Monday, May 30, 2011

Special session Wrangle

It's on:

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said GOP leaders couldn’t resurrect a school finance plan and will be back in a special session in the morning.

“As hard as I’ve tried, we have not been able to get an agreement to suspend the rules, so we will be back tomorrow morning,” Dewhurst said. The chamber adjourned minutes later.  A Sunday night filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, derailed a compromise plan for distributing $4 billion less to school districts than they’d get under current law.  Without the school finance plan, no money will be distributed to schools under a budget-cutting state spending measure for the next two years.

There’s little legislatively to keep Republicans from passing the plan in a special session, since they hold a House super-majority and leaders said a Senate rule protecting the voice of outnumbered Democrats will no longer be in force.

No matter what the Republican legislators choose to do, the Texas Progressive Alliance is grilling the meat, icing the beer, and settling in for a long hot summer as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff suggests that maybe a Rick Perry presidential campaign might not be such a bad thing after all.

The demise of the 'sanctuary cities' bill in the closing days of the Texas Legislature's 82nd session represents a "strategic victory" for Rick Perry, according to Mark Jones at Rice University's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs also notes, in other news, that a Blue Angels-like formation of flying pigs is circling the state capital.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants to know why Bill Gates is helping Republicans destroy our public education system. Could it be all of that potential revenue from computerized curricula?

At Left of College Station Teddy wants to know: who is the Texas Public Policy Foundation? Then he takes a look at the power, influence, and money at work on the board of directors on the TPPF, and the man behind the so-called 'breakthrough solutions', Jeff Sandefer.

McBlogger takes a look at the compromises Speaker Straus had to make to the Teabaggers and their allies, compromises that will more than likely return Texas to recession.

Neil at Texas Liberal noted that Democratic Houston Mayor Annise Parker has proposed a city budget that is balanced on the backs of city workers and on citizens of Houston who are most in need of city services.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson has an update on what's been happening in Williamson County.

Memorial Day Funnies

Special education

Updated at 12:03 a.m. Sen. Wendy Davis’ filibuster to kill Senate Bill 1811 has just ended and with it, likely the session.

Members say it may be the shortest filibuster ever in the upper chamber.

Sen. Royce West interrupted the filibuster by asking Lt. David Dewhurst for the time.

12:03, said Dewhurst.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, then raised a point of order on SB 1811, noting that consideration of bills is prohibited in the last 24 hours of a legislative of order.

“The point of order is sustained,” Dewhurst said.

Senators then broke into applause for Davis.

And they agreed to return at 10:30 a.m. (today) to figure out what to do next. That probably means returning to the Capitol on Tuesday for a special session.

Mad props to Wendy Davis, who has been insulted as well as hopelessly redistricted this session. She stuck it in Rick Perry's eye. Good for her.

Of course he's going to stick it right back in hers, yours, mine, and every other Texan's, fine fellow that he is.

As Senate Democrats consider whether or not to filibuster the must-pass SB 1811, reliable sources close to the Governor’s office tell QR that there will be direct and immediate consequences.

Should SB 1811 go down, Governor Rick Perry will call what is expected to be a very quick special session to convene this coming Tuesday, May 31. In addition to SB 1811, the Governor will add “sanctuary cities and other matters related to immigration onto the call.”

With no blocker bill, passage of legislation in the Senate requires only 16 votes.

Does the threat of resurrecting 'sanctuary cities' mean that Rick Perry is headed for a strategic defeat?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

School finance bill may be passed in dead of night, without debate

The TexTrib provides the explanation:

The 2012-13 budget has been approved by both the House and the Senate, and now, with less than two days left in the legislative session, lawmakers have to pay for it by passing one more piece of legislation that raises $3.5 billion in "non-tax revenue" and revises school finance law to allow the state to reduce aid to public schools by $4 billion.

Without that legislation — SB 1811 — the budget doesn't balance and lawmakers will be forced to come back in a special session to deal with the issue. ...

If SB 1811 doesn't pass and the budget doesn't balance, lawmakers have to fix it before September 1, when the current budget ends and the new one is supposed to take effect. The budget, approved on Saturday along mostly partisan lines in both the House and the Senate, is $15.2 billion smaller than the current budget, doesn't require major new taxes and doesn't immediately require the state to use its Rainy Day Fund. Budget writers left $4.8 billion in Medicaid spending out of the budget in the hope that economic and program changes will make it unnecessary, but left money in the Rainy Day Fund to cover that spending if needed in 2013.

Without SB 1811, it doesn't balance.

At the time of this posting, Postcards is reporting that SB 1811 is scheduled to come before the House in about an hour, and the Senate some time after 9 p.m. Harvey Kronberg has the insight:

Should a school finance plan that was only revealed yesterday, has never had a hearing, has never had any questions asked about it or any public vetting be passed in the dead of night when members are exhausted? Do Republicans have any clearer understanding of what the bill does than do Democrats?

Sure, Democrats could chub the bill. Sure, Republicans could call the previous question.

But there is something larger at stake. This is the first school finance plan passed in modern times absent a court order. It could have profound consequences to real people. It could also end political careers. It deserves more than a ten minute question and answer period. ...

Republicans obviously have the cards to do whatever they want. If they want to pass a school finance plan under under those conditions and only ten minutes of questions, they also bear all the responsibility.

When those who went to the polls just seven months ago voted a straight Republican ticket, they created the atmosphere for this perfect storm. It's not hyperbole to say that what happened earlier this month in Tuscaloosa, AL and Joplin, MO doesn't really hold a candle to the damage this budget will wreak on the lives of Texans. Yes, there will be hundred of lives lost as a result of the financial decisions the Republican super-majorities are making. The only real difference is that the carnage in Texas will be in slow motion, and the tornado-ravaged cities are already on the road to recovery.

Texas won't recover for a generation. Or longer.

Update from HK:

May 29, 2011 7:32 PM

Special will be called for Tuesday, May 31

As Senate Democrats consider whether or not to filibuster the must pass SB 1811, reliable sources close to the Governor’s office tell QR that there will be direct and immediate consequences.

Should SB 1811 go down, Governor Rick Perry will call what is expected to be a very quick special session to convene this coming Tuesday, May 31. In addition to SB 1811, the Governor will add “sanctuary cities and other matters related to immigration on to the call.”

With no blocker bill, passage of legislation in the Senate requires only 16 votes.

Follow the Trib's liveblog.

Sunday Funnies

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sanctuary bill's demise: "strategic victory" for Perry

One of the nearly-completed legislative session's most stubborn zombies may have finally had a stake driven through its heart.

Despite Gov. Rick Perry's renewed call for its passage, legislation banning "sanctuary cities" appeared dead in the Senate, where 12 Democrats pledged to block consideration of the bill until past Wednesday's midnight deadline for House bills.

The legislation, passed by the House, would have banned local governments from creating "sanctuaries' for illegal immigrants by prohibiting law enforcement officers from inquiring into the immigration status of individuals they detain. Perry, who accused Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White of turning Houston into a sanctuary city during his tenure as mayor, made passage of the legislation one of his priorities.

On Wednesday, Perry said he would leave the issue to the Legislature but added, "it's a very important piece of legislation" that "people in the state of Texas want to see addressed."

House Bill 12 has been fought by Democrats, who say it will lead to racial profiling by police of Hispanics. They also point out that many police chiefs testified against the bill, saying it would take time away from local law enforcement duties to fill in as federal immigration officers. ...

Wednesday evening, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said he hoped the bill would be revived.

"I don't think we're ready to give up," he said. "All of the governor's other emergency measures have passed but this one."

But before we celebrate, let's treat ourselves to some of the most delicious spin ever written, courtesy Mark Jones at the Baker Institute for Public Policy:

(Governor Rick) Perry will receive credit from the Republican Party’s conservative base for prioritizing legislative efforts to end the presence of sanctuary cities in Texas. However, by not having to sign the bill into law, Perry will not incur the wrath of the large proportion of Hispanic voters who view such legislation as discriminatory — nor will he provide Democrats with an issue around which they could possibly mobilize (i.e. increase) Hispanic voter participation in 2012 (both at the state level in Texas’ county, state legislative and congressional elections and nationally in the event of a Perry presidential candidacy).

Last year, Perry carefully walked a tightrope in regard to his position on Arizona immigration reform legislation (SB 1070). He was very supportive of the Arizona legislation (thereby not alienating conservatives) but also proclaimed that it was not right for Texas (thereby not antagonizing or threatening Texas Hispanics). With the demise of HB 12 this past Wednesday, Perry has once again displayed his acrobatic abilities by strongly supporting legislation to prohibit the presence of sanctuary cities in Texas while at the same time avoiding having to sign that same legislation into law.

That crafty governor; he won by losing. If you blinked, you missed it: Rick Perry just three-dimensional checkmated the Democrats and flummoxed the TeaBaggers in one incredible political jiu-jitsu backflip.

Some people would call that 'considerable political acumen'.

With considerable political acumen, Perry has managed to promote the agenda of the conservative wing of the Republican Party without going so far as to either significantly diminish his support among Hispanics (recall that Perry garnered 38% of the Hispanic vote in 2010) or give Hispanics an issue around which to mobilize against either him or other Texas Republicans in 2012.

Why, the governor of Texas is such a stinkin' genius he ought to run for Prezdent. And maybe Jones could be his campaign manager.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tex Trib poll winners: "Don't know"

The Texas Tribune polls a whole lot of undecided voters. They made the lede, though, all about Rick Perry's ineptitude.

It's a good thing Rick Perry says he's not running for president — only 4 percent of Texas Republicans say they'd vote for the governor, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

"This is a major question for a guy who's getting national buzz," says Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a government professor at UT. "He hasn't convinced Texans that he's a presidential front-runner."

Not that he's trying to. Perry has said repeatedly that he's not a presidential candidate without squelching campaigns to draft him as one.

Perry's not even the top-rated Texan in the race. That distinction gos to U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, who's at 10 percent among registered voters who say they will vote in the Republican primary. The leader of the pack — and it's a narrow lead in a pack without a clear front-runner — is former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, at 12 percent, followed by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, at 11 percent, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, 10 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota each have the support of 7 percent, followed by celebrity businessman Donald Trump, 6 percent; Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, 4 percent; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, 3 percent; and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana and former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, at 1 percent each.

One in 10 Republican voters want someone else, and 14 percent say they don't know whom they'd vote for in a GOP primary held today. Several of the candidates on that list, including Huckabee, Trump and Daniels, have dropped out since poll was conducted.

So Rick Perry came in nearly last, and "Don't Know" came in first, barely ahead of Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Recall that a GOP activist who regularly comments here said he "didn't know anyone who was supporting Gingrich". Someone is obviously wrong. And another embarrassing part for the Trib: they conducted their poll in the middle of Trump's meltdown, Gingrich's disastrous rollout, and Huckabee and Daniels both announcing they were not getting in the race.

The US Senate polling makes no more sense than this, either. It also has "Don't Know" winning ... in a landslide.

On the Republican side, 50 percent say they don't know how they'd vote; 7 percent say they're looking for someone not on our list. As for the list, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is the leader, with 25 percent, followed by former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, at 6 percent; former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, 4 percent each; former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz and former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, 2 percent; and Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, 1 percent.

The Democrats have even more undecided voters, at 63 percent. The newest candidate in that conversation, retired Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, led the way, with 14 percent, followed by former U.S. Reps. Chet Edwards of Waco, 11 percent, and Chris Bell of Houston, at 7 percent; and former state Comptroller John Sharp, at 6 percent.

There is the first time I have seen McCaul's name mentioned in the contest to replace Kay Bailey that was speculation more significant than two drunk Republicans in a bar on 290. But he's one of two on that list (Dewhurst is the other) that can self-fund a $25 million Senate contest. Leppert and Cruz have already bragged about raising in excess of a million bucks each; Williams and Williams are just under that figure.

Bell likely isn't running for Senator, either; Sharp cancelled his fund-raising committee and let his Sharp for Senate domain comically expire months ago. There's no groundswell for Edwards that this blogger is aware of.  Only Sanchez -- whose campaign kick-off has been nearly as bad as Gingrich's -- is in and I surmise will remain the only serious entrant.

But really, why didn't they just throw Bill White's name up against the wall to see if it would stick?

When you're just pulling names out of your ass a hat, you're not seriously "polling the electorate". Whether because of past questionable methodology or plain old bad luck in timing, these Trib polls continue to reveal next to nothing of value.

They do, however, solidly reinforce the prevailing, decades-long narrative: that Democratic resistance is futile in this state. The GOP can screw up everything in Texas but their hold on a poorly-informed, brain-washed majority remains firm. In other words, the future remains grim.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The global oil market explained, in animated rap video

No really, it's good. It's NSFW but it executive-summarizes the topic quite well.

The After-Rapture Weekly Wrangle

The entire membership of the Texas Progressive Alliance was actually raptured this past weekend, but thanks to our foresight and the scheduling capabilities of our blogging software we were able to put together a weekly roundup for you anyway. Because that's the kind of bloggers we are.

The Lege reached a budget deal on Friday. Off the Kuff explains why it is a bad deal for Texas.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson, in stating that "... by and large, Republicans aren't as racist as they are greedy" makes the point that we must adopt a new form of populism in Texas.

At TexasKaos, lightseeker seeks to explain why snake oil is not a cure for evaluating teachers for purposes of improving public education. Check out Snake Oil, Classrooms and Teacher Evaluations.

Nat-Wu of Three Wise Men takes another in-depth look at Irving politics.

McBlogger notes that Democrats joined with Republicans in the House in a bipartisan effort to screw every Texan.

Public school funding and the Texas legislature get set to go back to the future -- as in litigation. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs finds a twelve-year-old column from Mollly Ivins that both rehashes and pre-cogs the details.

refinish69 at Doing My Part for the Left asks: WTF? President Obama is now talking Drill, Baby, Drill?

Neil at Texas Liberal noted a new study that said billions of planets are flying around the galaxy that are not in the orbit of any star.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sign the petition against Keystone XL

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has the ability to stop Koch Industries, Inc. from profiting off a pipeline that would carry the dirtiest oil on Earth through six states, one of America's most important aquifers and almost 2,000 miles of American homes and farmland. Sign the petition requesting she not approve it.


The Keystone XL pipeline and Houston's air-quality future

Koch Brothers poised to win if Keystone XL pipeline approved

The eventual class-action lawsuit over Texas public school funding

This ought to be required reading by every state elected official -- state rep, senator, SCOTX justice, and especially the governor, lite guv, attorney general and all the rest.

Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, put a spotlight on the state’s grossly inequitable school funding system Friday night when he stood on the Senate floor and read a list of the highest and lowest school revenue amounts in each of Texas’ 31 senatorial districts.

Deuell’s  record could be part of the opening statement in the next school funding lawsuit, which is likely lurking around the corner. The state’s Constitution requires lawmakers to provide a free and efficient system of public education.

The landmark Edgewood case from the 1980s produced Texas Supreme Court rulings that school districts must get substantially similar revenue for similar tax rates.

But lawmakers have allowed the system to deteriorate to the point where a child’s school funding largely hinges on the zip code of his or her parents’ home. It would be interesting to see how the state defends that as a rational system for funding public education.

Deuell noted that the top 100 best funded school districts have property tax rates of $1, while the lowest 100 school districts  levy an average tax rate of $1.16.

The physician-senator read a list highlighting the lowest and highest revenue per student in each senatorial district.

Senate District 1 (Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler):  Lowest, $3,926; Highest, $6,981; Disparity, $3,055 per student.
Senate District 2 (Sen.  Bob Deuell, R-Greenville): Lowest, $4,576; Highest, $6,261; Disparity, $1,694.
Senate District 3 (Sen.  Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville): Lowest, $4,407; Highest, $7,367; Disparity, $2,960.
Senate District 4 (Sen.  Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands): Lowest, $4,615; Highest, $7,064; Disparity, $2,449.
Senate District 5 (Sen.  Steve Ogden, R-Bryan): Lowest, $4,694; Highest, $8,646; Disparity, $3,952.
Senate District 6 (Sen.  Mario Gallegos, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,668; Disparity, $778.
Senate District 7 (Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston): Lowest, $4,772; Highest, $6,024; Disparity, $1,252.
Senate District 8 (Sen.  Florence Shapiro, R-Plano): Lowest, $5,194; Highest, $7,418; Disparity, $2,224.
Senate District 9 (Sen.  Chris Harris, R-Arlington): Lowest, $4,836; Highest, $5,706; Disparity, $870.
Senate District 10 (Sen.  Wendy Davis,D-Ft.Worth): Lowest, $4,797; Highest, $6,880; Disparity, $2,083.
Senate District 11 (Sen.  Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte): Lowest, $4,863; Highest, $5,984; Disparity, $1,121.
Senate District 12 (Sen.  Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound): Lowest, $4,770; Highest, $7,050; Disparity, $2,280.
Senate District 13 (Sen.  Rodney Ellis, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,292; Disparity, $402.
Senate District 14 (Sen.  Kirk Watson, R-Austin): Lowest, $5,102; Highest, $6,282; Disparity, $1,180.
Senate District 15 (Sen.  John Whitmire, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,887; Highest, $6,459; Disparity, $1,572.
Senate District 16 (Sen.  John Carona, R-Dallas): Lowest, $4,780; Highest, $5,856; Disparity, $1,076.
Senate District 17 (Sen.  Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place): Lowest, $4,804; Highest, $6,876; Disparity, $2,072.
Senate District 18 (Sen.  Glenn Hagar, R-Katy): Lowest, $4,710; Highest, $7,935; Disparity, $3,225.
Senate District 19 (Sen.  Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,831; Highest, $12,400; Disparity, $8,569.
Senate District 20 (Sen.  Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen): Lowest, $4,678; Highest, $9,548; Disparity, $4,870.
Senate District 21 (Sen.  Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo): Lowest, $3,732; Highest, $10,908; Disparity, $7,176.
Senate District 22 (Sen.  Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury): Lowest, $4,118; Highest, $7,750; Disparity, $3,632.
Senate District 23 (Sen.  Royce West, D-Dallas): Lowest, $4,884; Highest, $5,430; Disparity, $546.
Senate District 24 (Sen.  Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay): Lowest, $3,896; Highest, $6,864; Disparity, $2,968.
Senate District 25 (Sen.  Jeff  Wentworth, R-San Antonio): Lowest, $4,426; Highest, $6,109; Disparity, $1,683.
Senate District 26 (Sen.  Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,759; Highest, $5,573; Disparity, $1,814.
Senate District 27 (Sen.  Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville): Lowest, $4,304; Highest, $7,321; Disparity, $3,017.
Senate District 28 (Sen.  Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock): Lowest, $4,390; Highest, $12,979; Disparity, $8,589.
Senate District 29 (Sen.  Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso): Lowest, $4,614; Highest, $5,083; Disparity, $469.
Senate District 30 (Sen.  Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls): Lowest, $4,425; Highest, $7,488; Disparity, $3,063.
Senate District 31 (Sen.  Kyle Seliger, R-Amarillo): Lowest, $4,432; Highest, $12,387; Disparity, $7,955.

A difference of $1,000 per student can pile up quickly. That kind of disparity amounts to at least $25,000 per classroom.

No one disputed or discounted Deuell’s case. But the prevailing attitude is:  ”We’re doing the best we can do this session.”

It’s a theme also heard during the 2009 legislative session.

Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft. Worth, complimented Deuell for doing “a beautiful job of pointing out what’s broken about school funding in the state of Texas and why it so desperately needs to be fixed.”

The disparity has increased dramatically since 2006 when lawmakers reduced school property taxes but didn’t raise enough revenue to pay for it. Most school districts now receive funding based on what they got five years ago instead of formulas. It’s called a “target revenue” system, which lawmakers want to fix. But they didn’t want to use any of the remaining $6 billion plus in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which again left them without funding to fix the broken system.

“To the life of me, I cannot understand why we would not use (the Rainy Day Fund) to help equalize this system,” Deuell  told his colleagues.

Lawmakers have set a goal of replacing the target revenue system by 2017. But it will be hard to reach the goal without additional funding – and with a structural revenue deficit that experts peg at $5 billion per year.

That’s another problem lawmakers continue to ignore.

“State and local taxes are not being used efficiently,” Deuell complained. That’s an admission the system violates the Texas Constitution.

This has been going on a long, long, time. Let's go back in time to this 2000 column by Molly Ivins for the historical -- as in mid-'80's to mid-'90's -- perspective.

Everyone knew that something would have to be done about equalizing spending on the public schools, and everyone knew it would be a long, hard fight.

Gov. Mark White had the singularly bright idea to name Ross Perot to head a commission on reforming the schools. Perot understood one important thing: We would never get Texans to pay more for public schools unless we could guarantee them better schools and prove that we were getting them. Thus the system of testing and accountability was born.

Perot put together a package of reform bills that mandated smaller class sizes and expanded pre-kindergarten programs — the most crucial reforms. Bob Bullock, then the state comptroller, worked out a formula for how the state could more equalize spending between rich and poor districts.

White called a special session to do nothing but education reform, and it was a donnybrook. One of Perot's reforms was "no-pass, no-play" — if you weren't passing all your school subjects, you couldn't play football! It was a revolutionary notion in Texas.

Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby did heavy lifting for the reforms. Perot hired his own lobbyists to help pass the bills. It was a tremendous effort and a narrow win. Then the state went broke.

The oil crash of the mid-'80s left Texas in bad shape, so the equalization formula didn't advance much. The Edgewood case was still dragging on, and in 1987, Edgewood won at last.

In 1989, Gov. Bill Clements had to sign a huge tax increase to fund the agreement to equalize spending. Then came Son of Edgewood, with the courts again siding with the poor districts. Gov. Ann Richards proposed the Robin Hood plan, taking from rich districts to give to the poor. Another horrendous fight. A modified version of Robin Hood finally passed.

What the Rand story found was that despite all the screaming and yelling, what Texas did is what works: smaller class sizes, early childhood education (though we still don't have kindergarten statewide) and equalized spending.

And here we are back again. Repeating history.

Which teaches us that some collection of sensible, reasonable Republicans like Deuell is going to have join Democrats and straighten this mess out again.

I'm just not going to hold my breath waiting for that to happen, though.

Sunday Funnies

Friday, May 20, 2011

Art car parade this Sunday

Provided we're not caught up in The Rapture on Saturday, of course. Then again, most of us at the Art Car Parade probably aren't getting raptured anyway.

Art Car Ball 7-11 p.m. Friday, The Orange Show Monument, 2400 block of Munger Street, $30, 713-926-6368.

Sneak Peek 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney. Free. Featuring new art cars for 2011 and Art Car: The Movie!

Houston Art Car Parade 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Allen Parkway from Bagby to Waugh. Free. Information:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Obama, Cornel West, and progressive populists

In case you're unfamiliar with the discussion, start here, with Chris Hedges' article. Excerpt:

“Can you imagine if Barack Obama had taken office and deliberately educated and taught the American people about the nature of the financial catastrophe and what greed was really taking place?” West asks. “If he had told us what kind of mechanisms of accountability needed to be in place, if he had focused on homeowners rather than investment banks for bailouts and engaged in massive job creation he could have nipped in the bud the right-wing populism of the tea party folk. The tea party folk are right when they say the government is corrupt. It is corrupt. Big business and banks have taken over government and corrupted it in deep ways.

“We have got to attempt to tell the truth, and that truth is painful,” he says. “It is a truth that is against the thick lies of the mainstream. In telling that truth we become so maladjusted to the prevailing injustice that the Democratic Party, more and more, is not just milquetoast and spineless, as it was before, but thoroughly complicitous with some of the worst things in the American empire. I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama. If it turns out in the end that we have a crypto-fascist movement and the only thing standing between us and fascism is Barack Obama, then we have to put our foot on the brake. But we’ve got to think seriously of third-party candidates, third formations, third parties.

Here's a supporting viewpoint from Bruce Dixon:

(Harry) Belafonte was asked by host Amy Goodman whether he'd used his occasional access to directly share his many critical and valuable public policy insights with the White House. Belafonte replied that his only access to the president has been for a few seconds at a time, not long enough for any substantive discussion. But, he said, at one such event President Obama approached him to inquire when Belafonte and Cornel West were going 'to cut me some slack'.

”What makes you think we haven't?” Belafonte replied to the president. At this point the brief encounter was over.

Let's pause to think about that. When President Obama cusses out Cornel West and personally demands that historic stalwarts of the movement for peace and justice “cut him some slack” on black unemployment, on foreclosures and the prison state, on torture and the military budget, on unjust wars and corporate welfare, on fulfilling the just demands of those who elected him, our first black president is revealing his real self. Far from saying “make me do it,” President Obama is saying how dare you pressure me to do what you elected me to do.

And here's an opposing viewpoint -- with several others she collects -- from Joan Walsh of Salon:

Melissa Harris-Perry and Adam Serwer wrote majestic takedowns of Cornel West's vicious and deeply personal rant against President Obama published this week, so I didn't think I had to. But there's one thing missing in the torrent of reaction to West I've seen this week: A recognition that maybe this is the way identity politics had to end, not with a bang but a whine. ...

The most tragic thing, to me, about West's meltdown was the way he tried to frame it as a universalist defense of poor and working class people – who in fact haven't gotten enough help or attention from this too-close-to-Wall Street administration – but then somehow descends into personal attacks on the president as "a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats." If that wasn't bad enough, West claims Obama's problem is that he is afraid of "free black men" due to his white ancestry and years in the Ivy League. “He feels most comfortable with upper middle-class white and Jewish men who consider themselves very smart, very savvy and very effective in getting what they want,” West claimed.

Give Brother West credit for consistency: On MSNBC's "The Ed Show" Tuesday night, he repeated his criticism that Obama is too close to "upper-middle-class white brothers and Jewish brothers."

Oh no, the Jews again. Haven't we been here before?

How did the man who wrote in "Race Matters" that it's time "to replace racial reasoning with moral reasoning" come to this? I don't disagree with some of West's critique of Obama, but Ta-Nehisi Coates is exactly right here:
Was there something more Obama should have done to get a public option? Should he not have traded the Bush tax cuts for extending unemployment benefits? Did Obama settle too quickly on a small stimulus package? Was he wrong to allow the GOP to shut down planned parenthood in DC? Is the strategy of increased drone attacks in Pakistan inhumane? Was the financial reform bill he signed ultimately too weak?

I think all of this is fair game. I think Charles Ferguson's critique in Inside Job was really solid. I think calling someone a "black mascot" or a "black puppet" because they don't agree with you is much less so.


Once you have completed reading, please weigh in. I think Dr. West was over the top with the plantation-tinged verbiage, but other than that I agree with him. Please feel free to address any of the myriad questions raised, which by my reading include: Is Obama helping, not helping, or hamstrung given extenuating circumstances? You can replace "Obama" with "Democratic Party" if you like.  Does Dr. West make unfair criticisms of the president with the racial remarks? Does he provide criticism only a black man with his pedigree and standing can provide -- by virtue making it fair?

At the Environmental Encuentro I attended a couple of months ago the talks centered around "environmental justice" (as in 'economic and social justice') and some attendees (Af-Am) said it was more about racial justice. I don't disagree entirely, but that prism is too narrow for me. Essentially: is a class war also a race war? Sometimes it is, certainly. The coal miners in Appalachia might beg to differ.

So as previously encouraged, and as representatives of the left/progressive/liberal faction in the US, we can talk about whether Obama (and the Democratic Party) is or is not helping and does or does not deserve our support in the causes in which we believe, but there's a macro issue, at least to me.  In the theme of this post about the Louisiana flooding, how much should we -- more specifically people like me, a well-fed white guy -- care before our own hearts bleed out? Should the poor just "pull themselves up by their bootstraps", even if they don't have boots, and even when the government floods their land and drowns their cattle (destroying the leather with which to make boots)?

Another play on analogy words I recently noted was: "A rising tide lifts all boats. If you have a boat. But the problem is some people have a yacht (for which the Texas Lege wants to give a tax deduction), and some people have a canoe with a hole in it and no life jackets."

Something akin to this is comparable to some volunteer work I do with Barrio Dogs of Houston.  Much like the abandoned pets filling up the kennels and being euthanized by the dozens every single week in every city across the country -- species differences in intelligence notwithstanding -- how much should we (can we) allow ourselves, for the sake of our own sanity, to worry about the plight of total strangers? It's sure easy to say "You did it to yourselves for not voting/not moving out of the sticks/not going to college/being lazy/being a drunk", etc.

Is the conversation ultimately and finally always going to end at some form of: "Too fucking bad for you; get over it"?

(I won't be publishing any conservative responses, by the way. They are having a few existential issues of their own as it relates to leadership and governing, FWIW.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance salutes the final voyage of the shuttle Endeavour, its commander Mark Kelly, and his wife, Cong. Gabrielle Giffords as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff took a look at the proposed new map for the state Senate and the effect it could have on incumbent senators.

The guy in charge of the Letters From Texas blog, which isn't the Capitol Annex blog, published a guest post entitled "Caught in the Zipper," written by the guy in charge of the Capitol Annex blog, which isn't the Letters From Texas blog. Confused yet? Our work here is done.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson has the latest installment of My Congressman is an idiot - John Carter praises Socialism.

refinish69 at Doing My Part for The Left is getting fed up with The Texas Lege...The Gift That Keeps On Giving. The only cure for the herpes that is the Texas Legislature is to vote the jerks out of office.

Why Osama's porn stash matters, at least according to PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

Libby Shaw over at TexasKaos helps us understand how and why the GOP stands by its men over at Big Oil.

Stace at DosCentavos reports on a press conference put on by a coalition of 16 pro-migrant organization who slammed the Texas Legislature's HB12 -- the bill to ban nonexistent sanctuary cities. It's worse than Arizona, believe it or not.

Neil at Texas Liberal posted about a furniture designer in the Netherlands who asked if he could use a picture posted at Texas Liberal to showcase a table he was designing. You never know when the efforts you make in life will be of benefit to someone else.

This week, Nat-Wu at Three Wise Men takes a look at the surprising results of the elections in Irving.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"In order to save the refineries, we must flood the coonasses."

It's not like it hasn't happened before. It's not like they don't warn them every year that it could happen.

In a historic action designed to minimize the risk of catastrophic flooding in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers has begun opening the Morganza Floodway to divert water from the rain-swollen Mississippi River into the Atchafalaya basin.

The second-ever opening of the nearly 60-year-old structure 186 miles upriver of New Orleans began (yesterday) at 3 p.m. sharp, when a crane lifted a gate covering one of the spillway structure’s 125 bays, releasing a gusher of about 10,000 cubic feet of water per second into the floodway. A live video feed of the procedure is being streamed online by the corps.

More of the 28-foot-wide bays will be opened in the coming days to gradually increase the flow rate to about 125,000 cubic feet per second, corps officials said.

About 25,000 people and 11,000 structures are in harm’s way, as up to 25 feet of flooding is expected in a 3,000 square-mile area of Cajun country stretching from Melville to Morgan City.

The water is expected to pass below Interstate 10 in a day and reach Morgan City in three days, said Col. Ed Fleming, commander of the corps' New Orleans district.

The Morganza control structure was completed in 1954 as part of the corps’ sweeping flood-protection upgrades to prevent a repeat of the Great Flood of 1927.

The only other time the spillway opened was in 1973 to relieve pressure on the Old River Control Structure, a critical barrier 35 miles upriver that prevents the Mississippi from its natural tendency to shift course to the Atchafalaya Basin, a steeper shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico.

Such a shift would have a catastrophic economic impact on the ports in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The needs of the many -- in this case, everybody who's already bitching about $4 gasoline -- outweigh the needs of the few -- in this case, the people who have mostly lived off the land in that swamp since they relocated there 250 years ago from Nova Scotia.

It's not like we were all buying American-farmed catfish in favor of the much-less expensive, more bacteria- and chemical-laden Vietnamese swai anyway.

Huck won't jump in

He likes his paycheck from Fox, the new big house he's building, and the opportunity to be kingmaker instead of king.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Saturday he won't seek the Republican presidential nomination, choosing to stick with a lucrative career as a television and radio personality over a race that would be both costly and caustic. ...

Had he chosen to run, Huckabee would have been forced to give up the lucrative media career he's enjoyed since his unsuccessful presidential bid four years ago. In addition to his TV show, Huckabee hosts a nationally syndicated radio program, gives paid speeches around the country and has even launched a series of animated videos for children on American history.

The talk show is the centerpiece of Huckabee's enterprises, which have made the one-time Baptist preacher from Hope, Ark., and 10-year governor a wealthy man with a $2.2 million beachfront home under construction in Florida. Huckabee, 55, and his wife moved their residency and voter registration to the state last year.

And don't forget the chicken fried steaks, mashed potatoes and gravy, and mmmmm, those triple-scoop banana splits.

“It’s been hard the last several months (keeping the weight from piling back on) because of the crazy schedule and I have had some issues with (my feet),” Huckabee said. “It’s a constant struggle to find decent things to eat on the road and not get terribly messed up with the same old habits.”

His feet. Or maybe his knee. It's important to note that none of these issues about portliness seem to be affecting Chris Christie's dithering. But let's focus on the thin people -- that doesn't necessarily exclude Newt -- going forward.

Huckabee’s decision not to run almost certainly guarantees a more wide-open contest as his vote share, which, in most polling was between 25 and 30 percent, is now up for grabs.

A Huckabee-less field also makes the Iowa caucuses far more competitive as the Arkansas Republican would have been a clear favorite in the state following his surprise victory there in 2008. That’s good news for people like Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn), former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — all of whom are expected to make a major push in the Hawkeye State.

The GOP race is now also without a well known social conservative candidate — a void that will be even more pronounced if former Alaska governor Sarah Palin decides against the race. (Palin has set no timetable to make a decision.)

With social conservative voters playing prominent roles in the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary — two of the first four nominating contests — the candidates who do run will position themselves to court this influential vote.

Since Huckabee was my pick for the nomination, I admit I'm crestfallen. Like so many others, picking from the remainder bin leaves me feeling a little empty.

But I do think Rick "Frothy Mixture" Santorum stands to surge.

Sunday Funnies

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Osama bin strokin

Seriously though, you know why the pornos matter?

You're an evil SOB, murdering in the name of your religion? That's acceptable even if most people don't like it. That's the old "he's firm in his commitment" respect. "He's got strong principles and he sticks to 'em."

Just be certain you're actually sticking to your principles. You can't be a dishonest evil SOB.

If you're such a hypocrite that you cannot hold yourself to your own lofty moral standards, then that outrages people in a way nothing else does. And that's before we even get to the topic of pornography and Islam.

For that, simply contrast:

-- Can't see a woman's hair, or face, or ankles.
-- Can, however, see her get banged in a porno.

Like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker (and more recently John Ensign and Newt Gingrich and especially John Edwards), there's some things your followers just will NOT tolerate.

This news is much more destructive to the (relative) moral certitude of al-Qaeda's jihad against the West than the "martyring" of their leader, and is the strongest psy-ops blow yet struck by the United States against them.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger hiccups

As Grits has noted ...

Google's Blogger service has been offline or unreliable for much of the day, with Blogger-hosted blogs changed to read-only mode, and posts and comments made after 7:37 a.m. PDT on May 11, 2011, removed.

In a post on the Blogger help forum, the product team said that it had rolled back a scheduled maintenance release from last night and that its "engineers are working hard to return Blogger to normal and restore your posts and comments."

Google's reply for a request for comment was, "The team is working on this." The company has posted some short updates to the Blogger Twitter account and Status blog, but hasn't yet explained what's happening, how widespread it is, or what will happen to users' content.

After Marc Zuckerberg's bullshit spats with Google of late, could the Facebook boy wonder be blamed? I hope so. More from ZDNet here, if you care, with implications to the cloud computing strategy Google is hawking. Since I only lost one post -- it was about this poll -- this outage didn't affect me much at all. Still, many of my blog bretheren and sisteren have long ago migrated to Wordpress for a reason.

Update: The missing post has returned.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Take a poll

Like others, I have been asked to bring your attention to this poll being conducted by UT research scholar Tom Johnson, who needs to get his data a little more 'fair and balanced' (I'm guessing some of those right-wing nuts posted it at Free Republic or Townhall or some such). So go and share your opinion, and then forward it to your sphere of influence. It's not quick; it may take you 15 minutes or longer to read the questions carefully and respond with your POV in the most accurate way, but your input is highly valued. They will assure confidentiality by removing your IP address after completing the survey. Below, Johnson's excerpted appeal:

(T)he vast majority of our survey respondents have been conservatives. We are embarrassed we can't convince more liberals to fill out our survey. Could you provide us a link to Brains and Eggs to help provide a liberal balance? We also include questions about how people found out about Osama Bin Laden’s death, what sources they used to get further information and how they shared information about his death.

The survey is online at for your perusal.

Our survey has been approved by the Internal Review Board at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. As part of the permission process it is guaranteed that all submissions are anonymous and confidential. Any identifying information (i.e. IP address) will be deleted by the researchers upon receipt.

We all know that my regular right-tilted readers Matt Bramanti and Greg Aydt are going to see this and rush over to take the poll; why don't you do the same?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Why of Newt

It's almost as if we never lost Trump.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will announce his plans to pursue the presidency in 2012 on Wednesday, according to spokesman Rick Tyler.

Gingrich will make the announcement first on Facebook and Twitter — a bow to the power of social media in politics — and then will sit down with conservative television personality Sean Hannity on Wednesday night for an interview.

Facebook today. Right alongside Gen. Ricardo Sanchez. Coinkydink? I think not.

Another bitter old white guy trying to cling onto his short fame from the nineties is back in the race. FOX News leads all networks in preparing candidates for office and Newt has benefited from his time on FOX News maybe the most, but it won't be enough for him. He's changed religions almost as much as he's changed wives and with the last game show FOX put on that masqueraded as a GOP debate, it's no wonder he's getting in now.

Let the drug testing for all Americans begin.

"I don't need to see your birth certificate; I DO need your urine in this cup." Ah, the party of smaller, less intrusive government. Look for Newt in another 'exclusive' this Sunday on Press the Meat with David Gregory.

Do you think he could take Herman Cain in a debate?

Update: Try to imagine a scenario where John Edwards appears -- in 2020 -- on "Meet the Press" to announce his candidacy for the presidency. Both Edwards and Gingrich had affairs and left their wives for another woman while their spouse was suffering from cancer. How is it that the So-Called Liberal Media can take Gingrich seriously -- and George Will doesn't

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes everyone had a good Mother's Day as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff takes a look at the new House districts to see what opportunities exist for Democrats.

Nat-Wu of Three Wise Men has a post about local elections in Irving.

BossKitty at TruthHugger sees a divided America as easy pickings for anyone who is really organized. If the Tea Party succeeds, America becomes a loose federation of independent states, with all social programs and responsibility for regulation falling into individual state hands. Everyone in each state will foot the bill for services previously funded by the federal government. The Tea Party would replace big government with corporate governance ... they don't want funding for anything because their corporate buddies will be in charge. Federal Government in the crosshairs REDUX -- OpEd.

This week the GOP majority in the Texas Senate rammed through a partisan budget. Why did they do that? WCNews at Eye On Williamson tells why in Seed Corn & Koch money.

sccs over at TexasKaos notes with some sadness how few women we have in prominent offices here in Texas. Check it out: Women in Texas Politics.

For years now, South Texas Chisme has been watching the battles between the racist republicans and the greedy corporate republicans over immigration. Symbolic hate that allows workers to be exploited still appears to be the winning solution.

Planned Parenthood of South Texas' annual luncheon in Houston -- attended by PDiddie at Brains and Eggs -- featured pollster Celinda Lake and some revealing statistics regarding the birth of the death of Republican overreach.

Neil at Texas Liberal wrote this week about the forced sonogram bill that will soon be law in Texas. If the state of Texas can compel one type of unwanted medical procedure, what stops Texas from mandating other unwanted medical procedures?

At WhosPlayin, BCooper addresses the frequent and erroneous usage of the term "sanctuary city" to describe Lewisville by radical right-wing city council candidates running on anti-immigration platforms.

Class actions? Not so much any more, according to the United States Supreme Court. Harry Balczak takes a look at yet another decision from the Great Red Justices on the SCOTUS that weakens consumers and strengthens corporations.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Voter fraud, sanctuary cities, and unicorns

The Texas House is debating whether or not to require local police to enforce federal immigration law.

Gov. Rick Perry declared the ban on so-called sanctuary cities an emergency matter. He says all Texas law enforcement agencies should tackle the problem of illegal immigration.

Police chiefs across the state oppose the bill because they say it will make their jobs more difficult. Illegal immigrants will not report crimes if they think police will check their immigration status, and police say they already have a full plate without adding immigration enforcement.

The following excerpt is from the March 2, 2011 House State Affairs Committee meeting. The exchange can be found from the committee’s broadcast archives, at the 44:11 point of the video.

(Rene) Oliveira is a Democrat. (Burt) Solomons is one of the top Republicans in the Texas House, and also chairs the House committee on redistricting. Bold emphasis is mine.

Rep. Oliveira: I will be crystal clear with you, too. I am opposed to sanctuary cities, but I still don’t know if one exists. If you find one that exists, I’d love to hear it.

Rep. Solomons: Based on what I’ve read, we don’t have any, so I don’t know what the big deal is.

Rep. Oliveira: Then we don’t need the bill, I guess.

Rep. Solomons: No, I think we need the bill because enough people perceive that this is a problem, and so in context, we probably ought to ensure that we have a uniform consistent policy in the state of Texas about this.

"Sanctuary cities" -- which legions of Texas conservatives wailed and thrashed about during the gubernatorial campaign of 2010 -- don't exist, according to one of the leading Republicans in the Texas House.

I'd like to repeat that so it sinks in: "Sanctuary cities" DO NOT EXIST.

Next "emergency" for the Texas GOP: outlawing unicorns. But only if  "enough people" object to their non-existence, like they do voter "fraud" and "sanctuary cities".

There's also monsters under your bed, conservatives. Shouldn't there be a law against those?

Update: Oops. I was mistaken. Rick Perry's next emergency is corporate immunity from the consumers they injure or damage. What a country (if you're corporation, and not a person). Harvey Kronberg wrote "How To Blow Up a Session" just before 1 a.m. Saturday morning.

Apparently the inmates are running the asylum and they are being bullied by a half million or so hard right Republican primary voters in a state of twenty five million.

Yesterday, with the Senate capitulation, it looked like the budget was all but done and the only possible special session might be over congressional redistricting.

Since then (Rick) Perry has decided “loser pays” is an emergency item the House must take up in its final five days of hearing bills on second reading. Dewhurst has told Associated Press that he is abandoning the 2/3s rule, which he may or may not realize undermines his own power going forward. Meanwhile, the House is tied up in knots over points of order on such silliness as sanctuary cities as the clock keeps ticking.

To date, the Governor has failed to identify a single sanctuary city in Texas.

Here is where we are as the must-pass HB400 melted down tonight on what appears to be a fatal point of order. (HB400 is the school district bill that allows flexibility in hiring, firing and compliance with mandates and is reportedly worth billions in the budget) ...

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Little Rock, Memphis, Shreveport

We'll shift gears into travel and leisure mode for this post.

Over the Easter weekend mi Cubana loca and I took a little road trip to the cities listed in the headline. I'd wanted to go back to LR and the Clinton presidential library ever since I made a similar trip with my mother in the fall of '07, when we ambled our way up to Fayetteville to watch my niece and her granddaughter play a weekend volleyball series with Georgia and Auburn in her senior season. (Sidebar: I don't like to write about my out-of-town traveling before it happens any more, or take photos while on vacation and post them to Facebook or Twitter. Some people will leverage information like that to your disadvantage, you know.)

We departed H-Town around 7 Thursday morning, dropped off the dogs at the kennel, and took off up US 59 north. We had lunch at Bryce's Cafeteria in Texarkana around 1 p.m. and made the Arkansas capital by 4. It's an easy 7-hour drive at slightly above posted speed limits, eight or nine depending on how many stops you make. That evening we bumped around the River Market district, ate at the Flying Fish, had a cocktail at the Underground. It was cool and rained on us a little but we had slickers on so we weren't bothered. That was the only inclement weather we experienced. Somehow we managed to dodge all the tornados in Arkansas and elsewhere that roared through about the same time we were there.

We stayed overnight at the Courtyard by Marriott, which is within both sight and walking distance of the library at the eastern edge of downtown. But one-half block away there's an executive golf cart that will pick you up in front of the Clinton Museum Store and whisk you the five blocks or so to the front door. The old train trestle in front is undergoing renovation to a walk/bike pedestrian bridge, so there's some construction to navigate.

As presidential libraries go, it's the best I have ever been in (LBJ's and GHWB's are fine archives but the architecture is stale and conservative at both). The Clinton is modern and gleaming and soars figuratively and literally. Some cattily compared it to a mobile home when it opened ... but those are mostly the same people who still think Obama was born in Kenya. The exhibits tell not just the president's and the nation's political and social history but also the world's from 1993 - 2000, and the displays seem more accessible and personal. The restaurant is amazing, both the food and the atmosphere. We toured the library on Good Friday morning and had lunch there before shopping a bit at the Museum Store and then driving the 2 1/2 hours on to Memphis.

We made a reservation at the Westin one block off Beale Street before we knew we were going on Easter weekend, and before the NBA scheduled the Grizzlies to play their first-ever home playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs right next door at Fed-Ex Center. So while at first we thought it might be a good contrarian stay (you know, when everybody else isn't) we came to realize we would be in the thick of the action (Beale plus basketball). It turned out grand, even with the Spurs checking in about the same time as us (through the back door, of course).

What is there to say about Beale that hasn't already been said? Just go. It's much the same yet totally different from Sixth in Austin. Think ribs and blues instead of Tex-Mex and rockabilly; it's all good either way. We had the babybacks -- dry rub for her, wet for me -- at Blues City Cafe before taking our ghost tour Friday night. We walked up to the Peabody and heard a scary story, then headed south on Main to the Orpheum, took note of Gus' Fried Chicken (we came back for lunch Saturday), paused at the Lorraine Motel (where MLK Jr. was assassinated) and on into the Arts District and past the Voodoo Fields, ending at Ernestine and Hazel's -- read this also from Rathbone and Tully -- before catching the trolley back uptown. Walkin' in Memphis on a cool night was just marvelous.

Saturday morning we drove out to Graceland. Again, how much could I add to the narrative? I'm not even what anyone would consider an Elvis fan. Liked him, liked his music, but that's about it ... until I arrived. His home just outside of town has been converted into both museum and shrine, and it does the job of preserving and extending the man's legacy. It's over the top in some ways just like Elvis himself, but also has a special and happy karma; at times glorious and at others vain and excessive. It holds literally everything Elvis: the charisma, the clothes, the cars, the gold records ... even him. He's of course buried there, between his mother and father and near his infant twin brother and grandmother. All together in life and death, as that generation was so fond of doing. This two-minute amateur video made me dizzy but will give you a sense of his enduring popularity. The flowers and memorials still pour in from around the world, and are all placed at his gravesite (until they start to wilt, then removed).

Besides the mansion, the Graceland park across the street sprawls across several acres and has half a dozen exhibits -- the autos, motorcycles, snowmobiles, golf carts and other toys make up one, another consists of his fleet of two airplanes which you can climb into, one is dedicated just to his impact on fashion (a video playing there has a rap artist noting that "Elvis musta had some gangsta in him because he was the first dude to do 'bling' big"), another to his comeback in 1968 ... on it goes. There's his music playing unobtrusively in the background seemingly everywhere, scenes from his movies and clips from TV shows like Ed Sullivan showing on monitors frequently. There are eleven gift shops, all full of mostly the same kitsch and junk and junk food (just as Elvis would have wanted).

The best time to go is early in the morning before the crowds and the heat arrive.  We were there with a couple of the wife's high school friends, and they were quick to agree that 9:30 a.m. Easter Saturday was much better than 4 p.m. July Fourth weekend, when they had been the last time. We saw everything and finally left -- a little bit Elvis'ed out -- around 1 p.m. and had lunch at Gus', waiting about 45 minutes to be seated. The chicken is as good as everybody says, but I wouldn't go again because of the wait ... and because I'm diabetic and shouldn't be eating fried chicken and all the starchy sides anyway.

Saturday night was spent inside the Beale zoo. We watched the Griz top the Spurs at Club 152 but hustled down to Silky's in the fourth quarter to get a good table in front of the Zydeco band before the crowds poured out to celebrate the win. It felt like Mardi Gras.

Easter Sunday we had steak and eggs for brunch with a small gathering of like-minded agnostics at Miss Polly's Soul City Cafe' before hitting the road for Shreveport -- about six hours, backtracking most of the way through Little Rock -- and the Louisiana Boardwalk in nearby Bossier City, with casinos and shops and restaurants and all that. We gambled a little and had the buffet at the El Dorado, neither of which was remarkable (we've had much better luck and grub in Kinder and Lake Charles). But our stay at the Courtyard there was terrific: brand-new, all the latest modern amenities, including a big interactive high-def TV in the lobby which let you touchscreen locations and print out directions. Very classy. We checked out and left LA around 11 Monday and drove about four hours back to Houston, hitting town just before rush hour. We passed through Crockett around 2 or so; tornadoes struck there that evening.

I would take this same trip again in a heartbeat, and stay longer in each town if I could. No, nobody paid me for all of this advertising. They should be, though ... don't you think?

Update: I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis is closed due to flooding from the Big Muddy. Mud Island and South Memphis are threatened as the water rises. Timing is everything, people.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Planned Parenthood of South Texas luncheon with Celinda Lake

Assembled today at the Hotel Zaza near Houston's Hermann Park with Mayor Annise Parker, former county commissioner Sylvia Garcia, city council members Melissa Noriega, Sue Lovell, Ed Gonzales, Stephen Costello and a host of other dignitaries were the defenders of Texas women in the form of the powerful activists united with Planned Parenthood's local chapter. The blog table included yours truly, Charles Kuffner, Julie Pippert, Neil Aquino, Stace Medellin, John Cobarruvias and others.

Nobody who reads a political blog in the United States needs to be reminded about the vicious attacks on the rights of all women to determine their reproductive future. Today in fact was not a day for Texas women in particular to note the maliciousness of those (old, fat, mostly white conservative men) who insist on thrusting their ignorance in women's faces -- and elsewhere -- rather, today was a celebration of a fund-raising record and to prepare for the battles ahead.

Pre-eminent pollster Celinda Lake gave the keynote, and served notice in her thorough research into the thoughts and opinions of voters with some data we were suspecting: that a majority of both Americans and Texans, mostly Democrats and liberals but also a large number of independents -- are appalled at the overreach by Republicans who were elected in 2010 to create jobs and help mend the economy.

So far, as has been noted, they're going hard and fast in reverse on that mission also.

The highlights of Lake's presentation included:

-- Americans not only remain supportive of Roe and against an abortion ban, but they are also tired of the debate around the question.

-- That's probably because Lake's polling verifies that the issue is severely polarized; Democratic voters and independents are pro-choice, Republicans of course are anti-choice.

-- Just three percent of voters said abortion was their single most important issue when deciding whom to send to Congress. Those voters, naturally, were most likely to be anti-choice.

-- Two-thirds of Americans still want to continue federal funding for Planned Parenthood ... but slightly oppose federal funding for abortions.

(In point of fact, federal funding for abortion has been outlawed since 1976 ... when the Hyde Amendment was passed. We were made painfully aware of more of this kind of ignorance recently when Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona absurdly claimed that abortions were 90% of PP's business, and was corrected -- to his profound embarrassment -- by the facts. That didn't stop John Cornyn from repeating the stupidity. In Texas, we know that morons who think like Cornyn come a dime a dozen ... and many of them serve in the Texas Legislature.)

-- While economic concerns were the dominant issue among voters in the 2010 election cycle, Lake's polling revealed a surprise: reproductive freedom played a "strong role" in the closing days of the campaign in a number of close races across the nation ... and "helped swing the results in the progressive candidates' favor".  Specifically cited in Lake's PowerPoint were Maine's 1st (Chellie Pingree) and Virginia's 11th (Gerry Connolly) Congressional tilts.

-- More things we thought we knew already: the 2010 electorate compared to its 2008 counterpart was older, more conservative, and less ethnically or racially diverse (does this describe any Republican you know? Or all of them?). Texas voters were all those things and more male, too. Democrats suffered due to lower turnout among younger voters, unmarried women and African Americans. The gender gap in Texas is smaller than elsewhere, but 53% of women in the last election still voted GOP compared to 57% of Texas men.

-- A majority of Latinos (61%) and an overwhelming majority of African Americans (88%) in Texas voted Democratic ... but 2/3 of Texans who voted in 2010 were Anglo, and they went Republican 69-29.

-- Younger Texans (18-29) were just 9% of the total and they went against the GOP wave by 5 points (51-46); those from 30 to 44 were split evenly (48% D, 49% R) and made up 23% of all Texas voters; 45-64 year-olds comprised 48% of the electorate and broke Republican 57-41, and Texans 65 and older, 20% of all voters, went 62-36 for the GOP.

-- Independents made up 39% of all voters, compared to 28% who self-identified Democratic and 33% Republican, and the indies favored Rick Perry by 16 points in 2010 (56-40%), This was a shocking statistic to me. Another one: Twelve percent of Texans who voted for Obama in 2008 voted Republican in 2010.

There's more like this, but you get the picture. On the question of women and the right to choose ...

-- A solid majority of Americans (59%) want the next Supreme Court justice to uphold Roe if a case like that came before the court again.

-- There is a great deal of consensus among all voters for moving away from the push-and-pull of abortion and broadening the discussion to reproductive health, including birth control, comprehensive sex education, and improving maternal and childbirth outcomes. And by a slight majority (52-40), Americans disapprove of Republicans adding new federal restrictions to choice for women.

Eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood's family services -- the actual 90% of their work -- means that Republicans will be taking away affordable birth control for poor and unemployed women (think about all the teachers in Texas who are losing their jobs and their insurance), and affordable health services like cancer screenings. Cutting PP's funding will, to put it bluntly, result in more unintended pregnancies -- nearly a million annually now in the US -- and thus more abortions (almost half of that one million). It also means women will contract more STDs and cancers that could have been prevented.

If you now understand the moral crisis being created by the Republican cabal of men who are determined to take women's rights back to the 19th century, contact your Republican representative and tell them to cut it out. And then send an e-mail to your friends and family asking them to do the same. You can easily e-mail this post to them if you have trouble writing a message yourself.

And then make sure you vote in 2012, and that everybody on your e-mail list does, too.

Update: From Neil, regarding yesterday's passage of the Texas mandatory sonogram bill ...

If the state can force one medical procedure on free citizens, why can’t it force any medical procedure on free citizens?

Yet the same people turn around and say it is wrong to compel people to buy health insurance as part of health care reform.

In Texas, “Choose life” appears to mean choose a crappy life with no health insurance, no social security, no steady work, and no quality education.

Will women who refuse the sonograms be arrested? Will they be in some way forced to get the sonogram? Will doctors be forced to detail patient conversations in order to prosecute women who refuse to comply?

This is how the State of Texas defines small government and personal freedom.

And Evan, at Burn Down Blog ...

Ah Republicans, the party of small government except for vaginas. At the rate they want to regulate those things, you would think that vaginas work by trading synthetic derivatives made out of radioactive mercury. After all, what do you think that red dot in the Kotex commercials stands for?

And nonsequiteuse, with this poem by Marge Piercy (just the closing excerpt follows; go read the whole thing).

We are all born of woman, in the rose
of the womb we suckled our mother’s blood
and every baby born has a right to love
like a seedling to the sun. Every baby born
unloved, unwanted, is a bill that will come
due in twenty years with interest, an anger
that must find a target, a pain that will
beget pain. A decade downstream a child
screams, a woman falls, a synagogue is torched,
a firing squad summoned, a button
is pushed and the world burns.
I will choose what enters me, what becomes,
flesh of my flesh. Without choice, no politics,
no ethics lives. I am not your cornfield,
not your uranium mine, not your calf
for fattening, not your cow for milking.
You may not use me as your factory.
Priests and legislators do not hold
shares in my womb or my mind.
This is my body. If I give it to you
I want it back. My life
is a non-negotiable demand.