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November 6th, 2015:

Friday random ten: Revisiting the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list, part 19

Here’s their list.

1. Anarchy In The U.K. – The Sex Pistols (#56)
2. Long Tall Sally – The Beatles (orig. Little Richard, #55)
3. Louie, Louie – The MOB (orig. The Kingsmen, #54)
4. When Doves Cry – Kris McKay (orig. Prince, #52)
5. The Tracks Of My Tears – Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (#50)
6. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel (#48; also covers by Aretha Franklin and Johnny Cash)
7. All Along The Watchtower – U2 (orig. Jimi Hendrix, #47)
8. Georgia On My Mind – Ray Charles (#44; also a version by Gene Krupa)
9. That’ll Be The Day – The Beatles (orig. Buddy Holly, #39)
10. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ – The Righteous Brothers (#34; also covers by Phosphorescent and Hall & Oates)

Song I don’t have but should: “When A Man Loves A Woman”, Percy Sledge (#53). If the words “Michael Bolton” even come into your head when you hear this song title, I’m not sure we can be friends.
Song I used to have but don’t any more: “Hotel California”, The Eagles (#49). I’ve had it on cassette at least twice, once a retail tape and once a recording from vinyl. Never had a digital version of it, though. Maybe I should get the Gipsy Kings version.
Song that I didn’t realize started out as filthy: “Tutti Frutti”, Little Richard (#43). Go click the link above and find the entry. Apparently, the Asylum Street Spankers were paying homage to it in their classic “The Scrotum Song”.

Have I ever mentioned that The MOB once got to perform “Louie, Louie” during a halftime show with the actual by-god Kingsmen? That is a definite highlight of my life. Of course Bob Dylan did the actual original of “All Along The Watchtower”, but who has ever heard that version? As the Rolling Stone summary of the tune notes, Dylan has toured with and recorded Hendrix versions of his song.

What next for HERO?

Before I get into some thoughts about how to approach a second attempt at passing a non-discrimination ordinance for Houston, let me begin by dispensing with this.

HoustonUnites

2. HERO Will Be Back

The lopsided defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) will send the next mayor and city council back to the drawing board at the start of 2016. They would be expected to, in relatively short order, pass a new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that is very similar to the ordinance that was just repealed, with one principal exception. The revised version of the ordinance would modify the public accommodation component of the repealed ordinance so that it does not apply to discrimination based on biological sex in regard to access to private facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms and showers.

A relatively expeditious passage of this revised equal rights ordinance would ameliorate, though not entirely erase, the short-term negative impact of the lopsided “No” victory on Houston’s image nationwide. The rapid adoption of this new ordinance also would largely eliminate the risk of Houston losing conventions, sporting events, corporate relocations and corporate investment as a consequence of the Nov. 3 HERO repeal. And, since this new equal rights ordinance would address the principal public critique of the “No” campaign, it would be virtually bulletproof against any future repeal efforts.

All due respect, but that gives way way waaaaaaaaaaay too much credit to the leaders of the anti-HERO movement. The people behind this – Woodfill, Hotze, the Pastors Council – have a deep-seated loathing of Mayor Parker and the LGBT community in general, which is what drove their opposition to HERO. Changing the wording in the ordinance in this fashion would not suddenly turn them into fair-minded and honorable opponents who would have engaged in a debate on the merits of this law. That’s not who they are, that’s not what they do, and thinking that making some sort of “reasonable” accommodation to them would be rewarded with reasonable behavior on their part is as deeply naive as thinking that if President Obama had just tried to accommodate Republican concerns about the Affordable Care Act then no one would have ever screamed about death panels. The way to beat people like this is to make it clear to everyone watching that they are the raving lunatics we know them to be. If there’s a way to insert some legalese into HERO 2.0 to make it double secret illegal for anyone to harass and assault people in bathrooms while still providing protection for people who just need to pee to do their business, then fine. Do that for the sake of having the talking point. Just don’t fall for the idea that this somehow “takes the issue off the table” or forces the opposition to behave like rational beings.

Now on to the main discussion.

As supporters of Houston’s equal rights ordinance pieced together how the law came to suffer such an overwhelming defeat at the polls Tuesday, political scientists and even some campaign supporters pointed to what they said was a key misstep: poor outreach to black voters.

Majority black City Council districts were among those most decisively rejecting the law Tuesday, including District B and District D, where 72 percent and 65 percent of voters, respectively, opted to repeal the law. Overall, complete but unofficial results showed 61 percent of voters against the law and 39 percent for it.

Heading into the election, polling showed black voters, traditionally more socially conservative, were the most likely to be undecided on the issue, said Bob Stein, a Rice University political scientist.

In the same polling, supporters did best with black voters when they presented the argument that repealing the ordinance would jeopardize the city’s economy and events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA.

Well, Houston will not be getting the college football championship game in the next few years, though the committee making that decision says local politics had nothing to do with it. San Antonio’s bid for the game was also denied, so I’d tend to believe that. Neither the Final Four nor the Super Bowl appear to be going anywhere, which is what I would expect – these are big events that take a lot of time to plan and execute and thus aren’t easily relocated, and I never believed that NFL owners would embarrass a fellow member of their club like that. A big national outcry might have an effect, but I seriously doubt Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance is on enough people’s radar for that. While I do believe that the HERO rejection will make it harder for Houston to land events like these going forward – the NCAA spokesperson vaguely alluded to that in the statement about the Final Four – this was always my concern about making such specific claims, given that we had no control over them.

Monica Roberts, a transgender black woman and GLBT activist, called the Houston Unites effort a “whitewashed campaign” that failed to adequately respond to the bathroom issue and reach out to the black community in a meaningful way.

On her popular blog, TransGriot, she wrote that the warning signs that the law could go down by a significant margin were present early on.”

“The Black LGBT community and our allies have been warning for months that action was needed in our community IMMEDIATELY or else HERO was going down to defeat,” she wrote. “We pleaded for canvassing in our neighborhoods, pro-HERO ads on Houston Black radio stations and hard hitting attacks to destroy the only card our haters had to play in the bathroom meme.”

But even ads featuring Houston NAACP president James Douglas endorsing the ordinance were not enough to erode critics’ lead with black voters.

Douglas said he was hesitant to comment on what might have worked with black voters because he had not seen the results broken out by precinct.

“I’m not sure what supporters could have done,” Douglas said. “Most of the people I’ve talked to said it was all about the restroom fear. They literally see it as ‘I don’t want that to happen to someone that I know.'”

Councilman Jerry Davis, who represents the majority black District B that includes Fifth Ward and Acres Homes, said outreach in the black community was simply “way too little, way too late.”

Davis is among the 11 council members who voted in favor of the law. As he visited polling sites in his district Tuesday, he said residents’ skepticism about the ordinance had not budged during the past year.

“You can’t win this debate at the polls; it’s too late,” Davis said. “Voters were confused. They wanted to understand that this was an equal rights law, that it would help them. But instead they couldn’t get this visual out of their heads of a man entering a woman’s restroom. Opponents told that story over and over and over again until it was too late for Houston Unites.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said opponents were first out of the gates with their messaging, framing the debate around the bathroom issue, and supporters never caught up.

“The pro-HERO folks needed to have a public face much earlier than they did,” Rottinghaus said. “There was no personality to HERO, and I think that hurt the pro-HERO folks because it wasn’t clear what people were voting in favor of.”

This is the discussion now, and there was a lot of it happening behind the scenes before. I’m going to address it by talking about what I’d like to see happen for the next time.

By now we know that many African-American voters supported Sylvester Turner and voted against HERO. That’s disheartening, but it does provide a way forward. If elected, Mayor Turner would start out with a much higher level of trust and goodwill with these voters than Mayor Parker (who never received a significant level of support in African-American precincts) ever had. He will have an opening and an opportunity to bring forth another version of HERO (modified as needed with whatever legal mumbo-jumbo about bathrooms) and restart the discussion. This is how I would suggest going about it:

1. Acknowledge what happened, and assert the need to try again. I have no doubt that Sylvester Turner is capable of delivering a speech that acknowledges the problems with HERO that led to its defeat at the ballot box, while simultaneously emphasizing the need for our city to have an ordinance in place that does what HERO did. He could do this as part of his inaugural address, or he could wait for the State of the City in April, but sooner would be better than later. Acknowledge what happened, state the need for action, and call on everyone to join him.

2. Get out of City Hall and bring the conversation to the neighborhoods. Have a Council hearing in Acres Homes and/or Sunnyside. Have community meetings in multiple places all over the city (like Metro did with bus system reimagining) like multi-service centers and schools and wherever else is suitable, with some during the day and some in the evening and some on weekends to accommodate people’s work schedules. Have a brief presentation up front, then devote most of the time to letting the attendees speak so you can answer their questions and hear their concerns and address any good points they bring up that you hadn’t previously thought of. Mayor Turner himself needs to lead these meetings and make it clear that he supports doing this and is asking the people in attendance to join him. Note that I’m not just suggesting African-American neighborhoods for these meetings, either. Have them in Latino neighborhoods, and in Alief and out on Harwin and Bellaire Boulevard. Have plenty of folks who speak Spanish and Vietnamese and Chinese with you, and make sure any printed and electronic materials are multi-lingual as well. If we’re not talking to the people, we can’t complain if someone else is.

3. Roll out an advertising campaign along with this ongoing conversation. We know that the antis had a messaging advantage because they got their ads out first and we had to respond. They were already organized by the time the Supreme Court stuck their nose into things, while we had to get up and going from scratch. We can’t let that happen again. The next version of HERO needs to be sold from the beginning, so we can be the ones to set the tone and the message. In this day and age, that means setting up a PAC, tapping a few deep pockets to fund it, and getting going with the ads, for TV and radio and print and the Internet and whatever else you can think of. Treat it like a campaign, because that’s what it is. If the complaint from this election is that too many people didn’t know what HERO actually did, then this is the way to make sure that doesn’t happen with HERO 2.0. Be very clear and very thorough about who is protected, how it works, why we need it, and so forth. By all means, lean heavily on the business and economic argument, though as noted above be careful on the specifics. The lack of this kind of campaign has been a problem with lots of legislative initiatives in recent years – Obamacare and Renew Houston, for instance. There’s plenty of news about them while they’re being done, but the vast majority of communication to people who don’t consume a lot of news comes from opponents, not supporters. That can’t happen this time. Sell it like a new product coming to market, and sell the hell out of it.

4. Mayor Turner has to be the face of all this. Am I the only one who has noticed that Mayor Parker was largely invisible during the pro-HERO campaign? I’m sure some of that is because of a wholly understandable desire on her part to stay out of the Mayor’s race, and some of that was a strategic calculation that having her front and center would not be an asset in African-American neighborhoods. Whatever the case, this is the Mayor’s initiative, and the Mayor needs to be the focal point for it. Given that a lot of the people he would need to persuade to support this proposal are already supporters of his, there’s no other way to do this.

Now it may well be that a Mayor Turner will not be terribly enthusiastic about spending his time and political capital on this issue. There are plenty of other things on his to-do list, and there’s only so much time in the day/week/year. It’s going to be on HERO supporters to hold his feet to the fire and get him to devote time and energy to this. HERO may have lost this week, but Sylvester Turner isn’t going to win in December without a big showing from HERO proponents, and I’m sure he knows that. I’m sure he also knows that the business community is concerned and is expecting him to take action on this. The time to act is sooner rather than later, but it won’t happen without a push.

Does this guarantee a better outcome? Of course not. The haters will never go away, and some number of people we’d like to persuade won’t buy it. Some people will argue to wait till some undetermined later date when the things they deem to be higher priorities have been solved to their satisfaction, and others will come up with new and more egregious lies to tell. I’m sure there are things I’m not thinking of, and I’m sure some of the things I’m suggesting are much easier said than done. I think we all agree that for all the good work that Houston Unites and others did, there were things that could have been done differently. Some of that was a lack of time, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling. No one knew we needed to be prepared to wage a campaign like this. All I’m saying is that this time we do know, so we may as well start preparing for it. Danny Surman, who has another perspective on what happened, has more.

Health insurance exchange open enrollment, Year 3

The challenge, in a nutshell.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

In rural Borden County, 12 people signed up for Obamacare this year.

Livid over the government telling them they must buy something and loath to take anything that looks like a “handout,” the uninsured here are likely to stay that way. As Obamacare’s third open enrollment season began Sunday, this rock-solid conservative community of about 650 people offers a window into the challenges health law advocates face to expand coverage around the country.

“Health care is fine, if you can afford it,” said Brenda Copeland, a middle-aged woman who works at the Coyote Country Store and café, along with her two grown daughters, all of whom are uninsured. Copeland has had health insurance only once in her life, and opted to pay Obamacare’s tax penalty earlier this year rather than buy a plan.

“I hope Obamacare goes down the toilet,” she added.

[…]

Outreach workers who are supposed to educate people here and in other parts of west Texas must travel huge distances to find small pockets of the uninsured — people like Copeland and her daughters, Becky Justice and Rika Law, both married women with children. And all of them think the Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable.

Copeland said her income fluctuates but she made about $19,000 last year; she didn’t know that she would have qualified for significant subsidies to lower her monthly insurance premiums, as well as for lowered co-pays and out-of-pocket costs. A plan for the coming year in the mid-priced, most popular tier would cost about $200 a month, after subsidies are figured in.

When she did learn about the subsidies, she softened her stance slightly and said she might look into it. But she said she’s done just fine without health insurance most of her life and is still angry that the federal government can mandate she has to buy it.

“At this point, I don’t mind them penalizing me,” she said.

Law, her daughter, did take a look at the federal enrollment website HealthCare.gov, but said the plans cost too much for her family of four. She too was unaware that she might qualify for tax credits to lower her premiums.

Her family previously had job-based coverage that cost about $1,000 a month — her husband works in the oil fields, but when oil prices dropped, his hours were cut and the Laws decided they didn’t have the money to cover premiums. The plans she looked at on HealthCare.gov cost even more, about $1,350 a month.

“I understand the benefit of having it,” she says of health insurance. “When you’re trying to juggle everyday bills, that’s when it becomes a problem.”

Her sister Becky Justice, who owns this one-room store on the only road through town, said she had health insurance until mid-2014. She doesn’t agree with Obamacare and, unlike her sister, never even window-shopped for plans. If she needs to see a doctor, she says she’ll go to a community health clinic outside the county and figure out how to pay the bill.

On the one hand, it’s hard to feel sympathy for people who refuse to help themselves. On the other hand, when people’s heads get filled with poison for a long time, it’s hard to overcome that. Keep this in mind when you hear poison producers like the shills at the TPPF talk about the “failure” of Obamacare to cover as many people as it should, as if they had nothing to do with it.

But challenge or no, the work proceeds, and as we go forward I do expect the uninsured rate in Texas to continue to decline. Of course, what could make it take a huge step down remains off the table, at least for now.

The uninsured rate in Texas is 19 percent. There are multiple reasons: the number of low-wage jobs in Texas that don’t offer benefits, cultural and language barriers, and political opposition to health reform. Another reason is that Republican leaders have not expanded Medicaid to more poor people, as 30 other states have done. That part of the law is optional, but by declining the expansion, Texas loses out on billions of dollars in federal funds every year.

There is growing pressure for Texas to expand Medicaid, and supporters are now looking for the right political message that could bring the parties together.

For the moment, Republicans still consider the Affordable Care Act to be political kryptonite. Senator Ted Cruz continues to criticize it. Attorney General Ken Paxton just filed another lawsuit attacking part of it. Governor Greg Abbott has said he won’t consider the Medicaid expansion, because he considers Medicaid a dysfunctional entitlement program that should not be allowed to expand.

In Houston, local leaders want the expansion. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a moderate Republican, has supported it for years. The CEO of the taxpayer-supported Harris Health System, George Masi, says he needs the revenue that Medicaid expansion would bring. He’s had to lay off more than 100 employees, and cut back on charity care.

“What is even more profound is that money is going to other states that expanded Medicaid, like New York, California, Connecticut,” Masi said. “And so the taxpayer of Texas is being penalized, if you will, for not taking advantage of that option.”

By emphasizing the impact on taxpayers, Masi and others are framing the issue in terms of economics rather than humanitarian concerns.

“We call it a paradigm shift,” Masi added. “It’s a different way of thinking.”

[…]

In 2013, the Texas legislature took no action on Medicaid expansion. The same thing happened this year.

But more voices are starting to push for change, according to Ken Janda, who runs Community Health Choice, a not-for-profit insurance company in Houston.

Janda said the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association are both being more vocal on the issue, as is the Texas Association of Business. The federal Medicaid funds would help the state budget, and inject revenue into the medical sector of the economy.

“Doctors’ offices are able to hire more people. Pharmacies are able to hire more people. That becomes an economic multiplier,” Janda said.

County budgets would benefit as well, because they support safety-net clinics and public hospitals such as Ben Taub, part of the Harris Health system.

“If Texas expanded Medicaid, we would be able to look at reducing local property taxes across the board in all counties, or use those dollars for something besides healthcare,” said Janda.

Janda says the new emphasis on economics could eventually bring the parties together.

“There is some interest now by some Republican state senators because of the potential to reduce local property taxes,” he added.

Janda isn’t naming names yet. He also says don’t expect to see any movement on this issue until after the 2016 presidential election. But he says he is “guardedly optimistic” that Republicans will be willing to discuss a possible Medicaid expansion after that.

Color me very skeptical of that. The Senate has gotten worse, from a problem-solving, get-things-done perspective, in the past couple of elections, and I’m hard-pressed to think of any Republican Senators that will be in the Lege in 2017 that I can imagine having interest in Medicaid expansion. I’d be delighted to be wrong about this, but I sure wouldn’t bet on it. I’ve said this about multiple issues, from things like equality to immigration and Medicaid expansion – things won’t change until someone loses an election over it. I’m sure Ken Janda knows that the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association both endorsed Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick in 2014. I know why they did, and I know why the Texas Association of Business did as well, but this is as clear an example of the canonical definition of insanity you’ll ever see. Nothing will change until someone loses an election over this sort of thing. In the meantime, other states will continue to receive the money that we’re turning away in the name of ideology.

Do homeschoolers have to actually teach anything?

That’s a real question being asked of our State Supreme Court.

TX Supreme Court

In an empty office at the family’s El Paso motorcycle dealership, Laura McIntyre says her nine kids were learning.

McIntyre’s brother-in-law says they were singing and playing instruments. Learning was unnecessary, one of the children allegedly said, because “they were going to be raptured.”

The two will take their dispute to the Texas Supreme Court next week, in a case that involves family feuds, competing legal complaints, claims about the Second Coming, a 17-year-old who ran away from home so she could go to school and a fundamental question that could impact all 300,000 or so children home-schooled in Texas: Where is the line between parents’ right to oversee their children’s education and the state’s duty to make sure children are actually getting one?

[…]

An Texas state appeals court ruled in the school district’s favor, finding that parents “do not have an absolute constitutional right to home school,” and that there is nothing in state law that precludes an attendance officer like Mendoza from investigating whether home-schooled children are actually learning. Indeed, Chief Justice Ann Crawford McClure said, quoting a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, there is “no doubt as to the power of a state, having a high responsibility for education of its citizens, to impose reasonable regulations for the control and duration of basic education.”

The McIntyres appealed that ruling, and now the case will go before Texas’s all-Republican Supreme Court, the Associated Press reported.

According to the AP, all but one of the McIntyre children have grown up and are no longer being taught by their parents. But Laura McIntyre said she is “looking for a little clarification” as she continues to teach her youngest child.

The state supreme court’s ruling could have broad ramifications for the ever-growing ranks of home-schooled children in Texas. As it stands, the state already has some of country’s laxest laws on home schooling. (Though, in court filings, the McIntyres allege that the El Paso school district is biased against Christians and has engaged in a “startling assertion of sweeping governmental power” by investigating their curriculum, according to the AP.)

Here’s the AP report on the case, which was heard by the Supreme Court on Monday, with no indication how they might be leaning. No indication when we might get a ruling either, though if I had to guess I’d say 8 to 10 months from now. Seems to me the state’s interest in ensuring that its children all get at least some minimally-acceptable level of education is pretty clear, but there’s not much on the books to regulate homeschoolers, thanks in part to their strong lobby and the complete unwillingness of Republican legislators to cross them. So we’ll see.

Bondings

Congratulations, Montgomery County!

After rejecting two bond measures for new and improved roadways in four years, including one last spring, traffic-weary voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly backed a $280 million plan to unplug bottlenecks in rapidly growing Montgomery County.

With all precincts reporting, the road bond received the support of more than three-fifths of county voters – a ballot-box reversal that officials attributed to the increasing difficulty in driving the once mostly rural county’s outdated roads.

“It’s a recognition that we’re growing rapidly, and congestion is getting worse every day,” County Judge Craig Doyal said. “It’s time for us to move forward.”

County leaders intend to use the money on 54 projects, including the widening of Texas 105 east of Conroe, a half-loop bypass for Magnolia and improvements along increasingly congested Rayford Road southeast of The Woodlands.

The previous road bond proposal, for $350 million, was defeated by a 14-point margin in May, primarily because of heavy opposition to a proposed extension of Woodlands Parkway for 6 miles through mostly undeveloped land west of The Woodlands. The project riled Woodlands residents who believed it would worsen the master-planned community’s traffic woes.

Backers rushed to get another bond measure before voters this fall, contending that drivers couldn’t wait for new and improved roadways.

The revised bond package didn’t include the controversial project, but opponents argued that it was still a flawed proposal because county leaders placed another measure on the ballot before the completion of two studies identifying the county’s most urgent road needs.

A special prosecutor is investigating whether county officials put the bond package together outside the public view in violation of the state’s open meetings law. Chris Downey, the prosecutor, said Tuesday he does not know when the inquiry will be complete.

The measure was placed on the ballot after Doyal reached a last-minute agreement with the Texas Patriots PAC on the new proposal. The tea party group, which had opposed the bond in May, campaigned for the trimmed-down improvement plan and focused on winning over voters in The Woodlands, where the previous bond failed by a nearly 9-to-1 margin.

So there you have it. What do you think will come next – the bond money will all get spent, or the next bond issue will get put on the ballot because the traffic up there is still too damn bad? Good luck, MontCo, you’re going to need it.

Harris County also scored some bond money.

The four bond measures – $700 million for roads and bridges, $64 million for flood control improvements, $60 million for parks and $24 million to update the overcrowded animal control facility – scored decisive victories in complete but unofficial returns.

The bonds will not result in tax increases.

“Citizens of Harris County spoke volumes tonight that they understand the growth that has occurred and the challenges that loom,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack. “In a county that hasn’t had a property tax increase in almost 20 years, these bond proceeds will help the county build the infrastructure people need.”

Radack said “the county will spend this money prudently, over numerous years, not quickly.” He said it will be structured wisely.

About 1 million more people now live in the county than in 2000 and 75 percent of those new residents live in the unincorporated portions of the county where government-funded roads and infrastructure projects have had to hustle to catch up with vast commercial and residential development.

Radack said the burden will continue to grow if Houston continues its recent non-annexation policy, citing statistics showing that 51 percent of county residents now live in Houston, down from 77 percent 50 years ago.

I’m sure sometime before Harris County starts spending their bond money, they’ll tell us what they plan to spend it on. Those of us here in Houston don’t need to worry ourselves about it, since none of it will be spent here anyway.