Tag Archive for: COVID

County COVID Money Buys Democratic Campaign Software Instead

The Elevate Strategies scandal tied to County Judge Lina Hidalgo just keeps mushrooming. For those who missed it, earlier this year, Hidalgo recommended hiring a 1-person company operating out of an apartment to do “COVID outreach” for $11 million. That person reportedly didn’t do any COVID outreach before public outrage about bid rigging forced the County to cancel the contract and seek a refund.

But according to a news report released yesterday, the county rushed payment for Elevate’s initial invoice of $1.4 million. With it, Elevate purchased Democratic campaign software for $538,057.

Now, according to Bill King, the company refuses to give the money back and the County Attorney, a Democrat, is fighting an Open Records request concerning the matter. For a detailed discussion of these allegations, read King’s post in its entirety. A brief summary follows.

County Attorney Fights Open Records Request on Unusual Transactions

After “winning” the lucrative $11 million contract, Elevate immediately invoiced Harris County for more than $1.4 million. The County then rushed to pay her. That’s very unusual in itself. It took Harris County five months just to cut a purchase order for the Atascocita Drainage study after commissioner’s approved that contract!

Greg Groogan of Fox26, who has been investigating this story, asked the County Attorney how he was doing in recovering the money paid to Elevate. But the County Attorney’s accounting just didn’t add up. So, Groogan filed an Open Records request. The County Attorney suddenly clammed up, said the records were not subject to the Open Records Act, and requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General.

Meanwhile, Bill King did obtain the records – from the County Auditor’s office. Those records showed that of the $1.425 million paid to Elevate, only $208,000 was returned so far. What happened to the missing COVID money?

King found $538,057 went to buy non-refundable, nontransferable software licenses from companies that promote themselves to Democratic political campaigns for fundraising, field organizing and voter targeting.

Where Money Went

The payments include:

  • $356,093 to Civis Analytics, Inc., a data firm that grew out of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and has ties to President Biden.
  • $172,964 to NGP Van and OutreachCircle
    • NGP Van promotes itself as the “leading technology provider to Democratic and progressive campaigns and organizations.” It also claims “Nearly every Democrat running for office is powered by NGP Van.”
    • OutreachCircle boasts about its voter file management, targeting expertise and grassroots organizing capabilities.
    • OutreachCircle was recently acquired by Political Data Inc., “California’s largest provider of voter information to political campaigns.”

The County Auditor also shows that Harris County has paid another $460,000 directly to Civis Analytics since Hidalgo was elected.

Under Hidalgo that brings total payments by taxpayers – Republicans and Independents included – for Democratic political organizing capabilities to about $1 million. The County Auditor says the county never did business with any of these firms before Hidalgo.

King concludes his essay with an excerpt from a text message from one of Hidalgo’s staffers. The Texas Rangers obtained it after the scandal first became public.

Probably good for campaign purposes in her mind, but anyway, if she has some intricate picture in her head, I say F it and let her define it . . .” (Emphasis added.)

As King says, “Draw your own conclusions.”

I say, “…on your way to the polls.”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 10/25/22

1883 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.

Special Steps to Take for Hurricane Preparation During COVID Pandemic

On top of normal disaster preparation advice, FEMA and the CDC have released special instructions this year for hurricane preparation during the COVID pandemic.

Harvey Evacuation by Julie Yandell
Harvey Evacuation by Julie Yandell

First, Cover All the Basics

Most of the basic advice remains the same. For instance:

See more CDC advice at this link.

Second, Protect Your Family from COVID During an Evacuation

This year, there are also some new twists because of COVID.

  • Find out if your local public shelter is open, in case you need to evacuate. Your shelter location may be different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In your go-kit, include items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer, or bar or liquid soap if not available, and two cloth face coverings for each person. Face covers should not be used by children under the age of 2. They also should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • Practice social distancing. Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people outside of your household.
  • Follow CDC COVID-19 preventive actions—wash your hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, and follow shelter policies for wearing cloth face coverings. Avoid sharing food and drink with anyone if possible.
  • Follow disaster shelter policies and procedures designed to protect everyone in the shelter, particularly older adults (65 and older) and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions. These people are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Avoid touching high-touch surfaces, such as handrails, as much as possible. If not possible, wash hands or use hand sanitizers containing 60% alcohol immediately after you touch these surfaces.
  • Keep your living area clean and disinfect frequently-touched items such as toys, cellphones, and other electronics.
  • If you feel sick when you arrive at the shelter or start to feel sick while sheltering, tell shelter staff immediately.

Special Advice for Children

To help your children stay healthy in a shelter:

  • Teach and reinforce everyday preventive actions for keeping children healthy.
  • Make sure children aged 2 and older wear cloth face coverings. Face covers should not be used by children under the age of 2. They also should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • Be a good role model—if you wash your hands often, your children are more likely to do the same.
  • Watch your children to ensure they stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who is not in your household.
  • Watch your child for any signs of illness and tell shelter staff if your child may be ill.
  • Try to deal with the disaster calmly and confidently, as this can provide the best support for your childrenHelp children cope with emergencies.

Improve Your Situational Awareness

For monitoring upstream flooding levels, I find these two sites extremely helpful.

USGS Water on the Go – Includes information from almost every gage in the country. Especially useful if traveling. The app finds your location and automatically links to the gages nearest you.

Harris County Flood Warning System – Includes gages from Harris and surrounding counties, inundation mapping, customized alerts, historical flood levels, and more. Very powerful.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/13/2020 with photo by Julie Yandell of her Harvey evacuations

988 Days after Hurricane Harvey

Sadder Than Flooding: “I’m Sorry”

This is a rare, off-topic post. Flooding is one of the most heart-breaking things that families can experience. But this morning, I received two emails from my daughter-in-law, Dr. Aylin Ulku, that are even sadder. They describe health care delivery in the Four Corners area. The first email contained photos of doctors making rounds in a motel. The second was a link to a post by her colleagues called “I’m Sorry.” It describes the plight of a people and their caregivers in poetic terms. Make sure you read all the way to the end. Warning: Keep Kleenex handy.

Delivering Health Care in Motels from Sidewalk

Dr. Ulku is a professor of medicine at the University of California/San Francisco. She is currently helping to deliver COVID-care in Gallup, NM, as part of the University’s HEAL Initiative. If you’ve never been to Gallup, it borders the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni Nations.

She and her fellows currently work in four locations: Gallup; Fort Defiance, AZ; Chinle, AZ; and Shiprock, NM. In Gallup, which is the largest of those towns and on Interstate 40, she and her team are delivering heath care in motels.

She writes, “I attached a few photos of my colleague, Bassem (from UCSF) and Michelle (a Navajo nurse) as we make rounds on patients in the motels. We check in on their symptoms and about once a day transfer back to the ED (emergency department) as they get sicker. It’s amazing and complicated…an incredibly satisfying, but bizarre kind of community work.”

“This is the process in general: knock on door, find out how someone is doing, fill any meds needed and get them delivered, check oxygen, rarely examine fully with listening to lungs or examining wounds.”  

Bassem, one of Dr. Ulku’s fellows with Michelle, a Navajo nurse at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup
The initial greeting
Checking on patients from the doorway
Health care delivery from a backpack

Why the motels? It seems many unhoused, unsheltered folks have no other option. Many live in multi-generational homes and are afraid of exposing loved ones. Some are not sick enough to be in a hospital yet, but are still symptomatic. And some simply don’t have a way home.

“I’m Sorry”

Two of Dr. Ulku’s colleague’s wrote this incredibly powerful and moving story published in Medium. Samuel Percy, MD, is an anesthesiologist and Carlie Field, MD, is an obstetrician and gynecologist. They also currently work on Navajo Nation.

Written by HEAL Fellows Samuel Percy, MD and Carlie Field, MD

Dear beautiful girl,

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was the first face you saw when you were born. I’m sorry I was the one to welcome you into the world wearing a white space helmet with a motor whirring to keep any trace of you from touching me. I’m sorry you only felt the semblance of human embrace through the double-layered dullness of my sterile gloved hands. I’m sorry we took you away from your mother. I’m sorry your head first lay on the firm bed of an incubator rather than your mother’s warm chest.

I’m sorry you heard the harsh beeps of our machines instead of the delicate coo of your mother’s voice singing the lullabies she learned from her grandmother. I’m sorry you spent your first seconds, minutes and hours down the hall from her with strangers robed in disposable, blue, plastic gowns. I’m sorry we were the first to bathe you, scrubbing away any remaining signs of the woman who brought you into this world. I’m sorry they told us it was to keep you safe.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry there wasn’t running water in your house so your grandmother couldn’t wash her hands. I’m sorry your lights flickered off when food was more important than gas to power the generator. I’m sorry we were culturally blind to how deeply togetherness and family are woven into the bedrock of your community making physical distancing illogical.

I’m sorry your mother couldn’t tell you the stories she learned from your cheii. I’m sorry the hospital was two hours away. I’m sorry the rutted, dirt road washed out when it rained. I’m sorry your resilient grandmother had to know so much suffering. I’m sorry there weren’t enough jobs where you live. I’m sorry your uncle had to work in the city. I’m sorry he had a cough.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry Dr. Li Wenliang’s warnings were forcibly silenced. I’m sorry we knew this was coming and chose to do nothing. I’m sorry we didn’t act fast enough. I’m sorry we ignored the recommendations of public health experts. I’m sorry we didn’t take this seriously. I’m sorry we didn’t have enough tests.

I’m sorry the President of the United States called it fake news. I’m sorry spring break on the beach was more important. I’m sorry this wasn’t just like the flu. I’m sorry there weren’t enough masks. I’m sorry we couldn’t flatten the curve. I’m sorry we were too late. I’m sorry that 100,000 deaths was a job well done.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was the last one to talk to your grandmother. I’m sorry the virus was so infectious. I’m sorry she had a fever on the day you were born. I’m sorry she couldn’t catch her breath. I’m sorry there was no effective treatment. I’m sorry I was so scared, yet she was so brave. I’m sorry I had to place a breathing tube. I’m sorry I pushed her onto the waters of the Lethe, but couldn’t guide her to the other shore.

I’m sorry there weren’t enough nurses. I’m sorry that it was too hard to prone her. I’m sorry she was alone when she died. I’m sorry she stepped out of the world just days after you stepped into it. I’m sorry she was just one of 1,864 deaths that day. I’m sorry they called me a “hero.”

I hope. I hope you never let us forget. I hope the schools reopen and you learn what we couldn’t. I hope the cafeteria is bustling with the laughter of children at lunchtime. I hope you get a chance to play basketball. I hope fans crowd in and cheer loudly for your games. I hope they drill you a well for your home. I hope there are more jobs when you grow up and you don’t have to choose between food and electricity.

I hope you have children and grandchildren. I hope you sing them lullabies. I hope you tell them we tried. I hope you tell them we could have done better. I hope you know you were the light that kept us going. I hope people tell you about your grandmother. I hope you know she was proud of you. I hope they tell you she cried when she heard you were born. I hope you know she loved you.

In solidarity,

Your doctors

COVID In the Navajo Nation

Navajo Nation is the largest Native American reservation in the United States with approximately 170,000 Navajo people living within its borders. As of this writing, there are 1,675 cases of COVID-19 in Navajo Nation making it one of the hardest-hit areas in the United States per capita and the numbers continue to rise. Teams are working hard to control the virus, but because of poorly funded health systems, long-standing structural violence, and the high prevalence of comorbidities that increase susceptibility to COVID-19, the disease’s spread is unrelenting. Please consider making a donation to support Navajo and Hopi families during this challenging time at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/NHFC19Relief

Posted by Bob Rehak on 5/8/2020

983 Days since Hurricane Harvey