Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

April 20th, 2014:

Weekend link dump for April 20

Personally, I think the way to deal with fans who run onto the field is to have more stadium security at the fences. Yeah, most of these guys are just drunken fools, but it only takes one evildoer to cause a possibly preventable tragedy.

The mother of all binge-watching opportunities is coming this August.

How not to succeed in show business, in one easy step.

The Darwin fish was a living, breathing, swimming, and walking thing.

When political cartoons predict the future.

Wage theft remains a huge problem.

You can have a dating site for Mormons, but you can’t call it a Mormon dating site.

RIP, Rod Kennedy, founder of the Kerrville Folk Festival and a whole lot more besides.

This is lawlessness.

TurboTax is astroturfing against free, simple tax filing. When you’re on the same side of a tax issue as Grover Norquist, you’re doing it wrong.

Of course, Norquist doesn’t want tax filing to be simple and easy, because then people won’t buy his BS about taxation in general.

Hank Aaron observed during the celebration of his 715th home run that there’s still plenty of racism in America, thus prompting a bunch of modern day racists to prove his point.

The parallels between Mad Men and the Manson Family murders.

Nothing like a trust fund baby whining about taxes he himself will never have to pay.

Munich is the place to be for gettin’ nekkid in public.

Texas Monthly sues the New York Times for poaching editor Jake Silverstein.

Nobody cares about the deficit. Nor should they.

Despite the cold in the US, it’s been a very warm winter globally.

Just a beautiful story. I won’t say any more than that. Go read it.

Haters gonna hate. And threaten to file lawsuits.

The actual effect of screening mammograms is much less than you think it is.

“Yes, you read that right. Using the national popular vote to determine who wins the presidency would be stealing elections. Let that sink in for a minute.”

RIP, Bud Purdy, who was what Western ranching was all about.

Congratulations to the Clinton family on their forthcoming addition.

Hey, law school is expensive.

“If you’re yelled at, boycotted, have your show canceled, or get banned from an Internet community, your free speech rights aren’t being violated.”

Congrats to Curtis High School, which has clearly shed the reputation it had when I was that age of being “challenging” for negative reasons.

“It was the permanently insured speculating about the uninsured and the barely insured – and, unsurprisingly, they got it wrong.”

Court rules for the EPA against Texas again

Another win for the environment.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Obama administration’s new rules that for the first time limit emissions of mercury and other harmful pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

In a split decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a Texas-based challenge to the regulations, saying the federal government acted reasonably to protect the environment and public health from poisonous gases and cancer-causing chemicals released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels.

Developers of the White Stallion Energy Center, a proposed power plant about 90 miles southwest of Houston, challenged the federal regulations, arguing that the new limits would be too burdensome and thus prevent them from securing financing for the project. Several industry groups and 22 states, including Texas, joined the fight.

But a divided three-judge panel ruled that federal law and previous court decisions do not require the Environmental Protection Agency to consider cost when imposing new regulations on electric utilities.

[…]

At the time the EPA finalized the rules in 2012, Texas was home to seven of the top 16 mercury-emitting coal plants in the nation, an Environmental Defense Fund analysis found.

“There is no other state that is going to get as much public health benefit than Texas from the mercury rule,” said Al Armendariz, a former EPA official who now leads the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign in the state.

See here and here for some background. I’ve long since lost track of which lawsuit by Texas against the EPA is about what, and I don’t think I have any previous blogging on this specific case, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all of a piece, and it’s all about whether we make the polluters be responsible for their actions or we give them a free pass. The EPA counters claims that these regulations are too costly for business with evidence that the health benefits for everyone else will outweigh those costs. That will never satisfy the polluters, of course, and I presume they’ll appeal this first to the entire DC court, then to SCOTUS. It’s a nice win for now but it’s far from over. The LA Times, the DMN BizBeat blog, the Texas Green Report, and the EDF, which has a separate statement beneath the fold, have more, while Wonkblog reminds us of the disproportionate effect of industrial pollution on minority neighborhoods.

Environmental Defense Fund applauds today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., denying legal challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Today’s court decision rejects flawed legal claims by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, one of the opponents of EPA’s vital clean air safeguards for our communities and families.

Attorney General Abbott has sued the federal government 31 times since 2004, needlessly costing Texan taxpayer’s nearly $4 million.

The EPA emission standards at issue establish the first nationwide emission limits on the mercury, arsenic and acid gases discharged from the U.S. fleet of existing coal- and oil-fired power plants, the single largest source of these toxic airborne contaminants.

Mercury exposure can impair the brain development of infants and young children. According to the EPA, each year more than 400,000 infants are born with elevated mercury levels in their blood, but the MATS standards will eliminate 90 percent of mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants. In Texas, the rule will annually prevent up to 1,200 premature deaths, while providing between $4 billion to $9.7 billion in health benefits in 2016 and each year thereafter.

“Today’s decision comes as an unquestionable victory for Texans who care about vital clean air safeguards and protecting our most vulnerable citizens – young children and pregnant women. Rather than waste taxpayer’s money and protect the interests of big fossil fuel companies, Greg Abbott and other state leaders should champion life-saving measures that protect the health and well-being of Texans.”

HCC has not begun any 2012 bond construction yet

I hadn’t realized it was taking this long.

A divided Houston Community College board has failed to approve construction contracts for its November 2012 voter-approved bond program, potentially costing the college system tens of millions of dollars in fines.

The clock to break ground on building projects is ticking to meet federal spending deadlines that, if missed, could result in fines under a worst-case scenario, HCC’s hired bond counsel, Tom Sage, warned in March.

Some trustees, however, have said the college administration has not provided enough information about projects in the $425 million bond package. Others questioned why the college system wasn’t planning to spread contracts around to more local companies.

Concerned about delays and perceived meddling by some board members, a volunteer oversight committee called a special meeting earlier this week to urge the board to approve contracts for all 14 building projects Thursday.

“This is a gross example of the board trying to micromanage a major job,” said oversight committee member Ed Wulfe, a commercial real-estate developer who has served on numerous local boards. “ … Right now the community is back to HCC being in a state of confusion, and the perception is reality.”

Board Chairwoman Neeta Sane defended her colleagues.

“I’m here to give you the assurance, there is no hanky-panky going on,” she told the committee, which the board created to monitor the bond package.

[…]

In March, HCC Acting Chancellor Renee Byas sought the board’s approval to hire eight companies to serve as the construction managers for the 14 bond projects. The fees the firms would earn range from an estimated $575,000 to $5.6 million, depending on the project size, according to the agenda item.

The board rejected the proposal on a 6-3 vote.

A followup story indicates that at Thursday’s meeting, the Board did unanimously approve four contracts for construction, with a fifth left pending because it needed to be paired with a related issue. I’m not exactly sure what brought about the change – Campos has his suspicions – but I’m glad to see them move forward. I don’t know why this was more time consuming for HCC than it has been for HISD, which according to the first story has approved 22 contracts for projects related to its 2012 bond referendum. HCC doesn’t have the best track record in these matters, so if this is just the Board being a little extra careful then that’s fine, but let’s get on with it. There’s a reason this construction was needed, and that hasn’t changed.

Uber uber alles

Very interesting.

Uber rolled out a new service in Manhattan [last] Tuesday that foreshadows the five-year-old company’s plans to become much more than a platform for e-hailing taxi and town car rides. Now, with UberRUSH, the company is piloting a bike and ped-courier service designed to move stuff, rather than people.

For at least $15 a trip, Uber wants to dispatch couriers to ferry everything from legal papers to fashion pieces around Manhattan below 110th Street (for now).

The new service signals the company’s expansion beyond local transportation and into the much larger world of urban logistics. And it’s a savvy play for several reasons: The same back-end technology that Uber has built to track drivers and connect them to riders can easily be used to order and follow deliveries. All that changes is the cargo on board and the mode of transportation, a detail around which the company is becoming increasingly agnostic.

These bigger ambitions bolster Uber’s claim that it is not, by definition, simply another kind of cab company. Most importantly, though, Uber foresees — as Amazon and eBay do, too — that the next growth opportunity in a shifting economy isn’t facilitating digital marketplaces: It’s moving physical stuff. It’s figuring out urban logistics in a world where crowded cities will only become more so, where e-commerce is actually making congestion worse, where the rise of “sharing” has created a need for coordinating the mass joint use of cars, tools, tasks and dinner.

[…]

Logistics are the logical companion industry to the sharing economy. As the latter grows, so will need for the former. Logistics also represent the unresolved territory of the digital age. The Internet has solved all kinds of other problems: It’s enabled us to communicate faster, to pay bills more easily, to shop for products that can’t be found in local stores, to open businesses that couldn’t cover the rent on a brick-and-mortar storefront. But for all those interactions that take place in the ether, we still need to move stuff in the real world. Your Airbnb keys can’t be e-mailed. You can rent a drill bit on SnapGoods, but an online platform can’t physically deliver it to you.

I don’t have anything to add to this. Frankly, the whole thing was just an excuse to use that headline. Nonetheless, this is very interesting, and if it’s successful we’ll see when it or something like it comes to Houston. TechCrunch has more.