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November 21st, 2021:

Weekend link dump for November 21

“For decades, U.S. cities have been closing or neglecting public restrooms, leaving millions with no place to go. Here’s how a lack of toilets became an American affliction.”

“Anyway that is what the University of Austin is. Now I would like to talk to you about how I plan to build a winning basketball program there.”

“There haven’t been enough school bus drivers nationwide for years. But it took a pandemic to make that shortage visible and painful to more than just the drivers themselves.” Better pay would definitely help here.

“What lessons should the U.S. and world learn from the rising Covid cases in parts of Europe, and especially the recent surge in a highly vaccinated country like Germany; and what risks and cautions could Germany’s recent experience foretell for the U.S.?”

RIP, Sam Huff, NFL Hall of Fame linebacker.

RIP, Petra Mayer, beloved books editor on NPR’s Culture desk.

Sesame Street‘s first Asian American Muppet character will be featured in upcoming See Us Coming Together: A Sesame Street Special on Thanksgiving Day”. Don’t tell Ted Cruz.

Lock them up.

“That’s where the good news comes in: Antivaxxers realize that they’re losing the war. They’re attempting to adapt to a largely vaccinated world with ludicrous post-shot remedies. But the outcome is not terrible: more vaccinated people, taking very itchy borax baths.”

“Along these lines I wanted to point out an abiding feature of Trumpism and Bannon’s role in it: in this self-styled American ‘nationalist’ movement it’s surprisingly difficult to find … well, Americans.”

“Cleveland will have two teams called the Guardians. The Major League Baseball franchise and a local roller derby club have reached a resolution in a lawsuit filed over the use of the name Guardians, allowing both to continue using it.”

“Their house was a museum. Old photographs and honest-t0-God daguerrotypes hung on the walls — all at what was, to them, eye level. When I first saw their television, I didn’t know what it was. It looked to me like some kind of wood-finish jukebox, with unlabeled dials and a tiny, almost round screen. It still worked and they would warm it up every evening, twisting those dials to watch Al Roker and Sue Simmons on Live at Five in black and white. The thing still ran even though its tubes and other parts hadn’t been made since Philo Farnsworth had died. They had somehow become friends with an eccentric tinkerer who lived in Brooklyn and took the train out every month or so to have some tea and keep their ancient set in working order. He didn’t charge them — he just wanted the privilege of getting to handle such a thing.”

“The fact that nobody reading this has likely heard any of these names before is what makes them so fascinating. None of them has the star power of Miller or McEnany. They’ll likely struggle to raise the kind of legal defense fund money that’s being raised in support of other Trumpworld denizens. And, crucially, all of them had access to the exact same information as their bosses.”

I don’t know you well enough to know if you would want to click on a link to a story about a “mega-spider”, but it’s there for you if you want it.

“Whether we like it or not, there are numerous loopholes and vagaries in our method of choosing a president. None of them have been remedied since 2020. And there are now multiple examples for the next would-be coup leader to draw from when exploiting the flaws inherent in the electoral system. If anything, Republican-controlled states have been moving to codify those flaws for their own benefit, making it easier for legislatures to overturn the will of the people.”

“We’ve long known that Trump did the opposite of what public health experts advised. More concerned with his own standing in the polls than with the health and safety of the citizenry, Trump dismissed or minimized the threat and sent a mixed message on masks, social distancing, and testing. The new revelations from the committee underscore his immense negligence and dereliction of duty that led to the preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands.”

“A growing group of laborers is trailing hurricanes and wildfires the way farmworkers follow crops, contracting for big disaster-recovery firms, and facing exploitation, injury, and death.”

Meet the guy who created The Oregon Trail, and then basically gave it away. (Which he’s perfectly happy about, by the way.)

The Jamal Hinton/Wanda Dench Thanksgiving story is my new favorite holiday tradition.

RIP, Dave Frishberg, Grammy-nominated songwriter best known for his contributions to Schoolhouse Rock, including the classic “I’m Just A Bill”.

RIP, Bobby Collins, former Southern Miss and SMU football coach. He was the SMU coach at the time that school received the infamous “death penalty” for recruitment violations, though he himself was never sanctioned for them.

The growing field for Land Commissioner

We have some interesting candidates on our side.

Jay Kleberg

A member of a South Texas family that owns one of the largest ranches in the country is seeking the Democratic nomination for Texas land commissioner, the statewide office overseeing the Alamo’s operations and the state’s natural disaster recovery efforts.

The seat will be open during the 2022 election as Republican incumbent George P. Bush runs for attorney general.

Jay Kleberg, an Austin-based conservationist whose family owns the sprawling King Ranch in Kingsville, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Wednesday that his campaign will focus on fighting climate change, managing the state’s disaster recovery and improving benefits for veterans.

“It’s the responsibility of the land commissioner to combat climate change and it seems like a bold statement in Texas politics right now, but we’ve gotta follow the science,” Kleberg said.

The Texas General Land Office manages 13 million acres of public lands and mineral rights across the state. As a result, Kleberg said the office has the “ability to diversify its portfolio of renewables” and “lead the state toward a low-emission future.”

Kleberg formerly served as associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

[…]

Kleberg said he is optimistic, pointing to his experience with the responsibilities of the office and saying conservation brings a “lot of people together.” And he suggested his bid would be well-funded, noting he has been able to raise over $100 million for conservation efforts.

This will not be Kleberg’s first bid for public office. In 2010, Kleberg ran as a Republican for the El Paso-area Texas House District 78, which is currently represented by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. But Kleberg fell short in the three-way GOP primary that year to Dee Margo, who unseated Moody in the November general election.

Kleberg, asked Wednesday about his party switch, said that while he considers himself “a Texan first” he feels “strong about running as a Democrat” and is looking forward to the race.

“Texas deserves a representation that believes in combating climate change and bringing people together — not dividing them,” he said.

That’s Jay Kleberg of Kleberg County, where the King Ranch is. Fair to say, he’s a bit atypical for a Texas Democrat. You can see his announcement video here. He joins a field that according to the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet has four Republicans and four Democrats so far. The latter group includes Jinny Suh and two dudes I’ve not heard of.

The fact that Kleberg once ran for office as a Republican doesn’t bother me. It should be clear by now that there are a significant number of former Republicans out there, and anyone who is going to put fighting climate change at the top of their agenda is going to get a full hearing from Democratic voters. The fact that he’d be another white guy on the Democratic ballot is not a problem of his making, but as he’d have to defeat a woman of color to get there, it’s a question he’ll have to address. I think we know by now that anything can happen in these lower-profile downballot statewide primaries – for all we know, one of those other guys may win the nomination and have to answer those questions.

Of interest to me is that Kleberg County is one of the places that moved towards Trump in 2020. Obama won it 53.4% to 45.6% in 2012, Hillary won it 49.6% to 45.9% in 2016, and Beto took it 51.8% to 47.5% in 2018, but Trump carried it 50.3% to 48.6% in 2020. I should note that Kleberg split tickets in every year I looked – Republican State Rep. JM Lozano won it every year, Greg Abbott beat Wendy Davis in 2014 by a hair and Lupe Valdez by double digits in 2018, while Leticia van de Putte and Mike Collier won it in those years. Eva Guzman won it in 2016, while Chrysta Castaneda and several of the statewide Democratic judicial candidates took it in 2020. Maybe Kleberg can move the needle a bit in his home county – which by itself doesn’t mean much, as there were just under 11K votes cast there last year – and more importantly in other counties like it. I have no idea if this may be the case, or if he’d do better than Jinny Suh or one of the other dudes. It’s just the sort of thing I think about when doing posts like this. The main takeaway for you should be to pay attention to this race, the choice you make matters.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson to retire

The end of an era.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Longtime U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, announced Saturday she is not running for reelection after serving nearly three decades in Congress.

“I have gone back and forth … the whole time because of the pleading and the asking, but as of January … the year after next, I will step down,” Johnson said during an event in Dallas. “I will retire, and let me assure that I will also recommend to you whom I feel is the best to follow me.”

Johnson added she is looking for a “female that is qualified.”

First elected to Congress in 1992, Johnson, 85, is among its most senior members — the longest-serving member from Texas — and serves as dean of the Texas delegation. She chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

A former state legislator, Johnson is known for breaking barriers. She was the first Black woman ever elected to public office in Dallas when she won a state House seat in 1972. She went on to become the first registered nurse to ever serve in Congress.

[…]

The decision Johnson announced Saturday is consistent with what she told constituents in 2019 — that her current term would be her last. However, since winning reelection last year, she had declined to confirm that, fueling speculation about whether she would reverse herself in recent months.

Democrats began to circle her seat as questions about her 2022 plans persisted. In May, Jane Hope Hamilton, a former top staffer for Joe Biden’s campaign in Texas, launched an exploratory committee for the seat, saying she would run if Johnson chose not to seek reelection. And last month, Abel Mulugheta, the former chief of staff to state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, announced an outright campaign for the seat. Jessica Mason, a Navy veteran and progressive activist, is also running for the Democratic nomination.

Toward the end of her speech Saturday, Johnson was emphatic that she would endorse in the race to replace her, saying “I would appreciate you appreciating my judgment.”

“Anybody that’s been already been rejected in this district, they will not be receiving my endorsement,” Johnson said, a likely reference to Barbara Mallory Caraway, who has repeatedly challenged Johnson in primary elections over the years.

A trailblazer and a force to be reckoned with, Rep. Johnson will be missed in Congress. I’ll be very interested to see who she endorses. I wish Rep. Johnson all the best with the next phase of her life. Texas Public Radio, CNN, and the DMN have more.

Rolling coal

From last week.

A teen who struck six cyclists while allegedly blanketing them in black smoke along a Waller County road faces six felony counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

“One for each of the people he almost killed with his reckless and violent behavior behind the wheel,” said Rachael Maney, national director for Bike Law Network, which is representing the riders, in a statement.

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis presented the case to a grand jury last week, with the recommended charges.

“Earlier today the juvenile voluntarily surrendered himself, and was detained by representatives from the juvenile justice department where he will be held in custody until further orders of the juvenile court,” Mathis said in a statement.

Because the driver was 16, the charges are filed in juvenile court, but could be elevated to adult court. Charging someone under the age of 17 as an adult requires a process that must be certified by a County Court at Law judge. Mathis did not respond when asked whether prosecutors were seeking to elevate the case to adult criminal court.

Rick DeToto, a Houston lawyer hired by the teen’s parents, said because of the “confidentiality laws surrounding juvenile cases, we have no further comment at this time.”

“My client and his family continue to pray for the quick recovery of the injured bikers,” DeToto said.

The six cyclists on a training ride were struck Sept. 25 as they rode with dozens of others along U.S. 290 Business about two miles west of downtown Waller. Four of the injured were taken to area hospitals, two with significant injuries.

“We are happy to report that our clients continue to make advancements, no matter how small, on the long road of physical recovery ahead,” Maney said.

[…]

Maney, speaking for the other lawyers representing the riders, credited local officials for — albeit weeks later — treating the case seriously.

“I believe that … Mathis and special prosecutor Warren Diepraam have done their jobs to deliver what is a real step towards justice given what’s possible and what’s not within the Texas criminal justice system,” Maney wrote. “A system that does not favor people on bikes and generally provides far too much room for police and other prosecutors to endorse the marginalization of cyclists and other vulnerable road users through their historic inaction.”

Many cyclists, including those outside the area as the case drew national attention, heavily criticized local officials for not arresting or charging the teen at the scene and suggested the small-town politics of Waller led to a lax response.

“When law enforcement lets drivers get away with threatening and attacking people on bikes, they send a message that drivers own the road, and that anyone else is merely an obstruction,” said BikeHouston Executive Director Joe Cutrufo.

I don’t have a strong opinion on what an appropriate punishment for a 16-year-old should be in this instance. I’m just of the opinion that he cannot be allowed to get away with it, which it looked like he might at first. This malicious stunt could have easily had a death count with it, and he needs to feel some consequences for that, both for his own good and to serve as a warning to other idiots like him.

I’m willing to wait and see what happens with the criminal justice part of this, since it is at least on track. But there are other issues to consider as well.

Rolling coal is nothing new in truck-loving Texas. Videos of elaborately tricked-out pickups blasting diesel smoke are all over social media. But the recent incidents have raised questions about the practice of tampering with diesel engines.

Just a week or so after the Waller crash, an unidentified driver was seen on a now-deleted viral video rolling coal into a packed Whataburger in Cypress off of U.S. 290 after a high school football game. The person who took the video, Jayson Manzanares of Bridgeland High School, said he often sees drivers in his area rolling coal, but usually at a stoplight and not directed at people.

Local truck aficionados and environmental advocates agree coal rollers are an inexperienced, rogue minority of drivers who give diesel a bad name. But many who don’t roll coal do tamper with their diesel vehicles’ exhaust systems, often disabling the emissions control system or installing aftermarket defeat devices that help cheat emissions tests, as Volkswagen did in its scandal. The practice adds huge amounts of pollutants to the air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Modifying diesel exhaust systems is illegal, but drivers rarely are sanctioned for doing so, or for using diesel smoke to harass or harm pedestrians, bicyclists or other drivers. Until that happens, the practice is unlikely to stop, officials and safety and environmental advocates say.

I mean, this should be a total no-brainer. Put some real penalties into the crime of “rolling coal”, with actual enforcement, and do the same for tampering with diesel exhaust systems. I know we won’t get that with our current Legislature, but put it on the wish list for the future.