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February 5th, 2017:

Weekend link dump for February 5

“Top athletes demand an immediate end to hijab ban in basketball”.

“Still, the survival of tax havens, like shipping flags of convenience, is an anomaly. If big, powerful countries and blocs really had a mind to it, they could roll over both in a week.”

“But it has long been a trope of Holocaust deniers and white nationalists to insist that Jews were only incidentally targeted.”

“Jihadist groups on Sunday celebrated the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, saying the new policy validates their claim that the United States is at war with Islam.”

“From religious leaders’ perspectives, backlash against Trump’s immigration policy may be the most ecumenical issue in America right now.”

“We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope. We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost forty years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones.”

“The US turned down multiple opportunities to help Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the run-up to the Holocaust. In one case, it refused to allow a ship carrying 900 German Jews to dock on American shores. The ship eventually turned back and returned to Europe, where over 250 of its passengers were ultimately killed. That ship was called the St. Louis. A Twitter account, set up by activist techie Russel Neiss, is currently tweeting out the names and fates of its passengers.”

“The malevolence of President Trump’s Executive Order on visas and refugees is mitigated chiefly—and perhaps only—by the astonishing incompetence of its drafting and construction.”

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner deserved to die anyway, but if anyone can do something positive with it, I’m sure Samantha Bee can.

Tom Price lied like a rug about a sweetheart stock deal he was given.

“Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country and to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.” And if that doesn’t scare you, maybe this will.

RIP, Masaya Nakamura, whose company created Pac-Man.

“Here’s what this means: Donald Trump’s executive branch is defying the judiciary, even with the personal, in-person assistance of national legislators. He is attempting, in part at least, to overturn constitutional government in the United States.”

“In other words, whether serving under Republican or Democratic administrations, Sally Yates has been the consummate public servant with a demonstrated commitment to justice and public safety for all Americans.”

“Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.”

I’m not even really a fan, but I’d totally be down with Hayley Atwell as the next Doctor Who.

RIP, John Wetton, bassist and singer with King Crimson and Asia.

“The contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”

If you’re an attorney and you want to do your part to resist the Trump Muslim ban, here are some things you can do.

“But wait! It gets worse. If churches can gather money without disclosing their donors – and obviously that degree of privacy protection is required for the free exercise of religion – and spend that money to run political campaigns, then the market is open for foreign as well as domestic corruption. The Russian, Chinese, Saudi, and Iranian governments would all, predictably, either find congregations already recognized by the IRS to use as front groups or incorporate new ones. Of course a group organized as a mosque might not be able to wield much influence without stirring up opposition, but nothing bars the Saudis or the Iranians from paying some stooges to set up a fake Baptist church.”

The #BowlingGreenMassacre is a perfect distillation of the Trump era.

“A collection of Silicon Valley executives, engineers and activists are quietly plotting a progressive counterattack against President Donald Trump, a sign of the industry’s growing anger at his election victory and actions on immigration.”

A re-vote on recapture?

This is very interesting.

After reconsideration of an 18-year-old law, state education officials are adjusting their school finance calculations in a way that could save several dozen school districts roughly $100 million — while costing the state the same amount in revenue.

One of the apparent beneficiaries is Houston ISD, where the change means taxpayers will be sending about $60 million less to the state for public education than they had expected.

At issue is a calculation for recapture — the state’s term for the money that districts with higher property wealth send to the state for use in districts with lower property wealth.

It’s more commonly known as the Robin Hood system of school finance.

Some of those rich districts — “rich” here refers to the value of the districts’ property and not the income of its residents — have adopted homestead exemptions that are bigger than the exemptions mandated in state law. All school districts in Texas have to let homeowners deduct $25,000 from their taxable property values, but districts are allowed to raise those exemptions up to 20 percent of a home’s value.

Not all districts do that, and not all of those that do that are property rich. But some — including Houston ISD, the biggest one in the state — offer the higher homestead exemptions and are also subject to recapture, and they’re the ones subject to the new calculations from the Texas Education Agency.

In a letter sent Feb. 1 to school administrators, the agency’s associate commissioner for school finance said that starting in the current school year, TEA will include half of the money the districts have forfeited in optional homestead exemptions when calculating how much recapture money those districts should pay. That’s the agency’s new reading of a law that’s been on the books since 1999.

“The commissioner thinks he has the latitude to give them half credit for this,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.

The recalculations would trim those districts’ bills considerably — by $100 million in rough numbers. In addition to Houston ISD, the unofficial list of beneficiaries of the new calculation include Spring Branch ISD, Highland Park ISD, Lake Travis ISD and Comal ISD. Officials with TEA said they have not yet calculated exact amounts for each district but said the $100 million is a reasonable estimate of the total cost this year.

[…]

Houston ISD said Friday evening that the board will consider a do-over and will vote next Thursday on whether to hold another election on May 6 to give voters an opportunity to reverse that November vote.

The effect of this new interpretation of the law would be to reduce HISD’s bill for recapture by about $60 million. HISD would still need to pay a bit more than $100 million to the state, so this is hardly a cure-all, but it’s a significant savings.

To me, this is a win for the No vote on recapture last November. As the story says, the TEA could have interpreted the law in this fashion, to allow districts that grant the higher homestead exemption more credit in the byzantize school finance system, years ago. I believe one reason – maybe not the only reason, but surely a big reason – why it didn’t happen before now is because there wasn’t a loud enough voice demanding the change. HISD’s No vote on recapture was a big deal that got people’s attention and focused some energy on just how screwy the system had become. Another boost to their argument was that HISD was being penalized for having a lower tax rate than it could have had. This particular kink in the way the finances were calculated was one of the things that “No on recapture” advocates like David Thompson pointed out, as it was a simple fix that could be easily implemented and would not only be fair but also have a big effect. Maybe this happens anyway if HISD meekly paid its recapture bill, but if anything should be clear at this point in time, it’s that kicking up a fuss tends to be a better way to get what you want.

Bettencourt’s office put out a press release lauding HISD for scheduling another vote. I haven’t seen any other reporting on this – as of Saturday there was nothing on HISD’s website or Facebook page about this – so he’s either being a bit premature or he’s gotten some verbal assurance that the Board will indeed approve a May election at its Thursday meeting. The Board can claim a victory here, and it should be able to sell the idea of writing a smaller check to the state to its constituents and allies from the last election. I’d be inclined to vote Yes this time around – the problem isn’t fully solved, and even without a big school finance overhaul there are other things that could be done for recapture districts like giving credit for pre-K students, but it’s a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how the Board reacts, and to see if groups like CVPE and the teachers’ union go along. Whatever else happens, this was a good thing.

Fifth Circuit upholds Pasadena election order

Good.

Pasadena City Council

The Pasadena election system that a judge ruled violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Hispanics cannot be used in the upcoming May council elections, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by a lower court judge ordering the city to revert to a 2011 system using all single-member districts for the May 6 elections, when the entire city council and the mayor’s seat are on the ballot.

The expedited ruling – which came just two weeks before the deadline for candidates to file for office – is a blow to the city and its longtime mayor in a case being closely watched by voting rights advocates nationwide.

The decision Friday by a three-judge panel addresses only an attempt by Pasadena to temporarily halt the order for the May elections; the merits of the case and the judge’s ruling will be taken up later in full.

“This means all Pasadena voters will have a fair election on May 6,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of a group of Hispanic voters. “All voters of all races will have a fair opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.”

Attorney C. Robert Heath, who represents Pasadena and Mayor Johnny Isbell, said Friday he wasn’t sure if the city would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Such an appeal would have to happen quickly or could jeopardize the city elections.

See here and here for the background. As I said in that previous update, the three-judge panel was quite conservative, so a unanimous ruling upholding Judge Rosenthal’s order is a pretty strong statement. I hope this will be the end of the line for litigation affecting this election – an appeal of the ruling on its merits, which will take place mush farther down the line, is of course to be expected – but there’s still a chance Pasadena could take a shot at SCOTUS. We’ll see.

The craft brewers’ legislative agenda

Same as it was last time.

Now that the 85th Texas Legislature is in session, lobbyists for the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, the organization that advances the interests of the state’s craft brewers, are going to push for more. Namely, they want production breweries to be able to sell beer to-go from their taprooms.

“Having off-premise sales in breweries is our No. 1 priority,” Charles Vallhonrat, the director of the guild, said.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild had hoped to make that bill law in 2015, but that didn’t happen. As a result, the Dallas-based Deep Ellum Brewing sued the state in fall 2015 — a lawsuit that has yet to be resolved.

Currently, Texas law permits brewpubs, but not production breweries, to sell beer in bottles, cans and growlers to-go from their facility. Brewpubs can also offer beers from other breweries on-site, but they are limited in the amount of beer they can produce each year: no more than 10,000 barrels.

The inability to make off-premise sales is something brewery owners believe is unfair, and as a result, some breweries have made the switch to a brewpub license, including Austin’s own Jester King in 2013, Adelbert’s last year and, now, Blue Owl Brewing, which recently started offering cans and growlers to-go.)

[…]

“We’ve been speaking with the distributor lobbies,” Vallhonrat said. “There’s certainly opposition to it, but we’re working through it. We’re also closely watching the Deep Ellum lawsuit. But we will bring a bill about off-premise sales to the Legislature.”

Distributors, he said, are opposed to the idea because allowing consumers to buy beer to take home directly from the breweries could, theoretically, take away some of their business. That’s not how the guild sees it, however.

“We don’t see it as an alternative to retail sales,” Vallhonrat said. “People aren’t going to start buying their beer at the brewery all the time. They’ll go for special occasions, when there’s a big release or they have friends in town. Off-premise sales can drive beer tourism. It’s a great way to promote Texas beer.”

See here for some background, and here for more on the Deep Ellum lawsuit. Microbreweries won the right to sell their beer to visitors in 2013, but only for on-premises consumption. It’s still not legal to pick up a six pack to go after taking a tour at whatever microbrewery you happen to be visiting. They tried again in 2015 but got nowhere, and much as it pains me to say I’d bet against them this time as well. The argument that allowing this would negatively affect the distributors in any meaningful way is ludicrous – who would ever choose to drive to a microbrewery to buy a case as opposed to picking one up at a retail location? It makes no sense, but that’s what they’re going with, and it’s always easier on issues like this to play defense, since running out the clock is all you need to do. I don’t know if any specific bills have been filed for this yet, so check with the Craft Brewers Guild for further information and any action items to take up.