Thursday, December 30, 2010

"It Gets Better": Texan of the Year

Our pick beats the living daylights out of the Dallas Morning News' choice, that's for sure.

The Texas Progressive Alliance on Wednesday named Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns as its 2010 Texan of the Year.

Burns, who represents Fort Worth’s District 9, received international attention and acclaim in October of this year after delivering a speech at a Forth Worth city council meeting concerning suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered youth as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign.

In his speech, Burns spoke eloquently and emotionally about his own experiences as a teen facing bullying in Crowley because of his sexual orientation. Burns’ speech, which became an internet sensation, resulted in interviews on CNN, NPR’s All Things Considered, an in-studio interview with the Today Show’s Matt Lauer, and an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“Joel Burns’ speech did more to raise awareness of the difficulties LGBT youth in Texas face on a daily basis perhaps more than anything else this year,” said Vince Leibowitz, Chair of the Texas Progressive Alliance. “His courageous action in delivering this speech was worthy of recognition, and progressives everywhere should salute him,” Leibowitz continued.

TPA Vice Chair Charles Kuffner of Houston echoed these sentiments. “As progressives, we stand for equality for all people. It is rare that public officials have the courage to do what Joel Burns did,” he noted.

Burns, the first openly gay municipal elected official in Tarrant County, was first elected in 2007.

Burns joins past TPA Texans of the year including Houston Mayor Annise Parker (2009); the Harris County Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign (2008); the House Democratic Leadership Team of State Rep. Jim Dunnam, State Rep. Garnet Coleman, and State Rep. Pete Gallego (2007); and Carolyn Boyle and Texas Parent PAC (2006).

In addition to giving Burns its top honors, the Alliance also named Dr. Al Armendariz, Administrator for Region 6 of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Texas DREAMers as Honorable Mentions.

Armendariz was recognized for cracking down on polluters in Texas in spite of immense political pressure from state leaders and corporations. Armendariz issued the first Emergency Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order against a natural gas operator in Parker County which caused high levels of methane in private water wells.

The Texas DREAMers -- students and activists involved in supporting the DREAM Act through peaceful protest and other means -- were recognized for their work in Texas which has included everything from organizing phone banks to call and persuade U.S. Senators, to staging sit-ins and demonstrations at the offices of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The group has even staged hunger strikes in support of its efforts.

The Texas Progressive Alliance is a coalition of more than 50 of Texas’ most prominent netroots activists, blogs, and bloggers united to help further the progressive movement in Texas. Founded in 2006, the TPA is the largest state-based coalition of netroots activists in the United States and was instrumental in bringing Netroots Nation to Texas in 2008.

Additional nominees for our annual award included Ana Yañez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Texans Together/Houston Votes.

In a difficult year for Texas progressives, these individuals and organizations stood out for standing up to the onslaught of extreme conservatism the state of Texas and the nation weathered. They will no doubt continue to be under fire for expressing their views and championing their causes in the year ahead, and the TPA both salutes and stands with them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Last Weekly Wrangle of 2010

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes Santa Claus was good to you as it delivers the last blog roundup for 2010.

Bay Area Houston notices that Death Panels are starting in January.

Off the Kuff took a look at the election contest that was filed in HD48.

Letters From Texas told a little Christmas story from his childhood, to (unsuccessfully) prove that he's not a scrooge.

It seems the EPA and Big Gas agree on something: Hydraulic fracturing causes gas to penetrate into the water table! TXsharon caught Big Gas shooting themselves in the foot and exposed it on Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS.

If you want a lighter take on Texas's four new Congressional seats announced by the Census this week that includes calls for reform on how we do redistricting in Texas and Lord of the Rings references, head over to TexasVox.

WhosPlayin has mostly been quiet over the holiday, but is following how one gas driller, Titan Operating, has legal battles going on in the adjacent cities of Flower Mound, and Lewisville.

Over at TexasKaos, lightseeker talks about a recent story out of New Mexico. He asks a number of questions about abortion, choice and reality. Between the warring camps and what real people face there is an enormous gulf. See how you would answer his questions here: Abortion, Choices, and Compassion.

Neil at Texas Liberal wrote about federal money being used to improve the Galveston Seawall. Galveston County voted Republican in 2010. Where are the bake sales to raise the needed funds to improve the Seawall and to get the Feds out of Galveston County? Where are the citizen volunteers doing the work themselves? Where are the committed liberty loving citizens of Galveston County living up all the talk of self-reliance and local governance?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

More on Keystone XL, radioactive pollution, and DREAM

-- Charles Kuffner and Swamplot both linked to my posting regarding the Keystone XL pipeline and the environmental future of Houston's East End (like Hair Balls, Swampy was on the case back in June). FOX26's Ford Atkinson and videographer give you a look at ground zero and its residents. Ken Fountain posted also and Pin Lim has several photos from our tour.

Once again you can sign the petition to oppose the pipeline here.

Update: The news today that EPA will assume the permitting responsibilities for clean air guidelines from the TCEQ is good news for everyone in Texas who breathes. And likely bad news for Keystone XL.

-- Radioactive water in Houston isn't the only concern, if you can believe it (there's arsenic and a few other things as well), but you have to wonder if this news from Texas Vox isn't somehow connected to the local radiation developments...

Harold Simmons, whose company owns this dump, has spread his cash far and wide, giving Governor Perry over $1 million since 2000 (making him the governor’s 2nd largest individual donor) and funding campaigns for every member of the Texas Supreme Court among others. While Simmons gets to make billions off this waste, Texans will get the responsibility for managing it for 10,000 years and cleaning it up...

"The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote..."

Update (12/30/10):

A Texas judge ordered a temporary halt Thursday to a proposal that could allow three dozen states to dump their radioactive waste in far West Texas, a ruling that sided with environmentalists and caught the state attorney general's office off guard.

State District Judge Jon Wisser issued a temporary restraining order against the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, which is scheduled to vote Jan. 4 on rules that could expand how much waste could be processed at a dump in remote Andrews County.

The injunction was issued in the judge's courtroom late Thursday morning, shortly after environmentalists filed the request, with nobody there representing the commission. A few minutes later, shocked lawyers from the Texas Attorney General's Office - which hadn't been officially notified of the pending court action - showed up and persuaded the judge to order a new hearing on the injunction.

The hearing is set for Monday in Austin, one day before the commission's scheduled vote.

-- Reasons to DREAM again ...

The White House is preparing a major grassroots push to pass the DREAM Act next year, which President Obama said Wednesday was one of his top priorities after the legislation failed in the recent lame duck session. ...

On a conference call with journalists Wednesday, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the President is willing to "wage a very public campaign" to push the DREAM Act, which would grant undocumented students who were brought into the United States as minors by their parents a path to citizenship through higher education or military service. He added that grassroots activism will be essential to success.

"The President always said on the campaign trail that change comes from the bottom up, and on issues like the DREAM Act, it has to, because there's some real resistance in Washington -- primarily in the other party, but some in our own -- and I think we're going to need to get people activated, and I think you'll see a lot of that over the next months and years," said Pfeiffer in response to a question from The Huffington Post.

During a news conference Wednesday, Obama said he will be reaching out to Republicans who may believe "in their heart of hearts" that passing the DREAM Act is the right thing to do but think the politics are tough.

"Well, that may mean that we've got to change the politics," said Obama. "And I've got to spend some time talking to the American people, and others have to spend time talking to the American people, because I think that if the American people knew any of these kids -- they probably do, they just may not know their status -- they'd say, of course we want you. That's who we are. That's the better angels of our nature."

"Grassroots push" means Obama for America will be recruiting volunteers to make calls, write LTE's and click petitions to sign. With Arizona-styled legislation on tap in many states -- in the Texas Lege, Leo Berman and Debbie Riddle have both pre-filed bills of this type -- only a few conscience-afflicted Republicans will be able to stop them from becoming law.

(By the way, have you read Debbie Riddle's new book on taking our country back to the 19th century? Its "simple, conversational style" makes it "easy to read" for even the most intellectually impaired TeaBagger.)

I believe that DREAM holds the one of the keys to Obama's re-election (the state of the nation's economy, of course, overriding all else).  It's a matter of triangulation: if he fights hard for it and the legislation gets passed, a large core of Hispanic voters will reward him -- and other Dems on the ballot in 2012 -- handsomely for doing so. If he fights for it and it goes down again, the conservatives by their words and actions will have cast themselves in the worst possible light. See Graham, Lindsey. And a slightly-less-large but still significant core of Hispanic voters and some disaffected independents will punish them for it.

Or should. But maybe won't, because they have decided to stay mad at Obama over his increased immigration enforcement policy. Over 800,000 have been deported during the past two years, far more than under the Bush administration, and I shouldn't need to write that this has not garnered any support from any Republican on any piece of immigration reform legislation. In fact Republican senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch both supported DREAM in the past but no longer do.

They are rightfully pissed at the five Democratic senators -- Hagan of North Carolina, Tester and Baucus of Montana, Pryor of Arkansas, and Nelson of Nebraska -- who were too cowed by the TeaBagger factions in their states (or because they are simply as bigoted as the Baggers themselves) to vote for DREAM last week. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater by not voting, or voting GOP, is a self-inflicted wound.

Latinos could -- how many times has this been written in the past fifteen years alone? -- have even greater influence in 2012, but it's pretty much all up to them. If they want to settle for another excuse not to turn out and vote, then the chances they will take with even more Republicans in charge two years from now are pretty dicey, IMO.

After the next legislative session, and after a year of Blake Farenthold as Congressman, somebody ask Latinos in Nueces County how that's working out for them.

Update: Res ipsa loquitur.
Congressional Republicans are pronouncing President Obama's proposal that the next Congress overhaul the country's immigration laws as dead before arrival.

Monday, December 20, 2010

T'was the work week before Christmas Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance is tracking reports of sugar plum sightings as it brings you this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff reminds you that expanded gambling is still doomed in the next legislative session.

The EPA Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order to Protect Drinking Water in Southern Parker County has spawned a media frenzy but news sources only tell part of the story. TXsharon has a short timeline of events surrounding the water contamination that should change the conversation, at BLUEDAZE: Drilling Reform for Texas.

Led by the so-called "professional left", Texas Democrats locked Aaron Pena in the virtual town square stocks and hurled rotten tomatoes at him until he cried. "Call Out Aaron" Day was the social media hit of the holiday season, by all accounts (except Pena's). See PDiddie and Brains and Eggs for details.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants to know how deluded you have to be to pick Dick Armey as Texan of the Year.

Neil at Texas Liberal ran the Dan Patrick family Christmas sugar cookie recipe that the senator posted on Facebook. In addition, Patrick announced an update on the Tea Party caucus in the Texas Legislature. After you eat enough of the Patrick cookies loaded with butter and sugar, you can go and die because the Tea Party Caucus made sure you had no health insurance.

Mean Rachel got really pissed off at Aaron Pena.

TexasVox went absolutely crazy covering the sunset hearings on the TCEQ and Railroad Commission this last week, and if you missed it, you can get caught up here.

Bay Area Houston has a message. Dear Aaron: Hispanics do not like cowards.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

DADT done but DREAMs dashed

In a historic vote for gay rights, the Senate agreed on Saturday to do away with the military's 17-year ban on openly gay troops and sent President Barack Obama legislation to overturn the Clinton-era policy known as "don't ask, don't tell."

Obama was expected to sign the bill into law next week, although changes to military policy probably wouldn't take effect for at least several months. Under the bill, the president and his top military advisers must first certify that lifting the ban won't hurt troops' ability to fight. After that, the military would undergo a 60-day wait period.

Among the strongest voices in favor: Joe Lieberman. I'll give credit where it's due since I disagree with the man on virtually everything else. Oh, and the enigmatic Ben Nelson (NE) also.

Repeal would mean that, for the first time in American history, gays would be openly accepted by the armed forces and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.

"It is time to close this chapter in our history," Obama said in a statement. "It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed."

The Senate voted 65-31 to pass the bill, with eight Republicans siding with 55 Democrats and two independents in favor of repeal. The House had passed an identical version of the bill, 250-175, earlier this week.

No Democrats voted against the measure; the 31 nays included both Texas senators Cornyn and Hutchison.

The 65 ayes included independent Lisa Murkowski and Republicans Scott Brown (MA), Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, John Ensign, Mark Kirk (IL), George Voinovich, and Richard Burr.

Deserving of specific reproach is West Virginia's Joe Manchin, who skipped the vote. Though Oregon's Ron Wyden -- just diagnosed with prostate cancer -- postponed some pre-surgical tests to cast a historic vote, Manchin had a Christmas party to go to.

Supporters hailed the Senate vote as a major step forward for gay rights. Many activists hope that integrating openly gay troops within the military will lead to greater acceptance in the civilian world, as it did for blacks after President Harry Truman's 1948 executive order on equal treatment regardless of race in the military.

"The military remains the great equalizer," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "Just like we did after President Truman desegregated the military, we'll someday look back and wonder what took Washington so long to fix it."

Sen. John McCain, Obama's GOP rival in 2008, led the opposition. Speaking on the Senate floor minutes before a crucial test vote, the Arizona Republican acknowledged he couldn't stop the bill. He blamed elite liberals with no military experience for pushing their social agenda on troops during wartime.

"They will do what is asked of them," McCain said of service members. "But don't think there won't be a great cost."

McCain's response is a profile in disgrace. I particularly like how he transmogrifies an issue supported by 70% of Americans as belonging to "liberal elites".

John McCain has reduced himself to Captain Queeg -- rolling ball bearings in one hand, mumbling about strawberries.

Also today, no DREAM will come true for the children of undocumented aliens.

Senate Republicans on Saturday doomed an effort that would have given hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status if they enrolled in college or joined the military.

Sponsors of the Dream Act fell five votes short of the 60 they needed to break through largely GOP opposition and win its enactment before Republicans take over the House and narrow Democrats' majority in the Senate next month.

President Barack Obama called the vote "incredibly disappointing."

"A minority of senators prevented the Senate from doing what most Americans understand is best for the country," Obama said. "There was simply no reason not to pass this important legislation."

Dozens of immigrants wearing graduation mortarboards watched from the Senate's visitors gallery, disappointment on their faces, as the 55-41 vote was announced.

"This is a dark day in America," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles. "The Senate has ... thrown under the bus the lives and hard work of thousands and thousands of students who love this country like their own home, and, in fact, they have no other home."

Helping send the bill to defeat were five Democratic senators: Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Jon Tester of Montana, Max Baucus of Montana, David Pryor of Arkansas, and Nelson. Manchin, as previously mentioned, had other priorities. Three Republicans -- Bennett of Utah, Lugar of Indiana, and Murkowski -- voted in favor.

Lindsay Graham earns his dishonorable mention:

"To those who have come to my office — you’re always welcome to come, but you’re wasting your time.

We’re not going to pass the DREAM Act or any other legalization program until we secure our borders. It will never be done as a stand-alone. It has to be part of comprehensive immigration reform."

Go fuck your bigoted self, Senator.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jon Stewart puts on his man pants

I came down pretty hard on him when he dodged responsibility for his influence on the national conversation, so I need to give him mad props for this.

Some have questioned why the Republican effort to block a bill to fund health care for 9/11 first responders hasn't received more coverage on the cable news networks. And one of the cable news industry's best-known tormentors on the subject -- "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart -- spotlighted the issue on last night's show,  interviewing a panel of first responders afflicted with grave health difficulties to flesh out what he sees as the media's blatant disregard for the heroic municipal workers at the center of the controversy.

Stewart has been hitting the general media silence around the first responders and the pending legislation that would help to alleviate their health and financial difficulties for much of the past week. Last night's panel discussion took more direct aim at congressional inaction on the measure -- and the Senate Republicans' filibuster in particular. This marked one of the only occasions the satiric cable show featured a panel discussion, and through most of the nine-minute segment, Stewart's demeanor was uncharacteristically somber, as he sought to give the bulk of the airtime to his guests.

This link has the video.

It's a profound shift in Stewart's intent here to skewer the worthlessness of the American corporate media in a serious way, instead of his usual satirical. And I applaud it. Stewart's effort was underscored by another significant critic (emphasis mine):

(F)ormer "Good Morning America" producer Eric Ortner -- who worked as a medic at the site of the devastation on 9/11 -- had some choice words for media colleagues who "will be jockeying to outdo one another on 10th anniversary coverage" of the attacks next year.

"The sad thing will be that the wall to wall coverage will be little more than window dressing with little true consequence," Ortner told the New York Times. "They'll make us feel patriotic and tearfully grateful as they sidebar a piece or two on the plight of the rescue workers who still seem to be dying broke, ill, and in need of basic benefits. When that happens, this is the moment that I'll remember. It’s when the press was needed most, when sunlight truly could disinfect, and my colleagues just aren’t there. This is not a partisan issue… this is a clear case of right and wrong, and basic responsibility. It’s the reason many of us got into the business to begin with ... expose injustice and question those who allow it to exist."

When Bill O'Reilly would rather fight his annual War on "Happy Holidays", when Neil Cavuto and the rest of the Fox freaks spend hours a day on things like the Ground Zero mosque or Julian Assange's broken condom but wrap themselves in the Stars and Stripes and call each other "patriots" for not wanting to pay any taxes ...

... you should remember it, too.

More here.

"Call Out Aaron Pena" Day is finally here!

It's the social media event of the season!

Because Pena has been a big Twitterer and blogger himself, his flip-flop to red earlier this week has unwittingly left him wide open for ridicule.

And so we must exploit his soft, expansive, weak underbelly.

Here are your action items:

1. Defriend him on Facebook (if you are his friend, of course), and unfollow him on Twitter (if you do).
2. Call his office -- (512) 463-0426 or send a fax to (512) 463-0043 -- and tell him to resign and run for his seat as a Republican.
3. Contact his campaign contributors and ask them to request a refund of the money they donated to him. (Pena and fellow turncoat Allan Ritter have both indicated they would return them if they were asked to do so.) But John Coby lists a compelling reason why they won't: they're mostly Republicans themselves.
4. Tweet something using the hashtag #CallOutAaron
5. Write something on your social medium of choice.

Needless to say, just about everybody in Texas is aware of this public flogging/humilation. Even Keith Olbermann piled on (indirectly, in this excerpt that puts the shame of the Lone Star State on full display):

Don't be left out of the holiday festivities! Join the fun!

Update: See Mean Rachel and Burnt Orange for more.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Keystone XL pipeline and Houston's air-quality future

Earlier today I accompanied a handful of activists and media on a "Toxic Tour" led by Juan Parras of tejas (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services) and sponsored by the Sierra Club. The East End tour focuses on the health threats that low-income Houstonians already face from refining pollution, and the dire consequences of worsening that pollution from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline (more here and also here), which would result from a significant increase in the refining of Canada’s tar sands in the Houston Ship Channel's refineries.

Some background: Tar sands oil contains -- among other heavy metals, neurotoxins, and carcinogens -- an average of 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead than conventional crude oil (.pdf source here). Refining it emits three times as much global warming pollution as conventional oil (here), and the massive network of refineries along the Ship Channel is one of the only places in North America with the industrial capacity to create fuel from the tarry sludge of bitumen flowing from Alberta, Canada. Consequently, it is already one of the worst public health zones in the nation.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would bring upwards of 700,000 barrels of oil per day, and potentially 900,000 once the pipeline is completed, to be refined in Houston and Port Arthur. That represents about 35% of the capacity of the targeted refineries. Given that this oil is a lower quality crude with higher levels of toxic contaminants than usual, the risk of extremely grave consequences is unacceptably high -- for Houston's air quality, the health of its citizens and the repercussions from the federal government for continually failing to meet clean air standards

There is also the danger of the pipeline traveling 2000 miles across six states from Montana to Texas, passing over and through sixty rivers and lakes as well as the Ogallala Aquifer, which by itself puts 30% of the nation's agricultural water at risk of contamination from leak or rupture. We could also talk about the toothless, ineffective, toady-infested Texas Commission on Environmental Quality -- under sunset review in the next legislative session -- and the incompetence and corruption of the Texas Railroad Commission in this regard. Even the long-term Democratic Congressman for the area, Gene Green, is in the pocket of industry for that matter. Overarching all of that, a discussion about the Obama administration's half-assed success in encouraging and executing an alternative fuels policy, along with the failure (and capitulation to greed) of private entrepreneurs like Boone Pickens might be useful. But I'm going to save all of that for another day and another post. This one will just focus on the threats to Houstonians that are both ongoing and increasing.

Parras editorialized in the newspaper about this last month, so you can read his account of living in the East End and watching the children there contract leukemia at rates about 56 percent higher than normal, and of having Cesar Chavez High School and Deer Park Elementary scoring in the top 1% of the most polluted schools in the country, due to the fact that all twelve of the most hazardous pollutants associated with petrochemical refining are found right in his neighborhood.

Our tour took us first around the 'hood next to Hartmann Park, which abuts the Valero facility. The small cinder-block houses are aged but dignified. Most represent the same pride of ownership as any subdivision in the city, with meticulous landscaping and Christmas decorations. The area is mostly industrial and commercial, criss-crossed by railroad tracks and frequently interrupted by train traffic. Much of it contains the historical remains of Harrisburg, the forerunner of modern Houston and one of the state's first capital cities. (Nearby is Glendale Cemetery, where the John Harris family and a handful of Texas Revolutionary War heroes lie buried alongside one of the state's first attorneys general, John Birdsall. The cemetery also contains a monument to the homestead of Gen. Sidney Sherman, who commanded a regiment at San Jacinto and is credited with the battle cry 'Remember the Alamo!'.)

Our first stop was Brady's Landing, also a historic site but today mostly known for its fine dining and unparalleled view of the Ship Channel's turning basin. During the evening the restaurant is like many others in the city: bustling with patrons and staff, the parking lot busy with diner traffic. During the day, however, the region's oppressive noise is invasive and obnoxious; right next door a facility is dry-docking barges and a team of several men operating industrial-grade pressure washers removes barnacles from their hulls. Cranes swing containers to and from foreign freighters, crashing and booming. The warehouses directly across the channel are beehives of activity, with stevedores operating forklifts, shifting and stacking and slamming pallets of material. It was amazing how loud it was, a phenomenon I never noticed in my visits at night to dine. On the other side of the restaurant a steamshovel was loading and unloading a smoking, 200-hundred-foot high brown pile of ... something, fertilizer-like in appearance. No accompanying aroma, fortunately. Maybe we were upwind.

We moved on to Cesar Chavez High School, where a group of us trudged a hundred yards or so beside another set of railroad tracks and stood across the street from the school, directly on top of one of the pipelines which runs right next to the fieldhouse, football field, and track. The faint, sickly sweet smell of natural gas -- or more accurately the added odorant mercaptan -- was apparent.

After returning to Hartmann Park's community center, Parras and state representative Jessica Farrar, along with the Sierra Club's Kate Colarulli and Pastor Dr. Morris Jenkins, held a press conference highlighting the data about the neighborhood and the proposed pipeline. That was followed by a seminar on the tar sands dilemma which also included the Sierra Club's Neil Carman, who previously worked for the TCEQ before he blew the whistle on the agency's malfeasance.

The action item to prevent Keystone XL from becoming reality is to petition Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- it is the Department of State's jurisdiction to review permitting for international pipelines -- to order a review of the environmental and health impacts of the proposed pipeline. Sign that petition here.

Peoples' lives literally ride on it. The most brutal elements of raw, unbridled capitalism inherent in the nation's friendliest, "good-fer-bidness" state will show no mercy if this deal goes through. As usual.

Houston Press' Hair Balls has more from June of this year.

Update: FOX 26 was with us on the "Toxic Tour" and had this report...

Story link:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Houston's Top Political Bloggers Holiday Happy Hour tonight, and the Weekly Wrangle

Join "Houston's Top Political Bloggers'" at their Holiday Happy Hour for mirth and merriment (despite those who would rather focus on gloom and doom) this evening at the Flying Saucer, beginning after work and lasting as long as you can stand it. Remember: no bottoms, please. And the rest of the Texas Progressive Alliance is stocking up on figgy pudding as it brings you this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff covered a shoddy attempt by new Harris County Tax Assessor Don Sumners to disallow voter registration efforts at naturalization ceremonies.

Letters From Texas projected out the grim possibilities for state representative Aaron Pena as he contemplates switching to the Republican Party.

Now is the time to ask Larry Summers to do something REALLY useful. You know, for the good of the country. So says McBlogger.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme thinks Barack Obama is a putz and Bernie Sanders is a hero. UT professor JK Galbraith says it all.

Edmundo Rocha at Xicano Power pays tribute to the passing of civil rights activist and former San Antonio Express-News columnist Carlos Guerra. An unsung hero who never gave up hope for a better Texas.

Aaron Pena's impending party flip is tied directly to his 2012 Congressional ambitions. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs explains.

Bay Area Houston dogpiles on State Representative Aaron Pena. He could get with this. Or he could get with that.

lightseeker at TexasKaos reports on Rick Perry's latest foray into half-truths and self-serving opportunism. This time he is whipping up a big batch of whacked out claims about the cost of providing health care to uninsured Texans. Check out the details here: Rick Perry, Rabble Rouser .

Public Citizen Texas over at TexasVox wants to remind everyone to show up to testify at the Sunset Advisory Commission meeting Dec 15th on the Railroad Commission and TCEQ. Details are at their blog.

Neil at Texas Liberal ran a post with pictures he took last spring at the Houston Ship Channel. Neil's view is that if the world around us is at times not ideal, there are still many things to consider, learn about, and maybe even embrace. This does not mean we should be resigned to a polluted landscape. Neil has been stressing the need for action by average people in the face of the newly empowered Republican party in Austin and Washington. We know from the TPA posts listed here this week that things are a mess. The question is what are we going to do in response to this mess?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Aaron Peña's bid for US Congress (as a GOPer)

Daniel Lucio in today's Rio Grande Guardian:

As a member of the House Committee on Redistricting, Peña has been advocating for a Hidalgo-based congressional district. Peña knows that he probably wouldn't be able to foster enough support to beat out state Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. or his son, state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, in the primary race for the congressional seat. The Lucios are hometown favorites, but suffer from many of the same symptoms of South Texas Democrats. If Peña wants to keep moving up as a political figure, his best bet is to switch sides, taking some voters with him and gaining the support (and money) of Hidalgo Republicans. So you can see now why the Republican Party looks pretty sexy.

There is lots and lots of instructive data in Daniel Lucio's article so go read all of it. My point here is that there is simply no chance Pena remains a Democrat (as if he ever was) unless he plans on retiring from politics (no chance of this either).

He draws the new congressional district's boundaries in the coming legislative session, then runs for the seat in 2012. How can a scheming weasel like Peña resist?

Greg has more, and so does Harold Cook, who lays out a compelling combination of reasons disagreeing with my premise.

Update: Lucio's article appeared first at his blog, Speak South Texas.

Sunday Funnies

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Aaron Peña, weasel diva

I've said here a handful of times that Aaron Peña is a weasel. Now hear this: Peña is also a diva.

In response to this, the little -- not so little -- prima donna got lots and lots of of telephone calls from lots and lots of people about switching parties. Here's how he responded to that ...

“Many of the Democrats are still thinking the party can be reformed and that perhaps, in a decade, we can be competitive again.

“Many of the calls from Republicans, including lawmakers, were that our community can still have a seat at the table now. Why wait a decade when you can have opportunities now?

“And so, after the large number of calls today and the growing speculation, I can say I am taking the matter under consideration and I will issue a public statement in the coming days, one way or the other.

“I am who I am and my intention is to represent my community and to give them the best possible advantage under the current environment.”

Peña added that when he gets back home he will talk to family, close friends and community leaders before issuing his public statement.

There's just not a dime's worth of difference between turncoat Peña and Newt Gingrich telling his cancer-stricken wife in the hospital he was divorcing her.

If Peña does switch over to the Republicans it would give them a Super Majority in the Texas House. They currently have 99 seats to the Democrats’ 51.

If Peña does switch, it would give the Republicans their first Texas House seat in heavily Democratic Hidalgo County. A Republican has never won elected office in Hidalgo County.

There's no doubt in my mind whatsoever that he switches. Furthermore, I'm even more confident that he gets turned out of office in 2012 whether he does or doesn't. Nueces County may be turning red but not Hidalgo.

Aaron Peña is a moderate Republatino no matter what letter shows up behind his name. And those have no base of support anywhere in the Great State (ask Victor Carillo or Leo Vasquez).

Unless he can reach down and find some tiny little core principle somewhere, declaring after his period of rumination and reflection that he is committed to the Democratic Party, its beliefs and values and goals and ambitions in the wake of Democalypse 2010 ... he is a goner.

Update: It makes sense that Peña would not be seeking re-election to HD-40 in 2012 if he and the Republicans can gerrymander a brand-new GOP seat in the US Congress for him, out of the coming redistricting efforts in the Lege.




Burnt Orange


Update: John Coby piles on, and Allan Ritter falls in line behind Peña. Good riddance to yet another Blue Dog.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Tuesday Funnies Break

With all of these passings this week -- and I was hoping to mention the 69th anniversary yesterday of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 30th anniversary today of the assassination of John Lennon, for cripe's sake -- I believe I'll go to the funny papers instead.

Can you guess what the toonists are laughing about?

That's right; poker games and mining disasters. How'd you know?

Carlos Guerra 1947 - 2010 and Dos Centavos 2005 - 2010

It is almost too great a blow to the Latino community to lose both Carlos Guerra and the online voice of Stace Medellin in the span of a few days.

Carlos Guerra, a former columnist for the San Antonio Express-News who began his career as a civil rights activist, grants writer and fundraiser, was found dead Monday inside a Port Aransas condominium. ...

Guerra, 63, who retired last year, was an outspoken advocate for increased access to higher education, environmental issues and Latino participation in government and politics. A journalist for many years, he joined the San Antonio Light in 1991 as a columnist. When the paper folded two years later, he was hired by the Express-News, and his face and prose quickly became a staple of the Metro section. His last column was published Sept. 12, 2009.

Sr. Guerra, in his own words, on the subject of immigration reform:

The Texas Observer, Harold Cook, NewsTaco(Guerra's writing home since shortly after leaving the San Antonio newspaper)'s Sara Inez Calderon and Victor Landa, and Xicano Power (with more links) have reminiscences.

Stace wrote about Carlos' impact on his life yesterday, then today announced it was "time to be a grown-up". I have many hermanos in the blogosphere, and while it's certainly nice to know I can still see and talk with Stace, his departure leaves a gaping chasm in the Texas progressive online community.

RIP Carlos Guerra, and hasta luego Dos Centavos.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards 1949 - 2010

"Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth's presence, but she remains the heart of this family," the family said in a statement. "We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life. On behalf of Elizabeth we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way. Your support and prayers touched our entire family."

Elizabeth Edwards had focused in recent years on advocating health care reform, often wondering aloud about the plight of those who faced the same of kind of physical struggles she has, but without her personal wealth.

She has also shared with the public the most intimate struggles of her bouts with cancer, writing and speaking about the pain of losing her hair, the efforts to assure her children about their mother's future and the questions that lingered about how many days she had left to live.

Elizabeth Edwards and her family had informed the public that she had weeks, if not days, left when they announced on Monday that doctors had told her that further treatment will do no good. Ever the public figure, Edwards thanked supporters on her Facebook page.

"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered," she wrote. "We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Don Meredith 1938 - 2010

Don Meredith, the Dallas Cowboys and SMU quarterback and Monday Night Football icon, died Sunday evening in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 72.

Meredith had battled emphysema in recent years and suffered a minor stroke in 2004.

He was the only living Cowboys Ring of Honor member unable to attend the franchise's September 2009 inaugural game at Cowboys Stadium.

Meredith was the original Dallas Cowboy, signing a personal services contract on Nov. 28, 1959, two months before the franchise officially gained admittance into the NFL.

More from the DMN ...

The situation was almost perfect for Meredith, who once stood with his father outside the Cotton Bowl as they visited the State Fair of Texas. Meredith remembered that as a prophetic occasion.

"I looked up at that big old thing," he said, "and just knew I was gonna play ball there someday."

That, in fact, happened many times. Meredith probably made more appearances there as a player through his 12 seasons than any other athlete. The Cowboys played their home games at the facility throughout Meredith's nine seasons. The team announced plans to relocate to the Texas Stadium site Meredith found so contemptible a few months before his abrupt and shocking retirement from professional football in 1968.

He was 31, in the prime of his career. His decision was announced during a news conference in which Meredith, who had finished second in passing in the NFL, simply explained he had lost the desire to compete.

Roger Staubach was released from the Navy the same day.

The Startlegram:

Another famous Meredith moment occurred in 1974 at the Houston Astrodome. The Oakland Raiders were in the process of beating the Houston Oilers 34-0.

A cameraman had a shot of a disgruntled Oilers fan, who then made an obscene gesture. Meredith said of the fan. "He thinks they're No. 1 in the nation."

Lots and lots and lots of memories of the old signal caller/playboy/color man. Had he managed to make a couple of plays in those games with the Packers, he would be mentioned in the same group as Unitas, Starr, and Namath. And Staubach.

He still deserves being mentioned with them IMO.

The Weekly Wrangle

Make plans to attend "Houston's Top Political Bloggers'" holiday soiree', next Monday, December 13. No "bottoms" allowed. And the rest of the Texas Progressive Alliance is gathering up boughs of holly in anticipation of future hall-decking as it brings you this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff takes a look at the HHSC report on the effects of dropping Medicaid. Short answer: It would be bad, but what they really have in mind to do may be even worse.

Bay Area Houston has some interesting comments on the criminal probe of State Representative Joe Driver.

Capitol Annex takes a look at a dangerous proposal by incoming State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble) to allow independent school districts to lessen the amount of cash reserves they are required to keep on hand and explains why this is a terrible idea.

This week on Left of College Station Teddy takes a look at the shortfall in the Texas budget, and also covers the week in headlines.

McBlogger reminds everyone to STOP SHOUTING at the Federal Reserve for doing its job.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme won't be switching to U-verse now that AT&T bought 700 copies of Rick Perry's book. Yuck.

Neil at Texas Liberal makes note of the fact that unionized city workers in Houston are taking voluntary furloughs to help ease Houston's budget crisis. What a contrast this act of helping out Houston represents in comparsion to the public at large, which can be barely troubled to vote in municipal elections. Sometimes it is government that gets it right while individuals are apathetic or even hostile with regard to the public good.

Public Citizen's TexasVox blog gives you ways to get involved to keep Texas from becoming the nation's radioactive waste dump, by attending the public hearing in Austin on Dec 9 at 10am.

Friday, December 03, 2010

"So I guess we are, in fact, seeing what Mr. Obama is made of."

After the Democratic “shellacking” in the midterm elections, everyone wondered how President Obama would respond. Would he show what he was made of? Would he stand firm for the values he believes in, even in the face of political adversity?

On Monday, we got the answer: he announced a pay freeze for federal workers. This was an announcement that had it all. It was transparently cynical; it was trivial in scale, but misguided in direction; and by making the announcement, Mr. Obama effectively conceded the policy argument to the very people who are seeking — successfully, it seems — to destroy him.

So I guess we are, in fact, seeing what Mr. Obama is made of.

Each day it seems the president reaches a new stage of schmuckiness. Putzimas maximus.

It’s hard to escape the impression that Republicans have taken Mr. Obama’s measure — that they’re calling his bluff in the belief that he can be counted on to fold. And it’s also hard to escape the impression that they’re right.

The real question is what Mr. Obama and his inner circle are thinking. Do they really believe, after all this time, that gestures of appeasement to the G.O.P. will elicit a good-faith response?

What’s even more puzzling is the apparent indifference of the Obama team to the effect of such gestures on their supporters. One would have expected a candidate who rode the enthusiasm of activists to an upset victory in the Democratic primary to realize that this enthusiasm was an important asset. Instead, however, Mr. Obama almost seems as if he’s trying, systematically, to disappoint his once-fervent supporters, to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake.

Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse — a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction.

Did Rahm Emanuel take Obama's spine with him when he left for Chicago? No, because there was nothing there to take in the first place. But the same also holds true of Gibbs and Axelrod and the rest. Quivering, quavering invertebrates.

You can't nail Jello to a tree, after all.

So what are Democrats to do? The answer, increasingly, seems to be that they’ll have to strike out on their own. In particular, Democrats in Congress still have the ability to put their opponents on the spot — as they did on Thursday when they forced a vote on extending middle-class tax cuts, putting Republicans in the awkward position of voting against the middle class to safeguard tax cuts for the rich.

It would be much easier, of course, for Democrats to draw a line if Mr. Obama would do his part. But all indications are that the party will have to look elsewhere for the leadership it needs.

Who's the leader of the Democratic party if it's not the president? Hillary Clinton? Not with that Wikileaks all over her face. Nancy Pelosi? Radioactive, by virtue of the avalanche of smear ads spent in the past campaign. Harry Reid?

Really? Harry Reid?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wikileaks, Julian Assange, and the Right's wrong response

“To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neocorporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally we must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.”

Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies

So that's what he's up to. OK. But why leak cables?

These leaks are not specifically about the war(s) at all, and most seem to simply be a broad swath of the everyday normal secrets that a security state keeps from all but its most trusted hundreds of thousands of people who have the right clearance. Which is the point: Assange is completely right that our government has conspiratorial functions. What else would you call the fact that a small percentage of our governing class governs and acts in our name according to information which is freely shared amongst them but which cannot be shared amongst their constituency? And we all probably knew that this was more or less the case; anyone who was surprised that our embassies are doing dirty, secretive, and disingenuous political work as a matter of course is naïve. But Assange is not trying to produce a journalistic scandal which will then provoke red-faced government reforms or something, precisely because no one is all that scandalized by such things any more. Instead, he is trying to strangle the links that make the conspiracy possible, to expose the necessary porousness of the American state’s conspiratorial network in hopes that the security state will then try to shrink its computational network in response, thereby making itself dumber and slower and smaller.

But doesn't this endanger national security? Not according to Dr. Richard Stoll at the Baker Institute for Public Policy:

Let me begin by saying two things:

1. The U.S. government classifies too much information.

2. While a number of the leaked documents are embarrassing, they probably do not damage U.S. national security.

But there are dangers to these disclosures.

Candor in conversations among diplomats in the course of their responsibility of foreign relations is one of the dangers he identifies.

Pshaw, I say.

In a world where privacy is being both quickly relinquished and usurped -- by Facebook, by the flash drives implicated in these Wikileaks disclosures, by online data mined by corporations and sold to advertisers, by TSA scans, by ubiquitous security cameras watching even to see if we run a red light -- indeed, in a world where the documents regarding the Kennedy assassination still remain hidden from public view, the idea that state secrets must remain so is only the case for those whom the secrets would implicate by nefarious intent.

Executives and managers in and out of government believe they must have some right or guarantee to frank and candid discussion without the possibility of those conversations becoming public.

I call BS.

That's where the plots against the people who elected them, who are managed by them, who guarantee their authority and their compensation are hatched.

And in an era when politicians are increasingly held to little account by the former watchdogs (the press), and the politicians as a result show little deference to any media that doesn't fit their POV (FOX), Wikileaks is providing an important check and balance on the corrupt, the scheming, and the dishonest.

And that's important for our democracy. Or our republic, if you prefer.

Of course that's not stopping Sarah Palin, or an advisor to the Canadian prime minister from insinuating or just outright calling for Julian Assange's murder. A collection of right-wing blogging goons only want to kill him, naturally, after they figure out how to use his data against Obama.

Assange in his own words again:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive “secrecy tax”) and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

And back to zunguzungu for the wrap-up:

Julian Assange is trying to do something else. Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

This post from the Newswatch blog at the Chron has several updates to the Wikileaks developments, including its next targets -- a major US bank, pharmaceutical companies, financial firms, and energy companies.

Other related articles:

-- Amazon has turned off Wikileaks' servers. This comes after they had moved to Amazon over the past weekend as they faced denial-of-service attacks to their network.

-- Interpol is after Assange on a sex crime charge.  Moscow's secret agents are also on his trail.

-- Congress may soon pass legislation strengthening the protection of whistle-blowers (ironically, to prevent them from going to Wikileaks).

-- Robert Scheer mocks Hllary Clinton:

Instead of disparaging the motives of the leakers, Hillary Clinton should offer a forthright explanation of why she continued the practice of Condoleezza Rice, her predecessor as secretary of state, of using American diplomats to spy on their colleagues working at the United Nations. Why did she issue a specific directive ordering U.S. diplomats to collect biometric information on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and many of his colleagues?