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August 19th, 2018:

Weekend link dump for August 19

The cast and crew of The Good Place are all mensches.

“While promises of anonymity once made sperm and egg donations appealing to many, those promises are becoming impossible to keep. Aside from the practical and shockingly easy ways donor-conceived children are finding their donors — like commercial DNA tests, or the trusty ol’ internet — some jurisdictions are changing their laws, and banishing anonymity altogether.”

Bitcoin – still a bad idea.

“As someone who loved the deconstructionist bent of The Last Jedi, and especially the way it brought Luke’s journey to an end, I’d love the new Picard series to do something similar. Not directly literal of course—Jean-Luc doesn’t have to pass on at the end of it, the way Luke quietly dissipates into the Force in The Last Jedi. But in terms of having heroes who so wholly represent the greatest ideals of their respective franchises go through a trauma that leaves them challenged and conflicted, a conflict that lets them grow and develop as deeper characters, while reminding us of the grand ideals they represent? Hell yes.”

While there is some difference of opinion between different Flat Earth groups, I think it’s fair to say that the overall belief is that sustained spaceflight is impossible, or at the very least cost-prohibitive.”

“Yet this particular episode from history carries a clear warning about the poisonous effects of thoughtless bigotry and small-mindedness. It also underscores how, indeed, America has changed, perhaps irrevocably – though not in the way Ingraham sees.”

“So here’s how I think Jaws is a hilarious, great, non-racist, very white movie, that plays around with some of the same emotions explored in the very racist and evil The Birth of a Nation (1915).”

And while we’re on the topic of shark-based movies, here’s how The Meg stacks up against Jaws: The Revenge, and a scientific fact-check of all the shark activities in The Meg.

“Trump is a cretin and a racist and a buffoon. But we fool ourselves if we don’t recognize that he is a sort of savant, a con man but an instinctive political animal who has a deep hold on a big chunk of the country. Language, tone and voice are at the heart of that. Understanding how this happened is well worth our time.”

RIP, Brigadier General Mike P. Cokinos, decorated WWII veteran and member of a longstanding political family from Beaumont.

“This leaves me with a question. Did Noah take Neanderthals on the ark?”

“While some California cities, like Oakland and Berkeley, have no psychic-specific rules, other places care a great deal about how people tell fortunes for money. In San Francisco, the Police Department gets involved.”

“The history of sports is littered with hardass coaches who blur the line between intense discipline and bullying, and become folk heroes when success follows.”

“No one in this exchange is surprised, because they all know Trump so well. Pierson and Manigault-Newman are actually convinced he said it. That’s one of the stranger paradoxes of this political era: Trump’s political opponents know who he is. His aides know who he is. Americans don’t need a tape to know who Trump is, or what he represents. He’s already shown who he is. He shows it every day.”

“Multiple legal experts told TheWrap this week that while Omarosa’s actions may have been duplicitous and underhanded, anyone expecting criminal charges will be waiting a long time as it is perfectly legal in Washington, D.C., for one party in a conversation to record it — even without the permission (or knowledge) of the other parties.”

Rolling the Dice on Ironstache”.

“President Trump’s tax cuts all but guaranteed that 2018 would be a fantastic year for shareholders. Predictably, corporations are taking advantage of this windfall not by funding other companies or boosting worker pay, but by showering their shareholders with cash. Of course, 2017 wasn’t a bad year for shareholders either. Indeed, the last four decades have seen shareholders take home larger and larger slices of the economic pieords. Is this how justice is supposed to work, with TV supplementing the courts in the battle for a criminal’s reputation?”

RIP, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.

“When Sarah Sanders and the ACLU Teamed Up for Voting Rights”.

“Importantly, Clinton and Nixon intended to cover their tracks. Lewinsky and the Plumbers, as they were called, knew something each president wanted kept out of sight. So the question not being asked, in the case of Manigault Newman, is: What does she know that Trump wants to keep quiet?”

RIP, Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General.

RIP, Bob Bass, former NBA coach and general manager, mostly with the Spurs.

Woodfill and Hotze take their next shot at same sex employee benefits

Here we go again.

Anti-LGBTQ activists are again asking a Harris County judge to halt benefits for the same-sex spouses of Houston city employees, according to a recently filed motion.

The motion for summary judgment in Pidgeon v. Turner, a five-year-old lawsuit challenging the benefits, states that the city should not subsidize same-sex marriages because gay couples cannot produce offspring, “which are needed to ensure economic growth and the survival of the human race.”

The motion also asks Republican Judge Lisa Millard, of the 310th District Family Court, to order the city to “claw back” taxpayer funds spent on the benefits since November 2013, when former Mayor Annise Parker first extended health and life insurance coverage to same-sex spouses. And the court filing suggests that to comply with both state and federal law, the city should eliminate all spousal benefits, including for opposite-sex couples.

The motion for summary judgment was filed July 2 by Jared Woodfill, an attorney for Jack Pidgeon and Larry Hicks, two Houston taxpayers who initially brought their lawsuit in December 2013. Woodfill, a former chair of the Harris County Republican Party, is president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

In his motion for summary judgment, Woodfill asserts that although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in June 2015, that decision does not require the city to treat same-sex couples equally.

“Obergefell does not require taxpayer subsidies for same-sex marriages — any more than Roe v. Wade requires taxpayers subsidies for abortions,” Woodfill’s motion states.

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for the city, said it will respond to the motion “in a timely fashion.”

“The City hopes the Judge will be persuaded by the law,” Bernstein said in an email. “The Legal Department defers to the arguments it will make in response.”

See here for previous coverage, and here for the last update. It’s hard to know what will happen here because the basic goal of the lawsuit is so ridiculous and harmful, and the immediate reaction of any decent person who hears about it will be “but marriage is marriage and why would anyone want to do that?” The sad and scary fact is that some people are like that, and that includes some judges. Did I mention that the judge in this case, Lisa Millard, is up for re-election in August? Sonya Heath is her opponent. There’s never been a better time to elect some better judges. Think Progress has more.

Beto’s ad strategy

Nothing wrong with a little low-tech outreach.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Over the last year, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has drawn national fanfare as a thoroughly modern, digital-first campaign. He regularly draws an audience of thousands to his Facebook page by livestreaming mundane moments on the campaign trail, and he has outpaced most every other campaign in the country with the millions he’s spent on digital advertising.

Yet the El Paso Democrat has been also waging a more under-the-radar effort via more old-school mediums. For the past few months, O’Rourke’s campaign has been running ads on local radio stations and in certain publications in an effort to court voters he may be less likely to reach online, part of a six-figure investment to supplement his already-robust presence online.

It has unfolded ahead of O’Rourke’s biggest foray into paid, non-digital media yet — a $1.3 million TV buy that is set to begin Wednesday across the state. But in some communities, it will not be the first time they have seen or heard O’Rourke advertising offline.

The radio ads, which have not been previously reported, have fallen into at least two categories: spots that advise listeners of an upcoming O’Rourke appearance in their area and a half-minute commercial in which he introduces himself as the candidate “running against Ted Cruz for the Senate because I believe in the people of Texas.”

[…]

Among the radio ads that O’Rourke has run to get out the word about his events have been in the Rio Grande Valley, where he has acknowledged he needs to do better after losing some counties there to a little-known opponent in the March primary. For example, back in May, O’Rourke ran minute-long radio ads on McAllen stations in the hours before he went block walking and held a town hall in the border city.

At least some of the radio and print ads appear to be aimed at black voters. The 30-second radio spot has aired on urban contemporary stations like KGGR in Dallas and KHVN in Fort Worth, and the print ads have shown up in African-American newspapers such as the Houston Defender and Dallas Examiner, touching on issues including jobs, education and health care.

You can listen to the radio spot and see a print ad at the link above. There’s a lot to like about this. It reaches out to voters who aren’t Internet users or regular TV watchers. It’s consistent with his visit-everywhere strategy. It addresses a weakness from the primary. The ads cross-promote his town halls and rallies, which are where the magic really happens for his campaign. The cost is low, so there’s no negative effect on the budget for larger ad expenditures. Knowing this is happening gives me an extra level of faith in his campaign. Well done.

High schools need to do a better job of making voter registration available to students

As the Texas Civil Rights Project notes, it is the law.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In a report published today by the Texas Civil Rights Project, new data from October 2016 to February 2018 shows that just 34 percent of high schools in Texas requested voter registration forms from the Secretary of State—the key first step in registering students under the process mandated by Texas law. This is up from a mere 14 percent of public high schools in 2016.

“Our schools must prepare young Texans for the future, which includes teaching them how to participate in our democracy. For more than five years, TCRP has attempted to work with the Secretary of State to help schools comply with our unique high school student voter registration law,” said James Slattery, Senior Staff Attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project and author of the report. “Instead of working with civic engagement groups, parents, and students, the Secretary’s office has dragged its feet in implementing common sense reforms to help high schools comply with the law. This means that, every year, more than 180,000 eligible students are not getting the opportunity to register to vote as required by law.”

In addition to the report, TCRP is also releasing the first-ever digital map of nearly 3,000 public and private high schools in Texas that visually displays which schools and school districts have requested high school voter registration forms from the Secretary, pursuant to the law, and those schools for which we have not been able to verify compliance.

Currently 82 out of 232 counties in Texas, or 35 percent of all Texas counties, did not have a single high school request a voter registration form. The digital map will serve as a resource for parents, students, policy makers, and community members in spearheading efforts to register eligible students to vote.

“As the state’s chief elections officer, we encourage Secretary Rolando Pablos to take common sense steps to address the abysmal compliance rate,” continued Slattery. “We owe it to these young Texans to make sure they are equipped with the tools they need to participate in the democracy they will soon inherit from us. That includes making sure that every eligible high school student is offered the opportunity to register to vote as soon as they come of age, and educating them in all the duties of citizenship.”

See here for the report, and here for the map. To me, the answer to the question “why aren’t we doing a better job of this” is simply that there’s no enforcement. If it’s not anyone’s job to make it happen, it’s not going to happen. If we want the SOS to get schools and districts to do what they’re supposed to do, then give the SOS the resources to do that, and then hold the SOS accountable for it. This isn’t rocket science.