Monday, May 31, 2010

It’s Decoration Day

Or as we call it now, Memorial Day.

Originally May 30th was the day that people decorated the graves of Union soldiers in memory of their sacrifice in that human meat grinder called The Civil War.

Michigan was first to make Decoration Day a state holiday in 1871 but by 1890 all northern states celebrated the occasion.

The South had its own Memorial Day and it really wasn’t until after World War I added to the list of soldiers to be remembered that America had a unified Decoration Day, although because the Civil War so dominated the day, veterans of The Great War (as we called it before we learned to number them) wanted their own day of remembrance, giving us Armistice Day.

It’s the first time in quite some time that Memorial Day falls on the actual originally intended day of May 31st. This is because Congress decided to give everyone a 3-day weekend in 1971 and voted to have it fall on the last Monday in May.

I suspect it was to keep more kids in school because when May 31st fell on Tuesday or Thursday the temptation among parents to haul their kids out of school for an extra day at the onset of summer was just too great.

It’s also the day we celebrate mass consumption of really expensive fuel as Formula 1 cars race each other for 500 miles by going around and around a track in Indianapolis.

And finally, it’s a day we reserve to fire yet another shot across President Obama’s bow as neoconservatives on the airwaves rant and rave over how Barack Obama is slighting our fallen heroes by not laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery.

In which I have to ask, what is so special about Arlington? Are more importantly dead soldiers found there?

Or does it just so happen that Arlington National Cemetery and the White House are conveniently close to each other?

Oh, and then there is the thing about Memorial Day marking the beginning of summer, something that I mistakenly thought happened on June 21st.

And finally, oh yes, Memorial Day is a day set aside where we honor the service and sacrifice of men and women who paid the ultimate price by dying in war. A price that makes my blood boil lately knowing what I know about how the War in Iraq was a pure fabrication on the part of Dick Cheney, and that the War in Afghanistan, a war whose purpose was to end Taliban rule in Afghanistan, had it’s principal mission completely accomplished 8 years ago.

So in honor of these soldiers, let’s not make more fallen heroes to remember on Memorial Day, OK?

Bring them home. Now.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Seafloor Gushers: Never Again

A local Houston oil and gas executive had a piece in the Houston Chronicle last week on where to go forward now that we have finally produced an ecological nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s here. People need to read it.

At the bottom he has a few suggestions that are focused and achievable; things that we must do before re-embarking on deepwater oil and gas exploration, a program that has been completely shut down, even to the extent of shutting down wells that are currently drilling in the deepwater.

Pasted here below are his suggestions:

  • Development of a sophisticated, high-volume, subsea oil-collection system that is available 24/7 to the industry for more efficient cleanup of spills in the event they do occur.
  • Strict regulation of the types and use of oil dispersants to mitigate damage to the environment and life.
  • Complete the split of the Minerals Management Service into the three agencies, making safety and environmental regulation totally separate from the revenue and leasing functions.
  • Conform safety, equipment, procedures and inspections for all vessels working in U.S. waters, whether they are foreign or U.S. flagged. Strengthen tax regulation to assure all vessels are on equal footing.
  • Establish a subsea technology function within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the MMS to advance the research, standardization and regulation of all subsea operations in U.S. waters, with the goal of making these functions safer and more reliable.

I have an amendment and another suggestion.

Amendment. I think it’s a great idea that the feds should build a branch within its environmental arm that is a source of expertise in subsea drilling operations. Really, this is the answer to reliance on the expertise and equipment of the self-same oil company whose corner-cutting ways produced this disaster in the first place. But I really think that the taxpayers ought not be saddled with the bill. Years ago, the major oil companies shed themselves of their R&D branches because they were money sinks. I really think that any company that leases offshore acreage from the feds need to contribute to the continuing support of an MMS or NOAA research lab – especially if they benefit from the research.

And finally, in looking at the list of suggestions you come away with the impression that another spill like this is inevitable. That you, as the masthead of this blog suggests, must plan for the worst.

I don’t think we have that option in this case.

This “spill” is going to be bad for a long, long time. We can’t afford any more. I vote that we go “Socialist Canadian” on offshore oil exploration.

The Canadians have been looking at what is the worst case scenario for a blowout in the Beaufort Sea. In the worst case a well blows out and cannot be killed from above (like the one in the Gulf). But the Beaufort Sea is ice-free only 2 to 3 months out of the year so if there is an unstoppable blowout there is not enough time to drill a relief well to kill it from below. So if a company wants to drill a well in the Beaufort Sea, Canada makes them drill the relief well at the same time.

Sort of gives new meaning to the phrase “Drill, baby, drill.”

Ironically, BP was just up there pleading before their environmental oversight board to relax that bothersome little requirement because it was just too darned expensive.

No, if there is even the slightest chance of having another one of these environmental calamities it is time for the feds to require, in the deepwater, the drilling of a relief well simultaneous to the drilling of the exploration well. It is by everyone’s admission, the only sure way to kill a well.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Perry: EPA Messes With Texas

Last Wednesday, Texas governor Rick Perry sent a letter to President Obama asking him to keep his federal notions of what constitutes clean air to himself.

Himself and apparently any state other than Texas.

His point? Texas he says, can take care of Texas just fine thank you very much.

Texas after all, has the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, affectionately known as the TCEQ, and the TCEQ has hundreds of air sniffing stations all over the state. The federal environment watchdog, the EPA, he says, is getting in the way with their more strict regulations. Regulations that do nothing, he says, to clear the air, so to speak, but do end up driving costs upward. Costs, he says, that are passed on to consumers in the way of higher prices for energy and stuff.

From the Austin American-Statesman:

“The argument reached a tipping point earlier this week after the EPA's regional director, Al Armendariz, threatened to remove Texas' regulatory authorities by midsummer if it fails to comply with the Clean Air Act. Armendariz told The Associated Press that his office already had started hiring additional staff, in part to tackle Texas' air quality program.”

“If the EPA takes over, it will be replacing a successful program ‘with a less effective Washington-based, bureaucratic-led, command and control mandate,’ Perry wrote to Obama. On Wednesday, he called the EPA's move a federal power grab.”

And the TCEQ couldn’t agree more. At their own website the TCEQ is presently having an EPA barbecue with TCEQ Commissioner Buddy Garcia turning the spit. Said Garcia:

“I am frustrated by Dr. Armendariz assertion that the ‘…time for partnership and for compromise…’ is quickly coming to an end. We should be partners; unfortunately, the federal government—after failing to act on our rules for some 15 years—has decided that instead of working with us they would just tell us how to run our state-delegated program, or else. No one can dispute the fact that Texas’ air quality has seen tremendous improvements over the last 15 years. Much of that is due to the fact that the Texas permitting programs are essential and extremely effective. The fact that they feel the need to take over only proves my theory all along, they are not about results but merely interested in the process.”

See? Texas air quality is improving even. And how does the TCEQ know this? They have mountains and mountains of data stretching back years and years.

Data collected by the TCEQ, of course.

Sounds a little incestuous, doesn’t it.

I like facts. I like facts better when they aren’t invented by the very organizations that they are meant to support.

So instead of trusting TCEQ facts, I thought I’d look at another organization’s analysis of yet another organization’s facts.

Enter the American Lung Association.

“Harris County received failing grades for both ozone pollution and particle pollution in the State of Air report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association. The association’s research found that Harris County had an average of 53.7 unhealthy ozone days each year during a three-year period between 2005 to 2007, based on an 8-hour daily maximum concentration.”

An F?

You don’t have to read a report card, really to know that the Houston area’s air is polluted. When the wind is right you can smell the refinery-choked ship channel as if it was right next to you.

But what is truly galling in all of this is that the EPA isn’t really being the bully here. The TCEQ is. When the TCEQ kept hearing that the EPA was rethinking its position on Texas’ “flexible permit” system because they were concerned that it violated the Clean Air Act, the TCEQ filed suit in 2008 demanding that the EPA take action instead of keeping their programs on the hook – in limbo as it were. So when a judge ordered the EPA to act, they complied.

And the TCEQ is now saying that they don’t know why the EPA has decided not to work with them anymore.

Gee, you think it might have something to do with the line the TCEQ drew in the sand? The line that they then asked EPA to cross?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Question: What Drilling Fluid is BP Using?

Ever since BP initiated its “top kill” procedure, everyone now knows that oil wells are drilled using drilling fluid, or as reported in the media: “drilling mud.” And now, rather than seeing crude oil gushing out from that broken BOP a mile down, drilling fluid, or as they say on TV, drilling mud, is now gushing out into the water column

It’s not mud though, far from it.

As a former professional geologist I remember that any discharge of drilling fluid to the ocean had to be reported, because depending on the nature of the fluid, it can be toxic.

It kills things just as certainly as crude oil does.

And now instead of millions of gallons of crude oil being spewed into the Gulf, God knows how much drilling mud is gushing out of that BOP.

As I said, it is far from being "mud" although that’s exactly what it looks like. The only components that can be found in nature are the clay base, usually a clay called bentonite which is so harmless that they use it as a filler in candy bars.

Three Musketeers, for instance.

The other ingredient is water, sometimes even salt water. That is, if a water-based mud is used. Oil-based mud, or OBM contains what you might imagine is a little more toxic than water. A new mud being used is called SBM or synthetic-based mud is considered less toxic but retains some of the advantages of OBM.

So you see, there is a range of possibilities here. You don’t buy drilling fluid, you mix it up onsite with all the ingredients right there.

Trouble is, I don’t know what kind of drilling fluid BP is using in this top kill procedure and I think it might be important to know that.

All we know is that the fluid is “heavy.” It has to be. Not only do they pump it down under high pressure, it has to be heavy enough to hold the oil and gas in the formation.

And what is used in order to make the mud heavy? None other than heavy metals.

It’s a virtual Who’s Who of the Periodic Table. Here is a short list from this site:
  1. Antimony
  2. Nickel
  3. Cobalt
  4. Fluoride
  5. Arsenic
  6. Lead
  7. Mercury
  8. Cadmium
  9. Barite
  10. Vanadium
  11. Copper
  12. Aluminum
  13. Chromium
  14. Zinc

Barite is the only one on the list that is not an element. Barite is a chemical compound called barium sulfate.

The only good thing about that one is that barium sulfate is virtually insoluble in water. It still rates a 1 on an MSDS in the Health category, however.

So for now, all I am asking is this: what kind of drilling mud is BP using to kill this well? And for now, that is all I can ask.

But soon enough, I will want to know whether BP chose this mud because it was the least toxic to the environment, or chose this mud for the same rationale that was used that initiated this disaster: they are going the cheapest way out.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Video: Toddler Sucking on a Kretek

Here’s another one for all of you people out there who came unglued when the sale of Indonesian kretek cigarettes, cigarettes that are flavored with cloves, cigarettes that have some of the highest concentrations of nicotine in the world, was banned in America.

Indonesia’s single most popular export, worldwide, is the kretek. A substance that is now illegal in my country. Many Indonesians begin smoking as children but this video evokes extreme disgust from me. Disgust and extreme wonder.



Wonder in the sheer ignorance that this child’s parents possess.

The boy, Ardi Rizal, is hooked on nicotine. Having smoked since he was 18 months old, he is now so hooked that he throws a tantrum when his parents refuse to give him a smoke.

Reminding me of the storm of comments that I received on my two blog postings on what a great thing outlawing these deadly leaf-filled tubes is. A great start.

Because aside from age, I really see no difference between young Ardi and the kretek smokers out there who have raged over the loss of their self-destructive habit.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Truth Will Out

When you want to know what twisted off to begin a multi-billion dollar disaster like the BP oil gusher spewing millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf, what you don’t do is listen to the CEOs. First, they don’t have a clue. Second, they are protecting the company and the stockholders. Third, they might just be liable for prosecution.

So the person or persons you want to be listening to is the guy who stood outside the door when the decisions went down. Not the guys in the room doing the arguing, they all have motives.

You want to listen to the fly on the wall.

That’s my experience, in dealing with oil and gas exploration companies. I have some personal experience in this, you see.

So I think the fly on the wall has started to speak, and I am all ears.

From AP via The Houston Chronicle:
“In a handwritten statement to the Coast Guard obtained by the AP, Transocean rig worker Truitt Crawford said: ‘I overheard upper management talking saying that BP was taking shortcuts by displacing the well with saltwater instead of mud without sealing the well with cement plugs, this is why it blew out.’”

“At a Coast Guard hearing in New Orleans, Doug Brown, chief rig mechanic aboard the platform, testified that the trouble began at a meeting hours before the blowout, with a ‘skirmish’ between a BP official and rig workers who did not want to replace heavy drilling fluid in the well with saltwater.”

“The switch presumably would have allowed the company to remove the fluid and use it for another project, but the seawater would have provided less weight to counteract the surging pressure from the ocean depths.”

“Brown said the BP official, whom he identified only as the ‘company man,’ overruled the drillers, declaring, ‘This is how it's going to be.’ Brown said the top Transocean official on the rig grumbled, ‘Well, I guess that's what we have those pinchers for,’ which he took to be a reference to devices on the blowout preventer, the five-story piece of equipment that can slam a well shut in an emergency.”
I knew it.

A top-down management decision to overrule the experienced drillers in an effort to save a buck, to move the mud to another location where it was needed, prematurely took the “lid” out of the drill string that was holding back overpressured crude oil and the well kicked, then blew out.

Somebody needs to start looking around for this “company man” now, and anyone who leaned on him from above causing him to issue these orders, including anyone who incentivized these guys to make these poor decisions.

Eleven lives were ended as a result of these deciders. Thousands stand to lose their livelihoods. The marshlands are being sterilized as I type this.

The truth will out, and there will be justice.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Fed-Up With Being Fed Up

Out today is startling news that Rick Perry is going to be spending some of his time this summer writing another book. He’s going to call it “Fed Up.” Fed Up with no hyphen.

Fed up with the Feds. Get it? It’s a pun.

And I’m just about fed-up with having a do-nothing-that’s-anything-good secessionist governor who thinks that people would be interested in what he has to say. Or, excuse me, what his “researchers” have to say.

The Dallas Morning News has this additional little tidbit:

“Perry's literary agent, Jim Hornfischer, said the governor will work with one or two researchers and will write a short, politically charged book.”

“‘There is a team involved here," he said. ‘He'll be focusing a lot of energy to make sure that the idea at the core of the book is true to his vision.’”

Explaining to me just how Rick Perry can sit down and write a book, a book that is scheduled to be out by the mid-term elections, and at the same time be governor, run for re-election, and prepare for an estimated $11 billion budget shortfall next year.

He has “a team” to write this book.

As they say, there is no “I” in “team.”

I expect truth in advertising. I’d like a book jacket summary with the percentage of words actually penned by Rick Perry. Otherwise what I am expecting out of the governor is much like the performance of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus of the group “Milli Vanilli” who are famous for not being the genuine article.

In short, I am fed-up with Rick Perry and his fakery. And so I am fed-up with his being fed up.

But Monty Python actually said it best:

“I think that all good, right thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that all good, right thinking people in this country are fed up with being told that all good, right thinking people in this country are fed up with being sick and tired. I'm certainly not, and I'm sick and tired of being told that I am.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Galloping Gertie II

A friend sent a link to me with video coverage of a bridge recently completed in Volgograd, Russia. The bridge is doing something that is unique to suspension bridges.

It is swaying.

The roadbed, that is.

Here is a video clip from YouTube>



I particularly like the sound effects.

Russians have now gotten to experience a phenomenon in bridge-building called resonance. Resonance is something akin to how you keep your swing swinging at the playground. You move your body at a certain frequency and that frequency matches the natural frequency of the swing.

Its also how the Bay of Fundy has that huge tidal range.

Americans, sadly, had their own case of a resonating bridge 70 years ago. In 1940 a recently completed suspension bridge started swaying after 3 days of nonstop winds at an average speed of 43 miles per hour.

Here is a newsreel clip of that event.



Reporters labeled that ill-fated bridge “Galloping Gertie,” so I guess the Russian bridge is “Galloping Gertie II.” Or maybe Galloping Georgyi.

So along with the bridge collapse one really nice-looking car, a Plymouth, I think, went into the drink.

The only fatality, however, was a dog. The dog was in the car. That guy tried to retrieve the dog, his daughter’s pet, but the dog was so frightened it didn’t want to come with him.

I often ask myself how did that guy ever explain to his daughter what had happened to her little dog, “Tuffy.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

NASA to the Rescue

Answering the hue and cry that the federal government needs to do something to stop the flow of gushing oil into the dark deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, we now have what has been labeled an “All Star Team” of scientists presently meeting right here at the BP America headquarters in Houston.

From where does this “All Star Team” come? Where does the federal government go in this dire emergency in order to recruit a team with the expertise to kill a well that has gushed unknown millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf? A well that is a mile beneath the waves?

Why, NASA of course.

And the Sandia National Laboratories..

And The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

And Los Alamos.

And, oh yes, The United States Geological Survey.

No, really.

NASA, after all, has expertise in getting work done in remote locations under hazardous conditions. No, really. They actually said that on television. Sandia Labs typically works in what they call “breakthrough technology.” Lawrence Livermore? They work in environmental extreme conditions as well. What can be more environmentally extreme than the interior of a sun? Los Alamos? They are known to have created small-scale suns.

And the USGS? Well the USGS does dapple a little in oil and gas exploration. They estimate how much of the stuff we have from time to time.

And which one of these organizations has an offshore oil rig or a deepwater submersible and the technology and expertise to use against this looming ecological disaster?

None of them.

But despite all that they lack, this team of experts is meeting right now to “solve the problem” because “failure is not an option” in this “successful failure.” That’s right, the term “Apollo 13” comes to mind, but not because I thought it up . . . they did.

The feds.

The feds are now saying that if BP can’t or won’t solve this problem then they will have to stand aside or get out of the way so the feds and their team of experts can get to work.

No, I am serious. They actually said that, too.

Look, I am not ridiculing this idea because these people are all a bunch of idiots, that is patently absurd. These people are leaders in their field.

THEIR field.

But none of them know the oil drilling business. And really, even oil drillers are a little behind the curve here because deepwater drilling is brand new. Yes, the technology is based on techniques developed in drilling on the continental shelf, which is decades old, but there has been a lot of innovation recently. Oil drillers are still on a learning curve when it comes to deepwater drilling. That has become painfully obvious.

But the sobering fact is that despite all of this, the only people and the only organization that has the expertise and equipment to take care of this problem are the major oil companies and the service companies that they hire.

That is, the very people, the very companies that caused the problem in the first place.

No, British Petroleum and Halliburton and Transocean are the ones who can fix the problem that they caused, and by all rights ought to be the ones to fix the problem that they caused. They are on the hook and shouldn’t be let off despite the deeply troubling cries from the right that say that the feds aren’t doing enough in this.

Because if making political hay, calling this “Obama’s Katrina” and at the same time causing the feds to take their eye off the ball by recruiting this “team of experts” instead of holding these companies’ feet to the fire is all that this hue and cry is about, the right will have more to answer for than two wars and a financial meltdown.

Much more.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

On Being an Authoritarian

I really like it whenever Libertarians actually open up to questions and state exactly what they think about the burning issues of the day. Or even the ones from 46 years ago. Mainly because about half the time they say something that seems dead spot-on reasonable, and the other half of the time they say something that makes you think they must be bat-guano crazy.

Take for instance the pile of dung that Kentucky senatorial candidate Rand Paul stepped in last week – three times - when he averred that it should be the right of any private business owner to determine who may use their place of business. Said it on three separate occasions to three separate interviewers. Said that Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was an infringement of the rights of business owners to the freedom to associate with whomever they wished, or in this case, the freedom not to associate with some people for personal reasons or beliefs.

When called out on this, Paul went into a dancing act that displayed why he will be a fun candidate to watch this fall: the man dances with the stars far better than Tom DeLay could – and they didn’t play a bar of “Por Una Cabeza,,” the tango to which Tom and Cheryl danced on Week 2 of DWTS.

Rand Paul danced himself right into a corner and appeared on “Good Morning America” where he whined about not getting a honeymoon from the press after his primary win last Tuesday, and stated that he was not in favor of repealing the Civil Rights Act – something no one actually claimed he was in favor of. Then Paul canceled his appearance on “Meet the Press” tomorrow.

Whew. That was a close one. Rand Paul is set to move on and move away from these wild accusations from the liberal media. Except for the fact that what Paul said this week will definitely be heavily discussed tomorrow on that news show, but without him being there to defend himself.

No matter, because then Fox’s John Stossel – another person who ascribes to Libertarian views, just as Rand Paul does - opened up.

“I would go further than [Rand Paul] was willing to go as he just issued the statement and say it’s time now to repeal that part of the law because private businesses ought to get to discriminate . . it should be their right to be racist.”

Nice one, Stossel. Talk about throwing gasoline on the fire.

Another thing that I discovered today in doing research for this piece is that Libertarians have a word for those of us who do not hold to their unique worldview. They call us Authoritarians. I like that name. It sounds like pure evil.

Pure evil that made civil rights the law of the land in 1964. Pure evil that dictates the lowest amount an employer may compensate an employee for their labor. Pure evil that sets health and safety standards so people don’t get hurt or get sickened by eating spoiled prepared foods. Pure evil that has rigid regulations that prevent oil companies from spoiling the marine environment by allowing subsea oil wells to gush freely for days on end.

Oh well. Win some, lose some.

Friday, May 21, 2010

California: Messing With Texas

Now today, in my effort to find out what the Texas State Board of Education is doing, and whether the board is going to adopt the Teabagger Version of US history, I ran across an article that reestablished my admiration for all things Californian, the state of my origin.

First, what I found out about the happening in Austin, is that it looks like Thomas Jefferson has been re-recognized as a major contributor to the philosophies of the Founding Fathers, good news, and that the “Atlantic Triangle Trade”, a euphemism for Slave Trade, has been excised.

No word on whether we are going to teach that Hispanics fought against the Mexican Army at the Alamo, or whether Joe McCarthy wasn’t such a bad guy after all.

But the article that caught my eye was a report that the California State Senate is considering SB 1415, an act to emend the state’s Education Code. It’s so deliciously perfect all by itself that I will just post below a paragraph from an analysis of the bill as found here.

“This bill requires the State Board of Education (SBE) to (1) notify the Legislature and Governors office if it determines any instructional materials submitted for consideration for adoption contain content that meets the revised standards for social studies curriculum in Texas, and (2) to ensure that the next revision of the History-Social Science framework is consistent with existing requirements to ensure instructional materials include, portray accurately, encourage and impress certain content upon pupils”

Isn’t that just great? California, the largest purchaser of textbooks in the United States wants to make sure that ideologues on the Texas state school board don’t get to dictate content in books sold to California. Texas is the nation’s second-largest purchaser of school textbooks.

The bill specifically mentions Texas, and only Texas.

Messing with Texas, California-style.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Judy Jennings: Saving America from Texas SBOE Ideologues

Tomorrow, Friday May 21st will be infamously remembered as the day that the Texas State Board of Education ignored the pleadings of prominent educators, including George W. Bush’s own former Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, and finalize their highly politically inspired changes to the Texas social studies curriculum.

A curriculum which promises to de-emphasize slavery and the decades-long African-American struggle for equality. Said Paige, as quoted in USA Today:

“(The proposed Texas standards) drastically understate the influence of slavery and the Civil Rights movement in our national story – it almost suggests that students will be learning that our liberties – and especially African-Americans' freedoms – were kind of gently acquired. The liberty and freedoms that African-Americans enjoy were born out of struggle – deep struggle. Nobody just woke up in the morning and said, 'O.K., you're free”

A curriculum which promises to propose that the founding fathers did not necessarily believe in the principle of the separation of church and state, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary.

With 7 evangelicals on the board, and 10 Republicans, look for passing of this curriculum with all of the objectionable edits to the curriculum intact.

Bringing up today’s statement by Judy Jennings who is running in my SBOE district, District 10, to take Cynthia Dunbar’s place. I have posted her statement as found on YouTube below. Basically the theme is that Jennings promises to revisit the social studies curriculum as passed by this lame duck school board (McLeroy was voted out, and Dunbar is not running for re-election) when she takes office in January.

That is, although passed by ideologues on the school board, it isn’t a done deal.



This is eminently doable. Mainly because one of the things that the legislature is looking at in order to deal with the anticipated $11 billion shortfall in the next budget cycle is to delay textbook acquisition.

Use the old textbooks for another year (or two).

Right now the legislature is looking at making up for not buying textbooks that are aligned with the new curriculum by making software acquisitions and using supplemental materials in order to have textbooks that follow the new curriculum.

If the new curriculum is rescinded, that makes even the expenditure of those funds for updated materials a moot question.

In short, what Judy Jennings proposes not only makes sense and keeps Texas out of the national focus for politicizing its educational standards, it is also fiscally sound.

The Recession of 2007-2009 did its damage and state funds are tight. It just makes sense to delay curriculum adoption until Texas can afford to back it up with material support.

Besides, that way the Board can continue to diddle with Texas’ Permanent School Fund (also known as the textbook fund) expected to grow by another $1 billion during the next two years, without drawing down the principal.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Local Jobs for America Act Will Save A Quarter Million Education Jobs

When congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, something that ultimately cost a few of them their jobs, it was the private sector that was the chief beneficiary. Banks that were on the verge of failing got a leg up. Automobile builders were propped up.

And America did not sink into a years-long depression to rival the one we had in the 1930’s.

A depression that we ultimately clawed ourselves out of with a massive government spending program known as World War II.

So now the banks are healthy, the stock market is up, and unemployment has ceased to increase.

But now we are poised at the edge of a new abyss at the state and local level. California is but the first state to find itself in severe financial straits largely because it handcuffs itself every year when it has to pass a budget with a 2/3ds majority in their state house. Other states, including Texas, where an $11 billion shortfall is projected in the next budget cycle.

The next cycle of jobs to be lost are those in the public sector. As states run out of money to pay its teachers, policemen, firemen and first responders, they will have to start trimming the job rolls.

Enter New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey who has taken a lead in urging those in the US Senate to immediately take under consideration a bill recently filed by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. SB 3206 sponsored by Tom Harkin and 26 senate co-sponsors, known as the Keep Our Educators Working Act of 2010, which allocates $23 billion to be distributed to the states on a student per capita basis in order to restore reductions in state funding for salaries of those working in public school education.

Congressman Hinchey, in his press release, explains that the US Congress had passed this $23 billion allocation in December and sent it to the Senate, but the Senate, which has yet to act on the bill, decided it wanted to act on these allocations on a piecemeal basis.

Fine then. In April Rep George Miller of CA-7, who makes education his hobbyshop, filed HR 4812, the Local Jobs for America Act, which restored this $23 billion allocation for educators as well as for those of other employees who are paid through state coffers.

Then Harkin filed his bill which specifically targets educators, and contains language borrowed from Miller’s bill, with the $23 billion figure. If the Senate acts quickly, before states make draconian decisions in their next round of budgeting, the House can respond on a timely basis and get these funds released to the states after Barack Obama signs the legislation into law.

Saving, it is projected, a quarter of a million jobs in public education. Jobs that will otherwise be lost due to state budget cutbacks that are the direct result of a decrease in revenue, a time-delayed consequence of the 2007-2009 Recession.

Jobs that, once lost, are difficult to put back because a new generation would have to be recruited and trained up to meet growing education needs.

Because like it or not, the population is not going to go down and education of the next generation is a necessary requirement as competition for the limited resource known as superior intelligence and know-how becomes severe.

As it will.

Really, there is no choice here.

Rep. Hinchey has a “Dear Colleague” letter that he is sending to his colleagues in the Senate urging their immediate action on this. You can sign a similar one by going here to the National Education Association and entering your zip code.

Really, there is no choice here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

From Without: US Polarization Ramps Up

It’s a big primary day in Election 2010 with primaries in four states, including a special election in Pennsylvania, a battleground state. I was perusing the opinions of those within and without the US today and find I have to agree with the “without” point of view, courtesy of the Manchester Guardian.

“The polarisation of US politics is likely to gather pace tomorrow in a host of contests across the country in which Republican and Democratic establishment candidates face being thrown out, victims of a wave of populist hostility towards Washington”

Gee, no kidding.

In Arkansas Conservidem Blanche Lincoln faces a fierce come from behind challenge by Lt. Governor Bill Halter, a darling of the Netroots, who has widespread financial support from the left. The left is outraged at Lincoln’s behavior during the healthcare debate – including the self-serving “Louisiana Purchase” where Lincoln traded her vote for special treatment of Louisianans. Word is that there has been a record turnout in the early vote in Arkansas, making me think that the polls may have it wrong. A heavy turnout is sure to favor Halter, giving him a boost to push the race to a runoff if not an outright win tonight.

Pennsylvania, I think, will exchange right of center Arlen Specter for left of center Joe Sestak. Specter, who couldn’t win against Teabagger Pat Toomey to save his soul, switched parties in midstream, giving Sestak good reason to run as the “real Democrat.” Truth to tell, Specter is only a fair-weather friend to Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has verbally supported Specter in the past, has characterized Specter’s support this way: “Arlen is always with us except when we need him.”

Excitement is high in Pennsylvania, although they have had rain today and that has always kept the numbers down. Although like Arkansas, I see this as a boost to Sestak’s chances rather than Specter’s

So the way it is shaping up, Pennsylvania will have true choice in November, between a rightwing Teabagger who has the ultra conservative Liberty First PAC bankrolling him, and former Vice-Admiral Joe Sestak, the highest-ranked retired military officer to run for office since forever.

The Pennsylvania special election in PA-12 to fill John Murtha's unexpired term remains at high interest. Democrat Mark Critz and Republican Tim Burns have squared off at each other over Cap and Trade, both of which say they oppose because of the importance of coal in the district. Burns says Critz is being disingenuous because he was on John Murtha's staff, and actually supported the bill. FiveThirtyEight.com has Burns in the lead by one point so I guess we'll have to wait until the bitter end to see how CD-12 will go.

Then we have Kentucky, which in its Republican Senate race is poised to dump party favorite Trey Greyson for Rand Paul, another darling of the Tea Party movement. Paul is going to win that one, but who he will run against in November is still up for grabs. The race is between Daniel Mongiardo and Arkansas (Arkansas?) Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway is better-financed and has spent his way up to a stalemate in the polls against Mongiardo, who has better name-recognition, he having almost beat retiring Senator Jim Bunning in 2004.

I would love to see an out-and-out Teabagger run against either of these guys.

The only safe bet, I guess is Oregon, which will easily tonight renominate, and then re-elect its US Senator, Ron Wyden, in November. The challenge in Oregon, I am told, is to remind people that there is a primary today.

So, yes, the Guardian has it exact. As we slowly grind down to November, Americans are choosing up sides that are more to the extremes of each party, with Republicans splitting their votes between rightwing Teabaggers and mainstream Republicans, and Democrats also doing their share to shift leftward.

I guess the only problem with all of this is that it leaves the unaligned, the Independent Voter, aka those who don’t know what they’re about, out in the cold.

To whom I have to say this: time now to choose sides.

And to choose wisely.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cleaning Up the “Ol Spell”: Yahoos and Hay

A friend alerted me to a video that is spreading over the internet like, well, like the oil currently spreading far and wide in the Gulf of Mexico right now.

I am amazed, literally amazed at the ignorance that people have about all things petroleum.

Watch the video. You will see two guys with very heavy Texas accents demonstrate how they pick up used motor oil that has been poured into basins of water by spreading hay over the spill, and then stirring (they say the wind does this).

Here it is from YouTube but you can find it everywhere right now.



Amazing, huh?

Now there are several things that I find just absolutely hilarious about this video. One is that these guys think they have come up with an unique idea. Using hay to pick up an oil spill.

Honestly.

Another belly laugh can be gotten when you listen to them figure out how to dispose of the mountains and mountains of hay that they will have once the millions of gallons of oil are picked up: Burn it.

If you want an opinion of how bad it is when you burn crude oil, ask any odd Kuwaiti whose air quality was degraded when their oil wells were set afire by retreating Iraqis. It’s toxic.

Ohm you say, we would use scrubbers to clean the emissions. But I would guess that not a single scrubber in existence would survive that job.

Then there’s the problem of all the oil that doesn’t come to the surface. Yes, not all oil comes to the surface. Ocean water is stratified and there are density boundaries. Oil that rises to a density boundary takes its time crossing it. How do we get the hay down to those lakes of oil below the surface, one of which is estimated to be 10 miles long, 3 miles wide, and 300 feet thick.

And finally I have to ask which 5 states do we have to mow from border to border in order to come up with enough hay to broadcast over this spill.

And that’s just the video. If you read the comments that accompany the YouTube posting, or any of them anywhere else on the internet, you get another taste of the ignorance that is practically epidemic among the right wing.

People think that Obama won’t do it because he’s too stupid. People think that the government won’t do it because it is such a good idea and so very cheap.

People who still think that it is the role of government to clean up a problem that was created by private industry. To which I have to say this: why is government automatically responsible for a mistake made by private industry? All we have heard in the past year are the squeals and squawks of the right wing over government bailouts of banks and the auto industry. Big government, now, needs to bail out BP and Halliburton? Is that it?

(shaking head in wonderment).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Notes on Staffing the Supremes

Twenty-three years ago President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to replace Justice Lewis Powell on the Supreme Court, and times have not been the same since.

Bork was an avowed strict constructionist who apparently couldn’t keep his mouth shut about his views. So much so that it became clear to anyone who had ears that he would decide to overturn Roe v. Wade at his first opportunity. Roe v. Wade had been the law of the land for sixteen years – then, as now, not an undue long period of time.

During the confirmation hearing it was also learned that Bork favored poll taxes if they were “very small” and that he couldn’t in his reading of the constitution, see in it anywhere a guarantee of a person’s right to privacy.

Clearly, Bork wouldn’t do, and clearly Bork was his own worst enemy at his confirmation hearing. One could argue that he was so far gone in his views that he was unable to see how someone holding different viewpoints might be horrified that he could become a Supreme Court justice.

And so ever since Robert Bork was turned away in the Senate by a vote of 58 to 42 Supreme Court nominees have kept mum about their views and about how they might rule in this case or that one.

Rendering the whole Senate Supreme Court confirmation process a sham.

But the Bork nomination is not without its ironies. As mentioned above, Robert Bork was unaware that the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights weighed in one way or the other on whether an individual had a right to privacy. But feature this: in their zeal to dig up anything and everything they could to cook Bork’s nomination, someone, probably a young staffer, went to Bork’s video tape rental store and got a list of the videos he had rented. The results were disappointing, however, and only revealed that Bork was as boring in private as he was contentious in public.

The irony is that Bork’s privacy was so violated in their zeal to defame him that this prompted passage of the VPPA or Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 which places a fine of $2500 on any video tape service provider who discloses rental information of an individual. (Never mind that others working in the Beltway might be revealed in a similar disclosure as being less boring in their selection of videos.)

I guess they could have called it the Bork Bill, but my guess is that it probably wouldn’t have passed if they did.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Polls: It’s Still Drill Baby, Drill

Apparently a looming ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is not enough to change the minds of the “Drill Baby, Drill” shouters of two years ago. According to an AP-GfK poll conducted last week, a full 50% of Americans still want offshore drilling to continue unabated.

Remember this?




But oddly enough, while these people still love offshore oil drilling, they are not so sure about British Petroleum. 32% of respondents approved of BP’s handling of the situation and 49% disapproved.

So maybe they think it’s OK for Mother Exxon to drill for oil in the offshore, but not BP.

In their Pew Research Center asked a question that I consider significant asking people to rank the “oil leak” in the Gulf, and 92% of respondents considered the seafloor oil gusher to be either a major disaster of a serious problem. But again, significantly, a CBS News poll found that 51% of respondents rated this as an “isolated incident” as opposed to a “broader problem.”

Proving to myself, again, the utter ignorance that people have of the oil and gas industry.

Here are the questions I would like to see asked:

If you knew that the oil industry does not have a plan in the event of a subsea blowout in the deepwater, would you want to continue deepwater exploration and development?


If you knew that both BP and Halliburton have both been investigated for unsafe operations, would you want them to drill in the deepwater, especially on the same drill ship?

If you knew that no matter how many offshore oil wells we drill, we will never attain energy independence, would you want to continue drilling for oil in the deepwater?

And finally,

If you knew that neither BP nor Halliburton has any intention of reimbursing people for the livelihoods that they destroyed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, would you want them to continue drilling for oil in the deepwater?

I wonder what respondents would say to these questions.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Clusterduck

When the CEOs to British Petroleum, Transocean, and Halliburton came to the capitol the other day to offer their opinions on how the BP oil blowout happened, and more importantly, who or what was to blame for the incident, we got a very, very lucid view of how the reparations will be delivered to all of the people whose lives, and livelihood will be affected by the mistake of some miscreant or another.

And how taxpayers will be reimbursed for government services rendered in response to this ecological disaster.

A lucid view because what the CEOs engaged in, as we typically see when more than one party is involved in a disaster such as this, was a circular firing squad.

Quotes from USA Today:

BP:

“Lamar McKay, chairman of energy company BP America, said BP is responsible for cleaning up damages from the leak because it was operating the rig. However, he said the failure of a safety seal was the responsibility of Transocean, the rig's owner.”

Transocean:
“Transocean CEO Steven Newman countered that drilling projects ‘begin and end’ with the operator — BP.”
Halliburton:
“Halliburton executive Tim Probert denied that flaws in his company's cement
contributed to the leak.”
Eliciting this comment from President Obama this afternoon:
“‘I did not appreciate the ridiculous spectacle at congressional hearings,’ Obama said at a Rose Garden news conference, referring to testimony this week from executives of BP, rig owner Transocean and Halliburton, which was doing cement work on the oil pipeline in the hours before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank last month.”
It speaks volumes. Volumes because according to these oil company execs, that while there is a major ecological disaster occurring in the Gulf of Mexico right now, no one seems to be to blame. Here in the Gulf, an area that has been “drill friendly” since the first offshore rig was installed in the late 1940’s, apparently the disaster was no one’s fault but somebody else’s.

If I don’t miss my guess then, when it comes time for shrimpers to hold out their hand for reparations, when it comes to states holding out their hands for compensation for their beach clean-up efforts that is all but inevitable, they are all going to see these fine fellows jerk their thumbs over their shoulders referring everybody down the line.

CEOs are all ducking their responsibility. It’s a sad tale that is all but too common in this day and age. But this time, they are doing it in synchrony as a single unit.

A clusterduck if you will.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Coming Soon: One Massive Mountain of Garbage

What is 130 feet tall, and 1,345 acres (2.1 square miles) wide and deep? Why none other than the Blue Ridge Landfill twenty years from now.

Here in flat, flat Texas, a “landfill” has the opposite meaning to where the term was coined. Where the term was coined there was topographical relief, canyons, valleys, and arroyos that is, and you filled them with trash and garbage.

But here, where there is nothing to fill, you stake out an area of flat land and you make a hill out of it.

In its present configuration, the Blue Ridge landfill occupies less than a square mile and is 58 feet high. About as high as a 6-story building. BFI, the original operator of the landfill, now Republic Services, filed for a permit to expand the thing to a new height of 170 feet, necessitating its areal expansion as well.

The City of Pearland as well as other government and non-government entities sought to put the lid on expansion of the landfill. Each group had their own list of concerns. But with time, each group’s concerns were treated individually, and each one, in turn, signed off on the project.

The most recent cave to the landfill corporation was that of CABRLE or the Coalition Against Blue Ridge Landfill Expansion. They signed off on the deal on Tuesday, agreeing to a smaller height over 20 years, as opposed to a larger height (170 feet) over 40 years, essentially kicking the can down the road.

Pearland, apparently is still against expansion of the landfill, as they are the municipality that will be most affected. My recollection is that Pearland was concerned that the site was leaking toxic levels of barium into the water table. Whatever happened to that concern I haven’t the faintest idea.

But what can you do? When the opposition groups are systematically eliminated by a deep-pockets corporation that litigates these issues as a matter of the course of its business, it is only a matter of time that opposition is ground down and eliminated.

And the culture here in corporation-friendly Texas is that it is assumed that corporations get what they want, despite what the people who live there say. Richard Morrison, the attorney that represented CABRLE puts it very succinctly as found in The Chron:

“Landfill companies are well-funded to have the best attorneys and experts to defend their projects. Also, state regulations are written with the assumption that a permit could be issued, he said.”

“‘It’s difficult to overcome that assumption,’ he said.”


No lie.

When Texans find that they are up to their armpits in trash and toxic waste, perhaps then they will object and win in the face of these endemic assumptions. The trouble is, I am afraid that by the time they finally get around to objecting loud enough, it will be far, far, too late.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Brad “Herman” Goehring: “Opening Day for Liberals”

Just when you think you have heard the vilest hate-speech against card-carrying Democrats, hate-speech like Sarah Palin’s “Reload” comment, someone comes out with a topper.

Appropriately surnamed Brad Goehring (the extra “h” appears to be the only thing that separates this man from the commandant of the Luftwaffe), who is actually running for Congress in CA-11, wrote to his Facebook page today the following inflammatory statement:

“If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals. The season would extend through November 2 and have no limits on how many taken as we desperately need to 'thin' the herd.”

Nice, huh?

All you really need is one fruitcake rightwing fanatic to take this guy seriously, along with what Sarah Palin has spewed, added to what others of their ilk have opined, and we have a national disgrace on our hands, if not outright internecine war.

What it suggests is that these people don’t think that they can win an election fair and square anymore. They have to eliminate their opponents by greasing them.

Then they can win elections again.

In short, what these guys have come up with is a “Final Solution” in their quest to regain political power in this country.

Drug Money Goes To Fort Bend Law Enforcement Agencies

Did anyone see this in the Houston Chronicle’s coverage of Fort Bend County news?

It sure gives one pause to see all of those Republicans holding checks for a total of $655,728, doesn’t it? Especially when you consider the illicit source: drug money seizures.

It gives one pause, and it makes one wonder whether Texas will ever adopt progressive drug laws, because if local law enforcement agencies and the district attorney’s office are the sole beneficiaries of seized drug money assets, then the answer is decidedly no.

What to with drug money? Use it in further drug interdiction, maybe?

Making no sense at all because the reason America has a drug problem is because America has drug addicts.

Pumping seized drug assets into drug interdiction, instead of into drug rehabilitation programs makes as much sense as using cigarette taxes to buy air purifiers in county buildings.

They don’t do that, do they?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Texas Legislature: Opting Against Education

When it comes to having a choice between spending money at the current level for the education of Texas’ children, and cutting funding for schools because of a projected shortfall, depend on Republican State Reps and Senators to opt against education.

Next on the GOP chopping block for the Texas legislature is none other than class size. Keeping class size low, by state law, as it turns out, costs Texas millions and millions dollars that contribute toward a deficit that Texas can ill-afford.

Because public education, being a socialist ideal anyway, is now bad policy in the Republican Party. State Senator Dan Patrick lays it out for all to see in his very revealing summation in the Dallas Morning News, via the Austin American-Statesman:

“The Dallas Morning News reported Monday that state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston says the 22-student limit is costing school districts ‘millions and millions of dollars’ without any evidence that it boosts student performance.”

On the chopping block, as the legislature stares at an $11 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year, is not upping the limit on class size at the high school level, as is the current fashion in Texas, but upping the statutory limit in elementary schools.

Class size in elementary schools has been limited by statute to 22 pupils for the past 25 years. If an elementary class enrollment reaches 23, by law a new class must be created, and a new teacher must be hired to lead it.

If State Senator Dan Patrick and others of his ilk has his way, elementary school children will be placed in larger and larger classes.

But that’s OK, says Patrick, there is no evidence that this costly law has any effect on student performance.

That’s what I like about my Texas legislators when they are made to consider a cut in funding for essential public services like education. When faced with these choices, rather than do the research, they pull facts out of their rectums.

Facts like class size has no bearing on student performance, and there are no studies that support that view.

Patrick, apparently, doesn’t lend any credence to a New York state study (PDF file), one that actually looked at class size in view of New York state making cuts along the lines that are currently envisioned by Dan Patrick – but at the university level.

According to the study, size matters.

“…increasing class size has a negative effect on student achievement. The model predicts that a student in a class of 5 has a probability of receiving an A of .52. This is 2.4 times higher than a student in a class of 290 students, where the predicted probability of receiving an A is .22. Furthermore, we find that increasing class size lowers student achievement at a decreasing rate. This means that adding 10 students to a class of 10 has a larger negative impact on grades than adding 10 students to a class of 200.”

Now in this study, one that took place a New York’s Binghampton University, we are talking about post secondary education here. These are mature and maturing students who are able to be flexible and adjust to life’s challenges. Imagine what it must be like to an 8- or 9-year old who now finds his classes are so large that the attention to his needs has been diluted by class size increases.

Additionally, what is not even considered is what the teacher must do in order to maintain order in a larger class population and at the same time deliver a lesson to a room built to hold 22 children.

Yes, school classrooms built within the last two decades are built to statutory limits as defined by the Texas Administrative Code. Classroom size, as in square-footage, is also specified statutorily, and assumed in the square-footage, is the presence of 22 students and no more.

In short, Dan Patrick is all wet. Not only are there studies that reveal the adverse effects of increasing class size on performance, but Texas state law spells out how large elementary classrooms shall be built with an eye to them not having more than 22 students housed in them.

So, given a choice between quality of education of Texas’ children, and not having to raise revenue to cover an anticipated shortfall, which do you think our noble state legislators will opt for?

Hint: Public education is socialism.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Elena Kagan: Woman, Jew, and Slavery Hater

This morning President Barack Obama announced his choice to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the United States Supreme Court.

Another woman.

Another Jew.

Good God, what must he be thinking?

The rightwing conservatives in congress are already sharpening their “No Votes” for the summer’s confirmation hearings. And no, while the last thing they can object to is the gender of the nominee, let alone her religion, that is exactly the first thing that come to their minds.

Another woman.

Another Jew.

So they are not going to jump on Kagan for her gender, which would be an insult to 51% of Americans, nor would they be so politically foolish to fault her for being a Christ Killer, at least not publicly.

So what is left to them?

Well one rightwing nut, the Washington Times’ own Flagg Youngblood (who, with a name like that simply must be gay) has labeled her as “out of the mainstream” for her objection to the military’s “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy toward gay soldiers.

Quoting Youngblood in The Atlantic Wire:

“Kagan's staunch ideological opposition to the military and providing qualified students the opportunity to serve puts her well outside of the mainstream. Even Bill Clinton, who dodged a military draft during Vietnam, signed the law Kagan opposes, the Solomon amendment, with overwhelming congressional and public support.”

That’s funny.

I thought the mainstream had shifted its course and is now somewhere along the lines of the views of Retired General Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen. All of whom are now calling for an end to “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.”

One wonders if Youngblood also thinks that opposition to the ownership of Black slaves is also out of the mainstream. That point of view, after all, is only 150 years young.

Bringing up the last and best, so far, objection to Kagan’s nomination. Her wild-eyed support of everything Thurgood Marshall. Who thought up this oeuvre? The Republican National Committee, to their great shame. In their memo they ominously ask this question:
“Does Kagan Still View Constitution ‘As Originally Drafted And Conceived’ As ‘Defective?’”
Obviously Kagan has a bias. She clerked for Marshall, after all, when she was a brand new lawyer. She delivered a stunning tribute to Marshall on the occasion of his death, one that is now being cited as a smoking gun for her disdain for the United States Constitution, something that she is supposed to rule on from time to time in her new job.

In her tribute, she cited a passage from a speech Marshall made on the occasion of the bicentennial of the US Constitution. Here are the offending words:
“…I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever "fixed" at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite "The Constitution," they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago”
How, they ask, can Kagan possibly be considered fit for this job if she views the Constitution, as originally set down by the Founding Fathers, as defective, when common wisdom has it that this is a perfect document for a perfect union and a perfect nation.

Perfect.

Except it isn’t.

Otherwise why do we still have this included in our Constitution? Article I Section 2, Clause 3:
“Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
That 3/5 of a person? Black slaves.

Slavery was written into the Constitution. It was given the Founding Father’s stamp of approval. Something that took almost 80 years, a bloody war with half a million killed, and two constitutional amendments to correct.

So what is it GOP? What is it RNC? Is Kagan and her mentor Thurgood Marshall correct that the Constitution, as originally written, was defective? Or are you guys seriously suggesting that slavery was a by gum grand idea?

Because frankly, from the way they have been acting over the past year, I am beginning to wonder if the GOP is looking longingly at America’s scandalous past vis-√†-vis slavery, and are becoming apologists for the Southern Way of Life.

As a regional party, as they are fast becoming, that would not surprise me in the least.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

May 8 Election Results: Barnum and Bailey at Its Best

It is truly amazing what a handful of people can do.

A handful of people can literally decide how a local council, school board or city leadership will be formed. It can decide the direction of a county political party.

Truly, truly amazing.

In March, 101 people decided that the Fort Bend County Democratic Party had been spinning its wheels for far too long and voted another way, and now we have Steve Brown in place in a county whose demographics are poised to tilt toward a Democratic majority. And that's a good thing.

But 101 votes?

On May 8th, yesterday, 23 people decided that they would rather have the continued presence of local good-ol’-boy Bill Dostal on the Richmond City Commission rather than up and comer Carlos Garcia. Garcia was in a 3-way race with Dostal and Gary Gillen. That’s right, the self-same Gary Gillen lately Chairman of the Republican Party of Fort Bend County.

How the mighty have fallen. At least he isn’t making a fool of himself on TV like his old pal Hot Tub Tom.

Gillen, Dostal, and Garcia literally split the vote into thirds, except Gillen got the most, and Dostal the second most (by 36 votes).

Dostal and Gillen, I would imagine, face a runoff election.

A runoff city election.

My guess is that the winner will be the one with the greatest number of extended family members living in the city limits.

In Fort Bend ISD the numbers weren’t as close, but again the turnout was so low that it is an embarrassment to call this an election. The undervote in the school board election tells the tale. In the Rice/Alumbaugh race, 1,743 voters who actually came to vote in this low turnout election did not check either box. In the Babb/Hawkins race, this reduced somewhat to 1,458 voters with no opinion.

That Babb won the race was good news in that his opponent, Gerald Hawkins, was a no-show as an actual candidate for office. That Jim Rice won his race was bad news in that it proves once again that soliciting and then spending campaign contributions does matter even in local elections. Matters when maybe it shouldn’t but there you are.

But then again, maybe I am being too hard on the undervoters, those who voted, but not in a school board race. Maybe they really had no opinion, or maybe they were uninformed. I’d much rather a voter cast an informed vote than an uninformed one, and not vote at all if they felt uninformed. Witness the embarrassment that is the Democratic Party’s nominee to face Pete Olson in November as proof of that.

Finally, in Missouri City, where I have no personal or political stake at all, I was still happy to see that voters returned Mayor Owen to office by a pretty fair margin (57.7% to 42.3%). Owen, to my mind had done nothing to earn himself an opponent in Cynthia Lenton-Gary. Missouri City seems to be running well. If I were to fault Lenton-Gary in any way it would be her decision to let the guy who came in dead last in the DA’s race, Richard Raymond, endorse her in TV ads (yes there were TV ads).

My advice to anyone who goes with Raymond to the dog track: let him pick the winner first, then go bet on some other dog, thus beating the odds by some margin.

And also in Missouri City we had the 4-way race for Council-At-Large Position 2, in which Democrat Danny Nguyen won (OK, it’s funnier if you pronounce his last name correctly). For the past few years Nguyen has been a force behind the scenes and it was good to see him put himself out there, and even better to see that the voters saw him to be the superior candidate that he was, giving him an outright majority of 55.33%. This despite the vocal and outright nasty oppo effort by those who also have Vietnamese roots, who branded Nguyen as a communist no less.

Finally, it was also heartening to see Libertarian and perennial also-ran Kevin Tunstall come in a distant third in that race despite the best efforts of his semi-crazed dittohead Chris Calvin who did his best to relieve Nguyen supporters of their lawn signs as reported here. Tunstall can take heart in the fact that he beat the pants off of Judith Dupré, a self-described savior who has been "instrumental" in helping Texans by lowering their home, auto and other insurance rates with her letter writing campaign to Governor Perry.

So voters of Fort Bend, especially those who didn’t vote in the May election, if the lesson isn’t clear, let me make it so: why reserve your votes for the big races for state and federal offices with players like Sarah Palin, Kinky Friedman and Ron Paul when you have your own three-ring circus right here at home.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

BP’s “Apollo 13”: It Just Gets Worse and Worse

A BP spokesman by the name of Bill Salvin made the unfortunate comparison between his company’s ecologically disastrous blowout and subsequent oil disgorgement into the fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico, and NASA’s “Successful Failure” of 1970, the nearly doomed manned mission to the moon, Apollo 13.

“It’s just an amazing effort, truly an Apollo 13 effort 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean trying to stop this spill.”

Why make that comparison?

NASA is a United States federal government agency working under a federal budget. An agency whose employees, in April 1970, “worked the problem” and got what would otherwise have been a doomed mission to the moon back to Earth with no moon rocks to show for it, but with slightly less than three healthy crew members (Fred Haise came down ill with a urinary tract infection). NASA spared no expense to design, build and execute these moon missions. The reputation of the United States, and the lives of our astronauts were, after all, at stake.

BP is a multinational oil giant with billions upon billions of dollars at its disposal. BP and its drilling contractor, Transocean, along with dozens of consultants, consulting companies, the US Coast Guard, and Jesus knows who else are all set to “work the problem.” A problem caused by their own failure to use the safest, most reliable blowout preventer equipment with a remote control cutoff switch because it was too expensive. Half a million dollars, after all, is just too much money to spend in order to assure failsafe drilling in an environment unreachable by man.

But I suppose what Salvin is referring to is the fact that the problems they are encountering are ones that they did not anticipate, and ones that have to be solved on the fly.

But drilling engineers do not rocket scientists make.

Witness “the dome.” On its face, putting a dome over the seafloor oil gusher and using it to collect the oil and gas gushing out into the lower bathyal waters of the Gulf of Mexico seemed like a good idea, although BP engineers cautioned that it had not ever been done in water this deep.

So imagine their surprise when gas (methane, etc) hit the cold water of the lower bathyal Gulf of Mexico and froze into a slush called a gas hydrate. Gas hydrates are the most abundant form of hydrocarbon on the planet, after all. It exists abundantly in marine sediments below 300 meters (1000 feet) in water depth. The USGS estimates that gas hydrates comprise twice the total carbon to be found in fossil fuels on Earth.

The gas hydrate slush clogged the top of the dome out through which the oil was to be extracted and siphoned up to processing ships on the sea surface.

Gee, they never thought that would happen.

Their proposed solution? Pump warm water down to the dome to melt the gas hydrate.

Is that even possible? Pumping warm water through a mile long hose that extends down through frigid water (just above freezing at that water depth) to counteract an ocean’s worth of cold water? Has anyone ever even modeled that before?

No, where the NASA near-disaster and the BP impending disaster differ is that while some things were not anticipated by engineers in either project, NASA had the tools and the instrumentation at both ends of the disaster to “work the problem.”

BP is flying blind without a compass (not that a working compass would do them any good). My impression is that BP engineers are doing what they do best: looking around for a bigger hammer.

Victory Europe Day Plus 65

Sixty-five years ago today the act of military surrender papers, that were signed on the previous day in Rheims, France, were ratified by the supreme commanders of the Wehrmacht in Berlin on May 8th, officially bringing a close to the second world war in Europe.

Mass rejoicing erupted on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In London, millions gathered in the streets stretching from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. At the appropriate moment, Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the throngs in his characteristic style.

video

Nobody says “Never” like Sir Winston Churchill.

Friday, May 07, 2010

At the Swearing-In Ceremony: Steve Brown Takes the Chair

I went to watch and record this historic event. Here in Fort Bend County, a suburban area of the greater Houston metropolitan area, a county that is poised to be retaken by the Democratic Party, we have officially sworn in the new County Chair.

I went to watch, and as I said, I went to record it for those of us who couldn’t make it.

To those of you who couldn’t, it was definitely standing-room only. Every available sitting space was full and we all stood up along the wall in back.

I set up my video camera in back so I wouldn’t get in the way of people who came to see history being made. I failed to take into account my main man KP. As you view the video, you will see KP getting up right in front of my great focused shot to get a photograph. I immediately corrected but just be prepared for a few seconds of jostling and refocusing.

Oh well.

It wasn’t the last time KP did that, but fortunately I am getting better in my editing, and the back of my friend KP’s head definitely made it to the cutting room floor subsequently.

Anyway, here is the video of the short version of the ceremony and Steve’s brief words after the ceremony.




Thursday, May 06, 2010

Sea-change Today: Steve Brown Gets Sworn In as FBC Democratic Party Chair

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

-William Shakespeare - The Tempest

The day has finally come for a sea-change in Fort Bend County. Just as the demographic profile of the county is about to shift to a Democratic voter majority in this county, the county’s Democratic Party leadership has shifted onto the shoulders of an energetic young up-and-comer in Steve Brown, soon to be the Honorable Steve Brown, Chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party.

It has been a long time in coming. A long time that Democrats have stood by powerless watching the Party Not raising money, Not recruiting candidates, Not returning phone calls and Not serving the interest of the Texas Democratic Party of which it is a part.

All of that ends today at 6:30 in the historic courthouse in Richmond, Texas.

Steve Brown ran on 4 basic principles:

Growing Our Base: filling precinct chair vacancies and organizing Democratic clubs and special interest groups.

Raising Money: Resources to fund a headquarters to promote Democratic Party visibility in Fort Bend County need to be raised through major fundraising events.

Campaigns and Elections: Recruiting electable Democrats and then helping their campaigns with resources and local volunteers.

Leadership: An active and engaged Executive Committee will energize and organize the county. Not to mention the holding of regular meetings per Party protocols.

It’s a tall order for a county that has literally been asleep for nearly two decades. But tonight begins the reawakening.

As our new chairman has said, now is not the time for recriminations and finger-pointing. The past is in the past. Now is the time to unite and fight.

But if that is not in the cards for anyone who still harbors ill intent at the new leadership, all one can ask is this:

Just don’t get in the way.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

FBISD et al. Early Voting Stats

Early voting ended yesterday for the statutory local May elections in Texas. Turnout was as expected: miserable.

I know voting for president or senator or governor isn’t as sexy as voting for city council, or a MUD board, or a school board but it doesn’t get closer to home than this. It is the local elections that affect you the most. But that doesn’t ring true to the vast majority of voters in our midst.

I will never understand it. Do we have to pay people to cast a vote? Give out gold stars? Free coupons? What is it going to take to get some voter participation?

Here are the Early Vote totals for each of the elections as compiled at the Fort Bend County Elections website:

By the way, anyone can access this data. The trick is to know how to drill down through that arcane thing called the Fort Bend County Elections website. Get this, to view the Early Vote statistics on a daily basis you go to the Fort Bend County Elections website at
http://www.co.fort-bend.tx.us/Home.asp then click on “Elections” on the top menu bar, then on “Maps” on the side menu bar.

Get that? Maps.

Then you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the Maps page and you have two links you can click on, the “Early Voting by Personal Appearance Report” and the “Early Voting by Mail Report.” You have to have Adobe Reader to read the PDF files.

Anyway, it looks like the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustee race is the one most people are voting in. Again. Not in huge numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but numerous for a May election. Missouri City – which has a much smaller jurisdictional area is doing pretty well, too.

For a May election.

Just for grins, I thought I’d compare the EV turnout in the Fort Bend ISD BOT election over what has happened in past years. Here it is, by year since 2006 when the county kept separate records for Early Vote. The only thing that is truly startling is that the Early Vote numbers are down over the period of tumult on the Board when a cleaning crew was voted in, then voted out when the public reacted to their handiwork.

Really, in recent history no one recalls when hundreds of Fort Bend ISD employees were given their walking papers in light of a budget deficit. But apparently that has had little effect on voter turnout.

Look for the final numbers to be roughly double the Early Vote, if things go on trend with past elections.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Pete Olson Votes “No” On Democracy

In last week’s vote on HR 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2010, my congressman, Pete Olson, cast another No vote.

Pete Olson voted against the people of Puerto Rico voting in a democratic election. One wonders how he feels about Iraqis and Afghanis voting in democratic elections. Is democracy a bad, bad thing? Is it only for white people?

What’s the deal?

HR 2499 is a bill, passed in the House (223-169) and now in the Senate, that would allow Puerto Rico to conduct a free and democratic election, a referendum actually, asking only this question: Which do you prefer, 1) the status quo in Puerto Rico’s association with the United States, or 2) a different political status?

No, nothing on what that change is. If the Change option wins, then they go to step two in conducting plebiscites every eight years to vote on what sort of change they want: 1) Statehood, 2) form an alliance with the United States that falls outside of the Territorial Clause of the constitution, 3) full independence as a sovereign nation, or 4) status quo – also known as choice one in the first election.

Now what the H-E-Double-Hockey Sticks is wrong with giving Puerto Ricans, already American citizens, the same right to self-determination that we enabled in Iraq and Afghanistan?

It’s not money, is it? Puerto Rico, despite its name, is not very rico.

So it has to be political. Olson is, if anything, predictable. If money is not the issue it has to be all about winning elections.

It has to be about the theoretical millions of poor and middle class people on that island who just might vote Democratic (with a capital D) if they gained statehood and could vote for their own US Senators as well as, perish the thought, the President.

Do you think?

Did Olson vote No because he thinks that Obama is pulling another fast one and stacking the Democratic deck, as it were?

I’m pretty sure that’s why, but I really don’t believe in this magical pool of Democratic voters in Puerto Rico. There is no metric.

This is because the political parties in Puerto Rico are divided along completely different lines than they are here. Basically it is a three-way between the PIP, who want complete independence (with a base that makes Libertarians look like a third party rather than a joke), the PPD a party whose sole issue is to maintain Puerto Rico’s status quo as a commonwealth, and the PNP who want statehood. At 30% the PPD is very probably the most likely to vote Democratic in American elections. The PNP, at 35%, is more problematic as it consists of conservatives and liberals who are united in wanting statehood for their respective reasons.

And 27% who fail to declare a party alliance. Independents, if you will.

So I don’t see it as clearly as Olson does. Puerto Rico is an island full of deeply religious people of conservative values. Frankly, maintaining the status quo has been the result of similar elections going back years and years.

They don’t much like change.

So I think Olson was clearly wrong to vote against a democratic election in Puerto Rico. And I think it was based on unreasoned fear of an enhanced Democratic majority in America.

Where do I stand on statehood for Puerto Rico? As a non-islander I really have no opinion. I just think that they should be free to express theirs in a free democratic election.

OK, yeah, I do have one problem with statehood. It is more aesthetic than political or economic though. Since 1776 the stars and stripes had a star field with some symmetry. Sometimes compromises were made, but on the overall, the arrangements of stars on the American flag has been pleasing to the eye.

But adding one star is going to assault my sense of symmetry. You’re going to have to lose three rows and have 6 alternate rows of 9 and 8 stars each. Ruins the symmetry. It looks squished.

51 is not a prime number, it’s divisible by 3 but I’d hate to see a star field of three rows of 17. That would be really squished.

Alternately we could go back to basics and arrange the stars in a circle.

Hate that, although the 5-sided symmetry appeals, it just looks too much like a sanddollar.

Problems, problems, problems.

So if we are going to add a state, let’s add two. 52 is a good number. That’s 4 rows of 7 stars and 4 rows of 6. And no, let’s not make the 52nd state American Samoa or the Marianas Islands (although they could well-use our child labor laws), let’s split a big populous state.

You choose, Vermont or Massachusetts.