Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

July 21st, 2013:

Weekend link dump for July 21

“Because [Rex] Reed makes no efforts to hide the fact that he’s a big, snotty baby, the whining id of white male privilege, there’s little reason to take him, or by extension any other critic, as an authority.” That’s from an article defending him, by the way.

If you’re deliberately hurting someone, you have no grounds to complain about how they point this fact out to you.

Even factoring out his “Oops” moment, Rick Perry would not have been a strong Presidential candidate in 2012. He won’t be a strong Presidential candidate in 2016, either.

Microsoft is imitating Apple in new and innovative ways.

The legend of Johnny Football continues to grow.

JK Rowling publishes pseudonymously successfully.

At least the war on childhood obesity appears to be going well.

I suppose if I were in Antarctica for the long term, I’d get drunk often, too.

How not to be a creep at conventions.

Wal-Mart is still awful, in case you were wondering.

If you thought that Sharknado needed to be debunked, you missed the point by a lot.

“Carrying a deadly weapon in public should carry unique responsibilities.”

I don’t get the whole smart watch thing. Most devices have clocks in them, and they will all have bigger screens than the smart watch. What exactly is the point?

If you think mosquitoes like you, you’re probably right.

Another reason to not eat at McDonald’s, if you needed one.

If you like lead poisoning, you’ll love the Congressional Republicans’ budget.

“The odds that a white-on-black homicide is ruled to have been justified is more than 11 times the odds a black-on-white shooting is ruled justified”.

“The cubs are the first giant pandas to be born in the U.S. in 2013 and the first twins to be born in the U.S. since 1987.”

“Like it or not, the Hispanic media perceives that approving or rejecting immigration reform is in the hands of John Boehner. When you listen to local radio stations and even national media, most of us are concentrated on John Boehner. We don’t even have a problem pronouncing his name.”

Don’t forget Anita Martini when you talk about the history of female sports journalists.

RIP, Talia Castellano. Cancer truly sucks.

If you log onto your Tumblr account on your iPhone or iPad, you’ve been sending your password in clear text. Better get it fixed ASAP.

Giving balanced coverage to fringe beliefs is the worst way to do it.

“You know the stereotype of the arrogant Porsche driver? Well, science says there’s some truth to it.”

Jose Canseco, comic book hero? I’ll stick with Batman, thanks.

Oh, who needs education, anyway?

“F–k it, I’m going to tell you how Sherlock survived … I know you guys like your spoilers and I feel so much better telling you. Freedom!”

Ted Cruz wins by losing. I say he can keep it up.

Nate Silver signs a free agent contract with ESPN.

RIP, Helen Thomas, longtime White House journalist.

Petitioning for Early To Rise

This arrived in my inbox a couple of days ago:

With only two weeks to go, we really need your help! We are working to get an initiative on the ballot in November 2013 to fund the Early to Rise Program.

The Early to Rise is a program designed to help young children up to age 5 get ready for Kindergarten through increasing the quality of early childhood education in Harris County. Here’s how you can help:

1. Get the petition, sign it, complete it and MAIL it back or CALL US (713-614-8812) and we’ll pick it up!

–OR–

2. Get the petition, sign it, complete it and pass it around among your friends and coworkers who are registered voters in Harris County. Then  MAIL it back or CALL US (713-614-8812) and we’ll pick it up!

3  Vote for the program on November 5th, 2013.

Early to Rise Flyer (more Information on the program)

Early to Rise Petition (the Petition itself)

Petition Instructions (more instructions on the petition)

Please call Eva Calvillo at Texans Together at 713-782-8833 or email Eva Calvillo If you have any questions about these materials or need help in getting started.

You can mail signed petitions to:

Texans Together Educational Fund
P.O. Box 1296
Houston, Texas    77251

It’s time to stand up for toddlers in Harris County and we can on the November ballot!

See here and here for the background, and here for more on the petition effort. Lisa Falkenberg notes the rather convoluted politics of all this.

Ed Emmett should have been one of the first people to find out about a petition drive seeking to put a penny tax on the November ballot to improve early childhood education and teacher training in Harris County.

After all, as county judge, he’s the guy the petition directs to place the tax increase generating $25 million a year on the ballot.

But Emmett got the news from another source: “Gwen, my wife, comes in and says ‘I just got an e-mail asking me to sign a petition to the county judge.’ And I’m going ‘what?’ Obviously, I didn’t know anything about it.”

While the lack of heads-up signaled disorganization to Emmett, it was the petition’s reliance on an antiquated state law, the unchecked administrative role of a private nonprofit, and the requirement that the tax be collected by the politically controversial Harris County Department of Education that led Emmett to brand the initiative a “fiasco.”

“This has been handled politically about as poorly as any issue I’ve ever seen in my life,” he told me a few weeks ago in a phone interview.

I followed up this week to see if this thinking had “evolved” since he’s been able to talk with interested parties.

Yes, he told me. He’d gone from being “bemused and bewildered” to a point where he now says unflinchingly: “What they’re trying to do is just nutty. I can’t put it any other way. And I totally support doing everything we can for early childhood education. It’s put me in a real awkward situation.”

Falkenberg noted that there was going to be an open house by Early To Rise, the group behind this effort, on Friday. The Chron covered that as well, including an appearance by Judge Emmett, attending on his own.

The newly formed nonprofit Harris County School Readiness Corp., with the help of a variety of organizations and paid canvassers, has gathered about 40,000 of the 78,000 petition signatures it says it needs to require Emmett to put a 1-cent property tax hike on the upcoming election ballot. The increase would generate $25 million a year for a program called “Early to Rise,” designed to improve child-care centers in the county serving children up to age 5 by training teachers and buying school supplies.

“There’s been an outpouring of support,” said Jonathan Day, a member of the corporation’s board and a former Houston city attorney, expressing optimism the group will meet its mid-August deadline.

[…]

The statutes say Emmett would have to call an election to increase the property tax rate of the Harris County Department of Education if he receives a petition with a sufficient number of signatures.

Emmett said he has asked the county attorney’s office for an opinion on the petitioning laws and plans to ask the state attorney general for the same. First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said his office has concluded that the laws are “still applicable” but that the final opinion may not reflect that “in light of a whole lot of statutes that apply to this situation.”

Day conceded the laws no longer are codified but says they still apply.

“We hope that he’ll reconsider,” said Day, who criticized Emmett for not offering an alternative to the proposal on Friday when his group, whose membership includes former Houston first lady Andrea White, held its first formal information session at the United Way of Greater Houston, which co-hosted the event with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University and the Center for Houston’s Future.

“I think we have to come up with a better answer,” said Emmett, who went to the session to share his position with the dozens of attendees.

I really don’t know what to make of all this. I support doing everything we can for early childhood education, too, but I understand Judge Emmett’s concerns. The likelihood of a lawsuit, whatever County Attorney Vince Ryan and AG Greg Abbott say about the law in question, is basically 100%. There are still questions about governance of this program, if it comes to be; HCDE Board of Trustees Chair Angie Chesnut has said she can’t support it if HCDE doesn’t get to name at least one member of the corporation. Judge Emmett has pointed out that the one penny tax increase in the plan would make what HCDE levies exceed its statutory maximum, which will likely be another lawsuit magnet. There’s just so many questions to be answered. The goal of universal early learning programs is laudable and worthwhile. The path to get there has been strange, to say the least.

All questions about this aside, the fact remains that as with the New Dome Experience plan, petitions would have to be collected and certified in time for the item to be placed on the November ballot. They have a bit more time since Commissioners Court won’t be involved, but the signatures still need to be verified, and that takes time. The information is there if you want to participate, or go to the Early To Rise Facebook page for more. If this gets to the ballot, will you vote for it? Leave a comment and let me know.

Ashbys all over

Here’s that Chron story that I mentioned yesterday, which talks about increasing neighborhood resistance to multi-story residential projects in areas that mostly have single-family houses.

Tension mounted as 20 or so Morrison Street residents, armed with city documents and Internet research, squared off with a developer building a midrise apartment complex in their midst.

In a small music room at the Zion Lutheran Church, the residents and developer Terry Fisher debated whether the Woodland Heights neighborhood, known for its century-old bungalows and quirky charm, would be diminished by the apartments.

“It’s a wonderful neighborhood,” Fisher agreed at the meeting last month. “We saw a lady walking down the street with a St. Bernard, twirling a leash with the sun setting behind. It was a revelation that I should build in that location.”

For an hour, neighbors pressed Fisher about traffic, potential sewage problems and property values. One neighbor stormed out; another allowed that she had no plans to be “professional or courteous.”

Fisher kept stressing that he broke no city rules and had every right to develop the property into a five-story, 36-unit apartment complex. Construction is underway and expected to be completed in eight to nine months.

“I moved to Spring for the specific reason I don’t want to live next to a high-rise,” Fisher told the room at one point. “At the end of the day, there is no zoning in Houston.”

“I’m not rolling over anyone,” he continued. “I’m building what is legal for my lot.”

That blunt answer is being invoked more often, as pent-up demand gives way to building projects across the city and into the suburbs – and as neighbors fight back, worried about the impact of the new, often high-density projects.

As I said yesterday, the key issue here is one of location, just as it has always been with the infamous Ashby Highrise. Morrison is a little side street. It’s surrounded by houses. A five story apartment complex will stand out like a zit on a forehead. The developer, who from what I understand is as charming as he comes across in this story, doesn’t care that people bought into this neighborhood for the same reason he moved to Spring. It’s not his problem, and other than putting up websites and Facebook pages, there’s not much anyone can do about it.

I suppose there is one thing that could eventually do something about development like this, and it inevitably comes up in the comments to this post on the Blight In The Heights Facebook page. I’m talking about zoning, of course, that magic yet forbidden word in Houston that means what you want it to mean. We couldn’t have another charter referendum until May of 2015 at the earliest, so even if such a movement were to take place it would happen far too late to affect a project like this. I don’t expect such a thing to happen, and I’m not sure I’d support it if it did, but I bring it up to note that the last time there was an effort to enact zoning in Houston was 20 years ago, and as Campos notes, the vote for it didn’t lose by much. I have no idea what such a vote would look like now, in a very different Houston.

That makes for interesting speculation, but not much more. In the meantime, this is the reality. I think the best you can hope for as a resident near this thing is that it will fail as a business venture, which might have the effect of making other developers a little more leery about building in places where they’re really not wanted. I still don’t know why anyone would want to live in a place like the Ashby Highrise when they must know how much all their neighbors hate it. Maybe after it and the Morrison complex are built, we’ll find out if that is a factor in the where-to-live decision making process.

From the “Wooing Latino Voters: You’re Doing It Wrong” department

Greg Abbott visits McAllen and gives the locals his best reason why they should vote for him.

Gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott called for unity between Republican candidates and Hispanics in McAllen on Monday, with the promise of being in South Texas much more.

As evidence voters should elect him governor in 2014, Abbott cited the 27 lawsuits he’s brought against the federal government as Texas attorney general, and he spoke of fighting against human trafficking in the Rio Grande Valley.

McAllen is in Hidalgo County, which in 2012 voted 70.3% to 28.6% for President Obama. Many of those lawsuits involve the Affordable Care Act, the environment, and the Voting Rights Act. Latinos – Hidalgo County is 90.9% Latino – are among the strongest supporters of Obamacare, and will be the main focus of its rollout, since so much of the nation’s – and the state’s – uninsured population is Latino. Latinos are also big supporters of having the EPA set standards to reduce air pollution, and of President Obama using executive power to fight climate change. And of course Latinos also strongly support the Voting Rights Act.

So go right ahead, Greg Abbott. Talk about those 27 lawsuits and how deeply committed you are to fighting President Obama and his efforts to expand access to health care, clean up the environment, and protect voting rights. I’m sure Latino voters will be listening.

Remembering the bad old days

We’re headed back to them if the courts don’t intervene.

Dr. Howard Novick winces as he recalls treating two and three women a week for infections and complications from botched abortions. It was the early 1970s, before the procedure was legalized, and the experience persuaded him to devote his life to this area of medicine.

Now, more than 40 years later, new abortion restrictions passed by the Texas Legislature could force Novick to close the Houston abortion clinic he opened in 1980 because, he says, he does not have $1 million to $1.5 million to convert his run-of-the-mill medical office into a fully loaded surgical center with wide corridors and sophisticated air-flow systems.

“I have saved some women’s lives. They are so grateful we’re here for them and nonjudgmental,” Novick said. “I really feel a kinship for this.”

The legislation, passed late Friday following weeks of mass protests and a high-profile filibuster, allows abortions only in surgical centers, requires doctors who perform them to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, dictates when abortion pills are taken and bans abortions after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is in imminent danger.

Abortion-rights advocates argue the costs associated with converting clinics into surgical centers are so high they will force more than 35 clinics to close, possibly leaving only a handful of facilities across the vast state. In rural areas such as the farthest reaches of West Texas or the Rio Grande Valley, that could put the closest facility 300 or more miles away.

The law could also create a backlog so great in the remaining clinics that women seeking abortions will miss the 20-week deadline, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, a company that runs five clinics in Texas.

Abortion opponents insist, however, that the new rules are designed to guarantee the best health care.

“All we’re asking for is better surgical care for women seeking these procedures,” said Christine Melchor, executive director of the Houston Coalition for Life.

[…]

Novick says the law is medically unnecessary. The Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology agree.

“It’s been years and years since we had to send someone to a hospital,” Novick said of his clinic.

This has never been about safety, or women’s health. The unanimous opposition from doctors’ groups speaks to that, not that it had any influence over the Republicans. Remember, a big part of the strategy all along has been about delaying access to abortion as much as denying access to it. Waiting periods, sonograms, requiring multiple office visits, now requiring a doctor to dispense abortifacient drugs, it’s all about making it increasingly difficult to get an abortion early on, when it is the least invasive and thus the least medically risky. And of course, carrying a child to term and giving birth is far more medically risky than an abortion at one of Texas’ existing clinics.

Texans should be made aware of the state’s grimmest medical statistic: women are more likely to die from childbirth than from an abortion. That’s according to a study published in the February 2012 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology Medical Journal. The study, conducted by Dr. David Grimes, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, found that nationally the risk of death associated with a full-term pregnancy and delivery is 8.8 deaths per 100,000, while the risk of death linked to legal abortion is 0.6 deaths per 100,000 women. That means a woman carrying a baby to term is 14 times more likely to die than a woman who chooses to have a legal abortion.

In Texas, the statistics are worse. In 2011 Texas women died in childbirth at a rate of 24.63 per 100,000. “It’s alarming,” said Dr. Donald Dudley, Obstetrician & Gynecologist at the UTHSC San Antonio.

Texas should be seeing only about 5 deaths per 100,000 said Dudley, and the present rate is comparable to a developing nation.

Childbirth morbidity is seen as the most sensitive indicator of the general health of a population, especially in urban conditions.

In the last legislative session, two bills were passed and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry, forming a Texas Childhood Morbidity Task Force and creating levels of care designations for hospitals that provide neonatal and maternal services.

The task force will look for answers as to why giving birth in Texas is so deadly. Researchers say they already know: lack of prenatal care; women giving birth later in life; obesity; diabetes, and lack of access to quality lifelong health care. The task force will gather the data to back those observations up.

The goal of HB2 is to force more women to give birth. State Sen. Dan Patrick, who I remind you is running for Lt. Governor, is quite explicit in his desire to end all abortions in Texas. It’s about the health and safety of the mothers, you see. What have he and his colleagues done to improve the health and safety of women who do give birth in Texas? Not a damn thing, and though their refusal to expand Medicaid they have actively worked to make it worse. Patrick and his cronies can say they care about women’s health all they want. Their actions speak very clearly otherwise.