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February 17th, 2013:

Weekend link dump for February 17

Dunk or dunk not. There is no try. James Harden is a Zen master.

And then God made a more accurate representation of farming in America.

No, we don’t have a fertility crisis in the US.

Illegally uploaded movies on YouTube aren’t being blocked as often as they once were.

Twenty-five years of “Raising Arizona”, one of my all-time favorite movies.

Why Title IX is still needed. Did you know that you can still get fired for being pregnant? That’s one reason why.

RIP, Edith Houghton, one of baseball’s pioneers.

Help make Molly an astronaut.

Wait, Rex Reed is still alive? Who knew?

Do you not want fries with that?

“The resignation is another chance for the institutional Church to ac with unambiguous justice toward the victims, and unambiguous penitence toward the rest of the world, which is pretty much the way it should have been acting for the past 20 years. Thus would the resignation of Benedict XVI be the only real lasting triumph of his papacy. The odds against it, alas, are extraordinarily long.”

“Note to Justice Antonin Scalia, a man who is 76, fervently Catholic, and also holds a life term: Take the hint. It’s ok to step down.”

Getting rid of styrofoam would be a good thing.

I don’t think more Nuge is going to help the anti-gun control folks, but hey, knock yourselves out.

“Here’s the funny thing: My wife doesn’t drive like a Prius owner. She still drives the car “normally”. But me? I’ve become that guy I used to hate, and I blame it on the data.”

Here’s one way to put your money where your mouth is on diversity.

Remember Fredric Wertham and “The Seduction of the Innocent”? Apparently, he cooked his research on comics and their effect on kids.

I just can’t imagine why the city of Sugar Land turned down this fabulous offer.

I’ve been a panelist on a couple of local PBS gabfests in Houston. They’re always kind enough to provide us talking heads with water, in attractive local-station-themed mugs, for the recordings. I like to think that I drink my water on television in a more smooth and professional manner than Sen. Marco Rubio does.

News flash: Terrestrial radio sucks. You already knew that, right?

I really have no idea why the modern conservative movement has such problems connecting with women. It’s a mystery, I tell you.

“Basically, a fake starship captain just sent a tweet to a real-life space station engineer, who replied using the language of the fake starship captain … and all of us got to see it.” My God, I love living in the future.

Hard to say who’s dumber, Ben Shapiro or the idiots who believed him.

Why there were all those dashboard cameras on Russian cars to capture the meteorite footage.

Awkward Valentine’s Day stories. I’m thankful I don’t have anything interesting to add to them.

Math is hard, Adjusted For Inflation division.

White Stallion coal plant deep sixed

I mentioned this in passing the other day, but the news that White Stallion has been shelved deserves its own post.

Developers have dropped plans for the White Stallion Energy Center about 90 miles southwest of Houston, signaling the end of a once heady rush to build several new coal-fired power plants across Texas.

White Stallion is the latest abandoned coal-burning project amid record low prices for natural gas and increased environmental scrutiny. The decision announced Friday means that Texans might not see another coal plant built after an 800-megawatt unit near Waco comes online in April.

The demise of the White Stallion project “hopefully represents the last dying gasp of ‘new’ coal plants in Texas proposing to employ technologies from the last century,” said Jim Marston, who leads the energy program for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Texas now has 19 coal plants, but once had plans for more. In 2005, Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order that put their permits on the fast track, but most approved projects were never built.

The natural gas boom, driven by low prices on natural gas, is the single biggest reason why White Stallion and many other proposed coal plants were scrapped, and the main reason why there are no new coal plants on the horizon after the Waco plant was built. But that wasn’t the only factor – the Environmental Protection Agency did its job, too.

White Stallion had run afoul of new federal limits on emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants. The project’s developers had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the regulations, but the case is on hold.

The project also faced the EPA’s first-ever limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming from new power plants.

And it did not have the support of many locals.

See here for the last update I had regarding litigation over the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases. As State Impact notes, White Stallion was in danger of seeing its state permit expire before getting an answer one way or another from the courts, and that would have meant needing to start over, which wasn’t going to happen. Pulling the plug was their only choice. While this is very good news for clean energy proponents, it’s not all good:

“The only downside of this shift to natural gas is that it has made the challenge for renewable energy to be competitive without subsidies even greater,” Rep. [Mark] Strama says. “Because any time that lower-priced natural gas power electricity displaces coal, for the same reason it tends to displace wind and solar. I think this story highlights again the need for a renewable strategy in Texas.”

To that end, Strama has advocated for state incentives and subsidies for more solar and coastal wind projects, which could help the state during hot summer days when demand for electricity is at its peak. He has filed legislation to that end, and is more hopeful that it stands a chance this legislative session.

“Let me put it this way,” Strama says. “We were really close in 2009 to passing meaningful legislation around renewables. [Then] we didn’t come very close in 2011. But this year feels a little more receptive to having a discussion.”

Some of what needs to be done to promote renewable energy in Texas is regulatory and not legislative, but either way there are things to do. In the meantime, let’s celebrate a win for a cleaner tomorrow. The Environmental Defense Fund has more.

Not a big enough picture

The headline on this story reads “County mulls big-picture health council”, but a read of the story makes it clear that there’s a big piece of this picture missing from the discussion.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Harris County is discussing a big-picture approach to its complex and overlapping health care costs, proposing the creation of a council to coordinate spending on mental health, public health, the treatment of jail inmates and the county’s hospital district.

The proposed group would mirror the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, created in 2009 to improve the justice system and reduce jail overcrowding. Though they acknowledge many factors are involved, county leaders note the jail population has fallen since some of the council’s proposals – such as launching a public defender’s office and letting inmates who enroll in vocational or educational programs earn three days’ time for each day served – were implemented.

“We not only have about 30 percent of all the property tax money going to the hospital district, but we have other areas that we support: mental health, incarcerated health and public health,” said Budget Management Director Bill Jackson. “All those together add up to almost $600 million a year, and I think that this council would bring people together, show their different needs. It deserves a lot of attention and a lot of coordination.”

[…]

The issues the health council would confront are hard to overstate, Commissioner El Franco Lee said. The same citizens often cycle through the jail and public hospitals, he said, with great overlap among homelessness and mental and physical health troubles. The result, he said, is a huge burden on public resources.

For example, $47 million of the sheriff’s proposed $391 million budget would be allocated to inmate health care. The county jail has been called the largest mental health institution in Texas; a quarter of its inmates take psychotropic medications on a typical day.

“So much of our dollars go into dealing with health,” said County Judge Ed Emmett. “I think every member of the court has said, ‘We’ve got find a way to separate mental health from the criminal justice system,’ and I think if we get everybody sitting together talking about it at the same time, we can make that happen.”

These are good ideas, and if a coordinating council for county health care makes sense to implement some of them then I support its creation. But let’s face it, if we’re not also talking about the need for Medicaid expansion and the huge benefits it would have for health care in Harris County, we’re not seeing the full picture. As Grits reminded us back in September, expanding Medicaid could have a large positive effect on these very citizens that cycle through the jail and public hospitals, not to mention the bottom line for those public hospitals. Medicaid expansion may not be on the table for the state right now, but there’s no reason Harris County can’t join with Dallas and other counties to formally request the right to do its own expansion. I’d conservatively guess that expanding Medicaid would affect over 200,000 people in Harris County, and I’d bet that more than a few of them are well known to the jail and the public hospitals. We can pay for all that ourselves, or we can take advantage of the Affordable Care Act and get the federal government to pay for the vast majority of it. If advocating for that isn’t part of any county health care coordinating council’s mission, then I don’t understand what its mission is.

Kubosh is in for Council

This happened on Friday.

Michael Kubosh

Michael Kubosh, part of the fighting brothers who finally rid Houston of red-light cameras, is announcing today he’s running for an at-large city council seat.

Kubosh will announce he’s running for Melissa Noriega’s at-large seat (she is term-limited out), and an eclectic cast of Houston politicos will be there, according to the campaign — from hardcore rightwing councilmember Helen Brown to community activist Quanell X.

“Above the city council chambers reads the phrase the people are the city,” Kubosh said in a release about the announcement. “It seems to me the current administration has ignored that statement. If elected, I promise I will never forget that quote. I will be the servant to all the people.”

Boy, I’m sorry I missed that announcement. Note that this is Michael Kubosh, who ran as a “Democrat” against Dan Patrick in 2006, and not Paul Kubosh, who has been a frequent commenter here. You may recall that I frequently criticized the two of them during the red light camera saga for not being city residents. Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that both Kuboshes are now duly registered to vote in our fair city. According to their registration cards, they now share an apartment in the Rice Hotel, which means they’re a wacky neighbor and/or a hot housekeeper away from being able to pitch a sitcom to NBC.

Anyway, according to Houston Politics, other candidates in the field for AL3 include Chris Carmona, who ran unsuccessfully against CM Noriega in 2011, and everyone’s favorite frequent flyer, Roy Morales. Jenifer Pool has been in for some time now as well. I put the over/under on the number of candidates at nine when all is said and done. The temporarily re-patriated TexPatriate comments on this race and a few others, though he got the wrong Kubosh brother for AL3. Easy enough mistake to make, I’m sure that won’t be the last time. This is going to be a fun election season.

Council approves Southwest/Hobby deal

You are now free to make lame jokes about Southwest’s marketing slogan.

Council members unanimously approved a 25-year use and lease agreement with the Dallas-based carrier that incorporates a new two-story, five-gate concourse and Customs and Border Protection inspection facility at Hobby into existing terms and conditions.

The 280,000-square-foot expansion is scheduled for completion before the end of 2015, with short-hop international flights to cities in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America to begin by 2016.

If the project is not completed by the end of 2016, the agreement will be considered terminated, according to its terms.

“We have always said that we hoped to have this facility up and running in 2015, and we’re very confident that we can do that,” Southwest spokesman Paul Flaningan said.

The exact foreign cities Southwest will fly to out of Hobby are yet to be determined, Flaningan said, and the airport is not allowed to ask for authorization to add new routes until six months prior to new service beginning.

“Our network planning folks still have to get in there to determine what are the best routes,” he said.

See here for more, and Swamplot for some pictures. Note that the vote was unanimous, so even Helena Brown couldn’t find a reason to vote against it. What more could you want?