Ahh Austin…

When Texas Governor Abbott took time out of his busy schedule of subjugating his authority, to call a special session for the “part-time” Texas Legislators(1) to pass a bathroom bill and other discriminatory acts, his statements eloquently tried to trash the Capital of Texas, Austin. As Caleb points out, there are plenty of examples where Austin is screwed by Texas arbitrary regulation, and certainly some of those to be considered in the special session are also aimed at Austin.

Naturally, the state-protected view of the dome under which so much anti-regulatory legislation is concocted by worthy statesman from such cultural centers as Woodville, Humble, or Euless deserves to be maintained so that we may all be reminded of the paternal lordship of our duly elected masters, those golden ubermensch of high breeding and indomitable intellect.

(1) Texas is one of only 4-states that still have a rushed, part-time state legislator that has to rush it’s budget and legislation through in just the first half of the year, every two years. No wonder why so many bills seem regressive, backward looking, and discriminatory. The process doesn’t allow the sun to shine where it should.

Go, West!

What the West report tells us is that 33(83% of the total) facilities in Texas that store fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate still are located within a quarter mile of homes. Apart from weakening the reporting and classification requirements, the only substantive thing Governor Abbott has done is to remove your right to find out if you live near a storage location.

Today also marks the day that the Chemical Safety Board reported back on the West disaster, another recent shadow over Texas.

There is no surprise that the report findings include damning conclusions on the disaster; a massive explosion at a fertilizer storage and distribution facility fatally injured twelve volunteer firefighters, two members of the public and caused hundreds of injuries. . The preliminary findings are here.

In the months following the disaster, I for one was appalled at the actions of then Texas Attorney General, now Texas Governor, Greg Abbotts actions. I wrote first about this in a June 2015 post called “The Texas Freedom Illusion“. In that, I remarked

The good news is Texas isn’t much worse than many others, at least we still have the ultimate freedom, to leave.

Which, coincidentally what I’ve done, leave. I also discussed West in the guise of the restrictions of information, when discussing the 1947 Texas City Disaster.

What the West report tells us is that 33(83% of the total) facilities in Texas that store fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate still are located within a quarter mile of homes. Apart from weakening the reporting and classification requirements, the only substantive thing Governor Abbott has done is to remove your right to find out if you live near a storage location.

Remember, you too have the freedom to leave.

You can’t handle the truth – 2

Daniel Lin @DLin71 nicely captured the current xenophobia here in the USA over the Syrian crisis, in one tweet.

Of course, with over 8,000 bombing raids and more than 28,000 bombs dropped on Syria, you could argue that the whole Syrian population all have the potential to strike back at some point.

If you have not been protesting the bombing, you have no right to protest the refugees. < Mark Cathcart

The most effective way for a foreigner to get into the USA, is actually through the Visa Waiver Program. I spent sometime last week talking to a reporter [on background] about the program. I certainly traveled on an earlier version of the VWP some 20-times.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of participating countries* to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less, when they meet all requirements explained below. Travelers must be eligible to use the VWP and have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel.

VWP Countries

There are of course background checks on VWP applicants, I have no idea how in-depth or detailed they are. However, once approved, you by a return airline ticket and you are in. As someone of has come to the US on many different forms of visas, I know that the information required for the VWP is way less than any other. Also, the VWP application process, much, much quicker.

And that’s what the politicians don’t want you to know. It is easy to grandstand about refugees, make grand xenophobic political gestures. In reality there much easier and quicker routes into America, and the VWP is it. Approximately 19-million people PER YEAR visit the USA each year under the VWP.

Restricting the VWP will have an significant impact in two ways.

  1. It will have a direct financial impact, slowing down, and possibly halting a major group of visitors to the US.
  2. The countries that are impacted by the changes are likely to have some pushback. Either restricting US Citizens ability to visit reciprocal countries, or possibly refusing to grant US authorities access to the additional information needed to verify the applicant.

So, remember, everything has a price, and the fallout from this isn’t really security, it’s the result of a series of xenophobic, and potentially racist policy changes. Instead, we could just let the refugees in and follow the normal process. Scott Hicks wrote the following description of the refugee application.

Most of my friends know I practice Immigration law. As such, I have worked with the refugee community for over two decades. This post is long, but if you want actual information about the process, keep reading.

I can not tell you how frustrating it is to see the misinformation and outright lies that are being perpetuated about the refugee process and the Syrian refugees. So, here is a bit of information from the real world of someone who actually works and deals with this issue.

The refugee screening process is multi-layered and is very difficult to get through. Most people languish in temporary camps for months to years while their story is evaluated and checked.
First, you do not get to choose what country you might be resettled into. If you already have family (legal) in a country, that makes it more likely that you will go there to be with family, but other than that it is random. So, you can not simply walk into a refugee camp, show a document, and say, I want to go to America. Instead, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees) works with the local authorities to try to take care of basic needs. Once the person/family is registered to receive basic necessities, they can be processed for resettlement. Many people are not interested in resettlement as they hope to return to their country and are hoping that the turmoil they fled will be resolved soon. In fact, most refugees in refugee events never resettle to a third country. Those that do want to resettle have to go through an extensive process.
Resettlement in the U.S. is a long process and takes many steps. The Refugee Admissions Program is jointly administered by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) in the Department of State, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and offices within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within DHS conducts refugee interviews and determines individual eligibility for refugee status in the United States.

We evaluate refugees on a tiered system with three levels of priority.

First Priority are people who have suffered compelling persecution or for whom no other durable solution exists. These individuals are referred to the United States by UNHCR, or they are identified by the U.S. embassy or a non-governmental organization (NGO).
Second priority are groups of “special concern” to the United States. The Department of State determines these groups, with input from USCIS, UNHCR, and designated NGOs. At present, we prioritize certain persons from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Iran, Burma, and Bhutan.

Third priority are relatives of refugees (parents, spouses, and unmarried children under 21) who are already settled in the United States may be admitted as refugees. The U.S.-based relative must file an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) and must be processed by DHS.

Before being allowed to come to the United States, each refugee must undergo an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process conducted by Regional Refugee Coordinators and overseas Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs). Individuals generally must not already be firmly resettled (a legal term of art that would be a separate article). Just because one falls into the three priorities above does not guarantee admission to the United States.
The Immigration laws require that the individuals prove that they have a “well-founded fear,” (another legal term which would be a book.) This fear must be proved regardless of the person’s country, circumstance, or classification in a priority category. There are multiple interviews and people are challenged on discrepancies. I had a client who was not telling the truth on her age and the agency challenged her on it. Refugees are not simply admitted because they have a well founded fear. They still must show that they are not subject to exclusion under Section 212(a) of the INA. These grounds include serious health matters, moral or criminal matters, as well as security issues. In addition, they can be excluded for such things as polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling, or previous deportations. Under some circumstances, the person may be eligible to have the ground waived.

At this point, a refugee can be conditionally accepted for resettlement. Then, the RSC sends a request for assurance of placement to the United States, and the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) works with private voluntary agencies (VOLAG) to determine where the refugee will live. If the refugee does have family in the U.S., efforts will be made to resettle close to that family.
Every person accepted as a refugee for planned admission to the United States is conditional upon passing a medical examination and passing all security checks. Frankly, there is more screening of refugees than ever happens to get on an airplane. Of course, yes, no system can be 100% foolproof. But if that is your standard, then you better shut down the entire airline industry, close the borders, and stop all international commerce and shipping. Every one of those has been the source of entry of people and are much easier ways to gain access to the U.S. Only upon passing all of these checks (which involve basically every agency of the government involved in terrorist identification) can the person actually be approved to travel.

Before departing, refugees sign a promissory note to repay the United States for their travel costs. This travel loan is an interest-free loan that refugees begin to pay back six months after arriving in the country.

Once the VOLAG is notified of the travel plans, it must arrange for the reception of refugees at the airport and transportation to their housing at their final destination.
This process from start to finish averages 18 to 24 months, but I have seen it take years.

The reality is that about half of the refugees are children, another quarter are elderly. Almost all of the adults are either moms or couples coming with children. Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the proposed ceiling is 85,000. We have been averaging about 70,000 a year for the last number of years. (Source: Refugee Processing Center)
Over one-third of all refugee arrivals (35.1 percent, or 24,579) in FY 2015 came from the Near East/South Asia—a region that includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan.

Another third of all refugee arrivals (32.1 percent, or 22,472) in FY 2015 came from Africa.

Over a quarter of all refugee arrivals (26.4 percent, or 18,469) in FY 2015 came from East Asia — a region that includes China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. (Source: Refugee Processing Center)
Finally, the process in Europe is different. I would be much more concerned that terrorists are infiltrating the European system because they are not nearly so extensive and thorough in their process.

Posted by Scott Hicks on Thursday, November 19, 2015

China, still not big or bad enough

The primary difference being, as the updated NY Times article on Tianjin chemical storage shows, there were public records about chemical storage in China, not so much Texas. Freedom is an illusion.

china chemicals

Back on August 14th, the Austin American Statesman carried an article from the NY TImes about the dangers of Chemical storage on it’s front page. It did so without even a footnote highlighting the fact there is little in Texas that, in 2015, prevents the same thing happening. You can read an updated NY Times article here, or the one highlighted above here.

Of course, we had the total disaster in West, Texas in April 2013. Since then there has been little to prevent the same thing happening. When he was Texas Attorney General, Governor Abbott restricted any information about Chemical Storage held by the State, as posted over a year ago.. He said at the time, you can always show up and ask what chemicals are stored on a site near you. A fine example of what the Tianjin residents would call “shuǎzuǐpí“.

Of course, as we are always being told, “everything is bigger in Texas“,  and when it comes to chemical explosions, China has a long way to go to match Texas. Consider the pictures below, pretty similar.

Chemical Explosion

The pair on the left are from the 1947 Texas City Disaster, where 581 were killed, and over 5,000 injured, with more than 500 homes destroyed. Believed to be the USA largest ever and most destructive industrial accident. It ranks among the worlds largest man-made disasters. The pictures on the right are from the Tianjin explosions which killed 147 people.

The primary difference being, as the updated NY Times article on Tianjin chemical storage shows, there were public records about chemical storage in China, not so much Texas. Freedom is an illusion.

Texas is an Ass

Just this week, Governor Abbott vetoed what many consider a key mental health provision, and given many of the continuing gun massacres are blamed on mental health issues, add that to guns in Texas, and a lot of people are upset with Abbott.

This post isn’t about guns, or mental health, or bashing Republicans. It doesn’t really matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, Texas pride aside. The Governor and Legislator are increasingly making Texas look like an ass.

I’m not talking about all the seemingly dumb laws on the books, or, the way and process the Governor has vetoed many key bills, or line items; or the fact the former Governor is still under indictment; or the way the current Attorney General is also facing potential federal charges. Nope, all that stuff can be passed off by one side or the other as “politically motivated”.

Nope, Texas is an ass because the world is changing, events happen at increasing velocity; social media is changing everything, and the Texas Legislature meets once every two years, passes a bunch of bills and then gets the hell out of dodge. The New York Times wrote this article about it back in 2010, nothing has changed.

Texas, like many states, has a constitution, written back in the 1876 has the legislature come to the capital every two years. Most states have moved away from that now. But here in Texas they spend 140-days prioritizing, bullying and cajoling their bills to the governors desk, assuming they can even get time to get their bills drafted and debated. Once they are done, the constitution gives them ample time to get back on their horses, in their buggys, or onto the stage coach to get back to their districts to converse with the people that elected them, before it’s time for a do-over.

As a reminder, Texas is bigger than Germany; bigger than France + large part of Spain and has almost as many people.

In a world where you can place a video call to almost anywhere, in a State where you can fly to a airport anywhere in the state in less than a day. With a legislature that raise significant amounts of money for election, don’t Texans deserve a legislative process that is on the ball, addressing issues as they arise, taking the appropriate steps to review, update and changes laws as Texas needs?

Instead what we have is an election, and then a rushed legislature that brings forward bills that pander towards just getting elected next time. As we’ve seen both from Governor Abbots ethics cry, and his veto pen, very few serious bills make it through. I get it, politics is hard, but Texans deserve more than this.

Sadly. as the New York Times report from 2010 says

The citizens of Texas inherently don’t trust government,” said Kip Averitt, who until recently served as a Republican state senator from Waco. He added, “I don’t think the public perceives it as a problem.

Who can blame them, given the problems highlighted above, and the fact that the general consensus is that the Old Boy network and pay to play are the two biggest problems with Texas Politics, perhaps if the legislature actually showed up and made a full time job out of crafting legislation, working to get traction, people would have more faith in their government?

No more riding into town, working on legislation that will get you elected next time and then leaving. Texas is an ass if they allow that to continue.

Huffman Discloses Husband’s Financial Holdings

Not exactly the mea culpa no one expected anyway, but rule #5 in the list of excuses when you get caught with you hand in the jar. #5 “For every action, there should be a reaction” > Justify your loophole by blaming another law for over reaching, that’s a typical GOP tactic, claim something is overreach and then hide something when undoing it, mostly because, like a cheap magician you’ve used slight of hand to distract.

The Texas Tribune has details, Huffman Discloses Husband’s Financial Holdings.

In full disclosure, I am a donor and member of the Texas Tribune and a principal sponsor of their livestreaming kickstarter.

Abbott Vetoes Spousal Loophole

Law_Enforcement_Ethics_3920_TCOLE_TCLEOSE_OSS_Academy_Texas_Telecommunicators_Online_Training[1]Since I’ve criticized Governor Abbott numerous times, I figured he deserved a quick post for vetoing the ethics bill that contained the spousal loophole as discussed in my Ethics the Texas Way post.

As predicated though, when doing so, the Governor did do his best Sepp Blatter impersonation, saying

“Serious ethics reform must be addressed next session — the right way. Texans deserve better.”

Of course in the mad way that Texas governs, that really means 2017. Maybe Sepp Blatter will be gone by then, but Texas ethics won’t have advanced. At least we will be able to see what the Spouses of the legislator are doing.

What many of us suspect goes on all the time in Texas in what is called the ol’ boy network is best seen in action by the sponsor of the Spousal loophole herself, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston. Turns out Sen Huffman is facing an ethics complaint related her own spouse. It is alleged the senator filed “false” information by failing to list more than 35 businesses in which her husband has a stake. Off the Kuff has a good round on on Sen, Huffman.

Texas ethics at its best. Well done Governor Abbot for vetoing the bills, they were not the ethics reform you were looking for. Hopefully by 2017 the legislator will take more notice of you than the board of FIFA did of Sepp Blatter.