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November 18th, 2009:

And another hatemonger is heard from

It’s almost too depressing to read through this KHOU story about local bigot Dave Wilson and his pathetic attempt to affect the outcome of the Mayor’s race, but it needs to be done. Here’s what I have to say about it.

– Dave Wilson is a reprehensible, sorry excuse of a human being. The same is true of Dave Welch, Steven Hotze, and anyone else like them who has yet to crawl out from the woodwork. This cannot be emphasized enough.

– Wilson claims he’s sending his flyer on his own. My understanding is that it would cost in the neighborhood of $20,000 to print and mail the 35,000 pieces he says he’ll mail. There are any number of ways that he could hide a funding source for this, of course, and one cannot prove a negative. But if he really wants us to believe that, he ought to produce the paperwork to show it.

– That assumes he actually does print and send the thing. He’s already gotten way more eyeballs on his dirty work thanks to KHOU’s coverage than he’d ever have gotten otherwise. I’m sure he was aware of that when he called the station to let them know what he was up to.

– If Gene Locke really means what he says about rejecting any association with this kind of campaigning, the statement to make is to tell Dave Wilson to take his mailer and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Which won’t stop him, of course – you can’t make a deranged person not do whatever deranged thing he’s determined to do – but would at least send a clear message.

– Finally, to answer the question Wilson asks in his mailer: Yes, this is the image I want Houston to portray, so that the world will see the decent, tolerant, opportunity-granting, forward-thinking city that we are. The best way to do that is to forcefully reject what Dave Wilson and others like him stand for.

Happy Riemann Hypothesis Day!

What did you do to celebrate?

Nov. 18, 2009, has been officially declared Riemann Hypothesis Day to celebrate the 150th anniversary of one of the key unsolved problems in pure mathematics. Mathematical events are scheduled across the globe to celebrate this special occasion.

The conjecture deals with the distribution of the zeros of the Riemann zeta-function and offers implications about the distribution of prime numbers.

Bernhard Riemann submitted his findings to the Monatsberichte der Berliner Akademie on Oct. 19, 1859. His paper was read at the meeting of the academy two weeks later and published in November of that year.

To celebrate the anniversary, mathematicians from around the world will be giving lectures addressing various aspects of the hypothesis. The talks will take place at universities and institutions across the U.S., Europe, South America, and New Zealand (a complete list of events is available here).

Two celebrations have already taken place this year. In April, mathematicians at the Riemann International School of Mathematics, in Verbania, Italy, highlighted “Advances in Number Theory and Geometry: 150 Years of the Riemann Hypothesis.” At Yonsei University, in Seoul, South Korea, the week of August 31 – September 5 was dubbed “Zeta Function Days.”

Ain’t no party like a number theorists’ party, cause a number theorists’ party don’t quit. See Wikipedia if you want to learn more about the Riemann Hypothesis, a proof for which will still earn you one million dollars.

Shami and Shapleigh

Farouk Shami will make his entry into the Democratic primary for Governor official tomorrow afternoon at his business’ headquarters in Houston; details are on his website. The Trib gives us a peek behind the curtain.

Shami, running as a Democrat, has lined up an experienced gang to run his campaign: campaign manager Joel Coon, general consultants Robert Jara and Dan McClung, pollster Ben Tulchin, and media specialist Tad Devine.

Coon has worked on several campaigns, helping Democrat Travis Childers win a Republican congressional seat in Mississippi in 2008. Jara and McClung are old hands at Texas and especially Houston races. Tulchin is a California-based pollster who works on races around the country. Devine was an advisor to John Kerry and to Al Gore and has managed several campaigns in other countries.

The field for the Democratic primary is crowded, but more than half the voters are undecided. The names at this point include Felix Alvarado, Kinky Friedman, Hank Gilbert, Tom Schieffer, and maybe Ronnie Earle and Eliot Shapleigh, who haven’t declared but have been making gubernatorial noises. In a UT/Texas Tribune poll earlier this month, Friedman had 19 percent and Schieffer had 10 percent with everyone else in the single digits. Undecided had 55 percent, leaving plenty of room for new candidates.

I think the Ronnie Earle ship has sailed by now. I’m not aware of any buzz around him, haven’t really heard his name get mentioned in weeks, and at this point it’s hard to imagine him getting any traction. Shapleigh’s an interesting case. Since his announcement that he was not running for re-election to the Senate, it has appeared that he’s interested in running for something statewide, a subject that another Trib story explores. With five candidates already in the race, it seems to me it’d be a crapshoot – 20% of the vote might be enough to get into a runoff in a six-person field, and any of the five declared candidates strike me as being capable of doing that. Lite Guv, on the other hand, is wide open (yeah, yeah, Marc Katz – like I said, wide open) and if you’re really lucky you might wind up opposed by some non-officeholder selected by a committee. Certainly the odds of being on the ballot in November are much better in the latter case.

Back to Shami, about whom I daresay there will be many questions asked by primary voters, starting with “Who’s he?” and working towards “What has he done before now?”

Shami’s business, founded in 1986, took off when he signed a distribution deal with Austin-based Armstrong McCall. John McCall is a part owner of Farouk Systems now, and the two men — particularly McCall — were the biggest contributors four years ago to Kinky Friedman’s campaign for governor. Shami gave Friedman $24,400 for that run; McCall was in for $1.3 million and was listed, until last February, as Friedman’s campaign treasurer.

Shami also contributed to former Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, who lost a 2006 race to Democrat Ellen Cohen. And in May of this year, he gave $5,000 to Republican Ted Cruz, who had his sights set on a run for attorney general. In federal races, he’s contributed to candidates of all political stripes this decade, including Democrat Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, Houston Mayor Bill White (for the U.S. Senate race), Ralph Nader (in 2004 and 2008), Tennessee Democrat Graham Leonard, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the same month he gave to Cruz), and the Republican National Committee (most recently in 2007).

Yeah, that’s going to cause some heartburn. All I can say is I hope he has a good, pithy explanation for folks who ask him about it. Beyond that, I look forward to seeing how his launch goes tomorrow.

Kronberg on KBH

Harvey Kronberg’s column this week looks at the long history of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison running, or not running, for Governor, and how she came to be in this particular will she or won’t she resign pickle. Nothing much new for those who have followed this closely, but one point I want to touch on:

Once it became clear that Perry was going to stay in the hunt, there was no way Hutchison could resign. If she were a mere citizen-candidate, Perry would’ve been able to shut her fundraising down. Many of her contributors fear political reprisal and exile if she should lose. She at least provides some political cover for them by remaining in office.

Additionally, her political nemesis would appoint the new Senator who would then start attacking her from Washington.

I trust these themes are familiar to you. The thing I want to add is that it seems to me that even if she wins the gubernatorial primary, there’s no compelling reason for her to resign. I’m sure she believes that this is the real race, and that if she wins it she’ll have clear sailing through November. Given that, why not stick it out so she can name her own successor in 2011? Not to put too fine a point on it, but people have run for President – successfully, even – while still holding a seat in the US Senate. Why should running for Governor of Texas be any different? Sure, she says she’ll resign no matter what come March, but it’s not like her word has been gold on that point up till now. All I’m saying is, nobody knows what she’ll do.

More LWOP, fewer death sentences

The number of death sentences handed out by Texas juries has declined sharply in recent years, with the new life without parole (LWOP) sentence being one reason why.

While the debate over capital punishment rages anew in Texas, new inmates going to Death Row have hit a 35-year low as prosecutors are pushing for fewer death sentences and, many believe, juries have become less willing to give them.

Various factors have contributed to a stark decline in death sentences and a dramatic shake-up in the ranking of counties that use it the most.

The biggest game-changer appears to be the introduction of life without parole as an option for juries in 2005, according to several prosecutors and defense lawyers. The change in state law represented a huge shift for jurors in capital cases, who previously were responsible for choosing either the death penalty or a life sentence in which a convicted killer could be eligible for parole in 40 years.

“With life without parole being a viable option now, [juries] feel a lot more comfortable that that person is not going to be let out back into society,” Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon said. “We are probably waiving the death penalty more times than we used to because we’re trying to forecast the outcome of the case.”

There were nearly 50 executions in 1999. From the mid-eighties through that year, the annual total dipped below 30 only twice. But from 2005, the year that the LWOP law was passed, onward, the annual total has been 15 or fewer. I don’t know how much effect the LWOP law has had on that – as the story notes, juries may just be more leery of the death penalty now thanks to all of the high-profile DNA exonerations of recent years – but I think this is a good trend. It would be fine by me if the death penalty were only used in the most exceptional situations.

Our healthcare system is great, if you ignore all those people who can’t afford it

State Rep. John Zerwas demonstrates that being a physician doesn’t make you qualified to talk about health care reform. His article is as embarrassingly idea-free as his national colleagues’ plan was. After the usual paean to tort “reform” and invective about government employees getting between you and your doctor – that’s what insurance companies are for! – he tells us that the rest of the country should be just like us:

There will always be those for whom the government will need to play a role. As the chair of the subcommittee on Health and Human Services of the Appropriations Committee during the 81st session, I can certainly attest to this fact. I joint-authored legislation that would have expanded the CHIP program, because there was not a reasonable market solution to this population — children born into families at 300% or less of the federal poverty level ($66,000/year for a family of four). In addition, I sponsored legislation called the Healthy Texans program intended to encourage competitive health plans for working individuals and small businesses at lower incomes.

Texas enjoys a legacy of stepping up to the plate when the needs of its citizens arise. But we have done so by encouraging the growth of business and making Texas a great state in which to raise families. The federal government should respect the sovereignty of the state in this regard. And just as all politics is local, the delivery of accessible, safe, quality healthcare is local. Let Texans Take Care of Texans!

I’m guessing Zerwas refers to SB841 for the CHIP expansion bill. That died during the chubfest, then was temporarily resuscitated by Sen. Kip Averitt, but ultimately died because – oops! – Governor Perry hates CHIP. For some odd reason, Zerwas did not see fit to mention that.

He also didn’t see fit to mention that Texas has an awful lot of uninsured people. Rep. Garnet Coleman, who has a much clearer grasp of this issue, brings that up.

Brick by brick, the state’s healthcare system has been dismantled over the years. Starting with 2003’s rollback under Speaker Craddick, Medically Needy Medicaid —which prevented medical bankruptcies — was eliminated, then the rolls of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) were slashed, and damaging privatization schemes were embarked upon. It continued this session as the Republican leadership killed a bill despite overwhelming approval in both chambers that would have allowed working parents to purchase CHIP coverage for their children.

If the “states’ rights” leadership in Texas refuses to do anything for our state, then it’s up to Congress to enact reform that will benefit all Americans, especially Texans. The best plan for health insurance reform is one that affordably covers most uninsured Texans, preserves the insurance of those already covered and lowers health care costs.

Texas’ current system has left six million Texans without health insurance. Those who can afford coverage fight every day against skyrocketing premiums, declining benefits, medical bankruptcies, preexisting conditions, and the constant threat of being kicked off their own insurance plan. Because of our dismal health standings, we have the most to gain from federal health insurance reform under consideration.

Lowering costs and maintaining affordability is essential to achieving successful reform. In 2008, an alarming 6.9 million Texans spent more than 20 percent of their income on health related costs. Due to skyrocketing insurance rates, workers are no longer rewarded with a pay raise — they have to settle for keeping their insurance.

Coleman is also referring to SB841, but unlike Zerwas he recognizes it as a failure and not a success, because it didn’t get to the Governor’s desk and would have been vetoed if it had. I’ll give Zerwas credit for trying, but he is at best hopelessly naive about what the true obstacles are to achieving that goal.

Oh, and did you see that bit about the six million Texans without health insurance? That’s 25% of the state population. If you go back to that Ezra Klein post, the CBO estimate for the US is 17 percent of legal, non-elderly residents won’t have health-care insurance in 2010. If we remove those over 65 (10.2% of the population, or about 2.4 million) and the undocumented immigrants (estimated to be 1.4 million in fiscal year 2005), those six million uninsured represent about 30% of the relevant total. And even if you assume that 6 million figure includes all 1.4 million undocumented immigrants, and subtract them from each population, we’re still at 20% of legal residents, and 22% of legal, non-elderly residents. In other words, Texas fares way worse on this metric than the country as a whole. There’s a reason the rest of the country isn’t interested in doing as we do.