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September 27th, 2020:

Weekend link dump for September 27

We don’t have Election Day, we have Election Season. That’s a good thing, and it’s been a thing for decades now.

“A group of some of the most revered and longest-active environmentalists issued a dire warning to the next generation of activists on Monday: Don’t vote for the Green Party this year. And don’t sit out the election either.”

“Why I Changed My Mind About the Caster Semenya Case”.

“Los Angeles is just one of a number of US cities now plotting a comeback from the pain of the pandemic by tackling another, but longer-term, emergency—the climate crisis. By extending measures to turn streets over to pedestrians and cyclists, bolstering jobs in clean energy or building of new defenses to risks such as flooding, some US cities are attempting a “green recovery” to COVID-19.”

“With all the talk about expanding the Supreme Court and adding new states, why no discussion of adding a couple hundred seats to the House? We did it nearly every decade for 150 years. It’d also make it less likely that the electoral college picks the popular vote loser.”

“The price — and big potential payoff — of turning Texas blue”.

“A Notorious COVID Troll Actually Works for Dr. Fauci’s Agency”. Not anymore, apparently, but still.

“Our top newsrooms need to start producing campaign coverage with a clear, relentless message: that Trump is unfit and democracy is in danger. His constant lying alone is enough to justify taking this approach; it is an affront to journalism’s central mission, of telling the truth.”

The degradation of the CDC, turning the world’s premier public health institution into another propaganda arm, would be the biggest atrocity of the Trump administration, if it weren’t for literally everything else.

RIP, Roy Head, Houston-based R&B singer best known for the 1965 hit “Treat Her Right”.

RIP, Adeline Fagan, a 28-year-old New York native who was completing her second year of residency as an OB-GYN in Houston. She tested positive for COVID-19 in July and had been on a ventilator since mid-August.

Just go read these two posts from Teh Slacktivist about white evangelicals, Q-Anon, and tentacle porn.

And then, if you really want to scare yourself, read this Atlantic article about the looming electoral disaster that awaits us when Donald Trump refuses to concede.

“I thought, ‘It’s funny that you had a rough summer because everyone was calling out all of the allegations of your toxic work environment and now you’re the one suffering?”

“The ongoing pandemic has had weird consequences for both food producers and consumers. Stores have found their shelves bare due to both panic buying and producers cutting back on the variety of items they make, and with stadiums closed peanut farmers have been sitting on a mountain of unsold legumes. Now, thanks to movie theaters largely being closed as well, the same thing is happening to farmers raising corn destined to be popcorn.”

RIP, Gale Sayers, Hall of Fame running back for the Chicago Bears, also well known for his appearance in the movie Brian’s Song.

“Surprise! The ‘real people’ in Trump ad campaign are actually Republican operatives“.

“Even allowing for some variability in the accuracy of the economic modeling and underlying assumptions that drive our analysis, we conclude that Biden’s economic proposals would result in a stronger U.S. economy than Trump’s.”

“Nearly 500 National Security Experts Endorse Biden For President”.

“Every time Trump spouts this kind of garbage, he is revealing that he is TERRIFIED. Ab. So. Lute. Ly. Terrified. His **existential** fear is losing. And he knows that there is a very good chance he is going to lose. And he can’t do a damn thing about it. He will be a LOSER.”

Hey, look, it’s online voter registration!

And they said it couldn’t be done.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

When Jarrod Stringer updated his driver’s license address in 2014, the Texas Department of Public Safety website asked if he wanted to register to vote. He clicked yes and thought he was registered. That fall, when he went to vote in San Antonio, he was denied. According to the system, he had never registered. It was past the registration deadline, so he couldn’t vote.

That kicked off a six-year legal battle that included two lawsuits for the right for Texans to register to vote online while updating their licenses.

“It’s traumatic when you can’t vote,” Stringer said. “It’s implicitly saying, ‘You don’t have a voice. You can’t participate in change.’”

On Wednesday, Stringer won that “mind-boggling” fight with the state of Texas two weeks before the deadline to register to vote in 2020. Acting on a federal judge’s orders, the state updated its online systems to allow people to add their names to the voter rolls when they update their licenses.

While it’s a limited step — the online option is still only available to people updating their licenses — the change marks the first time Texans have been able to register to vote online, which advocates say could significantly increase turnout both this year and for future elections.

Mimi Marziani, the president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which brought forward the lawsuits, said the change specifically helps marginalized Texans, who most often move.

“This is absolutely a victory for voting rights for all Texans,” Marziani said. “It’s a particular victory for younger Texans, poorer Texans and Texans of color.”

[…]

Previously, Texans like Stringer who tried to register while using the state’s online license portal were directed to a blank registration form they had to fill out, print and send to their county registrar. The state was forced to change that system after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled last month that DPS is “legally obligated” to allow voters to simultaneously register to vote with every license renewal or change-of-address application. Garcia had ordered the state to set up a “fully operable” online system by Wednesday.

“The Secretary of State and Texas Department of Public Safety are in compliance with the court’s order,” said Kayleigh Date, a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, in a statement.

See here for the background. My guess is that the total number of people who will register for this election via this method will be countable on one’s fingers, but that’s not the point. The point, as Marziani rightly says, is that this shows how easily the state of Texas could have done this, and how easily it could be adapted for general purposes as soon as the law allows it. Given the challenges that voter registrars have faced in these COVID times, that’s a big deal. It’s still going to take a Democratic trifecta to happen, but once we get there the rest will be easy. The Chron has more.

October Census deadline restored

Good news, though as with everything we can’t be sure just yet that it’s for real.

A federal judge in California late Thursday blocked the Trump administration from stopping the 2020 Census count next week, saying it should continue until Oct. 31, the date the Census Bureau had planned on before the administration abruptly shortened the count.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California granted a preliminary injunction in the case brought by the National Urban League — a group of counties, cities, advocacy groups and individuals — and other groups. Koh had, earlier this month, issued a temporary restraining order to keep the count underway. The case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a hearing Tuesday, Koh had expressed irritation with Justice Department lawyers for missing a deadline she had set for them to produce internal documents connected to the case.

She referred repeatedly to documents finally released over the weekend and Monday in which career bureau officials said the data could not be properly collected and delivered to the president on the government’s new timeline.

See here and here for the background. The Chron lays out what’s at stake locally.

Natalia Cornelio, legal affairs director for [County Commissioner Rodney] Ellis, said at the point Trump yanked back the deadline in early August, only 63 percent of households nationwide and 54 percent in Houston had responded to the census.

Despite those numbers, on Aug. 3, the census director abruptly announced what the court is calling the “re-plan,” which shortened the timeline for households to respond by Sept. 30.

Cornelio said the accuracy of the census count is critical to Harris County’s future.

“Its outcome determines political representation and billions of dollars of funding for healthcare, education, disaster relief, and housing,” she said.

Right now, Harris County is looking at an estimated undercount of 600,000 households, based on data from Civis Analytics, the company the county has partnered with to track its census outreach, she said.

One area likely to suffer from an undercount is the southern portion of the county, a pie-slice-shaped region extending from downtown Houston to Bellaire to League City, according to Steven Romalewski, who maps census data for the Center for Urban Research at CUNY. In that area, 11 percent of the door-knocking has yet to be completed, a feat that would likely would have been impossible with less than a week to spare to the Sept. 30 deadline, he said.

In parts of Fort Bend and Galveston counties, nearly 18 percent of the door-knocking needs to be finished. And in Montgomery County 12 percent of homes have yet to be documented.

Romalewski said the ruling could have a major impact on areas with a relatively low “completion” rate for the door-knocking operation that’s meant to visit every household that has not responded. With more time to complete the process, census enumerators can attempt to visit households more than once and will be likelier to talk with someone in-person or determine that a unit is vacant. The fallback, which census officials consider less accurate, is to to count residents through administrative records.

I have a hard time understanding why any decent person would think this was a good state of affairs. At least we have a chance now to try and get this close to correct. That’s pending the likely appeal to SCOTUS, and who knows what they may do at this point. But at least for now, there’s a chance.

Trib overview of CD24

The focus of this story is mostly on Democrat Candace Valenzuela, as it should be.

Candace Valenzuela

She experienced homelessness at a young age. She worked several odd jobs throughout high school and college to make ends meet. A high school car accident left her with a chronic health condition.

Now she’s running for Congress hoping to flip a red seat blue, and Candace Valenzuela thinks her story as a political outsider who overcame hardships will win over voters.

“My story does resonate,” Valenzuela said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “As soon as my constituents hear my story, it’s incredibly easy for them to relate.”

Seemingly overnight, Valenzuela has become a new face of Democrats’ optimism for 2020. Six months ago, she was an underdog in the Democratic primary for Congressional District 24, a mostly suburban North Texas district that straddles parts of Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties. Now, she’s being touted as a potential future star — someone who could win a seat long held by U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, a retiring Tea Party Republican, and become the first Black Latina elected to Congress.

That Valenzuela is considered a viable candidate is another sign of the changes in Texas politics that have spurred a wave of Democratic optimism. Until recently, suburban areas like Congressional District 24 had been viewed as weak spots for the Texas Democratic Party. Now those sites are key to Democrats’ big plans for Texas in 2020. All 10 of the congressional districts Democrats hope to flip in the state are at least partially suburban — and the voters in suburban neighborhoods could decide whether the party can truly compete for the state’s Electoral College votes and win control of the Texas House.

“We need to make our Texas delegation look more like the Texans they’re designed to serve,” Valenzuela said. “We’re seeing record participation and engagement, and folks looking at what they want to see out of their representatives. If we see a win here, it’ll be the people stepping up and saying we want someone from our community who’s going to work for the community.”

There’s more, so go read the rest. I’ll be honest, I would have voted for Kim Olson in the CD24 primary based on her strong candidacy for Ag Commissioner in 2018 and her excellent fundraising. Valenzuela started out more slowly in that department but had caught up by the time of the July finance reports, and she prevailed by a convincing margin in the runoff. CD24 was a Beto-majority district, and the early polling is good. It seems very likely to me that Biden will carry CD24 by several points, and Valenzuela’s opponent is a major Trump shill, which should help. I have felt for a long time that not flipping CD24 would be a huge disappointment. I’m excited about the possibility of getting a Rep. Candace Valenzuela.

I should note, by the way, that Valenzuela has some company in the category of “would be the first person of this type elected to Congress from Texas”. (In her case, from the entire country as well.) Sima Ladjevardian and Lulu Seikaly would be the first people of Middle Eastern/North African descent to be elected to Congress from Texas. Sri Kulkarni and Gina Ortiz Jones would be the first Asian-Americans elected to Congress from Texas. We really do have a diverse state. This year we have a unique opportunity to better reflect that diversity in our elected leaders.

A new way to deliver rural Internet access

Pretty cool.

From his 500-acre spread in Paige, just 50 miles east of Austin, Francisco Artes can send an email, check a website or two and conduct a chat session.

But there are some days when streaming video or participating in a teleconference is out of the question. Like a lot of folks with homes and businesses in rural America, Artes struggles with his internet connection – and really, he’s lucky to have one at all.

“We get maybe 1 (megabits per second) uploads, maybe 10-12 (Mbps) downloads,” he said. “It’s really hit or miss whether you’ll have a good Zoom call.”

Artes’ primary internet service uses a form of WiFi, beamed to an 80-foot tower on his land, where he operates a winery and a festival site. He’s supposed to be getting 25 Mbps for both downloads and upload.

Help may soon be on the way. Artes is testing a new kind of internet service being developed by a Houston startup called Skylark Wireless. It turns the unused frequencies normally associated with television stations into internet service, and it’s seen as a real possibility to get high-speed data service to people in rural areas who’ve had to do without for decades.

Known as TV white space technology, or TVWS, it already has sold Artes, who is now able to join those Zoom teleconferences without missing a beat.

“We’ve gotten speeds that at times were mind-boggling for out here in the country,” Artes said, adding he’s getting 30 megabits a second for both download and upload speeds. “We can’t wait we can start using it commercially.”

That could happen as soon as the end of this year or early next, say Skylark co-founders Ryan Guerra and Clayton Shepard. The company, which will license its technology to rural internet service providers, already has customers lined up to deploy it.

[…]

While other companies are using TVWS to do rural broadband internet access, Skylark’s approach is unique. It uses software-enabled radios that can be programmed to run on different frequencies, making the tech less expensive to configure and change as conditions and customer needs warrant.

Guerra, the CEO, and Shepard, the chief technical officer, say the same signals used for television are perfect for getting internet access to people in out-of-the-way places.

“The low frequencies in TV that are occupied by television broadcasters allow (the signal) to go much further and propagate through trees, buildings, materials, very well compared to other bands,” Guerra said. “In rural areas, the main challenge is to provide connectivity to people that are spread so far apart and in such difficult terrain. You have all the same challenges that television broadcasting has already solved: Getting through trees, going long distances, etc.”

That makes the signals that TV uses so valuable that they are referred to as “beachfront spectrum.” The Federal Communications Commission has allowed it to be used for data when it’s not being used for television, for the express purpose of solving the problem of getting internet access to rural areas.

In a city the size of Houston, there are literally dozens of television stations operating on many different channels. But out in the country, there may be only a few that can be received by TVs in any given area. The other channels go unused, which is why they are referred to as “TV white space.”

For example, Shepard said that Francisco Artes’ test setup is receiving internet service on what would normally be channels 53 or 58. Those channels are actually licensed for use in the area, but currently are not occupied. With permission from the holder of the frequencies – in this case, Lowell Feldman, a Skylark investor and CEO of wireless service provider Evolve Cellular – the startup is allowed to test on them.

True “white spaces” are frequencies that are unlicensed, and when Skylark Wireless goes commercial, it will be moving the technology to use those bands. That requires an FCC certification.

There’s more, so read the rest. Skylark is a Houston company with connections to Rice University. As the story notes, there are 21 million Americans (or more, depending on how you do the estimate) that lack broadband Internet access. This approach solves a lot of the technological challenges, which in turn should make it cost-effective. The big cellular companies are looking at this space as well, so perhaps there will be a viable solution soon. Given the need for remote learning and e-commerce these days, that can’t happen soon enough.