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October 13th, 2012:

Saturday video break: Red Red Wine

Song #47 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Red Red Wine”, originally by Neil Diamond and covered by UB40. Here’s the original:

I’ve known forever that Neil Diamond wrote this song, but I’d never heard his version of it. It’s…well, it’s Neil Diamond. As Dave Barry knows, people feel very strongly about Neil Diamond. All I can say is that people who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing that they like. Now here’s the UB40 version:

My fellow children of the 80s will be familiar with that one, though it’s a somewhat shortened edit of what usually gets played on the radio. Like Neil himself, I find that the UB40 rendition of this song is polarizing. I like it, but your mileage may vary. What do you think?

LULAC files suit against Tax Assessor over voter registrations

Texas Redistricting has the press release.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Today, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and a number of Houston residentsfiled suit against Harris County in Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas maintaining that Harris County officials wrongly rejected voter applications through discriminatory practices against Latino and African American applicants. Representing LULAC and the residents who filed suit are attorneys from the Campaign Legal Center, Project Vote, and Chad Dunn of Brazil & Dunn.

Among other things, LULAC filed the suit in an attempt to stop the discriminatory purging of registered Latino and Black voters in Harris County. In the petition, LULAC asserts the following claims:

  • The changes in voting procedures by Harris County have not been pre-cleared by the United States Department of Justice or by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. These actions are “standards, practices and procedures” subject to the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c.
  • Harris County has disproportionate higher percentage rates of rejected voter registration applications from minority citizens than from Anglo citizens resulting in discrimination against African-Americans and Latino citizens which is in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973.
  • Harris County’s voter purge program was based on faulty death matches and is in violation of Section 8(b)(1) of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1973gg-6(b)(I), which provides that any state or local program or activity designed to ensure the maintenance of accurate and current voter registration rolls “shall be uniform, nondiscriminatory, and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
  • Harris County acted with racially discriminatory intent in denying the right to vote of African-American persons in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  • Harris County deprived a fundamental right to vote protected under the United States Constitution and the First Amendment.

“Harris County has used discriminatory practices in purging otherwise qualified voters and citing minor technicalities for rejecting their registration applications,” said LULAC National President Margaret Moran. “We filed the suit in order to stop these discriminatory practices. Our singular goal is to make sure that all qualified individuals have the opportunity to exercise their Constitutional protected right to vote in this year’s election.”

“Harris County has a lengthy and sad history of voter discrimination and regrettably the only way to bring it into compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution has been through court orders,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director. “We hope this complaint will once again serve to bring the county into compliance with federal law and safeguard the rights of Latino and African American citizens.”

“Once again, Harris County zealously seeks to exclude people of color from the electoral process, thumbing its nose at federal statutes, the U.S. Constitution and the quintessentially American belief in one person one vote,” said Catherine M. Flanagan, Director of Election Administration for Project Vote.

The lawsuit is here, and a press release from Don Sumners is here. As you might imagine, he’s not terribly impressed. His main argument in his reply is that LULAC’s suit is mostly a rehash of the 2008 TDP lawsuit that led to a settlement in which the Tax Assessor’s office agreed that they would not automatically reject a voter application where the residence address given was determined to be a commercial address. LULAC claims they are not honoring that agreement, Sumners denies their claim. I have no reason to trust Sumners, so we’ll see what a judge has to say. The Chron story is here, and Stace has more.

Austin’s choices for Council districts

The Statesman has a look at the choices Austin voters have for how to redesign their City Council from an all-At Large system to one with Council districts.

In the debate over whether to change the City Council from citywide members to those who represent smaller districts, one question has galvanized supporters and opponents: who would draw the district boundaries?

One of the two plans voters will consider Nov. 6 — switching the council from seven citywide members to 10 district representatives and a citywide mayor — calls for a commission of citizens with no paid ties to city politics to draw the district lines. Critics say that approach, added to the ballot by a citizens’ petition effort, has several possible pitfalls, including strict criteria that could disqualify too many people from serving.

The other plan — eight district representatives and three citywide seats, including a mayor — doesn’t say who would draw the lines, but the City Council would likely be involved. Detractors worry that would lead to the council manipulating the lines for political gain.

If both plans get more than 50 percent of the vote, the one with the most votes would be enacted.

The rest is a long story about the pros and cons of the commission approach, and it’s worth reading if you’re into that sort of thing. I think there’s a lot of merit to the idea of taking the redistricting process out of the hands of those who are directly affected by it, though I will note that the city of Houston did a pretty good job of being transparent and involving the community when it re-drew Council boundaries and added two new districts in 2011. If I were an Austin voter, the main concern I’d have about the commission proposal is this:

Mayor Lee Leffingwell worries the criteria for serving on the citizens panel would be too restrictive. The voting requirements alone — applicants must have voted in at least three of the last five city elections — would disqualify all but six percent, or 28,000, of the roughly 461,000 Austinites who are registered to vote, he said.

That’s pretty limiting, and I think there would be a real possibility of not finding enough qualified applicants who want the job. It’s also my understanding that the regular voters in Austin city elections, as well as the Council candidates, generally come from a handful of neighborhoods. As I recall, better geographic diversity is one of the arguments for single-member Council districts there. Given that, isn’t it short-sighted to limit the redistricting commission in this fashion? I think it is, but it’s not for me to decide. What do you Austinites think?

There’s an app for beating red lights

Do you ever get frustrated when you get stopped by a string of red lights while driving? If you’re like me, you sure do. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how (legally) fast you should be going to maximize the number of green lights you hit and minimize the reds? Well, there’s an app for that.

Using a smartphone app, MIT researchers are hoping to help drivers miss red lights and improve fuel economy in the process.

“The stop-and-go pattern that traffic signals creates increases fuel consumption significantly,” Emmanouil Koukoumidis, the scientist behind the app, told Reuters. “We wondered how we could help drivers cruise through signal light intersections without stopping, and how much we could save on gas and improve the flow of vehicles.”

The app, dubbed SignalGuru, uses the smartphone’s camera to detect when a signal may switch from red to green. The app then tells the driver what speed to drive to cruise through the intersection without stopping.

The speed recommendations are always below the legal speed limit.

The app, which isn’t commercially available, did show some promise, researchers told Reuters. The researchers found a 20 percent drop in fuel consumption when using the application in a city with a pre-timed system.

It didn’t work as well on systems that were based on traffic volume, but most of them are just plain timed systems, so it’s not a big deal. The developers are thinking about integrating the app into existing routing systems, and having it give verbal instructions, since one presumes it’s not such a hot idea to be staring at your phone while approaching a traffic light. But if this ever becomes commercially available, I know I’ll download a copy.

Endorsement watch: For reason

In making their endorsements in State Board of Education races, the Chron “supports an incumbent who has fought for reason and clarity, and two challengers who would be fresh voices of reason”. As well they should.

In District 4, Lawrence Allen, the Democratic incumbent, fought to see that slavery wasn’t downplayed as the chief cause of the Civil War. As one of two African-Americans on the board, he’s offered a crucial minority perspective. As a former teacher and principal and current director of special projects for the Houston Independent School District, he knows how schools work. And as son of state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), he has valuable ties to the Texas Legislature.

Traci Jensen

In District 6, Traci Jensen, the Democratic challenger, is a former Aldine classroom teacher who earned a Ph.D in curriculum and instruction from the University of Houston, and now works with a UH program that coaches new teachers. She is smart as a whip, an expert in curricula, and promises to see that the board has a “clear, concise educational direction, not an ideological agenda.”

Dexter Smith

In District 8, Democrat Dexter Smith has taught third and fourth-grade social studies for 12 years, and is now pursuing his principal certification. His opponent, the current board chair, has a long history of votes aligned with the ideological majority. Smith promises to do better, making sure, for instance, that people appointed to review curricula are mainstream experts in their fields. And he vows to help legislators understand how proposals would affect real-world classrooms.

Smith is running against Barbara Cargill. He has a tougher electoral task than Jensen does. I did not get a chance to talk with him, so refer to that Texas Freedom Network voters guide to the SBOE races for more information about him.

Meanwhile, although the Express-News did not explicitly use the word “reason” in its endorsement of John Courage for the SD25 seat now held by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, who was vanquished in the GOP primary by the loony Donna Campbell, you can tell that is what informed their opinion.

John Courage

We recommend that voters cast their ballots for Courage, an Air Force veteran and a teacher. Courage has deep roots in the district and demonstrates a more comprehensive knowledge of the issues facing Texas.

Courage’s long history as an active participant in the community makes him far better prepared to address local issues than Campbell.

A former member of the Alamo Community College District board, Courage has run unsuccessfully for the San Antonio City Council and the 21st Congressional District post held by Rep. Lamar Smith.

Courage is a strong advocate of public education, who is critical of education funding cuts enacted by lawmakers in 2011. Courage said he would work to restore adequate education funding.

Campbell wants to focus on inefficiencies in the education system. While that sounds good, recent state cuts and the inadequacies of Texas’s school finance system make additional funding urgent.
Courage offers a far more realistic approach to fiscal issues, including transportation funding.

The choices are seldom as clear as these. If people want government that’s more practical and less ideological, it’s in their grasp to make it happen.