Saturday, June 04, 2016

He who is not courageous enough to take risks

"... will accomplish nothing in life."

"I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous, and who treated everyone right ..."
"As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him, and who helped as many people as he could. As a man who stood up for his beliefs no matter what. As a man who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love.
"And if all that's too much, then I guess I'd settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn't even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was."

I was in the seventh grade, 13 years old, when Ali fought Joe Frazier the first time.  I was seemingly the only kid in my class that was rooting for him.  All my friends weren't just hoping Smokin' Joe would beat the draft dodger senseless, they were calling him Clay, like so many other race-baiting white people did then.

It was hard being on the playground the next day.  The years after that, much easier.  Ali showed them all, even me, how a champion conducted himself.

Ali's heartwarming response in the 1972 interview with David Frost followed Frost's question of "How would you like people to think about you when you've gone?"

"I'd like for them to say he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, one teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness," the sports legend began.

"He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern and then he mixed willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith and he stirred it up well.
"Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime and he served it to each and every deserving person he met."

This is the Zen wisdom of age.  He was rarely so modest as a young man.  But the braggadocio hid -- as it usually does -- some insecurities.

 "We only have so many hours a day to do what we have to do, so many years to live, and in those years, we sleep about eight hours a day ... If a man is 50 years old, he's lucky if he's had 20 years to actually live. So I would like to do the best I can for humanity."

(Longtime friend Gene) Kilroy, (boxing promoters Don) King and (Bob) Arum said they knew of many charitable acts Ali had done. Kilroy said Ali, who was the most popular athlete in the world for years and commanded attention everywhere he went, would always be willing to do charitable acts, but said he didn't want cameras or reporters around because he didn't want anyone to think he was doing it for the publicity.
In 1973, for example, Ali learned that a home for elderly Jewish people was going to close because it was out of money.
"I'll never forget that night," Kilroy said. "It was a cold January night and we saw it on the news. Ali really paid attention to it and you could tell it bothered him, that all these people were going to be put out. They had nowhere to go. He told me to find out where it was, so I called the TV station and got the address.
"We drove over there and walked in and some guy comes up to me. I said, 'We're looking for the man in charge. Where is he?' And the guy says, 'I am. What do you want?' And Ali tells him he wants to help. He wrote him a check for $200,000 and tells him to put it in the bank that night. And then he writes another check for $200,000 and tells him to wait four days, because he has to get home and put some more money in the bank to cover the check."

In 1990, shortly before the first Gulf War between the U.S. and Iraq, he flew to Baghdad to speak with Saddam Hussein to secure the release of 15 U.S. hostages.
Hussein agreed to release the hostages.
For the rest of his life Ali worked to promote the cause of peace and charity. In December 2015, he condemned ISIS and took a shot at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (without mentioning Trump's name) when Trump suggested temporarily banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.
After the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, Ali released a statement through his publicist. The headline said, "Statement From Muhammad Ali Regarding Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States."
"I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino or anywhere else in the world," Ali said in the statement. "True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.
"We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.
"Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people's views on what Islam really is."
It's the last major public statement Muhammad Ali ever made.

Friday, June 03, 2016

The misery of Texas

You can't blame everything on the rain -- or the oil and gas companies or real estate developers, after all.  I was going to write a long post detailing the latest foibles of Greg Abbott, (just to give my increasingly former Democratic friends solace),  but then that damnable Chris Hooks threw down the rug and tied the room together.

Yes, it's the running theme now around these parts: the world's worst Republican conservatives, enabled by the battered wives and Stockholm Syndromers of the Texas Democratic Party.

This has been a bad couple of months for Texas Republicans. Bad headlines, petty corruption, clownish behavior. In fact, the couple of months before that were bad, too, and the months before that, and back and back into the mists of memory. So it might stand to reason that it has been a good time for Texas Democrats, whose operating theory has long been that one day, the Texas GOP will scrape the bottom of its own barrel so hard that the thing will collapse and the party of Ann Richards and LBJ will emerge from the ashes, wings spread, ready once again to do battle.

But a strange thing is happening: As the Republican Party gets weaker, the Democratic Party seems to be getting weaker, too. Several senior Democrats will be missing from the next legislative session, depriving the minority party of some much-needed muscle in the increasingly right-wing Legislature. Gone are Senator Rodney Ellis and Representative Sylvester Turner, both of whom left to pursue better-paying, more-rewarding public service jobs in Houston as, respectively, county commissioner and mayor. There’s been a sort of brain drain for years, but this one seems particularly bad.

Bad to worse.  Frying pan to fire.  All those other similar analogies.

It’s hard to blame Democratic political talent for hitting the eject button. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s demolition of the Senate’s minority-protecting two-thirds rule destroyed the unity of the Senate Democratic Caucus: There are few left who do much more than protect their own narrow turf. In the House, there are a number of promising young lawmakers, but it’s unclear how quickly they can pick up the slack left by departing members such as Turner and Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, who kamikazied into a losing Senate bid in San Antonio. Then there’s the “leadership” that is anything but.

Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, hardly showed up to work last session even though she lives within walking distance of the Capitol. Now she’s under criminal investigation for using taxpayer-funded staff as personal servants. In 2013, Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, was arrested on charges of barratry, aka ambulance chasing, and in late 2015 he was convicted on five counts of related charges — illegal solicitation of legal clients — then sentenced to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. In between, for the 84th legislative session, he was given the important position of whip in the dysfunctional House Democratic Caucus.

Ron MF-ing Reynolds.

One Houston politico recently described him, admiringly, as a man who’d steal your mother’s life insurance money and show up to her funeral, smiling and shaking hands. It’s not inconceivable that he could end up in caucus leadership once again.

Figures such as Dukes and Reynolds are as embarrassing to Democrats as Sid Miller and Ken Paxton are to Republicans: They just have significantly less power. Democrats are often frustratingly silent about the weaknesses of their own lawmakers, fretting, perhaps, that beggars can’t be choosers.

With the state convention coming up fast on the calendar, the penultimate neoliberals who comprise the apparatchik of the TDP are going to mute their dysfunction -- or at least drown it out -- by clapping and cheering to celebrate the coronation of their Queen.

But the party must present a more robust and defensible profile if it ever expects the state to trust it again. Instead, it often seems as if Democratic lawmakers are content to be consigned as a rump party, leaving the token politicking to the rotating staff of the state party.

And Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project.  He's the actual chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. The patron listed on the masthead is a token.  A sock puppet.  The most-clicked post in the fourteen-year history of this blog, with 13,000 unique hits and counting over just the past four years, is this one.

People don't read this blog, though, so he'll be re-elected chair in a couple of weeks.

With Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination, 2016 might be a relatively good year for Democrats in Texas. (Whether they’re poised to take advantage of it is another question.) But if a Democrat wins the White House, the midterm election in 2018 looks grim: Hillary is deeply unpopular with Republicans, and a Democratic president has been historically bad for Texas Democrats. The same goes for 2020, when Democrats will have held the White House for 12 consecutive years. The next realistic shot at controlling redistricting might not be until the 2028 and 2030 election cycles, which might just give Texas Democrats enough time to get their act together.

There's going to be some bright spots: Hillary (or Trump rather) is motivating Latinx registration and will surely drive up Latinx turnout; voter photo ID stands a good chance of being struck down by the courts in six weeks or so, and the Libertarians will siphon off a significant portion of formerly GOP votes at the top of the ballot and maybe down it as well.  But this will be that incremental, pragmatic progress we've grown to love.  Harris County and some of the other urban metros will enjoy a little azure wave; the rest of Deep-In-The-Hearta stays flooded under the Red Sea.  Texas won't be turning blue in my lifetime.

The core issues of Democrats are, at this point, mostly chiseled in stone.  And like the GOP, their base voters are being carried off to the nursing home and the cemetery.  Younger voters not seeking consulting gigs tend to be a lot less brand loyal than their parents' and grandparents' generation, leaning considerably more left than Texas Democrats find themselves capable of doing.  It presents a huge opportunity for Texas Greens, but only if they can capitalize by doing the hard labor of organizing by precinct, statehouse and senate district, and statewide.

It's about the only interesting trend worth watching for the next five months and thereafter.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Alternate parties rising

-- Mentioned previously here is the on-the-radar polling appearance of the Libertarians, now at double digits nationally.  This has garnered attention in the corporate media, which is awfully big and early for this level of publicity.  Polling outfits consequently are now including both in their methodology ...

On RealClearPolitics’ Latest Polls page (yesterday), Quinnipiac and Public Policy Polling have begun including presidential candidates Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) and Jill Stein (Green Party) in their Georgia polls.

Quinnipiac results (Georgia) have Clinton at 40%, Trump at 38%, Johnson at 5%, and Stein at 3%.

Public Policy Polling results (Georgia) have Trump at 45%, Clinton at 38%, Johnson at 6%, and Stein at 2%.

In the past, even when the occasional poll does list a third-party candidate, RCP has ignored that listing. This appears to be a sign that both Johnson and Stein will now be listed in most, if not all, national and state polls.

... which can only help with the ultimate goal of getting them both into the nationally televised debates in the fall.  Here are a few calls to action in that regard, designed to appeal to the roadblock that is the Commission on Presidential Debates.  Free and Equal sponsored 2012's presidential debate, moderated by Larry King, which included Johnson, Stein, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party and blogged in this space.

In an interesting development, V-P nominee Weld told the New York Times in yesterday's issue that he saw nothing 'criminally' wrong with Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server.  There's sure lots of different ways for that to be interpreted.  I'll wait for the spin from various quarters before I lend my two cents' worth.

And pay no heed to Debbie Downers who say that the Greens and Libs always poll higher than they actually wind up with on Election Day -- this isn't going to be a normal year -- or that dreaming big on the part of alternate candidates and parties is something to be mocked.  That kind of discouragement is not how we raise our children and grandchildren; it's not even how our mayor manages the city.

Democrats used to dream of moonshots; now they can't even allow the consideration of universal single payer health care, allegedly on the basis of pragmatism.  It's a very sad decline in ambition for a once-esteemed political party, and the Texas version is even more pitiable with respect to thinking small.

As for Johnson and Weld: If I were conservatively inclined, I would be more likely to vote for a Republican than a Lib for president ... unless it was Donald Trump running as a Republican.  And that's precisely why Gary Johnson and William Weld are polling so well.  Be reminded that should the Libs hold onto or build on this share of the electorate, then Drumpf is dead in the Electoral College water (if he isn't already).

I say this as someone who has voted for many Libertarians down the ballot, for judicial and even statewide posts where there was no Green or Democrat for me to vote for.  On the basis of where they are in the political/chronological cycle, the Libs are to be used electorally in the same way that the Greens should be used against the Dems; as the best tool in the box to get better governing from the two major parties.  Nothing -- certainly not undervoting -- better sends the message that your vote cannot be taken for granted by the Ds or Rs.

Update: Since we're collecting spitballs, this dude at Cato has some convoluted speculation we can amuse ourselves with.

Ilya Shapiro has this piece in USA Today, suggesting that three individuals might receive electoral votes in November 2016, thus depriving any candidate of a majority in the electoral college. He suggests the third person to receive electoral votes might be Gary Johnson. He speculates that Johnson could conceivably carry New Mexico. Then he also speculates that some Republican presidential electors from other states might “disobey” or “be faithless” and vote for Johnson instead of Trump.

There's also polling data supplied that suggests Clinton is leaking support to Johnson.  That poll was taken in March.  You know, when Ted Cuz and John Kasich were still in the race.

Can you believe that there are people who get paid handsomely for writing shit so crazy that I wouldn't even try to pass it off as legit?

-- Jill Stein has been getting her earned media also. GQ profiled and interviewed her in the past week; Rolling Stone did so twice.  The Greens go last with their presidential nominating convention, for the first time being held in the South and right here in Houston the first weekend in August.  Let's keep our fingers crossed that the monsoons -- and hurricanes -- take some time off.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Revolutionary News Update Vol. 6: Ready for Oligarchy

2008 was a very different year. Democrats were trying to replace a Republican president who had job disapproval ratings in the mid-60s to low 70s throughout the summer and fall of 2008. Democrats -- both Obama and Clinton-- were pledging to change the direction of the country in a year when more than 80% of Americans consistently told pollsters the country was on the wrong track.

So Democrats could afford a little disunity. They had the wind at their backs.

They don't have the wind at their backs now. They're trying to win a third straight election, something that's been done only once by a party in the past 56 years (the GOP in 1980/1984/1988). President Obama's approval/disapproval numbers right now, according to Gallup, are 51%/45% -- but that's not overwhelmingly positive the way Bush's numbers in 2008 were overwhelmingly negative. And the "right direction/wrong track" numbers are still negative -- not as negative as they were in 2008, but they'd have to be as positive now as they were negative in 2008 for the two elections to be analogous for the Democrats. We'd need 80+% of the country to be happy with the way things are going; we have about 30%.

(And even in 2000, when the country was extremely happy with the status quo under a retiring Democratic president, the Democrat who wanted to be his successor couldn't put the election away.)

No, the Democrats can't afford the luxury of a sustained fight.  Not this year.

Oh let's fight anyway.  A little while longer, June at least?  There's still be months left to fight the real bad guys, yes?

Then again, we could fight in the streets like it's 1968, when ...

... the Democratic Party establishment, led by the authoritarian Mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, rigged the nominating process at the Democratic National Convention.
In the run-up to the Convention, over 80% of Democratic primary voters sided with the two anti-war candidates, Sen. Robert Kennedy (D-NY), the victim of an assassination, and Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN).   The will of the electorate was ignored by party elites. Daley’s backroom maneuvers secured the nomination for a candidate who had not won a single primary — Vice President Humbert Humphrey.
Daley’s authoritarian manipulation of the process produced chaos and violence both inside and outside of the convention. During a convention speech, Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT) denounced what he described as the “Gestapo tactics” of the Chicago PD — tactics that a federal commission later described as a “police riot” orchestrated by Daley. The violence and chaos inside and outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention, not to mention the betrayal of the anti-war sentiments of the electorate by the party establishment, led to the party’s demise that November and six more years of carnage in Vietnam.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz isn't as stupid and malicious as Daley, but we get the point.  There's going to be a lot of yelling "RELAX!" at each other, some calls to simmer down, shut up, or go away.

Matthew Yglesias makes the case that Bernie will -- sooner than the convention in July -- back down, endorse Clinton, herd his sheep in behind her.  He uses the tired trope of comparing Jill Stein to Ralph Nader and using the word 'spoiler', but even without that mistake, some of Bernie's herd will still go astray, most certainly.  Even Noam Chomsky encourages swing state voters to wait until the last minute, watching to see if your state is in Electoral College play before casting a ballot, saving Hillary Clinton and the rest of us from Donald Trump.

But the 2016 election is much more likely to be disrupted by the Libertarians, Gary Johnson and William Weld, who are already polling at ten percent.  Bill Kristol, the very model of modern autocratic arrogance, has selected the GOP's alternative to Trump without soiling his gloves on any of those messy primaries or that nasty voting business.  And he has picked obscure conservative blogger David French, the Rick Santorum of 2016.  What fun.

Update: More from Steve Benen on French. And this from Non Prophet News details the historical ramifications of strong alternate party bids, from Teddy Roosevelt to Strom Thurmond to George Wallace to Ross Perot.  Notably not Nader.  That's a myth, as we all should know by now.

I'll have to miss the state convention here in Deep-In-Hearta; Mrs. Diddie's new hip and Mom's 90th birthday take precedence over the desire I have to get in a fight with some Clinton folks and wind up in the Bexar County Jail, to say nothing of the thrill of listening to the minions cheer Hillary's coronation, watching as the parliamentarians run Robert's-Rules-roughshod over the Sanders delegation, and generally drive off what remains of a Democratic progressive wing in the party.  To be followed by a reprise at the DNC in Philly in July.

So enjoy, Texas Democrats!  You've once again managed to silence the voices that would lead to an invigorated Democratic Party in Texas in favor of a conservative, corporate-controlled Republican Lite version, the kind of Democrats that haven't won a statewide election in a generation.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Dream big of turning Texas blue like you usually do.  In the meantime you'll find me reporting on the only progressive presidential nominating convention left, the US Greens here in August.