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November 29th, 2009:

Weekend link dump for November 29

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas sales…

The real trick is to not be an idiot about things you don’t understand.

How To Teach Physics To Your Dog is now available.

Why don’t I ever go to estate sales like this?

How California got into the pickle it’s in.

They do celebrity anti-fur ads a bit differently in the UK. And that link is Not Safe For Work.

Why shouldn’t the wars we fight be deficit neutral? C’mon, all you so-called fiscal conservatives, explain that one to me.

The BCS and Ari Fleischer are totally made for each other.

Fox News and quality control. Yeah, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln was for the public option before she was against it.

James Fallows on what actually happened during President Obama’s trip to China.

The dark side of social network-driven campaigns.

More choices = a good thing, or at least not a bad thing, after all.

Enjoy your later wake-up call, Carl Kasell.

Your liberal media at work.

Want a quick and dirty definition of “slow news day”? Here you go.

I’m not a believer in boycotting Black Friday, but if you are, I hope you especially avoided WalMart.

sigh That’s my home town.

Welcome aboard the Goodship Palin.

I’m more than a little surprised to realize that I own six of these Top 100 albums from the last decade, and about ten of the Top 100 singles – I have to comb through my iPod to see if I missed any. Even at that, it’s still more than I’d have thought.

Hotze endorses Locke

It’s what we’ve all been waiting for, and now it’s on its way to a mailbox near you, as local hatemeister Steven Hotze has endorsed candidates in all six City of Houston runoffs and sent a mail piece out touting his preferred slate. Martha has all of the scans of the mailers. Pay particular attention to these two images, which capture the case Hotze makes for and against each candidate. He uses the phrase “radical liberal” six times – interestingly, the one candidate he doesn’t affix that label to is Annise Parker, though he does say she’s “supported by liberal Chicago labor union interests”, whatever that means – and he makes a point of noting that all seven candidates he opposes have been endorsed by the “Gay Lesbian political action committee”. I don’t think you need an advanced degree in literature to be able to read the subtext here.

The question now is whether Gene Locke will live up to his previous statement that he “rejects any association” with this style of campaigning and repudiates Hotze’s endorsement. If he does, he’ll follow the example set by At Large #1 candidate Steven Costello, who to his great credit sent out the following statement:

Today, some people received a mail piece from Steven Hotze with his endorsements in the upcoming city runoff elections. I did not seek this endorsement and I specifically asked not be endorsed by Mr. Hotze. I am running to represent all Houstonians and my door at City Hall will be open to everyone.

Now that’s how you do it. Note that Costello is a member of the Republican Leadership Council, according to the local GOP. Rejecting Hotze like this, when he’s sending mail to people who would have been inclined to support Costello anyway, took real courage, and I salute him for that. Of course, the problem for Locke is that he did in fact seek out Hotze’s endorsement, so this mailer represents him getting what he wanted. This is why Democrats – and that includes Andrew Burks – need to stay the hell away from Steven Hotze and all that he represents. No good can come from associating with him. So what are you going to do about it now, Gene?

There isn’t a story about this in the Chron yet; hopefully, they will fill in some blanks, such as how many pieces Hotze intends to mail. I don’t know if he’s required to fill out a finance report for a city election – I see some SPAC filings among the city campaign finance reports of recent years, but I’m not sure if he falls under that rubric or not. We may not know for sure what he’s up to unless he brags to a newsie about it. If you receive this mailer, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks very much.

Lovell v. Burks

And here’s the Chron story on the At Large #2 runoff, featuring Council Member Sue Lovell and Andrew Burks. Unlike Jones v. Christie, my opinion that CM Lovell will retain her seat is much more common. Burks does have a base of support in the African-American community, where he’s picked up several endorsements, but I don’t believe he has enough support beyond that to put together a majority. He’s tried to appeal to Republican voters, but that didn’t work too well for him in Round One. The bottom line for me is that I believe CM Lovell has been a very good Council member, and she deserves to be re-elected. My interview with her is here; I did not conduct an interview with Burks.

One point to comment on:

Burks, a minister and owner of a telecommunications company who has run and lost in four previous City Council races

By my count, and by combing through the city election archives, this is Burks’ sixth run for a Council office, not his fifth. He ran for District E in 1995, finishing second by eleven votes over Gregg Stephens and 20 votes over Danny Perkins; he then lost in the runoff to Rob Todd. He ran for At Large #3 in three straight cycles, from 1997 through 2001, twice losing to incumbent Orlando Sanchez, then losing in a runoff for the open seat to Shelley Sekula Gibbs. Finally, he ran for the open At Large #1 in 2003, finishing second as Mark Ellis won without the need for a runoff. He also ran for Congress in District 29 in 1992, finishing last in a field of five, and ran for Harris County Department of Education Trustee in 2006 against Roy Morales. According to Carl Whitmarsh, Burks also ran for State Rep in 1990 and chair of the HCDP at some point, but the state election archives only go back as far as 1992, and I can’t find a record of the latter race. Suffice it to say that Burks is a familiar presence on the ballot.

The Bill White factor

The thought that struck me as I read this story about Bill White’s expected switch to the Governor’s race is that maybe he was right to have taken this particular route to where he is now. I mean, he’s generated a ton of excitement with this announcement, more than he’d have gotten a year ago when he announced for the Senate instead, at a time when Texas Democrats really needed it. Had he been running for Governor all along, we’d all be as tired of that as we are of the Rick ‘n’ Kay traveling sideshow. I know this is primarily an accident of fate and KBH’s monumental fecklessness, but it’s still brilliant. And I say that, as you know, as someone who thinks he should have been running for Governor all along. Shows how much I know about strategy.

One other point:

“I think Democrats have a right to be pleased about this development, but the giddiness will fade,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. White, he notes, is a credible candidate, but Texas still is a Republican state by a margin of 8 to 12 points.

“Nobody knows whether he has that next gear to generate excitement in a statewide race,” Jillson said, “whether he can go down into the Rio Grande Valley and pull people out, whether he can put enough money into it and raise enough money to wage a credible fistfight in the street.”

All due respect to Cal Jillson, but White’s ability to raise money is not in question. Counting the money that’s in his Mayoral account, which none of the news coverage I’ve seen so far has done but which he will be able to use for a state race, he’s already got more than $6 million in the bank, and all of that was raised under contribution limits of one kind or another. Just going back to his initial donors for the Senate race and reminding them they can now write him another check should rake in a few million more. If there’s one thing I’m not worried about, this is it.

We’re not the only state with food stamp issues

We all know by now that Texas has had many problems with its administration of food stamps. Apparently, so have other states, according to a letter, signed by Kevin Concannon, the department’s undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, sent to state officials. Of interest to me is where he points at least some of the blame:

[The letter] specifically criticized states where private firms, rather than state workers, processed enrollment.

“We believe that the outsourcing of key … processing duties to for-profit organizations is an unwise use of state and federal resources that undermines program accountability,” Concannon wrote.

For-profit enterprises haven’t been able to process food stamp applications or recertifications quickly enough, Concannon said in the letter, in part because dividing responsibilities between the state and the enterprises complicated the process for applicants. As a result, many of those eligible are not receiving food stamps.

Anyone who has gone through a large outsourcing project in the private sector could have predicted this. These things take a long time to get right, and along the way they uncover or create all kids of issues that were not foreseen during the scoping phase, some of which never get resolved because to do so would blow the budget on the overall project. Yet the bizarre faith that privatization will always lead to lower costs and greater efficiency, often held by free-market and small-government-fetishizing conservatives who don’t have any relevant experience in the real world, persists. One wonders what it will take to shake that.