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March 19th, 2017:

Weekend link dump for March 19

“For the first time ever, solar ranked as the No. 1 source of new electric generating capacity additions brought on-line on an annual basis at 39%.”

“It comes as no small shock, then, to learn that the supposed empirical bulwark of forensic courtroom science rests on what is, at best, a creaky empirical foundation—and that in far too many successful criminal convictions, forensic evidence has been misinterpreted and manipulated to obtain swift, efficient convictions.”

The Purely Accidental Lessons Of The First Black ‘Bachelorette’.

“Based on this finding, it is our conclusion that the Comey letter, 11 days before the election, was the precipitating event behind Clinton’s loss, despite the letter being effectively retracted less than a week later. In such a close election, there may have been dozens of factors whose absence would have reversed the outcome, such as the influence campaign of the Russian government as detailed by US intelligence services. But the sudden change in the political conversation after the Comey letter suggest it was the single, most indispensable factor in the surprise election result.”

How racist is Rep. Steve King of Iowa? This racist. And he’s been that way for a long, long time.

Well, he was warned that HB2 was a job killer.

Olly the terrier is my new spirit animal.

RIP, Joni Sledge, one of the members of 70s R&B group Sister Sledge.

“The yellow submarine named Boaty McBoatface is set to leave for Antarctica this week on its first science expedition.”

“Grant County, Nebraska is one of the most pro-Trump places in America. In this rural community of about 700, the President won over 93 percent of the vote in the last election. But Grant County is also a place that has benefited hugely from the Affordable Care Act. In 2016, the law provided more than a quarter of its residents with tax credits to help them purchase health insurance. Now, under the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, many Grant County residents would suffer steep cuts to the tax credits they’ve come to rely on. It’s a nationwide pattern: Some of the harshest consequences of the GOP’s health bill would fall on rural Republican strongholds — precisely the voters who helped elect Trump.”

A theory about Steve Bannon, Paul Ryan, and the AHCA.

If Your iPhone is Stolen, These Guys May Try to iPhish You.

RIP, Eligio “Kika” de la Garza, former Congressman and Hispanic pioneer in the world of state and national politics.

Two words: Baby armadillos. You’re welcome.

“Just as there is no escaping gravity when one steps off a cliff, there is no escaping the warming that follows when we add extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.”

“There is no one in Washington — possibly no one in America — whose reputation for basic competence outstrips the reality more than Paul Ryan. People with actual policy expertise have been pointing this fact out for years. Yet, somehow, the myth of Ryan as the Great Policy Wonk continues.”

“Breaking down the international humanitarian system is an obvious goal for a nationalist movement based on racial or ethno-religious supremacy, especially if that movement does not want to be constrained by international treaties or laws banning torture, indefinite detention and other basic human rights.”

The generally peaceful world we have all grown up in is not normal or pre-ordained. It was built by design, a great deal of work and sacrifice and on the experience of and in response to almost unimaginable destruction. It’s not natural. It can easily be very different. The wave of rightist, populist politics which is now making a bid for power in Europe and which is represented in the United States by President Trump and his key advisors is expressly based on the rightist, hyper-nationalist politics of [the post-World War I] period.”

“Each year, about 27 million tons of spiders consume somewhere between 440 million and 880 million tons of insects, new research finds. Yeah, that’s a lot of bugs.”

“By permitting a ban on the hijab, Europe is essentially permitting a ban on Muslim women in the workplace.”

How many Goldman Sachs executives does it take to drain a swamp?

People are still fighting over whether or not Pluto is a planet.

RIP, Chuck Berry, legendary musician and pioneer of rock and roll.

RIP, Jimmy Breslin, one of a kind newspaper reporter and columnist. Roy provides a nice elegy for him.

Bill to force transparency on voter ID outreach filed

I approve.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A state lawmaker wants to shine a light on how Texas spends millions of taxpayer dollars to educate the public about its controversial voter ID law.

Democratic Rep. Justin Rodriguez is proposing legislation that for the first time in Texas calls for transparency of spending for voter education campaigns by requiring the Texas Secretary of State’s office to produce data showing results after each general election.

The state’s chief elections office has contracted with public relations giant Burson-Marsteller to produce voter ID publicity efforts, but has refused to disclose where it placed television and radio spots as part of a $2.5 million campaign, nor reveal the names of roughly 1,800 community groups that partnered with the state for the 2016 elections.

Rodriguez, a Democrat from San Antonio and member of the House budget writing committee, says Texas officials shouldn’t be allowed to hide information about an important public education campaign_especially given widespread confusion over changes to the Texas law leading up to November’s election.

“These are public dollars,” said Rodriguez, who is planning to file his bill Wednesday. “I hate that this has kind of become an adversarial deal with the secretary of state’s office, but we want to make sure that money is being spent correctly.”

A spokesman for Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, did not return a request for comment but the office has previously said the materials were not released because of an ongoing voter ID lawsuit.

That’s not exactly true. I quote from David Saleh Rauf’s November 4, 2016 story in the Houston Chronicle:

Texas’ main argument to withhold the information boils down to this: Burson-Marsteller drew up the plans and provided them to the state under contract as “proprietary” information.

A federal judge in August sealed records related to ad buy markets and community groups targeted to receive “digital tool kits” with updated voter ID information. The secretary of state’s office has since used the court seal as one of its reasons to deny media inquiries for the information.

Along with documents related to the current outreach program, the secretary of state’s office has refused to disclose information related to ad buys and market placement for a voter education campaign in 2014, the first statewide election cycle in which the voter ID law was used. The agency also will not release the name of a state lawmaker it wrote a letter addressing details of the 2014 education effort.

As I’ve said before, I think the “proprietary information” argument is a load of hooey. Rep. Rodriguez’s bill is HB3285. I don’t expect it to pass, but it was absolutely correct to file it.

Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences officially opens

Excellent news.

I still want one of these

The greater Houston region now has a sophisticated asset to investigate and solve crimes with the official opening of the new Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (HCIFS).

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and other dignitaries, including Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new facility on Thursday March 16th.

The Institute is located in the Texas Medical Center and it is an impressive state of the art nine story building.

Funded by a bond that was approved by the voters back in 2007, Harris County has invested 75 million dollars in it.

The facility serves both as a crime lab and as the medical examiner’s office.

Among other tasks, its staff will perform autopsies for cases investigated by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and the Houston Police Department (HPD).

Doctor Dwayne Wolf, deputy chief medical examiner at the HCIFS, explains that “about 11,000 deaths are reported to our office every year, of which we bring in 5,000 bodies for examination, either for autopsy or external examination.”

Construction of this facility was approved to begin in June of 2014, with an expected timeline of three years, so this was on schedule. I expect great things.

What makes a Texas wine?

Texas grapes, obviously. Or maybe not so obviously.

Rep. Jason Isaac

Chris Brundrett sat in a barn surrounded by barrels of wine he helped curate and swirled a glass of water in his hand, perhaps imagining it was something else.

Brundrett, accompanied by others from the state’s wine industry, drove home his pitch: “If we can just pump out wine from California and slap a picture of the Alamo or a longhorn on it and sell it,” he said, should wineries be able to put a “made in Texas” label on it?

A co-owner and winemaker at William Chris Vineyards between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, Brundrett was explaining why he backed House Bill 1514 by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, which would require that wines with a Texas label be made only with Texas-grown grapes.

Under federal law, wine can have an appellation of origin from a state if a minimum 75 percent of its grapes are grown in that state. The other 25 percent can come from anywhere.

“I believe having something labeled as Texas should be from Texas,” Isaac told the Tribune, adding that his bill would encourage more Texas grape production.

Last year Texas produced about 3.8 million gallons of wine, according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the state had more than 400 active permits to bottle, produce and sell wine. A separate study in 2015 found the wine industry contributed more than $2 billion to the state’s economy.

Grape growers and vineyard owners are scattered on the labeling issue. Paul Bonarrigo, co-owner of Messina Hof Winery, the state’s third-largest wine producer in 2016, said he was opposed to the measure, and the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association said they don’t back Isaac’s bill, either.


Back at the Capitol, Isaac said that while 100 percent Texas wine was the goal, some in the industry contend that it might be too challenging to use only Texas grapes by September when the bill would go into effect if passed.

Isaac said he would look into offering an amended version of HB 1514 that would phase in the change, with benchmarks at 80 or 90 percent before requiring 100 percent Texas grapes. Isaac also said his bill would allow the Texas Department of Agriculture to allow exceptions to the threshold if severe weather or drought damaged state grape crops.

I don’t have any particular objection to this bill, though I think the federal 75/25 standard is perfectly adequate. Surely there’s some value in giving the wineries a bit of slack in a bad year. As long as there is a standard that everyone can accept and it is fairly enforced, I’m okay with whatever.