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June, 2012:

Saturday video break: Ring of Fire

Song #62 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Ring of Fire”, originally by Anita Carter and covered by Social Distortion. Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking “But that’s a Johnny Cash song!” Listen to the intro here, which I think must have been recorded from a radio show, for the story.

So there you have it. The Man In Black may own the song, but his sister-in-law-to-be put a pretty indelible stamp on it as well. Here’s Social Distortion:

That’s a long way from Anita Carter, but it sure does work. What do you think?

(Meant to run this last week but just forgot to schedule it. Sorry about that.)

Former DeLay aide Ellis pleads guilty

This was out of the blue.

Who's next?

Tom DeLay’s chief political aide, Jim Ellis, pleaded guilty Thursday to a felony charge of making an illegal campaign contribution during the 2002 election.

Ellis, who headed DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority political action committee, was the aide who negotiated an exchange of $190,000 of corporate money for campaign contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature, according to testimony in DeLay’s 2010 trial.

Ellis received a four-year probation and was fined $10,000 on a charge that he made a contribution of corporate money to a political party within 60 days of an election.


Under the terms of Ellis’ plea, the adjudication of the third-degree felony charge is deferred, meaning a final conviction won’t be reflected on his record if he successfully completes probation.

Ellis also cannot work for a political action committee in any capacity in which he handles or solicits corporate political contributions. There will be no travel restrictions for Ellis, who lives in Virginia.

Ellis also agreed to testify in any future legal proceedings. Charges are pending against Ellis’ co-defendant, John Colyandro of Austin, who is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 8. Colyandro was executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, the political committee that DeLay chaired.

In exchange for Ellis’ plea, prosecutors dismissed conspiracy and money-laundering charges.

Prosecutors also agreed to cut Ellis a break in the event the state law is eventually overturned in court, which after the most recent “Citizens United” ruling you have to think is a live possibility. I must say, after all this time I did not expect someone to cop a plea, even though I have always believed that the case against Ellis and Colyandro was stronger than the one against DeLay himself. The most recent development in this case before now was last year when Judge Pat Priest recused himself after urging Ellis and Colyandro to consider accepting pleas. Funny how these things work, isn’t it?

Speaking of DeLay and recusals, we now have a pinch hitter for the Third Court of Appeals.

A San Antonio district judge was temporarily appointed to the 3rd Court of Appeals on Wednesday to help determine whether Justice Diane Henson, a Democrat, should be recused from considering Tom DeLay’s money-laundering case.

Under state appellate rules, when judges decline to recuse themselves — as Henson has done — the matter goes before the entire court to decide by a majority vote.

But three Republicans on the six-judge court have already recused themselves from hearing DeLay’s appeal, giving no reason for their removal. And the rules do not allow Henson to vote on the request.

Needing a third judge to decide DeLay’s motion to recuse, Woodie Jones, chief justice of the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, last week asked the Texas Supreme Court to name a temporary panel member.

Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson responded Wednesday by appointing San Antonio District Judge David Berchelmann Jr. to the appeals court “for as long as may be necessary to hear and rule on the motion.”

DeLay’s lawyers have said that “anti-Republican remarks” made by Henson at a state Democratic Party convention in 2006 raised questions about her impartiality.

See here and here for some background. Judge Berchelmann is there to help decide whether or not Judge Henson can hear the appeal of DeLay’s conviction. If she is removed for the appeal, a substitute will have to be named for her, since there are no more un-tainted judges on the Third Court any more. By the way, if the name “David Bedrchelmann” sounds familiar to you, it’s because he was the judge in the Sharon Keller case. That case was a mess in more ways than one, and I can’t say I was impressed by Judge Berchelmann’s performance. That’s water under the bridge now, so we’ll see what happens here.

No Dome action yet

It’s still there. Beyond that, nothing to report.

This would be cheaper to renovate

Harris County officials put off any final decision on the fate of the Astrodome on Tuesday, though the top executive suggested a new option for the deteriorating stadium.

County Judge Ed Emmett said during the capital projects meeting that commissioners will continue to review four options for the vacant facility outlined in a consultants’ report that was presented to the county’s sports and convention corporation last month.

The consultants recommended turning the stadium into a multipurpose facility at a cost of about $270 million. The consultants also pushed for a 10,000-seat arena to replace the small and seldom-used Reliant Arena, which is across a parking lot from the dome. That project would cost about $385 million.

Sports and convention corporation chairman Edgar Colon said “the door is open” for other options. Emmett asked Colon directly why the arena could not be incorporated into the actual dome.

“We have a lot of people who do want to keep the Astrodome,” Emmett said. “We have some people who want to tear down the Astrodome. But in replacing the arena, I think the question that everybody is going to have to answer, and clearly not this morning, is why would you tear down the Astrodome and then build something completely new, versus converting the Astrodome into the replacement of the arena.”

Colon said the option of building a new arena within the Astrodome would be explored. He estimated such a project would cost about $400 million, a number that is, in his words, “very preliminary.”

“We’re considering any and all ideas that people send us,” Colon said.

Colon told the commissioners that the second option is demolishing the dome and building an environmentally friendly outdoor plaza in its footprint, which is the cheapest consultant suggestion at about $65 million.

“We have received a lot of feedback, a lot of it very positive,” Colon said. “Good constructive criticism on how to improve the report.”

See here and here for some background on this latest What To Do With The Dome report. I still don’t think these guys have hit upon anything that is both fiscally and politically desirable. I predict the most likely outcome at this point is yet another What To Do With The Dome report in a year or two. Campos and Nancy Sims have more.

Local action on payday lending

Patricia Kilday Hart reports on a promising movement.

Where payday lending comes from

No one was particularly surprised a year ago when the Texas Legislature failed – once again – to pass meaningful regulation of the payday and auto title loan industries. After all, the folks who charge triple digit interest on loans to society’s most desperately poor had invested $3.9 million on a persuasive lobby team to protect business as usual. But the coalition of consumer advocates hoping to de-fang the loan sharks – which included a wide swath of Texas churches – didn’t sit around and sulk.

Instead, the Texas Fair Lending Alliance, teaming up with the interdenominational Texas Faith for Fair Lending, found a way around the Austin lobby juggernaut. Taking a cue from the political axiom that “all politics is local,” they made their case to city councils in Austin and Dallas, which recently passed ordinances protecting their residents from open-ended loans with escalating fees and interest. This week, a San Antonio City Council committee took up the issue. Could Houston be far behind?

Like San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, poor neighborhoods in Houston have little access to banking, leaving a vacuum that the payday lenders have exploited. And really, is there any other word that better describes this business than “exploit?” When debtors can’t pay off their entire loan, they must pay stiff “rollover” fees plus interest. Imagine a family making $200 payments every two weeks for four months – shelling out $1,800 – without making a dent in their principal loan of $700.

That family is not imaginary, but the reason one San Antonio pastor became politically active. As I wrote last year, the family sought financial assistance from the Rev. Chad R. Chaddick’s church. Chaddick came to realize that lots of families obtaining financial assistance from churches were simply handing the cash over to lenders, in many cases, to keep their cars from being repossessed. “Eye-opening,” was how the polite minister described the situation.

Here’s more information about that San Antonio ordinance, which was proposed by City Council member Diego Bernal:

The proposed ordinance would be stronger than a law passed by the Legislature in 2011. That law requires payday lenders to post a fee schedule and submit to state regulation.

Payday lending is banned in at least a dozen states, and others limit loan amounts. In Texas, there’s a cap of 10 percent on annual interest rates, but Bernal said companies have found a loophole by calling themselves “credit-repair agencies,” which aren’t subject to the same limit.

Bernal’s plan has several elements, including limiting payday loans to 20 percent of the borrower’s gross monthly income and limiting auto title loans to the lesser of 3 percent of the borrower’s gross annual income or 70 percent of the vehicle value. He also seeks to require that the loans be limited to no more than four installments or three rollovers or renewals and that the proceeds from each installment or renewal reduce the loan principal by 25 percent.

Now, payday lenders can continually collect interest and fees from customers who can’t pay down the principal.

“You can put yourself into debt in perpetuity,” Bernal said. “And this (proposal) limits that.”

Seems reasonable to me. By the way, here’s how you can tell that the state law that was passed last year – which was still better than nothing, though not nearly as good as it should have been – is going to be inadequate. According to this Express News editorial in favor of Bernal’s proposal, Rick Perry appointed William White, the former head of payday lending giant Cash America, to head the Texas Finance Commission, which is the agency responsible for regulating payday lenders. Remember how well it worked out when Perry appointed one of Bob Perry’s top executives to head the agency that would regulate home builders? It’s like that.

See here and here for more on Bernals’ proposed ordinance, and see the Observer for more on the Texas Fair Lending Alliance. The Alliance released a poll showing broad support for further regulations and limits on payday lending – here’s the press release and the polling memo. Austin and Dallas have already taken some action, both via zoning laws and via similar legislation to Bernal’s. The payday lenders have threatened to sue, but the good guys feel like they’re on solid legal ground. I hope Houston gets in the game soon as well. I share Bernal’s feelings on the matter, as expressed in that last Express News link, a column by Brian Chasnoff:

On Wednesday, after City Council members agreed to draft an ordinance to address the problem locally, Tim Von Kennel explained why the industry opposes Bernal’s efforts.

“We need to have regulation,” said Von Kennel, executive director for Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, an association of payday lenders. “And we’re advocating state regulation over municipal ordinances.”

I’ve already outlined what “state regulation” looks like at the Capitol, where money seeps into cracks and distorts laws.

As for why Von Kennel is averse to “municipal ordinances,” Bernal’s reaction to the circling sharks is enlightening.

I asked the councilman how he responds to lobbyists’ entreaties to consider the perspective of payday lenders.

“How do I say this?” Bernal responded.

He paused for a few seconds, presumably to craft a politic answer.

“I sort of tell them,” he said, “to go (expletive) themselves.”

You’re my kind of guy, CM Bernal. For a non-exploitative alternative to payday lending, see The Slacktivist.

Friday random ten: Hurricane season

We are officially in hurricane season now, and though Texas missed out on TS Debby, we know there’s more to come. So here are ten storm songs to get you through.

1. Full Force Gale – Van Morrison
2. Ready For The Storm – Gordian Knot
3. Ill Wind – Lonette McKee
4. Stormy Weather – Julie Murphy
5. Hurricane Season – Trombone Shorty
6. And The Rain Crashed Down – Eddie From Ohio
7. Texas Flood – Stevie Ray Vaughan
8. Who’ll Stop The Rain – Creedence Clearwater Revival
9. Let The Wind Blow – Beach Boys
10. Storm Front – Billy Joel

No, I don’t have “Riding The Storm Out” or “Rock You Like A Hurricane” in my collection. Just assume they’re appropriate for any storm-related purpose. What do you listen to when it’s time to hunker down?

Erica Lee: How to Keep a First Grader Off Death Row

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Erica Lee

It is the beginning of the school year and excitement is in the air. Children are looking for their classmates in the hall. Parents are tucking in shoelaces and zipping backpacks. Teachers are taking one last look at the classrooms and organizing their supplies. Finally, students enter a wonderful first grade teacher’s classroom with pep in their step. The smiles are bright and everyone is filled with anticipation for another school year, an opportunity for excellence, a chance to help a child reach his or her full potential. As the first grade teacher begins to call the roll, and each child nods, raises a hand or answers, one question should be on the mind of school board members, community advocates, voters and even parents: How do we keep these first graders off Death Row?

Typically, when educational achievement is discussed, it becomes a dialogue about numbers, passing tests (See recent STAAR results), graduation rates (Black/Latino achievement gap) and college preparedness (College readiness data). Our leaders often speak of the positive academic goals we are trying to achieve in our education system; however, it seems like these statements fall on deaf ears or at least dispassionate ones. I believe adults/voters would put more energy into fixing education if they thought about the negative outcomes and costs to society that they personally wanted to avoid. It is a human nature to be more concerned about yourself than about a child you have never met. So, why don’t we speak about providing quality education as something that can prevent bad things from happening to good people — the good person being you, of course. It’s kind of like how brushing your teeth regularly can prevent tooth decay, or at least smelly breath for people in close proximity. For our children, the negative consequences for a failed education system include illiteracy, juvenile delinquency, under-employment, unemployment, drugs, felonies, and in the worst case scenario ending up on Death Row. These affect you whether or not you have children because Texas spends more money to lock someone up than it does to properly educate a child – $8,562 per pupil for education versus $18,031 per prisoner – and that’s in addition to police enforcement, SNAP, Medicaid, the war on drugs, lost taxes and lost lives.

You see the thing is there is a profile for the life history of many of the people who end up on Death Row or life without parole and much of that history starts in early childhood. The answer may be easier than we think. Attorney David Dow, who has defended over 100 Death Row in Texas over the past 20 years, describes the common background of his clients:

“Over 80% of the people on death row came from the same sort of families, had the same background, exposure to the juvenile justice system and were under-educated…the best possible version for their story would be a story where no murder ever occurs (paraphrase).”

Dr. Dow asks the question, “How can we intervene in the life of a murderer before he or she becomes a murder?” I ask you the same question rephrased as “how do we keep a first grader off Death Row?”

It is my belief that just like any challenge if we know the root causes then we are foolish to not attack it with all of our effort. For most major illnesses, researchers typically want to find the root cause and prevent the disease from ever developing. The prevention strategy is known to be more effective for long-term survival and often even more equitable. While we know many of the root causes that lead to poor academic achievement, slow language development, diet, poverty, family education attainment, access to books and experiences, for some reason we choose not to attack those with our best vaccine. We choose not to invest all we can in a child’s early years even when we know it will pay multiple dividends for decades to come. For some reason, it is easy to ignore those bright-eyed hopeful young children be they toddlers or first graders. While adults will readily form neighborhood watches, pay for alarm systems and attend community meetings on how to reduce crime, we rarely invest the same time and attention to the prospect of investing in our children.

So, how do we keep a first grader off of Death Row? We must invest early and often in their social, emotional and academic development In a state where only 14% of our 3 year-olds are enrolled in pre-k or Head Start (Children’s Defense Fund) and over 25.7% are in poverty, we must find ways to support early childhood education that help our children build a strong foundation. During my time as a first grade teacher, I noticed a distinct difference in the cognitive development between those children who received early childhood education and those who had not. The children who had attended such programs often had a wider vocabulary and grasped concepts at a faster pace. And, once the gap of development and knowledge begins then it becomes ever harder for a child to catch up. And, if they never catch-up with their peers (now global) then in the worst case scenario, someone is murdered and that child ends up on Death Row.

Maybe, if we thought about quality education and investment in our children as a matter of life and death we would not have stood more than $5 Billion in education cuts during the 82nd Texas Legislative Session. Maybe, if we truly believed in education, we would occupy our school buildings and board meetings to ensure that all children were given the opportunity to learn. Education is a matter of life and death—better health, economic and family outcomes increase almost lockstep with the level of education attained. It is not just about keeping an innocent child from eventually ending up on Death Row; but, it is about the community that we envision where the American Dream still lives.

Mathematically, scientifically, and fundamentally, it makes sense to work on prevention rather than the treatment after the disease of poor academic achievement has taken hold. But psychologically, our society seems to spurn prevention for bigger, more costly solutions. I am encouraging you to fight to prevent poor academic outcomes; we must turn the tide against stop gap solutions in our education system. Support candidates and organizations that will work to invest early and often in to the education of our children. Lend your voice, vote and effort to this cause; because, in a country that imprisons more than 2.3 million people and holds 25% of the world’s prisoners (leading all nations), our investment in our children, will determine whether we produce children of infinite destiny or more prospects for Death Row.

Erica S. Lee, MPP, is a candidate for the Harris County Board of Education, Pos. 6, Pct. 1. Connect with Erica at or

Council adopts strip club fee

Here it comes.

Seeking a solution to the bedeviling problem of untested rape evidence that is in some cases decades old, council imposed a $5-per-customer fee on strip clubs Wednesday so it can buy speedier lab work.

That simple solution, however, may come with complications of its own, starting with court costs.

“Houston has now bought itself the certainty of ongoing litigation,” said Los Angeles-based attorney John Weston, who represents the Association of Club Executives of Houston. Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said she believes the city is on solid ground because the Houston ordinance she championed is based on a $5-per-customer statewide fee she authored as a state representative. That fee was upheld by the Texas Supreme Court last year.


Cohen has said the Houston fee would raise $1 million to $3 million a year for rape evidence testing.

Collections in Houston will depend, in part, on who has to pay. Cohen estimated that about 30 clubs would be covered by her ordinance. The state has collected from 20 clubs in the city. A local attorney for the clubs said only a handful fit the city’s definition of a sexually-oriented business, while an additional 50 clubs’ entertainers wear just enough clothing to skirt the classification.

In the end, Cohen sold the ordinance to her colleagues as she declared, “We have waited long enough.” Council passed it by a vote of 14-1.

The need to clear the rape kit backlog was cited by CMs Oliver Pennington and CO Bradford as justification for their vote in favor. Given the certainty of litigation and the fact that the state-collected fee has not yet been appropriated because of that, it’s not clear to me that this will actually shorten the wait to get this done. I suspect the main question to be argued before the courts is which clubs are truly on the hook for this fee. It won’t surprise me if it’s a few years before we get an answer to that.

California-style primaries

I’m deeply skeptical of this.

In 2010, California voters approved getting rid of party-based primaries and adopting a “top-two” set-up, sometimes called a jungle primary.

This month, the state tried the new primary model in which candidates of all parties ran at once on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters for statewide, congressional and legislative offices — no matter which party — will face off in the general election in November.

The way the system is set up in California, a general election could pit a Democrat against a Republican, or it could be a contest between two Democrats or two Republicans. Smaller parties’ candidates also could end up on November ballots.

The idea behind the top-two primary system is to prevent the political discourse from racing to the extreme right or left and prevent voters on the ideological fringes from effectively electing candidates in the primaries.


Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson said the concern about the polarization of partisan primaries is a common theme, including in Texas.

The current system of partisan primaries in Texas has pushed Republican statewide candidates — who have won every election since the mid-1990s — to cater to the right wing of the party, resulting in the most conservative candidates being elected by a small portion of the overall electorate, he said.

Conversely, a top-two primary system could provide hope that more moderate candidates could be elected by the larger number of voters who turn out in general elections — and who tend to be more moderate than those who generally vote in primaries, Jillson said.

“All of the candidates will have to appeal to as many voters as possible, not just some partisan base,” Jillson said.

The Texas Legislature got a glimpse of similar legislation a few years ago.

In 2009, state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, introduced a bill that would have called for open primaries to elect members of the State Board of Education. She said the purpose of the bill, which never made it out of committee, was to make the elections more like those for local school boards.

Let me say up front that I have no philosophical objection to doing it California’s way, nor do I have any great interest in preserving the system we have here in Texas. Our system is what it is, and if there’s a “better” way of doing it, I’m all ears. That said, three things:

1. I absolutely reject the notion that there’s been any movement, let alone a “race”, the the “extreme left” in Democratic politics. I don’t even know what that might look like. The Republican electorate has moved so far to the right that it has a distorting effect on everything else. Maybe a top-two primary system will have a moderating effect on that, but suffice it to say that this remains to be seen.

2. A big part of the reason for my skepticism here is that turnout levels are even more intrinsic to primaries than they are to general elections. Look at how wildly turnout levels can fluctuate from one primary season to another. Part of the reason for that is it’s dependent on what offices have hot races in them, which is often a function of which seats are open. If we had a California-style primary this year, instead of having a David Dewhurst-Ted Cruz runoff for the GOP nomination, we’d almost certainly have Dewhurst and Cruz as the two nominees for November. Call me crazy, but I don’t see any moderation in that.

3. I believe redistricting would also have an outsized effect on the outcomes. California also approved a redistricting commission that was designed to take that process away from legislators and – in theory, anyway – make that process less ideological. Again, it’s not clear to me how the “top two” system is supposed to generate different outcomes in districts that are 65%+ one party or the other.

These are all theoretical concerns, because as the story points out the Republicans who run the state have no reason to change things in any way that may be to their political detriment. Unlike California, we don’t have legislation by referendum, which is how this system came about over there. We’ll see how it goes for them, but I don’t really expect it to make much difference, and if it does I don’t expect it to be adopted here anyway.

Why do we want to subsidize the creation of minimum wage jobs?

That’s a question some people are asking in San Antonio.

Thankfully, the local debate over whether to grant Maruchan Inc. of Japan millions of dollars to pay people very little money to make noodles has transcended the mere question of how many workers it would employ.

And it’s heartening — in a depressing sort of way, of course — that some of us are actually worried.

We are worried because the people making the noodles would earn minimum wage: $7.25 an hour, less than a living wage.

At the risk of dampening anyone’s good cheer, here are a few more reasons for us to be worried.

Texas already ranks first in the nation for jobs at or below the minimum wage.

(Go Texas! We’re No. 1!)

In fact, 37 percent of all jobs added in Texas in 2010 paid minimum wage or less. Overall, about a third of all jobs in Texas fail to support a family of four.

Ed Sills noted the irony in his email newsletter:

What a metaphor. Ramen noodles are a classic dish for starving artists and students who have to keep their food budgets to the penny, and the minimum wage is the classic wage that forces anyone to keep their food budgets to the penny.

By my calculations, the $5.8 million county subsidy mentioned in the article would pay the 600 workers for 1,333 hours, or about eight months. ($7.25 times 600 is $4,350 an hour. $5.8 million divided by $4,350 is 1,333 hours.) Apparently, there will be basic benefits as well, so a rule of thumb might be that the county would pay the first half-year of the employees’ meager salaries.

What a crock, a clear case of “off-shoring” by Japan to the U.S. (I’m old enough to remember when the U.S. was exploiting the cheap labor in Japan for manufacturing, but somehow I don’t think these noodles will be making their way back to Japan.) I’ll give them this: as with Henry Ford, the Maruchan proprietors are making certain their workers will be able to afford to buy their product, though in this case they will be able to buy little else

$7.25 times 2080, the number of working hours in a year, comes to $15,080 for these workers’ annual salaries. That’s not a whole lot more than I got for my stipend as a graduate student in the math department at Rice for the 1988-89 academic year. I don’t much care for ramen noodles myself, but that is the kind of food one has to eat at that income level. I guess that’s better than nothing, but shouldn’t we, couldn’t we, maybe aim a little higher than that? Burka has more.

SCOTUS upholds Obamacare

You can read the decision here. I’ll skip the analysis, since you can find a link to someone saying something about it on approximately 97% of the Internet today, but I will give a few links of my own, to BOR for its analysis, to Sarah Kliff for what comes next, to Ezra Klein for reminding us who really won, and to TPM for its early and more recent prognostication. I’ll also note that between this and the EPA ruling, it’s been a bad week for Rick Perry and Greg Abbott. Beyond that, knock yourself out reading all about it. Finally, let me give a shoutout to the folks at Progress Texas, whose email announcing the decision was the first news I saw on this.

Yvonne Gutierrez: Republican support for women’s health?

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Right there with them

We all know there is a lot at stake for the 2012 election cycle. All eyes are on Washington but the old adage is true — all politics is local. State Legislative races are crucial. Especially when it comes to women’s health care – the most popular political whipping boy (or girl, rather) of late.

The 2011 convening of the State Legislature produced dismal outcomes across the board, most notably in women’s health care. The state’s family program was slashed by two-thirds. The cut will actually cost taxpayers nearly four times as much – in excess of $230 million – in additional Medicaid costs.

Additionally, not a single bill was passed that would renew and expand the successful Texas Women’s Health Program (WHP). The health care program brings in $9 in federal dollars for every $1 Texas pitches in and was highly recommended by the nonpartisan/bipartisan Legislative Budget Board. So why no bill? Because Planned Parenthood is the most utilized and trusted provider in the program that makes health care accessible to more than 100,000 women statewide. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) drafted and approved a rule that would exclude Planned Parenthood from the program. The rationale for the rule: Planned Parenthood clinics that receive WHP and do not provide or promote abortion (because it is against the law and has been for more than three decades) share a name with entities that do and are therefore “affiliated”.

Planned Parenthood is rightly challenging the rule in the courts stating that it is a violation of constitutional freedoms of speech and association. Planned Parenthood family planning clinics can’t be excluded from any federal or state family planning program simply because completely separate legal and financial corporations provide legal abortion services with private dollars.

Now, the state of Texas is spending precious dollars on defending their unconstitutional rule. Dollars that could have been spent on oh, I don’t know, health care for low income Texans. Meanwhile Governor Perry maintains he will set up his own state women’s health program. He’s instructed state officials to find nearly $40 million to set up the state program because he’s been warned that restricting a woman’s choice of eligible providers will make Texas ineligible for the $9 to $1 match. True to form, Governor Perry is blaming this all on the Federal government. He’s deliberately leaving out the “minor” details of multiple extensions the Center for Medicaid Services provided HHSC so Texas could fix the proposed rule.

Luckily for the 130,000 Texas women enrolled in the WHP, a judge put a hold on the state’s rule allowing women to continue getting their WHP care from Planned Parenthood while the case is litigated. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will rule on the State’s appeal to the hold any day now.

It was blatantly obvious what happened last session. A contingent of right wing legislators highjacked the State’s support for family planning and turned into an anti-abortion debate. In turn, family planning funds were slashed and low-income women lost access to their ability to prevent unintended pregnancies. Because these legislators are the majority, they won. The few moderate Republicans who were actually in leadership and support family planning were railroaded.

What is the leading cause of abortion? Unintended pregnancies. Mission accomplished?

Despite these clear anti-women’s healthy bullying tactics within the Republican party, a recent New York Times opinion editorial piece ironically accuses Planned Parenthood of “making an enemy of someone who has failed to pass its purity test.”

Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown (whose spouse is Romney advisor, Dan Senor) chastises Planned Parenthood for not engaging and supporting Republican members of the US Congress and Senate – as though Republican members and candidates are begging for a Planned Parenthood endorsement.

The fact of the matter is Planned Parenthood is a non-partisan organization. Planned Parenthood is the leading nonprofit provider of nonjudgmental reproductive health care. We provide well woman exams, birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, HIV testing and counseling and basic health care services to nearly 3 million women across the U.S.

The Planned Parenthood Action Funds in Texas – our political arm – educate voters and our political action committees support candidates who will support women’s health care. Republican or Democrats. Women or Men. Bottom line: It’s about women’s health.

We all know Tea Party extremists who infiltrated the Republican party threw bipartisanship overboard a while ago. Republican candidates who support commonsense family planning – like the Mitt Romney who ran for U.S. Senate in 1994 — are rare these days. The reality today is Republicans don’t want support from Planned Parenthood without cover. They know they’ll be attacked from within the party. The Republican party has been dominated by right wing rhetoric and evangelical tyranny. Plain and simple. Support for something as noncontroversial as birth control is now tantamount to support for so-called “abortion on demand”. Politicians are running scared.

The real Republican Party (the one that actually started the federal Title X family planning program in the 1960’s) needs to wake up. Women – all women – are watching and they don’t want access to pap tests and breast exams eliminated so that right-wing men can pound their chests in victory. And yes, Campbell Brown, Planned Parenthood does want to continue to support Republicans who support women’s health. We’re still here. They just need to show up.

Yvonne Gutierrez is the Political Director for the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Action Fund.

Bond concerns

Early reactions to the HISD bond proposal that was unveiled last week.

“I think in the long run any anti-tax opposition will make it a close race,” said state Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, predicting that Hispanics could swing the vote.

Gallegos said he was worried about HISD’s timeline. The Houston Chronicle reported this month that HISD had not started construction as of late March on 40 percent of the projects stemming from the 2007 bond, but all were expected to be finished by 2014.


Gallegos said he could not support the plan as is, in part because he didn’t think it focused on schools that could see their enrollments boom as a result of President Barack Obama’s loosening of deportation rules.

Paul Bettencourt, a Harris County Republican Party Advisory Board member, said HISD should scale back its proposal. A $1.9 billion bond issue would be the largest for a Texas school district, according to The Bond Buyer newspaper.

The economy is fragile, Bettencourt said, and businesses will be hit harder by a tax hike because they don’t qualify for HISD’s optional homestead exemption, which reduces the taxable value of homes by 20 percent.

“This is a Titanic bond, and you hope it doesn’t hit an iceberg,” said Bettencourt, the former Harris County tax assessor-collector. “The problem from the economic conservative viewpoint is HISD has declining enrollment and that’s going to be an issue.”

Latinos were big supporters of the 2007 referendum, while African-American voters largely opposed it, on the grounds that they didn’t think they got much out of it and they didn’t think HISD did a good job communicating about it. This proposal was introduced a lot earlier, and so far no one is a firm No, so HISD starts out in a better place. As for Bettencourt, it’s nice to see that he has some official role to play in this other than Generic Cranky Republican Who Answers Reporters’ Phone Calls, but let’s be honest here: He’s not interested in supporting an HISD bond package, full stop. The tax rate increase, which wouldn’t kick in until 2014, is a convenient excuse for saying what he’d say anyway. The good news is that people like him are a minority of the electorate for HISD. If they can satisfy the concerns of their core audience, the bonds will pass regardless of what the Paul Bettencourts think.

It all depends on what your definition of success is

By any objective measure, tort “reform” has been a failure.

A new study found no evidence that health care costs in Texas dipped after a 2003 constitutional amendment limited payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits, despite claims made to voters by some backers of tort reform.

The researchers, who include University of Texas law professor Charles Silver, examined Medicare spending in Texas counties and saw no reduction in doctors’ fees for seniors and disabled patients between 2002 and 2009. A 2003 voter campaign in Texas, and some congressional backers of Texas-style tort reform in every state, however, argued that capping damage awards would not onlycurb malpractice lawsuits and insurance costs for doctors, it would lower costs for patients while boosting their access to physicians.

Tort reform is a controversial topic likely to be resurrected by Republicans and doctors’ groups who hoped to make it part of the 2010 federal health care law.

The researchers’ findings come after a report last fall in which the Ralph Nader-founded consumer group Public Citizen said it found Medicare spending in Texas rose much faster than the national average after tort reform. Critics of that study said that tort reform leaders never promised health care spending would decline and noted that caps on damage awards brought steep drops in malpractice insurance rates for doctors and large increases in new doctors coming to Texas.

Another study yet to be published on physician supply and tort reform, also by Silver’s group, agrees that malpractice suits and payouts sharply dropped after tort reform. But that study strongly disputes claims of a mass exodus of Texas doctors before tort reform and huge increases afterward.

Of course, that’s assuming the purpose of tort “reform” was to do things like help control health care costs or increase the supply of physicians. If those were your goals, you would have to admit that you didn’t get the results you might have wanted. Given that medical malpractice costs have never been anything more than a minor component of health care costs, this shouldn’t have surprised you, but never mind that. But these were at best secondary reasons for pushing tort “reform”. If they happened to bring about those results, that would be a bonus. The real purpose of tort “reform” was to kneecap trial attorneys, and on that score it’s been a smashing success. The answer to the question depends on what question you ask.

Texas blog roundup for the week of June 25

The Texas Progressive Alliance is in search of a shady spot and a cold beverage as it brings you this week’s roundup.


Gene Wu: Backyard Progressivism

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Gene Wu

Before I became involved in politics, I learned that there are real people in our communities who need hands-on assistance, people who are desperate for others to help lead them out of poverty. Beyond the typical political rhetoric of what we would like to see government do (or, in the case of some, not do) for people, it should be very evident that in order to accomplish progressive ideals, more work is needed in the community on a one-on-one basis. One example that always reminds me that our battle against poverty does not end at the statehouse is that of Yolanda (whose name has been changed here for the sake of respecting her privacy).

Helping people like Yolanda is why I chose a path of public service. I believe that government has an active role in helping people achieve upward mobility. However, my life in Southwest Houston has shown me that accomplishing progressive goals require more than just government action. Southwest Houston has one of the lowest voter participation rates in Harris County because a large percentage of the population consists of non-citizen immigrants and the working poor. Their voices are often ignored in the political process because they cannot vote or do not have the means to contribute financially.

Yolanda was an unusually quiet student when I first met her in the Skills for Living program. Most of the adult students there were shy at first, but joined in once they realized that they had similar life stories. But Yolanda seemed more reluctant to share her life with the rest of the class. Unlike many of the other students, Yolanda was employed, and had been with the same trucking firm for nearly 19 years. She eventually confided in us that she was embarrassed that she could not provide a better life for her children. I was a volunteer mentor and teacher in the program, and we helped Yolanda change her life.

Yolanda was fresh out of high school when she was hired at the company. She had planned to go to college after saving up a little money. However, she became pregnant at 19, and had to keep working because her husband didn’t make enough to support the family. Shortly after their second child was born, her husband simply left one night and never came back. In one of our first exercises, we pored over each student’s finances, looking for areas to make improvements. When I reviewed Yolanda, one single item jumped out at me. Why would a person who had been working at a company for 19 years make so little money? What Yolanda explained shocked me.

In all those years, Yolanda had never once gotten a promotion or a merit raise. Despite the fact that she now trained the people who would become her supervisors, Yolanda had never asked for a raise or promotion. She felt that she was not worthy of one because she lacked a college education.

More importantly, she was worried that she would be fired if she ever asked because she was “just a secretary.” We worked with Yolanda and the other students every week for several months. We fixed their resumes; coached them on interview skills; taught them how to ‘market’ their experience; and Dress for Success even provided them with proper business attire. Yolanda’s final task was to accomplish her own goal of getting a promotion. While we had helped Yolanda with her anxiety, it was hard for her to shake nearly two decades of self-doubt and fear. But she knew that she had to do this because she wanted her kids to have a better life.

In our next class, the students who had successfully completed their objectives shared their stories. I could already see that Yolanda was beaming with pride. She said that when she met with her boss, she told him she wanted to be promoted and he simply said ‘yes.’ She never even had to use any of the approaches or strategies that we practiced. Her boss told her that he had thought that she wasn’t interested in taking on more responsibility and that she just liked her low level position. Yolanda was given a promotion, nearly doubled her salary, and was put on a track to ascend further up the company.

The more important lesson here was not for Yolanda; it was for her children. Her two kids, now young adults, saw their mother succeed through hard work and self-marketing. Yolanda not only began her climb out of poverty, but she taught her children to never fall into that same trap.

We’re only a few months away from another November election. But, as much as we may love the legislative fights or savor the electoral victories, I believe that the bigger accomplishments are not what we can see on 24-hour cable news or the front page of the newspaper. Our real goals are people in our communities. Being ‘progressive’ should be more than just a label, it should mean that a person takes personal responsibility in their community to make sure no one is left behind.

Gene Wu is a candidate for State Representative in House District 137 in Southwest Houston.

Another homeless feeding update

Depending on how you look at it, time is either running out for the petition signature gatherers who hope to overturn the homeless feeding ordinance, or it isn’t.

Free to Give Houston, a recently formed political action committee, needs about 28,000 registered voters’ signatures to trigger a charter amendment election in November. The group sent out 30,000 letters last week urging voters to sign the petition.

Houston attorney Paul Kubosh, who formed the committee with his brother, Randy Kubosh, said the ordinance is an example of local government overstepping its bounds and ignoring the will of the people.


City Attorney David Feldman said the only approved way to challenge the ordinance is by referendum.

A petition with 12,362 signatures would have to be submitted within 30 days of the ordinance’s passage or any time prior to the effective date. The deadline for the latter is the end of this week.

However, Paul Kubosh said residents can seek a charter amendment under state law, which trumps the city charter. As a result, there is no petition deadline, he said, and the opposition plans to submit a petition by July 30.

See here and here for some background. The requirement to have signatures collected by either the ordinance’s effective date or 30 days after passage was the basis for Judge Hughes’ ruling in the red light camera lawsuit that invalidated the 2010 referendum. It was suggested prior to that, and prior to Council’s vote to put the referendum on the ballot, that a charter amendment, which has a higher signature requirement but no similar deadline, would have been a valid path, and that seems to be the route the Kuboshes are taking. That’s not clear to me, and I don’t think the matter was directly addressed by Hughes or by the dismissal of the city’s lawsuit against ATS. What I’m saying here is that I foresee another date before a judge in the city’s future. I welcome speculation on this from the lawyers in the audience.

On a side note, I found this a bit grating:

Backers of the current petition drive argue that public property is owned by citizens and therefore they shouldn’t have to ask the city for permission to use it.

“We have a huge problem asking the city for permission to feed the poor,” said Manuel Sanchez, a volunteer with Simple Feast, a church ministry.

I agree that public property is owned by the citizens, but that includes the citizens who want to use that property for something other than feeding the homeless, too. How are we to settle a dispute that arises from such a conflict? “We were here first” seems lacking to me. Feeding the homeless is a noble purpose, but that doesn’t mean less-noble purposes have to be subordinate to it. I understood the objections to a lot of the other provisions that are now not in the homeless feeding ordinance, but this one I confess I just don’t get.

For spending Metro’s sales tax revenue on transit

A list of contributors almost as long as the University Line will hopefully someday be wrote a Sunday op-ed in favor of giving Metro more money for transit.

I sure hope we get to have all this some day

Unfortunately, not all of the money that we voted for back in 1978 actually goes to provide transit service. A huge sum has been diverted to road building outside of Houston – inducing sprawl that both destroys our heartland and decreases tax revenue for the city of Houston by encouraging business and home buyer flight to the suburbs. Since 1988, a staggering $2.7 billion has been paid to 15 cities and unincorporated Harris County to do road and other nontransit projects, rather than help build our regional transit system.


Now there is an opportunity to return those funds back to transit projects (such as highly valuable light rail lines), and it comes at a critical moment. Without the use of all of our one-cent transit taxes, the transit system administered by Metro is probably not going to expand any farther – after the current rail line construction is finished. The funds just aren’t there for important projects like the University rail line and the Uptown/Galleria line.

Fully funding transit would mean more of our job centers would be accessible across the region. More of us should be able to reliably use public transit to get to work and to lunch and meetings on time. Without fully funding transit, more unchecked sprawl will continue chewing up more and more of our heartland and more of our money will continue to fly away from our city coffers.

On Thursday, the Metro Board of Directors will decide what to put on the ballot for the November election. Should the money continue to be drained away or not?

We believe it is time to end the drain on the transit revenues and invest now in transit, as originally intended by the voters so long ago – for our heartland, for our tax base, for our future.

I certainly agree with scaling back the General Mobility Program in favor of more transit spending, though I’m open to capping GMP payments instead of discontinuing them. I’m not sure that I would have taken the approach these folks did, which was to emphasize environmental issues in the transit/sprawl tradeoff – I’d probably have talked more about traffic and providing alternatives as a way of coping with it – but that is a valid concern. Metro has apparently decided to delay making a decision about the referendum language until at least next week. In the meantime, I’ve solicited a couple of guest posts that will address the Metro/GMP question in more detail – I believe this is a critical issue for the upcoming election, and I intend to provide as much information about it as I can so we can all make a good decision. Where we would or could be by now if we’d made different choices in the past isn’t something we can affect. It’s where we’re going that matters, and we’d better get that right.

Making open beaches a campaign issue

This is great.

Michele Petty

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision weakening the state Open Beaches Act has become a key issue in the race for one of the two contested Supreme Court seats in the Nov. 6 election.

San Antonio attorney Michele Petty stood in front of a battered beach home in Surfside last weekend to criticize her opponent, Justice Nathan Hecht, for siding with the majority in Severance v. Patterson, the case that led to the controversial decision.

“Texans have shown their love for their beach and they want access to the beach, and the Texas Supreme Court has ignored that,” said Petty, who would be the only Democrat on the court if she defeated Hecht. Hecht did not respond to a request for comment.

The Open Beaches Act historically has been interpreted to allow the public beach to move landward with erosion, a concept known as a “rolling easement.” The court said the rolling easement does not apply if the erosion is sudden, as in the case of a storm. Although the decision applied only to West Galveston Island, it potentially could affect other areas of the coast.

“We now have private beaches in Texas where the public can be excluded,” Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said after court issued its 5-3 decision in April. The ninth justice, Chief Judge Wallace Jefferson, did not participate.

Patterson, a Republican, would not go as far as supporting Petty, but said, “It’s an issue and the voters need to be aware of it.”

Patterson has been making an issue of this for awhile now. I’ll give him a pass on not going all the way – he does want to be the Republican candidate for Lite Guv in 2014, after all. Supreme Court races are generally low profile and the issues that usually get brought up don’t often resonate with voters. This time it may be different. Here we have the confluence of a longtime incumbent, a ruling that has been criticized across the political spectrum, a newsworthy issue, and a candidate who appears to be savvy about earned media. Michele Petty may not win this fall, but if she doesn’t it won’t be because the stars refused to align in her favor for her.

Alan Rosen: A Call To Protect Our Children

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Alan Rosen

Every day, the internet opens up new doors for communication, commerce, and the betterment of all our lives. But, with great advances in technology come huge risks and the responsibility rests with each of us to protect our greatest treasure: Our children.

Right here in Houston, a family told Channel 11 that their 12-year-old daughter had been lured into the sex trade by someone chatting with her on Facebook. KHOU reported the girl was taken to an undisclosed location and forced into prostitution. The girl was missing for 48 hours, which must have felt like an eternity to her parents. The family said they were able to finally track her down thanks to GPS on the girl’s cell phone. Technology was what led her astray, but technology is also what brought her back.

These stories make my heart sink – not only as a law enforcement officer, but as a father. I don’t mind telling you it keeps me up at night thinking that something might happen to one of my children. But, worrying isn’t what solves problems. We must all be more proactive and find the best ways to make the lives of our children safer and richer. We shouldn’t close them off from the learning opportunities presented online, but we can’t turn a blind eye to the dangers.

Here at home, I established the first Child Predator Apprehension Team at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Positive change can happen and it’s simply a matter of actually doing the work. We’ve done the work and it continues to this day. We increased warrant apprehension rates 161 percent and capture rates for the Child Predator Apprehension Team is 84 percent. Those are people who would otherwise be on the streets of Harris County preying on our children.

The next thing we need to do is create an Internet Predator Task Force. We have to take a stand and I propose we do it through the best use of technology. We can keep an eye on these child-targeted sites and let the bad guys know we’re watching them here in Harris County.

Local and state leaders are figuring out that a proactive approach is the best way to get real results. For example, our neighbors to the east in Louisiana are about to start requiring every registered sex offender to include their criminal status in their social media profiles. It may seem like a small step, but it’s a shield in the fight to keep our kids safe. It is up to us to work proactively with families, legislators and community leaders to stay ahead of those who would harm our most precious asset—our children.

Alan Rosen is a Candidate for Harris County Constable-PCT 1 in the July 31st Democratic Party Run-Off Election. His website is

From the “If pigs had wings” department

It’s never a bad time to construct a counterfactual.

How could you not take this guy seriously?

What if Rick Perry had never said, “Oops”? What if he could have, for Christ’s sake, just remembered that he had wanted to gut the Department of Energy? What if he hadn’t climbed into a tan coat and Brett Favre jeans and released that abominable Youtube video — you know, the gay one.

In other words, what if Rick Perry hadn’t been Rick Perry? If Rick Perry wasn’t Rick Perry, then Rick Perry would have been a pretty strong Republican presidential nominee. Way stronger than Mitt Romney.
Here’s why: Texas — and Houston in particular — is dominating right now. Americans at their core care about few things. The economy, jobs, and the housing market. It’s that simple. They don’t want to lose their jobs, or their home’s price to dissolve into the mist.

And if that’s the barometer, Perry would have had some staggering statistics to brandish. Texas added 12,500 non-farm jobs in May, the Texas Workforce Commission reported last week. It was the 22nd straight month of growth. What’s more, the state has added nearly 290,000 private sector jobs. This, while the U.S. unemployment rate languishes at 8.2 percent. Texas’ rate, meanwhile, hovers in the mid-6s.


So what does all that mean? It means that Perry — for all his failings — is in possession of one formidable record of enabling job growth during a time of malaise and tepid economic recovery.

It also means: Thank Allah Rick Perry is Rick Perry. And he’s not in this race.

No question, Texas’ unemployment rate and record of job growth is what made Rick Perry look like a formidable candidate on paper a year ago. You know how it went from there – insert your favorite sports cliche about why they play the games instead of deciding the winner subjectively. As much fun as it is to write alternate histories, there are two things to keep in mind here.

1. Sure, Perry was a knucklehead who stuck his foot in his mouth with regularity, but his “Oops” moment didn’t kill his campaign by itself. Perry had come under vicious attack in the primary for his HPV directive – one of the very few decent things he has done as Governor, though of course it was done for the purpose of enriching a crony – and for his 2001 signing of a state level DREAM Act, which granted in state tuition rates to public universities to the children of undocumented immigrants. In fact, it was his “have a heart” comment in response to criticism of this law that was the start of Perry’s downward spiral. Point being, even candidates who look strong on paper have vulnerabilities that will be exploited, and their strength in one area may not help them against attacks in another.

2. One result of Perry’s swift, gaffe-abetted implosion is that the job creation record that was the centerpiece of his candidacy never really got poked and prodded by his Republican rivals, and it was light years away from being addressed by President Obama’s campaign. There’s plenty to attack about his ecenomic record – many of the jobs that were created are low wage/low skill; much of Texas’ growth has been fueled by immigration; the tools Perry has had at his disposal to lure businesses to Texas – the Texas Enterprise Fund and Texas Emerging Technology Fund – are rife with cronyism and unmet job creation metrics, and even if they weren’t it’s not like this kind of zero-sum strategy translates to the national level; Texas’ consistently low levels of educational achievement portend future economic disaster, and Perry’s response to this was to push for historic cuts in public education funding. And so on and so forth; I’m sure there would be more, probably including some things we’re not familiar with.

Now maybe these things would resonate with a general election audience, and maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe Perry would have a strong counter-argument to them, or would be able to divert attention from them by making successful attacks of his own. We’ll never know. My point here is that everyone looks good on paper until the other side gets to have a say about it. Perry was gone from the race long before Team Obama ever got to ask the rest of the country if they wanted to be more like Texas or not, much as they’ve been framing Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital as something less than desirable. If it had become clear that Perry would have been the contender, Obama would have had a strategy for dealing with him and for turning his strengths into weaknesses. Again, maybe it would work and maybe it wouldn’t. We’re choosing our own adventure here, so there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. It’s just that saying the strengths Rick Perry had as a candidate going into the Presidential race would still be serving him as well as they did before he announced his candidacy is leaving the analysis short and ignoring what has happened with the guy who did survive the primary.

Take the train to your dining destination

Katharine Shilcutt writes about how she gets to some of her favorite restaurants.

When owner Staci Davis decided on a location for her restaurant, Radical Eats, one thing was extremely important to her above all: Davis wanted her vegan paradise to have access to the new Metro light rail North Line that’s currently being built along Fulton. When the line is completed, riders will only have a few short blocks to walk from the Moody Park station to her restaurant. For now, the construction and the dust are a bit of a nightmare, but Davis insists that it’s worth it.

And at the new 8th Wonder Brewery that’s being built in EaDo, the planned Stadium stop on the East End Line will not only service the Dynamo’s shiny new stadium — it will bring visitors to the craft brewery as well as to concert venues like Warehouse Live and restaurants like Huynh.


I ride the light rail to the Museum District and to Reliant Stadium so that I don’t have to deal with parking. I ride it to my doctor’s appointments or to visit hospital-bound friends in the Medical Center (or to eat at Trevisio) because the only thing more confusing than the hospital corridors themselves is trying to recall where you left your car. I ride it to the Best Block in Houston to see shows at the Continental Club, to get cocktails and coffee at Double Trouble, to eat brunch at Natachee’s or dinner at t’afia. I ride it to the Preston station and get my movies at Sundance or my culture at Jones Hall.

And, as you would expect, I ride it to restaurants up and down the line. People will often complain about walking in the Houston heat — that’s why we have tunnels, after all — but the funny thing is this: You get used to it. Really fast. And walking off a meal is one of my favorite activities to do outside of eating the meal itself. If more of us did this (myself included, as I don’t walk nearly as often as I should), Houston would undoubtedly remove itself from the running each year as the Fattest City in America. Walking is good. Try it.

On that note, we’ve put together a handy visual guide — to scale, no less! — of all the lunching and dining options off the main stops on the light rail. Some will require a bit of a walk (perhaps five blocks at most) while others are literally right in front of the stop itself. If you use it online, you’ll note that you can click on the restaurant names to be taken to a site about the restaurant itself. If you print it out, you can use it as a visual reference when you take your first heady steps into the rail car before it rattles and shakes off into city.

You can see the map here. That’s a link I plan to keep handy for visitors who are staying or doing business downtown or in the Medical Center. Be sure to read through the comments, as several people noted places they overlooked. There will be a version of this map the June 28 dead tree edition of the Press, so look for that as well. This map is just for the Main Street line, but Katherine says (in response to my comment) that they will do this again later for the three that are under construction. I’m looking forward to that.

Couple things to add. One, I totally agree with Katharine about walking and the heat. It really isn’t that bad, especially if the sidewalk you’re on has some tree cover. I’ve been bringing my bike with me to work and using it to get to lunch instead of driving, and I’ve actually been surprised by how little the heat has affected me as I bike around. Sure, I do work up a bit of a sweat, but I haven’t melted yet. And remember, eight months out of the year the weather is generally pretty darned nice here, much better for the most part than in many transit-and-pedestrian cities around the country. This is Houston, y’all. We don’t let a little heat get us down.

If you look at the map, you’ll note that the vast majority of dining locations are at or north of the Ensemble/HCC station. They didn’t bother to extend the map any farther south than the Museum District station, and as someone who works near the Smithlands stop, I can confirm the dismal lack of lunch options in the vicinity. The sheer paucity of eateries in the Medical Center – there’s a Subway and a Chipotle at the Dryden/TMC stop, and pretty much nothing else there or at the other two stops, unless you walk to Hermann Park to go to Little Big’s – is as frustrating as it is confounding. With the thousands of people that work and visit there daily, you’d think some entrepreneur would see a golden opportunity to fill a giant niche. Available space is an issue, of course, but still. That’s got to be a huge potential market. All those people have to eat somewhere. What do you do for lunch if you work in the Med Center?

UH prof writes letter in support of resolution with Metro

After I published about UH holding up construction on the Southeast Line over concerns about the route, I was forwarded a letter sent by UH English professor Irving Rothman to UH President Renu Khator asking her to get this issue resolved. Here’s the letter.

When I first arrived in Houston with my family in 1967, there was no easy transportation from my home in Meyerland to the university campus. I would take a bus to the Medical Center and then transfer to a second bus that transported me to Bellaire, Texas, where my wife would meet me in our car. Today, the situation has considerably improved. The 68 bus can take me directly from my corner bus stop to the university in one hour, a trip that takes about 25 minutes by car.

In the past, I have had students who could not attend class because their cars had broken down and they were far from bus stops. One student, during the gas crisis, with her mother out of work, did not have enough money to buy gas for transportation to the campus and sent me an e-mail apologizing for her absence. Rapid rail at relatively low cost per ride would offer more options for travel.

For the University of Houston to withhold the sale of minor parcels of land is shortsighted when one considers the greater advantages of Metro rail travel.


I hope that the University can immediately reconcile its differences with Metro, as reported in the Bellaire Examiner, and provide the needed parcels of land required for the completion of the system. We are an urban institution serving a diverse student body with faculty who also seek convenient transportation.

We’ll see what happens. If you’re connected with UH, what have you heard about this? Leave a comment or drop me a note. Thanks.

Steve Brown: The Grown-Up’s Platform

The following is from a series of guest posts that I will be presenting over the next few weeks.

Steve Brown

Texas Democrats recently adopted a very progressive platform that addresses critical areas of need in our state. It also gives reasonable, mature Texans an alternative to empty ideological rhetoric.

Although most headlines will center on our bold pronouncements in support of marriage equality, abolishing the death penalty and decriminalizing marijuana (and rightly so), there are a number of other policy proposals worth mentioning as well.

In addition to the familiar themes related to fully funding public education and supporting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (health care reform), Texas Democrats also raised numerous emerging issues as additional items in need of public support and legislative action.

State Budget Policy

Texas Democrats support sensible solutions for fixing the state’s multi-billion dollar structural deficit. We need to modernize our tax base so that it reflects our service-oriented economy. What state lawmakers shouldn’t do, however, is continue to dodge responsibility by punting the costs of services to local governments and taxpayers. Cuts to education, health care and transportation may sound appealing to Tea Party activists, but the truth is that these services are still being rendered at local taxpayer’s expense – an expense that’s more costly and less efficient than if it were addressed at the state level.

Texas’ Impending Water Crisis

Due in large part to recent droughts and population growth, Texas’ towns are literally drying up. We need practical, sustainable solutions to ensure that we have enough water to meet the needs of our people, businesses and agricultural enterprises. In fact, we recommend that the Governor elevate this issue to an emergency item at the start of next session, and identify the funding sources to cover the capital costs associated with creating new water management strategies. Failure to meet our water supply could result in catastrophic human and economic losses.

Smokefree Workplaces

Texas Democrats support the need for a comprehensive statewide smokefree law as a top public health priority. We recognize that prevailing science indicates that secondhand smoke causes preventable diseases like heart disease, stroke and cancer. Additionally, the health care costs associated with treating these diseases bear an enormous burden on taxpayers and businesses. It’s time to clear Texas’ indoor air.

Castle Doctrine

In the wake of several incidents, sufficient doubt has been raised as to whether the Castle Doctrine actually is being applied fairly. Texas Democrats urge lawmakers to modify its “Stand Your Ground” law to help prevent vigilantism and encourage neighborhood watch groups to work collaboratively with local law enforcement agencies.


We recognize that we can’t simply build more roads or toll roads to adequately address the state’s transportation infrastructural needs. Texas simply needs more multi-modal options. Its time for the state to invest in light rail, and partner with communities across Texas to create more transportation options. Such investment will help enhance quality of life, attract a vibrant business environment, improve air quality and leverage federal funding opportunities.

These are but a small sample of the priorities identified in the Democratic platform. Texas Democrats understand that it takes a strenuous, reasonable assessment of the true challenges facing our state to ensure that Texas is as great today as it will be fifty years from now. That means that we have to elevate the seriousness of public debate and elect leaders more interested in long-term, sustainable solutions and not regurgitated ideology.

The grown-ups in Texas will find much to agree with in the Democratic Party’s platform.

Steve Brown is the Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and a member of the Texas Democratic Party’s Platform Advisory Committee. Connect with Steve on Facebook at and on Twitter at

Latinos and marriage equality

You’ve probably seen some coverage by now of how African American views of marriage equality have shifted in its favor in the wake of President Obama’s announcement that he now supports it. But what about Latinos and their views?

On the right side of history

The recent news coverage and analysis of this issue has focused almost exclusively on comparing the marriage views of African Americans with whites, with an occasional nod to a broader group of “people of color.” This analysis inadvertently masks the views of Latinos, the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group. In fact, among the media’s coverage of new polls conducted and released following President Obama’s support of marriage equality, very few (if any) broke out the results based on Latino or Hispanic ethnicity.

Despite the absence of media coverage on Latinos and marriage equality, numerous surveys tell us that Latinos are by and large supportive of laws that extend the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. A 2011 survey of Latinos found that even then 54 percent supported full marriage equality, compared to about 53 percent of the general public at the time. This same survey found that Latinos who identify as Catholic support marriage equality at a slightly higher rate of 57 percent. Like the rest of the U.S. population, support for marriage equality was higher among Hispanic women than Hispanic men, and was lower for those Latinos who identified as members of the Republican Party.

Further, a 2010 survey by the Associated Press and Univision found stark generational divides among Latinos, just as in the general population. Specifically, younger-generation Latinos voice much higher support for marriage equality than older Latinos do.

But overall Latino support for equality extends far beyond marriage. One case in point: Latinos are very supportive of laws that protect against other forms of antigay* discrimination (note that these surveys didn’t ask questions specific to transgender rights). The aforementioned 2011 survey found that:

  • Eighty-six percent of Latinos support workplace discrimination laws that protect gay people
  • Eighty-six percent support housing discrimination laws that protect gay people
  • Eighty-three percent support hate crimes laws that protect gay people
  • Eighty-three percent support equal health care and pension benefits for same-sex couples
  • Seventy-eight percent support open military service

Further, the survey found that 67 percent of Latinos believe that gay people face either some or a lot of discrimination in the United States. At the same time, 65 percent of Latinos said that Hispanics themselves face similar rates of discrimination; 55 percent said the same for African Americans; and 47 percent for women. Also, 65 percent of Latinos said that gay people face some or a lot of discrimination from the Hispanic population itself—52 percent said that African Americans face similar levels of discrimination from the Latino population, and 48 percent said women did as well.

In addition to obscuring Latino support for marriage equality, the recent media focus on African Americans and marriage equality also ignores the fact that African Americans believe gay people face high rates of discrimination overall in America. In fact, African Americans largely understand that gay Americans face pervasive discrimination and are strongly supportive of laws and policies to end that discrimination—and they were supportive even when their opposition to marriage equality was significantly high.

A 2009 report and related polling from the Arcus Foundation, for example, found that 67 percent of African Americans opposed marriage equality at that time. But the same survey and polls found that 76 percent of African Americans thought that gay people overall face either a lot or some discrimination in America. Further:

  • Eighty-five percent of African Americans polled said that hate crimes are a problem for gay people
  • Eighty-three percent said school bullying is a problem for gay youth
  • Seventy-four percent said access to health care and pension benefits is a problem for same-sex couples
  • Seventy-four percent said job discrimination is a problem for gay employees and job seekers
  • Sixty-nine percent said housing discrimination is a problem for the gay population

If that’s not enough for you, the National Council of La Raza has endorsed marriage equality as well.

Eric Rodriguez, vice president of public policy for the National Council of La Raza, confirmed to the Blade that the vote took place on June 9 during a previously scheduled board meeting. NCLR did not provide a copy of the resolution, but Rodriguez stressed that there was little opposition to it.

“There was discussion for that period of time, but everyone really strongly that supporting what we had already put out there in terms of our statement was the right thing to do,” he said.

Former NCLR Board Chair Danny Ortega, a Phoenix lawyer whose term ended after the vote, provided broad details of the conversations that he said took place among the 25 board members before the vote.

“We had a discussion about this and clearly some people had more questions than others, but at the end of the discussion it was unanimous,” he said.

The resolution passed less than a month after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons’ Board of Directors endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples.


The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund President Thomas A. Saenz has backed same-sex marriage. His organization has not only represented people with HIV in discrimination cases, but filed amicus briefs in support of lawsuits that challenge California’s Proposition 8 and other states’ prohibitions on nuptials for gays and lesbians.

The Texas chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens earlier this month also passed a same-sex marriage resolution during their annual convention. LULAC National President Margaret Moran joined Murguía, Saenz and other civil rights leaders who applauded Obama’s public support of nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Remember when marriage equality was going to be the wedge that fractured the Democratic coalition? So much for that. Sure, there is at least one prominent African American who has been unhappy with the President’s announcement, but I rather doubt that the bottom feeders at NOM will be adopting him as a spokesperson. American Progress link via NewsTaco, Blade link via Runnin’ Scared. Freedom to Marry has more.

Houston gets grant for bike paths


It’s not a trail to nowhere, but the Heights Bike Path ends abruptly at McKee Street east of downtown, and from there cyclists have to share the road with four-wheeled vehicles.

A peloton of politicians gathered near that terminus Friday afternoon to celebrate an election year bring-home-the-bacon $15 million federal grant that will pay for six projects to link Houston’s fragmented patchwork of bike paths into something more closely resembling a network.

Once the 18 miles of off-street paths, widened sidewalks and roadway bike lanes are completed, pedestrians and cyclists will be able to move from Little York and Antoine in far northwest Houston to Brady’s Landing along Buffalo Bayou east of downtown without ever having to stray from a lane reserved for those biking or walking.

“It’s long past the time for us to what I like to say ‘string the beads’ to connect the trail segments to connect Houston,” Mayor Annise Parker said at a news conference with U.S. Reps. Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, both D-Houston. “We have focused a lot on hike and bike trails that keep cars and bikes separate, and we’d like to see more of that.”

The Houston Bikeways Facebook page has a list of the projects that will be funded.

– White Oak Bayou Path Alabonson Road Antoine Drive Link (where the extension of the White Oak Bayou ends)
– White Oak Bayou between 7th and 11th Streets
– MKT Spur Connector
– Heritage West to Main Street Connectors
– Buffalo Bayou to White Oak Bayou connector
– Great East End connections to Buffalo Bayou
– Brays Bayou gap filler between Ardmore Road and Old Spanish Trail

I wish I had a map to show you of all this, but I couldn’t find one. Item 2 on that list above is something I’ve noted before, so it’s good to see that happen. While both the story and the Facebook post talk a lot about bike commuting, I want to say that there’s more to this than that. It’s not practical for me to bike to work, but I can and do bring my bike with me to work – having a minivan is good for something – and I use it a couple of days a week to go to lunch. I use it getting around the neighborhood, too – it’s at least as convenient to hop on the White Oak Trail to get to Target than it is to drive there, and takes about the same amount of time. And it’s one less car crowding that stretch of Sawyer and jousting for a parking space. Making it easier for people to ride bikes for short trips will do a lot of good, too.

Recycle that polystyrene

From the Inbox:

Polystyrene Foam Recycling Available

Beginning Monday, June 25, 2012

Beginning Monday, June 25, 2012, the City of Houston will accept clean block style or packaging polystyrene foam at the Westpark Recycling Center, 5900 Westpark, Houston 77057 and the Environmental Service Center South, 11500 South Post Oak Lane, Houston 77045.  Residents can drop off polystyrene foam at both facilities.

The operating hours for the Westpark Recycling Center are Monday – Saturday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The Environmental Service Center South is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Thanks to the generosity of Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA, Inc, the City of Houston Solid Waste Management Department (SWMD) has obtained a polystyrene densifier and compactor machine that enables SWMD to transform polystyrene waste into a valuable recycled material. Up until now, polystyrene foams – commonly known as “Styrofoam” – were bulk materials used in packaging that ended up in Houston’s landfills.  Now, polystyrene foam can be compressed by a factor of 40 to 1.  As a result, the densified polystyrene foam becomes a product that can be recycled and reused in a variety of commercial and residential uses.

For more information about polystyrene foam recycling and collection, contact Sandra Jackson at 713.837.9164 or email [email protected].

To learn more about recycling in the City of Houston, visit,, Facebook at and on Twitter @houstontrash.

Very cool. Every time we get a box that has those big styrofoam blocks in it, I want to do something other than throw them out – it sure seems like you ought to be able to recycle them – but there has been no choice. Not anymore, thankfully. I hope someday that these items will be allowed in curbside recycling as well. Regardless, kudos to the Solid Waste department for making this happen.

UPDATE: This is only for styrofoam blocks and packaging, not packing peanuts as my original title read. Those should be taken to your nearest FedEx/Kinkos or UPS Store for reuse. Please remember not to mix the biodegradable peanuts with the styrofoam ones. Thanks to Andy F. for the correction.

Weekend link dump for June 24

The days are getting shorter already.

Those who can, do. Those who aren’t asked to do, complain about it.

I don’t care how Americans feel about broccoli. I still hate it.

Learning about cocaine usage from what gets flushed down the potty.

Who ever said dentistry was boring?

Use your smartphone instead of your ATM card when you want to withdraw cash.

When Ray Bradbury met Al Feldstein, the man who adapted his stories for EC Comics. Follow the links to read the whole saga from the beginning, it’s well worth it.

How to get free WiFi wherever you are.

However much you don’t like flying coach now, you won’t like it more soon.

President Obama’s announcement that people who were brought to this country illegally as children will not be deported will have a real positive effect on those children.

You can find inspiring stories in some places you might not expect to find them.

The last refuge of the scoundrel – and the buffoon and the sleaze merchant – is “bipartisanship”.

It’s not door handles, showers and carpets that hotel visitors have to worry about, but objects such as light switches, remotes, bathroom sinks, and telephone keypads. Feel like washing your hands now?

Let’s make it easier to commit Medicare fraud than register to vote. Great idea, right?

I admit, I had no idea that candy canes were a cultural dog whistle.

“Are dormant oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico hulking, rusty relics that should be removed or valuable havens for marine life that should be preserved?”

Free Rafael Diaz!

Bicycle helmets may do more harm than good.

RIP, LeRoy Nieman.

The reasons why some TV shows don’t get adequately packaged and released as DVD sets are often complicated.

Things that are not Greece, or Spain or Ireland or Portugal either.

Fifty Shades of Orange: A lesson in how describing reality can change it.

When did food that requires chewing go out of style?

Were you a GLOW fan back in the day? You’ll want to click that link if so.

A three-generation view on “having it all”.

I was an employee of Corporate Software/Stream for almost four years in the 90s. I guess that means a small part of Mitt Romney’s gigantic fortune is because of me.

If one of the people who testified in favor of Prop 8 can change him mind about marriage equality, then so can anyone.

To boldly go where no one has gone before.

“If you want to understand the centrality of anti-abortion and anti-gay ideology in American evangelicalism, follow the money.”

Guest posts coming

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be running a series of guest posts that I have solicited from a variety of people. I’m doing this partly to give myself a bit of a breather during the summer lull and my own vacation time, and partly because I’m privileged to know a bunch of smart, interesting people whose opinions I respect. I’ve asked them to write something on a topic of their choosing, and I’m very pleased to be able to bring you what they have produced. I hope you’ll enjoy the results and find them as enlightening as I have.

Our stupid beer laws in action

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Owners of the popular Eatsie Boys food truck will open their first stand-alone restaurant later this year on Montrose Boulevard, serving everything from breakfast items to sandwiches to house-made gelato.

Closer to downtown, and possibly around the same time, the young entrepreneurs will cut the ribbon on their 8th Wonder Brewery. They recently took possession of a brand-new brewhouse and three shiny tanks that will produce craft beers like Alternate Universe, Hopston and Intellectuale, “the beer that makes you think.”

But don’t expect to see any of those brews on tap at their restaurant. Texas law forbids it.

“What a joke is that?” asked Ryan Soroka, a founding partner of both operations. ” … It makes no sense that we’re doing things the way we have to do them.”


In Texas, brewers must decide whether they want to be a shipping brewery, á la Saint Arnold or Anheuser-Busch, which are prohibited from selling their own products directly to consumers, or a retail brewpub, which cannot distribute to bars, stores and other restaurants.

The catch for 8th Wonder as a shipping brewery is that holders of a Texas brewer’s license are barred from selling alcohol on-site or at any other establishment they own. Licensees are forbidden even from giving away samples at any retail site they own, a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokeswoman said.

So for now, at least, Soroka and his business partners will make beer in an old warehouse east of downtown and run a separate (and dry) cafe in the former Kraftsmen site at 4100 Montrose.

Despite what the shill for the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas says later in the story, this arrangement, which is solely to the benefit of the distributors and the big brewers, is hurtful to small outfits like 8th Wonder and to beer drinkers everywhere. It’s the same old story and will continue to be until there are enough members of the Lege who are willing to do something about it. Towards that end, I will point you again to Open the Taps and their Beer Voting Guide. Beer lovers have made progress in each of the past three legislative sessions, and as long as we keep up the pressure, we will eventually get the Lege to do the right thing.

Henry Cisneros

The Express News bring us an update on former San Antonio Mayor and onetime rising star Henry Cisneros.

Henry Cisneros

Henry Cisneros still talks about housing and urban development with passion, about the future of cities and the ways in which immigrant communities can help the country thrive. He still talks politics and remains involved with President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

But these days, the former San Antonio mayor and U.S. housing secretary also talks a lot about RADs, or radiation absorbed dosages, speaking in the same energetic, enthusiastic tone, as if explaining a new pension fund in which his company is investing.

It’s almost like he’s not talking about cancer.

His cancer.

Cisneros, who turned 65 last week and just published a book about aging, is fighting prostate cancer, among the most common diseases among men. This year, nearly 242,000 cases will be diagnosed and more than 28,000 men will die, according to the American Cancer Society.

Prostate cancer is tough for men to talk about, especially in public, and perhaps more so for a man who has spent so much of his life in the public eye — for better and worse.

The story is mostly about Cisneros’ battle with cancer and the way he’s talking about it, to encourage other men (especially men of color) to get checked for it as needed. It’s all laudable and what you’d expect from a man like Cisneros. I highlighted this story partly for that but mostly because I can’t help think about what might have been whenever I read about Cisneros. I was at Trinity in the 80s when he was Mayor, and you could tell he was going places. Then he was tapped for HUD by President Clinton, and the sky was the limit – Governor, Senator, President, it was all possible. And then it all came tumbling down, and two decades later Mayor of San Antonio is the last elected office he’s held. It is of course impossible to know what might have happened if he hadn’t had that brush with the law in the 90s. I seriously doubt he’d have challenged Dubya in 1998, and 2002 might have been too tough a year for any Democrat. But who knows? I’ll say this much, if his health allows and he’s got it in mind to saddle up one more time, he still could be a hell of a candidate for Governor in 2014. He’s got the charisma, the post-political career success, the connections to raise a gazillion dollars, and maybe something to prove. Yeah, I know, I’m fantasizing, but as political fantasies go you could do a whole lot worse.

FIFA may face up to reality

The world of international soccer may finally adopt technology to help officiate its games.

The most powerful man in soccer called goal-line technology a “necessity” Wednesday, only hours after Ukraine was denied what appeared to be a legitimate goal in its must-win match against England at the European Championship.

“After last night’s match GLT is no longer an alternative but a necessity,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter wrote on Twitter.

Marko Devic’s shot in the 62nd minute of Tuesday’s match looped up off England goalkeeper Joe Hart and appeared to cross the goal line before it was cleared by defender John Terry. The official standing near the post didn’t signal for a goal, leaving the referee no option but to play on.

If the goal had been awarded, Ukraine would have pulled even at 1-1. But the co-hosts instead lost 1-0, a result that eliminated them from the tournament.


UEFA is using Euro 2012 to trial the five-official system that features a referee, two linesmen and two additional assistants beside the goal. It’s UEFA President Michel Platini’s preferred alternative to goal-line technology.

FIFA will decide on July 5 whether to approve the five-official system and either of the two goal-line technology systems currently being tested in England and Denmark.

Speaking at a media briefing in Warsaw on Monday, Platini said he expects goal-line technology to be approved at the IFAB meeting.

“Yes, Blatter will do it,” Platini said. “He will (introduce) the technology, but I think it’s a big mistake. … it’s the beginning of the technology, the arrival of the technology.”

Grant Wahl discusses the significance.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the particular side-details surrounding the call in this game. Yes, there was karmic justice, since the assistant referee also missed a Ukrainian offside in the build-up. And yes, it’s unfair to say that the goal-line mistake robbed the Ukrainians of a victory they needed to advance, since they would only have tied the game at 1-1. (At the same time, it’s also fair to say that the game at 1-1 would have been different.)

But don’t take your eye off what matters most: In one of the sport’s showpiece events, the ball crossed the line entirely and was not ruled a goal.

The exact same thing happened at World Cup 2010, when England’s Frank Lampard was robbed of a goal that clearly crossed the line against Germany. Even worse, Ukraine’s phantom “goal” happened with that additional assistant referee on the line.

You can see video of the play here; the English announcers admit the ball is clearly over the line, and reference the 2010 World Cup non-goal England scored as karmic balance. I was home for a couple of days last week after a minor medical procedure, and thankfully had the UEFA championships to help pass the time during the day when I couldn’t do much more than occupy the couch. I didn’t see this game, but I still feel invested in the result. As a proponent of instant replay in soccer and other sports, I applaud this development. I have never understood the attitude of people like Michel Platini, who prefer to let games be decided by fate rather than by what actually happened on the field of play. In almost any other context, when one is incontrovertibly shown to have erred, the normal reaction most of us have is “What can I do to ensure I don’t make that same mistake again?” Unless you’re a sports league president or the like, in which case you blather on about the “human element” and how it’s better to be failed by human officials than given a correct ruling by technological means. I just don’t understand the mindset.

Anyway. As Wahl notes, despite Blatter’s statement this is not a done deal. Adoption of goal line technology will require six out of eight votes at the International Football Association Board (IFAB), and it’s always possible there are enough reactionaries there to hinder progress. But whatever happens there, it seems that an important step forward has been taken. It’s getting a lot harder to stick your head in the sand about the technology that’s available and the need for it.

HISD will not raise the tax rate

Instead, they will dip into their reserves to balance their $1.5 billion budget for this year.

The amount is about the same as last year, when the district reduced spending by approximately 5 percent to offset unprecedented state cuts.

Instead of seeking a tax increase – which the school board has been reluctant to embrace – [Superintendent Terry] Grier has recommended spending $9 million, or 3.5 percent, from savings next year.

“I would hate to arbitrarily raise taxes at this point when we don’t know what’s going to happen down the road,” said Mike Lunceford, president of the Houston Independent School District board.

HISD is one of about 600 districts suing the state, claiming funding is inadequate. Lunceford said he is hopeful that lawmakers will revise the school finance system next session.


[HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda] Garrett said the district cannot continue to spend its fund balance. The account contains $257 million, about two months’ worth of operating expenses. HISD also plans to use $18 million from one-time federal jobs funding to close the budget shortfall.

“The district and the board will have to address how to balance this budget next year,” Garrett said.

The budget was adopted Thursday night. I’m sure the improved real estate market, which has led to higher property tax revenues and thus greatly eased the budget situation for entities like the city of Houston, enabled HISD to get close enough to balance to take this approach. A lot of the cost cutting they did last year – i.e., staff reductions – carry over as well. Still, as Garrett says, they can only go to their reserves for so much. Especially with a big bond package on the table for this year, they will need a healthy amount of reserves to ensure good bond ratings.

That bond package was unveiled Thursday as well, and unlike this year’s budget it will mean higher taxes down the line. Most of the focus will be on the high schools. You can see the details in School Zone and Hair Balls. The Board has not yet voted on Grier’s bond proposal, but there is some early opposition.

Trustee Juliet Stipeche criticized the plan for not including a new High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, her alma mater. Grier acknowledged the facility is lacking but said he wants to sell the valuable property on Dickson and find a new site.

Stipeche said she opposed changing the location, which is convenient to internships at downtown law firms and to students who transfer in from across the city.

State Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, made a special appearance at the board meeting Thursday night to tell trustees he did not support the bond proposal as is, particularly the slight to Law Enforcement.

You can’t have everything. I don’t think that’s sufficient reason to oppose the entire package, but by all means until such time as the board has voted on it anyone who is unhappy with some part of Grier’s proposal go ahead and fight to make it better as they see fit.

Defacing Picasso

Some people, I swear.

Officials at the Menil Collection don’t know why a man spray-painted Pablo Picasso’s “Woman in a Red Armchair” at the museum, but the act wasn’t caught just on surveillance cameras.

It also was captured by a bystander with a smartphone camera and subsequently posted on YouTube with a caption naming the alleged perpetrator as a young artist.

Menil communications director Vance Muse, reached Monday in Germany, said museum security discovered the vandalism almost immediately Wednesday afternoon.

The damaged artwork, with the spray paint barely dry, was rushed down the hall to the museum’s conservation lab, where chief conservator Brad Epley quickly began its repair.

The 1929 painting, one of nine by Picasso owned by the Menil, has “an excellent prognosis,” Muse said.

The vandal, who has not been identified officially, stenciled a small image of a bullfighter killing a bull and the word “Conquista” on the painting. He fled and wasn’t caught.

CultureMap has more. Thankfully, the police have now caught the SOB who did this. Robert Boyd sums it up succinctly, and in that spirit I bring you the following, which has some naughty language in it so beware if that sort of thing offends you:

Been way too long since I’ve seen “Repo Man”. I need to watch it again. TM Daily Post and Art Attack have more.

You say “Manchaca”, I say “Menchaca”

Let’s start a Facebook page to settle it once and for all.

Jose Antonio Menchaca

Austin’s long-held knack for mangling street pronunciations is so rich it could be its own game show category.

As in: “This well-known University of Texas-area street’s name suggests a circular motion.”

“What is GWAD-a-loop, Alex?”

But it is the misspelling, not the mispronunciation, of a street in South Austin that “always stuck in my craw,” said Bob Perkins, a retired Travis County district judge and amateur historian who is on a campaign to correct the spelling of the street named for a Tejano hero of the Texas Revolution. The right spelling is Menchaca, not Manchaca, according to Perkins and Texas historians.

Perkins recently created a “Justice for Menchaca” page on Facebook and is working to collect 1,000 signatures on petitions before asking the City Council to approve replacing Manchaca Road street signs with ones bearing the correct spelling. Perkins said last week that about 300 people had signed hard copies of the petition; he hoped to get the rest of the endorsements online. City Council Member Mike Martinez supports his campaign, Perkins said. Martinez did not return a call last week seeking comment.

Manchaca Road is named for José Antonio Menchaca of San Antonio, who according to the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas served during the revolution under the command of Juan Seguín and fought in the Battle of San Jacinto. Later, Menchaca led a cavalry of Tejanos, or Texans of Mexican descent, who patrolled an area north and west of San Antonio to guard against Indian attacks, often using elevated land near springs southwest of Austin as a camping base of operations. According to the Handbook of Texas, Manchaca Springs is named after Menchaca, and the southern Travis County community of Manchaca is named for the springs.

Menchaca, pronounced Men-CHAH-kah, died in 1879. Somehow, however — no one is exactly sure why — even when Menchaca was alive, early Anglo settlers dropped the “e” from his surname and inserted an “a.”

Here’s the Facebook page. Three things in addition to that:

1. Bob Perkins was the original judge in the Tom DeLay case. The current judge in the case of his associates is the fellow who succeeded him on the bench in Travis County.

2. Houston has plenty of streets with bizarre pronunciations as well. “Kuykendall” is pronounced “Kirkendall”. “San Felipe” is pronounced “San Phillippy”. I just live here, don’t ask me why.

3. Though I don’t play much these days, I was for many years a tournament bridge player. We have many colorful characters in the bridge scene in Texas. Two of them formed a strong partnership that lasted for a long time, George Dawkins and George Pisk. Dawkins was a physician with a quiet and dignified manner – on the surface, anyway; they were both cutups – who had somehow acquired the nickname Doctor Doom. I don’t know what Pisk did for a living, but he was a gregarious type with a deep storehouse of mostly bawdy anecdotes to tell. He was also from Manchaca, so I thought of the two of them collectively as Doctor Doom and The Man Of Manchaca. It fit them somehow. They were both accomplished players and tough opponents, but it was always fun sitting down at the table opposite them. Sadly, Dawkins was killed in an auto accident in Italy a decade or so ago, along with his wife and another person. Pisk passed away a few months back, according to an obituary I saw in the local bridge newsletter. The world is a less interesting place without the two of them. This doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, but I can’t think of Manchaca, or Menchaca, without thinking of the Georges Pisk and Dawkins. So now you know.