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June 22nd, 2014:

Weekend link dump for June 22

#OrangeIsTheNewPrisonReformHashtag. I guess that’s kind of long as hashtags go.

The OJ Simpson saga cast of characters, 20 years later.

“Hillary Clinton would start out as a favorite — albeit not a heavy one — over Jeb Bush or any other Republican due, in large part, to the built-in advantage Democrats currently enjoy in the electoral college.”

We die a lot differently than we used to.

Where the wild things inhabit tame spaces, and how you can help scientists understand it better.

From the Can’t Sleep, Clowns’ll Eat Me department.

“A Missouri firm that unsuccessfully sued its bank to recover $440,000 stolen in a 2010 cyberheist may now be on the hook to cover the financial institution’s legal fees, an appeals court has ruled.” Be very careful about what you sign, people.

Don’t want to give a guy your number? Give him this number instead.

RIP, Casey Kasem. Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.

What Dianne Anderson and Samantha Field say.

RIP, Tony Gwynn, all-time great hitter and all-around good guy. Cancer truly sucks.

Dr. Jen Gunter schools miserable excuse for a human being George Will on rape.

Oh, God, are people going to start taking Tom Friedman seriously again? Please, just make it stop.

I was watching the Rockets versus the Knicks twenty years ago during the OJ car chase. I’m still pissed they interrupted the game for that.

Speaking of basketball, do NBA teams treat their dance squads any better than NFL teams treat their cheerleaders?

Don’t chase your dog, let your dog come to you. There’s a Zen koan in there somewhere.

Democrats are not in disarray, as is usually the case.

“Seventy years after D-Day […] almost 70 World War II veterans continue to serve as senior-status federal judges.”

RIP, Stanley Marsh III, founder of the Cadillac Ranch on Route 66, and unfortunately also a sex predator.

Why the Patent Office canceled the trademark for the Washington-based NFL team.

Get ready for the Bitcoin Bowl. I wonder if they will pay out in bitcoins.

“Am I sounding a little testy here? You bet. We all make mistakes. But we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong. Wrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense. None of these people did that intentionally, and many of them have honestly reflected and learned. But we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.”

The more you pay your CEO, the worse the performance you tend to get.

“Screw technicalities, though; what Clayton Kershaw just did was far more impressive than going 27-up, 27-down and relying on your defense in order to do it. Clayton Kershaw just threw one of the most dominant performances in the history of baseball.”

“For those wondering, [Vin] Scully has apparently announced 7% of all no hitters in the 139 years MLB has been tracking them which is insane.”

“Remember, there are two main angles here. The first is that McCain’s track record on his signature issue is genuinely atrocious. But the second is that McCain remains absolutely convinced of his own self-righteous credibility.”

“So get excited libertarians and lovers of truly awful fiction that doesn’t feature sparkly vampires or Tom Hanks solving medieval puzzles. Ron Paul, action movie star, is on his way.”

RIP, Stephanie Kwolek, inventor of Kevlar and saver of many lives.

A Greg Abbott threefer

Trail Blazers: Dallas appeals court rules fired prosecutor can pursue whistleblowing case against Greg Abbott’s office

You want to be the boss, you get to deal with boss problems

In May 2009, a former assistant attorney general in Greg Abbott’s office sued the Office of the Attorney General in Dallas County court, claiming she’d been fired for refusing to lie under oath about a Dallas County judge. Five years later, the Dallas-based Fifth Court of Appeals has ruled that Ginger Weatherspoon can go forward with her lawsuit.

The AG’s office has spent years trying to get the suit tossed, claiming, among other things, that Weatherspoon didn’t make a “good faith” effort to blow the whistle to the right links in the chain of command. A three-justice panel disagreed, and issued an opinion Monday written by Justice David Evans that said Dallas County Judge Martin Hoffman did the right thing last year when he refused to grant the AG’s office its request for summary judgment.

Weatherspoon’s initial filing in 2009 garnered media attention because of its explosive content: She claimed she refused to sign a “false affidavit” filled with “a number of misrepresentations and mischaracterizations” about David Hanschen, who, at the time, was a Dallas County family court judge involved in a pretty nasty tussle with the Abbott’s office over child support.

Long story short: Hanschen was letting men take DNA tests to determine whether kids at the center of child-support battles were actually theirs. As the judge told the Dallas Observer in April 2008, “In my court, the truth does not have a statute of limitations.” But Abbott’s office disagreed, and would file emergency court orders in attempts to stop the DNA tests. Megan Feldman wrote that “supervising attorneys within the office’s Child Support Division launched a concerted campaign to collect affidavits from nearly a dozen staff lawyers — in some cases exerting pressure on them — with the apparent goal of filing a complaint alleging judicial misconduct against Hanschen” and another family court judge.

Weatherspoon said she was among those being pressured into signing an affidavit critical of Hanschen. The problem was, she “never witnessed Judge Hanschen treat an AAG adversely in court or issue a prejudicial ruling against an AAG,” said her lawsuit. She also said that “Judge Hanschen never threatened the AG’s office,” despite what the affidavit alleged.

“A managing attorney with the OAG, Paula Crockett, told her they intended to use the affidavit as evidence to have the judge recused from hearing cases involving the OAG,” says the recap issued by the appeals court Monday. “The affidavit was also going to be used to support a judicial misconduct complaint against the judge. Weatherspoon refused to sign the affidavit stating that she believed it misrepresented various facts regarding her conversation with the judge and mischaracterized the tone and nature of the conversation.”

Weatherspoon continued to refuse to sign the affidavit, despite mounting pressure from regional attorneys in the AG’s office. And in the end, she says, that’s why she was fired.

You can see the full opinion at the link above. Gotta admit, I hadn’t heard of this before, but it sure doesn’t sound good for Abbott, especially when he’s made a big deal about ethics and transparency.

Waco Tribune editorial: Attorney general decision hinders public from readily learning of chemical threats

We can think of lots of good reasons why everyday, ordinary Texans should know whether a plant in their neighborhood has stockpiled enough chemicals to blow out a crater and flatten homes and schools. Topping the list: the decided allergy that state leaders have about regulating industry — even when such industry poses a possible threat to the lives of state leaders’ own constituents.

That’s why we have trouble understanding the reasoning behind state Attorney General Greg Abbott’s abrupt decision to refuse to give the public key information about where plants stockpiling ammonium nitrate are located. More than a year after fire at the West Fertilizer Co. ignited a huge supply of ammonium nitrate that killed 15 people, injured hundreds and destroyed homes, schools and a nursing home, the attorney general suddenly says the Texas Homeland Security Act forbids the state’s health agency from any longer releasing inventory reports on such facilities because the fertilizer might be used to make bombs.

Supposedly, this will deter terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh, who legally got ahold of some 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, which he detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people and destroying the structure, payback for the federal government’s role in the Branch Davidian siege near Waco in 1993.

Ordinarily, we’d agree with the attorney general’s logic on why the location and amount of such explosives should be kept secret. The problem is the state’s dread of regulating and enforcing regulations ensuring people are safe. Even now, our state lawmakers hem and haw over whether they should regulate dangerous chemicals where people live, work and play. Amazing.

Not surprisingly, all this undermines the intent of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act of 1986, which allows citizens to access information on what chemicals are stored and used in their neighborhoods. The act — signed into law by President Ronald Reagan — was designed to help the public be proactive after a deadly mix of gases escaped a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, killing thousands. Happily, for the moment federal trumps state, allowing local residents to gain such relevant information from the Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management.

[…]

The attorney general’s decision is definitely at odds with growing efforts to prevent another West, including last month’s federal task force report, prompted by the 2013 explosion. It concludes that “communities need to know where hazardous chemicals are used and stored, how to assess the risks associated with those chemicals and how to ensure community preparedness for incidents that may occur.” If the state of Texas continues to balk at ensuring such plants are safe, the public needs to know more, not less, to better protect itself from devastating possibilities.

Did I say something about transparency? Yeah, maybe not. And if you think that Governor Greg Abbott would support stronger regulations on fertilizer plants, well, I’ve got a load of fertilizer to sell you.

Statesman: Texas must pay legal fees in redistricting case, judge rules

In a scolding order, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., told the state of Texas on Wednesday to pay almost $1.1 million in legal fees to lawyers who represented Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and several minority rights groups in a case challenging district boundaries drawn by the Republican-led Legislature.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer’s order criticized lawyers in state Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office for submitting a legal brief that devoted more effort to complaining than it did to answering the legal issues in the fight over lawyer fees.

“Texas basically ignores the arguments supporting an award of fees and costs,” Collyer wrote, noting that state lawyers instead presumed the request to be frivolous and expressed “indignation at having to respond at all.”

“This matter presents a case study in how not to respond to a motion for attorney fees and costs,” said Collyer, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.

In her order, Collyer found that lawyers’ fees are “uncontested and reasonable,” and Davis’ attorneys are entitled to $466,680 and other lawyers should get more than $600,000.

Not been a great week for Greg Abbott, has it? PDiddie and Rick Hasen have more.

Company operating SH 130 may default

Oops.

Speed Limit 85

The company behind a privately operated Texas toll road that sports the country’s fastest speed limit is dangerously close to defaulting on its debt, according to a credit rating agency.

According to a report released this week by Moody’s Investors Service, the SH 130 Concession Company, which operates the 41-mile southern portion of State Highway 130, is low on cash and scrambling to get an upcoming payment deadline waived,

The private consortium behind the project owes more than $1 billion and lacks the funding to pay off an upcoming debt payment due on June 30, according to the report. The report adds that the company has “depleted all but $3.3 million of available liquidity reserves.”

[…]

The company’s projections for traffic and toll revenue were overly optimistic. In October, Moody’s downgraded $1.1 billion of debt tied to the project by five notches, from B1 to Caa3, considered junk status. The financial situation has not markedly improved, according to the rating agency’s latest report.

“Fiscal 2013 revenue performance was about 60 percent below original forecast and fiscal 2014 is likely to be 70 percent below the original forecast,” the report states.

Company officials are working with the project’s lenders on waiving a portion of this month’s debt payment while not triggering an official default, according to the report. The company is also attempting to restructure its debt based on a new traffic and revenue study, according to the report.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. One hopes this new traffic and revenue study will be more reality-based than the previous ones were. I for one have always thought that the problem here is that this road is out in the middle of nowhere, but hey, I’m no expert, so what do I know? The Highwayman and EoW have more.

The Texarkana experience

The city of Texarcana literally sits on the border between Texas and Arkansas, partly in one state and partly in the other. That means that some of its residents may be eligible for a health insurance subsidy under Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion/privatization hybrid. Or they may be in Texas and be screwed like anyone else.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Arkansas accepted the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act. Texas did not.

That makes Texarkana perhaps the starkest example of how President Obama’s health care law is altering the economic geography of the country. The poor living in the Arkansas half of town won access to a government benefit worth thousands of dollars annually, yet nothing changed for those on the Texas side of the state line.

[…]

None of the low-income Texarkana residents interviewed realized that moving to the other side of town might mean a Medicaid card. In fact, health researchers and those who work with the poor expect very few Americans to move between states to take advantage of the law.

“It’s impossible to understand what it is to move when you have nothing,” said Jennifer Laurent, the executive director of Randy Sams’ Outreach Shelter, where Ms. Marks is staying until she puts together enough savings from her two low-wage jobs to find her own place. “To risk everything — losing your bed, your sense of community — for an uncertain benefit? There’s no way you want to risk that.”

Research on other expansions of government benefits has borne that out: A study in the journal Health Affairs looked at the “welfare magnet hypothesis” and found no evidence that it exists.

“I’m sure, anecdotally, that some people will move,” said Benjamin Sommers, an assistant professor of health policy and economics at the Harvard School of Public Health and a co-author of the study. “But is this a major budget issue for states expanding Medicaid? Will there be a major wave of people moving to get insurance? Probably not.”

[…]

Indeed, until the Supreme Court ruling, the Obama administration had intended for the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act to be universal, covering all adults earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, about $15,500 annually for a single adult or $32,000 for a family of four.

That’s the way it is working out on the Arkansas side of the border, where health clinics and social service agencies are signing up eligible residents, even though this corner of the state is largely Republican and broadly resistant to the health care law.

The expansion is already having an effect on the city’s biggest provider of charity care, the nonprofit Christus St. Michael Health System. “We’re seeing more patients with a payer,” said Chris Karam, its president, referring to those with health insurance coverage.

On the Texas side, though, it’s business as usual. “It makes me mad,” said Mr. Miller, who is not receiving any federal benefits at the moment despite his array of illnesses. “They need to quit playing games with people’s lives. Rich people. Government people.”

Yeah, that would be nice. I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice that there’s an election this fall in which issues like this will be at stake. One hopes the people of Texarkana will recognize the opportunity that gives them. The rest of us, too.