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July 30th, 2008:

It’s not stripping, it’s burlesque

It’s stuff like this that reminds me why I love the campaign season.

We had never heard of a member of Congress holding a fundraiser at a Las Vegas burlesque nightclub… until now.

And the culprit is card-carrying conservative Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.). The same Pete Sessions who scolded Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake for forcing “their liberal values upon the rest of the country” after their infamous 2004 Super Bowl halftime striptease.

But that was then.

Now we learn that Sessions held a racy (for Washington) fundraiser for his leadership political action committee last year at Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce nightclub in Sin City. A description of the club on its web site, which features a scantily clad dancer, reads: “A blue light silhouettes the sax man as one of the sexy, sensual dancers slowly slinks down the stairs to the stage and leans out over the crowd, holding on with only a handful of the world-famous curtain of pearls! Jaws drop and drinks are ignored as the tempo picks up and the dancer steps up, shedding boa, gown and gloves towards the electrifying finale.”

I really don’t think I can add anything to that. Link via TPM.

Meanwhile, Texas on the Potomac reports on a campaign contribution from an unexpected source.

One of President Bush’s first cousins has gone way against the grain.

In February, Alexander “Hap” Ellis III donated $4,300 to Michael Skelly’s congressional campaign, according to Federal Electoin Commission records.

Skelly is a Democrat. He is running against Republican incumbent John Culberson of Houston. The seat was once held by former President George H.W. Bush, Ellis’ uncle. And the former president still lives in the district on Houston’s west side.

As the post notes, Ellis works in renewable energy, so this isn’t that great a stretch, even if it’s his only donation to a Democrat this year. What’s even better is that Ellis isn’t the only member of the extended Bush clan to cross the aisle in 2008. Take a look at the detailed report (PDF) for Sherrie Matula, and scroll down to page ten. You’ll see that none other than Neil Bush kicked in $25 to her effort. So the next time someone asks you how bad a year this is for the Republicans, you can say “Bad enough that even Bushes are giving to Democrats”.

Elsewhere, State Rep. Ellen Cohen may have an unserious opponent, but she’s not taking anything for granted. Some campaign-related events coming up for her include a “Young Professionals Supporting State Representative Ellen Cohen” party at the Rice Lofts downtown next Tuesday evening from 5:30 to 8:00 – if you’re Facebook-enabled, you can see the details here, and a “BBQ, Birthday Bash and Yard Sign Blitz” at her campaign headquarters (4950 Bissonnet, same place as 2006) on Sunday, August 24. Contact the campaign for more info.

And finally, if you find yourself asking “What can I do to help turn Texas blue in the next 100 days”, since there’s now less than that till the election, you can find some simple yet concrete suggestions here. Surely there’s something there that will appeal to you.

Houston gets dinged for non-recycling

I guess that recent run of positive press for Houston couldn’t last forever.

The city’s shimmering skyline may wear the label of the world’s energy capital, but deep in Houston’s Dumpsters lies a less glamorous superlative: It is the worst recycler among the United States’ 30 largest cities.

Houston recycles just 2.6 percent of its total waste, according to a study this year by Waste News, a trade magazine. By comparison, San Francisco and New York recycle 69 percent and 34 percent of their waste respectively. Moreover, 25,000 Houston residents have been waiting as long as 10 years to get recycling bins from the city.

Environmental advocates are pleading for municipal intervention. And some small improvements — an organic waste program, for one — are expected soon.

But city officials say real progress will be hard to come by. Landfill costs here are cheap. The city’s sprawling, no-zoning layout makes collection expensive, and there is little public support for the kind of effort it takes to sort glass, paper and plastics. And there appears to be even less for placing fees on excess trash.

“We have an independent streak that rebels against mandates or anything that seems trendy or hyped up,” said Mayor Bill White, who favors expanding the city’s recycling efforts. “Houstonians are skeptical of anything that appears to be oversold or exaggerated. But Houstonians can change, and change fast.”

[…]

Private businesses, like office towers, apartment complexes, and restaurants, are responsible for their own garbage, although advocates of recycling are pleading with the city to regulate them. Commercial recyclers say that despite a recent increase in public interest, their services remain a tough sell.

Mayor White, a Democrat who has consistently crusaded for environmental initiatives, said that a lack of progress on recycling was among his biggest disappointments and that the situation merited “radical changes,” like the organic yard waste program that he says will increase the city’s recycling rate to 20 percent by 2010. The national average is 32 percent.

Mayor White, who served as deputy secretary of energy under President Bill Clinton, stopped short, however, of calling for mandated recycling or charging citizens for excess garbage.

Highlighting the sensitivity to such taxes, last year the City Council considered imposing a mandatory $3.50 monthly environment fee for every single-family home. It was negotiated to a voluntary $2.25 charge and eventually dropped entirely because of fierce opposition, city officials said.

Well, I supported that $3.50 fee, but indeed there was plenty of whining about it. I share Mayor White’s disappointment in the lack of progress on the recycling front, but it’s got to be said: The responsibility for that lack of progress is his. He gets the credit, and deservedly so, for other successes on the environmental front, and he gets the blame for this failure. Mayors who get re-elected with 90% of the vote can take a little heat over a trash removal fee if the end result is a net positive. Surely SafeClear was a bigger fight than this would have been, so why the quick fold? “Disappointment” is a fitting term here.

There is still time in his tenure for Mayor White to move the ball a little bit farther forward, and build on the modest gains we have seen on recycling. But I don’t think anything significant will happen until after the next Mayor is sworn in. I sincerely hope this is a big part of the 2009 campaign.

Interview with Diana Maldonado

One of the things I had intended to do while at Netroots Nation this year was interviews with candidates and other folks. Unfortunately, in the rush to pack and leave, I managed to leave my digital voice recorder at home. That kind of put a damper on those plans, but as I had already scheduled an interview with Diana Maldonado, I needed to figure something out. Thankfully, Eileen Smith came to my rescue by letting me borrow her little video recorder, which she used to great effect on Poll Dancing, so I was able to salvage that. And I quickly learned why folks like RG Ratcliffe, who have done a lot more video interviews than I have, invest in a tripod. It’s harder than you think to hold that camera still for ten minutes. I don’t think I shook it too much, but I’ll apologize in advance for any vertigo this causes.

Anyway. Diana Maldonado is a great candidate, representing one of the top pickup opportunities for Texas Democrats in the House. She was also the first candidate endorsed by the TexBlog PAC. Here she is, in my first and possibly last video interview:

As always, please let me know what you think.

Hillary Clinton to campaign for Obama

It’s a start.

At a press event held by Hillary Clinton about FEMA trailers out on Long Island today, I asked her about the campaigning she planned to do for Barack Obama between now and Election Day.

She said, “During the month of August, they’ve asked me to go to several states. But I’m going to leave it to them to announce. I don’t want to in any way get ahead of them. But, you know, I’m doing whatever I’m asked and whatever I can.”

Send her to Texas! And bring Bill with her! If Obama and the DNC are going to spend $20 million on a 50 state Latino outreach effort, one lousy visit to Texas by the Clintons isn’t too much to ask, is it?

The judges and the HGLBT Political Caucus

Houtopia has an interesting report about a local campaign development.

We have been particularly interested to learn in recent days that at least a few Harris County incumbent Republican judges have been actively seeking the endorsement of the Houston Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Political Caucus — HGLBT for short.

This development is eye-opening to say the least. Perhaps more than any other group, the GLBT community has been the recipient of venom from religious conservatives. And the idea that any incumbent Republican official here would actively seek the Caucus’ endorsement, much less accept it if offered, would have seemed laughable just a few months ago. Apparently, fear of losing can be a powerful motivator.

Don’t get us wrong. We are glad to see some of these judges now acknowledge what many of us have known for a long time, that the GLBT community matters, just like everybody else, and that its votes count too, much as that may bother certain people.

So, it’s good that some of these Republican judges have decided to screen with the HGLBT Caucus and seek its endorsement. But what will the neighbors say?

Very interesting. The Caucus, which has already endorsed a slew of candidates for November – though no judicial candidates as yet – has definitely established itself as a force to be reckoned with locally. Their endorsement matters. That some incumbent Republicans now think so is a pretty amazing statement about where Harris County is these days.

Potty problems

You know, I was just thinking that it had been way too long since we had a story about the availability of public toilets in downtown Houston. Thankfully, our wait is over.

Unlike some other U.S. cities, Houston does not have public pay toilets, even in high-pedestrian areas such as the Texas Medical Center and downtown. Free public restrooms are available in parks, government buildings, grocery stores and most fast-food restaurants.

But unless you are a paying customer, or at least a shopping customer, chances are your eager bladder will not be welcome at many establishments. At least not in downtown. Outside the city center, it can be a different story if you look hard enough, or just ask.

[…]

Main Street Market Square Redevelopment Authority officials floated the idea in 2004, shortly after Main Street was redeveloped with the light rail as the centerpiece. Plumbing for five toilets was installed along Main, but the restrooms themselves were never put in place.

“I would love to see them downtown as we invite people to come downtown and to be a part of the things that are going on,” said Vicki Rivers, the authority’s executive director.

Rivers said even if the the authority, the business arm of a tax increment reinvestment zone, could pay for the toilets, it would be expensive to maintain them. She said she would need financial help from public entities as well as the private sector.

Ms. Rivers has been saying this for four years now. Yes, I follow this sort of thing very closely. Hey, somebody has to.

Some cities, in the United States and abroad, use high-tech, coin-operated restrooms that feature self-flushing, self-cleaning toilets. Users are given a certain period of time before a buzzer sounds and the door opens automatically.

The city of San Francisco — despite having problems with one that attracts illegal activities such as drug use and prostitution — has enjoyed some success with its 25 high-tech toilets, the first of which was installed in 1994. The facilities cost 25 cents to use, but free tokens are provided for those who cannot afford a quarter.

Seattle got into the public toilet business in 2004, but put its five high-tech units up for sale on eBay earlier this month, for $89,000 apiece. The auctions, which were slated to end Saturday, had attracted no bidders as of Friday.

Andy Ryan, a spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities, said it has cost the city $1 million a year for each unit on the lease-purchase agreement and the maintenance.

I just quoted that section because I love the idea of buying high-tech toilets on eBay. Truly, we live in wondrous times.

I feel compelled, as I have done before, to point out that there are in fact free public restrooms in downtown Houston. It’s just that they’re in the tunnel system, not on the street. Here’s a nice, easy map (PDF) of the system; once you’re in, you can use the maps there to figure out where the nearest potty is. Discovery Green has public restrooms, too, if you’re in that area. Believe me, as the father of two preschoolers, I need to know stuff like this.,