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September 10th, 2017:

Weekend link dump for September 10

Legal Aid should be a backbone of our social safety net, and limiting that service based on state bar requirements doesn’t seem to be helping anybody.”

How does a remake of Lord of the Flies, but with girls instead, grab you? Assuming you didn’t realize that such a work already existed in another form, of course.

This is the self-obsessed, insular bubble Swift inhabits. In a cultural climate packed to the brim with dire, pressing problems, she uses her massive platform to rehash tired grudges that she thinks the world has been eagerly waiting to be settled, completely oblivious to the actual concerns of everyday people. Instead of evolving as an artist and a human, she wallows in the petty beefs with fellow millionaires that the public might have had the headspace for in 2015, but most definitely do not anymore.”

There’s a lot more political pressure on Google these days.

“Unpacking that involves a bit of theology. If that sounds too dull or dry, think of it, instead, as an exploration of a 2,000-year-old dick joke — a funny, pointed, 2,000-year-old dick joke. Because that’s also what we have here in Galatians.”

Monopolies are bad for all the reasons people used to think they were bad. They raise costs. They stifle innovation. They lower wages. And they have perverse political effects too. Huge and entrenched concentrations of wealth create entrenched and dangerous locuses of political power.”

It’s hard out here on a clown.

A lot more people want to be lawyers, thanks to Donald Trump.

An oral history of Ally McBeal.

The Peppa Pig poisonous spider controversy.

“The review shows that, for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally. It is a view of the president available to few other Americans.”

What Fred says.

RIP, Gene Michael, former Yankees shortstop and longtime front office executive.

Kris Kobach is a lying liar who lies a lot. Among other things.

“I cannot recall a previous data breach in which the breached company’s public outreach and response has been so haphazard and ill-conceived as the one coming right now from big-three credit bureau Equifax, which rather clumsily announced Thursday that an intrusion jeopardized Social security numbers and other information on 143 million Americans.”

Lawsuits filed over dam releases

This ought to be interesting.

A group of flooded-out Harris County homeowners and businesses sued the federal government on Tuesday, accusing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of knowingly condemning their properties by releasing water from the Barker and Addicks reservoirs after Hurricane Harvey.

Bryant Banes, a civil attorney whose Heathwood home and his wife’s home business were deluged after the rains had subsided, is seeking compensation that could reach into the billions of dollars in what he hopes will become a massive class-action lawsuit that would include compensation for homeowners, building managers and business owners within the area flooded by the controlled releases.

“When they opened up the dams full blast, several hundred homes that were dry and not yet directly impacted by the storm — including mine —got flooded by the Corps’ action,” Banes said.

Banes doesn’t contend that the Corps did the wrong thing, only that the government must pay for the damages it caused.

“When they make a choice to flood one area to save another, it’s their responsibility to pay for the consequences,” he said.

Banes’ is one of three lawsuits filed Tuesday in state and federal court seeking to hold government agencies liable for flooding from the controlled releases.

[…]

Justin Hodge, an expert in eminent domain at Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP, said such cases boil down to knowledge and intent — whether the government know what it was doing and intended to cause flooding that essentially amounted to “taking” of people’s properties.

“The government can’t accidentally take your property,” Hodge said. “If they accidentally opened the lever to the dam or the gates, that would not be a taking — that would be negligence.

“But if the government intentionally floods someone’s property there would be real merit,” he said.
Individuals can’t sue the government for an accident. But if the flooding was intentional and knowing, a person can file a claim. He said historically class actions have occurred in condemnation lawsuits but they’re very difficult to pull off.

“A lot of folks may be directly damaged by the dam releases but an investigation has to be made into each person’s claim,” he said. “I would caution property owners … not to try to jump in and file something without doing an appropriate investigation.”

He added, “I’d caution them to hire a lawyer that’s knowledgeable in this area of the law.”

It’s not exactly a secret that the Corps did what they did knowing it would flood some houses that had not previously flooded. And as attorney Banes said, it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about paying for the damage done. I Am Not A Lawyer, but this seems like a pretty straightforward claim that has merit to it. We’ll see how it plays out, and in the end how much it costs.

Ballot order

Kevin Drum finds this paper, entitled “The Ballot Order Effect is Huge: Evidence from Texas”, by a professor at Sam Houston State, and notes that it confirms what we have all long believed, that being first on the ballot in a non-partisan race like a primary or a municipal election is an advantage. From the paper:

Across all twenty-four contests, the effect is invariably positive and, with two exceptions in runoff elections, statistically significant. The smallest effects are found in high-profile, high information races: the Republican primary for U.S. Senator, which featured the incumbent, John Cornyn; the governor’s race, which featured long-time Attorney General Greg Abbott; and Land Commissioner, which featured well-known political newcomer George P. Bush. In these races the ballot order effect is only one or two percentage points.

Larger estimates obtain for most “medium-profile, medium-information” races such as Comptroller, Railroad Commissioner, or the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator. Most of these fall in a fairly tight band that ranges from three to five percentage points. Estimates are even larger in the low-profile, low-information judicial elections, generally ranging from seven to ten percentage points. Overall, the ballot order effect tends to be larger in contests that receive less attention and in which voters are likely to know less about the candidates on the ballot.

[…]

In an ironic twist of fate, we were recently able to [test our hypothesis] with the March, 2016 Texas Republican primary, held just after the first draft of this paper was completed. Featuring a highly visible Presidential race, it drew twice as many voters as in 2014—and had contests for three Supreme Court positions, one of which was between Paul Green and Rick Green, two men with common first names and identical last names. It was The Perfect Storm, and our logic implies that this should lead to large ballot order effects. This is immediately evident in the histogram of county vote shares presented in Figure 2(a), without even looking at ballot order: in a race won with 52.1% of the statewide vote, virtually no county’s vote was nearly evenly split. Instead Paul Green’s vote shares are bifurcated into two clusters, one around 40%, and another around 60%, suggesting a ballot order effect approaching twenty percentage points. The regression results in Figure 2(c) confirm this: the coefficient estimate is 19.4 percentage points. We have never seen a ballot order effect this large, and may never again.

Drum concludes that randomizing ballot order for each voter, which is something that is certainly feasible with electronic voting machines, is the best answer to this. I’ve been on that hobby horse for a long time, so it’s nice to have some empirical evidence in my corner, but in the absence of a new law from the Lege, nothing will change. But we persist in highlighting the problem, in the hope that some day our cries will be heard.

I should note that while the first-on-the-ballot effect is largest in low-information races like judicial primaries and executive offices like Railroad Commissioner, some races defy that effect. I will always cite the three-way Democratic primary for RRC in 2008, between gentlemen with basic, simple names, as Exhibit A for counterexamples. Mark Thompson, who nearly won the race on the first go, basically carried every county regardless of where he was on the ballot. Here’s Harris County:


Dale Henry       85,153  32.00%
Art Hall         69,377  26.07%
Mark Thompson   111,598  41.93%

Travis County:


Art Hall         37,444  30.87%
Mark Thompson    57,909  47.74%
Dale Henry       25,959  21.40%

Dallas County:


Art Hall         45,670  24.84%
Dale Henry       57,234  31.13%
Mark Thompson    80,980  44.04%

Three different orders, Mark Thompson was second or third on all three, and yet he easily led in all three counties, despite being a first time candidate with no money. Henry had been the Democratic nominee for Railroad Commissioner in 2006, and Hall had been a City Council member in San Antonio (Hall did carry Bexar County, though Thompson came in second), yet Thompson overcame it all and ran away with the nomination. Till the day I die, I will never understand that result.

The Texas Infectious Disease Readiness Task Force

We have such a thing, and at a time like this that’s good to know.

Most Texans don’t regularly concern themselves with infectious diseases such as typhus, Ebola, Zika, or the plague. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, public health experts worry that tetanus and MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant skin infection, could become more prevalent.

Thanks to the establishment of the Texas Infectious Disease Readiness (TX IDR) task force, citizens now have access to online courses and other resources geared at increasing the public’s knowledge of a variety of infectious diseases.

The program was launched in late 2014 when then-Gov. Rick Perry signed an executive order establishing the Task Force on Infectious Disease Readiness and Response due to an increase in infectious disease cases in Texas.

Typhus, which is transmitted by fleas and potentially fatal, infected only 27 Texans in 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention In 2016, the state saw 364 cases, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. With so few cases in the past, typhus’ symptoms – chills, muscle aches, a rash, and vomiting – were likely mistaken for something else.

Described by some as a “Texas-specific CDC,” the task force gathers information from many sources and adapts it to Texas’ needs. In addition to sharing information on current cases, the TX IDR designs online courses specific to the diseases seen in Texas, explaining how the diseases are transmitted, who is at risk, and how to control their spread.

The need for such an initiative became evident after the first cases of Ebola were diagnosed in the United States.

[…]

In addition to educating traditional health care professionals, the program also targets first responders, who typically have limited access to resources about infectious diseases, [Dr. Jan E. Patterson, chair of TX IDR] said. With the establishment of the TX IDR website, they can now learn about infectious disease readiness and potentially avoid contracting a deadly virus.

We know about typhus. As one of those Texans that don’t regularly concern themselves with infectious diseases, I’m glad to know someone does.