Thursday, February 11, 2010

Charles Wilson 1933 -2010, and John Murtha 1932 - 2010

One week, two Congressional titans.

Former U.S. representative Charlie Wilson, a flamboyant 12-term East Texas Democrat who used his control of CIA purse strings to finance and arm an Afghan insurgency that drove out the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, died Feb. 10 at a hospital in Lufkin, Tex. He was 76 and had a history of heart ailments.

Wilson's epic overseas engagements outlive him. The power vacuum left in Afghanistan when the Soviets exited in 1989 contributed to the rise of the Taliban, and the weapons that Wilson helped bring to that country were probably in use when the United States went to war there in 2001.

Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania powerhouse in Congress for 36 years and an early ally for Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her rise to the top of the House, died Monday afternoon as a result of complications from recent surgery. ...

A Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, the 77-year-old Democrat won national fame for standing up against U.S. military involvement in Iraq. But in Congress itself, he also symbolized an old-school generation going back to Tip O’Neill and the Democratic heyday of the ’70s, when the House was less divided by partisan ideology than by often regional interests.

Wilson came and spoke in my high school gymnasium on a campaign trip in 1972, the first year he ran for Congress. He was of course tall and charismatic but especially so to this 15-year-old freshman. He was running to represent the Texas 2nd, replacing John V. Dowdy -- whom my older brother had served as a Congressional page a few years before, and who was forced into retirement from Congress earlier that year. Dowdy was under federal indictment for bribery, conspiracy, and perjury (he was later convicted and sent to prison on the perjury charge, but the other counts were overturned on appeal).

It's safe to say that Charlie Wilson was my first exposure to politics.

Much has already been written about Wilson's colorful legacy, personal as well as professional. Here's the best excerpt I found of stories I hadn't already heard:

Pretty much everyone else who ever met him developed a fondness for Charlie Wilson. They just couldn't help it. The columnist Molly Ivins once pondered how it was that a liberal feminist such as herself could love such an unreconstructed chauvinist so very, very much. "I've been worrying about my fitness to write for Ms. Magazine on account of I like Charlie Wilson," she wrote in that magazine in 1988. "Good Lord, that is embarrassing. Congressman Wilson is the Hunter Thompson of the House of Representatives; a gonzo politician. He's a sexist and has made war a spectator sport. By way of redeeming social value, he's funny, a good congressman for his district, and hasn't an ounce of hypocrisy. ... I called Wilson to ask him why we like him, thinking he might know. He said: `Feminists like me because I am an unapologetic sexist, chauvinist redneck ... who ... votes with 'em every time. I have proven that I can vote with 'em without kissing their ass. I try not to let 'em know I vote with 'em; it's more fun to have 'em mad at me.' "

Wilson and Murtha (and Dowdy, before and with them) served in Congress when business was conducted in a certain way, as you likely already know. Murtha replaced Clarence "Doc" Long (portrayed by Ned Beatty in "Charlie Wilson's War"), the chair of the subcommittee on Foreign Operations of the House Appropriations Committee when Long was defeated in his re-election bid in 1984. Murtha and Wilson thus were more tightly conjoined in the covert war-by-proxy on the USSR, of which Wilson famously said: "we f--ked up the endgame".

Earlier in their careers, Wilson had narrowly turned back an ethics charge against Murtha. Carl Hulse at the NYT relays:

As recounted in the book, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, then Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill asked the colorful Mr. Wilson to take a spot on the House ethics committee to help shut down an inquiry into Murtha, who had gotten caught up in the Abscam bribery investigation. Murtha wasn’t prosecuted for his role, but the internal watchdog committee was looking into whether he broke House rules by not reporting a bribery attempt.

In the book written with Wilson’s cooperation by investigative journalist George Crile, Wilson agreed to take the seat on the ethics panel in return for appointment to the board of the Kennedy Center, which would provide him with plenty of access to exclusive entertainment events. The inquiry was quickly derailed, leading the chief investigator to resign.

“It was the best deal I ever made,” Wilson told Crile. “I only had to be on Ethics for a year, and I get to stay on the Kennedy Center for life.”

Wilson and Murtha will be laid to rest in the heart of their mostly rural Congressional districts. Additional recommended reading:

The Hill's Pundits blog: John Murtha

Politico: Charlie Wilson's Way

Texas on the Potomac: Where are they now? -- Joanne Herring

Update: JR Behrman had this take, and sent it to me with these comments ...

Making “progressive” and “populist” coexist within anything as complex as a federal union with two written, overlapping constitutions which actually failed the challenges of (a) slavery and (b) segregation is hard, maybe impossible.

Nonetheless, Charlie Wilson and John Murtha are pretty much what I expect of representative democracy.

To be specific, I think they and a few other Democrats of their generation actually defeated the Soviet Union, where the GOP would have eventually taken us to something nuclear that they read about in the Book of Revelations.

... and Melissa Roddy at HuffPo added hers on Wilson, Herring, and another Houstonian who always seemed to have a hand in everything, James Baker III.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Snooze can't work out the Kinks in their endorsement

It is truly a remarkable day for the New Media when my friend Neil at Texas Liberal trumps the Dallas Morning News in the logic associated with their respective endorsements for Texas commissioner of agriculture.

But don't take my word for it...

In the contested Democratic primary for Agriculture Commissioner, the Dallas Morning News has endorsed Kinky Friedman over Hank Gilbert. Well, maybe we should say: The News has opposed Gilbert over Friedman, since the editorial is more of a knock on the former than an attaboy to the latter.

I don't know who over at the Kingdom of Belo wrote that endorsement, but they have lost their f'ing minds. Essentially the DMN doesn't care about details. They just like cigars.

The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board must be smoking crack for endorsing Kinky Friedman in the Democratic Primary for Agriculture Commissioner. One thing the DMN didn't remember is that Friedman is not a Democrat. Never has been. Never will be. You would think if you were going to endorse a Democrat, endorse one that is actually a Democrat and one that knows something about what he is running for.

Forget, for a moment, the mischaracterization of Hank's position on global trade (he's for FAIR not FREE trade... I think we can all agree that the effect of free trade has been detrimental on balance to this country as we've seen GDP go up and wage growth stagnate). The issue is Hank's opposition to impounding, under water, 72,000 acres of productive land in East Texas. And what the DMN failed to mention is that the water district that covers Dallas is the most wasteful in the state.

Hank's position, which he made clear, was to enhance conservation and begin building desalinization plants capable of producing the water that Texas needs. For one thing, desertification is becoming a problem in Texas and rainfall more and more erratic. In point of fact, reservoirs are just not going to cut it. We need a better solution and pressure exchange desalinization is very cheap and very easy. Who knows, maybe our good buddy on the Ed Board William McKenzie just hasn't been keeping up with changes in technology.

There's only one person who deserves to be the Democratic nominee for ag commissioner, and it's not Kinky Friedman.

Monday, February 08, 2010

White: no moratoria on death penalty, drilling in Barnett Shale

And for this Democratic primary voter (and soon-to-be precinct chair), that means 'no' on Bill White.
Asked whether there should be a moratorium imposed, Shami said, "Yes ma'am. We need to be 110 percent" certain that a person is guilty. "We can't be just executing people without being sure," Shami said. "We cannot be bragging how many people we execute."

"No," said White to the same question about a death-penalty moratorium, "not in all cases." White said an absolute moratorium would "disrespect" juries, victims and the justice system, but he said there should be extensive investigation in cases in which there are questions about guilt.

"I will never introduce politics into questions of life or death," added White, citing in an indirect slap at GOP Gov. Rick Perry the Forensic Science Commission. ... "By and large, this is a just system ... We also need to look after the rights of those victims."

"We need an immediate moratorium on drilling in the Barnett Shale until the natural gas companies can conclusively show their drilling will not have a negative impact on the public health of those people living in the area. We can always drill later, but you cannot cure the cancer these chemicals can cause."

... The Fort Worth Star Telegram Reported on January 19th that White said, "Companies ought to be able to conduct fracturing operations and completions of gas wells in responsible fashions that don't lead to emissions," he said. "If there are elevated levels of benzene, there ought to be actions taken at the wellhead ... and technology does allow that to be done."

Burnt Orange carried the liveblog again and duplicated the feed on the White site, while Shami's crew did the same.  (Watching both simultaneously was a dizzying experince in twin campaign spin from opposite directions.) The Texas Blue didn't try that again but did get their take up first.

More reactions as they roll in.

Update: Texas Cloverleaf ...

I just watched an utter disaster of a Democratic TX Governor's candidate debate between Bill White and Farouk Shami. It pretty much determined my vote will be for White, though be it with some reservations still. Shami may be a good guy and a good businessman, but he isn't ready to lead Texas. Although the Shami campaign already claimed a win, I think it was on Planet CHI that he won anything. That debate went hands down to Bill White for being prepared, knowing what the Governor does, and being able to answer the questions (though he didn't have to answer whether he would repeal the gay marriage ban or not- what's up with that??).

Harvey Kronberg:

Bill White and Farouk Shami shared a stage in Fort Worth tonight but, truth be told, the men weren’t in the same debate.

And that’s OK. They had different bars to clear and for the most part they cleared them.

As the Houston Chronicle’s Rick Casey pointed out in his column this morning, White won simply by having a debate at which to show up. An hour on statewide TV where he was sharp and hit his marks was probably worth millions that he otherwise would have had to spend on paid TV.

Texas Liberal:

I’ll offer two thoughts—

1. The person you see in the picture above is quite rude and condescending. Her name is Shelley Kofler and she was one of the panelists this evening for the debate.

She was abrasive and condescending to candidate Farouk Shami many times during the debate. Ms. Kofler appears to have an extensive resume in television reporting and I’m sure she is quite well-informed about Texas politics. Yet at the same time, she is abrasive for no clear reason.

2. The debate tonight was the second time I’ve heard Mr. Shami speak and I find him more coherent than I think he comes off to many voters. There is an underlying theme of decency and fair-play in his campaign message. Maybe it is all an act, but I’d be open to the guy if he’d not go on about stuff like jobs for all and free electricity. That kind of talk is simply not credible.

"Who Dat?" Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance congratulates the city of New Orleans for the Saints' stirring Super Bowl victory, and reminds them that the "hair of the dog" trick doesn't really help with the hangover.

The Texas Cloverleaf highlights the sentencing of GOP Denton County Constable Ken Jannereth. Probation, anger management, laying off the bottle, and maybe more to come for the disgraced lawman.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is watching two Texas Counties fight it out with their district attorneys over legal duties.

Bay Area Houston says Teabaggers claim illiterate Blacks elected Obama.

Is your gas wet or dry? Despite industry spin, it seems to not matter. TCEQ testing shows Barnett Shale "Dry Gas" health hazard. TXsharon thanks state representative Lon Burnam for wading through the recent TCEQ testing report to find the truth, in Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS.

Over at TexasKaos, lightseeker connects Obama's big picture with our big picture in Obama's Problem is Our Problem In a Nutshell. Is our future Sarah Palin, Tea Baggers, and failure?

This week at Left of College Station, Teddy interviews several members of the GLBTcommunity at Texas A&M while investigating what it is like to be gay in Aggieland. LoCS also takes a look at American's ignorance of current events and the political process and has a report on the local campaign spending and donations. Left of College Station also covers the week in headlines.

McBlogger notes that the Nuge was campaigning for 39% over the weekend. Can't you just feel the greasy, smelly excitement?

WCNews at Eye On Williamson looks at how the legislature is already laying the groundwork for adding sales taxes to items currently excluded like bottled water, basic internet service, and coin operated services in House Ways and Means Committee to look at "Certain Sales Tax Exemptions & Exclusions.

Off the Kuff looks at the effect of the "Citizens United" ruling on judicial elections in Texas.

WhosPlayin is neck-deep in local issues in North Texas, having spent the weekend with the Lewisville City Council at their retreat, and noting that the local school district is discouraging candidates from running for school board.

This week at Texas Vox Citizen Sarah geeked out on the new energy generation plan presented to Austin City Council. May not sound too snazzy but there's enormous potential there to reduce carbon emissions, build up our local economy, and improve public health with this plan, so she thinks it is pretty cool.

Neil at Texas Liberal commented that office building janitors in Houston have set up a Facebook page as they prepare for a new round of contract negotiations in 2010. All work has merit and all people should be paid a living wage.

Yesterday was huge for New Orleans but it was also TeaBagger Rally Day in northwest Harris County, as PDiddie at Brains and Eggs recounted in "Rick and Ted's (and Sarah's) Excellent Super Bowl Sunday Venture".