Archive | August, 2012

Urgent College Station-area update

Things are about the same as usual.

 

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Republican National Convention wrap-up

The good news for Republicans: nothing happened at the convention that will deal a big blow to them by November.

The bad news for Republicans: it wasn’t a game-changer, and since Romney’s the guy challenging from behind, it would have been better for him if it had been.

There were some shameful, racist, moments, not the least of which was the peanut-throwing/CNN camera operator incident. But voters will chalk that up to the fact that out of thousands of people in the room, there will always be some bad ones. They lost few votes over that incident, if only because the votes they would have lost, they’ve never had.

There were bizarre moments. OK, let’s be frank: there was THAT bizarre moment. The Clint Eastwood/empty chair thing. Personally, I tried hard to join into the “let’s laugh at him” revelry on social media last night, but I just couldn’t make it, and laughed with him instead. I actually kind of liked it, for two reasons. First, because I thought it was kind of cute, in that “oh look, a doddering lovable old fool – how cute” kind of way. And second, because since Eastwood’s remarks preceded Romney’s keynote, I knew the followup morning-after chatter would be a lot about Eastwood’s chair and less about Romney, and I can’t help but have a better day any time a Republican manages to step on his own story. So, it’s hard to imagine the Republicans’ cost-benefit analysis on Eastwood, and I bet somebody somewhere in the Romney camp is getting a government-inspected Grade-A ass-chewing today about it.

The Eastwood thing will probably reduce Romney’s convention polling bump by a percentage point or two, but I don’t believe it matters – Romney’s convention bump is irrelevant, since the Democrats are going second, next week. So whatever bump we see in the overnight tracking polls in the next couple of days will be erased by next Friday, when we see the Democratic bump counteracting it. By then, we’ll probably be back to having a Presidential election that looked exactly like the election two weeks prior – one in which the President is ahead, and Romney is the challenger coming from behind…as if neither convention had happened, and neither convention mattered at all. Which, frankly, may well be the case, depending on how Democrats do next week.

One of the most notable things I noticed about the Republicans’ convention is the continuing political freudian slippage related to Romney’s chances this year, both from convention speakers and television network analysts. Speaker after speaker came to the podium to make their case – but not particularly highlighting their nominee’s case. Chris Christie was the most blatant, but there were signs of it from Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and even Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan. The second string of Republican leadership is clearly marking their territory for 2016 – a sure-fire indicator that they believe Romney probably won’t win in 2012. They may look back on their convention performances and wish they hadn’t so obviously peed on the fire hydrant, lest Republican activists point some blame their way in the event Romney loses in November.

What would a game-changing Republican convention have looked like? One which cut into the gender gap and encouraged women to come back. Or one which began to reverse the alienation of Latino or African-American voters. On these fronts, the convention was not a success. Their polling bump will be modest, and will probably be populated mostly by establishment Republicans who have lived in the “maybe” column for months, disgusted by a Republican primary process dominated by tea party blathering. But there’s still plenty of time for Obama and the Democrats to persuade them, and there is still plenty of election math to point to an Obama win even without them.

Stay tuned – the Democrats are set to dominate your airwaves all of next week.

Here was my reaction to Mitt Romney’s speech, and the convention as a whole, last night on Fox in Austin.

 

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Paul Ryan: when Fox News says you’re lying…

you’re lying.

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Democrats.

Apparently, we’re more dangerous than we look.

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Attention: Republicans heading for Tampa for the convention

Be on the lookout.

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Jerry Patterson versus everybody else – updated

Well it looks like my buds over at Progress Texas got into a bit of a tussle with Land Commish Jerry Patterson.

Here’s the background: in the process of the Republicans in charge of the Texas Legislature cutting more than $5 billion from neighborhood schools, they also put an initiative on the ballot last November to allow for more money from the Permanent School Fund to be made available to fund schools.

After voters approved the measure, Patterson – whose office essentially controls the fund, declined to release the additional money, which amounts to $300 million (to offset $5 billion in cuts). That’s when Progress Texas put on the pressure, and the insults started flyin’.

I’m disappointing my friends on this one: Patterson did the right thing.

At issue here is the continued health of Texas’ Permanent School Fund, which was created in 1845. The fund was designed as an investment fund, the earnings of which would help fund public schools – which it has been doing ever since, thanks to the foresight of the folks in charge of this state in 1845 (who are clearly more forward-thinking than the folks in charge in 2012).

What legislators essentially did in the budget last year, in the process of cutting billions from public schools, was authorize a raid on the fund. In other words, they wanted to start eating their seed corn, just so the Republicans could claim they stayed out of the Rainy Day Fund. The Rainy Day Fund is a fund created specifically for the purpose legislators wanted to swipe money out of the Permanent School Fund for. But Rick Perry, gearing up for his Presidential run, issued the edict that using money out of the Rainy Day Fund would suddenly be deemed “un-conservative,” or something. I call it “poll question policy-making,” and Perry excels at it.

Setting aside the irony that Progress Texas is essentially agreeing with Rick Perry and the Republican legislative leadership on this narrow point, the problem with this solution – and the reason I’m siding with Patterson – is because raiding the fund is a terrible precedent. If legislators of times past had gone down this road, the Permanent School Fund would have been depleted long ago, just so weak-kneed legislators could avoid telling constituents they had to either raise taxes or make tough cuts. Same with the Permanent University Fund, which is essentially the same deal for higher education. These two funds were, and remain, critical in funding public education, and in building and maintaining Texas’ top tier Universities – UT and A&M. The folks in charge in 1845 were clearly more willing to invest in a strong future for Texas than the folks in charge in 2012.

If Progress Texas’ hope is to call attention to the fact that Texas’ public schools are short $5 billion because of the short-sightedness of the Republicans in charge, more power to ‘em, because it’s true. Those Republicans should be ashamed of themselves, both for that, and for failing to utilize the Rainy Day Fund to offset those cuts. Quality teachers are being laid off, and your children are being packed like sardines in crowded classrooms as a result. Nobody anywhere can credibly claim that anything legislators did last session will improve the quality of your child’s education.

But Land Commish Patterson isn’t one of the Republicans in charge who made those decisions. He’s right to protect the fund from this raid.

Update: I received a comment from Phillip Martin over at Progress Texas, and in the interest of fairness wanted to share it in its entirety. It doesn’t change my mind – I still side with Patterson on this. But perhaps in posting it, Phil will follow through with his free t-shirt offer:

There’s not a lot of people I trust more than Harold Cook, and I’m not just talking about politics. Harold has set me straight and helped me – and my family – out a number of times. Beyond being funny as hell, his honesty about people and insights about politics and life are invaluable, which is why I perk up and pay attention when he suggests, as he did this morning, that my work and the work of my organization, Progress Texas, may be missing the mark.

At question is whether or not Jerry Patterson should release $300 million from the Permanent School Fund to the Available School Fund. Harold argues that:

“Setting aside the irony that Progress Texas is essentially agreeing with Rick Perry and the Republican legislative leadership on this narrow point, the problem with this solution – and the reason I’m siding with Patterson – is because raiding the fund is a terrible precedent. If legislators of times past had gone down this road, the Permanent School Fund would have been depleted long ago, just so weak-kneed legislators could avoid telling constituents they had to either raise taxes or make tough cuts.”

I agree with Harold – it would be terrible to just raid the fund. But the law passed by the Legislature and adopted by Texas voters in Proposition 6 wouldn’t deplete the fund. When the law passed this time last year, there was $24 billion in the Permanent School Fund (PSF). Today, according to Patterson’s letter, there is $26 billion in the Permanent School Fund. Taking out $300 million – the amount in question – still keeps the PSF at levels above where it was at a year ago when the law was passed.

The money would make a difference, too. The average teacher makes $47,150 a year in Texas. So the $300 million — just to illustrate it’s importance — would cover the salaries of over 3,000 teachers in Texas over this two year budget cycle. It’s a far cry from the $5.4 billion that was cut, but it’s nothing to sneeze at.

We need to do way, way, way more to fund our public schools. But we can’t tap the Rainy Day Fund today. We can’t pass a law to send more money to our schools today. Shoot – Perry and the Republican Legislature probably won’t let anyone do any of that at any time, ever. But Patterson can release money to our schools today, and if he stepped back from his name-calling and chest-beating, he might realize he actually has an opportunity to both make his point about Republicans screwing up funding and get praised by Texas education groups for doing the right thing.

As for us and Progress Texas, we’re looking into making “Slacktivist” t-shirts as we speak. Harold, yours will be on the house!

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David Dewhurst, please call your office

On second thought, after seeing this screen shot from the Statesman website, maybe you shouldn’t.

 

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Republican National Convention preview: Tampa

Prominent Republican and evangelist huckster Pat Robertson has suggested that gay people cause hurricanes (and also tornadoes and possibly a meteor).

Recent Presidential contest loser Michelle Bachmann has suggested that hurricanes are God’s way of getting politicians’ attention.

In other news, which is totally not related to any of the above in any way, shape, or form, no-sir-ee, the National Hurricane Center reports that Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to become a hurricane by Thursday, and threatens to head toward Tampa, Florida, where Republicans will be gathering for their National convention at about the same time.

The name “Isaac” is a biblical name, and he is characterized in both the Bible and the Qur’an as a righteous man of God, and a well-digger by trade. I can’t think of a better addition to Tampa than Hurricane Isaac, to help the Republicans dig their holes deeper and deeper.

I hope my Republican friends attending the convention also watch out for meteors.

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I just KNEW there was a logical explanation for Todd Akin

This explains everything.

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How to destroy your campaign in 30 seconds or less: violate the “dog whistle” code

Meet Todd Akin of Missouri, the Republican Senate nominee. He’s the guy other Republicans across the country were depending on to give Republicans the majority in the U.S. Senate. Until he said this:

The scariest part isn’t that Akin was making up his own science, although that’s scary enough. The scariest part isn’t that he inadvertently demonstrated the extent to which Tea Party Republicans have nothing but disdain for women, their health, and their fundamental rights, although that, too, is utterly terrifying.

The scariest part is that Akin did not in any way misunderstand the question. He understood the question perfectly, and he answered very sincerely and articulately, with an answer he clearly believes. He answered it with made-up facts that don’t exist, demonstrating a very sincerely-held attitude that shouldn’t exist, which lays bare an attitude about women which should not stand.

Republicans across the country spent the rest of the news cycle yesterday disavowing Akin (particularly difficult for Paul Ryan, who has — oopsie! —  praised him in the past). But they’re not disavowing Akin because he violated a fundamental value Republicans hold. It’s because he articulated one – but got caught doing it.

There’s a very good reason that “Republican dog whistle” is a political term of art. The term is used when Republican candidates say things specifically calculated to signal to Republican activists, in a way deniable to everybody else, that the candidate is with ‘em on issues that they can’t get caught admitting to in public. Akin’s unforgivable sin, in the minds of his fellow Republican leadership, is that he didn’t use the dog whistle – the command only the dogs can hear – to call the dogs. Instead, he shouted the command where everybody could hear it.

The war on women is alive and well in America, stoked by Tea Party fires. But it’s not just a war on women. If you listen closely, the dog whistles are everywhere. When Rick Perry toys around with “secession” talk without taking a particular position, and talks endlessly of “states rights,” it’s a dog whistle, intended to remind his voters that he shares their values, in the context of That Other Time when Southern governors openly discussed secession and states rights.

When Tea Party activists persist in their accusations that Barack Obama was really born in Kenya…or is really a secret Muslim, that’s a dog whistle, meant to signal to their fellow travelers that the President of the United States should be defined by his race, which you may have noticed is not White.

They have dog whistles for women. They have dog whistles for minorities. They have dog whistles for gays. They have dog whistles for the poor, and the elderly, and the undereducated. And all those dog whistles together are meant to create for their voters a clear picture that everybody who isn’t just like you is a threat, and they merit your fear, your anger, and your opposition.

Todd Akin went over the line – he laid it bare yesterday – and he will be punished for it by his fellow Republicans. Which fellow Republicans will punish him? Why, it’s the funders – a group that has its own dog whistle term-of-art: “the job creators.” They get their own especially-complimentary dog whistle, as well they should. They’ve been paying for the research and development of all the other dog whistles. And not by coincidence, their own special dog whistle creates for themselves the rare exception to the above rule: “no, we’re not like you, but we are not to be feared and loathed like the others – we are to be admired…we are your beloved benevolent dictators.

And it is in this context that Republicans are currently accusing Democrats of dividing the country. The field of psychology calls this “projection,” a condition in which one projects one’s own undesirable thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings onto someone else.

Projection is why Republican candidates lodge complaints about Democrats’ “angry rhetoric.” Let that sink in: Republicans are complaining about Democrats’ angry rhetoric. The people who question the President’s very birth and his citizenship, question almost everybody’s patriotism, question war heroes’ combat records, and throw around the words “socialism” and “un-American” and “Godless” and who wage wars against the rights of women, minorities, and LGBT Americans, and who characterize as lies things which have been proven by science – THOSE are the people who are complaining that the Democrats are playing too rough.

Dog whistles indeed.

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Headline of the day so far

It’s also the mugshot of the week so far.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Romney’s tax returns

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

What if a Republican nominee who was personally very wealthy refused to publicly release his income tax returns, so that voters could know where the money came from and where it went? And what if despite months of Democrats’ howls and journalists’ pleas, he still steadfastly declined to release them?

Let’s continue the scenario, just for grins: what if, by a couple of weeks out from the November election, polling showed that Republican nominee had a ten point lead over his Democratic opponent. Except, a few days out from the election, what if a reporter slipped past the candidate’s handlers and asked him some inconvenient questions about those tax returns? And what if, in a fit of unscripted honesty, this rich candidate blurted out that, despite enormous personal wealth, he didn’t have to pay any – yes ANY – taxes for one of the years in question?

And what if, as a result of that and other gaffes, that Republican blew his whole lead, and the Democrat won the race in a real squeaker of an election?

We don’t have to wonder what if, because it happened. I’m not talking about 2012′s Mitt Romney. I’m describing Texas Gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams in 1990, whose tax return SNAFUs and other gaffes propelled his opponent Ann Richards into the Texas Governor’s mansion.

There are probably more than a few Republican partisans who aren’t sleeping easy, while they wonder why it’s so important to Romney to keep his tax returns from going public. As I and others have said before, if it was easy to do, he would have already done it. The political cost of him not doing so has already been quantified – a CNN poll showed that he gained about six points worth of negatives, just from July to August. Assuming Romney is not being irrational, it’s fair to assume that he’s concluded that the political cost of him releasing the returns is greater than that. Harry Reid and others are to be forgiven if they smell a rat.

The Texas oilman, Clayton Williams, can probably relate to Romney’s frustration. And in fact, Mr. Williams indeed expressed a bit of frustration of his own the other day, when he shelled out the money to buy a couple of billboards in Midland which said “Obama can kiss my rig.” Williams said he’d “cleaned up my act” a bit from his original preferred message, undoubtedly to protect the delicate sensibilities of the good people of Midland. Because, after all, Midlanders are well-known for their delicate sensibilities.

Perhaps Mr. Williams should warn Mitt Romney about the political cost of this income tax thing. And perhaps he intends to: Romney will reportedly be in Midland next Tuesday raising lots of money. It may be worse than Romney thinks – politics aside, Clayton Williams is a lot more likable than Mitt Romney, and to my knowledge has never, ever, even so much as thought about strapping a dog to the roof of his car.

 

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Mitt Romney’s craptacular July leads to Ryan-tastic August

Let’s face it: whether you detest Mitt Romney or like Mitt Romney (or are pretending to), odds are that you agree with me that he had an absolutely craptacular July. Only on the fundraising front did he do well. He fared poorly on all other fronts, and it showed in the polling. Here’s what I said about it last week, the day before he picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate:

It is especially in that context why you might be able to imagine that Romney’s VP pick of “the Medicare-killing dude,” as he is known in Florida, would be seen as a gloriously Jesus-blessed wondrous game-changer by the lunatic fringe Romney still hadn’t closed the deal with. Ryan’s pick is clear indication that Mittens still hadn’t closed the deal with base voters, and was obviously desperate to do so prior to the Republican National Convention. That’s when the Republican base all gets in the same room, with way too many witnesses with cameras, to behave badly.

I listened to Maddow last night on satelite radio while driving through a vast expanse of West Texas wasteland yesterday, and I think she was quoting one of the writers on her blog when she got it just right: there are three kinds of Vice Presidential running mate picks: August picks, November picks, and January picks. The January picks are the Vice Presidents who can help you run the country once you’re elected, and are the best kind. The November picks are the ones who can help you win the election, and those are the most common kind. But the August picks are the ones who can only help you get through your miserable party National Convention with your ass still intact, and without excessive bite marks.

Paul Ryan is an August pick. In fact, Paul Ryan is an “August, and I’m sick of explaining why I’m not releasing my tax returns” pick.

But speaking of tax returns, Mr. Ryan undoubtedly had to turn in years worth of ‘em to the Romney campaign for vetting purposes. I wonder if the Romney campaign will release them. Awkward moment alert.

 

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About that Dewhurst-Cruz thing

As there always is after an electoral loss which the heavy bettors were on the wrong side, there has been, and continues to be, endless backroom blather on what happened. The (usually) unspoken axiom in the Texas Capitol after all such events is “blame must be placed, and we simply cannot move on until it is.”

“Why Dewhurst lost” is always a question to which the askers are usually seeking one simple answer, mainly so they can repeat it to their clients in efforts to weasel out of being wrong (me among them – and I currently owe one client $100 on a lost bet because of the race…which she is not allowing me to pay off until she gathers the maximum number of witnesses). The truth to it, and most political outcomes, is almost always a combination of many things, some of which the accuracy of which would require a telling so detailed that it would far exceed the length of any interesting bar story.

Several factors seem to be repeated more often than others. The first is that Ted Cruz was the beneficiary of a way-way-way-extended primary election schedule (because of redistricting litigation) allowing him to chip away at Dewhurst’s seemingly-insurmountable early lead. This theory strikes me as the one closest to the truth. I repeatedly said back in the Spring (in general, not specific to this race) that all underdogs want more time, and all incumbents and frontrunners want less of it, for that very reason.

The other pervasive Monday morning quarterbacking I keep hearing is that Dewhurst’s handlers handled things exactly wrong. His campaign’s “rose garden strategy,” the story goes, backfired on The Dew. Ted Cruz, they say, was racking up brownie points by going to every Tea Party event under the sun, pointing to the empty chair Dewhurst would have occupied, defining Dewhurst’s record un-challenged. It’s a tempting conclusion to draw, but I don’t buy it.

Here’s why: let’s imagine if Dewhurst’s campaign had executed the opposite strategy. What if Dewhurst had attended all those Tea Party rallies, and all those debates, and all those editorial board meetings. What if the Lt. Governor had stayed on the road and had met with every Republican Party activist he could get his hands on? Would they have walked away from those experiences thinking Dewhurst is a great guy, and the Senate candidate of their dreams? I doubt it. Dewhurst is stiff. He is not a man who oozes warmth and personality. And he was, in effect, the incumbent in the race, faced with defending a record in public office. If incumbent-ish candidates explaining their public records to Tea Party activists haven’t fared well anywhere else in the country, why would we think Mr. Dewhurst would have fared better? And as for ed board endorsements, do they really motivate or persuade Republican primary run-off voters? Certainly not.

Another pervasive theoretical factor is that the half-ton of cash Dewhurst’s campaign put on TV attacking Cruz early and often served only to increase Cruz’ name ID, without substantially increasing Cruz’ negatives. This has some truth to it, but really only in hindsight. Many of the political professionals parroting this theory (some of them undoubtedly in efforts to increase their political market share, at the expense of the Dewhurst consultants) probably would have done the same thing. I don’t remember any of those consultants saying at the time that the Dewhurst camp was making a big mistake. It’s just something the campaign did that didn’t work very well, which is just the way it goes sometimes. Again, would the opposite strategy change the ultimate result? It would not have.

Was the Dewhurst campaign as terrible as people are now saying? Well yes, in a way, because in a campaign, the outcome means everything. But let’s face it, folks: sometimes, the better candidate really does win, and Cruz was the better candidate. And the only reason anybody ever called David Dewhurst the formidable frontrunner in every campaign he has ever waged is because he was, by far, the richest guy in the room.

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Kinky tortilla news

Two news items of note this week among Texas media.

First, there’s been another Jesus sighting, this time on a tortilla in Beeville.

And second, Kinky Friedman is thinking about running for governor again.

Clearly the tortilla news is much more relevant to Texas voters. But Kinky running for public office again is clearly the funnier joke.

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