Lord of the Idiots

The 2016 Presidential election has officially entered silly season. There are plenty of political issues on which, no matter how heated and recalcitrant my positions may be, I can understand that there are two realistic answers to the question. On others, however, the same simply cannot be said. Natural selection occurs, the world is more than 5000 years old and vaccines do not cause Autism. Just for good measure, the earth is also round and the sky is blue.

Unfortunately, two serious candidates for president from the Republican Party are having some serious problems accepting one of those axioms, specifically the one about vaccines. First, as The New York Times reports, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) defended parents who irresponsibly opt out of vaccinations such as measles for their children, saying that parents “need to have some measure of choice” in the matter. In doing so, he broke with President Barack Obama’s position, which is that all children should be vaccinated against preventable diseases.

Christie unsurprisingly received a barrage of criticism for his remarks, and despite attempts to walk back the remarks, the damage was done. But suddenly, a new contender has emerged: Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

In an interview with NBC News, Paul spoke frankly about his views on immigration. A reputed civil libertarian, Paul took exception with the alleged individual liberty violations inherent in mandatory inoculations. Most troubling, Paul lent his support to the deleterious hoax that vaccines can cause profound mental disorders such as autism.

“I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” he said in his CNBC interview.

This doesn’t happen. He would have been better off saying that a magical unicorn deposits gold ingots in his backyard; at least, that way, nobody would have their health put at risk because of his baldfaced lies. There was one study linking Autism and vaccines (specifically the MMR one). It was discredited, many times. The doctor in question had his license revoked, and eventually retracted the entirety of his findings. It has since come out that he just fabricated the whole thing.

Why Paul, a medical doctor, would support such preposterous dribble is beyond comprehension.

Mandatory vaccinations should be self-explanatory. Individuals with compromised immune systems or other serious ailments often cannot manage the stress of receiving a vaccination (which is minimal for those with functional immune systems), so they must rely on herd immunity. Those who can vaccinate but do not selfishly put those who cannot at risk. It is not just foolish, it is negligent and hurtful.

I never thought we would actually have to defend the validity of the measles vaccine in a presidential election. What century is this? Say what you want about Rick Perry, but his unequivocal and succinct response to all this silliness was absolutely spot-on. His partisan compatriots should learn a thing or two.

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Ferguson, Staten Island, Jasper

I don’t really know how to describe it other than an epidemic. In two high profile incidents, white Police Officers have shot and killed unarmed African-American men. In Ferguson, in the case of Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson, Brown was shot six times by Wilson after the two got into some type of altercation. Wilson claimed that he fired in self defense against the allegedly aggressive Brown, and he had to use lethal force since Brown was apparently “charging” at him. The majority of witnesses claim that Brown had his hands up, was not resisting or some variation thereof. As I explained earlier in The Daily Texan, I think the evidence was insufficient for a conviction, but the very low bar to an indictment should have easily been cleared.

Then, there is the case of Eric Garner in Staten Island. Approached by NYPD on suspicion of selling individual cigarettes, a rather low-level citation offense, Garner began arguing with officers. After repeatedly, calmly and peacefully attempting to argue with the officers, he was placed in a chokehold and tackled to the ground, where he was quite literally strangled to death. This, despite the fact that NYPD has prohibited chokeholds for about 20 years. The entire sickening incident was caught on video. Still, a grand jury this past evening no-billed Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who killed lynched Garner.

Additionally, as the Texas Observer fills us in on (c/o the Beaumont Enterprise), a grand jury in Jasper County has opted to no-bill a white Police Officer who brutally beat up an unarmed African-American woman on video at the police station. Thankfully, unlike the other two incidents, this woman — who was accused of petty shoplifting — survived the encounter. Jasper, of course, has its own terrifying history of racism.

All this is to say there is, in fact, an epidemic of police brutality in this country. The vast majority of Police Officers are honest, hardworking people who put their lives on the line for the safety of the community; but some harbor prejudicial tendencies and must be dealt with appropriately. For some time now, I have endorsed body cameras for officers. Generally speaking, they have been supported in a bipartisan manner.

President Barack Obama has requested about $263 Million from congress to dole out these devices — which record officers’ interactions with the general public — to local departments. Similarly, District Attorney-elect Susan Hawk in Dallas County, a Republican, has announced a plan to use surplus funds to equip Dallas PD and other departments with the devices.

KHOU has even reported, just a few hours ago, that Mayor Annise Parker plans on buying body cameras for local police with or without federal funds. I’m still a rather vehement supporter of this technology, as it minimizes he said/cop said situations. However, the Garner case still proves that a video is not enough to ensure justice is carried out. The good news, however, is that it removes the ambiguity and doubt that surrounds these cases. For example, in the Michael Brown case, I am not sure if Wilson was justified in his response or not, so I think there should have been a trial but — given the evidence known for certain — I don’t know if I would have voted for a conviction. In Garner’s case, however, there is almost no doubt in my mind that the Officer committed cold-blooded second degree murder.

However, in order to truly fix the problem, the grand jury system needs to be reformed. State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) has a long overdue idea in eliminating the venal key-man grand jury system, though it is worth noting that both the Ferguson and Staten Island no-billing occurred through random selection. I think the only way to solve this is to convert grand juries into far more temporary entities, operating on summons like petit juries, which may not be totally representative of the community but are still better than grand juries.

Additionally, I think states should change pertinent laws regarding the burden of proof for police officers accused of such crimes, clarifying that it is rather low. The reason we have such easy indictments in this country is that convictions are unusually hard — compared to the rest of the world — to achieve.

I realize these tweaks to state laws are quixotic, especially in Texas, but they appear to be the most effective way to resurrect some modicum of justice to our twisted world.

New 2016 tidbits

During the summer, I wrote up a fairly lengthy analysis of 2016 Presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican. Since that time, one Democrat — Jim Webb — has unofficially thrown his hat into the ring by forming an exploratory committee, a formality that always precedes an official announcement. Meanwhile, a Republican — Ben Carson — looks all but certain to make some type of official announcement in coming days. Neither, in my opinion, will make much of a difference, but it is fun to analyze them anyways.

First, as The Washington Post reports, former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) looks to be the first major contender. Webb is a ferociously moderate Democrat, the epitome of so-called “blue dog” values. A longtime military officer, his service culminated with him being the Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. He thereafter served one term in the Senate from Virginia, from 2007 to 2013. He declined to stand for re-election because, as he put it, he hated Washington and its dysfunction. Historically, he has also been a somewhat harsh critic of President Barack Obama, both deriding Obamacare and lambasting the president’s general use of executive power.

Now, I’m surely not the most obsequious fan of Obama, notwithstanding my recent adulation. I think, given his horrendous unpopularity, that the Democrats would not be all that misguided to look toward a candidate not afraid of criticizing ‘the anointed one,’ so to speak. I think former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the definitive Democratic (if not general election) frontrunner, is playing a somewhat safe middle ground by not complimenting or criticizing Obama too heavily. From a policy point of view, I don’t find anything wrong with Webb. He almost reminds me of a modern-day Jimmy Carter. But America, politically speaking, has gotten far dumber — and far less open minded –since the days of the the peanut farmer from Georgia. The media crowns winners years in advance now in the dichotomous, “four legs good, two legs bad” dystopia that we currently live in. Even though I would still venture to say that Clinton is the better candidate because of both policy and, especially, general election standing, her political future has been written years in advance as practically an inevitability.

Second, with Bloomberg Politics doing the honors, Ben Carson has all-but-officially-announced his intent to seek the Republican nomination for president. A brilliant surgeon, Carson’s intellectual prowess does not appear to extend to the political arena, where he bumbles from one conspiracy theory to the next. In addition to having no political experience whatsoever, Carson appears more than willing to cater to the lowest common denominator. I believe he recently suggested he would literally live in some type of socialist autocracy by 2016, if my memory serves me right. If he’s campaigning for a seat on a Fox News talk show, right on. But if he’s serious about the presidency, we should insist he move along.

Otherwise, there are plenty of the same Republican names flirting with the issues as there were in the summer. A few new names include Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who does not have much of a base to prop him up. Additionally, although he hasn’t made official comments one way or another, Governor John Kasich (R-OH) is starting to cause more of a buzz. A pragmatic Republican, he has developed a penchant for moderation, and has received a generous pour of positive press since his landslide re-election.

But perhaps the most significant point I wish to discuss tonight is what I feel is the growing momentum around the inevitable campaign of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). All other things being equal, I think he would win a Republican primary held today. Perhaps more importantly, I think he would also defeat Clinton in a general election.

Cruz is brilliant and articulate. Those with little exposure to him generally like what they see, and he would be sure to extend this mindset to the campaign trail. And while, nationally, his identification is generally negative, the vast majority of Americans do not know who he is. If, for example, I walked around West Campus in Austin, the setting of my apartment, and stopped the first 10 people I spotted, I doubt more than five would be aware of the existence of our state’s junior senator. This, at ostensibly the best pubic institution of higher learning in the state. Transport me to a state outside of Texas, and I’d postulate the number drops to three. For most Americans, including most who will vote in the 2016 election, their first exposure to Cruz will be after he would lock up the Republican nomination.

This is where what I call Cruz’s “Obama resemblance” becomes so important. Throughout the summer, I highlighted what I found to be a similarity. While many other pundits have made the Cruz-Obama connection, including my contemporary Erica Greider in Politico, these profiles have all focused on the duo’s lack of experience (less than one full term in the Senate). However, rather than experience, Cruz’s reminiscence to Obama is his cult-like popularity among his party’s base, and how it provides a uniquely strong transition from primary to general election mode for a presidential candidate.

Throughout the 2008 primaries, and even continuing into recent times, Obama has enjoyed almost a messianic popularity among the most diehard Democrats, the ones who vote in all the primaries. I lamented this fact in The Brandeis Justice last year. Similarly, Cruz looks like he is the holy one among Tea Party Republicans, the exact type who will hand him decisive victories in the Iowa Caucuses and South Carolina Primary, both of which will help propel him to victory in the Republican primaries. I have noted many times that Clinton’s weakness in 2008 was her record of centrism on many important issues. Democrats, fed up with perceived moderation in their party, flocked to the charismatic young guy who told them exactly what they wanted to hear; never mind that he was lying. Thus, Obama talked out of both sides of his mouth, appealing to his base with one breath and the general electorate with the other. Expect Cruz to do the same.

And Cruz, more than any Democrat could ever get away with it, sure does love to lie. Take, for example, is recent bout with the Net Neutrality issue. The gist of it is that internet service providers should — as they always have — treat all online data equally; that is, not intentionally slow down specific sites or applications (read: those who do not pay more).  The Oatmeal has a rather good illustration on all this. Cruz has ridiculously claimed that Obama wants to strictly regulate the internet, and even tax it, both of which are just baldfaced lies. But he keeps on lying anyway, and is rather good at it. Given the feckless, impotent nature of the media, people will eventually come to believe him and heed his words.

Democrats will largely be complacent with Clinton atop the ticket. More reassuring, demographics and tradition are on their side. But Cruz will, in what I have to think of as the more likely scenario, win by a squeaker.

Give us your tired, your poor

Statue_of_Liberty_-_New_York_Harbor_-_21_Sept._2012_-_(1)

The New York Times reports that President Barack Obama, impatient waiting for Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform, has gone out on his own to address the issue unilaterally in any way he can. By executive order, he will temporarily shield roughly four million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States through the use of prosecutorial discretion, a valid exercise of the executive branch’s constitutional authority. The criteria used will protect those immigrants who are the parents of American citizens, meaning that their child was born in this country, even if the parents entered the country illegally. Additionally, the Times prognosticates that about one million more such immigrants will  be saved by the elimination of the so-called “Secure Communities Program,” which mandates local law enforcement agencies must check immigration status of all those arrested and accused of crimes.

The secure communities program, in particular, has been a pet peeve of mine. When I worked at City Hall, I debated my colleagues on municipal television arguing against the validity of its predecessor, known only as 287-g. In a recent editorial for The Daily Texan, it was described as “Orwellian,” a “brazen violation of due process” and a continuation of the “criminalization of immigrants” as the editorial board opined for its abolition. Basically, this part of the proposal took me by surprise, in a good way. The Times notes, rather stuffed away in the middle of their writeup, that “Local police will no longer be asked routinely to detain immigrants without papers.” That is a rather huge point.

As for those with citizen children, the roughly four million undocumented immigrants protected under the crux of the plan, the mechanisms are rather simple. They must pay back taxes, pass a background check and register with the Federal Government, but after that time, they can “come out of the shadows,” as Obama put it. Complete with Social Security Cards and everything. However, without congressional approval, there is no way that these individuals may be on a pathway to citizenship.

Finally, the actions expand Obama’s previous mark on the immigration program, the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), first implemented in 2012, which allowed for individuals brought into this country illegally as children to similarly be shielded from deportation. Under the new standards, anyone brought over illegally before 2010, as opposed to 2007, may be covered. Additionally, there would be no requirement that applicants be below a certain age anymore.

As expected, these actions enraged the Republican Party, which has been quick to castigate Obama as some type of malevolent dictator. This, despite that, as an editorial from The New York Times put it, “Presidential precedent, the law and Supreme Court affirmation all favor Mr. Obama” in his fight against Republicans. Simply put, the Times is right, as a plethora of Presidents, including Ronald Reagan, were all too eager to use presidential decrees for similar purposes.

However, as the Texas Tribune reports, Governor-elect Greg Abbott, who until next January will also serve as Attorney General, has sued the Federal Government anyway over the matter. However, as the Tribune notes when interviewing constitutional scholars on the topic, Abbott’s suit is largely frivolous and — whether or not you like the politics behind it — Obama’s actions are well within his legal rights.

All in all, I am quite supportive of Obama’s actions. They are the right thing to do, they will have profound impacts on the day-to-day lives of millions and they represent an audacious action on the part of the president. That three-part cocktail has been nonexistent throughout Obama’s tenure, as he has largely opted instead of the safer options that don’t rile people up.

When Republicans assume control of the US Senate in January, the 114th Congress will — not doubt — redouble its efforts to block Obama’s actions. He repeatedly noted throughout his remarks that Congress should, in his words, “pass a bill.” They most definitely will, but it won’t be one that he likes. They will pass a bill that seeks to undo all his actions, in a unified way, ending Obama’s argument that he is acting alone because Congress is dysfunctional.

History shows us that Obama will capitulate and fold like a cheap card table when that happens, and will likely largely reverse his program in some desperate effort to reach a compromise with Republicans. Contrarily, I strongly urge that he would push back nonetheless. Opinion polls show the public divided over Obama’s specific actions, but when polled in the abstract about the ideas, they are overwhelmingly popular. When push comes to shove, so to speak, Obama needs to appeal directly to the American people. If he sticks to his guns and doesn’t waffle, they just might have his back.

This is a nation of immigrants, as Obama also repeatedly mentioned in his speech. Now, I have fairly radical libertarian views on immigration, which may or may not include the phrase “open borders,” but I recognize that most others do not share my sentiment. Simply put, a continued influx of people who are eager to assimilate would be a godsend to any other practically any other developed country in the world. The United States, much like Europe or east Asia, faces a precipitously dropping birth rate. We would be condemned to the demographic disaster these other regions are facing, if not for our ever-expansive pool of prospective immigrants. And because this nation ascribes to the melting pot ideal, E Pluribius Unum, immigrants’ children mostly become completely  assimilated members of society. This, in addition to the principle of birthright citizenship enshrined in the 14th Amendment (jus soli), sets us apart so much from the rest of the world, and it allows immigration to really be something with few drawbacks.

No families nefariously scheme about crossing the desert and sneaking past border guards because they don’t want to pay taxes. It’s because our legal immigration system is broken, something individuals on both sides of the aisle will freely stipulate. If you want to be Americans, and you have the means to provide for yourself once you enter, this country should welcome you with open arms.

As the statue of liberty says on its plaque, an homage to the poet Emma Lazarus, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

What I’m looking for tomorrow

For the most part, Texpatriate endorsed Democrats this election cycle. An absolutely contemptible slate of statewide non-judicial Republicans, along with Harris County courts that are — all too often — corrupted or being run inefficiently, led us to disproportionately back the Democratic challengers. In editorial squabbles, especially compared to last year, I found myself seldom in the minority. In fact, only in one contest, the Land Commissioner election, did I dissent from the endorsement. If you still haven’t voted yet, please do so, whoever you will support.

If you have ever read something on this publication before, you are likely familiar with my skepticism as to Battleground Texas’ short-term feasibility, as well as the statewide Democratic slate. I’m not holding my breath for any statewide Democrats to win, but I’ve never insisted that their victory should be the number one priority. Since mid-2013, I have been writing that even a loss could be a win for Texas Democrats, and the rationale rests upon three main items.

First, State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, and the rest of the ticket need to move the needle. Bill White, the Democrats’ 2010 gubernatorial nominee, garnered 42% of the vote. Davis needs to do better in order for the pipedream of Texas turning blue to be taken seriously. She doesn’t need to do much better. After all, 2014 is shaping up to be a bad year for Democrats nationwide. But she needs to do better.

Second, the rest of the Democratic slate needs to do better. White significantly outperformed his compatriots because, as a popular former Mayor of Houston, he received many crossover votes, but also his running mates were lousy candidates. With downballot choices this time around such as State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and Mike Collier, the bombastic and stellar Comptroller candidate, the same simply cannot be said again in 2014. Oh yeah, and the Democratic candidate for Attorney General is named SAM HOUSTON! In all seriousness, he is a talented lawyer and a good candidate, but his rockstar name will ensure he probably does better than any other Democrat. The Democrats running statewide in 2010 not named Bill White received anywhere from 34-37%. That number’s median needs to be raised to at least 40%, in my opinion. That is comparable to how statewide Democratic candidates not named Barack Obama did in 2012.

Third, and most importantly, Davis needs to lend her coattails to Democratic pickups in Bexar (San Antonio), Harris and Nueces (Corpus Christi) counties. She also needs to have a strong enough performance in Dallas County to ensure the countywide elected Democrats politically survive there. I’ve seen no evidence that Nueces County is in play, but the other counties (including Dallas) look to be tossups. This is perhaps the most important.

If Democrats pick up anything in either Bexar or Harris Counties, it will largely justify some progress and otherwise good news for Democrats. This could be as simple as merely winning the DA’s office in Harris County. If they, by some lucky maneuver, can win all the way down the ticket in either county, it would be a truly cause for celebration. But going Zero for whatever once again in both counties would, similarly, cause alarm bells to ring. Losing in Dallas County would cause hell to break loose.

I have opined before that, if the Democrats do really, really poorly, as in less than 40% of the statewide vote, Battleground Texas will pack up and go home. Talk of “turning Texas blue” will be a one-time debacle only uttered in Washington DC bars, with the same lamentations as soft drink executives recalling New Coke. For the record, I don’t think that will occur, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility.

That is why it is so important to vote. Statewide races will almost certainly not be decided by close margins, but in Harris County they certainly could. Judge Kyle Carter, a Democrat in the 125th District Court, got re-elected by fewer than 2000 votes last time. Mike Sullivan, a Republican, was elected Tax Assessor by a similar margin. On first count, President Barack Obama carried the county by TWO votes. TWO votes. That’s you and one friend.

 

Abbott’s strange doublespeak

Yesterday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, released a new 30-second commercial on border security. Ordinarily, this would not be much for news, but a tidbit within the ad caught my attention. Overall, the ad is a garden variety conservative attack on President Barack Obama for apparently not doing enough to manage immigration into this country, while bemoaning the supposed influx of Mexican cartels into this country. I don’t want to really get into the weeds of all that, because it is a very different issues that drew ire from me.

Around the 12-second mark, the ad claims that Abbott would double the budget of the Department of Public Safety. This doesn’t sound that unreasonable, especially considering most of the DPS’ functions involve things like highway patrol and motor vehicle bureaus. The only problem is that the DPS is largely funded out of the State Highway Fund. Since the DPS obviously is different from a highway, the moneys it receives from the fund are considered diversions. And Abbott, in a commercial last month, pledged the end diversions from the fund.

All this begs the question of how Abbott would pay for his projects. Obviously, he — like everyone else in the Republican Party — is pathologically opposed to raising taxes. And yet, drastically expanding money for transportation, public safety and the border, he is proposing a fairly significantly upping of the state’s expenditures. And yet, with no plan to pay for it. I suppose that Abbott could just slash a little more from schools, but at this point he’s writing cheques the State just cannot cash.

Abbott wants to have his cake and eat it too. Sadly, I have not found anyone else around the state that has honed in an this strange doublespeak. The state media has completely abdicated its responsibility to call out bad candidate plans. State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, rightly received immense derision for her outlandish education plan, which likewise lacked a sensible pricetag. It’s only fair that Abbott should be subjected the same.

On another note, I find it strange that Abbott would be wading into this divisive of an issue, especially without attacking Davis by name. The jab at Obama appeared a little misplaced, especially considering his last Obama-centric ad went well out of its way to connect Davis to him.

Don’t vote straight ticket, don’t be stupid

Even though more than half of early voting has already gone by, newspapers are still fielding endorsements for statewide elections. Most of the big newspapers supported State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, Corpus Christi Caller-Times and the El Paso Times. The major exceptions, those who supported Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, were the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News, as well as a plethora of small-town papers.

For some of the downballot contests, no such diversity existed. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal was the only paper, of any size, I could find that supported State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor. And I found not a single paper that supported either State Senators Ken Paxton (R-Collin County) or Glenn Hegar (R-Harris County), the Republican nominees for Attorney General and Comptroller, respectively. Not one.

Needless to say, there aren’t any good reasons to vote for these men. I suppose, if you truly believe in conservative principles, there is a legitimate point to be made in not wanting to support the Democrats, but it is just inexcusable to support these stains upon the GOP ticket. Patrick is a demagogue in the style of Huey Long, though he is considerably less intelligent and less opaque in his nefarious intentions. Paxton is a lousy attorney and likely could be convicted of a felony in the coming months. Hegar openly admits he has no idea what he would do in office as the State’s top financial watchdog.

Not to appear too eager in criticizing the Republicans, Democrats have an exceedingly terrible candidate on their statewide slate too. Actually, many of my compatriots tend to think that David Alameel, the nominee for the Senate, fits that description, but I’m talking about Jim Hogan, the Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner.

I’ve opined previously on my myriad objections with Hogan — he’s a no-name, no-campaigning political novice who is smug in his complacency and total ignorance of state issues. He has some experience as a farmer, which is great, but he knows nothing of school lunch programs, regulating gas pumps or the multitude of other issues that the commissioner must oversee. Here’s the entire article back from July about why I would never vote for Hogan.

Not a single organization I am aware of has endorsed Hogan. All the newspapers or other non-partisan organizations have supported former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican, while even the big Democrat groups have suggested undervoting. A few other blogs, namely Brains & Eggs, Jobsanger and Socratic Gadfly, have supported Kenneth Kendrick, the Green nominee, as did this publication.

If you are an otherwise reliable Democratic voter, I have previously made the argument in the past that Kendrick is the only reasonable choice. Unlike many within the Green Party, his political views aren’t to the left of Marx; rather, they are somewhere around the median of what I figure a Texas Democrat would be. But still, some Democrats loathe supporting the Green Party out of principle. For those of you who fit that description, just undervote, but please do not vote for the Democrat.

Unfortunately, my words will fall on deaf ears for most. Admittedly, the absurdly long ballot makes intelligent voting rather difficult. But at least for the statewide races, don’t be afraid to split your ticket. Texas elected some mix of statewide Democrats and Republicans for about 30 years between the 1960s and 1990s. The 1998 and 2002 elections, even though they were GOP sweeps, featured a serious range in how close the challengers got.

In 1998, for example, some Republicans won by 31 points while others won by only 2. In 2002, the range was anywhere from 32 point victory margins to 5 point ones. Fastforwarding to 2010, the range shrunk to only a few points between the high water mark and the low one. The direct cause is straight ticket voting, but the indirect cause is that Texans have gotten less politically astute in the preceding two decades.

At the beginning of this century, people all over the state could subscribe to any number of newspapers. Those in the rural areas had the ability to do so, and those in the suburbs had the will-power to do so. But then the newspapers cut back causing talk radio and Fox News to fill the void. More importantly, Barack Obama, the most divisive President in recent history, came to power and caused a fierce nativist backlash, fueled by racial animosity, known as the Tea Party. Democrats fired back in kind, and solidified themselves into their own camp as well.

Now, most Texans just get their news from the monitors at gas stations and Instagram. We think of ourselves as belonging to a political party in the same respect as rooting for a football team, and that is the extent of the rational discussion of the issues, if one is even among the 29% of Texans who aren’t too lazy to vote.

Newspapers, blogs, NPR and a couple of other serious sources promote serious debates on the policies, but this is drowned out in the cacophony of partisan chest-bumping. Think of the scenes from Animal Farm when Snowball and the other well-intentioned pigs attempt to make serious policy decisions, but are drowned out by the sheep bleating “FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD.” That is basically what straight ticket voting does. Don’t be a sheep, don’t be dumb. Actually scrutinize your ballot.