Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

April 16th, 2017:

Weekend link dump for April 16

“Unlike the Golden Globes, where film and TV stars mingle on the red carpet but compete in parallel categories, MTV is all but erasing the barrier between the two.”

The number of pedestrians being killed by automobiles is way too high.

“The lesson that runs through all these moments is this: if you cling to what you once knew, you’ll be left behind. Keep learning.”

“[Researchers] found that a 2013 California law that granted driver’s licenses to immigrants in the country illegally reduced hit-and-run accidents by 7 to 10 percent in 2015, meaning roughly 4,000 fewer hit-and-runs. In that same year, 600,000 people got driver’s licenses under the law.”

“Is it any wonder, then, that the crack epidemic led to a “tough on crime” crackdown focused on harsher prison sentences and police tactics, while the current opioid crisis has led more to calls for legislation, including a measure Congress passed last year, that boosted spending on drug treatment to get people with substance use disorders help?”

“Nearly 50 percent of Americans tell Simmons they would be less likely to use a product or service endorsed by Trump. At the same time, 29 percent say they would actively boycott a product or service endorsed by the president. Only 18 percent of respondents say a Trump endorsement would make them more likely to use a product or service.”

RIP, Carolyn Kelly, artist and daughter of cartoonist Walt Kelly.

On punching Nazis, which is the sort of thing we find ourselves having to debate these days.

“Neither Social Security nor the Pentagon will go bankrupt unless Congress allows it, and Congress will never allow it. So why maintain the charade? Get rid of the regressive dedicated funding stream, fund Social Security from general revenues, and then adjust taxes and/or deficits as necessary to pay for it. This seems to work tolerably well for every other function of government, so why not Social Security?”

Happy Inception Day, Leon Kowalski.

“The assault of Trump on our constitutional foundations is, in fact, daily, insidious, effective, and cannot be bracketed off into the realm of the unthreatening, however keenly, desperately, we would all like to do that, for the sake of our own sanity and civic health—which depends, after all, exactly on not being compelled to pay attention to politics. A healthy polity lifts public life into a world of reasonable administration and procedural reliability, alongside which we can expand our inner lives and interests without having, as people in autocratic governments must, to think about the boss and the secret police and what is going on inside the palace at every minute.”

RIP, Spike Dykes, former Texas Tech football coach.

The annual White House Easter Egg Roll may be a spectacle this year for reasons unlike any other year.

“A 2013 proposal to allow cell phone calls during airplane flights will be thrown out by the Federal Communications Commission.”

RIP, John Geils, founder and lead guitarist of the J. Geils Band. My blood runs cold…

RIP, Dorothy Mengering, David Letterman’s mom and the best Winter Olympics correspondent ever.

“If you’re mad about this now, just wait until you find out that what United did was pretty much by the book.”

We’d make the same trade, too, Stephen.

“For folks keeping score on Trump’s policy flip-flops, it’s been a busy week. First, there was the Trump administration’s mixed messages on Syria and its rapid shifts on Russia. And yesterday? About-faces on China and the Ex-Im Bank and NATO and Janet Yellen, all in one day.”

“Chalking this up to some kind of new strategy probably gives Trump and his team too much credit. What we’re witnessing is governing chaos, driven by longstanding ignorance and confusion, led by a clumsy president with few core beliefs to help him navigate.”

RIP, Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Paxton wants a new judge

He may not get his wish.

Best mugshot ever

The judge presiding over Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal trial plans to remain on the case, regardless of Paxton’s request for a new judge, his spokesman said.

“He anticipates remaining the judge,” District Judge George Gallagher’s spokeswoman Melody McDonald Lanier told the Houston Chronicle Thursday.

Paxton’s criminal defense team requested a new judge after Gallagher moved Paxton’s criminal trial to Harris County from Paxton’s home of Collin County, a move the attorney general’s lawyers opposed. Special prosecutors argued the attorney general’s allies had worked to poison the jury pool there.

Lawyers representing the embattled Republican attorney general said in a motion Tuesday they would refuse to sign off on a procedural move to to keep Gallagher with the case at it moves to Harris County.

Asked for comment about Paxton’s motion to remove him as the case’s judge, Gallagher’s spokeswoman said “He can’t comment because he is the judge and he anticipates remaining the judge.”

[…]

“As far as I know, there is nothing in the Code of Criminal Procedure that addresses what is to happen if the defendant or defense counsel withholds the consent to which article 31.09 refers,” said George Dix, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, referring to the code Paxton cited in his motion. “No case, as far as I know, has addressed the meaning of this provision.”

See here and here for the background. As the DMN notes, what Paxton is asking for is basically unprecedented.

It’s quite possible no one else has ever asked for what Ken Paxton wants now.

This week, after Judge George Gallagher moved the attorney general’s upcoming criminal trials from Collin to Harris County, Paxton asked for a new judge. He cited a state law that’s meant to be procedural, a way for Gallagher to maintain the original case number and continue to use his own court reporter and clerk when the proceedings move to Houston.

But Paxton’s attorneys have interpreted the law to also require their client’s “written consent” for Gallagher to continue presiding over the case.

Paxton didn’t give his consent. He’s the first to refuse to do so and ask for a new judge in the process, experts said.

[…]

If Paxton’s motion is granted and upheld on appeal, it could set a precedent that will allow any criminal defendant or prosecutor to use the same tactic and get a new judge if a case is moved. But it’s unclear how likely that is to occur.

If Judge Gallagher denies the motion, the Chron story suggests any appeals would be heard by either the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas or the 1st or 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. I don’t think this is likely to affect the proposed trial calendar, but as noted we are in unprecedented territory here. Already the entertainment value of this proceeding is off the charts, and we’re still five months away from jury selection.

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes House committee

Something like this is going to pass, it’s just a matter of what form it takes.

A state House committee on Wednesday passed a “sanctuary cities” bill that is less harsh than the version passed by the Senate, but that still would require local sheriffs and jailers to comply with federal requests to hold on to individuals in this country illegally or face a misdemeanor criminal charge.

The Republican-dominated House State Affairs Committee voted 7-5 along party lines to send the bill to the full chamber for what is expected to be a heated debate and floor vote as early as next week.

At issue is whether local law enforcement should honor every federal immigration request by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold on individuals in the country illegally until federal officials give further instructions or take them into custody.

As noted by several of the bill’s opponents, the decision to honor ICE requests, known as detainers, is voluntary.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security acknowledged last month that ICE detainers are not legally binding and that local jurisdictions have various policies regarding whether to honor the agency’s requests.

The Senate version of the bill, which was passed in February, would bar local law enforcement agencies and university police departments from enacting policies prohibiting officers from asking about immigration status if they have been stopped with probable cause.

[…]

Introducing his changes to the Senate version, state Rep. Charlie Geren, the Republican from Fort Worth who wrote the House bill, said the criminal penalty is enough to deter sheriffs and constables from violating the law. He eliminated a provision in the Senate proposal that would have withheld state grant money from local jurisdictions that do not comply, a punishment Democrats have argued would hurt domestic violence programs, veterans courts and other local services.

“By implementing this, we’ll be able to remove these individuals from office for not complying with the provisions of the bill. Also, by targeting those solely responsible for not complying with detainer requests, there is no need for removal of state grant funds,” Geren said.

[…]

Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas’ School of Law, said the federal government cannot force a local sheriff’s department to comply with ICE detainers, so Texas lawmakers are trying to introduce stiff penalties to deter their actions as much as possible.

“Really, what I think is troubling in particular is that the whole debate at the Legislature seems to be one of suggesting that the problem is that certain jurisdictions are acting unlawfully that SB 4, cloaked in legality, would bring them into compliance,” Gilman said. “The opposite is the case. Under federal law, there is no obligation to comply.”

She also predicted lawsuits if the bill is signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, who has named such legislation a priority.

“The question is whether it’s a good idea for the state to get in the middle of a question of federal immigration enforcement in a way that limits local jurisdictions to make their own decisions,” Gilman said. “If it passes, it’s extremely likely that there will be a lot of litigation around implementation and individual cases where people are profiled by law enforcement under the encouragement of SB 4, where people are held under detainer not supported by probable cause.”

See here and here for some background. There’s so much that’s wrong with this, from the assault on local control, to the erosion of trust in law enforcement and corresponding drop in crime reporting in immigrant communities, to the actual threat of deportation to people who haven’t committed any crime, to the questionable legality of the whole thing. But it’s going to happen because it’s a priority of Greg Abbott’s and Dan Patrick’s because they have to have someone to demonize and they care as much about cities as they do about immigrants. I wish I could be less cynical about this, but I can’t. The Trib and the Observer have more.

Bill to fix voting interpreters considered

This needs to happen, and it really shouldn’t be a big deal.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Almost three years after Mallika Das, a naturalized citizen who spoke Bengali, was unable to vote properly because she was not proficient in English, Texas lawmakers are considering a change to an obscure provision of Texas election law regarding language interpreters.

Members of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday took up Senate Bill 148 by Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, which would repeal a section of the state’s election code that requires interpreters to be registered voters in the same county they are providing help.

The measure will ensure that voters are able “to meaningfully and effectively exercise their vote,” Garcia told the committee. “This ensures that voters have the capacity to navigate polling stations, communicate with election officers and understand how to fill out required forms and answer questions directed at them by any election officer.”

Garcia’s proposal comes amid an ongoing legal battle over the state’s interpreter provision in a lawsuit brought by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of Das, who has since died, and the Greater Houston chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

Because she had found it difficult to vote in the past, Das in 2014 brought her son, Saurabh, to help her cast her vote at a Williamson County polling place. But when her son told poll workers he was there to interpret the English ballot for his mother, they ran into the state’s interpreter requirements. Saurabh could not serve as an interpreter for his mother because he was registered to vote in neighboring Travis County.

[…]

One provision of the state election code allows for “assistors.” It says voters can receive help reading or marking a ballot and states that assistance “occurs while the person is in the presence of the voter’s ballot.”

Yet a separate provision allows voters to select an “interpreter” to help them communicate with an election officer and “accompany the voter to the voting station for the purpose of translating the ballot to the voter.” The interpreter, unlike an assistor, must be registered to vote in the same county.

In Das’ case, had her son simply told poll workers he was “assisting” his mother — and not that the assistance involved interpreting the ballot for her — he would have been able to go into the voting booth with her.

Garcia’s proposal would essentially consolidate all forms of assistance and remove any requirements related to voter registration.

While the measure has picked up support by the Texas Association of Election Administrators, representatives with the Harris County Clerk’s Office, including Ed Johnson, testified against Garcia’s proposal.

“In Harris County, we think the role of an interpreter is different to the role of an assistant,” Johnson said, adding that the issue was a currently a “moot point” because the law has been put on hold and court is “still working through that process.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The lawsuit in question is being appealed to the Fifth Circuit, but if Sen. Garcia’s bill were to pass, it would (I assume) moot the issue. I honestly don’t get the argument against this, but that doesn’t mean Stan Stanart isn’t going to do Stan Stanart things. Sen. Garcia’s bill was left pending in committee, and an identical bill by Rep. Ramon Romero was not withdrawn from the House Elections Committee schedule, so there has been no action taken yet. Contact your Senator on the State Affairs Committee if you want to see this bill get passed.

A little skepticism about hyperloops

Streetsblog isn’t having the hyperloop hype.

There are no functional, real-world examples of a Hyperloop, Tesla founder Elon Musk’s long-distance transport concept that involves shooting people through vacuum-sealed tubes in pods that travel at up to 760 mph. Anyone who believes it’s a viable endeavor is basically taking it on faith.

“Hyperloop One” — the $130 million startup promoting the idea — has built a short 500-meter test track in the desert outside of Las Vegas but has yet to construct a pod to go with the tube, much less tested the technology on humans.

And yet a surprising number of government agencies are treating the Hyperloop as a serious proposition.

[…]

Hyperloop One even sells the technology as a solution to high housing prices, by enabling, for instance, “breadwinners to build a career in Boulder’s thriving tech hubs while commuting from Greeley, where median home prices are 60% lower.” It is a promise to enable sprawl so central cities can relax and avoid the difficult politics of creating more walkable development and inclusive housing policies.

Four years ago, mathematician and transit analyst Alon Levy wrote an epic takedown about the viability of Hyperloop technology. Levy evaluated Musk’s white paper [PDF] detailing how the Hyperloop would connect L.A. to San Francisco in about 30 minutes, and he found major problems. Musk’s cost estimates for engineering and land acquisition are inexplicably low — by a factor of 10 compared with current market norms, he said. (Whether people will be comfortable under to that type of propulsion is a whole other question. Levy says the Hyperloop would be a “barf ride.”)

America has the means to reduce traffic and connect people to where they want to go in less time — but solving these problems entails politically difficult choices to shift travel away from cars and highways. Any high-tech solution that promises a shortcut around these thorny problems is probably too good to be true. Like “personal rapid transit” or the Chinese “straddling bus” — the Hyperloop could end up taking credulous believers for a ride.

See here for previous hyperloop blogging. I consider myself skeptical of this idea, but it sounds so cool that I kind of hope I’m wrong. It would be nice to see some kind of working prototype get built, so we’d have some data about the cost and practicalities. It’s a lot easier to be a visionary if one’s visions remain conceptual. If you’ve got your head in the clouds about hyperloops, this story and the aforementioned epic (and long) takedown are worth a read.