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July 20th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for July 20

“And that means that the Koch brothers, who spent an estimated $30 million on ads opposing Obamacare, might have actually had a hand in getting people signed up for insurance coverage.”

Reading the polls is a little trickier than usual this year.

As Neil Gaiman once said, George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

Financial literacy is overrated.

I loved the World Cup this year, but I’ve really been waiting for the Women’s World Cup to begin. I hope the third time can be the charm for professional women’s soccer in the US.

You think that traffic jam you’re sitting in now is bad?

Yogi Berra is a mensch.

Don’t use hotel business center computers if you know what’s good for you.

Were you a Prodigy user? Do you still have the hard drive from the computer where you logged on to Prodigy? If so, then this may be of interest to you.

“The Church of England has voted to allow women to enter its top ranks as bishops.” In other news, it is the year 2014.

RIP, Alice Coachman Davis, first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

Clearly, I need to encourage my daughters to keep busy on their rainbow looms.

“I’ll be the first to admit that the Texas medical system has its problems. But if the biggest “health threats” these kids from Central America bring are head lice, some twisted ankles and 23 cases of chickenpox, well, Texas can handle that.”

“There have always been cranky old people asserting that things were better when they were kids and whatever is happening now is terrible […] and presumably there always will be cranky old people. But a confluence of circumstances has created a situation in which conservative politics has gotten bound up with crankly oldersterism in a somewhat weird way.”

As one of the commenters to this said, “If anyone in history has ever deserved a religion more than Weird Al, I don’t know who it is.”

“Not to let facts intrude on their paranoid fantasies, but let’s not forget what the IRS scandalette actually involved. There’s never been any credible allegation that anyone was audited because of their political beliefs. There’s never been any allegation that the IRS “targeted” donors to Republican super PACs. The worst thing that happened was that some Tea Party groups that had applied for 501(c)(4) status—claiming, utterly falsely, that they were charitable, non-political organizations, I might add—had to wait longer than they should have to get approval on their applications. (And, I have to repeat, when you’re waiting for your approval, you’re permitted under the law to act as though you’ve gotten your approval. You can raise and spend money, which they did.)”

“Down with pipe shots. Up with throwing a fastball and letting destiny take over after that. Just make sure you call it what we’re all expecting. Even better, don’t call it anything at all.”

RIP, Johnny Winter, Texas blues legend.

Whatever you may think about NFL cheerleaders and how they are treated by the various teams, you have to admire Kriste Lewis and her determination to live life to its fullest.

Tort “reform” for thee, but not for me.

Want to buy one of the Pearls Before Swine strips that featured art by Bill Watterson? Go here, and be prepared to spend some big bucks. It’s for charity, if that helps.

Quit disappearing Rickroll videos, YouTube!

RIP, James Garner, iconic leading man.

When is that appeal of the Texas same sex marriage ruling going to happen?

A little later than originally planned.

RedEquality

It’s been five months since a federal judge struck down Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage.

But Attorney General Greg Abbott says he needs more time to file a brief appealing U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s February decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court.

Abbott’s brief was initially to the 5th Circuit on July 9, but his office has now requested — and received — two extensions. The brief is now due July 29, according to court records.

“Applicants do not seek this extension for purposes of delay, but rather so that appellate counsel Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell has sufficient time to prepare a brief that is thorough, accurate, and helpful to the Court,” Abbott’s office wrote in a July 15 motion requesting the second extension of 10 days. “The issue in this case, the constitutionality of Texas’ same-sex marriage laws, is important and complex. The additional time would allow Mr. Mitchell to give this case the attention that it deserves. Besides this case, Mr. Mitchell also has obligations with respect to other multiple lawsuits including challenges to Texas’ voter ID laws, redistricting, an upcoming bench trial concerning Texas’ abortion laws, and a United States Supreme Court capital case undergoing merits briefing. Even with the previous seven-day extension, appellants are still within the court’s usual limit of forty days.”

Attorneys for two same-sex couples challenging Texas’ marriage bans in the case, known as De Leon v. Perry, opposed Abbott’s request for an extension.

“The Solicitor General’s vague claim of being too busy to prioritize this appeal simply does not justify further delaying this dispute,” attorneys for the couples wrote. “Appellees are suffering irreparable harm due to the violation of their Constitutional rights, and that harm should not be extended merely because nearly five months have proven an insufficient amount of time for the Solicitor General to prepare Appellants’ opening brief.”

In May, the 5th Circuit denied a request from the plaintiffs to expedite consideration of the case.

Neel Lane, one of the attorneys representing the couples, told Lone Star Q this week that Abbott’s office had given him “no clue as to why they had to seek the extension.”

“But I should add that extensions are not unusual at all,” Lane said. “A total of three extra weeks won’t be material.”

Lane said under the new timeline, his side’s response brief will be due Sept. 2, with the state‘s reply due Sept. 19. The court has not scheduled oral arguments.

You can see a copy of the request for extension at that link. The original ruling was on February 26, so it will be seven months from then till all briefs are due, assuming no further delays, then oral arguments at a later date and finally the ruling. I figure that’s at least a nine or ten-month span, optimistically putting the ruling at around the end of the year. As a point of comparison, yesterday the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the earlier ruling that struck down the Sooner State’s anti-same sex marriage law. A survey of the press releases I’ve received on this case shows that the original ruling was made on January 14, oral arguments concluded on April 17, and the ruling by the 10th Circuit was handed down on July 18, or a hair more than six months total time. That’s a month less than it’s taking Texas just to get all the briefs filed. I’m sure they’re stretched pretty thin at the AG’s office between this and redistricting and voter ID and all those other lawsuits they file against the federal government every day, but that doesn’t mean we ought to feel any sympathy for them for it. Juanita has more.

Beaver versus beaver

It’s a trademark infringement lawsuit. What did you think I was referring to?

In the animal world it may be that no two beavers are the same but semi-aquatic rodent diversity does not extend to the world of the convenience store, at least according to Buc-ee’s.

The Texas-based legends of convenience store bathrooms and beef jerky have issued a trademark infringement lawsuit against beaver rivals Frio Beaver, a new store opened in Concan, Texas.

The suit, filed in federal court earlier this month, contends that the new store is attempting to trade off Buc-ee’s success by copying its logo and store concept.

[…]

In the animal world it may be that no two beavers are the same but semi-aquatic rodent diversity does not extend to the world of the convenience store, at least according to Buc-ee’s.

The Texas-based legends of convenience store bathrooms and beef jerky have issued a trademark infringement lawsuit against beaver rivals Frio Beaver, a new store opened in Concan, Texas.

The suit, filed in federal court earlier this month, contends that the new store is attempting to trade off Buc-ee’s success by copying its logo and store concept.

The Southeast Texas Record appears to have had the first report on this. You can judge for yourself how similar the two logos are and how likely a person might be confused by it. It’s not the first time Buc-ee’s has gotten litigious over a potential competitor it thought was too close to its own concept or design. TM Daily Post has more.

More on the partisan lines of the Uber fight

From Wonkblog, another interesting look at how the fight over the so-called “sharing economy”, in particular transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, is playing out nationally.

In its short life, however, the sharing economy has seldom reflected a clear schism between Republicans and Democrats — an argument Grover Norquist tries to make today in a provocative opinion piece for Reuters. Companies like Uber, he writes with Patrick Gleason, can help the GOP “gain control” of cities where they’ve been all but absent for years. Their logic:

Yet despite the Democrats’ urban dominance, cities may soon be up for grabs. For the party’s refusal to embrace the innovative technology and disruptive businesses that have greatly improved city life presents a challenge to Democrats — and an opportunity for Republicans.

Democrats are facing a tough choice. A big part of their base is the unions now facing off against such disruptive innovations as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and charter schools. Do Democrats support the regulations pushed by taxi and other unions that help to protect the status quo but can also stifle competition? Or do they embrace innovative technologies and businesses that expand transportation options, create jobs and are increasingly welcomed by another key Democratic constituency: urban dwellers, particularly young urban dwellers?

Norquist and Gleason are right that there will no doubt be political fallout from the sharing economy. I recently met a number of cab drivers in Chicago who pledged to me that they would fight against the reelection of Mayor Rahm Emanuel because of his support for services like Uber and Lyft there. But it’s not at all clear that this fallout will favor Republicans.

[…]

The point here isn’t that Democrats are all supporters of the sharing economy. It’s that support isn’t as contingent on ideology as Norquist and Gleason suggest. And the political lines are definitely not so tidy as to suggest that Republicans can leverage liberals’ “refusal to embrace the innovative technology” to sweep back into favor with urban voters. There’s room here for Democrats to acknowledge that markets can partly regulate themselves — with the help of technology — in ways that weren’t possible in the past; there’s room for Republicans to acknowledge that we need laws mandating commercial auto insurance anyway.

We’ve heard a lot from Democrats on these issues precisely because they’re playing out in cities so far. And, inevitably, elected Democrats like Rahm Emanuel will be forced to take positions that will please some core constituents at the expense of others. The tension between unions and young consumers is particularly compelling. Republicans should absolutely jump into that fray. They haven’t found a lot of reasons to talk to urban voters lately — if people like Norquist think this is one, that’s great.

But the fact that this debate isn’t neatly drawn into liberal and conservative camps is a testament to the policy issues raised by the sharing economy: They’re incredibly, incredibly messy. They also aren’t purely about big-picture ideological battles over less regulation or more union power, the kind of divisive themes that animate federal policy debates. They’re about the gritty details of auto insurance policies and tax receipts and access for disabled consumers. That’s not the stuff of pithy partisan slogans.

As author Emily Badger notes, this issue has not played out along partisan lines so far. Uber and Lyft have made their way into cities like San Francisco and Seattle working with the local governments there. Trying to make this into an R-versus-D fight will surely be a loser at least in the short term precisely because cities are overwhelmingly Democratic right now. Uber and Lyft can’t get approved in Houston without at least two Democrats supporting it, and indeed can’t even come up for a vote without Mayor Parker putting it on the agenda.

Of course, Norquist is playing a long game, and a few losses up front aren’t a setback to him but a catalyst. I still have a hard time buying this as a wedge issue. Norquist envisions a future army of disillusioned Uber (and Lyft and AirBnB and whatever other sharing economy companies are out there trying to gain a foothold) users turning to his brand of small-government deregulators as the saviors of their smartphone apps. But most people who live in cities like having a certain level of service and infrastructure, and they accept that there’s a higher level of taxes to provide for that. It’s not exactly a coincidence that cities tend to be Democratic, after all. If what you really want is lower taxes and you don’t care so much for things like sewer systems and professional fire departments, well, that’s what the suburbs and unincorporated areas are for. It’s not like these are hard to find or move to in most metro areas.

Again, though, this is a long game. Norquist is hoping to bring younger people – those who are way more likely to be Uber users in the first place – to a more generalized preference of deregulation and less government. I like to think that the millennial crowd already has a clear view of what he’s trying to sell them, but let’s all admit that predicting what politics will look like in 20 or 30 years is considerably sillier than trying to predict what it will look like in 2 or 3 years, or even 2 or 3 months. One reason for that is because nobody knows what society will look like in 20 or 30 years. Uber thinks driverless cars will eventually replace their human chauffeurs. Some other people think driverless cars will be the end of Uber and its ilk. Who knows? Maybe society won’t accept driverless cars and unions like SEIU make a push to organize Uber drivers. Anything can happen, but that doesn’t mean it’s likely to happen.

Collier hits the road

Talking taxes, and our state’s screwed-up appraisal process.

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

With about as many local candidates as voters in attendance, the Travis County Democratic Party hosted a “town hall” on property tax reform Friday morning, where everybody agreed with would-be County Commissioner (Precinct 2) Brigid Shea: “The appraisal process is broken.” To fix it – in the current state political climate – will take some doing.

The event, introduced by TCDP Executive Director J.D. Gins, was headlined by Shea and Mike Collier, candidate for state Comptroller, who each spoke briefly and then responded to audience questions. Among the several dozen attendees, Newsdesk counted at least a dozen local candidates – most of them for Austin’s fall City Council elections – and among them likely County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who took the mic for a moment to rattle off some estimates of the financial benefits to county homeowners of substantial tax reform. The forum was also webcast across the state; Shea introduced a brief video produced by Real Values for Texas, a new statewide coalition “taking action to expose the impact of our state’s broken property tax system on homeowners, kids, and local communities.”

The gist of the problem, reiterated Collier and Shea, is that the property tax appraisal system has been allowed to become radically inequitable – even unconstitutional, said Collier. Under the Texas Constitution, properties are required to be assessed at market value for taxation purposes. For individual homeowners, said Collier, that’s mostly what happens; but big industrial and commercial property owners have managed, over the years, by various mechanisms – e.g., limiting exposure, concealing sales prices, and using greater resources to appeal – to be taxed at much lower valuations.

According to Real Values for Texas, the result is a system that, statewide, taxes major commercial and industrial properties at roughly 60% of market value, thereby moving much of that additional burden onto residential homeowners. Shea said that during her campaign visits, the subject is on everyone’s lips (especially in Travis County, where property values continue to surge). “It is hurting people all across our state,” Shea said, “literally driving people out of their homes.”

Collier noted that statewide, the problem must be addressed by the Legislature, which has largely relied on across-the-board spending cuts – especially to public schools – instead of attempting to make the system more equitable. He recommended three basic fixes: 1) tightening the definition of capital property; 2) requiring some form of sale price disclosure (as is required in 46 states); 3) addressing the imbalance in “negotiating power.” Commercial property owners, he pointed out, not only have teams of lawyers to appeal their valuations, but also, if they should win a lawsuit, the appraisal districts must pay any legal costs (not so in reverse). As a result, appraisal officials are motivated to capitulate rather than risk losing contested appeals.

Collier acknowledged that substantial reform will require legislative action, but the comptroller has a “voice, and the data,” to press the Legislature to comprehend the problem and restore equity to the system. He said that the Republican Party in Texas has become the spokesman and representative of big business, and “small businesses need at least one comptroller.” Rather than think first about the needs of big business, he added, state officials need to consider, in order, the needs of “homeowners, consumers, small business, and then big business.”

We’ve talked about this before, and you know how I feel about it. I’m glad to see Collier out and about talking about this – he’s on a two-week statewide tour, including a stop in Atascocita today, to discuss the issue. If he can get his message out, he can put himself in a position to win.