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January 23rd, 2011:

Weekend link dump for January 23

You can’t stop Hammertime. You can only hope to contain it.

The Perry Spiral, on the other hand, you can hope to stop.

Would you like a nice Chianti with your superconductor?

Yahoo! says Flickr is doing fine. I sure hope they mean it.

Is Facebook the same as “AOL done right”? I dunno, but see what you think.

When the name fits

“Pro-life”? Yeah, right.

A public option for banking makes a lot of sense. Some municipalities already do something like this, so extending it shouldn’t be too difficult.

No McMansions for Millennials. I hope so, but check back in 20 years when they’re hitting middle age and let me know if that’s still the case.

From the “Things you shouldn’t say on Twitter” department.

I didn’t think I could get more emotional about Christina Taylor Green. I was wrong.

Who is the cultural elite? Maybe not who you think.

“Erick Erickson hates Big Government so much that he got a job in it and then didn’t show up. Hah! He wins.”

Note to self: Don’t invest in any company this guy is associated with.

This was an excellent week to be reminded what a miserable, racist jerk Jesse Helms was.

Free Market Health Care would lead to an awful lot of people not being able to get health care.

Just a reminder of what the “repeal” of the PPACA Republicans voted to do would mean. Not to mention what it means about them.

For starters, it would directly hurt the millions of people who have already benefited from the new law.

There have been many individual mandates throughout our history.

From the “Put up or shut up” department.

I think The Borrowed Goats would make an excellent band name.

The down side of having a snarky nature.

The wonk gap. Not the same as the hack gap, but at least as pernicious.

Teabaggers don’t like teh ghey very much.

Because it cannot be said enough: The vast majority of so-called “fiscal conservatives” and “deficit hawks” are massive phonies.

Guess who hates the Senate now?

Life in the bizarro world version of New York City.

I’ll definitely add this to my TiVo season pass list.

Bromances are good for you.

The ridiculous pedestrian fatalities kerfuffle.

Jeb Hensarling is an idiot.

The so-called “Ryan Roadmap” would drive us straight into a ditch.

“Tone” is only part of the problem.

I’m not a fan of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, but the vitriolic hatred that’s being spewed by the usual mouthbreathers over a judicial nomination he made is truly appalling.

And with that, I wish you all a Happy National Pie Day! Why it isn’t on March 14, however, I couldn’t tell you.

Harris County starts firing people

So it begins.

County government layoffs have begun as Harris County seeks to trim its $1.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins on March 1.

Last week, the Architecture and Engineering Department notified 14 employees that they would be out of work on Feb. 25 unless the budget picture substantially changes.

“These are good people, and we’re just short money,” said John Blount, the department’s director. “The public expects us to do more with less and I understand that.”

Most of the county’s reserve fund is gone. About 73 percent of the budget is dedicated to payroll — salaries and benefits to the 15,000 employees who catch, try and incarcerate criminals, run libraries, build roads, manage public documents, inoculate people against disease and perform various other jobs.

Non-personnel costs, such as utilities, fuel for county vehicles and basic supplies, account for much of the rest, so large spending cuts almost by necessity involve trimming payroll costs.

In case you’re curious, the mission statement of the Architecture and Engineering Division is as follows:

The mission of the Harris County Public Infrastructure Department – Architecture and Engineering Division is to execute the planning, study, design and construction of various buildings, roads, bridges, traffic signals, drainage improvements, parks, and other architectural and maintenance projects in accordance with certain design standards and contract documents. This Division also administers 12 sets of rules and regulations, including Flood Plain Management for Harris County.

In other words, nothing of any consequence. Who needs that stuff, anyway?

Amazon sues Texas

Game on.

Four months after Texas officials told Inc. that it owes $269 million in uncollected sales taxes, the online retail giant has filed a lawsuit demanding that the comptroller’s office release the audit information it used in arriving at that amount.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 14 in Travis County District Court, argues that the documents must be made public under the Texas Public Information Act and seeks a court order forcing their release. The suit also seeks recovery of attorneys’ fees and other legal costs.

Amazon and three of its subsidiaries — LLC, and Amazon Corporate LLC — say they sent letters in September and October to the comptroller’s office requesting “information related to the audit and the assessment.”

Amazon asked the comptroller’s office to explain its basis for the $269 million assessment, but “auditors were not forthcoming with an explanation,” the lawsuit claims.

The comptroller’s office has refused to provide the information, saying it was protected by attorney-client privilege because “the entire file relating to the audit was ‘prepared by and attorney,’ and thus … protected from disclosure,” according to the lawsuit.

A Dec. 16 opinion issued by the Texas attorney general’s office agreed with the comptroller’s office that the documents were protected, according to the lawsuit.

See here, here, and here for some background. Gotta say, I think the state’s refusal to provide documentation is lame, despite the AG’s opinion. I’ll be very interested to see what the courts have to say. More broadly, I hope this focuses a little attention on this issue, which really needs a real resolution. I see no justification for Amazon and other online retailers being exempted from sales taxes. It’s really time for Congress to step in and settle things, though of course the current bunch will never do that. Sooner or later, though, it’s got to be done, and the longer it takes the greater the burden will be on the state and local governments that are losing this needed revenue.

Appeals court upholds UT’s admissions policy


In 1996, a federal appeals court effectively banned affirmative action in admissions at the University of Texas in a case known as Hopwood. On Tuesday, the same court reversed course, ruling that the university’s consideration of race and ethnicity passes constitutional muster.

What changed? In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld affirmative action at the University of Michigan’s law school, essentially setting aside the Hopwood ruling.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cited the Michigan case in affirming a 2009 decision by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks of Austin to uphold UT’s admissions policy, which was challenged by two white students who were denied acceptance. The 5th Circuit judges, based in New Orleans, unanimously agreed with Sparks that the policy avoids quotas, is narrowly tailored and otherwise meets standards set by the high court in the Michigan case.

“We’re very pleased,” said Patti Ohlendorf, UT’s vice president for legal affairs. “The university always has maintained that our undergraduate admissions policy is constitutional and follows the guidance of the Supreme Court.”

It’s a lead pipe cinch that SCOTUS will be asked about this again eventually. The judge who wrote the majority opinion made it clear that what is ruled constitutional now may not be so later – he likened it to redistricting, which is both amusing and insightful. Another judge wrote in a concurring opinion that while UT met the standard set by SCOTUS, he believed SCOTUS got it wrong in its previous ruling. We’ll see how it goes from here. NewsTaco has more.

County asks about exemption from drainage fee


County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez has asked County Attorney Vince Ryan for an opinion on whether the county has to pay the city of Houston’s new drainage fee.

Sanchez already has his own opinion.

“You’re getting a government, the city of Houston, starting to dip into multiple jurisdictions’ pots,” Sanchez said. “At some point, you just have to say you have to be responsible for your own operations and not look to other taxing entities.”

Sanchez is not an attorney, so he’s asking one. But his request for a legal opinion is premised on Mayor Annise Parker‘s statement of principles in October 2010 that the only properties exempt from the fee will be those required to be exempted by state law.

Among those properties exempted are state facilities.

So Sanchez asks Ryan in a memo:

Are Harris County improvements such as Reliant Center, the County Administration building, the Jury Assembly Room and other such facilities political subdivisions of the State of Texas; and therefore exempt from the drainage fee?

Nice to see ol’ Orlando in the news for something other than his reading habits. As for his query, if County Attorney Ryan gives him the ruling he’s seeking, then so be it. If not, then as far as I’m concerned the county should get no more consideration from City Council than school districts will. Everyone is affected by flooding, and everyone can pay their fair share to mitigate it.