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Weekend link dump for August 28

Here are those pictures of cats sitting on glass tables that you didn’t know you needed.

The Iron Nun. We are not worthy.

“[F]alse confessions happen. They happen all the time. Brendan [Dassey] is not an anomaly.”

Behold Rossia pacifica, an adorable purple googly-eyed not-really-an-octopus.

Ibtihaj Muhammad’s message of inclusion—her embrace of an America that embraces her—presents to Muslims here and around the world the exact opposite image of our country to Donald Trump’s.”

“I’d argue the real dividing line is optimism. Consider this: Two-thirds of Hillary Clinton’s supporters think the next generation will be in better shape than we are today, or least the same, according to Pew Research. The reverse is true for Trump’s camp. Sixty-eight percent of his supporters think the next generation will be worse off. What’s more, the vast majority of Trump voters say life is worse today for people like them than it was 50 years ago. Only two percent —two!— think life is better now and that their children will also see improvement.”

Alamo archeologists find more than 1,700 artifacts in 4 weeks.

“The trouble is that most password strength meters don’t actually measure password strength at all.”

On Trump, Russia, and “McCarthyism”, of which this has nothing to do.

The Hugo Awards are doing just fine, thanks.

From the You Can Even Eat The Dishes department, 21st Century update.

“Truth in Advertising Inc. has lodged accusations against the Kardashian/Jenner family for consistently skirting federal labeling requirements in connection with paid-for social media posts.”

Who doesn’t want to smell like fried chicken at the beach?

RIP, Steven Hill, actor best known for playing DA Adam Schiff on the original Law & Order.

Former Olympic gold medal gymnast Kerri Strug now works for the US Justice Department administering grants for juvenile justice programs.

“As a former IRS commissioner and practicing tax lawyer, I understand it may be inconvenient for Trump to release his tax returns but we all know — and the IRS has confirmed — that nothing prevents any of us from releasing our tax returns any time we want.”

RIP, Lou Pearlman, boy band architect and Ponzi schemer.

“Three men caught in Brooklyn with $1M worth of stolen barbecued eels“. Well, we all have cravings sometimes.

“Like it or not, this election is a plebiscite on the most divisive, polarizing and disrupting figure in American politics in decades. And neutrality is not an option.”

“The nut fact that the AP uses to lead its coverage is wrong, and Braun and Sullivan’s reporting reveals absolutely no unethical conduct. In fact, they found so little unethical conduct that an enormous amount of space is taken up by a detailed recounting of the time Clinton tried to help a former Nobel Peace Prize winner who’s also the recipient of a Congressional Gold Medal and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

RIP, Marvin Kaplan, versatile actor who was the last surviving cast member with a significant role from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Johnny Canadian Football? Probably not.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

How is the state going to do its voter ID education outreach?

You don’t need to know.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas will spend $2.5 million to spread the word about changes to the state’s voter ID law before the November election, but will not release details of how that money will be spent.

More than half of that taxpayer money will be spent on advertising, but officials will not say which markets they intend to target with television and radio spots.

As part of that outreach effort, the state will send “digital toolkits” to an estimated 1,800 organizations across Texas to engage local communities on voter education. The state will not identify those organizations or communities.

The outreach effort was mandated by a judge in Corpus Christi earlier this month after Texas’ voter ID law was found by a federal appeals court to discriminate against minorities. The court ordered the state to water down the law by expanding the types of identification voters can present at polls to cast ballots in time for the November election. The state also agreed to spend $2.5 million to educate voters and election officials across Texas about the changes.

The state hired public relations giant Burson-Marsteller to design its outreach effort, but asked the court to keep details of its plan under seal, preventing public scrutiny of such things as which regions to target with ads and which groups should receive education materials.

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which asked the court to keep the information under seal, has said in court filings that those documents include “proprietary” or “confidential” information produced by Burson-Marsteller. Paxton’s legal team cited a 1978 case involving for President Richard Nixon, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that media outlets could not have access to tapes from a Watergate obstruction trial.

Among the documents sealed at the attorney general’s request are a chart listing local markets and dates Burson-Marsteller has recommended for purchasing advertisements to educate the public about the changes to the voter photo ID requirements. Another document names the 1,800 groups recommended to help spread the state’s voter messaging at the local level, a list compiled by the public relations firm.

The state has provided, in a court filing, a broad outline of how it plans to spend the $2.5 million, but so far has refused to release any details.

[…]

Texas’ open records law long has allowed the state to shield details about dealings with corporations on the basis that trade secrets or confidential corporate information could be disclosed.

In this case, Bill Cobb, an Austin lawyer who handles open records issues for corporations, said it is possible that some of Burson-Marsteller’s “secret sauce” could be at risk of being exposed if other PR firms competing for a state contract on voter education could benefit.

“Everyone agrees that open government is a good thing,” Cobb said. “but everyone agrees if Coke has to give its recipe to the government that its competitors aren’t allowed to get it.”

Cobb noted that a recent ruling from the Texas Supreme Court in a case involving Boeing has made it easier for the state and corporations to keep information secret.

“Companies have to make a business decision – could this information harm my future business prospects” said Cobb, a former deputy attorney general under Greg Abbott. “But now corporations don’t have to prove it’s a trade secret, just that a competitor could gain an advantage from acquiring the information.”

See here and here for some background. I’m sorry, but the stated rationale for keeping this all under wraps is a huge pile of baloney. How exactly are “a chart listing local markets and dates … for purchasing advertisements” or a list of “groups recommended to help spread the state’s voter messaging at the local level” proprietary information that could give an advantage to Burson-Marstellar’s competitors if they became known? This isn’t a product rollout for a new consumer toy or business innovation. It’s a public service project. It’s also a political campaign, and it should be held to the same standards of disclosure that any other campaign would be held to for things like advertising expenditures. Otherwise, we’re just taking Ken Paxton’s word for it that he and his office are doing everything they are supposed to be doing to comply with this ruling that by the way they still intend to appeal because they know they’re the ones in the right. What could possibly go wrong with that? Judge Ramos needs to amend her order to require some spilling of the beans.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Paxton says he will meet with transgender child’s family

It’s a start, I guess.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton has pledged to meet with the Denton family of a transgender boy, even as his office continues its legal fight against federal school bathroom guidelines that the family supports.

Paxton was asked Monday by KXAS-TV (NBC5) if he would take up the Briggle family — including 8-year-old son, MG — on the offer of dinner. The Republican, who hails from McKinney, said he would be “happy to do that.”

Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander on Tuesday said his office is “already planning to reach out to this family.”

“He is absolutely willing,” he said. “I assure you he wouldn’t have gone on television and said he was going to meet with them if he wasn’t going to do that.”

[…]

Amber Briggle has said that her son deserves to be more than a pawn in a “pissing match” between the state and federal government. And the Briggles, who attended a court hearing this month over the school guidelines, have extended multiple offers to Paxton to meet.

But it wasn’t until the KXAS-TV interview that the attorney general gave an affirmative answer.

It’s unclear when and where a meeting between Paxton and the Briggles would take place. But Amber Briggle took to Twitter on Tuesday to celebrate the apparent success, writing to Paxton that she “can’t wait for you to #meetmychild.”

Don’t give him too much credit just yet. For one thing, he hasn’t actually done or committed to doing anything just yet – “planning to reach out to this family” is the equivalent of “I’ll have my people call your people”, and it’s not like Ken Paxton is renowned for his honesty. And if he does follow through, one dinner with one family hardly balances out his litigious onslaught against the rights and dignity of transgender people. Frankly, I don’t expect anything to come out of this no matter how hospitable the Briggle family is or whatever scripted nice things he may have to say to the press after dessert. I don’t believe an un-compassionate, non-empathetic person like Ken Paxton has it in him to change. I’d love to be wrong, and I’ll be delighted to admit it if I am, but I ain’t gonna hold my breath in anticipation. All that said, he has at least agreed in principle to meet with this one transgender child, which puts him a step above the craven coward Dan Patrick. For what it’s worth. Texas Standard has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

We won’t have Robert Morrow to kick around any longer

Valar morghulis, y’all.

Robert Morrow

Robert Morrow

The brief, zany tenure of Travis County GOP Chairman Robert Morrow came to an end Friday, as party officials made clear the conspiracy theorist abandoned his post by running for president and he accepted their conclusion without question.

Inside a nondescript office park in Austin, party officials convened reporters to lay out their case, saying Morrow’s application to be a write-in candidate for the White House, filed last week, “resulted in an immediate vacancy” at the top of the county party. Waiting in the lobby afterward was Morrow, wearing his trademark jester’s hat and carrying the “Trump is a Child Rapist” sign that had got him booted from a rally for the Republican presidential nominee Tuesday in Austin.

“I’m in complete agreement with them because I’m running for president,” Morrow said of party officials’ conclusion. “It’s clear: You can’t be the president of the United States of America, or even run for president, and be the chairman of a political party, and I’m fine with that.”

It marked a relatively noncontroversial finish to Morrow’s controversial tenure, which was sparked by his surprise victory over incumbent James Dickey in the March elections. Alarmed by Morrow’s conspiracy theory-fueled bombast and disinterest in actually running the organization, party officials created a steering committee in June that handled many of the duties typically reserved for the chairman.

[…]

The writing was on the wall Thursday, when word got out that the secretary of state’s office accepted Morrow as a write-in presidential candidate. By the end of the day, the county party was getting backup from the state party, whose chairman Tom Mechler issued a statement affirming that Morrow became ineligible to serve as county chairman upon filing for president.

On Friday, Morrow did not exactly say whether he knew that when he applied to be a write-in candidate he was effectively resigning from the county party. “I knew in the back of my mind,” Morrow told reporters, “it might cause a problem.”

That’s a slight change from what Morrow had been saying on Thursday, when word of this development first came to light.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, state GOP Chairman Tom Mechler said Morrow “became ineligible to hold the office of Travis County Republican Chair” upon filing Friday to be a write-in candidate. Morrow told The Texas Tribune earlier Thursday he could not be ousted.

“They don’t have the grounds to do that, and anybody who says so is probably lying,” Morrow said. “The case law on this is probably extremely thin.”

[…]

A party spokesman declined to elaborate on the announcement, but a person close to the party said the news conference will likely be about Morrow’s fate. It was not immediately clear how the process of Morrow stepping down would unfold, and at least one party official cautioned that the party was still conferring over the issue.

The county party nonetheless has the support of Mechler.

“There is absolutely no place for rhetoric as distasteful as Mr. Morrow’s in the Republican Party of Texas,” Mechler said in the statement. “We are excited to move forward with the Travis County GOP and the new incoming Chair as soon as an election is held to fill the position.”

The bombastic Morrow fired back on Twitter by asking Mechler to perform a sex act on him. Morrow remained defiant as speculation built Thursday afternoon that an effort was afoot to see him out as chairman.

“If other people attempt to pull a coup like this, there will be trouble,” Morrow added. “The bottom line is the Texas voters, the Republican Party, have spoken.”

It’s hard to know what might have happened between Thursday and Friday to facilitate Morrow’s change of mind, probably because as Dave Barry once said about Lyndon LaRouche, where you and I have a brain, Robert Morrow has a Whack-a-Mole game. Be that as it may, this is a terrible loss for people who need some cheap, tawdry laughs in their political news consumption, a group in which I include myself. Also, too, did you know it only took 38 signatures to “appear” on the ballot as a write-in candidate for President, by which I mean “have the write-in votes that are cast for you included in the official count by the Secretary of State”? And that Morrow met that threshold, but Evan McMullin did not? I can’t wait to see if Morrow manages to exceed 38 actual votes this November; the low total among 2012 Presidential write-ins was 87, so I’d say he has a decent shot at it. We may never see his like again, that’s for sure. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People, The making of the President.

Endorsement watch: Civil court incumbents

Keeping up with the weekly endorsement schedule, we have round one of Civil Court endorsements, as there are many Civil Court races this year.

HarrisCounty

11th Civil District Court: Kevin Fulton

The candidates in this race to replace outgoing Judge Mike Miller are both living proof of the American Dream. Republican Kevin Fulton, our choice for the bench, grew up in gritty South Central Los Angeles. The family of his Democratic opponent Kristen Hawkins fled Communist Hungary. Both candidates went on to graduate from law school and start their own firms. Both have the right temperament and work ethic to succeed on the bench.

61st Civil District Court: Erin Elizabeth Lunceford

Gov. Greg Abbott chose well when he appointed Erin Elizabeth Lunceford, 55, to this court in July 2015, and voters should give her a full term. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, Lunceford, a Republican, has 27 years of practice, is board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law and is also an associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates.

80th Civil District Court: Larry Weiman

When civil judges want to brag about their number of jury trials, the size of their dockets and their overall productivity, they compare themselves to Judge Larry Weiman.

125th Civil District Court: Kyle Carter

Democrat Kyle Carter – first elected to the bench in 2008 – gets our nod for another term. This graduate of the South Texas College of Law genuinely seems to love his job and to view it as an opportunity not only to administer justice but to help people. Carter, 40, said that he’s started an organization, Judges At Work in Schools, and visits local schools to educate students about the judicial system, career opportunities and the importance of education.

127th Civil District Court: R.K. Sandill

Judge R.K. Sandill, 40, admits that he’s developed a reputation for being curt. He expects lawyers to come prepared and has no patience for counsel who waste his and their client’s time. But over his two terms, this hard-working, qualified judge has learned how to keep the docket moving without being too harsh on the attorneys.

129th Civil District Court: Michael Gomez

Voters should return Democrat Michael Gomez to the bench for four more years. Although his numbers in the Houston Bar Association judicial qualification poll weren’t stellar when he was first elected in 2008, Gomez has grown into the role and last year he was awarded Judge of the Year by the Hispanic Bar Association of Houston. According to Gomez, 42, anyone who “loves his job the way I do is always looking for a way to do things better.”

133rd Civil District Court: Jaclanel McFarland

Judge Jaclanel McFarland brings a lot of personality and small-town common sense to her court. In meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, the two-term Democratic judge explained how she hates it when opposing counsel just rely on email instead of actually talking to each other.

The 11th is an open bench, while the 61st was filled by appointment after Judge Al Bennett was elevated to federal court. The rest are all Democratic incumbents. The next batch contains four Democratic incumbents (Englehart, Schaffer, Smoots-Hogan, Palmer), one Republican incumbent (Halbach), and two Republican appointees (Mayfield Ibarra and Dorfman). There’s one incumbent I don’t expect the Chron to endorse (Palmer); beyond that, we’ll see.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Saturday video break: Mah Na Mah Na

There are many ways to spell that, but we all know the words. Sing along with the Asylum Street Spankers:

Very sad there’s no live video recording of that, it was always a blast to watch them perform it. With the title rendered as two words and not four, here’s CAKE:

Yes, I know, the video is a clip from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. I guess the band never made their own video for this.

Of course, the version everyone knows if from The Muppet Show, imported from Sesame Street:

The original version of the song, by Piero Umilani, is from a movie Sweden: Heaven and Hell (Svezia, inferno e paradiso).

If your first thought was like mine, that you expected a Benny Hill sketch to break out as you were watching that, then the song’s history should be easily comprehensible.

Posted in: Music.

Microbreweries win their distribution rights lawsuit

Excellent news.

beer

A Texas law that prohibits brewers from selling territorial rights to distribute their beer is unconstitutional, a judge ruled Thursday, serving up a major victory to beer companies seeking to expand their presence in stores, bars and restaurants throughout the state.

The decision says the government has no compelling interest in prohibiting brewers from seeking cash compensation when negotiating a contract with distributors, who have almost exclusive authority to handle sales between producers and retailers.

“This law, it was written by beer distributors to enrich big beer distributors and that is not a legitimate state interest,” said Matt Miller, senior attorney and head of the Austin office of the Institute for Justice, which litigated the case on behalf of Texas craft brewers Live Oak, Revolver and Peticolas.

The law, passed three years ago, allows brewers and distributors to negotiate for things like equipment and marketing efforts, but not direct compensation. That denies brewers who have worked to build up their business the ability to “capture the value of their brand” once they are large enough to require a distributor, said Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild.

A cash infusion from a distribution contract also would allow smaller breweries to expand operations, hire new employees and build up marketing teams to increase sales, Vallhonrat said.

Thursday’s ruling by state District Judge Karin Crump in Austin came after both the brewers and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sought summary judgments in the lawsuit. After considering depositions from both sides, Crump declared the law violates state constitutional protection for economic liberty.

[…]

Plaintiff Chip McElroy, founder of Live Oak Brewing Co. in Austin and one of the law’s most vocal critics, called it “unjust … unconstitutional … just plain wrong.”

“It took our property and gave it to them for free,” McElroy said Thursday.

Arif Panju, another Institute for Justice attorney in the case, said the ruling applies to out-of-state breweries as well. Miller said it protects all entrepreneurs looking to build up their businesses.

Miller said the ruling will help breweries going forward but does not address those who struck distribution deals while the 2013 law was in effect.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has 30 days to file an appeal. A spokesman said agency lawyers are in touch with the Texas Attorney General’s Office and likely will appeal.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the ruling. I hope the TABC will reconsider its inclination to appeal. This law serves no one’s interests except those of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas. The state should not be spending its own resources pursuing a reversal of this ruling. As noted elsewhere in this story, if the original bill that forbade the microbreweries from selling their distribution rights had been about any other commodity, it would have been laughed out of the Capitol. Surely we have better things to do than this.

More from Austin 360:

Brewers and their fans might be rejoicing their victory right now, but they’re still holding their breaths over two other beer-related cases in Texas courts.

One case involves an issue that brewers unsuccessfully pushed for in the 2013 legislative session. As a result, Dallas’ Deep Ellum Brewing sued the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission last year to try and get breweries the ability to sell beer to-go from their facilities — something that wineries and distilleries in Texas are both able to do. (Operators of brewpubs, which sell food in addition to beer, also can sell their products to the public.)

Also, Cuvee Coffee decided to go to battle with the TABC over the issue of whether retailers can sell crowlers, which the TABC argues are one-use cans, rather than aluminum growlers, that only manufacturers of beer can sell.

Both cases are expected to be resolved within the next couple of weeks.

See here for more on the Deep Ellum lawsuit, and here for more on Cuvee Coffee. Let’s hope for a clean sweep. I’ll keep my eyes open for further news. The DMN has more.

Posted in: Food, glorious food, Legal matters.

Pasadena voting rights case moves forward

Good news.

Pasadena City Council

A federal judge has denied Pasadena’s request to throw out a lawsuit challenging its controversial city council redistricting plan, which a group of Hispanic and Latino residents alleges dilutes the voting rights of the suburb’s growing minority population.

Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling Wednesday after a roughly two-hour court hearing means the case continues toward trial, which Rosenthal has tentatively set for November.

Wednesday’s session was one of the first significant hearings in the voting rights case, which has received national attention as emblematic of modern-day battles over the issue more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.

The city had asked Rosenthal to rule on a motion for summary judgment in favor of the city’s 3-year-old method of electing the council, which called for races for six single-member seats and two at-large seats, stating that the plan allows the Hispanic minority population the opportunity to elect four members.

Rosenthal rejected that argument, stating that the new method creates a majority of Hispanic citizens of voting age in three districts, compared to four in the previous election system, when there were eight single-member districts.

This lawsuit was filed in 2014 and stemmed from the redistricting plan pushed by Mayor Johnny Isbell in 2013 that switched the city from having eight district members to six district members plus two At Large members. I’m glad to see this happen, but it shows the stark difference between a world in which preclearance exists and one where it doesn’t. This redistricting plan had been previously denied by the Justice Department but went forward after the Shelby ruling from SCOTUS. Nearly three years after Mayor Isbell’s plan was narrowly approved by voters, the lawsuit over it is finally cleared for trial, with an initial ruling likely months away and ultimate resolution farther out. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it is still being litigated two years from now, or five years from initial passage of the scheme. If that redistricting plan is eventually found illegal, that’s an awful lot of time for it to have been allowed to be in place, presumably causing harm, while the lawyers fight it out. If preclearance were still in place, none of this would have happened.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this plan will be tossed. It’s always hard to say how litigation like this will play out. In the meantime, the Chron’s Mike Snyder recently published a series of stories relating to the fight over voting rights in Pasadena that is worth your time to read if you haven’t already done so:

With changes looming, Pasadena mayor launched attack against Latino council hopeful

Mayor: New Pasadena council system would have passed federal review

Voting rights case part of long history of Pasadena ethnic strife

I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Getting the (wind and solar) power to the people

It’s all about the transmission lines.

The Lone Star state is by far the largest state for wind power, with nearly 18,000 megawatts of wind generation capacity already built and another 5,500 megawatts—nearly equal to California’s total installed capacity—planned. The biggest driver of that wind boom was an $8 billion transmission system that was built to bring electricity from the desolate western and northern parts of the state to the big cities of the south and east: Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston.

Completed in 2014, the new wires—known as Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, or CREZ—have the capacity to carry some 18,500 megawatts of wind power across the state. That’s not enough to handle the 21,000 megawatts of capacity Texas expects to reach this year, and it’s creating a situation that’s straining the transmission system and potentially resulting in periods where the turbines go idle.

Now the state’s utilities and transmission companies are faced with spending hundreds of millions more to upgrade the system, demonstrating just how costly and complicated it is to shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, even where those sources are abundant.

EDF Renewable Energy, which owns five wind farms in northern Texas, and other operators have proposed adding second lines to existing transmission lines from the panhandle, where much of the new wind-farm construction is happening. Doing so, EDF says, will accommodate nearly 4,000 megawatts of new generation expected in the panhandle over the next several years.

“If some of these projects get developed in the panhandle and they haven’t done the upgrades to the grid, for sure those farms will be curtailed,” says Frank Horak, the CEO of Austin-based energy consultancy Astek Energy.

[…]

Another looming challenge is an expected surge in solar projects in Texas. The state ranks third in terms of total solar capacity, and another 6,000 megawatts of solar projects are planned. That will further strain the grid.

“Last time I looked there were 42 solar projects in far West Texas that were in the interconnection queue waiting for new transmission because there’s a bottleneck there now,” says Horak. Most of those projects will remain on hold until new wires are in place; some may never be built.

Seems to me to be a supply and demand problem, with the supply of transmission not keeping up with the demand of energy production. Texas’ population continues to grow, and the grid is increasingly dependent on wind and solar power to meet usage peaks, so it would be very shortsighted not to keep investing in more transmission capacity. This ought to be a no-brainer.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

No injunction against HISD school name changes

The changes can remain, at least for now.

A civil court judge has declined to stop the Houston school district from changing the names of eight campuses that were named after Confederate loyalists.

Judge John Wooldridge this week denied a request by several taxpayers suing the district to temporarily halt the renaming of the schools with a temporary injunction.

The ruling does not end the lawsuit, filed in June, but represents a significant incremental victory for the Houston Independent School District.

See here for the background. The board of trustees had recently approved a $1.2 million expenditure to pay for the name changes, which depending on your opinion of the name changes themselves is either a necessary expense or a waste of money. The lawsuit will go forward, though I couldn’t find any other reporting to indicate if any kind of schedule were set or anticipated, with the new names remaining in place.

Posted in: Legal matters, School days.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 10

Several iconic acts, plus some great covers.

1. I Can’t Stand The Rain – The Commitments (Angeline Ball, Maria Doyle, Bronagh Gallagher)
2. Everybody Knows – Concrete Blonde (Johnette Napolitano)
3. Like A Star – Corinne Bailey Rae
4. Too Late To Turn Back Now – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (Rose Cornelius)
5. Pedestrian At Best – Courtney Barnett
6. To Lay Me Down – Cowboy Junkies (Margo Timmins)
7. Analyse – Cranberries (Dolores O’Riordan)
8. Push Down & Twist – Crushed Out (Moselle Spiller)
9. She Bop – Cyndi Lauper
10. When I Was A Boy – Dar Williams

The ladies in The Commitments functioned mostly as backup singers, but they got their chance to shine as well. Concrete Blonde is covering Leonard Cohen, while the Cowboy Junkies are doing the Grateful Dead. Did you figure out for yourself that “She Bop” was about masturbation, or did you (like me) only learn it while reading a story about how smutty modern (i.e., circa 1985) songs were? Thank you, Parents Music Resource Council!

Posted in: Music.

Voter fraud: Still a myth

Just a reminder, in case you needed one.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Politicians and voting rights advocates continue to clash over whether photo ID and other voting requirements are needed to prevent voter fraud, but a News21 analysis and recent court rulings show little evidence that such fraud is widespread.

A News21 analysis four years ago of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases in 50 states found that while some fraud had occurred since 2000, the rate was infinitesimal compared with the 146 million registered voters in that 12-year span. The analysis found only 10 cases of voter impersonation, the only kind of fraud that could be prevented by voter ID at the polls.

This year, News21 reviewed cases in Arizona, Ohio, Georgia, Texas and Kansas, where politicians have expressed concern about voter fraud, and found hundreds of allegations but few prosecutions between 2012 and 2016. Attorneys general in those states successfully prosecuted 38 cases, though other cases may have been litigated at the county level. At least one-third of those cases involved nonvoters, such as elections officials or volunteers. None of the cases prosecuted was for voter impersonation.

“Voter fraud is not a significant problem in the country,” Jennifer Clark of the Brennan Center, a public policy and law institute, told News21. “As the evidence that has come out in some recent court cases and reports and basically every analysis that has ever been done has concluded: It is not a significant concern.”

Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Rutgers University-Camden who wrote a book on the phenomenon in 2010 called “The Myth of Voter Fraud,” said in an interview that she hasn’t seen an uptick in the crime since. “Voter fraud remains rare because it is irrational behavior,” she said. “You’re not likely to change the outcome of an election with your illegal fraudulent vote, and the chances of being caught are there and we have rules to prevent against it.”

[…]

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called voter fraud “rampant” in Texas. A records request from News21 to the Office of the Attorney General of Texas shows that more than 360 allegations of voter fraud were sent to the attorney general since 2012. Fifteen of those cases were successfully prosecuted. Four of those convicted were voters – the rest were elections officials or third-party volunteers.

Minnite, who has studied voter fraud for 15 years, said that actual instances of fraud lie somewhere between the number successfully prosecuted and the number of allegations. In her experience, few allegations meet the criteria of fraud: “intentional corruption of the electoral process” by voters.

“Large numbers getting reduced, reduced, reduced at each level is the pattern that I’ve seen over and over and over again,” Minnite said. “The assumption should be the reverse of what it is. It should be ‘We’ve got a lot of errors here.’”

We’ve covered a lot of this before, so you know the drill. The logistics of vote fraud by impersonation have never made any sense, especially when compared to fraud by mail ballot, compromising electronic voting machines, or corrupting the vote counting process, but then it was never about making sense. Look at it this way: If voter fraud really is as “rampant” as Greg Abbott claims it is, then he was massively incompetent as Attorney General at rooting it out. And Ken Paxton isn’t any better at it, either. By their own logic, they were and are terrible failures as Attorney General.

Anyway. News21 is “a cornerstone of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education”, which you can read about at that link. This story was part of their impressively large Voting Wars project, which features a load of stories about the process, politics, and demographics of voting. Check it out.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Schedule set for voter ID discrimination arguments

The next phase of the voter ID litigation will begin shortly after Election Day.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal judge has scheduled oral arguments for Jan. 24 to determine if the Texas Legislature approved a voter ID law in 2011 with the intent to discriminate against minorities.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that Texas’ voter ID law had a discriminatory effect, but said a lower court judge overreached in finding that lawmakers had a discriminatory intent in passing the measure.

However, the federal appeals court instructed U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos to revisit the issue.

Ramos, in a two-page order Thursday, rejected arguments from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that she should back off the discriminatory intent claim until the Legislature has a chance to fine-tune the voter ID law when lawmakers come back to Austin. Paxton’s office proposed a schedule for the intent claim in which the first set of briefs would be filed on June 28 — 30 full days after the Legislature’s regular session is set to end.

[…]

The discriminatory intent claim is a key element in the still-pending voter ID case. If it is found that state lawmakers acted in that manner, the law could not only be struck down but it could open the door for a court to once again require Texas to seek federal approval when changing its elections laws.

You can see a copy of the order here. It’s important to note that the previous rulings didn’t actually throw out the voter ID law. You still have to show ID to vote, and if you have a driver’s license or other form of ID that had been acceptable under that law, you still have to show it. The ruling simply meant that other forms of ID, along with an affidavit swearing that you don’t have one of the originally sanctioned forms, is now sufficient to let your vote be counted. It’s an improvement to be sure, but it’s not a return to how it was pre-voter ID. A ruling that the intent of the law and not just the effect of the law was to discriminate would mean the law in its entirity would be tossed. The district court originally found such intent but the Fifth Circuit demurred, requiring the lower court to reconsider under a stricter set of parameters. That’s what this is about.

If the district court again finds discriminatory intent, then not only would the law be thrown out but preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act would be back on the table. I think that’s unlikely (assuming the re-finding was upheld) on the grounds that North Carolina has not yet been put back under preclearance, but it’s still early. In any event, the schedule from the court is as follows: Both parties present their proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law to the court by November, 18th 2016, submit responsive briefings by December 16th, 2016, and oral arguments on January 24th 2017. Should make for an exciting first few weeks of the next legislative session as well. The Lone Star Project and Rick Hasen have more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Superintendent Carranza on bathroom access

This is what I like to see and hear.

Richard Carranza

Richard Carranza

The new HISD superintendent, Richard Carranza, did not discuss specifics but certainly signaled an open-minded approach to the issue of which restrooms students should be allowed to use.

“I think, you know, kids are human beings, and I think that a human being should be treated like a human being,” Carranza said, as he welcomed students on the first day of school.

He also took questions and was asked for his thoughts on a judge’s ruling which temporarily blocks the Obama administration’s directive to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

“I have to look at what they said in particular about the transgender bathroom law. I can tell you that in my former experience, I spent 7 years, almost 8 years in San Francisco, we had transgender bathrooms the entire time I was there. Never had one issue, zero reported issues with a transgender restroom. So you know I think we need to kind of peel the onion. Is it really about the restroom, or is it about something else?” Carranza said.

Houston ISD began including gender identity in its nondiscrimination policy years ago and has allowed campuses to find solutions on a case-by-case basis.

Simple, yes? No problems here, either. I’d be willing to bet that if it weren’t for the potty-obsessed histrionics from Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, most people wouldn’t even know that HISD included gender identity in its nondiscrimination policy. Because it really is a non-issue, unless someone makes the conscious choice to make it an issue. There’s video of Superintendent Carranza’s statement at the link above if you’re interested.

Posted in: School days.

Driverless taxis debut in Singapore

Not fast enough, Uber.

The world’s first self-driving taxis will be picking up passengers in Singapore starting Thursday.

Select members of the public will be able to hail a free ride through their smartphones in taxis operated by nuTonomy, an autonomous vehicle software startup. While multiple companies, including Google and Volvo, have been testing self-driving cars on public roads for several years, nuTonomy says it will be the first to offer rides to the public. It will beat ride-hailing service Uber, which plans to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, by a few weeks.

The service will start small — six cars now, growing to a dozen by the end of the year. The ultimate goal, say nuTonomy officials, is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018, which will help sharply cut the number of cars on Singapore’s congested roads. Eventually, the model could be adopted in cities around the world, nuTonomy says.

For now, the taxis only will run in a 2.5-square-mile business and residential district called “one-north,” and pick-ups and drop-offs will be limited to specified locations. And riders must have an invitation from nuTonomy to use the service. The company says dozens have signed up for the launch, and it plans to expand that list to thousands of people within a few months.

The cars — modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electrics — have a driver in front who is prepared to take back the wheel and a researcher in back who watches the car’s computers. Each car is fitted with six sets of Lidar — a detection system that uses lasers to operate like radar — including one that constantly spins on the roof. There are also two cameras on the dashboard to scan for obstacles and detect changes in traffic lights.

The testing time-frame is open-ended, said nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma. Eventually, riders may start paying for the service, and more pick-up and drop-off points will be added. NuTonomy also is working on testing similar taxi services in other Asian cities as well as in the U.S. and Europe, but he wouldn’t say when.

“I don’t expect there to be a time where we say, ‘We’ve learned enough,'” Iagnemma said.

Doug Parker, nuTonomy’s chief operating officer, said autonomous taxis could ultimately reduce the number of cars on Singapore’s roads from 900,000 to 300,000.

“When you are able to take that many cars off the road, it creates a lot of possibilities. You can create smaller roads, you can create much smaller car parks,” Parker said. “I think it will change how people interact with the city going forward.”

Uber is planning to roll out its driverless car pilot in Pittsburgh shortly, but they will not be first in line. The claim that driverless cars will ultimately solve traffic congestion is one of which I remain deeply skeptical, but we’ll see, perhaps sooner than I think. In the meantime, you can read more about NuTonomy, which has its origins at MIT, and this pilot test here, here, and here. Would you ride in one of these things?

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

When is Texas going to file that voter ID appeal?

The Lone Star Project would like to know.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Last week, Texas AG Ken Paxton made a big show in the press by announcing that he would file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the ruling of the 5th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals that the Texas voter ID law is discriminatory in violation of the Voting Rights Act.  He bragged, “We’re going to take it to the highest court in the land and hopefully get this turned around.”

Yet now, more than a week later, Paxton hasn’t taken any action on the SCOTUS Appeal.  What gives?

Is Paxton scamming GOP activists?
Chances that the U.S. Supreme Court taking up the Texas case are not good, and the odds of him ultimately prevailing are worse.  The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is the most conservative federal court in the nation, so it’s unlikely their finding of discrimination would be reversed.

Paxton’s advisors have likely informed him that a SCOTUS appeal is a longshot.  However, his political base is made up of the most extreme, divisive and irrational activists within the Texas Republican Party.  They drank the phony voter fraud Kool-Aid served up by Greg Abbott and other Republicans and likely won’t accept a rational legal decision.  Ken Paxton’s on the spot, so instead of shooting straight with his own supporters, he may be scamming them and stalling for time.

Is Paxton intentionally creating voter confusion through threats and delays?
The most likely reason for Paxton’s threat to appeal and his failure to follow through is to confuse voters and the media about what voting rules really will be followed in November.

By hitting the media talk show circuit and talking about a Supreme Court appeal, Paxton creates uncertainty.  At the same time, the state is issuing confusing and misleading documents implying that the overturned voter ID law remains unchanged.

And Paxton has gone far beyond talking about filing an appeal with the Supreme Court.  He went on Fox News and made a series of threatening remarks vowing to prosecute voters who may misunderstand or make a mistake under the new voting procedures.

Ken Paxton, Greg Abbott, and other Texas GOP leaders know that the most damaging aspect of their relentless insistence on a discriminatory voter ID law is that voters become uncertain about the rules and see the very act of voting as risky and intimidating.

Indeed, the announcement of an appeal was made on August 16. That was six days after the “softening” agreement was approved by the federal district court judge, and four full weeks after the Fifth Circuit ruling that affirmed the lower court ruling. I Am Not A Lawyer, and I know this sort of thing can take some time, but I don’t think it takes that long, especially given that the Fifth Circuit ruling was an en banc ruling that had affirmed the three-judge panel ruling last August. By the way, the state filed its request for an en banc review of that ruling in less than four weeks, so it’s not hard to conclude that they are taking their time here. And to be clear here, I don’t really care if they had decided to file an appeal or not. It’s that it’s not at all hard to believe, as the LSP alleges, that the main goal here is sowing confusion. If the intent is to file an appeal, then get on with it already. If not, then shut up and do what the court ordered.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Another Voting Rights Act violation alleged

From Friday:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Today, a coalition of 10 groups sent a letter to Carlos Casco, Secretary of State of Texas, requesting that his office take immediate steps to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1985 (VRA) and the Texas Elections Code.

Evidence currently shows that the State is failing to provide critical materials for potential Volunteer Deputy Registrars (VDRs) in Spanish and is not uniformly distributing Spanish language materials in all counties across Texas.

Under the Texas Elections Code, it is a crime to handle a completed voter registration form in any Texas county without being appointed as a VDR for that particular county. The failure to provide Spanish language materials identical to the English language materials, or to ensure all Texas Counties make the Spanish language materials available, for potential VDRs excludes Spanish-speaking Texans from equal participation in the electoral process and can lead to depressed voter turnout in predominantly Latino voter communities.

The letter calls for the Secretary of State to, among other things, translate and distribute all VDR training materials into Spanish, ensure that all Texas counties create reasonable ways for potential VDRs to complete the required training in any minority language covered in that county by the VRA, and require full compliance with any minority language requirements stipulated by the VRA in all Texas counties.

The letter is signed by groups including the Texas Civil Rights Project, the League of Women Voters, MOVE San Antonio, the Texas Organizing Project, and more.

You can see the full letter they sent to Secretary Cascos here. The Texas Civil Rights Project has been busy this year – they filed a lawsuit over voter registration procedures at DPS in March. I don’t know what the current status of that is. According to the letter, they want a response from the SOS by August 31. We’ll see what happens. Link via Rick Hasen, and see here for more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Driverless Ubers

Ready or not, here they come.

Uber

The option to hail a ride in a self-driving car, which was science fiction just a few years ago, will soon be available to Uber users in Pittsburgh, the first time the technology has been offered to the general public.

Within weeks, the company announced Thursday, customers will be able to opt into a test program and summon an autonomous Ford Fusion. But since the technology has not been perfected, the cars will come with human backup drivers to handle any unexpected situations.

Although other companies including Google are testing self-driving cars on public roads, none offers rides to regular people. As an enticement, the autonomous rides will be free, the company said.

Uber, which has a self-driving research lab in Pittsburgh, has no immediate plans to deploy autonomous cars in other cities. But in an interview with The Associated Press, CEO Travis Kalanick said development of the vehicles is paramount for the San Francisco company, which has grown exponentially after starting seven years ago.

“We’ve got to be laser-focused on getting this to market, because it’s not a side project for us,” he said. “This is everything. This is all the marbles for Uber.”

Without drivers, the cost of hailing a ride will be cheaper than owning a car, changing the way we all get around, Kalanick has said.

By using human backup drivers, Uber is basically testing the technology and taking people along for the ride, said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina professor who studies self-driving technology.

“Part of this is marketing in the sense that they’re going to be doing continued research and development of these systems,” he said.

The story notes that Uber has acquired Otto, the startup company that provided kits for driverless trucks. As you know, I remain skeptical, not of driverless cars themselves – I have no doubt the technology is coming, probably sooner than I’m comfortable with – but of the grand predictions of how they will reshape society. I think the questions are more complicated, and the time frame is longer, than some people think. But who knows? I’m sure the lure of free rides will give Uber plenty of demand for this test, and there will be much to learn from it. I’ll be very interested to see how it goes. And hey, driverless Ubers sure would solve that pesky background check issue, elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal, Kevin Drum, the Guardian, and the Chron’s Chris Tomlinson have more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Texas blog roundup for the week of August 22

The Texas Progressive Alliance keeps the flame burning as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Paxton continues his war on transgender people

This is just ugly.

RedEquality

Ramping up its fight over the rights of transgender people, Texas filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the federal government over a regulation prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals in some health programs.

Texas, on behalf of Franciscan Alliance, a religious hospital network, and four other states are claiming the new federal regulation would force doctors to perform gender transition procedures on children and requested the court to block the federal government from enforcing the regulation. The federal rule on nondiscrimination in health care prohibits denying or limiting coverage for transgender individuals, including health services related to gender transition.

The lawsuit was announced by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Franciscan Alliance. It was filed Tuesday morning in the Wichita Falls-based District Court for the Western District of Texas.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who on Monday sided with the state and blocked the Obama administration’s guidelines to accommodate transgender students. Those guidelines say that schools must treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for the purposes of complying with federal nondiscrimination statutes.

[…]

Among several legal claims, they argued that the new rule violates the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it compels religiously affiliated health organizations to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. The federal government is “forcing them to choose between federal funding and their livelihood as healthcare providers and their exercise of religion,” the wrote in a court filing.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. Think Progress pulls out some of the highlights:

Essentially, this suit is akin to Hobby Lobby, except it objects to transgender care instead of birth control.

The complaint repeatedly refers to standards of care, and the need for states and physicians to be able to maintain “standards of care that rely upon the medical judgment of health professionals as to what is in the best interests of their patients.” Requiring doctors to perform procedures that they do not believe are in the best interest of the patient would turn “the venerable medical oath to ‘do no harm’ on its head.” Physicians should have the ability “to offer a contrary view” to HHS’s conclusions that transition-related treatments are no longer “experimental.” The plaintiffs in the suit believe that transition care is not only still experimental, but also “ethically questionable and potentially harmful.”

Building standards of care around this belief, the complaint assures, does not compromise patients’ respect:

Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, especially when in need of medical attention. The standard of care established in Texas, and around the country, enables patients to obtain quality healthcare as determined by medical professionals, and not those outside the doctor-patient relationship. The Regulation, however, usurps this standard of care. It discards independent medical judgment and a physician’s duty to his or her patient’s permanent well-being and replaces them with rigid commands.

Nowhere, however, does the suit acknowledge the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which has maintained research-informed standards of care for transgender people for nearly 40 years. The WPATH standards, first proposed in 1979 and updated several times since, are based on “the best available science and expert professional consensus.” They recommend affirming transgender people’s identities and recognize that gender transition improves their well-being.

The plaintiffs in the suit make no secret of the fact that they reject this science in favor of their own religious beliefs. For example, the suit cites CMDA’s “Transgender Identification Ethics Statement,” which takes the literal opposite position of the WPATH standards, because validating transsexual “desires” is “contrary to a Christian worldview:

In contrast to the current culture, CMDA believes that finding one’s identity within God’s design will result in a more healthy and fulfilled life. CMDA believes, moreover, that social movements which contend that gender is decided by choice are mistaken in defining gender, not by nature, but according to desire. Authentic personal identity consists in social gender expression that is congruent with one’s natural biological sex. CMDA recognizes that this traditional view has become counter-cultural; however, CMDA affirms that God’s design transcends culture.

CMDA’s statement also claims that affirming children’s gender identity and allowing them to delay puberty has “lifelong physical, psychological, and social consequences,” even though the available evidence says the exact opposite — that delaying puberty is safe and totally reversible.

Like CMDA, Franciscan similarly rejects the existence of transgender identities:

Franciscan holds religious beliefs that sexual identity is an objective fact rooted in nature as male or female persons. Like the Catholic Church it serves, Franciscan believes that a person’s sex is ascertained biologically, and not by one’s beliefs, desires, or feelings. Franciscan believes that part of the image of God is an organic part of every man and woman, and that women and men reflect God’s image in unique, and uniquely dignified, ways. Franciscan does not believe that government has either the power or the authority to redefine sex.

The suit claims that even providing “psychiatric support” as part of a medical transition would violate its “best medical judgment and its religious beliefs.” Even simply providing insurance coverage for such procedures would “constitute impermissible material cooperation with evil.”

I can’t even wrap my mind around this. Substitute “gay” for “transgender” in the paragraphs above, and ask yourself if this would come close passing legal muster, let alone common decency and medical ethics. And yes, this is the same judge who granted a national injunction in the bathroom case. Give Ken Paxton his due – he knows who the friendly judges are. The Current has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Three more candidates announce campaigns for open HISD Trustee seat

From the inbox, candidate number 1:

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant, an entrepreneur and businesswoman, announced her candidacy today, August 15, for Houston ISD Trustee in District VII. The position is up for election this November with the resignation of Harvin Moore, one of the board’s longest-serving members.

District VII includes River Oaks, Memorial, and Briargrove, and is home to some of the best schools in the state. But this year the district faces the daunting budgetary challenge of funding school operations without disrupting classroom standards.

“Education is key to keeping Houston and Texas an economic powerhouse,” Bryant said. “As a mother with children enrolled in HISD schools, I will fight for a quality education system that will give them the tools they need to compete in a global economy.”

Bryant is the founder and president of Ambassadors Caregivers, a home health care business serving seniors, the disabled, and the elderly. She currently serves as President of the World Chamber of Commerce of Texas and on the Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital Women’s Advisory Council. She is also a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the University of Houston’s College of Education and its College of Business.

“Victoria Bryant is an advocate for education with extensive experience in medicine and health care,” said Tony Buzbee, attorney and River Oaks resident. “Her business background will be crucial to solving the district’s budget shortfalls and modernizing our schools.”

Years ago education opened many windows of opportunity for Bryant, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who resettled in Houston in the 1970’s. Bryant attended Carnegie High School and the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, where she earned her Doctorate of Pharmacy. “My dad did everything he could to make sure I had every opportunity in the world – and it started with a great education,” said Bryant. “Here in our district, we have incredible teachers and involved parents. That said, we have much more to do to educate and empower our children for success. As we invest in their future, I am your voice on the board.”

See here for the background. Anne Sung, who ran against Moore in 2013, has also announced her intention to run for the seat. I found this 2014 Houston Business Journal story on Victoria Bryant while googling around for her.

Sung and Bryant are joined by two others: John F. Luman, III and Danielle Paulus are also listed as candidates on the HISD webpage about the special election. Paulus, as you can see from her LinkiedIn profile, is also known as Danielle Paulus-Dick, and appears to be the wife of Eric Dick, which made my eyes roll so hard. I asked around and learned that both Bryant and Luman have Republican primary voting histories – Danielle Paulus appeared on this list after I had done that, but we do all know about Eric Dick – while Sung is a Democrat, so the basic contours of this campaign are clear, if there are no others jumping in. The filing deadline is tomorrow, August 25, so the clock is ticking. Whoever emerges victorious, in November or a December runoff, will have to do it again in 2017 for a full term. I’ll check back afterwards to see what the final lineup will be.

Posted in: Election 2016.

STAAR test lawsuit survives motion to dismiss

On to trial.

After a group of parents sued the Texas Education Agency over the 2016 administration of STAAR exams, state lawyers argued this summer that the parents had no standing and asked the courts to drop the case.

This week, the first day of school for many Texas children, Travis County District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky denied their request in a one-page order with no further explanation.

The decision, which comes after a recent hearing, means the lawsuit brought by parents from Houston, Wimberley, Austin and Orangefield — whose children were in the third, fifth and eighth grades last school year — will be able to proceed.

[…]

Education Commissioner Mike Morath, listed as the primary defendant in the suit, threw out all grade promotion consequences for fifth- and eighth-graders this year because of score delays under a new testing vendor, the filings note. They also say that students could have been advanced to the next grade by a graduation committee regardless of Morath’s decision, and that there are no such consequences for third-graders. The filing also says there is “no allegation any of the plaintiffs failed or were specifically harmed by the allegedly noncompliant test — or even that the length of the test affected the child’s performance in any way.”

But the parents would like to see all scores thrown out. Their lawyer Austin-area lawyer, Scott Placek, who hailed Monday’s decision as a “big victory,” said they will keep fighting until that happens.

“The judge said without qualifications they have the right to be there and they have the right to have their case heard and so we’re in the position now where the case can really go forward,” he said. “I think we’ll look to move the discovery expeditiously and get to trial as quickly as we can because kids are being impacted already as they head back to school.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the judge’s order. The plaintiffs’ crowdfunded group The Committee to Stop STAAR has two posts on its webpage concerning TEA reports that they say show the STAAR test was not administered in compliance with the law. This ought to get very interesting.

Posted in: Legal matters.

What can we do to increase the odds of a downballot Democratic victory?

Yesterday, I raised the possibility of downballot Democrats winning statewide races if 1) polling in the Trump/Clinton matchup remained at or below the six point spread in the recent PPP poll and 2) Democrats did a better job voting all the way down the ballot than Republicans, as has been the case in recent Presidential elections. What can Democrats do to increase the odds of this happening?

Let’s start by recognizing what we can’t do. Trump’s gonna Trump, Clinton is going to do what she does, and the numbers will be what they are. If you’re reading this and you know how you’re voting, you’re not part of this equation – you’re already factored in. We also can’t affect what Republicans, whether NeverTrumpers or not, do downballot. It’s my supposition that conditions are favorable for Republicans to see fewer votes in downballot races this year than they might normally expect, but that’s all that it is. Even if I’m right about that, it may not be enough to make a difference. All Democrats can reasonably do is try to position themselves as best they can to take advantage of this if there is something to take advantage of.

So what can we do? The good new is, this isn’t complicated.

1. Vote all the way down the ballot – I presume you already do that, but nothing is too obvious that it need not be stated. Vote all the way down the ballot, and vote for Democrats. I’ve been addressing the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals in these two posts, and before that I’ve been harping on the lower appeals courts. Don’t forget the district and county courts, too.

2. Spend your money and volunteer energy here in Texas – How much more incentive do you need than the prospect of winning a statewide race for the first time since 1994? Give a few bucks to your local party/coordinated campaign, volunteer to phonebank, you know the drill. Do something to spread the message. It doesn’t matter if there aren’t any local races of interest, either. If there can be a grassroots GOTV effort in Lubbock, there can be one anywhere. Find one and be a part of it.

3. Support the candidates in question – Here are the Democratic candidates running for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals:

Mike Westergren – Justice, Supreme Court, Place 3
Dori Contreras Garza – Justice, Supreme Court, Place 5
Savannah Robinson – Justice, Supreme Court, Place 9

Lawrence “Larry” Meyers – Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2
Betsy Johnson – Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 5
Robert Burns – Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 6

Meyers is an incumbent, having switched parties prior to the 2014 election; the rest are challengers. You could send them a few bucks to help them get their names out – even a little bit of extra name recognition may translate to a few extra people not skipping their race – or talk about them in your social circle. The name of the game is name recognition.

4. Reach out to left-leaning friends and family who won’t support Hillary Clinton – We all have people like this in our lives. A gentle suggestion that they vote for some downballot Democrats probably can’t hurt.

Like I said, not exactly rocket science. Everything I’ve said here is intuitive, and would have an effect on the margins, since that’s where an effect can be had. I think the key here is just thinking that it really may be possible. Again, I stress the “may be” part – I don’t want to over-promise, but I do want people thinking about this.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Preliminary injunction granted in transgender bathroom directive case

Ugh.

RedEquality

A federal judge in Fort Worth has blocked Obama administration guidelines directing the nation’s public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity.

In a 38-page order released Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor said the “status quo” should remain in place nationwide until the court rules on the case, or a federal appeals court provides further guidance.

[…]

“This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of students’ rights and that of personal privacy while using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school,” O’Connor wrote in the order. He added: “The sensitivity to this matter is heightened because Defendant’s actions apply to the youngest child attending school and continues every year throughout each child’s educational career.”

“The resolution of this difficult policy decision is not, however, the subject of this order,” he said.

You can see a copy of the court order here. We had expected a ruling before school started, though I honestly didn’t think that would mean Sunday. The question now is what does this mean, since there wasn’t a law in place, just a recommendation. ThinkProgress offers one explanation:

The scope of O’Connor’s order is vast. It dictates that the federal government can not intervene on behalf of trans students in any school nationwide. If the departments were already investigating claims of anti-trans discrimination, they must suspend those investigations immediately. In other words, so long as this injunction is in place, it’s as if the guidance protecting trans students doesn’t exist at all. It doesn’t, however, prevent schools from continuing to follow the guidance.

The ACLU, which was one of the filers of a joint amicus brief in the case, had the following to say:

“A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination. This unfortunate and premature ruling may, however, confuse school districts that are simply trying to support their students, including their transgender students. So let us make it clear to those districts: your obligations under the law have not changed, and you are still not only allowed but required to treat transgender students fairly. The scope of this injunction has no effect on the ability of other courts or lawyers representing transgender people to continue to rely on the federal government’s interpretations of Title IX or on prior decisions that have reached similar conclusions about the scope of federal sex discrimination laws.

“The court’s misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people – transgender elementary and high school students – for potential continued harassment, stigma and abuse.”

Although the court failed to consider the interests of the very students the federal laws were intended to protect, the five civil rights organizations who advocated on their behalf avowed, “We will continue to file lawsuits representing transgender students and litigate them to the fullest extent of the law—regardless of what happens with this particular federal guidance.”

The one thing that is clear is that this will be appealed. One should never get one’s hopes up where the Fifth Circuit is concerned, but this is what we’ve got for now. The DMN, the Austin Chronicle, the Current, and the Press have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Getting ready for the new voter ID universe

It’s a scramble.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

With roughly two months before early voting starts, Texas election officials are facing the difficult task of training thousands of poll workers and educating the public about court-ordered changes to a voter ID law – all while under an intense microscope.

That process is expected to be exacerbated by the sheer size of Texas, the volume of county election offices – 254 in all – an extreme time crunch and a politically-charged environment.

The heavy lifting starts now.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office late this week circulated final instructions to county officials about identification requirements for the Nov. 8 election – materials that will serve as guidance for local election administrators doing training.

In less than two weeks, Secretary of State Carlos Cascos is planning to embark on a statewide tour, where, according to court documents, he could visit San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley, among a list of potential sites, to talk voter ID.

And around the same time, Texas is poised to start recording television and radio spots set to air in October, court documents say, the first steps in an estimated $1.3 million advertising campaign. That will also include digital, print and social media ads slated to start appearing by the first week of September.

[…]

“It’s going to be a real challenge. It takes a long time to get this election machinery moving, and the closer it gets to the election the more likely the implementation of the changes will get screwed up in various places,” said Joseph Fishkin, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in constitutional and election law. “You have so many poll workers in Texas that are well meaning but not necessarily well trained. There’s going to be a lot of low-level questions about how to implement the ruling successfully.”

As we know, all of this is part of the agreement that was hammered out between plaintiffs and the AG’s office, and approved by the federal district court judge. I agree with Professor Fishkin’s assessment, and we will need to be tolerant of well-meaning but misinformed election workers, at least this year. The main danger here isn’t for people who have voted before and who have an accepted form of ID to show. The concern is for the three or four million people who will show up in November who haven’t cast a vote during the voter ID era, including a significant number of people who will be voting for the first time. What happens when someone gives them bad information, and maybe causes them to decide they can’t vote at all? And let’s not forget, not everyone has good intentions. This quote here is troubling:

Harris County Clerk and chief election official Stan Stanart, who oversees one of the largest county election operations in the nation, said Friday he does not expect any problems with putting in place changes to the law. That’s mostly because he is not expecting much of an influx of people lacking one of the state-approved ID.

“The numbers are going to be small,” said Stanart, who estimates 6,000 election workers will be trained in Harris County before November. “That’s our experience with voter ID.”

But Stanart also issued a warning: his office will look into those signing affidavits claiming they don’t have required identification. He said voters who lied will be turned over to the district attorney.

“People are signing an oath. They are swearing they don’t have an ID,” he said. “If they think they can come in and vote without an ID when they have one sitting in their pocket, that’s going to be a problem.”

Stan Stanart is one of those people who doesn’t have good intentions. That sounds an awful lot like a threat the treat people who show up with a form of ID that is on the agreement with suspicion. It’s one thing to have tolerance for honest mistakes. How much tolerance are we going to have for that?

Posted in: Election 2016.

No injunction for campus carry

So much for that.

A federal judge has denied three University of Texas at Austin professors’ initial attempt to keep guns out of their classrooms under the state’s campus carry law.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the professors, who had sought a preliminary injunction to block implementation of the law, had failed to establish their likelihood for success. UT students resume classes on Wednesday, and the professors’ case will continue to work its way through the court while the law remains in effect.

The professors, Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter, filed their lawsuit against the university and the attorney general’s office. In the suit, the professors said the possibility of guns on campus could stifle class discussion in their courses, which touch on emotional issues like gay rights and abortion. They argued that was a violation of students’ First Amendment right to free speech.

[…]

In an e-mail, Renea Hicks, the lawyer for the professors, said he was “disappointed” by the decision.

“We’ll just have to pull together more facts for trial and hope things go smoothly on campus in the meantime,” he said. “Sometimes, public policies are so terrible and extreme that it takes the law and courts a little while to catch up.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for the judge’s order. On the bright side, the lawsuit wasn’t dismissed, at least not yet. As I’ve said before, I would not bet my own money on the plaintiffs ultimately prevailing on this one.

Posted in: Legal matters.

It’s not crazy to think that a downballot Democrat could win statewide this year

I’ll get to that headline in a minute. I’ve got some reading to sort through first. We’ll start with the most pessimistic, or perhaps the least blue-sky, story of how things are likely to go.

Arizona. Georgia. Utah. Indiana. Is Texas next?

Across the country in recent days, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has suffered polling collapses in a slew of traditionally conservative states. The deterioration raises the question: Is Trump such a catastrophic Republican standard-bearer that Democrats could actually poach their ultimate white whale, the Lone Star State?

No.

That’s the consensus of a raft of state and national Democratic insiders who discussed with the Tribune the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning Texas in November.

“I think that it could set off a little bit of a panic among Republicans, but you’re not going to see banners flying and people marching into Texas saying, ‘We’re gonna turn Texas blue,'” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative with Texas roots.

[…]

So, what would an incremental victory look like for Texas Democrats on Election Day?

Party infrastructure was the mantra in several interviews. The aim is to excite dormant Texas Democratic voters into volunteering for the first time in a generation, even if it is out of distaste for Trump. Even now, Texas volunteers are phone banking to battleground state voters elsewhere in the country.

“We know it’s going to be a multi-cycle endeavor, but these numbers reinforce that we are making significant movement, particularly with Texas’ diverse new majority,” said Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

State Democrats are also cautiously hopeful they can make gains in the Legislature, and maybe lay the groundwork for a viable campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 when he is up for re-election.

Amid the cautious optimism, Democrats are willing to concede that anything is believable given the erratic nature of the Trump campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, an Arlington Democrat, echoed many Democratic insiders when he said he has heard no chatter about competing for Texas in the fall.

“This is a crazy election,” he said. “Anything can happen, but I still think Texas is a reach.”

A more optimistic take on where things stand.

The [PPP] poll shows Trump leading Clinton by a 44-to-38 percent margin, with his strongest support among senior-age Texans, especially men. Among that group, the New York business tycoon holds a 63-33 percent lead.

With voters under age 65, Clinton leads 49-35. For those under 45, she leads Trump 60-35.

Among nonwhite voters in Texas, Clinton has a 73-21 percent lead, according to the poll conducted by the Democrat-leaning polling firm Friday through Sunday of 944 likely voters; the poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus-3.2 percentage points.

That split, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who has studied how the changing generational demographics of voters affects elections, could be the most significant statistic from the poll and other recent surveys that have highlighted a similar trend in Texas.

“This election is an outlier because Trump in many ways transcends ideology and party,” Jones said. “The older the voters, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The younger the voters, the more likely they are to vote Democratic. And the Republicans’ base in Texas is growing older.”

[…]

Statewide, an estimated 14 million Texans are registered to vote, an increase of about 1 million voters over the last four years, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. Whether those are new Republicans or Democrats or independents is unknown, and party affiliation is determined by which primary a voter casts his or her ballot.

Officials in fast-growing Williamson County, in staunchly conservative GOP territory just north of Austin, said their registration numbers are up significantly.

During the 2008 presidential race, Williamson County accounted for just more than 220,000 of the state’s registered voters. The most current figures put Williamson County’s voter total at 294,329.

In Fort Bend County, a fast-growing GOP suburban stronghold southwest of Houston, elections administrator John Oldham said registrations have grown by 25 percent since 2008. That has added nearly 100,000 new voters to the rolls in just under eight years, he said.

Oldham estimated that about half of recently registered have not had Anglo or Hispanic surnames. Many have last names traditionally associated with Asian, Middle Eastern and African heritages, he said.

“That’s where we’re seeing a lot of growth,” he said.

For Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, surburban areas like Fort Bend County are the places to watch in November.

“Republicans in Texas have dominated the suburban vote, and that’s been one reason for their success,” Rottinghaus said. “But in this election, Trump is doing poorly among these voters – the suburban women, college-educated voters who are younger. (Gov. Greg) Abbott and (U.S. Sen. Ted) Cruz still do well there, but crossover voting in the suburbs could cause a moment that might allow the Democrats to do better.

“That is how the Republicans got their foot in the door in congressional elections years ago,” he added.

And finally, an X factor to consider.

There are now 272 electoral votes in states that RCP rates as leaning toward Clinton, likely to go to her or solidly in her column. Another 112 come from states rated as tossups (plus Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, from which an elector is chosen independent of the statewide result). On Wednesday morning, Clinton had a lead in six of those eight states, including a statistically insignificant three-tenths-of-a-point edge in Deep South Georgia.

Furthermore, in talking to Democratic and Republican strategists in recent days, it has become clear that the polls could be significantly underestimating the Clinton margins that we’ll see on Election Day. Here’s why: Clinton has poured money into both television advertising and field organizing even in states where she has an outside chance of winning while Trump has been inactive.

Republican and Democratic experts in field organizing say that a tiptop organization can make a small but significant difference — maybe as many as four or five percentage points — in a particular state. That is, where Clinton’s building an operation and Trump isn’t, polls are likely underrepresentative of her strength.

In a chat last week on the social media platform Sidewire, former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn and GOP strategist Doug Heye lamented the absence of a Trump field operation on the ground in the battleground Hawkeye State.

“The boots have largely been outsourced to the RNC staff that’s been on [the] ground. They are hustling to staff up,” Strawn said. “And as everyone learned watching Hillary [and] Bernie battle during caucuses, if it comes down to mechanics versus message at the end … well, we know how that turned out.”

That last one isn’t about Texas at all, and it may be irrelevant to the discussion at hand, since Republican Presidential campaigns don’t bother investing in Texas for the same reason that Democratic ones don’t – there’s no reason to. But there is a correlation between the national level and the state level, and if there are concerns about Republican turnout nationally – and there are, and they go beyond worries about campaign infrastructure – then there are concerns about it here as well, if not necessarily as great.

Which leads me to a conclusion that I’ve seen only articulated once, briefly, in the Beatty memo, which is this: It’s not crazy to think that Texas Democrats could win a statewide race or two this November.

Note that I am not talking about the Presidential race. The Beatty memo suggests that the Railroad Commissioner’s race could go either way, as nobody knows who the candidates are. I’m thinking more about the races for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, for which the Dems have a full slate of candidates. The same argument about nobody knowing who the candidates are holds, but there’s also the numbers, for all of these races.

Look at it this way: A six-point Trump win in Texas, which is consistent with that PPP poll, translates to roughly a 400,000-vote margin for Trump. To pick some numbers out of the sky, a victory by Trump of 4,000,000 votes to 3,600,000 votes – a drop of about 12.5% for Trump from Mitt Romney’s 2012 total, with an increase of about nine percent for Hillary Clinton over President Obama in 2012 – would translate to 52.6% for Trump to 47.4% for Clinton in a two-person race. That’s a little less than six percent, but grant me that much optimism. (For the record, 4.1 million votes for Trump to 3.6 million for Clinton would be 53.2% to 46.8%, or a 6.4 point difference, so assume we’re somewhere in the middle if you want.) All disclaimers aside, I think we can all agree that as things stand today, a result like this is in the ballpark.

Now here’s the thing: There’s always some level of dropoff from the Presidential level to the downballot level. In the three most recent Presidential elections, there has been much more dropoff on the Republican side than on the Democratic side.


2004

Bush -  4,526,917
Kerry - 2,832,704

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Carrillo      3,891,482   635,435    14.0%
Brister       4,093,854   433,063     9.6%
Keasler       3,990,315   536,602    11.9%

Scarborough   2,872,717       N/A      N/A
Van Os        2,817,700    15,004     0.5%
Molina        2,906,720       N/A      N/A


2008

McCain - 4,479,328
Obama  - 3,528,633

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Williams      4,003,789   475,539    10.6%
Jefferson     4,092,181   387,147     8.6%
Wainwright    3,926,015   553,313    12.4%
Johnson       4,018,396   460,932    10.3%
Price         3,948,722   530,606    11.8%

Thompson      3,406,174   122,459     3.5%
Jordan        3,374,433   154,200     4.4%
Houston       3,525,141     3,492     0.0%
Yanez         3,428,179   100,454     2.8%
Strawn        3,482,718    45,915     1.3%


2012

Romney - 4,569,843
Obama  - 3,308,124

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Craddick      4,336,499    233,344    5.1%
Hecht         4,127,493    442,350    9.7%
Keller        4,257,024    312,819    6.8%

Henry         3,057,733    250,391    7.6%
Petty         3,219,948     88,176    2.7%
Hampton       3,163,825    144,299    4.4%

Republicans did better in 2012 than in 2008, to which I attribute greater enthusiasm on their part, which led to more straight-ticket and general downballot voting. They obviously had a lot of enthusiasm in 2004, but they also had some crossover votes at the Presidential level, as well as (I believe) a decent number of people who turned out just to vote for President. Dems, on the other hand, had less dropoff in every race except one, and in most cases the difference between R dropoff and D dropoff was large. I attribute that in one part to good messaging about straight-ticket voting, especially in 2008, and one part being that if you bothered to show up and vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate in Texas, you were probably pretty committed to the party as a whole.

I think this year combines the lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side that we saw in 2008, plus the possibility of people showing up to just vote for Trump and nobody else, like in 2004. Against that, some number of people who normally vote for Republican Presidential candidates will do something else in that race this year, then vote normally after that. Put it all together, and I think the likelihood of Republican dropoff in the 2004 and 2008 ranges is a reasonably likely outcome this year.

If that is the case, and if we are indeed headed for a Presidential race with roughly a six-point differential between Trump and Clinton, then the math is clear. Four million less ten percent is 3.6 million, or what I’m projecting Clinton to get. Sure, there will be some Democratic dropoff as well, but you could have 11 or 12 percent loss on the R side, with only one percent or so for a given D. That will vary from candidate to candidate for reasons none of us can predict or will understand, but that’s my whole point: Under these conditions, we’re basically at a coin toss for downballot statewide races. And if that happens, we could see one or more Democrats squeak past their opponents and win their races. Looking at the numbers for the two most recent elections above, Sam Houston and Susan Strawn would have won in this environment, with Mark Thompson, Linda Yanez, and Michelle Petty (2012) falling just short. All they needed was for the Presidential race to have been sufficiently close.

Now as always, this comes with a pile of caveats – the election is still three months away, this is based on one poll, even a seven or eight point lead for Trump would almost certainly render all this moot, there could be a whole lot of Johnson-plus-downballot-GOP voters, etc etc etc. I’m absolutely not saying this will happen, nor am I saying it is likely to happen. I am saying it is possible, and conditions could become better for it rather than worse. I wouldn’t have said this a month ago, and the next poll result may make me want to throw this whole post into the trash, but my original statement stands: As things look right now, it’s not crazy to consider the possibility that at least one downballot statewide Democrat could win this fall.

So now that we’ve had this thought, what are we going to do about it? I’ll address that in the next post.

Posted in: The making of the President.

More focus on bail practices

Something needs to be done, whether via the ongoing lawsuit or other means.

go_to_jail

Sandra Thompson, a University of Houston law professor, has spent hundreds of dollars bailing her cousin out of jail for minor offenses.

“I get steamed under the collar when I think about this issue,” Thompson said. “I’m really mad and I’m ready to see some change. ”

Thompson and several other community members gathered Saturday afternoon at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University to discuss bail reform issues in Harris County and suggest potential solutions. The Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy Inc., a city organization that seeks justice for minorities, hosted the event. Community leaders expressed concern about poor individuals jailed for nonviolent crimes because they can’t afford to make bail.

“You have a system that gets it wrong all across the spectrum,” Thompson said. “You got low-risk people stuck in jail because they’re poor. You got high-risk people getting out because they’re rich.”

[…]

Community leaders at the meeting on Saturday said the ongoing lawsuit would be one solution regarding the bail reform issue, but also urged local court officials to assess the risk of the individual when setting bail. In Harris County, the average bail is between $500 and $5,000 for misdemeanors.

“If someone is taken to jail on a minor, nonviolent offense like trespassing or theft, bail shouldn’t be determined by a schedule that doesn’t consider risk or ability to pay,” said Mary Moreno, a representative from Texas Organizing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income people in Houston.

Moreno announced the group’s new campaign Saturday to decriminalize poverty in Houston. The group seeks to reform the criminal justice system in Harris County and one of its initiatives concerns bail reform.

“For those living paycheck to paycheck, two or three days of being in jail means losing hours at work and can start a domino effect of unfortunate events that can cause serious financial hardships taking months or years to recover from,” she said.

Moreno also stressed the importance of not jailing people for being unable to pay traffic tickets. She said other options could be community service, payment plans, and the deduction of fines.

See here and here for more on the lawsuit, for which we should get a ruling on who should be defendants this week. This lawsuit may force some changes, but ultimately it’s going to come down to the judges and the DA, with some responsibility for the Lege as well. In the meantime, go back to what Professor Thompson said about risk, and reflect on the fact that Robert Durst was granted bail after being arrested for the murder and dismemberment of Morris Black. Surely people arrested for misdemeanors represent no bigger threat to anyone’s safety than he did.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Who watches the election watchers?

What could possibly go wrong with this?

In 2012, Greg Abbott caused a stir when he issued this warning to international election observers: Don’t set foot inside Texas polling places.

Abbott, then the attorney general, was worried the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — which routinely dispatches election monitors to the United States and other countries and had met with opponents of Texas’ voter ID law — could interfere with general election voting.

“Our concern is that this isn’t some benign observation but something intended to be far more prying and maybe even an attempt to suppress voter integrity,” he told Reuters at the time. He even threatened to “bring criminal charges if needed.”

But four years and one presidential cycle later, Texas officials are so far silent about a possible fleet of partisan election observers Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is urging to the polls.

“Help Me Stop Crooked Hillary From Rigging This Election!” pleads a volunteer sign-up form on the real estate mogul’s website.

Trump’s campaign — which did not respond to requests for comment for this article — has not released details on its poll-watching strategy, or how it plans to ensure volunteers abide by state and federal laws. Texas law allows candidates and political parties to appoint a limited number of poll watchers as long as they follow a litany of rules. But a robust monitoring effort like the one Trump is calling for is rare in the United States.

“It’s something you’re more likely to find in the developing world,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

“You’re more likely to have people that disrupt the process than actually monitor,” he added.

Do tell. The good news is that the dumpster fire that is the Trump campaign is unlikely to actually execute a program of putting “poll watchers” into place. That’s way too much detail work for them. The bad news is that Trump’s rhetoric about “rigged elections” is likely to spur lone-wolf activism, which has the potential to be awful and even violent. The worse news is that Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton are unlikely to do anything about that. It’s not their concern. I don’t really know what to suggest here.

Posted in: Election 2016.

SH 130 operator to give up its ownership stake

Another step on the road to bankruptcy.

Speed Limit 85

SH 130 Concession Co. filed a bankruptcy reorganization plan Friday that proposes transferring company ownership to its largest lenders, which include the Federal Highway Administration and a group of European banks. The company owes more than $1.6 billion. It is owned by Spanish road developer Cintra, the majority stakeholder, and San Antonio-based Zachry American Infrastructure.

[…]

The company paid TxDOT $125 million upfront for the rights to operate the road, which was built to bypass Interstate 35 traffic between San Antonio and Austin and then became state property. It also agreed to share some of its toll revenue with the state as part of the lease agreement.

Texas 130’s southern section, which connects to a state-operated section that ends in Georgetown, opened in 2012 and became known for its 85-mph speed limit, the highest in the country. But it immediately missed the company’s traffic projections, and Moody’s Investors Service assigned its debt a junk-bond rating three years ago as a result.

The company issued a substantial amount of debt to finance the $1.3 billion project. It owes about $551 million on a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation loan from the Federal Highway Administration, and about $721 million on its bank loans, according to court filings.

A FHWA spokeswoman was not available for comment Friday afternoon.

The reorganization plan proposes that SH 130 Concession Co., under its lenders’ ownership, would continue to operate and maintain the road. The plan has yet to be approved by the court.

“It’s important to understand that we don’t expect any sudden changes,” Guy Russell, SH 130’s chief operating officer, said in an email. “The plan calls for a smooth transition period of up to 18 months during which SH 130 Concession Company will continue to operate the facility per usual.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Cintra and Zachry will take a bath if this goes forward, which is fine by me. I’m less fine with the Federal Highway Administration getting stiffed, though it’s not clear from this story if that may happen. I’m not sure there’s any lesson to be learned here beyond the obvious one of not building roads where there are no people, but I hope we at least grasp that one.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for August 21

“What’s really most important is that each of these people believe that the center of gravity in the GOP is pro-Trump and that their political futures would be damaged by turning against him. That is the big deal, far more important than this or that single person being admirable by bucking the tide.”

Meet the chork, the latest innovation in hybrid cutlery.

Wait, there are still people who take John “Sock Puppet” Lott seriously?

How do we turn coal jobs into solar jobs?

“Clinton may have lost an election against a different candidate; she’s by no means guaranteed to win this one. But to assume it was Republicans’ to lose, you must first blind yourself to quantitative facts and strong assumptions about our politics that weaken the idea fatally.”

Three words: Deep fried Twinkies. You’re welcome.

“Since Donald Trump wants to impose new tests on immigrants, he should take the one test every immigrant has to pass to become a United States citizen. He would almost certainly fail, given his general ignorance and weak grasp of basic facts about American history, principles and functioning of our government.”

RIP, Fyvush Finkel, multi-faceted actor.

“In other words, where Trump in this speech is talking about actual national security policies, he puts forth an angry, semi-literate expression of a set of consensus ideas that are largely already in practice.”

“But why focus on immigrants? Why not follow Trump’s mantra of “America First” and apply this test to American citizens? Yes, if you were born here, you had the luck of the draw. Which is a lucky thing for Trump, because if the test could be applied to natural-born citizens, the result would be that over half of the Republican Party—and most of Trump’s voters—would be banned from the United States.”

“But it is just as illusory to claim that liberals manufactured panic about Romney, and in turn inured Republican voters to similar complaints about Trump, as it is to claim the stars cease to exist each morning at sunrise. In reality, liberal complaints about Romney four years ago were mostly in proper proportion to current, graver warnings about Trump today. Just as liberals were more apt than conservatives to be clear-eyed about Trump’s appeal to Republican voters, liberal misgivings about Romney’s politics were prescient and accurate. And if conservatives had heeded them at the time, they might’ve been equipped to preempt Trumpism before it destroyed their movement.”

“I Kickstarted my first novel, sold 1,319 books, and made $4,369.14 (so far) — and so can you (maybe) (under fairly specific circumstances)”.

“So time for a Brexit update, to remind you what a real politician looks like digging herself out of a deep hole.”

RIP, John McLaughlin, former political gabfest host.

“Seven years after that cable, disclosed by WikiLeaks, the Berlusconi-Putin bromance has acquired a new resonance, as foreign policy analysts and even some U.S. officials see unsettling echoes in the recent long-distance kinship between the Russian leader and Donald J. Trump.”

Wishing all the best to Bob Watson as he battles Stage 4 kidney disease.

RIP, Gawker. Go fuck yourself, Peter Thiel.

If “Omaha dad finds pot brownies, eats 4 of them, says mean things to cat” isn’t the greatest headline of all time, I need to know what is. And if you read that, you should read this, too.

“The theory making the rounds is that Trump’s latest campaign reshuffle isn’t really about trying to win the election. In bringing in Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, and recruiting Roger Ailes, the disgraced former head of Fox News, as an adviser, Trump is making a business play: he’s laying the groundwork for a new conservative media empire to challenge Fox.”

RIP, Donald “D.A.” Henderson, American epidemiologist who led the international war on smallpox that resulted in its eradication in 1980.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Voter registration numbers keep increasing

Always good news, though it’s hard to say anything definitive.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

County elections officials across Texas are reporting a spike in registered voters this election cycle, with one county now exceeding one million registered voters for the first time ever. Earlier this week, Bexar County Elections said they surpassed 1 million registered voters, according to News 4 Television in San Antonio.

That makes Bexar the fourth county in the state with one million or more registered voters. Harris County tops the list at 2 million followed by Dallas and Tarrant.

“Normally we anticipate spikes closer to the elections. We really exceed in September and the first week of October,” said Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole. “But we’re seeing a spike because of different organizations registering voters.”

According to data provided by Pippins-Poole’s office, nearly 113,000 new voters registered in Dallas by the end of July. She noted an uptick in registrations during historically slower times. In February alone her office received 29,922 voter applications, an increase of 186 percent compared to 2012.

Of the county’s eight Republican state representatives, four are vulnerable in a presidential election.

[…]

Heather Evans, an associate professor of political science at Sam Houston State University, suggested Democrats tend to focus on voter registration more than Republicans, which might help explain the uptick in Bexar and Dallas Counties.

“My research over the past four years shows that Democrats are the ones who always talk about/focus on increasing voter registration,” Evans said in an email to Quorum Report.

But two of the fastest growing counties in the country, Tarrant and Fort Bend, have also seen a spike in registration.

I believe that all adult citizens who are not currently under a felony conviction should be allowed to vote, so I’m always glad to see voter registration numbers go up. We would need a lot more information to draw any conclusions about what if anything the numbers might mean. Texas is a growing state, so voter reg numbers should generally increase, though they have often not kept up with the increase in the adult citizen population. Where people live is a huge factor, and for counties of any size that means going down to the precinct level, to see what the ambient proclivities are. It would be nice to know how many of these people are brand new to voting, and how many are new arrivals to the state who have an established history of voting somewhere else. And to the extent that people are being registered as part of an organized effort, it would be nice to know after the fact how many of these people eventually turned out to vote. In general, newly registered voters participate at roughly the same levels as other voters, but that’s in the aggregate. I’m sure some groups are better at this than others; I’d like to know which ones fall into which category. For now, file this away till early voting begins.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

Bail practices lawsuit update

There was a hearing in court this week, and the judge was skeptical.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal declined Thursday to rule on whether Harris County should be dismissed from a lawsuit intended to force officials to reform a tough bail system in which more than 70 percent of jail inmates are being held pretrial.

Maranda Lynn Odonnell, a single mom jailed for driving without a valid license and held for two days because she couldn’t afford $2,500 bail, has been put forward as the plaintiff in the civil rights lawsuit as a representative of thousands of poor people who suffered undue hardship because of their inability to pay bail in Harris County.

Her claim was consolidated Thursday by Rosenthal with similar complaints by a pregnant woman and a man arrested for shoplifting cosmetics who were both jailed because they could not pay for bail.

But lawyers for Harris County have argued that the county itself – and its elected county commissioners – don’t control decisions made by judges. Under the current system, only about 8 percent of misdemeanor offenders were released without having to pay bail in 2015, according to county statistics.

In court, Rosenthal questioned whether lawyers representing poor former detainees are pursuing the right parties by targeting the county sheriff, county hearing officers and the county itself when it is county court at law judges who act as policymakers and set the bail bond schedule that’s been challenged.

She gave Odonnell’s attorneys a week to decide whether to add judges as additional defendants and hinted that she considered it a “dicey proposition” to hold the sheriff responsible for bail-driven injustices.

See here for the background. I tend to agree that the judges should be included as defendants, as they are the root of the problem. That said, it’s not like the various county officials have no influence here. Thay have always been free – and, I would argue, obliged – to speak up on this and apply pressure to the judges and District Attorneys who have caused the problem. They are complicit, even if they aren’t a fit as defendants.

In the meantime, the Justice Department has gotten involved as well.

The Obama administration has joined the fight against the American bail industry, telling a federal appeals court that bail practices that keep poor defendants locked up because they cannot afford to purchase their freedom are unconstitutional.

“Bail practices that do not account for indigence result in the unnecessary incarceration of numerous individuals who are presumed innocent,” the Justice Department wrote in an amicus brief filed Friday.

The brief marks the first time DOJ has weighed in on the constitutional requirements of bail systems in a federal appeals court.

[…]

Maurice Walker is at the center of the case at issue. The 54-year-old was arrested by the Calhoun Police Department in Georgia in September 2015 for allegedly being a “pedestrian under the influence.” Walker, who has limited income and serious mental health issues, was told he would not be released unless he came up with $160, the fixed amount set by bond for someone charged with being a pedestrian under the influence.

Court was held just once a week in Calhoun, and Walker was arrested on a Thursday before Labor Day when there was no court. He remained in jail for six days, and would have been there longer ― but he was released after lawyers with Equal Justice Under Law and the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a class action lawsuit on his behalf while he was still behind bars.

A lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in that case; it is being appealed. There will be a hearing in September on a motion for an injunction against Harris County’s bail practices. Stay tuned.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Legal matters.

State sues Alabama-Coushatta tribe over casino

Here we go again.

A new legal salvo was fired this week in the state’s long-running battle against Indian gambling with a filing in federal court that seeks to close the gaming hall on the Alabama-Coushatta Reservation.

A motion for contempt and injunctive relief was filed Monday by Attorney General Ken Paxton, claiming that the Naskila Entertainment Center, which has offered electronic bingo since reopening in May, violates an existing court injunction.

It asks that the small East Texas tribe be ordered to halt the gaming operation, remove all gaming equipment and pay a civil penalty of $10,000 a day from June 2 until all gaming ceases.

On Tuesday, the log cabin-style hall on the 10,000-acre reservation in the Piney Woods east of Livingston was still open to the gaming public.

“We definitely think we’re in the right. The federal government and the National Indian Gaming Commission gave us the authority, so we think we’re on good legal grounds,” said tribal spokesman Carlos Bullock after conferring Tuesday with members of the tribal council.

[…]

The legal landscape for the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta appeared to improve last year when both the Interior Department and the NIGC issued administrative opinions that the two small tribes could offer certain types of gaming.

But earlier this year, the state won a marathon legal battle with the Tigua when a federal judge in El Paso ruled that the tribe’s entertainment center was really a thinly disguised gambling hall.

The Tigua now plan on offering permitted bingo-hall-style games that are legal in Texas.

In ordering the Tigua to cease offering “sweepstakes,” U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone also ruled that federal case law, which prohibited the gaming, trumped the opinions of the two federal agencies.

See here, here, and here for some background. This action by the state was completely expected, given past litigation and the noises the AG’s office had been making since the casino reopened. Both the Alabama-Coushatta and the Tigua tribes had tried again with their casinos under new administrative guidelines from the National Indian Gaming Commission, but the subsequent loss in court by the Tigua does not bode well for the Alabama-Coushatta. We’ll see how it goes.

Posted in: Jackpot!, Legal matters.