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February 9th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for February 9

I keep trying to come up with a pithy summary for this and I keep failing. It’s just…I can’t even.

From the “Brevity is the soul of wit” department.

Sharknado 2: The Second One is a thing that is happening.

“Your humble, obedient servant” has always worked for me.

Cutting food stamps hurts businesses, too.

If you can’t use drones to deliver beer, then what are they good for?

Would you rent your car out if you were flying out of town?

“At a very deep level, sports are science. In fact, there are very few activities as ruthlessly and immediately scientific as head-to-head team sports.”

RIP, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Such a terrible loss.

The state of Missouri is making Sharon Keller look like a bleeding heart. Where’s the accountability?

From the “Don’t know much about history”, Music Scholarship Edition. Sure is a good thing Coke didn’t include a mixed-race family in that ad, eh?

More giant dinosaurs, please.

“This is a basic principle: until it is proven otherwise, beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s important to extend the presumption of innocence to Dylan Farrow, and presume that she is not guilty of the crime of lying about what Woody Allen did to her.”

“While the last Blockbuster video-rental store in the U.S. closed this month, the brand lives on in Mexico as an upscale chain with aspirations to sell everything from televisions to banking services.”

Should have bet the under on the length of the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.

Bill Kristol is the best argument around that America is not a meritocracy. Well, okay, he’s tied with Jonah Goldberg for that.

New technology gives “car talk” a new meaning. You’re already seeing ads for this, soon it will be standard.

RIP, Joan Mondale, patron of the arts and wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Mark Evanier’s story about being forced to take Advanced Chemistry in high school is worth reading and offers an interesting perspective on the debate over high school curricula.

“In fact, the CBO actually confirms one of the things supporters of the new law said it would do: provide people who can’t or don’t want to work full time, who want to quit their jobs to stay at home with their children or to start a new business, the freedom to do just that.”

Companies keep finding new ways to screw workers. And then their CEOs act like giant douchebags about it.

“Becoming a part of a religious organization that affiliates itself with the Antichrist is about as easy as purchasing a t-shirt on Etsy.”

Time to get young women to sign up for health insurance.

Good for CVS ending cigarette sales.

Go ahead and flash your headlights. The Constitution has your back.

Everything you ever wanted to know about The Bachelor and now wish you didn’t know.

“Many briefs were filed on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, including important support offered from members of Congress, state governments, scholars, theologians, and a number of religious businesses, groups, and organizations. But almost none of those briefs came from secular businesses. Not one Fortune 500 company filed a brief in the case. Apart from a few isolated briefs from companies just like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, the U.S. business community offered no support for the claim that secular, for-profit corporations are persons that can exercise religion.”

RIP, Richard Bull, best known as Nels Oleson on Little House On The Prairie.

Glad to hear Dr. Jen Arnold is doing better.

So much Sochi fail, so little time.

I like this view of the Hermione and Ron thing that JK Rowling stirred up. And for the record, I never thought Harry and Hermione would have been right together.

RIP, Ralph Kiner, Hall of Famer and legendary Mets broadcaster. Here’s a great story about Kiner from a Yankees fan.

It’s easy to make fun of wingnuts like Tony Perkins for constantly freaking out every time LGBT folks are depicted as normal people, but the potential consequences of said freakouts can be horrifying.

Two words: “Sherlock” Legos. There, I just solved your Christmas shopping for this year.

Call it the Worse Than Worst Weather Day, I guess.

“In sum, these state attorney generals are so blind with hatred to “Obamacare” and the Affordable Care Act, that they are actually suing to prevent these citizens of their states from being able to obtain health care insurance, since these individuals almost certainly would not be able to purchase it on the exchanges without the federal tax credits.”

A-Rod drops all his lawsuits and will accept his suspension.

Forty-four answers to creationist questions.

Ten Undeniable Facts about the Dylan Farrow-Woody Allen sex abuse allegations.

Pity the poor Hispanic Republicans

I’d say I feel sorry for them, but I don’t.

Every few years, I like to check in with Massey Villarreal to see if he’s still a Republican.

He still was on Thursday. But it’s getting harder all the time. The Houston businessman and former national chair of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly didn’t bother to hide his anger when we talked. The anti-immigrant rhetoric he was railing about years ago in bygone campaign seasons has found new life in his party’s primary race for lieutenant governor.

Villarreal and several other Hispanic GOP leaders are sickened by it.

“I have made the Kool-Aid for many years for other Hispanics to come into the party – I made the Kool-Aid and people drank it,” said Villarreal, who is also a former chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “And I refuse to make that kind of Kool-Aid anymore. Not for this party. Not for these leaders.”

For a party that desperately needs to appeal to Hispanic voters, a loudmouthed few among Republican candidates seem to be doing all they can to push the growing population of potential voters away.

Right now, the poster child of the loudmouths is state Sen. Dan Patrick, who has run a shockingly nativist campaign, even for Texas. He wasn’t the only candidate singing the “secure the border” mantra at the debate the other night. And all four lieutenant governor candidates want to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

But he has relentlessly tried to tie immigrants to violent crime, skewing numbers in the process, and he has waxed alarmist about alien “invasions.”

“I don’t know of one Hispanic Republican who isn’t appalled by Dan Patrick,” Villarreal wrote in an email that prompted me to call him. “If Dan Patrick wins, he will be the Pete Wilson of Texas.”

And if Patrick wins the March primary, Villarreal, the son of a Mexican immigrant, swears another state senator will get his vote for lieutenant governor: Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat from San Antonio.

Other Hispanic Republicans that Falkenberg talked to weren’t willing to go that far, because party affiliation is a powerful force. This isn’t the first time that Massey Villarreal has had a problem with a statewide Republican candidate, and again it’s over the issue of immigration. I guess that’s why Falkenberg keeps checking on him, because that situation isn’t getting any better at the national level or here in Texas. Redistricting plays a big role in this, because Congressional and legislative Republicans represent districts that are heavily white, so they have little electoral reason to listen to the concerns of Latinos. Of the 24 Congressional districts currently held by Republicans, only two have Latino citizen voting age populations (CVAPs) above 25% – CD27 (43.0%) and CD19 (26.5%). Only CD27 (49.4%) and CD22 (53.3%) have Anglo CVAPs less than 60%. It’s the same in the Senate, where Latino CVAP tops out among Republican districts at 28.0% (SD28) and Anglo CVAP bottoms out at 59.3% (SD17); Dan Patrick’s SD07 is at 17.9% and 62.1%, respectively. In the House, where turncoat Republican and top Democratic target JM Lozano’s HD43 has a Latino CVAP of 58.9% is there some variation, though not much beyond that. Just six others out of 95 total have Hispanic CVAPs above 30%, with only HD32 having an Anglo CVAP below 50%.

So the candidates are mainly trying to win the votes of the people in their districts, who vote in their primaries, and who don’t look or think like Massey Villarreal. It’s hardly just the Lite Guv candidates acting like this – the Republican candidates for Attorney General are just as bad, and as we know Greg Abbott just released his Extreme Border Security plan – though Patrick’s super-charged rhetoric, the high profile of the race, and the certainty of several more weeks of this insanity as it goes to a runoff have focused attention on these four. I don’t expect anything to change until more Republicans feel like they have to compete for Hispanic voters and not just their seething primary base, and I don’t expect that to happen until they start losing some elections they expected to win. The Lite Guv, Governor, and AG races here in Texas would be three great places for that trend to start. Your move, Massey and friends. Campos has more.

What the ACA does, Texas has long done

By now you’ve surely heard about the CBO report on the Affordable Care Act and the workforce, which despite some terribly botched reporting does have a lot of political considerations. There’s something I’d like to point out about this before we get too bogged down in attack ads. Let’s start with Kevin Drum putting a name to the reason behind the effect on the workforce.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Obamacare will reduce employment primarily because it’s a means-tested welfare program, and means-tested programs always reduce employment among the poor.

[…]

If, for example, earning $100 in additional income means a $25 reduction in Obamacare subsidies, you’re only getting $75 for your extra work. At the margins, some people will decide that’s not worth it, so they’ll forego working extra hours. That’s the substitution effect. In addition, low-income workers covered by Obamacare will have lower medical bills. This makes them less desperate for additional money, and might also cause them to forego working extra hours. That’s the income effect.

This is not something specific to Obamacare. It’s a shortcoming in all means-tested welfare programs. It’s basically Welfare 101, and in over half a century, no one has really figured out how to get around it. It’s something you just have to accept if you support safety net programs for the poor.

Kevin expands on his thesis here. The point is simple enough – for people at a certain income level, a raise in income can mean a significant reduction in a benefit like the ACA exchange subsidies, or even the loss of eligibility for that benefit at all. That was touted as an advantage to the Arkansas option for expanding Medicaid, as it would help avoid the situation where people near the line for eligibility see their status swing back and forth. In addition, the decoupling of health insurance from employment was a feature of John McCain’s health care plan from 2008, back before Obamacare made increasing access to health insurance an evil that threatened Ted Cruz’s manhood.

Which brings me to Texas. What does this have to do with Texas? Very simply, Texas has done means testing for its Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) since 2003. Allow me to quote myself from 2006, when restoring cuts to CHIP was a campaign issue in that year’s gubernatorial race.

The point of CHIP is to provide a benefit for lower-income working families. It’s not Medicaid. It’s a program to give health insurance to the children of people who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Before HB2292 in 2003, it didn’t have an asset test, which means that those families could try to put some money aside to save for their kids’ future college educations without it costing them their CHIP eligibility. Not any more: As of 2003, CHIP families with incomes at 150% of the federal poverty level can have no more than $5000 in total assets before losing CHIP. That includes savings, and most frustratingly, automobiles. There’s a $15,000 exemption for a first car, and a $4650 exemption for a second, meaning that a family in which both parents work, one of them had better be driving a junker (or not driving at all) or it’ll go against their ability to get health insurance for their kids. And you better hope your kids qualify for scholarships some day, because you can’t save for their tuition costs.

In that post, I’m summarizing a document provided by Rep. Garnet Coleman, which you can see here, that explained the changes made to CHIP eligibility in 2003 that were passed by the Republican legislature and signed by Rick Perry. It should be noted that these changes were made with the express purpose of booting kids off of CHIP, which is a horrible thing to do and awful, self-harming public policy. But at the margins, it likely had the same effect that the CBO is describing for the ACA. If you had been receiving CHIP and were near the eligibility boundary when the new restrictions were put in place, you might well consider doing things to reduce your household’s level of employment in order to maintain that very needed benefit for your kids. Options would include cutting back on your hours, giving up a second job, having one spouse or the other quit their job, and so on. The means testing requirements have shifted around since then, but they’re still there. I don’t see anyone freaking out over it, if they’re even aware of it.

Anyway. It’s true that some people will quit working now that they can continue to be eligible for health insurance. As many people have pointed out, they’re doing so because they’re better off now. We generally consider that to be a Good Thing. CBO projections aside, the overall effect on the labor market remains unclear, and will no doubt be studied to death in the next decade. But the claim that the CBO report means that Obamacare is “killing jobs” is a flat out lie, one that even some opponents of the law understand.

HISD on HB5

Good information on the changes made to school curricula and graduation requirements.

With most details of the state’s new reform of public education – known as House Bill 5 – settled only last week, HISD is ready with a multimedia toolbox to assist students, families, and support staff in making the most of the guidelines that will require students to choose academic and career paths that will prepare them for success beyond high school.

The district launched its “Plan Your Path” informational website, houstonisd.org/PlanYourPath, on Feb. 5. It offers:

• Simple explanations by grade level of STAAR testing requirements, including changes in required end-of-course (EOC) exams for graduation;
• A guide to the revised Texas graduation plan;
• An exploration of “endorsements,” the five areas of focus – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM); Business and Industry; Arts and Humanities; Public Services; and Multidisciplinary – that HISD will offer to students to set and follow their academic and career goals;
• A section of frequently asked questions (FAQs), along with the opportunity to pose your own question;
• Advice for parents on how to work as partners with their children’s schools to assure their academic success.

Late in February, HISD will distribute an informational guide to all parents, in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese to explain HB 5, which will also be posted on school websites, and will host 10 community meetings throughout the district in March and April.

While many districts are struggling with dealing with HB 5’s changes, HISD was already developing many of its requirements on its own through its Linked Learning model. That initiative, which blends a rigorous academic focus with an emphasis on career awareness and preparedness from K-12, was fast-tracked when HISD received $30 million in federal Race to the Top funds in December in support of the concept.

There’s video, so click over and follow the links from there to Plan Your Path and elsewhere.

New frontiers in giant statues

David Adickes will bring his art to Webster.

The City of Webster is planning a 20,000 square-foot space-themed attraction with a towering astronaut statue to beckon visitors along I-45.

According a proposal unveiled this week, the city’s five-acre tract of land on the northwest side of I-45 and NASA Parkway will be home to the Apollo and Beyond Center, which will educate visitors on the Apollo space program and the area’s rich NASA history.

Officials have enlisted the talent of famed Houston sculptor and painter David Adickes to create an 80-foot statue of a spacesuited Apollo astronaut planting an American flag at the front of the attraction.

There is a proposal for a 50-foot pedestal under the astronaut, which would house a small museum and make the astronaut a total of 130 feet tall. part of the proposal is an elevator to the top of the statue allowing for a 360-degree view of the area.

If the statue of the astronaut goes to plan, it would be taller than the Sam Houston statue that Adickes created for Huntsville. Sam is 67 feet tall with a 10-foot pedestal below him. Adickes’ Angleton-area statue of one of Texas’ other founding fathers, Stephen F. Austin, is 60 feet tall and has a 12-foot pedestal.

Adickes has told the Apollo Center that the astronaut statue will take a little over a year for him to create. The blueprint for the A7L spacesuit that will be depicted in the statue is coming from NASA.

As an unabashed fan of Adickes’ sculptures, I wholeheartedly approve of this. More giant statues, I say. I’ll need to plan a trip to Webster to see the finished work.