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August 19th, 2012:

Weekend link dump for August 19

Last week of freedom, kids.

Election fraud is a lot more prosaic than its most vocal partisans would have you think.

I hope to remain clear-headed enough to never be tempted to climb Mount Everest.

People have been pounding caffeine for pretty much ever.

Nuns On The Bus >> Mitt Romney.

Why “pro-life” is not the same as “pro-family”, “pro-child”, or “pro-mother”.

Pity the poor, picked-on Koch Brothers. Try being decent human beings instead of greedy scuzzballs, fellas. It might help.

What do Christian fundamentalists have against set theory? Don’t mess with Georg Cantor, that’s all I know.

Two words: Bacon s’mores. You’re welcome.

How you should have celebrated Shark Week.

“The Committee is not impressed with revisionist claims that Greedo shot first.”

My dinner with Andre‘s robot.

Hey girl, it’s Paul Ryan Gosling comin’ at ya.

Happy 40th birthday, PFLAG.

“HR 212 would almost certainly make IVF illegal, and since Mitt Romney’s kids have used IVF it would, as the headline says, make them criminals. Or childless. Is that a brutal way of putting it? Sure. But it’s a pretty brutal law. What’s wrong with letting people know in stark terms just exactly what it would mean?” Oh, and by the way – Paul Ryan was a cosponsor of HR 212.

I don’t have a “driverless car”, I have an “electronically chauffeured vehicle”. Now pass me the damn Grey Poupon already.

RIP, Helen Gurley Brown. I think Jezebel has the best memorial.

And RIP, Ron Palillo, a/k/a Arnold Horshack.

Is it even possible for Congress’ approval rating to go any lower?

Would your child know what to do if she got lost or separated from you in a public place?

Some excellent Julia Child video clips in honor of what would have been her 100th birthday.

Pottypalooza appears to have been a success.

No more meta-serious conversing about the issues! We had the power to be actually seriously conversing about them all along!

Bye, ALEC. Smell ya later.

Of course our Jumbotrons are bigger in Texas. What did you expect?

Jane Eyre = Bella Swan. Discuss. And I was never much impressed by classical literature, either.

Apparently there are consequences for being a lying liar. Sometimes, anyway. Who knew?

Sometimes, the machine rages against you.

On speaking off the cuff. I always thought it was a synonym for speaking extemporaneously, but apparently not.

Fall interview season begins tomorrow

I know that we just finished the primary runoffs, but we’re also now more than halfway through August, so it’s time to start doing interviews with candidates for the fall. I’ll be up candid, I don’t know exactly how many interviews I plan to do. For the most part, I don’t anticipate re-interviewing candidates that I spoke to for the May election – I’m already too far behind even if I did want to do that. I’m mostly going to concentrate on area races, but as always things can and do change, so don’t hold me to that. In the meantime, here’s a list of the interviews I did earlier with candidates who will be on the ballot in November:

Senate: Paul SadlerWebMP3

CD07: James CargasWebMP3

CD14: Nick LampsonWebMP3

CD20: Joaquin CastroWebMP3

CD23: Pete GallegoWebMP3

CD27: Rose Meza HarrisonWebMP3

CD33: Marc VeaseyWebMP3

SBOE6: Traci JensenWebMP3

SD10: Sen. Wendy DavisWebMP3

HD131: Rep. Alma AllenWebMP3

HD137: Gene WuWebMP3

HD144: Mary Ann PerezWebMP3

HD146: Rep. Borris MilesWebMP3

HD147: Rep. Garnet ColemanWebMP3

Harris County Sheriff: Sheriff Adrian GarciaWebMP3

HCDE Position 3, At Large: Diane TrautmanWebMP3

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1: Erica LeeWebMP3

Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Sean HammerleWebMP3

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan RosenWebMP3

You may notice if you click on the Web links above that the embedded audio player no longer works. The code comes from Google, and they unfortunately appear to have disabled it. I should have an alternate solution in place going forward, but just clicking on the MP3 file ought to work for you as well. And of course you can always download it for your iPod or whatever.

I am going to try again to reach Beto O’Rourke and Filemon Vela, but you know how that goes. I’ve given up on Rep. Lloyd Doggett; though I did finally make contact with a staffer before the primary, at this point I doubt there’s any interest on his end. There was a contested primary in CD10, but both candidates were late filers. I am trying to reach Tawana Cadien, who won the nomination, but she has no phone number that I can find and she has not as yet responded to an email I sent. If anyone knows how to reach her, please ask her to drop me a note: kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com.

“Collateral damage”

How’s that war on women going?

In the year since deep cuts to family planning funding took effect, the impact has become apparent. An Observer review of state records has found that 146 clinics have lost state funds, clumped mainly in the Panhandle, Central Texas and on the border with Mexico. More than 60 of those clinics have closed their doors forever. The number of organizations that help poor women plan pregnancy has shrunk by almost half. As in San Saba, low-income women in many areas of Texas now face a long drive, or worse, lack of access to birth control and health screenings.

This isn’t news to conservative state lawmakers. After all, in its 2011 session, the Texas Legislature cut the state’s family planning program by two-thirds. Public health experts warned lawmakers at the time that by defunding Texas’s family planning system, clinics would close and a spike in disease, pregnancies and abortions would follow. Regardless, they slashed the budget. Lawmakers were quite clear about their motivation: They hoped to drive abortion providers out of business. Their specific target—Planned Parenthood—also provides family planning and preventive health care to low income women. In their zeal to attack Planned Parenthood, politicians designed a funding formula that caused collateral damage. They defunded many other family planning clinics that aren’t connected to Planned Parenthood and don’t offer any abortion services.

In fact, of the more than 60 clinics that have closed across Texas, only 12 were run by Planned Parenthood. Dozens of other clinics unconnected to Planned Parenthood nonetheless lost state funds and have closed, leaving low-income women in large areas of the state without access to contraception.

It gets worse. The federally qualified health centers—which lawmakers said could provide family planning services to low-income women and make up for the cuts—have themselves experienced a funding crunch and are struggling to absorb demand. The result is that costs have shifted to patients, and exceptionally poor women now make hard choices about paying for their well-woman care. Some will find the cash, but an alarming number won’t. Indeed, the bipartisan Legislative Budget Board estimated that last year’s cuts would lead to more than 250,000 women losing services and 20,000 additional births covered by Medicaid. When The Texas Observer asked providers what they thought about the cuts, several mentioned the same phrase. They said in hoping to punish Planned Parenthood, politicians had gone too far, with devastating consequences for women’s health. Lawmakers, they said, had thrown the “baby out with the bath water.” In this story, the first in an occasional series, we examine what happened to the family planning providers who have fallen from favor.

The simplest answer to this is that this isn’t a problem to the legislators who committed this assault on Planned Parenthood. If this were only about stopping abortion, then the news that many clinics that are unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood and which do not offer abortion services have been driven out of business would be a cause for concern. If there’s been any remorse about these developments, or any desire to correct them, I sure haven’t heard about it.

You would think that these providers that the state has managed to kill would have been good replacements for Planned Parenthood to deliver Women’s Health Program services. The state continues to demonstrate that it has no idea how to replace Planned Parenthood in it reckless and misguided zeal, but it is willing to lie about its plans.

In a May letter to the governor’s office and the Legislative Budget Board, outgoing HHSC Commissioner Tom Suehs offered a funding mechanism for the program that included implementing cost-saving measures throughout the agency, a hiring freeze and enhancing efforts to recover funds from Medicaid fraud.

But opponents of efforts to oust Planned Parenthood from the program say the state was banking on paying for much of it another way — with the federal health reform Republican state leaders so revile. They point to legal filings and fiscal notes state officials prepared in July indicating they could fold Women’s Health Program clients into Medicaid starting in 2014, the year the Affordable Care Act calls for a widespread expansion of the safety net health care program. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Medicaid expansion is optional, and Perry has vowed that Texas will not do it.


Planned Parenthood is awaiting an October hearing in district court over whether its clinics can stay in the Women’s Health Program. A separate case is moving through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In March, Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for pulling back funding over Texas’ decision to eject clinics affiliated with abortion providers from the program.

On Thursday, state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, wrote a sharply worded letter to Abbott after learning his office had submitted a July 9 briefing to the appeals court that twice referenced the state’s intent to move WHP clients into Medicaid after the expansion of the program takes effect in 2014. She pointed out that was the same day Perry notified federal authorities that Texas would not extend the program. Farrar requested that Abbott “correct or withdraw” those statements.

State Rep. John Zerwas, an anesthesiologist and Simonton Republican, said the state is caught in a difficult situation because Planned Parenthood is “a very cost-effective provider.” However, he said lawmakers were willing to walk away from federal funds to make a bigger point: They are against abortion and any organization that may refer women for the procedure.

“We have to look at who’s elected to the Legislature and their philosophies and beliefs, and we have to be respectful of those,” he said.

Being respectful of the women who are directly affected by these political games is at best a secondary concern. You can read Rep. Farrar’s letter here. These problems are entirely of the Republicans’ making. They had no thought for the consequences when they did what they did, and they have no idea how to get out of the situation they’ve put themselves and everyone else in. TM Daily Post has more.

More on the landfills of Waller County

Last July I wrote about a proposed landfill in Waller County near Hempstead and the residents who are fighting against it. The Statesman has an update on the story.

In many ways, the landfill fight in this rural Texas town two hours east of Austin has a standard shape: An out-of-state corporation is accused of siting an unsightly dump near a largely poor, largely minority community. The landfill company says the accusations are unfair and that the dump will contribute jobs to a stricken area.

The twist here is one of the background players.

Glenn Shankle — the former executive director of the state environmental agency and a lobbyist for landfill companies himself, including one whose permit for a radioactive waste dump he controversially supported just before leaving said agency — is now a hired gun for the community.

Unlikely as the partnership may be, Shankle, 59, hobbled by old track injuries suffered as a runner at then-Kealing Junior High School, may be the opposition’s best hope.

In Shankle’s telling, over a breakfast of heavily buttered toast, bacon and a Dr Pepper in downtown Austin, he resisted the community group gig when first approached about it.

“I told them at the time I don’t do protest work,” he said.

He had grown leery, after a career at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, of the methods of environmental groups, he said, and was unsure that he could fight a landfill while also serving as a landfill lobbyist.

“Once you predominantly do industry work, it puts you in an awkward situation,” he said.

Having survived some health scares, however, he had been casting about how he ought to fulfill God’s plan, as he put it. Then, family members who had attended Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college eight miles outside of Hempstead, opposed the landfill and pressed him to intervene.

“I slept on it and prayed on it,” he said. His conclusion: Prairie View should not suffer because of a “scar” to the landscape.


Landfill company Green Group Holdings CEO Ernest Kaufmann said no more than 250 acres of the 723-acre site will be dedicated to the landfill, which will hold municipal waste from a 40-mile radius around the landfill — with an eye to serving the ever-growing Houston market. Kaufmann said its operation could last roughly 40 years.

“We’re not taking hazardous waste. We’re not taking sewage sludge,” said Kaufmann, whose company calls the project Pintail. The rest of the land might be used for ranching, recreational purposes, as an industrial park or left as open space. The company, which says it will invest millions of dollars in the project, has proposed paying fees to Waller County for each ton of waste collected and a donation of $150,000 for county fire safety equipment.

It estimates the project will create at least 20 full-time jobs at the landfill.

“This is not in a disadvantaged neighborhood,” he continued. “What you have here is some very wealthy people stirring that up. We pay a lot of attention to where we locate facilities and who we’re impacting and who we’re not impacting.”

Huntsinger and others are skeptical of the company’s pledges because, they say, Green Group could sell its permit.

Huntsinger is Bill Huntsinger, a retired Houston real estate guy who moved to Hempstead and is funding the Stop Highway 6 Landfill effort. Green Group has an array of high-priced lobbyists working for it, and rather to my surprise has hired environmental lawyer Jim Blackburn as a consultant. The main thing I get from this story is that the process hasn’t advanced much in the past year and may not advance any further this year, as consideration of the landfill application may happen in 2013. I said last time and I’ll say again, I think this is a bad idea. We shouldn’t be in the business of building more landfills, we should be in the business of waste reduction so that we don’t need more landfills. I wish I had faith that the TCEQ would give this a very critical review, but I don’t. I fear we’ll eventually be stuck with it.

The fate of private junior colleges

Fascinating story of Lon Morris College and its grand plan to save itself.

Like so many other non-profit, two-year private campuses, Lon Morris has been seeking ways to survive as more than half the country’s private junior colleges have disappeared since the mid-1990s due in part to cheaper tuition at community colleges. Dozens have closed. Most transitioned to four-year schools. But in a fitting strategy for a Texas school, Lon Morris saw its survival in football.

“That was going to be my new home for the next two years,” said Brandon Griffin, 18, among the latest football recruits looking for a new school after Lon Morris axed its sports teams and furloughed almost all faculty members. “For a moment, I didn’t even know if I wanted to play football anymore. I worked all the way through high school just for this scholarship and it was taken from me unfairly.”

The school’s decision to revive the football program in 2009 was meant to help erase some of its debt but instead drove Lon Morris further in the hole, about $20 million when it filed for bankruptcy in July. It also prompted the resignation of the president who spearheaded the idea and left plenty of disheartened students and former faculty wondering what to do next.

The strategy was to recruit more than 300 football players for the first season on partial scholarships of $7,500 each, leaving them to pay more than $15,000 in remaining expenses and replenish the school’s coffers. The recruiting helped more than triple the school’s enrollment to about 1,000 students by 2010.

It was quite an enrollment boost for a tiny campus located more than a two-hour drive from Dallas in this quiet town of 14,500 people.


Lon Morris then endured a string of unexpected pitfalls that added to the million-dollar football expansion tab. The campus didn’t offer enough room to house the rush of new students, so administrators leased a nearby hotel. It also offered huge tuition discounts to players — as high as 53 percent in 2010 — and failed to collect payments from those who could not pay yet continued to take classes. Other costs, including hiring security to combat reports of misbehaving players, only worsened the financial hole.

It seems like an awfully strange thing to have tried given that football is generally a money-losing proposition for colleges. I don’t have anything to add to this, I had just never really given any thought to the world of private two-year colleges. This was an interesting look inside that world, so check it out.