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March 4th, 2017:

Saturday video break: Ordinary Day

This is Alva Leigh, with a song from 2012:

That’s from a Nashville Film Festival mixtape I got on Noisetrade. Mellow, but I like it. Now here’s Great Big Sea:

Bodhrans and rugby – what more could you want?

Paxton beats SEC rap again

Not a surprise.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge has again thrown out securities fraud charges against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, effectively ending one of two legal battles that have dogged Paxton for close to a year.

U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant on Thursday dismissed the case “with prejudice,” making a final judgment on the charges that had been brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Mazzant first threw out the charges last year but gave the SEC the opportunity to file amended allegations — which it did in October, keeping the case alive.

[…]

In its amended allegations, the SEC had sought to bolster its argument that Paxton had a legal duty to disclose to the investors that he was making a commission. Mazzant said Thursday the SEC had still not been persuasive enough.

“This case has not changed since the Court conditionally dismissed the Commission’s Original Complaint,” the judge wrote. “The primary deficiency was, and remains, that Paxton had no plausible legal duty to disclose his compensation arrangement with investors.”

See here, here, and here for the background. After the charges were dismissed the first time, I was skeptical of the second effort, but you never know what might happen. So much for that. This is a win for Paxton, but the big game begins May 1, in Collin County or somewhere else. That’s what will really matter. The Press has more.

UPDATE: RG Ratcliffe’s overview of the Paxton saga is well worth your time.

More businesses against SB6

From the inbox:

In an open letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Joe Straus and state lawmakers, nearly 70 Texas businesses and chambers of commerce voice their opposition to Senate Bill 6, saying the bill would legalize discrimination, is unnecessary and poses a significant threat to Texas’ economy.

“As leaders in the Texas business community, we have an obligation to our employees, customers, shareholders and the Texas communities we serve to oppose discriminatory legislation that jeopardizes the positive environment for our Texas business operations,” wrote the businesses and chamber organizations that represent all parts of our state, as well as a broad cross-section of industries.

Keep Texas Open for Business letter emphasizes the economic toll, threats to travel and tourism, costly legal and operational concerns and impact on Texas businesses’ ability to recruit and retain top talent in the workforce.

The complete Keep Texas Open for Business letter is available online at www.keeptxopen.org/bizletter, and the complete list of companies and organizations signing the letter is included below.

In addition to the concerns outlined in the letter, Fortune 500 company Celanese, based in Irving, expressed additional concern about the legislation’s impact on Celanese and other businesses’ ability to build a skilled workforce needed for economic growth.

“Celanese’s opposition to SB 6 reflects the indisputable fact that it will undermine Texas’ ability to create the kind of exemplary, diverse and accomplished work force that is essential to Texas’ economic success. The fact that it does so without any data showing that it addresses a legitimate law enforcement issue compounds its many flaws,” said Mark Rohr, CEO of Celanese.

These concerns about the discriminatory legislation’s impact on Texas businesses and their workforce were echoed by Austin-based Silicon Labs, which noted that there are other important priorities for the 85th Legislature.

“To recruit, hire, and retain top employees, Texas companies must stand against discriminatory bills like SB 6,” said Silicon Labs Chief People Officer Lori Knowlton. “Our legislature should focus on building our state’s talent pipeline, increasing our number of skilled workers, and improving our education system to continue the long-term growth of our strong Texas economy.”

Texas businesses, both large and small, have signed the Keep Texas Open for Business letter. TEKVOX CEO James Reinhart explained his company’s opposition, “I think that SB 6 sets Texas back 50-plus years in the eyes of the world, and I am constantly reminded by my business partners in the US and Asia that they are all cognizant of this regressive push. It will be the end of Texas leadership as a great place to do business.”

“If state leaders pass SB 6 and other discriminatory bills, Texas could lose billions of dollars in GDP, a critical loss of revenue that would threaten the state’s ability to fund public education, transportation and other essential state services,” said Chris Wallace, president of Texas Association of Business. “The economic impact is very real and very significant. Consider the losses that continue to pile up in North Carolina due to House Bill 2, a law that tracks very closely with Texas’ SB 6.”

Keep Texas Open for Business also noted that they support the goal of protecting the security and privacy of all Texans, but called SB 6 “unnecessary” legislation, noting that many Texas law enforcement officials found that such laws would not improve public safety.

Keep Texas Open for Business pointed to news reports, quoting Lt. Gov. Patrick’s staff who said the office had not consulted with law enforcement on development or enforcement of SB 6.

To learn more about the potential economic impact and business case for opposing SB 6, visit www.keeptxopen.org.

As noted, the letter is here. I don’t expect Abbott or Patrick to have anything to say about it – unlike with the NFL, this doesn’t offer Abbott a cheap opportunity to grandstand to a favorable audience. Keep Texas Open is a project of the Texas Association of Business, so I suppose Patrick might whine about them some more, but that’s boring by now. For all the whining he has done about the TAB’s study and whatnot, there’s still zero evidence that any businesses or organized business groups support SB6. Businesses and their lobbying groups hardly have a monopoly on wisdom, but you’d think that Patrick might at least take the feedback he’s been consistently been getting from his nominal allies a bit more seriously.

Get ready for more I-45 chaos

Lord have mercy on our souls.

Relieving one of Houston’s worst bottlenecks will come with some lengthy complications for northbound drivers on Interstate 45 headed into Houston’s central business district, starting Friday night.

After years of delay, work is starting on a modification to Spur 5, the ramp that connects northbound I-45 traffic to downtown via Pease and St. Joseph. The spur is being rebuilt to also be the connection from northbound I-45 to Interstate 69, also U.S. 59 in the Houston area.

Though it is a major improvement, the work means seven months of construction detours for downtown-bound drivers, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Crews will close Spur 5 at Scott Street starting at 9 p.m. Friday, so they can demolish the ramp parallel to I-45.

In the interim, drivers that would normally use the spur will exit at Scott and use the I-45 frontage road to travel into downtown. More than 13,000 vehicles use Spur 5 to access downtown at St. Joseph, according to a 2015 TxDOT traffic count. More than 200,000 vehicles use I-45 in the area.

In addition to affecting downtown-bound traffic, the spur closure means drivers won’t be able to access northbound I-45 at Scott Street, said Deidrea George, spokeswoman for TxDOT in Houston.

[…]

The interchange work is hardly the end of construction along the I-45 corridor around downtown, with many considering it a precursor to potentially a decade of constant construction. TxDOT is proceeding with plans to realign I-45, I-69 and the interchange with Texas 288 as part of a $3 billion redesign of the downtown freeway network.

The first of seven projects to rebuild interchanges, widen the freeways and shift I-45 to run parallel to I-69 along the east side of downtown is scheduled to begin in 2020, about a year after the Spur 5 work is set to finish.

Allen said the Spur 5 project is being designed with the future interchanges in mind, but will require some minor modifications once I-45 moves.

This has been in the works for awhile – we first heard about it in 2014, long enough ago that I had about given up in searching my archives for something I knew I had posted about because I was sure it had been more recent than that. This construction is part of the grander plan for redoing I-45, though it would probably be worth doing on its own if that doesn’t materialize. Whatever the case, it’s going to suck. I pity anyone who will have to deal with it. The Press has more.

Tough times for Presidential heads

This makes me sad.

As polarized politics continue to rage in the Beltway, rural Virginia still has a place where Democrats, Republicans — and some Whigs — stand shoulder to shoulder.

The busts of the first 43 U.S. presidents, each standing at least 15 feet tall and weighing nearly 10 tons, are huddled on the property of Howard Hankins, a local developer who saved them from destruction.

“They all listen to me,” Hankins said of the past commanders-in-chief.

The concrete busts are the remnants of the now-defunct Presidents Park in Williamsburg, Virginia. The 10-acre, $10 million open-air museum, citing a lack of interest from visitors, closed in 2010.

When the park opened in 2004, it was apparently too hidden from passersby, partially obscured by a Days Inn hotel. It appeared the park’s designers failed to consider a vital real estate mantra: location, location, location.

Seeing value in the presidential busts, Hankins said he stepped in and paid about $50,000 to move them to his property 10 miles away.

“The eyes look like they’re staring at you, just gazing at you. It’s incredible how big they are and lifelike,” he said.

First, Hankins had to crack the back of the presidents’ hollow heads to attach a chain that linked the steel frames inside to a crane. Then, each bust was jostled loose from their spot in the park.

Originally, the busts were assembled from two pieces, welded at the middle of their necks. This meant many of the busts suffered neck breaks during the move, as the head started to separate from the shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln’s head suffered the worst damage. The chain attached to it snapped, Hankins said, and even though tires were laid out to cushion any impact, Lincoln was dropped on the back of his head.

The hole in Lincoln’s head is not meant as an allusion.

In all, Hankins said moving the busts to his 600-acre farm required several days of work.

Now, all 43 presidential busts reside on Hankin’s property in various states of ruin. The once-pristine, white paint coatings have lost out to the elements, cracked and ripped off from wind, sun exposure and rain.

For those of us who are fans of David Adickes’ work, as you know I am, the pictures in that story are especially heartbreaking. As noted, these busts were shipped out to Williamsburg back in 2004, with a second set going to a Presidential park near Mount Rushmore and a third set heading to Pearland. Far as I know, those two sets are doing all right, though maybe we ought to do a wellness check on them. The good news here is that the Virginia heads ought to be fixable, and the guy who bought them cares for them and is trying to do right by them. Best of luck to you, Howard Hankins. Many thanks to Linkmeister for sending me this story.