Friday, January 08, 2016

Wasserman Schultz draws a primary challenger

Maybe she will finally get the message: "It's over. Resign from the DNC or be booted from Congress (or both, preferably)."

Here's a snip from his bio:

Canova was an early critic of financial deregulation and the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan. In the 1980s, he wrote critically of the federal bailout of Continental Illinois, the nation’s seventh largest commercial bank, and the collapse of the savings & loan industry. In the 1990s, prior to the Asian currency contagion, he argued against the liberalization of capital accounts. Throughout the Bush administration, he warned of an impending crisis in the bubble economy. Since 2008, he has lectured and written widely on the causes and consequences of the present economic and financial crisis. In 2011, Tim Canova was appointed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to serve on an Advisory Committee on Federal Reserve Reform with leading economists, including Jeffrey Sachs, Robert Reich, James Galbraith, and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stieglitz..."

Frankly he could be Bernie's running mate and I'd be almost as happy.  But DWS needs to go and Canova is virtually a dream replacement for her.

Canova's entry is the culmination of a pretty horrible week for Wasserman Schultz; I've signed no fewer than five different petitions from various organizations, which have collected tens of thousands of signatures in a matter of days, calling for her resignation from the DNC.  Her refusal to expand the primary debate schedule, her suspending the Sanders campaign from its voter lists, and associated misconduct seems to have finally caught up to her, but she's made her situation much worse just this week.  In a gaffe she certainly never saw coming, she outed herself as a abolitionist on marijuana even as she has taken money from alcohol PACs.  The Intercept has the best executive summary of this appalling ignorance and hypocrisy.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the New York Times  she continues to oppose legalizing marijuana — even as she has courted alcohol PACs as one of the largest sources of her campaign funding.

Wasserman Schultz, a House Democrat from Florida, said she doesn’t “think we should legalize more mind-altering substances if we want to make it less likely that people travel down the path toward using drugs. We have had a resurgence of drug use instead of a decline. There is a huge heroin epidemic.”

The fifth-largest pool of money the congresswoman has collected for her re-election campaign has been from the beer, wine, and liquor industry. The $18,500 came from PACs including Bacardi USA, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Southern Wine & Spirits, and the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that during a recent period, “excessive drinking was responsible for one in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64.”

When pushed by interviewer Ana Marie Cox, Wasserman Schultz said that she was “bothered by the drug culture that surrounded my childhood — not mine personally. I grew up in suburbia.”
Cox pointed out that despite the dramatic problem with opiate abuse, the state has not made opiates illegal. Wasserman Schultz responded by saying that there “is a difference between opiates and marijuana.”

She’s right about that. An estimated 8,257 Americans perished from heroin-related drug poisoning in 2013. Nearly twice as many — 16,235 — died from opioid analgesics.

There have been roughly zero deaths from marijuana abuse.

In 2014, 64 percent of self-identified Democrats told Gallup they support marijuana legalization.

Jack Moore at GQ limited his criticism to "DWS saying some stupid things about drugs", but a Democratic mega-donor -- who noted that she took sides with Republican financier Sheldon Adelson in the 2014 campaign against Florida's medical marijuana initiative, was more blunt at the time.

(John) Morgan criticized Wasserman Schultz's position. “I know personally the most-powerful players in Washington, D.C. And I can tell you that Debbie Wasserman Schultz isn’t just disliked. She’s despised. She’s an irritant," Morgan told the Miami Herald (in June, 2014). “Why she’s trying to undermine this amendment I don’t know. But I’ll tell you, I will never give a penny or raise a penny for the national party while she’s in leadership. And I have given and helped raise millions.”

Morgan obviously caught the early train on DWS.  And when she offered to flip-flop on the issue if Morgan would take back what he said, he was similarly terse:

“No,” Morgan responded. “She is a bully. I beat bullies up for a living.”

From the wayback machine and 2008 -- before her tenure as party chair began, to be clear -- we can be reminded that the DNC chairwoman supported incumbent Republicans over Democratic challengers because 'they had to work together on regional issues".  Why, Florida is just like Texas in this regard.  Do you remember that alleged progressive state representative  Garnet Coleman once said the same thing about Robert Talton?  Esquire's Charles Pierce also mentions the "bipartisan" crapola -- and Wasserman Schultz's opposition to the Iran nuclear bargain, the Cuban detente, and her financial support from the private prison industry -- when he hung out the "Help Wanted' sign at the DNC in August.

So there's a history there. But this latest fiasco is different by an order of magnitude. If DWS wants to oppose the Iran deal in her capacity as an otherwise insignificant member of the House minority, that's fine with me. But if, as it appears, as national chairman of the president's party, she actively campaigned against a measure designed to show the support of the president's party for a monumentally important White House policy initiative, then she should have been fired from that post yesterday.

She has also recently demonstrated a remarkable disconnect with what women of a generation younger than hers think about their reproductive freedoms.

Progressives and pro-choice activists are criticizing Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for saying she's seen "complacency" among young women born after the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling, a landmark decision that established the right to an abortion. 

"Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided," she told The New York Times in an interview. 

Poor choice of words at best.  Rejoinder from Twitter and from the head of a group advocating for women's choice:

Kierra Johnson, the executive director of Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity ... suggested young people view women's health issues from a different perspective. 

"There is energy among young people around these issues -- it just may not be happening in the way that Rep. Wasserman Shultz is used to seeing," she said in a statement. "The young people that are drawn into this movement today don't see reproductive justice as wholly separate from LGBTQ equality or from racial justice or economic justice or a host of other issues." 

Wasserman Schultz just shows up lately as tone-deaf on a host of current political topics, and it's approaching toxicity for Hillary Clinton's campaign.  Not in the same way that Rahm Emanuel's widespread corruption does, but both of them represent Clinton cronyism -- yep, that's what it is, and I'll expand on it in a future post -- at its very worst.

As I said before though, I'm more than happy if she stays on at the DNC, damaging Clinton's prospects further.  That's a development I'm delighted to keep track of.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Scattershooting while playing nurse

... to a recovering knee replacement patient ...

-- Joe Biden has some regrets about not running in 2016.  'Some', as in "every day".

Still, he said he made the right call for his family and for himself. And he pledged to stay "deeply involved" in the race to replace President Barack Obama.

"We've got two good candidates," Biden said, praising Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for engaging in a "robust debate" devoid of personal attacks. He glossed over the third candidate running for the Democratic nomination, Martin O'Malley, whose campaign has struggled to gain traction.

That was kind of uncharacteristically rude of Uncle Joe, wasn't it? 

-- Bernie Sanders does indeed have a credibility problem on guns.  Matt Bai:

President Obama pushed guns to the top of the national agenda this week, announcing a series of modest executive actions to be followed by a televised town hall Thursday. And that’s probably not the best news in the world for Bernie Sanders, who’s making a serious push in Iowa just four weeks before the caucuses, and who would rather be talking about almost anything else.

The problem here for Sanders isn’t just that the renewed conversation on guns takes away from his monastic focus on economic fairness, which he renewed with a combative speech in Manhattan Tuesday. Nor is it simply that gun violence is the one issue where Sanders, who needs to consolidate the populist left of his party, has been decidedly less liberal than either of his rivals.

The real issue is that, if you pay close attention, the logic Sanders deploys to defend his record on guns just happens to undermine the very core of his case for the presidency — and his case against Hillary Clinton, too.

Gun safety finally coming to the forefront of the nation's attention as an actionable item picked a bad time for Bernie Sanders' campaign, and his rural-state gun mentality. 

There have been only a handful of truly pivotal congressional votes to broadly redefine gun rights in modern America. The first was in 1968, in the aftermath of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, when Congress voted to prohibit certain kinds of citizens — convicted felons, fugitives, “mental defectives” — from walking into a store and buying a gun.

That stood as the defining law of the land until 1993, when Bill Clinton led a successful and divisive push to expand those restrictions through what came to be known as the Brady Law. That law instituted a mandatory waiting period (now three days) for all guns bought through licensed gun stores, so that federal background checks could be completed. The following year, Congress added a ban on certain assault-style weapons, which the industry quickly circumvented.

None of this, however, stopped the flow of illegal guns into American cities. So in the late ’90s, a coalition of cities, inspired by the successful litigation against the tobacco industry, started suing the gun industry and some of the less scrupulous dealers, charging that they were negligent in their business practices and asking to be recouped for the costs of gun violence.

In 2006, after years of trying, the gun lobby finally succeeded in getting Congress to grant special legal immunity to gun makers and dealers, effectively shielding them from any liability having to do with basic negligence. This was an extraordinary intervention on behalf of an entire industry, unparalleled in the modern annals of Congress.

So where was Sanders in all this? As a second-term congressman, he steadfastly opposed the Brady Law (although he did bring himself to vote for the largely symbolic assault-weapons ban). In 2006, when he was running for Senate, he voted with pro-gun, pro-corporate Republicans on the odious immunity bill.


On the two most meaningful pieces of gun legislation in American history — one that is the foundation for federal gun restrictions, and the other a clear effort by lobbyists to use their muscle to subvert the legal process — Sanders came out on the side of industry. Whatever other votes he’s taken since becoming a senator (including one to extend Brady to private sellers at gun shows) have to be considered less consequential.

Most of Bernie's supporters tend to studiously ignore this glaringly objectionable policy stance in much the same way that Shrillaries don't talk about her Wall Street largesse or her bellicose foreign policy.

One of these deficiencies in principle will be a fatal flaw in the spring, the other could very well be in the fall.  Especially if Hezbubba, the most scared and unprepared of all Americans, are convinced that their votes for Donald Trump will make the difference.  (Thinking that voting doesn't matter is an ignorance that usually only Democratic-leaners suffer from, as we know.) 

When Sanders and his supporters defend his votes, they like to make the point that Sanders has represented Vermont, where an awful lot of pickup trucks sport NRA stickers, and where an awful lot of gun dealers make a decent living and don’t want to get sued out of business.

“I come from a rural state, and the views on gun control in rural states are different than in urban states,” Sanders explained during the Democratic debate in Las Vegas in October. In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” last year, he said: “The people of my state understand, I think, pretty clearly, that guns in Vermont are not the same thing as guns in Chicago or guns in Los Angeles. In our state, guns are used for hunting.”

In other words, Sanders was representing the interests of his constituents. And you know what that makes Bernie Sanders?

A politician, that’s what.

And this is the problem the gun issue creates for Sanders. Because a politician is precisely what he purports not to be. His entire rationale as a candidate is that he alone chooses principle over polls, that he votes his convictions and can’t be corrupted by powerful interests or his own ambition.
Conversely, his main indictment of Clinton — which he laid out again this week, as Obama wept publicly over the human wreckage of gun violence — holds that she is a puppet of Wall Street, unwilling to break up the banks or re-institute 20th century regulations because she’s a creature of political calculation rather than conscience.

It turns out, though, that Sanders understands political reality, too. He voted against the Brady Law because it wasn’t popular or especially relevant in Vermont, and you can bet he was already eyeing higher office back then. He voted for immunity at the very moment when he was also running for an open Senate seat, and that’s not a coincidence.

There's more, but the point is made.  As close as Sanders might be to being the progressive populist's best option, he falls short on guns and on boondoggle military spending as long as it's in Vermont.

The sad part is that much of his support after March goes back underground, with only some declaring their bold pledge to write his name in on their ballots in November... a tremendous waste.  Keeping the best parts of of Bernie's political revolution going entails acting more intelligent than this.

In a tactical vein, if Hillary Clinton is on her game, she will strike down this hypocrisy of Sanders' at their next debate, just a few days from now in the South Carolina city where a white supremacist shot nine people in cold blood inside their church.

The next Democratic debate will be held a week from Sunday in Charleston, S.C., a city shattered by a horrific mass shooting last year. And you can be sure that Sanders will reprise the argument he made this week — that Clinton is a subsidiary of the bankers and their narrow agenda.

When he does, Clinton might point out that she’s no more a sellout to Wall Street than Sanders is to the gun lobby. Both candidates have shown themselves to be pragmatists when they need to be.

Only one of them admits it.

Meanwhile, in the other South Carolina shooting, the cop who put eight slugs into Walter Scott's back just walked.  (Some people say that's not a gun problem but a police problem, of course, and some of them might be right, if it weren't for the fact that the reason he's bonded out is because of Dylann Roof.)

-- I don't like to follow the Ken Paxton saga day to day because it is so disgusting.  Just understand that when you elect an admitted felon, you're going to wind up paying his legal bills, and the meter is spinning like a top on that shit.  It's not children and families who came across the border to seek a better life mooch free stuff off the government, it's criminals like Paxton and Rick Perry that are breaking the budget, wasting your tax dollars.

Hope that's clear now.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Harris County commissioner vacancy *update*

Update: El Franco Lee's political coffers were overflowing with cash at the time of his death.

When Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee died unexpectedly Sunday, he left friends and allies in mourning, political hopefuls jockeying for his job and an uncommonly large campaign war chest of nearly $4 million.

What happens to that sum -- which far outstrips the campaign cash held by all of his fellow commissioners combined -- remains an open question.

All elected officials are required to disburse their political reserves after leaving office, but campaign finance experts said the present situation is unusual given the extent of Lee's holdings, which his campaign treasurer now is tasked with distributing.

"This much money I've not seen before," Austin campaign finance lawyer Buck Wood said. Andrew Wheat, research director for the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, agreed.

"I can't remember this question coming up," Wheat said. "That's an extraordinary amount of money for a county commissioner to be sitting on."

We know four million bucks is chickenfeed for statewides and federal candidates these days, but unprecedented in a county official who rarely had competition.

He did not face a serious challenger in at least the last 20 years, but, nonetheless, accumulated a steady stream of money in his campaign account.

The commissioner took in an average of $250,000 per year from 2008 through 2014, the full years for which electronic finance reports are available, and spent an average of $200,000. That left Lee, the county's first African American commissioner, with $3.9 million in the bank as of last June.

You can understand now why everybody wants his job.

State law dictates that Lee's longtime friend and campaign treasurer, J. Kent Friedman, now must disseminate those leftover political funds to one or more of the following entities within the next six years: the Democratic Party, a candidate or political committee, a charity, a scholarship program at an institution of higher education, or the state treasury. He also may return money to Lee's donors.

Friedman said he has not considered what to do with the late commissioner's campaign account.
"I hadn't even thought about it until you asked the question," he said. "I haven't given it three seconds' worth of thought."

Wood noted that the executor of Lee's estate may have the right to replace the late commissioner's treasurer, but he could find no record of a case that clarifies the law regarding how the powers of a treasurer could be terminated or altered after a candidate's death.

"It's an unresolved issue," Wood said.

Original post: Check the comments here and then read this:

Within hours of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee's sudden death Sunday, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett received calls from three people vying for his seat.

Emmett, who alone must appoint a temporary successor, said he will not consider these three or five others who by day's end expressed their interest.

"There's such a thing as dignity," Emmett said on Monday.

That's what David in the comments of Sunday's post suggested, and I conceded.

Replacing Lee will be a two-step process which is complicated by where it falls in the election cycle. State law dictates when a sudden vacancy occurs, the county judge must pick a commissioner to complete the term, which in Lee's case is Jan. 1, 2017.

When the term ends, the commissioner's job comes up for election. However, at this point it's too late for candidates to submit their names for the March primary, and there is no Republican running for the seat.

After the primary, sometime in June, Democratic party officials for Precinct 1 will choose a replacement candidate for Lee. The candidate the party chooses will run unopposed in November.

Jill in the comments goes a little further, and the Chron article confirms.

Emmett said he hoped to announce a short-term appointee to the job in three weeks' time, when he returns from a previously scheduled vacation. Emmett, a centrist Republican, sought input Monday morning from Lee's staff to find an African-American Democrat for the job equipped to proceed with projects already underway. He said he wanted the individual to be in place in time to participate in the fiscal year budget process.

Lane Lewis, the Democratic Party chair for Harris County, will oversee part two of this process and believes it is in Emmett's best interest to appoint a caretaker who is ineligible to run or who would choose not to run instead of picking a viable candidate for the November balloting.

"I don't think he's interested in trying to be kingmaker; he's interested in having an honorable, respectable placeholder who can do the job while the process takes place over the next six to eight months," Lewis said.

So it will be the end of January before we know the immediate replacement, and sometime in the summer when the Democrats choose the person who will ultimately replace Lee.  As a commissioner, that is.  As a person, there's no replacing him.

While the succession process begins taking shape, staff at the Precinct 1 office gathered Monday at their first briefing without their boss at the head of the table, peppering the conversation with wry comments and insights.

Interactions among staffers at the offices were quiet, mostly wordless exchanges, punctuated by hugs, tears and a stream of calls from employees and constituents expressing condolences. The 285 precinct staffers sought to focus on getting back to work and "preserving Lee's legacy," said Judy Springer, the policy and fiscal services manager for the precinct.

"It's hard because we didn't lose a boss, we lost a friend," she said.

Very large shoes to fill.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Joan Huffman personifies the lack of ethics in the Texas Lege

She never deserved this job in the first place, but that's a long story from the 2008 archives I don't want to dig into.  Suffice it to say that she's who replaced Kyle Janek in SD-17, and we're stuck with her now.  Maybe Greg Abbott will back up his tough talk with some action against one of his own.  Then again, probably not.

How much should state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican, be required to disclose about her husband's 34 businesses, which include an array of local bars that are regulated by the state?

It's a question currently before the Texas Legislature that surfaced last session and helped derail Gov. Greg Abbott's reform agenda on ethics, which he called "the most important commodity we have as elected officials."

When Abbott made ethics reform a top priority a year ago, spousal disclosure wasn't front and center in a package of provisions that he designated as "emergency" items.

But it is on his radar screen now after an eleventh-hour maneuver by Huffman in which she inserted a clause into an unrelated ethics measure that answered the question about disclosure and her husband's businesses in a word: Nothing.

How the matter plays out could be a harbinger of progress in Texas, which is not known for the strength of its ethics laws -- hence Abbott's focus.

Huffman used to be my state senator before they redistricted me back into SD-13, where Rodney Ellis is rumored to be one of the guys who wants El Franco Lee's seat on Commissioners Court.  She's just as lousy as the article suggests, perhaps more so.

Abbott was forced to veto part of his own ethics agenda after Huffman's ploy would have enabled lawmakers to forgo disclosure of spousal holdings as long as they had no "actual control" over them. The governor said he wanted no part of "weakening our ethics laws," which now require lawmakers and officials to disclose property and financial interests that are considered "community property" in Texas, meaning they were acquired after two people are married.

Abbott said shortly after the session ended that he would ask the Legislature in 2017 to revisit his proposed reforms. But some watchdog groups questioned whether he was truly committed to the cause or merely interested in following through with an issue he used during his 2014 campaign.

Craig McDonald, director of the liberal-leaning nonprofit group Texans for Public Justice, credited Abbott for declaring ethics reform an "emergency" item so the Legislature could take quick action. But McDonald said Abbott failed to speak out during the session when lawmakers dragged their feet.

Abbott is loyal to a fault and expects the same in return, but it's hard to see (without looking at his campaign finance reports, that is) why he's letting Huffman and her spouse walk around exposed as shills like this.  Abbott is also well-attuned to any political threat; maybe this isn't one that's big enough to him yet.

You can sure smell Huffman's BS, though.

Huffman, in a recent interview, said that despite the governor's vetoes, she believes the issue related to spousal disclosure remains unresolved and promised a thorough review this year of that topic and other state ethics laws in her role as chairwoman of the State Affairs Committee.

The businesses owned by her husband, Keith Lawyer, may be "community property" in their marriage, but she said she believes the law requires disclosure of only those that she has "actual control" over.

"I could not go up to his office and say, 'I want to sell Luke's Ice House,' " she said, referring to a popular bar her husband owns and operates. "I couldn't even walk in the door and say, 'I want y'all to mop the floor.' This should not be about me. It's really about making the law clearer for the many people in the state who have to file these statements."

But her critics said the governor's vetoes ended the debate. Huffman, they maintain, should be held accountable for the failure of ethics reform last year. They said it is, in fact, all about her misinterpreting state law so she didn't have to disclose her husband's vast business holdings.

One of those critics, Carol Wheeler, a state Democratic Party official from Katy, filed a complaint against Huffman before the state Ethics Commission, asserting that she appeared to violate state law for several years by failing to disclose "significant business interests of herself and her husband, Keith Lawyer."

Disclosure of my own: I worked with Carol Wheeler in SD-17 intra-party politics for a few years in 2009, '10, and '11.  She has no agenda other than good government.

If you want a refresher on state legislators' ethical dilemmas and the Sharpstown scandal of the '70's, which brought down dozens of politicos, including a governor and a lieutenant governor, then click over and pick up where I left off above.

Huffman and Lawyer were married in 1997. Of the dozens of businesses that Lawyer has financial interests in, according to state business records, only five were created before their marriage, Wheeler's ethics complaint states. Huffman, a former state district court judge in Harris County, was first elected to the Senate in 2008.

Lawyer owns several companies that operate 17 bars in Texas, including Luke's Ice House, with locations in Houston, Beaumont and Nederland, regulated by the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

In her annual ethics statement required by state law, Huffman listed seven items involving her husband's finances in 2008. After Abbott's veto and Wheeler's ethics complaint, her 2014 statement has ballooned, listing her husband's extensive business holdings for the first time. She said recently that the filing had nothing to do with the governor's vetoes or the ethics complaint; she merely was complying with the Ethics Commission rule change.

 Here's where it takes a shady turn.

Huffman's maneuver on spousal ethics came prior to this filing. She made her move during the closing weeks of the 2015 legislative session, when an unrelated ethics bill sponsored by a fellow Houston Republican, state Rep. Sarah Davis, landed in her committee. Its purpose was simple and noncontroversial, making it easier for public officials to electronically file their personal financial statements.

Huffman, the Senate's ethics gatekeeper, added the provision that she described as clarifying what public officials must disclose on their ethics statements about the finances of their spouses. The 2014 rule by the Ethics Commission, she explained, was too broad and went beyond the "actual control" standard in the 1973 law, which she wanted to go back to.

This new version of Davis' bill then passed the Senate. The House agreed with the Senate's changes, and sent the bill to the governor.

A second ethics bill introduced by Davis ended up in Huffman's committee. She again attached her language on spousal disclosure just to make sure it was adopted, in case something happened to the first. Also attached was one of Abbott's ethics provisions, requiring legislators, statewide elected officials and gubernatorial appointees to disclose contracts or any other arrangement in which they were paid by a public agency. This bill, too, passed both chambers and was sent to Abbott's desk.

The Ethics Commission wasn't pleased. The 2014 rule was not a change in law, but a clarification that was consistent with the 1973 state law and how the agency had enforced that statute, said Ian Steusloff, general counsel of the Ethics Commission.

Abbott wasted little time and vetoed both of Davis' bills, citing the provisions inserted by Huffman.

"At the beginning of this legislative session, I called for meaningful ethics reform," Abbott said in a statement. "This legislation does not accomplish that goal. Provisions in this bill would reduce Texans' trust in their elected officials, and I will not be a part of weakening our ethics laws."

Davis, in an interview, said she accepted Huffman's amendments to her two ethics bills because she was trying to get some of Abbott's reform agenda signed into law. But after the outcry, she asked Abbott to veto her own bills.

If Huffman gets appointed to work on ethics again by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the coming session, then we'll know Abbott didn't really mean what he said about cleaning up Rick Perry's messes.

We'll also know that nothing really ever changes with Republicans in Austin.  I thought we knew these things before, but then again, these are Texas conservatives we're talking about.  None so stupid and mean as them anywhere, not even in Oregon at the moment.