Monday, December 31, 2018

2018's last Wrangle

The rest of the Texas Fauxgressive Alliance decided to take the week off from rounding up the best of the lefty blog posts and news (except for those who may be using some or all of this one).  To augment the missing, you'll find some great year-end listicles, including this video from Turner Classic Movies with the compendium of actors, directors, screenwriters, and others we lost from the year just about to pass into the history books.

In another obituary, almost overlooked from early November, Will Pitt of Truthout wrote the eulogy for Buzzflash, one of this blogger's very first finds on the InnerToobs that both enabled sanity in a GWB-world gone mad, and inspired the creation of Brains and Eggs.

The big Texas story closing out 2018 was the series of incidents where hundreds of migrants detained by ICE were summarily -- and initially without promised warning to relief agencies -- dumped at bus stations and parks in El Paso.

The callous and inhumane actions by the Trump administration to provoke yet another immigration crisis were met head-on by volunteers and agencies, who quickly mobilized after social and corporate media hit red alert.

Naveena Sadasivam at the Texas Observer wrote about the weird Texas weather extremes -- heat, cold, drought, floods -- we experienced this past year.  And the climate denier sitting in his wheelchair in the Governor's Mansion.

At a press conference announcing the release of the report, Abbott responded to a reporter’s question about climate change by saying he’s not a scientist and that it is “impossible for [him] to answer that question.”

The majority of Americans aren’t scientists, but surveys show they still believe climate change is occurring. All it’d take Abbott is to look at the extreme weather events happening in his state and listen to those in his own administration.

Texas Vox also comments on Abbott's Hurricane Harvey report, entitled 'Eye of the Storm', pointing out areas of disagreement and/or recommending stronger action (like acknowledging climate change, for starters).

Continuing another tradition abandoned by the TPA, PDiddie at Brains and Eggs picked Co-Texans of the Year: Beto O'Rourke and Travis Scott.

Stephen Young at the Dallas Observer collects the most ridiculous social media posts from Texas pols (spoiler: Sid Miller could have been this entire list all by himself).

Harris County prosecutors are predicting a surge of drunk driving incidents due to the extended New Year's holiday weekend, writes Jay R. Jordan at the Chronicle.

"This is an unbelievable crisis that we're facing," Vehicular Crimes Division Chief Sean Teare said on Wednesday. "We lead the nation, year-in, year-out in fatalities on our roadways, specifically attributable to DWI. We're not anywhere near the size of Los Angeles or New York, and we're not as big as Chicago – and we blow them away every year. It's inexplicable."

Zachery Taylor blogged that truth is a fungible commodity at corporations like Shell, ExxonMobil, Johnson & Johnson, Wells Fargo, and by extension Wall Street and the media.

Current Affairs had the 25 worst headlines of 2018 (their #12, Politico's "Biden Should Run With Romney on a Unity Ticket", was my personal #1).  Not linking it, but the summary is aces.

There is no more appealing ticket than Joe Biden and Mitt Romney, argues a former Republican policy adviser currently working for the Biden Institute Policy Advisory Board. What America wants is the down-home bonhomie of a 76 year old who gets handsy with little girls and has total contempt for struggling millennials, plus the awkward stiffness of a milquetoast also-ran who once tied a dog to the roof of his car and gives off a vibe “like the guy who fired your dad.” Their bipartisan slogan will be: “Centrism! It Just Makes Sense, You Whiny Poors.”

Tanvi Misra at CityLab exposed the business model behimd the explosion of dollar stores in rural communities.

It has become an increasingly common story: A dollar store opens up in an economically depressed area with scarce healthy and affordable food options, sometimes with the help of local tax incentives. It advertises hard-to-beat low prices but it offers little in terms of fresh produce and nutritious items—further trapping residents in a cycle of poverty and ill-health.

A recent research brief by the Institute of Local Self Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit supporting local economies, sheds light on the massive growth of this budget enterprise. Since 2001, outlets of Dollar General and Dollar Tree (which bought Family Dollar in 2015) have grown from 20,000 to 30,000 in number. Though these “small-box” retailers carry only a limited stock of prepared foods, they’re now feeding more people than grocery chains like Whole Foods, which has around 400-plus outlets in the country. In fact, the number of dollar-store outlets nationwide exceeds that of Walmart and McDonalds put together—and they’re still growing at a breakneck pace. That, ILSR says, is bad news.

“While dollar stores sometimes fill a need in cash-strapped communities, growing evidence suggests these stores are not merely a byproduct of economic distress,” the authors of the brief write. “They’re a cause of it.”

Dollar stores have succeeded in part by capitalizing on a series of powerful economic and social forces—white flight, the recent recession, the so-called “retail apocalypse”—all of which have opened up gaping holes in food access. But while dollar stores might not be causing these inequalities per se, they appear to be perpetuating them. The savings they claim to offer shoppers in the communities they move to makes them, in some ways, a little poorer.

Grits for Breakfast has the top ten Texas criminal justice stories, and Popular Resistance has the top 25 censored news items (going back into 2017 a bit) including the report about county sheriffs along the border using iris technology to fill a new database, lending to existing concerns about racial profiling and loss of privacy in public places.

Right Wing Watch summarized the year in false prophecies and failed predictions: red election waves, weather wipeouts, mass arrests of pedophiles, coups by leftists, and on and on.  VICE had the seven wildest scams and scandals of the year that didn't involve Trump.  And DeSmogBlog revealed Big Oil's attempts to show that fracking is actually making money (it isn't).

In January, The Wall Street Journal touted the prospect of frackers finally making “real money … for the first time” this year. “Shale drillers are heeding growing calls from investors who have chastened the companies for pumping ever more oil and gas even as they incur losses doing so,” oil and energy reporter Bradley Olson wrote.

Olson's story quoted an energy asset manager making the (always) ill-fated prediction about the oil and gas industry that this time will be different.

"Is this time going to be different? I think yes, a little bit," said energy asset manager Will Riley. “Companies will look to increase growth a little, but at a more moderate pace.”

Despite this early optimism, Bloomberg noted in February that even the Permian Basin — “America's hottest oilfield” — faced “hidden pitfalls” that could “hamstring” the industry.

They were right. Those pitfalls turned out to be the ugly reality of the fracking industry's finances.

And this time was not different.

The Week offered the 5 biggest scientific breakthroughs of 2018, and the Pew Research Center had 18 striking findings from the year just past, including this one.

About six-in-ten women in the U.S. (59%) say they have been sexually harassed. Women with at least some college education are far more likely than those with less education to say they have experienced harassment. Non-Hispanic white women are also more likely than women in other racial and ethnic groups to cite such experiences. Around a quarter of men (27%) say they have been sexually harassed.

The stark reality of race and incarceration was once more detailed by KERA via Texas Standard.

If you’re a black man in America, you’re five times as likely to go to state prison as a white man. Latinos and African Americans make up one-third of the U.S. population; they make up two-thirds of the prison population.

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub highlights -- pun intended -- the anniversary of Bright Idea Day, December 31st, 1879; the day Thomas Edison demonstrated for the public a working light bulb in Times Square, New York.

And Pages of Victory has a poem about some other kinds of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

B&E Co-Texans of the Year: Beto and Travis Scott

(Ed. note. Still doing the work that the rest of the Texas semi-Progressive Alliance gave up on a couple of years ago.)

And there you sat thinking they had nothing in common.

What more needs to be said about the recently retired Congressman from El Paso that hasn't already been said ... or for that matter is currently being said?

In the span of seven days, Beto O'Rourke went from expanding his statewide cult of personality from sea to shining sea to exploding on the 2020 launching pad, writes PDiddie at Brains and Eggs, in a post originally motivated by two hilarious takes about Bernie Sanders from Bay Area Blue Dog John Coby.  But it was a takedown by David Sirota at Capital and Main of Beto's voting record that did the most damage to the erstwhile Congressman's reputation as a "progressive", and that in turn spawned an article about a "war" on O'Rourke being waged by "Berniebros".  The geek fighting didn't just carry on all weekend on Twitter, it again ruptured the 2016 fault lines between the center of the Democratic Party and the left.

And as the Christmas lights come off the tree and the wrapping paper fills the recycling bin, the snark keeps leveling up.

Whatever happens with the two old white dudes running to be top Donkey in two years, you can rest assured that Beto/Bob will keep breaking news of one kind or another throughout 2019. 

So about the man who re-opened "Astroworld" this year and took it across the country ...

Travis Scott's Tour is the Greatest Show on Earth (Rolling Stone)

The apex of Travis Scott’s second night at Madison Square Garden for his Astroworld — Wish You Were Here tour wasn’t when Kendrick Lamar — leading candidate for best rapper alive — made a guest appearance to perform his verse on “Goosebumps.” It wasn’t “Stargazing,” the rattling, pyrotechnic-inflected opener that set the tone for the night. It wasn’t even “Sicko Mode,” the second most popular song in the country that Scott extended to close the night out. Instead, it was one of his earliest hits: “Antidote.” As the opening synths swelled, a young woman with platinum blonde hair walked onstage and the audience screamed. Kylie Jenner was then buckled into a makeshift rollercoaster car. As her baby father performed one of his biggest songs next to her, she documented the entire moment on her phone and kicked her feet to the beat. They kept riding, back and forth over the roiling crowd, for three more songs.

Inside the stadium, the crowd milling around seems more likely to watch KUWTK than listen to “Mo Bamba.” A man in a suit walks by with his elementary school-aged daughter, smiling gleefully. A suburban mom ushers her daughter and friends to premium seats. A child stops, picks up his phone and debates his parental figures about the fiscal responsibility of buying food at Madison Square Garden concession stand prices. He swipes his debit card. Travis Scott has officially gone mainstream.

Welcome to AstroWorld.

'Baby father'.  That's pretty white.  More from recently.

Travis Scott wants to see Kylie Jenner before her private jet takes off, but he’s running late to meet her, so he punches the gas on his Lamborghini SUV and sends the speedometer into hysterics: 80 miles an hour becomes 95 becomes a screaming 110, or exactly double the speed limit on this particular stretch of Houston highway. It is pouring rain. Farther up in Scott’s lane, where traffic is thicker, a Land Rover brakes, but Scott — left hand on the wheel, right hand on his phone, eyes on a maps app — does not. The Land Rover’s rear bumper is maybe 200 feet away, then 75 and then, sickeningly, 25. Scott has stopped accelerating but, for unclear reasons, he hasn’t touched the brake.

You can take the wheel from there.  L'il mo' from TexMo.

Travis Scott is the future. Ask Lil Wayne, who gushed about the 26-year-old artist from the stage during his sub-headlining set at Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Houston on November 17. Ask Houston rap legend Bun B, who likes to talk about how “there’s something special” about Scott. You could even ask Mayor Sylvester Turner, who declared November 18, the day after the festival, “Astroworld Day” in Houston.

See him at halftime of the Super Bowl in February as well (though Reverend Sharpton's recent opinion about that may resonate).

This has been a PSA for all of us elderly Caucasians out here.  Twenty nineteen is likely gon' be kind to both men, though it might be difficult to improve upon this past year.

Monday, December 24, 2018

T'was The Day Before Wrangle

The Texas kinda-sorta Progressive Alliance celebrated Festivus yesterday and the airing of grievances, but still has a few problems with you people.  And now you're going to hear about it.

(The very condensed 'Seinfeld' episode, from 1997.)

Here's the blog post and lefty news roundup from the next to-last week of 2018.

In the span of seven days, Beto O'Rourke went from expanding his statewide cult of personality from sea to shining sea to exploding on the 2020 launching pad, writes PDiddie at Brains and Eggs, in a post originally motivated by two hilarious takes about Bernie Sanders from Bay Area Blue Dog John Coby.  But it was a takedown by David Sirota at Capital and Main of Beto's voting record that did the most damage to the erstwhile Congressman's reputation as a "progressive", and that in turn spawned an article about a "war" on O'Rourke being waged by "Berniebros".  The geek fighting didn't just carry on all weekend on Twitter, it again ruptured the 2016 fault lines between the center of the Democratic Party and the left.

"I think (last) week can be understood as a kind of turning point, where — for the first time really — millions of Americans are seeing pieces that look underneath the superficial gloss of projections onto Beto," said Norman Solomon, who was a delegate for Sanders at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

"What we’re seeing is someone who’s a big step up for red-state Texas statewide and actually a big step down for where the majority of Democrats are nationwide. ... If we buy the Beto package, we’re gonna have buyer’s remorse later on."

David Collins was ahead of everybody else on this, blogging last Tuesday that these New Democrats are nothing but kinder, gentler Republicans.

As the Year of the Blue Wave closes out, there are still two empty seats in the Texas House that need to be filled with special elections.  They'll be held after the 86th Legislative Session begins.

Off the Kuff noticed the latest bit of (some small handful of Texas political number nerds' fascination with) small counties' vote totals.

T'is the season for listicles, and the Texas Observer kicks it off with the six stories about rural Texas you should read, and the six Texas political players who lost power this past year.  Texas Monthly serves up their twenty most-read stories, their 22 favorite long reads, and their 15 best Tex-Mex bites across the Great State.  Grits for Breakfast has the six takeaways for national criminal justice reform supporters -- and the three for conservative state lawmakers -- from the First Step Act passed by Congress last week.

Almost swamped in the latest tsunami of hysterical "The Russians Hacked Meddled in the Election" accounts: Jim Schutze at the Dallas Observer calmly points out that Fake News, aka Advertising, has always been with us, and it's always been our responsibility not to be duped by it.

Tell me this. Recently I looked at the website of a prominent Dallas consulting firm and noticed they have a social media specialist on their staff who “guides paid social strategy … working with clients to generate content that educates, motivates and empowers target audiences to act in ways that benefit … clients.”

So how is that different from the Russians?


Fake news, I gather, is stuff that is somewhat not totally true maybe, purveyed deliberately by people who know it is not totally true maybe but who purvey it anyway in order to get a certain reaction out of the people who read it.

Or, as it used to be called in the days of dinosaur media, advertising. We charged big money for that. We wish we could again.

Before Russian trolls, before Google, before the internet, even before computers, I was told every morning by a breakfast food box that I could become a professional baseball player by eating Kellogg's Corn Flakes. I looked up the box yesterday on Google. It had a picture of a boy wearing a necktie and a newsboy cap about to swing a bat.

The box said, “This boy knows. He keeps his ‘eye on the ball.’ He’s the kind of boy that eats Kellogg’s. He likes the taste, the realness of these flakes.” I can now tell you without fear of contradiction that, in my own case anyway, that was fake news.

Texas Standard explains what the end of the Medicaid waiver means for the state's healthcare: the impacts of the loss of an average of $3 billion per year over the last decade, assisting the 11 million Texans who are of highest risk and greatest need, must be communicated to Texas legislators.

The Texans challenging the Affordable Care Act have no legal standing, posits Nicholas Bagley at The Atlantic, who is a law professor at the University of Michigan.  (Emphasis is mine.)

And so, the red states (who sued, led by TX AG Ken Paxton, in Judge Reed O'Connor's federal court) added new plaintiffs: two self-employed Texans, John Nantz and Neill Hurley, who say they have to pay higher prices for insurance because of Obamacare. They may be right about that. If the law were wiped from the books, insurers could refuse to sell insurance to sick people. That would allow insurers to charge healthy people less for their coverage.

But freewheeling complaints about the Affordable Care Act aren’t enough to give Nantz and Hurley standing, any more than they’d be enough for the red states. “Standing is not dispensed in gross,” as the Supreme Court has said. To have standing to sue, Nantz and Hurley have to show that the individual mandate caused them some kind of injury.

And they can’t do that. Remember, the entire basis for this lawsuit is that Congress, in 2017, repealed the tax penalty for going without coverage. That means Nantz and Hurley are free to buy insurance, or free not to. The individual mandate doesn’t force them to do a damn thing.

In a changing of the guard at Equality Texas, Chuck Smith steps aside after 15 years at the helm of the state's largest LGBTQ rights organization, passing the torch to Samantha Smoot.

Smoot brings 20 years of experience leading citizen advocacy campaigns to the Equality Texas organization. She has served as Political Director of both the Planned Parenthood Federation for America and the Human Rights Campaign, as well as the Executive Director for Texas Freedom Network. More recently, she has fought to support citizen groups and political leaders as they build more inclusive democracies through her work in the Middle East and North Africa, West Africa, and Eurasia with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

Ty Clevenger at Lawflog took note of the aggressive, and perhaps defamatory, tone of an email that the executive director of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission sent to one of the agency's critics, defending its top enforcement officer from corruption charges.

Any conversation about stopping violence in our society before it begins -- such as with the ending of corporal punishment in schools -- is absent from the corporate media, blogs Zachery Taylor.

Texas Vox summarizes coverage of the changing face of energy in the state: cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable as the transition away from fossil fuels proceeds (slowly, but inexorably).

Downwinders at Risk thanks activists for mobilizing opposition to the Estrada Concrete plants in south Dallas (near Paul Quinn College), forcing the permit approval hearing at City Hall to be rescheduled for January.

The Rag Blog mourns the passing of yet another 1960s-era Austin "radical" and one of its founders, Dennis Fitzgerald.

SocraticGadfly, influenced by his reading of a new bio of Ronald Reagan, posted the first of what will be several counterfactual history blog posts — what if Reagan, not Goldwater had somehow run in 1964? (Click the "counterfactual history" tag for similar writing by him.)

In Houston barbecue news, Katie Watkins at Houston Public Media reports that Burns BBQ in Acres Homes now has a mural on the outside wall that features the establishment's late founder, along with twice-a-guest Anthony Bourdain.  And the story of Blood Brothers BBQ getting their brick-and mortar-location opened in Bellaire, and the backstory of how the business got started, was posted by Mai Pham at the Houston Press.

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub has a couple of questions about the origins of Christmas.

And in one of the most fascinating Tweet threads of 2018, Kari Blakinger of the Houston Chronicle writes about how she got off heroin while spending Christmas in jail.