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November 28th, 2015:

Saturday video break: I Can’t Give You Anything But Love

Reaching back to the 1920s and the legendary Duke Ellington:

I love me some Glenn Miller, but of all the big band leaders of that era, I think Ellington had the best overall body of work. The movie The Cotton Club is a mess in many ways, but its Ellington-infused soundtrack can’t be beat. Naturally, there are more vocal-oriented versions of this song, and the one I have is by the Hot Club of Cowtown:

That’s my musical crush Elena James on vocals and violin. I don’t care how old this song is, it was written for her to perform.

Feds say No to Abbott on refugees

What now, Greg?

The federal government on Wednesday informed refugee resettlement agencies in Texas and across the country that states do not have the authority to refuse to accept Syrians.

The statement, made in a letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle, appears to mark the first time federal refugee program officials formally have rejected statements by governors, including Greg Abbott of Texas, that their states will not accept any Syrian refugees.

It also may signal that federal officials will place Syrians here and elsewhere regardless of governors’ wishes.

“States may not deny (Office of Refugee Resettlement)-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee’s country of origin or religious affiliation. Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees,” wrote Robert Carey, director of the office, adding that states and agencies that do not comply would be violating the law and “could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination.”

Carey’s two-page letter also emphasized that refugees seeking to come to the United States undergo heavy scrutiny over an average of two years of waiting, a point that President Barack Obama and other federal officials have been trying to make in recent days.

[…]

Carey’s letter came the same day that Obama made a special statement at the White House to reassure Americans that there is no specific and credible threat to the country right now. It also came the same day that the Texas Catholic Conference announced that its refugee resettlement agencies would continue to accept Syrian refugees and would work with agencies to ensure safety is upheld.

“The Texas Catholic Bishops encourage all parties – including governmental leaders, political officials, and advocates – to avoid impulsive judgments in setting public policies regarding the placement of Syrian refugees, the organization said in a statement. “The horrors of modern terrorism are frightening, but they demand from us a strong renewal of our faith and our commitment to Christian teachings and the common good.”

Another faith-based group, Texas Impact, has said it believes there is momentum toward finding a way to accept the refugees.

See here and here for some background. On the one hand, I can’t see Abbott caving in to the feds. His whole career is built on this kind of obstinate petulance. On the other hand, I doubt he wants to get into a pissing contest with religious groups, even if they’re mostly of the do-gooder variety and not suburban megachurches, who care about refugees about as much as he does. I still can’t quite see Abbott bringing down the hammer on faith-based organizations, but if that’s his line in the sand, it’s his bluff that’s getting called. I have no idea how this one ends.

The Mexican abortion option, part 3

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Misoprostol

Between 100,000 and 240,000 Texans have attempted to terminate their pregnancies without medical assistance, according to new research released Tuesday. Based on interviews and a statewide survey, the unprecedented study by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) estimates that between 1.7 and 4.1 percent of Texas women between the ages of 18 and 49 have attempted to end their own pregnancies outside of a clinical setting.

According to TxPEP’s interviews with Texans who’ve attempted self-induction, the top four reasons they tried to end their pregnancies on their own fall into four categories: financial constraints for the cost of the procedure or travel to the nearest clinic, clinic closures, recommendation from a family member or friend, or an intention to avoid shame or stigma of going to an abortion clinic, especially if they had had an abortion before.

“I didn’t have any money to go to San Antonio or Corpus,” one woman living in the lower Rio Grande Valley told researchers. “I didn’t even have any money to get across town. Like I was just dirt broke. I was poor.”

The study also found that Latina women living near the Texas-Mexico border are more likely to have attempted to induce their own abortions, or know someone who has, than non-Latina Texans.

[…]

Researchers believe the likelihood of self-induced abortion in Texas is higher than elsewhere. According to a 2008 national study by the Guttmacher Institute, less than 2 percent of American women reported taking something to terminate their pregnancies on their own. In 2012, TxPEP conducted a survey of Texans seeking abortions and found that 7 percent of women interviewed spoke to reported taking something to induce their own abortion.

Lead TxPEP researcher Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at San Francisco, warned that clinic closures after HB 2 may lead to an increase in self-inductions.

“This is the latest body of evidence demonstrating the negative implications of laws like HB 2 that pretend to protect women but in reality place them, and particularly women of color and economically disadvantaged women, at significant risk,” Grossman said in a press release. “As clinic-based care becomes harder to access in Texas, we can expect more women to feel that they have no other option and take matters into their own hands.”

The most common method women reported using to induce their own abortion was a medication called misoprostol, also called by its brand name, Cytotec.

Spoiler alert: we have heard this before. I have often heard it said that trying to ban or regulate something – guns, drugs, gambling, what have you – doesn’t work and can’t work because people will still want those things, so the net effect is to push the activity in question underground and thus make it more dangerous for everyone involved. Funny how that never seems to be applied to abortions, especially by those who so piously intone that they’re just making them safer because they care so much about women’s health. Thankfully, at least some federal judges have been willing to point out the dangerous absurdity of the recent spate of anti-abortion laws; whether SCOTUS follows suit or not remains to be seen. The AusChron, the Press, and ThinkProgress have more.

More on the high speed rail station in Houston

The Chron frets about it not being downtown.

After hearing so much about how the proposed Central Texas Railway will help people commute between the central business districts of Houston and Dallas, it turns out that the Houston station will be built near the Northwest Mall at U.S. 290 and Loop 610.

Unless your business is antiques, that location isn’t exactly central. In fact, the French have a phrase to describe rail stations that sit outside central business districts, surrounded by little more than a parking lot: beet field stations.

We’ve heard arguments that, while it isn’t an economic core itself, the proposed rail terminus serves as the center of Houston’s economic footprint, balanced between the energy corridor, Galleria area, downtown, The Woodlands and the Texas Medical Center. But it isn’t just about placing riders at the physical center of a region. Central business districts offer convenient connections to riders’ end destinations. This means walking to hotels or businesses, grabbing a cab or connecting to a local mass-transit system. Downtown Houston is one of the few parts of town that can meet all those standards.

Rail stations on the edge of urban areas aren’t necessarily a bad thing, according to a June report by Eric Eidlin of the U.S. Federal Transit Administration that documented best rail practices from around the world. Sometimes it makes sense to build on more affordable, suburban property. However, those stations function best when they’re at the core of a transit node. Metro’s Northwest Transit Center isn’t enough.

[…]

Metro’s version of commuter rail – Park and Ride – has stations that are little more than parking lots. Those are the dreaded beet field stations that, according to Eidlin’s report, do little to attract economic development.

There’s plenty of opportunities for Houston’s high-speed rail station to connect with the rest of the city, such as a Metro’s planned dedicated bus lanes in Uptown, or even light rail toward downtown. But according to best practices, that groundwork for a mass-transit hub should already be laid by the time the new high-speed rail station is built. Keith said the Central Texas Railway planned to break ground in 2017. Where is Metro’s corresponding local plan?

Jarrett Walker has a response to this.

In Citylab, Eric Jaffe gives us the supposedly bad news that the proposed Dallas-Houston High Speed Rail (HSR) line won’t go to “downtown” Houston.  Instead it will end atNorthwest Mall, just outside the I-610 loop in the northwest of the city.

But most of the Houston transit-advocates I’ve talked with aren’t sounding nearly as upset.  That’s because:

  • the proposed terminal is close to the centroid of Houston as a whole.  It’s also very close to Uptown-Galleria, the region’s second downtown, and to Northwest Transit Center, the busiest transit hub in the western 2/3 of the city.
  • the terminal station area is massively redevelopable.  You could easily build yet another downtown there, and if HSR is built, they probably will.
  • the project will provide great impetus for light rail or Bus Rapid Transit linking the station to the original downtown.  These projects have been sketched many times and could include either I-10 nonstop links or a refurbishment of Washington Street, a promising old streetcar street linking the two nodes.
  • in high speed rail, the cost of the last miles into an historic downtown can be a huge part of the cost and grief of the whole project.  So if you want high-speed rail to happen at all, provoking this battle is not always a sensible part of Phase 1.

The bigger challenge, for folks from strongly single-centered cities, is to notice the limits of the term downtown.  As cities grow, there is no correlation between the sustainability of a city and its single-centeredness.  On the contrary, single-centered cities present huge problems for transportation, because they use capacity so inefficiently.  New York, for example, is spending over $10 billion on a project to fit more Long Island commuter trains into Manhattan, and to put them closer to jobs there.  The demand is mostly one-way, so this requires either storing trains all day on expensive Manhattan real estate, or running them all empty in the reverse-peak direction.   It’s very inefficient compared to the transit problem in a multi-centered place like Paris or Los Angeles, where demand is flowing two-way most of the time.

So growing a single downtown isn’t the key to becoming a great transit city.  Quite the opposite, it’s best to have a pattern of many centers, all generating high demand, and supporting balanced two-way flows between them that let us move more people on less infrastructure.  This is the great advantage of Paris or Los Angeles or the Dutch Randstad over Chicago or Manhattan.

There’s a good discussion in the comments to that post, if you want to read some more. My thoughts are as follows:

1. The decision to put the terminus at 290 and 610 was as much a political choice as anything else. Right now, Texas Central mostly has political enemies in the rural and suburban counties between Houston and Dallas, with some spillover into neighboring rural counties. The legislators who represent these areas include some fairly powerful people, but there aren’t that many of them. The one key vote regarding Texas Central, in a Senate committee, went in their favor because there were more Senators from urban areas like the Metroplex and Harris County who favored the idea. The last thing Texas Central needs is more enemies, and that’s what they would have gotten if they had pushed for a downtown terminus, as plenty of inner Loop folks didn’t like the idea of the trains whizzing through their neighborhoods. Yeah, there’s a NIMBY aspect to this, but the fact remains that a downtown terminus would have had more legislators aligning with the anti-high-speed rail folks. Texas Central didn’t need or want that, and this was the easiest solution to that problem.

2. As long as we’re noting the politics of high-speed rail, let’s also note that Metro is where it is today in large part because of political forces, which among other things have forced them to make dubious promises about not building light rail in the dedicated lanes now being intended for the Uptown BRT line. Metro did plenty to sabotage itself during the early days of the light rail approval process, but they have also had to fight against considerable headwinds, for which the main casualty has been the Universities line. I don’t know what the landscape would look like if there had been a more favorable political climate over the past dozen or so years, but I think we can all agree that it would be different.

3. The area around 290 and 610 where this would be built isn’t much to write home about, but let’s be clear: Pretty much everywhere along 610 between I-10 and TC Jester is a wasteland right now, largely because of freeway construction. At some point, all that construction will be over, and the area can begin to develop into something. When that might be, I have no idea. Prospects for that area may be limited regardless, because access to it is limited by the various freeway interchanges. But if there was ever a time to build something around there, now is as good as any because it’s all going to change over the next five to ten years anyway.

4. I think a lot of concerns go away if 1) the Uptown BRT line gets built; 2) an Inner Katy line, which would connect downtown to Uptown via Washington Avenue and the Northwest Transit Center, gets on the drawing board; and 3) the Universities Line gets back into the discussion. Put those things in place, and this terminus much more accessible to the rest of the city. #1 will happen on its own if nothing torpedoes it. #2 has been the subject of what-if speculation for financial assistance from Texas Central. Not clear how that might work, but it sure would be worth talking about. As for #3, I think everyone agrees that once the Uptown line is built and assuming it’s a success, the argument for connecting it to the Main Street line becomes nearly unassailable. Metro would have to hold another referendum to make that happen per the terms of the peace accord with John Culberson, and for sure all the usual forces against any kind of spending on rail construction will come to the fore. But it could happen, and if these things do happen we’ll be much better off.