Category Archives: Harris County

The Witch Hunt of Dr. Gokal Must End

While local authorities reward bad street racing behavior by giving them a place to “practice,” the local DAs office continues their witch hunt of Dr. Hasan Gokal, a doctor employed by Harris County who was accused of stealing one vial of COVID-19 vaccine, while doing everything possible to avoid it being wasted.

While the state’s top authority for doctors has found no evidence of wrongdoing, the DA is still going to present a case to a grand jury despite a judge dropping the charges for lack of evidence.

The March 9th letter stated Gokal “appeared to have administered doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to patients that were properly consented, in the eligible patient category, and they were given doses that would have otherwise been wasted.”

KHOU 3/16/2021

Further, Dr. Gokal did the proper reporting of the administration of the vaccine and he didn’t gain any benefit from it. It wasn’t some vast vax steal conspiracy to make money. We already have local hospitals and clinics charging people for what is supposed to be a free vaccine and they aren’t being investigated by the DA.

Why does the DA continue this fruitless cause?

Of course, we’re talking about the same DA who dropped all charges against deputy Shauna Thompson for murdering John Hernandez at a Denny’s in East Harris County a few years ago with the excuse that, despite video evidence that Hernandez was suffocated by Thompson and her husband, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict her. It would seem this Doc’s case lacks any evidence, other than we have a doctor–a public servant–doing his job of making sure the vaccine was not wasted.

Earlier this year, our County Judge reported on wasted vaccine and has even made other groups (teachers) a priority to ensure that vials of vaccine do not go to waste. So, not wasting vaccine is a good thing and trending, apparently.

It was also reported that one box of vaccine was wasted when it fell off a table at a vax location. So, yes, mistakes happen at vax locations, but Gokal’s case was all about not wasting vaccine and making sure it went to the right people.

This case lacks any semblance of criminality and it needs to end to save this good Doc’s career and livelihood. Let’s not waste a needed doctor by trying to score some cheap points for a junior prosecutor’s win-loss record.

Abbott’s Trumpian Response to “Neanderthal Thinking”

Greg Abbott doesn’t enjoy being challenged by President Joe Biden nor the media as was evidenced in his freak-out on a KPRC interview yesterday. The freak-out continued on Twitter (see image).

With Texans, the Feds, Texas city leaders, the Texas business community, and the medical community incensed at Abbott’s idiotic decisions to rescind a mask mandate and open up Texas business 100%, Abbott took the usual route Republicans take when challenged: Racism.

It did not take long for Greg Abbott to go full-Trump by blaming immigrants for COVID-19, even after his failed attempts at keeping open and reopening Texas have caused more death and infection. But Abbott’s reaction only shows his sinister and evil intentions to enrich big business while the rest of the state suffers, not only with COVID-19, but with misinformation and bigotry.

Let’s face it, we don’t need to be reminded that Brown (and Black) folks have always been blamed and scapegoated since Texas was founded. The playbook is pretty old and it’s gotten old. Really old.

In a twist, CNN is reporting that while Abbott makes up stories about immigrants spreading COVID-19 thanks to Biden, the reality is that Abbott is stalling efforts to have the Biden administration provide COVID-19 testing for immigrants and mitigation prior to release.

DHS has already set plans in motion to use Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to support community efforts to test, isolate and quarantine migrants released from Border Patrol custody, the official told CNN. But the grant money needs to be approved by the state before it can be distributed to border communities. CNN previously reported plans were underway to use FEMA funds to help localities acquire tests. As of Wednesday, Texas had not yet provided a response to the administration since engaging with the Department of Homeland Security.

CNN 3/4/21

Anyway, this post is just a reminder that Greg Abbott is a bigot who will continually scapegoat “the other” for his own political gain. Actually, this bit of news shouldn’t be a surprise. The surprise is that there are still idiots out there (even Dems) who will keep this guy in office, even when given a clear choice.

Abbott Signs Death Warrant on Texas

We’ve already talked about Greg Abbott’s intentional failures, but he has decided that Texas’ failures are a political opportunity for himself.

On March 2, the day some celebrate “Texas independence day,” Greg Abbott chose to show off Texas’ fake rugged independence and individualism by rescinding an order to comply with CDC mask guidelines and opening up the state to 100% capacity. Abbott always talks tough, but the numbers show he is more than willing to sacrifice Texans for his political career.

Abbott shot off opposite numbers during his campaign rally-slash-presser to make his case. In other words, instead of deaths and infections, he stated how many people had gotten better after contracting COVID-19 as an exhibit to prove why he needed to rescind the mandates. Plus, Abbott seems to think that with a miniscule amount of Texans having been vaccinated, that we are in the clear. The reality is that over 2 million Texans have been infected, with over half being people of color. Over 42,000 Texans have died with 60% being Brown and Black.

Because of a botched fight to control COVID-19, a too late effort by Trump and Abbott to enact mask and protocol mandates, and a botched vaccine roll-out while Trump was in office, the economy of the nation and Texas has tanked. Perhaps controlling the virus through earlier efforts could have lessened the economic toll, but what has actually happened is the opposite. Now, Abbott uses the background of a Mexican restaurant in Lubbock to show off a business willing to go along with 100% capacity to save itself, but not its customers. Thankfully, many small businesses are still requiring masks to enter. Unfortunately, Texas corporate hero HEB is only “urging” customers to mask up.

All that said, those who follow Abbott (and Trump, still) are plainly stupid or heartless or both. They live off of that feeling of faux independence and rugged individualism that has been written in the history books, yet are the first to whine when disaster strikes and blood is left in their hands. As some celebrate Texas, we must all realize how far this state has not come and how many people have been willfully killed through bad public policy since its inception.

And then we must ask,’ Who’s in charge?” And rid ourselves of stupidity and willful ineptitude.

Harris County Judge Announces Vax Registration Portal

Finally!

I’d been wondering why there wasn’t some registration portal available that would allow folks to pre-register for the COVID-19 vaccine, instead of the usual race-to-the-needle registration for a limited amount of shots, which most people miss out on for a number of reasons.

Judge Lina Hidalgo announced that a portal will be launched January 26, 2021 at ReadyHarris.org, along with other pertinent information, in order to prioritize those who fall under the 1A and 1B categories. Those outside of these categories will still be able to register. All will be advised by e-mail once their appointment is made and will be given a code to utilize at the vaccine location when their turn is up. There is also a registration by phone option for those without internet.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine shouldn’t be a matter of who can hit refresh on a browser the fastest, or who has the most free time to sign up while others who work long hours miss out. That’s why we’ve designed this system to maximize fairness, equity, and efficiency.

Judge Lina Hidalgo, 1/25/21

Judge Hidalgo reminds everyone that Greg Abbott and the State of Texas continue their slow release of vaccine, thus, we may still need to wait our turn for a while. At the very least, the stress and inequality will be lessened because of the randomization of appointment-setting. The portal, according to Hidalgo, will allow for equality of opportunity to register, as well as geographic equality as it will be easier to determine the location of vaccination sites. Hidalgo also reminds us that no system is perfect and that any issues with this new system will be dealt with as they come.

Judge Hidalgo stated in her press conference that, currently, Harris County Public Health is receiving 9,000 shots per week with the hopes of that number increasing. Currently, there are 2,000,000 Harris County residents who qualify under groups 1A and 1B.

When asked regarding leftover doses, Hidalgo states that out of 30,000 doses received thus far, only 25 doses have been deemed wasted–20 because two vials fell after a gust of wind pushed them off the table, and five because there weren’t five extra people to vaccinate at the end of a day.

At this point, the best way to avoid COVID-19 is to either stay/work at home, wear a mask, social distance, and wash hands. You know the drill.

Frankly, I think this portal will provide some peace of mind. I’d rather be registered and wait, than miss an opportunity because I wasn’t on social media to find out when to register for a limited amount of shots.

The Reality of Vaccines and Reopenings

I’ve been reading about reopenings of various industries and many industry leaders point to “local authorities” as their benchmark for how they will roll-out any reopening. Of course, what precautions are put in place to protect workers  and how effective those protections will be is up to those industries

Harris County has a color code at which we are currently at RED and it is safe to say that many industries are looking forward to ORANGE as the mark to begin phases for increased employees on-site.

To get to ORANGE, Harris County would need to have 14 days each of flat or decreasing rates of:  new COVID19 cases; COVID19-related hospitalizations; COVID19 ICU admits; and fewer than 15% of general and ICU beds in use. To get from ORANGE to YELLOW, it would take continued decreases at similar rates, as well as widespread deployment of a vaccine or treatment for COVID19.

It’s safe to say that it may take a while to get back to ORANGE, as changes in personal responsibility (behaviors) and public policy (Abbott/Trump) are still a work in progress (or in digging a deeper hole). It may take more death and infection to convince people and leaders to adapt, unfortunately. Still, it would seem that some sort of comfort in reopening would be found at YELLOW. Certainly, reopening at YELLOW would give the impression that an industry actually cares about their employees, instead of the crap-shoot at ORANGE.

While Trump and his minions and some in the science community are selling us on the development of a COVID-19 vaccine and that one may be ready as early as October, 2020 (to December, 2020), there are others being a bit more honest about vaccine development and the eventual issues in efficacy, production, and roll-out.

I read a lengthy report by management consulting firm McKinsey that brought all the information out there together to explain the reality. Carolyn Johnson at the Washington Post had a lengthy article, too. For all the attempt at excitement by Trump and his minions, the bottom line is that it is going to be a lot more challenging than what he’s selling. Here are a few of those challenges:

  • More than 50 vaccine candidates are expected to enter human trials in 2020, and 250 total vaccine candidates are being pursued. Historical attrition rates would suggest that such a pipeline could yield more than seven approved products over the next few years.
  • A number of hurdles remain, including validating unproven platform technologies, demonstrating vaccine candidates’ safety and protection against COVID-19, and delivering the highest-impact vaccine profiles.
  • Regulatory bodies are still finalizing guidelines for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Vaccine manufacturers have announced cumulative capacity that could produce as many as one billion doses by the end of 2020 and nine billion doses by the end of 2021. [Note:  FDA has set a benchmark of 50% effectiveness to approve a vaccine.]

As the post article mentions, how effective the initial vaccines that are approved really are will influence how much buy-in by consumers there will be. And, as previous vaccines in US history have shown, it has taken a few years for some vaccines to reach a trusted level of efficacy. We are also reminded:

Even the word “effective” will be parsed by experts and may need to be carefully explained. The goal is for a vaccine to prevent infections altogether. But that’s not the only definition of a successful vaccine, which could also include shots that reduce the severity of symptoms people experience. Ideally, a vaccine would do both. But what happens in real life will influence decisions about who should get the vaccine first.

Mark Mulligan of the New York Langone Vaccine Center (quoted in the Post) states that

he believes people should view vaccines in much the same way they have regarded reopening — as something that must occur in gradual phases to be safe and could even double back on itself as we learn more. Governments and companies are investing billions of dollars to ramp up the vaccine supply now, but even so, it won’t be possible to vaccinate everyone in the first week or even the first month after the first vaccine becomes available. The world will become safer, bit by bit, not all at once.

And even when there is a vaccine, what will be the priority list? As the Post article reminds us, it wasn’t until Trump and famous people (athletes) were shown to have easy access to almost daily COVID-19 testing that people began to see how people are prioritized in this country. When the upper crust is prioritized, it would seem that the rest of us start to care less while forgetting that there are more of us who should be demanding change.

No doubt, we need more than just the vaccine to make all of this work. Along with a longer term shut-down to flatten the curve, more testing is needed as well as sped-up results, effective contact tracing (and COVID-19 patients willing to cooperate with tracers to inform those they may have exposed), and the development of accessible and affordable therapeutics and treatment to help those who are infected get beyond the infection. All of this must be buttressed by access to health care and an economic stimulus that keeps people fed and housed, rather than enriching corporations. Without all of these components in place, reopenings deemed safe will only be a farce.

It is getting more difficult to have faith that we will get beyond this with less people affected because political and industry leaders seem to miss the point that much like people were expected to adapt to change (masks and self distancing) of their own volition, politics and industry needed to similarly adapt for the long-term. Because of a thirst for profit and political power, taking on COVID-19 has been a dismal failure for most, but quite profitable for a few. Again, I remind all of how people (and even businesses) are prioritized during these times.

So, stay home as much as possible, and if you need to go somewhere, wear a mask, wash hands, and physically distance from everyone. The rest is up to those we put in charge and how willing they are to risk your life for political power and profit.

 

An Elections Administrator for Harris County

The County Commissioners voted 3-2 to enact the position of elections administrator to run all voting operations, including voter registration. In doing so, they strip these duties from the county clerk and the tax assessor-collector to create what is called an independent, non-partisan office.

As I mentioned when this was first discussed:

…nothing wrong with a discussion.

It seems they decided to forgo any lengthy discussion and just create the position while an ongoing study is had on creating the position. The hiring of the administrator would not happen until after the 2020 election, so, the interim County Clerk Chris Hollins would still run the November election.

And as I’ve stated, I don’t have too much of a problem with having an elections administrator. As Kuff reminds us, other big counties have had one for a while and it seems to work. And, no doubt, each side of the debate gave good arguments that have much to do with history of the current system versus the politics of putting into office good people so that history isn’t repeated.

I agree with former County Clerk Diane Trautman that lengthy discussions should be had. At the same time, change after years of Republican rule can only happen in quick instances if we want change to actually happen. Of course, that’s my argument against police reform committees when the leadership exists to exert change in an instant. I guess I just want some consistency.

Ultimately, the people elected the Democratic majority to do what they think is right. I mean, I don’t like how a couple of the commissioners exerted their influence and money into the race for County Commissioner Pct 3 from their own fiefdoms, thus allowing them to pick their co-workers on the court, but I guess it’s allowed. So, this majority will get to pick the election administrator.

What’s done is done. My hope is that there will be a national search to bring in the best election administrator possible that has run the best, seamless and accessible elections (everything Commissioner Ellis said wasn’t happening in the current system). Or has the appointment already been decided?

Anyway, that’s politics. Even when creating nonpartisan positions.

 

 

 

The Dem Primary Run-Off Results

As far as Texas Democrats are concerned, I’m sure we are all glad it’s [almost] over. For DC, well, it wasn’t the best night for those I supported. Still, it’s on to November like the good little Democrat I try to be.

Royce West’s campaign against the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (and MJ Hegar) fell short, but I sure am proud of my friends who worked on West’s campaign and came up with a respectable result against the odds and the DC cash. We shall see what kind of campaign is run against Cornyn, now. Issues? Trump? Both? Will the DSCC even stick around? Questions that must be asked and answered, and now.

Family friend and fellow Cristaleño, Roberto Alonzo, gave it a go for Texas RR Commish, but it was obvious that Chrysta Castañeda was too much to overpower in the big cities. Still, we are proud of Roberto and the whole Alonzo family because they just don’t give up when it comes to the issues that matter.

Michelle Palmer cruised to victory in her race for SBOE-6, as did Te’iva Bell for the 339th District Court. Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas was soundly defeated by Cheryl Elliot Thornton for the 164th. Thornton is well-qualified and will be impressive in November. Cheri Thomas came up short for one of the appellate court seats against Tami Craft, but she is a great candidate who should remain in the game for future consideration. And Mark Alan Harrison is on his way to November in his run for Constable Pct 5.

Diana Martinez Alexander ran a great grassroots race for County Commissioner Pct 3 against big money and influence. I’ll still give her credit for being the only candidate in the running to shake my hand when asking for votes at one event I attended with most of the candidates in attendance. After doing some campaign finance sleuthing and seeing how she was outspent, and considering the final result, I must say that I am quite impressed with what she accomplished. She’s another one that should stay in the game because her activism will be an asset to Democrats up and down the ballot.

The race that was the most interesting was Texas House 148 with Penny Shaw and incumbent Anna Eastman, who won a special election to replace retiring Jessica Farrar earlier this year. No doubt, Eastman has said the right things on most issues important to Democrats, but it was Penny Shaw who may have gotten a late boost because of the policy differences she had with Eastman on public education and the out-of-town PACs that filled Eastman’s campaign coffers. It always seems to be the difference in these races–Teacher Unions -vs- Big Charter School Money. In this case, it was the union-supported Penny Shaw winning the early voting period and election day to put her over the top. While one side blames “negative campaigning,” it really was all about who turned out the most votes from their targeted base. I mean, c’mon, it was 200 votes difference. In non-COVID times, that would be a candidate attending a quince in the northside as the difference. As this is a Democratic district, Shaw will likely win in November.

Akilah Bacy cruised in HD138 and it seems incumbent State Rep Harold Dutton will squeeze by to another term. Incumbent Constable Chris Diaz was unseated by Jerry Garcia by less than 300 votes. Again, whomever turns out their base wins, no matter how negative it gets.

Big wins elsewhere include Dr. Jennifer Cantu for Fort Bend County Commish Pct 1, Delia Garza for Travis County Attorney, Jose Garza for Travis County DA, and Candace Valenzuela for Congressional District 24.

In Austin, it looks like State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt will be in a run-off later this fall for Senate District 14. While this special election brought out Republicans to support their own, it’ll be interesting to see which candidate Republicans choose as their candidate. It could be the difference in the race if Republicans decide to even come out.

It’s been real, y’all. Let’s win in November!

We Need A Vote-at-Home Order from Abbott

Well, it’s nice that Greg Abbott has finally decided to order everyone to wear masks during this pandemic. That it took over 175,000 Texans to get infected and over 2,500 dying, as well as an idiotic and sped-up re0pening of businesses which caused an obvious uptick in cases to finally make a mask order happen shows a total disregard of life and health on the part of Abbott and Republicans.

Anyway, thanks?

It was Anthony Gutierrez at Common Cause who captured the reality of the mask order:

“Issuing the mandatory mask order and encouraging everyone to stay home is the right thing to do right now, considering the mess we’re in. But the right thing to do months ago to avoid this very easily foreseeable mess was to allow all Texans to vote by mail so that no one would now find themselves having to choose between voting and endangering their health.

Our Governor and Secretary of State have thus far failed when it comes to adapting our election systems in a pandemic, but it’s not too late to get it right for November.”

We’re currently in the Democratic Primary run-off here in Texas. And while many 65+ voters ordered their mail ballots, thousands of others are going into polling locations risking our health because we believe in the power of our votes. Thankfully, our own Harris County has instituted some measure of protection, but it is never safer than voting from home at this time.

Instead of opening up access to voting by mail for all as a real option, Greg Abbott and Republicans fought against it, putting even more people at risk who may have already been practicing stay-at-home measures on their own.

Anyway, let’s hope there is a vote-at-home order soon. Even Abbott agrees that “it is getting worse,” although, leaders like Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had said it would get worse if leaders didn’t take COVID19 seriously.

A Couple of Questions Regarding Williford

First of all, I agree with Kuff:  Good riddance!

A deputy felony DA posted a pretty awful meme comparing the Black Lives Matter Movement to Nazis. It’s so wrong on so many levels that any attempt at explaining it away as “thought-provoking” is simply grasping at something that looks more like one trying to stay in their comfortably racist cocoon, than trying to add to a conversation.

That said, I do have a couple of questions:

Given this prosecutor’s comments and obvious feelings toward Black people demanding rights, does this taint any cases which she prosecuted, particularly those involving Black and Brown defendants?

And, when DA Kim Ogg decided to drop the charges on John Hernandez’s murderer, Chauna Thompson, based on the the various prosecutors whom she asked their opinion on the case, was Williford one of them? We need to know what part she played in this.

Whether people want to accept it or not, the DAs office is part of that law enforcement system that needs the reform which is being demanded by Black Lives Matter. Its culture of pumping up their conviction percentages must be changed, and the fact that this person was among the highest ranking deputies shows us that the status quo is very much alive, no matter what lip service “reform” is given by the DA.

 

My COVID-19 Early Voting Experience

By 7:15AM this morning, I had clicked “CAST BALLOT” and was done voting in the 2020 Democratic Primary Run-Off election. It was the 5 minutes (which seemed like an hour) before that were personally harrowing.

I woke up early. I shaved, brushed, combed, etc. I got my ID, put on gloves, hung a pen from my collar, and got my Kokopelli mask. I drove the one minute to my polling location at Tracy Gee and was ready to scroll. Nervous about voting in this COVID-19 era, but doing my duty like my parents taught me.

I walk in and it was welcoming. I was pointed in the right direction, told to distance 6 feet and wait to be called. Already a few Democrats were voting ahead of me.

I walked up to the lady at the table. I was told to hold out my ID so she could match faces. The woman before me didn’t have to show her face since I guess her eyes matched up, but I wasn’t recognizable, apparently. A few looks and I did her the favor and showed my face. And then I still had to tell her that I had lost a lot of weight (120 lbs since that ID pic), but I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it.

Then, she looked at my ID funny. It’s one of those new Texas Driver Licenses that follow the racist REAL ID act and I guess it looked suspect to her, even though it says “TEXAS USA Driver License” and has all the watermarks.

Then, I’m asked to turn the ID around and rest it on this tiny stand which allows the IPad to scan the ID. Well, it wouldn’t scan. Her own alarms seem to go off and she asked a question that offended this avid voter, “Is this your first time?”

I think my indignation was obvious when I said, “I’ve voted since I was 18.” The other lady at the table asked, “Did you vote in the last election?” Which caused me to take a deep breath and say, “Yes.”

These questions shouldn’t matter if the ID isn’t scanning. If you have a problem with my ID, call DPS or just type in my name and DL#, right? Well, she seemed annoyed at having to do this. But she just couldn’t read it off the ID. I had to spell out my name and sound off my date of birth and DL# for all to hear. My privacy alarms were going off, but I was going to vote!

Lo and behold, my name came up on her IPad! Once I take my ID off the little stand, and sign the IPad acknowledging that I’m voting in the Democratic Primary, I was given a finger condom, my I VOTED sticker, and my receipt.

Within a minute, I voted the #StaceSlate and was done.

I felt like a ticketed driver thanking the cop for writing me a ticket as I said “Thank you,” for what felt like a verbal frisking of my voter rights.

The moral of the story is, don’t let the pendejadas stop you from voting if this happens to you. You have a right to vote for which you have duly registered, for which you’ve had to pay for your driver license (even if it doesn’t scan and suddenly makes you a fraudster in their eyes).  Just vote!

But, damn, am I pissed off this morning.

I’ll add that I appreciate the County Clerk’s office for trying to ensure a safe election in this COVID19 era, and all the safety practices were in play and appreciated. The ID-ing of voters has not been perfected, and if anything, can be used to treat voters as fraud suspects, and that problem is systemic.