Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Postpourri

-- "This Week in Rick Perry's Lies" may have to become a DAILY feature. Did you know the governor called Texas' 46th-ranked health care system "the best in the United States"?

-- Look for weekend postings on Barbara Radnofsky's efforts to wake up Greg Abbott with, as well as the incompetence and willful negligence associated with the attorney general's signature issue, child support collection.

-- I also attended a luncheon sponsored by Houston Votes, which has ambitious plans again this election cycle to register 100,000 disaffected Houstonians in time for them to vote in November. Long post due on their efforts.

-- No sooner did I call Rick Perry a cartoon character than we learned that the Bill White campaign was putting out a casting call for a "clueless" Perry look-alike for some comical campaign ads. I think Josh Brolin -- he also played W in Oliver Stone's movie -- would have been perfect for the role.

--  BP will take a $10 billion tax credit for costs associated with the Gulf oil disaster. Even Goldman Sachs gasped when they heard the news. (Ten billion dollars was the amount of the taxpayer bailout they received.)

-- Time once again to remind our Washington representation to preserve net neutrality. As Al Franken put it:

If no one stops them, how long do you think it will take before four or five mega-corporations effectively control the flow of information in America, not only on television but online. If we don't protect net neutrality now, how long do you think it will take before Comcast/NBC Universal -- or Verizon/CBS Viacom, or AT&T/ABC/DirectTV, or BP/Halliburton/WalMart/Fox/Domino's Pizza -- start favoring its content over everyone else's? How long do you think it will take before the Fox News Web site loads five times faster than Daily Kos?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Top ten signs Republicans will lose the midterms

Though the GOP can rub their flat hooves with glee over Charlie Rangel's ethical troubles (he's no Duke Cunningham or Tom Foley; certainly no Tom DeLay, but FWIW he should still resign from Congress) their opportunities to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory continue to mount. Let's count the ways ...

1. Former 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is still in the national spotlight, meaning that either there are no Republicans more qualified than her, or that she will follow through with her plans to carve off so-called "Palinistas" from the national Republican Party and form her own ultra-conservative political party.

2. Former vice president Dan Quayle believes that the Republicans will make big wins this fall. Given who is making this prediction, it has a lot of Republicans nervous.

3. A lot of the polls showing Republican candidates in the lead were taken by pollsters who "polled" a variety of zoo animals, the majority of which were elephants.

4. Though George W. Bush appears to have quietly retired to his ranch in Crawford, there are rumblings that his book "Decision Points", which will hit shelves this fall, is full of meaningless ramblings about knowing when to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

5. Though President Obama's approval ratings are "only" hovering around 40%, this is pretty good considering that we are in the middle of Great Depression 2.0 and the worst national natural disaster since Godzilla invaded New York has befallen the Gulf coast. However, vice president Joe Biden -- making a characteristic gaffe -- said that his boss's numbers could "go a whole lot lower."

6. Rumors of an alien spaceship landing this summer in Ohio have lead many to conclude that the 2010 midterm elections will be postponed a year so that Congress and the President can prepare for a Martian invasion.

Rest here. In the spirit of bi-partisanship, the ten reasons why Democrats could still choke, including these gems:

2. Odds in Las Vegas are now only 2 to 1 that Democrats will hold onto the House of Representatives, and 3 to 1 that Levi Johnston's marriage to Bristol Palin won't make it to its one year anniversary.

3. Bo the White House dog has held several press conferences in which he has stated his willingness to work with a Republican majority in the Senate.

4. South Carolina Democratic candidate Alvin Greene, who is facing federal obscenity charges amid rumors he is a Republican plant, plans on switching his party affiliation to the newly formed "Greene Party" should he lose in November.


6. Lobbyists trying to bribe public officials are, for the first time in four years, spending a slight majority of their money on Republicans instead of Democrats.

Seriously though, if you cannot comprehend the scenario that a change of leadership hands in the House portends, then please don't watch this. You'll have nightmares.

Hey, Greg Abbott! Here's a case of voter fraud

Your only problem is that he is a Republican state senator.

The newest member of the Texas Senate, Brian Douglas Birdwell, voted in the November 2004 presidential election twice, choosing between George W. Bush and John Kerry in Tarrant County, Texas, and again in Prince William County, Va., according to election records in the two states.

Voting in the same election twice is a third-degree felony in Texas.

What's more, Birdwell's record of voting in Virginia from 2004 through 2006 would seem to place his residency in that state, not in Texas, which could imperil his spot in the Legislature. Birdwell voted a Virginia ballot in November 2006; if that's enough to establish him as a Virginia resident, an issue that can only be settled in court, it means he's not eligible to serve in the Texas Senate until at least November 2011.

Abbott, you may recall, has had his goons peeping into little old ladies' bathroom windows in his quest to find any examples of voter fraud in Texas.

"It's a piece of evidence that's hard to refute and usually fatal," says Randall "Buck" Wood, an Austin lawyer and a Democrat respected across the political spectrum for his mastery of election law. The residency question, as Wood sees it, puts the courts in the position of deciding whether someone did something illegal — voting in an election in a place where they don't reside — or simply is ineligible to run in another place because of that vote. He thinks most judges would choose the second option rather than deciding the candidate in question did something criminal. The crime, if there is one, would be voting in Virginia while residing in Texas. Wood thinks a court would most likely see no crime, saying instead that the voter was a Virginia resident and voter who is simply not eligible to run for Texas Senate.

So will Birdwell resign? Will the Texas Attorney General prosecute him whether he does or doesn't? Or will the judge who eventually hears the case do what Buck Wood thinks they will do?

Inquiring minds and all that. Charles Kuffner has more.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Razing Arizona toons and video

Restricting Arizona

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the most controversial parts of Arizona's immigration law from taking effect, delivering a last-minute victory to opponents of the crackdown.

The overall law will still take effect Thursday, but without the provisions that angered opponents — including sections that required officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws.

The judge also put on hold parts of the law that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times, and made it illegal for undocumented workers to solicit employment in public places. In addition, the judge blocked officers from making warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants.

"Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully-present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked," U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled.

While the parts of the law Judge Bolton has restricted probably don't pass constitutional muster (thus the reason for the DOJ lawsuit), I would like to see this entire miserable beast put down for good. So that it would chill the efforts to codify discrimination in other states.

"There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens under the new (law)," Bolton ruled. "By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a 'distinct, unusual and extraordinary' burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose."

Well done, Judge Bolton. Now let's see how the bigots respond.

Update II

"The other side is going to be claiming victory and doing cartwheels in the street, but the reality is that they have to come down from the euphoria and really look at the law," said Jesse Hernandez, chairman of the Arizona Latino Republican Association, a vocal supporter of the law.

Hernandez, a 49-year-old real estate consultant and first-generation American, said the judge's ruling still gives law enforcement the discretion to help enforce immigration law, it just no longer mandates it. His Blackberry buzzed this afternoon as he made plans with his attorney to file a lawsuit to appeal Bolton's decision.

"This is going to end up at the steps of the Supreme Court," Hernandez said. "There's no question about that. This is not a defeat. If anything, I think it's a victory in that the American public is going to wake up and look at what's going on and say, 'Enough is enough,'" Hernandez said. "This is going to frustrate a lot of Americans."

“I am disappointed by Judge Susan Bolton’s ruling,” Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement. “This fight is far from over. In fact, it is just the beginning, and at the end of what is certain to be a long legal struggle, Arizona will prevail in its right to protect our citizens.

“I have consulted with my legal counsel about our next steps. We will take a close look at every single element Judge Bolton removed from the law, and we will soon file an expedited appeal at the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.”

"The president of the United States and this judge just took the side of illegal immigrants against the American citizenry," said William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee. "America is going to cry out in anger. Our mission is to channel that anger into political activities designed to rebuke the politicians and business leaders and special interest groups behind this invasion. That includes Obama, John McCain, Republican and Democratic candidates."

More reaction from Texas pols at the TexTrib. Houstonians seem divided ...

ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke:

“Today’s ruling should serve as a warning that similar legislation in Texas will be met with defeat, either in our Legislature or in the court system. Texas has too many far more pressing issues, including an enormous budget deficit, for the state’s lawmakers to be spending their time and energy debating similar legislation –- not to mention committing millions in taxpayer funds on the inevitable litigation that would follow –- on a law that cannot be enforced.”

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rick Perry is like a cartoon governor.

A drugstore cowboy, with a gaggle of Mr. Burnses all around him. The fact that these land deals uncovered by the DMN surprise exactly nobody -- ho hum, another 20-year public servant (sic) made a millionaire -- tells you all you need to know about the state of Texas politics these days.

Three years after Gov. Rick Perry's biggest real estate score, questions persist about whether the governor benefited from favoritism, backroom dealing and influence-buying.

The Dallas Morning News found evidence that Perry's investment was enhanced by a series of professional courtesies and personal favors from friends, campaign donors and the head of a Texas family with a rich history of political power-brokering.

Together they may have enriched Perry by almost $500,000, according to an independent real estate appraisal commissioned by The News.

Really, if this were submitted as a screenplay, the studio moguls would reject it for being too "obvious". That's why it would only work as an animation.

The 2007 deal involved a half-acre grassy lot at a Texas Hill Country resort on the shore of Lake Lyndon B. Johnson. The Horseshoe Bay development is owned by Doug Jaffe, whose San Antonio family has long and sometimes controversial ties to Texas politics.

Jaffe's company sold the parcel in 2000 to state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, a longtime Perry friend and political ally. Shortly after, Fraser sold the lot to Perry for just more than $300,000.

The newspaper's appraiser determined in a report done this month that the land was worth $450,000 when Perry bought it.

In 2007, Alan Moffatt, a British business partner and close associate of Jaffe's, paid Perry $1.15 million for the land. The newspaper's appraiser found that price to be $350,000 above market value.

Moffatt denied anything improper occurred in the transaction. "It just happened that the governor of Texas owned that lot," he said. "It was a good deal for me."

More about Alan Moffatt here.

Documents and interviews portray Moffatt as an international businessman active in aviation, whose company once faced accusations of arms deliveries in connection with a brutal civil war. He also has ties to controversial Third World leaders, The Dallas Morning News found.

Well, that's not quite so cartoonish. What about this Jaffe fellow?

Doug Jaffe and his late father, Morris, have built widely chronicled reputations as big-money backers of Democratic politicians going back to Lyndon Johnson's days as a U.S. senator. But the Jaffe family also has contributed to Republicans when the GOP was in power, and Doug Jaffe gave to Perry's 2004 campaign.

Doug Jaffe found success in the vending machine business and made a fortune selling "hush kits" that allowed older commercial jets to meet government noise restrictions.

The Jaffes were implicated in a federal investigation in the early 1990s of billionaire rancher Clinton Manges, protege of legendary south Texas political boss George Parr. Manges was convicted of using the mail to file false claims with a state land official to retain an oil lease for the Jaffes.

In 1989, a congressional ethics committee investigating U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright subpoenaed both Jaffes to testify about an East Texas oil exploration venture that, despite producing nothing, earned Wright about $150,000. The Jaffes denied assisting Wright in return for help winning a $3 billion military aircraft contract.

The federal Office of Independent Counsel reported that it also investigated the Jaffes as part of a probe of former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros, then U.S. housing secretary. The Jaffes acknowledged they had made thousands of dollars in loans to Linda Medlar Jones, a former Cisneros girlfriend.

Ah, so Doug Jaffe works both sides of the aisle. A bipartisan corrupter. And corruption seems to be a family tradition. That's less of a comedy and more Texas lore.

But back to everybody's favorite governor.

"So I would just have folks take a look at the record, and I think the record pretty much speaks for itself," Perry said.

This will be the most truthful thing this man will ever say.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes Lois the corpse flower a restful and well-earned dormant period as it brings you this week's blog highlights.

WhosPlayin posted a document explaining the link between benzene and natural gas drilling and production operations, and examining a few recent air quality studies in the Barnett Shale.

The Texas State Board of Education helps their cronies out and undermines public education with one swift move to support charter schools with our money. CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme sees hedge fund operators racking up the $$$.

Off the Kuff took a look at campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates and State Reps. Along the way, he answered the burning question "What kind of man subscribes to Glamour magazine?"

This week, Hank Gilbert continued to dominate Todd Sleazy Staples. See the latest at McBlogger.

Eagle Ford Shale residents already have water impacts from fracking and now eminent domain is headed your way. TXsharon is trying to warn Eagle Ford Shale residents to learn from mistakes made in the Barnett Shale on Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS.

Over at TexasKaos, lightseeker brings together evidence on Rick Perry's governing style in Rick Perry: Death before Bad Image ! Do the Dirt With Bureaucracy! [Updated] .

Neil at Texas Liberal spent the week on vacation in Seattle. While there he took a boat cruise that went through the Ballard Locks on the Lake Washington Ship Canal. These free government-built and operated locks are used by all types of commercial and pleasure craft. As they use this free government service, it's doubtful that any boat owners go on about socialism or insist on paying what a private business would charge to use the locks.

The right wing unleashed a frenzy of race-baiting last week, from the continuing assault on Ill Eagles to the New Black Panther Party contrivance to the Andrew Bretbart/Shirley Sherrod dust-up. They struck gold with the last one, but all parties involved -- from the White House to the NAACP to FOX News -- ended the week with egg on their faces. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs summarized the sordid affair.

On July 21st Three Wise Men celebrated six years on the intertubes. Here's Xanthippas with a retrospective, and some thoughts in general about why they do what they do.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Laugh to keep from cryin'

This Week in Rick Perry Lies

-- Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott -- together with other bureaucrats in the TEA -- falsified test scores through a complex scoring system so that failing students and schools would appear to be 'exemplary'. Governor Rick Perry (the guy who appointed Scott to his job) bragged about one Houston school's "success".

The truth is that the dropout rate in Texas is a "rock-hard disaster".

-- Texas Forensic Science Commissioner John Bradley -- the guy Rick Perry appointed  to whitewash the investigation of whether the state of Texas executed an innocent man -- is proving to be nothing but a barrier to the investigation. Gee, I wonder why. Update: The governor has even lost Paul Burka.

--Slightly older than a week: Rick Perry said on FOX News that he "frankly, never had a call" from the Obama administration. False. As in: "you lie".

From decrying stimulus funds even as he accepted them in order to balance the state's budget, to claiming vast success in enforcing the border with Mexico, to his feverish notion that Houston is "approaching bankruptcy" -- the Texas incumbent governor and the facts have a very tenuous relationship.

Sunday Funnies

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Goodbye, Middle Class

The 22 statistics detailed here prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence in America.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer at a staggering rate. Once upon a time, the United States had the largest and most prosperous middle class in the history of the world, but now that is changing at a blinding pace. ...

Here are the statistics to prove it:

•    83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people.
•    61 percent of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49 percent in 2008 and 43 percent in 2007.
•    66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.
•    36 percent of Americans say that they don't contribute anything to retirement savings.
•    A staggering 43 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
•    24 percent of American workers say that they have postponed their planned retirement age in the past year.
•    Over 1.4 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy in 2009, which represented a 32 percent increase over 2008.
•    Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.
•    For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.
•    In 1950, the ratio of the average executive's paycheck to the average worker's paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.
•    As of 2007, the bottom 80 percent of American households held about 7% of the liquid financial assets.
•    The bottom 50 percent of income earners in the United States now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.
•    Average Wall Street bonuses for 2009 were up 17 percent when compared with 2008.
•    In the United States, the average federal worker now earns 60% MORE than the average worker in the private sector.
•    The top 1 percent of U.S. households own nearly twice as much of America's corporate wealth as they did just 15 years ago.
•    In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.
•    More than 40 percent of Americans who actually are employed are now working in service jobs, which are often very low paying.
•    For the first time in U.S. history, more than 40 million Americans are on food stamps, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that number will go up to 43 million Americans in 2011.
•    This is what American workers now must compete against: in China a garment worker makes approximately 86 cents an hour and in Cambodia a garment worker makes approximately 22 cents an hour.
•    Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 - the highest rate in 20 years.
•    Despite the financial crisis, the number of millionaires in the United States rose a whopping 16 percent to 7.8 million in 2009.
•    The top 10 percent of Americans now earn around 50 percent of our national income. 

But the conservatives in America cry "socialism", unemployed Americans and those on food stamps are "feeeloaders", and it's all Obama's fault.

So why are we witnessing such fundamental changes? Well, the globalism and "free trade" that our politicians and business leaders insisted would be so good for us have had some rather nasty side effects. It turns out that they didn't tell us that the "global economy" would mean that middle class American workers would eventually have to directly compete for jobs with people on the other side of the world where there is no minimum wage and very few regulations. The big global corporations have greatly benefited by exploiting third world labor pools over the last several decades, but middle class American workers have increasingly found things to be very tough.

This must be the fault of labor unions. If you believe FOX News.

The reality is that no matter how smart, how strong, how educated or how hard working American workers are, they just cannot compete with people who are desperate to put in 10 to 12 hour days at less than a dollar an hour on the other side of the world. After all, what corporation in their right mind is going to pay an American worker 10 times more (plus benefits) to do the same job? The world is fundamentally changing. Wealth and power are rapidly becoming concentrated at the top and the big global corporations are making massive amounts of money. Meanwhile, the American middle class is being systematically wiped out of existence as U.S. workers are slowly being merged into the new "global" labor pool.

What do most Americans have to offer in the marketplace other than their labor? Not much. The truth is that most Americans are absolutely dependent on someone else giving them a job. But today, U.S. workers are "less attractive" than ever. Compared to the rest of the world, American workers are extremely expensive, and the government keeps passing more rules and regulations seemingly on a monthly basis that makes it even more difficult to conduct business in the United States.

So corporations are moving operations out of the U.S. at breathtaking speed. Since the U.S. government does not penalize them for doing so, there really is no incentive for them to stay.

What has developed is a situation where the people at the top are doing quite well, while most Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to make it. There are now about six unemployed Americans for every new job opening in the United States, and the number of "chronically unemployed" is absolutely soaring. There simply are not nearly enough jobs for everyone.

God DAMN that Obama. Where are all the jobs he promised?

Many of those who are able to get jobs are finding that they are making less money than they used to. In fact, an increasingly large percentage of Americans are working at low wage retail and service jobs.

But you can't raise a family on what you make flipping burgers at McDonald's or on what you bring in from greeting customers down at the local Wal-Mart.

The truth is that the middle class in America is dying -- and once it is gone it will be incredibly difficult to rebuild.

We've got to get the Republicans back in there so they can fix this. It's their highest priority.

Friday, July 23, 2010

So who got Breitbarted the hardest?

Pretty much all of us. (Not that I'm feeling sorry for FOX ...)

Chef Vader (at Comic-Con)

Yes, I'll have a little slice or two of Binks-bacoa, thanks.

See also the Geek Wiki of attendees. Absolutely hilarious. Personally I fall somewhere around Fringer/Social Geek.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The difference between Andrew Breitbart and Lois the Corpse Flower

I was preparing a lengthy post around the unholy alliances connecting Breitbart, Drudge, FOX (particularly Hannity), the conservative contingent of online steerage passengers who sop up every utterance from the preceding like white bread does greasy gravy, the Coalition of the Snookered -- including the NAACP, Tom Vilsack and several others in the Obama administration -- and the remaining corporate media that allows itself to be led by the nose by the conservative media previously cited ....

... but others have smacked them down enough. KO, taking a work break from his vacation for last night's Special Comment, can suffice.

So there's nothing left here to do but some mocking humor.

Answering the query in the header:

One is five feet tall, purple around the edges, coming out in style and smells like carrion.

And the other is Lois the Corpse Flower.

Update: Breitbart and FOX are BFF, just so you know.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Todd Staples' broadband scam breaks out

It's now into the mainstream.

At an unveiling last month, the Texas Department of Agriculture touted its map of broadband Internet availability as the first step in closing a "digital divide" that denies rural Texans critical services.

But a political divide has opened instead, as critics question the tool's accuracy and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples' relationship with the organization that created it.

Staples' Democratic rival, Hank Gilbert, and a handful of local providers, consumer groups and mapping organizations say the agency tailored the application to fit Connected Nation, the nonprofit selected by the department and the Texas Public Utility Commission to create the map. The Agriculture Department and the company defend the process, while their critics contend that the map will direct federal stimulus money toward major telecommunications companies at the expense of smaller Internet providers.

Last month we wrote about this here. I'm going to bring that excerpt forward for its background, because this is a difficult and tightly-woven scandal to understand.

(Hank) Gilbert lately exposed the incumbent for shady dealings regarding broadband internet access for rural Texans. Here's the press release from Connected Nation and Staples.

Connected Nation is well-connected, all right: to Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. The company is first in line to collect federal stimulus dollars -- $4 billion -- earmarked for the massive project of determining where broadband access will go in the hinterlands of America. Staples, on behalf of of the state of Texas, has outsourced a $3 million dollar contract to CN despite serious questions about the company's work in other states, questions about the bidding process (Staples got $60,000 from the Texas Farm Bureau, whose former president is listed as a 'national advisor' of CN), and even questions about CN's business model. Read more about that here, and also at the Wall Street Journal. And when Staples' office started getting media attention about his relationship with CN, the Texas Department of Agriculture directed reporters to the Staples re-election campaign, which then regurgitated their previous negative attacks on Gilbert.

The Chron managed to do a drive-by (on what they consider the race for agriculture commissioner to be: an aggressive tit-for-tat). That sadly reflects the continuing decline in in-depth political coverage there. But The Texas Tribune picked up the item over the weekend, noting the smoking gun: that the Texas Agriculture Commission's first and continuing response was to hand all media inquiries over to the Staples 2010 political branch, which then directed reporters to a specifically-designed smear website against Gilbert. There simply would not be this kind of misdirection and obfuscation if there wasn't something rotten hiding.

Again, Texas progressive blogs have been talking about the entire scope of the issue for the past month; besides Burnt Orange's report in the excerpt above, Texas Kaos has been following the story, and Dos Centavos, and Off the Kuff as well.

And the DMN, who together with their Trail Blazers blog is working harder and faster than any other corporate media outlet in Texas this election cycle, finally gets it.

"It's a scandal, a total scandal," said Art Brodsky, communications director of Public Knowledge, a public interest group that follows digital culture. A longtime critic of Connected Nation, Brodsky has tracked the nonprofit since Kentucky officials accused it of overestimating broadband availability several years ago. The agency that grew into Connection Nation started there in 2001.

Brodsky said nondisclosure agreements make it difficult to see who really benefits from the mapping process.

Forget for a moment the beautiful payola scam that is Connected Nation. It's a story all its own, with similar iterations of incompetence and corruption appearing in every state in which they "operate". Let's just focus on what's going here in Texas.

Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has used various Republican connections interwoven throughout interest groups like the Texas Farm Bureau and the biggest player/vendors in the telecommunications industry to grant -- with essentially only the slightest semblance of competitive bid -- a multi-million dollar contract, and reap the benefits. Not just politically, but financially for himself as well. And then used the power of incumbency in concert with his political machine not to address public concerns, but to viciously attack his electoral rival when questioned about it. In this respect (minus a few zeroes) he's just aping Rick Perry -- the Trans-Texas Corridor, the late Ric Williamson, and Cintra come immediately to mind, but the more recent example would be Merck, Mike Toomey, and the HPV vaccine -- and the gold standard for corruption of this ilk, Dick Cheney (Halliburton, Iraq).

Don't we have enough of this sleaze to mop up as it is without extending the shelf life of a wannabe like Todd Staples?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Right-wing unleashes frenzy of race-baiting

Far beyond the "Barack Hussein Obama" business, miles past Glenn Beck's feverish rants and Rush Limbaugh's run-of-the-mill slathering, the Conservative Noize Machine is throwing race cards in every direction like a drunken game of 52-pickup.

Last week it was the New Black Panther affair and the Mark Williams "letter to Lincoln".  This week it's the manipulation of videotape by the infamous Andrew Breitbart that implies Shirley Sherrod, formerly of the USDA, made a statement about "white farmers" that was -- using the newest word in the Sarah Palin Dictionary, Constantly Revised -- 'refudiated' by the white farmer family themselves.

Conservatives en masse are taking the white robes and pointy hats out of the closet, twisting up the nooses, and soaking the wooden crosses in kerosene.

Latinos have had to take a back seat to the old-style stoking of racial hatred that still simmers from the '60's. The War on Ill Eagles and the frothing about the Arizona immigration law is still making plenty of headlines, and in the minds of mental midgets like Lamar Smith will keep doing so, but TeaBaggers and Republicans (read: ultra-conservatives and conservatives) lately just feel more comfortable wearing the old bigotry. What's different this time is the subtlety is gone. Gone are the code words, the winks and nods, the dog whistles. Conservative media are openly and aggressively trying to revive old fears and coax them into something menacing. You can chalk it up to bad habit, political desperation, the heat wave or the summer doldrums; the fact is that they're going down a road from which there is no turning back, and it's only going to get worse as summer rolls on.

It's not a presidential election year, but you get the feeling Lee Atwater's Ghost has been reincarnated in CNN's (and's) Erick Erickson, who is busy looking for a 2010 version of Willie Horton.

Update: Abby Rapoport at the Texas Observer adds some calmer perspective.

Don't call them racists

Joe Biden says they're not racists, after all. And I trust him. Still, this development was... ah... troubling...

Mark Williams, the tea party leader who wrote a blog post this week calling the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) racist, has been "expelled" from the National Tea Party Federation.

Williams wrote the blog post on Thursday in response to the NAACP's Tuesday declaration accusing the tea party movement of tolerating racist elements in its midst (see The Upshot's rundown on the week of attacks and counterattacks here). It was written as an imaginary letter to President Abraham Lincoln and accused the NAACP of being racist for using the word "colored" in its name. When some reacted to it in outrage, Williams deleted it from his website, declaring it time to "move forward."

The National Tea Party Federation apparently decided to move forward without Williams. Spokesman David Webb said on Face the Nation (Sunday) morning that Williams and his Tea Party Express had been pushed out because Williams' posting was "clearly offensive."

You can read his deleted blog post here. Williams says he's done talking about the matter.

Really though, it's important to distinguish 'being a racist' from 'making racist statements'. Or any other variety of false and offensive public statements. Or even anonymous answering-machine threats of violence. After all, who can see inside another man's heart? Let's review.

Step one: NAACP calls on tea partiers to get their act together and repudiate racist elements within the tea party movement.

Step two: Sarah Palin mocks the NAACP on Twitter for suggesting that "liberty-loving, equality-respecting patriots" are racists.

Step three: Fox gets outraged that NAACP would suggest that there any racists in the tea party to repudiate; links NAACP to made-up New Black Panther Fauxtrage.

Step four: The National Tea Party Federation kicks tea party leader Mark Williams out of the tea party...for racism.

So here's the question: If there weren't any racist leaders in the tea party, then why did the National Tea Party Federation expel Mark Williams? And will the rest of the tea party "movement" join the National Tea Party Federation? And what about Sean Hannity, who like others on Fox had a special affection for Williams?

Everybody who has ever listened to Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" understands how tough it is to go from staging a protest to becoming a movement, after all.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance has never lost containment and needs no relief wells as it brings you this week's blog roundup.

Neil at Texas Liberal visited the Houston Museum of Natural Science and took a picture of the corpse flower. The flower will smell like rotten flesh when it blooms. This has been a major topic of conversation in Houston over the past week.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is happy that over 700,000 Texans will now be able to get health insurance despite the negative efforts of John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Bay Area Houston has a lot to discuss, like the Socialist Republican, the Freedom Kissing in the Galveston GOP, and the WARTS of America.

Off the Kuff wrote about a new report on water conservation from the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation.

McBlogger wants to know why Todd Staples is whining about Hank Gilbert being mean? Wasn't Staples the one who personally leveled personal attacks before the primary was over? Turns out Staples can't really give a punch or take one.

Renew Houston's Stephen Costello had a 'come-to-Jesus' with the Harris County Democrats at their Brown Bag Luncheon last week. Open Source Dem was in attendance and filed a report, posted at Brains and Eggs.

BossKitty at TruthHugger is totally irritated by endless political talking heads. Republicans refuse to define the term ENTITLEMENT, because it is what they target to slash. They will only speak in very broad terms. Answer That Question Republicans!

WhosPlayin reports that Lewisville's City Council narrowly overturned the administrative suspension of new gas well permitting, but did go ahead and order staff to review the City's ordinances to see if there is room for improvement.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rick Perry, Chris Bell, the Governors' Associations, and the big picture

So when the Green Party -- as well as millions of disaffected non-voters across the country -- say, "Both parties do it", this is the kind of thing they're talking about. Let's begin with Harvey Kronberg.


Nugget buried in story from RG Ratcliffe and Joe Holley

From the story:

"White got 71 percent of his money in state and a quarter of it from Washington, D.C., with more than $1 million coming from the Democratic Governors Association.

"A check of IRS filings shows a lot of the Governor's Association money originated in the Houston area, including $400,000 from trial lawyer Steve Mostyn; $125,000 from the firm of Williams, Kherkher, Hart and Bounds; and $75,000 from trial lawyer Walter Umphrey, of Beaumont. Umphrey and Mostyn also donated $25,000 each directly to White's campaign.

"Democrats had complained after the 2006 election that the Republican Governor's Association donated $1 million to Perry's campaign after receiving like donations from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry".

Following up, Harvey once again.


Lawsuit originated over camoflaged campaign contributions routed through Republican Governors Association

A number of news organizations today spotted an interesting irony in the Perry campaign report to the Texas Ethics Commission.

The campaign paid 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell $426,000 to settle a lawsuit over campaign contributions routed through the Republican Governors Association. The money came from Houston home builder Bob Perry and was presumably sent through the RGA to conceal the contributor's identity.

Ironically, as we noted earlier today, the Bill White campaign accepted around a million bucks from the Democratic Governors Association. The DGA money appeared to be largely funded by several prominent trial lawyers.

No word as to whether Perry intends to sue White for mimicking the 2006 Perry campaign tactic.

The Statesman story.

The Dallas Morning News story.

According to the DMN link, the only difference appears to be that ...

Voters didn't know the full extent of the funding arrangement until after the election. ...

Shortly before the November general election four years ago, Bob Perry gave $1 million to the RGA, which delivered the total to Perry in two payments shortly before election day. Democrats complained about the arrangement, saying it happened so late it was hidden from voters.

So as Kronberg points out, the Democrats picked up a clue ... followed suit, and now everything's even.


Four years ago when I attended the Texas Democratic Party Convention, I received my delegate package in a black canvas bag that had a large, dinner-plate-sized logo of AT&T on the side.  AT&T in fact has been a large contributor to the TDP for a few cycles now; these corporate contributions coming in the allowed-by-law 'administrative expenses' column. This was also about the time that AT&T was beginning to be revealed as allowing the Bush administration to wiretap its customers wholesale without benefit of FISA search warrant. The same warrantless surveillance, incidentally, that the Obama administration has fought to keep.

But I digress; this post is supposed to be about Texas politics. (Oh wait, it still is.)

It really stretches credulity to suggest that the 'Democrats are higher and mightier than Republicans' when the the evidence occasionally -- some would say 'repeatedly' -- contradicts this premise. And I say that as a proud Texas Democratic Party precinct chair, working hard to get more Democrats elected to Austin in the fall.

No, to paraphrase Churchill and democracy, this is the worst political party in the world. Except for all the others. And to the original source to close ... seems to me that there are a number of potential responses: Engage earnestly with the system, sit things out, or, as H.L. Mencken suggests, lean back and chuckle grimly as the farce replays itself over and over again.  

I choose the first option.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Travis County DA investigates Greens ballot bid

The Chron:

The Travis County District Attorney's Office has launched an investigation of the political contributions raised by the Green Party for a ballot petition drive.

In a statement to the cable news service News 8 Austin, the office said its Public Integrity Unit has the matter under review.

And at that link (video there also), John Salazar adds ...

(P)rosecutors with the Travis County District Attorney's Office have launched a preliminary investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing.

"The matter is under review, and investigators and attorneys from the Public Integrity Unit will gather additional information as that review progresses," the district attorney’s office said in a statement.

County officials would not say whether the probe was prompted by an outside complaint, but because Travis County is the seat for state government and home to Texas' political parties, local prosecutors are charged with investigating wrongdoing by state government and political officials.

Not much to divine out of the reports or the official statement.

Rosemary Lehmberg has been in the DA's office since 1976, and the last ten years serving Ronnie Earle as 1st Assistant DA until his retirement in 2008, when she was elected to replace him. BOR had an interview with her as a candidate in that primary. Her highest-profile cases to date have been the Austin Yogurt Shop murders, where the men who confessed to the crime were exonerated -- sort of -- on DNA evidence after the fact, and the capital execution of David Powell last month, where she declined, despite thousands of entreaties, to spare his life.

So while she is a partisan Democrat, she is also a law-and-order hardliner. Let's see where the investigation leads.

The Coalition of the Bigoted

States have the authority to enforce immigration laws and protect their borders, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said Wednesday in a legal brief on behalf of nine states supporting Arizona's immigration law.

Cox, one of five Republicans running for Michigan governor, said Michigan is the lead state backing Arizona in federal court and is joined by Alabama, Florida, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia, as well as the Northern Mariana Islands.

Because the NMI has a really porous border, you see, and hordes of Messicans swimming ashore, walking straight out of the water and right into jobs that Marianians won't do.

The Arizona law, set to take effect July 29, directs officers to question people about their immigration status during the enforcement of other laws such as traffic stops and if there's a reasonable suspicion they're in the U.S. illegally.

President Barack Obama's administration recently filed suit in federal court to block it, arguing immigration is a federal issue. The law's backers say Congress isn't doing anything meaningful about illegal immigration, so it's the state's duty to step up.

"Arizona, Michigan and every other state have the authority to enforce immigration laws, and it is appalling to see President Obama use taxpayer dollars to stop a state's efforts to protect its own borders," Cox said in a statement.

Something is appalling, all right.

The brief doesn't represent the first time Cox has clashed with the Obama administration. Earlier this year, he joined with more than a dozen other attorneys general to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of federal health care changes signed into law by the Democratic president.

Like with his stance on health care, the immigration brief again puts Cox at odds with Democratic Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Granholm, who can't seek re-election because of term limits, disagrees with the Arizona law, her press secretary Liz Boyd said. The Michigan primary is less than three weeks away on Aug. 3.

"It's a patently political ploy in his quest for the Republican nomination for governor," Boyd said.

Michigan will probably elect this miserable TeaBagger, and so BS like this will continue into Obama's second term even after the SCOTUS rules Arizona's law unconstitutional.

It's people like Cox -- and the rest of his ilk -- that could make me ashamed to be an American. If I actually thought that their POV had a chance to become a majority one, that is.

Honestly though, if this sort of thing doesn't motivate Latinos to turn out in November all across the land, I shudder to think what would it would take.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Renew Houston meets the Harris County Dems

Publisher's note: Renew Houston's petition drive -- previous coverage found here -- was successful and they will appear on November's ballot. Today, Councilmember Stephen Costello attended and presented at the Harris County Democratic Party's Brown Bag Luncheon. Open Source Dem was in attendance.


I attended the rather bizarre meeting at party HQ today. Evidently, Gerry Birnberg seems to be promoting Renew Houston, even though it will (a) bring out Republican voters and (b) demoralize and confuse Democratic voters this fall.

I am just flabbergasted by that. But Martha Cottingham also announced that the “Breakthrough Breakfast” has been cancelled. Frankly, it looks like the vaunted “coordinated campaign” is flying apart. Obviously Matt Angle has hijacked and cut himself in on the large donors. This will be another banner year for the pimp-consultants, but is not looking good for the Democratic ticket.

There is no telling what Sue Lovell will do. She did not appear as announced. Well good, we did not waste time on her.

Costello was arrogant and dismissive. I found nothing to like about his presentation style. But those are tangential matters compared with the scheme he outlined.

Evidently there is a lot to it. He was rattling off bond-lawyer jargon and financial modeling that has, evidently, been vetted by the City but none of which is available to the public. Costello blabbered about transparency but revealed nothing about Renew Houston. They are keeping the details of this scheme proprietary or privileged or something. He denied bond lawyer involvement, but this reeks of it.

I agreed with him that drainage and transportation infrastructure are and ought to be the city’s, not the county’s, primary concern. That is a fundamental matter that few voters understand: to the GOP, there is just some big, amorphous thing called “government” they claim to hate but actually expand and fight like dogs to control. Most Democrats on Council seem to defer to the GOP on public health, public safety, public works, and above all public finance, but handle anything involving cute puppies with exquisite tenderness.

In this case, Costello gave various rationales for putting a measure on the November ballot but dodged my question on the actual effect of it. That would be allowing the special purpose entity he proposes to set up to issue “double-barrel bonds” (a) that are issued as revenue bonds (without an election) but (b) that become tax bonds in an event of default.

I see no reason this dedicated enterprise fund would not turn into the sort of monster the Airport has become. But, Costello –- from New Jersey –- was clear enough that if he gets this done while on Council he plans to get off Council and run the thing. Well yeah, a Jonathan Day move from a District Council seat, that’s pretty ambitious. It sort of compares with Sue’s dreams of future employment.

I have no objection to a dedicated enterprise fund, but I do have reservations about enterprises that a majority of City Council cannot manage, and there are already a slew of those. The central disagreement I have with Costello, with the GOP, and with the Vichy and Blue Dog Democrats propping them up (and running down the President and the Mayor) is the idea –- Costello made his position clear –- that an elected black Mayor or President is not legitimate and must not be able to act without the permission of a GOP minority.

Well, if a proficient and disciplined Democratic majority on City Council cannot manage this city responsibly, then I cannot imagine why people will turn out to turn county government over to us.

Renew Houston is flim-flam. It is opaque and anti-Democratic -- just another case of moving the goal posts every time Democrats achieve a majority.

So maybe Democrats will mobilize against this. We will surely lose the fall election unless we mobilize over something. The GOP is energized and we are being demoralized by mixed messages from hustlers like Matt Angle and the antics of self-serving office squatters like Sue Lovell. What is she running for? City Secretary?

It will be interesting to see what they do with Renew Houston over at “Radio-Active”. They fancy themselves strategic thinkers. They are not, but compared to cringing liberals and goo-goo moderates, I guess they are.

Update: Related reading suggested by OSD...

Salon's Michael Lind: Can infrastructure-led growth save the economy?

The New Republic: James Galbraith focuses on public finance and control fraud in Tremble, Banks, Tremble

George Steinbrenner 1930 - 2010 and Bob Sheppard 1910 - 2010

Tough week for old Yankees.

George Steinbrenner, whose big wallet and win-at-all-cost attitude whipped the New York Yankees into a billion-dollar sports empire, died Tuesday. He had just celebrated his 80th birthday July 4. ...

In 37-plus seasons as owner, Steinbrenner led the Yankees to seven World Series championships, 11 American League pennants and 16 AL East titles.

"He was and always will be as much of a New York Yankee as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and all of the other Yankee legends," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. ...

Steinbrenner's death on the day of the All-Star game was the second in three days to rock the Yankees. Bob Sheppard, the team's revered public address announcer from 1951-07, died Sunday at 99.

More from the NYT, the NYDN, and the Chron's Richard Justice. The Times ...

In the frenetic ’70s and ’80s, when general managers, field managers and pitching coaches were sent spinning through Steinbrenner’s revolving personnel door (Billy Martin had five stints as manager), the franchise became known as the Bronx Zoo. In December 2002, Steinbrenner’s enterprise had grown so rich that the president of the Boston Red Sox, Larry Lucchino, frustrated over losing the pitcher Jose Contreras to the Yankees, called them the “evil empire.”

But Steinbrenner — who came to be known as the Boss — and the Yankees thrived through all the arguments, all the turmoil, all the bombast. Having been without a pennant since 1964 when Steinbrenner bought them, enduring sagging attendance while the upstart Mets thrived, the Yankees once again became America’s marquee sporting franchise.

And this:

(Steinbrenner) was lampooned, with his permission, by a caricature in the sitcom “Seinfeld,” portrayed by the actor Lee Bear, who was always photographed from behind at the Boss’s desk, flailing his arms and suitably imperious, while Larry David, the show’s co-creator, provided the voice. George Costanza (Jason Alexander) became the assistant to the team’s traveling secretary, whose duties included fetching calzones for Steinbrenner.

Steinbrenner also appeared in a Visa commercial with Jeter, calling him into his office to admonish him. “You’re our starting shortstop,” Steinbrenner said. “How can you possibly afford to spend two nights dancing, two nights eating out and three nights just carousing with your friends?” Jeter responded by holding up a Visa card. Steinbrenner exclaimed “Oh!” and the scene shifted to Steinbrenner in a dance line with Jeter at a night spot.


Bob Sheppard, whose elegant intonation as the public-address announcer at Yankee Stadium for more than half a century personified the image of Yankees grandeur, died Sunday at his home in Baldwin, on Long Island. He was 99. ...

From the last days of DiMaggio through the primes of Mantle, Berra, Jackson and Jeter, Sheppard’s precise, resonant, even Olympian elocution — he was sometimes called the Voice of God — greeted Yankees fans with the words, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Yankee Stadium.” ...

Sheppard did not feel strong enough to attend the ceremony marking the final game at the old Yankee Stadium on Sept. 21, 2008, but he announced the Yankees’ starting lineup that night in a tape recording. His recorded voice still introduces Derek Jeter at the plate, a touch the Yankees’ captain requested to honor Sheppard. ...

He was hired by the baseball Yankees in 1951, and soon fans were hearing Sheppard’s pronunciation of “Joe Di-Mah-ggio.”

“I take great pride in how the names are pronounced,” Sheppard said. He seldom entered the clubhouses, but made certain to check directly with a visiting player if he had any doubt on the correct way to pronounce his name.

“Mick-ey Man-tle” was a favorite of his, but as Sheppard once told The Associated Press: “Anglo-Saxon names are not very euphonious. What can I do with Steve Sax? What can I do with Mickey Klutts?”

He enjoyed announcing the name of the Japanese pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa and the names of Latin players, particularly pitcher Salome Barojas and infielder Jose Valdivielso.

Sheppard feared he would trip over his pronunciation of Wayne Terwilliger, an infielder who played at Yankee Stadium with the Washington Senators and Kansas City Athletics in the 1950s. “I worried that I would say ‘Ter-wigg-ler’ but I never did,” he recalled.

But there was at least one flub.

When the football Giants played their first game at the Meadowlands, against the Dallas Cowboys in October 1976, Sheppard told the crowd: “Welcome to Yankee Stadium.” ...

Sheppard had his imitators, most notably the ESPN broadcaster Jon Miller.

“One day when my wife and I were down in St. Thomas, we went into a restaurant,” Sheppard told The Village Voice in 2002. “I told the waitress, ‘I’ll have the No. 1. Scrambled eggs, buttered toast and black coffee. No. 1.’ My wife looked at me and said. ‘You sound like Jon Miller’s imitation.’ I wasn’t conscious of the fact that I was ordering the same way I’d introduce Billy Martin.”

Ciro, the newspaper, and the TeaBagger

I discovered a right-wing blogswarm yesterday. It was amusing.

It seems that Ciro Rodriguez, of Texas' 23rd Congressional district, had a town hall meeting last weekend and while a TeaBagger lady was calling him a liar, he swatted a fly on a chair with a newspaper.

This led to the illustrious David Brietbart's Big Gov posting video of the exchange, where it moved through Red State and Weekly Standard and then on to the dregs of our Texas coterie of wingnut goonbat blogs. The El Paso Times and the Dallas News dutifully followed their lead, covering the story and including the video with reports including grave political overtones for the Congressman.

See for yourself:

Ciro later apologized ...

"Unfortunately political operatives associated with my opponent's campaign tried to turn it into something else -- attempting to hijack a 'congress on your corner' event merely to engage in uncivil, cynical videotape baiting tactics," Rodriguez said in a statement. "The people of Southwest Texas deserve better than that."

"That said, I apologize for losing my temper at an event that should always be a civil and respectful exchange of ideas," he said in the statement. "I look forward to continuing to listen to folks all across southwest Texas, as we work together to create jobs and get this economy back on track."

Honestly ... I wish he had slapped her across the face. At least then he would have something to apologize for.

These town hall-disrupting thugs and morons deserve far more public rebuke than they are currently getting, and so does the network of indignant fools who instigate and then advance tripe like this.

Update: Wonkette, with a much funnier takedown ...

The best part of this stupid thing is the guy eating chips behind Rodriguez who is bemused that these people are forced to yell at each other about politics in this place instead of enjoying chips like him.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Obama's (and Congress') full plate

And the Republicans are spitting in it.

Congress returns this week to an ambitious agenda that includes a Supreme Court confirmation, major financial regulation, potential immigration reform and other significant priorities. Some, like Elena Kagan's nomination, appear likely to pass. Others are less clear. ...

And the closer Democrats get to midterm election season, the more Congress will have to factor in how re-election races will impact their agenda. Democrats in close races may be less willing to take controversial votes as they turn to wooing independent and conservative voters for November.

All of which means this will be a very busy July.

In this session, Democrats in Congress will press on the following key items:
  • Elena Kagan: Congress hopes to confirm U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court before the August recess. First, the Senate Judiciary Committee must vote to confirm, then her confirmation will be put to a full Senate vote. Some Republicans have expressed their opposition to Kagan's nomination, but Democrats are still expected to round up the 60 votes required to overcome a Republican filibuster and confirm her.
  • Financial Reform: Though Democrats weren't able to pass financial reform legislation in the Senate before July 4th, they did get the good news that Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell plans to support the legislation despite voting against an earlier version in May. Her vote switch gave new life to the bill in the wake of Byrd's death and consequent loss of Byrd's supporting vote. Republican Sen. Susan Collins also said that she is "inclined to support" the bill, further bolstering Democratic efforts. The bill would rein in the power of big banks, try to prevent a future financial collapse, and add oversight to many sectors of the financial industry.
  • Unemployment Benefits: An estimated 2 million Americans reached the end of their unemployment benefits during the six weeks the Senate has been debating the issue. The longer the debate continues, the more unemployed Americans join that group. Passing the proposed six month extension is a challenge without Byrd in the Senate, but his temporary successor would provide the key 60th vote.
  • Immigration Reform: Immigration has jumped into the forefront of congressional debate as Arizona's controversial state immigration law makes waves across the country. President Obama identified immigration reform as one of his top priorities in the months ahead, yet its prospects in Congress seem dim. The controversial nature of the issues makes it a difficult topic for members involved in difficult re-election races. The Department of Justice has pressed forward with legal opposition to Arizona's law, but the legislation for now remains stalled in Congress.
  • War Funding: Just before the July 4th recess, the president threatened to veto the latest version of a spending bill which will, in part, fund the president's troop surge in Afghanistan. The president took issue with cuts for education funding included in the bill passed by the House July 1. The legislation now heads to the Senate, where the president hopes allies will restore the funding.

How much of this can be stalled, slow-walked, talked to death and killed depends on the success of the GOP keeping Ben Nebraska Nelson on their side and how quickly WVA Gov. Joe Manchin fills Robert Byrd's empty seat.

In other words, the chances of little progress happening are good.

Update: Nelson says he'll go along, and Manchin will appoint a replacement by the end of the coming weekend. Now that's progress.

Cutting holes in the safety net

The death of Sen. Robert Byrd last month left Democrats with one less sitting member in the Senate, effectively destroying their immediate plan to pass a financial reform bill and to separately extend unemployment benefits prior to the July 4th recess.

An estimated 2 million Americans reached the end of their unemployment benefits during the six weeks the Senate has been debating the issue. The longer the debate continues, the more unemployed Americans join that group. Passing the proposed six-month extension is a challenge without Byrd in the Senate, but his temporary successor would provide the key 60th vote.

In just one week and in just one state -- last week in Missouri -- more than 8,300 people fell through the unemployment insurance safety net.

Actually, their nets were removed.

The result: Those who have lost jobless benefits already are turning in greater numbers to food pantries and other emergency aid programs, both government and nonprofit.

"We're hearing from more people needing assistance," said Ron Howard, spokesman for the United Way of Greater Kansas City. "Our 2-1-1 call center is seeing an increase in calls, especially from first-time callers.

"Without a doubt, the loss of that unemployment check is a contributing factor."

Advocates for continuing unemployment benefits note that the Congressional Budget Office has ranked unemployment insurance as the most effective form of economic stimulus.

“It gets money into the hands of the people who are most likely to spend it,” [Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute] said. “It goes straight into their local economies when they use it to pay for their food and housing.”

One study indicates that $10 billion of unemployment insurance spending creates or saves 100,000 jobs.

“Do the math,” Shierholz said. “Failure to approve the $35.5 billion unemployment program translates into 350,000 jobs that aren’t happening. Whatever your feelings about unemployment insurance, you can’t ignore that there’s a drain on public assistance in other ways.”

Yes, I hope everyone will.