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February 18th, 2018:

Weekend link dump for February 18

A filter for assholes would really improve Twitter. It would really improve real life, too, though that may be a bit much to ask.

Three words: Mutant crayfish clones. You’re welcome.

Goddammit, Alamo Drafthouse. You needed to be better than that.

Sexual Harassment in the Children’s Book Industry. Sadly, a long read.

Fifty Shades markets itself as a swirling Cinderella romance with a dash of kink, with a mousy nobody who is swept off her feet by a charming billionaire with a penchant for handcuffs and rough play. But the union between Christian and Anastasia is so unbelievably toxic and awful that it becomes an endurance test to sit through.”

“You show me [a Harvard Law School] grad willing to work with Trump, and I’ll show you an active threat to democratic self-government.”

“We now have ample evidence of what should have been predictable from the start: Almost everyone who signed up to serve President Trump was in a critical way like him, either ideologically or in personal character. The notion that more than a handful were dedicated, non-extremist professionals serving in spite of Trump’s failings rather than because of them has simply failed the test of evidence.”

I think the lesson here is to avoid buying houses that were prominently featured in TV shows about gruesome murders.

Behold a robot dog that can open doors. Yeah, we’re pretty much screwed as a species.

Turns out it is possible to shame Sean Hannity. Difficult, but possible.

“But the best people want to work for the best bosses, in the best organizations, supported by the best cultures. Trump hasn’t created anything of the kind. The Trump administration is a leaky, chaotic, dangerous place, where staffers operate under constant threat from Trump and each other, and in which the president is so uncertain of his own opinions and agenda that more staff energy goes into persuading him of what he believes than carrying out what he wants.”

The tanking will be strong in the NBA this year.

Roy Edroso tells you what you need to know about Megan McArdle.

“Michael Cohen lies through his teeth like most people breathe. So it’s entirely possible that Trump or various other entities made Cohen whole. But as someone who’s done a lot of research into Cohen and his decade-plus relationship with Donald Trump, I will say again: picking up this charge himself is entirely plausible.”

Chrome’s new ad-blocking capabilities sound pretty good.

From the Donald Trump Ruins Everything: Bachelor Winter Games department.

There are things that can be done to reduce the frequency of gun massacres. We know that because in every other developed country on Earth they have been done, and have made a difference. Australia, Scotland, Norway, Canada, Germany, Finland—these and other countries have had occasional horrific mass shootings. These countries have just as high a proportion of mentally ill people as the United States does, just as many with pent-up grievances. But only America has an endless series of gun killings.”

“This shows Mueller has been doing consequential work, not just sniffing around the White House looking for an excuse to indict Trump.”

“Disclaimer: The following op-ed was penned by guest blogger B. Mercenarius III (well, by his ghost writer, and in accordance with the conclusions of several focus groups regarding the talking points likely to be most effective in eliciting the sympathy of his fellow Americans). Any resemblance to Rebekah Mercer’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal of February 14, 2018, entitled, “Forget the Media Caricature. Here’s What I Believe” is deliberate and intended as parody.”

Judicial Q&A: Beth Barron

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Beth Barron

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Beth Barron. I am running for Judge of the 280th Family District Court. I am 56 years old. As a single woman, I adopted my precious daughter from CPS when she was an infant. She is now 11 years old. Before law school, I was an “Interior Architect” and then a flight attendant for Continental Airlines for 8 years. The last three years of flying, I attended law school. I flew on the weekends and went to law school part-time at night during the week. I studied all 7 days. My last year of law school, I was a full-time paid intern at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and went to school at night. Today I have been an Assistant District Attorney for 21 years. My daughter and I like to travel, read, and cook. Two years ago we were lucky enough to travel to Africa. This past Christmas season, we traveled to Canada with her youth choir to sing.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 280th Family District Court is often known as the “Family Violence Court”. This court has the ability to hear any family case. However, statutorily, it must give preference to those family cases that involve allegations of family violence. Historically it has only heard Protective Order cases which are lawsuits for a court order to prohibit family violence and provide other protections for victims of family violence.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running because the people of Harris County deserve to have the very best judge to hear and pass judgement on these most serious cases with serious allegations. The judge of this court must possess extensive training and experience to be able to make a just ruling. No other candidate for this court can come close to my training and experience.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have had the honor of being an Assistant District Attorney for over 21 years. The first 4 ½ years I handled criminal cases. I was the attorney representing the State of Texas and the people of Harris County in various criminal cases of misdemeanor and felonies. These included misdemeanor thefts, drug possession, DWI, prostitution, assaults (including family violence assaults) etc. and felonies of felony theft, burglary, Forgery, Aggravated Assaults (including family violence assaults), Criminally Negligent Homicide and drug cases etc.

I have been the sole attorney on 35 Jury trials and 30 bench trials. In the year 2000, I took a special position at the District Attorney’s Office that I am still at today. It was originally slotted as a one year stint. I changed all that when I found I couldn’t leave it. For the last 17 years, I have had the honor of representing victims of family violence.  I have represented over 10,000 victims of family violence in the various family courts on a civil suit for a Protective order against their abusers. I have handled over 900 contested court trials. The victims in these cases represented over 30 different countries with many different races, religions languages, immigration status and cultures. I have been honored that they have trusted me to help them despite the fact that there were often prejudices against them.

I am partially paid by a federal VAWA grant (Violence Against Women Act). Under that grant, I am also charged with investigating complaints of Parental Kidnapping, Harboring a Runaway, Criminal Non-Support and Bigamy. I have taken complaints from hundreds of individuals in Harris County on these cases. Parental Kidnapping investigations involve intense research into the original family case documents. I have reviewed and assisted in the investigation of over 400 cases of Parental Kidnapping and directed law enforcement in their investigation of these cases. These cases necessarily involved all facets of family cases including divorce, custody, modifications, writs of attachment, writs of habeas corpus etc. I have assisted and advised 6 different states’ officials in their attempts to recover missing children who were located in Texas. I have worked with numerous out of state police agencies in their investigation of these cases including a case in Canada. 

I am published by the Texas District and County Attorney Association (at their request) to provide guidance to District and County Attorneys (and their assistants) all over the state of Texas on the issues of family violence and Protective orders. This booklet was distributed to every District and County Attorney’s Office in Texas. I regularly receive calls from those agencies for my advice and expertise in these cases.

I have trained judges, lawyers, over 30 different police agencies, social workers, court staff, clergy, and advocates on family violence and protective orders all over the state of Texas. I have trained at 12 family violence conferences in Texas, California, Florida, Louisiana and have presented and spoken at 2 international conferences on family violence. 

I have taught law school classes. I am an expert in Family Violence and Protective Orders and have testified in both misdemeanor and felony criminal cases.

5. Why is this race important?

All anyone has to do is read or watch the news to know that family violence is a serious social issue in our county. Not just for the victims but everyone. Family violence affects immediate family members, extended family members, friends, employers, clergy, health care and the criminal justice system. This court hears allegations of family violence and has the arduous task of making the right and just decision in these cases.

6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

I am simply the best candidate for this court. I have the training and experience this court demands. I am pragmatic and fair and possess the judicial temperament required of a true judge. I am responsible, thoughtful, and never impulsive. I have had the unique freedom for over 21 years of being charged with only making the right decision in my cases. If I don’t believe in a case, I do not file it. If I file a case and then find out it was not the right thing to do, I dismiss is. Unlike a private/paid attorney, I do not feel pressured to go forward on a case simply because someone has paid me to. I represent the people of Harris County. I am well respected by my peers at the courthouse and elsewhere.

I am endorsed by the Tejano Democrats, the AFL-CIO, the Houston Chronicle and I am waiting on 4 others. I am also endorsed by Sherri Cothrun, and other well respected family lawyers, criminal defense attorneys, police officers and deputies.

The latest report on city finances

A little light reading for you.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Even after Mayor Sylvester Turner’s landmark pension reforms, the city of Houston is on pace to spend $1 billion more than it will take in over the coming decade, and must cut spending and raise revenue bring its annual budget into balance, according to an exhaustive new report.

Failing to do so, the authors state, risks letting the city inch toward insolvency with all the symptoms that accompany such a fiscal crisis: Worker layoffs, an erosion in police staffing, fewer library hours, decaying parks facilities, a hollowing out of the city as the suburbs boom.

The analysts from Philadelphia-based consulting firm PFM did not shy away from controversial recommendations, including some that would dramatically restructure city government.

Among dozens of other reforms, the authors suggest Houston should:

  • break up its mammoth Houston Public Works department and consolidate its finance, procurement, human resources, and information technology staff;
  • cut the $9.5 million annual subsidy to the Houston Zoo roughly in half;
  • shrink the Houston Fire Department by up to 845 positions through attrition and lengthen firefighters’ work weeks; reduce the number of fire stations; hire civilians to do fire inspections and take 911 calls; and raise ambulance fees;
  • hire civilians for the Houston Police Department to enable cops now doing administrative tasks to get back on patrol; free up officers’ time by arresting fewer low-level offenders and writing more tickets; use civilians to conduct crash investigations and issue non-moving traffic tickets; consolidate with Metro’s police staff, and, perhaps, local school districts’ too;
  • cut health benefits for active and retired city workers; and
  • submit trash pickup, building maintenance and street repairs to “managed competition,” giving all or part of each task to city departments or to private companies, whichever submits the most efficient proposal.
  • City Council hired PFM for $565,000 in 2016, Turner’s first year in office, to craft a 10-year financial plan. Turner made clear in comments last week, however, that he views some of the recommendations as impractical.

“When you talk about structural changes, just because it’s identified doesn’t mean it’s easily done. It’s not about taking a report and just implementing it,” he said. “There are some things that, from my vantage point, yes, we will accept. There are some things that are going to require additional study. There are some things that will be more long term. And then there are some things that we’ll never get there.”

The report is here; it’s quite long, but the executive summary is only 16 pages, so read that if you want a feel for it. At first glance, a lot of it sounds reasonable and even doable. I appreciate the fact that they recognize that revenue is part of the equation and that removing the stupid revenue cap would go a long way towards alleviating the problem. Some actions could be done by Mayoral fiat, some by Council action, and some will require negotiations with third parties and/or legislative approval. It’s always possible that a report like this becomes little more than a doorstop, but I think we’ll see at least some of it happen.

The Land Office in the news

Please enjoy this coverage of a downballot statewide race, which is not something we get all that much of.

Jerry Patterson

Incumbent George P. Bush, the 41-year-old grandson and nephew of U.S. presidents, is facing off against his outspoken predecessor Jerry Patterson, 71, who wants his old job back after leaving it to unsuccessfully run for lieutenant governor.

Despite its low profile, the land commissioner has one of the state’s most critical jobs, especially now as hundreds of communities, including Houston, continue to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“The (governor), the lieutenant governor and other statewide elected officials, including the land commissioner, are important positions because they touch so many lives,” said David Dewhurst, who served as the land commissioner from 1999 to 2003.

The Texas land commissioner is responsible for cleaning up oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, raising money for schools, preserving the state’s most iconic landmark, doling out benefits to veterans and helping communities recover from a natural disaster.

“Our land commissioner oversees extensive programs that benefit our veterans, and our oil and gas activities, which are important to provide more funding for public education, particularly when the Legislature has not been as aggressive as it has in the past to provide funding for public schools,” Dewhurst said.

[…]

Tex Morgan, who is running as a Democrat, said that if elected he’ll work to increase awareness about the land office’s duties.

“Too few Texans know the scope or depth of the GLO’s responsibilities, programs and opportunities,” Morgan, 31, said.

[…]

Miguel Suazo, a Democrat on the primary ballot, has repeatedly called out Bush for not demanding that the state tap its rainy day fund, which has about $10 billion available for budget emergencies.

In a January interview with the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Bush expressed support for calling a special session so that the state could provide more money for Harvey relief. A few days after the interview was published, Bush walked back the statement saying he “misspoke.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has said calling a special session is unnecessary.

“I agree that calling a special session is not necessary,” Bush said. “I will continue to work under Gov. Abbott’s leadership as we help Texans throughout the hurricane recovery process.”

Since recovery efforts began, Bush has said the land office is at the mercy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which determines eligibility for the recovery programs and distributes the funds.

Bush has three primary opponents, of whom his predecessor Jerry Patterson would appear to be his biggest threat. I feel like he’ll probably win, but let’s remember, Baby Bush was the top votegetter in the state among Republicans with Democratic opponents in 2014. He toyed with the idea of running for Governor before “settling” on the Land Office while he built his resume and bided his time till the old farts got out of his way and he could ascend to the throne vie for the top spot. He was a rising star, the half-Latino face of the Republican future, and now he could actually fail to win re-nomination. The fact that he has non-token opposition at all is remarkable.

(Oh, and also, too: Secret mansions financed by undisclosed loans. I mean, seriously?)

On the Democratic side, Suazo was the first candidate in, while Morgan filed at the last minute. They both look all right, though at this point I don’t know enough about them to make a choice yet. This is one of those races where I’ll probably let myself be guided by endorsements more than anything else. If you have a strong feeling about either Suazo or Morgan, leave a comment and let us know.

Endorsement watch: Close choices

The Chron endorses on both sides in SD17.

Republican State Senator, District 17: Joan Huffman

State Sen. Joan Huffman has been on board for some pretty bad bills, but it’s hard to overlook her herculean efforts to resolve the city of Houston’s formidable pension problems.

In last year’s legislative session, she carried the ball on a bill to reform the city’s public pensions and did a lot of heavy lifting in negotiations with the affected parties to come up with legislation that didn’t please everybody but, as she told us, likely “saved the city of Houston from bankruptcy.”

That and a sense that Huffman had been less intransigent than in the past earned her the selection by Texas Monthly as one of the best legislators in the 2017 session.

[…]

Huffman, 57, voted in favor of the silly “bathroom bill” that became a national laughing stock and for the macabre bill requiring burial or cremation of an aborted fetus, one of several she supported aimed at making it more difficult to get an abortion.

There were others, but we think Huffman plays below her weight when she panders to her party’s worst instincts.

I get the urge to reward Huffman for her work on the pension reform bill, I really do. But we need to be clear that this kind of productive output is the exception, not the norm. Bathroom bills, “fetal remains”, “sanctuary cities”, vouchers, the continued assault on home rule and local control – this is what Joan Huffman is about. She, like most of her Republican colleagues, will do Dan Patrick’s bidding whenever he tells them to. She was able to do the work she did on the pension bill because Patrick didn’t care to oppose her. As long as she’s there – and as long as he’s there – that’s what she’ll do. Thank her for the good work she was allowed to do if you want, but if you support her this is what you’re going to get. It’s not clear to me the Chron understands that.

On the other side:

Rita Lucido

State Senator, District 17: Rita Lucido

Democrats have two strong candidates running for the opportunity to challenge Republican incumbent Joan Huffman in November.

When Rita Lucido and Fran Watson, both attorneys, speak about the March 6 primary their words reflect their party’s rising anger at Republican extremism and a determination to put an end to it.

People want to “stop the nonsense” of bathroom bills and school vouchers and would “like to see their legislature get down to business and stop wasting time and money,” said Lucido, 61.

Watson, 40, has a youthful, enthusiastic organization seeking votes others have ignored by reaching deep into the neglected nooks and crannies of the district.

Her message is that everyone in Texas should have “equal access to the opportunity to succeed,” but the way is being blocked by state leaders, including Huffman.

Both candidates cited the need for state action on flooding in a post-Harvey world and for stopping the meteoric rise in property taxes.

This was a difficult call between two very talented women, but we endorse Lucido, 61, because, apart from being thoughtful and eloquent, she’s been on the frontlines for change for a long time and is tough as nails.

Much the same could be said of Watson so you can’t go wrong with a vote for either one.

Or you could break the tie in Watson’s favor by citing the need for more youthful enthusiasm in our legislature. I was excited for Watson’s entry in this race, and I remain excited by her candidacy. That’s in no way a knock on Lucido, who is all that the Chron says she is. It is a tough choice between good candidates.

On a side note, several people have reported to me that they don’t see full information on the various 2018 Election pages above. I get a complaint like this every cycle, and it’s very frustrating for me because there’s no pattern to it that I can see. I’m working on it, but I can’t make any promises about fixing a problem that I’m not yet able to diagnose. That said, I want people to be able to see this information, so I’ve come up with a workaround by grabbing the HTML code from my view of the pages and creating new ones based on that. So, if you are one of the people who have had trouble with these pages, try the following instead:

Backup 2018 Congressional
Backup 2018 Legislative
Backup 2018 Judicial
Backup 2018 Harris County