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May 7th, 2017:

Weekend link dump for May 7

Six questions on Ivanka Trump’s new investment fund.

“Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was warned by the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 against accepting foreign payments as he entered retirement, according to new documents obtained by the House oversight committee.” Shoulda listened.

“Don’t let those failures lull you into a false sense of security. Trump has already sledgehammered the basic trust between Americans and their government in ways that will take years to repair.”

Jeb! and the Jeets have a chance to turn the Marlins into something resembling a normal baseball team.

Wake me up when someone creates a Dothraki to Klingon dictionary.

More things Donald Trump doesn’t know.

“Trump said he alone could fix Washington. At the moment, there’s a real case that he alone is breaking it.”

“In sum, Gorka’s Ph.D is about as legitimate as if he had been awarded it by Trump University.”

The FyreFest debacle was the most entertaining story from last weekend.

Part of the problem with FyreFest was the exorbitantly-priced and monopolistic music festival racket itself.

“In other words, if we take Trump’s comments on their own terms he’s completely wrong. Jackson thought the issue couldn’t be more important and he was ready to go to war and crush the nullifiers.”

Wake up, sheeple! Or don’t. I’m fine either way.

“The problem? Ivanka’s advocacy is often all style and no substance, and she has repeatedly revealed fundamental misunderstandings about the actual barriers facing many women and gender non-conforming people who don’t benefit from the privileges afforded to men.”

“This mammoth tax cut could be worth $1.5 billion to Trump’s wealthy Cabinet”.

“”It seems to be among the most bizarre recent 24 hours in American presidential history. It was all just surreal disarray and a confused mental state from the president.”

“As legislators and the executive branch renew their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this week, they might want to keep in mind a little-known financial consequence of the ACA: Since its adoption, far fewer Americans have taken the extreme step of filing for personal bankruptcy.”

How long is too long for a television show?”

ESPN should have fired Curt Schilling a long time ago. Never hiring him in the first place would have been even wiser.

And to this day, Curt Schilling continues to be a class-A jackhole.

What the Rev. William Barber says.

Don’t steal stop signs. Seriously.

“Why would Republican lawmakers do all this? So that they can massively cut taxes on the rich, of course. TrumpCare is in no meaningful sense a health-care reform bill. It is a bill to cut the taxes of the top 2 percent, paid for by taking health insurance away from poor and working-class people.”

“Meanwhile, the House’s next priority after Obamacare repeal and the tax cut will not be the roads and bridges that Trump promised his voters, but amendments to the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill to allow big banks to engage in riskier transactions.”

The last survivor of the Hindenberg discusses the disaster on its 80th anniversary.

May 6 election results

First and foremost, the HISD recapture re-referendum passed by a wide margin. The Yes vote was at 85% in early and absentee voting, and it will finish with about 84%; I started writing this at 10 PM, when 437 of 468 HISD precincts had reported. Turnout was over 27,000, with over 14,000 votes on Saturday, for about four percent turnout. Still not a lot of voters in an absolute sense, but more than I thought based on the EV tally.

In Pasadena, Council Member Jeff Wagner led the Mayor’s race with about 36% of the vote. He will face Lone Star College Trustee JR Moon, who had 18%, in the runoff. Wagner was the closest candidate to outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell, and he also had the most money in the race, so the status quo didn’t do too badly. Pat Van Houte, Gloria Gallegos, and David Flores, who basically represented the anti-Isbell faction, combined for about 33%, but it was evenly split among the three of them. We’ve seen that before in Houston elections.

Of the TDP-endorsed Pasadena City Council candidates, three were unopposed, one (Felipe Villarreal) will be in a runoff, two (Oscar del Toro and Larry Peacock) lost by wide margins, and one (Steve Halvorson) lost by nine votes out of 805. There could be a recount in that race. Halvorson trailed by 41 in absentee ballots, led early in-person voting by 11, and led Election Day by 21, but it wasn’t quite enough. If Villarreal wins his runoff, the partisan balance on Council will be what it was before. Turnout was around 7,500 votes, in line with the 2009 election with the Election Day total being less than early in person voting.

In Humble ISD, candidates Chris Herron and Abby Whitmire both lost, getting 37 and 38 percent, respectively. I don’t know how that might compare to previous efforts, since there’s basically no history of Democratic-aligned candidates like those two running. I’ll have to get the precinct data and see if I can tease out Presidential numbers for the district.

As for Pearland, well, as of 10:30 PM there was still nothing more than early vote totals for Pearland City and Pearland ISD. Who knew I’d feel a pang of longing for Stan Stanart? High school student and future rock star Mike Floyd was leading his race for Pearland ISD 1,755 to 1,681, and in the end he cruised to a victory with 54%. I don’t know why the results aren’t refreshing for me from the Brazoria County Clerk website, but there you have it.

In the Pearland Mayor’s race, incumbent Tom Reid was leading with over 52% in early voting, but challenger and TDP-endorsed Quentin Wiltz had a strong showing on Saturday and forced a runoff.

While longtime Pearland Mayor Tom Reid had more than 50 percent of the vote during early elections, support for Quentin Wiltz poured in on election day, and both Reid and Wiltz will face a run-off election on June 10. Reid secured 48.85 percent of the vote and Wiltz earned 45.64 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results posted by the Brazoria County Clerk’s Office. A third contender for mayor, Jimi Amos, received 5.51 percent of the vote.

“We have run a very positive campaign and it shows. People came out because they believe in the same message. It’s time to work; we’ve worked extremely hard, a lot of people know it doesn’t stop here. We have to continue the momentum and see where it takes us. I’m just a guy who has been active in his community who really cares about where this community is going to go,” Wiltz said about his campaign, which is entering a run-off election in June.

Nice. There were a couple of races of interest for Pearland City Council as well:

Incumbent Gary Moore also won his re-election bid on May 6. After securing 58.65 percent of the early votes, Moore came out with 55.32 percent of the total votes, beating out contender J. Darnell Jones. Moore will serve his second term on city council; he was first elected to serve in 2014 when he beat out then-incumbent Susan Sherrouse.


The most contested race of the election cycle is Pearland City Council position No. 7, which had six contestants running for the newly created council position. Because no contestant secured at least 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election will be held in June.

Shadow Creek Ranch resident Dalia Kasseb secured 40.78 percent percent of the vote. Kasseb will run against Woody Owens who received 21.05 percent of the vote.

“We’re going to keep at it keep sending our positive messages, keep talking to people and hearing their voices. We’re going to keep talking about the real issues and keep everything positive. That’s the main thing I want my campaign to be,” Kasseb said. “People in Pearland want diversity; they see that change coming in the future, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure the voices of Pearland are going to be represented in council.”

If elected in a run-off, Kasseb would be the first Muslim elected to public office in Pearland and Brazoria County.

Wiltz and Jones were Project LIFT candidates. Dalia Kasseb was not, but as that second story notes she received support from the Brazoria County Democratic Party and had done a lot of campaigning in tandem with Wiltz. My guess is there was at least one other Democrat in that race, and I won’t be surprised if she gets a TDP nod for the runoff.

Last but not least, there will be a runoff in the San Antonio Mayor’s race, with incumbent Ivy Taylor facing Council Member Ron Nirenberg. I wasn’t following that race very closely.

Where do we stand with the anti-Texas Central bills?

They’re in the House, and we’ll see what happens from there.

The four bills before the House Transportation Committee represented some of opponents’ latest efforts to stop the project in its track. But project supporters and Texas Central Partners executives told the committee that some of the bills were unusually anti-free market for Republican-backed legislation in Texas.

“’A better business environment than Texas’ is not a phrase that I’m used to saying, but that’s what this bill contemplates and it’s not how we do things here,” Texas Rail Advocates executive director Chris Lippincott said about House Bill 2104.

That legislation would require any private companies building high-speed rail lines to file a bond that would cover the cost of reverting all land bought for the project back to its previous use if train service ever stops. Texas Central leaders said such a requirement would be so costly that it would deter potential investors from putting money into the rail line.

“The project would never get built,” Texas Central president Tim Keith said.

The bills debated this week were left pending in the House transportation committee. They are among more than 20 pieces of legislation filed by 10 lawmakers in both chambers aimed at the project. But with just a few weeks left in the session, no bill that could fatally disrupt ongoing development of the rail line has passed either chamber. And legislators have so far had little traction with bills or maneuvers that would prohibit the company from using eminent domain to acquire land needed for the project.


Another bill before the House committee, House Bill 2163, would require that the bullet train tracks running through Dallas, Ellis, Waller and Harris counties be built on columns that are 40 feet high. Much of the rural opposition is rooted in fears that the train tracks will divide existing properties and form a barrier restricting the movements of people, livestock and other animals. They also say it will restrict development spilling over from the state’s major metro areas.

“The best way to protect growth and development in that area is for this train to be elevated on pylons on a viaduct,” said the bill’s author, state Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie.

Company officials said they can’t yet commit to building the track at 40 feet for such long distances because the project is still going through environmental review. But Keith said 60 percent of the tracks will be on viaducts. And he told Wray that expected population growth is a factor when the company considers where to raise the tracks on viaducts instead of earthen berms.

One tweak to state law pushed by opponents of the project is not currently drawing Texas Central’s opposition. House Bill 2172 would prevent legislators from spending state funds to plan, build, maintain or operate a privately owned high-speed rail line. That is the companion legislation to Senate Bill 977, which the upper chamber passed last month. Both bills have wording similar to a provision in the Senate’s proposed budget.

“As we’ve repeatedly stated, this is being built without state money,” Keith said. “The bill is consistent with our plan of finance.”

See here for the background on the Senate bills that had been passed out of committee. In addition to SB977, two more bills were subsequently passed by the full Senate, SB979 and SB975. The House bills mentioned in this story, all of which were left pending in committee on Thursday, would need to be passed out of committee today as that’s the deadline for any bill to receive final consideration. I’ll keep an eye on that and check back later. All things considered, so far things don’t look too bad for Texas Central, but as we know with the Lege, it ain’t over till sine die.

LGBT anti-discrimination bills voted out of House committee

One bit of good news this week.

In an unprecedented vote, a House committee on Wednesday approved two bills to prohibit housing and employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba split with his party and provided the tie-breaking vote for both bills, which passed the House Committee on Business and Industry by one vote. Democrats have pushed both measures for years without success.

While the two bills still have very far to go before they could become law, Villalba said it was time Republicans begin to agree on the need to extend greater rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans.

“It was time for people from all across the political spectrum to acknowledge that LGBT citizens from the great state of Texas are Texans,” Villalba told The Dallas Morning News after the vote. “Will other Republicans follow my lead? I doubt it, but the time has come.”

House Bill 225 by Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, would prohibit businesses from discriminating against employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. House Bill 192, by San Antonio Democrat Diego Bernal, would make it illegal to refuse to sell or rent to someone because of these same

Johnson, who has authored the employment measure for at least two legislative sessions, said this is the most progress his bill has ever made.

This is as far as these bills will go, but just getting them approved by a committee is a big deal, as it had never been done before. To me, the best part of this story is what persuaded Rep. Villalba to say Yes.

The final straw, said Villalba, was “that email that I got.”

The weekend before the vote on Johnson’s bill, Hotze sent a text en masse to House Republicans urging them to support Senate Bill 6 — the “bathroom bill” that would bar transgender people from using the restroom that matches their gender identity — or else the face political retribution of being placed on a list of Republicans who oppose the measure.

The texts were personalized. “Dear Jason,” his began, “Greetings! Do you support SB 6?”

What came next was a link to a blog Hotze wrote on April 27 that called LGBT people perverted and accused Republicans who oppose the bathroom bill of being “willing to sell out the safety of their mothers, wives, daughters and granddaughters to protect their financial interests.”

“No one should be considered a minority deserving of preferential treatment, because of their chosen sexual perversion, their so-called ‘gender identity’ or the types of sexual acts in which they engage. These are all chosen behaviors,” Hotze wrote. “Take this thought process to its natural progression; what would prevent some activist judge from ruling that those who practice prostitution, transvestitism, pedophilia or bestiality are part of this class deserving of special protection because of their sexual orientation?”

The text continued, “If you do not respond, then you will be considered a ‘No’ on SB 6. …Please respond today.”

“I saw that, and I’m like, ‘That’s enough,’ ” Villalba said. “I cannot stand on the sidelines when people who claim to share my political philosophy are so hateful.

“I don’t want to live that example. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. Believe me, he will be. In 20 years we’ll look back on these days and we’ll be astounded that there was ever a time in our country where people would discriminate against others merely because of their sexual preference.

Yes to all of that. Nothing could be sweeter than shoving Steve Hotze’s own words right down his throat. Kudos to Rep. Villalba for seeing the light, and to Rep. Johnson for pushing him to seek it out.

The stars at night are still not as brights as they could be

We need to do better.

In the high mountains of a wild desert, day drains from the sky and night lights appear like halos on the horizon.

There’s no moon. Just Mercury chasing the setting sun in the west, Jupiter rising to the east and another golden light emerging on the northern horizon.

The view from the McDonald Observatory, considered the crown jewel of the University of Texas System, includes the glow from the Permian Basin oil field, incandescent with the work of 24-hour drilling, fracking and gas flaring.

Four in every 10 drilling rigs working in the U.S. are in the Permian Basin, and the prolific oil province is creeping closer to the observatory, where astronomers depend on the veil of desert night in the Davis Mountains of the Big Bend region.

“It just feels like a tidal wave coming at us, because you know, 10 years ago, we looked up to the north and we saw a dark starry sky and now we see this glow,” said Bill Wren, special assistant to the observatory superintendent. The oil field lights don’t hinder astronomical research – the McDonald Observatory remains a place of exceptional darkness. The sky’s zenith, where astronomers look to the edge of the observable universe, remains free of light pollution.

What worries astronomers is the idea that the oil field, the most productive in the U.S., will keep marching toward it, and worse, glowing brighter and chewing up more of the sky.

A new light pollution measurement just released by the observatory shows how much brighter the night sky is than it should be – 18.5 percent above the background glow of natural features.

“It’s only down toward the horizon where it’s polluted, and astronomers aren’t pointing the telescopes down close to the horizon,” Wren said. “They’re observing high overhead. It’s still an extremely dark sky for astronomy. It’s a little spooky to see that glow growing and coming this way.”

See here and here for previous blogging on this topic. The good news is that help may be on the way.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association, in collaboration with the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, recently issued its recommended lighting practices for oil and gas operations in the seven counties that surround the observatory.

“We’re very excited,” Ben Shepperd, president of the PBPA, said in a phone interview as he was returning to Austin after hosting the association’s annual golf tournament.

“We’ve been working with the observatory for a couple of years and had a number of meetings with observatory officials, operators and service companies to come up with a good set of recommended practices,” he said.

The recommendations were prepared by the Dark Skies Advisory Group, made up of PBPA members, representatives of the observatory and the public. The group was formed to address the needs and concerns of the observatory and help develop a plan to help keep West Texas skies dark and help the work of the observatory.

PBPA’s board of directors approved the recommendations, which should be implemented after the Texas Legislature ends its 2017 session, Shepperd said.

Lighting type, coloring and direction — including guidance to keep lights pointed below the horizon to help mitigate light pollution — are among the key recommendations.

Shepperd said the recommendations should help the observatory “and are workable, especially from a safety standpoint.”

“One thing we learned is those bright white lights are actually bad for your eyes,” he said.

He said proper lighting could improve safety around drilling sites, which involve lots of tools and heavy machinery.

The recommendations also encourage the use of internal combustion units, which would reduce the need for flares.

Operators active in the region should easily adapt the recommendations because they don’t involve additional costs or major costs, “it’s just different equipment,” Shepperd said.

You can see the Recommended Lighting Practices report here. There really is nothing complicated or expensive in there – a lot of it is just common sense – so one hopes this will help. As that Midland Reporter-Telegram story notes, there will be further meetings in the summer to assess progress and see what else can be done. All in all pretty positive, and one hopes that the next story of this genre will be about how these guidelines have made a difference. Note too that what this group recommends is also largely applicable to homes and neighborhoods in urban and suburban areas. You too can do your part to cut down on light pollution.