News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
Blast From the Prehistoric Past
An ancient species of plant, previously unknown, has been found in the Colorado River bottoms of Travis County and named Iva corbinii after its discoverer, Save Our Springs Alliance Treasurer Robert "Crocodile" Corbin. The discovery is featured in the December issue of Lundellia, the journal of the University of Texas at Austin's Plant Resources Center. "When I saw [the plant]," said PRC Director Billie Turner, "I thought someone was pulling a trick." Turner was initially reluctant to call it a new species because Corbin could not relocate the original sample, found at Montopolis Bridge. It turned out someone had dug it up, but Corbin and PRC researcher Bill Carr found a larger colony farther downstream, near Hornsby Bend. Roughly 6 feet tall and related to sunflowers and the small-flowered marsh elder, Iva corbinii spreads under the ground through rhizomes. DNA evidence indicates it could be an extremely primitive species, potentially going back millions of years. Turner called Corbin's discovery "amazing, because [the area has] had so many botanists studying it for a hundred years, and he was the first one to find it." – Richard Whittaker
UT Rally Calls for Justice for Bhopal
Protesters will gather on the UT campus Thursday, Dec. 3, to mark the 25th anniversary of a tragedy in Bhopal, India, that killed thousands of people – and to call for amends from the company they say is responsible. On Dec. 3, 1984, a toxic chemical leak from a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide – now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical – killed 8,000 people and has caused exposure-related illnesses in 150,000 more since then, according to Vinay Pandey of Association for India's Development, the group that organized the UT event. In conjuction with similar events around the world, participants in the rally will be calling on Dow to face criminal trial in India and to clean up Bhopal's poisoned groundwater – from which 20,000 people still drink, says Pandey. In 2006, the UT Student Government and Graduate Student Council passed resolutions requesting that UT "only accept funds from Dow Chemical Company in an amount equal to the funds spent to clean up the Bhopal site." A petition urging UT President William Powers to act on those resolutions is at austin.aidindia.org. The rally – a "die-in" in memory of those lost in the disaster – begins at 11am in the West Mall. – Nora Ankrum
Fraught Financial Future
More worrying signs for the Texas economy and the future of the state budget: According to the 2009 State of Texas Annual Cash Report, issued by Comptroller Susan Combs, Texas only collected $37.8 billion in taxes in the 2009 financial year – down $3.6 billion from FY 2008 and $1.1 billion below Combs' January forecast. The Center for Public Policy Priorities followed the report with an analysis on Dec. 1 indicating that sales tax revenues for the first two months of FY 2010 are down 12.7% from the same period last year. This news came after the Nov. 20 announcement by the Texas Workforce Commission that, although the state added 41,700 nonagricultural jobs in October, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 8.3%. While commission Chair Tom Pauken was enthusiastic about the new jobs, he said it was "too soon to indicate a trend." In total, Texas has lost 307,200 jobs in the 12 months ending in October. – R.W.
Baird’s Seat Up for Grabs
Travis County Judge Charlie Baird announced Dec. 2 that he will not run for re-election next year to the 299th Criminal District Court bench he has occupied since January 2007. Baird, a former judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas’ highest criminal court, said he will return to private practice and wants to spend more time with his young family. The announcement has already caused a ripple of judicial candidate activity: Karen Sage, the assistant district attorney who was running against city police monitor Cliff Brown for the 147th District Court, announced in an e-mail blast to supporters that she will leave that race for a shot at Baird’s seat. Also contemplating a possible run for Baird’s robe is Mindy Montford, who ran for district attorney last year. – J.S.
Brown Hits the Big Time
Austin police monitor Cliff Brown – currently a judicial candidate for the 147th District Court – has been elected president of the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, which held its annual conference in Austin this fall. Established in 1995, NACOLE provides training to individuals working in police oversight and identifies best practices for civilian oversight of law enforcement. Brown, now president-elect, will officially take over as president during the group’s annual meeting in 2010. – J.S.