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April 11th, 2021:

Weekend link dump for April 11

“Biden’s Evangelical Foes Set Aside Satan Fears, Cash Aid Checks”.

“No, Eric Greitens Was Never “Exonerated” of Sexual Misconduct”.

“Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-FL) political career has been imploding for longer than we knew.”

“But, in truth, Boehner’s I-Was-Just-a-Feather-in-the-Gales-of-Crazy act gets a little wearisome for those of us who lived through it. If there’s any evidence that John Boehner tried to arrest the prion disease before it took over his caucus, and then his entire political party, it was not evident in his performance as Speaker.”

“Thanks for noticing that NY’s voting laws are bad! Like GA, many of NY’s restrictions on the right to vote are rooted in racism and xenophobia and need to change. “So, why aren’t you suing NY over early voting and no-excuse absentee balloting right now?” Glad you asked.”

This is a great story. That’s all you need to know.

“Some new research out this week suggests that, for all the high-minded good intentions behind those other strategies, shut the hell up about national politics can actually reduce political polarization — not just at a dinner table, but in an entire community.”

RIP, Yahoo Answers, in case anyone was using it.

“Paige Bueckers has to wait to play in the WNBA because the league never thought there would ever be a player this good, and this young. She’s proof of just how much the game has evolved.”

“Ne’er-do-wells leaked personal data — including phone numbers — for some 553 million Facebook users this week. Facebook says the data was collected before 2020 when it changed things to prevent such information from being scraped from profiles. To my mind, this just reinforces the need to remove mobile phone numbers from all of your online accounts wherever feasible. Meanwhile, if you’re a Facebook product user and want to learn if your data was leaked, there are easy ways to find out.” Basically, bookmark Have I Been Pwned and refer to it any time you see a story like this.

“John de Lancie will reprise his role as Next Generation trickster god Q on Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard“.

“Embattled National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre feared for his safety after mass shootings in recent years, forcing him to take refuge aboard a friend’s luxury yacht, the gun rights advocate testified.”

“New surveys show Americans’ membership in communities of worship has declined sharply in recent years, with less than 50% of the country belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque.”

What is it about Trump voters that makes them such easy marks for scammers?

RIP, Midwin Charles, legal analyst for CNN and MSNBC.

“You can’t complain that right-wing media have usurped the church’s role when the church itself has abdicated that role, refusing to stand up against those usurpers.”

“Why, that sounds like the kind of systemic market failure the [Wall Street] Journal is always insisting can’t happen.”

“The standard explanation for all this is the advent of the coronavirus. The country is in crisis, and Biden is rising to meet the moment. But I don’t buy it. That may explain the American Rescue Plan. But the American Jobs Plan, and the forthcoming American Family Plan, go far beyond the virus. Put together, they are a sweeping indictment of the prepandemic status quo as a disaster for both people and the planet — a status quo that in many cases Biden helped build and certainly never seemed eager to upend.”

Be wary of immigration attorney ads on TikTok.

“That Fyre Fest tweet with the sad sandwich will be auctioned as an NFT for medical expenses“. I got nothin’.

RIP, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

RIP, Anne Beatts, original Saturday Night Live writer and creator of Square Pegs.

Everything you wanted to know about muons but were afraid to ask.

RIP, DMX, hip-hop artists and actor.

RIP, Ramsey Clark, former Attorney General and civil rights champion.

DCCC starts with two targets in Texas

Consider this to be written in chalk on the pavement, pending the new Congressional maps.

Rep. Beth Van Duyne

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Tuesday that it will target two Republican-held districts in Texas — the ones currently held by Reps. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio and Beth Van Duyne of Irving. They were one of 22 districts nationwide that the committee included on its 2022 target list, which it emphasized as preliminary due to redistricting.

Last election cycle, the DCCC sought to make Texas the centerpiece of its strategy to grow its House majority — and came up woefully short. They initially targeted six seats here and later expanded the list to 10 — and picked up none of them.

Van Duyne’s and Gonzales’ races ended up being the closest. Van Duyne won by 1 percentage point to replace retiring Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, while Gonzales notched a 4-point margin to succeed Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, who was also retiring.

The shape of those races remains very much in question more than a year and a half out from Election Day, most notably because Texas lawmakers are expected to redraw congressional district lines in a special session of the state Legislature later this year. Texas is on track to gain multiple congressional seats due to population growth. Republicans control the redistricting process and may be be able to make Gonzales’ and Van Duyne’s seats more secure.

On paper, Van Duyne’s 24th District looks to be the most competitive in 2022. It was the only GOP-held district in Texas that Democratic President Joe Biden won — and he carried it by a healthy margin of 5 points. The DCCC has already run TV ads against Van Duyne this year.

Biden, meanwhile, lost Gonzales’ 23rd District by 2 points. The 23rd District is a perennial swing seat that stretches from San Antonio to near El Paso and includes a large portion of the Texas-Mexico border.

As noted, the Republicans have their target list as well, which will also be affected by whatever the final maps look like as well as any retirements. CD24 is an obvious target, but if the map were to remain exactly as it is now I’d have several CDs higher on my list than CD23 at this point based on 2020 results and demographic direction. I’d make CDs 03, 21, 22, and 31 my top targets, with CDs 02, 06 (modulo the special election), and 10 a rung below. I’d put CD23 in with that second group, but with less conviction because I don’t like the trend lines. Again, this is all playing with Monopoly money until we get new maps.

Just to state my priors up front: I believe there will be electoral opportunities in Texas for Congressional candidates, though they will almost certainly evolve over the course of the decade. I believe that if the economy and President Biden’s approval ratings are solid, the 2022 midterms could be decent to good, and that we are in a different moment than we were in back in 2009-10. I also know fully well that the 2022 election is a long way off and there are many things that can affect the national atmosphere, many of them not great for the incumbent party. I was full of dumb optimism at this time in 2009, that’s for sure. I also had extremely modest expectations for 2018 at this point in that election cycle, too. Nobody knows nothing right now, is what I’m saying.

Where are the stimulus funds for the schools?

Ridiculous.

For more than a year, the federal government has been pumping billions of dollars into school districts across the country to help them meet the demands of the pandemic. Most states have used that pot of stimulus funds as Congress intended: buying personal protective equipment for students and teachers, laptops for kids learning from home, improved ventilation systems for school buildings to prevent virus transmission and covering other costs.

But in Texas, local schools have yet to see an extra dime from the more than $19 billion in federal stimulus money given to the state. After Congress passed the first stimulus bill last year, officials used the state’s $1.3 billion education share to fill other holes in the state budget, leaving public schools with few additional resources to pay for the costs of the pandemic.

Now, educators and advocacy groups worry that the state could do the same thing with the remaining $17.9 billion in funding for Texas public schools from the other two stimulus packages. Because of federal requirements, Texas has to invest over $1 billion of the state’s own budget in higher education to receive the third round of stimulus funding for K-12 public schools. Experts said the state has applied for a waiver to avoid sending that added money to higher education, but the process has caused major delays in local districts receiving funds they desperately need.

“Principals’ budgets are being eaten up with personal protective equipment, with tutoring, with trying to get kids back engaged, while the Legislature is sitting on a whole bunch of money,” said Michelle Smith, the vice president of policy and advocacy for Raise Your Hand Texas. “And that will have an impact on our school districts not just this school year, but for several school years to come.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott told The Texas Tribune that state leaders are waiting for more guidance from the U.S. Department of Education before opening the spigot and letting billions flow down to school districts.

Because of the state’s waiver request, Texas lawmakers likely will not decide how to parcel out the money until they either hear back from Washington D.C., or until the Legislature finalizes its plans for the state budget. But the waiver only applies to the latest stimulus package, so the state could unlock $5.5 billion for education from the second relief bill at any time.

Libby Cohen, the director of advocacy and outreach for Raise Your Hand Texas, said dozens of states are already sending these federal dollars to public schools, and the most recent stimulus package also includes guidance on how to use that money. Texas and New York are the only two states that have provided no additional funding to public schools during the pandemic, according to Laura Yeager, a founder of Just Fund It TX.

“We find it baffling that Texas is pumping the brakes on this particular issue to the extent that it is,” Cohen said. “The dollars are there … and districts need to know if and when they’re coming because they’re writing their budgets right now, and they’re making decisions about summer programming right now.”

Many Texas teachers and administrators say they need money now, and want the Legislature to start funneling the federal funds to school districts as soon as possible.

But state lawmakers holding the most power over budgeting and education funding want the Legislature, instead of local school districts, to decide what to do with these federal stimulus dollars.

“The federal funds will ultimately get to school districts but the overriding question is how should these funds be spent and who should make that decision?” said Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston chair of the House Public Education Committee. “I think the primary obligation for educating Texas children vests in the Legislature according to the Texas Constitution.”

I can accept that the Legislature should have oversight of this process, but I don’t accept that they must play the part of approving each allocation. All that does is put a bottleneck on things, at a time when the schools need the funds now. More to the point, it’s not even clear that it will be the Lege making these decisions:

I see even less point to that. There’s a lot of money at stake, not all for the schools, and it makes sense to want to ensure it’s being spent for its intended purposes. But it doesn’t make sense to sit on it and take a lot of time figuring that out, because that money is needed now, especially the money for schools and students.

One more thing to consider: Rising property values, which have fueled an increase in local property tax revenues, have already been used by the Legislature to pay for other things.

Because of the way public schools are funded, a rise in local property tax revenue means the state doesn’t have to send as much money to local school districts. The schools would get the same amount as before — it’s not a budget cut — but the money that might have come from the state comes instead from local school property taxes.

This year, that amounts to $5.5 billion — most of it from property value increases. About 21% of that amount — $1.2 billion — comes from what the Legislative Budget Board called “lower-than-anticipated Average Daily Attendance rates, increased non-General Revenue Funds revenues, and federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.”

In plain language, that’s a drop in the average number of students that school funding is based on, money that comes from sources other than state taxes and money from the first round of federal COVID-19 relief.

That last one is a sore spot for local officials, who see the state skimming from a pot of money that was supposed to go to public education. Here’s how that scam works: The money is still going to public education, but the amount the state would have sent is being reduced by the same amount, freeing the state to use money it would have used on schools on some other part of government.

The budgeteers’ word for that is “supplanting” — instead of getting the state money that was coming to them, with the federal money on top, the schools get the same amount of money they’d have received without any federal aid.

Give the schools their money already. There’s no more time to waste. The Chron has more.

No more Greek letter-named hurricanes

Later, Eta.

Sororities and fraternities can keep their Greek letters — hurricanes will no longer use them.

The World Meteorological Organization, which maintains the rotating list of hurricane names and retires storm names when appropriate, has decided to stop using the Greek alphabet for naming storms. These letters were designated for especially active seasons when the list of 21 names was exhausted.

Last Atlantic hurricane season, with a record 30 named storms, used nine letter names from the Greek alphabet. It was only the second time the Greek alphabet was used to name storms.

According to the World Meteorological Organization, this caused several issues. Pulling out the Greek alphabet garnered a lot of attention — perhaps more attention than the storms themselves.

The pronunciation of several Greek letters (Zeta, Eta, Theta) is similar. It can be confusing when storms with similar sounding names occurring simultaneously. There can also be confusion when translating these names into other languages.

But perhaps the biggest issue is how to handle Greek alphabet names that need to be retired. There was no formal plan for retiring Greek names, and during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season both Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota made landfall in Nicaragua as Category 4 storms. Hurricane Iota was the strongest storm at landfall in 2020.

James Franklin, former chief of forecast operations for the National Hurricane Center, suspected the Greek alphabet would be addressed by the Hurricane Committee, which serves North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The issue had come up before, after the 2005 hurricane season (you remember, the one that included Katrina, Rita, and Wilma), but the Greek-letter-named storms were not big enough to be considered for name retirement, so the issue never got any traction. It’s different now, for obvious reasons. Most likely, there will be a separate B-list of names to use if and when the initial list of 21 names is exhausted, but the final decision is to be determined later. Just so you know.