Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Orleans for (in-between) the holidays

The latest in a continuing series of Diddie travelogues.

For the past few years we have chosen to give ourselves as a Christmas present an out-of-town trip. It works well for us in contrarian fashion; we like to go when traffic and hotel room demand is light and no long lines for restaurants or excursions. Last year it was San Antone, this year we picked N'awlins as our end-of-the-year holiday vacay. We drove over last Tuesday, pausing in Lake Charles for lunch at Steamboat Bill's. I have somehow managed never to have stopped here even though its reputation is large, offline and on (Southern Living magazine and USA Today have raved about it in years past). It was as reputed: tasty, huge portions, inexpensive and fast -- off and back on I-10 in 40 minutes. I had a bowl of shrimp gumbo and some chicken strips but Madam Diddie splurged ahead of NOLA's gastronomia with a seafood platter of fried catfish, stuffed shrimp and crab, and about ten decent-sized fried shrimp.

Arriving in the Big Easy early -- around 3:30, we waited for our room at the Dauphine to be ready with a cocktail in May Baily's. From the site...

May Baily's Place, once one of the better known bordellos in the wildly infamous red-light district known as Storyville, now serves as our hotel bar. Our "Bordello" guest suite takes an appropriate featured place above May Baily's, and a red light still burns in the courtyard next to it as a testimony to its sordid history. Today guests are provided with a copy of the license issued to May in 1857, when sporting houses were legal in the Storyville district of New Orleans.

Dinner Tuesday was going to be oysters no matter what, and while we considered the Acme, we chose the less-popular-but-no-less spectacular Royal House Oyster Bar, and yours truly selected the baked ones three different ways: Rockefeller (topped with spinach sautéed with bacon and sambucca stuffing), Royale (shrimp, crawfish, and crabmeat stuffing), and Pepperoni (smoked chipotle peppers, green onions and parmesan cheese stuffing). The scrumptiousness defied description. The wife couldn't be convinced to sample those, or the bubbling char-broiled ones either, and had her usual dozen raw. Gumbo for me and shrimp bisque for her rounded out the light dining. A stroll down Rue de Bourbon and the expected chicanery and debauchery completed the evening and got us both in the proper festive attitude.

Breakfast, after bypassing the hotel's continental, was had at Cafe Fleur De Lis, based strictly on glowing online reviews and proximity to the Dauphine. I have always enjoyed ambling the Qwawtah in the early hours -- as in dawn, 6-8 a.m. -- when the drunks have laid it down, the early-risers like me are poking about, the working men and women are making deliveries, cleaning up from last night inside and out, and so on. We made our way back a different way, passing by the NOPD station on Royal Street and the upscale galleries and antique shops there, up to the Hotel Monteleone on the corner at Iberville Street. Since we have done all of the ghost and cemetery tours in prior visits, and also since my damned Meneire's-induced vertigo precludes any swamp boat rides or dinner cruises, we found two good options: Oak Alley Plantation for Wednesday and a Treme' walking tour for Thursday.

The antebellum period homes have entranced me ever since I first went through the Bishop's Palace, Ashton Villa, and the Menard home in Galveston, and going all the way back to the Mamie McFaddin Ward home in Beaumont. When we last visited Louisiana just a few years ago our itinerary then was Lafayette and Baton Rouge, where we toured Magnolia Mound. All of these come highly recommended if you like that sort of thing. (Probably nothing tops all the antebellum homes one can go through in Natchez MS, which we've also done, but that's another post.) Oak Alley has been the scene of a handful of movies but today is set up mostly for tours and special events like weddings and the like. The 200-year-old oaks that line the approach are the most magnificent I have ever seen. The grounds and home reflect the period: old Southern charm ... if you were Caucasian and wealthy, of course. There's a listing of the 100+ slaves who lived and worked on the plantation, their names, ages, and value recorded in a county archived tax disclosure filed in 1848.

Our fancy dinner Wednesday was one of the old-timers we had not yet been to: Arnaud's. I thought I was going to have the courtbouillon posted on the website as part of the Vermillion Reveillon Dinner menu, but when we were seated I was told that the prix-fixe had gone away after Christmas. Good news: it was replaced by a better and less expensive one. So we both had Shrimp Arnaud to appetize us; camarones frio doused in their renowned special remoulade. I picked the shrimp creole and Mrs. Diddie went for the pork tenderloin Robichaux, which was finished with a quick sear in the skillet to give it a little crunch on the edges. We closed with suitably decadent and diabetes-enhancing desserts: pecan pie a la mode (pecan praline ice cream) and profiterole, a pastry filled with vanilla ice cream and drenched in chocolate syrup. Hope my doctor isn't reading this.

Thursday I let the wife sleep in and wandered the Quarter before trucking back to the Dauphine for the complimentary breakfast (at least it was little healthier) and then we made Eat New Orleans for lunch (crawfish boulettes, butterbeans with shrimp, red beans and rice with sausage) before our Treme' tour.

It was really one of the best tours I have ever done, in NOLA or anywhere else. Our guide started us at the old J&M recording studio -- which is now, ridiculously enough, a washateria -- where proprietor Cosimo Matassa played host to the legends of the music of the time: Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Allen Toussaint, Jerry Lee Lewis, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Guitar Slim, and many more. From there we moved into the historic African-American neighborhood to the north of the French Quarter and the scene of the HBO series of the same name. The Treme' has been gentrified somewhat since the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina, but remains mostly a lower middle-class AA neighborhood and the center of the city's historical music and culture. Much of the early (as in pre-Civil War) struggles for civil rights were waged here, and after the Anglo-Americans took over from the French -- and before them, the Spanish -- in 1803, black people had quite obviously a much more miserable existence. Slave auction houses were prevalent, the War of 1812 where Andrew Jackson's ragtag bunch repelled British forces cemented the Americans' stranglehold on the port city, and Louisiana became a state of the Union later that year.

Things got no better until the Civil War of course, and even up to the 1960s, when the construction of Interstate 10 bisected the Treme' just as it did Old South Baton Rouge, and virtually everywhere else the highway was built in the cities -- right through the minority neighborhoods -- and the area continued to suffer the erosion of its culture and heritage. Post-Katrina, the neighborhood is getting some attention and investment to preserve its legacy. There's a wonderful African American Museum on Governor Nicholls Street, housed in Treme' Villa, one of the city's best examples of an authentic Creole mansion.

On our way back we went past Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop but were too tired to even stop for a drink, preferring a nap instead before dinner. We walked just a block away from the Dauphine to Louisiana Bistro, where the wife had a lip-smackingly delicious puppy drum and I finally had the elusive courtbouillion. Another really magnificent meal.

On the way back to Houston on Friday we stopped again in Lake Charles at the Isle of Capri so Mrs. Diddie and Mother Diddie could feed the slots. We all hit the buffet and I sacrificed, having a large salad, the only vegetables I consumed all week.

When we picked up the furkids at the PetsHotel, we got those looks that said, "You went to New Orleans and didn't bring us a doggy bag?!"

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More Dallas bath and toilet water headed for Houston

It has long been a joke to those who know where Houston gets its water: take a drink from a tap in Houston and say ‘thank you’ to your friends in Dallas for flushing their toilets and doing all the other things that create a city’s wastewater.

In fact, without the Dallas-Fort Worth wastewater, the drought may have nearly dried up the Trinity. Decades ago, that happened. But now, the Metroplex sends so much wastewater down the Trinity, even in the driest year in Texas, the river continues to flow. Which means the wastewater is far more concentrated.

The Trinity River Authority (TRA) said in a normal year, just one-eighth of the flow as it reaches Lake Livingston is Dallas-Fort Worth wastewater. But this summer, that wastewater accounted for one-half the flow.

Nevertheless, the plan to bring more of Dallas' delicious sewage to us surges ahead.

After decades of fits and starts, Houston is pushing forward with plans to move Trinity water nearly 30 miles to Lake Houston. The reservoir, located on the smaller San Jacinto River, fills the taps for millions of people in the region.

Planners say the Luce Bayou project, a nearly $300 million pipeline and canal, would provide water to the ever-swelling city and suburbs while helping with the area's planned conversion from groundwater. The newly adopted state water plan identifies it among the key strategies to slake the region's thirst in 2060.

Mmmmm. Pour me another glass. Of course it's not just the taste we'll have to acquire...

The project, they say, could invite too much growth, encourage more transfers from water-rich East Texas and damage native habitats along the Trinity and in the bay.

"This project is a game changer," said Brandt Mannchen, of the Sierra Club's Houston group. [...]

Critics say the state plan promotes more pumps, pipes, dams and canals ahead of saving existing water. Although the plan calls for 12 percent of the supply in 2060 to come from conservation, they say more could be done.

With Luce Bayou, "we will have capacity well into the future," said Jim Lester, a water policy expert at the Houston Advanced Research Center. "My fundamental problem with this is, we are doing so little on conservation."

The Sierra Club's Mannchen said the project continues an endless cycle of increasing water supply to meet growing demands. Eventually, Houston may be forced to go farther east to grab water from the Neches or Sabine, he said.

Another concern is the potential impact on one of the nation's most productive and commercially valuable bay and estuary systems.

Both the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers empty into Galveston Bay, but at different points. The bay's northernmost lobe likely will become saltier with less water from the Trinity, experts said.

Conservation? Rainwater capture and purification? No thanks. We'll just build another pipeline and drink Dallas' wastewater. And pay the city of Houston a hundred bucks a month for the privilege.

Oh well, maybe the radiation will kill us all quicker than we think, and we won't have to worry about these long-term projects.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Last Weekly Wrangle of 2011

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes everyone is enjoying their holiday as it brings you the last roundup of the year.

Last week's House Republican cave-in on the payroll tax cut extension is intertwined with the Keystone XL pipeline: both have to be decided upon again in 60 days. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs has some discussion about the implications.

Bay Area Houston thinks maybe Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg should resign.

Neil at Texas Liberal posted the Occupy Houston response to felony charges for some Occupy protestors who took part in civil disobedience at the port of Houston. This is a matter that should be of concern to all progressives, political advocacy groups, and civil libertarians.

Federal court judge Sam Sparks gave an early Christmas present to Texas microbreweries and their customers last week. Off the Kuff explains.

At TexasKaos, Lightseeker reports on the end of the year signs that the war on public education is reaching a critical juncture. Read his report: Public Education in the Crosshairs - Is This the End?

Texas Republicans disallow a crony capitalist tax break letting public schools keep money. CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme can tell it's election season. You know Republicans love their cronies and hate public education.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson says it's time for the people to be the focus of our politics and government, and we must start doing what's good for the people of Texas.

BossKitty at TruthHugger  is very pleased with Congressman Lloyd Doggett. The Texas Republicans are still trying to mess with Lloyd's district. Bosskitty shares an example of how Lloyd responded to an email concerning the HR 10 vote: UPDATE: Response to HR 10 Consequences

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Only Romney and Paul make VA primary ballot

One last bit of politics before Christmas.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have failed to qualify for Virginia's March 6 Republican primary, a setback in their bids for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Republican Party of Virginia announced the developments Friday and early Saturday, saying that the two have failed to submit the required 10,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

That Gingrich and Perry failed to get on the ballot in this state that votes on Super Tuesday underscored the difficulty that first-time national candidates — many with smaller campaign operations and less money — have in preparing for the long haul of the campaign.

It also illustrates the advantage held by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He's essentially been running for president for five years, and his team, smaller than in 2008 but larger than most of his 2012 opponents, has paid close attention to filing requirements in each state. He will appear on the Virginia ballot, along with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who also has run a national campaign before.

The significance of this development shouldn't be understated.

As mentioned here previously, the GOP primaries are apportioning delegates by percentage instead of winner-take-all until April 1. So theoretically the fight for the nomination could go on well into the summer -- though I doubt all the way to the convention. It might be the case usually that this would drain resources from the frontrunner(s), but Romney can self-fund and Paul's Army isn't close to maxing out.

With Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida on the calendar in January and Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, and Michigan in February -- and Washington state on the Saturday before Super Tuesday -- those trailing a field that looks increasingly like it will be led by Romney and Paul appear to have few opportunities to break through.

Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman have very narrow paths to victory left to them, and not just for the most obvious reasons (Reason #1. They're freaks and morons). A deck that once appeared stacked to the advantage of second-tier candidates now looks like it's against them.

Perry is particularly disadvantaged by the moving of the Texas primary from March to April due to the Texas attorney general's legal machinations. He would win it handily in either month, but April (even with him winning all the delegates) is probably too late to help him.

Barring anything more shocking than Dr. No being an embarrassingly obvious bigot, I see this as a two-horse race. How long do the Teas stay lined up with Paul -- or pull out and start clamoring for a third-party challenge -- is the last question left to answer.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The House Republican cave-in and Keystone XL

Part of the payroll tax cut extension deal (that the House GOP came to their senses on last night) is that Obama must fast-track the decision on the tar sands pipeline. It would be on the same deadline -- 60 days -- as the tax cut extension itself. The good news is that this gives the president a golden opportunity to kill Keystone XL. For now, and perhaps for good.

Which may be exactly what the GOP wants: a bat to beat Obama with in 2012 over the economy. But that apparently isn't going to work, either.

House Republicans keep trying to give President Obama a political black eye by wielding the 36-inch diameter Keystone XL pipeline as a cudgel just before Christmas.

Instead, they could end up severely maiming only themselves if they persist with end-of-year legislative theatrics at what some are referring to as the "Capitol Hill Playhouse" this week.

"It's quite a sandbox, isn't it?" Pat Parenteau, a Vermont Law School professor who specializes in Congress and environmental issues, told InsideClimate News. "I think their strategy has backfired and that they've roped themselves with this political gambit. This idea that you have to keep introducing ideology into every issue, that will be their undoing." [...]

This angle developed last week on 'Countdown', but the House GOP's Epic Fail Follies drowned it out.

(skip to the 2:20 mark if you don't need the background, current at the time of this video just to last week, with the Senate's passage of the payroll tax bill)

More on the scam that is Keystone XL with respect to jobs, where the refined oil is going, how it will raise oil prices on the world market AND avoid paying US taxes (bold emphasis is mine):

One of the most important facts that is missing in the national debate surrounding the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is this – Keystone XL will not bring any more oil into the United State for decades to come. Canada doesn’t have nearly enough oil to fill existing pipelines going to the United States. However, existing Canadian oil pipelines all go to the Midwest, where the only buyer for their crude is the United States. Keystone XL would divert Canadian oil from refineries in the Midwest to the Gulf Coast where it can be refined and exported. Many of these refineries are in free trade zones where they may be exported to the international buyers without paying U.S. taxes. And that is exactly what Valero, one of the largest potential buyers of Keystone XL's oil, has told its investors it will do. The idea that Keystone XL will improve U.S. oil supply is a documented scam being played on the American people by Big Oil and its friends in Washington DC.

Canada's excess pipeline capacity is well known. In a Department of Energy report evaluating Keystone XL's impacts on U.S. energy supply over the next twenty years, the agency found that it will take decades for Canada to produce enough oil to fill existing pipelines. On page 90, the report concludes that the United States will import the same amount of crude from Canada through 2030 whether or not Keystone XL is built.

From Canada's perspective, the problem with existing pipelines is they all end in the U.S. Midwest and only allow one buyer - the United States. As Canada's Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently said, "we export 97 percent of our energy to the U.S. and we would like to diversify that." However, the Canadian government has put the breaks on the two pipeline proposals to export tar sands through its provinces due to the need to take more time to listen to its own public's concerns about water and safety. Keystone XL would be Canada’s first step in diversifying its energy market. The pipeline would divert large volumes of Canadian oil from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast, where it would be available for the first time to buyers on the world market. To sweeten the deal, many of the refineries on the Gulf Coast happen to be located in foreign trade zones, where they can export Canadian oil to the world market without paying U.S. taxes.

Oil Change International investigated this issue in a report that found the Keystone XL pipeline was part of a larger strategy to sell increasing volumes of Canadian crude on the international diesel market.When Canadian regulators at the National Energy Board (NEB) considered the Keystone XL proposal in 2008, they asked TransCanada to justify another pipeline when there was already so much spare capacity. TransCanada conceded that Keystone XL would take oil from existing pipelines, increasing shipping costs. However, TransCanada argued that this cost would be more than offset as shifting Canadian oil from the Midwest to the Gulf would increase the price that Americans paid for Canadian oil by $3.9 billion.

So let's review: Keystone XL will raise oil prices, dodge paying taxes, create only a handful of temporary construction jobs and further destroy the environment. What's not to like (if you're a Republican)? If Obama can't win this debate with the GOP in the court of public opinion... well, he deserves to lose.

For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful that Keystone XL is not going to happen.

Look! The GOP finally found some voter fraud!

Unfortunately, they found it in the Indiana Secretary of State's office. Who happens to be a Republican.

Separately, (IN SOS Charlie) White still faces seven criminal felony charges, including three of them for voter fraud, related to the fact that he did not live at the address where he was registered to vote in the 2010 election. As he was not a properly registered Indiana voter, he was not eligible to be a candidate on the ballot, Rosenberg has ruled. Moreover, at the time of his election, White was a member of the Fishers Town Council --- a town in which he no longer lived since separating from his wife and moving out of her house, where he remained registered to vote, several years earlier. Democrats charge he retained his registration at the house so that he could continue to collect his salary as a Council Member.

Since divorcing his wife White had remarried and purchased a condominium in a different town, but claimed the reason he stayed registered at his former wife's house was because he had hoped to move back some day. The Indiana Recount Commission accepted that explanation. The Marion County Circuit judge, apparently, did not.

Earlier this week, in the criminal case, White also received bad news. according to the Indiana Star, "A Hamilton County judge Monday denied a motion by White to dismiss his felony charges, which were filed against him earlier this year. His criminal trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 30. Felons are ineligible to serve as Secretary of State." Merry Christmas, Mr. White.

And to all (Republicans who believe in the mythological Demon of Democratic voter fraud), a good night.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Two Christmas presents for the environment

Texas environmental regulators have rejected Valero Energy Corp.'s request for a tax break that cities, counties and school districts feared would lead to devastating cuts to their budgets.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality denied the request because the San Antonio-based oil giant could not show an environmental benefit at its six Texas refineries from the equipment at the center of its application for the tax break.

Texas law provides property tax exemptions for equipment that reduces pollution at the refinery. Valero, however, sought a tax break for hydrotreaters, which are used to produce low-sulfur fuels. In this case, the lower emissions come at the tailpipe.

If TCEQ had granted the exemption, Valero stood to gain up to $130 million a year in property tax relief from cities, counties and school districts, officials said. The company earned $1.2 billion in profits for the most recent quarter, its best quarterly results in four years.

"It's a nice Christmas gift to many cities, counties and school districts around the state that would have had to shell out millions to a rich oil company," said Matthew Tejada, executive director of Air Alliance Houston. "Justice and logic can still prevail in the state of Texas."

One more excerpt from that.

Hydrotreaters account for more than $1 billion of taxable property value in Harris County alone. That is nearly $7 million a year toward county services and about $2 million a year for the Houston Independent School District, according to the Harris County Appraisal District.

TCEQ is not renowned for doing the right thing in favor of our environment and against Big Oil, so they deserve credit here for a good call.

And there's this:

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced (yesterday) an important new rule that finally sets limits on mercury, arsenic, and other toxins released into our air. For 21 years, coal-fired power plants were allowed to unleash unlimited mercury and other toxic pollution, poisoning the air. Today’s rule requires power plants to update their pollution-control technology to keep 90 percent of mercury produced by burning coal from being released.

Click that link and read more about the health impact...

Mercury especially endangers children and pregnant women, damaging young brain development. But children in communities of color suffer most from a delay in cleaner air — African-American and Latino children are 60 percent more likely to have asthma attacks than whites. Nationwide, mercury pollution alone causes up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks annually, while coal power plants produce 2.5 pounds worth of airborne toxins for every American each year.

...and that the wailing about the lights going out from conservatives is, as usual, false:

Coal defenders like Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have rallied around inaccurate assertions that the EPA rule is a threat to electric reliability because they claim it will force many existing power plants to close. An Associated Press survey of power plants has debunked this claim. AP could not find a single plant operator that solely blamed EPA rules for a plant closure. Instead, it found the average age of plants that could be mothballed is 51 years. A number of utilities executives agree there will be little impact on reliability as the industry moves to meet new standards.

A very Merry Christmas to Texans' -- and Americans' -- lungs.

A third party you can disregard: Americans Elect

I opened a conversation last week about third-party candidates, and lately it seems that everyone else is catching on (and catching up). Today's lesson is that there is one third-party movement to be avoided, and it's Americans Elect. First, some background.

Americans Elect is a collection of Republicans, Democrats and independents who say they are frustrated with the polarization that has caused U.S. politics to seize up and are looking for a unity ticket that would help the political process run more smoothly and responsively.

“It’s going to happen,” said Mark McKinnon, the Austin-based strategist who crafted the George W. Bush message in 2000 and 2004, but backed Barack Obama in 2008. “The system is completely paralyzed, and people have lost confidence in all the institutions of government and the political parties. And things are getting worse.”

McKinnon also is one of the founders of No Labels, a centrist organization that seeks to nurture the “politics of problem solving” and to create space so lawmakers can work with counterparts across the aisle.

No surprise; they want good old Dr. No. (Everybody wants that racist gasbag, except for those Americans of all political persuasions with the slightest remaining sanity).

The name most frequently connected to a third-party presidential effort is no centrist: It’s Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas.

Paul insists he has no intention of running for president as a third-party candidate. Now seeking the Republican nomination, he was the Libertarian Party candidate in 1988.

Talking to Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week, however, he seemed to leave the door slightly ajar.

“I don’t like absolutes — I don’t like to say: ‘I absolutely will never do such and such’ — so I am just avoiding the absolute,” Paul said.

George Will ain't buyin' it -- and is scared shitless.

So, assume three things. That Obama is weaker in 2012 than he was when winning just 53 percent of the vote in 2008. That Paul could win between 5 percent and 7 percent of the vote nationally (much less than the 18 percent that a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed were prepared to vote for Paul as an independent). And that at least 80 percent of Paul’s votes would come at the expense of the Republican nominee.

That link is worth reading start to finish; however let's move past this digression to Paul and return to Americans Elect.

What Americans Elect has done is fashion a new twist to the quadrennial quest for a credible third-party contender. Instead of an outside party, it has crafted a parallel nominating process: a nonpartisan online convention. Anyone with a valid ID and an Internet hookup is eligible to become a “delegate,” and candidates can either register by completing a questionnaire or be drafted by popular support. Through a series of online ballots, the slate of contenders will be whittled down to six in April, and then to a single winner in June. In keeping with the group’s shibboleths, the nominee must tap a member of a different party as a running mate, forming a “unity ticket” that will occupy the chasm in the political center.

For a political start-up, Americans Elect has Establishment-grade cash and credentials. Its roster is dotted with veterans of Washington warfare, both Democrats and Republicans, who have grown weary of both parties’ penchant for pandering to their fringes. Schoen recently authored a column that cast Occupy Wall Street as a “radical” uprising that was “dangerously out of touch” with American values. Another adviser, Mark McKinnon, served as George W. Bush’s media strategist but declined to reprise the role in 2008 out of respect for Obama. Also on the group’s board are a battery of business executives; Dennis Blair, Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence; and Christine Todd Whitman, the moderate former Republican governor of New Jersey. A framed column by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, which predicted that the group would do to politics “what did to books,” hangs in the hallway of its airy 10th-floor suite, from which you can glimpse a sliver of the White House three blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue.

And there's the problem with AE: moneyed power brokers are behind the movement. And in the spirit of this cycle's Super PACs and Citizens United, you don't get to know who they are.

The dingbats behind “Americans Elect,” a shadowy centrist third-party effort to get an Internet petition onto actual presidential ballots, refuse to reveal who’s funding their efforts, because their donors are very worried that someone might call them dingbats.

That’s what reporters on an Americans Elect press call learned today, according to Dave Weigel. When Politico’s Ken Vogel began asking difficult questions about why the group hides its donors, a spokesperson said it was because of “fear of retribution.”

Americans Elect COO (and son of the group’s chairman) Elliot Ackerman explained what this “retribution” might look like:

But hang on: What sort of retribution were we talking about? “My father, Peter Ackerman,” offered the group’s COO Elliot Ackerman. “He’s been mischaracterized in the press frequently.”

Sragow wasn’t about to let this suggestion fly — this idea that working with AE wasn’t dangerous. “Don’t suggest that there is no retribution,” he said. “Nobody who’s spent 10 minutes in politics could think that.” He’d been vilified for participating in the group. He’d been attacked and insulted. “Fortunately, in this country, we don’t use molotov cocktails literally,” he said. “We use them figuratively.”

So! Random unknown billionaires will fix our politics by paying an unknown third-party candidate’s way onto our ballots, but we must never know who did this or why, because someone might “mischaracterize” them, with figurative Molotov cocktails. Yes, that makes perfect sense.

As with every other link here: follow it, read the whole thing, and follow the links there.

Now if this does sound like your bag, then just know that besides Ron Paul you'll likely have 'man of the people' choices like Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump to pick from.

The only way you'd be wasting your vote on a third-party candidate is if you paid any attention at all to whatever Americans Elect comes up with.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Something reeks in the Harris Co. DA's office

And no, it's not the immanent smell of spilled beer and cigarette smoke.

A prosecutor who last week refused to answer questions from a grand jury said Monday she is the target of political forces aligned against her and her boss, Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos.

"The fix is in," Rachel Palmer said from the witness stand. "It's really clear to anyone who is not already affected by bias."

Palmer asserted in a hastily called recusal hearing that state District Judge Susan Brown, her husband state District Judge Marc Brown and a special prosecutor appointed by the former were working together to unseat Lykos in a plot that has ensnared Palmer.

Parker Palmer appears to be something more than just a victim here IMHO. All of this grinning and smirking seems out of round.

Thursday's hearing was postponed until Monday when Palmer's attorneys moved to have Brown recused from the proceedings.

An administrative judge quickly appointed civil district judge Al Bennett to preside over a hearing on the request that is scheduled to continue early Tuesday.

In the wide-ranging motion, Palmer alleged a far-flung whisper campaign that included St. Martin's political support of one of Lykos's 2008 Republican primary opponents and interactions among Palmer, her politically active husband Don Hooper and the Browns.

"I'm afraid of Judge Brown," Palmer said on the stand.

Though in Palmer's defense, there is almost surely something fishy going on.

The man challenging Lycos in the Republican primary for district attorney happens to be married to the woman who performed the swearing-in of the grand jury forewoman (scroll about halfway down, and note that my style preference is to keep titles like these gender-specific) who wishes to compel Parker Palmer's testimony. And one of the special prosecutors appointed by Judge Brown at the grand jury's request, Stephen St. Martin, was a supporter of Lycos' challenger Kelly Siegler in 2008.

St. Martin donated a healthy $3,000 to Siegler’s campaign when she was fighting Lykos for the Republican nomination. Also, Lykos kicked him out of the Special Crimes Division of the DA’s Office, and then publicly snubbed him when the FBI gave him an award.

Talk about a bad Grisham novel. Sure, it's a stretch even for the conspiracy-inclined but if Big Jolly is scared, then you ought to be too. Unless you're not a Republican, in which case you need to go pop some more corn.

And just think: all this could have been avoided if Democrats had managed a few more votes for C.O. Bradford for DA in 2008.

Update: For those who have inquired... yes, that last was total sarcasm.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Paul Sadler to run for US Senate

Just two days after fellow Democrat Ric Sanchez dropped out of the race, state Rep. Paul Sadler of Henderson has filed to run for U.S. Senate. [...]

Two Democrats have filed: Sean Hubbard and Daniel Boone. But the big name until last week was Sanchez, a retired lieutenant general who once led U.S. forces in Iraq. His campaign never got traction. That and personal troubles — his home burned down over the Thanksgiving holiday — prompted him to get out.

Sadler, in a brief telephone interview, said he has been thinking about the race since Hutchison announced her decision. Sanchez's announcement last week tipped the scales, and he filed with the Texas Democratic Party this afternoon.

Sadler was elected to the House in 1990 and served through 2002, ending his tenure with three terms as chairman of the Public Education committee. While George W. Bush was governor, Sadler chaired the special committee that worked on the tax bill Bush proposed as a remedy for public education problems. He lost a runoff election in 2004 to Republican Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, in a race for the Texas Senate.

Sadler has a solid background in both business and politics.

Sadler is the Executive Director of The Wind Coalition. The Wind Coalition is a non-profit association formed to encourage the development of the vast wind energy resources of the south central United States. The Wind Coalition is active in two particular regions: ERCOT and SPP. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the electric transmission grid covering most of Texas. The Southwest Power Pool (SPP) grid covers all or parts of seven unique states: Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Louisiana. As the Executive Director, Paul is responsible for the policy and regulatory development concerning wind energy in eight states. [...]

(He) served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1991 - 2003. During his tenure in the Texas House of Representatives, he served on numerous committees including Education, Judiciary, Pensions and Investments, Health and Human Services, Calendars and was one of eight members designated to the Legislative Budget Board. His most significant committee work, however, was in the area of education. Sadler served on the House Public Education Committee from 1993 - 2003 (serving as Chairman of the committee from 1995 - 2003), chairman of the Select Committee on State Revenue and Public School Finance in 1997, and chairman of the Select Committee on Public School Employee Health Insurance in 2001. Paul was the only house member to serve as chair of more than one committee in the same session; he had dual chairmanships in two sessions in 1999 & 2001. His accomplishments include the re-write of the Education Code in 1995 (known as the 'Ratliff-Sadler Act'); enactment of public school employee health insurance for the first time in the history of the state; passage of a $3.8 billion education package, which at the time included the largest property tax cut in the history of the state; provided teacher pay raises for three consecutive sessions for the first time in the history of the state; established critical need programs for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten; the ninth grade initiative targeting students at risk of drop-out; and increased funding for public school facilities.

This part is interesting:

As then-Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry stated, "What the Legislature is all about (is) competing interests coming together and splitting differences. Unless it's education -- then you do everything that Paul wants." Sadler has received numerous awards for his legislative work. He was singled out by Texas Monthly during each of his legislative terms, being named to the Ten Best List in 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2001.

Here's more from Sadler on the prospects of wind energy. And here's more from him on the past legislative session's education woes. And here's what he said about working with George W. Bush when he was governor:

Long before Bush wrote his book (Decision Points), former state Rep. Paul Sadler wondered aloud how his friend would handle the consequential choices to come.

Sadler, an East Texas Democrat who worked with Bush on education, had an early impression of the governor's management style. As governor, Bush was particularly susceptible to a small coterie of advisers around him, what Sadler calls "the voices in the room.''

"He surrounds himself with people who were largely likeminded," Sadler said. "Look for the dominant personality in the room. He will trust that dominant personality." [...]

Sadler believes the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake, driven by a circle of single-minded advocates. And he said Bush, following Rove's hard-nose politics, abandoned his promise to stem the hyper-partisanship of Washington.

"The ultimate responsibility has to rest with him," Sadler said, but he wonders whether history - and the Bush legacy - might have been different had he been less susceptible to the dominant voices in the room.

"I still consider him a personal friend and I hesitate to criticize him," Sadler said. "But those of us who were friends and who are friends, over the years we have said many times, who hijacked our friend? Who hijacked him?"

Can't say I'm thrilled about the part in bold.

Sadler sounds like the perfect TDP establishment candidate: East Texas conservaDem, good record in the Lege (especially if you consider that part about the property tax reduction good), been in the renewable-energy business since losing his last election.

No excuse why he can't raise all the money he needs to win from the Texas Democratic lawyers, unlike Chris Bell and even Bill White. Right?

Update: The Chron has this...

"We have a reputation as a state for business. We have a senator who's good for business. It's time for us to have a senator that's good for the people of this state," Sadler said. "That's what I'm going to be doing."

Update II: From the end of the filing day yesterday comes word that Jason Gibson of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association and Eric Roberson, who ran previously for Congress in the 32nd District (Plano area) in 2008 and aborted a campaign for the statehouse in 2010, have also filed for this race.

Update III: Roberson clarifies that he is actually running for a seat on the Fifth District (Dallas) Court of Appeals, Place 11.

T'was the Week before Christmas Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance is all about the wassailing as it brings you this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff has a look at candidate filings in Harris County as of what was once the deadline date.

BossKitty at TruthHugger sees the grim side of a corporate-ruled America; the climate change controversy may be a conspiracy and we are the targets.

BlueBloggin notes that special interests are really not very special when they represent the mindless, dangerous attitudes of corporate extremists who don't want to be accountable for their actions. Let Me Sell you A Lie: EPA Consequences of HR 10 aka the REINS Act shows that corporations really do own America's lawmakers.

Bay Area Houston calls Rick Perry one rotten bastard.

Death sentences and the use of the death penalty are at a record low, mostly because of the corruption and injustice in our criminal justice system. It's led WCNews at Eye On Williamson to wonder: is the death penalty dying?

Third-party presidential candidates may make some noise and perhaps even some news in 2012, writes PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

At TexasKaos, Libby Shaw gives us the heads-up on the latest episode of Rick Perry, fraud and hypocrite. Check out Double Dipping Rick the Hypocrite.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes Greg Abbott asked the US Supreme Court to poop on Texas' politicians and voters. That's a Republican for you.

Neil at Texas Liberal wrote a post considering the life of the real St. Nicholas. Jolly old St. Nick was a foe of the death penalty who was said to have brought back to life children who had been cut up and were going to be pickled.

McBlogger takes on PolitiFact's pathetic attempt to beat up Congressman Lloyd Doggett.

Refinish69 from Doing My Part For The Left wonders Do They Know It's Christmas in Washington ... or anywhere else in the world.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Your Christmas gift is that there will be no more debates

Gingrich, Romney ready for Iowa sprint:

Given his likely strength in the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary, Romney may be able to survive a so-so finish in Iowa. It appears more important for Gingrich to win Iowa, or come close, and Thursday's two-hour televised debate in Sioux City probably helped his cause.

It wasn't so much that the former House speaker had a solid second hour after a somewhat shaky start. It's more that Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Texan, expressed his anti-war, anti-interventionist views so vehemently that he may have turned off mainstream Republicans who otherwise might have helped him to a surprising first-place finish.

My favorite line, from Dr. No ...

"Do terrorists go to Switzerland and Sweden to commit terrorism? No, we're bombing them."

He has been stealing this joke from Osama bin Laden for some time now. It's also not factual. Speaking of untruths:

"I balanced the budget for four straight years, paid off $405 billion in debt." -- Newt Gingrich

Gingrich was off on both claims concerning the budget. The budget was indeed balanced for four years, but it’s a stretch for him to take credit for more than two of those years (since he was no longer in Congress). As for paying off $405 billion in debt, the data we found shows the debt actually increased during Gingrich’s four-year tenure as speaker by more than $800 billion.

I think Mitt Romney has to be feeling a lot better about his prospects this morning.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Roundup of some highly readables

With a little extra downtime on my hands as a result of my stepmother's passing Tuesday, and with all arrangements completed and awaiting services and committal Saturday, here is some of what I am reading this morning to share with you.

-- Michael Li has everything you want to know with respect to the latest on the Supreme Court's Texas election clusterfudge. That's a good half-hour's worth alone.

-- Rahm Emanuel is a thug. And like my friend Neil, I hope Occupy takes over his town next May.

-- Seven Occupy the Port of Houston protestors were released yesterday after a judge ruled that an arm tube was insufficient evidence to represent a felony charge of using "anything" in the act of civil disobedience.

There is justice occasionally, and sometimes it is sweeter than a clementine.

-- Plumes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times worse than carbon dioxide, are streaming into the atmosphere as Arctic permafrost thaws. It's pretty much over for humans (and the rest of most living things) on this planet now. The only question left  is how much longer do we have.

-- Finally, in the context of a) not ending this post on a depressing note, and b) offering a bit of comedic value besides a toon, there is yet another GOP not-so-presidential debate tonight on Fox moderated by something called a Cavuto.

Hilarity should ensue. Seriously.

Update: Oh yeah, one more thing: There is Only One Issue in America, according to Steven Van Zandt. As a disciple, he is of course correct.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Third-party presidential candidate news

Because no one else will ever blog about it.

Glenn Beck, Joe Scarborough tout Ron Paul as third-party candidate:

Some conservative commentators are laying the groundwork for backing Texas congressman Ron Paul as a third party candidate if the Republicans nominate Newt Gingrich to face Democratic President Barack Obama. Even as many on the right warm to the liberty-loving lawmaker, more of the mainstream media is beginning to consider him a factor in the GOP primary battle already underway.

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and longtime Gingrich critic, today spoke favorably about a possible Paul general election candidacy as a reaction to “big government” conservative Gingrich. The co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program invoked the words of conservative radio show host Glenn Beck in welcoming a potential Paul insurgency in the 2012 general election.

“Yesterday, Glenn Beck said something that I guarantee you a lot of small-government conservatives, like me, have thought. And that is, if I have to choose between Barack Obama and Newt Gingrich, a guy that George Will said would have been a ‘marvelous Marxist’ and who is the opposite of being a small-government conservative — if Ron Paul’s running as a third-party candidate, I’m going to give him a long look. Because I can’t vote for the two guys who worship at the altar of big government in their own separate ways. And that’s the problem with a Newt Gingrich candidacy. He’s not a small government conservative.”

Really, it makes perfect sense. But Paul still has a shot at scrambling the GOP race if he wins Iowa. He trails Newt in the latest poll there by a single point.

Over the past week, Gingrich's 9-point lead has shrunk to a single point over the folksy Paul, according to Public Policy Poling.

Gingrich is clinging to a narrow 22% to 21% edge over Paul, with Mitt Romney at 16%, Michele Bachmann at 11%, Rick Perry at 9%, Rick Santorum at 8%, Jon Huntsman at 5%, and Gary Johnson at 1%.

Gingrich has dropped 5 points in the last week and he's also seen a significant decline in his favorability numbers.

Republican-leaning independents are going to need some place to go if Gingrich -- or for that matter, Paul -- should manage to capture the GOP nom.

But all that's hardly actual third-party news.

The Green Party's leading candidates for president, Kent Mesplay and Jill Stein, held a debate in California two weeks ago. Stein will appear at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a public interview with Matt Rothschild of The Progressive this Friday.

Harry Braun, running initially as a Democratic challenger to President Obama and now as an independent, has a campaign focusing on a democracy constitutional amendment that will in turn enable fossil and nuclear fuels to be replaced with wind and solar-based hydrogen systems "on a war-time speed" basis. He has a weekly radio show where he elaborates on these and other of his issues.

My thoughts on the ineptitude of continuing to support all of the candidates of the leftish member of the two-party duopoly were posted here last week. My argument in favor of third parties is: what have you got to lose? If you're a Republican and the party nominates someone you can't support, your vote for a third party candidate, be it Libertarian or Constitution or some other is a message to the GOP to shape up. Likewise -- and particularly since this is Texas, where your presidential vote isn't going to matter anyway -- you can send a message to the Democrats to get their shit together.

Go ahead and vote for the Republicans and/or Democrats (or Libs or Greens) down the ballot that you prefer. But until we get more choices everywhere, nothing meaningful is going to change.

Update: I wrote this post intending to include this news about Rocky Anderson.

A new political party has entered the fray as an alternative to Democrats and Republicans ahead of the 2012 elections. On Monday, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson announced he will run for president with the newly formed Justice Party. Although hailing from a solidly red state, Anderson has been known as one of the most progressive mayors of any major U.S. city in recent years. During his two mayoral terms from 2000 to 2008, Anderson was an outspoken champion of LGBT rights, environmental sustainability, and the antiwar movement in opposition to the Iraq War. Vowing to fight the influence of money over politics, Anderson kicked off his campaign on Monday with a pledge to limit individual donations to $100 a person. Anderson and the Justice Party say they hope to build a grassroots movement heading into the November 2012 elections. "We launched the Justice Party because the entire system is so corrupt," Anderson says. "It’s so diseased. We know that the public interest is not being served by anyone in the system right now, particularly the two dominant parties who have sustained this corrupt system and who are sustained by it."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Anti-incumbent fever sweeps out city hall

If voters were happy with (Houston's) mayor and current city council, they certainly didn't show it in runoff elections Saturday.

They threw out two incumbents by large margins and filled two other seats with men who had no government experience.

The results illustrate a continuation of a national trend of anger and frustration toward government during the worst economic stretch since the Great Depression, political observers said.

In short: Voters want change.

"A lot of people are angry at virtually all institutions and the government is high on their list," said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. "And these are the people in a low-turnout election that are most likely to show up because they are angry. They're agitated."

About 57,000 voters participated in the election, 6 percent of the 920,000 people registered to cast ballots in Houston.

Yeah, the 6% want change, all right, and they're turning out in record (low) numbers to elect the very worst people on the ballot. This crew has burned through several labels in the past few years -- angry white males, TeaBaggers -- but suffice it to say that they have more time on their hands than they do good sense.

And the lower the turnout, the more incumbents are endangered. Which is why the King Street/True the Vote vote-suppressing criminals are fully weaponized for 2012.

Councilwoman Jolanda Jones lost At-Large Position 5 by 8 percentage points, and councilwoman Brenda Stardig suffered a 10-point defeat in District A. In races to replace term-limited council members Jarvis Johnson and Sue Lovell, voters chose a restaurateur, Jerry Davis, over one of Johnson's aides, Alvin Byrd, and picked a pastor, Andrew Burks Jr., over a former state legislator, Kristi Thibaut. Davis will represent District B, Burks will take At-Large 2.

The results show clear opposition to the status quo, particularly following a general election in which Mayor Annise Parker and several council members narrowly avoided runoff elections, said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

"It's a strong repudiation of this administration -- not just the mayor, but the council," Stein said.

District A, which elected the city's first TeaBagger, has a 57% Hispanic population. Barely any of which can vote, or bothered to. Byrd and Thibaut weren't incumbent office-holders but suffered the same fate as Jones and Stardig because they were perceived by the slight majority of the 6% as such.

Even without a 600,000-vote suppression tool like the TXGOP's Voter/Photo ID bill, 2012 is shaping up as an absolutely brutal year for incumbents of both parties, and that includes candidates who resemble incumbents by virtue of their prior proximity to the corridors of power.

As we wait for the court to give us some extended filing deadlines, that's something else to think about for those considering running for any office ... in any party.

Update: Charles disagrees. At least until he gets his numbers, anyway.

Occupy the Port of Houston today

On Monday, December 12, Occupy Houston will be joining our brothers and sisters in the Occupy movement around the United States in a coordinated action targeting the nation’s ports. This event is an expression of solidarity with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and West Coast truck drivers who have come under attack this year, as well as a statement against the multinational conglomerates and their relentless campaign to outsource American jobs and undermine our economy in the pursuit of ever-widening profit margins. We will be joined here in Houston by hundreds of Occupiers and concerned citizens from all over the state, including Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth.

12:00 PM:    Meet up at Tranquility Park

1:00 – 3:00 PM:  Rally at POH Offices. we will be protesting outside the security perimeter where the Port of Houston Authority’s executive  offices are located, 111 East Loop. (77029)

4:00 – 6:00 PM:  Main Street March. From Tranquility Park on down the length of downtown Main Street in a visible display of support for  the West Coast Port Shutdown effort and the American working class.

Here is an approximate breakdown of the day’s lineup:

12:00 PM    Meet up at Tranquility Park to get the caravan ready
12:30 PM    Make our way over to the POH executive offices
(111 E. Loop, map link)
1:00 PM       Gather up at the gate and start protesting
2:30 PM       Start heading back to the cars
3:00 PM      Get back to Tranquility Park
4:00 PM      Head out for “Main Street March” during rush hour
6:00 PM      Wrap up the march in time for dinner and the 7PM General Assembly

Occupy. Magnify. Amplify. Solidify.

Update: 19 20 arrested at Port of Houston

Update II:

"We are here in solidarity with the West Coast port shutdowns, but we're not here to shut down the port," said Amy Price, an Occupy Houston protester. "We don't want the Houston port workers to lose money. We just want to cause enough havoc to draw a spotlight on what's going on with our port. And the way to do that, we think, is civil disobedience."

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance hasn't really started its Xmas shopping yet as it brings you this week's roundup.

SCOTUS has issued a stay and scrambled the 2012 elections again. Off the Kuff tries to make sense of it.

BossKitty at TruthHugger notes that it's business as usual for Texas politicians to tilt the voter tables in their favor by gerrymandering: US Supreme Court May Like New Texas Gerrymandering.

Occupy went to Washington and comes to Houston on Monday, December 12. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs follows along.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson points out that there's a corporate hand up the back of many GOP legislators in Texas: Texas GOP legislators are corporate puppets.

At TexasKaos Libby Shaw explans how the GOP is killing the U.S. economy and the American dream.

Neil at Texas Liberal made one post and then another detailing the recent trip of Green Houston City Council candidate Amy Price to Washington with Occupy Houston.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme calls out the US Supreme Court for the corrupt hijacking of the Texas elections.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Supreme clusterfudge

Only because I'm spending this weekend with my family am I substituting the 'candy' for the copulation. I expect to never again hear conservatives complain about "activist judges".

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an emergency challenge by Texas Republicans to judge-drawn maps that would govern next year’s state and federal elections.

The justices (Friday night) temporarily blocked a lower court order that put the maps in place. The high court said it will hear the case on an expedited basis, with arguments Jan. 9.

I'm not going to interrupt any more of a wonderful weekend watching my lovely niece the advertising model marry the man of her dreams (the former and still-occasional fiddle player for Pat Green) thinking about the Supreme Court's patently ridiculous, precedent-setting decision to give Greg Abbott a hearing on the Texas GOP's law-breaking maps. I'll instead direct to those who have already expressed some measure of surprise and caution.

Michael Li: SCOTUS stays interim maps

It is unclear for the moment what this means for Texas elections. For now, there are no legally enforceable maps for state house, senate, or congressional districts, but filing for other races continues with a December 15 deadline. It’s not clear though whether the primary will be moved or will be bifurcated as the State of Texas has suggested.

It’s also unclear what this means for candidates who have filed for office or resigned from office in anticipation of filing. Will candidates be entitled to their filing fees back? Will candidates who resigned from office under ‘resign to run’ laws be entitled to rescind their decisions?

The order also leaves party organization somewhat in confusion since parties organize conventions and select national delegates by state senate districts or congressional districts.

The process of redrawing precinct boundaries also presumably has come to a halt. At the same time, the current precinct lines no longer can be used since the state has new state board of education districts and, in many counties, new county commission district lines- some of which split precincts. Should counties draw new precinct lines taking into account those new districts and seek preclearance of those lines? Will they have to do it all over again once the legislative and congressional maps come to rest?

So in other words, a practical mess whatever the merits of the case.

Li also links to SCOTUSblog (the best read of the potential implications) and Election Law Blog for additional legal reaction. Excerpt from ELB:

Given what the Court did, with no stated dissents, it is not clear why this had to wait until Friday at 7 pm eastern to issue.

More importantly, it is also not clear what is supposed to happen now in Texas.  What districts can be used, if the districts crafted by the three-judge court are now “stayed pending further order of this Court?”

Off the Kuff: SCOTUS issues a stay

I have no freaking clue what comes next. Dozens of candidates have filed for offices, many of them have already raised and spent money, and they may wind up not being eligible for the district they have chosen to run for.

Burnt Orange Report: US Supreme Court Stays Congressional, Legislative Maps

And by "Texas" in that last paragraph, the AP means Attorney General Greg Abbott and hyper-partisan Republicans, whose argument can be summed up as "Waaaaaah!! The San Antonio courts didn't disenfranchise enough Democrats minority, young, and poor people! Antonin Scalia, fix it!" 

Greg's Opinion: SCOTUS Stays

I’m a bit surprised that we still don’t have a sense of what this does to filing periods. I’m assuming that there has to be an open window for filing after the Supreme Court has anything to say, but it seems that we’re in enough of an unknown that there’s just no telling. It’s entirely conceivable that the SCOTUS could go through all of this exercise and not change a thing about the map. In theory that might seem to allow for March primaries, but the absentee ballots can’t be printed until things are finalized (another domino). But even if nothing changes, would there still be a re-filing period? Considering that Thursday is the deadline for filing, that may make for some very awkward and tough decisions.

Letters from Texas: What Friday night's SCOTUS TX redistricting ruling means

Most of all, however, I think that politicos of both Parties and all ilk should follow this one simple instruction: chill out. Without a doubt, lawyers and judges will soon be holding telephonic hearings, during which clarifications will be given, guidance be shared, and more will be revealed. Until then, there is simply nothing anyone can do besides enjoy their weekend.

I have substantial concerns, as the SCOTUS blog link intimates above, that this Court wishes to make some new law, which may include emasculating federal judge panels from correcting wrongs written by hyper-partisan state legislatures, and maybe even take a stab at killing the Voting Rights Act altogether.

But I'm taking Harold's advice. As Scarlett O'Hara said, "I'm not going to think about that today right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow."

Update: From Republican attorney Robert Miller's blog ...

I believe it highly unlikely that the Supreme Court will simply affirm the interim maps after its January 9 oral arguments. At this point, it appears that a majority of the Supreme Court intends to invalidate some or all of the San Antonio court’s interim maps.

The Supreme Court may also examine whether Section 5 of the VRA remains constitutional. The State of Texas has hinted at possibly bringing a constitutional challenge to Section 5 on the grounds that it usurps Texas’ sovereignty over its election system. Many observers believe that a majority of the Supreme Court has been waiting for a case to declare Section 5 of the VRA unconstitutional, and this may be it.


Friday, December 09, 2011

David Stern really is trying to kill the NBA

Light posting continuing through the weekend as niece's wedding and associated family celebrations culminate. -Ed.

This development yesterday stunned even me, and I'm not all that stunnable any more.

In a spectacular and unprecedented turn of events, the Rockets went from a massive overhaul of their roster to a mountain of wrecked plans.

The Rockets had reached agreement on a three-team deal to get center Pau Gasol from the Lakers, sending top scorers Kevin Martin and Luis Scola to the Hornets.

Hours later, the trade that the three teams involved considered a done deal and had been the key to the Rockets' plans was torn apart when the NBA stepped in and killed it.

The league rescinded the deal, then disputed reports that it acted because of objections by NBA owners to having the NBA-owned Hornets send star New Orleans guard Chris Paul to the Lakers.

I was prepared to be as disappointed about the trade's implications for the Rockets as I was about all of the Astros' offseason machinations (read this for some good news on that front) but for Stern to take an action like this is astounding. Stern is essentially the owner of the Hornets franchise since the league assumed control of the team following its financial difficulties (related to the city of New Orleans' own fate). Former NBA player Dell Demps runs the team day-to-day as GM, and a deal for the Hornet's star Paul has been developing ever since the atrocious owners' lockout of players finally ended.

It's not as if Stern came back from a weeks-long vacation after having forced the NBAPA to kneel before him and find that his fellow greed-consumed billionaires had made a mess in the kitchen. In fact, after showing the usual iron-will solidarity management always musters when their opponent is labor, a bunch of crybabies complained about the big, bad Lakers getting all the puzzle pieces, and Stern caved to them.

If a good trade is, as the cliché goes, one in which everyone wins, David Stern stepped in and with one overbearing, heavy-handed swipe, turned the Rockets’ three-team deal Thursday into one in which everyone loses. [...]

In a statement, league spokesmen explained that Stern stepped in because the NBA owns the Hornets and the NBA killed the deal “for basketball reasons.”

This was as opposed to the explanation absolutely everyone else believed, that league owners did not want the team they own to help the Lakers by sending them Chris Paul with Dwight Howard likely to follow. The explanation seemed even more ridiculous when Yahoo Sports got a hold of an email Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sent to Stern. [...]

No matter what anyone thinks of how the deal would impact their team, killing it causes damage that starts with the trade and quickly spreads.

I'll let you click the links for the basketball implications. What I see is -- obviously -- more political.

David Stern got a lot of hosannahs from the exclusive club that employs him after he made the players knuckle under in the lockout. With some players going overseas -- and staying there, like Duke's Kyle Singler -- owners don't appear to see the long-term damage they did to their franchises in exchange for the short-term immediate profit. They are indeed counting on the fans to sulk and grumble for this season, maybe the next one, then forget all about the strife and come back, bringing their wallets with them.

While he may be right about that, the unintended consequence is that there will be a stronger market for professional basketball players outside the United States in the coming years. Purposely diminishing the value of the skill set in your labor force is a poor management strategy. Naturally Stern doesn't see it that way; he's got a gaggle of colicky one-tenth-of-one-percenters to coddle, after all. Damn the future, it's all about now. Sound like a familiar corporate refrain?

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and the Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak spent countless hours hammering out the deal, as they and GMs around the league had been given the clear understanding that Demps was fully authorized to do his job with the only stipulation that he not exceed the luxury tax line.

They were also never told that they had to make a deal that would appeal not only to the teams involved, but to the commissioner.

While Stern is in no way qualified to judge the quality of players or trades, he ought to be able to do better than this as commissioner. Instead, he hammered the league’s credibility, actually living up to the sort of doubts that drive the conspiracy theorists.

One can assume that (Rockets owner) Leslie Alexander and (Lakers owner) Jim Buss have been calling Stern and hitting him as hard as he smashed their trade. But they are badly outnumbered. And as wrongfully as they must feel that their employee mistreated their teams, he did not do anywhere near the damage as to the team the NBA owns.

And not that he gives a shit, but there can't be a single NBA player sending Stern so much as moldy fruitcake for Christmas, much less a card.

It would serve him justly if all of the European stars the league has recruited and signed over the past few seasons eventually went back home. And took more Americans with them. Read more about Singler's decision to play in Spain long-term and the way the NBA's rookie salary cap affects late first- and early second-round draftees, and you can see where the owners have screwed the pooch.

Stern needs to organize a winter bowling league with Kirk Kerkorian and "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap so they can swap stories and laugh their asses off.

Because he seems to be worthless for anything else.

Update: Rejected Chris Paul Trade Prompts Expletive-Laden Tirade By Enraged NBA Executive

Some took it as proof the system, even after a five-month lockout, is still flawed, while others simply called the league a "complete joke."

But nobody has been as blunt as one anonymous NBA executive, who was quoted at length in a report on Yahoo! Sports.

"We were all told by the league he was a tradeable player, and now they're saying that [Hornets general manager Dell Demps] doesn't have the authority to make the trade?" the unnamed executive told Adrian Wojnarowski. "Now they're saying that Dell is an idiot, that he can't do his job. [Expletive] this whole thing.

"David's drunk on power, and he doesn't give a [expletive] about the players, and he doesn't give a [expletive] about the hundreds of hours the teams put in to make that deal."

Update II:

Multiple sources are reporting that the Chris Paul trade is not dead and still being worked on, as the NBA attempts to save face following Thursday's trade veto by David Stern.

Stern is going to try to get the Rockets to give the Hornets both Courtney Lee and Patrick Patterson in an attempt to sell that Lamar Odom's age made the original deal bad. It's absurd, but that's how they'll try to package it. How this ends is anybody's guess, but we're leaning toward Paul becoming a Laker through an altered trade of some type. Sadly, if the Lakers add anything else to this deal we'd veto it from their perspective and they will too. The only thing that is certain is that we're all dumber for having gone through this episode.