Saturday, June 30, 2007

Nick Lampson’s Blue Doggish Votes on HR 2829

Now don’t get me wrong, Nick Lampson is probably the best Democrat we can get elected in his crazy, crazy Texas congressional district. I just want to point out that progressive Democrats were not represented very well on Nick’s votes in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2008 (HR 2829).

This is one set of votes that Shelley Sekula (no hyphen) Gibbs will not be using her next mailer. Nick’s Blue Dog streak is definitely showing.

The bill essentially funds many branches and agencies of the government through September 2008. 37 amendments were filed, 6 passed, and 31 either failed by vote, by point of order, or were withdrawn. The vote for final passage went 240 Aye to 179 Nay.

Nick voted Nay.

But that was just on final passage. Here’s a record of his votes on the amendments

Amendments 1-3 were withdrawn.

Amendment 4: to reduce funding for the General Activites under the General Services Administration by $8 million and increase funding for the Office of Inspector General under the General Services Administration by $6 million.

Nick voted Aye. Amendment passed by a vote of 281-144

Amendment 5: “to reduce funds for Selective Service System by $10,000,000 and increase funds for the Small Business Administration by $10,000,000.”

Nick voted No. Amendment failed by a vote of 95-320.
Yep, we are going to be needing that money for the draft. You know it's coming.

Amendment 13: (you didn’t think I was going to list them ALL did you?): to prohibit the use of funds to be used for the Prevention Works or Whitman-Walker Clinic needle exchange programs.

Nick voted Aye. Amendment failed by a vote of 208-216.

Amendment 16: to prohibit funds for the Grace Johnstown Area Regional Industries Incubator and Workforce Development program. (submitted by Jeff Flake R-AZ, this specifically targeted projects promoted by Congressman John Murtha).

Nick voted Nay. Amendment failed by a vote of 87-335.

Amendment 19: prohibit the use of funds to be used for the Mitchell County Development Foundation, Inc. for the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree Project (Another Jeff Flake amendment).

Nick voted Nay. Amendment passed by a vote of 249-174.

Amendment 26: to prohibit use of funds for the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission.

Nick voted Nay. Amendment failed by a vote of 107-318.

Amendment 27: to prohibit use of funds in the bill for the Office of the Vice President (This was Rahm Emanuel’s amendment to cut off funding for Dick Cheney).

Nick voted Nay. Amendment failed by a vote of 209-217.

Nick, we could have saved $4.8 million.

Amendment 30: to limit the use of funds to implement section 5112 of title 31 United States Code (this section deals with designing coins and notes for the US Mint).

Nick voted Nay. Amendment passed by a vote of 295-127.

Amendment 35: to require that each amount appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act is hereby reduced by 0.5 percent.

Nick voted Aye. Amendment failed by a vote of 205-220.

Amendment 36: to prohibit funds to be used to implement or enforce the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992.

Nick voted Aye. Amendment failed by a vote of 224-200.

Amendment 37: to prohibit funds to be used by the Internal Revenue Service to implement a Spanish-language version of the "Where's my Refund?" service.

Nick voted Aye. Amendment failed by a vote of 165-257.

On a motion to recommit the bill to the Appropriations committee, Nick voted Aye. The motion failed by 199-222

On passage, Nick voted Nay. The bill passed by a vote of 240-179.

Now I realize that Nick is a fiscal conservative and that his voting record is being closely watched. On Thursday he did not give the Republicans much ammunition to use against him, and I guess that’s good. I just wish some of those programs that Nick voted not to support were programs that he did support. And really, Dick Cheney doesn’t need the $4.8 million. Now that he is no longer a part of any of the 3 branches of our government, Halliburton can write the check.

It’s chump change to them.

What Do Alcoholic Beverages And Higher Education For Texas’ Veterans Have In Common?

No, I’m serious, there is a connection.

In a Chron article today, we learn that Gulf War veteran William Sanchez has been denied a waiver of college tuition and fees guaranteed to other Texas veterans by the
Hazlewood Act. So he has joined in a federal lawsuit that has been filed in San Antonio by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Apparently there is a hole in the Hazlewood Act that excludes people who are not citizens of the United States. This hole was to be repaired by legislation sponsored by Letitia van de Putte (D-San Antonio) and Rick Noriega (D-Houston). The bill failed in the last legislative session, leaving the hole unfilled.

Of this failure and the situation faced by thousands of Texas veterans, Rick Noriega said:
“Our government says that you're OK to join the military and fight overseas, and when you return you're afforded GI Bill benefits. But, the state of Texas says if you're a Texan and fight overseas, you're not afforded Texas benefits. It's a real hypocrisy.”
Where is this hole and how did it come to be?

First, you need to answer this question: What is the difference between a “resident” of Texas and a “citizen” of Texas? At first blush you will say, there IS no difference and you might be right. In actual fact, when you look at any given time requirement in the Texas Education Code, which the Hazlewood Act amends, you will find that there is a “residency requirement” of 12 months. Yes, you must be a resident of Texas for 12 months before you can attend a Texas public institution of higher education and not pay out-of-state fees.

And that’s a good law. Texas’ higher education institutions benefit from local taxes that Texas residents pay. Out-of-staters, aka “foreigners”, need to pay a surcharge since they have not paid into supporting the schools in other ways.

But if you look at the Hazlewood Act, you see two actual requirements. The benefit is available to all veterans who “were citizens of Texas at the time they entered the services indicated and have resided in Texas for at least the period of 12 months before the date of registration”.

Now I look at that and say well of course, they have to have come from Texas when they entered the service, and they had to have been paying into the various ways the state raises revenue. No problem.

Yes problem.

It caused Letitia van de Putte to send a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott seeking clarification:
“It is significant that the act explicitly requires both Texas citizenship and residency which may indicate that lawmakers viewed citizenship and residency as distinct requirements. The two requirements may have been conflated because of the lack of an explicit definition of citizenship.”
All Abbott had to do was to view these two requirements as separate as I have done, and not fused as suggested by van de Putte.


“Texas citizen” is not statutorily defined, which, I think, is the point that van de Putte was making.

But give Greg Abbott enough rope and he’ll find a way to tie a noose. He (or most probably someone on his staff) found a definition of “Texas citizen” in the statutes. Once, but that was enough. It is found in the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code. In his opinion, Abbott writes:

“only the Alcoholic Beverage Code defines it: "In this code . . . '[c]itizen of Texas' and 'citizen of this state' mean a person who is a citizen of both the United States and Texas." Tex. Alco. Bev. Code Ann. § 1.04(20) (Vernon 1995).”
Oh boy, that one is a stretcher isn’t it? One has to have one long arm to reach for that one, but Greg Abbott is equal to the task. That discovery, and Abbott’s acceptance of it as a valid definition, dumped a load of cock-a-doodle on thousands of Texas veterans. Those who served their country, some who went to war, and some who faced bullets and IEDs.

When Rick Noriega called this a “real hypocrisy” I think he was being polite.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Truth and History, When Rewritten, Never Stay Rewritten

I was thinking about Dick Cheney’s wild claims that his office does not exist within the Executive branch, as I watched Rahm Emmanuel’s bid to withhold a $5 million appropriation from the Vice President’s office

Quoting Jim Abrams AP article:

“The vote, on an amendment to a 2008 spending bill for the Treasury Department and executive branch agencies, was defeated 217-209.”
It concerned me because up until this past week, I was pretty sure that the office of the Vice President was definitely within the scope of the Executive Branch, but now it apparently is not. In a wave of a magic wand, truth changes and lies become fact.

Then I started thinking about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Brown v. Board, and how Chief Justice Roberts twisted the facts of history in using the very case as justification to overturn the decision.

I was thinking just how fragile the truth actually is.

And then I read an article that makes Cheney’s and Roberts’ shenanigans pale in comparison. These shenanigans occurred 3500 years ago.

Upon her death around 1500 BCE, Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut had passed away at about the age of 50 and was buried in an elaborate tomb that is built into a cliff. But her successor Pharaoh King Thutmose III, her stepson, sought to erase all evidence of her existence, including having her mummy removed and placed in a humble tomb.

Like Cheney and Roberts, Thutmose tried to remake history in an image that he preferred.

And hopefully, like Thutmose, the scheme will fail one day. Egyptologists are now convinced that an unidentified mummy discovered in 1903 in an obscure tomb is that of Queen Hatshepsut.

I believe that “Truth” is a spirit that can be obscured, but that it’s impossible to repress the truth forever. One day, the truth will re-emerge. Cheney’s and Roberts’ lies and re-writes of history will eventually be revealed as the shenanigans that they really are.

I just hope that it takes less than 3500 years this time.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

John Cornyn Protecting Texans From Organized Labor

Here’s another reason why Texas Senator John Cornyn needs to go.

He voted Nay, with the rest of his Republican cronies, with Phil Specter (R-Pennsylvania) being the one lone Republican Aye vote to bring HR 800 to the Senate floor for consideration. With 3/5ths needed, the bill is dead.

What is HR 800? It was introduced in March to, among other things, amend the National Labor Relations Act to allow for “an efficient system to enable employees to form, join, or assist labor organizations and to provide for mandatory injunctions for unfair labor practices during organizing efforts.

It makes it easier for employees to organize into collective bargaining units – that is, labor unions.

One provision of the bill would allow the NLRB to certify a union without a secret ballot election if a majority of employees authorize the union through other means known as “card-check”.

In short, it makes it easier for unions to form, and makes it harder for management to prevent their formation.

That is, by voting against HR 800, Cornyn and his cronies make it easier for management to continue to pay their employees slave wages, with little or no health insurance, and allows management to continue to operate their facilities with little or no regard to the safety of their employees.

Why? Because labor unions operate against all of the above.

But here’s what makes Cornyn’s vote particularly invidious.

You know my friend, Ann? The one who has to hand feed her turtle that she raised from an egg? Ann showed me an email from Cornyn’s office, dated today, outlining his voting position on this bill. Nice that he sent it out 2 days after the bill failed the cloture vote on the 26th.

Know why Cornyn voted against the bill? According to his email message, he voted against bringing the bill to the floor because he is protecting her from those thugs and thieves called “organized labor”.

Here’s what he wrote:

“Unfortunately, card-check campaigns lack anonymity and can create opportunities for organized labor to place negative pressure on employees or bargain away their right to a secret ballot election. Under current law, employers may voluntarily recognize unions based on card-checks, but they are not required to do so. Instead they may insist upon an election administered by the NLRB.”

You see? He’s really on the side of the working man. Those labor unions exert pressure on employees to accept higher wages, health insurance and safe facilities. Employees really don’t want that stuff at all. So he wants to keep it just as hard as it has been for labor unions to form.

I've got a great guy in mind who we can put in Cornyn's seat in 2008. He has not declared a candidacy, nor even established an exploration committee. But something tells me that this guy will not only will serve Texans and Americans better, he will do it with integrity and distinction.

Draft Rick Noriega for U.S. Senate from Texas.

Good Bye Brown v. Board, Hello Plessy v. Ferguson

Well the good news is that the Supreme Court’s landmark and most important decision of the 1970’s decade, Roe v. Wade, has not been overturned this week by Bush’s new neoconservative Supreme Court.

The bad news is that the Supreme Court’s landmark and most important decision of the 1950’s decade, Brown v. Board of Education, has been overturned.

In a decision handed down today, with another 5-4 split, the Supreme Court in a two-case decision, Parents Involved in Community Schools Inc. v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County (Ky.) Board of Education, school districts cannot use race as a criterion to determine which school a student can attend. This puts the kibosh on any attempt to integrate schools across the country.

So now we are back to the “separate but equal” doctrine laid out in Plessy v. Ferguson.

Ironically Chef Justice Roberts, in writing the majority opinion, relied on logic in Brown v. Board to overturn the self-same decision. Roberts argued that before Brown v. Board, black children were made to attend separate schools. That is, attendance at one school over another, depending solely on the race of the child, is bad, and so are the arrangements in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky, which have racial quotas for attendance in some of their magnet schools.

White kids were turned away from attending their preferred school because the quota for white children had been met.

So now we have it back the way it was, and no school can cause a student to attend or not to attend a school based on their race. But that’s OK, though right? Just so that the kids get the same quality of education, right?


Roberts forgot about or outright ignored the most compelling argument in Brown v. Board, made by Chief Justice Earl Warren in a 9-0 decision: "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Values like this made the Warren Court truly great.

What a legacy for Bush’s court, for Robert’s Court.

Back to the bad old days.

Another Hit From the “Liberal Press”

One of the biggest myths in American society today is how we are being bombarded by biased reporting from the liberal media. Here in Houston, Texas you have to look pretty closely, fairly intently, to find a liberal in the media. Witness the reporting on John Edwards’ appearance in Houston, yesterday by the Houston Chronicle’s Kristen Mack.

Mack hacked through the message delivered to 300 people packed butt to butt in Goode’s Armadillo Palace on Kirby last night. She focused on the exchange between Edwards, Edwards’ wife, and a hate mongering neoconservative political commentator. Giving brief lip service to Edwards’ statements on the recurring feud, Mack gave a lot of space to her analysis of Ann Coulter’s steadfast response. And Mack forgets that this wasn’t something that erupted just early this year. Remember her tasteless comment on Edwards way back? “Ask me about my dead son?”

Glossing over the issues raised by Edwards, ignoring many, Mack then focused on the “low-dollar affair”. Obviously she didn’t think it wise to charge such a low contribution, bringing in the rabble. She even quoted RNC spokesman Paul Lindsey on the charge. I don’t think Lindsey was even there, but he got a couple of inches of column also. Lindsey focused on Edwards’ “lavish lifestyle”.

Yep, we have to watch out for those big moneybags Democrats with their lavish lifestyles. Speaking of that, does anyone know if Halliburton is still based in the US or have they made the move to Dubai yet?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

John Edwards Spends a Long Hot Day In Houston

Well, actually I think he fairly blew through town. The man really gets around. Tomorrow he will be at Howard University in DC and on Friday he will be in Tampa.

It was a Long Hot Texas Summer Day for Ann, Sara and I.

We got to Ann’s place by 11 am. She was almost ready but someone needed to feed her turtle before we left. Ann has a turtle that she raised from an egg and he prefers it if you hold the food for him. Not today though, we were off to attend Melissa Noriega’s inaugural celebration in a pretty ritzy part of Houston. Well, ritzy for me. It was at La Griglia on West Gray. Then on to the John Edwards event.

The room at La Griglia was meant to hold 75 but at one point I think we were more like 200 strong. Melissa was running late, so Rick got up to announce that the City Council had extended their meeting and she would be late. This was about half an hour into the event. Then he got up again a little later, telling people that he hoped that they signed the guestbook so Melissa could see who had all come to wish her well. Then when 1:30 rolled around the room held about 30 or so, and we were getting hungry so we finally had to leave.

Best joke of the day: Rick opined that this was payback for when Melissa took his spot in the Texas House while he was in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, now he, Rick, could take Melissa’s spot while she was having it out with the City Council.

After lunch at HEB’s Central Market we made our way to Houston’s Children’s Museum because I wanted to see a pulley demonstration that one of my students asked me about. I didn’t know what it was about and wanted to see. Turns out it is a mechanical advantage demonstration. But that wasn’t what my student was asking about. He wanted to know why it was easier for a person to pull himself up than for someone not sitting in the seat.

Ah, It’s great when they place a teaching moment right square in your lap.

Then over to the Edwards Event.

Tammy was there at the door helping out. We exchanged greetings and compliments on each others' campaign buttons, but I think Tammy wanted mine - it has John Edwards' photograph on it.

We got there a full 10 minutes before the 5:00 start time but the room was already 3/4ths full and no open seating. It was very standing room only. We three edged as far to the front as we could get, and only managed to get just behind the TV cameras. There we waited.

Lots of Fort Bend Democrats made it to the event. Scanning the room I saw Albert, Don, Mark and Elizabeth, Marsha, Bev, and Geri. Later I came across Gretchen, Judy, Martha and Farhan.

As we waited the room filled to past capacity. At 5:30 State Rep Garnet Coleman got a microphone, got it turned on, and spoke awhile about the 80th Legislature, and on the Democratic successes. Then around 6 pm he was back to introduce Chris Bell who was there to introduce John Edwards.

Edwards came in, dressed in slacks and a blue long sleeved shirt with the cuffs rolled up. Now I’ve seen Barack Obama speak, and he speaks with authority. John Edwards speaks with feeling and animation. He truly is the people’s candidate. He is like us.

He began right off with remarks on the hate-filled personal attacks of Ann Coulter, and Elizabeth’s blindsiding her on Hardball. Simply stated, these attacks have got to stop if we are to engage in dialogue at a time that we specifically need to have it.

On issues Edwards was all over the map. Universal Health Care, Stopping the war in Iraq, Torturing prisoners, Guantanamo, having a Supreme Court whose justices reflect the values of a majority of Americans. Dick Cheney and the secretive imperial Vice Presidency. To all of that, John Edwards just had three words: Constitution, Article Two. Yep it’s all there for Cheney to read.

37 million Americans living in poverty. Having to choose between paying the heating bill and feeding your family. John Edwards spoke of his 2004 “Two Americas” theme. It’s still there and the split is getting wider. He spoke of his “One America” Plan unveiled just last week. His plan to reduce rising debt among the poor and middle class.

Guess what he left out? Fear mongering. Any given Republican candidate will talk about how afraid we need to be and how the only party that can protect us is the self-same party that got us into this horrible bloody mess.

What else? Immigration. That red herring that is on the breakfast, lunch and dinner menu of every Republican in and out of office. Illegal immigrants didn’t run jets into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. All those guys had visas.

Really, if it weren’t for fear mongering and illegal immigrants, Republicans would have nothing to talk about, nothing to say but “Oops . . . sorry.”

It was over too soon but he had lots of signing to do. Don got Edwards to sign a campaign sign that some lucky devil will get to bid for at the next Fort Bend Democrats fundraiser, I am sure.

Then we all went across the street and ate some barbecue.

And all is well in the world.

John Edwards AND barbecue.


Dos Centavos has his take on the Edwards Event. While I fully figured that he would be there, I completely missed him. A feat in and of itself. ===> Happy face. (sorry some of my readers don't know when I am making a whimsical joke, right junk?).

I Have an Anniversary Today

It has been one year today since I started writing this blog. It seems like it has been longer than that. By my count this will be the 434th post but I am going to cheat a little.

In celebration of the one year anniversary of Half Empty, I decided to repost my very first blog entry. I’ve thought about this and it seems entirely appropriate because the events surrounding the subject of the piece have not altered in the least. We are still mired in a war that seems not to have an end to it.

Yes, unfortunately, my first blog entry, one year ago, is still relevant today.

Why Not Half Full?

Because it was already taken.

Apparently there are lots of optimists out there. So pessimists don't blog?

Anyway, why am I doing this?

Maybe it is so I can cybervent.

So here goes:

I want to go on record that I am anti-war and have been since I was of draft age. Yes, a pessimist pacifist. It's a special new kind of pacifism though. Being Anti-War in the "old days" meant that you objected to taking of human life for whatever reason. Now, I think it means being against a War of Choice. I want to see a paradigm shift take place in the United States. We should be a nation that goes to war when we have no choice, when all alternatives have been exhausted. Only then should we put our soldiers in harm's way.

I really think that it speaks volumes to the world that US public opinion on the war in Iraq has shifted radically since just early this year. What drives a shift like that? Realization that Americans have been misled? Casualties? Government misconduct and mismanagement? Probably all of that and more. Amazing isn't it? It took a decade for Americans to start to come around and realize that the Vietnam War was illegal and immoral (and unwinnable besides). In my pessimistic fashion, I credited the turn of the tide back then to the fact that there was a draft and people were more concerned about self preservation (or that of their sons), than the fact that the Vietnam War was a War of Choice that was forced on people who were unschooled in the issues. In my pessimistic fashion, I thought that it would take a reactivation of the draft to get people in this country off the dime. Not so, not so.

So in a quite uncharacteristic optimistic fashion, I now have some hope that we can bring this foul and immoral war to a swift conclusion.

We have opened a Pandora's Box over there, and unleashed some demons who were held at bay by Saddam's repressive regime. These demons were there before America invaded, and will be there for the forseeable future. But we added to the pile - America created another demon. Anyone who has spent any time in a Muslim culture knows this is true: our mere presence in that country is the catalyst that stirs up the demons. You need to look at it from their point of view: Americans are infidels, you see? Iraqis are a proud and (sometimes) religious people who have been disgraced and defiled by the continued presence of an infidel invader.

US out of Iraq, now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Anne Coulter Says She Wants John Edwards Dead, Then Denies It.

These two You Tube videos are playing on John Edwards’ website. One is from yesterday morning, a clip of Coulter on her “Faggot” remark of a few months back. Now she just wants him to be murdered by terrorists.

Then today, she appeared on Chris Matthews’ MSNBC Hardball program where she was sandbagged by a call in from Elizabeth Edwards who politely but firmly asked Coulter to stop her attacks on her husband. Coulter started to deny the whole thing, then Matthews reminded her of her remark, then she ran behind the 1st Amendment.

Ms. Edwards got a rousing applause toward the end of the 3 minute clip, and all you see Coulter do is run her hand through her hair for the umpteenth time.

She didn’t look to be very happy.

This evokes oratory in the House Un-American Activities Committee meeting room over 50 years ago. I’ve seen the news clip dozens of times. In it Joseph Welch is questioning Joseph McCarthy, who proceeds to attack a young lawyer on Welch’s staff. After an emotional return tirade, Welch says these words. Words that were followed by wild applause in the committee chambers:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Coulter, same question (and yes, including the “sir”).

Free At Last, Free At Last. Thank God Almighty Paris Hilton is Free At Last!


I will never ever ever stay in a Hilton hotel ever again. And that goes for the other chains that they own:

Conrad Hotels
Embassy Suites Hotels
Hampton Inn and Hampton Inns & Suites
Hilton Hotels
Hilton Garden Inn
Homewood Suites by Hilton

. . . in case you wanted to know.

It’s Baaa-aak! Immigration Bill Round 2.

Perhaps sensing that his legacy to the nation when he leaves office on January 20th, 2009 will be an 8.8 trillion dollar debt, endless war, and no immigration reform, George W. Bush decided to go for the one that he thinks he can fix, and got the Senate to reconsider the failed immigration bill that was cobbled together by a bipartisan Senate group.

They just voted on it today, 64 to 35, to bring it to the floor for debate.

Arlen Spector (R - Pennsylvania) predicts open trench warfare this week. That’s not a bad way of putting it. Trenches bring to mind the static positions that this issue has produced. And it looks like the bill will gain conservative support only if more punitive measures are included.

As pointed out in the Washington Post article, there has been a shift to the right on this. Twenty four amendments to the bill are going to be introduced this week, but the one that will truly be the deal killer will be the amendment that makes a path to citizenship possible if illegals follow the requirement that a head of household must return to their country of origin and file for a Z visa – not just a green card.

This is counter-intuitive. If you want to increase border security by bringing people in this country onto the radar, you don’t offer to smack them down. I was absolutely amazed at the numbers in a new first-ever poll of 1600 illegal aliens who were asked whether they would enter a legalization program. An astounding 83% said yes, but that number shrank to 63% if they had to honor the return to their home countries.

I think even those numbers are inflated. They probably didn’t question the illegals who cross back and forth all of the time, working in America for a living wage, then back to Mexico to be with their families.

All of this is just a supreme waste of time. The bill will never get out of the Senate, and even if it does we have 435 congresspeople just sitting there waiting, holding their scissors, glue and scotch tape dispensers. Nancy Pelosi estimates that she needs 70 Republican votes in order to pass this one, and from a vote just taken in the Republican Caucus, she’s just shy of that - - - 42 votes shy of that.

But I guess they don’t have anything better to do. No one is going to impeach Cheney, especially now that he apparently doesn’t actually hold office in the Executive Branch. No one is going to stop the war because we’re all waiting for September now, and at the current 3.48 per day American soldier deaths, that amounts to roughly 230 more KIAs until September 1st.

So they are going to do this instead.

Houston City Council Don’t Want to Be Peppers, too.

How bizarre. Melissa Noriega is poised to take her seat tomorrow at a swearing in ceremony in Houston City Council chambers at 9 am, and she comes in at such a time to witness a true firestorm of controversy on the city council.

It seems the Dr. Pepper Bottling Company, in its wily, conniving and underhanded fashion, has slowly but relentlessly invaded the city’s soft drink vending machines venue by promising a higher return of the take; higher than either Coca Cola or Pepsi were willing to offer. The city gets 45% of what Dr. Pepper makes in its city-wide vending machine sales. It means 700 large per year for the city.

But now . . . now they threaten to take over the venue at the very building that the city council works in: city hall. Want a coke between meetings? You will be out of luck.

Said Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck of the change that looms on the horizon, "I love Dr Pepper, but I'm a Diet Coke gal, now."

Guys, guys, I’ve got her solved for you. I face this problem daily at my workplace. There the vending machine company, who do sell Coke and Pepsi, as well as Dr. Pepper, by the way, charges 75 cents per 12 fl. Oz. can! Can you believe it? That’s $9 for a 12 pack. When the price they charged went up by 50 percent a couple of years ago I started bringing in 12 packs to work. I keep them in a little mini fridge like the ones you see in college dorms.

So it’s that simple. Let the visitor schmos drink that prune juice. You have your Diet Cokes on ice back in the office.
Sources close to the above-mentioned newly-elected city-council-to-be-tomorrow member have confided that Melissa Noriega's soft drink preferences run exclusively toward Diet Dr. Pepper. I smell a rat, and I'll bet that Anne Clutterbuck, once she finds this out, will smell one, too.

Monday, June 25, 2007

There’s Someone For Everyone

There is someone for everyone. That is one of my closely held beliefs, along with the credo that appears on this blog’s masthead.

There is no better illustration of this than the world’s ugliest dog, Elwood, and his owner Karen Quigley. Elwood, after a failure the previous year, earned the title “World’s Ugliest Dog” in a Marin-Sonoma county fair in Northern California this weekend.

I, myself, cannot imagine anything uglier than Elwood, but as it turns out, he had some good competition. Check out the ones who didn’t make the cut here.

Where the title of this posting fits in is this: Ms. Quigley saved Elwood from being whacked by his breeder/owner, who, she says, “was going to euthanize him because she thought he was too ugly to sell.”

Said Elwood’s current owner, "I think he's the cutest thing that ever lived."

See what I mean? There’s someone for everyone.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I Guess It Depends On What the Meaning of the Word “Or” Is

Dick Cheney stepped in a pile of cock-a-doodle when he ignored an executive order to provide information on his office’s classification and declassification activities. News of his failure to comply hit the airwaves late last week. But what became clear to me is that while this is all coming out just now with public revelation of a struggle that has been going on since 2004.

That struggle came to the public’s attention in a June 21, 2007 letter from Congressman Henry Waxman (D-California). The letter describes a 2004 incident when Cheney turned away onsite inspectors from the Information Security Oversight Office who notified him that they were coming by to conduct the executive order-mandated inspection.

Waxman brought to light a 2006 letter sent to the national archives in which Cheney insists that his office does not fall under the Executive Branch of government:

“According to a letter that the National Archives sent to your staff in June 2006, you asserted that the Office of the Vice President is not an ‘entity within the executive ranch’and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders.”

There’s all sorts of other good stuff in the letter, but I want to get to my point.

It all depends on what the meaning of “or” is.

Here is the entire 2003 Executive Order, I excepted a bit of it below.

“Sec. 5.1. Program Direction. (a) The Director of the Information Security Oversight Office, under the direction of the Archivist and in consultation with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, shall issue such directives as are necessary to implement this order.”

Cheney’s claim is that his office is not an agency of the Executive Branch. However his power of classification of the nation’s secrets are specifically given to him in this same executive order.

“(cc) ‘Original classification authority’ means an individual authorized in writing, either by the President, the Vice President in the performance of executive duties, or by agency heads or other officials designated by the President, to classify information in the first instance.”

“the Vice President . . . or by agency heads . . .”

Or” is meant here as a term of inclusion.

Actually I like this definition from

OR /ɔr/ Pronunciation Key
a Boolean operator that returns a positive result when either or both operands are positive.

In other words, "agency" and "Vice President" are on an equal footing here in terms of assigning classification authority.

So Cheney must choose whether he has classification authority or not because you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have classification authority without oversight. No can do.

Actually from what I am hearing today, in response to Cheney's denial that his office does not fall under the Executive Branch, there is a movement afoot to delete Vice President Cheney’s office from the General Government Appropriations Bill to be introduced this coming week. From The Raw Story:

“Following Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that his office is not a part of the executive branch of the US government, Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) plans to introduce an amendment to the the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill to cut funding for Cheney's office.”

Chiding the VP, Rahm Emmanuel’s office sent over a reconfiguration of the federal government structure: The Government According to Cheney

In response to this, Cheney was heard to say “Neererng-neerng, #!&*@% you!”

Where in the World is Rick Noriega?

One place he’s not: cooling his jets at home in Houston.

Rick Noriega was seen in The Valley toward the end of last week as a result of his work with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’ Border Security Task Force. I find it amusing that while Mikal Watts was tooling around Houston last week, in “Rick Noriega’s backyard”, as the Kristen Mack article in the Chronicle reports, Rick was in Corpus Christi meeting with potential supporters for his US Senate race.

Rick toured through key Rio Grande Valley cities that included his attendance of Texas Democratic Party Chairman Boyd Richie’s 18th and final town hall meeting in Edinburg. State Rep. Aaron Peña was there also and he took pictures. He noted, and perhaps this is true, that this is the first time that Watts and Rick Noriega appeared at the same event.

Then it was onward on an exploratory visit to San Antonio where he met with Bexar County Tejano leaders at a local restaurant. There they discussed the possibilities at a Noriega run for US Senate.

Where is he today? Rumor has it that he is in Austin, Mikal Watts’ newly acquired backyard.

On the move throughout the state gauging his growing support in a race for a Democratic nomination for US Senate.

That’s where in the world Rick Noriega is.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Three More Reasons Why Rick Noriega Is Texas’ Best Choice For US Senate

I’ve expounded here and here on why Texas State Rep. Rick Noriega (D - Houston) is the one that Democrats should place against John Cornyn (R – George W. Bush) in the Senate race in 2008. They were generalities. He has a track record and he has an inclination towards public service. Rick should run for Senate. He has my vote and my pledge to work vigorously to get him elected, along that of some of my associates.

But let’s concentrate on the track record, shall we? Let’s drop the generalities and see what kind of work this guy has done for his district and for the people of Texas.

Shall we?

Let’s start with his authorship of HB 2293. This was a great idea. So good that it went on the local, consent and resolutions calendar in the House and received a unanimous vote for passage. In the Senate it passed 29 to 1 (Kel Seliger (R-Redneck) again. I tell you the guy is a menace – the only one who is also in favor of idling buses.).

What does it do? It requires all 37 Texas agencies with fleet operations to include at least 10% of the vehicles purchased that have low-emission high-fuel efficiency engines. This has the triple effect of increasing the air quality in metropolitan areas by keeping auto emissions down, decreases the amount of greenhouse gases injected into our atmosphere, does not cost the state anything, and actually will save the state in decreased fuel costs.

We hear all the platitudes all the time about Homeland Security. That it’s good. But who is really doing something about truly increasing our security? Rick Noriega, added a provision to SB 11, the Homeland security bill. This provision allocates increased funding for the Houston Police Department via the Department of Public Safety to enable an increase in their inspections of heavy trucks coming out of Houston’s port. Using federal grants to the DPS, the funds can be funneled to HPD who can now hire additional manpower to ensure that inspection of imported material is increased.

Finally in a House floor speech near and dear to my heart, Rick Noriega, knowing how poorly paid public school educators are in Texas, sought to have the entire HB1 allocation to teacher salaries, based on a Machiavellian performance system, switched to an across the board pay raise for every teacher in Texas’ public schools. And in the House, he succeeded. That the Senate had other designs on that money, and that it could not be moved in committee is no reflection on Rick. He did what he could.

Really, this is like watching a wide screen movie through a soda straw. There is so much more out there, so many more specific cases to point to. All of them showing why Rick Noriega is the one that Texas Democrats should back to run against Cornyn in 2008.

You watch, you wait, you look around. I’ll bet there will be more Draft Rick Noriega supporters out there with stories to tell. If not, I’ll be back with more.

Inequitable Distribution Of Experienced Educators In Texas: Surprised?

FortBendNow has published a good summary article of the findings of a group called The Education Trust. The findings, produced in two reports, are that with only a few exceptions, the ten largest school districts in Texas inequitably distribute teachers between minority-dominated schools and low-minority schools, and between schools having large populations of students from poor families and schools in more affluent areas.

Inequitable distribution meaning placing teachers with less teaching experience at poor/minority dominated school, while at the same time, allowing schools in non-minority/affluent areas to staff with more experienced teachers.

First, who or what is The Education Trust? From their website, found here, it is a nonprofit group formed in 1990 within the American Association for Higher Education designed to help K-12 reform efforts. Major sponsors include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

In other words, it doesn’t look like this group has a political axe to grind.

Their research method was remarkably simple. They simply isolated the 10 largest school districts in the state, and then accessed TEA records of demographics at each elementary, middle and high school in each district that would allow them to classify schools as low-minority, high-minority, low-income and more affluent. They then compared the salaries of teachers at these schools.

The result was fairly remarkable. Just in looking at the low-minority/high-minority schools, in almost every case, the salaries of teachers in the low-minority schools exceeded that of teachers in high-minority schools by hundreds to several thousand dollars annually.

By way of explanation, teachers are paid, in almost all cases, according to the number of years of experience they have, with the theory that the longer one has taught, the more valuable that teacher is and needs to be retained. So teacher salaries, and differences noted in this study, are directly tied to teaching experience differences between these schools.

This should be a surprise to no one.

Working in schools where there are greater academic challenges that are often accompanied by greater problems with discipline, is a huge drain on a person. That the same level of pay is rated by a teacher of equal experience, but working in a school having with far fewer challenges is grossly unfair. Naturally, unless a teacher is self-motivated to improve the quality of their students’ lives, most teachers will try to gain employment in an environment more conducive to teaching and learning.

This leaves administrators with the job of replacing the teachers that have left the school or the district with teachers with less experience, teachers who may or may not be qualified to teach in their content areas. Sometimes with teachers who lack a teaching credential or are enrolled in a fast-track certification program.

This all seems to be obvious to everyone.

One thing that was omitted from the FortBendNow piece, for whatever reason, was that some districts and schools within districts hire more teachers to accommodate smaller class sizes for poor/high-minority schools. There is an equitable distribution of funds for teachers’ salaries, but there is a disproportionately higher population of teachers at poor/high minority schools.

There is a theory that lower class size equates to higher quality education. That’s the theory. How it really works out in practice in low-performing schools remains to be seen.

A conclusion of the study that I can get behind?

Teachers in schools with greater challenges should get a stipend just for that. This is already partially, at least, in practice in some districts, where teachers with greater than 10 years experience are hired as “master teachers” to help less experienced teachers who are struggling to build a “community of learners” (don’t you love those cute labels?). The trouble is, they typically find themselves teaching classes rather than teaching and helping teachers when a teacher leaves during the school year.

The stipend program needs to be enlarged to include all teachers working in a high-stress environment. We hear all the time from those who want to run schools like a business. This is the perfect opportunity. Businesses that send their employees to live overseas typically compensate them for hardships with “expatriate stipends”. There is no difference here. High stress schools should reward their teaching staff with a high stress environment stipend.

And teachers who decide that they will teach in this environment should also be immune to those insidious punishment provisions of Florence Shapiro’s shameful SB 1043 recently signed into law in its entirety by our half-wit governor. Provisions of that bill cause the firing of teachers whose students’ scores don’t improve on state-mandated End of Course Exams.

Want a disincentive to teach in a high-stress school environment? How about getting fired because your students are not motivated to succeed in school?

One recommendation of the studies that I absolutely cannot get behind is to
“Cap the ability of low-minority schools to ‘buy up’ top teaching talent from high-minority schools and protect those schools serving mostly children of color from being forced to hire teachers who do not meet their standards.”
It should be a free market economy. Preventing schools from hiring qualified teachers is harmful to schools who are in competition with other schools to attract qualified teachers, and unfair to teachers who are simply trying to make a better life for themselves.

What can we realistically expect to result in any school district reaction to this report? How about nothing? No, if anything is going to come of this it is going to be the result of lawsuits that seek an equitable distribution of talented teachers.

So we need someone to file suit, here. Then what happens? Do you think that school districts will pay heed to the study’s recommendation that teachers receive incentive pay to teach in challenging environments? Get real. Money is off the table here. This is Texas, the state that gave their teachers a 1.1% raise this year. No, what you can look for is heavy-handed reassignment of teachers and administrators to different campuses with no change in pay grade

And “the market” will adjust accordingly.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Solving My Blue Blogger Blues By Seeing Edwards In Houston on the 27th

What I’ve noticed the past week or so is that quite a few of my fellow Texas lefty bloggers are experiencing problems with their computer systems. I kept wondering whether there was a common problem, like us having made one too many enemies. . .

But that’s just my cynical nature.


Why bring this up? Well add Half Empty to the blogger list that is currently experiencing technical difficulties. I have backup plans to continue posting, but I just wanted to let everyone know that if things don’t post here very often in the next few days, it’s not from my lack of trying.

By the way, in case you haven’t heard, and I can’t imagine why not since everyone that I have talked to knows about this, John Edwards is coming to Houston on June 27th. That’s next Wednesday.

You should go.

Here’s the information you need:

The time:

Wednesday June 27th at
5:00 pm

The place:

Goode's Armadillo Palace
5015 Kirby Drive at Barlett
Houston, Texas 77098


$15.00 per person (cash bar)

To reserve your tickets to this event go to John Edwards’ campaign website and click through to his events page, scroll down to June 27th and click on “click here to attend this event” or just click here. I just bought mine there.

How to get there? Here’s a map

See you there.

On a Phone Call Received in Sugar Land, Texas: Bloomberg Calling

OK I gotta tell you about this phone call that my greatest and best friend Ann got tonight.

It never fails, whenever I go over to Ann’s place she gets a call from a canvasser. One time it was about what hobby store she shopped at. Believe me, if you knew Ann you would know that this surveyor hit pay dirt. She was on the phone answering question after question with this person for about a half hour, and then the call got dropped. Ann rolled her eyes and put the phone down. We resumed our conversation and then the phone rang again. It was the same canvasser. The survey continued for another 20 minutes. I swear this is true.

Well tonight, Ann got a call from another canvasser, this time a political poll. I paused the movie we were watching (don’t ask, it was a Will Farrell movie) and my ears perked up when I heard her say the word “Democrat”. Then I sat up to listen and Ann switched ears so we could both hear.

I ask myself, why does Ann get these calls and I don’t? I would live to receive this call but never do. Ah fate.

The survey was on presidential candidates. The first question was over, as I said, which party do you affiliate yourself with? When Ann answered “Democrat” I could tell that this led to “If Ans = Democrat then Do” because all of the next questions had to do with how she would vote if X Republican were to run against Y Democrat. Ann dutifully answered in Yellowdog-ese, always the Democrat. It was so funny that after awhile, to save time, the pollster filled in the blanks for her and Ann just replied “Um-hmm”.

Then the surveyor cut to the chase. “How do you feel about the two party system?” What do you think about a candidate who launches an independent campaign?” “How would you vote if Michael Bloomberg ran as a 3rd candidate against Republican candidate X and Democratic candidate Y?

“Rate how much you know about the performance of Michael Bloomberg.”

“What do you know about the positions of Michael Bloomberg?”

Then came the clincher: “If Michael Bloomberg were to commit between 500 million and a billion dollars to a campaign for the presidency, would you be more apt to vote for him, less apt to vote for him, or that doesn’t matter in your vote for or against him?”

So we asked each to the other, who was it that she just talked to? Was it a Bloomberg pollster who wanted to gauge the American opinion on whether they thought it was good, bad or neutral on buying the highest office in the country? Or was it a push poll that served two purposes of 1) gauging American voting tendencies vis-à-vis X Republican vs. Y Democrat and 2) in addition informing Americans about an attempt to purchase an address at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. DC? Half of me wants to say it was a Bloomberg pollster. She had a thick Neew Yawk accent. On the other hand, 60 per cent of me says that it was a poll from whomever was gauging how this new (and I mean brand new) shoe in the works, is going to play in America.

And yes, I can add. Half plus 60% doesn’t add up. You figure it out.

I honestly believe this survey was an act of sabotage.

OK I can translate shoe in the works for Texas high school graduates. If one wanted to commit an act of industrial production disruption, in the olden days, one would cast their wooden shoe into the gears of early industrial machinery, bringing production to a grinding halt. A wooden shoe was called, in the local language, a “Sabot” (pronounced “sa-BOH”). The act of doing this is known as “Sabotage”.

Clearly the pollster was either gauging how her independent candidate was going to perform in light of an electorate informed that he had financed his entire campaign, or the pollster was introducing new data to an electorate, telling them that they had a candidate who was attempting to buy the election.

I am going to go with the latter. This is the first time I heard the word “Billion” in connection with Michael Bloomberg’s campaign.

Is this wrong? H-E-Double-Hockey Sticks no! People should be informed that there is a shark in the water, and that shark has no moral convictions other than that he thinks he should be President of the United States.

Citizens, turn this one away. We have real issues, and real people who have been wrestling with these issues vying for the top spot. Please tell Michael Bloomberg to go back to New York. Take care of business there. Maybe next time stand for Senator.

New York Mayor to US President? Gimme a break!
Bloomberg, go home!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

DeLay Aftershock: Houston Won’t Fund Day Labor Hall

It’s not quite blowback, so I’ll call it an echo, or better yet, a Texas-style aftershock.

It was back in the early campaign season of 2006 when Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, then on Houston’s City Council, needed a headline. She was trying to get her party’s nomination to succeed Tom DeLay as a write-in on the November ballot. How does a dermatologist get on the news?

So she looked in the Republican manual of politics in Texas, and under the section entitled “Fear Mongering” she found her solution.

By bashing Mexicans.

Houston had a Day Labor Center in it. City funds were paying for it. It was a haven for day laborers to congregate and be available for hiring by local contractors and others. And it was a target for anti-immigrant groups who said that the center was just a big neon sign that said “Welcome to the USA. Come here to work, then go and hide”.

Coincidently just in the news around that time was the killing of Officer Rodney Johnson, a Houston city policeman, by Juan Leonardo Quinterno, a Mexican national illegally residing in Houston.

All Shelley had to do was to connect the dots from cop killers to day laborers to day labor center and she had what she needed to get her to DC: an issue that got her some headlines in Texas.

Sekula-Gibbs stayed on point with this issue all through the election. However, the day labor center remained open for business.

Not any more.

The Houston City Council voted not to fund the center in the next fiscal year. So the center will close its doors, leaving day laborers no alternative but to hang out at the traditional corners where trucks will stop by to pick them up as in the days before the day labor center.

So now everyone is that much safer.

City Councilwoman Carol Alvarado says that she will work to restore funds for the labor center. Quoted in the Houston Chronicle, Alvarado said, “These certainly do serve a valid purpose. It's a safe, secure, controlled environment where people can go and look for work instead of hanging around on street corners and disrupting communities.”

So now, according to Councilwoman Alvarado, everyone is not that much safer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

John Edwards Has An “Eventful” Demand

Never heard of it? “Eventful” is a website that brings rock groups (for the most part, but I guess anyone will do) to metropolitan areas. I think you should help me to bring John Edwards to the Houston Metro Area.


OK, for a couple of reasons. First, if you look at the comments section at the You Tube page that I found his video announcement, you see some neocon jerk comment that he bets San Francisco wins.

I want John Edwards to come to Red Texas to show the country that we’re on board with this Blue Revolution.

My other reason?

I think Texas is viewed by Democratic candidates as a big ATM machine. They come here for fundraisers then off to New Hampshire and Iowa for some pressing of the flesh. I know, we deserve this reputation. We gave the world Bush, Rove, Cheney, Gonzalez, NCLB and Tom DeLay, but maybe this is one way we can get out from under that dark cloud. Bring a guy like John Edwards to Houston to kiss some babies.

So here’s what you do. If you want, click on the You Tube video below to hear the announcement, then go here to the Houston Metro Area voting button. The vote stands at 57 for Houston, and LA is way ahead so you have some work to do.

Michael Bloomberg: Another Rich Guy In The Market for High Government Office

What is it with these rich guys who think they can go and buy high government office? The Texas blogosphere has been all abuzz about a moneybags Austin lawyer, Mikal Watts, who wants to challenge John Cornyn for his seat in the Senate, and has put up nearly $4 million of his own money (well, some of that was a loan . . . to himself) to “level the playing field”. Well now we have New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; apparently he wants a shot at the presidency.

Today, Bloomberg filed papers with the New York City Board of Elections changing his party affiliation from “Republican” to “Unaffiliated”.

So why do this, and why do this now? Bloomberg offers this as his reason:
“real results are more important than partisan battles and . . .good ideas should take precedence over rigid adherence to any particular political ideology”.


If I weren’t so jaded by all of the previous earnest statements of well-intentioned rich guys, I would swallow this . . . . well, not really. This is step one in the 3rd candidate (aka “spoiler”) playbook, the same playbook that gave us a Texas governor who was voted into office by 39% of Texas voters.

Rich guys aren’t political, they are expedient. Michael Bloomberg was a lifelong Democrat, they say, until he needed to be a Republican in 2001 so he could become Mayor of New York. The Democratic primary field was too crowded for him, so he switched parties. Now, since there is such a crowded field in either party’s race for their respective nominees, Bloomberg has cast a curse on both their houses. Friends say that Bloomberg is willing to spend $500 million to get himself elected president.

He must have looked at the playbook of his predecessor, H. Ross Perot, who nearly threw the 1992 election of Bill Clinton into a congressional vote. Perot only garnered 19% of the popular vote, having spent $50 million of his own money to finance his campaign. I guess that’s where Perot went wrong, he should have outspent both Democratic and Republican Campaigns instead of match them dollar for dollar. Or so Bloomberg seems to be reasoning.

And why not? It worked for him in the NYC mayoral elections where he outspent his Democratic opponent 8-fold, or a staggering 114 dollars per vote.

But $500 million is a big chunk of change to buy an office that pays only 400 large per year. Well, then there’s the perks.

You really have to wonder about guys like Bloomberg and Mikal Watts. These guys have it made. They have more money than 99.99% of Americans. You’d think they would be happy and fulfilled. But, no, they seem willing to kick in huge chunks of their fortunes so they can have some power and influence.

Trouble is, it’s the voter who loses if either of these guys have their way. In the grand scheme of things, if high political office is for sale to the highest bidder, it’s the voter who gets treated to leaders with no real deeply held convictions. All they get is guys who know how to capitalize on opportunity.

America deserves better.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

We Have A New Poll Out: Democrats Aren’t Done Yet

A poll commissioned by Democratic pollsters James Carville and Stan Greenberg reveals that Americans are willing to continue voting along the same trend lines that began with the 2006 mid-term election that saw the Democratic Party retake both houses of Congress, and a general Blue Revolution.

The poll was conducted over a 4 day period between June 10th and June 14th, and questioned 1600 likely voters selected in battleground districts – districts with safe incumbents or competitive, evenly split between Democratic incumbents and Republican. The results are startling:

Democrat incumbents in battleground districts are favored for retention while Republicans in competitive districts are facing losing ground.

In both safe and competitive districts where there is a Democratic incumbent, the incumbent was favored over a Republican challenger by 56% to 36%. Where there was a Republican incumbent in a competitive district, the Democratic challenger had a 2% lead over the Republican incumbent. In safe districts, the Republican incumbent was still fairly safe.

The Presidential race, if it were to take place today would have these voters voting for a Democratic candidate over a Republican candidate by 49% to 40%.

There’s quite a lot more, the survey runs 19 pages and I am going to cherry pick some issues that I think are significant in some tables.

This first one is a quantification of “Warmness” or “Coolness” where 100 points is very favorable and 0 is very unfavorable. The number posted is the average of the points.

Looking at the Democratic field of presidential candidates vs. the Republican bunch, the poll reveals that Americans feel more confident that a Democratic president will be better able to lead the county than a Republican president.

Lastly, the poll sought to discover which party, Democratic or Republican, the voters associated with certain issues.

I still can’t understand the security issue. The world is a scarier place since 2003 when Bush instigated an unprovoked attack on Iraq. But Republicans are associated with keeping people safe? The prosperity thing just tells me that people still have their heads in the sand. How can Republicans be associated with Prosperity when they have taken a National surplus created by Democratic leadership and turned it into an $8.8 trillion national debt?

But outside of those issues, it looks like America is liking the Democratic Party again.

The worm has turned and continues to turn. People are coming to their senses after being bullied, threatened and made fearful by Republicans in power.

It’s a little late, but I’ll take it.

On Rick Perry's Support of Idling Buses

Remember a couple of days back when I was scratching my head about Rick Perry’s veto of Scott Hochberg’s HB 3457? The bus idling bill? Well, in today’s Austin American-Statesman there is an entire article devoted to this veto, so I looked to it for some answers.

Guess what? There still aren’t any. No one knows why Perry vetoed this bill. All anyone can conclude is what Jim Marston, head of the Texas office of Environmental Defense says: “Either (Perry) doesn't understand what (the proposal) does or somebody who didn't have the decency to stand up and testify misled him”.

We also learn that there was one message left on Perry’s voice mail that asked him to veto the bill. One. Who was it? No one knows.

Maybe, or maybe no one is saying.

It really is a one-off deal. There was no prior communication or discussion from Perry’s office about any problems he was having with the bill. None. The veto just came in out of the blue.

I just don’t get it. No one is going to make any money if he vetoes this bill; it was a win-win bill, or as Scott Hochberg says “Here's a chance to both save the taxpayers' money and improve health. Usually those things are in conflict. Here you get to do both.”

It’s an enigma and it gets worse. Fellow Republican Governor of Vermont, Jim Douglas, just signed one of these bills into law last month.

No, no one can come up with a reasonable answer or explanation of his veto, so maybe we have to come up with an unreasonable one. Like maybe it got stuck in the wrong pile and . . . oops . . . he stamped his veto and signed it. Too embarrassed to ask for another copy, he had his staff cobble up a veto statement that sounded pretty much like “I vetoed it because it was a bad, bad, bill.”

That’s all I can come up with.

Sad, huh?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Draft Rick Noriega Launches All Over Texas

Rick Noriega and the Noriega Family, is well-known in the Houston area. There has been an argument that this is a big liability for someone who wants to run for US Senate in Texas – the candidate needs to have statewide name recognition. Let’s look at the history of that.

Both of our current senators held statewide office before making the jump to the US Senate. Phil Gramm, however, held a congressional seat (TX-6) for three terms before winning his Senate seat in 1984. Bob Krueger was appointed to fill out Lloyd Bentsen’s term, so he doesn’t count. Lloyd Bentsen came from the private sector after a 16-year hiatus from a congressional office. John Tower? His jump off was as a local (SD-23) campaign manager for Dwight Eisenhower.

Some of these surely don’t fit the mold. Ralph Yarborough perhaps gets back toward the mold in that he ran for governor against conservative Democratic incumbent Allan Shivers twice, and once against Shivers-backed Price Daniel. So he had statewide name recognition even though he had never won an election.

The point I’m trying to make is that there is no mold.

And almost every one of those races took place before Senator Al Gore saw to it that DARPANet, got the financing to expand to become what we call the Internet today. Which is what I really want to talk about, here.

Rick Noriega has a statewide presence in the Texas Netroots. OK, now, I admit that being a household name in the blogs is not a broad political base. We don’t have the reach of radio, TV and newspapers. Some come close, but mostly we’re talking about blogs like mine with 6 readers (OK, I’m understating a little).

Call it what you will, over estimate or under estimate the effect (you know where I stand there), there it is. Rick Noriega is a statewide name in the Texas Netroots, and has broad support.

Today alone we have McBlogger, central Texas, urging Rick to run for US Senate. From Williamson County we have Eye On Williamson doing the exact same thing. Austin-based Burnt Orange Report reports that it supports a Draft Rick Noriega Movement. Another Austin-based blogger actually launched the Draft Rick Noriega site. San Antonio blogger Matt Glazer has an interesting discussion on how Houston’s Present could be Texas’ future on MyDD. Houston-based blog Dos Centavos wonders what it is going take to win the US Senate seat in 2008, concluding that money is not enough, but that Rick Noriega is more than enough. East Texas’ Capitol Annex also urges Rick Noriega to run for Senate. Another Houston blog, Feet to Fire has a post today in support of a Noriega run for Senate – in preference to a pro-forced-pregnancy candidate. And in south Texas we have South Texas Chisme extolling Rick Noriega’s public service. Oh, and then there’s me and my group from Fort Bend County.

If I missed any, it’s not for lack of trying. There are even more out there that support a Rick Noriega run for Senate. They just haven’t posted anything on it today.

So I don’t want to hear it anymore about how a candidate for US Senate must be from a statewide office. That’s just a fiction.

And before you dismiss the internet on how effective or ineffective it can be on a Senate race, go have a conversation with Senator Macaca.
Remember when I mentioned that most blogs are teeny tiny ones that don't have much reach, but that some do? Well guess what? KOS

Field of GOP Candidates Who WON’T Run Against Nick Lampson Ever Widens

It’s getting to be a big club: the assemblage of possible Republican challengers to Nick Lampson’s Texas CD-22 House seat, who have decided NOT to do this, just gets bigger and bigger. John Zerwas is the latest to join the club.

It all started way back in January 2006 when Tom DeLay initiated what is coming to be a popular movement in his former district: deciding not to run against Nick Lampson. Recall the Burka story about how Fort Bend County Chairman Eric Thode received a phone call from one of DeLay’s staffers, revealing that Tom was having second thoughts on being the CD-22 GOP candidate in ’06.

What followed were GOP machinations that would have made Machiavelli envious, resulting in DeLay being declared ineligible to run for Congress by Texas state GOP chair Tina Benkiser.

In the circus act that followed, GOP office holders avalanched onto the political stage - all of them vying for the GOP CD-22 nomination. We had, in no particular order:

Paul Bettencourt
Robert Eckels
Andy Meyers
Bob Talton
David Wallace
Shelley Sekula-Gibbs
Charlie Howard
Mike Jackson
Tom Campbell

When the news came down from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a ruling later upheld by Justice Scalia, that any Republican opposition to Nick Lampson would have to be as a write-in, most of these candidates scattered as ashes to the four winds.

So is it happening again? You be the judge. Of the eight names I have seen mentioned as likely to run against Nick, five are now joining the club started by Tom DeLay, which has been renamed the “I-Won’t-Run-Against-Lampson-Because-Apparently-He’s-Not-Nancy-Pelosi’s-Lapdog Republicans”:

David Wallace – won’t even run for re-election. Fork firmly stuck in him.
Paul Bettencourt – Has kids in school and needs a paycheck so he can’t quit his job.
John Zerwas – Also has a family that he doesn’t want to leave while he is in DC.
Charlie Howard – If Talton’s in Charlies’ out
Larry Taylor – If Talton’s in Larry’s out.

That leaves us with three. Which of the three is least likely to join this growing club? Shelley Sekula Gibbs. She’s in, oh yeah . . .

Which of the three is most likely to join? Bob Talton. He’s crazy but he’s not stupid. If he runs in the Republican primary in March, we have an OPEN SEAT for the state House. An open seat that can easily be changed from Red to Blue. He won by name recognition in ’06; his Democratic opponent needed only another 10% of the vote to win. With no name recognition on the ballot, the race is a toss-up.

All he has to realize is that he would not be running against a Pelosi-controlled marionette, as the other five have, and he’ll see that if he goes for it, he will be personally responsible for the loss of another state House seat with nothing to show for it.


You Thought I Was Alone, Didn’t You . . .

Actually I am a spokesman of a Texas countywide organization of Democrats who want to see Rick Noriega declare his candidacy for US Senate. He is the clear choice of any Democrat who wants to support a candidate who has a public service record that would put sitting Senators and Congressmen alike, and maybe a few Presidents and Vice Presidents for that matter, to absolute and utter shame.

Money doesn’t cut it. Want to buy an office? Shop at OfficeMax.

I have many allies.

I have a local grassroots organization that I have joined. They represent a bloc of authors of weblogs that support the same progressive ideals that I do. We all rally under the same banner:

We write the following blogs:

Burnt Orange Report
Brains and Eggs
Capitol Annex
Dos Centavos
Eye On Williamson
Feet to Fire
Me Yeah, Hal, me.
Off the Kuff
South Texas Chisme
Stop Cornyn
Texas Kaos
Wise County Active Democrats

We are a subset of an extant group of bloggers from the Texas Netroots bloggers who support State Representative Rick Noriega for US Senate from Texas. We arose from a group known as the Texas Progressive Alliance, but are comprised of just those of us TPA members who support Lt. Col. Rick Noriega as our preferred candidate for US Senate.

We post on this website:

Please visit us often.

We believe that Texas holds a key to a super majority in the House and Senate. The Republicans have targeted our state as prime defending territory. We intend to challenge that defense with an overwhelming shake-up – Democrats will once again write the rules, and pass the laws in this state. But above all . . . we will fight to bring our soldiers home from this illegal War and Occupation of Iraq.

Members, does that just about sum it up? I think so.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Fort Bend Democrats Urge Rick Noriega to Run for US Senate

We, the Fort Bend Democrats, as an organization, do hereby declare our support for State Representative Lt. Col. Rick Noriega to run for the United States Senate from Texas. We pledge our support – with our money, our time, and our manpower – to help Noriega win in November 2008. We urge Rick Noriega to enter the race.

This position was voted on by members of the Fort Bend Democrats political action committee present at their most recent regularly scheduled monthly meeting. I have produced a scanned image of the first page of the position at the bottom of this piece.

Now that we have Melissa Noriega’s Houston City Council seat in the bag, and a Democratic majority on that body now (I know, it’s non-partisan, but hardly anything is these days, is it?), we can now turn our attention to another important matter.

We need to show our willingness to support State Rep. Rick Noriega, and let him know that he has a small army in Fort Bend County should he decide to run for the Democratic nomination in March, which is something we enthusiastically urge him to do.

It is our belief that of all of those mentioned as possible Senate candidates, it is Rick Noriega that best represents our Progressive Democratic ideals.

But it goes beyond that. Rick has a firmly established track record in public service. From his service in the State House, to his military service in Afghanistan fighting The Taliban, to his service on the US border in drug interdiction operations, to his service as site commander at the George R. Brown Convention Center as a shelter for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina, public service defines Rick Noriega – and vice versa.

Join us in urging Rick Noriega to run for US Senate from Texas. Leave a comment if you vote yes.

Page 1 of the Fort Bend Democrats’ position follows. Click to enlarge.

On the Importance of an Education

I was once treated to an analogy that illustrates the importance of a good education. There is a news item in the Houston Chronicle today that reminded me of it, and I’ll get to that article in a minute.

Envision a long hallway with 50 doors on each side, with each door representing career opportunities and success in life.

If you fail to get a high school diploma, you can open precisely two of these doors. The other 98 are unavailable to you

If you get a GED, maybe another door opens.

If you receive a high school diploma, you can now open up ten doors.


Some time in a trade school or other post secondary education, but without a Batchelor’s degree: 20 doors.

Graduation from a 4 year college or university: 60 doors are available for you to open.

A Master’s degree: 95 doors.

A PhD: 100 doors, although in theory the lower end jobs start to become unavailable to you because potential employers will view you as way too over-qualified for a job as fry cook.

Education is important. Not only quantity but quality.

This brings me to the story that reminded me of the analogy.

As reported in The Chron, Shivcharan Jatav, a 69-year old Indian, an inhabitant of the western India province of Rajasthan, a man with no formal education, has taken and failed India’s mandated 10th grade high school exam for the 39th time since he first took the exam, in 1969.

In 1969 he was rejected from enlistment in India’s armed forces because of his lack of education. He was told at that time that if he passed the 10th grade exam he would be accepted. He was also told by others that if he took and passed the exam, he would be far more marriageable:
“I could not get married as the girls told my family members that I was not properly educated. It's my fate that deprived me of education and a married life”.
I couldn’t help but think about this test, this man, and how this relates to the tens of thousands of high school students in Texas who take a high-consequence life-defining TAKS test every year.

I don’t know what it’s like now in India, but in America, Shivcharan would have no problem enlisting in the US Army – well there’s the age thing, but that notwithstanding. He probably wouldn’t have much problem getting a wife as long as he looks halfway decent and makes a living wage.

And therein lies the rub. Culturally, Indians value education much more highly than some Americans. That Shivcharan could not find a woman to be his wife, in a country of 400 million women, does say quite a lot.

Shivcharan passed only one of the six parts of the 10th grade test, with a total score of 103 out of 600. Which test did he pass?

Early Sanskrit.

Now how many Texas 10th graders do you think can pass that test?

Fort Bend Democrats Sign Resolution to Stop Iraq Occupation

Yesterday, the Fort Bend Democrats, a local political action committee based in Fort Bend County Texas, voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to end the involvement of US forces in the Iraqi Civil War.

The first page of the signed resolution appears below, click to enlarge. But simply stated the Resolution just says this:
"We, the Fort Bend Democrats, as an organization, do hereby declare our opposition to any additional federal or state funding, from this day forward, of the occupation and civil 'War in Iraq'. We further declare our support for any congressional efforts to revoke the 2002 use of force resolution against Iraq".
This resolution is not unlike others that has been or will be voted on, and that have been adopted, all over the country.

Number Crunching Time

Let’s have one last look at the Houston City Council election. Why not? Let’s compare May 12th to June 16th. Spreadsheet included. Click on it to make it bigger.

Total voter turnout for the city council race on May 12th was 33,853 or 3.73% of total registered voters as opposed to a total turnout of 24,716 votes on June 16th or 2.72% of registered voters in Harris County.

But while total votes were down, Roy Morales’ campaign picked up votes from other campaigns, and doubtlessly so did Melissa Noriega’s but we’ll never know for sure. And there is the entire story. With such a low voter turnout, the winner is the campaign that can beat the bushes the best to get voters to the polls, on a rainy, stormy late spring weekend day in Houston . . . on Juneteenth.

Actually, I am doubting that the Juneteenth factor had much to do with Morales’ numbers. As a matter of fact, if you look at the Fort Bend County Elections website (the Houston part of Fort Bend County is overwhelmingly African-American), you see that while Morales picked up 16 votes in those eleven precincts, Melissa Noriega lost 52 votes comparing with the May 12th election results.

Comparing totals between the special election and the run-off, you see that Morales’ campaign learned some lessons about absentee ballots. In the May 12th election, Morales had a miserable showing in absentee ballot totals. Someone must have noticed, because absentee ballot votes for Morales increased by over 300%. Their early vote effort, improved as well, with a 54% improvement. The campaign had similar gains in Election Day votes, a 51% improvement.

Compare that to Melissa’s totals and you see a 34% increase in absentee ballots sent in for Melissa, but early voting and Election Day voting turnout for Melissa were down by 14% and 23%, respectively over turnout on May 12th.

So while Morales’s campaign made startling gains on all fronts, doubtlessly fueled by what became a one-issue, anti-immigrant, fear-mongering campaign, it was not enough to offset Melissa’s commanding lead, that could absorb a nearly 13% loss in voters and still come out on top.

In the end, it was the votes of 1346 people that made the difference, with a little over half of those being from the net gain of absentee vote ballots sent in.

Yes, it was that close.