Friday, February 27, 2015

Things I am glad I do not have to blog about

-- CPAC: Christie, Walker, Jeb.  Fuck all that.  Really.  Wouldn'cha rather go look at livestock at the Rodeo?  (You'll have to wait another week; this weekend is the BBQ cookoff that nobody is invited to except for a few special people.  RodeoHouston has long gone elitist.)

-- Rudy "A noun, a verb, and 9/11" Giuliani, James Inhofe and his snowball in Hell, and those homophobes at the Lege gaying themselves up without a clueUpdate: Oh yeah, Bill O'Reilly too.

Just waiting on the cartoonists to finish, then they'll be in the Funnies on Sunday.

-- Net Neutrality for the win.  I blogged enough about it anyway in the early days, when its fate was still uncertain.  Update: Oh yeah, the Keystone XL pipeline, too.  Oh wait, I did blog about that.  Nemmind.

-- Rahm Emanuel's runoff.  I probably will have to blog about that asshole eventually, seeing as how his experience is a cautionary tale for Hillary Clinton, now matter how it turns out in April for him.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to try to get across town for breakfast and fireworks 

Update (2/28): A big nothing on the Garcia front as predicted, but former Houston Community College trustee Abel Davila did announce for District H, where Ed Gonzales is term-limited.  Davila is the husband of former HISD board member Diana Davila, and both have had some clouds of controversy swirling about them in the aftermath of the ethics investigations into both HISD and HCC a few years ago.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bibi Netanyahu is a TeaBagger

Sorry if the truth offends my Jewish friends.

Throughout my life I have managed to avoid taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.  For almost fifty years, these people have pointed fingers -- and guns and rockets -- at each other as the source of the constant strife.  The circle of tensions to hostilities to brutalities eventually rotates to ceasefires, and then starts over again.  There has been more than enough blame to go around on both sides as the conflict enters its third generation.  I found myself horrified when an Israeli bulldozer killed Rachel Corrie twelve years ago, and completely astounded as the Palestinians have -- over the past fourteen years -- kept firing the occasional indiscriminate missile into Israel, which then retaliated with a hundred times' worth of excessive force that an 'appropriate response' might have called for.

"You started it" is a poor place to begin diplomacy.  We all teach our children to behave better than that.  The world over.

If there is any reason why a person questioning their religious beliefs should consider atheism, all one should do is look to the Middle East for the worst of what overtly devout faith exemplifies.  And it's demonstrative of the revolting extremism that when someone points out the fact that religion is so often the basis for so many of the planet's historical atrocities, that truth always draws the most indignant responses from those who consider themselves the most righteous.

The Israeli prime minister's appearance before Republicans in Congress next Tuesday -- and it will be mostly Republicans only -- is cynical, conniving, and meant to influence both his re-election bid (in two weeks) and the nascent Iran-US talks intended to avoid that nation going nuclear.  Even the vaunted Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, has discredited the prime minister's claims of an imminent threat from Iran.

Update: More from Vox on Netanyahu's cries of "wolf" over the decades.

As Iran expert Gary Sick explains, Netanyahu has been warning of an imminent threat from Iranian nukes for decades. "More than 20 years ago, Mr. Netanyahu solemnly informed us that, unless someone intervened, Iran would have a nuclear weapon within five years," Sick writes.

If you needed more evidence of how deep this episode has sunk into the septic tank, even the US political consultants -- on both sides of the aisle -- have been involved.

An American digital media guru denied reports (three weeks ago) that suggested he was sent by the Republicans in order to help Netanyahu win reelection.

Army Radio reported that the Likud employed Vincent Harris, who worked for Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz. The report said the Likud complained about US President Barack Obama’s former field director, Jeremy Bird, advising groups working to unseat Netanyahu, even though they were using the same tactic.

Ted Cruz's and Mitch McConnell's political adviser.  And Jeremy Bird, of Obama for America and Battleground Texas.  It almost sounds like the Onion, doesn't it?

Netanyahu's Congressional address next week is precisely the kind of disrespectful bullshit we've come to expect from McConnell and John Boehner and the rotten apples in the GOP caucus.  That they are using him -- while he uses them -- is not just one of their run-of-the-mill disgraces this time, but a volatile development for everyone who doesn't want a wider, hotter war in the Middle East.

I'm not into Biblical prophecies about the end times, but I am in the minority.

Besides believing that it hastens the return of their Savior, as simply a commercial and political tool, war is all these goddamned conservatives have ever wanted.  It's good for business: good for their cronies in the defense industry, good for television ratings, good for their tuff-guys brand, and real good for stoking that fanatical American patriotism that gets everybody in Texas to buy baseball caps with Chris Kyle's skull logo on them.

Jill Stein's Texas tour: Kingwood and Laredo

The campaign's slogan is "It's In Our Hands".

Media representation in Laredo was a far cry better than Houston.  Watch at KLDO Univision beginning at 9:40, and livestream 8-9 am Thursday morning on 99.3 FM with Jay St John and Sergio Mora on "Laredo Citizens for Good Government".

And see here.

The Laredo Humanitarian Relief Team met with a potential presidential candidate for the Green Party, Dr. Jill Stein, in Laredo. They spoke on the banks of the Rio Grande about a potential resurgence of undocumented immigrants this summer.

Tonight on KGNS News at Six, reporter Renee Santos tells us why the team thinks a new wave is coming, and how they plan to handle it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Latino activist claims Adrian Garcia will announce for Houston mayor Friday morning, Garcia denies

*See update at the end.

It was just yesterday that Teddy Schleifer at the HouChron reported Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack's impatience with the Hamlet-esque Adrian Garcia as he processes whether or not to run for mayor.

Here is Carlos Calbillo's Facebook page, earlier today.  (Copying the particulars in case your settings don't let you see the original).

SHOULD BE SOME GOOD FIREWORKS, and early in the AM too, this Friday, at "Dario's Breakfast", in Denver Harbor, as the High Sheriff of Harris County, TEXAS, keynote speaker, faces a mostly hostile audience to announce he will run for Mayor of Houston.
Why hostile? Because this gathering of Latino, HIGHspanic and TEJANO activists are not happy that Adrian is resigning his office as Sheriff (By law he has to) in order to file for Mayor. The community feels that since it took a lot of struggle to take this office to begin with, his resignation may cause the Redneck community to take this office yet again, and those folks, before Adrian came on the scene, had run that office since forever.
Anyway, if you you enjoy drama, fear and loathing, and fireworks in the morning, come to the FREE and open to the public event. FREE Breakfast, starts promptly at 8AM, and that ain't CPT (Chicano People's Time) !
Taqueria El Alteño
Mexican Restaurant
Address: 7334 Wallisville Rd, Houston, TX 77020
Phone:(713) 678-8901

After I Tweeted that, Schleifer -- whose veracity has helped established himself as an authority on matters like these -- immediately expressed doubts.

And then he quickly verified Calbillo's "news" as rumor.

Maybe Calbillo is just trying to boost turnout for his meeting.  Eh, I like migas y chisme so I'll show up anyway, see if any fireworks actually go off.

Update (2/26): Schleifer's latest at the Chron names the two Republicans, Ron Hickman and Allen Fletcher, who are sweet-talking the county commissioners for a job opening that isn't (yet).

"Sheriff Garcia's still the sheriff," County Judge Ed Emmett said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee emphasized that Garcia could decline to join the wide-open mayoral race: "I'll believe it when I see it."

Nonetheless, Lee and the other members of Commissioners Court have sat down with Hickman and Fletcher in recent months to discuss the job.

It is likely that more names will emerge for the post once Garcia formally announces his intention to run for mayor. The court also could appoint an interim replacement who would pledge not to run for reelection in 2016 – possibly triggering a spirited 2016 Republican primary – but Commissioners Jack Cagle and Steve Radack this week said that a placeholder appointment would not be their first choice.

Update (2/28): A big nothing on the Garcia front as predicted, but former Houston Community College trustee Abel Davila did announce for District H, where Ed Gonzales is term-limited.  Davila is the husband of former HISD board member Diana Davila, and both have had some clouds of controversy swirling about them in the aftermath of the ethics investigations into both HISD and HCC a few years ago.

Remind Texas Congressional Democrats NOT to override Obama's KXL veto

Hair Balls with the executive summary.

In its long-awaited environmental impact assessment last year, the State Department essentially said mining and refining the Canadian tar sands was a foregone conclusion -- that the stuff would be burned anyway, regardless of whether it's shipped via Keystone -- and that any argument against the pipeline that invoked climate change was a nonstarter. But last month, an EPA official cited tanking oil prices to challenge that premise. In her letter to the State Department, assistant EPA administrator Cynthia Giles insisted that below that $65-per-barrel mark, shipping tar sands crude by rail, the more expensive route, would no longer an attractive, lucrative option for industry.

For now, it appears the only way Keystone will be built is if Congress can muster a super-majority to override Obama's veto, if the State Department review ultimately concludes the project is in the "national interest", or if Obama changes his mind. 

If the Republican House of Representatives can vote to repeal Obamacare nearly 60 times, there's little doubt they will try to override the pipeline veto, if only for the piss value and the fundraising letters.  The Senate is already making plans to do so.  They need more votes in the House, though, so it's time to remind the Texas Democrats who voted for Keystone -- that would be Henry Cuellar, Filemon Vela, Gene Green, Al Green, Marc Veasey, and even Sheila Jackson Lee -- that repeating their 'ayes' a second time (even if Majority Whip Steve Scalise breaks out his white hood and his flogger) is not acceptable.

Call them and tell them to vote 'NO' on KXL when John Boehner brings it up again.  Call them all (I am).  If you live in a district represented by a Republican like me, be sure and tell them that as a Texas Democrat (or Green, or independent liberal/progressive) that you have no representation in Washington DC, and as such will they kindly be yours on this issue.  That's what I'm going to say.

More of Jill Stein's Texas tour

SRO for Monday night's meeting (but there were some folks missing).

Houston Matters.


The risks of living in a fence line community (with Juan Parras of t.e.j.a.s.).

On the picket lines.

More from Kingwood and Laredo to come.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Texas Lege playing a dangerous one-upsmanship game with tax cuts

The House, yesterday.

Texas House leaders said Monday they believe they can cut taxes by more than $4 billion, indicating a larger reduction than initially proposed by their Senate counterparts.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, gave the assessment in an interview but didn’t say how much more in cuts is being contemplated.

“We really believe that we ought to be able to do more than $4 billion in tax cuts here in the House,” Bonnen said. “We don’t have a number at this point. We just know that we can do better than that.”

Asked about exceeding $4 billion in tax cuts for homeowners and businesses combined, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said, “We’re on the same page.”

It’s the first time House leaders have indicated the specific tax cut figure they’re contemplating.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, earlier made an initial proposal for $3 billion in property tax cuts and $1 billion in business tax reductions over the next two-year budget period. Patrick said then that there could be more tax relief if additional dollars became available.

The Senate today.

Senate GOP leaders on Tuesday proposed a cut in school property taxes that would be worth about $240 $234* next year for the average Texas homeowner and closer to $275  $263* per homestead the following year.

*corrected at original.

The senators, trying to stay ahead of Gov. Greg Abbott and House Republicans in promising the most tax relief, unveiled a package of tax cuts that would cost more than $4.6 billion in the next two-year budget cycle.

About $2.5 billion of that would go toward increases in homestead exemptions on school property taxes. The rest would go to business tax relief.

It gets worse, as "experts" say there will be more money from more oil at higher prices than is currently sustainable.  Or even plausible.

Number cruncher extraordinaire Dr. Stuart Greenfield says Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s estimate might not be optimistic enough. Among other things, he notes oil production for the fiscal year will exceed one billion barrels. That hasn’t happened since 1978.

Newly elected Comptroller Hegar’s Biennial Revenue Estimate –- the BRE –- has been called quite optimistic by many commentators, especially given the dramatic decline in the price of crude oil. But the release of revenue collections for January indicates his estimate might not be optimistic enough.

Chart 1 shows the year-to-date (YTD) growth rate in tax collections for FY10 through FY15, and both the estimated growth rates from the Certified Revenue Estimate (1.8 percent) released in December 2013, and the current BRE (1.6 percent). Check out the fact that YTD growth in tax collections (6.8 percent) is 325 percent greater than the estimated rate (1.6 percent). The YTD growth rate in total state revenue (8.1 percent) is 80 percent greater than the estimated growth rate (4.6 percent).

The latest estimate of state tax collections are projected to grow by 1.6 percent in FY15 and then increase by 2.4 percent in fiscal 2016 (FY16) and 5.6 percent in FY17. Total net revenue is expected to increase by 4.6 percent in FY15, increase by 1.7 percent in FY16 and then decrease by 1.9 percent in FY17.

I'd really like it if these guys were correct.  I would rather me be wrong and not them, even slightly.  But this is absurd.  Everybody knows this brand of extreme conservatives fixes the facts around their policy, and if the oil companies keep laying off workers in the shale fields, and the barrel price keeps see-sawing back and forth between speculation and reality about supply and demand, at some point the chickens are coming home to roost and we're all screwed and tattooed.  Even Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott (and he hasn't had any relations since that tree broke his back).

If you believe in God, then you better start praying that the price of oil goes up to about $75 dollars pretty quick and holds, and perhaps even rises from there, for the next couple of years.  Because if it doesn't, the traffic that guy in a wheelchair can move faster than -- and the potholes and the classroom sizes and the condition of the state's office buildings and everything else that depends on taxes and spending in Texas -- are going to look like specks on Google Earth compared to the problems we'll have if they have blown the numbers and the budget again.

Sen. Kevin Eltife appears to be the lone voice of reason from the right, but nobody seems to be listening to him.  That roaring sound you hear might be Niagara Falls, and this isn't a canoe we're riding in or even a barrel.  It's a handbasket.

Update: From the comments, Socratic Gadfly reminds me that the judge who ruled the state's education funding schemes out of order on two occasions has scolded the Lege in his valedictory...

Just weeks after stepping down from 23 years on the bench, retired state District Judge John Dietz lambasted state lawmakers Sunday for not having the best interests of Texas' public school students in mind.

"We are dooming a generation of these children by providing an insufficient education and we can do better. It's been our best interests to do better," said Dietz, who has twice in the last two years declared the state method of funding public schools unconstitutional. "It's about time the Legislature take its own advice and take the best interests of the children at heart and do something."

 ... and that the price of oil may be in a historical correction period.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency expects crude prices to average $55/bbl for this year, and not to get above $70 for some time. Oh, and $100 oil? Not even on its current horizon.

The IEA story is worth a read right there. Going by Brent prices, which it expects to only get to the low-mid $70s by 2020 (yes!), this is not a one-year slump, it's potentially a multi-year readjustment.

And, the IEA is right to be concerned. Its U.S. counterpart, the Energy Information Agency, says current stockpiles are at an 80-year high for this time of year.

Dan Patrick need to really start praying harder.

Co-opting "Green" by the media

No media was present last night -- despite about 150 who received the press release a week in advance -- for the Houston meeting of the Harris County Green Party, as about forty members and activists assembled to hear presidential candidate Jill Stein speakArian Foster didn't make it either, though.

And neither did any of these people.  Thus the capitalized "Green leaders" is incorrect usage -- although Shelby Hodge, who thought she would reign on Maxine Mesinger's throne at the Houston Chronicle for the rest of her life, before the newspaper business went kaput -- did use it correctly in the body copy.

The actual Green leaders were all elsewhere.  These folks seem to be nice enough however, well-dressed in their fashionable green attire, and doing good work.

One of those pictured here is the wife of an oil company executive, author, occasional blogger, member of the board of directors for the Center for National Policy (a Democratic think tank), and formerly large Democratic Party donor.  Another is the former finance chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, now working for Lane Lewis and his campaign for Houston city council.

Again, they seem like nice folks, but I have never met either of them at a Democratic Party event, much less a Green Party one (to be fair to Baldwin, he's been present for several and even hosted a few at his combo office/swankienda, which I have missed).

The point I'm making here -- and I hope it isn't too pointed for these lovely people who attended the gala fundraiser Hodge reported on -- is that co-opting the Green Party message with green initiatives is quite a common thing.  Your recycling bin is verde-colored for a reason, after all.  There are literally millions of instances like these, and I didn't even Google that hard.

Shelby Hodge's article doesn't say how much money these green leaders raised for Recipe for Success, but we did pass the hat last night among our forty or so Greens and raised $762 for Stein's presidential campaign.

In plainer English: you can either be green or Green.  You can be both, of course.  You can even be -- as pictured above -- green and Blue.  But you can't be Green and Blue at the same time.  Unless you're me (and then everybody will be suspicious of your intentions).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Photos from Jill Stein's Texas tour

In Denton:

In Houston:

More to come from College Station and Kingwood tomorrow, and Laredo on Wednesday.

Texans' Arian Foster invited to meet Jill Stein in Houston tonight

He has not yet responded to my invitation.

The 'actually' part refers to this 2012 NFL Network interview, via Foster's Wikipedia page, where he says he's "in the Green Party"... but indicated he was voting for Ron Paul.  As much as Foster likes to shine on the media, there are several interpretations of what he meant here, one being that "Green" might need to be lower case, and that the color reference could be to money or to marijuana.

Still waiting for clarification from the man on that as well.

After her appearance over the weekend in Denton, you can also meet Dr. Stein in town tonight...

...and on Tuesday afternoon at Texas A&M, Tuesday night at Lone Star College-Kingwood, and on Wednesday evening in Laredo. All the details on times and locations can be found here.

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance congratulates Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant on the event of their wedding as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff took issue with the initial reactions to the SD26 special election runoff result.

Light seeker at Texas Kaos continues to take down Fox News and its cynical use of fear, divide & conquer strategies, and false equivalencies. Its tactics are literally tearing us apart. The Fear and Hate Chronicles (Part 2), and Part I can be found here.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme sees the Republican hatred of non-white people is stronger than their need to show off their manly (sic) military muscles. Their ignorance has a price and their plutocrat owners, unfortunately, are not the ones paying.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson explains that tax cuts are for the rich, with tax increases for everyone else in Dan Patrick's world (that we're now all living in): A Slow Migration - Patrick's Tax Swap Scheme.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's Texas tour now includes College Station and Laredo, in addition to this week's Monday evening and Tuesday appearances in the Houston area. PDiddie's Brains and Eggs has more details.

Texas Leftist marks Sylvester Turner's official entry in to the Houston mayor's race.

Neil at All People Have Value took a nighttime walk. APHV is part of


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

Unfair Park looks into some rather unconventional speakers for Earth Day Texas 2015.

RG Ratcliffe takes a deeper dive into Greg Abbott's campaign finance reports, and Socratic Gadfly points out some additional things we're learning about the new governor.

Carol Morgan tallies the cost of campus carry at Texas Tech University: $7 million.

The Lunch Tray finds another example of craven grandstanding at the expense of children's health.

HOU Equality reminds us that discrimination happens all around us, all the time.

TFN Insider reports from the faith leaders' rally for LGBT rights at the Capitol.

Grits for Breakfast does not see marijuana "legalization", however one defines that, in the cards this year.

Finally, In The 84th looks at the current legislative session in the most logical way, with GIFs and snark.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2016 GOP goombahs ranking and polling


According to a CNN/ORC poll taken February 12-15, the Republican field currently ranks in this order, top to bottom: Mike Huckabee (seriously?), Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, Chris Christie or None (tie), Marco Rubio, and Someone Else. Then there’s a four-way tie among Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Unsure. Then comes John Kasich, and finally scraping the bottom at 1 percent each are Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham and Carly Fiorina. Note that Bush and Christie were numbers one and two a month ago.  

Christie got roasted by the NYT a couple of days ago.

He does not return phone calls. He does not ask for support. He arrives late for meetings. And he acts as if he has all the time in the world.

The complaints have piled up for weeks, dismaying many longtime supporters of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and sending others into the arms of his rivals for the presidential nomination, according to interviews with more than two dozen Republican donors and strategists.

As a half-dozen other candidates aggressively raise money and chase endorsements in Iowa and New Hampshire, friends and detractors alike say Christie’s view of his status and pre-eminence within the Republican field is increasingly at odds with the picture outside his inner circle.


Some supporters critical of the governor’s campaign blame what they call “the Christie bubble,” a tight-knit group of advisers who have known him for years and have worked for him through most of his tenure in Trenton. Virtually impenetrable to newcomers, this small group is seen as effective at home but also now as shielding him too closely from the realities of a competitive national campaign. Even after the George Washington Bridge lane closings and the resulting scandal, and amid a continuing federal investigation, Christie has not broadly expanded (the number of his closest advisers).

Big Boy is still running third in Erick Erickson's primary, though.  Via Jon Tilove...

According to the RedState Presidential Power Rankings, Cruz now ranks seven among the top ten potential Republican presidential candidates.

Saving you the click-over to the guy who made history by coining the term "Abortion Barbie", the rest of his top 10 go like this, from the top: Jeb, Walker, then Fat Bastard, Rand, Rubio (LOL), Huckabee, Poop Cruz in seventh, and then Piyush Jindal (LMAO), Carson, and in tenth, Oops Perry.

Wanna see some of the polling they aggregated?

  • Christopher Newport University (Virginia) (1/30/15-2/10/15) – Bush 21, Walker 16, Huckabee 10, Christie 10, Carson 9, Paul 9, Rubio 6, Ryan (Woo hoo!) 5, Cruz 3, Kasich 3, Jindal 2, Perry 1
  • NBC News/Marist (South Carolina) (February) – Lindsay Graham 17 (LOL), Bush 15, Walker 12, Huckabee 10, Carson 10, Paul 7, Christie 6, Rubio 4, Perry 4, Santorum 3, Cruz 1
  • NBC News/Marist (Iowa) (February) – Huckabee 17, Bush 16, Walker 15, Christie 9, Paul 7, Rubio 6, Carson 6, Santorum 5, Perry 4, Cruz 2
  • NBC News/Marist (New Hampshire) (February) – Bush 18, Walker 15, Paul 14, Christie 13, Huckabee 7, Carson 7, Cruz 6, Rubio 6, Perry 1, Santorum 1

Bush, Walker, Huckabee.  Looks like a trend somebody predicted a week ago.

Update (2/23): In the most recent TexTrib poll, Scott Walker is statistically tied with Ted Cruz at the lead.

"Don't Know" is third.  We know you don't know, RPT.  We know.

Sunday Funnies

Friday, February 20, 2015

Houston 2015 elections: Of conflicts, and conflicts of interest

-- Sly makes it official.  Still the betting favorite, IMHO.

-- Via Charles, the grumbling about Harris County Democratic Chairman Lane Lewis juggling party politics and a city council bid has gone public.

There's enough at both those links to absorb, but what slipped mostly under the radar was this complaint in Project Q last month from AL1 entrant Jenifer Rene Pool.  Actually Wayne mentioned it in cautious tones when it broke, and TransGriot seemed a little irritated about it, but other than that, nothing else written about it since.  A lot whispered below the level of my impaired hearing, I'm sure...

Repeating myself, I'll support Lewis in AL1 and suggest that every other Democrat would be wise to run elsewhere, lest a repeat of AL3 in 2013 -- a runoff between Mike Kubosh and Roy Morales after the Dems canceled each other out -- occurs again.

As to whether he should hurry up and quit his chairmanship, that would be perilous at this time for the local Democrats.  Lewis' chief of staff, Diana Patino, just left this week to go to work for Sen. John Whitmire.  The ugly self-inflicted wounds from 2014's debacle barely have scabs, and with the lingering resentments over Battleground Texas' promises/effort/coordination with the county party, less disarray and not more is what is needed now.

So I think Lewis should stay where he is and make the call himself when to hand off to someone else, an heir not being readily apparent to me at the moment.  Much jockeying regarding that is undoubtedly happening outside my view.

Update: Texpate doesn't agree, and wants him to quit as a condition of supporting his council bid.  This is too harsh a demand, in my opinion.

-- Frankly I am delighted to see Jew Don Boney run for city controller against Carroll Robinson.  They have squared off before, and it wasn't pretty.  No matter his own bumpy history, I will be pleased to support former councilman Boney's campaign -- unless I vet the potential candidates for a better one -- because Robinson is not only shady himself but also aligned with the absolute worst political mafia in Houston politics.  I'm looking at you again, Hector Carreno, you slug.  And Reps. Miles and Thompson, you should know better.

But this "lesser of two evils" option once again might let the Republican slip into office.

-- This fellow seems like a qualified individual, but he's playing that "give me money while I decide which seat I want to run for" game.  He also drew hosannas from some of the most conservative Democrats I know, which makes me instantly suspicious.  I'll give Mr. McCasland the benefit of the doubt for now, as his early years suggest he has empathy for the poorest among us.  All of the Bill White connections -- his and those speaking in his favor -- rub me the wrong way, though.  White, for his part, is already (allegedly) supporting Adrian Garcia for mayor.  Big fat red X.

The best source for following what's going in Houston politics is Teddy Schleifer's Twitter feed.

Update: Mimi Swartz's take in Texas Monthly is a good place to catch up if you didn't get on in the beginning, with a couple of tasty morsels like this.

And what about Houston’s large and well-organized LGBT population? “(Chris) Bell has the money gays, Turner has the activist gays,” one observer told me.  [...]

Then there are the white power brokers, those guys who used to call the shots. They remember nostalgically the one-call-away days of mayors Lanier and White, particularly the latter, whose Harvard degree, financial acumen, and sophistication seemed so neatly matched with their vision of a modern city on the rise. Torn now between a questionably loyal (Bill) King and a foot-dragging (Stephen) Costello, the bigwigs are turning from disappointment to despair. Their inability to come up with a world-beater of their own is striking.

Put another way, this race has the potential to evolve into something akin to Bonfire on the Bayou, with the city’s diverse factions warring with one another and within their own ranks.


... (Annise) Parker’s endorsement might be of questionable value. One day she is said to be leaning toward longtime ally Turner, another day toward Councilman Costello, whose practical, just-show-me-the-numbers approach to city government is closest to her own.

Don't say 'legalize', say 'decriminalize'


Judging from the press, the Marijuana Policy Project's lobby day at the Texas Capitol (this past Wednesday) appears to have gone well. See coverage here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Much of the coverage mentioned the professional presentation of lobby-day participants in contrast to stoner stereotypes, which is a good sign, though some reporters still can't discuss the issue without giggling. Happily, it sounds from the coverage like Speaker Joe Straus may be open to allowing bills reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession to get a vote on the House floor. Bills to that effect have cleared committee in the past but never seem to get set on the House floor calendar.

Meanwhile the press, in reductionist fashion, continues to frame most marijuana issues as being about "legalization." However, though a majority of Texans support that, that's not what's at stake this legislative session. Instead, the bill with the most momentum appears to be Rep. Joe Moody's legislation to create a civil penalty for low-level pot possession, a move which would have kept nearly 65,000 people last year from being arrested and taken to jail while still punishing them. Other legislation by Rep. Harold Dutton and Gene Wu would reduce penalties for small amounts to a Class C misdemeanor.

Sen, Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler) and Rep. Stephanie Klick (R- Fort Worth) have each filed a bill to allow medical marijuana to be allowed specifically for certain epilepsy cases.  Rep. Elliott Naishtat has also carried the decriminalization water for several sessions.

In 2009 a Houston city council candidate who sought my counsel wanted to push for a city ordinance in favor of legal dope.  What I told him is what you see in the headline here.  Six years later, with four states (WA, OR, AK, and CO) and the District of Columbia having legalized, ten states (CA, NV, MN, NY, ME, MA, DE, MD, VT, and RI) having both decriminalized and allowed medical cannabis to be sold and consumed, another nine states (NM, AZ, MT, MI, IL, NH, NJ, DE, Hawaii) and the territory of Guam allowing legal medical marijuana only, and another four states (NE, OH, NC, MS) and the US Virgin Islands having decriminalized pot possession laws ... the rest of the states, including Texas, still sit in prohibition.

As Grits argued in a recent guest column in the Dallas Morning News, I don't view such bills through a "legalization" lens so much as from a "less government" perspective. Jails are a major driver of county property taxes. And, "If you want to cut the budget in a meaningful, sustainable way, you must identify something government is currently doing that costs money and choose not to do it."

Choosing to stop arresting and jailing pot smokers and paying for their indigent defense costs fits that bill precisely. Bottom line: If you want government to cost less, make it do less stuff. And this is one of those things the Legislature could just let the locals stop doing. 

Even though it became an issue in the Harris County district attorney race last year -- the Democratic challenger proposed decriminalizing possession in late July; the Republican incumbent followed suit by the beginning of October --  a Harris County poll released a couple of weeks before Election Day last November (right at the start of the early voting period)  showed 49% opposing legalization versus 43% who favored it.  But as to decriminalizing it, 62% were in favor, and just 29% were against.

Across Texas -- a year ago and according to the TexTrib -- the numbers are much more favorable to legal weed (in some form).

The executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project says 2019 will be the year something finally happens in Texas; he made that prediction last June in the Baker Institute's blog, where the rest of those geniuses are all over the place with their predictions.  And as reported here previously, the US attorney general-designate, Loretta Lynch, stands opposed to all of it: decriminalization, approval for medicinal purposes, and certainly legalization.

The bottom line here in Deep-In-The Hearta is that we're probably still a long way -- as in a few legislative sessions -- from easing the penalties for possession of a few joints, or even so much as allowing its medical use, because progress always makes Texas its last stop.

Who'd like to see me wrong in my prediction?  Hold up your lighters and yell "Free Bird!"

Update: RG Ratcliffe, now blogging at Paul Burka's place, asks the right question: 'Would Texas legalize marijuana if Walmart wanted it?'

Probably the biggest obstacle to the legalization of medical marijuana is the fear that people might have fun through inebriation. And that got me thinking about how Alexis Bortell and Walmart are sort of the same -- only different. Perhaps I think that because of the $435,000 that Walmart heiress Alice Walton poured into Texas political campaigns last year. I couldn’t find any donations from Alexis or her family. There also is a difference between Alexis and Walmart because the inebriating product Walmart is pushing in this year’s Legislature already is legal.


I don’t want to argue for or against legalizing marijuana or medical marijuana. But I do want to ask the question: Why can’t Alexis get some tender loving care and some THC if Walmart gets its package stores? 

Update (2/24): Charles hints that the Eltife/Klick bills might have the greatest chance of passage this session.  Alexis Bortell's parents find no solace in the current nomenclature, however.  The two opposing views...

I have been talking to a number of members that feel like this is a way to separate those that want to see the therapeutic benefits of the substance without the potential for abuse,” said Klick, who is a registered nurse. “As is, [these oils] have no street value and no psychoactive effect. If we bump that ratio up, I think we will lose support.” 

Klick said there will also be a loss of political support if her bill is expanded to include other ailments, such as cancer, Crohn's disease or Lou Gehrig's disease.


As the bill is written, it stands to lose the support of Alexis Bortell, whose story has made national news and struck an emotional chord in Texas. In 2013, when Alexis was 7, she had her first seizure in the family's home in Rowlett, near Dallas. Since then, doctors have struggled to find medication that would offer her relief. 

As the legislation is written now, Alexis would only be able to use CBD if we could show that there were no other FDA-approved treatments available to her,” said Dean Bortell, a U.S. Navy veteran and computer programmer. “That means trying several dangerous pharmaceuticals that she has already had a bad reactions to. The second one she tried she had trouble with, and we were far below the maximum dosage.”

I repeat: nothing is going to happen with weed this go-round.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Companies try to bust unions at Texas refineries, CA ports

Stand strong, strikers.

Deer Park, TX
In what one local union official is calling a new brand of aggressive strike-breaking tactics, energy companies are trying to lure employees back to work by going around the United Steelworkers union.

BP issued a statement Wednesday that it has begun to train additional replacements for its absent workers while Lyondell-Basell posted an open letter to its striking employees asking them to return to work.

Shell Oil Co. is also asking workers at its Deer Park refinery to cross the picket line. About 50 out of the 800 strikers have done so, said Lee Medley, president of the United Steelworkers Local 13-1.

In the third week of a nationwide oil workers strike, the targeted companies are playing hardball, said Medley, who could not recall another time when companies so openly courted their striking employees. He said the union is contemplating the filing of an unfair labor practice charge against Shell for directly contacting its striking employees.

"The steps they're taking are not novel," said Robert Bruno, professor at the School of Labor & Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

What's unusual, he said, is how quickly the effort began. That tells Bruno that the strike is causing pain for the oil companies. It may be they can't continue to operate with the labor they have or they can't get the production they need, he said. They may believe they have to go on the offensive.

The primary reason this strike is happening is not for increased pay or benefits (although those are, as always, on the table).  The workers want safety improvements at the plants, less forced overtime, and an end to outsourcing of work to contractors.  That's what the oil companies are balking at.  To use only the most recent examples of petrochemical corporation malfeasance, DuPont's LaPorte facility killed four workers three months ago because of shoddy design and inoperable ventilation fans.  The Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance, Ca, exploded like a nuclear bomb just yesterday morning, with residents still sheltering in place, their homes covered in ash.

The refiners simply don't want to pay what it costs to safeguard their employees.  Look what they will pay the scabs, though.

Over the past few days, companies that specialize in staffing refineries and chemical plants during labor disputes have been advertising in Houston for experienced control room operators.

Madi Corp., for example, has an online job posting offering $48 an hour, plus $40 per day for expenses, along with free hotel and airfare for experienced oil refinery console operators in Houston. Operators are guaranteed a minimum of 60 hours a week but are expected to work 84 hours a week.

"Shift the power to your side of the negotiating table during contract negotiations with your unions," the company's website beckons to employers. It says it can place the "right strike replacement workers in the right jobs" in 24 to 72 hours.

My mouth is hanging open.  Yours?


Union negotiators on Thursday rejected the latest contract offer from oil companies and said the largest U.S. refinery strike since 1980 may spread to more plants beyond the 11 where walkouts are underway.

The United Steelworkers union (USW) said in a message to members and news media including Reuters that the latest proposal from lead oil company negotiator Royal Dutch Shell Plc failed to improve safety at refineries and chemical plants in an "enforceable way."

The union also told workers not on strike to be prepared to walk out in the coming days.

It's a similar story in Seattle, Los Angeles, Long Beach, CA and other busy West Coast ports, where the cargo operators are cajoling the longshoremen as well.

Long Beach, CA

Seattle, WA

Cargo companies have gone straight to West Coast dockworkers with what they call their "last, best and final" offer in a contract crisis that has choked off billions of dollars in international trade.

In a move very likely to upset union leaders who were negotiating behind closed doors under a media blackout, the employers distributed letters with the contract offer to rank-and-file longshoremen at ports from Los Angeles to Washington state.

Employers appear to hope that union members will conclude the offer — which the letter said includes wage and pension increases and the maintenance of low-cost health benefits — is strong, and dockworkers will then pressure their negotiators to accept it.

One labor expert questioned whether that would work, especially with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has a history of fighting employers and winning contracts that are the envy of other blue-collar industries. Under the prior contract, which expired in July, average wages exceed $50 an hour, according to the maritime association.

"Handing out the leaflets is a provocative move with questionable gain," said Harley Shaiken, a professor and labor relations expert at the University of California, Berkeley. "We're in the end game, and you don't want to complicate things, and that is the risk."

The letter's "last, best and final offer" language is significant because it could lay the groundwork for the declaration of an impasse and therefore a full lockout of workers by employers.

Meanwhile, negotiators for the union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents employers, met with U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in San Francisco.

The involvement of the nation's top labor official underscored rising political and economic pressure to reach a contract deal and free cargo bottlenecks at 29 ports that handle about $1 trillion of trade annually. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker also attended sessions Wednesday.

I was born into a labor household.  My mom was a teacher and my dad was an OCAW member -- the union for refinery workers before they were consolidated with the Steelworkers -- for thirty-five years.  I remember short and peaceful strikes, and long and contentious ones.  Dad even took a job as a cashier at at Walgreens once to tide our family over when they went out for an extended time.  Here's a great article from the Beaumont Enterprise about the early days (1940s) and the waning of union influence that began after 1980's 114-day strike, a slow slide to obsolescence that continues to this day because of thuggish actions by company men like those described above.

I am all in with the USW and the ILWU as they demand better from the corporations.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Should college degrees and passports be requisites for the presidency?

I say yes, but some say no.  Chris Cillizza, WaPo:

In the wake of Dave Fahrenthold's great piece about Scott Walker's college years, Democrats have begun to openly question the Wisconsin governor's ability and readiness to be president, given that he doesn't have a college degree.


This seems to me to be a MAJOR strategic mistake that could badly backfire on Democrats if Walker happened to become the Republican nominee in 2016. Here's why...

He lists three reasons.  No More Mister Nice Blog even thinks it's a trap.

Jim Newell argues at Salon that it's a bad idea for Democrats to attack Scott Walker for not having a college degree. As I said last week, I agree -- it comes off as elitist and condescending, in a country where most people don't have a boatload of degrees from fancy schools and aren't quite sure what they think about people who do. I think many voters who hear attacks like this will feel they're being personally insulted. It's a bad move.

And now we have this, from Olivia Nuzzi at the Daily Beast, and I really hope no Democrat tries to follow up...

The story smells like opposition research fed to a journalist -- but by whom? It could be the Clinton campaign, but it could just as easily be the campaign of a better-traveled Republican, or it could be an organization on the right that's determined to prevent the insufficiently hawkish Paul from winning the nomination. Nuzzi's story certainly lists a lot of travel by a number of Paul's likely primary competitors:

Go ahead and click over; there's lots to take in at all those links.

Sorry, Cillizza and Mister, but this is Texas, and if we weren't allowed to ridicule stupid Republicans, then we wouldn't have much of anything to blog about.  Hell, Juanita Jean would have to close down the beauty salon if the topic of ignorant conservatives was embargoed.  I've also never been keen on politicians whose appeal is to the lowest common denominator.  Bill Clinton said it nicer: "when people think, we (Democrats) win".

I agree with NMMrNB about Rand Paul's humanitarian missions; I can give him a pass on the passport thing.  But Paul has straight up lied about holding an undergraduate degree, and the reason that matters, as David Knowles at Bloomberg pointed out, can be summed up in two words: Brian Williams.  Paul is also adept at trolling the critics of his malaprops, especially those in the media  -- thanks to this guy -- but it strikes me as a little paranoid that a right-wing conspiracy of  "elitist contempt" is active as a loose caucus among the GOP.  Pretty sure that ground is well covered by the TeaBaggers, and while they may succeed in nominating the candidate, I hold some degree of confidence that an ignorant and arrogant conservative cannot get elected president... again.

Yes, GWB barely traveled outside the US before the Supreme Court selected him to the White House.  And he will likely will never again leave the country, for fear of arrest for his war crimes.  But I don't think it's accurate to say that 'the public didn't care' about that in 2000.  Yes, there was a majority of swing voters in 2004 -- some I knew personally, even -- who said they'd like to have a beer with a recovering alcoholic in denial and probably a dry drunk.  (Although I remain unconvinced, personally, that he ever stopped drinking.)  And all that disregards the curious case of those 250,000 registered Florida Democrats who voted for W, who deserve far more of the blame for Al Gore losing than Ralph Nader, a stubborn myth about which I have also written.  Al Gore should have been able to handily defeat W Bush,  but his own errors, many of them unforced, and Murphy's Law (Theresa LePore's butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County, for one) conspired with a few bad apples -- Katherine Harris, Clay Roberts, Choicepoint, etc. --  to spoil 2000 for him.  It is not an accurate statement, then and to this day, that Bush won the presidency in 2000, IMHO.  For the sake of expediency, I'll ignore the shenanigans around Cuyahoga and other Ohio counties in 2004 that helped John Kerry lose in 2004, because like Gore he was his own worst enemy in too many ways well before election day.

But as to the counterpoints to sheepskins and the lack thereof, let's check in first with Susan Newell at US News and World Report (no bastion of liberal media).

We need to take the stigma away from those who choose not to go to college, and we also need to emphasize community college for those who need more education, but not a four-year program. But it’s also not unreasonable to expect that our political elite -- and there’s nothing more elite than being president of the United States -- have a semi-elite level of formal education.

Now let's roll with Rude Pundit's rejoinder, which is closer to where I am (warning: cursing).

See, to conservatives, "college" is itself a signifier of "indoctrinated into leftist beliefs." And, of course, "college" only means the Ivy League. Says (Instapundit's Glenn) Reynolds, after listing the Harvard, Yale, et al credentials of President Obama and the Supreme Court, "All this credentialism means that we should have the best, most efficiently and intelligently run government ever, right? Well, just look around. Anyone who has ever attended a faculty meeting should recognize that more education doesn't produce better decision makers, and our educated mandarinate doesn't seem to have done much for the country." Serious question: Is Reynolds a total cock at his own faculty meetings? And the Rude Pundit has long believed that Ivy League incest has harmed the nation. But the solution is not to say, "Well, obviously, college makes people dumb." It's to say, "Hey, how about some leaders who came from state schools?"

There's much more of this righteous rant, but let's close with this.

As the Rude Pundit has said before, if you believe that colleges are merely bastions of bolshevik liberalism, spend some time with professors in the business majors or, really, the STEM profs. Oh, wait. They believe in science, so maybe not.

As for Scott Walker, let's dismiss his inability to answer a question about evolution as craven political expedience. What does matter is, as governor, he has bought into the right-wing attack on higher education and he wants to fuck the universities of his state with huge budget cuts, just like Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. That shit looks sketchy, especially when you don't have a degree.

If you can be successful at something without a diploma, good on you, future  Bill Gates or Louis CK or Oprah. Obviously, people can be just like you. Except for the almost everyone who can't.

If our American Idiots have devolved enough to fool me twice and elect George W Bush 2.0 -- and I'm not talking about Jeb -- I'll be searching retirement properties in Costa Rica.  Not everyone has that privilege, of course, but everybody we leave behind will mostly be the ones responsible for their own fate.  That would be the people who elect Scott Walker -- or Mike Huckabee or Ben Carson, or Rick Perry or Ted Cruz or Lindsey Graham, or even Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.  And of course the Democrats who couldn't be motivated to vote against any of them.

You're all fending for yourselves if Hillary Clinton screws up so badly she loses like Al Gore.  I'm out.

Update: As if on cue, Walker plays the E card, and Dirty Jobs dude joins the chorus.