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Will we ever learn what caused Greg Abbott’s burns?

Not sure what to make of this.

Gov. Greg Abbott was released Friday from a San Antonio military hospital, but he has yet to give details of the accident that put him there with second- and third-degree burns.

Abbott’s office has said his lower legs and feet were severely burned when he came into contact with scalding hot water July 7 during a family trip to Wyoming. It also has released details of his treatment at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. But the governor’s office repeatedly has declined to say how that accident happened, prompting speculation and dividing political observers over whether Texas’ top official should give more information about such serious injuries.

“How incredibly foolish of the governor’s staff,” said political professor Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “One way or the other, the truth will come out. Why not head off silly speculation and tell it like it is from the start. Serious burns requiring skin grafts are major injuries, and people will wish him well. But hesitation to be forthcoming will encourage conspiracy theories in the age of social media.”

Others are fine with Abbott’s choice to withhold some details, including some consultants from the opposite side of the political aisle from the governor.

“I think public officials should be afforded as much privacy as reasonable,” said Democratic strategist Harold Cook. “It’s hard enough as it is to get quality people to run for office. The more intrusive the job description becomes, the more difficult it is.

“So if they have disclosed what the problem is, and what his treatment is and all that, then good enough for me,” said Cook. “And it ought to be good enough for all Texans.”

[…]

Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak suggested the details of the accident aren’t crucial.

“All that matters, I think, for most people is, is he able to continue doing his job, and is he able to recover? And I think the answer to both those questions is clearly yes,” said Mackowiak.

Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson called it “unusual for a high-ranking official to be hospitalized with no description of the cause.” He made note that Abbott has “spent a great deal of time talking about his life-altering injury” that occurred in 1984.

“He has talked about it in ways that describe it as shaping his personality and his character and his determination – that that injury is part of what made him who he is, with his determination and strength – and so now to be so quiet about the nature of this injury means they haven’t yet figured out the positive story,” Jillson said.

See here for the background. On the one hand, I agree with Cook and Mackowiak. We know that something non-life-threatening happened, we know that he’s being treated and is recovering, and we know that he ought to be fine after missing a few days at work. What else do we really need to know? On the other hand, I confess I find the secrecy a little puzzling. It’s overwhelmingly likely that the explanation of how Abbott got burned is one of those dumb could-happen-to-anyone things. It’s certainly possible that it could be personally embarrassing for someone involved – accidents often are – and as far as that goes, I can understand keeping the details under the lid, to spare whoever’s feelings. But people talk, and it seems equally likely that word will get out eventually. In the meantime, people will also speculate, and the possibilities they will conjure will surely be more lurid and less plausible than the mundane truth. Seems like a clear case for disclosure to me, but it’s not my call. We’ll see if Abbott changes his mind about this.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

We’re outsourcing inmates again

We never learn.

go_to_jail

Harris County, in the latest move to keep its swelling jail population in check, is pursuing an agreement with neighboring Fort Bend County to send inmates to the suburb’s jail.

A Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman called the measure precautionary. If it is approved by commissioners at their meeting Tuesday, it’s not certain that Harris County would immediately begin sending inmates to the Fort Bend County jail. But it’s likely that Harris County in the near future will begin the transfers, especially as its jail population spikes in the summer months.

“Harris County officials asked if we had bed space available and we do,” Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said in a written statement Friday. “They came out and looked at our facility and were impressed with what they saw. We will be able to accommodate the increased number of inmates within our current budget.”

[…]

Earlier this year, Harris County began sending hundreds of inmates to jails in Jefferson and Bowie counties.

What is different about the Fort Bend County proposal is that it targets pretrial inmates, or those in jail ahead of their court proceedings, said Harris County Sheriff’s spokesman Ryan Sullivan.

The Bowie and Jefferson transfers focused on inmates who had been convicted and were awaiting transfer to a state prison.

The pretrial inmate population is the biggest driver of the county’s high jail population, Sullivan said.

It’s also been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent years.

See here for the background. Everything I said then remains true now. What we are doing is the definition of dumb. It is our choice to jail thousands of people each year who are no threat to anyone. It is our choice to do something different. We need people in place – Sheriff, DA, judges – who will make the better choices.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Main Street Line having on-time issues

Not good.

HoustonMetro

Poor on-time trends for Metro trains are costing riders time along the city’s most heavily-used transit route, and potentially leading some to consider other options for trips, a transit agency board member said Wednesday.

“I think we are losing ridership to this,” said Christof Spieler, during a Metropolitan Transit Authority committee meeting.

While no data indicates for certain that ridership is affected, Spieler said a handful of issues are hurting the reliability of trips on the Red Line, mostly as the line passes through downtown and Midtown. The primary cause is a problem with devices along the line which verify that the train is cleared to cross certain intersections.

Officials have been working for more than two years to find a fix to the axle counters, though its effect on the on-time performance of trains is worsening when coupled with traffic signal timing issues in downtown Houston. High heat and humidity also makes the problem worse, said Andy Skaowski, Metro’s chief operating officer.

The problem is longstanding, according to Metro’s monthly performance data. The last time Red Line trains finished a month with an on-time performance better than 95 percent – the benchmark Metro set for acceptable performance – was October 2013. In some months, fewer than 80 percent of trains arrived on time. Metro was unable to calculate on-time performance along the line for 10 months after a 5.3-mile extension of the line opened in December 2013.

[…]

Often, a single problem along the line can stall numerous trains, Skabowski said. The goal is to have trains arrive at each station every six minutes most of the day. If a train is stopped by a faulty axle counter, the delay cascades as trains behind it are held up so they do not bunch together.

That can make the delays even more mystifying to riders, Skabowski said.

“What you’re seeing in front of you is not your train, it is two trains in front of you,” he told Spieler.

The problem is being addressed, so one hopes the on-time performance will bounce back. For what it’s worth, I can only recall one time in recent months where I experienced one of those “why aren’t we moving?” delays. I don’t take the train that often, however, so that doesn’t mean much. Metro has gotten a lot done over the past few years, and it seems like their biggest problems lately have been caused by their suppliers and contractors. Those are still their problems to manage, and this one needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Weekend link dump for July 17

You can now get your files back if they have been hijacked by ransomware.

You’re going to have to wait a little longer for the final episodes of Game of Thrones.

Gotta say, there’a a lot more to Emily Ratajkoski than I would have guessed. Good for her. Also, that link is somewhat NSFW.

George Takei does not agree with the decision to make Lt. Sulu gay in the next Star Trek movie. Simon Pegg respectfully disagrees.

RIP, Frankie B. Mandola, longtime Houston restauranteur and Italian food pioneer.

“It is a remarkable picture. A single woman stands in the roadway, feet firmly planted. She poses no obvious threat. She is there to protest the excessive force which Baton Rouge police allegedly deploy against the city’s black citizens. She stands in front of police headquarters, on Saturday. And she is being arrested by officers who look better prepared for a war than a peaceful protest.”

“The eagerness to arrest and aggressively disperse people protesting on highways seems inseparable from public officials’ identification with motorist entitlement — the presumption that drivers’ business must never be subordinated, and certainly not for a spontaneous public demonstration exercising First Amendment rights.” Also, too, this.

You might want to read this if you’re into Pokemon Go.

“But I want you to know something about Jacoby Ellsbury. I need you to know something about Jacoby Ellsbury. In what way does Jacoby Ellsbury most stand out from the crowd? Eight times already this season, Ellsbury has reached base on catcher’s interference. The guy in second place has done it twice. Ellsbury has already tied the all-time record for a season. It is the All-Star break.”

We need to do better by our English language learners in schools.

“This is an effort to answer a question I’ve been struggling with since at least 2008: Why is the Hillary Clinton described to me by her staff, her colleagues, and even her foes so different from the one I see on the campaign trail?”

Maybe the Philistines weren’t such, um, philistines.

“[Being an astronaut] was the most interesting job I ever had, but when I left, I left.”

What Charlie Pierce says.

“A would-be strong man, an authoritarian personality, isn’t just against disorder and violence. They need disorder and violence. That is their raison d’etre, it is the problem that they are purportedly there to solve.”

First responders usually shouldn’t mean “people with guns”.

The videotapes of the first season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus came perilously close to getting erased.

Meet Mike Pence, in case you have need to know more about him.

“Whatever the precise details, however, it’s classic Trump – poorly organized, impulse driven and on the fly, riddled with weird personal animosities and feuds.”

“This is the choice. Don’t bamboozle me with no-fly zones and tougher rules of engagement and better border security. That’s small beer. You either support Obama’s current operation, more or less, or else you want a huge and costly ground operation. There’s really no middle ground. So which is it?”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Miles wins SD13 nomination

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

And so we gathered again to pick a nominee to fill an open slot on the ballot, though at least this time the “we” who did the actual picking did not include me. I went to observe, say Hi, gather intelligence, and just generally enjoy the process. if you didn’t know anything about that process and you assumed this was an open election, you would have expected Rep. Senfronia Thompson to do very well, as she had the most T-shirt-clad (and most vocal) supporters present. Nearly all of those people were in the spectators’ section, however – the distribution of people wearing yellow Thompson shirts and people wearing white Borris Miles shirts was much more even among the precinct chairs. Ronald Green and James Joseph were also in attendance, but neither had supporters of that easily identifiable visibility.

The process officially started at around 11 AM, an hour after the announced time, to allow straggling precinct chairs to arrive and participate. A total of 84 chairs, out of 96 total, were in attendance. A woman I did not recognize but was told was from Fort Bend was the temporary chair (appointed, I presume, by TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, who was also present) who called the meeting to order and after an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, asked for nominations for a presiding chair to replace her. Nat West, past candidate for Commissioners Court, was nominated and approved unanimously. A secretary whose name I did not catch was also nominated and approved unanimously. Between this and the lack of any parliamentary maneuvers, we were well on your way towards a smoother and quicker resolution than last time.

Four candidates were nominated – Thompson, Miles, Green, and Joseph. Each was given three minutes to speak, which they had agreed upon beforehand, with straws drawn to determine speaking order. Thompson emphasized her experience, accomplishments, and relationships, while dismissing concerns about losing her seniority in the House (“that wasn’t an issue with Sen. Ellis leaving for Commissioners Court”) and age (“take that up with God, who has blessed me with good health”). Joseph, who had the toughest act to follow, rhymed his surname James with “change”. Three times. Miles played up his connections to the district, including the Fort Bend part of it, which he characterized as being neglected, as well as his more combative style. Green talked about his time in city office and more or less explicitly placed himself between Thompson’s “walk from one chamber to another” experience and Miles’ “sharp elbows”.

As with the other nomination processes, voting was done by standing division of the house, and it was quickly clear that Miles had the advantage. A cheer erupted from his batch of precinct chairs as they reached the majority point. In the end, Miles had 49 votes to Thompson’s 30 and Green’s 3; either one chair didn’t vote or the true count was 83 and not 84. As it became obvious what was happening, Thompson and Green walked across the room from their supporters’ areas to congratulate and embrace Miles; the final count was announced shortly thereafter.

Here’s the Trib story on the vote. As the sun rises in the east and the mercury rises in the summer, so began the next race, to fill MIles’ slot on the ballot for HD146. The candidates who had supporters and some form of campaign materials present included HDCE Trustee Erica Lee Carter, former judicial candidate Shawn Thierry, Greater Houston Black Chamber board member James Donatto II, whose father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District, and Rashad Cave, about whom I know nothing. There may be others, which ought to make for an interesting vote given that there are 27 total precinct chairs in HD146. That process may not take place for four weeks, on August 12, due to the DNC convention overlapping the August 5 weekend. I don’t have official word on that just yet, so don’t go marking your calendars till someone makes a formal announcement. In the meantime, congratulations to presumptive Sen. Borris Miles, and best of luck to everyone lining up in HD146.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story on the SD13 nomination process.

Posted in: Election 2016.

What will the NBA do with Charlotte?

We are still waiting to see if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will follow through with a threat to move the NBA All-Star Game out of Charlotte after North Carolina passed its odious anti-LGBT law HB2.

RedEquality

Houston’s 2015 defeat of Proposition 1, an anti-discrimination ordinance known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), could jeopardize future efforts to land NBA All Star events if the league views the Houston laws as similar to the North Carolina law that has the league considering withdrawing the 2017 All Star week from Charlotte.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, while enumerating again the league’s objection to holding its showcase event in Charlotte following the controversial passage of HB2, said Tuesday the NBA has specifically looked at laws in Houston and NBA cities while examining options in Charlotte.

“We’ve been looking closely at the laws in all the jurisdictions in which we play,” Silver said when asked if the league has specifically considered the laws in Houston.

[…]

Silver said in April that the NBA has been “crystal clear” that the league would not hold the All-Star events in Charlotte if the law remains unchanged. No decision about the 2017 game was made at Tuesday’s Board of Governors meeting.

“We were frankly hoping they would take some steps toward modifying the legislation and frankly are disappointed that they didn’t,” Silver said. “Coming out of the legislative session, we wanted the opportunity to talk directly to our teams. This is a very core issue for us and we’re trying to be extremely cautious and deliberate in how we go about making the decision. We’re not trying to keep everyone in suspense. We realize we need to make this decision very quickly.”

Yes, they do. There are logistical issues with relocating the All-Star Game, as there would have been with moving the 2017 Super Bowl out of Houston, which was a campaign issue during the HERO fight. I never believed the NFL would even consider moving the Super Bowl, as they stayed on the sidelines throughout the campaign and were highly likely to embarrass Bob McNair even if he hadn’t made and then rescinded a contribution to the anti-HERO forces.

The NBA on the other hand has publicly drawn a line in the sand, and now has to decide whether they really meant it or not, whatever the logistical challenges may be. My view as a parent is that if you threaten a consequence for bad behavior and then fail to enforce that consequence, the message you send is that you are tolerating said behavior. They could spin it however they wanted to if they choose to take no action – the logistics were too much to overcome, HB2 wasn’t in effect at the time they awarded the game to Charlotte, etc etc etc – but the message would be clearly understood by all. That includes the Texas Legislature, some of whose members are planning their own version of HB2 and who would have every reason to laugh off statements about future All-Star Games not just in Houston but also in San Antonio and Dallas if nothing happens to Charlotte.

I largely don’t care about the economics of this. One supports HERO and opposes HB2 because it’s the right thing to do, not because of any risk management decisions that some billionaires may be making. Polling data from the HERO campaign suggested that potential economic harm was something that affected people’s view, so it definitely needs to be factored in. If having the NBA All-Star Game yanked out of North Carolina gets people’s attention and makes it even marginally less likely that Texas adopts a similarly harsh and stupid law, it’s all to the good. Mostly, I feel that if the NBA is going to say they are going to do something, they ought to then go ahead and do it. We await your decision, Adam.

Posted in: Other sports.

Legislative hearing on emergency leave

Figure this will be on the legislative agenda next spring.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

At a Texas House hearing Tuesday looking into how some state agencies were able to keep some departing employees on the public payroll by granting them emergency leave, lawmakers expressed frustration that vague state rules may have allowed the practice.

“I want to know exactly … if there [were] any violations of the law or violations of the process, and I think that’s incumbent upon everybody on this committee to figure out if that transpired,” said Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “If the law wasn’t broken, then I want to know exactly how we can correct it.”

Lawmakers on the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics were looking into whether heads of agencies have too much discretion when it comes to awarding emergency leave.

“There’s going to be absolute certain change to this statute, but let’s work together to get it right,” said Committee Chairman Rep. John Kuempel, R-Seguin, during the hearing.

Texas does not award severance pay to state employees, but recent news reports showed that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton paid both his first assistant attorney general and communications director for months after they left the agency by categorizing both as being on emergency leave. Other reports revealed a similar practice in the General Land Office where departing employees continued to receive compensation, though not through emergency leave.

Emergency leave is often used as a way of permitting state employees to take a leave of absence for a death in the family, but the law also allows agency heads to grant it for other unspecified situations.

In June, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, asked the Legislature to examine the issue. He had previously called for limiting the practice in order to ensure “that agencies use taxpayer dollars appropriately.”

See here and here for the background. There’s a request for an investigation by the Rangers into the severances, but I don’t know where that stands. As a philosophical matter, I don’t particularly object to severance packages for state employees. There ought to be some limit on them, but I don’t think they need to be banned completely. The use of emergency leave as a form of severance package, done as a way of keeping people quiet as they’re being shown the door, is another matter, one that deserves a close look from the Lege. I don’t know what action they’ll take, but it will be something. The Chron has more.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

America’s deadliest prosecutors

Fascinating.

In anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark death penalty decision, Gregg v. Georgia, today the Fair Punishment Project released a new report called America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors: How Overzealous Personalities Drive the Death Penalty.

The report identified America’s five deadliest head prosecutors out of the thousands that have held that office across the country in the last 40 years. Three of the five prosecutors (Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Carolina; Donnie Myers of Lexington, South Carolina; and Bob Macy of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma) personally obtained more than 35 death sentences each, while the other two (Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania and Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas) oversaw District Attorney offices that obtained more than 100 and 200 death sentences respectively during their tenures. Together, they have put the equivalent of 1 out of every 7 people currently on death row.

READ THE REPORT

The report notes that these “overzealous” personalities disproportionately drove up death sentencing rates in their counties and their states–leaving an outsized impact on death sentencing statistics nationwide.

“The legitimacy of the death penalty is seriously undermined when it is only being used in a small handful of places by an even smaller group of prosecutors who continually engage in misconduct,” said Robert J. Smith, a legal fellow at Harvard Law School and one of the report’s researchers.

“This report suggests that the ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality adopted by a small group of prosecutors has led to shockingly high rates of prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful convictions,” notes Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan.

Findings include:

  • Three of the top five deadliest prosecutors (Macy, Britt, and Myers) had misconduct found by courts in 33%, 37%, and 46% of their death penalty cases respectively. (Rates are not available for the other two prosecutors who oversaw, but did not personally try, all of the death penalty cases in their counties.)
  • Four of the five deadliest district attorneys prosecuted, or oversaw the prosecution of, eight individuals who were later exonerated and released from death row. This total represents approximately one out of every 20 death row exonerations that have occurred nationwide.
  • Together, these five prosecutors obtained at least 440 death sentences, which is equivalent to approximately 15% of the current U.S. death row population, or approximately one out of every seven people currently sentenced to death.
  • After four of the five deadliest prosecutors left office (the fifth prosecutor is still in office), death sentencing dramatically declined in these jurisdictions, indicating that it was these individual personalities, not an excessive attachment to the death penalty by local residents, that drove up the rates of death sentencing.

Despite the fact that we have witnessed historic declines in death sentencing in the 40 years since Gregg, a small handful of prosecutors continue to use the death penalty at a disproportionate rate, which contributes to a misperception that the death penalty is widely used when in fact it isn’t. In 2015, death sentences were handed down in just 1% of counties nationwide,” said Professor Emily Hughes of the University of Iowa College of Law.

Professor Daniel S. Medwed of Northeastern University School of Law noted, “When there are so few prosecutors still using the death penalty today and these prosecutors regularly engage in inappropriate behavior, it begs the question about whether the death penalty can be constitutional under these circumstances.”

“What’s striking is the extent to which death sentencing rates plummeted in these jurisdictions after these individual prosecutors left office. Harris County has had 12 times fewer death sentences in the years since Johnny Holmes and his former deputy Chuck Rosenthal departed. While other factors have also contributed to this decline, it is clear that a handful of individuals have had an outsized impact on the death sentencing in Texas and nationwide,” notes Professor Jordan Steiker of the University of Texas Law School. “Without the sentences sought and obtained by these outliers, we would have an even clearer picture of the death penalty’s marginal and declining significance within American criminal justice.”

The report also names five additional District Attorneys who have earned a reputation in their respective states for their zealous pursuit of death sentences, and provides a snapshot of three active prosecutors who, if they continue on their current trajectories, may soon join the ranks of the deadliest prosecutors in America.

Read the report, it’s well worth your time. I’ve never been philosophically opposed to the death penalty, but I’ve never been attached to it, either. If and when it gets outlawed some day, that will be fine by me. Link via Daily Kos.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Saturday video break: Little Bird

Here’s the fabulous Annie Lennox, from her hit solo album Diva:

The things you learn when surfing Wikipedia: This song was featured in an episode of The Sopranos, and also in the Demi Moore movie Striptease. I remember it from neither of those things. (Yes, I saw Striptease. In the theater, even. It was based on a Carl Hiassen novel. Don’t judge me.)

And for a completely different song, here’s The Honeycutters:

They were yet another Noisetrade find – I downloaded a sampler of their works based on the description in the teaser email. I generally don’t do that for single-artist albums offerings from groups I don’t know, but I’m glad I found these guys.

Posted in: Music.

Today’s the day for SD13

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? Today is the day for the Senate precinct convention in SD13, in which a nominee for that office to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis will be chosen. There are 96 precinct chairs in total across Harris and Fort Bend Counties, and we know the basic process by now. The main difference here is that as this district spans two counties, the TDP is the entity running the show. I doubt there will be as much parliamentary maneuvering as there was on June 25, mostly because there just hasn’t been enough time for the kind of organization to make that happen, but we’ll see.

A total of four candidates for SD13 have made themselves known, though I personally doubt more than three will receive a nomination. My guess is that this comes down to Rep. Borris Miles versus Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and I can make a case for either as the frontrunner. If it goes to a runoff and I’m right about these two being in the lead, then the big question is whether Ronald Green has given any guidance to his supporters about a second choice. At the convention for choosing the Commissioners Court nominee, all of Dwight Boykins’ supporters moved to Gene Locke’s side after Boykins conceded, at least as far as I could tell. This would have been a difference-maker if Ellis had not already secured a majority.

Once a new nominee for SD13 is chosen, the next question will be whether we need to do this one more time, in either HD141 or HD146. At this point, I have very little idea who may be circling around either seat in the event the opportunity arises, though I have heard some chatter that Boykins is looking at HD146. I will be interested to see who is there today, ready to hand out push cards or whatever. I’ll have a report from the convention tomorrow, which I am planning to attend, thankfully as a spectator and not a participant. PDiddie, who lives in HD146 and expects Rep. Miles to win, has more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

First baby affected by Zika born in Texas

Won’t be the last, unfortunately.

A baby boy born with microcephaly in Harris County is the first Zika-affected infant in Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced Wednesday.

The baby’s mother contracted Zika in Colombia, and the baby was infected in the womb, according Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health. The baby was born a few weeks ago in Harris County outside of Houston, and tests confirmed that he had Zika on Monday, Shah said.

In the state health department news release, State Health Services Commissioner John Hellerstedt called the news “heartbreaking.”

“This underscores the damage Zika can have on unborn babies,” Hellerstedt said. “Our state’s work against Zika has never been more vital.”

[…]

Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor University, predicted that the baby born with microcephaly in Harris County represents the start of a wave of such births in Texas, as pregnant women who contracted the virus in Latin America deliver children with an elevated risk of birth defects.

If transmission of Zika begins on the Gulf Coast, Hotez said, there could be a second wave of Zika-affected births months from now.

“There’s a good chance that the transmission of Zika has already started in Texas,” Hotez said. “But without federal funds, it’s hard to have the resources to look for it, diagnose it, and do the mosquito control.”

Let’s be clear about why Congress hasn’t acted on Zika funding. A functional Congress would simply appropriate some money for the problem and be done with it. Our Republican-led Congress sees an opportunity to attack Planned Parenthood and promote the Confederate flag. And so here we are. Let’s hope that count of Zika-infected babies doesn’t go up too much while they’re on vacation.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Guardianship

An eye-opening story in the Observer on a subject many of us probably never think about.

Guardianship is the state’s last-ditch tool to protect people from neglect or abuse, and although it saves lives, it can be a blunt instrument. More than 53,000 Texans, most of them elderly or intellectually disabled, are under a guardianship today. Some could never make their own decisions; others, in the eyes of a friend or family member, have been making decisions that are dangerously wrong. In either case, the remedy is the same: Their legal rights transfer to a person of the court’s choosing. Proponents credit guardianship for celebrity success stories such as Britney Spears, whose life and career regained stability after her father won the legal authority to step in. But guardianship is in the news much more often for its abuses.

Guardianships are increasingly common, a trend typically attributed to an aging populace and scattered families. In Texas, the number of guardianships grew 60 percent from 2011 to 2015. Nearly $3 billion in personal wealth is under control of guardians in Texas, according to one recent estimate from state researchers. But even those who oversee the system and write its laws are only recently coming around to a troubling fact: In much of Texas, there is nobody watching these cases.

Ten large Texas counties run their own guardianship systems, with legally trained probate judges, court-appointed investigators and visitors — employees or volunteers who check up on people under guardianship — to ensure that a guardianship is still necessary and isn’t being used as a tool for abuse or theft. Dallas County, where Rosamond had lived for most of her life, has such a system. But she was in Lubbock County when her son Phil went to court. Lubbock County reported having 1,425 guardianships in August 2015, ranking eighth in the state both in total guardianships and guardianships per capita. The county has no system to ensure that guardians file required annual reports on the person they’re looking after, nor staff to check for evidence of fraud.

For the last 17 years, the man charged with running the local guardianship system has been Tom Head, a Republican best known outside Lubbock for his one fateful appearance on local TV. Though he hasn’t seen fit to pay for court staff to protect his most vulnerable citizens, Head has not been averse to raising taxes in the past. In 2012, to cite one popular example, he proposed a tax hike to protect Lubbock from President Obama and the United Nations.

“He is going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N.,” Head told a local Fox affiliate. “What’s going to happen when that happens? I’m thinking worst-case scenario: civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war, maybe. And we’re not talking just a few riots here and demonstrations. We’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.”

In recent years Lubbock has come to epitomize the dangers of guardianship when nobody’s watching. As Rosamond Bradley recovered and tried in vain to have her rights restored, courts in Lubbock and nearby counties placed more than 50 people who did need protection in the care of strangers who lived hundreds of miles away, visited rarely, and walked off with their money. Lubbock has particularly weak oversight. Last fall, state investigators began a survey that is revealing a lack of accountability and potential for abuse all over Texas. Several years ago, Lubbock conducted a similar self-audit, but after briefly reckoning with its shortcomings, the county’s guardianship system appears as ill-equipped as ever.

Read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. As is so often the case, the problem is one part lack of money and one part lack of attention. Lubbock County is a particular trouble spot thanks in part to its lousy County Judge, but the Legislature bears some responsibility as well for the overall lack of oversight on guardianships despite the efforts of Sen. Judith Zaffirini to improve things. This is another one of those places where our state’s oft-expressed concern about the sanctity of life falls well short. Anyway, read it and see what you think. And if you have a family member who may be in need of a guardian – which let’s face it could be you or me some day – give some thought as to how you would want to see that handled. That’s your best line of defense against abuses happening.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 4

Girl groups!

1. White Rabbit – Austin Lounge Lizards & Karen Abrahams
2. Complicated – Avril Lavigne
3. June Bug – The B-52’s (Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson)
4. Venus – Bananarama (Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward)
5. Walk Like An Egyptian – The Bangles (Susanna Hoffs, Vicki Peterson, Debbi Peterson, Michael Steele)
6. Party In The USA – Barden Bellas (from “Pitch Perfect”)
7. Use Somebody – Bat For Lashes (Natasha Khan)
8. Human Thing – The Be Good Tanyas (Frazey Ford, Trish Klein, Sam Parton)
9. Can’t Stop Dancin’ – Becky G
10. Banjo Banjo – Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn

The B-52’s, Bananarama, and the Bangles? It’s getting all 80s up in here. The Be Good Tanyas were another Noisetrade find, while Olivia’s obsession with “Pitch Perfect” introduced me to the Bellas. She gets credit for Avril Lavigne and Becky G, too. The Lizards’ collaboration with Karen Abrahams, recorded live at a festival, was a one-off I came across on iTunes. I wish they had more, this one was excellent.

Posted in: Music.

Gallego claims poll lead over Hurd in CD23

Just another item to add to the list of reasons why Donald Trump is and has been bad news for Texas Republicans.

Pete Gallego

Pete Gallego

Voters in the district, which is the largest Congressional district in the country which is not its own state, stretching from northwest Bexar County to El Paso, have an ‘overwhelmingly negative’ view of Trump, with 37% viewing the likely Republican candidate favorably and 58% viewing Trump unfavorably.

Because of that, the district is 45% to 40% for Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that Republican Greg Abbott won the district big over Democrat Wendy Davis in 2014.

Gallego has 45%, Hurd 37%, with Libertarian Ruben Corvalan with 4% and 18% still undecided.

The district is about even in the percentage of voters who self-identify as Republcian and those who consider themselves Democrats.

Because of that closely matched makeup, the district has essentially changed hands in every election for the past decade.

Many Republicans are concerned that Trump at the head of the ticket will erode the party’s growth among Hispanics and will cost it down ballot races.

You can see the Gallego campaign email with a smidgeon of polling memo here. Many disclaimers apply: It’s early, it’s one poll, it’s an internal poll, no crosstabs, etc etc etc. All true, but also all consistent with the statewide polling numbers we have seen so far, as well as the national trends. (See, for example, Latino Decisions’ numbers from Monday, via Daily Kos.) Remember, every Republican other than Nathan Hecht carried CD23 in 2012, when Gallego was elected. Despite a huge tailwind in 2014, Hurd won with less than 50%. If Hillary Clinton goes on to carry CD23, Hurd is almost certainly toast. And if Hillary Clinton is trailing in Texas by less than ten points, she’s almost certainly leading in CD23. It’s just math, and unless things change, that math looks a lot better right now for Gallego than it does for Hurd.

Posted in: Election 2016.

First potty case reaches SCOTUS

Here we go.

RedEquality

The legal fight over transgender bathroom rights reached the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time on Wednesday as a Virginia county school board sought to block an order that lets a student who was born a girl but now identifies as male use the boys’ bathroom.

Transgender rights have become an increasing divisive issue in the United States, and the use of public bathrooms has been a key part of the controversy.

The Gloucester County School Board filed an emergency application with the Supreme Court in a bid to prevent high school student Gavin Grimm, 17, from using the boys’ bathroom when school resumes in September while litigation in the case continues.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of Grimm to challenge the school board’s bathroom policy, which requires transgender students to use alternative restroom facilities.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday refused to put on hold a district court’s injunction favoring Grimm.

The school board’s application was directed to Chief Justice John Roberts, who has responsibility for emergency actions that arise from the regional federal appeals court that covers Virginia. Roberts could act alone or refer the matter to all eight justices. Five votes are need to grant a stay application.

Getting five votes for that would mean peeling off one of the liberal Justices, so I certainly hope that isn’t in the cards. The original lawsuit has not gone to trial yet, this is just about the district court judge’s injunction blocking the school board from implementing its policy requiring transgender students to use separate facilities. This is a big test of which way the winds may be blowing on this issue at SCOTUS, and may have an effect on the lawsuit against North Carolina’s HB2 and possibly the Paxton potty lawsuits as well. Politico has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

The Observer talks to now-retired Judge John Dietz about school finance reform

A brief taste:

Former Judge John Dietz

One really important point, which was certainly not addressed [by the Supreme Court]: With economically disadvantaged students, the undisputed testimony is that if you didn’t grow up economically disadvantaged, when you arrived at school you had roughly a 1,500-word vocabulary and understood probably another 1,000 words. An economically disadvantaged child shows up knowing 500 words or less. What do you do about that?

The undisputed testimony is that it takes about time and a half over a period of four to six years to overcome the poverty of their experience. And you do it through preschool. You try to get them into a learning situation before kindergarten. When they’re in school, you try to have after-school programs, you try to pull their parents in to see the school not as an enemy but as a friend. You try to have summer programs that are not just remedial but try and get them excited about education. Because it’s the economically disadvantaged people who are substantially all of the dropouts that you lose beginning in eighth grade and ninth grade. And is the Legislature doing anything about that?

It’s undisputed, it takes 50 percent more of the resources to educate an economically disadvantaged child; 60 percent of our population in this state is currently economically disadvantaged and it’s only getting worse.

Go read the whole thing. If it makes you angry, it should.

Posted in: Legal matters.

iCars

Hey, look, it’s a new rideshare option for Houston.

A new ride app promises on-demand luxury car services — and no surge pricing.

San Francisco-based iCars put its luxury ride app in drive for the Houston and Dallas markets, as the company continues to expand throughout Texas and the U.S., according to a July 11 press release. The service started in the Golden Gate City in early 2016.

The company offers luxury sedan, SUV and “sprinter class” options, with the latter choice offering bigger vehicles to accommodate more passengers. The service offers more than on-demand usage. Users can set up booking times near demand or even for future dates, and the company aims its services toward hotels and travel management companies.

Regional transportation companies provide ride services for the company. The driving companies for iCars must meet a certain set of requirements, including $1 million in commercial liability insurance, regularly maintained vehicles and random drug testing.

Their Facebook page is here, and here is a press release from iCars’ debut in San Francisco in February. From the description, it sounds like this is a system to connect people to existing sedan/limo services, similar in fashion to Pocket Cab, which would make it a competitor of Uber Black. I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I get. It’s clearly not for the masses, but I say the more options, the better.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Chron overview of SD13

Not much new here.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Amid frantic wooing of Democratic precinct chairs, the unconventional sprint to succeed state Sen. Rodney Ellis is boiling down to an argument over tenure: Is it better to move a seasoned legislator to the Senate, or preserve House experience by sending a relative newcomer to the upper chamber?

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson argues the former, touting her 44 years in Austin, as former Houston City Controller Ron Green makes a case for the latter.

Ten-year state Rep. Borris Miles casts himself as the Goldilocks of the bunch, seeking to leverage his experience while asserting that Democrats would lose too much in the House by promoting Thompson.

[…]

The district’s per capita income was less than $20,000 as of 2014, Census data shows, $8,000 below that of Houston. The area also has lower educational attainment, with just 22 percent of those ages 25 and older having earned a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30 percent in Houston.

“We need help with these schools out here,” Sunnyside precinct chair Tina Mosley said, arguing for increased funding.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that the state’s school finance system – which seeks to ease wide funding disparities between districts by redistributing property tax revenue from wealthy districts to poorer ones – is constitutional, despite calling it “Byzantine” and “undeniably imperfect.”

That case emerged out of Texas lawmakers’ decision in 2011 to slash the state’s public education spending by $5.4 billion to balance the budget, though the Legislature restored much of that funding two years later.

“I agree with the (state) Supreme Court that we haven’t done a good job of funding our schools in the state of Texas,” said Miles, whom Mosley is backing. “The financial base of each independent area should dictate the type of education and the quality of education that goes into those communities. I don’t think we should be robbing from inner city schools to throw to the rural area schools. Our tax base is here. We need to be spending that money … right here.”

Miles said he is also focused on expanding re-entry programs for juvenile offenders and curbing police brutality, through efforts such as increasing penalties for police officers who violate residents’ civil rights.

Thompson and Green, meanwhile, listed boosting education funding as a top concern but did not specify remedies.

Here’s the last race overview, for comparison. There was an HCDP lunchtime meet-the-candidates event yesterday, and at least according to the email they sent out about it, there’s a fourth person in the race, James Joseph, who was a candidate for District B in 2011. Of course, as we know from the County Commissioner experience, that only applies if someone nominates nominates him at the convention on Saturday.

Rep. Miles said in the article that he has the support of a majority of the precinct chairs. I’m not involved in the race and have no insight into how it’s going, but his district is entirely within SD13, so if he’s got the support of most of them it’s plausible. What I do know is that it mostly doesn’t matter what any of them believe or aim to do about education or criminal justice reform or whatever. Not because they’re insincere but because Dan Patrick runs the Senate and he’s unlikely to let any Democratic-freshman-written bills of substance get anywhere. Whoever wins will still have the opportunity to get stuff done – even Senators in the minority have their share of clout – but it’s best to keep expectations modest. I’m going to try to attend the convention on Saturday, and I’ll have a report on how it went on Sunday.

Posted in: Election 2016.

What makes transit successful?

It’s pretty basic, as this report lays out.

A new report released [Tuesday] by TransitCenter, a foundation dedicated to improving urban mobility, finds that developing transit in walkable areas and offering frequent, fast bus and rail service is the key to increasing urban transit ridership.

The report, “Who’s on Board 2016: What Today’s Riders Teach Us About Transit That Works” draws on results from three focus groups and a survey of 3,000 people in 17 U.S. metropolitan areas with varying levels of transit development and ridership. It builds on the findings from TransitCenter’s first Who’s On Board report released in 2014—the largest-ever attitudinal survey of transit riders—which showed that Americans from coast to coast think about and use public transit in remarkably similar and often unexpected ways. The latest edition of the Who’s On Board series offers several core findings to inform how government agencies and elected officials approach transportation, land use, and development policy:

  • The most important “first mile/last mile” solution is walking. The majority of transit riders, including 80 percent of all-purpose riders, typically walk to transit. This finding underscores the importance of putting transit stations in busy, walkable neighborhoods; building offices and housing within walking distance of transit; and providing more and safer pedestrian routes to transit.
  • The two most important determinants of rider satisfaction with transit are service frequency and travel time. The availability of information and conditions at the station or stop were also important, suggesting that real-time information and shelters are important amenities for transit agencies to provide. On the other hand, power outlets and Wifi were rated the least important items out of a list of 12 potential service improvements.
  • There are three common patterns of transit use: occasional riders who take transit once in awhile, commuters who take transit regularly but only for work, and all-purpose riders who take transit regularly for multiple purposes. Transit agencies should strive to grow this third category of rider, as they are the most reliable and financially efficient customers to serve. All-purpose riders are more prevalent where it’s easy to walk to transit, and where transit is frequent and provides access to many destinations.
  • Transit riders are sensitive to transit quality, not “captive” to transit. For decades, transportation professionals have talked about two kinds of transit riders: car-owning “choice riders” who use transit when it meets their needs, and carless “captive riders” who will use transit regardless of its quality. Who’s On Board finds that the “captivity” of carless riders is severely overstated. People who live and work near better transit ride transit more often, whether or not they own cars. When transit becomes functionally useless, there are very few people who will continue to use it; agencies can take no one for granted.

Who’s On Board offers several recommendations for local governments and transit agencies to improve transit service, including creating dedicated lanes to reduce travel time, improving frequency on routes with high ridership potential, and zoning to concentrate development around transit corridors.

“There’s no magic bullet for transit, but there are some simple rules. Make it easy for people to walk to transit, put it close to important destinations, and make transit frequent, fast, and reliable,” said Steven Higashide, Senior Program Analyst for TransitCenter and leader of the foundation’s opinion research program. “Transit lines that don’t follow these rules–like commuter rail with parking lots at every station or slow streetcars that don’t connect to other transit–tend to perform poorly. Frequent transit networks in walkable neighborhoods reduce reliance on cars, spark economic growth, and create vibrant urban places.”

“Who’s On Board shows that discussions about transit often ignore what really drives transit ridership. In Houston, we bucked the trend by redesigning our entire local bus network to improve frequency and travel time—and total ridership is up more than 10 percent,” said Christof Spieler, a Houston METRO Board Member. “If every city followed the report’s advice and focused transit investments on frequency, travel time, and walkability, we could make transit useful to millions more people across the country.”

The full report is available for download here.

More information about the report is available here. If you look at the Recommendations on page 12 of the report, you’ll see that pretty much everything there was implemented by Metro in its bus system redesign. The main thing that still needs to be done, which is the first recommendation for local governments on page 13, is improving sidewalks. Every dollar that we can reasonably spend towards that goal will be worth it. Read the report and see what you think. The Chron story on this is here, and Urban Edge has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Rep. Ted Poe fighting leukemia

More bad health news.

Rep. Ted Poe

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, announced Wednesday morning that he was recently diagnosed with leukemia and will spend the rest of the summer concentrating on this battle.

“During the Congressional recess, I will be spending time in Texas and focusing on my health,” he said in a statement.

Members of Congress will leave Washington at the end of this week for an extended recess that will include the coming national party conventions and the month of August.

Poe added that he is being treated at the M.D. Anderson Center, a Houston-based cancer treatment hospital.

“It is my intention to beat cancer and have a full recovery and continue to represent the people of Texas,” Poe added. “Thank you in advance for your thoughts and your prayers. The Good Lord will fix this, I believe.”

Leukemia is serious business, but I’m sure Rep. Poe is in the best of hands. I wish him well.

Posted in: Local politics.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 11

The Texas Progressive Alliance mourns the Dallas Police Department’s losses at a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, and continues to support peaceful, constructive solutions for our country’s ongoing racial issues as we bring you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

We should hear something soon on voter ID

So says Rick Hasen:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The federal challenge to Texas’s strict voter identification law is pending before the entire Fifth Circuit sitting en banc.  The Supreme Court set a soft July 20 deadline for a decision—after that the Court has invited plaintiffs to seek immediate relief for this election before the Supreme Court. There’s nothing technically binding about that date, but I expect we will see a decision by then from the Fifth Circuit, and then, whatever happens, I expect an emergency motion to the Supreme Court for whichever side loses.

Meanwhile, the never ending federal district court challenge to Texas’s redistricting remains pending in San Antonio, with a delay that at this point is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable. That case, when decided, will be on a fast-track appeal to the Supreme Court as well, but with any ruling relevant only for elections after 2016.

We are also waiting for other decisions, and one of those big ones is the appeal to the Fourth Circuit of North Carolina’s strict voting laws. That one, too, will likely end up with a request for emergency relief from SCOTUS.

See here and here for the background. Last August, a three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court ruling that Texas’ voter ID law had a discriminatory effect, and the state asked for an en banc review shortly afterward, mostly for the purpose of dragging things out past the 2016 election. Hasen had previously predicted that the full Fifth would uphold its own ruling, but of course you never know. If they do, then the good news is that a 4-4 SCOTUS split would leave it in place. That’s also the bad news if they don’t. In theory, we should know soon enough. PDiddie, from whom I got the link, has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Hexit?

The Chron’s Ken Hoffman asks a burning question.

HoustonSeal

Just for fun, how would the vote go if Houstonians had a crack at “Hexit” – leaving Texas?

I don’t mean another “Brexit” – in which British voters elected to leave the European Union, but apparently many didn’t know what they were voting for or against or why.

There are plenty of reasons Houston might think, “You know, Texas, this relationship just isn’t working for me anymore. I mean, we can still be friends. We’ll still co-parent Sugar Land, but maybe we should go our separate ways.”

I was talking with some friends, including one who draws a government paycheck, and we wondered, “Could Houston go it alone?”

Texas needs Houston, that’s for sure. But the other way around? Are we getting out what we’re putting in?

[…]

No need to get into social issues, but Houston doesn’t look, vote, sound, cook or think like the rest of Texas. The top elected officials in Texas look like the board of directors of Bushwood Country Club in “Caddyshack.”

Houston’s city council looks like a casting call for “The Village People: The Movie.”

This is about Houston’s cultural might and economic power. “What if” and “could it” succeed independent from the rest of Texas?

One of my buddies, who knows a lot about transportation, said, “All those highway projects in West Texas and the Panhandle and other parts of Texas – they’re funded in part by state gas taxes. Where do you think that money comes from?”

So next time you’re stuck in traffic, about to blow your stack, burning gas going nowhere on Interstate 10, 610 Loop and the Southwest Freeway, remember that we’re paying for lonely, lightly traveled roads in other parts of Texas. That will calm you down.

Most of the rest is a paean to Houston and the ways that it ranks #1 as a city in Texas. Hoffman is a features writer, so when he says “just for fun” at the beginning of this piece, he means that. This isn’t a serious exploration of the idea, just a bit of blue-sky thinking with some jokes (the “Caddyshack” one cracked me up) thrown in. So take a deep breath and try to appreciate what he’s written for what it is.

That said, I will confess that I’ve had the same thought, and for the same reasons. Especially now with the Legislature hell-bent on meddling in local affairs, the idea of telling them to get bent, we’re out of here, has a deep appeal. Go back to “Caddyshack” and watch Ted Knight’s performance if you want an idea of what the reaction at the Capitol might be like to that.

However, this is a Serious Blog, so we must consider the reality of this, which gets pretty daunting right off the bat. Putting aside the legalities that I am not qualified to address – does the city even have the ability to do this? how exactly would we apply for statehood? – several practical issues jump out at me. Houston’s borders resemble a Mandelbrot set in their complexity. We overlap three counties. There are other, completely separate, municipalities that are entirely within our borders – do they have to come along for the ride, or would they represent “islands” of Texas within our new state? And not to put too fine a point on it, but there are parts of Houston that do look, vote, sound, cook, and think like the rest of Texas, and they may not be so hot for this idea. I’m sure at the first mention of the concept, Kingwood and Clear Lake would yell out that they never wanted to be part of Houston in the first place, and they want to stay right where they are in the Lone Star State.

I’m sure there are plenty more reasons why this would never get off the ground, but you get the drift. It’s a fun idea, but in the long run the way to go is to make Texas be more like Houston. The path to that destination isn’t any clearer, but at least we know it exists.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Abbott hospitalized after suffering burns

Ouch.

[Gov. Greg] Abbott is recuperating from burns on both legs below the knees. On Tuesday, the governor [underwent] skin grafts to repair damage on both feet. He is expected to be discharged and will return to Austin.

His office revealed on Sunday that he had suffered “second- and third-degree burns” when he was accidentally scalded with hot water last week at a lodge in Jackson Hole. Abbott shortened his vacation when he learned about the Thursday shooting that left five officers dead and seven others injured.

It is unclear whether the governor will attend the Republican National Convention, which is being held July 18-21 in Cleveland. Abbott is an at-large delegate to the convention.

Abbott was at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on Monday for treatment. Skin grafts are a painful procedure, with a non-trivial risk of infection. I wish him all the best for a full and fast recovery.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

The zebra mussels keep invading

Can anything stop them?

Zebra mussel

When zebra mussels exploded in the Great Lakes region during the early 1990s, fisheries managers in Texas and many other southern states certainly noticed, but most weren’t overly alarmed.

Yes, the alien freshwater mollusks, native to northern Eurasia and introduced to North America through the ballast water of commercial ships, had quickly become a major environmental and economic problem. Able to reproduce at tremendous rates – a single, fingernail-size mussel can produce a million eggs during spawn – and lacking any significant predators, the mussels swarmed northern waters, triggering considerable negative consequences.

But, evidence suggested, the invasive mussels were likely to remain a regional problem. They were confined to the Great Lakes. The mussels couldn’t transport themselves across scores of miles to infect river systems not directly connected to the infected waters. And, even if they escaped to new waters, the mussels’ relatively small native range was cold-water lakes; the mollusks might be able to live in the upper Midwest but almost certainly would wither and perish in the sultry waters of a southern summer.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Zebra mussels have spread at an alarming rate, thanks mostly to human actions. And the mollusks have proven much more tolerant of warm water than just about anyone suspected. They now are found in at least 30 states. By 2009, they had made it to Texas, first taking hold in Lake Texoma on the Texas/Oklahoma border.

Last week, barely seven years later, Texas fisheries officials announced discovery of zebra mussels in three reservoirs, boosting the number of lakes hosting the potentially devastating invasive species to a dozen spread across the Trinity, Red and Brazos river systems.

One of the new reservoirs on the list is Lake Livingston, the 90,000-acre lake on the Trinity River about 80 miles northeast of Houston. Livingston, a hugely popular fishing destination and a primary water source for the fourth-most populous city in the nation, is the southernmost and easternmost Texas waterbody in which zebra mussels have been documented.

“We knew Lake Livingston could be at risk for zebra mussels, but we were hoping they wouldn’t show up,” said Brian Van Zee, Waco-based regional director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s inland fisheries division. “You don’t want to see any new infestation; there can be a lot of negative consequences.”

Some of those consequences are economic. Zebra mussels reproduce so quickly and in such dense concentrations they can carpet lake bottoms and anything under the water. They attach themselves to water management and transportation infrastructure such gates and pump parts and, especially, intake screens and pipes. The concentrations are so thick they clog and close these crucial systems.

This damage to water infrastructure systems has cost billions nationwide. It has cost hundreds of millions in Texas.

See here and here for some background. The main defense against zebra mussels has been trying to slow their march across the landscape, but that hasn’t been much of a success, and recent flooding appears to have helped them spread out to new locations. I hope someone’s thinking of a way to try and control their population, because we’re beginning to run out of places where they haven’t yet invaded.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Trump’s white voter problems

Add another group to the long list of those who can’t stand Donald Trump.

Wanda Melton has voted for every Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1980, but now the Georgia grandmother plans to cross over to support Democrat Hillary Clinton.

“I’m not a real fan of Hillary,” Melton says from her office in Atlanta. “But I think it would just be awful to have Donald Trump.” She adds: “I cannot in good conscience let that happen.”

Melton is among a particular group of voters, whites with college degrees, who are resistant to Trump. Their skepticism comes as an ominous warning as Trump struggles to rebuild even the losing coalition that Mitt Romney managed four years ago.

College-educated whites made up more than one-third of the electorate in 2012. Polls suggest Trump trails Clinton with those voters, especially women.

“Donald Trump simply cannot afford to lose ground in any segment of the electorate” that supported Romney, said Florida pollster Fernand Amandi. Romney’s strength with that group, for example, made for a close race in Florida, where President Barack Obama won by less than 75,000 votes out of more than 8.4 million cast.

[…]

Romney drew support from 56 percent of white voters with college degrees, according to 2012 exit polls. Obama notched just 42 percent, but still cruised to a second term.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in June found Clinton leading Trump among college-educated whites 50 percent to 42 percent.

Polling from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center pointed to particularly stark numbers among white women with at least a bachelor’s degree. At this point in 2008 and 2012, that group of voters was almost evenly divided between Obama and the Republican nominee. This June, Pew found Clinton with a 62-31 advantage. Conversely, Pew found Trump still leads, albeit by a slightly narrower margin than did Romney at this point, among white women with less than a bachelor’s degree.

Five Thirty Eight has been on this as well. I bring this up because it puts a little context on the polling numbers we’ve seen so far in Texas, where Trump is drawing far less support than one normally sees for a Republican. Neither poll has seen fit to give us demographic information, so we have to rely on larger trends to help us fill in the blanks. We expect Trump to do very poorly with non-white voters, but if he is also lagging in this key Republican-leaning subgroup, then that’s one good explanation for his terrible numbers so far in Texas. We won’t know for sure what the reasons for the numbers are till we can see true crosstab data for several polls, but when we do we ought to have some idea going in what’s happening.

Of deeper interest is whether the Trump effect exists only at the Presidential level or whether it goes downballot as well. To the extent that Democratic turnout is up, that will influence races everywhere, though I think we’ll see for the first time since at least 2004 a significant gap between the Presidential total and everywhere else. Some of that will be due to Clinton crossovers, and some of it will be due to lower-propensity voters turning out and not doing much beyond the top of the ballot. On the Republican side, how much of Trump’s loss of college-educated white voters damages the rest of their ticket? I think most Republicans who don’t vote for Trump, whether they choose Clinton or a third party or just skip the Presidential race, will still vote as they normally do elsewhere, but a few may feel free to cross over in other races, and a few will decide to vote in races individually rather than hit the straight-ticket button. How much any of that affects other races is a wild guess, but none of it is likely to be beneficial for the Rs. We’re going to be studying this race for a long time after November 8.

Posted in: The making of the President.

More opposition to North Carolina’s HB2

The Justice Department seeks to halt implementation of North Carolina’s viciously anti-LGBT law.

RedEquality

The billowing legal fight over North Carolina’s House Bill 2 continued to grow this week with the U.S. Department of Justice asking a federal judge to suspend the law pending the outcome of a trial.

The federal agency sued the state over HB2 on May 9. Late Tuesday night, saying the law is causing ongoing damage to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, a team of Justice Department lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder to set aside the law.

The motion for a preliminary injunction is the second filed in Schroeder’s court against HB2. The American Civil Liberties Union sought a similar court order on May 16 as part of its own legal challenge against the state.

Legal experts give differing estimates on when Schroeder might act. For now, the mounds of paper being filed in the dispute continue to grow, and HB2 shows signs of remaining a pivotal statewide political issue through the November elections.

The law, which requires transgender people in government facilities to use the restroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates, has spawned at least five lawsuits – pro and con – in two federal courts.

The Justice Department’s 70-page legal brief attempts to establish the urgency for Schroeder to act. As with the earlier ACLU argument, government lawyers claim HB2 violates federal anti-discrimination statutes and is causing “ongoing and serious” harm to the state’s LGBT community.

Brian Clarke, a faculty member at the Charlotte School of Law, says it’s highly possible Schroeder has been waiting for the federal government to follow suit so he can rule on both motions at the same time.

“I would be surprised if Judge Schroeder lets this ride for very long,” Clarke said. “Even though the courts don’t have an official clock ticking, a judge does not want an injunctive motion sitting there for months. The legal standard is that irreparable damage is happening now.”

[…]

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which holds legal sway over the Carolinas and three other states, ruled in April that a Virginia transgender student could sue his school for forcing him to use a special bathroom – in essence upholding the federal government’s right to include gender identity under federal protection.

Wallace says the appeals court ruling did not deal with the “competing privacy interests” of other students and “does not help the ACLU case as much as the ACLU thinks it does.”

Clarke, however, said the decision leaves the North Carolina federal courts little leeway.

“Ultimately, Judge Schroeder will grant the injunction,” he said. “I don’t think he has a choice.”

I think the first lesson to take from this is to be mistrustful of bills called HB2. I’m not saying that any HB2 is automatically bad, but I’m not not saying it, either.

The Justice Department is not alone in attacking North Carolina’s HB2.

Airlines, hotels and tech leaders are among the 68 leading companies that on Friday filed a friend-of-the-Court brief opposing North Carolina’s law that requires individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds to their sex at birth.

Written by conservative legal dynamo Ted Olson, a veteran of Republican George W. Bush’s Administration, the filing urges the courts to strike down the North Carolina law as discriminatory and denies the legitimacy of transgender residents. The businesses assert that the bathroom provision runs counter to many of their non-discrimination policy and pro-diversity statements. Plus, they’re just bad for business and alienate LGBT customers and employees.

Among the companies signing the measure are American and United Airlines, Hilton and Marriott hotels, and tech leaders Apple, Cisco, Dropbox, eBay, IBM and Microsoft. Big business has been vocal in opposition to such laws, and many firms have been successful in applying political pressure in places like Indiana and Alabama. But, to this point, they have been running into a wall against North Carolina’s law, known as House Bill 2, or HB2.

“HB2 is a law that forces transgender persons to deny, disclaim and conceal their gender identity, particularly whenever they wish to use single-sex restroom facilities on state or local government property,” said Olson, who represented Bush’s 2000 recount case and then his Justice Department before the Supreme Court. “In so doing, it forces transgender people to deny a fundamental feature of their character and personhood in the name of safety concerns that are wholly illusory and a slap in the face to all transgender persons who are simply trying to live their lives consistent with who they really are.”

That argument is key to the 44-page filing. “H.B. 2 discriminates against the roughly 44,000 transgender people in North Carolina by denying them access to single-sex facilities that accord with their gender identity but not their biological sex whenever they set foot in a facility owned or operated by any agency or arm of the State or a local government. In so doing, H.B. 2 sends a resounding message to the public that transgender persons—people simply trying to live their lives consistent with who they are—are ‘other’ and outcasts whose gender identity and human dignity are undeserving of recognition and respect on government property,” the companies write. “It is no accident that H.B. 2’s anti-transgender message and effects have prompted some commentators to coin it the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country.”

There are two points to note here. One is that laws like this are hugely divisive and really unpopular in the business community, which is normally quite friendly to Republican interests. Two is that between Mississippi, whose own anti-LGBT law was recently struck down, and North Carolina where theirs seemingly will be, is that passing such laws is ultimately an exercise in futility. They are expensive, divisive, damaging failures. Unfortunately, it seems clear that the culture warriors in this state will learn nothing from any of it. The only lesson they will take seriously is one delivered at the ballot box. I continue to believe that the opportunity is there for Democrats to pry the business community loose from the GOP grip, on the grounds that only they are willing to take on issues that business people say are important to them, like immigration reform, school finance, investing in infrastructure, and generally maintaining a business climate that isn’t hostile to a significant fraction of the workforce and marketplace. Julian Castro could be the candidate to do that if he’s in a position to run for Governor in 2018. I’ve no idea what Plan B is if he isn’t in a position to run, but the opportunity will still exist if someone wants to take it. Perhaps a good showing in the 2016 elections will help spur someone on.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Sandra Bland, one year later

The timing of this is tragically appropriate.

Sandra Bland

With confident, and sometimes vulnerable, lyrics, a group of poets and singers Sunday afternoon commemorated the life of [Sandra] Bland, who had been found dead in her Waller County Jail cell three days after her arrest. Authorities ruled the 28-year-old’s death a suicide. More than 75 people assembled over two hours to honor the young woman whose name in the year since had become familiar in households across Texas and the nation, repeated by those in the Black Lives Matter movement as another example of an individual they believed needlessly died following an encounter with law enforcement.

Bland’s name was joined last week by two more, Alton Sterling, who was shot to death by police last Tuesday in Baton Rouge, and Philando Castile, who was shot by an officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota on Wednesday.

Then, too, a lone sniper attacked in Dallas, fatally shooting five police officers, and injuring seven others.

Speakers remembering Bland sought to digest all of that.

Hannah Bonner, a United Methodist clergy member who helped lead the event, asked everyone to turn and face the nearby brick gates of Prairie View A&M, representations of safety, education and progress, she said.

They were also the gates Bland – who had recently returned to the city and her alma mater to take a job – had driven through when a state trooper “came up fast behind her,” Bonner said.

“And she got over to get out of his way,” Bonner continued. “And he ended up pulling her over right here in this spot. She asserted her rights and he did not respect them, and this week we are seeing through the death of Alton Sterling, through the death of Philando, through the death of these officers in Dallas, and the citizens … we are seeing that the lack of police accountability in this nation is a danger to black lives, but it’s also becoming a danger to other officers. Because when officers are not held accountable for their actions it puts everybody – including other officers – at risk.”

[…]

The Bland case sparked calls for bail reform and brought issues of jail suicide and indigent defense into the headlines.

Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith, who is sitting for re-election in November, issued a citizen’s review of his office, as well.

Released in April, the report recommended a new jail, body cameras for officers, medical and mental health screening for all inmates, stress management training for deputies and a ban on demeaning language directed at inmates.

See here for more on the review report, and here for prior blogging on Sandra Bland. To the extent that reforms have been carried out in Waller County, it’s all to the good, but we need more of that everywhere in the state. No one should be in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bond, and no one should be hauled off to jail for being mouthy at a traffic stop. We know what we can do to make things better. We just have to do them. The Lege has a chance to do that in 2017. I can’t say I have much faith, but they’ll be the only game in town. Be prepared to let your legislators know what you want them to do to achieve justice for all.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Tim Duncan retires

He will be missed.

By Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA – Tim Duncan, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14930160

San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan today announced that he will retire after 19 seasons with the organization. Since drafting Duncan, the Spurs won five championships and posted a 1,072-438 regular season record, giving the team a .710 winning percentage, which is the best 19-year stretch in NBA history and was the best in all of the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB over the last 19 years.

Originally selected by the Spurs as the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, Duncan helped San Antonio reach the playoffs in each of his 19 seasons and became the only player in league history to start and win a title in three different decades. The Silver and Black won at least 50 games the last 17 seasons, the longest streak in league history, and posted at least a .600 winning percentage in each of Duncan’s 19 seasons, an all-time record for most consecutive seasons with a .600 win percentage in the four major U.S. sports.

The 40-year-old Duncan comes off of a season in which he led the NBA in Defensive RPM (5.41) and became just the third player in league history to reach 1,000 career wins, as well as the only player to reach 1,000 wins with one team. He helped the Spurs to a franchise-best 67-15 record and also became one of two players in NBA history to record at least 26,000 points, 15,000 rebounds and 3,000 blocks in his career (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Duncan totaled 15 All-NBA Team selections (tied for most all-time) and 15 NBA All-Defensive Team honors (most all-time), garnering both honors in the same season 15 times, the most in league history. The 1998 Rookie of the Year was named NBA MVP twice (2002, 2003) and NBA Finals MVP three times (1999, 2003 and 2005).

In his NBA career, the 15-time All-Star appeared in a total of 1,392 games and averaged 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.17 blocks in 34.0 minutes. He shot .506 (10,285-20,334) from the floor and .696 (5,896-8,468) from the free throw line.

The Wake Forest graduate is the Spurs all-time NBA leader in total points (26,496), rebounds (15,091), blocked shots (3,020), minutes (47,368) and games played (1,392), as well as third in assists (4,225). In NBA history, Duncan is fifth all-time in double-doubles (841) and blocks, sixth in rebounding and 14th in scoring.

I was a Knicks fan as a kid in New York, but never followed them that closely; I’d say my interest peaked in the Bernard King years. After I graduated college and came to Houston, I began following the Rockets and attached myself to them. I feel confident saying that if I had stayed in San Antonio, I’d be a rabid Spurs fan now, and the lineage of Tim Duncan and David Robinson (drafted by the Spurs while I was still in college) would have made that quite a rewarding experience. Godspeed and happy retirement to you, sir. The Express-News and Five Thirty Eight have more.

Posted in: Other sports.

Another view of Democratic goals for 2016

Sounds about right.

vote-button

Some Democrats say Clinton has a chance at winning a majority in Texas, where interest is heightened because U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro has been mentioned as a possible Clinton running mate. Castro said Friday that he isn’t being vetted as one.

They’re looking for Trump’s rhetoric to help unite Democrats behind their presumptive nominee after her hard fight with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, although signs of division still exist.

“We’re going to win. It’s going to be bigger than what Obama was able to do when he ran in Texas,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston. “Donald Trump has done one thing for us. He’s united us.”

Others simply are hoping for some progress, given the steep hill ahead of Democrats who last won a statewide election in 1994. The last time a Democratic presidential candidate lost to a Republican by only single digits in Texas was in 1996, when President Bill Clinton defeated Republican Bob Dole nationally and Reform party candidate Ross Perot got 7 percent of the vote.

“I think that the best that Democrats can hope for this cycle is that we’re getting better,” said Democratic strategist Colin Strother. “What Democrats can hope for this cycle is that everybody gets a little more engaged … that they get out there and start busting their knuckles and building our list and improving our fundamentals.”

Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones put some parameters on what “better” could look like for Democrats.

“‘Better’ is keeping Trump’s victory in the single digits, and taking back somewhere around a half-dozen state House seats, taking back Congressional District 23 and turning Harris County blue,” Jones said.

In Harris County, he said, that means reclaiming the sheriff’s office, flipping the district attorney and tax assessor-collector offices and sweeping the overwhelming majority of countywide judicial elections.

That’s basically in line with what I suggested previously. On a great day, Dems could pick up two or three more House seats, and it’s not crazy to suggest that Fort Bend County, where Barack Obama won 48.5% of the vote in 2008, could be flipped, but they got the basics. I will note again that an under-the-radar opportunity for Dems is in the district Court of Appeals races. Here’s Texas Lawyer on this possibility:

But political experts who’ve taken a closer look at judicial races in Texas believe there’s one very important set of elections where Trump and his bombastic behavior could do some serious damage to his party’s ballot mates.

If a Trump effect is going to be felt anywhere in Texas, they believe it’s most likely to occur on Republican-held intermediate courts of appeals based in large Texas cities. Those races draw a pool of a mix of voters from both urban and suburban counties. And the split between Democrat and Republican votes have grown much closer in those courts in recent years.

Two simple things have to happen for the Trump effect to upset a down-ballot races in Texas, according to Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political science professor who had studied the state’s voting trends for years.

First, Democrats in urban counties have to come out and vote at full strength to vote against him. And second, Republican voters who are turned off by the bigoted and often offensive candidate have to stay home on Election Day in November.

“When you think about Texas’ major cities, the inner cities are blue, the inner ring suburbs are purple and the outlying suburbs are red,” Jillson said. And the biggest problem for Republicans can be found in the purple suburbs, where stalwart Republicans may be turned off by Trump, he said.

“Two thirds of Republicans didn’t vote for Trump, but most are making their peace with him. And the money people are coming back to Trump,” Jillson said. “But … for a party to be competitive, they have to pull 90 percent of their electorate. And if you’re only pulling 85 percent up to 90 percent, you’ll lose. And that will effect congressional races and some state races.”

And the best place to watch the Trump effect in action on election night might be Houston’s First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals and Dallas’ Fifth Court of Appeals. Those courts, which have six seats up for grabs, are based in solid Democratic counties but are surrounded by numerous smaller red counties that have made those courts safe seats for Republicans for more than two decades.

The Trump effect has Democrats believing they now have the best shot ever for electing a complete slate of candidates to the Houston and Dallas courts of appeals. Democrats mounted a complete sweep of trial court races in Dallas County in 2006 and nearly took all of those seats in Harris County in 2008.

Those aren’t the only ones to watch. Dems lost a seat on the 13th Court of Appeals in the 2010 debacle, for example. That bench, held by 2008 Supreme Court candidate Linda Yanez, is up for re-election this year, and Dems have an experienced candidate in a judicial district that gave over 58% of the vote to a Democrat in 2008. There are Democrats running for Republican-held benches on the 4th (anchored in Bexar County) as well. The 13th should be the easiest pickup, with perhaps the 4th being next, and the 1st, 5th, and 14th more challenging still, but those are all opportunities that should be watched. The weeds get deeper from here, but you get the idea. There are available gains and attainable goals. We need to define what we want and figure out how we want to get them.

Posted in: Election 2016.

More on Mississippi’s anti-LGBT law and the effect in Texas

Doesn’t look like we’re going to learn anything from the Mississippi experience.

RedEquality

Reeves’ ruling isn’t likely to deter Texas Republicans who have stated adamantly that Christians and others with sincerely held religious beliefs need extra protection when following their faith, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court last year allowed gay marriage and the Obama administration earlier this year directed public schools to let transgender students use the bathroom and locker room that corresponds to their gender identity.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has urged legislators to pass a series of targeted “religious liberty” bills, many of which mirror the Mississippi law, including:

  • Protecting small businesses from having to provide goods or services to same-sex couples.
  • Allowing judges to refuse to perform same-sex weddings.
  • Allowing government employees, such as county clerks who issue marriage licenses, to opt out of serving same-sex couples.
  • Exempting religious groups from nondiscrimination laws on hiring and housing.

Legislators can begin prefiling bills in mid-November for the 2017 session, which begins Jan. 10.

Paxton on Friday criticized Reeves’ ruling as “flawed and inconsistent with the Constitution.”

“The law in Mississippi simply affirms the freedom of Americans to peacefully live and work according to their deeply held beliefs, in accordance with the First Amendment. We look forward to the Fifth Circuit upholding that common-sense law on appeal,” Paxton said in a written statement.

[…]

Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, said Reeves’ opinion should send a clear warning to Texas legislators.

“Lawmakers shouldn’t enact laws that they know are constitutionally suspect,” she said. “We do have a history in America of trying to get around people’s constitutional rights and give discrimination the color of law. That is a really unfortunate history that we ought to be ashamed of and try not to replicate.”

If Texas tries to follow Mississippi’s lead, Robertson predicted a costly legal fight followed by a similar ruling.

“When a court says a law is not constitutional, and lawmakers try to do an end run around that, you are going to get a smack down from a federal judge,” Robertson said.

See here for the background. The ruling has yet to be appealed, so there’s no direct consequence for Texas yet. No question in my mind, it’s going to take repeated smackdowns for the message to sink in. Those smackdowns are going to have to come at the ballot box too if we really want to have a lasting effect. the best defense against bad laws being passed is electing people who won’t pass those laws in the first place.

Posted in: Legal matters, That's our Lege.

Astroworld II?

Mayor Turner would like to see it happen.

Rest in peace

In a recent informal lunch with members of the media as he approached six months in office, Mayor Sylvester Turner ticked off the important things his administration has accomplished — unanimous passage of a balanced budget, pothole repairs — and issues he plans to tackle — the pension mess, theKush problem in city parks, serious street repair projects, job development.

But what really got the mayor excited is the idea of a major amusement park within the city limits of Houston. “If we want to be that destination city in terms of conferences and tourism, we have to have that component in this city,” he said.

“It’s one thing to have the rodeo, that’s once a year for three weeks. The Super Bowl will be here and gone. The America Cup COPA, came, gone. NCAA (Final Four), come and gone. We need a major amusement center in this city, especially to focus on our families and young population that’s every day in this city.”

Turner said the park would have to be located in Houston and not in a suburb.

“I’m not talking about in Katy or Tomball or Spring or Pearland,” he said. “I’m talking about within the 640 square miles of the city of Houston. That’s something we are missing and we are putting out in the atmosphere. Hopefully there will be major investors who are looking within the 640 square miles. You can’t be the fourth largest city, soon to be the third, and not have that added component. So we are taking a very hard look at finding that sort of amusement center.”

Well, half of the original Astroworld site is still available – the other half is now owned by the Rodeo. I have no idea how many other parcels of land within city limits there are that would be big enough for an amusement park, and I strongly suspect the number of such parcels with easy access to a freeway is even smaller, but who knows? It would be cool if it could happen. Swamplot has more.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Endorsement watch: The Chron for Rep. Thompson

The Chron endorses Rep. Senfronia Thompson in SD13, though they spend most of their time attacking Rep. Borris Miles.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson

In 2008 [Rep. Miles] was indicted (and later acquitted) for deadly conduct in a bizarre scenario that had him accused of crashing a holiday party at the St. Regis Hotel flashing a gun, threatening the host, and forcibly kissing a married woman on the mouth. In 2010, he had a constable call on him for illegal electioneering. Last year he tussled with a public safety officer after trying to force his way into a private dining room at an Austin restaurant. He went for years without revealing his personal business interests in violation of state law, and failed to maintain a proper certificate of occupancy for his cigar bar, Our Legends, a popular hangout for politicians and the politically connected.

Those political connections seem to come easily for Miles. As the owner of an insurance agency, the state representative has had contracts with the Houston Independent School District, Houston Community College and the city of Houston.

Miles told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that he earned these contracts before his election to public office in 2006. Legal or otherwise, the fact that a state representative’s private company is underwritten by taxpayer-funded institutions perpetuates the image that elected officials have an insider track to the public trough. That image of impropriety is only underscored by the fact that, while selling insurance to the school district, he maintained a business relationship with the husband of one HISD board member and arranged vacations to Costa Rica for another board member under the pretense of studying medical treatment for teachers in the Central American nation.

Is this really the behavior that Democrats want to reward? Is this the image that they want to promote? We hope not.

[…]

However, we endorse state Rep. Senfronia Thompson for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Houston to Fort Bend County.

Mrs. T, as she is known, was first elected to the House in 1972, and since then she has become a moral force in Austin. The longest-serving woman or African-American in Texas legislative history, Thompson has made it her personal duty to defend the “little dogs” of our state by raising the minimum wage, passing a hate-crime bill to protect gays and lesbians, requiring insurers to cover women’s health, supporting rape victims and preventing racial profiling.

Texas Monthly has described Mrs. T as a “guardian angel of the process,” standing at the front of the House chamber during debate to check over proposed amendments and ensure that nobody tries to pull a fast one.

This is the sort of experience and dedication that Texas Democrats should want to see in the Senate.

Guess they don’t like Rep. Miles, then. I do like Rep. Miles, but he has his baggage. The Chron leads off their editorial by pointing out that it’s harder for Democrats to make a case about Republican malfeasance if we’re not holding our own accountable. It’s a valid point, though I’d argue that the bill of particulars they lay out here doesn’t exactly add up to a statewide officeholder being indicted for three felonies. Be that as it may, I’m sure I’d be taking all this into account if I were in SD13. I’m not, so I’m going to take the easy way out here. I suspect people are aware of the candidates’ histories as well as their strengths and capabilities. We’ll find out on Saturday how they weigh it all together.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Weekend link dump for July 10

How much do some conservatives hate transgender people? Enough to make them abandon one of their core legal arguments about abortion in the service of discriminating against transgender people, that’s how much.

There’s a good way to legalize marijuana, and a bad way to legalize marijuana.

What Fred says.

Don’t eat raw cookie dough.

Want to be a contestant on The Bachelor? Read this first.

“Every few weeks I feel it’s important to return to the ongoing disaster in Sam Brownback’s Kansas. It doesn’t get nearly as much play as it should in the media, which is unfortunate because Kansas’ experience is definitive proof of the failure of supply-side, Laffer-curve-based economic theory.”

“Most of today’s urban centers are made from two of the most environmentally damaging building materials currently in use: steel and concrete. […] This construction conundrum was what inspired biomimetic engineer Michelle Oyen to tackle her newest—and sci-fi as hell—project: building cities out of bone.”

“What does the new face of white supremacy in America look like? Meet Matthew Heimbach, the founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party.”

RIP, Michael Cimino, director of The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate.

RIP, Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in 1940s “Superman” movie serials and on television in the 1950s.

RIP, Dr. Roscoe C. Brown Jr., Tuskegee Airman and WWII hero.

RIP, Abner Mikva, liberal titan of law and politics who served as a U.S. congressman from Illinois, a federal judge in Washington and White House counsel to President Bill Clinton, and who was an early mentor to future president Barack Obama.

“The president of Belarus has accidentally sparked an international naked working craze after urging citizens to ‘get undressed and work till you sweat.'”

Martin Longman reads the Chilcot Report so you don’t have to.

“What [Donald Trump] did for his businesses and his workers is nothing to brag about. In fact, it’s shameful. And every single voter in America needs to hear about it.”

You can take that invisibility cloak off your Christmas list. It’s not going to happen.

Gretchen Carlson was far from the only woman at Fox News to be harassed.

“Hillary was still careless, and she still shouldn’t have done it. But for anyone interested in actual national security, it’s pretty clear that she never came close to compromising anything even remotely important. We’ve known this for many months. We still know it. And all the faux outrage from Republicans in Congress won’t change it.”

“I have been pulled over by the police. I have had a broken tail light. I have complied with police instructions. And while I don’t travel with a firearm in my car on most days, if I had one in the car and was pulled over, you’re damn right I’d let the cop know about it, especially if it was on my person. Why wouldn’t I? I don’t want to give the cop any surprises. And I am just about 99.9% certain, in that situation, if I were doing all those things, I wouldn’t suddenly find myself shot, dying in that car. But then, I’m white, and Philando Castile wasn’t.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.