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May 18th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for May 18

So, what should HBO do when Game of Thrones catches up to the books?

And what does an old episode of The Simpsons have to do with the civil war in Syria?

“All the papers and history of singer-songwriter Willie Nelson won’t be on the road again, but have found a permanent home at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas.”

“Some places in the US already allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yields, and red lights as stop signs, and these rules are no more dangerous — and perhaps even a little safer — than the status quo.”

“A 50,000 year-old indigenous Native American tribe that has weathered the conquistadors, numerous wars with the Europeans, the American Revolution and the Civil War is now fighting to preserve its language and culture by embracing modern technology.”

On playing the Mom card.

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, Godzilla keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Happy 89th birthday, Yogi Berra!

Forty years of Emacs versus Vi. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not as big a geek as you think you are.

On Emily Letts and the reactions to her.

On Rand Paul and his newfound opposition to voter ID.

Sales of Michael Sam uniforms are sky high. Suck it, haters.

The number of uninsured people being admitted to hospitals declines dramatically in states that expanded Medicaid. Nobody could have seen that coming!

Reports of Rand Paul opposing voter ID were greatly exaggerated. Quelle surprise.

Don’t mess with Godzilla’s lawyer.

Ann Coulter’s hashtag fail.

“Five months into the biggest expansion of health coverage in 50 years — with about 13 million people enrolled in private insurance and Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — there are few reports of patients facing major delays getting care, say officials from more than two dozen health centers and multi-group practices, as well as insurers and physician groups in nine big states.”

RIP, H.R. Giger, surrealist artists and “Alien” designer.

“Tales of someone doing something unbelievably stupid or selfish or irrational are often told because they can help someone else get rich or get elected.”

Quantifying the rage factor of intentional walks.

(One person’s opinion of) the ten most overrated cult films. FWIW, I remember seeing “Eraserhead” in college and thinking it was boring.

What do you give the person that has everything? Their own super PAC, apparently.

They are coming for your birth control. This cannot be said often enough.

Castro to DC?

The hot rumor going around is that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is being vetted for a Cabinet position in the Obama administration.

Mayor Julian Castro

For the second time in two years, President Barack Obama has offered Julián Castro a chance to serve in his Cabinet, and the mayor has signaled his willingness to begin a swift process of confirmation to the post, knowledgeable sources say.

The process includes a vetting of Castro by the FBI — which has begun — and a Senate confirmation hearing, expected to conclude within months.

Castro, whose mayoral tenure thrust him into the national spotlight, refused to comment Friday. It was unclear what post the president has offered the Democratic stalwart.

Castro’s departure from San Antonio for the nation’s capital, where he would join his twin, Rep. Joaquin Castro, would come five years after he first was elected mayor, and one year before he could run for re-election to a final two-year term at City Hall.

Obama gauged Castro’s interest in serving as transportation secretary last year, but the mayor declined.

Publicly, Castro has said he plans to serve as mayor here as long as the voters would have him. In private conversations, though, he’s said an offer from the president to serve as education secretary would have proven tougher to turn down.

Also tough to turn down is a chance to run as nominee for vice president alongside Hillary Clinton.

[…]

The president’s offer last year for Castro to join his Cabinet was poor timing: The mayor was on the cusp of seeking re-election to a third term at City Hall.

Former Mayor Henry Cisneros, a mentor to Castro who accepted an offer to join President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet after his own mayoral tenure, disapproved at the time of Castro’s decision.

Cisneros served as secretary of housing and urban development from 1993 to 1997 and was interviewed for a spot on Walter Mondale’s ticket in 1984. Mondale opted, though, for the first female nominee, Geraldine Ferraro.

“I advised that he accept a position for President Obama,” Cisneros told the New York Times. “I thought that if he was going to be vice presidential material in 2016, then he needed to be more than mayor at that time.”

Via the Trib, the Times confirms the rumors and names the Cabinet position.

President Obama intends to choose Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio as the secretary of housing and urban development in a cabinet reshuffling, according to Democrats informed about the plans.

Mr. Castro, who has often been mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate for the Democrats, would take the place of Shaun Donovan, who would move to head the Office of Management and Budget. That job is being vacated by Sylvia Mathews Burwell, whom Mr. Obama has nominated as secretary of health and human services.

The White House refused to comment. But the president’s move to elevate a high-profile Hispanic official to his cabinet comes as his attempt to push an immigration overhaul through Congress appears to be stymied and as he considers easing the number of deportations of illegal immigrants.

That would appear to be that. We’ll see how his confirmation hearings go. After his recent debate with Dan Patrick, I can only imagine the grandstanding and petty point-scoring opportunities there will be for Ted Cruz.

Naturally, this appointment has everyone thinking of the future. Does this increase the odds of Castro being on the ticket with Hillary Clinton in 2016? I’m going to say maybe a little, since at least it will give the DC insiders a chance to scope him out and render an opinion that’s microscopically better informed than what they would have about him otherwise. On the other hand, HUD isn’t exactly a high-profile position – like being an NFL lineman or a baseball umpire, one mostly gets noticed as HUD Secretary when one screws up – and the VP speculation game is almost entirely a bunch of blather anyway. Hillary, if she runs, will pick who she wants; the rest of us are just nattering for the sake of being heard.

Of more immediate interest is who would succeed Castro as Mayor of San Antonio. The Rivard Report gives a bit of background on that.

The news has upended San Antonio politics like no other time in memory, setting off a scramble on City Council, whose 10 members will decide for themselves who will serve as mayor for the rest of Castro’s unexpired third term.The mayor does not get to vote on his successor. In theory, the Council could nominate a non-Council member to serve out the term, but that would not happen unless a prolonged deadlock prevented a council member from winning a majority of six votes.

Another story to be posted on the Rivard Report will look at the likely candidates who want to succeed Castro as mayor for here, and how the votes might fall in the scramble.

Castro’s decision will lead many to say he is putting his own political ambitions ahead of his promise to remain mayor of San Antonio “as long as the voters will have me,” which he has stated on the Rivard Report in the past when speculation arose about him joining a re-elected President Obama for a second term cabinet post.

Here’s that subsequent story. I don’t know the players in San Antonio, so I have no idea how that will play out. As far as the “putting his own political ambitions ahead of his promise to remain mayor of San Antonio” bit goes, well yeah, he is doing that. So would 99.9% of anyone else in that position. The question is whether people perceive him as sniffing around and begging for whatever happens to come up, or if they think he was just in the right place at the right time when a great opportunity presented itself. I’m sure we’ll know more about that soon enough. Wonkblog has more.

Judge prevents state from intervening in same sex divorce case

Back off, Greg Abbott.

RedEquality

A San Antonio judge Wednesday denied a bid from the state of Texas to stop divorce and child-custody proceedings between a same-sex couple.

State District Judge Barbara Nellermoe also set a custody hearing for May 29 in which Kristi Lesh and Allison Flood Lesh will fight over custody of their nearly 15-month-old daughter. The two women were legally married in Washington in 2010.

Nellermoe previously had ruled that Texas’ restrictions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, and her latest ruling prevented the state from intervening as a party in the women’s court battle.

“It’s a huge victory,” said attorney Deanna Whitley, who with Judith K. Wemmert, represents Flood Lesh. “She knocked the state of Texas out of the lawsuit.”

The lawyers said they are hoping to quickly reunite Flood Lesh with her daughter, who she hasn’t seen since Nov. 3.

Among the arguments by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office was that Nellermoe had no jurisdiction, and that the state should be allowed into the suit because it has an interest in defending the state’s ban on gay marriage.

[…]

In the state case, Abbott’s office has also argued that Nellermoe went beyond her rights as a district judge in declaring that sections of the Texas Family Code and state constitution violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

His office in late April obtained a temporary halt to Nellermoe’s prior decision, but Wednesday’s ruling kicks the state out of the lawsuit and allows the custody proceedings to go ahead — barring any other order from a higher court that’s also taking up similar cases, lawyers for both women said.

“As we stand here today, same-sex marriage is not recognized and those issues are on appeal,” Efron said. “What they’re trying to do is create a whole new category of standing of who can initiate a custody case. … We shouldn’t be there (in a custody hearing).”

Nellermoe’s rulings could “open up a floodgate” of gay divorce and custody battles in Bexar County and elsewhere, Efron said.

See here for the background. If this does “open up a floodgate” of such battles, it’s unfortunate for the couples that are no longer together and their children, but it’s infinitely better for them to have access to the legal process to settle disputes and divide property and determine custody and visitation for the kids. We’ll see if this order gets halted on appeals as well.

Steve Stockman’s ongoing FEC issues

“Steve Stockman” and “ethical issues” go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Steve Stockman doing his best Joe Cocker impersonation

For a congressman who has overseen four campaign committees in two decades, Rep. Steve Stockman is having a hard time dissolving his troubled congressional campaign.

Now a lame duck, the Clear Lake Republican first tried on April 16 to terminate Friends of Congressman Steve Stockman, the committee he used before challenging Sen. John Cornyn in the recent Republican Senate primary. But the Federal Election Commission refused to allow the termination, sending two letters last week to the Stockman campaign.

The first threatened legal action. At issue were contributions the campaign had received in the last quarter of 2013 and earmarked for expenses related to the 2014 general election. But by challenging Cornyn, Stockman relinquished any chance of being on the ballot to represent the 36th Congressional district in November 2014.

“Since the candidate is not seeking office and will not participate in the general election, any contribution received for the general election must be returned to the donors,” the FEC’s letter reads. “Although the Commission may take further legal action, your prompt action to refund these contributions will be taken into consideration.”

Stockman’s campaign apparently owes Rep. Eric Cantor’s PAC $5,000, which he may or may not be able to pay back because his campaign has no money, according to its most recent filings. Except that his most recent filings were riddled with errors and omissions, which is what the second letter is about. Maybe the next time he runs for something, the FEC should just provide a babysitter for his campaign to handle all this complicated stuff for him. He’s clearly not capable of doing it on his own.

Don’t kill the penny, revalue it

Ryan Cooper proposes a big idea to make coins more useful so that people start spending them again instead of hoarding them in jars for months at a time.

Millard is keeping hope alive

Here’s my solution: multiply the face value of every U.S. coin by 10. A penny will be worth 10 cents, a nickel 50 cents, a dime one dollar, a quarter $2.50, and a dollar coin 10 bucks. (We could also reinvent the half-dollar, which is barely produced now, as a nice $5 coin.)

This will have several beneficial effects: first, it will make change real money again. The whole point of having money is to facilitate the process of exchange, but studies have shown that people tend not to spend even the vaunted dollar coin. It’s no surprise, given that we’ve been training people for decades to think of change as worthless. And multiplying by 10 sounds like a lot, but if anything, it isn’t going far enough — the BLS inflation calculator only goes back to 1913, but even so, one dollar from that time was worth the equivalent of $23.87 today! The one-cent coin was the smallest then, and people still somehow survived. Rounding to the nearest tenth of a dollar in cash transactions today will be no problem.

Second, it will be easy to accomplish. We won’t have to have a big fight with the zinc lobby or Abraham Lincoln fans over whether to stop production of a particular coin, or rebuild all the vending machines around differently-shaped coins. Instead, we just alter the mint plates slightly with new numbers. (Making U.S. money more coin-based would also save the government a bit of money, since coins last much, much longer than paper money.)

Third — and this might be the most contentious part of this proposal — changing coins could be a nice piece of badly-needed economic stimulus. Effectively, we’d be printing up a bunch of new money and handing it to whoever has coins on hand. We’d have to think carefully about the details, but the idea would be to allow people who have old coins to hand them in for fresh new versions worth 10 times as much. Vending machines can be easily reprogrammed to help soak up the old currency (which will be exactly the same size and weight as the new stuff), and banks could be required to exchange for the new versions for a few years. To keep them from being swamped and to ease the effect, we could say banks don’t have to exchange more than $50 worth of new currency per person per day, or something similar.

[…]

How much money are we talking about? According to the Federal Reserve, as of 2010 there was about $40 billion worth of coins in circulation, which constituted 4.3 percent of the U.S. currency stock. We’d be increasing that by $360 billion at a stroke, which would actually be a pretty powerful economic stimulus. Indeed, it might cause a bit of moderate inflationary pressure, as all the coin hoarders with soup tureens full of pennies went on spending sprees. However, that would be exactly the kind of situation the Federal Reserve is equipped to handle. I doubt any inflationary pressure would be sustained long, but if so, it would be a godsend to the Fed, which has been stuck at the zero lower bound and mostly below its inflation target since the financial crisis. Indeed, there is a very strong case that a bit higher inflation target is wise economic policy for the future.

Usually, when I blog about coins it’s in the context of arguing against eliminating the dollar bill in favor of dollar coins, but I have also objected to killing the penny. As does Kevin Drum, I mostly like this idea, but I think Cooper sells short the problem of rounding prices to the nearest old-school dime. The limited bit of empirical evidence we have suggests this would affect poorer folks adversely, since prices would be rounded up much more often than they would be rounded down. One thing that occurred to me in writing this post is that it would likely cause a hike in transit fares around the country – here in Houston, a ride costs $1.25, which would undoubtedly become $1.30 under Cooper’s plan. I’m not sure what the best way to deal with that is. On the plus side, it would as Cooper notes provide a bit of short-term stimulus, which likely means Cooper is underestimating the opposition to his idea as well. This will never happen, but it’s an interesting suggestion. What do you think?