Wednesday, December 31, 2014

TPA's Texans of the Year: Frack Free Denton activists

From our presser...

Texas Progressive Alliance taps
Denton's "fracktivists" Texans of the Year

In one of the organization's more closely contested votes, the Texas Progressive Alliance -- the state's consortium of liberal blogs and bloggers -- named Frack Free Denton and its diverse group of activists 2014's Texans of the Year.

"The biggest win for progressives in the Lone Star State on Election Night happened in Denton, Texas," said Charles Kuffner, president of the Alliance.  "The people showed the powerful who is still in charge.  No matter that the Texas Railroad Commission or the state's Legislature may try to undo the will of Denton's Republican, Democratic, and independent voters; for one day in November of 2014, those North Texans came together and said, 'No more. No more polluting our air and water and poisoning our children for profit without accountability'.  The people together spoke, and they were heard."

There were also three Honorable Mentions for the coveted award.  Finishing a close second: the medical staff of Dallas Presbyterian Hospital, who were at the front lines of the nation's Ebola crisis, notably Dr. Kent Brantley and nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, who all contracted the virus and lived to tell about it.  In addition, two other large groups of Texans on either side of the political spectrum were selected: the 33% of Texans who turned out to vote in last month's midterm elections, predominantly Caucasian male Republican voters; and the Democratic volunteer army of deputy voter registrars, blockwalkers, and those who spent long hours on their phones calling prospective voters to urge them to cast their ballots.

"To the victors go the spoils, someone famous once said," noted Kuffner, in reference to the GOP base vote.  "But no one worked any harder than the folks in their precincts, neighborhoods, counties, and across the state to turn back the tide, at least a bit," he added.

The TPA's member bloggers salute all the Texans who were nominated this year, which included several candidates, some elected officials, and other activist groups.

In terms of recognizing the standout newsmakers, what you have seen from other blogs recently does reflect the discussions we had this year, and that they were a little more, shall we say, spirited than usual.  Typically this is a pretty easy choice to come to consensus on; 2014 was, as we all know, exceptional.  And not in the cheeriest of definitions.  But the city of Denton's residents were the noteworthy positive exception.

Christi Craddick in particular stands in defiance, as do the Big Gasholes, and the Lege will likely make every effort to roll back the drilling embargo early next year (thanks, Phil King and ALEC!), so the war isn't over.  But a significant battle was won, with far-reaching ramifications inside and outside Texas.

Hats off to the fractivists.

The roots and evolution of municipal police departments

More to it than you thought.  From A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing, written by Dr. Victor E. Kappeler.  Bold emphasis is mine.

The birth and development of the American police can be traced to a multitude of historical, legal and political-economic conditions. The institution of slavery and the control of minorities, however, were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities. For example, New England settlers appointed Indian Constables to police Native Americans (National Constable Association, 1995), the St. Louis police were founded to protect residents from Native Americans in that frontier city, and many southern police departments began as slave patrols. In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation's first slave patrol. Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially were considered property.

Policing was not the only social institution enmeshed in slavery. Slavery was fully institutionalized in the American economic and legal order with laws being enacted at both the state and national divisions of government. Virginia, for example, enacted more than 130 slave statutes between 1689 and 1865. Slavery and the abuse of people of color, however, was not merely a southern affair as many have been taught to believe. Connecticut, New York and other colonies enacted laws to criminalize and control slaves. Congress also passed fugitive Slave Laws, laws allowing the detention and return of escaped slaves, in 1793 and 1850. As Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver (2006:186) remark, “the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.” 

You should also keep in mind that the Second Amendment was ratified in order to preserve the South's slave patrols, whitewashed with use of the word "militias", and specifically to secure the Commonwealth of Virginia's support.  And that Texas is one of just seven states in the Union that doesn't allow open carry (yet) because they did not want the slaves shooting back at the guys in white hoods.

So when Joan Walsh points out that the NYPD's racial problems extend back to the '60's, you can now point out to her that it goes back a lot farther than that. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

W's Fifth Circuit judges to rule on abortion, more diverse trio on gay marriage

Nice draw, if you're a conservative extremist.

The latest review of Texas's tough new abortion law will be conducted next week by a trio of federal judges who have been largely supportive of the law in the past, according to case assignments revealed Monday.

A hearing the same week on the constitutionality of the state's same-sex marriage ban, on the other hand, will get a more unpredictable bench.

The random selections will force opponents of the abortion law and same-sex marriage ban to hope for a long-shot victory, said Edward Sherman, a Tulane University Law School professor who has followed the court for years.

"It's a pretty conservative lineup," Sherman said. "If political ideology is still at the heart of both of these issues, I would expect pro-defendant decisions."

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Catharina Haynes, who both voted earlier this year to uphold the abortion law, known as House Bill 2, will join Judge Edward Prado on the panel that next Wednesday will hear oral arguments on the latest challenge from abortion providers, the court announced.

All three were appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush.

There will be more variety on the panel slated to hear the same-sex marriage case next Friday, with Judge James Graves Jr., a President Barack Obama appointee, serving alongside Judges Jerry E. Smith and Patrick Higginbotham, who were both appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

The Dallas News has more on Higginbotham, who might be the swing vote.

Once considered solidly conservative, Higginbotham has irritated some conservatives with his rulings critical of Texas judges’ handling of death-penalty cases and a recent decision in which he wrote an opinion upholding the University of Texas’ race-conscious admission policy.

In 1976, former President Gerald Ford, a Republican, selected Higginbotham to serve as federal district judge in Dallas. Higginbotham moved up to the appellate court six years later, amid speculation he was Supreme Court material.

The talk has faded. Higginbotham, 76, is on senior status.

“He’s probably right in the middle of that court and well-regarded,” (University of Richmond law professor Carl) Tobias said. “It’s just hard to know where he might be on this issue.”

Lone Star Q  has more, linking to the Wikis of the judges on the gay marriage case.  Let's take note of Higginbotham's reveal.

Last summer, Higginbotham told The Texas Lawbook’s Mark Curriden that the New Orleans court has shifted considerably to the conservative side during his 32 years as a member.

“When I joined the 5th Circuit, I may have been the court’s most conservative judge,” he said. “Now, I’m probably left of center, even though I don’t think I’ve changed my views at all.”

Not exactly breaking news, just potent for its candor.

Both cases will make their way to the Supremes irrespective of how the appellates decide them, so we'll note for the record that predicting their outcomes -- perhaps predicting the outcome in the gay marriage case, I should say -- will be 2015's first legal parlor game.

Monday, December 29, 2014

One last Wrangle before 2015 gets here

The Texas Progressive Alliance is making the usual New Year's resolutions to exercise more and eat less as brings you the last blog roundup of 2014.

Off the Kuff stays on top of all of the legislative special elections that are going on.

Libby Shaw republished a diary she posted last year on Texas Kaos on Daily Kos in order to remind us about what happens in a state with so little oversight. GOP Texas: Where state funded cancer research can become a slush fund for politicians.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson points out that there's no telling what will happen in the next legislative session, but some think it won't be so bad. Don't buy it: Let's Not Get Ahead Of Ourselves.

The blood lust of the Texas Republicans will not be sated with just five doses of execution drugs available. CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wonders what Greg Abbott will do.

Some recent national conversations seem to reinforce the premise that an independent progressive movement might be valuable to affect the kind of change that would attract the vast majority of non-voting Americans. What it might look like and where to get started remain the primary hurdles. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs found some justification in his efforts to work within and without the Democratic Party simultaneously.

Neil at All People Have Value said we have the right to elect liberals to public office in big cities without the police rebelling and undermining the democratically elected choice of the people.  All People Have Value is part of

Uncle O'Grimacy at McBlogger, in a post-election spurt of frequent blogging, catalogued the butthurt of Battleground Texas.

Egberto Willlies pounced on a truth inconveniently uttered by Sunday Talking Head Chuck Todd.

Bluedaze would really like to know exactly who Chris Faulkner of Breitling Energy is.

And the Lewisville Texas Journal has the city's answers to questions about Ferguson Plaza.


And here's some great posts from other blogs across Texas.

Grits for Breakfast has a question for incoming Bexar County DA Nico Lahood about post-conviction case reviews.

TransGriot updated the (still-delayed) status of Houston Metro's newest light rail lines.

jobsanger thinks it's bad news that six of the most powerful eleven committees in the House of Representatives will be chaired by Texas Republicans.

Texas Politics reports that the TXGOP won't be moving their primary from March 1 in order to create a "Super Southern Tuesday" primary with six other Dixie Republican strongholds.

Socratic Gadfly bids a hasty lumbago to Rick Perry.

The Dallas Morning Views makes the case for a national child day-care system.

Texas Observer Radio has an interview with founder Ronnie Duggar.

Fascist Dyke Motors tells a story about faith.

Unfair Park posted that Flower Mound's "Year of the Bible" was a flop.

Texas Vox warns that too many Americans underestimate the effect of climate change on their health.

SciGuy tells the tale of retrieving the Orion spacecraft from the Atlantic Ocean after splashdown, as related by someone who was there for the Apollo spacecraft in the 1970s.

Ten-year-old Hadi Tameez explains the allure of Minecraft to us old folks.

Former Texan Elise Hu shares what she has learned about miscarriages.

The Great God Pan Is Dead recapped all the art books he read in 2014.

Juanita Jean has some fun at the expense of people who use Glenn Beck and Ron Paul as their financial advisors.

Last, Free Press Houston has the account of the hideous cyberstalking of Houston's anti-police abuse and First Amendment activist, Evan Carroll.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014's Final Funnies

"Of the many things I'm grateful for this year, I feel truly blessed that ISIS never got around to invading us from Mexico and spreading Ebola everywhere." -- Andy Borowitz

Friday, December 26, 2014

An independent progressive movement

Like most people, I tend to seek out sources of information that reinforce my existing point of view.  This is a habit of Fox viewers and Limbaugh listeners just as it those who are mad about Maddow, wild about Jon Stewart, and still mourning the recently deceased "Steven Colbert".  

I have found a lot of reinforcement lately and thought it was time to share it.  First, this from the publisher of Harper's, under the header "The Left Must Derail Hillary Clinton in the Primaries".

As a presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush in 2016 appears ever more likely, it’s a good moment to ask what alternative exists to lying down and letting such a campaign drown the body politic.

Time is short. The queen of cynics, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, already has pronounced her gorgon’s judgment on the inevitability of Hillary versus Jeb. “The looming prospect of another Clinton–Bush race makes us feel fatigued,” yawns the perpetually bored Dowd, who, on the contrary, relishes a future of easy columns mocking America’s two leading political dynasties.

What about the rest of us? Is it inevitable that we swallow the nomination of the neo-liberal Clinton, whose support of Bush’s Iraq madness (not to mention Obama’s Afghan and Libyan stupidity) and her husband’s recklessly pro-“free trade,” pro-banker, pro-deregulation politics ought to send reasonable liberals fleeing? Is it predestined that principled conservatives accept the anointment of the thoroughly fraudulent Jeb, whose support of his brother’s interventionist folly, along with his own outrageous meddling as governor of Florida to “rescue” brain-dead Terri Schiavo, should give pause to even the greediest oil baron seeking patronage from a Republican administration?


Nevertheless, a straightforward, nationwide electoral strategy is required if the left wants to reverse the rightward trend of both parties over the past three decades. The tea party has had much success moving the Republican Party to the right through primary challenges that should be the envy of frustrated Democrats...

Stop right there.  That's the best expression of a point I have been emphasizing for a long, long, time: before there was a Tea Party, there was a Progressive Populist Caucus of the Texas Democratic Party, and it was the largest one in the party.  That was less than ten years ago, and it does not exist at all today.  The Tea Party not only co-opted populism; more importantly they have constructed a successful model for establishment political party revolution, working inside and outside the GOP to do so.

Let's read this now from Bill Curry, a former White House counselor to Bill Clinton (and a twice-nominated Connecticut Democratic gubernatorial candidate).  Its title? "Let’s abandon the Democrats: Stop blaming Fox News and stop hoping Elizabeth Warren will save us":

The Democrats’ conduct since the midterm debacle is as sad and sorry as the campaign that caused it. The party’s leaders are a big problem. A bigger one is the closed system of high-dollar fundraising, reductionist polling and vapid messaging in which it is seemingly trapped. Some say a more populist Democratic Party will soon emerge. It won’t happen as long as these leaders and this system are in place.

Nancy Pelosi says it wasn’t a wave election. She’s right. It was the Johnstown Flood; as catastrophic and just as preventable. One year after the shutdown Republicans scored their biggest Senate win since 1980 and their biggest House win since 1928. Turnout was the lowest since 1942, when millions of GIs had the excellent excuse of being overseas fighting for their country.

Every Democratic alibi — midterm lull, sixth-year curse, red Senate map, vote suppression, gerrymandering, money — rings true, but all of them together can’t explain being swept by the most extreme major party in American history. Citing other statistics — demography, presidential turnout, Hillary’s polls — they assure us that in 2016 happy days will be here again. Don’t bet on it.

It took more than the usual civic sloth to produce the lowest turnout in 72 years. It took alienating vast voting blocs, including the young and the working class of both genders and all races. The young now trend Republican. Voters of all ages migrate to third parties or abandon politics altogether. It’s the biggest Democratic defection since the South switched parties in the 1960s. If Democrats don’t change their ways, their 2016 turnout will be a lot harder to gin up than they think.

So many sharp points that my fingers are bleeding.

The vital task for progressives isn’t reelecting Democrats but rebuilding a strong, independent progressive movement. Our history makes clear that without one, social progress in America is next to impossible. For 100 years progressive social change movements transformed relations between labor and capital, buyers and sellers, blacks and whites, men and women, our species and our planet. But in the 1970s progressives began to be coopted and progress ceased. Their virtual disappearance into the Democratic Party led to political stultification and a rollback of many of their greatest achievements.

There's much more, but let's skip to the end.

Some progressives will spend 2015 trying to lure Elizabeth Warren or some second or third choice into a run for president. Some will make their peace with Hillary. Some will take other paths. A public debate among progressives will unearth some disagreements on policy and a more fundamental divisions over strategy.

Some say the Democratic Party is beyond saving. Others say it’s our last hope. I see progressives taking leave of Democrats not as abandonment but more like tough love. In the end it may be the only thing that can save Democrats or for that matter progressives, whose reputation has been tarnished by the party that betrayed them. In any event it’s better for both parties for all future business to be conducted on an arms’ length, cash-for-carry basis.

Nails it.  This next, however, is the hammer hitting the thumb.

My guess is that if you can’t take over the Democratic Party, you can’t take over the country — and that a declaration of independence should be followed by an actual rebellion. The Tea Party has shown you can work within a party and yet be highly independent. But whether to work within, against or apart from the Democrats is a call for later. Building a strong progressive movement is work we must do now.

That went right off the rails for me.  The author built up all of that inspirational momentum only to cultivate a popcorn fart.  I think it's pretty obvious that progressives have abandoned the Democratic Party -- most certainly in midterm elections -- for the comfort and convenience of apathy.  The result shows up as capitulation, or if you prefer, utter domination by those who do vote: old, white conservatives.  (Please note that these are the same people who predominantly serve on grand juries.)  And I gravely doubt whether progressives are going to be lured back to the Democratic Party in sufficient numbers, and I include the 0% probability premise of Elizabeth Warren running for and winning the party's nomination in 2016 in that assessment.

Also note that the article does not mention Bernie Sanders or the Green Party even once.  It references, as emphasized, an "independent progressive movement", whatever the hell Curry thinks that means.  But I don't know what that looks like and apparently neither does he.  I call myself an independent progressive but can tell you straightforwardly there is no such movement I am aware of.  Not nascent, not latent.  I can at least agree with Curry that there needs to be one, however, and to be fair he points out the hurdles for independent candidates and parties like ballot access (which Greens have much of) and -- short of a Citizens United repeal -- competitive financing of campaigns (which Greens have nearly none of).  So any movement he envisions has a tall, rocky mountain to climb without so much as the bare bones infrastructure of the Green Party.  My question is: why re-invent the wheel?

The good news for those Democrats who can't go Green is that there are plenty of places to start a revolution within the Democratic Party if you think that's your only option.  And the Tea Party has demonstrated how it can be done, quickly.  Candidly (pathetically, maybe?), theirs is the model: electoral revolution inside AND out.  Simultaneously.  Turn out the vote in the primary.  Find yourself some kindred spirits and get going.

Let's start wrapping this up with news today about Bernie Sanders

Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders says he'll decide by March whether to launch a 2016 presidential campaign and, if so, whether he'll seek the Democratic nomination. Either way, Sanders says he wouldn't run just to nudge the debate to the left.

"I don't want to do it unless I can do it well," he told The Associated Press. "I don't want to do it unless we can win this thing."

That's as far as we need to go.  Bernie Sanders is not going to run as either a Democrat, a Green, or a progressive independent.  He just said as much.  What he isn't saying -- his nonverbal communication -- is saying the same thing.

So where does that leave an independent progressive movement?  Same place it's been for awhile: sitting at a standstill.  So what options remain for a progressive revolution?  Let's begin at the beginning: progressives must vote.  Period, full stop.  They also have to cast ballots in the Democratic Party primary occasionally, for the kind of candidates they want to see nominated by that party.  And when the Democrats fail to nominate those candidates, then independent progressives have to vote for Greens -- or Socialists, or independents who are aligned with the left -- on every single ballot line they appear.  That's the only way that there will ever be a progressive revolution in the Democratic Party.   There will be no change made otherwise.

Let me say clearly that if there are Democrats who rationalize voting in the Republican Party primary as the best way to get the least worst option, there ought to be a lot more Dems that can vote for Greens in a general.  Unless you're just the Bluest goddamned Dog imaginable.  But more to the point, Democrats can't take your vote for granted if you're not casting one at all.  They will start paying attention, however, as their electoral share goes down and the Greens' goes up.

I am perilously close to not caring whether a progressive revolution ever happens for the Democratic Party, national or state.  If they continue to devolve into some transmogrification of moderate/socially liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, I can let that go like a hot potato.  I would, hand to heart, rather see the renaissance of a global political party with clearly stated goals which represents what Democrats in the 1940s and 50s came closest to being: Democratic Socialists.  (But Harry Truman's and even John Kennedy's belligerent Cold War neoliberalism would have to be excepted.  The party, and the country, could have had Henry Wallace in 1944, after all.  And the nation had two chances to elect Adlai Stevenson instead... his overt cautiousness on civil rights notwithstanding.  Alas, the Red Scare was just too much for Americans to overcome.  Historical precedent that The Home of the Brave really isn't).

The strongest argument for a progressive movement, independent or third-party, remains that the two corporate political parties are still essentially one; half of the duopoly is just meaner and more cruel than the other.  Do ya really think the disparity between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush makes up enough of a difference to motivate the 2/3rds of Americans who did not vote in 2014 to storm the ramparts supporting one or the other?  Is the Democratic slogan going to again consist of  "we're not perfect but they're nuts" ?  I can already hear the complaining from low information voters about their 2016 choices.  We can either stand around and look at those people as they sit out yet another election, or give them some real options.  Whether they decide to choose is still up to them, of course; many won't.  Some folks will watch teevee no matter what gets televised, even if it happens to be a revolution.  But there are still many left-leaning, working-class Americans waiting to be motivated again, as they were by Occupy, as they were at the Texas Capitol in the summer of 2013, as there are now against the worst and continuing examples of racialized police abuse and criminal justice applied as an elitist commodity.

I'm a big fan of anarchists personally, but not as big a fan of anarchy itself, and I'm no longer healthy enough to fight in an actual revolution -- you know, with guillotines and things like that-- so I'm left agitating for one at the ballot box.  But what's it going to take, exactly?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing: working inside and outside the system.

Update: Eye on Williamson adds some thoughts.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Xmas from Ayn Rand

Twenty more, if you can stomach them.  Too late as a season's greeting for all my Republican friends this year, but next year...

The conservo-libertarian goddess also has some reviews of family movies.

“101 Dalmatians”
A wealthy woman attempts to do her impoverished school friend Anita a favor by purchasing some of her many dogs and putting them to sensible use. Her generosity is repulsed at every turn, and Anita foolishly and irresponsibly begins acquiring even more animals, none of which are used to make a practical winter coat. Altruism is pointless. So are dogs. A cat is a far more sensible pet. A cat is objectively valuable. —No stars.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”
An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. —No stars.

“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”
An excellent movie. The obviously unfit individuals are winnowed out through a series of entrepreneurial tests and, in the end, an enterprising young boy receives a factory. I believe more movies should be made about enterprising young boys who are given factories. —Three and a half stars. (Half a star off for the grandparents, who are sponging off the labor of Charlie and his mother. If Grandpa Joe can dance, Grandpa Joe can work.)

Fifteen more, including "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".  (Three stars.)  Happy holidays!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Scattershooting lame ducks

-- So how about that Obama?  He's had a pretty good seven weeks since all the Democrats who ran away from him got trounced in early November.

You think he can keep it going in 2015?  Do you think Annise Parker can mimic his success strategy?  You know, ram through a few controversial initiatives, avoid losing some of them in court?

2015 is going to be a pivotal year for both Obamacare and HERO.  No bets taken yet.

-- Nothing lame whatsoever about the Texas Observer's Best of 2014.  They've had a very good year.  A good sixty years, for that matter.

-- Stephen Colbert taught us all a lesson in how to go out on top.  That duck sure wasn't lame.

-- Texas Comptroller Jethro Bodine Glenn Hegar has a report due in late January.  Since he's a farmer and not an accountant, I certainly hope Susan Combs has been doing his homework for him.  There's only the future of Texas riding on his predictions of what kind of money the state will have, revenue-wise.  And that will impact whatever Governor Greg Abbott has claimed he'll be able to do without raising taxes.

Boy, that Rick Perry was one dumb lucky bastard, wasn't he?

Lanier's legacy

I'm not joining the chorus of others in mourning the recent passing of former Houston mayor Bob Lanier.  He was certainly a man who made himself very wealthy as a real estate speculator (if you can call knowing where the highways were going to be built and then buying land there 'speculating').  And he spread that wealth around amongst his buddies, quietly tipping them off to potential deals.  That would be called 'insider trading' if someone investing in the stock market did it.  Used to be a crime, don't know if it still is.  If it is, a mostly white Harris County grand jury isn't likely to indict anyway.

Lanier set the standard for how Houston is now governed: of, by, and for the developers.  And in the early '90's, those guys didn't cotton to the idea of a monorail for mass transit -- no matter what the voters of Houston said -- so when Lanier decided to challenge five-term mayor Kathy Whitmire (after she had fired him from Metro), the race wasn't even close.  She came in third, and Lanier bested Sylvester Turner 53-47 in the runoff, with the city split precisely along racial lines.  Oh, and now we have term limits for Houston municipal offices.

Lanier took his 1991 election to run City Hall as a mandate to kill the monorail, and he diverted the money into road projects (surprise!) and large numbers of new police officers.  Though he angered suburbanites by annexing Kingwood, many locals were forgiving, bestowing plaudits on Lanier for the drop in Houston's crime rate as a result of his change in policy direction.  The facts are, however, that crime fell dramatically all across the United States during Lanier's tenure as mayor -- which coincided with the Clinton White House years -- and that drop was due to an extensive variety of social and economic factors, not just more cops on the streets.

It's worth footnoting that there is academic disagreement on precisely which causes may have produced the most effect.  And for the record, one of them wasn't Bill Clinton's economy, stupid.  Crime has continued to fall, worldwide, even as the economy has both worsened and improved over the past twenty years.

Lanier rode the non-partisan nature of Houston's municipal elections as far as anyone has.  He was the kind of conservative, pro-business, law-and-order Democrat that Republicans could love.  A neoliberal, in other words.  Annise Parker has carried on much of this fine Bayou City tradition.  A handful of 2015 mayoral wannabes from both sides of the so-called aisle are already lined up in the same queue.  I've identified some of them, but you're smart enough to know who they are without my reminding you.  The Ds and Rs behind their name mean absolutely nothing in the context of how we do City Hall elections, and that's how Houstonians have (apparently) always wanted it.  As we should know from recent history, all these armadillos bumping around in the middle of the road produces voter turnout in the low double digits.

So let's give Bob Lanier praise for shrewdly becoming a very rich man based on insider information.  And setting a local governmental standard that so many of Houston's 1%, uncontent with just being wealthy, now strive for.  And maybe a few nice parks in town.  And that's about it.

Three Shopping Days Left Wrangle

With the passage of the winter solstice, the Texas Progressive Alliance hopes that all your days are getting merrier and brighter as they bring you this week's holiday roundup.

Off the Kuff looks at the pro-discrimination bills that Republicans will be pushing in the Legislature next year.

Libby Shaw, writing for Texas Kaos and Daily Kos, insists that Texas will continue to have foxes guarding the public hen houses as long as the Republican culture of kleptocracy and crony capitalism persists. Texas investigates Medicaid fraud detection firm for corruption.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is proud of Corpus Christi police chief Floyd Simpson for disciplining officers for use of excessive force. When officers act inappropriately, all too often there are no consequences.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson points out that as oil prices plummet, we're reminded of Texas oil busts past and the reality of the so-called "Texas Miracle". It looks like things are about to change.

Houston's city council gave a $17 million sloppy kiss to Valero as a Christmas present, and city attorney David Feldman left a flaming bag of poo on Mayor Annise Parker's doorstep. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs has suddenly realized that 2015's municipal elections can't come soon enough.

Neil at All People Have Value wrote about peace with Cuba. APHV is part of

Texas Leftist takes a look at the rapid growth of the Houston Area Pastor Council. If Houstonians think think the fight over the Equal Rights Ordinance is over, they better think again. One of the country's most powerful hate groups is now in our back yard.

Bluedaze observes that the impact of fracking was glossed over at the Eagle Ford Shale Legislative Caucus meeting.

Some thoughts on Viernes from Stace at Dos Centavos included Valero's Christmas bonus.


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Juanita Jean got in some snark on Texas A&M, Rick Perry, and the building to be named after him just before they called the whole thing off.

Grits for Breakfast acknowledges a sad statistic: deaths of Texas detainees in the Department of Corrections skyrocketed after the Lege cut healthcare benefits in 2011.

Socratic Gadfly posted about the normalization of relations with Cuba, and the reaction from the Havana Ham, Ted Cruz.

Texas Watch introduces its Safe Texas agenda.

Dwight Silverman suggests that kids today will do just fine without "tech timeouts".

Andrea Grimes criticizes that Texas Monthly "Bum Steer Award" cover illustration of Wendy Davis.

The Texas Living Waters Project forecasts the 2015 oyster season in Galveston Bay.

Keep Austin Wonky summarizes the homestead exemption debate.

The Lunch Tray celebrates the exclusion of Chinese-processed chicken in school food and other child nutrition programs.

The Bloggess is running her annual Christmas gift and charity drive.

Fascist Dyke Motors teases her forthcoming novel, Vagilante Justice.

Swamplot revisits some of the old haunts and re-tells the tales of Fidel Castro's Houston-area gunrunner, Robert Ray McKeown.

Finally, and in the spirit of the season, we're including Republican blogger Big Jolly's call for a special prosecutor to investigate the vast corruption of Harris County GOP kingmaker Gary Polland.  If only Santa Claus could bring us this one gift...

Saturday, December 20, 2014

City attorney Feldman quits

This is a fairly large turd in a Christmas gift bag dropped on Mayor Parker's doorstep.  I suppose that's why she used such effusive praise in announcing his departure.

Sticking to the long-held practice of politicians releasing uncomfortable news on a Friday evening, Houston Mayor Annise Parker announced today that her top legal brain has tendered his resignation.

City Attorney David Feldman, who joined the Parker administration in 2010, will resign effective January 16, 2015, according to a release from Parker's office. "Dave has provided great legal counsel for me and the entire City of Houston since his arrival nearly five years ago," Parker said in a statement. "His legal acumen is unmatched. Without his assistance, we would not have been able to accomplish many of my administration's priorities. I wish him the best of luck as he begins this new phase of his professional life. He will be missed at my executive staff table."

Feldman became the second-highest compensated city attorney in the United States after he threatened to quit a year ago.  But it's never about the money, of course.

Feldman said he long had planned to leave by early 2015 but acknowledged the precise timing of his resignation was driven by the lawsuit against Parker's signature equal rights ordinance, set for trial Jan. 19. Conservative critics sued the city this summer after Feldman and Parker announced that the group's petition to force a referendum on the ordinance did not contain enough valid signatures. Opponents largely take issue with the rights extended to gay and transgender residents under the ordinance, which the City Council passed last May, banning discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting.

Feldman is a central figure in the suit. Opponents charge that he illegally inserted himself into the signature verification process when his office disqualified more than half of the 5,199 pages of signatures because of alleged notary errors. The suit contends that City Secretary Anna Russell, who originally counted enough signatures to verify the petition, should have been in charge of signature verification. 

I suppose we'll go ahead and buy the story that this helps both the former city attorney and the mayor in some shared-interests kind of way.  Time -- and the outcome of the HERO lawsuit -- will tell if that is true or if it is not.

Texpate seems to be in benign agreement that this isn't a good thing for Mayor Parker, but mostly from the 'lame duck' point of view.  I think that's an understatement, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Update: Texas Leftist speculates on what Feldman's leaving -- and the long-term impact of the I Stand Sunday rally last month -- means for HERO's future.

Year-end Houston council developments

-- Let's get the crap out of the way first.

A divided Houston City Council approved a tax break for Valero's eastside refinery on Wednesday that officials say will help the facility expand, despite concerns from some community leaders that residents had many unanswered questions about the agreement.

The deal means Valero's Manchester facility, the only refinery inside Houston city limits, will be considered outside the city boundaries for tax purposes. The rare move will let the energy giant pay lower fees than if it remained in the city and paid property taxes and, officials say, will ensure an $800 million expansion and the 25 permanent jobs that accompany it will happen here and not in Louisiana.

Manchester is the most polluted neighborhood in the city of Houston.  Allowing Valero to excuse themselves from the tax base for $17 million in exchange for 25 jobs is nothing short of an unconscionable act.

"There's absolutely no reason to jam this decision through the week before Christmas," said TOP executive director Ginny Goldman. "People deserve to have input, public dialogue and, more importantly, critical questions answered about a 15-year contract. Telling a community they should trust Valero, they should trust some lobbyist, they should trust political operatives at City Hall, doesn't fly for us."

Asked about community concerns, Mayor Annise Parker quickly noted that Valero informed Gallegos of the deal months ago.


Gallegos said after the meeting that he was "disappointed" in the mayor's comments, noting (city economic development czar Andy) Icken's staff had been negotiating the deal for a year and a half, long before he joined the council last January. Gallegos said he did not organize community meetings because Valero officials assured him they had cleared their plans with neighbors.


"I asked had they gone out to the community and notified the community, and they said yes," Gallegos said. "That's what brought my concern, is that according to the individuals that came to public session yesterday, they said they were not aware of this."

Houston attorney Beto Cardenas, who represented Valero in the talks, said the company began public outreach efforts related to its expansion plans many months ago but did not begin negotiating with city officials until June.

Looks like somebody's lying, don't it?  TOP had the best response.

Some of those are running for mayor, aren't they?  Many are certainly running for re-election.  Let's make sure this bad choice on their part does not go overlooked.

-- Speaking of city council elections, and as Charles and Noah and Stace and Wayne have all previously noted, Democratic county chair Lane Lewis is in for an at-large city council seat.  Lewis is a hard worker and a consensus-builder.  He's the fellow who put me on the Harris County Early Voting Ballot Board, a not-so-subtle move to keep me inside the tent pissing out instead of the other way around.  I have a lot of respect for everything he's done as county chair, particularly as an early doubter after he took over for Gerry Birnberg.

Jenifer Rene Pool and whomever else who has jumped early into AL1 are going to have to rethink those plans.

To answer a question that my fellow blogmeisters don't seem to know the answer to: the reason that all those folks started scrambling for AL1 is because it's an open seat held -- since 1998 -- by a Caucasian.  Look it up.  AL4 (Bradford, term-limited like AL1's Costello) is very quietly considered the black seat.  Since 1984, those holding the position include Anthony Hall, Sheila Jackson Lee, John W. Peavy Jr., Ronald Green, and Bradford.  And while it is accurate that Chris Bell and Michael Berry both held AL4 between 1997 and 2003, that should tell all you need to know about the African American community's lingering animosity toward both men.

It helps to have black friends who are willing to speak candidly and off the record to a pinkish-pale middle-aged white guy.

Friday, December 19, 2014


... while we wait for the Republicans to figure out how to blame the plummeting price of oil on Obama.  That Rick Perry has the dumbest luck, don't he?

-- Farewell to "Stephen Colbert".  He was the very best.  Thank Jeebus he's immortal.

-- Run, Carly, run!  I think she might be to the left of Michelle Bachman, which means she'll be out right after the Iowa caucuses.

-- The super-lobbyists prepare to square off in Austin over Tesla's bid to sell cars here.

Locked in a brawl with auto dealers, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is unleashing some of the most powerful lobbyists and consultants in the state to persuade lawmakers to make it easier for his company to sell electric cars in Texas.

Ahead of the legislative session, Musk has assembled an all-star team of politically well connected forces at the Capitol - almost all entrenched with top Republican leaders - to lay the groundwork for a full Tesla blitz come January.


"Tesla is going to move in force to bring significant resources to this debate this session," said state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican who last session supported the electric-auto maker's push. "You're going to see a lot of pressure on these young new members in the Legislature, a lot of movement on the floor and the backrooms to get people convinced this a good deal for Texas."

This is Clash of the Titans stuff, y'all.

"They tried to use the giga­factory as leverage to get their foot in the door, but the gigafactory was never coming to Texas," said Bill Wolters, president of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association. "I can't imagine what kind of tale they can spin."

Tesla's main opposition stems from Wolters' auto dealer trade group, which over decades has gained political clout, and deep-pocketed franchise owners who are also big campaign contributors.

Take B.J. "Red" McCombs, for example. He owns San Antonio dealerships and has described the state's franchise dealer law "as sacred as Paul's letter to the Corinthians." He donated $35,000 to Gov.-elect Greg Abbott last cycle.

Houston's Dan Friedkin, who chairs Gulf States Toyota, alone gave $350,000 to Abbott and another $150,000 to Lt. Gov-elect Dan Patrick this past cycle, state records show. Separately, political action committees for the dealer trade group and Gulf States Toyota have combined to give more than $360,000 to dozens of elected officials since 2013.

And collectively, the state's auto dealers employ an even larger army of lobbyists at the Capitol, and they've pegged Tesla's cause as enemy No. 1 for the upcoming session.

Musk has hired all Republicans, even Rick Perry cronies, to form an irresistible disruptor force against the immovable car dealer objects.  This battle against the most entrenched status quo in the state ain't got nothin' on the craft brewery-beer distributor skirmish or the Uber-taxicab dustup.  It's going to make Middle Earth look like a grade school playground.  Here's your game program, stars highlighted, maybe they'll get numbers on their backs later.

This year alone, Tesla's added several marquee names to its lobby roster: Mike Toomey, one of Gov. Rick Perry's most trusted confidants; Neal "Buddy" Jones, a former lawmaker and the co-founder of a prominent Austin lobby shop; Craig Chick, a former senior policy adviser for House Speaker Joe Straus; and Adam Goldman, whose brother is a state lawmaker.

Karen Steakley, an ex-deputy legislative director for Perry, also recently signed on as the company's first in-house lobbyist in Texas, according to state records.

During the Legislature's off season, team Tesla started putting together a coalition of lawmakers, business groups and conservative organizations supportive of the electric-auto maker's cause, said Ted Delisi, an Austin consultant with ties to Perry who is providing "strategy" for Tesla.

Delisi added that the company is also in discussions with Allen Blakemore, a chief strategist for Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick's campaign. Blakemore did not return a request for comment.

"We want folks that have a far reach," Delisi said of the team Tesla is assembling.  (Emphasis is mine.)

State data shows the company is seeking inroads in other areas, too. Back in March, a Tesla lobbyist paid $4,000 to host four legislative staffers at a conservative organization's forum on economic freedom. And last month, lawmakers were invited to a Tesla VIP reception when Formula One held races in Austin.

The best goddamned m'f'n government money can buy, no matter how much it costs.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Viva la relaciones normalizadas

There will be conservative blowback, and things like unrestricted travel will need to be approved by a Republican Congress (a tall order), but the breaking news is grand.

The United States will restore diplomatic relations it severed with Cuba more than 50 years ago, a major policy shift ending decades of hostile ties with the communist-ruled island, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday.

Announcing the end of what he called a "rigid" policy of isolation of Cuba that had been ineffective, Obama said the United States would move toward normal ties and would open an embassy in Cuba.

Obama discussed the changes with Cuban President Raul Castro on Tuesday in a nearly hour-long telephone call. Castro spoke in Cuba as Obama made his announcement on a policy shift made possible by the release of American Alan Gross, 65, who had been imprisoned in Cuba for five years.

Cuba is also releasing an intelligence agent who spied for the United States and was held for nearly 20 years, and the United States in return freed three Cuban intelligence agents held in the United States.

More on Alan Gross and the other men released today.  Both Pope Francis and the nation of Canada are to be commended for their extraordinary diplomatic efforts in this regard, which include keeping an 18-month-long secret.  Regular readers here will know that my wife is Cuban, in fact was born there and emigrated with her now-deceased father and mother in 1961.  So we will plan a trip soon to see her hometown of Matanzas, its neighborhoods, and perhaps meet some relatives she has never known.

2016 oligarchy update

-- Jeb Bush goes exploring.  He announced on Facebook, where some derided the quantity of his 'likes' and 'shares'.  This is the state of our political discourse today.  I'm revolted; how about you?

A majority of Americans polled would prefer he just go straight to painting portraits and landscapes.

-- Hillary Clinton is against torture, says black lives matter. Tough positions to take, all things consideredIn Houston tomorrow you can actually greet the Ready for Hillary bus -- not the candidate, mind you, but her transportation -- and get a free poster or a bumper sticker.  Isn't this exciting?

Glenn Greenwald speaks for me.

Having someone who is the brother of one former president and the son of another run against the wife of still another former president would be sweetly illustrative of all sorts of degraded and illusory aspects of American life, from meritocracy to class mobility. That one of those two families exploited its vast wealth to obtain political power, while the other exploited its political power to obtain vast wealth, makes it more illustrative still: of the virtually complete merger between political and economic power, of the fundamentally oligarchical framework that drives American political life.

Then there are their similar constituencies: what Politico termed “money men” instantly celebrated Jeb Bush’s likely candidacy, while the same publication noted just last month how Wall Street has long been unable to contain its collective glee over a likely Hillary Clinton presidency. The two ruling families have, unsurprisingly, developed a movingly warm relationship befitting their position: the matriarch of the Bush family (former First Lady Barbara) has described the Clinton patriarch (former President Bill) as a virtual family member, noting that her son, George W., affectionately calls his predecessor “my brother by another mother.”

If this happens, the 2016 election would vividly underscore how the American political class functions: by dynasty, plutocracy, fundamental alignment of interests masquerading as deep ideological divisions, and political power translating into vast private wealth and back again. The educative value would be undeniable: somewhat like how the torture report did, it would rub everyone’s noses in exactly those truths they are most eager to avoid acknowledging.

And those first in line to save us from this are Ted Cruz and (not) Elizabeth Warren.


A bit more pagan Christmas than years past

Yesterday Mrs. Diddie finally had the surgery she's been putting off for over a year: both medial and lateral menisci (yes, that's the plural of meniscus, or meniscal cartilage) repaired with some debridement of the patella.  She was originally diagnosed as having osteoarthritis and a bone spur, but that proved to be incorrect.  She had to change doctors after that one recommended knee replacement.

I have simultaneously been fighting with my diabetes meds again for about the past six to eight weeks, and that made being the primary caregiver for my wife's day surgery more difficult.  After the election and my ballot board duties were completed in early November, I went back on a class of drug comparable to Invokana (which I had used during the first three months of this year).  It similarly played havoc with the Meneire's Disease I suffer from: dizziness, nausea, sometimes severe vertigo, occasional sudden onset of these symptoms.  But the worst is the exceptionally loud tinnitus, which drowns everything else out.  So I have essentially been in 'read-only' mode for about a month.

All this pretty well wrecked our holidays, that's for sure.  So we're not joining the family for any celebrations, probably not even dining out, certainly not cooking anything, and ain't putting up no Christmas tree.  We've only done a small table-top tree in years past and exchanged small remembrance-type gifts.  As DINKs we've had Christmas every day for decades anyway.  Not feeling too sorry for ourselves, despite how pitiful the above may come off.

But you didn't click in here to read a bunch of whining so let's get to the usual stuff.

-- Charles continues his yeoman's work covering the various special elections as the Lege keeps on playing musical chairs.  He saved me having to finish my unabridged, turgid, still-in-draft-status post with this one paragraph.

Assuming Speaker Straus maintains the tradition of not voting, the magic number is fifty, as in fifty votes in the House are needed to prevent any of these travesties from making it to your 2015 ballot. There are 52 Democrats in the House, plus one officially LGBT-approved Republican, so there are three votes to spare, assuming no other Republicans can be persuaded to vote against these. We know that there are four current House Dems that voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment of 2005. One of them, Rep. Richard Raymond, has since stated his support for marriage equality. Another, Rep. Ryan Guillen, may be persuadable. The current position of the others, Reps. Joe Pickett and Tracy King, are unknown. Barring any absences or scheduling shenanigans, we can handle three defections without needing to get another R on board. This is the key.

(Yes, eleven votes in the Senate can also stop the madness. Unfortunately, one of those votes belongs to Eddie Lucio. I’d rather take my chances in the House.)

That nails it.  Thanks for saving me some time, Chuck!

-- There's also good stuff about the 2015 Houston mayor's race there.  Texpate as well with more council-business-related posts of late.  Here's my two cents' worth.

*When Republicans say they don't like CM Steven Costello because of the drainage fee passed a couple of years ago (the most extreme among them now call him Rain Tax Man), you should believe that animosity is real.  He won't be the guy that Democrats and Republicans in a non-partisan municipal race all get behind.  Neither will Bill King, and neither will Chris Bell.  These gentlemen will all spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising, consultants' fees, direct mail, and all of the rest only to find themselves outside the runoff looking in by the time spring blooms again.

*Dave Wilson may be able to coalesce some Rainbow Hate caucus of miserable social conservatives and pastors black, brown, and white, but that still won't be enough to get Ben Hall into the runoff.

*Adrian Garcia is going to be making a big mistake if he runs for mayor next year.  He will irritate Democrats by handing the sheriff's office over to Ed Emmett and the Republican county commissioners to name his replacement, and by virtue of his proud conservative declarations and solid support of the now-eliminated Secure Communities program, has split his pants wide open straddling the partisan fence.  This has been documented most recently in the comments to this post, and in two posts from four years ago, this one and this one. (Scroll down to the last few grafs in both.)  He's been the dictionary definition of DINO for a long time now.

I can't and won't support his candidacy for mayor, and in fact will work hard against it.  He's the lousiest kind of Blue Dog that our new political reality -- 'bipartisan compromise' is what this bitter gruel tastes like -- seems to breed.  But let me also candidly say that if he quits as sheriff and runs for mayor despite my and Sylvia Garcia's discouragement, he still probably gets into a runoff with Sylvester Turner.

Those are the two favorites as of today in my humble O, and you can probably determine which candidate I value the most.  Turner has been rock-solid as a state legislator for several years, and as best I can tell at this stage is clearly the best choice to succeed Annise Parker.

*The mayor and council are supposed to make a decision on the recycling measure known as 'One Bin For All' before the end of the year.  I oppose that measure, and courtesy the Texas Campaign for the Environment, here's why.

(Houston) received five proposals for a facility in June that would mix trash and recycling into the same bin; it would then potentially gasify or incinerate whatever cannot be recycled. Some of the biggest waste companies in the country have said the technology simply does not work, and just last week the National Recycling Coalition issued a statement against programs like the one Houston is considering:

NRC urges communities to implement best practices for the separate collection of recyclables. Recycling programs must be designed to minimize contamination in consideration of the needs of upstream users. In conjunction with source reduction, reuse, and composting, the recycling of valuable materials for their highest and best use is essential to a sustainable environmental, energy, and economic future.

Did you know that the City only collects 10% of the trash generated in Houston? The proposal currently under consideration misses the big picture –that’s why we support a plan crafted with public input from neighborhood groups, apartment dwellers, environmental justice representatives as well as recycling and compost experts. Other cities have implemented policies that make it possible to recycle at home, work and play – so can Houston. Such a plan would not only be good for the environment; increased recycling and composting would create thousands of good-paying, sustainable jobs.

Austin, DallasSan Antonio for example are implementing strategic plans to reduce waste and increase recycling. Cities like Los Angeles have devised innovative solutions to problems posed for large, complex urban areas like Houston. No single facility will solve our waste problems. We need a plan crafted with public input to ensure we sustainably reduce waste in Houston through education, incentives and effective programs that protect the health and safety of our community.

Join me if you like and sign the petition opposing One Bin for All and moving toward Zero Waste with an expanded Single Stream.

Something obligatory about 2016's presidential jostling and elbowing coming shortly.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Week Before Xmas Wrangle

And for the record: No, using X in Christmas is not a secularization attempt.  The Texas Progressive Alliance has chosen to return fire in the War on Xmas this year as it brings you the best of the lefty Texas blogs from last week.

Off the Kuff says that the actual election results do not support exit polls that claim Greg Abbott received 44% of the Latino vote.

Libby Shaw, writing for Texas Kaos and Daily Kos, is not the least bit surprised to learn that two Texas oil and gas regulators got fired for doing their jobs.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is calling for Court of Appeals Justice Nora Longoria to resign.  How can she be a judge when she got very special treatment in getting her DUI dismissed?

The Bible verses that contain the words "the poor will be with you always" do not mean what Rick Perry thinks they mean, says PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.  And not what many other Christians think they mean, either.

jobsanger has the results of a Rasmussen poll that asked the question: "Is Christmas a holiday for Jesus, Santa, or neither?"

EgbertoWilles points out that conservative radio talker Laura Ingraham has arrived at the same conclusion many non-voting Americans have: that the two major parties are too much alike.  Especially when it comes to the money flooding into both of them.

Texas Leftist noted that Judge Orlando Garcia declined to lift his stay in the case prohibiting gay marriages in Texas, likely because he was concerned that the Fifth Circuit would overrule it.


And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Texans Together considers the way forward on campaign finance reform.

Candice Bernd feels railroaded by the Railroad Commission in Denton.

Texas Politics notes that Rick Perry has asked to give a farewell address to the Texas Legislature when it reconvenes next month.  (We'd rather he just say "Adios, MoFos" and get on down the road.)

Socratic Gadfly mocked the ACLU's executive director calling for the pardons of Bush administration officials who authorized and engaged in torture.

The TSTA Blog reminds us that education is only a priority if it is funded like one.

Natalie San Luis offers a lesson in how not to do public relations.

SciGuy laments the budget cuts that will make it that much harder for NASA to get to Mars.

The Lunch Tray explains what the "cromnibus" spending bill means for school lunches.

Concerned Citizens bemoans the process that San Antonio's city council followed in passing restrictive regulations on Uber, Lyft, and other transit network companies.

And last, the TPA congratulates the Texas Observer on its 60th anniversary.