Thursday, February 28, 2013

Something about power and corruption

Once more, a little collection of things I have read this week that deserve more than a Tweet, but for which I do not have time to write a full post.

So let me get this straight. President Obama is meeting with senior Congressional leaders to discuss sequestration on Friday, after the deadline has passed. Meanwhile, the Dow rallies and defense stocks, which are highly sensitive to government spending, are outperforming the market.

Is the market just conditioned to getting a last minute deal, just like what we saw during the 2011 debt ceiling impasse, or endless Eurozone summits over Greece in the same year?

What happens to equity prices if the cavalry doesn't arrive?

Ah, that would be 'crash', I believe.

-- The Supreme Court is poised to declare racism is over in America.

"There is an old disease, and that disease is cured," Bert Rein, the attorney leading the legal challenge to the Voting Rights Act—the landmark law intended to ensure all Americans can vote—told to the Supreme Court on Tuesday. "That problem is solved."

Rein represents Shelby County, Alabama, one of the jurisdictions covered by a key section of the Voting Rights Act called Section 5. Under Section 5, parts of the country with histories of discriminatory election practices have to ask for permission—or "preclearance," in legal terms—from the Justice Department before making any changes to their voting rules. But the South, where most of the covered jurisdictions are, has changed, Rein said, and the law, although once justified, is now unfair and unconstitutional. The five conservative justices on the Supreme Court seemed to agree. "The Marshall Plan was very good too," argued Justice Anthony Kennedy, "but times change."

There was also something Scalia said about the right to vote being an entitlement, and not a right. And then there's John Roberts, who has been shaping arguments against VRA since he was a pup (and Reagan was president).

Pre-clearance might just survive this challenge because of the egregiousness of Shelby, but it certainly won't last much longer. A case with enough merit for the conservatives on the Court to strike it down is all but inevitable. Democrats in state legislatures across the country would do well to begin considering what legal challenges to voting discrimination would look like in a post-Section 5 landscape. Kuffner has more.

-- Jack Lew got quietly confirmed as Treasury Secretary yesterday. A topic of somewhat under-the-radar discussion prior to his approval by the Senate were his large bonuses, one from Citigroup (which conservative media from the WSJ to assailed) and one from NYU. The bank bonus has been defended as SOP on Wall Street, as if that makes everything dandy.

I just can't be too enthusiastic about a fox of a different color pretending to guard the henhouse. Thank goodness for Elizabeth Warren. I'll bet those Republican senators who tried to block her as head of the CFPC wish now they had been unsuccessful.

"Any idea about when we're gonna arrive in the right direction?"

Update: Firedoglake has more.

-- Speaking of massive capitalist assholes, Jamie Dimon was in town yesterday to say thanks to the peasants who work for him, and some of the rich people who give him their money.

"We need a bankruptcy process that can take apart a big bank without taking down the economy. It's been done before," Dimon said in a phone interview before starting a four-city Texas bus tour. He was in Houston on Wednesday and goes to San Antonio on Thursday.

Some veterans of the financial services industry have called for dividing diversified global banks into separate commercial banking companies - those that take deposits and make loans - and investment banks that invest in companies and trade in derivatives that hedge risks. But Dimon argues against it.

"We don't speculate with depositors' money," Dimon said of JPMorgan Chase's derivatives activities.


Dimon, 56, repeatedly has said the United States needs large, diversified banking companies to help U.S. companies operate internationally with services that are efficient due to economies of scale.

"We have to compete globally," he said, citing larger, more consolidated banks in other parts of the world such as those in China. "They'd eat our lunch" if the large U.S. banks were broken into smaller companies, Dimon said. "We need global banks."

The day before yesterday, Dimon revealed his inner pig for a moment.

At JPMorgan Chase's annual investor day on Tuesday, CEO Jamie Dimon answered one analyst's question by saying, "That's why I'm richer than you." 

What do you suppose he meant by that?

-- And starring Bob Woodward as Derp Throat.

Woodward, who once upon a time went after presidents for breaking the law, finds himself in the comically hypocritical position of condemning Obama for not ignoring federal law. Woodward is shocked, shocked that a president isn't consolidating even more authority in the executive branch.

We have passed through the looking glass.

Update: Glenn Greenwald.

(H)ere is Bob Woodward, with one rant, expressing the core values of America's media class. The president is not constrained by law (contemptuously referred to as "this piece of paper"). He not only has the right but the duty to do anything - even if the law prohibits it - to project military force whenever he wants (even though the Constitution mandates as his prime duty not to Keep Us Safe but rather that he "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed" and thus must swear as his oath "to the best of [his] ability [to] preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States"). The US must act as empire, dominating the world with superior military force if it wants to stay safe. Any reduction in military spending and deployment will endanger us all.

It's to be expected that these authoritarian and militaristic values shape political leaders and their followers. That these values also shape the "watchdog" media class, as embodied by one of their "legends", explains much about US political culture generally.

Bob Woodward fulfills an important function. Just as Tim Russert was long held up as the scary bulldog questioner who proved the existence of an adversarial TV press while the reality was that, as Harper's Lewis Lapham famously put it, he maintained "the on-air persona of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter", the decades-old Woodward lore plays a critical role in maintaining the fiction of a watchdog press corps even though he is one of the most faithful servants of the war machine and the national security and surveillance states. Every once and awhile, the mask falls, and it's a good thing when it does.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Other views in SD-6 as EV concludes

-- The Chron's Allan Turner, quoting UH's Rice's Bob Stein.

"Substantively," said Rice University political science professor Robert Stein, "the two candidates, with minor exceptions, are in lockstep … Carol is a new-breed Latina. Sylvia is old school." 

Am I the only one who reads some condescension -- maybe even a little misogyny -- into that statement? Maybe it's just my residual sensitivity from Seth MacFarlane's Oscar night trainwreck. Leaving that bias out... WTF is a 'new-breed Latina' ?!

-- Charles reviews the battlefield and tips some disgust with the volume of commercials on his teevee.

I for one will be glad when all of the nasty ads are done running on TV, in particular all the ads during basketball games on ESPN and CSN Houston. That’s the problem with live sporting events, you can’t zap the commercials.

Thank goodness I haven't seen a single one. Nor have I looked at any at the various pieces of junk mail sent out by the campaigns (some images have been sent to me, which I have worked hard to ignore). Let's get clear: this is what Alvarado and Garcia are spending the bulk of their millions of dollars on: attack ads -- print and electronic -- discussed, produced, and purchased by their political consultants, earning themselves commissions every step of the way. It's been a great start to the new year for them. They're probably pulling for Alvarado just so they can create another business opportunity.

-- The Chron's Patti Hart, with all the money broken down (same link as above).

The Senate District 6 race has been heavily financed by the two biggest donors in Texas: Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and Houston plaintiff's lawyer Steve Mostyn.

The latest reports to the Texas Ethics Commission show that, since Jan. 19, Perry, who typically has financed Republican candidates and the tort reform effort in Texas, donated $5,000 to Alvarado.

The political action committee he founded, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, donated another $259,000 during the same time period. In addition, lobbyist Mike Toomey, who works for Perry, donated $1,000 and homebuilder David Weekley, also a TLR supporter, donated $5,000 to the District 145 representative.

Garcia reported receiving $356,750 from Mostyn or his law firm, while receiving another $117,319.26 from the Texas Organizing Project, a group funded mostly by Mostyn. In addition, Garcia received a contribution of $55,000 from Texas for Insurance Reform, another group that also receives significant Mostyn financial support.

Since the January election, Garcia has raised $662,686 and spent $641,435. Alvarado has raised $581,969 and spent $463,495.68

Both candidates have topped the $1 million mark in campaign spending: Alvarado's total campaign expenditures from July 2012 through the last report indicate she has spent $1.2 million; Garcia has spent $1.1 million.

I cannot find appropriate adjectives to convey the proper degree of revulsion with which I find all of that news. The only thing I would like to know in greater detail is to whom -- and how much -- TransCanada and their various entites (PACs, executives, etc.) have donated.

I am certain that I would need a prescription to Zofran in order to tolerate learning the answer.

Update: This afternoon Burnt Orange Report and Texas Liberal weighed in.

Katherine Haenschen at BOR, in TLR Trying to Buy Democratic Senate Seat With Carol Alvarado:

Carol Alvarado raised almost half of her run-off money from Texans from Lawsuit Reform, Stand for Children PAC, a teacher's union-busting organization, payday lenders, and several Republican PACs and mega-donors. ... Sylvia Garcia, on the other hand, is primarily funded by trial lawyers and labor organizations...

Neil Aquino, from TxLib, in I’d Sit Out The Alvarado-Garcia Texas Senate District 6 Race Because It Offers No Hopeful Options...

As far as I recall, I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18. But I would sit it out if I could vote in the Texas State Senate district 6 runoff between Democrats Carol Alvarado and Sylvia Garcia. ...

There is little ideological or policy difference between the two, both campaigns are captive to special interest money, the campaign has been relentlessly negative, and turnout will be so low as to delegitimize the process. While ultimate responsibility lies with the electorate, it is also so that what voting will accomplish in this case is to legitimize a process that offers no real options.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Norma Zenteno 1953 - 2013

We attended the event originally planned as a benefit which became her tribute Sunday afternoon, and couldn't get in the door. There were a hundred people or more lined up outside at 4 o'clock, allowed to enter only as others left, as the fire marshal ruled the crowd was too large for the facility.

I listened to her music for years and was thrilled to meet her about two years ago as shared supporters of Barrio Dogs, the East End effort to help abandoned, abused, and neglected animals.

She could have easily reached national fame and fortune as a musician, but she didn't care about having those things. And as tremendous as her musical talents were, her warmth and grace and compassion exceeded even that.

There will be a service for her on Friday, March 1, from 10 to noon, at the Catholic Charismatic Center on Cullen Blvd.

There's just no getting accustomed to the loss of a soul like Norma Zenteno. The rest of us just get to hold our wonderful memories of her, and try a little harder to live our lives as she did hers.

Vaya con Dios, Norma.

This Week in Texans of Infamy

-- I am still holding out on posting anything at length about this miserable POS. As previously mentioned, I am trying. real. hard, Ringo... to be the shepherd. Or at least to not feed the trolls.

This wad craves the attention he is getting and I just don't want to give him any.

-- And the same goes for this douchebag. Even Ed Emmett has figured out that he's a moron. And yet, he makes an appeal to logic. Which of the two is more stupid, really?

-- I'm not cutting Phil Gramm any slack, though. He is precisely...

... the Forrest Gump of financial calamity. Time and again, his face appears at key moments in history. Unlike Gump, Gramm is usually planting the seeds of future disaster whenever he pops up. 

From Gramm, to Kay Bailey, to the current occupant of that Senate seat. It sure will be a beautiful day when Texas Republican voters wake up and smell the coffee, won't it?

-- This is a fellow we should all get to know better: Edward Blum, the godfather of the legal challenges to the Voting Rights Act. As the Supreme Court begins to decide whether or not to eviscerate it, just remember that if Craig Washington's personal financial difficulties had been publicly disclosed a little sooner, Blum might have made it to Congress for a two-year term... just like Steve Stockman.

Why is the VRA still necessary, you wonder? Because this. And this.

-- I would like to be more encouraged about this development, but until Texas Democrats stop advancing online petitions and start registering Latino voters in their neighborhoods -- and then going back and driving them to the polls during early voting periods and on Election Day -- I will remain skeptimistic. Similar to Socratic Gadfly.

Update: Jeremy Bird understands the scope of the challenge.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Paraphrasing from the interview above: "1.5 million citizen Latinos in Texas, 500,000 African Americans, and 200,000 Asian Americans are not registered to vote. In 2008, 54% of Latinos were registered to vote, but only 35% turned out..."

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Weekly Wrangle, expanded

The Texas Progressive Alliance remains unsequestered and without an Oscar as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff talks about what happens after SCOTUS rules on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

As the special election runoff in Senate District 6 lurched into its final days, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs had a couple more posts on the sordid last-minute developments.

How we get Medicaid expanded in Texas makes no difference as long as it eventually gets done. That's why WCNews at Eye on Williamson says this about the Texas GOP: However they want to rationalize it is fine with me.

Neil at Texas Liberal posted a picture of an old VW van with a bunch of Republican bumper stickers. What kind of a lousy counterculture is that! Also, Neil continues to work on his new website that will feature a variety of creative efforts as well as a blog on the 2013 City of Houston elections.


Snips from other Texas blogs...

Bluedaze previewed the tar sands pipeline presentation to be revealed at the National Summit to Stop the Frack Attack, in Dallas on March 2-3.

Burnt Orange Report covered the development of Beaumont's selection as America's Saddest City. Cue the sad trombone.

Dos Centavos reminded Texas legislators *cough*RickPerry*cough* that it is time to support the expansion of Medicaid.

Grits for Breakfast also had a legislative dispatch; 101 House members endorsed a bill that criminalizes taking or distributing photos taken via drone without a court order.

South Texas Chisme rejoiced in the fact that the Texas DPS can no longer shoot at people from helicopters for any old reason, and called for some respect for the remains of migrants who died while fleeing economic hardship.

Letters from Texas gathered the reactions to Rick Perry's California troll-baiting excursion.

And state Sen. Kelly Hancock got spanked by McBlogger for his craven pandering to State Farm.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Funnies

The latest SD-6 developments

I updated last Wednesday's post with it, but it needs to lead here; yesterday's email from Sylvia Garcia (well, technically her campaign manager).

Just one week out from the runoff election, Carol Alvarado is caught lying to the voters she is asking to elect her. On multiple mailers and television commercials, Alvarado claims that front runner candidate for Senate District 6, Sylvia Garcia, was connected with deputies being laid off in 2011, the year after Garcia left the Commissioners Court. But contrary to Alvarado’s bogus claim, Sheriff Adrian Garcia is quoted saying, "We have improved operations while saving money, we've passed jail inspections, we haven't laid off any employees and we've reduced in-custody deaths," [Houston Chronicle, February 21, 2013]
“While these false attacks are disappointing, it is no surprise based on Carol Alvarado’s failed record and tainted career that has included scandal and embarrassment,” said Terrysa Guerra, Campaign Manager for Sylvia Garcia for Senate. [Houston Chronicle, February 17, 2006“It is clear Alvarado is so desperate, she will say and do anything to get elected.”

Bold emphasis and links are hers. This broadside becomes more relevant with the disclosure made by political prostitute gun-for-hire Burt Levine on his Facebook page early this morning.

This was an incredibly exciting day and a true Texas Patriotic Privlege to join Republican Senator Larry Taylor and fmr Republican nominee for Rep. Wayne Faircloth in knocking on doors for Carol Alvarado for Texas Senate!

Could someone explain to me why so many Republicans are working so hard to get Carol Alvarado elected? Nemmind; I believe I already know the answer to that. So what conclusions should we draw from this?

-- First of all, Burt Levine is either a moron or just doesn't care what kind of last-minute speculation this 1 a.m. posting will generate. My guess is that it's a double shot of both. Burt never does anything for anybody on either side of the street without getting paid for it. It may just be his early Easter gift if somebody isn't actually writing him a check.

-- Given either scenario -- or both -- I still fail to see the advantage that this news provides Team Alvarado. If the post suddenly disappears at some point today... well, at least that will make sense. (There will still be a screenshot.)

Update, Monday 2/25: After some reflection on the above paragraphs, I decided they make too harsh a judgment on Burt's motivations, who after all is just another soul trying to make a living in this world. So I will retract its meanness without removing its general premise, and restate my conclusion in a more artful way: I still hold doubts as to whether Burt's FB post -- and the very prominent Republican support Alvarado receives overall -- helps her in a 70-plus-percent Democratic district... and 90 percent in this special election. That, however, is a decision SD-6 voters get to make (or have already made).

-- I think I am finally ready for this special election season to be over. Anybody else? And so it soon will be, as early voting ends this Tuesday the 26th, and Election Day a week later on March 2.

Hey! And just in time for the 2013 municipal spring mud-slinging to begin. Have you planted your rotten tomatoes yet?

Update II: Katherine Haenschen at BOR links to this post and provides her own analysis. Essentially she is queasy about it, and for some reason that draws rebuke in the comments from whoever it is among Democrats that approves of Alvarado's overtures to the GOP.

Still don't understand what it is that people mean when they say "both parties are just alike"? This is it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Weekend Update

-- Send a healing thought to my friend Norma Zenteno and her family, please.

Along with her many musical talents, she has been a committed activist for her sister-in-law's effort to help the lost/abandoned/abused dogs in Houston's East End, an intractable problem that shows no signs of improving despite their (our) best efforts.

Here's a song Norma wrote about it.

Update, 8:45 p.m., Friday February 22: Rest in peace, Norma.

-- “I was very surprised that a senator, who has been in office for over 30 years, would address a grieving mother, who just lost her son exactly seven months prior — yesterday was the 20th, I lost my son on 7-20-2012 — to tell me that I needed ‘some straight talk.’

-- Obama trades some Benghazi data for a cabinet nominee approval, instead of a few drone memos. emptywheel, in first-person...

The other day, I explained that the Administration would be forced either to cede to Republican demands for Benghazi talking points and other truther demands or release a full accounting why and in which countries it has conducted targeted killing.

It decided to capitulate to the Benghazi truthers rather than tell the Intelligence Committee what kind of targeted killing it has been doing.


There must be some reason the Administration would rather kowtow to sensationalized requests from Republicans rather than commit to the transparency it’d take to get 2 Democrats and a Republican to vote for Brennan.

But no reason for doing so would be respectable.

I think I prefer the outrage as expressed by Charles Pierce.

Please tell me this is just mischievous disinformation from anonymous Republican congressional elves. Because, if it isn't, as a distillation of the administration's unique brand of neo-liberal suckitude, this one takes home the House Cup. (Sorry, Simpson and Bowles. You have to give it back now.) First, we have the ongoing charade of "transparency" as regards the president's assumed right to kill Americans anywhere in the world including, absent a clear statement from this administration, which has not been forthcoming, within the borders of the United States. Then we have the drone program itself, which is a constitutional abomination no matter how effective you presume it is. Then, we have another attempt to reach a kind of bipartisan consensus with the various vandals and predatory fauna in the other party. And then, last, as part of the attempt at bipartisan consensus, a deal is struck in which the president's hit list is kept in a vault while more fuel is fed into the Benghazi!, BENGHAZI!, BENGHAZI!!!!!!!111!!! infernal machine just as it was so sputtering to a halt that even John McCain was calling a cab to pick him up by the side of the road. I swear, if this deal goes through, Lindsey Graham is going to have a woody you could see from space.

There's a bit more there you should read. Oh hell, here it is.

This is what happens when you elect someone -- anyone -- to the presidency as that office is presently constituted. Of all the various Washington mystery cults, the one at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue is the most impenetrable. This is why the argument many liberals are making -- that the drone program is acceptable both morally and as a matter of practical politics because of the faith you have in the guy who happens to be presiding over it at the moment -- is criminally naive, intellectually empty, and as false as blue money to the future. The powers we have allowed to leach away from their constitutional points of origin into that office have created in the presidency a foul strain of outlawry that (worse) is now seen as the proper order of things. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then the very nature of the presidency of the United States at its core has become the vehicle for permanently unlawful behavior. Every four years, we elect a new criminal because that's become the precise job description.

See? it ain't just me.

-- The same number of people who thought Dick Cheney did a good job as V-P also oppose raising the federal minimum wage. They are very likely exactly the same people, but the polling doesn't tell us that.

-- A rural Mississippi newspaper publisher pushed back against the bigots upset for his running a front-page article on the community's first-ever gay wedding.

"We shouldn't have to defend every decision we make here at the Leader-Call," Jim Cegielski, the paper's owner, wrote in an editorial published on Saturday. "However, the intense reaction to our gay wedding front-page story, which led to a deluge of hate calls, letters, e-mails, Facebook posts, soundoffs and random cross stares thrown in my direction, warrants some sort of response. So here it is."

-- Are junk food manufacturers more evil than even the tobacco industry? That would appear to be 'yes'.

In “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food”, previewed online now and adapted from his forthcoming book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Michael Moss delves deep into the long history of how snack food and beverage makers scheme with a mix of science, willful ignorance, and masterful marketing to sell mountains of their salty, sugary products.

“What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort—taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles—to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive,” writes Moss, adding that he talked with more than 300 current or former employees of the processed-food industry, “from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s.”

Among the high-blood-pressure inducing revelations in Moss’s 14-page online story, presented in a series of case studies...[...]

•Robert I-San Lin, chief scientist for Frito-Lay from 1974 to 1982, told Moss he tried in vain to get the company to make its products healthier during his tenure, and regrets how much time the company has spent trying to sell its snack foods to the public. "In his view," Moss wrote, "three decades had been lost, time that he and a lot of other smart scientists could have spent searching for ways to ease the addiction to salt, sugar and fat." He added, "I couldn’t do much about it. I feel so sorry for the public."

•Coca-Cola, under fire from anti-obesity campaigns and other health initiatives in the late ’90s, began aggressively marketing its sugary drink to poor, vulnerable areas, Moss writes, “like New Orleans — where people were drinking twice as much Coke as the national average — or Rome, Ga., where the per capita intake was nearly three Cokes a day.”

•Coke also targeted Brazil and its ultra-poor favelas, by repackaging the soft drink into smaller, more affordable bottles. On one trip to Brazil, Jeffrey Dunn, then-president and chief operating officer in both North and South America, had a realization, he told Moss. “A voice in my head says, ‘These people need a lot of things, but they don’t need a Coke.’ I almost threw up.” He tried steering the company in a more health-conscious direction, but was fired. In recent years, Dunn’s worked to market carrots as a snack. “I’m paying my karmic debt,” he explained.  

-- Will the border ever be secure enough for immigration hawks? Without moats and boiling oil, that would appear to be 'no'. (That one's for you, Greg.)

-- Finally, kudos to Joe Garagiola, retiring after all these years.

A friend of Yogi Berra since the two grew up in the same St. Louis neighborhood, he said he hadn't called his old pal about his decision.

''Yogi's moved into one of these assisted living and retirement communities,'' Garagiola said. 'I said, 'How's it going?' and he says, 'It's all right, but geez, they've got a lot of old people here.'''

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Happy 77th, Barbara Jordan

Listen to this seven minutes of her words at the 1992 DNC, and then think about how much progress you believe we have achieved in the 21 years since she spoke them.

The second half of the excerpt above can be viewed here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

As if I needed reminding

... that the political world continues to pull away to the right, hard and fast, leaving me looking like a radical leftist.

More numbers like the ones cited in Ted Rall's toon above from the Pensito Review. They frame almost precisely the conversations I am having at the moment with blue partisans. They usually begin with a variation of Republican talking points 'justifying' the Iraq invasion in 2004 ("We're at war with terrorism", "Anything that keeps me safe I am OK with", "what would you have us do, wait for the next attack", etc.) and generally end along the lines of "I trust Barack Obama to make the right decisions w/r/t the kill list".

Yes, it is hypocritical, Ms. Ball, to support something -- as in anything -- that Obama is doing which you would oppose if Bush (or any other Republican who comes to White House in the future) were president. That's precisely the definition of hypocrisy.

But the vast majority of people really do not know how to respond with anything but apoplexy every time some actual progressive ideas start to surface, particularly on mainstream outlets. Please go to that link and view some of the video that Noah Rothman of Mediaite has embedded, and share his fear and loathing of *gasp* a midday talk show on MSNBC that has a "seeming desire to become a parody of excessive whining and hand-wringing over society’s perceived ills regularly displayed by only the most competitive of progressives".

...Now has not just abandoned any pretense of objectivity, but has overtly courted partisan controversy, hosting some of the network’s most inflammatory guests and coaxing inflammatory statements out of even the guarded of news makers and opinion leaders. For 2013, Now has become the network’s most controversial program – by far. 

ROFL, and not just at 'inflammatory' used twice in the same sentence. Mr. Rothman, meet Thom Hartmann, a longtime, nationally syndicated actual progressive radio talker -- one which regularly hosts *doublegasp* Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. One that also has a regular TV gig on RT, Channel 9418 on my Dish Network and also on Direct TV channel 348. (That's one of the low-numbered ones, too, dude.) He also appears on something subversive called "Free Speech TV".

And hey, man: RT was formerly known as "Russia Today". Breathe deeply and slowly into the paper bag...

A couple more things. Alex Wagner isn't a troll; these are. And what she is doing on Now isn't trolling. THIS is trolling. And so is this.

But I hear you can pick up FOX News on your rabbit ears. If that doesn't work then just go to your nearest doctor's office. You can watch TV for free all day there.

As I double back to the point, It would be important to note here that Democrats -- particularly the ones who have abandoned the label "liberal" for "progressive" but think like Krystal Ball -- are not actually progressive. Alas, they are just Democrats.

There is, more and more often lately, a big difference.

Update: As it usually does, The Onion reports on the internal conflict some Americans are experiencing about the issue better than any other news outlet.

Following the release of a secret Department of Justice memo (two weeks ago) that outlines the administration’s legal justification for killing U.S. citizens, a new Pew Research Center poll has revealed that a majority of Americans are torn over whether they support the government’s right to kill them anywhere at any time without due process.

“On the one hand, I get it—it’s important for the government to be able to murder me and any of my friends or family members whenever they please for reputed national security reasons. But on the other hand, it would kind of be nice to stay alive and have, maybe, a trial, actual evidence—stuff like that,” said visibly conflicted 39-year-old Nashua, NH resident Rebecca Sawyer, who, like millions of other Americans, is split over whether secret federal agents should be allowed to target and assassinate her anywhere on U.S. soil.

“I wouldn’t mind if federal officials blew up other citizens and claimed it was in the name of my safety. But it’s just that when it comes to me, I guess I’d rather not be slaughtered by my own elected officials on charges that never have to be validated by any accountable authority. This is tough.”

While most Americans expressed conflicted feelings regarding the memo, the poll also found that 28 percent of citizens were unequivocally in favor of being obliterated at any point, for any reason, in a massive airstrike.

SD-6 final push begins today

Charles and Stace posted their previews yesterday earlier. Neither of them mentioned the e-mail the Garcia campaign sent out last week, though.

While Republican leaders in Austin moved to block the restoration of $5.4 billion in education funding, Carol Alvarado was nowhere to be found at the State Capitol. In fact, she was nowhere near Austin. Carol Alvarado was over 160 miles away in Houston trying to save her failing campaign for the Texas Senate. As a result, Texas school children missed an opportunity to receive the money they rightfully deserve.

There's more and it's just as nasty.

When this arrived in my inbox at lunchtime last Thursday -- on Valentine's Day -- I was shocked. And as cynical as I am, it takes a lot to shock me.  But rather than write about it then, I waited to see if there would be a response to it from other quarters.  Alvarado campaign consultant Marc Campos eventually posted this on Monday morning the 18th. Here's an excerpt (his emphasis in bold serves to set off the remarks that are not his, except at the close).

Someone named sent the campaign the following:

We know Carol can’t run on her record as Lee Brown’s Chief of Staff, or Council Member for District I, or State Rep, but does she really have to attack her opponent and take things into the gutter.

As Lee Brown Chief of Staff, she assisted Brown in raising the city employee benefits to unsustainable levels, which led to major budget problems.

As Council Member for District I she waisted community leaders time and energy by:

Having meetings on Air Quality in the East End after high levels of benzine were measured at the plants, nothing happened;

Had Deed Restriction data base meetings which led to nothing; 
Due to lack of her oversight her Mayor Pro-Tem staff gave themselves illegal bonuses;
And as far as what she has been doing as State Rep, other collecting money from special interest groups, I have no idea.

This week I have received four mail-outs from Carol trashing Garcia. If Carol can’t win on her record, then she needs to drop out!

Let me kind of respond to this.  First, who are you and where do you live?

He or she obviously doesn’t live in the district because anyone named politics that lives in SD6 would know that our opponent sent six mail pieces in Round 1 attacking Carol.  So hitting back shouldn’t come as a surprise.  In Round 1, I would have been impressed if politics would have said:

This week I have received four mail-outs from Sylvia trashing Alvarado. If Sylvia can’t win on her record, then she needs to drop out!

Any one named politics should know that Carol never served as Mayor Brown’s Chief of Staff.

Of course if one isn’t going reveal their real name, well we can only guess about one’s motivations.

Campos is right, and the Alvarado campaign has, publicly at least, hewed to the high road throughout the campaign. (Whatever is going on underneath my radar -- I speak here of salacious third-hand gossip and rumor-mongering -- I can't and won't speak for, or about.)

Update (Saturday, 2/23): Yet more vitriol from the Garcia campaign. It just never ends.

By contrast, it is my opinion that Garcia's mud-slinging has done her no favors in this cycle. She remains, however, the odds-on favorite to be the next senator from the district on the strength of her volunteer effort and fundraising, not to mention her reputation as a "fighting Democrat" -- the type I am typically a solid supporter of. But her means of getting to the seat leaves a lot to be desired. You have to wonder what her relationship with Rep. Alvarado will be if they have to work together on issues of common interest. The level of spite just seems excessive.

The Chron may have picked up on this as well, because the notion of a 'challenging' senator versus an accommodating one appears to be the reasoning behind their endorsement of Carol...

Both are Democrats who vow to strengthen state education spending and expand Medicaid. They differ chiefly in the way in which they'd go about achieving their goals. Garcia vows to go toe-to-toe against Gov. Rick Perry and other Republicans. Alvarado says that she'd continue to do what she's done as a member of the Republican-controlled Texas House: work with members across the aisle to get legislation passed.

We believe that Alvarado's approach will serve her district best. In part, that's pure pragmatism. Given Republicans' utter dominance of our state's government, a Democrat who hopes to accomplish anything at all has to play nicely with the GOP. But it's also the solution to a larger problem. Both Texas and the United States need more politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, who can find middle ground and nudge the body politic forward. Alvarado is that kind of legislator.

There's more there that you should read that points out the differences between the two. Keep in mind that the Chron also endorsed Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz, two pathetic losers whose election outcomes were polar opposites. I wouldn't hazard a guess as to what that might mean for Rep. Alvarado's prospects.

I'm not fond of of the fact that Alvarado has taken lots of money from Republicans, especially from Bob Perry and the like. I am not a fan of her political advisor. I am almost never in favor of Democrats who brag about how amenable they are in working with Republicans -- particularly the virulent strain of vicious, ignorant Republicans infesting the Texas Legislature.

But to my view, Carol Alvarado has fought the fights that made the point to Texas Republicans even when there was no way she (and Democrats) were going to win those fights. She sharply rebutted, she did so with class, and she held her head high in defeat.

And she has taken a similar approach in this set-to with Sylvia Garcia.

I sort of feel bad about Garcia and her campaign. I still expect her to prevail in the runoff despite all this -- there's no other appropriate word for it -- brutality, and I have no doubt she will be a strong advocate for the district, and the issues and the cause of Texas Democrats in the state Senate. She probably is, despite the Chron's advice, the best woman for the job.

But the equally brutal truth is that she is, by far, not the best candidate.

I don't live in the district and my preferred choice came in seventh in an eight-contestant general election race, with 73 total votes. So feel free to weight my analysis accordingly. All I know is what I see, hear and read.

Buena fortuna to both women, and let's see the one that prevails get busy accomplishing a lot for SD-6, which needs all the help it can get.

Previously on the topic of the SD-6 special election, in chronological order:

Alvarado declares for SD-6

Sylvia Garcia jumps in 

No Noriega(s) for SD-6 *with updates

Governor finally calls SD-6 special election 

Eight for SD-6 

SD-6 developments (that mention Keystone XL) 

Sylvia Garcia punching down

SD-6 candidate boycotts TransCanada-sponsored debate

Local media goes to work reporting on SD-6

Garcia hits Alvarado again and more SD-6

Garcia surrogates push back against Rodriguez, Alvarado

The East End Leaders sign their letter

Viva Houston has the SD-6 candidates on this morning


Results for SD-6 *updates*

One takeaway from yesterday

KXL protestors get SLAPPed, plan counterpunch

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013


In about an hour you'll be able to watch the premiere on MSNBC.

A decade ago, on March 19, 2003, President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq that would lead to a nine-year war resulting in 4,486 dead American troops, 32,226 service members wounded, and over 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians. The tab for the war topped $3 trillion. Bush did succeed in removing Saddam Hussein, but it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction and no significant operational ties between Saddam's regime and Al Qaeda. That is, the two main assertions used by Bush and his crew to justify the war were not true. Three years after the war began, Michael Isikoff, then an investigative reporter for Newsweek (he's since moved to NBC News), and I published Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, a behind-the-scenes account of how Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their lieutenants deployed false claims, iffy intelligence, and unsupported hyperbole to win popular backing for the invasion.

Since we still have Republican senators demanding information on 'coverups' that aren't, it is important to point out that when an actual con job happened right before their eyes, they swallowed it. Hook, line, sinker.

One chilling moment in the film comes in an interview with retired General Anthony Zinni, a former commander in chief of US Central Command. In August 2002, the Bush-Cheney administration opened its propaganda campaign for war with a Cheney speech at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. The veep made a stark declaration: "There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." No doubt, he proclaimed, Saddam was arming himself with WMD in preparation for attacking the United States.
Zinni was sitting on the stage during the speech, and in the documentary he recalls his reaction:

It was a shock. It was a total shock. I couldn't believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program. And that's when I began to believe they're getting serious about this. They wanna go into Iraq.

That Zinni quote should almost end the debate on whether the Bush-Cheney administration purposefully guided the nation into war with misinformation and disinformation.

Yeah. But no.

The film highlights a Pentagon document declassified two years ago. This memo notes that in November 2001—shortly after the 9/11 attacks—Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with General Tommy Franks to review plans for the "decapitation" of the Iraqi government. The two men reviewed how a war against Saddam could be triggered; that list included a "dispute over WMD inspections." It's evidence that the administration was seeking a pretense for war.

The yellowcake uranium supposedly bought by Saddam in Niger, the aluminum tubes supposedly used to process uranium into weapons-grade material, the supposed connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden—the documentary features intelligence analysts and experts who at the time were saying and warning that the intelligence on these topics was wrong or uncertain. Yet administration officials kept using lousy and inconclusive intelligence to push the case for war.

There has already been one excellent film on that subtopic: Fair Game. To this day the only person who demonstrates any remorse for the whole scandal is Colin Powell.

Through the months-long run-up to the invasion, Colin Powell, then the secretary of state, would become the administration's No. 1 pitchman for the war with a high-profile speech at the UN, which contained numerous false statements about Iraq and WMD. But, the documentary notes, he was hiding from the public his deep skepticism. In the film, Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff at the time, recalls the day Congress passed a resolution authorizing Bush to attack Iraq:

Powell walked into my office and without so much as a fare-thee-well, he walked over to the window and he said, "I wonder what'll happen when we put 500,000 troops into Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other and find nothing?" And he turned around and walked back in his office. And I—I wrote that down on my calendar—as close for—to verbatim as I could, because I thought that was a profound statement coming from the secretary of state, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

Wilkerson also notes that Powell had no idea about the veracity of the intelligence he cited during that UN speech: "Though neither Powell nor anyone else from the State Department team intentionally lied, we did participate in a hoax."


A hoax. That's what it was. Yet Bush and Cheney went on to win reelection, and many of their accomplices in this swindle never were fully held accountable. In the years after the WMD scam became apparent, there certainly was a rise in public skepticism and media scrutiny of government claims. Still, could something like this happen again? (Rachel) Maddow remarks, "If what we went through 10 years ago did not change us as a nation—if we do not understand what happened and adapt to resist it—then history says we are doomed to repeat it."

The history is, of course, already being repeated... in the financial crisis. Refusing to hold our country's leaders -- the elected ones as well as the corporate ones -- to a legal reckoning when they tell lies and break laws is nothing but a grave mistake for the future of this once-great nation.

Update: Here are your links to watch it online.

The Weekly Wrangle

The words "pitchers and catchers report" has always made the Texas Progressive Alliance happy as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff looks at the partisan shifts in Texas House districts from 2008 to 2012.

We have enough money in Texas to fund our public education needs and expand Medicaid, as well as transportation and water infrastructure projects. But our current leaders don't see it that way. WCNews at Eye on Williamson shows that their adherence to ideology over what's best for Texas is the problem, in Transportation funding, the state budget, and ideology.

Two issues in the Texas Lege last week -- one of them the regulation of payday lending operators -- show bright potential for bipartisan legislation. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs is encouraged by the news.  

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants you to know that Lamar Smith is a dim bulb advancing the same old Republican 'ideas' on immigration.

At TexasKaos, Libby Shaw poses the same question to Ted Cruz that was asked of Joe McCarthy almost 60 years ago.

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Read all about it here: Senator Ted Cruz: Have You No Decency?

Neil at Texas Liberal wrote about Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall. Neil is still posting at TxLib every few days; however he is mostly working on a new website going up in April. That site will feature a photo essay focusing on the value of the things that are around us each day, a metaphorical history of the universe and the Earth, some poems, and a new blog on 2013 City of Houston election politics.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cloture on Hagel nomination fails, 58-40

1 present.

So it's official: Thanks to a handful of Democratic senators who blocked filibuster reform, Senate Republicans have successfully blocked the Senate from voting on the confirmation of Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, at least for the time being.

Fifty-eight senators voted to move forward with the nomination process, short of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster. Four Republicans joined 54 Democrats on the losing side.

The four GOP were Mike Johanns of Nebraska (Hagel's home state), Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Orrin Hatch voted 'present'.

John Cornyn is on C-Span repeatedly saying that it wasn't a filibuster even as I type this.

I agree with those who say that Harry Reid looks like a chump.

The whole thing is something of a dark comedy. Last month, a handful of Senate Democrats blocked efforts to reform the filibuster. If they hadn't blocked reform, Republicans would have been required to actually speak on the floor to continue their filibuster. Instead, they settled on a handshake agreement between Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. And now, to nobody's surprise, McConnell is stabbing Reid in the back.

And John Walker at Firedoglake speaks for me.

At some point you need to stop blaming the Republicans for their filibusters. If someone decides to give a known arsonist matches and gasoline, they now bear most of the responsibility when he burns their house down.

Update: More from MaddowBlog.

(S)everal GOP senators who said they'd allow an up-or-down vote changed their minds in recent days.

Indeed, as recently as Monday of this week, for example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, "Never before has a defense secretary nominee required 60 votes on the floor to overcome a filibuster threat." He added a filibuster, if it were to occur, "sets a wrong precedent."

And then, today, McCain voted against cloture on Hagel anyway.

It was Mitch McConnell and Jeff Sessions, along with Cornyn, who repeatedly mouthed that "up-or-down-vote" line during the Bush years about judicial nominees. Media Matters has a post from last month in regard to that hypocrisy on the part of Senate Republicans.

This boil could have been lanced by Harry Reid, also in January, but he refused to exert caucus discipline. This failure lies as much at his feet as it does the GOP's.

Happy Valentine's

In a week filled with Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, the resignation of the pope, the State of the Union address, the hilarious response to it, a DC KXL protest, a few showdowns in the Lege, the NBA All-Star weekend events, and the repainting of a local cultural icon due to its repeated debasement, it's comforting to know that some creatures just aren't concerned about much beyond finding a little love in a cold, cruel world.

More like that here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lege updates

Just a roundup of teasers here. Go to the links for more detail.

-- CPRIT has been the big issue of the session so far. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee yesterday approved a bill to reform the troubled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) authored by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound). “Our laws and rules have been twisted in ways that are disappointing and unacceptable,” Nelson said in a press release. [...] According to the Texas Tribune, SB 149 would completely restructure the leadership staff in the institute, create provisions that would prevent conflicts of interest and remove Greg Abbott and Susan Combs from their positions on the oversight committee. The bill will now go before the full Senate.

-- Yesterday morning Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, presented SB 4. Fraser seeks $2 billion to aid the state in recovering from its severe drought, the Houston Chronicle reports. He also called for the Texas Water Development Board to upgrade from part-time to full-time and scolded the group for failing to appropriately set and fulfill priorities. The committee heard invited testimony, with the expectation that public testimony will follow in the coming weeks.

Two excerpts on that water bill from the Chron. This one...

The part-time board that oversees Texas water projects has been ineffective and should be replaced by a full-time board with more funding and accountability, a state senator told colleagues Tuesday in asking for $2 billion to pay for future water needs.

Sen. Troy Fraser ... blasted the Texas Water Development Board for failing to set priorities. He said he asked the board more than two years ago to give him a list of the 50 most important water projects in the state and that he's still waiting for an answer.

Often, he said, it's difficult to get the six part-time board members on the phone to discussion the state's water issues.

"Every time you ask them a question, they give you a non-answer and that's part of the frustration I'm having," the Marble Falls Republican told his committee. "Every group believes their project is the most important and the competition between the 16 (water planning groups) at times has been problematic."

... and this one.

"It is my No. 1 point of irritation," Fraser said ... "If you ask the Water Development Board which of the 562 projects are the most important, they say they are all important."

Sen. Glenn Hegar, R- Katy, agreed: "There is a difference between a wish list and a list that actually works. What are our real priorities?"

The water issue is Speaker Straus' top priority this session, so expect to read much more about it.

-- Democratic legislators are also accelerating the removal of the codified marriage discrimination in the Texas Constitution.

-- Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) filed a measure on Monday to legalize civil unions in Texas by 2014 and partially repeal Texas’ Defense of Marriage Act. SB 480 would require first changing Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment prohibiting both same-sex marriage and civil unions, the Dallas Voice reports. Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and Reps. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) and Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) have already filed resolutions to lift the ban. That seems unlikely. The measures would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers before being placed on statewide ballots.

Said Hinojosa:

“The creation of civil unions in Texas is critical for same-gender couples so they can be afforded the same benefits and protections that married couples enjoy. Providing legal protections, including property rights, homestead rights, child custody and support, adoption, group insurance for state employees, and worker compensation benefits, would treat same-gender couples with the dignity and respect they deserve as well as allow them the benefits to take care of their families.” 

-- Good news for brewmasters and brewpubs:

Texas lawmakers on Tuesday  introduced a package of bills that would help the state’s growing number of production breweries and the brewpub restaurants that would like to package and sell beer off-site.

  • On-site sales for breweries: Production breweries such as Houston’s Saint Arnold, which make no more than 225,000 barrels of beer annually, would be allowed to sell up to 5,000 barrels directly to customers for consumption on site each year. Take-away beer and growler fills to go still would be prohibited.
  • Off-site sales for brewpubs: Brewpubs could package beer for off-site retail sales, up to 1,000 barrels on its own and the remainder through licensed distributors. Once a brewpub reaches annual production of 12,500 barrels, it would have to stop growing or switch to a production-brewery license.
  • New limits on self-distribution: (Two bills) Breweries that produce up to 125,000 barrels annually would be allowed to self-distribute up to 40,000 barrels. Out-of-state breweries also would be allowed some self-distribution rights as well.

-- And lastly, what the Texas Observer's 'Floor Pass' blog is watching today.

1. The Senate Finance Committee, which meets this morning at 9 a.m., will hear from the Commission on Jail Standards about public safety and criminal justice, and the Department of Agriculture will present on natural resources.

2. The Senate Committee on Transportation will meet this morning at 8 a.m. and will hear testimony from the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

3. The House Public Health Committee meets today to discuss, among other issues, Obamacare and its effect on Texas.

Grits is always your go-to blog for criminal justice matters in Texas.

Update: EOW with more on other bills.

Update II, referencing #2 above... TxDOT director calls for stable highway funding system:

TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said the agency needs at least $4 billion more each year to cover road expansion and upkeep. The proposed $20.8 billion budget would set aside just under $2.5 billion to repay debts, but caps the new construction budget at just over $1 billion.

“I think that really puts in perspective the situation that TxDOT finds itself in today, with an extremely large amount on the debt service side and a limited amount on the new construction side,” Davis told Wilson. “In my perspective we’ve really gotten upside-down in terms of providing the support for this agency that’s needed, and for you to conduct what we expect you to do.”

Gov. Rick Perry has proposed spending $3.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund on Texas transportation, but that would still come up short of Wilson’s request for TxDOT. Perry has suggested spending the money on building new highways and bringing old roads up to code for projects like Interstate 69.

What TxDOT needs, Wilson said today—and wrote in a letter to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst—is a new, sustainable transportation funding source.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


While we wait for the SOTU...

-- A resolution of the standoff with former LAPD officer and current fugitive Christopher Dorner may interrupt the president's speech this evening. It will be interesting to see how the networks handle it if it does (Fox will probably cut away; MSNBC might crawl it across the bottom of the screen). One deputy shot earlier this afternoon has died of his wounds.

-- Some of your representatives have been squatting on the aisle all day for that coveted camera shot of the handshake with the prez. *cough*SJL*cough*

Seven hours or more. That's how long some members of Congress sit and wait to claim aisle seats for the State of the Union, all so they can be seen on TV shaking the president's hand as he leaves. Really. It's mystifying, but enough members of Congress care enough about those few seconds of televised presidential hand-shaking that there is a day-long wait for the seats, and rules for getting them...

I personally can't think of a better use of their time. Can you?

-- Here's the embargoed-until-minutes-ago excerpt of tonight's speech.

“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.

It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”


“A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”


“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”


-- Three decades of SOTU climate remarks, and a brand-new drinking game.

-- So today is Darwin Day...

...and of course the Republican Party is looking forward to this evening’s many opportunities to ‘refute’ evolutionary theory via political kabuki. Dave Weigel at Slate, among his predictions for tonight, highlights a detail I hadn’t noticed:
In all of the soft-focus stories on the speech’s invited guests, two names matter: Ted Nugent and Gabrielle Giffords. Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, an embarrassing member of the class of 1994 who lost in 1996 but managed to come back in 2012, has invited Nugent to attend the speech, despite Nugent being (humorously!) on record threatening the president’s life. Giffords, invited by Sen. John McCain, is the most compelling figure in the gun control (sorry, “gun safety”) movement. Democrats know that the mere sight of Giffords, or the sound of her voice, spurs a Pavlovian response: The listener cannot help but hear and think about ammo clips and background checks. Stockman knows … actually, there’s no way to end that sentence.

-- Via Greg, from the Kinder Institute's Houston Area Asian Survey (.pdf):

Fort Bend County, just to the south and west of Harris County, is now the single most ethnically diverse county in the nation. In the 2010 census, Fort Bend was 19 percent Asian, 24 percent Latino, 21 percent black and 36 percent Anglo.

The Houston region as a whole is the most ethnically and culturally diverse large metropolitan area in the country, at the forefront of the new diversity that is radically reconstructing the social and political landscape across all of urban America.

Payday lending legislation -- and bipartisanship -- in Austin

So maybe I was wrong when I said the Lege wouldn't respond to Mayor Parker's harsh language.

State Reps. Tom Craddick and Eddie Rodriguez are a political odd couple united by their legislation that payday lenders say will put them out of business.

Craddick is a Midland Republican, former speaker of the House and 42-year legislative veteran with a pro-business background. Rodriguez, an Austin Democrat beginning his ninth year in office, is an advocate for the poor with a strong pro-consumer record.

They have filed identical legislation, however, because of reports that lenders making short-term loans are legally sidestepping interest rate caps by charging fees that can push annual interest rates above 500 percent. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is carrying legislation in that chamber. 

This is really good news all around, in fact. The opposition will be prepared, though.

In 2009, the industry blocked legislation being considered by the Legislature before it reached the floor, and its influence at the Capitol continues today.

For example, Gov. Rick Perry appointed William "Bill" White, a Cash America executive, as chairman of the Texas Finance Commission, which writes lending regulations. 

But the momentum clearly seems to be in favor of reform.

Craddick and Rodriguez said their side is better organized this time.

Unlike in 2009, when several solutions were offered, the two have a common approach backed by a broad coalition of church groups, retirees and consumer groups.

Craddick said even an archbishop who delivered the invocation for the House of Representatives lined up a few votes while he was on the House floor.

"I like our odds better this time," Craddick said.

Walter Moreau, executive director of Foundation Communities in Austin, said the support of conservatives such as Craddick will assist in a Legislature dominated by Republicans.

"We're generally bleeding-heart liberals," Moreau said. "But I'm optimistic that there is a broad enough coalition to get something passed." 

Beyond the usual skirmishes -- the budget battle, the squabbling over education funding, the GOP's War on Birth Control and Planned Parenthood -- it's nice to see some bipartisan efforts paying dividends. As a matter of fact, bipartisanship is breaking out elsewhere. Look at this.

A few weeks before the start of the 2013 Legislature, incoming GOP Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Tea Party-backed conservative, placed a phone call to state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat whom Republicans had unsuccessfully targeted for defeat in the November elections.

"I said, 'You know, you're perceived as one of the more liberal senators in the state of Texas and I'm perceived as one of the more conservative members of the Texas House,'" the 29-year-old Bedford lawmaker said last week in recalling his side of the conversation. "'I think it would be a great statement to send back to our constituents that we could put all that aside ... and focus on getting through stuff that helps Texas.'"

The result was bipartisan legislation by the two lawmakers that aims to assist the children of military families. Stickland's House bill already has 80-plus supporters, more than enough to secure passage if it comes to the House floor.

Color me encouraged by the early developments in this legislative session.