Premium Cartoon News Jason Stanford is Democratic political consultant living in Texas. He’s the co-author of “Adios, Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush” and blogs at Twitter: @jasstanford. He can be reached at Sat, 19 Apr 2014 14:03:17 +0000 hourly 1 Blood Moon Ushers in the Stupid Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:10:28 +0000 Jason Stanford The Blood Moon on Monday night might have brought on the apocalypse, because a rash of stupidity in politics seems to have infected this great land of ours. When you have one major political party winning the argument against evolution, brainless is the new black. But if Republicans define dumb down any more, soon they’ll have to apply for drilling rights.

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Joe Heller /

How low can they go? Mike Huckabee (R-Fox News) turned a legitimate gripe about airport security into this bon mot: “My gosh, I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea sometimes than there is in the United States.”

Well, sure. The similarities are obvious. For example, political dissidents in North Korea are sentenced to three generations in a prison camp, meaning their families, their children’s families, and their grandchildren have to live out their lives in prison as punishment. Huckabee makes a good living enjoying his First Amendment rights on TV and is the 2016 Republican frontrunner for president. The similarities are inescapable, kind of like North Korea.

Lately, it’s been hard to get Republicans to admit that racism exists these days. Now it’s hard to get them to admit it existed in the past. At a town hall, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-And a bottle of rum) told a black constituent that ending segregation was unconstitutional. On a Christian radio show, Jim DeMint, the ex-senator who now heads the Heritage Foundation, claimed that government played no role in ending slavery. It was “the conscience of the American people” and not, for example, the Union Army that won the war.

The stupid, it burns, and the rash is spreading. The minimum wage last rose in 2009 to $7.25 an hour. Congress isn’t going to do anything, so Oklahoma stepped in, and Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill banning minimum wage increases. Supporters of the law said that raising the minimum wage could hurt economic development. Opponents of the law pointed out that this was Oklahoma and asked, “What economic development?”

If you look at the words conservatives use to describe the “War on Women,” it’s clear someone bought a new thesaurus at the He-Man Woman Haters Club: deceptive, fraudulent, phony, blather. Except there’s always another story about goofy Republicans who thought new ways to punish women for having lady parts.

In Missouri, a lawmaker is demanding that women seeking abortions undergo invasive ultrasound procedures to give them the shocking news of their pregnancies. But to State Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger (R-you kidding me), this is really very simple. Getting an abortion is like buying a car.

“I have to look at it, get information about it, maybe drive it, you know, a lot of different things. Check prices,” he said. “There’s lots of things that I do putting into a decision. Whether that’s a car, whether that’s a house, whether that’s any major decision that I put in my life. Even carpeting.”

Actually, he’s not far off. People hate getting lied to at a high-pressure used car dealership, which is remarkably similar to what goes on at a crisis pregnancy center.

But that’s nothing compared to what they’ve got going on in South Carolina, where a legislative committee expanded the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law to allow women to shoot people to defend “unborn children.” It seemed to have occurred to no one that a woman’s self-defense might have been sufficient cause for deadly force. Kudos to South Carolina for hitting the trifecta: guns, abortion, and race.

Some Christians see the Blood Moon as a sign of End Times. “There’s a sense in the world that things are changing and God is trying to communicate with us in a supernatural way,” said Texas pastor John Hagee, whose sermon series “Blood Moon Prophesies” predicted a “world-shaking event” in the Middle East between now and October 2015.

Turns out, a Blood Moon is just a lunar eclipse in which the Earth is between the Sun and the Moon. They happen frequently. The next one is in October. The Blood Moon isn’t End Times. Unfortunately, neither is the Republican Party. It looks like we’re stuck with each other.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

If Education is a Civil Right Who are the Good Guys? Mon, 14 Apr 2014 07:05:56 +0000 Jason Stanford At the Civil Rights Summit celebrating the Civil Rights Act’s 50th birthday, everyone agreed that equal opportunity to education was a civil right. If that’s true, then who are today’s Freedom Riders and who is standing in the schoolhouse door? Education reformers see themselves as modern-day civil rights heroes, but the real continuation of non-violent protest can be found in the parents and students in the grassroots opt out movement that is refusing to take standardized tests.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

In this fight, the power is almost all on the side of those who assume you can make a pig heavier by weighing it a lot, to put it in terms LBJ would have liked. And without any sense of shame or embarrassment, those who created this testing culture see themselves as his descendants.

“On the issue of education, we’re dealing with the meaning of America, and the extent of its promise, and in this cause the passion and energy of Lyndon Baines Johnson still guides us forward,” said George W. Bush in his speech at the LBJ Presidential Library.

Bush started it with No Child Left Behind, but Barack Obama’s Race to the Top is no better. Education Sec. Arne Duncan called Common Core “the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education.”

One of the problems with this policy discussion is that the pro-testing crowd can’t understand how anyone could be against using tests to measure learning.

“It’s hard to imagine anything so basic could be so controversial,” said Bush. “I fear that the soft bigotry of low expectations is returning, and for the sake of America’s children, that is something we cannot allow.”

Public education advocates don’t oppose high-stakes testing because they want to go back to the way things were in the ’70s. They’re against over-testing because it’s not working. Under No Child Left Behind, our students have lost ground to the rest of the world.

Even Sandy Kress, the architect of No Child Left Behind who now lobbies for Pearson, thinks there’s a problem.

“You’ve got drilling and benchmark testing every six weeks,” Kress said. “Clearly, there’s a lot of overtesting in a lot of places. It’s just awful, and it draws really negative reactions from parents, teachers and communities. Tests weren’t intended to be treated that way.”

But the answer from the pro-testing crowd is always “standardized testing now, standardized testing tomorrow, standardized testing forever.” To folks like Bush, Duncan, and Kress, there is nothing wrong with testing that cannot be solved with “better and more rigorous standardized tests.” The problem with testing is never the tests.

That’s why a surprising number of parents and students have chosen non-violent resistance as a last resort. If you want to find the people integrating lunch counters these days, check out the folks refusing to take the tests, or “opting out” as a form of protest.

Opting out is in. In New York State, at least 33,000 students skipped the Common Core tests in protest. In Seattle, 600 high school students opted out a year after their teachers refused to administer en masse. Some schools in California have seen nearly 90% of students opt out.

No one should compare students opting out of standardized tests to students risking their lives on the Freedom Rides, but it’s definitely non-violent protest. Parents who decide to opt their children out face pressure and threats from school administrators. Some schools forbid students who opted out from reading during the tests, forcing them to sit silently and stare at walls for four hours.

A Denver high school kept a student from returning to class after skipping the morning tests. In Utah, a teacher was fired for letting students know they had the right to opt out. In New York, a 13-year-old was suspended for telling her classmates the same thing.

The opt out movement is part of the Education Spring revolt taking place nationwide against the testing culture. In another 50 years, we might hold another summit to honor this new civil rights movement. But if that happens, the heroes we celebrate then probably won’t be the ones who are creating the problem now.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Why are Republicans Playing the Victim on Civil Rights? Thu, 10 Apr 2014 07:15:09 +0000 Jason Stanford Republicans used to be the bullies, but now they can’t stop whining about how everyone’s picking on them. They’ve volunteered for the losing side on every single civil rights fight facing America and seem happy to whine about their woeful circumstances. When did the Republicans decide playing the victim was a good idea?

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News

This week three ex-presidents are joining Barack Obama in Austin at the LBJ presidential library to mark the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Beyond focusing on the struggle for racial equality, the Civil Rights Summit featured panels on immigration, gay rights, social justice, and feminism. On all of these issues, Republicans find themselves cast as the bad guys in the ongoing American struggle to form a more perfect union.

“How could they not?” asked former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who spoke in favor of immigration reform at the Civil Rights Summit. “The media’s already said, decided and said, if this [immigration reform] doesn’t pass it’ll be the Republicans’ fault. Most Republicans would not take that point of view, but they think, well, the media wants to blame it on us. What’s new?”

Being on the wrong side of history has created a strange sense of aggrieved victimhood among Republican candidates and rank-and-file voters. The Republican platform has become a symphony of dog whistles, but Republicans think the real problem is the angry snarling of the attack dogs. In his much-discussed New York Magazine cover story, Jonathan Chait wrote, “This is the only context in which they [Republicans] appear able to understand racism.”

Republicans’ vision is so clouded that they can only identify their heroes after they’ve been martyred. Conservatives didn’t make Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson their poster boy until A&E suspended his show when he made anti-gay remarks in GQ. Republican politicians didn’t bring bags of Chick-fil-A to photo ops until until liberals boycotted the restaurant, again over anti-gay remarks.

Not long ago, conservatives were not just offensive but on the offensive. In 1988, Lee Atwater’s Willie Horton’s ad was less a dog whistle than an air raid siren warning white voters that Michael Dukakis was letting black rapists out of prison. In 2004, 11 states passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. And as recently as 2011, Alabama passed the toughest anti-immigration bill in the country, cracking down on unauthorized immigrants in schools, the workplace, and in rental housing.

But now conservatives are playing defense. It took years to turn the tide for blacks, women, and Hispanics, but attitudes about gays and lesbians flipped in an instant. In 2010, Congress repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. A year ago June, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, and now same-sex couples can get married in 17 states. America got religion on gay rights in a hurry, making it unique among the civil rights struggles.

“One of the things that is different is how fast we have moved and how far we have moved so quickly,” said marriage equality attorney David Boies at the Civil Rights Summit, who noted it took a decade after Brown v. Board of Education to pass the Civil Rights Act.

Atwater apologized on his deathbed in 1991 for using racial prejudice to inflame voters, but present-day conservatives make a virtue of finding themselves on the wrong side of history. They flaunt their victimhood to rally their troops to yet another lost cause. These conservatives would sooner cast themselves as heroic victims than apologize for resorting to bigotry.

Republicans believe so deeply in their own victimhood that the world only makes sense in the reflection of a fun house mirror. When Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed anti-gay legislation, Rush Limbaugh said she was “being bullied by the homosexual lobby in Arizona and elsewhere.” When you’re afraid of gay bullies, you’ve already lost.

When LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, he said that the South was lost to Republicans. The Democrats may have lost the South, but by seeing themselves as the victims of every single civil rights battle the country—and not the last defense of discrimination—the Republican Party has lost its mind. But even bullies need a hug every now and then.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Teaching Writing Wrong Mon, 07 Apr 2014 07:05:20 +0000 Jason Stanford If you have a seventh grader, then you know that he or she just got done taking a standardized test for writing. The good news is our country’s education policy recognizes writing is a necessary skill in the information era. The bad news is because of the way we administer and grade the writing standardized tests, we’d have a better idea of whether our kids can write if we looked at their texts.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune

The problem is not that we expect our children to learn to write essays. The problem is that we expect these essays to come in a standard format that lends itself to mass-scale scoring and apples-to-apples comparisons. So to really make sure our children never learn to write well, Pearson—the world’s largest testing company—looked to the one place no one would look to for clear, helpful writing—the legal profession.

In Texas and in the 17 states in which Pearson designed the Common Core tests, students took a writing test on a page filled almost entirely by a rectangular box filled with 26 lines. At the bottom of the page was the warning, “Students may not write outside the box.” You might think 26 lines is an arbitrary limit to place on a student’s thoughts until you realize that each page of a legal pleading is also 26 lines.

These are not the five-paragraph essays we learned with the introduction, three supporting points, and conclusion. Our children—mine included—are being taught that good writing is filling in the box and using all 26 lines.

My seventh-grader took the writing test this week and had to write three essays. One of his prompts was “What are the benefits of laughter?” When he told me what he wrote, he said that he organized his points like a real essay, but he didn’t indent the paragraphs because his teacher told him not to. His essay was a solid block of words.

The problem wasn’t the teacher. Besides being handsome and funny, my seventh-grader is in an honors program. The fault lies with the graders Pearson hires to evaluate the millions of essays written by 13-year-olds every year. You would like to think that for the hundreds of millions of tax dollars we pay them every year that Pearson would hire retired teachers, laid-off journalists, or starving graduate students. You would probably also like to believe in the Easter Bunny.

Todd Farley knows better. He wrote a funny insider memoir called “Making the Grades:  My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry.” Because states needed millions of essays graded on unrealistic deadlines, corners were cut. They hired graders off Craig’s List. They hired raging drunks, burnouts, and folks who spoke English—badly—as a second language.

In the blur to meet deadlines, essays that used all 26 lines got the better scores, and teachers learned to game the system. When state officials learned what was happening, they passed regulations to ensure that trained professionals had sufficient time to fairly evaluate student essays. And then the Chicago Cubs won the Super Bowl and the Republican Party demanded Obama’s face be carved into Mount Rushmore.

What actually happened is that Pearson, which remains largely unregulated despite effectively running education in our country, programmed machines to grade essays. They promise this will be even cheaper than hiring human morons, and we’ll get the results more quickly.

In 2012, an MIT professor found that an electronic grader designed by the Education Testing Service is just another video game with hidden cheats. Longer essays with bigger words got better grades than succinct, well-argued essays. Worse yet, the computers could not discern truth and assumed any fact was correct. Your child could fill up 26 lines about Obama’s Kenyan birthplace and get a good score. We’re training children to write like lawyers for Fox News.

One of the benefits of laughter is that it helps you accept what the testing industry is doing to our education system, but the joke’s on us. We want to make our children “college and career ready,” but all they’re learning to do is game the system. Great. More lawyers.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Texas Republican Getting Education Policy From a White Supremacist? Thu, 03 Apr 2014 12:02:32 +0000 Jason Stanford After unsuccessfully mansplaining equal pay for three weeks, Greg Abbott, the Republican frontrunner for Texas governor, finally changed the subject by citing the work of conservative libertarian scholar Charles Murray, a “white nationalist” who opposes universal pre-K. “Oops” doesn’t quite cut it, but this is more than a simple gaffe. Using Murray’s research could lead Republicans toward education policies that rely more upon eugenics than on equality.

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Bill Day / Cagle Cartoons

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Murray a “white nationalist” who uses ” racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.” The difference between Murray and a cross-burning white supremacist is that his sheets have a higher thread count, and Abbott is not alone in using Murray’s discredited research. Paul Ryan cited Murray when he blamed poverty on lazy black men.

When top Republicans cite someone whose research “proves” white men are intellectually superior to women and minorities, it is probably because they agree with his conclusions. As in 2012 when Republicans kept parsing rape, citing Murray reveals an emerging conservative belief that not everyone can be educated.

This would reverse a generation of egalitarian Republican policy started by George W. Bush, who said he wanted “high standards for all our children and all our schools.” Leaving aside their miserly opposition to equitable and sufficient education funding, Republicans have tried since the 1990s to prove that they could “fix” schools that predominantly taught black and Hispanic students.

The problem is that they tried to use standardized tests to achieve this, which makes as much sense as trying to grow by measuring yourself against a wall. Hold everyone to the same standards, and they will magically achieve them, closing the achievement gap. This is proof by assertion, a “build it and they will come” trope.

We built it, but they didn’t come. Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig and Jennifer Jellison Holme at the University of Texas at Austin discovered that three factors predict—with alarming accuracy—test results and therefore school ratings: the child’s race, ethnicity and class. In fact, Dr. Vasquez found that Texas had become more segregated than before we set out to close the racial achievement gap, especially when you considered the growing population of Texans who spoke Spanish as a first language.

From this we might conclude—as many Republicans seem ready to—that certain people just aren’t “college material.” This new breed of Charles Murray-citing Republicans apparently believes that the truth is self-evident and that we are not created equal. In the face of overwhelming patterns in test scores, a belief that sufficient instruction and support can lift any mind into the light seems hopelessly naive. We’ve tried that, they will argue, and we’ve failed.

Liberals argue that we have to address inequality, and while I agree with that, we also have to question whether we are measuring progress with the right yardstick. Maybe standardized tests that consistently demonstrate higher achievement for wealthy whites than poorer minorities prove not a disparity in innate ability but in unequal opportunity. This is exactly why we need universal pre-K, not to mention expanded access to summer school opportunities and better prenatal care. Now is the time to put out more ladders, not pull up the few we have.

And we need to stop substituting accountability for equity. As a Texas Democrat, you won’t catch me saying this often: George W. Bush was right. We need to hold everyone to the same high standards regardless of their skin color, zip code or tax bracket. There is nothing Americans cannot do if given the resources and opportunity. But we cannot measure our progress with tests that don’t tell us anything we can’t learn from the census.

The danger of justifying petty public policies by referencing the work of a racist is that taxpayers might give up on forming a more perfect union. The entrenched racial achievement gaps are not cause to forfeit this fight. The war is just, but that doesn’t mean we are fighting it the right way.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.This column has been edited by the author.

Lobbyists Always Find a Way Mon, 31 Mar 2014 07:05:12 +0000 Jason Stanford It’s funny how loopholes are always just big enough to accommodate a lobbyist. In Texas, the legislature recently banned lobbyists for testing companies from serving on education accountability advisory boards, but Bill Hammond, a lobbyist representing Pearson’s interests, is serving on an accountability panel. It may sadden you to know that Texas is messing with ethics, but fear not: It appears no one is listening to Hammond anyway.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune

The high-stakes testing mania started in Texas, led by Sandy Kress, a business-friendly Democratic lawyer, linked test scores to accountability. Kress became George W. Bush’s testing guru in Austin and then in Washington before becoming a lobbyist for Pearson.

But back in Austin, lawmakers treated Kress like a regular citizen who happened to know something about education. Rick Perry appointed him to state boards on which Kress advocated for more testing, higher stakes, and tougher penalties. When he offered expert testimony, he rarely identified himself as a testing company lobbyist, instead citing his role on the state advisory panels.

When the backlash against over-testing came in 2013, the lawmakers turned on Kress, the guy who got them into this mess. In the law rolling back testing requirements, the legislature included a ban on testing lobbyists from serving on advisory boards. Kress could only turn to one place for support: Bill Hammond, a politically influential lobbyist and president of the Texas Association of Business.

Pearson was a member of the Texas Association of Business, but Hammond really seemed to be relishing the fight. When a group of mothers angry about over-testing organized and started bending ears and twisting arms at the capitol, Hammond accused school administrators of going “about scaring mom.” He might as well have patted them on their heads and told them to get back in their kitchens.

To complaints that the rigorous exams were preventing almost a quarter of the Class of 2015 from graduating, Hammond hired a plane to circle the capitol pulling a banner that read, “Is 37 percent correct on Algebra too hard?”

Somehow, belittling Texas moms and mocking their children did not work. The legislature passed testing relief, so it struck some as a little strange last year when the Texas Education Commissioner put Hammond on the Accountability Policy Advisory Committee. Hammond, after all, was a lobbyist who indirectly represented Pearson and was certainly not shy about speaking up for their interests.

“It does violate what the legislature intended when it didn’t want industry people running the show,” said Craig McDonald of Texas for Public Justice, an ethics watchdog group.

The good news is that Hammond seems peeved about what the APAC recommended recently. According to H.D. Chambers, an APAC member and a superintendent of a suburban Houston school district, Hammond argued that 15 percent of Texas schools should be labeled as failing.

“I want parents and taxpayers to have the truth, so that they can know the true condition of our schools,” said Hammond. “They should be able to make decisions based on facts, not politics.”

But Hammond’s 15 percent failure rate would be the third level of politics imposed on the accountability rating. For a school to avoid failure, an arbitrary number of students (55 percent in this case) would have to pass the test, passing being set at another arbitrary number, such as the 37 percent Hammond thought was too easy.

All this makes some question what Hammond is doing on the advisory board at all, including McDonald, who wants the legislature to “tighten the language” in the ban on testing lobbyists to include Hammond. “The literal definition of being a registered lobbyist is not a good enough firewall in this instance,” he said.

“I would like for the legislature to ensure that no outside influence related to the testing industry has any impact on accountability policy in the state of Texas,” said Chambers.

In the end, Hammond is more successful at getting on the accountability committee than is he in getting his way. Hammond wants a guarantee that an arbitrary percentage of Texas schools will be labeled as failures, but so far the only one who has failed is Bill Hammond. Almost makes you feel sorry for the guy.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Don’t Look Now, but ‘Education Spring’ is Arriving Mon, 24 Mar 2014 14:56:53 +0000 Jason Stanford “Education Spring”—the rise of public education advocates against the business-backed privatization movement—is spreading across the country and has finally reached Washington. But if you’re wondering why standardized testing is causing such a stink these days (after all didn’t we manage OK with the SAT, ACT and other tests?) all you have to do is go back to where this all started in Texas. Providing cautionary tales to the rest of the country is a public service we provide here. You’re welcome.

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Here’s the rub: No Child Left Behind, an outdated law begging for replacement, requires every eighth grader to pass a standardized test in math. Texas also requires students taking Algebra I to pass a state standardized test, and many children take Algebra I in the eighth grade, which means many Texas eighth graders have to pass two math tests, only one of which actually counts. The other is just to satisfy NCLB, which was based on an earlier Texas law in the first place.

The state education agency asked the federal education agency for permission not to double-test eighth graders. Texas is where high-stakes testing was born, so when Texas is asking for relief you know things have gotten a little out of hand. But this month Sec. Arne Duncan denied the request, which means next month hundreds of thousands of Texas 14-year-olds will learn an important lesson, but not one about math.

Giving one child two tests in the same subject to satisfy a federal law that never worked and no one wants anymore is a bi-partisan failure. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama are fundamentally wrong that we can use standardized tests as a measuring stick to make our children, in effect, taller. The only thing we accomplish by double-testing eighth graders is revealing not just that the emperor has no clothes but he’s sleeping off a bender in a dumpster.

Everywhere you look Education Spring is breaking out. The anti-test rebellion that started in Texas two years ago has spread to other states. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 179 bills dealing with K-12 testing have been introduced. A bipartisan bill in the Virginia Assembly backed by teachers unions and the new governor, would cut the number of tests from 34 to 26. New York has capped how much time schools devote to testing while Missouri reduced it.

And in California, state officials won a standoff with Sec. Duncan over their insistence that it made no sense to collect data that compared the apples of an old test to the oranges of a new test.

March was a big month for the pushback against high-stakes testing as it finally breached the walls of congress. On Mar. 6, Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced a bill to move from annual testing to “grade-span” testing, or testing once every few years. This would save millions of dollars, reduce testing abuse, and free classrooms to innovate new ways to educate children. Obviously, it has no chance of passing.

Another Arizona Democrat—Rep. Raúl Grijalva—became the first to support the Network for Public Education’s call for congressional hearings into the “misuse and abuse of standardized tests.” Since the federal education budget rivals what we spend on defense, it might be nice to examine what we’re getting for all our tax dollars.

But none of that is what is grabbing the national headlines with it comes to education. That honor goes to Hillary Clinton, who just announced she will attend a higher education conference early this week with ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sec. Duncan at the George W. Bush presidential library. The public education advocates opposing test-based reforms are going to need a lot more firepower to convince Hillary she’s hanging out with the wrong crowd.

Even so, few expected the mutiny against high-stakes testing to get this far. But if angry parents can convince Texas legislators to offer testing relief where they previously only preached the empty gospel of rigor, then anything is possible. It’s been a long, cold winter, and at long last Education Spring might be arriving.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Equal Pay and Awkward Pauses Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:03:48 +0000 Jason Stanford The best thing Texas Republicans can say about this week is that no one has told a rape joke yet. More than a week has passed since Attorney General Greg Abbott refused to say whether he would sign an equal pay law as governor, and the issue won’t die no matter how many female apologists he trots in front of cameras. Can you believe it? Texas women apparently want to be paid the same as men for the same work. There’s just no making some women happy.

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Kap / Cagle Cartoons

This all started a couple Sundays ago when Abbott said that Texas did not need an equal pay law because the federal Lilly Ledbetter rendered that moot. This was despite the fact that as attorney general he defended a state university against a professor who claimed pay discrimination, demonstrating exactly why states need their own equal pay laws.

With Abbott unwilling to directly answer a straightforward question, the controversy has dragged on long enough to draw comparisons to Clayton Williams, Ann Richards’ opponent in 1990 who was something of a Republican pioneer in rape jokes when he compared it to bad weather. “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it,” said Williams.Abbott has chosen a different tactic, though it’s not working any better. First, Sales Christman of Red State Women went on the same local Sunday-morning show on which Abbott made his non-responsive response about equal pay. Presumably, Christman’s role was to show that conservative women support Abbott for his lack of support, which is kind of like when Republicans get a black surrogate to go on TV and explain why Paul Ryan isn’t a racist just because he quotes racists to insult the “urban” poor.

All Christman succeeded in doing was proving that conservative women can screw things up just as much as the conservative male politicians they defend.

This is verbatim, folks, down to the awkward pauses:

“Well, if you look at it, women are…are…extremely busy. We lead busy lives whether working professionally, whether we’re working from home…and…and…and…times are…are extremely…extremely busy.  It’s just a busy cycle for women and we’ve got a lot to juggle and so when we look at this issue we think: what’s practical? And…we want more access to jobs.  We want…we want to be able to go to…get a higher education degree at the same time that we’re working or raising a family,” she said. ”That’s commonsense and we believe that that real world solution is a more practical way to approach the problem.”

Obviously, what “extremely busy” women want is access to jobs but not necessarily jobs where they would get equal pay on account of how busy they are.

Somehow, this failed to quell the uprising. Into the breach leapt Beth Cubriel, the executive director of the Republican Party of Texas who went on television to set this matter to rest.

“Men are better negotiators,” said Cubriel. ”I would encourage women instead of pursuing the courts for action to become better negotiators.”

According to state campaign finance reports, Cubriel makes more than $4,000 a year less than her predecessor at the Republican Party of Texas who was, you guessed it, a dude. But it’s her fault she isn’t paid as much as a man. Maybe she would have realized this sooner if she weren’t so “extremely busy.”

And while it’s true that you get what you ask for, sometimes you have to ask for it in a courtroom. That’s what the Founding Fathers said, and these days it even applies to women.

The question remains in front of Abbott, and it’s nothing like bad weather. It won’t blow over, and he can’t use female surrogates to shield himself from having to summon the courage to give an honest answer to a real question. When it comes to equal pay for women, it’s time for Abbott to man up and say what he really believes.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

‘Divergent’ is an Education Dystopia Mon, 17 Mar 2014 07:10:48 +0000 Jason Stanford The next big teen franchise is about to explode over movie screens nationwide on Mar. 21, except this time the kids aren’t scared of werewolves, zombies, dark wizards or sparkly vampires. The villain in “Divergent” is something they can’t run away from and they can’t kill: standardized testing. Kids these days live in a world in which their futures are determined by high-stakes testing, making “Divergent” a dystopia they can believe in.

divergent Divergent is an Education Dystopia cartoonsBecause of its resourceful and tough female protagonist, “Divergent” will draw comparisons to The Hunger Games franchise. But the popular Jennifer Lawrence movies are all about income inequality and poverty whereas the new film, based on the 2012 bestseller by Veronica Roth, questions whether our children can still determine their own futures.

The central feature of “Divergent” is that children are given aptitude tests that sort them by virtues, sometimes separating them from their families. These sorting tests are nothing new in popular young adult fiction. Harry Potter had the Sorting Hat that grouped students based on their innate traits. The Hunger Games held a lottery to single out a boy and a girl for ritualized murder. And in the Percy Jackson novels, only genetics—not skill, talents, or knowledge—could get a child into Camp Half Blood.

But “Divergent”, intentionally or not, puts high-stakes testing at the center of the educational dystopia it portrays. As in present-day reality, testing takes time away from classroom instruction and occurs on a single day. The “Divergent” tests measure aptitude, not comprehension, and serve mainly to sort students according to immutable traits into one of five factions “to determine who we are and where we belong.” In schools, we use standardized tests to figure out whether someone is “college or career ready.”

To Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, “Divergent” speaks to the No Child Left Behind generation that has, he says, a “growing consciousness” of the “varying degrees of alienation from school in which testing is a key part.”

“Indirectly, they are a way impersonal forces control their lives and make their lives, in their perceptions, … more boring,” said Neill. “Testing is part of that. Clearly the evidence is that students are unhappy with the testing regime and how that is playing out in schools, the drill and kill.”

The evidence Neill is thinking of is the rising tide of student-led strikes against testing. In California and Illinois, hundreds of students have walked out of tests. In Massachusetts, students protested by ignoring the essay prompt and writing their own essays explaining why they opposed the tests, a risky move when passing the test is a graduation requirement.

About half the student body at the New Vista High School in Boulder, Colorado came up with a new twist when students there wore white shirts, jeans and badges bearing their student identification numbers to protest the Colorado Students Assessment Program, chanting, “standardized tests produce standardized students.”

In 2013, more than 50 students in Providence, Rhode Island inadvertently came up with the most apt demonstration against standardized testing when they held their “zombie protest.” Made up as the undead, they staggered during downtown rush hour traffic while chanting “no education, no life.” But zombies are so last year.

“There’s a lot of growing protest in the misuse of standardized testing,” said Neill. “A movie like that could capture that energy and advance that energy.”

My sons, who face a pressure about standardized testing that is completely foreign to my generation, are already on my case to pre-order tickets for opening night. They are big fans of the novels and are eager to see this world on the silver screen, but in truth, they’ve already seen it every year in their school at test time.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

GOP Going Nuclear on ‘Battlefield of Ideas’ Mon, 10 Mar 2014 07:10:33 +0000 Jason Stanford CPAC—the political convention that is to conservatives what ComicCon is to nerds—did not sort out the Republican field for 2016, but it did reveal something much scarier. Unlike most years when Republicans insist they should fight for ideals they never define, this time conservatives sketched out a frighteningly radical agenda. Taking CPAC speakers at their word, the next Republican generation will make us pine for the comparatively bi-partisan moderation and restraint that characterized the George W. Bush administration.

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Randall Enos / Cagle Cartoons

The surest way to whip the overwhelmingly older, male, and white CPAC conventioneers into a frenzy was to play up the notion that the problem is that Republicans have been too cooperative, too compromising.

“If you want to lose elections, stand for nothing. When you don’t stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don’t stand for principle, Democrats celebrate,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, ignoring how polls punished his party when he “stood for principle” and shut down the government.

“We’ve got to start talking about what we’re for, not what we’re against,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“It’s time for a rebellion on the battlefield of ideas,” said Rick Perry. The Texas Governor loves guns so much he jogs with a loaded handgun, but if a “battlefield of ideas” exists then Perry’s an unarmed pacifist.

It is easy to mock a political convention that invited Donald Trump to speak, much less attend, but his stale anti-immigration harangue was no worse than most. Cruz advocated “repealing every single word of ObamaCare” and abolishing the IRS. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio mocked the United Nations and backed the same aggressive unilateralism that we are still cleaning up after in Iraq. Adorably, Perry came out as pro-postal service: “Deliver the mail, do it on time and, heck, do it on Saturdays.” Heck, indeed!

It was their new ideas that should scare the bejesus out of Americans. Rep. Paul Ryan is recognized as the pre-eminent conservative thought leader, but that’s like being heaviest blade of grass. At CPAC, he dressed austerity in compassion’s clothes, saying, “What they are offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that.” Yes, but we don’t feed souls by starving bellies, and Paul’s budget cuts food stamps by $125 million.

Public school teachers came in for some abuse at CPAC from Christie and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who said, “Wouldn’t it be special . . . if we actually hired, fired, compensated our teachers based on how well teachers are doing rather than simply how long the teachers had been breathing in the classroom?”

Behind this contempt for teachers is a drive toward using standardized testing scores to measure the effectiveness of teachers, something education historian Diane Ravitch has called “junk science.” But labeling public schools as failing and teachers as ineffective for reasons beyond their control will open the door to radical and unconstitutional change.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott described this as a parental utopia that would effectively privatize America’s public schools and force taxpayers to subsidize religious indoctrination. Parents “should be free to choose home schooling, public schools, charter schools, parochial schools,” said Scott. “Because when the parents have the choice, the kids have a chance.”

To be fair, it wasn’t all dumb and dumber. Sen. Rand Paul, whose curly hair looks like it covers a skull containing an actual working brain, took a real risk by joining with Attorney General Eric Holder to push for ending mandatory minimum sentences. Allowing federal judges to exercise discretion with non-violent drug offenders could return some needed sanity to our criminal justice system. And maybe this once, Paul will be the Republican who survives working with Obama.

The big winner of CPAC was Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whom Perry and Christie praised in their speeches. Because he’s facing re-election at home, Walker skipped CPAC, sparing him the unflattering exposure of being measured against the lesser lights onstage at CPAC. With apologies to Perry, maybe the only way to win a battle of wits with Republicans is never to fight in the first place.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

‘Education Spring’ is Right Around the Corner Wed, 05 Mar 2014 08:10:14 +0000 Jason Stanford In the state where high-stakes testing began, a few hundred teachers, academics and activists came together last weekend to hasten what one leader called an “Education Spring.” The Network for Public Education gathered in Austin to plan the resistance to the status quo of high-stakes testing and an encroaching corporate privatization movement. This first-of-its-kind convention might finally provide an effective opposition to the corporate reform movement that wants to run education like a business.

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Mike Keefe / Cagle Cartoons

“With groups like this one and so many others, all of which are active in so many ways, in so many parts of the country, we are standing on the threshold of the Education Spring,” said John Kuhn, a Texas superintendent known for his fiery speeches. “We’re here to shake up the educational world, and our movement is only growing. This is our spring.”

Central to the group’s discontent is the primacy of high-stakes testing, an innovation pushed in Dallas in the early ’90s by Sandy Kress, then a politically active lawyer friendly with the business community. With Kress’ help, using standardized test scores as the primary measure of school accountability became Texas law under Ann Richards, and when George W. Bush became president, Kress helped him sell No Child Left Behind to skeptical Democrats.

Now Kress lobbies for testing giant Pearson, and Barak Obama’s Race to the Top has made high-stakes standardized testing “the purpose of education, rather than a measure of education,” said Diane Ravitch, a leading critic of overtesting, in her keynote address to the Austin convention.

In Austin, the Network for Public Education called on Congress to investigate the “over-emphasis, misapplication, costs, and poor implementation of high-stakes standardized testing in the nation’s K-12 public schools.” Far be it from me to suggest Congress hold another show trial, but this one might end in a hanging. It would be worth it to see Kress put under oath to explain why states spend an estimated $1.7 billion a year on standardized tests that a National Research Council study shows have failed to increase student achievement.

The first buds of Education Spring are cropping up all over. In Orlando, a dying 11-year-old boy was forced to take the state exam. In 2013, Florida also required a 9-year-old born with an incomplete brain to take the test. Why? Because, wrote Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, “It would be a moral outrage to deny that opportunity to any child based on any reason including special needs.”

But Americans increasingly don’t need a study to tell them that high-stakes testing is not just unaffordable and absurd, but unworkable. Obama’s rollout of his Common Core national curriculum has made the debut of the Affordable Care Act look like D-Day. Once one of its biggest backers, the nation’s largest teachers union has pronounced Common Core “botched” and pulled its support.

The real problem facing Common Core isn’t in Washington but in the 45 states and the District of Columbia (OK, that is Washington) that have adopted the new national standards. In red states, critics see a federal takeover of local public schools, a provincial and politically motivated position that is nevertheless not without merit, as federal law forbids Washington from dictating curricula to the states.

In blue states, parents and teachers complain that their children are ill prepared for the higher standards, guaranteeing failure in the name of rigor. Education Sec. Arne Duncan has responded oddly, telling “white, suburban moms” that their kids aren’t “as brilliant as they thought they were.” I’m not making that up.

Meanwhile, a new anti-testing uprising is beginning in Chicago where Duncan used to run public schools. Teachers at two public schools have voted to boycott the state-mandated tests, and parents at more than 50 area schools have served notice that they are refusing to let their children take the tests, or “opting out.” The school district has threatened teachers with disciplinary action if they support the boycott or encourage parents to join it.

Like this winter, it seems like the era of high-stakes testing will never end. But thanks to a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who gathered in Austin, Education Spring might be right around the corner.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Texas Attorney General Sells the 10th Amendment Mon, 03 Mar 2014 08:15:13 +0000 Jason Stanford Early last month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott contradicted his core values by doing something that just didn’t make sense unless you’re one of those cynics who believes money corrupts politics. Abbott, a fan of states’ rights and a foe of casinos, did a favor for Sheldon Adelson that appears to help casinos at the expense of the Tenth Amendment. In return, Abbott got almost $100,000 in political cash. Not everyone loses at the casinos.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune

All this started back in 1961 with the Wire Act that banned interstate gambling. After Al Gore invented the Internet, the Justice Department interpreted the law as banning online poker until 2011, when it said the Wire Act only applied to online sports betting. And when the Justice Department changed its mind, Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands casino, lost his mind.

People playing poker online meant fewer poker players in his casinos. Thanks to the 2011 DOJ ruling, Nevada and Delaware were able to sign an interstate online poker pact, and other states reportedly expressed interest in joining. Adelson needed Congress to shut down this states’ rights online poker uprising, so he asked state attorneys general to help by signing a letter, prompting a counter-offensive by the Poker Players Alliance.

Only 15 AGs signed the letter dated Feb. 4, 2014 that warned Congress how the new Wire Act interpretation “opens the door to the spread of Internet gambling.” So far, Congress has done nothing with the letter, but then again Congress has done nothing on pretty much anything else for that matter. The only remarkable thing about the letter—which warned Congress that the states were exercising their rights—was the fact that Abbott signed it.

Abbott loves the Tenth Amendment more than my niece loves One Direction. He brags about the 29 lawsuits he filed against the federal government “to protect Texas’ sovereignty.” He calls James Madison a “visionary” for imagining the “signals of alarm that would be raised … if a centrally empowered federal government intrudes too far into the liberties guaranteed to individuals under the Constitution and the powers delegated to the states.” And yes, this is really the way he talks.

The website for his gubernatorial campaign doesn’t have anything about education, but it’s got a whole section about the Tenth Amendment that begins, “Texas’ greatest freedom enumerated in our Constitution is the Tenth Amendment.” We can all agree that it’s more important than the Third Amendment banning soldiers from sleeping on your couch during peacetime, but this is Texas. Abbott thinks states’ rights are more important than guns. He’s obsessed.

Why a states’ rights fanboy would offer this slice of Texas sovereignty up on a silver platter—or in this case, on a fairly meaningless letter—to Congress might have an answer in, of all places, money.

Here’s the money trail: In 2011-12, the Las Vegas Sands gave the Republican State Leadership Committee (the campaign organization for down-ballot state candidates) $150,000. In that same election cycle, the RSLC gave Abbott $91,377, the second-most they gave to any candidate. The odd thing is that Abbott wasn’t even on the ballot in 2012.

Of course, it’s possible that Adelson was not incentivizing Abbott. It’s possible that Abbott hates the idea of Texans playing poker on the Internet more than he loves the Tenth Amendment. It’s possible that Adelson’s contributions to the RSLC and the RSLC’s contributions to Abbott are entirely coincidental. It’s possible the RSLC thought the best use of almost $100,000 was not to help candidates facing elections but to give it to Abbott for no particular reason. Anything is possible, even in politics where no one ever got lost following the money.

What’s more likely is that Abbott decided that compromising his most deeply held conviction was worth the price, especially with an expensive gubernatorial campaign coming up. The only risk was that he would have to explain it later, in which case he could say he was shocked, shocked that there was corruption in this casino. Either way, he comes away a winner, which is better than most people do in Vegas.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.This column has been edited by the author.

Mainstreaming Radicalism in Texas Mon, 24 Feb 2014 08:10:51 +0000 Jason Stanford Hide your wallets and shield the children, because they’re voting down in Texas. Texas Republicans will be testing the strength of the Tea Party as they pick their first post-Rick Perry slate of statewide candidates since the 1980s. But Texas Democrats might end up missing Perry, as there is a decent shot that Republicans will nominate not their best-qualified, most-electable candidates but an entire clown car full of crazypants.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune

Let’s start at the top of the ticket, where incumbent Sen. John Cornyn, rated the second-most conservative senator in 2012, was apparently not conservative enough to escape a primary challenge. Into that breach leapt Steve Stockman, the congressman who once Tweeted, “If babies had guns, they wouldn’t be aborted.” This race should have been great fun, but Stockman has campaigned mostly by hiding from public view and skipping votes in congress. Going into the candidate protection program is working. One poll shows Stockman could force Cornyn into a runoff.

Below Greg Abbott on the ballot is a quartet of candidates for lieutenant governor, the most reasonable of whom advocates changing the 14th Amendment to prevent anchor babies from attaining citizenship. All of the Republicans seeking this office oppose abortion exceptions for rape and incest and supported keeping a dead woman on life support because she was pregnant. Even on this stage, state Sen. Dan Patrick, who faces good odds to advance to the next round, stands out for calling undocumented immigrants an “illegal invasion.” What’s smart in a Texas Republican primary can be politically fatal in a state that’s 40 percent Hispanic.

We lower ourselves in more ways than one when we go down the ballot to the Algonquin Round Table known as the primary to succeed Abbott as attorney general. The candidates make a point of agreeing that their main job is to continue legally fruitless and patently political lawsuits against the Obama administration. They differ only in emphasis: The frontrunner touts his support for school prayer, damn the constitution. Another claims the allegiance of Ted Cruz. And the last, Barry Smitherman, is on the air with an ad that looks more like a declaration of war against Mexico to protect Texans “from cartels and crimes like human trafficking.”

In almost any other state, Smitherman would occupy an unelectable outpost in the political boondocks. But this is Texas, where his sort of yee-haw radicalism is mainstreamed. Already elected to a different statewide office, Smitherman has spent this campaign claiming that most aborted fetuses “would have voted Republican,” that Texas has “made great progress in becoming an independent nation, an ‘island nation’ if you will,” and that the United Nations Small Arms Treaty endangers 2nd Amendment rights in Texas. He has raised millions of dollars and is polling in the double digits. Pray for us, America.

Smitherman, Patrick, and Stockman are hardly exceptions. Elsewhere on the Republican primary ballot you’ll find a 9/11 Truther, the legislator who mandated that doctors perform sonograms on women seeking abortions to give them the shocking news of their pregnancy, and another state lawmaker who is running to protect, he says, “the gift of oil and gas God has given us.” And if they win their primaries, these walking affronts to logic and reason would be favorites to rule over the second-biggest state in the union. Some days I think Lincoln should have let the Confederacy go.

The nuthouse radicalism these candidates espouse has a significant constituency among the Texas Republican voters, 35 percent of whom support secession. Highlighting the lunatic fringe does not legitimize them. The voters who support them in statistically significant numbers do. To treat these credible candidates as outliers undersells the danger. Texas Republicans have redefined normal so far to the right as to make Genghis Khan look like a squishy moderate.

Rick Perry earned a few attaboys when he condemned Ted Nugent for calling Barack Obama a “subhuman mongrel,” a phrase the Nazis used to justify the mass-murder of Jews. Texas Republicans have defined deviancy so far down that criticizing a phrase Joseph Goebbels coined comes across as refreshing candor. When the votes come in on March 4, we’ll see just how far down that is.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.This column has been edited by the author.

Cashing In On Pre-K Testing Mon, 17 Feb 2014 15:52:12 +0000 Jason Stanford Sandy Kress, the controversial testing lobbyist, is leading a new raid on school taxes. This month he registered to lobby for Amplify, the company that wants to replace textbooks with tablet computers, positioning him to grab some of the hundreds of millions of dollars Education Sec. Arne Duncan is offering to create pre-K tests. Despite a nationwide backlash against high-stakes testing, your tax dollars are now going to developing standardized tests for 4-year-olds, and Kress is ready to cash in.

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Bob Englehart / Hartford Courant

Kress was the architect of No Child Left Behind who then lobbyied for Pearson Education while simultaneously serving on several state advisory boards. Kress became so unpopular amid an anti-testing rebellion in Texas that the legislature made it illegal for him or any other testing lobbyist to make campaign contributions. Even registered sex offenders can give politicians money in Texas.

But now the Obama administration is pushing a new and (pardon the pun) untested theory that we can use student scores to measure teacher effectiveness. To compete for Race to the Top funds, states have to figure out how to use standardized test scores to measure the effectiveness of teachers, something education historian Diane Ravitch has called “junk science”.

There are basic problems with using student scores to judge teachers. The tests don’t measure classroom learning, school funding is unequal. Stress caused by high-stakes testing impairs thinking. Using test scores to judge teachers encourages teaching to the test. But for Duncan, the real problem was that there is no way to determine the effectiveness of a kindergarten teacher if that’s the first year students take standardized tests.

That’s why the second round of Race to the Top encouraged states to develop programs for early-childhood education to compete for a share of the $500 million pot. Education researchers agree that pre-K is a good investment with real returns in the classroom, but one of Duncan’s criteria for the funding is not what they had in mind: “Develop and administer kindergarten-readiness tests.”

Enter Amplify, the $540 million education arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Because Obama’s Common Core has standardized the federal curriculum across 45 states, companies can now foist one-size-fits-all products on taxpayers without worrying about each state’s standards. And as Apple’s $30 million contract to put iPads into Los Angeles schools shows, there’s a lot of money in selling the hardware, too.

But if Kress can help Amplify update his snake oil to the next generation, then Murdoch can cash in on $1.7 billion a year that states spend on standardized testing every year. That’s why Amplify offers early childhood assessment software called C-PALLS for kids who still use safety scissors.

“The earlier, the better,” reads the website. “Better prepare children for kindergarten and beyond by combining C-PALLS pre-K assessments with grouping, reporting and targeted activities that help monitor ongoing social, emotional, early literacy, science and math development.” We could have teachers do that, but Wall Street hasn’t figured out how to make money from teachers yet.

In his last State of the Union address, Obama called on “Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old.” This is an unimpeachably good idea. We wouldn’t leave any child behind if poorer children didn’t start school behind their wealthier peers. Universal pre-K would do more to create equal opportunity in America than every single standardized test ever mandated by Kress’ No Child Left Behind law.

But the idea falls apart when politicians and businessmen don’t trust educators to educate our children and insist upon standardized tests to hold schools accountable. Using tablet computers to measure a 4-year-old’s social and emotional development—and then applying those scientifically untested results to a teacher’s job security—is an invitation to corrupt the entire public school experience.

Making a 4-year-old take a high-stakes test at an age when it’s hard to make them take a nap sounds like heaping child abuse on top of a failed educational theory. But at least we can all rest assured that Kress has figured out a way to get his cut of the early-education bonanza. It’s time we saw schools as a place to create opportunities for children, not profiteers.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Sochi Hotel Horror Stories Mon, 10 Feb 2014 08:05:33 +0000 Jason Stanford We thought the big controversies in the Sochi Winter Olympics would be toothpaste terrorism or government-sanctioned homophobia. Then the press tried to check into their hotels and discovered a comical array of foibles that will do nothing to boost the Russian tourism industry. But what shocks the traveling press corps—lost hotel reservations, uncovered manholes, unsafe tap water—is nothing new to those of us who have lived in Russia.

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Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star-Tribune

As my friend, the Athens-based writer Robin Whetstone, put it, “Russia is the opposite of a public service announcement.” It is a country where one is mocked, as I was, by a nurse for crying out in pain after coming out of anesthesia before the doctor was done resetting my broken leg. If you want sympathy from a Russian, you’ll have to do better than a mixed-up hotel room.

I ended up in Russia because I wanted to be a spy, but the Cold War ended before I finished my degree in Russian at Lewis & Clark College. So I did my last semester at a former women’s college called the Moscow State Pedagogical University and stayed on for another year or so in various odd jobs in journalism in 1992 and 1993, that is, the swingin’ Yeltsin era.

Because I spoke Russian, my editor and his buddy dragged me along on a train trip to Nizhny Novgorod, the city formerly known as Gorky. During the Soviet era, Gorky was closed to foreigners, making it a perfect place to exile dissident nuclear scientist Andrei Sakharov.

Nizhny Novgorod was very much an open city when our train pulled in late that winter night. Getting a cab was no problem, but finding a hotel room was. Finally, our driver found a floating hotel on the frigid Oka River. But there was just one small problem, our driver told us after he inquired about vacancies. They had rooms for us, he said, but first they had to get the bodies out of the lobby.

This we had to see. So we stepped ever so carefully off the icy sidewalk onto the icy, narrow, rickety wooden gangplank into the lobby where we saw two men, soaked to the bone, lying on the carpeted floor. One was dead. The other lay there in his freezing wet clothes thrashing about and moaning. You didn’t need to be a doctor to diagnose hypothermia. Then the paramedics showed up, which is when things got really weird.

More than 20 years later, it still surprises me that the paramedics did not cut off the moaning man’s freezing clothing and try to save his life right there in the hotel lobby. Instead, they put the dead man on their stretcher and asked my editor and I to help carry it to the ambulance. Only once the corpse was safe and secure did they attend to the man who was not yet dead. I would like to report that I had words of comfort for him, but I was too busy trying to keep my footing on the gangplank while holding the stretcher with one hand and the wobbly handrail with the other.

Other than that, it was a really nice hotel. We had a great time in Nizhny Novgorod. I only got a gun pulled on me once, but I did kind of deserve it. Maybe I had lived in Russia for too long by then, but it never occurred me to complain about the hotel. To me, it was an adventure.

So far, the worst thing anyone has reported seeing on the floor of a Sochi hotel lobby was the lack of a floor. The reporters whining about tap water should consider themselves lucky. If you go to a remote city in Russia in the winter expecting world-class hospitality, then you only have yourself to blame. You don’t go to Russia expecting everything to go right. You go to Russia because you’re going to end up with a great story.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.This column has been edited by the author.

There’s Good News on Income Inequality! Thu, 06 Feb 2014 13:16:40 +0000 Jason Stanford Believe it or not, there is good news when it comes to income inequality. It turns out Republicans finally believe that the gap between rich and poor has become a problem. The bad news is, according to a new poll, is that Republicans think the best solution is cutting the taxes for the wealthy and big corporations so money and opportunity can rain down on the poor. Addressing poverty by ensuring that cash does not become lonely in the wallets of the wealthy is what passes for a Republican governing philosophy these days, and it is exactly why Barack Obama has decided to go it alone on income inequality.

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Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star Tribune

The issue isn’t that income inequality exists but that the wealthiest 1 percent has achieved the financial equivalent of escape velocity, leaving us poor folk back here on Planet Broke. In 1982, the top 1 percent highest-earning families took home one out of every $10. Now they get more than twice that, leaving the other 99 percent of us to make do on less. The last time it was this bad was the Gilded Age, and majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree it’s time to do something about it.

As was made clear in his State of the Union address, the problem Obama faces is that his potential governing partners believe in an economic ideology roughly equivalent to fairy dust but stand resolutely opposed to thinking happy thoughts. Herein lies the Hell that Republicans envision for the poor: Most Republicans (51 percent) believe that the poor are poor due to a “lack of effort”,” that our economy is “generally fair to most Americans” (53 percent), and that “most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard” (76 percent). In other words, Republicans believe that income inequality is that fault of lazy poor people, which is why they want to put more money into the hands of rich people who are doing all the work.

Demographically, the Republican Party—dominated and dependent upon aging white men—is literally dying, but the sunset must cast a bewitching light. Only in the hazy glow of magical thinking could it make sense that Mitt Romney’s effective tax rate of 13.9 percent takes too much. Most Republicans (59 percent) agree that “lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations to encourage investment and economic growth” is the solution to income inequality.

The notion that the only way to help the poor is for government to encourage the rich to become even richer is gospel among Republicans, most of whom (65 percent) believe that “government aid to the poor does more harm than good by making people too dependent on government.” It seems not to occur to our self-satisfied ruling oligarchy that if the wealthy require incentives to create jobs, then it ain’t the poor who are dependent upon government.

During increasing income inequality, Reaganomics has become indefensible economically, politically, and morally. Any economic theory that assumes a majority of one’s voters are lazy good-for-nothings should preclude ever getting a majority of votes, but c’est la red states.

It qualifies as radical thinking among Republicans that the wealthy should pay their fair share of taxes and a worker should get a fair wage. Extending unemployment benefits is well-nigh seditious. Instead, Republican dogma would have the long-term unemployed accept not only a minimum-wage job but also the blame for the poverty that came with each paycheck as their due for being lazy.

Agreeing that income inequality is bad does not count in the Republicans’ favor if they blame it on the poor. As long as it easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is to get a minimum wage increase and an extension of unemployment benefits through Congress, Obama will have to go it alone if he wants to get anything done.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant, author, and nationally syndicated columnist. He blogs at and tweets @JasStanford.

Texas Still Waiting for the 21st Century to Show Up Mon, 03 Feb 2014 08:10:02 +0000 Jason Stanford Sometimes rhetorical questions demand answers. When Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte asked, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?” the deafening roar from the gallery carried Wendy Davis’ filibuster over the midnight finish line last summer. But Van de Putte only got an answer last week. It turns out that it doesn’t matter if a woman is even dead or raped. Texas Republicans don’t recognize women at all.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune

The Texas constitution endows the office of the lieutenant governor with such power as to make Dick Cheney shy with desire. The “lite guv” presides over the state senate and picks not only the chairs of each committee but the members of each committee as well, Republican and Democrat. The current occupant of the office, David Dewhurst, lost his primary against Ted Cruz for the U.S. Senate. Now up for re-election, Dewhurst is perceived to be vulnerable and has three serious primary opponents.

Well, “serious” might be overstating the case, but the four Republicans running for lieutenant governor debated in Dallas las week. In fact, “debated” might be overstating things as well because the quartet pretty much agreed that women barely matter at all when it comes to making decisions for themselves, bless their hearts. When the 21st Century deigns to show up in Texas it will be shocked.

The first question out of the box was how they came down on the case of Marlise Munoz. Last November Munoz had a pulmonary embolism. At the time, she was 14 weeks pregnant. Munoz was brain dead and had signed a living will. Her fetus was deformed and likely brain damaged due to her oxygen loss. Her family wanted to let her go. However, the hospital refused to take her off life support, though “life support” is certainly the wrong term. Under state law, the hospital argued, they had to maintain Marlise’s body until they could deliver her baby. After several weeks, a judge ordered the plug pulled.

Any sane person would send the judge flowers, but in the debate the four horsemen of the Republican Party took turns disagreeing with the judge’s ruling and repeating incantations that they “always err on the side of life.” By implication, they reduced the woman to temporary housing for a fetus, living will be damned.

Also receiving universal according was the subject of abortion exceptions for rape and incest. You may be excused for thinking that after Todd Akin and Richard Murdoch lost senate seats by opposing rape exceptions that the Texas Republicans would avoid making the same mistake, but you would be wrong. All four valiantly opposed exceptions for rape and incest, a position to the right of most Republican voters even here in Texas.

The Republicans took turns “erring on the side of life,” such as this example from Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

“To say that we have an unborn child that is the result of rape and somehow that is less lifelike or inferior to the life that was created through a natural, non-catastrophic event like that, doesn’t make any sense. It’s either life or it’s not life.  So I do not support exceptions for rape and incest,” said Patterson, widely regarded as the most thoughtful of the bunch.

Patterson’s position does not lack logic. But when neither Patterson nor anyone else on stage mentioned the rights of the woman who was raped, the Republican field ceded the moral high ground.

Coverage of the debate focused more on the lack of disagreement and less on the fact that the Republicans agreed on radical social positions that make national news when espoused by politicians elsewhere. In Texas, sexism is so institutionalized it seems normal, but at least Van de Putte finally got an answer to the question she asked during Wendy Davis’ filibuster. And as it turns out, she is the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and will get to run against whichever one of those four men makes it out of the primary.

This fall, she—and millions of Texas women—will finally be recognized.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Holding Arne Duncan to a Higher Standard Mon, 27 Jan 2014 15:21:20 +0000 Jason Stanford America, the elites are very disappointed in you. We’re not keeping up with South Korea and Singapore, they tell us, because you are coddling your mediocre children who are being taught by bottom-of-the-barrel teachers. But have no fear, America, help is on the way! Pearson, the testing company that has gotten rich by making American students fill in little bubbles all day long, is advising the White House on how to whip us all into college-ready shape.

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Taylor Jones / Cagle Cartoons

I must be too busy helping my sons with their homework, picking them up from after-school tutoring and helping them fill out magnet school applications to notice how little I expect from them. No greater eminence than New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman thinks that parents “just don’t take education seriously enough.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said “white, suburban moms” need to “change expectations about how hard kids should work.”

It’s not just lazy-bones parents and their middling progeny that are holding America back. Recently, Duncan noted sourly that “a significant proportion of new teachers come from the bottom third of their college class.” After No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have turned the teaching profession into an underappreciated, underpaid collection of glorified test monitors, the only thing that Duncan should give them is an apology. But after insulting parents, their children, and their teachers, I wouldn’t be surprised if Duncan next blamed childhood obesity on P.E. teachers.

“Who wants to go into a workforce where we are constantly asked to go above and beyond to receive little to no credit, or worse, usually very negative feedback and criticism?” asked one of my son’s former teachers who asked to remain anonymous. “Not to mention that we are not compensated adequately or competitively. I think we are all a little crazy to be here honestly.”

Amid all this mediocrity comes Pearson, the company that makes millions on standardized testing contracts in Florida ($254 million), New York ($32 million), and Texas ($468 million), among many others. This month Pearson executives met with Barack Obama and Duncan at the White House to discuss ways to help low-income students get into college. I’ll match every dollar Pearson makes if you don’t think the solution that Pearson proposed was more testing.

Herein lies the conflict that separates Duncan, Friedman and Pearson from parents and teachers. They think the solution is, in Duncan’s words, “new and better assessments” based on the assumption standardized tests provide the best measure for whether our children are learning. Most teachers and an increasingly vocal number of parents believe that excessive testing eats up classroom time better spent writing term papers, conducting science experiments, or discussing literature.

The problem with calling Pearson the “world’s leading learning company” is that researchers can find no evidence that their standardized tests facilitate learning. A recent study by researchers at MIT, Brown, and Harvard found that good schools can raise test scores but not cognitive abilities such as abstract reasoning. In other words, better scores do not mean smarter kids.

In fact, what test scores really tell you, say researchers, is how much money the student’s parents make. The less money mom and dad make, the less likely their child is to do well on a standardized test required for graduation. In Texas, about 76,000 Texas high school juniors—almost a quarter of the entire Class of 2015—have failed at least one state test required for graduation. Pearson sold Texas these tests to ensure college readiness. Instead, a group of students equal to the size of a small city will not graduate from high school.

Parents don’t need to subscribe to Scientific American to know the research proving what they can see with their eyes and feel in their bones. Though great men on high may disagree with me, a lowly parent of public school children, it seems clear that tests don’t make our kids smarter any more than scale makes you fatter. Even Arne Duncan might understand that obvious truth if he stopped taking policy advice from the company that is making all the money from the test, but maybe I’m holding him to too high a standard.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace Mon, 20 Jan 2014 08:05:51 +0000 Jason Stanford It’s hard to choose which was the bigger shock: a federal judge ruled Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, or the founder of a Republican gay-rights group quit the Republican Party. What could have ever driven a gay advocate from the GOP? Was it something they said?

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Martin Sutovec / Cagle Cartoons

Jimmy LaSalvia, the founder of the conservative gay advocacy group GOProud, recently changed his party registration to unaffiliated, writing on his blog, “I am every bit as conservative as I’ve always been, but I just can’t bring myself to carry the Republican label any longer.”

Why? It was the “tolerance of bigotry in the GOP. The current leadership lacks the courage to stand up to it — I’m not sure they ever will,” wrote LaSalvia.

Maybe that’s not fair. After all, when is the last time we invited Republican leaders to condemn anti-gay discrimination? And if we are going to invite the world’s worst law firm of Cruz, Boehner, Christie, Ryan and McConnell to do this, we should offer them recent examples of what their silence is tacitly accepting.

To wit, of sorts.

On his radio show, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said that “basic biology” dictated that acceptance of homosexuality would lead to the end of the human race and not, for example, floods, famine, plagues, or war.

“Its logical conclusion would be if it were normal it would be extinct, the human race would be extinct within time if it were normal,” said Perkins. “Biology says that only we exist as human beings is that a man and a woman come together and we procreate. That’s the reason that government has long recognized marriage is because it is the place in which children are born.”

When the Republican leaders rush to condemn this pestilent prejudice, I would appreciate it if they could answer a serious question: If marriage is for procreation, and my wife and I decide not to have children, do I still have to take out the garbage?

Not wanting to miss the crazy train, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Clown Car), scolded the federal judges who’ve been on the equality kick to get some “basic plumbing lessons.” He summed up the legal reasoning behind recent rulings striking down gay-marriage bans in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah thusly: “Basically, we haven’t seen any biological evidence to support marriage being between a man and a woman.”

Most Republican bigotry against gays ignores the whole “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights” and goes right for the fascination about what part goes where. Not so with Dave Agema, a former member of the Michigan House and a current member of the Republican National Committee, whose extremism in the defense of bigotry recently spilled over our borders when he took to Facebook to defend Russia’s “common sense” anti-gay laws.

Here’s what Agema calls “common sense”: Russia’s law outlaws gays from public displays of affection, including holding hands, expressing positive messages about LGBT people, broadcasting or printing news stories that feature gays or lesbians, and treating gay and straight relationships as the same. Also, the rainbow flag is illegal.

This defense of Russia’s legally enfranchised disenfranchisement finally drew censure from one Republican official.

“This is outrageous that a leader of the National Republican Party, my political party, is siding with an autocratic regime that believes in arresting political opponents, censoring reporters, jailing dissidents and eliminating free speech,” said Dennis Lennox, a precinct delegate in Michigan.

On his way out the door, LaSalvia credited this tolerance of anti-gay bigotry with why a recent Gallup poll showed that only 25 percent of Americans called themselves Republicans, an all-time low. It’s not that Americans are less conservative, he wrote, but that they were “too embarrassed to formally affiliate with a party that’s lost its way.”

Republicans can find their way back into the greater American family when they start speaking up about abhorrent comments such as those made by Agema, Gohmert, and Perkins. By remaining silent about anti-gay prejudice, Republican leaders leave the impression that they agree with a position that most Americans equate with not letting blacks or women vote. So here’s your chance, GOP.

Speak now, or forever hold your peace.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Double standard for Robertson and Kluwe Wed, 08 Jan 2014 08:15:07 +0000 Jason Stanford A reality TV star speaks out about gays and loses his job, albeit temporarily. Meanwhile, a professional football player speaks out about gays and loses his job, apparently permanently. Some conservatives argue that tolerance means what’s good for Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson is good for ex-Viking punter Chris Kluwe, even though the former denigrated homosexuals and the latter advocated for their equality. But to equate the cases of Robertson and Kluwe equates tolerance for an unthinking acceptance of prejudice.

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Bill Schorr / Cagle Cartoons

“When we heard about Phil Robertson from progressives, we’d hear, ‘that it was his right to say whatever he wants, but everyone’s right to not watch or employ him.’ In the Kluwe instance from the same crowd we hear, ‘it’s his right to say whatever he wants and it was disgusting to fire him.’ There’s a double standard,” said Tim Young, director of marketing for the Liberty Alliance, a conservative new media venture. “The message is a hypocritical one from progressives. They’re only cool with your opinion if they agree with it. Otherwise you should lose your job.”

I should point out that Tim Young, despite his right-wing tendencies, is my friend, but he and I disagree when it comes to politics. That is, he’s wrong and I’m right. I tolerate his abject wrongness in matters political because I value his intelligence and humor, but tolerating his views does not mean that I accept them. Tolerance and acceptance are two different words because they are two separate concepts.

When Robertson’s views about gays, blacks, and women drew liberal censure, some conservatives such as Young saw the blowback as evidence of a lack of tolerance. Tolerance, for fans of dictionaries, does not require agreement. In fact, disagreement means that someone treated Robertson’s remarks seriously instead of ignoring them as the half-mad rantings of a reality TV star.

So when Young says that liberals are being hypocritical by defending Kluwe, he misses the point. If you’re not aware, Kluwe was the punter who alleged in an article for the sports blog Deadspin that he was cut from the Vikings because of his outspoken activism for marriage equality. Kluwe wrote that his position coach became so frustrated with his opinionated punter that he told a stunned players’ meeting, “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.”

For the record, the Vikings say that anti-gay prejudice has no place in their organization, and the team has hired outside counsel to investigate.

For his park, Kluwe doesn’t see any double standard in how he and Robertson were treated.

“I think that both Phil Robertson and I have the right to speak our minds, but we also have the right to the consequences of speaking our minds,” Kluwe said. “The Vikings were well within their rights to cut me if they wanted to, but I also get to tell my story and let society judge whether or not we want to live in a world where speaking out on behalf of other people costs you your job.”

If liberals and conservatives reacted differently to Robertson and Kluwe, said the latter, it’s because people applied the same standard, not different ones.

“I think the key difference between me and Phil is that he was speaking out against a group of people, while I was speaking out for a group of people who are being denied their freedom,” said Kluwe. “It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s very important.”

It’s not that subtle. Robertson has said that gays are “ruthless” and “full of murder,” an opinion he derives from a version of the Bible I was never taught in Sunday School. Kluwe took the radical view that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Where he got that idea, I’ll never know.

If there’s a lesson to be drawn from Robertson and Kluwe, it’s that we live in a country where it’s easier to get fired for fighting prejudice than for expressing prejudice, at least when it comes to gays. If you’re looking for a double standard, there it is.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Can Obama Recover? Mon, 06 Jan 2014 08:05:29 +0000 Jason Stanford Despite what some called “Obama’s worst year ever” and what everyone agreed was terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Obamacare rollout, Barack Obama’s job approval rating has bounced back out of the 30s and into the mid-40s—not great, but neither the inexorable slide into oblivion that many predicted. Once again, the reports of Obama’s political death have been greatly exaggerated, begging the question as to why pundits seem so eager to pronounce his last rites.

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Chris Weyant / The Hill

On ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Matthew Dowd was the latest to eulogize the Obama presidency.

“A year ago today he was winning a 50 percent-plus victory, first person since Eisenhower to win two terms over 50 percent, everything seemed so great,” said Dowd. “Ever since the start of the second administration, it’s all gone downhill. His presidency, in my view, and the credibility of his presidency and the relevancy of his presidency is dramatically in question today, and I think he can’t recover from it.”

Dowd, whom I worked for briefly almost two decades ago when he was a Democrat, wasn’t making a partisan attack. Despite him later becoming a Republican who helped elect and re-elect George W. Bush, my disagreement with him here is neither personal nor partisan. I like Matthew but suspect he could be wrong.

Without ever earning a cool nickname like “the Comeback Kid” or a reputation for resiliency, Obama has made a habit of bouncing back. We turned our backs without checking for a pulse after Hillary Clinton won in New Hampshire, when Rev. Jeremy Wright god-damned America, and when Obama said “The private sector is doing fine” amid 9% unemployment. Pundits called him a dead man walking after his last “worst year ever” in 2011 when he tried to negotiate with congressional Republicans. We asked ourselves whether he could recover from his first debate with Mitt Romney, forgetting that Obama has rebounded more times that Dennis Rodman.

Yet here he stands, the president who plays his best when he has backed himself into a corner but who never gets the reputation as a clutch performer. We should respect someone who is always proving the naysayers wrong and repeatedly beats the odds. But here’s the thing with Obama—and the reason why I suspect the insiders always seem eager to attend his political funeral: Winning has never felt worse.

Obama has the bad luck to be a serious man in trivial times (Birthers, and truthers, and deniers! Oh, my!), to seek common ground with a party devoted to trench warfare, and to preside over an era of disruption that never feels like peacetime or wartime. He passed landmark laws to reform Wall Street, to make student loans cheaper, to create a new G.I. Bill, and to save the U.S. auto industry. He ended wars, torture, and Osama bin Laden’s life. He recapitalized banks, repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and nearly doubled fuel efficiency standards. But instead of ticker-tape parades we feel cheated of both justice and satisfaction.

When Obama won in 2008 by putting red states such as Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia into his column, he dangled the possibility of a post-racial, post-partisan peace. Instead, he has had to defend the White House against a political war of attrition. We thought we were getting a Democratic Ronald Reagan and a long spell of feel-good transformation. Instead, we got the black Lyndon Johnson, leaving behind an impressive list of achievements as well as a country exhausted from tension, obstruction, and fighting.

We only feel good when he explains the world to us, but by now we’ve become conditioned to the disappointment that inevitably follows one of his speeches. He hasn’t lost his gifts. It’s just that we know they won’t change our lives.

Instead, those who make a living watch this White House swing wildly from Obama’s political victories (“everything seemed so great”) to congressional obstruction. An improving economy is likely to continue Obama’s recovery, but bad things will happen, both real (Benghazi) and manufactured (BENGHAZI!!). And the grand marshals of the Beltway parade will ask each other whether Obama could possibly recover, ignoring the fact that he always has.


© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

The Forgotten Republican Rebrand Mon, 30 Dec 2013 13:51:35 +0000 Jason Stanford Heckuva job with that rebranding, Republicans. They started 2013 hoping to rejoin modern America but ended it once again on the wrong side of history. By embracing Phil Robertson’s prejudice against gays and blacks and rebuffing Pope Francis’ call for economic justice, Republicans have made it clear that they would rather hold onto unchristian religious views than make the changes needed to win national elections again.

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Bill Day / Cagle Cartoons

Almost a year ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal smacked his own party upside the head.

“We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults,” he said at the Republican National Committee’s winter convention. “We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.”

Republicans quickly made it clear that they had not had enough of that. Apparently expressing views abhorrent to most Americans has become a bedrock Republican value. Jindal has since walked the “stupid party” comments back. He’s walked so far back, in fact, that he has reached a time when open expressions of prejudice were not considered socially unacceptable.

In his interview with GQ, Robertson debated the comparative sexual merits of different orifices, called homosexuality a sin, and predicted that equality for homosexuality will lead directly to a broader acceptance of bestiality. That, and he remembered all the happy black folks picking cotton during segregation.

About the same time, Pope Francis criticized the “idolatry of money” and called “trickle-down” economics an “opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, [that] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”

If you think that your religion teaches you that homosexuality leads to bestiality, I question your relationship to your God and to your horse. And I don’t have time to teach remedial economics to those who still believe cutting taxes for the wealthy leads to greater tax revenue, job growth, and shrinking income disparity. Homophobia and supply-side economics are political faiths with no basis in science or the Bible I studied in Sunday school.

Republicans think otherwise. Noted moral exemplar Rush Limbaugh called the Pope’s views “pure Marxism.” Sarah Palin, whose Nobel Prize for Economics got lost in the mail again this year, said the Pope’s analysis was “kind of liberal.” And Rep. Paul Ryan, who was raised on Social Security survivor benefits before he proposed turning Medicare into Groupon for Grandmas, condescendingly said, “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina.” Yes, he called the Pope “the guy.”

Republicans have to attack the Pope’s views lest anyone notice that they have just cut off long-term unemployment insurance when there are three applicants for every job. What would you rather do? Call the Pope names, or explain why you cut food stamps for 47 million Americans—that’s 1 out of every 7 of us—during the worst long-term unemployment crisis since World War II?

Instead of taking a clue from a recognized churchman, Republicans treated Robertson’s anatomical analysis as if it were an expression of religious doctrine. When A&E briefly suspended Robertson, Republicans treated L’Affaire Duck as if U.N. troops had barricaded church doors. They compared him to Rosa Parks and hailed Robertson “as a hero for courageously revealing his self-truth and Christian ideals.”

“If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson,” said Sen. Ted Cruz on his Facebook page.

And Jindal, the oracle who inveighed against stupidity at the beginning of this year that celebrated it, completed his redemption when he said, “The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with.”

Robertson can say whatever he wants, and Republicans are free to say that a reality TV star—and a fried chicken franchise, for that matter—represent their religious views better than the Catholic Church. But Republicans will never rebrand their party until they become more like Pope Francis and less like Phil Robertson.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Time to Investigate Pearson in Texas Mon, 23 Dec 2013 12:22:31 +0000 Jason Stanford Thanks to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the charitable arm of testing giant Pearson will pay $7.7 million to end his investigation into whether it was illegally helping its for-profit parent company. This comes as a shock to Texans, where Pearson has an eye-popping $462-million testing contract, as opposed to New York where Pearson is only getting $32 million. The surprise isn’t that a special interest cut corners at taxpayers expense but that a state attorney general can investigate it. It’s simply not done here, but then again, why isn’t Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, now running for governor, investigating the Pearson Foundation?

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

In New York, Pearson funded its charitable foundation—legally—and then the foundation spent its money in a way that benefited its for-profit parent company—illegally. Among the verboten activities found in New York was that the Pearson Foundation “had helped develop products for its corporate parent, including course materials and software,” according to The New York Times.

Common Core is at the (pardon) core of the scandal in New York. Mercedes Schneider, a high school teacher with a Ph.D. and a healthy disrespect for corporate balderdash, did some digging and found that between 2009 and 2011, the Pearson Foundation gave $540,000 to Council of Chief State School Officers, one of two Common Core State Standards copyright holders. The Pearson Foundation also worked with the Gates Foundation to create courses based on Common Core that it sold to Pearson for $15.5 million.

This kind of hand-in-glove relationship between Pearson’s foundation and for-profit interests exists in Texas. In 2009 and in 2010, the Pearson Foundation gave two endowments totaling $400,000 to the University of Texas College of Education, home to the Pearson Center for Applied Psychometric Research where they do “cutting edge statistical and psychometric research and evaluation services to further educational improvements … and to inform educators, researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders in the education process.” And since 2000, these policymakers have given Pearson contracts totaling $1.2 billion.

There’s a “you get what you pay for” quality to academic research that dovetails with the corporate interests that fund it, creating the appearance of a conflict of interest. If the former had anything to do with the latter, the Pearson Foundation may have broken the law and is why the Texas Attorney General needs to take a close look at Pearson.

According to local custom, Texas has elected leaders openly hostile to regulating polluters, assault weapons, and exploding fertilizer plants—in short, everything except a woman’s uterus. And there’s ample evidence that state officials have put the lazy in laissez faire when it comes to providing effective oversight of Pearson’s massive contract.

A state audit last July revealed that the Texas Education Agency “lacks adequate processes for monitoring the contract.” For example, when Texas cut the number of required high school tests from 15 to five, the TEA had no itemized list of deliverables in the contract, so the state had to ask Pearson how much it should reduce its contract. Pearson, which cut its pay by 2%, could teach lessons to Scott Boras, the baseball agent who specializes in record-breaking contracts.

Along with rolling back testing requirements, Texas made it illegal for lobbyists for testing companies to serve on advisory boards and to make campaign contributions. It is not local custom to make it a crime to give a Texas politician money, but everyone knew that the provision was aimed at one person in particular—Sandy Kress, the architect of No Child Left Behind and, coincidentally, a Pearson lobbyist who served on several state advisory boards.

For a long time, Pearson has been allowed to operate without oversight or even much attention in the state where high-stakes testing was born. The recent settlement in New York and this summer’s audit serves notice that if we don’t know that Pearson has been breaking the rules in Texas, it’s probably because no one has bothered to look.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.This column has been edited by the author.

A Letter From the Front Lines of the War on Christmas Mon, 16 Dec 2013 13:59:20 +0000 Jason Stanford To All Americans in the World—

Fellow Citizens & compatriots—

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Republicans under Santa Claus — The War on Christmas is all but lost — The walls cannot long withstand the cannonade of feigned outrage — our flag of embattled tolerance still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat.

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John Cole / Scranton Times-Tribune

The defeat has long been expected since the armies of commerce and Christianity joined forces, but even in our defensive posture we did not expect stores to bombard us with Christmas carols on Halloween. When the assault came, our disguised troops were extorting the populace for confectionery, leaving our front lines undefended. Now they’re selling Christmas trees out of our Tactical Operations Center.

Our lines overrun, we were powerless to stop Christmas’ assault. For every overhyped complaint about a religious observance on government property, there are thousands of Holiday pageants in public schools featuring songs of Jesus, miracles and mangers. Everywhere you look, homes blaze with colored lights. Normally sane men consider gifting their wives luxury sedans adorned with giant red bows and buying their children expensive electronics. Children pose urgent inquiries to their parents about the coming home invasion from this “Santa.”

Many inhabitants have happily laid down their arms and picked up Gingerbread Lattes. For all the preparations for merriment available to the eye, one must assume that the resistance has gone underground and remains in hiding.

Our allies are abandoning our War on Christmas. On television’s Glee, that noted haven for nontraditional values, a recent episode featured a Jewish girl, a gay man and a lesbian singing, “Hark now hear the angels sing, ‘A king was born today’/And man will live forevermore because of Christmas Day.”

My sons, I fear, have quit The Cause. My heart swelled with pride when I saw them inscribe lists of demands. Images of dictating the terms of surrender in the War on Christmas danced in my head, but these hopes were dashed when I chanced to look upon their note pads wherein they had listed LEGO products of such dizzying variety that I had to calm my nerves with a tonic.

I can find no safe harbor in this War on Christmas from the cloying appeals to purchase durable goods for loved ones. There is no refuge from the assumption that the Christ child is appeased by our obligatory and stressful preparations for the annual observance of his arrival. Our lives are henceforth measured in shopping days, and they are dwindling.

It seems I am the lone holdout in the War on Christmas. Tell my wife I loved her—even though she asked me to get the Christmas decorations out of storage and to untangle the lights so we can put up a tree. And I need to make my reindeer cookies, and send my parents their presents, and send out the Christmas cards… I question my own resolve.

Perhaps some who don’t celebrate this Christian holiday pleaded for tolerance in the public sphere, but the carols drowned out their voices long ago. Others might have mistakenly believed that in a pluralistic democracy all are welcome, even those who meekly ask for respect for their minority views. They have since been re-educated that tolerance is discrimination.

This War on Christmas caused needless acrimony and bloodshed, though the blood was as phony as the offense took at “Happy Holidays,” a term meant only to draw the circle of good tidings a little wider.

As long as conservatives insist on a politically rigid observance of Christmas, there will be others who remember talk of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, though they long ago abandoned their posts. The rebellion in this War on Christmas is over. I am tired.  My heart is sick and sad.  From where the Star of Bethlehem now stands, I will fight this War on Christmas no more forever.Â


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Facing a Tea Party Challenge Wed, 11 Dec 2013 11:09:01 +0000 Jason Stanford For those who enjoy lowbrow political theater, it’s Christmas come early. Steve Stockman, a Texas congressman so far to the right he’s in danger of falling into the Gulf of Mexico, is challenging Sen. John Cornyn in the Republican Primary. Though Tea Party leaders were calling Texas’ senior senator a “traitor” who “surrendered” on Obamacare, the conservative case against Cornyn is thin. Stockman’s challenge demonstrates that nothing less than absolute faith is sufficient to survive in a radicalized Republican Party that no longer resembles the Party of Reagan, much less that of Lincoln.

cornyn Facing a Tea Party Challenge cartoons

Texas Senator John Cornyn

Cornyn’s worst sins against the conservative orthodoxy were to bail out Wall Street banks and not voting with Sen. Ted Cruz to shutdown the government to kill Obamacare. Less remembered is his 2009 vote to prop up the housing market with $192 billion in stimulus spending, and if you’re into predetermined outcomes you can find more evidence of impurities, but that’s basically it. The bailout and the you-Cruz-you-lose tactic are essentially the whole case for taking on Cornyn in a Republican primary.

Actually, that’s not true, is it? Look at him. He looks like the very model of a modern major pragmatist, someone who prefers compromise to benefit the greater good than someone who would enjoy building the party up by burning the capitol down. The conservative clerics sense his hidden sanity and distrust how phony his protestations strike their discerning ears. Basically, Cornyn looks like he’s faking it.

Take, for example, Cornyn’s reason for supporting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage: “It does not affect your daily life very much if your neighbor marries a box turtle. But that does not mean it is right.” The logic is unassailable. Your neighbor would be wrong to marry an animal. It would probably bring down the property values, though to be fair, your neighbor could legally consummate that union in Texas where bestiality is legal.

His courageous stand against zoophilia notwithstanding, Cornyn didn’t need to torture logic to convince the High Church of the Flat Earth that he was a true believer. To a real movement conservative, marriage is between a man and a woman, full stop. Simply put, Cornyn doth protest too much. When he strains to show his loyalty, the flop sweat of anxiety soaks his collar.

That’s weak evidence for an excommunication, and there’s precious little evidence in the record of his disloyalty. In 2012 BC (before Cruz), the National Journal ranked Cornyn as the second-most conservative senator for voting with conservatives 93.8 percent of the time. The Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association, the Christian Coalition, and the National Right to Life Committee gave him 100 percent ratings.

In fact, you can’t find any room to Cornyn’s right on abortion. He voted to expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program for unborn fetuses but against expanding healthcare coverage for children who were actually born. He voted to ban federal family planning grants to Planned Parenthood and against reducing teen pregnancy by funding birth control and education. He even thinks employers should be allowed to decide whether their employees get their contraceptives covered by insurance.

Therein lies the conundrum that is Cornyn. He speaks like a man smart enough to realize that birth control prevents unplanned pregnancies and thus reduce abortions. Despite all that, his voting record fails to convince the rightwing jihad that Cornyn shares their mission.

That’s why Cornyn was running scared even before Stockman’s announcement. Cornyn’s campaign ran an ad up touting that he’s “conservative — like you, like Texas,” a quality he demonstrates by shaking the hands of three people but never uttering a word other than “I’m John Cornyn, and I approve this message.”

This ad, like his voting record and his rhetorical excesses, did not appease the Tea Party mullahs who are thrilled Stockman is taking him on. For the next three months, Cornyn will trot out his conservative votes and increasingly reactionary opinions to convince the Tea Party that he’s one of them, but it won’t work. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they’ve made up their mind that Cornyn must be purified by the hellfires of a Republican Primary. It will be quite a show.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Women and the GOP: Apologies Don’t Matter Without Change Mon, 09 Dec 2013 08:05:53 +0000 Jason Stanford After losing the Virginia governor’s race because single women voted for the Democrat by a margin of 42 points, Republicans have found the solution. They will teach their candidates how to, in Speaker John Boehner’s words, “be a little more sensitive” to the ladies. But Republicans painting over policy differences with pretty words piles insult on top of offense and will do little to close the gender gap.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News

Their problem goes much deeper than calling Texas’ Wendy Davis “Abortion Barbie” or “Retard Barbie” and making sexualized attacks on Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes—though it would be nice if Republicans would stop using sex to minimize women.

Apologies without change matter little. In this case women are only getting flowers and a stated desire to move on without acknowledging, much less fixing, the real problem. Republicans aren’t saying they will change, only that they will use nicer-sounding words when proposing policies diametrically opposed to the way women choose to live their lives in the 21st Century.

For example, they don’t like it when Republicans express Paleozoic attitudes on sexual assault, such as Todd Akin’s infamous “legitimate rape” comment. Most recently, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-19th Century) theorized during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on military sexual assault that perhaps the young male soldiers just couldn’t help themselves around the opposite gender.

“Gee-whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur,” he said.

Here’s a tip for Republicans: The only proper opinion to hold on rape is that men should stop doing it. Sensitivity is not what is required here, but respect. To Sen. Chambliss’ comment, murder is also a possibility, but somehow a woman hasn’t shot him yet.

There is not a sensitive way to vote against equal pay for women, against funding to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women, or for closing Planned Parenthood clinics where women receive annual exams and birth control pills.

There is not a sensitive way to lie to women that oral contraception causes abortions. There is no sensitive way to hold a congressional hearing on the birth control mandate in Obamacare and not allow women to testify. There is not a sensitive way to call Sandra Fluke a “slut” for wanting insurance to cover her birth control pills.

Here’s another tip for Republicans, just because it’s the holiday season: If a doctor prescribes it and insurance covers it, it is medicine. The Founding Fathers did not envision Louie Gohmert making medical decisions for women, though to be fair, they did not envision women voting either.

“Speaker Boehner thinks women continue to reject Republicans at the ballot box because of a lack of sensitivity? Think again. Women don’t need Republicans to patronize, condescend or be delicate about their feelings. They need them to represent the values important to them and their families. No softer language learned in media training will convince women that the party that opposes equal pay, pledges to defund Planned Parenthood and proposes bans on their health care choices is the one looking out for their best interests,” said Lily Adams with the Democratic National Committee.

Women care about things other than what directly affects their reproductive organs, such as jobs, education, crime, terrorism, traffic, the environment, and retirement. They’re really not that different from men in this regard, which is the last tip Republicans are getting today.

Regardless, Republicans seem singularly focused on lady parts, a habit that grates even on the top Republican elected woman in Texas, Comptroller Susan Combs.

“Tell me that you give a flip about women’s interests,” Combs said. “If all you want to talk about is my biology, ‘Gee what happened to my brain?’ That is my point. It is not all south of the waistline.”

The better question might be what happened to the party that venerates individual freedom but does not respect women enough to make their own health care decisions. They can have all the sensitivity seminars they want, but until Republicans learn there is not a nice way to insult women, women will continue to vote against them.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Texas Versus California Mon, 02 Dec 2013 08:08:48 +0000 Jason Stanford Here we go again. Pointing to a conservative study, Gov. Rick Perry proclaimed, “The discussion’s over. The debate’s over. The proof is in. Texas wins.” And who did we beat? California, of course. It’s enough to make you wonder if little Ricky got enough love growing up on the dirt farm. Someone get this kid a 4-H ribbon so the grownups can talk, because we’ve got some work to do.

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Taylor Jones / Cagle Cartoons

How about just once we skipped the provincial chest thumping? Yes, Texas, you’re doing fine. The barbecue is the best we’ve ever had, I promise. Oh yes, that’s quite a lot of jobs, yessir. No one could argue that Perry has not created a low-tax, low-regulation utopia for the wealthy and incorporated.

So why is Perry still arguing this point? Does he really need this much validation? I have no idea what it feels like to trip over my own rainbows live on national television, but why isn’t the love of a good woman, the laurels from business magazines, and the grudging thanks of employed Texans enough to heal his injured ego?

Most assume Perry’s jet setting jobs tour is prelude to another presidential campaign, though “I’m right, you’re wrong” seems a strange message to deliver to voters in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri and New York. His compulsion to impose his superiority over other states comes across as defensive and insecure. Everything is bigger in Texas, including, it seems, our unmet emotional needs.

If Perry were secure in his legacy, then he’d stick with the economic argument. Instead, Perry tells extravagant lies. In January, Perry claimed that the “funding that we have seen in the state of Texas for public education has been pretty phenomenal” even though school funding has dropped 25 percent since 2002. It ain’t bragging if it’s true, but if it ain’t true, it’s not bragging. It’s just a sad, easily disproved, totally unbelievable lie from Perry, and it’s one of 27 that Politifact has identified as “false” and 14 as “pants on fire.” Bless his heart.

I wish that just once the provincial pom-pom squad would stop making us all look like anxious ninnies in this eternal struggle to prove our superiority over other, less-Texan states. Have some compassion for them, for they know not what they miss.

Instead, how about we ask ourselves a more interesting question: How can Texas be better? Doesn’t that open up a whole new range of blue skies? The alternative to the status quo in Texas has never been California. The choice Texas really faces is different: Do you want more of the same, or do you think Texas can do better?

That question leads to so many others:

If our economy is booming, why is there never enough money for schools?

If Texas is creating wealth, can we reward work as well?

Why can’t the booming industry responsible for ripping up our state highways pay to fix them?

Speaking of booming, why is it OK for fertilizer plants to keep the fire marshal from inspecting them to make sure they don’t kill the neighbors?

If our economy depends on the human capital educated at universities, how come Texas still has only three Tier I research universities while—forgive me—California has 11?

Is it time to ask why Perry has to go to California in the first place to poach companies? Texas is a great place to grow a company, but why is California a great place to start a company? What do they know about fostering education, collaboration, and innovation that we can replicate here? Instead of stealing their companies, how about stealing their secret recipe?

The opportunity is as big as Texas, but admitting that we have room for improvement is the first step. Unfortunately, “The discussion’s over,” according to Perry. It’s not. Let’s get Perry a big, shiny trophy to distract him while we have a grownup conversation about how Texas can be even better. Otherwise, we’ll still be mired in silly political squabbles about whether Texas is better than California, and the only answer we ever get will be an unsatisfying “it depends.”


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Common Core – a Failure Democrats and Republicans Can Agree On Mon, 25 Nov 2013 08:15:27 +0000 Jason Stanford It’s not every day that Democrats and Republicans get to shake their fist in the same direction. That honor goes to Education Secretary Arne Duncan whose insult against “white, suburban moms” whose “child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were” has sparked outrage from the tea party to teachers unions—not to mention the PTA moms who are heavily invested in their children’s schooling. Sec. Duncan is still walking back his remarks, but if a similar story in Texas is any guide, he’s not done with this fight by a long shot.

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Bob Englehart / Hartford Courant

Speaking to a group of superintendents, Duncan stepped in it, got down and rolled around in it when he said mothers just couldn’t accept how dumb their kids were.

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,” Duncan said. “You’ve bet your house and where you live and everything on, ‘My child’s going to be prepared.’ That can be a punch in the gut.”

Common Core has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, and so far, the rollout has been such a disaster that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a Common Core supporter, said, “You think the Obamacare implementation is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.”

But President Barack Obama took responsibility for the failures of and his broken promise that people could keep their insurance plans. Not so with Sec. Duncan, who thought telling mothers that he knew their children better than they was good politics.

This is not the first time a defender of the testing status quo has tried to beat back opposition by blaming hysterical mothers. The top business lobbyist in Texas tried that last year, and it didn’t work out so well for him.

Texas, the birthplace of high-stakes testing, rejected Common Core in favor of its own $468-million experiment in making everyone smarter with standardized tests. This sparked opposition similar to what Common Core is now facing, prompting Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, to accuse school administrators of “scaring mom. They’ve told mom that Johnny is not going to UT [University of Texas] because of the end-of-course exam.”

Dineen Majcher was one of those moms who had organized Texas Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment, an unwieldy name most rejected for either the acronym TAMSA or the more popular “Moms Against Drunk Testing.” Majcher sees parallels between Hammond’s attempt to marginalize parents and Duncan’s unwise choice of words.

“Parents are tired of policymakers making accusations and excuses for the harmful and ineffective policies of over-testing. Before policymakers send more taxpayers’ dollars to testing companies, we need to come to grips with many issues, such as the purpose and underlying motives for more standardized tests.  As parents, we know that ‘blame and shame’ does not work.  Our policymakers’ insistence to use that approach with over-testing in public schools is irresponsible,” said Majcher.

TAMSA did not back down and convinced the legislature and Gov. Rick Perry to partially roll back the testing requirements.

As in Texas, Sec. Duncan’s attempt to blame mothers has caused a backlash. Sec. Duncan’s half-hearted apology for his “controversial-sounding soundbites” and “clumsy phrasing” has done nothing to quell the full-throated opposition. Critics have started a petition on to remove Duncan as Secretary of Education, and a Facebook group called Moms Against Duncan (MAD) had more than 3,500 members.

The apology is beside the point. Parents of public school students—myself included—are mad that our education system is still based on standardized tests that are developmentally inappropriate, unable to measure classroom learning, and over-emphasized to the point of corrupting the curriculum. Moms (and dads, for that matter) will not be happy until we put developing children and not raising test scores at the center of our education policy. We’re just waiting for Sec. Duncan to realize that he isn’t as brilliant as he thinks he is.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

What Can We Learn From JFK’s Assassination Mon, 18 Nov 2013 08:05:28 +0000 Jason Stanford Half a century ago, Sid Davis was the first journalist to learn John Kennedy had died. Instead of breaking the biggest the biggest news story in the world, he waited because he wanted to make sure he was right. It is hard to image a journalist making the same choice nowadays amid our modern cacophony of inaccurate reporting, but perhaps Davis has something to teach us.

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Jimmy Margulies /

On Nov. 22, 1963, Davis, then the White House reporter for Westinghouse Radio, was traveling with the presidential motorcade in Dallas. Through the kind of luck that happens to good reporters, Davis was the first to learn the news no one wanted to hear.

“We first heard the President died from a priest. At Westinghouse Broadcasting Company, we did not put that on the air. I heard a priest say it. I talked to Washington, and I said, ‘Don’t put me on the air. The priest here says the President’s dead. I don’t think we ought to use it.’ My boss agreed with me, so we waiting for the announcement to be made. Now for a reporter, you know how difficult it is to hold back on a story, especially if you’ve got the biggest scoop of the century. Seemed like an eternity waiting for the official word, but it wasn’t. Took a couple minutes.”

The 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination will provide an excuse for too much overblown rhetoric about America losing its innocence, as if the Civil War, slavery and the genocide of Native Americans never happened. Searching for lessons, we will sagely agree that we’re more cynical, but wiser now.

Are we really? The decision of Davis and his boss provides a concise demonstration of archaic notions of character in a business that has long since mislaid its greatest priority of simply getting it right. Regardless of what came later with the Warren Commission and the grassy knoll, the press did not make any big mistakes on the first televised national crisis.

Now the media is taking “breaking the news” literally. CNN (“the most trusted name in news”) messed up the Supreme Court’s Obamacare ruling, and that was written down and handed to them. A year later, the same network reported the fiction that “a dark-skinned male” had been arrested in connection with the Boston bombing. Recently, NBC and ABC misidentified the Navy Yard shooter.

None of these stories approaches the fever pitch of Nov. 22, 1963, but Davis knew enough back then to slow down and make sure he got it right.

“Thank God that I had the training that said, ‘Wait a minute Sid.’ What you do in a case like that, the adrenaline is flowing. ‘My God,’ you say to yourself, ‘the President of the United States is dead. Let’s go with it. Let’s take the bows.’ But there’s a greater need to be accurate and a greater purpose for the business,” said Davis at a recent visit to the LBJ Presidential Library.

Years later when Davis was the Washington bureau chief for NBC News, he held off on breaking the story that Ronald Reagan had been shot because he only had the word of an orderly. On the other hand, he also held off on reporting the death of James Brady even though the other two networks were going with the story. As easy as it would be for Davis to think he’s different, he instead credits mentors who learned the craft as war correspondents.

“A lot of the reporters that I worked with at the White House were World War II war correspondents. They were seasoned. They were great mentors. They were kind and helpful to young fellows to learn. And today there are no more of these guys around. There’s no one to learn from,” said Davis.

Davis is wrong. We’ve got him. Let’s take a lesson. Next time news breaks, let’s all take a breath before we put it back together. Maybe then we will have something more to offer people than an apology.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Is Your Child’s Teacher ‘Highly Qualified’? Mon, 11 Nov 2013 08:05:38 +0000 Jason Stanford Is your child’s teacher highly qualified? Thanks to a loophole snuck into the bill to end the federal government shutdown, there’s really no way of knowing.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: Under No Child Left Behind, all schools—even the ones where the poor and minority students go—are supposed to hire “highly qualified teachers.” If a school hires teachers who don’t meet the federal definition of “highly qualified,” they send letters home to parents about their kids’ substandard teachers and come up with a plan to fix it.

This is a great idea. It used to be that inexperienced teachers would get stuck with the hardest jobs in underfunded, underperforming schools. As teachers would gain seniority, they would take their experience to better schools where the kids were easier to teach. NCLB recognized that the worst schools couldn’t get better without “highly qualified” teachers.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

Unfortunately for Teach for America, their graduates didn’t qualify. Teach for America recruits smart college kids to teach in poor communities for two years. TFA gives them five weeks of training after graduation and places them in front of a classroom by the fall with only 15-20 hours of teaching experience under their belts.

Having our kids taught by someone with minimal experience and training is not what parents have in mind when they imagine a “highly qualified teacher,” and it’s certainly not what NCLB required. So congress did what congress does, and created a solution that made the problem worse by allowing teachers still enrolled in training to be classified as “highly qualified.” That way, when schools hire TFA grads they don’t have to let parents know their kids’ teachers are barely trained, inexperienced, and unproven.

Putting someone with 20 hours of classroom experience on the same level as someone with National Board Certification in Teaching is like thinking a 15-year-old with a learner’s permit and an adult with a commercial driver’s license along with school bus and passenger endorsements are equally qualified to drive the school bus. Only one of those options will get you reliably good results, but congress says there’s no problem entrusting your children with the riskier option.

This loophole has been a disaster in California, which tracked where teachers-in-training got placed. Predictably, these inexperienced teachers were more likely to find jobs in schools with low-income, minority students. Shockingly, half of the teachers-in-training were saddled with students with disabilities. Sticking the hardest-to-teach kids with the least-qualified teachers was exactly what NCLB wanted to prevent, so California recently created new rules to keep these rookie teachers away from non-English speaking students.

TFA touts a new Mathematica study that says their teachers are effective at getting results in middle-school math, but most evidence points to the conclusion that TFA alums don’t do as well as credentialed teachers. More recently, the National Education Policy Center found that “class size reduction has 286 percent more impact than TFA.” And a meta-study published in Teachers College Record reported that Pre-K showed improvements 1,214 percent larger than what the Mathematica study showed.

Dozens of national, state, and local civil rights, disability, parent, student, community and education groups—basically, everyone who represents the kids who get the teachers-in-training—lobbied congress and the Obama administration to close the loophole. But Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee, likes Teach for America and worked behind the scenes to use the bill to end the government shutdown as a Trojan Horse to keep the loophole open, according to Stephanie Simon at POLITICO. And Pres. Barack Obama, whose administration provided TFA with 12 percent of its funding in 2011, let it happen.

A better option would seem to be to invest in proven reforms such as Pre-K and smaller class sizes, to expand financial aid for college graduates to get certified as teachers, and to stop playing political games with the definition of “highly qualified”.

But what do I know? I’m just a dad with two kids in public schools. No one tells me anything.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Corrections Mon, 04 Nov 2013 07:31:26 +0000 Jason Stanford Last week’s news contained some factual errors that merit correction. We strive for accuracy at all times and regret falling short in these rare instances.

An article on Sunday claimed that the National Security Agency collected data on tens of millions of phone calls in France and Spain. In actual—if less sensational—fact, the records were “handed over to the NSA by European intelligence services as part of joint operations.” We regret getting the story exactly backwards.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

Also on Sunday, a television news magazine featured an American security contractor who claimed to have fought off terrorists at the State Department compound in Benghazi. It now appears that this person filed an official report stating he was nowhere near the compound. We regret not checking out his story before giving him a national platform.

In repeated interviews on Monday and Tuesday, Sen. Lindsay Graham threatened to filibuster federal nominations because “the people who survived the attack in Benghazi have not been made available to the U.S. Congress for oversight purposes.” In fact, they did testify before Congress recently. The cable news anchors regret not challenging him on this easily verified factual misstatement.

A guest op-ed on Monday by actress and author Suzanne Somers misattributed the rantings of emails in ALL CAPS to Vladimir Lenin and Winston Churchill. Furthermore, her op-ed repeated the previously discredited assertion that Canadian doctors are fleeing socialized medicine for the unregulated profiteering in the United States. Also, Ms. Somers also mistook a dog for a horse, but in the greater scheme of things this worries us less than thinking the Thigh Master pitchwoman was a credible health care policy expert. We regret the error.

An article on Monday incorrectly implied that the Obama administration did not know about half of those with health insurance policies purchased on the individual market would receive cancellations. In fact, the regulations written in 2010 predicted that 40%-67% of those in the individual market would lose their policies because of market forces, including insurance companies unilaterally lowering benefits, shrinking coverage or increasing your co-pays, i.e., behaving like insurance companies. We regret the error.

In a follow-up story Tuesday, morning news co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck further claimed this information was “buried in Obamacare,” asking “Where was that information up at the top? Where was that in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012? Where was that information?” While she did list the progression of years in correct sequential order, the predicted changeover in the individual health insurance market had been previously reported in 2010 by the network that now employs her. She may or may not regret the error.

Repeated television interviews last week featured consumers with cancelled insurance policies. After Michael Hiltzik of The Los Angeles Times and Paul Waldman of The American Prospect quickly debunked the horror stories, it became clear that the television journalists failed to do more than turn on the camera and say, “Golly” and “Oh, really? Wow.”

It is doubtful that a single television reporter asked any of these people four crucial questions: What did their old plan cover? Did they go to the exchanges? If the premiums were cheap, were the co-pays and deductibles affordable? Did they qualify for subsidies? We regret giving frightened consumers platforms to air uninformed complaints without ever performing what would be recognized by experts as “journalism” until the cameras were turned off. The answers to these questions revealed that the real horror story was how insurance companies could get away with junk policies that left consumers exposed to financial ruin until Obamacare came along.

Journalism’s apparent inability to ask follow-up questions, challenge assumptions and debunk lies has left the country in a bit of an uninformed tizzy about its national and financial security. All of this would have been simple to prevent had journalists had checked their facts before polluting the news with false information.

However, researching a subject can get in the way of achieving the ratings usually attained through sensationalizing falsehood and ignorance. We regret the errors, but we can’t promise it all won’t happen again next week. After all, we hear Sally Struthers has written something about Benghazi that’s really dynamite.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

GOP: Women Love Jumping Through Hoops Mon, 28 Oct 2013 05:33:50 +0000 Jason Stanford abbott GOP: Women Love Jumping Through Hoops cartoons

Texas Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott

Women of Texas, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott is here to tell you how good you have it. In fact, he recently said, “I’m proud to say there is nobody in the state of Texas who has done more to fight to help women than I have in the past decade.” You’ll have to excuse the man. He’s running for governor, and it’s becoming clear that his right hand doesn’t know what the far-right hand is doing.

Abbott says he has prosecuted sex traffickers and collected $27 billion in child support. He deserves credit for doing his job, but the applause might be louder if his campaign weren’t lying about Sen. Davis’s record and giving a forum to sexist attacks on her.

He went trolling for e-mail addresses by circulating a petition that claimed, “Wendy Davis wants to bring gun control to Texas.” Hogwash. Among Davis’ pro-2nd Amendment votes is one giving the Attorney General the power to block local gun control laws. Let’s hope Abbott’s aim is better with a gun.

That lie quickly became a sideshow as thousands of people left comments on Abbott’s Facebook page that can’t be printed in newspapers. Abbott’s campaign deleted a couple of death threats but left up these and others like them: “She looks like a throw rug,” wrote one. “Piss on her,” suggested another. Someone called her a “whiney, panty waggin’ broad.” The comment “Someone needs to flush her where she belongs” was what passed for subtlety on this litany of online abuse.

This happened as voters started trickling into the polls to vote on constitutional amendments. Texans are always bragging, but no one can hold a candle to us when it comes to not voting. Texas has the worst voter participation rates in the entire country.

To Abbott, that’s a good start. Despite the fact that he can cite only two cases of voter impersonation in the last decade, Abbott pushed a law now in effect requiring voters to show a valid photo ID before voting. Wildly popular and seemingly logical, the law ignores real life. For example, two-thirds of Texas women do not have a photo ID that shows their current legal name, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. To vote, the names have to match.

This happened to me when I voted. My driver’s license spells out my middle name, whereas the voter file only uses the initial. I filled out a form stating that I, Jason Andrew Stanford, was indeed Jason A. Stanford, and was allowed to vote. At best, Voter ID poses a useless bureaucratic annoyance to voters. At worst, it’s another reason not to vote in a state where hardly anyone votes.

The women who have different names on their photo ID and their voter registration cards have it better than the Texans who don’t have an ID at all, says Sondra Haltom, the president of Empower the Vote Texas, a non-profit defending voters’ rights. She found that the Secretary of State, which runs Texas elections, says 795,955 voters lack either a state ID or a driver’s license.

Many of these voters, Haltom has found, are little old ladies who don’t drive or need an ID—except now to vote—and now they have long since lost the supporting documentation needed to get an ID card.

“Voter ID disproportionately affects women simply because women more often change their names when they get married and then change them back when they get divorced,” said Haltom. “I think this is an unintended consequence that those who wrote this law didn’t think through the details. Now we have the unintended problem of women having to jump through hoops in order to vote.”

If there’s one thing women like it’s having to jump through hoops simply because they’re women, especially to prevent something that almost never happens. And Abbott is adding insult to inconvenience by running a deceitful, negative campaign that runs down Wendy Davis partly because of her gender.

Any more defending from you, Greg, and the women of Texas might get mad enough to vote. Heckuva job, Abbott.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Students Aren’t Failing Tests – Tests Are Failing Students Wed, 23 Oct 2013 07:05:31 +0000 Jason Stanford Recently, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said you’re either “moving forward with courageous reforms” and “piloting new and better assessments” (the graduate school term for “standardized tests”), or you’re one of the “arm chair pundits who insist our efforts are doomed to fail.” Duncan exposed his own fallacy when he said, “Many people in the real world, outside the beltway and blogosphere, have tuned out this debate.” Actually, the opposite is true. In the birthplace of the legislative dumpster fire known as No Child Left Behind, most Texans are lining up against test-driven reforms.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

Pressured by local school boards, parents, and superintendents, the Texas legislature rolled back the number of tests required to graduate from high school from 15 to 5. Lawmakers even made it illegal for testing lobbyists to give them campaign contributions, a rare move in a state notably hostile to limits on lobbying, business or campaign contributions.

The only thing wrong with these limits on testing, say Texans in a recent poll, is that they didn’t go far enough. The Texas Lyceum polled 1,000 adults and found only 14 percent preferred the status quo. Slightly more (17 percent) liked the recent changes. The shock of the poll is that 56 percent of Texans wanted either to get rid of standardized tests entirely because they encourage “teaching to the test” or leave accountability standards up to local school boards.

That’s a lot of armchair pundits.

Texas hasn’t gone soft. As a parent of two sons in public school, I can vouch that we all still want our kids to get good grades so they can go to good colleges. But the tests, which were promised to bring improvements, are increasingly impediments to education.

As Texas superintendent John Kuhn argues in his upcoming book “Test & Punish,” test-based accountability was substituted for equitable funding in the early 1990s. In effect, Texas solved the problem of underfed athletes by demanding they jump higher. Twenty years later, Sec. Duncan and his allies in Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush and others, are piling reforms atop this unexamined assumption despite a report by the National Research Council that test-based reforms don’t work.

The reason Texans are fighting back is because they don’t need a peer-reviewed study to tell them Congress should undo, not reform, No Child Left Behind. In successful schools, testing wastes more than a month of classroom time to practice taking tests. In struggling schools, tests prevent the kids the system was designed to help from getting an education.

Here’s how: More than a third of Class of 2015—a group of Texans equal to the population of Abilene—currently won’t graduate because the students have failed at least one state test and two subsequent retests. In elementary school, a quarter of the state’s fifth graders will be held back because they failed the reading test. In the eighth grade, a third of all black and poor students have failed the state’s math test.

Either those scores are signs that two decades of test-based accountability has failed to improve education for underserved populations, or they are proof that test-based accountability is a faith-based ideology with less credibility than believing that marking your child’s height against a wall causes him to grow. You don’t need to sit in an armchair to think that a system that excludes a third of a state’s population from public education might be a sign that you need to re-examine the basic assumptions underlying education policy.

But not Sec. Duncan. On the same day he was insulting his critics, Sec. Duncan granted a NCLB waiver to Texas. Instead of forcing Texas to meet NCLB’s unattainable requirement that 90 percent of the state’s students would achieve proficiency by 2014, the Dept. of Education will require the state to use student tests to rate teachers.

This will probably work even worse than using student tests to rate students has. To use Sec. Duncan’s phrase, it’s doomed to fail, but what do I know? I’m just a dad with kids in public school, sitting in an armchair, waiting for policy makers to realize that it’s not the students who are failing the tests, but the tests that are failing the students.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

A New Hope for School Accountability Mon, 21 Oct 2013 13:01:08 +0000 Jason Stanford Students are protesting standardized testing. Parents are refusing to let schools give their kids the tests. Teachers are refusing to administer the tests. School boards are begging for relief from testing mandates. That’s all nice, say the dwindling number of defenders of linking accountability to standardized testing, but if we got rid of tests what would you replace them with?

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News

It’s a fair question, and it’s one that a group of 23 rebellious school districts are determined to answer. If they succeed—and it’s a big if—then American schoolchildren might enjoy an education system judged by something other than a bubble test.

Last week, the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium chose to go ahead with plans to create a new accountability system that doesn’t depend on standardized tests despite opposition from Gov. Rick Perry. The move by the Consortium to circumvent Perry offers hope to those who see progress stymied by politicians who equate standardized tests with high standards.

The irony is that Perry and the Texas legislature created the Consortium in the first place to build a next-generation accountability model that utilized technology. Perry might have assumed they would study the problem to death, but the school districts came up with some innovative ideas.

In College Station, high school science and math students could go online to watch lessons from Khan Academy and iTunes U specifically focused on complementing their classroom work. In an Austin suburban school, students taking upper division math classes found that using iPads increased collaboration on homework. In South Texas, students used technology to access coursework at a nearby college and earn dual credit.

By and large, testing got in the way of these school districts, sucking up time they wanted to spend on these creative classroom ideas. When the Consortium reported back to the legislature, the eagerness of the districts to reform the testing model was obvious. They asked to dial testing in elementary and middle school way back, to use the SAT and ACT tests in high school to streamline college readiness standards, and to get an independent audit of how well the schools were doing. Best of all for the students—who, allegedly, are the consumers of education—the better they did on tests, the fewer tests they would have to take.

A bill encompassing the Consortium’s findings emphasized technology, innovation, flexibility, college-readiness and in-depth teaching. The legislature passed the bill without a dissenting vote. It was exactly what Perry said he wanted when he created the Consortium.

So he vetoed it.

“Flexibility and innovation are important, but we will not compromise academic rigor or student outcomes,” wrote Perry in his veto message.

Last week, the Consortium decided to move ahead despite veto, drawing praise from Rep. Bennett Ratliff, the Republican sponsor of the vetoed bill.

“I think this is clear evidence that schools that are focused on education and learning don’t believe that our current testing program is the best solution to move forward into the 21st century,” said Ratliff.

But trying to develop a new accountability system while simultaneously following the current one makes success less likely. In a 2012 update, the Consortium pleaded “that ‘space’ must be provided for new possibilities to emerge, because it is impossible to run alternative or parallel systems in conjunction with the current system.”

Despite the difficulty in chasing two tails, Dawson Orr, Consortium co-chair and superintendent of Highland Park ISD, pledges to press on to find an accountability system that actually measures what goes on in schools.

“You know, there’s just an awful lot of authentic work that goes on in classrooms that represents student learning that state and federal bureaucracies don’t know how to handle because they need the ease and convenience of a multiple choice test,” Orr said.

Another Texas leader, the late Speaker Sam Rayburn, once said, “A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.” There are a lot of folks trying to get rid of high-stakes testing—and a lot of merit in doing so—but thanks to 23 gutsy school districts, we now have some carpenters looking for an accountability system that makes sense. Good luck to them.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Why the RNC’s Hispanic Outreach Will Fail Mon, 14 Oct 2013 06:55:41 +0000 Jason Stanford Rest easy, Texas Republicans. The Republican National Committee is here from Washington to teach you how to get Hispanic votes. I think I’d rather jog in a wool suit on a July afternoon in Houston than organize Hispanic voters for the Republican Party these days. The problem with the Republican Party’s otherwise-laudable idea to reach out to Hispanics is that Republican officeholders are doing everything they can to push them away, dooming this “rebranding” effort to failure.

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John Cole / Scranton Times-Tribune

Not too long ago, Texans were teaching national Republicans how to do this. George W. Bush made reaching out to Latinos a priority. He pushed immigration reform, called the Mexican President his friend, said we should treat immigrants with respect regardless of how they got here. He sprinkled his speeches with Spanish words, rolled his R’s and made high-level Hispanic appointments. And in 2004, Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote.

For the last 10 years, Texas Republicans have been running in the opposite direction. Rick Perry learned his lesson in his presidential campaign when he was booed for a 2001 law that gave children of unauthorized immigrants in-state college tuition. Now all four Republicans running for Texas lieutenant governor want to repeal it.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican gubernatorial frontrunner, is taking flak in his primary for tepidly endorsing the law’s “noble” intention and saying he wants to reform, not repeal, it, though he can’t say how or why. Don’t waste any tears on Abbott’s pickle. As Attorney General, he pushed for a Voter ID law that could disenfranchise as many as 795,955 Texans who are registered to vote but who lack a driver’s license, 38.2 percent of whom are, you guessed it, Hispanic. Hard to court voters you’re trying to keep from voting.

Nationally, Republicans aren’t doing themselves any favors either. Iowa congressman Steve King, the Republicans’ point man in Congress on immigration, said last month at a rally in Nebraska that illegal immigrants have killed more Americans than 9/11. And who could forget Rep. Don Young fondly reminiscing on an Alaska radio show about his dad hiring “50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes” back in the day. Good times.

And then Republicans shut down the federal government because they hate the Affordable Care Act. According to a recent poll, what did Hispanics list as their top two issues? Government spending and affordable healthcare, the same things the GOP wants to kill.

Whom can the Republicans be targeting in their outreach? Sado-masochistic Hispanics with driver’s licenses who hate immigrants and government, think college is for sissies and never watch the news? This isn’t an alliance. It’s an abusive relationship, and the wife got the heck out a long time ago.

If Republicans keep up this racist vibe, they might look fondly back on the 27 percent that Mitt Romney got in 2012. That historical low-water mark is why the Republican National Committee tried to rally support for immigration reform in its rebranding report last March.

“If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation), they will not pay attention to our next sentence,” read the report. “It does not matter what we say about education, jobs or the economy; if Hispanics think we do not want them here, they will close their ears to our policies.”

Since then, congressional Republicans killed comprehensive immigration reform and voted to deport hundreds of thousands of children brought into this country by their unauthorized immigrant parents. That’s why the Public Religion Research Institute found last month that only one in 10 Hispanics could offer a positive comment about the Republican Party. Likely Hispanic voters now prefer Democratic congressional candidates over Republican ones by a 2-to-1 margin.

I’ve had hard jobs before, many when the minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. I’ve cleaned horse stalls, shoveled the excrement of hundreds of guinea pigs, and mowed lawns in Miami in the summer. I’ve delivered newspapers, bussed tables and washed dishes. But I’ve never had a more thankless task than the poor organizers trying to rally Hispanics to a political party that suppresses their vote, defunds their priorities and insults their race.

Vaya con Dios.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Advice for Parents on Tantrums Mon, 07 Oct 2013 12:54:27 +0000 Jason Stanford The federal government shutdown has made me sick of politics. For a political columnist, this can be tricky, but taking a break from politics also offers an opportunity. This week, I thought I would write a column about what I’ve learned as a father of two spirited boys, and offer my advice on how to handle tantrums.

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Angel Boligan / Cagle Cartoons

As toddlers, their screaming fits were loud and embarrassing but comparatively easy to deal. Nothing shuts down a trip to the grocery store like an overwrought child writhing on the floor, howling with outrage that his mom or dad won’t buy him a box of sugary cereal. The child will flail about, obstructing the shoppers to push their carts down the aisle, and his pained cries will make onlookers want to do anything to make it stop. We’ve all been there.

Uninformed observers will wonder why the parent doesn’t negotiate, or unfairly assume that both parties share some blame. Ignore them and stand firm. Negotiating to end tantrums only teaches the child that throwing tantrums gets results, causing an endless cycle of hostage-taking every time you need to buy a loaf of bread. Teach your child that they “own” their behavior and the resulting consequences.

Another tactic your toddler may discover is the “rag doll” move. Upon exhausting all other ways to avoid doing an unpleasant task—going to the doctor, for instance—your little diaper jockey may go completely limp and force you to pick him up and carry him. For some unknown reason, a limp child is, pound for pound, twice as heavy as a normal child and can seem impossible to move. And when you do move him, you may discover that “dragging kicking and screaming” is not a charming metaphor but an actual instruction for parenting.

Do not attempt to explain the virtues of going to the doctor. It matters little to a child in the throes of a tantrum that going to the doctor makes sense. Do not refer to his long history of going to the doctor, or the fact that he has thrown a fit 43 times in a row with zero effect other than trying the patience of his parents. Precedence carries no weight with the purple-faced fury of frustration. You cannot reason with the unreasonable. Sometimes the parents need to learn this lesson over and over again.

When your child enters adolescence, your challenges become more difficult as your child’s brain grows, increasing their capacity for mayhem. They might turn every conflict into a pitched battle, demanding their right to relitigate basic family functions—gassing up dad’s car after borrowing it, for example. A teen might even raise myriad ridiculous arguments to avoid meeting his responsibilities by engaging you in pointless and lengthy discussions.

A lot of this has to do with adolescents wanting to have a voice. So, let him talk even if it’s pointless prattle for 21 hours straight. Resist the urge to overreact to provocations or correct egregious misstatements of fact. Let the future father of your grandchildren talk until he can no longer stand. Let the boy talk though the sound of his voice may make you want to scrape the flesh from your face with a spoon. He must have his say.

And then you need to explain, patiently but firmly, that his personal objections can’t come at the expense of the common good. A family can’t shut down its regular business because one person has an objection. Even if your child takes a long time to learn this lesson, don’t worry. You never see adults acting this way, do you?

Above all, when your child is throwing a tantrum you must remember the most important thing: You’re the adult. Just because someone you love and cherish is acting like stubborn twerp doesn’t mean you should, too. I hope this helps. For some reason, it’s been on my mind lately. Next week, I’ll get back to writing about politics.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Learning to Love Ted Cruz Mon, 30 Sep 2013 07:10:13 +0000 Jason Stanford Ted Cruz said he would go to Washington to change Washington. Well, he’s done it. He’s united Democrats and more than a few Senate Republicans in hatred of Texas’ very junior senator and your new 2016 GOP frontrunner. But as much as Cruz sincerely drives me nuts, he might be the best thing that has happened to Democrats since the last big government shutdown.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

Cruz does not embody the prototypical political neediness. His pathos doesn’t pander. He is no clown, and neither does he seem to care one whit about political reality, whether it’s taking on a long shot senate race against a multimillionaire lieutenant governor or trying to force the president to defund his signature legislative achievement. He should be refreshing, but all I want to do when he opens his mouth is put my fist in it.

There are a million reasons Cruz makes me want to punch him in his smug face, all of them good. (There is one bad one: It’s a felony. Don’t do it.)

A constitutional law expert who has argued before the Supreme Court, Cruz routinely misstates constitutional law, such as his contention that state legislatures and not judges should adjudicate rights.

A college debate champion, his practiced rhetorical delivery strikes many, myself included, as phony, smarmy, and disingenuous. His raised eyebrows express a feigned humility that comes across like nails on the chalkboard.

A graduate both of Princeton and of Harvard Law, he pretends a fake anti-intellectualism, such as when he claimed endangered lizards “make darn fine boots.”

He takes an imp’s glee in telling outrageous lies and exploits political opportunity even at the expense of the country he professes to want to save. All of these are great reasons, but they don’t explain why Cruz is the Republican whom Democrats love to hate.

It’s actually quite simple: Cruz is the kid in class who always thinks he knows the answer even when he doesn’t. He disrespects people whom he doesn’t think are as smart as he is, which is everyone who disagrees with him. He’s an elitist, intellectual snob.

Cruz has drawn comparisons to Joe McCarthy for questioning the patriotism of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State of John Kerry, but better historical antecedent is former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the king of patronizing condescension.

Cruz’s fight in the Judiciary Committee last March with Diane Feinstein was pure Gingrich. When he “mansplained” the District of Columbia vs. Heller decision to her, she snapped, “I am not a 6th grader.” While true, her response lacked composure. It was a visceral, intellectualized animal response. Not since Gingrich in his heyday as a Republican been able to get under our skin like this.

Republican voters consider this one of Cruz’s chief virtues and further evidence that he has succeeded in not going to Washington to make friends but to shake things up—another parallel to the former Speaker. Cruz is scratching an itch so satisfying to Republicans that they forget how Gingrich’s story ended—getting blamed for shutting down the federal government and resigning after leading his party to a historically rare electoral loss.

With his forehead crinkled in feigned innocence, Cruz says it’ll be different this time. But this isn’t a sequel, it’s a remake. We know how it ends, which is precisely why Democrats need to sit back, pour themselves some liquid therapy on ice, and enjoy the show.

Ted Cruz is the best thing that has happened to Obama since Michelle agreed to go out with him. Just as Bill Clinton thrived with Gingrich as his foil, the famously introspective and inscrutable Obama finally has a Moriarty to give him focus, if not purpose. The cartoonish obstruction offered by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell never rose to this level. They never moved us to hate, never incited us to demand their heads on spikes.

Not so with Cruz. Democrats could not have asked for a better Republican villain. He unites Democrats, divides Republicans, and swings independent voters our way. The better Cruz does, the worse Republicans do. The sound of his voice might make me want to tear the skin from my face, but right now he’s the best spokesman the Democrats have. Let the man speak.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Go Home, Congressman. You’re Drunk. Mon, 23 Sep 2013 06:17:46 +0000 Jason Stanford There is evil in the world. In fact, there are too many examples, from Jerry Sandusky and Ariel Castro in the United States to Assad gassing civilians in Syria to Islamic terrorists killing shoppers in a Nairobi mall. You could make a list of all the evil in the world and run out of ideas before you would ever think of writing down the name of Diane Ravitch, a grandmother who has dedicated her life to protecting public schools, but don’t tell that to Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat.

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David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star

On Thursday, Sep. 19, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tweeted out a link to a good review of Ravitch’s latest book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Though Weingarten’s tweet was not directed at him, Rep. Polis responded, and he chose his words poorly.

“@rweingarten don’t know if I can bring myself to read another book from that evil woman who is doing such harm to public education,” tweeted Polis. He later deleted that, but when challenged by Weingarten, he didn’t back down.

“Can’t think of anybody else who has caused more harm to public schools, except maybe Koch brothers,” he tweeted. “[She's] actually a very sweet woman, i’ve met her, but her theories are causing great harm to public schools.” (The myriad errors in that tweet are in his original.)

Who is this “very sweet” but “evil woman” who so riles Polis, the 7th-richest member of Congress? Ravitch had senior positions in the Department of Education for both Pres. George H. W. Bush and Pres. Bill Clinton. Initially, she was a big cheerleader for No Child Left Behind until she noticed it didn’t work. The tests didn’t make our kids smarter, and their parents overwhelmingly preferred public schools, even badly rated ones, over privately owned charter schools.

That’s the pea disturbing the slumber of Polis, a member of Colorado’s State Board of Education before he got elected to Congress where he sits on the Education Committee. He made one fortune with online greeting cards and then another fortune with ProFlowers, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But Polis believes that his success in reinventing greeting cards and flower delivery qualifies him to reinvent public education. His foundation funds the New America School, a privately owned charter school in Denver rated among the worst in the state that graduates students well below the state average.

Not content to keep all that success to himself, Polis sponsored the All Students Achieving through Reform (All-STAR) Act to make, he said, “the very best educational practices at America’s leading charter schools available to more students. It’s as simple as finding what does and doesn’t work, funding the best schools, and giving every student the best possible education,” which sounds nice until you realize he’s talking about charter schools like his.

Polis’ antipathy towards Ravitch is purely ideological. She’s the heretic who says Earth revolves around the sun. In “Reign of Error,” Ravitch writes that public schools are doing a pretty good job but would do better if we gave prenatal education to poor women, funded universal pre-K, and created opportunities for summer learning to prevent regression. But Ravitch also writes that charter schools aren’t magic and cites reams of evidence to back this up. TO Rep. Polis, this is blasphemy.

“Jared Polis is outstanding on environmental issues and probably other issues as well. But for reasons I don’t understand, he has a visceral, emotional contempt for public schools,” responded Ravitch.

The reason is that Polis is an entrepreneur besotted with the buzzwords that made him rich. “Innovation” will not, in and of itself, fix public schools, and absent evidence that charter schools are better than public schools, faith that they will is as dangerous as irrational exuberance on Wall Street.

Put down the iPhone and go home, Congressman. You’re drunk.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

California and Texas Agree on Testing Mon, 16 Sep 2013 04:33:11 +0000 Jason Stanford California and Texas are the Red Sox and Yankees of interstate rivalries. The biggest blue state and the big, bad red state love to hate each other, but they are fighting on the same side against the expensive and useless burden of over-testing. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has made it clear that the testing will continue until the scores improve, even when they already have improved or they tell us nothing.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News

California is adopting a new testing system that they hope will move away from rote learning and filling in little bubbles to encouraging critical thinking. While they field test the new assessments and align the curriculum, state officials want to stop giving the old tests for one year. This makes sense, because testing kids on a curriculum they’re no longer being taught would produce test scores about as useful as knowing the shoe sizes of your favorite baseball players when they were in elementary school. The California Superintendent of Public Instruction said it would be “continuing to look in the rear-view mirror with outdated tests.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan did not wait to see whether Gov. Jerry Brown would sign the bill before he threatened to withhold federal money from California schools.

“Letting an entire school year pass for millions of students without sharing information on their schools’ performance with them and their families is the wrong way to go about this transition. No one wants to over-test, but if you are going to support all students’ achievement, you need to know how all students are doing,” wrote Sec. Duncan.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education rejected a common-sense reform in, of all places, Texas. Legislators and Gov. Rick Perry recognized that it wasn’t necessary to force every child to take every test every year to keep them on track. Under current law, a Texas schoolchild has to pass 17 tests to get to high school. This takes months out of the school year, costs millions of dollars, and produces data of dubious value.

For example, a child who passes a reading test one year is overwhelmingly likely to pass it the next year, according to data from the Texas Education Agency. The legislature asked for a federal waiver to let students who passed their state standardized tests in the 3rd and 5th grades to skip the tests in the 4th, 6th and 7th grades. Teachers could focus on those kids who needed more help, students who had mastered the work would be freed up to learn new things, and taxpayers would save $13.4 million over two years.

This was a great example of government getting out of its own way, but there was a hitch. Because the Texas law conflicted with No Child Left Behind, Texas needed permission from the U.S. Department of Education to stop giving tests to kids who did not need them in order to produce data that told us nothing.

Unfortunately, Obama’s Education Department said no.

“Annual assessment of all students in grades three through eight is critical to holding schools and local education agencies accountable for improving the achievement of all students,” Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote in a letter to Texas officials.

But why is “annual assessment of all students” critical? Does testing every kid every year tell us anything useful? Why is it necessary to have the expensive and largely useless data that changes very little year-to-year? And in California’s case, what would parents learn from test scores that would confirm that apples and oranges are, in fact, different?

Sec. Duncan’s refusal to play ball with California and Texas shows that the federal government is committed to the ideology of assessment for the sake of the data, not the learning. This is measuring for the sake of filling out spreadsheets, not little minds. In a speech to educators last spring, Sec. Duncan said, “We must reliably measure student learning, growth, and gain,” as if measuring, and not learning, was the point.

It’s time to stop testing for testing’s sake and fostering the innovation that makes America exceptional. If California and Texas can agree on that, then anything is possible—even progress.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Political Opportunism on Syria Wed, 11 Sep 2013 12:13:00 +0000 Jason Stanford There is a danger in being as glib as Sen. Ted Cruz, the winner of several national debating awards in college. He has utilized his considerable rhetorical skills to put himself in the 2016 discussion. But by both politicizing and trivializing the question of whether to bomb another country, Cruz has shown that he is unready for serious consideration.

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Patrick Chappatte / International Herald Tribune

Many reasonable people agree with him. According to a USA Today/Pew Research Center Poll, opponents of striking Syria outnumber supporters by a 2-1 margin. To use Pres. Barack Obama’s favorite phrase, let me be clear: Good, reasonable Americans oppose Obama’s plan to hit Syria with cruise missiles.

But there is nothing commendable, patriotic or civilized about how Cruz is mining this crisis for political advantage. Cruz debuted his debatable tactic by making the defensible argument that Al Qaeda is fighting alongside the Syrian rebels and the indefensible argument that an American strike would align our military with terrorists.

“We should be focused on defending the United States of America. That’s why young men and women sign up to join the military, not to, as you know, serve as Al Qaeda’s air force,” said Cruz. Texas’ very junior senator should take care to note that our troops join the military to serve their country, not to, as you know, further his craven ambition.

Cruz’s claim that Obama wanted the United States military to serve as “Al Qaeda’s air force” seems more at home in the John Birch Society than in polite society, but then again, this is Texas. Questioning the patriotism and loyalty of the Commander-in-Chief is just good business for Republicans, but his choice of words not only violates the quaint rule that politics stops at the water’s edge but questions the patriotism of our Commander-in-Chief.

For Sen. Cruz, that was just Wednesday.

Asked to defend his preposterous accusation, Sen. Cruz first threw up a smoke screen (“that actual line initially was said by Dennis Kucinich”) before restating that hitting Syria “would help al-Qaeda terrorists.”

The meanest thing you can do to politicians is take them at their word, so let us assume for the sake of a reasonable debate that the Syrian civil war has galvanized Islamic terrorists. Asked what should we do about this hotbed of our mortal enemies, Cruz said that we “should force a vote in the U.N. security council” to “make [Russia and China] veto it on the world stage” to “unify international opinion condemning [Assad].”

Cruz’s newfound support for multilateral international pressure might come as a shock to Texas Republican primary voters. In his 2012 campaign, Cruz touted the unfounded conspiracy theory that George Soros is funding a United Nations effort called Agenda 21 that will “abolish ‘unsustainable’ environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads.”

Cruz then undercut his transparent sop to the United Nations by implying that the Syrian situation was not very serious at all despite the prevalence of our mortal enemies. The real issue, he said, was not the international war crime of using chemical weapons. It was Benghazi.

“One of the problems with all of this focus on Syria is it’s missing the ball from what we should be focused on, which is the grave threat from radical Islamic terrorism. Just this week is the one-year anniversary of the attack on Benghazi,” he said.

Taking Cruz at his word requires an understanding of quantum politics in which alternate truths coexist simultaneously. Using chemical weapons is a distraction, so we should rally world opinion against it. The Syrian rebels are in league with Al Qaeda, but focusing on Syria is a distraction from “radical Islamic terrorism.” In fact, attention paid to Syrian war crimes distracts us from Benghazi, the focus of umpteen congressional hearings.

Our checks-and-balances constitution requires Americans to agree to disagree. In deciding whether to go to war, we should respect those who disagree in good conscience. But by seeking to gain political advantage in the debate over whether to kill Syrians, Senator Cruz has shown himself worthy not of respect but contempt.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

No Accountability in School Accountability Mon, 09 Sep 2013 14:17:55 +0000 Jason Stanford Standardized test can close your public school, hold your kid back a year or now get a teacher fired—all in the name of accountability. But standardized testing’s sheen of fairness got tarnished last week, proving that despite all the promises, there is no accountability in accountability.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News

In Atlanta, a jury acquitted Tamara Cotman on a charge of influencing a witness. As an administrator with oversight over 21 schools, Cotman handed out a memo titled “Go To Hell” to 10 principals with instructions on how to obstruct the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Head, meet desk. Three-dozen public school administrators and teachers still face racketeering charges related to a widespread conspiracy to boost test scores to keep their jobs and collect bonuses.

Texas finished an audit of how it missed the massive “scrubbing” scandal in El Paso. School officials prevented students from taking the 10th grade accountability test “through means of transfer, deportation, and inappropriate retention and promotion to avoid enforcement action under the federal No Child Left Behind Act,” according to the state auditor.

This was such an obvious scandal that people in El Paso started calling these kids “los desaparecidos,” or the disappeared. But when the Texas Education Agency was asked to investigate, they didn’t see any cheating. Turns out, they didn’t look. The audit found that the TEA investigators never even left their desks in Austin, much less traveled to El Paso. They relied on self-reported information from El Paso school officials and did not contact those who lodged the complaints, which is like investigating a murder by asking the suspect if he has any evidence while ignoring the body, any witnesses and the smoking gun.

Officials aren’t looking all that hard to find cheating because they want to believe the lies. The gospel of high-stakes testing requires a belief in scores that resurrect failing schools. When El Paso Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia supposedly performed this miracle, Rick Perry’s administration gave him $56,000 in bonuses and held him up as an example of what was possible. The FBI later investigated, and now Garcia sits in prison, though you can’t say he’s not still an example.

Dr. Beverly L. Hall, the former superintendent in Atlanta who masterminded the cheating schemes, was the 2009 American Association of School Administrators superintendent of the year. Education Sec. Arne Duncan even hosted her at the White House as an example of success in raising test scores, and in 2010 Pres. Barack Obama put her on the National Board for Education Sciences.

When the Atlanta indictments tore down the façade, Sec. Duncan said, “I think this is very isolated” and called it “an easy one to fix.” Neither of those statements is close to accurate.

In May, The General Accounting Office found confirmed cases of test cheating in 33 states in the last two years alone. The GAO recommended states adopt security measures, but it turns out the worst offenders had already adopted most of the best practices. Cheating is not an aberration. It’s inevitable when you link the scores to job security. Because No Child Left Behind offers zero incentives to catch cheating, prosecutors will only be able to focus on the worst offenders.

Michael J. Feuer, dean of the graduate school of education and human development at the George Washington University and president-elect of the National Academy of Education, says that it is “morally and politically bankrupt” to say that cheating is the inevitable consequence of high-stakes testing. He thinks testing can “expose inequalities in the allocation of educational resources.”

Hogwash. We don’t need test scores to show which schools get more money, though a recent study confirmed that the lower the funding, the lower the scores. To figure out which schools are getting less money, all we need to do is read state budgets.

Standardized testing was supposed to usher in an era of accountability in education, forcing schools to get their acts together and the scores up. But until we hold policymakers and budget writers accountable as well, we’re asking schools to perform miracles. And if we don’t have the guts to look behind the curtain, we’re the ones to blame for all this cheating.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

How Obama Uses Junk Science to Punish Teachers Tue, 03 Sep 2013 07:05:33 +0000 Jason Stanford The new requirements for No Child Left Behind waivers from the Department of Education have some bad news for America’s teachers. The Obama administration wants states to use standardized tests to not only judge students and schools but now teachers as well lest we lose ground to China. Coincidentally, China this week banned standardized testing in early grades and reduced it thereafter. China, it seems, wants to be more like us.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News

The test scores of American kids have lagged well behind the rest of the industrialized world since well before we put the first man on the moon, build the World Wide Web, revolutionized business software, and mapped the human genome. The United States still has the largest economy in the world 30 years after A Nation at Risk warned that we’d better get our schoolhouse in order. Apparently the standardized tests have no bearing on American ingenuity.

The Obama administration worries we face a testing gap, but the Chinese have figured out they face an innovation gap. This is why, according to Chinese-born Prof. Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon, China wants to move from a “labor-intensive, low-level manufacturing economy into an innovation-driven knowledge society.”

Obama’s demand that states rate teachers on their students’ test scores moves America away from innovation toward utter lunacy. Judging a teacher on a student’s improvement means states have to start testing kids in pre-K. Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls these “formative assessments” and has set aside $500 million to develop tests for kids as young as four.

Using standardized tests to identify bad teachers gets taken to the woodshed by Diane Ravitch in her new book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. She quotes studies showing that a teacher only affects 15% of a student’s test score. The biggest influence on a student’s performance is their home life—Did dad lose his job? Are the parents divorcing? Do the parents use big words at home and take them to museums?—none of which the teacher can control.

Simply put, judging a teacher on their students’ test scores makes as much sense as judging a farmer on his crop without accounting for drought, severe weather, freezes, pestilence or Wall Street bankers crashing the market and making it impossible to get a loan to buy a tractor.

“Stated politely as possible, value-added assessment is bad science,” writes Ravitch. “It may even be junk science.”

Worst of all, the system requires teachers to show improvement every year like Wall Street demanding ever-increasing profits. Simply doing great every year in unacceptable, penalizing good schools.

I had this experience with my oldest son. As a 5th grader, he aced Texas’ standardized test. Under No Child Left Behind, school ratings depend on whether a 10-year-old fills in the right bubble, so schools emphasize the test in the 5th grade to a fault. Not so in the 6th grade, freeing up Mr. Nelson to blow my son’s mind. In one assignment, his class became a living history exhibit for the younger grades. My son started learning German and trombone. Because they weren’t so focused on the state test, my son’s scores dipped slightly in the 6th grade. According to Obama’s policy, Mr. Nelson is a bad teacher.

Ravitch admits we need better teachers, but she suggests investing in better training and collaboration. Obama’s policy will encourage teachers to emphasize test preparation at the expense of enriching instruction, something unlikely to yield better teachers.

“Nothing about a multiple-choice test is suited to finding the most inspiring and the most dedicated teachers in every school. In every school, students, teachers, and supervisors know who those teachers are. We need more of them,” writes Ravitch. “We will not get them by continuing to turn teachers into testing technicians or judging teachers by inappropriate statistical models.”

Liberals and other fans of clean air rightfully skewer Republicans for using junk science to deny climate change. It is time for us to stop letting Obama off the hook for using junk science to fire teachers, or we’ll really start losing ground to the Chinese.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Are Black Students Really Welcome in White Student Union? Mon, 26 Aug 2013 13:17:51 +0000 Jason Stanford The news that a freshman has founded a White Student Union at Georgia State University, one of the most diverse campuses in the country, has come across like a harmless college prank. In a summer filled with Paula Deen’s allegations, racist rodeo clowns, George Zimmerman’s acquittal, and Republican accusations of reverse racism by Pres. Barack Obama, an unofficial club for white kids on an Atlanta campus seems like something to be tolerated, if not indulged, especially after its founder said black students are welcome to join their celebration of “white identity.” A recent poll found barely measured a shrug by Georgians, who supported the White Student Union by a 43-36 percent margin.

134989 600 Are Black Students Really Welcome in White Student Union? cartoons

Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News

But the Southern Poverty Law Center isn’t taking this lightly and is keeping Georgia State’s White Student Union on its watch list because of its founder’s ties to white supremacist groups.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’ll be keeping an eye on it,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The connections with white nationalism are pretty clear.”

Patrick Sharp, the 18-year-old Alabama native who started the group, thinks you’re a racist for thinking he’s a racist. All he’s doing, he says, is starting a benign organization to help white students share their pride in their common European heritage.

“You know, to say this is some closeted or curtained white supremacy, it’s pretty — and I’ll go ahead and turn their words around on them — it’s pretty ignorant and closed-minded,” Sharp explained in a radio interview. “It’s a pride organization, it’s a cultural organization, what we have is not hate for any other group… Whites are becoming a minority… We have a voice, we’re unique people, and we have every right to make that voice heard.”

Sharp is right about white people becoming a minority—though they are a plurality on Georgia State’s campus. And whether or not you think the descendents of British, Irish, Scottish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, German, Dutch, French, Polish, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek immigrants comprise a single culture of white people, Sharp has every right to express himself.

But Sharp purposefully misleads people when he claims that his college club is not a “closeted or curtained” white supremacist group, says Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Potok’s group has discovered that Sharp is active on several white supremacist websites.

In Dec. 2011, Sharp became a sustaining member of the neo-Nazi website Stormfront, which bills itself as “White Nationalist news and discussion for racial realists and idealists.” On Stormfront, Sharp wrote that his father was “really sort of a race traitor” because he married a Filipino woman and supports mixed-race marriages.

Earlier this year, Sharp posted on American Renaissance, a website founded by Jared Taylor, a white nationalist leader who affect a high-minded racism that avoids slurs while espousing eugenics. Sharp blogged about a history of the 1960s civil rights movement in Birmingham written by a white nationalist. “Seeing as how this is my city,” Sharp wrote, “I’ll have to check this out.”

Sharp has posted radical views on diversity on his Facebook page, according Anti-Defamation League. In Feb. 2012, Sharp wrote, “The people carrying out these programs of White Genocide say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-White. Anti-racist is a code word for anti-White!”

Many reason that if blacks and other racial minorities can have clubs, then there’s no problem with white kids having one. To Potok, the difference between a black student union and a white student union is the difference between “defending the interests of often times despised minorities in the culture” and “protecting privilege or oppressing other people.”

“It is a very different thing to form a racially homogenous group that represents minorities in society as opposed to forming a racially homogenous group that represent the majority, the dominant group,” said Potok.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Sharp’s group a “White Nationalist Minor League,” but a front group for white supremacists has no place in the city where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. grew up. Tolerance has limits, and a white nationalist such as Sharp has no place on a campus celebrated for its racial diversity.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Ted Cruz for el Presidente! Wed, 21 Aug 2013 07:10:28 +0000 Jason Stanford Now that he has renounced his Canadian citizenship, Sen. Ted Cruz must run for president, but not to save our country from falling deficits, 41 months straight of private-sector job growth, or forcing health insurance companies to spend your premiums on health care. No, our very junior senator absolutely must run for president so he can help me win an ongoing argument with my wife.

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Mike Keefe / Cagle Cartoons

Don’t get me wrong. Cruz has a long list of reasons why he should run for president, at the top of which is that he’s got a great a chance to win the Republican nomination before getting walloped in a general election by a country that is no longer buying what Republicans are selling.

But my wife, who is otherwise right about everything, still believes in a place called common ground that exists in a future in which humanity is united by mutual agreement around shared values. In other words, she doesn’t think there’s anything funny about peace, love and understanding.

Crazier still, she thinks we can reason with Republicans. That’s where Ted Cruz comes in. He’s like a bionic candidate, engineered to unite all Republican factions: anti-fluoride cranks, tea partiers, flat Earthers who think Jesus had a pet dinosaur, and those other Republicans who are simply wrong. Cruz combines Ron Paul’s outsider status, Rick Perry’s states’ rights fetish, Rick Santorum’s Leviticus literalism, Marco Rubio’s Hispanic-but-not-Mexican tokenism, Newt Gingrich’s presumed intelligence, and Mitt Romney’s smug self-satisfaction and feigned, raised-eyebrow humility.

Underneath this dream team of attributes, behind his articulate, composed visage, however, beats the heart of happy to call himself crazy. By running for president, Cruz can prove to my wife that Republicans have gone where reason fears to tread. If you still think Cruz is sane, then you haven’t taken a dispassionate look at his record. Forget how comfortingly educated he sounds, how measured he sounds, how normal he appears. Cruz rocks the crazypants.

Here’s what we knew before he got elected: He thinks George Soros is leading a United Nations plot to take away our golf courses, ranches and paved roads. He called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” And even though he should have known—as a former University of Texas law professor—that Acts of Congress “shall be the supreme law of the land,” he said that Texas and other states could circumvent the president by nullifying Obamacare. If this sounds a little nuts, you’re right.

And then you elected him to the United States Senate where he really let it fly. He said marriage equality will end religious free speech, that the government might make radio host Glenn Beck a political prisoner, called Newtown families “props” while taking credit for blocking background checks, said funding birth control at Planned Parenthood clinics was an “assault on our liberties,” that extending jobless benefits creates unemployment, and that Harvard Law employed 12 Marxist professors who advocated overthrow of the government.

So dedicated is Sen. Cruz to protecting the government against overthrow that he wants to shut it down to block implementation of a law passed by Congress, signed by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court. Cruz says shutting down the government isn’t any big deal, really, because most government offices are closed on the weekends.

You won’t find a pony of logic by digging through the piles of statements from this foreign-born birther, this anti-immigration immigrant. All you end up with is the conclusion that Cruz is crazy, a badge he wears proudly.

“In the media there is a tendency to describe conservatives as one of two things: stupid or evil … I suppose I feel mildly complimented in that they have recently invented a third category, which is crazy. It’s the alternative to stupid or evil,” Cruz told Time.

We cannot use reason to reach the unreasonable. The Republican Party has reached peak crazy, but until they nominate a pure vessel of their insanity, my wife will labor under the delusion that we can talk them out of their tree. Cruz is the right kind of crazy. If I don’t start winning political arguments with my wife, I’m going to have to demand to see her birth certificate.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Revealing Look Behind the Facade of Sexual Segregation Mon, 19 Aug 2013 07:05:29 +0000 Jason Stanford This summer I took my sons on a civil rights tour of the South. I wanted them to see the best of our history, how we rose above the institutionalized evil of slavery and segregation to form a more perfect union. If I’d planned it better, we would have stopped in San Antonio, where the debate about extending anti-discrimination law to gays and lesbians has taken an ugly, if paradoxically encouraging, turn.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune

The city already outlaws discriminating in employment, housing and public accommodations because of gender, race, age, disability and religion. The proposed change would add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list. Austin, Dallas, and Houston have already done so without utterly ruining Texas. Houston even elected an openly lesbian mayor, and somehow the city has not fallen into the Gulf of Mexico. Next thing you know, gays will want to drink from the same water fountains as the rest of us.

The anti-social social conservatives can’t allow this, of course. Publicly, they call it a “transgendered bathroom law” and worry that the law will restrict religious liberties, as if telling a same-sex couple that there’s no room at the inn is a core expression of Christianity.

Privately, it’s much worse. Thanks to a leaked recording of a staff meeting, we know that City Councilwoman Elisa Chan is opposing the anti-discrimination law because of something she would rather not talk about publicly. She thinks gays and lesbians are, in her words, “so disgusting.” The recording offered a rare and uncensored look behind the façade of reasons conservatives use to perpetuate sexual segregation.

When it comes down to it, anti-gay conservatives really don’t believe gays should have equal rights—to hold a job, to get married, to stay in a hotel, or to adopt.

“I don’t think homosexual people should do adoption,” said Chan. “They should be banned by adoption. You’re going to confuse those kids. They should be banned.”

“If you wanted to choose that lifestyle, we don’t want to discriminate you, but you shouldn’t affect the young people,” she went on. “How terrible. … They’re going to be confused. You see two men go into a bedroom. You see two women kissing. Is that not confusing? It’s confusing.”

To Chan and those like her who were apparently born with sexual disorientation, the idea that some people are just gay violates the natural order of things. And that’s dangerous, you know, because of the kids.

“It is actually, what you call, suggestive, for the kids to be corrupt, which is against nature. I’m telling you, anything that is against nature is not right,” said Chan, who proposes a simple test to determine whom you should be sleeping with.

“I will say, ‘Strip down! What equipment do you have?’” she said. “I’m telling you. Crazy. We’re getting to crazy realm.” At last, we agree.

“You know, to be quite honest, I know this is not politically correct. I never bought in that you are born, that you are born gay,” she said. “I can’t imagine it.

Like most people, I remember the day I chose to be sexually attracted to women. It was when I first saw the Farrah Fawcett swimsuit poster.

The encouraging bit in Chan’s unguarded comments is her awareness that her views are not fit for public consumption. She knows calling gays “so disgusting” is not “politically correct.” When an aide cautions that “the newspaper will get you” if she reveals what she really thinks, she answers, “That’s why I never would say that outside because they kill me.”

This is progress. Not too long ago, Texas Republican politicians unashamedly shared their views of gays and lesbians as subhumans who should be kept from children. Now they plot in secret, as Chan did, to sow confusion about the legal ramifications in public to mask their private prejudice.

America will never be perfect. We can only make it more perfect. Like my family road trip, there will be conflict, and the journey will take a long time, but we’ll get there together. And when bigoted politicians know they have to hide their prejudice, we are surely making progress.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Is a Wall Street Crash Coming to Public Schools? Mon, 12 Aug 2013 14:44:44 +0000 Jason Stanford Just like AAA ratings on mortgage-backed securities led to Wall Street’s 2008 disaster, a rash of accountability scandals might be precursors to a similar public school crash. After years of promises that test-driven accountability would yield miracles, scandals with school ratings are popping up all over the country. Unless we hold reformers as accountable as they hold students, these scandals could bring down our public school system the same way Wall Street almost innovated our economy back into the Stone Age.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

In New York, a new rating system resulted in 70 percent of city students failing the new tests, earning the kind of tabloid headlines usually reserved for a politician’s sex scandal or a natural disaster. “Rotten to the score,” blared the New York Daily News. Fans of corporate education reform hail this as the tough love needed to force even tougher changes to the public school system despite the fact that privately owned charter schools fared just as badly.

But Diane Ravitch, author of the upcoming Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, calls the new scores “invalid” because officials set the kids up to fail.

“The state didn’t just ‘raise the bar.’ It aligned its passing mark to a completely inappropriate model,” Ravitch wrote. She pointed out that getting a “proficient” rating on the new test was the equivalent of acing the National Assessment for Educational Progress, something only 3-8 percent of students achieve nationally.

A completely different school rating scandal recently cost Tony Bennett his job as Florida’s top school official because of something he did on his last job as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Bennett imposed an A-F rating system on schools, a favorite of school reformers because it seems like it makes sense, until you think about it.

The problem arose when a charter school owned by one of the top donors to Republican Gov. Mike Pence tanked on the algebra test and earned a C rating. “This will be a HUGE problem for us,” Bennett wrote in an email to Pence’s top aide. The problem wasn’t just embarrassing to the donor. Even worse for Bennett was that he’d been citing the privately owned charter as a success story.

Bennett changed the formula to turn the donor’s junk bond charter school into a AAA-rated example of education reform, showing how vulnerable school ratings are to political interference. An investigative story by AP reporter Tom LoBianco revealed the scam, forcing Bennett’s resignation.

The shock is that anyone was held accountable. Ratings systems can cause schools to close and students to be held back, but until Bennett no politician was ever held accountable for fudging the numbers. In Louisiana, for example, Education Superintendent John White inflated school ratings by 7.5 percent—or half a letter grade—by changing that state’s accountability formula. Passing rates more than doubled, and White claimed success.

When called before a state legislative committee, White denied that changing the formula had created illusory success. The fault lay with the previous formula, saying, “The new formula will create a more right-sized measurement.” White’s still on the job.

And Michelle Rhee, the celebrated “No Excuses” superintendent of the DC schools, is still considered a national leader on education reform despite evidence that DC scores rose on her watch because of organized cheating. Her success is a fraud that no one seems to want to expose. The District of Columbia and Congress seem unwilling to investigate, much less indict, this high-profile target. But then again, we didn’t throw any Wall Street bankers into prison, either.

“It’s a system that we all grew up with. We all got grades A, B, C, D, F in school, and the public will understand, too,” said Michael Williams, the education chief in Texas, the latest state to adopt the A-F school ratings. If scandals in Indiana, Louisiana, New York, and Washington, DC—and Wall Street—are any guide, the public won’t know what hit ‘em. We cannot expect to run our schools the same way we run our speculation industry and expect anything other than an education recession.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Kafka in Texas Mon, 05 Aug 2013 07:05:36 +0000 Jason Stanford Denise Romano would make a lousy terrorist. She has a severe chronic refractory cough that causes her to pass out several times a day. She uses a walker so she has something to lean on when she gets one of her coughing fits. She can’t drive. During the “people’s filibuster,” she let protestors use the parking space at her condo two blocks from the capitol. As much as she wanted to join the protests, her body just couldn’t take it. Online activism was her only outlet.

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Randall Enos / Cagle Cartoons

That’s why she joined the Day of Permission, a national online protest against anti-abortion Republicans leaders. On Jul. 8, women all over the country called, emailed and tweeted Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Perry of Texas, seeking their advice. Organizer Bethany Erickson of Texas decided that “if you want to make decisions about my uterus and my reproductive life, you get to make all the decisions about my life. You don’t get to cherry pick.” Absurdity ensued.

The Day of Permission was a perfect outlet for Romano, who poured out her frustration into 60 tweets aimed at Kasich, Perry, and Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Using the #PermissionDay hashtag, she asked whether she should wear a bikini or a one-piece swimsuit, floss before or after brushing, and dye her hair or let it go grey.

Not all of Romano’s tweets were so nice. She asked whether she should use a clean or rusty knife to castrate pro-life men, should stone or electrocute Republican adulterers, and whether Kasich, Perry and Dewhurst wanted to go to the 9th circle of Hell or just the 7th. Strong stuff, but in the context of seeking bathing suit advice, Romano’s tweets were clearly satire. You would have to see the world through idiot-colored glasses to take Romano’s tweets literally.

Enter the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state troopers who have jurisdiction at the Texas capitol. This is the same bunch that confiscated tampons from women who wanted to watch the Texas legislature pass the anti-abortion bill before claiming that protestors also tried to sneak in 18 jars of feces. Because DPS can’t prove this happened, many pro-choice activists think the DPS was smearing them to deflect criticism for tampon-gate. Now we have “Poop Truthers” in Texas. It’s been that kind of summer in Austin.

On July 25, 2013, DPS Officer Jason McMurray subpoenaed Twitter for Romano’s tweets on #PermissionDay as part of an “ongoing criminal investigation” of a “terroristic threat” Romano made. This was pretty stupid even for the DPS poop patrol, but it appears what Romano was facing was more Franz Kafka than Barney Fife.

Romano’s supporters figured what was good for the goose was good for the gander and investigated the online activities of Officer McMurray, a computer forensic agent from Tyler. It appears from his Facebook page that Officer McMurray is interested in something other than the equal application of the law to ensure public safety. On the Facebook page of Rep. Bryan Hughes, McMurray commented, “Please keep pushing to end all murder of the unborn regardless of the gestational period.” Under a picture of the Alamo on Hughes’ page, McMurray commented, “That liberty, especially the right of free speech and assembly, is being threatened every day.”

While McMurray was investigating Romano’s satirical activism to push a radical political agenda, the DPS was ignoring explicit threats from conservatives. MichaelB, a conservative radio host, tweeted threats to lynch Sen. Wendy Davis, Rep. Jessica Farrar, and Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards. Others called for retroactive abortion and placed specific bomb threats. There is no evidence the DPS investigated these threats.

Turns out, McMurray was right. The right of free speech is being threatened, but he’s the one doing it. The DPS withdrew its subpoena of Romano’s tweets after a week, but the damage was done. When a cop with a political agenda can get away with persecuting a woman with a debilitating illness, Republicans can stop talking about limited government and personal liberty. If Romano’s a potential terrorist, then so are you.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

What Would Wendy Davis Do? Mon, 29 Jul 2013 12:45:10 +0000 Jason Stanford Offering unsolicited advice about whether state Sen. Wendy Davis should run for Texas governor is like playing cops and robbers with finger guns. No one believes there’s a bullet when you yell “Bang!”, and no one ever gets hurt.

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Taylor Jones / Cagle Cartoons

But there are rooms in Texas where she seeks advice. There are telephone conversations, email exchanges, perhaps even texts in which she asks, “What do you think I should do?” She asks certain people, perhaps as many as can be counted on two hands. For those few, the question is live ammo, unexploded ordnance. You don’t want to cut the wrong wire and blow her to bits.

It reduces the risk to her advisors to hew to cautionary tales about the importance of her senate seat in preventing a Republican supermajority, Gov.-presumptive Greg Abbott’s embarrassment of riches, and the difficulties in getting Anglo voters to vote for a Democrat. No one has ever looked like an idiot urging caution around dynamite.

Compared to that sober advice, someone telling Wendy to run for any statewide office looks like a fool who would pull the pin just to see an explosion. Smart people have probably told her about the half-life of political capital and explained the risk-reward logic behind the bold campaign. This reasoning is unassailable, but no one looks smart advocating risks.

The danger of planning a battle on a map is you can forget the millions of unseen troops who are waiting for orders.

“I want to do what’s right for me and my family,” said Sen. Davis.

I want the best for her and her daughters, too, but Texas Democrats have a real and significant emotional stake in her decision as well, however silly that sounds.

For a long time, Texas Democrats were smart not to hope. The failure of the Dream Team turned out to be a high point of the Perry era. Why should donors fund campaigns with no chance of winning after believing the repeated false promises of Tony Sanchez, Carole Strayhorn and Bill White? Why should activists recruit their friends and neighbors to volunteer for sure losers? Why should Texans vote if they already know the outcome?

The inexorable logic of disengagement weighed heavily upon Texas Democrats. Our symbol was Eeyore, a pathologically depressed donkey. In 2006, Chris Bell’s pollster wrote that the “key to Chris Bell’s chances” was countering the “disunity, confusion and disarray among Texas’ Democratic base.” Donors abandoned Bell for the ill-advised Strayhorn adventure. Activists abandoned their Democratic nominee to get a little Kinky. Bell lost, and Democrats abandoned all hope despite White’s efforts in 2010 to stoically micromanage us to victory.

Then came the orange wave. Non-political people noticed the Republicans’ radical activism. A leader stood up. Republicans, not willing to play fair, unwittingly elevated this leader to heroic heights. Stacking bad decisions to the ceiling, Republicans exposed themselves as ideological bullies and handed disaffected Democrats a temporary victory that boosted our morale and perhaps provided the turning point we’ve been waiting for.

To this, Sen. Davis’ aides offer cold analysis. “You never want to be the savior of anything. It would tend to increase the pressure considerably,” one anonymous Davis aide said.

Well, tough. For the first time since Ann Richards, Texas Democrats have a leader, a win under our belts and the will to fight. Jesus never asked to be anyone’s savior either, but the Bible would have been a different book if He had said that throwing the moneychangers out of the temple “wasn’t right for me and my family.”

No one in the history of this country has ever run for office because it was right for his or her family, but if Sen. Davis decides against a statewide campaign she could erase recent gains. If she says she doesn’t believe the fight is worth her time, she could cause Texas Democrats to believe once again in the paucity of hope.

You don’t raise an army if you’re not going into battle. Sen. Davis did not ask to be a savior. But tag, she’s it.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

No Test-maker Left Behind Mon, 22 Jul 2013 07:05:33 +0000 Jason Stanford For the first time since George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind, the House has passed a major rewrite of federal education law. On Friday, the House approved the Student Success Act along party lines—Republicans for, Democrats against—but the bill has little chance of getting past a Democratic Senate and a White House veto threat. Democrats in Washington don’t trust the states to hold themselves accountable, and a recent audit of how Texas has mishandled a half billion-dollar contract with testing giant NCS Pearson shows why.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

In 2010, Texas gave NCS Pearson a $468-million contract to write, publish and score 17 tests for grades 3-8 and 15 tests in high school, far exceeding federal requirements under NCLB. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the role that private contractors play in public schools.

The problem is that Texas also takes pride in the light touch it applies in regulating businesses even when a private business is carrying out a public function. But there are limits. This month, State Auditor John Keel released a report that revealed how the Texas Education Agency hasn’t been very accountable when it comes to accountability in education.

The Auditor noted that the contract with NCS Pearson didn’t include “sufficient detail about deliverables,” and the TEA “does not independently verify that changes in the amount of the contract are reasonable.” This might have cost Texas taxpayers millions of dollars. When the legislature this year cut the number of required tests in high school by 67 percent, the total amount of the testing contract was cut by $6.2 million, or 1.3 percent, apparently because NCS Pearson said so.

“The Agency relies on the vendor to calculate the amounts of the reductions in contract,” reported the auditor, which noted that the only documentation the TEA had to back up the price change were “electronic files that originated from the vendor.” The fox doesn’t need to guard the henhouse when he can get the farmer to build him his own door.

Oversight of a $468-million contract didn’t seem to rank very high on the TEA’s list of priorities. Senior TEA employees responsible for managing the contract never took required training courses that dealt with managing contracts. The TEA can only prove it approved a fraction of the test questions our children had to answer. And when it came to preventing conflicts of interest, the TEA only followed the rules by changing its rules—but only when it came to NCS Pearson.

The audit also found fault with the TEA’s suspension of a 1-year revolving-door ban on employees going to work for vendors to “allow the state’s assessment contractor more flexibility in meeting future staffing needs,” according to a TEA memo. And once again, this loophole in the TEA’s ethics policy was only written into NCS Pearson’s contract and left the revolving-door ban in place for every other vendor. As nice as this must have been for NCS Pearson, this ethics loophole violated one state law forbidding hiring by vendors within the 12-month window and another state law requiring disclosure when it happens.

When legislators contemplated rolling back test-based graduation requirements this year, TEA chief Michael Williams preached restraint.

“I would urge us to remember that we treasure what we measure. You do it in your business,” Williams told lawmakers. “And what gets tested does indeed get taught.”

Williams likes pithy sayings, so here’s one: Why are test-takers being held more accountable than test-makers?

Williams did not respond to an interview request. The TEA’s response has been to roll over, show the auditor its puppy belly and promise never to pee on the carpet again. Neither Williams nor Gov. Rick Perry has rolled up a newspaper and publicly scolded anyone. Not a single state employee has been fired. Despite the millions of dollars spent without oversight and the state ethics laws that were circumvented, no one is getting prosecuted. And most predictably of all, NCS Pearson still has the fattest testing contract in state history.

Congressional Republicans want to convert education spending to block grants, in effect handing blank checks to the “Don’t Mess With Ethics” gang. Even for congress, this is a bad idea.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Miscarriage in Texas Mon, 15 Jul 2013 14:16:32 +0000 Jason Stanford To understand why Texas’ new anti-abortion law is an invasion of privacy, you have to know my friend. It’s a sad story, and despite what Texas Republicans might claim, it has nothing to do with abortion. It does have to do with a woman’s wellbeing, however, which is why his story is important.

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Jimmy Margulies / The Record

About 10 years ago my friend (let’s call him Griffin) and his wife (call her Meredith) wanted badly to start a family. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy for them. They saw doctors, took shots, underwent expensive tests, and suffered the emotional equivalent of a tax audit every time they took a pregnancy test. Meredith was a wreck, and Griffin did all he could to love on her.

The last thing in the world they would have done after all the pain and expense was terminate a pregnancy. There is no one more personally pro-life in the world than a couple trying to have a baby. It doesn’t matter where you stand on abortion rights. When it comes to getting pregnancy, you’re keeping the baby. It’s the whole point.

So when Meredith and Griffin got pregnant, they were overjoyed. There had been a few miscarriages, but Griffin and his wife got excited. There was a heartbeat. They allowed themselves to believe, to hope, to think about baby names. It was finally going to happen.

One day they went in for a sonogram. If you’ve ever done this, you know how precariously hope perches over fear until you see the heartbeat on the screen and hear it amplified in the exam room. You suppress the panic because of course everything’s OK, right? And usually it is, but this time it wasn’t. Telling this story for the first time a decade later, Griffin cried. Ten years is a long time to carry that pain inside.

Unlike the previous miscarriages that resolved themselves naturally and without intervention, now Meredith had a dead embryo inside of her, and it needed to come out. Her doctor prescribed mifepristone, a synthetic steroid compound that can be used both as an emergency contraceptive and as an abortifacient. In Meredith’s case, the drug would evacuate the uterine lining and expel the lifeless embryo.

Miscarriages occur in 25 percent of all pregnancies. In the first trimester, taking mifepristone (AKA, the “abortion pill”) is a common remedy. Meredith’s doctor gave them a prescription and sent them home. It’s not a “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” kind of deal. On top of the emotional trauma, there’s a lot of bleeding and cramping. You need to be in a comfortable place.

Picking up the medicine was a slice of hell. Griffin remembers the pharmacist said something to the effect of “I’m guessing you know what you’re doing.” Griffin felt like he and his wife were being condemned for terminating a pregnancy. He’s never been back to that pharmacy.

All Griffin remembers from those next two days are offering emotional support, crying a lot, and encouraging Meredith that they would try again, and next time it would work. It did. They ended up having a girl. And then they had twins. You’ve never seen a happier family.

Now, instead of just a judgmental pharmacist, couples in their situation have to deal with a state law that treats their miscarriage like an elective abortion. Under the new Texas law, Griffin would have had to take his wife to an ambulatory surgical center twice in two days to take the pills in the presence of a doctor, exposing their broken hearts and raw nerves to a clinical environment. A Texas husband is now powerless to protect his wife from enduring in public what is best handled at home in private.

This is my friend’s story. It’s private. It’s really none of my business, and I’m sure you would agree that it’s none of your business, either. The only people that should have anything to do with the decision on how to treat my friend’s wife are her, her husband, and her doctor. But by literally adding insult to injury, the Texas legislature has made it their business, too.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Afraid of Wendy Davis? Rick Perry to Forgo Re-Election Tue, 09 Jul 2013 14:36:11 +0000 Jason Stanford For Texas, it’s the end of an error. Gov. Rick Perry, who became governor before the inventions of the iPod, hybrid cars, and YouTube, will forgo re-election while not closing the door for a second run for president. Perry might be moving on, but he’s leaving behind a legacy as a radical free-marketeer who never governed anything he didn’t want to privatize.

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Taylor Jones / Cagle Cartoons

Most don’t give credit to Perry for being a deep thinker. We’re talking about a kid who grew up on a farm and got a C in animal breeding at Texas A&M. When Perry became governor, locals assumed that he would not be able to maintain the standard of intellectual rigor set by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and Perry’s 2012 campaign didn’t exactly make Harvard regret not recruiting him out of Paint Creek High School for their debate team.

That’s why recognizing Perry as a free-market thought leader sounds funny. What’s next? Anthony Weiner starting a non-profit to raise public awareness about sexting? Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig appearing in public service announcements to talk about proper bathroom etiquette? Mark Sanford (R-Appalachian Trail) seems more qualified to give marital advice than Perry does to promote an intellectual construct.

After stepping in “oops” when he couldn’t count to three, Perry’s never going to be considered Mensa material, but as long as he’s been in the governor’s mansion, Perry has been trying to get state government out of the government business. Under Perry, anything corporations could do better than state government got privatized. Anything government could do better than private business, well, that got privatized too.

The only problem is that Perry’s privatization has usually blown up in his face. In 2003, Perry replaced 2,900 state workers with private call centers that were going to make it easier for Texans to apply for food stamps, Medicaid and children’s health insurance. Not only did it make it harder for poor Texans to get help, but it also cost taxpayers $243 million. Perry calls that a win-win.

Perry also “deregulated” tuition at state colleges and universities. This free-market reform increased tuition 55 percent in a decade. Not content to make college unaffordable, Perry has tried—so far without success—”to apply the cost-benefit logic of business to public higher education.” This is a great idea if you think a university should run its English Department like Enron. Apparently Perry does.

There’s more: In a bit of the snake eating its own tail, Perry has proposed privatizing health care at private prisons. His plans to put privately managed tolls on public roads built by taxes incited a grassroots rebellion. And his move to privatize data center consolidation at the Texas Department of Information Resources was suspended two years into a seven-year, $863-million contract with IBM.

Perry’s think tank is likely to be funded by the generous souls who funded his campaigns. Half of his top donors received $37 million in state contracts, and 921 of his appointees contributed $17.2 million to his campaigns. Michele Bachmann called this “crony capitalism,” but to Perry it’s investor confidence.

To be sure, Perry will probably downplay his privatization efforts and crony capitalism to emphasize the low taxes, low regulations and pro-business tort reforms that have made Texas a leader in job creation. But Texas was a low tax, low regulation state long before Perry came along, and Texas led the nation in job creation under Gov. Ann Richards. What makes Perry different is his religious fervor to privatize state government, a dogma he has pursued in the absence of evidence it was working.

In his states’ rights manifesto Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Perry wrote, “States should be laboratories of democracy.” Perry probably hopes to rehabilitate his reputation by touting his record in Texas. But when you look at the results, Texas has been a meth lab of failure and cronyism for a dozen years. That’s a long time to be wrong.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

War on Women Met by People’s Filibuster Mon, 01 Jul 2013 12:19:51 +0000 Jason Stanford It was only a matter of time before Texas women put a stop to the War on Women. Everywhere else in America, Republicans have lost elections by restricting access to birth control and abortion and making ignorant remarks about rape. That has been going on in Texas for a long time with no electoral blowback, but that’s changed because of the “People’s Filibuster.”

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Taylor Jones / Cagle Cartoons

“People are voting with their feet,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said of pro-choice protestors who jammed the capitol. “I haven’t seen anything like this in any state.”

It’s about time.

In 2011, Texas Republicans passed a law requiring that women seeking abortions be examined with a transvaginal sonogram first, but the reaction was nothing like what happened in Virginia where more than 1,000 protestors silently linked arms around the capitol to oppose what they called “state rape.”

Also that year, the legislature banned Planned Parenthood clinics from receiving state family planning funding, forcing 50 clinics to close. A poll showed 59 percent of Texans opposed the move against Planned Parenthood, but voters didn’t take it out on Republicans.

Rape remarks cost Republicans senate seats in Indiana and in Missouri, but Ted Cruz won his by 15.9 percent even after coming out against a rape exception to abortion.

If it seemed like the War on Women would never claim any political casualties in Texas, it wasn’t because Texans are overwhelmingly anti-choice. In fact, 52 percent of Texans support legal abortion in all or most cases, according to a recent poll. But after losing 100 straight statewide races, Democrats seemed to think their cause was hopeless. Republicans were bringing the War on Women to Texas, but Texans weren’t fighting back.

That changed when Perry pushed a bill that would force 37 of the state’s 42 abortion clinics to close and ban the procedure after 20 weeks. Because he did it midway through the month-long session, Democrats could to kill the bill by stalling. But to do that, they needed people—regular citizens by the hundreds—to drag out a committee hearing with testimony.

A funny thing happened. Women showed up by the hundreds from all over Texas. So many showed up to testify against the bill that the Republican committee chairman tried to stop the hearing after seven hours because, he said, the testimony had become “repetitive.” That went over as badly as telling a woman her concerns were repetitive always has. The so-called “People’s Filibuster” captured the public’s imagination. People across the country sent pizzas to the protestors, and a hash tag of the bill number trended worldwide on Twitter.

When Democrats tried to add rape and incest exceptions, GOP Rep. Jodie Laubenberg said, “The emergency rooms… have what’s called rape kits, that the woman can get cleaned out.” Rape kits, of course, gather evidence used for prosecutions and do not terminate pregnancies, but Rep. Laubenberg’s remark was more than medically illiterate. Her mangled answer was another example of “rapesplaining,” the condescending way Republicans convey scientifically ludicrous beliefs about rape in an effort to restrict abortion rights.

By the time the bill came before the state senate, only 13 hours remained in the special session, affording Sen. Wendy Davis a chance to filibuster. She had not long to go when Republicans stopped her, claiming that talking about abortion was not germane to her discussion of the abortion bill.

Democrats ran out of stalling tricks about 10 minutes shy of the midnight deadline. That’s when Sen. Leticia Van de Putte incited a riot by asking, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?” The hundreds watching from the galley exploded in ear-splitting outrage, making it impossible for Republicans to pass the bill.

The People’s Filibuster won a round, but Perry has called another special session. No one thinks trending hash tags will win the war, but at least, and at long last, the battle has been joined.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Post Explosion, Texas Still Has a ‘Fertilizer Happens’ Plan Mon, 24 Jun 2013 12:41:11 +0000 Jason Stanford As Gov. Rick Perry touts the Texas Miracle to lure businesses from New York, Sen. Barbara Boxer will hold a hearing this week on the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. But back home in Texas where 16 fertilizer plants are as large as the one in West, officials are putting the lazy in laissez-faire by adopting a voluntary “fertilizer happens” plan. Apparently Texans are on their own when it comes to industrial accidents, and the only government that bears any responsibility is the one in Washington that should be paying to rebuild everything.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons

Reactions from Texas Republicans ranged from disappointment to betrayal when the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Texas’ request for $34.4 million for uninsured losses, most of which would go to rebuild a school. FEMA has already given West $16 million to reimburse them for first responders and clean up, but Texas application was rejected because the state failed to demonstrate that it didn’t have the money.

This struck some local officials as a broken promise by the president who told Texans at the memorial service, “Your country will remain ever ready to help you recover and rebuild and reclaim your community.”

“While President Obama has turned his back on Texas and gone against his word, we will continue to take care of our neighbors,” said Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, Rick Perry’s heir apparent, in a statement.

Just how Texas will take care of its neighbors was up for debate for two hours of public testimony last week before the Texas House Public Safety Committee. The chairman, Democrat Rep. Joe Pickett, wanted to focus on “lessons to be learned” from the explosion that killed 15 people and destroyed three schools, an apartment complex, and entire neighborhoods.

The main lesson Texas officials want to convey is that this is just not their responsibility. For example, it is not the state’s duty to inspect the 129 companies that have at least 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate to see if they comply with the fire code. This is because the state forbids rural counties where these plants usually are located from having fire codes.

When a lawmaker asked State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy whether he knew whether any of those 16 plants as large as the one in West also had schools or homes nearby, Connealy responded with a succinct, “No, sir.”

The best that Texas can do is to come up with a website where Texans can search by zip code to see whether they live near a business that handles ammonium nitrate. This, the state’s first and so far only post-West reform to safety rules, would be as likely to prevent another explosion as a sex offender registry is to keep people from getting raped.

Of course, that wasn’t all that the panel demanded. In addition to the website, the lawmakers asked the state fire marshal to “offer” to inspect fertilizer plants, to research whether federal law requires disclosure of hazardous chemicals on site, and to offer rural committees “best practices” on fire codes despite the fact that federal law forbids counties with fewer than 250,000 residents from adopting their own fire codes. All of this would be strictly voluntary.

But even that meek response was too much for one committee member, Republican Rep. Dan Flynn, who warned, “You can paperwork a company to death with just list after list, and signs, and of this kind of stuff. I think we need to keep it in perspective. I think it’s a major problem and an accident.”

Whatever his faults, inconsistency is not one of them. Rep. Flynn also offered an anti-regulatory response to the Newtown shooting, offering a bill to cut the number of hours training hours required to get a concealed handgun license from 10 to four because, he said, some people “have to take a whole Saturday to go do this.”

So far, no Texas official has acknowledged publicly acknowledged the obvious, that our official response is to encourage economic growth and cross our fingers that this will never happen again. But we should not be surprised. Believing that business is always the answer and government is always the problem is an article of faith in the Texas Miracle.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Texas Senators Were For Immigration Reform Before They Were Against It Mon, 17 Jun 2013 07:05:57 +0000 Jason Stanford By a 82-15 vote, the Senate has taken up comprehensive immigration reform. Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised an “open as possible process” for amendments, which means creating a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants still hasn’t cleared two formidable roadblocks in Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, who respectively are insisting upon a totally secure border and no path to citizenship. Like the Texas Republican Party, Cornyn and Cruz have come a long way from their relatively progressive stances of only a decade ago. When it comes to immigration reform, they were for it before they were against it.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

Reactionary anti-immigration politics are somewhat new to Texas, home to 1.65 million unauthorized immigrants. While California Gov. Pete Wilson was campaigning against illegal immigration in 1994, candidate George W. Bush cut a different trail in Texas, touting education reform as an economic boom to Hispanics. His pro-immigration policies lead to him getting 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004, a high-water mark for Republicans.

Back then, Texas Republicans competed for the Hispanic vote. Even Rick Perry signed a state version of the DREAM Act in 2001. And as Texas attorney general, Cornyn was no different. He issued an opinion affirming the right of undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses and cracked down on fake “immigration specialists”. And as a senate candidate in 2002, Cornyn’s border agenda called for increasing federal spending for education, health care and highways—omitting talk of border fences and increased security personnel.

But it was as a first-term senator that he tried to make his mark on immigration, offering what he called “a straightforward and effective guest worker program that will recognize the vital role hard-working immigrants play in our economy.” The bill would have allowed undocumented immigrants to work legally in the U.S. for three years before applying for permanent residency. Though it stopped short of offering a path to citizenship, Cornyn’s bill would have allowed immigrants here illegally to benefit from Social Security, Medicare and U.S. labor laws.

At a distance of a decade, Cornyn’s guest worker bill stands in sharp contrast to his present-day threats to offer an amendment to require “complete operational control of every single border sector” before liberalizing immigration. At the time, Cecilia Munoz of the National Council of La Raza called Cornyn’s guest worker bill “an important step forward,” while opponents called it amnesty. The McCain-Kennedy immigration bill took precedence over Cornyn’s, and though he initially supported the bipartisan plan, Cornyn withdrew his backing and became a border security hawk when opposition to immigration spiked in 2005.

Cornyn’s position on guest workers moderated the difference between the anti-amnesty crowd and compassionate conservatism of Bush, who liked to say that “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.” And helping then-Gov. Bush come up with his liberal policies was a bright, young Harvard-trained lawyer named Ted Cruz.

In the 2000 presidential campaign, Cruz was part of the policy team that came up with the immigration proposal to cleave Immigration and Naturalization Services into two agencies, to speed up immigration applications, to increase work visas, and to let relatives of permanent residents to visit them during the application process.

More than a decade later, Cruz has established himself as a law-and-order leader. Before voting against the immigration bill in committee, Cruz offered amendments to triple the number of border security agents and to block the path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.

A sea change in Texas politics caused Cornyn and Cruz to evolve on the issue. In the pre-tea party era, Texas Republicans still worried about beating well-funded Democratic candidates. Now their biggest worry is getting “primaried” by more conservative alternatives, which is how Cruz became a senator in 2012. Despite the shifting political landscape, Texas still shares 800 miles of border with Mexico. The politics change, but this issue is never going away.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Dreams of Superman’s Fathers Mon, 10 Jun 2013 13:58:25 +0000 Jason Stanford It is no accident that Man of Steel, the latest Superman movie, is opening on Father’s Day weekend. Television shows and movies based on Superman have always reflected America’s zeitgeist, but Man of Steel goes deeper into questioning America’s identify by examining the values that Superman—and thus, America—was raised with. As an inwardly directed memoir that illuminates our political conflicts, Man of Steel might as well have been called Dreams of Superman’s Fathers.

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David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star (click to view more cartoons by Fitzsimmons)

Hollywood directors with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars probably don’t set out to tell political allegories. J.J. Abrams, for example, likely did not tell the team of writers behind Star Trek Into Darkness to give him a script that helped Americans come to terms with the war against terrorism and Guantanamo Bay, but that’s what moviegoers saw.

And when you’re dealing with a character who exemplifies “truth, justice and the American way,” directors can’t avoid drawing political parallels when bringing the man of steel to the big screen.

The Christopher Reeve era neatly reflected the yearning for a simpler, stronger America. In Superman II, our hero unilaterally disarmed to pursue the love of a feminist only to leave America unguarded against foreign aggressors with otherworldly power. Superman being told to kneel before Zod made the case for a nuclear arms race as well as Ronald Reagan ever did.

Superman Returns told the story of an America abandoned by Superman to an America that had forgotten its highest ideals. America was bogged down in foreign wars, losing its standing in the world, and running its economy on excessive credit. The villain Lex Luthor had become a rapacious real estate developer who put a beating on Superman that looked as bad as Americans felt about their country. As a self-assessment, Superman Returns nailed it. As a commercial venture, the movie flopped.

Now comes the birther Superman, a foreigner upsetting the social order. If Superman Returns depicted America in need of a savior, Man of Steel asks whether America is ready for one. Even the S on his chest becomes a metaphor for our contemporary political conflicts and how we project our desires onto heroes.

“What’s the S stand for?” asks Amy Adams’ character while interrogating Superman under armed guard.

“It’s not an S. On my world, it means hope,” Superman says.

“Well here it means S. How about super?” she says.

Can we assume this Superman is a stand-in for Barack Obama? Yes we can. Though the character Zod is reprised in Man of Steel, Superman is the outsider this time. Upon sending him toward Earth from the doomed planet Krypton, his mother Lara worries, “He’ll be an outcast.”

“How?” asks Jor-El, his father. “He’ll be a god to them.”

Jor-El can’t get past the image of his son’s superiority and the progress that promises to humanity.

“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble. They will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders,” he tells his son.

But we live in an age of unbalanced Newtonian politics, when progress causes an outsized and disproportionate reaction, something Superman learns from his Iowa farmer stepfather

“My father believed if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me. He was convinced that the world wasn’t ready,” says Superman. “What do you think?”

The image of Superman in handcuffs will drive other interpretations, especially amid revelations about electronic monitoring that make America seem more like a modern police state than the land of the free. But the question of whether the world is ready for Superman—whether America is ready for progress—is one we never stop asking.

How we achieve progress in the face of reactionary opposition is a question we may never answer. Likewise, we haven’t figured out how to balance our government’s exercise of super powers in the name of security with our values of liberty and transparency. But we tell the story of Superman over and over again because we believe this is possible. That is the audacity of Superman.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Bachmann is Dead, Long Live Ted Cruz! Mon, 03 Jun 2013 07:10:39 +0000 Jason Stanford Rep. Michele Bachmann’s retirement is a blow to the late-night comedians who laughed at her confusing actor John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy or her insisting that HPV vaccine caused mental retardation. Her absence also leaves a leadership void among the radical Tea Party faction that turned the House of Representatives into an ungovernable mob and her briefly to frontrunner status in the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Now Bachmann’s decision not to seek re-election has spurred a new race to pick the new Clown Prince of Crazytown.

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R.J. Matson / Roll Call (click to view more cartoons by Matson)

Nature abhors a vacuum, but politics encourages the vacuous. No sooner had Bachmann quit than Cathie Adams, a Tea Party leader, was accusing anti-tax leader Grover Norquist of being a secret Muslim because “he has a beard.” Meanwhile, blogger Erick Erickson punched his ticket to the doghouse by saying, “When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role.” But Adams and Erickson are mere barkers on the midway and aren’t ready to spill out of the clown car under the big tent.

For that, we start with Uncle Louie Gohmert, the Texas Republican congressman who recently yapped at Attorney General for casting “aspersions on my asparagus!” That is a direct quote, and it wasn’t a joke. Neither was a conspiracy theory he unspooled on talk radio that blamed Sen. John McCain for the Benghazi attacks because he supported overthrowing Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Gohmert’s explanation was a triumphant non-sequitur in the War on Coherence.

“But by giving power to the rebel forces that included al Qaeda that brought that whole mess about and helped create problems in Tunisia and Algeria. So I’m not sure what to think about his going to Syria. If history is any lesson the people he met with he wants us to help should be very careful about what Sen. McCain’s support could mean for them,” said Gohmert. That is also a direct quote. If it was a joke, it was unintentional.

A dark horse for King of the Crazies is another Texas Republican, Rep. Steve Stockman. The 1994 Republican wave election mistakenly washed Stockman into congress where he quickly became a hero to the black helicopter crowd when he said David Koresh and his followers had been “executed” in Waco.

“The average Texan in my district owns more firearms than did the average Branch Davidian,” said Stockman.

But that was back when Republicans had the good sense to not want to be in the same class picture as the kid wearing a tin foil hat. He lost his seat after one term, but now Steve Stockman is back, and tin foil is the new black. He invited Ted Nugent as his guest to the State of the Union and briefly threatened Barack Obama with impeachment if he pushed gun control. This time his antics made him a Tea Party hero.

He’s become a regular on Fox News for saying things like, “Democrats worship abortion with same fervor the Canaanites worshipped Molech” and “The right to keep and bear arms is granted by God and protecting [sic] from government aggression by the Constitution.” All this makes you worry what exactly they’re talking about at Steve’s Bible study.

Egged on by the likes of Adams and Erickson, Gohmert and Stockman make persuasive cases to take the Tea Party torch from Bachmann, but they are more clowns than princes, mere minor-league demagogues unready for the big leagues.

All signs point toward the Tea Party controlling the 2016 nomination process and picking a Goldwater for a new generation. So when Tea Partiers pick Bachmann’s replacement, they could be picking their likely 2016 presidential nominee. And in fact, there is already a clear frontrunner: Ted Cruz, the dissembling chameleon from Canada.

“When Ted ran for office he said, ‘I’m going to kick down the doors, rip off the drapes, and auction off the silver and china.’ And that’s exactly what he’s doing,” said Amy Kremer, the president of the national Tea Party Express.

Sounds like true love. Michele Bachmann is dead. Long live Ted Cruz.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Cheating on Standardized Tests Commonplace Tue, 28 May 2013 07:28:39 +0000 Jason Stanford Atlanta wasn’t an isolated incident. Neither was El Paso, or Washington, DC, or Columbus. A new General Accounting Office report demonstrates that cheating by school officials on standardized tests has become commonplace despite the use of security measures the report recommends. The only solution is one that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has so far refused—removing the high stakes attached to standardized testing.

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Mike Keefe / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Keefe)

The latest embarrassment is in Columbus, where this month Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost seized records at 20 high schools. This is part of a two-year-old investigation into “scrubbing” 2.8 million attendance records of students who failed tests. Yost has recently widened his investigation to look into whether school administrators also changed grades to boost graduation rates.

A GOA report released on May 16 recommends adopting “leading practices to prevent test irregularities.” However, the report reveals that every state and the District of Columbia already use at least some of the recommended best practices, and that didn’t stop test cheating in 33 states in the last two school years. And states where the worst offenses are occurring already have adopted most of the practices identified in the report, making it unlikely that greater security will improve test integrity.

Ohio employs five of the nine security plans recommended by the GOA report. Atlanta, where the superintendent and 34 other educators were recently indicted for changing test answers, has adopted eight of nine security practices, as has Texas, where the former El Paso superintendant is now in federal prison for a scheme to encourage low-performing students to drop out. And Washington, D.C., where 191 teachers at 70 schools were implicated in a rash of wrong-to-right erasure marks on tests, uses every single security measure.

The Department of Education responded to the GAO’s findings by holding a symposium on test integrity and issuing a follow-up report on best practices and policies. But the federal government convening a meeting and issuing yet another report might be even less effective at stopping cheating than increased security.

The report also noted that linking awards and recognition to improving test scores and threatening the jobs of principals for low test scores “could provide incentives to cheat.” But at a conference of education writers in April, Sec. Arne Duncan denied that linking test scores to career outcomes could drive educators to criminally manipulate the system.

“I reject the idea that the system forces people to cheat,” he said.

Maybe so, but cheating now seems inherent in the system, and our Education Secretary seems incurious as to why. It’s even hard to get him to admit there is an epidemic of test cheating. Asked about the Ohio investigation, Duncan said, “I almost don’t know of another situation like this.”

The tragedy of testing scandals is that they typically occur in schools that serve working-class, minority children, and these were exactly the kids who suffered, in the well-meaning words of George W. Bush, the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

By making test scores the sole measure of their success and rewarding educators for ludicrous increases in scores, the system is leaving behind the very children it was set up to help. As long as cheating remains a part of our country’s education policy, “decisions based on test results may be faulty, and lead to damaging results, including failing to identify and provide resources for underperforming schools and students most in need of academic support,” reported the GAO.

At the education writers’ conference, Sec. Duncan declined to endorse the only solution that would solve this problem. When asked whether he would support a moratorium on using the tests for accountability, Sec. Duncan professed confusion.

“We’re trying a lot of things, but, a moratorium to what, for what? We’re talking to a lot of people … but that’s the best I can tell you right now,” he said.

Removing the high stakes from standardized tests would take away the incentives to cheat and return testing to its original, intended purposes—to diagnose where schools and students need improvement. Sec. Duncan can do better than holding a meeting, issuing a report, and calling it a day, but until he addresses the root causes—to paraphrase the Japanese submarine commander’s famous phrase—the cheating will continue until morale improves.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Learning From the Rise and Fall of Michelle Rhee Mon, 20 May 2013 07:05:07 +0000 Jason Stanford At some point, we need to stop believing in miracles, at least in education. While we’re still getting over the RICO indictments handed down in the Atlanta cheating scandal comes the revelation that the success Michelle Rhee achieved as the “no excuses” superintendent of Washington, D.C.’s public schools was the product of massive cheating. Those asking why Rhee isn’t under indictment just like her former colleague in Atlanta are missing the bigger question: If she’s an example of its success, is the theory behind market-driven education reform valid?

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Taylor Jones / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Jones)

Rhee attracted a lot of attention before getting the top spot in DC. When Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed her superintendent, she went from managing an education non-profit with 120 employees to running a school system with 55,000 students, 11,500 employees and a budget of $200 million. She’d never even been a principal before, and her only classroom experience was Teach for America.

She did not let seem daunted by the stage. She bragged that she only answered to the mayor and put principals on notice to get those test scores up. Rhee fired more than 1,000 teachers and 36 principals who failed to raise test scores and gave $276,265 in bonuses to employees who performed well.

Passing rates rose, and she became the “it girl” for education reform. Time and Newsweek put her on the cover. Oprah called her “a warrior woman,” and Barack Obama called Rhee “a wonderful new superintendent.” When Fenty lost re-election, Sec. Arne Duncan intervened in an attempt to keep her on the job because her reforms “absolutely have to continue.” When Rhee quit, he issued a press release so laudatory it almost included pom-poms.

Her star rose even further when the documentary Waiting for Superman touted Rhee as a national success. She went back on Oprah to announce she was creating an education reform project called Students First to spread her reforms to other communities. “I am going to start a revolution. I’m going to start a movement in this country on behalf of the nation’s children,” Rhee told Oprah.

Unfortunately, her success was a fraud. In 2011, USA Today identified abnormally high rates of wrong-to-right erasures that coincided with big jumps in test scores in more than half of all DC schools. And according to a “smoking gun” internal DCPS memo released recently, it was worse that suspected. There was evidence of excessive erasures by “191 teachers representing 70 schools,” yet Rhee did nothing to investigate.

Cheating is nothing new in high-stakes testing. Between 2008-2012, test-cheating scandals have occurred in 37 states and in the District of Columbia, but the cult of Rhee’s success has driven similar reforms in 25 states according to Students First. But if Rhee faked her success, why are we copying her?

A new study from The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education out Thursday discredits the fundamental assumption that market-based reforms produce results in education. The study, coauthored by a former program manager for Pearson Education, examined the claims of progress in DC and two other reform-driven school systems and found that test scores regressed and achievement gaps grew relative to other urban school districts.

Where Rhee claimed success, the report found that National Assessment of Education Progress “scores showed minimal-to-no improvement for low-income and minority students, and some losses. Moreover, higher scores were due in most cases not to actual improvements for any age group, but to an influx of wealthier students.”

There was no DC miracle. Browbeating students and teachers into raising scores on state tests only makes them better at taking—or faking—state tests, and reforming our schools in hopes of replicating an illusion is a petty crime against humanity. Even George W. Bush was forced to admit there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and we’ve long since gotten over the shock that Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire were juiced more than a Florida orange grove. We believe lies at our own peril. It’s time to stop waiting for Superman and focus on the hard work of teaching our children the way we know works.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

What Rick Perry Can Learn From California Mon, 13 May 2013 07:05:44 +0000 Jason Stanford The faux pas bordered on sedition. The Texas Association of Dairymen sent blocks of mild cheddar to state senate offices “in appreciation for your hard work this legislative session on behalf of the people of Texas.” Legislative offices often get free—and perfectly legal—swag from special interests. The problem arose when someone read the label. The company that made the cheese was based in California.

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Monte Wolverton / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Wolverton)

California? Get a rope.

This was such an offense against local sensitivities that a reporter called the dairymen for comment, which they declined. You might think this kerfuffle isn’t newsworthy, but the worst thing you can do these days is to compare the Great State of Texas to California. You might as well call Gov. Rick Perry a vegan.

The provincial chest beating by Perry over Texas’ superiority to California escalated this week when Pres. Barack Obama kicked off his “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity” tour in Austin. Perry was polite to Obama on the tarmac but snide in a newspaper ad welcoming the president to town.

“Welcome to the Lone Star State, Mr. President,” said Perry in the ad. “Because your visit is focused on the economy, we’d like to show you how we’re creating jobs and opportunity in Texas. Here’s a handy checklist for you to take back to Washington.”

Obama’s Austin itinerary neatly encapsulated his education-first, collaborative economic philosophy. First he visited a school where lower-income minority kids have access to technology and seem to be succeeding. From there, Obama stumped for prosperity at a tech startup incubator and then at Applied Materials, the nation’s leading chip-manufacturing equipment maker that employs 2,500 people in Austin. Applied Materials is based in, you guessed it, California.

“We’re seeing people work together, not because of politics or because of some selfish reason but because folks understand when everyone’s working together, everyone does better, everyone succeeds,” Obama said at Manor New Technology High School.

Perry couldn’t let it go.

“He didn’t go to Detroit. He didn’t go to Chicago. He didn’t go to some of the cities in California that have been declared bankrupt. He came to Austin, Texas, and he came here because we are a success story. Whether you’re playing for the red team or you’re playing for the blue team, you like to hang out with a winner,” he said. “And Texas is a winner.” California, Perry seemed to imply, is a big loser.

Perry can accurately say that a third of all jobs created in the United States over the last decade were in Texas, but California saw a bigger increase in nonfarm job growth last year, 2.6% to 2.1%, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. And Silicon Valley—where Perry went earlier this year to lure companies to Texas—is now creating jobs faster than any region in the country at a rate they haven’t seen since the dot com boom.

California has so many successful businesses for Perry to poach thanks to its enviable higher education system. Yes, the taxes are high, the regulations burdensome, and its state government only occasionally functional. But the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley and the other seven research universities churn out entrepreneurial geniuses faster than venture capitalists can fund them.

Texas only has three Tier 1 research universities, and one of them is Perry’s alma mater where he got a C in animal husbandry after growing up on a farm. So Perry’s reduced to bribing out-of-state businesses by offering low taxes, low regulations and—as often as not—cash payments that come at the expense of adequately funding our public school system. Of course the Texas Model works. You’d feel rich and popular, too, if you stopped funding your 401k and took your friends out to dinner instead.

Obama’s too circumspect to say so—and Perry might not be bright enough to realize it—but the Texas Model is mortgaging the future for today’s enviable job growth. Texas is squandering its economic lead by not investing in education. Perry would do well to spend our money creating new research universities to create a sustainable, broad-based prosperity rather wasting money to score cheap political points on cheesy newspaper ads.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to MSNBC and the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.

Will Obama Beat the 6-Year Itch? Tue, 07 May 2013 07:10:12 +0000 Jason Stanford If the 2010 elections weren’t bad enough for Democrats, here comes the “six-year itch.” With the exception of Bill Clinton’s second term, the party that controls the White House loses seats in congress six years into a presidency. But there’s a gathering sense among Democratic consultants who work on congressional campaigns that their party could buck the trend in 2014 for a number of reasons, not least because Barack Obama is finally fired up and ready to elect Democrats.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

For all the criticism he gets from the right for “nonstop campaigning”, Obama has rarely put his back into build the party. In 2009, Ed Espinoza was the Western States Director for the Democratic National Committee and found that all the president’s men and women were unwilling to engage in partisan warfare.

“The president and his team were subscribing to this notion of a post-partisan world,” said Espinoza, who last year managed ex-Rep. Nick Lampson’s comeback attempt. “They would say they don’t want to lower ourselves to their level, we won’t be any better than they are.”

This left the president’s agenda undefended at a precarious time.

“In 2010, frustrations voters felt were squarely directed at Democrats who held the White House and big majorities in both chambers. Whether it was fair or not, voters held Democrats accountable for the lack of improvement in the economy and general dysfunction in Congress. Additionally, the dominant legislative issue of the 2010 cycle was healthcare – an issue on which Democrats lost the message war during the summer and fall of 2009,” said Zac McCrary of Anzalone Liszt, a top Democratic polling firm.

To put it mildly, the political dynamic these days differs slightly from the frothing rage of 2009. One reason is the Tea Party insurgents now run the asylum known as the House of Representatives, and Republican congressional leaders poll worse than Nancy Pelosi’s speakership ever did. The generic congressional ballot has Democrats ahead by 8%, a much bigger lead than Republicans had in 2010 and slightly more than Democrats enjoyed in 2006.

Meanwhile, Obama’s agenda no longer requires complicated explanations about painful solutions, say Democratic consultants.

“In 2013, he’s offering entitlement reform with closing loopholes, a path to citizenship with tougher border security, and even universal background checks without a real move on banning new weapons. It’s an agenda that deflates Tea Party insanity and soothes swing voters. And, most importantly, it shines a light on a useless, lifeless Congress. Advantage Democrats,” said Bob Doyle, a media consultant who frequently advises Democrat campaigns in swing districts.

All of this is true. Republicans are playing defense, Democrats have more popular policies, and voters are in a much better mood. But the biggest change since the last midterm election is that we are not dealing with the same Obama.

The most obvious change is his willingness to highlight differences between himself and Republicans, something he did only implicitly and then grudgingly in 2009. Obama is also raising money for Democrats now, something he never did before as president.

“What I couldn’t do in 2012, I’m in big time in 2014. I am in, and I mean it,” Obama told Democratic members of congress, implicitly acknowledging his previous unwillingness to help those he counted on to pass his agenda.

“But, realistically, I’d get a whole lot more done if Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House,” Obama said earlier this month at a fundraiser in San Francisco for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the first of 20 such events he has promised to headline for the Democratic Party. Apparently he really does mean it.

No one is predicting that Democrats will win back the House. Thanks to the 2010 elections, Republicans dominated redistricting and drew congressional maps designed to prevent a Democratic takeover. But thanks to a re-engaged Obama, Democrats who work on congressional campaigns are allowing themselves the tempered optimism that they might beat the “six-year itch.”


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Business is Booming in Perry’s Potemkin Village Wed, 01 May 2013 07:25:16 +0000 Jason Stanford You can’t change the facts of an explosion. A large fertilizer factory operated next to homes, a middle school and a nursing home. The factory blew, and 14 people died. We can’t change those facts, but it’s up to us to decide what they mean.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Bagley)

Gov. Rick Perry disagrees with those who see the fatal explosion of the largely uninspected factory as a preventable disaster. It was not, Perry protests, the inevitable result of his ideology that trusts businesses not to blow us up. In fact, Perry says, Texans “through their elected officials clearly send the message of their comfort with the amount of oversight.” People do not know the dangers that the factory failed to disclose and the state failed to discover. Also, the people elected Perry, who espouses low regulations as part of his Texas Miracle. Ergo, Perry argues, Texans do not want to regulate businesses that might blow them up. This kind of officious thinking invites satire.

Perry has logged a lot of miles this year to preach the business-friendly virtues of his low-tax, low-regulation ideology. Most recently he’s brought the gospel of the Texas Miracle to Chicago to invite businesses in the financial sector to relocate to Texas. But Perry’s promised land has been California. That’s why he’s picking a fight with Jack Ohman, the political cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee. Perry criticizing the newspaper in California’s capital is like the Soviet Politburo attacking the Washington Post.

Ohman’s cartoon played off Perry’s recruitment pitch to California, depicting the governor saying, “Business is booming” in front of a banner touting the state’s “low regs.” The next frame draws itself; boom. A couple of days earlier, Pat Bagley of the Salt Lake Tribune drew essentially the same cartoon, but beating up on a Utah newspaper doesn’t play as well in Texas. (Full disclosure: Ohman and my father, Phil Stanford, worked at The Oregonian together in the ’90s, and Ohman attended my dad’s second wedding. Additionally, Bagley and I are syndicated by the same news service, and his cartoons sometimes run with my columns.)

Perry reacted with the consideration and thoughtfulness we’ve come to expect from him. He called the cartoon “detestable” and complained of “extreme disgust” and worried that it “compound[ed] the pain and suffering” of the survivors. And then he pretended to miss the point entirely.

“I won’t stand for someone mocking the tragic deaths of my fellow Texans and our fellow Americans,” said Perry.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst took to Twitter to regain the manhood he lost in his failed senate campaign, yapping that the Bee should fire Ohman. Sen. Ted Cruz, the junkyard dog who unmanned the Dew, called the cartoon “sad” and “tasteless.” Whatever else Twitter has accomplished, it’s made moral grandstanding more efficient.

Ohman explained that he wasn’t making fun of Texas, just her leaders who bragged about not burdening bidness with regulations on the one hand and mourned publicly the victims of their laissez faire ideology on the other.

“I would draw that cartoon again. Wouldn’t even think twice about it,” wrote Ohman.

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists called Perry’s protest an “un-American” attack on free speech. “Governor Perry attacking the cartoonist is the kind of reaction we’d expect from a leader in North Korea, not one from Texas,” read the statement.

There’s no question that Perry is attacking freedom of speech, but why? When Soviet leaders would send writers to Siberia, it was because a lie can’t survive if someone is telling the truth. Maintaining power required lying to their people about failing harvests, tortured history and imagined threats from abroad. Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policy liberated the press, and the Soviet Union fell apart.

Whether they are conscious of this or not, Perry and the other members of the ruling class in Texas cannot defend the Texas Miracle when people have to bury their neighbors. Instead, Perry cites a fake opinion poll and calls for a writer to be fired while he brags that his Potemkin village is open for business. Y’all come on down. Business is booming.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

The (Revised) George W. Bush Legacy Mon, 29 Apr 2013 07:05:21 +0000 Jason Stanford New polls show that George W. Bush is not as unpopular now as when he left office. That bodes well for a public examination of his legacy but it’s difficult to look back on his presidency as something other than a preventable catastrophe. Thursday’s opening of the his Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas offers an opportunity to review his time in office, and while Bush professes a blithe unconcern with how history will judge him, a defensiveness about his presidency pervades a central feature of his new museum.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News (click to view more cartoons by Zyglis)

“There’s no need to defend myself,” Bush said recently. “I did what I did and ultimately history will judge.”

That could stand as a slogan for the museum, says Brenden Miniter, senior editorial director of the George W. Bush Institute.

“The guiding principle in putting this museum together was just put the facts out there, pretty boldly, pretty directly, and let them speak for themselves and let visitors come to their own conclusions on the events that shaped the years that President Bush was in the White House,” said Miniter.

The worldview that the Bush presidency was passively shaped by events comes across in the museum like a petulant whine: You think you can do better?

The crown jewel in the interactive experience is “Decision Points Theater” where visitors can revisit “the decisions that I had to make and the recommendations I received,” said Bush. At the “Defending Freedom Table,” you can view briefings from Bush aides and decide whether to invade Iraq or leave Saddam Hussein in power. That is a far cry from the question the former president posed after 9/11 when he said an invasion was the only way to keep the most dangerous weapons from getting into the hands of the worst people. Visions of biological weapons, yellow cake uranium, aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds ruined our sleep. To its credit, the exhibit has the decency to admit that no one ever found a single weapon of mass destruction.

At another table, you can decide whether to deploy federal troops to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or rely on local forces. At yet another, you can: Bail out Wall Street, or decide that the banks aren’t, in fact, too big to fail. Funding levee repairs or regulating derivatives are not offered as choices.

In its attempt to recast history by reframing the questions, this exhibit unconsciously replicates the remove with which Bush viewed his role.

“You get the information that the president had at the time, and then the press gets to come and ask, ‘What are you going to do?’ And you have this feeling of having to make a decision very quickly,” former first lady Laura Bush said about Decision Points Theater, as if the press was the pressure point instead of the issue itself. “Then you can vote and say what you would’ve done. And then George comes on the screen and says why he did what he did,” she said.

A presidential library is not a place for rigorous self-criticism, which makes it appropriate for Bush, a man who never wasted a day in contemplation of the road not taken.

“Much of my presidency was defined by things that you didn’t necessarily want to have happen,” said Bush recently.

You can’t prevent the mistakes of the past at a museum. You can’t stop Kennedy from going to Dallas at the JFK presidential library. You can’t pull out of Vietnam at the LBJ library. And you can’t stop Bill Clinton from deregulating Wall Street at his library.

Bush couldn’t have stopped a hurricane, but perhaps some of the 1,800 who died in the storm and aftermath may have been spared.

And if 9/11 was inevitable, his war of choice in Iraq, which cost the lives of 4,486 U.S. troops, was not. No matter what decision you make at his shiny new library, we’re all stuck with his legacy.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Why is it Legal for Utilities to Keep Phantom Taxes? Thu, 25 Apr 2013 11:02:42 +0000 Jason Stanford There are probably places in the world where competition benefits consumers, leading to improved service and lower prices. Unfortunately, that place ain’t Texas, where the only innovation going on is when politicians think up new ways of robbing ordinary folks to prop up corporations.

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Gary McCoy / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by McCoy)

There was a time when Rick Perry was not governor here, and Texans got their electricity from regulated government utilities. Our bills were lower than the national average, mostly because we generated our power locally under what could charitably be called “minimal oversight.” But at least we could afford to keep our houses air-conditioned during the long, pizza-oven summers.

When Perry deregulated electric utilities in 2002, he promised “market forces” and “competition” would lower prices. But it made no sense to require new companies to build new transmission lines, so while the backbone of the grid remained a monopoly, the politicians merely deregulated the reselling of electricity to consumers, in effect adding innumerable useless middlemen.

“We have a system where we have numerous, hundreds maybe, of retail electrical providers who really add no value to this system. By law they can’t own wires. They don’t own the distribution system, they don’t own the meter. By law they can’t own any distribution sources. So they are truly an unnecessary intermediary,” said Geoffrey Gay, lead counsel to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power.

As a result of Rick Perry’s version of “competition,” the invisible hand gave consumers the middle finger. Texas consumers have paid $11 billion more than they would have under the old, regulated monopolies, or $3,000 per Texan over the last decade.

All that money changing hands from consumers to private companies means someone has to pay Uncle Sam, at least theoretically. The companies that own the transmission lines were privatized but remained monopolies. The utilities that owned the lines collected taxes with your bill and sent that money to the U.S. Treasury. Seems fair, right?

Oh, you’d think so. To say that the Texas legislature left a bit of a loophole in the law is like saying Perry’s presidential campaign fell a little short of awesome. Ratepayers have to pay the taxes, but if the company that owns the transmission lines doesn’t end up owing taxes that year, then they can pocket the money.

And we’re talking about a metric ton of money. Oncor is a utility that serves more than three million ratepayers in north, central and west Texas. And since 2008, Oncor has collected $500 million in federal taxes from its ratepayers—all legally—and sent it on to its parent company called Energy Future Holdings.

Funny thing is that EFH has hit a rough patch and hasn’t paid a dime of federal taxes since at least 2007. In fact, EFH got a tax refund in 2009 and in 2008. What happened with the money they got from Oncor that was supposed to go to the IRS? EFH kept it, and since analysts expect EFH to restructure or to declare bankruptcy soon, that money will never go to the IRS. Again, this is all legal.

This isn’t new, and it’s not just in Texas. A 2006 New York Times investigation found instances of utilities collected and pocketing phantom taxes in 19 other states and the District of Columbia. In most cases, the utilities also got tax refunds while they were keeping the money they collected from you in taxes, so in effect you paid them twice—for nothing. They’re called “phantom taxes” because they’re usually not itemized on your utility bill as taxes and not because that ol’ invisible hand is picking your pocket.

The loophole isn’t perfect. The Texas Public Utility Commission can force the EFH or any other company in a similar situation to refund some of the money to the ratepayers. But fans of the free market should fear not. The Texas Senate passed a bill on Tuesday (Apr. 24, 2013) that would take that power away from the PUC. I’m sure this has nothing to do with the millions of dollars utilities give to lawmakers’ campaigns. That would be cynical.

God bless Texas, and hurry.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas, Including Disaster Relief Hypocrites Mon, 22 Apr 2013 07:05:13 +0000 Jason Stanford As of this writing, we know the fertilizer explosion in West, Texas killed at least 14 residents and injured 200 others with many still missing. “Your heart weeps for their suffering,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, who toured the disaster area on Friday with Sen. John Cornyn. It feels wrong to talk politics when they’re still looking for bodies, but a respectful silence would only reward Cruz and Cornyn for their putrid hypocrisy.

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Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch (click to view more cartoons by Beeler)

Sometimes the truth overrides good manners, even in a nice place like West, which has a special place in the heart of anyone who’s made the otherwise dreary drive on IH-35 between Austin and Dallas and pulled off at exit 253 to get a sweet, chewy kolache at the Czech Stop, perhaps the best-reviewed convenience store in Texas on Yelp. When news filtered in about the explosion late Wednesday night, every one I know had the same question: Is the Czech Stop still standing?

It was, and it stayed open all night and ever since to serve food for the first responders, and we love them for it. So when Cruz wears his weeping heart on his sleeve or Cornyn worries about the 60 people unaccounted for, even Texas liberals grant them the sincerity of their emotions because we’re right there with them.

But it was what Cruz said yesterday in Washington before he decided to visit West that deserves condemnation: “It’s truly horrific and we are working to ensure that all available resources are marshaled to deal with the horrific loss of life and suffering that we’ve seen,” he said.

The Ted Cruz who promised to get federal help for West is the same guy who voted three times against federal Sandy aid and blamed it all on pork, though Politifact called that a lie.

“Senator Cruz promised the voters of Texas he would take principled stands when it comes to fiscal responsibility and protecting America’s sovereignty,” said his spokesman. But it’s a lot easier to take principled stands when your heart only weeps for people who can vote for you. Congratulations, Ted. You’re a real Washington politician now.

Cornyn practices a more dignified denomination of hypocrisy. If Cruz is a Pentecostal politician, Cornyn’s a Methodist, but it’s all still the same situational ethics. Cornyn’s another one of the upstanding Republicans who voted against Sandy aid after requesting federal disaster aid for their own states.

In 2009, Cornyn got the USDA to give Texas agriculture disaster relief when the hottest summer in recorded history turned Texas into a Dust Bowl sequel. Instead of expressing gratitude, however, Cornyn issued a petulant press release tweaking the Obama administration for not hopping to it sooner.

“While this is certainly overdue, seeing as it was signed into law more than a year ago, it will be welcome news to the Texas farmers and ranchers who have suffered through this year’s devastating drought – the worst some parts of Texas have seen in 50 years,” said Cornyn.

The drought continued and contributed to the spate of wildfires Texas suffered in 2011 when 19,000 fires burned more than 3.5 million acres of land. Cornyn again reached his hand out for a handout, his manners being slightly improved: “We ask that this be done now without delay,” he said.

Much as we like to think everything’s bigger in Texas, Cruz and Cornyn might not be the biggest hypocrites in the Senate. That honor should go to New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and Pennsylvania’s Patrick Toomey, both Republicans, who each requested federal Sandy aid for their states before voting against the Sandy aid legislation.

And it’s almost reassuring to know that Cornyn engages in rank hypocrisy, indicating as it does evidence of brain activity behind his untroubled visage. If Cornyn started acting like a man with a conscience, we’d worry. Cornyn seems perfectly suited to compiling a doctrinaire Republican voting record without going to the effort of convincing us that he means it. No snake handler, that one.

But Cruz was supposed to be the one who believed all this stuff, the one whom the political winds couldn’t turn. Maybe he saw the devastation and realized they needed help, politics be damned. Or maybe he’s just figured out this is how politics works.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

National Backlash Against Test-Crazed Education Mon, 15 Apr 2013 07:15:49 +0000 Jason Stanford If there’s one person in America most responsible for the stress our children face while filling in little ovals with their No. 2 pencils, it may be Sandy Kress. Kress was the architect of “No Child Left Behind” and later became a lobbyist for Pearson, the testing company. But as high-stakes testing faces a national backlash, lawmakers in Texas—birthplace of such standardized exams—are poised to give up on some testing and on Kress.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

The Atlanta testing scandal in which the 2009 National Superintendent of the Year was indicted for racketeering has prompted questions about whether corruption in the classroom is an inevitable result of making test scores the primary focus of public education. “Tragically, the Atlanta cheating scandal harmed our children and it crystallizes the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Concern is spreading. In Seattle, teachers refused to administer a state-wide test they saw as unfair. In Providence, high school students dressed up like zombies and marched through downtown to protest a graduation requirement to pass standardized tests. Even Bill Gates, long a proponent of education accountability, recently opposed the use of test scores to evaluate teachers.

But nowhere is the movement against high-stakes testing as strong as it is in Texas, where it all began.

A high school test first administered last year was so tough that 27 percent of Texas’ entire 9th grade failed the test and the retake and now can’t graduate. In a recent poll commissioned by a teachers union, reducing the emphasis on standardized testing ranked higher than raising teacher pay and restoring budget cuts.

Today, 86 percent of the state’s school boards have adopted resolutions opposing the over-reliance on high-stakes testing. Gov. Rick Perry’s last education commissioner called testing a “perversion of what is intended.” A group of mothers, angry that a new testing regime forced high school students to pass 15 standardized tests before graduation, lobbied the legislature with such vehemence that politicians began calling them “Mothers Against Drunk Testing.”

The defenders of the testing status quo are now down to two: Kress, and Bill Hammond, a top business lobbyist whose organization is involved with Pearson testing.

Kress first advised George W. Bush as governor. When Bush became president, Kress joined him as a senior adviser and helped win over support for No Child Left Behind from Sen. Ted Kennedy. With the bill signed, Kress became a lobbyist representing Pearson. In Texas, he took on an insider role in Perry’s administration, serving on state boards and commissions which advised more testing as a way to improve schools. Few seemed to mind his dual role as education adviser and Pearson lobbyist. It didn’t cause a stir when Kress testified before the legislature in favor of more testing. At the same time, Pearson won increasingly large contracts that ended up totaling $980 million.

But poor test scores and intense pressure finally led to the backlash now before the Texas legislature. Last month, the Texas House passed a testing relief bill that included two amendments aimed at Kress. One amendment would ban testing lobbyists from serving on state education advisory boards. The other amendment would make it a misdemeanor for a testing lobbyist to make political contributions. When politicians make it a crime to give them money, something’s up. The bill is now before the Texas Senate.

It is worth recalling that Bush was able to pass No Child Left Behind by noting that tests worked in Texas when he was governor. But Texas no longer believes in its own miracle and isn’t buying what Sandy Kress is selling. Maybe Congress shouldn’t either.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Right-Wingers Making it Hard to Defend the South Mon, 08 Apr 2013 07:10:51 +0000 Jason Stanford Some days it is really hard to defend the honor of the South, but it’s only on the days that end in Y.

I am not, to use the local vernacular, a “son of the South”. If anything, I’m a foster child who never left and was assumed at some point to have been adopted. My plight, then, is worse than the native’s. A native can claim heritage, history and genetic doom. I have to shrug my shoulders and admit, yep, I chose this mess. Lately, there has been much to apologize for.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News (click to view more cartoons by Zyglis)

Rick Perry, bless his heart, has a theory about why our North Texas prosecutors who’ve been investigating the Aryan Brotherhood have been turning up shot dead. Perry thinks the Mexican drug cartels might have done it. He also speculated that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un included Austin on a short list of cities he’d like to nuke because Austin is “an epicenter for a lot of technology, a lot of economic development, and I think the individuals in North Korea understand that Austin, Texas, is now a very important city in America, as do corporate CEOs and other people who are moving here in record numbers.” God bless that boy. Only Rick Perry could turn the threat of nuclear annihilation into a Chamber of Commerce brag.

Part of the frustration of championing the South is telling people who don’t know us that we’re not all like Perry. Sure, many of us can read. Others have even been known to write a book. Southerners have been scientists, inventors, presidents, and poets. And if the civil rights movement didn’t reclaim America’s soul all over the South by defeating violence with love, I don’t know what did.

But it is very hard to stand up for my adopted kin when you also have to explain what happened in North Carolina, normally one of the more sober cousins at our family picnics. A couple of representatives introduced a resolution that claimed the U.S. Constitution did not apply to states, towns or schools and that local governments ought to be able to establish official religions. The moneyed wing of the Republican Party recognized how openly flouting the Constitution might be bad for business and got them to withdraw it.

Being a liberal below the Mason-Dixon Line means saying “please” and “thank you” and “yes ma’am” because sometimes it sounds so much nicer than the truth. For example, there is no nice way to accurately describe God’s special little children in the Tennessee legislature who mistook a mop sink for a Muslim foot-washing basin. It is truly difficult to hold my love for Tennessee in my heart and accept that its good citizens elected a couple of fellows who mistook a mop sink for evidence of Muslim infiltration into the men’s room at the state capitol.

They should have known better. In every Southern town there is a cook who can do things to a pig that are so delicious that we never need worry about the threat of Sharia law. Any religion that forbids baby back ribs will find no favor down here.

You do not need to agree with someone all the time in order to love them. If you doubt this, ask a wife. And if the wives are out of earshot, it’s safe to ask a husband. To love the culture that gave us Johnny Cash and Otis Redding, Harper Lee and William Faulkner, Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr., and banana pudding and chicken-fried steak, you don’t need to endorse all of the South’s faults.

A popular local bumper sticker says, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” The speed at which outsiders adopt local customs is considered good judgment around here, and I do admire their enthusiasm for being so decided of this place. This fervor seduced me, and now I count myself among them. I see their merits and excuse their flaws with a “bless their hearts.” There are some days—and late they come in rapid succession—when I want to cry out “I’m not one of them!” But it is too late for me, for I am one of them now.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Texas School Conspiracy Reaches State Legislature Wed, 03 Apr 2013 12:56:08 +0000 Jason Stanford The one thing a Texas Republican is afraid of these days is drawing a tea party-backed primary opponent. So when a conspiracy theory whips up fear among the electorate, legislators are less likely to calm voters with facts and logic. Instead, they will legitimize that theory by giving it a hearing in the legislature. The latest example stems from a certainty among a segment of parents that President Obama is forcing Texas public schools to teach Muslim propaganda, Marxism, and Nazi mind control.

cscope Texas School Conspiracy Reaches State Legislature cartoons“One would never imagine that for the last seven years students all across the state of Texas have been indoctrinated with a pro communist, pro Islamic curriculum called CSCOPE,” wrote Ginger Russell of Russell had found what she called Obama’s “liberal strategy for indoctrinating children.” When evaluated on the basis of mere fact, her claims were dismissed. But that didn’t make them go away.

Instead, politicians are giving the conspiracy oxygen, and the fear is spreading like fire. The Texas Attorney General is investigating CSCOPE and reportedly promised to “shut them down completely” if he uncovers illegality. And the State Board of Education has decided to “review” CSCOPE. This is the same State Board of Education that rejected mandating studies on the Establishment Clause but required Texas students to learn about the Contract With America, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association, so you know this will end well.

Back in 2006, regional education centers created a way for small school districts to buy web-based lesson plans and exams which tracked the state curriculum. Most Texas school districts can’t afford to hire staff to create lesson plans so the idea took off. Today, about 70% of Texas school districts use what are known as CSCOPE materials.

There was no sign of the Muslim-Commie-Nazi infiltration until a tutor named Janice VanCleave was unable to access a student’s lesson plan online. Seeing evil behind a locked door, she and her blogger daughter, Ginger Russell, kept digging and “discover(ed) a Marxist/Communist takeover of Texas Schools,” Russell wrote.

One CSCOPE lesson presented students with a British newspaper story that described the Boston Tea Party as terrorism and asked the students to make up their own minds.

Charged with teaching kids about world geography, CSCOPE also encouraged schoolchildren to imagine a new socialist or communist country. The lesson asked them to design a flag so that kids would learn that certain symbols are associated with socialist countries. And if you’re wondering why teaching about something is the same as supporting it, you’re not alone.

And since state law requires the instruction of world religions, CSCOPE offered some basic information about Islam which struck some as pro-Muslim.  Russell’s angry emails triggered an official investigation by a North Texas school district, but the findings didn’t confirm her fears. Last December, the investigation actually found a “bias against radical Islam,” reported the Dallas Morning News.

Russell was unmoved.

“Cscope is based on a Marxist Ideology where absolute truth is not taught and everything is relative,” she maintained in one blog post. “Under the Obama administration’s “Common Core” education takeover, Marxist curriculums like CSCOPE are being implemented across the country,” she wrote in another.

By then Glenn Beck was on the case. “This is what this president is pushing into Common Core, which is what will be in every school,” he told his radio audience. “It sounds very Gestapo-like.”

CSCOPE reassured Texans that every parent has the right to review the materials and offered to let the State Board of Education review them as well. Russell took her concerns to the lieutenant governor who is facing re-election. Before long, the Texas senate was holding its own hearing on the issue.

The question now is whether elected officials will allow fear to alter the education of millions of Texas schoolchildren. Our track record does not engender optimism.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

If You Enron-ize Public Schools, Cheating is Going to Happen Mon, 01 Apr 2013 07:05:53 +0000 Jason Stanford The Ohio state auditor is investigating the practice of “scrubbing,” or dropping students from attendance rolls so they don’t count against test scores. The former El Paso superintendent is in prison for using truant officers to encourage at-risk students to drop out. Other testing scandals have popped up in Mobile, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Baltimore, St. Louis, and East St. Louis, Illinois. And everywhere USA Today looked in a 2011 investigation, they discovered statistically improbable aberrations in test scores, identifying 1,610 examples of anomalies that an Arizona State University professor compared to “a weight-loss clinic where you lose 100 pounds a day.”

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

Organized, systematic cheating is the inevitable result of attaching high stakes to standardized tests, and it will continue as long as we’re invested in the illusion that the system is working.

The latest example came late on Good Friday when an Atlanta grand jury indicted 35 teachers, administrators and principals under laws meant to target the mafia. Dr. Beverly Hall, the since-retired superintendent of Atlanta schools, is facing charges of “racketeering, theft, influencing witnesses, conspiracy and making false statements.” In 2009, she was named National Superintendent of the Year and praised by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Atlanta business leaders tried to get former Gov. Sonny Perdue to back off his investigation. Everyone wanted it to be true.

The real problem with uncovering test-cheating scandals isn’t that they’re hard to find, it’s that it’s hard to get education officials to look. This is a glaring hole in No Child Left Behind. States use scores to evaluate teachers, to reward superintendents, to close schools and to promote children. But NCLB offers no incentive to catch cheating, and as the Atlanta and El Paso scandals proved, prosecutors only go after the worst offenders.

When a teacher reported cheating in a Mobile school to her principal, he told the teacher to “sleep on it.” When the teacher went to state authorities, the Alabama education department investigated but skipped a computer analysis to screen for questionable erasures. “You start doing that, you’re on a witch hunt,” said the education commissioner.

Texas pays its testing vendor to look for excessive erasures, but it does not ask for suspicious concentrations of erasures at schools, a typical indicator of organized cheating. “It’s not illegal to erase on tests,” said a spokeswoman for Texas’ education department. “There can be legitimate reasons for that.”

Standardized tests have a valid role in education, but closing down schools or giving principals cash bonuses based on test results is new. That started when then-Gov. George W. Bush instituted a business mindset in Texas public schools and measured all schools by their tests scores. Enron did much the same thing with its stock price, gaming the system by hiding debt and booking future earnings. The stock price soared while the former pipeline company cratered. In Texas public schools, dropouts rose, preparing for the tests ate up more than half the school year, and scores rose. Bush proclaimed it the “Texas Miracle.” Many of the schools he cited as proof of his miracle were later investigated for cheating, including Wesley Elementary in Houston, where the principal coached teachers “to administer a test the Wesley way,” which meant walking around the classroom and standing behind a student until they chose the correct answer. But by then, achieving miraculous gains on test scores had become a national goal.

At least Charlie Brown had the good sense to wonder whether Lucy van Pelt would really hold the football instead of swiping it away when he tried to kick it. When it comes to testing scandals, we assume everything is great and forget that we keep ending up on our backs, dazed and wondering how teachers, principals and administrators could possibly have scammed the system of high-stakes testing yet again. And as long as we link rewards and punishments to how our kids fill in tiny little ovals, we’re going to experience an endless cycle of cheating.

There’s a reason we close our eyes when trying to believe in fairies and miracles in education. It’s because if we opened our eyes, we’d have to face the facts that high-stakes standardized testing isn’t working.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Turning Texas Into a Battleground State Mon, 25 Mar 2013 07:10:22 +0000 Jason Stanford Those of us who worked for the late Ann Richards used to run our plans by her. The former Texas governor did not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise, and if your plan had flaws, she’d let you know in great detail. Working for her was like the Army; she was the toughest boss we ever loved.

Mark Strama worked for Richards’ 1990 campaign. “I was terrified of Ann,” he remembered. “I was 22. She was very intimidating.”

logo ann Turning Texas Into a Battleground State cartoonsAfter selling his company that registered voters online, Strama returned home to run for the state legislature, and that meant presenting his plan to the old boss.

“When I decided to run, everybody said, ‘You’ve got to call Ann Richards. Ask for her support.’ I found that at the age of 37, I was as scared of Ann Richards as I’d been at 22. But I called her and asked if she’d support me. She was very stern on the other end of the phone. She said, ‘Mark, why are you doing this?’ I launched in to my entire stump speech. I started telling her everything I believe in and all of the issues that I care about and all the ways I could make a difference. I poured all my passion and idealism in to this way-too-lengthy soliloquy, and when I finally ran out of breath, there was five seconds of silence. Then, for the first time in all the time I’d known her, Ann Richards softened up toward me and said, ‘Aw, sweetie, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my whole life.’”

Richards told him the only reason to run is because you can win, and he did by 569 votes. He has held the seat for a decade. Strama recently announced he wasn’t running for re-election partly because being a Democratic lawmaker when Republicans won’t let you make laws has “been frustrating and at times disheartening.” Ann Richards’ proteges have now come and gone, and Democrats still haven’t won a statewide race since she was governor.

Obama’s 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird never worked for Ann Richards. Now he’s created Battleground Texas to, in his words, turn Texas into a swing state by treating it like a swing state. It’s a shame Bird can’t run his plan past Governor Richards to see if it passes muster.

What we do have is Holland Taylor of CBS’s “Two and a Half Men” who has written and is starring in “Ann,” a one-woman play now on Broadway. Taylor is so convincing as Richards when I see her in costume I worry about getting yelled at. And no less an expert than Ann’s ex-husband read the script and pronounced, “She got it right,” even though Holland estimates that she made up 90 percent of the script.

Bird says he wants to run “a 21st century campaign with real organizers in neighborhoods working for every single vote” as they did in Florida and Ohio. He even got Obama’s Ohio field director, Jenn Brown, to come run Battleground Texas. This all sounds great, but I felt the need to run it by Ann Richards to make sure. So I asked Taylor to channel the late governor for me: Is this how Texas becomes a swing state?

“Turn Texas into a Swing State?” asked Richards (via Holland). “You mean by suiting up and going out to fight for every damn vote? Working your shiny butt off for the goddamn moon? Shoot… You might as well be a woman—a divorced woman, a ten year sober alcoholic woman, and a Democrat, too—and then run for Governor of Texas—as launch a dumb-ass plan like that.”

Ann Richards is enjoying a renaissance these days. Besides Holland’s Broadway play, a biography and a feature-length documentary about her came out last year. Amid all this hoopla, the one thing we don’t have in Texas is Ann herself, and Democrats could really use her leadership right now. As Bird and Brown mount a new Texas revolution, local Democrats lack Richards’ star power, fundraising ability, and—perhaps most of all—her political instincts. This time, we’re going to have to make it work without the Godmother’s advice.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

What’s the Matter With Ted Cruz? Wed, 20 Mar 2013 13:22:06 +0000 Jason Stanford People are spending a lot of time trying to figure out what’s wrong with Ted Cruz. It’s not that he “mansplained” the Bill of Rights to Diane Feinstein and earned her “I’m not a 6th grader” rebuke, or that he is, in Sen. John McCain’s words, one of the “wacko birds on right.” Extremism in the defense of filibusters is a virtue these days.

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Ted Cruz speaking at a Tea Party Express rally in Austin, Texas. (photo by Gage Skidmore)

Republican pundits aver that “he didn’t go to Washington to make friends,” as if a lack of socialization explains what is wrong with him. Most coverage cast the Cruz-Feinstein conflict as a manners comedy. Liberals cheered Feinstein’s scolding, and conservatives saluted Cruz’s impudence.

All of this misses the point that Cruz—a former constitutional law professor who has argued many cases before the Supreme Court—knowingly misrepresented constitutional law. Time and time again, Cruz has prostituted his intellectual credentials, Harvard Law education, and career as an appellate lawyer to score political points by telling big, obvious lies. That, and not his inability to play well with others in the Senate, is what’s wrong with Ted. He knows better, but he doesn’t seem to care.

Cruz revealed himself when he asked Feinstein which books congress could ban if it could outlaw certain guns. Her “6th grader” crack got all the headlines, but her answer included that “the Heller decision clearly points out three exceptions, two of which are pertinent here,” said Feinstein. “It’s obvious that there are different tests for different amendments.”

In District of Columbia vs. Heller, Antonin Scalia wrote the 5-4 decision that overturned DC’s handgun ban but described how congress and states could regulate firearms.

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” wrote Scalia, who listed concealed handgun laws, prohibitions against criminals and the mentally ill from owning guns, banning guns from schools and churches, and banning “unusual” guns not “in common use at the time,” e.g., military-style assault weapons, as acceptable restrictions.

Ted Cruz knows this, but he advanced a false argument anyway.

We can’t say there weren’t clues. As a candidate, Cruz said Obama “began his presidency going on a worldwide apology tour” and wildly exaggerated the cost of Obamacare, both of which drew censure from Politifact. But his false attacks against his Republican runoff opponent, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, foreshadowed Cruz’s senatorial spuriousness. Cruz said Dewhurst had ‘never cut one penny from the state budget” (“False,” said Politifact) and accused him of supporting a state income tax (“Pants on Fire”) which in Texas is like saying your opponent wants gay illegal immigrants to confiscate your guns.

Americans met Cruz when he claimed that Chuck Hagel “has been publicly celebrated by the Iranian government,” suggested that he could be on the take from Arab shieks or Korean Communists, and said the Vietnam veteran “has repeatedly been soft on our enemies.”

At CPAC last week, Cruz was back at it, talking about “our uncontrollable spending and debt” in the face of recent reports that our deficit has shrunk faster since 2009 than it has since World War II ended. Uncontrollable? Hardly. Improving, in fact, if austerity’s your bag.

Cruz accused the Democratic Party of “fighting a war on religious liberty” to shut down Catholic “charities and hospitals.”  He intimated that Obama believed “a drone from the sky hitting you in a café” was constitutional despite the Attorney General saying otherwise. And he warned conventioneers about “an ongoing effort to undermine United States sovereignty.”

“You know,” he said, “in West Texas the EPA is tryin’ to use a lizard to shut down oil and gas production. You know my view of lizards? They make darn fine boots.” Last year, the Obama administration announced that the dunes sagebrush lizard won’t be listed as an endangered species, but why should the facts get in the way of a corny joke?

Cruz went on like this for a half hour. Had Cruz edited the counterfactual balderdash from his remarks, his CPAC speech wouldn’t have gone five minutes.

There’s no reason for Cruz to lie if he just wants to hold onto his senate seat. Being a wacko conservative never lost anyone an election in Texas. But if Cruz has his sights set on 2016, then we have to worry about a brilliant politician willing to say anything to advance his career.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.


Homeschool Segregation Mon, 18 Mar 2013 07:10:19 +0000 Jason Stanford Some think that marriage equality is the civil rights fight of our time. Patrick Stewart made news when he called domestic violence against women the “single greatest human rights violation of our generation.” But here in Texas, we’ve got a much bigger fight on our hands: Kids who are homeschooled or who go to private and parochial schools want access to the state’s public school sports leagues. Where is Dr. King when we need him?

%7B24646039 410a 4560 a51a 057fcbb09631%7D Homeschool Segregation cartoons

Pat Bagley . Salt Lake Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Bagley)

Texas State Sen. Dan Patrick is from the Republican Party, and he’s here to help. He thinks private charter schools should get public funding and wants to force public school sports leagues to include homeschoolers and private and parochial schools. And because Patrick chairs the Education Committee, he’ll probably get his way.

Texas high school football coaches fear the idea could encourage the creation of college football factories masquerading as charter schools. Last year Sports Illustrated reported on Eastern Christian Academy High School, an online charter school “attended” by 54 students, 14 of whom already had received scholarship offers to play big-time college football.

Patrick’s response was to invoke racial segregation to describe the status quo of high school sports. Really.

“If you were black in this state before the civil rights movement, it didn’t function for you,” said Patrick. “And now I feel there’s discrimination against Catholics and Christians in these parochial schools. And the same testimony would’ve been given before this committee in the 1950s: ‘It’s gonna be on an unlevel playing field if we let those black players play.’ Traditions must be broken. People must be accepted. And no one should be discriminated against in Texas.”

I only went to public school, so perhaps the fire hoses that kids in Catholic school faced escaped my notice. Maybe homeschoolers, ensconced in the loving attention of their parents, suffered their deprivations secretly. So I asked someone who went to segregated schools in Alabama in the 1950s whether Sen. Patrick was right.

“He’s so inarticulate it was a little difficult to under what he was talking about it,” said Dr. Bob Zellner, a veteran of the civil rights movement. “It was certainly objectionable.”

Segregationists burned a 38-foot-tall cross on the lawn of Zellner’s college dormitory after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recruited him into the movement. As the first white southerner to be a Field Secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, Zellner was arrested 18 times in seven states on charges such as “inciting the black population to acts of war and violence against the white population”, which, if you think about it, is kind of like St. Marks not getting to play Dallas Carter under the Friday night lights.

“Here is a person with a complete right-wing agenda who is calling on movement principles,” said Zellner of Patrick. “I don’t understand how he could equate some discrimination facing parochial and private school children with what black kids faced in the south.”

Zellner spilled blood to integrate the South, but he’s a product of all-white public schools, so maybe he just didn’t understand the obvious parallels between parochial football schedules and racial segregation. So I asked the Rev. Jesse Jackson whether Patrick was right.

“Home school is a choice. Legal slavery was not a choice. It was a legal predicament. Therefore it cannot be compared,” said Jackson, who said Patrick’s appropriation of civil rights language “manipulates and confuses whites.”

You can make an argument that it’s discriminatory to deprive homeschooled kids from participating in public-school sports. Most states have what are called “Tim Tebow laws,” named for the homeschooled Heisman winner. But Patrick and other Republicans offend reason when they equate that to racial segregation, especially when they’re also trying to redirect tax dollars to private charter schools.

“I’m always on guard when right-wingers use the principals of the movement to support private segregation, and I think that’s what they’re doing,” said Zellner.

“Republicans make the most absurd arguments, and sometimes they recycle them,” said Jackson.

Patrick is determined to end what preacher John Hagee called the “separate but equal” status quo and succeeded in passing the bill out of his committee. Despite opposition from civil rights leaders, he shall overcome.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Ted Cruz: pro-stimulus Republican? Mon, 11 Mar 2013 07:10:05 +0000 Jason Stanford When Sen. Ted Cruz speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference next week in Washington, it won’t be a keynote, it’ll be a coronation. Sick of sellouts, movement conservatives have fallen hard for Cruz. The Red State blog dubbed him a “national hero” and a “great patriot” for his first two months in the Senate, and retired Sen. Jim DeMint vouched for Cruz as the real deal:

ted cruz Ted Cruz: pro stimulus Republican? cartoons

Ted Cruz speaking at a Tea Party Express rally in Austin, Texas. (photo by Gage Skidmore)

“He’s proved himself an effective advocate for the founding principles that made our nation great: personal freedom and responsibility, local control and adherence to the law as it is written, not the way some politicians wish it was written,” wrote DeMint.

Cruz’s new allies say that he didn’t go to Washington to make friends, but the question remains whether Cruz’s fiery rhetoric comes from personal conviction or is calibrated for the political advantage he’s now enjoying. CPAC attendees might want to read a brief Cruz wrote as a private attorney in 2009 before they anoint him as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. In the brief, Cruz extolled the virtues of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, more commonly known as the stimulus, and cautioned Texas against flouting federal law, two positions he’s contradicted as a politician since then.

In 2009, Texas closed a $6.6-billion budget deficit with $6.4 billion from the stimulus. The Texas House wanted to spend $155 million of the stimulus to give retired teachers one-time $500 checks. Senate Republicans who opposed the payments got wording inserted into the final bill requiring the Attorney General to issue a “conclusive opinion that such one-time payments are constitutionally and statutorily permissive” before the state could write the checks.

That kicked off a months-long process during which interested parties could submit legal briefs to the Opinion Committee in the Office of the Texas Attorney General. The Texas Retired Teachers Association hired the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius to lay out the legal case in favor of the extra money. Morgan, Lewis had previously represented the teachers’ pension system. Cruz worked at the firm then but, more importantly, he had been Solicitor General at the AG’s office beforehand and knew how the place worked.

The Opinion Committee was in for a couple surprises when it received Cruz’ brief on July 20, 2009. One member speaking privately to avoid professional retribution thought it odd that Cruz, a conservative Republican then exploring a race for Attorney General, was representing teachers. An even bigger deal was how pro-stimulus and pro-Washington Cruz’s legal reasoning was. For a senator who loves the anti-Obama limelight, Cruz’s 2009 brief could not have been more pro-stimulus had the DNC written it.

In the memo that he alone signed, Cruz argued that rejecting the payments to retired teachers “would risk frustrating the purposes of federal law to stimulate the economy and invest in education” but allowing them “affords a clear public benefit.”

“Further, the one-time payment will impact commerce and the economy by infusing cash into the economy,” wrote Cruz.

Cruz’ constitutional arguments are likely to shock his current defenders. Ruling against the teachers’ payments “would also frustrate and obstruct the accomplishment and execution of Congress’ full purposes and objectives … and arguably give rise to federal preemption,” wrote Cruz, meaning that a conflict between Texas and federal law would negate the former.

He reached the opposite legal opinion on Obamacare a year later when he headed up the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies and was well into his political career.

“The one-time payment will directly impact the economy in both the metropolitan and rural areas of Texas, and will directly further the greater purpose of economic recovery for America as envisioned by ARRA,” concluded Cruz, who never gave any indication to his client that he did not wholeheartedly share the opinions he signed his name to. In any case, the Opinion Committee ruled the payments were unconstitutional, and Attorney General Greg Abbott ran for re-election.

Cruz shifted his ambitions to the senate after Kay Bailey Hutchison announced her retirement. He has yet to take a political position at odds with the Club for Growth, the FreedomWorks super PAC or the Tea Party Express, all of which poured millions into delivering his upset win.

He won support in the conservative movement by campaigning against “big-government ‘stimulus’ programs that have consistently failed to generate jobs.” Now he’s relaxing into his new role as senate rebel, tweeting last month, “Unhappy birthday to stimulus! What does $1 trillion get you? Millions fewer jobs & higher unemployment than promised!”

Despite his seeming sincerity, it looks like Cruz has been following the money all along.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.

Gun Misfires Thu, 07 Mar 2013 08:20:46 +0000 Jason Stanford The Senate Judiciary Committee is ready to hold hearings on the Assault Weapons Ban, but no one needs to worry that the threat of federal gun control is keeping Texans from fully enjoying their 2nd Amendment rights. But even in a state where gun control means holding the gun with two hands and where being a liberal means owning only one gun, things might be getting a little out of hand.

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David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star (click to view more cartoons by Fitzsimmons)

Let’s start our tour in Lubbock, where a sporting goods store stocks ammunition every Friday. Demand is so high that customers line up before the store opens. Last Friday, a 51-year-old man got so frustrated at people cutting in line ahead of him that he pulled his gun. No one was hurt, and police charged him with aggravated assault, but to be fair he did call “no cuts”.

Things ended badly in Hidalgo County on Monday when a 54-year-old man told deputies he’d been kidnapped in broad daylight and shot. Turns out he shot himself because he had money problems. The local sheriff might press charges, and the gunshot apparently did not solve the man’s financial difficulties.

In Corral City, where a man and a woman’s drunken evening of playing “quick draws” ended when he accidentally shot his girlfriend, who initially told police that she shot herself while cleaning her .44 Ruger Vaquero. It’s all fun and games until you accidentally shoot your girlfriend. Police charged the boyfriend with aggravated assault.

The federal gun control push has brought boom times to people who teach concealed handgun safety courses. In fact, demand is so high in Texas to take concealed handgun classes that some are worried about lax training standards. “There are just some folks who probably shouldn’t be training other people,” said Travis Bond, who teaches handgun safety in the Dallas area. “I’ve seen safety issues, I’ve seen people cutting classes short… there just needs to be a lot more supervision.”

Rep. Dan Flynn, a Republican from tiny Van, would fix this problem by lowering the number of required training hours from 10 to four. “You spend a lot of time taking breaks, you spend a lot of time hearing stories,” Flynn said. “A lot of people who try to get their license, they have to take a day off of work, or they have to take a whole Saturday to go do this where, four hours, range time, you can do the same thing and it accomplishes it.”

Training standards aren’t the only thing Texas Republicans want to lower. Rep. Jeff Leach wants Texans to be able to buy firearms tax-free on Texas Independence Day for two reasons: “yee” and “haw”. Obviously, the only way to stop a drunk gun owner with a bad cover story is to offer lower training standards and a tax break to the people the drunk gun owners haven’t shot yet.

With all the crossfire, it’s easy to lose sight of the dead kids from Sandy Hook Elementary who shocked us into having this national discussion about gun safety. Many Texas schools aren’t wasting any time arming their teachers, though they hit a little roadblock in Flynn’s Van on Wednesday when they had a mishap at a district-sponsored handgun safety class. A malfunctioning handgun misfired, and a ricochet hit a school maintenance worker. He is in fair condition, and the school will continue arming employees. “We are going to go above and beyond on all-out training,” said the school superintendant, who was not shot.

Also addressing school safety is Republican James White’s bill to allow schools to offer an elective on firearms. Though the class would require students to use guns, White said, “You could go to any high school today and you’ll see them engaging in many what we would consider probably dangerous activities: Welding, auto mechanic, weight lifting, playing sports.”

Recently Public Policy Polling found that Texans favor banning assault weapons, 49%-41%, a result perhaps explained by the rise of pro-gun hysteria here. Our elected officials are wringing political advantage from the gun issue by sending out ALL CAPS emails telling Obama to “LEAVE OUR GUNS ALONE!”, but many of us just want to remain unshot.

© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who writes columns for the Austin American-Statesman and MSNBC. He can be reached at and on Twitter @JasStanford.


Scary Texas Moms Mon, 04 Mar 2013 08:14:58 +0000 Jason Stanford The Texas legislature is in session, which makes some of us miss the late Molly Ivins so badly it hurts. Ivins made a career out of mocking local politicians by quoting them and putting it in the paper. She would have had a good laugh the other day at the press release that the state’s top “bidness” lobbyist put out about the biggest threat to Texas’ poor little schoolchildren: moms.

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Daryl Cagle / Cagle Cartoons (click to view more cartoons by Cagle)

George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind, but it was the brainchild of a Democratic lobbyist named Sandy Kress. Kress went on to become a lobbyist for the testing company Pearson that is now making $468 million for tests that are supposed to make all our kids ready for college. And this worked as well as the last two rounds of high-stakes testing, which was badly.

A rebellion ensued. Most school boards in Texas have gone on record against high-stakes testing. Rick Perry’s last education chief compared high-stakes testing to a vampire, and not the sparkly kind in the teen movies. A group of upper-middle class moms in Austin started a group that politicians started calling Moms Against Drunk Testing, and now you can’t find a politician in Austin willing to defend the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (or STAAR test) that they all voted for in 2009. Even Gov. Rick Perry, who strong-armed the legislature into mandating the new test everyone hates, recently said he’s willing to dial down the high stakes on standardized testing.

So who’s still defending this baby that’s so ugly even Perry is denying he’s the father? The last man defending this ditch is Bill Hammond, the head of the Texas Association of Business, i.e., the business lobby. Despite an utter lack of evidence that high-stakes testing has worked, Hammond is foot-stomping mad that Texans want to undo a system that doesn’t do any good.

The problem is that Hammond can’t yell at state legislators. For one, it’s bad business practice to yell at one’s employees. So when the Moms Against Drunk Testing (really called Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment) called on the state to dump Pearson’s STAAR test for nationally recognized standardized tests such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the SAT, Hammond pounced and called the moms “anti-testing.”

“Business leaders across the state were stunned today to learn that now the anti-accountability advocates are urging the legislature to completely throw out the assessments that were designed for Texas schools in favor of a few tests, like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, that have nothing to do with Texas learning standards,” said Hammond.

Let’s be clear: When Hammond mentions local “learning standards,” he’s talking about Pearson’s STAAR test, and when he’s talking about “advocates,” he’s talking about volunteer moms. And let’s also be clear that Pearson is a member of Hammond’s group. He’s got skin in this game.

“Why is Texas spending precious classroom time and hundreds of millions of dollars on this testing system?” responded Dineen Majcher of TAMSA. “TAMSA supports nationally vetted and recognized tests that tell us how our Texas students measure against students across the country.”

As the legislature tears down the testing prison they ordered in 2009, the Perry administration has appointed a blue-ribbon committee to study the problem. And in Texas, they don’t give blue ribbons to just any bull. The Accountability Policy Advisory Committee includes teachers, principals and superintendants, as well as “legislative representatives, business and community leaders, representatives of higher education, and parents of children attending Texas public schools.”

Two names that jump out at you on the roster are Hammond and Kress. Kress is identified as a lawyer and not as Pearson’s top lobbyist or as the architect of NCLB. Kress must be on the committee as a business leader, because both of his children attend private schools where they don’t have to take Pearson’s STAAR test. But with Hammond and Kress on the committee, how much relief can parents expect?

Not on the committee is a single person identified as a public-school parent. But we wouldn’t want Hammond to freak out having to sit in a room with a scary mom, now would we?

© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Thu, 28 Feb 2013 08:09:39 +0000 Jason Stanford Are you smarter than a 5th grader? For some Texas politicians, the answer is no.

When he campaigned for his Houston-area legislative seat last year, Democrat Gene Wu heard so many complaints from parents and teachers about Texas’ new standardized test that he took the 5th grade math test himself. It did not go well.

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Kap / Spain, (click to view more cartoons by Kap)

“I was dumbfounded, because actually the first question I did threw me for a loop. I sat there and stared at the prompt and said, ‘I have no idea what this is asking. I know this is in English, but these words together make no sense to me,’” said Wu, a client of mine. “I’m an adult. I’m 35 years old. I have a bachelor’s, a master’s, you know, and a law degree. I have a background in math and science. I should be able to do the 5th grade math and science portion with no problem. And that was not the case.”

The first question presented four different collections of bills and coins and asked, “In which amount of money does the digit 4 represent four cents?” My 6th grader solved the problem in less than a minute, and my 4th grader finished shortly thereafter. Wu, however, thought the wording was “very confusing.”

The problem, Wu realized, wasn’t that the math was too hard. The problem was that the test required using higher-order reasoning and a fluency in English to solve a logical riddle to answer a simple addition problem.

“I’m a professional test taker. I’ve taken the SAT, the ACT. I took the GRE. I’ve taken the LSAT. I’ve taken the bar exam. I’ve taken almost every standardized test under the sun, and when I did these questions, they had a certain familiarity to them that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I finally figured out one day, this reminds me of the LSAT and the bar exam. Their objection is to stratify the testing population. They’re trying to separate out the wheat from the chaff and shove people into a bell curve,” said Wu.

The point of standardized tests was supposed to be closing the achievement gap so no child got left behind, not to cull the poor kids in Wu’s district from the herd. So as the Texas revolt against standardized testing reached the Texas capitol, Wu emailed several questions taken from the 5th grade math test to his colleagues in the legislature.

“Some of them refused to do it. Some of them gave it a good shot, did it, and said, ‘I can see your point,’” said Wu. “Some of them were like, ‘Yeah, I did this, no problem.’ That’s great. So you’re smarter than a 5th grader.”

The funny thing is that the question about the money and the digit 4 flummoxed many legislators. “You know who actually had the most problems with that question? Lawyers. All of the legal professionals that are in the House came to me and said the first one threw them for a loop. It threw me for a loop, because as lawyers we’re verbal people. And so when we looked at that prompt, the lawyers, our brains instantly locked up because we couldn’t get past the wording of it,” said Wu, who uploaded the questions on his website at

Wu, who is both a lawyer and a politician, wasn’t trying to make his colleagues look stupid. Much of what the legislature does accomplishes that already. The legislature is considering whether to end high-stakes testing, and Wu wanted to demonstrate that the tests set up kids to fail.

“The basic point I was trying to attest is that you have questions that are very confusing. You have questions that are purposely designed to say, ‘There’s a trick in this. Do you get our trick?’ Because the thing is even if you know the base information, you may still not know the trick,” he said.

Texas is paying Pearson $468 million for this new test. No one is arguing we don’t need tests or accountability. But for my money—and it is—how about we give my kids tests simple enough for Texas politicians to pass?

© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.


Not The Onion Mon, 25 Feb 2013 08:17:14 +0000 Jason Stanford Separating satire from real news requires an advanced degree these days. When Jon Stewart becomes the most trusted newsman for millennials, the line between the evening news and The Onion gets blurry, so perhaps we shouldn’t laugh so loudly at old Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Senator who’s up for re-election next year. But given the circumstances—he’s responsible for using the filibuster to prevent even the clocks from ticking in the Senate—maybe we should.

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David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star (click to view more cartoons by Fitzsimmons)

A satirical military publication called the Duffel Blog reported that the U.S. was extending GI Bill benefits to detainees at Guantanamo Bay. A fine example of Kentucky’s public schools wrote an outraged letter to McConnell’s office, which relayed the concerns to the Defense Department. It is somehow not comforting to know that the Senate Minority Leader treats “patent absurdity” (in the words of the Pentagon’s Guantanamo spokesman) with the same careful discretion that your angry older relatives do when they forward emails written in ALL CAPS. Bless his heart.

But is McConnell any better than the rest of us? Is it possible to read the real news these days and not wonder if you’ve stumbled upon The Onion? Can we really condemn McConnell for getting suckered in a world where reality eclipses comedy?

No, says Georgia State Sen. Earnest Smith, who was so upset that someone photoshopped his head on the body of a naked porn actor that he wants to make such shenanigans a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine. “No one has a right to make fun of anyone. It’s not a First Amendment right,” he said. Actually, it is. For example, I’m making fun of him right now by attributing his idiotic statement to him. (In case you were wondering, that’s how newspaper folk make fun of politicians.)

Unfortunately, Smith’s ill-informed attempt to make the world stop teasing him would not even have medaled if being dumb were an Olympic event, and we’re just talking about last week. Regulating guns seems to steam the stupid out of some people. In Montana, a gun lobbyist wrote a bill that would let sheriffs arrest FBI agents for arresting Montanans for gun crimes. Got that? It gets better: He says that this law would have prevented the FBI’s 1993 raid in Waco from getting out of hand because the local sheriff “could have said, ‘Look, I will call Koresh on the phone and he’ll meet at my office and you can ask him whatever questions you want.’”

And that wasn’t even the most reflexively absurdist pro-gun bill. In Missouri, a Republican state representative named Mike Leara wants to make it illegal for his colleagues even to propose gun control legislation. A lawmaker committing attempted lawmaking would be a Class D felony.

“I have no illusions about the bill making it through the legislative process, but I want it to be clear that the Missouri House will stand in defense of the people’s Constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” said Leara, whose bill had nothing to say about pasting the heads of lawmakers on the bodies of porn stars.

An Oklahoma state representative named Gus Blackwell, also a Republican, wants to expand the First Amendment, this time in defense of anti-scientific opinions in science class. “I proposed this bill because there are teachers and students who may be afraid of going against what they see in their textbooks,” said Blackwell, whose bill would forbid teaches from flunking kids who argued against evolution, climate change, and the scientific method. This anti-education bill just passed the House Education Committee by one vote.

It all becomes a blur after a while as Mississippi finally bans slavery, a female Alabama state representative says that a fetus is the “largest organ in a body”, Fox News says Barack Obama wants universal pre-K so toddlers “will vote for you in the future”, and Texas’ own Louie Gohmert says we need guns to protect us from Shariah Law. And exactly none of this was The Onion. So really, was McConnell so far off base?


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

Ann’s the Man, but Perry’s King Wed, 20 Feb 2013 08:10:48 +0000 Jason Stanford In “Ann”, Holland Taylor’s one-woman play about the late Texas Governor Ann Richards, Taylor (as Richards) tells a story about how George Washington was born in Texas and chopped down the “family Mesquite tree” that was “the only shade tree for 50 miles.” His father confronted him, and of course little George says, “I cannot tell a lie.”

“And his father says, ‘Well son, we are going to have to move to Virginia,” said Taylor. “And George says, ‘Oh father, do we have to move because I shamed the family because I cut down the little tree?’ And his father says, ‘No son. It’s because if you can’t tell a lie you ain’t gonna amount to anything in Texas!’”

Rick Perry’s father never moved him from Texas.

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Kap / Spain, (click to view more cartoons by Kap)

In his State of the State speech, Perry bragged that “our graduation rates are at an all-time high – the third highest in the nation – which represents a significant turnaround from just a few short years ago.”

Actually, Texas ranked fourth, behind Iowa, Vermont and Wisconsin, but quibbling over whether Perry can count to four ignores what a big step this is for “Governor Oops.” The real news here is that only three years ago Texas ranked 29th in graduation rate. Increasing the percentage of kids you move through high school from 75.4 percent to 86 percent is big news, no matter what the ranking.

How did he accomplish this marvelous feat? It’s very simple. Perry moved Texas from 29th to 4th in the country in graduation rate by making Galveston disappear.

Don’t worry, Galveston is still there. Hurricane Ike couldn’t kill Galveston, and to imagine that Perry could make the island’s 50,000 inhabitants disappear would ascribe to him far more skill than he’s ever shown in office. But that’s how many kids he makes disappear every year to boost his graduation rate.

It’s basic math. The way Texas used to calculate the dropout rate was by adding the 8th, 9th and 10th grades, dividing by three, and making that your denominator, and then using that to calculate what percentage of kids graduate four years later. That formula yielded an inconvenient truth that about a quarter to a third of Texas students never graduated, making Texas about average compared to the other states.

This changed not when Texas graduated more students but when we counted fewer dropouts. About 50,000 of them got erased from the books every year, or roughly the population of Galveston. When the Class of 2011 showed up for the 9th grade, there were 356,183 of them. But when it came time to calculate their graduation rate, the original class was now 319,588. What changed?

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Texas didn’t believe the hype and asked for the data. What the state revealed was a case of bureaucratic evil. Perry says, truthfully it turns out, that a thousand people a day move to Texas, but to believe that he’s slashed the dropout rate you’d have to accept that 10,000 kids a year moved back to Mexico, that 20,000 kids enrolled in out-of-state schools, and 15,000 students began home schooling. In other words, while everyone else is coming to Texas, our high school population seems to be leaving the state.

Don’t believe it? You’re not alone.

“That’s just ridiculous,” said Brian D. Ray, founder of the National Home Education Research Institute. “It doesn’t sound very believable.” When you can’t convince the home school people that they have 15,000 new customers, you’re probably cooking the books. “We call it dumping,” said Tim Lambert, president of the Texas Home School Coalition.

They tried this in El Paso. So many kids were convinced to drop out by school officials that people around town started calling them “los desaparecidos,” or the disappeared. Perry’s education department investigated in 2010 but cleared superintendant Lorenzo Garcia. The FBI looked into it, and now Garcia’s in federal prison.

Perry may have taken the wrong lesson from El Paso, but never let it be said that he can’t tell a tall tale and make you like it. If a facility for lying is a prerequisite for success in Texas politics, it’s no wonder Perry’s king.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

Shakespeare in the Senate Mon, 18 Feb 2013 08:15:29 +0000 Jason Stanford From what little I can remember from when I remained awake in high school and college, William Shakespeare loved mistaken identities, crossed purposes and scheming villains. Shakespeare would have loved Elizabeth Warren, Richard Shelby and Wall Street bankers.

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John Darkow / Columbia Daily Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Darkow)

Warren set liberal hearts aflutter recently when she grilled regulators about why they hadn’t dragged any Wall Street bankers into court. “Grilled” is the accepted metaphor for asking tough questions, but maybe we should check these regulators’ backsides for charred hatch marks. Their admissions that they had not tried a single Wall Street banker made for good theater until Sen. Warren’s monologue brought the house down.

“You know, I just want to note on this. There are district attorneys and U.S. attorneys who are out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds. And taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that too big to fail has become too big for trial,” she said. “That just seems wrong to me.”

It’s that kind of talk that got her in trouble in the first place. She’s the kind of woman—a Harvard Law professor, no less—who doesn’t seem the least bit sorry to tell powerful men that she caught them doing something wrong. So when Barack Obama passed a Wall Street reform bill, he not only included her idea to create an ombudsman to protect investors and homeowners, he also nominated her to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Enter Richard Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. He knew what Warren could do overseeing Wall Street, and he was having none of it. I have a rule about politicians: Always keep your receipts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Shelby’s top four contributors since 2007 are the Travelers Insurance folks ($108,250), JPMorgan Chase & Co. ($72,950), a financial services company called the Blackstone Group ($50,000), and The Bank of New York Mellon ($46,250). And in case you lost your receipts from the bank bailout, JP Morgan Chase & Co. and The Bank of New York Mellon took us for a combined $28 billion, though they did pay us back and then some.

“This about accountability,” said Shelby. “The Bureau, as currently structured, lacks any semblance of the checks and balances inherent in the Constitution.  Everyone supports consumer protection, but we should never entrust a single person with this much power and public money.”

The funny thing about this is that Shelby was telling the truth. This really was about accountability, and Shelby didn’t want Wall Street to have any, and he definitely didn’t want Warren to have that much power. Shelby has a kindler, gentler idea of overseeing Wall Street: When JPMorgan lost $2 billion of our money and Jamie Dimon got hauled in for a Senate hearing, Shelby didn’t so much grill him as offer Dimon a milkshake and ask if the room wasn’t too chilly for him.

Shelby and the rest of his Republican Senators blocked Warren’s appointment until Obama changed the law that he passed despite their obstruction. Obama did not relent, but Warren could not stick around forever, so Obama withdrew her nomination and instead chose Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

At this point, what had been a story of dreary Washington gridlock became a Shakespearean comedy. Shelby and the rest of the Senate left for the weekend, and Obama moved Cordray into office where he’s been irritating Wall Street ever since.

And Warren, like the Twelfth Night heroine who donned men’s clothes to access power unavailable to women, won election to the Senate, which until recently had been one of the world’s greatest bastions of moneyed, male power. Warren even got appointed to the Banking Committee, where she’s now too famous to shut up and on the majority, no less. And because Republicans failed to win back the Senate, Shelby’s still the ranking member of the minority Republicans, meaning he has a really good view of Warren where she enjoys the power he worked so hard to deny her. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

Almost makes you feel sorry for him.

© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.


For Republicans, ‘Stupid’ is a Tough Stain to Remove Tue, 12 Feb 2013 08:20:12 +0000 Jason Stanford The Republicans’ path back to the White House is clear—be less racist and less stupid. But just because the path is clear doesn’t make it easy.

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Bob Englehart / Hartford Courant (click to view more cartoons by Englehart)

Barack Obama got 39 percent of the white vote amid rising resentment toward blacks among Republicans. Taking a hard line on immigration and the DREAM Act drove Mitt Romney under 30 percent among Hispanics. Radical and uninformed views on abortion and contraception handed Republicans a 31 -67 percent drubbing among unmarried women. Whatever you call it—intolerance, extremism, an allergy to reality—Republican attitudes and polices have alienated the extra 2—3 percent of mainstream white voters who could have helped Romney overcome Obama’s huge majorities among minorities.

The problem is that if you took all the dumb ideas out of the GOP’s fridge they wouldn’t have anything to throw at the food fight. This is what drove Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal to say, “We must stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican party that talks like adults.” It tells you everything you need to know about today’s Republican Party that calling on his partisans to grow up and stop saying stupid things branded him a reformist outsider.

If last week is any indication, Republicans aren’t buying what Jindal’s selling. For stupid, you can’t beat Alan Keyes’ explanation of Obama’s gun control proposals: “They are going to cull the herd, so that instead of having billions, we’ll only have hundreds of millions of human beings on the face of the planet.” Life inside his head must be like one long dystopian action movie.

Keyes is but one man. It took 65 Virginians to pass a bill to spend $20,000 to study the feasibility of creating a state-based currency on the gold standard. To allay concerns that this was the stupidest waste of money anyone had ever heard of, the sponsor said, “We’re not going to be printing money with Dave Matthews or Jeff Davis on the front of it.” Of course. Patsy Kline is heads. Dave Matthews is tails.

It’s really hard to take the Republican Party seriously in a week when Belarus sticks up for Texas’ right to secede from the union, George W. Bush is revealed to be painting nude self-portraits, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie first eats a donut on David Letterman and then gets cranky when a former White House doctor has the temerity to suggest that his obesity carries serious health risks. The lesson here is that you don’t want to say the emperor has no clothes if you don’t want to see him naked.

During CIA Director nominee John Brennan’s confirmation hearings this week, we could have had a serious discussion about using drones to kill Americans, albeit ones who have joined al-Qaeda. But instead we got Sen. Richard Burr (R-Borscht Belt): “I’m gonna try to be brief because I’ve noticed you’re on your fourth glass of water. And I don’t want to be accused of waterboarding you.” Incredibly, this was the second time a Republican senator told a waterboarding joke in connection with confirming a Cabinet secretary recently. A couple weeks ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Cranky) previewed the Kerry hearing: “We will bring back for the only time waterboarding to get the truth out of him.”

The voices inside McCain’s head have been giving him bad advice lately, such as his recent joke on Twitter comparing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a monkey. When people got offended that he compared a racial minority, even one as abhorrently despotic as the Iranian leader, to a primate, McCain grouched that they should “lighten up.”

“Maybe you should wisen up and not make racist jokes,” said Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican of Palestinian descent.

It wasn’t all fun and games and waterboarding, though. Four tea party Senators voted against allowing the Senate to vote on the Violence Against Women Act because they thought it violated states’ rights. When you’re talking about women getting raped, you first have to ask, “Are we sure the Texas constitution doesn’t feel violated?”

Racism? Check. Sexism? Check. Ten hot cups of crazy with a stupid chaser? Check and check. Well done, Republicans.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

Maybe We Should Mandate Sex Ed for Hobby Lobby Mon, 04 Feb 2013 08:15:03 +0000 Jason Stanford We teach teenagers sex education so they can make healthy choices and, we pray, not get pregnant. But when you consider the opposition to the contraceptive insurance mandate in Obamacare, maybe we need to start giving sex education to politicians and some employers, too.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News (click to view more cartoons by Zyglis)

Barack Obama’s policy is that health insurance plans should have to cover female contraceptives at no charge as they do any other preventative medicine. This is already law in 28 states, but Obama’s policy raised religious hackles, and lawsuits ensued. The Obama administration recently offered faith-based nonprofits a way out of paying for contraceptives for religious reasons without denying their female employees the ability to make their own choices.

“The proposed regulations released today make clear that women will have access to birth control at no cost, no matter where they work,” wrote Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America

The new category of “religious employers” covers churches and faith-based nonprofits with religious missions, but it does not cover private business owned by religious people, some of whom are still squawking that they don’t want to comply with the law. I respect anyone’s right to worship as they please, but it’s hard to give much credence to their objections when they say they don’t want to pay for drugs that cause abortion. Because if you were paying attention in 9th grade health class, you know birth control doesn’t cause abortions. It prevents them.

Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values described the contraception mandate as “a measure that’s been put in place by the Obama administration to force private entities and businesses to provide abortion-producing drugs. And so you’ve essentially put religious people in a position of violating their conscience, forcing them essentially to be involved in the abortion industry.”

It’s factually wrong to equate hormonal birth control with abortion. This is how pregnancy works: The sperm takes the egg out to Bennigan’s, gets fertilized, and heads back to her place at the uterus to implant. This officially kicks off a long process where the other eggs get jealous but throw her a shower anyway before one day you’re broke and some kid eats all your food and doesn’t clean his room. But here’s the key: If you prevent the implantation in the uterus, you’ve prevented a pregnancy. And you can’t terminate a pregnancy that doesn’t exist. That’s what they were getting at when they named it “contraception.”

When challenged that contraception would prevent unwanted pregnancies and therefore reduce the number of abortions (as a new study of St. Louis teens showed), Saenz said, “If you go to Plan B, if you go to their websites, the people that produce these emergency contraceptives, they will tell you very clearly that it has the impact of this happening and causing an abortion.”

Actually, on the website for Plan B One-Step, it says—very clearly—“Plan B One-Step is not effective in terminating an existing pregnancy.” The National Institute for Health agrees that Plan B emergency contraception works “in the same way as regular birth control pills.” For the record, Saenz is not a doctor. He’s a lawyer.

The Hobby Lobby, the big-box craft stores that sell sequins, glue guns and dowels, is suing the Obama administration because they don’t want to “offer coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in the insurance plan,” says their lawyer. They already lost a preliminary hearing before Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and if the Hobby Lobby doesn’t comply, then the federal government will fine them $1.3 million a day—all because they don’t want to pay to terminate pregnancies that the pills would prevent. These people are literally making a federal case out of their scientific illiteracy.

A Texas Republican has sponsored a bill to give the Hobby Lobby, a privately held, for-profit Oklahoma corporation, a sales tax break to offset the fine, meaning Texas taxpayers would have to subsidize the willful ignorance of a few wealthy Oklahomans.

This fight is not, as Saenz claimed, “part of a bigger issue of the Obama administration declaring war on religious liberty”. This fight is about people who lost the sexual revolution and the last election trying to use religion to bully women by taking away their right to make their own health care decisions. That, and whom they want to go to Bennigan’s with.

© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

Texas Budget Tale That Would Make Stalin Proud Mon, 28 Jan 2013 03:13:04 +0000 Jason Stanford Whenever a Texas Republican makes the national news for saying that “ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns”, for alerting Anderson Cooper to the danger posed by “terror babies”, or for shooting a coyote while jogging, friends from the boring states ask me, “How can you stand to live in Texas?”

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Monte Wolverton / (click to view more cartoons by Wolverton)

It’s not just because of these colorful threats, though they do lighten the mood. I majored in Russian in college and lived in Moscow for almost two years after that. I studied the state-sponsored balderdash of Socialist Realism that paid artists to paint record harvests while peasants starved. I experienced the free-market dystopia that followed Communism’s fall and preceded the rise of the Putinocracy. The oft-comic consequences provided relief from the grinding stupidity of a false economic ideology.

This prepared me well for Rick Perry’s Texas. The official state reactions to the recent revenue estimate contained Soviet-style absurdities that can help treat depression caused by the Republicans’ false economic ideology.

Long story short, the Comptroller estimated that we have enough money to restore budget cuts to pre-Great Recession levels. But the Texas Republicans in charge of the budgets have decreed that we’ll hold the line on spending growth and cut taxes instead. Trust me, it helps if you pretend these guys are Communists.

I’m not sure Joe Stalin could have done better than Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams’ quote: “We’re poised to lead our country into the 21st century with a brighter and more prosperous future because of the hard work of the citizens of our state and the restraint that has been shown here in the Legislature in growing state government only as much as necessary to fund essential services.” I’m a little surprised there’s nothing about the beet crop in the Urals.

It would be petty to quibble that we’re already more than a decade into the 21st century, and if Texas is leading the country, the other states aren’t following. It would be pedantic to note that if the number of Texas children living in poverty has quadrupled since 2007, then we can’t become “more prosperous,” only less hungry.

The real fun in Williams’ statement is when he brags how Texas is funding essential services. Maybe he doesn’t think higher education is necessary, because he cut that by $200,000 in his budget after cutting it $1 billion two years ago.

According to the left-leaning but math-friendly Center for Public Policy Priorities, Williams’ budget assumes that caseloads will not rise despite being told they will. And because Rick Perry is limiting spending growth to consumer inflation, the state can’t meet the rising costs of health care. The reality is that health care costs rise faster than consumer goods, but reality is not official state policy.

Our Dear Leader has decreed that we cannot dip into the rainy day fund even to restore $5.4 billion in budget cuts in 2011 that forced school districts to cut workforces and crowd classrooms. But fear not, citizens of Texas! All is well!

“I think under any scenario over the last decade, the funding that we have seen in the state of Texas for public education has been pretty phenomenal,” said Rick Perry. In a triumph of understated dissidence, Politifact rated that claim “false.”

This is conservatism for conservatism’s sake, the triumph of ideology over common sense. Republicans liked the budget they passed in 2009 before all the budget cuts in 2011. When he ran for president, Perry even bragged about closing the 2009 deficit without dipping into the rainy day fund. He forgot to mention that he did so with $6.4 billion from Barack Obama’s stimulus bill that Perry opposed.

Now they have proposed bare bones when we can afford the meat. Why?

“I think we have a record proving that tax relief should be a priority,” Straus said. “The details of that and the potential for that are yet to be determined.”

Perfect. The point of cutting taxes is to cut taxes, never mind how or why. We’re hoarding money simply to hoard money, bragging about our ideological fealty while the peasants starve in classrooms, nursing homes and doctor’s offices.

Stalin would be proud, fellas.

Texas Republicans Are Way Off Target On Guns Wed, 23 Jan 2013 08:20:21 +0000 Jason Stanford A recent poll showed broad support nationwide for banning assault rifles. Only one demographic stood opposed: white men who didn’t finish college.

Texas Republican leaders who have degrees but pretend otherwise ably represent these uneducated white men. As Barack Obama spoke to the country about the need for common-sense gun safety in his second inaugural address today, Texas Republican leaders are leading from behind—in the polls, at least. Despite a national consensus in favor of banning assault weapons, outlawing high-capacity magazines, and closing the gun show loophole, our Republican leaders are standing in the doors of Texas shooting ranges, daring Obama to send in the troops. So far, this is just a metaphor.

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David Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star (click to view more cartoons by Fitzsimmons)

A Dallas state representative promised to file a bill allowing teachers to pack heat in public schools. And in the state where Charles Whitman invented college mass shootings, a state senator offered a bill allowing college students to have guns on campus because, he said, “Law enforcement does a wonderful job, but they cannot personally protect 50,000 students.”

Texas has enough guns for every man, woman and child to have a couple each. Being a liberal means owning only one gun. When Texas installed metal detectors at the state capitol after a shooting, they allowed people with concealed handgun licenses to bypass security lines. So these bills expanding gun rights are mainstream.

But where Texas Republicans really make their mark is anti-government paranoia. Attorney General Greg Abbott ran web ads inviting “law abiding New York gun owners” to move to Texas to avoid abiding by that state’s new gun law.   And former vagrant and current congressman Steve Stockman was such an embarrassment that voters fired him in 1996 after one term. He won a new term in November and recently threatened to impeach Obama if he used executive powers for gun control. This kind of crazy is the new normal.

Freshman state Rep. Steve Toth, a Woodlands Republican, rose to prominence recently when he proposed throwing federal agents in state prison if they dared enforce any new anti-gun laws.

“It is our responsibility to push back when those laws are infringed by King Obama,” said Toth, who recently took an oath of office to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States … so help me God.”

Toth addressed the rally at the capitol on Gun Appreciation Day. Five people were injured by accidental shootings at three other Gun Appreciation Day events around the country, but in Austin the only violence was done to reason and good taste.

“The thing that so angers me, and I think so angers you, is that this president is using children as a human shield to advance a very liberal agenda that will do nothing to protect them,” said Toth, pulling off the neat trick of using the worst possible post-Newtown image while also acting concerned for children’s safety.

Sen. Ted Cruz put an Orwellian flourish on “Meet the Press” when he said, “There actually isn’t the so-called ‘gun show loophole.’ That doesn’t exist. Any licensed firearm dealer who sells at a gun show has to have a background check.”

True, any licensed firearm dealer at a gun show must conduct a background check, but a quarter of the sellers at gun shows are private citizens who do no background checks. And thanks to Craig’s List, the entire world’s an unregulated gun show where private gun sales make up 40 percent of all firearm transactions.

When Obama proposed sweeping gun safety laws, Gov. Rick Perry responded with all the dignity due to a man who jogs with a laser-sighted Ruger loaded with hollow-point bullets to shoot snakes, saying the post-Newtown gun-safety push “disgusts me, personally.”

Perry suggested a private-sector solution:

“There is evil prowling in the world — it shows up in our movies, video games and online fascinations, and finds its way into vulnerable hearts and minds,” he said. “As a free people, let us choose what kind of people we will be. Laws, the only redoubt of secularism, will not suffice. Let us all return to our places of worship and pray for help. Above all, let us pray for our children.”

Not all Texans are 2nd Amendment absolutists who believe that the solution to mass shootings is more guns. By focusing their efforts on what uneducated white men want, our Republican leaders are making us look like unthinkingly pro-gun cowboys who don’t care that our children are as vulnerable as kids in Newtown were. An armed security guard hired after the Sandy Hook shooting made the news when he left his loaded handgun in a student bathroom.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

Why are Guns Constitutionally Protected? Mon, 21 Jan 2013 08:15:08 +0000 Jason Stanford The 2nd Amendment guarantees the “right to bear arms,” right? It’s right there in the Constitution between the 1st Amendment, which gives people the right to annoy you, and the 3rd Amendment, which is probably very important. (I looked it up. It says soldiers can’t crash on your couch without an act of congress.)

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Steve Sack / Minneapolis Star-Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Sack)

To paraphrase Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride, we keep using that phrase “the right to bear arms,” but I do not think it means what we think it means. As we have a national conversation about guns, it might be nice to make sure we’re all reading the same 2nd Amendment.

The first thing you notice when you read the 2nd Amendment is that it’s a grammatical mess of bad syntax and vague meaning. Read it for yourself:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

I learned to write a better sentence than that in the 7th grade. First, “well-regulated” lacks a hyphen, and the dependent introductory clause dangles there uselessly, kinda-sorta requiring militias to ensure security but confusing the basic thrust of the sentence. If you squint and tilt your head, you can infer that the 2nd Amendment states that the federal government is not allowed to limit your right to own or carry a gun. Because freedom, or something.

The only thing the 2nd Amendment clarifies is that the worst writing is done by committee. If that were the extent of it, we could rest easy, knowing that congress intended that they should never mess with my right to keep and bear arms, till death do us part. But here’s the thing that makes me think the Founding Fathers might have needed adult supervision: The 2nd Amendment that’s in the Constitution isn’t the version congress voted on. Someone changed it before it went to the states. Doesn’t that just make you want to turn the Bill of Rights over and find the treasure map on the other side?

Here’s the text of the 2nd Amendment that congress actually voted on:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This one’s even worse. What’s the subject of the sentence, “militia” or “right”? Doesn’t this read as if they were dying to get out of town, shouting out phrases, and assuming that the guy writing it down would clean it up? But one wig-wearing slave-owner’s self-evident truth is a 21st Century American’s confused mess. Do we have an absolute right to a well-regulated militia or to keep and bear arms?

Lost in the gun debate—and in the impenetrable mess of the dueling versions of the 2nd Amendment—is that the Founding Fathers thought there was a point to having a gun: “the security of a free state.” As long as we’re projecting our 21st-Century views onto the bad syntax of harried 18th Century revolutionaries, I read that as Americans can take up arms to defend their country, not against their country.

Somehow, the most hysterical voices against gun safety equate our duly elected leaders with tyranny. Because Barack Obama thinks guns should be “well-regulated,” he’s become their enemy. For their most devoted defenders, guns have become a reflexive right. We have the right to own guns so we can have guns in case someone wants to regulate your guns.

The point of having guns isn’t to have guns. We have guns to protect our selves and to hunt, but the reason they are constitutionally protected is to ensure “the security of a free state.”

There’s a word for those who would take up arms against our government, and it’s not “patriots.” If you have a gun to protect yourself against someone regulating your gun, then what you love isn’t America, or freedom, but your gun.

A friend of mine fought in Iraq with the 101st Airborne. He says, “If people want to play with guns that badly, let them join the Army,” which, when you think about it, is one kind of a well-regulated militia.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

School Choice in Texas: Subjecting Students to the Whims of Wall Street Thu, 17 Jan 2013 14:44:50 +0000 Jason Stanford About a quarter of the kids in the San Antonio school district attend charter schools. Most are the low-income, minority students we think about when we imagine providing innovative opportunities for kids stuck in failing public schools in bad neighborhoods. For a long time, school reform has targeted only kids from poor families. You know, the lucky ones who get those free lunches.

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Jimmy Margulies / The Record (click to view more cartoons by Margulies)

Starting this fall, though, no longer will Texas exclude upper-middle class white kids (like mine) from the gravy train of school choice. Last November, the State Board of Education approved a charter allowing Great Hearts Academies to open a school in North San Antonio, the wealthier, whiter section of a majority-Hispanic city.

Great Hills Academies operates out of Arizona, where they survive not just on public funding that would normally go to public schools but also on mandatory fees as well as contributions from students’ families, pricing Great Hearts out of reach for most San Antonio families. In other words, upper-middle class Anglos are finally getting a taxpayer-subsidized private school. Our long nightmare of being stuck in high-performing, better-funded public schools is almost over.

If that’s not what you have in mind when you think of school choice, you’re not alone. Great Hearts tried this in Nashville, but the school board rejected the charter application, arguing reasonably that creating a government-funded private school to serve an affluent, white neighborhood constituted segregation. It’s exactly what they’re planning in North San Antonio, except our school board approved it.

Private tuition and public subsidies only provide enough money to pay the teachers, buy textbooks and keep the lights on. To build schools, you need to go into massive debt. But don’t worry, because our need to borrow millions of dollars creates an investment opportunity for Wall Street investment bankers. Apparently charter schools are “a favorite cause of many of the wealthy founders of New York hedge funds.” The word you’re probably looking for is “yippee.”

Public school bonds are a safe investment, but low risk means lower reward, in this case an average 3 percent return on general-obligation funds used to raise money to build schools. But debt for charter schools runs an average of 3.8 percent higher than general-obligation bonds, and charter schools even qualify for federal tax credits.

As every investment prospectus says in small type, investments carry risk. In this case, 3.91 percent of charter-school bonds are in default versus 0.03 percent for public schools. And since 1992, 15 percent of charters have closed, including 52 in Texas.

Despite the risks, charter schools are big business. JPMorgan Chase of worldwide economic meltdown fame is bullish on charter school construction.

“Many charter schools have expanded access to academic opportunities for students in all types of communities, so we shouldn’t let tough economic times bring them down,” said JPMorgan Chase Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon.

This is the same Jamie Dimon who thought mortgage-backed securities were foolproof, who was forced to take $25 billion of our money in the bank bailout, who wrongly foreclosed on military families, who overcharged 4,000 other military families by $2 million, and who then lost $2 billion of our money in what amounted to the kind of gambling that only happens after 4 am in Las Vegas. Let’s absolutely have this guy underwrite our schools. What could go wrong that hasn’t already many times over?

Subjecting our public school system to the free market requires us to accept that hopped-up Wall Street bankers will mess up, schools will close, and sooner or later, someone will have to choose between increasing shareholder returns and improving some kid’s education. Failure is not only an option. When it comes to Wall Street, failure is inevitable.

The specter of resegregating our schools along racial and economic lines under the cloak of school choice presents a more daunting future for a state that is growing poorer, browner, and younger. When it comes to schools, the question isn’t whether we’re going to have charter schools or public schools. We have both now. When it comes to schools, the real choice is whether we are all in this together or if it’s every man for himself.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

Zero Dark Thirty: A War We Didn’t Lose, But Also Didn’t Win Mon, 14 Jan 2013 08:15:53 +0000 Jason Stanford I was all set not to like “Zero Dark Thirty.” I judged director Kathryn Bigelow an enemy of truth and justice for depicting torture as a necessary evil to find Osama bin Laden. When I walked into the screening, I was ready to hate “Zero Dark Thirty” as revisionist conservative propaganda.

zero dark thirty Zero Dark Thirty: A War We Didn’t Lose, But Also Didn’t Win cartoonsThen I saw it. “Zero Dark Thirty” is the best movie you won’t have any fun watching. I got a stomachache from the tension that didn’t leave until well after I got home. If Argo amped up the adrenaline and boosted the thrills, “Zero Dark Thirty” prevented an emotional payoff. Its genius is that the movie feels as long and grindingly stressful as the war it depicts. This is not a Will Smith movie. You will not cheer. You will not feel better when it’s over.

Torture is what we’ll remember this movie for. We see CIA agents hurt, hit, taunt, waterboard, and otherwise toy with “detainees,” a word that becomes bureaucratically sinister as the story progresses. If “Zero Dark Thirty” glorifies torture, then “Schindler’s List” glorified the Holocaust. By the time the CIA figures out tricking al-Qaeda detainees works better than torturing them, anyone watching the movie has become an accessory after the fact. Torture done in our name implicates us all in war crimes, and part of our guilt is the painful gulf between knowing that torture is un-American and feeling that torture was too good for al-Qaeda. It’s hard to hear your better angels with the voices of 9/11 victims in your ears.

The torture occurs in the part of the story when we fumbled around in the dark in our first war of intelligence. When al-Qaeda attempted to assassinate Bill Clinton in Manila in 1996 and bombed our embassies in East Africa two years later, Americans were still arguing over how to spend the Cold War peace dividend. So when 3,000 people were murdered at work in 2001, we came up with really dumb ideas to fight this new enemy such as offering Muslim fundamentalist terrorists $25 million to turn in bin Laden “dead or alive.” That, and hitting them really hard.

Most wars pit armies against each other over land or sea, but this one was different. This was spy-versus-spy, a global war against a disparate terrorist network. As one senior CIA official screamed at his ineffectual team in Pakistan, “Bring me people to kill!” Put simply, “Zero Dark Thirty” is the story of spies finding people for our military to kill.

Are these people heroes? Bigelow resolutely refuses to portray anyone with a movie star glow. Only Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor on TV’s “Friday Night Lights”) is big time handsome, and he plays a bureaucratic speed bump. The actors playing Seal Team 6 are hulking, bearded killers who’d look more at home playing Seth Rogan’s brother in a movie than a Navy Seal. Instead of playing shirtless volleyball in the sun, they play horseshoes while beset by ennui. Wanting to kill the people who killed your friends is what passes for good intentions here, and uncertainty is as frustrating as a cold that you just can’t shake.

Who are we in the end? Seal Team 6 may have soberly announced they got bin Laden “for God and country,” but we are not the noble victors. And if this was a war of intelligence that left us wiser, it began in violent madness that infected how we think about war. Our spies find us people to kill, except now we have drones kill them.

My wife didn’t want to come with me to the screening. “Too soon,” she said, and like most smart things she says, I didn’t get it right away. If we’ve forgotten the visceral pain of 9/11, the long grind of our war against its perpetrators is only now winding down. “Zero Dark Thirty” bravely reflects back at its audience a war that we did not lose. But like this film, it sure doesn’t feel like we won it, either.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

Forget Assault Weapons – Texas Congressman’s Focus is on Hammers Wed, 09 Jan 2013 08:30:07 +0000 Jason Stanford I love Texas because of special snowflakes such as Louie Gohmert.

In more urbane states where research universities vastly outnumber NFL teams, Gohmert would stick to writing angry letters to the editor about fluoride and fluorescent light bulbs and the dadgum president being born in Africa. Instead, Gohmert’s a congressman, starting his fifth term in office. He gets to vote and sponsor bills on such weighty matters of state as fluoride and fluorescent light bulbs and the dadgum president being born in Africa.

Louie Gohmert Forget Assault Weapons   Texas Congressmans Focus is on Hammers cartoons

Louie Gohmert

Texans who trade stories about “Uncle Louie” Gohmert have been doing land-rush business lately. One of the last acts of the 112nd Congress, the least-popular and least-effective in history, was to excise the word “lunatic” from federal law because no one believes the moon makes people crazy anymore, and the word insults those with mental illnesses. Only Gohmert stood in defense of lunatics.

“I don’t have a problem with ‘lunatic’ being used in the federal law…It really has application around this town,” said Gohmert.

And when it came time to elect a House speaker for the new Congress, Rep. Gohmert voted for Allen West, a Tea Party hero who lost re-election. It takes a chicken-fried je ne sais quoi to vote for a guy to lead a legislative body who’s no longer in the body.

We’re not all like Gohmert here in Texas. In fact, he is actually one of our better ones. He was class president at Texas A&M University, a public university where they like to dress up and march around like soldiers even though it’s not a military college, and tens of thousands of students practice cheering on Friday nights for Saturday football games.

Gohmert got his law degree at Baylor, which either goes to show that nobody is totally dumb or that just because someone’s a lawyer doesn’t mean they’re smart. Then he got himself elected judge, and all would have been fine if Gov. Rick Perry had never appointed him chief justice of an appellate court. Consider this: At one time justice was in the hands of a man who thinks Al Qaeda is sneaking pregnant women into America to have terror babies. “Sober as a judge” is not a phrase we throw around lightly here.

Most Texans don’t treasure Uncle Louie stories.  But if you can’t appreciate paranoid absurdity spilling over the gunwales of good sense, you’ll sink into the sludge of political meanness. Texas offers an abundance of free-range comedy untamed by political correctness, sustaining those of us who huddle behind enemy lines while our Republican overlords pretend there is nothing strange at all about our governor jogging with a handgun loaded with hollow-point bullets to protect his daughter’s puppy from snakes.

Even in this Orwellian bacchanal, Gohmert stands apart as a singular purveyor of “authentic frontier gibberish.” Most of his material comes from appearances on Fox News, which is rapidly becoming a breeding ground for political comedy.

Two days after the Newtown massacre, Gohmert told Chris Wallace he wanted to keep semi-automatic assault weapons legal “for the same reason George Washington said a free people should be an armed people,” said Gohmert in his distinctively sincere cadence. “It ensures against the tyranny of the government.”

Note to Gohmert: Al Qaeda has guns, but we have Seal Team Six. Osama bin Laden is dead. Taking up arms against our government doesn’t keep you free. It makes you our enemy. And what Washington really said was, “A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined.” (Politifact rated Gohmert’s claim false.)

Gohmert later went on Dennis Miller’s show to attack the very nomenclature of weaponry used for mass murders.

“I refuse to play the game of ‘assault weapon,’” said Gohmert. “That’s any weapon. It’s a hammer. It’s the machetes. In Rwanda that killed 800,000 people, an article that came out this week, the massive number that are killed with hammers.”

He also went on to compare Speaker Boehner to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, telling guest host Larry O’Connor “there”s no facelift with John Boehner.”

This is not a political golden age of our republic. The leaders obstructing progress diminish us all, and they seem particularly shocked when history casts real-time judgments against them. Thank goodness we have Louie Gohmert to entertain us while his ilk makes a mockery of what Washington intended.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and Democratic political consultant who lives in Texas. He can be reached at and on Twitter @jasstanford.

Hurricane Sandy Relief: A Flood of Hypocrisy Mon, 07 Jan 2013 08:30:20 +0000 Jason Stanford If you go to the website of Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland, you’ll see a whole page devoted to Hurricane Sandy recovery. You’ll see pictures of him touring flooded coastal towns. You’ll see the number to call if you lost your power. You’ll even see a link to the website for the National Flood Insurance Program.

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Chris Weyant / The Hill (click to view more cartoons by Weyant)

What you won’t see on his Hurricane Sandy Recovery Update is an explanation for why he voted against letting the flood insurance program borrow more money to pay flood insurance claims, 800 of which are pending in Maryland. That particular bit of malarkey is on another page:

“The current national flood insurance program is obviously broken and must be reformed,” stated Harris. “Unfortunately, today’s vote does nothing to ensure the long-term stability of the national flood insurance program which is important to the Eastern Shore.”

Harris wasn’t the only congressman to vote against the first chunk of Sandy relief.  In all, 67 members of congress voted No—all Republicans, bless their hearts. And Harris wasn’t even the only one representing a hurricane zone to vote against funding flood relief for Sandy, so maybe he doesn’t deserve more than his share of scorn.

There’s also Steve Palazzo from Mississippi’s Gulf Coast that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Farther down the coast you’ll find Randy Weber, who represents the area of Texas flooded by Hurricane Ike. Both voted No on Sandy relief.

Mo Brooks from Alabama offered a toxic excuse for his No vote on Sandy relief.

“People have to protect themselves from the risks of weather, particularly if they live in an area that is periodically hit by substantial storms,” said Brooks, who secured federal aid when his district that was hit by tornadoes in 2011. “They should not expect American taxpayers to subsidize a vacation home on the beach.”

It might help Brooks and his fellow Gulf Coast hypocrites sleep better if they believe that’s what congress approved, but that dog don’t hunt. People who live in coastal areas do protect themselves. It’s called buying flood insurance.

And congress wasn’t handing out money to anyone. Instead, it increased the borrowing power of the flood insurance program so it could pay claims. The program used to be self-sustained by flood insurance premiums, but the fund went deeply into debt after Hurricane Katrina.

This is where the hypocrisy of these virulent nitwits starts stinking up the fridge. Within two weeks of Katrina making landfall, congress had already passed two emergency relief packages totaling $62.3 billion, and they did it with the votes of at least 16 of those who voted against Sandy relief.

Members of the House Science Committee also show up prominently on the list of those who voted for Katrina relief but against Sandy relief, including Jim Sensenbrenner, who believes solar flares cause global warming, and Randy Neugebauer, whose response to the drought and tornadoes in 2011 was to sponsor a resolution calling on Americans to pray. Thank God. Without congress, I’m not sure Americans would remember to pray. Also on the science committee are our friends Brooks, Harris and Palazzo, so we’re in good hands there.

This is what the Party of Lincoln has come to: congressmen voting the flood insurance program into debt and then using that debt as an excuse to vote against funding flood insurance for flood victims who are only flood victims in the first place because of global warming, a problem they’re in charge of addressing but which they believe is an elaborate hoax.

“They’re a bunch of jackasses,” said former three-term Republican Sen. Al D’Amato, a resident of Long Island. “Every one of the 67 who voted no are nothing more than pawns of a philosophy that is not backed up by facts.”

A recent poll found congress was less popular than colonoscopies, used car salesmen, and Nickelback and only slightly more popular than gonorrhea. But maybe that’s not fair.

After all, you can cure gonorrhea.


© Copyright 2013 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.

Congress Could Learn a Lot About Accountability From the NFL Mon, 31 Dec 2012 18:25:48 +0000 Jason Stanford After four horrible seasons, the Jacksonville Jaguars canned their general manager. The Bears missed the playoffs, and now Lovie Smith is unemployed. And now Andy Reid, once called “coach for life” by the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, is out of work.

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Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News (click to view more cartoons by Zyglis)

Why? Because their teams stunk. Their teams had losing seasons, so the coaches lost their jobs. Sports has a wonderful corollary to Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite satisfaction. Lance Armstrong cheats; he loses his Tour de France titles. The scab refs blow a call in Seattle; the NFL ends the lockout. And the Eagles finish 4-12; the owner fires the coach who once took them to the Super Bowl.

If this were true in politics, we would have fired congress. Our lame duck congress is failing to get out of its own way long enough to prevent a self-induced recession, and the fan base known as the American people notice. In Aug. 2012, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll registered an 82 percent disapproval rating, the highest ever in the history of the poll. You think this country is divided along partisan lines? Bah. Everyone—Democrats, Republicans, independents, and the Eagles’ hungover, grumpy fan base—hates Congress. Congress is only slightly less unpopular than Jerry Sandusky is in Pennsylvania.

Congress has earned this enmity. The congress that the people in all their temperate wisdom elected in 2010 has passed 219 bills into law. The last time we had a congress this ineffective, we were fighting Hitler. If Congress were a child, it would be three years old and refusing to go on the potty, preferring to make a mess in its pants instead of growing up. What do we, the ineffectual adults get out of this? We’re left with a diaper load of higher taxes, unchecked deficits and a lower credit rating.

If our country is divided when it comes to Congress, it’s not between Democrats and Republicans but between insiders and outsiders. Parents can wait for rebellious toddlers to mature. Voters don’t have that option with politicians. Citizenship is more like owning a football team, and Election Day is like Black Monday, the day after a football season when owners traditionally fire coaches. At the end of the season, we vote on whether to fire our congressman or pick up his or her option for two more years. At least it’s supposed to work that way.

The problem is that insiders—in this case, state legislatures—redraw congressional lines so that only one party can win each seat, immunizing congress to popular will. Dr. Scott DesJarlais, the anti-abortion, family-values Tennessee Republican who cheated on his wife with his patients and asked two of them to get abortions, was easily re-elected despite his sex life becoming a national scandal. Why? He’s a Republican, and the Republican-controlled legislature made sure only a Republican could win his district. Now DesJarlais only needs to worry about placating another group of insiders—Republican primary voters—and can more-or-less safely ignore the majority of his constituents who only vote in November elections.

The problem isn’t just that DesJarlais is immune from popular will. The problem is that there are a ton of districts like Tennessee’s otherwise lovely 11th congressional district that are drawn for only one party to win. And because Republicans control more statehouses, Republicans will continue to control congress until at least the next decade, no matter what. Don’t believe me?

America tried to fire congress on Election Day when Democrats won a slight majority of congressional votes, 49 percent to 48 percent, yet Republicans ended up with the second-biggest majority in 60 years. The most-ineffective, most-unpopular congress in American postwar history is immune to our votes.

If only Congress were as accountable to voters as football coaches are to their teams, and by extension their fan base. This all started in Philadelphia, and as he puts his house on the market there today, Reid might be watching the news and wondering why he’s the one who is out of a job. It’s time for Americans to care as much about politics as they do about football and demand election reform.


© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.

Christmas Gun Show Miracle Mon, 24 Dec 2012 14:33:55 +0000 Jason Stanford Sometimes a story is so bizarre you have make sure you’re not reading The Onion, the satirical newspaper that once convinced the Iranian news agency that Congress was selling corporate naming rights to the capitol dome. It’s a tricky world, and you have to check your sources to know whether to laugh or cry.

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John Cole / Scranton Times-Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Cole)

Case in point: The other day I was driving home listening to BBC World News. This is rarely a recipe for comedy. If it’s not all the shopping traffic reminding me of mounting credit card bills, it’s an Englishman recounting the “mounting atrocities” in a country I never learned existed. By the time I’m done with my commute, I’ve learned I’m too broke to do anything about problems I know nothing about.

Not the other day. The British announcer told the story of a woman in Argentina who was marrying the man who had murdered her twin sister two years ago. I immediately called my wife to Google the story on the BBC website to make sure this wasn’t a Monty Python skit meant to alleviate holiday stress. Blessedly, it was real. Even better, the bride-in-mourning was the kind of sexy one only sees in an American sitcom cast as the long-suffering wife of a fat man. And the murderer-turned-groom was decidedly not attractive, and not even in the way that is usually cast on TV as being married to a wife far hotter than is found in real life.

And you thought you were stressed about getting the family together at Christmas?

It’s too easy to focus on what is likely to cause the fights (“I can’t believe you voted for Obama again!” “You killed my daughter! You can’t marry my other daughter!!”) and too hard to hold onto what we have in common. I’m sorry. I’d love to include some examples of what extended families can cherish together, but I’m not coming up with anything other than staring lovingly at the children on Christmas morning while silently criticizing how they are being raised.

So far, the post-Newtown debate on gun safety has yet to dissolve in the acidic idiocy we know as Congress. In a proper exercise of non-statutory presidential authority, Barack Obama has essentially said “Let’s fix this,” and he put Joe Biden in charge of finding solutions. I don’t want to jinx this, but we (America, you and me, even that idiot you hate, your awful relatives, too) have alighted upon an untrammeled patch of common ground. As far as I can tell, Americans would rather work together to stop mass murders than fight amongst ourselves on cable news. This is not The Onion. I think this is real life.

In Texas, you won’t find a bigger defender of gun owners’ rights than Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. When people say he’s always packing, it’s not because he likes to travel. And when there’s a public debate in Texas on gun safety, the media will largely ignore Gov. Rick Perry, who jogs with a laser-sighted pistol loaded with hollow point bullets, in favor of focusing on Patterson, the guy all the gun nuts in Texas listen to.

Only Nixon can go to China, so it makes sense that Patterson has an elegant solution to close the gun show loophole. You have to pass a background check to buy a gun at Wal-Mart, but gun shows are unregulated flea markets. Patterson’s side doesn’t want the government knowing who bought which guns, and my side doesn’t want criminals buying guns. Patterson’s idea is to pass a background check to get into a gun show. Then everybody at a gun show is eligible to buy a gun anonymously. Everyone’s happy.

“Just like when you go into a beer joint, they stamp your hand when you walk in and I can buy a beer if I want, but I don’t have to,” Patterson said.

Patterson solving the riddle of closing the gun show loophole is strange enough to be in The Onion, but it’s better than that. It might be the Christmas miracle we need to make progress on gun safety.

LBJ Presidential Library Writes Second Draft of Great Society Wed, 19 Dec 2012 14:54:15 +0000 Jason Stanford It’s easy to interpret the 2012 election as a ratification of Barack Obama’s first term. But down in Austin, the LBJ Presidential Library is making a strong case that the legacy voters cemented in November was Lyndon Johnson’s. They’re even selling “LBJ 2012” campaign buttons in the gift shop, and like its brash and ambitious namesake, the LBJ Presidential Library isn’t being shy about making the point that it was Johnson’s record as much as Obama’s that Republicans ran against.
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“I think that he’s an underrated president, and I think it’s taken a long time to objectively assess his legacy. We’re finally coming to the point where the long, dark shadow of Vietnam has begun to recede, and we can more objectively look at not only what he did but how it impacts our lives today. It’s hard to not realize what a consequential and important president he was,” said Mark K. Updegrove, the dapper director of the LBJ Presidential Library and author of “Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency.”

Set to reopen Saturday on what would have Lady Bird’s 100th birthday, the LBJ Presidential Library has embraced not only the elegant look of the Mad Men era but his controversial record as well. Right at the start, visitors see pens lined up side by side, stretching the length of a wall. These were the pens LBJ used to sign all the laws you remember him for—the War on Poverty, Medicare, Medicaid, the Voting Rights Act, and Head Start—as well as more we’ve forgotten he signed, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Immigration Act of 1965, the Public Broadcasting Act, and bills creating the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Starkly minimalist against a long, white wall, the black pens and litany of his bills read like a defiant response to Reagan Revolution. Despite three decades of conservative demagoguery against the poor, the legislative foundation of LBJ’s Great Society remains intact.

The new library doesn’t shy away from the Vietnam War, giving visitors a Situation Room-level view of the key decisions LBJ made. In fact, the warts-and-all exhibit allows you to read top-secret memos, listen in on recorded telephone conversations with advisers and review contemporary polling and news coverage without shying away from the disastrous results.

This is the only presidential library that allows visitors to listen to recorded telephone conversations, and Updegrove hopes the 643 hours of recordings will help visitors realize the relevance of LBJ’s presidency.

“I think Vietnam got in the way. I think people associated him principally with Vietnam. They often gave credit to legislation he passed to Kennedy or others, maybe Martin Luther King or others, but in fact if you look at this library, if you hear these conversations, if you hear the people around him talk about what he did, you see it was very much his vision to create the Great Society that we benefit from in many ways today,” said Updegrove.

Updegrove calls the recorded phone calls the “crown jewels of the archives,” and library is coming out with an iPhone app allowing visitors to hear LBJ’s private harangues. (Reportedly, the app does not allow LBJ to wake you up in the middle of the night to yell at you, as he was wont to do with aides.)

A longtime congressman and former Senate Majority Leader, Johnson defined himself as a president focused on legislation when he addressed Congress less than a week after John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law,” said Johnson.

Without forgetting the lessons of the Vietnam chapter, maybe it’s time to turn the page to reacquaint ourselves with a president who “is very much alive and well in 2012, 2013 because the legislation that he passed impacts our lives today,” said Updegrove. After all, Republicans have been running against LBJ’s record unsuccessfully since Reagan. Like we say in Texas, it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.


© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.

Will Connecticut Shooting Offer Chance For A New Start Mon, 17 Dec 2012 08:22:02 +0000 Jason Stanford Last week can lose my number, stop telling people we dated in college and untag the pictures of us together on Facebook.

It’s a bad week when my first reaction to what happened in Newtown was, “Oh, another one.”

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Dario Castillejos / Mexico, (click to view more cartoons by Dario)

It’s a bad week when I asked myself what was stopping something like this from happening at the elementary school my children attend in Austin, and I couldn’t come up with an answer.

It’s a bad week when you have to turn off the news to stop crying.

It’s a bad week when I forgot about the mass shooting in the Clackamas Town Center where I went ice skating as a child even though it had only happened a few days earlier.

It’s a bad week when a friend mentioned the Aurora shooting, and I remembered that I had recently watched “The Dark Knight Rises” without once thinking about those poor people who died in the movie theater.

It’s a bad week when political cartoonists are running out of ideas for mass shootings.

It’s a bad week when we need 20 dead children to be reminded to pray and to hug our children.

It’s a bad week when Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee trots out a conservative trope to blame non-evangelical Christians for the school shooting.

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability?” asked Huckabee.

I spent many Sundays in a fundamentalist Christian church back home, and I don’t remember our pastor ever depicting God as a Mafioso who demands protection money lest something happen to our children. Did we kick God out of the Oregon shopping mall, the Colorado cinema or the Wisconsin Sikh temple? Has secularism become so powerful that we can exile an omniscient deity from our public spaces?

Or is there an answer that doesn’t demand we suspend both our critical thinking skills and the New Testament promise of a merciful God who loves us unconditionally and doesn’t kill our children?

Obama did well to react to this, as he said, “not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent.” And when you see child-sized body bags on television, parents demand we do something.

300 250 house ad Will Connecticut Shooting Offer Chance For A New Start cartoons“As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” said Obama.

For too long, we have silently assented to dealing with mass shootings by indulging ourselves in public expressions of grief without agreeing to have a grownup discussion about what to do about an obvious problem. It has been our unspoken habit to retreat to our trenches in a national tragedy instead of inviting each other to common ground with the humility that we don’t have to agree on everything to do something.

Gun-control advocates have a point that assault weapons make mass murderers a heck of a lot more effective than a knife. Second Amendment backers have a good point that the problem isn’t the guns, it’s the crazy people using them.

A recent poll of National Rifle Association members and gun owners conducted by a Republican pollster provides a good place to start. Three quarters of NRA members and 87 percent of other gun owners support requiring criminal background checks of anyone buying a gun. Will that prevent another Sandy Hook? No, but that’s not the point.

The kernel of that poll’s finding is that gun owners agree that dangerous people shouldn’t be allowed to have guns. Making it the policy of this country that dangerous criminals and lunatics shouldn’t have guns is long overdue. Let’s start here. Otherwise, we’ll be right back here again, perhaps as soon as next week.

© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.


Are Texans Really Clamoring For School Choice? Thu, 13 Dec 2012 13:07:47 +0000 Jason Stanford David Simpson is no liberal. The conservative state representative from East Texas is so erratically radical that one conservative blog wrote that he was “widely thought of as crazy” by other Texas Republicans, which is saying a lot. He’s best known for sponsoring a bill to ban airport pat downs by TSA officers. Simpson explained, “You’ve got to have a reason to go to third base.” The bill failed when the federal government threatened to make Texas a no-fly zone.  Simpson might be out there where the trains don’t run, but at least the planes still fly.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Bagley)

So it comes as some surprise that this ambitious, conservative grandstander opposes vouchers, a top Republican priority in the upcoming legislative session.

“I’m opposed to vouchers,” Simpson told his local school board. “I’m in favor of public money going to public purposes.”

This is heresy for Texas Republicans. It is an article of faith among Republican leadership that Texans are clamoring for “school choice.”

“To me,” said Sen. Dan Patrick, the activist chair of the Education Committee, “school choice is the photo ID bill of this session. Our base has wanted us to pass photo voter ID for years, and we did it. They’ve been wanting us to pass school choice for years. This is the year to do it, in my view.”

To Patrick, “school choice” means vouchers. But if Simpson, who drinks from the same teakettle as Patrick, opposes vouchers, then maybe that “school choice” doesn’t mean what Republicans think it means. A recent poll commissioned by the Texas Families First Foundation gives some interesting insight into the disconnect on “school choice” between political insiders and actual voters.

Conducted jointly by Democratic pollsters Hamilton Campaigns and Republicans at Perception Insights, TFFF’s poll is not against school choice. The TFFF imagines a world in which kids can choose to attend any public school with state money following them in what it calls “backpack funding.” And if no adequate public school is available, then TFFF suggests a “School of Last Resort” voucher that allows the student to use public funds at a private school. This is no front group for teacher unions.

When offered an array of reform options, voters ranked vouchers last with a +7% rating, meaning the positive reception barely outpaced the opposition. Other proposals (charter schools, accountability, increasing funding, home schooling, and giving local school districts flexibility) drew a broad base of support, but after so many years of legislative infighting vouchers have become partisan with only Republicans clearly in favor, 60%-37%.

Here’s the bad news for Republican lawmakers itching to pass vouchers: Republican voters are more in favor of giving more money to public schools, 63%-32%. If this were an internal poll briefing for Republicans, this would be an underlined bullet point: When Texans are more in favor of giving more money to the government than they are for passing a conservative pet project, Republicans have a problem.

“If education reform in the next session just means vouchers, then the fight is going to be on an issue that evokes strong opinion on both sides and for which there is little room to come together and find a common solution,” said Bryan Dooley of Hamilton Campaigns, who points to giving local school districts and families more control as an idea that draws overwhelming (+71%) support from across partisan, racial, and geographic lines.

“Local control doesn’t necessarily equal vouchers,” cautioned Dooley. “It means more control and choices within public education — local control of hiring standards, local control of if and how often to test, letting parents enroll kids in any schools in their district.  These are all decisions made in Austin now, and voters are saying those decisions should be made at the local level.”

Republican leaders in Austin are mistaking their fevered dreams with a political mandate. They’re right in thinking Texans want change, but the “school choice” Texans want is to make their own choices about schools and for politicians to butt out.

© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.

What If This Was Your Last Christmas? Mon, 10 Dec 2012 14:57:45 +0000 Jason Stanford What if this was your last Christmas? What if this was your last chance at Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, and Christmas dinner? Would you make the effort to go home for the holidays? Would you make time to take the kiddos to drink hot chocolate and look at the lights?

Would you still go to the mall?

That’s what Mary Kate Campbell did, and she and her shiny new husband had a great time.

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Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle (click to view more cartoons by McKee)

“The best Christmas I had, we went to the mall and only had $100. He got a pair of Ray Bans, I got a sweater from J. Crew. We could afford these things, and we enjoyed our time together,” she said.

That was a couple years ago. She’s not sure where she’s going to spend Christmas this year. “That actually depends on whether I get into a clinical trial I got kicked out of last week,” she said from the Seattle hospital where she’s got a real bad case of relapsed, refractory Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. “Or I will go home to Virginia and have a nice quiet little Christmas like I did last year,” she said. “It all depends on whether I get this new drug.”

The bone marrow registry had two matches, but the doctors found cancer cells after the operation. When I asked if she’d been given a prognosis, she said, “I should be dead already,” and shortly after that she had to get off the phone to have a tube taken out of her chest. She’s 29 and has been married for a year and a half. But when she gets sad this Christmas, don’t assume you know why.

“Christmas is sadder for me now, and it’s for reasons that I think are not the most predictable because I see wonderful, well-intentioned people who love me and care about me and would do anything that they could do to save me, but they cannot save me,” she said. “I see them buying objects for me and for others to distract themselves from the pain for a little while, the pain that they’re going to lose me.”

And you think your mother is hard to shop for?

300 250 house ad What If This Was Your Last Christmas? cartoonsFrom her hospital room, Campbell watches endless commercials for Black Friday, door busters, and 24-hour sales, all screaming at us to buy things that will be forgotten by the New Year. If she had her way—and just this once, maybe she should—we’d handle Christmas more purposefully.

“Buy something you can afford that speaks to you about the person you’re buying it for. Surround yourself with people who don’t expect you to buy them things,” she said. “Every Christmas, we present the people we love with a glut of objects. We don’t necessarily present them with our love, we present them with objects.”

Life doesn’t have to be so fraught to give Christmas urgency. My cousin George Stanford, a singer-songwriter based in LA, just recorded a song called “Christmas For Two”. The video—it’s up on YouTube—features his lovely and pregnant wife, Nikole, as they prepare for their last Christmas before the baby comes. It is unspeakably adorable.

“Next year, there’ll be three, around our Christmas tree. You and I have just begun to write our legacy/Our gift will be here soon, a little me, a little you, so let’s celebrate our last Christmas for two,” sings George.

For better or worse, we don’t know who is going to be around the Christmas tree next year. So I’ll put it to you again: If you knew that everything would change next year, how would you spend Christmas? Would you judge Christmas on how high the pile of presents under the tree is? Would you worry that everything looked just so? Would you put a plastic toy on a plastic card because Suzy had to open the same number of wrapped boxes as Johnny?

What would you do?

© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.


Texas Democrats Still Wandering in the Wilderness Wed, 05 Dec 2012 09:26:32 +0000 Jason Stanford Say this for Republicans: They didn’t waste a lot of time claiming victory on election night. After failing for the second time in a row to win back the Senate, Sen. John Cornyn took the road less traveled and told the truth.

“We have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party. … Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead,” said Cornyn.

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Robert Jones, the outgoing executive director of Annie’s List, a group dedicated to electing Democratic women in Texas.

But after losing 100 straight statewide races, Texas Democrats have grown understandably defensive. Instead of accounting for failure, we tout a net gain of six statehouse seats and a convincing re-election by Fort Worth Sen. Wendy Davis against all the king’s special interest money and all the king’s consultants. Despite these gains, Texas Democrats have been in the wilderness so long we could teach survival skills to Grizzly Adams, but it’s hard to find professional Democrats in Austin willing to admit this.

“Some people seem reluctant to admit the enormity of the task,” said Robert Jones recently. No one person has played as large a role in our smaller success than Jones, the outgoing executive director of Annie’s List, a group dedicated to electing Democratic women. Though the 2010 tea party flood wiped out many of his gains, Jones leaves his job after seven years with a Houston Mayor, Sen. Davis, and several state representatives owing their jobs partly to his work.

Jones says what Democrats have been doing in targeted House races needs to be applied statewide. “Now we’ve just got to take it to a grand scale,” he said.

It’s true that if current patterns hold that Democrats will start winning statewide as our growing Hispanic population becomes increasingly old enough to vote. But current patterns never hold (Remember when West Virginia was a blue state and Virginia was red?), and even if they do, this won’t happen until the end of the next decade. Today’s children will have their own children by then. You want to tell them it took us a generation to get our act together during decades of what amounts to an occupation by an army of incompetent cronies? The French Resistance was more effective than that.

Jones points to what he calls the “rising Texas electorate” of unmarried women, people of color and Millennials who are the fastest growing segments of our population. These groups are largely unengaged in politics but share progressive values. Jones said these groups provide a new opportunity that will solve an old problem for Democrats who have shied away from communicating to vote-rich, but lily-white, suburbs. Now a new generation of minorities is moving into the middle class and buying homes in the suburbs because of the good schools. Reaching these voters requires us to diversify our donor base, build a microtargeting model similar to the one that re-elected Obama, and change our mindset when it comes to communications.

“It requires earlier, more robust communications with voters,” said Jones. “When we’re not having a conversation with people almost year round we allow these elections to be nationalized. We have learned that we can’t keep depending on our House candidates’ communications budgets in the last 60 days.”

Jones said we have to stop thinking of what happens in the legislature in odd-numbered years as fodder for direct mailers that voters see during campaigns in even-numbered years.

“As these guys vote to hurt Texas, you’ve got to give them heartburn in real time,” said Jones. “Too often they get a free pass, and we don’t hold them accountable for a year and a half.”

Finally, Jones said, “We’ve had this problem with start-stop-start-stop building partisan infrastructure.”

Our most recent attempt at building infrastructure was a five-year plan that ended in 2010 when conservatives wiped out most of our gains and all of our morale. “But look at Dallas County,” said Jones. “When you make a real investment and push, push, push… Dallas County has moved solidly into the column, and the same is beginning in Harris County as well.”

Building the infrastructure needed to engage the voters we need to win won’t be easy, quick, or cheap, but the rewards are huge. Not only will a blue Texas make a Republican president a near-impossibility, but when Texas Democrats do win, then the Republicans in Austin will have to write columns about how their party will make a comeback, and I don’t want to wait until my young sons are grown men to read that.


© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.

A New Kind of Political Dynasty Mon, 03 Dec 2012 14:38:03 +0000 Jason Stanford Lily Adams met the world before she was out of diapers when her grandmother held her up as the living embodiment of a hopeful future. Her first day of second grade was a media event as she walked in holding her grandmother’s hand. And when she eulogized her grandmother on national television, the country mourned the loss of the woman she called “Mammy.”

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Days before Ann Richards’ famous keynote at the 1988 Democratic convention, she was joined after a news conference by daughter Cecile and granddaughter Lily Adams.

You knew her grandmother as Ann Richards. Those of us who worked for her still call her Governor. We’ve kept tabs on Lily over the years as she served as a House page during high school and later a press aide for top-tier campaigns and a U.S. Senator. Now 25, she just finished Tim Kaine’s successful senate campaign in Virginia. She isn’t sure what she’s going to do next, but it’s not running for office.

“That’s way, way far off. I’d be more interested in my mom running for office,” she said. “It’s certainly not anything on my radar.”

Her mom, by the way, is Cecile Richards, a star in her own right as the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. You might have seen her on The Daily Show or in Vogue. Where you haven’t seen her, Lily, or anyone else in the Ann Richards family is on a ballot. George P. Bush—Jeb’s son—just opened a campaign account to run in Texas, and Chelsea Clinton has told Vogue that she’s considering running herself, but Lily’s happy doing the hard, anonymous work of campaigns.

“I’m pretty good at mailings. That’s what we grew up doing,” said Lily.

“When she became governor, we did everything. Everything was done in public.

It was a long time before I realized not every family did that.”

She and her twin college-aged siblings avoided the traditional travails of political scions—a remarkable achievement considering Gov. Richards’ well-known struggle with addiction. Some credit is due the sense of mission that the Governor handed down and the special relationship she enjoyed with Lily.

“She had some choice words of wisdom,” said Lily. “I think about her every time I go get a job. … I think about what she’d think about what I do, especially whom I choose to work for.”

300 250 house ad A New Kind of Political Dynasty cartoonsIt must be hard to be the second coming, to be the son of the Hall of Famer showing up to his first day of high school football, but, says Lily, “I try not to feel any pressure to be them, either Mom or Mammy.” Lily has her grandmother’s piercing blue eyes, her mother’s serious bearing, and something that Cecile recognizes from her own mother: “She’s remarkably quick to analyze a situation and come up with just the right thing to say. She gives very good advice and communicates in a way that is not Beltway-driven but is actually how people live their lives.”

Still, Lily avoids direct comparisons. “Mammy has a lot of gifts that were innate. Her wit. It’s not something I’d ever want to replicate. It’s just her,” said Lily. “Why would you ever try to compete with that? I’ll have to find other ways to make my mark. I try to feel as little pressure as possible.”

Too often people conflate “public service” with “running for office.” It appears that good parenting, as well as no small amount of brains, have helped this dynasty avoid that dysfunction.

“The best advice I’ve received was from my folks: Find somewhere you’re helping other people and enjoying going to work,” said Lily.

“I tell my kids and all the kids I meet to find something that brings you joy—and what brings most people joy is doing good. We’ve been very fortunate in our family to have that chance, to have work that moves the needle,” said Cecile, who went to Virginia to get out the vote and discovered the oldest of what Gov. Richards called her “nearly perfect grandchildren” was fast attaining rock-star status on her own.

“I ran into fans of Lily all over,” said Cecile. “It’s nice to be known as Lily’s mom.”

Rumpelstiltskin Economics Mon, 26 Nov 2012 14:12:55 +0000 Jason Stanford Republicans are having a hard time coming to Jesus on reality. Pundits are still calling the War on Women a media fantasy even as the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature considers giving tax breaks to fetuses. Congress is trying to pass an immigration bill that ignores the 11 million unauthorized immigrants. And Sen. Marco Rubio dodged a question about our planet’s age with a flippant, “I’m not a scientist, man,” demonstrating even if he couldn’t pass high school science that he could at least converse with the other flunkies in study hall.

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Bill Day / (click to view more cartoons by Day)

It’s almost as if they think they lost because they have a branding problem. But their problem is that America sees Republicans for who they are. Every major event in the last decade—Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, the Great Recession, Superstorm Sandy—has exposed Pax Republicana as a crumbling empire based on false ideologies, none more dangerous than believing in the Tax Fairy that magically grows the economy and fills the treasury when Congress cuts taxes on the wealthy.

This cultish belief is fueling the Republicans’ ill-advised defense of tax cuts for the rich against an onslaught from voters and economists. Shortly before the election, Senate Republicans suppressed a report by the Congressional Research Service that found no correlation between tax rates for the rich and economic growth. In other words, the guys with green eye shades and really fancy calculators debunked the core belief of the Republican Party, and Sen. Mitch McConnell and his band of lost boys jammed their fingers into their ears while loudly protesting their belief in fairies.

Barack Obama was re-elected on an economic platform of growing the economy from the middle out and asking the wealthy to pay higher taxes. Bill Clinton’s economic agenda (focusing on the middle class while socking away surpluses in the Social Security Trust Fund) was a brother by another mother. It’s too bad we don’t have a catchy name for it like Reaganomics, because it works a lot better than Reaganomics.

300 250 house ad Rumpelstiltskin Economics cartoonsAs we approach the fiscal cliff, Obama has reaffirmed his support for raising taxes on the rich. Speaker John Boehner has responded with “dynamic scoring,” or a discredited economic forecasting model that predicts robust economic growth when you cut taxes. This is based on a study emanating from the Economic Institute of Their Rear End, because it just doesn’t work.

“Part of his speech he talked about dynamic scoring, this idea if you cut taxes you increase revenues,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said. “It’s about time we debunked that myth, it’s a Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, dynamic scoring. You may remember Rumpelstiltskin was the fairy tale figure who turned straw into gold.”

Obama, God bless him, has told Republicans that he’d rather they strike a deal that relies upon math and not magic. The polls are on Obama’s side, but the election is over. Economists are on Obama’s side, but science doesn’t win many arguments with Republicans these days. This is a rare case in which we actually need Republicans to agree to disagree. Before the clock ticks to zero, we’re going to need to stop having this fight. If reason and evidence don’t win, the majority should.

Going over the fiscal cliff will raise taxes on everyone and dramatically cut federal spending. The Congressional Budget Office—those pesky economists again—predict a 4% decline in our GDP if that happens. That means another recession, which Republicans would use as proof that lower taxes equals economic growth. Like any zealot, they’ll say we’re being punished for our lack of faith while ignoring that the downturn will be due largely to the cut in federal spending.

Believing in the Tax Fairy doesn’t make it real. Whether it’s Reaganomics or Rumpelstiltskin, this false economic ideology belongs in history books with Communism and not in any serious public policy discussion. But don’t expect Republicans in Congress to get with the program any time soon. After all, if tax cuts for the rich don’t grow the economy, if lesbians don’t cause hurricanes, if contraception doesn’t cause promiscuity, and if corporations aren’t people, then why even have a Republican Party?

Pissing Away Taxpayer Money Mon, 19 Nov 2012 15:19:16 +0000 Jason Stanford In Texas, we pay welfare moms with three kids $260 a month. In other words, our welfare moms don’t have enough money to buy drugs or enough time to take them. But don’t worry, Rick Perry has a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist: He wants to make welfare recipients take drug tests.

Making poor folks pee in a cup to prove their worthiness to receive charity raises important issues, not limited to the 4th Amendment, privacy, and our country’s seemingly bottomless appetite to fight the War on Poverty by humiliating poor people. But this is Texas, where we have more mundane concerns.

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Jimmy Margulies / The Record (click to view more cartoons by Margulies)

“Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug use,” said Perry.

Not subsidizing illegal drug use is something we can all get behind, even the drug dealers. Just try finding a dealer to take your Lone Star Card in exchange for a dime bag, and you’ll see I’m right.

But tolerate? While Perry has been braying about border security, Austin has replaced Miami as the cocaine distribution hub for the rest of the country. The Texas capitol has been a pot haven since Willie Nelson introduced the kickers to the bikers, but now downtown partiers seem strangely alert after midnight, and the size of big drug busts has gone from 2 pounds of cocaine to as much as 15 pounds at a time. According to the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime, “90% of the cocaine enters the US/Mexico land border, most of it entering the state of Texas.” A lot of it stays right here in Texas. Law enforcement’s efforts on this front in the War on Drugs notwithstanding, Texans seem to be tolerating as much illegal drug use as they can stand.

If Perry really wanted to stop subsidizing illegal drug use in Texas, it might be a better idea not to make the poor pee into a cup since they don’t have a pot to piss in. How about Wall Street bankers? Under Perry, Texas gave tens of millions of tax dollars to subprime mortgage lenders Countrywide and Washington Mutual to get them move to Texas. Corporations might be people, but have you ever tried to make Countrywide Financial pee in a cup?

At least one Democratic lawmaker said that the line for drug tests should start behind the jackwagon who gave $35 million to Countrywide and WaMu shortly before they wrecked the economy like drunken teenagers in their daddy’s car on prom night.

“If he feels so strongly that the public has a right to know about substance abuse by those receiving government assistance, I think he should go first,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer. “Few people in Texas have lived off of the taxpayer dollar longer than Rick Perry.”

Not one for deference or decorum, Martinez Fischer took it a step further, promising to amend any drug-testing legislation to include those living in any government housing, including one really swanky mansion across the street from the capitol.

“There should be no difference between the rigorous standards we require from those down on their luck seeking a Section 8 voucher and the state official that is living off the taxpayer’s dime in the Governor’s Mansion,” he said.

Perry sees this as an issue of wasting taxpayer dollars.

“Every dollar that goes to someone who uses it inappropriately is a dollar that can’t go to a Texan who needs it for housing, child care or medicine,” said Perry.

On this, we agree. When Florida tried this, drug-testing welfare recipients cost five times more to administer than it saved, according to the ACLU. Before a federal judge shut down the program after only four months, Florida taxpayers suffered a net loss of $205,000 to catch the 2.5% of welfare recipients who tested positive for drugs.

Congratulations, Governor Perry. You’ve figured out a way to literally piss away my money. God bless Texas, and hurry.


© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.

The Rightward Lurch of the Republican Party Wed, 14 Nov 2012 08:15:59 +0000 Jason Stanford The tea party has pushed Texas politics so far to the right that bipartisanship now means the right wing cooperating with the far-right wing.

In his upset Republican primary win, Senator-elect Ted Cruz branded the pro-life, pro-gun, anti-union Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst a moderate for the unpardonable sin of working with Democrats. By comparison, Cruz’s crazypants webpage devoted to the conspiracy theory that the UN wants to abolish “golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads” generated little controversy in the media or among Republican partisans. It’s a testament to how much tea party politics have changed our political environment that Cruz’s black-helicopter hysteria is less politically dangerous than bipartisanship.

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Pat Bagley / Salt Lake Tribune (click to view more cartoons by Bagley)

After the 2011 session, the idea that anyone could call Dewhurst moderate insults reason. Dewhurst cut education for the first time since the Great Depression, defunded Planned Parenthood, and passed a “state rape” sonogram bill to give women seeking abortions the shocking news that they were pregnant. He passed a Voter ID bill and a redistricting map so discriminatory toward Hispanics that federal judges tossed them. But because Dewhurst, a former officer in both the U.S. Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency, refused to pick a fight with the Transportation Security Agency over pat downs, Dewhurst was deemed squishy to the hard liners and therefore, however illogically, moderate.

Dewhurst now returns to preside over the Texas Senate with his gavel tucked between his legs. But instead of asserting leadership over the upper chamber, Dewhurst is panting for the tea party’s approval. The Dew has reportedly laid out his 2013 agenda, and at the top of his list is passing the same TSA anti-groping bill that he killed in 2011, followed by sanctuary cities and private-school vouchers. Mitt Romney wasn’t this obvious when he disavowed Romneycare by promising to veto Obamacare.

The TSA bill is a sideshow. Vouchers are the main event and why Dewhurst elevated ultra conservative Sen. Dan Patrick to the chair of the Education Committee. A tea party favorite, Patrick isn’t even bothering to pretend that he’ll represent his entire district, much less look after the interests of Texas.

“To me, school choice is the photo ID bill of this session,” said Patrick. “Our base has wanted us to pass photo voter ID for years, and we did it. They’ve been wanting us to pass school choice for years. This is the year to do it, in my view.”

Rewind the tape: “Our base has wanted us to pass photo voter ID…” The Republicans who are running the show now in the legislature are not even pretending to consider all sides and evaluate the facts before deciding how to spend my tax money on my children. Patrick’s naked admission of partisan political motivation lays bare that the tea party has predetermined not just the agenda but perhaps also the outcome of the upcoming legislative session.

Some may credit the tea party types with forcing fiscal discipline on unwilling establishment Republicans, but one man’s fiscal discipline is another man’s sadomasochistic ideology. It’s easy to make ends meet when you raid your pension and stop paying child support, which is essentially what Rick Perry and the legislature have done by cutting education and health care funding for a growing population. Real discipline requires making hard decisions about how to equitably and adequately fund our public schools, not raiding them with private-school vouchers. What passes for fiscal conservatism is nothing more than ideologically driven cowardice.

The Republican Party’s rightward lurch is hardly unique to Texas. Lest we forget, even Perry couldn’t pass muster with in the Republican presidential primary because he signed a bill giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. Republicans who still support the Earned Income Tax Credit, Big Bird, and Planned Parenthood commit apostasy and invite primary challenges.

But on the national scale, Republicans have to worry about losing to Democrats. Here in Texas, Dewhurst is coming to Jesus on the TSA groping bill and Perry is finding Satan in the separation of church and state. Texas Republicans will keep acting this way until they’re more worried about losing to Democrats in general elections than they are about losing to tea party candidates in the primary.

© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.

What Washington Can Learn from Big Tex Mon, 12 Nov 2012 15:28:26 +0000 Jason Stanford My 9-year-old son looked sad one morning, and his explanation surprised me.

“I’m sad about Big Tex,” he said.

If you’re a Texan reading this, you probably just smiled ruefully and remembered visiting the Texas State Fair as a kid. If you’re not from around here, you’re wondering what I’m talking about. In a nutshell, that’s the problem when people in DC try to make political ads for Texans.

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The iconic Big Tex statue burns from a fire started inside its framework back in October of 2012. (photo by greychr/flickr)

We’ve got bigger problems in this country than whether the DC political class can relate to Texans. Right now, what I’m ordering for lunch is a bigger challenge. But soon, Texas will be the biggest swing state in the country thanks to an exploding Hispanic population, according to Jeb Bush.

“It’s a math question,” said Bush. “Four years from now, Texas is going to be a so-called blue state. Imagine Texas as a blue state, how hard it would be to carry the presidency or gain control of the Senate.”

Ohio has 18 electoral votes? That’s cute. Texas has 38, as many as Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia combined, meaning both parties are going to have to lingua the local franca if they want to win the White House in 2016 and beyond.

Unfortunately, outsiders seem incapable of avoiding hackneyed cowboy clichés when they make ads for Texans. Republican bad boy Fred Davis once made a state convention video for Sen. John Cornyn that portrayed Texas’ senior senator as a ridin’, ropin’ cowboy called “Big, bad John.” As Chris Cellizza of the Washington Post wrote, the ad “went viral—and not in a good way for Cornyn.” Six years later, we’re still mocking Sen. Cornyn as “Big John” behind his back.

Democrats do it, too. One of my clients in a targeted Texas congressional race “enjoyed” support from Super PACs. That meant we had to endure their television commercials, one of which cast this southwest Texas race as “high noon.” For the record, “High Noon” was set in New Mexico, but that was the least of my problems. The ad featured a cowboy with jingling spurs walking down a dusty main street in a frontier town that might as well have been called Cliché City: swinging saloon doors, bull whips, a horse-drawn stagecoach and a wanted poster all make appearances. Those 19th-century tropes have as much to do with modern life in Texas as fur traders do in present-day Ohio, but Ohioans get an ad featuring astronaut John Glenn, and Texans get pale John Wayne imitations.

It’s an easy mistake. Texans wear cowboy boots, drive pickup trucks, and own guns. But we don’t want to actually be cowboys. Jon Bon Jovi might sing about being a cowboy riding a steel horse, but he’s from New Jersey. A Texan warned our mothers not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys. We want to be quarterbacks, tycoons and presidents. In other words, Texans want to be the boss. The ultimate fantasy of a Texan is to own a ranch and hire cowboys to do all the hard work.

Which brings us back to Big Tex, the 52-foot-tall mechanical cowboy who was the most recognizable landmark at the state fair. When he burned down, the mayor rushed to the scene. One eyewitness compared losing Big Tex to a death in the family. Texans memorialized Big Tex at the fairgrounds with candles, flowers and corny dogs. An interstate billboard wished Big Tex a speedy recovery, and a funeral home held a memorial service presided over by a real Baptist pastor.

To Texans, Big Tex wasn’t an animatronic incarnation of the mythical cowboy. He was the place your momma told you to go if you got lost at the state fair. Later, you told your friends to meet you at Big Tex. Texans mourned that big goofy machine because it was a part of our lives. We also eat barbecue not to because it’s what they fed ranch hands for lunch but because it’s really tasty. We’ve moved on. With the rest of the country about to become very interested in our votes, maybe it’s time for the DC political class to do so as well.

© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.

Advice for Republicans in 2016 Wed, 07 Nov 2012 15:35:55 +0000 Jason Stanford Republicans should have won. The economy was having more trouble starting than my dad’s Pinto back in ’70s, and Barack Obama had gone from the black Kennedy to the black Jimmy Carter. People blamed the president for Republican obstruction. Fate was practically holding the door to the White House open for Republicans.

How the heck did Mitt Romney blow it?

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J.D. Crowe / Mobile Press-Register (click to view more cartoons by Crowe)

By Halloween, Republican insiders were starting the blame game. It was Hurricane Sandy and that turncoat Chris Christie who did in Mitt Romney, and he didn’t do himself any favors by running TV ads in Ohio that drew rebukes from Chrysler and GM. And the rank & file never thought Romney was as severely conservative as he claimed.

Nonsense. Losing to Obama was a statistical anomaly, a disturbance in the Force, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The fundamentals of Romney’s theory of this race were sound, and Republicans would be smart to avoid taking the following advice:

Don’t worry about nominating an unlikable plutocrat. Picking the personification of Scrooge McDuck and Montgomery Burns didn’t make him look out of touch. He looked successful! This is why they don’t hire ugly models, people. So what if his cufflinks cost more than my car? Rich guys caused our recession. It was smart to pick a rich guy to get us out of the recession.

Republicans should also ignore the old rule that a candidate can never be his own manager. Sure, Romney personally asked Clint Eastwood to speak at the Republican convention and personally approved his campaign’s Libya statement on 9/11, but that just means he’s decisive. And it doesn’t matter that Romney personally rewrote his disastrous convention speech. That wasn’t meddling. That was just a rough draft. Next time, it’s bound to work!

Forget all the talk about reclaiming the Party of Lincoln that is bound to come up. Yes, the voters are getting more diverse. In fact, if everyone who voted in 2008 had voted in 1998, Michael Dukakis would have been president. And by 2020, non-white voters will grow from a quarter to a third of the electorate, leading some to say that focusing on white men will make the Republican Party irrelevant in national elections. But think about it: The Democrats are only too happy to hang out with blacks, gays, secular scientists, college students, and the kind of women who actually use birth control, if you know what I mean. Are these the sorts you want on your side? The Republican Party isn’t some open-bar faculty mixer. They say “irrelevant”. I say “exclusive.”

Ignore those who say the Republican Party hurt Mitt. So what if he had to treat Republicans like a drunk uncle who will ruin your dinner party if he’s let out of the basement? You’ve got something to say about the hierarchy of rape? Let it out. If Dirty Harry didn’t let that chair interrupt him, then you shouldn’t let your mothers, wives or daughters stop you. Just because women are raped more often than men doesn’t mean they’re better qualified to speak about it. For that matter, lady parts don’t make women experts on birth control, abortion or equal pay. Having man parts just means you don’t have a conflict of interest. Bang.

Finally, don’t let the fact that the Great Recession discredited your economic theories stop you from proposing tax cuts for rich dudes to solve everything from slow job growth to erectile dysfunction. Turning Medicare into Groupon for Grandmas was a good start, but promising to take healthcare money from old people and to give it to guys like A-Rod, Donald Trump and, well, Mitt Romney took real guts. Who cares if a large majority of Americans hates this idea? Who cares if cutting taxes doesn’t grow the economy? You believe it does, and your sincere conviction of things not seen combines two political attributes: the authenticity voters say they crave, and the wildly optimistic crazy talk that voters usually respond to.

Ignore the critics, your conscience, and the election results. What you did in 2012 is bound to work in 2016. Keep at it, and good luck.


© Copyright 2012 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. 

Jason Stanford is a Democratic consultant who has helped elect or re-elect more than two dozen Members of Congress. He lives in Austin, Texas. You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasstanford.