Friday, July 31, 2009

Pete Sessions and Other Gas Bags

Congressman Pete Sessions (R – TX 32) is again showing what a horrible embarrassment he is to Texas in his hypocritical support of another of his ilk: gas bags.

“Gas Bag” is the industry term for a lighter-than-air aircraft that is commonly known as a blimp.

You know, all of those blimps that – what - circle football games? And all of that other important stuff like life-flighting the injured from the scene of accidents to hospital rooftops.

Oh, you say, helicopters do that better and faster?

Well anyway, Pete Sessions has been caught with his hand in the pork barrel as he “steered a $1.6 million earmark for dirigible research to an Illinois company whose president acknowledges having no experience in government contracting, let alone in building blimps

Illinois is a far piece from Sessions’ Dallas digs, so you wonder what could be behind all of this generosity. Even the Texas branch of the beneficiary company,
G. Ferguson & Associates, is in Austin. Closer, but still not within Sessions’ district.

Perhaps the only thing that relates Sesssions to Ferguson’s company is a $5000 campaign contribution to Sessions’ PAC in 2007.

And that, by my calculations is a 320,000:1 rate of return on that 5K investment.

But I’ll bet there is more to this than meets the eye.

Like maybe Sessions is upset about the plan to float a giant banana blimp over Texas, a plan that went belly-up in 2008 due to a lack of funds.

Or maybe Sessions appreciates the fact that natural gas, abundant in Texas, is the single source of Helium on planet Earth, despite it being the second most common element in the universe. And that Helium is the gas that is used to float blimps on top of air, and that Helium in natural gas is prolific in the Texas panhandle.

Or maybe Sessions is just naturally attracted to other gas bags.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Day 5: Meadows, Meadows and More Meadows

On Day 5 of my California pilgrimage I beat the heat by ascending to 6500 feet above msl to the forests and meadows of Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A mountain chain that wends its way through eastern California before coming to a brutal end at the Tehachapi Fault where it is translated westward and eventually becomes re-established as the Peninsular Range of Southern California.

I took a short hike around Crescent Meadow. Around it because this is a meadow where no human shoe is allowed to tread.

Here is a longitudinal shot of the western crescent cusp, taken thankfully from a cool shady spot.

Here it is again in case you doubt the veracity of my words.

My hiking partner playing hide and seek behind one of the largest sequoia trees I have ever seen that doesn’t have a Civil War general’s name attached to it.

Look up.

Arriving at the destination: Tharp’s Log. Hale Tharp was a rancher that moved his cattle up from the foothills every year between 1858 and 1890. He let his cattle feed on the grasses of Crescent Meadow while he inhabited a hollow log that he fixed up inside and out. Note the chimney.
Inside, the log is bedecked with a table, a shelf and a bed platform.

And this is a sight similar to what Tharp saw every day as he emerged from his log hut.

But in 1890 the area was declared, thankfully, a national park. They didn’t want the logging companies to come in and cut down the massive Sequoia sempervirens trees, after all.

Then when they did try to cut a few down in the 1920’s they found to their chagrin that Sequoia wood, while massive and would make many, many board-feet of lumber, made for poor building material.

In all, a curious confluence of capitalism and conservation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Water, Water Nowhere

So I haven’t been posting anything on the blog lately, you may have noticed. I decided that I had had enough hot dry weather in Southeast Texas so I got myself on a plane and headed back to Paradise on Earth. The state of my origin. California.

Only to find that they also are experiencing hot, dry weather.

El NiƱo is firmly in place and that drives the weather pattern to the north.

Here, they are worried that they will have a warm winter so that while it will rain in the north, it won’t snow. And they rely on their snowpack for their water supply.

Preparations are afoot, then, for water rationing.

I visited a newlywed couple that I know here last weekend and saw that they had already done some preparations for a dry spell. They ripped out their water-loving grass and planted xeriscape.

No, the kids can’t play on it and the dog can’t poop on it, but since they have no kids but own two cats, problem solved.

When I get to a place where I can upload a photo you'll be able to see what they're doing to save water in California.

UPDATE: Here it is.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Eliot Shapleigh: Texas on the Brink

Every once in a while you get a little report card issued out of State Senator Eliot Shapleigh’s personal website. It’s a good read and just a little embarrassing because it shows just what I have been ranting and raving about on this blog.

Texans would rather have lower taxes than a properly educated population.

You can read it here, but I have isolated the points of greatest concern below.

  • Highest percent of uninsured children in the nation
  • In last place in the percentage of residents that have a high school diploma
  • Near last place in SAT scores.
  • The most polluted air in the nation (hey, we’re good at something anyway).

He closes with this fun fact:

“Let us not forget that the business of Texas is Texans. To ‘Close the Gap’ in Texas, we must graduate more of our best and brightest with the skills to succeed in a world based on knowledge. If we invest in our greatest resource, Texas will be the state of the future. If we do not, family incomes will fall an average of $6,000 by 2040.”

Texas is on the brink. The choice is ours.”

Gee, Day Two of Cambridgegate. What a Surprise

I just watched a news conference where one square-headed white man after another got up in front of the cameras and denounced Barack Obama for denouncing that race profiling Cambridge Massachusetts police sergeant.

First, I need to correct their grammar.

President Obama did not say, as all these white men claim, that the Cambridge policeman was “stupid.” That is an adjective. An adjective describes a noun. As in stupid Sergeant Crowley.

President Obama said that Sergeant Crowley “acted stupidly.” That is an adverb. An adverb describes a verb. There is a fine distinction. You can act as a stupid person without yourself being stupid.

Next I have to wonder just how many Republicans have flooded into Cambridge of late. Cambridge is, with the exception of their police force, apparently, a fairly liberal town. Sergeant Crowley is an exception to that, however, as he himself admitted that he did not vote for Obama. But now it appears that Republicans are set to milk this one for all it is worth. Anything to take the attention away from the thing that is vital to all Americans. The thing that we have been trying to achieve since 1948. Health care reform.

But no. Instead we are going to emphasize the differences that we have in our regard to police authority because it suits the racist horde that is still out there. Instead we are going to mistake an adverb for an adjective.

Instead we are going to keep our attention on trivium.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Time to Show the Senate You Care About Health Care

What is the holdup to getting health insurance legislation passed, and passed very soon? There are enough votes in the House to pass the House version. It’s the Senate where we are having problems. And at the bottom of it all is Senator Max Baucus of Montana.

Max Baucus is a Democrat who votes with Republicans a whole lot of the time. He is after all from a red state and does like to get re-elected. Something he has been successful in doing since taking office 31 years ago.

Because of his seniority, he is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a fairly powerful position, and has just about single-handedly thwarted the efforts of his more liberal party members to pass meaningful health care legislation with a public option.

Now, I don’t know whether or not he actually cares that a majority of Americans want health care reform and that he is the fly in the ointment. He may not care. But we now have a chance to make our voices heard through Democracy for America.

Russ Feingold has an electronic letter you can sign. A letter thanking the 12 Democratic members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP Committee for “for crafting the Affordable Health Choice Act with the choice of a public health insurance option available to everyone in America.”

So if you are of a mind to, click here and sign the letter. You can add your own comments, too.

It is an obvious dig at Baucus. I mentioned him by name in my comments.

On Acting Stupidly

Now despite the fact that in last night’s press conference, Barack Obama suffered through 50 minutes answering the same healthcare question over and over again, one of them being a question asked out of turn by an unscrupulous person schilling for the insurance industry, despite all of that, what makes the headlines?

The “acting stupidly” remark.

Now why is that? Why is it that the whole press conference revolved around healthcare issues and the single most important legislation being considered since Medicare, but the only thing people are talking about today is Barack Obama’s answer to Lynn Sweeney’s question about the arrest of Professor Louis Gates, Jr. for disorderly conduct?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because of the fact that while vast strides have been made to correct the nation’s past penchant to discriminate on account of race, we are not there yet. White people are openly critical of Obama’s “acting stupidly” remarks because he was not there and couldn’t know all of the facts. Even the arresting officer is unrepentant. Black people speak in one voice supporting Obama.

And why the schism? Why is this difference in opinion breaking along racial lines?

Could it be because white people have never been subjected to racial profiling?

Could it be because black people get it every day that they are outside?

We form our opinions and attitudes from the sum of our life experiences. If someone has never experienced discrimination and prejudgment based on the color of their skin they have a skewed attitude. I lived 5 years in Indonesia. I know what it is like to be singled out because of your race. Professor Gates was absolutely right to be outraged that he was arrested in his own home because he was telling what he knew to be the truth to that Cambridge policeman.

He was the victim of racial profiling. Barack Obama, we all know, as a state senator in Illinois, worked actively to combat racial profiling by police in his state. Obama knew what he was talking about.

Now can we all get back on the subject? Can we finally guarantee health care coverage for all Americans?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

DA Healey is Being Primaried

Just posted on FortBendNow is some pretty significant local news. Fort Bend District Attorney John Healey is being challenged in next year's Republican Primary.

Well that was a no-brainer. Healey has made himself very vulnerable recently in trumping up charges against the mayor of Fulshear (a Democrat) and against a gang of roofers who started their own business that would be in direct competition with his former Assistant DA’s wife’s campaign fund contributor.

(I know, the last one sounds a little convoluted but that is Republican politics in Fort Bend County.)

In both cases the judges, both of them are Republican, essentially threw the cases out of court. In the case against the mayor, Healey and Mike Elliott, who tried the case, were both severely criticized by the judge.

Healey later fired Elliott in a rather bizarre way.

In a way, this is not good for Democrats. It means that if Healey loses in the primary all of the issues that could be raised by a Democratic candidate against Healey would be moot.

But there is hope on the horizon. Nina Schaefer is the one who has filed to run against Healey. Schaefer, it will be remembered lost her primary bid for an open seat, County Court at Law #1, to Bud Childers, the quintessential good old boy.

You know, Bud Childers, the judge who couldn’t take the heat and recused himself from trying a boy arsonist 19 months ago, then tried to unrecuse himself.

So Nina Schaefer ran against that guy, who turned out to be a train wreck of a judge, and lost.

But wait, it gets better.

Nina Schaefer’s campaign strategist is none other than bug killer extraordinaire and onetime chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County, Gary Gillen.

And why is this good news? You see, here in Fort Bend County, like everywhere else, we have two flavors of Republicans. Spittle-spewing, Bible-pounding, young-Earth-believing Republicans – who are running the show right now – and what I call the “C Club Republicans.” These are maybe a little more center right. Gillen is associated with the latter flavor. In other words, the minority. But not only that, this is the group of Republican voters who don’t show up at the polls in the Republican Primaries.

But don’t get me wrong I am characteristically pessimistic. Healey has a huge stink following him around right now. You have to wonder whether the rightwing will hold their noses and vote for their guy, or put their principles aside in order to get rid of one of their own. One who has become somewhat of a liability for them.

Now this is going to be fun to watch.

On Speaking Norwegian

Susan has a link to a cartoon that I have posted below. She claims that the cartoon is too big for her not-a-blog so just used the link. I don’t have the space problem and so I decided to post it.

Another fun fact about Norway is that they have been a haven for Mullah Krekar, a Kurdish terrorist who sought asylum in Norway in 1991. Norway revoked his asylum in 2003 when they found out that he had been back in Iraq for extended periods of time planning terrorist attacks. But being the evolved people that Norwegians are, they didn’t expel him for fear that the Iraqis would torture and kill him.

And recently we hear that Norway has received assurances that he will not be tortured, and will not be executed, if he returns to Iraq.

So you’d think they would send him back, right?

Nope. As it turns out the Norwegians don’t want to expel him just yet “due to the conditions in Iraq.”

Conditions caused by Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney.

What language do they speak in hell? If I can get an ISP when I go there I’ll find out and blog it for you.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Obama’s Birth Certificate Found!

Continuing the conversation about misinformation, about how conservatives cling to their guns and misinformation, about how that clinging is reinforced when you try to refute the lies, I found an excellent way to shut these lunatics up about Obama’s birth certificate.

That’s right, the election is over and a biracial man is the President of the United States, something that these crazies simply can’t accept, so 6 months into his term, they continue to adopt the craziness that Republicans keep whipping up: that Obama was born in Kenya.

From the previous posting on The Backfire Effect, no amount of refutation or truth-telling will dissuade these nuts, it only reinforces their beliefs.

So why not go along with this farce? Heck, they won’t listen to reason anyway. Give them something so ludicrous that agrees with their premise that he is not an American.

That’s right, it’s actually spelled O’Bama.

UPDATE: I found the You Tube video that inspired this posting. Someone videotaped a town hall meeting conducted by Congressman Mike Castle (R - Delaware). Listen to the crazy lady. She makes that confused woman that told McCain that Obama was an Arab look absolutely lucid.

Listen to the crowd reaction. This isn't isolated to a few crazies, there are lots and lots of these lunatics. Finally listen to how the crowd emphasizes "Under God" when they take a flag salute break.

Why You Shouldn’t Argue With Conservatives

I have settled on the idea that it is fruitless to argue politically with conservatives for some time now. I break this rule from time to time because of my penchant to stamp out ignorance, only to see the one I argue with come away more confirmed than ever in their “facts.” But it was only today that I learned that there was a name for this effect.

It’s called The Backfire Effect.

Apparently it is real. Here is an article on it published last September on Mother Jones.

The Backfire Effect occurs when you refute someone’s misinformation with something more akin to the truth. Merely by hearing the refutation, the believer in the misinformation becomes even more convinced of the lies he holds near and dear to his heart.

From Mother Jones:

“Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.”

The message I take home from this is clear: don’t argue with conservatives, it only makes things worse.

But according to Nyhan and Reifler, it doesn’t work the other way. A liberal who carries misinformation around doesn’t react in the same way when challenged by a conservative with a refutation. They suggest that is because conservatives are more rigid in their beliefs. But I like the Mother Jones writer, Kevin Drum’s idea, too. Conservatives simply lack credibility.

“…right-wing talkers have spent so many years deriding "so-called experts" that they now have negative credibility with many conservatives. The very fact that an expert says a conservative claim is wrong is taken as a good reason to believe the claim.”

Nyhan, however, tested that idea out by varying the sources of refutation, sometimes from Fox News, sometimes from the New York Times and found that the credibility of the source had little effect.

Bringing up what I do say, if anything, when confronted with conservative misinformation.

“You gotta stop getting all of your news from Fox.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pete Olson Favors Healthcare Reform?


Hey, I thought this teabagging excuse for a Congressman was just going to say “No” again over healthcare reform. But now I read in FortBendNow that he “favors a plan.”

From FortBendNow:

“I will continue to urge my colleagues to put forth a plan that ensures personal decisions, not government run health care,” Olson said. “And I will not support a plan that raises taxes on small businesses or individuals”

Olson seems to imply that the healthcare system is broken and needs reform of some type. Just not reform offered by the majority party.

A majority party elected by a majority of Americans.

A majority of Americans that favor health care reform in the same numbers that elected Barack Obama and all of those congressmen.

Yep, according to this USA Today/Gallup Poll released last July 14th, 56% of Americans favor healthcare reform. 53% of Americans voted Democratic in 2008. The same poll says that 71% of those who identify themselves as Republicans (a diminishing number these days) were against healthcare reform.

That is where I thought Pete Olson was, but no, FortBendNow says that he wants a plan.

Or so he says.

Frankly, I think he was speaking to those 55% of Independents and that 23% of Republicans who favor healthcare reform. He knows he’s got those who oppose healthcare reform in the bag but not necessarily the ones who favor it.

And in CD 22, which is bluing up with each passing election, saying that you favor some form of healthcare reform could mean the difference between being a one-term Congressman and getting vested in the federal pension plan.

One Small Step for Man . . .

Actually, the most famous quotation in all of space exploration history, “That’s one small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind,” was a garbled transmission. If you think about it, it doesn’t make much sense. “Man” and “Mankind” are synonymous terms. What Neil Armstrong said that day, exactly 40 years ago, was this:

“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for Mankind”

Doesn’t that make more sense?

I was a teenager when Man first walked on the moon. It bothers me that there are people out there in their 30’s who have never been alive when a human walked on another celestial body. Sure it was expensive. But I still drink the Kool-Aid that tells us that we reap many benefits from the space program right here on Earth.

  • Tang.
  • Cordless power tools.
  • Communications satellites
  • Global Positioning Systems

All sorts of stuff were invented to fulfill the special needs of space exploration. All of these things are now part and parcel of our existence on Earth.

Well, except for Tang. Tang is as delicious as Ovaltine.

Put Cheney in Chains

I’m getting tired of all of the hand-wringing going on about whether or not to investigate and prosecute Dick Cheney for his war crimes. Not to act is a sure sign that America could lose all of the moral authority that it regained last January 20th.

Not to act endangers our soldiers. Endangers everyone, really, who visits the Middle East for any reason.

All you have to do is look at what the law says. The things that Dick Cheney may be responsible for are by definition war crimes.

Here are the operative lines from 18 U.S.C. §2441:

(c) Definition. As used in this section the term "war crime" means any conduct--

(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;

This isn’t something to mull over. Someone committed serious crimes and the world community is watching us and will ultimately judge us on what we do about it.

So I got an email from today. They have an online petition to Attorney General Eric Holder urging him to take action and select a special prosecutor. I signed it.

You could, too. The petition is here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Gwen Ifill on Barack Obama

I recently attended a conference of teachers of advanced placement courses. It was at the Gonzales Convention Center in San Antonio. 3500 attended the conference.

It was put on by the College Board, the organization behind the AP tests. With so many in attendance, they usually are able to get some pretty high-powered speakers to speak at their plenary sessions.

And if you consider Gwen Ifill, a well-known media talking head who moderates Washington Week a PBS news program, to be a high-powered speaker - and I do - then the College Board came through once again.

Gwen Ifill spoke to the conference at the last plenary session and luncheon.

Now Gwen Ifill has just completed a book called THE BREAKTHROUGH: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. And contrary to the title, the book is not just about Barack Obama, but reviews the cases of four African-American politicians who make it to high executive office. So her speech was about writing the book, a book that was on sale outside the ballroom in the atrium. A book that she was available to sign after the session.

I managed to video most of her speech, but my memory card filled up before the end of the question and answer period. Too bad, that was the best part.

Fortunately I caught the first two questions. Both of them were about what Ifill thought about Barack Obama. So I excerpted this section of the video and uploaded it to You Tube.


Oh, what was for lunch?

Mystery Chicken, of course.

Where to Go For Barbecue in Texas

Maybe you have noticed that I haven’t been posting here for a few days. This is because I am by my very nature somewhat of a technological dinosaur in that I am tied to a desktop PC.

I could never get the hang of those laptop things.

So when I go mobile, if there isn’t a free internet-ready computer handy the blog stalls for a time.

I just got back from the annual Advanced Placement Conference. It’s a thing that the College Board puts on every summer for AP teachers and those associated with those things. It was in San Antonio this year.

Now one of the nice things about having to make the drive to San Antonio is that you get the opportunity to eat some really good barbecue because you have to drive right past Luling, Texas.

And no, we’re not talking about that abomination with branches springing up all over, in this case the highway-side tourist trap outside of Luling called Buc-ees.

No, to get what is probably the best barbecue in Texas, you have to drive into Luling and walk into a building that was built when the earth was young.

Then you get in line. On any given Saturday a line leading to the smokehouse snakes through the eating area but it moves quickly. There is a sign on the door to the smokehouse that commands you not to hold the door open, and once you pass through the door you immediately realize why that sign is there.

It’s smoky in the smokehouse.

And it is hotter than Dante’s Inferno.

But it is worth the few minutes you are there because of the pork ribs, whose meat practically falls off the bone, the brisket that you can cut with a fork, and the homemade sausage rings.

All you buy there is the meat. To get sides and drinks you go to the main dining room and order at the counter.

I know, it’s kind of quirky, but that and their choice of dinnerware – butcher paper – makes it all that much more quaint.

And, come to find out, there is another reason to visit Luling in the summertime.

Watermelon Thumping!

Whatever that is.

The Politics of Dodging a Presidential Hug

U2’s lead vocalist, Bono, was being interviewed on the BBC last night. He had a personal recollection going back to 2006 when he, ironically, said some words at Dubya’s Prayer Breakfast. I found what he said on You Tube and have it embedded below.

But that wasn’t the end of the recollection. Here is the rest of it.

So why dodge a hug? Simple. Getting a hug from one of the most hated men in history with all of those photographers present might just come back to haunt you some day.

Like this poor guy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

“You Can Either Be For the Recovery Act or Against It”

Echoing the infamous Bushian challenge “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.”

But these were the words of a senior Obama Administration official, aimed squarely at Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, and via 4 cabinet members, toward Republican Governor Jan Brewer also of Arizona.

But in this case, being against the recovery act has consequences.

521 billion of them.

In a letter to Brewer from Transporation Secretary Ray LaHood, Politico reveals how the Obama Administration is not above playing a little hardball.

“‘If you prefer to forfeit the money we are making available to your state, as Sen. Kyl suggests, please let me know,’ wrote Transportation

Secretary Ray LaHood. For good measure, he attached a three-page addendum listing each of the Arizona projects paid for by the $521 million the state is getting.”

So Arizona is slated to receive $521 billion in Recovery Act funds, but given the harsh criticism of these funds from Senator Kyl, Obama’s people are perfectly correct in asking whether or not they want the money.

After all, when Rick Perry just said “No” to $555 billion, well the state didn’t get that money. And that means that in two weeks, 15,000 Texans will have exhausted their unemployment benefit. A benefit that would have been extended had Perry accepted the funding.

So, what’s it going to be? Take the money, or don’t take it. But if you take it, don’t grumble about it. If it’s such a bad idea, leave the funds to be distributed to states that are more amenable to accepting a helping hand.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Democratic Governor for Texas in 2010?

Susan sent me this link to an article at The Economist website posted on July 9th. The article makes a strong case for a state that is on the verge of flipping to the Democratic Party. But I was drawn to the article’s treatment of next year’s gubernatorial race because they have it exact.

While Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison would trounce Governor Rick Perry in a General Election, the reverse holds true in a Primary Election. Perry will beat Hutchison hands down.

So ironically, the only way for the most popular statewide politician in Texas to win against the incumbent, Hutchison would essentially have to “pull an Arlen Specter” and switch parties.

This is because in Texas, like many other states, especially in Specter’s state, primary voters are people who are more consumed by politics than the general electorate. They are the fanatics. And fanaticism being what it is, these voters are typically from the right wing.

That is, Perry’s base.

It hasn’t even started yet, but we are all waiting with bated breath for Perry to fire the first salvo, wondering if it will be over her Aye vote for the TARP last year – and the lampoon: Kay Bailout Hutchison, or if it will be over Hutchison’s position on abortion legislation (she’s against it).

Hutchison is center right, and that’s a fact. She votes in a bipartisan fashion sometimes. Cornyn never does.

So I think it is safe to say that barring a sex or drug scandal, Rick Perry will be on the ballot in the 2010 General Election. What you have to wonder, then, is what the moderate Republicans who would support Hutchison will do. Will they knuckle under, grit their teeth and vote for Perry?

I guess that depends on who the Democrats field. Here in Texas, sorry to say, the liberal wing is a rather small part of the big tent we Democrats have pitched. The Democratic nominee is more likely to be center left.

Someone like Houston Mayor Bill White. No, he’s not a shoe in . . . yet . . . but I use him as an example of the kind of candidate the Democrats will settle on.

So it makes for an interesting mix. A socially conservative incumbent known for his tea bagging secessionist talk who attracts a minority of voters versus a moderate who can attract the other three groups, center right, center left, and left wing.

So can Democrats pull it off as The Economist article suggests? I think the odds are better than even, especially if the Libertarians run someone – that’s a guaranteed 5% lower percentage for Perry.

However, if we have the same fiasco in 2010 as we did in 2006, with two independents competing for the vote, all bets are off.

First Pitches: A Contrast in Style and Substance

OK, now baseball isn’t my thing, much to the angst of my grandfather who was a baseball fanatic and formerly pitched in AAA in the Southern League. But I am a fan of the first pitch ceremony, especially since that one memorable first pitch that inaugurated the new stadium in Washington, DC.

The one where George W. Bush was roundly booed.

Here’s the YouTube clip. Watch about half way through and you get a nice shot of the grimace that momentarily spread over his face.

Now what gets me is the praise that is heaped on the 1st pitch style and ability of Bush. A clear violation of any sense of credibility. According to the announcers you would think that the pitch itself was just slightly out of the strike zone, but I distinctly saw Manny Acta practically had to leave Earth in order to land Bush’s pitch in his glove.

Contrast that to Barack Obama’s first pitch in yesterday’s All Star game. Southpaw Barack Obama even had a wind-up of sorts.

Oh, and the booing? I think there was one guy booing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Introduced in the House: “America's Affordable Health Choices Act”

Well hang onto your buttes, here we go again. Today, to some fanfare and self-congratulations, House Democrats announced the filing of “America's Affordable Health Choices Act,” something that many Americans have long-waited for.

Its chief author is Congressmen John Dingell (D - MI) who has filed a universal health care bill every year that he has been in Congress – since 1963. But many have had a hand in this.

Notable is how Congress proposes to fund this, something that we all heard last year during the campaign. A sliding scale surtax will be assessed to the ones most able to pay it, those with incomes over $250,000 a year. Sliding scale in that the percentage goes up as the income goes up.

This is going to make a lot of Republicans very, very mad.

Notable also is the inclusion of a 2.5% (of your gross income – above a certain level) penalty should you decide not to have any health insurance at all. It provides an incentive to participate in a plan. This means that not to do so is no longer an individual right. It is as anti-social as not having a driver’s license but driving a car anyway.

If you opt out of an insurance plan, that is a privilege you have to pay for just like you do when you get a driver’s license.

This is going to make the Libertarians crazy.

Well . . . crazier.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fort Bend ISD Proposes 3.5 cent Tax Increase

Coming on the heals of a Fort Bend Central Appraisal District policy of raising the appraised values of property in the county by an average of 10.8% at a time when property value – and home sales - are sharply lower due to the recession, now we hear that the Fort Bend ISD school board wants to raise their tax rate by 3.5 cents per $100 assessed value.

When will these tax and spend Democrats ever learn? When in a tough economic downturn, the last thing you want to do is raise taxes.

Oh, no . . . wait. Fort Bend County is still firmly in the hands of the Republican Party isn’t it. Republicans still dominate county government. A Republican majority still sits on the school board.

So much for making generalities based on party affiliation.

Because just as it happened at the federal level, where Republicans opened up the hen house doors and let the foxes have full run of the place – putting us all in a very uncomfortable spot, so has it happened at the local level.

At the local level county government has granted an obscene amount of property tax breaks to businesses so that they will move into the county. Trouble is, when you grow the county, county expenses go up. Roads need to be built and maintained. Infrastructure needs to support new growth. Where to get the funds for all of this if you can’t get it from the very entities responsible for the new costs? Get it from those who are already here.

But since Fort Bend County is run by the Republican Party, don’t make it look like you are raising taxes. Raise the assessed values.

Never mind the fact that home insurance companies will take these new values and raise their premiums as well.

Never mind that Fort Bend ISD will also take these new assessed values as the meter against which they assess their taxes.

Truthfully, the school board is between a rock and a hard place. They have to service a debt that was taken on during an unprecedented growth period (partly, courtesy of the county’s tax abatement policies), and have had to adopt a budget where more is being spent than coming in. Fort Bend ISD runs on a net deficit budget.

Given all of this, and given that the district is severely limited in the number of areas where it can make budget cuts, they don’t really have any choice here.

That won’t stop the tax-averse right wingers from coming out in force for this evening’s bi-weekly school board meeting. They will be there. These people who demand a first-rate education for their children, but simply don’t want to pay for it, will be there shaking their fingers at people who really don’t have much of a choice here.

Really, it is better to lay the blame where all of these problems originate. Place the blame for this mess where it truly needs to be placed. Place the blame at the feet of a pro-business, anti-homeowner county government.

And start thinking about getting these rascals booted out of office.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Is the Recession Resolving the Illegal Alien Problem?

Whenever they want Americans to talk about anything other than what is important in their lives, Republicans will haul out the issue of illegal immigration. But now, according to this MSNBC article the issue just may be resolving itself.

Because of the recession.

“Immigrants jump back and forth across borders all the time, and the recession-driven movement from the United States to points south is not yet registering as a mass exodus. But it is increasingly easy to find workers who have decided that they are better off weathering the downturn in their ancestral homelands.”

“In Washington, the Guatemalan Embassy reports a substantial uptick in the number of nationals walking in to apply for travel documents. At U.S. airports, airline agents and government officials describe increased winking and nodding as illegal immigrants ‘self-deport’ with no hassle from authorities.”

“‘When somebody is already showing that they intend to depart the United States, it doesn't serve any interest for us to serve them a notice to appear before an immigration court,’ said Lloyd Easterling, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. ‘That isn't good stewardship of tax dollars.’”

“At Valdemar Travel in Takoma Park, the proportion of one-way air tickets south has reached unprecedented levels, nearing 60 percent of the firm's business earlier this year, manager Devin Reyes said.”

Wouldn’t that be a shame if Republicans lost the “bloody shirt” that they like to wave about? And it’s ironic that the thing that appears to be resolving this issue is the thing that they rail about in the strongest of terms: that unemployment continues to rise despite the TARP and Stimulus Package.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

“Sicko” Needs to Be Seen on Public Airwaves

It has been two years since Michael Moore debuted Sicko, his outstanding documentary on how health care is so broken in America. I had a hard time finding a theater here in Red Texas where I could go and see it. I finally found one in Houston. I got there just before the movie started after driving through a blinding rain that slowed freeway traffic to a crawl.

The theater was about a third full. I found myself sitting in front of someone who saw universal health care as nothing short of out and out socialism and was so vocal about it that I was considering moving. But my seat was a good one and the guy did finally shut up when the previews ended and the movie began.

Moore did a masterful job of explaining the problem and showing how France, Canada and the UK have it all solved. After it ended I came across the same guy who sat behind me coming out of the restroom. He was so critical of universal health care at the beginning of the movie, but he came out a changed man. “We have to do something about this. We have to tell people to see this movie,” is what he was saying.

This convinced me that Michael Moore’s Sicko could become more than a theater blockbuster, it could also be a colossal secret weapon that could help turn the tide and get the Blue Dogs to stand in line and support passage of meaningful universal health care legislation.

And now it appears we have our best chance to get it done this year. But we still need a final nudge to get America talking about universal health care. We need to start a conversation.

We need Michael Moore to release his movie to the public airwaves.

We need as many people as we can get to see this movie so that what happened to that one guy in that Houston theater 2 years ago can happen in television-watching households across the nation.

I checked.

Michael Moore’s Sicko is still being aired on premium cable channels. The next time it will air in the next two weeks is at 8 PM on Thursday, July 16th.

On The Movie Channel.

Now, it’s none of my business what Michael Moore wants to do with his property. That is his concern. All I am saying is that if he wants his film to do more than enrich him, if he wants it to actually be a force for positive change, he needs to release Sicko to the public airwaves and let those who haven’t seen this very persuasive movie, see it.

And he needs to do it soon.

Friday, July 10, 2009

What WAS the CIA Hiding?

This curious tiff between Democrats CIA Director Leon Panetta and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, about Pelosi’s contention that the CIA doesn’t keep Congress informed on all of their activities, took a new turn this week.

On June 24th Panetta met with the CIA’s Congressional oversight committee to tell them something that the CIA has been doing something and not informing Congress about it.

What it was they weren’t telling Congress about no one is saying. Mainly because, unlike Karl Rove, these committee members don’t reveal secrets entrusted to them.

All we know is that it was stunning news.

And that can’t be good.

One of the committee members, Rep. Anna Eshoo, (D-Calif.), did have these things to say to the Huffington Post that reveals how alarmingly appalling the activity must be:

“Asked if this was the basis of her letter to Panetta, Eshoo said she could not discuss what was a ‘highly classified program.’ She did, however, note that when Panetta told House Intelligence Committee members what it was that had been kept secret, ‘the whole committee was stunned, even Republicans.’ A Republican committee member told Who Runs Gov's Greg Sargent it was something they hadn't heard before.”

Today, this has fueled the speculation that the activity was none other than the one reported on by Seymour Hersh back in March.

That the CIA ran an assassination squad that answered directly to Dick Cheney.

Wait. I read that novel. I did, I really did. It was called First Team. It was written by Larry Bond.

Said Hersh last March:

“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing, essentially. And it’s been going on and on and on. And just today in the Times there was a story saying that its leader, a three-star admiral named McRaven, ordered a stop to certain activities because there were so many collateral deaths. It’s been going in—under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or to the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving.”

Now I remember when all of this was discussed and I gave it little credence because, as I said, I had already read about this in a book of fiction. It seemed fictitious to me.

The 3-star’s name, McRaven, was just too good to be true. This is the perfect name for the commander of a covert CIA hit squad.

But now I just don’t know anymore. If you reveal covert activities to the oversight committee, and even the Republicans on the committee are stunned, it has to be as bad as the Hersh story.

Or maybe even worse.