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March 8th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for March 8

“Did Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight Lower 2016’s Voter Turnout? A New Paper Says Yes.”

“Now, as fears about the coronavirus spread, at least one historian is worried the Trump administration is failing to heed the lesson of one of the world’s worst pandemics: Don’t hide the truth.”

“I will repeat this, but really important: cases coming out of the US WILL EXPLODE in the coming days. This is NOT a cause for panic. These EXISTING cases are finally being diagnosed, since testing is now more broadly available.”

“No, You Do Not Need Face Masks To Prevent Coronavirus—They Might Increase Your Infection Risk”.

“Pornographic content accounts for 96% of deepfake content online, according to a report by the company Deeptrace, which is developing tools to unmask fake content.”

Wash Ur Hands.

Helping older folks spot fake news. Now if we could just get them to turn off Fox, we’d really have something.

The Case For Limiting Your Browser Extensions. I limit mine to “none”, tbh.

“Anti-Vaxxers Are Terrified the Government Will ‘Enforce’ a Vaccine for Coronavirus”.

“Trump Officials Scared to Anger Trump If They Tell the Truth About the Coronavirus”.

RIP, Jack Welch, former CEO of GE.

RIP, Kelly Rodman, one of three female MLB scouts.

How Bad Do You Have To Be To Lose An Abortion Restriction Case With This Supreme Court?”

One Seattle school district is closing for two weeks due to coronavirus.

“Now that Biden might be the nominee, Trump is already casting him as mentally unfit for the presidency. But Trump might not perceive the space to get away with this if the press corps had not thus far failed, in some very fundamental sense, to reckon with just how mentally unfit for the job Trump is himself.”

RIP, Charles Berry, NASA flight surgeon who helped select the country’s first astronauts and devised tests to see if they could survive the demands of space.

What if they held the Olympics and nobody attended the Games?

“Correctional Facilities Are the Perfect Incubators for the Coronavirus”.

DNC to target Texas

Game on.

The Democratic National Committee [added] Texas to its list of 2020 targets just days before Super Tuesday, vowing to invest heavily in the state to help Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in the latest sign that the national party is taking Texas more seriously than it has in years.

That investment includes getting more organizers on the ground as the party also seeks to take control of the Texas House from Republicans who have held it for a generation. While the DNC is focused on helping the Democratic presidential nominee beat President Donald Trump, the party also says it will help with the race against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, as well as efforts to win the nine seats needed to flip the state House.

[…]

“You’ve got a whole new era of Democratic politics in Texas, and you have a national party making a commitment to lift Texas up,” said Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “This is a significant investment from the DNC to make sure we lay the groundwork necessary for a competitive and strong battleground presidential race.”

The party would not disclose how much the national arm plans to pour into Texas and said it will roll out more detailed plans for the funding in the coming weeks. But the investment will include additional staff and organizers.

The DCCC is already here in multiple races, and the DSCC is backing MJ Hegar, though what that might mean for November is unclear at this time. There’s enough polling to suggest that Texas can be competitive in November in the Presidential race, but the downballot rewards are great as well, including and especially at the legislative level where flipping the House would give Dems leverage for Congressional redistricting. The surprise here would have been if the DNC had decided to stay out of state for November.

Lawsuit filed over straight ticket voting ban

Lots of litigation lately.

In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday in Laredo, the Texas Democratic Party — joined by the chair of the Webb County Democratic Party and the Democratic campaign arms of the U.S. Senate and House — claims the elimination of straight-ticket voting is unconstitutional and intentionally discriminatory because the longer lines and waiting times it is expected to cause would be disproportionately felt at polling places that serve Hispanic and black voters.

“In ending a century-old voting practice that Texans have relied on to exercise their most fundamental and sacred rights — the rights to political participation and association — Texas has recklessly created a recipe for disaster at the polls in 2020,” the Democrats wrote in their lawsuit.

The popular practice allowed general-election voters to vote for all of the candidates of either party in an election by simply picking a straight-ticket option at the top of the ballot. But Texas Republican lawmakers championed a change to the law during the 2017 legislative session, arguing it would compel voters to make more-informed decisions because they would have to make a decision on every race on a ballot.

Most states don’t allow for one-punch voting, but its elimination in Texas met intense opposition from Democrats who fear the change will be most felt among voters of color and lead to voter dropoff, particularly in blue urban counties that have the longest ballots in the state.

[…]

Citing violations of the First and 14th Amendments and the federal Voting Rights Act, Democrats are asking a federal judge to block the state from eliminating straight-ticket voting ahead of the general election.

“The end of straight-ticket voting was yet another Republican attempt to suppress the vote, alter the electorate, and take away power from the rising Texas majority,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “In minority-majority districts, lines to vote have already proven to be hours long.”

Courthouse News has the details of the lawsuit.

The Democrats say in the lawsuit that Texas’ longest polling-place lines are in its most populous counties, which have large concentrations of Democratic-leaning black and Latino voters.

The biggest counties also have the longest ballots, with voters wading through dozens of candidates, exacerbated by the fact Texas is one of a handful of states that selects judges in partisan elections.

For years, Texans could complete their civic duty in minutes by stepping into the voting booth and clicking one box to vote for all the Democratic or Republican candidates on the ticket — and millions of Texans chose that option.

“During Texas’s 2018 general election, approximately two-thirds of voters — more than 5.6 million Texans — cast their votes using STV [straight-ticket voting],” the lawsuit states. (Emphasis in original.)

But in 2017 the Republican-led Legislature passed House Bill 25 along party lines to end straight-ticket voting on Sept. 1, 2020 and Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed it into law.

Texas Democrats brought a federal complaint Thursday against Secretary of State Ruth Hughs in Laredo, seeking an injunction to stop House Bill 25 from going on the books.

The party says in the lawsuit that HB 25 is a “recipe for disaster,” especially after Super Tuesday saw voters waiting more than two hours in Houston and Dallas to get to voting booths.

Well, the tie-in to the Super Tuesday mess is clever and timely, though how legally relevant it may be remains to be seen. As both stories note, there’s been quite the fusillade of voting rights lawsuits lately, from Motor Voter 2.0 to electronic signatures for voter registration to mobile voting locations. Some have more merit than others, though I remain skeptical that the Fifth Circuit and SCOTUS would ever allow any of them to succeed. As has been the case before, I agree with the basic premise of this lawsuit – I remain a staunch defender of straight ticket voting, even as I doubt its loss will affect Dems more than it will affect Republicans – and I have no doubt that the 2017 bill was passed for the express purpose of making it harder on Democrats. I mean, no one in the GOP had any problems with straight ticket voting when it clearly benefited their side.

I also think the claim that eliminating it is weak, given that Texas was an anomaly by having straight ticket voting, and even if voluminous evidence exists to show that the bill outlawing it was racially motivated, such issues didn’t bother SCOTUS in the redistricting and voter ID litigation. I’m fine with this aggressive approach – it puts the Republicans on the defensive, there’s always the chance something juicy comes out during discovery, and who knows, one or more of these might actually win despite my skepticism. I’m just going to keep my expectations in check. The Chron has more.

It’s even harder to prosecute pot cases now

Such a shame.

What if lawmakers writing one of the most consequential laws to come out of last year’s legislative session, legalizing hemp in Texas, forgot to include a small, but crucial detail that could get your marijuana possession charges dropped?

That’s what happened last week, after a Brazos County court judge concluded the new law omitted a date typically included in state crime legislation. As a result, misdemeanor charges against a Texas A&M University student arrested on the day of his 2018 college graduation were summarily tossed.

The decision is the latest stumbling block that Texas’s nine-month-old hemp law has presented for police and prosecutors committed to pursuing low-level marijuana possession cases. Although the decision does not bind other judges, attorneys said the successful tactic had the potential to change the course of hundreds of pending cases across the state.

[…]

New state crime laws always include a clear dividing line, typically written as a date, said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for Texas District and County Attorneys Association. Before the date, the old law applies; after, the new law does.

Yet the hemp bill, which was passed through the Agriculture and Livestock Committee instead of the regular criminal justice panels, neglected to specify when the new pot definition started. A little-known provision of Texas law says that without clear transition instructions, if a new law lowers the penalty for a crime it can be applied retroactively.

The district and county attorneys association noted the missing language early on. “The law went into effect on June 10, 2019, but it is unclear whether it applies to previously-filed marijuana cases pending on that date,” it warned In a June letter to member prosecutors.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, did not return a call to his office seeking comment on the AWOL date.

Criminal defense attorneys noticed it, too, and began seeking cases to test if the new law could also be used to challenge older possession charges.

Long story short, they found a defendant in College Station who wanted to have his day in court, and their argument that the new law applied resulted in the dismissal of the case because the cops hadn’t tested the pot they said they found. Testing is another problem for prosecutors, and the DPS has said they don’t have enough money to handle the demand from the locals, leaving them in limbo. Which is fine by me. Let’s keep this natural experiment going and see for ourselves once and for all how little there is to fear from not being hardasses about weed.

Calendar reform

Well, this is an interesting idea.

Feb. 29ths, like the one tacked to the end of [last] month, exist because Earth’s orbit and human calendars are slightly out of sync. The planet completes its 584-million-mile loop around the sun in 365 days — plus 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. Leap days are designed to compensate for the excess time.

But, if two Johns Hopkins University professors had their way, this leap year would be the last of its kind.

They would replace the calendar with a new version. Theirs, the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, is 364 days long. It is consistent: The year always begins on a Monday. Your birthday always falls on the same day of the week.

“The calendar will be exactly the same, every year,” said Richard Conn Henry, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University and one of the calendar’s designers.

February would always have 30 days, as would January, April, May, July, August, October and November. The other four months would have 31 days. There would be no February leap days. Instead, “every five or six years,” Henry said, “we’ll have an extra week at the end when you can party.”

[…]

“The Gregorian calendar was set up by astronomers, people who knew what they were doing, and it is very accurate,” Henry said. “That’s the problem. We don’t need a terribly accurate calendar. What we need is a calendar that is suitable for human beings to order their lives by.”

Henry enlisted his colleague at Johns Hopkins, economist Steve H. Hanke, to help. “Dick brought this up and basically gave me an assignment: ‘Hanke, find out the economic implications of this thing,’ ” Hanke said.

Hanke estimates the upfront costs would be less than the Year 2000 adjustment, which, in the United States, was about $100 billion.

“The benefits, from just not having to reproduce calendars every year, physical calendars, would pay for the thing right away,” he said.

Having the date fall on the same day of the week every year eliminates inefficiencies with planning and scheduling that the “herky-jerky” Gregorian calendar has, Henry said.

Every so often, in the Gregorian calendar, companies add a week to their fiscal quarters. Apple did so in the first quarter of 2012, and reported “very good, strong earnings,” Hanke said. “Of course, they had an extra week of revenues coming in.”

A year later, Apple’s first quarter of 2013 appeared comparatively weak — because it lacked the benefit of an extra week, Hanke said — and the company’s stock dropped.

“Our calendar fixes that problem,” Hanke said, because business would consistently operate on 91-day quarters.

Holidays and your birthday would fall on the same day of the week every year, which if nothing else simplifies things. The story doesn’t delve into the mechanics of that “bonus week”, which would seemingly be every six years. Would it actually be a national week off, or just another work week? What would we call it? And if you think being a Leap Day baby is weird, imagine being a kid born during Bonus Week.

Hanke and Henry think their calendar could be implemented via presidential executive order. I have a hard time imagining that would actually happen. The rest of the world would adjust if the US did something as eccentric as this – they would have to, in the same way everyone adjusts to Daylight Savings Time, which occurs at different times around the globe – but I doubt they would follow suit, and having to deal with two different business calendars might just eat into the cost savings these guys envision. It’s an interesting idea, and if we were designing a new global system from scratch I’d like it, but as things stand I’m fine with the status quo.