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February 22nd, 2013:

Friday random thirteen: Cracked covers

You know how much I love lists and cover songs, so you should not be surprised to learn that this 20 worst pop music covers list in Cracked, which I discovered while looking for their story about dirty old-time songs for my previous entry, would be catnip to me. I have thirteen of the listed songs in my collection, some by the original artist, some by a different cover artist, and one by Cracked’s named offender, so I just went with them all rather than whittle them down to 10. Here they are:

1. You Shook Me All Night Long – Bing Ji Ling (orig. Ac/DC, bad cover by Celine Cion and Anastasia)
2. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – Warren Zevon (orig. Bob Dylan, bad cover by Guns N Roses)
3. American Pie – Don McLean (bad cover by Madonna)
4. My Generation – The Who (bad cover by Hilary Duff)
5. Video Killed The Radio Star – The Buggles (bad cover by The Presidents of the United States of America)
6. Walk This Way – Aerosmith (bad cover by Macy Gray)
7. I’m A Believer – The Monkees (bad cover by Smashmouth)
8. Sweet Child O’ Mine – Sheryl Crow (orig. Guns N Roses)
9. Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell (bad cover by Counting Crows)
10. Anarchy In The UK – Sex Pistols (bad cover by Motley Crue)
11. Behind Blue Eyes – The Who (bad cover by Limp Bizkit)
12. (Sittin’ On The) Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding (bad cover by Michael Bolton)
13. And It Stoned Me – Van Morrison (bad cover by Bob Dylan)

For what it’s worth, I like the Smashmouth and GNR covers, the former of which was prominently featured in the movie Shrek and the latter of which got a fair amount of radio airplay back in the day. I will also note that Popdose, from whom I got that Sheryl Crow version and several others of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, had the same complaint about not doing the riff. The others I can’t say I’ve heard, and for the most part I can’t say I want to hear them, though I’m sure I’ve come across the Michael Bolton cover in my nightmares. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any song covers that truly offend me, but Rod Stewart, backed by the London Symphony Orchestra and a choir, doing “Pinball Wizard” may be the most ridiculously over the top cover I’ve ever heard. What are your least favorite cover songs?

As if you needed another reason to support Medicaid expansion

Even more data on why Medicaid expansion makes sense from Texas Impact.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The study, by former Texas deputy comptroller Billy Hamilton, says Texas shouldn’t pass up the chance to insure up to 2 million of its more than 6 million uninsured people.

Hamilton cited other benefits. Expansion of the Medicaid rolls would “provide relief to local taxpayers and increase the financial stability of the health care infrastructure on which all Texans depend,” he wrote.

Texas Impact, a statewide interfaith group with a progressive bent, and San Antonio-based Methodist Healthcare Ministries, which owns half of the largest hospital and health care system in South Texas, commissioned Hamilton’s study. It was released last month but on Monday, the sponsoring groups issued this update, which breaks out the financial effects and numbers of newly covered persons by county and by legislative district.

Gov. Rick Perry and other state GOP leaders oppose the Medicaid expansion, saying the state-federal program is a mess and a budget-buster.

Hamilton’s study, though, says if Texas agrees to the expansion, the state would reap $27.5 billion in new federal health care spending from 2014-2017. That would generate an estimated 231,000 jobs by 2016, and just under $68 billion of new economic activity in the state over the four-year period, he found. Hamilton said the additional economic jolt would throw off $2.5 billion in new local tax collections statewide in 2014-2017.

Under his “moderate enrollment growth” scenario, in which about 1 million adults statewide would gain Medicaid coverage, Dallas County would attract $612 million annually in federal Medicaid match by 2016 and Collin County, $132 million. Those figures compare with combined county, hospital district and/or private hospital charity care costs of $691 million in Dallas County, and $9 million in Collin County, for the most recent year for which data were available.

“As if saving local taxpayers millions on low-income care isn’t enough, lawmakers can actually bring new revenues to their districts without raising taxes — and make their constituents healthier in the process,” said Bee Moorhead, an ordained Presbyterian clergy woman who is Texas Impact’s executive director.

See here for the initial Texas Impact report, and click on the “this update” link in the story to see what’s new. Basically, they broke out the numbers by House and Senate district, so if you want to contact your legislators and let them know why they should be behind this effort (hint, hint) you can have some facts at your fingertips. You might also contact your County Commissioner about it, since the numbers are based on county figures. Speaking of counties and Commissioners Courts, Travis County has passed a resolution calling on the Lege to take action on expanding Medicaid, following the lead of Dallas County. Bexar County will vote on this on February 26. What is your county doing? Whatever it is, keep up the pressure. You can’t be heard if you’re not making noise. And the more Rick Perry feels the need to defend himself, the better.

Here’s more from the Chron:

Hospital districts, county health care services, jails and charities in Harris County spent $920 million providing services to the uninsured for which they were not reimbursed, according to 2011 figures. If the Texas Legislature approves Medicaid expansion, at least $645 million and as much as $1.4 billion in federal funding would reach Harris County in 2016 to provide services for many of the currently uninsured, depending on how state leaders would structure the expanded coverage, according to estimates.

Using data from hospitals, the census and current legislative proposals, the report also estimated increases to local tax revenue from expanding services to an additional one million adults, which in Harris County could be as high as $411.5 million over four years starting in 2014.

[…]

Elena Marks, a health policy expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said federally funded Medicaid expansion is too good to pass up, citing a 2012 study by The Perryman Group titled, “Only One Rational Choice.”

Rather than looking at the flow of federal, state and local tax dollars in health care, that study looked at the overall economic impact of reducing uncompensated care, enhanced productivity from healthier Texans and other multiplier effects. It concluded that every dollar spent by the state on Medicaid would return $1.29 in revenue over the first 10 years of the expansion.

Marks warns, however, that expanding Medicaid would not be enough, hoping that local funds freed by federal and state dollars could go toward improving care.

She points to a federal grant program operated through Regional Healthcare Partnerships that funds innovative improvements to providing primary care, serving at-risk populations and targeting particular diseases.

El Paso and Dallas counties have passed resolutions urging legislative approval, and a network of state non-profits, including Houston’s The Metropolitan Organization, are encouraging others to follow suit.

“American taxpayers already have funded the increased health insurance coverage, but it’s the governor’s decision whether eligible Texans will be allowed access to it,” said Kevin Collins, TMO co-chairman and a Catholic pastor, in a press release about a rally at the state capitol Wednesday. “Access to affordable, quality health care is a fundamental right for all.”

Yes, let’s not forget the Perryman report or the Legislative Budget Board recommendation, either. The usual nattering nabobs are quoted in both stories fretting about the Medicaid match maybe someday being reduced by the Feds (at which point Texas could choose to back out if it wanted to) or Medicaid not being perfect but not addressing any of the points about the economic boon that Medicaid expansion would be or the lives that it would save, and surely not having any viable alternatives because they don’t care about that sort of thing. Oh, they also express concern about there not being enough doctors to handle the influx of new Medicaid recipients, which while valid on its face is deeply ironic coming from the kind of people that crammed tort “reform” down our throats partly on the premise that drastically limiting liability on doctors would lead to a flood of new MDs in our state. So yeah, I don’t really take any of their whining seriously. Even Florida Governor Rick Scott, who was one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit against Obamacare, has agreed to expand Medicaid for at least the first three years, when the feds are picking up 100% of the cost. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, writing in the Trib, has more.

Fixing our front door

This sounds very cool.

The century-old Sunset Coffee Building, looming in disrepair over Allen’s Landing at the north end of downtown, will become Houston’s “front door” with an $8 million public-private renovation set to begin in April.

The three-story brick structure is boarded up, marked with graffiti, and has shrubs growing out of some second-floor windows.

Come mid-2014, however, the facility will house kayak, canoe and bike rentals on the first floor, office space on the second floor, private event space on the third floor, a rooftop terrace, and will be flanked by outdoor plazas and walkways connecting to Commerce Street.

Most of the money comes from private donations to the nonprofit Buffalo Bayou Partnership. The fundraising also was boosted by a $500,000 federal grant and finished off with a $2.4 million infusion from Houston First, the board that runs the city’s convention and arts facilities.

[…]

Susan Keeton, chairman emeritus of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, said it has been a long road, with some skepticism from the nonprofit’s board members, since the partnership first bought the building in 1997, with the dream of making it a focal point of recreation on the bayou. Renovations had been slated to start in 2008, but fundraising lagged amid the national recession.

“It is our Plymouth Rock, and the wonderful thing about it is that, unlike Plymouth Rock – which now is sort of small and forlorn, I’ve seen it off of Cape Cod – this, particularly when the Coffee Building gets renovated, is not going to be a lonely place,” Keeton said. “A day like today, this beautiful slope ought to just attract people, too many, almost.”

Sounds awesome to me, and long overdue. Kudos to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Houston First, and the city for making this happen. I can’t wait to see the finished product. Here’s the Houston First press release, and CultureMap and Swamplot have more.

Houston loses air pollution permit lawsuit

Bummer.

Ship Channel crica 1973

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Houston may not effectively void a state air pollution permit.

The justices agreed with Southern Crushed Concrete that Houston’s 2007 law restricting the location of concrete-crushing facilities violates state statute by nullifying a permit issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

In reversing an appeals court decision, Justice Debra Lehrmann said the state’s Health and Safety Code is clear.

The law “compels us to give effect to the Legislature’s clear intent that a city may not pass an ordinance that effectively moots a Commission decision,” Lehrmann wrote in an opinion for the nine-member court.

City Attorney Dave Feldman said he was not surprised by the ruling because “any time you have a local ordinance that regulates a specific area that is regulated by the state, preemption is an issue that you have to deal with.”

[…]

Southern Crushed Concrete’s facility meets the state’s requirement, but not the city’s. So the company sued, claiming the city did not have the authority to regulate its business.

Houston countered that the state’s permit regulates air pollution, while its ordinance dealt with land use. The Supreme Court, however, disagreed, ruling that reasoning would allow a city to effectively void any TCEQ permit it opposes.

I think there was merit in Houston’s ordinance, but I can see the reasoning behind the Supreme Court ruling. Mostly what this points out is that as usual, the state isn’t doing as much as it could to protect the environment and the health of people who live a little too close to places like the Southern Crushed Concrete facility. I also find it amusing in a way that this ruling that affirmed the state’s supremacy over cities came out around the same time that League City was declaring its supremacy over the federal government. I wonder what the Supreme Court would say about that? Anyway, this story isn’t quite finished yet, since the matter has been referred back to the TCEQ, where Houston can pursue an appeal of its initial permit to Southern Crushed Concrete. Perhaps the city can lobby for a modification to the state law that would allow local ordinances to be taken into account by the TCEQ when reviewing permit requests as well.

Aiming to attract magnets

HISD has applied for a $12 million federal grant to create as many as eight new magnet schools.

HISD’s application, which is due to the U.S. Department of Education on March 1, would create science, technology, engineering and math programs at Ryan Middle, M.C. Williams Middle, Kashmere High, Furr High and the South Early College High School in HISD and a yet-to-be-named middle school in North Forest, if the Texas Education Agency moves forward with a plan to merge the two districts.

This earlier story from before the vote has more details.

All the programs would focus on science, technology, engineering and math, subject areas that the U.S. Department of Education will favor in this year’s application process.

“It’s unprecedented,” Superintendent Terry Grier said of the focus on math and science. “This is something that’s really being pushed from the White House.”

[…]

Ryan Middle School, a campus that has historically struggled, could be converted into the HISD Middle School for Health Professions, a feeder into the prestigious DeBakey High School.

An early college high school would also open in the North Forest area, pending the merger, to allow students to earn high school and college credits simultaneously.

The stories mention six schools by name. A seventh would be a new magnet high school aimed at energy professions, something Superintendent Grier proposed a couple of weeks ago. A middle school arts magnet was also proposed.

Terry Grier

The arts middle school likely would move into a spruced-up version of the HSPVA campus in Montrose, he said. The $1.9 billion bond package HISD voters approved in November included about $80 million to relocate HSPVA to the downtown theater district. Construction of that new campus could take 18 months to two years.

No location has been identified for the new energy magnet school. HISD plans to meet with possible corporate and nonprofit partners to begin developing the curriculum and campus, Grier said. He expects it to be a campus of 500-800 students, much like DeBakey and HSPVA.

Industry leaders said they are excited to start talks with HISD.

“This high school would be highly beneficial to the energy industry, as we know there’s a great need for workers going forward,” said Joni Baird, a public affairs manager for Chevron. “We need to have our students prepared to be our future workforce.”

It’s not clear to me if the new arts magnet middle school is part of HISD’s grant application or if there’s some other school in the mix. If HISD doesn’t get the grant they’ll reconsider their options. There’s still a lot of work to be done to better organize HISD’s existing magnet schools, but this is a potentially very exciting development.