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May 30th, 2021:

Weekend link dump for May 30

“Why Hawaiian-Born Surfers Aren’t Excited to Surf for America in the Olympics”. If the Olympics happen, anyway.

Here are the pioneering women who will be on new quarters, beginning in 2022.

“We found that across states, a doubling of population size is associated with a 22 to 33 percent increase in regulation.”

“How did UFOs become so respectable? Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s excellent and lengthy New Yorker article provides some useful context. What we’re seeing now is actually a return to an older norm; there was a golden age of UFOs in the late 1940s and early 1950s when mysterious encounters with flying objects were widely discussed in both government circles and by respectable media.”

The TL;dr version of this is basically “give a person an extra thumb on one hand and they quickly adjust to having the extra thumb, but also begin to forget what it’s like to only have the one thumb on the other hand”.

I’m pretty sure that I myself would not read the unpublished John Steinbeck werewolf mystery novel if someone were to be allowed to publish it. But I do think I would read what someone else wrote about the John Steinbeck werewolf mystery novel, and so therefore I would like for it to be published.

“We’re approaching the year-and-a-half mark of the globe’s collective experience with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Covid-19 pandemic it has triggered. At this point, it’s fair to assume people the world over are asking themselves the same two questions: How will this end? And when?”

RIP, Kathleen Andrews, former top executive with Andrews McMeel, the syndicate that launched the comic strips Doonesbury, Ziggy, and Cathy, among others.

“Gordon Sondland, the former U.S. ambassador to the EU, is suing former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the government in a bid to have one of the two pay for $1.8 million in legal fees incurred during the 2019 Ukraine impeachment inquiry.”

Attempting to solve the Toeflop mystery.

“Pete Rose will do more for the game as a pariah than he could ever do pardoned.”

“Once any reasonable person hears the tell-tale features of the now hackneyed lie – the big, burly man, the calloused hands, the tears streaming down his face – that person will correctly conclude that this story must be presumed false unless proven true.”

RIP, Samuel E. Wright, Tony Award-nominated actor who originated the role of Mufasa in the Broadway version of The Lion King and was the voice of Sebastian in The Little Mermaid.

“But among the strangest and easily one of the most ill-advised dispensers has got to be this Pez gun, which shoots candies with the simple pull of a trigger.”

RIP, John Warner, former Senator from Virginia.

RIP, Kevin Clark, Chicago musician who as a child actor portrayed drummer Freddy “Spazzy McGee” Jones in the 2003 film School of Rock.

RIP, Eric Carle, author and illustrator best known for The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

RIP, John Davis, one of the real vocalists behind Milli Vanilli.

“Mitch McConnell Saw the Insurrection Clearly and Then Decided He Liked It“.

RIP, Mark Eaton, former Utah Jazz center and two-time NBA defensive player of the year.

RIP, Gavin MacLeod, TV actor best known for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Love Boat.

RIP, BJ Thomas, Houston singer/songwriter best known for “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”.

The final version of the voter suppression bill is out

It’s bad.

Emerging from closed-door negotiations between the Texas House and Senate, a GOP priority bill to enact new restrictions on voting has swelled beyond what each chamber originally passed to limit local control of elections and curtail voting options, and now includes even more voting law changes.

Worked out by a conference committee after the two chambers passed substantially different pieces of legislation, a draft of the final version of Senate Bill 7 takes from both iterations to cut back early voting hours, ban drive-thru voting and further clamp down on voting-by-mail rules. It also now includes various additional rule changes that weren’t part of each chamber’s previous debate on the bill. Lawmakers are expected to formally sign off on the agreement in the next day and send it to Gov. Greg Abbott for his signature before it becomes law.

The draft of the final bill keeps in its crosshairs initiatives used by Harris County during last fall’s general election — such as a day of 24-hour early voting and voting sites that allowed voters to cast ballots from their cars — that proved particularly popular among voters of color. But the legislation will also block local efforts to expand voting options across the state.

[…]

The bill has been negotiated over the last week out of the public eye after the House slimmed down the bill and swapped out all of the Senate’s proposals with language from a different House bill that was narrower in scope. But a draft of the final version of SB 7 ultimately brought back many proposals from the Senate’s more expansive version, including the ban on drive-thru voting.

The legislation requires more counties to offer at least 12 hours of early voting each weekday of the last week of early voting, but sets a new window of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. for voting. This would directly preempt Harris County’s 24-hour voting, which it planned to keep for future elections. It would also slightly shorten the extra hours other large counties offered in the last election by keeping their polling places open until 10 p.m. — three hours past the usual 7 p.m. closing time — for at least a few days.

The draft also sets a new window for early voting on Sundays, limiting it from 1 to 9 p.m.

The SB 7 draft also makes it a state jail felony for local officials to proactively send mail-in ballot applications to voters who did not request them. This is another response to Harris County, where officials attempted to send applications to all 2.4 million registered voters last year. Other Texas counties sent applications to voters 65 and older without much scrutiny. Although those voters automatically qualify to vote by mail, mailing unrequested applications to them in the future would also be banned.

Counties would also be prohibited from using public funds “to facilitate” the unsolicited distribution of ballot applications by third parties, which would keep them from also providing applications to local groups helping to get out the vote. Political parties would still be free to send unsolicited applications on their own dime — a practice regularly employed by both Republicans and Democrats.

The final version of the bill further tightens voting-by-mail rules by establishing a new requirement for voters requesting a ballot to provide their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number, if they have one. That language comes from separate Republican bills that failed to pass on their own.

Voters will also be required to include that information on the return envelopes containing their ballots for their votes to be counted.

Beyond its new restrictions on voting rules, the SB 7 draft expands the freedoms of partisan poll watchers. Currently, poll watchers are entitled to sit or stand “conveniently near” election workers. SB 7 would entitle them to be “near enough to see and hear” the election activity. The draft also adds language to the Texas Election Code to allow them “free movement” within a polling place, except for being present at a voting station when a voter is filling out a ballot.

Provisions dropped by the conference committee include a controversial measure that would’ve allowed poll watchers to record voters receiving assistance filling out their ballots if the poll watcher “reasonably believes” the help is unlawful. That change had raised particular concerns about the possible intimidation of voters who speak languages other than English and voters with disabilities who would be more likely to receive help to vote.

So all the work done by Democrats to make the bill less bad was undone. The restrictions on voting locations were taken out, which is a good thing, but there’s not much beyond that. Here’s a good summary:

Read through the thread, and get ready for what’s coming. I have no idea if there’s any prospect for a point of order or Senate filibuster to kill this, and I suspect that even is such a thing did happen Greg Abbott would give Dan Patrick the special session he’s craving anyway. There will be litigation, and we’ll just have to see how that goes. In the end, it will come down to what it always comes down to: We have to win enough elections, now not jut to stop crap like this, but to undo it. It’s going to be a huge job, and it will take a lot of time. But what other choice do we have?

UPDATE: No time wasted in the Senate.

In the course of several hours Saturday and early Sunday, Senate Republicans hurtled to move forward on a sweeping voting bill negotiated behind closed doors where it doubled in length and grew to include voting law changes that weren’t previously considered.

Over Democrats’ objections, they suspended the chamber’s own rules to narrow the window lawmakers had to review the new massive piece of legislation before giving it final approval ahead of the end of Monday’s end to the legislative session. This culminated in an overnight debate and party line vote early Sunday to sign off on a raft of new voting restrictions and changes to elections and get it one step closer to the governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 7, the GOP’s priority voting bill, emerged Saturday from a conference committee as an expansive bill that would touch nearly the entire voting process, including provisions to limit early voting hours, curtail local voting options and further tighten voting-by-mail, among several other provisions. It was negotiated behind closed doors over the last week after the House and Senate passed significantly different versions of the legislation and pulled from each chamber’s version of the bill. The bill also came back with a series of additional voting rule changes, including a new ID requirement for mail-in ballots, that weren’t part of previous debates on the bill.

But instead of giving senators the 24 hours required under the chamber’s rules to go over the committee’s report, including those new additions, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, moved to ignore that mandate so the Senate could debate and eventually vote on the final version of the bill just hours after it was filed.

Around 6 p.m. Saturday, Hughes acknowledged the Senate would consider the report “earlier than usual” but tried to argue he was giving senators “more time” by alerting them about his plan to debate the final version of SB 7 at 10 p.m.

“That’s a nice spin,” state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, shot back.

Remember when complaints about the original bill’s voter suppression tactics were met by rebuttals that we needed to “read the bill”? Yeah.

What are P Bush’s pledges worth?

Something less than $750 million would be my guess.

When Republican Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced Wednesday evening that he would ask federal officials to send Harris County $750 million in flood mitigation aid, he told Houstonians the move was a response to their “overwhelming concerns” over his agency’s decision to deny the city and county any relief days earlier.

Bush’s announcement, however, raised new questions about where the money would come from and how it would affect future rounds of funding. Local leaders, who are not guaranteed any money until federal housing officials sign off on Bush’s plan, said the amount remained well short of the $1.3 billion they had sought from the Texas General Land Office for a range of projects intended to mitigate future floods.

County officials are particularly worried that in accepting the $750 million, they would be disqualified from future funding competitions. And Mayor Sylvester Turner questioned why Bush would ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make the payment, effectively ensuring the money will not arrive for months, instead of allocating it himself.

Houston, meanwhile, remains shut out. A GLO spokeswoman said the county could consider sharing its allotment, if it arrives. But Harris County may be reluctant to do so because it is trying to close a $700 million gap in its flood bond program without raising taxes.

“I see this as a failed attempt on (Bush’s) part to try to pit the city and county against each other,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

Turner called it “foolishness” for Bush to not request any mitigation aid for the city. The mayor’s appointed chief recovery officer, Steve Costello, said city officials would continue to seek funding for the city that aligns with their share of the damage from Hurricane Harvey.

“Right now the city is under the assumption we have no money for any of our projects,” Costello said.

See here for the previous entry. If this is taken seriously and pursued, it would take up to 90 days for the money to come through. It’s hard to see why Harris County and especially Houston would take this seriously, with there being so many unanswered questions. This has the feel to me of Bush just scrambling to find something that will take the heat off. It doesn’t look like Houston or Harris will take the bait, so either Bush figures out a way to undo the colossal mess he created or it remains awfully awkward for the foreseeable future.

Threat level down again

Nice.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Friday downgraded the county to the yellow COVID-19 threat level, citing improving metrics for the virus here coupled with increasing vaccinations.

“This is an important and encouraging, but still fragile, milestone in our fight against COVID-19,” Hidalgo said. “Our community is doing what it needs to do to move the needle in the right direction, but the threat of stalling or moving backwards remains very real.”

Hidalgo urged unvaccinated residents to avoid gatherings over Memorial Day weekend and implored them to get inoculated.

Friday’s move was the second downgrade in two weeks, following months of criticism the threat level had become meaningless as COVID numbers improved and the governor opened the entire state for business.

See here for the previous update. You can complain if you want, but Judge Hidalgo was just following the data and not screwing around with the agreed-upon metrics for the sake of politics. If you want to keep this moving along, go convince your unvaccinated friends and family to get the shot or stay masked up. The path forward has always been simple, the problem has been the unwillingness of too many people to follow it.

Let’s try and get those federal transit funds now

Works for me.

Transit officials, sensing the timing may be right to tap federal funds for major projects, are moving quickly on portions of a planned bus rapid transit line viewed by some as the backbone of Houston’s future movement.

The segment of the planned University Line between Hillcroft Transit Center in Gulfton and the Wheeler Transit Center in Midtown is one of the most highly sought but historically controversial routes in the Metropolitan Transit Authority system.

Envisioned as bus rapid transit that uses some dedicated lanes to stop at key stations, delivering service similar to rail without the expense or design complexity, the project was included in the long-range Metro plan voters approved in November 2019. With a new federal government in place, proposing massive investment in transit, Metro officials said speeding up at least central portions of the line makes sense.

“Getting it in line for potential federal funding is critical,” Metro board member Sanjay Ramabhadran said. “The sooner we do it, the better.”

Accelerating the project means beginning discussions with the Federal Transit Administration around September, pending Metro board approval next month. From there, planners would spend about two years designing the project and holding public meetings to gauge community preferences.

That timeline would allow for the project to gain federal approvals — and perhaps money from Washington — by September 2023. Construction would take months or potentially years, depending on what exactly Metro builds.

“There is some risk to go with it,” Metro Deputy CEO Tom Jasien said of the acceleration. “We are going to have to work our way through this project development process very quickly.”

The reward, however, is federal clearance for a long-sought link, along with funding for it.

“It is our best chance to get in line for the federal funding we keep hearing that is likely to come,” Jasien said.

[…]

Having projects in the planning stages for construction three-to-five years away is warranted, Metro officials said, noting the agency’s $7.5 billion long-range plan means transit planners will need to juggle numerous projects simultaneously so all of them are poised to proceed to design or construction when money is available.

Those aims align with indications from federal officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has said projects that add transit options are needed to revive America’s cities.

See here for some background. Metro is also seeking funds for the Hobby Airport light rail extension, though that may require the infrastructure bill to happen. I’m in favor of anything that will make this happen in as timely a fashion as possible, but looking at the dates in this story made me realize that if everything goes well, we might be able to have this project completed in time to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 2001 Metro referendum that authorized a Universities Line in the first place. I am now going to get myself a beer, write John Culberson’s name on a piece of paper, go out into the back yard, and light that piece of paper on fire. Feel free to celebrate along with me.