Thursday, January 06, 2011

The changing of the guard

This article is revealing for the behind-the-scenes minutia ...

The House and the Senate have a split personality by design, but Wednesday's debut of the 112th Congress revealed a stark contrast between the two chambers that could define the direction of every major debate over the next two years. 

I won't be very interested in what goes on in the House of Representatives for obvious reasons. Beyond pointing out the hypocrisy and documenting the too-frequent atrocity, the House will be consumed with demagoguery, personified in the orange form of Weeper Boehner. The Senate is much more interesting, with its new cast of characters and dynamics.

A group of Senate Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008, who provided the critical margins for Obama's early agenda, has begun an effort to change the chamber's filibuster rules to limit the minority's power to stall or block legislation. Reid, who as minority leader five years ago beat back a similar effort by Republicans, has expressed support for the junior Democrats, but he is in private negotiations with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reach a compromise that would nominally change the rules without diluting the potency of the filibuster. ...

The Senate's Republican expansion brought only a few true outsiders and many more veterans of past Congresses and presidential administrations.

Among the notables: Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), a former House member, White House budget director and U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush; Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a former House leader; and Sen. Dan Coats (Ind.), a former congressman, senator, ambassador and top Washington lobbyist, were sworn in after easily winning seats that were once considered toss-ups. Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), a former congressman, recently served as president of the conservative group Club for Growth.

These experienced freshmen mingled on the Senate floor with the confidence of longtime committee chairmen. Portman, a fiscal expert who is well liked in both parties, greeted a parade of new colleagues who approached to wish him well. Blunt, who learned the legislative trade while working alongside the sharply partisan former congressman Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), exchanged a few private words with Vice President Biden.

Other newcomers took time to soak in their surroundings. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a former businessman who defeated Sen. Russell Feingold (D), opened the lid of his mahogany desk to explore its interior. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who also won her first election in November, scanned the packed visitors gallery.

The Senate Class of 2010 seems downright youthful, compared with many of the veterans of the chamber. Sens. Ayotte, Toomey, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are younger than 50. Rubio, a star of the tea party movement, is 39.

Gone from just two years ago, of course, are liberal lions Kennedy and Byrd, along with Feingold, Chris Dodd, and Byron Dorgan. Moderates -- this term is used loosely and in comparison to their replacements -- Arlen Specter, George Voinovich, Evan Bayh and Robert Bennett retired, voluntarily as well as in-.

The House GOP's healthcare 'repeal' gambit is designed to cast Democrats in the Senate as obstructionists -- a tired reprise -- which lays the groundwork for 2012's call to "send us more reinforcements". Frank Luntz has gotten so predictable.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

36 states will send their radioactive waste to Texas

Thanks, Rick Perry:

HOUSTON — A Texas commission approved rules on Tuesday that pave the way for 36 states to export low-level radioactive waste to a remote landfill along the Texas-New Mexico border.

The 5-2 vote by the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Commission came after last-minute legal maneuvering on Monday failed to delay the meeting, environmentalists warned the dump would pollute groundwater and more than 5,000 people commented on the plan.

You may recall the posts here about this.

...(T)he site's owner, Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists, convinced the commission the West Texas landfill was a secure solution to permanently dump radioactive waste. Until now, the site has only accepted waste from Texas, Vermont and the federal government.

"We are certainly very pleased and happy," CEO Bill Lindquist told The Associated Press after the vote in Andrews, Texas.

As Texas Vox noted two weeks ago, Waste Control Specialists is owned by Harold Simmons, a big Perry contributor. Imagine that.

Harold Simmons, whose company owns this dump, has spread his cash far and wide, giving Governor Perry over $1 million since 2000 (making him the governor’s 2nd largest individual donor) and funding campaigns for every member of the Texas Supreme Court among others. While Simmons gets to make billions off this waste, Texans will get the responsibility for managing it for 10,000 years and cleaning it up -- Mr. Simmons’ license expires in just 15 years.

But the other crony involved here is Perry appointee and nuke waste "czar" Michael Ford, chairman of the TLLRWDCC.

Ford brought up this bad idea last summer, but polls showed a majority of Texans didn’t like the proposal. Bill White made it an election issue, accusing Governor Perry of making the state a radioactive waste dump to benefit his donor. So Perry’s Waste Czar pulled the proposal, waiting until day after the election to announce that the process would move forward once more.

But announcing a meeting the day after the election with just 10-days notice for people to travel to Midland (where the capitol press would be unlikely to follow), and then posting the rule itself such that the comment period would meet the literal definition of “the holidays” was only the beginning for Mr. Ford.

A commissioner named Bob Gregory who, like Ford, was appointed by Governor Perry asked that the comment period on this rule be extended to 90 days since a 30 day comment period would transpire during the holidays when most people are too busy to pay much attention to matters of civic engagement. Mr. Ford and 4 other members of the TLLRWDCC voted against Mr. Gregory’s very reasonable solution for this very obvious problem.

The bottom line is that Mr. Ford and several of the commissioners are afraid of public scrutiny. Last spring they received over 2,000 comments from Texans opposed to the rule. That was before the issue made the front pages of newspapers all across the state, so they have good reason to be afraid.

HuffPo and Yahoo have moved the AP story through the wire, but no mention yet at Houston's newspaper of record. Will link here when it finally appears. Although they do have the report yesterday of the 15,000 gallons of beef tallow that spilled into the Houston Ship Channel, along with the usual tasteless sarcasm of the Chronically Conservative Comment Regiment. One classy sample:

"Throw in some produce and make soup for the homeless."


The Coast Guard says a nearly one-mile stretch of the Houston Ship Channel will be closed for at least four days as workers use pitchforks and fishnets to corral, pierce and remove 15,000 gallons of beef fat. ...

On Tuesday, about 250,000 gallons of beef fat leaked from a storage tank, and some reached the waterway through a storm drain. The fat solidified when it hit the colder water.

Initially, the Coast Guard thought the channel would reopen early Thursday. But Brahm says the cleanup is taking longer than expected. By late Wednesday only 25 percent of the mess had been removed.

Oh, and did we mention that Greg Abbott found a federal judge to stall EPA's takeover of the permit process for Texas' air-fouling refineries and chemical plants?

Monday, January 03, 2011

2011's first Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes everyone a happy and prosperous New Year as it brings you the first blog roundup of 2011.

Off the Kuff took another look at the coming fight over class size limits.

Who decides who suffers in the Barnett Shale? TXsharon ponders this question at Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS. Unless you are a decider, you will eventually suffer.

With "Death Panels" being resurrected in 2011, Bay Area Houston has posted "An Idiots Guide to Surviving Obama's Death Panels".

Reverend Manny at BlueBloggin takes an in-depth look at Bankster Privilege and the Threat of Right Wing Terrorism in 2011-2012. Since the Bush Cabal was thrown out after 25 years of profiteering and warmongering, and the centrist Obama put in place to preside over a bankster-collapsed economy, there has been a 250% increase in bankster-sponsored racist and/or separatist right wing groups that openly brandish their capability and willingness for violence. There is a convenience of more than just happenstance for the large corporations that dominate our society. For every "tea party" stance they support -- for example, smaller school budgets -- there is a huge profit margin for the corporates. Those same companies fund most of the paranoid right-wing politicians, who in turn cater to both their violent racist base AND to their banker sponsors.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes that the republicans will use any excuse to kill public education in Texas.

An update on the Keystone XL pipeline, the proposed nuclear waste dump in west Texas, and the prospects for DREAM in the next Congress are all part of this aggre-post by PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

Neil at Texas Liberal marked the 165th anniversary of Texas statehood. This post includes links to a number of good reference sources so we may learn more about our state. Also included is a picture of President Obama, meant to indicate that Texas is just one state of 50 in our federal union. Let's all get it through our heads: the federal government in Washington is the supreme governmental authority of the land.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Political races to watch in 2011 *with updates*

Via Texas on the Potomac's Richard Dunham (no, Houston's municipals did not make his cut):

One sign of the off-year election malaise: The vote with the greatest national significance all year long might be a summertime presidential straw poll in Iowa.


The Chicago mayoral race

Can former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel come home again? The trash-talking, hard-charging Democrat is the favorite to replace Mayor Daley, but he can't afford to take anything for granted. The diverse field includes former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Rep. Danny Davis, former Board of Education president Gery Chico and City Clerk Miguel del Valle.

Davis has already pulled out and called for African-American voters to support Moseley Braun against the Rahminator.

The Iowa Republican presidential straw poll

The most important vote in 2011 isn't even a real election. It's the Republican Party of Iowa's 2011 Iowa Straw Poll, set for Aug. 14 at the Iowa State Center in Ames. This is an early test of White House wannabes' organizational skills — and an early chance for presidential campaign "spinners" to practice their craft.

Iowa is Huckabee territory. He'll win this beauty contest, and I'll join others in predicting that the Huckster becomes the eventual 2012 Republick nominee.

Dunham's less intriguing picks are here. The only other item worth noting is that Dallas mayor Tom Leppert may step into a GOP primary for the US Senate in 2012. That would be against the enigmatic Kay Bailey, should she deign to stand again for re-election (I predict she will not). He'll be the only non-Teabagger in that race if he does, which means he'll get slaughtered. As far as that primary goes, pay attention only to those who prostrate themselves before the Tea Pees, such as the Williams twins ... Roger and Michael.

Jockeying  for Houston city council positions has barely begun, as several incumbent Democrats in both the statehouse and the courtrooms hit the unemployment line with the changing of the calendar. Some decisions will wait to be made until the redistricting maps for the four new 2012 Congressional seats are known, sometime this spring. Recently retired Sylvia Garcia would be at the top of anyone's list, to be sure.

My favorite municipal elections rumor du jour has former state representative Ellen Cohen considering a run for the 'C' seat being vacated by term-limited Anne Clusterfuck Clutterbuck, who's already not-so-quietly marshaling forces and funds for a challenge to Mayor Annise Parker.

Update III: Kuffner links to Houston Community News, which has more on this development.

Then there's good ol' Bill King, who's busy giving everybody on both sides "tips". Campos likes him, so he's not entirely friendless.

For those of you plugged in to the local rumor mill, what are you hearing? Let me know in the comments. Who -- besides Aaron Pena in the RGV, of course -- wants to run for Congress in 2012? And/or city council or mayor in 2011?

Update: Kuffner, as always, has more.

Update II:

In addition to former police chief and current City Council Member C.O. Bradford, one potential candidate that has warranted frequent mention is former Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.

The "Taxman," as he often refers to himself, has grown into a foil for Parker on water rate increases and the city's upcoming fight to pass a drainage fee after it was mandated by Proposition 1, a referendum voters narrowly approved in November.

Parker didn't have much to say about a potential Bettencourt candidacy, except a dig or two:

"One can only hope," she said at her Wednesday press conference, laughing loudly.