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State of Texas: Oct. 3, 2013

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Photos of the Day

Like Christmas, Halloween seems to arrive earlier each year. Houston Chronicle just published a slideshow of the Most Haunted Properties in Texas. For a bigger fright, use Texas Monthly‘s 2009 list as a guide, though watch out for ghosts and police.

Tweets from Last Night

Probably has somethin’ to do with running shoes

Also, check back in with the Daily Post, where our own Dan Solomon will be live-blogging the event.

Daily Roundup

Drug-Raid.tx.gov— Bad news for all you tech-savvy drug fiends out there. The infamous virtual black market, the Silk Road, has been raided by the Feds, and its alleged mastermind was arrested, IRL, for narcotics trafficking. The kingpin is said to be Texan and UT-Dallas graduate Ross William Ulbricht, who went west in search of his fortune last year. In this case, it meant setting up the world’s largest online exchange for illicit drugs. Goods were exchanged for bitcoins (virtual money with real monetary, if fluctuating, value), according to the FBI. In two years, the Silk Road had more than $1.2 billion in transactions and Ulbricht’s alleged cut was more than $30 million. The whole story is pretty dang fascinating, and Ulbricht himself is an especially fascinating character. Lest you think virtual drug dealers are dumb and lazy, the 29-year-old earned a physics degree at UT-D on a full scholarship. After receiving a masters degree from Penn State and spending some time in Austin, he moved to San Francisco in 2011. Unlike days of yore when gangsters were mowed down at the theater, Ulbricht was arrested at the library. As noted in the Forbes profile, Ulbricht had been a fan of libertarian philosophy and a vocal supporter of former Representative Ron Paul. None of which is all the surprising considering the Silk Road is free market capitalism at its finest. Or not finest. “Ulbricht allegedly paid a bounty of 1,670 Bitcoins … to put out a murder hit on a Silk Road user seeking to extort him.” So remember, kids, don’t take drugs from online strangers.

DIY Execution Kit — Not everybody in the unregulated drug market is suffering from withdrawal. The mystery of how Texas has been executing prisoners despite running out of its supply of the prescribed drug, pentobarbital, has been answered. Thanks to a FOIA request from the AP, it was revealed that the state has received its new stash from an unregulated “compound pharmacy,” which “custom-makes drugs” that “aren’t subject to federal scrutiny.” The Texas Department of Criminal Justice now has a year’s supply of boutique death drugs. Though it doesn’t seem too difficult to “test” the new product, death row inmates have filed a lawsuit contending that “Texas’ use of untested drugs during an execution would violate the U.S. Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment” since “some are banned for use in animal euthanasia.” The TDCJ has been so desperate to get its hands on some death serum that, according to the lawsuit, “prison officials have been trying to obtain execution drugs in the name of the ‘Huntsville Unit Hospital,’ though a hospital at the prison hasn’t operated since 1983.” Related, a recent study found that two percent of all U.S. counties—including Dallas, Harris, and Bexar counties—are responsible for the most of the country’s executions. While the Houston Texans struggle at greatness, Harris County residents can rest easy knowing they are number one at something.

Highway Toll Trolling — The Texas Department of Transportation has had enough of you, toll jumpers, and it’s gonna tell everybody. According to a press release from TxDoT, jumpers owe more than $27 million in unpaid tolls, which essentially amounts to highway robbery of toll-abiding citizens. So in an effort to really crack down on the violators, TxDOT is crowd-sourcing the work of peer pressure: “Those who fail to respond to this notice will have their names posted on TxDOT and TxTag websites and shared with the news media. The web listings will include the violator’s name, city and state of residence, number of unpaid tolls and total amount owed in tolls and fees.” The main targets for this Megan’s Law-like shaming are 28,000 vehicles, each with 100 unpaid tolls in a twelve-month period. Though there are a couple of more things TxDoT can do, this weak game of carpool chicken seems to be the best available option. No word yet on what happens to Mad Max vigilantes who use the personal information to physically capture highway scofflaws.

Last Ride of Cowboy Randall — Police have arrested a man in connection with a series of bank robberies between Austin, San Marcos, and San Antonio. “In each of the robberies, Reed used a weapon, and in his final robbery restrained the bank tellers,” according to a report from KXAN. As should be expected, a woman did it better. This story is nothing compared to one of Bettie Jo Tallis, the “classic good-hearted Texas woman” who dressed like a cowboy, politely robbed banks and confounded the best G-Men for years before a spectacular end at age sixty. The details of her story are as unbelievable as they are true. And our own Skip Hollandsworth chronicled the whole thing in his amazing 2005 piece. Seriously, if you don’t read it, you’re totally robbing yourself.

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