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April 14th, 2013:

Weekend link dump for April 14

The first obstacle for Hillary Clinton to overcome if she wants to run in 2016 is to not have Mark Penn on her campaign payroll in any fashion.

The untold story of how Apple built an operating system.

Maybe Mark Sanford isn’t the right guy to defend traditional marriage.

Superhero women wearing pants? It could happen, if there were superheros, anyway.

“So now imagine being chased by a poisonous, sprinting, face-sized spider.” I want to know how such a thing is just now being documented by science.

Just a reminder that all workers need workplace protection.

“This is, obviously, the problem of government in a nutshell: everyone wants spending to be cut, but no one wants spending to be cut on them. They want it to be cut on other people.”

The last movie review that Roger Ebert filed.

RIP, Annette Funicello.

Major League Baseball is well positioned for the future.

As someone who is old enough to remember the 2002 and 2004 elections and their aftermaths, it’s pretty jarring to see a Republican talking about not having to be “Democrat-lite” to win elections.

“What was to be Ms. Palin’s legacy has turned into a financial mess that continues to plague Wasilla.”

Prestige TV as young-adult fiction. I hadn’t thought about it like that.

“The assumption that there is no real difference among black people is exactly what racism is.”

Mascot Madness! Because…well, I don’t know why. Just because.

How far is it to Mars? A visual guide.

The Republican Party still really dislikes gay people, no matter what some individual Republicans may say or do.

If Mark “Appalachian Trail” Sanford can run for Congress and David Vitter can be re-elected to the Senate, then Anthony Weiner can run for Mayor of New York.

I just want to say ‘thank you’ for those people that no one sees. They are important.” That’s Mariano Rivera, on his farewell tour, meeting at his request with “payroll, human resources, press box and stadium-ops employees” around the country to honor them for their contribution to the game of baseball. Mariano Rivera is one heck of a mensch.

Swatting copyright trolls should be everyone’s business.

By the way, the federal deficit has shrunk dramatically. Anyone who tells you otherwise is at best misinformed.

When Ted Cruz says something is “unconstitutional”,, he means “according to me, Ted Cruz”.

From the Arithmetic Is Your Friend department, Pension Returns Calculation sub-category.

Why Holocaust Memorial Day is also about hope.

This is exactly what Sen. Elizabeth Warren was sent to the Senate to do.

Major League Baseball’s ridiculously imbalanced schedules make scheduling makeup games for rainouts a major hassle.

You’re doing it wrong, Super PAC edition.

RIP, Jonathan Winters, one of those people who was funny just by being.

Travis DA Rosemary Lehmberg arrested for DUI

Oops.

Rosemary Lehmberg

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, arrested and charged with drunken driving overnight, plans to remain in office and will not resign, according to a spokeswoman.

According to county records, Lehmberg, 63, was arrested by Travis County deputies in Northern Travis County near RM 2222 and FM 620 and booked into the county jail shortly after 2 a.m.

An arrest affidavit was not clear whether she took a breath test. She told deputies that she had consumed two vodka drinks earlier in the evening.

Lehmberg had been released as of 8:30 a.m. today.

That was from Saturday. Lehmberg apologized on Facebook Saturday evening. Outside of whatever giggles one might get from the irony of this, it’s unlikely to be a big deal. Burka does note one angle of interest.

The DA’s office is home to the Public Integrity Unit, which has jurisdiction over crimes committed by public officials. Republicans have long hungered to get their mittens on the office, which has a history of prosecuting high-profile Republicans, including Tom DeLay and Kay Bailey Hutchison. (It has also prosecuted high-profile Democrats, including former speaker Gib Lewis, and, more recently, state representative Kino Flores. If the office were to become vacant — say, due to Lehmberg’s resignation — Governor Perry would be able to appoint a successor, as he did in Kaufman County, and, of course, the successor would be a Republican. It’s too early to know how this is going to play out, but Republicans may be able to drive a wedge into a Democratic stronghold.

The Statesman story says that Lehmberg does not intend to step down, so this is likely a moot point. However, I think Burka is overstating the effect if Lehmberg were to resign. It’s true Perry would get to name a replacement, just as he would name a replacement District Court judge, but there would be a special election to fill the remainder of Lehmberg’s term (she was re-elected last year) in 2014, so the effect would be temporary. Since the power of the Public Integrity Unit is determined by the Legislature, I can’t think of anything that an appointed DA might do that couldn’t or wouldn’t be undone by the next elected DA. The only case being worked right now by the Public Integrity Unit involves a legislative staffer, so there wouldn’t be any Get Out Of Jail Free cards of consequence to issue. It’s embarrassing for Lehmberg, and assuming she pleads to something she’ll deserve whatever lumps she gets, but I seriously doubt at this time there will be anything more to this than that.

How will Chapter 42 affect housing in Houston?

Yes, we’re still talking about Chapter 42, the local development and density code. One of the goals of revamping Chapter 42 is to make it easier and more attractive to build mid-range housing in the city limits. How do we hope that will work?

“We have housing for the working poor, we have a lot of high-end housing, and we’re rapidly redeveloping the inner core of the city of Houston for high-end, high-density housing. But the kind of house that I grew up in, the kind of house that many of the working men and women in this city want to own close to their jobs, is disappearing,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “If we can create more density, there is more opportunity for people to have the opportunity to buy a home – maybe a patio home, maybe a townhome, maybe a single-family home on a small tract – and live closer to their jobs.”

While the Houston region is booming, little of that growth is inside the city limits, a trend builders blame on their inability to build reasonably priced housing in the “doughnut” between Loop 610 and the unincorporated suburbs. The last rewrite of the ordinance in 1999 designated the Inner Loop “urban,” with 27 housing units allowed per acre, and areas outside “suburban,” with up to 16 units allowed. The proposed changes to the development code, known as Chapter 42, would extend the Inner Loop’s density citywide.

[…]

To produce workforce housing, land generally must cost between $5 and $10 per square foot, according to calculations provided by builders. Most areas outside Loop 610 but inside city limits have median land prices of less than $5 per square foot, according to Harris County Appraisal District data. But Jim Gaines of the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M questioned whether there is a market for housing in such areas. Land prices in many desirable neighborhoods outside the Loop exceed $20 or even $30 per square foot.

“You almost have to be surgical about it,” said David Hale, vice president of David Weekley Homes. “If it’s workforce housing, they can’t afford necessarily a $300,000 house, but with increased density can I get them in a $200,000 house?”

Hale has given a presentation to neighborhood groups about the proposal, using seven developments as examples. In all but one case, the average home price dropped from $400,000-plus under existing rules to $300,000 or more with greater density.

Other builders said greater density would produce townhomes in the $250,000 range.

Such prices may be out of reach for the “workforce,” however, which city housing department guidelines define as those earning 80 to 110 percent of the area median income.

Given that buyers with good credit can afford a home 3.3 to 3.5 times their annual income, Gaines said, workforce housing in Houston would be about $140,000 to $204,000 for a two- person household and about $157,400 to $229,500 for a three-person household.

“A little wishful thinking there, but maybe there are providers that know how to do that better than us,” said Will Holder of Trendmaker Homes, a high-end suburban builder.

[…]

Jane West of the Super Neighborhood Alliance is doubtful. Builders will use the new rules to redevelop older homes on the edges of desirable areas, she said, just as they did inside the Loop after the 1999 revisions.

“If you look at the empirical evidence from what has happened in the Inner Loop over the last 14 years of this type of development, this development displaced workforce housing,” West said. “It did not produce workforce housing.”

See here and here for recent updates. I definitely agree with the goal here, but Jane West makes a strong point about recent history. Maybe it will be different this time, but I’d like some better reassurance than that. And I will say again, there is cheap real estate in Houston, including some parts of town not at all far from downtown. I’ve talked about the Fifth Ward plenty, as noted there are some promising things happening there, but it’s not the only place with abundant empty spaces. The other day I got to visit Sugar Hill Studios, and let me tell you, once you get east of 288 on Old Spanish Trail, there’s a lot of vacant lots. Now, much of this would be commercial space if it were developed, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in areas like this to make it enticing to developers and potential residents, but it’s there, it’s a short hop to downtown via 288 or I-45, and I daresay it would meet that $5 to $10 per square foot requirement. What are we doing to make full and better use of the space we already have? That’s the question I keep coming back to, and it’s one we’re going to have to tackle sooner or later. Texas Leftist has more on Chapter 42.

Romeo and Romeo and Juliet and Juliet

This is a small step forward, but it’s an important step.

In a state where attempts to expand gay rights have hit a wall of conservative Republicans, a Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill to provide a new legal protection for sexually active gay teens.

Under Senate Bill 1316, gay and lesbian teens who engage in consensual sex with each other can escape prosecution on a felony charge of sexual indecency with a child — as long as they are over age 14 and are within three years of each other in age.

Currently, that so-called “Romeo and Juliet” defense is available only to opposite-sex couples.

Romeo and Romeo or Juliet and Juliet, the bill is being called.

Though controversy was mostly absent from Tuesday’s hearing before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee — chaired by the author of the bill — supporters and opponents predicted the fight will come when, and if, the measure comes up for a vote by the full Senate or in the House.

“If a couple meets age and consent criteria, there should be no difference in the law based on their sexual orientation,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the author.

Whitmire, a conservative Democrat in the more conservative GOP Senate, said he hoped Tuesday’s debate would focus awareness on the unfairness of the current law. While many states allow leeway in prosecuting sexual relationships between teens, supporters of the change in law said Texas is among few with its current “opposite sex” requirement.

[…]

The committee voted 4-1 to recommend its passage to the full Senate. Voting yes were Whitmire and Sens. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso; and John Carona, R-Dallas. Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, voted no.

The other three committee members, two Republicans and a Democrat, were absent for the vote.

Asked what it would take for the bill to be considered by the full Senate, Whitmire said, “I’ve got to work the Senate. … It took a pretty good-sized step today.”

Indeed it is. Here’s SB 1316. Sens. Dan Patrick and Joan Huffman were the absent Republican members on the Criminal Justice Committee, and it would be interesting to know how they might have voted on this; I’m just guessing, but I think her time as a judge might incline Sen. Huffman to support Sen. Whitmire’s bill. Sen. Whitmire is undoubtedly correct that he has some work to do to get this to the Senate floor, but just getting it out of committee is an accomplishment.

The Star-Telegram has more:

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, many states have provisions in their sex offender laws allowing some leeway in prosecuting teenage relationships. They range from exceptions to prosecution and sex offender registration to reduced levels of crimes, but Texas appears to be a rarity in its “opposite sex” requirement.

Elizabeth and Michael Hussey, members of the Houston-area chapter of the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told the Senate panel their 17-year-old son deserves to be equal under the law.

“I’m a Texas Republican, a disabled veteran who served our country at personal sacrifice, who was doing that for freedoms and liberties of all Americans,” Michael Hussey said. “We don’t want anything special for him, we want equal … I served not for certain groups, certain people, but for everybody.”

Elizabeth Hussey said that just like parents of straight kids, she tries to give her son guidance on sex and other mature issues.

“His sexuality doesn’t change how I parent him, but the law stands in my way sometimes,” she said. “It’s hard as mother to say I want you to wait to have sex until you get married. He can’t get married. The law also says if he does have sex, he could go to prison as a sex offender? I want them to work with me here.”

See, that’s another reason to support marriage equality, so parents can tell their gay kids to wait till they’re married to have sex. Where’s the abstinence education lobby when you really need them?

Anyway. There’s a companion bill in the House, HB3322, filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman, who’s been on this since at least 2009. Despite the step forward by Sen. Whitmire and his bill, I don’t expect anything to come out of this – the troglodyte lobby is still too strong. I’ll be delighted to be wrong about that, and of course it’s always a good time to inform your legislators that you support these bills. Campos has more.

Another reason why graduate school sucks

I just shook my head when I read this.

English Department teaching fellows at the University of Houston ended their sit-in Monday after UH Chancellor Renu Khator committed $1 million a year to improve their wages – potentially enough money to bring the roughly 70 teaching fellows up to the living wage for which they’d petitioned.

In an official statement, organizers of the sit-in called the decision “an extraordinary moment.”

Graduate students and faculty had launched the excruciatingly polite sit-in outside the chancellor’s office on April 3. Currently, the teaching fellows are paid $9,600 to $11,200 a year to teach the freshman composition classes that are part of the university’s core curriculum. Faculty noted that the fellows hadn’t received a raise in 20 years and that the stipends weren’t competitive with those of peer universities.

I came to Houston in the fall of 1988 to be a PhD student in math at Rice. The stipend they gave me, which did not include any teaching requirements, was something like $1,000 per month. I don’t remember the exact figure – it’s been awhile, after all – but it was enough for me to live on. It boggles my mind that there were graduate students here that were making no more than I did when Ronald Reagan was still President. Good on Dr. Khator for helping them out and all, but wow.