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November 10th, 2019:

Weekend link dump for November 10

“It is not my job to decide if Brett Kavanaugh is guilty. It’s impossible for me to do so with incomplete information, and with no process for testing competing facts. But it’s certainly not my job to exonerate him because it’s good for his career, or for mine, or for the future of an independent judiciary. Picking up an oar to help America get over its sins without allowing for truth, apology, or reconciliation has not generally been good for the pursuit of justice. Our attempts to get over CIA torture policies or the Iraq war or anything else don’t bring us closer to truth and reconciliation. They just make it feel better—until they do not. And we have all spent far too much of the past three years trying to tell ourselves that everything is OK when it most certainly is not normal, not OK, and not worth getting over.”

“A Georgia law prevented 87,000 people from voting last year. And it could have a big impact in 2020.”

Everything you ever wanted to know about the girl from the “Baby Shark” viral video. You’re welcome.

How old are we? We’re so old that the movie Blade Runner is no no longer set in the future. That’s how old we are.

“E. Jean Carroll, the writer and advice columnist who in June came forward with allegations that President Donald Trump raped her inside the dressing rooms of Bergdorf Goodman more than twenty years ago, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the president.”

“To be clear, I have not seen any evidence that the president should be impeached. I obviously do not believe the president is a dictator, but his repeated use of unilateral action sure makes him look like one.” Guess who said that and about whom it was said.

Facebook has rebranded itself as FACEBOOK. I’m sure everyone will treat that with all due respect.

“Researchers hack Siri, Alexa, and Google Home by shining lasers at them”.

Mike Pence involved in the Ukraine quid pro quo? Mike Pence involved in the Ukraine quid pro quo.

“One of the finest spectacles in astronomy is to witness the passage of one object in front of another. This can transpire as an eclipse, an occultation, or a rare event known as a planetary transit. We get a shot at seeing just such a singular event next Monday on 11 November, as a transit of Mercury across the face of Sol occurs for the last time this decade.”

“Republicans’ Sad New Trump Defense: Is Attempted Murder Really a Crime?”

What Amber Briggle says.

“The whistle-blower is the one who is acting in the prescribed lawful way; the President and his henchmen are the ones—no surprise here—calling on the media to violate the point and purpose of the law.”

RIP, Nikki Araguz Loyd, Houston transgender activist.

“Perhaps most importantly, we need an alternative, affirmative internet that is powerful and attractive to users around the world in its own right. Right now, the choice is between the U.S. internet—dominated by Silicon Valley companies who proclaim the need for “internet freedom” to justify their hands-off approach to hate, terrorism, bullying, and election manipulation—and China’s.”

But…if Vanna is hosting Wheel of Fortune, then who’s turning the letters?

About those Council runoffs

All of a sudden there’s many fewer candidates to keep track of.

Tiffany Thomas

Some candidates said they were happy simply to have made it to a runoff. Several races had more than a dozen people vying for the top two vote counts, resulting in razor-thin margins that decided who moved forward.

Brad “Scarface” Jordan said he was still in shock Wednesday. The former member of the Geto Boys hip hop group hadn’t expected to advance, but ultimately took second in a 16-candidate field for District D.

“This is unbelievable bro,” he said. “I’m just as shocked as you are.”

Others, like incumbent Michael Kubosh in At-Large 3 (47.8 percent), Amy Peck in District A (45.4 percent) and Tiffany Thomas in District F (38.9 percent), enter their runoffs with commanding leads.

“We could have won outright last night if those clowns weren’t on the ballot,” Thomas said of the candidates eliminated Tuesday, most of whom polled in the single digits. “They didn’t work at the polls, they weren’t at early voting.”

Peck said her level of support indicated that voters want a continuation of the service they have seen under incumbent Brenda Stardig. Peck is Stardig’s chief of staff, and she has pledged to work towards finishing drainage and infrastructure projects already underway.

“Being that far ahead, it’s a clear message of what the voters want,” Peck said.

[…]

Thomas, the top vote-getter in District F, raised questions that her opponent, Van Huynh, has faced about his residency. He is incumbent Steve Le’s chief of staff.

Three of the last four District F council members, including Le, have faced questions about whether they live in the southwestern district, as required by city charter and state law.

“I don’t run nasty races, but I do think it’s a valid point that I’m in a runoff with someone who doesn’t live here,” Thomas said.

Huynh, who did not return calls for comment Wednesday, listed his address in campaign filings as a house he rents just off Brays Bayou, but he and his wife claim a homestead exemption on a home they have owned for two decades that sits outside District F.

The council aide has said he stays in the rental he listed on his filing form two to three nights a week, and last month provided a copy of his lease that lists his “main address” at his home outside the district.

Huynh said he and his family are in the process of moving to a new home in the district, but they did not purchase that home until July of this year. City rules require candidates to live in the district they hope to represent for 12 months before election day, but experts say the dictate is hard to enforce.

I must say, I appreciate Tiffany Thomas bringing a little spice to the conversation. She’s also right – an awful lot of those 124 candidates never bothered filing a campaign finance report, which is a pretty minimal Serious Candidate Thing to do. Now that we’re down to two candidates per race, we can get some focus. As I said before, all of the At Large races involve one Democrat and one Republican, which allows for some clarity of choice. Some of the candidates still on the ballot have done interviews with me, either this cycle or a previous one, and others I will try to get to between now and the start of December. Everyone will have either six or seven city candidates on their runoff ballot, depending on what happened in their district, so everyone has plenty of reason to vote again. Figure out who you want to support and make sure you show up.

District Court Judge Smoots-Thomas accused of wire fraud

Yikes.

Alexandra Smoots-Thomas

A Harris County judge is facing federal charges that accuse her of using campaign donations for personal expenses, including for mortgage payments, private school tuition and travel.

Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas, 44, is charged with wire fraud charges, according to federal prosecutors. She turned herself in to U.S. Magistrate Peter Bray, appearing before him with chains wrapped around her waist and ankles.

She pleaded not guilty to the charges, and the magistrate set a pre-trial conference for Jan. 6.

Wearing a gray and black suit, she kept her head down for most of the arraignment. Smoots-Thomas has breast cancer, and had a round of chemotherapy on Thursday, attorney Kent Schaffer said.

Schaffer denied the charges after the proceeding, alleging that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, under Ryan Patrick, was targeting Smoots-Thomas because she is a black female Democrat.

“She has not defrauded anybody,” he said.

Patrick’s office has been contacted for comment on Schaffer’s allegations.

A federal grand jury on Oct. 24 returned a seven-count indictment against Smoots-Thomas, who presides over the 164th District Court and has jurisdiction over civil cases within Harris County. The indictment was unsealed on Friday.

[…]

The indictment alleges Smoots-Thomas of soliciting campaign contributions on the premise the money would be used to help facilitate her re-election campaigns in 2012 and 2016, prosecutors said. She concealed the expenses from her campaign treasurer and the Texas Ethics Commission by filing false campaign finance reports, according to the charges.

Obviously, this is bad and upsetting. She is of course innocent until proven guilty, but federal prosecutors tend to prefer bringing charges in cases they feel confident about winning.

Judge Smoots-Thomas was first elected in 2008. She was known as Alexandra Smoots-Hogan then; I know she had gotten divorced, and I presume remarried. There’s always a question about whether elected officials who are accused of crimes should resign when that happens. This is where I point out that Ken Paxton is still Attorney General, and I have not called for his resignation because he has not yet been convicted of anything. I’m inclined to believe that Kent Schaffer’s allegation about Assistant US Attorney Ryan Patrick is more defense lawyer strategy than anything else, but if all it took was an indictment to force someone out of office, then it’s certainly possible to imagine a politically motivated prosecutor filing sketchy charges as a partisan tactic. Plenty of people have been unjustly prosecuted in other contexts, after all. It’s a terrible look and I’m sure Republicans are rubbing their hands with glee over the potential attack ads, but even public officials get their day in court.

You really have to plan for every election

Whether or not they actually happen.

Judge Michael Keasler

For months, Democrats Mark Watson and Mike Snipes have been running 2020 campaigns for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 6. They’ve raised money, filed official paperwork, gathered signatures, traveled to far corners of the state, devoured East Texas delicacies, created Facebook pages, won endorsements, launched websites and given interviews with journalists.

There’s just one problem: There is probably not going to be an election.

The current occupant of that seat, Republican Judge Michael Keasler, is 77, and according to the state’s mandatory retirement law for judges, he must finish his decades of service on the state’s highest criminal court by the end of next year at the latest. State law permits him to finish four years of the six-year term he was elected to in 2016.

According to the Texas Constitution, Keasler’s seat will become vacant at the end of next December, and Gov. Greg Abbott is empowered to fill judicial vacancies. But the little-known and rarely relevant law seems to have led to some confusion: Would Keasler’s seat be filled in 2021 by the governor, or in 2020 by the voters?

If the Democrats were confused, they certainly weren’t the only ones.

In August, when an official from the state Democratic Party emailed state elections administrators to ask whether there would be a race, a lawyer for the secretary of state’s office reported that there would.

“I figured it out,” wrote Christina Adkins in an Aug. 15 email obtained by The Texas Tribune. “Judge Keasler is subject to mandatory retirement so his position is on the ballot in 2020.”

The race was included on the state’s list of offices up for election in 2020, posted earlier this year, and remained there as recently as Wednesday morning. Later that day, a Texas Tribune journalist emailed the agency to ask whether the seat would be up in 2020. As of Thursday, it was no longer listed on the state’s website.

A spokesman for the agency said Friday that “there is no vacancy until December 31, 2020, and the office is not already on the ballot.”

The story includes a before-and-after screenshot from the SOS website, which one day did list CCA6 as a 2020 race and then the next day did not. At this point, I’d have to say that barring anything unexpected this race will next be on the 2022 ballot as currently scheduled. At least Watson and Snipes will be ready to hit the ground running when that time comes around.