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January 3rd, 2021:

Weekend link dump for January 3

Welcome to 2021. It’s got to be better, right?

Here’s your Jon Swift Memorial Roundup for 2020.

“JPS Health Network is experiencing something of a quarantine baby boom, seeing as many as three times the number of babies born in a shift as are expected on an average day.”

“Common holiday cookie shapes, he’s found, don’t typically fit together very neatly. Bulbous Santas, candy canes, and gingerbread men tend to leave lots of dough scraps behind. In his quest for a festive yet efficient cookie cutter, he’s designed a shape that can punch out neat ranks of cookies with minimal leftover dough.”

“The big picture lesson from 2020 is that ensuring an accurate result isn’t enough. Elections also have to be able to prove to a skeptical public that the result really was accurate.”

“Operation Warp Speed is set to miss the first distribution goal it laid out, Trump administration officials said last week”.

“Almost everyone agrees that the ATF is in trouble. But this obscure federal agency may be President-elect Joe Biden’s best chance at having a real impact on gun policy—if he takes the opportunity to restore the beleaguered agency’s reputation and revive its mission.”

“The end of the year is usually a good time for retrospection and one of our favorite traditions: digging into the archives and recognizing the best cybersecurity stories of the year. Stories so good, we wish we had written them ourselves.”

Reality TV Couple Check In: Who’s Still Together and Who Split in 2020″.

“Amongst other things that we are worried about — the big things, the things that actually matter — when I think what we do for a living going forward, I start worry about just the future of entertainment because I don’t know what it looks like. It’s hard to imagine being in a writers room, it’s hard to imagine being on a set, how do you shoot a scene with 200 extras ever, how do you go on location in someone’s house, who in their right mind will let us into their house to shoot a scene. It seems so crazy to imagine going back to the old ways that we did this. We will figure something out because we always do. Hollywood has a knack for ingenuity, and there is a long way to go with the other, more important issues before we get to that point but I’m very nervous to figure out how this works after this is all over.”

Apparently, there was a bucatini shortage this year. I should pay closer attention to these things.

Predicting the future is hard.

“Kelly Loeffler’s Conflict of Interest Is Even Worse Than Reported”.

RIP, Pierre Cardin, fashion designer and entrepreneur.

RIP, Luke Letlow, incoming freshman Congressman from Louisiana, from complications related to COVID-19.

Beam me up, Scotty.

“There is a likely future in which America’s immune system learns lessons from COVID-19 but its collective consciousness does not.”

RIP, Dawn Wells, actor best known as Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island, of causes related to COVID-19.

RIP, Joe Clark, high school principal on whom the movie Lean on Me was based.

“As Statues Of America’s Racist Past Were Removed This Year, So Were Tattoos“.

Apparently, the guy who invented the CueCat is now one of Rudy Giuliani’s “election experts”, now making crazy claims about the Georgia Senate runoffs.

RIP, Paul Westphal, Hall of Fame player and coach mostly with the Phoenix Suns.

Ted Cruz says “Look at me! Look at meeeeeeeeeeeee!”

Also, “Look at me!”

Not Ted Cruz

Continuing to pursue unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and some of his fellow GOP senators announced they would vote to reject the certification of Electoral College votes for the presidential election unless an emergency audit is conducted.

In a joint statement released Saturday, Cruz and the other senators cited “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law” to back their vow to object to the certification vote set for Wednesday. Republican claims of election fraud in swing states have been discredited with election officials and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr saying there was no evidence of widespread fraud that could have swayed the results of the presidential election.

The senators, led by Cruz, called on the appointment of an Electoral Commission to conduct a 10-day audit of the election results in “disputed states.” The statement does not list which states should be included, nor does it mention any specific cases of fraud.

“We are not naïve. We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise,” the statement reads. “But support of election integrity should not be a partisan issue.”

Sure, Ted. Let’s be clear, even if there were merit to giving in to this ridiculous demand, does anyone believe there is any outcome other than completely throwing out all the election results that Ted Cruz doesn’t like that would be acceptable to Ted Cruz? It’s not like there haven’t already been dozens and dozens of opportunities for all of these feverish allegations to be reviewed – as Ted Cruz’s Senate colleague Ben Sasse notes, the Trump administration and its toadies have had numerous chances in court to provide evidence of fraud, and they just simply haven’t done it, because they just simply don’t have any such evidence. If you want a more technical takedown of this, Derek Muller has the analysis you’re seeking. And lastly, as Kevin Drum notes, Cruz is not a moron. He knows all this. And yet, he explicitly cites the incredibly racist Hayes/Tilden “compromise” of 1877 as his guiding example. What more do you need to know?

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story about this.

So is anyone going to try to collect Dan Patrick’s reward money?

Here’s a nice little research paper for you:

On November 10, 2020, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick put out a press release stating, in relevant part, “[S]tarting today [I] will pay up to $1 million to incentivize, encourage and reward people to come forward and report voter fraud. . . . Anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest and final conviction of voter fraud will be paid a minimum of $25,000.” This concise Article analyzes whether Patrick’s statement constitutes an offer that contractually obligates him to pay in the event someone accepts by completing the requested action. Additionally, the potential existence of a campaign finance violation is considered.

[…]

Conclusion

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s press release likely constitutes an offer that would contractually obligate him to pay if someone accepts by completing the requested action. While a short tweet alone is likely not enough to constitute a contractual offer for a $25,000 reward, 28 Patrick’s press release probably is. Given the details provided, Patrick’s position as Lieutenant Governor, and the absence of any indication of it being a joke, a reasonable person would likely assume that completing the requested performance would entitle him to the stated payment.

Patrick should not only be concerned about a potential obligation to pay out the promised reward money but also the potentiality of a campaign finance violation. His press release announcing the award explicitly refers to supporting Trump in his efforts to identify voter fraud.29 And it is likely the case that Trump views such accusations of voter fraud favorably.30

You should download and read the whole thing, it’s short and sufficiently non-technical. My takeaway from this is that someone, perhaps on behalf of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, should pursue this in court. There’s some merit to the claim that Patrick’s ridiculous offer meets the definition of a contract, and if nothing else it will make him spend time and money defending himself while keeping his dumb business in the news. I can think of worse things to do in 2021. Thanks to commenter Wolfgang for unearthing this little gem.

Still waiting on that sewer consent decree

Should be ready soon, once the federal court signs off on it.

Help finally could be on the way in the form of an agreement between the city of Houston and the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at upgrading the city’s embattled sewer system.

The proposal would cost an estimated $2 billion over 15 years and could increase water rates as soon as next spring.

Houston’s hundreds of sewage overflows each year, often caused by broken or clogged pipes, contaminate streams in violation of the Clean Water Act, and drew the EPA’s attention a decade ago.

Rather than fight the violations in court, the city and EPA negotiated a “consent decree” mandating actions Houston must take to reduce spills across its more than 6,200 miles of sewers, 384 lift stations and 39 treatment plants.

City Council approved the agreement last year. Federal officials spent months responding to comments on the proposal, and then, in August, asked a federal judge to approve the document and put it into effect. No ruling has been issued.

“After its review of the motion to enter, we expect that the court will approve entry of the consent decree,” said Houston Public Works spokeswoman Erin Jones.

The nonprofit Bayou City Waterkeeper has asked the court to withhold its approval until the agreement is improved, arguing that, among other deficiencies, it does not sufficiently address historical inequities.

A Houston Chronicle analysis four years ago found that a disproportionate share of the city’s sewer spills occur in low-income communities of color. And an analysis of Houston 311 service requests from the last two years shows historically Black southside neighborhoods such as South Park, South Acres and Sunnyside are among the most likely to report sewer problems even though high-income neighborhoods, in general, are more likely to call 311.

Kristen Schlemmer, Waterkeeper’s legal director, said her group feels the decree is needed but that it must deliberately prioritize repairs in historically neglected communities and require more transparency about the spills that occur there.

“What we would have liked to see the city do is to start with the impact on low-income communities and communities of color and craft its consent decree around that,” she said. “Instead they came up with their whole plan and when we raised the issue of environmental injustices, they’re like, ‘Well, completely incidentally, we’re addressing some of those issues.’”

EPA officials declined comment, citing the pending court action. In court filings, attorneys for Houston and state and federal regulators have said the decree is citywide and will not overlook any area. They also have noted that it requires the city to publish annual reports on the decree’s implementation and monthly reports tallying the location of each spill.

“Low-income communities are not being neglected,” one August filing stated. “Rather, low-income communities, especially those communities with higher numbers of (spills) and aging infrastructure, are being addressed with the ‘worst first’ prioritization.”

The decree would force Houston to clean its 5,500 miles of gravity-driven sewer pipes every decade, to carry out more preventative cleanings in problem areas, and to emphasize its program to educate residents not to invite blockages by pouring grease, oil and other fats down the drain.

The agreement would mandate a more aggressive schedule for assessing, cleaning and repairing the city’s sewer system, and prioritizes fixes in nine areas that experience voluminous spills during rainstorms, including the area around Mama Seafood.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. This will likely cause your water bill to go up, though we don’t know yet by how much. That wouldn’t be necessary now if we had been doing this all along, but here we are. If you don’t like it, go build yourself a time machine and travel back to, I don’t know, 1985 or so and yell at Kathy Whitmire about it. Otherwise, just know that there will be fewer sewer overflows in the future. That’s worth a few extra bucks a month on your water bill.

Fifth Circuit bats aside Gohmert appeal

In case you were wondering…

See here for the background. That’s two Reagan appointees and one Trump appointee, by the way. I suppose they could try their luck with SCOTUS, but you’d have to be Gohmert-level stupid to think they’d have a chance.

I saw this while scrolling Twitter and watching the Orange Bowl. There may be a news story out there, but it’s Saturday night and I’m not looking for it. Really, this is all there is to know.