April 25, 2014

Annise Parker Enters Colbert Nation

Houston’s Madam Mayor Annise D. “The Batman” Parker was the guest on last night’s Colbert Report.

Madame Mayor Annise D. Parker with Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert

In introducing Parker, Colbert joked

I assume she’s here in New York to pick up Jeremy Lin.

She, however, passed through Colbert Nation on her way to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in nearby Philadelphia. I take that to mean The Colbert Report had its choice of mayors and Parker came out on top.

What does Houston have going for it?

We’re a foodie town, we’re an arts town, we’re a sports town, a theater town, anything you want in a big city you have in Houston, plus we have a good quality of life, we’re affordable and we have jobs.

Yep. An arts town and a theater town. She neglected to mention one of the best restaurants in the country is a nice walk from her house.

Colbert also mocked Houston when noting Parker would be his guest:

I’ll ask her how she broke it to her parents that she wanted to live in Houston

While people enjoy or at least make the best of living in Houston for the above things, they live in Houston for the jobs.

Oil and gas — still the biggest. But we have America’s largest foreign tonnage port, we have Johnson Space Center with NASA and aerospace, and we’re a big manufacturing center

That’s right. Johnson Space Center is still going strong.

When Colbert asked how it’s possible that Parker is the first openly gay mayor of a major American city — insulting Portland, Oregon and ignoring that Houston is one of the largest cities in the world to accomplish such a feat. Parker wisely noted Houston elected her six times before electing her mayor and explained

Houston is very tolerant of a lot of things; they want to know what you can do, not who you are or where you’re from.

Admittedly, I was disappointed Parker failed to mention Houston is the most diverse big city in America.

Watch the full interview:

Only time will tell what the Colbert Bump will mean for Mayor Parker.

- Justin Gillenwater

Romney’s NAACP Speech

Romney spoke yesterday here in Houston, Texas — Texas, where recent polls show him tied with Obama — at the NAACP convention (full video at the bottom of this piece). He was booed frequently, which he claims to have expected, perhaps because his speech was heavily peppered with lies. The boos largely drowned out the cheers from planted supporters in the crowd. As Andrew Rosenthal noted,

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee talked to the gathering as if he were writing on a blackboard for not-so-bright elementary schoolers using big, block capital letters.

Buzzfeed has a delicious collection of reaction faces to Romney’s speech. They contrast nicely with Romney’s boo reaction:

At least Romney didn’t try to guess if people in the crowd were French Canadian or use his go-to reaction to an uncomfortable situation — his mirthless, pace-quickened Count Von Count laugh.

Romney praised his father in the speech:

Yet always, in both parties, there have been men and women of integrity, decency, and humility who called injustice by its name. For every one of us a particular person comes to mind, someone who set a standard of conduct and made us better by their example. For me, that man is my father, George Romney.

It wasn’t just that my Dad helped write the civil rights provision for the Michigan Constitution, though he did. It wasn’t just that he helped create Michigan’s first civil rights commission, or that as governor he marched for civil rights in Detroit – though he did those things, too.

More than these public acts, it was the kind of man he was, and the way he dealt with every person, black or white. He was a man of the fairest instincts, and a man of faith who knew that every person was a child of God.

In one of his father’s many moments of fair instincts, the senior Romney, after some cajoling from the media for financial disco sure, released twelve years of tax returns, stating

One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show

George Romney’s disclosure, performed after some pressure, was the start to this whole candidates releasing their tax returns thing. As of yet, Mitt is disturbingly unwilling to follow in his father’s footsteps on this profound issue of fairness.

Mitt Romney has only released his 2010 return and a 2011 estimate. He is a man of great means, likely with very complicated taxes. There are believable, non-cover-up reasons for his 2011 tax release to only be an estimate at this time. His 2011 taxes, however, are not the issue. What is Romney hiding in the tax returns he hasn’t released, especially from his tremendous earning period while at Bain? Even if he release his personal tax returns, there would remain significant questions about his extended finances — trusts, offshore businesses, etc.

Deep in his speech, Romney quite oddly told the NAACP crowd “if you knew my heart, I would get your vote.” He has a strange way of hiding his heart, much like he hides his tax returns.

Romney has a terrible record on non-white issues during his time as governor of Massachusetts:

  • Appointing only one Asian American and three Latinos to any of the 163 top-level positions in the state’s government
  • Dismantling affirmative action
  • Creating a fee to file complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
  • Removal of requirement that private health care facilities licensed by the state comply with nondiscrimination policies for patient admissions

And if anyone has further questions about Romney’s ability to relate to the African American community, there’s always this:

What lies will Romney tell when he comes asking our community for votes and support?

- Justin Gillenwater

Tammy Duckworth is a true hero and patriot

Congressman Joe Walsh must be running scared – he recently slammed former Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth (endorsed by AAA Fund) for not being a “true hero.” Duckworth is running against him for Congress and was a helicopter pilot who lost both legs in Iraq before returning to Illinois and serving in the state and federal department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Rep. Walsh said: “Our true heroes, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about. That’s why we are so indebted and in awe of what they have done.”

Joe Walsh on “true heroes”

Here’s Lt. Col. Duckworth’s response on MSNBC. The campaign commented: “This week we celebrate our country’s founding and we are grateful for the courage and service of all of our military men and women throughout our nation’s history. Congressman Walsh’s comments insult those who sacrificed to make this country free. Tammy is proud of her over twenty years of service with the Army and her family’s legacy of fighting for this country. We can’t recognize our servicemen and women enough and ask that we keep them in our thoughts during this holiday week.

What’s his problem with Tammy Duckworth? She talks too much about veterans’ issues.

He claims that Tammy refuses to talk about solutions to “real issues” but her policy ideas are all clearly laid out on her website: http://www.tammyduckworth.com/issues/

Plus Duckworth has been vocal about the concerns of Illinois residents and has a solid plan to bring jobs back to her district that includes infrastructure investment, investments in education and communities, allowing Medicare to negotiate for prescription drug costs, and allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% to expire. Rep. Walsh has a track record of supporting the Ryan budget to gut Medicare, voting to cut student loans, and parroting the tea party line.

If anything, Walsh’s comments remind me of Senator George Allen’s comment to S.R. Siddarth, a Virginia born and raised intern, “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” Allen, was born in California, and assumed that Siddarth was not American. More telling than his weird and infamous “macaca” comment, Allen revealed his disdain and lack of knowledge. Similarly, Walsh has never served in the military but he seems to know what true military heroes do, and that Duckworth isn’t one.

If anything, it seems like Walsh is the one who draws attention to her military record – it’s not the first time that he’s denigrated Duckworth and other veterans. Back in March, Walsh had to walk back these remarks due to outcry from veterans’ groups: “What else has she done? Female, wounded veteran … ehhh.”

–Caroline

Supreme Shocker — Why Liberals Should Be Wary

Chief Justice Roberts is now getting rave reviews from many on the left for “saving” Obamacare.  But while Roberts did “save” Obamacare, he broke with the right wing for one critical reason: to build up goodwill with the public, especially progressives.

Here’s the rub:  in just a few months, Roberts will redouble his efforts to dismantle affirmative action, weaken the Voting Rights Act, and further tilt the law in favor of large corporations (a la Citizens United).  After lionizing him for “saving” healthcare, many would be hard pressed to criticize him as being too “partisan” or “political”.

I salute Chief Justice Roberts for exercising restraint in addressing what will become one of the most far reaching laws of the young 21st century.  Yet at the same time, I harbor no illusions on how he’ll rule in the future.  The Chief Justice remains a formidable figure who is determined to tilt the Supreme Court to the right for decades to come.

If President Obama is re-elected, he’ll have the chance to restore some balance to the Supremes — because he’d probably get to appoint at least one justice to the High Court.

Elections matter.

– Gautam Dutta

Pandas: Good for the Environment, Good for the Economy

Saving the pandas is important not simply because they’re incredibly cute but also because their leavings may help solve global energy problems. That’s right; panda droppings may well contain bacteria extremely efficient in helping to create biofuel.

“Our studies suggest that bacteria species in the panda intestine may be more efficient at breaking down plant materials than termite bacteria and may do so in a way that is better for biofuel manufacturing purposes,” Brown said.

Under certain conditions, the panda poop bacteria can covert 95 percent of plant biomass into simple sugars, Brown estimated. The powerful enzymes in the bacteria speed up chemical reactions, eliminating the need for high heat, harsh acids and high pressures currently used to produce biofuels. Bacteria would also be a more energy-efficient way to turn materials such as switchgrass, corn stalks and wood chips into fuel, Brown said.

Once China expends its supplies of rare earths, panda excrement could become a key component of the Chinese economy. Now if someone can just figure out how to get pandas to make more pandas.

I know, the post’s title says pandas. By the rules of the internet, that means their must be panda pictures or video. Enjoy:

- Justin Gillenwater

The Paper Bag Was On My Knee

Author’s note: I have been a frequent flier with United since 2006, racking up over 300,000 lifetime flight miles, and haven’t even contemplated flying with Southwest since 2005.

Houston Intercontinental Airport is the largest hub of the largest hub of the largest airline in the world with room for more growth. United, that largest airline, however, is threatening to reduce its presence after Houston City Council voted voted 16-1 to expand Houston’s other commercial passenger airport, Hobby , which will allow Southwest Airlines, who agreed to fund the expansion, to begin international flights, pending federal approval.

Strangely, Councilmember Al Hoang shortly before the vote asked that United make sure Houston is the gateway between Asia and Latin America by having direct flights to Asia. A quick look at United’s timetable shows the only direct flight to Asia from Houston is to Tokyo. United has a very strong Asia presence, dating to its purchase of Pan Am’s Asia routes in 1985. From Tokyo, passengers can connect on United to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Saigon, Seoul, Singapore, and Taipei, not to mention the routes served by other Star Alliance partners including Tokyo-based All Nippon Airways. The only way I see Houston getting more direct flights to Asia that make any sense is adding on a Houston leg to flights out of Chicago or San Francisco like with some direct flights to Europe that stop at Newark.

United responded to the vote by immediately announcing over 1000 job cuts, suggesting that they would not utilize one of their soon-to-be-delivered Boeing 787s to bring nonstop service between Houston and Auckland, and suggesting the expansion and improvements of its regional terminal would not continue past its current phase. expects United to keep its commitment to Houston having the largest hub of the largest airline in the world. I think it will, and its partners seem to think so too.

Turkish Airlines [TK], a Star Alliance of United Airlines, will soon launch a nonstop flight between Houston and Istanbul. Such a decision, absent significant origin-and-destination demand, is based on connecting traffic. TK expects to use United’s network in the US, especially from Houston, combined with its own network to make the flight profitable.

What’s more, Lufthansa [LH], another Star Alliance partner, is changing its daily 747-400 flight between Houston and Frankfurt to a daily A380 flight.

I’m reservedly concerned United’s spiteful actions will spill over into their local charitable giving. One can find ContinentalUnited’s logo at many Houston museums and performing arts venues.

Hopefully United will start to behave more reasonably. Houston City Council had little real choice in this matter. Most of the population of the city supports increased competition; I certainly do. Southwest was prepared to begin international operations from San Antonio if Houston wouldn’t cooperate. United would suffer similarly with a Southwest international hub still so near.

- Justin Gillenwater

You’re Giving Me A WaWa

I previously discussed bizarre ways to interact with voters and he’s done it again. It’s just another part of his pattern of clearly not being a regular human being. Other highlights include: his “humorous Wisconsin connection” in which a Wisconsin marching band helped point out how his father had moved jobs from Michigan, putting his dog on the roof of his car, which, as a Fox “News” contributor puts it makes Romney unfit to be president, and suggesting that cookies from a well-respected local bakery came from a 7-11, which I can only guess is a way rich people joke around with each other.

Romney has expanded his insults of food service establishments in Pennsylvania to a variety of sandwich shops after he marveled at the touchscreen sandwich-ordering menu at WaWa, a fuel and sandwich-based fast food chain. Romney, who appreciates the efficiency of the touchscreen menu instead of ordering through a person, somehow linked that efficiency to the lack of the efficiency in the United States Postal Service, making up a 33-page change of address form, which simply doesn’t exist. Such a long form only comes from lack of competition, at least that’s where Romney’s logic will take anyone who follows it. Apparently Romney has never heard of United Parcel Service or Federal Express.

- Justin Gillenwater

Meet America’s New Poverty Class: Twentysomethings

1 out of 4 US households is underbanked

Millennials are having a difficult time finding gainful employment which is leading them to make poor financial decisions.

From The Street:

Right now, the U.S. unemployment rate for the age 20-24 demographic stands at 13.5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to 8.1% for the general population.

Besides the larger realization among this Millennials generation — and many economists — that between automation and outsourcing, good job opportunities are scarce, younger adults are moving back into their parent’s house because they’re broke. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 5.9 million young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 lived with their parents by 2011, up from 4.7 million in 2008. The agency also says that 45% of those “double-upper’s” generate incomes that are below the poverty lines.

But the capper on the jug could be a new report from Fort Worth, Texas-based Think Finance, an online financial products provider. The survey of 640 U.S. Millennials reveals that more of them are using purportedly downscale financial products like pre-paid credit cards and pay day loans — and are actually ‘satisfied” with the experience.

For 1st time, majority of unemployed have attended college

Yesterday I gave a presentation for APA Heritage Month about the model minority myth and APA unemployment. The crux of my discussion is that although it’s popularly perceived that APAs are doing well and financially secure, what folks don’t realize is that APAs have the worst long term unemployment. Asian Pacific Americans who become unemployed remain unemployed for longer than other ethnicities (see Economic Policy Institute’s report on AAPI unemployment.) This doesn’t even cover the discrepancy within our community of who has more education, who remains unemployed longer, because lumping us all into one category elides the ethnicities that are faring less well – or as the Urban Institute puts it, the model minority myth hides the economic reality of Asian Americans.  This has implications for the 50% of college students who graduate only to still be jobless, while having to pay back increasing amounts of debt as tuition skyrockets. My cousin is graduating this year, and his friends who graduated the year before him were largely unemployed. Or if they had jobs, they were working for their family’s small business.

Now comes the finding that for the first time ever, a majority of the unemployed have attended college (h/t the Atlantic.) This is alarming in and of itself, but when you take a closer look at the data, it shows that it includes people who had to drop out of college because they couldn’t afford it, and those who had to take more time to finish. So in actuality it says as much about the student debt crisis as it does about the increasing educational attainment of our unemployed.

P.S. Fascinating fact: if you google “unemployment” it’ll turn up a chart of the unemployment rate in your area. You can compare it to any other city easily. For a data geek like me, this is heaven. So I discovered that DC actually has a higher unemployment rate (8.3%) than the US average (7.7%) Meanwhile, Virginia and Maryland have far lower unemployment than the national average.

–Caroline

Question of the Week: Same-Sex Marriage

Will President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage help or hurt his chances for re-election?  Personally, I believe it won’t play that much of a role — because the economy and foreign policy will play a far greater role.

While Obama’s adept stewardship of foreign policy (which includes killing Osama bin Laden) guarantee him re-election?  Probably not — the economy will play an equally important role.  Simply put, people will re-elect Obama if the unemployment rate has gone down between now and the November election.

It’s about time that Obama endorsed same-sex marriage, as a growing number of Americans agree that no one should be denied the right to commit to a lifetime relationship.

That being said, social issues are not foremost on voters’ minds this year.  Rather, voters are looking for a leader who can bring this country out of one of the worst recessions in living memory.

Which issues do you think will swing this Presidential election?  Please comment below.

– Gautam Dutta