ICYMI: President Trump Also Tossed Out His Infrastructure Council This Week

For someone so “new” to politics, our nation’s 45th President sure seems to know what he’s doing when it comes to creating distractions and burying scandals.  As leader of the modern Republican Party, this is one lesson he’s taken well to heart.

So goes the latest example.  As our nation is consumed by a the racial firestorm set off by a White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the President’s response to it, with his other hand Donald Trump is steadily ripping up his overly ambitious agenda, hoping Americans will quickly forget the frequent promises he made on the campaign trail.  Just one day after Trump gave his “big speech” to address our nation’s failing infrastructure, he turns right around and undermines that same agenda.

Here’s more, via Mark Niquette of Bloomberg News

President Donald Trump will not move forward with a planned Advisory Council on Infrastructure, a person familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The council, which was still being formed, would have advised Trump on his plan to spend as much as $1 trillion upgrading roads, bridges and other public works.

The action follows Trump announcing on Wednesday that he was disbanding two other business advisory councils. Corporate chief executive officers had started to quit the panels in protest over Trump’s remarks that appeared to confer legitimacy on white supremacists following a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12.

Our Commander-In-Chief signed an Executive Order on July 19th to establish the Infrastructure Council.  But in true Trump form, he’s now proven that he can’t even Command himself to his own rules.

So how are all of those lofty goals on infrastructure going to be accomplished with no buy in from the Congress, and no advice from the outside world?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Yet another promise we can toss down the Trump Abyss Broken and Ignored Promises.

Wait… how did pop star Katy Perry‘s song go??

Swish Swish Bish— Another one in the Basket. 

 

 

Ashley Smith Makes THE Point About “Bathroom Bill” Debate

So there’s politics, and then there’s policy, both of which can be easily become lightning rods if infused with the right social issues.

For many in the Republican party, such a calculus has been made about many issues today.  They know that for many of their voters, there is either a serious lack of understanding about LGBT issues, or just a blatant attempt to ignore them altogether.  They also know that fearful, long disproven stereotypes are still enough to motivate a large part of their base to go and vote.  It also allows an “easy way out” of actually having to debate substantive issues, or come up with policy solutions.  Basically, inflame the base, keep them scared and they’ll pay attention to the actual job that they’re doing.

Special Session?  Did someone say BATHROOM BILL??

Sadly, it is Transgender Texans that continue to be cast as the political scapegoats of the day.  Who knows how much state leaders like Governor Abbott or Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick actually believe of all the falsehoods they spout, but it is unlikely that they care about that.  As long as their voters stay scared and uninformed, they stay in office.

With all of this in the atmosphere of the Special Session, one brave Texan set out to prove a point at the capitol, with none other than the Governor as her assistant.  Here’s more on that from Kylie Madry of the Dallas Morning News…

A transgender San Antonio woman went to Gov. Greg Abbott’s re-election campaign announcement last week with one mission: to pose for a photo with him.

Ashley Smith, 45, accomplished that and then shared the image on social media with the caption: “How will the Potty Police know I’m transgender if the Governor doesn’t?”

Soon, the post, which Smith said was intended to raise awareness about opposition to a proposed “bathroom ban,” took off and went viral.

[…]

Smith said she hoped the photo helps educate others about the transgender community. “We’re just regular folks,” she said Monday. “We’re teachers, doctors and police officers in the community.”

Her photo with the governor shows “how ridiculous this legislation is and how it can’t be enforced,” Smith said.

 

 

Ridiculous as these Bathroom Bills may be, they can still cause real harm to the Transgender community, and the overall Texas economy. Anyone that has followed similar sagas from other states would know that this is a hugely expensive mistake.

But has that ever stopped Greg Abbott or Dan Patrick in the past? If Texans ever want to end this cycle, there’s one sure fire way to do it.

Let’s  hope for no results on this movement.  And either way, Democrats need to do all they can to try and make some progress in 2018.

 

 

Turner Tables Planned Revenue Cap Repeal Vote

After years of discussion and, failed attempts, and being a central focus of the last Mayoral election, Mayor Turner has likely decided that now is not the time to ask voters to repeal Houston’s self-imposed Revenue Cap.  As Rebecca Elliot of the Houston Chronicle reports, the surprise is a bit more complicated than your normal political flip-flop…

Mayor Sylvester Turner abruptly reversed course Wednesday on his plan to ask voters to repeal Houston’s revenue cap this fall, saying it now is “unlikely” he will ask for its removal.

The politically cautious move would leave the city fiscally shackled in the hope that a lighter November ballot improves the chances voters sign off on hundreds of millions in general improvement bonds and $1 billion in pension obligation bonds, a crucial piece of the mayor’s landmark pension reform package.

“Do I believe that the needs are as much there to remove it as they were when I came into office? Absolutely,” Turner said. “Do I want to run the risk of losing the reforms that we’ve made to our pension system? No.”

[…]

Turner’s about-face came during a City Council discussion of how the cap, which has cost the city an estimated $220 million in revenue since 2014, likely will force the city to scale back the street and drainage projects budgeted in its five-year Capital Improvement Plan, or CIP.

The decision came as a surprise in part because of Turner’s regular and consistent comments on why the repeal is needed.  Since before he took office, the Mayor has worked diligently to explain to Houstonians why the cap must be repealed.  In fact many would interpret the ballot initiative as ‘top of the agenda’ after the state legislature passed Houston’s Pension solution and it was signed into law by Governor Abbott in May.

But as we discussed on this week’s Houston Matters panel, the decision to spare voters this Fall likely has as much to do with politics as anything else.  Since January, the Republican political establishment have used the planned repeal as an organizing tool for the party, in hopes to defeat Turner in 2019.  Here’s an excerpt from the Big Jolly Politics site, written by Republican strategist Phillip Owens…

Many pundits are still trying to figure out what happened to the Republicans in Harris County in 2016. But 2017 creates opportunities for Republicans to grow the party and build for 2018 and beyond. I will focus on opportunities unique to Harris County in a series of articles, but for now let’s take a look at Mayor Turner’s promised efforts to repeal Houston’s Revenue Cap.

[…]

His statement could hold a few clues in how he might try to sway Houston’s voters to trust the City with more of your money. We’ve heard this all before when elected officials want to raise your taxes.  They make promises to “fix the flooding” and our streets, they offer better and more “public transportation,” and of course there’s the never-ending promise for more improvements to city parks.

But this gives Republicans a chance to mimic the Mayor’s claim that all these problems are going to be fixed with more revenue.  We should be asking a few questions, frequently, publicly and with lots of volume.  Wasn’t the so called “drainage fee” supposed to fix the flooding?  What is Metro doing with half of the City’s sales tax revenue?  Is Metro not providing quality transportation?  Do we need more empty double busses running all hours of the day?  Aren’t we already using $100 million of TIRZ revenues, that had had their revenue cap lifted years ago, to “fix” Memorial Park?

Well… it’s an interesting interpretation of what Houston municipal leaders are doing with the tax revenues they collect.  Perhaps Mr. Jones doesn’t ride METRO and hasn’t noticed that they appear to be putting our tax dollars to good use, especially in the wake of significant ridership increases after the system’s 2015 Reimagining. Those “half-empty buses” are steadily becoming a thing of the past.

Much of the same can be said for the City Houston, whose budgets during the Parker era saw some of the most innovative and cost effective budgets, in large part to stem the pain from the looming revenue cap.

But at the end of the day, the issue of Houston’s lost revenue may be delayed, but it’s not going away any time soon.  At some point, the question will have to be asked if a modest increase in taxes (an average of $12.27 per property owner) is worth keeping police on the streets and critical services for one of the nation’s fastest growing urban areas.

 

 

CONFIRMED: Tidal Music Streaming Counted On Billboard Charts

Anyone that has been following the music industry knows that the 2010s have been an exciting, yet turbulent time.  The digital age has led to a mass democratization of nearly every possible information source, but few areas have been rocked by that impact like music.  Once a dependable source of revenue, physical sales of albums have dwindled to fractions of their former strength for all but a few superstar artists. Even while artists and chart hounds continue to boast about massive amounts of streaming activity, the truth is these plays earn just cents on the dollar when compared to physical sales.  To turn a profit today, artists have had to get rather creative.

One leap in that creative space was Tidal, formally launched on March 30th, 2015 by rapper Jay Z and other Artist Owners.  Tidal’s goal was to set a standard for paying artists a larger percentage of royalties than mostly free streaming titan Spotify at the time.  And while Tidal has actually kept that promise (able to pay between twice and 6 times per stream what an artist would receive on Spotify, dependent on their record label’s contract terms), the service has had a tough time building a sizeable subscriber base.  With no free tier for music listening, Tidal subscribers have to pay a minimum $9.99 per month to utilize the service.

Another significant set back for Tidal?  The service’s streaming data was not previously counted on any of Billboard’s official charts.  In other words, if an artist released music exclusively to Tidal, they would be unable to claim success on the charts.

But after months of confusion and social media debate, Billboard has finally confirmed that Tidal streaming data is now factored into their charting methodology.  On the strength of Jay Z’s explosive new album 4:44 being certified platinum by the RIAA in less than a week, Billboard gave this clarification

According to an RIAA spokesperson, a sale can count towards a certification if purchased directly by the customer, or a business can purchase the album or song and offer it to customers. In the latter case, customers must take affirmative steps to acquire the album or song (submitting an email address and promotional code, for example).

Note: for Billboard charting purposes, as per the current pricing policy, the Sprint-supported downloads would not count towards 4:44’s chart ranking. However, any streams reported by Tidal to Nielsen Music for the album’s songs in the week ending July 6 would contribute to the album’s ranking based solely on streaming equivalent album units.

So by next week, fans should expect to see Jay Z’s new album somewhere on the Billboard charts, even if it doesn’t place as high as it would if streamed on all services.

For those confused as to how a platinum certification is even possible if the album’s not “for sale”, here’s the breakdown…

  1. As part of Tidal’s mammoth deal  with Sprint, Jay Z gives exclusive rights to the music to Tidal subscribers for a window of time.
  2. Upon release of the Album, Sprint offers its customers a free 6 month trial of Tidal and attach the album as a free download, as long as they actively sign up using their email address.
  3. Tidal can then report these sign ups as equivalent sales, with Sprint being the sole purchaser of the content.  And they clearly got over a million people to sign up.
  4. It’s worth noting that before anything was even posted on Tidal, Jay Z probably made far more from the Sprint deal than he ever could have in traditional album sales or digital downloads.  Even under the old sales model of $15/cd ($15 million) an artist would be lucky to net even a quarter of that sum after paying product costs, distribution, the co-writers and artist performers and the label.

But this victory is only one in a much longer fight.  Though the launch of Tidal and Apple Music have improved the dismal profits of streaming since their low point in 2014, audiences continue to prefer the ‘freemium model’ of music consumption via Spotify, or illegal piracy.  And while Tidal’s superstar artist owners like Jay Z, Madonna and Beyoncé have the power and influence to be able take risks and discover innovative new methods of revenue generation, less known artists are still caught in a challenging situation to profit from their craft.  Just like the political landscape, the music industry’s future is a lot more complicated than one success.

We’ll see what comes next for Tidal.

 

 

Houston’s Diversity: America Discovering What Locals Already Know

If you live in or frequently visit the city of Houston, then the term “diversity” is surely nothing new.  A stop in virtually any of the city’s major stores, malls or public spaces will quickly reveal a racial/ ethnic mosaic.  Even when Houstonians are segmented in an area of town dominated by one persuasion, they are never too far from others.  This is just the lived experience of those in the city of Houston, Harris County or Fort Bend County.

But to others across the United States, Houston’s Diversity remains something of a secret.  Shrouded by poor representation by our state government, and a disengaged Texas electorate, it’s easy to see why the Houston story is so difficult to grasp for outsiders.  Luckily, jounalists like Brittny Mexia and Gary Coronado of the Los Angeles Times decided to give it a try…

Houston boomed through the mid-20th century, thanks to the oil bonanza, and most of those who came to get rich were white. Large numbers of Vietnamese refugees began arriving in the 1970s, and after an oil collapse in 1982, they were followed by an influx of Latinos driven by cheap housing and employment opportunities. Whites, meanwhile, started drifting out.

The multi-ethnic boom has occurred deep in the heart of a state that has often seemed to regard conservatism, and Texas identity, as an element of religion.

The state’s Republican leadership has helped lead the fight this year not only on sanctuary cities, but to defend President Trump’s order on border security and immigration enforcement. Texas went to court in 2015 to successfully block expanded deportation protections for young “Dreamers” and their parents who brought them here illegally.

Yet demographic experts say the Houston metro area, home to the third-largest population of undocumented immigrants in the country — behind New York and Los Angeles — is a roadmap to what U.S. cities will look like in the coming decades as whites learn to live as minorities in the American heartland.

Census projections have opened a window into the America of 2050, “and it’s Houston today,” said Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor at Rice University.

“This biracial Southern city dominated by white men throughout all of its history has become, by many measures, the single most ethnically diverse major metropolitan area in the country,” Klineberg said. “Who knew Houston would turn out to be at the forefront of what’s happening across all of America?”

If there’s anyone in the country that knew, it’s Dr. Klineberg, as his Houston Area Survey has meticulously tracked these changes for over 35 years.  The strength of Houston’s diversity has also produced real results in other areas.  As ranked by Expert Market, Houston is currently the Best City for Minority Entrepreneurs in the United States. The rapid ascent of educational institutions like the University of Houston and Texas Southern University has been fueled by the region’s minority population growth.

But the demographics are only a small part of the story.  Even as the area swells with new energy, those folks are not being accurately reflected in state and local government.  Though the 2016 elections saw an increase in overall voter participation and the minority vote, there’s little guarantee of those results being a trend. So even if Houston looks like a city of the future,  many more aspects of the area’s way of life are rooted firmly in the past. Until these minority communities discover the true political power which they hold, they will continue to be underserved, underrepresented and under-appreciated.

As more of America looks to places like Houston to chart a successful path forward, let’s hope they see not only an example of how a big diverse community can live together, but how everyone in those communities can have opportunities for success.

 

The Congressional Death Panel: House GOP Votes To DESTROY Healthcare Protections

Let’s just say that today was a most remarkable day in Washington.

At the White House’s famous Rose Garden, members of the Republican leadership in the United States House of Representatives gathered around President Donald Trump.  It was clear that they were in a most jovial mood.  Today was indeed a first big step toward what could be a signature legislative achievement of the Trump Presidency and Republican members of Congress.

Here’s the story from Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear of the New York Times…

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday narrowly approved a bill to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act, as Republicans recovered from their earlier failures and moved a step closer to delivering their promise to reshape American health care without mandated insurance coverage.

The vote, 217-213, on President Trump’s 105th day in office, keeps alive the Republican dream to unwind the signature legislative achievement of former President Barack Obama. The House measure faces profound uncertainty in the Senate, where the legislation’s steep spending cuts will almost certainly be moderated. Any legislation that can get through the Senate will again have to clear the House and its conservative majority.

So the House passed the sent it on to the Senate.  It seems worth a celebration… that is until you dig a little deeper.

This is the second push for the American Health Care Act.  But by most indications, it seems an even worse bill than the first try.  The new bill finds a back way to gut the requirement that pre-existing conditions must be covered by allowing states to opt out.  Which means a state like Texas could just decide that its most vulnerable citizens don’t deserve healthcare, and kick them off of the rolls leaving them to die.  And 217 Republicans actually voted for that.

They also voted to reinstate insurance high-risk pools.  You may remember what obtaining health coverage was like before the ACA.  If you’re completely healthy, rich and young, health insurance was no problem!  But if you’re someone that is already sick, or poor or elderly, obtaining health insurance was next to impossible because it was so expensive.  Again House Republicans didn’t see a problem with that system.

And perhaps the biggest shoe to drop… they voted to basically destroy the Medicaid Expansion starting in 2020.  If this bill became law, literally millions of our poorest citizens which have Medicaid coverage today would be phased out of that coverage.  Someone like Representative French Hill of Arkansas, who has over 80,000 people in his district which stand to lose Medicaid from the vote today, and he still voted for it.

But hey!!  If you didn’t read the bill anyway before voting , why would you care?  Yes, 217 Republicans voted for a bill they likely haven’t read, and have no idea how much it costs.  Who cares how many people might lose their insurance?  Who cares how many at risk children might die if they live in a state that “opts out” of covering folks with pre-existing conditions?  I guess they didn’t catch Jimmy Kimmel’s impassioned speech about his infant son this week.

Who cares??  The American People care.  These members of Congress now have some worries going into their next electoral cycle.  To even vote for such a travesty of legislation is shameful.  But this bill does not have to become law, nor do we have to send these 217 folks back to Congress.

Listed here are the 217 members which passed this bill.  If one of them represents you, let them know how you feel about the American Health Care Act.  Let them know that you would rather not be represented by a member of the Congressional Death Panel.   We may have to deal with these folks today, but come 2018, we can send this Death Panel packing.

Congress’ Death Panel

UPDATE 5/24/2017:  As if we needed more proof that the House Republican Caucus is basically a Death Panel, the Congressional Budget Office released it’s Official Score of the American Health Care Act, Take 2, and their result??  23 million people would be left uninsured, mostly due to Medicaid cuts.  Here’s more from CNBC…

The current Republican bill to repeal and replace major parts of Obamacare will lead to 23 million more Americans not having health insurance coverage by 2026 if it becomes law, the Congressional Budget Office projected Wednesday.

That is only 1 million fewer uninsured people than had been projected for an earlier version of the GOP bill.

Most of the coverage losses still would occur next year, when 14 million more people would become uninsured than would otherwise be if Obamacare remained in place, CBO said in its new report.

The controversial bill would “tend to increase” average premium prices of individual health plans by about 20 percent relative to the current law in 2018, according to the analysis, but just 5 percent higher than Obamacare prices would be expected to be in 2019.

However, starting in 2020, premiums in different states would be affected in different ways by the bill, because of an amendment that would allow states to obtain waivers from current Obamacare rules mandating the design of health plans, and barring insurers from charging less-healthy people higher prices, CBO said.

As referenced in the earlier post, those waiver basically allow states to gut the fundamental protections that the Affordable Care Act set originally.  Again, one has to ask why are they even doing this?  Do they want to lose their jobs in 2018??

Federal Court: Texas Redistricting Scheme Intentionally “Cracked And Packed” Minority Vote

You gotta hand it to politicians… if there’s one thing they know how to do, it’s getting reelected. Part of the reason I suppose you could say the same for any politician halfway worth their salt.

Those elections are certainly how Texas perseveres as a reliably “Red State” even as our demographics have shifted so dramatically that many folks are puzzled as to how there are so few competitive races in this Republican dominated state.

But for those that have been paying attention, the answer to that conundrum is clear… illegal redistricting.   As James Barragan with the Dallas Morning News reports, one Federal Court is sending state leaders a clear message…

Texas statehouse districts drawn by the Republican-led legislature in 2011 intentionally diluted the votes of minorities, violating the U.S. Constitution and parts of the Voting Rights Act, a federal court ruled Thursday.

In a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel in San Antonio found that the maps gave Republicans an advantage in elections and weakened the voting strength of minority voters. House Districts in Dallas and Tarrant counties were among those in which the judges ruled minority voters had seen their clout weakened.

The ruling is yet another blow to the state in its six-year legal battle over the redrawing of the maps. Last month, the same court found that the state’s congressional maps were drawn with intent to discriminate against minority voters and invalidated three congressional districts. And last week, a federal judge ruled that the state’s voter ID law was written with intent to discriminate.

“The evidence of the mapdrawing process supports the conclusion that mapdrawers were motivated in part by an intent to dilute minority voting strength,” U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote in the 171-page ruling. “Discussions among mapdrawers demonstrated a hostility to creating any new minority districts as those were seen to be a loss of Republican seats, despite the massive minority population growth statewide.”

Here is the full court ruling, for those interested.

Redistricting is a very complicated process, but here are the basics.  After each Federal Census (every 10 years), the Texas Legislature is required to divide the state by election districts which most closely match the shifts that have occurred.

It’s definitely no secret that the state of Texas grew from 2000 to 2010, as was reflected in the 2010 Census.  But what many folks may not know is that growth was overwhelmingly led by one group:  the Latino community.  Of the 4.2 million residents Texas gained between 2000 and 2010, nearly 2.8 million of them were Latino.  That is 65 percent.. a clear majority of population within the state.

Texas Latino Growth

We also know that much of this growth occurred in occurred the state’s largest metropolitan areas.  So Texas didn’t just grow in population, it also became more urban and more suburban.

As a result of Texas’ enormous growth, the state was allotted 4 additional seats in the United States House of Representatives, increasing our overall representation in the House to 36 members.

Yet when creating new Congressional Districts, the communities holding the population gains were last in line to be ensured representation. Two ways Texas Republicans used to achieve this dilution?  Cracking and Packing.

With Cracking, you dilute an area’s voting power by slicing up its Congressional Representation.  Urban residents in Austin certainly share some common concerns in Austin, but they are cracked between 5 different members of Congress.

Gerrymandering 101: Cracking

With Packing, you take certain groups and shove them all together in the same district them together in a way which undermines to their voting power.  District 35 is a great example of this, where the minority communities of Austin and San Antonio are cracked, then knit together in something of an awkward dumbbell.

Gerrymandering 101: Packing

Cracking and packing often work in tandem.  As an example, both Austin and San Antonio have sizable Latino populations.  But if they’re in different cities, what would they have to do with each other?  Under Texas’ redistricting scheme one chunk of the Latino population from San Antonio is packed in with minorities in East Austin, while other district residents are connected by a small sliver along Interstate 35.

It through techniques like Cracking and Packing that Texas Republicans were able to do what is called Gerrymandering… they drew districts which are manipulated to enhance the strength of rural and suburban (mostly) white voters, while undermining the rapidly growing (mostly) minority vote.

In the present political era, it’s tough to tell how such rulings would be enforced by Attorney General Sessions.  But whatever accountability may be lacking in the Federal Government, we can take notice and make legislators pay the consequences in 2018 and 2020.

A Voice for the Rest of Texas