Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fight Night II

Wendy Davis has one more chance to share a debate stage with the Republican front-runner in the race for Texas governor, and if the recent past is any guide, she’ll use most of her hour in Dallas to crank up the heat on Attorney General Greg Abbott.

The debate, which gets under way at 8 p.m. Tuesday, is the second of two televised encounters. At the last debate, held Sept. 19 in Edinburg, Davis issued one attack after another on Abbott, who mostly ignored her accusations and stuck to his rehearsed lines.

It will be interesting to see if Davis can pin Abbott down in some way about his most recent scandal.  He's been awfully slippery so far.

The candidates to succeed Gov. Rick Perry head toward their final debate Tuesday locked in a tussle over one of his signature programs, an economic incentives fund engulfed by a scandal whose political fallout widened over the weekend.

Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for governor, on Monday called for an independent investigation into Republican rival Greg Abbott's role in the controversy, which began Thursday with the release of a scathing report by state auditors that found the Texas Enterprise Fund doled out $222 million to 11 entities that did not submit formal applications or were not required to create jobs. Democrats accuse Abbott, the attorney general at the time, of turning a blind eye while accepting campaign contributions from people with ties to grant recipients and covering up the fact that they did not apply for the money.

The revelations have emboldened Democrats on the eve of the debate in Dallas, the stakes of which already were high given Davis' underdog status and the few opportunities she has had to engage Abbott face to face.

The first of these, and the one last night between the two lite gov contenders, reveal the debates for what they are: a big pep rally for the base voters of the two parties.  That's important, but does nothing to expand the electorate, especially when the Republicans only speak in the language the most deranged of their base understands.

Watch for this news.

A new independent poll on the governor’s race by the Texas Lyceum, scheduled for release Wednesday, should provide some clues about where the governor’s race is headed with about a month to go until the election.

Update: While we wait for their numbers on statewide races, here are some appetizers.

Nearly a third of Texans say issues related to the border are among the most important problems facing the state today, far outweighing other concerns, according a poll released Tuesday.

Eighteen percent of Texans who were surveyed picked immigration as the top issue, while 13 percent chose border security. Education came in second with 11 percent of Texans calling it the most important problem, according to the survey, which was conducted Sept. 11-25 by the Texas Lyceum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

When it came to the top issue facing the country, 15 percent of respondents ranked the economy first and 8 percent each said immigration and national security/terrorism. Only 2 percent called the economy the most important problem facing Texas.

With respect to both Abbott's and Dan Patrick's opposition to abortion in cases of rape or incest...

The survey asked respondents to elaborate on their views on abortion, an issue that has been repeatedly raised in the governor’s race. Fifty-four percent of Texans said a woman should be able to have an abortion if there is a “strong chance of a serious defect in the baby,” circumstances similar to those revealed in Democrat Wendy Davis’ memoir.

Abortion has also emerged as an issue in the governor’s race as the Davis campaign accuses Republican Greg Abbott of opposing it even in cases of rape or incest. The poll found 68 percent of Texans believe abortion should be possible under those circumstances.

We should also have another YouGov poll out shortly as well.

Update: In a related development, Abbott has been forbidden from saying 'Obama' in tonight's debate, as a matter of public safety.  You can be certain he will disavow responsibility for any collateral damage.  And Wayne Slater has five things to watch for.

#LtGovDebate: Reality check

Something is see-sawing.

It was lively and contentious, but just as devoid of actual debate as the first Davis-Abbott matchup.

In the only scheduled debate in their race for lieutenant governor, state Sens. Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte faced off on Monday night in a lively exchange that displayed their divergent positions on everything from health care and immigration to school finance and taxes.

Both candidates played offense: Patrick, R-Houston, attempted to portray Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, as “out of step” with Texas voters. Van de Putte used the back-and-forth to try to pin Patrick down on votes he'd taken on cuts to public education. But one of the biggest points of contention in the hour-long showdown in Austin was over the state’s tax structure.

Patrick recently called for reducing the state’s dependence on the property tax to fund public schools and relying on the state’s sales tax instead. On Monday, Van de Putte used Patrick's position to argue that he would raise the sales tax, which she said would hurt businesses and consumers. Patrick sought to clarify his proposal, saying he would only support increasing the sales tax “by a penny or two” to compensate for reduced revenue from property taxes.

“There's two people standing on this stage, and I’m the only one that doesn’t want to raise your sales taxes,” Van de Putte said. “To burden Texas businesses and families with a sales tax increase ... well, that’s not being pro-business.”

When you have a spare hour, watch it and see for yourself.

The live-Tweet stream was entertaining, and Forrest Wilder's live-blogging also.  Here's your take-away.

It can’t be stressed enough: Dan Patrick sounds about as radical as he ever has. By comparison, LVDP sounds like a moderate Republican, I think what Patrick would call a RINO.

Patrick took a similar approach as Abbott did a week ago, throwing out red meat to the Tea Party base of the GOP. There's no attempt whatsoever to reach swing voters or independents or even employ that tired "across the aisle" cliche'.  He fear-mongered over illegals coming over the border with hepatitis, declared he would swap a state sales tax increase for a property tax cut, bragged about cutting education spending, and stood firm in the eyes of the Lord against abortion even in the cases of rape or incest.  As well as gay marriage.

He was right about one thing: the choice is as clear as it ever has been.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Debate Week

Tonight it's LVDP versus Patrick; tomorrow night is round two of Davis-Abbott.

Find a watch party, a list of those outlets telecasting, or watch online.  Follow the geek fighting on Twitter at #TexasDebates or #ltgovdebate.

Update: And just announced... Cornyn vs. Alameel on October 25.

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes everybody read at least one banned book last week as it brings you this weeks' roundup of the best blog posts from the left of Texas.

Off the Kuff presents interviews with two of the many dynamic and well-qualified Democratic women running for legislative offices this year: Rita Lucido in SD17 and Susan Criss in HD23.

Libby Shaw, writing for Texas Kaos and Daily Kos, laments the dire consequences of voting Republican or of not voting at all.  Oh come on Texas, surely we can do better than THIS?

WCNews at Eye on Williamson claims Greg Abbott's latest TV ad is full of dissembling: Abbott's Fundamentally Dishonest Transportation Ad.

Eric Holder was certainly not as bad as Alberto Gonzales, but his tenure as US attorney general still did not merit a passing grade, at least according to PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

Neil at All People Have Value said there is no inherent conflict between involvement in traditional politics, while at the same time looking for non-conventional protests and movements as a way to move society in a better direction. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

Though the new routes are far from being finalized, Texas Leftist shares that Houston METRO has now fully committed to the System Reimagining Plan. After this week's vote by the METRO board, there's no turning back.

Texpatriate had a questionnaire from Harris County DA candidate Kim Ogg (who also debated the Republican incumbent on Sunday morning teevee) and passed along a few more names thrown into the hat for Houston's 2015 mayoral election.

Bay Area Houston wonders why Greg Abbott sat in traffic for a decade before figuring out something needed to be done about it.

BlueDaze has documentation revealing the air pollutants from fracking in Denton, while Texas Vox notes that Texas waters are already polluted, toxic, and unprotected.


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

Socratic Gadfly reported on the continuing financial challenges of newspapers large and small.

jobsanger relates the news about the powerful capitalists who insist that the minimum wage must be raised.

The Rag Blog follows up on the scandal involving an East Texas church.

Eight Feet Deep passed on a few headlines from Southeast Texas, including John Travolta's surprise appearance at a Beaumont gym.

SciGuy gives us a look at Russia's astronaut training facility.

Newsdesk reports on Rep. Dawnna Dukes' abortion disclosure.

The Great God Pan Is Dead argues for the elimination of art fairs.

Texas Clean Air Matters cheers Austin and San Antonio's leadership in clean energy.

Andrea Grimes points and laughs at Breitbart Texas.

The Bloggess encourages you to support your local no-kill animal shelter.

The TSTA blog calls out Greg Abbott for lying about his authority as AG to settle the school finance lawsuit.

The Current has more reporting on the shady practices and uninformed advice at crisis pregnancy centers.

Scott Braddock tells the tale of a wingnut catfight.

Finally, our old friends at BlueBloggin are getting ready to make a comeback.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Abbott recovers $1.4 million of TEF funds... into his campaign account

Is there a corruption tolerance limit that can be exceeded?  I suppose we'll find out.

Republican governor nominee Greg Abbott has collected more than $1 million in campaign contributions from beneficiaries of a state business fund cited in a scathing audit for lax oversight of taxpayer dollars.


An independent audit released this week found the Texas Enterprise Fund awarded $222 million to entities that never submitted applications or promised to create jobs.  The picture that emerged from the state auditor’s report was of an agency that, at least in its early years, gave away taxpayer money without proper evaluation or consistent criteria.

Abbott has received at least $1.4 million in contributions from beneficiaries of the enterprise fund since 2003, according to state records.

Three investors in the biotech company Lexicon, which received $35 million, are Abbott campaign contributors — businessman Robert McNair and chemical executives William McMinn and Gordon Cain. McNair has given $463,000 to Abbott, McMinn $110,000 and Cain $60,000.

Well, there goes my rooting for the Houston Texans any longer.

Update: More in greater detail from Carol Morgan at the Lubbock Avalanche Journal.

Sunday Funnies

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Texas, our Texas

-- Christy Hoppe broke the story a few days ago of Governor Perry's most recent (to come to light) financial misdealing.

The first independent audit of the Texas Enterprise Fund shows that the governor’s job-creating fund awarded $222 million — almost half the money granted — to entities that never submitted applications or specific promises to create jobs.

The 98-page report by the state auditor, released to lawmakers Thursday, paints a picture of a $500 million fund that, at least in its early years, gave away taxpayer money without a set evaluation process or a consistent criteria.

Early grants were awarded to companies or universities without their submitting formal applications, and some large projects were never required to create a single job — although that is the legislative mandate by which the fund was started.

Numerous contracts showed inconsistent requirements, weak compliance monitoring and led the auditor to state that it cannot verify many of the jobs or investments that were credited to the program.

Of course this also implicates Greg Abbott, whose job was oversight.  He failed.

As has typically been the case with respect to Republican scandals during this election cycle, Texas media that didn't break the story seem a little slow to push the story, and Texans reading and watching the media would rather read and watch something about a 'latte salute'.   Or 'Muslim prayer rugs at the border'.

Update, TexTrib:

While critics were hounding Gov. Rick Perry a decade ago about his job-luring Texas Enterprise Fund, his lawyers went to Attorney General Greg Abbott to block the release of applications that supposedly had been filled out by the entities requesting taxpayer subsidies.

Abbott’s office, tasked with deciding which government records have to be made public, told Perry's lawyers they must keep the applications secret under exemptions to state transparency laws, according to attorney general rulings and news reports.

Now, though, information contained in a blistering state audit shows that at least five of the recipients that were named in Abbott’s 2004 rulings — and which got tens of millions of dollars from the fund — never actually submitted formal applications. And if no applications ever existed, it’s not clear what Abbott was telling Perry he had to keep secret or why the public is just now learning that millions were awarded without them.

-- The criminal investigation into the Republican nominee for Texas attorney general won't begin until after the election.

The Travis County District Attorney has confirmed that any investigation into the criminal felony complaint filed against Republican candidate for attorney general Ken Paxton would take place after the November 4th General Election. It's a clear signal to voters that electing Paxton would subject the Texas AG's office to immediate post-election uncertainty, disruption and dysfunction.


According to the Houston Chronicle article, “if the district attorney launches criminal proceedings after November, it would mean Paxton could be facing a grand jury in his first few months as a statewide elected official.”

Paxton has already admitted to committing a felony violation of state securities law. In addition to the criminal investigation, Paxton also faces a complaint before the State Bar that could result in his disbarment.

Paxton’s strategy for avoiding publicity and scrutiny of his criminal behavior has been to avoid public events and refuse to speak with media. At an appearance earlier this summer, Paxton’s campaign aide physically blocked a reporter from getting close enough to ask a question.

Paxton is being shunned by other Republican nominees who, like Greg Abbott, rarely mention him by name.

Some Texans -- some who would typically be alarmed by news like this, that is -- just shrug.  It seems to this Texan that in any other campaign season in almost any other state, this development would be enough for sensible people to go to the polls and clean house.  It happened in Texas, once upon a time.  Yet the odds are good that despite the overpowering stench of corruption, the majority of the Texas electorate will goose-step with linked arms to the polling places and re-elect these vermin.

And to be clear: they are most certainly vermin.  Poisonous, disease-riddled rodents that have crawled out of the sewer and into public office on the strength of an (R) behind their name.  All of that "DemocRATS" business is just projection.  Despite the vile smell of it all, there's no bleach strong enough to get rid of them.

Because this is still Texas.  With respect to what Texans might do about it...

-- The Dallas-Fort Worth area has the greatest number of unregistered and eligible-to-vote Texans.  Houston isn't far behind, and San Antonio and Austin are right behind.  The total of those four metros: well over one million potential votes.  A conservative estimate of the Democratic votes among them would be two out of three, or 67%.

This is why Texas isn't changing, and won't until these Texans change their habit.

-- On a brighter note...

The number of uninsured patients treated at hospitals dropped sharply this year, top White House officials said Wednesday  – cutting costs dramatically for states that opted to expand Medicaid.

Texas isn’t one of those states.

Oh well, it's at least nice to know that some folks -- those who did not have insurance before, those taxpayers who were paying for their care before -- are benefiting.

In states other than Texas, that is.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Eric Holder was certainly no Abu Gonzales

Not even Richard Nixon's John Mitchell, for that matter.

Still, there remain any number of good reasons his departure is long overdueWay past time that he make like cow chips and hit the dusty trail.  Head on back to where he came from, or perhaps Goldman Sachs or some such.

Holder’s tenure as Attorney General has been a tragic one. Not only has he been engulfed in partisan scandals over an incompetent gun running sting known as “Fast and Furious,” he has been under fire for attacking the First Amendment rights of the media and is widely seen as having given his friends and former clients on Wall Street a complete pass on the criminal conduct that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

Holder’s involvement with the war on whistleblowers, tracking and intimidating reporters, killing Americans without judicial review, and the abysmal failure to enforce the law against criminals in the financial services industry has left America a more divided and unjust society. Not a particularly good legacy to leave behind.
America not only saw a white collar crime wave go unpunished, but saw Holder himself announce a doctrine that has been called Too Big To Jail. Holder claimed in congressional testimony that some Wall Street banks could not be prosecuted because of their size, saying  “If you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.”

Holder made no corresponding effort to break up the banks so they could become the appropriate size for him to feel comfortable prosecuting them when they broke the law. Instead, the comment signaled to everyone that if you were big and powerful enough the Holder Justice Department was not coming after you in criminal court – which still holds true as there has not been any major prosecutions against the banks or bankers.

I appreciate what Eric Holder has done in standing up for the Voting Rights Act, and more specifically I am grateful for his fight against Greg Abbott over photo IDs for Texas voters.  How that case eventually turns out may well be a star in his crown.  In terms of admiration, it's difficult for me to remember the day, nearly six years ago, that the Senior Box Turtle from Texas stalled Holder's nomination to AG because Cornyn disagreed that waterboarding was torture.

Ah, the memories.  From June of 2008, Eric Holder, speaking to the American Constitution Society.

"I never thought I would see the day when a Justice Department would claim that only the most extreme infliction of pain and physical abuse constitutes torture and that acts that are merely cruel, inhuman and degrading are consistent with United States law and policy, that the Supreme Court would have to order the president of the United States to treat detainees in accordance with the Geneva Convention, never thought that I would see that a president would act in direct defiance of federal law by authorizing warrantless NSA surveillance of American citizens. This disrespect for the rule of law is not only wrong, it is destructive."

And in June a year ago.

Eric Holder did do some good as attorney general of the United States, but his refusal to prosecute so many more crimes and injustices -- to say nothing of the broken promises of transparency -- is a black mark in the history books.  A very easy bottom line: as long as war criminals and Wall Street thieves walk about free while thousands of petty offenders of marijuana laws languish in jail, Holder's grade as the nation's top law enforcement officer is a failing one.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

James O'Keefe might be in Houston, and other things

-- There's some folks who think the destroyer of ACORN might be in town to try to catch some voter "fraud"... or something.

Though it probably did take him a couple of weeks to hitchhike up here from the border after his latest stunt, he's still a little too soon for early voting.  So beware all you people getting folks registered between now and the deadline for that.  You don't want to be on Candid Conservative Camera.


-- Frankly, I don't understand why Republicans are so worried about their election results in Texas.  Maybe they're listening to what Harvey Kronberg (Quorum Report) and Ross Ramsey (Texas Tribune) are saying, and also taking no solace in Politico's assessment of the gubernatorial contest.

-- Ladies and gentlemen: here is your Texas NORML Voter's Guide.

-- Awful DC leftists blast Hillary Clinton in secret e-mails.  The Hill has finally gone TMZ, complete with autoplay video.

The Hill reviewed hundreds of emails from a progressive members only Google group called the “Gamechanger Salon,” a forum where nearly 1,500 activists, strategists and journalists debate issues and craft messaging campaigns.

The group includes prominent Democrats, Sierra Club officials, journalists who work for The Huffington Post and The Nation magazine, senior union representatives, leaders at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the president of NARAL.

In the emails spanning over a year — starting in June 2013 through July of this year — frustration with Clinton is evident.

Clinton’s too much of a hawk, too cozy with Wall Street, hasn’t spoken out enough on climate change, and will be subject to personal questions and criticisms, members of the group stated in the emails.

The existence of the group was reported earlier this year by the conservative outlet MediaTrackers.org, but this is the first time the emails have become public.

Will more developments like this convince Bernie Sanders to run as a Democrat in 2016?

-- After almost nine years and more than $79 billion, the F-22 Raptor flew its first combat mission.  "Successfully".

The stealth F-22 has had chances to fight before – during Air Force operations in Iraq and in Afghanistan as well as its role in the no-fly zone over Libya in 2011 – but in each case the Air Force said the high-tech jet was not an “operational requirement.” 

The Pentagon apparently decided the U.S.-led strikes against ISIS in Syria, for which the Syrian government says it was given warning, were different. 

Do you think this fresh new war is going to lift the fortunes of Democrats in November?  After all, Rush Limbaugh and John Bolton and Sean Hannity are all afraid it might.

I would simply observe that Syria became the 7th predominantly Muslim nation to be bombed by the 2009 Nobel Peace laureate.  And that perhaps that's where all these new terrorists might be coming from. As for wars, bombing, 'protecting the Homeland', etc. and so on...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hogan whines about endorsement of Kendrick

Earlier today, Texpatriate endorsed Kenneth Kendrick for Commissioner of Texas Agriculture.  A fairly significant development, considering that they usually pick mostly Democrats and the occasional Republican.

Junior Samples, who is on Twitter as Internet Jim Hogan, got upset about it.

Hogan wants to be interviewed by the blogs now, after refusing interview requests all year?  Hilarious.  Hey Junior: I hate to go all grammar Nazi on you, but learn how and when to use who and whom, please.  *Update: Yes, it could all be a joke, not just Hogan only.  I'm trying to take his candidacy as seriously as I can.

But really you should rest easy, big boy.  If the Houston Chronicle can fumble the endorsement in the county clerk's race, they can sure as hell screw up and endorse you.  And I wouldn't be scared about missing on "The New BOR", either.  They're now calling themselves 'the most progressive blog in Texas', but they're still just the house organ for the TDP.  (Hint: not all that progressive, y'all.  Just like Jim Hogan.)

You'll still get about 35% of the vote because of all the straight-ticket-voting Democrats, who don't know enough about you to know they shouldn't be voting for you.  Congratulations!

Today is National Voter Registration Day

In 2008, 6 million Americans didn't vote because they missed a registration deadline or didn't know how to register. In 2014, we want to make sure no one is left out.

On September 23, 2014, volunteers, celebrities, and organizations from all over the country will "hit the streets" for National Voter Registration Day. This single day of coordinated field, technology and media efforts will create pervasive awareness of voter registration opportunities--allowing us to reach tens of thousands of voters who we could not reach otherwise.

Texas, as we know by now, is one of the worst states of all in this regard.  There are very likely millions of Texans who don't vote as matter of habit, and thus aren't registered to vote, for whatever their personal reasons for not doing so happen to be.  And it's all but impossible, particularly at this stage of the election cycle, to convince someone who is skeptical of their power -- who is on the fence about whether they should participate in our democracy (or representative republic, if you prefer) -- to exercise that power.  As the deadline to register to vote in the midterm elections closes in, the focus will soon shift to get-out-the-vote efforts.  But for about two more weeks, if there's anyone you know who needs to get registered, or who needs to be certain they are qualified (by Texas Republican standards) to vote, then today is the day to do that.

Our local voter registrar, Mike Sullivan, is doing his part.  Here is a map of all the locations in Harris County where you can go and register to vote today.  If you need proper documentation to verify your citizenship in order to register, you'll be told where and how to get that, and how much it might cost, and how long it might take.  That might be the most important thing a person who is not registered to vote can learn today: "what extra things must I do to make sure I can vote?"

So you can spin it either way, left or right: control of the US Senate is at stake, so get registered and then get back to the polls next month (early) or in November (on Election Day).  "The future of Texas hangs in the balance", blahblahblah.

Voter registration efforts -- indeed, solicitations for voting by mail -- should be nonpartisan, but they aren't.

I thought the blossoming coffee stain was a nice artistic touch, don't you?   I'm sure this is all perfectly legal in Texas.  Just like creepshots.

And the Texas Democratic Party appears to be doing something similar, as Charles reports, and if that's the case then everybody's hard at work, even the election law attorneys for both parties making sure everything is above board.  This is separate and apart from today's voter registration push, of course, and falls in line with GOTV efforts by both major parties to increase their turnout.

So the message is: whatever you do and however you do it, get it done. And don't do anything that's against the law when you do.

What happens when only Republicans turn out to vote

You get the highest criminal court in Texas ruling that it's legally okay for pervos to take upskirts.

Confused and frustrated people tore out enough hair to fill a ten-gallon hat when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a statute banning “improper photography,” such as taking sketchy shots of children in bathing suits who have no idea they are being photographed, was unconstitutional this week. The WTF reactions went beyond the Lone Star State with national news sites wondering how it was possible that such a blatant personal violation — and one that is a potential harbinger of child pornography — could have no legal ramifications?

Yet, with almost complete unanimity (only one of the nine judges dissented), the highest criminal court in Texas struck down the section of the improper photography law that forbids taking photographs in non-bathroom and non-dressing room spaces (essentially public spaces) under the following conditions:

— without the other person’s consent; and
— with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person

Didn't I just reference something about the egregious, horrid, painfully obnoxious, conservative-extremist-Republican Court of Criminal Appeals less than a week ago?  I wonder if any straight-ticket-voting Republicans will try to blame this on those ACLU socialists at the CCA.

The case they decided involved a nice fellow -- none of his neighbors would have ever guessed he was a weirdo -- who took photos and video of women, and young children, in their swimming attire.  Please note that bastion of Puritans in Massachusetts has specifically banned upskirt photos.  Oh, and the Texas Lege went a little farther.  But they apparently stretched too far -- surprise! -- and the court struck the law down.

It is evident in the ruling that fears of potentially sweeping First Amendment violations drove the ruling, which is painfully ironic considering presiding Judge Sharon Keller’s disregard for other individual rights. Keller earned the nickname “Sharon Killer” for effectively blocking the stay of an execution in 2007 by refusing to let her court remain open past 5 p.m. Apparently, Keller’s rigidly lethal punctuality is tempered by her generous view of freedom of expression.

There remain plenty of defenders of the right to... something.

Creepy? Yeah. Illegal? Not so, the Court of Appeals ruled.

The photos themselves and the act of using a camera are covered by the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of speech, the court said. If the photos aren’t actually obscene, it’s not the government’s job to police how a person reacts to them.

People in public can’t expect total privacy, the court went on. They are, after all, publicly visible to anyone who might pass by. Even someone taking an upskirt photo.

“A person who walks down a public street cannot prevent others from looking at him or her with sexual thoughts in their heads,” the court said.

The original law does accomplish what it aimed to do, criminalize upskirt photos, the court added. But it goes much farther than that, which could lead to the law being misused — which is why they struck it down.

“This statute could easily be applied to an entertainment reporter who takes a photograph of an attractive celebrity on a public street,” the court said.

Bottom line? The invasion of privacy of an upskirt photo is “intolerable, and the legislature ought to ban it, the court said. This just isn’t the law to do it.

The last word.

Protecting someone who appears in public from being the object of sexual thoughts seems to be the sort of ‘paternalistic interest in regulating the defendant’s mind’ that the 1st Amendment was designed to guard against. We also keep in mind the Supreme Court’s admonition that the forms of speech that are exempt from 1st Amendment protection are limited, and we should not be quick to recognize new categories of unprotected expression.

Yup, you read that right — anti-creepshot laws are “paternalistic.” Indeed, Thompson’s attorney echoed this sentiment, in casting the laws as “Orwellian.”

This story should give pause to Texan women everywhere. The Court essentially ruled that women anywhere out in public have no reasonable expectation of privacy, even if an unwanted photographer’s intent is overtly sexual — in practice, it makes visiting a water park for a woman in Texas like signing a release waver to be ogled and snapshotted. This isn’t to say that freedom of expression, photography and videography rules in public places aren’t important — they undoubtedly are, and forcing courts and juries to make judgments about the intent behind random photographs can be a precarious position.

But as the law stands now, especially after this ruling, it’s hard not to feel as though Texas’ women are being failed in the most basic of ways. When the same anti-creepshot law was ruled against in 2013, the Bexar County district attorney’s office put out a press release with a cautionary title, according to The Guardian: “Cover up while we appeal.” For now, at least, that message still rings true — in Texas, it seems, wearing a swimsuit in a public place is giving license to lech.

I'd like to think that Texas women -- and yes, Texas liberals and progressives, the people who are the only ones concerned with the greater good --  could begin to gradually correct some of this legal nonsense by establishing a habit of voting every time there's an election.  And if the tide is turning; if it's happening as this is written, then all the better.  I'd just like to live long enough to see some progress made with regard to the Neanderthals in the Texas judicial system evolving into something that comes closer to being human.  You know, with a soul and/or a conscience.

But I doubt that will ever happen, so they need to be voted out of office.  Click here and scroll to the very bottom.  Up from there -- seven races -- are the candidates on your November ballot for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals... and the Texas Supreme Court as well.  Let's get started by not voting for any of the Republicans.

For the sake of your wives, daughters, and all Texas women.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes it had as much vacation time as Congress as it brings you this week's roundup of the best of the left of Texas from last week.

Off the Kuff highlights the wit and hateful wisdom of Dr. Steven Hotze, one of the leading blights of the anti-gay movement in Texas.

Libby Shaw, writing at Daily Kos, believes there is a simple way to stop the controversial Tea Party candidate Dan Patrick from becoming the next Lt. Governor: Vote for Leticia Van de Putte. How are we going to stop Dan Patrick? Easily. Vote for Leticia.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson: while Texas has been prosperous in recent years, the prosperity is not being enjoyed by everyone. Abbott's message is good news for corporations, scraps for the rest of us.

The only constitutional amendment on the November ballot commits over a billion dollars a year to state highway maintenance from the Rainy Day Fund. Some think that's a good idea, and some don't. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs thinks -- with the help of Sen. Kirk Watson -- that you should decide for yourself.

Neil at All People Have Value wrote that the recent terrible ambush shooting of Pennsylvania state troopers is believed to be the deed of an extreme anti-government individual. Neil says that police would be better served focusing on real threats than pepper-spraying Occupy Wall Street types or sending tanks to Ferguson, Missouri. APHV is one of many pages worthy of viewing at NeilAquino.com.

Dos Centavos has a couple of posts commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month.  And jobsanger has two photos from the Climate March in NYC yesterday.

With the first general election gubernatorial debate in eight years, everyone can agree that it was an exciting week in Texas politics. Texas Leftist has a full review of the contest. Who knew Greg Abbott was such a compelling liar?

Texpatriate had endorsements of one Republican and one Democrat, two Q&As from Harris County judicial candidates, and also responded to the Houston Chronicle's four judicial endorsements.


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

Tar Sands Blockade has pictures and accounts from their protest last week at the Houston headquarters of Enbridge, which has opened a pipeline to do what Keystone XL has been stopped from doing.

Better Texas Blog presents a report showing the large impact that medical bills resulting from a visit to the emergency room can have.

The Texas Election Law Blog catches Greg Abbott playing the race card in the followup to the Houston Votes story, while Nonsequiteuse pushes back on sexist tropes in the latest reporting of the Wendy Davis divorce settlement.

Newsdesk reminds us that the allegations Davis is making about Abbott in regard to the Texas Youth Commission sexual assault scandal go way back, and the questions she's raising have been raised before without being answered.  And Socratic Gadfly has the answer Davis should have given to Abbott's "Do you regret voting for Obama" question at last Friday's debate.

Grits for Breakfast puts the privately-run Bartlett State Jail on the list of facilities the Legislature might consider shuttering if they decide to close more prisons.

The TSTA Blog takes Texas Monthly's Erica Greider to task for buying into Republican flimflammery about funding cuts to public schools.

Stephanie Stradley tackles the complex question of what a sensible discipline policy for NFL players might look like.

Unfair Park highlights a video expose of crisis pregnancy centers, including one in Dallas.

TFN Insider noticed the reframing of the equal rights ordinance by the Houston Area Pastors Council, which now asserts that if you support the HERO, you are God's enemy.

Project Q Houston interviews Mel Gonzales, a transgender student who was named homecoming king at his high school in Sugar Land.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A rope-a-dope

It was good to finally be able to watch a governor's debate in Texas.  It wasn't all that good to watch this debate.

Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis came out swinging on issue after issue in Friday's debate against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, the front-runner in their race for governor.

From fair pay to the right to abortion, from the Voter ID law to education funding, to Abbott's comments about the border, Davis sought to portray Abbott as an official who "will favor his insider friends" rather than working for everyday Texans.

Abbott fended off the attacks calmly, painting himself as a warrior against an overreaching federal government while seeking to tie his opponent to an unpopular president, at one point asking Davis whether she regretted having voted for Barack Obama.

As I recommended, she broke some eggs... but as the Chron noted, Abbott remained calm, even confident.  If you didn't listen to the words he was saying, you'd never have the slightest suspicion he was a deeply crazy person.

Davis' delivery, an unquavering monotone, is somewhat robotic; her dry, flat presentation belies her fierce heart and determination.  Her case against the Republican was firm, factual, and direct.  And by full contrast, Abbott's relaxed demeanor shows the experience of a man who has argued before the Supreme Court.  Even as he dogwhistles to the TeaBaggers and pushes every one of the most conservative buttons, he's speaking carefully and smiles slightly.  Just one of the many lies...

"I'm in favor of requiring voter IDs," said Abbott. "Voter fraud is real and the voter IDs is the only way to stop it."

It was disconcerting to watch Wendy Davis win the debate on its merits even as she lost because her opponent simply dodged all of her punches.

The moderator, Ryan Wolf, was truly awful.  He screamed over Davis as she rebutted in the candidates' Q&A, an exchange he was compelled to acknowledge afterward that he was wrong about for not understanding the ground rules.  It made Davis look as if she was hyper-aggressive.  Abbott's campaign has already turned the focus to 'hysterical woman'.

Oh, could we complain about this format.  The only thing worse than funereal table cloths, two candidates at separate tables twenty feet apart, and three Valley journalists who didn't seem all that knowledgeable about state issues was the fact that none of the TV stations in Houston who were listed as carrying the live event actually did so (with the exception of Univision).

Suffice it to say that Abbott made no unforced errors, avoided any direct response to either his challenger's or the moderators' questions, spoke in platitudes about his Latina wife and the wonderful Texas economy -- a conservative tale as tall and false as they come, for a long time now -- and was thus able to roll off the field and declare victory.

It felt a lot like 2006, as when Chris Bell mopped the floor with Rick Perry's hair while Kinky and Grandma kicked the governor while he was down, and yet still won re-election (39%) because the majority of the electorate in Texas doesn't really care about any of this.

They're off watching high school football on a Friday night.  Which is the most perfect analogy of the next generation's brain damage in regard to civic affairs that can be observed.

More from the Startle-Gram, the Chronic, the AP via Indiana, Reuters, and Houston's KPRCUpdate: And Kuff, more succinct and still spot-on even without watching it.

One more of these at the end of the month.  Hope it's more watchable.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Proposition 1: Texas state highway repair

Richard Whittaker at the Austin Chroncle with the helpful assist.

There's a multibillion-dollar transportation initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot. [...] State Proposition 1, which could put $1.5 bil­lion a year into road repair and maintenance. And chances are good that you have heard nothing about it.

Currently, what happens is basically that a portion of state gas and oil tax revenue goes into the Economic Stabilization Fund (better known as the "Rainy Day Fund"). If Prop. 1 passes, half that sum would move instead into the State Highway Fund. Unlike Austin's rail proposition, the money will not go to a specific project, but will be spent like any other revenue on the general upkeep and maintenance of Texas roads. Even should Prop. 1 pass, the results will be, at best, a patch job. Lawmakers heard last session that, if current hydrocarbon tax revenues hold, the measure will provide $1.5 billion a year. Unfortunately, the Texas Department of Transportation estimates it faces $5 billion a year in unmet needs.

There's lots of caterwauling from conservatives about fixing our roads -- generally directed at mayors and city councils because of the condition of local streets -- but the neglect of the state's infrastructure has produced a gaping pothole in the budget.

The public vote is an oddity, and nearly didn't happen. Austin Sen. Kirk Watson noted that, between the anti-tax, anti-fee, anti-toll, anti-rail, and anti-debt groups, "everyone had a way to be against whatever the funding was." Normally, constitutional amendments like Proposition 1 take place in the first election after the session in which the Legislature approves them; but knowing the measure was controversial, Speaker Joe Straus got lawmakers to delay it a year, so it would not endanger voter approval of the new $2 billion State Water Implementation Fund. Now the road funds are the only statewide proposition, and seemingly have fallen into oblivion.

"It's definitely flying under the radar," said Scheleen Walker, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. The group has not taken an official position on the measure, instead concentrating on endorsements in local and statewide races. It's a complicated issue: Environmental groups generally are frustrated by the lack of rail and public transit options in the proposition, but then, congested roads generate more pollution. Still, Walker said she's been telling voters to ask themselves one simple question: "Is this the issue that you really want to tie up Rainy Day funds?"

Starting to see the big picture?  By refusing to raise gas taxes for twenty years -- a period of time that coincides with the takeover of state politics by Republicans -- Texas now has crumbling roads and bridges.  And as usual, blames Washington for it.

So why aren't Texans talking about the first serious investment in road infrastructure since the last gas tax increase, two decades ago? Watson suggests there's no spare political energy. He said, "There's been a few editorials, but it's all being subsumed in everything from the governor's race to, right here in Austin, the other Prop. 1" (the local transportation bond). He's still optimistic the measure will pass. "Most people, when they hear what the proposition is and does and will achieve, they'll go, 'well that's a no-brainer'."

It's somewhat revealing that well-connected Republicans are all in.  Even the most crony of conservatives are fully cognizant of the fact that the biggest obstacle to progress they must overcome is the "NO" caucus in their own party.

A handful of "Yes on One" groups have sprung up, most with strong links to the GOP: Former TxDoT chair and Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff Deirdre Delisi sits on the board of Move Texas Forward, while Karen Rove, wife of Karl Rove and a heavy-hitting lobbyist in her own right, serves as treasurer of Texas Infrastructure Now. However, neither group has made a major splash. The most high profile campaigning has actually been from out of state: In July, Wisconsin-based Case Construction Equip­ment sent its Dire States tour, highlighting collapsing infrastructure, on a seven-day excursion to Texas in July, and returns on Sept. 22. Why does a Wisconsin corporation care about a Texas proposition? Spokesman Bill Elverman admitted that, in part, it's because they have large commercial construction customers in Texas. Yet there's also a worrying lack of national discussion about infrastructure investment. Congress is at an impasse over the Federal Highway Trust Fund, and Missouri voters recently rejected a temporary sales tax increase for bridge and road investment. By contrast, he called Prop. 1 "a very unique opportunity, because there's no new taxes and no tolls."

No taxes, no tolls, just spending our Rainy Day money.

If Watson is right, and voters approve the $1.5 billion a year this November, that still leaves the big question of how to cover the other $3.5 billion needed just to maintain the status quo. The Democrat will be pushing to end gas tax diversions ("I'm going to scream bloody murder to make that happen," he said, and he will seemingly have Straus' support). However, that would only raise another $1 billion, and Watson expects to fend off the only major suggestion coming from the right: Transfer all sales taxes on motor vehicles to roads. Continuing to advocate for fiscal transparency, Watson slammed that as just another diversion, one "that would blow a $3.2 billion hole in the state budget."

Republicans decry 'tax and spend', but their "cut taxes too much and keep spending too little" policies result in a poorer Texas for everyone.  Forcing them to manage the state budget by increasing a consumption tax -- just once in ten legislative sessions -- is too painful a price for them to pay, politically.  So we'll have to see what rabbits they can pull out of their hat next year to balance the budget.  There probably won't be any federal stimulus funds that can be moved around in order to put Texas in the black.

Maybe with all of the rain we've been getting this year, the Lege can kick the can down the road in dealing with the drought for a couple more years.  Yes! That's the ticket!

Update: More from Eye on Williamson on how Rick Perry sees it as part of his legacy.  Those glasses he's wearing are completely worthless.

Update II: "US highway funding is a hot mess, in one chart".

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Payback, TXGOP style

When you go up against these thugs, you better be well-armed and well-prepared.

Nearly seven months after the 4th Court of Appeals ruled prosecutors had missed the deadline to file a contempt claim against local defense attorney Michael McCrum, the decision was reversed Wednesday by Texas' highest court for criminal matters.

The Court of Criminal Appeals opinion again opens the possibility that McCrum — currently serving as special prosecutor in the case against Gov. Rick Perry, who is also accused of professional misconduct — could spend up to six months in jail if found in contempt of court.

McCrum has denied any wrongdoing.

The Bexar County district attorney's office filed the contempt motion against McCrum in January, several months after a trial in which his client, Taylor Rae Rosenbusch, was convicted of intoxication manslaughter.

Prosecutors alleged McCrum had instructed Melanie Little, a punishment-phase witness who had served as Rosenbusch's addiction counselor, to “get lost for awhile,” turn off her cellphone and take a long lunch to avoid coming back to testify.

He was also accused in court documents of having told her “the DA was out for blood” and “wanted Taylor to be put away for a long time.”

A contempt hearing began in January, but it was halted after McCrum's attorneys took the case to the San Antonio-based 4th Court of Appeals, arguing that the state missed its deadline. The 4th Court agreed, ruling in February that the state was five days late.

The article goes on to detail some of the long-standing grievances between McCrum and the Bexar County DA's office.  Bad blood indeed.

The Fourth Court of Appeals, noteworthy for its seven women justices -- several are Latina -- has jurisdiction over thirty-two Central and South Texas counties, and the evidence suggests that it is a good mix of Democrats and Republicans.  The Court of Criminal Appeals is an entirely different kettle of (Republican extremist) fish.  Presiding judge Sharon "Killer" Keller is someone I've long blogged about; she has her own ethical challengesThree of the nine seats on that court are on your November ballot, and one of the Republican candidates, Bert Richardson, is the man who appointed McCrum special prosecutor.

That could make for some awkward moments next year in the CCA building.

I'd like to see more develop out of this investigation or hearing or whatever it may be called as it moves forward, but I expect McCrum and his counsel to be ready and able to defend his integrity, should the claims against him proceed.

I just don't think Rick Perry's indictments are going away so easily.

Update: More from Texas Lawyer.

The Friday Night Fight

A few more things worth noting as we move closer to the action.

They’ve sniped at each other from afar, blasted the airwaves with TV ads, held rallies, made phone calls and raised money.  Now, for the first time, the candidates for Texas governor will face each other in person in a live, televised debate.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the front-runner, has the most to lose in the high-stakes Friday night encounter. The Republican is favored to win and has been limiting his unscripted public appearances lest he blow his sizable lead.

Despite his front-runner status and longevity in Texas politics, Abbott has only appeared in one formal TV debate as a statewide candidate — a 30-minute 2002 encounter with then-Democratic attorney general candidate Kirk Watson, the Abbott campaign confirmed.

I'm not sure how Abbott's campaign defines 'formal', but he did appear with Barbara Radnoksy, his Democratic challenger and Jon Roland, the Libertarian, on Houston public television's 'Red, White, and Blue' in 2010.  She called him "Rick Perry's consigliere".  I posted about it here; the video link is still alive.  It's accurate, however, that Abbott completely ignored David Van Os in 2006 (I know this because I helped run that campaign).  And Van Os also ran against Abbott in 1998, for the Texas Supreme Court, a contest I'm certain was covered in the same great detail as today's media does SCOTX races.  The scalding truth is that Greg Abbott has pretty much coasted through his several elections.  Not this time (even if the general consensus suggests it).

“For Abbott, it’s going to be seen more as a source of risk than opportunity,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “He needs to stay on message for Republican voters and not produce anything that is a headline the next day that will disturb existing patterns.”

Or, in football parlance, Henson predicted Abbott’s strategy will be: “Play defense, declare victory and exit the field.”

Yeah, we'll see how that goes.  It should be fun to see if he can avoid screwing up.

The one-hour debate, hosted by The Monitor newspaper, will be held in the Rio Grande Valley at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance this Friday at 6 p.m.  Davis won a coin toss and elected to take the first question.  Each candidate gets a minute to respond to questions, and the opponent will be offered a 45-second rebuttal.

There will be ample opportunity for fireworks when the candidates are prompted to ask their opponent a question.

Voters can tune in to a livestream of the debate at The Monitor newspaper’s website, themonitor.com.  TV stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, including KEYE in Austin and WOAI in San Antonio, will also air the debate live, organizers said.

C-SPAN will re-broadcast the debate at 9 p.m. Central Standard Time on Friday, the network said.  The Monitor is sponsoring the one-hour debate along with KGBT Action 4 News, the local CBS affiliate, and KTLM Channel 40, the Spanish-language Telemundo TV station.  The candidates will be grilled by Action’s 4’s Ryan Wolf, KTLM’s Dalila Garza and The Monitor’s Carlos Sanchez.

So what about that polling, anyway?

...The best way to “know” what’s truly going on, besides polling everybody (or having an actual election), is to use an estimate based on the average (loosely speaking) of the public (i.e., non-internal) polls that have followed professional norms of disclosure. As already stated, one poll is usually pretty robust if that’s all you have, but two are better than one, and three are better than two. In the case of the Abbott-Davis contest, the averages show — even with intermittent polling from various sources — about a 12- to 13-point gap in Abbott’s favor.

This estimate makes a fair amount of intuitive sense, particularly if you factor in the margins of error in the public polls we have to work with in Texas. Polls come with a margin of error, which in most of the Abbott-Davis polling has been 3.5 to 4.5 percentage points. So a poll that posits an 8-point race could be a 4- or 12-point one, and an 18-point race could be a 22- or 14-point one. Based on previous vote margins in Texas (for example, Rick Perry’s 55-42 defeat of Bill White in 2010), a 12- to 14-point race — somewhere between the two numbers that have been so heavily reported — sounds plausible right now.

Noah said a few days ago that he thought it was ten.  Fifty-five to forty-two sounds about right to me today, same as Rick Perry versus Bill White four years ago as the TexTrib noted.

Senator Davis is going to have to break some huevos in order to scramble this race.

The Texas State Bored of Education

Yes, it's a headline I have used previously.  Sadly it remains apropos.  When you combine Republican straight-ticket voting with abysmally low turnout, this is what you get.

Amid uproar in conservative circles about perceived anti-American bias in the new Advanced Placement U.S. History course and exam, Texas on Wednesday moved to require its high school students to learn only state-mandated curriculum — not be taught to the national test.

The Board of Education approved a measure declaring that the history curriculum its members set trumps that covered by the AP history course created for classrooms nationwide. That class concludes with an exam that can earn college credit for students who score high enough.

The board must still take a final vote, but the measure's content isn't expected to change.

Just so everyone's clear, this is a similar problem -- but not the same one -- with respect to the ongoing controversy about what goes into the school texts in Texas.

The controversy stems from the recent overhaul of the AP test, administered by the New Jersey-based College Board, that was meant to de-emphasize memorization. The new exam will be given for the first time in May and includes a lengthy framework to help teachers better-prepare students for the requirements.
Conservative activists, though, have decried the new course, the teachers' framework and even the exam itself as rife with liberal themes and focusing on the negative aspects of U.S. history. Some have even likened it to "mind control" engineered by the federal government.

Board Member Ken Mercer, a San Antonio Republican, called for Texas to delay implementation of the new AP test in Texas. But since the board has no jurisdiction over a national test, members compromised with Wednesday's measure.

In 2013, about 47,500 Texas high school students took the AP History exam, and about 18,600 earned college credit. AP History students this year will still take the new exam, but will prepare for it by studying Texas-sanctioned curriculum.

Personal aside: I don't have children so I won't be having any grandchildren.  So conservatives ask me -- too often -- why do I care what they teach in public schools?  Why am I not busy complaining about the taxes I pay to school districts?  And such as that.

The answer is easy:  I don't want to live in a nation of morons and a state full of simpletons.

When conservative and religious extremists get elected to the Texas SBOE -- because of the afore-mentioned straight-ticket voting that isn't countered by the minority, the thinking class -- we get science textbooks that deny climate change, history textbooks that downplay segregation in the South, and social studies textbooks that allege that Moses was the father of American democracy.

Two things.

1.  When people say they don't vote, ask them why they want their school children taught that Jesus rode a dinosaur 6,000 years ago... when the Earth was first created by God?

The SBOE races on your November ballot might just be the most important ones.

2.  This goes well beyond making Texas a laughing stock.  It is understood in certain business and entrepreneurial circles that the low tax environment in the Lone Star State isn't enough to overcome the low education of its next generation of workers, to say nothing of the disservice already done to low-income and minority students.

An analysis from the state higher education board estimates that almost 6,000 additional students would need remedial education once they reached four-year and community colleges at a cost of $2.3 million annually as a result of altering the high school curriculum.

The talk of diploma endorsements has also raised old fears about the shuttling of minority and low-income students into vocational programs, a concern TEA chief (Michael) Williams often cites in public remarks.

John Fitzpatrick, the executive director of Educate Texas, which promotes college preparation and workforce development, said he worried the lower-quality classroom instruction students in poor, minority neighborhoods all too often received could be exacerbated by the new plans that provide more options for career and technology education.

“Having worked both as a school board member and a teacher, I also know too often what the default is," he told lawmakers.

See, there are even a few Republicans who get it.  If you really think Elon Musk decided to build his gigawatt battery factory outside of Reno because of a few extra tax breaks from the Nevada state legislature... then you might be a recent product of Texas public schooling.

It all starts with voting, folks.  And it ends with knowing who you are voting for.