Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Uber awful

The minute I laid eyes on 'em, I knew they were no good.

At least one ride-sharing company has decided to openly defy city law that bans its unlicensed drivers from charging for rides.

While a few free-ride promotions remain ongoing, Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian confirmed Tuesday that the service, which connects interested riders with willing drivers via smartphone apps, is indeed charging for rides and will “stand by” any drivers who receive city citations.

Where are all the conservatives crying "illegal"?  We certainly aren't going to find them in a federal courtroom, sitting higher than everybody else.

A federal judge Monday declined to issue a temporary restraining order sought by Houston and San Antonio cab companies hoping to block ride-sharing services that permit riders to use smart phone applications to catch rides.

Houston-based U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore set a July 15 date for an injunction hearing, which could result in stopping the smartphone-based companies from operating or give city ordinances as chance to catch up with the technology.

Gilmore said she had some "real concern" about whether the taxi and limousine companies had standing for a temporary restraining order, and added that she was particularly concerned about doing anything that stands in the way of a political process that already is under way.

Isn't that wonderful.  Let's break the law AND have the judge blow it off.

This is the same company that is busily lining up behind Google and Facebook with their own grandiose schemes to take over the world.

Honestly, I think what finished it for me was when I saw one of the local diehard Democratic activists -- he has both pimped Uber relentlessly and also drove the presidential limo when Obama came to town earlier this month -- compliment Robert Miller, Republican fundraiser and Uber lobbyist, on his sartorial splendor at City Hall.  If you needed a better example of class warfare, waged on the poor from the Democrats and the Republicans working in harmony, I do not know where you might find it.  Oh wait.

Oligarchy, it's what's for dinner.  I just don't think trust fund millennials are ever going to get it, even if they read this.

There is nothing progressive about lowering earnings for working-class people, nor is there anything progressive about undercutting labor costs to the point workers are driven into poverty and homelessness. It's a game as old as the laborers in the days of the Bible and as recent as those sweating in the mines of Western and Southern Africa. Play the working class against one another for the benefit of the wealthy who seek to be served no matter the human cost.

Texas Monthly weighed in also with the public policy perspective.

Regulating services like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar is important. Companies that profit off of public infrastructure (i.e., roads) need to pay taxes that help maintain that infrastructure, but that's just the beginning of the question. Are the unlicensed, part-time, "your driver is your buddy" chaffeurs of Lyft and Sidecar safe behind the wheel, if there's no regulation? Cities have a legitimate interest in regulating taxi franchises for multiple reasons: safety, tax purposes, and ensuring that there are enough cabs on the road—i.e., that the business model remains profitable enough that people continue becoming cab drivers—to provide travelers with the ability to, say, get to and from the airport in a reasonable manner. 

All the cab companies have ever said is that the Uber and the rest of these operations should abide by the same city laws that they have for decades.  Uber cannot seem to do that.

I wouldn't hire this outfit to clean out my garage.  And to be clear, everybody that does hire them is fighting the class war on the side of the wealthiest against everybody else.

Texpate has some additional thoughts on the libertarian lousiness that is Uber, and Kuffner has been all over it (mostly from the opposite perspective).  With the first draft of the ride-sharing ordinance made public, the heated discussions will now begin.  As with Houston's proposed non-discrimination ordinance, it's time to make your city council member hear your voice.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Earth Day became a global event

Earth Day began in 1970, when 20 million people across the United States—that's one in ten—rallied for increased protection of the environment.

"It was really an eye-opening experience for me," Gina McCarthy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who was a self-described self-centered teenager during the first Earth Day rallies, told National Geographic. (See pictures: "The First Earth Day—Bell-Bottoms and Gas Masks.")

"Not only were people trying to influence decisions on the Vietnam War," she recalled, "but they were beginning to really focus attention on issues like air pollution, the contamination they were seeing in the land, and the need for federal action."

At the time, she said, the environment was in visible ruins: factories legally spewed black clouds of pollutants into the air and dumped toxic waste into streams.
"I can remember the picture of the Cuyahoga River being on fire," she said, referring to the Ohio waterway choked with debris, oil, sludge, industrial wastes, and sewage that spectacularly erupted in flames on June 22, 1969, and caught the nation's attention.

Although members of the public were increasingly incensed at the lack of legal and regulatory mechanisms to thwart environmental pollution, green issues were absent from the U.S. political agenda.

Not so any longer, naturally. Today's example would be Karl Rove sharing his thoughts on the decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline.  It seems also that the Green Party -- at least in the United States -- missed an opportunity to brand itself as the environmental political movement, and has even allowed the word 'green' to be co-opted by non-political groups like the Sierra Club and others.

In the years since the first Earth Day we've seen a corruption of the terminology by people who have apparently decided that a healthy environment is somehow bad for business.  "Tree-huggers", "whackos", "enviro-Nazis", "dirty effing hippies", etc. all characterize the rhetoric of those who think fracking is safe, that the bees and polar bears aren't in trouble, and that the vanishing glaciers in Glacier National Park is just a phase.

The words of Upton Sinclair have never rung more true (and have never been more applicable than in Texas, where Rick Perry often gets the economic credit for the millions of dinosaurs who died in the Permian Basin hundreds of thousands of years ago)...

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

There are no jobs on a dead planet. I wonder if conservatives, when they express concern for their grandchildren's future in the form of debt and deficits, ever consider that.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Houston's NDO has liftoff

It looks like a couple of weeks of pressure has paid off.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s office on Monday released the proposed text of a long-awaited Human Rights Ordinance, and it includes a citywide ban on employment discrimination.

Parker previously indicated that an earlier draft of the proposed ordinance didn’t include citywide employment protections, leading to a major push by LGBT advocates to have the provision added.

That pressure was indeed tremendous. The ordinance does draw some lines at enforcement.

Happy Easter!  Churches can continue to discriminate, and so can small businesses.   I would imagine the pastors also laid some damnation on the mayor, and will now focus their efforts on some of the most skittish, God-or-conservatives-fearing CMs.

The vote won't happen until May, so there's still plenty of time for tagging, waffling, and otherwise pussyfooting around equal rights for all Houstonians.  TransGriot, Texas Leftist, and Texpate all seem initially satisfied, so there's that.  I'll be a little more enthusiastic as soon as I see a large majority -- and not a narrow one -- of city council members do the right thing.

Ken Paxton's ethical lapses

At least he got past Easter without being crucified.  It's been a lousy Monday for a holier-than-thou Teabagger in a runoff for Texas attorney general.  Let's leave this one to Big Jolly.

In the race to replace Texas Attorney General and Republican nominee for Governor Greg Abbott, state Sen. Ken Paxton was the frontrunner in the March Republican primary. It was yet another example of Republican primary voters choosing to go with the least qualified person for the job. Paxton is more of a real estate investor than he is an attorney but voters didn’t seem to pay attention, focusing only on his loose affiliation with Sen. Ted Cruz and tea party endorsements. Let’s hope that in the runoff, voters get serious and look at Paxton’s lack of accomplishment during his legislative career and his many problems with financial transparency.

Fortunately, the Texas Tribune’s Jay Root has pieced a few of Paxton’s problems together in a piece titled “Paxton Campaign Reviewing Disclosure Lapses” published this morning. Here are a few snippets...

Yeah, go ahead and read those.  It's bad, and that's just what the Republicans are saying.

In a statement released Monday, Branch called the new revelations “deeply troubling” and said Texans need an attorney general “who will protect them, not prey upon them.” Branch called on Paxton to drop out of the race if he does not answer questions regarding his associations.

“Texas voters must know whether someone seeking to be the state’s chief law enforcement official has violated criminal or civil laws,” Branch said. “If Ken Paxton won’t provide these answers, he should end his campaign for Attorney General.”

Why, that's almost exactly what John Coby said this morning, except he is not a Republican.

Paxton is probably going to follow Greg Abbott's lead; in the face of unrelenting bad news, hide in the basement until it blows over, even if that takes weeks.

I'll bet this fraud is still the Republican nominee for attorney general, and that means by default he has better than even odds to get elected in November.  Because that's just how the TXGOP rolls.

(That's not insensitive to Greg Abbott, is it?)

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance has finally packed away its sweaters as it brings you this week's roundup of the best blog posts from the left of the Lone Star State.

Off the Kuff evaluates the Castro-Patrick debate.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos is horrified by the Texas Republican campaign strategies that vilify women and immigrants, in Boats N' Hoes, Snake Oil Dealers and Diseases from Mexico.

Horwitz at Texpatriate discusses the implication of Uber, the infamous ridesharing app, openly breaking the law in Houston.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson reminds us that Democrats in Texas can't keep fighting one election at a time and go home in-between. This week's Poll Was A Bummer, Now Get To Work!

On the horns of a pair of dilemmas -- one being a progressive in Texas, the other associated with the president and the attorney general's playing of the race card -- PDiddie at Brains and Eggs finds himself a little uncomfortable.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants to know why gun pushers are so pushy. Only the gun manufacturers win. And that's the point: Ted Cruz is pushing the NRA propaganda.

Neil at All People Have Value made some posts from London this past week. All People Have Value is part of


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

BOR pens an ode, in word and Twitpic, to the massive and successful Wendy Davis/BGTX door-knocking campaign last weekend.

Lone Star Q celebrates the four Texans on the Out Magazine Power 50 list.

The Texas Green Report celebrates the latest win in court by the EPA over industrial polluters and the attorneys general that abet them.

The Texican reminds us that live animals do not make good gifts.

RH Reality Check reports that the state lawsuit against the prohibition of funds for the Women's Health Program going to Planned Parenthood was allowed to proceed by the Third Court of Appeals.

Bob Dunn updates his site's legal disclaimer.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1927 - 2014

Some recollections of a literary titan.

When he arrived in Mexico City (in 1961), García Márquez had few friends and no prospects of work. He aimed for the movie industry, but when his family ran out of food, he took a job editing a women’s magazine and a crime magazine on the condition that his name would never appear in either. Later he landed jobs as a scriptwriter and as an advertising copywriter.

In his mid-30s, his ability to write fiction appeared to have dried up. His previous novel had been written in Paris, and he couldn’t seem to finish another. According to the Uruguayan critic Emir Rodríguez Monegal, who first met García Márquez around this time, he was “a tortured soul, an inhabitant of the most exquisite hell: that of literary sterility.”

One day in 1965, as García Márquez drove from Mexico City to Acapulco for a holiday weekend, everything changed. According to legend, he was navigating a twisting highway when the first sentence of “(One Hundred Years of) Solitude” suddenly formed in his mind:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” 

 The practitioner of magical realism was at his best in my favorite, Love in the Time of Cholera.

The lives García Márquez next made "believable" were those of his parents, whose extended courtship was rendered into Love in the Time of Cholera, first published in 1985. The novel tells how a secret relationship between Florentino Arizo and Fermina Daza is thwarted by Fermina's marriage to a doctor trying to eradicate cholera, only to be rekindled more than 60 years later.

After the doctor died... not from cholera, but from the rescue of a parrot in a mango tree.  A bit more about "Solitude", his masterwork, to whet the appetite of those who may be unfamiliar:

It’s often said that the works of Colombian novelist and short-story writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez are quintessential examples of “magic realism”: fiction that integrates elements of fantasy into otherwise realistic settings. In his 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which ambles through a century in the lives of one family in the enchanted Latin American hamlet of Macondo, magic carpets fly, ghosts haunt villagers, and trickles of blood from a killing climb stairs and turn corners to find the victim’s mother in her kitchen.

And how prose like that came about.

He believes that (fellow author William) Faulkner differs from him on this matter in that Faulkner's outlandishness is disguised as reality.

"Faulkner was surprised at certain things that happened in life," García said, 'but he writes of them not as surprises but as things that happen every day."

García feels less surprised. "In Mexico," he says, "surrealism runs through the streets. Surrealism comes from the reality of Latin America."

Now if you will excuse me, I have some reading to do.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The dilemma of playing the race card

Kinda stuck on dilemmas lately.  This from Matt Bai breaks down the effectiveness of the usage of the race cudgel by Barack Obama and Eric Holder this week.

So now it's out there. After five years of studied reticence (unless they were talking privately to one another or their supporters), Democratic leaders in Washington finally went public last week with what they really think is motivating Republican opposition to Barack Obama. As Steve Israel, one of the top Democrats in Congress, told CNN's Candy Crowley, the Republican base, "to a significant extent," is "animated by racism."

Just to make himself clear, Israel did allow that not all Republicans were the ideological descendants of Bull Connor. To which I'm sure his colleagues across the aisle responded, "Oh, OK. Cool then."

But it's not the reaction of Republicans that Democrats should probably have some concern about. It's the way American voters, and a lot of younger voters in particular, may view a return to the polarizing racial debate that existed before Obama was ever elected.

There have to be some ground rules for discussion, and the first one is that everybody has to agree that Republicans and conservatives are either a) racist pigfucking assholes, or b) not racist pigfucking assholes, but perfectly willing to tolerate the ones among them who are.  In fact the enablers are somewhat morally worse than the agitators.  Their bigotry can almost be excused to ignorance; not so for those who know better.

This point is also where I will probably receive a comment from Greg Aydt that you, reader, will never see, that is rhetorically along the lines of "Democrats do it too!" (There's about sixty of them in the 'pending moderation' queue right now, over the course of the months and years, and that's just the ones I haven't deleted.  I like to go back and refresh my recollection occasionally as to the actual essence of derangement of conservative "logic".)

This point is also not going to be conceded by any other Republican or conservative, so perhaps the discussion is instantly rendered moot.  Returning to Bai now.

Coming in an election year, and in the wake of sporadic campaigns to solidify support among women and gay voters, the sudden Democratic focus on race felt like an orchestrated talking point. Israel's comments came just a few days after Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, suggested that racism was keeping Republicans from voting on an immigration bill. And Pelosi was reacting to a speech by the attorney general, Eric Holder, who complained to a civil rights gathering in Washington of "ugly and divisive" attacks against the administration.

So maybe it's a talking point, or maybe it's just five years of pent-up frustration.

As far as I can tell, though, this eruption on race actually wasn't born in the kind of strategy session where consultants lay out which issues will move which voters. What seems to have happened was something rarer: Washington Democrats, unable to suppress their frustration for a minute longer, simply blurted out what they have always believed to be true but had been reluctant to say. One catharsis emboldened the next.

As a unifying explanation for the abject dysfunction of our political system, latent racism seems unsatisfying, at least by itself. Is there a lingering prejudice lurking among some older, rural, white conservatives in the country? It would be ignorant of history to argue otherwise. Is this "birther" business, for instance, a reflection of racism? Without a doubt.

But conservatives do have profound and principled disagreements with Obama's view of expansive government. And it's worth noting that racial resentment has been a part of the partisan divide for at least 50 years now; it's doubtful that "birther" types hate Obama any more than they did Bill Clinton (whom they accused of serial murder, among other things). What's happened over that time is that the presidency has become increasingly personality-based, and the country more culturally cleft, so that each successive president becomes subject to an ever more irrational kind of attack on his very legitimacy as a leader.

That's pretty solid.  This divide shows no signs of even slowing down its widening.

Embracing the rallying cry in the Daily Beast this week, Michael Tomasky, a sharp and reasoned political observer on the left, pointed out that not a single Republican had shown the courage to stand up and declare racial bigotry intolerable in his party. A good point – except that I don't recall Pelosi or Israel making a version of that same speech when the highly educated liberals who despised George W. Bush circulated emails, after their defeat in 2004, depicting a red map of the "United States of Jesusland" and blaring, "F--- the South." Bigotry in our politics now takes myriad forms.

Those of us who live in Texas -- and are not conservative -- can understand this point acutely.  There are many liberals and progressives not of the Lone Star State who push consistently that Texas should be encouraged to secede, "why don't we just give it back to Mexico", or cut it off the continent and let it float out into the Gulf, or go ahead and build that border wall, but at the Red and Sabine Rivers (as if Oklahoma and Louisiana are bastions of enlightenment and tolerance).

Still, a lot of Americans who voted for Obama probably find the racism argument at least somewhat persuasive. And how persuasive you find it probably depends not just on your ideology and where in America you live, but at least as much on when you were born.

We're living in a strange moment, after all, where generations who inhabit the same neighborhoods and social networks nonetheless draw on wildly different experiences of growing up American. For the purposes of race and politics, let's assume that voters who sympathize with Obama break down, more or less, into three cohorts.

And there I'll leave it to complete reading Bai's distinctions between the chronological caucuses.

I occupy a fairly lonely piece of ground in Texas as a middle-aged, still-middle class Caucasian male who is just barely to the right of being an actual socialist.  A common species in places like Berkeley or Portland, but not so much Houston.  So I think (or like to think) that my perspective is unique, as a kid who grew up in a Democratic union household and grew into a Young Republican in college.  Sort of an Alex P. Keaton without the sitcom exaggerations.  But the truth of course is that there were tons of Reagan Democrats moving from left to right in the late '70's and through the '80's.  

There weren't a whole lot of those who were employed as managers in corporate America who had moved back, right to left, by the late '80's, though.  Everybody should already be aware of the fact that I ceased being a fan of the president's early in his first term.  And I don't care for Eric Holder much at all (I suggested he step down almost a year ago).  I agreed with Philip Bump at The Wire when he wrote that Holder's recent disrespect of Louie Gohmert was fairly shocking.  That level of insolence from a Republican attorney general would have Democrats screeching about 'above the law', we all know that.

This places me in the extremely uncomfortable position of siding with Louie Gohmert.  Given my prejudice against ignorance, the level of cognitive dissonance that produces leaves me without words.  Almost.  Enough about me, though.

Bai's point on how playing the race card is going to play out over the next few months is clear.

And so you can imagine that the sudden outburst from party leaders about racism did little to advance their cause with these voters, who are, just by the way, crucial to the Democrats' electoral math for years to come. The politics of racial grievance and identity feels about as contemporary to millennials as a floppy disk. (Look it up on Wikipedia.) They're still wondering what kind of politics comes next.

Calling out Republicans as racists probably felt familiar to Israel and the others, like returning to a place where all the landmarks are known. But the terrain of American politics is shifting fast, and there's not much to be gained by turning back.
I would have to agree.  Most Americans (that still includes Texans) who are not tuned in to the weekly partisan wrangling find this near-constant quarrel between Ds and Rs distasteful.  That's why this development is unlikely to improve the prospects of voter registration and turnout among the low-info, occasional voter that Wendy Davis and all the rest of the Democrats in Texas must have in order to be successful to any degree in November. 

And I have to hope that Matt Bai and I are just wrong about that.

Update: John Coby seems to be saying the same thing.  Sort of.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Texas progressive dilemma

This post could have been titled 'liberal dilemma', 'Democratic dilemma', 'Green dilemma'...

"Not a Davis campaign email: Abbott still holds big lead":

As Rodger Jones notes, the daily email pounding from the Wendy Davis campaign borders on relentless, with Republican opponent Greg Abbott supposedly doing every nefarious thing on earth, short of sleeping with farm animals.

The goal, of course, is to move the needle. So far, no dice.

"PPP poll highlights areas of concern for Texas Democrats":

Jim Henson, the director of UT’s Texas Politics Project, says the poll (together with others) shows the Texas political balance hasn’t changed much — yet — from where it was in 2010, when Bill White faced Rick Perry. “So far there’s no evidence that this race is disrupting the pattern,” said Henson. “We’re settling in to what we expect from the fundamentals.” The caveat: we’re at a point now, Henson says, where voters are just beginning to tune in. There’s time for the momentum to shift, but we’re settling in to the baseline.

Well, some things are a-changin'. The Texas Libertarian Party had over two hundred delegates at their state convention last Saturday, and Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune even covered it.  (Texas Greens, also convening this past weekend, had around 50.  And no media coverage save a couple of bloggers.)  Ramsey wasn't much impressed, though.

The difference between this and the size of the two major parties is vast, even at a time when turnout for the Republican and Democratic primaries in Texas is something of a national joke. It's like the difference between Beer League and Major League Baseball, between paper airplanes and airliners.

Still, watching the delegates churn through rules and argue over ballots and candidates puts the personal back into a political process that often plays out in commercials and mailers and quick meetings with strangers who bang on front doors fishing for support.

The 4:1 ratio of state delegates between the two minor parties is mirrored in Texas election results: the Libs can generally draw about 4% in statewide contested races historically while the Greens get a single percentage point.  Less when the D and the R are well-known, and more -- sometimes much more, as in 15% plus -- in uncontested or low-profile races.

This monolithic political landscape, as we all know, is why Texas is... well, Texas.  It's been like this since at least 1998, when the GOP first waltzed.  With one notable exception: that good ol' Aggie buddy of Rick Perry's, John Sharp, who almost pulled off the upset in the lieutenant governor's race that year.  Oh, how different things might have been: Perry would not have ascended to the governorship upon the (s)election of George W. Bush of the presidency in 2000, Texas would have had a Democratic governor -- albeit one as conservative as most Republicans of that era -- for a couple of years, maybe more; the 'Dream Team' would have never been a thing...

Instead, the most exciting thing liberals have going in the spring of 2014 is an immigration debate between a mayor and a lite guv candidate where Democrats are cheering and screaming, "Bring on 2018!"

This is a hopeful electoral strategy if you're a pre-law undergraduate, I suppose.  The rest of us?  Not so much.

Since the olden days of the late '90's, the baseline, as Henson refers to it in the second excerpt above, has been in the 55-41-4-1% range for Repubs, Dems, Libs, and Greens respectively.  (The Greens did not have Texas ballot access in some of those years; that is its own convoluted history.  And yes, I realize my math adds up to 101% due to rounding.)

Nothing much has changed over the past couple of decades.  Texas remains a state with about 36% of its population of Latino descent and growing, but fewer than half are voters, a figure considerably lower than Latino turnout by percentage of population even in southwestern states like California and Arizona.  Can't fault just the brown folks, though.  Voter turnout by all demographics in Texas is 49th in a good (read: presidential) year, and in off-years like 2010, you get Republican sweeps in the 60-65% range.

Everybody who's been paying the slightest amount of attention already knows all this.  And there's the problem right there: only about 5% of Texans are paying attention at this point in the cycle, and that number will expand to just 15-20% by November.

As has been repeated elsewhere, Texas is not a Republican state; Texas is a non-voting state.  And Texas Republicans are going to continue doing their dead level best to keep it that way.

So all that Democrats can do is put their shoulders back against the boulder, while the Libertarians have to recapture the Tea Pees whenever it becomes clear that the corporate overlords are not going to let them take over the Republican Party, and the Greens need to get all of their statewide candidates to show up at their state convention, for a start.  Somewhere among all of those not-stupid-and-mean conservatives, combined with just a few of the 75% of Texans who do not ever vote except maybe sometimes, when the White House is on the ballot... there's bound to be 50% plus one (or even a 39% plurality).

I sure I hope I live long enough to see the day that the liberal majority in Texas shows up at the polling place, but I'm increasingly skeptimistic that I will.

Update: No worries, I'm not suicidal.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Austin over the weekend

-- Slow to gather my thoughts on this past weekend's Texas Green Party convention in Austin.  Socratic Gadfly has his take on the most interesting development: whether the Greens should formally cede the governor's race to Wendy Davis in order to avoid catching "Nader 2000" repetitive blame.  (The Nader-traitor myth was debunked by yours truly here, ICYMI.)  My opinion doesn't vary much from what SocFly wrote, but I will expand on the point after today's tax deadline is in my rearview mirror.

Until I can get to that, we saw many beautiful wildflowers on the drive over, we ate some incredible barbecue at Stiles Switch -- that old retro shopping center it occupies was the location of some scenes from one of Matthew McConaughey's lesser films -- and had even more delicious Cuban fare at this SoCo place.  And if you take 290 and hanker for la comida Mexicana, Los Patrones in Giddings esta muy sabroso.

-- Speaking of tastiness, Governor Goodhair might turn into a ham sandwich.

More likely not, but it'll be fun to watch him sweat.

That's all I have time for today.  Much more in the pipeline.