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July 12th, 2015:

Weekend link dump for July 12

“The most ridiculous no-hitter in history is 25 years old. It’s time to celebrate, marvel and recoil in horror at this game. It’s everything baseball is supposed to be. Just, you know, not all at once.”

“In contrast to the fun, empowering experience of watching Channing Tatum body roll on-screen, social scientists seem to agree that straight women’s strip clubs continue to be oppressive and stereotype-reinforcing.”

“It is cheaper and easier to build wind and solar farms to produce electricity than it is to collect and store the carbon from coal-powered plants’ emissions.”

Hating your transit agency won’t make it better.

Twelve things conservatives are or will be wrong about now that marriage equality is the law of the land.

A list of songs Stephen Sondheim wishes he’s written.

“It was probably the first audition that Katy Perry had to do in a long time – an improvised performance in a former convent to a handful of elderly Catholic nuns who, all things considered, preferred Perry Como. It didn’t go well.”

Ranking every time travel movie ever made.

Even spending a day in the Show is a good deal for baseball players.

RIP, Burt Shavitz, co-founder of the Burt’s Bees company.

I’d buy a home food irradiation machine, too.

Why plural marriage is unlikely to follow the path to acceptance that same-sex marriage has taken.

The latest Cosby revelations…eeeeew.

The stakes of pulling out of these things are very high, precipitating a crisis with Iran, collapsing an international climate framework … taking away [overtime pay], alienating the United States completely in Latin America, which is what the Cuba thing would do. But that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t do it.”

A response to America Ferrera and her response to Donald Trump.

You can all relax now, Harry Shearer will be back on The Simpsons.

“In fact, over the last 40 years, studies have shown that female officers are less authoritarian in their approach to policing, less reliant on physical force and are more effective communicators. Most importantly, female officers are better at defusing potentially violent confrontations before those encounters turn deadly.”

“We have finally found where Fox News and conservative politics diverge: Donald Trump.”

Where’s Sarah Palin when her party really needs her?

RIP, Kenny Stabler, legendary quarterback for the Raiders and Oilers.

Commemorating the Polo Grounds, site of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round The World” homerun and Willie Mays’ iconic over-the-shoulder catch.

RIP, Omar Sharif, actor and world’s most famous bridge player.

Fifth Circuit hears immigration ruling appeal

We’ll see, but as always with this court it is better to expect the worst and hope to be pleasantly surprised.


Noise from hundreds of chanting immigration activists outside a federal appeals court building competed at times Friday with lawyers arguing inside over President Barack Obama’s proposal to shield an estimated 5 million people from deportation who are in the U.S. illegally.

“The three judges felt the vibrancy and power of our movement,” said Marielena Hincapie, of the National Immigration Law Center, speaking to the crowd that rallied while a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case.

Demonstrators gathered on the steps of the federal courthouse with permission from authorities, their chanting mixed with speeches in English and Spanish and music from a brass band. Activists criticized Republican resistance to the Obama program and called for policies that let immigrants stay and work in the country.


Scott Keller, representing the Texas Solicitor General’s Office, argued that the administration was doing more than simply deferring action. He said the plan would effectively grant a new legal status – legal presence – to people in the country illegally, putting them in line to get permission to work and benefit from Social Security.

Judge Carolyn Dineen King seemed skeptical of that argument at times, noting that deferred action wouldn’t change the fact that someone entered the country illegally and would not protect them from deportation under any circumstance.

“Based on the unlawful thing that they did to begin with, you can turn them out tomorrow,” she said.

Arguments also settled on whether Texas and the states even have the power to challenge the federal executive branch’s authority to regulate immigration. Arguments on that issue largely have centered on the costs Texas would incur by having to issue driver licenses to DAPA beneficiaries – an injury, the state argued – that gave them the right to sue.

Two of the judges on Friday’s panel, Jerry Smith and Jennifer Walker Elrod, were in the majority on a panel that voted 2-1 in May against allowing the deferred action programs to continue pending the appeal outcome. In that opinion, they disagreed with government contentions that Texas had no standing.

They also ruled that the Obama action was subject to judicial review under the federal Administrative Procedures Act, which the Justice Department disputes.

See here and here for some background. The previous order from the court on the injunction suggested there may be some cause for optimism, but the hearing itself didn’t appear to support that. Complicating things further, while this lawsuit was brought by several states and has halted the immigration plan nationwide, several other states and dozens of cities, including Houston, have filed amicus briefs on behalf of the administration. There’s no indication when the Fifth Circuit may rule, and it seems likely this could stretch out into the term of the next President, especially if it goes to SCOTUS. Just another reason why 2016 matters, since quite a few of the candidates out there would be more than happy to drop the appeal. The Trib and BOR have more.

There will be more lawsuits

The lawsuit filed in Hood County to force County Clerk Katie Lang to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple won’t be the last one like it.


“We hope and expect that county clerks across Texas and the country will take a look at what happened [in Hood County] and do the right thing and follow the U.S. Constitution,” said Austin Kaplan, an Austin attorney who represents a Granbury gay couple who obtained a marriage license on Monday after filing a lawsuit against the Hood County Clerk’s office in federal court.

The Granbury couple, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been together for 27 years, have said they will move forward with their lawsuit until the county clerk’s office agrees to issue marriage licenses to all couples. Kaplan said they have not heard from Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, and her office would not say whether it is issuing same-sex licenses.

With a population of 53,921 people, Hood County is the most populous county among those still refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Texas counties’ responses to the Supreme Court’s ruling varied between those that immediately began issuing marriage licenses and those that took a few days to come around. But two weeks after the high court’s ruling, at least six counties are likely refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, according to Texans for Marriage.

The other holdout counties as of July 7 were Dallam and Roberts counties in the Panhandle; Irion, Hartley and Loving counties in West Texas; and Hamilton County, located between Austin and Fort Worth.

(Of Texas’ 254 counties, three counties have not been reached and 13 counties are planning to issue marriage licenses after “software changes” or receipt of updated marriage certificates, according to Texans for Marriage.)

On Thursday, a deputy clerk in Roberts County told The Texas Tribune that the clerk’s office would issue licenses if requested by a same-sex couple.

Hartley County Clerk Melissa Mead said her office won’t issue same-sex marriage licenses until the clock runs out on the 25 days that parties in the Supreme Court case have to ask for a rehearing of the case.

A deputy clerk for Loving County said her office was awaiting further direction from the attorney general’s office. A spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the only guidance from the state’s top lawyer was the written opinion issued June 28, which said county clerks with religious objections can opt out of issuing same-sex marriage licenses but they should be prepared to get sued.

Calls to Dallam and Hamilton went unanswered.

See here and here for background on Hood County. Next in line appears to be Irion County, and after that who knows. Actually, what could happen is more lawsuits in the same places as before:

A judge’s ruling in the Hood County case would likely only apply to those parties in that county, said Alexandra Albright, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. If the case went to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — which has appellate jurisdiction over federal courts in Texas — then any ruling would apply to the entire circuit, Albright added.

Now that the Hood County gay couple has obtained a marriage license, a federal judge may not immediately rule on the broader issue of whether the Hood County clerk’s delay “caused constitutional damage,” so other same-sex couples would likely have to file their own lawsuits, said Meg Penrose, a law professor at Texas A&M University.

“If this is not a class action, other individuals that are denied marriage licenses will need to sue on their own behalf or wait for a class action to be filed,” Penrose said. “This could become costly for the county [or] clerk as individual lawsuits could mount quickly.”

Kaplan, the attorney for the Hood County gay couple, said Texas lawyers were keeping an eye on “lawless clerks” and would likely take action if clerks continued to believe “there’s some justification for failing to issue the licenses.”

“We’ll see what happens when that comes to head,” he added.

One would think that repeated litigation over the same thing might make a recalcitrant County Clerk less popular. I understand that Katie Lang’s husband Mike is a candidate to succeed Jim Keffer in HD60, so this could quickly become an election issue. As the man said, we’ll see.

Sheriff asks for more funds for body cameras

Good move.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office recently applied for a grant from the Department of Justice to purchase 750 wearable body cameras, a new technology aimed at improving government transparency and accountability after a year of high-profile police-involved shootings around the country.

A 30-day trial run with body cameras by a few dozen deputies earlier this year encountered some obstacles, including stormy weather, brisk temperatures and loud music.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has also issued $900,000 to fund body cameras for the sheriff and another $1 million for the city of Houston. The federal grant would bring in another $900,000 to match the funds Commissioners Court has agreed to.

A measure sponsored by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, sets out statewide policy for the use of the cameras, which retail for about $400 apiece. But the basics of operating them and dealing with the massive amount of data they will create presents some new challenges for county government.

The patrol officers who tried them out said they weren’t sure if they could don raincoats when it raining outside and still get decent footage from the body-worn cam. Loud music in the background during domestic calls was hindering the audio quality, said Deputy Thomas Gilliland, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.


The county attorney’s office has told the sheriff and the information technology department that law enforcement will also have to budget for redacting the video, if bystanders are caught unwittingly on camera.

“We’re working together to draft a plan that will protect the privacy and safety of Harris County residents while ensuring any resulting program is cost-effective and in compliance with state and federal laws,” said Barbara Armstrong, deputy managing attorney for public law, who heads a multi-department planning committee on body cameras at the County Attorney’s Office.

See here for previous blogging on body cameras. I don’t have a whole lot to add here, just that there are a number of potentially challenging questions, about things like the official usage policy and how the data will be managed and stored and made available, that need to be answered, by the HCSO and HPD and any other law enforcement agency as we go. These things have a lot of promise, but we have to get the implementation right to reap the rewards of that promise.

Driverless car testing in Austin

Be on the lookout.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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