Monthly Archives: June 2011

“I’m Following Stupid”

A friend of mine recently joined Twitter and announced it on his Facebook page with this:

Follow me on Twitter …or don’t. I’m fairly indifferent about your participation.

My friend’s a smart guy and prone to unleash a barbaric yawp every now and then.  Those of us who know and love him enjoy his unique perspective on politics.  Of course we’re going to follow him.  That’s not the point.  It’s that he felt the need to layer his debut on a social media platform under a coating of indifference, like a sullen teenaged boy who doesn’t want to let on that he’s psyched that he got an A from his favorite teacher.  When a friend asked whether there was a free gift for following him on Twitter, Colin replied with the phrase that inspired the title of this blogpost:

I’m giving away poorly though-out political commentary, semi-funny observations stolen from successful comedians, lustful remarks about Sarah Palin, and an “I’m Following Stupid” shirt for my top retweeter.

First of all, I think selling “I’m Following Stupid” T-shirts could make a million dollars.  But I totally get where he’s coming from, and so do you. Because claiming your place on Twitter , Facebook or WordPress is a scary thing.  It’s asking for the mic, clearing your throat, and telling the world, “This is who I am and this is what I believe” while you’re shouting down the inner voices that tell you “No one cares, loser.”  Putting yourself out there on social media is existential middle school.  The potential for  ridicule is limited only by broadband access.  Kids in China might be starving, but that doesn’t mean they can’t tell the world you’re stupid.

I’m gratified by the reaction to the column I put up on the blog this week about how Democrats should be accusing Republicans of pursuing policies that will lead to more abortions.  But I’m also scared shitless.  As strongly as I believe every word of what I wrote, I am terrified that it will piss off Democrats.  You’d think I’d be flattered as hell that my best friend from high school sent the column with the note “A great piece by Jason…” to Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood, whom I’ve known since I moved to Texas to work for her mother in 1993.  But my first thought was, “Oh God, what if she doesn’t like it?” 

The only reason I’m writing about the inner dialogue of my baby bunny feelings is that a friend put me on to the website of Merlin Mann, a web guy whose schtick is organizing your time and focus to do your best creative work.  My friend swears he sent me the link not because he thinks I’m a disorganized goober who can’t hold a thought in his head but because the tenor and cadence of my speech reminds him of Mann’s.  And that got me to watch his speech at Webstock called “Scared Shitless.”  The genius of it, the elemental truth of needing to overcome fear to accomplish anything, got me to watch the entire 27:47 speech.  You should, too.  And don’t tell me you don’t have the time.  Skip a “Two and a Half Men” rerun.  You can put it on your laptop while doing your workout.  Or eating a tub of vanilla ice cream.  But you’re going to want to watch it for the creativity he brings to an intensely personal subject.  And if you, like me, give a lot of presentations, you’re going to love the slide show and how he connects to an audience that starts out just wanting to get to the cocktail reception.

It wasn’t false modesty that kept me from starting this blog or the other big things I have coming up.  It wasn’t a lack of confidence in what I had to say.  It was a lack of bravery, which is a different thing.  I was, in Mann’s words, scared shitless of doing what I wanted to do.  But like he points out in his speech, we’re all scared.  The ones who do something original are the ones who face their fears and do it anyway.  And while success is by no means assured, Mann quotes the GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons as saying, “They won’t eat you.”   No matter how badly something fails in front of an audience, you won’t end up as an entree, which is nice, especially for Parsons, because those cheesecake commercials of his are really starting to get on my nerves.

Now that I think about it, I should send the link of Mann’s speech to my mom, who gives several dozen presentations a year and has recently blogged some tips on doing it well.  And if I can get over the fear, I’ll probably send her a link to my blog as well.




“Socialist reach arounds,” or how to pass anti-groping bill

I understand the TSA anti-groping bill is jammed up in committee, not least because someone at TSA has enough time left over after humiliating 95-year-old cancer patients to threaten Texas lawmakers.  And of course anyone still working on the bill is probably wasting his time since Speaker Strauss called the bill a political ploy last week.

“The bill, without some serious revisions, appears to me to be nothing more than an ill-advised publicity stunt, unenforceable…[and] misdirected at uniform security personnel,” Straus said. He argued the bill should be aimed “at Washington, at the bosses of these people.”

“Seriously revisions” you say?  No problem.

First, you have to change the name.  It’s not an anti-groping bill.  TSA is requiring you to submit to “socialist reach arounds.”  That gets you halfway to convincing Debbie Riddle that an African-born President is using tax dollars to force us all into the gay sex trade.

Even renaming the anti-groping bill (sorry, the Socialist Reach Around bill) gets you only part of the way there.  You’re going to need to amend it.

Let’s get some liberal votes for this by recycling the toiletries that are confiscated and require TSA to wash travelers’ feet.  Call it the Martha Amendment.

Let’s get Michael Quinn Sullivan all lathered up and make this an abortion vote by requiring a sonogram when going through security.  TSA personnel should have to force you to look at the X-ray of your carry on bag and explain to you what is inside.

Some straggling Republicans could be brought over by cutting funding for TSA screeners in the name of shared fiscal sacrifice.  Wait, that’s wrong.  I meant “targeted fiscal sacrifice.”  This would, of course, cause security lines to get longer, but Republicans could write themselves a loophole by allowing them to circumvent security completely  as long as they had a concealed handgun license and could prove that they had no balls at all.  Apparently, that won’t be difficult, at least according to Paul Burka.

I have never seen so many lawmakers so scared. Insecure and intimidated men (and women) indeed. Republicans in particular live in fear of their own base. I have seen so many members who I respected in the past fall all over themselves to sign on to immigration bills, abortion bills, anything to defend themselves from the pack that is howling for red meat. So great is the fear and the fretting that the Legislature would rather cut spending for public education, something that has not happened in modern times, than raise new revenue. It would rather let federal matching funds for Medicaid stay in Washington than raise revenue.

And here’s a Loser Pays amendment everyone can get behind.  The flight’s on time?  You pay.  They’re late for any other reason than documented mechanical difficulties or weather?  They pay.  Land and can’t get an open gate?  They pay.  Crew’s on an inbound flight?  Free!

Would any of this make us safer?  No, but the same could be said for what TSA is doing now.


The New Abortion War

No one ever had a party to celebrate their abortion.

This makes perfect sense to everybody.  Whether you think abortion is murder or just an unfortunate outcome, you would like to see fewer abortions.  It would be nice if liberals and conservatives could moderate their differences to pursue this common goal, but there are just two problems: the liberals and the conservatives.

By aggressively cutting funding for family planning and other women’s health services by $70 million and then taking the business away from the main provider, conservatives have just finished a legislative session in which they won major policy changes that will inevitably increase the number of abortions in Texas.  But instead of rhetorically fighting back, abortion-rights advocates—again, speaking of their rhetoric only—tried to convince them that they are wrong.

“Family planning is good fiscal and public health policy that keeps Texas families healthy and helps reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion,” Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Texas, said in a statement. “Legislators need to look at the facts.”

The conservative response to this is best captured in the punch line to the old, but sadly appropriate joke about the difference between ignorance and apathy: I don’t know, and I don’t care.

“Apparently the anti-abortion movement has morphed into the anti-contraception movement,” said Republican Sen. Robert Deuell, a family planning advocate.

This isn’t an upper-division seminar on the merits of public policy.  This is war.  Republicans know it.  Democrats don’t want to.

“Well, of course it’s a war on birth control,” Republican Rep. Wayne Christian told the Texas Tribune.

“The first rule of war is to sever the enemy’s supply line,” wrote Elizabeth Graham, director of Texas Right to Life. “The enemy in our culture war is the huge billion-dollar abortion industry.”

There it is, folks.  They’re after birth control because they see it as a gateway drug to the immorality of the “abortion industry.”  This makes as much sense as saying mass transit is part of the auto industry.  Regardless of whether Republicans are willing to admit this or whether they’re fuzzy on the facts, contraception prevents pregnancy, which studies have shown is the leading cause of abortions.

It is a war of words Democrats are choosing to lose.  Conservatives talk about abortion when they cut birth control, and liberals change the subject to women’s health.  When did we get the idea that the Texas Republican Party cared about either women or health care?

Texas Republicans erased any doubt about this when they shuttered the Medicaid Women’s Health Program.  It’s got “women’s health” right there in the name and everything.  It gets a 9-to-1 federal match and funds cancer screenings and breast exams, as well as birth control, for poor women.  This program has saved Texas taxpayers $37,640,727 in the two years the program has been around.  But since most of the money has been saved inside of Planned Parenthood clinics, Texas Republicans axed it.

Of course it makes no fiscal sense to zero out a program that pulls down $9 from Washington for every $1 we find under our Texas cushions, especially when we lead the league in needing to pay for Medicaid births.  But if conservatives in Texas understood fiscal sense as anything other than cutting social services and education, then Texas wouldn’t be stuck in a quagmire that makes Afghanistan look like a trip to Padre.

This is what longtime observers of Texas politics call “stupid,” or, “business as usual.”

If Republicans believed that unintended pregnancies were punishment for premarital sex, they would behave exactly as they have been, cutting off funding for birth control, restricting what kids are taught about how they get pregnant.

The facts are that under Rick Perry’s reign of error the number of abortions in Texas has risen, from 73,155 in 2000 to 77,811 in 2007, the most recent year for which the Texas Department of State Health Services has statistics.  Despite all the parental notification, waiting periods, abstinence-only and informed consent, Republican policies have failed to effectively reduce the number of pregnancies terminated in Texas.

I’m not advocating inviting Texas Republicans onto the common ground that then-Sen. Hillary Clinton mapped out in a well-meaning attempt to lift politics out of its stalemate and end the abortion wars.

I’m advocating telling them truth until they can’t take it.  By conflating contraception with abortions, Texas Republicans are pursuing policies that will lead to more abortions.   By fighting to defend funding for birth control, Texas Democrats are the ones working to reduce the number of abortions.

They want a war. Let’s give them one.


Rainy Day Fund? Another Mirage

The national press is starting to have some fun pulling the curtain back on Rick Perry’s Texas Miracle.  When you really look at the numbers, what you notice behind the gaudy jobs growth is an equally impressive population shift.  Lots of folks are calling it a Texas Mirage.  State Rep. Joaquin Castro is calling it Tex-onomics.

State Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, recently gave me a primer on “Tex-onomics.”

“That jobs thing is a sleight of hand,” Castro said. “More than half of those new jobs have been filed by non-Texans. So it’s people moving here to take those jobs. It underscores this bipolar state that we live in. You have a population in Texas that is generally lower educated, poor, isn’t covered by health insurance … all of these things … so you can recruit these companies to come here from out of state but your own people, often times, aren’t qualified to fill these jobs.”

One of the keys to Rick Perry’s sales job on his so-called Texas Miracle is the fact that he left the Rainy Day Fund intact despite closing a $27-billion budget hole with no new taxes.  And if you read Morgan Smith’s terrific piece in the Texas Tribune this morning, you know why that’s yet another mirage.  Actually, it’s a pretty sick joke.

Lawmakers have already drawn down $3.1 billion of the fund’s roughly $9.5 billion reserve to cover a deficit in the current budget. Then, to make the 2012-2013 budget balance, the state’s projected share of expected Medicaid costs is underfunded by $4.8 billion — for many, a conservative estimate.

That means when lawmakers come back in two years — and without a change in federal law diminishing the state’s obligation to Medicaid or an increase in Rainy Day revenue from an improved economy — they will need most of the remaining $6 billion to pay another past due bill.

“Effectively they’ve used it,” said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business and a former state lawmaker. “They just aren’t going to fess up until January of 2013.”

All that money Rick Perry’s going to brag we have in the bank?  Yeah, that’s gone.  As good rule of thumb in Texas is that good news is always a lie.  It helps you decode the newspapers in the morning.







“Pics of dicks always do you in”

If we were honest with ourselves, we have all witnessed worse behavior by politicians than what ended Rep. Anthony Weiner’s career. If we were really honest, many of us have done far worse than the former Queens congressman.

The late Charlie Wilson made a career out of surviving sex scandals — as well as arming the Mujahideen. “My constituents know they’re not electing a constipated monk,” he once said. And if he was ever caught in a sex scandal, he promised, “I won’t blame booze and I won’t suddenly find Jesus.” He was, and he didn’t.

The party’s still raging in Austin. It’s fairly well known in Austin political circles which male legislators are faithful husbands and which keep company with other women. Female staffers are routinely briefed informally about which legislators to avoid in close quarters, and Rep. Debbie Riddle famous accused an anonymous male legislator of looking at porn on the House floor.

In this environment, why does Weiner’s career have an egg timer on it? He didn’t have sex, he’s sorry and he’s not blaming anyone else. He and his wife are working on it, the voters haven’t picked up pitchforks and torches, but the President all but ordered him to resign. Is Weinergate rewriting the rules of political sex scandals?
The shopworn trope that it’s the cover-up, not what you do in the first place, does not apply to Weinergate, or any other political sex scandal for that matter. If that were true, Bill Clinton would not have survived Monicagate. When it comes to adultery, you cannot separate the sex from lying about it. You could paper Manhattan with Anthony Weiner’s quotes on the public record about every single thing Congress deals with. If he had a problem telling the truth in general, we would know.

And let us dispense with judging politicians by the standards of normal workplaces. Members of Congress vote to take our money and send our children into wars. If they lose their jobs in scandals that wouldn’t make your local dry cleaner blush, then they should stop asking for power to rule over us like minor potentates.

Bad judgment doesn’t begin to explain the reaction to Weinergate, either. Bill Clinton and Charlie Wilson exercised bad judgment when it came to monogamous relationships, but they didn’t display the same bad judgment when it came to the political vows they made to their female constituents. Women’s groups loved both of those men for their loyal defense of abortion rights and other issues. In the minds of these supporters, the “bad judgment” those male politicians displayed was confined to their sex lives. This was also the case with Anthony Weiner, but the most powerful women in the Democratic Party were the first to shove him toward the door.

Mike Rogers is the online activist who has made a career of outing closeted gay Republicans who worked against gay rights. Larry Craig, RNC chairman Ken Melhman and Ed Schrock were outed on his website Blogactive. He thinks Weinergate had one thing that most sex scandals don’t: good art.

“Pics of dicks always do you in,” said Rogers, who imagines that the Senate would look different if voters had to look at photographs of Craig taking a wide stance or David Vitter wearing diapers.

Anthony Weiner has more in common with former Rep. Chris Lee than with either Craig or Vitter. These morons are not just in far better shape than the people they represent. (Does this Congressman make my ass look fat?) The images of them holding their phones draw people into their sex lives. By looking at these sexual advances, we understand the furtive purpose of it and have to face their shame at getting caught in a dark sexual corner of their psyche. That, and the pictures forced us to stare at Weiner’s junior member.

By using Craigslist and Twitter, Lee and Weiner gave America their first social media sex scandals in which Americans were forced, by virtue of the platforms, to cross the divide between observers to meta-participants.

“The most important lesson here is that politicians need to learn how to use social networking tools before they are used by them,” said Rogers.

In other words, leave us out of it.

Does the Solomons’ & Seliger’s Map Offer a Road Back for Texas Democrats?

Negative defeatism pervades everything I have read or heard discussed over drinks in Texas about the latest congressional redistricting maps. But even if the maps survive the Texas legislature, federal courts, and, for the first time since the Voting Rights Act was passed, a Democratic Attorney General, these congressional maps have a fatal flaw. By my rudimentary analysis, Texas Republicans have drawn seven congressional districts that fit the profile of a district that Sen. John McCain won in 2008 but that was also held by a Democratic Member of Congress.

Let’s get a little national perspective here. After the Great Flood of 2010, nine Democrats still held onto McCain districts that ranged from R+3, held by Rep. Collin C. Peterson (MN-7), to +32, held by our client, Rep. Dan Boren in Oklahoma’s 2nd district. Also on that list is our client Rep. Mike McIntyre, who turned back a challenge from a “Jack Bauer Republican” to hold onto a R+5 district in North Carolina.

Before the world went complete, and temporarily, insane in 2010, the list of Democrats holding McCain districts was much longer. It started with Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper in PA-3 that the National Journal rates perplexingly as R+0 all the way up to Rep. Chet Edwards, who held onto a R+35 district, not that anyone in Texas needs reminding. My firm lost a few good congressmen from that list in 2010, including Rep. Allen Boyd, who represented a Tallahassee district that was R+9, and Rep. Lincoln Davis, who served a swath of rural Tennessee that went a scorching R+30 against Barack Obama.

It offends logic to have fought valiantly to re-elect Chet Edwards only to write off districts that vote Republican by exponentially smaller margins. None of the districts I think could be in play for Democrats approach the R+20 mark, much less Chet’s hellish R+35.

One of the first places anyone should look for opportunities is freshman members, because the first re-election is typically the easiest time to replace a sitting Member of Congress. We’ve got two opportunities here: Ciro’s old CD 23 that goes from San Antonio to El Paso (or, From Earth to the Moonscape) and Ortiz’s old CD 27, the Corpus-based district. Everyone knows the 23rd is on the table for the taking. It’s only R+6, and Ciro Rodriguez has announced a campaign to take it back. It’s even more attractive if you rate the district using the election results for State Supreme Court candidate Sam Houston, which makes it a R+1.5 district.

Using the Houston results (hat tip to Kuff for that idea), CD 27, which the cocktail party circuit doesn’t deign to discuss, is almost as good. Republicans knew that Rep. Blake Farenthold needed the redistricting equivalent of gutter bumpers and idiot mittens to hold onto the old CD27. The new one keeps Nueces County, which is the brownest swing county in the country thanks to decades of Democratic infighting, and includes Victoria County before heading toward Austin like the rest of the world does, but stopping in this case in Bastrop County. If you use the Obama-McCain result, this district is a non-starter at R+18.44, but if you use the Houston election, then it’s a manageable R+7.44. If you know an ambitious prosecutor from Victoria County or an Anglo business leader from Nueces County, now’s the time to take them out to coffee and talk about their heretofore unknown yet deeply held ambition. Heck, anyone who’s not Blake Farenthold would probably do well. Blake Farenthold looks like he’s an elaborate prank by The Onion that got out of control, and he voted to privatize Medicare. There’s not a reason in the world we shouldn’t take his district away.

Then there is a short list of Members who require sober focus to really tell them apart: Barton, McCaul, Granger, Sessions, Smith and Carter. Obama got at least 40% in these districts, which means we should at least look. Let’s drop Carter and Granger. No one is especially pissed at them. No wide stances or helicopter rides to their kids’ ballgames. In districts this marginal, you need some wind in your sails, and I don’t feel a breeze. Let’s throw over Smith, too. I know a lot of people don’t like him, but his good working relationship with Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is in the House Democratic Leadership now, makes getting support from Washington for this endeavor a non-starter.

That leaves noted nitwits Joe Barton and Pete Sessions, as well as area man Mike McCaul. Sessions offers many reasons to loathe him, but he earned his battle scars beating Martin Frost. That’s like getting your Ph.D. in politics. Now he’s the chair of the RNCC, which is like having David Dewhurst’s PIN number. I don’t care if he drools and ties his shoes together; he campaigns like LeBron plays basketball, and he has access to all the money in the world. Absent a horrible scandal, he’s not losing an R+12.5 district.

Then there’s Joe Barton. I like Republicans that yield myriad results when you Google their name and “moron.” This is the fellow who apologized to BP because the White House made them pay to clean up their mess. He’s the single greatest reason oil & gas companies still enjoy tax breaks that would embarrass Montgomery Burns. And he said humans should “adapt” to a warming planet by finding shade. Seriously. ( It’s one thing for a Republican to deny climate change, but yet another to tell Texans who are likely to die without A/C that an affordable response is to find shade. His district is R+16.7 for McCain, but it’s “only” R+11.42 when you use the Houston election. Let’s find a white guy who can raise $2 million and say “Medicare.” Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in noted liberal hotbed Utah got re-elected in a district this conservative in 2010. Chet Edwards’ district was roughly twice as Republican. Joe Barton is a national embarrassment, and he’s actively obstructing the future. Let’s roll.

That brings up Mike McCaul, who holds a district that political ambitious Austinites gaze upon lovingly. The district starts in NW Austin (think Mark Strama territory) and stretches nearly to Houston. It’s R+12.4 (R+11.7 with Houston) and includes two expensive media markets. McCaul is married to an heiress of the Clear Channel fortune, so if you hate mediocre, repetitive music ruining radio, you should really hate this guy. He also voted against expanding CHIP and against raising the minimum wage, but for privatizing Medicare. So if you’re wealthy, he’s your guy. If you work for a living and ever listen to the radio, not so much. Jack Armstrong looked like a good candidate against him but dropped out when the political environment soured against challengers whose party rhymed with Schmectocrat. He’s never had a hard race in the fall, and his district is about a third as Republican as Chet Edwards’ was.

Finally, we’ve got some open or soon-to-be-open seats: CD 25 (which Lloyd Doggett’s not running in), CD 33 (a new Metroplex seat) and CD 36 (which was the Gulf Shrimp district). CD 25 carefuly avoids Strama’s state house district before heading north into counties that don’t root for UT. It’s R+12.4, which makes it less Republican than the one Nick Rahall won in West Virginia in 2010. The Republicans are likely to form a circular firing squad for the primary, which would open the door to a moderate Democrat to take this district. An open seat against a flawed Republican nominee in a state Republicans don’t want to spend a dime is a perfect opportunity for Democrats in Texas.

The recently boomlet about Michael Williams dropping out of the Senate race to run for the open CD 33 in the Metroplex means that we might have an open seat in a district that is marginally more anti-Obama (R+14.7) than it is anti-Democratic (R+12.2 with Houston). How do conservatives in that district feel about having a presumptive nominee who’s a black guy who likes to wear bow ties and Tweet excessively? I dunno.

Which brings us to CD 36. Republicans want to screw us here so badly the courts might not be able to let it happen. According to Greg Wythe, the district includes Beaumont, Lufkin, Crockett, Madisonville, Waller, Tomball, Spring Branch, and a portion of the Houston Heights. You’ve got East Texas Republicans having to play nice with Houston Republicans in a district that no one in Washington would put on the list at R+18. But use the Houston result (R+5) and find me another white guy who can raise $2 million and say “Medicare.” I hear people in East Texas and the Golden Triangle are actually planning on using Medicare.

It’s like Texas Republicans never played Risk. They are maximizing coverage at the expense of electoral security. Yes, they’re obviously politically motivated to maximize Republican representation at the expense of Democrats, particularly minorities. Yes, Hispanics, who provided the bulk of growth in our population is particularly galling. But for all their map-making mayhem, they have drawn several interesting opportunities that we Democrats should not be so quick to write off.

His date might be an 8, but his district's only R+7.44