Quantity: Hall Wants 6 Debates with Parker

This was just released by Houston Mayoral candidate Ben Hall, via his website and social media…

July 31, 2013

The Honorable Annise Parker Mayor of Houston 901 Bagby Street Houston, TX 77002

Dear Mayor Parker,

I am writing to propose that you and I share our contrasting ideas and vision for the future of this great city through a series of debates.

Three debates should be held after Labor Day but prior to the start of early voting and three additional debates after the start of early voting and before our November election. Too much is at stake for us not to share our plans for Houston with her citizens, and I hope you agree promptly to debating six times this fall.

I have instructed my staff to contact your campaign staff to begin discussions on the details.

Please accept this invitation.

Sincerely,

Ben Hall

This bold challenge comes at a time when the Hall campaign has struggled to dominate the news cycle. The seemingly endless parade of “Houston is best” lists continue to cast a resplendent light on the Parker administration. And what little press Hall is garnering is sadly not so good. As fellow blogger Horwitz at Texpatriate writes, Hall’s social media outreach has become something of a worst-case scenario.

To be clear, I fully support Mr. Hall’s call for some Mayoral debates. This election is important to Houstonians, and they deserve to hear contrasting visions for the city. But six debates, especially three packed in during early voting, seems overly excessive. It smacks of desperation from the Hall campaign if they are trying to rely so heavily on undecided voters. As the percentage of early voters continues to climb… 30 percent voted early in the last Mayoral election and a whopping 58 percent in 2012, the thought of having some last-minute debate shocker save the day isn’t very feasible. Hall needs to start sharing with voters the specifics of what he can offer the city of Houston, and why he would be a better choice than the current administration. If Facebook troubles weren’t enough of an indicator, it’s time for the Hall campaign to think quality over quantity.

Texoblogosphere: July 29th

The Texas Progressive Alliance applauds the entry of the Justice Department into the fight to continuing to subject the state to preclearance as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff points out that Greg Abbott would deny the same type of care that he himself has benefited from to millions of people who could not now receive it.

Horwitz at Texpatriate chronicles the unmitigated disaster that occurred when Ben Hall tried to advertise on Facebook.

WCNews at Eye on Williamson says if Texas wants the federal government to stay out of it’s electoral business the solution is easy. All they have to do is stop discriminating, Texas and the DOJ.

Former Democratic state representative Aaron Pena found out the hard way that becoming a Republican doesn’t help much when you’re driving while brown in south Texas. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs observed that not even his Greg Abbott t-shirt could save him from being ICE’d.

After hearing all of the crazy right-wing rhetoric, Texas Leftist wondered what Republicans really say about Immigration Reform away from the glare of talk radio and Fox News. Here’s the interesting result.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Mark Bennett maintains that it is foolish to claim that “stand your ground” laws had nothing to do with the Zimmerman verdict.

Austin Contrarian demonstrates why the rent is too damn high in the capital city.

Better Texas asks what can be done to help disadvantaged children succeed in school.

Eileen Smith sorts out the Republican candidates for Lite Guv.

Texas Watch wants us to close the “Six Flags loophole”.

Texas Vox wraps up water legislation from the regular and special sessions.

Texas Redistricting lays out the Section 3 arguments in the fight over the Voting Rights Act and how it should still apply here.

Juanita has had it with the spurious claims about “jars of feces” being brought to the Lege when the final vote on the anti-abortion bill was taking place.

BOR notes that Senate Democrats are demanding a women’s health study during the legislative off-season.

And Tuesday Cain, the 14-year-old girl who held up a provocative sign during the protests against the omnibus anti-abortion bill at the Capitol, would appreciate it if all the so-called grownups on the Internet stopped calling her a whore.

Francis I: A True Reformer Pope?

After some preliminary research on Pope Francis, I had a hunch that this guy would be something of a reformer. Perhaps even more important than being the first Pope from Latin America, Francis is also the first Jesuit to ascend to the papacy. Unlike the orthodoxy of the Catholic church as a whole, the Jesuits were founded on the principles of embracing change and… dare I say it… progress. The Daily Beast does a good job of boiling it down.

Under St. Ignatius, the Society of Jesus believed that reform in the Catholic Church began with reform of the individual. The founding members of the Society of Jesus took a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience under Ignatius… The Jesuits encourage toleration for other religions, teach other theology in their institutions, and also believe in free education for all.

Given that the Jesuit order was founded at the University of Paris in 1537, it’s no surprise that they put such an emphasis on knowledge, education and the honest exchange of ideas. Take an American university founded by Jesuits in 1855… the University of San Francisco. As the oldest university in a city pivotal to GLBT history, USF has been at odds many times with the Catholic Church. One of the most prominent was the invitation to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom to a 2004 Commencement Speaker, when only months earlier he made US history by declaring same-sex marriages were legal in the city of San Francisco. Even at the height of this controversy and immense backlash from within the Catholic church, USF was proud to have Newsom participate. Some university officials even argued at the time that doing anything to hinder the conversation would be “against Jesuit principles”.

So that is the school of thought that Pope Francis ascribes to… one that is in many ways quite contradictory to greater Catholicism. Understanding this point gives context to a surprisingly candid press conference the Pope gave earlier today. Here’s an excerpt from the Washington Post

Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip…

Francis’ remarks came Monday during a plane journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip in Brazil.

He was funny and candid during his first news conference that lasted almost an hour and a half. He didn’t dodge a single question, even thanking the journalist who raised allegations reported by an Italian newsmagazine that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a scandalous gay tryst.

Francis said he investigated and found nothing to back up the allegations.

Francis was asked about Italian media reports suggesting that a group within the church tried to blackmail fellow church officials with evidence of their homosexual activities. Italian media reported this year that the allegations contributed to Benedict’s decision to resign.

Stressing that Catholic social teaching that calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalized, Francis said it was something else entirely to conspire to use private information for blackmail or to exert pressure.

Francis was responding to reports that a trusted aide was involved in an alleged gay tryst a decade ago. He said he investigated the allegations according to canon law and found nothing to back them up. But he took journalists to task for reporting on the matter, saying the allegations concerned matters of sin, not crimes like sexually abusing children.

And when someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives but forgets.

“We don’t have the right to not forget,” he said.

So is Pope Francis ready to declare all GLBT people as fully equal within the church? Probably not. But if recent events and Jesuit history are any indication, he is at least ready and willing to advance the Catholic conversation with the GLBT community. And that alone is reason for “cautious” optimism. Even if you’re not an especially religious person, or an all-out atheist, don’t forget that the Catholic church is still one of largest institutions in the world. Just as President Obama’s personal “evolution” to support marriage equality caused major movement on the issue within the US, Pope Francis’ opinion carries real weight among the Catholic faithful.

I’m anxious to see what lies ahead.

Music Musings: Celebrating 40 years of Chaka Khan

As a musician and singer, I can tell you that there are actually a lot of good “voices” out there. So many people really can sing and perform. But one measure that separates the good from the great? Longevity. Some artists have been able to stay relevant through the very short attention span that is today’s music and entertainment industry.

I’m not sure how she’s done it, but Chaka Khan is the epitome of a music Superstar. 2013 celebrates her 40th year as a world-wide musical icon. Starting as a soul-force of the 70s black power movement with her band Rufus, Chaka Khan went on to become one of the most prominent artists of the disco era with songs like I’m Every Woman. Then at a time when many artists were rejected in the “Disco Sucks” era of the 80s, Chaka jumped to super-stardom with hits like I Feel for You and Through the Fire. And to think that today after 40 years in the business, she’s still sounding as good today as she ever did? That’s the mark of a true legend. 

UPDATE: Ms. Khan is also a legend even outside of the music world. She’s never been one to shy away from some of our nation’s toughest issues. Just today (July 27th), Khan sang for the Rainbow Push Coalition’s forum to combat gun violence in Chicago, just one day before her 40th anniversary concert in Millennium Park. She, like fellow music legend Stevie Wonder, has cancelled all upcoming performances in the Florida to protest the state’s Stand Your Ground law. 
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YFBQT20Ae0&w=420&h=315]

UPgrade: Rethinking Houston’s Rail Transit

As a resident of Houston, I get it… this city likes its construction projects built fast and CHEAP. So many major projects in Houston have been done with little regard for preservation or aesthetics. It’s definitely not an uncommon modus operandi for all of Texas, but even among the major cities, Houston is still the king of fast and cheap.

But this lack of planning on the forefront creates problems later on. People have known for over a century that the safest way to build rail mass transit is grade separation from a city’s road infrastructure, especially if the train is going to be in a high population area. This is of course why so many cities from London, New York, Chicago and even Dallas have chosen to build their mass transit systems mostly in this way. Grade separation, whether below ground like a subway or above ground like an elevated railway, is always safer than having multiple transport mode interactions at-grade. Unfortunately in Houston’s transit rail plan, safety is taking a backseat to cost. As Clifford Pugh at Culturemap writes, this reality had deadly consequences even this week in Houston…

A woman on a bicycle was killed in a collision with a light rail train in downtown Houston Monday morning, a spokesman for METRO confirmed to KHOU Channel 11.

The incident happened shortly after 8 a.m. on Main street at Walker street. An account by METRO indicates the college student, who has not been identified, exited a northbound train at the Main Street Square station with her bike, walked it to the intersection and immediately got on it at Walker and rode away, crossing the intersection when she was hit by an oncoming southbound train. The train lurched to a stop approximately 20 yards later with the woman’s body pinned underneath.

This week’s accident involved a cyclist, but many have been caused by motorists, and even pedestrians having to interact with the rail line at-grade. The issue is compounded by the fact that Houston is a car-centric city, where drivers are still less likely to be aware of trains, pedestrians, cyclists, or anyone else who need to share the road. This was a big problem in 2004 when the Red Line opened, but the city continues to struggle. Crash incidents peaked again in 2008, and still remain higher than most other metros when compared by transit mile. Though the city has spent millions of dollars to try and better educate all parties on safer road usage, these horrific accidents continue to occur.

The simplest solution to this problem? Building rail lines correctly from the start. Grade separation isn’t cheap… on the front end it’s a more expensive proposition. But, ironically, so is building roads. Of all the freeways that sprawl out across the city and metropolitan area, no one has ever thought to question whether they should be built at-grade. Freeways are always built with grade separation, and we need to hold our rail transit with the same level of import. I agree with the opinion that a full subway, and all of the expensive digging that would have to occur to make it happen, is probably not a good fit for Houston. But elevated rail is a much more reasonable proposition. Houston’s 7.5-mile Red Line was finished in 2004 and cost $394 million dollars. But no one ever asks how much money has had to be spent since then because of all of these accidents. Could we have saved money, time and human lives had we invested properly in rail transit from the start?

Houston’s North Line is set to open late this year. The line is already being constructed with large elevated sections, both of which are required at railroad crossings. This is because railway companies own the right-of-way and will not allow at-grade crossings with other rail vehicles.  Given how much more traffic passes through intersections, this policy should be implemented for major streets, and high activity areas as well. Houston needs to learn from its mistakes and create a safer transit system for all citizens. 

Texoblogosphere: Week of July 22nd

The Texas Progressive Alliance supports the call for justice for Trayvon as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff discusses the status of abortion litigation as pro-choice forces in Texas prepare to file suit over Texas’ harmful new law.

Horwitz at Texpatriate discusses the State of Municipal Elections in the City of Houston.

Can Texas Democrats win in 2014 if they focus on turning out women of all demographics to the polls? PDiddie at Brains and Eggs says ‘no, but’

WCNews at Eye on Williamson makes the case for Wendy Davis to run for governor, Why Wendy Davis must run for Governor of Texas in 2014.

Texas Leftist observes that campaign season has swung into high gear for Houston, as City Council debates the true cost of 380 deals.

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And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

TFN Insider challenges us to remember all of the nasty things abortion opponents have been saying about us lately.

Jason Stanford compares Rick Perry to Jerry Jones, but doesn’t say who should be more offended by the comparison.

Mark Bennett contends that the Zimmerman verdict didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already believe.

Juanita expresses her pride in a recent award won by Rick Perry.

The TSTA Blog gives an update on the state of CSCOPE.

BOR wants to know what Greg Abbott was thinking when he asked people to ask him anything.

Marty Hajovsky mourns a piece of history damaged by fire in Houston.

And for folks in the Austin area, I Love Beer announces a food drive benefiting the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.

Royal Baby Talk: Is All the Hoopla Worth It?

So of course the big news today… the reason that this day will go down in WORLD history… The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge just gave birth to the assumed heir to the throne of the United Kingdom. And it’s a BOY.

But you know what was also just born? A big boost to the UK’s economy. I’m sure some Americans are wondering what all the fuss is about. But for Britain, all of that Royal pomp and circumstance translates into real pounds and cents. Contrary to belief of British Republicans (those who want to end the monarchy and form a Republic), the Royals actually make more money for the country than they are paid. And that’s in a “normal” year when they aren’t having a huge wedding, coronation or having kids. Today’s landmark event may not be enough to cure the ills of the UK’s economic stagnation, but a massive boost in tourism and interest certainly won’t hurt.

For a better explanation of why the British Royals are such a huge money-maker, check out this awesome video from CGP Grey. And of course, my congratulations to the Duke and Duchess.