Texas AG’s War With Washington Costing Dearly…

A nice piece of FOI-driven reportage:

The slogan goes, “Don’t Mess With Texas.” But with President Barack Obama in the White House a more appropriate cry might be: “Try it and

texas our texas

texas our texas (Photo credit: jmtimages)

we’ll sue.”

The Texas attorney general’s office has filed 24 lawsuits against the federal government since Obama took office — litigation that has cost the state $2.58 million and more than 14,113 hours spent by staff and state lawyers working those cases.

Many of those have resulted in defeats, including the recent high-profile lawsuits defending Texas’ strict law requiring voters to show picture ID at the polls and the new state-approved voting districts that a federal appeals court ruled were discriminatory toward minorities.

Those two cases alone cost more than $2 million, according to records obtained by The Associated Press using the Freedom of Information Act.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the costs are worth it, calling the litigation “a fight against the unprecedented ideology coming from the Obama administration.” In an interview, he said the legal battles he wages are meant to promote industry and protect Texas jobs.

 

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Breaking News of Global Import: White House Releases a Beer Recipe!

Proof that transparency, like beer, is good for us and proof that God loves us:

With public excitement about White House beer fermenting such a buzz, we decided we better hop right to it.

Inspired by home brewers from across the country, last year President Obama bought a home brewing kit for the kitchen. After the few first drafts we landed on some great recipes that came from a local brew shop. We received some tips from a couple of home brewers who work in the White House who helped us amend it and make it our own. To be honest, we were surprised that the beer turned out so well since none of us had brewed beer before.

As far as we know the White House Honey Brown Ale is the first alcohol brewed or distilled on the White House grounds. George Washington brewed beer and distilled whiskey at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson made wine but there’s no evidence that any beer has been brewed in the White House. (Although we do know there was some drinking during prohibition…)

And….the recipes.

Ray Bradbury’s FOI File:

Was there any writer the FBI didn’t track back in the day? The FOI file reveals the extent of the creepy tracking of the sic-fi genius:

The FBI gave Ray Bradbury a mixed review.

Photo of Ray Bradbury.

Photo of Ray Bradbury. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to documents declassified recently through the Freedom of Information Act, the bureau investigated the “Fahrenheit 451” author in the 1950s and 1960s because of suspected communist sympathies.

One informant warned agents that Bradbury, who died June 5 at age 91, wrote stories that were “definitely slanted” against capitalism. The informant added that science fiction itself could so terrify readers that they would succumb to “incompetence bordering on hysteria” and would be helpless during a third world war.

The bureau noted Bradbury’s opposition to Sen. Joe McCarthy and other anti-Communists and his support for civil rights. But it concluded that Bradbury had never been in the Communist Partyand that interviewing him was unnecessary because he did not have “informant potential.”

 

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FOI AT Work: Outing the Water Hogs In Austin…

What a GREAT FOI-driven story idea, especially given how hot and dry most of the country is these days. An FOI request for the top water hogs, coupled with voter records…

Water Drop

Water Drop (Photo credit: Isolino)

Here’s the lede:

A few years back, Lance Armstrong was caught. He apologized, admitted the error of his ways, and promised to do better in the future. His offense? Using too much water.

Armstrong had used 330,000 gallons of water in July 2008. He hadn’t even been home at his three acre, 14,475 square foot estate. “I’m a little shocked,” he told The New York Times at the time. “There’s no justification for that much water. I need to fix this.”

Well, it’s been several summers since then, this last one being notable for being the hottest and driest on record. And the city is in stage two watering restrictions because of the historic drought.  But it would appear Armstrong has not learned how to conserve. According to data from Austin Water Utility, he used around 1.3 million gallons of water in the last year, putting him among the top ten residential users of water in town.

Armstrong isn’t alone in using excessive amounts of water. In fact, he’s not even the worst offender. That would be Roger Girling, who owns a home health care company. He used 1.9 million gallons of water in the last year. Also on the list of the top twenty-five residential water users in Austin? Venture capitalist Paul Zito, car dealers Doug Maund and Steven Late, and Congressman Michael McCaul, who went through 1.4 million gallons of water in the last year.

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The police in Champaign really loath jaywalking…at least by some people, in some neighborhoods.

Wow — what an inspired use of FOI by the website Vivelo Hoy, a really interesting online news site…anyway, they took a look at five years’ worth of arrest records, and found that 90 percent of those arrested for jaywalking

English: No jaywalking restriction sign: An ar...

English: No jaywalking restriction sign: An arrow supplementary plate is mounted to indicate the direction of an appropriate crossing for pedestrians. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

were black — and most of those arrests occurred on streets without sidewalks. What?!?!

Here’s the nut graf:

We found major disparities in the number of arrests of black people in both communities.

In 2010, black people made up 16 percent of the population in both Champaign and Urbana, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

But in both communities at least 40 percent of the arrest charges were against black people in each of the years from 2007 to 2011.

Within the category of arrest types, there were even greater disparities.

One of the largest was in regards to “improper walking on roadway,” or jaywalking.

In Champaign from 2007 to 2011, 658, or 88 percent, of the 744 jaywalking arrests were of black people.

In Urbana, the percentage of black arrestees  for the same crime was even higher during those same years.

 

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FOI At Work: Federal Retirement Benefits

 

Retirement

Retirement (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

USA Today took a look a the Civil Service Retirement System database, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. The Office of Personnel Management withheld some information, including names, ages and length of service.

More than 21,000 retired federal workers receive lifetime government pensions of $100,000 or more per year, a USA TODAY/Gannett analysis finds.

Of these, nearly 2,000 have federal pensions that pay $125,000 or more annually, and 151 take home $150,000 or more. Six federal retirees get more than $200,000 a year.

Some 1.2 percent of federal retirees collect six-figure pensions. By comparison, 0.1 percent of military retirees collect as much.

The New York State and Local Retirement System pays 0.2 percent of its retirees pensions of $100,000 or more. The New Jersey retirement system pays 0.4 percent of retirees that much. Comparable private figures aren’t available.

The six-figure pensions spread across a broad swath of the federal workforce: doctors, budget analysts, accountants, public relations specialists and human resource managers. Most do not get Social Security benefits.

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Rick Perry’s presidential run: $3.7 in state overtime.

Overtime is ALWAYS an FOI home run…Texas Watchdog

Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the R...

Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Please attribute to Gage Skidmore if used elsewhere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

took a look at Gov. Perry’s tab and found some big-gubmint-style spending!

Overtime fueled the $3.7 million cost of security for Gov. Rick Perry’s run for president.

Department of Public Safety sergeant in the governor’s security detail earned $65,143.36 in overtime, more than his actual annual salary of $64,401.96, a study of all overtime earned by state employees in 2011 by the Houston Chronicle shows.

The top two and five of the top 10 overtime earners in the state are members of the DPS Executive Protective Bureau, which generated a total of $499,000 in overtime last year, the Chronicle reported.

They were among 1,988 state employees who earned at least $10,000 in overtime in 2011. In all, 56,948 employees ran up $122 million in overtime, the Chronicle analysis shows.

The state auditor’s office reported in January the state carried 310,865.4 full time positions in the first quarter of 2012, compared to 318,814.2 employee positions in the first quarter of 2011

Food stamp and Medicaid application backlogs resulted in $27.8 million in overtime for employees of the Health and Human Services Commission, the highest amount of overtime for a state agency, the newspaper reported.

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FOI At Work: NY Officials Shared Draft Fracking Regs With Industry

Documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show that bureaucrats within the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) granted the oil and gas industry premature access to highly controversial draft regulations for shale gas fracking in the state. New York placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for gas in order to evaluate the science on the risks posed to drinking water, air quality and the health of New York’s citizens and the environment.

The documents, obtained by EWG through New York’s Freedom of Information Law, show that the fracking industry received an unfair advantage thanks to DEC officials who provided detailed summaries of their proposed rules exclusively to oil and gas industry representatives. This allowed industry a six-week head start to lobby state officials to weaken the proposed standards before the public was granted access to the plan.

E-Mails Show “Cozy” Relationship Between Maryland Guv and Chicken Titan

Another FOI at Work moment:

A national consumer group is alleging emails they obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal an “unnervingly close and direct” relationship between Gov. Martin O’Malley and an attorney for Perdue Farms Inc.

The topics covered in 70 pages of emails between O’Malley and Herb Frerichs, general counsel for Perdue Business Services, run the gamut from chicken waste incineration to wind energy.

Food & Water Watch highlights several exchanges of particular concern, including one from August 2010, when O’Malley is grilled regarding comments made by his press secretary to a local newspaper. The article is about an Environment Maryland petition signed by 55 farmers asking O’Malley to hold large poultry producers responsible for pollution from chickenhouses seeping into the Chesapeake Bay. The comments make it appear as though O’Malley supports the petition, and specifically names Perdue as an example of a poultry giant.

Madison Officials To Examine Their Multitasking After State Journal Nabs ‘Em

Thanks to this story, which revealed that Madison City Council members are emailing or texting colleagues, lobbyists, staff and others during public meetings, led to this welcome piece of news:

Madison City Council members intend to examine rules for emailing and texting during public meetings, and others are calling for a statewide review of such communications and their impact on open government.

The response comes in the wake of a State Journal investigation last week that revealed an unseen flow of electronic communications between council members, staff, lobbyists and others — including real-time conversations on matters before the council — during meetings.

The city should consider new rules through the council’s organizational committee, which already is shaping a council job description and code of ethics, or a special work group, members said.

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