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January 26th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for January 26

You can now use Bitcoins to buy basketball tickets. In Sacramento, anyway.

Pot legalization is the gay marriage of 2016.

It’s hard out here on an atheist.

“Having somebody to watch your kid(s) during the day opens a lot of additional options– for a second source of income, further education, or just general parental sanity. Whether it encourages the sort of beneficial individual changes in the kids that proponents claim, universal preschool would be an enormous boost to their families.”

The drought in California is going to be especially bad.

Has the concept of falsifiability reached the end of its usefulness?

“The new results […] reveal that dogs do not hail from the same lineage as modern wolves — a big surprise, said Novembre, who was hoping to see evidence for either a single domestication or multiple domestication events, where, for example, the Australian dingo would be most related to the Asian wolf and the African basenji would be most related to the Middle Eastern wolf. Instead, the dogs are all most closely related to each other. The pattern suggests that dogs arose from a now-extinct line of wolves.”

Young baseball teams without much talent usually try to compete, and to sell themselves, as being scrappy, hustling teams that manufacture runs on the basepaths. Even by that standard, the 2013 Houston Astros were a complete failure.

There is no TMI on the Internet. If you don’t want to see/read/hear something, there are tons of ways to avoid it.

Your cough medicine isn’t actually doing anything.

Fewer vaccinations = more disease outbreaks. It’s really that simple.

“And now, 46 years after the accident that left her a quadriplegic and 38 years after publishing the memoir that made her a household name among white evangelicals, Joni Eareckson Tada has become the public face of the very same far-right Christianist groups that have effectively blocked the U.S. from ratifying the international Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.”

“No baseball player, no football player, no cyclist, no one has built more on a base of sports-drug use than has Schwarzenegger.”

Best wishes to Ezra Klein on his new media venture.

Sometimes, the Internet uses its power for good.

“Why do we ask these players (and coaches) questions so soon after they were under fiery hypnosis, so soon after they were smashing into each other and breaking bones, right as the adrenaline is draining and the pain is beginning to surface? And, more, why do we expect their answers to fit our expectations?”

We think we’re going to drive more than we have been lately, in one graph.

The moral argument about Obamacare, and its effect on Mitch McConnell.

Virgin births are more common – or at least, more commonly reported – than you might think.

The NFL has a contingency plan for the Super Bowl in the event of a snowpocalypse.

“There’s an obvious way for Republicans to escape this dilemma: They can stop caring about budget deficits. That is what happened the last time Republicans held the presidency, under George W. Bush.”

Mork and Mindy, together again.

“Have you seen a Sochi Coke-themed commercial in the US? I certainly haven’t.”

From the couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy files.

“Yes, the 1984 ad created an indelible brand image. But it was the wrong image. It was a memorable ad, but it wasn’t a good one.”

Uncle Sugar meets Aunt Flo.

Or to put it another way, please continue, Governor Huckabee.

Charles Sebesta needs to be held accountable

Amen to this.

Anthony Graves

Former Texas death row inmate Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years behind bars before he was exonerated in the bloody 1992 slaying of a Somerville grandmother, her daughter and four grandchildren, is seeking justice against the man who put him there.

In 2006, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ capital murder conviction when a three-judge panel said he deserved a new trial after ruling that Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta elicited false statements from two witnesses and withheld two statements that could have changed the minds of jurors.

Graves, who was released from prison in October 2010, is taking advantage of a new state law that allows a grievance against a prosecutor to be filed within four years of a wrongfully imprisoned person’s release.

State Sens. Rodney Ellis, John Whitmire and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, all Houston Democrats, stood behind Graves on the campus of Texas Southern University on Monday as he and his attorneys urged the Texas State Bar to investigate and discipline Sebesta.

“I am asking prosecutors who operate with the highest integrity to support me,” Graves, 48, told reporters. “I am seeking justice for the man who wrongfully prosecuted me.”

[…]

Graves and his attorney, Bob Bennett, said the new law remedies the statute of limitations rule.

“There’s been no final order,” Bennett said. “Even if it was dismissed, you still have the option of coming back because there’s been no final order.”

Whitmire and Thompson sponsored the bill that was one of several that passed last year as details of Michael Morton’s wrongful murder conviction and exoneration came to light.

Anthony Graves deserves justice in the same way and for the same reasons as Michael Morton. In many ways, the injustice done to Graves was worse. If you’re not familiar with Anthony Graves, read this report by Texas Monthly writer Pamela Colloff, who is the authoritative source on Graves and Morton. That article was published on the day that Graves was freed after the charges against him were dropped.

Not until yesterday morning did Burleson County district attorney Bill Parham and special prosecutor Kelly Siegler explain why they had made such a dramatic about-face. At a press conference at the D.A.’s office in Brenham—just across the street from the courthouse where Graves’s retrial was to have taken place early next year—Parham told reporters that he was “absolutely convinced” of Graves’s innocence after his office conducted a thorough examination of his case. Parham was clear that this was not a matter of having insufficient evidence to take to trial; charges were not dropped because too many witnesses had died over the years or because the evidence had become degraded. “There’s not a single thing that says Anthony Graves was involved in this case,” he said. “There is nothing.”

Former Harris County assistant district attorney Kelly Siegler, who has sent nineteen men to death row in her career, went even further in her statements. Siegler laid the blame for Graves’s wrongful conviction squarely at the feet of former Burleson County D.A. Charles Sebesta. “Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that would best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare,” Siegler said. Over the past month, she explained, she and her investigator, retired Texas Ranger Otto Hanak, reviewed what had happened at Graves’s trial. After talking to witnesses and studying documents, they were appalled by what they found. “It’s a prosecutor’s responsibility to never fabricate evidence or manipulate witnesses or take advantage of victims,” she said. “And unfortunately, what happened in this case is all of these things.” Graves’s trial, she said, was “a travesty.”

So yeah, this is a big deal. You need to read Colloff’s two feature stories to get the full measure of outrage at this horror. Sebesta avoided any repercussions for his abhorrent actions initially because Texas’ law at the time started the clock on the statute of limitations way too soon. Here’s Colloff again with the details.

At first glance, the bar’s lack of action against Sebesta is confounding. Why would the statute of limitations prohibit the agency from taking action against Sebesta, who prosecuted Graves in 1994, but not against Anderson, who prosecuted Morton seven years earlier, in 1987? The answer lies in one simple detail: the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the facts of the offense—such as withholding evidence favorable to the accused—are discovered (or, in legalese, “become discoverable”). In the recent proceedings against Anderson, the bar persuasively argued that the statute of limitations did not begin running until 2011, when the transcript describing Morton’s son’s account of the killer was found in Anderson’s files. Such a strategy was not possible with Sebesta, Acevedo told me, because “the information at issue”—i.e., that he withheld favorable evidence—“was known more than four years before the grievance was filed.”

Bennett, who filed the grievance, takes issue with that, arguing that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “was the official notice of what had taken place.” And Graves’s attorney, Cásarez, believes that’s key. While it’s true that Graves’s lawyers learned in 1998 that Carter had repeatedly told Sebesta of Graves’s innocence, when they took a deposition from Carter at that time, it was simply a defendant’s word against that of a sitting district attorney. It was not until 2006 that the Fifth Circuit made an official finding that Sebesta had withheld evidence. “Now, how can someone file a grievance and expect to get anywhere until a court finds that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct?” Cásarez wondered.

Thankfully, SB825 took care of that loophole last year. Now maybe Charles Sebesta will finally be held to account for his actions. The Trib and Colloff again have more.

Cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face isn’t a matter of principle

It’s just stupid and self-destructive.

Louie Gohmert

Louie Gohmert

Lots of conservative lawmakers hate Obamacare. Rep. Louie Gohmert is putting his money where his mouth is.

The Tyler Republican gave up his health insurance for 2014, asserting that the president’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act, has made coverage too expensive.

“Other people are going to see what I did when I looked into health insurance for my wife and me: that the deductible rate, it doubled, about $3,000 to $6,000, and our policy was going to go from about $300 to about $1,500 a month,” he said during a recent radio interview with Trey Graham, a pastor at First Melissa Baptist Church in Collin County. “I actually don’t have insurance right now, so thank you very much, Obamacare.”

Gohmert’s salary as a member of Congress is $174,000 a year. And his calculations ignore the hefty employer subsidy for which he is eligible — almost $950 per month. He says he will pay the tax that takes effect this year for those without insurance — 1 percent of his annual income.

Health care experts say Gohmert is taking a big risk. He’s 60. His wife, Kathy Gohmert, is 59. At that stage of life, medical expenses are common and unpredictable.

“By not obtaining insurance, you are just rolling the dice, gambling that you are not going to get sick or going to get hit by a car,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “Most financial advisers and most independent experts would say it’s a wise move to obtain insurance and basically a no-brainer if you have an employer who is willing to kick in about 70 percent of the cost of your premium.”

That’s the case for Gohmert.

But for months, he’s said he would rather give up his government-supplied insurance than accept any government subsidy. If he did take the subsidy available to federal lawmakers and their aides, he would probably pay a monthly premium of about $600 — far less than the figure he cited on Graham’s show, which aired Sunday.

In a brief interview at the Capitol, Gohmert said that he’s a victim of Obamacare.

“I lost my health care. I liked it OK, but I didn’t get to keep it,” he said, referring to his previous insurance plan. “I couldn’t afford to go up four or five times what I was paying and double my deductible, and so I’m better off with just setting money aside for health care and paying the penalty.

[…]

Members of Congress and their aides represent an unusual category of insurance customers. Before the Affordable Care Act, they were eligible for the same insurance options offered to civilian employees across the federal government.

Under the new law, they get insurance through the Washington, D.C., insurance exchange, which created an unintended problem. Workers at big companies get employee-subsidized insurance through their jobs. Exchanges were meant for people who lacked insurance and didn’t get such subsidies.

To make sure that members of Congress and their aides weren’t penalized, the Obama administration announced that subsidies would carry over for them to the local exchange.

To be clear, the reason why members of Congress and their staffers are required to buy insurance through the exchange is because of a political stunt pulled by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) during the debate over the Affordable Care Act when it was still a bill. Had it not been for Grassley’s failed effort to embarrass Democrats during the debate, Gohmert would still have the same insurance he’d had since he was first elected. Go blame Chuck Grassley if you don’t like your choices, Louie. Or, you know, blame yourself.

Honestly, I don’t even know what principle Gohmert thinks he’s defending here. The right to be sick? The right to be bankrupted by medical misfortune? The right to be stuck in a crappy job because you have a pre-existing condition and need the insurance it provides? I don’t wish for bad things to happen to people, but if the Gohmerts were to suffer adverse consequences as a result of this foolish decision, it would at least serve as a shining example for why people need to have insurance, and why the Affordable Care Act was so vitally necessary for so many Americans. So thanks for that, Louie. Only you could have done this. Hair Balls has more.

Finally doing that front door facelift

Better late than never.

Renovations started this week on the historic Sunset Coffee Building at Allen’s Landing on the north end of downtown.

The more than 100-year-old structure, now behind a fence as construction begins, is getting a $5.3 million facelift from Houston First Corp. and Buffalo Bayou Partnership. They hope the new design will reconnect the bayou with downtown Houston.

The building sits on a spot often referred to as “Houston’s Plymouth Rock,” according to a joint announcement Friday from the Partnership and Houston First. Brothers August Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen established Houston there in 1836.

[…]

The project should be completed in about one year. At that time the building will have an outdoor plaza with refreshment and rental facilities for runners, canoeists, kayakers and bikers. The first level will be office space for the partnership and the second level and a rooftop terrace will be used as event space.

A walkway will connected the building to Commerce Street. Ultimately, the building will connect to Buffalo Bayou’s trail system that stretches to Shepherd Drive.

We first heard about this almost a year ago. At the time, the plan was for work to begin in April, 2013. I don’t know what caused the delay – this story doesn’t indicate – but at least it’s getting started now. I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it’s finally done.

US-Mexico high speed rail?

What goes north can also go south.

Like this but with fewer mountains

A high-speed rail line connecting San Antonio and Monterrey, Mexico, could be less than a decade away from welcoming its first passengers, according to federal and Texas officials who met with Mexican officials in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to discuss the project.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-San Antonio, hosted the meeting in which Texas and Mexican officials offered a joint presentation to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx about the project, and Cuellar said Foxx was receptive. It was the third meeting between U.S. and Mexican officials related to the project, Cuellar said, following a meeting in the summer and another in October.

“From the Mexican side, they are very interested,” Cuellar said. “From the Texas side, they are very interested.”

Supporters say the rail line, if completed, could move passengers from San Antonio to Monterrey in two hours. The trip takes nearly five hours traveling by car.

Cuellar said he became interested in such a project after learning that the Texas Department of Transportation had received $5.6 million in federal funds last year to study possible rail projects between Oklahoma City and South Texas.

[…]

Both Mexican and U.S. officials envision a large portion of the project’s funding coming from the private sector, perhaps from a single company investing in the project in both countries.

We are familiar with one private investor for high speed rail in Texas, and we heard about that FTA grant recently. Obviously, all this is a long way from happening, but if both do happen – I’m reasonably confident about the Houston-Dallas line – then it would make a lot more sense to connect them, since that would have more value than two separate, disconnected lines. That would mean finishing the rest of the so-called Texas Triangle, which would then have offshoots continuing on to Oklahoma City and Monterrey. That would be pretty cool, don’t you think? The Highwayman and the Express News have more.