Monday, February 28, 2011

The Weekly Wrangle

As the Texas Progressive Alliance gets ready to rodeo, we would also like to thank the Academy for this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff published an interview with Chris Barbic, founder and CEO of the YES Prep charter schools, which included a discussion of what the looming budget cuts will do to charter schools.

Doing My Part For The Left is having a greeting card event. Refinish69 thinks it is time to Send Republican Senators and Representatives a Greeting Card to thank them for the work they are doing.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson points out that the GOP's wish is coming true -- the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, in Plutocracy: the 30-year class war on working and middle class Americans.

Nat-Wu from Three Wise Men analyzes the Tucson shootings and the concealed-carry-on-campus bill before the Texas legislature.

From Bay Area Houston: "Teabaggers are the most dangerous, ignorant, disrespectful bunch of people on the planet."

No one fails quite like Mucous, according to McBlogger.

The Texas Cloverleaf speaks out against concealed firearms on Texas campuses.

Public Citizen's TexasVox asks who the real sacred cows are in the Texas and federal budget, replying that the obvious answer are the corporate welfare queens making profits off fossil fuel subsidies.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme calls out the Dallas Morning News for siding with the Koch brothers against hard working people.

Lightseeker over at TexasKaos thinks he knows what game the Republicans are playing and what the Democrats are trying in reply. Check out Shock and Awe and The Democratic Strategy Going Forward.

Redistricting endangers several Texas House representatives, Democratic as well as Republican. The mapmakers may need long knives instead of sharpened pencils (since we can all do maps online now). PDiddie at Brains and Eggs summarizes the opening of "negotiations".

Neil at Texas Liberal discussed the fact that he will soon be taking an airplane trip.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

People-Powered Protest Pictures

Click on these for a larger and much clearer look. From yesterday's "Rally to Save the American Dream" in Austin, at the Capitol:

More pictures here and also here. From the "Houston Walk for Choice" in Houston, also yesterday:

More photos here.

Sunday Funnies

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Redistricting endangers state representatives

One of them is Houston's Scott Hochberg.

Last week's census figures showed that Harris County grew dramatically during the past decade but not fast enough to warrant adding a new state legislative district. The county, in fact, likely will lose one.

As Texas lawmakers turn their attention to the complex and contentious task of redrawing their own districts, that loss will set in motion a game of musical chairs to determine who has a place among the 150 House seats. That number does not change despite a 20 percent increase in population statewide, which means the kaleidoscope of voters each lawmaker represents will shift. Harris County is expected to go from 25 to 24 state House seats.

Legislative districts, redrawn every 10 years in the wake of federal census results, must be roughly the same size, somewhere near 167,637 people per district.


In the House, Democrat Rep. Carol Alvarado's 145th District, with 132,730 people, is down 20.8 percent, as are districts represented by her inner-city cohorts, including state Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Democrat, whose District 137 fell to a population of 137,876, which is 17.8 percent below the mean. District 143, an inner-city district represented by Ana Hernandez, a Democrat, has a population of only 127,381, about 24 percent below the mean. ...

Legislative districts west of downtown gained population dramatically. State Rep. William Callegari, a Republican, represents 264,426 people in District 132, nearly 58 percent above the mean. With a population of 212,484, District 150, represented by Debbie Riddle, a Republican, is 26.8 percent above the mean. Incumbents will have "to start pushing and pulling in different directions" — to use Republican consultant Allen Blakemore's phrase - to equal out the districts.

"Scott Hochberg's gone," Blakemore said. "He's under, and he's a white Democrat."

That sentiment could be premature, said political scientist Mark Jones of Rice University.

"Hochberg is gone if you change the district by too much," he said. "He's well-known in the area he represents, but if he has to pick up population in an area where he's not all that well-known, he could be in trouble. He'll be fine if he keeps, maybe, 65 percent of his current district. He's more endangered if you create a district that's more Hispanic." ...

Jones suggested that Sarah Davis, a rookie Republican representing a central Houston district, could be in trouble. Davis' district is 12.2 percent below the mean.

"She's squeezed," Jones said, "because she's close to Democratic districts. Plus, her district is likely to swing back in 2012."

Hochberg, one of the best and brightest serving in the Texas House, has always managed to walk enough blocks and knock on enough doors in his district to get it done. But the GOP will target him and him alone in Harris County, because they don't want to make things any more difficult for their own people than they already are, and because the VRA makes targeting a Latina -- Alvarado or Hernandez Luna -- virtually off-limits.

Spread Sarah "Ding Dong" Davis with butter and jam no matter what the lines are in HD-134, because she is toast. We're taking that district back in '12.

In west Texas, Paul Burka identifies Jim Landtroop of Plainview as "most vulnerable player".

1. He’s a freshman.

2. He supported Paxton for speaker.

3. He cast one of the fifteen votes against Straus for speaker

4. He represents a part of the state that is hemorrhaging population.

5. He has nowhere to go to pick up extra people.

6. He’s a hard-right conservative

7. He has already been marginalized by his committee assignments (Agriculture & Livestock, Defense & Veterans’ Affairs), although Ag is important in his district.

Landtroop has one of the most oddly shaped districts. It is essentially a cross (.pdf), seven counties from north to south, five from east to west, with appendages on the east side. He is landlocked by savvy veteran members who play important roles in the House: Chisum on the north; Hardcastle, Darby, and Keffer on the east; Hilderbran on the south; and Craddick and Charles Perry on the west. Perry is a Landtroop clone: tea-party type, hard-right conservative, poor committee assignments, supported Paxton for speaker, voted against Straus. You could flip a coin and let the winner have the seat without affecting the House at all.

The factors that squeezed out Speaker Pete Laney six years ago hits Hale and surrounding Panhandle counties again. And read the comments there for some nostalgic give-and-take from the 2006 Democratic primary. The entreaties for Laney to run for lieutenant governor are almost poignant.

Note however that Warren Chisum, having announced his intention to run for the Texas Railroad Commission, may make Burka's speculation moot if the mapmakers absorb his district into a new one that meets the population threshold. Burka thinks that the district moves south toward Lubbock, but I'm inclined to believe that the new lines go north toward Amarillo.

The commenters at Burkablog's link point out that Donna Howard and Craig Eiland are also endangered Democrats, that a variety of GOP incumbents in Travis and Dallas Counties could get unseated in the musical chairs shuffle, and that east Texas will be down a seat, likely a Republican one. More on that from the Franklin County GOP, namely turncoat Chuck Hopson, who seems to have trouble constructing his sentences:

“Wayne Christian is over in House District 9, which is Nacogdoches, Shelby, St. Augustine, Sabine, Jasper — immediately to the right of Cherokee County — that district is 22,000 short. The district, Bryan Hughes, immediately above me, District 5, is 9,000 short. Lavender, which is up in Texarkana, is 21,000 short. Cain immediately next to him is 21,000 short. Phillips next to him is 13,000 short,” Hopson said. “Leo Berman in Tyler is the only person (whose district is above the qualifier), he has an excess of 2,500 people in Tyler because Tyler’s had a really good growth. But from Texarkana all the way down to Galveston, all those districts are short.”

Then again maybe it was the transcriber. Somebody really needs to learn English or just get of the country, don't you think?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First Tunisia, then Egypt, now Libya. Is Wisconsin next?

Eliza Griswold of The Daily Beast:

The last nine days in Libya are bringing the bloodiest of all recent revolutions to pass. Over the past 48 hours in downtown Tripoli and to the east, in the city of Benghazi, which has long opposed Muammar Gaddafi’s 41-year rule, Gaddafi has declared war on his own people, using fighter jets, helicopters, and possibly anti-aircraft fire, as well as African mercenaries to gun down Libyans who dare to oppose him. Due to a media blackout, very few images have emerged from the country.

Libyans have turned, instead, to Twitter, logging in voicemails of eyewitness accounts of the mounting brutality on Enough Gaddafi. Numbers of dead and wounded are impossible to verify. Human Rights Watch has confirmed at least 233 dead, most in the east. As in Egypt, Libyans have begun to record the fallen on

But Libya is not Egypt. “This isn’t a Facebook revolution. It’s more like Holler—people calling to each other from the other side of the street,” Khaled Mattawa, a Libyan poet and professor at the University of Michigan, says. Mattawa, like many other members of the exiled intelligencia, has set up a makeshift situation room in his Michigan basement, from which he supplies information to reporters and fellow Libyans.

When it comes to a functioning civil society, Libya is a near total vacuum. It is home to six million people, not Egypt’s 80 million, who have lived in almost total isolation for 41 years. Internet access is limited. So are opportunities for study abroad for anyone whose last name isn’t Gaddafi. Unlike Egypt, the county is filthy rich, but that money is meaningless for those outside of the regime.

In Libya, global forces have held a limited sway. Unlike Egypt, there are not millions of tourists arriving every year. There are only a small handful of international visitors, many of whom (including me) have received direct invitations from the Gaddafi regime to come watch their petro-dollar Potemkin village function as an “opening” state.

On Monday night, in The Leader’s signature bizarre fashion, he appeared on national television to quell rumors that he had fled to the safety of his good friend, Hugo Chavez. “I am still in Tripoli, and not in Venezuela,” he said in a brief, less than minute-long speech. He wearing a fur hat and carrying an open umbrella speaking through the open door of a white truck.

One of Muammar Gaddafi’s greatest fears is that of ending up “in a hole” like his former friend and colleague, Saddam Hussein, M. Jibriel, a senior Libyan economic advisor told me.

To safeguard his teetering grip on power, Gaddafi is willing to openly slaughter protestors in droves—a practice he has long carried out in secret.

Last night I read that some of the fighter pilots had flown to the island of Malta and asked for asylum rather than bomb the protestors. A dozen or so of Libya's foreign diplomatic corps have resigned; the US ambassador said that he could no longer represent "the current dictatorship".

Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Libya ... Wisconsin?

Update: Or maybe Indiana?

Monday, February 21, 2011

President's Day Quiz

No fair Googling. Answers at the end.

1. Which president negotiated a treaty with Peru that kept U.S. businessmen up to their elbows in a cheap (cheep?) fertilizer known as bird shit?
A) Lincoln  B) Fillmore  C) McKinley  D) Kennedy

2. Which president's autobiography fails to mention his wife even once?
A) Van Buren  B) Grant  C) Wilson  D) Taft

3. Who liked to blame his farts on his Secret Service detail?
A) Hayes  B) Ford  C) L. Johnson  D) Eisenhower

4. "I can't remember what I did" is what this president said about his time in the Alabama National Guard…and no one else can remember anything about his service there, either:
A) Clinton  B) Hoover  C) Nixon  D) George W. Bush

5. Which president shared the same nickname with his five brothers?
A) Eisenhower---"Ike"  B) Tyler---"Tye"  C) Monroe---"Mugs"  D) Taft---"Big [Name]"

6. Which president-to-be lost his first election, claiming that his rival only won because he was the tallest man in the room?
A) Pierce  B) John Quincy Adams  C) John Adams  D) Cleveland

7. Who uttered the misstatement, "Now we're trying to get unemployment to go up. I think we are going to succeed."
A) Obama  B) Truman  C) Harding  D) Reagan

8. Who felt that horses "ate too much, worked too little, and died too young," and became influential in the breeding of mules for farm work?
A) Jefferson  B) Washington  C) Jackson  D) Taylor

9.  Who advocated for the removal of "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency?
A) Carter  B) Teddy Roosevelt  C) Polk  D) Garfield

10. Who got swindled by a brokerage firm, declared bankruptcy, and rejected an offer of $100,000 from P.T. Barnum for his war memorabilia?
A) Benjamin Harrison  B) W.H. Harrison  C) Grant  D) Madison

Answers: B, A, B, D, A, C, D, B, B, C

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance stands in solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin as they bring you this week's blog roundup.

Off the Kuff examines the Perry/Combs slap fight over Amazon's decision to leave Texas rather than pay taxes.

Letters From Texas reports on a note that a pregnant woman sent to Texas state Senator Leticia Van de Putte, as the Senate prepared to pass the sonogram bill, and as the woman prepared to leave for the hospital to deliver her baby. Surprise #1: the woman is against the bill. Surprise #2: so is her father. Surprise #3: her father is another Texas state Senator.

This week the Legislative Study Group released an updated version of the "Texas on the Brink", Eye On Williamson had this to say: for Texas to get off the brink, we must fight for the impossible.

A gaggle of Houston bloggateers met with Metro's CEO and board members and discussed the many changes the transit authority has completed in the past year. PDiddie from Brains and Eggs was there and filed a report.

Libby Shaw explains what the Texas GOP means by shrinking government over at TexasKaos. Give a read to Texas GOP "To Shrink Government to fit inside a Woman's Uterus".

Neil at Texas Liberal looked at some early campaign advertising by incumbent Houston Mayor Annise Parker and considered if Mayor Parker's record matched her claims.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wonders why republicans dislike women so much.

This week at McBlogger, your punishment is your reward!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Redistricting follies

Lots has been written and and a lot still to be on the coming rework of Congressional and state legislative boundaries for 2012. Mark Jones at Rice's Baker Institute, with whom I seem to disagree most of the time, gets some of it right in this post entitled "Why Houston won't send a Hispanic to Congress":

(O)ne might expect that a second Hispanic-majority district (in addition to Gene Green's CD-29) would be created in the Houston area during the current redistricting process. This is unlikely to happen for four principal reasons.

First, any Hispanic-majority district created in the Houston area would be expected to elect a Democrat. However, the redistricting process is already expected to produce two additional Hispanic majority districts, which will elect Democrats. One district will be in the lower Río Grande Valley, where any district is by definition a Hispanic-majority district, and one will be in the DFW Metroplex which presently lacks a Hispanic-majority district and where suburban Republicans are eager to make their districts safer by packing Democrats into a urban minority-majority district. As a result, the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature (along with Governor Rick Perry) is unlikely to support the creation of a third Democratic district in Houston.

The italicized assumption above by Jones is probably false. Aaron Pena was again assigned to the House Redistricting committee and is going to get lots of help drawing a district in the Valley he can quite possibly win.

Second, Houston-area Republicans strongly back the creation of a new Republican majority district in the Northwest portion of the region. Furthermore, this district could be created rather painlessly (from the perspective of Republican incumbents) from some combination of portions of the current districts represented by Representatives Brady, Culberson, McCaul, Olson, Paul and Poe.

Absolutely correct. Just take a look at the spreadsheet at the top of this post. CD-10 alone has almost half of a new district's population to shed. McCaul, an Austin resident, would probably love to have more of Travis and southeast Austin in a new-to-him district, while Harris County's northwest corridor, and further out 290, elect another Republican.

Third, to create a second Hispanic majority district would require significant changes to the districts presently occupied by Representatives Al Green, Gene Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, while the creation of the Republican district in the Northwest suburbs would leave these representatives' districts relatively untouched. As a result -- at least privately -- none of these three Democratic representatives is likely to be overly enthusiastic about the creation of a second Hispanic-majority district (especially Al Green and Jackson Lee).

Fourth, given the relative lack of residential housing segregation among Hispanics in the region, it would be difficult to draw a second compact and contiguous district in which Hispanics comprised a strong majority (55 to 60 percent) of the district's population. Recall, that the creation of minority-majority districts depends on residential housing segregation. If a certain demographic group is well-integrated residentially, then it is much more difficult to draw a district where it comprises a majority of the population.

Accurate -- if slightly obnoxious -- on both counts. The Austin Chronicle suggests that all the new Congresspersons will be up and down Interstate 35...

There does seem to be consensus that the four new seats should be somewhere along I-35. According to a report produced by the Texas Legislative Council, an advisory body to the Lege, 57% of the decade's growth based on the 2009 estimates occurred along the I-35 corridor. Another 39% occurred east of that line, and only 4% in West Texas.

"I think the big controversy will be the battle between Hispanics and Republicans over several areas, in particular the area between Tarrant County and Dallas," (UT law professor Steve) Bickerstaff says. "The issue is whether there is a sufficient Hispanic population there now to create a Hispanic opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act. [The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund] has wanted that for two decades now; this is the third decade. Each time the Hispanic percentage has grown but not reached the legal requirements. I think there will be considerable attention given that this time." Bickerstaff thinks a similar battle could occur in redrawing the state Senate.

"Clearly, the distribution is going to be along the I-35 corridor and the Rio Grande Valley," says Sen. Kal Seliger (R-Amarillo). For the Valley, recent Capitol buzz has strongly suggested that Republicans will try to draw a district that could elect to Congress newly turncoat state House Republican Aaron Peña.

Like I said. If the Lege can't get this done, in regular session or special -- and I believe that they will -- then the Legislative Redistricting Board will do it for them, without benefit of Democratic input ...

"I'm not very optimistic that we'll do anything different in 2011 than we did in 2001," (Sen. Jeff Wentworth) says, noting that the LRB gets legal control over the process if the Lege fails, and the LRB would now be all-Republican. "For partisan Republicans in the majority ... there's not a lot of incentive to sit down and work out a fair map with the Democratic minority, when they know if they just do nothing and adjourn [at the beginning of June], five Republicans will draw the map, and they can be more partisan than the Legislature."

Be reminded that the LRB is comprised of David Dewhurst, Joe Straus, Greg Abbott, Susan Combs, and Todd Staples. Wentworth raises another interesting angle; that the maps might not be submitted to the Justice Department for Voting Rights Act pre-clearance:

Other knowledgeable observers disagree and believe the Republicans won't even bother with the Justice Department and will go directly to the courts. "I think what will happen is Republicans will say [the review process] is unfair," Bickerstaff told the same gathering. "If [the GOP redistricting] is aggressive, you go to the court."

Wentworth, whose district includes part of South Austin, told the Chronicle the same thing. "I don't believe it would be in Texas' interest to even go the route of trying to get precleared by the Department of Justice," Wentworth said. "We've always had the option of going to a three-judge federal court in the District of Columbia. We've never taken that route; we've always gone the preclearance route through the Voting Rights division of the DOJ. But I think that would be a waste of time in 2011, and I don't believe we're planning on doing that."

These are just the preliminary skirmishes. Greg goes as deep in the weeds on census data and redistricting maps as you could hope to go. Update: Here's his response to Jones of Rice's Baker. Kuffner has posted lots on the topic already.

Watch for much more ink, airtime, and pixels.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lunch with Metro

Yesterday this bloggateer was invited to a gathering of similars with Gilbert Garcia and George Greanias of Metro, the metroplitan transit authority of Harris County. Present also was their media outreach chief Jerome Gray and board members Allen Watson and Christof Spieler and others. In the ongoing dynamic of evolving media, the purpose of the luncheon was to open the dialogue between Metro and us in order to make more transparent the functions of Houston's mobility coordinators.

And there was a free lunch involved, so I'm always wherever that is.

Joining me were Charles and Neil and Greg and Tory and Erik and John and a few more.

Following our lunch and conversation with Q&A we toured the maintenance facility at 1601 West Bellfort, just south of the Fannin South railway station (the southernmost terminus for the Texas-Medical-Center-to-downtown light rail line, also known as the Main Street Line and the Red Line).

Just in the past ten months (April '10 to January '11), and besides the personnel overhaul, Metro has ...

-- had a compliance review completed by Fulbright and Jaworski with no significant findings;

-- bought out former CEO Frank Wilson's contract at a discount;

-- settled the lawsuit with Lloyd Kelley;

-- reworked their real estate contract with McDade Smith to save some commission expense;

-- cancelled the contract for more rail cars with the Spanish company that builds them and received $14 million back as part of that settlement;

-- adopted a reduced capital budget (.pdf), one which slows the expansion of light rail projects in tune with their funding (as part of their transparency initiative you can even see their check register online now)

-- and has begun to demonstrate a much improved relationship with the Federal Transit Administration (of the USDOT), resulting in an extra $50 million (from $150MM to $200MM) in President Obama's budget proposal for construction of Metro's North and Southeast rail lines.

*Whew*. That's a lot of long hours and late nights for some people.

Myth-buster: Metro just celebrated its 75 millionth boarding, four years ahead of projections. Next time you hear someone say that nobody rides the train (or the buses), know that they're full of it.

Garcia wrote an op-ed last month with more detail on these organizational improvements.

While much of our Q&A centered around things like transparency and budgets and so on, I asked -- thinking that my question might be better directed to the appropriate county commissioner -- about the fate of the Danny Jackson Bark Park (see more at Yelp), which runs along the south side of Westpark between the West Loop and Newcastle ... precisely where the west end of the University Line will go. I -- and about a hundred different Houstonians at any thirty-minute interval of the day -- love this place, especially for our big dogs, who really don't get much exercise or socialization without it. And Steve Radack has cracked (scroll to the bottom) that the very reason "he" put a dog park there was so that 'Metro would lose votes if they took it back' for the railway. Well, even though Metro originally wanted to run University down Richmond -- spurring plenty of community outrage at the time -- they had purchased much of that right-of-way on Westpark from Southern Pacific in 1992. In other words, it was Metro's land for a long time before somebody thought about asking them if they could put a dog run there. And with the Uptown line coming into play, the attractiveness of increased Galleria-area ridership made everything work out well in the end.

Except for the future of a truly beloved dog park. That's still Radack's bailiwick, and maybe Metro can help him out again with something, real-estate wise.

So at this point you might be thinking "PDiddie is just a cheerleader for Metro". Well, I'm certainly a big fan of infrastructure. And a Houston that solves its ongoing and future mobility challenges is a Houston that thrives. For bidness, and for its residents. I think Metro has a real handle on how to make that happen. Tune into their board meetings online and feel free to voice your opinion, whether you agree with me or not.

Update: Big Jolly plays the victim.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Updates on the Lege (from Kronberg)

If you really want the in-depth, behind-the scenes look at what's happening in the Texas Legislature, there's no better source than Harvey Kronberg's Quorum Report. He's better than the Trib, better than the Observer, and even better than most of us bloggers ... even Kuff -- though that's a close call ;^). His website is still too difficult to navigate and link to, and you have to pay (a lot) for the whole story, but experience and connections and respect as a non-partisan lend his news the greatest credibility. Here's an example from yesterday's Daily Buzz, a lot of stuff that really nobody else is writing about.


Most agree, proposed funding level will trigger school finance litigation

A failure to properly fund the compression of tax rates in the upcoming budget bill could force the commissioner of education to set property tax rates for local school districts around the state.

In this conversation, compression is the state funded rollback of school district tax rates.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock raised the issue during an Appropriations subcommittee hearing with Commissioner Robert Scott this afternoon. In the event the state was unable to fund the current compression of school district tax rates, how would tax rates end up being set? The tentative answer appears to be that it would be left to Scott and his agency to verify the funding available and then set tax rates.

“Please don’t put me in that spot,” Scott asked the committee.



Only $48 million at issue, but services have dramatic ramifications

Senators tapped to take a close look at the Medicaid program got a dose this morning of the difficulties in trimming services in a state where services that are considered optional don’t seem so optional in real life. Because of the restrictions placed by the federal health care reform, budget planners have less latitude in where to look for cuts in the Medicaid program. The big meat cleaver is the proposed 10 percent cut in reimbursement rates for health care providers. The “scalpel,” intended to save about $45 million in general revenue, is a 10 percent cut in acute care services offered to adults above basic care options.

In the Medicaid jargon, these are called “optional” services, but as HHS Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs reminded members of the Senate Finance subcommittee on Medicaid, Texas is already sparing in its funding of these add-on services. And, he added, the state has usually chosen to take on these additional services because they save money overall in the health care system. The example he often gives is hospice service because it requires much less service to allow a terminally ill patient to die at home or in a hospice than in the hospital.



In addition, bill would promote evidence based sex education

Texas should keep funding its share of a Medicaid program aimed at reducing teen pregnancies and require evidence-based sex education in public schools, two Democratic legislators said Monday.

“The surest way to prevent the termination of an unwanted pregnancy is to prevent the unwanted pregnancy,” said Sen. Kirk Watson. He acknowledged that abstinence is the surest form of prevention but also called for including more scientific and medical information in what schools teach children about sex.

Watson, D-Austin, and Rep. Mark Strama stopped short of mandating instruction on contraception. But their identical companion bills (SB 585, HB 1255, aka the Prevention Works Act) would require school districts to inform parents whether the sex ed curriculum is abstinence-only or comprehensive and whether it includes instruction on condom use.



Naishtat files bill, Texas Retailers applauds Combs position

In the dispute between the Governor and the Comptroller over whether the state should fight to extract $269 million in unpaid sales taxes from online retailer, an unlikely champion has ridden to the rescue of Comptroller Susan Combs. Austin Democratic state Rep. Elliott Naishtat filed legislation today that would clarify that e-retailers like Amazon would have to pay sales tax on Internet transactions.

Local bricks and mortar retailers like bookstores or camera stores have complained for years that companies like Amazon have created an unfair competitive position by not paying sales taxes. The issue, though, gained a higher profile last week when Gov. Rick Perry called out Combs for pursuing $269 million that the state says is owed by Amazon for unpaid sales taxes. Amazon had responded to the Comptroller’s actions by deciding to close its Irving distribution facility. The company cited “an unfavorable regulatory climate” in making the decision.

The Chron has a bit of news about that last, essentially a crib of Harvey. The local daily lost RG Ratcliffe recently, and they will be a long time getting back up to speed. If you want to stick to the corporate media then Postcards and Trail Blazers run rings around the Chronicle. But they are only occasionally as good as the ones up-post.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Funnies left over from Sunday

The NFL lockout news is not good

It's bad. Real bad.

Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are considered two of the smarter NFL quarterbacks alive. (Carolina) Panthers owner Jerry Richardson reportedly still treated them like children in a CBA negotiating session last Saturday.

Speaking on the Michael Kay Show on ESPN Radio in New York, Cardinals kicker Jay Feely passed along a story from last week’s brief bargaining session in Dallas that Brees and Manning attended.

“Jerry Richardson . . . he’s going to criticize Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and their intelligence in our meeting Saturday?” Feely said. “And sit there and say dismissively to Manning ‘Do I need to help you read a revenue chart son? Do I need to help break that down for you because I don’t know if you know how to read that?’” [...]

Richardson, who has taken a leadership position among the owners in the negotiation, has been called the “least flexible and most pessimistic” of the owners.

Richardson is the only former player among all owners. This antagonostic posture would be remarkable even if it weren't for that fact. More from SI's Peter King:

I think it's fruitless to talk, write and theorize about what teams are going to do in free agency when there's a very good chance there won't be free agency. Folks, this labor fight is going to be a long one. I believe it'll be Labor Day, at least, before a solution is found. Given that scenario, how can the league possibly say: We're playing real games in 21 days, and so you 495 free agents, go spend the next week flying from team to team, finding a home, and sure, you'll be ready to play two weeks after you sign with your new team in a new scheme. Surrrrre.

And more pessimism from Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter.

(K)nowledgeable sources who previously were optimistic that CBA negotiations would not result in any lost games next season are growing increasingly pessimistic. One source said last week's flare-up was symbolic and illuminated the schism between the two sides. Now there is a general feeling that some or all of the 2011 season may be at risk, though there is plenty of time for the two sides to continue talking and trying to bridge their vast differences.

Lots more at those excerpts. I've been saying in casual conversations that there won't be any NFL before October. Even that is looking like a rosy scenario at this point.

Valentine's Day Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance is slowly thawing out -- and that has something to do with the warmth in our hearts for our collective sweeties -- as it brings you this week's blog roundup.

This week on Left of College Station Congressman Bill Flores gives talking point answers to softball questions. Also, a look at the Republican attack on birthright citizenship both nationally and in Texas, and how Republicans are undermining Texas’ economic future by cutting education funding today. LoCS also covers the week in headlines.

Off the Kuff reads an op-ed about how the budget should be balanced and detects a shift in where the center of the debate is.

TXsharon at BLUEDAZE: Drilling Reform for Texas says "So what" to another attempt by the Big Gas Mafia to avoid regulation of hydraulic fracturing.

Eye On Williamson points out that it's not what Gov. Rick Perry said in his "State of the State" address, but what he didn't say: Un-meaningful measures.

Lightseeker reports on the coming coverup of the multi-billion dollar shortfall in educational spending in The once and future lie: Schools are in financial trouble because they have too many paper pushers. Check it out out over at TexasKaos.

McBlogger takes a look at some bipartisan craziness that's sure to clog up our courts forever.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants every parent to know that Republicans hate teachers and public education.

Rick Perry spent time in California and Washington DC over the past week, returning to Texas briefly to give his "state of the state" address. Which revealed that he lives in a state of delusion. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs points out that the emperor is unclothed.

Bay Area Houston says that trusting Rick Perry with fiscal responsibility is like trusting a convicted child molester with the keys to a daycare.

Letters From Texas observes Republican priorities around the country and in Texas, and concludes that Republicans are at war with women.

Neil at Texas Liberal notes that having planned all the harm they can on health and education, Texas Republicans are now going after history and the arts. Neil also posted on comments made by Texas state Senator John Whitmire, who made the astute point that average citizens themselves are going to have to organize and fight back if they want to stop the worst of what Republicans have planned for Texas.

TexasVox writes that TransCanada has already started condemning land in Montana for the Keystone XL pipeline to bring the world's dirtiest oil to Texas refineries: is Texas next?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Funnies

Bush's Swiss visit off after threats of legal action on torture

"A cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy and, while guided and controlled by virtue, the noblest attribute of man. It is the only dictator that free men acknowledge and the only security that free men desire." -- Mirabeau B Lamar, 2nd president of the Republic of Texas and the "Father of Texas Education"

"Rush Limbaugh makes a crack about this every week, because who better to get your health advice from than a drug addicted fat man. Rush, I have proof that no one in the government is forcing you to eat right and exercise. YOU!” -- Bill Maher, on Limbaugh’s criticisms of Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign

Rumsfeld: I should have resigned after Abu Ghraib

Friday, February 11, 2011

Rick Perry chases jobs out of Texas *update*

While we're piling on Governor Zoolander, let's note this news.

Online retail giant is closing a suburban Dallas distribution center and scrapping plans to expand Texas operations after a dispute with the state over millions of dollars in sales taxes, an executive informed employees Thursday in an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press.

Dave Clark, Amazon's vice president of operations, writes in the e-mail that the center will close April 12 due to Texas' "unfavorable regulatory climate" (emphasis mine). Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako would not say how many employees work at the Irving distribution center.

Texas contends Amazon is responsible for sales taxes not collected on online sales in the state and the comptroller's office last year demanded $269 million in uncollected sales taxes from the company. Amazon subsequently filed a lawsuit against the state, demanding it produce the audit that generated the figure.


Clark said in his e-mail that the company also is scrapping plans "to build additional facilities and expand in Texas, bringing more than 1,000 new jobs and tens of millions of investment dollars to the state." Texas employees who are willing to relocate will be offered positions in other states, Clark said.

Let's pause here for a moment. I am in favor of Texas -- and every other state, for that matter -- levying sales taxes on online purchases. To those who would wail about doing so, from corporate retailers to teabaggers and every conservative schmuck in-between -- I say "get a grip". You cannot whine about budget deficits and simply refuse to consider any potential tax revenue streams. It's delusional to think that you can. Oh wait ...

But what I think is neither the point of this post nor the majority viewpoint in Texas. This action by the comptroller completely contradicts the governor's "Texas is good for bidness" BS he repeatedly blathers, and this level of extreme hypocrisy has apparently -- finally --  pissed off all those suckers who just elected him last November. (A little too late for any meaningful action, but then they have always been slow...)

Rick Perry is too busy to notice all that commotion, though; he's in Washington DC to address the CPAC convention this afternoon. That's after visiting California to celebrate Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday last week, while Texans shivered under rolling blackouts across the state.

He's not taking extended victory laps or even 'drumming up new business'. It's all part of his 2012 vice-presidential campaign. And his book tour.

McBlogger and Bay Area Houston have more.

Update: It's all Susan Combs' fault.

"That is a problem and I would suggest to you that we need to look at that decision that our comptroller made," he said. "The comptroller made that decision independently. I would tell you from my perspective that's not the decision I would have made."

Well isn't that special. Now we have a catfight between Republican state executives.

Texas already has a $10K bachelor's degree ... that is about to be ended

The irony is just priceless ...

Gov. Perry challenged Texas colleges to offer a $10,000 bachelor's degree program in his State of the State Address, but there are already three schools across the state that have a program like that, the Texas Tribune reported.

That includes Brazosport College which is in the Houston area.

However, the state house is considering cutting funding to the school and if it's approved the college could be forced to shut down.  

More from the referenced Trib piece:

As it turns out, there already is a $10,000 bachelor’s degree available in Texas — and the Legislature may be on the verge of eliminating it.

Shirley Reed, the president of South Texas College, a community college in the Rio Grande Valley, was at the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon to testify before the Senate Finance Committee. She heard Perry and thought, “My goodness. This is precisely what we’re doing.”

South Texas College is one of three community colleges in Texas — the others are Brazosport College and Midland College — authorized to offer a Bachelor of Applied Technology degree. It’s a real, honest-to-goodness bachelor’s degree, designed for students who already have an Associate of Applied Science — a technical degree that often doesn’t transfer to traditional universities. It can be leveraged into middle management positions or even the pursuit of a master’s degree. And the cost tends to be in the $10,000 range.
“It’s probably the most cost-effective, affordable bachelor’s degree you could have in Texas,” Reed says.

At Brazosport, for example, four years' worth of tuition and fees for a Bachelor of Applied Technology degree comes to $9,168. To be fair, that does not include books. Ken Tasa, the dean of educational programs and services at Brazosport, estimates that eight semesters' worth of brand-new textbooks could run a tab as high as $4,000, tipping the bill significantly over Perry’s $10,000 limit. Between the internet and the campus library, however, there are ways of skirting those costs.

So, mission accomplished? Not so fast — the Bachelor of Applied Technology program is highly controversial and may not be around much longer.

The House’s base budget not only eliminates all funding for Brazosport, it eliminates funding for all of the state’s Bachelor of Applied Technology programs. 

There's more there about how this degree has met with considerable resistance from the educational establishment, which believe that a four-year degree from a two-year college encroaches on university turf. But I'm sure the governor has another wand to wave that will make that go away. After all he appoints all those regents, you see.

As for how Perry is hoping to get his $10,000 degree, she says she is still scratching her head. “I just assumed that meant it was all online,” she says.

Rick Perry pronounces and college administrators across the state scratch their heads. You can just picture it, can't you?

The problem is believing anything he says in the first place.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Rick Perry's state of delusion

This is the same governor who also promised Texans lower utility rates if the markets were deregulated. The reason he cannot deliver on any of his grandiose schemes is because he consistently speaks of fantasy as if it was reality. Among the many hats he wears -- drugstore cowboy, malicious moron -- Rick Perry is also a carnival barker.

There weren't a whole lot of specific policy proposals in Gov. Rick Perry's State of the State address on Tuesday, but there was one nugget to give aspiring college students hope. "It's time for a bold, Texas-style solution to their challenges," Perry said with all the gusto of a commercial voiceover. He proposed a four-year tuition freeze and then proposed the coup de grace: Universities should create degrees that only cost $10,000 including textbooks. That would undoubtedly be good news for students.

That is, until you do some digging. Perry wasn't saying that universities should lower their tuition costs across the board. Instead, Perry wants schools to create a special type of degree, in addition to what they already offer.

Bargain rates, in other words, for what could easily become a bargain product.

In a Feb. 4 letter to state university presidents that got little attention, Perry outlined his ideal $10,000 product. He asked that the program "be scalable, so at least 10 percent of the degrees you produce use this approach." What would be "this approach?" In addition to accepting more Advanced Placement and dual credits, Perry asked that the new programs use "online and blended classes" and "no-frills campuses." So while a degree might still say University of Texas, the actual product would differ from the degrees for more economically advantaged students.

Of course we don't know what the final product would look like. But at first glance the proposal feels like offering a luxury vacation—where tourists stay at the Motel 6. And it was one of many proposals in the State of the State that looked better before the details emerged.

At this point he will say and do anything to make a good impression on any group of conservative mad-hatters. He's running for vice-president of the United States.

Update: From the Austin Statesman ...

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, head of the Senate Democrats: “We absolutely agree that we’re blessed to live in this state and its biggest asset are the people of Texas… The people in charge aren’t living up to what the people of Texas need.”

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, chair of the House Democrats: “The Republicans got the reins in 2003… They’ve wrecked the car. They’ve put it in the ditch.”

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth: “Gov. Perry has been waking up in a very different reality than a lot of people in Texas… He would rather climb a tree to tell us a lie than stay on the ground and tell us the truth.”

State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin: “My glasses are not rosy enough or thick enough to believe what I just heard… Rick Perry’s economic miracle is a deception. Now, it’s time for him to come clean.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio: “2011 is Rick Perry’s Madoff moment. The Ponzi scheme is up.”

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Weekly (in-between freezes) Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance is hoping for a swift, player-friendly resolution to the NFL labor situation as it brings you this week's roundup.

Bay Area Houston submits a press release from Rick Perry: TX Gov Rick Perry puts the Chupacabra on emergency legislation.

Off the Kuff conducted an interview with Houston city attorney David Feldman to discuss the upcoming city council redistricting process.

Harold at Letters From Texas poked fun at the Texas weather on both Wednesday and Friday.

While the Big Gas Mafia is pumping diesel fuel into the ground in the name of national security and energy independence, they have been quietly planning to ship a bunch of it to China. TXsharon at BLUEDAZE: Drilling Reform for Texas wants you to think about who profits and who pays for this so-called "clean energy."

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes that privatizing essential services promotes profits, not the general welfare. The Corpus Christi Caller Times pretends (or not) to be all stupid about the rolling blackouts.

Texans came to the shivering realization last week that the energy capital of the world can't keep its lights on. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs provides the reveal.

How bad is the budget disaster that the Texas GOP hath wrought? Libby Shaw spells it out over at TexasKaos. See Rick Perry Lays a $30 Billion Rotten Egg on Texas.

Public Citizen asked a series of questions over at TexasVox about our rolling blackouts: who's to blame? (hint: coal and natural gas) who saved our bacon? (hint: renewables) and who profited?

Eye On Williamson points out that Congressman John Carter wants to increase the amount of mercury in our air: Rep. Carter wants to increase corporate profits by harming nature.

It's always good to know that someone is sticking up for the stupid and belligerently ignorant. McBlogger offers his thanks to Speaker Boehner for being that someone.

Neil at Texas Liberal wrote last week on the release -- after many months -- of the video tape of a number of Houston police officers beating up 15 year old Chad Holley. The public has a right to see this video. Houston's political leaders should be less concerned about Houston's image and the unlikely prospect of civil disorder, and more concerned with high rates of poverty in Houston that help drive young people to crime.

Friday, February 04, 2011

"The energy capital of the world can't keep the lights on"

The cold weather that swept across Houston brought with it the cruel irony of rolling blackouts: the Energy Capital of the World couldn't keep the lights on.

Wednesday's frigid onslaught knocked out 50 generating units statewide, eliminating 7,000 megawatts of capacity and leaving the state about 4,000 megawatts short.

This, of course, isn't supposed to happen. Temperature-related demand, extreme hot or cold spells, largely can be anticipated.

"You would think that the financial incentives would be to be up and ready," said David Cruthirds, publisher of the Cruthirds report, a newsletter that tracks electricity issues in the southern U.S. "It does raise a question of the planning."

It also raises the question of how much customers are willing to pay to ensure it doesn't happen again.

"We don't have enough flexibility on the system today to address the situation," said Brett Perlman, a power industry consultant and former member of the Public Utility Commission. "We in Texas have not invested substantially in demand response and other technologies."

Apparently it's going to cost consumers more -- a LOT more -- to keep Texas from falling into an Iraqi sometimes-the-power-is-on, sometimes-it-ain't situation.

I asked yesterday, I'll ask again: you don't suppose the invisible hand of the free market could be fingering us, do you?

Wall Street investors know how to profit from Texas' deregulation scheme. The largest plants serving the Houston region have already been both bought and sold twice, at enormous gain. Now, electricity consumers throughout the state have been forced to pay billions of dollars to the old utilities for those power plants based on the false assumption that deregulation would make them less valuable. (We have been fighting this absurd payment in court.) And consumers of municipally owned utilities in cities such as Austin and San Antonio, which were exempt from deregulation, get fairer and more accountable rates.

Mexico decided not to help us thaw out after all. Can you blame them, after all the nastiness from the conservative xenophobes?

And now even Paul Burka is cranky. He didn't get a hot breakfast.

I was on my way to Houston on Wednesday to speak to the Greater Houston Partnership when I was caught in the rolling blackout. I made it as far as Elgin on U.S. 290, where the traffic lights were blinking red and cops were standing in the bitter cold, directing motorists. My intention was to stop at McDonald’s for a breakfast sandwich and coffee. The drive-through line was quite long and very slow, and the speaker at which I sought to place my order wasn’t working. As I was contemplating my next move, a young woman who worked there emerged from the building and started walking down the line of cars. She informed me that the only thing they could serve was sausage biscuits and bottled water, because the power was out. And cash only, please; credit cards couldn’t be processed. Eventually I got my stale sausage biscuit and headed on my way.

As I got back on the highway, I reflected that my breakfast experience was the perfect metaphor for the great budget meltdown of 2011. Nothing in state government works. ERCOT, which exists to make certain that the grid function correctly, failed miserably. State officials couldn’t even explain what went wrong, much less fix it. That’s as hard to swallow as my biscuit.

We run state government on a shoestring. We have a $10 billion structural budget deficit and nobody has the slightest interest in fixing it. Is anyone surprised that we can’t even get through a winter storm without having our infrastructure fail us?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Planned Parenthood gets ACORNed

In the James O'Keefe tradition, ultraconservative extremists again dress up as pimps and hoes in order to try to smear another organization helping poor people.

Anti-abortion activist Lila Rose, a photogenic young activist who Religious Right leaders hope to make the new face of the anti-abortion movement, claims that the video Religious Right groups are circulating “proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Planned Parenthood intentionally breaks state and federal laws and covers up the abuse of young girls it claims to serve.”  False.  In fact, far from proving a pattern of illegal activity, the Live Action project demonstrated that Planned Parenthood has strong institutional procedures in place to protect young women.  When Live Action activists appeared at numerous facilities presenting themselves as seeking help with a child sex trafficking ring, Planned Parenthood wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting an FBI investigation.  Live Action attempted its “sting” across the country; the one Planned Parenthood staffer who violated those procedures and is featured in Live Action’s video was fired.
Political groups that are intent on denying women the ability to have an abortion under any circumstances have long targeted Planned Parenthood and the public funds it receives to provide health care and sexuality education to low-income women.

The current campaign heated up in 2008, when
“…more than 50 leaders from anti-abortion organizations banded together to form the National Coalition to Defeat Planned Parenthood. The coalition, spearheaded by Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, met for the first time in September and quickly issued its plan to cripple Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a major provider of reproductive health services for poor and uninsured women, by ending any federal, state, or local government funding to the group.”

These people are on the same old mission from God. And that means they can justify anything they can think of doing, even terrorist acts like assassinating a physician in his own church.

They are the extreme of the most extreme. Judge them by their words ...

"... there’s got to be a concerted effort that we take Planned Parenthood out. They’ve put out a hit on all children, but they’ve set themselves up to put out a hit on black and Hispanic babies especially. It’s time that we take them out."

And judge them by their actions.

Now their allies in Congress have tried -- and failed, for now -- to redefine the word 'rape' in their never-ending crusade to further restrict women's reproductive choices. A skit this week on the Daily Show may have influenced the result.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rape Victim Abortion Funding
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

It's time to stand up against these lunatics, and stand up for the good work Planned Parenthood has done for 90 years. Sign this petition and then call your representatives in Washington and Austin.

Call them even if he or she is a turd-eating conservative, like mine.

Some call BS on yesterday's rolling blackouts across Texas

McBlogger has an interesting conspiracy theory:

(F)actor in the most recent capacity report which showed the state with adequate generation capacity through 2014. Suddenly, because of weather conditions which we’ve known about for days, there is an issue? How many generators have been effected? Given our excess of capacity and the massive increase in wind generation, it’s gotta be one hell of an outage to cause us to have to suffer rolling blackouts. Such an outage could realistically only be intentional ...

Think I’m crazy? Remember that CA’s problem in 2001 was caused by engineered capacity constraints, which created an artificial demand/ supply imbalance that enriched energy traders. Can anyone honestly look me in the eye and tell me my theory is crap?

Didn’t think so. No, it looks like Perry has found a very nice way to pay back campaign contributors without too many questions.

UPDATE – We’ve also received word that not long after Perry’s press release, ERCOT terminated rolling blackout activity in Houston metro. Wanna bet the generators suddenly jumped up capacity?

UPDATE TWO – Dewhurst says it’s all about a broken pipe (sure) and low gas pressure (whatev). That gas pressure one I find particularly funny since the compressors at the feed can be adjusted.

He's got more there that I left out of the above excerpt on the TCEQ authorization to exclude facilities from penalty for exceeding clean air standards during the "emergency".

Houston media picks up the scent from another angle ...

"It particularly troubled me because both ERCOT and generators had so much advance notice,” said PUC commissioner Ken Anderson. “It's not as if this weather was a particular surprise."

So it was a surprise that 50 power generating units statewide went down. The last time Texans encountered rolling blackouts (April 2006) only seven generators were lost.

"The number is unprecedented, and that is one of the questions that the commission is going to need to look at," Anderson said.

Another question the Public Utility Commission will tackle: Why ERCOT didn't follow protocol in sending out that electricity reserves were running critically low.

The PUC received one advisory at 3:20 a.m. Wednesday, but the next update it got from ERCOT came at 6:05 a.m. -- nearly three hours later, when the rolling blackouts were already underway.

Steps in the middle were missing --like alerting the media – 11 News was not forewarned as required, and 11 News viewers were not either.

"We need to know why, and if the reasons aren't good, and if they don't deal, relate to reliability, then it's not acceptable," Anderson said.

While a formal investigation won't likely begin until the bad weather has cleared ERCOT may face some tough initial question as early as Thursday morning at regularly scheduled meeting of the PUC.

Is this another benefit of deregulation? In a privatize-everything environment, is the invisible hand of the free market fingering us? Is it credible that the generating plants in North Texas actually have uninsulated water pipes, causing equipment to be shut down? It's possible that maintenance has suffered because they've laid off a bunch of laborers, I suppose. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost ...

Mexico came to our rescue, thank goodness. Cue the "illegal electricity" snark.

So is this just smoke or is there a fire here? Many Texans who shivered yesterday would crave having the heat no matter which it happens to be.

Texas Vox has more.

Update: Fort Worth state rep. Lon Burnham wonders if the market was manipulated (a la Enron in California, as McBlogger speculated in the top link above).