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January 10th, 2021:

Weekend link dump for January 10

“Which Side Are You On?”

“Train your children to think of mass-death as good and thrilling and they’ll grow up to be the kind of people who simultaneously deny and celebrate a global pandemic.”

“There is no reason, frankly, for any of the PAYGO rules to still exist.”

“We resolve to double down on measures to protect ourselves, our families, and our community so we may endure the current surge of COVID-19 cases. We all can do our part by covering our faces anytime we are with anyone outside our immediate household, by maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance, following hand hygiene and environmental control measures, and by not going to work or school when feeling unwell. Masking, including while indoors, is safe and more effective in preventing COVID-19 — including the coronavirus mutation first seen in England — than any other tool we have available today and clearly works to prevent transmission of the virus.”

“The price we paid for Rutherford B. Hayes was too damn high.”

RIP, Tanya Roberts, actor best known for Charlie’s Angels and That 70’s Show. It was then reported that she was still alive, and then reported later than she had in fact passed away.

Solicitation to commit election fraud is a felony under both federal and Georgia law. Donald Trump and everyone else in the room with him should be prosecuted for it. And given how many times he tried to call Brad Raffensperger, there are surely more such calls out there that we don’t yet know about.

And no, recording the call was not in any way wrong or criminal.

“Ordinary people worn out by the dramas and lies of the past four years have a right to refuse to take Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters seriously. To reject further debate with people whose views are completely incoherent is not only understandable, but sensible.”

How to save the Postal Service, and let it thrive.

My kids never knew about the PBS Kids show Caillou, and it seems that makes me lucky.

If you’ve been saying to yourself “What I need in my life right now is a life-like replica of David Hasselhoff that is fourteen feet tall“, boy is today a good day for you.

“WTF Is Going On In The Georgia US Attorney’s Office? And how can Donald Trump make it worse?”

“In October 2020, KrebsOnSecurity looked at how a web of sites connected to conspiracy theory movements QAnon and 8chan were being kept online by DDoS-Guard, a dodgy Russian firm that also hosts the official site for the terrorist group Hamas. New research shows DDoS-Guard relies on data centers provided by a U.S.-based publicly traded company, which experts say could be exposed to civil and criminal liabilities as a result of DDoS-Guard’s business with Hamas.”

The mot pirated TV program of 2020 is The Mandalorian.

“Certainly a basic problem here is that Capitol Police, under the jurisdiction of Congress, were not prepared for yesterday’s attack. But when we ask what happened yesterday, a significant part of the equation is that the various agencies charged with handling such situations – federal marshals, DHS, FBI, DOJ, National Guard, et al – were under the control of the person who was trying to whip the crowd against Congress.”

Go look up the word “superfetation”, then come back and read this story. Pretty damn amazing.

Help the FBI identify and find the insurrectionists. Some of them are already facing consequences, but so much more is needed.

RIP, Tommy Lasorda, Hall of Fame manager for the LA Dodgers.

“They bankrolled Donald Trump. They applauded his tax cuts. They cheered as the stock market soared. Now, the sound coming from some of the president’s wealthiest donors is this: silence.”

“A voting machine company sued former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell on Friday, accusing her of spreading false conspiracy theories about November’s election that Republican President Donald Trump lost to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.” They’re seeking $1.3 billion in damages.

One last goodbye to Alex Trebek.

It’s taken them way too long, but finally the far right insurrectionists are getting deplatformed.

“If you are a rank-and-file Republican, the kind of person who listens to your party’s elected officials and friendly media outlets, you have been marinating in anti-democratic beliefs for years: that Democrats are fundamentally hostile to the American way of life, that people telling you otherwise cannot be trusted, that you have an obligation to fight against tyranny on your own.”

RIP, Theodore Lumpkin, Jr, Tuskegee Airman.

All right, fine Sean Hannity did not have his Lifetime Pasta Pass revoked.

“Career officials at the State Department filed a second unprecedented dissent cable condemning President Donald Trump for inciting the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and urging top administration officials to consider invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. The dissent cable is the second such cable sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week, reflecting widespread shock and anger in the diplomatic corps at Trump’s actions and Pompeo’s own response to the political crisis. The protest against the sitting U.S. president by American diplomats is largely unparalleled in the department’s nearly 232-year-long history.”

“One thought I keep returning to: if there were a functioning federal government we’d be seeing regular press conferences updating the public on on-going arrests, health status of the injured, progress of the investigation. As far as I can tell there hasn’t been a single one. Nothing from DOJ, FBI, Capitol Police, the Pentagon. Normally you might expect such information to be channeled through press conferences at the White House. But, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s not clear or perhaps too clear which side the White House is on.”

You can’t escape your culpability, Ted

The stench will be on you forever, Ted.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has sharpened his criticism of President Donald Trump, saying the president’s rhetoric “certainly contributed to the violence that occurred” as Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol on Wednesday.

But the Texas Republican — who led an effort in the Senate to delay certifying Trump’s loss — is showing no signs of contrition amid growing calls for his resignation as many blame him for stoking the post-election strife that culminated with the attack on the Capitol.

Cruz objected to Arizona’s electoral votes less than an hour before demonstrators breached the building, pointing to “unprecedented” — and unproven — allegations of voter fraud. Even some of Cruz’s Republican colleagues said he should have been working to dispel those allegations, rather than airing them in Congress.

Asked in an interview with Hearst Newspapers on Friday whether he believes there was widespread fraud in the election, Cruz responded: “I don’t know if there was sufficient fraud to alter the outcome, I have never said that there was. What I said was there were serious allegations of fraud, and those allegations need to be examined carefully.”

In objecting to Arizona’s results, Cruz was pushing for an “emergency audit,” which he argues could have provided the final say Trump supporters needed. His objection was initially supported by 10 other senators, though two changed their minds after the riot.

“It would have been a much better solution, it would have helped bring this country together, it would have helped heal the divisions we have in this country and help reestablish trust in our democratic system,” Cruz said. “What I was working to do is find a way to reestablish widespread trust in the system.”

Critics accuse Cruz of doing the opposite by ignoring the fact that Trump’s claims had been thrown out of dozens of courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. They call his objection a craven attempt to appeal to Trump supporters and raise money for his own presidential bid.

[…]

Texas political experts and operatives say the blowback Cruz is facing now is unlikely to last as long as some expect.

“I’m not sure the criticism of some of his fellow Republicans, elites, or certainly Democrats, really make that much difference in the medium and long term,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “The only thing that’s ever really diluted the support of Republican voters in Texas for Cruz was when he was crosswise with Trump, and he knows that — and we’re seeing evidence he knows that.”

Cruz’s approval rating among Republicans in Texas hit its lowest point — 55 percent — in June 2016, at the height of his primary battle with Trump, Henson said. By October 2018 it had risen back to 86 percent and Henson said it hasn’t wavered much since.

“I think that as far as the voters go, the people who decide primary elections in Texas and elect Republicans in Texas … many of them are sticking with President Trump still and sticking with Ted Cruz still,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a GOP strategist in Texas.

Steinhauser, who is an outspoken critic of Trump but a supporter of Cruz, said in his conversations with family, friends and other Republicans in Texas over the last 48 hours, “there are still just a huge number of people who are just backing up Donald Trump’s line on this.”

Still, Steinhauser said, it’s significant that criticism of Trump is growing among Republicans, including Cruz.

“Everybody in Texas, whether it’s going to get my car fixed today, they’re talking about it. Going to get a drink with a friend last night, they’re talking about it,” Steinhauser said. “It’s not arguing about the ExIm Bank. Real people in Houston, Texas, are talking about this today.

“He probably does feel like he needs to explain himself.”

I think the thing about Cruz, and the reason why he is so widely despised, is that for as smart as he supposedly is, he treats everyone else like we’re stupid. It’s not just that he lies, it’s that he clearly doesn’t think anyone can see through his transparent bullshit. Maybe his approval rating among Republicans hasn’t moved much from the 86% he had in October of 2018, but that was right before he came very close to losing. That doesn’t seem like a solid place to be, if you ask me.

In the meantime, we know he’s not going to resign or be expelled, but we can enjoy the clamor for those things to happen.

Well, someone needs to make a motion for that to happen, I assume, so…

There’s not one but two Chron editorials calling on Cruz to resign – the second one also calls out Ken Paxton and the sixteen Texas members of Congress who supported the challenge to the electoral votes. Neither that nor the expulsion are going to happen, of course, but we can dream for a minute. And we can work like hell to make this happen, too.

“I think they should be just flat beaten the next time they run,” Biden said, when asked if Cruz and another Republican senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri, ought to step down. “I think the American public has a real good clear look at who they are. They’re part of the big lie, the big lie.”

From your lips to God’s ears, Mr. President. Please note the best thing you can do to help is have a great term and clean up the ginormous mess that Trump left behind, with Ted Cruz’s help. The better off we all are in four years’ time, the better the odds that Ted Cruz will become a private citizen again.

Assistance for renters coming

Good, but of course much more is needed.

Houston officials expect to get up to $70 million in federal stimulus funds to help renters in the city make their monthly payments and use toward other housing expenses.

The $900 billion federal stimulus package Congress approved late last year did not include more assistance for cities and states, but it did allot $25 billion in emergency relief for renters. Those funds will pass through states and local governments that represent more than 200,000 residents.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday he expects Houston’s share of those funds will arrive soon. Bill Kelly, the city’s director of intergovernmental relations, said he estimates the city will get an allocation of $65 million to $70 million. The money will go through the Treasury Department, and the law calls for making the payments within 30 days of its passage, which would be Jan. 26.

“My personal goal is to make sure we have this thing done by February 1,” Kelly said of developing the city’s program.

[…]

To be eligible under the law, households must be renters and have at least one individual that qualifies for unemployment or has experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19; demonstrate a risk of homelessness or housing instability; and have a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income. For a family of four in Houston, that would be $63,050.

The law prioritizes applicants who have been unemployed for 90 days and households below 50 percent of the median income, around $39,000 in Houston for a family of four. The city could adopt additional requirements and priorities.

The city previously used about $30 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act funds to direct toward renters. It also used roughly $20 million for direct assistance, in which recipients can use the money as they see fit. BakerRipley, a community nonprofit, administered those funds.

The first round of $15 million was distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, but the city pivoted in the second round to distribute the money based on need.

I’m sure this will help a lot of people, and I’m sure the city will do everything it can to get the program up and running quickly. More is obviously needed, but I expect another, bigger relief package coming as soon as possible after January 20, so at least part of the problem should addressed. But look at all the qualifiers in the two paragraphs above, and ask yourself how many people might not know they’re eligible, or might not know how to apply for the funds, or who just need them faster than that to avoid eviction or other hardship. In normal times, it makes sense to make sure all the funds are used super-efficiently, and not wastefully. The cost of making it harder and take longer to get the funds is worth the tradeoff. We’re as far from normal times as we can get. Maybe we just need to make it easier to get as much money as is needed into the hands of everyone who might need it, and not worry too much if some of it goes to the “wrong” people. There’s got to be a better way to alleviate suffering in crisis times.

Taking the STAAR online

If we’re going to have the thing, then this makes sense.

Texas education officials want all public school students to take state-required standardized tests digitally by 2022, an effort that could cost school districts millions more collectively each year, according to a report released Monday.

The report, created by the Texas Education Agency and commissioned by state leaders, estimated school districts would have to make a one-time payment of about $4 million total to improve internet connectivity, and then spend about $13.4 million more annually for extra bandwidth and staff training. Many of the districts that need to increase funding are small and rural.

That investment would allow nearly all students to take the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, online by the 2022-23 school year, according to the report. That excludes students who may need paper tests due to disabilities or other special cases.

“Benefits of online assessments include the potential for faster results, the potential for customizable assessment, more engaging assessment questions, reduced operational complexity and paper waste, better test security, improved administration and more equitable access to accommodation supports for students,” the report reads.

In 2018-19, just 13% of STAAR tests were administered online, many for students who needed accommodations due to disabilities.

It makes sense, for the reasons stated, and spending the money to upgrade the schools that need the equipment is a good investment. The Lege needs to approve the plan, and I figure that’s likely to happen. I’m not a big fan of the STAAR, but as I said, if we’re going to have it, this is the way to do it.