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October 20th, 2012:

Saturday video break: 20 years of “Smells Like Nirvana”

I’m a big fan of Weird Al Yankovic, and a big fan of his classic “Smells Like Nirvana”. After reading this story about how the video for that song got made, I’m an even bigger fan of each.

I can’t watch that and not laugh. It’s just brilliant. Hope you enjoyed it as well. I’ll return to the Popdose Top 100 Covers list next week.

Texas appeals DC Court redistricting decision

I suppose this was inevitable.

Texas is appealing a federal court decision that denied preclearance to legislatively drawn redistricting maps, saying the court overstepped its authority under the federal Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Greg Abbott announced late Friday.

That appeal won’t affect the current election.


Earlier this year — after the elections were under way — that court decided that the new maps intentionally discriminated against voting minorities in the state; it’s that ruling that Abbott is appealing. (Here’s a copy of the full filing.)

While that was in the works, a separate three-judge federal panel operating out of San Antonio drew maps for use in the current elections, and those are being used now. Abbott is hoping to free the Legislature’s preferred maps for future elections, and that’s why he’s appealing the ruling.

This was always going to SCOTUS, it was just a matter of when. Michael Li has more details.

The brief argues the panel erred by ruling that Texas needed to increase the number of majority minority congressional districts to keep up with population growth and in holding that Anglo majority crossover districts, such as CD-25 and SD-10, are protected under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The brief also argues that the panel erred by allowing private litigants to intervene and make claims about the state senate map despite the fact that the Justice Department initially did not find problems with that map.

In the alternative, Texas argues that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional.

Once the jurisdiction statement is docketed, DOJ and intervenors will have 30 days to respond. If the Supreme Court decides that the questions raised on appeal are substantial enough to be considered (almost a certainty), the parties will have an opportunity for additional briefing before the case is set for oral argument in the early part of next year.

A decision in the case is not expected until late spring at the earliest.

In the mean time, the parties are due to submit proposals to the San Antonio court by December 1 how to they would propose to have the San Antonio court fix the maps or oversee efforts by the Texas Legislature to fix the maps.

The state’s brief can be found here.

There is still the matter of what the San Antonio court does with the DC Court’s ruling, since they’re the ones that drew the interim maps. That court has both Section 2 and Section 5 issues to deal with. I’m a bit uncertain, but I believe this means that ultimately SCOTUS will get two cases before it, unless they gut Section 5 and make that part of the issue moot. Am I on the right track here? If you know better, leave a comment and let us know.

Presidential campaign contributions in Texas

I suspect there’s not much in this story that will surprise you.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign raised nearly twice as much money in the greater Houston area than that of President Barack Obama – most of it from wealthier upscale communities – but more people overall contributed to the president’s re-election, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of campaign contributions.

Though Romney’s numbers are hardly surprising in a Republican-dominated state, the money trail reflects both the political diversity of the Houston region and the two candidates’ eclectic support in the nation’s fourth-largest city.

Nearly 6,000 people donated $3.6 million to Obama from April 2011 through August of this year, compared with Romney’s nearly 5,260 contributors who gave $6.6 million. Across the state, a total of $20 million in individual contributions went to Romney’s campaign, about $6 million more than Obama received, the analysis shows.

“Obama draws from a middle- and lower-middle class base of voters who make frequent and smaller contributions,” said Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University. “Romney’s contributions come from a wealthier base who make fewer but larger contributions.”

That’s pretty much the story nationwide, with the Obama campaign raising more money. I probably wouldn’t have bothered to link to this story at all, but I had to note this fascinating bit of sentence construction:

In Houston, individual donors gave Obama on average $607 and Romney on average $1,260. The geographic trend reflects distributions of strict party voting and in Obama’s case, race, experts say.

In other words, contributors to the Obama campaign include people who are not white. Because race is only something we note when we are not talking about white people. Or something like that. If anyone would like to explain to me why this sentence would have been any less appropriate or accurate without the words “in Obama’s case”, I’m all ears.

Amazon wine

You may soon be able to order wine from, depending on where you live. Inc. AMZN -0.88% is planning an online marketplace for wine sales directly to consumers, said executives for several California wineries, marking the Seattle Web giant’s second foray into the business in three years.

Amazon hosted a workshop [last week] at a resort in Napa, Calif., and invited members of the Napa Valley Vintners association, said Terry Hall, a spokesman for the group. He said about 100 wineries attended the event.

At the event, Amazon said the marketplace would begin in the coming weeks and the online retailer will charge wineries a 15% commission of the sale price, as well as a monthly fee of about $40, according to people familiar with the workshop.


In 2009, Amazon pulled back from an effort to sell and ship wine after its partner, New Vine Logistics, suspended operations amid financial troubles. This latest effort would spare Amazon the cost and difficulty of shipping fragile and heavy wine bottles by passing that responsibility on to the vineyards themselves.

Wine sales online are challenging due to a patchwork of state-by-state rules that limit which companies can sell alcoholic beverages. And shippers must ensure that recipients signing for packages are at least 21-years-old, the legal limit.

The question you may be asking now is “Will I be able to order wine through Amazon to be shipped to Texas?” And the answer is…I’m not sure. Last year, the TABC cracked down on out of state resellers who were shipping to Texas without a state sales tax permit. The TABC addresses the question of direct shipping of wine to Texas consumers, and one of the things they say is “Under current state law, wholesalers / distributors are not authorized to ship wine directly to consumers in Texas”. However, out of state wineries may ship to Texas if they obtain a direct shipper’s permit, pay sales and excise taxes, and ship to a TABC permitted carrier. So I guess the question is whether Amazon would be considered a wholesaler/distributor in this scenario, or if the fact that the wineries themselves are doing the shipping opens a loophole for this to be permitted. I sense a legislative opportunity here, or failing that, future litigation. Anyone want to be a test case?

Endorsement watch: DMN for Sadler

It’s a strange endorsement, at least from my perspective, but it’ll do.

Paul Sadler

Texans face a decision in this election that has come before them only twice over the last four decades: How to fill a Senate seat that has carried with it a proud lineage of service to the state and nation.

Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is stepping down after almost 20 years in Washington, where she made it a top priority to look out for Texans’ national, state and even personal needs. She first won her post in 1993, succeeding Democrat Lloyd Bentsen, who served for 22 years. Like Hutchison, he provided consistent constituent aid as well as leadership on national and state matters.

The committed work of these two bipartisan leaders to their state creates an impressive, demanding legacy for their successor. Recommending the right candidate to follow in the Hutchison-Bentsen tradition is a responsibility this newspaper takes seriously. That’s why we’ve interviewed both candidates multiple times, examined their public careers, reviewed their answers to our questionnaire, spoken with others who know them well and followed their activities on the campaign trail.

After that thorough examination, we believe Democrat Paul Sadler, 57, is the best person to uphold this legacy of service to Texas and to keep our state relevant where it matters most.


Sadler also is more in tune with our state’s needs. The moderate Democrat speaks knowledgeably about water challenges, the border and defense facilities. He has praised Hutchison for Texas-specific efforts, such as helping El Paso secure a water desalination facility.

Cruz says he’ll fight for Texas projects “if it’s legitimate expenditures.” When asked to elaborate, he didn’t mention specifics beyond assuring that Washington properly funds “roads, freeways and ports.” He’s more focused on interpreting constitutional principles and applying them generally.

The Republican candidate has gained nationwide attention for articulating his beliefs. Since capturing the nomination, the Houston attorney has appeared on numerous talk shows and addressed the GOP convention. If he wins, he will be a rising star in national Republican politics. This newspaper is left with the feeling that he is pushing his personal star more than the star of Texas.

It’s a bit of a surreal experience reading this editorial, as the DMN comes from the perspective of a bizarro fantasy world in which President Obama is an unbending partisan warrior and the biggest problem in Washington is a lack of good manners. Whatever it is they’re smoking, it’s premium stuff. Still, I’ll take the DMN’s delusions over those of the Chron, who seem to think that after arriving in Washington Cruz will shed his ideological trappings and morph into the second coming of Kay Bailey Hutchison. It was exactly the belief that Cruz is unlikely to do so that led the DMN to join the Express News in making the pragmatic choice of Sadler. At least, the Chron is hoping Cruz will morph into KBH; it’s not clear to me that they actually believe it. The Chron also cites Sadler’s lack of financial resources as a reason for picking Cruz, which is just sad on so many levels. Anyway, that makes the endorsement scoreboard 2-1 in Sadler’s favor for now, with the Statesman and the Star-Telegram still to go.