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August 4th, 2013:

Weekend link dump for August 4

Soon, your car will need anti-virus software, if it doesn’t already.

Same for your house, too.

And your yacht, too. Is nothing sacred anymore?

I’m sure the fine people at FreedomWorks will drop their own insurance coverage in solidarity with those they are trying to convince. Right?

Benedict Cumberbatch is available to officiate your wedding. The line forms to the left.

I’m sorry, but the phrase “Madison Square Garden receives an eviction letter” just makes no sense to me.

Apparently, Grover Norquist thinks that not earning money is a rational response to paying taxes.

“The story of Ippo’s birth reads like the equine equivalent of a romance novel. The father is a zebra that was adopted by the animal reserve after he was rescued from a failing zoo. The mother is a Donkey of Amiata, an endangered animal species.”

From the “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit” department.

It’s hard to get ahead if you work in fast food.

You still need your wallet, even if you’re carrying a smartphone.

What would be the idiomatically correct collective noun of your favorite literary characters?

“Jim Crow with a smile and a request for an I.D. is still Jim Crow.”

What modern medicine might have done for some historic sports injuries.

The best Anthony Weiner joke I’ve seen so far.

“As an owner, as a member of the Player Relations Committee, as head of the Executive Council, as acting commissioner, Bud Selig has done more to violate [the Conduct Detrimental or Prejudicial to Baseball clause of the Collective Bargaining Agreement] than Alex Rodriguez, as a player, ever could.”

“Dancing to bring the rain, sacrificing a goat to get the sun to rise – it turns out these are a lot like pressing the button at the crosswalk over and over again.”

Drink ’em if you got ’em, New Yorkers.

RIP, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman. You raised a fine son, madam.

RIP, Eileen Brennan, versatile actor from “The Last Picture Show”, “Private Benjamin”, “Clue”, and many more movies.

Congressional Republicans can’t even govern on their own terms.

“It’s like me walking into a restaurant, ordering and enjoying a meal, and then when I finished just tearing up the check and saying that I was ‘digging in my heels’ about whether I should pay.”

While I totally agree with the premise of this, I must point out that I personally know people whose real actual names are Sparky, Corky, Speedy, and Merrily. All of them are successful, normal adults. That said, what he said about the letter Y.

“I’m sure that if Jack had seen you play he would have been proud to have his number worn by you, although he probably would [have] wished that it was for a team other than the Yankees,” says Rachel Robinson to Mariano Rivera.

Send Rachel to Russia!

A handy guide to things that look like feminism but aren’t.

OK folks, scandal’s over. Move along, nothing to see here.

The helium cliff is another one of those things you didn’t know you needed to be worried about.

Happy first birthday to the contraceptive mandate.

County prevails in redistricting lawsuit

This came out on Friday.

Commissioners Court interim map

Activists failed to prove that a Harris County redistricting plan illegally diluted Latino votes in the only Latino-opportunity commissioner precinct, a federal judge has ruled.

In a long-anticipated decision filed late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore said the plaintiffs, led by Houston City Councilmen James Rodriguez and Ed Gonzalez, were unable to demonstrate that a map adopted two years ago by the Harris County Commissioners Court was unconstitutional or that race was the predominant factor in the design of the plan.

“There is no convincing evidence indicating that the Commissioners Court drew the district lines for the purpose of diluting plaintiffs’ voting strength,” Gilmore wrote in her ruling.

The plaintiffs, however, did raise valid concerns that impediments to equal opportunity to participate in the political process do exist, the judge said.

[…]

The lawsuit, which went to trial in November, was filed in 2011 as the Commissioners Court prepared to adopt a map with precinct boundaries based on the 2010 census.

As part of that process, the county added a bloc of reliably conservative voters in the northeast portion of the county in Precinct 2 and slightly reduced the concentration of Hispanic voters.

See here for the last update. The original map that was drawn in 2011 will now go into effect. There was an interim map used in 2012 that was a bit different than the original map, but since Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman was not on the ballot it was no big deal. The interim map was slightly friendlier to Democrats in Precinct 2, and the 2012 election results showed that Precinct 2 would be very competitive in a high-turnout year. The Commissioners’ map was intended in part to shore up Morman’s re-election chances, and right now no one knows what the turnout model will be in 2014. No one knew about Battleground Texas or the #StandWithWendy phenomenon back when all this was being litigated. Point being, Precinct 2 should still be the marquee race around here next year. Commissioner Morman has the advantages he was given, and we’ll see how it shakes out from there.

I have a copy of Judge Gilmore’s ruling here. It’s long, technical, and detailed, and I mostly zipped through it. I want to quote from the conclusion, however, since it captures the main points and suggests that however things are now, they won’t be that way forever.

In conclusion, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have not established that the County’s Plan was unconstitutional. Plaintiffs did not prove that the County adopted the Plan intending to discriminate against Latinos nor did they prove that race was the predominant factor in the design of the Plan. Moreover, because Plaintiffs have not established the first Gingles factor, they cannot prove that, under the totality of the circumstances, Latinos have been denied an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice. See Growe, 507 U.S. at 40-41; Fairley, 584 F.3d at 667; Valdespino, 168 F.3d at 852.

Nevertheless, Plaintiffs “have raised serious and valid concerns that hindrances to equal opportunity to participate in the political process are present.” Perez, 958 F. Supp. at 1230. Indeed this Court is troubled by evidence of the range and prevalence of voter suppression tactics employed against members of the Latino community. While some members of the Supreme Court imagine that barriers to voting have been eradicated, see Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. 1 v. Holder, 557 U. S. 193, 204 (2009) (noting that “things have changed in the South”), the record here is replete with evidence to the contrary. While, to be sure, the County has taken some strides toward voter equality, it is clear that more can be done to ensure that all citizens have a full and fair opportunity to participate in the political process.

Although Plaintiffs have not carried their burden today, the evidence presented leads to the inescapable conclusion that a Latino opportunity district will be possible in Harris County in the foreseeable future. The sleeping giant is waking and those standing in its path would be wise to move out of the way. The writing on the wall is clear: “the times, they are a changing’….”

It’s possible they will have changed enough by 2014 to be a difference maker, but that won’t happen without a lot of effort. Nonetheless, I think the odds of Commissioner Morman serving as long on the Court as some of his colleagues are slim.

Morman, who faces re-election in 2014, was pleased with the outcome and said his precinct remains competitive.

“It’s the only competitive precinct of the four, so whether it’s me or whoever is a county commissioner for Precinct 2, (we are) going to have to continue to do a good job to be elected,” he said.

And hope that a partisan wave doesn’t wipe you out anyway. I look forward to seeing what happens next year. Texas Redistricting has more.

On sexism in the Legislature

Just go read Olivia Messer’s story in The Observer about that great bastion of good-ol-boyism, the Texas Legislature. It’s appalling, but sadly not unexpected, nor unsurprising. I’ve heard way too many stories like it, from way too many women, in way too many contexts, to claim otherwise. I don’t have a good answer other than “we need to elect more women”, but I do want to note one facet of Messer’s story:

OffendedOpinion

At a certain point, after enough of these run-ins—which included male staffers from both chambers, some of whom I knew to be married, hitting on me, making comments about my physical appearance, touching my arm—it finally occurred to me that, when I was at work, I was often fending off advances like I was in a bar.

What surprised me was how many women who work in the Capitol—legislators, staffers, lobbyists, other reporters—felt the same way. Everyone, it seemed, had a story or anecdote about being objectified or patronized.

Even the most powerful women in the Legislature experience it. When I started interviewing women lawmakers, they all—Republican and Democrat, House and Senate, rural and urban—said that being a woman in the statehouse is more difficult than being a man. Some told of senators ogling women on the Senate floor or watching porn on iPads and on state-owned computers, of legislators hitting on female staffers or using them to help them meet women, and of hundreds of little comments in public and private that women had to brush off to go about their day. Some said they often felt marginalized and not listened to—that the sexism in the Legislature made their jobs harder and, at times, produced public policy hostile to women.

Yet, despite their strong feelings, women in the Capitol rarely talk about, except in the most private discussions, the misogyny they see all the time. It’s just the way the Legislature has always been.

[…]

When I asked why other women don’t speak up about the atmosphere, [Rep. Senfronia] Thompson cited political ambition. “Everybody who comes here, they’re looking at, ‘Can I go higher politically?’” she said. “To some degree, political office and winning is so important and imperative to us that we are willing to turn our heads and tolerate things that wouldn’t uphold the dignity of a woman. I’m not sure if we contribute to that. And it bothers me.”

She added, “I’m just not sure right now we have enough women who are willing to [speak up].”

I totally understand why more women don’t want to speak up about this – one need only look at some of the vicious things that have been said about Sen. Wendy Davis since her filibuster to comprehend why – but I wish they would anyway. Not as a first resort – it’s always best to speak to the offender directly, because some people do learn and some people really do mean no offense – but for the frequent flyers, many of whom fly beneath the radar on this. There ought to be some cost to being a pig. Some day, when stuff like this costs someone re-election, maybe that will have a more permanent effect. I sure hope so, anyway.

On a completely unrelated note, the fact that Janet Yellen is a woman is considered a factor in her candidacy to be Chair of the Federal Reserve. Because of course it is. BOR has more.

Don’t count on that federal testing waiver

It could happen, but don’t expect your high-scoring kid to spend less time taking tests going forward.

A plan to reduce testing for higher-performing elementary and middle school students was one of the feel-good bills of the 2013 legislative session. But several experts believe it will never see the light of day in Texas schools.

The measure was passed with much fanfare, as parent groups and school districts urged lawmakers to scale back high-stakes testing across the board.

Legislators responded by sharply reducing the number of tests high school students must pass to graduate, from 15 to five exams. That measure will take effect.

But a follow-up bill, to exempt high achievers in lower grades from math and reading tests in grades four, six and seven, needs a sign-off from the federal government.

That’s unlikely, based on the federal agency’s record in enforcing the No Child Left Behind Act. The law requires annual testing in reading and writing of all public school students in grades three through eight.

But no state has been able to get that requirement eased, even as dozens have gotten waivers from other parts of the law since former President George W. Bush signed it in 2001.

“I have not seen a waiver granted on that particular requirement,” said Elaine Quisenberry, a spokeswoman for the education department, referring to the testing mandate.

Diane Rentner, deputy director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, agreed.

“That has never been done, to my knowledge,” she said. “It would seem to violate the mandate that all students in those grades are to be tested every year under No Child Left Behind.”

[…]

In addition to the fact that no state has been exempted from the testing requirement, Texas is also handicapped by its record of resistance to the Education Department’s initiatives under Duncan.

And the law could have a major unintended consequence. If high-performing students could skip the STAAR in three grades, some fear their schools’ state and federal annual performance ratings could suffer.

See here for the background. Amused as I am by the irony of it all, this is one place where I’d support pushing back against the federal requirement. Exempting the students who are near-certainties to pass makes sense, and would allow schools to focus more time and effort on the students that need the most help. That needs to be a debate in Washington, but there’s no reason it can’t start someplace else. Too bad Texas doesn’t have much credibility on that score. We’ll see how the feds respond and we’ll go from there.

LA goes big on iPads in schools

I feel like we’re still on the tip of the iceberg, but that a lot more of this is coming soon.

Students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will receive 31,000 free iPads this school year under a new $30 million program launched by the district. The goal is to improve education and get them ready for the workforce with new technology skills they are not getting at home.

The first 31,000 iPads are only the initial phase of the program, which plans to buy and distribute iPads to all 640,000 students in the nation’s second-largest school district by late 2014, Mark Hovatter, the chief facilities executive for the LAUSD, told CITEworld.

“The most important thing is to try to prepare the kids for the technology they are going to face when they are going to graduate,” said Hovatter. “This is phase one, a mix of high school, middle school, and elementary students. We’re targeting kids who most likely don’t have their own computers or laptops or iPads. Their only exposure to computers now is going to be in their schools.”

The first deployment phase is underway now in 49 of the district’s 1,124 K-12 schools. Each student is receiving an iPad pre-loaded with educational applications and other programs that will be used by the students in their studies. By the official beginning of the new school year in August, all of the students in the first phase of the project will have their iPads and won’t have to share them, said Hovatter.

The project came about because educators realized that workers today in every field, including construction and automotive education, require skills with computers and related technologies, said Hovatter. “We are making sure that everyone is able to take a test electronically. Even in construction, you can’t do those jobs now without having some familiarity with computers. Whatever jobs kids want to have, technology is likely involved. You’re just not going to be able to do well in society if you don’t have some experience.”

It’s an interesting point about how even students in a “vocational” path instead of a college-bound path need to be comfortable and familiar with computers. With all the fuss over HB5 and the legitimate concerns that graduation requirements were made too loose, perhaps a commitment to ensuring that all students get a sufficient exposure to current technology would be in order. Some school districts here already have plans for iPads or laptops for their students. I hope that this becomes standard issue for all in the near future. If nothing else, there are now enough school districts experimenting with these tools that we should begin to have a pretty good idea of how best to use them going forward.