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November 8th, 2015:

Weekend link dump for November 8

“So the question remains: When a crime lab screws up, whose responsibility is it to clean up the mess?”

And then read this and ask yourself why we should be surprised when there are effectively no consequences for that kind of behavior.

A-Rod the Analyst. Turns out he’s pretty good at it.

“It has taken the alcohol industry decades of lobbying to roll back many of the restrictive, public health-oriented regulations established after the end of Prohibition. Booze industry executives must look with envy upon the emerging marijuana industry, which can use the ballot initiative process to achieve complete regulatory capture from day one.”

“And that question is this: what, at the end of the day, is the point of a teacher?”

Halloween is over, and the Angry Santa Elf is back.

RIP, Thaddeus Lott, Houston educator known for some unconventional techniques.

Medicaid expansion was indirectly on the ballot in three states this year.

Why do people hate bicyclists, anyway?

There’s a new Star Trek series in the works, though mostly for CBS’ new VOD platform. I endorse everything Fred says about what the new show should do. As for who should be Captain, I make it a tossup between Michelle Forbes (Ensign Ro 4Eva!) and Gina Torres.

“Right now, 62 million girls worldwide are not in school. They’re receiving no formal education at all—no reading, no writing, no math—none of the basic skills they need to provide for themselves and their families, and contribute fully to their countries.”

Where you should have gone Trick or Treating.

The Chipmunks on downers.

“US pollution regulators said late Monday that the Volkswagen emissions-test cheating scandal now includes Porsche, the brand that was run by VW’s new CEO.”

Obama + kids = Internet gold.

“Here’s your first look at the Harry Potter prequel movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them“.

“But if your educational advantage comes, in part, from well-disciplined classrooms, and the way you keep those classrooms in order is by frequently suspending disruptive students, it makes it harder to suggest district schools would be more successful if they followed charter schools’ lead on everything.”

Bush family follies. When will we get a reality show about them?

I don’t use Twitter much but was on it while returns were coming in on Election Day, and it was more than a little surreal seeing all those Bloggess mortification stories in among the political news. Definitely brightened things up for me, I’ll say that.

Ozzy Osbourne’s triumphant return to the Alamo.

RIP, Melissa Mathison, scriptwriter of ET and ex-wife of Harrison Ford.

Note to Ben Carson: Lying about military experience has sunk a whole lot of careers.

RIP, George Barris, custom car maker who built the Batmobile.

RIP, George Franklin Henry, Tuskegee Airman and retired NYFD firefighter.

Morris Overstreet to run for DA

I know we’re all still recovering from Tuesday, but the 2016 filing season is almost upon us, and the Democratic race for Harris County DA just became a contested race.

Morris Overstreet

Former appeals court judge Morris Overstreet announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Harris County District Attorney.

Overstreet, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who has been a licensed attorney since 1975, said he wanted to bring integrity to the state’s largest DA’s office, currently helmed by Republican Devon Anderson.

“I want to instill integrity, so that the people of Harris County have public trust in the office of the district attorney,” Overstreet said. “As a trial judge and a prosecutor involving hundreds of jury trials and thousands of non-jury trials, I’ve never had any criminal conviction reversed because of any error committed by me.”

Here’s a post of Facebook from Overstreet’s announcement. He had released a video on YouTube on October 28 teasing the announcement. Overstreet was a candidate for Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals in 2010, and more recently was appointed by the Waller County Sheriff to an independent panel of civilians to evaluate his department in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death. Overstreet joins Kim Ogg in the race, presumably against incumbent DA Devon Anderson, who has not yet announced but is expected to run and who as far as I know has not attracted a primary opponent. I look forward to the debate in this race, Lord knows there’s plenty to talk about.

As far as the rest of the primaries go, County Attorney Vince Ryan, the sole Democratic countywide officeholder, is expected to run again, and I have not heard word of a primary opponent nor of a Republican challenger yet, though I’m sure there will be the latter. Brandon Dudley, chief of staff to Sen. Rodney Ellis and 2010 judicial candidate, is running for Tax Assessor against Mike Sullivan; Ann Harris Bennett, who ran for Tax Assessor in 2012 and County Clerk in 2010 and 2014, is also running. So far, no one has announced on the Democratic side for Sheriff. The name people bring up when I ask about it is Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, who would be up for re-election this year. He himself has not said anything, for the same reason former Sheriff Adrian Garcia couldn’t talk about running for Mayor – he’d have to resign as soon as he did say something. There’s some speculation around outgoing CM Ed Gonzalez as well, but Rosen is the name I keep hearing. Incumbent Sheriff Ron Hickman should have at least one primary opponent, 2012 candidate Carl Pittman, but beyond that I don’t know. I’ll do a roundup on judicial and legislative and other races another time. If you have a name and some reasonably informed scuttlebutt to add to this, by all means please do.

Weekend HERO reading

Just a few links of interest on matters pertaining to HERO. Read ’em as you see fit.

From Think Progress, a reminder that the past is never dead:

Four decades ago, the Equal Rights Amendment — which would have required courts to treat laws that engage in sex discrimination with the same high level of skepticism applied to race discrimination — seemed all but certain to become part of the Constitution. Thirty-four of the thirty-eight states needed to ratify the amendment had agreed to do so. Then conservative activists organized hard against this amendment. Many of them also gave it a new name, the “Common Toilet” law.

Like the anti-LGBT activists who united against HERO, the ERA’s anti-feminist opponents offered similarly outlandish claims about what would happen if the ERA became law. Many conservative activists rallied behind a claim that a ban on official sex discrimination would necessarily forbid segregating bathrooms by gender. As the feminist scholar Jane Mansbridge wrote in her postmortem of the amendment fight, Why We Lost the ERA, “the unisex toilet issue fed the fervor of the anti-ERA forces by giving them something absolutely outrageous to focus on.” Among other things, “it could conjure up visions of rape by predatory males,” while igniting smoldering passions in a South that had recently experienced “the historical trauma of racial integration.”

I’m old enough to remember the ERA, and the fuss over bathrooms that it catalyzed. Back then it was fear of “unisex” bathrooms, because “transgender” wasn’t a word yet and gays were all deep in the closet, so the only available perverts to warn about were the good old fashioned straight male kind. I can’t believe I had forgotten about this.

Governing is also about the bathrooms:

“There’s this fear that this person who is different is different in a way that’s predatory,” said Robin McHaelen, executive director of True Colors, a social service nonprofit that works with LGBT youth in Connecticut. “As far as I know, there’s never been an incident with a transgender person assaulting someone in a bathroom. People just want to pee in peace.”

That same assertion has been made by groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union. Officials in states with public accommodation provisions, such as Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa and Oregon, have stated they have seen no evidence of sexual assault or other such problems as a result.

By contrast, there have been documented examples of transgender people being harassed or assaulted for going in the “wrong” bathroom, including a videotaped attack in 2012 in Maryland that went viral on social media.

“You just want to use the bathroom and get back to what you’re doing,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “The safest way, the most appropriate way, the way to bother the people least is for people to use the restroom that’s appropriate for their gender identity.”

Best Facebook meme I’ve seen since Tuesday is this reminder that more US Senators have been arrested for indecency in public bathrooms than trans women.

Once more on bathrooms, from Lisa Gray:

On her phone, she has an app called “Refuge Restrooms” that lists locations of trans-friendly single-toilet bathrooms; often they’re labeled as handicapped restrooms or family restrooms. But so far, the app doesn’t list many in Houston. Mostly, Kaylee adds the listings herself. Cinemark Theaters are great, she says, and most HEBs. And recently, at the church where she sings in the chorus, she found a one-toilet handicapped restroom: A great thing.

But still, the bathroom question makes it hard for her to move freely. Kaylee does IT, and since coming out, she’s worked for what might be the most trans-friendly employer possible: Houston Unites, the group that campaigned for HERO.

One day, for that job, she needed to go to a high school in Alief, to train kids in the gay-straight student alliance to run a phone bank. She didn’t know what the bathroom situation would be. So, she says, “I stopped drinking water about six hours beforehand. I absolutely didn’t want to have to pee.”

I’m willing to bet Steve Hotze has never done that.

The Advocate presents a trans person’s macro view of where the fight needs to go from here.

For context, my lens on all of this is informed both my identity as a trans man and by a decade-plus of political experience. Before (finally) coming out as trans, I spent the first decade of my life working (with some success) in the world of elections from city council to presidential campaigns, to independent expenditures, to running multimillion-dollar political programming for labor, and on working at a senior level the C3 side of education campaigns. It is from this vantage point of identity and experience that I offer a few observations that I hope others will consider as we figure out how to move forward together.

First, the fight for same-sex marriage and the subsequent lessons learned are neither perfectly analogous nor completely irrelevant to these fights. But to win on trans issues in the public sphere, we need to make the commitment and investment to define a new set of rules.

It is without question that our most substantive trans victories have so far been through litigation and policy changes outside of the public sphere. The fundamental landscape of trans politics has changed and that change is defined by a broader, quicker and dramatically more public fight. There is no going back. The only question is how we will meet this fight.

The good news is there are many steps we can begin taking now to move forward.

It’s not too soon to start. I’m going to do what I can to be an ally.

And finally, one more election postmortem from The Observer:

If the LGBT movement wants comprehensive non-discrimination protections to be its next advocacy arena, HERO’s failure at the polls offers an important lesson. As Houston activists told the Observer, ultimately, the movement’s leaders must shift toward a broader social justice strategy, and take cues from movements that are led by diverse voices in positions of power, and work in coalitions with organizations fighting for racial, economic and environmental justice, for immigrants’ rights, the rights of transgender people, women’s rights, and the rights of people living with disabilities. That kind of coalition, in the most diverse city in the country, could be a force unto itself. That kind of coalition could win anything.

It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Where things stand with bus ridership

Jarrett Walker, one of the consultants who helped design the new Metro bus network, looks at the most recent stats from Metro and tells us what they mean.


It’s now been about two months since Houston METRO implemented their New Network, developed through a process called the System Reimagining. The first ridership numbers are in, and some could be misread as cause for panic. In fact, they’re exactly what we’d expect. So let’s take a deep breath and have a look:

First, let’s remember what thew New Network did. The changes did three major things, without increasing the operating budget by much:

  • They shifted the percentage of the network devoted to ridership goals from 55% to around 75%.
  • They vastly expanded the reach of frequent service so that it connected 1 million people with 1 million jobs.
  • They expanded weekend service, especially Sunday service, so that the daytime and evening service levels on those days are almost identical to service on weekdays.

We now have the first ridership data, in the form of a report comparing ridership each month to the same month a year before. Since the New Network was implemented in August, the first data showing the impact is the comparison of September 2015 to September 2014. Here it is, from METRO’s monthly report. Note that the “METROBus – Local” is the category of service dramatically changed by the redesign.

Rail is soaring, but look at the buses! Red ink! What’s wrong? Were the consultants fools?

Not at all. This is exactly what we’d expect. In fact, it’s consistent with the New Network having a positive impact on bus ridership. Here’s why.

Click over to see the embedded image from that report and the analysis that follows. The Urban Edge blog looked at the same data and came to basically the same conclusion as well. The bottom line is that this was a really big change, there are multiple moving parts to the ridership numbers, and it’s going to take awhile for us to know the full effect. In the meantime, as noted in Metro’s press release, rail ridership numbers continue to climb. I look forward to seeing what next year’s numbers look like.

Bring back postal banking

I still like this idea.

Postal unions and civil rights groups are among other advocacy organizations, along with the U.S. Postal Service inspector general, pushing USPS to expand into banking. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential hopeful, agrees. But USPS, which could use the business, has no interest.

Providing financial services in post offices “could benefit the 68 million underserved Americans who either do not have a bank account or rely on expensive services like payday lending and check cashing,” says an inspector general report issued in May. “The products also could help the Postal Service generate new revenue to continue providing universal service. Because it has a presence in every neighborhood, including many places where there are no longer any bank branches, the Postal Service is well suited to provide such services. In addition, its well-trained workforce is already experienced at handling complex transactions and watching out for related fraud and other risks.”

The push for postal banking received a boost this month with an article by Mehrsa Baradaran in The Atlantic. Baradaran, a University of Georgia School of Law associate professor, advocates a “central bank for the poor,” as an alternative to “the unscrupulous practices of payday lenders.”

Postal banking, she wrote, could provide short-term loans and “potentially drive out the usurious fringe-lending sector, which profits from Americans’ financial woes.” Her article was adapted from her book “How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy.”

USPS officials regularly trumpet what they are doing to improve the Postal Service’s financial situation, including such things as selling greeting cards. But the officials have rejected postal banking.

“While we currently provide our customers with certain financial services, including money orders, electronic funds transfers, and cashing of U.S. Treasury checks, our core function is not banking,” said David A. Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman. Former Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe was more emphatic during his farewell press conference in January. “The key thing for any successful business is to work within their core,” he said. “We don’t know anything about banking.”

They must have forgotten.

Postal banking, known as the Postal Savings System, began operation in 1911 and officially ended in 1967, though the Post Office stopped accepting deposits a year earlier. Initially, savings earned 2.5 percent interest with a half-percent designated for operation of the system, according to a postal service history. “Although bankers first viewed the Postal Savings System as competition,” the history says, “they later were convinced that the Postal Savings System brought a considerable amount of money out of hiding from mattresses and cookie jars.” Most of the money was redeposited in local banks. The Postal Savings System, however, did not include lending, according to Mehrsa.

I’ve covered this before, and continue to be convinced that it makes sense. That Inspector general report quote above is a big part of it, but just having convenient access to their money without having to pay exorbitant fees or be at the mercy of the failings of unregulated “entrepreneurs” would be a huge book for millions of working people. I truly don’t understand the USPS’s objections to this, given their own history. It would be good for their business as well as good for so many people. Keep up the pressure, y’all.