Flooding in the Woodland Heights

We’re fortunate to be high up, away from the bayou, and on a pier and beam foundation, so while last night’s strobe lightning-fueled storm did keep us awake and on edge, we’re dry this morning. I could not resist the steady flow of people with cameras heading down toward White Oak Bayou to survey the mess. Click on the picture to see bigger photos.

I’ve heard that at least one body has shown up in one of the bayous, and have friends who spent the night stuck in cars, or at gas stations, or are mucking out their homes right now. Plenty of folks without power, it seems.

As bad as it is here, it is nowhere near as dreadful as the Hill Country. If you have friends with property on the Blanco River, authorities are asking that you search the banks to help locate the people still missing, or call the sheriff’s office to give permission for other searchers to enter your property.

Glad to see the sun, drying things out. So far, this does not seem overall as catastrophic as Tropical Storm Allison, but if we get any more significant rain in the next couple of days, I may have to revise that assessment. Stay safe, friends!

Posted in Houston, Texas | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

#HB 3994 – The Farce Continues

House Bill 3994 is not about making a medical procedure safer. None of the abortion legislation before the Texas Legislature this session is about making a medical procedure safer.

It is all and entirely about preventing people from terminating unwanted pregnancies by throwing up hurdles, slowing down the process, and making it so expensive, confusing, difficult, and even risky to obtain an abortion that only the rich can exercise the right.

It is about forcing advocates and reasonable legislators to bargain about whose rights to protect, and whose to sacrifice, in some twisted calculus about making a bad bill not as bad for a subset of people as it used to be for a larger subset.

I want to talk about two of the more farcical elements of this bill: first, the ID requirement, and second, the reporting requirements. The TL;DR—the ID requirement is still a mess, it’s just a little less of a mess for some, and the reporting requirements are the legislative equivalent of sending Rep. Jonathan Stickland to wag his finger in your face while you try to follow the rules holding onto some semblance of privacy and dignity.

ID Requirement

Yesterday, Senator Perry pulled HB 3994 from the Senate agenda, concerned about the constitutionality of a provision requiring doctors to treat any person seeking an abortion as a minor unless they could produce a valid government issued ID, thus forcing people without valid government issued ID to undertake the judicial bypass procedure in order to get legal medical care.

Before pulling the bill, in hearings leading up to this point, Republicans had refused to offer any guidance as to what, exactly, constituted a “valid government issued ID.” Texas laws about showing ID to vote are exceptionally clear about what ID is and is not valid for those purposes, and Republicans had no problem spelling that out, but refused, when asked, to do the same for this legislation.

HB 3994 returns today, on the Senate agenda, with new language designed to thwart that particular constitutional challenge. Not, mind you, new language to protect people. The sole reason for changing this language is to calibrate exactly who can and who cannot obtain an abortion with one eye on what will happen when it is challenged in court.

To “clarify” what ID is required, the bill has been amended to refer to the Texas Family Code §2.005(b), which lists the forms of ID that can be used when obtaining a marriage license. A few of the options:

(1) a driver’s license or identification card issued by this state, another state, or a Canadian province that is current or has expired not more than two years preceding the date the identification is submitted to the county clerk in connection with an application for a license;

(2) a United States passport;

(3) a current passport issued by a foreign country or a consular document issued by a state or national government;

(4) an unexpired Certificate of United States Citizenship, Certificate of Naturalization, United States Citizen Identification Card, Permanent Resident Card, Temporary Resident Card, Employment Authorization Card, or other document issued by the federal Department of Homeland Security or the United States Department of State including an identification photograph;

(5) an unexpired military identification card for active duty, reserve, or retired personnel with an identification photograph;

(6) an original or certified copy of a birth certificate issued by a bureau of vital statistics for a state or a foreign government;

So, if you have your Mexican driver’s license, or driver’s license from any country other than the United States or Canada, you are out of luck. Why do Canadian licenses get a special mention? Why not the other nation with which we share a border, Mexico?

You can use a passport, but how many undocumented Texans do you think walk around with valid passports from their country of origin?

HB 3994 is as discriminatory as it ever was when it comes to undocumented people seeking abortion. As Texas has demonstrated again and again, however, officially, we’re a-OK treating undocumented people as less than human, less deserving of rights, medical care, or any other basic human right.

Reporting Requirement

HB 3994’s reporting requirements have been toned down from their initial requirement that statistics be kept on which judges were granting or denying bypass requests. Legislators had to acknowledge that reporting turned judges doing their job and obeying the law into targets for violent anti-abortion extremists.

Still, however, HB 3994 increases reporting requirements and puts applicants’ names and addresses in court records. Are they supposed to be kept confidential? Yes. Does it make a difference safety-wise in how the medical procedure is conducted whether the names are tracked or not? No.

It is singularly ironic to note that Sen. Charles Perry, the Texas Senate sponsor of the bill, successfully amended House Bill 2633 so that the names of accident victims will be kept confidential.

If it becomes law, the change would be significant – keeping secret information that historically has been public in Texas, and is used to correctly and accurately report the news and events of public interest.

Under the amended bill, only the location of the accident, the date, the time and the make and model of the vehicles involved could be made public.

Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, amended House Bill 2633 – which was designed to keep the information on involved parties from becoming victims of ambulance-chasing lawyers and scam artists – to block most accident information from release to the public or to the media.

Perry said he wanted thought the change was appropriate to protect the privacy of people involved in accidents. “Privacy seems to be an endangered species in our time,” he said. “Technology has made it an endangered species.”

If Senator Perry thinks privacy is an endangered species, then by supporting HB 3994, he’s essentially applied for a special license to hunt some people’s privacy, if those people deign to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

People seeking judicial bypass do so because they have no other options. They are often victims of abuse and violence. Creating a permanent government record can compromise their safety. They know that, judges know that, and the legislators behind this bill know that. But still, they insist upon leaving additional reporting requirements in the bill, knowing that it is an intimidation tactic through and through.

Let’s stop the farce. None of this is about safety. None of this is about health. All of this is about trying to find the least-unconstitutional way to stop Texans from accessing abortion care.

If HB 3994 passes, and it will likely pass, and becomes law, it will be challenged in court. There are many elements in it that skate very close to the line of what is legal and permissible under Supreme Court precedent. The challenge will cost the state money, and cause confusion for the dwindling number of clinics serving a state with a population of almost 28 million.

It is bad fiscal policy, bad health policy, and flat-out wrong to pursue bills like this, but the Tea Party-driven majority in the legislature insists upon doing it. It’s a damn shame, and it is what passes for statesmanship in Texas these days.

Posted in politics, Texas | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Texas Progressive Alliance Blog Roundup May 18, 2015

The Texas Progressive Alliance doesn’t need hindsight to know that invading Iraq was a tragically stupid decision as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff is pleasantly surprised to hear that the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority and US Rep. John Culberson have reached an accord in their longstanding feud over funding for light rail in Houston.

Letters from Texas provides a step-by-step guide to using your hypocrisy to justify your bigotry.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos and contributing to Daily Kos calls it as she sees it when the U.S. Congress cut Amtrak’s budget within hours of the train wreck outside of Philadelphia last week. Republican Austerity Kills. Literally.

Nonsequiteuse asks you to consider the long game for progressives in Texas, and explains why she’s building progressive infrastructure and working the next generation of leaders through New Leaders Council.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson. The GOP’s end of session plan for tax cuts is getting near completion, Give It All To Business – The GOP Tax Compromise.

In a roundup of events, Socratic Gadfly says this week in Texas politics was probably even nuttier than normal a high bar to clear.

Julian Castro is Hllary Clinton’s pick for running mate, according to Henry Cisneros. That suggests a Latino will also be the vice-presidential nominee of the Republicans. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs thinks that might be the most interesting thing that could liven up an otherwise completely predictable 2016 presidential season.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is surprised that a Republican was so honest about tax cuts being just for the business cronies. Who needs roads, schools, or safety inspections. The rich can buy their own. But, the shrinking middle class and the poor must pay for what’s left.

Neil at All People Have Value posted about 11 pictures he keeps in his phone that involve death. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

===================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Texas Clean Air Matters examines what Tesla’s Powerwall home energy storage battery means for Texas.

Better Texas Blog names the least worst way to under-invest in schools, college access and health care systems.

Stephanie Wittels Wachs documents her efforts to get the Legislature to require insurance companies to cover the cost of hearing aids for children under 18.

The Lunch Tray calls self-regulation of kids’ food advertising a “doomed effort”.

Paradise in Hell warns us that the anti-gay crowd isn’t going anywhere.

BEYONDBones explains why you should care about endangered species.

The Texas Election Law Blog tracks what has happened to election law-related legislation so far this session.

Posted in Houston, politics, Texas, Texas Progressive Alliance | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Long Game in Texas

I believe the Republican majority in Texas must be challenged at every opportunity. They have laid waste to our strongest institutions and attacked our most vulnerable community members. They legislate as though a person’s value as a human should be based on the circumstances of that human’s birth—what zip code, what parents, what skin color, what country.

That’s just wrong.

That’s not the promise of Texas.

We need more and better progressive politicians to counteract the immeasurable damage done by two and a half decades of Republican cuts to healthcare, education, and infrastructure. But the change won’t come from politics alone, which is why I was up at five this morning to get ready for the last weekend of our 2015 New Leaders Council-Houston Institute.

We need true, passionate progressives in public office, to be sure, but we need them in corporate offices and boardrooms, in social service organizations, leading community groups and activist networks, in schools and universities, working in retail, practicing law and medicine and banking and real estate, practicing cutting edge science, funding entrepreneurs, cutting hair, owning nail salons, running grocery stores.

We need people in all of those places because those are the places progressive values live, and the people for whom they matter.

We cannot always depend upon the legislative process for change. Texas Republicans voted down a proposal to allow Texans to vote on whether or not to raise the minimum wage, but major corporations and small businesses are free to set their own living wage for employees without waiting for the government to act.

NLC Houston LogoNew Leaders Council is about connecting people who live progressive values every day, giving them a tool box of skills and knowledge, and asking them to step up and lead the change we need. Here’s why the model appeals to me:

  1. The national organization provides a framework, key tools, and support.
  2. Chapters bring in the faculty who can take the national curriculum and connect it to local issues. A unit on labor sounds different if you are in Texas than if you are in New Jersey.
  3. The alumni network grows locally, but also spirals out to chapters around the country. This year, we have 40, and one in Texas. Next year, we’ll have four in Texas. We’re on track for 10,000 alumni by 2020.
  4. Local boards are encouraged to recruit applicants from nontraditional backgrounds and non-dominant groups so that the fellowship classes reflect true, deep diversity.

Conservatives have invested millions of dollars over half a century in leadership development. Their laser focus and generous funding is the reason we have Tea Party caucuses around the country in statehouses and Congress, the Federalist Society driving judicial appointments, and so forth.

I’d say we’re playing catch-up, but here’s great news. This work is ongoing, or will be until science renders aging obsolete. Your investment in young progressives today will support you in the immediate future, and guarantee someone will be around to engage those who come after them.

I encourage you to read about our fellows and our program, get involved in our work, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and help us recruit potential fellows. Applications will open early in the fall—if you sign up on our website, in the bar at the top of the website, you’ll get a reminder once applications open.

I also ask you to make a donation. Funds we raise are building progressive infrastructure in Houston and throughout Texas. We do not charge a fee for fellows to go through our program, because we do not want to limit who can participate, so your donation underwrites their participation.

Of course, keep voting. Keep organizing. Keep showing up, speaking out, and standing up for progressive values. It takes all of us working every day to make the future we want. I’m proud to be working with you.

NLC fellows with Chris Kelly

Posted in Houston, politics, progressive, Texas, Texas Progressive Alliance | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Now Hear This, Texas Legislature – Pass HB 2979

In Texas, insurance companies are not required to pay for hearing aids for people—children—under the age of 18. Such devices are qualified as cosmetic.

Today, the Texas House of Representatives has HB 2979 on the calendar. If passed, our state would be one step closer to requiring insurance companies to cover hearing aids for children as the medical necessity they are. If they adjourn tonight without voting on it, it dies. (HB stands for House Bill.)

This bill must be passed.

You can find all of the reasons to support it in this eloquent essay from a family with a darling daughter for whom “hearing aids are neither cosmetic or a luxury,” but a medical necessity.

This post is to let you know exactly who to call and what to say to ensure this bill is heard today, voted on, and passed by the House.

You’ll need to do three things:

  1. Look up who represents you and get that person’s office phone number.
  2. Call that person’s office. Don’t email, call.
  3. Briefly and politely, but firmly, ask your representative to vote for this vital bill.

If you want extra credit, you can do a fourth—call the speaker’s office to ask that the bill be heard.

1 – Look up who represents you:

  • Put your street address, city, and zip code into this form.
  • Select “HOUSE” from the drop-down menu.
  • Click on “SUBMIT”
  • You will get a page that shows the name of your representative, and gives a capitol phone number that begins (512) 463-

2 – Call your representative’s capitol office:

  • You need to call, not email. Time is of the essence. Call as soon as you read this and look up the number. Do not wait until this evening.
  • You will speak to a staff member, not the representative, because the representative is on the floor of the house.
  • It is 100% OK, and in fact, preferable, to talk to the staff member. They are there to take your call and are glad to hear from you.

3 – Ask your representative to vote for this bill:

  • Be polite, be brief. There is no need to be rude or threatening, and in fact, that will work against you.
  • The staff will be getting tons of calls about many things, so be sure to mention that you are a constituent, the bill number, and how you want the representative to vote.
  • Say thank you. Mean it.
  • The person on the phone might ask for more information, like your address, or why yo you are calling.
  • The person who answers might just hang up as soon as you say you are calling to ask for a yes vote on HB 2979. That means they are busy, and have registered your message in their tally of calls. They’ve hung up to get another call and/or to make sure word gets to your representative.

A sample script:

“Hi. My name is ________. I live in Representative ______’s district, and want to ask her to vote yes on HB 2979 today. It will literally change the lives of vulnerable Texas children. Thank you so much for sharing my request with the representative. I appreciate your time! Thank you!

Extra credit – Calling the Speaker

As above, make it a quick, polite call.

“Hi, I’m ______ and live in Rep. (your rep, not the speaker)’s district. Just wanted to respectfully ask the Speaker to please be sure HB 2979 gets a vote today. Thank you for your time and help!”*

The Speaker’s office is getting tons of calls, so this needs to be really brief.

You are calling Speaker Joe Straus at (512) 463-1000.

 

*I am aware I split an infinitive. Just trying to underscore the need to be polite.

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Today in Official Sexism Promotion in Texas

I had to clarify we’re talking about today, because yesterday, we were talking about the City of Austin training on how to work with women once they defy all logic and expectations and manage to get elected to office.

Today, we’re talking about how the Houston Independent School District Health Curriculum apparently includes a unit on how girls should or should not react to when their male classmates pimp them out.

WHAT THE HELL, HISD? The only thing that will make you look worse than you already look for having something like this on a high school health assessment is if we find out that Pearson is getting paid for this, too.

I know, you think I’m overreacting or reading into it. But how do you interpret this question from the Health Education (High School) 2014-15 District Pre-Approved Assessment © HISD – Curriculum 2014?

HISD health assess fail

A friend received this photo from a student taking the test. The question says:

Tamika and Kayla were walking down the hallway of their school with Byron who had his arms around both of them. Byron saw two other males walking toward them and asked the two guys if they wanted to be with Tamika and Kayla? The boys responded by using profanity and laughing. The girls laughed also. Byron told the two boys they were missing out on a great opportunity. The girls continued laughing.

The girls displayed a lack of —

F  self-esteem

G  self-purpose

H  self-respect

I  all of the above

What, exactly, is being taught in these classes?

I struggle, so early in the morning, to analyze this in any meaningful way. Does this question mean the health class taught the healthy response you should have when someone tries to give you to another person who wants to get with you? Is there a unit on sex trafficking? On best practices for procurement of human flesh? Does “getting with” someone involve penetration, or does it just mean getting to second base?

There are critical questions to ask:

Where is the bar set, exactly, on these standards? What is being measured? Marketing skills?

Maybe there are some responses missing from the multiple choices. Perhaps if you go to the top of the next page, the options continue:

The girls displayed a lack of —

J  interest in hooking up with guys at all

K  concern that Byron didn’t realize the two guys were getting with each other

L  any ability whatsoever to give a fuck (literally)

L 1/2 any ability whatsoever to give a fuck (figuratively)

M  willingness to be responsible for educating yet another group of boys about the dynamics of agency and consent, because wasn’t that what the teacher was supposed to be covering

N  concern because Byron was their lab partner, and everyone knew Tamika and Kayla were the top students in chemistry, and everyone wanted to get with them on the upcoming science fair project, because it would pretty much mean a top grade, but the two other males took chemistry last year, and this year, were in physics, so weren’t competing in the science fair, and why would you even think this was about sex, you pervert

O  awareness about what was going on, because their “health” class did not contain any age-appropriate, medically accurate facts about healthy sexuality

P  shame, because everyone knows it is the ultimate rejection of your worth as a girl when dudebros can’t even pawn you off on other dudebros

HISD needs to come clean on what is being taught, and perhaps improve the curriculum. Because there are consequences for getting it wrong:

HISD teen birth rate 2011

 

We deserve better. Students deserve better. The responsibility rests upon the Superintendent, who needs to address community concerns and make sure dangerous sexist tropes aren’t being taught in place of age-appropriate, medically accurate health and wellness information.

Update: An HISD Trustee provided this information on Facebook:

This is from a health assessment. Locally written with questions submitted by teachers. This specific standard was HE.15A Apply communication skills that demonstrate consideration and respect for self, family, and others. They will replace with a better question and review processes in place for vetting these questions. I think the person who said: what about the boys? hit it on the head. I’ll ask to see the full assessment to ensure the other questions aren’t biased this way.

I would suggest an outside committee of experts—you know, with actual degrees and academic credentials, and not just asshats with anecdotes—review and evaluate the curriculum and assessment. Thanks to this trustee for acting so quickly.

Posted in feminists & feminism, good grief, Houston, Texas | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Men Aren’t From Mars, But Can We Send A Few of Them There?

Honestly, Hillary Clinton should just un-announce right now or productivity in this country is going to grind to a halt.

But hey, bright side, maybe this is how we get rid of Carly Fiorina! After all, the only math she can do is subtracting 30,000 from things, and even she tells people that she’s asked 314 more questions than Hillz. Or is it that she’s answered that many? Anyway, we all know that Hillary Clinton has never answered questions. Or has she?

I get confused easily, I guess, when it comes to questions, numbers, or questions about numbers. Be patient with me.

Because I’m a woman, and that makes me a special snowflake requiring a whole different approach, per the training Marc Ott, the taciturn, good-at-math, not inherently curious Austin City Manager offered up to the city’s staff:

The newly-elected 10-member City Council, plus the mayor, is the first majority female City Council in Austin’s history, with seven women and four men.

But apparently this represented such a huge change in governance that the city manager’s office thought the city staff who regularly interact with the City Council needed extra training – in the form of a two-hour training session in March with two speakers from Florida – on how to talk to a female-dominated City Council after decades of rule by men.

The first speaker was Jonathan K. Allen, who is a city manager of the relatively small Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Allen is considered an expert in this field because his local city commission is all-female. His advice included:

Women ask lots of questions. He learned a valuable lesson on communicating with women from his 11-year-old daughter, who peppered him with questions while they were on the way to volleyball. “In a matter of 15 seconds, I got 10 questions that I had to patiently respond to,” Allen said. Allen says female City Council members are less likely to read agenda information and instead ask questions. He says it’s tempting to just tell them to read the packet, but “my daughter taught me the importance of being patient” even when they may already know the answer to the question.

Women are taking over, Hillary Clinton will only encourage this. Allen talked about the general trend of more women getting involved in government, citing stats of more female mayors, for instance. “You see women in leadership positions…you will have to interact with them in a different way,” Allen said. “I submit to you if Hillary Clinton just runs, just runs for the office, you are going to see even greater numbers in leadership position, if she wins, you will see even greater numbers starting at the bottom on top.” He warns the staff to play nice with people on advisory boards or commissions because you never know when they become the elected official.

You never know. We’re just sitting there, seemingly content to be on an advisory board, when suddenly, BAM, we’ve been elected to office. It is like we think we are equal players in this whole democracy thingy.

“Allen is considered an expert in this field because his local city commission is all-female.”

If working with five women establishes one as an expert, then I’m getting an agent to sign me up to be an expert and get flown in to testify all over the country about the things I know about women. After all, I am one every single day, and I know a whole bunch of other women, way more than four, and we spent a ton of time together. I’ve basically earned my Ph.D. in Women, but only because I didn’t have to take statistics as part of the program, and there wasn’t much reading.

This day was already shaping up to be awful. The Texas House of Representatives has put HB 3994 on the Major State Calendar, which is basically the expedited, we’re going to really make sure we pass this damn bill today calendar. The quick reminder (go here for the gory details) of why this bill is singularly hateful and harmful:

This bill greatly complicates, unnecessarily lengthens, and greatly increases the cost of the bypass procedure while removing almost all judicial discretion and creating such a high burden of proof for the minor that it will be all but impossible to obtain a bypass. It is the Voter ID of abortion access. It also puts a target square on the back of judges who hear these cases by requiring more strict records be kept than are legally necessary. 

When it comes to official business, either at the State of Texas or City of Austin, women are treated with a fundamental lack of respect, whether over how to control their bodies, who they can or can’t marry, and how they behave while governing, and it has got to stop.

 

Posted in feminists & feminism, politics, so mad I could spit, Texas | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments