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May 28th, 2017:

Weekend link dump for May 28

“Two big reasons Trump will have a tough time pushing the special counsel around”.

“The growing frustration with the Trump administration’s management — reflected in letters to state regulators and in interviews with more than two dozen senior industry and government officials nationwide — undercuts a key White House claim that Obamacare insurance marketplaces are collapsing on their own.”

I’m almost positive I’m the first person to stand on a stage at an Upfront and say ‘elephant twat.’ You are welcome.”

The bad effects of the Trump regime extend well beyond the borders of the USA.

“The same theory of law, order, and personal responsibility without excuses that his Attorney General has decided is good for petty drug offenses ought to be good for the conduct of the Oval Office, too.”

“1. The neural network really likes brown, beige, and grey. 2. The neural network has really really bad ideas for paint names.”

“We weren’t pandered to with the myriad of diagnosed anxiety disorders of today’s kids. Naw, we just had eating disorders and mental illnesses that we suffered in secret, silence, and shame.”

“If you discount demographics, which we have no control over, social stigma accounts for about half the drop in drunk driving. This suggests that what we need isn’t so much stricter laws, but a revitalized campaign to even further stigmatize drunk driving.”

“This is where we get to the great irony of the story – because in the end it wasn’t the size of the asteroid, the scale of blast, or even its global reach that made dinosaurs extinct – it was where the impact happened.”

“In my lab we have found that 4-year-olds recognize that their own past beliefs might have been wrong. Mr. Trump contradicts himself without hesitation and doesn’t seem to recognize any conflict between his past and present beliefs.”

“Her name was Eudocia Tomas Pulido. We called her Lola. She was 4 foot 11, with mocha-brown skin and almond eyes that I can still see looking into mine—my first memory. She was 18 years old when my grandfather gave her to my mother as a gift, and when my family moved to the United States, we brought her with us. No other word but slave encompassed the life she lived.” A truly amazing story, and when you’re done with it read this for some additional context.

A Timeline of Trump–Russia Connections.

“The Trump administration has taken thousands of government records offline since taking office. We’re getting them back.”

“So yes, Sean Hannity, we do need to know more about duck genitalia.”

“These folks seem to look at the economy and conclude that the wealthy don’t have enough and the poor have too much, and they’re going to fix that.”

A story about Mister Rogers that will almost certainly make you tear up a bit.

#FillTheSwamp

RIP, Sir Roger Moore, James Bond in “Live And Let Die”, “Moonraker”, and others.

“What do our friends the young-Earth creationists make of this stuff? Here, after all, is a tangible, fluffy-white embodiment of deep time. It’s one more thing that such illiteralist fundamentalists cannot allow themselves to look at or think about. So I wonder what kind of filter system Ken Ham uses for his hot tub.”

“But to do that they’d have to admit something that Republicans seem incapable of admitting: When it comes to health insurance, market-oriented solutions are the most expensive option.”

It’s the 40th anniversary of Star Wars. We are all old. And yes, of course I saw it in the theater when it came out.

“I photoshopped in the kid from THE OMEN and it’s so perfect it’s unnerving.”

“Our vantage point is that we’re mostly looking at special elections in terms of how they might predict 2018. A night where Democrats are losing Montana by “only” 6 or 7 points is consistent with the sort of map you might see if Democrats were either taking over the House or coming pretty close to it.”

“Here’s my question: why? Why would do the Trump people think the Supreme Court would rule any differently [in the Muslim ban case]? At this point, why does Trump think the Supreme Court will even take the case?”

“Whether Vladimir Putin has something on Donald Trump or somehow has him in his pay hardly matters. If he doesn’t, he apparently doesn’t need to do since Trump insists on doing more or less exactly what Putin would want of him entirely on his own.” Then read this. If you’re not freaked out, I don’t know what it would take.

RIP, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter.

RIP, Jim Bunning, Hall of Fame pitcher and US Senator.

RIP, Gregg Allman, Southern rock pioneer.

Budget passes

The Legislature’s one mandated duty has been completed.

Both chambers of the Texas Legislature voted Saturday evening to approve a $217 billion, two-year budget that would boost funding for the state’s beleaguered child welfare agency, increase the number of state troopers on the Texas-Mexico border and avoid serious reforms to the state’s much-criticized school finance system.

The final vote in the House was 135-14. The vote in the Senate was 30-1.

Scrounging for cash in a tight-fisted legislative session, budget leaders from both chambers agreed to a compromise that settled a bitter debate over how to finance the state budget. The two-year budget is shored up by both $1 billion taken from the state’s savings account, often referred to as the Rainy Day Fund, and an accounting trick that would use nearly $2 billion from a pot of funding intended for highway projects. The House had favored tapping the Rainy Day Fund and leaving the transportation funding alone. The Senate had taken the opposite position.

[…]

The compromise proposal was skimpier than the original budget draft that the House voted out in April. In the House, the final version won the approval of Tea Party Republicans who had originally opposed the House version, while losing the support of almost one-third of the chamber’s Democrats.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, was the lone no vote in the upper chamber.

“This budget is more of the same and fails Texas families,” Garcia said in a statement. “There’s no new money for pre-k, there’s continued spending on more border militarization, and it continues to shortchange education and healthcare.”

The budget includes funding to cover growing enrollment at public schools, but it reduces state funding for schools by about $1.1 billion. That funding is offset primarily by growth in local property taxes.

See here for some background, and read the rest for the details if you want. The thing I want to focus on is in that last paragraph, and for that let me quote from a post Deece Eckstein wrote on Facebook:

The state budget adopted today relies on school property taxes increasing by 7% annually to balance the State budget. In other words, the Legislature is reducing its aid to schools because it assumes your taxes will increase by at least 7% a year.

So, when you’re frustrated by rising property taxes and someone tells you to blame your local school board, just read them the language below. School property taxes now exceed 55% of the average person’s property tax bill. We will not get property tax relief until the Legislature fixes school finance!

Kudos to Kirk Watson and Donna Howard, who have been calling out their colleagues on this hypocrisy. Jeers to Dan Patrick and Paul Bettencourt, who insist on manufacturing villains at the local level to blame for rising property taxes.

It’s an effective con, you have to admit. But if you’ve paying attention, now you know the real story. Don’t be a sucker.

So the big remaining question is whether this will herald the end of the legislative season, as it normally does, or whether Dan Patrick will succeed in strong-arming Greg Abbott into calling a special session to try and force through a bathroom bill. Patrick’s gonna do what Patrick’s gonna do, so do what you can do and call Abbott’s office at 512 463 2000 and tell him no special session. There’s no reason to go down without a fight. RG Ratcliffe has more.

On to the revenue cap

With one major accomplishment (basically) finished, Mayor Turner moves on to the next major challenge facing him.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

“This is the most consequential campaign of the mayor’s career,” University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. “These things are more complicated and more politically fraught than either his mayoral campaign or the lobbying to get the pension bill passed to begin with, and those were both complicated.”

Turner has made his own climb steeper by pledging to ask Houstonians to repeal a voter-imposed cap that limits what the city can collect in property taxes. That rule is a lightning rod for conservatives, who spearheaded its passage 13 years ago.

[…]

Turner thanked city employees for shouldering $2.8 billion in cuts to their retirement benefits, and said it is now time for all Houstonians to join in sacrificing for the good of the city. The revenue cap, Turner said, hurts the city’s credit rating and hamstrings its ability to provide sufficient services and compete on a global scale.

Many conservatives don’t see it that way, arguing that the cap protects taxpayers and gives the city an incentive to operate more efficiently.

The Harris County Republican Party plans to campaign against Turner’s repeal effort, and is expected to have company.

Voters approved the revenue cap in 2004, limiting the annual growth of property tax revenue to the combined rates of inflation and population growth, or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower. Voters tweaked the rule in 2006, allowing the city to raise an additional $90 million for public safety spending.

Houston exhausted that breathing room in 2014, and, with property values still on the rise, has had to trim back its tax rate each fall since to avoid collecting more revenue than allowed.

Despite the cap’s complexity, conservative political strategist Denis Calabrese said he doubts there will be a shortage of voter education on the issue.

“Voters will come into that election very well informed and knowledgeable and they’ll be able to express their opinion,” he said. “The predisposition going into this is that voters don’t support the repeal of the cap, and we’ll see if that changes as a result of the education efforts on both sides.”

You know that I support repealing the cap. The question is how to sell that idea. I agree that the predisposition is likely to be to keep it, though I’d argue that most people know very little about the cap. I’d approach this primarily as a plea from Mayor Turner, as part of his overall plan to get the city’s finances in order. Have him say something like “I promised you I’d get a bill passed in the Legislature to rein in pension costs, and I did that. But the work isn’t done just yet, and I need your help to finish the job. The revenue cap limits Houston’s economic growth and lowers our city’s credit rating. To really get our finances in order, we need to repeal it.” You get the idea. Basically, the Mayor has as much credibility with the voters right now as he’ll likely ever have. That’s a huge asset, and he should leverage it.

Alternately, if the local GOP is going to oppose repealing the cap, then one might keep in mind that the city is much more Democratic than it is Republican, so if this becomes a partisan fight then the Mayor has a larger pool of voters available to him. There are also a lot of potential villains to demonize in such a campaign, from the President on down. This would almost certainly be the kind of low-information, high-heat campaign that makes newspaper columnists wring their hands about civility and discourse, but it would get people to the polls. I’d take my chances with it.

One more thing:

Meanwhile, the City Secretary is reviewing a petition that calls for a vote on giving 401(k)-style retirement plans to all city workers hired after the start of next year, which employees view as insufficient.

Conservative activist Windi Grimes, an organizer of the effort, however, said her group thinks sufficient fiscal safeguards were added to the pension bill passed in Austin, and will not mount a campaign behind the petition.

See here for the background. Is there a provision to allow for submitted petitions to be withdrawn? That would be the better option if the proponents of that idea are no longer interested in advocating for it.

Busy hurricane season predicted

Welcome to summer, y’all.

The nation’s climate agency on Thursday predicted an above-normal 2017 hurricane season with 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine of them hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a 45 percent chance of the hurricane season that begins June 1 being above normal, a 35 percent chance of a normal season and a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season. An average season is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The agency said it expected two to four of the hurricanes to be Category 3 or higher.

“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Niño, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Bell said a strong El Niño causes more intense wind shear, which tends to break up tropical disturbances before they can grow into a hurricane. He cautioned that chances were 50-50 that a stronger El Niño could develop later in the hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.

[…]

The United States has had a long run of good luck, said Ben Friedman, acting NOAA administrator. “It’s been a record 12 years since a Category 3 or higher storm has hit the United States, Friedman said.

And it’s been nine years since Hurricane Ike, which caused a lot of problems even if it wasn’t nearly as bad a storm as it could have been. It’s not unreasonable to think that people have relaxed a bit recently, given how mild the storm seasons have been since then. Be prepared, don’t panic, and if you live in Katy go ahead and start evacuating now. Texas Monthly has more.