Over the past few months the town of Azle, outside Fort Worth, has been rocked by dozens of earthquakes, which is a lot more earthquakes than the town used to have before oil and gas companies began fracking in the Barnett Shale, and injecting their wastewater into injection wells deep underground. I wrote a dispatch from Azle for the March issue of Texas Monthly

Also, I've started guest-posting to BurkaBlog--which is run by Paul Burka, my esteemed colleague at Texas Monthly, the dean of the capitol Press Corps--so you can bookmark that for occasional posts from me, as well as Burka and another esteemed colleague, senior executive editor Brian Sweany. Here's a post about Wendy Davis's recent comments about where she stands on abortion restrictions, and another about the CBO's analysis of the Affordable Care Act's impact on labor markets
 
 
My profile of Ted Cruz is up now at Texas Monthly, and available on newsstands as of this week. The full story is behind a paywall this week; I think it'll be free at some point next week. If you can't wait, subscribe. If you're philosophically opposed to paying or waiting for content, here's an excerpt

While working on the profile, I was thinking a lot about the Republican party circa 2014, and although this isn't specifically related to Cruz--he has not engaged in any war-on-women type scuffles--I have several thoughts on this running debate about the GOP's woman problem. One of which, of course, is that the Republican party may be struggling to attract female voters because lately it feels like we can't hardly go a day without some high-profile Republican saying some dipshit thing about women, or matters concerning them. 

Taking a more dispassionate view, though, I'll observe a few concurrent circumstances:

1. The Republican party is a coalition of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and libertarians. Many fiscal conservatives also identify as social conservatives, and libertarians sometimes look like fiscal conservatives with guns, etc, but broadly speaking those are the three main groups. 

2. Fiscal conservatives and libertarians both call for a relatively limited state. This generally implies a decentralized private safety net existing alongside or instead of a public one.

3. A central concern of social conservatism, if not the central concern, is the restriction of reproductive rights for the protection of unborn children. In other words, whether or not it's the goal, social conservatism necessarily calls for differential government oversight of women than of men.

Taken together, those points suggests that some of the friction in the Republican party is inevitable. Libertarianism treats freedom from unwarranted government encroachment as a first principle. Fiscal conservatism obviously works most smoothly when people, regardless of gender, have the means and capacity to take care of themselves and others. Social conservatives, however, have an implicit premise that it's appropriate for the government to constrain certain people more than others. 


Those constraints might not be burdensome in practice--many women live their whole lives without having occasion to confront them--but nonetheless, in accepting that premise, social conservatives are advocating an idea about government power that sits awkwardly alongside the libertarian ideals of freedom and the fiscal conservatives' pragmatic need for people to largely take care of themselves so the government doesn't have to. 

Incidentally, we know (from data) that the private-sector safety net in the United States largely rests on the contribution of women, who provide a disproportionate share of the country's child care, elder care, hours spent volunteering, and so on. That is among the reasons I would argue that pro-life arguments that abortion restrictions are for women's health--to protect women from the doctors of the abortion industry or the peer pressure of feckless boyfriends, etc--are untenable. If women are that weak, then we're going to need a bigger welfare state. Social conservatives, for the most part, supposedly don't want that. 

Personally, I'd like to see social conservatives focus their efforts on their actual sphere of influence, viz, themselves. There's nothing stopping anyone from advocating for his or her beliefs in the private sphere, and for that matter, many people are committed to moral values despite the fact that they're not legally obligated to be. Barring that, the approach Cruz is taking is not the worst one. He's clearly a social conservative, but he's equally clearly focused on other issues. And as you can see in the story, he thinks that there's room for a variety of views in the Republican coalition--which there must be, if the party is to have a future. 
 
 
My review of Adam Minter's new book Junkyard Planet is in the Wall Street Journal this weekend. 
 
 
A couple of new stories at Texas Monthly: a Q&A with Debra Medina, Republican candidate for comptroller, and (from last week) my take on Steve Stockman's primary challenge to John Cornyn
 
 
Thanks to those of you who came out to last weekend's panel, at the Texas Book Festival, with George Packer (!) and me talking about our newish books. CSPAN has video of the discussion (moderated by UT's Glenn Frankel) online.

Also had a chance to talk to the great people of Wisconsin on WPR with Kathleen Dunn; here's a link to the episode
 
 
I see that Philip A. Klein of the Washington Examiner caused a bit of surprise and consternation on Twitter this evening by tweeting out a comment from Ted Cruz's appearance at a conservative dinner, in which Cruz said that the GOP should focus on growth rather than austerity.

I wasn't surprised because a) Cruz said the same to me on Monday in Houston, and b) although I often hear Democrats say that Republicans are obsessed with austerity, I really don't see them framing things that way, at least in Texas, for reasons I discussed in May. (Actually, I was slightly surprised on Monday, but only because it was seriously the first time I can remember hearing a Texas Republican spontaneously bring up "austerity". It's just not part of the debate here.) 

In case anyone's interested, though, here's the relevant excerpt from the interview Monday. The way this came about is that I had observed to Cruz that although he's a fiscal conservative and a social conservative, he seems to me to focus on fiscal issues or constitutional concerns more than social issues. 

"The existential threat facing this country right now is fiscal and economic," he said, by way of response. 

"Do you think there is an existential threat?" I asked. 

His response:
Yes. We are bankrupting this nation. In five years under President Obama, we have seen our national debt go from ten trillion dollars to seventeen trillion dollars. It’s larger than the size of our economy. If we keep going down this road, there’s a point of no return. The most common thing I hear from Texans all over this state, men and women who grab my shoulder, they say: 'I’m afraid for this country. I’m afraid for my kids. I’m afraid for my grandkids. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing.' 

And I don’t think we have a long window to turn it around. I don’t think it’s decades. It is why these fights are so critical. And the piece that is often missed is economic growth. It’s why I’ve said from day one that my top priority in all this is restoring economic growth. The last four years, the economy has grown, on average, 0.9% a year. Without growth, we can’t meet any of our core priorities. We can’t tackle unemployment, debt, the deficit. We can’t maintain our military strength. All of those problems are insoluble without economic growth. 

Look, I think Republicans get their priorities wrong at times by focusing too much on austerity. As much as spending is out of control, given the choice between spending cuts and economic growth, I choose growth one hundred out of one hundred times. Why? Because if you look at the overall numbers, growth is the only first-order variable. Growth impacts the solvency of Social Security, the ability of Medicare to remain strong, our ability to tackle the deficit and the debt, far more than nominal spending cuts. 

I’ll give a perfect example in Washington, DC. A significant number of Republicans are fixated on preserving the sequestration cuts, which were 2.4% of the overall budget. Now, look, I welcome any cut reining in our out-of-control spending. That’s a positive thing. But if you were to put on the table, what would be the benefits to this country of a) preserving a 2.4% spending cut or b) stopping Obamacare, which is destroying economic growth and hurting people all across the country--in my view, that comparison isn’t even close. 

The reason the Obamacare fight matters so much is it goes directly to growth. It is hammering, in particular, small businesses--small businesses generate two-thirds of all new jobs, and it is small businesses that aren’t growing. The giant corporations don’t care; they do fine with Obamacare. It’s not about the giant corporations; it’s about the little guy. It’s about the small entrepreneur who right now, because of Obamacare, isn’t hiring, is laying people off, is pushing people into part-time work. And all the people who are getting hammered by that are the most vulnerable in our economy: young people, Hispanics and African-Americans and single moms--they’re the people who are struggling. Bringing back economic growth is infinitely more important than skirmishes over spending in Washington, because economic growth, the impact of economic growth, dwarfs everything else. 

If you look at Ronald Reagan, there’s only one other four-year period post-World War II, four consecutive years of less than one percent growth. 1979 to 1982. Coming out of the Carter administration. Same failed economic policies--out-of-control spending, taxes, regulation--produced the exact same stagnation. What did Reagan do when he came in? Pursued policies the exact opposite of those pursued by President Obama. So: reduce taxes. Dramatically simplify the tax code. Reined in the out of control regulations coming out of Washington. And created an environment in which small businesses could prosper and thrive. Just like President Obama, Ronald Reagan inherited a lousy economy that was hurting. But by the fourth year of Reagan’s presidency, 1984, our economy was growing 7.2%. 

If President Obama, inheriting the same lousy economy Reagan had, had implemented the same economic policies Reagan did, and if the same economic growth had resulted, by today, there would be over seven million new jobs in this country. That is the equivalent of taking every single person currently unemployed in 46 of the 50 states and having a new job for all of them. That is game-changing. And you look at everything else--the debt and the deficit, seven million new jobs, seven million new people paying taxes, seven million people not on public assistance because they’re providing for their kids, seven million or more people whose kids are now better off because their parents are providing for them, are able to go to better schools, to be better fed or have better health care. 

That difference dramatically dwarfs everything else, and that’s what we ought to be focusing on. Economic growth, both to strengthen the future of the country but also, in particular, to help those who are struggling. You know, I just read a statistic that the top 1% in this country now have the highest share of our income since 1928, under President Obama. The rich do fine with government control of the economy. It’s not about them. It’s about everybody else. And when you hammer small businesses, that’s who gets hurt, is everybody else.
I'll refrain from any serious commentary at this point, but a couple of notes: 1) this is a snippet from a series of interviews, so don't worry, I've asked him some of the questions that probably occurred to you while reading this; 2) yes, this was an off-the-cuff answer without any interruptions from me, although some parts had clearly been planned in advance (and were in fact repeated at this dinner tonight, as far as I can tell).  
 
 
Also in the New York Times, called "Texans Stick With Cruz Despite Defeat in Washington"

This one sounds about right. 

An important caveat is that we haven't had (or at least, I haven't seen) any Texas-specific polling on Cruz since before his pseudo-filibuster, etc, so it's impossible to say with any precision whether Cruz's adventures over the past few weeks have taken a toll on his approval ratings back home. However, as Fernandez notes, people in the state (any state) usually rate their senators more highly than national observers do. 
Then, too, there's the fact that Texans are more familiar with Cruz than Americans as a group are. 

Relatedly, I'm not sure that Cruz registers as extreme in Texas. Take a look at the election results for the 2012 general
The presidential contest attracted more votes in total than the Senate race, but Romney's margin of victory over Obama was almost exactly the same as Cruz's margin of victory over Paul Sadler, who wasn't very well known and can therefore probably be considered a "generic Democrat." And Romney wasn't anybody's idea of a far right kind of Republican. If Cruz translated as extreme, I would expect to see some kind of dropoff in the R/D split from the presidential race to the Senate race. (That is, keep in mind, what happened in Missouri, Virginia, and Florida, which also had high-profile Senate races in 2012: Romney significantly outperformed the Senate candidate in each of those states.) 

In Texas, by contrast, the discrepancy between the presidential and Senate contests appears to derive from the fact that the libertarian candidate got about 2% support in the Senate contest, and only 1% in the presidential (and amusingly, the libertarians in that extra 1% seem to have split their votes about equally between the Democrat and the Republican when looking at the top of the ticket). 
 
 
Her latest column is called "A Ted Cruz on Every Corner." The premise is that not just Cruz but "so many other members of the state delegation" to Congress were "doing crazy things during the government shutdown debacle." Some thoughts:

1. Based on the examples given, by "doing crazy things," Collins apparently means saying silly or intemperate things. Most of the comments cited are indeed both, and McCain's response to Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert is pretty funny. However, Collins' characterization of what Cruz has been up to--"trying to win the hearts of American voters by spreading fear, terror and economic chaos"--strikes me as equally silly and intemperate. 

2. I still wish someone would explain to me how, exactly, Cruz caused the shutdown. Telekinesis? 

3. Although that account of Cruz might be intended humorously, it's not nearly as funny as Greg Abbott's explanation of his work as the state's attorney-general, which Collins cites disapprovingly: "I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home."

4. Speaking of Abbott, he does have about $20 million in his campaign war chest. I'd be surprised if it's enough "to buy Nebraska," as Collins asserts; but for anyone who is fearful as a result of Ted Cruz's wanton terror-spreading, keep in mind that any attempt to purchase Nebraska would arguably be in violation of the 10th Amendment, and General Abbott would have no choice but to sue himself over it. 

5. The fact that George P. Bush is running for land commissioner is the opposite of "strange." 

6. The boring truth is that Rick Perry supports funding the water plan (and has, in fact, been a voice of reason on the budget this year). 

7. "The rest of us will just sit here and mull the fact that Texans feel the need to make these jobs elective." ???

8. In the space of three sentences Collins says that Wendy Davis is an "exciting" candidate for governor, notes that some people think she "might actually have a chance," and but then makes it clear that she herself knows better than that: "But anybody who could just raise money and get 45 percent of the vote would be the party’s biggest star since Ann Richards." It's hard to argue with Collins' logic on this--I mean, how could you read this list of a half a dozen carefully cherry-picked comments and fail to agree that this state is irredeemably fucked? I will, however, say that in my opinion, while Davis's biggest barrier to victory is Abbott, her second-biggest barrier to victory is the national Democrats who are simultaneously fawning over her as if she's their hand-selected ambassador to Texas while sighing over what they see as her inevitable loss. 

9. I'm surprised that Collins hasn't knocked it off with the tired and misleading secession jokes yet.

10. Collins is correct to observe, as many Texans have observed this year, that "the pragmatic Texas Republican establishment is pretty much on its back, hyperventilating." That's true. The causes are complex and the ramifications could be significant, for the state and for the country. It's a phenomenon that is eminently worthy of serious consideration--an approach that Collins once again eschews in favor of the har-har perspective that she previously brought to her commentary about Texas.
 
 
A year ago this month, I was scrambling to finish my book (which was due the first week of November) while keeping up a steady stream of chatter about the 2012 elections (to be held the first week of November). That's what I was doing, pretty much all I was doing, when I was offered a job at Texas Monthly. 

The only qualm I had about the offer was related to the first two circumstances. The preceding year had been exhausting. By October 2012 I wasn't even running on fumes; I was running on the unexamined premise that if I made it through the first week of November, then it would be the second week of November, and I could take a break. I liked the idea of working at Texas Monthly, though, and so I quickly accepted the offer. I thought: it's okay, between the book launch (in April) and the legislative session (January-May) I'll be pretty busy, but it'll be the end of May soon enough and I can take a break then.

Then it was the end of May, and Governor Perry called a special session half an hour after the regular session adjourned. I thought: Ok, it'll be a quick little special session, no big deal. I'll keep one eye on the Lege while I get started on the other things I was planning to do this summer. There were a couple of family situations I was worried about, and I had about a million calls and emails to answer, and a lot of paperwork looming for a mortgage closing I had scheduled for july. I was even looking forward to some things this summer, thought I might see more of my friends, spend some afternoons at Barton Springs, and get to work on some new writing projects, because I hadn't had much time for that and found myself missing it.

June was going pretty well until a week of pointless & unnecessary theater relating to an abortion bill triggered the most dramatic day in Texas politics in a generation, and my coverage of that day triggered the most uninformed and dishonest personal attacks I've ever elicited as a journalist. And I thought: Okay, the next couple of weeks are going to be a little busier than expected. And this isn't really great timing. The family situations were precarious. I had some Texas Monthly assignments I needed to get started on. The backlog on my to-do list was still so long it was making me vaguely nauseous to think about it. Assuming I closed on the mortgage on July 5th I would need to arrange a mid-summer move, which wasn't going to be pleasant. I missed my friends. But more than anything I was so tired. I had been tired for like a year. But I was resigned: It is what it is. I can handle it. No problem. 

Then on August 2nd, just after I moved, and just as the third special session was winding down, and just as I was happily working on two long projects for the magazine, my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma. His prognosis is pretty good, thankfully, and he's started treatment. And since he was diagnosed I've learned that in addition to being scary, sad, etc, cancer is irritating. It's capricious as well as malicious, so you have to respond meekly. You don't stroll up to cancer and unfurl the Come and Take It flag. Or, at least, you don't do that when it's your dad who's sick. Still, that morning in August, taking notes as the doctors explained the diagnosis in an unmistakably oncological hush, I had a lot of thoughts, including this one: you have got to be fucking kidding me. 

In other words, things have been busy around here, hence the lack of updates to this website. I'm planning to resume normal operations at this point, though. Still pretty busy but I'm tired of being in triage mode. (And if I owe you a call or an email: 1) sorry about that, 2) might be worth reminding me?)  
 
 
My summary is at Texas Monthly. For more on our pending post-Perry Texas, see the August issue of the magazine. Additional feelings summarized in an exchange with my dad: