Category Archives: Amer-I-Can!

Great or tacky, it’s American.

Great Moments in Redistricting

I suspect if I were to show you this map and tell you that, in Texas, Travis County (Austin) was the blueberry in the tomato soup, you’d be able to find it.

So let’s say you’re the heavily Republican Texas legislature. And let’s say that Lloyd Doggett’s (D-Austin) continued employment in Washington D.C. really peaves you off. But Austin is already split into three congressional districts that, combined, sprawl out to include all of 17 counties and parts of 4 others. So we’ve already got large swaths of Travis County included into two Republican districts. Most people would say that’s enough.

But not these guys. Under the new plan Travis county will be split into five districts. You would be able to travel from Fort Worth to San Antonio (more than 250 miles north to south), or from Houston to Leakey (over 250 miles east to west) while remaining exclusively in congressional districts that include parts of Austin. Talk about cracking! Almost certainly four of these disctricts would be Republican, and the fifth would combine the most Democratic portions of Austin with the most Democratic portions of San Antonio. East Austin and south San Antonio! Now that’s packing!.

Whatever your thoughts on gerrymandering – I’m ambivalent; it has its pros and cons – you’ve just got to admire the artistry and chutzpah behind this map.

The Actual Number? 110%

In the past I’ve pointed out that we should factor in a “margin of random” when interpreting polls. Today, Gallup brings us a poll that advises even more caution when looking at poll numbers. In summary, when asked what percentage of Americans are gay or lesbian, 35% responded “More than 25%.” A majority of Americans believe that at least 20% of Americans are gay or lesbian.

One can speculate for hours about the reason why people answered this way. Perhaps it’s a bunch of right-wingers believing they’re Lot, living on the outskirts of Soddom. Perhaps it’s gays who live in gay neighborhoods? Perhaps it’s straights who live near gay neighborhoods? Perhaps it’s casual observers of politics who don’t give a flying frack but, having seen the amount of national discussion of gay issues over the last decade, simply presume there’s got to be a lot of them or else we wouldn’t talk about such a yucky topic so often?

At any rate, regardless of your social circle or political views, it doesn’t take a moment’s thought regarding the demographic consequences of homosexuality to realize that there can’t be many of them. If more than a quarter of our population simply didn’t reproduce, that would be something quite noticeable.

But people don’t think before they answer polls. Only 4% of people got the answer right (NB: I would have been one of those), and a vast majority gave answers that were wildly wrong. So the next time you get upset about a poll showing that 75% of Republicans believe that Obama is a Hindu who was born on Jupiter, or 60% of Democrats believe that George Bush used items he ordered from the Acme catalog to blow up the Twin Towers, or that 99% of Americans believe that God created the universe in a single day because the Biblical seven days seems awfully slow for an omnipotent being, remember that 1 out of 3 people believe that more than 1 out of 4 people are gay.

Murdering a Man Who Needed Murdering

The following fact is becoming apparent: Using information gained from waterboarded Gitmo prisoners, our president ordered Navy SEALS to to invade a foreign country, engage in a firefight at a private residence, and shoot an unarmed man.

Had I taken the most right-wing genes from Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Blackbeard, and Darth Vader, and created a child who I then forced to attend Hillsdale, I would have still been slightly surprised when Winston McThathereagan ordered this assassination. That an Alinskyite Marxist community organizer did it? Priceless.

It makes me giddy to think about the sinking feeling the “We-are-the-change-we’ve-been-waiting-for” crowd will feel in their guts as the reality of the situation sinks in. In 2007 and 2008, they poured their hearts and souls into getting Hopey McChange elected president. And after the attempts at socialized medicine, cap and trade, turning the Supreme Court into a bunch of living constitution types, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, this – THIS - will be without a doubt the single most popular thing he ever does.

I love this country!

Geraghty-FTW

This post, about priorities, is championship material:

The comments on lefty blogs are pretty much what you would expect. I get the feeling that grassroots conservatives feel better about President Obama’s authorization of this operation than grassroots liberals do.

Over at Salon I read:

Bin Laden was clearly an evil human being, but it is deeply disturbing to see photos of some of my fellow Americans literally celebrating and cheering like it’s a some kind of football game win.

Er… really? Which development really warrants the full-throated exultation? The United States finding and lethally punishing the world’s most wanted terrorist, with the blood of thousands of our countrymen on his hands, or that our team won the big game? . . .

No, really. This is the moment to cheer, to scream, to pump your fist, to break into that old bottle of your favorite beverage you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Because the world is different this morning. A key message has been beamed to every corner of the earth, sure to reach anyone who has ever committed terror against Americans, who seeks to do so again, or who is contemplating the act: No matter who you are, no matter how many followers you have, no matter how smart or careful you think you are, our guys can find you. . . .

Elsewhere, Salon groans that the war against Osama and his organization has cost $1.3 trillion. Think about what that says to aspiring terrorists. When we say, ‘we’ll pay any price to see them brought to justice or to bring justice to them,’ we mean it. That’s the kind of country we are.

Margin of Random

I’ve long thought that there was a certain percentage of people who tell pollsters more or less random things, and that these people frequently make it look like fringe groups are larger than they really are. If, for example, five percent of people will tell a pollster that the square root of four is “rainbows,” then we should discount by 5% all of the politically-motivated “Do you believe in obviously-fringe-and-untrue Belief X?” polls that seem to be circulating these days.

While it’s inherently hard to measure randomness, I think I’ve found something. If you scroll far enough down this poll, you’ll find the question, “How proud would you be to have [NAME] as president?” The options are Extremely, Very, Somewhat, and Not at All.

For Mike Huckabee, it’s 5, 13, 29, 38.

For Mitt Romney, it’s 4, 11, 31, 39.

For Donald Trump, it’s 3, 7, 23, 62.

My argument is that the 10% of people who say they would be “extremely” or “very” proud to have Donald Trump are merely a function of the margin of random. While it might be possible to have be “somewhat” proud of a President Trump (I think a substantial number of people might say either: “I’m somewhat proud that we have a president who won a fair contest and has the consent of the people, regardless of who that president is,” or “I’m somewhat proud that our new president isn’t that asshole he replaced”), from the information we currently have absolutely nobody would actually be “very” or “extremely” proud to have Donald Trump as president. With the information we have before us today, there is no way to possibly believe that.

So there you go: the margin of random is at least 10%. It might be as high as 20% (4 categories, and we know that two of them got 10%, so perhaps they combined for 20%?), but I suspect that people who say random things to pollsters are inclined toward the more offensive answers, such as “I would be extremely proud to have ‘a reality show star who swears at crowds in public and wears a golden retriever on his head‘ as my president,” than to inoffensive answers.

Discount future poll results accordingly.

A Little Faster, At Least

It looks like I fell prey to a widely misreported story about a bill in the Texas legislature that would allow an 85 mph speed limit. Yesterday the Statesman‘s steadfast transportation reporter set everyone straight about what the bill actually would do (perhaps coincidentally, I see that Statesman story I linked to in my previous post is now a dead link).

The upshot: Only about 40 miles of one toll road (which is currently under construction and seems to be the most uneeded road construction project I have ever seen) would have an 85 mph limit. And maybe not even there. Sigh.

The new story does post a reminder about another bill I’ve been following that would raise the general statewide limit to 75 and get rid of our stupid 65 mph nighttime limit. Not as good as 85, but it’s movement in the right direction.

Watch and Learn, California

California lawmakers [some of whom are Democrats!] come to Texas to see how it’s done.

I think this anecdote is essential to understanding how bad California has become:

The day’s agenda included a lunch session with Andrew Puzder, CEO of the company that owns the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurant chains.

Puzder, whose company is based near Santa Barbara, created a stir in California earlier this year when he announced a major expansion in Texas, strongly criticized California’s business climate and suggested that he might move his headquarters to Texas.

Puzder said Thursday that California’s permitting process makes it hard for his company to build new restaurants there and that it is difficult to employ restaurant managers without running afoul of the state’s restrictive labor laws.

When he returned to California from Texas, Puzder said he received a phone call at home from Gov. Jerry Brown, who wanted to talk with him about improving the business climate in the state.

He said representatives of his chain have met with state officials recently and came up with a way to reduce the permitting process from eight months to six.

In Texas, Puzder said, the same process takes six weeks, and there are no arbitrary work rules that affect restaurant managers.

“You can’t build stores in California, you can’t manage them in California, and, even if you can build them, you have to pay a big tax,” he said. “In Texas, you can build them and run them, and you don’t have to pay (income) tax.”

So the best that state officials in California could come up with was reducing the permitting time from 5.7 times as long as it takes in Texas to 4.3 times as long as it takes in Texas? Even their attempts to free up their sclerotic bureaucracy are sclerotic.

Faster, Please

Be still, my heart, but the Texas House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow speed limits as high as 85 mph. Having driven the road to El Paso, I’m not convinced 85 is high enough (I was once given a warning in Hudspeth County for doing 86 in an 80, and I was spending about half of my time in the right lane being passed), but it’s better than the status quo. The only reason I can think of to keep the limit that low is that American drivers have for too long been forced to drive too slow, so the speed limit should only be increased incrementally. Given the capabilities and safety of modern automobiles, there are large stretches of the American West where the speed limit, if there should be one, should have three digits.

The harping from the insurance lobbyist is the typical nanny state drivel, arguing that even increasing the speed limit to 75 would cause a “dramatic” increase in deaths. This is poppycock. Since the repeal of the 55 mph limit, most states have had 70 or 75 mph speed limits, and the death rate per mile driven has decreased steadily. We still have a higher fatality rate than Germany, which is more densely populated than America and still has lengthy sections of unrestricted highways. Looking at this map, it’s not obvious to me that the Western states with a 75 mph limit fare significantly worse than those states with a limit of 70 or below.

“I could sell more beer in Texas if I moved to New Mexico”

Since moving to Texas I’ve been baffled by the virtual absence of brewpubs. The environment seems perfect for them – a state of do-it-yourselfers, a regulatory environment that encourages small businesses, and a culture that prizes authentic Texasness almost above all else. Yet in my city of a million people, I’m aware of just a small handful. Austin should be absolutely teaming with small breweries.

Intuitively, I guessed the reason was government, and it turns out I’m right. The quote in the title of this post is from a brewpub owner, who points out that if he owned a brewpub in another state he could sell his beer in Texas grocery stores and restaurants, but because of the inanity of Texas’s alcohol regulation, a brewpub in Texas cannot sell beer at any other site. Another brewpub owner in the story points out that he owns other restaurants and cannot sell the beer from his brewpubs at other restaurants he owns.

The story quotes a beer distributors’ lobbyist presenting the “argument” in favor of maintaining the current regulations:

Both sides cite the Texas wine market, which allows wineries to sell both to consumers at the vineyards and to wholesalers for distribution in stores, in their arguments about HB 660.

McKinney says the wine market is “chaotic.”

Oh, the chaos!

Why I Love Budget Crunches

Because the less money government has, the less it can snoop on you. Scott Henson has a list of some of the horrid “Big Brotherish” dreck currently pending in the Texas legislature. Whatever the substantive arguments of allowing law enforcement to closely monitor citizens, our $23 billion shortfall almost surely means these new programs won’t pass.

Educating the Uneducatable

What happens when a law is declared unconstitutional? It doesn’t magically disappear from the statute books; every lawyer and law student in Texas knows that Penal Code Section 21.06 (“Homosexual Conduct”), declared unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas back in 2003, is still on the books. Unenforeable in any context, but still there. The Supreme Court can’t alter what appears in the law books; that takes a legislative act.

There’s some slight movement in the legislature this session to remove the section. Fine. If they’ve got time to do it and don’t mind doing so, bully for them. I can’t imagine it makes a lick of difference one way or the other, but making people happy is what democracy is all about.

But the story cites someone claiming that it would make a difference:

“By leaving it on the books, you create the potential for abuse,” said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project , which is representing two gay men who were kicked out of an El Paso restaurant in 2009 for kissing in public.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas could not stop people of the same sex from engaging in sexual activity. Today, the Texas Penal Code still states that it is a Class C misdemeanor to engage in “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex” — just after a line explaining that the law is unconstitutional.

El Paso police cited the “homosexual conduct” wording when the two men were kicked out of a Chico’s Tacos restaurant. The men refused to leave and called the police, assuming the restaurant staff was out of line with a city ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Instead, an officer told the men it was illegal for two men to kiss in public and said they could be cited for “homosexual conduct.”

At the time, El Paso Police Department spokesman Javier Sambrano described the officers involved as “relatively inexperienced.”

Section 21.06 addresses “deviate sexual intercourse,” not kissing, so not only was the officer ignorant of Lawrence, he was ignorant of the law he cited. But Harringon would have us believe that repealing the unenforceable law will make a difference because an inexperienced police officer who isn’t aware of perhaps the most prominent Supreme Court case of the last decade (which is noted under Section 21.06 in every copy of the penal code I have seen), or of the text of the law itself, will be aware of an unpublicized legislative act that strikes already meaningless language (which the officer hadn’t read) from the penal code? 

But what do I know? Perhaps keeping it there actually does “creat[e] a climate favorable to bullying, gay-bashing and hate crimes.” One can imagine some hate criminals, sometime next year, setting out in their rebel-flag-adorned pickups to lynch some gay guy they thought made googly eyes at one of them in the bar. But as Cletus gets in his truck, he sees in a stack of mail he’d picked up earlier that day a hot-off-the-presses 2012 copy of the Texas Penal Code. “Hey fellers,” says he to his buddies, “let me take a gander through here to make sure them queers is still fair game.” And there, where Section 21.06 had been each and every time he’d consulted prior penal codes before lynchings, is a note that the law has been repealed. “Mah Gawd,” says he, “we got to change our lynchin’ policy.”

Texas-sized Apologies

While I’m anxiously awaiting the day my state sends to Washington a senator I can be proud of * (well, as proud as one can be a of senator), one of our current emissaries to the federal capital simply can’t stop making an ass of himself. What part of founding a group called “No Labels” tells you that Joe Scarborough is interested in wearing your party label? Honestly, you can’t even call the guy a RINO. And what part of the fact that Scarborough makes his living attacking Sarahpalin on MSNBC tells you that this would be anything more than Charlie Crist redux? The only worse candidate would be if Cornyn asked Arlen Specter to retire to Florida and run for senate.

On the presumption that Cornyn will get Morning Joe to run, I’d like to apologize to the voters of Florida. I voted for Cornyn in 2008, because he seemed inoffensive. But this is now the second time he has interjected himself into your state’s politics. First, he got Charlie Crist to run, but you guys had the good sense to elect Marco Rubio instead. So thanks, Florida, for bailing out my senator’s idiocy once. I’m sorry that you may have to do it twice.

* As though I weren’t already torn enough regarding whom to support in that race, Cruz or Williams, an alumnus of our alma mater, Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, has also jumped into the race and is pitching himself as being pretty conservative. It’s like everybody got together and decided that I, personally, was the target demographic.