Thursday, September 12, 2013

KXL: When you've lost the hedge fund billionaires...

... you probably deserve to lose.

Unexpected environmental activism coming from the one percent: Billionaire investor Tom Steyer said he is backing a four-part, $1 million advertising campaign aimed at convincing viewers the Keystone XL pipeline will hurt the economy and communities and should be blocked. See his first ad above.

“Foreign countries will get more access to more oil to make more products to sell back to us, undercutting our economy,” Steyer, founder of the hedge fund Farallon Capital Management LLC, says in the advertisement. “Here’s the truth: Keystone oil will travel through America not to America.”

The evidence against this boondoggle just keeps piling up.  Maybe a 1%er has the clout to cut through the BS and make the case that the president needs to hear (and support).

The curious case of the missing domestic partnership benefits in Houston *update*

Noah at Texpatriate.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Parker has doubled down on her calls to institute a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people in Houston.

Do go read the Chron piece and then pick it up with Texpat again. I'll excerpt.

When Mayor Lee Brown took office in 1998, he issued an executive order forbidding municipal employees from discrimination because of sexual orientation. In 2010, Mayor Parker took office, she expanded this to also include gender identity. The San Antonio ordinance, by comparison, prohibits employment discrimination in all forms and bans all city-condoned discrimination, including in public housing.

Gay rights has a somewhat long and tumultuous history in this city. In 1984, the City Council, under the leadership of Mayor Kathy Whitmire, passed an ordinance protecting municipal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The next year, voters strongly disavowed the ordinance, in an epic moment of homophobia that climaxed with Louie Welch saying the solution to the AIDS epidemic was to “shoot the queers.”

Mayor Brown restored the protections in 1998, and attempted to push through a domestic partnership package near the end of his career, in 2001. At that point, a charter amendment was approved –with a mere 52% of the vote– to ban any “plus-one” benefits for municipal employees. If 2001, the height of the culture wars and homophobia, could only muster 52% in support of discrimination, a repeal effort would surely cruise to victory today.

Noah goes on to observe that Parker (and Ben Hall and Eric Dick) have all straddled the fence on this issue. I can't say that the equivocation surprises me.

In our bloggers' luncheon with the mayor last week, this topic barely came up.  In fact I have nothing in my notes at all about it, though do remember some brief mention.  (We spent several minutes on annexation, for some ridiculous reason.)  You may recall that CNN's John King raised it with Parker in a personal way, asking when she would be able to marry her partner Kathy in Houston.  Watch the video again to see how she dodged the question with her answer.  For his part, Ben Hall did speak the truth in the same segment when he said "Anybody who brings up that issue, I think, misserves the city."

Most of the city's largest corporations now offer domestic partnership benefits, which in strange irony makes them more liberal than the City of Houston.  And as I have posted before, 2013 has been a very good year for gay people all across the country.  But the progress locally seems to have stalled out over the past decade. 

As far as the current election season goes -- and to be brutally candid about it -- there isn't a single mayoral candidate that wants to publicly broach this subject in strong support or opposition.  And the reason is that they are all too risk-averse with segments of the electorate that have strong views about the topic -- and are at diametric odds.

Because there will be a runoff anyway -- sorry, but you're wrong again, Bob -- and because both the HGLBT Caucus and the one headed by Dave Wilson carry significant influence and votes in Houston city elections, all of the candidates with something to lose are going to 1) march in the Pride Parade and 2) refuse to go on the record about the San Antonio ordinance and its prospects for passage in Houston.

Which should tell you everything you need to know about leadership, and principles, and convictions (beyond simply getting elected, that is).

Update: From the comments, Texas Leftist provides the interview with Parker where she is on the record about San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance. Here's the important part (Parker speaking).

I am unwilling to bring an issue forward when I know there aren't sufficient votes to pass it. A non-discrimination ordinance would be important, but I am more interested in seeing discrimination removed from our city charter.

The city is prohibited by charter from offering domestic partner benefits or from recognizing the domestic relationships of our gay and lesbian employees. It would require a vote of the citizens to undo. I hope Council will join me in placing it on the ballot at the appropriate time.

And here's Parker speaking again, quoted by the Chron.

"It is absolutely something we should do, and the majority of council members have publicly stated they are in support of a nondiscrimination ordinance," ... "But this is an issue that requires all of council to be engaged and agree it is time to move it forward. When it happens, we will do that."

Parker's spokeswoman Janice Evans said no action is expected before next year, and no specifics have been discussed.

Considering the time elapsed between quotes (April 2013 and September) and the momentum for equality that has been building all summer, let's leave the contradictions aside and take the more recent statement at face value.  What, then, are we waiting for now?  I know the answer to this question already: "after the election in November, and the runoff in December".

As a refresher, Houston's government is of the "strong" mayor variety. Nothing happens without the mayor's initiative.  Bill White's claim to fame as a leader was that he sought consensus before items came up at council meetings for a vote. So is there a majority on council in favor... or not?   Is the charter language really the primary hindrance, or is somebody afraid of what Greg Abbott might do?

Yes, the city charter should be revised, but the work done to have that on the ballot could have been undertaken a long time ago.  As in years ago.

Wayne (Texas Leftist) made the same point in April that I'm making now: in terms of advocating for non-discrimination, the time is now -- as in yesterday, or sometime in the past four years, and even in the six years before that, when Houston had another too-cautious, too-conservative Democrat for a mayor.

Update II: To clarify, it is a fair criticism of this post to to say that there is plenty of evidence of vocal support for a non-discrimination ordinance among council and the mayor. I could have written that there is "no evidence of support for holding a vote" on the matter, in order to have been the most accurate.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

GOP pantsed again by Obama

Everybody should be clear on the fact that I'm no great fan of this president (since at least 2009, by my own accounting), but last night ... he pulled the Republicans' Dockers down around their ankles once more. For the second time in two weeks.

He gave the only speech he could give, but with one little surprise: a concession to those of us -- on the right and on the left -- who have called for peace.

I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.  I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin.  I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons, and to ultimately destroy them under international control.  We’ll also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st. 

That's pretty much everything a pacifist could ask for (short of a unilateral stand-down declaration, anyway) at this juncture.

Of course, some people just can't be happy about anything.

As Dean Wormer of Faber College put it... fat, drunk, and stupid -- aka "No war! What? No war?! Coward!" -- is just no way to go through life.

Let's look at this 'Putin got the best of Obama' business again.  When John Kerry mumbled a recourse for Assad to avoid getting bombed a couple of days ago, that wasn't an oops moment, as it seemed at the time.

While it's not clear whether Kerry had planned in advance to make that remark on Monday, the concept had been first proposed more than a year earlier.

"This wasn't an accident," a top White House official told The Huffington Post.

A senior administration official confirmed that President Barack Obama and Putin first discussed the concept in Los Cabos at the G-20 in June 2012. It was then brought up again at the most recent G-20 in Russia; while world leaders were mingling after the first plenary session, Obama and Putin went to a corner of the room and spoke for nearly half an hour about Syria.

You just don't see a president give back to Congress a few decades' worth of accumulated executive authority, nor have we often witnessed a president pull back from the brink of war to let the diplomats have another crack at it.

No, the president didn't change anybody's mind about whether to bomb Syria. Those of us who oppose it still do; those who think it's a good idea still think that this morning.  What I don't get is how international diplomacy exercised to avoid an End of Days military conflagration -- allegedly -- is such a terrible development.

But then I don't suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome.

To be fair and balanced, not everybody completely agrees with me. That hilarious John-Kerry-as-Mr.-Magoo moment does, however, seem to miss the point in the HuffPo article linked and excerpted above, and not because it was recorded a few hours before Obama took to the lectern last night.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Libs (both kinds)

Remember what I said a couple of months ago (scroll down) about Libertarians and Greens being closer together on the political spectrum circle, and Ds and Rs grouped on the other side? This latest development with regard to our next war is more about how that is evolving.

As the struggle to secure House votes for or against authorization for military strikes in Syria accelerates, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has started making plans to team up with isolationist conservatives to stop the resolution, TPM has learned.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has become the leader of the progressive resistance. He is planning an “ad hoc whip operation,” as he called it in a phone interview with TPM. That includes supplying other aligned members with talking points and giving them the names of undecided colleagues to lobby for a no vote.

Grayson’s office has also been in touch with staffs for Republicans who oppose military action against Syria, such as tea party favorite Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), about crafting an organized strategy for lobbying no votes.

It started with opposition to NSA spying, and has gained strength as Syria comes into focus.

How real are the prospects for a genuine alliance against action in Syria between progressive anti-war Democrats and isolationist Tea Party libertarians?

Dem Rep. Alan Grayson, a leader of the anti-war wing of the House Democratic caucus, tells TPM’s Dylan Scott he is organizing across the aisle to create such an alliance by gearing up an “ad hoc whip organization.” This sort of right-left alliance is often discussed but rarely materializes. But this time there could be something to it.

Here’s a way to look at it. I compared the current whip count of Members of Congress who are firm or leaning No votes on Syria right now, with the Members who voted Yes on the recent amendment to end bulk NSA surveillance that corralled a surprising amount of bipartisan support. The vote on that amendment — which was sponsored by GOP Rep. Justin Amash and Dem Rep. John Conyers — was perhaps the clearest demonstration of such a developing alliance we’ve seen.

The overlap is striking. I count nearly four dozen Representatives — from both parties — that are on both lists. In other words, even though it’s early in the whipping process on Syria, we’re already seeing substantial numbers of Members who voted to end NSA surveillance now coming out or leaning against action in Syria.

Overlook, for the moment, the deep hypocrisy of Republican war hawks turning themselves into doves since it's Obama now in the Oval Office.  (Lies about weapons of mass destruction suddenly concern them ten years after?  Really?!) 

Despite this two-faced duplicitousness, there is more common ground being cultivated among the far right and the far left than there is among partisan Democrats and Republicans.

It's not your father's two-party system any more.  Just be careful where you apply those labels.

Update: Glenn Greenwald agrees...

To say that there is a major sea change underway -- not just in terms of surveillance policy but broader issues of secrecy, trust in national security institutions, and civil liberties -- is to state the obvious. But perhaps the most significant and enduring change will be the erosion of the trite, tired prism of partisan simplicity through which American politics has been understood over the last decade. What one sees in this debate is not Democrat v. Republican or left v. right. One sees authoritarianism v. individualism, fealty to The National Security State v. a belief in the need to constrain and check it, insider Washington loyalty v. outsider independence. 

... and emphasizes the larger point: that establishment Republicans and Democrats in Congress are lined up together to advance the interests of the elite against the hoi polloi.