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August 16th, 2014:

Saturday video break: Cool For Cats

Is it really a cover when the lead singer of a band re-does one of that band’s songs as a solo artist? Here’s Squeeze, with Chris Difford at the wheel, doing “Cool For Cats”:

Sometimes solo artists completely change the song of their former band when they record it on their own. Phil Collins’ “Behind The Lines” is nothing like the original Genesis recording. Ditto Sting’s version of “Shadows In The Rain” versus that of The Police. Years later, mostly in live performances, Chris Difford reinvented this song, and others from Squeeze’s catalog. Here he is with Jools Holland doing a sort of swingy version:

The version I have is from a live show called “From New Cross To Nashville”, and it has a countrified of this and other Squeeze songs, complete with pedal steel guitar. I have no recollection how I got that set of songs, but I’m glad I have them because they’re awesome. You’ll have to take my word for it, though, because I can’t find any videos for those songs either. Both of Difford’s versions are closer stylistically to the original than the other examples I cited. Whether you call them a cover or a re-imagining or something else, I generally like seeing creative people revisiting past works to see what else they can get out of them.

Perry indicted

Wow.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on Friday on charges of abuse of power and coercion as part of an ethics inquiry into his veto of funding for the state’s public integrity unit.

The inquiry began last summer after an ethics complaint was filed alleging that Perry had improperly used a veto to deny funding for the unit, which is housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office and focuses on government corruption and tax fraud.

The indictment throws a major wrench in Perry’s possible presidential ambitions; he was in Iowa last week and was expected in both New Hampshire and South Carolina in coming weeks. Perry is the first Texas governor to be indicted in almost a century.

Perry had been riding high and making national headlines in recent weeks, railing against the Obama administration for a perceived lack of response to the humanitarian crisis on the Texas-Mexico border, then reallocating funds to send National Guard troops there himself.

Now, he’ll be playing defense.

The first count, abuse of official capacity, is a first-degree felony with a potential penalty of five to 99 years in prison. The second count, coercion of a public servant, is a third-degree felony with a penalty of two to 10 years.

Michael McCrum, the special investigator in the case, said he interviewed more than 40 people and reviewed hundreds of documents in the case.

He said that a time would be set up for Perry to come to court, be arraigned and given official notice of his charges.

I’ve done a ton of blogging on this, so click away for the backstory, or read the NYT story and this Observer explainer to get caught up. You can also see the original complaint and press release from TPJ. The key thing to keep in mind is that while a lot of headlines (like this one) will say that Perry was indicted because of the veto of the Public Integrity Unit funds, that’s really not quite accurate. It was the threat of the veto combined with the demand that Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg – elected by the people and not answerable to Rick Perry – accede to Perry’s order or else. That’s where he overstepped his bounds, and it’s what the veto is all about. What happens from here – other than the you-know-what hitting the fan – is anyone’s guess. Remember how Tom DeLay was indicted in 2006 and his legal fate is still unresolved? We could be here for awhile, is what I’m saying. Texas Politics, Trail Blazers, the HuffPo, the Statesman, the Observer, Hair Balls, Burka, the Current, Juanita, the AusChron, PDiddie, Ross Ramsey, and Progress Texas have more.

Rob Manfred to succeed Bud Selig as MLB Commissioner

There will be a changing of the guard for Major League Baseball.

Rob Manfred

Rob Manfred was elected baseball’s 10th commissioner Thursday, winning a three-man competition to succeed Bud Selig and given a mandate by the tradition-bound sport to recapture young fans and speed play in an era that has seen competition increase and attention spans shrink.

The 55-year-old Manfred, who has worked for Major League Baseball in roles with ever-increasing authority since 1998, will take over from Selig, 80, on Jan. 25. It’s a generational change much like the NBA undertook when Adam Silver, then 51, replaced 71-year-old David Stern as commissioner in February. And like Silver, Manfred was his boss’ pick.

Manfred beat out Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner in the first contested vote for a new commissioner in 46 years. The third candidate, MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, dropped out just before the start of balloting.

“I am tremendously honored by the confidence that the owners showed in me today,” Manfred said. “I have very big shoes to fill.”

Selig has led baseball since September 1992, first as chairman of the sport’s executive council following Fay Vincent’s forced resignation, then as commissioner since July 1998. After announcing his intention to retire many times only to change his mind, he said last September that he really, truly planned to leave in January 2015.

[…]

Manfred has been chief operating officer since September 2013, a role in which he reports directly to Selig and oversees functions such as labor relations, baseball operations, finance, administration and club governance.

Manfred had spent the previous 15 years as MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, and received an expanded role of executive vice president of economics and league affairs in 2012. He was the point man in negotiating the past three labor agreements, with all three negotiated without a work stoppage for the first time since the rise of the MLB Players Association in the 1970s. He also helped lead negotiations for the first joint drug agreement that was instituted in 2002 and has been strengthened repeatedly.

Manfred started with baseball in 1987 as a lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who assisted in collective bargaining.

Manfred has been to Selig what Silver was to Stern — a longtime trusted aide who negotiated labor deals, handled crises such as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bankruptcy saga and was intimately involved in major issues ranging from drug testing to revenue sharing. Manfred has taken criticism in recent months, however, for some of the methods baseball employed in its controversial Biogenesis investigation.

“There is no doubt in my mind he has the training, the temperament, the experience to be a very successful commissioner,” Selig said, “and I have justifiably very high expectations.”

Manfred — whose term was not specified but is expected to receive a three-year contract, according to multiple reports — grew up in Rome, New York, about an hour’s drive from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He must address issues that include decreased interest in baseball among younger people and an average game time that has stretched to 3:03, up 30 minutes from 1981. And he will be leading an opinionated group of multimillionaires and billionaires.

“I think some of Rob’s greatest attributes are his ability to reach consensus,” said St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who chaired the committee that picked the three candidates.

If you’ve read my blog for a few years, you know I’ve never been a fan of Bud Selig. I’ve always assigned him the primary blame for the 1994 strike and all the ridiculous “contraction” talk a few years after that. Don’t even get me started on the whole PED fiasco and the resultant mess that Hall of Fame voting has become. That said, baseball has had tremendous growth lately, they’re at the forefront of online media, there’s been a 20 year run of labor peace that should continue with the next collective bargaining agreement, and they’ve finally taken some steps to modernize umpiring and make it more accountable via instant replay. Selig deserves credit for those things, and to the extent that Rob Manfred can build on them, baseball will continue to be in good shape. I wish Rob Manfred the best of luck in the new gig. Deadspin, the NYT, MLB.com, and Pinstripe Alley have more.

Uber and Lyft go prank calling each other

I find this pretty funny, in a juvenile-delinquent sort of way.

Uber

Uber employees have ordered and canceled more than 5,000 rides from rival Lyft since last October, according to new data provided by Lyft. The data was obtained at CNNMoney’s request when reporting another story on the companies’ competition.

It’s the latest in a pattern of aggressive and questionable tactics by Uber to control the car-on-demand market, according to rivals.

And it’s not just a rogue employee or two: Lyft claims 177 Uber employees around the country have booked and canceled rides in that time frame.

Bogus requests decrease Lyft drivers’ availability, which could send users to Uber instead. But it’s not just the company that suffers. Canceled rides jeopardize income that Lyft drivers depend on — plus they spend time and gas money en route to passengers who have no intention of taking a ride.

And even when Uber employees don’t cancel, Lyft drivers complain to headquarters that they take short, low-profit rides largely devoted to luring them to work for Uber.

Lyft

Lyft claims to have cross-referenced the phone numbers associated with known Uber recruiters with those attached to accounts that have canceled rides. They found, all told, 5,560 phantom requests since October 3, 2013.

There was nothing to suggest that Uber’s corporate office commissioned the canceled rides or even that they were aware of them.

One Lyft passenger, identified by seven different Lyft drivers as an Uber recruiter, canceled 300 rides from May 26 to June 10. That user’s phone number was tied to 21 other accounts, for a total of 1,524 canceled rides.

Another Uber recruiter created 14 different accounts responsible for 680 cancellations.

A single account from a Los Angeles-based Uber representative canceled 49 rides from October through mid-April.

According to Lyft drivers, identifiable by trademark pink mustaches on the hood of their cars, some Uber recruiters may be trying to conceal their identity (which would be consistent with creating dozens of accounts linked to the same phone number). An Uber employee whose phone number was tied to 102 cancellations was reported as using a different name on his account than the one he used in the car.

It’s not the first time Uber has been accused of canceling rides on a competing service. Earlier this year, CNNMoney reported that Uber staffers in New York called and withdrew over 100 ride requests with another taxi app, Gett, in the span of three days. After that incident, Uber said in a statement that they would “tone down their sales tactics.”

Well, the Dale Carnegie way isn’t exactly Uber’s style. I laugh at the absurdity of all this, but I imagine it’s not so funny for the drivers that are getting punked. Of course, now Uber is saying that Lyft has done the same to them.

Today Uber accused Lyft of the same “shady tactics,” alleging that Lyft drivers and employees, including a cofounder, had canceled nearly 13,000 trips on Uber.

Furthermore, Uber provided some inside baseball about what’s happening behind the scenes between the two companies. It claims that Lyft investors have been urging Uber to buy its competitors, and that it had been warned Lyft would “go nuclear” if that didn’t happen.

The allegations come as the competitive environment has heated up between the two companies, as each tries to grab market share in a number of cities around the country. That means getting both passengers and drivers on board as demand heats up for transportation you can hail with a mobile app.

For instance, Lyft recently launched a new product in San Francisco called Lyft Line that allows multiple passengers to share and split a fare between them. But Uber announced its own competitive product the day before Lyft’s announcement.

Uber claims that Lyft’s investors are trying to force Uber to acquire Lyft, which Lyft denies. The two companies have been trying to steal each others’ thunder in other ways as well. All of this reminds me of this:

And just to bring it all back to Houston, The Highwayman reminds us that even though Council has passed an ordinance allowing Uber and Lyft to operate here, it doesn’t take effect until November. Until then, the same prohibition on charging for rides without a taxi license is in place, and the citations that Uber and Lyft drivers have racked up so far aren’t going away without some kind of mass plea bargain. So figure that we’re good for at least one more story about that here before the gates are officially opened. Thanks to Techblog for the heads up.

Game room lawsuit dismissed

From last week:

After a lengthy tussle over new game room regulations for Harris County, a federal judge Tuesday issued an order denying requests from a local game room owner to stop the new regulations.

“The game room situation in Harris County is a big problem,” said Fred Keys, an assistant attorney for Harris County. “This is a good result for the citizens of Harris County.”

In his suit against both county and city officials, game room owner Fabian Elizondo was attempting to stop enforcement of new game room regulations, which took effect May 30. He contended the new Harris County regulations would inhibit his right to make a living because the rules are too vague, making them difficult to follow.

U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner issued an order denying requests for relief from Elizondo, including his request for a permanent injunction against enforcing the new regulations. Hittner is expected to issue a final judgement in the next few weeks.

Attempts to reach Elizondo’s attorney were unsuccessful.

Now, Elizondo and his seven game rooms will be responsible for complying with those new regulations. The only regulation he is safe from, for now, is getting new county permits.

See here for the last update. Harris County adopted tighter rules late last year, and is doing the enforcement of the rules, with HPD working under these rules for enforcement within Houston. I’ll be interested to see what if any effect this has on the game rooms – will they comply, or will they just go further underground? Should make for an interesting case study if nothing else.