Monday, March 31, 2014

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance is glad that so many people will be getting health insurance -- even if that number should have been much higher  -- as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff pushes back on some happy talk about the voter ID law.

Dos Centavos reviews the biopic of Cesar Chavez and emphasizes that the radical fringe in Texas would like to keep his name and others like his out of our kids' classrooms.

Horwitz at Texpatriate made the case for anyone but Jim Hogan, including Kinky Friedman, in the Democratic primary for Agriculture Commissioner.

Thanks to James Moore at Texas to the World, Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos learned Ted Cruz is a cheapskate who spends more time in Iowa than in the Rio Grande Valley. Libby also discovered Ted Cruz lied about The Biggest Lie in all Politics.

The Texas Central Railway, the latest effort to launch high speed rail from Houston to Dallas, made their initial plans public this week and PDiddie at Brains and Eggs had the advance (before) and the post-press conference report (after).

Texas has a woefully inadequate and unfair tax system, and that puts us in a bind when we need stuff. Because as WCNews at Eye on Williamson reminds us that stuff costs money.

Texas Leftist is glad Democrats have finally stumbled upon a winning strategy for 2014. The questions now... Can we keep the fire burning through November, and will Greg Abbott and the rest of the GOP weasel out of having general election debates?

Reading a book about the settlement routes of black people in the United States, Neil at All People Have Value wrote about ideas of movement beyond physical migration. All People Have Value is part of

Join Egberto of on his new radio show Politics Done Right on KPFT 90.1 FM, Monday at 8:00 PM to discuss Obamacare and the 2014 election.


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

The Great God Pan Is Dead wants to know what Rice University has against art.

Cody Pogue asks and answers the question "What is Texas?"

Mark Bennett defines the ethics of decolletage.

Offcite photographs the Alps of Pasadena. No really, it makes sense once you read it.

Nonsequiteuse has a suggestion for those who think the equal pay issue is no big thing.

The Texas Living Waters Project implores you to give your feedback on our state’s water future.

Jen Sorenson, a freelance artist now living in Texas, illustrates her experience with Obamacare.

Texas Vox asks "How many oil spills will it take?" as it marks the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

And finally, in much happier anniversary news, Amy Valentine celebrates her fifth anniversary of being cancer-free.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday Lone Star roundup

-- Greg Abbott once again has a corporation's back, this time against the people who were seriously injured, and occasionally killed -- probably intentionally -- by a neurosurgeon.

This is a pattern.  Abbott doesn't care about you unless you're a company.  Or maybe a fetus.

-- Glenn Hegar, the Republican running for state comptroller (a word he cannot articulate) has proposed replacing state property taxes with a sales tax.  It would need to be a sales tax of about 20-25%, in order to be revenue neutral.  Once he was saying "just do it", but now that the math has been presented to him, he thinks maybe we should go a little slower.

If you can't correctly pronounce the office you seek, and math comes slow for you, then perhaps you don't deserve to be elected the state's accountant.  That's all we're saying.

But the damage was done. Politically, you can’t easily replace the more than $40 billion a year that local property taxes yield by tinkering with state and local sales taxes, which currently produce about $28 billion.
If Hegar wants to be the chief tax collector and revenue estimator, he should know that.

EOW and BOR with more.

-- Leticia Van de Putte kicks off her spring Texas tour.

Van de Putte’s campaign made the announcement in an email to supporters Tuesday that provides a rough framework for the bus tour, which will kick off Sunday in San Antonio and is set to wrap up April 7 in Austin. ...

After San Antonio, the campaign bus tour will dip into the heart of South Texas, making stops in Pharr and Laredo before shifting west and trekking to El Paso. From there, the bus tour heads for events in Midland, Lubbock and Wichita Falls. ...

Van de Putte’s bus tour is also scheduled to make stops in Fort Worth, Dallas, Tyler, Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Houston and Corpus Christi before concluding in Austin.

LVDP was extensively profiled in the San Antonio Current recently.  She rolls into H-Town on April 5, when she will meet privately with us bloggers ahead of the rally.  We're getting to be kind of a big deal, in case you hadn't noticed.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fifth Circuit upholds Texas abortion restrictions

Just as expected.

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld Texas' tough new abortion restrictions that shuttered many of the abortions clinics in the state.

A panel of judges at the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court judge who said the rules violate the U.S. Constitution and served no medical purpose. In its opinion, the appeals court said the law "on its face does not impose an undue burden on the life and health of a woman."

Texas lawmakers last year passed some of the toughest restrictions in the U.S. on when, where and how women may obtain an abortion. The Republican-controlled Legislature required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and placed strict limits on doctors prescribing abortion-inducing pills.

Most Republican leaders in Texas oppose abortion, except in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. In passing the new rules, they argued they were protecting the health of the woman.

Greg Abbott Tweeted his delight at the news.  Burnt Orange has a map of the areas in the state where the restrictions are already making it difficult to impossible for women to get an abortion.  While the Fifth Circuit deliberated, women's clinics were closing all around the state.

On to the SCOTUS, and probably to be ultimately settled in a year and a half or so (in other words, just in time for it to become a 2016 presidential election year issue).

More on the Texas Central Railway

Earlier this week a handful of us local blog-types sat down with TCR prez Bob Eckels, outreach director David Hagy, and press spox David Benzion to get an update on the bullet train they're planning for the Houston-Dallas corridor.

I won't bury the lede; color me cautiously optimistic.  If you wish, watch some of Eckels giving essentially the same pitch elsewhere that we got here.

A summary, courtesy to me from Charles Kuffner -- who has led in the early reporting -- because my audio capabilities were somewhat impaired during our gathering:

-- TCR is privately funded and they expect to be profitable if only the proposed Houston to Dallas route gets built. They will build with future expansion in mind and to accommodate connections with future rail systems, including one that is probably highest in priority, linking Dallas to Fort Worth.  (See below for the link to today's press conference with the mayors of H-Town, Big D, and Cowtown.)

-- There will be rail stations in downtown Houston and Dallas, and perhaps a handful of others elsewhere in both cities. Depending on the ultimate route chosen -- there are three possible alignments -- there may be a stop in-between, in Bryan/College Station or Huntsville or some other city.

-- Going private means, among many other considerations, that they could plan the route and station locations without having to take political considerations and consequences into account.  The TCR will be still regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration, and once they submit their intent to build to the FRA (next month), they will go through the environmental impact study and public hearing process just as TxDOT or Metro or any other public agency would. 

-- My question to Judge Eckels in our meeting was about eminent domain.  His response was that they will have that capability, but their preference is to make the kind of offer people will want to accept, as that is cheaper than involving attorneys (and certainly better from a PR perspective).  They will mostly be using existing railroad rights of way and don't expect to have to usurp the property of too many landowners.

Frankly, this response suggests a prescription for some pretty thick rose-colored glasses.  The obstacles will sprout like weeds as soon as their route gets published.  Will the train be elevated in rural areas, minimizing the danger of crossings?  Surely it's not going to be constructed mostly at-grade -- dangerous for country travelers -- or below, which would seemingly be the most expensive and present challenges of unexpected kinds. (These are questions I wished I had asked, and will pose to communications director Benzion.)

-- So far the project has not encountered opposition they have been unable to overcome. When they held a similar get-together with Houston-area conservo-bloggers, the primary reaction there was suspicion that their plan would evolve to securing taxpayer funding.  Noteworthy here was Eckels' emphasis on efforts to keep politics out of the project, and particularly the politics of the far right minimized.  He wants the Railway to neither be tarred with an "Obama" brush nor be touted as some strain of  'Texas exceptionalism'.  This is an admirable goal and a challenging mission, IMHO.

Eckels also says that environmental groups 'like' them, and that they have good relationships with the FRA and with other rail builders such as the one in California.

Again, my initial take here with respect to the ecological concerns is a dash of skepticism.  After our meeting, my brother Neil expressed some regret that he had not asked about the Houston toad, an endangered species that lives in some of the area likely to be transited by the bullet train and already experiencing stress from roadways, pipelines, transmission lines and the construction of all those.

Overall, this "socialist" can get on board with the Texas Central Railway, especially if it expands service to those Texans who are not part of the "luxury" class.  Even if it remains an elite mode of transportation affordable by only the 1%, though, it wins environmentally by getting cars off the road and squeezing yet more efficiency from the airlines.

How the Railway handles their security, TSA-style and along the physical line itself, is a question that still needs an answer.

Mayors Annise Parker of Houston, Mike Rawlings of Dallas, and Betsy Price of Fort Worth are hosting media at Houston's city hall this morning to make an announcement about high speed rail.  Isiah Carey at Fox 26 has posted the press release, and I'll add anything they have that I don't afterwards.

Update: Here's the Chron's take.

The caption of the photo oops, 'photo illustration' above of a Japanese bullet train reads: "The planned high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas would use overhead electrical lines and its own separated tracks to shuttle riders between the two metro areas, through mostly flat, rural land."  I interpret that as mostly at-grade.  I wonder if we will hear the same conservative whining that we have endured for the last decade about Houston Metro's light rail service.

Update II: Posted in the comments to this news in another forum, this Wiki link relates the long, tortured history of high speed rail in Texas.  It should be interesting to see if some of the same old coalitions line up to stifle it again.

Update III: CultureMap covered this morning's presser, and Texas Leftist -- who was with me at the meeting earlier in the week -- filed his story.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Act like a Texan"

I still have some thoughts to collect from yesterday's meeting on the Texas Central Railway, so let's catch up on Wendy Davis slamming Greg Abbott around (I'm sure someone somewhere might construe that to be insensitive to a man in a wheelchair)...

Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis delivered a strong message to Republican opponent Greg Abbott on equal pay for women Monday morning, telling him to "act like a Texan" and stop letting his surrogates speak for him on the issue.

"I have a message for Greg Abbott today," Davis said at a speech in Austin. "Stop hiding behind your staff members. Stop hiding behind your surrogates. This Texas gal is calling you out. Act like a Texan and answer this question for yourself: What on earth is going on at your attorney general's office?" 

That's vintage Ann Richards right there.  Or maybe Don Vito Corleone.

Everyone knows she's saying "act like a man" (a phrase usually preceded by "Stand up and") and everyone also knows that Abbott has been acting like a man in his business dealings with the women that have been hired in the OAG over the years.

Two of his surrogates stumbled in television interviews on the subject, saying women are too "busy" to think about equal pay for equal work and insisting that the reason women are paid less is that "men are better negotiators." The San Antonio Express-News reported that Abbott's office pays female assistant attorneys general $6,000 less, on average, than men in the same position, and Abbott's campaign said he would veto equal pay legislation that because current wage discrimination laws are sufficient, he would make it easier for women to sue over pay discrimination.

As attorney general, Abbott also successfully defended the state against a female college professor who was being paid less than her employees for the same work, arguing that federal equal pay protections don't apply in state court.

Davis pointed out on Monday that as state senator, she introduced an equal pay bill in a Republican-controlled Texas legislature that would have changed the circumstances under which women can sue their employers for pay discrimination, and it passed. Gov. Rick Perry (R) vetoed the bill last June.

The only thing Greg Abbott has done in the nearly twelve years he's held office -- besides sue Barack Obama, of course -- is act like a man.  Just as every other man has been acting towards the women they hire, in Texas and across the country, for decades.

Keep in mind that it's just an act.  In order to get men like Greg Abbott to act differently -- and also the millions of other men who have kept women down with this pay gap since, I don't know, forever -- enough shame and blame needs to be heaped on their heads and draped around their shoulders until they get it.  Until they start acting better.

Paying women less than men like me for the same job is wrong.  It's wrong even if their experience differs: if they are good enough to be hired, they are good enough to be paid the same.  Underpaying people on the basis of their genitalia is plain old discrimination.  Since so many women are primary breadwinners in their households now, pay inequality affects the children they are struggling to raise as well.

But here's where we are reminded that Republicans don't really care as much about children as they do fetuses.  Once that umbilical cord is cut you're on your own, kid.  Get out there and make something of yourself, like I did.

Especially if you're a man, like Greg Abbott.  Why, you can have a tree fall on you and collect ten million bucks for it, then make certain nobody else -- man, woman, child, or fetus -- ever does the same.

That might be what a real Texan looks like to Republicans.  But it's not how one acts.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A bullet train between Houston and Dallas comes into view

Today our little progblog contingent is taking a meeting with the principal players, including former Harris County Judge Bob Eckels and his comm director, David Benzion, about this.

In Asia and Europe, tens of millions of people have been happily riding high-speed bullet trains for decades. On our own shores, however, the implementation of intercity high-speed rail has suffered from a host of delays. The one system that has managed to get moving, somewhat—California’s—has lately found itself beset by legal problems and public cynicism over rising costs and the use of eminent domain to obtain private land for the rail line’s right-of-way.

The situation has fans of high-speed rail worried. If America’s first bullet-train system can’t get built in high-tech, environmentally progressive California, they wonder, where can it possibly get built?

Hold on to your ten-gallon hats. Texas, of all places, has emerged as the state that may stand the best chance of winning the U.S. race for high-speed rail. That California might lose bullet-train bragging rights to a state governed by a pro-fracking climate-change skeptic may come as a surprise. But a Texas triumph could also provide us with a teachable moment about how to tailor bullet-train projects to the different cultures and demographics of all 50 states.

 Way back in 2012, CultureMap had it first.

Talks of the quick trans-Texas trip have been underway since 2010, when Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) rallied for part of an $8 billion federal grant that President Barack Obama set aside for high-speed rail corridors.

That effort failed, but JR Central has teamed up with the Texas-based company to raise roughly $10 billion in private dollars for the Houston-to-DFW route. Eckels believes federal involvement slows the process and piles on expenses, and claimed that private money would be repaid by riders' fares — "competitive and in many cases less than airfares."

The "no-taxpayer-dollars" thing should be popular with a certain caucus.

Though his company has been working closely with federal and state agencies on safety and right-of-way issues, TCR president Robert Eckels is confident that “our private development approach will be successful for this corridor.” TCR’s market-led approach, he adds, “will be differentiated by the high level of customer experience offered.”

That level is hinted at on TCR’s website, which emphasizes the speed and luxuriousness of the Japanese-built trains that would make up the company’s rolling stock. Clearly TCR hopes to lure the same Texas business travelers who helped make Southwest Airlines a homegrown corporate success story—but who now complain that the time spent getting into and out of airports has made flying between Dallas and Houston not much faster, and definitely not any easier, than driving.

Yes, eminent domain for a private operation such as this might not be a concern here, thanks to a recent development in the Keystone XL pipeline's legal tussle that was resolved in TransCanada's favor and against a Texas landowner.  And when I say 'resolved', I mean the SCOTX declined to hear her case.

The On Earth article has more on the environmental benefits of taking so many cars off the road and airline passengers out of the sky, and here's the bottom line on that.

Mass transit yields an environmental dividend regardless of why people use it. Were the nation’s first bullet train to come about thanks to Texas business travelers—shuttling, ironically, between two capitals of the oil and chemical industries—it could be the best advertisement imaginable. If high-speed rail is good enough for the good ol’ boys and gals of Texas, maybe the rest of America will realize that it’s good enough for them too.

So I'll be anxious to hear what more they can tell us about this development.  I'll have a followup post tomorrow morning.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Of oil spills, then and now

I mentioned it briefly last week, but in light of the weekend's events, a reminder that the past is often prologue.

Before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, there was the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, at the time the nation’s largest oil spill.

The 987-foot tanker, carrying 53 million gallons of crude, struck Bligh Reef at 12:04 a.m. on March 24, 1989. Within hours, it unleashed an estimated 10.8 million gallons of thick, toxic crude oil into the water. Storms and currents then smeared it over 1,300 miles of shoreline.

For a generation of people around the world, the spill was seared into their memories by images of fouled coastline in Prince William Sound, of sea otters, herring and birds soaked in oil, of workers painstakingly washing crude off the rugged beaches.

I was living in Midland, Texas at the time, and the reaction there was as predictable as you can imagine.  "It's not Exxon's fault, it was that drunk captain"... and besides, when are you going to park your car and ride your bike, you dirty hippie?  Socratic Gadfly also remembers.

Per Wikipedia's story on the disaster, when in the original suit, eXXXon was hit with $5 billion in punitive damages, it got a $4.8 billion line of credit from J.P. Morgan. To insulate itself, Morgan created the first modern credit default swap.

In other words, eXXXon's Alaskan oil slick helped crap on the American economy nearly 20 years later. That said, why would anything about any unholy alliance between Wall Street and Big Oil surprise you? See: "Bros., Koch" for more.

The more things change, the more they remain the same

The Houston Ship Channel remained closed to marine traffic Sunday as efforts continued to remove up to 168,000 gallons of heavy oil that spilled into Galveston Bay on Saturday afternoon, inciting concerns about potential widespread economic impact and closure of the eight refineries that make up the world's second-largest petrochemical complex.

The 52-mile Ship Channel, connecting the country's largest exporting port to the Gulf of Mexico, will not reopen until the water is clear of the fuel oil that spilled after a ship and barge collided near the Texas City Dike, which officials said Sunday could take several days, if not weeks.

The barge leak in the HSC won't be, thankfully, as bad as the Exxon Valdez disaster.  It's just that the oil industry and its consumers haven't learned any lessons in the past generation.

"This is devastating," said James Stork, 46, a Galveston native who owns a medical staffing company. "I think cleanup is going to be a lot more than they expected. It's really going to affect the economy for people who depend on fishing and shrimping,"

The spill also comes at the "worst time" for tens of thousands of shore and seabirds, an estimated 50,000 of which roost at the Bolivar Flats refuge only about two miles from where the spill occurred, according to Richard Gibbons, conservation director for the Houston Audubon Society.

"We're at the peak of the birding season. In a couple weeks, there's a birding festival," said Anna Armitage, a professor at Texas A&M University's Galveston branch who is an expert on marshes and marine habitats. "This is one of the worst times for birds to be potentially exposed."

Experts said it is too soon to say how extensive the environmental and economic damage will be. But fishermen said they were already throwing back oil-covered catches.

Most of the comments on social media over the weekend focused on inconvenienced cruise line passengers.  Coming in a close second were the sport fishermen with the means to rearrange their charter excursions.  A distant third were the conspiracy theorists declaring that there would be an increase in gasoline prices to follow soon.  Community "leaders", meanwhile, are wringing their hands over the impact to the economy.

Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman, whose Precinct 2 encompasses a large portion of the Ship Channel, said a closure lasting a day or two is not a big deal, but that he was told by Port of Houston Authority officials this one could last longer.

"It is concerning when you start getting closures of multiple days in a row," he said. "I think one day, like I said, is not unheard of and certainly wouldn't be too disruptive but multiple days you start really having an impact on our local economy, and regionally and nationally as well ..."

Port of Houston Authority Chairman Janiece Longoria said Sunday it is "unclear at this point how long the channel may be closed or the financial impact to industry stakeholders, and to POHA and its customers," but that a Ship Channel closure is "always of concern to the Port of Houston Authority and to all Houston Ship Channel users."

'Industry stakeholders, the Port of Houston, and its customers'.  Well, I guess that covers everybody.  Everybody that matters, anyway.  Right?

Go ahead and fry up some of those delicious Gulf oysters and shrimp, folks.  The cooking oil is already included.

Update: Wonkette adds their special spice to the stirfry.

If you are still receptive to hopeful sentiments on the issue of the environment, the last paragraph of NPR’s fish hearts piece is nice:

Discovering the mechanism that makes oil toxic to fish is like a coroner pinning down a mysterious cause of death — but taking 25 years to do it. And, as in a criminal case, this knowledge could give scientists evidence to hold companies responsible for long-term damages no one ever knew oil spills were causing.

That’s right, sue their pants off! Sue ‘em so hard the price of oil goes up. Yes, this would suck in its own way, but there is no “boy, that was easy!” solution here, and a sure way to spur the development of renewables is to make fossil fuels cost more. Finally, here’s a nice piece about a judge telling BP to pay up for all the delicious fish they murdered. That’s great! Now we just need the coal industry to start paying for the 13,000 people they kill every year. That’s our Exxon Valdez Day wish, what’s yours?

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance has no idea what's so hard to understand about the concept of equal pay as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff wonders why the decline in GOP primary turnout, especially in strongholds like Collin County, has generated so little attention.

Horwitz at Texpatriate eulogizes Robert Strauss, who could teach us all a lesson about bipartisanship.

If we are to win the battle on issues, we must win the battle of language. emphasizes these points with Bill Maher’s most recent New Rule.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos notes the Republican war on women is real and it is relentless. Greg Abbott says he is for equal pay, but would veto a bill requiring it.

Greg Abbott's bad week has stretched into a bad month, as the AG keeps stepping in (that's not insensitive, is it?) messes of his own making. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs links to Harvey Kronberg, who declares that "all bets are off" in the Texas governor's race.

When the political debate is about issues that are central to the lives of poor, working and middle class Texans, that's a bad day for the Texas GOP and a good day for everyone else. WCNews at Eye on Williamson says that's what we need as a A Democratic Alternative.

Neil at All People Have Value took a long walk in Houston on the first day of spring. Neil said that just as the work of freedom is up to each of us, so is the task of seeing the value in the everyday things around us. All People Have Value is part of

As more Houstonians discover public transit, they are also beginning to expect a higher level of transit service. A sincere attempt to address this void is Houston METRO's T.R.I.P. App -- a geolocation tool that provides real-time arrival information to anyone with a smart phone. The app is potentially a game-changer, which is why Texas Leftist decided to test it out on a couple of routes. Does it really work?


And here are some great blog posts from elsewhere around Texas.

Texas Election Law Blog takes a deeper look at rationality and voting behavior.

Nonsequiteuse connects the dots on anti-abortion rhetoric and violence.

Juanita Jean uses the word "haboob" in a sentence. It probably doesn't mean what you think it means.

The Lunch Tray revisits that study that claimed to find a large decrease in childhood obesity.

Better Texas takes a look at how states are handling the coverage gap.

Grits for Breakfast notes a sharp rebuke of Greg Abbott by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Burkablog also eulogizes Robert Strauss.

BOR profiles SD17 challenger Rita Lucido.

Concerned Citizens examines alternatives to streetcars in San Antonio.

And Beyond Bones has some awesome True Facts about The Princess Bride.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Funnies

The incomparable Silly Rabbit, with the weekly Talking Heads roundup.

Call me crazy, but...

I don't think it's just a coincidence that: the 911th anniversary of the Iraq War; the fourth anniversary of Obamacare; Twitter's eighth birthday; Republicans' first re-birthday; the start of the NCAA basketball tournament; the end of Fred Phelps; and, the Vernal Equinox, all occurred this week.

If I was a religious person, I'd be building an ark right about now.

Disclosure: I am not a marine biologist, and I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night; I don't claim to know exactly who and/or what is behind this neo-confluence of events, or what it all means.

That being said, it would be irresponsible not to speculate.

My sixth sense is telling me that Barack Obama's explosion onto the scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention caused a ripple in the space-time continuum, and sent shockwaves through our young Earth.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Everything you need to know

-- The reason CNN can't talk about anything else but the missing Malaysian plane is because it's paying off for them.

The news that wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet may have been spotted in the southern Indian Ocean was enough to create a surge in news viewing late Wednesday night and, for the moment anyway, stave off potential flagging interest in the two-week-old story.

CNN continued to show enormous audience increases, though as of Wednesday it was no longer topping the perennial leader, Fox News, anywhere in prime time. Fox News had always won in terms of total viewers, but CNN had been doubling its usual audience among the group favored by news advertisers, viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, and topping Fox News in some isolated hours.

CNN still posted greatly increased numbers with that group Wednesday night, but Fox maintained a lead in every hour from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (It won the ratings for the total day, as well.) CNN’s 10 p.m. hour, which had been doing especially well with the format of asking aviation experts questions texted in by viewers, faded somewhat, dropping behind Sean Hannity’s show on Fox by the biggest margin of the night in the 25-to-54 group, 291,000 viewers to 410,000 viewers.

Perhaps the audience lost some interest when the CNN anchor Don Lemon asked one expert if it was really preposterous, after all, to ask if Flight 370, which vanished on March 8, may have been swallowed by a black hole. The plane, which carried a total of 239 passengers and crew members, took off from Kuala Lumpur in the early hours of March 8, bound for Beijing, and disappeared from ground controllers’ screens 40 minutes later.

I'm weeping for the future.  How about you?

-- Ted Cruz runs a new scam on the conservo-rubes.

“It is time to Draft Ted Cruz for president,” says RedState diarist “razshafer,” and to that end, Raz has established, and an affiliated Draft Ted Cruz for President PAC. Raz is, Dave Weigel explains, Ted Cruz’s (now former) regional director Raz Shafer, and not just some person using Cruz’s name to convince conservatives to send along their lucrative email addresses.

Here is part of Shafer’s pitch:
I know there are other candidates who may run as conservatives, but I believe Ted Cruz has demonstrated that he’s the only consistent conservative who will do what it takes to roll back Barack Obama’s agenda. He’s the only one who has the passion, principles, and courage needed to deliver real results for Americans.
I’ve never spoken to Ted about him running for president and I honestly don’t know if he will do it, but I do know he won’t succeed unless freedom-loving Americans like you and me begin organizing this effort now.
Ted Cruz is the people’s candidate and we need to be the ones driving the effort to elect him.
So if you’re ready to be proud of your vote again and you agree that Ted Cruz should run for president, please do three things:
  1. Go to and sign the official Draft Ted Cruz for President petition.
  2. Urge your friends and family to join you.
  3. Donate whatever you can to help us spread the word and build support.
My advice, even if you do support Ted Cruz and think he should run for president, is don’t do any of this. It is a waste of your time and you will be exploited. Your name and contact information will be sold. You will have no effect whatsoever on Cruz’s decision to run for president or not. Your monetary donation will have no effect whatsoever on Ted Cruz’s potential 2016 electoral chances.

They'll do it anyway.  Conservatives are sheep for the fleecing.  It would be so cool if the GOP nominated Ted in 2016, wouldn't it?

-- America needs welders.  Houston especially needs technical labor.

-- Obama warns Democrats again that midterm elections are historically bad.

"But in midterms we get clobbered -- either because we don’t think it’s important or we’ve become so discouraged about what’s happening in Washington that we think it’s not worth our while," he said, according to the transcript.

Low Democratic turnout during non-presidential elections is one reason the deck is stacked against the party going into Nov. 4. Obama has repeatedly urged Democrats to focus on state-level races this year even though they're less "sexy" than national contests, and has reportedly offered to stay out of races where his appearance with a vulnerable candidate could do damage.

I talked to some people exactly like this in calling my precinct earlier this month.  In particular, a middle-aged white woman with a Democratic voting history who said she was "taking a pass" this year.  Quote unquote.

No, I didn't ask her why.  You can't fix stupid, and there are plenty more people to help.  "Next," as God might say (if there was a God).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why did the 500-lb. chicken cross the road?

A. It could do whatever it wanted, because it was also eleven feet long and had five inch claws on its hands.  And please don't disturb it with your silly questions.

-- John Coby found Greg Abbott exposing himself on television.  Ew.

-- Boehner rejects 'bipartisan breakthrough' on jobless aid:

After months of effort, a group of senators from both parties announced last week they’d reached a deal on extending unemployment benefits. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), one of the lead negotiators, called it a “bipartisan breakthrough.”
And by most measures, it was. The agreement would extend jobless aid to nearly 2 million Americans, without increasing the deficit. It’s a popular, election-year measure, backed by a Senate supermajority, and the compromise is poised to pass the chamber next week.
That House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced yesterday, however, that the Senate shouldn’t bother – House Republicans won’t even consider the “bipartisan breakthrough.”
“We have always said that we’re willing to look at extending emergency unemployment benefits again, if Washington Democrats can come up with a plan that is fiscally-responsible, and gets to the root of the problem by helping to create more private-sector jobs. There is no evidence that the bill being rammed through the Senate by Leader Reid meets that test,” Boehner said in a statement Wednesday.
That the Republican leader doesn’t want to extend unemployment benefits is predictable. But what mattered yesterday was the weakness of his excuse.

I got nothing.

-- This is going to be a little rough on you Christians out there.

Sometimes the truth is brutal.  And harsh.

-- Twenty-five years ago, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska. Even though I worked in their Beaumont refinery in the summer of 1980 before my final senior semester, I never bought any of their gas after that environmental apocalypse.  The permanent loss of my business hasn't slowed 'em down too much, though.

-- And speaking of protests...

A federal judge has ordered the FBI to explain why it withheld some information requested by a graduate student for his research on a plot to assassinate Occupy Houston protest leaders.

Ryan Noah Shapiro, a doctoral student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., filed a lawsuit April 29, 2013, against the U.S. Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer issued her order, with an accompanying memo, on March 12.
The FBI, as part of the Department of Justice, controls the records Shapiro wanted for his study of "conflicts at the nexus of American national security, law enforcement and political dissent," the plaintiff's complaint stated.

Houston was among hundreds of U.S. cities where protesters occupied outdoor spaces as part of the Occupy Movement that started in New York's Zucotti Park on Sept. 17, 2011.

"The movement has sought to expose how the wealthiest 1 percent of society promulgates an unfair global economy that harms people and destroys communities worldwide," the complaint stated.

Kind of a big deal, if we can ever learn the truth about that.  Oh, and don't miss reading some of the comments to discover what our local conservatives really think about Occupy.  It's far too late for them to keep it classy; that oil tanker has sailed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"All bets are off"

Harvey Kronberg, in his weekly Austin teevee appearance.

“We are seeing something none of us has anticipated, and that is the Abbott campaign is on the defensive. First, they had the Ted Nugent experiment... which was supposed to be about the Second Amendment and ended up being about child predators. The second event was the Lily Ledbetter Act, which is about equal pay. They want to talk about process. But the message that is breaking through now anyway is about equal pay for women. If you have a series of additional issues like that that seem to put the Republicans on the wrong side of women, then all bets are off as to how this election will actually turn out.”

Republican women pinch-hitting for Abbott that are saying women are too busy to be concerned about their pay inequality -- or need to be better negotiators -- is just digging his hole deeper.

Abbott has always been a lousy lawyer and an even worse human being, but now it appears his vaunted political instincts are failing him.  The ladies doing the talking for him this week must have been trained by Todd Akin, or maybe Ralph Reed.  I am amazed that Abbott is making these kinds of mistakes because he's never, ever made them in his political career before.  Like Noah and Charles, I didn't believe that Emerson College poll had enough of a track record to be legitimate, but if another one that does reports a similar tightening of the race, there will be a massive surge in momentum to Davis.  Her press shop is now firing on all twelve cylinders, and that -- as much as Abbott's stumbling (is that insensitive to a man in a wheelchair?) -- has moved her campaign forward in the past week.

Abbott's failings in policy and tactics have been clear to those of us who follow these things closely for some time, and now they're getting more attention, such that the low-interest, low-data, low-participation voters might begin to take notice.  None of this addresses the Democrats' historical turnout problem, but Battleground Texas keeps grinding away on that also.

Now if Senate and Congressional Democrats will just stop running away from Obamacare, November prospects might really brighten up.  Here's their clue on how to turn a negative into a positive, courtesy Dave Weigel.  Nancy Pelosi, in Houston yesterday, reiterated the message: run on Obamacare, and run hard on expanding it (and Medicaid).

Texas Democrats report to their Senate district conventions this weekend, and with stinky options like David Alameel and Kinky Friedman as least worst choices looming in the May runoff, Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte are going to have to do the heavy lifting for the fall slate.  It's a good thing they both have years of experience in doing dirty jobs left to them by the men.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Income inequality, debates for the 1%, and abortion clinic bombers

-- Paying women the same as men is hard work, to paraphrase a previous Texas governor (who fell upward).  And the national media is all over it.  Charles beat me to this, but it's worth repeating.

Houston Chronicle / Siobhan O'Grady
Just one week after Greg Abbott, Texas' attorney general and the GOP's nominee for the state's gubernatorial race, skirted around a question on equal pay, the executive director of the Lone Star State's newest Republican PAC stumbled through her response to a similar question in a television interview on Sunday.

Talking Points Memo / Catherine Thompson
Cari Cristman, the executive director of Red State Women PAC, was asked in an interview with Dallas TV station WFAA about Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's (R) position on equal pay laws. Abbott, who is running for governor against state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), previously told the news station that existing law was sufficient to protect women's pay.

Jezebel / Kelly Faircloth
Salon reports (see next) that this fascinating line of argument comes via Cari Christman, who heads Texas's Red State Women PAC. Local ABC affiliate WFAA asked whether her organization believes Texas needs an equal pay act. This has become an issue in the state gubernatorial race, as Wendy Davis faces off against former attorney general Greg Abbott. In his last gig, he convinced the Texas Supreme Court that the Lily Ledbetter Act-which gives women longer to file gender discrimination claims after leaving a job-didn't alter Texas's statue of limitations.

Salon / Katie McDonough
As Laura Bassett at the Huffington Post points out (see below), Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis has been making Republican opponent Greg Abbott's record on equal pay a focus of her campaign. As attorney general, Abbott successfully argued before the Texas Supreme Court in a lawsuit brought by a female professor that the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the statute of limitations in such cases, didn't change Texas' state statute of limitations.

Raw Story / David Edwards
During a Sunday interview with WFAA's Inside Texas Politics, host Jason Whitely told RedState Women Executive Editor Cari Christman that Democrats had accused Republicans of "hitting the panic button" and launching the PAC in the final months before the 2014 elections after gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott was criticized for campaigning with Ted Nugent. Whitely also pointed out that Abbott had recently said that Texas did not need new laws to protect women against pay discrimination.

Dallas Morning News / Christy Hoppe
Last week, on the same show, GOP nominee Greg Abbott declined to answer whether he also would have vetoed the equal pay act, called the Lilly Ledbetter Act, named after the federal version of the law. Three years ago, Abbott's office successfully argued before the Texas Supreme Court that federal equal pay protections do not apply in Texas. The 2012 decision determined that a female college professor did not have the right to sue because she discovered the alleged discriminatory pay more than 180 days after she was hired. The Lilly Ledbetter Act provides that a suit can be filed within 180 days of a woman discovering the pay discrepancy.

Huffington Post / Laura Bassett
Democratic candidate Wendy Davis has been going after Abbott on equal pay in recent weeks. In addition to dodging the question of whether he supports equal pay, the Davis camp points out, he actively fought against it during his career as Texas Attorney General. Abbott successfully argued before the Texas Supreme Court in Prairie View A&M University vs. Chatha that federal equal pay protections did not apply in Texas, so a female college professor who was paid unfairly did not have the right to sue more than 180 days after the discrimination began.

To quote a really smart woman: "If you have a vagina, and you vote Republican, you are a moron."  I would add: "If you have a vagina, and you don't plan on voting in 2014, then that's the same thing as voting Republican."

-- And just so everyone understands precisely who the Republicans on the ballot answer to, witness the development of a proposed debate between Dan Patrick and David Dewhurst over the weekend, to be held at the 'C' Club in River Oaks.  Except now it's not.  Follow Quorum Report's bulletins, beginning late Friday afternoon...

Dewhurst and Patrick to make their case to some of Houston's business elite

"It's a sign of what kind of government we have," said one observer after hearing the news Friday afternoon that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick will debate behind closed doors in a room with some of Houston's business elite. 

The debate, first reported by the Houston Chronicle, will be held at the River Oaks Country Club and is being hosted by the C Club of Houston. No press will be allowed.  

Then on Monday morning...
Patrick tries to pressure business group; Dewhurst says he wouldn't mind if C Club debate is open to the press
Sen. Dan Patrick on Monday asked that the business-friendly C Club of Houston allow the media to attend tomorrow's planned Lite Guv debate at River Oaks Country Club. More than a few eyebrows were raised on Friday when it came out that Lt. Gov David Dewhurst and Patrick have agreed to debate behind closed doors in front of some of Houston's business elite. 

Then, after 5 yesterday... 

Patrick had asked for forum to be open to the press; Dewhurst will speak to them regardless of Patrick's decision
A spokesman for David Dewhurst indicated the incumbent will appear before the business group, despite Patrik's decision to pull out. "Yes. Lt. Governor Dewhurst appreciates any opportunity to speak to groups of Texans and looks forward to debates and forums that are open to the press in the near future," spokesman Travis Considine said. 

In case you didn't buy a program, challenger Patrick is the Buc-ees populist standing up for the TeaBaggers little guy, and wounded, bleeding incumbent Dewhurst is the elitist grubbing for five- and six-figure checks.  This is the most perfect representation of what the Republicans have devolved to than anything you will ever see.

Wayne Slater at the DMN in his Friday story linked to the 'C' Club's site listing their members, but now the club has pulled it down... which is why I took a screenshot.

Yes indeed, we already knew that was how Republicans roll.

-- Last, the abortion clinic bombers are making a comeback.  I wonder if these terrorists will be prosecuted this time.  Eric Holder, I'm not looking at Greg Abbott.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance is filling out their brackets as they present the best of the Lone Star State's lefty blogs from last week.  And a big "Howdy" and welcome to our newest member, Egberto Willies, who leads off this week's Wrangle.

Every opponent of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) should watch the Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi and his interview of Fox business commentator Todd Wilemon posted at

Off the Kuff analyzes the primary performances of Wendy Davis and Bill White.

Horwitz at Texpatriate presents a novel idea to start getting students voting.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson once again points out Texas' unfair tax system, in No one is offering an alternative to the raw deal Texas taxpayers are getting.

Libby Shaw at Texas Kaos reminds Greg Abbott that no means NO: Greg Abbott tries to spin no into yes.

A Fort Bend Republican wrote an article for Houston Style magazine about "Democrat" Kesha Rogers. You can imagine how ridiculous that was. Well, no you can't, because it's even worse than you can imagine. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs called BS on it about five times. But nobody involved bothered to correct the record.

Neil at All People Have Value said we should self-edit our lives in the same way that time has edited the works of the Ancient Greek poet Sappho.  All People Have Value is part of


And here's more from other great Texas blogs.

The Denton fracking ban initiative has exceeded the number of signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot in November, reports TXSharon at Bluedaze.

Dan Patrick is bad for Texas, but would be particularly bad for Texas education, as Socratic Gadfly observes in sampling and expanding on an op-ed in the Waco Herald-Tribune.

Prairie Weather sounds the alarm for Democrats (in Texas and across the country) as voter turnout levels for the primary are abysmal, and Senate Dems on the ballot this year start running away from the president, his policies, and his appointees.

Stace at Dos Centavos seems a little irritated about President Obama's review of the federal deportation policy.  Not as irritated as he is at the GOP's standing position, however.

Burnt Orange covered Wendy Davis' East Texas tour.

The Inanity of Sanity notes that it's going to be a long hot summer for ALEC here in Deep-In-The-Hearta.

Cody Pogue calls the state's new abortion restrictions what they are: a threat to women's health.

Michael Li at Texas Redistricting charts our civic engagement crisis.  And the Texas Observer's Christopher Hooks amplifies that -- linking to another of Li's posts -- in describing the not-so-democratic party primary system (that both Texas Republicans and Democrats practice).

Texas Watch wants private insurers to pay their fair share before any rate hikes are considered.

Juanita Jean at the World's Most Dangerous Beauty Salon predicts Tom DeLay's next career move.

Keep Austin Wonky advocates for using Austin's budget surplus on universal pre-K.

Grits for Breakfast laments the "dystopic no-man's land" created by the RGV border fence.

John Coby at Bay Area Houston recaps the frustrating process of choosing the best electricity provider, and got some ink in the Pearland Journal with an op-ed about the man-made disaster that is the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association.

Lastly, In The Pink explains what the movie "Frozen" is really about.