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EARLY VOTING FOR PRIMARIES STARTS TUESDAY
by Trey Garrison    Sun, Feb 19, 2006, 04:50 PM

Early voting begins Tuesday for the March 7 Republican and Democrat primaries. The slate covers offices from the lowest justice of the peace positions to the governor's office.

Turnout is always light for primaries, but you can't complain if you don't have skin in the game. Or something like that. And this is going to be a fun election year. You have everything from grandmas to singing Jewish cowboys to an honest-to-goodness male prostitute on the ballot. Jerry Springer has nothing on our election slate.

Get out. Vote.

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CORRECTION! ON TOUCH SCREEN VOTING
by Carolyn Barta    Sun, Feb 19, 2006, 03:58 PM

Optical scan voting machines will NOT be replaced by electronic voting machines in Dallas County, according to a previous dallasblog report that was based on information from the secretary of state’s office. Each precinct in Dallas will have one touch screen machine for disabled voters, but optical scan paper ballots will be used for all other voters, according to Dallas County Elections Director Bruce Sherbet.

After various questions were raised by bloggers last week about our report on electronic voting machines and the lack of a paper trail, we contacted the county elections department for clarification. Following is the response from Sherbet:

There will be one touchscreen voting machine in each election day polling place for use by disabled voters. The machines are a requirement starting 2006 under the Help America Vote Act. Dallas County will continue to vote on optical scan paper ballots for all other voters in the election day polling places. We have voted by the optical scan precinct count method since 1998. This year we have purchased new optical scan precinct ballot counters. I do not anticipate this voting method changing before 2012. We have used touchscreen voting machines in early voting since 1998. We upgraded to a newer version touchscreen machine in 2004.

Currently, there are no touch screen voting systems in use in Texas that are certified for VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail). In the 2005 Texas Legislative Session there were five bills filed that called for VVPAT on all touchscreen voting systems. None of the bills made it out of committee. The last time I checked I think twenty-five states have passed some form of legislation mandating VVPAT. Of those states, fourteen passed legislation that identified the VVPAT receipt as the official ballot to be used in recounts. I am sure there will be more bills calling for VVPAT in our next legislature. It is my understanding that all of the major election system vendors have developed VVPAT products that can be attached to the currently used touchscreen voting machines.

Thanks to Bruce Sherbet for clearing up the erroneous information.  Secretary of State Roger Williams currently has a mobile van that is traveling around the state as part of his VOTEXAS voter education program. During an appearance in Dallas last week, he demonstrated a touch screen electronic voting machine that he said would be in use in Dallas. He gave no indication that the machine would be provided only for disabled voters while everyone else would continue to fill in the circles in the optical scan system. 

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SMU HITS SNAG IN ATTEMPT TO SNAG BUSH LIBRARY
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Sun, Feb 19, 2006, 08:39 AM

SMU.jpgMost folks living in Dallas don’t read the New York Sun. But there is an article in its February 17th edition well worth the read. It notes that this week a law suit will begin between SMU and adjacent condo owners over alleged attempts by SMU to drive them out. The reason, they allege, is to that SMU can build the George W. Bush presidential library on that spot. This isn’t an eminent domain issue. SMU is a majority owner of the condos and has votes in management. But the residents say SMU has responsibilities too and they have refused to meet them to drive the residents out. However, the article goes much further and discusses the pros and cons of SMU, Baylor, Texas Tech, and the University of Dallas as prospective sites for the library.  The Selection Committee is expected to make site selection by the end of March.

Click here to read Article ...

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GEREN DRAWS TWO OPPONENTS, DEFENDS RECORD by Christine DeLoma
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Sat, Feb 18, 2006, 08:00 PM

226177-274850-thumbnail.jpg
Charlie Geren
Three-term GOP incumbent Charlie Geren is fighting to keep his seat in House District 99. He’s being challenged in the primary by retired Lt. Col. Chris Hatley and probation officer Colby Brown on issues such as illegal immigration, gambling, and eminent domain.

Hatley doesn’t think Geren is conservative enough. Brown is concerned over the Legislature’s failure to fix school reform. Geren, on the other hand, told LSR he didn’t "give a damn" what his opponents were saying about him.

However, Geren did seem to care about what Tom Owens of Lumberton, Tex., was saying about him.

Owens, a social conservative activist who runs the website VoteAmericaFirst.com, recently sent a mailer to voters in House District 99 calling Geren a "sold-out Liberal." In a candidates’ forum this week, Geren took issue, not with his opponents Hatley and Brown, but with Owens’ representation of his record.

"I know some of you all have been getting mail and it’s a bunch of lies," Geren said. "The lies are coming from a man in Lumberton, Tex., about me, about my family."

The flyer says that Geren voted to give Texas drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens. "That is not true," Geren said. "First of all, I did not vote for them [illegals] to be able to get legal drivers’ licenses…What I voted for was to allow people in the United States, in Texas, who are not citizens of the state of Texas, who are here on a work visa or some other thing like a diplomat or a student, to be able to get a drivers’ license while they are here."

Owens was referring to an amendment to HB 3588 that Geren voted for in the 78th Regular Session. It would have allowed the Department of Public Safety to issue Texas drivers’ licenses to non-residents if presented with foreign government-issued identification such as a matricula consular card. The issue is controversial, opponents say, because the cards are easy to counterfeit.

Hatley and Brown are not affiliated with Owens and do not condone or support his tactics, although both have said they would oppose allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses.

HD 99 is a predominantly Republican district that encompasses the western portion of Fort Worth and includes Saginaw, White Settlement, and Azle. The district often elects conservative candidates, and illegal immigration, while typically a federal matter, has become an issue in the race.

According to Hatley, who spent 27 years in the Army, the campaign’s two main issues are immigration and taxes. "When I looked up Charlie’s voting record," he said, "… I wasn’t expecting to find someone other than a conservative Republican here in Tarrant County." That’s one of the reasons he agreed, at the urging of local Tarrant County Republican leaders, to run against Geren.

Hatley has proposed creating a full-time Border Security Task Force bringing local, state and federal law enforcement together to work to solve the problem of illegal immigration.

Brown said the idea of giving drivers’ licenses to illegal aliens "really scares me to death." He said such a policy would make it easier for terrorists to move about the country. Aliens coming into the country must go through a documentation process first and get the necessary identification, he said.

Other issues of concern are legalized gambling and eminent domain. An audience member at the forum asked the candidates their position on bringing gambling to the Fort Worth Stockyards.

"I voted for a bill that will allow the people of Texas to vote whether they want gambling or not," Geren responded. "[The voters] elected our Governor and all our statewide officials, all Republicans. I want to let these same people vote to decide. I don’t care if it’s gambling or not, but I want the people of Texas to decide if they need it."

Hatley said he opposes gambling in Texas. "Charlie’s the one who tried to move the gambling legislation through," Hatley said in a recent interview with LSR. "He keeps saying, well, "Let’s let the voters decide’… [On] something of that magnitude, don’t you think you ought to be representing your district as opposed to coming up and trying to move something through to vote on in a constitutional amendment?… [H]e’s not serving the interests of the voters in the district. I will."

Gambling brings its own set of problems , said Brown. "Gambling puts a strain on social services," he said. "I also think it puts a strain on law enforcement."

Eminent domain was another hot topic at the forum. In 2005, Geren passed HB 2639, empowering the Tarrant Regional Water Board to create a nonprofit entity with eminent domain powers, able to acquire private property for economic development purposes. The board is considering development of a $435 million entertainment district called the Trinity River Vision Project, similar to San Antonio’s River Walk.

Hatley has criticized Geren on this issue, saying the purpose of the water board is to ensure water conservation, flood control and recreation enhancement, not to enter into economic development projects. However, Geren’s bill now allows boards to do that.

The issue is controversial in the district, Hatley said, because over 85 private businesses are going to be bulldozed for the sake of the economic development project. "That is an egregious breach of private property rights," Hatley said. "...And I don’t care what anybody says."

Brown as well opposes the taking of private property for economic development. "Why don’t you go and take some undeveloped land instead of like the Trinity Vision Project which is dislocating 89 businesses…kicking 89 businesses out?" Brown said. "What are these people supposed to do? It’s their livelihood… We need to make a distinction between public use and economic use, and I will vote against eminent domain in this district."

Geren defended his position on eminent domain. "I already have voted against eminent domain for economic development in the special session…," Geren said. "It was signed into law by Gov. [Rick] Perry. We voted. Everyone in the House voted for it, to take away the ability to use economic development as an excuse for eminent domain. There was a bill [HB 2639] that I passed that had that in it," he said. "We took it out. It was crafted after another bill, and we took it out this summer. We all voted to restrict eminent domain for economic development, and I voted for that."

However, Hatley disputes Geren’s explanation. "Charlie says they changed the legislation. But it’s been grandfathered," Hatley said. "The bulldozers are starting their engines… It’s really a shame."

At the forum, Geren accused San Antonio philanthropist-activist Jim Leininger and Houston home builder Bob Perry of trying to buy the election by contributing to Hatley’s campaign.

Several House Republican incumbents who voted against school choice, Geren among them, have opponents who are receiving funds from Leininger, through the Texas Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (TRLCC). Leininger — an advocate of choice — has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns to unseat Reps. Carter Casteel (R-New Braunfels), Roy Blake (R-Nacogdoches), Tommy Merritt (R-Longview), and Delwin Jones (R-Lubbock).

According to the 30-day contribution and expenditure report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, Leininger, the TRLCC, and Perry gave over $60,000 to the Hatley campaign. Hatley raised a total of $62,000 during the reporting period with over $16,000 cash on-hand.

"It’s not Chris’s fault…," said Geren, "but Dr. Leininger is trying to buy District 99, and I won’t stand here and take it. I’m going to do everything I can from keeping him from doing it."

It’s difficult to compete with an incumbent, said Hatley. "An incumbent typically has just about all the funding sewn up pretty tightly when they run for reelection," he said. "I am extremely excited about the fact that there are actually conservatives out there throughout the state of Texas, and I have not even talked to them. And they have given me money to support my campaign."

Geren, on the other hand, has received several thousands of dollars in donations from political action committees like the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, Texas Restaurant Association, and the Texas State Teachers Association. Geren raised $85,000 during the 30-day reporting period and has nearly $182,000 cash on-hand.

Brown has raised $30,000 for his campaign.

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ASIA'S TIGER ECONOMY MAY FAIL By Tom Pauken II
by Scott Bennett    Sat, Feb 18, 2006, 07:53 PM

Astute observers of foreign financial markets have witnessed the transformation of the Asia-Pacific economy, with many Asian nations moving from backward, third-world economies to first world status. Japan stands as the world’s second largest economy. China leaped from a GDP of $147 billion in 1978 to $2.26 trillion in 2005. South Korea emerged as a leading exporting nation. Singapore, formerly a primitive town, plays a pivotal role as an international financial center in the global economy. Vietnam is following the lead of its fellow Communist nation, China, by instituting economic reforms. Malaysia and Thailand enjoy a thriving tourism industry, as well as having significant manufacturing operations. A number of leading economists even have stated that the economic future of the 21st century lies with Asia not America; but the jury is still out on that prediction.

Recent incidents however, suggest that an economic crisis in Asia may be looming, with events in Japan setting the stage. On January 24, 2006 Takefumie Horie, president of Livedoor (an internet company), was arrested on charges of violating the securities exchange laws. He was accused of trying to influence the company’s stock price by spreading false information, issuing new shares, buying businesses already under his company’s control and then selling them at higher prices to create false profits. Mr Horie’s arrest sent shockwaves throughout Japanese business community. The day after his arrest the stock market in Japan, which had been on a bull market rampage, plunged 336.04 points (2.14%).

The Japanese media has been reporting on other acts of business corruption, leading investors to question the integrity of the entire corporate system in Japan. A successful architect conspired to build apartments that didn’t meet earthquake codes. Construction companies have been indicted for bid-rigging on highway contracts. Defense department officials were caught defrauding the U.S. army over base relocations. 70% of Japanese firms recently polled believe that their government must enforce stricter regulations over business activities going forward.

On the other hand, South Korea’s economy has been hampered by excessive regulations. At a New Year’s press conference, President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea, announced plans to raise taxes, expand the bureaucracy and increase government regulations. He stated that closing the income gap deserves more attention than strengthening the economy. His policies have scared away many foreign investors.

While South Korea’s economy is driven by its exports, its currency (the Korean Won) appreciated significantly against the US dollar last year, making its products more expensive while American imports are cheaper. South Korea’s trade surplus in January 2006 increased by an annualized rate of 4.3%, its slowest monthly growth in five years.

China will suffer the most of any Asian nation if its foreign trade deteriorates. Hazards remain on the horizon. Last year China’s trade surplus with the U.S. was $114.7 billion. Understandably, American manufacturers are raising their voices against these imbalances. If the U.S. Congress were to impose trade sanctions, China would be in a difficult position.

Also, the continuation of higher and higher oil prices could spell doom for the Asia-Pacific region since the Asian nations must import most of their energy supply. The Asia-Pacific region has become an expensive place to live due to exorbitant real estate prices, but it is questionable whether these values can be sustained. Asians have invested much of their savings in the real estate market, naively assuming that prices will keep rising. (This sounds like certain housing markets in the U.S.) It’s problems like these that could pop the Asian economic bubble.

Statements of possible gloom and doom sound out of synch in the Asian-Pacific region where nations like China and South Korea have shown such explosive growth in recent decades. But, Asia is not immune to a possible downturn in the world economy. Lest one forget on October 27, 1929, most Americans assumed that their investments would continue to soar to new heights. The stock market crashed the next day. Some observers warned them about a possible downturn, but most Americans didn’t listen to those critics of the U.S. economy then. Are similar warning signs telling Asians that their economic bubble may soon be popped? If so, not many people seem to be taking heed.

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CHINESE ARE HEAVY BUYERS OF U.S. TREASURIES
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Sat, Feb 18, 2006, 03:41 PM

In his weekly column for prudentbear.com, Doug Noland reveals how heavily dependant the U.S. is on China buying our U.S. Treasuries to keep our interest rates low.  He quotes Xinhua Finance News (XFN) on the matter:  "China has bought nearly 40% of new U.S. Treasury issuance in recent years...Without fund inflows from China, it would be impossible for the U.S. to keep its interest rates at such a low level with its surging budget deficit."

Shouldn't this heavy reliance on China to buy our U.S currency cause our Washington politicians  to re-think their  rather indifferent attitude towards our huge budget and trade deficits?  One of these days, The Chinese may decide to stop buying our Treasuries.  What happens then?

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MARKET SUMMARY: 2005 AND THE GREAT DEPRESSION! by Steven McIntyre and Todd Stein
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Sat, Feb 18, 2006, 11:00 AM

1932, 1933, & 2005 – what do all these years have in common? According to government statistics, they are the only 3 years since the 1920s that Americans in aggregate decided not to save any money. The calculated U.S. savings rate is not an all-encompassing calculation of savings, but its does do a good job of capturing the directional movement of savings in this country. There is no mistaking from the figures that the U.S. has turned from a nation of savers in recent decades into a nation of debtors.

Personal Savings Rate graph.bmp

Coping with a massive 25% unemployment rate in 1933, many Americans would almost certainly have needed to burn through savings just to survive. However, in 2005, there are no dire macroeconomic forces that explain the U.S.’ lack of saving. Today, conspicuous consumption and a desire to maintain a certain lifestyle (aided and abetted by an overly accommodative Fed) have led U.S. citizens to empty out their pocketbooks fooled by the wealth effect of paper gains on their homes and other financial assets. Americans simply want to have their cake and eat it too. With the unemployment rate (though understated by the government’s shrinking employable base) at only 4.7%, it is hard to find a sound reason why we as a country don’t save money. Like a child that spends all of his allowance money because he sees no advantage to saving, U.S. consumers have found that owning a Lexus or two, new clothes, and an ever larger home are far more preferable activities than clipping a couple percentage points of interest in a passbook savings account. However, most kids cannot rely on their parents’ generosity forever and the U.S. consumer cannot rely on additional debt and home equity gains forever. Whether it is turning 18, finishing college, or rising interest rates, unsustainable situations have a way of ending very abruptly and often at very inconvenient times. We are curious to see if 2006 becomes one of those inconvenient times.

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DALLAS BAR ASSOCIATION RELEASES POLL ON LOCAL RACES
by Brian Bodine    Sat, Feb 18, 2006, 12:22 AM

The Dallas Bar Association conducted a poll of its members, asking them to select the best qualified candidate for a number of contested races. 948 lawyers responded to the poll.

Click here to view poll 

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PRIMARY CANDIDATE: CLERK’S NUMBERS DON’T ADD UP by Brian Bodine
by Brian Bodine    Sat, Feb 18, 2006, 12:12 AM

An incumbent seeking reelection may have raised the budget of the County Clerk by as much as 2.69 percent after claiming to have saved taxpayers $4.5 million dollars, according to her opponent in the Republican primary.

Calhoun’s opponent, Carolyn Garon, told the Dallasblog that the Dallas Morning News’ endorsement of incumbent Cynthia Calhoun is based on flawed information regarding Calhoun’s accomplishments at the County Clerk’s office. Garon is a former employee of twelve years with the County Clerk’s office who retired so that she could run against her former boss in the Republican primary.

According to pages from the Monthly Analysis of Budgeted Operations from the Dallas County Auditor’s Office, the total expenditures for the County Clerk for the fiscal year of 2006 have so far been $9,374,453. This marked an increase of $278,453 from fiscal year of 2005 and a cumulative increase of $245,453.

Garon is claiming that Calhoun could not have saved expenditures from the County Clerk’s office since the County Auditor shows that expenditures at the County Clerk have gone up since Calhoun took office in 2003.

“It is amazing that she is claiming $4.5 million in savings. That is 50 percent of the entire budget,” said Garon. She was referring to the rough yearly average of expenditures over the past several years.

According to the County Auditor report, average yearly expenditures have been slightly over 9 million. With the exception of fiscal year 2005, every year shows an increase in expenditures.

In an interview with the Dallasblog, Calhoun confirmed that expenditures at the County Clerk did rise, however, she rejected Garon’s claim that she did not create 4.5 million in savings.

“The 4.5 million is absolute. That money came from the difference in a contractual figure. I paid for that contract with a separate fund,” said Calhoun. Calhoun was referring to the difference in savings between the current contract with Affiliated Computer Systems (AIS) and the previous contract with Bering Point. Calhoun said that the contract with AIS was paid for with money from the Out-of-Records-Management-Fund and that the $4.5 million was saved by switching to AIS.

According to Calhoun, the Out-of-Records-Management-Fund was created by the Texas legislature to help Texas counties maintain their property records. The source of the fund is the revenue received from per-document fees charged by the counties. Money earned by the fees is sent to the State’s Out-of-Records-Management-Fund before it is eventually allocated back to the counties

When asked about the actual budget increases, Calhoun said that the budget rose since 2003 because the volume of documents coming into the County Clerk’s office increased in number. “Our budget increases as our volume of documents increases,” said Calhoun. “As the volume of documents increases, it takes more money to get those documents out.”

Calhoun also said that the County Clerk’s budget only reflects expenditures, and that it does not reflect what Calhoun called “profits”. According to Calhoun, the County Clerk’s profits were derived from the fees that went into the Out-of-Records-Management-Fund.

“She never saved taxpayers a penny. In fact, she went up nearly $250,000,” said Garon. The disagreement between the primary opponents over savings seems to be rooted in a difference in interpretation over what constitutes savings.

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WATCH WHERE YOU'RE STANDING
by Bill DeOre    Fri, Feb 17, 2006, 07:17 PM

I knew it was going to come to this...Yep, just a matter of time before the "Pakistani Clerics" put a hit out on the culprit cartoonists responsible for defaming the diety. Not just any hit though...One million dollars for the head of the evil-doer. Knowing the group that I came to know and love over a thirty-some-odd-year period, this would almost be seen as a challenge. "You mean they only want a million for your bones?...Last week they offered two for mine...and, hey, can you win an award for this?...Any cash involved?

Reminds me of a rather famous Parker &  Hart  "Wizard of Id" cartoon with an editor standing in front of his cartoonist ready to meet the gallows as the King looks on... The King saying ..."No, put them in the right order...This editor always stands BEHIND his cartoonist".

Wow. Seems like we have fact chasing fiction down at warp speed. This cannot be the first time in the annals of history that  Muslims have been infuriated over a cartoon. It also seems that we as journalists have a lot of work to do figuring this one out. Is it just a glitch, a bump in the long road of journalistic freedom, or are we on the verge of having to redefine our critial methods as allowed us by our freedom of speech? 

Whatever the answer, there are about a dozen Danish cartoonists whose lives and careers just took on a whole new meaning. 

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