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Weekend link dump for September 25

Density is easier said than done.

Beware of ransomware, and know how to protect yourself.

If you want to know how much time you’re going to spend watching TV this fall, this can tell you. You’re on your own for how you cope with that information.

This is why I don’t plan to see that Sully movie.

RIP, Charmian Carr, best known for playing Liesl in The Sound Of Music.

“In other words, I think we can safely say that Trump’s plan would create approximately zero jobs. However it would blow a huge hole in the deficit (about $6 trillion without pixie dust) and it would be a huge windfall for the rich, increasing their after-tax income by a whopping 16 percent. And make no mistake: unlike a lot of Donald Trump’s fanciful ideas, a Republican Congress would be delighted to pass something like this. And they’d do it in a way that couldn’t be stopped by a filibuster.”

Don’t be afraid to make assumptions, even about spherical cows.

“Just 3 percent of American adults own half of the nation’s firearms”.

“The Clean Power Plan is almost certainly headed to the Supreme Court, but it’s fate there could depend on a 9-judge hearing next week.”

Amazon games its pricing algorithm to advantage itself.

RIP, W.P. Kinsella, author best known for Shoeless Joe.

How Google fights back against Internet trolls.

“But their answers illustrate just a few of the different ways that pollsters can handle the same data – and how those choices can affect the result.”

Bad call, OUT Magazine. You should know better.

Trump lies with such reckless abandon – about himself, about his opponent, about policy, about current events, about details large and small – it’s not unreasonable to wonder whether he has some kind of allergy to the truth.”

We’re gonna need a bigger surfboard.

It’s hard out here on a plutocrat.

“But, win or lose, the Republicans invited the far right in and lost control of them. Contrary to a lot of people’s perceptions, Trumpism doesn’t need Trump and it’ll be with us for some time now.”

In defense of a terrible person.

RIP, Stanley Dural, Jr, better known as the Louisiana music legend Buckwheat Zydeco.

RIP, Jack Garman, NASA engineer who made a judgment call that allowed the first moon landing to happen.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Kinder Institute analyzes Mayor Turner’s pension reform plan

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Rice University’s Kinder Institute has done the preliminary math on Mayor Sylvester Turner’s historic pension reform plan and determined the numbers appear to add up if all of the components are implemented as envisioned. The institute is one of several agencies to analyze the mayor’s proposal since it was unveiled last week.

“I welcome scrutiny of this plan by experts because it helps address the unfounded arguments being made by others who have no financial background,” said Mayor Turner. “There is no doubt this plan relies on a complex package of reforms. Without implementation of each piece, we will not achieve the anticipated results. Thankfully, the pension systems are sharing more data than ever before and are committed to continue working on information sharing so we can manage costs going forward.”

According to Kinder Institute Director Bill Fulton, the mandatory cost containment provision in the mayor’s plan, if executed properly and consistently over time, could provide a way for both sides to share in the upside and sacrifice when times are tough. Fulton said the plan outline seemed to show “shared sacrifice” on the part of both the city and its workers.

[…]

The Kinder Institute did the initial analysis in a blog post the day of Mayor Turner’s announcement based only on information that is publicly available. Mayor Turner did not request the analysis. A more detailed analysis is expected later.

The Kinder Institute’s analysis can be found here: Kinder Institute Pension Analysis.

Here’s that URL again, and more on the pension deal itself can be found here and here. The KI piece basically says that if everything works out as planned and envisioned, then the long-term funding gap can be erased. If you’re thinking that’s a pretty big “if”, you’re right, but the bottom line remains that the plan is plausible. Some legislation will need to be passed next year – I have no idea what Plan B is if that fails to happen – and before we get to the point of writing a bill and finding a sponsor, we need buy-in from the firefighters. That’s a non-trivial amount of work to be done, but at least there is a roadmap that may be used by all the vehicles in the procession.

Posted in: Local politics.

Internal report on Precinct 4 evidence destruction

The more you look, the worse it appears.

Constable Mark Herman

Constable Mark Herman

One of the first hints of anything awry in the Precinct 4 property room came in an email from evidence manager Christopher T. Hess.

Harris County District Attorney “Investigator Kerry Gillie called today about the evidence for case 13-50054,” he wrote in the Feb. 29 email to his supervisor, Lt. Christian Nicholson. “I explained that the drugs had been recently destroyed. He then asked for a court order for destruction copy. I told him there was not one to my knowledge.”

[…]

Hess, a master peace officer who began his career with the constable’s office 25 years ago, according to state records, told investigators repeatedly that the destruction was supervised by a now-retired colleague, Cpl. Mike Lacher. Hess has claimed Lacher ordered him to destroy drugs, even if they pertained to open cases, according to the Precinct 4 internal affairs complaint that the Chronicle obtained under a public records request.

The 25-page document shows investigators believed Hess broke evidence tampering laws and Harris County policies on evidence handling and truthfulness. The documents show the constable’s property room was operated with little oversight and reveal that a string of errors led to wrongful evidence destruction.

The scope and duration of the scandal raise deeper questions about operational failures inside the Precinct 4 Constable’s Office, said Samuel Walker, professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“You get a picture of an incredibly poorly run operation,” said Walker, who studies police accountability and department management. “If the staffing is poor, if the facilities, the room itself, is overcrowded, it creates a potential problem that could jeopardize criminal cases. That’s a big deal.”

Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman, appointed in May after former constable Ron Hickman became sheriff, said Hess wrongfully destroyed evidence for as long as nine years and never sought court orders required to destroy guns or drugs as required under state law.

See here and here for the background. It really does boggle the mind that this could have been happening for nine years, maybe more. How is it that it hadn’t affected any cases before now? How is it no one noticed it? Why is it that Sheriff Hickman, who was the Constable in Precinct 4 for most of this, hasn’t explained himself? Lots of questions, not so many answers. The Press has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

School district to join lawsuit over STAAR test

Interesting.

Ben Becker, the Houston father who helped organize a legal fight over last year’s STAAR exams, has repeatedly challenged superintendents over the last few months to join him in court to fight for their students.

Becker describes his group as a handful of Texas parents up against the state of Texas, backed by a legal team funded through a crowdfunding campaign. In a year when the STAAR exam went so horribly awry, and outraged so many school officials across the state, Becker says, “as parents [we] look around and wonder, where are the school districts?”

On Tuesday night, one school district is set to answer Becker’s call. Administrators in Marlin ISD, a rural district about 30 miles southeast of Waco, will ask the school board to join the lawsuit filed by Becker’s group in May.

“Marlin ISD will be the first to join this lawsuit as party plaintiffs,” Superintendent Michael Seabolt told Waco station KWTX on Friday, “and essentially that makes Marlin, as a school district, ground zero for state testing accountability reform.”

The stakes on last year’s STAAR exams were probably higher for Marlin ISD than any other district in the state. After four years of low ratings from the Texas Education Agency, the district faced possible closure if its students didn’t hit state goals for STAAR scores — and they didn’t.

Seabolt took over the district in July 2015 when Marlin ISD’s situation was already precarious. He and the district’s staff worked furiously to get the schools on track to meet the state’s targets, he told the Observer, so he’s been frustrated to see TEA sidestep the Legislature’s requirements for the test.

Seabolt agrees with the parents’ complaint that TEA flouted a 2015 law that should have shortened the STAAR exams. Records obtained by Becker’s group show that hardly any of the tests were completed in the time frame required by law.

So if TEA goes ahead with plans to take over or close Marlin ISD, Seabolt wondered, “You’re gonna take that action based on illegal test scores?” He drew a comparison to the state’s low target for special education enrollment, which the Houston Chronicle showed this month has deprived thousands of students of services to which they’re entitled.

“Why is it that TEA gets to pick which laws it’ll do and which ones it won’t?” Seabolt asked.

See here, here, and here for some background. Seabolt asks a good question, for which I look forward to hearing the state’s response. And since he brought up the special education issue, I will note that as of yet, neither Greg Abbott nor Dan Patrick has seen fit to comment on the issue. Too busy with other things, I guess. I’m sure they’ll get to it eventually.

Posted in: Legal matters, School days.

Rice prof wins MacArthur grant

Awesome!

Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum

Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum

Babies were dying in the Malawi hospital and there was little Rebecca Richards-Kortum could do about it.

For Richards-Kortum, a bioengineering professor at Rice University, it was a heartbreaking realization, one that haunted her as she toured the modest health care facility more than a decade ago.

But her despair was quickly replaced by hope, when she noticed a room full of broken medical equipment – donated machines rendered useless by the African country’s unreliable power supply.

“I’m an engineer,” Richards-Kortum recalled saying to herself as she surveyed the equipment. “I can do something about this. I can fix this.”

Engineers are good at fixing problems, and Richards-Kortum is an exceptional engineer, so good the MacArthur Foundation on Thursday named her a 2016 MacArthur Fellow. More commonly known as a genius grant, the prestigious MacArthur fellowship comes with $625,000 paid over five years.

The MacArthur Foundation considers the no-strings-attached grants as investments in the future of recipients, usually a hodgepodge from among the nation’s best artists, historians, scientists and activists.

For Richards-Kortum, it’s a nod to the global work she’s done to deliver low-cost medical technology to Third World countries. That includes a piece of machinery she helped develop that assists babies who struggle to breathe and has significantly decreased mortality rates in countries using it.

That piece of machinery was a CPAP machine, which I blogged about here and which contributed to a 46% reduction in the infant mortality rate in one neonatal unit. She and fellow Rice engineer Maria Oden have since developed other low-cost life-saving devices, which ultimately led to this award. Congratulations, Dr. Richards-Kortum, and may the inspiration continue to flow.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Saturday video break: Mele Kalikimaka

We’re going to have a little Christmas in September these next couple of weeks, starting with this oldie from Bing Crosby:

I believe that’s the Andrews Sisters joining him as well. This is one of those songs, which were fairly prevalent in this era, that has one long verse, with no refrain, that gets sung a couple of times, possibly with a shortened version of the verse thrown in, with instrumental breaks as well. It’s a very successful form, and lends itself well to sing-alongs since everyone knows the words by the end, but there isn’t much more to say about it. So, we move on to the other version, from the Asylum Street Spankers:

See what I mean? Makes it easy to bring the song in at around three minutes, that’s for sure.

Posted in: Music.

State files inevitable voter ID appeal to SCOTUS

As expected.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas wants to take its voter identification battle to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked the justices to hear his arguments about why the state’s photo ID requirements for voting do not discriminate against Hispanics and African-American voters.

“Safeguarding the integrity of our elections is essential to preserving our democracy,” the Republican said in a statement. “Texas enacted a common-sense voter ID law and I am confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately reinstate it.”

Texas officials say the voter ID law bolsters the integrity of elections by preventing voter fraud, which Gov. Greg Abbott has called “rampant.” But the U.S. Department of Justice and other plaintiffs — backed by court rulings — have pointed out that in-person voter fraud is incredibly rare.

Friday’s filing is Paxton’s last-ditch attempt to salvage the requirements after a string of defeats in court.

[…]

Paxton is appealing to a Supreme Court that still has just eight members, following the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. If the justices agree to hear the case — and if they do so without a replacement for Scalia — Paxton would need five votes to overturn the appeals court ruling. A 4-4 split would allow it to stand.

Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he did not expect the justices to accept the case, and he called the 5th Circuit’s decision “comprehensive.”

“It’s really more of a political move to satisfy the right wing of the Republican Party,” he said. “I think it’s just them taking another pile of taxpayer money and setting it on fire.”

The Supreme Court appeal will not affect the Nov. 8 elections, which will take place with relaxed requirements.

We’ve always known this was coming. The only issue that matters to Ken Paxton is his need to continually prove his wingnut bonafides to the Republican primary voters. He needs them to keep the faith in him at least until after the 2018 primaries. It doesn’t matter what SCOTUS does – if Paxton comes away from this with Justice Ginsberg’s shoeprints on his ass, I assure you he’ll be happy about it – all that matters is feeding the beast. Ken Paxton knows who his voters are, and he knows what they want. That’s all there is to this.

Posted in: Uncategorized.

Good riddance to a bad judge

Meet federal district judge Walter Smith. Now say a long overdue goodbye to him.

Walter Smith

Walter Smith

One of Texas’ strictest federal judges — serving a year’s ban from hearing cases after being slapped hard by a panel of appeals court judges last year — has retired amid a renewed investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. of Waco was publicly reprimanded for sexual misconduct last fall over a 1998 incident in which he reportedly groped and kissed a court clerk. He submitted his resignation to President Barack Obama last week, effective Sept. 14, and will draw an annuity equal to his current salary, $203,100 per year, for the rest of his life.

It was unclear if the resignation will end the investigation, which was restarted this year after an appeal by Dallas lawyer Ty Clevenger, who filed the original complaint against Smith and who wants the U.S. House of Representatives to impeach him.

A committee of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in July to continue investigating to see if Smith made advances toward other women. A spokesman for the 5th Circuit could not immediately say Tuesday whether the court’s Judicial Council will make its full investigation report public or whether the investigation will now end.

“Good riddance,” Clevenger said of Smith on Tuesday. “Thank goodness he won’t be able to hurt anybody else.”

Clevenger said he still wants Smith to be impeached “for two reasons: One, I think it’s appropriate. And, I don’t think he needs to be paid $200,000 after what he’s done.”

The Judicial Council issued the reprimand last fall, suspending Smith from hearing any new cases for a year, but did not recommend impeachment. The panel found he had made “inappropriate and unwanted physical and non-physical sexual advances” toward a court clerk in his chambers in 1998, which it deemed “in contravention of existing standards of behavior for federal judges.”

The council’s order also said Smith “does not understand the gravity” of the inappropriate behavior and “allowed false factual assertions to be made in response to the complaint, which together with the lateness of his admissions contributed greatly to the duration and cost of the investigation.”

Sounds like a heck of a guy, doesn’t he? Texas Lawyer tells us more.

The Fifth Circuit’s punishment confirmed judicial misconduct allegations originally filed by Ty Clevenger, a former Dallas lawyer who was previously sanctioned $25,000 by the judge for filing a “frivolous” racketeering case in his court. Clevenger was later reprimanded by the State Bar of Texas in 2014 because of Smith’s sanction but used the bar disciplinary proceedings to subpoena the witness who alleged Smith sexually harassed her in 1998 as part of his defense.

In her deposition, the woman stated that in 1998, Smith approached her in the courthouse smelling of liquor and told her to “come see me sometime.” Smith later called her and instructed her to come to his chambers, which she did, according to her deposition.

“He basically came over to me and put his arms around me and kissed me and I just froze. I couldn’t move,” the woman testified. “And he said, ‘Let me make love to you.’ And I—and I—I just freaked out.”

Clevenger appealed Smith’s punishment to the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States in January, urging the body to suspend Smith from the bench immediately and recommend his impeachment. Clevenger also alleged that the sexual harassment incident was not isolated and submitted to the Fifth Circuit the names of other witnesses to Smith’s alleged abuse of women in the courthouse.

In July, the committee decided to send Smith’s reprimand back to the Fifth Circuit to examine whether there was a “pattern and practice” to Smith’s behavior, noting that Clevenger had provided the names of other witnesses.

You can see a copy of the woman’s deposition here, via the Current. And oh, yes, it gets worse.

According to statements the woman made during a 2014 deposition, it all started when Smith said hello to her one morning in 1998 as he was entering the courthouse — something that seemed only a little strange at first because she’d hardly ever seen the judge before, let alone talked to him. Also: his breath smelled like liquor.

After telling her good morning and asking how she was doing, Smith asked the woman to swing by and see him in his office sometime. It got even weirder when the judge called the woman immediately after she sat down at her desk upon returning from lunch later that day. “Where have you been? … I told you to come see me,” she recalled him saying. Smith told the woman to walk down the hall and tell his secretary she needed to see the judge. The woman thought that maybe Smith wanted to talk about a promotion – he was, after all, looking for a new courtroom clerk.

Instead, according to her deposition, “He basically came over to me and put his arms around me and kissed me, and I just froze. I couldn’t move. And he said, ‘Let me make love to you.’” She told him that was a stupid idea. In return, “he pulled me to him again, and he kissed me again and stuck his tongue down my throat, and he pressed himself against me. I could tell he had an erection, and he said, you know, ‘A couch right here.’”

The woman says she thought about Smith’s reputation for having a temper. Considering he also seemed and smelled drunk, the woman says she struggled with what to do. Meanwhile, Smith started to grope her. According to the deposition: “I just remember he just put his arms around me, around my back, then lower. And then he started to try [to] touch my breasts, and I kind of pushed away.” The woman ran through excuse after excuse until she finally broke away, walked out of Smith’s office and sat down at her desk. She still asks herself why she wasn’t more direct. As she said in her deposition, “I was just trying to keep him from blowing up at me.”

The woman’s story would be alarming enough if it ended there. It doesn’t. The woman says Smith called her at her desk later in the day, asking her to take a couple of days off work. He wanted to take a trip with her. He told her he’d make sure she would get paid time off. Before coming into work the next day, the woman called her supervisor to tell him about Smith’s actions. She begged her supervisor not to leave her alone with the judge. She was scared because Smith apparently wouldn’t take no for an answer.

When the woman got to the office later that day, Smith had left a dozen yellow roses on her desk. Smith was calling as soon as she sat down (she figured he’d watched her walk into the building). “Where have you been?” he asked her, according to her deposition testimony. “I’ve been waiting for you here all day.” She told Smith he shouldn’t have sent her the roses. She says he told her, “I just had to.” Later that day, he managed to get her alone in her office by sending her supervisor on an errand.

It was a Friday, and later that afternoon, Smith again called the woman at her desk. He asked what she was doing that weekend. She said she was spending it with her grandparents. Before he left the office for the day, Smith left a note on the woman’s desk saying, “I hope you have a pleasant weekend.” She went into the office that weekend, grabbed her belongings, and left the flowers on the empty desk. A coworker would later tell her that Smith just let the flowers sit there and die.

Within hours of the woman telling her supervisors she was quitting, she says higher ups in the clerk’s office offered her six weeks leave with pay in the hopes that she’d reconsider at the end of it. She said in her deposition that while she was on leave she got a strange call from Smith’s law clerk. He claimed Smith had been in the hospital, and that he was so distraught, he couldn’t come into work.

The complaint eventually reached Harry Lee Hudspeth, who was then chief judge of the Western District of Texas, which is anchored in San Antonio (Hudspeth is now listed as a Senior U.S. District Judge in Austin). The woman claims that Hudspeth ultimately called her. He was dismissive throughout the call, she claimed. He didn’t ask a single question about the actual assault or Smith’s behavior toward her in the workplace. “It was ugly,” she said of the call. “It was disrespectful. It was demeaning.”

The woman actually did try to go back to her job but quickly realized she couldn’t remain on the same floor as the judge who called her into his office, attacked her in his chambers, and then continued to harass her. “I had a fear of walking out into the hall and running – running into him,” she testified.

Feeling outraged yet? Even without Ty Clevenger’s assertion that there are more witnesses out there, I’d bet a week’s salary that this woman wasn’t the only one Judge Smith harassed. No one believed her when she first reported it, he got away with it for 18 years, and he clearly still doesn’t get it. The odds that he’s a serial offender are off the charts. And hey, unless Congress takes action, he gets to enjoy a $200K-a-year retirement on your dime. Is this a great country or what?

Posted in: Scandalized!.

ACLU intervenes in transgender health care suit

Good for them.

RedEquality

The ACLU and ACLU of Texas are getting involved in a lawsuit over a regulation in the Affordable Care Act. In August, Texas filed a lawsuit against federal regulations that prohibit healthcare discrimination against people who are transgender. The lawsuit was announced by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing the Franciscan Alliance. The lawsuit will be heard in Wichita Falls.

The rules state that healthcare entities are not allowed to deny or limit services – including gender transition services – based on race, national origin, sex, age or disability.

But the State of Texas, along with four other states, says the regulation in would force doctors to perform medical procedures to change the gender of children.

The ACLU says the lawsuit would have the larger implication of allowing providers to use religion to deny medical care.

Josh Block, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT project, says the lawsuit echoes the recent attempt to strike down guidance from the U.S. Department of Education to allow public school students to use the bathroom that is in line with their gender identity.

Block says the ACLU got involved because no one else had intervened to represent the interest of the people who are being discriminated against.

“It’s really crucial that the people who are being discriminated against have a voice in that courtroom to explain why the law is so necessary,” he says.

[…]

Individual doctors and hospitals are saying they should not be required to perform gender transition procedures because they violate their religious beliefs. Block says the regulations aren’t targeted at individual doctors; instead, they require the medical institution to follow the rules.

“They don’t require anyone to perform any surgery or give any treatment that the doctor doesn’t want to,” Block says. “The obligations are on the entity that’s employing the doctors. The burden isn’t on anyone’s individual conscience – this is an organization that is claiming the right to have federal funds to provide healthcare to the general public but then discriminate based on their religious beliefs.”

See here for the background. I sincerely hope the ACLU has some company in its involvement here. I put in those last two paragraphs to address a comment from my earlier post on this topic. If the rule in question really applies to institutions and not individual doctors, I’m hard pressed to see what the objection is. Truth be told, though, I believe this rule should apply to individual doctors, for the same reason why individual firefighters should respond to an alarm at an LGBT person’s house regardless of that firefighter’s personal feelings. If you can’t treat every person you serve with equal respect, dignity, and effort, then you really ought to consider another occupation, and that’s before we take the Hippocratic Oath into account for the docs. Every person deserves equal treatment. What is so freaking difficult about that?

Posted in: Legal matters.

Endorsement watch: Let your conscience be your guide

That Ted Cruz sure does stay firm to his principles, doesn’t he?

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz endorsed Donald Trump on Friday after months of withholding his support from the Republican presidential nominee who defeated him in the primaries.

“After many months of careful consideration, of prayer and searching my own conscience, I have decided that on Election Day, I will vote for the Republican nominee, Donald Trump,” Cruz said in a statement released to The Texas Tribune.

Cruz’s support coincided with Trump’s decision to release a list of additional people he would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court as president. On the list was U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a close Cruz ally and another Trump holdout.

“Our country is in crisis. Hillary Clinton is manifestly unfit to be president, and her policies would harm millions of Americans. And Donald Trump is the only thing standing in her way,” Cruz said in the statement. “A year ago, I pledged to support the Republican nominee, and I will honor that commitment.”

In the heat of the pair’s feud in late July, Trump proclaimed that he had no interest in winning the backing of the man he called Lyin’ Ted. “I don’t want his endorsement,” Trump said. “If he gives it, I will not accept it.”

Trump shifted gears in a brief statement after Cruz’s announcement.

“I am greatly honored by the endorsement of Senator Cruz,” the statement said. “We have fought the battle and he was a tough and brilliant opponent. I look forward to working with him for many years to come in order to make America great again.”

Cruz’s endorsement is an astonishing reversal. Since he dropped out of the race in May, Cruz has declined to express any support for a Trump presidency — including during a speech at the Republican National Convention that caused an uproar and cast uncertainty over Cruz’s political future.

Those two are just made for each other, aren’t they? There’s so much more I could say, but for now let me go with this:

Boy, nobody tells Ted Cruz what to do. He just can’t be pushed around by anyone. Don’t mind me, I’m just going to be laughing my head off all weekend. The Trib, the Current, and Erica Greider, who probably needs a drink, have more.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 14

Girl groups of old and of new this week.

1. Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby – Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch
2. Pony (It’s OK) – Erin McCarley
3. I’d Rather Go Blind – Etta James
4. I Love You Like A Ball And Chain – The Eurythmics (Annie Lennox)
5. Shame – Evelyn “Champagne” King
6. Do Wah Diddy – The Exciters (Brenda Reid, Carolyn (Carol) Johnson, Lillian Walker)
7. Johnny Angel – Shelley Fabares
8. Joy To The World – Faith Hill
9. Mushaboom – Feist
10. Miss Movin’ On – Fifth Harmony (Ally Brooke, Normani Kordei, Dinah Jane, Camila Cabello, and Lauren Jauregui)

Don’t ask me why Shelley Fabares sorted with the letter F and not the letter S. iTunes is just like that sometimes. If you’re like me, you’re probably more familiar with the Manfred Mann version of “Do Wah Diddy”, but The Exciters did it first, from the female perspective. Fifth Harmony, which got its start on “The X Factor”, is one of those groups that I’d never have heard of if it weren’t for my daughters. I’m glad I have heard of them, because I like their stuff. A good girl group is a joy to behold, or be-listen to.

Posted in: Music.

UH Hobby School (Harris County only): Clinton 43, Trump 34

I have many thoughts about this.

Hillary Clinton

Between September 1 and September 20, 2016, the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs conducted a telephone survey of 550 Harris County registered voters as part of a larger Hobby School study on voter participation and engagement under the direction of Mark P. Jones, Renée Cross, and Jim Granato with Ching-Hsing Wang and Wyman Wan. The survey was based on a stratified probability design, including both landlines and cell phones. The survey was available in both English and Spanish using bilingual operators, and lasted an average of 13 minutes. The final data set was weighted by ethnicity, age, and gender to be representative of Harris County registered voters. The margin of error for the survey results is plus or minus 4 percent (at the 95 percent confidence level).

Harris County is the third most populous county in the nation and is home to approximately one fifth of Texas voters. The 2008 and 2012 presidential contests were very close in Harris County, with Barack Obama defeating his 2008 Republican rival, John McCain, 50.45 percent to 48.82 percent, and his 2012 Republican rival, Mitt Romney, 49.39 percent to 49.31 percent.

The Presidential Election: Vote Choice

Approximately two months prior to the November 8 presidential election, the survey finds Hillary Clinton with a lead over Donald Trump in Harris County, with the size of her lead varying depending on assumptions related to voter participation.


Candidate    ELV    LV    RV
============================
Clinton      43%   43%   42%
Trump        39%   34%   32%
Johnson       7%    9%    9%
Stein         1%    1%    2%
Unsure/NA    11%   13%   15%

We divided the survey respondents into three groups of decreasing size: all registered voters (Registered Voters), voters who indicated that it is very likely or extremely likely that they will vote this fall (Likely Voters), and voters who indicated that it is extremely likely they will vote this fall (Extremely Likely Voters).

[…]

The Harris County District Attorney and Sheriff Elections: Vote Choice

The survey also queried respondents regarding their vote preference in the key races for Harris County District Attorney and Harris County Sheriff. In both contests, even among the likely and extremely likely voters, there existed a substantial proportion of respondents who were unsure about their preference in these lower visibility contests (compared to the presidential race).

Among those likely voters who did have a preference, in the District Attorney race 29 percent favored Democratic challenger Kim Ogg over Republican incumbent Devon Anderson with 27 percent support. In the Sheriff contest, 33 percent of likely voters supported Republican incumbent Ron Hickman while 32 percent backed Democratic challenger Ed Gonzalez.

Just as was the case in the presidential race, the Republican candidates fared better when the population was limited to those most likely to cast a ballot this fall: the extremely likely voters. Among this population Anderson narrowly bested Ogg, 30 percent to 29 percent, while Hickman increased his lead over Gonzalez, 36 percent to 30 percent.

Poll data is here. My thoughts:

– I find the distinction between Likely Voters and Extremely Likely Voters to be silly. I mean, why stop at Extremely Likely? Why not ask if someone is Super Duper Double Dog No Backsies likely to vote? There’s a reason why every other poll under the sun uses Registered Voters and Likely Voters, and nothing else.

– The press release for this poll claims that “neither party can depend on presidential coattails” for the donwballot races. I don’t see how they can draw that conclusion from the given data set. For one thing, there’s no breakdown of the vote by partisan affiliation, nor is there any generic “which party’s candidates are you more likely to support in other races?” question. We have several cycles’ worth of actual results to suggest that Democrats have done a pretty good job of voting all the way down the ballot, while Republicans have only really done that in 2012, and even then not quite as faithfully as the Dems. Don’t make suppositions about what the topline numbers mean. Ask the questions that could tell you the answers!

– I picked the “Likely Voter” numbers for my post title, and if one went by that without knowing anything else, one would feel really good about Democratic downballot chances. But to be secure in those feelings, one would have to know those partisan crosstabs. If one were to choose an archetype for the Republican Who Will Not Vote For Donald Trump, it’s probably a voter in HD134. How many self-identified Republicans say they are voting for a candidate who is not Donald Trump? How many are just in the “Unsure/No Answer” column? That would tell me a whole lot more about the downballot races than the actual Ogg/Anderson and Gonzalez/Hickman results do.

– How many new voters are in this sample, and how many of them are deemed “Likely” or “Extremely Likely”? We know voter registration is up in Harris County – indeed, it’s way up around the state – so who are these voters and how were they accounted for in the poll?

– I would love to see a similar poll – with my suggested modifications, of course – for other area counties as well. Fort Bend would be my first choice for this, as they are close to being the kind of swing county that Harris has been. Is the year that Fort Bend Democrats break through, or does the Fort Bend GOP maintain its hold? A sneak preview of that answer would have been nice.

– If the polls of Texas that show Clinton trailing by significantly less than the margins by which President Obama lost the state are accurate, then it stands to reason that Clinton would be doing better in Harris County than Obama (who won the county by small margins) did. Similarly, if this poll of Harris County is accurate, then it stands to reason Clinton would be running more strongly statewide than Obama did. It’s like the relationship between national polls and state polls – they may not be tightly correlated, but one is unlikely to make a big move in a given direction without the other following suit.

Posted in: Election 2016.

More on the Precinct 4 evidence destruction scandal

Lots of cases have been compromised.

Constable Mark Herman

Constable Mark Herman

District Attorney Devon Anderson’s office first learned in April that the mistaken destruction of evidence in Harris County’s Precinct 4 had likely compromised more than a thousand criminal cases, including more than 400 in which defendants had already been convicted, records released Tuesday show.

Anderson immediately launched a criminal probe, but her office did not begin informing defendants, their attorneys and even her own prosecutors about the magnitude of the problem until late August.

The records show that most of the cases were minor drug offenses, although dozens involved violent felonies in which defendants either pleaded or were found guilty and in some cases sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors have dismissed more than 140 cases so far.

[…]

Anderson has emphasized in past statements that evidence went first to a prosecutor who is investigating Precinct 4 in her Public Integrity Division. Her office made the records, including lists of 21,000 pieces of evidence that had been destroyed, public for the first time Tuesday in response to a public information request from the Houston Chronicle and other media outlets.

Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said his office immediately informed the DA’s office in March after learning that an officer had destroyed evidence in the department’s overstuffed property room. By then, he said the DA’s office had already launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

The constable’s office began supplying a longer list of cases in April.

“We were very direct, very deliberate with the DA’s office from the very beginning,” Herman said. “When this process started … we talked to them, told them we had cases compromised due to an employee destroying evidence to open cases.”

[…]

Legal experts said deciding when to disclose evidentiary problems to defendants and their attorneys is a complex matter involving numerous factors, including the status of any ongoing criminal investigation.

Geoffrey Corn, a professor at Houston College of Law, credited Anderson with already dismissing dozens of cases instead of fighting for convictions as the scandal has unfolded.

“When you have a catastrophic failure – and this was catastrophic, a DA doesn’t expect an evidence custodian who is lazy to just destroy tons of evidence – there’s got to be a lot of assessment,” he said.

Local defense attorneys criticized Anderson for what they saw as a lack of transparency and said many defendants still have not received legally required “Brady notices” informing them of the evidence destruction.

“The response from the Harris County district attorney has been nearly non-existent,” said JoAnne Musick, former president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. “Despite having known of the evidence destruction since February, it took … months and a flood of negative press before they saw fit to even begin notifying defense attorneys.”

Tyler Flood, the association’s current president, praised Anderson for complying with Texas Public Records Laws and supplying the case lists.

“I think it’s commendable that they are attempting to do the right thing by releasing this information,” he said. “However, there’s an issue with the scope. We don’t know if this is covering everything that it needs to cover and how far back it goes.”

See here for the background. I don’t really have anything to add to this, I’m just noting it for the record. The big question that continues to be unexplored in all this is how the deputy in question could have been doing this for so long without longtime Constable (now Sheriff) Ron Hickman noticing. It would be very nice to get some clarity on that. The Press has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Renaming Dowling Street

The process has to change before the name can be changed.

For years, Third Ward residents have had to roll with the changes in their community, often having to live with decisions made in the corridors of power at City Hall.

That’s how East Broadway, the main road running through one of Houston’s historical African-American neighborhoods, became Dowling Street, named in honor of a Confederate war hero. That’s how Dowling’s name ended up on street signs along the east side of Emancipation Park, so named because it was the place recently-freed blacks celebrated the end of slavery.

Times have changed, however, and now community leaders and local officials are poised to change Dowling Street into Emancipation Avenue – even though doing so will require changing the rules at City Hall.

Community efforts to gather enough support from property owners on Dowling have come up short of meeting the city’s requirements for a resident-initiated name-change. That has caused State Rep. Garnet Coleman, who represents the area, to urge the city to revise its standards for how to change street names.

“Rightly so, because the process is impossible,” Coleman said, defending the decision to revise the rules during the process.

Houston planning officials, at the direction of Mayor Sylvester Turner, are proposing amendments to the rules to allow for city-initiated street name changes, starting with Dowling. That would mean that rather than requiring 75 percent of landowners along the street to support the renaming, the city can consider a name change if “sufficient” evidence of community support exists, after extensive public outreach.

City planning officials agree current standards lack the latitude to allow communities to sponsor name changes, especially along thoroughfares like Dowling that are a blend of residential, business and nonprofit property owners.

The mixed uses, absentee landlords and inaccurate property records in some cases made gathering signatures from three-fourths of property owners challenging, Coleman said.

“We sent out petitions to all of the property owners,” Coleman said, “We weren’t able to get to 50 percent back. The hurdle is too high.”

My position here is the same as it was for the school renaming issue, and that is that having something named after you is a privilege and not a right. There should be a process to allow residents to get a street name changed, one that is achievable but also ensures that everyone gets a chance to weigh in. The current process is too cumbersome, so changing it to be more achievable is fine by me. There doesn’t seem to be any real opposition to changing the process, or to the specific effort to rename Dowling Street, at least as far as this story goes. I suspect the renaming effort will be much less controversial, as people don’t have their identities tied to street names like they do to school names. I may revise this opinion once Council takes up the matter.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Endorsement watch: Bail matters

For only the second time this cycle, the Chron endorses a challenger to a sitting judge.

Darrell Jordan

Darrell Jordan

Harris County’s criminal courts at law are currently defendants in a lawsuit alleging that pretrial bail policies violate the U.S. Constitution. It is a serious charge, and those misdemeanor-level courts are undeniably crowded more with the poor than with dangerous criminals.

However, when she met with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, sitting judge Linda Garcia struggled to see how her court fit into this system that prioritizes wealth over innocence.

“I don’t think there’s a systemic unfairness in my court,” Garcia told the Houston Chronicle editorial board. “If I did, I would address it.”

Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Garcia, a Republican, to Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 16 in 2015, and she is certainly qualified to hold the position. However, Harris County needs a judge who can see the problems clearly, and Democratic challenger Darrell Jordan is the right candidate.

Jordan was one of the judicial candidates selected by Democratic precinct chairs, as this is a new court that was created after the primary filing deadline. Here’s the revisited Q&A for Jordan, who first ran for a judicial office in 2010. I’ve written several times about the lawsuit over bail practices in Harris County. This is the only race on the ballot that is affected by that, but given this endorsement it won’t surprise me if the bail practices of the district criminal court judges are scrutinized as well.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Miller avoids charges for his questionable trips

Can’t catch ’em all.

Sid Miller

Travis County prosecutors will not press criminal charges against Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller for tapping taxpayer funds for two trips that involved personal activities — including an appearance in a Mississippi rodeo and the receipt of a medical injection in Oklahoma called the “Jesus Shot.”

“We have decided to close our file and not pursue criminal charges against Commissioner Miller on these allegations,” Assistant District Attorney Susan Oswalt wrote in a memo to the Texas Department of Public Safety dated Sept. 8 first reported by The Houston Chronicle. “Our office has determined that criminal intent would be difficult to prove in this case.”

Travis County was reviewing an investigation that the Texas Rangers launched after the liberal advocacy group Progress Texas filed complaints about the Stephenville Republican’s February 2015 trips.

Those complaints followed media reports indicating that Miller personally benefitted from the state-funded trips.

A statement posted Tuesday to Miller’s Facebook account said the commissioner was “pleased this process is now complete and that he has been cleared of any wrongdoing.” The statement also thanked the Travis County District Attorney’s office and the Texas Rangers for their “professionalism.”

[…]

In her memo, Oswalt wrote “it is clear that Commissioner Miller used campaign and state funds to pay for the two trips,” but noted that he had fully repaid the state.

“Additionally, the total amount spent on the trips was relatively small, the state has been refunded all the money it expended on these trips, and the facts have been made known publicly so that Commissioner Miller is likely to be more careful in the future,” the memo said.

See here for the background. Let’s be clear, this isn’t a vindication of any kind, and Miller clearly wasn’t innocent. ADA Oswalt basically says as much in the memo – he did it, we all know it, but the amount involved was small, he paid it back, proving “intent” will be nigh impossible, so it just isn’t worth our time and limited resources to pursue. Miller will claim vindication anyway, and because the story ends here and we all have short memories, he’ll mostly get it. But we know what happened. The Chron and the Current have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

More on the Sandra Bland settlement

State Rep. Garnet Coleman is working to implement the reforms mandated by the Sandra Bland lawsuit settlement.

Sandra Bland

House Democrats sparred with state law enforcement officials over questions of racial profiling Tuesday at a sometimes contentious hearing. It was the latest in a series of House County Affairs Committee hearings on policing in advance of the 2017 legislative session. Committee chair Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat and veteran lawmaker, has announced he plans to file the Sandra Bland Act, named for the Prairie View A&M University alum who died in the Waller County Jail after a traffic stop in 2015.

“There are solutions to the criminal justice issues that have come up because of Sandra Bland,” Coleman told the Observer, “and they should be on the front burner of the Legislature this coming session.”

Lawmakers heard testimony from the co-author of a 2015 University of North Carolina study on traffic stops that found that black drivers in Texas are 59 percent more likely than white drivers to be searched during Texas Department of Public Safety traffic stops. When state Representative Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, asked if researcher Frank Baumgartner was accusing DPS of racial profiling, Baumgartner responded cautiously.

“There is a robust disparity between the likelihood that a white driver and a black driver will be searched even when you control for variables other than race,” he said.

Lawmakers themselves were also reluctant to use the term “racial profiling” during the hearing, due in part to a Texas statute that offers a narrow legal definition of the term.

“The statute needs to be changed,” said Coleman, “because there are disparities that we can’t currently call ‘racial profiling’ that maybe we should be able to.”

DPS director Steve McCraw denied that his agency engages in profiling of any kind, and attributed the racial disparities in Baumgartner’s report to security concerns at the border. The allocation of so many officers to the border to combat “transnational gangs and cartels,” McCraw said, led the statistics to show excessive stops and searches of “minorities.”

Coleman countered that McCraw’s point was irrelevant to Baumgartner’s report, which had focused on the disparity of outcomes between black and white drivers. “Now come on, man,” he chided McCraw, “I know you went to school. I know you understand statistics.”

[…]

[Last] Thursday, the Bland family’s lawyer announced that the family had settled a civil suit against Waller County for $1.9 million. The settlement also mandates a number of procedural reforms — an agreement Reed-Veal called “a victory for moms across the country.” The settlement, which hasn’t been finalized, would require that the Waller County Jail keep a medical professional on staff at all times and use electronic sensors to monitor jailers’ check-ins.

The Sandra Bland Act, Coleman told the Observer, will expand the settlement’s reforms statewide and mandate additional changes, banning pretextual traffic stops (stops for minor infractions in order to investigate unrelated criminal activity), mandating access to health professionals in all jails, incentivizing the use of de-escalation tactics, and expanding access to personal recognizance bonds.

Coleman explained he also has a personal stake in the bill. “I got stopped 11 times in the first year I had my driver’s license,” he told the Observer. “So I understand the issues the bill addresses from being in the affected community.”

See here for the background. McCraw is a longtime partisan hack who should not be trusted, but does need to be overcome. The good news here is that Waller County has approved the settlement. The bad news is that DPS appears to be playing dumb about the whole thing.

A lawyer for the Bland family and DPS officials on Tuesday appeared to be at odds as to whether the settlement in that lawsuit — brought against Waller County, some county employees and former DPS trooper Brian Encinia — includes an agreement to institute additional statewide de-escalation training for all incoming troopers and those already on the roster.

Testifying before the Texas House Committee in County Affairs, Tom Rhodes, the Bland family’s Texas-based attorney, told lawmakers that the settlement includes a $1.9 million payout, including $100,000 from DPS. While the department was not a party in the lawsuit, it agreed to pay that amount to indemnify Encinia, who arrested Bland in a July 10, 2015 traffic stop that quickly escalated to an arrest. As part of the settlement, DPS also agreed to set up the training, Rhodes said.

But earlier in the day, DPS director Steve McCraw indicated the department already requires 76 hours of de-escalation training that’s embedded in its school for recruits.

“I was told just the opposite which is one of the reasons we required that as part of the settlement,” Rhodes told lawmakers.

Asked for clarification about McCraw’s comment, a DPS spokesman said DPS “has not settled litigation regarding Sandra Bland” and is not party to any agreements between her family and the Waller County defendants.

“The department is looking at a number of options regarding the issues discussed today,” DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said, pointing out that the department earlier this year began requiring troopers to complete an eight-hour de-escalation course.

Citing confidentiality restrictions, Rhodes said he couldn’t provide many details about the settlement discussions but he indicated he had reached a deal on the de-escalation training with DPS’ general counsel.

“All I can say is today was the first time I heard they had that training, and it seems like to me when we insisted on that as part of the settlement if they had it they would’ve said it,” Rhodes said in an interview after the hearing. “If it’s already there I’m glad it’s there. Obviously it’s not that effective — whatever they’re doing — because it certainly didn’t help in Sandy’s case, but that’s not the agreement we reached.”

Like I said, McCraw cannot be trusted. Someone at DPS with more integrity than him needs to get this worked out one and for all with the Bland family.

Posted in: Legal matters, That's our Lege.

We continue to cower in fear of Syrian refugees

Sheesh.

As part of its ongoing fight to keep Syrian refugees out of the state, Texas is threatening to withdraw from the nation’s refugee resettlement program if federal officials refuse to “unconditionally approve” a state plan requiring additional vetting of relocated people.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday said the state had informed the Office of Refugee Resettlement that it would leave the program unless the feds approved its plan to only accept refugees who “are fully vetted and do not present a security threat.”

“Despite multiple requests by the state of Texas, the federal government lacks the capability or the will to distinguish the dangerous from the harmless, and Texas will not be an accomplice to such dereliction of duty to the American people,” Abbott said in a statement.

[…]

In November, Abbott directed resettlement nonprofits in Texas to stop accepting Syrian refugees — a move the feds said Texas didn’t have the authority to make. The state has sued the feds over Syrian refugees and seen its case dismissed, though an appeal is working its way through the courts.

Meanwhile, Texas and U.S. officials have been negotiating refugee resettlement plans for the 2017 federal fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. Aside from the request for security assurances, Texas officials said they previously rejected a proposal by the U.S. State Department to increase the number of refugees resettled in Texas by 25 percent. They said they would only accept the same number of refugees relocated to Texas in the 2016 federal fiscal year: 7,633.

If Texas withdraws from the federal refugee resettlement program, it doesn’t mean refugees would stop flowing to the state; the federal government could distribute money directly to nonprofit groups here. Resettlement officials have said the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 allows the federal government to designate an entity other than a state government to serve as the state refugee coordinator and disburse funding — a set-up currently in place in six states.

See here, here, and here for some background. The state didn’t just sue the feds, it also sued the International Rescue Committee non-profit, which remains the most mind-boggling part of this. I mean, these were and are religious non-profits doing this work. Can you imagine the uproar from Abbott et al if it were the feds meddling in the affairs of those religious non-profits? You don’t have to imagine it – the state is more than happy to join the fray on their behalf when it involves things like health care and birth control. Because that’s clearly what Jesus would do. (Just a reminder: The Catholic Church calls for welcoming Syrian refugees in America. Keep that in mind the next time you hear something about Greg Abbott’s self-professed Catholic faith.)

Anyway. This is unlikely to have much practical effect – as the story notes, the feds can provide assistance to something other than the state government, so it’s just a matter of having a different middleman. Mostly, what this does is tell us something about our state leaders. To be sure, it’s something we already knew. Texas Monthly and the Chron have more.

Posted in: La Migra.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 19

The Texas Progressive Alliance prefers tote bags for its deplorables as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Judge orders state to reword its voter ID outreach materials

Let’s try this again, shall we?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In the continuing fight over Texas’ voter ID law, a federal judge on Monday ordered state officials to change, where possible, the language used to inform voters and poll workers about acceptable voting procedures for the November election, according to a lawyer for those challenging the state law.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ordered state officials to abandon more restrictive language used to describe who is eligible to vote on Nov. 8, said Chad Dunn, a lawyer for Democratic U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the League of United Latin American Citizens and several voters who lack government-issued identification.

During Monday’s hearing in Corpus Christi, the judge ordered that polling-place posters and all future communication from state officials and agencies track the language Ramos used in her August order to soften the state’s voter ID law. That order focused on the opportunity to cast a regular ballot for registered voters who do not have government-issued ID “and cannot reasonably obtain it.”

“Hopefully, we got some clarity going forward, and that message can get to voters,” Dunn said.

See here and here for the background. The crux of the argument was that the original judge’s order was to allow an opportunity for people who “do not possess SB 14 ID and cannot reasonably obtain it” to be able to vote, while the state’s wording in its election materials was that people who “have not obtained” and “cannot obtain” SB 14 ID may vote. Among other things, this led to County Clerks like Stan Stanart threatening to prosecute anyone who didn’t meet his standard of not having an accepted form of ID.

Rick Hasen has a copy of Judge Ramos’ order. As his reaction to the order shows, it was more than just the state needing to abide by the original agreement, which they themselves had a part in crafting. ThinkProgress explains.

For one thing, as the Huffington Post’s Cristian Farias notes on Twitter, Judge Ramos’ Tuesday order is stronger than a proposed order drafted by some of the plaintiffs in this case. The proposed order would have largely clarified that the court’s original order meant what it said. Judge Ramos’ Tuesday, order, by contrast, requires Texas to take several specific actions. It also subjects Texas to a kind of federal supervision similar to the oversight it faced before conservatives on the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Among other things, the Tuesday order requires Texas to “re-issue its press releases concerning voting to properly reflect the language in the Court’s Order,” to “edit the poster to be printed and placed at polling locations to accurately reflect the language in the Court’s Order,” and to “edit digital materials on its website page(s) that address voting rights and procedures, including titles or headlines and FAQs” to bring them into compliance with the original court order.

Significantly, the Tuesday order also provides that “the State of Texas shall provide to counsel for all Plaintiffs scripts and copy for documents and advertisements that have not yet been published for review and objection prior to publication.” As a practical matter, this gives the Justice Department (as well as the private plaintiffs in this case) the power to read over and object to new elections related materials before those materials are published.

Perhaps that will prevent these shenanigans going forward. I sure hope so. In the meantime, the Chron reports that Judge Ramos has denied the plaintiffs’ motion on the side issue of what if anything to do about clerks like Stanart. That’s a line that hasn’t been crossed yet, I guess.

We’ll see how this goes, because again, there’s no reason to take the state’s word for it on anything relating to this. KUT, which had the first story about Judge Ramos’ order, informs us of another angle:

During an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s radio show today, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says the Texas Legislature will try to pass a new voter ID law in the next session.

“I was one of the authors of our photo voter ID law that the court struck down,” he says. “We have a judge, a Democrat who’s just eviscerating our photo voter ID. We’re going to have to pass it again come January when we go back into session.”

Remember that the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Ramos’ finding that the voter ID law had a discriminatory effect, and that the question of whether the law was enacted with discriminatory intent is yet to be decided. If the answer to that second question is ultimately found to be Yes, then not only is the law completely voided, then the state could be put back under preclearance under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Given all of that, does anyone believe for a minute that a new voter ID law that meets Dan Patrick’s approval can pass legal muster? Because I sure don’t. This issue is going to provide long-term employment for all of the attorneys involved. The Trib has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Texas versus the feds, Overtime Pay Edition

Hey, look, it’s another lawsuit filed by Texas against something the Obama administration did that our AG doesn’t like.

Texas is helping lead a lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s administration over a new rule that makes millions of more workers eligible for overtime pay.

Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Tuesday he is joining his counterpart in Nevada, Adam Laxalt, to file the lawsuit on behalf of 21 states. Paxton said the rule, announced earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Labor, is another example of Obama “trying unilaterally rewrite the law.”

The rule, set to go into effect Dec. 1, doubles the salary threshold under which workers qualify for overtime pay, from $455 per week to $913 per week. The Labor Department estimates the rule will benefit an additional 4.2 million workers.

Critics of the rule say it will place a new burden on businesses, potentially forcing them to demote or lay off workers whom they cannot afford to pay more. On Tuesday, Paxton warned the rule “may lead to disastrous consequences for our economy.”

[…]

The lawsuit specifically claims that the rule is too broad because it is based on the salary threshold. Such a requirement, the states argue, overlooks the fact that some workers in the salary range perform management duties that would make them ineligible for overtime.

The states are asking a federal judge in Sherman to issue an injunction to prevent the rule from taking effect. Texas and Nevada are being joined in the lawsuit by Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin.

A copy of the lawsuit is here. The DMN has a response to the arguments put forth in the suit.

Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, said sarcastically that the salary standard had also been raised in the past by “other communists like George W. Bush and Gerald Ford.”

“It’s remarkable that somehow they think it’s an overreach,” he said. “But it’s not an overreach when an employer asks a $25,000-a-year employee to work 20 hours of overtime for free?”

I trust that’s a rhetorical question, but feel free to answer it anyway, because those are always the most fun. I suspect that as with other recent litigation, the fact that this lawsuit was filed in Sherman is not a coincidence, but the result of seeking out the most sympathetic bench they could find. That has been a fairly successful strategy so far, so keep an eye on that. A statement from the Texas AFL-CIO is beneath the fold, and the Chron has more.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Legal matters.

Two more Clinton campaign offices opened in Texas

In Austin:

Hillary Clinton

The Democratic National Committee opened its Austin headquarters on Sunday.

The move comes amid a surprisingly narrowing gap (given the longtime deep-red status of the state) between Clinton and her GOP rival, Donald Trump, for the presidency. The office is located at 61 N. Interstate 35 at Holly Street, serving as the base for local organizing activity and house volunteers operating phone banks and organizing meetings, KXAN-TV reported.

Members of the public were invited to the opening in quintessentially Texas manner, with barbecue. The office also comes just days before Clinton running mate Tim Kaine makes his second visit to Austin on Sept. 23 to raise campaign money.

And in San Antonio:

Last week the Democrats opened an office in Houston and another Saturday in San Antonio.

The San Antonio campaign office will be the hub for the push to elect Clinton and other Democrats on the Texas ballot in November.

Organizers there will put volunteers to work at phone banks and canvassing neighborhoods.

Democrats expect to hold events at the Alamo City office as we get closer to the general election.

These go along with the Houston office. We were told at that time that more such offices would be coming, though the campaign did not specify any details. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe an office in Dallas, one in El Paso, and one in the Valley, but I’m just guessing. In my fondest dreams, we’d have them in places that aren’t Democratic but which have growing populations and voters who really ought to be contacted – Fort Bend, Williamson, Collin, you know the placews I’m thinking of. Maybe some year when there are more resources and Texas is seen as a legit swing state. For now, however many we do get, it’s good to have them.

Posted in: The making of the President.

“The only game in college sports history whose the final outcome was decided after the game”

If you follow sports, you have probably heard about this:

In one of the more improbable finishes to a football game, Central Michigan wide receiver Corey Willis grabbed a lateral from fellow receiver Jesse Kroll at the 12-yard line after a Hail Mary and raced into the end zone with no time remaining to stun No. 22 Oklahoma State 30-27 on Saturday.

It never should have happened.

Mid-American Conference referee Tim O’Dey — as well as the MAC and the Big-12 conferences — acknowledged after the game that Central Michigan was wrongly awarded an untimed down, which resulted in the miraculous Hail-and-lateral finish.

“I’m going to leave that alone. We had a play, we executed, end of story,” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego told ESPN. “I’ll leave it for everybody else to discuss.”

With four seconds remaining, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph threw an incomplete pass to the left sideline to run the final seconds off the clock for what seemed to be a 27-24 victory for the Cowboys (1-1). However, no receivers ran a route, thus resulting in an intentional grounding penalty on fourth down.

[…]

Since intentional grounding is a foul that includes loss of down, that meant Oklahoma State turned the ball over on downs.

“There’s a rule that says that the game cannot end on an accepted live ball foul. That’s the rule. There’s an exception to the rule that says if enforcement of the foul involves a loss of down, then that brings the game to an end,” O’Dey told a pool reporter.

“So in that situation, we’ve had the opportunity to run it back through our hierarchy, which includes the national rules editor, and he confirmed that should have been a loss of down and the end of the game at that point, so that extension should not have happened.”

The rule in question is Rule 3, Section 2, Article 3.1 in the NCAA football rule book: “A period shall be extended for an untimed down if … a penalty is accepted for a live-ball foul(s). (Exception: Rule 10-2-5-a). The period is not extended if the foul is by the team in possession and the statement of the penalty includes loss of down.”

The Mid-American Conference issued a statement that the officiating crew was in the wrong, but the result of the game would stand.

“The Mid-American Conference officiating crew … made an error on the final play of regulation,” Bill Carollo, the coordinator of football officials for the Collegiate Officiating Consortium, said in a statement. “The crew made a misapplication of the rule and should not have extended the contest with one final play. Despite the error, this will not change the outcome of the contest.”

MAC officials weren’t the only ones in the wrong. According to the Big 12, Coordinator of Football Officials Walt Anderson said “the Big 12 replay crew missed an opportunity to stop the game to inform the MAC officiating crew of the misapplication of the intentional grounding penalty as time expired.”

According to the Big 12, NCAA rules permit instant replay to “correct egregious errors, including those involving the game clock.”

None of those explanations mattered to Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder, who issued a statement saying it’s “incomprehensible” that the outcome can’t be reversed.

“We were told there is nothing that could be done,” Hoder said. “… The final score shows that Oklahoma State lost the game but that doesn’t mean that I have to agree with it.”

All of the officials involved have been suspended as a result of the screwup, which seems reasonable. I question that assertion that there is nothing that can be done about the outcome of the game. College football historians will note that there is a precedent for this, from way back in 1940. Here’s a WBUR story from last year, the 75th anniversary of the infamous “Fifth Down Game”, between Dartmouth and unbeaten and #2-ranked Cornell:

According to the informal historian of Dartmouth sports, Jack DeGange, Dartmouth’s opponent on Nov. 16, 1940, had a lot to lose.

“Cornell was on an 18-game unbeaten streak,” he said. “They were nationally ranked. They were clearly the dominant team in the Ivy League. And at that point, Dartmouth, by contrast, was 3-4 coming into the game. But there was a lot on the line, especially for Cornell.”

It was a low scoring affair, and Dartmouth took a 3-0 lead into the closing seconds of the game. The tension must have been terrific, and maybe it was that tension that effected one of the officials, Red Friesell.

Anyway, Cornell had the ball deep in Dartmouth’s territory. After a couple of unsuccessful running plays inside the Dartmouth 10 yard line, it looked as if Cornell might need all four tries to score.

And then they did score a touchdown on a pass play. But it was only after Red Friesell had inadvertently given them…a fifth down.

“And he says, ‘I think I may have made a terrible mistake,'” DeGange recalled.

“This is the official, who admits this in the car on his way to the train!” I said.

“Well, yeah,” DeGange said, “but they hadn’t looked at the film on both teams, which, over the next 24 hours is what happened. They looked at the film and concluded that, in fact, Cornell got the fifth down.”

Once everyone agreed this is what had happened, Cornell made the unprecedented and since-unrepeated offer to concede the game to Dartmouth, which was accepted. The game went into the books as a 3-0 win for Dartmouth. I read about this as a kid in the book Strange But True Football Stories, which is a bargain at many times the price listed at that Amazon link. What I didn’t know and only learned as I googled around for this post, is that Cornell didn’t actually expect Dartmouth to accept their offer:

It would go down as perhaps the greatest act of sportsmanship in college football history, but Lou Conti and his Cornell teammates wanted no part of it.

Cornell President Edmund Ezra Day, declaring the outcome to be “tarnished,” sent a telegram to Dartmouth, offering to forfeit the victory to the Indians.

“I remember he was a Dartmouth man,” Conti says of Day, a Dartmouth graduate, “and his classic remark was, ‘You can offer them the game, but they won’t accept it.’

“We didn’t believe that. I didn’t believe that. Nobody believed that they would not accept the game.”

And they were right.

Dartmouth accepted.

“Our coach and athletic director told us, ‘As the years go by, this will resonate as a fine example of sportsmanship’ — and they were 100% right,” Conti, 91, says during an interview at his home outside Chicago. “But if I had been a grown person with some authority, I never would have offered to give the game away.”

In that case, of course, it would have been long forgotten.

“Winning evaporates in time,” Conti’s 92-year-old former teammate, Bud Finneran, says from his home in Bensenville, Ill. “But something like this goes on forever.”

Indeed, Cornell’s selfless act was celebrated far and wide, its implications reverberating through the decades.

Sportsmanship, wrote the New York Herald Tribune in the immediate aftermath, “remains in its true form so seldom these days that when it can be truly applied, as it can to Cornell University … there seems again to be hope in the world.”

Wrote the New York Times, in a similar editorial praising the Big Red’s offer: “If we were Cornell, we wouldn’t trade that telegram for all the team’s victories in the past two years.”

Years later, commentator and longtime college football observer Beano Cook would rank Cornell’s magnanimous gesture as the No. 2 moment in the sport’s long and storied history — behind only Knute Rockne’s “Win One for the Gipper” speech.

“I’ll be darned,” Conti says.

That was from 2010 and the 70th anniversary of the game. I’m delighted there were still a couple of players from the game around to talk about it. Some of you may recall that there was another Fifth Down game in the much more recent year of 1990, in which Colorado was the beneficiary and Missouri the victim. Colorado and its coach, Bill McCartney, who went on to be a founder of the Christian conservative group Promise Keepers, declined to consider the possibility of mimicking Cornell. I never cared for Bill McCartney, who did eventually regret his decision, and this did nothing to change that.

Anyway. It sucks to be Oklahoma State right now, and this loss is going to sting even if the playoff committee takes the circumstances of the loss into account. But don’t say there’s nothing that can be done. There is, and there’s precedent for it, even if it only ever happened once.

Posted in: Other sports.

Now let’s take on the revenue cap

With the pension issue settled, this can be the next big item on Mayor Turner’s to-do list.

BagOfMoney

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to ask city voters next fall to do away with a decade-old cap on city revenues, but for now he’s stuck with it.

So City Council on Wednesday will consider cutting Houston’s property tax rate for the third time in three years, saving taxpayers money but also straining city coffers at a time when rising pension and debt costs risk forcing widespread layoffs and service reductions next summer.

The rate proposed to be set – 58.642 cents per $100 of property value – is the lowest since 1987, and represents an 8.2 percent drop since the cap took effect.

“We’re a growing, dynamic, vibrant city and we have a lot of needs,” Turner said. “People want us to be cost efficient and fiscally prudent and we are demonstrating that, but people want more police out on the street – that costs money. They want more paramedics – that costs money. They want better streets, flooding, those things cost money. For us to be forced to lower our property rates … it doesn’t make good sense.”

[…]

If the cap had not come into force, Houston would have been able to collect a projected $220 million more in the current fiscal year and the two prior ones, officials estimate.

During the same time period, the owner of a $200,000 Houston home with a standard homestead exemption will have saved about $84 in taxes, compared with the cap never having taken effect.

“People really haven’t seen the benefits of that,” Turner said. “They’re not feeling that.”

That’s an awful lot of revenue to forego for some $28 a year in savings. The revenue cap has always been a bad idea, based on a bad theory of economics, and we’re lucky to have escaped its effects before now. With the pension reform plan in place, Mayor Turner will have the capital to go to the voters and ask them to fix this error. Good riddance when that happens.

Posted in: Local politics.

Spending money to defend our terrible bail practices

Ugh.

HarrisCounty

About $170,000 in tax money has been paid to outside attorneys to defend Harris Country officials from a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that the bail bond system discriminates against poor people, records show.

That’s more than the cost of a six-month pilot project that would have provided attorneys for indigent misdemeanor offenders at bond hearings – a proposed reform critics say could have helped the county avert being sued in the first place, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Chronicle through public information requests.

[…]

The rising legal fees are not unusually high for outside counsel on a complex lawsuit, officials said. And outside lawyers may be necessary since the individual county leaders being sued – including judges and the sheriff – have publicly disagreed about how to reform the system, said Robert Schuwerk, a legal ethicist and author who is a retired University of Houston law professor. But county officials should have discussed those fees in advance and should have known from the first that if they pushed to litigate instead of reach a compromise that costs would escalate, he said.

“We may have a division of interests – it may be that the judges are saying no expense is too high for another branch to pay – the judges are not having to come up with the legal fees, I assume,” Schuwerk said. Even though an outside firm might be needed, Schuwerk said the county attorney’s own staff might also have better insight into the players and knowledge of the court system needed to reach a less costly settlement.

Critics, like state Sen. Rodney Ellis, argue that the county attorney should have handled the case himself and the money could have been better spent fixing the broken bail system.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy to spend taxpayers’ money in such a wasteful way,” Ellis said. “The county attorney is very capable and can adequately represent the position of the county in this matter. There is a certain irony in judges wanting to have their own lawyers to represent them as they refuse to provide legal representation to people who are charged with a crime with our criminal justice system.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t have a problem in general with outside counsel being hired to handle litigation involving government entities. The County Attorney’s office has only so many employees, and they all have other responsibilities that could be adversely affected by spending the time needed to handle a lawsuit like this. And yes, the Sheriff and the DA and the judges may all have differing interests in this case. But you know what would solve this problem once and for all, and at minimal cost? Settling the lawsuit, which by the way would have the ancillary effect of saving the county a bunch of money in jail costs, not to mention keeping a lot of non-criminals out of jail. I don’t care who represents the county as long as we get that done. The Press has more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Legal matters.

The city cab app

Meet Arro.

Houston’s fractured taxi market is headed toward a rare bit of unity, with a push by the city toward how people hail cabs in the 21st century.

As the taxi and limo industry adjusts to new ways of doing business, under intense competition from firms like Uber, city officials plan to consolidate dispatching via a private smartphone app in an attempt to buoy travel options for visitors and residents.

Citing a need to better use the nearly 4,000 taxi and limo permits across roughly 9,000 drivers, city officials announced Monday that Arro, a company already combining dispatch in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, will develop a universal taxi app for Houston’s 146 taxi companies.

“We’re excited to bring the taxi industry, fully, into the digital age,” said Tina Paez, director of Houston’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department.

Cab and limo companies encouraged the city to develop something to even the playing field with Uber, which has dominated the ride market since arriving legally in Houston in November 2014.

“I think you will have people come to rely on faster cab service than they do now,” said Duane Kamins, owner of Lone Star Cab Company.

The app would mean all cabs could be hailed based on who’s closest, breaking the taxi reliance on downtown cab stands and airport trips that leads to bunching of vehicles and a lack of available rides in other neighborhoods. The app also provides an emergency scenario, should Uber – which opposes some of Houston’s regulations – bail right before thousands descend for the Super Bowl.

City Council is expected to discuss the app at its meeting next week.

Starting with consolidating taxi companies into a single online dispatch system, the app will eventually expand to include other features such as transit schedules, real-time traffic information and bike sharing information.

Council member Michael Kubosh, however, questioned at a Monday committee meeting why the city was entering into the app business – or even encouraging a vendor to jump in.

“If you want government intervention and you all are holding hands singing Kumbaya, I will vote for your government intervention,” Kubosh said.

No taxpayer money will be used to develop or advertise the app, though city staff will guide the process with Arro, and elected officials could devote time to promoting it.

I don’t see any problem with the city’s involvement, especially given the other features mentioned. Cabs remain a regulated utility, so there’s a pretty good argument to be made that the city should get make this kind of investment. The concerns CM Greg Travis raised about Arro’s app receiving mediocre user ratings are more worrisome, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s a good idea, and it brings independent cabbies into the fold as well. Let’s see what the beta version looks like and go from there.

Posted in: Legal matters, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: A bit of a surprise

The Chron endorses Ann Harris Bennett for Harris County Tax Assessor.

Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

When Mike Sullivan first ran for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector, he promised that he would: “Bring the office into the 21st century by embracing new technology.”

By Sullivan’s standard, we look forward to Apple releasing the Post Card 7, complete with four easy-to-handle sides and a convenient stamp location. Because if you want to register to vote in Harris County, or anywhere in the state of Texas, you have to do it by snail mail – and state legislators point to Sullivan as the reason why.

A majority of the state House had co-sponsored a bill to allow online voter registration during the last legislative session. However, testimony by Sullivan redirected the sure-fire bill into the garbage.

Whatever his other accomplishments in the office, whatever the deficits of his challenger, Sullivan’s failure to bring voter registration into the 21st century should disqualify him in the minds of voters. There is no excuse.

[…]

That is why we endorse Ann Harris Bennett for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. An experienced administrator with more than 14 years’ service as a district court coordinator, Bennett, 63, has long advocated for better registration and election processes. She also recognizes how our property tax system treats homeowners unfairly in contrast to commercial property owners.

I say this is a bit of a surprise for three reasons. One is that this means the Chron endorsed all Democrats for countywide offices. Given the dynamics of the other three such races, this was really the only one in which they might have endorsed the Republican and thus achieve some partisan balance, if that was a consideration. The Chronicle did not endorse Bennett in the primary, and they were not very complimentary to her at the time. Given those facts, and given that Mike Sullivan has been a considerable improvement over the two clowns that preceded him, I figured he would be an easy call for them. I did not expect them to put that much weight on the electronic voter registration issue. I’m glad they did, because this is easily my biggest point of disagreement with Sullivan. I fear that the moment may have passed for online voter registration – whatever consensus there was for it in 2015, I have a hard time imagining it being there in 2017. I hope I’m wrong, and for sure we should try again. Online voter registration would certainly be easier to make happen if the state’s biggest county officially supports it. Ann Harris Bennett is the one candidate who would offer that support.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Interview with Jon Harris

Jon Harris

Jon Harris

It is time to start the fall 2016 interview season. I don’t plan to do a whole lot of these – in particular, I don’t plan to revisit races that I had covered during primary season – but I do have a few to do, as well as the judicial Q&As (again, for candidates not covered during the primaries). For the first interview, we venture a bit outside the Houston area, over into Edwards County where Jon Harris is running for Sheriff. Why am I interviewing a Sheriff candidate in Edwards County? Well, because the incumbent Sheriff there is a dangerous loon who interprets and enforces the law as she sees fit. This particular Sheriff, Pamela Elliott, was profiled in this Observer story, which I blogged about here. You should read that story if you haven’t already – it’s hard to believe this kind of thing exists, but it does. In this case, there is something that can be done about it. Harris is a military veteran with years of law enforcement experience, in Harris and Fort Bend Counties. He’s running to restore sanity and to get that law enforcement agency back to doing what it is supposed to do. Here’s what we talked about:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will update it as we go along to include links to fall interviews.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The MOB and Baylor

So you’ve probably heard about this by now.

If it’s possible for a band to steal headlines away from a football game, Rice’s Marching Owl Band found a way.

While Rice made strides but ultimately fell against No. 21 Baylor 38-10 on Friday at Rice Stadium, it was what happened at halftime that was the focus.

The MOB dedicated its halftime routine to satirizing Baylor’s sexual assault scandal. It sparked controversy throughout social media and the college football world.

Some believe the band was rightfully shining light on Baylor’s handling of the assaults. Some believe the band went too far in satirizing a serious matter.

It appears Rice officials agree with the latter. The university released a statement Saturday apologizing for the MOB’s performance.

The statement reads:

“The Marching Owl Band, or MOB, has a tradition of satirizing the Rice Owls’ football opponents. In this case, the band’s calling attention to the situation at Baylor was subject to many different interpretations. Although the band’s halftime shows are entirely the members’ projects with no prior review by the university administration, we regret any offense, particularly if Baylor fans may have felt unwelcome in our stadium. While we know that the MOB did not intend in any way to make light of the serious issue of sexual assault, we are concerned that some people may have interpreted the halftime performance in that vein. Sexual assault is a matter of serious concern on campuses across the nation, and all of us have an obligation to address the matter with all the tools at our disposal. The MOB sought to highlight the events at Baylor by satirizing the actions or inactions of the Baylor administration, but it is apparent from the comments of many spectators and Baylor fans that the MOB’s effort may have went too far.”

In the performance, the band started with Muppet Fozzie Bear on the video board and the narrator saying “some jokes can be unbearable”, a miniscule jab at Baylor’s mascot.

The announcer then said “There are nine judges on the Supreme Court or is it?” The band proceeded to align in a formation to resemble the Roman numeral nine representing Title IX – poking fun at the multiple Title IX lawsuits Baylor is facing over the school’s handling of sexual assaults.
It took another turn when the band aligned in a star formation meant to represent former Baylor president Ken Starr and his resignation, all the while playing the song “Hit The Road, Jack.”

You can see the full script for the show here; the embedded image contains the bit that this story elides over. As you may know, I play with the MOB and I was there on the field for this show on Friday night. All I’m going to say is that Rice University may feel the need to apologize for something, but I don’t. They are not speaking for me on this. Nor, apparently, are they speaking for the editor of the Rice Thresher, who is for more eloquent than I. The Trib and Deadspin have more.

UPDATE: More from the Press and Underdog Dynasty.

UPDATE: Even better commentary in this Observer piece, written by a former MOB member.

Posted in: Other sports.

Texas v. the Feds: Telemedicine edition

Here’s a new one.

Teladoc, the Dallas-based company that sued Texas over its telemedicine regulations, has a new ally in the Federal Trade Commission.

In a letter sent to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court late Friday, the federal antitrust agency sided with Teladoc in the company’s legal battle, criticizing the Texas Medical Board for allegedly misinterpreting case law.

The telehealth company sued last year to block board rules that in most cases require face-to-face contact between a patient and a physician before a physician can issue a prescription.

That threatened Teladoc’s business model, which virtually connects Texas patients to remote, Texas-licensed doctors, some of whom are based out-of-state. The company says its physicians consult patients over the phone for routine medical issues, and patients can upload photos or other information describing their symptoms and medical history.

Teladoc filed an antitrust lawsuit against the regulatory Texas Medical Board in federal court last year, alleging that the 19-member board made up mostly of doctors had behaved like a cartel by passing rules intended to limit competition.

The state has asked the appeals court to throw out Teladoc’s lawsuit, and federal regulators on Friday urged the court not to.

The Texas Medical Board failed to show that “any disinterested state official ever substantively reviewed” the telemedicine rules “to determine whether the rules promote a clearly articulated state policy to displace competition rather than the private interests of active market participants,” federal regulators wrote.

I hadn’t noticed this before now, and I don’t know much about this, though on the surface it sounds like Teladoc has a good argument. I was hoping to find an analysis of this via Google, but the best I could do was this by the hacks at the TPPF that was just boilerplate business/free market rah-rah. Here’s an interview with Teladoc’s CEO from January about the lawsuit, if you’re interested. The suit was filed by Teladoc, the AG’s office is defending the Texas Medical Board, and the feds have only just gotten involved, so this isn’t a typical Texas-versus-feds situation. It is a reminder that not all such cases fall into the usual narrative.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Abbott says something about high speed rail

Something vague, and a bit confusing.

TexasOklahomaPassengerRailStudyRoutes

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday expressed caution about high-speed rail in Texas, warning that any investment in transportation must not be a “money-losing proposition.”

It was one of several notable topics that came up during a wide-ranging Q-and-A with the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, where Abbott also vouched for the continuation of the Texas Enterprise Fund and provided a brief preview of the next legislative session.

[…]

Abbott had previously expressed hesitation about high-speed rail, a perennial flashpoint in Texas that sparks debate over how to pay for it and its impact on property rights. He was again somewhat skeptical-sounding Thursday at the luncheon for the Chamber of Commerce, which supports high-speed rail. Waco is along a potential route being studied for a high-speed rail alternative to Interstate 35 that would go from Oklahoma City to Laredo.

“It is important to be able to invest in anything that works, but when you invest, you don’t want to lose money,” Abbott said, bringing up a high-speed rail project in California that ended up costing much more than originally projected. “You’ve got to proceed with caution.”

Abbott instead pointed to the freight shuttle system recently unveiled at Texas A&M University, which would move containers on elevated highways using automated transporters. Abbott noted that the system does not rely on taxpayer dollars and would “not involve taking anyone’s property.”

“You have to look at certain issues so that it works for all the different pieces of all the different constituencies, but most importantly look at at the bottom for the taxpayers in Texas, which is the thing that we have to be the greatest guardian of,” Abbott said.

At first reading, I thought Abbott was speaking of high-speed rail in general, including the Texas Central Railway. That didn’t make much sense, since they’re a private company, and what does he care if they wind up making money or not? He still might have had them in mind when he said this, but at this point I think he was just referring to the Oklahoma/Texas line, which is a TxDOT project. Too bad, because it would be nice to hear what he thinks about Texas Central, given the target it has on its back in the 2017 Legislature. Will he support or undermine the efforts to kill it? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.

As for this project, I think talk about the California HSR experience is premature. I suspect the escalating cost estimates for the California line – which is still in the conceptual stage – have as much to do with the price of real estate as anything else. I’m pretty sure that would be less of an issue with this proposal, but if Abbott wanted to know more about that, he could ask TxDOT to provide him with some answers. And sure, HSR isn’t cheap, but then neither is our road infrastructure cheap to operate, maintain, and especially expand. Building highways also involves a lot of eminent domain, though for some reason the uproar over that is always more muted. You tell me what the difference is, I have no idea.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for September 18

Two-factor authentication still has its limitations.

Deep Space Nine was my favorite Star Trek, too.

“So maybe more than any issue right now, Putin has become the ultimate test of GOP loyalty to Trump. Do you agree or disagree with Trump on Putin? That question will separate the ardent Trump supporters from the Republicans who aren’t.”

A timeline of Earth’s average temperature, as only XKCD can do it.

RIP, Alexis Arquette, transgender actress and member of the Arquette acting family.

“While this may seem like the quintessential underdog story, it isn’t. Underdogs have to win (or at least come close), which Bright and company never do. But getting as far as they do counts as success nonetheless.”

“But the truly scary thing is that Trump is redefining the concept of a gaffe out of existence. It turns out that if you just boldly repeat something often enough, it goes away as a story. We’ve become numb, as a society, to what Trump is doing.”

What Ta-Nehisi Coates says, times a million.

Hey, remember when President Bush “lost” 22 million emails? Boy, those were the days.

“And that, above all, is what they can’t stand. That is what infuriates them and offends them — the prospect of being judged, being assessed according to any standard not in their immediate control.”

“But what’s most deplorable is the knee-jerk pushback against anyone who dares point out this reality, as though exposing the deplorable is worse than the deplorable things themselves. Maybe the best way to avoid being labeled deplorable is to stop doing and saying and standing for deplorable things.”

Ballot selfies should be legal. I’m not sure what the argument against is.

Sometimes, “deplorable” really is the best word.

“The press is not a pro-democracy trade, it is a pro-media trade.”

Quantifying the deplorables.

What Samantha Bee says.

If anyone deserves a wonderful, joyful bar mitzvah more than Israel Kristal does, I don’t know who it would be.

RIP, Edward Albee, playwright of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and many others.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

So what’s going on with these polls of Texas?

Republicans are feeling a little touchy about them.

“I think the emerging picture is one that looks a little bit tighter in the presidential election than we’ve seen in recent elections in the state,” said Joshua Blank, whose Texas Lyceum poll, released Thursday, found GOP nominee Donald Trump leading Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by only 7 percentage points among likely voters. “The Lyceum poll is another data point in a trend for a race that increasingly looks in the single digits at this time.”

That means Trump is behind where a generic Republican would be at this juncture in a general election in Texas — 10 to 12 points ahead of his Democratic opponent, added Blank, the manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

[…]

The Lyceum Poll was the third survey in recent weeks to find a single-digit race in Texas, which the past two GOP nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain, won by 16 and 12 points, respectively. According to a polling average compiled by the website RealClear Politics, Trump is now ahead of Clinton by 7.2 points in Texas.

Democrats are expressing cautious optimism about the state of the race in Texas, saying the polling, at the least, bodes well for down-ballot candidates and the post-2016 future of the beleaguered state party. Few are openly talking about winning the state this time around, though they cannot help but wonder what the margin will look like on Election Day if it is so irregularly narrow two months out.

“Three polls in a row can’t be wrong, right?” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told the Texas Tribune on Saturday as he left the opening of a Clinton campaign office in Houston. It was there that U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston declared, “We are going to win Texas,” on the heels of a Washington Post/SurveyMonkey poll that showed the race tied in the Lone Star State.

Such declarations draw long eye rolls from Texas Republicans, who frequently refer to Democrats’ largely failed efforts to move the state in their direction during the 2014 elections. While some concede Trump may not carry the state as much as, say, Romney did, GOP operatives are skeptical of the methodologies used for recent public polls and suggest private surveys have found Trump leading by double digits, a more normal result.

“The theory that Texas is in play from the presidential standpoint — currently, as of right now — is just not the case,” said Chris Perkins, a top Texas pollster.

If the Trump campaign is worried about the numbers, it is not entirely showing it. While the nominee has taken the unusual step of tacking public appearances on to his fundraising swings through Texas, his advisers and allies have not given the impression it is meant to do anything more than soak up the free media attention that greets him wherever he goes.

“The margin in Texas from the public polls may be different from what we saw a few years ago, but it’s not enough to warrant a change in going after the true battleground states,” said Mike Baselice, a seasoned Austin-based pollster working for the Trump campaign. “The short of it is … anybody that’s looking at these polls may see some difference with what few polls existed in 2012, but the difference s irrelevant because this is going to go Republican.”

The list of GOP objections to recent public surveys is long and varied. The polls have been criticized for being conducted online, leaving out cell phone interviews, over- or under-sampling certain groups, ignoring the fact Texas does not have party registration and generally producing results out of sync with national trends.

Some pollsters, their critics say, just have a bad record in Texas. Emerson College, for example, released a poll shortly before the Texas Republican presidential primary that showed Cruz up by only 3 points. He went on to win the contest by nearly six times that.

Such a litany. As someone who has done his own fair share of whining about polls in the past, let me just say that while any one poll can be wrong, if a bunch of them are saying the same thing, you’re the one that’s probably wrong if you’re whining about them. Sure, the Washington Post result is an oddball done in a weird way, and a couple of the other pollsters don’t have much of a track record in Texas, but polls by the Trib/Texas Policy Project (which gave Mitt Romney a 55-39 edge in late October of 2012) and the Lyceum (which had Romney up 58-39 in early October of 2012) are also showing a single-digit Trump lead. At some point, the numbers speak for themselves.

Does that mean Texas is a swing state? Not by any reasonable measure – even if we accept that the real, true lead for Donald Trump in Texas is seven points, that’s a pretty comfortable lead by any objective standard. It’s just that it’s less than what we’re used to seeing. It is a big deal – Romney won the state by 16 points in 2012, remember – and it is kind of hilarious seeing the way it’s being downplayed. I think Republicans are a little nervous about the numbers; the fact that Greg Abbott is now all in for Trump and Ted Cruz is publicly worrying about holding the Senate are tells. They’re concerned about turnout in a way that you don’t usually see Texas Republicans be concerned about turnout.

Of course, we don’t know who these unnamed “critics” of the recent polls are, so it’s hard to say how ridiculous they’re being. The people who are quoted are the two GOP pollsters, both of whom seem to take the numbers at face value and make the far more valid point that Texas is still strongly favored to be carried by the Republican candidate this fall, if perhaps at a lesser margin. Those same two pollsters did their own surveys of Texas in 2012 and could certainly provide their own data for this year if they wanted to. The fact that they haven’t is also suggestive.

Maybe things will change in October. I won’t be shocked if polls begin to show Trump moving into double-digit lead territory. There are a lot of undecided/no answer respondents, and it seems likely a decent share of them normally vote Republican. Gary Johnson is also likely pulling some votes from Trump, which may wane as Election Day draws nearer. Against that is a slew of ancillary and anecdotal evidence suggesting that a larger number of non-traditional voters plan to come out this fall to vote against Trump. People are becoming citizens at a record rate. Voter registration is up. Polls of Latino voters show they are more engaged and say they are more likely to vote than in years past. Maybe that all doesn’t add up to much, but to the extent that it does, it probably isn’t being reflected in the polls. Good luck with picking a turnout model this year.

Posted in: The making of the President.

HISD board members against the HISD ballot item

I missed this when it first appeared.

Three Houston school board members on Thursday evening publicly urged voters to oppose a measure that would authorize the district to forfeit $162 million to the state.

Trustees Jolanda Jones, Harvin Moore and Rhonda Skillern-Jones went on the offensive at the live-streamed board meeting, asking voters to join them in voting “no” on the Nov. 8 ballot measure required under the state’s school-finance system.

The board members are taking a gamble, calling on state lawmakers to revamp the funding system to relieve the Houston Independent School District when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“We are King Kong in this state,” Jones said, noting that the Houston school system is the largest district in Texas and should have influence.

[…]

Here’s the rub: If the ballot measure fails and the education commissioner detaches property from HISD — an unprecedented move — the district will not be able to tax those properties to fund the repayment of debt. And the district has significant debt, including the ongoing $1.9 billion construction bond program approved by voters in 2012.

The district overall cannot take a position on the measure. However, it has launched an educational campaign, focused on the confusing state-mandated ballot language that will ask voters whether they approve purchasing attendance credits from the state. A “yes” vote to the credits means the district sends the $162 million.

If the funding system does not change, the Houston school district estimates that its “recapture” payment will rise to $257 million in 2017-18, $308 million in 2018-19 and $386 million the following year.

See here for the background. As the story notes, former HISD board member and current “education czar” for Mayor Turner Juliet Stipeche is also opposed to the referendum. I get where they’re coming from, and the escalating recapture payments are daunting, if not crippling. There is definitely an urgency in trying to get the Legislature to do something to avert the problem, or at least to mitigate it. The problem is that there’s no sign that the Legislature, or Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, have any interest in lifting a finger for HISD. Indeed, it’s quite clear that at least on the Senate side, all the energy in 2017 is going to be on making things worse for public education in general. I get the idea, and I don’t think approving the issue does any good. I’m just not sure that defeating it isn’t worse, even if it does have the potential for an upside. See here for the official HISD page on recapture. What do you think about this?

Posted in: Election 2016.