Thursday, August 28, 2014

Next Dome proposal waits for actual plan, funding, some enthusiasm

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett's proposal to turn the Astrodome into "the world's largest indoor park" and recreation area is definitely feasible, a local architect said Wednesday, but also one whose fate - and cost - will be dictated by the details.

Long on vision, short on specifics.  One of the more amusing toss-offs from the judge included a horseshoe pit.

The county's top elected official did not present any blueprints or renderings on Tuesday, but discussed a loose concept for an evolving air-conditioned facility that he said could host festivals and other community gatherings, general exercise facilities, hike and bike trails on the upper levels, an amphitheater, a pavilion for concerts and other events, museums and special educational facilities for children. The county-owned Dome also could house sports facilities, such as an archery range or horseshoe pits, he said.

He acknowledged the proposal was open-ended and did not include a cost estimate or funding plan, the lack of which has been his major criticism of previous proposals to redevelop the stadium.

"It has been suggested that it might be better to wait until we have a fully detailed plan to roll this out," Emmett said. "However, I believe it's important to lay out the vision, and like Judge Hofheinz, call upon experts and the public to help implement that vision."

I have to say that considering what a poor job Emmett did of selling his last proposal, to hold a press conference on the floor of the un-airconditioned Astrodome to tout a vision and nothing more seems a little... well, egotistical on his part.  He's thinks he's leading but nobody is following.

As you might suspect, the GNOP is irate about the fact that what (they thought) they voted for last November isn't happening.  There are over 500 comments on the original story, most of them screeching "tear it down".  The county's chief executive officer -- the one they have elected  a couple of times now -- just isn't going to let that happen on his watch.

Now if you want to read some really hilarious backbiting from inside the local conservative caucus, Big Jolly manages to work in a wide variety of snipes not only against Emmett but also Houston's homeless, the Occupy movement, "gangs" taking over skybox suites and even Annise Parker (to be fair, you duly earned that one, Madam Mayor).

As I commented at BJ's place, maybe the Republicans upset with the judge could send a message to Emmett by voting for the only challenger he has on November's ballot, Green David Collins.  (You can read Texpate's Q&A with Collins here.)  Can you imagine the sturm und drang if the Pachyderms were to call the county judge's office and declare, as longtime GOP primary participants, they were going to vote Green in November?

Perhaps a step too far to the left for them to contemplate, I grant you.  What if they simply told the new chair of the Harris County Republican Party that they would NOT vote a straight ticket?  God forbid, selecting straight Republican on their e-Slates but un-selecting Judge Emmett's box?

This is revolution we're talking here.  Frankly though, we all know that the conservatives simply don't have this much courage within them.  They'll put on a tricorn hat and carry a misspelled sign -- "Libety or Tranny" is this year's best -- but actual revolt at the ballot box?  Nope.

They're brave enough to parade around with their long guns in River Oaks but not in the Fifth Ward.  Voting against a Republican is just far more unpatriotic in their view than a corporate tax inversion.

As for me, I'm in favor of whatever keeps the old girl standing in some form or fashion.  The more of her standing, the better.  If Emmett is serious about saving the building, then he'll have to quickly rustle up a handful of deep-pocketed angels.  That's something every single other Dome "reimagining" over the past fifteen or so years has lacked, just as this one does.

Charles assembled some of the more upbeat preliminary reactions.  We're back in "wait-and-see" mode, probably until after the holidays (Emmett would be a much bigger fool than I have long suspected should he keep on talking about this).  That is, unless some Dome lover hits the Powerball and gives all of the winnings to the county to fix her up in grand style.

Do you think the judge is buying lottery tickets with taxpayer money?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Too much, too little

But it's never too late.

-- Thanks again, Darwin:

A firearms instructor has died after he was shot by a nine-year-old girl when she fired an Uzi at a shooting range in the Arizona desert.

Mohave County sheriff’s officials said 39-year-old Charles Vacca, of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, died at the hospital on Monday after he was shot at the Last Stop outdoor shooting range.

Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Vacca was standing next to the girl when she pulled the trigger. The gun recoiled and it went over her head.

The paper reported that the girl had successfully fired the 9mm weapon several times in “single-shot” mode before Vacca changed the setting to “fully automatic” mode.

“The guy just dropped,” McCabe said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The sheriff said the instructor was shot at least once in the head.

-- Why Congress Is Reluctant To Stop The Military Toys Flowing To Local Cops:

“The argument made is that everyone wants their community to ‘be prepared’ with the best equipment, in the event they need it,” said another House Democrat, who also voted against the amendment. “Hard to say 'no' to your local police chief when they are explaining to you how this equipment could help and in what type of situation.”

-- UN panel: Global warming human-caused, dangerous

Global warming is here, human-caused and probably already dangerous — and it's increasingly likely that the heating trend could be irreversible, a draft of a new international science report says.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which combines three earlier, gigantic documents by the Nobel Prize-winning group. There is little in the report that wasn't in the other more-detailed versions, but the language is more stark and the report attempts to connect the different scientific disciplines studying problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.

The 127-page draft, obtained by The Associated Press, paints a harsh warning of what's causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also describes what can be done about it.

And a cry goes up from conservatives to defund and disband the UN.

-- Midwestern wheat left to rot as oil trains roll on:

U.S. grain shipments are being held up as trains carrying huge quantities of Bakken oil chug through the region, the New York Times reported Tuesday, illustrating how the booming business of moving oil by rail has negative consequences beyond safety risks.

-- Keystone XL opponents win the battle but lose the war.

Enbridge is steadily advancing plans to build a pipeline network akin to the Keystone XL. The Calgary company is progressing on at least two projects that will help it move more Canadian tar sands oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast, recently revealed documents and a federal ruling last week indicate.

In one project, Enbridge is proposing to switch crude oil from one pipeline to another before it crosses into the United States -- a move that enables the company to circumvent a lengthy federal permitting process. Environmental groups first learned about the plan, which wasn’t previously publicized, after the U.S. State Department released documents related to the crude switch. The organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club, flagged the plans to the media Thursday.

The same green groups last week decried a federal judge's decision to let a second Enbridge project move forward. The company is building a $1.9 billion line between Pontiac, Illinois, and Cushing, Oklahoma, which will link together two existing pipelines and effectively achieve what the Keystone XL aims to do: connect oil fields in the Alberta province to refineries in Texas. Environmentalists had sued to require  the project undergo an extensive environmental review.

Forbes has more, and with a more obnoxious tone.

Far from stopping the flow of oil, the battle over Keystone is creating a far greater threat to the environment than the pipeline ever would.

That of course is false.  At least the Ogallala Aquifer has been spared.  Then again, who needs to grow grain when you can't get it on a train to market?

-- Another reason to legalize pot: Prescription painkiller overdose deaths -- the reason why, just last week, that hydrocodone was moved to Schedule 2 -- decline.

In all, the study found that states that had legalized medical pot experienced around 1,700 fewer painkiller overdose deaths in 2010 than what would have happened if those states didn’t make medical marijuana legal and available.

“We found there was about a 25% lower rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths on average after implementation of a medical marijuana law,” lead study author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber explained to CNN.

-- Federal judges chide state lawyers over gay marriage bans:

Federal appeals judges bristled on Tuesday at arguments defending gay marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin, with one Republican appointee comparing them to now-defunct laws that once outlawed weddings between blacks and whites.

As the legal skirmish in the United States over same-sex marriage shifted to the three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, more than 200 people lined up hours before to ensure they got a seat at the much-anticipated hearing.

While judges often play devil's advocate during oral arguments, the panel's often-blistering questions for the defenders of the same-sex marriage bans could be a signal the laws may be in trouble — at least at this step in the legal process.

Richard Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, hit the backers of the ban the hardest. He balked when Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Timothy Samuelson repeatedly pointed to "tradition" as the underlying justification for barring gay marriage.

"It was tradition to not allow blacks and whites to marry — a tradition that got swept away," the 75-year-old judge said. Prohibition of same-sex marriage, Posner said, derives from "a tradition of hate ... and savage discrimination" of homosexuals.

In my lifetime, the United States will see both marijuana and gay marriage legalized. Now that is some kind of progress.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

As polls evolve, can they maintain credibility?

Nate Silver, the guru of all polling, has some insights.

There is no shortage of reasons to worry about the state of the polling industry. Response rates to political polls are dismal. Even polls that make every effort to contact a representative sample of voters now get no more than 10 percent to complete their surveys — down from about 35 percent in the 1990s.

And there are fewer high-quality polls than there used to be. The cost to commission one can run well into five figures, and it has increased as response rates have declined.1 Under budgetary pressure, many news organizations have understandably preferred to trim their polling budgets rather than lay off newsroom staff.

Cheaper polling alternatives exist, but they come with plenty of problems. “Robopolls,” which use automated scripts rather than live interviewers, often get response rates in the low to mid-single digits. Most are also prohibited by law from calling cell phones, which means huge numbers of people are excluded from their surveys.

If you click on any one link up there, make it the footnotes listing (the tiny '1' that offsets the rest of the line). Silver also explains how demographic weighting is used to improve the model to compensate for fewer poll respondents, and how it can also damage the credibility of the pollster.

How can a poll come close to the outcome when so few people respond to it? One way is through extremely heavy demographic weighting. Some of these polls are more like polling-flavored statistical models than true surveys of public opinion. But when the assumptions in the model are wrong, the results can turn bad in a hurry. (To take one example, the automated polling firm Rasmussen Reports got fairly good results from 2004 through 2008, but has been extremely inaccurate since.) Furthermore, demographic weighting is an insufficient remedy for the failure to include cellphone-only voters, who differ from landline respondents in ways that go beyond easily identified demographic categories.

Texas suffers from all of these developments because, as one of the most extreme non-voting states as well as an expensive set of media markets that scares away all but the most wealthy and/or most craven and corrupt, we are left with poor ballot options and the associated 'inexorable' meme.  And that's when we aren't getting random results, like the fellow with the most common name winning the primary.

Just no way to run a democracy, is it?

I and others have spent many millions of pixels decrying the development of online polling, but the truth is that it's all we have left.  But it's also not all that bad, either.

Internet-based polling has been a comparative bright spot. In fact, the average online poll was more accurate than the average telephone poll in the 2012 presidential election. However, there is not yet a consensus in the industry about best practices for online polls. Some online methods do not use probability sampling, traditionally the bedrock of polling theory and practice. This has worked well enough in some cases but not so well in others.

But all of this must be weighed against a stubborn fact: We have seen no widespread decline in the accuracy of election polls, at least not yet. Despite their challenges, the polls have reflected the outcome of recent presidential, Senate and gubernatorial general elections reasonably well. If anything, the accuracy of election polls has continued to improve.

My excerpts aren't doing justice to Silver's full piece here.  Go read it. He continues where I left off with some very meaty analysis of why polling of primary elections gets it wrong so often compared to general elections.  Good stuff.  I'll skip to the end, picking back up on the explanation of demo-weight.

Demographic weighting is a legitimate and necessary practice. The past decade or so has seen stronger and stronger partisanship, stronger and stronger alignment of voting in different states, stronger correlations between up- and down-ballot voting (there are fewer split tickets than there used to be), and stronger predictability of voting behavior on the basis of demographics. All of that makes demographic weighting more powerful. It has become easier to project election outcomes on the basis of informed priorswithout conducting polls.

If my hypothesis is right — the relatively steady accuracy of the polls is the result of the increasing demographic predictability of elections helping to offset lower response rates — we could see a disastrous year for the polls if and when political coalitions are realigned. A black or Hispanic Republican presidential candidate could scramble the demographic coalitions that prevailed between 2000 and 2012, as might a moderate blue-collar Democratic nominee, or a certain type of third-party candidate. None of these things is especially likely to happen in the near term, but the current political coalitions won’t hold forever. The 2012 presidential map looks fairly similar to the one in 2008, or 2004, or 2000, for instance, but rather different from the one in 1996 or in years before that, when states now seen as locks for one party or the other were considered swing states instead.

Disapproval of Congress results in higher voter turnout, according to Gallup... who whiffed badly in their 2012 presidential results.  That might be something interesting to note in late October, as we start to get early-voting numbers from the Harris County Clerk's office (and elsewhere).

Here's where I'm going to plug the onliners in which I participate: YouGov -- which is the outfit that the Texas Tribune/University of Texas use -- and which is polling right now for governor, US Senate, and Congressman.  Head on over and sign up to participate.  And Politix, which is national but woeful in its obvious conservative bias.  (Nobody actually cites them as something approaching reputable, FWIW.  They don't even call what they do a poll, but a debate.)

Real Clear Politics does something similar to Silver, which is aggregate and average several polls to produce a "poll of polls", as CNN refers to it.  Note in the Texas group of polling conducted so far in the race between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis, Rasmussen -- with its bright red flavoring -- showed Davis closing the gap between them to 8 points.  This suggests that the contest is even closer than the most recent poll reveals.  Nobody in the media has dared to say that, though.

We go into the homestretch of the 2014 midterm elections with the polling we have, not the polls we wish we had or might have at some future time, as Donald Rumsfeld said (paraphrasing).  They're still better than paying attention to what the Talking Heads on teevee say.

But if we should be skeptical of the polls, we should also be rooting for them to succeed. One of the reasons news organizations bother to conduct expensive surveys is to serve as a check on the misrepresentative opinions of elites, including those of their own reporters. Even a deeply flawed poll may be a truer reflection of public opinion than the “vibrations” felt by a columnist situated in Georgetown or Manhattan.

Click on that last link there.  And LYAO.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Back to School Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance cautions you to drive carefully through school zones as it brings you this week's roundup of the best lefty blog posts from across the state.


Off the Kuff has had many things to say about the Rick Perry's indictments, while Harold Cook sounded some cautionary notes about them.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos notes that a little ol' indictment is not stopping Rick Perry from a POTUS run in 2016. Swaggering through New Hampshire to kiss the Koch ring, Rick Perry portrays W 2.0 in Cowboy Diplomacy Redux: Rick Perry Plays the Fear Card.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson sees the media and the Texas GOP trying to make Republicans look reasonable when it comes to expanding Medicaid. Don't fall for it: Texas Is A Wasteland For Public Support.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants everyone to remember that damn fence is just a monument to racism and fear. What else does it do except cause trouble?

Why can't Obama be more like LBJ and just get some things done, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs wondered. But just in a facetious way; if we ever had another president half as badass as LBJ, we'd come to regret it.

Neil at All People Have Value went to the Texas City Buc-ee's. Neil wishes that trendy restaurants in Houston had a sign up like at the Buc-ee's saying that their staff earned a wage higher than the minimum. All People Have Value is one page of many at NeilAquino.com.

With students and teachers going back to school this week, Texas Leftist has an assignment for everyone. Is your school district one of 600 suing Greg Abbott and the Texas GOP-led legislature? Consult the list and map to see. Here's a hint... It's not just the schools in blue counties.

Egberto Willies again warns Democrats of Rand Paul's triangulation.

======================

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

Texas Vox points out the nuclear reactors that are costing Texans money without generating any electricity.

Socratic Gadfly's Greg-Abbott-movie-trailer text of the week is #CPRIT.

Beyond Bones has a problem with "Shark Week".

Lone Star Ma is still writing about National Breastfeeding Month.

The Rivard Report is not writing about gun control.

Grading Texas responds to TAB's Bill Hammond about school ratings.

Very Very Urban has a photo that's worth at least a thousand words.

Newsdesk looks at the effort to kick Eden Foods out of the Wheatsville Co-Op.

The Texas Election Law Blog has a historical analysis of the Voting Rights Act, pre-clearance, and redistricting.

Lone Star Q notes that some companies that have strong LGBT equality policies nonetheless have no problem contributing financially to candidates that oppose such equality.

'stina puts the Ice Bucket Challenge into some context.

And finally, kudos to Media Matters For America for recognizing the difference between how the Texas press covered the Rick Perry indictment and how the national press covered it. To help some of those national pundits understand what the indictments are about, Craig McDonald and Andrew Wheat of Texans for Public Justice wrote a piece for Politico explaining why they filed their complaint in the first place.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Funnies


Oops! Rick Perry does it again, can’t remember his two felony charges

"I’ve been indicted by that same body now for I think two counts, one of bribery, which I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here," Perry said of the grand jury that indicted him.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Of restaurants and closings

Some melancholy Friday reading, as we consider which Restaurant Week esablishments we'll visit this weekend.

One day, the light was streaming in, the air smelled like coffee and garlic, people were lunching and brunching and bonding over warm arepas.

The next day, black shades were drawn low. The outdoor menu case displayed only a few loops of Scotch tape. A sign in the window said simply "sorry, we're closed." The only remnant of the restaurant that had operated there for several years was its name, on a faded oblong sign, hovering outside, crooked and ghostly high.

It's a familiar phenomenon in downtown Houston, where high rents and slow weekends seem to shutter restaurants almost as fast as new high rises and loft space can lure new ones.

It's the nature of things, I know, where capitalism is concerned. The owners don't die. They move on. Maybe they find a cheaper place to rent, maybe they buy a food truck. We learn more from our failures than our successes and all that jazz.

But it never gets easier to watch the very slow, very public demise of somebody's dream.

It's hard to watch the pattern play out, and the first signs - sometimes, quite literally - of trouble. Large, banner-like signs may appear announcing a new happy hour special or breakfast deal. The quality of the food and the service drops off. There may be changes in the menu or the name of the place, or both.

The worst part is the eyes. The all-too-eager eyes of Mom or Pop, or the manager, or the waiter-slash-cashier-slash-busboy, who is pitifully overjoyed to see the first customer in hours. I've reluctantly avoided places because I can no longer bear the eyes, like those of ushers passing out bulletins at a dying church.

After they close, it's hard to get past the fact that there was something there yesterday that is gone today. A concrete manifestation of somebody's sweat and tears that is now a soulless shell awaiting the next tenant.

It's my nostalgia speaking, I suppose. Or maybe it's the former busgirl in me who once watched her parents' dream vanish with the water from the steam table in that cafeteria-style place they used to own in Seguin.

I've been that busboy, that waiter (but it was someone else's parents, not my own).  The best thing I learned from the experience was that I never wanted to own a restaurant.   I have much admiration for those who do, even just a food truck, and certainly know that a few of those who have made comfortable livings in the business -- locals named Pappas or Laurenzo or Cordua -- have to be as lucky as they are good.

I'll pick back up with Lisa Falkenberg in a minute.  I just wanted to relate what pulled this post together: the microbrewery in downtown Houston that had its lease cancelled after it was discovered that they had sponsored a game of Naked Twister, and the closing, after almost 85 years, of a little downtown Beaumont cafe.

One of those tales is funny sad, the other is just nostalgic.  Back to Lisa F and her story.

My parents had already begun to struggle with the place. They were hurting, but they were happy - it was the first time in their married life when they could be together, work together, all day long.

The food was great. The biscuits were tall, the cobbler addictive, the brisket melted in your mouth. But my parents weren't natural business people. They probably spent too much time getting to know customers and too little time strategizing. It didn't help that the restaurant was in a slow part of town and its cafeteria-style ambiance wasn't designed for a nighttime crowd.

One night, my parents decided to open late for a fish fry. They spread the word. They advertised. I'm sure there was a banner or a sign of some kind outside.

They brought me along to help with tables in case the crowd grew too large. After a long day, Mom and Oma stood in the kitchen frying piles of catfish filets battered in cornmeal.

The doors opened. The clock began to tick. I remember looking through the double glass doors, at first expecting a passing car to slow down, and then praying for one.

An hour passed. Then another. My parents' eyes took on that desperate weight. I retreated to a back room to start a book. When I finished it, I came out to find my folks emptying the silver steam table containers.

Not one filet had been bought. They hadn't had one customer the whole night.

I remember thinking that the only thing more painful than the thought of someday losing my parents was standing there, watching them lose.

Greasy spoon diners tucked into shoestore-size crannies of downtown -- or hipster brewpubs, as the case may be -- have been around since there were downtowns.  Every one I've ever spent time in has had one.  In Midland, it was called The Spot.  These places always have a colorful history.  But when they aren't downtown, they have an even tougher go of it, of course.

They tried and failed many more times before finally selling the place for a fraction of what they put into it. My dad turned to long-haul trucking. I never saw another smile on his face like the one he wore daily at that little barbecue place, cutting down a ring of sausage for somebody that he had dried in his own smokehouse.

That experience left me with sadness but also respect for all the Moms and Pops out there who put their hearts and their savings into a dream and then muddle through the daily struggle of keeping it alive.

It's risky, it's scary, it's lonely, it's stressful. And people do it every day. Everywhere.

I make a point to eat local and shop local when I can. But I don't stop nearly enough and say "thanks." Thanks for this food, for this place, for this tired smile.

Franchise fast food is for the birds, y'all. (It's not all that good for them, either.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why can't Obama be more like LBJ?

In context with what I wrote yesterday, this is a great piece by Matt Bai.  I don't agree with all of it -- especially the familiar dismissal by non-Texas pundits of Rick Perry's felony indictments -- but some other points are salient.

The problem with Barack Obama, people are always telling me these days, is that he just doesn't love the full contact sport of politics. He has no capacity for the inside machinations or tactical brutality we associate with a more sophisticated and celebrated president like Lyndon Johnson.

What we really need, I guess, is an executive in the mold of a Chris Christie or an Andrew Cuomo or a Rick Perry, all of whom are more extroverted and more brazen about wielding their power as governors than Obama is — and all of whom, not incidentally, are now fending off prosecutors and investigations while scrambling to keep their national ambitions afloat.

And this illustrates an interesting paradox of modern politics: We love this idea of the ruthless and effective political operator, right up until the moment we're confronted by the reality.

Is this really what "we" want?  I just want an effective progressive manager.  I don't want any coolly detached, above-the-fray, aloof executives any more than I want a war-mongering bully/asshole like those three mentioned.  In fact, Hillary Clinton seems to strike the right balance between those two spots -- without enough of the 'progressive' part I would like.  But I digress.

But there's a common theme in all of this, which is that all three governors were doing exactly the thing Obama's Democratic detractors and sympathetic commentators so often pound him for not doing — stretching the boundaries of your authority in order to outmaneuver adversaries and ultimately get your way. (Ironically, it's also the thing Republicans insist Obama actually does too often, which is why they're suing him, but that's another story.)

And there's my point: Republicans want this sort of jerk.  They like jerks.  Nobody else does.

You want the kind of elected executive who's going to make the machine work the way he wants it to, even if he has to grab a sledgehammer and bang a few parts into place? Well, this is what it looks like. It's not especially ennobling, and it never was.

Lately there's a lot of admiration for Johnson, who's often portrayed, in this age of entrenched dysfunction and colorless politicians, as a charismatic, needy rogue who knew how to make Washington work. The truth is that the things Johnson did for the purpose of amassing power would make Rick Perry quiver like a little girl.

No, not the sledgehammer, thanks.  Not even a rubber mallet.

Bai goes on to share a recent conversation he had with LBJ biographer Robert Caro, who is working on a fifth installment of the mercurial '60's-era Texan and CIC.  Caro's volumes are the definitive interpretation of the man, his presidency, and his effects on the nation.

Yet somehow Johnson is the president we'd like Obama to be. And Perry is just a perp.

[...]

Today's embattled governors, too, have done their share of intimidating in the service of significant accomplishments; Christie won bipartisan compromise of a controversial plan to reform public pensions, and Cuomo did the same on gay marriage. But what gets the most attention are the petty transgressions that come with no higher purpose.

What we want, apparently, is a swaggering politician who can be maniacally manipulative when it comes to the big and noble stuff, but who can simply switch it off when the stakes aren't as grand. Good luck with that.

Nope, still don't want that.  An effective negotiator -- the kind of horse-trading that most people at the fringes despise, as manifested in the ritualistic purge of the least conservative Republican in their primary elections.  But Bai is right that we'll never get that sort of person elected anyway... his, or mine.

At this point, 40 years after Nixon resigned, our distrust for politicians and our political institutions is so profound and ingrained in the culture that it's hard to imagine our giving any elected leader the license to scheme that Johnson enjoyed. And in this moment of the 60-second news cycle, when every backroom confrontation seems to spill into public view instantaneously, the sordid means of politics almost always overwhelm the end.

If our idealized version of Johnson himself suddenly came back to life and reappeared on the scene today, we wouldn't admire him as roguishly competent. We'd probably refer him to a grand jury.

It may be, as Caro suggests, that lesser politicians simply get less latitude. "Real political genius doesn't come along very often," he told me. "How long has it been since we had a leader who not only enunciated what government should do and laid our specific ends that people could unite behind, but also had the tactics and the determination to achieve those ends?"

But it might also be that if Obama really were this type of political genius, we'd reject and revile him. Such is the contradiction in our politics. We pine for leaders who strong-arm the system, just as long as they don't get caught.

I don't think we -- and by 'we', I mean the people who will elect Hillary Clinton in 2016 -- pine for that at all, Matt.  And I also don't mean to suggest that I will be helping Hillary Clinton get elected, because I won't.

Obama, like Bush before him, has coalesced power and authority in the executive branch.  It's not quite unitary executive stuff, but it's close, especially as it relates to his drone kill list.  What he does most effectively is manage around the intransigence of the legislative branch by utilizing executive orders.  He will do so shortly with regard to the unyielding Congressional obstinance of necessary and long-overdue immigration reform.  This should be a good thing, from a policy perspective as well as a political one.

If that action gets received well -- the hardest part will be enduring the conservative caterwauling about 'amnesty' -- it could lift the fortunes of Democrats in the midterms by enthusing the long-awaited Latino turnout.  That would also be a good thing, and just in the nick of time.

Update: Carla Seaquist has more good advice for the president in this regard.

See?  I don't hate Obama completely.  I just want him to be a better president.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The disintegrating relationship between Obama and Congressional Dems

Thank goodness there's something to blog about besides Rick Perry or Ferguson.

It was perhaps only a matter of time before Democrats, in the midst of a challenging midterm election campaign, began distancing themselves from an unpopular president. President Barack Obama's average approval rating sits at 41.6%, according to Real Clear Politics, and he has been under fire recently for the way he has handled crises both at home and abroad.

A New York Times story published Tuesday lays out the overall deteriorating relationship between Obama and congressional Democrats. One anecdote involving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, stemming from a late-June meeting with congressional leaders to discuss the deteriorating situation in Iraq, tells it best.

With Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, sitting a few feet away, Mr. Reid complained that Senate Republicans were spitefully blocking the confirmation of dozens of Mr. Obama’s nominees to serve as ambassadors. He expected that the president would back him up and urge Mr. McConnell to relent.

Mr. Obama quickly dismissed the matter.

"You and Mitch work it out," Mr. Obama said coolly, cutting off any discussion.

Mr. Reid seethed quietly for the rest of the meeting, according to four separate accounts provided by people who spoke with him about it. After his return to the Capitol that afternoon, Mr. Reid told other senators and his staff members that he was astonished by how disengaged the president seemed. After all, these were Mr. Obama’s own ambassadors who were being blocked by Mr. McConnell, and Secretary of State John Kerry had been arguing for months that getting them installed was an urgent necessity for the administration.

Long-time readers know that this is the sort of thing that made me step away from Obama years ago; his refusal to engage -- either as aggressor or as mediator -- in any meaningful way.  It has cost his supporters and the Democratic Party a lot, it's even cost the American people quite a bit (universal single payer  public option is what I mean)... and now his insouciance may finally be costing him.

The exchange between Obama and Reid, considering that Reid is Obama's staunchest congressional ally, was the most striking anecdote in a Times story that portrayed a president with dwindling friends on Capitol Hill. The article contains criticism from a wide array of Democrats, including from the red-state Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), one of the Senate's most left-leaning members.

Manchin, quote unquote, speaking about his relationship with the president: "It's fairly nonexistent, really. There's not much of (one)."

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) compared "schmoozing with elected officials" to "eating his spinach" for Obama, but Democrats told the paper that Obama's lack of reaching out harmed congressional relationships.

We could go on a bit more here, but I think you get the point.

As for Democrats in close elections in red states, they're not waiting around for the president to warm up.  Mark Begich in Alaska is running against Obama.  Alison Grimes in Kentucky is running against Obama.  Wendy Davis has given him a stiff arm or two to some criticism, including my own.  That's right; I am flip-flopping.  I no longer think that there are very many Blue Teamers in tight races that have more to gain than lose by standing with the president.

Contrary to what I advised here, it's time for every Democrat not in a safe district or a blue state to do what they have to do in order to get elected.  And if that means speaking out against Obama's slow response to the appalling civil rights travesties in Ferguson, or his lack of assertiveness in more forcefully coalescing international support against the gathering menace of ISIS, or addressing the First Amendment perils -- to say nothing of the threats to their lives -- to members of the US media at home and abroad... then do it.

When Rick Perry is drawing sympathy from Latinos (Dave Jimenez, about halfway down the page) who oppose his border surge but attended the governor's mugshot pep rally yesterday as a supporter, you know it's time for the rest of us to turn the page.

It's going to be a little too late for Obama to help Senate Democrats carry out his agenda if the upper chamber flips red in November.  By that time, it will be all they can do to prevent him from being impeached.

He'd better start making friends and mending fences.  Fast.  Likewise for the rest of you blue partisans; it's every man for himself.

Update: More on this from Ezra Klein at Vox, who says this is no big deal.  It doesn't seem like Ezra is looking far enough ahead -- as in beyond November.

Update II: At least one endangered Senate Democrat, David Pryor of Arkansas, is running hard on support of Obamacare, a topic Wayne at Texas Leftist has covered.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Still more #PerryIndicted developments

Charles has already written the posts I intended to write before work called me to do other things, so start there and I'll add a little more.  Note in the comments at the first link that "Mainstream" reminds everyone that the judge who appointed special prosecutor Mike McCrum -- Bert Richardson of San Antonio -- is on your ballot in November as the Republican nominee for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3.  (He has a Democratic opponent, John Granberg of El Paso, and a Libertarian challenger, Mark W. Bennett of Houston.)

Now then, some recent posts from the DMN's Trail Blazers blog.


"Rick Perry's team of high-priced lawyers come out blasting":

The Rick Perry legal team has mushroomed to a national team of prominent lawyers.

In their first appearance on behalf of the governor, they made it clear that while Perry is the one facing two felony charges, they are putting the local district attorney and special prosecutor on trial.

“This is nothing more than banana republic politics,” said Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, heading the team.
He called the charges against Perry of abusing his office and coercion of a public official contrary to law and without merit.

Buzbee was joined by Washington attorneys Ben Ginsberg, who led the George W. Bush team during the Florida recount, and Bobby Burchfield, who was general counsel for the George H.W. Bush campaign.
Also on the team is former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips, who did not attend the press conference, and Austin criminal attorney David Botsford.

Botsford's fee has already been revealed to be $450/hour.  Yes, that's your taxpayer dollars at work.  Ginsberg was portrayed by Bob Balaban in the HBO docu-drama Recount, which retold the story of the tangled and twisted 2000 election.  Two summers ago, Tablet referred to Ginsberg as the Tea Party's Enemy #1.  But the most interesting character is Buzbee, who almost ran for Texas lieutenant governor in 2006.  As a Democrat.  Here's an old Burnt Orange Report from nearly nine years ago, and the excerpt below is their quote from the Fort Worth Star Telegram (link dead).



A little-known outsider with a sizable personal fortune and a central-casting resume says he's giving serious consideration to mounting a challenge against Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst next year.

Tony Buzbee, a 37-year-old lawyer and former chairman of the Galveston County Democratic Party, said the state's GOP leaders are spending too much time fighting among themselves and too little time solving problems like school finance. So he was receptive when some Democratic elders approached him a few weeks ago encouraging him to run for statewide office.

"I'm looking seriously at it, but I haven't said yes or no," said Buzbee, a former Marine Corps captain who led troops in combat during the Persian Gulf War. "I really don't like the way our state is being run right now, and I believe that those of us who have made something in our lives need to be willing to give something back."

Emphasis above mine.  Again... he said that in 2005, the year before his client won re-election with 39% of the vote.  Buzbee's expansive multi-million-dollar homes were recently featured in the Houston Chronicle, and he also was behind those billboards urging the Houston Texans to draft Johnny Manziel.

This is a good time to remind everyone that no matter the outcome of this sordid affair, it's not about liberals and conservatives, not about Republicans versus Democrats.   The already-wealthiest among us will be the winners, just like always, and the rest of us lose.

"Perry says he’s the political victim of an 'old Soviet style' prosecution":

Gov. Rick Perry says his legal team will move quickly to resolve the indictment against him and he cast himself today as the victim of a plot worthy of the “old Soviet Union.”

Perry took aim at Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, whose drunken driving conviction last year prompted the Republican governor to slash state funding to her office. Although a special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge actually headed the investigation and subsequent indictment, Perry focused his attack largely on the Travis County district attorney. He called Lehmberg a “leftish district attorney elected by very left-of-center constituents” in a strongly Democratic county.

Continuing his aggressive public front against last week’s indictment, Perry went on conservative blogger Erick Erickson’s radio show. Although the blogger twice incorrectly said it was Lehmberg who indicted him, Perry did not correct him. Instead, the governor praised his legal defense team, which includes Washington and Texas lawyers. And he promised swift resolution of the case. “Hopefully we can expedite this, get it over with and shine the sunshine of appropriate righteousness” on the case, Perry said. “We’re going to fight it.”

The plot to topple Perry cannot be both a product of a Soviet client state (aka Buzbee's "banana republic") AND a machination of the Kremlin.  Which is it, fellas?  This is nuance lost on the Republican base, of course.

Erick Erickson -- his blog is called RedState -- is the proud originator of the phrase 'Abortion Barbie'.  He served as a CNN contributor before his bloviation caught up with him, and then easily transitioned to Fox.  Erickson also appears in this picture with Perry, and recently introduced Ted Cruz at one of these RWNJ national confabs that seem to happen every weekend, comparing him to the Beatles.

Finally...

"In show of support for Perry, some Republicans change profile pictures on Facebook":

Several GOP lawmakers and Republican operatives have changed their Facebook pictures in a show of support for Gov. Rick Perry, who is struggling with a criminal indictment as he tries to run for president again.

Newly elected GOP state Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe and GOP Reps. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs and Bryan Hughes of Mineola posted photos of themselves with Perry. Several people commended their moves.

Several one-time aides to Republican officeholders at the Capitol also switched their profile pics, including former Perry spokeswoman and chief of staff Kathy Walt and Enrique Marquez, a former spokesman for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

On Twitter, many state and national Republican figures have used the hashtag #StandWithRickPerry. My colleague Brittney Martin has compiled some, which you can check out here.

That's where we are in our national political conversation today: geek fighting on Twitter and Facebook.  Oh well, I suppose it's nice for Rick Perry to know he has "friends."

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance might be a little late to work this morning, after celebrating the Rick Perry indictment all weekend, as it brings you the best lefty blog posts across the Lone Star State from last week.

Off the Kuff reminds us that there's one more special Senate election to go this year, and this one features a Democrat that's worth supporting.

Harold Cook warns us to keep a sense of perspective on the Rick Perry indictment.

Texas Leftist keeps wondering when the national media is going figure out that Texas could be a swing state today if enough people were actually voting. Plus: clarifying Wendy Davis' stance on LGBT equality issues, and what we can expect if she's elected.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson wryly observes that unfortunately in Texas, we have the government that we voted for... or didn't vote for, as the case may be: Avoiding Medicaid, Non-Voting, And Ferguson.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos finds it amusing how Greg Abbott promotes himself as a small government fiscal conservative while he squanders taxpayer dollars on ridiculous lawsuits: Greg Abbott’s Frivolous Fights with the Feds Cost Taxpayers Millions.

CouldBeTrue at South Texas Chisme notes that audit of Hidalgo County voting machines shows no tampering. Of course, without a paper trail, you can't really be sure. Kudos to Travis County for their efforts to provide auditable elections.

After the late Friday afternoon news broke about Rick Perry's felony indictments, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs consumed more adult beverages than he planned. All weekend long.

Egberto Willies thinks that Hillary Clinton should pay attention to the Obama coalition that Rand Paul is trying to assemble.

Neil at Blog About Our Failing Money-Owned American Political System bought a Texas cake to mark the indictment of Rick Perry. NeilAquino.com has many pages and is well worth your time to consider.

===================

And here some great blog posts from elsewhere in the Deep-In-The-Hearta.

jobsanger has the chart that illustrates how Rick Perry's payola scheme has worked so well for him over the years.

Grits for Breakfast notes that the economics of the Rio Grande border surge are not sustainable, while Scott Braddock shows how Rick Perry's border posturing is bad for the people that actually live and work there.

Fascist Dyke Motors seems to have misplaced her father's suicide diaries.  If you find them, could you kindly return them?

State Impact Texas has the news that diesel fuel has been used in hydraulic fracturing, which is illegal.  Bluedaze offers the proof.

nonsequiteuse expands on the report that John Cornyn and Ted Cruz spend more taxpayer money on their office operations that nearly every other US Senator.

In the third installment of a continuing series, Socratic Gadfly's word to text Greg Abbott -- per request in his movie trailer ads -- is not 'freedom' but 'RickPerry'.  Or 'indictment' is good, too.

Juanita Jean disagrees with the calls for Rick Perry to resign.

Lone Star Q decries Rep. Jonathan Stickland's attack on transgender inmates.

The Texas Election Law Blog games out the state's strategy in the redistricting litigation.

Lone Star Ma celebrates National Breastfeeding Month.

And finally, The Bloggess wants us to know that help is always available if you need it.