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May 1st, 2016:

Weekend link dump for May 1

Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything? Signs point to Yes.

“The emergence of companies as social activists is complicating traditional attitudes on both the left and the right.”

“Wall Street executives would have to wait at least four years to collect most of their bonus pay and could be forced to return money if their companies lose big under rules being proposed to install one of the last major planks of the Dodd-Frank Act.”

What Kevin Drum and Michael O’Hare say.

“Between 40% and 53% of Firefox users running Windows XP are Stuck (which is to say, they can’t be upgraded past Windows XP because they fail at least one of the requirements).”

“In the Philippines, call centers have become havens for gender-nonconforming people, a place where they can experiment with their gender presentation and identity.”

A scientific explanation for “manspreading”. (Via.)

Jocelyn Benson is a bigger badass than you (or me).

“The problem with the Kindle Unlimited scammers isn’t really the compensatory triggers of KU or the fact that everyone, legit author or otherwise, is looking for the way to squeeze as much money as possible from it. The problem is: who bears the immediate economic brunt of the scammers taking advantage of whatever scheme Amazon decides upon?”

A fantastic behind-the-scenes look at how TV – in particular, The Americans on FX – gets made.

Have you ever wondered what a live action Calvin and Hobbes might look like? Well, wonder no more.

How the NFL won the Deflategate appeal.

“But I knew, all the way in Minnesota, Prince could tell he was speaking to a person who had, moments ago, spit a dumpling out of her mouth.”

RIP, Harry Wu, former Chinese political prisoner and human rights activist.

RIP, Blackie Sherrod, legendary Texas sportswriter.

“We all, of course, have our own notions of what real America looks like. Those notions might be based on our own nostalgia or our hopes for the future. If your image of the real America is a small town, you might be thinking of an America that no longer exists.”

“What happened to [Laremy Tunsil] Thursday night shouldn’t happen to anyone, never mind a 21-year-old kid about to celebrate the night of his young life.”

What Steve Benen and Bill Scher say.

RIP, Father Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit priest and longtime peace activist.

Houston’s anti-pollution ordinance killed by Supreme Court

Alas.

Bill White

Bill White

In passing two ordinances designed to regulate air pollution, the city of Houston overstepped its authority and illegally subverted state law, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday. The ruling is a victory for a coalition of industrial facilities whose emissions were subject to inspection and possible prosecution by the city.

The case pit the BCCA Appeal Group, a coalition of companies including ExxonMobil, the Dow Chemical Company, and ConocoPhillips, against the city of Houston, which sought to penalize companies in criminal court when those companies violated state emission guidelines.

Attorneys for the city of Houston argued that the city was simply trying to enforce the standards set out by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, a state agency, by putting in place a parallel enforcement mechanism that would impose fines on the companies even if the Commission chose not to act.

“If the TCEQ is letting something go, and not enforcing its own standards, there’s something wrong with that,” attorney Robert Higgason told the justices in September.

In an 8–1 ruling Friday, the justices made it clear that they disagreed – saying that if the Commission chose not to enforce any given law, that did not clear the way for Houston authorities to do so.

“By authorizing criminal prosecution even when the TCEQ determines an administrative or civil remedy—or even no penalty at all—to be the appropriate remedy, the City effectively moots the TCEQ’s discretion and the TCEQ’s authority to select an enforcement mechanism,” Justice Paul Green wrote. “This is impermissible.”

See here and here for the origin story, and here and here for the most recent updates. The Chron story adds more.

City Attorney Donna Edmundson issued a statement saying the court’s decision “will not dampen the city’s efforts” to assist the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality with the enforcement of environmental laws. The statement said the city will employ “other legal mechanisms” allowed under state law to monitor and take action against polluters. A spokeswoman said the city hadn’t decided whether to appeal.

Adrian Shelley, executive director of the advocacy group Air Alliance Houston, said the decision was “not the least bit surprising” but dismaying nonetheless.

“It’s pretty in-keeping with both previous judicial decisions and the direction in which our state government is moving,” he said. He cited the state Legislature’s passage of a bill last session that caps the amount local governments can collect through environmental lawsuits, Gov. Greg Abbott’s filing of a brief in support of the industry advocates in this case, and a prior legal case that made its way to the Texas Supreme Court.

“There will be more polluters who pollute with impunity,” Shelley said. “There will be a little poorer public health in the city as a result.”

Houston battled smoggy skies for decades and has failed to comply with federal ozone standards. The 10-county area includes the largest petrochemical complex in the country, hundreds of chemical plants and a bustling port.

Under the ordinances, the city collects registration fees from companies in order to investigate potential violations of air pollution laws.

City officials have defended the ordinances since their passage in 2007, arguing they helped fill an enforcement gap created by understaffing at TCEQ, the state agency responsible for monitoring and punishing polluters.

The city said legal mechanisms it could use against polluters include requesting that TCEQ investigate suspected polluters, seeking injunctive relief and penalties in civil court against suspected violators and notifying TCEQ of violations deemed to be criminal in nature.

Former Mayor Bill White pushed for the ordinances after growing frustrated with TCEQ. He and City Council members voted to amend a 1992 ordinance and start requiring businesses to pay registration fees based on their size and emissions. The fees range from $130 for a dry cleaning plant with fewer than six employees to $3,200 for plants emitting more than 10 tons annually of airborne contaminants.

The ordinances also authorized city health officers to seek civil, administrative and criminal sanctions for violations that can be prosecuted in municipal court, with fines of up to $2,000 per day for repeat violators.

The ordinance was based on the premise that these facilities are outside Houston’s boundaries, but their emissions directly affect the city and its residents, not to mention Houston’s non-compliance with EPA regulations. The Supreme Court wrote that allowing such ordinances might lead to uneven enforcement around the state. I can see the logic of that, but as is so often the case with the TCEQ, if they bothered to enforce the law in the first place, the city wouldn’t have passed that ordinance. It’s the same impetus that drove Denton to ban fracking, and as was the case there, it’s the same impulse to squash inconvenient expressions of local control that led to this result. How long can you hold your breath, Houston? The Press and the Observer have more.

Reynolds hit with $500K judgment

Geez.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

State Rep. Ron Reynolds has been ordered to pay $504,000 in damages for failing to give a grieving mother her share of settlement money from a 2010 lawsuit.

The embattled lawmaker, who is also an attorney, failed to give his former client, Nancy Ann Calloway, her share of a $250,000 settlement from a lawsuit stemming from her 23-year-old daughter’s death in a car crash, a Harris County judge ruled Friday.

After the award was handed down, the 55-year-old flight attendant teared up as she described Reynolds repeatedly putting her off when she asked for money that she had earmarked for a tombstone for her daughter, April Cherisse.

“It’s more pain in a painful situation,” Calloway said. “It’s a tragedy.”

[…]

State District Judge Grant Dorfman agreed with Calloway that the lawyer owed her $168,000 in actual damages and $336,000 in punitive damages.

Reynolds had given Calloway about $82,000 – about half of what he owed her – about 18 months after he received the settlement check, according to testimony.

On Friday, the judge agreed that Reynolds should forfeit his share of the mediated settlement because of his misdeeds.

After he ruled, the judge told Calloway that he had seen other consumers wronged by unethical business practices, but said Calloway’s circumstances were “crueler” than most.

“It’s especially troubling that it is a member of the state bar, much less a state rep,” the judge said.

It was in his capacity as a state representative that Reynolds approached Calloway, she testified Friday. He came to her home to console her two days after her daughter’s death in his role as her local legislator, she said. He then offered to represent her in a lawsuit.

Calloway’s attorney, Jim Culpepper, said authorities may also look at the case as another charge of barratry or in a grievance to the state bar, the agency that licenses attorneys and has the power to disbar them. Culpepper said he has not pursued those kinds of actions because he did not want to be accused of seeking criminal charges to leverage his position in the lawsuit.

As you know, I’ve been following both the primary and runoff in HD27, between Rep. Reynolds and Angelique Bartholomew, and the ongoing saga of Ron Reynolds’ legal problems – see here for plenty of related posts. I’ve said before that I like Rep. Reynolds personally, and I understand why his friends have continued to support him. But I have to say, with each of these stories, it gets harder for me to understand it. Beneath the fold is a long missive from Annie’s List, which is backing Bartholomew, detailing Reynolds’ history of judgments against him by former clients. To be as blunt as I can, this shit is unacceptable. I don’t know all the facts in all these cases, and I’m sure that as his political opponents in this runoff, Annie’s List has put everything in as unflattering a light for Reynolds as they can. But you can grant all the mitigating circumstances and more-to-the-story explanations you like, the pattern of behavior is clear, and we haven’t even mentioned the barratry conviction. Just look at the list of excuses and justifications Reynolds gives in this Trib story, and you’ll see that he’s still not willing to own the problems he has caused. I’m sorry it’s come to this, and I feel terrible for Rep. Reynolds’ family, but we do him no favors by continuing to support his political career. He needs to drop out of the runoff, and get his affairs in order. He owes that to his constituents, his clients, his family and friends and supporters, and himself.

(more…)

Harris County takes a step towards jail reform

Good.

go_to_jail

Harris County commissioners voted Tuesday to back a sweeping plan to reform the criminal justice system, a week after the Harris County Jail began shipping inmates to other counties to avoid reaching capacity.

Commissioners voted to accept a $2 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation and to allocate more than $3.3 million from general-fund reserves to help pay for the reforms, which were announced by District Attorney Devon Anderson earlier this month.

[…]

The county’s plan calls for hiring two coordinators, implementing a new case-management system, funding a new court and allowing defendants to pledge personally to appear in court without requiring them to obtain a bond.

Of the two new positions, one would be a racial and ethnic diversity coordinator who would build and maintain ties between criminal justice officials and minority communities.

The other position would be a jail coordinator who would troubleshoot problems in the jail complex to ensure that detainees are released as expeditiously as possible.

Overall, the goal is to reduce the jail’s daily population by about 1,800 – or 21 percent – over three years. The jail, one of the largest in the country, typically holds 8,500 to 8,700 inmates.

On April 15, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, shipped 133 inmates to private jails in Jefferson and Bowie counties to avoid overcrowding.

The transfers – which are expected to cost the county about $180,000 a month in boarding fees – mark the fourth time in the past year that the sheriff’s office has had to send inmates to jails in other parts of the state.

These are all good ideas, but I want to see them in action before I get too excited. I mean, criminal court judges in the county could have been using Pretrial Services to set more reasonable bail amounts and issuing recognizance bonds well before now if they had wanted to. It’s not clear to me how this plan will change their longtime behavior on this. If it does happen, great! Long overdue, but still an important step forward. All I’m saying is I need to see it happen to believe it.