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October 8th, 2017:

Weekend link dump for October 8

Pocatello, Idaho no longer has the worst flag in North America.

“For for the fourth time since early last year, astronomers announced the detection of gravitational waves—ripples in the fabric of space-time created by the powerful collision of two black holes.”

“On average, someone gets shot by an American toddler a little more frequently than once a week”.

“Is there any more poignant example of how Congress’ wasteful partisanship affects ordinary Americans? It’s hard to imagine one. If the lawmakers can’t act in support of a program that was enacted in a spirit of bipartisanship and serves the most truly defenseless members of society, there’s no hope for them.”

On the legalization of canoeing while drunk in Canada.

“Contrary to what the NRA may say about shooting violence, a good guy with a gun would have made no difference in Las Vegas.”

“The Second Battle of Fallujah (November-December 2004) is viewed by many as the bloodiest and most intense battle of the Iraq War. According to Wikipedia 95 Americans died over 6 weeks; 54 between November 7th and 16th. The current death toll out of Las Vegas is 58.”

People support gun control laws. Politicians – Republican politicians, in particular – do not.

RIP, Tom Petty, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.

“My working hypothesis, formed years ago and supported by mountains of evidence observed ever since, is that good faith and political power are inversely proportionate in the anti-abortion movement.”

Assume you’re compromised, and take steps accordingly.”

“Archaeologists in Turkey may be on the cusp of solving a mystery thousands of years in the making after they stumbled on a tomb beneath the ruins of an ancient church they believe contains the remains of Saint Nicholas—known popularly as Santa Claus.”

“The early Medicaid expansion was associated with an 11 percent reduction in the number of loans taken out each month. It also reduced the number of unique borrowers each month and the amount of payday loan debt.”

Roy Moore really is dangerously outside the mainstream. He makes Ted Cruz look thoughtful.

The “IRS scandal” was a total zero. Not that anyone who made a bid deal out of it will ever admit that.

How about a statue of Fannie Lou Hamer somewhere?

RIP, Ralphie May, stand-up comedian.

“Until Americans change their minds about guns, Americans will die by guns in numbers resembling the casualty figures in Somalia and Honduras more than Britain or Germany.”

RIP, Connie Hawkins, basketball Hall of Famer who starred in the ABA and NBA.

What the Harvey needs are from the state

It’s not just about recovery. The long term needs, including mitigation against future events like Harvey, is where the real money will need to be spent.

More than one month after Harvey’s deluge hit, local officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, testified at a state House of Representatives Appropriations Committee hearing that more than $370 million worth of debris removal and repair work on more than 50 government buildings has strained local coffers, necessitating quick aid and reimbursement from the federal or state government.

They also emphasized what likely will greatly exceed the costs of immediate recovery: how to prepare for the next storm. That could include billions of dollars for large-scale buyouts, a third reservoir on Houston’s west side, a reservoir on the Brazos River in Fort Bend County and hundreds of millions of dollars to jump start bayou improvement projects that have slowed in recent years without federal funding.

“There’s going to come a time where we have taken all the money from the feds, we have gotten all the money we’re going to get from the state, and we’re going to have to decide: What kind of community do we want to be?” Emmett said at the hearing.

Harvey’s record-smashing rainfall and floods damaged more than 136,000 homes and other buildings in Harris County and killed nearly 80 people across the state.

The Texas House Appropriations Committee and Urban Affairs Committee met at the University of Houston on Monday to understand public costs and where reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. Congressional appropriations were being directed in the storm’s wake.

Emmett, Turner and Fort Bend County officials testified, as did Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, who is coordinating the state’s recovery efforts. The heads of several other state agencies also testified.

The hearing came just three days after Gov. Greg Abbott visited Houston and presented Turner with a check for $50 million. The check almost immediately was spoken for, Turner said, mostly for debris removal and insurance costs.

Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Houston, said Harvey, in theory, qualified as the “perfect reason” to use the state’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund,” a savings account comprised of billions in excess oil and gas taxes.

Abbott had indicated as much last week but said he would tap existing state emergency funds and reimburse them from the Rainy Day Fund when the Legislature next meets in 2019.

“Before the Legislature acts, we need to ensure what the expenses are that the state is responsible for,” Zerwas said.

Yes, that would be nice to know. There were other hearings this week as well.

The first order of business, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told the House Natural Resources Committee, needs to be a flood control plan for the entire state — and the Gulf Coast in particular.

The Texas Water Development Board is already in the process of crafting a statewide flood plan, with the help of $600,000 state lawmakers gave them earlier this year. Lawmakers haven’t yet promised to back any of the projects that end up in the plan.

Emmett, a Republican and former state lawmaker, said Harris County intends to put together its own flood control plan in the meantime, add up the costs of its recommended projects, then see how much the federal and state government want to contribute. He said he’ll be the first to push for a local bond package to make up the difference.

Property taxes are “the most miserable tax created,” Emmett said. “But it’s what we’ve been given to work with so we don’t have a choice.”

Emmett said Harris County’s plan likely will include another major dam to catch runoff during storms and relieve pressure on two existing reservoirs, Addicks and Barker. Those reservoirs, which filled to historic levels during Harvey, flooded thousands of homes that may not have been inundated with additional protections.

Emmett and the city of Houston’s “flood czar,” Stephen Costello, suggested the state tap its savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to pay for such a project, estimated to cost at least $300 million. (Gov. Greg Abbott has said lawmakers can tap that fund in 2019 or sooner if they need it for Harvey relief; so far, he has written Houston a $50 million out of a state disaster relief fund.)

Costello said Texas should also consider creating a multi-billion dollar fund to support flood control projects similar to one the state’s voters approved in 2013 for water supply projects.

So far all of the talk is constructive, and even Dan Patrick is doing his part. The real test will be whether we follow up on any of this when the Lege reconvenes. Also, while this doesn’t directly answer my question about the SWIFT fund, but it does clearly suggest that it’s not intended for this kind of infrastructure. Which makes sense, given when it was created, but I had wondered if there was some flexibility built in. I would hope there would be plenty of support for a similar fund for flood mitigation.

More trans people are running for office

The best way to gain political power is to win elections, and to win elections you have to run for office.

Dani Pellett

The first time Dani Pellett tackled the bathroom question was years before the issue of transgender access to restrooms would become a matter of political debate — and more than a decade before Pellett would enter the political realm herself.

Pellett was in her early twenties then, a University of North Texas student just two months shy of seeking a commission as an Air Force pilot. But “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was still in effect, and she knew that to receive a commission she’d have to hide her gender dysphoria. Pellett ultimately dropped out of air force training, transitioned, founded a support group and began to advocate for gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Eventually, the group was successful.

“Did we just win? Oh, I think we did!” Pellett recalls thinking. The political victory got her hooked.

Thirteen years later, Pellett finds herself challenging U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Dallas Republican. Sessions’ North Texas district overlaps with State Senate District 8, where Pamela Curry is planning to run as a Democrat for a rare open seat.

Both women are among a tiny group of transgender Texans who have run for office in recent years, partly in response to Republican leaders’ support for laws that target the transgender community. The Texas Legislature devoted part of this year’s regular legislative session and a special session this summer to proposals that would restrict transgender individuals’ bathroom use in public buildings. No bathroom bills made it to the governor.

Pellett and Curry intend to be on the ballot in 2018, and two other transgender candidates ran for local offices earlier this year. Johnny Boucher made an unsuccessful bid for Grand Prairie’s school board and Sandra Faye Dunn lost her bid for a seat on the Amarillo College Board of Regents.

Four people in two years are hardly a speck in a state of nearly 28 million, but that number means Texas currently has more transgender candidates than any other state, according to Logan Casey, a Harvard researcher who studies LGBTQ representation in politics. And it’s a disproportionately large group — Texas carries just under 9 percent of the country’s population, but about 14 percent of its current transgender candidates.

Casey said the political debate over measures targeting transgender Texans has galvanized that community.

“When you use a group as a political tool the way the bathroom bill has been used in Texas, that has effects on the marginalized group that is being used,” Casey said. “It’s not surprising to me that, given the hyper politicization of LGBTQ issues and particularly trans issues in Texas in the last couple years, that there are a lot of people — proportionately — running for office in Texas.”

See here for more on Jess Herbst. Dani Pellett is in a crowded field in CD32; she had a modest finance report for Q2. I’d say Pam Curry has a better shot at being the nominee in SD08 than Pellett does in CD32. Neither she nor Brian Chaput had raised any money as of July, but that’s a two-person race, and Curry will get some earned media, which ought to help. Whoever does win the nomination in SD08 will be a much bigger underdog than the candidate in CD32, but at least we have someone, and who knows, we could have the best year ever. Win or lose, participation matters. The more people see transgender candidates run for office, the more normal it will be. I wish Pellett and Curry the best of luck.

Harvey and the oysters

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Oyster lovers will shell out more for the marine delicacy this fall, as freshwater runoff from Hurricane Harvey’s historic floods killed virtually all of the bivalves in the prolific seabeds of Galveston Bay.

The storm was the latest setback to a multimillion-dollar commercial fishing and seafood-processing industry that appeared poised to finally rebound from floods, including two devastating tropical weather systems, and an extended drought in less than a decade. Shrimpers, crabbers and other fishermen who work the bay also will feel an impact.

But it’s most lethal in the case of the oysters, as Harvey-spawned rains and rainwater runoff drove down the bay’s salinity to fatal levels. Salinity levels of 12 to 30 parts per thousand are ideal for a healthy oyster harvest in Galveston Bay, which researchers say is the nation’s most bountiful. Yet preliminary tests performed by commercial fishers on Tuesday revealed salinity levels at 0 to 5 parts per thousand – and excessive water continues to drain into the bay.

Industry leaders fear no more than 10 percent of oysters in the bay prior to the storm have survived. It’s possible, they said, that the entire crop is lost.

“That much freshwater in the bay has taken its toll on us,” said Mark Lewis, sales representative for wholesaler, Jeri’s Seafood. “There’s nothing in Texas to buy.”

From Hurricane Ike to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the drought to the other big floods of the last two years and finally Harvey, it’s been an extremely rough time for the oyster population and the industry it sustains. Things aren’t much better in Louisiana right now, either. Maybe we should work a little harder at being good stewards of the environment? Just a thought.