Monday, December 31, 2018

2018's last Wrangle

The rest of the Texas Fauxgressive Alliance decided to take the week off from rounding up the best of the lefty blog posts and news (except for those who may be using some or all of this one).  To augment the missing, you'll find some great year-end listicles, including this video from Turner Classic Movies with the compendium of actors, directors, screenwriters, and others we lost from the year just about to pass into the history books.

In another obituary, almost overlooked from early November, Will Pitt of Truthout wrote the eulogy for Buzzflash, one of this blogger's very first finds on the InnerToobs that both enabled sanity in a GWB-world gone mad, and inspired the creation of Brains and Eggs.

The big Texas story closing out 2018 was the series of incidents where hundreds of migrants detained by ICE were summarily -- and initially without promised warning to relief agencies -- dumped at bus stations and parks in El Paso.

The callous and inhumane actions by the Trump administration to provoke yet another immigration crisis were met head-on by volunteers and agencies, who quickly mobilized after social and corporate media hit red alert.

Naveena Sadasivam at the Texas Observer wrote about the weird Texas weather extremes -- heat, cold, drought, floods -- we experienced this past year.  And the climate denier sitting in his wheelchair in the Governor's Mansion.

At a press conference announcing the release of the report, Abbott responded to a reporter’s question about climate change by saying he’s not a scientist and that it is “impossible for [him] to answer that question.”

The majority of Americans aren’t scientists, but surveys show they still believe climate change is occurring. All it’d take Abbott is to look at the extreme weather events happening in his state and listen to those in his own administration.

Texas Vox also comments on Abbott's Hurricane Harvey report, entitled 'Eye of the Storm', pointing out areas of disagreement and/or recommending stronger action (like acknowledging climate change, for starters).

Continuing another tradition abandoned by the TPA, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs picked Co-Texans of the Year: Beto O'Rourke and Travis Scott.

Stephen Young at the Dallas Observer collects the most ridiculous social media posts from Texas pols (spoiler: Sid Miller could have been this entire list all by himself).

Harris County prosecutors are predicting a surge of drunk driving incidents due to the extended New Year's holiday weekend, writes Jay R. Jordan at the Chronicle.

"This is an unbelievable crisis that we're facing," Vehicular Crimes Division Chief Sean Teare said on Wednesday. "We lead the nation, year-in, year-out in fatalities on our roadways, specifically attributable to DWI. We're not anywhere near the size of Los Angeles or New York, and we're not as big as Chicago – and we blow them away every year. It's inexplicable."

Zachery Taylor blogged that truth is a fungible commodity at corporations like Shell, ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson, Wells Fargo, and by extension Wall Street and the media.

Current Affairs had the 25 worst headlines of 2018 (their #12, Politico's "Biden Should Run With Romney on a Unity Ticket", was my personal #1).  Not linking it, but the summary is aces.

There is no more appealing ticket than Joe Biden and Mitt Romney, argues a former Republican policy adviser currently working for the Biden Institute Policy Advisory Board. What America wants is the down-home bonhomie of a 76 year old who gets handsy with little girls and has total contempt for struggling millennials, plus the awkward stiffness of a milquetoast also-ran who once tied a dog to the roof of his car and gives off a vibe “like the guy who fired your dad.” Their bipartisan slogan will be: “Centrism! It Just Makes Sense, You Whiny Poors.”

Tanvi Misra at CityLab exposed the business model behimd the explosion of dollar stores in rural communities.

It has become an increasingly common story: A dollar store opens up in an economically depressed area with scarce healthy and affordable food options, sometimes with the help of local tax incentives. It advertises hard-to-beat low prices but it offers little in terms of fresh produce and nutritious items—further trapping residents in a cycle of poverty and ill-health.

A recent research brief by the Institute of Local Self Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit supporting local economies, sheds light on the massive growth of this budget enterprise. Since 2001, outlets of Dollar General and Dollar Tree (which bought Family Dollar in 2015) have grown from 20,000 to 30,000 in number. Though these “small-box” retailers carry only a limited stock of prepared foods, they’re now feeding more people than grocery chains like Whole Foods, which has around 400-plus outlets in the country. In fact, the number of dollar-store outlets nationwide exceeds that of Walmart and McDonalds put together—and they’re still growing at a breakneck pace. That, ILSR says, is bad news.

“While dollar stores sometimes fill a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress,” the authors of the brief write. “They’re a cause of it.”

Dollar stores have succeeded in part by capitalizing on a series of powerful economic and social forces—white flight, the recent recession, the so-called “retail apocalypse”—all of which have opened up gaping holes in food access. But while dollar stores might not be causing these inequalities per se, they appear to be perpetuating them. The savings they claim to offer shoppers in the communities they move to makes them, in some ways, a little poorer.

Grits for Breakfast has the top ten Texas criminal justice stories, and Popular Resistance has the top 25 censored news items (going back into 2017 a bit) including the report about county sheriffs along the border using iris technology to fill a new database, lending to existing concerns about racial profiling and loss of privacy in public places.

Right Wing Watch summarized the year in false prophecies and failed predictions: red election waves, weather wipeouts, mass arrests of pedophiles, coups by leftists, and on and on.  VICE had the seven wildest scams and scandals of the year that didn't involve Trump.  And DeSmogBlog revealed Big Oil's attempts to show that fracking is actually making money (it isn't).

In January, The Wall Street Journal touted the prospect of frackers finally making “real money … for the first time” this year. “Shale drillers are heeding growing calls from investors who have chastened the companies for pumping ever more oil and gas even as they incur losses doing so,” oil and energy reporter Bradley Olson wrote.

Olson's story quoted an energy asset manager making the (always) ill-fated prediction about the oil and gas industry that this time will be different.

"Is this time going to be different? I think yes, a little bit," said energy asset manager Will Riley. “Companies will look to increase growth a little, but at a more moderate pace.”

Despite this early optimism, Bloomberg noted in February that even the Permian Basin — “America's hottest oilfield” — faced “hidden pitfalls” that could “hamstring” the industry.

They were right. Those pitfalls turned out to be the ugly reality of the fracking industry's finances.

And this time was not different.

The Week offered the 5 biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2018, and the Pew Research Center had 18 striking findings from the year just past, including this one.

About six-in-ten women in the U.S. (59%) say they have been sexually harassed. Women with at least some college education are far more likely than those with less education to say they have experienced harassment. Non-Hispanic white women are also more likely than women in other racial and ethnic groups to cite such experiences. Around a quarter of men (27%) say they have been sexually harassed.

The stark reality of race and incarceration was once more detailed by KERA via Texas Standard.

If you’re a black man in America, you’re five times as likely to go to state prison as a white man. Latinos and African Americans make up one-third of the U.S. population; they make up two-thirds of the prison population.

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub highlights -- pun intended -- the anniversary of Bright Idea Day, December 31st, 1879; the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb in Times Square, New York.

And Pages of Victory has a poem about some other kinds of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

B&E Co-Texans of the Year: Beto and Travis Scott

(Ed. note. Still doing the work that the rest of the Texas semi-Progressive Alliance gave up on a couple of years ago.)

And there you sat thinking they had nothing in common.

What more needs to be said about the recently retired Congressman from El Paso that hasn't already been said ... or for that matter is currently being said?

In the span of seven days, Beto O'Rourke went from expanding his statewide cult of personality from sea to shining sea to exploding on the 2020 launching pad, writes PDiddie at Brains and Eggs, in a post originally motivated by two hilarious takes about Bernie Sanders from Bay Area Blue Dog John Coby.  But it was a takedown by David Sirota at Capital and Main of Beto's voting record that did the most damage to the erstwhile Congressman's reputation as a "progressive", and that in turn spawned an article about a "war" on O'Rourke being waged by "Berniebros".  The geek fighting didn't just carry on all weekend on Twitter, it again ruptured the 2016 fault lines between the center of the Democratic Party and the left.

And as the Christmas lights come off the tree and the wrapping paper fills the recycling bin, the snark keeps leveling up.

Whatever happens with the two old white dudes running to be top Donkey in two years, you can rest assured that Beto/Bob will keep breaking news of one kind or another throughout 2019. 

So about the man who re-opened "Astroworld" this year and took it across the country ...

Travis Scott's Tour is the Greatest Show on Earth (Rolling Stone)

The apex of Travis Scott’s second night at Madison Square Garden for his Astroworld — Wish You Were Here tour wasn’t when Kendrick Lamar — leading candidate for best rapper alive — made a guest appearance to perform his verse on “Goosebumps.” It wasn’t “Stargazing,” the rattling, pyrotechnic-inflected opener that set the tone for the night. It wasn’t even “Sicko Mode,” the second most popular song in the country that Scott extended to close the night out. Instead, it was one of his earliest hits: “Antidote.” As the opening synths swelled, a young woman with platinum blonde hair walked onstage and the audience screamed. Kylie Jenner was then buckled into a makeshift rollercoaster car. As her baby father performed one of his biggest songs next to her, she documented the entire moment on her phone and kicked her feet to the beat. They kept riding, back and forth over the roiling crowd, for three more songs.

Inside the stadium, the crowd milling around seems more likely to watch KUWTK than listen to “Mo Bamba.” A man in a suit walks by with his elementary school-aged daughter, smiling gleefully. A suburban mom ushers her daughter and friends to premium seats. A child stops, picks up his phone and debates his parental figures about the fiscal responsibility of buying food at Madison Square Garden concession stand prices. He swipes his debit card. Travis Scott has officially gone mainstream.

Welcome to AstroWorld.

'Baby father'.  That's pretty white.  More from recently.

Travis Scott wants to see Kylie Jenner before her private jet takes off, but he’s running late to meet her, so he punches the gas on his Lamborghini SUV and sends the speedometer into hysterics: 80 miles an hour becomes 95 becomes a screaming 110, or exactly double the speed limit on this particular stretch of Houston highway. It is pouring rain. Farther up in Scott’s lane, where traffic is thicker, a Land Rover brakes, but Scott — left hand on the wheel, right hand on his phone, eyes on a maps app — does not. The Land Rover’s rear bumper is maybe 200 feet away, then 75 and then, sickeningly, 25. Scott has stopped accelerating but, for unclear reasons, he hasn’t touched the brake.

You can take the wheel from there.  L'il mo' from TexMo.

Travis Scott is the future. Ask Lil Wayne, who gushed about the 26-year-old artist from the stage during his sub-headlining set at Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston on November 17. Ask Houston rap legend Bun B, who likes to talk about how “there’s something special” about Scott. You could even ask Mayor Sylvester Turner, who declared November 18, the day after the festival, “Astroworld Day” in Houston.

See him at halftime of the Super Bowl in February as well (though Reverend Sharpton's recent opinion about that may resonate).

This has been a PSA for all of us elderly Caucasians out here.  Twenty nineteen is likely gon' be kind to both men, though it might be difficult to improve upon this past year.

Monday, December 24, 2018

T'was The Day Before Wrangle

The Texas kinda-sorta Progressive Alliance celebrated Festivus yesterday and the airing of grievances, but still has a few problems with you people.  And now you're going to hear about it.

(The very condensed 'Seinfeld' episode, from 1997.)

Here's the blog post and lefty news roundup from the next to-last week of 2018.

In the span of seven days, Beto O'Rourke went from expanding his statewide cult of personality from sea to shining sea to exploding on the 2020 launching pad, writes PDiddie at Brains and Eggs, in a post originally motivated by two hilarious takes about Bernie Sanders from Bay Area Blue Dog John Coby.  But it was a takedown by David Sirota at Capital and Main of Beto's voting record that did the most damage to the erstwhile Congressman's reputation as a "progressive", and that in turn spawned an article about a "war" on O'Rourke being waged by "Berniebros".  The geek fighting didn't just carry on all weekend on Twitter, it again ruptured the 2016 fault lines between the center of the Democratic Party and the left.

"I think (last) week can be understood as a kind of turning point, where — for the first time really — millions of Americans are seeing pieces that look underneath the superficial gloss of projections onto Beto," said Norman Solomon, who was a delegate for Sanders at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

"What we’re seeing is someone who’s a big step up for red-state Texas statewide and actually a big step down for where the majority of Democrats are nationwide. ... If we buy the Beto package, we’re gonna have buyer’s remorse later on."

David Collins was ahead of everybody else on this, blogging last Tuesday that these New Democrats are nothing but kinder, gentler Republicans.

As the Year of the Blue Wave closes out, there are still two empty seats in the Texas House that need to be filled with special elections.  They'll be held after the 86th Legislative Session begins.

Off the Kuff noticed the latest bit of (some small handful of Texas political number nerds' fascination with) small counties' vote totals.

T'is the season for listicles, and the Texas Observer kicks it off with the six stories about rural Texas you should read, and the six Texas political players who lost power this past year.  Texas Monthly serves up their twenty most-read stories, their 22 favorite long reads, and their 15 best Tex-Mex bites across the Great State.  Grits for Breakfast has the six takeaways for national criminal justice reform supporters -- and the three for conservative state lawmakers -- from the First Step Act passed by Congress last week.

Almost swamped in the latest tsunami of hysterical "The Russians Hacked Meddled in the Election" accounts: Jim Schutze at the Dallas Observer calmly points out that Fake News, aka Advertising, has always been with us, and it's always been our responsibility not to be duped by it.

Tell me this. Recently I looked at the website of a prominent Dallas consulting firm and noticed they have a social media specialist on their staff who “guides paid social strategy … working with clients to generate content that educates, motivates and empowers target audiences to act in ways that benefit … clients.”

So how is that different from the Russians?


Fake news, I gather, is stuff that is somewhat not totally true maybe, purveyed deliberately by people who know it is not totally true maybe but who purvey it anyway in order to get a certain reaction out of the people who read it.

Or, as it used to be called in the days of dinosaur media, advertising. We charged big money for that. We wish we could again.

Before Russian trolls, before Google, before the internet, even before computers, I was told every morning by a breakfast food box that I could become a professional baseball player by eating Kellogg's Corn Flakes. I looked up the box yesterday on Google. It had a picture of a boy wearing a necktie and a newsboy cap about to swing a bat.

The box said, “This boy knows. He keeps his ‘eye on the ball.’ He’s the kind of boy that eats Kellogg’s. He likes the taste, the realness of these flakes.” I can now tell you without fear of contradiction that, in my own case anyway, that was fake news.

Texas Standard explains what the end of the Medicaid waiver means for the state's healthcare: the impacts of the loss of an average of $3 billion per year over the last decade, assisting the 11 million Texans who are of highest risk and greatest need, must be communicated to Texas legislators.

The Texans challenging the Affordable Care Act have no legal standing, posits Nicholas Bagley at The Atlantic, who is a law professor at the University of Michigan.  (Emphasis is mine.)

And so, the red states (who sued, led by TX AG Ken Paxton, in Judge Reed O'Connor's federal court) added new plaintiffs: two self-employed Texans, John Nantz and Neill Hurley, who say they have to pay higher prices for insurance because of Obamacare. They may be right about that. If the law were wiped from the books, insurers could refuse to sell insurance to sick people. That would allow insurers to charge healthy people less for their coverage.

But freewheeling complaints about the Affordable Care Act aren’t enough to give Nantz and Hurley standing, any more than they’d be enough for the red states. “Standing is not dispensed in gross,” as the Supreme Court has said. To have standing to sue, Nantz and Hurley have to show that the individual mandate caused them some kind of injury.

And they can’t do that. Remember, the entire basis for this lawsuit is that Congress, in 2017, repealed the tax penalty for going without coverage. That means Nantz and Hurley are free to buy insurance, or free not to. The individual mandate doesn’t force them to do a damn thing.

In a changing of the guard at Equality Texas, Chuck Smith steps aside after 15 years at the helm of the state's largest LGBTQ rights organization, passing the torch to Samantha Smoot.

Smoot brings 20 years of experience leading citizen advocacy campaigns to the Equality Texas organization. She has served as Political Director of both the Planned Parenthood Federation for America and the Human Rights Campaign, as well as the Executive Director for Texas Freedom Network. More recently, she has fought to support citizen groups and political leaders as they build more inclusive democracies through her work in the Middle East and North Africa, West Africa, and Eurasia with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

Ty Clevenger at Lawflog took note of the aggressive, and perhaps defamatory, tone of an email that the executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sent to one of the agency's critics, defending its top enforcement officer from corruption charges.

Any conversation about stopping violence in our society before it begins -- such as with the ending of corporal punishment in schools -- is absent from the corporate media, blogs Zachery Taylor.

Texas Vox summarizes coverage of the changing face of energy in the state: cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable as the transition away from fossil fuels proceeds (slowly, but inexorably).

Downwinders at Risk thanks activists for mobilizing opposition to the Estrada Concrete plants in south Dallas (near Paul Quinn College), forcing the permit approval hearing at City Hall to be rescheduled for January.

The Rag Blog mourns the passing of yet another 1960s-era Austin "radical" and one of its founders, Dennis Fitzgerald.

SocraticGadfly, influenced by his reading of a new bio of Ronald Reagan, posted the first of what will be several counterfactual history blog posts — what if Reagan, not Goldwater had somehow run in 1964? (Click the "counterfactual history" tag for similar writing by him.)

In Houston barbecue news, Katie Watkins at Houston Public Media reports that Burns BBQ in Acres Homes now has a mural on the outside wall that features the establishment's late founder, along with twice-a-guest Anthony Bourdain.  And the story of Blood Brothers BBQ getting their brick-and mortar-location opened in Bellaire, and the backstory of how the business got started, was posted by Mai Pham at the Houston Press.

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub has a couple of questions about the origins of Christmas.

And in one of the most fascinating Tweet threads of 2018, Kari Blakinger of the Houston Chronicle writes about how she got off heroin while spending Christmas in jail.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

A cup of kindness, yet: Facebook, Flynn, Schwertner, and Melania

This post tried to get blogged all week, and it reads a little dated in the wake of the Trump shutdown and RBG's latest cancer scare, but I'll throw it up anyway: in the spirit of giving, I should direct a few good wishes at some of those beyond our crappy local Democrats.  Just a bit to starboard.

-- Facebook has been sued by the attorney general of the District of Columbia on behalf of the city-state's residents harmed by the company's data breaches, authorized and un-.  Other states will surely follow, ah, suit.

DC Attorney General Karl Racine on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Facebook, accusing the social-media giant of “unfair and deceptive” practices that violated consumer privacy and led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The first lawsuit of its kind in the United States, the move could result in billions of dollars’ worth of fines for the company and pave the way for states around the country to file similar complaints.


The lawsuit also comes on the heels of a New York Times report published Tuesday night that revealed that those same data practices allowed at least 150 other companies to access consumer data, including Facebook users’ private messages. The sharing of data with third parties continued well past a 2011 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that required Facebook to disclose its data practices more transparently and improve its privacy practices. Racine says his office will be updating its suit to include the new allegations.

The lawsuit could take years to wind its way through the courts, but if it’s successful, Facebook could be on the hook for serious civil penalties under DC’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, a blanket law that allows for damages for a number of trade violations, including data security breaches. Under the law, a company can be fined up to $5,000 per violation. According to the DC attorney general’s estimates, as many as 340,000 District residents were affected by the Cambridge Analytica incident.
If the lawsuit is expanded to include more recently revealed violations, which gave parties ranging from Netflix to Russian search engine Yandex access to consumer data, fines could possibly reach into the billions of dollars and could top the nearly $1.7 billion fine Facebook is currently facing in the European Union, where consumer data protections are much more stringent. On Tuesday, Facebook settled for $450,000 a lawsuit brought by Washington state alleging the company had violated political advertising laws.

IANAL but this sounds remarkably similar to Texas' DTPA, which contains a provision for punishment of three times damages for guilty verdicts.  Let's ask Ken Paxton to do something for us instead of to us for once.

This will be the end of Facebook, ladies and gentlemen.  They'll be forced into bankruptcy under a blizzard of litigation of this kind if the state attorneys general get their acts together on some mass class action.  But the fact is that we the people can move faster than any court of law to end Mark Zuckerburg's foul corporation.  If you haven't deleted your Facebook account ... what exactly is it going to take?  Pretend you hear Zuck speaking in Arnold Schwartzeneggar's voice (as Dutch Schaefer from Predator): "Kill me! Do it NOW!"

-- Michael Flynn is stewing in his own traitorous juices over the holidays after Judge Emmet Sullivan trashed him at his sentencing hearing last Tuesday.  It's going to be a terrible Christmas and a horrible New Year around that dude's house.  Sullivan was apparently having none of Robert Mueller's recommendation of no prison time for Flynn's cooperation in his investigation, a gambit I figured was aimed at short-circuiting a Trump pardon.  If Flynn gets time in the Big House, Trump is bound to throw more gas on his dumpster fire by giving him a 'get out of jail free' card.

-- State Sen. Charles Schwertner is going to keep insisting he didn't text that UT co-ed right to the end of his political career.  Which we all hope is sooner than four years from now.  Borris Miles, the other sexual predator still in the Texas Senate, is up for recall in 2020, but since African Americans in southwest Harris County last month re-elected Ron Reynolds, currently sitting in jail on a barratry conviction, I have my doubts as to whether any good Christian can unseat Miles for being too aggressive about his nearly-constant side chick hustle.

-- FLOTUS reports (to an unnamed 'close' source, who is whispering to Hollywood Life's Bonnie Fuller) that POTUS is "under immense stress" because of all the concurrent witch hunts (sic) going on and that she is concerned for his health.

I Really Don't Care.  Do You?

#Beto2020 explodes on launch pad

I L'dMFAO when I read this earlier in the week.

Once Beto O'Rourke decides to run (Bernie) Sanders will lose his followers. When you have a choice of a real Democrat that does not have "socialist" stamped on his head, and is 40 years younger than Sanders the real Democrat will win every time.

Coba-rrhea-vias has had a couple of bilious posts about Bernie in the past week, so you can tell he's mad/scared about the prospect of possibly having to vote for him in November of 2020.  I haven't checked in with Ted at jobsanger in months; I'll guess he's graphed a few polls that had Biden in the lead earlier in the month.

As for John Coby, facts have a way of destroying one's fantasies.  Here's your 'real Democrat'.

... O’Rourke has voted for GOP bills that his fellow Democratic lawmakers said reinforced Republicans’ tax agenda, chipped away at the Affordable Care Act, weakened Wall Street regulations, boosted the fossil fuel industry and bolstered Trump’s immigration policy. Consumer, environmental, public health and civil rights organizations have cast legislation backed by O’Rourke as aiding big banks, undermining the fight against climate change and supporting Trump’s anti-immigrant program. During the previous administration, President Barack Obama’s White House issued statements slamming two GOP bills backed by the 46-year-old Democratic legislator.

O’Rourke’s votes for Republican tax, trade, health care, criminal justice and immigration-related legislation not only defied his national party, but also at times put him at odds even with a majority of Texas Democratic lawmakers in Congress. Such votes underscore his membership in the New Democrat Coalition, the faction of House Democrats most closely aligned with business interests.

(What's ironic is that John, in his capacity as a GS-13 with NASA as of 2017, knows more than the average Bear about things burning up on re-entry.  He was part of the team that designed the shuttle's robot arm camera, used to look for missing heat tiles on the underbelly of the space shuttles in the wake of the Challenger disaster.  So while I cannot confirm that he is working for a federal government socialism program today *update: his bio says he has recently retired*, the link above shows that he did so for many years.  This makes his problem with socialism seem a little ... I don't know, confused.  But maybe that's just because he's an Aggie.  I had almost forgotten it had happened; it's been over a decade since John got suspended for six months without pay from that job for blogging at work.)

Hope Beto's 15 minutes of fame as a presidential candidate was a few calf cramps for everybody who was into it over the past month.

By the by, that New Democrat Coalition mentioned in the last line of the excerpt above would be the same one that both Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher promptly joined the instant they got to Washington.  As I thought might happen, she got elected without my vote, so she's not going to be caring much about what I petition her for over the next two years.  I presume the same is true of Allred.  They'll both be reaching around progressives across the aisle for moderate GOP support in order to hang on to those hard-won seats in 2020.  And unless the winner of the presidential primary taps him to be his/her running mate, they won't have Beto's coattails to ride on again.

Not even if Bob decides he would rather run against John Cornyn.  Heavier lift than Cruz this year.

And if anybody thinks Julian Castro has any chance for any thing other than ticket balance for geographic and/or (hopefully) ideological balancing purposes ... think again.

Monday, December 17, 2018

T'was the Week Before Wrangle

With the next-to-last week of 2018's best lefty blog posts and news round-up, the Texas Progressive Alliance is hoping Mueller Time is a bigger celebration than was Fitzmas (some thirteen years ago).

A federal judge in Texas accepted the arguments of Attorney General Ken Paxton and struck down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, in a ruling that will face years of appeals and create lots of uncertainty for millions of Americans over their healthcare insurance.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth sided with the argument put forward by a coalition of Republican-leaning states, led by Texas, that Obamacare could no longer stand now that there's no penalty for Americans who don't buy insurance.

The U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the law in 2012, by classifying the legislation as a tax. But since Congress removed the individual mandate in 2017, O’Connor ruled, there's no way the ACA can be allowed to stand.

"The Individual Mandate can no longer be fairly read as an exercise of Congress's Tax Power and is still impermissible under the Interstate Commerce Clause — meaning the Individual Mandate is unconstitutional," O'Connor wrote. "The Individual Mandate is essential to and inseverable from the remainder of the ACA."

Without the system being upheld by a wide pool of mandated participants, the ACA cannot stand, O'Connor ruled.

But at a time when we spend $3.5 trillion every year and are still uninsured, underinsured, being bankrupted by medical bills, co-payments, remainder bills that the insurance company did not pay, and even dying because we cannot afford our medications ... is the ACA really worth saving?

The smartest healthcare activists realize that this court decision hastens the day when America can have Medicare for All.  But does our new Democratic Congress have the political will to force the issue?  Can they even make it a campaign issue for 2020?  Time will tell, but there are certainly reasons to be pessimistic.

Off the Kuff posted some extremely long and boring spreadsheets full of statistics that nobody except a few political consultants in Harris County could possibly give a shit about.

SocraticGadfly took a skeptical look at the Betomania 2020 Kool-Aid, one of dozens of articles about the phenomenon that shows no sign of ebbing.  O'Rourke himself has marveled at his rock star hysteria, teasingly suggesting "it's a great question" whether he is ready for a run at the White House.  As he rose in the early polling, many Democratic activists began questioning his progressive bonafides.  (You will recall that this blogger answered that for himself last January.)  The NYT dug out -- and published in October -- the story behind his family's shady real estate deal in El Paso, and the Segundo Barrio residents who never forgot his role in it.)

PDiddie at Brains and Eggs exposed the oozing neoliberalism of Houston mayor Sylvester Turner in two posts, the first excoriating his interference in the developments surrounding HISD's legacy African American schools ...

... and the second, reminding Houstonians of the only consistent talents Turner has demonstrated over the last three years: his leadership void and political courage deficit.

Democratic infighting over whether to monetize voter data for 2020 spilled out into the open.

In more 2020 musings, John Coby at Bay Area Houston -- the mangeist, most flea-bitten blue dog in the Alliance -- declares who shouldn't be running for the Democratic nomination.  Tip: they're all well to the left of him.  David Collins had the counterpoint using Beto/Bob as the repetitive example, which centrists like Coby just can't understand.

Kyle Kulinski at Secular Talk deconstructed Julian Castro's announcement of presidential exploratory committee formation.

The Dallas Observer's Stephen Young snaps some of the corporate media (and associated sycophants like Frank Luntz) back to reality with their weird infatuation over Ted Cruz's beard.

Better Texas Blog updates the status of public school finance one month away from the next legislative session.  And Progrexas wishes to remind you that it can't be fixed until everybody agrees on the definition of the word "fix".

A preview of 2019 Austin and Washington attractions?

Texas Leftist notes the worries of the Texas Vietnamese community in the wake of the latest Trump administration deportation threats.

Texas Standard read a DHS report and noticed how a portion of SpaceX's south Texas launch facility will get cut by Trump's border wall.

A child speech pathologist who worked with elementary school students for 9 years in the Pflugerville Independent School District (which includes part of Austin) lost her job after she refused to sign an anti-BDS oath, reports Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept.  A lawsuit on her behalf was filed in federal court, alleging a violation of her First Amendment rights to freedom of expression.

San Antonio had a week of swirling political winds; read more about them at the Rivard Report.

The critics of Texas Central, the bullet train between Dallas and Houston, want the Lege to administer more oversight of the project via limiting the use of eminent domain, writes Matt Zdun for the Texas Tribune.  (But in a Republican, pro-business, 'less government is best' environment, there is probably not much appetite for that.)

 (click to enlarge)

Emotions ran high at a public hearing on the coastal spine proposed along the Bolivar Peninsula, as residents and property owners decried the massive project.  It's intended to protect Houston and Galveston from future hurricanes and storm surges, but the concerns are that it will leave the sparsely-populated Galveston and Chambers County vacation and fishing communities surrendering their livelihoods.  Areas north and east of where the 'Ike Dike' would end would also be unprotected.

Texas Vox celebrated the closing of the filthy coal-fired Deely plant, on the southeast side of San Antonio and operated by CPS Energy.

Joe Nick Patoski at the Texas Observer asks if Texas' overcrowded and underfunded state parks are being loved to death.

Somervell County Salon followed up on an obscure comedian's strange take about Trump's sniffling being a symptom of his crushed-Adderall snorting habit.

Elise Hu reported on brain-machine interfaces at the University of Houston.

The Bloggess presents the Ninth Annual James Garfield Christmas Miracle.

Swamplot has the perfect gift for the Astrodome-phile in your life.

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub re-visits Banksy's seminal modern Nativity portrait, and alludes to Trump's border wall.

Dan Solomon at Texas Monthly ponders the demise of the breastaurant.

And Harry Hamid's story moved ahead to 3 a.m.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday 'Hung by the Chimney' Funnies

He's seen what you've been Tweeting!
He knows that you're a fake!
He knows you know that what he knows has been keeping you awake!

Oh, he's made a long list, redacted it twice,
Putin bought you and he knows the price,
Robert Mueller's poking around!

‘(Mulvaney) would have given up a very valuable appendage to get that job’

Friday, December 14, 2018

Sylvester Turner's leadership crisis

The reason people like Boykins (and Buzbee) keep stepping up with suggestions to resolve the dispute between the city and the firefighters is because there is a paralysis of leadership in the mayor's office.

Houston City Councilman Dwight Boykins on Thursday proposed charging property owners a monthly garbage collection fee to finance raises for firefighters while avoiding job cuts for other city staff.

Under the proposal, most Houston homeowners would be charged a flat, monthly fee between $25 and $40 to help the city absorb the cost of raises for firefighters mandated by the pay parity charter amendment approved by voters last month.

Unveiled at a Thursday press conference, Boykins' proposal comes amid a legal challenge by the city over the constitutionality of Proposition B, the charter amendment granting firefighters equal pay to police officers of corresponding rank and experience. The amendment was approved last month by 59 percent of voters.

"I believe the issue of pay parity was settled at the ballot box," Boykins wrote in a Thursday letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner and his colleagues on council. "As elected leaders, our primary mission is to settle on an appropriate and responsible way forward. To this end, I am convinced that introducing a garbage collection fee is the most plausible plan to provide firefighters a pay raise while ensuring that no city worker loses their job."

Mayor Turner turned this down flat, as he has in the past.  He is simply too terrified to raise a tax or a fee in an election year.  He used "fiscal conservative" language to dog-whistle to the moderate Republicans that he will need to be re-elected that he stands by their side.

Turner’s office issued a statement in which the mayor said he was opposed to the idea: “Council Member Boykins and the Firefighters Association's proposal to enact a $25 monthly garbage collection fee to pay for a firefighter’s 29% pay raise, underscores what I have been saying for months. The City cannot afford Proposition B. This measure will cost the city more than $100 million each fiscal year. I will not support forcing Houston homeowners to pay a costly new tax on trash collection to pay for firefighters’ salaries.”

So the city -- in cahoots with the police officers' union, which has inserted itself into the dispute against the firefighters, buying the mayor's bluff/threat of layoffs -- will keep litigating, in the hopes that their lawyers might eventually get them a favorable legal ruling where the court of public opinion and referendum has failed them.

In response to a lawsuit by the Houston Police Officers Union, which opposed the parity amendment, a state district judge earlier this month issued a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of the measure. A hearing is scheduled for (today).

Here's more on the details of CM Boykin's proposal, and some history.

Boykins estimated the proposed fee could raise $107 million to $172 million annually. Disabled veterans would be exempted from the fee and senior citizens would pay a to-be-determined discounted rate, he said.


He said trash collection could occur twice a week if city council adopted a $30 monthly fee; a $40 fee would allow heavy trash pickup twice a month.

Houston is the only big Texas city without a garbage fee. Austin charges a monthly garbage fee of between $25 and $50, San Antonio charges roughly $20, Dallas charges $27 and Fort Worth charges between $12.50 and $23.


It’s not the first time local officials have eyed — or killed — garbage fees: Turner shot down the idea in 2016, when it was suggested as a way to offset a new contract with trash haulers. Boykins floated the idea at an October council meeting, and previously has suggested a garbage fee as a way to raise money that would not count against a voter-imposed revenue cap.

Former Mayor Annise Parker also floated a garbage fee in 2014 to plug a budget deficit, an idea that was shot down by the city council.

The longer this drags out, the greater the ill will between the parties grows.

I thought it was bad enough months ago that Turner, a Democrat, chose to bully a Democratic constituency, a civil workers union, with Republican strong-arm tactics.  He's also enabled conservatives to rally behind the firefighters and form an organized opposition to him, a pretty stupid thing to let happen.  And in what may have been from the unintended consequences department, the dispute has exasperated a simmering animosity between police officers and firefighters and the lack of respect each appears to have for the others' job.  In short, the vitriol has reached toxic levels.  Perhaps the judge will recommend binding arbitration for the two parties at today's hearing (and the mayor's attorneys won't decide to challenge that with another lawsuit).

Speaking of third parties, someone ought to be polling Houstonians regarding Boykins' proposed garbage fee increase.  Because if the city or the firefighters have some of their cronies doing it, we'll just get spin.  Not that more public opinion against him seems to influence this mayor.

In the meantime, Sylvester Turner needs to focus on this and not on HISD.  This is his real challenge for 2019; why he chose to meddle in the school issues demonstrates, on its best day, a political attention deficit disorder on the part of the mayor.  You would think he had staff smart enough to advise him of this.

Fresh ideas -- and perhaps fresh leadership downtown around the horseshoe on Bagby -- appear to be more greatly needed with each passing day.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Put down the non-profit and back away, Mayor *updated*

*See update at bottom.

News item:

Months ago in May, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that he wanted the city to get directly involved in local schools.

Now that desire has evolved into a new nonprofit, created by Turner’s education office.


The city-related nonprofit is called the Coalition for Educational Excellence and Equity in Houston. News 88.7 obtained state records that show Turner’s education chief Juliet Stipeche and three civic leaders are heading up the coalition.

Under the state law known as SB 1882, the Houston Independent School District could give the nonprofit temporary control of some Houston schools. That in turn would give the district a two-year pause on steep sanctions, including a potential state takeover.

The board has to decide by early February if it wants to pursue this effort or any other partnership for struggling schools. This week, the HISD board added a new agenda item for its meeting Thursday to decide if they want to request any outside partnerships.

On Tuesday, Turner issued new details on the objectives of the coalition and defended it at City Hall.

He outlined in a statement that the nonprofit aims to administer 15 HISD schools. They would include struggling schools that could trigger state sanctions and their related schools in their neighborhoods, or feeder patterns. Turner also said that he plans to appoint six more board members to the nonprofit. So far, three business executives are the only voting members: Corbin J. Robertson Jr.; Trinidad “Trini” Vasquez-Mendenhall; and Stephanie Nellons-Paige.

The reveal:

More from HPM.

About half a dozen people protested the idea at City Hall. Bobbie Cohen called it an effort to privatize public education.

“I don’t know why the city has decided to involve itself in a nonprofit coalition with three board members none of whom seem to have any real expertise in education, unless, of course, you count lobbying for ALEC which is an organization that has never met a government entity it did not want to privatize,” Cohen said.

Still, Turner defended the effort: “It is an offer, it is up to HISD. No one here is trying to force HISD to do anything. No one.”

HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones told News 88.7 that the board will vote on issuing an RfP (meaning a Request for Proposal) on Thursday. “After then we will know how to move forward,” said Skillern-Jones.

Earlier this year, when the HISD board considered approving an outside partnership for struggling schools, the controversial measure sparked protests and arrests at the public meeting.

Durrel Douglas at Houston Justice has mentioned this topic but his most recent post is from June.   Ashton P. Woods re-Tweeted the link to Jacob Carpenter's Chronic story; Sam Oser has been all over it, with this last week at KPFT and this primer from April.  Excerpt from Oser's first, skipping what we already know above.  It gets a little deep in the policy weeds.

In emails between Alan Bernstein, Director of Communications for the Mayor’s office, and me, Bernstein did not answer questions about who appointed the board members to this educational non-profit run by corporate interests.

However, Bernstein did say the HISD board of trustees will make the decision on whether or not the non-profit would be used to run the failing schools.

There has been no transparency by the HISD board of trustees into who they are considering to run the failed schools. The deadline to get a contract to TEA for approval is February 4.

Not only did Bernstein not answer the original questions, he dodged characterizing the non-profit as a charter.

While this non-profit would not be an open-enrollment charter school, the non-profit still has to apply to have the same rights as a charter. It’s written out in Sec. 97.1075 and 97.1079. Under 97.105, the non-profit would be an “operating partner… eligible entity as defined by TEC, §12.101(a). ”

When you look at TEC, §12.101(a), an “eligible entity” that can apply for a charter application includes a non-profit. Never mind that the whole chapter is titled “charters.” A detail Bernstein missed when dodging calling the non-profit a charter.

After applying to have charter school rights, the TEA, who oversees the Texas Education Code (TEC), defines what type of charter the non-profit will fall under, and the Coalition for Educational Excellence and Equity in Houston would fall under Subchapter C Campus or Campus Program Charters.

Charter schools 'partner' with districts to take over failing schools. It's common for one to hear the use of 'partnerships' in reference to charters.

One more thing.

The activists behind this resistance are HISD Parent Advocates, Black Lives Matter: Houston, Pantsuit Republic: Houston, Houston Rising, Indivisible Houston, and Public Citizen Texas. These groups have called for suing the TEA for discrimination based on race through the accountability system and over failure to comply to state testing laws. This year Texas’ Third Court of Appeals ruled that parents can sue the TEA.

Let's overlook Sylvester Turner's festering neoliberalism rupturing like an infected boil.  Let's disregard the fact he's waded into a policy area in which the city has no business being by "offering" to award a handful of wealthy Republicans control of HISD's legacy black high schools (Turner, a product of Acres Homes, was valedictorian of his class at Klein High School.  But don't hold this against him; he came of age during America's forced integration/bussing period.)

What's difficult to believe is that the mayor would do this in (what everyone expects the Texas Supreme Court is eventually going to tell us is) an election year already made difficult by various other questionable decisions.  It looks like he's "reaching across the aisle" with both hands for big-dollar campaign contributions, quid pro quo style.

Maybe he just doesn't care how it looks, of course.

You know what the problem in running as a centrist in a non-partisan election is?  You're going to take shots from both the left and the right.  I thought the mayor would have been smart enough not to touch this hot potato, leaving it to the out-of-favor Republicans in Austin, election year or no.

No matter who he names to the rest of his board now in order to try to salvage it -- I'd expect a few African American Democratic faces; a pastor like Bill Lawson or someone with political and education background, maybe Carroll Robinson -- this proposal is going to fly like a lead Zeppelin.

Everybody understands you'll need a shitpile of money running against Tony Buzbee, but this isn't the way to earn it.  Put down the non-profit and back away, Mayor Blue Dog.