Friday, April 29, 2011

Susan Combs is sorry.

Very, VERY sorry.

Taking "full responsibility" for the inadvertent online exposure of the personal information of 3.5 million Texans, Comptroller Susan Combs on Thursday said her agency would pay for free credit monitoring and Internet surveillance to those affected, and her campaign fund would provide identity restoration services for anyone whose personal information is misused.

"I am deeply sorry this incident occurred and I take full responsibility for it," Combs said. "This incident has affected the lives of Texans that I have dedicated my life to serving and I am determined to restore their faith in the Comptroller's Office."

While her office's initial explanation for the incident blamed three other state agencies for failing to send encrypted filed, on Thursday, Combs called the finger-pointing "irrelevant."

"We had the last clear chance to make it right and we didn't," she said.

The comments at the link are running pretty much against her apology.

She also defended her office's hiring of two campaign contributors as consultants to review her office's Internet security, saying state procurement policies limited her choice of technology firms who could immediately begin work on the project.

Because "speed was important," she said she hired Deloitte Consulting and Gartner, Inc., rather than going through the competitive bidding process, because those firms already had contracts with the state.

She declined to comment on a court filing this week in Austin by attorneys who are seeking to take her deposition to get to the bottom of what they called the "most massive and far-reaching invasion of privacy in the history of Texas."

Those lawyers called on Combs to resign, saying she should take responsibility for her office's role in the incident.

Apparently she's going to try to ride the storm out. Good luck with that, Susan. In the meantime the millions of Texans affected by your criminal negligence can take advantage of that discount credit monitoring service, graciously paid for by your political campaign.

Combs had her sights set on moving up from comptroller to something bigger and better someday, just like Todd Staples and Greg Abbott and David Dewhurst and all the other ladies-in-waiting behind Governor Suckseed. There will now be a little less competition in the shark tank.

And I'm certain the pup sharks in the RPT are already sharpening their teeth in anticipation.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Texas House passes redistricting bill

It will soon go to the Senate.

The GOP-led Texas House approved a redistricting plan early Thursday that would all but guarantee a continued Republican majority — albeit a smaller one than the party has now.

The map was approved on a 92-52 vote after a marathon debate that dragged into the wee morning hours Thursday. It would pit several Republicans against each other, the natural result of an unsustainably large super-majority.

Some Republican members and activists wanted to make the map a much bolder grab for conservative seats and limit the number of losses. But House leaders easily beat back those attempts. Either way, there is only so much they can do given the constraints of federal anti-discrimination laws and shifts in population away from conservative rural areas and toward the suburbs that have seen explosive and diverse population growth.

The emotional and heated debate ended up dragging on for some 16 hours, the longest single session in the House so far this year and testament to the importance lawmakers place on their own futures. The map faces a final procedural hurdle before it can move to the Senate.

Once again, if you follow "Inside Baseball" on this sort of thing, then Greg (who live-blogged it yesterday) and Charles have been keeping you up to the minute. If you have only been keeping track via my executive summary, then you will note the following revision affecting one pair ...

Republican Reps. Jim Landtroop and Charles Perry, both from West Texas, would get separate districts under the proposal that would take a single seat out of the region for redistribution elsewhere. Perry and Landtroop called the new proposal a victory for the rural region.

There was some speculation that Charles Perry might try for the Senate against Robert Duncan, but this development likely negates that. Houston's Scott Hochberg, on the other hand, is getting as royally screwed as Kate Middleton.

Two Democrats would also be paired in the Houston area. One of them is Rep. Scott Hochberg, who said map drawers creatively split the 5401 Chimney Rock apartment complex, hoping for his demise. If the map became law, inhabitants of the complex could be in different state House districts depending on which unit they live in, Hochberg said.

I would prefer that Hochberg and Hubert Vo not run against each other; indeed, that one of them moves into Jim Murphy's district and knocks him out. We'll see. There's also the possibility that former state rep. Kristi Thibaut mounts another challenge to Murphy as well.

Paul Burka speculates that this map endangers Speaker Straus -- now, and in the future.

Once again, Straus’s speakership is at risk. This is what happens when you come to the critical moment of the session with no team in place, no plan, and brush fires of discontent among the members. I have to say, though I like Straus personally, he is sowing what he reaped. He has spent the entire session kowtowing to the far right, so that the inmates are running the asylum, and it has gotten him nowhere. He was never going to win them over, and now he has the worst appropriations bill in modern history to show for his efforts, and a potential redistricting revolt on his hands. His speakership is at risk–if not now, then in the Legislative Redistricting Board. Rick Perry will likely send redistricting to the board, probably with whispered instructions to draw a map that pairs Straus loyalists and insulates the conservatives from potential challengers. This could get really bloody.

And Scott at Grits notes that if incarcerated people were assigned accurately in the redraw, then Houston would not have lost a seat. Prisoners don't get representation? That's the Republican way.

Update: Via Eye on Williamson, both the Observer and the Tribune have more on last night's marathon debate.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Combs under pressure to resign over exposed data

Suggesting that Comptroller Susan Combs should resign for her role in exposing the personal information of 3.5 million Texans, two Austin lawyers have petitioned a state district court for permission to question Combs as part of their investigation into the incident.

Calling the data exposure “an egregious example of incompetence and hypocrisy,” attorney Chuck Herring, representing teacher Sarah Canright, and Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project, filed court documents seeking Combs’ deposition.

“Petitioners desire to investigate potential claims concerning the most massive and far-reaching invasion of privacy in the history of Texas,” the court filing stated. “The incomplete, misleading statements issued by Comptroller Combs and the Comptroller’s Office to date raise more questions than they answer. Texans deserve to know the truth concerning how this illegal and unconstitutional invasion occurred.”

Herring noted that Combs has fired four employees but has not personally accepted responsibility for the exposure of the information, which was transferred to the Comptroller’s office by the Teacher Retirement System, the Employee Retirement System and the Texas Workforce Commission.

“If this was the private sector, would she still be CEO?” asked Harrington.

Combs' political career is over, whether or not she is eventually forced to step down. The problem, of course, is that she was just re-elected last November, so there's plenty of time for the people who voted for her to forget all about this. But if she decides to hang on, she'll get a TeaBag primary challenge ... and maybe this time the Democrats will run someone against her (or the TeaBagger) in 2014.

Personally, I wish she would go back to writing those steamy paperback novels.


Looking for ways to cope with inadvertently exposing the personal data of 3.5 million Texans, the state’s comptroller has retained the services of two firms whose leaders or political committees contributed over $50,000 to her campaign.

Using your political contributors to help hide your crimes. It's just the Texas Republican way.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance thinks it's never too early to plan your Sine Die Day activities as it brings you this week's roundup.

The long range plan to kill public education is reaching the end game. Over at TexasKaos, lightseeker talks about seeing one of the (unintentional) moving parts at a public lecture given by one of the premier charter schools in the nation. Check out Educational Reform and Our Common Peril!

Bay Area Houston has the latest on state representative Larry Taylor's emergency surgery.

What conservatives believe to be true ranks far above what is actually true, and even what is demonstrably true according to science and mathematics. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs points out that this why Rick Perry declares Easter weekend as 'Days of Prayer for Rain in Texas', and why John Cornyn "isn't so sure" that Jon Kyl was wrong when he claimed that abortions were 90% of Planned Parenthood's budget. It should consequently be no surprise that they place no value in teachers and education.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme thinks the Texas Supreme Court, aka the republican crony justice system, sucks.

Always looking out for your mental health and well-being, Letters From Texas Worldwide Headquarters, Psychological Testing Department, offers a redistricting Rorschach test.

The Senate Finance Committee, led by GOP Senator Steve Ogden, approved their version of the Texas budget last week. WCNews at Eye On Williamson shows that it truly is the lesser of two evils.

How about a bit of good news for a change? Off the Kuff notes that a bill that gives microbreweries greater latitude in getting their beers to customers passed the House last week.

Neil at Texas Liberal praised Governor Perry for his call for prayer to end the severe drought in Texas. At the same time, Neil asked that if prayer can end the drought, might it be that Texas is being punished by God for hard-hearted policies towards the poor?

McBlogger take a looks back at one idea to bring more water to Texas that will work, and another one that is from Rick Perry.

Easter Lemming discovers Oh, the places you'll go! as an iPhone, even if it is no longer your iPhone.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Belief ... not math, not science

"Conservative" icon Steven Colbert long ago identified the neurological disorder and labeled it 'truthiness'. Like much of conservatism's ideological IQ, it has little to no basis in facts or reality (those have a well-known liberal bias, again first observed by Colbert). Here's Gail Collins' latest as it relates to the Texas strain of this insanity. I'm reposting the piece and adding some links and emphasis ...

One of my favorite stories about the Texas State Legislature involves the time Senator Wendy Davis was trying to ask a colleague, Troy Fraser, some questions about a pending bill. Fraser deflected by saying, “I have trouble hearing women’s voices.”

Really, she was standing right there on the floor. Holding a microphone.

These days in the budget-strapped, Tea-Party-besieged State Capitol, you can be grateful for any funny anecdote, no matter how badly it reflects on Texas politics in general. Like the time Gov. Rick Perry defended the state’s abstinence-only birth control program by saying that he knew abstinence worked “from my own personal life.”

Right now, the state is wrestling with a fiscal megacrisis that goes back to 2006, when the Legislature cut local property taxes and made up for the lost revenue with a new business tax. The new tax produced billions less than expected to the shock and horror of everyone except all the experts who had been predicting that all along.

Governor Perry blames the whole thing on President Obama.

Texas’ problems are of interest to us all because Texas is producing a huge chunk of the nation’s future work force with a system that goes like this:

• Terrible sex education programs and a lack of access to contraceptives leads to a huge number of births to poor women. (About 60 percent of the deliveries in Texas are financed by Medicaid.) Texas also leads the nation in the number of teenage mothers with two or more offspring.

• The Texas baby boom — an 800,000 increase in schoolchildren over the last decade — marches off to underfunded schools. Which are getting more underfunded by the minute, thanks to that little tax error.

And naturally, when times got tough at the State Capitol, one of the first things the cash-strapped Legislature tried to cut was family planning.

“It’s in total danger,” said Fran Hagerty, who leads the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas.

One of the best family-planning efforts in Texas is the Women’s Health Program, which provides an annual health exam and a year’s worth of contraceptives to poor women. For every dollar the state puts into the plan, the federal government provides $9.

The state estimates the pregnancies averted would reduce its Medicaid bill by more than $36 million next year. But when a budget expert told the Texas House Committee on Human Services that the program saved money, he was laced into by Representative Jodie Laubenberg for using “government math.”

“You speculate that,” she snorted.

Meanwhile, on the House floor, anti-abortion lawmakers were stripping financing for other family-planning programs. Representative Randy Weber successfully moved part of the money into anti-abortion crisis centers for pregnant women.

“There’s been research done. ... It actually shows the highest abortion rate is among women actively using contraceptives,” Weber insisted.

“These folks are anti-abortion, anti-contraception and anti-science,” said Representative Mike Villarreal, who tangled with Weber during the debate.

Villarreal has had a rather dark view of the rationality of some of his colleagues ever since he tried to improve the state’s abstinence-only sex education programs by requiring that the information imparted be medically accurate. It died in committee. “The pediatrician on the committee wouldn’t vote for it; he was the swing vote,” Villarreal recalled.

Welcome to the fact-free zone. This week, U.S. Senator John Cornyn gave an interview to Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune in which he claimed that the battle in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood “was really part of a larger fight about spending money we don’t have on things that aren’t essential.”

There are a lot of fiscal conservatives in the anti-abortion movement, and it’s apparently hard for them to admit that destroying Planned Parenthood is a money-loser.

There’s also a resistance to government support for contraceptive services. “There are some people in the pro-life movement who think birth control pills of all kind are abortifacients,” said Senator Bob Deuell, a Republican. “But I don’t see any medical evidence.”

Deuell is one of those rare abortion opponents who is dedicated to the cause of helping women avoid unwanted pregnancy in the first place. He says his allies in the anti-abortion movement haven’t objected to his approach, but he admitted that they haven’t been handing him any medals either.

We’re currently stuck with a politics of reproduction in which emotion is so strong that actual information becomes irrelevant. Senator Cornyn, in his interview, was reminded of the great dust-up his colleague Jon Kyl of Arizona created when he claimed that 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood did involved abortions. When challenged, Kyl’s staff said the figure “was not intended to be a factual statement.”

So did Cornyn agree that Kyl screwed up?

“I’m not so sure,”
Cornyn said.  

Rick Perry has proclaimed today, Good Friday, through Easter Sunday to be Days of Prayer for Rain in order to help in putting out the wildfires engulfing our once-Great State. Because that would be better than, you know, socialism. And also because the invisible hand of the free market is busy right now giving women the finger.

I intend to ask God -- and the Easter Bunny -- for some other things too while I'm at it, like deliverance from evil, a new governor, some new state legislators, a different Democratic party or the necessary tools to fix the one we have ...

Because Santa Claus only comes at the end of December, and I don't think we can wait until then.

Or maybe I'll just get busy on doing that work myself, since Santa and the EB and God all appear to be occupied with some more pressing matters.

Update: Both Hal and John suggest some prayer wording.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More on Ricardo Sanchez

There have been many reactions to the rumors of Lt. Gen. Sanchez' potential Senate candidacy, which I am on record as vehemently opposing. Most of my blogger colleagues are of the "wait-and-see" persuasion. Some have voiced support, much of it appearing as some variety of "we could do worse". Add this voice to the chorus of "thanks but no thanks, General":

Congratulations, Texas Democratic Party: you are on the verge of a new level in cynicism. Sanchez’s tenure running the Iraq war saw a humiliated and cashiered Iraqi military metastasize into an insurgency that killed and maimed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Under pressure from the Pentagon, he approved abusive detention and interrogation practices for Abu Ghraib that resulted in the U.S.’ most damaging wartime scandal since Vietnam. What could possibly interrupt Sanchez’s deserved fade into obscurity?


But it wasn’t just George Bush that Sanchez derided. It was practically everyone out of uniform. In an October 2007 speech, Sanchez bashed Bush, Congress, the media and American society in general for lacking “moral courage in this war effort.” About the only responsibility Sanchez could let himself shoulder was to allow that “mistakes have been made by the American military,” as if it was the entire armed services who authorized dogs to menace Iraqi detainees.

Sanchez’s blend of self pity and martial triumphalism could turn out to be a political winner. But think what a message that would send. Texas Democrats would ask voters to excuse wartime disaster and torture. It’s easy to see what Sanchez and the Dems get out of this. Actually, it’s easier to smell it.

Now that was a lot meaner than I was. Marc Campos, self-appointed leader of Texas Hispanics, stated in response:

(I) was sent some stuff yesterday and also ran across a few things on how folks are reacting to the possible General Ricardo Sanchez candidacy for the U.S. Senate here in the Lone Star State. He’s being chewed up on how he handled or bungled the war in Iraq. He’s being accused of saying okay to water boarding and other torture tactics. He’s being described as a pawn of certain Lone Star State Dem power brokers.

It will be interesting to see how he responds to the criticism in the coming days and weeks. Of course, if there is too much piling on, the Latino leadership and community might just get offended and come to his defense.

A pal of mine sent me a note asking why wasn’t a Latina recruited. Hey, I’m not in charge of picking our candidates – sorry.

Campos now has his excuse for poor Latino turnout in 2012. This from the guy who claims to know what it will take to get Latinos to the polls, and the answer is always "Hire me and then I'll tell you."

It's a sign that Latinos have reached parity in the Democratic party, Marc, when the brown candidates get vetted the same as the white ones and the black ones. Overlooking a person's creed and considering their ideology is what's happening here. And please stop presuming to speak for all Latinos in one sentence, and then quickly abdicating any responsibility in the next. People might begin to think you're a prevaricator.

You want to advocate for the general, or defend his credentials as a Senate candidate, or would you rather just attack those of us who don't like him? We'll wait while you formulate an opinion.

You can also read the general's conversation with Evan Smith, from July 2008 at Texas Monthly, and decide whether or not you like Sanchez' explanation of the events that occurred at Abu Ghraib. It didn't sway me any, but that's just me. And I speak only for myself.

Update: This DREAM activist agrees with me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes that the invisible hand of the free market would hurry up and put out the Texas wildfires as it brings you this week's blog round-up.

Having previously declared himself out on supporting President Obama's re-election campaign, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs finds even less to like about the rumored candidacy of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez for US Senate. Less, as in nothing.

Letters From Texas poked fun at the... um... hard turn John Sharp's web domain has taken, in which somebody has... ah... erected quite a different focus. But most of the week was spent on more serious concerns -- the West Texas range fires.

The first statehouse redistricting map is out, and Off the Kuff has a look at it and some alternatives to it.

Libby Shaw at TexasKaos tells us that When Middle Schoolers Serve in Congress there is price to be paid.

Neil at Texas Liberal noted that Rick Perry has asked Barack Obama and Washington for help with Texas wildfires. While everyone impacted by the fires merits help, it sure is something that Washington-basher Rick Perry feels he must turn to the federal government to solve Texas problems. Where are the Texas Tea Party citizen-volunteer disaster relief teams to help people in need?

Like many of you, the crew at McBlogger is feeling the pinch of higher gas prices. What's really causing it and what can be done about it may surprise you.

TexasVox brings you a double dose of bad news about fracking: first, the bad news for the climate from shale gas as it could be warming the planet worse than coal and second, the awesome press conference put on by our TPA friend TXSharon about health effects from fracking. Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, you are warned not to go see the new movie version of Atlas Shrugged.

The Texas Cloverleaf looks at the proposed Texas House redistricting implications in Denton County.

DosCentavos opines on state Rep. Leo Berman's kinder gentler racism through a "cost-saving" English-only bill.

This week on Left of College Station Teddy covers the local politics of the city's controversial vote to annex the community of Wellborn, and covers the national politics of the Congressional Republicans' failure to lead by their politicization of military pay. LoCS also covers the week in headlines.

From Bay Area Houston: The Houston Chronicle asks ... How stupid are Texans?

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants everyone to know that Victoria DA Hissy Fit's tainted case against city officials has been dropped.

The Texas GOP released its proposed map of Texas state House districts for the next decade, and Dembones at Eye On Williamson posted about the most oddest shaped district in the map: Gerrymandering Wilco.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Funnies

"So far the Republican field looks like a bunch of guys responding to a Craigslist ad for a free couch. ... Whatever Republican is going to replace Obama is going to need three things: vision, leadership, and enough cash to make up for not having vision or leadership." -- Stephen Colbert

"You heard the big news? Glenn Beck's show canceled by Fox ... or he quit. It may be because he only had one sponsor left -- a company making adult diapers that are lined with tin foil to keep the wetness in and the government radio waves out. " -- Bill Maher

"The White House says that Donald Trump has “zero percent chance” of being elected president. Isn’t that a little high?" -- David Letterman

"I love Dick Morris. It’s as if cholesterol and bile had a baby." -- Jon Stewart

Lloyd Dangle (TroubleTown's creator) is quitting the cartoon business. I will certainly miss him.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I'm out on this guy, too.

Democrats appear to have recruited retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to run for the U.S. Senate in Texas, setting the stage for the party to field a well-known candidate in the 2012 race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, a Democrat, confirmed that Democratic Senate campaign chief Patty Murray, D-Wash., was referring to Sanchez on Thursday when she said Democrats were close to announcing a candidate in Texas.

Sanchez, reached by phone at his San Antonio home, asked where the reports of a Senate run came from and then said, "I can neither confirm nor deny."

Sanchez, the former top military commander in Iraq who was left under a cloud from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, would not discuss the Senate race. But he did respond to questions about his career and political philosophy.

"I would describe myself as during my military career as supporting the president and the Constitution," Sanchez said. "After the military, I decided that socially, I'm a progressive, a fiscal conservative and a strong supporter, obviously, of national defense."

I'm out on people who authorized torture at Abu Ghraib.

Sanchez was commander of coalition forces during a period when abuse of prisoners occurred at Abu Ghraib and at other locations. In a memo signed by General Sanchez and later acquired by the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request, techniques were authorized to interrogate prisoners, included "environmental manipulation" such as making a room hot or cold or using an "unpleasant smell", isolating a prisoner, disrupting normal sleep patterns and "convincing the detainee that individuals from a country other than the United States are interrogating him." [2] On May 5, 2006 Sanchez denied ever authorizing interrogators to "go to the outer limits". Sanchez said he had told interrogators: "...we should be conducting our interrogations to the limits of our authority." Sanchez called the ACLU: "...a bunch of sensationalist liars, I mean lawyers, that will distort any and all information that they get to draw attention to their positions." [3]

The Washington Post, 6/12/2004:

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq, borrowed heavily from a list of high-pressure interrogation tactics used at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and approved letting senior officials at a Baghdad jail use military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, and diets of bread and water on detainees whenever they wished, according to newly obtained documents.

The U.S. policy, details of which have not been previously disclosed, was approved in early September, shortly after an Army general sent from Washington completed his inspection of the Abu Ghraib jail and then returned to brief Pentagon officials on his ideas for using military police there to help implement the new high-pressure methods.

The documents obtained by The Washington Post spell out in greater detail than previously known the interrogation tactics Sanchez authorized, and make clear for the first time that, before last October, they could be imposed without first seeking the approval of anyone outside the prison. That gave officers at Abu Ghraib wide latitude in handling detainees.

Unnamed officials at the Florida headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, which has overall military responsibility for Iraq, objected to some of the 32 interrogation tactics approved by Sanchez in September, including the more severe methods that he had said could be used at any time in Abu Ghraib with the consent of the interrogation officer in charge.

As a result, Sanchez decided on Oct. 12 to remove several items on the list and to require that prison officials obtain his direct approval for the remaining high-pressure methods. Among the tactics apparently dropped were those that would take away prisoners' religious items; control their exposure to light; inflict "pride and ego down," which means attacking detainees' sense of pride or worth; and allow interrogators to pretend falsely to be from a country that deals severely with detainees, according to the documents.

The high-pressure options that remained included taking someone to a less hospitable location for interrogation; manipulating his or her diet; imposing isolation for more than 30 days; using military dogs to provoke fear; and requiring someone to maintain a "stress position" for as long as 45 minutes. These were not dropped by Sanchez until a scandal erupted in May over photographs depicting abuse at the prison.

I'm out on generals in general. I'm particularly out on generals who implicitly or otherwise approved of torture. I'm out on conservative Democrats -- especially those who describe themselves as 'fiscal conservatives', because it's nothing but a dog whistle to the TeaBaggers -- and I'm out on anybody Ben Barnes happens to like. (Barnes, in a political legacy prior to becoming one of Washington's wealthiest lobbyists, gave us both the Sharpstown scandal and Dubya's appointment to the Texas Air National Guard.)

Having said that, Sanchez will probably be the party's nominee for all of the reasons to which I object. Sanchez is precisely the kind of candidate Texas Democrats love to nominate, and why they can't win a statewide election: because they continue to think Texans will vote for Republican Lite (the very definition of insanity in action). That, and a continuing strategy to chase a demographic that so far still cannot drag itself to the polls on Election Day in sufficient numbers to make a difference in the sad politics of the Great State.

"He's got a very compelling story," Barnes said. "He's the one guy who could unite the Hispanic vote. He'll get the conservative Hispanic businessman."

Yeah, all twenty-five of them in the entire state. Just like Tony Sanchez, Rick Noriega, Linda Chavez-Thompson, Hector Uribe ...

But hey, McBlogger likes him. And he hates everybody. Update: So does jobsanger. Paul Burka thinks any Democrat is a lost cause, but that's just his inner Republican talking.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What does this remind you of?

He thinks the headset makes him look less feeble.

A wildfire sweeping across 20,000 acres in North Texas have destroyed at least 30 homes, forced hundreds of evacuations — including an entire town — and closed a popular state park, state officials said Friday.

The blaze was burning in a mostly rural area about 120 miles west of Dallas, but the region also has expensive lake homes and is a popular recreation spot for the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Officials closed Possum Kingdom State Park and clear out its campsites, fearing the fire could block access roads.

The Fort Davis area in west Texas has already suffered tremendous losses. Harold Cook has been at the forefront of the effort to call attention to and assist the victims of the wildfires. Go there and see how you can help.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Redsitricting statehouse districts at first blush

Those of you that have been following Greg and Charles won't find much of anything new in this post. (Go to Kuffner's link and follow the instructions in that post if you want to walk into the weeds with us.) Here I will react and elaborate on some of the things that Ross Ramsey and Matt Stiles have posted at the TexTrib, Harvey K has put up at Quorum Report, along with some thoughts from other back-channel discussions.

Representatives whose districts have been combined/paired include ...

East Texas: Dan Flynn/Erwin Cain and Allen Ritter/Tuffy Hamilton

Cain, a Republican Tea Party freshman who voted against Joe Straus for speaker, goes under the bus ... probably as much for that as for this. Update: On the other hand, Flynn also voted against Straus, so this might simply be a grudge match scheduled by the speaker himself.

Ritter recently flipped from D to R and has been in the Lege for many years, representing southern Jefferson County; Hamilton has long represented Orange and part of Sabine County. As legislative veterans neither is presumably ready to cash out and become an Austin lobbyist. But Hamilton had triple-bypass surgery late last year so there is certainly the possibility that he's disinclined for a grueling Republican primary.

West Texas: Jim Landtroop/ Charles Perry and Warren Chisum/ Rick Hardcastle.

Landtroop and Perry, both Republican freshmen, will have to face off in a GOP primary, likely for the right to contest former Democratic state representative Joe Heflin in November 2012. Chisum has already announced his intention to run for the Texas Railroad Commission, so Hardcastle can breathe easy.

Dallas County: Joe Driver/Cindy Burkett and Linda Harper-Brown/ Rodney Anderson

Burkett and Anderson are GOP rookies who are again sacrificed in order to preserve the incumbency of two of the most ethically challenged Republican incumbents in the Texas Legislature. Click on the links in their names to refresh yourself with their corruption.

Harris County: Hubert Vo/Scott Hochberg

Vo's district 149 was erased completely and reincarnated as a suburban/rural Republican district in Williamson County (and Burnet and Milam). It wins the Gerrymander of the Decade award:

Vo could wind up challenging HD-133's Jim Murphy, which would be a fascinating contest. Hochberg's 137th added a chunk of Harris west of where his district currently lies, but appears to remain safely Democratic.

Nueces County: Raul Torres/Connie Scott

Continuing the trend, Scott and Torres are both Republican freshmen who were swept in on 2010's Red Tide. They either face a rough primary against each other, or one must stand down so that the other can do battle against an emboldened Democratic challenger with Barack Obama on the ballot in 2012.

These are the eight open seats as mapped:

District 3—Montgomery (part) and Waller

District 12—McLennan (part), Brazos (part), Falls, Limestone, Robertson

District 33—Collin (part) and Rockwall

District 85—Fort Bend (part), Wharton and Jackson

District 88—Wise, Cook, Jack, Young, Throckmorton, Haskell, Stonewall, Kent, Garza, Lynn, Terry, Borden

District 101-Tarrant (part)

District 106---Denton (part)

And the afore-mentioned District 149—Williamson (part), Burnet, Milam

Those all appear to be safe for whatever Republican runs there.

Burt Solomons, the author of these maps, also did an excellent job of attempting to preserve a Republican super-majority for the next decade. Ninety-two statehouse districts are R 55% or greater, up from 82.

Update: Eye on Williamson has more on the new District 149.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The legacy of Boyd Richie (and by extension, the Texas Democratic Party)

In another discussion forum on the topic regarding the announcement this past weekend, someone noted that Texas needs a strong corporate-influence-free Democratic party so that when the Republicans completely frack things up, Democrats can fix the damage with meaningful reforms.

Yes. And I'd like to be able to shit glazed doughnuts.

A short history lesson is in order. Did you know that the reason for John F. Kennedy's trip to Texas in the fall of 1963 was to mend fences between rival factions in the Texas Democratic Party? In fact, the conservative wing of the TDP has been in charge since Lloyd Bentsen defeated Ralph Yarborough for Senate in 1970. Don't believe me? Would you believe Wikipedia?

The campaign came in the wake of Yarborough's politically hazardous votes in favor of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and his opposition to the Vietnam War. Bentsen made Yarborough's opposition to the war a major issue. His television advertising featured video images of rioting in the streets at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, implying that Yarborough was associated with the rioters. While this strategy was successful in defeating Yarborough, it caused long-term damage to Bentsen's relationship with liberals in his party.

Bentsen's campaign and his reputation as a conservative Democrat served to alienate him not only from supporters of Ralph Yarborough, but from prominent national liberals, as well. Indeed, during the 1970 Senate race, the Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith endorsed George Bush, arguing that if Bentsen were elected to the Senate, he would invariably become the face of a new, more conservative Texas Democratic Party and that the long-term interests of Texas liberalism demanded Bentsen's defeat.

In the forty-plus years since that election, Texas Democratic voters became Reagan Democrats, then Republicans, and now TeaBaggers. (Really though, I'm just describing my dad, a union man who voted D all his life, until 1980).

We've had well over a decade of 100% GOP rule at the state level, including all nine seats on the state Supreme Court. As a result of last November's Red Tea Tide, Republicans hold a super-majority in the statehouse, and are one vote shy of holding one in the state Senate. Since 1994: Ann Richards to W to Rick Perry. Dems held the Texas House in the '90's but it slipped to the R's in 2003 (Tom Craddick was the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction). In 2006 and 2008 we slowed their roll in the legislative chambers, but that was all undone in 2010.

Pete Laney was the last Democratic speaker; Bob Bullock was the last statewide Democratic office-holder. You may recall he endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2000.

Now of course that's just elected officials. Most Texans couldn't care less about internal party politics, Democratic or Republick. They don't know the players; they don't even know the game(s). So once again, a little history.

Opinions on Boyd Richie's greatest claim to success during his tenure will certainly differ. Mine: he got those wiretappers at AT&T to sponsor a couple of TDP conventions. I have a nice canvas totebag to prove it. Do you know who occupied the chair before him? Charles Soechting. Before that? Molly Beth Malcolm. Before that? Bill White.

That's fifteen years' worth. See anything slightly progressive there? Now keep in mind, just in the past few years delegates did have progressive options. They -- we -- could have chosen Glen Maxey. Or David Van Os.

You may be one of the people who knew all this history. You may even recall that Soechting resigned a few months before the end of his term specifically to keep Maxey from getting elected. Me, I had forgotten that.

One other thing: the absolute irrelevance of the party chairmanship -- more broadly the serious and severe internal squabbling that seems to dominate party politics -- has not prevented one political party in Texas from dominating state politics. The Dems did so for decades before the Republicans. The RPT, of course, is rife with its own dissension (see: TeaBaggers), which again isn't hurting their franchise at all.

There's a painfully obvious point of which even the most casual observer is aware, and it is that this intensifying Texas conservatism is a generational trend and it just ain't a-changin' in my lifetime, and maybe not in your children's lifetime either. Maybe a more progressive option on the ballot -- specifically,  the Texas Green Party -- can begin to influence the Texas Dems to pull back from their starboard veer, but I'm not holding my breath on that.

So, as with Obama and his re-election campaign, I wish the gentlemen well who are running for the state chair of the TDP in 2012. But it's not like any one of them will be able to make a noticeable difference in the status quo.

This is a convenient and workable excuse for Boyd Richie's incompetence, in case you were wondering.

Why, if we hadn't elected Obama ...

... we might have had a president who refused to roll back taxes on the wealthy, who refused to establish a windfall profits tax on oil companies, who refused to investigate activities carried out by telecom companies who illegally helped the government tap our phones, and who continued to tap phones without a warrant, who would have turned his back on Miranda, who would refuse to investigate any of the Bush Administration lies, incompetence, corruption or torture, who would support anti-democratic, murderous coup regimes in Central America, who might refuse to restore habeas corpus, who would have left Guantanamo open indefinitely and maintain that its inmates had no rights at all, who might have continued extraordinary rendition and torture, who might have fought to keep Dick Cheney's remarks to Plame investigators secret, who would have done nothing of substance to rein in Wall Street, who would have continued to issue signing statements, who might have continued to delay investigations of CIA torture and even investigate those who protest that torture, who would have traded away the public option even while saying he was in favor of it, who would have expanded the war in Afghanistan, who would have opened "vast expanses" of Atlantic seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, who would have 'put politics before science' and at first minimized the BP oil spill and then might have claimed that there was practically no oil left and that "the microbes ate it!", who might have continually filed briefs in favor of large corporate polluters, who might have even been in favor of whale hunting, who might have used cluster bombs on civilians in Yemen, who might have refused to investigate Bush's political firings of US attorneys, why we might even have a president who would appoint a bunch of right wing psychopaths to the Commission of Fiscal Responsibility and try to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and middle class while allowing Wall Street banks, the filthy rich and military corporations to continue plundering our economy, or who might try to institute policies which would effectively shut down the internet.

But wait…no. That's what Obama actually did do.

You in? Or out?

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance wants to know if you remember that time Planned Parenthood crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401Ks and took TARP money? Yeah, us neither. We would also like to remind you that we never shut down -- never even threaten to shut down -- as we once again bring you this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff discusses the bet the Republicans have made about how the voters will react to deep cuts to public education.

At TexasKaos, Lightseeker warns Don't Buy Into the Lie - Help Spread the Truth About the Fiscal Mess! Updated with video! Check it out - be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

From Bay Area Houston: Unlike the GOP, which believes the solution to teen pregnancy is duct tape and a $50,000 speaking engagement by Bristol Palin, Planned Parenthood actually provides education services, family planning services, and low cost birth control.

Barack Obama asked the question "Are You In?" last week, and PDiddie at Brains and Eggs decided he wasn't.

Texas has a revenue problem that's so bad even the GOP is starting to realize it. WCNews at Eye On Williamson posted about that: Texas GOP tax talk getting louder.

The Texas Cloverleaf looks at the potential, and potentially wacky, new districts in which Denton County might end up.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes that Republicans want to stop you from voting, kill public education and control women's uteri. Did you see anything about creating jobs, except for the special uterus police?

More bad news for fracking from Public Citizen's Texas Vox blog, as they report that the House Appropriation will discuss on Thursday the tax exemption for "high cost" wells, valued at several billion dollars that should be going to schools and health care. As fate would have it, they had already planned to join a press conference that morning led by TPA's own TXSharon on the health impacts of fracking -- click for details!

Neil at Texas Liberal noted that while it is great for Houston Mayor Annise Parker that she raised $1 million for her re-election campaign in a single night, this fact is much less relevant to a public that finds little to care about in a municipal political atmosphere nearly devoid of grassroots enthusiasm.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Today's SDEC meeting in Austin *update: Richie won't run again

Breaking, 1:00 p.m.: Boyd Richie has announced that he will not run for re-election to the post of chair of the Texas Democratic Party in 2012. Burnt Orange Report is live-blogging the conclave.


Occurring as this is posted. The following was submitted by my Senate District Executive Committee representative, J.R. Behrman.


The April 9 meeting will pit the SDEC against the staff employed by the Texas Trust from the staff of Congressman Martin Frost -- the “Little Office” in Austin. That staff is desperately seeking to defeat motions to be made by Don Bankston of  Fort Bend County to support a bizarre theory of “singular authority” vested in the Texas Democratic Party chairman, and to re-elect Boyd Richie for State Chair despite his manifest unfitness and failure.

He had not planned to run in 2012. But, he and his entourage of “Senate Pages” have nobody but each other to turn to. We really cannot afford either half of that vain and unproductive symbiosis.

The staff and the “Palace Guard” -- together comprising the “Speaker’s Claque” -- are already “whipping” the SDEC, defaming Don Bankston, and threatening personal retaliation against each and every one of you. That is the way they operate. Since I am already on the hit list, I don’t care about the smear campaign so much as by what it reveals about a profoundly dysfunctional and failed state party.

The Obama campaign will bypass state parties altogether. They will use the new DNC chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, passed over for the DCCC, to raise money in Texas and spend it elsewhere. We desperately need a new business model at the state and county level, but there is not a hint of such a thing from the Little Office in Austin.

In any case the state party establishment, which bet on John Edwards this time four years ago and Martin Frost to become DNC chair in recent weeks as well as de facto state chair through his protege, Matt Angle, will fare even worse in fratricidal fund-raising from “large donors” in the future.

That leaves the state and county party fighting over the last rich, bored trial-lawyer standing – a horrible business model, but the only one we have today.

Our party does not have personnel problems unless we create them, which we now have by not disclosing material conflicts of interest. Still, that just aggravates the profound financial problems that will not be solved by “keeping on, keeping on” with old or new staff.

Given the size of this state, our lack and ignorance of the scalable technologies that the Obama campaign will use nationwide, and the profound dysfunction of the state and several urban county parties, it is hard to blame the boys in Chicago. They have little regard for cornpone Southern Democratic parties run by “doctors, lawyers, and preachers” for their own benefit, what I call “The Grisham Novel”.

Democrats in Northern states, with real unions and well-funded public schools and services, are fighting against a neo-Confederate GOP. They do not have much use for a state party that nurtures “Blue Dog” collaborators and defectors. So ... we are on our own here.

The Democratic Party establishment in Texas and Harris County are artifacts of a bi-partisan concession-tending regime that lasted statewide from 1824 to 1994 and persists on City Council to this day. This establishment lacks proficiency and purpose – now that tort reform is a done deal and they have no alternative to debt-driven fiscal austerity at every echelon of government.

So the prospects for winning statewide, countywide, and even citywide elections in 2011-12 are not good. There have been essentially no lessons learned from victories in 2008 or losses in 2010. “Wave Election!” is an excuse, not an analysis or a plan. The same consultants will be doing the same thing with the same tools but without the benefit of an Obama primary campaign here in Texas next year.

Apart from dismay at the effects of national, state, county, and city austerity, there will be little motivation and no money trickling down from national politics unless and until we turn things around here on the ground ... dramatically. The patronage-oriented base vote will be no  better than 2010 and the (2008-vintage) “new base vote” will be hard to motivate, locate, or mobilize. It is true that on the margin there is still some 'bloc voting' by various interest groups. But that is not the way the politics of age, ethnicity, class, and gender work in “majority-minority” counties like Harris, for one. So we are going to have to adopt Obama-type political methods and messages if we expect results like 2008.

And if we should overcome our perverse heritage and technical deficiencies, as well as the dead hand of the TDP, DNC, and DCCC, we could join California -- even Illinois -- in re-electing Barack Obama, in re-electing those elected county-wide in 2008, and in electing future national and statewide office-holders.

Which brings me back to today.

The State Chair and the party staff will try to waste time and suppress debate on virtually everything using parliamentary tactics or just jargon and making utterly bogus legal-sounding arguments. My district includes parts of Fort Bend County, and you can bet I will support Don Bankston, less for what he has done -- avoiding Bexar County-type problems, for one -- than for what he and others in the county are doing.

The Speaker’s Claque and our Local Chapter of the DCCC use the term “conversation” to indicate that they will engage grass-roots Democrats as adversaries, not as the source of their own legitimacy and Blazing Saddles jobs. A one-sided “conversation” is what President Obama has with the truculent and juvenile GOP in Congress. It is not the way to handle internal party communications.

I hope SDEC members meeting in plenary session today can be relied upon to discharge their responsibilities to those who put them on the executive committee as their representatives, not as sycophants or suck-ups. We need wholesome and fair deliberation of a slew of important questions.

There are certainly two sides to the questions raised by Don Bankston. But there should be only one side to the question of their right and responsibility to fairly deliberate any important matter. SDEC members should vote to include serious matters -- not just long-winded harangues and busy-work reports-- in the order of business. I hope my colleagues will join me in voting, in particular, against attempts to suppress debate with parliamentary jargon.

But if the Chairman insists on turning a motion to appeal the ruling of the chair into a vote of no confidence backed by his threat to resign ... well, I can live with Lenora Sorola-Pohlman for the balance of this term.

It is hard to imagine a course of action less delusional and impractical than what the Little Office in Austin is doing today. They will whine about the “circular firing-squad”. But then they will volley-fire into the backsides of an SDEC which breaks and runs at the least prospect of serious debate.

Texas Democratic voters are looking for responsibility and leadership, not cowardice or sycophancy.

Unplanned, unwarranted, unbelievable

I don't agree with everything this toon portrays; I just don't think Boehner is all that bothered by being manipulated in this fashion. Nor does most of the rest of the Republican party, for that matter.

Oh sure, there are exceptions -- even in Texas, like Bob Deuell and Jane Nelson -- but generally the GOP is more like Mike Pence and Jon Kyl: they want to force women to bear children and then starve both mother and child to death. They don't want to pay for their medicine and they damn sure don't want to pay for their education. And they will tell any lie they can think of to advance their cause.

But hey, elections have consequences. When we elect weak-ass conservative Democrats to negotiate with terrorists (declaring the resolution of the budget stalemate last night  a victory, for example), we can't be too shocked about the outcome.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Texas Medicaid cuts will result in thousands of job losses and pharmacy closures

The Texas Legislature's intention to cut the state's share of Medicaid expenses will -- as with every other measure they are considering to fill a $27 billion hole without raising taxes -- result in thousands of lost jobs. It will also result in the closure of many (mostly rural) pharmacies across the state, limiting access to medications for everyone. From Pharmacy Choice and Access Now's press release:

Lawmakers are planning to introduce a large, bureaucratic middleman known as a “Pharmacy Benefit Manager” to administer 80 percent of Medicaid’s prescription drugs through a restricted managed network. In addition, they are proposing extreme cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates paid to pharmacies. These cuts would take the form of significant reductions to dispensing fees, which are used to cover the overhead of pharmacies already operating on razor-thin margins. Without open access networks and adequate reimbursement levels as the cornerstones of Texas' pharmacy Medicaid program, community pharmacies could find themselves no longer able to serve Medicaid patients or even to stay in business.

Faced with a grave budget scenario, rising numbers of Medicaid patients, and the always-increasing costs of medicine, Texas Republicans are squeezed in a vise of their own making. And when they close and bar the door to any tax increases or revenue enhancements, that leaves only one bad choice.

Dr. Ray Perryman has an executive summary (.pdf) focusing on the economic implications of the proposed legislation. It lays out three scenarios based on various cost-reduction proposals. Each scenario shows that a large numbers of community-based pharmacies will be forced to close, consequently leading to decreased access to service not just for Medicaid patients, but for all those needing medicine.

"While it is easy to claim superficial efficiencies now, our analysis indicates that this proposal will ultimately hurt patients, taxpayers, community pharmacies and, ultimately, the economy of Texas."

"If these proposals become law, our state’s neediest patients will not be able to get their medications from their local pharmacy -- from the people they know and trust,” explained Tammy Gray, owner of Buda Drugstore and PCAN spokesperson. “Local pharmacies have been the cornerstone of communities for generations, and local pharmacists know their customers the best. We can’t let bureaucracy get in the way of patient care. And this isn’t just about Medicaid recipients. If the local pharmacy shuts down, it will impact the entire community."

Dr. Perryman's analysis found that the economic impact was severe: the worst case scenario estimated $4.7 billion in lost revenues and over 64,000 permanent job losses if dispensing fees and Medicaid 'carve-in' proposals are adopted.

"This proposal is being falsely promoted as a cost-saving measure, yet as presently structured, it represents a new bureaucratic layer that will mean duplicated efforts and actually increase costs,” said Dr. Perryman.

Even a Republican objects.

Rep. Fred Brown (R-College Station) echoed concerns that the cuts are too drastic and will hurt patient access and harm the local and state economies.

"The Texas legislature should reject short-sighted proposals that will reduce patients’ access to prescription drugs and will increase costs long-term when access to Medicaid services is restricted,” said Rep. Brown. "Current proposals to move Medicaid to pharmacy benefit managers unnecessarily adds waste and bureaucracy. We already have a Medicaid pharmacy vendor program that works. The pharmacy benefit managers and their allies, the big pharmaceutical companies, have a long history of acting against the best interests of the State of Texas. Since 2000, the Texas Attorney General has sued “big pharma” for overcharges in Medicaid, for over $420 million. We've had a hard time keeping them out of the state's cookie jar, and now we're just going to hand it to them? Texans deserve better."

Contact your elected officials and tell them that cuts to Medicaid are unacceptable.

(cross-posted at PCAN)

Not In.

Jon Stewart speaks for me.

Mark Morford also. The first part, anyway.

And suddenly we come to the crux of the problem: What shall we do about Barack in 2012? Have you heard this question recently? Have you felt its icy breath on your neck, its uncomfortable presence in your day, your heart, your daily media grind? I bet you have. Right now, it looms bright and large. For our fair president has just announced, via slick email/tweet/video clip showing all sorts of dorky postcard Americana -- red barns, fluttery flags, babies on a stick, $9 coffee drinks -- that he is officially running for re-election. Yes, already. This is apparently now how it works in American politics: You are allowed no more than 2.4 years of impossibly difficult service as redeemer president, shouldering the overwhelming burden of failure foisted on you by your pathetic predecessor, before you have to start fundraising, glad-handing and talking wistfully about your Kenyan father all over again.

He turns on those of us wallowing in our ennui in a hurry after that.

In short, Obama has failed. He has not at all been the delicious chocolatey superjesus of radical sociopolitical transformation most on the hard left hoped, prayed and sacrificed precious Prius bumper ad space he would be. Hence, the conundrum. Given all this mealy disappointment, how now to best rally the troops and get out the vote in 2012 with anything resembling the passion and fervor of 2008, so as to defy any further sickening GOP onslaught? How to champion a guy who has been such a general liberal letdown ...?

My excerpting greatly mimimizes the flagellation Morford administers to progressives here. His point -- which is sharp and sticky also -- is that Obama's shortcomings pale like a Teabagger's springtime shins compared to his potential rivals ...

The solution to this conundrum is actually very easy. If you're unsure of Obama because he's been less the demigod superhero studbunny you hoped for, well, you have but to merely glance at the competition. Across the board and down the line, the GOP contenders for 2012 so far are laughingstocks and charlatans, complete caricatures of actual humans with brains. The Palins and the Bachmans, the Huckabees and the Newts, the Trumps and the Romneys -- it's all birthers and paranoids, adulterous slugs and ditzball sociopaths, fringers and terrified Mormons, a bloody madhouse clown car of cutesy whiffleball glop. I can hardly wait for the debates.

Yep; it's probably the biggest bunch of jokes and losers ever assembled by the GOP. And that alone is an amazing accomplishment. But back to Morford and his beatdown.

So while libs can whine all they want about Obama's imperfections and so-called failures, the instant you turn it all around and look at the alternatives, and then hitch them to the current GOP-led House's plans to gut the budget and spew hate on women and gays, the arts and the poor, promote Islamophobia and kowtow to the rich, well, suddenly Obama shines all over again like the gleaming savior we all want him to be. Suddenly all the complaining turns into nitpicking. Suddenly that vague dissatisfaction is instantly overshadowed by this shuddering, sour tang deep in the gut that just about screams OMFG, thank God Obama's there, how much worse off we'd be without him, how much good he's actually accomplished, how blessed his articulate intelligence, how proud we are every time he travels abroad -- please, please, please don't ever leave and sorry we complained in the first place and oh my God please don't leave.

Yes, it's moral and political relativism, writ large. Who cares? What else could it ever be?

So count your presidential blessings, libs, for while they may be tattered and rashy and often pinch and ride up, they are, on the whole, still plentiful and hugely impressive and just shockingly better than any alternative you can name, much less vote for. And you know it.

But see, Mark, all of those libs who worked so hard four years ago for the hope and change on the come just aren't going to buy in this go-round. That leaves a whole lot of other people to make the calls and walk the blocks and knock the doors. The disillusionment is compounded in Texas; we'll likely have a Democratic nominee for Senator to the right of West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Nebraska's Ben Nelson (which is light years better than a Republican to the right of John Cornyn and Rand Paul, but that's still a Hobson's choice). In Houston, our mayor's up for re-election too, and she thinks she has to do the same thing as Obama: appeal to conservatives.

The difference between Obama's base in 2012, and those who rearranged their lives to get him elected in 2008, it would appear, is the people who will vote for him because he seems honest and well-meaning most of the time and he doesn't embarrass us when he goes to other nations.

The original base was folks who opened their homes to Obama staff volunteers, made calls, gave financially out of family funds that were tight even then. People who had community meetings in their homes, proudly displayed Obama shirts and stickers, and gave more than they ever had to a candidate. There were the peace advocates who were desperate to have someone in the White House who would stop the Iraq war and close the illegal prisons and torture chambers.

And then there were those who felt strongly that the * Administration should be examined and held accountable for war crimes and crimes against our Constitution. Or just ending the warrantless wiretapping, for one small thing.

The dirty effing hippies. Or the effing retards, as Rahm Emanuel said. The "professional left", as Robert Gibbs noted.

I wish Obama well with his re-election campaign. Despite the efforts of the Republicans and the Teas, a lot has changed, but then... a lot has stayed the same.

(All of this will be to the benefit of the Texas Greens, on the ballot top to bottom for the first time in many years, and will perhaps pull the Texas Democratic Party back from its rightward tilt. Maybe. Eventually.)

Having said all that, I'm out on choosing the least worst of two options. Which is why I'm not in.

Update: Paul Krugman is perplexed.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance would have voted against HB1 as well. Here's this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff notes that when one Bradley goes away, another one gets nominated.

Three Wise Men examines the possibility of a federal government shutdown and what Republicans are doing with the budget in Texas.

Musings rounds up news on teacher layoffs across Texas.

Presenting the comedy gold of the Honorable Anthony Weiner of The Bronx, NY, now showing for a limited time at Brains and Eggs.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme says you just have to read the paper to see how Republicans are destroying every thing and everybody they can.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson says It’s time for the left to join the class war.

At TexasKaos, more on Rick Perry's assault on our beloved state. See GOP Robs Texas of its Future. If this doesn't make clear what Perry is doing, Texans will never get it.

Marking the 43rd anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Neil at Texas Liberal reposted his 2011 MLK Reading & Reference List. Every day is the right day to be hopeful. Study MLK's life and make the decsion to take action for a better America. Nobody will do the work of freedom and democracy for you.

Who would have guessed that the biggest problem we have in the US is that taxes are too low? Turns out, McBlogger says, that's THE problem ... not spending.

After a weekend of masochistically watching the House debate the state budget, TexasVox pointed out several billion dollars in untapped and environmentally friendly revenue that we've left on the table, while the natural gas industry whines that without their corporate welfare check they'll have to move more of their drilling operations out of state to other states like Pennsylvania. Awww, poor babies.

Bad news: Texas GOP passes their budget

And it's as harsh as everyone has been warning.

The Texas House started with a $164.5 billion budget and ended with the same total. But lawmakers spent the better part of a weekend making changes inside the budget for 2012-13 before giving it their approval on a largely party-line vote of 98 to 49 late Sunday night.

The debate began first thing Friday morning, carried into the first hour of Saturday and then resumed late Sunday afternoon. The essentials remained the same, with an overall plan that's 12.3 percent smaller than the current budget; leaves public education and health and human services spending short of what it would take to maintain current services, especially given population growth and inflation; and requires none of the remaining $6 billion in the state's Rainy Day Fund or any new taxes (though it does include $100 million in new fees).

That's a party line vote, with two exceptions: Republicans David Simpson of Longview and Aaron Pena of Turncoat voted against it (though there is some confusion about a couple of D's and R's who may -- "clerical errors" have been blamed -- switched sides on third reading).

The budget now heads to a Senate that's on track, at this midpoint, to spend more money — about $10 billion, for now — than the House. And the reconciliation of those two disparate notions of state government will frame what's left of the legislative session. If they can't find middle ground, it could go into overtime in special sessions after the regular session ends on Memorial Day.

That's a concise summary of the situation. The Texas House is much like the national one: full of conservative extremists who want to shrink government until it can fit inside a woman's uterus, as state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has noted. The Texas Senate in fact seems to be a bit more realistic about the money needed to run a halfway-decent state government. But only a bit.

For the Democrats, it was a way of disowning a Republican budget. For the Republicans, it was the difference between winning by a 2-to-1 margin and winning by near acclamation. That says something about how the state representatives see the political risks here: If they were worried about future general election contests against Democrats, Republicans would be breaking away from the pack as local politics required. Instead, they ignored the Democrats and stuck to voting in favor of cuts and against more spending.

Two votes broke the pattern. One would move $3.5 million from the Texas Commission on the Arts to the Department of Aging and Disability Services; it passed by just six votes, 67-61, with Pitts and former House Speaker Tom Craddick among those on the losing side. ...

Another would have moved $1.5 million from the governor's film and music marketing budget into state aid for libraries. It failed 79-55, with Pitts again on the losing side. Both of those votes broke the Republican-Democrat pattern that prevailed on most of the votes on budget amendments.

No extra money to speak of; just moving funds from one strapped state agency to another. The lesser of the greatest evil.

Conservatives successfully raided family planning funds in the budget, stripping money from those programs and sending it to others, including one for autism, another for mental health services for kids and yet another for trauma care. "We don't choose between good and bad," said Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center. "We choose between necessary and necessary." Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, was on the other side of that argument and started the nonvoting with this line: "I will not be caught trying to decide whether to fund child one or child two."

The debate on education issues lasted six hours. Members took money from the public school system for Texas prisons and put it into community colleges.

They turned back an attack on the Texas Education Agency that would have whacked its funding and cut the commissioner's salary to $50,000 from $186,000. "I don't know any of us that go home and say 'hip, hip hooray for the TEA,'" said Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, the author of that amendment. But after opposition from a fellow Republican, House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler of The Woodlands, the House voted to leave the agency alone. Another from Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston also fell short, after he expressed his vision for the agency as "one guy and one phone."

Oh, and some classy moves to placate the religious fundamentalists by the afore-mentioned Representative 'Christian'.

Before the House stopped early Saturday morning, members turned to a series of votes on controversial social and cultural issues. One debate started a buzz inside and outside the Capitol, when Christian proposed requiring "family and traditional values centers" at colleges and universities where any state money supports gender and sexuality centers or any "other center for students focused on gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, transgender, gender questioning, or any other gender identity issues." That was adopted, overwhelmingly, by a 110-24 margin.

The next debate was ugly, when Christian proposed requiring that colleges and universities getting state funds should make sure that at least 10 percent of their courses "provide instruction in Western Civilization." The line formed quickly at the back microphone, where members can question people who are at the chamber's front mike presenting legislation. Christian got flustered in his descriptions of what would and wouldn't qualify as Western studies. Asked by Rep. Borris Miles, D-Houston, whether that would include African-American or Asian-American studies, Christian suggested the first might belong in African studies. Miles, who is black, implored him, "Let's take this down, brother." But it went to a vote, with Christian and 26 fellow Republicans voting for it and 108 other House members voting it down.

This is what Texans voted for last November. Allegedly. But back to the financials.

"(This budget) lives within the available revenue that we have to work with," Pitts said, adding, "This budget is the result of the worst recession that anyone in this room has ever experienced."

That's horseshit, Jim. It lives within the structural deficit you Republicans created six five years ago when you slashed property taxes and replaced them with a business franchise tax that fell far short of your own projections -- as well as the projections that predicted the current $27 billion dollar shortfall.

You Republicans can't seem to govern worth a damn.

If budgets truly are moral documents, then the Texas GOP is surely going to hell for this one.