Tuesday, September 02, 2014

It's all football and politics from now on

And you won't find much football around here.

Kuff and Texpatriate and Texas Leftist are all doing candidate Q&As... and I will do a few myself.  My blogging compadres' recent efforts are worth repeating.

-- Kim Ogg for Harris County District Attorney.  Even Big Jolly agrees she is the best woman for the job.  This is a no-brainer, y'all.

-- Texpate presents the latest of a handful of questionnaires from candidates; they include John Whitmire (incumbent Democratic state senator, District 15), Sam Houston (Democrat for Texas attorney general) and Green Party candidates Kenneth Kendrick (Texas agriculture commissioner) and David Collins (Harris County Judge).  All four -- but in particular, Kendrick -- are on my 'strongly recommended' list.

-- Socratic Gadfly introduces the Texas gubernatorial candidates with his characteristic snarkiness. He saves the harshest criticism for the stealth candidacy of Brandon Parmer.  You might recall that at his party's state convention in March, Parmer failed to show up... and nobody knew where he might be.

This one isn't a brainer, either.

The GPUS also has posted a list of its candidates running for office across the country, but for some reason lists only one Texas challenger, John Tunmire, who is running in Wendy Davis's old Senate district.  I love the Greens and what they stand for, but sometimes their level of competence really tries my patience.

-- Burnt Orange Report's Joseph Vogas updated that blog's candidates tracker using the official status from the TXSOS.  He included this fascinating tidbit.

Among the final changes made, Ben E. Mendoza has filed as an independent in House District 77 against Democratic State Representative Marisa Marquez and and Paul Ingmundson has filed as a Green against Democrat Mike Villareal in House District 123. These two filings mean Democrats Marquez and Villareal are no longer unopposed. This is especially important in the case of Villareal who has said he plans to resign from office to run for Mayor of San Antonio. Villareal plans to resign as soon as the general election is over in early November. Had Villareal resigned earlier this month, Green candidate Ingmundson would be running unopposed and would win by default. 

The Green Party of Texas almost -- by happenstance, it would seem, although my guess is Rep. Villareal did make some calculations to prevent it -- had its first statehouse representative.

And in answer to my question, Vogas pointed out that the Texas Tribune's 2014 brackets are incorrect, as none of the independent candidates they show running for governor and lieutenant governor have qualified for the ballot.  So BOR's is the definitive list.

Got more scoop, rumor, innuendo, gossip, slime, scuttlebutt?  Little birds whispering words on the street into your ear?  Send it my way: PDiddie at gmail dot com.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The turbulent origins of organized labor, and of Labor Day

Peter Rachleff, via Nick Cooper at Free Press Houston with the history lesson.  Embedded hyperlinks are mine.

Monday, September 1, will mark the 120th celebration of  Labor Day as a legal, national holiday. What is the history of the Labor Day holiday? It had a turbulent, complicated beginning. Understanding more about this can help us to rethink the significance of this holiday today.

American labor in 1894 was a volatile force. The industrial revolution had radically transformed work, replacing skilled labor with machines, and giving birth to two powerful new institutions: factories and corporations. The economy had been rocked by deep depressions -- 1873-1878; 1883-1886; 1893-1896 -- when millions lost their jobs and millions more experienced wage cuts. Massive numbers of immigrants -- an average of half a million a year between 1880 and WWI -- arrived and applied for the low paid, dangerous unskilled jobs that were available. After the brief experiment in political and economic democracy called “Reconstruction” (1867-1877), the four million freed slaves, their descendants, and their northern relatives found themselves stripped of their newly-won rights, from the ballot box and the workplace to the school room and public transportation. Women’s suffrage advocates, who had hoped that the ending of slavery would quickly be followed by the extension of voting (and other) rights to women, were deeply disappointed. None of these developments took place without a struggle, and there were strikes, protests, marches, and rallies continuously in the last decades of the century.

Most people know something of the more recent labor-management clashes of the titans, thanks to the legacy of Jimmy Hoffa.  That's only the most recent half of the history.

In the summer of 1877, a strike against wage cuts (for many, their third reduction since 1873) among railroad workers from Martinsburg, West Virginia, to St. Louis and Chicago. Tens of thousands, from highly skilled engineers to largely black and immigrant track-layers, struck. In some places, strikers fought with other workers, who were desperate enough to cross picket lines. When several state militias were called out to protect the strikebreakers, violent clashes ensued and there were deaths on both sides. In some places, militia members refused to fire on workers and they put down their weapons and joined the protestors. For 45 days, the nation’s rail traffic, the heart of its transportation system, was disrupted.

While the railroad strike did not succeed, it had planted new ideas about organizing and strategy among workers. In the 1880s, as the economy recovered, a new labor organization, called the Knights of Labor, swept the country. It took in the unskilled as well as the skilled, immigrants as well as native born, women as well as men, and black as well as white. Its motto was “An Injury to One is the Concern of All,” and, in many communities, its members actually practiced what they preached.

Entirely a populist movement, without discrimination... except against those who would subjugate them for their own avarice.

Activists in the Knights, frustrated with long hours (many workers toiled twelve-hour days), low pay, little political voice, and general social disregard, hatched a radical new idea: that all workers should strike on May 1, 1886, for a universal eight-hour day, and that none would return to work until all had achieved the new standard. This dramatic, unified action would not only bring them the demands they wanted, it would transform their relationships with each other across the country, and it would change the ways they were perceived by the dominant culture. A lot was at stake. Three hundred forty thousand people walked off their jobs on May 1, and their numbers grew each day.

This struggle came to a climax at the country’s largest factory: the McCormick Harvester Works in Chicago. There, Knights of Labor activists used rallies and picket lines at the plant gates to appeal to all the workers, especially the newly hired immigrants in the unskilled jobs, to join the great strike. On May 4, the Chicago police moved in, accused the union leaders of holding rallies without a permit, and ordered the crowd to disperse. Someone threw a bomb into the ranks of the police, who in turn opened fire on the crowd. Seven police and four strikers died, and many more people were injured. The leaders of the strike were arrested and put on trial for murder. Eight were convicted; four of them were hanged. This repression sent a chill through the new labor movement, but it also made martyrs out of the strike leaders, and it made May 1st a labor holiday throughout the world, including parts of the United States.

Google Haymarket Affair for more on the carnage.  And note once again the comparisons to the present day: police brutality associated with the protection of large companies against the working class, who sought only fairness for their labor.

Among railroad workers, employed by the country’s largest corporations, labeled “robber barons” by the newspapers, a new organization, the American Railway Union, led by a charismatic speaker, Eugene V. Debs, gathered all railroad workers together into one industrial union. In April 1894, facing the kind of wage cuts which had spurred the 1877 upheaval, ARU members struck James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railroad. This conflict led to a showdown in Saint Paul, MN where a striker, Charlie Luth, was shot and killed by a strikebreaker outside an East Side boardinghouse. Charles Pillsbury, head of the huge flour milling company, called Hill and Debs together and mediated a settlement, in which Hill rescinded the 10% wage cut he had imposed. Railroad workers around the country were inspired -- and sprang into action.

In June, the workers who built Pullman (sleeping) cars in a Chicago suburb called “Pullman” (a company town in which the employer owned the houses, picked the police, and controlled the schools and stores) rebelled when their wages were cut 25% but their rents were not reduced. They sent word to Debs and asked to join the ARU. Debs welcomed them in, and then called on railroad workers across the country to boycott Pullman cars; that is, refuse to move any train which had a Pullman car in it. Some 125,000 railroad workers joined what was in effect a nationwide railroad strike. President Grover Cleveland called out the National Guard to police the railroad yards and the roundhouses, but they could not force the strikers to return to work. Pullman’s corporate attorney, Richard Olney, the former Attorney General of the United States, went to court for a federal injunction ordering an end to the strike. The grounds? The strikers were interfering with the shipment of the nation’s mail! (Most trains had not only Pullman cars but also U.S. mail cars.) The federal judge issued the court order -- the first ever federal injunction against a strike -- and ordered Debs to call off the strike. When Debs refused, the judge found him in contempt and sent him to prison, where he spent the next eighteen months. In a matter of days, the strikers went back to work.

Debs became a Socialist while he was incarcerated, and ran for president of the United States five times, the last in 1920 from a different jail cell (he was imprisoned that time for refusing to be conscripted for WWI).  He received almost one million votes that year, 3.4% of the total cast.  That remains the high-water mark for Socialist presidential candidates in the United States ... not counting, you know, Barack Obama.

It was within this context that President Cleveland asked Congress to pass legislation (which he signed in 1894) making the first Monday in September “Labor Day.” With one hand, he allowed the country’s greatest labor leader to sit in a prison cell, while, with the other, he created a national holiday celebrating labor. Cleveland was also careful to direct workers’ celebration away from May 1st, which had become an international labor day. He took his cue from the New York City Central Labor Union, which had been celebrating an early September “Labor Day” since 1882. A number of other city and state labor organizations had followed this example. They stayed away from the May 1st date because it had been so badly tainted by the anti-radical backlash that swept over the country and the labor movement in the late 1880s. And so early September seemed an acceptable option to the president, his advisors, and the political establishment.

There's more, but to bring things forward to within the past 25 years...

Over the next century, the vitality of Labor Day ebbed and flowed with the overall energy and life of the labor movement. After a rather quiet 1920s, Labor Day revived in the 1930s and 1940s only to fade in significance in the 1950s and 1960s. In the tumultuous 1980s and early 1990s, stimulated by PATCO, Hormel, Staley, Caterpillar, the Chicago and Detroit newspapers, and the struggle against the North American Free Trade Agreement, not just picnics and parades, but also expressions of solidarity and militancy became widespread once again. These patterns were as apparent in Saint Paul as they were anywhere else.

Everything old is new again.  It was Harry Truman who said, "the only thing new in this world is the history that you don't know."  So very true.

Update: More from John Nichols at The Nation on the alarming notion that labor rights are also civil rights.

When the United States occupied Japan after World War II, General Douglas MacArthur and his aides encouraged the country to adopt a constitution designed to assure that Hideki Tojo’s militarized autocracy would be replaced with democracy. Fully aware that workers and their unions had a role to play in shaping the new Japan, they included language that explicitly recognized that “the right of workers to organize and to bargain and act collectively is guaranteed.”

When the United States occupied Germany after World War II, General Dwight David Eisenhower and his aides urged the Germans to write a constitution that would assure that Adolf Hitler’s fascism was replaced with muscular democracy. Recognizing that workers would need to organize and make their voices heard in the new nation, the Germans included a provision that explicitly declared: “The right to form associations to safeguard and improve working and economic conditions shall be guaranteed to every individual and to every occupation or profession. Agreements that restrict or seek to impair this right shall be null and void; measures directed to this end shall be unlawful.”

When former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the International Commission on Human Rights, which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that would in 1948 be adopted by the United Nations as a global covenant, Roosevelt and the drafters included a guarantee that “everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

For generations, Americans accepted the basic premise that labor rights are human rights. When this country counseled other countries on how to forge civil and democratic societies, Americans explained that the right to organize a trade union—and to have that trade union engage in collective bargaining as an equal partner with corporations and government agencies—had to be protected.

Now, with those rights under assault in America, it is wise, indeed, to recommit to the American ideal that working people must have a right to organize and to make their voices heard in a free and open society. As the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. said fifty years ago:
History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.

The Labor Day Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance asks you to thank a union member for your long weekend -- and your paid vacation, and your health and retirement benefits -- as it brings you the best of the left of Texas from last week.

Like many people, Off the Kuff was cheered by the ruling in the school finance lawsuit.

The TXGOP had a really lousy week, and it only got worse for Greg Abbott as the Labor Day holiday weekend began. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs doesn't wonder why the attorney general is running away from debating Wendy Davis, because he can't say 'no comment' when asked about his many scandals in a debate.

Libby Shaw, now posting at Daily Kos, also observed that last week was not a particularly good one for Republican lawmakers and Greg Abbott.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson: the economy in Texas has never been miraculous. Bleeding the people dry while stockpiling cash is no miracle: Neglect and Greed.

Make no mistake, Republicans are waging a war against public education. CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is glad that the Texas Constitution is standing in their way.

Texas Leftist applauds the Leticia Van de Putte campaign for catching Dan Patrick in a bald-faced lie. He cannot hide from the 2011 education cuts. Plus, we reveal the true reasoning behind Greg Abbott's 'Debate and Switch'.

Neil at Blog About Our Failing Money-Owned American Political System wondered why Leticia Van de Putte would look the other way at vocal supporters of her campaign who voted for the state-mandated rape of the forced sonogram law. BAOFMOAPS is one of several pages at NeilAquino.com.

McBlogger had a short take on Rick Perry's deleted Tweet.

Harold Cook answers his own question:  Does the Perry indictment bring CPRIT back into play in the governor's race?

Egberto Willies thanks President Obama for NOT having a strategy on ISIS/ISIL.


And here's more from other blogs across the state.

Instead of having less campaign advertising on his teevee, jobsanger wishes he had more.

nonsequiteuse reminds everyone to vote if they can and to raise hell if you are blocked or otherwise prohibited from doing so.

Socratic Gadfly wryly notes that Greg Abbott just doesn't stand for very much at all.

The Texas Observer caught Rick Perry's latest "Oops": the 'lavatories of democracy', while cartoonist Ben Sargent solves the GOP’s Latino outreach problem.

Bluedaze has the news about the Earth Wind and Fire Energy Summit coming to Dallas, and Texas Vox reports on the historic clean energy plan adopted by the city of Austin.

Better Texas Blog breaks down the Texas public school finance ruling.

SciGuy reports on NASA's next step -- from design to construction -- in sending men to Mars, and State Impact Texas hopes that a budding private space industry in Texas will stabilize Midland/Odessa's boom-and-bust economy.

Beyond Bones has everything you need to know about sharks but were afraid to ask.

Nancy Sims examines the feminism of Beyonce'.

Newsdesk introduces us to the widely discredited “expert” who coached the state’s witnesses in the HB2 lawsuit.

The Lunch Tray asks if using junk food tactics to sell vegetables to kids is a good idea or not.

And finally, TransGriot has some Labor Day tidings, and the TPA congratulates The Great God Pan Is Dead for its fifth blog anniversary.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A four-year-old tale of corruption finally told: Greg Abbott and Houston Votes

The Texas attorney general and Republican gubernatorial candidate's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad weekend just got a whole lot worse.  From James Drew at the Dallas Morning News...

On an overcast Monday afternoon, officers in bulletproof vests swept into a house on Houston’s north side. The armed deputies and agents served a search warrant. They carted away computers, hard drives and documents.

The raid targeted a voter registration group called Houston Votes, which was accused of election fraud. It was initiated by investigators for Attorney General Greg Abbott. His aides say he is duty-bound to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.

His critics, however, say that what Abbott has really sought to preserve is the power of the Republican Party in Texas. They accuse him of political partisanship, targeting key Democratic voting blocs, especially minorities and the poor, in ways that make it harder for them to vote, or for their votes to count.

A close examination of the Houston Votes case reveals the consequences when an elected official pursues hotly contested allegations of election fraud.

The investigation was closed one year after the raid, with no charges filed. But for Houston Votes, the damage was done. Its funding dried up, and its efforts to register more low-income voters ended. Its records and office equipment never were returned. Instead, under a 2013 court order obtained by Abbott’s office, they were destroyed.

And the dramatic, heavily armed raid never was necessary, according to Fred Lewis, president of Texans Together, the nonprofit parent group of Houston Votes. “They could have used a subpoena,” he said. “They could have called us and asked for the records. They didn’t need guns.”

The previously unreported 2010 raid coincided with agitation by a local tea party group and Lewis’ testimony in the trial of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Lewis had filed a complaint against DeLay that, in large part, led to his indictment on corruption charges.

Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, declined interview requests. A spokesman, Jerry Strickland, said the attorney general does not recall being briefed by staff members on the Houston Votes investigation.

This is a lengthy piece, and you should set aside some time to read every word. I have a vested interest because Mo Haver (the former head of Houston Votes, mentioned prominently) is my friend, Fred Lewis is an acquaintance, and I was present at the kickoff for their mobilization four years ago.  The efforts of Houston Votes turned into a massive brouhaha -- as the article reveals -- involving three previous Harris County tax assessor-collectors: Paul Bettencourt (he's now poised to be elected state senator, replacing Dan Patrick), Leo Vasquez, and Don Sumners; the head of the now-notorious King Street Patriots/True the Vote, Catherine Engelbrecht; and a handful more of some of the most corrupt and venal Republicans in the state of Texas.

Here it might be useful to point out, via a very handy GIF, the entire substance of voter fraud in the United States.

You should read the entire DMN article, particularly for the backstory on this.

(OAG investigator Jennifer) Croswell said a Houston Votes employee had told her that scanned copies of voter registration applications were given to Lewis and several of them didn’t have personal information redacted.

That, Croswell said, was a felony violation of the Penal Code.

“You are not allowed to copy, scan, reproduce a voter registration application, period. Nobody is allowed to,” Croswell told Haver.

Haver responded that Houston Votes had received voter registration cards from the county in 2008. Printed on the cards was a note directing that copies should be kept for 18 months.

Haver’s attorney said Vasquez, the Harris County tax assessor-collector, had given copies of voter registration applications to King Street Patriots. Haver said Vasquez also displayed them during a news conference. Was that not illegal?

Croswell did not respond.

Croswell left the attorney general’s office a few months after her interview with Haver and is now an Austin police officer. She declined to comment.

And to the end.

Haver, who resigned for reasons of poor health from her job with Texans Together in January 2011, said she believes there was no prosecution because there was no “credible evidence of voter fraud or criminal behavior.”

“From the [voter] registrar to the attorney general to the district attorney, all the players were Republicans, so no one can point to partisan protection from indictment. Instead, one can point to a lack of evidence,” she said.

When Haver was interviewed by Abbott’s office in late 2010, her attorney asked if Haver could get some folders returned to her. They’d been taken in the Houston raid and contained research Haver had done on possible irregularities in how GOP officials in Harris County were handling voter registration.

Haver told the attorney general’s office that the research had no relationship to the Houston Votes investigation. “We kept following up, and they kept giving us the runaround about getting it returned,” she said recently.

In late 2013, Abbott’s office asked judges in Harris and Travis counties for permission to destroy the records seized in the two raids. The request said records contained the names of people who were not suspects, partial Social Security numbers and forged voter registration applications.

When the attorney general’s office received a green light from judges, Haver’s research, which did not contain personal identifying information, was among the materials destroyed.

As is historically the case, this development isn't likely to damage Abbott much with his true believers.  It will provide extra motivation to all those folks working with BGTX to mobilize Democratic turnout, registered and still-unregistered.

It helps everyone understand why Abbott doesn't want to do any debates.  He can't respond 'no comment' when the media asks him about things like voter "fraud" -- and Ted Nugent, and Dr. Murray, and CPRIT, and the Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman rape case, and "driving around" to ask if explosive chemicals are stored near your house, and all of the rest of his myriad of scandals -- in a debate.

And it also reveals once more the depth of the immoral, craven, opportunistic sociopath who sits in the OAG, and who hopes to sit in the Governor's Mansion next January.

Sunday Funnies

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What a terrible week for Texas Republicans

They lost in court twice, on the financing of public school education and on reproductive freedom for women.  Governor Perry's Texas National Guard border surge appears to have mustered without enough money to pay the troops.   And at the end of the day yesterday, the wheels of Greg Abbott's gubernatorial campaign came flying off again.

Jon Stewart piled on the Indict Cowboy.

They're gonna be mad all weekend, y'all.  Take the necessary precautions.  Add less alcohol to your barbecue cookout... or more, depending on your individual assessment.  Don't leave any guns lying around (could be injurious to others or to themselves).

Don't mention any of the half-dozen-or-so wars going on in Asia, and especially don't bring up the topic of racial strife in America.

If you're watching football and a political ad comes on, quickly change the channel.

Please don't take them out for burgers.

Other than that, enjoy a lovely long weekend.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Abbott cancels debate with Davis, then changes his mind

*Update below.

He's decided it's better to stay out of sight, so he and Dan Patrick and Ted Nugent are all going to hole up in the basement and play cards, maybe shoot some guns.

Republican candidate Greg Abbott has reversed his decision to appear in the only gubernatorial debate to be broadcast statewide on television.

Abbott and his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, had both agreed to participate in a roundtable debate in Dallas on Sept. 30.

But on Friday morning, Abbott's team reversed an earlier decision and said it will not participate alleging concern over the format.

"Due to our inability to agree on specific details of the format, Attorney General Greg Abbott will regretfully not be participating in the WFAA debate," said Robert Black, senior campaign advisor on Friday morning. He is Abbott's new debate consultant who joined the campaign on Aug. 4.

Davis wanted to stand at a lectern; Abbott didn't.

"We are deeply disappointed that the Abbott campaign has not lived up to the commitment it made to participate in this important debate," said Mike Devlin, President and General Manager of WFAA-TV. "WFAA has produced numerous debates which are balanced and fair to all the candidates. This debate would be no different. The citizens of Texas deserve to hear from the candidates for the most important office in the state."

Roundtable debates don't formally time responses for candidate answers. The looser format is designed to create a conversation and give voters a more candid look at candidates and their positions.

Can't have that.

Strategically, Abbott's team likely revealed the news on Friday morning before the long holiday weekend. Currently Abbott and Davis are only scheduled to appear together in one debate in McAllen later this month. Davis originally requested multiple debates statewide but Abbott said he would only do two – one in McAllen and the one in Dallas.

At least we can look forward to more teevee ads where Abbott reminds us he married a Latina.

I think the man is seriously trying his hardest to let Wendy Davis narrowly defeat him.  He deserves a standing ovation for that.

Update, courtesy Harvey Kronberg:

It is supposed to be the Davis campaign that is in disarray, but to all current appearances, it looks like the Abbott campaign is the one that can't shoot straight.

At least Rick Perry used the subterfuge of refusing to debate Bill White until he released years of tax returns. Under the cover of the long Labor Day weekend, the Abbott campaign unilaterally cancelled a debate to which it had previously agreed with Democrat Wendy Davis and without even the pretense of a subterfuge. They simply cited unstated problematic format issues ... to which they had previously agreed.

Taking incoming from even their own party and looking an awful lot like Clayton Williams refusing to shake Ann Richard's hand, the state's lead litigator apparently hurriedly set up another debate format and then announced it.

Unfortunately, the Davis campaign confirms that they had no prior notice of the cancellation or the Abbott declaration of a "new debate".


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 Christmas holidays (Emmett would be a much bigger fool than I have long suspected should he keep on talking about this right up to Election Day).  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.