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May 14th, 2014:

Today is the day for the non-discrimination ordinance

Yesterday’s open Council session and today’s vote will provide one last chance for fearmongering before the NDO finally passes.

RedEquality

Among clergy trading pulpit for soap box is the Rev. Ed Young, senior pastor at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, who denounced the proposal for seeking to “elevate sexual preference to a constitutionally protected class.”

[…]

In Internet postings, Young urged opponents inside and outside the city to “dare to be a Daniel” in facing down the ordinance.

“Mayor Parker will continue to push the City Council to approve a ‘non-discrimination ordinance’ … more aptly described as a wide-reaching pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ordinance,” Young wrote. “It is a direct threat to the rights of all who live and work in our city.”

Young, whose congregation approaches 64,000 members, argued that the ordinance potentially would open women’s restrooms to male sexual predators dressed in women’s clothing and force businesses to serve clients whose sexual practices they oppose on religious grounds.

“Tolerance,” he wrote, “should not be defined as casting aside and acting against one’s own beliefs to accommodate someone else’s. Simply put, the homosexual community wants us to tolerate their behavior and beliefs, but does not want to give the rest of us that same courtesy. … Their rights should end where our morality and rights begin.”

Pastor Steve Riggle, of Grace Community Church, with about 18,000 members, expressed similar concerns, saying the proposed ordinance “is not just a political issue to us. As a congregation, we are outraged.”

I’m old enough to remember people like Ed Young and Steve Riggle making the same claims about the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 70s. There’s a word for this: it’s called “lying”. I don’t know why professional religious people like Ed Young and Steve Riggle think lying – “bearing false witness against thy neighbor”, if you want to go old school – to advance a political position might be acceptable. Perhaps as professional religious people they have access to a deluxe edition of the Bible that the rest of us don’t that spells out when one can lie with impunity. I would suggest to them that they would be far better off after the NDO passes to rejoice with those who rejoice and leave their anger and fear and lying behind. But I’m not a professional religious person, so what do I know?

Speaking of lying, you will I’m sure be shocked to learn that Dave Wilson is campaigning against the NDO, and in true Dave Wilson fashion he’s doing so by pretending to be African-American. Here’s the email he’s sending out. It claims to be from a “Reverend RJ Ballard” – you can see the header, with my email address edited out, here – but I know it’s from him because the email contains a disclaimer at the end, not visible on that webpage, that says:

Our mailing address is:
Houstonians For Family Values
5600 W 34th St.
Houston, TX 77092

That as we know is one of the warehouses that Dave Wilson claims to be his home. Be that as it may, Google searches for Reverend RJ Ballard and RJ Ballard Houston come up empty, unless you think this guy (the first result for the latter search) is the “reverend” in question. The photo of the “Reverend” in Wilson’s mailer is a stock photo, which you can find via Google image search for “black reverend”; it’s being used here. The photo of the family is surely also a stock photo, though I didn’t see it on a quick scan through Shutterstock. It too is easily found via Google image search, this time for “black family portrait”, which led me here. You’re such a cliche, Dave.

Anyway. The bathroom provision in the ordinance that Young and Riggle and their ilk have been lying about, will be dropped from the final version.

A paragraph specifying that no business open to the public could deny a transgender person entry to the restroom consistent with his or her gender identity had outraged conservatives. Church and Republican political leaders have used the clause to claim the ordinance “provides an opportunity for sexual predators to have access to our families.”

Members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community were equally outraged, however, by a clause that would give businesses an out if the defendant had a “good faith belief” that the person’s claim of being transgender was disingenuous.

The proposed amendment would remove that paragraph of the expansive ordinance. Transgender people barred access to a restroom still would be able to file a discrimination complaint to the city’s Office of Inspector General under the process outlined for all protected characteristics, such as race and veteran status.

“The base ordinance is still the same,” Parker said. “It says you can’t discriminate.”

A pretty simple thing, don’t you think? I’m going to give the last word to Dallas Jones, a political consultant who sent out the following to his email list yesterday:

It’s unfortunate that this conversation has been masked behind issues like religion and the question of gender identity being a choice or biological. The issue is a simple one for me. In order for Houston to be the great city on the hill that it can be, we must make a moral declaration that no one can being treated unfairly in our utopia. It doesn’t matter if someone is born a certain way or what their lifestyle choices lead them to, no one should be made to feel less than human.

HERO, as it’s being called, will also protect African American Houstonians who for too long have been discriminated against in certain parts of town. As an African American male I have witnessed others not only barred entry into an establishment, but also physically assaulted at the door for refusing to leave after being denied entry. There was no recourse for these young men to seek justice. With Houston being a part of the South, it has a history of segregation that sought to keep our great city from coexisting harmoniously. The remnants of segregation are still alive today and it is evident through the makeup of our neighborhoods. These great divides exist not only in geography but within the minds of those that reside in these historic neighborhoods, as well. HERO will seek to protect citizens from being treated differently regardless of what part of town they choose to live, work, or play.

I can understand some of the concern from the community. As a Christian, I try to practice the principles taught through Holy Scripture daily. Therefore, I can’t ignore the principles of love, tolerance, and equality of my fellow man. I have always stated my belief that the Bible is not a textbook for government; it is a religious document that guides our spiritual beliefs. In a country that is founded on the concept of religious freedom we have to embrace the idea that people have a right to believe what they choose and be who they are. When we begin to challenge the notion of protecting our fellow man from being treated wrongly then it is the opinion of this writer that we have lost our way.

Amen to that. Now let’s pass this thing already. Texas Leftist has more.

UPDATE: And “Amen” to today’s Chron editorial.

Burnam loses appeal in election contest

Another setback.

Rep. Lon Burnam

A local appeals court will not require Tarrant County election officials to release all applications for mail-in ballots received for this year’s race for House District 90.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who has represented House District 90 for nearly two decades, asked to review the paperwork because he believed it would show illegalities in this race — and that he didn’t lose his re-election bid.

In March, Burnam lost by 111 votes to local businessman Ramon Romero Jr.

“This is the first step to the end of the line,” Romero said Monday. “Now I can tell people there won’t be a cloud over our victory party.

“I’ve been waiting for this to happen. This [lawsuit] is not what our voters deserve.”

Texas’ 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth issued a brief ruling late Monday saying Burnam’s appeal was denied.

Art Brender, one of Burnam’s attorneys, said he plans to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court within days.

“It’s ironic at a time when we’re having debates over whether you have to have a picture ID to vote in person at a poll, … you’ve got increasingly very shadowy procedures now being sanctioned by voting by mail,” said Brender, former chairman of the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “We’re going to keep fighting it.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. I have to say, I’ve been a fan of Lon Burnam, I was sad when he lost, and I agree that the law as written doesn’t specifically address the use of handheld electronic devices in processing absentee ballot requests. But that’s all that we’re talking about here, a possible technical violation of the law, which a court may or may not see as invalidating some number of those ballot requests. Allegations of impropriety and adopting Republican rhetoric about voter ID are misguided and harmful, and they threaten to tarnish Burnam’s legacy. I’m fine with pursuing the technical question of the law – it’s Burnam’s right to do so – but I don’t support this. Don’t lose your soul in pursuit of keeping your job, Lon.

Metro still aiming for an overpass

I’ll be glad when this is settled.

Metropolitan Transit Authority officials said they must consider the need to extend the line east of Hughes Road, the potentially costly and time-consuming underpass construction, and the potential environment fallout after a discovery that contaminated soil was more extensive than previously believed.

“We think it is our responsibility to complete the project because it has been going on for some time,” Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

Garcia said he favors a plan to take the tracks over the freight line, but did not want to assume the board would agree. Board members who have publicly stated a preference have supported an overpass, saying an underpass is impractical.

[…]

Residents said if Metro officials know there’s a problem – one that’s common on the East End, where industries and businesses polluted the land – they should clean it up.

“Let’s not leave it for another generation,” said Don Ready, who lives and works in the area around Hughes and Harrisburg.

Some residents and business owners said the issue has been studied enough and it’s time to begin construction, probably of an overpass.

“I have a letter signed by 14 business owners who want the overpass because they need to get it done as soon as possible,” said Mark Rodriguez, who owns a business along Harrisburg and is active with the Oaklawn Fullerton Civic Association.

Metro officials said their overpass design would address some of the original concerns. It could include elevating the light rail tracks and two lanes of traffic over the freight line, while keeping a lane in each direction for street-level traffic and sidewalk access.

Garcia said if an overpass is chosen, Metro would work with the community to make the crossing “as unobtrusive as possible.”

An overpass would be cheaper than an underpass, but Metro might have less money to work with. City officials planned to contribute $20 million, but $10 million of that was tied to the crossing being an underpass, said Andy Icken, chief development officer for Mayor Annise Parker.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m sympathetic to the East End residents who have to feel like they’ve been fighting this fight forever, and I’m sympathetic to the Metro board that is still trying to extricate itself from the messes left behind by their predecessors. Metro, which has other issues it needs to resolve as it finishes construction on the Harrisburg line, would surely like to just make a decision and move forward. I’d feel better about that if I had a clearer idea of just what the costs are at this point. Will it really be less expensive to do the overpass if the city pays $10 million less towards its construction? Is it responsible to leave the buried toxins underground? Might there be some alternate sources of funding to aid the cleanup? Could the new-and-improved overpass design that Metro says they have be acceptable to East End residents? These and other questions remain to be answered.

FEC approves Bitcoin for campaign contributions

It’s the right call.

The Federal Election Commission on Thursday voted to allow political committees to accept Bitcoin donations and outlined the ways that the virtual currency can be used by federally regulated campaigns.

Responding to a request from a political action committee, the commissioners unanimously approved an advisory opinion that defined Bitcoins, which allows for online transactions without going through a bank or other third party, as “money or anything of value” — in essence, cash or an in-kind contribution.

They also imposed some restrictions, ruling that Bitcoin donations will be capped at a cash equivalent of $100 per person per cycle, with the value determined at the time of the donation, and that a complete accounting of name, address and employer must accompany the donation.

Committees can liquidate a Bitcoin contribution immediately, or they can choose to keep it as an investment, in the same way they do with stocks and bonds. Since the value of the virtual currency can fluctuate suddenly, the opportunity for a windfall is real, but is growing rarer as it stabilizes.

The opinion also allows committees to buy Bitcoins on the open market, but prohibits them from using the coins to pay for goods or services. They must be liquidated into United States currency before being spent.

See here for the background, and here for the FEC opinion. I don’t see this as being a big deal – I still think Bitcoin is a lot of sound and fury – but I see no reason not to treat Bitcoin as something of value that can be given to and used by a PAC. Better to allow it and regulate it than to ignore it and hope it goes away.