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October 31st, 2021:

Weekend link dump for October 31

“There’s one less frequently discussed way in which Substack actually might be endangering democracy: It’s become a conduit for public disinformation during a historic pandemic.”

“In six out of seven countries — all but Germany — Tweets posted by accounts from the political right receive more algorithmic amplification than the political left when studied as a group.”

“I have (God help me) read a huge amount of this coverage and the thing that strikes me, over and over again, is the sheer sameness of it. Thousands upon thousands of words dedicated to the same arguments, the same low-stakes anecdotes, the same tortured historical analogies. Other than slight tweaks to the headlines, few of these stories even attempt to offer any original reporting or perspective.”

What Facebook knew about how it radicalized users”.

“Pregnant women and new mothers face a barrage of anti-vaccine fearmongering that would be very much worth a look. Black people have generations of reasons to distrust health care providers, and those reasons continue today. There’s the pernicious influence of Fox News and Facebook. If people are so fearful, where is that coming from? But reporters don’t seem to be asking that, or reporting it if they do.”

“We all have things we don’t like about law enforcement in this country. That crimes often don’t get investigated for budgetary reasons is a big one of mine.”

“The US has more jobs than it can fill. Fixing the immigration system could boost the economy.” There are plenty of other reasons to fix the immigration system, but for those of you that are fixated on the economy and the Great Resignation and all that, this is for you.

“Kellogg’s faces $5 million lawsuit for not having enough strawberries in its Pop-Tarts”.

I’m struggling to match my values to my employment here. I came here hoping to effect change and improve society, but all I’ve seen is atrophy and abdication of responsibility.”

How is it possible that in the year of our damn Lord 2021, electric shock devices are still being used as a means to discipline school children? Children with disabilities, in this case, mostly children of color. What the actual fuck?

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee’s process for approving the COVID vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds but were afraid to ask.

RIP, Mort Sahl, groundbreaking comedian who pioneered the style of topical humor in standup.

Mandates work.

Any article that contains a reference to “an arcane feature of Senate tradition” is almost certainly guaranteed to make you want to bang your head against a wall.

“Based on the lowest and highest point estimates, cities that used lead pipes had between 14 and 36 percent higher homicide rates than cities that did not.”

Let’s do right by Claudette Colvin.

“A roller derby team that has called itself the Cleveland Guardians since 2013 sued the city’s Major League Baseball team in federal court in Cleveland on Wednesday alleging that the switch from Indians to Guardians infringes on its trademark.”

Facebook is now Meta. Because “Hellscape” didn’t focus group too well, I guess. And no, I don’t want to know what the Metaverse is.

“Former President Donald Trump’s new TRUTH social network is in violation of the software license it’s built on and must get in compliance, the holder of the license demanded this week.”

RIP, Arnold Hano, baseball journalist and author, best known for the book “A Day in the Bleachers”.

A brief update on the Gutierrez/Eckhardt redistricting lawsuit

First news we’ve had in awhile.

Plaintiff: Democratic state Sens. Roland Gutierrez and Sarah Eckhardt

What the lawsuit argues: Ahead of lawmakers’ third special session, two Democratic state senators sued to block the Legislature from redistricting in a special session this year. The senators argued the Texas Constitution requires that redistricting be done in a regular session that won’t happen until 2023.

If successful, the federal lawsuit by Sens. Eckhardt of Austin and Gutierrez of San Antonio, with political organization Tejano Democrats, would require judges to create interim redistricting plans for the Legislature to use in the 2022 election cycle.

What’s next: The case, filed Sept. 1 in federal court in Austin, has been assigned to a three-judge panel of Reagan appointee Jerry Smith, Obama appointee Robert Pitman and Trump appointee Jeffrey Brown.

State lawyers have asked the court to consolidate the LULAC case with the senators’ case, and asked the court to abstain from a state matter. The officials also argued the plaintiffs misinterpreted the state constitution and cannot challenge the old maps.

On Tuesday, both sides indicated that the plaintiffs intend to pursue similar claims in state court. The three-judge panel then ordered the parties to file a joint status report “when they have determined the impact of the litigation in state court on this case.”

See here for the background on this lawsuit. The LULAC case is the one filed in mid-October after the maps were passed but before they were signed into law, with LULAC and several other groups as plaintiffs, and with MALDEF doing the filing. That lawsuit challenged all of the maps, including the Congressional map – the Gutierrez/Eckhardt lawsuit only challenged the legislative maps, as they are the ones that are covered by the state constitution.

What this sounds like to me is that the two Senators will file a new lawsuit in a state court, and action on the federal side will be put on pause until there is some kind of ruling there, at which point the three-judge panel will consider what its next steps are. I’ll keep an eye out for any news about that filing.

On a side note, this story also had a brief update about the Voto Latino lawsuit. That one was also assigned to a three-judge panel, and it too had an Obama appointee, a Trump appointee…and Jerry Smith. Who was involved in (I believe) the consolidated redistricting cases from the last decade. Do they keep him on ice just for these situations, or is is the luck of the draw? I am mystified. Reform Austin has more.

Is there no way to fully close the flood bond funding gap?

Not looking great right now.

For three years, Harris County Commissioners Court members have bickered, haggled and negotiated over the $2.5 billion flood bond program voters passed after Hurricane Harvey.

Throughout all the discord over how projects should be prioritized and the order in which they should start, the group has stuck to one promise: All projects on the original list presented to voters would be completed, one way or another.

That guarantee may no longer be true, court members conceded Tuesday after Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia proposed taking funding for seven planned projects in the Cedar Bayou watershed and reallocating it elsewhere.

While Garcia postponed seeking approval of the idea after County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned it effectively would kill the Cedar Bayou projects, the Democratic majority on the court said the county should consider re-vetting planned projects to see if better alternatives are available.

Court members are in a conundrum. The list contains about $5 billion worth of flood protection projects. The bond, however, provides only half that sum. The county planned for the rest to be covered through matching federal dollars that have failed to materialize, largely due to a distribution formula used by the state General Land Office that discriminated against populous areas.

“We only have $2.5 billion, so decisions have to be made,” Garcia said.

Through June, however, the county had received $1.2 billion in matching federal funds and diverted an additional $230 million in toll road revenue for the program, bringing the total available to $4 billion. The county budget office estimates the roughly decade-long program, currently 16 percent complete, is fully funded for the next five years.

Nonetheless, while no projects have been delayed or canceled to date, that day could soon arrive. Garcia’s proposal would shift $191 million planned for detention basins and channel improvements along Cedar Bayou, in northeast Harris County, to 17 projects in the Carpenters, Vince, Jackson, Greens, Armand, San Jacinto and Galveston Bay watersheds.

See here, here, and here for more on the attempts to fill the gap, and here and here for the reminder that the mess we are in is George P. Bush’s fault. According to Commissioner Garcia, his proposal to prioritize one project over another would protect more houses, score better on the county’s rubric for the projects, and get finished faster. I’m not sure why the order hadn’t been flipped before now, but that sure sounds like a worthy idea even without the funding issues. If nothing else, it may buy some time. But in the end, assuming we continue to be screwed by the GLO, it’s as Commissioner Ellis said: The Commissioners can find a way to come up with the rest of the money, or they can admit that not all of the projects will get done and explain their actions to the public. Those are the choices.

November 2021 final early voting totals

A busy final day, and a significant uptick in early votes over 2017.

Friday was the last day to vote early in the 2021 school board and state constitutional amendment elections with early numbers showing an uptick in turnout in Harris County compared with four years ago.

County election data shows the estimated total of those voting early in person as of Friday night to be 63,358 compared with the 46,224 in-person ballots cast in 2017, a 37 percent increase. Mail-in ballots also jumped in this early election period with tentative numbers showing 47,243 ballots cast compared with the 12,205 counted in 2017, almost a four-fold jump. .

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said extended hours of operation, drive-thru voting and five 24-hour polling places helped boost election access for voters. On Thursday, polls that were open until 10 p.m. also saw increased activity.

“Voting until 10 p.m., we see from the stats last night, worked. People still came out to vote,” Longoria said of voters taking advantage of the longer hours. “We’re seeing that we just surpassed the 2017 in-person voting, which is amazing. When you help people remove those barriers — even something as small as having to print a form online — people go and vote, even in these ‘off-year’ elections.”

The final early voting report is here, and you can compare to the final 2017 EV report here. Overall, 110,601 people have voted in this election. That’s nearly double the total for the same period in 2017, with mail ballots being the biggest difference maker. It was only on the last day, when nearly 18K people voted in person, that the in person total surpassed the mail ballot total. Of those 63,258 in person voters, 3,100 used drive-through voting. Six hundred and eleven voted during the extended hours, including overnight voting.

How is that likely to affect final turnout? Compared to 2017, when 150,174 people voted in total. Based on past history, we’d expect turnout of over 200K, given that in the past most people voted on Election Day in even-numbered years. I strongly suspect that a much larger fraction of the voters have already shown up, thanks in part to the surge in mail voting, and in part to the increase in early voting from 2020. I’m betting that just as elections that came after 2008, the first time we ever had more than half the votes cast early, we’ll see a bump in early voting for other elections as well. By the way, that surge in mail ballots is due in part to the Elections office sending a mail ballot application to every eligible voter. Which they’ll not be able to do again because of the voter suppression bill that was passed by the Lege. I’m sure we all feel so much safer now. Anyway, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that about 2/3 of the vote has already been cast, which means I figure final turnout will be in the 160-170K range. That’s a notch up from 2017, but we also have more registered voters. The number to look for is turnout as a percentage of registered voters, which was 6.72% in 2017. My guess is we’ll still be pretty close to that. But we’ll see! Have you voted yet?

Wait, what Astrodome mural project?

How is it we hadn’t known about this before now?

Ready and waiting

A proposal to repaint the Astrodome with a series of murals expressing opposition to human trafficking was rejected Friday by the Texas Historical Commission out of concern for the 56-year-old building.

Commission members said they were worried about acrylic latex paint being applied directly to the structure, a state antiquities landmark that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Under the proposal, submitted by the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which owns the 1965 dome, street artists would paint the building’s exterior circumference with murals measuring 75 feet high and 150 feet wide, under the coordination of a group called Street Art for Mankind. An eighth artist would paint an image on the roof of an astronaut in space. The art installations would remain in place for 10 years.

No one representing the county or the art group was present as commission staff presented the request for a historic buildings and structures permit.

“We have concerns about turning the Astrodome into a big billboard. It doesn’t really seem like an appropriate treatment for a historic building that is a state antiquities landmark,” Mark Wolfe, the commission’s executive director, told commissioners and members of the agency’s Antiquities Advisory Board.

Commissioners said they would support an artificial “wrap” around the dome. But they objected to paint being applied directly onto the building’s concrete surfaces and glass windows.

I did not make it through all 295 pages of the Texas Historical Commission’s agenda, so I don’t know anything more about where this came from or who would do it. It’s a noble idea, but I share the THC’s reluctance to make such a fundamental alteration to the Dome. There will one day be a true redevelopment effort, and I’d rather they start with the Dome more or less as is, rather than have to scrape off a bunch of latex paint. I would also support the “wrap” idea, which seems ideally suited for this kind of project. And I’d still like to know more about the origin of this idea.