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The Russia-Texas-secession connection

So many people got played.

A sprawling Russian disinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2016 elections found success with social media accounts promoting the idea of Texas secession, according to a report commissioned by the U.S. Senate that was released Monday.

When it came to stirring up social divisions and exerting political influence, two accounts about the Lone Star State proved especially effective: a “Heart of Texas” Facebook page and a @rebeltexas account on Instagram.

Both accounts were created and managed by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company that’s been characterized by the U.S. government as a “troll farm” and was indicted by a federal grand jury.

Heart of Texas, which amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook, promoted an image of the state as a land of barbecue and guns while sharing posts that attacked immigration.

The page had the most shares of all IRA Facebook accounts, at 4.8 million, according to the report, which was prepared by an Austin-based company, New Knowledge.

“Heart of Texas visual clusters included a wide swath of shapes of Texas, landscape photos of flowers, and memes about secession and refugees,” the report said.

Posts by the Facebook page cited in the report include a truck with a giant state flag and a photo of Texas wildflowers as well as another laying out the “economic grounds for Texas secession.” The page also shared memes criticizing immigration.

You can read that report here. The extent of this activity is mind-boggling, and in just about any other context we’d call it highly aggressive, if not warlike. Every now and then I see one of these yahoos with a “Secede” sticker on their car, and I wonder if they have any idea. We’re doing this to ourselves, that’s the really scary part.

Suing Facebook

Good luck with that.

A Houston businessman launched a wide-ranging class action lawsuit [last] Friday against Facebook for violating the trust of millions of users by sharing personal data with a company that used the information to post targeted political ads for President Donald Trump.

The security breach has made headlines across the world, prompted a variety of lawsuits, and caused European regulators to investigate the British firm involved in the breach. In the U.S., the apparent misuse of private information has engendered deep resentment and mistrust from social media users who are now contemplating whether to cut ties with Facebook, or wait out privacy improvements.

The lawsuit filed by businessman Matthew Lodowski targets Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a British firm exposed in news reports for mining the private profiles of nearly 50 million Facebook users. Also named as defendants are Robert Leroy Mercer of New York, a wealthy conservative investor in Cambridge Analytica, and Aleksandr Kogan, a professor at Cambridge University accused of extracting personal information from Facebook for the data company.

Lodowski is accusing the social media giant of acting negligently by failing to protect user data, failing to take reasonable measures to avert problems when it learned the company had obtained users’ personal information without permission and failing to let users know their data had been taken until journalists broke the story.

According to the attorney who filed it, the suit is unique among legal actions sprouting up around the country related to the data breach in that it claims a violation of the Stored Communications Act, a law that allows online users to sue over “intentional access without authorization to a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided.” The suit also charges the defendants with conspiracy and negligence.

The suit, filed in Houston federal court, seeks to include in the class action anyone in the United States with a Facebook account whose data was impacted by Cambridge Analytica’s data breach. Lodowski is seeking compensatory damages, restitution and fees as well as an injunction against Cambridge Analytica and Kogan, the professor tied to the breach.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. I did a little googling to see if I could find a story that included an assessment of the legal merits of the case, but no dice. According to Engadget, there are five other lawsuits against Facebook and Cambridge so far, and it won’t be surprising if there are more. I figure they’re all longshots, but sometimes longshots come in. We’ll see what happens.

News flash: Businesses still hate bathroom bills

IBM hates them.

As state lawmakers return to Austin for legislative overtime, tech giant IBM is stepping up its fight to defeat legislation it says would discriminate against children and harm its Texas recruiting efforts.

In an internal email sent Monday to thousands of employees around the world, IBM’s human resources chief outlined the New York-based company’s opposition to what the letter described as discriminatory proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans. IBM sent the letter to employees the same day it dispatched nearly 20 top executives to the Lone Star State to lobby lawmakers at the state Capitol. A day earlier, it took out full-page ads in major Texas newspapers underlining its opposition to legislation that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a cadre of far-right lawmakers have deemed a top priority.

“Why Texas? And why now? On July 18th, the Texas legislature will start a thirty-day special session, where it is likely some will try to advance a discriminatory ‘bathroom bill’ similar to the one that passed in North Carolina last year,” wrote Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice president for human resources. “It is our goal to convince Texas elected officials to abandon these efforts.”

[…]

The email IBM sent to employees on Monday echoed concerns businesses voiced in their letter to Abbott earlier this year, saying the company — which has more than 10,000 employees in Texas — is focused on defeating the bathroom proposals because they’re detrimental to inclusive business practices and fly in the face of “deep-rooted” values against discrimination targeting LGBT people.

“A bathroom bill like the one in Texas sends a message that it is okay to discriminate against someone just for being who they are,” Gherson, the company’s HR chief, wrote.

As do other companies.

CEOs from 14 leading employers in the Dallas area, including AT&T, American Airlines and Texas Instruments, are taking a public stand against a “bathroom bill” that would discriminate against transgender people in Texas.

On Monday morning, they delivered a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. A bathroom bill, the letter says, “would seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investment and jobs.”

“Our companies are competing every day to bring the best and brightest talent to Dallas,” the letter says. “To that end, we strongly support diversity and inclusion. This legislation threatens our ability to attract and retain the best talent in Texas, as well as the greatest sporting and cultural attractions in the world.”

The letter is signed by Randall Stephenson of AT&T, Doug Parker of American Airlines, Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines, Kim Cocklin of Atmos Energy, Matthew Rose of BNSF Railway, Mark Rohr of Celanese, Harlan Crow of Crow Holdings, Sean Donohue of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Emmitt Smith of EJ Smith Enterprises, Fred Perpall of the Beck Group, David Seaton of Fluor, Thomas Falk of Kimberly-Clark, Trevor Fetter of Tenet Healthcare and Richard Templeton of Texas Instruments.

As the story notes, these efforts join other efforts by businesses to stop this thing. Such efforts have been met with an indifference bordering on hostility and contempt by Abbott and especially Patrick. I appreciate what all these companies and groups like TAB and the various chambers of commerce and visitors’ bureaus have done so far, which has been a tremendous help in keeping this awful legislation from reaching Abbott’s desk. But the big question remains what they will do after the special session gavels out, whatever the outcome of these efforts. I’ve had this question for a long time now. Between potty politics and the anti-immigration fervor of SB4, a lot of damage has already been done to our state’s reputation, and the men in charge keep wanting to do more. They’re not going to go away if they lose this session – they have the zealous will and a crap-ton of money powering them. Will these business interests, who have been getting so badly served by politicians they have generally supported, or at least tacitly accepted, in the past, put their money where their press conferences are and actively oppose Abbott and Patrick and their legislative enablers? Or will they bend over and take another lash from the paddle? One wonders at this point what they think they have to lose. The Chron has more.

Beto-mania

Rep. Beto O’Rourke made his first visit to Houston as a Senate candidate over the weekend.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Senate hopeful and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke introduced himself to Houston on Sunday as a potential check on President Donald Trump, urging voters to send a Democrat to the upper chamber in 2018 rather than waiting to make a dent in deep red Texas.

The El Paso Democrat – best known as an ex-punk rocker who recently livestreamed a “bipartisan roadtrip” to Washington, D.C. with Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd – announced his bid Friday to unseat hometown U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke, who has little name recognition across Texas, faces a steep uphill battle in a state that has not elected a Democrat statewide since 1994.

His pitch on Sunday focused more on counterbalancing Trump rhetoric and policies than it did ousting Cruz.

“If we want balance – if we want a check on this president – it runs through the Senate,” O’Rourke said, asking hundreds of attendees to picture themselves years from now, trying to answer questions from their children. “‘When you knew what was happening, and you knew what we needed, and you knew what it took, what did you do?'”

[…]

O’Rourke, who pledges to refuse contributions from political action committees, appears to have taken a page out of Cruz’s 2012 campaign playbook by announcing his bid early and taking a grass-roots approach.

“I think a people-powered, people-driven, Texas-first campaign is going to make the difference,” O’Rourke said.

He criticized Cruz for helping to shut down the government in 2013 and setting his sights on the White House.

“He shut it down because he put party over country, ideology over the interests of the people he served, and has used Texas for four years as a platform from which to pursue the presidency,” he said to a packed hall at northwest Houston’s IBEW Local Union 716.

O’Rourke named immigration reform, mental health services for veterans, military spending and health care as top campaign issues.

“It’s not a function of what you can afford or what you make or who you happen to work for or where you live or who you were born to,” he said of health care. “It’s a right.”

Here’s a Facebook Live video of the event, streamed by O’Rourke himself because that’s a thing he does. As you can see, the crowd was indeed large – I was unfortunately not able to be there, but my Facebook feed was full of pictures from people who were. Here’s a photo album O’Rourke posted – this picture gives a good view of the crowd size at the Houston event. For all that O’Rourke gets described in stories as “little known”, he’s been generating an impressive amount of coverage for himself so far, in part I’d say for being such an early candidate, in part because it’s Ted freaking Cruz he’s running against, and in part for his self-professed unorthodox approach to how he will run. This CBS News story captures some of that.

O’Rourke does have one thing in common with Cruz: He’s a social media obsessive who believes in the power of the internet to connect directly with voters.

His social media persona is part of his strategy. O’Rourke made headlines last month when he embarked on an impromptu 1,600-mile, 36-hour road trip from Texas to Washington with Republican Rep. Will Hurd after snow grounded their flights. The duo broadcast the bipartisan marathon on Facebook Live.

To follow him on social media is to become familiar with even the most mundane details of the congressman’s life. He’s an avid user of Instagram and Snapchat. On Friday, he snapped his morning run with his dog along the U.S.-Mexico border. Later, he boarded his flight and tweeted a grinning selfie from his middle seat in coach.

O’Rourke boasted that he has more Snapchat followers than any other member of Congress and says he’ll continue to be “the most accountable and transparent person in Congress,” using social media to connect with constituents and voters he would otherwise never get the chance to meet.

But O’Rourke, who once played in a rock band and lived in Brooklyn, plans to take on Cruz directly on the issue of money in politics.

It’s going to be awhile before we have any empirical data to suggest that this race is closer than expected or just another example of false Democratic hope. In the meantime, though, we will be able to use a couple of metrics to see how well O’Rourke is doing by his own standards: His fundraising, especially in terms of small-dollar donors, and his social media followers. Right now, his Facebook page has about 48,000 likes. That’s not a bad number for a third-term Congressman just getting started on a statewide run, but Ted Cruz’s candidate page has over two million likes – running for President will do that for you – and his official US Senate page has one million. O’Rourke is off to a good start, but he has a long way to go. As such, while there has been a lot of positive buzz for Beto O’Rourke, there’s a lot of skepticism as well, as Josh Kraushaar (“it would take an epic Cruz col­lapse for Demo­crats to make the race in­ter­est­ing”) and Eric Garcia (“Toppling Cruz Will be a Tall Order for O’Rourke”) demonstrate. Daily Kos and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Snopes’ world

These are busy times for fact checkers.

The last line of defense against the torrent of half-truths, untruths and outright fakery that make up so much of the modern internet is in a downscale strip mall near the beach.

Snopes, the fact-checking website, does not have an office designed to impress, or even be noticed. A big sign outside still bears the name of the previous tenant, a maker of underwater headphones. Inside there’s nothing much — a bunch of improvised desks, a table tennis table, cartons of Popchips and cases of Dr Pepper. It looks like a dot-com on the way to nowhere.

Appearances deceive. This is where the muddled masses come by the virtual millions to establish just what the heck is really going on in a world turned upside down.

Did Donald J. Trump say on Twitter that he planned to arrest the “Saturday Night Live” star Alec Baldwin for sedition? Has Hillary Clinton quietly filedfor divorce? Was Mr. Trump giving Kanye West a cabinet position? And was Alan Thicke, the star of “Growing Pains,” really dead?

All untrue, except for the demise of Mr. Thicke, which was easily verifiable.

“Rationality seems to have fallen out of vogue,” said Brooke Binkowski, Snopes’s managing editor. “People don’t know what to believe anymore. Everything is really strange right now.”

That is certainly true at Snopes itself. For 20 years, the site was dedicated to urban legends, like the purported existence of alligators in New York City sewers, and other benign misinformation. But its range and readership increased significantly during a prolonged presidential election campaign in which the facts became a partisan issue and reality itself seemed up for grabs.

[…]

But the role of fake news and misinformation in Mr. Trump’s surprise win quickly reached a fever pitch, prompting questions about the extent to which Facebook, where many of these bogus stories were shared, had influenced the election. Reluctantly, the social media giant was forced to act.

The plan is for Facebook to send questionable links to a coalition of fact-checking sites, including Snopes. If the links are found to be dubious, Facebook will alert users by marking stories with a “disputed” designation.

Mr. Mikkelson, speaking from Washington State, declined to claim this new initiative was a potential turning point in the quest for truth on the internet, or even in the history of Snopes.

“I said, ‘O.K., we’ll give it a try,’” he said. “It doesn’t really involve us doing anything we wouldn’t already be doing.” As for Facebook, he thinks it had to do something but had few good options. Blocking content outright, for instance, would be a public relations minefield.

You know, I’m so old I was once subscribed to the soc.urban-legends Usenet feed, from whence David and then-wife Barbara Mikkelson got their start in this business. I’m glad that Facebook has enlisted Snopes’ services to try and separate truth from lies, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope that it will make much difference. People are going to believe what they want to believe, and when those too-good-to-be-true stories align with their politics, good luck with that. But you still have to do something, so we can hope this will help even a little bit.

30 day finance reports, citywide races

Here’s a brief summary of the 30 Day campaign finance reports that I’ve been able to find, some of which are on this page and some of which are findable via the normal campaign finance report website, and all of which are collected on my Election 2015 page. First up, the Mayoral candidates:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Bell 126,563 240,035 0 91,901 Costello 266,845 871,109 90,000 696,539 Garcia 584,916 1,060,457 0 831,284 Hall 57,859 111,417 850,000 758,618 King 284,031 626,621 650,000 322,474 McVey Turner 526,516 1,265,239 0 507,099 Ferreira Lane 11,105 14,467 9,000 5,457 Munoz Nguyen 150 0 5,000 150 Smith Steffes

I’ve separated the “real” candidates from the “minor” candidates. Marty McVey did file a 30-day report but the totals on cover sheet page 2 are wrong; the Chron’s Rebecca Elliott did the pencil work to tot things up if you’re interested. Neither Sylvester Turner nor Adrian Garcia slowed down after their torrid initial pace, thought both Steve Costello and Bill King weren’t as prolific. On the spending side, I’ve seen plenty of Costello ads on my TV lately, as well as a handful of Turner ads; Turner has been all over my Internet, but all of the “real” candidates minus Hall have had multiple sponsored Facebook posts on my feed. I keep wondering when I’m going to see an Adrian Garcia ad on the tube.

The Controllers:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Boney Brown 42,820 181,923 0 106,165 Frazer 58,375 80,377 32,500 58,293 Jefferson Khan 84,950 5,495 5,100 81,290 Robinson 14,050 17,556 0 1,527

No report as yet from Jew Don Boney or Dwight Jefferson. That’s a pretty decent haul for MJ Khan given how late he entered the race. He also had an ad running during the fourth quarter of the Monday Night Football game between the Steelers and Chargers. I’m about 99% certain it was a rerun of one of his Controller ads from 2009. I’ve seen several Chris Brown ads on TV, but nothing from anyone else. Brown, Bill Frazer, and Carroll Robinson have been in my Facebook feeds.

At Large races:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Griffin 1,000 1,600 0 895 Knox 22,940 11,370 0 9,349 Lewis 40,164 64,479 100 48,803 McCasland 60,978 33,222 0 112,443 Oliver 9,400 7,840 0 25,230 PartschGalvan Pool Provost 1,956 6,841 0 543 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Burks 2,525 1,906 0 618 Davis 7,000 662 0 7,000 Dick 0 103,772 0 0 Rivera Robinson 27,596 40,188 0 121,348 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Kubosh 39,025 46,255 25,000 41,306 LaRue 13,250 4,524 0 8,725 McElligott Peterson 10,225 9,886 0 2,271 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Blackmon 27,285 34,500 0 0 Edwards 131,417 61,327 0 191,445 Hansen Morales 17,495 30,042 2,200 3,786 Murphy 670 5,125 14,045 167 Robinson 29,050 25,923 15,040 35,886 Thompson 0 1,850 0 0 Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand =================================================== Batteau 0 0 0 0 Christie 33,202 50,153 0 84,899 Moses 550 1,418 0 0 Nassif 29,690 27,558 0 14,368 Tahir

Candidates with blanks next to their names had no reports I could find. I’ve given some details in the posts about the At Large #4 and At Large #1 races, and Greg covered some of this ground last week. I like to think of campaign finance reports as being one part about who people want to see win, and one part about who (some other) people think actually will win. To whatever extent that holds true, you can see who the betting favorites are. It’s not destiny, of course – as I said, it’s more like Vegas – but it does tell you something. What are your guesses for these races? Leave a comment and let us know.

As if we needed a reminder that Sid Miller is an idiot

We got one anyway.

DoubleFacepalm

Don’t expect Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller to apologize over a social media post that appeared to call for the atomic bombing of “the Muslim world” – despite an outcry from critics.

Miller, who is currently on a trade mission to China, did not personally share a controversial photo that appeared on his campaign Facebook account and has since been removed, Todd Smith, the Republican’s campaign spokesman, said Monday. The commissioner has no plans to figure out which of his staffers shared the posting, or to apologize, Smith said.

“We’re not going to apologize for the posts that show up on our Facebook page,” said Smith, estimating that 18 people have access to the campaign account. “I don’t know who did it, but I’m not going to start a witch hunt to find out who did.”

The photo, originally shared by the Facebook user The Patriots IV Drip 2, depicted a mushroom cloud framed by two statements: “Japan has been at peace with the US since August 9, 1945,” and “It’s time we made peace with the Muslim world.”

The posting also included the text: “#noislamknowpeace” and “#COMETAKE.”

Late Sunday, Miller’s campaign account shared the post without adding a comment, according to the Dallas Morning News, and it was removed some time Monday morning.

You can click over and see the picture in question, if you haven’t already. There’s not much one can do with something like this except make snarky comments and attempt to score cheap political points, so let’s get on with it.

– Obviously, Miller owns this action. It’s his campaign account, and he’s not even making a token gesture of regret or distancing himself from it. (There were some weasel words from one of his people in the Chron story, but nothing from Miller himself.) I just wonder if anyone related to his campaign is smart enough to realize what a huge security risk it is to grant author permissions to 18 people (or so; they don’t even know exactly who has this level of access). All it takes is for one of those people to get hacked, and that campaign Facebook page can get pwned. One has to wonder about the security protocols they may be following with the official state accounts and files if this is how they treat their campaign assets. Maybe they should have a chat with Susan Combs about that.

– I’m pretty sure everyone in Miller’s office and campaign considers themselves good, devout Christians. I’m also pretty sure that Jesus Christ never suggested to his disciples that genocide was a good idea, or a thing to do if one wanted to follow him.

– Similarly, I’m pretty sure that everyone who works for the man who authored the sonogram law while he was in the House considers themselves strongly “pro-life”. I’m also pretty sure that some of the people they’re apparently comfortable with the idea of killing en masse are children, and that some of them are pregnant women. How that squares with their “pro-life” beliefs, I’ll leave for them to explain.

You get the idea. I could say something serious here, but honestly, what’s the point? We get the Sid Millers we deserve. The Observer, the Current, the Press, Juanita, and Paradise in Hell have more.

It’s called “social media”, Ted

Ted Cruz is shocked, shocked to learn that his silly little Facebook poll got shared with some people who weren’t supposed to answer it.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

An old maxim about the law – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s chosen profession – holds that courtroom litigators don’t ask questions if they don’t already have the answers.

But in the chaotic world of social media, as the Texas Republican found out, all bets are off.

An impassioned Facebook clash involving tens of thousands of posterserupted this week in response to Cruz’s informal online survey marking the fourth anniversary of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“Quick poll,” the survey began, “Obamacare was signed into law four years ago yesterday. Are you better off now than you were then? Comment with YES or NO!”

More than 53,000 responses had been logged as of Tuesday, dominated in recent days by Cruz opponents eager to defend a health care law that the tea party favorite had tried to repeal last fall through a government shutdown.

A surge of “yes” and “absolutely” comments overwhelmed an initial wave of anti-Obamacare posts, leaving Cruz’s staff with the clear impression that something was amiss.

“This is very clearly a manufactured, concerted effort from the left,” said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. “Maybe a better use of their time would be advocating for an Obamacare website that actually works.”

That’s so precious. So much so that I can’t quite put my reaction to that into words, so I’ll just do this:

Like that, yeah. Back to the story:

Dave Kapell, a small-business owner in Minneapolis, also voted yes, noting that a plan he found on Minnesota’s insurance exchange was saving him $200 a month. Kapell said nobody solicited his participation in the poll. “It just popped up on my Facebook page,” he said in an interview. “I think somebody I know reposted it.”

Amazing how that works. That Facebook sure is something, isn’t it? Someone ought to figure out how to leverage it for use in a campaign. I bet it’d work really well for that.

Anyway. BOR has some screenshots. Go look and have a good laugh at Cruz’s cluelessness.

Who are these people on our ballot?

The filing deadline is long past, and campaigning for the primary and general election is well underway. Democrats in Harris County have a fairly full complement of legislative candidates this fall, some of whom are better known than others. I thought I’d take a moment to look over the primary ballot list and see what I can find about the candidates who are challenging incumbents of either party. In particular, I’m looking to see if I can find a campaign webpage and/or Facebook page, plus whatever Google can tell me. I’m limiting this to Harris County and to legislative races not counting the US Senate. I may do more of these later if I have the time and the inclination. For now, let’s get started.

Congress

CD02 – Niko Letsos: No webpage or Facebook page that I can find so far. Google tells me nothing.

CD07 – James Cargas and Lissa Squiers – Both ran for this office in 2012. Their links from that year still work.

CD10 – Tawana Cadien: Another repeat candidate from 2012. Her old website and Facebook page are still available. Interviews for all three of these candidates can be found on my 2012 Primary Election – Harris County page.

CD22 – Frank Briscoe and Mark Gibson: Neither appears to have a webpage or a Facebook page yet. Briscoe is a candidate with some pedigree. He ran for CD22 in 2002, losing by a hair in the primary to Tim Riley. He’s the son of the late District Attorney and two-time Houston Mayoral candidate Frank Briscoe, Senior, and apparently a relative in some fashion of former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe. Here’s an interesting Q&A with him in Architectural Record, which isn’t dated but based on context appears to be from not too long after his unsuccessful run in 2002. As for Mark Gibson, Google tells me there’s a Mark Gibson that was an independent candidate for Congress in Virginia in 2012. I rather doubt this is the same Mark Gibson – it’s not that unusual a name – but that’s what I could find in Google.

CD36 – Michael Cole. Cole was the Libertarian candidate for CD36 in 2012 before announcing in August that he would run again as a Democrat. Here’s an interview he did with a Daily Kos member shortly thereafter, which includes links to all his relevant web and social media pages.

State Senate

SD07 – Jim Davis: Google tells me nothing.

SD15 – Sen. John Whitmire and Damian LaCroix: Sen. Whitmire has served in the Senate for many years, but is new to the internets; his Facebook page was created on November 19. I’ve written about LaCroix before and will have an interview with him, and one with Sen. Whitmire, soon.

SD17 – Rita Lucido: Lucido is a longtime activist and volunteer, and is the highest-profile challenger to a Republican incumbent among the legislative candidates. Her campaign Facebook page is quite active.

State House

HD129 – John Gay: No webpage or Facebook presence yet, but Google tells me that John Gay ran for CD14 as a Republican in 2012; he finished seventh in the field of nine. His campaign webpage domain (johngay.org) has expired, but via here I found his personal Facebook page, and while I consider myself to be open and welcoming to party-switchers, it’s safe to say that this guy is a problem. Here’s a screenshot from his Facebook page, so you can see what I mean. Barring a major and convincing change of heart from this guy, my advice is to not waste any time or effort on him. There’s plenty of other good candidates to support.

UPDATE: Upon further investigation, it appears there are two John Gays, the one who ran as an R in 2012 in CD14, and the one who is running in HD129 as a Dem. The latter one does not have any web presence that I found at a cursory search, hence the confusion. I’ve got a business phone number for the HD129 John Gay and will try to reach him tomorrow to discuss. My apologies for the confusion.

HD131 – Rep. Alma Allen and Azuwuike Okorafor: Rep. Allen has a primary challenge for the second straight cycle. Okorafor is a newcomer on the scene but looks like a good candidate. I intend to interview them both for the primary.

HD132 – Luis Lopez: No web presence yet, and the name is too common for Google to be reliable. This may be his personal Facebook page.

HD133 – Laura Nicol: No campaign webpage yet, but her campaign Facebook page is active. She and I have been Facebook friends for awhile, and I met her in person at an HCDP event a couple of weeks ago.

HD134 – Alison Ruff: No web presence as yet. I’ve mentioned her on my blog a couple of times, and met her at HCDP headquarters a couple of weeks back. This is her personal Facebook page.

HD135 – Moiz Abbas: I got nothing.

HD138 – Fred Vernon: Another blank, though this may be him.

HD145 – Rep. Carol Alvarado and Susan Delgado: Rep. Alvarado is my State Rep, and I consider her a friend. Delgado is a realtor, a multiple-time candidate, and the former mistress of the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. Based on comments she has left here and on her personal Facebook page, I think it’s fair to say mud will be flung in this race. For the record, I’ll be voting for Rep. Alvarado.

HD150 – Amy Perez: The full complement – webpage, Facebook page, and Twitter account. Well done.

That’s it for now. I may do a similar exercise for judicial candidates if I find myself with a few spare hours. You can also check out my new 2014 Election page, where I’ll be tracking contested primaries mostly but not exclusively in Harris County. If you think I’ve misrepresented anyone here, or if I’ve missed anything relevant, please let me know. Thanks.

Twelve years

Twelve years ago today, I started this blog. That was on blogspot – believe it or not, it still exists; truly, the Internet is forever – and a few months later I had my own domain. I don’t do retrospectives, I don’t have a list of favorite or “most popular” posts readily available, and sometimes I don’t even remember to mark my blogging anniversaries, but I figured I ought to mention it this time, as I enter my baker’s dozenth year at it.

I tend to be a creature of habit, and when I find something I like that works for me, I just keep doing it. That’s the basic answer to the question of why I do this and how long I plan to keep doing it. It’s fun, I get something out of it, I’d miss it if I weren’t doing it, so I have no plans to stop. The day when those things are no longer true will come, but it’s not on my radar just yet.

One of the things I have enjoyed getting from this blog is a long list of friendships and acquaintances from across the political spectrum and in media, traditional and otherwise. I’ve gotten to meet a whole lot more people in real life because of this Internet thing than I could have without it. I’ve gotten to be on TV – I’ll be doing another episode of Red, White, and Blue to be aired on January 17 – and on radio – I’m doing another segment of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” for Houston Matters for this Friday, the 3rd – and discovered that I enjoy doing those things as well. More recently, I discovered that I have achieved the pinnacle of Internet fame when I stumbled across a Wikipedia page for this blog. I swear on whatever you have handy that I had nothing to do with that, and that I have no idea who created it.

Most of all, I enjoy the feedback I get from you, my readers. It still amazes me that there are people who read this blog. Thank you for doing so, thank you for commenting, and especially thank you for letting me know when I’ve got something wrong, and when I’ve got something right. I’d probably still write this thing if all my words were going into a big void, but it’s a lot more fun this way. As a reminder, there are multiple ways you can be notified about new posts on this blog. There’s good old fashioned RSS, there’s the Off the Kuff Twitter feed, and there’s the Off the Kuff Facebook page, which has 422 followers and which I’d dearly love to get to 500, if you’re so inclined. But however you access this blog, thank you for doing so, and thank you for coming back. Here’s to another fun year.

Annise Parker is in your Internets

She’s in mine, anyway. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but an awful lot of the websites I surf to now feature a familiar face looking back at me:

Annise_Cracked

Here’s another:

Annise_TBogg

Clearly, she’s seeking to dominate the liberal nerd humor vote. Of course, there are Facebook ads:

Annise_Facebook

Facebook is the one place I’ve seen other ads. Ben Hall has placed a few, mostly touting his Facebook page. I know some other candidates have spent money on Facebook ads, but as yet I’ve not seen them.

You know how at the bottom of articles on some websites there’s a listing of “related” stories that you might want to read, that are mostly sponsored links? She’s there, too.

Annise_Chron

And not just in the Chronicle:

Annise_Slate

Even out in LaLa Land:

Annise_LATimes

Too bad they can’t control the stories they get associated with. Some of them might be hard to compete with for clicks.

Anyway. Web advertising is hardly new, though this particular tactic is one I don’t recall seeing before. They’ve clearly done a good job of targeting, since it’s hardly a coincidence all these things appeared for my benefit. I don’t know how expensive this is – clearly, Team Parker dropped a decent amount of cash on it – but it seems likely to me that doing this on a perhaps more modest scale would be viable for many campaigns. Of course, I’m assuming people take notice of these things, never mind click on them. Have you been noticing these ads? What do you think about them?

A closer look at Mayoral campaign finances

I said I’d get to a closer look at the Mayoral campaign finance reports later, after I had a chance to read all the way through them. That time is now, so let’s have our look.

Mayor Parker’s finance report.

The Mayor’s report clocks in at 701 pages, with more than 500 of those pages documenting contributions. That’s a lot of donors – over 2000 of them – and quite a few of them were recognizable names. Here are a few of the notable donors that I spotted.

Name Amount Notes ====================================================== Amber Mostyn $5,000 Major Dem donor Anna Eastman $ 100 HISD Trustee Ben Barnes $1,000 Former Lt Gov Billy Briscoe $ 250 2010 Treasurer candidate Brian Cweren $ 250 Former District C candidate Brock Wagner $ 100 St Arnold CEO Christina Bryan $ 250 2010 judicial candidate Drayton McLane $5,000 Former Astros owner CM Ed Gonzalez $ 500 District H CM Ellen Cohen $ 100 District C Franci Crane $5,000 Wife of current Astros owner Gracie Saenz $ 350 Former CM Jim Crane $5,000 Astros owner Janice McNair $5,000 wife of Texans owner Janiece Longoria $5,000 Port Commissioner Jenifer Pool $ 157 At Large #3 candidate Jim Adler $1,000 The Tough Smart Lawyer Juliet Stipeche $ 100 HISD Trustee Kent Friedman $1,000 Sports Authority Laura Spanjian $ 200 Sustainability Director Michael Skelly $1,057 Parks By You board member Nancy Kinder $5,000 Philanthropist Peggy Hamric $ 350 Former HD126 Rep Peter Brown $5,000 Former CM Phoebe Tudor $5,000 Philanthropist Reagan Flowers $ 250 Former HCDE candidate Rich Kinder $5,000 Energy executive Robert McNair $5,000 Texans owner Rusty Hardin $5,000 Defense attorney Steve Mostyn $5,000 Major Dem donor Steven Kirkland $3,000 Former District Court Judge

There are some other names I could have included on that list, but you get the idea. There were two other names I noticed that made me do a double-take. One was a former girlfriend of mine, the last woman I dated seriously before I met Tiffany. I haven’t seen or heard tell of her in years, and I had no idea she had any interest in politics, let alone this race. The other was a fellow named Edward Snowdon, who is not this Edward Snowden, since among other things they spell their surnames differently. It did send me scrambling to Google to verify that.

You may notice a couple of donations that end with $57. There were many more such examples in the Mayor’s report. That puzzled me at first, till I remembered that the Mayor turned 57 this year, and that there had been a birthday-themed fundraiser for her awhile back, at which amounts like $57 and $157 were suggested contributions.

Parker also took in a ton of PAC money, about $360K worth according to my added-in-my-head count. She drew a fair amount of state and national money, from the likes of the Victory Fund, Annie’s List, and EMILY’s List, in addition to the usual suspects.

Ben Hall, whose S-PAC report I finally found – I hadn’t realized that my search was only including personal reports – also had some notable donors:

Name Amount Notes ====================================================================== May Walker $1,300 Constable Paul Kubosh $2,500 Brother of AL3 candidate Michael Kubosh Carolyn Evans-Shabazz $ 100 At Large #2 candidate Howard Jefferson $2,850 HCDE Trustee Laurie Robinson $1,000 Former At Large #5 candidate Reagan Flowers $ 250 Former HCDE candidate Christina Bryan $ 250 2010 judicial candidate Olan Boudreaux $1,000 2010 judicial candidate Reggie McKamie $1,000 Former DA candidate Carol Galloway $ 100 Former CM and HISD Trustee Davetta Daniels $ 50 Former HISD Trustee candidate US Rep. Al Green $5,000 CD09 Dikembe Mutombo $1,000 Former Houston Rocket William Lawson $3,000 Pastor Levi Benton $1,000 Former District Court judge

Any friend of Dikembe Mutombo is someone to reckon with, if you ask me. Christina Bryan and Reagan Flowers are the only people I saw that appeared on both lists, though I can’t swear to that. After scrolling through however many hundreds of pages of this stuff, the mind tends to soften. Hall had only two PAC contributions that I saw, from CWA COPE for $7,500 and from the HPFFA for the max of $10,000. He also took in $31,700 from law firms and other businesses, including a $5,000 in kind donation for office space.

Now for expenses. I’m going to break this down into a few general categories and do comparisons where reasonable. Note that Hall has a second finance report for expenses made from personal funds, from which I will also draw for this post. First up is consulting expenses.

Annise Parker Amount Consultant Notes ====================================================================== $62,500 Storefront Political Media General consulting $48,000 Keith Wade General consulting $43,751 Lake Research Polling $38,500 James Cardona Fundraising consulting $33,000 KChace Fundraising consulting $27,000 Stuart Rosenberg Salary $26,650 Sue Davis Media Communications $23,000 Storefront Political Media Campaign research $10,800 Lone Star Strategies Compliance consulting Ben Hall Amount Consultant Notes ====================================================================== $68,000 Strong Strategies Fundraising consulting $34,000 The Yates Company Voter outreach consulting $25,142 Dee Ann Thigpen Communication services $17,500 Damon Williams Voter outreach consulting $12,500 The Yates Company Consulting services $10,000 Advantage Comm. Consultants Media & community outreach $ 6,000 The Imprint Agency Social media consulting $ 7,500 Najvar Law Firm Compliance consulting $ 4,500 Sharon Davis Voter outreach consulting $ 3,100 Darcy Mackey Volunteer coordinator

This doesn’t cover everything for each campaign. Parker had numerous other people on salary, and all of them, including Rosenberg, also received a monthly “cell and medical” stipend. Other than Rosenberg, all the names on her list are people and firms that have been with her since at least 2009. Among Hall’s consultants, Williams, Davis, and Mackey also were paid wages, as were some other folks. The thing that really stands out to me is that Hall spent about as much as Parker did on fundraising, but took in about one seventh as much as she did. I will also note that there are some Republican names among those listed above. Jerad Najvar, whom I’ve mentioned here a couple of times for his good work getting the Texas Ethics Commission to permit campaign contributions via text messaging, is a Republican. Jeff Yates of The Yates Company is a former Executive Director of the Harris County GOP; I actually couldn’t find anything on Google about The Yates Company but was informed about Jeff Yates’ Republican connections some time ago by other folks who knew him. Deeann Thigpen worked for Rep. Ted Poe for six years as his press secretary. Make of all that what you will. Also of interest is that Parker spent money on polling and “campaign research”, which I’m pretty sure is the polite term for “opposition research”, while Hall as far as I can tell did not.

Now let’s look at communications in its various forms.

Annise Parker Amount Payee Notes ====================================================================== $42,430 Storefront Political Media Newspaper ads $14,086 Storefront Political Media Online advertising $10,000 Teleroots Technologies Phone bank $ 8,787 Storefront Political Media Direct mail $ 7,387 Storefront Political Media Campaign letters $ 7,000 Que Onda Magazine Advertisement $ 6,543 Storefront Political Media Letterhead, envelopes, etc $ 5,898 Storefront Political Media Banners, stickers, misc lit $ 3,475 Rindy Miller & Associates Production $ 2,735 Storefront Political Media Photography $ 2,200 Storefront Political Media Website design $ 1,022 Storefront Political Media Postcards

No, I don’t know what the difference between “direct mail” and “campaign letters” is. And wow, that’s a lot of money on newspaper ads. It was three separate entries for $14,143 and change each. I did not see any money for signs, but I suspect those are covered in the January report. I haven’t gone looking for it, because one 700 page report is enough. Rindy Miller did all of Parker’s buying of TV ad time in 2009, and producing her TV ads. I presume from this she doesn’t have much of that in the works just yet.

Ben Hall Amount Consultant Notes ====================================================================== $99,450 New Stream Marketing Strategies Voter ID phone calls $50,000 KMJQ-FM Radio One Radio advertising $40,000 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars Online advertising $28,105 Sprint 2 Print Yard signs $20,000 1230 AM KCOH Radio advertising $13,000 1230 AM KCOH Studio sponsorship $11,735 Neumann and Company Push cards $10,600 Advantage Comm. Consultants Print Ads $ 5,417 ShakeFX LLC Website $ 5,000 Nebo Media Radio production $ 5,000 African American News & Issues Advertising $ 4,000 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars Campaign signs $ 3,342 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars Advertising $ 2,930 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars Push cards $ 2,819 Sprint 2 Print Signs and bumper stickers $ 2,250 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars T-shirts and advertising $ 2,000 Giant Video Productions Video productions $ 1,500 Stylist Profile Magazine Advertisement $ 1,315 Talaferry Media Group dba D-Mars T-shirts and push cards

Quite the kitchen sink approach here, and no I have no idea what “Voter ID phone calls” means, or why it’s so much more expensive than a phone bank. I do know that New Stream Marketing Strategies did marketing/advertising work for Rick Santorum in 2012. $70K on radio ads is a lot. It’s about what Gene Locke reported spending on radio ads in his 8 day report in 2009. Locke’s report didn’t specify stations, however, so he may have been making a broader buy. I will add that Hall also spent roughly $25K on “sign distribution”, so if you see a lot of his signs out there, know that someone got paid to deliver them. I consolidated four different payments to Neumann and Co for push cards, so I want to point out that Hall spent money on Spanish and Chinese language push cards, which strikes me as a good idea.

And finally, some other miscellaneous expenses. Mayor Parker’s campaign spent $760 in copy costs at FexEx Kinko’s. I wouldn’t normally bother with something as minor as that, except that I saw an entry on Hall’s report that said they paid $2,400 to Advanced Business Copiers for copier rental. Someone’s going to have to explain that one to me.

Hall spent $20,485 at Tony Mandola’s for his announcement event, and $20,000 at Ranchero King Buffet for another event. Good times.

Mayor Parker’s campaign remitted $11,390 to Merchant Bank for credit card donation fees, and $38,676 to the US Treasury for payroll taxes. Other campaigns that have salaried workers pay such taxes as well, but that’s more than average. The credit card fees seem rather high as well, but I’d have to go back and review other reports to get a handle on that.

One last thing to mention is that $40K that Hall spent on online advertising, which sure seems like a lot of money. Texpatriate takes a closer look at how that money was spent and what effect it had.

Ben Hall

I would like to tell this story, from the start, because it is quite entertaining. Imagine Annise Parker’s campaign team held a meeting to come up with the absolute worst-case scenario that could arise out of Hall advertising on Facebook. That might as well be what happened, considering how badly Dr Hall’s campaign messed up (again, to use polite words).

First, Dr Hall’s campaign had a pathetically lackluster showing in the Social Media races. While Parker had other 50k Facebook likes and 15k Twitter followers, Hall had about 2k likes and 200 followers. At one point, I was keeping track of the race between them, but I eventually quit because it was not anywhere near competitive.

Eventually, the Hall campaign decided (quite rightly so) that a Social Media presence would be invaluable in a 21st Century campaign. The campaign then invested thousands of dollars into online advertisements, specifically on Facebook and Twitter. Now, the way these sorts of advertisements work is that you come up with some buzz words and select a general geographical location. I have no knowledge of how the Hall campaign answered these questions, but based upon the results, I have an inkling as to what they answered.

Most likely, the buzz words “fed up” or “morass” or “angry” were used. This would have been done, ostensibly, in an attempt to attract all those healthy dissidents who respectfully oppose Mayor Parker’s administration. Instead, the buzz words tended to match up nicely with those who support armed insurrections and the like. Additionally, instead of focusing on Houstonians, the ads targeted individuals from throughout the State.

The result was a sorry collection of Rednecks, Klansmen, Neo-Nazis and McVeigh sympathizers who found their ways to the Ben Hall campaign’s Facebook page. This ended up causing, again, an unmitigated disaster. Ben Hall’s Facebook likes rose from about 2k to 5.7k, causing nearly 2/3 of the supporters to be astroturfed non-Houstonians.

Yikes. Here’s Hall’s Facebook page, and a brief scan of it will show examples of what Texpate is talking about. Texpate has some screenshots as well. One’s campaign Facebook page and Twitter feed is always going to attract some snarky commentary from your opposition if you’re doing it right, but this is something else altogether. Let it serve as a cautionary tale about buying a social media presence instead of building one organically.

It may not matter where the casinos are

I don’t know if the gambling industry will finally gain traction in their effort to legally expand operations in Texas, but I do wonder if they’re fighting the last war and missing out on what’s happening now elsewhere in the country.

Silicon Valley is betting that online gambling is its next billion-dollar business, with developers across the industry turning casual games into occasions for adults to wager.

At the moment these games are aimed overseas, where attitudes toward gambling are more relaxed and online betting is generally legal, and extremely lucrative. But game companies, from small teams to Facebook and Zynga, have their eye on the ultimate prize: the rich American market, where most types of real-money online wagers have been cleared by the Justice Department.

Two states, Nevada and Delaware, are already laying the groundwork for virtual gambling. Within months they will most likely be joined by New Jersey.

Bills have also been introduced in Mississippi, Iowa, California and other states, driven by the realization that online gambling could bring in streams of tax revenue. In Iowa alone, online gambling proponents estimated that 150,000 residents were playing poker illegally.

Since that story was published, the states of Nevada and New Jersey have passed their laws to allow online gambling. I’m sure others will follow. Now, online gambling will never truly replace casinos. No matter how good the online experience may become, it won’t include low-cost buffets, cocktail waitresses, or Wayne Newton. Some things you still have to do in person to get the full effect. But online gambling is sure to cut into the profit margins of casinos, and perhaps reduce the overall market for them. If so, that weakens the case for expanded gambling here, at least as far as the current proposals for casinos and slot machines at racetracks go. Of course, the current proposals can be amended to allow a vote on online gambling. I don’t know if the spirit of cooperation that exists now can handle that, but who knows. In any event, this is something to keep an eye on.

Mockery is the best medicine

Business Insider comes across the Facebook fun.

Women aren’t too happy with Rick Perry’s stance on family planning funding. Today, they let him know the best way they could, with some well-directed Internet snark.

Posts asking Perry’s advice about everything from menstruation to menopause flooded the governor’s Facebook wall this morning. They’ve since been taken down, and new posting has been disabled, but screenshots document the whole episode.

Click here to see their screenshots. The only think wrong with this report, which was written Monday, was that the hijinx had started several days earlier, as Nonsequiteuse had been documenting. Sadly, that fun came to a halt yesterday, as Team Perry finally figured out that social media is a two-way street (a lesson you’d think they’d have learned by now) and shut off the ability to post on his wall. Perry’s spokeperson whined about how mean everyone was, but they were pwned, plain and simple. Well done, ladies.

Bye-bye, WHP

Thanks, Rick!

Federal health officials announced Thursday what state leaders have predicted for weeks: that they are halting funding for Texas’ Women’s Health Program.

Cindy Mann, director of the federal Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, said Texas left her agency no other choice by forging ahead with a rule designed to force Planned Parenthood clinics out of the program

“We have no choice but to not renew their program,” Mann said. “… We very much regret that the state of Texas has taken this course.”

[…]

Mann said under federal law, Medicaid beneficiaries must be able to choose their own providers. “Neither the federal government nor the state government is permitted to stop people from getting services from their trusted source of care,” she said.

She said CMS will begin a gradual phase-out of the program, so funds won’t be cut off immediately. If Texas takes over the program and no women lose services within the next three months, she said, federal support will be terminated. If not, they might extend the support longer. Mann said the state must submit a transition plan to the federal government for approval by April 16.

Here’s the letter, and here’s a letter signed by State Reps. Garnet Coleman, Carol Alvarado, and Sylvester Turner thanking Director Mann for not cutting us off completely right away. Unfortunately, there’s also this:

Asked if local governments could skip the state level and coordinate directly with the federal government to continue to get support, Mann said no. She said money for Medicaid programs flows through the state.

Which means that the workaround Coleman and others proposed the other day won’t work. Which means we’re stuck with Perry’s phony promise, which he intends to pay for by cutting other HHS programs. If he’s going to be forced to do something for a bunch of people he couldn’t care less about, then by God someone’s gonna get hurt for it. Remember when Rick Perry pretended to care about cervical cancer?

A few years ago, in the name of fighting cervical cancer, Gov. Perry signed an executive order mandating HPV vaccinations for Texan girls. In a September 2011 presidential debate, Perry stated that “Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die” – yet he is moving to end cervical cancer screenings covered by WHP for over 130,000 Texan women. We are asking him why. The women of Texas are waiting for your response, Rick. And no, we aren’t talking about abortion – don’t change the subject – we are talking about cancer. We are talking about women’s lives.

Of course, he only pretended to care about it because it was a means to help one of his cronies, but it would be nice if some other people asked him about that. Or, if that’s too serious for you, you could head over to Facebook and ask him some questions about lady parts, since he’s such an expert about that. When you get bored with that, mosey on over to the page of Rep. Sid “Patrick” Miller, the “arthur” of the sonogram bill, and poke him with a stick, too. In the grand scheme of things it won’t really accomplish anything, but it’ll make you feel better, and Lord knows these idiots deserve it. Postcards has more.

Social media update

This is just a friendly reminder that you can find much of this blog’s content on the official Off the Kuff Facebook page, which I hope you will like. I was asked recently what the purpose of that page was, and the answer is that I wanted to provide another way for people to get the content that I provide here. Some people (like me) like RSS feeds, some people like Twitter (the Twitter feed for this blog is @offthekuff, as noted on the sidebar), and some people like Facebook. It’s good to have options, right? For those of you who like the Off the Kuff Facebook page, I generally try to add a little something extra most days – I’ll share a link to some other blog post or story that I want to share but don’t necessarily want to devote a full post to, or I’ll write an add-on to a post like this story about my inept effort to do the first candidate interview of the 2012 cycle. I may also ask for feedback about specific things I’m doing or thinking about doing here, such as my recent decision to include more pictures on the blog. It’s an ongoing experiment, which adds some fun and some challenge for me, always nice to have after doing the same thing for a decade. Feedback is always appreciated, here or on the Facebook page, so please let me know what you think. Thanks very much.

Ten years after

I don’t know how many people are actually reading blogs today, but if you’re one of them then I’m happy to tell you that today is the tenth birthday of this blog. It started as an exercise to see if I could write something on a regular basis, and I think it’s safe to say that I passed the test. I keep doing it after all this time because I still enjoy it, I still get something out of it, and I still think the exercise is good for me. There may yet come a day when I won’t have the time to do as much of it as I’ve been doing, but if so I’ll find a way to adjust. In the meantime, I’d just like to say thank you to all of you, for reading and commenting and correcting my mistakes and so on and so forth. At the time I started I figured I’d keep going even if I were shouting into a void, but I can’t say I’d have lasted anywhere near this long if that were the case.

I’ve had some preliminary discussions with Greg, who’s also been at this for a decade, about having some kind of celebration to mark the milestone, but typically we haven’t gotten past the “wouldn’t it be cool if” stage just yet. Figure maybe some time in the spring, if we ever decide what we’re doing. The 2012 state Democratic convention will be here in Houston, as it was in 2004 for the first Texas political blogger get-together, so that’s a possible tie-in. We’ll let you know when we get our act together.

Finally, I’m pleased to announce that at long last I’ve gotten my act together and created a Facebook page for this blog. I will use it to share content from here and whatever else strikes my fancy. It’s taken me this long to create the page, don’t expect me to know what to do with it right away. Please feel free to like it and tell others about it as well. You may also notice that its profile picture is somewhat lacking. If you have a modicum of design skill and would care to create something a bit less boring for me, by all means please do so and let me know. Thanks very much.

Until then, Happy New Year, and remember that the “hair of the dog” thing is just an old wives’ tale. See you tomorrow.

“Draft Nick Lampson”

As things stand now, there are basically two Congressional seats in Texas that Democrats have a shot at taking away from Republicans in 2012. One is CD23, which is drawing a fair amount of interest. The other is CD14, thanks to decent partisan numbers and the fact that it is now an open seat. Whether that becomes an actual competitive contest still depends on a credible candidate taking it on. One strong possibility is former Rep. Nick Lampson, whose old CD09 covered a lot of the same turf as the new CD14. Lampson has expressed some interest in the seat but has not as yet made any commitment. To help him make that decision, there’s a Draft Nick Lampson Facebook page, which you ought to like and share if you’d like to see him gear up one more time. Nothing will come easy, and he’ll need all the help he can get if he decides to get in. Let’s start by helping him take that first step.

Sanchez files paperwork to run for Senate

And he’s in.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who rose from an impoverished childhood in the Rio Grande Valley to become a three-star Army general commanding multinational forces in Iraq, filed the paperwork Wednesday to seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Sanchez, whose military career was cut short by the fallout from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, positioned himself as a political outsider among those who are “mostly focused on scoring partisan points and winning elections.”

“I believe Texas needs a strong, independent voice to address the enormous challenges we are facing – leadership that focuses on results rather than politics,” Sanchez said.

According to an earlier Politico story, Sanchez was going to “announce his intentions on Facebook, according to a Democratic source close to the campaign”. I don’t know if something changed, or if that “Democratic source” wasn’t quite as close to the campaign as he might have thought, but the only Facebook page I could find was this one, which is clearly not owned by a campaign. I also don’t see a campaign website. It’s early days, obviously, but given that no one is operating under a deadline here one might think it would be preferable to have those particular ducks in a row. For what it’s worth, this McAllen Monitor story, which also references that Facebook page I can’t find, says Sanchez is “[prepping] for a formal announcement at a later date”. We’ll see how that goes.

Beyond that, I’ve said that I want to hear what he has to say for himself, but as yet there’s nothing on which to base a judgment. I’ll let you know when there is. Kos and Juanita have more.

Saturday video break: We Three Kings are totally on Twitter

If the Christmas story were happening today, this is how it might go down:

Thanks to Harold for finding this.

Facebook mail

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about this.

On Monday, Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the world’s largest social network plans to launch an updated version of its messaging service that will allow users to send emails and SMS text messages from inside their Facebook Messages account, and that the Palo Alto, California-based company will enable the site’s more than 500 million users to each have their own “@facebook.com” email address.

“We don’t think that a modern messaging system will be email,” Mr. Zuckerberg said during a presentation to announce the new service.

It’s times like this that I realize just what an old fogey I really am.

Though e-mail is still a primary form of communication for older adults, recent studies suggest this is not the case for young people. Text messaging has surpassed face-to-face contact, e-mail, phone calls and instant messaging as the primary form of communication for U.S. teens, according to a 2009 survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Yeah, I don’t see text messages replacing email for me any time soon, or ever, and I hate IM with the fiery intensity of a thousand suns. I’ll just be over here in the corner, muttering about these damn kids and their newfangled ways.

Back to the original story:

“It’s not email, it handles email in addition to Facebook Messages … it’s true people are going to be able to have Facebook.com email address, but it’s not email,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

Mr. Zuckerberg said users will be able to have an @facebook.com email address that matches their public user name. However, he said the new service goes beyond email and will allow users to integrate text messaging, email and Facebook chat. Users will also be able to send attachments through the new Facebook Messages platform.

As well, in an effort to combat spam, users who adjust their privacy settings to accept messages from only their friends will have all other emails bounced away from their inbox.

I dunno. The problem with the white-list approach to spam fighting is that sometimes you do need and want to receive a message from someone with whom you do not have a pre-existing relationship. I suppose in this model, you’d need to accept a friend request from them first, to which my reaction is that I don’t necessarily want anything more from them than an exchange of information.

Lifehacker quantifies another concern I have about this.

According to a report from last year by DNS service OpenDNS, Facebook was the second most commonly blocked web site on the internet, second to MySpace. You won’t find an email provider among that top 10 list.

That doesn’t mean that every workplace blocks Facebook or that no workplaces block Gmail, but the prerequisite to communication is access, and a lot of people who can’t access Facebook from work can still access their email accounts. In theory, Facebook Messages could get around this problem by sending you messages via SMS, but unless you want to do all your “emailing” from your phone, that’s not much of a solution.

Yeah, I know, everyone has a smartphone for this stuff these days, but if you’re actually at your desk at work, fooling around on your phone all day looks bad. At least if you’re checking your Gmail account on the work PC, you’re in position to easily switch over to whatever else you need to be doing. I guess I’d need to know more about what all of this means, but my initial reaction is that it’s not anything that would make me leave Gmail. Did I mention that I’m really old? For more, see TechCrunch and Dwight. What do you think about this?

The case for using social media in the schools

Sounds good to me.

A year after seventh grade teacher Elizabeth Delmatoff started a pilot social media program in her Portland, Oregon classroom, 20% of students school-wide were completing extra assignments for no credit, grades had gone up more than 50%, and chronic absenteeism was reduced by more than a third. For the first time in its history, the school met its adequate yearly progress goal for absenteeism.

At a time when many teachers are made wary by reports of predators and bullies online, social media in the classroom is not the most popular proposition. Teachers like Delmatoff, however, are embracing it rather than banning it. They argue that the educational benefits of social media far outweigh the risks, and they worry that schools are missing out on an opportunity to incorporate learning tools the students already know how to use.

What started as a Facebook-like forum where Delmatoff posted assignments has grown into a social media component for almost every subject. Here are the reasons why she and other proponents of educational social media think more schools should do the same.

The arguments they make are persuasive to me. As we know, some school districts in Texas have done a good job of dealing with social media, while others largely have not dealt with it at all. It’s clear to me that it can’t and shouldn’t be ignored, so we may as well find some people who can figure out how best to make it fit in our schools.

The social network campaign

Governor Perry won’t show up at a debate, but he is a presence on the Internet.

The list of things that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Bill White, his Democratic opponent in November, disagree upon is long. But on the subject of social media as a tool to reach voters, the candidates are in harmony. Although the campaigns differ in their online tactics, both say they began to buy into social media in a big way early in 2009 and they’re each giving it unprecedented time and resources.

Perry and White both use smart phones to keep followers updated via Twitter and Facebook (White has an iPhone, Perry a BlackBerry). Their staffs tote equipment to send videos, photos, status updates, e-mails and blog posts from the road. Sometimes, the messages aren’t entirely earth-shattering. On Twitter, Perry posted a photo with teen stars Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato. And a recent Facebook post from White reads: “Andre Johnson does it again for the Texans. Can the Texans go 2-0?”

But the campaigns believe that their efforts — everything from off-the-cuff updates to more substantial efforts such as reactions to news stories, responses to voter questions and online videos — are giving Texans greater access to the candidates and delivering their messages to where the eyeballs are.

“They’re both very proficient,” said Mike Chapman, a partner in Apogee Campaigns, a nonpartisan consulting firm that’s closely following the campaigns. “Texas is getting a good representation on both sides of the aisle in terms of all the latest tools.”

[…]

The @GovernorPerry account has about 29,797 followers compared with about 4,621 followers for White’s @billwhitefortx.

While Perry tweets enthusiastically, White has taken a liking to Facebook, where his official page had been “Liked” 137,871 times compared with 43,227 times for the official Rick Perry Facebook page as of Sunday evening.

All of this is very interesting, and I’ve no doubt that both campaigns use social media proficiently. But there’s this little nagging voice in the back of my head that wonders just how much effect any of it really has. There were about 4.4 million votes cast in Texas in 2006, and it’s safe to assume there will be at least that many cast this year. Adding up all of the Twitter and Facebook friends and followers and you get less than 5% of that total, and that’s before you weed out duplicates, journalists and others with professional interests in the campaigns, out of staters, and phonies. The real story to me is not the numbers themselves but the metrics the campaigns themselves use to try to measure what the numbers mean. We all know that the 2008 Presidential election showed the immense potential of social networking in this context, but let’s be honest here, the 2008 Presidential election was sui generis. What do campaigns in 2010 and beyond aim to get out of their Twitter and Facebook and whatever the next hot new app is devotees, and how do they intend to determine if they’re getting it or not? That’s the story I want to read.

UPDATE: See also this Trib story.

School social media policies

The DMN has an interesting look at how Dallas-area school districts handle social networking by its employees.

[S]chool districts and teachers trying to reach and engage students and parents find that using the latest and most popular technology is faster, cost-effective and meets students and parents in their communication comfort zones.

Some teachers have established their own blogs and Facebook pages for their classes.

“It’s a wonderful way to reach out and get immediate feedback,” said Bob Morrison, superintendent in Mansfield ISD. “If you have your students subscribing to a classroom Facebook page and they’re having a debate about a topic, the teacher can see that and use it in her class.”

Large districts, such as Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD, have established districtwide Facebook pages. Some have created Twitter accounts, blogs and YouTube videos to spread district news. Mansfield ISD is working to create a smartphone application that would allow parents to check their children’s athletic schedules or add money to their lunch accounts.

“Technology is here. You can either embrace it or run away from it. We chose to embrace it,” Morrison said.

[…]

The Mansfield ISD employee handbook warns teachers that electronic communication should be limited to “matters within the scope of the employee’s professional responsibilities.” For classroom teachers, that means “matters relating to class work, homework, and tests” and for employees directing extracurricular activities, a similar stick-to-the-subject directive.

The policy also prohibits employees from “knowingly communicating with students through a personal social network page.” Employees may have their own social media pages for personal use, but they are to communicate with students through separate professional social network pages only and must allow administrators and parents access.

That’s a sensible attitude, and a sensible approach. Obviously, it’s more relevant today in districts where home computer use is more prevalent, but again we know that Texas schools will be using technology a lot more in the near future, so it’s best to get your arms around this now.

The article notes that the Texas Education Agency prefers to let individual ISDs set their own policies on this rather than impose a standard from above. So I wondered: What are HISD’s policies regarding social media for its schools and employees? I didn’t find anything on the HISD website, so I sent an email inquiry to them. Here’s the response I got:

Access to social media and networking sites (like YouTube and Facebook) are blocked from district computers at all schools and offices. We do not have a district Facebook or YouTube page. But, HISD does have a twitter account and following. The messages are posted by our communications department or by the superintendent himself. We do not have a policy addressing social media sites someone may access and post on during their off duty hours. We do address the issue to some extent in the Code of Student Conduct through our policies regarding cyber-bullying. There is also a state law that makes it a crime to access a computer from someone else’s account and post matters under their name with the intent to make others believe that the account holder is posting it. Additionally, the district can take action for matters posted by an employee, if it has a direct and substantial impact on their performance of their duties, or if it appears that there is a relationship that goes beyond the professional relationship between teacher and student. Employees are not restricted regarding their ability to have an account on a social networking site, however, as the article demonstrates, there are a lot of pitfalls should matters posted on the site extend beyond professional matters and stray into personal matters.

I actually found several HISD-related Twitter feeds, including HISD Media, HISD Recruiter, HISD Special Ed, and the main HISD feed itself. Superintendent Terry Grier is on Twitter, as are at least four trustees: Greg Myers, Paula Harris, Harvin Moore, and Anna Eastman. I have to say, I rather like the Mansfield approach, and I hope HISD will give this some more thought.

The city of Houston’s social media guidelines

I received the following email from Justin Concepcion, who manages social media for Mayor Parker’s office, in response to the questions I asked in this post about how the city of Houston handles social media:

We are in the process of creating a social media policy for the City of Houston. However, currently, it is still in the draft phase. I’ve been working very closely with our legal department and a COH social media committee to ensure the policy fits all the parameters needed to address this growing field.

As far as utilizing social media, the previous administration already encouraged city departments to utilize it as a communications tool, so many of the departments already have sites established. They are listed on their respective site and on here: http://www.houstontx.gov/socialmedia/index.html – The policy we’re creating is to address growing concerns on how departments should use it and personal use by city employees.

He also said they have just released the first phase of their new website, and that he will pass along my comments about having each departments’ social media links on their homepage, which most of them already do have. My thanks to Justin for getting back to me on this.

Social media guidelines in San Antonio

Interesting.

There’s no standard policy or set of procedures governing how public entities or their employees should use social networking sites. Agencies are in various stages of evaluating what constitutes proper online conduct.

Bexar County is writing a social media policy that would address personal networking. There’s nothing about it in the county’s computer resources use policy, last amended in June. The city of San Antonio put out an administrative directive in January that explains how employees should represent their departments and themselves online, spokeswoman Di Galvan said.

“The city of San Antonio was one of the first to have a social media policy that’s been implemented in the state,” Galvan said. “We tried to find other policies and really couldn’t find any that addressed a municipality. Employees want guidelines, and that’s what we provided to them.”

[…]

The city hasn’t defined exactly what would be considered inappropriate. The directive puts it this way: “Ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself as a City professional, appropriate with the public trust associated with your position, and conforms to existing ethical standards.”

The city has comparatively strong rules for how its departments must manage their social media networks — and it has 58 such networks. The Police Department doesn’t have one yet, but the Fire Department does.

Just curious – does the city of Houston, or Harris County, have any such guidelines for their employees, or for how its departments must manage their social media networks? I think both are a good idea. One simple thing that ought to be a part of the latter is to ensure that various departments’ social networking sites are prominently linked from their departments’ home pages. A quick tour of the City of Houston and Harris County department pages shows a few that are and many that aren’t. You can find the Houston Public Library on Facebook, and you can find the Harris County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook, but you can’t find either of them linked from their respective department homepages. I must note that this is no different from San Antonio, where you can find the San Antonio Convention Center on Facebook, but you wouldn’t know that from its official homepage. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Win a date with Karl Rove

Desperate times and all that.

The Perry campaign is offering supporters who submit 11 names of registered voters for the campaign to contact a chance to win prizes in a raffle. The gifts include a jogging lesson from RunTex founder Paul Carrozza and a shooting lesson from the paramilitary outfit LaRue Tactical.

Or how about a calf-roping demonstration by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst?

The campaign hopes the raffle will entice supporters to identify friends and likely Republican voters. Recruiters who put in 11 names get one chance at the prize of their choice. Put in 22 names and get two chances.

The innovation comes from an earlier incarnation of the Perry Home Headquarters program, in which the campaign paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to at least 300 recruiters who brought in the names of registered voters.

But that plan proved problematic. The Dallas Morning News discovered that some of those recruiters turned out to have criminal records or were not likely Republican voters.

The prizes idea seems bent on attracting only true-red Republicans.

“We all came up with ideas of what supporters would be interested in,” said Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier.

The 11 announced prizes, in addition to those above, include lunch with political guru Karl Rove, a tour of the U.S. Capitol with WallBuilders founder David Barton and a football clinic from former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.

Democratic consultant Jason Stanford thinks the idea is a hoot.

“I’m signing up all my friends and half my enemies. This is too great,” Stanford said.

Juanita‘s right there with you. Seriously, this has “gag gift” written all over it. Why anyone would think it’s more likely to draw actual Republican support than the previous half-baked idea is beyond me.

But hey, if Perry thinks this can help pump up his social networking numbers while he’s out begging for money in California, I say knock yourself out. Speaking of such things, you may recall that three months ago I counted 60,000+ Facebook fans for Bill White, while Perry – who is often lauded for his prowess in this regard – had but 36,000. Well, feast your eyes on these numbers:

Bill White – 111,306 fans

Rick Perry – 40,191 fans

Putting it another way, in the past three months Bill White has gained 51,000 fans to Rick Perry’s 4,000. I believe the proper expression here is “Boo yah!” BOR has more.

Join Senator Kirk Watson & Bill White in Online Video Town Hall, Monday July 12

State Senator Kirk Watson will host an online video town hall with Bill White on Monday, July 12th at 5:30pm. You can join the conversation yourself, submit questions, and enjoy a high-tech, low-key campaign chat with two of Texas’ most prominent Democrats. They’ll be taking questions in real time during the town hall via Twitter, Facebook and UStream. Or, you can submit your question now on Kirk’s Facebook wall (http://bit.ly/dmrnVa) or his Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/KirkPWatson. The event is free and open to everyone – you just need to log on to Facebook and go to Kirk’s Facebook page from 5:30 to 6:30PM on July 12 to watch or participate. BOR has more.

Being Hector Uribe

There are days when I truly love being a political blogger, because they give me a reason to take note of stuff like this.

Somewhere in Indiana, a man needs a date. And he’s using Democratic land commissioner candidate Hector Uribe‘s photo to try to seal the deal.

Just click over and enjoy. I’ve got a copy of the press release that Team Uribe, a/k/a Harold Cook, sent out on this. Have I mentioned lately that Uribe is my favorite candidate of this cycle?

(more…)

Is the Big XII in UH’s future?

Now that we know the Big XII will survive, one question that now arises is whether it will try to replace defectors Nebraska and Colorado, and if so with which teams. Already, there’s a drumbeat for UH being included. Richard Justice runs out to the front of the parade.

The Big 12 almost certainly will add two teams at some point. It may be two years from now, maybe longer. TCU would seem to be a slam dunk for one of the invitations, and UH needs to position itself for the other.

To do so will require work on multiple fronts, to do things UH has been unable to do in the past. But this is a new era at UH.

I’ve kind of lost count of the number of New Eras there have been at UH since I came to town in 1988. I can’t help but feel like I’ve heard this all before – IF they can maintain recent success, and IF they can upgrade their facilities, and IF they can draw bigger crowds, then it will all come together. If they can in fact do these things, then UH makes some sense; there’s enough UT and A&M alums here to make Houston a part of the Big XII TV market already, so that’s not much of a factor. Let’s just say I’m not going to hold my breath on this.

UH President Dr. Renu Khator gets some space on the op-ed pages to chime in as well with a rah-rah piece for her school. I noticed that the one thing neither she nor Justice mentioned was the concept of rivalries – UH rivalries, I mean. As that was a large subject of discussion when everyone thought the Big XII was headed for the junk pile, and especially when it looked like A&M might part ways with UT, that seems a curious oversight. Not to put too fine a point on it, but UH’s biggest rival these days is Rice, whom UH would be leaving behind in this scenario. Yes, I know, UH sees UT as a rival. I have news for you: UH and UT are rivals in the same way that Rice and UT are rivals. The rivalry means a lot more to one school than it does to the other. If all that lip service to rivalries meant anything, then the UH-to-the-Big XII advocates should be calling for Rice to come along as well. As TCU is also being mentioned, bringing Rice along would give the conference 13 members, so we may as well go whole hog and grab SMU, too, to balance out TCU and get things back to an even number. And since that would make the Big XII moniker as accurate as “Big 10” and “PAC 10” are right now, a new name for it would be in order. I have a suggestion for that, too.

Anyway. If you want to see the UH thing happen, there’s a University of Houston Should Join The Big 12 Facebook group for you. There’s a similar group for TCU, too, if your tastes go that way. If you want to read more about how Dan Beebe pulled this off, read Kevin Sherrington and especially Dan Wetzel, who reminds us that this is a temporary peace. Sooner or later, something like what the PAC 10 was trying to do will come up again. Burka, the Trib, and Sean Pendergast have more.

Sixty thousand and counting

In March, the Dallas Morning News wrote about how Rick Perry was running a new kind of campaign.

Rick Perry’s campaign has a radical approach that eschews traditional voter turnout efforts in favor of extensive use of social media networks to win Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Haven’t seen a Perry yard sign? There aren’t any, and Perry has no local office to house them. Dreading yet another phone call from a political candidate? Don’t worry; Perry has no phone banks. And you probably won’t see supporters with T-shirts knocking at the door.

But you may get a Facebook message from a friend in your social circle. You’re more likely to find Perry campaign appeals on Twitter, even craigslist, than to see his mug on a highway billboard.

As of this minute, 60,848 people like the Bill White for Texas Facebook page. In comparison, the Govenror Rick Perry Facebook page has just 36,341 people who like it. All that, and you can get a bumper sticker and a yard sign from Team Bill, too. Well, it is a different kind of campaign and all.

Everybody understands the dynamics of this race. White will keep reaching out to independents and Republicans because he needs them to win, while Perry will continue to pander to the wingnuts because he thinks that’s all he needs; besides, they’re the only people he knows how to talk to. Perry can be all about flash and sizzle, while White will keep on doing the hard work to win people over.

A smattering of Republicans across the state is with White, including some well-known friends of vanquished Perry rival Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Dallas businesswoman Lucy Billingsley, a statewide leader in Hutchison’s campaign for governor, calls White a “strong fiscal conservative.”

“He’s smart, and the job he did as Houston mayor was fantastic,” she said.

[…]

Mark Smith, the former chairman of Hutchison’s youth coalition in Dallas, said he plans to vote for every Republican on the November ballot, except for Perry.

Smith says he likes White’s emphasis on improving education. He has criticized the governor about the state’s dropout rate and recent curriculum changes approved by the State Board of Education.

“White has Texas in his heart,” Smith said. “He puts people before politics.”

Wouldn’t that be nice to have in Austin for a change? White got a more high profile endorsement on Friday.

The longtime Republican mayor of Grand Prairie, Charles England, this afternoon endorsed Democrat Bill White for governor.

“We need to change Austin. For too long, the state has been divided into red teams and blue teams,” England said.

He appeared with White, the former mayor of Houston, at a campaign event in Grand Prairie.

“He’s a moderate politician, and that’s what this state needs,” England said.

Slow and steady, that’s what it takes. I found Perry’s reaction to this endorsement to be curious.

Perry spokesman Mark Miner dismissed the endorsement, saying it would not “hide the fact that Bill White is a liberal trial lawyer.” Miner also said Perry would unveil endorsements in the coming months that reflect “wide support” throughout Texas.

“We’re confident that we’ll have support from many people who support the governor’s policies,” Miner said.

Is it just me, or does this sound like the sort of thing that an underdog challenger would say? In the primary, Perry was making fun of KBH for her relative paucity of endorsements, and now he’s saying “just you wait and see”? Bravado and swagger is what I expect from Rick Perry, not pluck and spunkiness. I’m probably making something out of nothing here, but this statement struck a dissonant chord.

Still trying to save the Dome

Nancy Sarnoff reports.

A new page has sprung up on Facebook called Save the Astrodome.

It was created by the Houstonian behind www.AmnesiaHouston.org, a Web site aimed at bringing attention to the city’s disappearing landmarks.

The creator compares the Astrodome to the Eiffel Tower and wonders, “what else it could be.”

That’s the question, isn’t it? As noted before, none of the ideas that have been floated for what to do with the Dome seem to have gone anywhere. I’m sure some of that is a function of the economy, but none of those schemes had gotten much traction before things went south, either. If you can solve the “what to do with it” problem, the rest takes care of itself. And please, the “why not let it be the new home of the Dynamo?” question has long been answered and was never a viable option anyway. I go back and forth on this, but in the end this is what it will come down to. If there’s something that can be done with it, I believe it will. If not, well, kaboom. It’s as simple as that.

No Staples for the Alabama Theater

Some news from Swamplot, from a commenter there named Andrea:

“After writing to Staples PR this is their canned response: ‘While there has been speculation about Staples in connection with the historic Alabama Theater, we do not have a lease agreement at this location. Staples will continue to be a good neighbor that supports the communities where its customers and associates live and work as the company continues expanding in the Houston region. The rumors, however, have sparked a larger debate about the location. Therefore, we recommend that concerned citizens direct their letters and suggestions to Weingarten Realty as we are not involved in this development. Many thanks, Amy Shanler,
PR Director’”

So that would be one less obstacle in the way of the hoped-for outcome of an Alabama Drafthouse. (The Facebook group now has 3,420 members. Have you joined yet?) That makes this call to action from Sarah Gish somewhat out of date, but here is is anyway:

I am asking you to write Weingarten Realty Investors and Staples, Inc. to let them know that you care about the interior of the Alabama Theater. A brief note will do, but remember to be polite. Anger does not create long-term changes – it only incites short-term ones. Having “good manners” will give your letter a better chance of being read. And, in the end, I hope that both Staples and Weingarten will listen to us and will realize that we want to preserve the historic interior of the theater. Thank you for taking action if you can. You can write letters, send emails (feel free to forward this one), tell your friends, and spread the word.

Skip the Staples addresses she lists there, and you’re good to go.

Alabama Drafthouse Theater idea gains momentum

With the revelation that Weingarten has plans to demolish the interior of the former Alabama BookStop so that it may get turned into a Staples or something like it, more people are expressing the wish that something be done instead to preserve the old theater’s unique look. One obvious idea: Make it a theater again.

Whenever I’ve written about the historic theater and former Bookstop on Shepherd and West Alabama, readers always comment about how great it would be if Alamo Drafthouse took over the space.

Now there’s a Facebook page promoting the movement called “Put Alamo Drafthouse in Houston’s Alabama Street Theater!”

Well, I certainly agree with the idea, which as far as I can tell was first expressed by ‘stina last September. Nancy Sarnoff asked some real estate brokers who didn’t think this was a realistic idea, but until the Alamo Drafthouse CEO (whom Sarnoff has contacted for comment) says it’s a no go, I say keep the dream alive. By the way, as of this publication, there are 1,317 members of that Facebook group. Whether that means anything or not, that’s the question. Hair Balls has more.