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June 16th, 2008:

Save the date: TexBlog PAC fundraiser

This is a heads up to mark Thursday, June 26 on your calendar for the next TexBlog PAC fundraiser in Houston.

Please join host Mustafa Tameez

and sponsors:
State Representatives Ellen Cohen, Jessica Farrar, Armando Walle, and Ana Hernandez
Democratic Candidate for U.S. Congress Michael Skelly
Democratic Candidate for State Senate Joe Jaworski
Democratic Candidates for State Representative Carol Alvarado, Sherrie Matula, Joel Redmond and John McClelland
Houston area bloggers Martha Griffin and Charles Kuffner
and many more…as we come together to take back the Texas House
Join us at a

TexBlog PAC Event

with special guest
State Representative Garnet Coleman

Thursday, June 26, 2008
5:30 to 7:30 pm
Rice Lofts, Room 203
909 Texas Avenue

$25 Contribution Suggested

Sponsorships available at the following levels:

$500 $250 $125 $50

Please make all checks payable to:
TexBlog PAC
501 E. Stassney Lane, Ste 1010, Austin TX, 78745

or contribute online by visiting:
http://actblue.com/entity/fundraisers/18185

Our previous event, held last fall, was a big success, and I expect this one to be even bigger. If you have any questions, please leave me a comment or drop me a line. Hope to see you there!

Why we evacuate

If there’s another call to evacuate the Houston area because of a hurricane threat, this will be part of the reason why.

Imagine a Category 3 hurricane striking the western end of Bolivar Peninsula. The storm surge would raise water levels by 6 feet in Galveston Bay and along Galveston Island, according to computer models.

Now, imagine the same storm striking a mere 20 miles down the coast, just past the Galveston seawall. The surge would push as much as 17 feet of water into Galveston Bay and 13 feet along much of Galveston Island, clipping it from behind even if the seawall buttressed the initial waves.

The two landfall scenarios just 20 miles apart would mean the difference between excellent surfing conditions in Galveston and monstrous, fatal waves of water.

[…]

For the most part, evacuations are intended to move people away from the storm surge. The question is whether the science of surge modeling can aid evacuation managers anytime soon.

The storm surge forecasting tool, known as the Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes model, is accurate to within 20 percent if given perfect information about a storm’s landfall time and location. But such information is rarely perfect.

Although the National Hurricane Center’s tracking forecasts are now about three times better than they were in 1970, predictions made 24 hours before landfall still have an average error of about 60 miles.

Three days out — roughly the minimum time needed to call a mass evacuation in the greater Houston area — the error is about 150 miles.

“Can we ever be accurate to within 10 miles?” asked the hurricane center’s chief, Bill Read. “Probably not within my lifetime.”

Put another way, mass evacuations are here to stay — at least for decades.

Just something to keep in mind. On the plus side, the early indicators point towards a relatively quiet hurricane season, though as one commenter noted, there were only four named storms in 1983, it’s just that one of them was Alicia. So let’s not get too cocky just yet.

Come to Houston, if you can

There’s a great job waiting for you here in Houston, if you can afford the move.

As houses linger on the market and prices continue to fall in many U.S. cities, some recruiters in Houston are wringing their hands.

[Carole] Hackett understands better than most because she moved last year from particularly hard-hit Cleveland. It took about six months to sell her house there.

“My intuition is that the housing market crisis in the United States is greatly affecting labor mobility,” said Barton Smith, director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston. “But we may not get a handle on that until the 2010 Census comes out.”

One reason Smith suspects something is afoot is that word is getting out that Houston is a job creation machine, yet some openings are going begging.

“In this stage of the countercyclical economy, you would expect mass migration to Houston,” said Smith. But the city hasn’t been flooded by out-of-state license plates, and one explanation is negative equity — people owe more on a house back home than it’s worth so they’re stuck unless they’re willing to eat a big loss.

I don’t know what you can do about that, beyond hoping the economy and the housing market get better soon. I can’t say I’ve noticed any political pressure from unexpected sources on this, but I’m sure it’ll build if it’s not already. Any good anecdotes out there to add to this?

Interview with Joe Moody

Next up in my convention interview series is Joe Moody, running for the now-open HD78 seat in El Paso, which was held by Rep. Pat Haggerty until he was knocked out in a nasty GOP primary fight against Dee Margo, who was backed by a chunk of the Texas GOP establishment, including Governor Perry. Moody is the son of District Judge Bill Moody, whose campaign for State Supreme Court he managed in 2006. Judge Moody was the top Democratic votegetter that year, and won over 59% of the vote in HD78, so if his name means anything, it ought to be a boost for Joe Moody. The interview is here, as always in MP3 format.

PREVIOUSLY:

State Rep. Dan Barrett, HD97.
Wendy Davis, SD10.
Robert Miklos, HD101.
Chris Turner, HD96

The immigration problem

There’s so much heat and noise about immigration these days, it’s good to see articles like this that break it down into something basic and understandable.

[A]lthough the immigration system is complex, the basic problem is simple: There are many more immigrants wanting to enter than the number of visas available each year under a quota and preference system implemented by Congress.

Currently, the law gives preference to four categories of immigrants who are related to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, as well as to immigrants needed for employment.

However, except for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, there is an annual limit for each category, as well as a quota for each country.

So those from countries that have historically sent large numbers of immigrants — Mexico, India, China and the Philippines, for instance — face lengthy waits for visas to become available for relatives.

“If your brother sponsors you, it’s 20 years,” said veteran Houston immigration lawyer Gordon Quan. “If an employer sponsors you and you have a bachelor’s degree, it’s three years. And for people from India, it’s seven years.”

The 4 million backlog includes an estimated 1.5 million relatives of Asian immigrants, said Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center.

The long waits to reunite families prevent many immigrants from assimilating, she said.

“That’s not healthy for the family, for the community,” Narasaki said. “It means it takes longer for a family to put money down for a house, because they’re sending money home to a spouse.”

Doris Meissner, who headed the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton administration, said untangling family immigration will require that Congress alter the existing system.

“So as long as you have a system that defines broadly what the family relationship can be that makes you eligible to immigrate, but at same time has very few (visa) numbers available, that’s a recipe for backlogs,” said Meissner, now a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

Those who favor limiting immigration, however, say the family preferences are too broad.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., said family-related immigration should be limited to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens.

“The problem … is that we over-promise and underdeliver,” Krikorian said. “We have this smorgasbord of different categories, and they all have numerical caps leading to huge waiting lists.

“Either you triple or quadruple legal immigration, or narrow the categories of who gets to come in.”

You say that as though it were something bad. I see it as a simple supply-and-demand issue. Every year, some number of people want to emigrate here; right now, we allow far fewer than that to legally do so. We can face reality and triple or quadruple legal immigration, or we can keep our heads firmly planted in the dirt and continue to wail and gnash our teeth about the number of illegal immigrants we attract. Seems pretty straightforward to me, but then I don’t see an increase in legal immigration as something to fear. That, unfortunately, will be a much dicier problem to solve.

Republican Rap Sheet

Via Texas Politics, the Harris County Coordinated Campaign Lone Star Project has launched a new website called Texas Republican Rap Sheet, which lists the transgressions of various local Republican officeholders, plus the recently resigned former DA Chuck Rosenthal. It’s pretty amusing, and an encouraging sign that the Harris County Democratic Party will be fighting to win on more fronts than we’re used to seeing them engage on. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like the coordinated campaign that’s underway this year, at least on our side of the aisle. This is only the beginning, that much I know.

I’d just note that this effort is lacking a page for Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford, who’s been in the news more than usual lately, and not in the good way. I figure that will get corrected eventually. Better would be sooner, given this week’s Houston Press cover story about Democratic candidate Vince Ryan and his ongoing litigation against his former employer, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, the “behemoth delinquent-tax collector that services the City of Houston, the Houston Independent School District, Harris County and hundreds of other public entities throughout the country”. Neither party came off looking particularly good in this piece; neither did Stafford, but he was only mentioned in passing. This doesn’t have anything to do with the rest of this post, but I thought this was odd:

But Dale Linebarger and former firm attorney Bill King say that private firms are able to collect more, and more efficiently. They say this benefits those who pay their taxes on time — which is about 95 percent of the people. The vast majority of delinquent property owners, according to Linebarger and King, are slumlords and absentee owners. The law firm itself isn’t shoving grandma out into the street, forcing her to survive by her walker and wits.

Structurally, say Linebarger and King, the cost of government collection comes out of an entity’s general fund — which ultimately means that it’s taxpayer-funded. But private collection, they say, is solely deadbeat-subsidized. The delinquent taxpayer has to pay attorneys’ fees along with the past due amount.

“The cost is being allocated to the person that caused the problem,” King says, “instead of being spread out among all the taxpayers. Which seems to me to be a fundamentally equitable situation.”

That’s the same Bill King who is apparently running for Mayor in 2009. I found it curious that the story didn’t mention that fact, as the Houston Politics blog did when they noted the suit’s filing. I don’t really have a point to make here, I just thought that was strange.

Anyway. As I said before, the County Attorney race is a little higher profile than it normally is this year. Even I didn’t expect it to get this much attention. Once again, this is not a normal election year.

UPDATE: I had the wrong party responsible for the Republican Rap Sheet site. It’s fixed now.

Is Facebook a reunion killer?

I’m currently serving on a committee for my 20-year college reunion, which is an event I’ve been looking forward to for some time now. So when I see articles like this one in which the author speculates that Facebook will make such things obsolete, I have to wonder if I’ll be wasting my time.

Social networking has largely been a force for good, reconnecting grade-school classmates, creating a whole new approach to dating and enabling employers to check up on new hires. But it might just kill the college reunion.

Historically, reunions have used voyeurism as a lure. Who lives where, who got hitched, who got fat–you had to show up to find out. But now the answers are all online. “Facebook has turned the idea of college reunions from an expensive necessity to just expensive,” says Kevin Pang, who skipped his five-year reunion at the University of Southern California last week.

Matt Yglesias and Dana Goldstein both wonder about this. I think this comment sums up the argument against better than anything I could think of:

You can’t get nostalgic and drunk with people you haven’t seen in 10 years on Facebook. Nor can you hook up with the girl you had a thing for but never did anything about in high school. Face to face contact is still important for some things.

Can’t beat that logic. For me, one reason I’m so looking forward to my 20-year reunion is to see my friends’ kids, and to show off my own. Most – not all, but most – of my college chums were still in the pre-children phase the last time we all got together, in 1998. This year I figure there’ll be a swarm of offspring along for the festivities, and I can’t wait to see what the next generation looks like. There’s just no substitute for the real thing.

And I must confess, this article isn’t really aimed at old fogeys like me anyway:

So far, college administrators report no such decline. But they have reason to be nervous. Anyone attending a five-year reunion in 2008 was part of the last class for which Facebook was not an integral part of campus life; it began catching on in mid-2003. The class of 2004–next summer’s reunion crop–will be the first real test.

Damn kids. Seriously, I kept in touch with a lot of college friends the old-fashioned way – that would be by email; I may be old, but I’m not that old – and even for those I’d heard from all the time, it was still better to see them in person, and remember why we were friends in the first place. I think even for the Facebook generation, that urge won’t go away.