Thursday, August 17, 2017

Texas wants expedited SCOTUS appeal on redistricting

Not reading this anywhere else.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday morning he plans to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a Tuesday ruling that invalidated two congressional districts, including Corpus Christi's District 27.

The appeal will be filed this week, unless the state requests — and is granted — an extension on a three-day deadline imposed by the district court's ruling, Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General's office told the Caller-Times Wednesday.

The San Antonio court gave the state a three-day deadline to indicate whether the legislature would convene to consider redistricting, a move Abbott called "astonishing." 

First, I thought these appeals went though the Fifth Circuit before they went to the Supremes (thus the strike-through in yesterday's).  Second, it is a little wild that the three judges who invalidated the constitutionality of the two Congressional districts which Blake Farenthold and Lloyd Doggett currently represent would give the state until this Friday to decide whether to meet with the plaintiffs and start drawing new maps on the day after Labor Day ... or keep fighting it out in court.

Surely it will continue to be the latter.


The federal judges ruled Congressional Districts 35 and 27 violated racial discrimination prohibitions in section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The 107-page ruling, handed down in San Antonio, could lead to a battle to redraw the districts in time for the 2018 elections. 

If Texas does not respond within three days and the Supreme Court does not intervene, the two sides are scheduled to meet Sept. 5 to begin drawing new maps, the ruling states.

Or Abbott's appeal to Justice Sam Alito is taken under advisement by him and he alone decides, or he refers it to the full Court, in which case we're back on the slow track.  If Abbott's appeal is not granted, then Abbott calls another special session for redistricting (rather than leaving it to a squadron of lawyers from the state and MALDEF, etc., and under the supervision of the federal judges of the Western District of Texas).  A special may be coming anyway, since Goobnur Wheels is now grousing about his agenda being derailed by Joe Straus.

IANAL so feel free to weigh, lawyers.

While I was blogging the above, Meagan Flynn at the Press posts an update, beating all the corporate news media outlets and Kuff and the rest of those who are usually on top of these things.  Maybe later today, or tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. in Kuffner's case, with whatever the Chronic or the TexTrib have to say, preceded by "Wow' or something similar.

The ruling means both maps will need to be redrawn in time for the 2018 election, and that lawmakers can't kick the can down the road until the next session. The federal judges gave Texas three days to decide whether it wants the court to redraw the maps for it — or let the Legislature do it. Which would require a special session.

[...]

Expect to find out by the end of the week whether you'll have to watch lawmakers tear up the state Capitol all over again this fall. Who knows, given Abbott's philosophy during this past special session was cram as many bills as possible into 30 days, maybe the bathroom bill will even make an appearance on another ambitious agenda.

Hellza poppin'.

Update: KUT touches base with Brennan Center attorney Michael Li, who is also advising the plaintiffs, and he explains the current situation as I have.

“It’s possible that everything gets put on hold until the Supreme Court decides, but it’s also possible that the court lets that go forward,” said Li ... “I think everyone is sensitive with the close timing of the election and everything that it may make sense to go ahead and redraw the maps now.”

[...]

“The question now is who redraws the maps.”

[...]

“So the normal practice is that a Legislature gets the first shot at redrawing maps," Li said, "and the court has given the Legislature that shot." If they don’t agree to hold a special session to redraw the maps, then the state and plaintiffs go back to court for a hearing in September to hash it out.

The court also still has to rule on the statehouse maps, which could also delay a special session.

Li said legislators will probably want to wait to see if they have to redraw both sets of maps before going into another session. He said it is possible, however, that all this could be sorted out in time for the 2018 elections.

“If all the cards align, and the changes aren’t that massive, then it’s possible that maps could be in place by September or early October,” he said. “But right now everything is up in the air.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sine Died

Buy us another round, Governor?

Texas House members huddled near the dais on Aug. 15, 2017. 
Thanks to Marjorie Kamys Cotera at the TexTrib for the pic.

The special session of the Legislature came to an abrupt end Tuesday night, a day earlier than expected, when the Texas Senate adjourned without acting on a House-passed version of a property tax bill.

The House began the late-session drama when it unexpectedly closed the special session with one item pending — a conference committee on Senate Bill 1, which would have required larger cities and counties to get voter approval for property tax increases.

Senate Republicans wanted automatic elections for increases of 4 percent or more. The House settled on a 6 percent trigger, and by adjourning early, House leaders told the Senate to take the 6 percent rate or leave it.

Later Tuesday night, the Senate chose to leave it.

The RWNJs are up in arms tiki torches, but Greg Abbott is signaling 'success'.

"Our office believes this special session has produced a far better Texas than before," said Abbott press secretary John Wittman.

If you're a woman who wanted a choice as to whether to give birth or not, or even be able to have your insurance company pay for your choice under standard polices ... no.  Not at all.

For his part, Gov. Greg Abbott was silent on the session’s end. He signed three bills on Tuesday, bringing the total number of special session bills he’s signed to five. Four more bills await his signature, including a House measure relating to tree regulations on private property that’s a far cry from what he demanded and similar to a bill he vetoed in June. The only other bill to reach his desk relating to reining in municipal powers was one that restricts the annexation authority of cities in large counties.

Likewise, lawmakers didn’t pass bills restricting transgender bathroom use, an emphasis of social conservatives, or limiting state spending, a cause of fiscal conservatives.

Abbott has asked lawmakers to pass bills related to 20 issues. Just nine and a half of those reached his desk.

A better batting average than I predicted last Saturday, but the ultracons are still howling. We'll have to wait for the governor to decide whether his wheelchair seat cushion feels too warm after he gets off the phone with the Porters.  They don't stay up late, but they do get up early to feed the chickens and milk the cows.

Jane Nelson (Senate Finance chair) says we can do whatever we want; she's going to Italy.  Not quite Davy Crockett at the Alamo.  Not even Billy Bob Thornton in the movie, for that matter.

I'll go out on a limb and predict that Abbott feels comfortable enough with his $41 million to declare victory and go home, leaving Dan Patrick to go after Joe Straus, et.al. now and next spring.

(Patrick) placed the blame for almost all of Abbott's failed special session priorities on Speaker of the House Joe Straus.

"Thank goodness Travis didn't have the speaker at the Alamo," Patrick said. "He would've been the first one over the wall."

Patrick said the San Antonio Republican had treated the governor's agenda "like horse manure," blocking votes on measures like the "bathroom bill," private school vouchers and defunding Planned Parenthood.

"We missed some major opportunities, but what I'm most upset about is the House quit tonight," he said. "With 27 hours to go, they walked off the job."

Sounds like the proverbial line in the sand to me.  It's possible that the federal judicial panel that found two Texas Congressional districts unconstitutional yesterday compels a special session before 2019 if the Supreme Court ultimately agrees, and in turn orders a fix before elections in 2018, but we'll have to wait for that on the usual unpredictable timeline.  The Fifth Circuit is the next stop, whoever loses appeals again to the Supremes, and even on the fast track the SCOTUS doesn't take the case under consideration until the high court reconvenes on the first Monday in October.  It's possible that any redistricting simply waits until the legislative session in 2021, as the regularly-scheduled decennial mapmaking process occurs.

So if I had to guess right now ... no more specials.  But I could be wrong.  Update (8/17): I'm probably wrong.  Read this post for the latest on how the redistricting decision affects the probability of another special session.

Ross Ramsey at the TexTrib has more inside baseball.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance has no room for hate in its heart, no matter what it calls itself.


Here's the roundup of blog posts and news from last week.

Off the Kuff looks at July finance reports in key state Senate districts.

Socratic Gadfly examines Consortium News' latest in-depth piece on how Putin did NOT "do it" on the DNC hacks and and ties this together with Sy Hersh's comments about Seth Rich.

With only a few days remaining in the special legislative session, it appears that Greg Abbott won't come close to getting everything he wanted out of it, says PDiddie at Brain and Eggs.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme calls out the Texas Republican hate on display this week, from LGBTQ bashing, immigrant bashing to the kicking of the poor.

The Lewisville Texan Journal profiles John Wannamaker, a former Marine and prison inmate, one of four Democrats competing to challenge US Rep. Michael Burgess (CD-26).

Texas Watch asks the TDI to investigate the automobile insurance collision repair industry's practices that appear to be short-changing Texas drivers.

Ted at jobsanger posts some statistical facts about Muslims in the United States.

Texas Vox needs some help for its challenge to one of Trump's deregulatory executive orders.

Neil at All People Have Value went to the monthly meeting of the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. The meeting was well-attended and many tangible actions were discussed. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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

More Texas blog posts and news!

Houston, Austin, and cities across North Texas all held vigils for Charlottesville last evening in the wake of white supremacist provocations, animosity, and violence in that city.  Meanwhile in College Station, so-called alt-right leader Richard Spence has been scheduled to appear on the campus of Texas A&M in September.

In San Antonio, Gus Bova of the Texas Observer reported that hundreds pf people clashed over the removal of a Confederate monument in Travis Park.

Armed militia members surround a “mobile command center” near Travis Park.

Leif Reigstad at the Daily Post reports that the guy who quit after 37 days as Corpus Christi's mayor, Dan McQueen, is running for the US Senate against Ted Cruz in the GOP primary.

Marc Campos eulogizes former Governor Mark White, while the TSTA blog remembers his legacy.

The Rivard Report notes San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg telling Greg Abbott to back off the attack on cities.

Durrel Douglas at Houston Justice has been covering the Houston ISD goings-on of late, beginning with a post about the candidates challenging board president Wanda Adams, and the possibility of several black legacy high schools in HISD threatened with closure due to failing grades by students.

In a tale reminiscent of George Orwell's "1984", the Texas Senate's Education Committee claims that a $1.8 billion cut to Texas public school funding is part of a long-term remedy, reports the Texas Standard.

Ty Clevenger at Lawflog wonders why the FBI is still protecting Hillary Clinton.

Bonddad takes another look at "The Changing of the Guard", a 1980 book that foretold the rise -- and destructiveness -- of neoliberalism.

Pages of Victory posts part 2 about why he left the Democratic Party.

The Texas Living Waters Project frets about the zebra mussel invasion.

Lone Star Ma makes the case for breast pumps.

And Harry Hamid fears the incoming hordes of killer babies.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Wheels fly off of Abbott's special session agenda

He can console himself with the thoughts of $41 million simolians dancing in his head, and a few targets in the House to shoot them at.

Sunset?  Done and signed.  Mail-in ballot fraud?  Done, with a funny about-face by the allegedly steel-spined gubernor.  Women's reproductive freedoms further restricted?  Natch.  Bathroom bill?  Comatose.  Property tax reform?  We'll see, later today.

Three for twenty is a .150 batting average, not quite Mendoza-line production.  He might be able to get it up to .250 by next Wednesday.  Again, we'll have to wait and see.

Some obfuscations never change.

Abbott has been primarily motivated by avoiding a primary from his right *coughDanPatrickcough* and by whatever it is that his platoon of well-heeled yokels writing him six-figure checks wants, as revealed by the sage RG Ratcliffe at Burkablog.  That's probably something like 'no men in women's restrooms' in Doss, Gillespie County.  (Note the blase' attitude of those quoted in that article associated with million-dollar campaign contributions, as if the ramifications of Citizens United were completely unheard of.)  Tilove at First Reading asked a good question, but the truth is that Abbott doesn't need the Wilks boys' money, and perhaps down deep in his shriveled little heart doesn't really care for their extremist politics beyond pandering to it.

(U)ltimately Abbott, as far right as he has traveled and is prepared to travel “to stay ahead of the needle,” isn’t really entirely politically or temperamentally in sync with Michael Quinn Sullivan and Dan Patrick and the House Freedom Caucus and the Wilks brothers, and they all know that.

He is the governor of Texas seeking a second term and he is better off with a Texas Republican party that is not tearing itself apart.

He depends on donors and support from people for whom Straus is not Satan and Patrick is scary.

Ted Cruz executed a remarkably strong race for president running from the furthest right, most disruptive reaches of the party. But that was pre-Trump.

Post-Trump, it seems likely the party and the country may be looking for a presidential candidate who is not all about endless conflict and, if Abbott is indeed interested in being that candidate, he may be better off without so much as a straw of deer semen from the Wilks brothers.

Some people say that his late (in the regular session) hard-right turn might hurt him to some degree with the business community, blahblahblah.  Don't think so.  Not as long as Mr. International Leather and the Berniecrat Tom Wakely are all Texas Democrats can muster.  I remain of the opinion that only Joe Straus running as an independent -- and the Democrats bailing out of the race altogether, lest their straight-ticket voters spoil the strategy -- can defeat Abbott in November of 2018.

Jim Henson and Joshua Blank have a more favorable take on the special and its ramifications to Abbott and Patrick than is currently in vogue in Democratic circles.  Whatever else happens, Abbott's keeping that list, you know, and so is DisEmpower Texas and Dr. Steven Hate-ze.  So Straus, should he run for re-election and then for Speaker again, had better be marshaling his forces.  And he had better be ready to help Byron Cook and the rest of his lieutenants in the Texas House.

The sane parts of Texas cannot afford having him lose.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Mayor prepares police action against Houston homeless *updates*

With no re-election worries until 2019, and as I predicted five weeks ago ... here comes Sylvester Turner and Art Acevedo with their crackdown on the poorest among us.  (See updates below.)


Here's a short report from KHOU from last night (with video).  Here's the response from the homeless activists: a face-off with the authorities tomorrow morning.  If you want to see how far our local public media has fallen, Al Ortiz: presente.  This fool's 'combat homelessness' phrasing follows on his repetitive use of the word 'panhandling', and quoting the city's advocates against the homeless, as in this piece from May.  Avoid.

I would expect some tense moments prior to the city's attempts to enforce this order, potentially more than just your run-of-the-mill staredown.  Perhaps some corporate media can be on hand with video cameras; certainly the social justice warriors will be.

Sidebar follows.

It's interesting to me how that phrase above, acronymed, has transmogrified into a pejorative.  Some history about that can be found here.  I use it above in context of respect and admiration for those who will be on the point tomorrow morning, and wish I could be standing with them in more than just spirit.  Lousy health precludes my participation.

I've long questioned Mayor Turner's bonafides as a progressive, even a liberal now.  He's a neoliberal, and acts more like a Republican -- even the worst of Republicans -- with each passing day.  Further, it's accurate to describe today's Democrats as Eisenhower Republicans; that goes for every elected one from Turner to Pelosi and Schumer and all of them in-between.  There simply is no such thing any longer as a Democrat who meets the definition of the word 'progressive'.  They don't support the working class, much less the poverty class; they don't support universal single-payer.  Hillary Clinton's espousing of a $12 minimum wage was the clearest demonstration of the half-measures Democrats are comfortable with.  The things they do support are more in line with corporate interests than those of the 99%.  Democrats are just co-opting 'progressive' to replace 'liberal', which they allowed to be sullied by Republicans and conservatives to the extent it is now considered to be an insult by everyone.  That shit started with Reagan.

Turner has no excuse save the craven desire for power to be this way.  He grew up in Houston's poorest neighborhood, Acres Homes.  He represented the area in Austin for decades but did little to ameliorate his neighbors' suffering; he coveted the mayorship, and finally succeeded in his third try two years ago, squeaking in by the skin of his teeth over an allegedly moderate Republican in a runoff.  He bows and scrapes to Houston's white 1% while extending the back of his hand -- a gloved fist -- across the face of those at the very bottom.

I recently heard a young man say that 'empathy is a character flaw'.  Exercising some of my empathy, I overcame my shock and awe of this remark by considering his life experience: probably under 30 years old, a Navy SEAL.  Elite soldiers must be inculcated with a certain amount of ruthlessness in order to be considered successful, after all.  There are few people beyond this profile to which I would be willing to extend much understanding for making such a statement, certainly none for those whose actions exceed their words or their silence in this regard.  As for Sylvester Turner, maybe he hasn't just sold the fuck out.  Maybe he is not a garden-variety sociopath.  Maybe he has simply taken too much acetaminophen over the course of his lifetime.

That's all the slack I can cut for him.

If you can be at the intersection of La Branch and Eagle, or thereabouts, tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., in some capacity of assistance to the least among us, I encourage you to bring your smartphone and/or camera to document any potential atrocities.  Update I: Be advised that HPD has long used Stingray technology to capture cellphone metadata, helping them identify their "foes".  One way to avoid this is to turn off your mobile network connection and upload photos/video later ... at least a mile away from where the action is.

You probably shouldn't drive and park down there, because if you get arrested -- even if you aren't, of course -- you don't want to find that the city has towed your car away.  I would recommend taking the Metro light rail and disembarking at Wheeler station, walking the four or so blocks east alongside or under the elevated portion of US 59.  Look for the large gathering of cops, some on horseback, and others.  Shouldn't be too hard to find.

The more witnesses, the better.  If you consider yourself a Christian, you should easily understand that it's what Jesus would be doing.

Update II: This is NOT the answer.

Update III (8/10, 11 a.m.): "Filth-covered homeless camp near Minute Maid park evacuated" reads the teaser on the Chronic's home page, not the headline of the article itself.  Someone at the paper of record envisions a bright future for themselves as a PR flack in the Turner administration.

Note in the link above where the reporter claims the city will be 'digging up contaminated dirt' at the homeless encampment.  Simply preposterous. Turner and CM Dwight Boykins planned, earlier this year, to build a community center next to an old landfill -- also in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, Sunnyside -- with methane leaking out of it, assuring the community all the while that it was safe.  And had another whitewashed environmental study conducted that declared such.

No digging up of contaminated dirt at that site has been reported.

Update IV: Meagan Flynn at the Houston Press offers a more comprehensive and unbiased account of yesterday's action (time and date stamp notwithstanding).  Channel 39 has video of one of the residents supporting the action, but their account leads with the usual city officials declaring they're "only here to help", and the usual business owners complaining about shit.

Monday, August 07, 2017

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance mourns the passing of former Texas Governor Mark White over the weekend.  A champion for public education, White ushered in reforms that still impact Texas schools to this day, including limits on elementary class size, a "no pass, no play" policy for high school athletes, and the first-ever statewide testing standards.


White will be eulogized by former president George W. Bush and Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of former president Lyndon Johnson, on Wednesday at a memorial service held at Second Baptist Church in Houston.  White will then lie in state in Austin's Capitol rotunda, with a second memorial service held there on Thursday.  He will be interred at the Texas State Cemetery.

Here's the blog post and news roundup from last week.

Off the Kuff cast a critical eye at Chris Hooks' latest (and weakest) piece about Democratic recruitment for state offices.

Blake Farenthold doesn't just insult and demean female Republican senators, he disses his own constituents by favoring oligarchs over Army employees. CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme can't wait until he's former representative Farenthold.

In an environmental news roundup, SocraticGadfly wonders if the internal combustion engine's complexities will hasten its demise.

This fall, when someone asks if PDiddie at Brains and Eggs is ready for some football ... the answer will be no.

Stace at Dos Centavos applauds Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez' discontinuance of the use of private jails, and makes the cogent point about elections having consequences for the rotten money bail system in the county.

jobsanger underscores that our nation's greatest shame is an inadequate healthcare system.

Texas Freedom Network's quotes of the week include a few from some highly embarrassed state Republicans.

The city of Lewisville and its school district join the growing chorus of Texas municipal organizations pushing back against the state legislature's attempts to override local laws with dictums from Austin, reports the Texan Journal.

Neil at All People Have Value offered his guide to activism in the Age of Trump. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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

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

With ten days left in the special legislative session, the Texas Tribune provides a comprehensive update on where things stand regarding Governor Greg Abbott's priorities.

'The Freest Little City in Texas', in the Texas Observer, tells the tale of a libertarian experiment in city government that went awry over taxes, debt, and some very angry people.

Some prison inmates will get moved into air conditioned cells ... after a federal judge set a deadline ordering the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to do so, reports the San Antonio Current.

Michael Li explains how the Texas redistricting case might play out.

Grits for Breakfast sorts out the DPS crime lab fees situation.

Paradise in Hell wonders what the floor is for Donald Trump's approval rating.

The TSTA Blog calls for adult leadership in Austin.

Therese Odell wades into the latest revelations in the Seth Rich story.

Molly Glentzer pushes back against an article that had criticized Houston's mini-murals program.

John Nova Lomax goes looking for the "real" Montrose.

DBC Green Blog wants you -- yes, YOU -- to run for office.

Pages of Victory links to a piece that best explains why he left the Democratic Party.

And Harry Hamid collects a few parts from a passenger train.

Friday, August 04, 2017

So long, NFL, and thanks for all the concussions

I've been in this place mentally (no pun) for a year, perhaps two.  My former brother Neil has made cogent posts about the topic.  If I'm calling myself a progressive, I have to walk the walk.


David Niose at Buzzflash speaks for me (except for one thing he inexplicably left out).

It has taken years, but I’ve finally come to terms with one of the most glaring inconsistencies in my own life. Though I hold myself out as a proud progressive, cognitive dissonance has allowed me to enjoy an activity that, in all honesty, directly conflicts with my core beliefs and values. After justifying and rationalizing this activity year after year, knowing deep down inside that it is indefensible, I’m finally ready to confront it:

I can no longer be a fan of the National Football League.

This decision results from an uncomfortable truth that has become increasingly undeniable to me: The NFL, because of the values it fosters on such a grand scale, is arguably the most influential reactionary force in the United States today.

If this sounds like an exaggeration, consider the facts. The NFL’s appeal and cultural influence are vast, with loyal followers, young and old, all over the country who willingly devote large amounts of time and attention to it. Yet the values it propagates are antithetical to a progressive life stance. Militarism, nationalism, corporatism, excessive consumption, and even conservative religion and anti-intellectualism -- all are nurtured, directly or indirectly, with a sprinkling of sexism for good measure, by the league and its activities.

This was not an easy truth for me to face. I’ve followed the NFL longer than I’ve called myself a progressive, since the glory days of Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw. And as a New Englander, I suffered decades of disappointment as a Patriots fan before watching the team become a dynasty in the Belichick-Brady era. The Pats just won their fifth Super Bowl, but I’ve come to realize that the NFL, overtly and covertly, stands firmly opposed to my own progressive values. I’m walking away, knowing without a doubt I’m doing the right thing.

In the top ten reasons I'm quitting football are Tom Brady and Bill Belichick (more on them in a moment).  Not so much that they are Trumpets but that they are cheaters.  Cheaters aren't supposed to prosper, and these two won't any longer with any of my money, indirect as it may be.

Even as a fan for many years, I never felt entirely comfortable with the league’s eagerness to incorporate militarism into its events. I’ve never needed or wanted fighter jet flyovers, color guards or other military elements to enjoy a football game. Since September 11, 2001, however, pre-game and halftime activities are increasingly centered around the armed forces, molding the public mindset -- especially young minds -- to accept militarism as normal and quintessentially American. Little wonder that ads for military recruitment are commonplace during NFL games.

If progressives find militarism troubling, we also have a distaste for its close cousin, nationalism. The hyper-patriotism that permeates the NFL is apparent not only through its exaltation of the military, but more concretely via its treatment of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who expressed peaceful dissent by sitting out the national anthem to protest the mistreatment of African Americans. Now a free agent, as of this writing, Kaepernick remains unsigned despite having the talent and credentials (he took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013) that would make him a starter on many rosters. All indications suggest he’s been blackballed.

Kaepernick is not just being blackballed by wealthy white owners, who are so conflicted themselves that they ask fans to pray for them even as they weigh the consequences of signing him (which might mean a revolt among their Trump fan base).  Kaepernick is being publicly counseled by the likes of Ray Lewis to get back in his place.  This criticism has a 'house negro/field negro' aspect, and Richard Sherman called that right out.

There's also something about slaves and masters that needs to be -- and fortunately has been -- said by someone who isn't white, like me.

This treatment of Kaepernick is disappointing, but it should come as no surprise. NFL football is not a game but a business constructed on an ultraconservative foundation. The NFL is totally reliant on corporate money for its lifeblood, selling as entertainment a game with two teams clashing in a violent, strategic battle on the gridiron, accompanied by regular grandiose displays of patriotism. With enormous contracts for the talented players, who are on the payroll of the aristocratic owners sitting in luxury boxes above the loyal masses, elitism is a defining characteristic.

NFL football may seem like a showcase for athletic talent, but we should remember that it serves primarily as a showcase for corporate products and services. Selling corporate America’s products is the reason the NFL exists, at least in the form we see today. NFL fans absorb a steady diet of advertising for beer, cars and trucks, financial services, sodas and snacks, fast food restaurants and more beer.

The major networks pay upwards of $3 billion annually to broadcast NFL games, meaning, of course, that the ad revenues they generate through their broadcasts far exceed that figure. Corporate America craves a passive audience willing to absorb its message, and that’s what the NFL provides. That message is to drink some beer, have some chips, go out and borrow some money to buy a new truck, and on the way home, stop at a drive-thru to get yourself and your kids some burgers and fries.

Athleticism, indeed.

With its underlying conservative values, there is little tolerance for a dissenter like Kaepernick in the cultural DNA of the NFL. The league has little problem with players who abuse women, but a modest and legal gesture of political dissent is met with harsh ostracism. Prevailing sentiment can be seen through statements such as those of Boomer Esiason, a former quarterback who’s now a commentator for CBS Sports. Saying he was “disgusted,” Esiason called Kaepernick’s actions “disgraceful.” He added: “I would cut him.”

Thus, what we see with the NFL is a confluence of factors -- men with unique athletic abilities, a violent sport, wealthy owners, major corporations pursuing their interests, and a public that craves entertainment and willingly absorbs the messaging that accompanies the game -- that create an extremely powerful vehicle for shaping a culture that accepts corporatism and its underlying values.

As we consider the sorry state of American society today, it can’t be a coincidence that the undesirable values fostered by the NFL are so prevalent in the overall culture, from our willingness to go to war to our tolerance of wealth disparity and obedient submission to corporate power.

You might recall I once posted about how the NFL is socialism.  That all remains true today, but socialism's goals include caring about, and for, the well-being of others, particularly the less fortunate.  Like so many other American industries, the NFL's socialistic aspects are designed for obscene profits for a few at the very top, already well off; an obvious and direct contradiction.  The socialism is far, far outweighed by the league's greedy capitalist Randian philosophies and adherents.

Indeed, while the NFL has no official political position, the sympathies it nurtures would make Ayn Rand proud. “I don’t believe in safety nets,” former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway once quipped. “I believe we’re given the opportunity to succeed or not succeed…. But I think my philosophy is, when given the opportunity, to go take advantage of that.”

Such are the core principles of a rich, strong, healthy, white, retired NFL quarterback. I succeeded, so why can’t you? As we hear Esiason rant against Kaepernick and watch others among the NFL elite, such as the Patriots power trio of Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady rubbing elbows with Donald Trump, the league’s defining class and dominant philosophy come into focus.

It’s important to understand that the NFL’s influence reaches deep into the heart of America, with football now a major institution in many communities, from small towns to major universities. Foreign students are baffled at the sports obsession in US schools, and football, of course, is most often the centerpiece of school sports programs.

And if you play football in the Bible belt, which is a breeding ground for NFL and Division 1 college players, you probably went to a school that has active members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, even among coaching staff. Many activist Christian coaches see proselytizing and saving young souls as an important part of their job. As legal director of the American Humanist Association, I’ve seen numerous instances of public school coaches promoting Christianity, unconstitutionally praying with students and even baptizing players. This is the environment in much of the NFL’s talent pool at the grassroots level, and it is not a welcoming place for religious minorities and nonbelievers.

Ah, yes.  Pointing at the sky after a touchdown.  Taking a knee and bowing their heads after the game, or every time a warrior falls to injury.  "That hole in the roof of (the old) Cowboy Stadium is there so that God can watch his favorite team".

"God" must be heartbroken since he can't see through the roof of the new palace Jerry Jones built ... and which he sold naming rights to another giant, shitty corporation named AT&T.  You might be aware that their CEO, Randall Stephenson, who is also president of the Boy Scouts of America, needs a big favor from Trump so that his company can get larger and richer.  Scout's honor.

To my fellow progressives who will remain loyal NFL fans (and there are many of you), I understand that we all have guilty pleasures. As I’ve grappled with being an NFL fan in recent years, becoming increasingly mindful of my own cognitive dissonance, I appreciate that some of you have even tried to help me rationalize it. One colleague whom I respect very much suggested that NFL football can be seen as a modern means of expressing our primal aggressive tendencies, an alternative to war and violent confrontation. I tried to accept that explanation, until I eventually realized that there is nothing truly civilized about the reactionary values promoted by the league.

So enjoy it if you must, but I encourage progressives to consider shedding the sedentary life of an NFL fan and the psychological conflict that necessarily accompanies it. This season, when asked if I’m ready for some football, the answer will be no.

Did you notice that the author left out any mention of the brain injuries?  Of the NFL abandoning its promise to the players in that regard?


This simply isn't something I can support any longer.  I'll have to wean myself off it gradually, and I'm similarly conflicted -- as with being a carnivore -- about watching college football, another plantation-ownership system that benefits the NFL.  But it's all got to get out of my life.

I'm going to start by getting out of the house on Sunday afternoons and evenings.  Just avoid television altogether.  Go somewhere with the wife, to a movie or a museum or the park.  A fall festival.  Don't have to check my phone for scores; don't do that anyway.  Which reminds me: going to have to quit my rotisserie leagues, my pick 'em contests, my squares gambling, all that.

Send me healing thoughts, but don't pray for me, please.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Scattershooting Karun Sreerama, Stan Stanart, Russian hacks, and Trump's shitty week

-- The drama surrounding the public works director of the city of Houston (Mayor Sylvester Turner's personal choice) has been resolved.  After being outed as a tool of the FBI for the third of three payoffs to convicted felon and HCC board member Chris Oliver -- who is still serving we the people, it should be noted -- Karun Sreerama is no longer.

Karun Sreerama is out as director of the city of Houston's Department of Public Works and Engineering following revelations that he made payments to a Houston Community College trustee who has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes.

[...]

Oliver pleaded guilty to bribery in connection with accepting the more recent payments totaling $12,000, court records show, and in exchange the acting U.S. attorney agreed to dismiss the separate extortion charge tied to Sreerama's earlier payments totaling $77,143.

Sreerama's attorney Chip Lewis said federal authorities directed Sreerama to pay Oliver the $12,000 in 2015 and 2016 after confronting Sreerama about his earlier, independent payments to the trustee. "What he was doing was created, directed and funded by the FBI," Lewis said. "Karun was a cooperating witness as a result of being a victim of Oliver's scheme."

That's an artful deflection, isn't it?

As Lewis described the payments, the first two were made because Oliver claimed he was going through a costly divorce, and then claimed he needed funds to complete the process of adopting a child. Both payments were presented as loans and were not repaid. The third payment took the form of an exorbitant fee Oliver charged after his company cleaned the parking lot at Sreerama's business.

"By the time we get to the third payment and he hadn't been repaid the loans, Karun became worried that saying, 'No, no I've got somebody who already does the cleaning, etc.' could adversely affect his position down the road," Lewis said.

Federal authorities confronted Sreerama in March 2015, a year and a half after he made that final payment, and asked for his cooperation in their investigation, Lewis said.

Two months later -- at the FBI's behest, Lewis said -- Sreerama began a series of meetings with Oliver that lasted through May 2016.

Oliver repeatedly asked if Sreerama was working for law enforcement in their initial May 2015 meeting, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Leuchtmann said during Oliver's re-arraignment. Oliver took the first envelope of $2,500 cash from Sreerama days later, and by their July meeting, he'd passed Sreerama a list of all HCC contracts.

Sreerama decided by November 2015 to bid on a pest control project. Oliver later said he continued to delay votes to convince the board to vote on the basis of value, not price, to give Sreerama's company a shot, Leuchtmann said.

Lewis said Sreerama's payments to Oliver during this period "were authorized, provided and directed to be delivered by the federal government." Meanwhile, Sreerama's likely appointment as Houston's Public Works director became a subject of open speculation at City Hall.

Turner finally tapped Sreerama to lead the city's largest department in March, tasking him with managing all city streets, drainage, water and sewer systems on a $2.1 billion annual budget. Sreerama did not tell the mayor or other city officials during the vetting process about his involvement in the federal case, Lewis said.

"The FBI had asked him not to reveal it to anybody," Lewis said, adding that Sreerama called Turner about the case three weeks ago, after he learned it was set to be unsealed the next day.

Just your run-of-the-mill graft/corruption/city hall quid pro quo deal, about which the mayor has plausible deniability of any knowledge or involvement.  Happens every day in cities large and small, all across the land, 99% of them go undiscovered by the law.  Nothing to see here.

We're stuck with Turner and his lickspittles down on Bagby until 2019, so there will be plenty of time for this to disappear down the memory hole.  This makes some members of the Democratic establishment very relieved, so there's that.

-- Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart and Rice University professor Dan Wallach got into a very public pissing contest over the security, or lack thereof, associated with the county's voting machines.  The original article's headline contained the words "Russian hackers" and has been edited by the Chronic to tone down the hysteria, and Wallach made a glaring error by describing the Hart InterCivic e-Slates as running on Microsoft 2000, which has been struck through and corrected to 'Microsoft 7'.

Stanart eventually posted a retort to Wallach, of which you can read the newspaper's account at this link.  It's more CYA by the county's lousiest, most incompetent elected official.

Stanart looks like more than the usual putz in light of this news from DEF CON -- the conference of hackers that takes place annually, this year in Vegas -- and note some disturbing developments contained within a couple of the links that follow.  I've highlighted them in bold.

We already knew U.S. voting systems had security flaws ― the federal government put that nail in the coffin when it repeatedly confirmed that Russian hackers breached systems in at least 21 states during the election last year.
But on Friday, hackers stateside showed us just how easily some of the electronic voting machines can be cracked.
Those who attended DEF CON, a 25-year-old hacking convention held in Las Vegas, were given physical and remote access to voting machines procured from eBay and government auctions.
Within about 90 minutes, they’d exploited weak and outdated security measures to gain full access, The Register first reported. Some physically broke down the machines to reveal their vulnerabilities, while others gained remote access or showed that external ports found on some could be used to upload malicious software. 

None of these accounts mention Hart's e-Slates, in use for over a decade here, but I'm not inclined to take this as good news.

“Without question, our voting systems are weak and susceptible. Thanks to the contributions of the hacker community today, we’ve uncovered even more about exactly how,” Jake Braun, who reportedly came up with the idea for the challenge, told The Register.
“The scary thing is we also know that our foreign adversaries ― including Russia, North Korea, Iran ― possess the capabilities to hack them too, in the process undermining principles of democracy and threatening our national security.”
Some of the machines were reportedly outdated and not used in today’s elections, and attendees said that their various intrusions would have been detected and logged by officials.
But detection is a far cry from interception.
In June, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official again confirmed that Russian hackers were not only “attempting” to gain access to voting systems, they succeeded in at least 21 states and stole undisclosed information. The FBI detected the tampering last year ― though no evidence of changing vote numbers has been found ― but the Obama administration delayed reporting the breaches until Oct. 7, according to the Los Angeles Times.

So this would be an account of Russians hacking the election that I have never read before, and I would be compelled to say that I was wrong all this time; the Russians did perform hacks of significant magnitude into our election systems, even if the proviso that "no evidence of changing results was found" is inserted.

But when I click on those bold links above, I find no data that supports the claims of this HuffPo writer, Andy Campbell.  He has quite obviously jumped to the wrong conclusion.  Read the links for yourself.  Here are some excerpts; read the entire post at both links.

Russian hackers targeted 21 U.S. states’ election systems in last year’s presidential race, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official told Congress on (June 21, 2017).

'Targeted' is not the same thing as 'hacked'.  And this from the second bold link above, dated late September of last year ...

There have been hacking attempts on election systems in more than 20 states — far more than had been previously acknowledged — a senior Department of Homeland Security official told NBC News on (September 28, 2016).

The "attempted intrusions" targeted online systems like registration databases, and not the actual voting or tabulation machines that will be used on Election Day and are not tied to the Internet. The DHS official described much of the activity as “people poking at the systems to see if they are vulnerable.”

Once more, in bold.

Only two successful breaches have been disclosed, both of online voter registration databases, in Illinois and Arizona over the summer.

While those two hacks were linked to hackers in Russia, the DHS official did not say who was responsible for the other failed attempts, noting that "we're still doing a lot of forensics."

Almost a month ago -- on July 5 -- I wrote and linked to pieces in Vox and in Bloomberg that revealed hacking in attempts in 39 states, and one breach of voter registration data in Illinois.  Two weeks before that, I linked to the report in the FWST about hacking attempts in Dallas County, and on June 2, compiled an extensive listing of the various attempts by the Russkies to influence the election to that point in time, most of which did not make even passing mention of hacking or hacking attempts.

I have followed the story extensively.  I have blogged about it exhaustively.  I still cannot find anywhere in the public domain -- save the mentions of voter database breaches in Illinois, and now Arizona above -- evidence that the Russians hacked anything of significance.  People like Mr. Campbell above do themselves, their publisher, and Democrats at large a great disservice by continuing to promote this false narrative.  It's fake news of the most destructive kind, because those of us that know it's a lie are being driven further away from the Democratic party and its candidates every time the lie gets repeated.  Maybe some day I'll be wrong about the Russians hacking the 2016 election, but that day hasn't arrived yet.

And perhaps Clinton Democrats already intuitively get that the Russian bullshit is a scam of their own invention, which could explain why they've ramped up their insane hatred for an even more implausible, yet always convenient scapegoat: Jill Stein and the Greens.

-- If Democrats wanted to bring Trump down and not themselves, then they'd focus more on the real Russian scandal.  The one Robert Mueller is working on.

Since Election Day, President Trump’s businesses have sold at least 30 luxury condos and oceanfront lots for about $33 million. That includes millions of dollars in properties to secretive shell companies, which can hide the identities of buyers or partners involved in the deals, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Now, details of some of those deals and other transactions by Trump's family business could be unmasked as special counsel Robert Mueller expands his inquiry into election-meddling by Russia and whether Trump's campaign colluded.

Federal investigators are expected to delve into records revealing some of the President’s most closely guarded secrets, including how much money he makes, who he does business with and how reliant he is on wealthy, politically-connected foreigners.

A half-dozen experts contacted by USA TODAY said they expect Mueller and his team to pursue everything from Trump’s income tax returns to the bank records underlying his companies’ real estate transactions in a quest to identify people who have financial relationships with the President and his business and political associates.

If Mueller gets fired by someone not named Jeff Sessions soon, the pending departures associated with Trump's shuffling the deck chairs his staff on his Titanic ego in the White House, to say nothing of the rats Republicans in Congress jumping off ...


... or even the overdue exodus of his base voters ...


 ... will accelerate as we move closer to the midterms.  But those fallout effects haven't yet taken into account his wink-and-a-nod approval to escalated police brutality ...


... his Tweeted transgender military service ban (that is not official until it is communicated through the conventional means) ...


... and the flaming bag of poo set alight on his own front step.

/div>

Those will all pale in comparison to the Nixonian conflagration of terminating the special prosecutor investigating his Russian business affairs.


The worst is yet to come.

Update: Just a couple of hours after I posted, Scaramouche is shitcanned in favor of General John Kelly, who moves over from the Department of Homeland Security.  Kelly is, for a general, quite the Trump stooge. No rumors floated yet about his replacement at DHS.  Seems like a bad time for that post to be vacant, with all this hacking going on and a war with North Korea about to break out.

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance agrees with Anderson Cooper that 'who had the worst week in Washington' last week was a tough call among five worthy contestants.

Off the Kuff looks at July campaign finance reports for Democratic Congressional challengers.

SocraticGadfly, looking over the battle to (apparently) kill Trumpcare, notes that insurers were only temporary allies, not friends of America, and remain bloodsucking leeches who are part of why true national health care in America needs a British-style NHS.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme calls out the so-called pro-life Texas Republicans for drastically increasing the maternal death rate. Now they are going for more deaths.

Democrats appear to be suffering another severe outbreak of Jill Stein Derangement Syndrome, reports PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

The Texas Tribune reveals Cong. Lamar Smith and Randy Weber complaining to the Department of Treasury that Russia is funding a massive, back channel, disinformation campaign -- aka fake news -- against America.  Just not the one you may have thought.


Ted at jobsanger observes today as  Black Women's Equal Pay Day.

Neil at All People Have Value called upon all people to show up and fight back. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

The Mom of No, writing at the Lewisville Texan Journal, takes a vacation but not before becoming the Mom of Everything Must Be Sparkling Clean in This House.

And the Rivard Report was on hand as more than 350 San Antonians gathered at the historic San Fernando Cathedral and lit ten candles for ten migrants who perished in the back of tractor trailer truck, found in a Walmart parking lot.


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

More Texas lefty blog posts and news!

Dan Solomon at Texas Monthly has the latest update from the FBI on the state's most dangerous cities, and there are a few surprises.

Grits for Breakfast finds AG Ken Paxton as perhaps the most unlikely Fourth Amendment advocate imaginable, but apparently only when a Second Amendment right was at stake.

The Texas Living Waters Project highlights the activism of Janice Bezanson, who advocates for wise water use over the construction of reservoirs.

The Texas Observer documents Greg Abbott's Texas Tree Chainsaw Massacre.


The TSTA Blog is not impressed with the Senate's "fake" pay raise for teachers.

Transgriot wants to hear more black voices in the coverage of the bathroom bill, and Equality Texas urges pushback on Greg Abbott's arm-twisting to make Republicans sign on to them.


Paradise in Hell has some sage words about highway driving.

And Katie Walsh sets the record straight about the authenticity of Tex-Mex.