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The hearing for the lawsuit to kill Obamacare

Here we go again.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

At the hearing Wednesday, Texas aimed to convince U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor to block the law across the country as it continues to fight a months- or years-long legal case that could land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Citing rising health care premiums, Texas says such an injunction is necessary to preserve state sovereignty and to relieve the burden on residents forced to purchase expensive insurance coverage. California counters that temporarily blocking or ending the law would cause more harm to the millions of people insured under it, particularly the 133 million people the state says enjoy the law’s protections for pre-existing conditions. The U.S. Department of Justice, which has taken up many of Texas’ positions in the case, nonetheless sided with California, arguing that an immediate injunction would throw the health care system into chaos.

[…]

Inside the courtroom, where protesters’ shouts were inaudible, Darren McCarty, an assistant attorney general for Texas, argued that “the policies, the merits of the ACA are not on trial here” — just the legality. In that legal argument, McCarty leaned heavily on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, which upheld the law by construing the “individual mandate,” a penalty for not purchasing insurance, as a tax that Congress has the power to levy. Texas argues that after Congress lowered that fee to $0 in a slate of December 2017 tax cuts, the fee is no longer a tax and thus no longer constitutional. With it must go the rest of the law, the state claims.

“There is no more tax to provide constitutional cover to the individual mandate,” McCarty said. “Once the individual mandate falls, the entire ACA falls.”

California countered that a tax can be a tax even if it doesn’t collect revenue at all times. And, attorneys for the state claim, even if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, the court should let lie “hundreds of perfectly lawful sections,” argued Nimrod Elias, deputy attorney general for California.

The case will likely turn on that question of “severability”— whether one slice of a law, if ruled unconstitutional, must necessarily doom the rest. O’Connor, who nodded along carefully throughout the hearing, lobbed most of his questions at the California attorneys, and many of them focused on whether the various pieces of Obamacare can be unentangled.

Elias said that in the vast majority of cases, the Supreme Court acts with “a scalpel, not a sledgehammer,” leaving in place most of a law even if one provision must be struck. The Texas coalition pointed to a more recent case in which the high court struck an entire law based on a narrow challenge.

O’Connor — a George W. Bush-appointee who has ruled against Obamacare several times, albeit on narrower grounds — also honed in on the question of legislative intent. Texas argued that the individual mandate was a critical piece of the law’s original version. But California argued that in 2017, in gutting the individual mandate without touching the rest of the law, lawmakers made it clear they wanted the law to persist without that provision.

“Would the legislature prefer what is left in statute to no statute at all?” Elias questioned. “We know what Congress intended based on what Congress actually did.”

See here and here for some background. Justin Nelson was at the hearing as well, pressing his attack on Paxton for his ideological assault on so many people’s health care. That really deserves more coverage, but the fact that most everyone outside of Paxton’s bubble thinks his legal argument is ridiculous is probably helping to keep the story on a lower priority. (Well, that and the unending Wurlitzer shitshow that is the Trump administration.) I mean, I may not be a fancypants lawyer, but it sure seems to me that eight years of Republicans vowing to repeal Obamacare plus the entire summer of 2017 trying to repeal Obamacare plus the abject failure to repeal Obamacare would suggest that the Republicans did not intend to repeal Obamacare with the bill that they finally did pass. If they could have they would have, but they couldn’t so they didn’t. I don’t know what else there is to say, but we’re going to have to wait till after the November elections – wouldn’t be prudent to do that before people voted, you know – to find out what this hand-picked judge thinks. Ken Janda, the Dallas Observer, and ThinkProgress have more.

A big ask for hurricane recovery

Good luck with that. I mean that mostly sincerely.

Texas needs an additional $61 billion in federal disaster recovery money for infrastructure alone after Hurricane Harvey’s devastation, according to a report from the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas that was delivered to members of Congress Tuesday.

Compiled at Gov. Greg Abbott’s request, the report was released on the day the governor traveled to the U.S. Capitol to talk Hurricane Harvey relief with congressional leaders.

Speaking with reporters in the hallways of the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Abbott said he’d had a “well-reasoned discussion” where he stressed that rebuilding the state’s Gulf coast was in the country’s best national security and economic interests.

“We are asking not for any handouts or for anything unusual, but we are asking for funding that will flood the entire region that was impacted so that the federal government, the state government, and the local government are not going to be facing these ongoing out-of-pocket costs,” Abbott said as he held a binder containing the 301-page report.

The $61 billion is in addition to money the state already anticipates receiving from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from the federal housing department, which distributes disaster recovery grants aimed at long-term rebuilding.

[…]

The requests include:

  • $12 billion for the Galveston County Coastal Spine, part of the larger “Ike Dike,” a barrier aimed at protecting coastal areas from hurricane storm surge.
  • $9 billion for housing assistance in the City of Houston, which would help rebuild 85,000 single and multi-family housing units damaged by Harvey.
  • $6 billion to buy land, easements, and rights-of-way around Buffalo Bayou and the Addicks and Barker reservoirs.
  • $2 billion for “coast-wide critical infrastructure protection,” described as flood control and other mitigation projects around critical public infrastructure such as “power plants, communication networks, prison systems, etc.”
  • $466 million for the Port of Houston to “create resiliency” and harden the Houston Ship Channel.
  • $115 million to repair 113 county buildings in Harris County.

Abbott appointed [John] Sharp, who is the chancellor of Texas A&M University and a former legislator, railroad commissioner and state comptroller, to oversee the commission in early September.

So far, Congress has agreed to spend more than $51 billion on disaster relief in the past two months. But it is unclear what Texas’s share of that money will be, because it will be divided between the states and territories devastated by three deadly hurricanes and fatal wildfires.

It’s not that I disagree with any of this – in particular, I’m rooting for Ike Dike money to be appropriated – but that’s a lot of money, there are a lot of Republican Congressfolk who really don’t like spending money, there are even more Congressfolk who are still mad at some of their Texas colleagues for voting against Superstorm Sandy recovery money, and there’s a lot of money that will need to be spent in Puerto Rico, Florida, and California. Texas’ original ask for Harvey recovery money was a lot less than this, and even that caused some friction from within the Texas caucus when Greg Abbott got a little shirty with his fellow Republicans. Oh, and there’s also the Republican Congress’ track record of not being able to tie their own shoes. So, you know, don’t go using this as collateral just yet.

Speaking of the Texas caucus, their reaction to this was muted.

The initial reaction from Washington officials to the request: Surprise at its size and scope.

That could mean approval of the full amount will be a tough sell with Congress and the White House, coming at a time when hurricane damages to Puerto Rico and Florida, and losses in California to wildfires, are also in line for billions more in federal disaster funding.

But Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, was hopeful. “Just like the Astros, we’re going to get ‘er done,” Weber said in a reference to the World Series.

U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, whose district was hit hard by Harvey, agreed.

“Yeah, it’s a lot of money,” he said, “but it was a lot of storm.”

[…]

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, gave little indication of the prospects for the governor’s request. As for the $61 billion figure, Cornyn said, “We’re working on a number. We don’t have a number.”

Later, Cornyn said in a statement “it’s really important for us to remember that there’s a lot of work that we need to do in responding to some of the unmet disaster needs around the country, starting with Hurricane Harvey in my state.”

Added Cornyn: “The reason I bring that up today is because Governor Abbott of Texas is up meeting with the entire Texas delegation to make sure that we continue to make the case and make sure that Texans are not forgotten as we get to work on these other important matters as well.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was also circumspect about the prospects for Abbott’s request, though he emphasized that the Texas delegation will remain united with the governor in getting the Gulf region all the aid it can from Washington.

“Repeatedly, projections have shown that Harvey is likely to prove to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history,” he said. “The president has repeatedly made direct assurances to me that the administration will stand by the people of Texas.”

As to whether the government might raise or borrow the money, Cruz said, “those discussions will be ongoing.”

Like I said, there are some obstacles. And I have to wonder, how might this conversation be going if Hillary Clinton were President? Harvey or no Harvey, I have a hard time picturing Greg Abbott asking President Hillary Clinton for billions of dollars for our state. I’d make him sign a pledge to quit suing the feds over every damn thing now that he’s come to town with his hat in his hand. Not that any of this matters now, I just marvel at the capacity some of us have for cognitive dissonance. We’ll see how this goes.

Uber drivers sue over employment status

This will be worth watching.

Lawyers for 19 Texas drivers for Uber on Friday filed a federal class-action lawsuit in Houston, claiming the ride-hailing app company’s oversight and control of supposedly independent drivers is so pervasive, they should be considered employees.

If successful, the lawsuit could mean the thousands of local drivers for the company suddenly would be Uber workers instead of independent contractors, upending what some have considered an innovative business model and others have called modern-day servitude.

“The primary issue is, are these guys employees or independent contractors,” Houston lawyer Kevin Michaels said. “Uber tracks every move that a driver makes… As long as they are on the app, they are under Uber’s control.”

Uber officials Friday afternoon did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Lawyers said in the filing to the U.S. District Court for the Southern Division of Texas, the drivers made less than minimum wage when their time awaiting fares is calculated, despite the company’s claims in promotional materials that drivers could earn $100,000 a year.

“Given the current fare structures, an individual would have to drive an exorbitant number of hours on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to even approach gross fares totaling this amount, much less earn this amount,” the lawyers wrote. “Uber knew such statements were fraudulent and misleading and also knew that individuals would rely on such misrepresentations when deciding to become Uber drivers.”

[…]

The lawsuit filed Friday makes claims similar to those in various courts across the nation. A number of cases in California, Illinois, Massachusetts and other states already have drawn wide attention that could put the question on a path to the U.S. Supreme Court, should various circuit courts rule in different ways.

“It is definitely going to be years,” said Wilma B. Liebman, former chairwoman of the National Labor Relations Board.

It is the second lawsuit filed on behalf of drivers by Michaels. The first, filed by three drivers, prompted Friday’s filing, which adds claims that drivers should be considered employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

As noted, there are several of these lawsuits around the country. I think the California one is the oldest, but none have had any decisions rendered as yet. I can’t say I actually believe the drivers will win, but who knows what could happen. The DMN has more.

Video fraudsters in trouble again

In California this time.

Right there with them

California prosecutors on Tuesday charged two anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood with 15 felonies, saying they invaded the privacy of medical providers by filming without consent.

The charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress come eight months after similar charges were dropped in Texas.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a longtime Congressional Democrat who took over the investigation in January, said in a statement that the state “will not tolerate the criminal recording of conversations.”

Prosecutors say Daleiden, of Davis, California, and Merritt, of San Jose, filmed 14 people without permission between October 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. One felony count was filed for each person. The 15th was for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy.

[…]

Daleiden and Merritt had previously been indicted in Texas on similar charges in January of 2016, but all of the charges were eventually dropped by July as prosecutors said a grand jury had overstepped its authority. The grand jury had originally been convened to investigate Planned Parenthood, but after finding no wrongdoing turned around and indicted Daleiden and Merritt instead.

The California charges stem from recording people without their knowledge, which is a crime in some states but not in others. The charges here were the result of creating phony drivers licenses to back up the aliases they used. The circumstances under which the Harris County indictments were dropped remain somewhat fishy, but I suppose it was just a matter of time before these two clowns got into trouble again. It’s what happens when everything you do is based on a lie. Think Progress, the Current, and Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who has a thorough and nuanced look at the California law in question, have more.

More on the STAR Voting System

The Chron updates us on the latest in modern voting technology.

The drumbeat of election rigging and foreign hacking of voting machines have energized ongoing efforts to develop a new model of digital election equipment designed to produce instantly verifiable results and dual records for security.

Election experts say this emerging system, one of three publicly funded voting machine projects across the country, shows potential to help restore confidence in the country’s election infrastructure, most of which hasn’t been updated in more than a decade.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s taken years and years to get it done,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk and leader of the voting machine project. “Now that we’ve had this election, there’s renewed interest.”

A prototype of the system, dubbed STAR Vote, sits in an engineering lab at Rice University, and bidding is open for manufacturers who want to produce it wholesale. Similar efforts to innovate voting systems are in the works in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“County clerks in these jurisdictions are the rock stars of running elections,” said Joe Kiniry, CEO of Free & Fair, an election systems supplier currently bidding on contracts to manufacture the designs of both Travis and Los Angeles counties. “If they have success in what they do, it will have, in my opinion, a massive impact on the whole U.S.”

Like any aging digital device, the voting machines are eventually bound to stumble, said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. He pointed to Detroit, where the number of votes counted didn’t match the number of voters who signed in. And he noted that reports of machines flipping votes more likely result from aged touch screens than a conspiracy to rig the election.

Yet there is seldom space in county budgets to replace the machines, which cost usually between $3,000 and $5,000 each. The vast majority of electronic voting equipment was purchased with federal funds from the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Most money reached the states by 2004, and there’s no foreseeable second wave of federal aid.

“This is really an oncoming crisis,” said Norden, who interviewed more than 100 election officials for a 2015 report about aging voting equipment published by the Brennan center. “A lot of election officials have been unhappy with the choices that the major vendors are providing.”

[…]

STAR Vote runs automatic audits, comparing a statistical sample of the paper ballots with the digital records to verify results.

“The savings are just enormous over doing a recount,” Stark said.

While other systems allow for comparison of precinct-level data, STAR Vote can compare paper ballots with individual voters’ digital ballots, which are encrypted and posted online.

Officials could take a small sample of printed ballots and compare them with digital results to conclude with high confidence that election results were correct.

The system itself is also inexpensive, built with off-the-shelf tablet computers and printers, which Wallach said will cut the price down to half of the current norm. Advanced software makes up for the cheap hardware, designers said, and they plan to make the software open-source, meaning it is free to use and, unlike current systems, can be serviced by any provider without exclusive long-term contracts.

I’ve written about this before, and while I love the design of the STAR machine, I don’t have much hope of getting to vote on one any time soon. The political climate just doesn’t seem conducive to any effort to improve the voting experience, and the lip service we got from Greg Abbott back during the peak Trump-whining-about-rigged-elections period has surely gone down the memory hole. The one possible way in that I can see for these devices is their lower cost. At some point, enough of the current voting machines will become sufficiently inoperable that replacement will be needed, and a cheaper device ought to have an advantage. Let’s hope the process of getting a manufacturer in place goes smoothly.

(NB: “Wallach” is Rice professor Dan Wallach, who as I have noted before is a friend of mine.)

Uber moves driverless car pilot to Arizona

This happened right before Christmas, so I’m just catching up to it now.

The day after California regulators shut down Uber’s self-driving car program in San Francisco, Uber on Thursday packed up its autonomous vehicles and hauled them to Arizona, vowing to resume testing there.

The move was a quick rebound by Uber after its pilot program in San Francisco fell apart after just one week. Instead of giving in to California regulators and applying for a $150 permit to test its self-driving cars on public roads, Uber on Thursday once again signaled it doesn’t need to play by its home state’s rules.

“Our cars departed for Arizona this morning by truck,” an Uber spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement Thursday. “We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey.”

The company released photos showing its silver Volvo SUVs loaded onto the back of a semi truck owned by Otto — the autonomous trucking startup that Uber acquired in August.

[…]

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Thursday welcomed the self-driving Ubers to his state, where they will not need a special permit to drive on public roads, and positioned California’s neighbor as a welcoming alternative for Uber and other disruptive innovators.

“While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses,” he wrote in a statement. “California may not want you, but we do.”

Ducey last year signed an executive order supporting the testing and operation of self-driving cars and establishing a Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee to advise officials on how to advance the progress of autonomous vehicles.

Self-driving cars are treated the same as any other vehicle in Arizona, Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Timothy Tait wrote in an emailed statement.

“We hope this cooperation and common-sense approach, combined with this state’s favorable climate, encourage even more companies to test autonomous vehicles in Arizona,” he wrote.

See here for the background. Arizona’s permissive approach is certainly one way to do this, though one wonders what their response will be if Uber decides that even their rules are too restrictive and so it will just ignore them as they had done in California. It should also be noted that there are some twenty (!) other companies testing driverless cars in California now, following the rules Uber refused to comply with. One presumes Uber will eventually want their cars to operate in CA, so either they’ll have to suck it up or get the US Congress to pass a law requiring all states to allow them to operate as they see fit, much like they want the Lege to do to cities in Texas. I wonder if Ken Paxton will file a lawsuit over the egregious federal interference with states’ rights if that happens. The Fiscal Times, Engadget, the Guardian, and the Washington Post have more.

Uber pulls driverless cars from San Francisco

Score one for the California DMV.

Uber pulled its self-driving cars off San Francisco’s streets Wednesday after the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles revoked their registrations, effectively ending the company’s controversial pilot program after just one week.

The move marked a dramatic end to Uber’s standoff with state regulators over the San Francisco-based company’s insistence that it did not need a permit to test its self-driving cars, even though the state said it did and other companies testing such cars have complied. It’s not clear when or under what conditions self-driving Ubers might return to California’s roads.
“We’re now looking at where we can redeploy these cars,” an Uber spokeswoman wrote in an emailed statement, “but remain 100 percent committed to California and will be redoubling our efforts to develop workable statewide rules.”

The DMV’s crackdown was a setback for Uber in what many viewed as the ride-hailing giant’s attempt to re-write California’s autonomous vehicle rules. The $68 billion company caught state officials by surprise when it launched its fleet of self-driving vehicles on San Francisco roads last week. After being forced to bow to state regulators, Uber said Wednesday that it has no plans to apply for a permit, but is “open to having the conversation.”

By revoking the registrations for all 16 of Uber’s self-driving cars in California, the DMV made good on a previous threat to shut down the company’s unauthorized pilot program. The company has been running a similar pilot program in Pittsburgh since fall without major incident.

“Uber is welcome to test its autonomous technology in California like everybody else, through the issuance of a testing permit that can take less than 72 hours to issue after a completed application is submitted,” a DMV spokesman wrote in an emailed statement. “The department stands ready to assist Uber in obtaining a permit as expeditiously as possible.”

DMV Director Jean Shiomoto also sent a letter to Uber, promising that the department fully supports the autonomous technologies.

“We are committed to assisting Uber in their efforts to innovate and advance this ground-breaking technology,” the director wrote. Though the state’s letter indicated that Uber had expressed interest in applying for a permit, the company was non-committal late Wednesday.

[…]

Uber’s decision to take its cars off the streets came as growing numbers of people expressed concerns over the vehicles’ safety.

Brian Wiedenmeir, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said he saw self-driving Ubers make multiple illegal and unsafe “right-hook” turns across bicycle lanes during a test ride before the program’s launch last week.

“Those vehicles are not yet ready for our streets,” Wiedenmeir wrote in a post on the coalition’s website.

See here for the background. The Guardian goes into more detail about the safety concerns.

Concerns are mounting about how the cars behave in dense urban environments, particularly in San Francisco, where there are an estimated 82,000 bike trips each day across more than 200 miles of cycling lanes.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has released a warning about Uber’s carsbased on staff members’ first-hand experiences in the vehicles. When the car was in “self-driving” mode, the coalition’s executive director, who tested the car two days before the launch, observed it twice making an “unsafe right-hook-style turn through a bike lane”.

That means the car crossed the bike path at the last minute in a manner that posed a direct threat to cyclists. The maneuver also appears to violate state law, which mandates that a right-turning car merge into the bike lane before making the turn to avoid a crash with a cyclist who is continuing forward.

“It’s one of the biggest causes of collisions,” said coalition spokesman Chris Cassidy, noting that the group warned Uber of the problem. Company officials told the coalition that Uber was working on the issue but failed to mention that the self-driving program would begin two days later without permits, he said.

“The fact that they know there’s a dangerous flaw in the technology and persisted in a surprise launch,” he said, “shows a reckless disregard for the safety of people in our streets.”

Uber spokeswoman Chelsea Kohler told the Guardian in an email that “engineers are continuing to work on the problem”, and said that the company has instructed drivers to take control when approaching right turns on a street with a bike lane. She did not respond to questions about how the cars, Volvo XC90s, detect cyclists and what kind of training and testing the firm conducted before implementation.

Linda Bailey, executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, which has raised formal objections to partially automated vehicles, said research raises serious alarms about the ability of drivers to properly intervene in semi-autonomous cars.

“It’s very clear that people are not good at paying attention,” she said, adding, “We’re waiting for enough people to die for something to happen. It’s not a great way to make policy.”

Local advocates noted that the Uber cars have been caught doing four out of the top five causes of collisions or injuries in the city – running red lights, going through stop signs, unsafe turns and failing to yield to pedestrians.

“These behaviors we’re seeing,” said Nicole Ferrara, executive director of advocacy group Walk San Francisco, “are some of the most dangerous behaviors in San Francisco that lead to traffic deaths and severe injuries.”

The technology just isn’t quite there yet. Relying on human backup for these self-driving vehicles is a bad idea that won’t work outside of a controlled environment because people in a driverless car aren’t going to be paying attention to the operation of that car, just like passengers in regular cars today don’t. On top of that, Uber did its usual disregard the rules and barrel ahead on their own thing, and this time the government agency they attempted to bypass stood firm. I have no doubt that this technology is coming – the Pittsburgh experiment is still going on, with no major incidents – but that doesn’t mean it will or should happen on Uber’s schedule. The fact that regulators need to catch up is a feature here, not a bug. Wired and the NYT have more.

Driverless Ubers arrive in San Francisco

Here they come, ready or not.

Uber has always had a special relationship with this city. The ride-hailing company was founded and headquartered here. In its early days, one of the towns where Uber grew fastest was its hometown.

On Wednesday, Uber again highlighted its special relationship with San Francisco. The company has started offering its self-driving car service to passengers here, making it the second place in the world where Uber offers autonomous vehicles for public use.

It also marks the debut of the XC90 self-driving car, a Volvo sport utility vehicle outfitted with lidar, a kind of radar based on laser beams; wireless technology; and seven different cameras. It was produced in collaboration with Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center, the company’s driverless tech division based in Pittsburgh. Uber began offering self-driving car service in Pittsburgh this year.

“The promise of self-driving is core to our mission of reliable transportation, everywhere for everyone,” Anthony Levandowski, Uber’s vice president of self-driving technology, said in a blog post.

[…]

Starting Wednesday, any passenger who requests a ride from UberX, one of the cheaper options of the service, may be picked up by an autonomous vehicle. Those chosen will receive a notification inside the Uber app, where they can accept, or cancel and request a regular driver. A company engineer sits behind the wheel in each self-driving vehicle and can take over when needed.

Three passengers will be able to fit into the XC90 vehicles. Riders will be able to play with a large touch screen that displays the route the car is taking, as well as a rendered version of the environment the car sees through its cameras and laser guidance systems. Uber also lets passengers take selfies from a camera facing the back seat, which they can email to themselves and share on social media.

It is unclear if Uber is allowed to test its driverless vehicle technology within San Francisco. As of Dec. 8, the company’s name was not listed on California’s Department of Motor Vehicles website as one that held a permit to test autonomous vehicles in the state. Other companies, including Google, Tesla and General Motors, all hold permits to test autonomous vehicles in California.

“All of our vehicles are compliant with applicable federal and state laws,” an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement.

The company said that under California’s D.M.V. definition, autonomous vehicles are those that drive “without the active physical control or monitoring of a natural person.” Uber said its self-driving cars, which require a human behind the wheel to monitor or control them, did not fall under that strict definition.

In a statement, the California D.M.V. said, “20 manufacturers have already obtained permits to test hundreds of cars on California roads. Uber shall do the same.”

Of course there’s a question about whether or not Uber is compliant with relevant law as it proceeds. It wouldn’t be Uber if there wasn’t at least a little bit of questionable legality. And it keeps on escalating.

“It is illegal for the company to operate its self-driving vehicles on public roads until it receives an autonomous vehicle testing permit,” wrote Brian Soublet, chief counsel for the California DMV in a strongly worded letter to Anthony Levandowski, who oversees Uber’s autonomous group. “If Uber does not confirm immediately that it will stop its launch and seek a testing permit, DMV will initiate legal action.”

An Uber spokesman didn’t have immediate comment Wednesday on the DMV letter.

“Based on how the car is operating and used, we feel strongly the car is not an autonomous vehicle,” said Lior Ron, senior director of engineering for Uber’s Advanced Technology Group, during a presentation with journalists Tuesday.

California requires companies testing autonomous cars—defined as having technology capable of “operating or driving the vehicle without active physical control or monitoring of a natural person”—to have a permit issued by the state and to have a test driver who is able to take over driving.

Mr. Soublet in a call with reporters Wednesday dismissed Uber’s argument that the car isn’t self-driving because a human is behind the wheel taking control. “They’ve equipped the vehicles with technology that allows them to operate autonomously and that’s the key,” Mr. Soublet said.

In his letter to Uber, Mr. Soublet said 20 companies—including Alphabet Inc.’s Google—are approved to test a total of 130 self-driving vehicles that are being driven by more than 480 permitted test drivers in California. “They are obeying the law and are responsibly testing and advancing their technology,” he wrote.

Uber may be balking at disclosure requirements from the DMV as part of its permitting process. The department said companies with an autonomous vehicle permit are required to hand over accident reports within 10 days of an incident and to disclose how many times humans had to take the wheel, both of which are available for public inspection.

Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina assistant professor of law and expert on autonomous car law, said Uber may have a plausible argument as the law allows some interpretation. Still, he said in an email, Uber’s actions are “in tension with the law if interpreted in context. This was a law intended to apply to aspirationally autonomous vehicles. It was in large part about building trust, and Uber is not building any trust in its systems or practices by doing this.”

Awesome. I can’t wait to see how this plays out.

Anyway. The rollout here will be bigger than the one in Pittsburgh, and the hilly terrain of San Francisco will no doubt give the driverless cars – pardon me, the hip term now appears to be Highly Automated Vehicles, or HAVs – a sterner test than the one before. Well, except for weather conditions, as Pittsburgh is now experiencing snow, which is something San Francisco cannot provide. We’ll see how it goes this time. Forbes and TechCrunch have more.

California is the new Texas

Or will be, as far as litigating against the federal government goes.

Xavier Becerra

Xavier Becerra

Gov. Jerry Brown has tabbed Rep. Xavier Becerra to serve as California’s interim attorney general, selecting the Los Angeles Democrat to fill a vacancy opened by the imminent departure of outgoing Attorney General Kamala Harris to the U.S. Senate.

Assuming he wins confirmation by the Legislature – a strong possibility, given the 12-term Democrat’s role as a mainstay of Democratic and Los Angeles politics – Becerra would serve as California’s top law enforcement official through 2018, with an opportunity to serve for another eight years if he runs for the office. He would be California’s first Latino attorney general.

The election of Donald Trump as president has alarmed California Democrats and thrown into question the state’s liberal stances on issues like climate change and immigration. Brown’s choice of a liberal stalwart like Becerra reaffirmed the state’s future role as a pocket of resistance.

“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant – in the State Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said in an emailed statement. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”

Referring to himself as “the son of immigrants” who is motivated to “fight for working families like the one I grew up in,” Becerra said in a statement that he had accepted Brown’s offer and summarized his liberal bona fides.

“I have been part of some of the greatest debates confronting our nation, from opposing the Iraq War, to fighting to help Americans recover from the Great Recession, to launching the bipartisan immigration talks and helping write our nation’s health security law,” Becerra said, adding that “California right now is ahead of the country when it comes to clean energy, common sense treatment of immigrants, real health security and so much more.”

[…]

In a conference call with reporters, Becerra said he would be “vigorous in defense of what we’ve done” to expand clean energy, protect parts of the federal health care law that Republicans seek to dismantle and preserve efforts toward “criminal justice reform” that seek to protect “young men of color.”

“We have policies in place that probably won’t pass at the federal level for another five, 10, 15 years,” Becerra said. “If you want to take on a forward-leaning state that is prepared to defend its rights and interests, then come at us.”

And in the face of Trump’s vow to deport millions of immigrants with criminal records, Becerra appeared to back California’s efforts to prevent removal of unauthorized immigrants who pose no threat to public safety.

“No one who goes to a grocery store to shop should believe the state of California is going to do anything to keep them from going home to see their kids if they’re just being regular, hardworking individuals,” Becerra said. “You’re talking to the son of immigrants, and I’m going to do everything I can to give that child of immigrant parents every chance I had.”

Hire some good litigators, that’s my advice. I’ve said before, I don’t care for having district court judges provide another veto on the federal government. It just doesn’t strike me as a good way to run a government. That said, if this is how the game is played these days, I see no reason to unilaterally disarm. I look forward to the howls of protest from the likes of Ted Cruz when state or even local action overrules a federal mandate. I can’t wait to hear what the principle is for that. Daily Kos has more.

More on the overtime rule ruling

From the NYT:

Over the last two years, Federal District Court judges in the state have chipped away at Mr. Obama’s legacy by striking down or suspending no fewer than five regulations, executive orders or actions, and guidelines, including an action that would have allowed illegal immigrants who are parents of United States citizens to remain in the country, and guidance that would have expanded restroom access for transgender students.

The injunction in the overtime case, issued on Tuesday by a judge nominated by Mr. Obama, has many advocates and legal experts concerned.

“It’s a troubling trend because it’s essentially delegating policy oversight to a set of handpicked judges in the South, who can pick and choose which regulations move forward and which do not,” said Matthew Wessler, a principal at the firm Gupta Wessler who has argued multiple cases involving workers before the Supreme Court.

[…]

In an interview, the Nevada attorney general, Adam Paul Laxalt, whose state was the lead plaintiff in the case against the overtime rule, said that the coalition of states it led had elected to file in the Eastern District of Texas because the district had a reputation for handing down rulings quickly.

“That was what is known as a fast docket,” Mr. Laxalt said. “The decision was made based on a bunch of variables, but we thought we may be able to get the quickest answer.” Citing the Dec. 1 effective date for the new regulation, he said, “We were really fighting the clock.”

Mr. Laxalt added that Nevada had been part of multistate litigation that was filed in other states, including a case over a rule regulating waterways, which was filed in North Dakota.

[…]

Even though the federal judge who ruled on the overtime regulation, Amos L. Mazzant III, was formally nominated by Mr. Obama in 2014, the influence of Mr. Cruz and Mr. Cornyn made it unlikely that he would be overly sympathetic to federal regulations, Mr. Levy said.

Still, the sweep of Judge Mazzant’s decision appears to have surprised even skeptics of the regulation.

The Obama regulation raised the annual salary limit below which workers are automatically eligible for overtime pay — something that previous administrations, including George W. Bush’s, had done several times since 1938 — to $47,476, from $23,660.

In his ruling, however, Judge Mazzant suggested not simply that the administration lacked the authority to raise the salary limit so high, but that no administration had the authority to establish and raise a salary limit of any kind.

Nothing in the law, he wrote, “indicates that Congress intended the department to define and delimit with respect to a minimum salary level.”

(Judge Mazzant retreated from the implications of this statement in a footnote asserting that he was determining the legality only of the Obama regulation.)

Asked if he agreed with the judge that the Labor Department lacked the authority to create a salary limit of any kind, not just the new level developed by the administration, Mr. Laxalt, the Nevada attorney general, said, “We do think the judge got it right when he said it’s unclear whether or not they can do an arbitrary salary test,” but confessed that he wouldn’t necessarily follow the ruling to its logical conclusion.

“I’m not prepared to say categorically we’re opposed to the 23,000,” the limit established by George W. Bush, he said.

For his part, Thomas E. Perez, the labor secretary, argued in an interview that it simply was not possible to single out the Obama salary limit as extreme or arbitrary while accepting the previous increases, since the new limit was in line with some of them.

“If we had simply indexed the 1975 threshold to inflation, that number would be well in excess of what our current threshold is,” he said — about $57,000 annually.

The administration is widely expected to appeal the ruling, given the extensive history of such increases, and many management-side lawyers believed that Judge Mazzant was out on a limb.

“The Labor Department has been setting these minimums since 1940,” said Allan Bloom of the law firm Proskauer Rose. “This is the first time that a district court judge is essentially saying you don’t have the authority to do that.”

See here for the background. Kevin Drum brings the charts to show why the Labor Department’s rulemaking was well within the bounds of past precedent and should have been respected. It’s telling that even the lead plaintiff, who got everything he wanted and then some, didn’t quite fully embrace Judge Mazzant’s reasoning. I suppose that’s a small sliver of hope that the Fifth Circuit could reel him in, but you know what what it means to have to rely on the Fifth Circuit.

And of course to some extent this is all play acting at this point. The Trump Labor Department, which will no doubt be run by someone who longs for the days of indentured servitude and who thinks child labor laws are an affront to common decency, can simply repeal this directive at its discretion. And if you’ve been applauding these district court judges essentially making national policy, just remember that two can play this game. I think this is a bad way to run a government, but if it’s the reality we’re now in, then it is what it is.

UPDATE: The Labor Department has asked the Fifth Circuit for a quick hearing of their appeal.

Google enters the rideshare market

This will be worth watching.

Google is moving onto Uber Technologies Inc.’s turf with a ride-sharing service to help San Francisco commuters join carpools, a person familiar with the matter said, jumping into a booming but fiercely competitive market.

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., began a pilot program around its California headquarters in May that enables several thousand area workers at specific firms to use the Waze app to connect with fellow commuters. It plans to open the program to all San Francisco-area Waze users this fall, the person said. Waze, which Google acquired in 2013, offers real-time driving directions based on information from other drivers.

Unlike Uber and its crosstown San Francisco rival Lyft Inc., which each largely operate as on-demand taxi businesses, Waze wants to connect riders with drivers who are already headed in the same direction. The company has said it aims to make fares low enough to discourage drivers from operating as taxi drivers. Waze’s current pilot program charges riders at most 54 cents a mile—less than most Uber and Lyft rides—and, for now, Google doesn’t take a fee.

Some years ago, I remember reading a story in the Chronicle about Houston drivers cruising through the park-and-ride lots in the mornings to pick up passengers for the commute into downtown. They were doing this because having an extra person or two meant they could take the HOV lane, thus greatly reducing the drive time they’d face if they went solo, as they would have done otherwise. This was done more or less ad hoc – I’m pretty sure this was all before Facebook and smartphones were things – but it seemed to work pretty well. I bring it up because that’s what this story reminds me of; having the smartphone app and the financial backing of a behemoth like Google just formalizes what had been an ad hoc process borne of frustration and impatience. I have no idea how well this will scale outside of a unique environment like the San Francisco area, but if anyone can make it into something viable, it’s Google. Slate and the Associated Press have more.

The Donald is spurring people to register to vote

Just another data point for your consideration.

Registration among Hispanic voters is skyrocketing in a presidential election cycle dominated by Donald Trump and loud GOP cries to close the border.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials, projects 13.1 million Hispanics will vote nationwide in 2016, compared to 11.2 million in 2012 and 9.7 million in 2008.

Many of those new Hispanic voters are also expected to vote against Trump if he is the Republican nominee, something that appears much more likely after the front-runner’s sweeping primary victories Tuesday in five East Coast states.

[…]

Many of the newly registered Hispanic voters are in California and Texas, relatively safe states for Democrats and Republicans, respectively.

In fact, because so many Hispanic voters live in those states, the effect of the rising registration numbers will be somewhat undercut, according to Vargas.

Still, rising registration rates among Hispanics in Colorado, Florida and Nevada could make it easier for the Democratic candidate to retain those swing states. Even Arizona could be in play, say some poll watchers.

Registration is a game-changer with Hispanic voters.

Only about 48 percent of eligible Hispanics vote, but nearly 80 percent of registered Hispanics go to the ballot box.

Emphasis mine. The story is primarily about swing states, because this sort of story always is, but as you know it’s the effect on Texas that interests me. Here’s a subsequent Chron story that adds a local angle.

Across the nation, non-profits say they are registering Hispanics and helping residents become citizens at faster rates than ever before, many of them mobilized by a desire to vote against the billionaire developer.

“That’s the No. 1 name that comes up all the time,” said Claudia Ortega-Hogue, vice president of the Houston-area League of Women Voters. “There is fear, and there is anger.”

Since last summer, when Trump first referred to Mexicans as criminals, Ortega-Hogue said her organization began registering more than 80 percent of new citizens at naturalization ceremonies compared to the 60 percent that is average. Many have long held green cards but told volunteers they naturalized now to vote against Trump. The process, from turning in an application to the final swearing-in ceremony, takes about six months, making May crunch time for those seeking to participate in November.

“The comments that Trump has made has really increased the numbers of people wanting to be involved,” Ortega-Hogue said.

Average monthly citizenship applications across the country spiked nearly 15 percent to about 64,800 between August and January, the most recent government data available, compared to the same period the year before. In Texas, some 66,000 immigrants became citizens in 2015, about a quarter more than in the previous year.

[…]

In the past, volunteers had to approach people and “almost twist their arms” for them to sign up to vote, said Carlos Duarte, who oversees Texas for Mi Familia Vota, a national group focused on boosting Latino voter registration.

“What is different now is that people approach us,” Duarte said. “They would always make these comments, and it was very heavily a reaction against Donald Trump.”

[…]

A sizeable Hispanic push could impact down-ballot elections, particularly in Harris County, which has the country’s largest Latino population after Los Angeles, more than 1.9 million.

The county went to President Barack Obama in 2012 by only some 970 votes, and for the first time in over three decades now leans majority-Democratic, according to a survey last month by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Tellingly, most of that pickup for Democrats is among Latino respondents who are eligible but not registered to vote, said the report’s author, Stephen Klineberg.

Mobilizing these and other Hispanics could imperil two dozen Republican judges in the county and more than 50 around the state, as well as the Harris County District Attorney and sheriff, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

“With Trump’s track record thus far of making statements portraying immigrants as racists and murderers and building a wall, it’s a ready-made campaign commercial against him for Univision,” Jones said. “Trump on the ballot could really be serious trouble for Harris County Republicans.”

It could also hurt a few Republican legislators in strong Hispanic districts in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, including Gilbert Peña in Pasadena. And it might add a Democratic congressional seat in the 23rd district, which is currently represented by Republican Will Hurd and stretches from San Antonio to the Mexican border.

See here for more on the Houston Area Survey. I’ve written about this before, so add this to the collection. I will be very interested to see what voter registration numbers look like when they come out. Anything that Democrats can do to abet those efforts will be well worth it.

Uber settles California fingerprints lawsuit

Noted for the record.

Uber

Ride-hailing company Uber will pay at least $10 million to settle allegations by California prosecutors that it misled passengers about the quality of its driver background checks.

The settlement was signed Thursday in San Francisco, where Uber is based and where the district attorney led a lawsuit that said Uber falsely claimed its criminal screening of would-be drivers was the most comprehensive available.

San Francisco and Los Angeles prosecutors sued in 2014, saying Uber’s background checks were inferior to what taxi drivers undergo because they did not include fingerprint checks for past convictions. Instead, Uber’s process relies on a name search of other criminal databases and motor vehicle department files going back seven years.

Uber has defended the safety of its service amid a steady stream of allegations that its drivers have assaulted passengers, or, in the case of a driver in Michigan earlier this year, killed people. The app lets passengers share their location in real time, Uber points out, and the person who booked the ride is required to rate the driver after each trip, helping weed out unsavory characters.

Under the settlement, Uber agreed to pay $10 million within 60 days. If the company does not comply with the terms over the next two years, Uber would have to pay an additional $15 million, prosecutors said.

Uber did not admit wrongdoing, as is standard for such settlements, and said it already has made many changes prosecutors sought.

For example, Uber stopped claiming its background checks were “industry leading” when it settled a separate case brought by riders. Under that $28.5 million settlement reached in February, Uber also renamed its “safe ride fee” as a “booking fee.”

Prosecutors ratcheted up pressure on the company in August, expanding the lawsuit with claims that Uber failed to uncover the criminal records of 25 California drivers, including several registered sex offenders and a convicted murderer.

This has been a hobbyhorse of mine for awhile as you know. I’ll stipulate that fingerprint background checks aren’t the be-all and end-all. Fingerprinting has its flaws, and not everyone who would be flagged by such a check represents a real threat. Ideally, there ought to be a risk assessment aspect to this, to separate the truly dangerous people from those who just need to explain themselves. The point I have been making is that I don’t believe Uber’s process is sufficient, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they could do a better job of it. I believe that task needs to be done by someone else, as I just don’t believe that it’s something Uber truly takes seriously. At some level, why should they put more effort and resources into doing background checks than they have to? They can always fall back on the claim that the drivers aren’t actually their employees, so they’re not really responsible for what they do. Sure that may eventually catch up to them, but when you’re valued at $60 billion or so, you’ve got a pretty big cushion.

Honestly, if making fingerprint background checks mandatory is a bridge too far, then I like the compromise idea floated by Austin Mayor Steve Adler: Let the drivers undergo such a check voluntarily, and make whether or not they have done so a part of their driver profile. Let Uber and Lyft customer specify that they want a driver who has undergone this extra level of scrutiny. Anyone want to bet against the proposition that the free market will overwhelmingly prefer to be driven by this latter group? CNN, the Mercury News, the LA Times, and the NYT have more.

More troubles for the Planned Parenthood video fraudsters

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Investigators with the California Department of Justice on Tuesday raided the home of David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist behind a series of undercover videos targeting Planned Parenthood, the activist said.

Authorities seized a laptop and multiple hard drives from his Orange County apartment, Daleiden said in an email. The equipment contained all of the video Daleiden had filmed as part of his 30-month project, “including some very damning footage that has yet to be released to the public,” he said.

A spokeswoman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation. But the raid confirms that California is among the states looking into possible criminal activity on the part of Daleiden and his organization, the Center for Medical Progress, which have been the center of controversy since releasing videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for a profit.

[…]

The National Abortion Federation, a professional organization for abortion providers that was also targeted in Daleiden’s videos, lauded news of the raid.

“We fully support a thorough investigation into the activities perpetrated by David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress,” president Vicki Saporta said in a statement. “As the evidence has shown in our case, he engaged in a long-running criminal conspiracy. His actions are not without consequences.”

Saporta said the videos have led to a spike in threats and violence against abortion clinics.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given all that’s been said and done so far, it’s hard not to see that surge in violence directed at the clinics as anything but a planned outcome. I’ll say again, I’m happy for Daleiden to martyr himself for this cause, as long as he really really gets to suffer for it. He’s earned every bit of retribution coming his way. It’s my further hope that the evidence that California authorities uncover can be used to help facilitate those consequences. Daily Kos, Politico, the Chron, and Kevin Drum have.

Local Planned Parenthood joins lawsuit against the video fraudsters

Good.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Texas-based Planned Parenthood affiliate on Thursday moved to join a federal lawsuit filed in California against the anti-abortion group behind undercover videos of the organization’s clinics.

The lawsuit, filed in a San Francisco-based federal court in January, alleges the Center for Medical Progress engaged in conspiracy, fraud and other activities that violate organized crime law and other federal regulations in its pursuit of secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood. Citing recordings of staff at a Houston clinic, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast filed to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff.

The recordings, released by the group last summer, depicted Planned Parenthood staff discussing the procurement of fetal tissue. The group alleged that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from the sale of tissue of aborted fetuses — an accusation the organization has vehemently denied.

The lawsuit against the group was first filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and seven California affiliates against the Center for Medical Progress, Biomax Procurement Services and several anti-abortion activists, including videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Susan Merritt.

See here for the background on the existing lawsuit, and here for a copy of the complaint. There’s another federal lawsuit against these clowns as well, plus a lawsuit by PP against the state over revocation of Medicaid funds. If these CMP idiots want to be martyrs for their cause, I hope the justice system helps them get there, one judgment (and conviction) at a time. The Chron and the Observer have more.

Federal judge smacks video fraudsters

That’s gonna leave a mark.

Right there with them

Right there with them

In a sharp rebuke, a federal judge on Friday issued a preliminary injunction ordering abortion opponents not to release videos they had secretly made at meetings of abortion providers, and he added that the opponents’ claims that such organizations were illegally selling fetal tissue were baseless.

In the ruling, Judge William H. Orrick of United States District Court in San Francisco also brushed aside claims by the abortion opponents that their use of fraudulent documents and violations of confidentiality agreements to infiltrate meetings of abortion providers were protected because they were journalists involved in what they described as an undercover investigation.

The ruling marked the second major setback in recent weeks for the anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress.

[…]

In his ruling, Judge Orrick said that his review of hundreds of hours of video secretly shot by the center at meetings of abortion providers found no evidence that any of them had violated the law. No one “admitted to engaging in, agreed to engage in, or expressed interest in engaging in potentially illegal sale of fetal tissue for profit,” he wrote.

Lawyers for the Center for Medical Progress argued in the case that the First Amendment protected the group because its members were informing the public about abortion providers — a defense that Mr. Daleiden has also raised against the recent criminal charges.

But Judge Orrick said that the desire of the National Abortion Federation to have its members protected from unwarranted harassment was paramount. And he questioned whether Mr. Daleiden and his colleagues were involved in journalism.

He wrote that the group’s projects “thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions.”

This lawsuit was filed last July; there was already a temporary restraining order barring the CMP from releasing videos, transcripts or other material from the meetings pending the judge’s review. There is a separate lawsuit filed last month by Planned Parenthood against the CMP as well. None of this has anything to do with the criminal case against the fraudsters, but the judge’s ruling does directly address their stated defense that they’re just journalists doing normal journalistic things. I feel confident that ruling will be given a careful reading by the Harris County DA’s office. It’s also a reminder that these guys are lying liars who have lied about pretty much everything so far, and while a strategy of lying can score some political points, it generally won’t get you very far in court. In a more decent society, people who had previously sided with these guys would be backing away from them now, not wanting to have their own credibility tainted by association with them. You can draw your own conclusions as to why Texas Republicans like Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton have not done so.

Some Latino political power trends

The Latino electorate keeps on growing.

The Latino electorate is bigger and better-educated than ever before, according to a new report by Pew Research Center.

It’s also young. Adults age 18-35 make up nearly half of the record 27.3 million Latinos eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election, the report found.

But although the number of Latinos eligible to vote is surging – 40 percent higher than it was just eight years ago – and education levels are rising, the percentage likely to actually cast ballots in November continues to lag behind other major racial and ethnic groups, the report found.

That’s partly because young people don’t vote as consistently as older people do, but also because Latino eligible voters are heavily concentrated in states – including California, Texas and New York – that are not prime election battlegrounds.

[…]

The explosive growth of the Latino electorate is largely driven by young people born in the U.S. Between 2012 and November of this year, about 3.2 million U.S.-citizen Latinos will have turned 18 and become eligible to vote, according to the report’s projections.

Millennials – adults born in 1981 or later – will account for 44 percent of the Latino electorate by November, according to the report. By comparison, millennials will make up only 27 percent of the white electorate.

The number of Latino potential voters is also being driven by immigrants who are in the U.S. legally and decide to become U.S. citizens. Between 2012 and 2016, some 1.2 million will have done so, according to the report.

Although most new voters are not immigrants, a majority of Latino voters have a direct connection to the immigrant experience, the report noted. That’s an important fact in an election cycle that has been dominated by debates over what do with the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the U.S. without authorization.

The full report is here. One result of the harsh rhetoric on immigration, and the specter of a Donald Trump candidacy, is a greater push for gaining citizenship among those who are eligible to do so but had not before now.

In what campaigners are calling a “naturalization blitz”, workshops are being hosted across the country to facilitate Hispanic immigrants who are legal, permanent residents and will only qualify to vote in the 2016 presidential election if they upgrade their immigration status.

Citizenship clinics will take place in Nevada, Colorado, Texas and California later this month, with other states expected to host classes in February and early March in order to make the citizenship deadline required to vote in November.

The Republican frontrunner’s hostile remarks about Latino immigrants is driving people to the workshops.

[…]

“Our messaging will be very sharply tied to the political moment, urging immigrants and Latinos to respond to hate with political action and power,” said Maria Ponce of iAmerica Action, an immigrant rights campaign sponsored by the Service Employees International Union.

Several labor unions and advocacy groups are collaborating on the project. In Las Vegas, organizers also intend to hold mock caucuses to educate new voters on the state’s complicated primary process. Nevada is the first early voting state to feature a large Latino population, and that group is eager to make itself known.

“This is a big deal,” said Jocelyn Sida of Mi Familia Vota, a partner in the Nevada event. “We as Latinos are always being told that we’re taking jobs or we’re anchor babies, and all these things are very hurtful. It’s getting to the point where folks are frustrated with that type of rhetoric. They realize the only way they can stop this is by getting involved civically.”

Efforts to increase minority participation in swing state elections are nothing new. Nevada’s powerful Culinary Union has been holding such events for its 57,000 members and their families since 2001. Yet never before has there been a galvanizing figure of the bogeyman variety quite like Trump.

At least he’s good for something. Getting more Latinos to vote (and Asians, too – the report also touches on that) is one thing. Getting more of them elected to office is another.

A new report from a nonpartisan organization focused on getting more Asian-American and Latinos elected to state and local offices found that the two groups are facing obstacles as they seek to achieve greater representation to match their fast-growing populations.

The report, by the New American Leaders Project, found that the groups’ numbers have not grown substantially in those offices — fewer than 2 percent of the 500,000 seats nationally in state and local offices are held by Asian-Americans or Hispanics. Those voters make up more than 20 percent of the United States population, the report notes. Both groups of voters are considered key to the emerging Democratic coalition in national races.

Among the barriers members of these groups faced is that they were less likely to come up with the idea of running for office themselves — usually only doing so if the idea was suggested by another person. Hispanic women also were likelier to report being discouraged “by their political party more than any other group,” the report noted.

Th candidates also tended to rely strongly on support from unions and community groups to be successful, and they found fund-raising one of the most difficult hurdles. That was particularly true among Hispanic women, according to the report.

The report is here. A lot of the barriers, as well as the recommended solutions (see page 21), are similar to those that have been long reported for female candidates. We know the answers, we just need to actually apply them.

All of these are background for how I think about this.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

Months after mounting a passive, ultimately unsuccessful Houston mayoral campaign, Adrian Garcia has swiftly taken on the role of attack dog in his bid to oust longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green from the 29th District in the Democratic primary.

A Garcia press release out Monday morning proclaimed in all caps, “GENE GREEN SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED A LONG TIME AGO,” the latest in a series of statements slamming the incumbent’s record on issues ranging from gun safety to the environment.

Political observers said Garcia’s about-face reflects lessons learned from his recent loss and the nature of a quick primary challenge.

“He needs to give folks a reason not to vote for the entrenched incumbent, so he’s trying to create a differentiation based on policy,” Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said of Garcia.

“If you think you lost last time because you were too passive, this time you’re going to be more aggressive, and I think there’s a certain element of that involved, as well.”

[…]

Over the last three weeks, Garcia has criticized Green’s voting record on gun safety and environmental legislation while tying him to the district’s comparatively high poverty rate and low rate of educational attainment, among other issues.

“When you know that you’ve got one in three children living in poverty, you’re expecting some leadership from that point,” Garcia said after a press conference Monday announcing the backing of several Latino community leaders. “I’m just speaking to the record.”

I don’t know if Adrian Garcia can beat Gene Green. Green has been a skillful member of Congress for a long time, and Democrats tend to value seniority and experience a lot more than Republicans do. He also hasn’t had to run a campaign in 20 years, and it is unquestionable that the Houston area should have had a Latino member of Congress by now, one way or another. Green has done all the things you’d expect him to do in this race, and he has a ton of support from Latino elected officials (though not unanimous support) and an overall strong record. If we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that this isn’t a business-as-usual election year. So who knows? I wish there were some trustworthy polling available for this race, but I suspect we’re going to have to wait till voting starts to get a feel for this one.

Planned Parenthood sues over those anti-abortion sting videos

Game on, indeed.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Planned Parenthood is suing the people behind the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the anti-abortion group that released a series of misleading videos this summer claiming that the women’s health organization sells fetal tissue for profit.

“The people behind this fraud lied and broke the law in order to spread malicious lies about Planned Parenthood,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “This lawsuit exposes the elaborate, illegal conspiracy designed to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and we filed the case to hold them accountable.”

The lawsuit, announced to reporters Thursday afternoon, might seem a little late, given that the first tapes were released about six months ago and the provider has taken a lot of heat since then. But it took time to do a full investigation into the “complex conspiracy” behind the videos, Laguens told reporters. “We wanted to make sure we had every bit of it right.”

Planned Parenthood isn’t pulling any punches with this lawsuit. The organization is calling CMP a “criminal enterprise” and is suing under federal racketeering law (which has been used once before against anti-abortion protesters but ultimately failed at the Supreme Court). Planned Parenthood is also suing for other damages and bringing a civil action for CMP’s alleged violations of state criminal codes about secret recordings.

The organization says that CMP and its officers engaged in an elaborate three-year criminal conspiracy to mislead Planned Parenthood and public officials, breaking both federal and state laws (in Maryland, Florida, and California, where the suit was filed) in the process.

[…]

It’s worth noting that no state or federal investigations thus far, even those led by anti-abortion officials like Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, have found evidence that Daleiden’s claims about “profit” are true.

Yes, that is worth noting. It’s also worth noting that the state of Texas used the pretext that these videos were truthful to kick Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid – to be more accurate, it blustered about it without ever producing any evidence of malfeasance on Planned Parenthood’s part. There’s another lawsuit related to that, and a separate federal lawsuit filed against the CMP last year, which was narrower in scope. Somebody’s been lying all along, and one way or another the courts will sort that out. You can see a copy of the lawsuit here, and ThinkProgress, RH Reality Check, and the Current have more.

UPDATE: More from the Press.

We’re still #1!

In uninsured people.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

For the first time in more than a decade, Texas’ uninsured rate dipped below 20 percent, analysts said [recently] following the release of U.S. Census data.

Slightly more than 5 million Texans were uninsured in 2014 — a 700,000 decrease from the year before. That represented a 3-point dip in the percentage of Texans without health insurance, to 19 percent — the largest gain in health care coverage in Texas since 1999, according to the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.

The data released Wednesday marked the first government-provided snapshot of the uninsured rate since the rollout of Healthcare.gov, the health insurance marketplace created by President Obama’s signature health law.

Texas remains the state with the highest rate of uninsured people, according to the federal survey. Nationwide, the uninsured rate fell from about 15 percent to 12 percent.

And it’s not just in the rate where we lead, it’s also in sheer numbers.

Texas’ decrease was just 40 percent of the size of California’s shrinkage of its uninsured population. It reduced the number of uninsured by 1.73 million folks. That’s out of proportion to population. The bureau’s latest estimates show California has about 1.4 times as many people as Texas — 39 million versus 27 million. California has expanded Medicaid and runs its own online health insurance marketplace.

For many years, the Golden State has had the largest uninsured population. No longer. Texas does.

The Lone Star State has not just the highest percentage but the biggest raw number of uninsured — 5,047,000. In 2013, California had 6.5 million uninsured residents, while Texas had 5.75 million. But last year, California’s number dipped below 4.8 million.

“California has seen robust increases in both private insurance coverage under the [federal law’s] marketplace and public coverage through Medicaid coverage for working poor adults,” said Obamacare supporter Anne Dunkelberg, a veteran health-policy analyst at the center-left think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities. She noted that California posted a nearly 5 percentage point decrease in its uninsured rate. It dropped from 17.2 to 12.4 percent, compared with only 3-point drop in Texas from 2013 to 2014.

But hey, at least we surpassed California in something, amirite? Woo hoo, high five!

All five of the states with the highest uninsurance rate have one thing in common: They failed to expand Medicaid. Well, two things in common, that and having Republican Governors and legislatures. But if you knew the first part, you could have guessed the second.

Uber’s class action lawsuit woes

Of interest.

Uber

Uber’s business model is on the rocks late Tuesday after a federal judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit targeting the company’s treatment of drivers as independent contractors.

The case is one of several high-profile suits brought by drivers against the technology start-up that has displaced traditional taxis in many markets. A California labor board ruled against the company in a separate but similar case earlier this summer, in an administrative decision that does not bind the courts but outlined some weaknesses in Uber’s legal argument.

Now those weaknesses will face a test with much higher stakes — though just how high is a matter of dispute. The plaintiffs wanted the court to include 160,000 drivers in the class as party to the current lawsuit alleging that drivers are full employees of Uber with full labor law protections, rather than independent contractors. Tuesday’s order places some restrictions on the class, and it’s unclear how many of those 160,000 drivers will ultimately be part of the suit. Uber believes “only a tiny fraction of the class” will be eligible, a spokesperson wrote in an email, though Tuesday’s ruling leaves the door open for arguments to expand the class.

[…]

The cost of paying back wages and payroll taxes for the class Chen certified Tuesday, while certainly smaller than the $50 billion that the company is currently worth according to investors, would be vast — especially if plaintiffs’ attorneys accept Chen’s invitation to make further arguments about including other drivers in the class, and succeed.

And perhaps more importantly, having a giant chunk of its driver base collectively re-classified as employees would chip away at the company’s reputation for disrupting the taxicab business. Uber would start to look like any other company that hires workers to drive fares around for tips and wages under the normal protections of employment law.

This is the first step in what would be a long fight, and as Uber is likely to appeal this ruling, there’s no guarantee it would stand. As things are now, Uber drivers outside of California are not involved, so there’s nothing at stake here just yet. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on this, because the effect if the ruling ultimately stands would be big. Slate has more, while ThinkProgress looks at the bigger picture.

More on Uber and drunk driving

We have a study.

In this work, we investigate how the entry of the driving service Uber influences the rate of alcohol related motor vehicle homicides. While significant debate has surrounded the entry of driving services like Uber and Lyft, limited rigorous empirical work has been devoted to uncovering the social benefits of such services (or the mechanism which drives these benefits). Using a difference in difference approach to exploit a natural experiment, the entry of Uber into markets in California between 2009 and 2013, findings suggest a significant drop in the rate of homicides during that time. Furthermore, results suggest that not all services offered by Uber have the same effect, insofar as the effect for the Uber Black car service is intermittent and manifests only in selective locations. These results underscore the coupling of increased availability with cost savings which are necessary to exploit the public welfare gains offered by the sharing economy. Practical and theoretical implications are discussed within.

From the introduction:

Uber

Preliminary analysis conducted by Uber and several industry analysts suggest that introduction of Uber and other ride sharing services has a negative influence on DUI arrests. However, these studies have been questioned on several grounds: including involvement of Uber in the data analysis, methodological rigor (i.e. single city estimations), and the presence of confounding factors such as changes in city’s population, bar scene, and tougher enforcement.

Moreover, a limited understanding of the mechanisms by which such services influence the rate of DUIs exists. On one hand, it is plausible that the decrease in DUI is simply the result of availability of vehicles for hire and that patrons are willing to pay a price premium for such services. Insofar as it is often difficult to hire a taxi, based on time, location, or even the race of the patron (Meeks 2010), it is plausible that the presence of the platform mitigates these market inefficiencies by soliciting the driver electronically, thereby significantly reducing search costs (Parker and Van Alstyne 2005) and creating excess utility for the consumer. On the other hand, it is equally plausible that the effect is a result of both availability and cost. Drawing from rational choice theory (Clarke and Cornish 1985, Cornish and Clarke 2014) it is conceivable that individuals who make the decision to drive under the influence do so based on the costs associated with conviction, the cost of searching for and hiring a taxi, and the probability of being stopped by the police and/or striking another driver. This broad question: what is the impact of Uber’s introduction on alcohol related motor vehicle homicides in the local area and by what mechanisms, forms the core of the research investigated in this paper.

Empirically, we exploit a natural experiment, the introduction of the ride sharing service Uber into cities in the State of California between 2009 and 2014, to investigate the effect. Leveraging this econometric setup offers us several advantages. First, to the extent that the entrance of Uber is staggered temporally and geographically, we execute a difference in difference estimation to establish the effect. Second, Uber offers multiple services in each of the treated areas with varying price points (note that these services also enter at varying times and orders). On one hand, UberBlack, a town car service, offers transportation with a significant markup over taxicabs (~20% – ~30% price premium). On the other, the UberX service is a personalized driving service which offers significant discounts over taxis (~20% – ~30% price reductions). To the degree that each of these services identifies a different mechanism being at play (availability v. availability and price point), we are able to cleanly identify the dominant mechanisms at play. We test these using hand collected data from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) safety and crash dataset and a custom webscraper which indicates when each service entered a geographic area in California.

Results indicate that while the entry of UberX strongly and negatively affects the number of motor vehicle homicides which occur in townships, limited evidence exists to support previous claims that this occurs with the Uber Black car service as well (indicating that prior claims about the efficacy of Uber may have been overstated (Badger 2014)). Further, results indicate that the time for such effects to manifest vary is significant (upwards of 9 – 15 months). These results are robust to a variety of estimations (e.g. OLS, Poisson, and Quasi-Maximum Likelihood count models) and operationalizations. Finally, findings suggest an absence of a heterogeneous pre-treatment homicide trend in treated locations, indicating that the primary assumptions of the difference in difference model are not violated (Angrist and Pischke 2008, Bertrand et al. 2002). Further, results suggest no effect of Uber when surge pricing is likely in effect, thereby underscoring the importance of cost considerations. Economically, results indicate that the entrance of Uber X results in a 3.6% – 5.6% decrease in the rate of motor vehicle homicides per quarter in the state of California. With more than 1000 deaths5 occurring in California due to alcohol related car crashes every year, this represents a substantial opportunity to improve public welfare and save lives.

Emphasis mine, as that’s the key point. The paper overall is fairly technical and written for an academic audience, but you get the idea. We’ve discussed this issue before, and now that there appears to be some solid evidence behind the idea that Uber (and presumably Lyft) can help reduce the vehicular homicide rate in a city where those services are legal, it’s a factor that needs to be taken into account when they are debated. Sure, the people who are now using Uber to get themselves home after a night on the town could have called a cab in the past, but they didn’t. Uber is the option they prefer, and it comes with a benefit. Of course, Uber also comes with its own problems that haven’t been fixed yet, too, so this isn’t a debate ender. It’s just another point to keep in mind. Link via Streetsblog.

Driverless car testing in Austin

Be on the lookout.

After years of experimenting with its groundbreaking autonomous vehicle technology almost exclusively in California, Google confirmed Monday that it has begun testing one of its self-driving vehicles in Austin.

A white Lexus RX 450h SUV outfitted with the company’s sensors and software began making trips without the aid of a driver in the city within the past week, said Jennifer Haroon, head of business operations for the Google self-driving car project. Another vehicle will join it in the area for testing this week.

While California and other states have updated their laws to address self-driving vehicles, neither Texas nor Austin has followed suit, meaning Google did not need to get permission before initiating such testing in the city. Company officials briefed Gov. Greg Abbott’s office, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and the city of Austin about the testing in advance, Haroon said. No public funds are involved in the testing, and the company is not providing any funding to local or state entities related to the testing.

The expansion of the project to Texas comes as the company’s experimental fleet has safely logged over a million miles and its software has matured to be able to simultaneously detect hundreds of different activities going on around a vehicle, Haroon said. Two “safety drivers” will be in each of the vehicles whenever traveling in Austin in self-driving mode.

“They’re there to see how the vehicle is behaving, provide feedback to our engineering team and, if needed, take over [driving],” Haroon said.

Until now, Google’s vehicle testing has mostly centered around the San Francisco area, where the technology giant is based. The new testing will be focused in an area north and northeast of downtown Austin, according to company officials. The cars will not drive autonomously on any area highways, for now. Google officials are hoping Austin will provide its self-driving vehicles with an environment different from what researchers have already explored in recent years.

“We think there may be some geographic differences,” Haroon said. “There could be some differences in driver/pedestrian/bicyclist behavior. We really won’t know until we’ve started testing more.”

See here for previous driverless car blogging. As the story notes, this is not the first time one of these vehicles has visited Austin, though it is the first time for this kind of testing. I’m guessing this will all be fairly low-key – Google would certainly prefer it to be that way – but you never know. Beta testing is often exciting in unanticipated ways. If you happen to see this car tooling around, leave a comment and let us know.

Get out of solar’s way

Keep an eye on this.

“Hawaii is a postcard from the future,” said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, a policy and advocacy group based in California.

Other states and countries, including California, Arizona, Japan and Germany, are struggling to adapt to the growing popularity of making electricity at home, which puts new pressures on old infrastructure like circuits and power lines and cuts into electric company revenue.

As a result, many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. In response, those solar companies are fighting back through regulators, lawmakers and the courts.

The shift in the electric business is no less profound than those that upended the telecommunications and cable industries in recent decades. It is already remaking the relationship between power companies and the public while raising questions about how to pay for maintaining and operating the nation’s grid.

The issue is not merely academic, electrical engineers say.

In solar-rich areas of California and Arizona, as well as in Hawaii, all that solar-generated electricity flowing out of houses and into a power grid designed to carry it in the other direction has caused unanticipated voltage fluctuations that can overload circuits, burn lines and lead to brownouts or blackouts.

“Hawaii’s case is not isolated,” said Massoud Amin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and chairman of the smart grid program at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technical association. “When we push year-on-year 30 to 40 percent growth in this market, with the number of installations doubling, quickly — every two years or so — there’s going to be problems.”

The economic threat also has electric companies on edge. Over all, demand for electricity is softening while home solar is rapidly spreading across the country. There are now about 600,000 installed systems, and the number is expected to reach 3.3 million by 2020, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The Edison Electric Institute, the main utility trade group, has been warning its members of the economic perils of high levels of rooftop solar since at least 2012, and the companies are responding. In February, the Salt River Project, a large utility in Arizona, approved charges that could add about $50 to a typical monthly bill for new solar customers, while last year in Wisconsin, where rooftop solar is still relatively rare, regulators approved fees that would add $182 a year for the average solar customer.

This story doesn’t have a direct connection to Texas, but our state has a tremendous potential for solar, high electric bills in many cities, and a Legislature that isn’t all that friendly to renewable energy, but very much is friendly to the entrenched status quo. That’s a combination that makes this all worth keeping an eye on.

The At Large trend

From Think Progress:

Pasadena City Council

Yakima, WA is one-third Latino, but a Latino candidate has not been elected to the city council for almost 40 years. Santa Barbara, CA is 38 percent Latino, but only one Latino has been elected to its council in the last 10 years. And Pasadena, TX is 43 percent Hispanic, but the ethnic group is not even close to being proportionately represented in the city government.

All three cities have been or are currently being sued for allegedly using discriminatory at-large voting systems, a voter dilution tactic that has been recently and frequently employed against Hispanic voters. In an at-large system, every city resident votes for each member of the governing body and the city does not divide voters into districts.

As the Latino population grows across the country, cities have employed at-large voting to dilute the Latino vote and maintain white control of local governing bodies. Instead of allowing each district to elect its own representative, an at-large system means that unless Hispanic populations reach a majority in the entire city, they will have no influence in electing their local members of government. According to Fair Vote, at-large systems allow 50 percent of voters to control 100 percent of seats, typically resulting in racially homogeneous elected bodies. The tactic used to be popular in the South to discriminate against neighborhoods with large African American communities but is now targeting a new threat: Latinos.

Recently, a court in Washington struck down the city of Yakima’s at-large voting system — whose representation is elected by the city as a whole rather than by specific districts — ruling that it was discriminatory and violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Lawsuits against cities attempting to dilute the Hispanic vote are gaining traction as more and more end with court orders and settlements that favor the plaintiffs, said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

“A lawsuit like [Yakima] will clearly have a very important impact,” McDonald told ThinkProgress. “This was the first Section 2 challenge to an at-large system that was brought in Washington state and already the Hispanic population in Pasco, Washington has approached the city council there and asked them to adopt a single member district plan to replace the at-large system.”

Kathleen Taylor, the executive director of Washington’s ACLU branch, said the city of Pasco is likely to change its system before it is sued and ends up in a similar position to Yakima.

After ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the suit against Yakima, the judge adopted the ACLU’s voting plan, which called for an elimination of the at-large system. The ACLU is also asking Yakima for more than $2.8 million in legal fees and expenses. “If you bring a lawsuit now, these jurisdictions understand that if they lose, they will be liable for a substantial amount of costs and fees,” McDonald said. “That will have an important impact on their decision to settle these cases.”

Last month, the city of Santa Barbara, CA partially settled a similar suit, alleging its voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act. The city is currently drawing six new districts with citizen input to ensure that the Hispanic population, which makes up nearly 40 percent of the city, is not discriminated against. The lead plaintiff told the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Daily Nexus that the city is saving more than $2 million by settling the litigation for around $600,000 and not allowing it to go to trial, where the plaintiffs would likely prevail.

Because California has a state voting rights law, it “facilitates this type of challenge,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As a result, he said we will see a lot of settlements and moves away from at-large systems in California.

Yeah, we don’t have that in Texas, and with the Congress we have now, we won’t have it again nationally any time soon. I don’t have a problem with At Large districts per se, but there’s no mistaking the intent here. One only need look at a city like Farmers Branch to see what the effect can be when a more inclusive Council plan is adopted. We can also look to Pasadena, where we have an opportunity this May to minimize the damage being done. Ultimately, changes will have to be made at a higher level to prevent this kind of shenanigans at the local level.

We’re not #1 any more!

Looks like we’re going to need some new applause lines for our elected officials.

NumberOne

When it comes to job growth, some Rust Belt states are gaining an edge on Texas amid the fallout from plunging oil prices.

In January, Texas lost its spot as the nation’s top job creator. The state ranked No. 4 with 20,100 new jobs that month, trailing California (67,300 jobs) and the Rust Belt states of Ohio (25,100) and Michigan (24,200), according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What’s going on?

Texas vs. Michigan is an example of an oil-price-induced shift happening in U.S. regional growth patterns, said Robert A. Dye, chief economist for Dallas-based Comerica Bank.

“In the last five years coming out of the Great Recession, the energy sector has driven growth in the oil-producing states from Texas to Wyoming, and that’s where the bulk of new jobs have been generated,” Dye said. “Now, what we’ve been seeing is those oil-producing states losing momentum and other states gaining momentum as they benefit from lower energy costs.”

Michigan, for example, recently has seen strong growth in manufacturing, gaining 5,000 jobs in January.

[…]

Michael Wolf, a Wells Fargo economist, isn’t too worried about Texas.

“The glaring negative comes from the [energy] industry,” he said. “Is it just the beginning of worse to come with low oil prices staying low? I’m not sure. But there’s a lot more going on in Texas than just oil.”

I’m sure that’s true, but let’s be honest. It was the oil and gas boom that led to such good job creation numbers in Texas to begin with. Without it, we’re just another big state. As long as our population keeps growing rapidly, we’ll continue to add jobs at a healthy pace regardless of what the energy sector does, but with relocations likely to slow down as oil and gas cut jobs and with the continued demagoguery about the border, who knows? Maybe the population growth will slow down, too. We’re in for some interesting times.

On Uber and DWI

This was from a few weeks ago, and I just hadn’t gotten around to finishing the draft post I’d started till now.

Uber

The entrance of app-based transportation companies in American cities decreases the likelihood that people living there drive drunk, according to a survey commissioned by car-for-hire firm Uber and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The entities didn’t release city-by-city results of the survey (sorry, no Dallas-specific info) and it’s based on online interviews, not crash or arrest data (though the company did look at such information in California).

But an overwhelming number of respondents said Uber has made it easier to avoid drunk driving and that their friends were less likely to drive drunk after the company set up shop in their city.

A report about that survey included data that Uber looked at in particular cities. Again, Dallas wasn’t one, but if you’ve ever talked to an app-based car-for-hire driver in North Texas, you’ll have heard anecdotes that align with what Uber saw elsewhere.

[…]

MADD president Colleen Sheehey-Church said the fact that there was a measurable drop in alcohol-related crashes in California shows that app-based car services have a positive impact.

“It demonstrates that when people have access to safe, reliable alternatives to driving, they make the right choice,” she said.

You can see the report on Uber’s blog and also on MADD’s media center. It’s in both of those organizations’ best interests to tout something like this, but it also makes intuitive sense. If it’s easy and (modulo surge pricing relatively inexpensive to catch a ride for a night out rather than drive yourself, some people will do that. I’ve also maintained that the widespread availability of services like Uber will make it easier for people to adopt a lifestyle that doesn’t require one car for every driving-age person in a household. These are good things, and worth keeping in mind when we hear another annoying story about Uber.

Immigration lawsuit update

Another hearing is scheduled.

JustSayNo

The judge who blocked President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration has ordered the Justice Department to answer allegations that the government misled him about part of the plan.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen ordered Monday that the lawyers for the federal government appear in his court March 19 in Brownsville. The hearing is in response to a filing last week in which the government acknowledged three-year deportation reprieves were granted before Hanen’s Feb. 16 injunction, which temporarily halted Obama’s action, sparing from deportation as many as 5 million people in the U.S. illegally.

The Justice Department said in court documents that federal officials had given 100,000 people three-year reprieves from deportation and granted them work permits under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, which was not halted by Hanen’s injunction. But the 2012 program guidelines provided just two-year deportation reprieves and work permits.

Obama’s new immigration action would expand that to three years, and Justice Department attorneys had previously said federal officials wouldn’t accept requests under an expansion of DACA until Feb. 18.

Some more background on the allegations.

In their advisory, attorneys for the Obama administration said that the change from two to three years “applied not only to individuals eligible for DACA under the newly expanded guidelines, but also (as of November 24, 2014) to individuals already eligible for DACA under the original 2012 guidelines.” Hanen did not halt the 2012 provision.

The White House’s attorneys say they immediately took steps to stop the implementation of the president’s planned executive action after Hanen’s ruling. And they also stopped the three-year grants. But they also conceded that USCIS’s actions caused confusion.

“Defendants nevertheless recognize that their identification of February 18, 2015, as the date by which USCIS planned to accept requests for deferred action under the new and expanded DACA eligibility guidelines, and their identification of March 4, 2015, as the earliest date by which USCIS would make final decisions on such expanded DACA requests, may have led to confusion about when USCIS had begun providing three-year terms of deferred action to individuals already eligible for deferred action under 2012 DACA,” they state.

But they also say they don’t understand why the three-year permits for people who qualified under the original program, which was not stopped, should be revoked.

“The fact that pre-injunction grants of deferred action were issued for increments of three, rather than two, years does not have any present impact on the recipients’ ability to remain in the country and work,” the White House’s attorneys said, according to court documents.

I don’t trust either Ken Paxton or Judge Hanen, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to this. I guess we’ll know more on March 19.

In the meantime, while Judge Hanen considers the Obama Administration’s request to stay his ruling on the injunction, some other parties prepare their own brief to get the injunction lifted for themselves.

In the next few days, approximately a dozen states will call on an appeals court to lift an injunction — imposed by a conservative Texas judge — on President Obama’s executive actions shielding millions from deportation, arguing that they support those actions and see them as being in their economic interest, I’m told.

The move could precipitate an argument among the states over Obama’s policies, and will raise a question: If some states have successfully gotten the courts to block Obama’s actions nationwide, what should happen if other states want those actions to proceed? The bid by these states also could make it more likely that the courts lift the injunction and allow his deportation relief to move forward, at least in some states, while the legal battle over them plays out.

[…]

The Texas judge obviously imposed the injunction nationwide anyway. But the way in which he did so provides an opening for these appealing states: If the basis for the injunction is the harm Obama’s actions allegedly do to Texas and the states on the lawsuit, then what about the appealing states’ claims of harm to them from the injunction? Thus, the latter states will argue that, at a minimum, the 5th Circuit should lift the injunction for them, because they stand to suffer economic harm if the injunction proceeds. They will also argue that Texas is the only state that has demonstrated it will suffer harm, so the injunction nationwide — and on them — is inappropriate.

“Our fallback position is, don’t force us to live under an injunction we don’t want, based on other states’ inaccurate claims that they will suffer,” Noah Purcell, the solicitor general for Washington state, tells me.

This action was foreseen in a Bloomberg News piece from right after the initial ruling. The prospect of California asserting a states’ rights argument against Texas just made my Irony-o-Meter melt down, but it seems to me they have a pretty good case. We’ll see what the Fifth Circuit makes of it. Think Progress, which suggests Judge Hanen is stalling things to delay any appeals to the Fifth Circuit, and Daily Kos have more.

Ending exemptions for vaccines

Hear, hear.

A Texas Republican is taking aim at a provision in state law that allows parents with personal or religious objections to vaccines to opt their children out of school immunization requirements.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, said Friday he will soon propose legislation to eliminate what are called “conscientious exemptions” because of the reemergence of diseases like measles and whooping cough attributed to growing numbers of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children.

“We are just saying, ‘Look, if you are going to send your children to public schools, they need to be vaccinated,'” he said. “We are going to ask that you keep other children safe.”

The measure, which Villalba said he would file next week, comes as several other states are reevaluating their immunization laws as they battle a measles outbreak linked with exposure to an unvaccinated woman in a California amusement park.

Texas is among 20 states that waive school vaccine requirements because of personal beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All but two states — Mississippi and West Virginia — grant exemptions from school immunization requirements on religious grounds.

Under Villalba’s proposal, Texas would not allow an exemption for either of those reasons. Students would still be able to receive medical waivers, which doctors grant in cases where an allergic reaction or a weakened immune system could cause health complications.

As you know, I’m down with this. Texas’ overall rate of getting exemptions isn’t that high, but in some places it is. That’s an outbreak waiting to happen, so I hope the rest of the Lege falls in behind Rep. Villalba’s bill when it is filed. On that score, the Senate may be a challenge.

Even with a measles outbreak dominating headlines, don’t expect an avalanche of immediate support for a high-profile idea to cut down on the ability of Texas parents to opt their children out of school immunization requirements.

Two state Senate committee chairmen told the Houston Chronicle they have hesitations about a bill that state Rep. Jason Villalba said Friday he plans to introduce to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions to the requirements.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who leads the Health and Human Services Committee, said through a spokesman that while he views vaccines as a “critical component of protecting the public health…(he) would prefer to increase education about the safety of these vaccines rather than imposing new mandates that would ask Texas parents to act against their own conscience or their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

The chairman of the Senate education committee, Republican Larry Taylor of Friendswood, offered a more moderate response but noted that in Texas, “there is also a long standing tradition of giving parents the right to make decisions regarding their children’s healthcare.”

“I stand ready to hear parents’ and legislators’ opinions on this very serious issue,” Taylor said.

I hope he’s also ready to hear doctors’ opinions, too. California’s legislature is taking similar action, as are legislatures in several other states. Hopefully, at least one good thing will come out of the Disneyland measles epidemic of 2015.

Hyperloops

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a hyperloop!

Entrepreneur Elon Musk announced Thursday that he wants to build a “test track” for his idea for a futuristic high-speed transportation system called the Hyperloop, adding that Texas is “the leading candidate” to host the track.

Musk’s Hyperloop concept involves transporting passengers via pods in above-ground tubes that move as fast as 800 mph. The system quickly proved to be a polarizing concept when Musk introduced the idea in 2013, with some praising it as visionary and others deriding it as wildly impractical.

“In order to kind of help things along, we’re going to create a Hyperloop test track,” Musk told Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith during an interview at the Texas Transportation Forum, an annual conference hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation. “Something that’s maybe on the order of a five-mile loop.”

Musk’s talk was part of a public relations blitz Thursday in Austin, as the Tesla Motors CEO hopes to persuade the Texas Legislature to allow Tesla to sell cars directly to Texans and circumvent the state’s requirements that cars be sold through dealerships. After his transportation forum interview, he spoke to a crowd of supporters gathered at the Texas Capitol.

During Thursday’s interview, Musk said the facility would be privately funded and not require the kind of incentives that his private space firm, SpaceX, received to develop a test facility in Texas.

“We’re not asking for any money from the state,” Musk said.

The idea for the test facility is apparently in the very early stages as Musk said that “it sounded good last night after a couple of drinks.” He explained that he envisioned the track as allowing for “teams of students” and companies interesting in developing the Hyperloop concept to test out different pod systems.

See this Ars Technica story, which links to and summarizes this overview document of hyperloops from Tesla. The basic idea was to build a better high-speed transportation system between San Francisco and LA, but the Houston/Dallas/San Antonio triangle would work for it as well. Assuming it’s feasible, of course, which Lord only knows. But hey, I wouldn’t mind a test track being built here. From skimming the doc, I suspect that anyone who is currently freaking out over the Texas Central High Speed Railway proposals would also freak out over this. We’re a long way off from that being a practical concern, and who knows, maybe the test track will prove it to be a bust. You have to admit, Elon Musk thinks big. Texas Politics, Dallas Transportation, Ars Technica, The Verge, and Swamplot have more.

Promote equality, promote the economy

It’s a simple enough formula.

RedEquality

When the courts finally declare Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage illegal, which most people think they will, it could mean a boost for the wedding and hospitality industry as 23,200 couples tie the knot, according to a new interactive by the Williams Insititute at UCLA and Credit Suisse.

Whether or not you agree with same-sex marriage, there is money to be made from weddings.

Gay and lesbian Texans are expected to spend $181.6 million on weddings and receptions within three years of same-sex marriage becoming legal, adding $14.8 million in tax revenue and creating 523 jobs, according to an extrapolation of the experience in states where same-sex marriage is already allowed.

My colleague Lauren McGaughy wrote this in October and how 18,700 children in Texas are being raised by same-sex couples.

California saw 51,319 couples marry in the first three years after the ban there was lifted, and they spent $392.3 million dollars. More than 24,000 couples married in New York since it became legal there in 2013, spending $228.6 million and generating $19.4 million in tax revenue for the state.

The study is here if you want a closer look. This subject has come up before, and New York’s relatively early entry in marriage equality business was definitely good for them. Florida is estimated to have about the same economic benefit in store as Texas, so now that same sex marriage is legal there we should look to them for a good approximation of what we’re missing out on. The longer we take to get around to this, the more likely we’ll see a significant portion of this boon going to other states as Texas’ same-sex couple opt for destination wedding rather than wait it out. But hey, if Greg Abbott and the rest of the Texas GOP are happy to send that business off to California or wherever else, I guess that’s just the way it is. Wonkblog has more.

Lawsuit filed against Comcast over residential WiFi hotspots

This ought to be interesting.

Two San Francisco-area residents are suing Comcast for plugging their home’s wireless router into what they call a power-wasting, Internet-clogging, privacy threatening network of public WiFi hot spots.

The class-action lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court on behalf of Toyer Grear and her daughter Joycelyn Harris, claims Comcast is “exploiting them for profit” by using their home’s router as part of a nationwide network of public hot spots.

Comcast turned on the Xfinity WiFi hot spots for its Houston residential customers in June, and at the time a spokesman said 150,000 hot spots would eventually be enabled in the Houston area.

[…]

Although Comcast has said subscribers have the right to disable the secondary signal, the lawsuit claims the company turns the service on without permission and placed “the costs of its national WiFi network onto its customers.”

“Comcast’s contract with its customers is so vague that it is unclear as to whether Comcast even addresses this practice at all, much less adequately enough to be said to have obtained its customers’ authorization of this practice,” the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit quotes a test conducted by Philadelphia networking technology company Speedify that concluded the secondary Internet channel will eventually push “tens of millions of dollars per month of the electricity bills needed to run their nationwide public WiFi network onto consumers.”

Tests showed that under heavy use, the secondary channel adds 30 percent to 40 percent more costs to a customer’s electricity bill, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also said “the data and information on a Comcast customer’s network is at greater risk” because the hot spot network “allows strangers to connect to the Internet through the same wireless router used by Comcast customers.”

The Chron’s Dwight Silverman was all over this when Comcast enabled this in Houston. Like Dwight, who blogged about the lawsuit here, I find the claim about a 30 to 40 percent increase in one’s electric bill to be dubious. That Xfinity router would have to be one hell of a power drain for that to be remotely true. The concern about a possible security breach is valid, though honestly anyone with an old home router, or one that uses default admin information, is at a greater risk. At least those Xfinity modem/routers have a complex password on them. As for the rest of it, we’ll see. I used the Xfinity router for awhile, mostly because when I plugged it in I didn’t realize it would make my existing router useless. (*) After a couple of weeks, I followed Dwight’s advice, bought an Arris Motorola Surfboard SB6141 modem, and had no trouble installing it or getting Comcast to activate it, and I’m back where I was before. Whatever does happen here won’t affect me, but I’ll be interested to see how it plays out, and to see if someone takes similar action here. What do you think?

(*) Once I installed the Comcast Xfinity modem/router, I had to switch nearly all my previously connected devices to it, as they wouldn’t connect to the Internet otherwise. The one exception was my TiVo, whose wireless network card continued to use the IP address it had gotten from my existing router with no problems. My theory was that its IP address was outside the range the Comcast router had allocated. It also continued to work with no intervention after I switched back. Who knows why for sure, but as that was the clunkiest interface to make updates to, I wasn’t complaining.

Texas woman denied driver’s license over same-sex marriage

That’s the headline of this Observer story, and it’s just as infuriating as you think it is.

A woman who recently relocated from California says the Texas Department of Public Safety refused to issue her an accurate driver’s license because her last name was changed through a same-sex marriage.

After Connie Wilson married her partner of nine years in California last year, she took her wife’s last name, Wilson, which now appears on both her California driver’s license and her Social Security card, in addition to all of the couple’s financial and medical records.

This summer, the couple relocated to the Houston area with their three children for work. With her California driver’s license nearing expiration, Wilson took her documents to a DPS office in Katy last week to obtain a Texas driver’s license. When a DPS employee noticed that Wilson’s name didn’t match her birth certificate, she produced the couple’s California marriage license identifying her spouse as Aimee Wilson.

“Her only words to me were, ‘Is this same-[sex]?’” Connie Wilson recalled. “I remember hesitating for probably 10 seconds. I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t want to lie, but I knew I was in trouble because I wasn’t going to be able to get a license.”

Wilson eventually responded that although California doesn’t differentiate, she happened to be married to a woman.
“She immediately told me, ‘You can’t use this to get your license. This doesn’t validate your last name. Do you have anything else?’” Wilson said. “She told me I would never get a license with my current name, that the name doesn’t belong to me.”

Texas has both a state statute and a constitutional amendment prohibiting recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. However, Wilson contends she isn’t asking DPS to recognize her marriage, but rather trying to obtain an accurate driver’s license reflecting her legal name according to the state of California and the U.S. government.

“I’ve been deprived the freedom to drive a vehicle once my current California driver’s license expires,” Wilson said. “I’m further being deprived the freedom to use air travel, make purchases that require a valid photo identification, seek medical attention for myself or my children, as well as other situations that would require proving who I am legally as an individual.”

You can add “the right to vote” to that list, since Wilson’s California driver’s license is not an acceptable form of ID for voting purposes. This is apparently DPS policy. Wilson could seek a court order for her name change, but that costs hundreds of dollars and can take weeks, and why should she have to do that? Her name has already been legally changed, it’s just that Texas mulishly refuses to recognize it. We’re all waiting for the Supreme Court to knock this foolishness down, but every single day that Greg Abbott and the reactionary worldview he’s representing fight this is a day that people like Connie Wilson and her family suffer needless harm. Equality Texas and Sen. Sylvia Garcia are working on Wilson’s behalf in this matter, but this is all so unnecessary. There’s no public policy rationale to justify this. Change cannot come fast enough.

Of course the film industry thinks we need more film incentives

It’s all money to them. Why wouldn’t they think the state should provide more funding for them?

BagOfMoney

A Warner Bros. executive told a panel of Texas lawmakers they would have to pony up more cash for film industry incentives if they wanted to be in the movie business.

“The Texas movie industry incentive program … is not as competitive as many other jurisdictions,” said Warner Bros. Entertainment Vice President Michael Walbrecht. “Increasing the overall budget provided each year would probably draw more large-budget feature films.”

During his remarks before the House Select Committee on Economic Development Incentives, Walbrecht told the panel’s 13 members Texas was doing “just enough” to get some filmmakers to come to the state.

Texas’ programs are far surpassed by much more enticing incentives in states like Louisiana, he added, saying the Lone Star State isn’t even on the list of states feature filmmakers go to as a default.

“Without the incentive, these productions would probably not be able to choose Texas,” Walbrecht said.

The panel is holding a series of meetings before the 2015 session and is charged with looking at the state’s myriad economic development incentive programs, from the “deal-closing” Texas Enterprise Fund to local tax rebates.

Earlier Wednesday, Texas Film Commission Director Heather Page said the amount of money available through the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program is a moving target, but currently sits around $32 million. The program’s return on investment to date stands at 658 percent, she added.

Boy, I’d love to see the accounting on that. We know how accurate Hollywood accounting can be. Speaking of which, the state of California is boosting its film credit program to $400 million per year, with fewer constraints. We can’t let ourselves get beaten by California, can we? My opinion on this hasn’t changed much in recent years. If we’re going to throw money at movie studios to try to “incentivize” them to do their filming here, we should at least be honest about it.

Another look at Perry’s slush fund

Like everything with Rick Perry, there’s less to it than meets the eye.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Even corndogs don’t taste better than corporate subsidies

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has distributed $205 million in taxpayer money to scores of technology startups using a pet program designed to bring high-paying jobs and innovation to the nation’s second most-populous state.

But a closer look at the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, one of Perry’s signature initiatives in his 14 years as governor, reveals that some of the businesses that received money are not all they seem. One actually operates in California. Some have stagnated trying to find more capital. Others have listed out-of-state employees and short-term hires as being among the jobs they created.

A few have forfeited their right to do business in Texas by not filing tax reports.

An Associated Press review of the program found that some of the same companies credited with creating a share of the program’s 1,600 new jobs have actually stalled and in some cases blamed Perry’s office for their struggles.

[…]

The tech fund works like this: In exchange for money, startups give the state an equity position in their businesses. If the companies are successful, the state recoups its investment or even makes a profit. If they go bankrupt or shut down – and at least 16 have so far – the dollars are lost.

Those failures represent only a fraction of the fund’s full portfolio of more than 130 companies, some of which are clearly thriving. Venture capital funds are risky by nature and often endure losses. About 1 in 4 venture-backed startups fail, according to industry groups. Some studies put the rate of flops much higher.

But questionable job-creation figures and undisclosed business struggles in the fund’s annual report heap fresh doubts about transparency onto the fund, which has long been criticized as too opaque, including in a scathing 2011 report by state auditors.

Julia Sass Rubin, a venture capital expert at Rutgers University who studies economic development, said the lack of transparency runs counter to the private sector, where investors get more detailed information about performance.

“If this were a traditional venture capital fund, this would never fly,” Rubin said.

Funny how the private sector is so much better at doing everything, except giving money to the private sector. The lack of transparency with the Emerging Technology Fund, as well as the Texas Enterprise Fund, is a feature, not a bug.

Targazyme Inc. is one example of a problematic startup. On paper, the San Antonio-based startup is developing stem-cell breakthroughs with 14 employees and the help of $1.25 million in state funds. But the rural address listed for its Texas headquarters is actually a weedy horse pasture. During a recent visit by a reporter, the ex-husband of the CEO was warning his guest to watch for rattlesnakes.

Targazyme founder Lynnet Koh said her company is moving forward but that she left Texas because Perry’s office withheld additional funding, a complaint echoed by other recipients. She now lives in California and said many of the jobs created by the company were short-term hires outside Texas, none of which is mentioned in the fund’s 2013 annual report.

“If you ask me on a scale of 1-to-10 satisfaction with the state, I give it a zero,” Koh said. “Never, ever. Not for any money in the world would I do business with ETF.”

So I guess these are some jobs Rick Perry didn’t manage to steal from California, despite his best efforts. It’s like noting makes any sense anymore. Scott Braddock has more on a tangential subject.