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September 1st, 2019:

Weekend link dump for September 1

How to reshape the federal judiciary for the better.

What the ginormous coconut crabs may have to do with Amelia Earhart.

“Trump’s haphazard style of governance forces journalists, lawyers, and government officials to expend innumerable hours on doomed initiatives and errant tweets. His corrosive effect on American politics forces Americans to devote far more hours of their life to thinking about him than they should.”

“Pastor Mark is basically Martin Niemöller ca. 1924.”

“This raises a question: Are members of the news media tiptoeing around obvious questions about Trump’s instability? What do the daily lies, distortions and contradictions add up to?”

“It’s almost as if we need a recalibration of the insanity of the Trump era, a new set of definitions about what comprises normal presidential behavior.”

“Separate instructive episodes stretch from 2003 to 2018 and involve three major American media outlets — Vanity Fair, ABC News and The New York Times. And taken together, they may help illuminate [Jeffrey] Epstein’s drive to avoid tough journalistic scrutiny and the media’s reluctance to take the story on.”

“Must we celebrate David Koch’s bountiful donations to public institutions, even if we dislike how the duo have pushed the Republican Party (and America as a whole) to the right? Not at all. The Koch brothers’ bad deeds outweigh their public service. Besides, plutocratic philanthropy is a wretched social model.”

Altagracia Alvino, mother of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero and grandmother of Vlad Guerrero, Jr., is a mensch.

“For everyone involved in the Penn leadership: This isn’t a matter of academic freedom anymore. This is not an academic. This woman is just using the title you afford her to vent her decidedly unacademic views. It’s time to cut her off. Every day she keeps that title, she degrades the institution.”

“A subreddit’s descent into hate can be fairly reliably predicted.”

“And he apparently spends his Monday nights searching his name, not his handle, but his name on social media so he can lash out at people that have less power than him that say mean things about him. That means, A, he doesn’t understand the Streisand effect. Strategically, that’s dumb. But, B, it also means that he thinks by virtue of the power and privilege he has at the New York Times, he thinks by virtue of that that other people shouldn’t be allowed to criticize him.”

“But here’s what still bothers me as this strange episode recedes from the news cycle: Bret Stephens seems to think that his social status should render him immune from criticism from people like me. I think that the rewards of his social status come with an understanding that lesser-known people will say mean things about him online.”

RIP, Jessi Combs, racer, fabricator, and television personality. If you’re a Mythbusters fan, she was the pinch hitter for Kari Byron when Kari went on maternity leave.

RIP, Dr. Alfonso Chiscano, surgeon and champion of Canary Islands cultural heritage.

How did you celebrate Tan Suit Day?

“If anybody can spot (and ultimately exploit) inefficiencies in the grifting market it’s these guys. This is the political equivalent of the shorts moving in.”

“Turns out that was what he needed. He stood up a little straighter and then, with both of us slightly embarrassed in the aftermath of something unexpectedly holy, I loaded him up with some Big Gator refills and a jug of Pine Sol and sent him on his way.”

RIP, Lila Cockrell, first female Mayor of San Antonio and the first woman elected Mayor of any of America’s ten largest cities.

“It is astonishing to me that someone who apparently had that kind of contempt for Trump that late in the game got such a position. How is that possible? I really don’t know. But I think as a general matter it suggests something we probably already know: that the White House is filled with people who know Trump has no business being President. But he is President. So they don’t care. But since the relationship is purely transactional these kinds of betrayals are commonplace.”

RIP, Valerie Harper, Emmy-winning actress best known as Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her eponymous sitcom.

A reminder about the local legislative races

Let’s review the facts together.

Rep. Jon Rosenthal

State Rep. Jon Rosenthal wasn’t supposed to win his Texas House seat last year. He was too much of a Democrat for the swath of northwest Harris County that had long elected Republicans.

But in the 2018 election, amid buzz over Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and frustration with the Trump administration, the longtime engineer and first-time candidate emerged as one of a dozen Democrats to turn a Republican seat blue.

Now Rosenthal, 56, has a political target on his back. Republican operatives say Rosenthal’s seat is one of about a dozen nestled in the Texas suburbs that they can win back. Most of the hottest races are expected in the Houston area or the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Nearly $2 million has already been poured into coffers for candidates as both parties brace for the fight.

“The 2020 year is going to be really wild in terms of what outside influences and national parties spend in our areas,” said Rosenthal.

Democrats will have to work the hardest to defend their new turf in Harris County, analysts say, after flipping two seats by slim margins in 2018.

In 2020, the stakes will be considerably higher, as the party that controls the House in 2021 will have a commanding influence on redrawing congressional and legislative district maps that will be in use over the next decade, shaping the political direction of the state.

Republicans have set their sights on Rosenthal, who won District 135 by 3 percentage points in his northwest Harris County district, which spans from Jersey Village to Westgate. Further west in Katy, first-time candidate Gina Calanni eked out a win in District 132 against another Republican incumbent by 113 votes.

“We need to take these two seats back to expand the majority and certainly heading into redistricting next session. It’s critical to taking Texas Republican after the census,” said Paul Simpson, chairman of the Harris County GOP.

Although population growth in those areas is on the rise, Republicans doubt those districts are shifting as liberal as Democrats think. The districts were victim of a “Beto wave,” Simpson said, noting that voters in both 132 and 135 also favored Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Democrats are counting on long-awaited demographic changes to widen the margins and keep both Rosenthal and Calanni in office.

“I think the population has changed dramatically over the past few years and I think there’s a lot more anti-Trump sentiment to add fuel to the fire, said Lillie Schechter, chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party.

Let me start with the assertion that Rep. Rosenthal “wasn’t supposed to win” in HD135. Sure, he was an underdog in a Republican district that was trending Democratic, but it was not at all hard to imagine this swingy district going blue in a good year for the Dems. It’s a weird start to the article.

I’m not here to argue that Rosenthal’s HD135, or Rep. Gina Calanni’s HD132, are not legitimate targets for the Republicans in 2020. These are districts that had voted Republican for a long time, they were close races in 2018 – especially close in Calanni’s case, as she won with less than 50% with a Libertarian also in the mix – and what else are the Republicans going to do in 2020? They’d be committing political malpractice if they didn’t go all out in those districts. But for crying out loud, can we quit with the “Beto wave” foolishness? Sure, Beto won HDs 132 and 135. So did Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, and Kim Olson. The statewide Republicans that carried those districts did so by small margins. At the judicial race level, both districts were basically 50-50. Both Calanni and Rosenthal won a majority of the non-straight ticket voters in their districts. And at the risk of repeating myself, both districts were trending Democratic before 2018. There’s no reason to think they’ve trended any less Democratic since then.

None of this is to say that either or both of Rosenthal and Calanni can’t lose. Those races were actually kind of low profile in 2018. No one is sneaking up on anyone in 2020, especially not in HDs 132 and 135. The incumbents start out as favorites, as they had in 2018, but upsets are possible. Just be sure to show your work if you’re going to predict that they will happen.

The Republicans say it’s the Democrats who will have more trouble at the top of the ticket, with no O’Rourke.

“I’m not being arrogant when I say this, but our numbers should have been higher according to the polling,” said Rep. Sam Harless, a relatively moderate Republican who won his first election in 2018 by 9.7 percentage points. “The Beto factor was huge.”

“I think the Democrats see a little blood in the water, they’re getting excited, but I think the Republicans will pick back up five to seven seats,” he said.

In total, Democratic and Republican party operatives have identified 34 seats across Texas as potential toss-ups. Of them, 14 were won within a 5-percent margin in the last election. Another 13 contests came within a 10-percentage point margin, and seven are seen as vulnerable for other reasons.

Yeah, it’s the (probable) lack of Beto at the top of the ticket that will make a difference. Have y’all heard of Donald Trump? I mean, seriously. I’ll take that bet, Rep. Harless. Indeed, while this story correctly identified HDs 138 and 134 as top Democratic targets for 2020, and mentioned HDs 129 and 133 as stretch targets, HD126 was actually more Democratic than either of those two. Are those footsteps you hear, Rep. Harless? Beyond that, I’d like to see the complete list of those 34 seats, especially the seven that are “seen as vulnerable for other reasons”. What does that even mean? We can’t tell from this story, so feel free to speculate in the comments.

The felony judges who abused the bail system

Shame on them all.

Three sitting judges and eight former district judges in Harris County were publicly admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in response to complaints that for years they violated state law and judicial cannons by ordering hearing officers to deny no-cost bail to thousands of poor defendants.

But the actions this week came too late to affect most jurists’ behavior on the bench. Seven left their district seats last year either because they didn’t run or lost elections. One lost re-election back in 2016.

The misconduct probes of all 11 judges began in February 2018, when the Houston Chronicle obtained copies of memos and notes that showed that for a full decade most of Harris County’s felony court judges had provided different types of written or verbal instructions to the county’s hearing officers to routinely deny no-cash bail to all or most newly-arrested defendants.

The agency’s findings confirm most bans were in effect for years and largely went unnoticed and unchallenged until 2017 when Harris County judges and other officials were civilly sued in federal court for allegedly violating the rights of poor defendants by routinely failing to provide no-cost bail in many misdemeanor as well as felony cases.(The county is now in the process of settling that lawsuit).

In its August disciplinary orders, the commission concluded that through various actions all 11 Harris County district judges willfully violated judicial cannons and also “failed to comply with the law and failed to maintain competence in the law” by instructing hearing officers not to issue personal bonds even though under state law the hearing officers had the authority and duty to do so, the orders say. Under state laws and ethical cannons, the hearing officers are supposed to consider each defendant’s case and circumstances individually.

Let’s be clear here: These judges were found by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct not just to have violated rules of conduct that they are expected to follow, they actually broke the law by systematically denying personal recognizance bonds to poor defendants. This is serious stuff.

You may say “but these are FELONY defendants!” Sure, but it’s still the case that some number of them will never be convicted of a crime. Some of them will agree to a plea deal for a misdemeanor or lesser felony for which the sentence includes no jail time. Some, regardless of how their case gets adjudicated, represent little to no risk to public safety. How big a risk they are to public safety is completely unrelated to how much cash or collateral they can scrape up to buy their way out of jail. Again, Robert Durst got bailed out. There remains a bail lawsuit in Harris County over the practices in the felony courts, and there’s a similar lawsuit in Dallas that’s working its way towards a resolution. Standard practices are going to change, because they have to change.

The judges who were admonished included former longtime Harris County District Judge Michael McSpadden, who retired last year after many years presiding over the 209th District Court. The commission found McSpadden had, like many other longtime judges, issued blanket instructions to deny all personal recognizance or PR bond requests from Nov. 20, 2009 to Feb. 1, 2017. McSpadden had previously written a letter to the Houston Chronicle in March 2018 where he admitted that “it is true I have instructed the magistrates not to grant these bonds in our felony cases to all defendants, never specifying a certain race or gender.”

McSpadden told the Chronicle on Thursday that he stands behind his decision to deny PR bonds even if it violated the law.

“I have great respect for the work of the commission. But I still feel the same way. I, as the elected judge, would like to make the decision on free bonds for accused felons rather than turn those important duties over to the magistrates. And it would take one more day to do this,” he said.

[…]

The three active Harris County District Judges who were admonished were: Hazel Jones, of the 174th District Court, Herb Richie of the 337th District Court and George Powell of the 351st District Court.

Michael McSpadden’s first duty as a judge was to follow the law. He did not do that. I don’t give a crap what his feelings were. He failed to do his job, and I am glad he is no longer on the bench.

I am not happy that three Democratic judges were also found to be doing this. All three are up for election next year, and there are no more Republican judges on the district or county courts for Democrats to aim for. But we can still perform upgrades, and these courts are at the front of the line for that. Democrats with a criminal justice background, an interest in becoming a judge, and a commitment to following the law, should look here first.

(Obligatory copy editing nitpick: A “cannon” is a big gun. A “canon” is a fundamental principle or general rule, and is the thing that these judges violated. Spelling counts, y’all.)

Cricket in Fort Bend

The sport keeps spreading.

When Malay Vyas played cricket as a child, there were no fields near his home in western India. So he and his friends took to playing in the streets. He remembers getting grounded after hitting a ball into a house and breaking glass, and, years later, one of his own children broke a window in their home, while playing cricket inside.

Now, with the opening of the Jones Creek Cricket Park, Houston-area children will have a safe, convenient place to enjoy the world’s second most-popular sport. Vyas, the president of the Sugar Land Youth Cricket Club, said the proximity of the field will also encourage more families to get involved in cricket.

“The kids could only come practice when the parents had the time to take two hours out of their schedule,” he said. “What this will do is enable parents to bring kids to practices more frequently. “

Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers said the county acquired the Richmond park to expand recreational facilities and to attract more kids to the area. It was community members, such as Vyas, who urged them to add the cricket pitch.

As we know, there is already the Houston Cricket League, and a cricket complex being built in Waller County. There’s a large population in the region that plays and enjoys cricket, and this is just a matter of the facilities catching up to that demand. It’s cool to see.