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August 17th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for August 17

“Late last year, scientists unveiled the complete genome of a female Neanderthal whose 130,000-year-old toe bone had been found in a cave in Siberia. As it turned out, her sequence of some 3 billion DNA letters was not all that much different from mine or yours.”

“So, we go from bogus attempts to stifle criticism via copyright law, to then trying to stifle discussion of that stifling by bogus defamation threats. Someone really doesn’t like being criticized apparently.”

A linguist walks into a bar…

“For the more than 22,000 pedestrians killed nationwide between 2008 and 2012, poorer neighborhoods have disproportionately higher rates of pedestrian deaths.”

How to deploy your pet to find unsecured WiFi connections.

Evolution isn’t about what you believe. It’s a fact whether you “believe” in it or not.

“Secondly, good lord, people, it’s like it’s scientifically impossible to write a song about how great it is to have curves that doesn’t insult people who don’t.”

“Once you’ve learned enough to earn your cynicism, you have to outgrow it and learn to believe in things again.”

A pagan perspective on faith-based activism.

Just a reminder that there was an Ebola outbreak in America 25 years ago.

RIP, Robin Williams. I can still quote bits from his A Night At The Met album. He sure did touch a lot of people’s lives. I can’t do much better than what Scalzi says, but be sure to see Zelda Williams’ tribute to her dad. And have a tissue or two handy when you do.

See also David Simon’s tribute, a remembrance from the set of Homicide: Life on the Streets.

RIP, Menahem Golan, producer of fine 1980s movies.

“Bottled-water drinkers, we have a problem: There’s a good chance that your water comes from California, a state experiencing the third-driest year on record.”

On lawyering while hot. Gotta say, I think the author is perpetuating the same attitudes she decries in her essay.

What can WalMart do to make delivering health care more affordable?

“In the end, we’ve learned a valuable lesson: don’t poison your kids.”

One’s opinion of the constitutionality of the federal subsidies for insurance exchanges depends entirely on the litigation one is engaged in at the time.

RIP, Lauren Bacall. And yes, I do know how to whistle.

“It’s difficult to imagine the events in Ferguson going down the same way with a white shooting victim and white protesters. It’s pretty much impossible to imagine cops exercising restraint in Nevada if the guns pointed at them had been in black hands. Black Americans shouldn’t have to explain why this double standard might make them angry.”

“To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It’s to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown’s life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him. It’s to deny that there are structural reasons why Brown was shot dead while James Eagan Holmes—who on July 20, 2012, walked into a movie theater and fired rounds into an audience, killing 12 and wounding 70 more—was taken alive.”

“At a broader level, there is no research that tracks how police using military tactics and equipment affects civilian safety (or police safety, for that matter).”

How much wellness is too much?

Congratulations to Maryam Mirzakhani of Stanford University, the first female mathematician to win a Fields Medal in the prize’s 78 years of history.

“Really, as a compromise, it’s more than fair. Feminists are actually sacrificing more in this compromise! After all, all anti-feminists have to do is promise not to tell lies, something they should have been doing already. Feminists, in exchange, will give up an amusing source of gifs.”

“In addition to combat vehicles and assault rifles, police departments have obtained everything from karaoke machines to bouncy castles through the DoD program, free of charge.”

Workers deserve more stability in their schedules. This is another reason why unions matter.

“Over the past generation or so, we’ve militarized our police to protect a public that has broadly become less and less violent.”

HERO repeal petition lawsuit set for January

There will be no HERO repeal referendum on the ballot this year, but depending on how the trial (and likely appeal) goes, there could be one next year.

PetitionsInvalid

Opponents of Houston’s equal rights ordinance dropped their request for a temporary injunction Friday that could have triggered a process to set a repeal referendum this November.

That means their lawsuit will not be heard until January 2015.

State District Judge Robert Schaffer early in the Friday injunction hearing questioned why the plaintiffs were seeking the same outcome via injunction as they are seeking in the lawsuit.

“If I grant the relief you’re asking for, isn’t that granting you everything you’re asking for in your petition?” Schaffer asked.

The announcement that the injunction request would be dropped came after Schaffer consulted with both parties in his chambers.

Also Friday, Houston’s 14th Court of Appeals denied a separate request from opponents to force the city secretary to certify the signatures on their petition and trigger a referendum.

A three-judge panel ruled that the emergency writ of mandamus plaintiffs sought would have the same result as a favorable ruling in their pending lawsuit that went before Schaffer’s court Friday. The plaintiffs, the judges wrote, could appeal after a ruling comes down at the trial court level.

See here, here, and here for the background. What Judge Shaffer was saying was that in the lawsuit the plaintiffs asked that the petitions be declared to be valid as part of their request for immediate injunctive relief, which is to say they were asking to be declared the winner before a trial took place. Now we’ll have that trial, and hopefully settle the issue once and for all. In the meantime, the city has agreed to continue not enforcing the ordinance pending the outcome of the trial. Mark your calendars for January 15. Jerad Najvar, who had previously made the case for the plaintiffs, Hair Balls, Lone Star Q, and LGBTQ Nation have more.

More on the Perry indictment

Just some more thoughts and links relating to the big story that turned a relatively quiet Friday into one of the busiest news day of the year so far. Let’s start with a reality check from Harold Cook.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

This corndog has done nothing wrong

First of all, I’m a bit puzzled by the indictment. It seems weak to me. When the criminal complaint was first made following Perry’s veto of Lehmberg’s Public Integrity Unit, it seemed weak to me then, too. But then, Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum remarked publicly that he was especially concerned about Perry’s actions post-veto, which might rise to the level of breaking the law.

Finally, an aspect of this that made sense to me. Except that in reading the actual two-count indictment, it appears to focus on Perry’s veto, and his threatening words before the veto. A layman reading between the lines of the indictment would conclude that, while it’s perfectly legal to line-item veto a DA’s budget, it’s illegal to threaten to veto a DA’s budget, if you then subsequently veto that budget.

Don’t get me to lying – I’m not going to practice law without a license on this situation, but personally that seems like (good)hair-splitting. I’m left wondering whether the case is weak, or whether there are smoking gun-like aspects of a strong case which aren’t spelled out in the indictment. Either thing, or both things, are entirely possible. Only time will tell.

The trial, if there is one, may come down to whether the Governor was within his Constitutional rights, threat or no threat, in vetoing a line item, or whether he was out of his lane by trying to circumvent a legal process by which a district attorney may legally be removed from office (a process in which, incidentally, Lehmberg prevailed).

The second notable item related to the indictment is that I have seldom seen such breathless hyperbole, misdirection, and misinformation launched in any situation than I have in this one. Opinion leaders from the left, the right, and even from some journalists, are guilty of it.

I’m no more a lawyer than Harold is, but I think if it comes to a trial, the prosecution has a pretty straightforward story to tell. If I were in charge of this case – Lord help us if I were, but stay with me here – what I would present to the jury is a simple tale of coercion. One elected official does not have the right or the authority to force another elected official to resign, especially by making threats. The only authority Rick Perry has over Rosemary Lehmberg is what any other registered voter has over her. Let’s pretend for a moment that the DUI never happened and there is no CPRIT investigation to speak of. We all agree that if Rick Perry had just out of the blue told Rosemary Lehmberg in 2013 to resign or he’d veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit, that would be suspicious, right? Perry’s always been free to veto the PIU funding. It’s actually a little surprising that he hasn’t put pressure on the Lege to cut that function out of the Travis County DA office and give it to the Attorney General or something like that. But he hasn’t, maybe because it wasn’t worth the effort and the political fallout, or maybe he just had other fish to fry. Then Lehmberg goes and gets herself busted for drunk driving, and now maybe Perry has a wedge. That doesn’t give him any more right to threaten the duly elected Lehmberg than he’d had the day before she made the poor choice to get behind the wheel after downing too much vodka. One elected official cannot coerce another. I think a jury will have an easy time grasping that.

Harold also muses about how odd it is for Perry to get indicted for doing something he could have easily done on the QT without raising any eyebrows. It’s absolutely true that in the aftermath of Lehmberg’s arrest Perry could have joined the calls for her to resign without explicitly mentioning the PIU funding, and he could have vetoed the PIU funding later saying that it made no sense for someone who lacked integrity to head up a Public Integrity Unit. It was publicly connecting the two that landed him in the soup. Isn’t that often how it is with criminal activity? The perpetrator could have gotten away with it if only someone – usually but not always the perps themselves – had kept their big mouth shut. I find a deep well of irony and humor in this, but I don’t see any contradiction.

Against all that you’ve got the Chron and the Statesman running stories with lots of quotes from defense attorneys and law professors saying that McCrum has a high bar to clear to get a conviction. I can only presume he thinks that he can, because by far the path of least resistance would have been to drop the whole thing. I’m glad this is his job and not mine, that’s for sure.

Harold has a lot more to say at his post and you should go read it all because he makes a lot of sense. On the subject of keeping one’s mouth shut, it’s interesting to see the reactions to this so far from Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott. Here’s Davis:

State Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor, passed on the opportunity Saturday morning to call for Gov. Rick Perry’s resignation following his indictment by a Travis County grand jury.

Speaking with reporters before a block walk in Plfugerville, Davis reiterated her statement Friday that she was troubled by the charges against Perry, which stem from his threat to veto funding for the state Public Integrity Unit unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned. Lehmberg’s office controls the unit, which aims to enforce ethics among public officials.

Asked whether Perry should step down, Davis told reporters: “As I said, there will be, I’m sure, more information that comes to light. I trust that the justice system will do its job, and these indictments handed down by the grand jury demonstrate that some very seriously potential crimes have been committed.”

As the story notes, the Texas Democratic Party and at least one elected official, Rep. Joaquin Castro, have called for Perry to step down. It’s very much in Davis’ interest to not get invested in this. For one thing, there is a non-zero chance that the indictment could get tossed. For another, it does her no good for this to be seen as just another partisan dispute. Her story line is one of a “culture of corruption” that Perry embodies and Abbott represents, and it’s much better for her if the evidence for that is as objective and non-partisan as possible. There’s also a principle at play here, which Juanita captures:

I am not one of the folks calling for Rick Perry to step down as Governor and I believe it is a major mistake to do so.

I am a Democrat and therefore I believe in the rule of law. You are innocent until proven guilty. Period. No exceptions. None.

Additionally, we Democrats were all outraged when Rick Perry asked District Attorney Lehmberg to step down. We were right to be angry. We even supported her when she was found guilty and served her jail sentence. Her behavior was unacceptable but we stood behind her. It seems more than a tad duplicitous for us to now call for Perry’s resignation.

Hard to argue with that. As for Abbott, he expressed his doubts about the indictment on a Fox News appearance but declined to say more than that, saying he hadn’t read it yet. My guess is that after he does read it he won’t say much more than that. Like Davis, there are risks for him if he throws his full weight behind defending Perry. Perry is highly unlikely to go to trial before November, but Abbott has to think longer term than that. It would not be good for him as Governor if there’s a trail of full-throated statements of support by him of Perry and he winds up going down in a way that leave no doubt about his guilt. Enough bad information could come out about Perry and the evidence against him between now and November to have a significant effect on public opinion, and he doesn’t want to be too closely associated with that.

A bit of history, since the name Tom DeLay has come up quite a bit and will no doubt continue to do so. DeLay was indicted in October 2005, and eventually resigned in June 2006 after trying to withdraw from the race in CD22 by claiming that he was a citizen of Virginia and thus ineligible to be the nominee. The goal there was to get another nominee on the ballot, as DeLay’s shenanigans meant that CD22 was in danger of being won by Democrat Nick Lampson in a year where Republicans were (rightly) worried about losing their majority in the House. DeLay’s gambit ultimately failed and Lampson prevailed over the epic write-in candidacy of Shelley Sekula Gibbs. My point in bringing this up is that while DeLay did resign, he did so for his own reasons and with other considerations in mind. Democrats were happy to have him on the ticket for as long as possible.

There is one clear-cut line of attack Davis can take that Abbott could be vulnerable to. Here’s Burka to point it out.

The indictment of Rick Perry turns Texas politics upside down. He can’t be a serious presidential candidate when he is facing a potential jury trial. But it also has serious affects for the state party. An obvious issue is that Greg Abbott has previously ruled that the state could pay for Perry’s defense. Does anyone think the Democrats are going to sit idly by and allow Perry to continue to spend large sums of money on his defense when he stands accused of breaking the law? Not a chance.

My archives show that Abbott was asked for an opinion about this, but it appears that request is still pending. Given the other ways in which Abbott has helped Perry it’s easy enough to imagine a similar ruling, and it’s easy enough to imagine the attacks even in the absence of such a ruling. One can certainly make a case that criminal defense of an action taken in the official capacity of the office of Governor should be paid for by the public, but boy is that a tough thing to stick up for when the chips are down. I’d feel sorry for the position Abbott is in if I were a better person.

And finally, the Trib has the official word from the man of the hour his own self.

A steamed Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Saturday decried a Travis County grand jury’s indictment of him on two felony counts, saying allegations that he abused his power by threatening to veto funding for the state’s anti-corruption unit were politically motivated.

“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” Perry said in a short press conference. “It is outrageous that some would use partisan political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state’s constitution. This indictment amounts to nothing more than abuse of power and I cannot and I will not allow that to happen.”

Perry — who followed through on the threat because Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who had pleaded guilty to drunken driving, refused his request to step down — said his actions were protected by the state Constitution, and that he and his attorneys would aggressively fight the charges. They include abuse of official capacity, which carries a potential penalty of five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant, which has a penalty of two to 10 years.

“I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes and I intend to win,” he said. “I’ll explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter. I am confident that we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is. And those responsible will be held accountable.”

Mighty big words there, cowboy. Fasten your seatbelts, y’all. BOR, Main Justice, Trail Blazers, the AusChron, Texas Politics, the Trib, Juanita, and Martin Longman have more.

Just a reminder: Medicaid expansion is still a great deal

But only if you do it.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

We learned late last week that the decision by 24 states to reject Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion comes as a startling cost — $423.6 billion in lost federal funds from 2013 to 2022, according to researchers at the Urban Institute.

So how are states justifying their decisions to leave that much federal money on the table? One of their main arguments is that the federal government will eventually renege on its generous funding commitment to the Medicaid expansion. But based on the 49-year history of the Medicaid program, that claim doesn’t hold up, according to Urban Institute researchers in a finding that hasn’t received as much attention.

Here’s how Medicaid funding works: The federal government on average pays 57 percent of the traditional Medicaid program’s costs, while the states finance the rest (though the federal reimbursement rate varies by state). The federal match just for the Medicaid expansion population, however, is significantly more generous. The feds pay 100 percent of those costs through 2016, and the federal match rate is gradually lowered to 90 percent by 2020 and is supposed to stay there.

States opposing the Affordable Care Act have expressed skepticism that the federal government will be able to maintain such a high funding level amid future budget pressures. But the Urban researchers found that of the 100-plus cuts the federal government has actually made to the Medicaid program since 1980, lawmakers just once reduced the federal share of Medicaid financing — and that was in 1981. Other federal cuts have been to services, payments to providers, or in program eligibility.

“More recent budget bills actually raised the federal Medicaid share, even while making other federal Medicaid cuts,” Urban researchers wrote in the study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Further, lawmakers won’t find much to cut if they looked to federal funding for the Medicaid expansion. Less than 7.4 percent of federal Medicaid spending over the next decade comes from the bonus federal match for the expansion population, according to Urban researchers’ calculations based on Congressional Budget Office projections.

Via Forbes, you can see that Urban Institute report here. Ed Kilgore adds a bit of extra context.

It should be mentioned that the 1981 match-rate cut (technically, a reduction in federal reimbursement for a limited period of time, not an actual change in the underlying match) was at the insistence not of deceptive liberals but of the sainted Ronald Reagan. Indeed, liberals, led by Henry Waxman, engineered a long series of “super-matches”–increases in the federal match rate for Medicaid coverage of specific services or populations–during the 1980s and 1990s.

The big thing to remember here is that liberals want expanded Medicaid coverage, and are willing to pay for it at the federal level. The whole bait-and-switch meme behind Republican resistance to the expansion at the state level lacks logical as well as historical support.

And that’s exactly why this isn’t a question of economics, where the answer is clear, but of politics, where it’s equally clear in the other direction. Like I said, just a reminder in case you still needed one.

From the files of privatization failures

A story from last week.

State officials have decided to slow the rollout of a controversial overhaul of the foster-care system after the private contractor running a pilot program abruptly pulled out Friday.

Judge John Specia, commissioner of the state Department of Family and Protective Services, said a second pilot of the overhaul will continue but other planned expansions will not move forward until his agency studies what went wrong.

“It would be foolish of us to not look at this situation, look at the contract being terminated, talk to the legislative leadership, talk to the providers and advocates and then fully make a decision about moving forward,” said Specia, hours after receiving notice that Providence Service Corp. intended to opt out of a five-year contract after just 18 months. “That’s necessary at this point.”

Lawmakers said the cancellation of the contract would force them to take a closer look at the overhaul, called “Foster Care Redesign.” There will be no disruption of services for the children, as the state will take over the work after a transition period of at least 30 days.

But the development marked a setback for the “redesign” program, which was approved in 2011 as a way to improve the system without increasing costs.

[…]

“As we move forward, the Legislature should carefully examine whether Foster Care Redesign still represents the best solution to the challenges facing our state’s foster care system,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Providence, based in Tucson, Ariz., had been failing to meet some of its performance metrics and recently unsuccessfully sought more money from the state, officials said.

Mike Fidgeon, the company’s chief operating officer, said it had proved impossible to provide services for roughly 1,100 children in the pilot’s 60 West Texas and North Texas counties without spending more than the state had spent in previous years, as the contract required.

“The contract guiding us doesn’t adequately address the needs of the children and families,” Fidgeon said. “The most responsible way forward is to conclude the current arrangement and work to help the Legislature more adequately fund the state’s foster care system.”

Providence started work last February after winning its $30 million annual contract. ACH Child and Family Services of Fort Worth was tapped for a second pilot, in Tarrant and six nearby counties. More contracts were expected to be put out to bid soon.

But Providence struggled from the start to produce better outcomes or even stay afloat financially.

Emphasis mine. Funny how these things work, isn’t it? The free market can always do it better and more cheaply than the government, and spending must always be cut. It would be funny if there weren’t real people – children, to be specific – on the business end of it. The Legislature created this mess as part of its orgy of budget slashing in 2011, the Legislature can figure out how to fix it. See this Observer story from May for more.