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January 26th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for January 26

“Trump May Be Even More Unpopular Than His Approval Rating Shows”.

“This passage is one of many reminders that the equation of Christianity with homophobic, racist, misogynist and false beliefs did not originate with any of these writers. It’s an equation that some parents, teachers and church leaders make again and again: To be a good Christian you must not be gay. To be a good Christian you must submit to your husband. To be a good Christian you must believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old. To be a good Christian you must vote Republican. Their children have simply taken them at their word.”

OMG, this Twitter thread of a person watching The Princess Bride for the first time is amazing.

Turns out, paying for Medicare for All isn’t that hard to do.

“The next aircraft carrier to be built will be named for the grandson of slaves and a son of sharecroppers.”

“Which tech companies are really doing the most harm? Here are the 30 most dangerous, ranked by the people who know.”

“The start of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is a reminder that the American political system does include safeguards and norms that are meant to protect the citizenry from corruption and misdeeds in the highest offices of the land. What happens in the Senate over the next few weeks will show whether these measures still matter.”

“35 vintage photos taken by the EPA reveal what American cities looked like before pollution was regulated”. (Spoiler alert: They were so, so dirty.)

“But I think people need to focus a bit more on the fact that this trial isn’t just about winning an acquittal for Trump, but also about keeping him minimally viable as the Republican presidential nominee.”

“Jack Van Impe started his ministry 68 years ago, assuring his followers that the Rapture, Argmageddon, and the End of Time were poised to occur at any moment. At no moment in any of those 68 years did the Rapture occur.”

RIP, Terry Jones, legendary actor and director with the Monty Python troupe.

RIP, Jim Lehrer, longtime journalist for PBS.

“Two Trump Lawyers Dismissed His Own Constitutional Argument Against Impeachment”.

Karlie Kloss is Jared Kushner’s sister-in-law. She will not be voting for Donald Trump. Good luck at the next Thanksgiving, Karlie.

Jay Sekulow is the Emily Litella of impeachment.

“It hurts the brain to think that Ukraine would eagerly blame themselves for something that Russia did, but that was the demand Trump made of them. Did Trump know it was untrue? Was he asking for something legitimate in his own mind, as Lindsey Graham argues?”

RIP, Carol Serling, widow of Rod Serling and keeper of the Twilight Zone flame.

“The House opening arguments in the impeachment trial of President Trump mark the first time lawmakers have explicitly presented the entirety of their evidence about Trump’s handling of Ukraine aid — and thus far, they’ve been nothing short of damning.”

January 2020 campaign finance reports: State House part 2

Here’s Part 2 of my look at the finance reports from State House races. Part 1 was here, Harris County offices were here, and statewide races were here. You may also want to refer to this Trib story and this Reform Austin post for more about the finance reports in the top tier House races.

Martin Shupp, HD03
Lorena Perez McGill, HD15
Jeff Antonelli, HD23
Brian Rogers, HD24
Patrick Henry, HD25
Lawrence Allen, HD26
Sarah DeMerchant
Rish Oberoi, HD26
Suleman Lalani, HD26
Ron Reynolds, HD27
Byron Ross, HD27
Eliz Markowitz, HD28
Travis Boldt, HD29
Joey Cardenas, HD85


Candidate     Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
===================================================
Shupp            450       230        0         450
McGill
Antonelli        200       750        0         200
Rogers         1,225       750        0         475
Henry          1,750     1,019        0       1,750
Allen         20,712     8,733        0       4,994
DeMerchant     6,543    10,250        0         169
Oberoi        27,750    39,159   20,000      55,222
Lalani        40,996    29,092   90,000      91,210
Reynolds      21,654    27,511    5,100       3,741
Ross
Markowitz    244,460   240,034        0     118,308
Boldt         10,445     2,991        0       7,378
Cardenas         250       805    2,000         250

I skipped the Republicans this time, because life is short and I didn’t feel like it. Ron Reynolds did pick up a primary opponent, at the last minute, but now that he’s served his sentence and has no other clouds over his head that I know of, it’s harder to see the motivation to knock him out. The only other primary of interest is in HD26, which will likely go to a runoff. As with the other top-tier races for Dems, there will be plenty of PAC money coming in, but it’s always useful if the candidate can do some of that heavy lifting. No one stands out on that score yet but there’s time.

Of course the marquee event is Eliz Markowitz and the special election runoff in HD28, which continues to draw national interest. If Markowitz falls short it won’t be from lack of effort – there’s been a concerted door-knocking effort going on for weeks, and Beto O’Rourke appears to have taken up residence in HD28 for that effort, if my Twitter feed is any indication. It’s important to remember that this race is just for the remainder of John Zerwas’ term. Markowitz will have to win in November, again against Gary Gates, to be a part of the next Legislature. There will be plenty of Narrative about this election, but in the end November is the real prize. Don’t lose sight of that.

I’ll have SBOE and State Senate next, and will do Congress when those reports are available. As always, let me know what you think.

HISD considers metal detectors

It’s (maybe) come to this.

Houston ISD officials are exploring the idea of installing metal detectors at the district’s middle and high schools in response to last week’s fatal on-campus shooting of a student, a step few districts in the region have taken following nationwide incidents of mass gun violence at schools.

In a blog post, Houston ISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan wrote that she will be meeting with students and community leaders to determine whether the district should increase security measures following the Jan. 14 shooting of Cesar Cortes, 19, at Bellaire High School. Authorities have said they believe a 16-year-old classmate accidentally shot Cortes while showing off a semiautomatic pistol.

“These meetings, along with reconvening safety and security council committees on every campus, will be a catalyst for increased vigilance and preventative measures in our schools,” Lathan wrote Tuesday. “Another measure the district is exploring includes assessing middle schools and high schools for metal detectors as a screening measure for entry onto campuses.”

HISD does not regularly employ metal detectors or require clear backpacks at its campuses. Aldine and Spring ISDs are the only two large Houston-area districts that use metal detectors each school day. Cy-Fair ISD, the region’s second-largest district, issued a clear backpack mandate for students following the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School that left 10 people dead.

[…]

The addition of metal detectors would represent one of HISD’s costliest and most significant security upgrades in recent years. While prices for metal detectors vary, outfitting all 106 campuses that serve grades 6 and higher could be costly, particularly if the district installed multiple machines at larger schools. Chicago Public Schools officials last year approved the purchase of an undisclosed number of metal detectors for nearly $4,000 per unit, with installation and warranty included.

HISD officials have not said who would operate and maintain metal detectors, which could carry additional costs.

Any districtwide purchases of metal detectors likely would require approval of the HISD school board. Trustee Patricia Allen, a former elementary school principal, said she supports the installation of metal detectors in middle and high schools, arguing the increase in security outweighs the logistical hurdles of screening students daily.

“You already see them so much, even at the football stadiums where they have lots of people going through those,” Allen said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

However, Trustee Dani Hernandez said she opposes metal detectors at schools, largely because of the message they send to students. Hernandez added that she heard backlash to metal detectors from community members following the November 2018 death of 18-year-old Delindsey Mack, who was killed in an apparent gang-related shooting within feet of Lamar High School grounds.

“We would need to figure out more about the cost, but also how that plays into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Hernandez, a former elementary school teacher.

Here’s the blog post in question. A little back of the envelope math based on the Chicago schools’ experience suggests this would cost at least $4 million for the equipment, with likely additional costs for the personnel to operate the machines. As the story notes later, HISD will be getting an additional $2 million from the state for “safety-related upgrades”, which is both insufficient and doesn’t address ongoing costs.

Now, the additional cost this would impose on HISD may still be worth it. I’ve got two kids in HISD, and one of my older daughter’s best friends attends Bellaire, so I very much have skin in the game here, and the safety of HISD’s students is something I care a lot about. The first question is, would this be a good way to improve school security? As the story notes, the studies we have so far have not yet shown evidence that metal detectors do improve safety; there wasn’t enough data to draw a conclusion. We’ve all seen news stories of metal detectors at airports failing to detect guns. There’s already evidence that other “security” enhancements at schools, like live shooter drills, has had an overall negative effect on students’ mental health and well-being. Suffice it to say, I’m skeptical.

How many explosions is too many explosions?

Unfortunately, we’re on track to find out.

It’s a scene that’s all too familiar to Houston residents.

Explosions, flames reaching into the sky, plumes of black smoke, calls to shelter in place, evacuations, injuries and deaths.

The explosion early Friday morning at a manufacturing plant was the latest deadly reminder of the potential danger posed by hazardous material facilities in the Houston area.

In 2019, there were at least five major chemical incidents in Southeast Texas.

[…]

The Houston area is home to more than 2,500 chemical facilities. A 2015 Houston Chronicle investigation found there was a major chemical incident in the greater Houston area every six weeks. The investigation found many facilities posed serious threats to the public but were unknown to most neighbors and largely unpoliced by government at all levels.

In November, the Trump administration rolled back a number of chemical safety regulations created in response to the 2013 West Fertilizer explosion that killed 15 and injured more than 200. A coalition of environmental groups sued to stop the rollback.

With those regulations off the books, companies will not have to complete third-party audits or a root-cause analysis after an incident. Companies also will not have to provide the public access to information about what type of chemicals are stored in these facilities either.

While the federal government weakened regulations, Harris County has taken a more aggressive stand with the petrochemical industry in recent months.  The county brought civil lawsuits and criminal charges to multiple chemical companies after incidents in 2019. This has led to a race to the courts as the state and the county fight over taking the lead in penalizing polluters.

I was awake and getting dressed when that explosion happened. It was loud enough that I thought it was something that happened in my house, and I’m a long way from the 4500 block of Gessner. All things considered, we’re damn lucky there weren’t more casualties.

The story goes on to list the other recent disasters, a rogues’ gallery that includes the likes of Intercontinental Terminal Company, KMCO, and the Exxon Mobil plant in Baytown. You can now add Watson Grinding & Manufacturing to that list. It’s just a matter of time before that list grows again.

And look, we all know the stakes of the 2020 election, but this list and the two parties’ responses to it are the stakes of every election. The Republicans roll back regulations that are in place to prevent and mitigate disasters, to hold the negligent companies responsible, and to inform the public of dangers in their midst. The Democrats support and enforce such regulations, and seek to make sure the people know about what’s out there. We know what we’re fighting for this year. Put “fewer giant explosions caused by under-regulated and uninspected facilities that contain all kinds of dangerous materials” high on the list of things we should be fighting for in 2022 and beyond.