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October 28th, 2012:

Weekend link dump for October 28

Obsessing about “Mark Trail” is a game the whole family can play.

Adultery is the bigger sin even when there are plenty of other big sins to choose from.

Why “follow the money” is so often good advice.

“What the hell are we gonna do with photos in the modern age?”

“Maybe one day, with the support of some righteous paupers, a one-percenter will break the money line, and get a job at 7-11 or Denny’s. That may turn things around, and over time more and more of them will be able to enjoy the same living conditions, job security, and health care as the rest of us. I certainly look forward to it. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

A really good discussion about diversity, inclusiveness, sororities, and progressive values.

Nic Cage as Nicolae Carpathia?!? I too would pay cash money to go and see that in a movie theater.

A skeptic goes ghost hunting.

“If all you want to do is be a creep, then please don’t drag free speech into it. Free speech really does deserve better.”

You’re never too old to do something ridiculous.

“The hackishness is strong in this one.”

As go beer sales, so goes the economy.

Watching TV doesn’t actually rot your brain, as long as you don’t overdo it.

Vote fraud by impersonation does not exist. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.

An open letter to Ann Coulter. He’s way nicer to her than she deserves.

You can’t make puppies yawn. Assuming you wanted to do that, anyway.

Have a green Halloween this year.

An open letter to Buzz Bissinger. Must be open letters week.

The so-called “CEOs Deficit Manifesto” is just gross self-interest masquerading as public statesmanship.

Bad Halloween costumes for your kids.

All elections have consequences, but this election is more consequential for some people than others.

I totally agree that waiting rooms should avoid cable news stations if they have TVs in them.

The Women’s Health Program fight needs to be won at the ballot box

Right there with them

This was a strange week in the courts for Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Health Program. On Thursday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to rehear Planned Parenthood’s case against the state over the WHO, meaning that its awful ruling that threw out the original injunction against the state would stand and PP would be barred from the program beginning this week. Then on Friday a new injunction was issued in a state district court in Travis County, in response to claims that the “Affiliate Ban Rule” that bars it from participating in the Women’s Health Program is invalid under Chapter 32 of the Texas human resources code, which makes the Women’s Health Program subject to federal government approval. What that means in conjunction with the federal court ruling is not clear to me.

I won’t be surprised if the state is able to get this injunction tossed as well. I’m not a lawyer, so don’t ask me how they could do that, but I won’t be surprised if they can. At this point, further legal action, whether an appeal to the Supreme Court of the Fifth Circuit ruling or further litigation on other grounds, seems unlikely to work. The Fifth Circuit’s ruling was terrible, but I fear we are stuck with it. But that doesn’t mean the fight is over. It just means we have to take it to another venue, and that venue is the Legislature and the Governor’s office, which is where it was lost in the first place. At this point, either all of the predictions about how badly access to health care will be affected by cutting out Planned Parenthood will come true, or the state will be able to provide a workable replacement for them but at a much higher cost thanks to the loss of federal funds. In either case, there’s a political argument to be made that the Republicans who implemented this policy made a bad choice that wound up causing real harm to thousands of women, all at a greater cost to the taxpayer and in service of an unbending ideology rather than any empirical need. Policy choices can be changed, after all. It’s up to us to create the conditions for such change to happen. I don’t believe we will get relief from the courts, and even if we did Rick Perry and his fellow travelers would find some other way to stick it to women and their health care providers. The best way to deal with that is to deny them the power to pass those laws in the first place. We can’t lose sight of that.

The opening argument against vouchers

We’ve been hearing about vouchers since Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst named Sen. Dan Patrick to be Chair of the Senate Education Committee, but we haven’t heard – or at least, I haven’t seen – a lot of information about what exactly that would mean. This Chron op-ed by Ronald Trowbridge brings some facts and figures and gives a starting point for engagement on the issue.

A new proposed model now under consideration in Texas is called Taxpayer Savings Grants (TSG). But this model is fatally flawed. First, very few students would be able to use the grants (vouchers) because private-school tuition balances are too expensive. Second, private schools would not have the capacity to enroll large increases in student admissions. Third, grants would also subsidize relatively wealthy students already attending private schools. Four, the model opens the possibility, if not probability, that government subsidies (vouchers) to private schools could come with controlling political strings attached.

Proponents of TSG argue that the public school system would save $3,000 for every student who transfers to a private school and that “just under 7 percent of students would take advantage” of a $5,143 voucher to attend a private school.

Let’s look at the arithmetic. The Texas Education Agency reports that public-school enrollment K-12 in Texas in 2010-11 was 4,933,617 students. Seven percent would total 345,353 students. Private-school enrollment in 2009, reports the National Center for Education Statistics, was 313,360. There is no way private schools would have the capacity to enroll 345,353 more students.

Meanwhile, students already attending private schools would also receive the same $5,143 voucher per student. For 313,360 students already attending private schools, the cost to state government would total $161 million a year.

Here’s another serious problem with TSG: The public student transferring to a private school must pay the difference between the $5,143 voucher and the full price of tuition at the private school. If tuition is, say, $12,000 per year, parents would have to come up with the $6,857 difference. Private-school tuition often runs in the range of $10,000 to $20,000.

What’s more, private schools will do precisely what colleges do when stipends for Pell grants are increased: raise tuition. So the private school will raise tuition to, say, $13,000, and parents will have to pay the difference between $5,143 and $13,000.

Most of the 345,353 students would be priced out of the market. What’s more, 2.9 million school kids are on subsidized-lunch programs. These kids could not even dream of attending a private school.

Trowbridge notes that government funding for something inevitably leads to government meddling in, of not control over, that something, the prospect of which you would think might give people like Dan Patrick pause. I’d add in the concern that this is all just a massive subsidy for religious schools, which will have all kinds of questionable things on their curricula, but only if their religion is of the approved kind. There’s also the question about whether these schools would be subject to the same accountability laws as the public schools, which I suppose also goes to Trowbridge’s point about government money coming with strings attached. I feel quite certain that a response from Sen. Patrick or one of his acolytes will be forthcoming, so we’ll see what they have to say about this.

New passenger rail study

We’ll see if this goes anywhere.

The Texas Department of Transportation is launching a two-year, $14 million study of passenger rail service between South Texas and Oklahoma City.

That could mean bringing high-speed rail or, at the least, finding ways to connect the state’s major cities with some type of rail service.

The study also will examine how to fund these projects, which could involve the private sector.

The overall goal is to reduce congestion in Texas, officials said.

But it could be years — and many billions of dollars — before that’s a reality.

The study essentially will give officials and policymakers a strategic plan that federal officials can reference when funding becomes available.

“What it does is it gets Texas caught up, as far as our planning level studies … that would put us in line for future funding for environmental design and construction,” said Jennifer Moczygemba, rail system section director for TxDOT.

TxDOT’s press release is here. Passenger rail through the I-35 corridor makes a lot of sense and should be part of the long-term strategy to improve mobility and fight traffic congestion there, but I’ll wait till something actually happens to get excited about this. The Statesman and Swamplot have more.

Endorsement watch: Wu and Vo

Clearly I was wrong about the Chron ignoring legislative endorsements, as they now have two more to follow Ann Johnson‘s. First up is an endorsement of Gene Wu to be Rep. Scott Hochberg’s successor in HD137.

Gene Wu

We believe that Democrat Gene Wu has the educational background and passion for policy that make him the best candidate to succeed Hochberg.

A former Harris County assistant district attorney, Wu’s experience isn’t limited to the legal arena. With a master’s in public policy from the University of Texas, Wu worked at the Texas Workforce Commission to improve standards for community colleges and technical schools and served as chief clerk for the House Higher Education Committee. These are particularly pertinent areas of experience, given the importance of building an educated workforce and the education budget battles in Austin.

Wu talks about education policy with the specificity of an experienced politician, arguing for proper student-to-teacher ratios, reforming high-stakes testing and improving vocational training. He also offers high praise for schools like KIPP and YES Prep that create a cultural respect for learning, which can often help students more than anything else.

Wu also has a deep connection to his district, regularly volunteering with the Skills for Living program and tutoring at-risk youth at Sharpstown High School. He exhibits an exhaustive understanding of his home turf and hopes to attract the businesses that will serve and support the middle-class families that are the growing base of the area. This is the sort of forward thinking that voters should want for a district that covers areas like Gulfton and Sharpstown.

The Chron has made three endorsements in HD137, having gone with Joe Madden in the primary and Jamaal Smith in the runoff. This was a testament to the depth and quality of the candidates running in the Democratic primary, as they said at the time. I’d encourage you to go back and listen to the interview I did with Wu for the primary, because the qualities the Chron talks about in this endorsement really came through in that conversation. I’ve no doubt at all that Wu will be an excellent representative.

The Chron also endorsed four-term Rep. Hubert Vo for re-election.

Rep. Hubert Vo

Texas House District 149 is one of the most diverse in the state, covering west Harris County from I-10 south to Alief, including Mission Bend. The Democratic incumbent Hubert Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant, reflects the diversity of his district and is the right choice in this election.

In his past races, Vo stood as an attractive alternative to candidates who embodied some of Texas’ worst policy instincts, such as underfunding government services and leaving available federal dollars on the table. Since his first election to the Texas House in 2004, Vo has fulfilled his promises of working to fully fund CHIP, support education and serve local needs at the Legislature. A reliable defender of these important issues, Vo rightfully points out that budget fights will happen every year due to a structural budget shortfall – the kind that we can’t cut our way out of. Voters should appreciate this sort of honest talk from a politician.

One of Vo’s greatest achievements for his district was the creation of the International Management District, located along Bellaire and Bissonnet between Beltway 8 and Highway 6. This district has allowed for reinvestment in local infrastructure and a dedicated focus on attracting businesses. And the district’s success in improving public safety by contracting with the constable’s office and private security has not only bolstered business but created safer neighborhoods.

I’ve been a fan of Rep. Vo’s since his first run for office in 2004. Good guy, good representative, good fit for his district.