot of really sound advice in that video.

And I wouldn’t mind a class that taught “how to interact with law officers”, but I think that should just be part of a larger class. I’d also teach how the DA’s office works and how crimes are prosecuted, how civil court works, and I’d bring in defense attorneys (maybe even someone from the ACLU) to go over what your rights as a suspect are. I almost want to say that they used to call this “Civics”.

But I’d probably teach this as part of a larger year-long class for high school students which I’ve been calling “S–t You Need To Know”. I’d also want to cover things like basic car maintenance (how to check fluid levels and change a flat), basic gun safety, strategies for avoiding being a crime victim, statistical fallacies and how to recognize them, bad science and how to recognize it…there’s a whole bunch of things that I think graduating seniors need to know, but aren’t getting taught unless they have exceptional parents.

Feel free to leave your proposed curriculum item in the comments.

Noted.

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

I voted early today.

There was almost no line. This was at around 12:30 PM at the Randall’s in Lakeway.

Just a data point.

Obit watch: August 6, 2016.

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

Joaquin Jackson passed away June 15 of this year. I did not learn of his death until I flipped through this month’s Texas Monthly at the grocery store today, and I’m not sure how I missed that. Brief tribute from TM. Statesman.

For those folks unfamiliar with Mr. Jackson, he served for 27 years as a Texas Ranger, from 1966 to 1993. His time as a Ranger spanned what I’d call the end of the old Texas and the beginning of the new Texas; the evolution from horses and cattle to technology. He retired in 1993, ostensibly because of his discomfort at changes taking place in the Rangers organization. (However, he states in one of his books that his reasons were actually more complex and personal than that.)

In 1994, he appeared on the cover of Texas Monthly as part of an article on the changes taking place in the Rangers. The cover made him an icon. He went on to do some private investigation work, and appeared in several movies.

Jackson was a member of the governing board of the National Rifle Association, once getting into hot water over remarks he made about assault weapons.
“I personally believe a weapon should never have over, as far as a civilian, a five-round capacity,” he told then-Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith in 2005. “If you’re a hunter, if you’re going to go hunting with a weapon, you shouldn’t need over but one round. So five rounds would be plenty. … Personally, I think assault weapons basically … need to be in the hands of the military and in the hands of the police.”
He later backpedaled from the remarks, claiming that he was talking only about fully automatic weapons and not about semiautomatic rifles.

I remember that controversy, and I’m convinced Jackson knew exactly what he was saying at the time and was covering his butt later. (If you doubt he knew the difference between fully automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons, read Chapter 6 of One Ranger and then try to tell me otherwise.)

He also wrote two books. One Ranger is a damn fine book. I try to snap up firsts of this every time I find them, as I am convinced this will be seen as an important Texas book in the coming years. The sequel, One Ranger Returns, had a different co-author and is not quite as good, in my humble opinion. (There are some interesting things in it; mostly background from his family.)

In spite of my disagreement with him, I would have enjoyed meeting him and shaking his hand. I missed the chance, sadly: he appeared a few times as the Texas Book Festival, but I was never able to get down there on those weekends.

His passing leaves a hole that can’t be filled.

Dallas.

Friday, July 8th, 2016

I went to bed pretty early last night (after a frustrating attempt to deal with Wells Fargo) and didn’t find out what was going on until 5 AM this morning. (Great and good friend of the blog RoadRich texted and emailed us, but we were sound asleep when things started breaking.)

I really haven’t even had a chance to look at the news yet, and don’t have any profound thoughts. But I wanted to get something up. Consider this an open thread for discussion and updates.

Dallas Morning News coverage.

Please keep in mind:

In a semi-related vein, this is an interesting thread from Reason’s “Hit and Run”. Part of my answer to this is: the author is asking this question less than 24 hours after the incident took place. All the facts were not in, and probably still are not in even now. Why should the NRA (or any other organization) be making public statements until we have all the facts?

Edited to add: Been tied up. Apologies. The reports I’m seeing now pretty much all state that the dead gunman was killed by a breaching charge attached to a police robot. The temptation is great to make Asimov jokes, but the situation is too serious, so I’ll just link to this Statesman article which quotes the “executive director of a nationally recognized police active-shooter training facility in San Marcos” as stating it was “unprecedented but perfectly legal.”

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#29 in a series)

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Okay, maybe not flames, since this is a civil suit. But I run an equal opportunity blog here, and there are also criminal charges involved.

The SEC is suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

According to the SEC, Paxton recruited investors for Servergy Inc. in 2011 without disclosing that the company was paying him to drum up support and without trying to confirm Servergy’s claims that it had developed a revolutionary new server that was, in reality, based on outdated technology.

The SEC claims that Paxton was paid $100,000 worth of stock, and, when asked about it by the SEC, claimed the stock was a “gift” from William Mapp, who was Servergy’s chairman at the time. Mapp is also accused of fraud, and a third man (“Caleb White, a Tyler businessman”) is also accused of failing to disclose commissions he received. According to the HouChron, “Servergy and White already have settled their cases by paying a combined $260,000 in penalties.”

More from the Chron:

The complaint alleges that Paxton told the SEC that he intended to pay for the shares and even offered to pay $100,000 to Mapp during a meeting at a Dairy Queen in McKinney, Texas.
According to Paxton, Mapp then said, “I can’t take your money. God doesn’t want me to take your money.” So, Paxton took the shares as a gift.

I think the important question here is: what did AG Paxton order at the Dairy Queen? Is he a Blizzard man? Maybe some sort of sundae, or possibly even a banana split? A Peanut Buster Parfait? Or is he just a humble dipped-cone sort of guy? The people demand to know!

(Damn it. I went to the DQ web site to check spellings. Now I want a S’Mores Blizzard, and the nearest DQ is miles away.)

Data point.

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Something that might be of interest to Texas People of the Gun:

My license to carry was up for renewal this year. I filled in the renewal application online on March 3rd.

My new license was in the post office box when I checked yesterday. So Texas DPS processed it in, at most, a little over two weeks. Not bad, not bad at all.

(To be fair: I did not have to take a renewal class this cycle, so I wasn’t required to send in proof of that. Also, while Texas DPS did warn me that this was a possibility, it turned out I did not have to get new fingerprints or a new photo. And I suppose it is distantly possible that these results were skewed by the fact that I had to go through recent background checks with the Austin Police Department for the Citizen’s Police Academy classes and my ride-along with APD.)

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! (#22 in a series)

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

For those who were wondering when I was going to put up Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, here you go. Not even paywalled, as of this writing.

(I probably should have put this up yesterday, but the workday was frantically busy, and I came home and collapsed after dinner. Sorry.)

According to the indictments, Paxton failed to tell stock buyers — including state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, and Florida businessman Joel Hochberg, who each purchased more than $100,000 in Servergy stock and were listed as complainants on the fraud charges — that he had been compensated with 100,000 shares of Servergy. Paxton also said he was an investor in Servergy when he had not invested his own money in the company, the charges indicated.

Of course, these are just charges, he’s entitled to the presumption of innocence, yadda yadda yadda.

The time has come…

Friday, May 29th, 2015

…to purchase a nice holster.

Hmmmmm. You can get a Dragon Leatherworks Quantum for a Browning Hi-Power…