Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

February 3rd, 2013:

Weekend link dump for February 3

See you in the fall, football.

What if Jimmy Olsen were a woman? Doesn’t bother me.

Derek Jeter goes to Davos to talk about climate change. Maybe they’ll listen to him.

Please don’t photograph the food. Thank you.

The march towards equality continues apace.

What Nate Silver gets wrong.

App and mortar retailing is the new hotness.

These are not the Facebook photos you’re looking for.

Why the breast pump coverage that’s part of the Affordable Care Act really matters.

If you can print your own gun, does “gun control” have any meaning?

Five simple things you can do to protect your online privacy.

Jonathan Coulton versus Glee, and what he’s doing about it.

On being a creep, which you should totally not do.

Look! Voter fraud!

“Just four years later, [Rick Perry’s book On My Honor, about the Boy Scouts] seems almost anachronistic. And it cements Perry’s legacy in one respect: as a prominent politician who doubled down on gay bashing as the nation rapidly moved the other way.”

With a sufficient amount of correlation, causation is a reasonable conclusion.

I agree, bring back earmarks. Demonizing the practice never made any sense to me.

Best of luck to Ray LaHood, who I thought did a fine job as Transportation Secretary.

RIP, Mary O’Connor, Hugh Hefner’s longtime secretary.

So why do screenwriters type in Courier? If you care about that, you might also care that there’s a new version of Courier, called Courier Prime.

“I can’t imagine that anyone who condemned [Ryan] Braun would feel like they got off on a technicality if they failed a drug test at work, were in danger of being fired because of it, and found out that there was reason to call the results into question that would rule the positive test void.”

Wait, you’re telling me that cutting government spending can have a negative effect on the economy? Who knew?

Are you ready for unionized doctors?

The old “fake to third and then throw to first” play is now officially a balk, just as most people always thought it was.

Oh, Sarah. We will never see your like again.

The Jackie Robinson biopic is a movie I want to see.

Even when we’re talking about megabrewers, more competition is better than less.

Texas should be more like California if it really wants to do well at job creation.

RIP, Ed Koch, who among his many other accomplishments was the featured speaker at my high school graduation. They don’t make ’em like that any more. Roy adds his memories.

On the new rules proposed by the USDA regulating so-called “competitive” foods and beverages offered on school campuses – i.e., the stuff that’s tasty but not good for you.

RIP, Barney the dog.

Schechter’s seat filled

The HCC Board of Trustees has named a replacement for the outgoing Richard Schechter.

Houston Community College trustees unanimously agreed Thursday to appoint attorney Leila Feldman to fill a recently vacated seat on the school board.

Feldman served as associate general counsel for HCC from March 2009 to June 2010 and is now the general counsel for the Humble school district.

She replaces Richard Schechter, who resigned in January, not citing a specific reason. The trustee district includes Bellaire, River Oaks, West University Place and Sharpstown. Feldman will serve until an election in November.

Feldman wrote in her application that her focus would be on increasing retention and graduation rates. She also would liken to strengthen partnerships between the community college system and school districts through dual-credit programs, which allow high school students to work toward associate degrees.

The press release from HCC on this is here. In case you’re wondering who else applied for the job, that list is here. Schechter had nominated former HISD Trustee Don McAdams, but apparently his now-former colleagues had other ideas. In case you’re wondering, a little Googling around tells me that Leila Feldman is the daughter-in-law of Houston City Attorney David Feldman. I didn’t find anything else that was particularly interesting, so if you know Ms. Feldman, leave a comment. She and Herlinda Garcia will be on the ballot this November in addition to the three Trustees whose terms expire this year – Bruce Austin, Yolanda Navarro Flores, and Neeta Sane, assuming they file for re-election.

Then YOU fix it!

Stuff like this really pisses me off.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On Wednesday, the [Senate Finance] committee heard testimony from state officials on the proposed health budget, which grew 2 percent from the current biennium budget to $70 billion. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, expressed the need for fiscal conservancy but said the decisions lawmakers make this session will not be “whether we’re going to serve that population or not — it’s going to be about how they are served.”

Bee Moorhead, the executive director of Texas Impact, an interfaith group that commissioned a recent report on the benefits of expanding Medicaid, said taxpayers deserve to have money they paid returned to their communities through the Medicaid expansion. “I think taxpayers deserve a serious answer from lawmakers on why the state doesn’t want to give them this kind of relief when its so easily available to them,” she said.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, agreed with testimony that even if Texas does not expand Medicaid, there will be continued costs for caring for the uninsured. “The costs would be born usually by local governments,” he said.

But Republican lawmakers challenged the testimony provided by advocates of the Medicaid expansion.

“You’re going to create a new class of uninsured people at higher income levels,” said Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, adding that employers will choose to drop employee health coverage if the state expands Medicaid, causing the pool of private insurance to shrink and premiums to rise. “I want everybody to have health care, but I think there are better ways to do it.”

What are those “better ideas”, Senator Deuell, and why haven’t you implemented them yet? Republicans have been in full control of Texas’ government for ten years now, and in that time they have not done a damn thing to improve access to health care. We lead the nation in uninsured residents, and at no time has any Republican, from Rick Perry on down, made a serious proposal to try and do something about that. What they have done is cut CHIP, cut family planning funds, overseen a spectacular fiasco of outsourcing HHSC functions that never saved a dime, made a complete hash of the Women’s Health Program – for which Sen. Deuell can claim partial credit, since he was the one who asked AG Abbott if the state could bar Planned Parenthood from the WHP – and resisted efforts to make Medicaid enrollment an annual process instead of an every-six-months process. One might reasonably conclude that they just don’t care about caring for the sick and disabled. And then when someone else finally solves this longstanding, intractable problem for them, what do they do? Whine, stomp their feet, file lawsuits, and obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. Thanks for nothing, Sen. Deuell. You know what you can do with those “better ideas” you claim to have.

For more of the same, see this example of excuse-making and responsibility-ducking.

Waco-area legislators said Friday they remain wary of expanding the state’s Medicaid program, in comments highlighting their division with local government leaders on the issue.

Top officials with the city of Waco and McLennan County support the Medicaid expansion envisioned as part of national health care reform, saying it would cut the area’s uninsured rate by more than half and bring $58 million a year in new federal funding to the area.

But those benefits are far from certain because there is no guarantee the federal government — facing rising debt and budget deficits — would sustain its funding, area lawmakers told a crowd of more than 100 people at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s “Waco Day” breakfast.

“It’s smoke and mirrors, folks,” said state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, referring to the $58 million estimate. “It would be nice if we’d get that money and be able to solve some legitimate problems that hospitals and other folks are dealing with, but that’s not dedicated funds. There’s no guarantee that money will be there.”

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, voiced similar concerns. Medicaid continues to grow as a percentage of the state’s budget, and expanding the program could squeeze money from other priorities such as public education, transportation and water, he said.

No answers, no solutions, just complaints about the one option we do have. But of course they’re not interested in a solution, because if they were they would have offered one by now. After all this time with them in charge, there’s no reason to believe otherwise.

How about a local safe passing law?

Man, I’d forgotten about this.

After Gov. Rick Perry’s veto in 2009 blocked a statewide law requiring drivers to keep a minimum distance from cyclists on the road, 13 cities approved a model safe-passing law developed by cycling advocates. Dallas passed a similar measure.

The local ordinances require drivers to give bicyclists at least 3 feet of space, or 6 feet for drivers of commercial vehicles.

Supporters say the laws provide a useful tool to encourage safer driving and make more people aware cyclists have a right to the road. Though supporters said citations are rare, violation of the safe-passing laws is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $200.

“I think we figured out a long time ago we need traffic laws to make people behave,” said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas, a state cycling advocacy group.

Nearly every major Texas city other than Houston has adopted a safe-passing law. In Austin and San Antonio, police officials are big supporters, and they schedule special enforcement events to make drivers aware of the law and encourage road sharing.

Stallings compared the need for safe-passing laws to Texas’ “move-over” law, which requires drivers to give emergency vehicles parked on roads a buffer to increase safety.

“It makes sense for emergency workers, so it ought to make sense for our children and seniors and mothers and fathers on bicycles,” Stallings said.

But despite interest from local cyclists, Stallings said he was not aware of anyone asking Houston officials to pass a safe driving law.

See here for some background. We’ve been preoccupied with other transportation issues around here, and if a version of the Safe Passing bill came up again in 2011, it couldn’t break through the blood lust for budget cuts for attention. As the story notes, Houston does have a lot of great off-road options for bike transportation, which may make this a lower priority for us. Stallings says that another bill will come up this year, so we’ll see what happens. If it fails again it may be time to consider a local approach, and a contested Mayoral race ought to afford the opportunity for interested parties to push for a commitment to action.

Small bills, please

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I’m a skeptic of proposals to replace the dollar bill with dollar coins. As I’ve said before, I personally would rather have a wallet full of bills than a pocket full of coins, and I believe that some of the pro-coin arguments such as the vending machine argument no longer hold water. Given that, you will not be surprised to learn that I consider this development to be further evidence that the dollar coin will remain a pipe dream.

Banks are rolling out ATMs that dispense exact change to the dollar.

Chase and PNC are leading the pack with the new ‘smart’ ATMs.

Chase last year entered the field. During the past 18 months, Chase installed between 350 and 400 of the lower-denomination ATMs, and is expected to double that number this year, a bank official said. The new machines are located within branches and drive-thrus, and can even dispense coins.

“In Houston, we have about five of the next-generation ATMs, mostly in ‘new build’ locations,” Chase spokesman Greg Hassell said. “We’ll add a handful this year as we open new branches.”

The new ATMs are popular because they give customers options to do more things, such as paying bills or buying a pre-paid bank card.

“It’s just part of what we do to try to introduce innovations to make banking more convenient for our customers,” Hassell said. Chase has 215 branches in the Houston area.

Not all banks are doing this, but still. Would any bank roll out ATMs that dispense singles if they thought dollar coins were on the horizon? I think we know the answer to that is “No”. Anyway, as a Chase customer I’ll be curious to see what some of these new features are – though being the dinosaur that I am I’ll probably never use them – and I’m curious to know how many people will actually make a withdrawal that requires singles. Have you ever wanted to do that?