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January 5th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for January 5

Welcome to the third decade of the 21st century…

Do better, Chuck Todd. And if you don’t know how, get out of the way and let someone else do it.

“Americans may feel as though Christmas lasts forever, but at worst the holiday spreads out over two months, from Halloween until January 2. We do, however, have one truly endless season: campaign season. According to CNN, the 2016 presidential campaign took 597 days, which seems accurate if you believe the campaign ended on Election Day 2016, which everyone knows it did not. It’s still going strong and will continue going strong until at least Election Day 2020. In Japan campaigns last 12 days, in Australia they last 33 to 68 days, and in America they last forever.”

“But if you think of the GOP as being organized around identity groups, these policies hang together quite well. The clear beneficiaries of the Trump administration’s actions have been businesses and corporations whose leaders back the president (such as those in the coal industry), conservative Christians, farmers, gun rights enthusiasts, people wary of increases in the number of foreign-born Americans and Islam, people wary of movements like Black Lives Matter and MeToo, pro-Israel activists and residents of rural areas.”

The histories hidden in the periodic table.

Seriously, just fire Bret Stephens already. Among many other things, he sucks at his job.

Fervently wishing Rep. John Lewis all the very best.

“Despite this turbulence, 2019 was the year that UFOs managed to propel themselves into an uneasy political legitimacy”.

Donkeys love violin music, thus proving there are some worthwhile things left in this world.

“As a result [of the Trump tariffs], US manufacturing has seen job losses and higher prices for consumers.”

“In honor of the end of this year, I wanted to give a thread summary of the state of Devin Nunes’ lawsuits, both for those who don’t know exactly what’s going on and those who could use a refresher.”

Here are your 2019 Golden Duke Award wnners.

And here are your 2019 Worthy Award nominees.

Have you been drawn into a debate about whether or not we actually are in a new decade? Well, this will settle that argument.

RIP, David Stern, former NBA Commissioner.

RIP, Don Larsen, former Yankees pitcher who threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

News flash: We are old. So very, very old.

“The conventional wisdom is that the Republicans in the Senate will rush to acquit Trump. I outline here why I think that overstates the case, and that the process has any number of variables in which things may change.”

Texas is on track to pick up three more Congressional districts

Put an asterisk next to this, as the actual Census will need to bear that out.

The U.S. population continues to shift south and west, according to new Census Bureau data that offers the clearest picture yet of how the 435 congressional seats will be distributed among the 50 states.

The latest numbers, released Monday, represent the final estimates from the government before next year’s decennial Census, which will determine how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state will have for the next decade. That reapportionment, expected in December 2020, will kick off the year-and-a-half-long process of redrawing congressional-district maps — still in many states a brazen partisan battle that makes strange bedfellows, unplanned retirements and intense member-versus-member races, especially in states poised to lose seats.

“The first two years of any decade when districts are drawn produce the whitest knuckles in Congress,” said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who led House Democrats’ campaign arm in the 2012 cycle. “People are trying to hold onto their seats at all costs.”

According to projections from Election Data Services, a political consulting firm that specializes in redistricting, 17 states are slated to see changes to the sizes of their delegations, including 10 that are forecast to lose a seat beginning in 2022.

The biggest winners appear to be Texas and Florida, which are on track to gain three seats and two seats, respectively, according to the projections. Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and North Carolina are estimated to add one seat, as is Montana, which currently has just one at-large seat.

Meanwhile, 10 states are on track to lose one seat: Rhode Island, West Virginia, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Alabama, Illinois and California, which would drop a House seat for the first time in its 169-year history.

[…]

The looming reapportionment brings into sharper focus the high stakes surrounding the partisan battle for control of state legislatures and the fight to ensure an accurate Census count.

Some states, such as Rhode Island and California, are actively working to avoid an undercount. Other state governments, such as Texas, have not made similar investments.

In his projections, Brace is using the estimates released Monday by the Census Bureau to predict what the states’ populations will be next year, when the Census is taken. Other estimates, which simply apportion House seats according to the 2019 estimates, show smaller gains for Texas and Florida, where the population has been booming year-over-year this decade.

Brace also noted he’s unable to take into account the accuracy of the Census, which will be a major factor in determining the final reapportionment. “We’ve seen it over the decades: Less and less people are likely to participate in the Census,” he said. “That participation rate has gone down each 10 years.”

Moreover, unsuccessful attempts by President Donald Trump and his administration to include a citizenship question on next year’s Census have advocates worried that millions of residents, especially nonwhites, won’t fill out the Census. That could negatively impact the count in heavily Latino states like Texas, where Democrats are plotting a political comeback — if they can get a seat at the table in redistricting.

How we are handling the Census has always seemed like a key aspect of this, but I admit I may be overestimating its impact. The rubber will be meeting the road soon enough, and we’ll have the official verdict in a year’s time. Brace yourselves, it’s going to be tumultuous no matter what happens. Daily Kos has more.

A view of Texas and polling

The premise of this is sound, but don’t read too much into it.

In Texas, the nation’s biggest, most important red state, Trump’s disapproval rating has consistently lagged behind many of the 30 states he carried in 2016. This potentially puts the state — a must-win for the president if there ever was one — in play for 2020.

To think Trump’s unpopularity in Texas is because of Twitter, or Ukraine, or the media, or a smear job by the left is to underestimate the problem. The reality is that Trump’s signature policies are out of step with what most Texans want.

Take Trump’s threat of tariffs against Mexico as punishment for the flow of unauthorized immigrants across the border. While railing against Mexico might work at a campaign rally in the Midwest, Texans perceive it as a direct threat to their bottom lines. Mexico is Texas’s biggest trading partner, accounting for nearly 35 percent of state exports in 2018. In comparison, Mexico accounts for only 5.8 percent of exports for Ohio.

Polling from the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found that roughly half of voters believe that tariffs against Mexico would hurt the Texas economy. Only 16 percent of suburban voters and 18 percent of women — coveted 2020 voting blocs — think tariffs on Mexico would benefit Texas.

[…]

Trump’s immigration policy is also unpopular. While one might assume that the state with the longest southern border, the largest share of Mexican Americans, and one of the highest rates of illegal immigration would appreciate Trump’s hard-line immigration approach, the opposite is true.

Texas has maintained one of the nation’s most moderate stances on immigration. It is one of only seven states — and the only red state — to provide in-state tuition rates and state financial aid to undocumented immigrants. Those provisions were signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry and a Republican-controlled legislature. More recently, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called the Trump administration’s separation of migrant families at the border “disgraceful.

While the United States struggles to adjust to a changing demographic makeup, Texas has been “majority minority” for more than a decade, with Hispanics expected to outnumber non-Hispanic whites in the next few years. Hispanics and non-Hispanics live by, work with, are friends with and go to school with each other, and this familiarity increases fondness. Which is why Trump’s fear and disparagement of immigrants — and Mexicans, in particular — falls flat here.

According to a Texas Politics Project poll, more Texans strongly disapprove of Trump’s immigration approach than strongly approve. Only 39 percent of Texans support additional federal spending on border barriers along the Mexican border, according to a November 2019 report by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center.

In the same poll, the majority of Texans — 60 percent — agreed that “We should find alternatives to immigration detention for families fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in the U.S.” And a majority, 65 percent, agreed that “unaccompanied children caught attempting to cross the border illegally should be placed into the care of child-welfare specialists, not border or immigration enforcement officials.” Turns out the cowboys are a bunch of bleeding hearts.

This article is in the Washington Post, and as you know I’m always interested in outside views of our state, partly to see how the perspective differs and partly to see what kind of dumb mistakes they make. In this case, the author is a Texan, an economist and pundit named Abby McCloskey who also writes for the Dallas Morning News. I’d not read anything by her before, and checking Facebook and Twitter I found almost no overlap between the political types I know and her. Doesn’t really matter, it was just curious to me.

Anyway. As I said up front, the basic premise is sound. Polling of Trump in Texas has been weak, in terms of approval, favorable/unfavorable, and re-elect numbers; as I’ve noted before, there’s some correlation between those things, though it’s not particularly strong. One way I look at this is that in the 2012 cycle, Mitt Romney was always above 50% in Texas, usually around 55%, while President Obama hovered around 40%. Trump is usually in the low-to-mid 40’s, occasionally nearing 50 but almost always below it. That’s just not great for him, and as we saw in 2018 if Republicans overall aren’t performing in the 55%-plus range, they have a hard time winning districts and counties they’ve been used to winning.

The rest doesn’t impress me much. There may be some Chamber of Commerce types who voted for Trump in 2016, mostly out of loathing for Hillary Clinton and a longtime affinity for Republican politics, who won’t vote for him in 2020 because of trade policy, but I suspect you could count them all individually if you put some effort into it. Immigration policy is a multi-layered subject in Texas, but the Republicans who voted for that 2001 bill to grant undocumented immigrants in-state tuition aren’t the Republicans that are in charge of the state now. The Texas GOP is far, far to the right of that cohort – the modern Texas GOP officially opposes that 2001 law (see item 134 from the 2016 platform and item 129 from the 2018 platform). Citing that 2001 law as evidence of “nuance” is to me ignorant in the way that people who still say that “the Texas Governor is only the fourth or fifth most powerful official in the state” is ignorant. Keep up with current events, please.

How Nuro is mapping Houston

Really interesting story.

On the muggy streets of suburban Houston, amid McMansions, bright green lawns and stately oak trees, a futuristic race is quietly afoot.

The contestants are not people but late-model Toyota Priuses outfitted with an array of sophisticated sensors. Despite fierce competition and unending pressure to perform, the nearly silent electric vehicles do not speed. They move cautiously, rigorously following traffic laws and never topping 25 mph.

Their goal is not an easily discerned finish line but to map large swaths of the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis, a sprawling patchwork of neighborhoods, mini-cities, strip malls, gridlocked superhighways and mazelike gated communities – an area so prodigious in size it easily could swallow Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island whole.

The vehicles are owned by Nuro, a Silicon Valley robotics company with an ambitious goal – to become the world’s preeminent autonomous delivery service, allowing millions of people to have groceries and other goods delivered by robots instead of making trips to the store, potentially reducing traffic and kicking off a new chapter in our relationship with machines. For months now, Nuro’s robotically piloted vehicles have been successfully, if quietly, delivering groceries to restaurants and homes around Houston, the vehicles’ sensors mapping the city as they go.

The faster Nuro’s vehicles map Houston’s notoriously chaotic roadways, the faster the company can refine its software and export its business model elsewhere. But time is in short supply.

Like Nuro, companies such as Amazon, Alphabet-owned Waymo, Robomart, General Motors’ Cruise division, Ford-affiliated Argo AI, Starship Technologies and many others are also rushing to deploy high-functioning autonomous vehicles for delivery and passenger transport, with some companies attracting major deals and billions in funding. Their goal is to earn public trust and offer real-life convenience, experts say, heightening their chances of securing a valuable foothold in a new era defined by autonomous transportation.

To get there, they will first have to run their autonomous vehicles, or AVs, through millions of miles of driving tests in cities such as Houston until they are glitch-free and unquestionably safe.

“The pressure is real,” said David Syverud, head of robot operations at Nuro. “And to be clear, it is a race in the AV space to deploy quickly and be the first to really get there.”

It goes from there, and it’s worth your time to read, even if it’s a few weeks old at this point. We’ve met Nuro before, and I see their cars around; I’ve seen a couple in and around my neighborhood. Like most stories written about Houston by people not in Texas, this one is both a window into how others view us, and how they can get confused about certain basic things we understand. Like, for example, how you have to distinguish between the city of Houston and the greater Houston area. This is what I mean:

Company officials say they were also drawn to Houston for the complexity of its metropolitan environment, a puzzle of independent communities, each with its own road conditions, zoning ordinances, parking rules and traffic laws. Some area neighborhoods offer wide lanes and little traffic, others are narrow and perpetually hectic – providing the company’s robotic software a massive variety of testing conditions.

As the country’s most ethnically diverse large city – and with a foreign-born population of 1.4 million – Houston also is a place where Nuro officials could probe fundamental questions about its business model.

“The big question for us is: Who is going to use this service, and how often will they do it?” said Sola Lawal, a Nuro product operations manager based in Houston who formerly worked for Uber. “Our robots don’t care who they’re delivering to, but we want to understand how different demographics interact with and feel about the robots. Houston allows for this broad swath of experience in one city.”

That’s all well and good, and it’s easy to see why Houston would be an attractive testing ground, but come on. The city of Houston has a population of about 2.3 million. I assure you, the population of the city of Houston is not three-fifths foreign-born. The greater Houston metropolitan area has a population of about seven million, and I daresay that’s what they meant when they dropped that statistic in the story. But please, let us be precise about these things.

Anyway, despite such glitches, the story is worth reading, so go check it out. We occasionally use grocery delivery, via Whole Foods and Amazon Prime. They leave the goods in a cooler we put out on the porch, and however successful this Nuro project is I don’t see that part of the task being robot-ified any time soon. There’s a lot of money being bet on this business expanding rapidly. I’m usually skeptical about this sort of thing, but what do I know?