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February 3rd, 2012:

Not really buying it, Komen

Right there with them

So Komen has supposedly reversed itself on Planned Parenthood. I’ve read their statement, as well as TBogg’s improved version of it, and I don’t see a “reversal” so much as I see a bunch of weasel words that may very well lead to the same functional result. There’s a bunch of analysis out there, I’ll just refer you to Adam Serwer and Greg Sargent for a good summary of why I remain skeptical. Planned Parenthood, for its part, put out a statement thanking Komen for its reconsideration, as did allies of Planned Parenthood like Reps. Jessica Farrar and Carol Alvarado. I understand their desire to get back on the same page again and refocus the conversation to women’s health again, but I’ve got to admit, I would have preferred them to respond more like this:

There’s probably a reason I was never attracted to diplomacy as a career. Anyway, the outpouring of support to Planned Parenthood has been heartening, and you can keep that going because the need never goes away.

Friday random ten: The past is never what you remember it to be

What hath the iPod wrought this week?

1. The Best Is Yet To Come – Frank Sinatra and Count Basie
2. Better Be Good To Me – Tina Turner
3. Hammer To Fall – Queen
4. Bridge Of Sighs – Robin Trower
5. Born In Time – Bob Dylan
6. Downtown – The B-52’s
7. Yours Is No Disgrace – Yes
8. White Rabbit – Austin Lounge Lizards with Karen Abrahams
9. Blind Man – Aerosmith
10. Farewell To The Fairground – White Lies

A few years back one of the radio stations here in town converted to an “all 80s” format; they were more or less on the leading edge for that. For awhile, it was awesome – the station started out playing 10,000 songs in a row, commercial- and DJ-free. I’d be listening in my car and song after song I’d be saying “Wow, I haven’t heard that in awhile”, as they had a pretty extensive playlist at first. Well, that sort of thing never lasts forever, and before you knew it they were playing the same damn thing over and over again, and I moved on to other things. But what I still remember from those early days is that somehow they never played a Tina Turner song, at least never while I was listening. How can you call yourself an 80s station and never spin a tune from “Private Dancer”, I wondered? They never played any Michael Jackson, either, which I must admit I appreciated, but that brings up the same type of question. No doubt it was a matter of what type of 80s-nostalgic audience they wanted, but still. How can you call yourself an 80s station and never play “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, or “Private Dancer”, or “Better Be Good To Me”? I mean, seriously.

Another bit of 80s music nostalgia came in an unlikely place, this Baseball Prospectus article by Steve Goldman, in which he riffs on 1987; you have to scroll down to get to it. He lists and mostly laments the Billboard Top 10 songs from that year, which one must agree contained an impressive amount of dross. I was rather stunned to realize that I’d never heard of two of the songs and their artists – “Shake You Down”, by Gregory Abbott, and “C’est La Vie”, by Robbie Nevil. I was never a Top 40 station listener, but I don’t remember hearing either of them on that 80s station back when I was listening to it.

If you want a great example of how music changed from the 80s to the 90s, browse through the first few entries in Popdose’s Ass End Of The 90s series. They had two long such features previously on 80s music, and the vast majority of the tunes and the artists were at least passingly familiar to me. This one is largely alien to me. Some of that is undoubtedly me getting older, even if I was only 24 at the start of the decade, but a good bit of it was the extreme fragmentation of radio that began around that time and continues today. It’s not just me, is it?

Finally, I gave props awhile back to an excellent cover of “White Rabbit”, and I want to do the same here. I don’t know how Karen Abrahams came to sit in with the Austin Lounge Lizards for this number, which isn’t on any of their CDs but which is available via iTunes and Amazon, but it’s awesome. In fact, according to Abrahams, this version was listed in Esquire Magazine’s Top Ultimate Cover Songs for Download. I’m not sure if this is the list she has in mind, but whatever the case, I agree. Go get yourself a copy.

DC court will take its time

At least a month.

No hurry, right?

A panel of federal judges told parties in a Texas redistricting case Wednesday not to expect a ruling within 30 days, throwing the date of the state’s political primaries further in doubt.

A ruling by the District of Columbia court in the complex case was expected to provide guidance to another federal panel in San Antonio trying to draw new maps for state House, Senate and congressional elections.

If the San Antonio court wants to maintain the April 3 primary date, “it will have to draw plans without benefit of a ruling from District Court in D.C.,” said Nina Perales with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The San Antonio court could wait for a ruling by the D.C. court, which concluded testimony this week on dilution of minority voting strength and discriminatory intent.

Michael Li, who was the first to report this, was blunt about what it means.

“An April 3rd primary clearly is dead, absent an agreement,” said Michael Li, a Dallas lawyer and author of a Texas redistricting blog.

Li added that it’s still possible to have an election on April 17 if a federal court in San Antonio doesn’t wait for the Washington court’s decision before it draws interim maps for the U.S. House, Texas House and state Senate.

Also, the order by the Washington court increases the possibility of a split primary in which the presidential and perhaps some other elections would be held separately from races for Congress and the Legislature, Li said.

Li went on to note at his blog that the San Antonio court has called for briefs by the 10th and a status hearing on the 15th. So yeah, I’d say they’re waiting for the DC court if there’s no settlement.

I think the state may feel some pressure to settle – we’ve heard enough from county elections administrators to know that a split primary will be a huge burden on them, and pretty much nobody wants to drag this out till the summer – but that’s easier said than done, especially if the plaintiffs feel like the state is playing favorites. Monday the 6th is the drop dead date for an agreement that would enable an April primary, so we’ll see what happens. I think the San Antonio court, having been swatted once by SCOTUS, will not take action until it gets clear guidance either from the DC court or the litigants themselves. And so we wait. NewsTaco has more.

Doing business downtown

I have three things to say about this.

Downtown Houston

Despite public and private attempts to revive a shopping scene downtown, the retail market has struggled.

Some stores like Forever 21 and Books-A-Million have opened, but most of the activity in recent years has come from restaurants and bars.

Turnover has been high.

Last year, 16 street-level restaurants and bars closed, including three that had been open less than a year, according to the Houston Downtown Management District. At least one relocated and a couple of others lost their leases.

“A lot of nighttime traffic has moved over to different parts of town,” said Sherman Lewis, one of the owners of Cabo, a shuttered Mexican restaurant that helped popularize the fish-taco craze.

But even as the market for downtown retail and restaurants remains shaky, and sometimes unsustainable, new businesses continue to open.

Owners now pin their hopes on new residential and office towers, public investment in parks, transportation and the area around the George R. Brown Convention Center, and an overall economic rebound.

The downtown district counted 24 establishments that opened last year, and at least a couple more have opened or will do so early this year. Most are in the food and bar business. One was a large grocer.


The number of residents has been slow to grow. About 12 years ago, some 3,000 people lived downtown and officials were projecting that number to triple by 2010.

Today it’s around 4,400.

“Everyone has a vision of what they want downtown,” Bob Eury, the district’s executive director, said at a recent business event about the future of downtown. “We’re not quite there yet.”

1. Given the state of the economy, having more businesses open than close in the past year sounds like a win to me. All things considered, it could be a whole lot worse.

2. Having nearly fifty percent population growth over the past decade isn’t too shabby, either, even if it’s well below the rather optimistic projection. As one of the commenters on the story says, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem – people don’t want to move in until there are more amenities, but until the population increases sufficiently there isn’t enough support for those amenities. Part of the issue is getting residential construction off the ground. Discovery Green was a boon for that, and the proposed Convention Center district includes some further residential possibilities. I’d still like to see a focus on making something happen with the derelict properties downtown, as they seem to offer the greatest potential for residential growth.

3. These things do take time. As noted previously, Midtown took the better part of 20 years to get where it is. I don’t know when exactly downtown’s renaissance is supposed to have begun, but by my measure it started after Midtown’s. It’s not there yet, but it’s come a long way.

The state of water in Texas

The Statesman has a long story about the state of water in Texas and its outlook for the future. Short summary: We’re going to need more than what we’re capable of getting now, and it’s going to cost a lot of money to bridge the shortfall.

2012 State Water Plan

“For most of our recent history, we just treated (water) as if we had an unlimited supply of it. We’re finding to our dismay that that’s not true,” said Andrew Sansom, executive director of the River Systems Institute at Texas State University.

One clear indication that Texans need to rethink how they value water came when the state asked for $53 billion in improvements to prepare the state for a record-breaking drought in the next 50 years.

The cheapest strategy in the Texas Water Development Board’s 2012 water plan is conservation, which would account for 24 percent of the new supply by 2060; the costliest, desalination, would account for about 3.4 percent of the new supply.

But the prospect of a future crisis doesn’t necessarily make consumers more willing to open their wallets.

“It can be hard to convince ratepayers that they need to pay more money to get that security in their supply,” said Robert Mace, the board’s deputy executive administrator for water science and conversation.

It may come as little surprise, then, that lawmakers have failed to ensure sustainable funding for the water plan.

“I don’t think there’s been a greater dereliction of duty” than failing to fund Texas water needs, state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas , said Jan. 10 in a Business and Commerce Committee hearing, where lawmakers were told that a dwindling water supply can also affect the state power grid, as most energy production relies heavily on water to cool power plants.

You can find the 2012 State Water Plan here if you want a little light reading for your bedside table. We’ve talked about a lot of this stuff before as well – conservation, desalinization, reuse and recycling, infrastructure, and so forth. I’ll refer you again to the Drop By Drop and Sprayed Away reports, as well as the 2011 Regional Water Plan. I truly believe we need to be doing a lot more now to push conservation, because it’s not only the cheapest solution, it also buys us time for implementing the solutions that require capital investment. I strongly believe in tiering water prices in a way that rewards those who use less and charges a premium to those who use the most. I also believe in educating people about ways they can easily reduce their own water usage. One example is capturing rainwater for later use on gardens or lawns. You can buy a decent-sized rain barrel for $150 or less and use your sprinkler less. Every little bit helps, and if you want to avoid seeing future surcharges on your water bill, you’ll need to start thinking of what you can do. NewsTaco has some further reading.

Texas Watch on the Supreme Court

Texas Watch:

The Texas Supreme Court has a long history of favoring corporate defendants over families and small businesses, according to a decade-long review of the Court’s decision making by Court Watch, a project of the non-profit Texas Watch Foundation.

Court Watch reviewed the 624 cases involving consumers decided by the Court between 2000 and 2010. The report, “Thumbs on the Scale: A Retrospective of the Texas Supreme Court, 2000-2010”, finds that the state’s high court for civil matters “has marched in lock-step to consistently and overwhelmingly reward corporate defendants and the government at the expense of Texas families.”

“The Texas Supreme Court is an activist, results-oriented body that over the last 10 years has developed into a safe haven for corporate defendants at the expense of individuals, families, and small business owners,” said Alex Winslow, director of Court Watch. “The statistics speak for themselves. The court’s pro-defendant ideology cannot be disputed.”

Among the report’s findings are:

  • Corporate and government defendants prevail in an average of 74% of cases annually.
  • Consumers have lost 79% of cases in which they were pitted against a corporate or government defendant.

These findings lead Court Watch to conclude: “The Texas Supreme Court has become a reliable friend to those who seek to escape the consequences of their actions; its justices are the ultimate guardians for the moneyed and powerful who wish to shirk responsibility.”

The report is here. The Trib spoke to a couple of people who did dispute Winslow’s assertions about the Court.

Bill Peacock, vice president of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, said he doesn’t think the large percentage of defendant wins means that the Supreme Court favors corporations. He attributed the numbers to the court interpreting laws that the Legislature has passed to limit frivolous lawsuits, which are often brought by consumers against businesses.

“The fact that more corporations are winning before the Supreme Court shows that the Supreme Court is doing its job,” Peacock said.


Former Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister also said evaluating the Supreme Court isn’t as simple as compiling statistics. The justices, he said, only consider cases in which they might reverse the lower court’s decision.

“They only look at 10 percent of the cases. They’re not going to take a case that looks right, and the consumer won,” Brister said.

Brister denied Texas Watch’s assertion that the court favors corporations.

“We don’t look at a case and say, ‘Where can we help a company?’” he said. “We say, ‘Where does something look wrong?’”

I do think there’s something to what Peacock and Brister say. I mean, the laws the Supreme Court is asked to interpret are themselves generally anti-consumer and pro-corporate. So is the Legislature that writes those laws. For sure, the Supreme Court is part of the problem, but they’re not the extent of the problem. The remedy for each is the same, and that’s to elect people with a broader diversity of background, experience, and perspective to both the Lege and the Court. Which will be a little more difficult this year, as there are no Democrats running for the Supreme Court, but one must take the long view. Until we elect more people who share the experiences of the people that are getting shafted and want to represent them, very little will change. Trail Blazers has more.