Tag: texas

Greg Abbott: Not A Leader, Kinda Useless

It’s upsetting that the Governor has to involve himself in H.E.R.O., repeating the same dishonest “bathroom” canard as the antis on Twitter.

But I think it’s even more upsetting that the only thing that Greg Abbott seems to do these days is to be led around by a bunch of tin-pot Teabagging wingnuts.

Greg Abbott is a guy whose signature achievement since taking office is to boldly explore new ways to engage in “me too”-ism. He’s the worst kind of demagogue — the kind with no original ideas or voice of his own.

Whether it be charging into the “sanctuary cities” debate without doing his homework, mindlessly following the anti-Planned Parenthood lynch mob, senselessly pandering to paranoid cranks over Jade Helm 15, killing mental health legislation to appease Scientologists, or steadfastly refusing to help Texas hospitals by accepting free money, it is clear that Greg Abbott will do literally anything to suck-up to the crazy conspiracy theorists and other wackadoos.

One expects – in a partisan, ideological society – that our elected officials will be partisan and ideological. But one also expects that they will, from time-to-time, break out of that mold and actually lead.

I honestly cannot think of a single time, since his swearing-in as governor, that Greg Abbott has even attempted to do that. His entire tenure seems to be driven by a fear of the far-right; whereas at one point perhaps he hoped to be its master, it seems that he has become its slave.

He might as well just quit and hand the reins over to Ted Nugent, Rafael Cruz, Steve Hotze and Alex Jones. At least that way we taxpayers could save money by not paying him.

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I went to Planned Parenthood once for an STD test.

They turned me into a newt…

…I got better!

The Austin-American Statesman:

Texas is gearing up for a full-fledged witch hunt.

The target is women’s health provider Planned Parenthood, and it is clear that lawmakers and state officials will not stop until the 94-year-old nonprofit is completely dismantled in Texas.

Last week ended with Planned Parenthood being put on notice that the state intended to strip the nonprofit of its ability to receive Medicaid reimbursement for health services, alleging that Planned Parenthood had “committed and condoned numerous acts of misconduct captured on video.”

Interestingly, the state has not yet produced any evidence to support its allegation that laws or policies were broken aside from the heavily edited videos taped in secret and released by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress. The controversial fetal tissue program that has dominated the national headlines doesn’t even exist in Texas.

Even so, three days later, state health officials raided three Planned Parenthood offices and subpoenaed the group for thousands of documents, including detailed patient records.

Let me underscore this important fact.

Planned Parenthood’s Texas affiliates are not even engaged in the fetal donation program that was deemed scandalous by the con-artists at the CMP. And even if they were, that is not illegal or unethical.

Meanwhile, our benevolent federal overlords are not pleased with these recent reactionary shenanigans:

The Obama administration has warned state officials that pushing Planned Parenthood out of the state’s Medicaid program could put Texas at odds with federal law.

Officials with the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services contacted the state Medicaid director on Tuesday to give notice that removing Planned Parenthood from the program “may be in conflict with federal law” because poor women who obtain family planning services through Medicaid would be limited from receiving health care from the qualified provider of their choice.

“Longstanding Medicaid law prohibits states from restricting individuals with Medicaid coverage from receiving their care from any qualified provider,” a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services representative said in a statement. “Every year, millions of women benefit from critical preventive services, such as cancer screenings, that Planned Parenthood provides. State efforts to restrict women from using qualified providers puts these important health care services at risk.”

On a similar note… remember how the U.S. Army totally did not invade Texas and impose Kenyan muslim socialist atheist martial law?

Yeah. About that.

Thanks a lot for nothing, Obama.

The New Normal?

As we recover from a rain-soaked weekend here in Austin, it’s worth noting how remarkable the preceding 150 days (give or take) of mini-drought have been, as well as the major floods that have book-ended it.

In an average year in Austin, we’d expect about 6.6 inches of rain in July, August and September. It’s undoubtedly a dry part of the year, but this year was extraordinary: The entire month of rain got only a trace amount of rain, and August and September together were slightly over 2 inches.

Note, that we are actually likely to finish about 20 inches above normal for the entire year due to a wet winter, spring and fall. So this year’s summer drought sticks out like a sore thumb. Note that the state was basically drought-free in May; by October 20th, this is what the state drought map looked like (darker colors = more extreme drought).

20151020_tx_none

For those of us suffering through the bone-dry heat of this year’s Texas summer, it was of course no surprise when wildfires broke out, again, in Bastrop County, just to our southeast.

The Texas Observer takes note of this, and argues that this is representative of the “new normal” of extreme summer drought in Central Texas, thanks to climate change:

Experts say wildfires in Bastrop County are happening with greater frequency and intensity — a troubling trend for an area that’s grown more than 30 percent since 2000. A combination of factors is at work, they say. Rising temperatures and worsening drought — effects of climate change — are exacerbating natural conditions that make Texas prone to wildfires.

Making matters worse is population growth among the pines. Not only does more people mean more lives and property at risk; it also means that fire prevention and mitigation becomes more challenging. The task of removing excess brush, grass and trees — the fuel for wildfires — falls in large part to increasing number of individual landowners, requiring a tremendous amount of coordination and expense.

According to the Texas Forest Service, only one fire burned more than 5,000 acres from 1985 to 2000. But in the last 15 years, Texas has seen fires of that size almost every year. In 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011, there were 10 or more fires that damaged more than 5,000 acres.

“We see our rainfall patterns shifting and increasing risk of higher temperatures, which exacerbate our already frequent dry conditions,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, wrote in an email to the Observer. “Texas has always been vulnerable to wildfires. With our rapidly expanding population, and our changing climate, the risks posed by wildfire are not going away any time soon.”

Fire has always been a natural hazard in Texas, but an apparent increase in extreme dry periods followed by extreme wet periods has exacerbated the problem. Wet growing seasons fuel lots of plant growth and then drought kills off the vegetation.

“There’s no checks and balances,” said Justice Jones, manager of the Wildlife Fire Mitigation division of the Austin Fire Department. “Fuel grows, it dies, and it waits for the wildfire season.”

In 2011, the state’s worst single-year drought contributed to the Bastrop County Complex Fire. This year, a wet spring and early summer was followed by a very dry spell that plunged the Bastrop area into a severe drought, said state climatologist John Nielson-Gammon. For the past 110 days, Smithville has had just 1.19 inches of rain, eight times less than the average amount  and the lowest ever recorded for that time period.

I hope to buy a home in the near future, and I am seriously considering moving to Bastrop County because it is close to Austin without being “too close” to urban blight. However, the increasing wildfire threat is already playing havoc on property values and insurance rates:

According to a KXAN Investigates analysis of Bastrop Central Appraisal District records, property market values dropped by nearly 35 percent in the fire area between 2011 and 2012. By 2015, the values had improved, but were still below 2011 levels by about four percent.

Majors fires can also impact other areas, such as insurance.

“You can’t have a catastrophe like you had in Bastrop where you had $400 million in losses and 1,600 homes destroyed with it not having some effect on homeowner insurance rates, specifically in Bastrop County,” said Mark Hanna, a spokesperson for the Insurance Council of Texas.

To add insult to injury, the rains this weekend (which might finally put out the drought) caused flooding that is already expected to cost billions of dollars.

UIL Goes Full Derp on Transgender Student Athletes

The University Interscholastic League, the body that regulates high school athletics in Texas public schools, has proposed a new rule that might have the effect of banning transgender student athletes, if approved by district superintendents.

The Texas Standard had an interview this morning with Kiah Collier, who raised the issue in the Texas Tribune:

The governing body for Texas high school sports decided Monday to ask superintendents to determine whether to formalize a policy that uses student-athletes’ birth certificates to determine their gender.

Such a policy already is informally used by the body, the University Interscholastic League, or UIL, whose 32-member legislative council on Monday passed on an opportunity to vote on the proposed rule. Instead, the council decided to send it to the superintendents of member districts — with a recommendation that they approve it.

Critics say the policy effectively bars transgender students from playing sports.

The move comes amid increased focus nationwide on transgender issues. In Texas, residents of the state’s largest city are preparing to vote Nov. 3 on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which would ban discrimination based on characteristics including gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, race, color, age, pregnancy and religion.

Notwithstanding the probable harm to students themselves, this policy looks like a lawsuit waiting to happen, based on recent cases and guidance related to federal Title IX:

While a UIL spokeswoman told the Texas Tribune the rule has been informally applied in the past, Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy manager for Resource Center, said it looks problematic.

“On the surface this appears to go against the Department of Education’s application that gender identity is protected under sex discrimination Title IX,” he said.

Title IX is the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in any federally funded education program. In 2014, the Department of Education extended the protections to transgender students.

Many states have passed laws allowing transgender student-athletes to play sports based on their identity.

As a graduate of the Texas public school system, I can say that UIL has often done silly things that waste people’s time and taxes patience. But I can’t say they’ve earnestly tried to get school districts sued.

Karma Report: MediFail Edition

Not sure this qualifies as “cosmic irony” so much as chickens coming home to roost:

A new Kaiser Family Foundation report released last week suggests that the Republican-controlled non-expansion states are seeing their share of Medicaid costs rise more sharply than expansion states.

The trend undercuts a popular argument against the Medicaid expansion in states where Republican leaders continue to resist opting into the program, under which the federal government pays 100 percent of costs through 2016 and at least 90 percent share after.

Looking over the Kaiser report, it looks like a big part of this is the fact that expansion states are getting an increase in enrollees (even without relaxing eligibility standards), and these new costs are only being matched at something like 58 percent.

More on the birth certificate case

Judge Pitman denied the request for a temporary injunction in the birth certificate caseSerna v. Texas Department of State Health Services.

This isn’t the end of the case; Judge Pitman’s order simply means that he feels that both sides have raised important points and wants to hold a full trial before forcing the State to accept a matricula consular as proof of parental identity.

The Judge’s concerns mostly revolve around whether the plaintiffs will be able to meet the burden of the strict scrutiny test, particularly whether the state’s policy is narrowly-tailored enough to avoid infringing upon the plaintiffs’ rights.

I have a suspicion that in the long run, the State will probably lose this battle; developing a full trial record may also prevent the more-political Fifth Circuit from overturning Judge Pitman’s final decision. Nevertheless, as the Washington Post editorialized earlier this month, the status quo is unacceptable:

Texas’s position subjects children and their parents to a Kafkaesque hall of mirrors. Officially, the state acknowledges that the children are U.S. citizens. It says their birth certificates are in the state’s database. But without issuing those certificates, it leaves certain immigrants unable to prove that they are their children’s parents and children unable to prove that they exist in any official capacity. That’s not governance; it’s harassment and oppression.

This case also begs the question, whether the security model used to protect birth certificates and other vital records, is suitable. The extent to which government documents are “secure” and fraud-resistant is a matter of degree; with the proper motivation and resources, pretty much any identification document can be forged.

The Texas Observer on Meet-And-Plead

This is an issue that is near-and-dear to my heart. For a couple of years I did indigent misdemeanor defense in Galveston County. I always found jail docket to be dispiriting, for this exact reason — people with winnable cases would plead guilty just to get out of jail, even when I warned them.

I never did any work in Harris County, but this article makes me think that might have been a blessing in disguise:

No matter how a lawyer gets so many cases, he or she better work them fast. And the fastest way to clear a case is for the defendant to plead guilty.

And plead they do. The indigent defense caseload study found that appointed attorneys had strong incentives to pressure their clients to accept plea deals regardless of actual guilt. “High caseloads contribute to a ‘meet and plead’ system that can result in serious incidents of attorney error,” it notes.

Last year, defendants in 57 percent of Harris County’s 69,000 trial-level misdemeanor cases pleaded guilty, as did almost half of the 40,000 felony defendants.

In some cases, appointed attorneys have more than incentive to urge their clients to plead. They also have leverage: jail.

“The way it’ll work is, the [appointed] lawyer will talk to the [district attorney], the DA will tell them, ‘This is what the offer is,’ and they’ll go back and convey this offer to the defendant,” Fickman says. “It almost always boils to this: that they’re offering you X, which means if you plead guilty you’ll get out of jail in so many days. Or we can reset [delay] your case, if you want to fight it, and you’ll end up spending more days in jail. It’s a hostage choice — it’s not a choice at all. These are poor people who need to get back out and try to feed their families. So what do they do? They plead guilty. They’re not pleading because they’re necessarily guilty but because they’re getting their liberty. The horror, the horrible irony of this system, is that people are pleading guilty just to get their liberty. And it goes on every fucking day.”

If Texas ever does the just and right thing — to wit, establishing a functional public defender system — I may consider asking the State Bar to become “active” again.

Karma Report: #CocksNotGlocks Edition

The alma mater continues its sacred mission of Keeping Austin Weird:

Students at the University Of Texas at Austin are planning to protest a new law that permits the concealed carry of handguns on campus — with dildos.

The “campus carry” law passed by the Texas legislature and signed by the Governor in June, requires UT Austin and the other campuses in the UT system to allow students to carry guns on campus. It gives the schools some discretion on how to implement the law.

The protest is designed to draw attention to the fact that carrying a dildo to class could be “prohibited expression” under university rules. The rules prohibit “any writing or visual image, or engage in any public performance, that is obscene.”

“You’re carrying a gun to class? Yeah well I’m carrying a HUGE DILDO. Just about as effective at protecting us from sociopathic shooters, but much safer for recreational play,” the organizer, Jessica Jin, wrote.

It’s entirely reasonable for 40 Acres denizens to question and criticize the new campus-carry law; the University of Texas was the site of one of the first sensational school shootings in 1966. During freshman orientation ca. 2000, our guide made sure to point out the bullet holes in George Washington’s statue.

Nevertheless, the campus freak-out about concealed carry is not entirely beyond criticism itself. No, not the obnoxious, misogynistic remarks being made by Internet bros. Rather, the more fundamental question being raised by The Daily Texan’s Alex Arevaloto wit, where the hell were you guys when it might have made a difference?

Over 5,000 supporters, including more than 390 faculty members, have signed a petition to oppose guns in campus classrooms, dorms and offices. Gun-Free UT, the group that started the petition, formed shortly after the passing of SB11 and has been actively seeking to repeal the law by speaking out at public forums and organizing rallies.
While its concerns are understandable, Gun-Free UT bypassed pivotal stages in the legislative process that could have been capitalized on. The first mistake was creating the petition well after the bill had been signed into law. The second was intensifying uproar only when the legislation became a reality, instead of just a proposal.
At this point, opponents must work twice as hard to repeal a law which the legislature gave the green light. Opponents of the law should have participated at the same rate as gun advocates, and as early on.
The first public hearing concerning the bill was held in February, one week after Gov. Greg Abbott went on record saying the bill would probably pass. A month later, the state Senate approved campus carry, and three months after that, the bill was signed into law.
Throughout this time gun advocates have been attending press hearings and staging rallies at the State Capitol. In contrast, the anti-campus carry petition only came into existence in the last couple of weeks, according to Bryan Jones, a government professor and Gun-Free UT spokesperson.

To be sure, even huge protests by pro-choice students failed to put a dent into the odious anti-abortion bill SB5. The Lege has been ignoring students with regard to tuition increases for years. The Lege also seems to have gone out of its way to ignore and marginalize gun control advocates this year.

But you know what? If you don’t vote, you get the Legislature you (don’t) vote for.

How many of the Gun-Free UT students actually showed up to vote last November? We know that statewide turnout was an abysmal 33.6 percent. In Precinct 208 (on the UT campus), turnout last year was a miserable 22 percent (49 percent during the 2012 presidential election). According to exit polls, 18-29 years old made up a paltry 14 percent of the Texas electorate last year (by comparison: it was about 18 percent in 2008).

To be sure, our Voter ID law unfairly excludes student IDs as a form of identification. But I seriously doubt this was the main reason for low participation.

Moreover, Arevalo notes that at this point, the right argument probably needs to be how to implement SB11 in a way that makes sense, rather than taking a maximalist anti-gun approach:

While it’s admirable to stand up for one’s convictions, at the point in which legislation turned into law, the opposition should have formed a different argument. The rhetoric should switch from banning guns on campus in their entirety to advocating for stricter regulations in campus carry’s enforcement.

I think this is probably true. Hopefully, the UT administration will take a pragmatic approach with regard to gun lockers, gun-free zones, etc.

On the one hand, it is good to see fervent support for gun regulation. However, one wonders if this approach is going to generate more heat than light. Moving forward, I hope that Gun-Free UT is able to build and maintain an organization that will actually grab the Lege’s attention, rather than simply grabbing headlines.

Horns Rally, Beat OU, I’ll Shut Up Now

This is what Texas Football looks like when it’s running on all four cylinders:

No. 10 Oklahoma was favored by as many as 17 points against Texas. The Longhorns were 1-4 and full of drama after losing by 43 points to a banged-up TCU the week prior. The unbeaten Sooners ranked No. 1 in the country according to a collection of ratings and the author you’re reading.

None of that mattered. Texas rarely appeared to be the younger or more turmoil-y team in a 24-17 victory, with Charlie Strong crowdsurfing at midfield. The Horns went up by 14 immediately, thanks only in part to OU’s offensive line tipping off play calls. The challenged Longhorn offense spread the ball around in its own way, with quarterbacks Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes splitting 26 carries and committing no major blunders, and the Texas defense had its most impressive day since at least 2014.

I have to admit, my expectations were so low I slept through the game, preferring an all-night binge of World of Warships.