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Will we spend on some flood mitigation projects?

Maybe. We’ll see.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is calling for the construction of flood control infrastructure in the Houston area — things he said should have been built “decades and decades ago” — including a coastal barrier to protect the region from deadly storm surge.

“We need more levees. We need more reservoirs. We need a coastal barrier,” Patrick said late last week during an interview with Fox News Radio. “These are expensive items and we’re working with [U.S. Sens. John] Cornyn and [Ted] Cruz and our congressional delegation to … get this right. We’ve had three now major floods in three years — nothing at this level but major floods.”

The need is particularly pressing because of the state’s rapid population growth, Patrick added, noting that “a lot of that growth is around the Houston area.” And he said the billions in federal aid that Texas is poised to receive presents an opportunity for Texas “to really rebuild and do things that, quite frankly, should have been done decades and decades ago.”

[…]

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul is seeking $320 million to build another reservoir that would take pressure off Addicks and Barker. That’s exciting, Bettencourt said, because the Austin Republican “can lift more than the average congressman” as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

McCaul’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But last week during a meeting with officials in Katy, he described such a project as “long-term” and said he has discussed funding with Gov. Greg Abbott, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to a Houston Chronicle report.

“We need to look at long-term solutions from an infrastructure standpoint,” he said.

None of it will be covered by the $15 billion short-term relief aid relief package Congress has approved for Texas, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will pay for any flood-control infrastructure projects in Texas.

As the man once said, show me the money. What we have here is state officials talking about getting Congress to spend some money on projects here. There’s no indication of willingness to spend any state funds, which among other things would raise ticklish questions about how to pay for them (*). Maybe this Congress is willing to do that, and maybe it’s not. Let’s just say that the track record is not encouraging.

(*) You may recall that in 2013, voters approved a constitutional amendment to fund a water infrastructure fund that among other things could be used to build reservoirs. The idea of this fund, which came on the heels of the devastating drought of 2011, was to make more water available for cities and industry, but I see no reason why it couldn’t be tapped for something like a flood-mitigation reservoir. I don’t know the specifics of the legislation, and frankly I haven’t heard much about this, the SWIFT fund, since its approval. As such, I may be mistaken in what it can and cannot be used for. But at the very least, it seems like a decent starting point for discussion.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

Harvey’s car carnage

Lot of people lost their wheels in the floods.

More than a week after Harvey slammed Houston, wreckers like Bryan Harvey are still hauling cars and trucks from flooded neighborhoods to dealerships or to vast fields where insurance adjusters can assess the damage. Harvey killed at least 70 people, destroyed or damaged 200,000 homes — and inflicted an automotive catastrophe on one of America’s most car-dependent cities.

The Houston area has lost hundreds of thousands of cars, says Michael Hartmann, general manager of Don McGill Toyota of Katy, a city of 17,000 about 30 miles west of Houston. “We have a shortage of rental cars and people not sure how to go about handling claims and just what to do with their lives.”

The wreckage has forced Houstonians to scramble to try to rent or borrow cars or to work from home — if they can. Some have it worse: They can’t return to work until they resolve the transportation problems, depriving many of them of income and slowing the city’s return to business as usual.

[…]

Houston is used to flooding. But it had never seen anything like Harvey, which dropped a year’s worth of rain onto the metro area. Flooded roads and neighborhoods left cars submerged and, in most cases, impossible to salvage.

“Almost every square inch of your vehicle has wires in it,” says Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst at Cox Automotive. “The materials are often flame-retardant, but they are not waterproof.”

Cox estimates that up to 500,000 cars and trucks were damaged or destroyed, amounting to nearly $5 billion in damage. Auto insurance claims have reached 160,000, according to the Insurance Council of Texas. Cars are being taken by the hundreds to a make-shift lot at the 500-acre Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, about 35 miles east of town. Most of the time, the insurance adjusters shake their heads at the damage Harvey has wrought and declare the cars a total loss.

“Put yourself in the shoes of the adjuster,” says Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Texas insurance council. “He’s just seen, say, a 2015 Toyota Camry. He knows this vehicle has been underwater for six days. They can look at it, but they know water is all throughout that vehicle. They know it is totaled … He’s going to see the same vehicle many times.”

Many insurers are reluctant even to try to repair cars that risk further problems and repairs later.

In the meantime, there’s a desperate shortage of rental cars. Enterprise Holdings, which includes the Enterprise, National and Alamo brands, has moved thousands of vehicles to southeast Texas and plans to have brought in at least 17,000 by the end of September. The Avis Budget Group, which operates Avis and Budget, is moving 10,000 vehicles into the affected areas, waiving late fees, one-way rental fees and rental extension fees in and around Houston.

Pro tip: Don’t buy any used cars in Houston for at least the next year. If we’re going to do any big-picture radical rethinking of how Houston is built and configured post-Harvey, building a region that has more robust transit and is thus less car-dependent would be on the to-do list. Harvey was exceptional, but it’s not like we haven’t had plenty of “normal” flooding events that have caused some amount of havoc with people’s vehicles. I really don’t expect much in the way of big-picture radical rethinking to happen, but in the event I’m wrong and it does, put this down for the record.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

What will this school year be like?

School has finally started for most of HISD and many surrounding districts, but with the devastation and disruption of Harvey, what can we expect from this academic year?

Many students in Houston ISD lost everything – their homes, their school supplies, their clothes, their toys.

Some are staying in the mega-shelters at the George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG Park. Others were flown by military helicopter to Dallas and San Antonio, where they have already started school. Still more are shaken after being plucked from their flooded homes by boats and Humvees.

With more than 600,000 Houston-area students set to return to the classroom Monday, teachers and school officials wonder how many will show up – and if they’ll be ready to learn.

And at some schools, business as usual will be a distant memory.

“It’s hard to focus on the lesson of the day when you’re worried about, ‘How is my home? How is my family?” said Ezemenari Obasi, associate dean for research in the University of Houston’s College of Education. “Those questions and worries become more salient than the lesson plan at school.”

[…]

While school can help provide some sense of normalcy, Obasi said paying attention to lessons and regurgitating a year’s worth of knowledge during hours-long standardized tests could prove much more difficult for flood-affected students.

He said the brain’s ability to focus can be severely hampered after experiencing significant anxiety, especially for children and teens’ whose brains are still developing.

“It’s really difficult to assess a person’s capacity when they’re not 100 percent available to focus and attempt the task,” Obasi said. “Many things we measure in schools involve students having to focus. They have to have good spatial processing or cognitive abilities, and if you can’t focus, it’s going to be extremely difficult to do anything, let alone ace an important standardized test.”

Obasi said stress can cause a host of physical and mental ailments, from sleeplessness and an inability to concentrate in the short-term to addiction and diabetes in the long-term.

Exhaustion is a real concern, Obasi said, as many have issues falling asleep and staying asleep during times of significant stress. On top of that, anxiety can hamper the brain’s ability each morning to release cortisol, a hormone that helps people get out of bed and going, making such tasks exponentially more tiresome for students.

Then there are the constant distractions – random triggers that will remind students of the worst days of their lives, questions about where their family will live, uncertainty about where their next meal will come from.

There are so many challenges facing HISD this year, from schools that aren’t ready to open and in some cases may never be to teachers who are still dealing with their own damaged houses and cars to students who have been displaced to points unknown. Indeed, quite a few of these students are now homeless, for who knows how long.

The Texas Homeless Education Office estimates that about 35,000 to 40,000 students have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. On top of that, more than 200 school districts and charter schools statewide canceled or delayed classes, some indefinitely.

Jeanne Stamp, the office’s director, said some families have relocated to Dallas and San Antonio but Houston is sure to see their already large number of homeless children balloon.

Federal protections require schools to immediately enroll children who have lost their regular homes, including those affected by a natural disaster.

That federal law allows homeless children to either stay in the school they were attending or enroll in the school in the neighborhood where they are currently staying, with transportation costs divided equally between the two districts if there’s a funding dispute.

The Texas “Third Choice” law goes even further, allowing homeless students the choice to enroll in any school district in the state, regardless of their school of origin or the location of the place where they are staying.

But the state law doesn’t require transportation to be provided, something Michael Santos, an attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, urged schools to offer in order to comply with the over-arching federal law.

“That falls under the obligation to remove barriers for the student attending school,” Santos said. “Transportation is controversial and it’s expensive.”

For Houston, the transportation issue could be even more heightened as many displaced families are likely to have to commute across the sprawling metro area, between where they want to go to school and where they’re stuck sleeping at night.

“Sometimes public bus passes help get kids to school. Sometimes parents have a vehicle but don’t have funds for gas,” Stamp said. “It is a very costly piece of the service but it’s a necessarily piece of the service.”

Hey, you know what one of the ancillary effects of HISD going into recapture was? They lost state funding for transportation. Hell of a time for that to happen, with all these students needing to travel farther to go to school, right? Layered on top of all that is the takeover threat from the TEA if certain campuses don’t show sufficient improvement on the STAAR test. I don’t know how the state can enforce that threat in good conscience this year given the extreme exogenous circumstances HISD must deal with, but as yet there’s been no discussion, let alone decisions, to that effect.

The point is that this was going to be a tough year for HISD no matter what, but before Harvey hit you could see a path to holding off the TEA from doing anything undesirable. It’s a lot harder to see such a path now. And as bad as HISD has it, some others have it worse. This is why some folks are petitioning for a halt to STAAR testing for the ISDs affected by Harvey. I don’t think that will get anywhere, and to be honest I’m not sure that it should. But I do know that the TEA and the Lege need to take a far more measured approach to accountability this year. No one – no student, no school, no district – should be penalized for having to go through all this.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina, School days.

More post-Harvey ideas

From the Chron, which likens this moment to what Galveston faced after the great hurricane of 1900:

1. Establish a regional flood control authority

Floodwaters ignore city-limit signs and county-line markers. We can’t adequately address drainage issues with a mélange of municipal efforts and flood control districts split between local jurisdictions. Instead of dividing these disaster-prevention efforts into provincial fiefdoms, we need a single authority with the power to levy taxes that will take charge of all of our area’s drainage issues. Gov. Abbott should call a special session of the Legislature and set up such an authority.

Although we are skeptical about whether lawmakers obsessed with divisive social issues can turn their attention to urgent needs, establishing this authority requires action from Austin. Our governor and our Legislature need to get this done immediately.

2. Build a third reservoir

Addicks and Barker dams, reservoirs and spillways, constructed more than 60 years ago, are dangerously inadequate. The U.S. Corps of Engineers rated both as “extremely high-risk” infrastructure years before Harvey. Houston environmental attorney Jim Blackburn maintains that at least one new reservoir should be constructed in northwest Harris County that can help flooding along Cypress Creek, Bear Creek and Buffalo Bayou. He urges the construction of additional upstream locations on virtually every stream in our region.

Harvey shoved us uncomfortably close to catastrophe. We need a third reservoir, and probably more, to avoid unimaginable consequences the next time. Some experts estimate this could be a half-billion-dollar infrastructure project. It is a small price to pay to avoid catastrophe and should be part of any federal relief plan.

[…]

5. Approve new funding streams

We need money. A lot of it. Current local budgets are inadequate to cover the costs of the massive infrastructure investment we’ll need to keep this region safe from floods. The Harris County Flood Control District has a capital improvement budget of $60 million per year. Mike Talbott, the district’s former executive director, estimated that we need about $26 billion for necessary infrastructure updates.

That third one is the key, of course. A lot of what the Chron suggests requires at least some input from the Legislature. Given everything we know about this Lege and this Governor and the recent anti-local control obsession, what do you think are the odds of that?

By the way, the Chron also mentions ReBuild Houston and its associated drainage fee. It sure would make some sense to have a dedicated fund like that for all of Harris County, and perhaps for Fort Bend and Brazoria and Galveston too. I’m going to ask again – what exactly is the argument for continuing the lawsuit over the 2010 referendum, and what would be the argument against re-approving this fund if it has to be voted on again?

From The Conversation:

Proactive maintenance first. In 2017, U.S. infrastructure was given a D+ by the American Society for Civil Engineering Infrastructure Report Card. The bill to repair all those deteriorating roads, bridges and dams would tally $210 billion by 2020, and $520 billion in 2040. For example, the US Army Corps of Engineers estimates there are 15,460 dams in the U.S. with “high” hazard ratings.

Yet, when our cities and states spend on infrastructure, it is too often on new infrastructure projects. And new infrastructure tend to emulate the models, designs and standards that we’ve used for decades – for instance, more highway capacity or new pipelines.

Meanwhile, resources for long-term maintenance are often lacking, resulting in a race to scrape together funding to keep systems running. If we want to get serious about avoiding disasters in a rapidly changing world, we must get serious about the maintenance of existing infrastructure.

Invest in and redesign institutions, not just infrastructure. When analyzing breakdowns in infrastructure, it is tempting to blame the technical design. Yet design parameters are set by institutions and shaped by politics, financing and policy goals.

So failures in infrastructure are not just technical failures; they are institutional ones as well. They are failures in “knowledge systems,” or the ability to generate, communicate and utilize knowledge within and across institutions.

For example, the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina are often interpreted as technical failures. They were, but we also knew the levees would fail in a storm as powerful as Katrina. And so the levee failureswere also failures in institutional design – the information about the weakness of the levees was not utilized in part because the Hurricane Protection System was poorly funded and lacked the necessary institutional and political power to force action.

In the wake of Harvey, basic design and floodplain development parameters, like the 100-year flood, are being acknowledged as fundamentally flawed. Our ability to design more resilient infrastructure will depend on our ability to design more effective institutions to manage these complex problems, learn from failures and adapt.

On that first point, the Addicks and Barker dams both need some fixing up. Let’s not forget that sort of thing.

Finally, from Mimi Swartz, in Texas Monthly:

Yet if dirty air and dirty water and flooded, congested streets all sound a little familiar, there’s a reason. As Ginny Goldman, a longtime organizer who is currently chairing the Harvey Community Relief Fund, said to me, “There are often these problems in a city of any size, but here, where we haven’t done enough to deal with affordable housing and transportation access and income inequality, and where the state has blocked public disclosure of hazardous chemicals in neighborhoods, then a natural disaster hits and we pull the curtain back and it’s all on full display.”

Just after Harvey started pounding Houston with what looked to be never-ending rainfall, I got an email from an old friend who was lucky enough to be out of town for the main event. Sanford Criner is an inordinately successful member of Houston’s developer class, a vice chairman of CBRE Group, the largest commercial real estate and investment firm in the world. He is also a native Houstonian, and like so many of us here, he was already thinking about what was coming next. (Yes, it’s a Houston thing.) “Either we are committed to a future in which we collectively work for the good of the whole,” Criner wrote, “or we decide we’re all committed only to our individual success (even perhaps assuming that that will somehow lead to the common good). I think our story now is either: (i) Houston is the new Netherlands, using our technological genius to develop sophisticated answers to the most challenging global problems of the twenty-first century, or (ii) we are the little Dutch boy, who pokes his finger in the dike, solving the problems of the twenty-five people in his neighborhood. How we respond to this will determine into which of those categories we fit and will define Houston’s future.”

“I’m hopeful. But scared,” he added, neatly summing up the stakes moving forward.

In the past few decades, even as Houston was making its mark on the global economy, building gleaming towers designed by world-class architects and mansions the size of Middle Eastern embassies, as we were hosting world premieres of radically new operas and ballets and coming up with those crazy Asian-Cajun fusion dishes to die for—even as we really were and are optimistic, innovative, entrepreneurial, pretty tolerant, and all that other good stuff—we were doing so selectively. That instinct for the quick fix, or no fix at all, has been with us since the city started expanding in the sixties and seventies and is still a part of the Houston way. In reality, we keep dragging our dark side forward, a shadow sewn to our heels with the strongest surgical wire.

So now the question we face is this: Will Houston become a model for flood relief and disaster recovery, or just another once grand city sinking into mediocrity? In other words, can we be true to our reputation for innovation and aim for something higher than the status quo? The answer depends on which aspects of our culture wind up dominating the search for solutions.

That’s more of a high-level view than a specific suggestion, but it sums up the issue concisely. It’s important to realize that none of the things that many people have been saying we should do are impossible. They are all within our capabilities, if we want to do them. The choice is ours, and if the politicians we elect aren’t on board with it, then we need to elect new leaders. It’s as simple as that.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

The HCC lineup

When I published the July finance reports for HCC trustees, I noted that the only reports available were for incumbents. There was no way to tell who might be challenging the two trustees up for re-election (Carolyn Evans-Shabazz and Robert Glaser) or who might be vying to succeed the convicted Chris Oliver. Thankfully, the Board Information – Trustee Elections page now has all of the candidates listed, so let’s take a look at who’s running for what.

District IV

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz
Manny Barrera
Daniel “DC” Caldwell, I

Evans-Shabazz is the incumbent. She was appointed to the seat in 2015 to fill in for Carroll Robinson, who had stepped down to run for Houston City Controller. She was unopposed that November for the rest of that term, so this is her first election for a full term. She also ran for City Council At Large #5 in 2013 and received about 31% of the vote in a three-way race against CM Jack Christie.

Barrera you know from his comments here. He ran for City Council in District J against CM Mike Laster, finishing third in a field of four. He previously ran for the HCC Board in 2007 for position VII, finishing third against eventual winner Neeta Sane. He’s an attorney and longtime watchdog/critic of HCC, as a bit of Googling will tell you. I couldn’t find a campaign webpage for him.

According to that LinkedIn profile I found, Daniel Caldwell is a former GOP precinct chair in Tarrant County who ran for Dallas City Council in 2015. Going from his LinkedIn profile, I found this website for him and his HCC campaign. I doubt he can get elected in this African-American district, but if Dave Wilson can (dishonestly) do it, I suppose anything is possible.

District V

Victoria Bryant‌‌
Robert Glaser‌

Glaser is the incumbent here. He won in 2013 to fill out the term of Richard Schechter, who had resigned. I didn’t do interviews for HCC that year, but he did fill out a Q&A for Texas Leftist that year. I’ve corresponded with him quite a bit, and he’s been helpful answering various questions I’ve had about what goes on at HCC.

Bryant ran for HISD in the 2016 special election to fill Harvin Moore’s seat; she finished third behind eventual winner Anne Sung and John Luman. Here’s the interview I did with her for that race. Bryant is a Republican, Glaser is a Democrat. This seat has been Democratic since at least Schechter’s election in 2005 – I can’t find results from 1999, the previous time this seat would have been up – but this is a weird year, with likely very low turnout, so it is very much the case that anything can happen.

District IX

Eugene “Gene” Pack
David Jaroszewski
Pretta Vandible Stallworth

Eugene Pack appears to have three different profiles on Facebook. I have no idea what’s up with that. He also appears to be a Republican – in fact, he’s listed as the Vice Chairman of the Texas Federation for Republican Outreach (warning: autoplay Trump video), which is a group I’d never heard of before googling around for this guy. You have to search for “Gene Pack” to find that page; I found it before I found that Facebook photo, so I’m pretty sure this is the same guy.

David Jaroszewski is as far as I can tell an attorney with an office in Baytown, who also teaches at Lee College; he’s the Director of the Paralegal Studies Program. He has no clearly identifying web presence that I can find, but you can see him doing some lectures on YouTube.

Pretta Stallworth is the co-President of a 501(c)3 called Parents for Public Schools Houston; here’s their webpage. I can’t say I’ve heard of this group – the one name I recognize on their board is Hugo Mojica, who has run unsuccessfully for Houston City Council and HISD in District I. All things being equal, I’d say she has the kind of profile to be the favorite in this district, but again, this is a weird year and I have no idea how many people will have a clue about who any of these people are. I sure hope the Chron and black media like The Defender and KCOH do some reporting on this race. It would suck to go from Chris Oliver to a complete cipher for the next six years.

Posted in: Election 2017.

Harvey and the elections

Labor Day weekend of odd-numbered years is considered to be the opening weekend of Houston election season. The filing deadline has passed, so the fields are set and people (supposedly, at least) begin to pay attention. Candidate forums are held, endorsements are made, Chronicle candidate profiles are written, that sort of thing. Sure, some candidates have been at it for weeks if not months, but by tradition this is when things are officially underway.

This was always going to be a weird year in Houston, as we were either going to have no city elections or a mad dash for candidates and campaigns to get up and running, thanks to the 2015 term limits referendum and subsequent litigation. As someone who follows these things closely, I was partly enjoying the lull and partly beginning to fret about getting candidate interviews done for the HISD and HCC races we will have.

And then Harvey came to call. In addition to the devastation and misery, as well as triumph of the spirit, it has knocked the usual campaign schedule for a huge loop. I know of at least one candidate whose house flooded, but every candidate has suspended their campaign activities, out of respect for the victims and to pitch in for the recovery. I have no idea at this point when enough of us will feel normal enough to get back to the usual business of running for office and picking candidates to vote for. Election Day is November 7, so early voting will begin October 23. I think it’s safe to say we’re going to get that mad dash to the finish line, though likely with a lot of hearts not really in it. Though I totally understand this, it is a bit of a concern. HISD has even more challenges ahead of it, and two-thirds of its Trustee seats are up for a vote. Three Trustees are stepping down. One Trustee was appointed earlier this year to fill out the term of a Trustee who resigned. Another Trustee won a special election last December for the same reason. Only one Trustee who had previously been elected to a full term is on the ballot, current Board President Wanda Adams, and she has several opponents. The HISD Board will be somewhere between “very different” and “completely remade” net year. It’s a pretty big deal. The HCC Board has three contested elections, two for Trustees who won special elections to fill out terms, and one to succeed the disgraced Chris Oliver. Again, the potential for change is big.

The good news, I suppose, is that while basically no one is paying attention to any of these races, there are at least fewer races for them to not pay attention to. Imagine if we had a full slate of city elections going on now, too. Campaigns attract money and volunteer energy, two things that are desperately needed for Harvey relief right now. I have to say, I’m not unhappy with the way events in the term limits lawsuit played out.

Two more things. Harvey’s destruction was not limited to houses. It flooded out churches, schools, community centers, government offices, and many other places. Some roads are still under water, and Metro has not yet fully restored bus service – you can’t have buses on roads that are under water, after all. Some of these places are places where voting happens. Some of them may be ready by October 22/November 7, some may not be. Some may not be ready by next March, when the 2018 primaries are currently scheduled. It would be nice to know what kind of shape our polling locations are in, and what the contingency plans are for the sites that may not be ready in time. One possible solution, as put forth by Nonsequiteuse, is to allow people to vote wherever they can/wherever they want to. For a low-turnout odd-year election like this, a bunch of precinct polling places were always going to be combined anyway. It’s a small step from there to say that all polling locations will be open to all voters, as they are during early voting.

Also, too: Remember how I said that there will not be a Rebuild Houston re-vote on the ballot this November, but we should expect one maybe next year? This leads me to wonder, what exactly is the argument at this point to put this up for another vote? More to the point, what is the argument against having a dedicated fund, paid for by a fee charged to property owners based on their impermeable cover, these days? After reading enough hot takes on how a lack of zoning and unchecked development are to blame for Harvey to make me gag, I can only imagine what kind of punditry would be getting committed if we also had a ReBuild re-vote in two months. The principle at the heart of this litigation was that the people (supposedly) didn’t know what they were voting on because the ballot language was unclear. Does anyone think we’re still unclear on this now? Just a thought.

Posted in: Election 2017, Election 2018, Hurricane Katrina.

Who will rebuild Houston?

Vox points out what should be obvious.

Unauthorized immigrants were crucial to rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And they are likely to be desperately needed as Texas rebuilds to clean streets, demolish buildings, and reconstruct homes and offices.

But it’s a hostile time to be undocumented in Texas. Even beyond the Trump administration’s harsh rhetoric and actions on immigration, Texas leaders are engaged in a crackdown on unauthorized immigrants, passing a slew of laws to make it harder for them to live and work in the state. In such an environment, these laborers might not stick around for the work that will be needed.

“This could have a chilling effect on the community,” said Laurel Fletcher, a law professor at the University of California Berkeley who studied the working conditions of laborers in New Orleans after Katrina. “A lot depends on what the climate will be like for Latinx and undocumented residents in the greater Houston area.”

[…]

The US unemployment rate, at 4.4 percent, is at its lowest level since the Great Recession started, and construction companies across the country have been struggling to find workers. In August, about 77 percent of US builders reported a shortage of framing crews and 61 percent faced a shortage of drywall installation workers, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

If the story of rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is any indication, undocumented immigrants will be a crucial part of Houston’s recovery.

That assumes a federal government and a state government that aren’t hell-bent on deporting them. If we’re lucky, we might get a bit of benign neglect and some court orders holding back enforcement of SB4. If not, well, I hope no one is in any rush to get their homes repaired.

Having said all that. we should heed what Stace says:

While I appreciate Lisa Falkenberg’s article about the undocumented rebuilding Houston, I’m still irked by the assumption by others that the only reason we need them (at this time) is for cheap, uninsured labor without worker protections. Especially when builders and contractors are the ones crying the loudest as they stand to make the most during the rebuild with this source of cheap labor.

It goes back to why we need more than just a DREAM Act. We need the parents of DREAMers who make up this exploited labor force, too. They must be protected. They must be paid what they’re worth. They must be insured and have worker protections from bosses who will exploit them during these times. Because, suddenly, it seems they’re not taking someone else’s job; they are filling open jobs, if we let them.

Getting the Houston area – and now Florida – rebuilt is a big priority, but there are larger issues that need to be addressed as well. Chris Tomlinson, Stan Marek, and Lisa Falkenberg have more.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina, La Migra.

The trans community is fully engaged now

One positive thing came out of this months-long anti-transgender legislative assault.

For more than a year, [Dan] Patrick pulled out all the stops for the bathroom bills, which would have restricted restroom use based on biological sex and undone local anti-discrimination ordinances protecting the rights of transgender Texans.

But rather than pushing them farther into the shadows, Patrick’s bathroom bills have galvanized the transgender community in Texas like never before. New friends have been made, activist networks formed and some are even running for office, all spurred by an effort they feared would only vilify and dehumanize them.

Patrick’s crusade, however, succeeded in further dividing his own party, whose fissures were laid bare as big business, big oil, police and teachers pushed back. The GOP found itself at odds with benefactors it has long protected, underlining the struggle between the traditional “open for business” Republicanism of the Rick Perry years and the culture war evangelism Patrick espouses.

The bathroom bill’s defeat was stunning. Patrick is, after all, considered by many to be the most influential conservative in Texas. But more astounding than this failure was its effect on the marginalized group it targeted.

The transgender community is now a new standard bearer for the civil rights fight in Texas. And now, they have more allies than ever.

And they know who those allies are. The greater visibility for the transgender community has helped make more people realize that trans people are just that – people, who want to live their lives and get the same basic deal the rest of us get. As it was with gays and lesbians, it’s a lot harder to demonize a group when you know members of that group. The show of support for the transgender community from a broad range of stakeholders really reinforced the message. Patrick and his pals will continue doing their dirty work, but I think their path is rockier now. We still have a long way to go, but we have made progress. Do keep that in mind as we go forward.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Weekend link dump for September 10

Legal Aid should be a backbone of our social safety net, and limiting that service based on state bar requirements doesn’t seem to be helping anybody.”

How does a remake of Lord of the Flies, but with girls instead, grab you? Assuming you didn’t realize that such a work already existed in another form, of course.

This is the self-obsessed, insular bubble Swift inhabits. In a cultural climate packed to the brim with dire, pressing problems, she uses her massive platform to rehash tired grudges that she thinks the world has been eagerly waiting to be settled, completely oblivious to the actual concerns of everyday people. Instead of evolving as an artist and a human, she wallows in the petty beefs with fellow millionaires that the public might have had the headspace for in 2015, but most definitely do not anymore.”

There’s a lot more political pressure on Google these days.

“Unpacking that involves a bit of theology. If that sounds too dull or dry, think of it, instead, as an exploration of a 2,000-year-old dick joke — a funny, pointed, 2,000-year-old dick joke. Because that’s also what we have here in Galatians.”

Monopolies are bad for all the reasons people used to think they were bad. They raise costs. They stifle innovation. They lower wages. And they have perverse political effects too. Huge and entrenched concentrations of wealth create entrenched and dangerous locuses of political power.”

It’s hard out here on a clown.

A lot more people want to be lawyers, thanks to Donald Trump.

An oral history of Ally McBeal.

The Peppa Pig poisonous spider controversy.

“The review shows that, for the first time in U.S. history, wealthy people with interests before the government have a chance for close and confidential access to the president as a result of payments that enrich him personally. It is a view of the president available to few other Americans.”

What Fred says.

RIP, Gene Michael, former Yankees shortstop and longtime front office executive.

Kris Kobach is a lying liar who lies a lot. Among other things.

“I cannot recall a previous data breach in which the breached company’s public outreach and response has been so haphazard and ill-conceived as the one coming right now from big-three credit bureau Equifax, which rather clumsily announced Thursday that an intrusion jeopardized Social security numbers and other information on 143 million Americans.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Lawsuits filed over dam releases

This ought to be interesting.

A group of flooded-out Harris County homeowners and businesses sued the federal government on Tuesday, accusing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of knowingly condemning their properties by releasing water from the Barker and Addicks reservoirs after Hurricane Harvey.

Bryant Banes, a civil attorney whose Heathwood home and his wife’s home business were deluged after the rains had subsided, is seeking compensation that could reach into the billions of dollars in what he hopes will become a massive class-action lawsuit that would include compensation for homeowners, building managers and business owners within the area flooded by the controlled releases.

“When they opened up the dams full blast, several hundred homes that were dry and not yet directly impacted by the storm — including mine —got flooded by the Corps’ action,” Banes said.

Banes doesn’t contend that the Corps did the wrong thing, only that the government must pay for the damages it caused.

“When they make a choice to flood one area to save another, it’s their responsibility to pay for the consequences,” he said.

Banes’ is one of three lawsuits filed Tuesday in state and federal court seeking to hold government agencies liable for flooding from the controlled releases.

[…]

Justin Hodge, an expert in eminent domain at Johns Marrs Ellis & Hodge LLP, said such cases boil down to knowledge and intent — whether the government know what it was doing and intended to cause flooding that essentially amounted to “taking” of people’s properties.

“The government can’t accidentally take your property,” Hodge said. “If they accidentally opened the lever to the dam or the gates, that would not be a taking — that would be negligence.

“But if the government intentionally floods someone’s property there would be real merit,” he said.
Individuals can’t sue the government for an accident. But if the flooding was intentional and knowing, a person can file a claim. He said historically class actions have occurred in condemnation lawsuits but they’re very difficult to pull off.

“A lot of folks may be directly damaged by the dam releases but an investigation has to be made into each person’s claim,” he said. “I would caution property owners … not to try to jump in and file something without doing an appropriate investigation.”

He added, “I’d caution them to hire a lawyer that’s knowledgeable in this area of the law.”

It’s not exactly a secret that the Corps did what they did knowing it would flood some houses that had not previously flooded. And as attorney Banes said, it’s not about right or wrong, it’s about paying for the damage done. I Am Not A Lawyer, but this seems like a pretty straightforward claim that has merit to it. We’ll see how it plays out, and in the end how much it costs.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

Ballot order

Kevin Drum finds this paper, entitled “The Ballot Order Effect is Huge: Evidence from Texas”, by a professor at Sam Houston State, and notes that it confirms what we have all long believed, that being first on the ballot in a non-partisan race like a primary or a municipal election is an advantage. From the paper:

Across all twenty-four contests, the effect is invariably positive and, with two exceptions in runoff elections, statistically significant. The smallest effects are found in high-profile, high information races: the Republican primary for U.S. Senator, which featured the incumbent, John Cornyn; the governor’s race, which featured long-time Attorney General Greg Abbott; and Land Commissioner, which featured well-known political newcomer George P. Bush. In these races the ballot order effect is only one or two percentage points.

Larger estimates obtain for most “medium-profile, medium-information” races such as Comptroller, Railroad Commissioner, or the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator. Most of these fall in a fairly tight band that ranges from three to five percentage points. Estimates are even larger in the low-profile, low-information judicial elections, generally ranging from seven to ten percentage points. Overall, the ballot order effect tends to be larger in contests that receive less attention and in which voters are likely to know less about the candidates on the ballot.

[…]

In an ironic twist of fate, we were recently able to [test our hypothesis] with the March, 2016 Texas Republican primary, held just after the first draft of this paper was completed. Featuring a highly visible Presidential race, it drew twice as many voters as in 2014—and had contests for three Supreme Court positions, one of which was between Paul Green and Rick Green, two men with common first names and identical last names. It was The Perfect Storm, and our logic implies that this should lead to large ballot order effects. This is immediately evident in the histogram of county vote shares presented in Figure 2(a), without even looking at ballot order: in a race won with 52.1% of the statewide vote, virtually no county’s vote was nearly evenly split. Instead Paul Green’s vote shares are bifurcated into two clusters, one around 40%, and another around 60%, suggesting a ballot order effect approaching twenty percentage points. The regression results in Figure 2(c) confirm this: the coefficient estimate is 19.4 percentage points. We have never seen a ballot order effect this large, and may never again.

Drum concludes that randomizing ballot order for each voter, which is something that is certainly feasible with electronic voting machines, is the best answer to this. I’ve been on that hobby horse for a long time, so it’s nice to have some empirical evidence in my corner, but in the absence of a new law from the Lege, nothing will change. But we persist in highlighting the problem, in the hope that some day our cries will be heard.

I should note that while the first-on-the-ballot effect is largest in low-information races like judicial primaries and executive offices like Railroad Commissioner, some races defy that effect. I will always cite the three-way Democratic primary for RRC in 2008, between gentlemen with basic, simple names, as Exhibit A for counterexamples. Mark Thompson, who nearly won the race on the first go, basically carried every county regardless of where he was on the ballot. Here’s Harris County:


Dale Henry       85,153  32.00%
Art Hall         69,377  26.07%
Mark Thompson   111,598  41.93%

Travis County:


Art Hall         37,444  30.87%
Mark Thompson    57,909  47.74%
Dale Henry       25,959  21.40%

Dallas County:


Art Hall         45,670  24.84%
Dale Henry       57,234  31.13%
Mark Thompson    80,980  44.04%

Three different orders, Mark Thompson was second or third on all three, and yet he easily led in all three counties, despite being a first time candidate with no money. Henry had been the Democratic nominee for Railroad Commissioner in 2006, and Hall had been a City Council member in San Antonio (Hall did carry Bexar County, though Thompson came in second), yet Thompson overcame it all and ran away with the nomination. Till the day I die, I will never understand that result.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

The Texas Infectious Disease Readiness Task Force

We have such a thing, and at a time like this that’s good to know.

Most Texans don’t regularly concern themselves with infectious diseases such as typhus, Ebola, Zika, or the plague. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, public health experts worry that tetanus and MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant skin infection, could become more prevalent.

Thanks to the establishment of the Texas Infectious Disease Readiness (TX IDR) task force, citizens now have access to online courses and other resources geared at increasing the public’s knowledge of a variety of infectious diseases.

The program was launched in late 2014 when then-Gov. Rick Perry signed an executive order establishing the Task Force on Infectious Disease Readiness and Response due to an increase in infectious disease cases in Texas.

Typhus, which is transmitted by fleas and potentially fatal, infected only 27 Texans in 2003. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention In 2016, the state saw 364 cases, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. With so few cases in the past, typhus’ symptoms – chills, muscle aches, a rash, and vomiting – were likely mistaken for something else.

Described by some as a “Texas-specific CDC,” the task force gathers information from many sources and adapts it to Texas’ needs. In addition to sharing information on current cases, the TX IDR designs online courses specific to the diseases seen in Texas, explaining how the diseases are transmitted, who is at risk, and how to control their spread.

The need for such an initiative became evident after the first cases of Ebola were diagnosed in the United States.

[…]

In addition to educating traditional health care professionals, the program also targets first responders, who typically have limited access to resources about infectious diseases, [Dr. Jan E. Patterson, chair of TX IDR] said. With the establishment of the TX IDR website, they can now learn about infectious disease readiness and potentially avoid contracting a deadly virus.

We know about typhus. As one of those Texans that don’t regularly concern themselves with infectious diseases, I’m glad to know someone does.

Posted in: Technology, science, and math.

Saturday video break: Shame On You

Continuing with the shame theme, here’s the Indigo Girls:

They should have had more success on mainstream rock radio. Maybe I’m just a sucker for vocal harmonies, but they were and are excellent at what they do. Now here’s Willie Nelson in tandem with Asleep At The Wheel:

God bless ya, Willie. May you outlive us all.

Posted in: Music.

Plaintiffs ask SCOTUS to back down in redistricting fight

This week’s update:

The challengers told the justices that the Supreme Court lacks the power to review the state’s request because there is nothing to put on hold: The lower court has neither blocked the state’s current redistricting plan nor entered any orders to remedy the violations it found. Instead, the challengers emphasized, the lower court simply directed the two sides to show up for a hearing today to come up with a new plan. If the lower court had held the hearing and then entered an order, the challengers explained, Texas could have asked the Supreme Court to step in – but it cannot do so now.

The challengers also dispute any suggestion that if the justices do not intervene now, the district court might impose its own map, which the state will not have time to appeal before the October 1 deadline by which the congressional maps must be in place for next year’s elections. Any “deadline” is purely self-imposed, they say: “This alleged ‘deadline’ is simply the date that Texas claims is required to permit local officials two months’ time to coordinate with third-party vendors to print and mail voter registration certificate cards.” And in any event, they add, there is no reason to believe that the court would both decide to review the dispute and reverse the lower court’s judgment – a key criterion in deciding whether to put a lower court’s ruling on hold. The challengers conclude by pleading with the court not to “countenance Texas’s attempts to introduce further delay and multiply the proceedings in this Court in an attempt to run out the clock.”

See here for the background, and here for the plaintiffs’ filing. Plaintiffs also went and filed some proposed remedial maps, which is what we would have been talking about in this case had Justice Alito not called a timeout. Michael Li has links to those maps. There was also supposed to be a response to the same ruling from the State House case as well, but I have not seen any reporting on it. In any event, the expectation seems to be that a ruling from the full Court will come next week or so. Let’s hope we can get this show on the road. The Statesman and KUHF have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Charity Navigator on your best bets for Harvey relief

In case you’re still making up your mind about how to donate to Harvey relief.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday evening, August 25th, as the first Category 4 hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004. Ahead of its landfall, many communities were ordered to evacuate, as fears arose that the hurricane could leave some coastal areas uninhabitable. The storm, which intensified over the Gulf of Mexico before hitting Texas and its surrounding states, brought with it heavy rainfall, damaging winds, and a powerful storm surge. It has significantly impacted communities along the Texas coastline, including Houston, as well as other areas along the Gulf with wind and flood damage. Charity Navigator has compiled a list of highly-rated organizations responding in the aftermath of this storm and providing assistance to the people and communities affected by it. Donors can designate their donations to the cause on the organization’s website. However, at this point in time it is not certain that all these organizations will spend 100% of donations received on Hurricane Harvey relief.

If you’re looking for a local charity to support in the wake of Hurricane Harvey please consider Houston SPCAHouston Humane SocietyHouston Food BankFood Bank of Corpus Christi, or San Antonio Humane Society. These highly-rated organizations are located in the most-affected areas and are providing support to individuals and animals.

If you represent a charity interested in being considered for inclusion, please email hottopics@charitynavigator.org to request a disaster response survey.

Designated donations made from this page will be applied to charity programs per each charity’s designation policies.

This Chron story pointed to the Charity Navigator resource. There are a number of good options on that page, so go check it out. While you’re there, you might as well go ahead and check out the similar page for Hurricane Irma relief, because we’re unfortunately going to need it. For more local charity choices, this story has a photo essay of possibilities. And finally, there’s this:

All the living former U.S. presidents are joining together in an online campaign to raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey and the floods it caused along the Texas coast.

Called the OneAmericaAppeal, the campaign follows in the footsteps of a series of successful disaster relief efforts undertaken on behalf of the victims of the tsunami in southeast Asia, the earthquake in Haiti, and hurricanes Katrina and Ike.

Those efforts involved Bill Clinton and both George W. and George H.W. Bush. The new campaign, which is solely an online appeal, also includes Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

[…]

The idea for the joint appeal arose from discussions between George H.W. Bush and his son, both of whom live in Texas, but was immediately embraced by Clinton, Carter and Obama, said Jim McGrath, spokesman for the elder Bush.

“All five living presidents have come together, and they have done so because of what was taking place during and after Harvey,” McGrath said. “With the unprecedented intensity of the storm, the heroic response of the first responders and volunteers, and all the people from all over rallying to help them, it was not a hard sell.”

Go to www.oneamericaappeal.org to donate. All funds are earmarked for Texas, so you can reach beyond Houston if you wish. They will also consider expanding to Florida if needed, as we likely will.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

Hiding in Harvey’s shadows

Most of the people who have been affected by Harvey have begun to get help for their recovery. Undocumented immigrants represent the bulk of those who have not.

The water surged into the modest low-lying apartments with the full force of nearby overflowing Greens Bayou, slamming toys and tiny buckled shoes onto countertops and overturning chairs.

Byron Soto waded through knee-high water, carrying his toddlers to a second floor. But as the menacing tide edged closer, he used a friend’s inflatable boat to get to a vacant apartment on higher ground at the complex where he and his family are still camped out.

He, and others like him in the flooded apartments near Interstate 10 and Federal Road, didn’t think about calling 911. Instead, they did what they often have had to do while living illegally in the United States: They improvised.

After all, who would come to their rescue? The president wants them deported. The governor and state Legislature enacted a law allowing police officers to report them, though a federal judge blocked it late last week. Their labor will be needed for the massive reconstruction ahead, yet they are fearful of stepping forward to help their community recover.

“I’m afraid,” said Soto, a 31-year-old construction worker from Guatemala who has been here for a decade. “They’re going to deport me and then what would happen to my kids?”

This is a human tragedy and it breaks my heart. The city of Houston and Mayor Turner have done the right thing by assuring everyone they will get the assistance they need and will not be asked about their immigration status, but these folks have a lot of reasons to be afraid. And now with the termination of DACA, things aren’t about to get any better. If a society is judged by how it treats its poorest and neediest, we’ve got a lot of room to improve.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

Friday random eleven – Be all that you can be

Going to eleven this week because I felt like it.

1. Be Good Johnny – Men At Work
2. Be Like The Man – Mieka Pauley
3. Be Like You – Asylum Street Spankers
4. Be My Baby – The Ronettes
5. Be My Daddy – Trish & Darin
6. Be Nice To Me – Trinity University Jazz Band
7. Be Prepared – Tom Lehrer
8. Be Still – Los Lobos
9. Be There – Pointer Sisters
10. Be True – Bruce Springsteen
11. Be True To Your School – The Beach Boys

Actually, I went to eleven to include the Beach Boys song, in celebration of school (finally!) opening for most of us on Monday. “Be Like You” is from the Spankers’ children’s album, which is a thing I still can’t quite believe exists. Seriously, they used to talk about doing a kids’ album at their shows, and we always thought they were joking. I can’t remember if “Be Prepared” was the first Tom Lehrer song I ever heard – it’s either that or “Lobachevsky” – but it’s a pretty representative introduction to his oevre. Happy Friday, and if you have friends or family in Florida I hope they’re all safe from Hurricane Irma.

Posted in: Music.

Lawsuit filed over Crosby plant explosion

This ought to be fun to watch.

Seven first responders who were exposed to fumes from a chemical fire last week at a Crosby, Texas, manufacturing plant have filed suit against the plant’s owner, alleging that the company’s negligence caused them “severe bodily injuries.”

The plaintiffs, who include police officers and medical personnel, say in the lawsuit that when they were dispatched to the Harvey-flooded Arkema chemical plant in the early hours of Aug. 31, they were not alerted that more than one explosion had already taken place. Exposed to strong fumes, they “began to fall ill in the middle of the road,” and “police officers were doubled over vomiting, unable to breathe.” The suit also states that medical personnel “became overwhelmed, and they began to vomit and gasp for air.”

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, 15 sheriff’s deputies were sent to the hospital and released later on the morning of Aug. 31. Company officials described that smoke as “a non-toxic irritant,” and Harris County officials compared it to what escapes a campfire or barbecue pit.

The plaintiffs claim that the company never warned them of “toxic fumes” present on the site. Company officials, as well as state and federal government agencies, have maintained over the last week that they have not found “toxic concentration levels in areas away from the evacuated facility.” The company has been criticized for its refusal to disclose certain chemical safety documents. Arkema CEO Rich Rowe has described this as an attempt “to balance the public’s right to know with the public’s right to be secure.”

I haven’t followed this particular aspect of the Harvey disaster and aftermath. There are some links to other Trib stories at the end of this one, or just Google “Arkema explosion” to get caught up. The crux of the issue is one part lax oversight, by both Arkema and the state, and one part lack of disclosure about what hazards were present. If you’re thinking we’ve been down this road before, you’re right. I am mostly interested to see if anything has changed since the last major plant explosion. I don’t expect it – let’s not be naive – but we do live in a different world now, so you never know. ThinkProgress and the Lone Star Project have more.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina, Legal matters.

Two GOP State Reps seek Senate promotions

Item One:

Rep. Cindy Burkett

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, launched a challenge Tuesday to state Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, setting up a Republican primary clash in North Texas.

“I am proud of what I have accomplished for Texas and for all people who share my conservative values,” Burkett said in a news release. “Serving in the Texas Senate will allow me to continue and expand this work.”

Burkett is serving her fourth term in the House, where she chairs the Redistricting Committee. She first won election to House District 101 in 2010. After HD-101 was altered by redistricting in 2011, Burkett successfully ran for House District 113, which she currently represents.

Hall, a Tea Party activist, won the Senate District 2 seat three years ago in an upset victory over Bob Deuell, the Republican incumbent from Greenville. Burkett was once an aide to Deuell in the Senate.

[…]

At least two candidates are already running for Burkett’s seat in HD-113. They include Garland Republican Jonathan Boos and Rowlett Democrat Rhetta Bowers, both of whom unsuccessfully challenged Burkett in 2016.

This race is of interest for several reasons. First and foremost, HD113 is a top target next year. Like all Dallas County districts, it was carried by Hillary Clinton, but it was also very close at the downballot level. Having it be an open seat is likely to be better for the Democrats, and may possibly be a signal that the Republicans don’t like their prospects. Bob Hall is a dithering fool, but much of SD02 is outside Dallas County, and some of that turf may not be very hospitable to a suburban establishment type, especially one who is already talking about playing well with others. If Burkett means what she says, she could be a marginal improvement on Hall – the bar is pretty low here, as Hall is awful – but Burkett was the author of the regular session omnibus anti-abortion bill, so don’t expect much.

Item Two:

State Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, is making it official: He is challenging state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

“They just desperately want somebody new,” Fallon said of voters in Senate District 30, which Estes has represented since 2001. “It’s been 16 years — it’s going to be 18 years. They want a change. They don’t see him around.”

Fallon had been seriously mulling a Senate bid for months, crisscrossing the 14-county district in North Texas since at least the end of the regular legislative session in May. He first shared his decision to run Tuesday with a newspaper in SD-30, the Weatherford Democrat.

In an interview with the Tribune, Fallon said he was “shocked” to learn in his travels how many local officials view Estes as an absentee senator. Fallon, who loaned his campaign $1.8 million in June, also said he was prepared to “spend every dime and then some” to get his message out in the race.

“It’s a moral obligation,” he said. “We simply need in this district to close one chapter and open up a new one.”

Not much to be said about this one. Estes is basically a waste of space, while Fallon is more of a new school jackass. Neither district is competitive. Someone will win the race, but no one will truly win.

Finally, along those same lines, Angela Paxpn – wife of you-know-who – has officially announced her candidacy for SD08, where she will face off against Phillip Huffines, brother of Sen. Don Huffines. We first heard about this a couple of weeks ago. With any luck, Huffines will spend a bunch of his money attacking Angela Paxton by attacking Ken Paxton. Surely that’s not asking for too much.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Most but not all HISD schools will open Monday

Here’s the latest.

Nine storm-damaged Houston ISD campuses will remain temporarily closed when many district students return to classes for the fall following a two-week delay caused by Hurricane Harvey, Superintendent Richard Carranza said Thursday. Meanwhile, students at nearly 80 schools won’t return to classes until either Sept. 18 or Sept. 25.

District officials released specific campus information about the nine schools that won’t immediately re-open. They are Scarborough, Hilliard, Robinson, Mitchell, Kolter, Braeburn and Askew elementary schools; Burbank Middle School; and Liberty High School

Those campuses were home to about 6,500 students in the 2016-17 school year, with all serving between 450 students and 950 students.

“Some of those schools will probably not open for the rest of the school year,” Carranza said. “Some schools will have co-location for a matter of weeks, sometimes months, and in some cases, longer than that.”

Information about where students from the storm-damaged schools will start classes, as well as information about which schools will open on Sept. 18 or Sept. 25, was to be released Thursday evening. Of the district’s 284 schools, 202 will be ready to open on Monday, Carranza said.

See here for the full announcement, and here for the database where you can look up your school’s opening date. Both of the schools my girls attend are among the 202 opening on the 11th, which had been the previous goal for all schools. Circumstances change, and you can’t send kids to a school that isn’t safe for them. It’s gonna be a hell of a year. The Press has more.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina, School days.

Fifth Circuit stays voter ID ruling

Ugh.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The state of Texas can use its revised voter ID measure for the upcoming November elections, a divided federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

The 2-1 decision, first reported by Politico Tuesday night, came from a panel of three federal judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans — and it marks the latest in a series of winding legal battles on whether the state has intentionally discriminated against black and Latino voters through its original voter ID law passed in 2011

[…]

In a joint order Tuesday, Judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Elrod wrote that Texas “has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits,” and added that the state has also “made a strong showing that this reasonable-impediment procedure remedies plaintiffs’ alleged harm and thus forecloses plaintiffs’ injunctive relief.”

The dissenting judge on the panel, Judge James Graves Jr., said it was still uncertain whether Texas would succeed — and pointed to the court’s ruling last year that a North Carolina voter ID law had been propelled by race and was never properly fixed.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the order. Rick Hasen explains where we stand now:

Given how each judge voted in the en banc ruling on the last round of the voter id case, nothing here is a surprise.

This is a ruling just by a motions panel; a separate merits panel will review the case in short order (the motions panel expedited consideration of the case).

There is still a long road ahead. The last time this went through it went en banc to the full 5th Circuit and took a while—so the status quo in the interim matters perhaps for how the 2018 elections will be conducted.

Plaintiffs could try to appeal this stay order to the Supreme Court, where they would probably face a tough audience, with perhaps Justice Kennedy in play.

That’s really what it comes down to, the 2018 election and what voter ID rules are in place. Look how long it took us to get to this point. All we can do is keep moving, there’s still more to be done. ThinkProgress and the Chron have more.

UPDATE: Oral arguments are set for the first week in December.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Local government buildings took it on the chin from Harvey

Houses, businesses, schools, churches, government offices – the destruction caused by Harvey and the bill to fix it all keeps adding up.

Local governments grappled Tuesday with the staggering costs of responding to and cleaning up after Hurricane Harvey, a trifecta of wrecked infrastructure and damaged buildings, around-the-clock overtime for rescue and recovery and a massive, escalating cleanup effort to bring the Houston area a semblance of normalcy after days of chaos.

City and county officials could not provide complete estimates of the impact to their coffers from Harvey’s wrath – crews still were inspecting buildings Tuesday and workers logging 120-hour weeks walking door-to-door across Harris County’s nearly 1,800 square miles to survey the widespread devastation.

Amid the uncertainty, officials agreed that even for a government apparatus well-versed in weathering and recovering from severe storms, Harvey’s damage was unlike anything ever seen here before.

“I’ve been here 30 years,” said Harris County Engineer John Blount. “I was through Allison. I was through Ike, and this was the worst I have ever seen.”

On Tuesday, public officials across the Houston region said they were only beginning to understand the scope of Harvey’s damage and its impact on public services.

Mayor Sylvester Turner sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott this week, requesting state and federal funding and detailing “a catastrophic strain on our infrastructure, with damages estimated at more than $5 billion.”

[…]

The county Tuesday was actively relocating the hundreds of employees that work in the criminal justice center, including the district attorney’s 330-lawyer operation.

Hundreds of prosecutors and staffers with the district attorneys office, many dressed in T-shirts and shorts, spent Tuesday pulling their personal possessions out of the 20-story downtown criminal courthouse next to the still-swollen Buffalo Bayou.

The move is expected to slow the local criminal justice system as everyone involved will have to work from unfamiliar offices and commute to courtrooms spread across the downtown courthouse complex.

Neither the city of Houston nor Harris County had a detailed accounting of the damage yet, which will include vehicles as well as buildings, plus lots of overtime costs. I suspect that $5 billion number cited above includes private losses, but it’s not clear to me. The point is that in the short term, a lot of the federal and state relief money needs to go towards paying the workers who did their jobs so heroically during the storm and its aftermath, and towards getting these damaged institutions back up and running. The alternative is a huge amount of debt, and we’ll all pay a lot more for that.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

From the “Stupid haters gonna stupidly hate” department

It’s the same basic story we hear about every time there’s a natural disaster, though with a bit of a twist this time.

When Sandy hit the New York metropolitan area in 2012, the floodwaters in Lower Manhattan were still rising when some pastors pointed out what, to them, was obvious.

“God is systematically destroying America,” the Rev. John McTernan, a conservative Christian pastor who runs a ministry called USA Prophecy, said in a post-Sandy blog entry that has since been removed. The reason God was so peeved, he claimed, was “the homosexual agenda.”

McTernan belongs to a subset of religious conservatives – including some well-known names – who see wrath and retribution in natural disasters.

Usually, their logic revolves around LGBT themes – Buster Wilson of the American Family Association claimed God sent Hurricane Isaac to stop an annual LGBT festival; the Rev. Franklin Graham blamed Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans’ “orgies”; and Catholic priest Gerhard Wagner called Katrina “divine retribution” for New Orleans’ tolerance of homosexuality.

Other times, the scapegoat is gay marriage, abortion rights or policies seen as harmful to Israel.

Yet as Harvey hit Houston, those quick to see God’s angry handiwork in earlier storms have so far focused their efforts on praising Houston’s first responders and volunteers.

[…]

Stephen T. Davis, a professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College who has written about Christian theodicy – the problem of why bad things happen to good people – said the idea of God’s punishment gets “very little traction” outside conservative religious circles.

He said that “the secular world finds explanations like ‘God wanted to punish Houston’ ridiculous.”

But Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, which monitors the religious right, said the reaction from the finger-waggers “is different this time around.”

“I checked with my colleagues and we have a couple of theories,” Montgomery said.

One theory is that Texas, with a few exceptions, is a religious right stronghold. Gov. Greg Abbott is popular with conservative Christians, so perhaps they are less willing to suggest God is unhappy with him. Abbott supports tougher abortion access laws and signed the “Pastor Protection Act,” which allows pastors to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

Another theory is that Christian conservatives don’t want to suggest Houston deserves divine retribution. In 2015, city voters soundly struck down an anti-discrimination bathroom law with support from many Christian groups and leaders.

“I think that makes it hard for the religious right to say there is some kind of collective sin in Houston that God wants to punish,” Montgomery said. “But if Harvey had hit New Orleans you still would have had people dredging up decadence in that city, or if an earthquake had hit San Francisco, you would have had people saying it was because of homosexuality.”

It may be the case that some of the usual high-profile suspects are keeping their pie holes shut in deference to some warped political thinking, but there are still plenty of other assholes who are happy to fly their freak flags. I don’t have words strong enough to condemn the monstrousness of this line of thinking, but I do know this. I’m friends with Melaney Linton, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. I ran into her over the weekend, and as one does I asked her if she made it through the storm all right. She told me that all of the PPGC Gulf Coast clinics made it through with no damage, as did she and her house. For those of you who want to see a divine hand in this type of storm, make of that what you will.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 4

The Texas Progressive Alliance suggests a donation to the United Way Houston Relief Fund to help everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff celebrated the federal court ruling that halted enforcement of the “sanctuary cities” ban before it went into effect.

SocraticGadfly, from up in North Texas, offers his take on both the politics behind Harvey, and pseudoskeptics, including an alleged actual skeptic in Houston, the politics behind Harvey everything behind the Arkema explosions.

After getting his 91-year old mother out of the calamity that Harvey left behind in Beaumont, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs collected some observations about the looming environmental catastrophes threatening the Texas Gulf coast.

South East Texas soil, air and water are awash in toxic chemicals thanks to deregulation by Trump and Abbott. Trump’s gutting of the EPA ensures that the destruction and suffering will have the maximum effect. CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wishes each of them could experience all of the suffering they are causing themselves.

Neil at All People Have Value said you don’t have to be “Houston Strong” regarding Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey if you don’t want to be. Do what you need to do to move forward. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

====================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Space City Weather, which got some well-earned national attention for its coverage of Harvey, assures us we will get though this.

It’s Not Hou It’s Me shared their pictures of high water around town.

Katharine Shilcutt found the helpers.

Therese Odell rounded up more examples of Harvey heroism.

Lone Star Ma made it through Harvey in Corpus Christi.

Dan Solomon mourns for Port Aransas.

TransGriot knows that a general evacuation of the Houston metro area would have been an unmitigated disaster.

Maggie Gordon documents the effort to save the Waugh Street Bridge bat colony during the height of the flooding.

The Overhead Wire explains why the lack of zoning in Houston had little to do with Harvey-related flooding.

The Lunch Tray details how to help Houston school kids.

Raise Your Hand Texas discusses how school districts affected by Harvey are coping.

Juanita calls your attention to a couple of folks feeding people who need it in Fort Bend.

BeyondBones tells you what you need to know about floatinf gire ant mounds (spoiler alert: stay away).

Better Texas Blog answers your questions about Harvey and health care coverage.

Angelia Griffin begs you to choose the things you donate to disaster relief carefully.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

On DACA

I don’t have enough words to sufficiently condemn Donald Trump’s shameful decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. So, I’m going to let these people to speak for me. And these people, and these people, and this guy, too. Donald Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, and now he wants a million kids to deport themselves. We should never forget that, nor should we forget the lickspittles like Ken Paxton who urged him on. If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a bottom to this administration or its enablers, the answer is no. There’s always lower to go. Stace has more.

Posted in: La Migra, National news.

Tilman Fertitta buys the Rockets

Meet the new boss.

Houston billionaire Tillman Fertitta has reached an agreement to purchase the Houston Rockets from Leslie Alexander.

The $2.2 billion sale price to break the NBA record sale of $2 billion from when the Clippers were sold to Steve Ballmer, according to the person familiar with the terms of the deal.

“I am truly honored to have been chosen as the next owner of the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta said in a statement. “This is a life-long dream come true.

“Leslie Alexander has been one of the best owners in all of sports, and I thank him immensely for this opportunity. He has the heart of a champion. Lastly, out of respect for the NBA’s approval process, I can say no more other than I am overwhelmed with emotion to have this opportunity in my beloved city of Houston.”

See here for the background. I have no deep opinion on Fertitta – Jeff Balke makes the case for optimism in the Press, if you’re interested – but at least he’s a local and so hopefully won’t have some back-of-the-brain urge to move the team somewhere else some day. Mostly, what I have to say is 1) Don’t screw it up Tilman, and 2) the last time the Rockets changed ownership, they won the next two NBA championships. I’m sure that pattern will repeat itself. Deadspin has more.

Posted in: Other sports.

Trump’s Justice Department goes all in on voter ID

Despicable, but what did you expect?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Continuing a dramatic reversal on voting rights under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal appeals court to allow Texas to enforce a photo voter identification law that a lower court found discriminatory.

In a filing Thursday, the Justice Department asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to block a lower court ruling that the state’s new voter identification law — Senate Bill 5, enacted in this year — failed to fix intentional discrimination against minority voters found in a previous strict ID law, enacted in 2011.

[…]

Siding with Texas, the Justice Department says in its filing that the state has a “strong likelihood” of successfully arguing that SB 5 fixes discrimination in the old law. Allowing SB 5 to take effect will “avoid confusion among voters and election officials,” Thursday’s brief states.

The brief does not mention a key piece of Ramos’ rulings throughout the case: that lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and black voters in passing its 2011 ID law. Findings of intentional discrimination typically allow for more sweeping remedies in court.

See here and here for the background. As we know, the Obama Justice Department was strongly opposed to this law, but Justice did a heel turn back in July under the new management. I note that like the AG’s office they decline to address the big honking klaxon in the room, that the 2011 law was enacted with discriminatory intent, which isn’t something that can be easily fixed with minor legislative tweaks. Seems like you have to really lean into the denial to make that case. Which doesn’t mean that it won’t work, just that it shouldn’t. It’s back to the Fifth Circuit for now.

UPDATE: And now we know that a three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit has bought the argument and stayed Judge Ramos’ ruling pending the appeal. I was already heading to bed when that news broke. I’ll have a post about this tomorrow.

Posted in: Legal matters.

More on the SB4 ruling

Circling back to one of the big court decisions from last week, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern talks to ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt about what was blocked by federal Judge Orlando Garcia in the “sanctuary cities” lawsuit.

Mark Joseph Stern: SB 4’s overarching goal is to compel all Texas law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law. Why is that illegal?

Lee Gelernt: SB 4 says that local entities, which are very broadly defined, cannot engage in a practice or adopt a policy that would “materially limit” federal immigration enforcement. We sued on behalf of a mayor and sheriff who were concerned that this provision meant they’d lose local control over their police force—and turn their police into adjuncts to the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement. Complying with SB 4 would drain resources and cause the community to lose trust in the police: Every time community members reported a crime, they’d be concerned that an officer would ask them about their immigration status. We already saw anxiety about that build during the recent hurricane.

Judge Garcia blocked this requirement because Congress has already laid out the procedure through which local law enforcement can become authorized to enforce immigration law. That procedure imposes numerous requirements on local law enforcement. SB 4 circumvents those requirements, which means it’s pre-empted by federal law.

[…]

One of SB 4’s most startling provisions effectively bars public officials from opposing the measure: No officer or employee of a local government may “endorse” a policy limiting the enforcement of federal immigration law. Each violation incurs a fine of $25,500, and violators may be removed from office. The court blocked this provision on First Amendment grounds. My biggest question is what in the world was Texas thinking?

In court, Texas didn’t really make a full-throated defense of that provision. The state’s lawyers tried to argue that the provision doesn’t actually prohibit speech. But of course it does, even though the statute doesn’t define “endorse.”

The court wrote that “endorse” could mean “a recommendation, suggestion, comment, or other expression in support of” limiting local immigration enforcement.

Right. The provision seems to bar local officials and employees from criticizing SB 4 even when they’re not acting in their public capacity. Police officers and mayors aren’t even sure if they can testify against SB 4 in court. This prohibition is so cryptic—but the penalties are extreme.

The court also blocked a provision that punishes any official who “materially limit[s]” law enforcement from “assisting or cooperating” with federal immigration officers. Anyone who violates this requirement is subject to both criminal and civil penalties. Why is that illegal?

Due process requires fair notice of what a law forbids or requires, and Judge Garcia ruled that this provision is simply too vague to comport with that rule. For instance, imagine a sheriff gets a call from a federal immigration officer who says, “We need your help.” Does the sheriff have to allow his officers to go? If he doesn’t, he could face tens of thousands of dollars in fines as well as jail time and removal from office. In court, Texas argued that the attorney general would never move against a sheriff in a case like that. But a lawyer’s promises aren’t good enough for people on the ground who have to make these decisions in real time.

SB 4 compels local law enforcement to honor “ICE detainers”—federal requests to detain possibly undocumented individuals for up to 48 hours after they should be released so that Immigration and Customs Enforcement can retrieve them. ICE detainers are contentious because they seem to infringe upon the Fourth Amendment’s bar on unreasonable detention.

We believe it is unconstitutional to detain an individual without probable cause of an actual crime. Living in the United States without documentation is not a crime but a civil violation, which raises concerns about the lawfulness of ICE detainers.

But even assuming that the Fourth Amendment allows states to detain individuals based on probable cause of a civil violation, SB 4 is illegal. Local jail officials must be able to make their own assessments of detainees to determine whether there is probable cause that they’ve committed a civil immigration violation. And SB 4 allows officials almost no discretion. It forces them to honor ICE detainers and detain an individual even if they think that detention is unlawful. SB 4 puts jail officials in a bind: Either honor the ICE detainer and act unconstitutionally, or don’t honor the detainer and subject yourself to jail time and removal from office.

See here for the background. The state has already filed it appeal, so the next action will come from the Fifth Circuit. As the Trib notes, not every part of the law was blocked.

The ability for local law enforcement officers to ask about status, and then turn that information over, are parts of SB 4 that some of its opponents fear the most. Those items weren’t blocked. But Thomas Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), attorneys for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said those provisions would probably not alter day-to-day operations significantly if they are followed the way the law states.

“These two provisions left in place largely replicate what is existing law,” he said Thursday during a call with reporters. “We further note — and Judge Garcia made clear — that the rights and the ability of police to act on any information received extends only to turning that information over to federal immigration authorities.”

That means that an officer can’t arrest that person based solely on the information. And, Saenz said, an officer can’t demand that information during a lawful stop.

“Every person has a right to refuse any question posed by a local police officer or sheriffs deputy about immigration status, and the refusal to answer questions about immigration should have no repercussions,” he said.

No doubt this provision is a big part of the reason why many immigrant victims of Harvey have not reached out for help, despite promises from mayor Turner among others that they will be fine. Even with the win in court, this law has already done a lot of damage. Texas Monthly has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

The case for calling a Harvey special session

Rep. Gene Wu disagrees with Greg Abbott’s decision.

Rep. Gene Wu

The historic level of damage and suffering caused by Harvey requires that we tap into our state’s Rainy Day Fund. Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to not call a special session of the Texas Legislature to access emergency funding will worsen the long-term economic effects of one of the most powerful storms to ever land on our shores.

Abbott has stated that there is no need for a special session, implicitly saying that there is no need to tap into the Economic Stabilization Fund — our state’s savings account, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund — and that existing resources are sufficient to deal with the widespread devastation caused by Harvey.

However, if there has been one lesson that I’ve learned in my three terms in the Legislature, it’s that existing resources are never adequate in Texas. Our schools continue to be some of the worst funded in the nation, half of our rural hospitals are on the verge of closing, and we barely maintain our existing infrastructure. Texas mostly skates by on a combination of luck and creative accounting. But more importantly, what we have budgeted for are common occurrences and normal disasters. The historic level of damage from Harvey is anything but common.

[…]

The Rainy Day Fund is available right now. The Texas Legislature needs to only meet for a few days and send a bill to the governor to access the funds. There is strong bipartisan support because members understand the desperate need for a quick response. In this past legislative session, conservative members argued that the fund should not be used for “reoccurring” expenses because we needed to save it for one-time emergencies. This is that emergency.

The state could provide immediate, low-interest or no-interest small loans to help businesses rebuild quickly. The money could go to help Houston ISD to repair the more than 200 schools that suffered flood damage, including 53 with critical damage. Harris County could use the funds to expedite repairs so that courts and the jury assembly center are not closed for the next three months. Outside of the Houston area, entire cities need to be rebuilt. Simply leaving local counties and municipalities on their own to rebuild means a slower recovery — possibly causing businesses to close or leave our state, and taking jobs with them.

See here for the background. I guess I’m not fully clear on what the Legislative Budget Board can and cannot do, and what gaps there would be if only the LBB gets to act. I do think Rep. Wu is right on about appropriating money to the schools and school districts that have been heavily damaged by Harvey. I can’t think of a better use of Rainy Day Fund money than to make schools safe and available for students again. Again, if the LBB can do this, great. It will be a lot less messy that way – I mean, if you think the jackasses of the Freedom Caucus won’t try to screw with an emergency appropriations bill for school repairs, I have to ask what Legislature you’ve been watching – but if the LBB can’t do that, then a special session it needs to be.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina, That's our Lege.

Now is an excellent time to give blood

You want a simple but vital thing to do to help with Harvey recovery? Schedule a blood donation.

The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center is appealing for donations after a four-day stoppage in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey that has left its supply at critical levels.

The local bank resumed collections Thursday at 10 of its neighborhood donor centers and eight mobile locations in the greater Houston area, all of which had been shut down since Sunday. Only its Clear Lake facility was damaged by flooding and not ready to open.

“O-negative is always most needed because it is the universal blood type, but we are happy for all donations,” said Joshua Buckley, spokesman for the blood center. “If donors can’t get out this week, next week would be good, too.”

Buckley said the re-opening of the centers and mobile location drives are critical to make up the blood not collected as a result of Harvey. The bank had an adequate blood supply prior to the storm but now is precariously low, said Buckley.

Go here and click on Where To Donate to find a convenient time and location. I’m scheduled for today. This is something most of us can do, and it’s something all of us that can do need to do. Thanks very much.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

No re-rematch for Gallego against Hurd

The third time is not a charm, mostly because there won’t be a third time.

Pete Gallego

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, has decided not to try again to reclaim his old seat in Congress.

“Know that my public service is not done, but that for the present, I have decided to forego another run in the 23rd District,” Gallego said in a statement Friday. “I continue to explore options that will allow me to give back to San Antonio and the rest of this great state which has given me and my family so much.”

[…]

Gallego had set up an exploratory committee for the seat in July. At the time, he said he was “energized about 2018,” citing a new level of Democratic enthusiasm in the district following the election of President Donald Trump.

In recent weeks, Gallego tried to raise money for his would-be congressional campaign, according to those plugged in with the Democratic establishment donor community — but found resistance after losing twice.

See here for the previous update. On the one hand, Gallego won in 2012 against an incumbent Republican in a district carried by Mitt Romney and every statewide Republican. He led the ticket in a tough loss in 2014, but then failed to win the seat back in a year where Hillary Clinton won the district. He was a fine legislator and he’s a good person, but with the emergence of some other interesting candidates, I can see why the donor community might have wanted to go another direction. Gallego is young enough to run again for something if he wants to – hell, he’d make a pretty good candidate for Governor if he wanted to give that a try and if the Castros figure out what they’re doing. Seriously, someone ought to talk to him about that. Anyway, this probably means the field in CD23 is set, but someone could still jump in.

Posted in: Election 2018.

The mosquitopocalypse is coming

It just keeps getting better and better.

Harvey’s rain may have left Houston behind, but there’s another storm headed our way. It’s a cloud of mosquitoes, which breed in standing water and soon will be hatching by the millions.

“It’s going to be horrible in two or three weeks,” said Cory Barcomb, operations manager for Mosquito Squad, a Houston mosquito control service. He’s bracing for the onslaught, bringing in heavy-duty insecticide sprayers from Austin that can cover a whole neighborhood in a couple of hours.

You know all that standing water we have right now? Mosquitoes are laying eggs in it right now – as many as 500 eggs at a time. In a week or two, all those eggs will start to hatch. And before long, we’ll see a mosquito boom that will have us swatting and scratching for weeks.

“There’s no way around them,” said Dr. Mustapha Debboun, director of Harris County Public Health’s mosquito and vector control division. “Once they find water, they’re going to lay eggs.”

[…]

Our local mosquitoes could be carrying five different viruses, according to Debboun: West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis, dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

That’s why Harris County Public Health will be studying the mosquito population to figure out where they’re the most concentrated, then strategically spraying insecticide to get rid of them.

Mosquito Control staffers will head out across Harris County soon after this new round of mosquitoes has hatched, Debboun said. They’ll do what’s called a “landing count,” which involves a brave Mosquito Control technician standing still for one minute and counting the number of mosquitoes that land on him. If it’s five to 10, there’s not a problem. If it’s 100 or more, Debboun said, “that’s a situation.”

Oh my God, there is no amount of money you could pay me to do that job. Those people are damn heroes. There will be insecticide sprayed from trucks and possibly planes to combat the buzzing menace, and we didn’t all scratch ourselves to death following other large flood events, so maybe we’ll survive this time, too. Cover yourself in DEET and empty any standing water you have on your property in the meantime. God help us all.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

Weekend link dump for September 3

Just another day at the movies. No big deal.

“Why would you attempt to pull a con on a community made up of hundreds of thousands of Meddling Kids?”

The case for Taylor Swift’s new song being about Arya Stark.

“Depending on how you’ve set up two-step authentication, however, this may be far from airtight security. What’s more, not all two-step authentication methods are equally secure. Probably the most common form of secondary authentication — a one-time code sent to your mobile device via SMS/text message — is also the least secure.”

Don’t fall for Harvey-related viral hoaxes.

“Pushing civil society from talk and voting to violence and paramilitaries is what the fascists are trying to accomplish – moving from the rule of law to the rule of force.”

“When it comes to tax reform, in other words, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hardly a profile in courage. The reason is simple: the Chamber’s own members can’t agree among themselves on what tax reform ought to include.”

“So, Bronn and Cersei Hate Each Other In Real Life”.

“One of the internet’s oldest and most popular neo-Nazi forums, which has been linked to dozens of murders, has been shut down after more than two decades of promoting white supremacy.”

“For those keeping score, this is a group of white evangelicals tripling down on the precise theology that utterly failed them in the past. Twice.”

“This is what awaits Trump on the flip side of his terrible August. It’s why anyone holding out for the possibility that Trump’s presidency might somehow become more ordinary over time is making a category error. It can’t become more ordinary, because it came into existence under unacceptable circumstances.”

“President Trump just pardoned Joe Arpaio, who was essentially running a concentration camp in the Arizona desert. He said there are some good Nazis, and he’s kicking out young adults who were brought here as kids by their parents, and I’m the one who has to continue to apologize?”

Four words: Floating fire ant colonies. You’re welcome.

Even monster trucks were pressed into rescue service during the height of Harvey.

RIP, Rollie Massimino, former head basketball coach at Villanova and author of the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.

“What all of this amounts to is that while Kushner has been given oversight of numerous key foreign policy issues and problems, his ‘family’ is simultaneously in a desperate hunt for money which basically has to come from abroad – from a lot of the people he meets with in his White House job. It’s like having a Secretary of State desperate for help getting money from every foreign potentate he meets with. In fact, it’s not ‘like’ that. It sort of is that.”

RIP, Jud Heathcote, former Michigan State men’s basketball coach who won an NCAA Tournament with Magic Johnson on his team.

RIP, Richard Anderson, best known as Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.

RIP, Walter Becker, co-founder of Steely Dan.

“So here’s what you can do. Please, please continue to love us. There are no words to express how much your encouragement means to us. But please, please think before donating.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Many schools were damaged by Harvey

This will add so much more disruption to the Harvey recovery efforts.

More than 10,000 Houston Independent School District students are expected to start classes in temporary quarters as officials work to repair hundreds of campuses damaged by Hurricane Harvey, Superintendent Richard Carranza said Saturday.

Carranza said the district still plans to start school on Sept. 11, though officials have not yet decided which campuses will be temporarily closed or where displaced students will be sent. Those calls will be made no earlier than Tuesday, he said.

“There is that slight chance there will be a delay past Sept. 11, but we’re working with all due haste to make sure we’re going to meet that deadline,” Carranza said. “There has always been the caveat that we will not put students and staff in harm’s way.”

The damage estimates come as school districts across the Houston area struggled to open their doors after widespread flooding. Cy-Fair ISD on Saturday pushed its start date back to Sept. 11, citing sewage issues at several schools.

Humble ISD set a Sept. 7 return date, but alerted parents Saturday that Kingwood High School could be closed all year.

“Flood waters devastated KHS,” according to a notice posted on the district’s website. “The building is unsafe and unhealthy.”

[…]

In Houston ISD, at least 200 of the 245 schools inspected were found to have sustained damage, officials said. Of those, 53 sustained “major” damage and 22 had “extensive” damage, the most severe label given by district officials.

Another 30 or so schools were still being inspected, including 15 that had been inaccessible because of severe flooding around the buildings, HISD Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby said early Saturday. The district operates 280 schools.

“There may be a situation where a school is so badly damaged that we may not be able to re-open that school,” Carranza said, after a tour of waterlogged Hilliard Elementary in northeast Houston on Saturday. “It’s too early right now to make that call.”

There’s too much to try to capture in excerpts, so go read the rest. Pretty much everything is on the table – sharing school buildings with different shifts for classes, busing kids to other schools, who knows what else. How will this affect things like STAAR testing and the TEA takeover threat that the district faces? No one knows right now. It’s going to be a crazy, disjointed, bizarre year, here and in other districts. Honestly, given that some districts that were directly in the path of Harvey when it was still a hurricane are unable to function at all and will have to send their students to another district altogether, it could be worse. It’s still pretty bad, and it will be bad all year. We will get through it, but it’s going to take a lot of effort and in the end a huge amount of money.

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina, School days.