August 22, 2015

Art Briles, Baylor and Ken Starr

Political liberals remember Kenneth Starr as the seemingly overzealous late 1990s special prosecutor who stumbled on Monica Lewinsky's blue dress, combined with Linda Tripp's salacious brand of "conservativism," eventually introducing us to Bill Clinton's famous "I did not have sex with that woman," then parsing the definition of both "sex" and "is."

The fiasco ended with a failed, politically-driven impeachment of Clinton, the fall of Bob Livingston's bid to replace Newt Gingrich as speaker after his pecadillos were outed by Larry Flynt of Hustler fame, the seeming tawdriness of Starr on full display while he tried to pretend otherwise, and finally, the proving true, to large extend, of Hillary Clinton's claim about "a vast right-wing conspiracy" against her and her husband.

Lewinsky moved to Weight Watchers and other things. Tripp eventually moved to semi-obscurity. Hillary Clinton moved to the Senate, a failed presidential run, and then the State Department.

Starr became dean of Pepperdine's law school, then president of Baylor, which is where we are now.

It's clear that Baylor football coach Art Briles — who has brought the team to national prominence — is likely lying through his teeth about the details of accepting transfer student Sam Ukwuachu from Boise State.

Baylor's PR department, per this piece, has put out some standardized fluff about the situation, but Starr himself has maintained pretty much total radio silence so far. As I see it, this is Starr's one chance to prove that his ethics are actually ethics, and not politically selective ones.

(Update, Aug. 26: That all said, Boise State looks like Idaho raises a good crop of liars along with potatoes, itself.)

It's also a chance for Baylor to prove that it's moved beyond how it handled former basketball coach Dave Bliss.

And for both Starr and Baylor, it's a challenge to prove that they're not driven, at bottom line, by major athletic dollars. To me, this is the main angle. I have little doubt about Briles' ethics by now; let's see Starr's and Baylor's. Or not.

Update, Aug. 25: The Waco Tribune calls for an outside investigation.

And, Chip Brown has questions for Starr, too, noting that Baylor had a similar situation just one year ago.

August 21, 2015

The decline and fall of the National Park Service

During my recent vacation, I made return visits to several national parks; in most cases, it was at least the third time to visit.

And, as we near the National Park Service Centennial celebration, especially, I found reasons to be disappointed.

Found out the NPS isn't always high on history. Juan Bautista de Anza was NOT in the San Luis Valley around Great Sand Dunes NP in 1769 ... but it says that on a trail sign there! He WAS in the area a decade later, after his expedition to California.

That said, the sign that mentioned 1769 also, as part of a "gathering of the peoples" for the San Luis Valley as a corridor, but, on his 1779-80 mission, he was moving through the valley to attack Comanches northwest of the area.

NPS has also gotten too tame. Last time I was in the Needles District of Canyonlands, a decade or so ago, there was still a big yellow sign that said, in essence: "Cell phones really don't work here, because this is already very remote and YOU'RE HIKING INSIDE CANYONS!" This year? Sign gone. Cell phone reception actually out at the trailhead, at least, of Elephant Hill. (Eyeroll.)


At least the NPS isn't the Forest Service or BLM, getting overrun by gun nuts, or the BuRec, whose lakes are overrun by drunken partiers. Small consolation.

As for that centennial celebration? Looks like a neoliberal, sponsor-heavy capitalist clusterfuck is likely, with a new logo for the centennial, plus a new logo for the park service (one that I loathe) so that we can have new branding, so that we can have new marketing, etc. (And, no, NPS, nothing tops your pictured original logo.)

Marketing that, per this blog post and signs you'll see in NPS units, includes big sponsors.

REI, I get. It's the nation's largest non-hunting/fishing outdoors store. (That said, the fact that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell used to be its CEO wouldn't have anything to do with it, rather than, say The North Face, being a sponsor now, would it?) Subaru I halfway get, since it makes a high percentage of crossover and SUV vehicles, and all of them are all-wheel drive.

Budweiser? Drunks, especially loutish ones, in NPS sites I definitely don't want.

American Express? Probably agrees with William Mulholland of Chinatown and L.A. water theft fame that we should dam all of Yosemite to make it more productive.

Humana? What? Is this an Obamacare tie-in to the NPS centennial?

And Disney? Partnering with an even more commercialized Ken Burns, or somebody beyond him, to do an official video of the centennial, even more sanitized than Ken Burns?

It's "interesting" that the Find Your Park website, a partnership between NPS and the National Parks Foundation, hides those sponsors.

That said, while budget cuts could have pushed the NPS and nonprofit affiliates to scrounge for sponsors, I think some of this has become internalized. I have no doubt, from what I've read the past few years, that the timidity of taming wilderness and semi-wilderness areas of western National Parks with cellphone towers is definitely driven internally as much as externally.

And, in my idealized world, the Park Service would turn the damned lakes of the west, the National Recreation Areas, back to the Bureau of Reclamation, since they created them in the first place. Managing such obviously man-made sites is directly against the spirit of the Park Service's Organic Act, and I've said so before.

As for centennials, I didn't remember, or think, before I got there, that it is Rocky's centennial. And, fortunately, that park has done little commercialization of that.

There's other problems. Though Obama has started more of a push on climate change, as far as being a general "outdoorsy" president, he strikes me as the least outdoorsy one since Richard Nixon; Katy in a comment on this blog post definitely agrees. His "all of the above" energy strategy on BLM lands is questionable. Jewell's predecessor, Ken Salazar, was halfway in the pocket of energy companies and one-quarter of the way in the pocket, on BLM and Forest Service land, of cheap-grazing ranchers. And, Dear Leader himself has never really talked about his vision for the present or future of the Park Service, nor pushed to make a major appropriations increase part of the centennial celebration.

(Let's not forget that, as our first black president, he had a priceless opportunity to address the dismal use rate of national parks in particular, and nature recreation sites in general, by minorities, and blew it.)

Neoliberalism, indeed.

(And, speaking of the capitalism behind neoliberalism, Dear Leader let the NPS have its already small budget get whacked in 2012 and hasn't reversed that. More here on his fiscal sloth, combined with Western red states' Congresscritters' hypocrisy.)

August 19, 2015

Hillary Clinton: The scent of a woman

Twice last week, friend Perry trumped me while I was on vacation. The first, already blogged by me in a follow-up, is about the comparison between Black Lives Matter and Occupy.

The second is about Hillary Clinton. Perry, with an extensive boost from Ted Rall, notes that her No. 1 campaign calling card is still that she's a woman and should be elected for that reason.

Pass.

First, we elected Barack Obama with the No. 1 calling card that he was African-American. Look what that got us: A neoliberal health care "reform" that was worse than what Bill Clinton proposed 16 years earlier, and may be the enemy of real reform; continued spying on Americans; expanded drone warfare; general indifference to environmentalism outside of climate change (Obama's arguably the least nature-minded president since Nixon); compromising away compromises in advance in public; and generally timid leadership at many times.

Hillary Clinton wouldn't be timid. And, she'd be even more of a warhawk than Obama. That we know. She'd continue the snooping, too. And, she'd be about as neoliberal financially. (Perry covers most of these issues in more detail, too.)

Second, you want to elect a woman? Dr. Jill Stein is once again seeking the Green Party nomination.

Had you been me seven years ago, you would have voted for the 2008 Green nominee, Cynthia McKinney, and voted for both the black and the woman, and one far more liberal than either Preznit Kumbaya or the pants-wearer in the Clinton family.

Meanwhile, the drip, drip, drip of the Clinton emails brouhaha continues, with Bob Woodward likening it to Watergate in some ways. Meanwhile, Mark Halperin notes the incredible tight-lipped atmosphere of the campaign. And, Clintonista fans? Well, when the Dragon Lady doesn't feed the media, it makes its own meals. That's why many say it's the same old Hillary on the responses, doing so out of worries, if they're affiliated with her campaign, and wish she would change.

Because not all the Scent of a Woman(TM) in the world will cover up the smell of Clintonism.

August 18, 2015

#BlueBell is coming back ... are you buying?

Ice cream pints being filled at Blue Bell's Oklahoma plant before it
shut down this spring. Steve Campbell/Fort Worth Star Telegram
Blue Bell Creameries announced this week that it will start a limited rollout of its ice cream on Aug. 31. Its Alabama plant reopened a few weeks ago; its Texas and Oklahoma plants are still closed.

First, unless that original Brenham plant opens quickly, you've got the goofiness of Blue Bell ice cream being IMPORTED to Texas, since it will be included on the Aug. 31 rollout.

Second, are you buying?

I'm not.

First of all, I've never really bought into the Blue Bell mystique. The "little creamery" is great PR marketing, but pretty much BS otherwise, as far as reality. I don't think it's anything special as far as an ice cream; in fact, since living in H-E-B supermarket territory, I've thought H-E-B's premium house brand is ... wait for it ... better. Otherwise, Breyer's makes a pretty decent, not too pricey, gelato.

Second, unless Sid Bass' investment money has the end result of booting current CEO Paul Kruse, a third-generation family CEO at the privately held company, out the door, don't expect me to rush to start buying. I think Blue Bell needs new blood at the top. I think Kruse and an inner circle expanded Blue Bell too quickly without quality control, failed to take seriously a six-year history of listeria concerns, and thought they could spin, spin, spin with that "little creamery" type PR.

And, probably didn't share the job pain when Blue Bell imploded.

So, I don't know what the ice cream equivalent of "shitburger sandwich" is, but it's probably being manufactured in Brenham, Texas.

#Oilprices continue to tumble to $40; fallout for Texas and #txlege?

Seven weeks ago, when I created my latest quarterly poll on oil prices, as shown at right, I was definitely being more conservative than Wall Street bulls. But, I thought I had potential price ranges pegged about right.

Little did I know.

Oil prices have given up $15/bbl in that time period, falling to a low not seen since the Great Recession.

Neither the bulls nor I foresaw one thing: that China would officially admit its economy is struggling. That, in turn, sawed some floor from underneath the bulls and has become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Nobody knew for sure about any Iran deal at that time, though I expected something to happen, and bulls certainly should have. But, maybe I should have made even more allowance for that.

ISIS turned out to be — so far — overstated as a threat to oil prices.

Other market fundamentals, such as Gulf states within OPEC, above all Saudi Arabia, seeking to control supply and pricing, remain unchanged. So, too, does current North American unwillingness to let that fact fully take root.

That said, I and other bears appear to be right overall.

Analysts are predicting supply will remain high and prices relatively flat not just for the rest of this year, but two-three years ahead. That's in part because, sometime in that period, but nobody is sure when, more Iranian oil will be coming in market. (Maybe this is why Texas Ag Commish Sid Miller supports "Muslim peace" with nukes; see here for more.) It's a more severe version of George Bush's idea 15 years ago on oil price control.)

Meanwhile, a sub-$40 floor for oil prices is being discussed by many people.

What's this mean locally?

1. Texas state-level elected officials need to pull their collective heads out of their asses. (But they probably won't for some time.)

2. This is more clear proof that Texas needs an every-year Texas Legislature. It's ridiculous that the only way to deal with this is via a special session, and that in Texas, only the governor can call one.

3. Banks and other lenders will be calling in more loans, which could have a domino effect.

4. Investors, per that link above, will remain skittish about oil because of volatility.

5. A recession in Texas is more likely unless No. 1 happens, and soon.

==

There's other talking points here.

1. Even if the US, or at least Texas, were a unified, state-controlled market, it's still not Saudi Arabia, despite puffery of the last couple of years.

2. Besides the Saudis as the biggest swing producer, China must now be viewed for the next 18-24 months as the "swing consumer" par excellence. The US economy is so big, and so oil-dependent, that a stutter won't affect demand too much. But, a true recession in China would probably ding world oil demand pretty good.

3. What's continued $40 oil mean in Russia? I certainly don't want to poke Vlad the Impaler Putin with a sharp stick, but it's a very serious issue.


August 17, 2015

TX Progressives tackle voting rights, the border, and more

The Texas Progressive Alliance wishes former President Carter all the best for a full and fast recovery and salutes Jason Day's PGA Championship win as it brings you this week's roundup.

Off the Kuff reports on another Voting Rights Act lawsuit, this one filed on behalf of low English proficiency voters who have been denied the ability to bring a translator of their choice to the ballot box with them.

For a time, many Houstonians considered it a point of pride that the city repealed the use of Red Light Cameras in 2010. But as Texas Leftist has recently discovered, a Houston without camera accountability has become much more dangerous for all transit users...Even deadly.

Not a trace of irony has been found to be present in the recent pronouncements of a certain Democratic so-called frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination.  PDiddie at Brains and Eggs -- with an assist from the biting cartoons of Ted Rall -- illustrates some of the things making Clintonites so nervous of late, none of which have anything to do with e-mail servers or sagging poll numbers.

Socratic Gadfly runs Kinky Friedman's old Five Mexican Generals border control plan through a Donald Trump filter, just for a bit of fun.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is sorry to say Nueces County thinks a husband can kill his wife's lover with impunity.  Stand your ground just the way a Republican likes it. Your wife is your property.

From WCNews at Eye on Williamson. There is so much Texas could do for those in need, but our GOP state leaders choose to do nothing. As a consequence Only Texas Remains above the 20% uninsured rate.

Neil at All People Have Value asserted that the nine bikers shot dead in Waco this past May may have been wrongly killed. APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

======================

The Makeshift Academic reviews the landscape in Texas on the Affordable Care Act.

Nancy Sims considers the value of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus' Mayoral endorsement.

The Houston Justice Coalition calls for an investigation into the actions of three sheriffís deputies who forcibly conducted an illegal body cavity search publicly on a woman in Harris County.

Scott Braddock knows the real reason why Ken Paxton is still in office.

The Texas Living Waters Project reminds us that the best time to plan for a drought is when you're not in one.

#BlackLivesMatter and #Occupy

Friend Perry last week wrote just the post that had been inchoately floating around in my mind.

Blac Lives Matter definitely has some parallels to the Occupy movement, above all, theoretically, lack of organization. (That said, Occupy had an organizational structure, and certainly had leadership, at least at Zucotti Park; any time you have an inner circle with security protection, they're leaders.)

The main problem is with lack of organization, in the case of BLM, or organizational control, as with Occupy, is that you get disruptors. Besides a kid pulling a gun in Ferguson, you get a deliberate disruptor who wants to sow mayhem inside the Democratic Party (and apparently has not heard of Greens, or more likely, doesn't care).  And, per this additional bit, even more than with Occupy, folks like Johnson run the risk of disrupting Black Lives Matter.

The bigger problem, right now, is that organizers of local political events aren't taking enough control of events. Next time, cut off the mike of Marissa Johnson or her like after the alloted time she's given. The time after that, boot her.

Period.

(Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has rightfully said he has no need to apologize to BLM activists and that a staffer shouldn't have sent out an apology email. But he IS meeting with one activist, and let's hope they listen, and if there's things Sanders needs to address, not just hear, he does so. And, arguably, there's strategery in a focus on Sanders, though I would debate that, too. This is all as Hillary gets a private meeting with other Black Lives Matters leaders. If that's strategery, I've got beachfront in Nevada to sell you.)

Per that third link, and Johnson's schwaffling on why she's only protested Bernie Sanders? Grow some ovaries and protest Hillary Clinton, too. Until you do, shut up about your claims to be disrupting the Democratic Party. They're lies.

This gets back to event organizers. It's unfair that Sanders, O'Malley and others get interrupted at events that Clinton isn't even at. And, to the degree BLM does have organization, it's unfair that you don't do something about this.

That said, there are differences between the two movements, mainly on the movements themselves. The original Zucotti Park Occupy movement, per its own self-surveying, was white kids with MBAs or JDs and upper-middle-class parents. And, it was peddling big myth in this way, about "poor us" as well as "leaderlessness." BLM, on the other hand, is probably more inchoate, and didn't have the likes of an Adbusters calling for it to be formed. (Indeed, a lot of people formally or informally associated with BLM would laugh like hell at Adbusters.)

That said, if BLM has other Johnsons, trolls or even false flaggers could be it's own Achilles. (And, in places like Oakland, who's to say that Occupy didn't have false flaggers?)