Archive for November, 2009

Buy everything, buy nothing.

I did my consumer culture duty this weekend and participated in the Black Friday doorbuster craziness. Some friends and I stood in line in front of Old Navy for a midnight opening, all for the glory of a free video game and some cheap pants.

Are consumerism and Americanism the same thing? It feels that way sometimes. I strongly believe that we’re much more than that, but we can forget it so easily, especially when consumerism is presented as the easiest escape from the problems of modern civilization. What is the way out from our spiritual/psychological/patriotic fetish for shopping?

To put it another way: is there still such a thing as anti-consumerism, and is it viable? Did you (or anyone you know) do the Adbusters “buy nothing day” thing this year?

What happened to the movement against Wal-Mart’s practices? I used to get 2-3 emails a week about this or that action to reform Wal-Mart. Now, I hear nothing from groups like Wal-Mart Watch, but I do see a barrage of feel-good Wal-Mart commercials, like the one where they claim that they save the average consumer over $3,000 each year whether they shop at Wal-Mart or not.

I was talking with my Black Friday line buddies the following day about this phenomenon, and we all felt that the battle over Wal-Mart has stalled. It’s like Wal-Mart won a battle in the national media, and they’re no longer the bad guys. Maybe there’s just too much other stuff going on in the world for people to worry about the high cost of low prices, or perhaps it’s our still-wounded economy that makes us unwilling to look a gift horse cheap HDTV in the mouth.

And now we’re getting ready for “Cyber Monday,” where online retailers try to gin up some of that Black Friday magic. (In fact, I just got nearly a half-dozen email reminders for this sale pop up in my inbox while writing this.) So, don’t expect over-the-top consumerism to go out of style any time soon, even in a crappy economy.

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And increased consumer spending enough to dig us out of the economic hole we are in? I think not. And besides, we already did the “rally by spending” trick post-9/11 when GWB told us to go shopping for our country (while the richest went shopping for a country, literally). Leveraging ourselves to buy even more stuff didn’t correct the deeper problems of watchdogless industries and deregulated markets out of control.

Maybe we’ll see some attention paid to the dark side of consumerism — globalization, corruption, monopoloy/monopsony, environmental costs, labor costs — when EFCA hits the House floor. I hope so.

On a somewhat-related note, I want to plug the latest post by my fellow A-J blogger Paul Lyle, in which he reminds us of the high cost of credit card debt.

GOP: Grinding Out Purity

After the Republican implosion of NY-23, GOP leaders have been trying to figure out how to prevent such a historic loss from happening again.

From the “we don’t learn lessons from history” camp, RNC member Jim Bopp recently proposed a purity test for Republican candidates, which, incidentally, Republican icons like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush would fail. The whole point of the NY-23 loss is that what works for candidates in one part of the country will not always work for a candidate of the same party in another part of the country.

The Texas GOP has the same purity problem. Their new statewide Chair is Cathie Adams of Eagle Forum infamy. By virtue of her prior inflammatory remarks, the new Texas GOP Chair is anti-inclusion.

This purity crap is happening at the local level as well. Check out Chris Winn’s special Message from the Chairman found on the Lubbock GOP website (with my emphasis):

Message from the Chairman…..

The Republican Primary Election is March 2, 2010, and we are poised to begin the process of taking our country back from the Obama Administration that

continues to push a radical tax and spend agenda, government run health care,

cap & trade, bailouts, takeover of private business, so-called stimulus spending, the Omnibus bill, and liberal social values. So far, the effort of the Pelosi/Reid Congress to increase jobs in America has resulted in growing Government jobs and more and more layoffs and cut-backs in private business. They will promote card check in order to unionize corporations in spite of the desires of workers.*** They want to increase entitlements, creating dependency on big government.

Now is the time to challenge Democrats and liberal Republicans at every level of government. Now is the time for you to decide to get involved and take an active part in the process. Now is the time to file for office in the Republican Party – the Party of leadership for 2010! I invite you to join me in the fight to take back our country!

The Lubbock County Republican Party encourages participation in the election process by anyone who wishes to run for elective office. The more candidates who file, the better it is for our Party. We want to provide choices to voters at every level from the top to the bottom of the ticket. If you are wondering if you should run for office, please contact me. I would be interested in discussing with you the opportunity to serve.

Chris Winn, Chairman
Lubbock County Republican Party

Luckily I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence.Leadership, my foot! Do you see the contradiction that Winn advocates? He is essentially saying that the Lubbock GOP welcomes anyone, but certain people — among them certain groups of self-identifying Republicans — need not apply. Moderate Republicans and Libertarians (who probably have “liberal social values”) are not welcomed by his special message.

I get the feeling that this purity stuff will continue in the Republican Party for several more elections, maybe even a whole 4-year cycle. As long as the GOP has this focus on purity, they will continue to whittle themselves down toward a permanent, shrinking minority.

*** — Not worth a whole post, but the Winn/GOP distortion of the Employee Free Choice Act is particularly galling because they literally try to tell us that it means the opposite of what it means. EFCA would create a new petition-based method for unionizing a workplace — a method that might work in environments where unionization is prevented by the employing company — without taking away any methods for unionization that already exist. EFCA would add rights rather than take them away.

The Audacity to Win

I’m about halfway through David Plouffe’s new book The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory, and I’m so jump-up-and-down excited about it that I have to share.

The book has me reliving my own experience volunteering with the Obama campaign. I am enjoying comparing my experiences with the campaign’s strategy and the perspective of volunteers in other states.

I’m about as far into the book as the Texas-Ohio primary date, and having the voice of David Plouffe in the year and a half up to that point is already remarkable. (The Obama campaign started its revolutionary grassroots efforts early in 2007, so there’s quite a bit of story up to this point.) What is actually most striking to me is how much of the book’s details are already familiar, because the Obama campaign staff made a habit of frequent contact to its volunteers with no sugar-coating. Both the overall strategy and the moment-by-moment tactics of the Obama campaign were shared with volunteers around the nation, and big news from the campaign was told to volunteers first.

Ordinary people getting up off their couches and getting organized were the driving force of the Obama campaign. In fact, so many Obama voters and volunteers were completely new to the process. The typical story of primaries beyond the first handful was that the campaign staff would land in the next state(s) to find an already-running, self-organized group of volunteers who got together on my.barackobama.com. As far as I know, this is totally new and unique in American politics, partly due to the available technology and partly due to the unorthodox campaign strategy of giving volunteers a great deal of flexibility and autonomy. Fired up, ready to go!

I believe that we should remember, especially these days with the teabaggers having a field day in the media, that Obama was the outside candidate, the no-more-politics-as-usual candidate, the non-establishment candidate; Hillary Clinton was the Democratic Party establishment candidate. Obama’s core strategy required bringing new voters into the primary process, and he was very successful at that. Obama wanted to change the tone, and he did. Change we can believe in.

Now, with a health care bill finally on the Senate floor for debate, we are only a couple of months away from enacting a major Obama campaign promise — a pillar of his domestic policy — roughly a year into his first term. Yes we can!

Obama has the audacity to hope and to win, and also to do what the voters sent him there to do.

Mental Health Day

Today, on my lunch hour, I attended a League of Women Voters panel about mental health and the criminal justice system. The panelists were Sheriff Kelly Rowe; Mary Gerlach, adult behavioral health director for the Lubbock regional MHMR; County Court-At-Law Judge Drue Farmer; and Cathy Givens from the DA’s office civil division. I was surprised at how good the panel was, and I learned a lot from it.

The panel was in anticipation of a Lubbock County mental health court that will begin operation in January. The mental health court will join the ranks of other specialty courts in Lubbock County: drug court, DWI court, and family recovery court. Budget-watchers can rejoice — the new mental health court will shift existing resources and does not add extra expense. And, if it’s successful, it should lower court and jail expenses by freeing up resources: jail beds, prosecutor time, and space on the docket to name a few.

The panel did an excellent job of illustrating how Lubbock County is working in an across-the-board (in the academic world, you might say interdisciplinary) way to address a serious problem: mentally ill people in jail. In fact, the County started coordinating MHMR, the courts, and the Sheriff’s office in the late 1990s when David Gutierrez became Sheriff.

Thanks in part to Ronald Reagan’s dumping of mentally ill people on the street, jails have become de facto mental health institutions, a task for which they are wholly unsuited. Tracking of mentally ill inmates only started recently, but anywhere from 30-70 percent (I know that’s a big range, but that’s what I heard from the panel) of inmates are in jail due to issues from mental illness or substance abuse. Most of these inmates are in jail for nonviolent misdemeanors. Also, mentally ill or substance-abusing inmates are often “frequent flyers” who, for lack of community resources and specialized programs, return to jail multiple times or remain in jail longer than necessary. In fact, the Lubbock County Jail has a few mentally ill inmates that have been there as long as seven years due to competency issues.

The courts add an additional — but necessary! — layer of difficulty with this issue of competency. The law says that a person has to be competent to stand trial. “Competent” means that they can take care of themselves physically and that they understand their situation; competency has nothing to do with sanity/insanity, which come into play at the end of a trial. For example, a defendant with mental illness or substance abuse problems may be “off meds” on their trial date; legally, they have to resume treatment before the trial can continue. Due to scheduling issues, this process can repeat itself multiple times, resulting in a legal black hole of sorts.

There are several good reforms that would help, most of which are on their way to Lubbock County:

  • At least one dedicated officer 24/7 who is trained to handle mental health issues at the time of arrest — Lubbock County Sheriff’s office has one such officer available weekdays 9-6, which is a good start
  • a non-jail or specialized-jail facility to house mentally ill inmates, also available 24/7 — the new Lubbock County Jail will feature a housing section for mentally ill inmates; only a few other jails in Texas have a similar facility
  • ID and assessment of mentally ill inmates as they are booked into jail — also in the works
  • a court that specializes in mental health issues — coming in January with a caseload of 10-15 people
  • prosecutors who are aware of mental health and substance abuse issues and options — The staff member from the civil division of the DA’s office (who was on the panel) is one such prosecutor
  • a mental illness defenders’ office with equally qualified defense attorneys
  • probation officers who can handle mentally ill probationers — Lubbock County has at least two such probation officers already

And there are a myriad of community resources that can be more tightly integrated with this process too. As I said earlier, the Sheriff’s office and MHMR have been working together on tackling this problem for over ten years. Now, LPD is coming on board as well. With the mental health court coming online in January, Lubbock County can improve this situation and be a leader in the state.

By the way, Mary Gerlach from MHMR also recommended a book for approaching/understanding the issues of mental health and the criminal justice system: Crazy by Pete Earley.

Heckuva Foundation

Whenever GWB appears in the news, I breathe a sigh of relief that he’s no longer our President. When news about the George W Bush think tank appears, I breathe a double-sigh of relief that we didn’t build that thing here in Lubbock.

With the announcement of the GWB think tank, there has been an explosion of alternate suggestions; see the #namesofGWBthinktank meme on twitter, where people suggest better names than the “George W. Bush Public Policy Institute.”

Here are the funniest I’ve found:

  • Texas Pole-dancer Qualification Review Board
  • Laura Thinks I’m Working
  • The “That Frog Blew Up Real Good” Foundation
  • Halliburton
  • For Ten Bucks, Dick Armey Will Eat Anything
  • The Dick Cheney Institute
  • The Strategerists
  • The Institute of Fail Upwards
  • Is Our Children Learning Institute
  • Global Deciderology Council
  • George Bush Strategic Vision Center and Ball-pit Funland
  • The Center for the Limitation of Freedoms to Protect Freedom
  • National Institute for the Hatred of France
  • FOX News
  • Clearing Brush
  • Circle the Wagons
  • Endowment for Villainy, Idiocy, and Lying (EVIL)
  • Flat Earth Institute
  • Rent-A-Decider
  • A Million+1 Points of Light Foundation (Take that, Dad!)
  • The George W Bush Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too
  • Men Who Read My Pet Goat
  • Operation Eagle Talon Hammer Fist
  • Institute for the Study of Large Banners that Obscure Actual Policy
  • Skull and Bones West
  • Heckuva Foundation (My favorite)
  • American Colonialism Institute
  • Pretzel Threat Assessment Group
  • Hooters

Happy Monday, everybody.

What Senate Race?

According to the Texas Tribune (one of my new favorite sources of news, by the way), Kay Bailey Hutchison won’t resign from the Senate until after the health care and cap-and-trade debates are over in the Senate.

This is the key point regarding her decision:

The filing deadline for next year’s elections is January 4. Waiting until after that date effectively forces everyone else on the ballot to run as if the dominoes won’t fall.

Her decision to wait is already gumming up the works of the Republican parade of advancement in Texas. The Lt. Governor and Attorney General are staying put, as are the others seeking those positions.

The two leading Democratic Senate candidates John Sharp and Bill White are basically unaffected, since both campaigns have indicated that they will run whenever the seat opens up. Whether now or 2012, they’re still in campaign mode.

And, in the meantime, Perry and Hutchison continue to take shots at each other. I love it.

Barbara Ann Comes Out Swinging

I am already loving the campaign for Texas Attorney General, even at this early stage.

Barbara Ann Radnofsky (who ran a great 2006 Senate race against KBH) is starting to get her message out in a meaningful way, and her latest point packs a mighty punch. Behold:

The current Texas Attorney General is soft on crime and hard on victims, as he targets rape victims with abusive policies. Women and those who respect women will begin looking to make a change on Election Day. The incumbent party of Texas has a woman problem in the 2010 election.

Texas rape victims have long been charged for the rape kit and related costs involved in gathering and preservation of evidence. As Attorney General, Barbara Ann will eliminate this policy and the outrageous Attorney General’s practice of approving reminder letters demanding victims make payment arrangements.

The rape kit and related costs should NOT be the financial obligation of the crime victim. Period.

(my emphasis)

Charging for rape kits (evidence gathering) is a horrible policy, one that Sarah Palin was rightly criticized for in the 2008 election. It’s not civilized to make victims pay for justice.

Barbara Ann’s latest message reinforces an accurate conclusion drawn by (among others) Meredith Shiner and Glenn Thrush: the GOP has a women problem. All but the most ultraconservative women are attacked, even within their own party. Look at the way Olympia Snowe has been treated, or even Kay Bailey to a certain extent. Look at what happened to Scozzafava in NY-23.

And, look at the way that the GOP treated the Democratic women’s caucus over the weekend while the caucus talked about women’s health issues and the gender disparity in the existing health system. House Republicans acted like schoolyard bullies, but with less sense.

Serious question time: if you are a woman (or someone who cares about women’s issues) AND you’re a Republican… why? Today’s Republican Party is working harder than ever to alienate women — if not oppress them outright.

2010 will be a time to boot the GOP even further out of power. Maybe one day their Party will re-learn how to embrace worldviews other than white male privilege, but they’ve got a long way to go.

Give ‘em hell, Barbara Ann.

Power to the People?

It’s been another one of those weeks where I get caught up with my life. Most notably, West Texas Comic Con came and went and was a great success.

In the meantime, some nut shot up Fort Hood, health care reform passed the House, and another crooked Republican Hale County Commissioner got arrested. Also, Lubbock Power and Light bought out its only remaining competition in Lubbock, which is what I want to talk about today.

I didn’t comment as the power grab was happening, but I did spend some time listening to other media commentary about the issue. The reaction to the Lubbock Power and Light (LP&L) deal from the talk radio crowd was pretty fierce — I even got to hear Robert Pratt hang up on Gary Boren* over this issue, which is something you don’t hear every day. (*correction — I have been informed that Gary Boren said he would call back, but never did. I distinctly remember Boren’s mic / phone volume being cut, however.) Meanwhile, LP&L is running ads promoting the deal on the very radio station that expresses outrage at the deal, while newspaper and TV were mostly silent about it. Huh.

The thinking seems to be that, without competition, LP&L’s rates will go up and quality of customer service will go down — maybe not right away, but within a few years.

I agree, but not for the same reasons as the right-wing radio hosts in town.

I believe that utilities can run just fine if they are government-owned in a democratic society. Government-run utilities are even fine as a monopoly if the utilities are accountable to the people directly. (Privately owned utility companies in competition with one another are okay too, although in practice they tend to carve out little anti-competitive fiefdoms rather than compete with each other directly. So, I would rather see a government-owned utility run kinda like a coop instead of a few big corporations gouging customers whenever they can get away with it.)

However, the problem with the current LP&L deal (and it IS a done deal, announced conveniently after the November bond election) is that the structure of LP&L does not make it accountable to the people, which is necessary if you are removing private competition. LP&L is a public utility run like a private company. None of the LP&L board are elected; they are appointed by the City Council. It is more insulated from the will of the citizens than a coop, a private company (maybe), or a publicly traded corporation.

I believe there is an easy way to address this problem. Let’s start electing LP&L board members directly. We could even have a mix of appointed members and elected members, but if LP&L is going to be the only game in town while calling itself a public utility, then it ought to be more democratic.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how we got to this decision, remember back to the 2006 election:

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One not-so-secret reason for the buyout is that it simplifies downtown redevelopment for private developers. Don’t get me wrong — I do want to see downtown Lubbock get redeveloped, but not at the expense of affordable/accountable/responsible utilities.

If I may misappropriate a quote from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, remember who drives the bus of civic activity in Lubbock: developers, developers, developers.

The Morning After

It’s always worth taking a few deep breaths and thinking things over the morning after a prolonged election.

Nationally, the results are mixed no matter how you look at it.

Under the “excited about” column, we have CA-10 and NY-23 victories for the Democrats, increasing our Congressional majority. NY-23 was supposed to be the spectacular debut of the tea-party-inspired takeover of the GOP, but all it succeeded in doing was shattering the Republican Party in a district that has sent a Republican to Congress for the last 120 years.

Under the “bummed out” column, the Governor races in Virginia and New Jersey were won by the GOP. Virginia is no surprise to me, but NJ was disappointing. The silver lining for New Jersey is that some progressive Democratic mayors were elected in Charlotte and Chapel Hill.

Also depressing is the outcome of Question 1 in Maine, a setback in the fight for gay rights.

In Texas, the 11 constitutional amendments all passed, which is no surprise. It’s good to see eminent domain limitations leading the way in voter support. That result suggests that restricting the use of eminent domain is an issue that crosses party lines (A-J coverage).

Locally, City of Lubbock residents said yes to street repairs (and new streets) and firefighters, and no to splash pads and soccer fields (A-J coverage). My biggest gripe about this whole bond election was the way in which the propositions were packaged, especially the disconnect between the citizen advisory committee recommendations and the final ballot language.

Unfortunately, today’s post must end on a sad note. Yesterday we lost a great man: Bidal Aguero, owner/editor of El Editor, the longest-running Hispanic newspaper in Lubbock. The A-J had a nice front-page article about Bidal today. Bidal was a force for good in our community, and he will be missed.

Vote today!

Today is Election Day!

Please take the time to vote, as the local and state issues that come up in special elections often have more direct effect on our lives than national elections. And these are the lowest turnout elections!

Polling locations are listed here.

A-J article is here.

Polls close at 7:00pm.


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