SocraticGadfly: 7/7/19 - 7/14/19

July 13, 2019

Kumbaya humanism may trip itself up


About a year or a little more ago, I noticed that blog and Twitter friend, and fellow Massimo Pigliucci reader Shem the Penman was regularly commenting on a blog called Another White Atheist in Columbia.

I wound up adding it to my blogroll. But, in the last three-four months or so, M.L. Clark’s thoughts have become more “miss” than “hit” to me.

And, the most recent post, The Secular-Humanist Danger of “Proof, or It Didn’t Happen,” is definitely the most disconcerting.

I see basically two main issues with it. One is that Clark, in criticizing non-humanist atheists for having too many easy hot takes on religious fundamentalists and encouraging non-polarity actions, is herself setting up a new polarity. The other is that the post has a general incoherence throughout its fairly long length. And, as I write this out further, I’m thinking that was part of the problem she has with previous posts. They’re too long, and not so much too long per se, but too long while losing a focus or a central train of thought.

With that, let’s dig in.

She first claims to have divined “the reason” behind the fundamentalist or conservative evangelical type saying they know god is speaking to them, and feels no reason to dismiss this ultimate reason.
I don’t tend to go to that extreme, though, because I find it much easier to address the underlying concern of people who ask this question. What they’re really asking, after all, is far more humanistic: Don’t you believe me? Don’t you believe my experience of the cosmos? Don’t you find value in what I perceive to be the state of our shared reality?"
IMO, the fundamentalist version of a believer, at least, is NOT asking that.
To which I say that’s not the case, or it’s certainly not always the case.

They are asking: "Don't you believe me and my experience of the cosmos which I know is true because an omnipotent, omniscient being told me?"

That’s MUCH different.

And, no, I don’t believe you because of your stated or implied reasons for why you’re saying this.

And per the last rhetorical question? No, not even when they're family. Which they are, since unlike her, I'm not a "born atheist."

I'm not a Gnu Atheist and in part because of them, don't normally use the word "atheist" to describe myself. But, I'm not a Kumbaya type of secular humanist, either. I have no need to go out of my way to denigrate religious beliefs. AND I have no need to go out of my way to turd-polish such beliefs either. (That's a riff on President Kumbaya, also known to me as Dear Leader, the previous occupant of the White House.)

I can, as necessary, compartmentalize how I interact with such others. That means not sharing that part of their reality, so your last rhetorical question simply doesn't fly with me. I have no need to call it a "figment of their imagination" to simply not accept it. 

==

Then this:
But when we say that, we’re being disingenuous: treating divinity as an invisible friend, when the neuroscience says something much more fascinating. If “God” is a tool that can enhance our inner convictions–give us a bolt of courage, or clarity, when it comes to our instincts–then there are good reasons for its persistence in our species.
Well .... first, neuroscience says all sorts of things. Doesn't mean they're true. In fact, lots of stuff currently peddled with a "neuro-" prefix is pseudoscience. Ditto for evolutionary psychology and its application to the growth of religious believe across the developmental history of Homo sapiens. And it ain't just me who says so.

I think you're using that "if" as a rhetorical device. I think it's better used as an actual "if." Much better used. We will never know or even come close to knowing exactly how and why religious belief developed. Even if the big picture of its start is right, internalizing a combination of agency imputation and pattern detection, that's far shy of God being a tool to enhance our inner convictions.

After all, many prayers are not for courage, or other emotional or moral gifts. They're for success in the hunt, a new job, and other quite materialistic issues.

==

Then this:
However, we secular humanists also have to recognize that we give this ammo away when we, too, practise a complete dismissal of other human beings’ subject-positions.
That, and your phrasing of the two-part option that follows doesn't recognize that you yourself may be setting up and holding to a similar two-part option.

As for how you apply this to politics-based social justice here in Merika, since I'm not a member of either duopoly party, that doesn't apply to me. Tis true that few Merikuns operate outside the polarities of the duopoly box, but some do. (Beyond that, I already know that women can, have, and do lie about sexual abuse claims. And, when it comes to sexual abuse of one adult by another, and even more, child sexual abuse? Women can be abusers just like men. Gays and lesbians can be abusers just like straights.)

Beyond that, I think it's in a sense weak tea to transition from this broad "we give this ammo away" to such a narrowly focused follow up.

Tying this back to your two-part option? I am going to situationally assess fundamentalist / conservative evangelical claims different from others' claims as a starter. And no, that doesn't mean I'm playing on his or her turf. Basically, you're coming close to your own two-option polarity by seeming to indicate that there's only one way of not playing on their turf.

Wrong in spades, overall.

Rather than engaging in repeated battle, I can have a one-off conversation with a fundy. If it's online rather than meatspace, if they don't appear amenable to pouring their Humean passions into the filter of reason, then I move on. Including muting, blocking or whatever. See, that's a third way right there. Or I can go a second step down the road if I see a crack, but then cut things off whenever needed. 

All of this applies to general political discussion with the far right. And many other things.

Finally, a lot of good psychological research says that empathy isn't the blanket good that you seem to postulate it is. And, that ties back to my “Kumbaya humanist” comment above.

At this point, it's time to close with old friend Idries Shah:


And this one from Shah is good, too. I am working to apply it more and more to myself.


July 12, 2019

Bernie and Sandernistas vs Madcow Maddow:
Gun control gets caught in the bow wash of twosiderism;
Ignored: Bernie as Just.Another.Politician.™ on gunz

Arguably, one of the losers of the first pair of Democratic debates, at least in part, IMO, was Bernie Sanders for his answer on gun control when nailed by Madcow Maddow.

Gunz is generally NOT an issue to flub in a Democratic presidential debate:
And, he got whacked over that immediately.


And, the secondary issues behind that are that Bernie appears inflexible, and that like other Just.Another.Politician.™ folks, he has trouble admitting he was wrong. It is also problematic in that this was semi-softball for being a "gotcha" question, it's a gotcha question that should have been anticipated and ...

Bernie was even dumb enough to brag about getting a D-minus rating from the Nazi Redneck Assholes. Anybody with a brain knows that if the NRA doesn't give you an F rating, there's something wrong.

And, there is something wrong. Guns, even from a Democratic POV, let alone a non-duopoly one, is Bernie's weakest domestic policy issue. He's gotten better, but still not gotten good.

So, I quote-tweeted that with some snark:
Sirota finally responded to the issue on Twitter almost a full day after the debate, retweeting this:
He's still, 48 hours after the debate, yet to direct tweet anything himself.

And, while some Berners admitted he had problems, let's see how much Bernie conspiracy theorists pop further out of, or into, the woodwork.

Or, let's let Politifact try to turd-polish Bernie, claiming that he was "mostly true" on his response to Madcow Maddow.

Oh, no he wasn't. That claim itself is at best mostly true and maybe half true.

Worse, the citation of a Seven Days in Vermont interview in support of this — the full interview, from which Madcow partially quoted — is at best half true and worst, mostly false.

Kit Norton, the Politifacter, also doesn't disclose that he works for Seven Days rival VT Digger. Nor does she note, which I and others who have been critical of Bernie on guns know, and which Seven Days mentions, that he supported giving gun makers immunity from lawsuits. That happened in key votes in 2005, in between his two best NRA ratings on that list above. No coincidence that.

Looking at Norton's Twitter bio, I suspect he has good self-motivated political reasons for turd-polishing. I also don't like that Politifact doesn't have tagline disclosures at the bottom of posts about who their 'facters" are. There's also the "we listened to audio" comment in the Politifact, which came off as semi-pretentious after I did the same. The audio isn't that long, and doesn't have any big "reveal"; that's part of the pretentiousness. and the royal "we" is itself pretentious.


Also "interesting" is that this is Politifact Vermont, not "Politifact National." And, Politifact Vermont is run in partnership with???

VTDigger, where Norton first posted this alleged fact-checking as a piece for VTDigger THEN got it run w/Politifact 17 minutes later.

And the partnership contains nobody else. No Seven Days. No Burlington Free Press. Nobody else. The partnership just started last October, so I don't know if Bernie would have gotten worse than a "Half true" in history. The national Politifact, though, has dinged him from time to time

There's the related issue that, while both VT Digger and Seven Days have been tough on Bernie at times, Seven Days has been more consistently tough, and has also often had a higher degree of toughness, especially on about anything and everything that Jane Sanders has had her fingers on. (Norton does link to Seven Days on both websites' pieces, perhaps to appear more neutral.)

I first saw the Politifact claims via Aaron Maté:
And, I honestly wonder, to get to the end of the header, if he's not engaging in twosiderism because of Madcow Maddow peddling Russiagate.

I tweeted back to him and the quote-tweeted Faiz Shakir asking if either had read the Seven Days piece. I also asked if either knew of Norton's editorial background vis-a-vis Seven Days. 

Crickets.
And, since Faiz is Bernie's campaign manager, this was also tweeted back to them:

I've seen shitloads of twosiderism and whataboutism from left-liberals and leftists on Twitter in just the past two months.

So, let's do what Aaron, Faiz and Kit wouldn't do — actually look at the Seven Days piece, with text.

First unmentioned by Kit, from the Seven Days piece, is:
More damaging still could be the perception that, when it comes to guns, Sanders is not the paragon of principle he's reputed to be. His inconsistency on the issue suggests that his position has been driven by the politics of the moment — an uncharacteristic aberration for Sanders.
That’s reflected in his 1990 Congressional campaign against incumbent Peter Smith:
Then he took one last swing at Sanders. "In closing, I would say: Bernie, in the Free Press in 1988, you said gun control was a local issue," Smith said. "This is a federal issue. I'm delighted to see that you've come along..."
His press secretary in 1990, Steven Rosenfeld, follows, from a book he later wrote:
Later that day, Rosenfeld wrote in his book, Sanders called him to express unease about the role of firearms in the campaign. "It's an issue I do not feel comfortable about," he confided to his press secretary. "We want Mr. Philbin to do our dirty work for us."
Sounds like Just.Another.Politician.™ territory.

Then, there’s Bernie being plain old tone-deaf:
On October 25, 1991, a 30-year-old engineer named Elizabeth Teague brought a semiautomatic handgun to work at the Eveready Battery factory in Bennington, where she fatally shot 47-year-old plant manager Jonathan Perryman and wounded three other coworkers. Before fleeing the building, she set off several crude explosive devices consisting of gunpowder and gasoline. 
When Sanders traveled to Bennington two days later to address a labor forum, he couldn't escape questions about his vote earlier that year against the so-called Brady Bill, which required a seven-day waiting period for all handgun purchases, enabling states and localities to perform criminal background checks in the interim. In an interview following the forum, the first-term House member called the bloodshed in Bennington "tragic" — but he argued that the legislation would have done nothing to prevent it. The solution, he said, was to lift people out of poverty.
Really? So only poor people are gun nuts?

Meanwhile, when Bernie DID back a bill that the NRA opposed, it had plenty of pro-police gravy in it, all of which Bernie supported:
The following May, Sanders finally backed a bill the NRA opposed: an assault weapons ban similar to the one that had been his predecessor's undoing. The measure was later folded into a comprehensive crime bill that instituted a three-strikes policy for violent criminals, expanded use of the death penalty, and funded the hiring of new police officers and the building of new prisons. Sanders backed that, too.
Maybe he, like Hillary Clinton, was worried about superpredators.

Finally, his vote to support immunizing gun makers from lawsuits directly conflicts with his anti-corporate message:
The votes that would cause him the most political grief would be those, in 2003and 2005, for the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prohibited lawsuits against gun manufacturers and retailers for the unlawful misuse of firearms.
And, at first, he didn’t even cite his “protect small local gun makers” angle that he later did. Rather, it was he didn’t think gun makers should be held liable, period.

Whether they should or not is one issue. Taking shifting, politically expedient explainers when you realize your original stance might be a problem is another.

The reality? Bernie's long-held "Vermont is a gun state" panders to the NRA, and did so across 20 years even as it moved the Overton Window rightward. There's nothing incompatible with being a "gun state" and proper regulation of guns.

I really encourage reading the whole piece.

I also encourage you to trust Politifact less and not just on Bernie.

In multiple other state verticals, I noticed, Politifact partners with just one newspaper. And Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida and New York are all much bigger. Weirder yet, it works with an online-only for the Pennsylvania version, and one that appears to be about arts events first.

Of course, Politifact comes from the Poynter / Tampa Bay St. Petersburg Times combo. The real problem is that there seems to be no rhyme or reason for why Politifact has partnered with particular papers, and with just single newspapers in all these states. In other states on its list, it has partnered with public broadcast media in a couple of cases, a university in one, and a good-government type nonprofit in another.

==

Beyond that, though he's writing about the Washington Post's fact checkers, and about them versus Sanders as being too radical, Jeet Heer's cautions can be extended beyond that. Politically weaponizing fact checking is a dangerous proposition. In this particular case, he says it can give Trump an opening to questioning the whole enterprise.

Tis true both ways, Jeet. Spin-doctoring fact checking in Bernie's favor, as I have just pointed out, does the same thing.

July 11, 2019

Third parties, independents sue Texas over HB 2504
and other ballot access restrictions (updated)

Note: The following, in Roman, is verbatim from a press release by Oliver Hall, legal counsel for Center for Competitive Democracy, and Jane Nam, media and communications manager with Shearman and Sterling. (It's not complete, but everything here is verbatim.)

And now that I have it up, I have posted a few interspersed thoughts in red italics.Updates from the original are in blue-green italics.

A group of Texas voters, candidates and minor political parties filed suit today (July 11) in federal court in Austin, alleging that the Texas Election Code violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by imposing discriminatory and severely burdensome requirements on independent candidates and minor political parties that seek access to Texas’ general election ballot. The filing challenges the combined impact of several statutory provisions, including the large number of handwritten voter signatures that must be submitted on paper nomination petitions in a limited period of time, as well as the restrictions on when nomination petitions may be circulated, which voters are eligible to sign them, and the deadlines for filing nomination petitions.

Update, early August: The plaintiffs have already filed their first amended complaint. Among other things, it notes Texas has changed signature requirements in the past. The biggie is that it notes that "primary parties" have ballot access taxpayer-funded. (That said, the amended complaint follows Paxton's language in referencing just the gov's race, too.)

Then, to the heart of the matter. The complaint notes that "primary parties" can do many things electronically with the state, including most submissions related to the primary process.

Next, it attacks the issue that independents and non-2 percent third parties can only start signature drives after the duopoly primaries AND cannot get signatures from people who voted in primaries. Personally, I think this is a First Amendment violation. The complaint later notes that.

Next, it goes on to note the cost of paid petition drive workers, often necessary in such cases, and that this is not only an additional burden, it's one the duopoly parties again don't face.

-  -  -  -  -  -  -

Update, Aug. 9: Fresh off losing a case at the Fifth Circuit over Indian adoptions, the state's one-eyed spavined mule, AG Kenny Paxton, has filed to dismiss, citing the paucity of independent candidates. This not only ignores the third parties, of course, but, per Ballot Access News, ignores that the Eighth and Ninth Circuits have ruled individual voters, not just indy candidates, have standing in such types of cases. He also gets previous and current state law wrong; the access threshold is 2 percent of any statewide race, not the gov's race. He then claims the petition laws are sound. "Assuming facts not in evidence" would be the immediate counterargument, especially given that the plaintiffs have made the argument that they're not constitutional. 

Given the complexity of issues, I highly doubt the Fifth Circuit will dismiss in toto. I'm not sure if it will buy a counterargument from other circuits on independent candidates, or individual voters, and standing.

Should I see a second amended complaint, in response to Paxton, I'll post it.

-  -  -  -  -  -

Update, Aug. 22: The Secretary of State's office has now officially stated the fees of HB 2504 must be paid. With this, and per another comment at Ballot-Access News, I presume an injunction request by the plaintiffs is next.

-  -  -  -  -  -

And, update Oct. 10, yes, that injunction request has been filed. Reasons listed are threefold:
1. That the language of the law itself says it only applies to actual convention nominees, not anybody indicating a desire to be nominated. And so it does say, right up at the top.
2. It's a violation of due process due to relative lack of time to prepare for it.
3. The key to the whole case: that filing fees for convention parties are unconstitutional.

I'm not a constitutional law scholar, but, I think our plaintiffs have a very good chance of succeeding, since this is in federal court, on Article 1 alone. Were it in Tex-ass state court? Nuther story.

That said, I don't know if it was just time issues, or waiting for Abbott to name an official Secretary of State (Ruth Hughs) or some strategery that I don't know about that it was held for seven weeks.

Update, Oct. 18: Hughs has responded. And it's horrifically weak. She claims that 
1. The plaintiff's 1 is not true.
2. That nobody besides Greens and Libertarians have standing, arguably, to fight this (despite rulings to the contrary in other federal courts).
3. On plaintiffs' 3 et al, using language like "flout" is inflammatory and designed to be so.

=======

In 2020, the challenged provisions require minor parties to obtain 83,717 valid signatures on paper nomination petitions in only 75 days.  Independent candidates for statewide office must obtain the same number in as few as 30 days, if there is a run-off primary for the office they seek. Independent candidates for president need to collect 89,692 valid signatures in just 69 days. 

The plaintiffs – Mark Miller, Michele Gangnes, Scott Copeland, Laura Palmer, Tom Kleven, Andy Prior, America’s Party of Texas, Constitution Party of Texas, Green Party of Texas and Libertarian Party of Texas – allege that the cost of obtaining the required signatures will exceed $600,000 in 2020, largely because Texas’s nomination petition procedure is obsolete.  Texas first adopted that procedure in 1905, and it has not been significantly updated or improved in the 114 years since. 

“Collecting signatures by hand is inherently time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive,” Miller said, “and collecting 80,000-plus valid signatures in the limited time allowed under Texas law is all but impossible without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire paid petition circulators.” 

By contrast, Texas guarantees ballot access to the two major parties by means of taxpayer-funded primary elections.  Texas has also adopted electronic procedures, at taxpayer expense, which minimize the burden of administering the major parties’ primary elections.

This connects indirectly to the part of the suit that is about this year's HB 2504. See below. Per David Bruce Collins, this suit had been in the works well before 2504 was passed, but that legislation both was the more than the last straw and the foisting of primary-related costs on convention-based "minor" parties also provided the final legal wedge that could help boost the chances of success.

The plaintiffs allege that Texas could reduce the burden and expense its statutory scheme imposes on independent candidates and minor parties by adopting electronic procedures for obtaining voters’ signatures.  In Arizona, for example, the Secretary of State has implemented an online platform that enables voters to sign nomination petitions from the comfort of their own homes (available at https://apps.azsos.gov/equal/).  Other jurisdictions enable voters to sign nomination petitions on portable electronic devices.  Such procedures automatically validate a signature, and thereby eliminate the need to collect more signatures than the requirement. 

“We filed this lawsuit to restore and protect the right of all Texas voters to cast their votes effectively for the candidates of their choice,” Miller said.  “As plaintiffs, we represent a wide range of political views, but one point on which we all agree is that every citizen has an equal right to participate in Texas’s elections.”

The plaintiffs are represented pro bono by the non-profit Center for Competitive Democracy (“CCD”) and Shearman and Sterling, LLP, a global law firm with 23 offices, including in Austin and Houston. 

“Texas’ burdensome ballot access requirements and obsolete procedures combine to create a financial barrier to entry that is insurmountable for non-wealthy candidates and parties,” said CCD attorney Oliver Hall.  “We think the federal courts will recognize that Supreme Court precedent prohibits Texas from limiting participation in its electoral process to those with financial means.”

“It is essential that voter choice not be limited only to those candidates able to overcome severely burdensome Texas election procedures,” said David Whittlesey, a partner in the Litigation practice based in Shearman & Sterling’s Austin office who is representing the plaintiffs. “This lawsuit seeks to secure a more open, competitive election process to give Texas voters more options at the ballot box.”

A ballot access bill introduced in the Texas House in 2017 (HB 3068) and 2019 (HB 4439) would have established constitutional requirements and procedures for independent candidates and minor parties, but it was not enacted.  Instead, in 2019 Texas enacted HB 2504, which imposes an additional filing fee or nomination petition requirement on individual nominees of minor parties, in addition to the nomination petition the parties must file.  The plaintiffs also challenge these new requirements.

Texas does, as the suit notes, allow nominating petitions as an alternative to filing fees. But, as noted above, this still has its own burdens, even if the petition signature process for a third-party nominee is lower than for a third party to get party-wide ballot access, or for an independent to qualify.

The Texas Libertarian Party had indicated it would sue over this, even before Abbott signed the bill into law. It's good that Greens, and other third parties, as well as individuals, are all on the same page on this. It's bogus, and I personally think bill sponsor Drew Springer (R-Muenster) knew it was bogus. Without the portion of the bill that went from one election to a five-election cycle for the 2 percent threshold for getting party-line ballot access, he had peddled this same bill in the previous two legislative cycles. I think he figured adding that, knowing it would help Greens, with the idea it might hurt Democrats, convinced some Republicans to sign on.


The plaintiffs assert claims for the violation of their rights to cast their votes effectively, to speak and associate for political purposes, and to the equal protection of law.  The lawsuit, captioned Miller v. Doe, No. 1:19-cv-00700, names the Secretary of State of Texas (presently a vacant office) and Deputy Secretary of State Jose A. Esparza as defendants in their official capacities, and seeks to enjoin the state from enforcing the challenged provisions.

Commenting further, specific to 2504? Drew first drew this up as an anti-Libertarian bill, in my opinion. Don't forget, that without the amendment of the five-election period for determining qualification for statewide ballot access, he had peddled the original bill in the previous two legislative sessions. And, it will be fun to see emails and other communications from the previous two Lege cycles related to this bill's predecessors get brought up in discovery.

I'm not sure why it passed, and what sausage-making led Springer to amend it this time. Maybe some Republicans who have faced general election challenges from Libertarians were worried about getting them too angry, in the previous two Legislatures. Maybe they figured the apparent anti-Democrat angle of lowering ballot access to make it easier for the Greens to get on and stay on made it more worth it. (I'd love to see if any of this comes out in the discovery process, of course.)

Once more unto the gerrymandering breach

The Supreme Court last month was down with gerrymandering, and we know how that plays out in the Pointy Abandoned Object State™. Ever since Bug Man Tom DeLay's mid-decade redistricting almost 15 years ago.

First, the ruling itself? I think it was in a gray zone between right and wrong constitutionally. Roberts is right that the founders probably expected some degree of politicization, while ignoring that those same founders believed America had, or would, transcend petty political parties. At the same time, he also ignores that many state legislatures have vested redistricting power in nonpartisan redistricting commissions, undermining his argument to some degree. At the third time (shades of Idries Shah!) he is right that, unlike, say, race, the courts have nothing close to an objective standard for determining what is too partisan.

So, overall, while not hugely right, it is right constitutionally as I see it.

That said, this blogger has long said the real answer is proportional representation off a national list (or state list for state elections), just like most of continental Europe. But, both halves of the duopoly would rather gerrymander than empower third parties like that.

Eric Foner, at The Nation, has a take on the ruling that's about ... oh, 3/5 correct, and yes that's a pun. Foner is right in that the Founders didn't envisage, or desire, political parties. But, modern critical histories of the American Revolution note that Loyalists and Patriots arose, at least in part, from King's Party vs Country Party divisions back in Britain, so, it was one of the more major idiocies of the Philadelphia 1787 era for them not to do so. Beyond that, there's plenty of other things they didn't envision, whether they should have or not.

And, given that the Elbridge Gerry of gerrymandering namesaking fame WAS a Founding Father, this claim isn't totally true anyway.

Foner is right that the Court has pulled this stuff before. He cites one of Holmes' worst rulings (without noting that Holmes had many others, and that this might not have been the worst) on a related issue. That said, he ignores that the Court has, in the past, repeatedly intervened in racial gerrymandering cases, making his neat condemnation actually not so neat. Now, the court may also retreat further in the future on those such cases, but, we'll see that happen when it happens if it happens. Foner does get bonus points for using Bush v Gore as a petard/sledgehammer combo.

But the overall tone of the piece comes close to, if not veering into, "liberal originalist" takes on the Constitution, and given what I think of Larry Tribe and Akhil Reed Amar, I ain't a fan.

But, at lest Foner is better than the political craptacularness written by John Nichols.

Nichols, among the most open of The Nation's senior staff in hating third parties in general and Greens in particular, has the hypocritical gall to accuse the Roberts Court of supporting political privilege.

==

Beyond that, there were other rulings that were worse. The Bladensburg Cross ruling was horrendous and I don't see The Nation saying boo about it. Maybe because two librulz, Breyer and Kagan, were among teh stupidz.

July 10, 2019

TX Progressives critique bullet trains, wingnuts,
conspiracy theorists, Ross is Boss


The Texas Progressives hope no readers blew off fingers or other things last week, while helping George Washington fight The Battle of Dulles Airport.

Now that special Fourth of July political mayhem is over, we return you to regular political mayhem, of which Donald Trump still delivers.


State politics

ConservaDem Chris Bell is officially running for the Democratic nomination to challenge John Cornyn for the Senate. I think he brings little to the table, especially after his Bill King endorsement in the last Houston mayoral election. Kuff gushes over him, even though a week later he points out the latest Helltown craptaculartude of said Bill King, starting with the unwarranted assumption that the Democratic primary, up to this point, looked uncompetitive, and moving from there to the point that with Bell in, it’s now competitive. Of course, Kuff is aided in his gushing by the dean of Dallas political conventional wisdom, Gromer Jeffers (now that Robert Garrett is retired) ignoring the name of Sema Hernandez, as well as that of Michael Cooper and other announced and semi-serious to serious candidates. (Note to Kuff and Gromer: In mid-May, when the Bell speculation started, there were four declared candidates.)


Dallas

Jim Schutze talks the future of South Dallas, especially vis-a-vis the bullet train, which in Dallas he says will be a land deal first, transportation deal second.


Houston

David Bruce Collins discusses getting the Houston Green Party going, and working to avoid pitfalls that plagued Harris County Greens.


Dallas-Houston

Homelessness is up in Big D but down in Helltown. The Trib explains why.


Texana

RIP Ross Perot.

While everybody focuses on Ill Eagles, plus their sickening concentration camp confinement under Trump (which also happened, albeit less severely, under Dear Leader), legal immigrants on guest visas continue to get exploited in agricultural work in Texas and elsewhere.

A woman licking a pint of Blue Bell in a Lufkin WallyWorld could get 20 years in the Texas slammer, but as a juvenile, may not be prosecuted as an adult. OTOH, this is surely no more unsanitary than the multiple rounds of listeria Blue Bell willingly inflicted on nearly all 50 of our states. Gov. Strangeabbott has since weightlessly weighed in.

Grits hands out his summer reading list.

Utah recently lowered its blood-alcohol content level to determine DWI from 0.08 to 0.05. Could Texas follow suit?


National, with Texas twists

Brains has his weekly update on Democratic candidates.

Ten of those Dems came to Houston; Bob O'Rourke and Julián Castro played reasonably nice in English and none of them said anything bigly new.

Dos Centavos was impressed by Julian Castro's Houston appearance.

Progress Texas picks out its top ten moments from the two Democratic Presidential debates.

Off the Kuff tells of the off-again, on-again Census citizenship question litigation.

Stephen Young lists Texas' biggest presidential flameouts.


National

Socratic Gadfly says that, regarding some actions of the so-called "antifa," violence is not the answer.

Russia's foreign intelligence service was reportedly behind Seth Rich conspiracy theory mongering all along, according to Michael Isikoff. See all my major Seth Rich reporting at this tag.

Think Progress is up for sale. The New Republic semi-connected to think tank Center for American Progress is almost certainly not worth whatever asking price Neera Tanden will spew out.

Therese Odell catches up on the E. Jean Carroll accusation.

RIP Mad Magazine; here's a good take.

Transgriot rewrites Frederick Douglass' speech about the meaning of the Fourth of July for trans people.

Leah Binkovitz follows the numbers on cyclist and pedestrian deaths around the country.


World

Per Trump and Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador cutting a deal on Central American immigrants, the "remain in Mexico" is raising tensions and problems there. More on the issues here.

July 09, 2019

RIP Ross Perot, the man and the myth


A conservative billionaire decided that his business acumen qualified him to run for president. His signature issue became opposing free trade deals and contrasting free and "fair" trade. As part of that, he was an economic nationalist, not worried about how trade deals affected workers elsewhere. He believed that traditional heavy industrial manufacturing was key to America.

He also promised to balance the federal budget, including by cutting Social Security.

He was an ardent hyper-patriot in the sense of confusing support for military missions with patriotism. Along with that, he was originally anti-gun control, though he moved leftward.

And, he was, and remained, an ardent War on Drugs cold warrior.

And, he did much better than mainstream media punditry expected.

The year was 1992 and the man was Ross Perot.

Other than not sexually assaulting women, and not pandering to a Religious Right that was not as powerful or self-conceited as today, there's really not that much to distinguish Perot from Donald Trump now, is there?

And, that all IS Ross Perot.

He became a billionaire through EDS getting government Medicare processing contracts. And, as National Review notes, was also a hypocrite on lobbying and carve-outs related to that. And, as Gerald Posner notes in "Citizen Perot," he also was getting inflated profit margins, technically working for Blue Cross — a Medicare contractor — while also running EDS at the Medicare start-up time, ie, a big conflict of interest, not disclosing contract details, and other huge lacks of business ethics, big hypocrisy in a man so morally prudish on sex and drinking in the Navy, at EDS and beyond.

To the best of my knowledge, he never talked about how American Big Ag, via NAFTA, drove many small Mexican farmers out of business, leaving them little recourse but trying to cross the border.

He was a conspiracy theorist on POW-MIA issues, believing Vietnam had a secret stash of them squirreled away, even while grifting to be its "business ambassador" to the US. Vox notes he beleived in other conspiracies; who can forget the "Bush is spying on me" claim? That's not to mention the actual fact that he spied on the Bushes in the 1980s and flip-flopped on some issues in the 1992 campaign.

NAFTA was halfway like a blind hog finding an acorn for him.

And yet, Bernie Sanders (or staff running his @SenSanders Twitter account) can still fellate "Ross is Boss."

Or maybe Bernie's doing this deliberately, as a semi-dogwhistle.

In any case, the divergence between man and myth on Sanders in 2019/20 sometimes is not much different than 2015/16.

I will give Perot credit for his take on the Constitution. He noted it was written in an era far different than today. At the same time, he never indicated he would challenge originalist judicial interpretations. He was pro-choice and supported gay rights — eventually.

==

In Texas, his influence was much bigger, and generally better.

No-pass, no-play was huge. It partially knocked the props out from under "football is god" parents and coaches. His backing for other educational reforms was also important, above all the 22-1 student-teacher ratio in elementary schools, though he later stood by when it was largely gutted. And, the national newspaper of Texas, the Texas Trib, failed to mention both.

No, Democrats, you don't "own" my lefist vote

And, at least unscientifically, within my Twitter group, you're worse at believing you DO "own" such votes than Republicans are with Libertarians or independent conservatives.

A lot worse:
Now, of course, this is an unscientific sample, but I think it holds up.

Look at 2012, when Romney ran a fairly close race to Obama. He lost by just under 4 percentage points, and just over 100 electoral votes, a close race.

Let's break it down.

Florida had a gap of less than 1 percentage point in Obama's favor. It's 29 electoral votes. Ohio and its 18 electoral votes, though outside what Libertarian Gary Johnson took, had a gap of less than 3 percent. Virginia and its 13 electoral votes were under 4 percent. Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes were under 4.5 percent. Those 4 give the election to Romney. Or the first three, plus New Hampshire with a 3.6 percent gap, do. Again, this isn't as big a case as idiotic voters in Florida with a ballot designed by a Democrat in 2000, or the non-fraud in Ohio in 2000, but it's not a nothingburger.

But, Romney just moved on. And, Jerry Ford never blamed Clean Gene McCarthy for losing Ohio, and the election, in 1976. (I'm not sure who he drew more votes from, anyway.)

But, you get my point about crying over spilled presidential elections.

July 08, 2019

SCOTUS further maims religious freedom

As I see it, the most horrendous ruling of the just completed Supreme Court term was not its gerrymandering ruling. FAR from it.

Rather, it was in American Legion vs American Humanist Association, where the court essentially agreed to grandmother past constitutional review any public-sector display of a religious artifact on grounds of "civil religion" while essentially refusing to take a look at why it was erected in the first place.

The case involved a cross erected on public land in Bladensburg, Maryland, as part of a World War I cemetery consecration.

Breyer and Kagan think a cross is perfectly OK on public land as long as its connected to a war. (This itself is a problem, the militarization of Merika now creeping into the world of civil liberties.) Part of it with Breyer, per this analysis, is that he was upholding his own previous ruling in Van Orton v Perry, and even if not upholding precedents in general, justices will uphold their own previous rulings through any and every convolution.

By Breyer's Van Orton logic, now doubled down
upon, 10 Commandments monuments like this
all across the country (this in front of a Santa Fe
fire station) get a constitutional pass. This one
caught my eye years ago precisely because being
in Santa Fe, it's nowhere near Red Stateland.
For the unfamiliar, Van Orton v Perry was one of the most godawful "civic religion" rulings the court has made in at least 20 years. It's the one where the court said that the state of Texas could keep the Ten Commandments on state Capitol grounds.

Any unbiased idiot could see that the Eagles chose the Ten Commandments because of all the other God vs Godless communism stuff of the Cold War, and that it was NOT promoting "religion" in the abstract, but Judeo-Christian (usual Judeo fig leaf) ideas in the concrete.

And, he says 40 years passage of time means there was no "intimidation." He ignores the idea that, rather, it meant the intimidation was strong enough nobody publicly protested. In the Bladensburg case, the Jewish War Veterans addresses exactly that issue, plus the one of standing. A representatives of the organization takes a pass on calling out Breyer and Kagan as Jewish, though.

Those two, along with Roberts and Kavanaugh, by only partially concurring with Alito's main opinion, may — or may not — try to control how broad its provenance is. Gorsuch, after all, rejected Breyer's "historical patina" ideas and said new displays should be judged just like old ones.

Per that link, I believe that the core majority did a reverse Lemon test ruling.

Michael Stokes Paulsen, also at Scotusblog, thinks or claims there was a unified core to the ruling, and an insightful one. Of course he would, being a member of the Federalist Society. (Scotusblog could identify guest posters on site rather than making me Google, when they don't explicitly state their backgrounds.)

A representative of the Baptist Joint Commission on Religious Liberty totally refudiates Paulsen while accepting the fractured decision as the least bad option.

July 07, 2019

Kawhi's big balls and initial NBA West thoughts

As I said on Twitter late Friday night, just after the breaking double blockbuster of Kawhi Leonard signing with the Clippers AND getting them to trade for Paul George as well, I think I've underestimated him for a full year or better.

I think he by himself — no Uncle Dennis — pushed for the PG13 trade, and he may have been the lead in pushing for his trade out of San Antonio, and even let Uncle Dennis be the fall guy.

He's got Sam Cassell sized balls.

That said, I think the Raptors were right to pass on what the Thunder wanted in return, above all Pascal Siakam AND Fred Van Vleet PLUS four No. 1s. Both showed enough in the playoffs to be a piece to hold on to.

And, even if the Clippers, with their new roster, expect to never in the next five-six years draft higher than, say, No. 24, trading five first rounders plus Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari is a steep price to pay.

That's even more true when they only have him for two seasons guaranteed. Taking a page from KD and Bron, his contract has just two guaranteed years plus a player option; it expires the same time as PG's.

As for the Thunder? Russell Westbrook will be hard to trade. Steven Adams will be even harder. They're now officially stuck somewhere in NBA mediocrity.

My early take on the NBA Western Conference?

If the Nuggets get expected improvement from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and if Michael Porter Jr.'s knee is nothing big and he brings anything serious to the table, they're No. 1. If not, the Clippers. That is, if PG's shoulder injury is nothing serious. Because we've seen what happens when a team is stacked in starters and thin on the bench when injuries strike.

Rockets are a solid but fairly distant No. 3.

Jazz, with the Bojan Bogdanovic signing, No. 4. And don't sleep on them.

Blazers No. 5.

Lakers No. 6. LeBron will be No. 3 in career combined playoff-regular season minutes, in all likelihood, by the end of the year. I've covered this before. He and AD are older on average than the Clippers twins. And, adding Boogie Cousins may well make that team as slow as molasses on ball movement, etc. And, the experiment of him and AD together with the Pellies didn't always work so well anyway.

Warriors, if Klay Thompson had a recovery to get him back playing by the All-Star Game? No. 7.

Thunder, right now, I guess, No. 8.

Sorry, Spurs, even if you're healthier, I think that there's been too much movement higher up.

Sorry, Mavs; year No. 2 of Luka, even with Unicorn Porzingis, won't break you through.

Sorry, Kings.