The State of Texas: January 23, 2015
Less Regal Regents – State House leaders wasted no time in getting those pesky University of Texas regents under control (lookin’ at you Wallace Hall). If passed, a new bill would mean the UT system would “need Legislative Budget Board approval for ‘system initiatives,’ and it would have to notify the budget board before starting any investigation, audit or inquiry of a campus or its executive management,” according to the Austin American-Statesman. In addition to the obvious attempt at preventing another rebel like Hall asking questions, the provision, “tucked hundreds of pages into the House budget would bar the UT System from spending money on a 19-story, $133.1 million headquarters building without approval from a group of lawmakers who oversee the budget.” That one’s particularly awkward since the headquarters is already being built. In all fairness, a little tightening of the reins may be necessary. As the Statesman notes, “the governing board of the 15-campus system has doled out $511.9 million more from the Permanent University Fund endowment in a four-year period than the board’s own rules permit” and a House review last year found that administrative spending “had grown beyond ‘original purposes envisioned in the state Constitution.’” It looks like it might be a new, more peaceful, day for the UT system and the Lege. Our newly minted governor, Greg Abbott, nominated three regents (two new ones), “all of whom are seen as likely to pursue a more cooperative relationship with the flagship campus in Austin than has prevailed for the past four years.”
The Panhandle Needs a Shovel – Winter in Texas is supposed to mean cold rain at the most. But the Panhandle is getting a taste of what a real Yankee winter is like. Thanks to nearly an entire foot of snow(!), “Dozens of school districts canceled classes or delayed opening in the Panhandle and South Plains on Thursday. Government offices, schools and universities from El Paso to the Midland-Odessa, San Angelo and Big Bend areas closed early Thursday and planned to open late on Friday,” according NBC News. Like the winter in Game of Thrones, it was a snowfall that hadn’t been seen in a generation. “The snowfall of 11 inches as of midnight overwhelmed the record of 4.9 inches set for Jan. 21 in 1966, according to the National Weather Service,” reported the Amarillo Globe-News. If that wasn’t crazy enough, the city that “normally gets less than 5 inches of snow in January has more snow this month than Syracuse [New York] does,” according to the Syracuse Post-Standard. All total, Amarillo has had “13.1 inches for the month … Syracuse, billed as America’s Snowiest Big City, has had just 12.1 inches so far in January.”
Hack Attack – Barrett Brown, a computer hacker, “who was once considered something of a spokesman for the Anonymous movement,” according to The Guardian, was sentenced yesterday to 63 months (with 31 months of time served) by a Dallas Judge. As the Dallas Morning News reports, Brown had “pleaded guilty in April to accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access of a protected computer. He also admitted interfering with a search warrant and threatening the FBI agents who were investigating him.” Despite his plea deal, Brown’s a legion of supports have said that Brown’s conviction would have a chilling affect on modern journalists. “An investigative journalist, essayist and satirist who has written for the Onion, Vanity Fair and the Huffington Post,” Brown had merely linked to material that included hacked data. Despite his harsh sentence, Brown was rather upbeat and full of piss-and-vinegar. In a statement, he wrote, “Good news! The U.S. government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex.” There’s plenty more where that came from. For a great, colorful look at Brown, be sure to read D Magazine’s 2011 profile of him.
Brisket Blues – Texas handled the Ebola crisis like a champ, but will we be able to survive the Great Brisket Panic of 2015? That brisket is in short supply was made known earlier in the month when it was reported that a man was stealing meat from an Austin H-E-B with the hope of up-selling it to local restaurants. Now the national media has caught on to this potential catastrophe. “Brisket prices have increased 60 percent in the last year, from $2.21 per pound to $3.52,” reports CBS News. “’Today in the brisket market, it is the perfect storm going the wrong way,’ Texas A&M University meat science professor Jeff Savell said. ‘There are fewer briskets today than in the past. But there is a greater demand for briskets.’” The reason for the low supply appears to be a perfect storm of events. “It’s become a hot-ticket item because of upturn in the economy and growing popularity of Texas-style barbecue nationwide. But droughts in states like Texas and California have forced ranchers to thin their herds to the lowest levels in 60 years.” When you want to know what’s the real beef, you go to the experts, so it’s no surprise that Texas Monthly’s own barbecue editor, Daniel Vaughn, makes an appearance in the CBS clip. And at least one of Vaughn’s remarks could be made into a t-shirt. “Texas barbecue without brisket…well, it’s just pork. That’s no fun.” Try not to panic, everyone.
Upping Security – While state leaders discuss increasing border security, a Texas lawmaker in Washington is doing the same. Representative Michael McCaul is submitted a bill that would give the U.S. Border Patrol more swinging room for patrol, fully fund the Texas National Guard for border patrol and “expand fines levied against people caught crossing the border illegally, transfer extra military equipment to border agencies and limit pay raises and travel for appointees to the Department of Homeland Security if the border isn’t sealed in five years,” according to the Texas Tribune. This isn’t McCaul’s first border patrol rodeo. He tried to get a bill through before and while it passed through committee, it died on the House floor. The difference this time is that the “bill appears to have a better chance of advancing.” The whole piece is worth a read for a real nuts-and-bolts of what might be the next national-level battle over the border and immigration.