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July 19th, 2015:

Weekend link dump for July 19

“Their latest results reveal that descendants of people who survived the Holocaust have different stress hormone profiles than their peers, perhaps predisposing them to anxiety disorders.”

Interns are not volunteers and should not be treated as such.

How to make color, in three easy steps.

Tough times for computer sales.

Are you a harbinger of failure? It’s not a bad gig to have if you are.

“The most important action Americans can take to stop the terrorism that puts us most in danger is to toughen gun laws and background checks.”

Why colleges should admit more ex-felons.

Anyone know where Dorothy’s ruby slippers are? There’s a reward for finding them.

“The Bush administration decided it wasn’t going to go along with the Clinton administration’s naive, give-away-everything negotiations with North Korea. The Bush team, particularly the first term team, decided they were going to hang tough and not be patsies for the North Koreans. And now North Korea is a nuclear state with a number of nuclear weapons. Maybe that would have happened had the Democrats won in 2000 too. But it did happen under the hang tough crowd.”

What $12 billion in public funds for 51 new sports facilities around the country could have paid for instead.

RIP, Margaret Block, freedom fighter.

“Truth really is stranger than fiction: Syfy brought us Sharknado and then the universe counters with Sharkcano, otherwise known as Kavachi. This very, very active volcano off the Solomon Islands is 60 feet underwater, and sharks and rays have apparently been hanging out in its caldera between eruptions.”

What to expect when you’re expecting a planetary flyby.

“Here’s the good news: NASA will have to pay for your car. Under the Convention on the International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Object, NASA and the US government would clearly be on the hook for the damage. And, since you wouldn’t be considered at fault in the accident, in most states insurance companies would be legally prohibited from raising your premiums.”

I wonder what the percentage of men who say that having a vasectomy was the right decision for them would be.

“But without question, state ownership of Stone Mountain Park makes it a bit difficult to pretend the carving doesn’t have public sanction, and the side of a mountain is a bit large to be described as a museum.”

Having said that, I heartily approve of this as a remedy.

“It is believed to be the first time the Welsh government has chosen to communicate in Klingon.”

Say, when did Adam and Eve get married, anyway?

Everything I wrote this week about this latest Scary Story echoes and/or repeats everything I’ve been writing for years about all the earlier versions of these Scary Stories, whether the particular prompt is the Satanic baby-killers of Mike Warnke’s lucrative imagination or the Satanic baby-killers of Randall Terry’s unfunny version of the same act.” (Yes, that’s two in a row from The Slactivist. Sue me.)

Paxton’s partner in alleged crime

Meet Fritz Mowery, the man who helped get AG Ken Paxton into trouble.

Ken Paxton

Fritz Mowery was on a mission.

Last April, he tried to convince investment clients to sign backdated forms saying they knew Ken Paxton had received money for referring clients.

In a hearing in March, Mowery said he did it, “because it became an issue with Ken Paxton.”

Paxton, who was sworn in as Texas Attorney General earlier this year, acknowledged in May 2014 that he solicited clients for Mowery without being registered with the state securities board to do that. He described it as an administrative error and paid a fine.

“Mr. Paxton’s deal just seems to be, ‘If I say I’m sorry, everything ought to be OK and it ought to be forgotten,'” said John Sloan, who represented a couple that sued Paxton and Mowery after losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in failed real estate deals. “The problem is the law [passed when] he was in the legislature [that] makes the conduct that he was engaging in a felony.”

[…]

A five-day administrative hearing this past March revealed details about the dealings between the two men. Regulators are seeking to revoke Mowery’s securities license and they allege that he engaged in pattern of misconduct that included misrepresentations, acting in his own self-interest over his clients’, and failing to disclose crucial information to clients.

Testimony showed the two men had been working together as far back 2004, the same year that Mowery founded Mowery Capital Associates.

Paxton was paid 30 percent of management fees for referrals that he made to Mowery.

[…]

But the testimony shows the lengths to which Mowery was going to get clients to sign the backdated disclosures last spring.

In one case, a disclosure was dated as having been signed in 2005. In reality, it wasn’t signed until 2014.

Read the whole thing, it’s quite illuminating. Mowery’s defenders and Paxton’s campaign flack insist that this is all just a big misunderstanding, an innocent mistake that anyone can make, and so on. I think there’s only so many times you can ask people who had no idea that Ken Paxton was getting a kickback when he steered them to Fritz Mowery to sign a backdated form saying that they had been informed up front about the Paxton/Mowery relationship before one is forced to conclude that the behavior was habitual and not accidental. That will presumably be one of the things that the grand jury convening in August will consider, along with whatever evidence of other alleged wrongdoing that the special prosecutors say they have found. As I’ve said, I can’t wait to see how that goes.

In the meantime, you may be wondering about Paxton’s legal bills.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, dogged by a cloud of legal uncertainty since taking office in January, is not using taxpayer dollars to pay his lawyers, according to aides, who left it less clear whether he plans to tap his campaign account.

The question of how he has been footing his legal bills flared up Thursday with the disclosure of campaign finances that showed he spent almost $20,000 on legal services during the first half of the year. A Paxton spokesman indicated the expenses did not have to do with the ongoing fallout from his self-admitted violation of state securities law last year.

A special prosecutor overseeing the latest chapter in the saga has said he plans to ask a Collin County grand jury to indict Paxton on a charge of first-degree felony securities fraud. The grand jury is expected to meet in the next few weeks, and Paxton has hired high-powered Dallas attorney Joe Kendall to represent him.

Before Paxton brought Kendall on board, the attorney general was being represented by Matt Orwig and Bob Webster, two Dallas lawyers whose firms did not show up on Paxton’s most recent campaign finance report. Asked Thursday evening about the legal services listed on the disclosure, Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm said in a statement, “My belief is that none of those are related to the events in Collin County.”

[…]

State law prohibits elected officials from using campaign contributions for personal purposes. One exception, however, is when an elected official is defending a civil or criminal action brought against them in his or her “status as a candidate or officeholder.” Holm has long suggested Paxton is only facing the legal drama because he is a top-ranking elected official, while prosecutors have argued Paxton’s political stature has nothing to do with their work.

The Texas Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion in 1995 that shed some light on how it interprets the so-called “personal use” exception. A district judge had asked the commission whether he could use campaign contributions to pay for his defense against a lawsuit stemming from his time as an attorney before he joined the court. The commission concluded that judge was in the clear as long as he had determined “in good faith that a groundless lawsuit has been filed against him solely because of his status as a judge.”

Defending oneself against felony charges can be quite expensive, as Rick Perry can attest. It will be very interesting to see if Paxton is allowed to tap into his campaign account for this, or it he’ll have to fundraise separately.

The David Temple case

I have not followed this very closely, but it definitely deserves all the attention it has received.

Kelly Siegler

There’s a 1,300-page offense report detailing the investigation into the fatal shooting of Belinda Temple in 1999. There are audio tapes of witnesses who saw the pregnant teacher at Katy High School on the day she was killed later than previously thought. There’s a statement from a teenage neighbor that the Temples’ dog, known for its viciousness, would calm down after sniffing him.

Those are three examples of evidence withheld from David Temple’s defense lawyers that could have helped him at his 2007 trial, lawyers said Monday, as they called for a special prosecutor to investigate the notorious Katy slaying and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Their request comes days after a judge outlined 36 different instances of prosecutorial misconduct by former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and said Temple deserves a new trial.

“David is innocent. He has been convicted of a crime he did not commit,” David Temple’s brother, Darren, told reporters. “We are horrified by the voluminous suppressed evidence, the lies and the prosecutorial misconduct that has occurred over the last 10 years.”

Temple was convicted in 2007 of murder in the fatal shooting death of his wife, Belinda Lucas Temple.

[…]

With the ruling from state District Judge Larry Gist, Temple could get a new trial. The judge’s findings will be forwarded to the state’s highest criminal court to decide.

In the wake of that 19-page decision from Gist, Temple’s family called for District Attorney Devon Anderson to agree that Temple should be free on bail while the case winds its way through the appeals process. They also asked that Anderson reopen the murder case. Both requests were denied by the elected district attorney, who said her office disagrees with Gist’s ruling.

“The Court of Criminal Appeals will rule on the Temple case after a thorough review of the judge’s findings, and the objections filed by our office,” Anderson said in a prepared statement. “Any actions such as reopening an investigation into this case would be premature.”

In his ruling, Gist looked at several assertions by the defense, including that Temple was “actually innocent.” The judge found that he did not hear enough evidence during a 26-day hearing beginning in December to justify “actual innocence.”

He did agree that evidence that could have helped Temple was either delayed so much that it was not helpful or withheld completely.

On Monday, Temple’s attorneys said they will seek the appointment of a special prosecutor to reinvestigate the murder case and the prosecutors accused of withholding evidence and interfering with the appeals process.

“There’s a systemic problem in Harris County,” said Temple’s defense lawyer, Stanley Schneider. “Maybe it’s time for an attorney pro tem to be appointed.”

He blamed a “win at all costs” culture and said it permeated the office from 2002 to 2008 under former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

Attorney Casie Gotro said prosecutors who are still at the office continue to “stonewall” defense efforts to look at all of the evidence.

“We’ve been repeatedly told that things ‘don’t exist’ only to find out later that they do,” Gotro said. “And without fail, they either benefit the defense theory or undermine the state’s theory.”

Here’s the written opinion by the judge in the habeas case, in which the court concluded “the defendant has shown he was denied a fair trial because of the state’s failure to disclose or timely disclose favorable evidence; and that had evidence been disclosed or disclosed timely, the results of the trial would have been different”. Both Lisa Falkenberg and the Chron editorial board have excoriated Siegler and sided with the call for a special prosecutor to take over. I think they’re right about that, and I think given DA Devon Anderson’s past history of being reluctant to act against someone with whom she is connected, she will need to be pressured about it. Kelly Siegler did the world a big favor by helping to expose rogue prosecutor Charles Sebesta, who was recently disbarred for activities similar in nature to the ones Siegler now stands accused of. Justice demands that someone like Kelly Siegler, with no connection to the Harris County DA’s office, now lead an investigation into her behavior in this trial. I respect Siegler’s work as a prosecutor and now as a crusading TV cold case investigator, but reputation only counts for so much. The facts need to be followed, and David Temple deserves his new day in court. Harris County needs to get out of the way. Let’s get going on this. Grits and Murray Newman, a friend and former colleague of Siegler’s, have more.

Boy Scouts rescind ban on gay adults

About time.

The executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America has unanimously approved a resolution that would end the organization’s blanket ban on gay adult leaders and let individual Scout units set their own policy on the long-divisive issue. Units sponsored by churches opposed to the change could maintain the ban if they choose.

In a statement Monday, the BSA said the resolution was approved by the 17-member executive committee on Friday, and would become official policy immediately if ratified by the organization’s 80-member National Executive Board at a meeting on July 27.

The committee action follows an emphatic speech in May by the organization’s president, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, declaring that the long-standing ban on participation by openly gay adults was no longer sustainable. He and other BSA leaders said the ban was likely to be the target of lawsuits that the Scouts were apt to lose.

In 2013, after bitter internal debate, the BSA decided to allow openly gay youth as scouts, but not gay adults as leaders.

Under the new resolution, local scout units would be able to select adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation — a stance that several scout councils have already adopted in defiance of the official national policy.

“This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families,” the BSA statement said. “This change would also respect the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.”

See here for the previous update. I was never a Boy Scout and honestly don’t really care very much about them, but I’m always glad to see an organization make progress. Took ’em long enough, but better late than never.

It’s hard out here on a recycler, part 3

A story in the WaPo about the ongoing struggles of the recycling business.

Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities here in Elkridge, Md. — but it is still losing money. In fact, almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red. And Waste Management and other recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around.

In short, the business of American recycling has stalled. And industry leaders warn that the situation is worse than it appears.

“If people feel that recycling is important — and I think they do, increasingly — then we are talking about a nationwide crisis,” said David Steiner, chief executive of Waste Management, the nation’s largest recycler that owns the Elkridge plant and 50 others.

The Houston-based company’s recycling division posted a loss of nearly $16 million in the first quarter of the year. In recent months, it has shut nearly one in 10 of its biggest recycling facilities. An even larger percentage of its plants may go dark in the next 12 months, Steiner said.

The problems of recycling in America are both global and local. A storm of falling oil prices, a strong dollar and a weakened economy in China have sent prices for American recyclables plummeting worldwide.

Environmentalists and other die-hard conservation advocates question if the industry is overstating a cyclical slump.

“If you look at the long-term trends, there is no doubt that the markets for most recyclables have matured and that the economics of recycling, although it varies, has generally been moving in the right direction,” said Eric A. Goldstein, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council who tracks solid waste and recycling in New York.

“And that’s without factoring in the external impact of landfilling or anything else,” he added. “There aren’t a lot of people saying, ‘Send more material to landfills.’ ”

Still, the numbers speak for themselves: a three-year trend of shrinking profits and rising costs for U.S. municipalities — and little evidence that they are a blip.

Trying to encourage conservation, progressive lawmakers and environmentalists have made matters worse. By pushing to increase recycling rates with bigger and bigger bins — while demanding almost no sorting by consumers — the recycling stream has become increasingly polluted and less valuable, imperiling the economics of the whole system.

“We kind of got everyone thinking that recycling was free,” said Bill Moore, a leading industry consultant on paper recycling who is based in Atlanta. “It’s never really been free, and in fact, it’s getting more expensive.”

[…]

Clemm, the District’s recycling chief, said small efforts can begin to turn the tide. The District must begin by getting more garbage out of its recycling stream.

“Residents have a way to influence this by making sure they are recycling right,” she said.

Another possibility is to follow the urgings of the environmental community by expanding recycling programs to include composting — the banana peels and grass clippings degrading in landfills that by some estimates have become the nation’s third-biggest source of methane gas contributing to global warming. Composting is partly credited with the success of such cities as San Francisco, Portland and Seattle in increasing the share of the waste stream that is recycled each year.

See here and here for some background. The main thing I take away from this is that however intriguing the One Bin For All possibility may be, I just don’t see how it could be economically feasible at this time. Maybe in the future, and maybe never, but not now. It looks like that education/marketing blitz that opponents of One Bin like the Texas Campaign for the Environment have been advocating as the better alternative is the way we will have to go to ensure that our current recycling arrangements can be sustained. We need to do a better job of getting people to put only recyclables in their bins – and in the public receptacles that are often treated the same as garbage cans – and we need to seriously think about a separate collection process for compostable material, as a number of other cities have done. Needless to say, these are issues that the Mayoral candidates should be addressing, which means they need to be getting asked questions about them. I promise to do my part when it’s my turn to do so (and I have been doing so in many of the Council candidate interviews), but until then it would be nice if someone else thought to do it, too.