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April 30th, 2016:

Saturday video break: It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie

Combining two of my favorite things in this post, beginning with the Asylum Street Spankers:

Man, I miss these guys. I caught every show they did in Houston for several years running, including some in the most smoke-filled room in town, a dive called Rudyard’s, back before the city’s no-smoking ordinance was extended to bars and other non-eateries. Probably took a couple of years off my life, but it was worth it. They owned any stage they were on, and their range and musicianship could not be beaten. Oh, and they all had potty mouths, as I probably should have warned you before you played that clip. Oh, well.

Did you know that Brent Spiner, a/k/a Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation released an album back when that show was on the air? It was called Ol’ Yellow Eyes Is Back, and it featured this song. You can probably guess what happened next:

With bonus Patrick Stewart, even. This, THIS, is why the Internet was invented. Anyone who tells you otherwise is telling you a lie. And you know what telling a lie is.

UPDATE: How about this, from the Quebe Sisters?

Awesome. Thanks to Ginger in the comments for the recommendation.

SCOTUS declines to intervene in voter ID case for now

Not what I would have wanted, but not the end of the line.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Even as a federal appeals court prepares to review the constitutionality of Texas’ controversial voter ID law, the law will remain in effect, the U.S. Supreme Court said in an order Friday.

However, noting the time-sensitive nature of the case as the November elections approach, the Supreme Court also hinted that if the full U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals hasn’t issued a definitive ruling by July 20, the justices may revisit the issue.

[…]

Oral arguments are scheduled for May 24.

In the interim, civil rights groups filed a petition with Justice Clarence Thomas, who sits at the head of the 5th Circuit to review emergency appeals. One the groups, the Campaign Legal Center, asked the Supreme Court to strike down the questionable laws while their legality is determined, so that there is sufficient time to spread information about who can vote in the November general elections.

Texas officials asked the justices to let the law stand, arguing that Texas will ultimately win the case. If the law were struck down temporarily and then restored later, it would cause “irreparable injury,” they said.

On Friday, the Supreme Court sided with Texas officials – but seemed to push the 5th Circuit toward making a speedy ruling as the presidential election approaches.

“The Court recognizes the time constraints the parties confront in light of the scheduled elections in November,” the Supreme Court’s order said. “If, on or before July 20, 2016,” the 5th Circuit hasn’t taken any action, the nine justices might revisit the issue, it added.

See here, here, and here for some background. A fuller quote from the SCOTUS ruling, via the Chron story, is “If, on or before July 20, 2016, the Court of Appeals has neither issued an opinion on the merits of the case nor issued an order vacating or modifying the current stay order, an aggrieved party may seek interim relief from this Court by filing an appropriate application. An aggrieved party may also seek interim relief if any change in circumstances before that date supports further arguments respecting the stay order.” We’ll see if this at least puts a bit of a fire underneath the Fifth Circuit’s robes. A statement from the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) is beneath the fold, and the Lone Star Project and Trail Blazers have more.

(more…)

GetMe waits in the wings

No matter what happens with the rideshare repeal referendum in Austin, there will be at least one vehicle for hire company in the capital city.

Early voting is underway in Austin on Proposition 1, where residents will decide which regulations the city should adopt for vehicle-for-hire companies like Uber and Lyft.

Both companies have pledged to leave the city if the proposed ordinance is not adopted — a claim they’ve made good on in three Texas cities this year. But at least one ride-hailing company insists it can fill the gap Uber and Lyft would leave behind.

“We’re not going to be the donkey or the elephant,” said Jonathan Laramy, the chief experience officer for Get Me LLC, which the company has stylized as getme. “We’re here to stay. Vote Prop. 1, vote Prop. 2 – we don’t care.”

[…]

Laramy said getme — which currently operates in Austin, Dallas, Houston and Las Vegas — is willing to adhere to any local regulations, as long as the process for obtaining fingerprint-based background checks is “fast, easy and cost effective.”

“We’re a good corporate citizen,” Laramy said, adding that the company is willing to collaborate with cities on their regulations.

While his company is still working out the specifics, Laramy said that “at some point, we will fingerprint all of our drivers” — even in cities without a requirement.

If Austin voters do not approve the proposed ordinance, Uber and Lyft have said they will leave the city — although The Daily Dot reported last week that Uber fully intends to stay, regardless of the outcome of the election. If the companies leave, Laramy said getme would be prepared to process a potential influx of driver applications.

“We have a platform where we could actually — and we already have this in place and ready to go — sign up conceivably 5,000 drivers in a month, if not more,” Laramy said. He would not elaborate on specifics of the plan, but he said it involved “using information that’s already been done and then verifying and showing us that.”

After starting up in Dallas in February 2015, getme recently relocated its headquarters to Austin. Laramy said it has more than 10,000 drivers across the four cities where it operates, more than 2,000 of whom are in Houston. The company boasts 6 corporate employees and a handful of contractors, making it a significantly smaller operation than ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft.

Laramy says the company soon plans to offer services in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago and Atlanta. In Texas, he said, the company is launching operations in Galveston next week and Corpus Christi this summer.

This follows Uber’s cessation of operations in Galveston and Corpus Christi earlier this year after both cities adopted fingerprint background check requirements. Laramy said getme’s interest in both cities was unrelated to Uber’s actions and that they had planned to launch in both locations well before Uber left.

“You can’t get home if you take a ride down there,” said Laramy, describing someone looking to travel between Houston and Galveston using getme. “It’s silly not to have both cities.”

See here and here for more on GetMe, which will likely get a little extra exposure here in Houston now as well. That Daily Dot report seems thinly sourced and contradicts everything we’ve heard so far, but who knows. Regardless of the outcome on May 7, I suspect there will be more than a few people in Austin looking for an alternative to Uber and Lyft, so whether they clear out or not, this is a smart move on GetMe’s part. Has anyone out there used them?

Cornyn files bill to speed up floodgate construction process

Credit where credit is due.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn filed legislation Wednesday that he says would expedite the long process of constructing a hurricane protection system for the Texas coast, including the particularly vulnerable Houston region.

But while local officials cheered the high-profile support, it’s unclear how much the measure would actually speed anything up.

Most agree on the need to build a project known as the “coastal spine” — a massive floodgate and barrier system — to protect the Houston region from a devastating hurricane that could kill thousands and cripple the national economy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that construction on any such system for Texas couldn’t begin until 2024 at the earliest.

Cornyn’s bill is intended to hurry things along by requiring the Corps to take local studies into account and by eliminating the need for Congress to authorize construction of whatever project the Corps recommends.

The Corps has already said it would consider locally done studies, however. And while getting rid of the need for Congressional authorization could shave off a small amount of time, the real hurdle will be getting Congress to help fund what is sure to be a multi-billion-dollar project.

“The devil’s in the details, right?” said Bob Mitchell, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. “But I will tell you that for the senator to step up and start this process is very positive, and it can’t do anything but help … the positive is Senator Cornyn has done something, and we’ve got to build on it.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Shortly thereafter, Cornyn’s bill had a House companion.

Two days after U.S. Sen. John Cornyn filed legislation seeking to expedite a hurricane protection plan for Texas, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber said he expects to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. House in the coming weeks.

The two Republicans hope their efforts will speed up the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ long process of studying, approving and building a hurricane protection system for the Texas coast. (The Army Corps has estimated that under a normal timeline, construction on such a system could not start until 2024 at the earliest.)

“We’re heightening awareness, we’re trying to get this ratcheted up as quickly as we can, so that when appropriations do come into play, we can say, ‘OK, here’s the project we’ve been talking about, here’s why it’s important, and we’re just one step closer to getting funding for it,'” Weber said Friday in a phone interview.

As you know, I have zero faith that Congress will pay for any of this. I think Cornyn will have a hard enough time just getting his bill to a vote in the Senate, and I have less faith that Weber can do the same in the dismal catastrophe that is the Republican-controlled House. Nonetheless, someone still has to file a bill like this, so kudos to Sen. Cornyn and Rep. Weber for taking the first step. They has their work cut out for them from here, and they are both a part of the reason why it’s basically impossible to get stuff like this done nowadays, but they did file their bills, so good on them for that. The Press has more.

Don’t let the mosquitoes bite

That’s going to be a challenge.

Mosquitoes don’t breed in flood waters. They drown in them, said Dr. Mustapha Debboun, director of the Mosquito Control Division at Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services.

But it’s after the flood waters subside that mosquito breeding becomes an issue, he said. And with the Zika virus on everyone’s radar over the past few months, Debboun said they’ll be heading into neighborhoods to mount an education campaign once the high waters recede in order to keep the spread of the virus under wraps as much as possible.

[…]

Debboun said that, even after the floods, there is no need to panic. There are several things that people can do to keep potential Zika-carrying mosquitoes away. For one — and this one’s a bit of a no-brainer — people should wear insect repellent, especially as the temperatures begin to rise in May, Debboun said, if they don’t want to get bitten. Most importantly, though, people need to drain any small or large containers that filled with water during the flood, Debboun said. The mosquitoes like to breed in shallow, stagnant water, whether in big buckets or flower pots or even a water bottle left outside. And mosquitoes that carry Zika are exactly the types of mosquitoes that live in your backyard, who like these environments. “People have to help us in denying mosquitoes the chance to breed in those containers full of water,” Debboun said.

At a meeting in Greenspoint Wednesday night, Mayor Sylvester Turner also urged residents not to leave wet debris and ruined furniture from their homes out on the curb or their front lawns so as to not attract mosquitoes. He said Waste Management has pitched in by providing dozens of large dumpsters in those worst-hit neighborhoods.

As the story notes, Zika is already here. How much of a problem it becomes remains to be seen. I’m sure there will be plenty of spraying and other mitigation done by the city and the county, but do your part, too. Get rid of standing water, and use mosquito repellent. Let’s try to keep the little bastards under control.