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March 6th, 2016:

Weekend link dump for March 6

OJ Simpson thinks that show about his murder trial makes him look way too guilty. Poor baby.

Should we kill the C-note in the name of fighting crime?

What Chad Orzel says.

It’s OK for dead Republicans to vote.

A few more reactions that Facebook forgot to add.

Three words: Giant prehistoric armadillos. You’re welcome.

“How gravitational wave detectors survived the Contract With America”.

Why the year 4800 should not be a leap year.

Headline of the week: “Raccoon Cheats Death At Yankees Spring Training”.

“A record $367 billion was invested in renewable energy around the world last year, according to a new report published today by Clean Energy Canada.”

RIP, George Kennedy, Oscar-winning actor from “Cool Hand Luke”, “The Naked Gun”, and more.

From the Size Matters department.

On the economics of Star Trek, or why Captain Picard never carried a wallet.

“The breakfast burrito is, in many ways, the essence of Houston. We love our taco stands, our taco trucks, and our neighborhood pandarias with steam tables. We want you to love them, too. But Houston also welcomes all comers, rewards innovation, and cheers when someone else has a success, because their success is ours, too.”

“News flash, pundit guys: No one can save the GOP from Trump but the GOP, and its voters clearly have no intention of doing that.”

“Yea, I’m a novice at it. But my tutor and teacher is Natasha, my 11-year-old daughter. She’s a tough critic. She really gets upset when I post something three hours after I did it, so she’s teaching me all the etiquette in social media. She tells me all the time ‘Daddy, don’t post that! You’re so corny!’, so sometimes she’ll post it for me.” That’s Alex Rodriguez speaking. And speaking as another guy with an 11-year-old daughter, I totally get where he’s coming from.

“I feel like I’m a time traveler to the Salem Witch Trials”.

“So it bears repeating: While the stats for black actors at the Oscars are appalling, the numbers for Asian — and Latino — actors are even worse.”

RIP, Delmer Berg, the last known American survivor who fought fascists in 1930s Spain.

Any illusion that the first hearing of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives wasn’t a shrouded partisan attack on abortion rights vanished in the first minutes of the nearly four-hour hearing on Wednesday.”

Bobby Jindal really, really sucked at being governor.

RIP, Bud Collins, legendary tennis writer and broadcaster.

RIP, Nancy Reagan, former First Lady and widow of President Ronald Reagan.

What’s next for Adrian Garcia?

We haven’t seen the last of him, I suspect.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

In less than a year, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has gone from being the top Democratic elected official in Harris County to an also-ran in back-to-back elections.

Garcia’s resounding primary loss to U.S. Rep. Gene Green on Tuesday leaves him politically precarious, having alienated several onetime allies by resigning the sheriff’s post last May to run for Houston mayor and later challenging an incumbent in a safe Democratic seat.

“When you take an oath, you run and take an oath to hold an office, it’s supposed to mean something,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, who backed Green. “And to leave in the middle and look like an opportunist and want to run for mayor, and then you don’t make that, and then you run against a congressman that most people felt was doing a very good job, a congressman that actually endorsed you for mayor … I think Adrian’s got real problems.”

Garcia’s campaign said he was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but he said at his election watch party Tuesday night the race was not personal and that he planned to rest before assessing future options.

“Will this be my last campaign? I doubt it,” he said to applause. “I lost two campaigns, but I jumped in always with the idea of doing more. I took a chance. My heart was in the right place.”

[…]

Many of the former sheriff’s attacks were biting. “Gene Green perpetuates the cradle to prison pipeline,” read a news release from late February. Another, from January, declared, “Gene Green protects polluters, not Pasadena.”

Facing limited financial resources, as well as opposition from many Democratic officeholders and area unions, however, Garcia was unable to outmaneuver Green, who outspent him $585,000 to $171,000 during the first six weeks of the year.

Those affiliated with Garcia’s campaign framed that financial shortfall as critical.

“We had a lot of factors working against us. We were in an extremely short two-month race against a 23-year incumbent who’d accumulated significant financial resources, and, yet, we made significant strides and held Congressman Green to 58 points,” Garcia campaign spokesman Sergio Cantu said in an email. “The message and the messenger were not the problems. We are proud of what we achieved, and we hope this opens the door to see change on the issues in this district.”

Several of the former sheriff’s supporters remained optimistic about Garcia’s political future.

“Will he run again? He might if it’s the right place for him to serve,” Garcia consultant Mustafa Tameez said. “That’s the nature of politics. You win some and you lose some. But he’s demonstrated his ability to raise money. He’s demonstrated his ability to get the votes.”

It’s true that after leaving the Sheriff’s office and having it handed to a Republican as well as running what were basically two contested Democratic primaries in the space of five months, Garcia has a few bridges to rebuild with past allies. But let’s not forget, he won five November elections before this, plus two contested primaries, so there’s no reason to believe he’s finished just because those last two elections did not go his way. There’s a very simple way for Garcia to get back into the good graces of his fellow Democrats, and that’s by working, vigorously and visibly, to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot this fall. Hold fundraisers, donate to candidates, attend as many campaign events for the party and for candidates as possible. Continue working on engaging with and boosting turnout in the Latino community. Keep talking about the issues that drove those two campaigns, and the good work that was done as Sheriff. Do those things, and I guarantee, bygones will be bygones.

Assuming we get to that point, then what office might Garcia reasonably seek in the near future? Before he resigned as Sheriff, when his Mayoral campaign was still in the rumor-has-it stage, I suggested Garcia stay in office, declare he wasn’t running for re-election in 2016, then at his first opportunity declare his candidacy for County Judge in 2018. He could still do that, but as we know there are some other people – Annise Parker, for one – who have expressed interest in that office as well. Now, there’s no reason why Garcia couldn’t declare for County Judge. No one is entitled to anything, and he’s be as strong a candidate as anyone we could put forth. But if we’re looking to maintain some harmony, if we’re trying to ensure that the reservoir of goodwill that he just finished refilling doesn’t get immediately drained, then we should at least consider a Plan B.

Which is why my suggestion is: County Commissioner, Precinct 2, the seat formerly held by Sen. Sylvia Garcia. It’s still a county office, which given Garcia’s tenure as Sheriff is a good fit, he’d be extremely likely to have a clear path to the nomination, and if we also have a strong candidate for County Judge it would put thoughts of having a Democratic majority on Commissioners Court in people’s heads, which is sure to get folks fired up. When I say this seat is a good fit for Garcia because of his time as Sheriff, I’m particularly thinking of all the crap he had to endure as Sheriff from the rest of the Court, which was generally hostile to him and got even more so after Jack Morman knocked off Sylvia Garcia in 2010. As a former Sheriff and a candidate for Commissioners Court, Garcia could turn a lot of the criticism they gave him back on them, in terms of budgeting, putting pressure on the criminal court judges to use Pretrial Services and set reasonable bail, and screaming from the rooftops in favor of Medicaid expansion and the much-needed boost for mental health funding and treatment it would bring. I can’t think of anyone better positioned to make these arguments in a Commissioners Court race, or anyone who could pose a bigger threat to a sitting Commissioner. We know Garcia can raise money, and the people who are grumbling about his Mayoral and Congressional races now would surely be willing to pitch in and help him in a race like this. If I had the power to do so, I would absolutely make this happen.

I don’t have that power, of course, I’m just another schmoe in the cheap seats making noise. But this is my scenario for Adrian Garcia, for whatever it’s worth. The path I’m highlighting is easy this year and a lot harder after that, but it’s all doable. What he chooses to do is up to him, but if he wants to know what I think, here it is.

High speed rail opponents sue TxDOT and AG’s office

They seek information that they say they have been denied so far.

A group opposed to a private firm’s plans to build a bullet train stretching from Dallas to Houston has filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in an effort to obtain communications between the firm and state officials.

Texans Against High-Speed Rail submitted a public information request last year to TxDOT seeking any documentation from the agency related to Texas Central Partners, the private firm developing the rail. The group is arguing that many of the documents responsive to the request were withheld and the information that was released was heavily redacted without clear reasoning.

“I think there’s a lot of documents that were not provided,” said Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, a group of largely rural opponents attempting to derail the project. “I think there were a lot of documents that were redacted inappropriately. We’re hopeful that we can work with the state and get this resolved relatively quickly and painlessly.”

Workman said the request, submitted on March 20 last year, asked for any documents concerning Texas Central or its proposed high-speed railway from 2009 to 2015. The lawsuit claims the resulting records would likely consist of email communications between the various entities involved with the project.

Upon receiving the request, TxDOT kicked it to the Attorney General’s office, seeking a ruling on whether the documents could legally be released. According to the lawsuit, Texas Central submitted a brief to Paxton’s office urging them not to release certain information as it “contains trade secret and confidential commercial and financial information.”

Texas Central submitted a copy of the brief to Texans Against High-Speed Rail with much of its contents redacted. The lawsuit claims the redacted brief limits the group’s ability to challenge a ruling from the Attorney General because they cannot develop an “effective challenge” without “sufficient identification of the alleged confidential information.”

The Attorney General ruled in July that TxDOT could withhold documents discussing certain information. Workman said the group eventually received some documents from their request earlier this year, though they had significant holes. The Attorney General’s office did not return requests for comment Thursday.

The theory that Texans Against High-Speed Rail is working on is that the state is secretly in cahoots with Texas Central, rather than simply serving as a regulator. Anything’s possible, I suppose, though I don’t really see Ken Paxton as being particularly sympathetic to Texas Central. But we’ll see.

Greg Abbott does not approve of Robert Morrow

Aw, that’s so cute.

As the battle for control of the Travis County GOP heats up, and its newly elected chair writes increasingly raunchy tweets at breakneck speed, Gov. Greg Abbott has stepped into the fray to condemn his fellow Republican.

“Robert Morrow in no way speaks for the Republican Party or its values,” read a statement from Abbott’s office Thursday. “He cannot adequately represent the Travis County GOP.”

Although Abbott rarely addresses controversies within his own party, the Travis County GOP — whose territory includes the governor’s mansion — has been roiled by Morrow’s recent election. Morrow, an outspoken conspiracy theorist who regularly opines on the sexual predilections of political leaders in both parties, was elected chair by a clear margin Tuesday night.

In a tweet, Morrow made it clear he disagreed with Abbott. “I am the elected face of the Travis Cty Republican party,” he tweeted Thursday, citing Abbott’s statement. “The people have spoken.”

See here for some background. Greg Abbott can sniff disapprovingly all he wants, and Mark Mackowiak can hold his breath till he turns purple, but Robert Morrow isn’t going anywhere.

And although Mackowiak has pledged to take any action possible to remove Morrow from office, those efforts will likely come to naught, according to ethics expert Buck Wood, an attorney familiar with county bylaws. Unless Morrow resigns or commits a felony, Wood said, the position is his to hold.

Morrow told the Tribune he had no intention of resigning, adding that anyone opposed to him could “go fuck themselves.”

“They elected him county chair, and for two years, he’s going to be county chair,” Wood told the Tribune. “They can try to talk him into stepping down — but other than that, they just screwed up.”

I’m not an election law expert, but I can use Google, and so I will quote from this Texas GOP Vote post from 2011 in which a question about removing a county party chair was sent to the Secretary of State:

You ask whether there is a method under which a county party chair may be removed by the state executive committee or by a county executive committee. We do not believe so. The Secretary of State’s long standing position has been that there is no means provided in the Texas Election Code (the “Code”) to remove a county chair, as most recently expressed in the attached letter to State Representative Joe Farias concerning a similar issue with the Bexar County Democratic Party chair. This office may in past correspondence have acknowledged the role party rules generally play in political party affairs, but the Secretary of State has not to our knowledge stated that a county chair may be removed from office by party rule. Chapter 171 of the Code provides procedures for party organization including the process of filling county chair vacancies, while Chapter 172 provides the primary election procedures.

As noted above, both chapters are silent as to removal of a county chair once the chair has been elected by party members of the county voting at the primary election. We note that there are no cases or Attorney General opinions directly on point on this subject. We suggest state law has in effect preempted the election process for the primary-holding parties, while the parties retain authority over the elements of their required rules as set out in Section 163.002 of the Code. A more recent example of this state authority is provided in Section 171.0251, which created a process by which a member of the executive committee called to active military service may appoint a replacement to serve on the committee during his or her time in active service. It is this office’s position that in the absence of express authority under the Code, the party may not by rule create a removal procedure for county chairs.

So there you have it. This is going to be so much fun to watch.

Why are some people more likely to smoke than others?

From the CDC:

American adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid smoke at rates more than double those for adults with private health insurance or Medicare, according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) show that 27.9 percent of uninsured adults and 29.1 percent of Medicaid recipients currently smoke. By contrast, 12.9 percent of adults with private insurance and 12.5 percent of those on Medicare currently smoke.

“Smoking kills half a million Americans each year and costs more than $300 billion,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “This report shows real progress helping American smokers quit and that more progress is possible.”

The study reported that the prevalence of cigarette smoking among U.S. adults declined from 20.9 percent to 16.8 percent from 2005 to 2014, including a full percentage-point decline between 2013 and 2014 alone. The considerable drop in the overall adult smoking rate over time shows marked progress toward achieving the Healthy People 2020 goal of reducing the cigarette smoking rate to 12 percent or lower. Another major finding was that the average number of cigarettes smoked per day among daily smokers declined from 16.7 in 2005 to 13.8 in 2014 — driven by declines in the proportion of daily smokers who smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day.

At-risk populations

The study found other differences in smoking rates consistent with previous studies. In 2014, prevalence of cigarette smoking was higher among these groups:

  • Males (18.8 percent vs. 14.8 percent for females)
  • Adults ages 25-44 years (20.0 percent)
  • Multiracial (27.9 percent) or American Indian/Alaska Natives (29.2 percent)
  • People with a General Education Development certificate (43.0 percent)
  • People who live below the federal poverty level (26.3 percent)
  • People who live in the Midwest (20.7 percent)
  • People who have a disability/limitation (21.9 percent)
  • People who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual (23.9 percent)

“These findings underscore the importance of ensuring that proven strategies to prevent and reduce tobacco use reach the entire population, particularly vulnerable groups,”said Brian King, Ph.D., deputy director for research translation, CDC Office on Smoking and Health. Comprehensive smoke-free laws, higher prices for tobacco products, high-impact mass media campaigns, and barrier-free access to quitting help are all important. They work to reduce the enormous health and financial burden of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure among Americans.”

Changes in the U.S. health-care system continue to offer opportunities to improve the use of clinical preventive services among adults. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is increasing the number of Americans with health insurance and is expected to improve tobacco cessation coverage.

Currently, neither private insurers nor state Medicaid programs consistently provide comprehensive coverage of evidence-based cessation treatments. In 2015, although all 50 state Medicaid programs covered some tobacco cessation treatments for some Medicaid enrollees, only nine states covered individual and group counseling and all seven FDA-approved cessation medications for all Medicaid enrollees. Cessation coverage is used most when smokers and health-care providers know which cessation treatments are covered.

I find this fascinating. I’m old enough to remember when smoking was ubiquitous – I’ve experienced the smoking section of airplanes and restaurants – but nowadays not only do I hardly know any smokers, most of the people I know are militantly anti-smoking. The combination of government action and peer pressure has basically made my life, and the lives of most people I know, a non-smoking zone. Which, from my perspective, is awesome. But that yields a big question: Why is it that this effort has been so much more successful among some parts of society than others? What is it that we’ve been doing wrong, or doing inadequately? There’s a huge societal cost to smoking, so figuring this out would be a big deal. I hope the next study focuses on that question.