Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Greg Abbott Suspends His Own Opinion

Texas State Attorney General Greg Abbott has made himself look like a fool again. I say “again” because it wasn’t so long ago that Abbott filed an Amicus Curiae with the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on the appeal of Texas Democratic Party vs. Tina Benkiser et al. The Amicus was so laughable that the appellate judges spared him a host of embarrassment simply by ignoring it in the rendering and writing of their decision.

So now he’s at it again.

He suspended his own opinion on allowing public access to county records when the records contain personal information such as social security numbers. Abbott failed to realize that by issuing this opinion he would hamstring any company or organization that needs daily access to land records. County clerks across the state were presented with the choice of continuing to provide online land record services and garnering a misdemeanor warrant every time someone got access to another person’s personal information through the system that they support, or shutting off public access to their records. So they shut off public access to the records.

Title companies and oil companies whined about their being inconvenienced by the county offices to Austin, resulting in Jim Keffer’s HB 2061, a quickly hashed together bill that would repeal Section 552.147 of the Government Code.
(a) The social security number of a living person is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021.

(b) A governmental body may redact the social security number of a living person from any information the governmental body discloses under Section 552.021 without the necessity of requesting a decision from the attorney general under Subchapter G.
In other words, Keffer’s bill would make it legal for the county clerk to divulge anyone’s social security number.

In the age of rampant identity theft, I have to question the wisdom of this.

So Abbott suspended his opinion for 60 days, and Keffer’s bill, while still on the list of submittals, won’t be fast-tracked to the floor any more.

Here in Fort Bend County, we used to have a District Clerk who was taking care of business in this regard. Glory Hopkins, took it upon herself in a project to excise social security numbers from all sorts of public records that were available online. People were wondering about it at the time – why was she doing this? Well, we all know now, don’t we? Glory Hopkins was doing her job efficiently with an eye to keeping confidential information away from prying eyes.

And whatever happened to Glory Hopkins? Well Ms. Hopkins, a District Clerk for 20 years, was summarily ousted from her office by a sleight of hand on the part of the former Republican Party Chairman of Fort Bend County. It’s all explained here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Newsy News For 27 February

Well it looks like Britney Spears, in a Malibu Rehab facility after a breakdown in her marriage to Kevin Federline, is on suicide watch. Her manager, Larry Rudolf, denied it, though in saying this:
“She is in rehab, and it is very disappointing that various media outlets are running these false stories about her, as Britney tries to get better”.
Then Anna Nichole Smith’s mother is appealing a Florida court’s decision to let her daughter’s attorney bury Anna Nichole in the Bahamas next to her son. Anna’s mother Virgie Arthur, is claiming in the appeal that the Florida judge
“had no authority under Florida law to grant custody of Smith's body to the girl's advocate, and that she is the ‘legally recognized person’ to take her daughter's remains”.
And then there is the custody battle between Howard K. Stern, Anna’s boyfriend at the time of her death, and two other guys for Anna's baby, 5-month old Dannielynn.

Fox News says that Britney’s problems all stem from post-partum depression and we also hear that, according to one of her ex-husbands, she may well end up like Anna Nichole.

And then American Idol singer, Antonella Barba apparently posed nude and semi-nude in photographs that have made their way to the internet. Producers of the American Idol TV show told Barba that they are “reviewing the most recent, and most explicit, photos”. Barba doesn't believe her position on the show has been jeopardized by the pictures.

And oh yes, eighteen children playing in a park in Ramadi, Iraq were blown up by a car bomb today. This is on top of 6 police officers killed by a truck bomb in Mosul, five people killed by a roadside bomb in central Baghdad, five more southeast of Baghdad, and three US soldiers killed by an IED along a road southwest of Baghdad. Thirty seven in all. Tack onto that the 23 that died in a suicide bomb attack at the gates of Bagram air base in Afghanistan, a bomb meant for Dick Cheney to at least hear, and you have an even sixty deaths in our two war zones.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Two Noriega Events in Houston This Week

It looks like Rick and Melissa Noriega have a couple of events this week - separately.

State Rep Noriega is having an informal Q & A with all interested parties this coming Thursday. He’s a really nice guy and I’ll bet there will be lots of interesting discussion. If you missed Rick and Melissa’s Lovefest in Fort Bend County earlier this month, I’ll bet you can make up for it by going to the Q & A. Rick promises that there will be “free-wheeling discussion” of his time in Afghanistan, running the hurricane relief effort at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Operation Jump Start, and just about anything going on in the state legislature. The meeting looks like a winner.

Check out the flyer below for details. (Click on it to enlarge)

Then the day before Rick’s event at The Four Seasons, Melissa is having a fundraiser for her campaign for Position 3 on the Houston City Council at CafĂ© Adobe in downtown Houston. Former State Rep Melissa Noriega made lots of friends and contacts while serving in the legislature, and lots of them are turning out to support her in the fundraiser. I got this flyer about the event in the mail yesterday. It has all the information you need (same thing, you can read it better if you click on the image).

So really, if you are at all near the Greater Houston area you have two great opportunities to meet these two very singular people. Oh, and by the way, if you are going to Melissa’s event, don’t forget your checkbook. Campaigns cost lots of money to run and the field is getting pretty big.

By the way, if you haven’t heard Kuffner’s interview with Melissa you can download it here. Kuffner says that it is his intention to get interviews from all of the candidates in this race. After listening to Melissa’s interview, though, I think he can stop. No one can top the quality of this woman’s ideas about what she’d like to do in and for Houston.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Jim Keffer’s HB 1921: Suppressing Suppression of Voter Suppression

Texas State Rep Jim Keffer filed, this past Friday, HB 1921, a bill in which he hopes to suppress the efforts of groups like Video the Vote which marshaled amateur videographers around the country to record attempts at voter suppression in the 2006 election.

The meaning of the bill is very clear:


(a) A person may not use a wireless communication device in a polling place.
(b) A person may not use any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound in a polling place.
(c) The presiding judge may require a person who violates this section to turn off the device or to leave the polling place.”

As the folks at Video the Vote say, getting eyes and ears out on Election Day to expose voter suppression and intimidation is a tool, developed at the grassroots, against stealing elections both nationally and locally. Jim Keffer, apparently believes that voter suppression should not be documented. That voter suppression helped Republicans to win the 2000 and 2004 elections has been a subject on this site in a previous posting. Who knows, documenting voter suppression and intimidation, or even the very suggestion that an anti-voter suppression effort has been mounted may have helped to elect Democrats in the '06 election.

Indeed, given the trends in this country, Keffer's party is in for a long cold winter. If they can’t gain the hearts and minds of voters through being on the correct side of the issues, then the only way to stay in power is voter suppression and intimidation.

But wait, what’s all this about forbidding wireless communications devices? If you go anywhere in urban and suburban America, you see the vast majority of people attached to their cell phones at the hip (or ear). People who vote have to leave their cell phones in their cars? What’s with that? Ahh, camera phones.

The Video the Vote recruitment video is embedded below.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Repeal the War in Iraq

An interesting idea.

Now that the truth is out, that there were no WMDs in Iraq, no nuclear research, that al-Qaeda had no love or support for Saddam Hussein and vice versa, and finally, that the Bush administration took our country to a war of choice by issuing lie after lie, aren’t we allowed a mulligan?

Can’t we do it over now that all the facts are in and we can vote on the facts, and not the fantasies hatched out of the mind of Dick Cheney?

I’m sure Hillary Clinton would appreciate a mulligan.

But that is exactly what California Senator Diane Feinstein is proposing in her Senate Joint Resolution 3

I’m not kidding, it is a resolution to end congressional approval of the war on December 31, 2007:
“The authority conveyed by the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107-243) shall expire on December 31, 2007, unless otherwise provided in a Joint Resolution (other than Public Law 107-243) enacted by Congress.”
The resolution doesn’t cut Iraq off at the knees, but it does significantly redefine the role of US troops that do stay behind for the purpose of:
(1) Training, equipping, and advising Iraqi security and police forces.
(2) Force protection and security for United States Armed Forces and civilian personnel.
(3) Support of Iraqi security forces for border security and protection, to be carried out with the minimum forces required for that purpose.
(4) Targeted counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda and foreign fighters within Iraq.
(5) Logistical support in connection withactivities under paragraphs (1) through (4).
Now, I don’t think a war has ever been repealed. Once Congress had to withhold funds to prosecute the war in Vietnam, and that worked – but with a lot of subsequent recriminations. What the resolution does is say that Congress does not approve the war, and that it is an executive branch war now.

Not that it has a snowball’s chance in the infernal regions of passing. While the Senate has a slim Democratic majority, minority members have figured out how to use a procedural method to keep legislation off the floor. [Note to America, do better next time. We need a 60-40 majority]. Even if it does pass, it would be vetoed and they would then need a 2/3 vote to override. But as the op/ed piece in the Sacramento Bee says, a veto of this bill would surely place all responsibility for this illegal and immoral war squarely in Bush’s lap.

Right where it belongs.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Barack Attack: “It’s Not About Me”

I quickly slapped together a posting yesterday about how I was going to go see Barack Obama last night in his first trip to Houston, Texas. Forever the wordy one, I rambled on and on about my antique digital camera. I was able to get one good shot of him after his speech which I have here. The stage was fairly dark and my antique camera’s strobe doesn’t have the legs to get enough photons to collide with Barack’s body. It all has to do with the inverse square law, but never mind about that.

I got there early, but Obama was late getting there. The crowd steadily grew and row after row of chairs were set out as more and more attendees arrived. By 9 o’clock, the announced time of Obama’s arrival, the crowd was at an estimated 350. Put a couple of zeroes next to that and you have the minimum haul of this fundraiser. Finally he arrived on stage at 10 PM.

Barack Obama is a very dynamic speaker. His message, in the main, was that he was in the race for his country. His now often quoted aphorism “It’s not about me, it’s about you” was repeated several times. His speech was interrupted several times with applause, and all around me I could hear people saying quietly to themselves “that’s right”.

He attacked the Bush administration at all the weak points: Iraq was prominent not only in our losses but in the now half a trillion dollars wasted there. His impassioned arguments for universal health care found no one disagreeing. Several times he addressed the administration's misplaced priorities in the Katrina catastrophe and subsequent events making the remark, specific to Houston, that Houston was still playing host to thousands of Katrina victims who even now, still cannot return home.

He made only passing mention of his fellow Democrats running for the same office. There is more said if you “Google” Hillary Clinton or John Edwards and take a look at the sponsored links on the right of the search results screen.

I was sitting there with my friend Mark who used to blog in View From 22. Mark, ever the astute political observer, made the remark that Hillary’s campaign made a strategic error in making it look like she and Obama were the titans in the race for the nomination, locked in a head to head struggle. Mark speculated that the two campaigns will grind each other down, allowing John Edwards to stroll in past the burning embers and twisted steel beams that once were their respective campaigns. All this and Mark tells me that he is an Obama supporter (Don’t tell his mama).

I told my friend Don on the way there that I really didn’t care who was the candidate as long as they were mean. No more nice-guy-take-it-on-the-chin-take-the-high-road candidates. This election will be part two of bringing some heart and soul back to America. If you have to be a mean so-and-so to do it, let’s get mean.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Score! I Go to the Obama Event Tonight

I have a very good friend who said that he had an extra ticket to the Obama Rally tonight in Houston. He offered it to me and . . .well . . . Oh Kayyy . . . . I'll go . . .

I am going to take my antique digital camera with me. It's so old I'm actually ashamed to pull it out in public to take a pic, but I have to cave in on this one.

I swear it's an antique.

It runs on 4 AA cells.

It came with a 4 mbyte memory chip.

It takes up to 728 x 1024 photos.

Like I said - antique.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

HB 1735: Ethics 101 Proposed for Legislators

Filed today by Texas State Representative Vicki Truitt (R-Southlake) is HB 1735, a bill REQUIRING that “a member or member-elect of the legislature must complete the ethics training required” by the bill’s provisions.

This is pretty interesting. Up to now, apparently, a member of the Texas Legislature may be in complete ignorance of Ethics as a crash course in it is being proposed.

I took a class in Ethics when I was an undergraduate. Valid ethical choices, as it turns out, vary from place to place and from century to century. That is the crux of what I learned in the class. That Ethics is a very poorly attended class these days should bring surprise to no one. Marketing classes in Business Scbools are brimming with enrollees. Ethics classes sometimes don’t “make” because of under-enrollment.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that legislators need a refresher.


Well for one thing, you have to have seen the individual ethics violation charges being reported in Bay Area Houston and Musings. Their ethics violations mainly center around campaign fund expenditure reporting to the Texas Ethics Commission. Mainly they raise questions about what constitutes a valid use of campaign funds, and also that reporting of an expenditure is merely listed as a payment, say, to American Express, and does not report what was actually purchased or from whom.

Well guess what part of Ethics that Truitt’s bill mainly covers? Yep, you guessed it.

“The training must:
(1) focus primarily on compliance by a member of or candidate for the legislature with requirements for reporting political contributions and expenditures under Chapter 254, Election Code”
Truitt is going high tech in her bill, making sure that all the latest technology is being used to bring Ethics to legislators.
“(3) be delivered through a variety of means, including seminars, digital versatile discs (DVDs), transmission over the Internet, or in another appropriate electronic manner”.
My take on all of this, of course, is that Truitt is trying to put lipstick on a pig. I have, in the past, made the point that the whole system encourages corruption. The whole notion of having citizen-statesmen who pull down about $25,120 per year (when the legislature is in session) encourages a system that requires legislators to abuse campaign contributions so that they and their families can live in comfort and security.

While having a crash course in ethics will keep the number of ethics violation complaints down, what it doesn’t do is do anything about the corrupt system itself. It just provides a vehicle to teach legislators how they can function in a corrupt system without getting caught.

So in the end, I suspect that all this bill will accomplish, should it become law, is a decrease in the amount of paperwork at the Texas Ethics Commission, except for paperwork filed on the legislators who sleep through the seminars, or have some sort of learning disability.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Just out: The British are Going! The British are Going!

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is slated to present to Parliament the schedule (pronounced SHED-ule) of a phased pull out of the 7,100 British troops still remaining in Iraq.

Blair has gotten a lot of heat being George Bush’s lone ally in the Iraq War. So much so that he has already announced plans to step down as Prime Minister in September.

According to The Houston Chonicle article on this, the plan calls for a complete pullout of British troops by the end of the year. Previously, opposition in Parliament has demanded that all troops be withdrawn from the civil war-torn country by October. However, back then Blair labeled these demands as “deeply irresponsible”.

It’s funny how it is irresponsible to withdraw troops by Halloween, but not a gosh darned bad idea to get them out by Christmas.

Meanwhile it’s full steam ahead to raise America’s in-country troop totals by another 21,000. Although Bush is facing mounting opposition, no back down is in sight.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t especially like all of the aspects of the British governmental system. For example, the House of Lords is really a throwback, in a weakened state in comparison to its heyday, but a throwback nevertheless. But it does seem that from time to time you notice that the majority opinion of British citizens tends to carry more weight with their government than the majority opinion of American citizens in their American counterpart.

In order to really send a message to our leaders, all we have here in America is removal of an executive by impeachment and trial. And they have to have done something really, really bad, like having casual sex with an intern. In Britain they have the “No Confidence” vote. Lose your base or your coalition, and you are out.

Every once in awhile, the British come up with really good ideas that occasionally come in really handy

Monday, February 19, 2007

Our Kids Lose, Too!

A lot has been discussed on the sale of the Texas Lottery to a private firm. I wanted to chime in on this for awhile and was waiting for the right time.

It’s the right time.

This article which appeared in The Chron really gets me. Senators aren’t worried about the fact that sale of the Lottery, and use of the proceeds to invest in publicly traded stocks, bonds, and whatever, toachieve a highly questionable 9% rate of return is risky business.

Having been in the stock market for awhile now, I can personally attest that long-term profits in any given portfolio do not come close to 9%. If they did the banks would be out of business. Rick Perry makes the claim that a private company will be able to be smarter than the folks currently running the lottery, who, apparently, are of only mediocre intelligence. But in tandem with having mediocre lottery commission employees, evidently the state employs brilliant capitol investment bankers who can pull off what people at Shearson-Lehman, E.F Hutton and Smith-Barney cannot do.

What are Texas State Senators worried about? That the private lottery firm will expand its business into other venues like video slots.

Says State Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay):
"My concern is is that this is opening the door to the mentality of slots in 7-Elevens. I don't want slot machines in 7-Elevens."
And why not? This isn’t a communist state is it? Isn’t a company entitled to maximize its profits? It’s called free enterprise. Here we have it again. We don’t want to expand gambling because it’s the work of Satan (and Indians).

Do I want slot machines in 7-Elevens? Of course not. I just wanted to point out the hypocrisy of the senator's viewpoint.

Selling the state lottery is a bad, bad, bad idea. It’s an idea akin to privatizing Social Security. But instead of putting millions of peoples retirement accounts at risk, we are risking the education of our children. Putting public education funding at the mercy of a toss of the dice – because there are no sure things in the world of investments – is ludicrous in every aspect.

So ludicrous that you have to wonder what is really behind this.

I was not living in Texas when the constitution was amended to establish the lottery commission, but I bet I know how voters were swayed into approving this. I’ll bet there was an ad campaign that used the words “Hey! Our kids win, too!”

Well you can add something else to that if Perry gets his way and the lottery is sold for his paltry $14 billion. After the next stock market “correction” we can all shout out loud and proud “Hey! Our kids lose, too!”

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What About Bob?

Robert Talton has successfully marginalized himself in the Texas House by opposing Tom Craddick in his bid to a third term as Texas Speaker of the House, and by being the lone Republican to vote against HR 4, the Craddick-requested waiver of the 60-day rule so that bills could be considered on the House floor before March. He was so incensed at his committee assignments that he publicly declared that he would never attend a meeting of the Democrat-dominated Criminal Jurisprudence committee. That he later relented and attended a meeting was no surprise. He made his point, why marginalize himself any more than he already has?

There’s still time until March (or will it be February?) 2008, but I’ll bet that he has already drawn up plans to make a run at the Republican nomination for US Congress to oppose Nick Lampson in 2008. Word has it that he and Paul Bettencourt, the Harris County tax collector are circling around each other trying to figure out who has the longest legs, the prettier face, or can make the longest stream.

Nope, Talton is in. He’s become a thorn in the side of Tom Craddick and has worn out his welcome in the Republican-dominated Texas House. Republicans view Nick Lampson as vulnerable. And this is mainly because Democrats have the same view. Witness the fact that the DCCC already has Nick’s name on their short list to send additional money, men and material to his campaign in 2008 – a Democratic “surge” if you will.

What I like about Bob Talton opposing Nick Lampson in 2008 is that HD 144 is not like CD 22. In 2006 Talton won over his Democratic opponent by 16%, but the demographics of CD 22 are not anywhere near that of CD 22. Talton will have a much harder time convincing voters that he is a moderate. Moderates will be winning in CD 22 for some time to come.

But then stranger things have happened. Some of us remember the 1968 election season when America was presented with “The New Nixon”. A kinder, gentler Tricky Dick. Could it be that Bob Talton’s rift with Tom Craddick, the man he formerly supported, is just the beginning of a newer better version of Bob? “Temperate Talton”?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Lovefest Held for Rick and Melissa Noriega Last Night

Rick and Melissa Noriega were honored last night at the Fort Bend Democrats’ first fundraiser in anticipation of the 2008 election year. And yes, it was a Lovefest. It was held on the first “date night” after Valentine’s Day. And both Melissa and Rick admitted that it was their first chance to celebrate Valentine’s Day together.

Attendees started arriving at 6:30 but it soon became clear that Friday evening traffic was delaying the arrival of many. The room eventually filled. I saw many old friends, people who I worked so closely with during the ’06 campaign, but now hardly see at all anymore.

I was talking with Melissa Noriega before dinner. Melissa reads my blog. At one point it suddenly dawned on her that it was I who provided the digital projector upon which their presentation that night heavily depended, she immediately said, “Come with me you have got to meet Rick” So she led me over and interrupted a conversation to introduce me. We talked a bit then Melissa said that maybe I could help with the projector. That’s when I looked over and saw that it had all been set up but the projected image was upside-down. I knew the problem and the solution so got busy poking through the menu, a menu that you had to read upside down and flip through the arrowed menu in the opposite direction to the ways the arrows were pointing. I was having trouble and Rick said that he was about to apply the Army solution and turn the projector upside down, and I admitted that if I couldn’t figure out the menu, that would probably be the quickest solution.

But I finally got the image flipped.

The buffet line was long so I sat and talked with fellow FBDs until the line shortened. Then we got up and loaded up.

The emcee of the evening was Democratic activist Don Bankston. After a few opening remarks, Don introduced Dr. Charles Meisgeier who was going to introduce the Noriegas.

I stopped and reflected here. Here we were a group of Democrats having a party and honoring a heroic democratic family at a local country club, when the very next day, the Fort Bend County Republican Party was going to hold their annual fundraiser at the Sugar Land Marriott. It had just been in the news that Bob Perry, the godfather of the ’04 swift-boat campaign against John Kerry, had offered the Republicans $20,000 in order to have the honor of naming the person to introduce their speaker, right-wing commentator Fred Barnes. He did this even though Sugar Land mayor Dave Wallace had already been asked to donate $15,000 for the honor. So I had to ask myself, what had Dr. Meisgeier paid in order to introduce our speakers? Don answered in this way – instead of paying cash for the honor, he paid with his first-born child.

Wow. That’s pretty intense.

So Dr. Meisgeier got to introduce Rick Noriega and his wife Melissa Louise Meisgeier Noriega.

I like Dr. Meisgeier a lot. He has a very glib tongue and has a way with words. I guess his only fault is that he has a way with TOO MANY words.

Not that I’m complaining. He told a lot of family stories. Stories about how he required Melissa to read an entire set of encyclopedias before he bought her a car, how she did over a three year period, how he tested her in an oral exam to be sure, and how she answered all questions correctly. Stories about how she won her 6th grade science fair by observing the effects of alcohol consumption on ants – ants who consume alcohol take longer to work their way through a maze. There’s something I didn’t know. About how Melissa always has something in her car - water, juice, money - to give to people standing at intersections looking for handouts. How she gives rides to people walking in the rain. These things were new to us, and it serves to underline a remark that Don had made earlier: "Melissa Noriega is the real deal."

But perhaps the most significant thing that Dr. Meisgeier said in his overlong introduction was this:
“I believe there are forces at work that move people to where they need to be.”
It was a theme that repeated through the course of the evening. At long last, Rick and Melissa Noriega got to the microphone. They gave a PowerPoint presentation. Now I know how hard it is to put one of these things together so I was really impressed that they had gone to this amount of trouble to share their lives and family with us. There was no title screen, but if there was going to be one, I would say it was this with a nod to Melissa who provides the first part: “From Ardmore to Afghanistan and Beyond: The Noriega Family Moved From Place to Place By Unseen Forces to Serve Their Fellow Man.”

In a tag team presentation style, Rick and Melissa traded places to tell their individual stories beginning with their marriage on Valentine’s day 1991 and then the Tom DeLay-engineered 2nd in a decade redistricting, when state legislators got on buses and slipped out of state to Ardmore, Oklahoma to avoid the vote on approval of new gerrymandered and (eventually found to be) unconstitutional congressional district boundaries. Rick told the story of the trip, Melissa told the story of the trooper who came to her home’s front door to threaten her if she didn’t tell him where her husband was.

Rick, a Texas National Guard reservist, was called to serve in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom. Rick recalled his trip half way around the world, and his duties. Rick was still a State Representative, but also a Major in the army at the time. Rick fell in with a group of fellow Majors who did everything together. This was a special group that came to be called “The Effing Majors”. He recalled being assembled in a hut on January 11, 2005 with his band of brothers, while half way around the world, state legislators were being sworn in to the 79th Legislature. His band of brothers swore him in.

Rick’s first act was to nominate Melissa Noriega to serve in his place while he was on deployment. He took advantage of a newly voted in constitutional amendment to allow spouses to serve in a legislator’s place. Said amendment was authored by then State Representative Carlos Uresti, Rick’s Ardmore roomie.

Then Melissa tagged off and gave her account of her time in the State Legislature. She said very little, but the overall impression I got was that she was honored to be working in the legislature, and was happy that she was put in a position where she could tell some people what to do.

Upon his return in August 2005, Rick was immediately tapped by Mayor Bill White to take charge of the George R. Brown convention center which was becoming the temporary home to hundreds of Katrina evacuees. Melissa also helped to organize this effort. An effort, Rick says, made a success by having so many willing volunteers.

Then Rick spent another 5 and a half months working on Bush’s Operation Jump Start – border duty, stopping border crossings and drug trafficking.

Wrapping it up, Rick and Melissa asked us “What does it all mean?” Some of their efforts were made by choice, but some were driven by fate – allusions to Jonah and the Whale were made.

They were put where they were supposed to be.

Who knows where is the next stop for Rick? Where will he suppose to be in the future.Who is for nominating him to oppose US Senator John Cornyn in 2008? The senator from Texas, who as I write this, is in DC voting No to hearing debate on the House resolution to disapprove of Bush’s escalation of the War in Iraq. Cornyn votes No on a resolution, one of many to come, to bring stop the war, but has never served in a war. I think Democrats can do better.

And again, where is Melissa supposed to be now? Well, Melissa Noriega finds herself where she is supposed to be. She is running in a special election to serve out Shelley Sekula-Gibbs’ city council seat. You know the one that was forsaken in favor of 5 magical days in Washington DC? Her website is up. Go here and read about the campaign, sign up for email news, and leave a contribution.

Warren Chisum: I Just Don't Buy It

Scott Hochberg is a better human being than I am. As a person professing the Jewish faith, Hochberg took a look at Warren Chisum’s apology for distributing what turned out to be an anti-semitic rant on the teaching of evolution in public schools, and said this as quoted from the Dallas Morning News:

“Rep. Scott Hochberg, a Jewish Democrat from Houston, said he was disturbed by the memo and the ‘nonsensical, anti-Semitic rant’ in the Web site – but that he believed Mr. Chisum's statement that he was "blindsided."

‘I take him at his word,’ Mr. Hochberg said.”

I, quite frankly, don’t.

Here’s why I say this. I am an educator. I don’t teach in the biological sciences, but let’s just say that I have a personal and professional perspective on evolution and how it should be taught in public schools. Chisum has a similar interest. I took my time to peruse through the website, the addendums and attachments, and got the full story in less than half an hour.

Warren Chisum is a busy man, none can claim otherwise. But if he is to send this memo, and its links, to everyone in the Texas state House, and he has not read it all, then it’s actually worse. It speaks volumes on the representative’s attention span.

Someone whose job it is to read political positions must be able to read those positions. If they do not read them, with full understanding of what they mean, then they should never, ever, transmit them to anyone else.

Warren Chisum committed a grievous error that Rep. Hochberg forgives. But I really don’t think Chisum has been sincere. I refuse to let him off as a more forgiving, and Jewish to boot, Rep. Hochberg has done.

Face it Warren. You are either a Jew hater, or you are habitually sloppy in your research.
Which is it?

Non-Binding Resolution on the Iraq War Passes - Much More Required

We all noted today that the three congressmen who represent voters in Fort Bend County, Texas voted for the House non-binding resolution against escalating the war (aka Bush's "surge") in Iraq. Now don’t get me wrong, I really did appreciate it that my congressman, Nick Lampson of Texas CD-22 voted in favor of the House non-binding resolution that opposed Bush’s “surge” of 21,000 troops to Iraq, broadening and escalating a war that has been fought and lost. Nick did the right thing, as did all of our congressmen in a newly elected majority that most accurately reflects the will of the people of the United States.

I just want more.

I want more to be done with limiting Bush’s ability to put troops on planes. Congress has the power to hamstring the president. They shirk from that power because of what resulted when congress withdrew monetary support of the Vietnam War.

Most people who are living don’t remember the Vietnam War. It was a horrible war and an illegal and immoral war just as the Iraq War is. There are many parallels. We had to get out and congress finally held its breath and cut the purse strings. It was done in a way that allowed future conservatives to point fingers at liberals, saying we did not support our troops, that we left the Vietnamese out hanging that world opinion has it that America cannot be depended upon to come to the aid of their allies.

All lies and hogwash.

America was tricked and fooled into this war by the Bush administration, just as it was tricked and fooled in 1964. The Bush administration cannot hold our troops as hostages for their further and future waging of this illegal and immoral war. That is what congress concluded way back then. We just need to learn from the mistakes of the past.

So here is the Half Empty solution to the War in Iraq. Give the troops on the ground all the bombs, bullets, MREs , body armor, and armor plated vehicles to get through and survive what the Bush administration has subjected them to as long as they are in-country.

But let it be like this. Congress will not approve a single additional dollar to anything or anyone who will send a single additional soldier to Iraq. I feel like a broken record but this seems so obvious to me. Find ways to prevent any given single solitary soldier from marching into a transport to Iraq. Not a penny, drachma, rial or pfennig goes to putting a single additional soldier in harm’s way.

Tell Iraq’s government that they have 6 months to step up, and mean it. Six months from now put 20,000 troops on planes for home. Each additional month, another 20,000. Leave a force behind on the periphery to watch and listen.

When US troops are out of Iraq, the issues that brought the sectarian war to a head turn away from the fact the US troops are in-country, and go back to their 900 year old dispute. Which is where it belongs. The presence of US troops inadvertently came in-between the feud between two ancient religious sects. No more of our brave soldiers must die for a civil war that has been brought about by the very presence of US troops.

Congressman Lampson, thanks for your vote. Now go and work on a solution.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Chisum-Bridges Plan to Get Creationism Taught in Public Schools

Vince has an interesting posting on Capitol Annex. The story is also to be found here. Vince has a copy of a memo being circulated by Texas State Representative Warren Chisum (R-Pampa) that is attached to a memo by Rep. Ben Bridges of the Georgia State House. Warren and Ben, it seems, are like-minded in their desire to see that teaching creation science and creation by “intelligent design” be taught in public schools.

This is not a new thing on Chisum’s part. It was only a couple of years ago that Chisum filed HB 2534, a bill to establish guidelines for state textbook adoption. One of the offending clauses in Chisum’s bill was this:
“An adopted textbook may not encourage lifestyles that deviate from generally accepted standards of society.”
That is, if society has a standard that does not accept evolution as an explanation for diversification of species, then it should not be included in a science textbook. The other one was this
“A theory must be clearly distinguished from facts and presented in an objective educational manner.”
This is an obvious strike at the teaching of evolution, which has two parts to it: 1) Evolution is a biological principal. This is the closest thing to saying that evolution is a fact. 2) Mechanisms on how evolution has occurred are theories, like the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Just one of many.

Thankfully, the bill died in committee.

But now we have a new approach, as described in Bridges' memo. The legal theory that the memos and the attachments present is absolute fantasy at its best. Time and time again, the memo says, getting creationism taught in public schools has been turned aside by courts and school boards, because the ideas are promotions of religious ideology, are not true science, and thus violate the Establishment clause in the US Constitution. Bridges, in his memo and in the attachments, make a case that evolution is not a secular science as opposed to creationism, because it, too, is a sectarian promotion of a religion “The Pharisee Sect of Judaism.” Among the teaching in this sect, are the teachings found in a 4000 year old book, The Kabbalah.

The Kabbalah covers a lot of ground. Mainly it is a book that teaches that there is greatness in everyone and teaches how people can reprogram themselves to achieve greatness. But it also covers things like how old the universe is. Stuff like that. Yes, the Kabbalah stays with the doctrine that Earth was created in 7 days. It’s just that a day may not be 24 hours in length. Here is a totaling:

The first Biblical day lasted 24 hours…it was 8 billion years.
The second day of 24 hours…was 4 billion years.
The third day of 24 hours…was two billion years.
The fourth day of 24 hours…was 1 billion years.
The fifth day of 24 hours…was ½ billion years.
The sixth day of 24 hours…was ¼ billion years.

Total: 15.75 billion years.

Bridges says that this number of years are so close to the theoretical age of the universe by “Big Bang” theorists, and that evolutionists rely on vast amounts of time elapsing in order to enable evolution to occur, that The Kabbalah is therefore in full promotion of evolution as religious doctrine.

Isn’t that just insane?

These people are writing our laws?

Nowhere in the Kabbalah is evolution as a fact or a theory mentioned. Yet because The Kabbalah makes a claim that the universe is as old as Big Bang theorists say, a number that Bridges and Chisum probably hold as suspect, that means it is tacit support of evolution.

That’s an amazing leap of logic.

Where it just goes crazy though, is that he claims that The Kabbalah mentions many aspects of physics and astronomy that also turn out to be true. Without saying it, the conclusion one could draw from his argument is that physics and astronomy are also taught in public schools, and are also supported by a book used by a religious sect, so either they should be discarded from the curriculum because their teachings violate the Establishment clause, or that creationism should be added.

Also implicit in the addendum is that followers of Judaism are the ones who are trying to keep the teachings of Jesus out of the schools:
“After all, the deepest of motives are involved here! The stated theological mission of Talmud/Kabbala-based Judaism is to destroy the credibility of Jesus and Bible-based Christianity”.
Yep, there it is, evolutionists are Christ Killers.

The next question is, where will this rear its ugly head? Is Chisum going to file a bill like Georgias’s HB 179? Will someone file a law suit?

Or maybe they’ll just go out there and round all the Jews up? They can’t work to keep creationism out of our public schools if they are all behind barbed wire.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day Origins and Desperate, Desperate Men

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you lovers out there.

I have this thing about Valentine’s Day. First I want to know where the holiday came from and how did it get co-opted into an annual spending spree?

The consensus opinion is that Valentine was an early Christian priest who defied Emperor Claudius II and secretly married men and women. Claudius banned marriage because he was having trouble filling the ranks of his armies because men didn’t want to leave their families.

Don't tell Dubya. It might give him some ideas on how he can "surge" more troops to Iraq.

So Valentine was arrested. Here is where the story gets quaint, and is probably contrived. It is said that Valentine became acquainted with the daughter of one of the prison guards. On the day of his death, 14 February, 269 CE, he left a note for the guard’s daughter and signed it “Love from your Valentine”.

The first valentine cards were sent by a woman, naturally, an American, naturally, named Miss Esther Howland.

And the rest is . . .corporate profits.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here is a You Tube video of assorted men sitting down to record a video for what is most probably a dating service.

Think any of them got hooked up as a direct result of their performance? You decide.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Still Not Too Late to Order Tickets to the Noriega Dinner (I Lied)

OK I know I said that the deadline to reserve tickets for the Rick and Melissa Noriega Dinner on Friday was Monday at 5 PM. That was to get people off their butts and call it in.


Call JoAnn at (281) 341-5489 before 11 o’clock tomorrow morning (Wednesday 2/14) and get it done. I hear there are still tickets left.

Get details here.

TDP Files Suit Against Texas Secretary of State

Chairman Boyd Ritchie of the Texas Democratic Party issued an anticipated press release this afternoon. The Texas Democratic Party has filed suit today against Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams. The suit alleges that the Secretary of State has violated the Texas Election Code, and the United States Constitution in allowing counties to consider among possible electronic voting machine alternatives, the eSlate machine that is produced by Hart Intercivic.

Ninety-four counties in Texas have chosen to use the eSlate machine in their elections. The suit, the text of which can be found in a PDF here, charges that Hart Intercivic’s eSlate machine “collects and records votes differently than other voting machines in use in the state.” It does this in such a way that a voter's votes may actually not be recorded.

Voter intent is all over the Texas Election Code. Voter intent is easy to observe on a paper ballot. eSlate can, if a voter enters a perfectly allowable emphasis of their vote, actually nullify the voter’s selection.

Here’s the crux of the argument.

The TEC allows for a straight ticket vote. A voter who simply checks the straight ticket box will have his intent recorded for every candidate of that party on the ballot, and no vote cast for an office that has no candidate aligned with that party.

The TEC also allows for a straight ticket vote and for votes for the opponent of the voter’s party of choice. Voter intent: the voter votes for all candidates in that party, and for individual opponents of that party where indicated.

The TEC also allows for a straight ticket vote and for voters to then go down the list of candidates and vote for them individually, as either an emphasis factor, or simply to make sure that his choice is clear. Surprise, surprise, some voters do not trust the “straight ticket process” and just want to make sure their intent is recorded.

All voting machines approved for Texas but eSlate allow for this third case, that is specifically mentioned in the Texas Election Code. HOWEVER, using eSlate, if a voter selects a straight party vote, then proceeds down the list to mark each candidate as a point of emphasis, eSlate’s hardwired programming deselects the voter’s vote.
“Each time the voter makes an individual selection by selecting a candidate from the same party as their straight party choice the eSlate records no vote at all for that race.”
A final summary screen indicates how the voter voted. If the voter is not canny and does not check out the summary screen, by pushing “Cast Ballot”, the voter is disenfranchised.

So not only is eSlate in violation of the Texas Election Code, voters in the 94 counties of Texas have also had their 14th Amendment rights infringed by the Texas Secretary of State: Violation of Due Process and Equal Protection.

The suit seeks relief from the Secretary of State first by having a Temporary Restraining Order forbid further use of the eSlate machine in Texas. The suit also claims that "the Plaintiffs have no adequate remedy at law because the substantial damages and harm from Defenders conduct are incalculable and a money judgement would not serve as adequate compensation.“

The suit also asks that if eSlate cannot be reprogrammed to follow the law as set forth in the TEC, then an order preventing the use of eSlate machines in this state should be issued.

So there it is. The Texas Democratic Party working for the voters to ensure their vote is counted and counted as cast. I don’t know about the money thing, though. Frankly if voters in 94 counties had their votes placed in peril because of the SOS, I think we need some sort of relief or apology.

How about Secretary of State Roger Williams has to attend the county fairs of each and every one of the affected counties? How about he sits in a dunk tank all day and anyone on the voter roll is given three free balls?

I’d call it even after that.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Scooter Libby's Defense: Everyone is Doing It

And what is Scooter Libby’s defense in his obstruction of justice case? Well it looks like it’s simply that he shouldn’t be prosecuted for the leak because everyone and his or her brother or sister were outing Valerie Plame to news reporters.

Yep, there it is in a nutshell.

Except he isn’t being tried for leaking that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative.

He is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.

Libby made false statements to the FBI because he was hiding something. To say that he forgot what he said to who makes perfect sense if you are obfuscating on all fronts. Maybe he should have remembered Ronald Reagan’s famous quote:
“I’m not smart enough to lie”.
But what I can’t figure out is why it is a defense that all sorts of government officials were exposing a CIA agent, not just Scooter Libby.

At least they’re not lying about it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Song of the Year Goes to The Dixie Chicks

Now I have to tell you, Country and Western music is not the first preference for my listening pleasure, mainly because many of the themes in this genre are not progressive ones.

The Dixie Chicks, however, are the exception to the rule. These spawn of the northern parts of Texas are definitely the exception.

I actually found myself out looking in the C&W aisles for their CD only to be stymied again and again with “sold out” cards. I finally scored a CD but not without some effort on my part.

And now, come to find out, they have the song of the year: “Not Ready to Make Nice”.

I love this song. It decries the blind hatred of Bush supporters for anyone who deigns to oppose his immoral and illegal war. Their (Natalie's) statements against the war were not even made in this country, they were made in the UK. The statements against Bush's war nonetheless found their way back here and vile neocon invective was cast upon these patriotic women.

Including death threats.

But they had the final say, didn’t they? Not only did Natalie Maines write one heck of a reply, but it got voted Song of the Year.

Good God, things can’t get better than that.

Listen to the words, and watch their faces. This song is the stuff of history.

HR 547 Passed by 400 to 3.

Many who wonder why gasoline prices went through the roof a couple of years ago, even here in oil and gas rich Texas, only need to look at the gasoline distribution system. Mark my words, the distribution system is only one of many reasons why gasoline is so high, but it is the one thing that was mandated by a 2003 vote in congress.

The system and infrastructure that was designed and built to distribute gasoline was designed with the idea that only gasoline would be distributed in the pipelines. Indeed, that is what is shipped, and not gasoline-ethanol blends. Part of the reason is that metropolitan areas have mandated E85 as the blended gasoline of choice to mitigate smog problems – ethanol blended gas burns cleaner with fewer pollutants. Gas stations inn rural areas still sell unblended gasoline - and it’s cheaper. It’s cheaper because the ethanol has to be distributed separately and blended locally, and that, despite federal subsidies of the price of ethanol, makes it more expensive.

One reason ethanol is distributed separately is that ethanol is infinitely soluble in water. Water mixes easily with ethanol, allowing impurities dissolved in the water to become absorbed by the ethanol. Phase separation occurs when water-laden ethanol and gasoline is combusted, and that reduces engine performance.

And that is one reason your gasoline prices are so high, and it was mandated by HR 6 of the 2003 legislative session – the so-called Energy Policy Act of 2003.

What does that have to do with just-passed HR 547? HR 547 is an effort to undo some of the bad policy in HR 6. HR 547 sends a mandate to the EPA to fund studies that make blends of ethanol and gasoline compatible:

“The Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development of the Environmental Protection Agency (in this Act referred to as the `Assistant Administrator'), in consultation with the Secretary of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, shall carry out a program of research and development of materials to be added to biofuels to make them more compatible with existing infrastructure used to store and deliver petroleum-based fuels to the point of final sale.”

They want to fund research to find additives to gasoline/ethanol blends that prevents all of the problems encountered in distributing these blended fuels by pipelines.

My congressman, Nick Lampson, was a co-sponsor to this bill which had strong bi-partisan support.

Will this result in a decrease in the price of gasoline?

On this, or on anything if the title of this blog is to believed, I am not optimistic.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I Was At Nick Lampson's Open House Today

So I went down to visit with my congressman today. Nick Lampson’s district office in Stafford, Texas was officially opened today with an Open House party. It is the exact same suite of offices that Tom DeLay’s staff used to inhabit.

There’s some poetic justice in that, but I wondered whether the place had been spiritually cleansed. It’s called psychic fingerprinting and lots of people believe such a thing exists. I am told that some sort of cleansing ceremony was conducted, but don’t know if incense was used. They tell me incense is a good tool to clean out psychic fingerprints.

Anyway, enough about that stuff, if it exists I am apparently immune because I didn’t leave the place feeling any meaner than when I went in.

I saw two of my favorite Fort Bend Democrats there, Geri and her mom Bev. Geri you all know from her guest blog on this site last year. Bev you also know because she was featured in Nick Lampson’s offbeat campaign commercial called “Bullhorn”. My name for it was “Granny with a megaphone”. For your edification I have embedded the commercial below from You Tube.

They ended up talking to a Lampson supporter from Clear Lake. As it turns out he works for NASA in their public relations department. He was explaining that he was fairly busy lately. The initial feeling when the Nowak story broke, he said, was that it was manageable. That was up until they found out about the diapers.

Nick was standing to one side in the room receiving guests, listening to views and concerns, having his picture taken with them. When I stepped up he gave me a big bear hug in thanks for the work I had done for him on the campaign. He asked me if I had any concerns and I saw that this was not the time or place to ask about his vote on HR 6. I just told him that it was good to see him again. We talked about the election on the horizon; I told him I was already working on it. We discussed district demographics and how we need to work on getting our base democratic voters out to the polls. Everyone agrees that is where we could have done loads better in 2006.

I was there for maybe an hour. I met most of his staffers, signed some well-wishing sheets of paper that will be sent to troops in Iraq that are from the local area. Mayor Scarcella of Stafford showed up and it looked like he was going to be staying awhile. The Sugar Land Chief of Police was there in uniform. Mayor David Wallace of Sugar Land came in said hi, exchanged pleasantries, and left. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will try to get on the ballot in ’08 to run against Nick. I noticed on the sign-in sheets that a couple of other city mayors had shown up as well. But for the most part, the people I saw there were the same people that I saw all summer and fall at Democratic events. Nick’s base.

On leaving, I talked some more with Geri and Bev. Geri wanted to address Nick’s vote on the energy issues but also saw that this was not the time nor the place. She got him to promise her 15 minutes at a later meeting they were both going to attend. Hopefully she will get some sort of explanation out of him. To me, an explanation is in order, but it would never affect my vote. Any progressive democrat who tries to oppose him in a primary will be shouted down, and I would never vote for a Republican opponent just as there are Republicans who will never vote for Nick. No, Nick has my vote, but when he votes in ways that I deem too close to the right, I will make my views known on it.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Only a Few Days Left to Reserve Tickets to An Evening With Rick and Melissa Noriega

The deadline just creeped up on us. Reserve your tickets by 5:00 PM Monday February 12th to attend what is arguably the premier Democratic dinner/fundraiser of Winter 2007. The featured speakers are Texas State Representative Rick Noriega (D-Houston), and his wife Melissa Noriega who is currently running for Houston City Council At-Large Seat No. 3 – you know, Shelley Sekula-Gibbs’ old job.

It should be a great event. The Quail Valley Country Club really puts on a good feed. We ordered up the same menu that we had when we did the Begala Gala there – remember the Paul Begala dinner? Same place. Same food. Good cause.

Proceeds from the live auction will all go to Melissa Noriega’s campaign.

Click on Rick’s or Melissa’s photo for a PDF of the invitation. All the information is there but I’ll post the essential information on this page as well:

Invite you to
A Tribute to an American Family:
An Evening with Rick and Melissa Noriega

Friday, February 16, 7:00 PM
Quail Valley Country Club, Missouri City
Dinner will be served
Silent Auction

Rick Noriega
Member of the Texas State House serving District 145
Lieutenant Colonel recently served 14 months in Afghanistan.
Site Manager at GRB Convention Center helping those displaced by
Hurricane Katrina

Melissa Noriega
Special Projects Manager at HISD
Honorably served in Rick’s place, in the Texas Legislature
while he was on military duty.
Announced she will run for Houston At-Large city council seat

Special Guests: Long time Fort Bend Democrats
Dr. Charles and Connie Meisgeier

Tickets are $35 each. Call JoAnn at
281-341-5489 to reserve your tickets

You must order tickets by 5 PM
Monday February 12

Thursday, February 08, 2007

On Exit Exams at Texas Colleges and Universities: Perry’s Plan

What seems to be going out of style in Texas public schools may become de rigeur in the Texas state-supported college and university system. Yesterday it was officially announced that Governor Rick Perry will be supporting a new initiative to require exit exams at the college level – a TAKS test writ large, if you will, because this comes at the end of a pretty pricey education.

This is a billion dollar plus initiative because not only does it provide cash incentives for universities whose students perform well on the exit exams, something to the tune of $2,200 for each university graduate and $1,200 for each community college / transfer graduate, but it also forgives student loans of students who complete their studies in 4 years with at least a B average.

Passing the test in order to graduate would not be required – ah, there’s how they can do it while paying through the nose for their education – but their schools get rewarded for their students’ achievement on a standardized test.

“Wait”, a student will say, “what’s in it for me if I don’t have to pass in order to graduate?”

Well they thought of that. Under this plan, students who have student loans, and graduate in 4 years with a B average will have their student loans forgiven. It’s called the B-On-Time loan program.

Gee, that sounds grand.

But uh-uh, no way, no how.

Here’s the reality. Let’s say Student A is an engineering major and needs Engineering 402B in her senior year in order to fulfill requirements of her major so she can graduate. Oops, maybe 402B is only offered in the Spring semester of evenly numbered years. Or maybe the professor that teaches it is on sabbatical. Or maybe the professor that teaches Engineering 386 is undergoing chemotherapy and is being replaced by the one who normally teaches 402B. THIS HAPPENS (believe me I know). Students who don’t graduate in 4 years don’t fail to do this because they are slackers; the school’s or the department’s course scheduling machine simply does not allow it.

Either that or the class keeps filling up too quickly and the wait lists are long and hopeless.

So if the governor is going to propose this incentive plan, there needs to be a complete reorganization of university scheduling plans to ensure that each and every student has the same opportunity to qualify for this massive benefit.

Otherwise the lawyers are going to feast on this one.

Other avenues are being explored. It seems that the program is already under testing at the UT campuses.

Each year since 2001, the UT system has paid for 100 freshman students and 100 senior students at each of the nine campuses to take a non-multiple choice test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment test. Recruiting students to take the test is not hard as they are enticed with cash bounties, iPods, and a $1000 scholarship to the highest performer.

Now that’s the ticket. This is the most tested generation in the history of the world – in terms of standardized testing, that is. Now all of a sudden they get paid to take a test?


Maybe that’s all it will take. No empty promises to forgive a loan, promises that can never be fulfilled because the system doesn’t allow for it. Just give them an iPod, or maybe even the latest Motorola camera phone – heck, let them chose which one they want.

But I bet that the gov really wants this B-On-Time program to go. Students who graduate in 4 years simply need to pass this exit test. One last hurdle. Think of the possibilities. All of these tutoring firms that now specialize in prepping high school students in SAT, SAT II and ACT tests can now expand to higher education where the stakes are truly high. Getting a $20,000 state loan forgiven by laying out a mere $2,000 bucks to a private firm to take a course in how to take the state-mandated college exit exam. Now that’s what I call the American way.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

James Leininger All Set to Kick 2000 Kids Out Into the Streets

No, I didn’t say it, he did. Texas millionaire James Leininger has told the Texas legislature that they need to take over his project – a 10-year, $50 million commitment funding a program for students in San Antonio's Edgewood school district - which is set to expire next year.

If they don’t act, Leininger says, the 2,000 students that attend a private school under his personally bankrolled school voucher program will be "out on the street".

Man, that’s a little cold.

And a little wrong.

First, I assume that these students who have been, up to now, the beneficiaries of a private school education will have no trouble getting themselves enrolled in a publicly funded school system. Unlike private schools, public schools cannot boot kids out into the streets (although, speaking as a public school educator, you sometimes wish . . . ). Public schools are, by law, obligated to admit anyone under the age of 19.5 years and give them an education.

Here is what Kathy Miller of the anti-voucher Texas Freedom Network said about Leininger’s plans:
"Private schools may be willing to put those kids out on the street, but the great thing about our neighborhood public schools is that they would never do that."
Not only wouldn’t but couldn’t.

Texas Education Code Title 1 Chapter 1§ 1.002:
EQUAL EDUCATIONAL SERVICES OR OPPORTUNITIES. (a) An educational institution undertaking to provide education, services, or activities to any individual within the jurisdiction or geographical boundaries of the educational institution shall provide equal opportunities to all individuals within its jurisdiction or geographical boundaries pursuant to this code.
Leininger’s private schools don’t have that rule to live by. How nice.

I think it’s time for James Leininger to take stock of his grand plan. He has fewer supporters in the legislature in this session than last, and the vote just isn’t there. Besides that, he has just illustrated for us one of the less obvious reasons why school voucher programs are a bad idea. What if someone pulls the plug on the voucher system, like Leininger plans to do with his program? Private schools will turn out their voucher students by the thousands, leaving them no choice but to go back to the public schools, which will have no choice but to admit them. These will be schools that will have been underfunded for years because the voucher system redirected funds from public schools to private schools.

And another reason to rethink school vouchers? No one wants them.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

One Month Into His Term: How My Texas Congressman Has Voted

Well Congressman Nick Lampson of Texas CD 22 has been in office for a little over a month now and maybe we need to see a tally of votes on passage so far.

Here is how my congressman has voted so far.

H.J.RES.20: Voted Aye to make further continuing appropriations for the fiscal year 2007, and for other purposes.

HR 475: Voted Aye to revise the composition of the House of Representatives Page Board to equalize the number of members representing the majority and minority parties and to include a member representing the parents of pages and a member representing former pages, and for other purposes.

HR 6: Voted No to reduce our Nation's dependency on foreign oil by investing in clean, renewable, and alternative energy resources, promoting new emerging energy technologies, developing greater efficiency, and creating a Strategic Energy Efficiency and Renewables Reserve to invest in alternative energy, and for other purposes.

(er . . . no?)

HR 5: Voted Aye to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to reduce interest rates for student borrowers.

HR 4: Voted Aye to amend part D of title XVIII of the Social Security Act to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower covered part D drug prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries.

HR 3: Voted Aye to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research.

HR 2: Voted Aye to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide for an increase in the Federal minimum wage.

HR 1: Voted Aye to provide for the implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Election of the Speaker: Voted Pelosi.

So what is the score you ask? Well according to the Half Empty Analysis of Progressivism Index(or HEAP Index) Nick scores an 85.71 out of a total of 98.4. Well that sure beats the HEAP Index of the preceeding congresswoman, 28.5 out of 124.9, or the one that preceeded her, 0 out of 0 (vacant seat), or the one that preceeded the vacant seat: -127.35 out of 258.8. Yes the HEAP Index has no point of reference at all.

I can get behind each and every one of those votes that Nick cast but one. HR 6. Nick voted no with three other Democrats: John Barrow (D-Savannah, GA), Dan Boren (D-Paden, OK) and Jim Marshall (D-Macon, GA). It passed, but now I have to ask myself this: is Nick going to be voting energy issues that constantly favor the oil industry?

In his statements about renewable resources Nick makes the point that our long-term goal is toward development biofuels technology and bringing technology online that makes use of renewable resources, but that we must not lose sight of short-term needs.

And recall that during the campaign, Nick actively urged his former colleagues to kill a house bill that would have, in turn, killed funding for the RPSEA consortium that would fund research into ultra deepwater oil and gas exploration and production. That this funding comes from the public trough, and benefits private industry is only half the issue. The other half is that oil and gas companies find themselves flush with cash, and can easily fund their own research.

I personally like Nick, I voted for him, I walked the steamy streets of Sugar Land, Missouri City and surrounding unincorporated areas in July and August last year pounding on doors for him.

But what IS it with this flirtation with big oil?

Monday, February 05, 2007

To Primary or Not to Primary, That is the Obsession

As I flip through the Texas progressivist blogs on a daily basis, I occasionally encounter one of my fellow progressive Democrats gnashing their teeth over the traitorous votes of Democrats who are “Too Close to Craddick”, or “Craddick D’s” or “The Iscariot Caucus”.

I think that I am detecting something akin to obsession. Obsession and forgetting about the fact that the Democratic Party is truly a big tent party. There is more racial and cultural diversity in this party than in the Republic Party. Surely there must be more diversity in ideologies as well.

Bill Clinton said it best: “Democrats want to fall in love, Republicans want to fall in line.” Democrats want to embrace the totality of a state representative’s votes, and if those votes fall short of their expectations – which are somewhere in the neighborhood of 100% - they need to be “primaried”.

They need to be challenged in the 2008 Democratic primary, and challenged hard with PAC money to replace them on the ballot with a Democrat who is more of the stripe and carries the ideologies of the progressive wing.

I challenge this obsession on 2 fronts:

First, the obsession does not take into account the make-up of the district the representative comes from. Will replacing the candidate with a more liberal candidate result in alienation of the electorate who will vote for the Republican challenger? Will the campaign to replace the representative on the ballot be a hopelessly lost cause resulting in a waste of time, money and resources that could be better spent defeating Republicans?

Second, by not acknowledging that we, all of us Democrats, need to find a way to get along in this big tent of ours, we invite fractionation of the party with moderate elements, chased out by progressives, winding up in the warm embrace of the Republican Party. It has happened before. Progressives were so skilled at chasing out the moderate elements of the party during the 80’s and 90’s that Democrats eventually lost their majority (albeit helped along with DeLay’s PAC money – which served to tip a close balance to the other side).

I know, this isn’t the first time I have posted on this issue. I’ve posted on it here, here, here and here. This probably isn’t the last time I will bring this up either. I’m bringing it up now because of the BOR posting which I was not excited to see, and highly disagree with it. I am also bringing it up again because I want to send a high five to Vince at Capitol Annex who put up a simply marvelous discussion of this issue once more. He really nailed it this time. Especially that last bit about Villarreal. Bingo.

So is this idea of “primarying” a legislator because they strayed from the progressive fold a couple of times truly obsessive behavior? Do obsessives have difficulty seeing the other side of things? Yes. Can obsessives find compromise on issues? No. Do obsessives act from deeply held beliefs that they will never compromise? Obviously.

Do obsessives win elections?

Only when they have all the guns.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

TEA Becomes Transparent

In a move towards transparency in government the Texas Education Agency has inexplicably put all of its payments since September 1, 2006 online. They’re showing their check register to the public in other words.

If you select Excel spreadsheet it gives you a pivot table in your browser window. I find these things marginally useful so I get rid of that formatting. I am a data wonk so I like my data sortable.

I wanted to know where the big ticket items in their payouts were so I isolated the top 25 school districts that have gotten the most funds. The top 25 districts with the largest payouts take 35% of the state funds. HISD takes the most, but I reasoned that they had the most students.

Giving me an idea.

I looked up the 2005-06 student population of each of these districts and added in that figure, then divided it into the funds. Very telling. Higher end more affluent districts like Dallas, Cy-Fair and Fort Bend are given fewer dollars per student than the lower end districts such as Laredo, La Joya and Brownsville.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Global Warming From an Earth Scientist’s Perspective

Although he is not actually the official nominee, Al Gore most certainly deserves a lot of the credit for production of this thought-provoking documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”. What a year for Al, nominated for an Oscar (or very nearly so, at least), and a Nobel Peace Prize. His film has been both praised by environmentalists and panned by the corporate world.

Energy companies are constantly bombarding us with denials that greenhouse gasses from hydrocarbon combustion are contributing to a global rise in atmospheric temperature, and that this is causing ice at Earth's poles to melt, producing a global rise in sea level. I thought I would take a minute and let you know why

Oil and gas exploration techniques underwent a revolution in the 1980’s. A whole new subscience evolved called “Sequence Stratigraphy”. Implicit in sequence stratigraphy is the notion that global sea levels have risen and fallen hundreds, no some say thousands of times in geologic history.

I tried to find a Mesozoic-Cenozoic Cycle Chart online to illustrate the point but all I could find was the chart at left that is also posted on Wikipedia.

It’ll do.

According to that chart, and this one, the last sea level lowstand was about 20,000 years ago during the last glacial advance – the so-called “Ice Age”. Water normally in the ocean basins was trapped on the continents in vast thick ice sheets. Sea level has risen since then, and in fact, is still rising.

That’s their claim. Sea level rise and fall is a natural and cyclic thing. What drives it, according to present theory, are Milankovic Cycles, that is, cycles of Earth’s “wobble” on its axis between 21 and 24 degrees relative to the plane of Earth’s orbital path. This cycle is estimated to occur once every 26,000 years. Superimposed on that is a change in Earth’s orbit from elliptical to circular, and back to elliptical. Timing for this cycle is 44,000 years. Other cycles superimpose on this to produce the net changes in sea level as shown on the Hallam and Exxon Curves.

So it’s their claim that sea level changes are natural events and that they are being made patsies in a huge hoax.

As a former earth scientist I can see where they are coming from, but I also think that they are missing the point. Global sea level changes are measured in centimeters per thousand years. Historic changes can be seen in ancient seaports that are now underwater. From where I sit, I wonder whether we are exacerbating the whole thing by altering the gas content of our atmosphere, something that has been documented.

The analogy is being on a boat with a slow leak with no life vest and never taught to swim, all of that exists plus the fact that someone is dumping water into the boat with a Dixie cup.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Perry on HPV Vaccination: Progressivism or Pandering?

On executive order, Governor Rick Perry made Texas the first state, the first governing entity, to require that girls entering 6th grade be vaccinated for Human Papilloma Virus or HPV.

Isn’t that just about the last thing you would have expected to come out of this Texas governor? Vaccination to prevent cervical cancer before a girl becomes sexually active is such a good idea it doesn’t really need debate. My great-grandmother died of cervical cancer 30 years before I was born. She died at a relatively young 55 years of age.

It’s such a good idea that it is being considered in the US Senate (SB 54) and in several other state houses besides Texas, including New Jersey, California, Georgia, and Kentucky. Now that Perry made this an executive order, the Texas state house bill, HB 146 submitted by Joe Deshotel of HD 22, is now unnecessary. Deshotel commented that he didn’t think it would have ever made it to the floor, so he was pleased at this outcome.

But this is Texas and we need to debate this anyway. FortBendNow is reporting that State Representative Charlie Howard is going to put up a fuss about this. It seems Rep. Howard thinks that vaccinating young girls will send a signal to them that it’s OK to have sex now.

Funny. That isn’t what he wrote in his letter to Perry. He made mention of how costly the vaccine was, how being vaccinated could lead to a false sense of security because it only vaccinates against one of four strains of the virus, how it is relatively new and does not have any long-term studies on its effects, and finally, how Perry usurped the authority of the legislature by making it an executive order.

But then, I guess you don’t put in writing the fact that you think 12 year old girls will all be wanting sex now that they’re vaccinated against HPV.

If that is the real issue.

Think about it. Who in their right mind (besides a few Neocon Nutjobs) believes that this is a signal to 12-year old girls that it’s OK for them to have sex now? Parents, if you don’t want your 12-year old daughters to have sex just yet, RAISE THEM with values and morals. A little guilt thrown in is always something for good measure. That should do it.

No that isn’t the issue, is it? It’s about Merck, isn’t it? It’s about a campaign contribution (and more to come). It’s about how Merck’s Texas lobbyist is Mike Toomey, Rick Perry’s former chief of staff. It’s about the huge windfall to Merck when it sells its pricey vaccine, Gardasil, three doses for a full course, at 120 dollars a pop, to the parents of every 12 year old girl in Texas.

It’s about what it’s always about.