Saturday, March 31, 2007

If We Can’t Get Along, How About Keeping it Civil and Thoughtful?

A tempest in a teapot erupted in the Texas blogosphere this weekend. What it did was expose what a soft underbelly we Democrats have when someone offends our sensibilities about how we should choose our candidates.

It all started at FortBendNow. Curiously, the article there elicited 7 comments at this writing, but the article is the subject of at least twice as many blog postings which spawned hundreds of comments. I interpreted from Dunn’s hints, as did just about everyone else, that the person in question was none other than my congressman, Nick Lampson. But I didn’t mention his name directly, in deference to his being in recovery from heart surgery.

That didn’t stop nearly everyone else, though.

I don’t mind that. Everyone is entitled to a say, an opinion. Things could be better-timed, though.

I guess what I really had a problem with this is that the controversy that erupted was a controversy over two of our elected Democratic officials. Greg Wythe at Greg’s Opinion also seemed to be offended and posted something close to a rant on the whole thing, a posting that a friend of his asked that he take down. He complied (except for the fact that you can still get to it from Lefty Blogs) and it is gone, but actually not, because Vince at Capitol Annex put it right back up. He did it because he wanted to comment on the posting, but couldn’t anymore because it had been taken down, yet was still clearly visible and still being read.

In his commentary, Vince wrote something that raised my curiosity: “I am aware of no instance when a blogger has attacked NIck Lampson publicly, escept for one commenter at Daily Kos. If I missed one, can you enlighten me?” (sic)

In my readings, I think I came up with more than one attack, so I went back to look more closely. By my count there is more than just one slam out there. But the slamming was not just toward Nick Lampson, but also toward Rick Noriega.

And that, in the end is what got me going. My congressman has just had heart surgery. Rick Noriega just got me a pay raise, is terribly active in the legislature just now, and is working on his wife’s campaign for Houston City Council. Neither of these guys need this just now. But there it is anyway.

This whole sordid thing opened the door for bloggers and commenters to say harsh things about both of these good men, neither of whom, I repeat, neither of whom have declared his candidacy for US Senate.

No Vince, there is more than one remark out there. Nick was called an “anti-immigrant zealot”, a “gimp”, “stillborn”, one with “the most connections”, “lame”, “unelectable” and, shall we say, someone, who for health reasons should not be running for statewide office.

Tasteless and thoughtless.

Rick, on the other hand, apparently has the wrong surname. In addition to that, he is the pawn of a Democratic-activist family who hate Nick Lampson.


People are capable of such drivel. Even Democrats.

Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself. Quoted text and links provided.

Stace Medellin at Dos Centavos:

“Lots of names are thrown around, including a certain member of Congress in the area that recently stated through a staffer that he would not support comprehensive immigration reform. Yeah, that's all we need, two anti-immigrant zealots running against each other statewide”

Markos at Daily Kos:

“Lampson barely won a race against a write-in candidate with a difficult hyphenated last name. He lost his previous House seats after the DeLay redistricting. Now he's supposed to win the state?”

Comments on the same post:

1. “People with weird names don't win. Also people whose names sound like famous criminals, mass murders and those who fought wars against the United States (and lost).
So "Noreiga" is (or should be) off your list”.

2. “His health problems would make campaigning in the state a problem. We've got quite a large one, and it's hard for a candidate to NOT actively go around to meet voters (make that Dem candidates and primary voters).”

3. “Everyone knows Lampson is doomed - he will not be re-elected to his seat in a district where the average person is to the right of Genghis Khan. He has some name recognition and a warchest, albeit small, and the Beltway Boys both in D.C. and Austin was to see him "promoted" into another race, rather than have our only promising guy become a stillborn.”

4. “Nice guy, but Senator? No mamas. Then again, a three legged dog should be able to win next time. And didn't Lampson just get out of the hospital with a triple bypass?”

5. “Let's try to do it right this time and go with the best person instead of who has the most connections...for once.”

6. “Are you sure its a good idea to run a guy with a name like Rick Noriega? It sounds like Manuel Noriega.”

7. “Just so you guys know, the SO CALLED "netroots" in Houston is combined of about 7 people, most of them the Bankston family, which has ruined politics in their area. They are behind putting up Noriega as a candidate, and I'm sure they're behind the FB NOW article, as Susan Bankston is buddies with Bob Dunn and sometimes, let's say, influences what he writes. I would be very surprised if Bob Dunn knows any "insiders" at the DCCC. And why would they comment on this anyway? Also, the Bankstons have been after Nick Lampson since they asked his campaign for $110,000 and didn't receive it. After that, they went after him like wolves hunting prey.”

8. He's a gimp of a candidate There. I said. McBlogger. Check me later tonight and I'll elaborate. He runs scared and he reeks of fear. He didn't take down DeLay. DeLay did that all by himself. Nick wasn't a strong enough candidate and I'll be damned if he's going to force people out of the race for Senate just so he can have an easy primary and then lose the general because he's lame. Nick's a good guy. But he's a TERRIBLE candidate. That's just reality and I'm sorry no one ever opened your eyes.”

McBlogger at McBlogger:

“…it's tough for someone like Nick to get elected in this day and age given the sophistication of the electorate. He comes across as lame. In person and in his ads. Maybe it's his team or maybe it's him. However, he doesn't get a pass either way for being a 'good guy'. You gotta be a 'good guy' AND electable.”

My head hurts.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Thanks, Rick.

Yesterday the Texas State House voted to give me a pay raise.

That in and of itself is a good piece of news, but do you know what makes it ever so sweet? The pay raise resulted from an amendment proposed by Rep. Rick Noriega (D-Houston) to take the funds that were being set aside for Rick Perry’s, Warren Chisum's, and Tom Craddick’s teacher incentive payment program and rechannel them into a two-year across the board pay raise for all teachers, librarians, counselors and school nurses in Texas public schools.

Rick challenged the House membership to do the right thing: “Bottom line, members, do we want to give teachers a pay raise?''. And they rose to the occasion.

I don’t think that there is a teacher in Texas who favored the incentive plan. The plan they proposed is divisive and morale-killing. Around the time that Houston ISD teachers were insulted with the HISD incentive plan, I posted this commentary about Pay for Performance.

House Democrats were united in voting for Noriega’s amendment, and they even picked up some Republican votes to carry the day. The vote was 90 to 56.

Yes, 56 Republicans voted no to teacher pay raises.

Get it? They took funds away from that evil and heinous program and distributed it fairly and evenly to the some of the most poorly paid educators in the nation. That’s not just justice, it’s poetic justice.

And this must have put them in a good mood, because almost immediately afterward, when Rep. Joe Heflin (D-Crosbyton) headed the effort to “ban spending any money allocated to the Texas Education Agency on a program in which state tax dollars pay for private-school vouchers”, that got passed as well and by a huge majority: 129-8. It wasn't too long ago that similar legislation was voted down by a very slim majority. Very clearly House members have finally heard Texans loud and clear that Texans support our public school system and take a dim view of taking state funds away from public schools.

I think Dr. Leininger is out of business. Now he needs to find some other part of the state budget to rob so he can sell his hospital beds.

I hear that House Democrats were not so lucky in getting other amendments to the budget bill passed, but for public school educators in Texas, it was a very good day.

Oh, and by the way, Rick Noriega's wife, Melissa Noriega, is running against a herd for Houston City Council At-Large Position 3 seat. No? You didn't know that? Early voting in the special election starts in just one short month so go here and do something for her campaign, OK?

UPDATE: The Senate put teacher pay for performance back in the budget. Swine.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nick Lampson Launches "Congress At Your Corner" in Texas CD-22

Well Nick Lampson may still be in the hospital recovering from his quadruple bypass surgery, but his in-district staffers are not. Fortunately for us here in Texas CD-22 they are embarking on a new constituent outreach program that they are calling “Congress at Your Corner”.

I think it’s a great idea.

Here is part of the news release:

Congressman Lampson's "Congress at Your Corner" Program in Clear Lake, Richmond/Rosenberg, Galveston County
Representatives to enhance constituent outreach efforts

Stafford, TX - Staff from Congressman Nick Lampson's (D-Stafford) office will be at various locations to hear from constituents and enhance constituent outreach in District 22 through a new program called "Congress at Your Corner.”

They have three events planned the first two weeks of April.
On April 4th they are going to be in Sekula-Gibbsville, also known as Clear Lake.

Congress at Your Corner - Clear Lake

Clear Lake City-County Freeman Branch Public Library, 16616 Diana Lane, on Wednesday, April 4, 5:30-6:30 pm.

On April 9th they are going to be in the Richmond/Rosenberg area.

Congress at Your Corner - Richmond/Rosenberg

George Memorial Public Library, 1001 Golfview Drive in Richmond, on Monday, April 9, 5:30-6:30 pm.

And on April 10th they are going to be in the Galveston area.

Congress at Your Corner – Galveston

Mae S. Bruce Public Library, 13302 6th Street, on Tuesday, April 10, 5-6 pm.

Those with questions on this should contact Congressman Lampson's Stafford office at 281-240-3700.

This is a new initiative that has come out on both coasts, and now Texas. Freshman Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-11) and Freshman Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-20) have already set up these initiatives in their districts.

Interestingly enough, both Gillibrand and McNerney have the honor of being on Karl Rove's Hit List along with Nick Lampson.

What a coincidence.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Running Against Cornyn in '08: The DCCC Has Someone Else in Mind

Bob Dunn over at FortBendNow has an Op/Ed piece out today that raised my antennae a little.

He brought up Richard Morrison’s website that urges Texas State Rep. Rick Noriega to run for US Senate in 2008. I mentioned all of this in a previous posting that detailed an individual’s one-sided effort to precipitately put Rick Noriega’s name out on the blogwires as one who is considering a run at the Senate. An effort that can only be described as headline whoring. Nevertheless this caused the grassroots elements in the Democratic Party to react far in advance of when this should actually happen, and the Draft Noriega website went live in mid March.

Dunn runs excerpts of Richard Morrison’s statement on the blog. And then he writes this:

“…the draft movement apparently isn’t going over too well at all with some Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee insiders. It seems they have a more prominent candidate – with a Fort Bend connection – they’re backing to run against Cornyn”.

The D-trip-C?

They have someone in mind that they want to be my senator?

I met some of these people in the ’06 election. They may have money, but I never could figure out whether they knew what they were doing.

So the question begs. Who is it that Dunn has heard about but isn’t saying? Who does the DCCC have in mind?

Hint number one: A more prominent name than Rick Noriega.
Hint number two: A name with Fort Bend County connection.

Hmm, hmm, hmm, who could it be?


I think the final piece fell into place when I realized that it is the DCCC we are talking about, and not the DSCC. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the DSCC to be running the discussion?

So maybe the DCCC has figured out an ’08 retention strategy.

It involves bailing out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Everyone Who Works in a Texas School to be Fingerprinted

Well the other shoe dropped.

It was just a matter of time before Austin came around to getting the rest of our fingerprints.

Just passed in the Texas State Senate today is SB 9, a bill sponsored by Florence Shapiro and Juan Hinojosa. All Texas educators will be required to submit their fingerprints to be filed at a national criminal clearinghouse to prevent teachers who have past criminal sexual offense records from teaching in Texas schools.

The requirement is already in place for new teachers. Since October 1, 2003, any applicant for a teaching credential in Texas has been required to submit a set of fingerprints “that a national criminal background check can be conducted by the FBI”.

The bill goes way beyond teachers, however. It covers anyone and everyone who works around children in Texas public and charter schools

Well . . .not everyone is on the list. Here is the list I see:

“A person may not be employed by or serve as a teacher, librarian, educational aide, administrator, or counselor for an open-enrollment charter school unless the person has been approved by the agency following a review of the person's national criminal history record information as provided by Section 22.0832”

I don’t see these people in the list:

Bus drivers
Cafeteria Workers
Campus Police
Secretaries and Clerks

Hopefully, these are all included in the broad brush “and other non-certified public school employees”

I think if some of us are to be fingerprinted, why limit the fun? Let’s all get in on this.

That this is a paternalistic law that infringes on the rights of individuals falls on deaf ears here. Normally I am very progressive about the disclosure of things like fingerprints, but since my prints are already in the FBI files (no, I’m not a criminal, this has been a requirement in other states for certification for a long time) I want to spread the fun around.


Well sadly, this past year I had to add a fourth reason why people become teachers.

Here are three reasons that people go in to teaching, reasons that I have maintained for years:

1. People teach because they love their subjects, they love teaching and they love being around children. They would practically pay to do their jobs which is why teacher pay is so low.

2. People teach because they have had an earlier career, and now later in their lives they think that teaching might be a good way to pass on their knowledge and skills. Besides, having worked in the private sector, they have built up a nest egg and can afford to work for slave wages.

3. People teach because the pay beats what they can get as a checkout clerk at their local supermarket.

And the new reason?

4. People teach because they want to have sex with children.

And that is the reason for SB 9.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nick Lampson’s Quadruple Bypass Operation Goes Without a Hitch

My congressman, Nick Lampson, is again in the news today, but the news isn’t the kind that I like to hear.

Nick was experiencing chest pains last week and went in to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethseda, Maryland for a check-up. Recall that Nick had a problem with his heart in mid-December, and an angioplasty was performed resulting in insertion of a stent to open up one clogged artery on the surface of his heart.

Last week, doctors at the NNMC noted “irregularities” and recommended that Nick see his doctors as soon as possible. As Nick was coming back to Texas at the end of the week anyway, he went back in to have them take a look. As a result of their examination, his doctors decided that Nick needed bypasses for 4 arteries on the surface of his heart.

He checked in to St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, and the 3-hour procedure was done on Sunday, the 25th of March.

He’s still in the hospital in recovery, but they say he is in high spirits and is bantering with the nurses over politics. He’ll be in Houston as he recovers, and will miss some votes in Washington D.C., mainly budget votes.

While Nick’s angioplasty procedure was probably called for given the discomfort he was feeling late last year, a report came out just today on the overuse of angioplasty as a first line procedure of treatment in non-emergency cases.

The study, by American and Canadian medical researchers, will appear next month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The report criticizes the standard practice of installation of a stent for treating patients for non-emergency cases.
"We’re not saying that angioplasty is not necessary (for many heart patients),” says Dr. Koon Teo, a McMaster cardiologist who led the Canadian arm of the study. “We do say that for people with angina and partial blockages, angioplasty might not be necessary in the initial stages. Instead of having it as the first line, we should make sure they get medical therapy.”
Their study of over 2,000 heart patients found that “aggressive, less expensive and non-invasive medical treatments were just as effective at preventing heart attacks and deaths than the first-line angioplasties.”

The alternative treatment consists of the use of cholesterol reducing statins, aspirin, beta-blockers, blood sugar and blood pressure controls for diabetics, and lifestyle changes.

Half the patients in this study, having “stable coronary artery disease”, were treated with angioplasty as well as .the above alternative treatment; the other half was treated with the alternative treatment alone. Researchers found that the number of heart attacks and deaths that occurred after a median 4.6 years were almost identical in both groups.

So in Nick’s case, a stent was called for, but it wasn’t enough. Now let’s hope this is the fix he needs to get his health back.

The family requests that instead of sending flowers to Nick at the hospital, to please consider making a donation to the American Heart Association.

Good idea.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Is George Bush Playing “Good Cop/Bad Cop”?

You have to wonder.

Out of the Justice Department come email after email confirming that US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is a lying SOB, and George Bush, again, not only comes out and defends him, but thumbs his nose at the Senate in their attempts to get White House officials to come and tell them what happened.

It’s a win-win-win situation for Bush. He wins when he defies the Senate, saying that his assistants are protected by Executive Privilege, he wins when their attempts to subpoena them will end up in the courts, delaying the whole thing for years, and he wins when he can allow Republican Senators and Congressmen to rail on him for his intransigence and support for an Attorney General who has become his political lackey.

And then there’s Iraq. Bush promises to veto the House bill recently passed that puts limitations on who can be sent to Iraq as well as how long we will continue to stay in Iraq. Only two Republicans (Gilchrest and Jones) voted with the majority, but that’s two more than would have voted on this last year. His stubborn stance on continuing his illegal and immoral war will end up giving Republicans the excuse they need to distance themselves, and put themselves in line with mainstream America on this issue.

I think it’s true. I think George Bush is playing the Bad Cop. I think that Bush is giving his party ammunition and placing a target squarely on himself. The mid-term elections, as devastating as they were to the GOP, is mere preface to an over-the-horizon debacle in 2008 unless. . . unless Republicans are allowed to throw rocks at the man that Democrats are pelting as well.

The focus is shifting from Red vs. Blue to everyone vs. Bush. Republicans need to maintain that focus, and Democrats need to cast well-earned accusations back on the Republican Party and their elected, that they are the ones who enabled Bush. They put him in power by stealing the 2000 election, and kept him in power by (probably) stealing the 2004 election as well.

They brought all of our problems about. They are responsible. They should pay by receiving an early retirement package from American voters.

Republicans are worried as well they should be. American public opinion has shifted at this Pew Poll reveals.

- 50% of Americans identify themselves as Democrats versus a 35% Republican allegiance
- 54% express a favorable view of the Democratic Party versus a 41% favorable view of the Republican Party.

But it goes beyond politics and political beliefs; it goes toward core beliefs of Americans:
“…many of the key trends that nurtured the Republican resurgence in the mid-1990s have moderated, according to Pew's longitudinal measures of the public's basic political, social and economic values. The proportion of Americans who support traditional social values has edged downward since 1994, while the proportion of Americans expressing strong personal religious commitment also has declined modestly.”
Republicans can read the polls, too. They know that they have an uphill battle to regain American trust and that they need to start now. So as muse mentions in the muse blog, while Democrats have started early on to finish the rout in 2008, Republicans have similarly started early by distancing themselves from their former adored ones, even to the extent of casting stones at their glorious leader.

Hopefully American voters can still tell the difference between S _ _ _ and Shinola with all of this righteous posturing going on in the Republican Party.

I am characteristically not optimistic.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rats Jump Ship. DeLay Says “Trust Me”

Everyone loves a winner and no one tolerates a loser. That’s the way it appears to this pessimistic soul.

When Tom DeLay was a Congressman from Texas CD-22, the Majority Whip who became known as “The Hammer”, the Republican Party was riding a wave. They were on the top of the world. The “K Street Project” was in full swing as lobbying firms filled their employee rolls with neo-conservative Republicans – ex staffers and elected officials. Things were good and were going to stay good forever. Republicans had a handle on getting Republicans elected and staying in power. Lie, cheat, instill the basest of fears into the very hearts of every American: the terrorists are going to kill you. And if that fails, steal the election.

All of that came to a screaming halt on November 7th 2006, but it didn’t begin there, it began one shadowy midnight in January 2006 when a Fort Bend County Republican Party official got word, via phone from DC, that maybe Tom DeLay was going to take a pass on the election.

The rest is history, but now the rats are climbing all over themselves to scamper down the ropes to the safety of the conservative center, all the while exclaiming that they were never with him, that Tom DeLay represented the basest interests that were, in actuality, anti-conservative.

In actuality, they now claim, Tom DeLay was a screaming liberal.

I recall another story that was told about another One who was worshipped from near and far. People loved what He said and the message that He carried (they say, from His own Father). But when He was arrested, those who followed Him denied that they knew Him.


No Tom DeLay is no Jesus, he just thought he was.

So it is fitting that his support wanes as he is thrust upon the American Conservative Union. Yes, two board members quit when Tom DeLay was named a trustee.

What? Members of the ACU quitting under protest when Our Tom is appointed to that organizations board of trustees?

We get statements like “It is one thing to call yourself a conservative, but you have to act on it”

News flash: Tom DeLay is a Republican in Name Only.

Said another quitter: “Conservatives looked to Tom DeLay to cut government not grow it. He was complicit in the largest expansion of government in recent times”.

Well, no, actually that one goes to Bush-43. Tom just got the Scotland golf trips.

What I really like about this new partnership is that DeLay apparently bought himself a seat on the ACU by promising that he’d bring in $1 M in grassroots contributions. Read the last line of the Chron article. Looks like the smiles are still on the faces, but suspicious sidelong glances are being cast about.

You want to trust Tom DeLay with a million bucks of campaign contributions? Look what he did with the DeLay Dollars he accrued between January and June of 2006.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

The photo was of Tom getting spanked by Uncle Sam was from this website. A friend exactly described it to me as one that was being towed around Fort Bend County in 2004. When I saw it on Google images I knew it must be the one she was talking about. Sorry about not providing the link.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Fermions and Leptons, and Quarks, Oh My!

Twelve grueling hours were spent by the author of the Half Empty blog ad a physics conference today. Asked for his take on the events of the day, Hal at Half Empty was heard to mumble

"baryons . . . Higgs Bosons . . . Black Matter. . . D-Spaces . . . Space-Time . . . Gravity waves . . . "


From the unfriendliest town in Texas (yes I was honked at again today).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Abilene, Abilene, Unfriendliest Town that I’ve Ever Seen

I got out of work today. 110 of my students were busy all day writing ten test questions on magnetism. Did I ever mention that I am a physics instructor? I can’t remember.

Nope, no work today for me. Instead, John, Judy and I got in a rent-a-car and drove from Richmond, Texas to Abilene, Texas. Six hours plus a half hour for lunch at a DQ in Santa Anna. John drove the first leg, then I drove the 2nd.

Now this is a true story. Our offramp in Abilene was Buffalo Gap. The offramp ended in a T intersection with a boulevard stop sign, and a sharp curve you couldn't see 50 feet to the left. Wierdest intersection I’ve ever seen. So I figured out the rules. You wait until you can’t see anyone coming around the curve and then turn left, gunning the engine, hoping to Almighty God no one is coming from the right.

I had to. Some wingnut came up behind me at the stop sign and grew impatient with my trying to negotiate the intersection without getting T-boned. So he starts honking his horn and gesticulating wildly at me. Finally no one came screaming around the curve that you can’t see around (light waves don't bend unless you have a refracting medium) and I gunned the engine. Some other guy in a Chevy Nova came screaming around the curve and HE honked at me.

Great. I’m in Abilene for 1 minute and get honked at by two different people within a minute of each other.

I turned to Judy, who was born in Amarillo, and asked “Is there anything about North Texas that I need to know?”.

“Yes,” she said as she pointed to the 3rd religious billboard we had seen in as many minutes (Life is short, Eternity is a long time), “don’t tell anyone that you are a Democrat”.

Why am I in Abilene and not teaching eager young minds? I’m going to a physics teacher conference.

Cool, huh?

Best thing about it?

Free barbeque!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Where in the World is Melissa Noriega?

It has been awhile since I have posted anything about Melissa Noriega’s campaign for the Houston City Councilman At-Large Position 3 seat. I have mentioned some interesting bits of information on some of her opponents, but really, nothing about the campaign. So I thought I would mention a few things, make a couple of observations and pass on something interesting I heard about the campaign.

First, let me say right up front that while I am quite partisan, I think I can dissociate myself from my political leanings and just look at the race from the standpoint of a casual observer. As a casual observer, I just can’t see how anyone would want to vote for one of her opponents. Melissa Noriega is a smart articulate woman with her heart in the right place. You don’t believe me, listen to her interview at Kuff’s place, or read what her father says about her.

It looks like the campaign finally has their headquarters up, and none too soon. Do you realize that it is now only 40 days until early voting begins on April 30th? If you want to help celebrate the campaign headquarters’ opening, they are having a headquarters opening party on Saturday, March 24th from 4 to 7 PM. Go there. It’s at 7401 Gulf Freeway in a two-story yellow building. Get a map here. Bring friends. Find out how you can help. I’m going to be calling GOTV phone lists. You should, too.

OK, I can’t help but make a couple of observations about Melissa vis-à-vis some of her opponents. Look at this announcement on her website. Melissa recently got an endorsement from the GLBT Political Caucus PAC. If you don’t want to click over there, here is what was said of Melissa:

“We had excellent candidates vying for our endorsement. It was a very difficult choice, but we believe we have made the right choice in endorsing someone who will defend us and work towards our eventual full equality in this city. We are proud of our endorsement of Melissa Noriega," said Jenifer Pool, president of the Caucus.

Now this is truly a startling endorsement. And I say this because they made the decision to endorse Melissa Noriega at a candidates’ forum that they held. Melissa attended the forum as did at least two of her opponents.

Both of them openly gay men.

Melissa is not gay, but she garnered the endorsement of the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender PAC. Over two gay opponents. I see this as a trust issue. No one would doubt that either of her opponents would work for gay issues in the Houston City Council, but they, instead, endorsed straight as an arrow Melissa Noriega, because, in my opinion, they see her as being the most effective candidate.

And speaking of endorsements, take a look at this announcement on the campaign website. Here we have Melissa Noriega, who is not a policeman, but who has an opponent who actually was a policeman, and she gets the endorsement from the Houston Police Officers’ Union. I kid you not. Tom Nixon, who actually was on the Houston police force, and even has a photograph of himself in police uniform at his campaign website, was not endorsed by the Police Officers’ Union, but Melissa Noriega was. I don’t know, maybe it has something to do with the fact that the last time anyone saw Nixon on the news it was a story about him being a loose cannon on the force when he openly criticized his superiors on police pursuit policy. Perhaps they see that Nixon has a special agenda, and that Melissa can be trusted to be more even-handed.

So if you have been clicking over to Melissa Noriega’s campaign website, you may have noticed how they keep it so current and up-to-date. That is really appreciated by news-hungry people like me. It is hugely informative on campaign events. Actually it is so informative that even her political opponents stop in from time to time to find out “Where in the World is Melissa Noriega?”

This announcement of a meeting of the Alief Democrats last March 13th was apparently read by one of the opposition, and who should show up to the meeting but the aforementioned Tom Nixon. He came in, sat down, listened to Melissa’s words, then got up afterward and delivered his own 25 minute long speech. So the Alief Democrats, who invited Melissa to come speak at their club meeting, had their club meeting turned into a candidates’ forum. I am told that he delivered a “red meat Republican diatribe” to a room full of Democrats attending their regular club meeting, Democrats who must not have appreciated his imposition, especially after they turned their deaf ears toward him.

And finally, as a kind of special gift to you, I have this You Tube video embedded below in case you missed it. It’s an interview that Roy Morales gave when he showed up in support of The Minutemen. You know, those right-wing nutjobs who play at being in a militia to keep our borders safe? “Doing the job Congress won’t do”? A big thank you for Dos Centavos for uploading the video.

So is it just me or is everyone else who actually watches this race simply convinced that there is just no other viable choice, no other viable candidate in this race but Melissa Noriega?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dismantling the Wall: Another Brick is Loosened in Patriot Act

Back in October 2001, when the terrorists won the short-lived War on Terror, the Patriot Act was passed by both Congressional bodies and signed into law by Bush. The Patriot Act, and the 9-11 attacks were godsends for Bush and his neo-conservative cronies. That it is now slowly eroding is good news for people who love liberty.

Since its passing in October 2001, elements of the Patriot Act have been ruled unconstitutional by US federal courts or repealed by congress. Example, in 2004 section 2709 was ruled unconstitutional by a district federal court. That section enabled government agents to force internet service providers to reveal personal information of their clients. Example, in 2005 Congress repealed the section of the Patriot Act that gave the government the power to peruse library records using secret FISA courts.

Then when the Patriot Act was reaffirmed in 2006, another provision was added. The provision that Bush almost immediately started utilizing. This was a provision that removed appointment of interim US Attorneys by a federal district judge, and gave the power of appointment to the Attorney General – that is, to Bush.

And now we have that provision of the Patriot Act being shown the door.

In response to the dismissal of 8 US attorneys, and mounting evidence that they were fired for political reasons, and additional evidence that Bush sought to replace them with his cronies, the US Senate voted 94 to 2 to repeal the provision of the Patriot Act that the Bush administration was using to politicize US attorney’s offices.

Specifically it is this: If after 120 days have passed and the president has not nominated, and the Senate has not confirmed a replacement in a US Attorney regional office, the power to appoint an interim US Attorney returns to a federal district court judge where the power had lain before the Patriot Act.

Bush loses some power. When that happens it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Honestly, you are going to have to really try hard to convince me how this later-added provision of the Patriot Act made us safer from the terrorists. It was just another nice bit of power that Bush’s people wanted to add to the Executive Branch - and subtract from the Judical Branch.

You have to ask yourself how many more of these little landmines have been included in that despicable piece of legislation.

It’s probably not a bad idea to perform major surgery and repeal the Patriot Act altogether. If there are good parts to it, and who knows, there might be, you can add them back later.

But for now, to regain our liberty, and to thumb our noses at the terrorists, baby and bathwater both need to go.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I am just going to pass this on on with no written comment. I really don't trust myself right now with civility.

Below is a statement from Texas Democratic Party Chair Boyd Richie on Speaker Tom Craddick’s decision to send back to committee HB 109, a bill to restore funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program:

“By killing legislation that would restore much-needed CHIP funding, Speaker Craddick killed the chance for thousands of Texas children to finally obtain health care without an emergency room visit.

Under Craddick’s heavy-handed rule, our state’s uninsured rate continues to climb, while the CHIP rolls drop. This is yet another slap in the face for the hard-working Texas parents who simply can’t afford for their kids to get sick.

I applaud Democrats in the State Legislature who have worked to undo the damage caused by the Republican failure to restore full funding to CHIP and remove the red tape that has prevented far too many children from getting the health care they need.”

The Fort Bend County Democratic Party Endorses a Non-Partisan Candidate?

I really like how the Fort Bend ISD Trustee races are filling out nicely with candidates to challenge Trustees Bryant and Rikert. If last year’s school board elections are an indication, it is highly probable that these two board members will be replaced this coming May 12th, and a long sad chapter in the district history will come to a conclusion.

But the most recent announcement in FortBendNow, which includes lots and lots of information that voters can use to weigh their options, has one curious bit of information that is tacked on right at the end.

Apparently, Ann Hopkins, a former educator in FBISD and current administrator in the same district, has been endorsed for this non-partisan office by the Fort Bend County Democratic Party.

This is a new one for me. I wasn’t aware that the Democratic Party could endorse a candidate in a non-partisan race.

And there’s something else.

I’ve asked around, and no one recalls a vote on this.

So I am a little confused here, but in confusion I see opportunity. I’ve been thinking about this for about 45 minutes now, and am convinced that I am on to something here.

I would like this blog, Half Empty, to be endorsed as the official “blogsite” of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party. It makes huge sense to me. I am a Democrat. I author a blog in Fort Bend County. I think it’s a good blog. Maybe it goes on rants from time to time but that can only be chalked up to frustration.

So OK, here goes. All in favor of endorsing Half Empty as the official blogsite of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party signify by saying “Aye”.




The Ayes have it, motion is passed.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

DeLay on Meet the Press – The Smirk Returns

I had hoped that with the inevitable first day of sales of former Texas Congressman Tom DeLay’s book that he would not be given talk show air time so I wouldn't have to put up with the little cockroach again. After all, we have all moved on even if he has not. But no, because his book has gone on sale he got invited to be on Meet the Press today and sat in with a panel to discuss the war in Iraq.

I watched the podcast that you can find here.

Ol’ Tom had himself a great time. They were discussing a truly tragic situation – the carnage in Baghdad, women and children killed, and he just couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. And that smirk.

The smirk hasn’t gone away either.

It appeared midway through this sentence, the words of former Congressman Tom Andrews:

“What's happened is, as a result, hundreds of our kids have died only because they didn't have the necessary protective equipment [SMIRK] that would otherwise have kept them alive.”

I couldn’t figure out then why he smirked at that remark, but now, having reviewed the podcast in a few places, I conclude that DeLay, as well as his conservative co-panelist Richard Perle, used smiles, laughter and smirks to belittle the earnest observations of Tom Andrews and Congressman Joe Sestack.

DeLay’s book was plugged toward the end by Tim Russert. In what I suspect was going to be a tongue-in-cheek remark, Russert said this of Tom’s words:

“To, to, to be continued. No Retreat, No Surrender is your book, Congressman DeLay. Some interesting things about Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey, George Bush in this book that...”

To which Tom interrupted at a well-chosen moment: “It's history as I lived it.”

History as he lived it? If that is true, then Tom DeLay's life has been a fantasy.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

On St. Patrick’s Day My Thoughts Turn to the Ending of a War

I wondered about the pull that British voters have over their government in a previous posting. They have something in their laws that we don’t have: a “No Confidence” vote. A similar “No Confidence” vote was cast in Austin this past week by the Joint Select Committee investigating the abuses at Texas Youth Commission sites. It didn’t appear to have any effect until they all resigned en masse yesterday.

58% of Americans want the US out of Iraq. But I wonder, would we get these 58% to cast a vote of no confidence? I wonder how many would see this as a vote in support of the troops as opposed to a withdrawal of support. That seems to be the logic and reasoning of some of the conservative Democrats in Washington DC.

I am thinking about this today because today, on St. Patrick’s day, I just realized another reason that the British declared victory and got out of Iraq when they did. They are just fresh off of a little civil war that they had on their hands in Northern Ireland. That little war, euphemistically called “The Troubles” lasted, some say, for 37 years.

No wonder they wanted out when they did. What with Bush saying that this war will be won by the next president.

There are similarities between the civil war in Northern Ireland and the one in Iraq. Just as the Iraq civil was is a war between Sunni and Shia factions of the Muslim religion, the war in Northern Ireland was primarily a war between two factions of the Christian religion, Protestants and Catholics. It was also a class war with rich and powerful Protestants oppressing poor Catholics, just as Sunni were the rich ones in power during Sadam’s reign, and Shia were the oppressed. One difference is that while the Sunnis, a minority in Iraq, were the powerful oppressors, it was the Protestant majority that was the oppressors in Northern Ireland.

They were able to keep their little war going for 37 years, and there was nothing that the British occupation forces could do to stop it.

OK, so if there are so many similarities between these two civil wars, how did they finally end “The Troubles”? The reports that I read all point to one thing: everyone got tired of having a war so they just stopped. People started thinking that they could solve their differences constitutionally.

That’s what it’s going to take in Iraq, I think.

But I don’t think American soldiers need to be in there in the crossfire for another 33 years waiting for Sunnis, Shia and Kurds to get tired of whacking each other.

Friday, March 16, 2007

On Timing and The Noriega Draft

Psssst. Hey you! Shhhhhh! Wanna know who’s gonna run against John Cornyn for Senator from Texas in 2008? You’d never guess in a million years. Well, ha, I knoooow . . . but I’m not gonna tell ya!

That is what we were all greeted with on Daily Kos a couple or three weeks ago. Others thought so, as well, and had other names to add to the stew. The blogwires were abuzz about who Kos had in mind. So to his credit, Kos didn’t divulge names. Who knows what havoc he could have played with this person if they were sitting in elected office? A presidential early start is on thing, but now US Senate?

Then some guy on a new ezine put 2 and 2 together and a couple of days ago blurted out that Kos’ secret candidate was none other than Texas State Representative Rick Noriega (D-Houston). He posted it on Daily Kos, then Kos admitted that it was Noriega that he had in mind.

A blogstorm ensued. How dare they put Rick Noriega in this position! How dare they indeed. To say that it would be a good idea to draft Rick Noriega to run against John Cornyn is one thing. I wrote just about those very words here a month ago, but it was mainly an echo of what was said at the Rick and Melissa Noriega Lovefest last Valentine’s Day. But to imply with absolute sure and certain knowledge that this is the plan is akin to sabotaging anything that Rep. Noriega wants to get done. Or so that’s what they say. I’m taking the word of others on this. So here we have the Rep half way through the session, the Rep’s wife, Melissa, is in a many-headed race for Houston City Council and now some tasteless soul heaps this on their plate, too.

I can get behind what other bloggers and Richard Morrison have done here. It’s not a smug statement that they know the mind of Rick Noriega. It is an earnest plea that he please consider this. That if he does, he can count on lots of support.

There’s a long way to go on this. Rick Noriega has name recognition here, but I don’t think anybody knows how he would play in other parts of the state.

Putting up a Draft Noriega website is OK, making smug statements that you already know he’s running is irresponsible, tasteless, and smacks of headline whoring.


This last bit doesn’t really have anything to do with this post, but my friend Ann clipped it out of a newspaper and I thought it would be an appropriate ending to any posting on this site.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Need Money For Environmental Protection? De-Fund Iraq

I got this news release from my congressman, Texas CD-22 Congressman Nick Lampson’s office a couple of days ago and was waiting to see who picked it up.

No one from what I can see.

So here, Nick, let me put the high points in the blog for you.

Subcommittee Questions EPA Budget Cuts

(Washington, DC) - Members of the House Committee on Science and Technology's Energy and Environment Subcommittee today questioned the effects of projected federal budget cuts to environmental research programs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The President's proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08) reduces the agency's overall budget to$7.2 billion, a 5.5 percent cut compared to FY 06.

The overall spending by EPA's research programs has been declining for several years, with a 5 percent reduction four years ago, and a 2 percent cut in FY06. Between 2004 and the proposed 2008 budget, the overall support for Research and Development at EPA has declined by 25% in inflation adjusted terms. During the hearing, Energy & Environment Subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX) expressed concern that these cuts will prevent the agency from adequately supporting the research and development needed to creatively solve our country's environmental problems.

"It's not about partisanship. I don't know if my kids are going to grow up to be Democrats or Republicans, but I want them grow up healthy," Lampson said. "Unfortunately, for the fourth consecutive year the proposed budget falls short when it comes to enabling our nation to achieve further success in environmental protection."

Lampson and Members of the Subcommittee heard from four witnesses at this afternoon's hearing: Dr. George Gray, Assistant Administrator for Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency; Dr. M. Granger Morgan, Chair, Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board; Dr. Jennifer Sass, Senior Scientist, Health and Environment Program, Natural Resource Defense Council; Dr. Bruce C. Coull, Carolina Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Dean Emeritus, School of Environment, University of South Carolina.

"Without investment in science and in scientists, there can be no science-based decision making," Coull said. "In real dollar terms, EPA's funding of science is nearly unchanged since at least 1990, and has been steadily declining since FY 2004."

Now I don’t want to sound like a broken record, Nick, but there’s only one reason that the EPA’s budget has been cut every year for the past four years. It’s starts with an I, ends with a Q and has an RA in the middle. Practically every non military budget has been cut so we can maintain an illegal and immoral war in Iraq. A war that 58% of Americans want us out of this year. A war that 80% of Iraqis want us out of tomorrow. A war that benefits no one but arms manufacturers, mortuaries, medical prosthetic manufacturers, and Halliburton.
Let’s not quibble any more about the how of it and get to the when of it. And when meaning soon when.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Alberto “Mistakes Were Made” Gonzalez is Toast

Who would have thought that US Attorney General Alberto “Mistakes Were Made” Gonzalez would so thoroughly implode over the US Attorney firings? Every other hour, it seems, someone at the Department of Justice says something that contradicts what was said previously. In illustration of this is this clip from ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

What really gets me is the paper trail that just exploded on the scene. Not since the Watergate tapes has there been such confirmation of charges that the firing of the seven US Attorneys was political and not based on performance as the AG has maintained. Most of the emails, a PDF of them is here, are from Gonzalez’ chief of staff Kyle Sampson who resigned on Monday. They’re a little hard to read sometimes and there’s been some redacting, but it’s clear that many key White House and DOJ figures were in this up to their ears.

Scroll down to the bottom and you will see George Bush’s direct involvement. It seems that POTUS, was involved in a discussion over the Arizona US Attorney, who apparently didn’t want to prosecute marijuana possession cases that involved amounts under 500 pounds.

You also see the Carol Lam story. California Senator Dianne Feinstein claims she was fired for going after “Duke” Cunningham, and this may also be true. But in the email it looks like they were also upset with her for failing to prosecute as many illegal immigrants as the Bush administration wanted her to.

Alberto Gonzalez is completely marginalized. As the top law enforcement official in the United States, he no longer has any standing, no longer has any credibility. Bush would be a fool not to ask for his resignation. But you know, Bush is such a stubborn guy, he’ll probably let him turn on a spit for awhile longer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

H.R. 73: License To Kill

While I was doing a little research on the DC Circuit Appeals Court decision on interpretation of the 2nd Amendment (and why I didn’t get any comments on that posting from gun nuts I’ll never figure out) I came across this little gem .

You know, it really surprises me that this wasn't authored by someone from the Texas delegation. It has "Yee-Haw!" written all over it.

The bill has been referred to the US House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Tagged the Citizens' Self-Defense Act of 2007, the resolution does two things:

1) It guarantees the right to obtain firearms for security, and,
2) It guarantees the right to use firearms in defense of self, family, or home; enforcement.

Well waitaminute, someone would say, what about the 2nd Amendment?

The answer, I think, is that the resolution is not so much about guaranteeing the right to bear arms (as opposed to arming bears) as the right to use them when you feel threatened. That is, if you shoot someone in self-defense, you can’t be charged with discharging a weapon within city limits or something like that.

But it is interesting, don’t you think, that it also, in the language of the bill “reaffirms” the right:

“(a) Reaffirmation of Right- A person not prohibited from receiving a firearm by Section 922(g) of title 18, United States Code, shall have the right to obtain firearms for security.”

As if, what? As if maybe someday the Supreme Court’s 1939 opinion will someday be enforced and gun ownership will only be allowed to members of a militia? By the way, can you imagine what would happen if that ruling would ever come down? We’d have militias spring up everywhere. Wouldn’t that make America a fun place to live?

What I really hate about this Republican sponsored and co-sponsored (except for 2 Dems) resolution is that there are three conditions stated when one has a right to use firearms in self-defense, two are reasonable: self-defense in the course of commission of a violent felony by another person, defense of a home in the course of commission of a felony by another person. The first is a no-brainer, the second is iffy and conjures up memories of the death of two Scotsmen several years ago in Houston – drunk, they noisily approached a home and were shot to death through the door. But no, here is the objectionable sentence.

“(1) in defense of self or family against a reasonably perceived threat of imminent and unlawful infliction of serious bodily injury”

Emphasis is mine.

The resolution hasn’t a snowball’s chance in the nether regions of passing, but I wanted to wrap up this gun stuff with the observation that the right wing whackos are still among us, and in another alternate universe where Tom DeLay is still our congressman, this bill would be given serious consideration before it got passed and signed by President Cheney.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Borris Miles Censors Artwork in Austin Capitol

I guess it can happen to anyone. Today Texas State Representative Borris Miles (D-Houston) became an art censor. I didn’t quite believe my eyes when I read it, but there is apparently enough detail and quotes in Selby’s article on the Austin American Statesman’s website to make it credible.

I don’t know, I respect Rep Miles’ progressivism, and from what I saw today on the Live House Chamber Stream, all sorts of small children were crawling on banisters and banging Craddick’s gavel. But who gave Borris Miles the sole authority to take down three pieces of art? Three pieces of art that were a subset of the collection of art on display in Houston depicting the horrors of capitol punishment?

I don’t care what your sensitivities are. Art in many of its forms, is meant to evoke a reaction. That Rep Miles’ reaction was to deny others the option to view the pieces infringes on the rights and freedoms of others. He shouldn’t have done that.

If the pieces offended Rep Miles’s sensibilities, then he should have realized that this is exactly what they were supposed to do.

You can’t vote on what artworks people can see in a free democracy, I don’t care what the justification is.

And in deciding what art people shall view and what they shall not view, you most certainly cannot wield absolute veto power.

Roy Morales Expounds on Property Rights, Property Taxes and Terrorists (I Kid You Not)

I gave a listen to Kuffner’s interview with Houston City Council candidate Roy Morales this morning. You can click here to get to his page and the link to the mp3 file.

It’s a rather long interview and the subjects discussed are literally all over the map. But I came away with a few thoughts and here they are.

While Morales sounds like a nice guy, he’s somewhat conflicted on property rights issues, and has some rather naïve views on taxation. He also seems to be convinced that Houston is the soft underbelly of America, and is not only vulnerable to terrorist attack, but is actually the prime target of an attack.

On property rights, Morales has a view that historical building preservation in Houston should take a back seat to the rights of the property owners. On the other hand, Morales’ Radio Interoperability project for the city involved erecting a 500-foot tall radio tower near an existing neighborhood. Property owners protested that the tower would drive down the value of their property, and the tower has yet to be built. In the interview Morales maintained that he “had some ideas for city council that we could probably get that up sooner than later.” Now I have a little knowledge in this area. What you would need is a cleared area to broadcast an unimpeded 360 degree transmission, and it needs to be placed in a fairly centralized locale so that signal can reach all parts of the city. These two factors tell me that the property rights of SOMEone are going to be trod upon should this tower go up. It’s called eminent domain. Morales needs to get behind that or his tower is going to stay horizontal.

And I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing about Morales’ views on property tax. Did I hear him say that property taxes could be eliminated if the city would tack on an additional 1.5% in sales tax in the city? Yes, he said that: “…so you go from 1 percent to 2 and a half percent”. Has Roy Morales checked with Susan Combs on this brainstorm of his? The state sales tax is 6.25% and state law restricts local sales tax to no more than 2%. That, all totaled up, is 8.25% which is what the sales tax is right now in the City of Houston. I didn’t make this up. It’s here. Oh and one more thing on sales tax. It is a Republican Party plank to replace income tax with a national sales tax. If Republicans keep up in this theme, and replace every tax with a sales tax, no one will want to go out to buy anything.

And finally this whole thing on the terrorists. These fear/scare tactics in campaigning have just got to stop. I call it waving the bloody flag. It worked for Bush in ’04 but people are catching on now. Today, I look askance at those who claim that they will be our protectors against the terrorists, and yes, that is exactly how Roy Morales sees himself. But don’t rely on my opinion, listen for yourself, or read this transcription:

“When I was growing up, Washington, D.C. was considered ground zero. …But in the 21st century, after the hurricanes and we saw what kind of devastation could occur to our economic situation. I believe Houston, Texas is ground zero. It’s already been reported that we have Hezbollah, we have Hamas, we have Al-Qaeda cells in our neighborhoods here. And we need to ensure that the FBI is working to ensure that our national interests are protected. And I will be working with the FBI to ensure that is happening. I had access to that information, it was classified at the time when I was in the military, I know that they have the capability and the resolve and we got to make sure we have someone in the city hall that will protect us.”
That someone being Roy Morales, Terrorist Protector Extraordinaire.

Well I hope more people listen to this interview. In my humble opinion it is an incredibly huge reason to vote for Melissa Noriega for City Council. Melissa is just a little more balanced, and a little more informed. And a lot more qualified.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Governor's Business Council Supports Pay for Performance for Teachers

If you live in Texas, no doubt you have heard a new commercial aired on televisions. It’s a rather suspicious ad that starts out with “Experts are now calling the high school dropout rate in Texas a crisis . . .“ It announces the fact that Texas legislators “now considering a bill that will give Texas teachers the training incentives and tools to keep our kids in schools”. If finishes by urging viewers to “Take a stand” and to contact “Texans for Excellence in Classrooms”.

I’ll bite. What bill are we talking about?

So I went to the website and looked around. No bill mentioned. But the group seems to be behind a report called Excellence in the Classroom authored by “The Governor’s Business Council”.

So I started reading the report and came to a halt on the 3rd paragraph . . . uh oh. “Pay for performance and differentiated pay for teachers will now be utilized more in Texas than in any other state.”

So I browsed through their research and reports and got angrier and angrier. They decried the fact that fewer and fewer college graduates are electing to go into education, and proposed raising the starting salaries of new teachers. Where do they get the money to do this? Do away with the old salary schedules, and stop paying teachers based on their years of experience and level of education. Their studies show that while new teachers are not effective, they undergo about 5 years of continuous improvement. After 5 years they level off, and toward retirement, even decline in effectiveness. So they want a system in place that rewards highly effective teachers and punishes ineffective teachers.

The reports liken the current pay schedules to that of pay schedules from union negotiations. And we all know that unions are bad.

So what we are going to have thrust down our throats is pay for performance, and that performance will be based on, you guessed it, student achievement on standardized tests.

Pay for performance works well in the private sector. I’ve been there, I know. But these people have spent zero time in the public sector where it’s just different.

Guaranteed, all this will do is drive effective teachers to other states or into other lines of work.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Do All Americans Have the Right to Keep and Bear Arms?

An interesting opinion was rendered yesterday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In the case Shelly Parker, et al., v. District of Columbia and Adrian M. Fenty, Mayor of the District of Columbia, by at 2-1 majority, the court upheld the right of individuals to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

For most Americans, this is a no-brainer. However, it has been argued for years and years that the language of the 2nd Amendment reveals that keeping and bearing arms was a precondition to maintaining a local militia. I quote:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”

The District of Columbia argued that the first clause “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” proclaims the Amendment’s sole purpose was to protect state militias from federal intrusion—and that the second clause is a discussion of military matters and guarantees civic rights, but not an individual right.

Good point. I’ve had that opinion for years and years.

This is a case involving a 1976 District of Columbia law forbidding the ownership of handguns. D.C. residents wanted to own guns for home protection and filed suit against the District of Columbia. On appeal, the case now has an opinion that will affect how the second amendment is interpreted across the country.

The majority opinion is actually a lesson in sentence construction and grammar. If you don’t believe me, read this:

“The provision’s second comma divides the Amendment into two clauses; the first is prefatory, and the second operative. Appellants’ argument is focused on their reading of the Second Amendment’s operative clause. According to appellants, the Amendment’s language flat out guarantees an individual right “to keep and bear Arms.”

But finally, like all specious reasoning the majority relied on definition - what is meant by “the people”. “The people”, they say represents the same idea as found in the term “the people” in the 1st, 2nd 4th 9th and 10th amendments.

“In determining whether the Second Amendment’s guarantee is an individual one, or some sort of collective right, the most important word is the one the drafters chose to describe the holders of the right—“the people.” …. It has never been doubted that these provisions were designed to protect the interests of individuals against government intrusion, interference, or usurpation.”
There you have it. “The people” are individuals so the right to bear arms is an individual right, not one that is a precondition to having a militia.

In her dissenting opinion Judge Karen Henderson just laid it on the line, essentially telling her counterparts, “Look, it’s already been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court”

In an opinion that can only be described as feisty, Judge Henderson agreed with her brethren that higher court opinions on the 2nd Amendment are few and far between. “Notoriously scant” is the term she used.

But there is one. A 1939 case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the indictment of men who carried a sawed off shotgun across state lines.

Henderson cites United States v. Miller in which defense argued that the National Firearms Act, outlawing shotgun barrels under 18 inches in length, violated their 2nd Amendment rights. Disagreeing, the Supreme Court opinion put it this way:

“In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a ‘shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length’ at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense.”

So here we have a lower court overturning a long-standing Supreme Court opinion.

So can we now all own sawed-off shotguns? M-16s? TOW missiles?

I don’t think the issue is settled or will be settled anytime soon. And really, it won’t be settled until Americans lose that insane belief that it is their God-given right to whack Bambi with an AK-47.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Faith in Texas - Another Plan to Retake Texas and America

Today Chris Bell, Democratic candidate for Texas governor in the ’06 election, sent out an email message to the supporters of his campaign announcing the formation of a new PAC, “Faith in Texas Fund”. The fund, he writes,
“will seek out and support candidates for office who view public service as an honor and responsibility to serve the needs of ordinary Texans. A major goal of FIT is to push for comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reform; it would do wonders for liberating our elected leaders to act on behalf of those most in need.”
This is a fund that we heard about last December. But there is more to it than that. Ordinarily I would greet this with a smile and a yawn, but there is something new here. He lays this at our feet for consideration:
“During the campaign, I began a discussion of "faith in politics" that sought to highlight my own beliefs of how faith should influence public service for the benefit of all our citizens. The focus was not on religion or its organizations, but on how best we can apply the common tenets of our varying faiths into leadership that governs with compassion to the poorest in our society, and places the health, education and welfare of our children above all else.”
This struck a chord in me.

No I am not a religious person. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I was raised by a fallen Catholic and a fallen Southern Baptist who thought that I should make my own choice in my faith. However, what they didn’t realize is that when one is presented with no choices, no choice is made. While I am not religious, I do respect the religion and religious beliefs of others.And so I respect what Chris Bell is doing. It all gets back to how evangelical Christians have been attracted by the neo-conservative right.

There is a great article on this published last September at MySA.Com.

For whatever reason, faith plays a large role in Texas politics. Realists recognize that for the Democratic Party to retake Texas, room must be made in their big tent for people of faith. Democrats get just about 100% of the atheist vote, and quite a bit of agnostic as well. Atheists number 10% in this country. You don’t retake Texas by looking down your nose at people of faith, whatever faith that is. Exit polls in ’04 and ‘06 tell the tale. People who were religious were most likely to vote Republican. Peggy Fikac, in a MySA article posted last September cites a Pew Research Center poll:
“. . . just 26 percent of Americans called the Democratic Party friendly to religion. Forty-seven percent called the GOP religion-friendly.”
The perception that Democrats disdain religion is well-founded. That, at one time, the Left was openly religious, was a no-brainer. The civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s was largely a religion-based movement. However, Democrats and Republicans apparently switched sides when too much social change in the 60’s and 70’s stirred up religious conservatives whose religious leaders also used and abused racial fears to attract conservatives to their fold. Democrats, on the other hand, spearheaded the social changes that alarmed religious conservatives. Democrats need to quietly remind the country that God is not a Republican and indeed voting for CHIP or an end to the war in Iraq is something Jesus would approve of.

I can’t say it better than my friend Paul. Quoting from Take It Back by Carville and Begala:
"We don’t think Democrats should ape Republican’ sanctimony. We do not think Democrats who don’t have faith should suddenly adopt one – or worse, fake it. that we’re saying is that Democrats of faith should not hide their light under a basket.”
And again, back to my man, Chris Bell:
“It's the biggest mistake that the Democratic Party has probably made in the last 25 years. For us to leave people with the impression that we're not concerned about faith, that we're not concerned about morals and values, and that we're not going to be a part of that debate simply took the party in the wrong direction.”
Chris Bell is, again, dead spot on. Democrats don’t have to wear their religion on their sleeves like Republicans. They simply need to keep faith in the political argument if that is their inclination. Rather than sounding like sociologists in the debate on helping the uninsured poor, if you are religious, point to your faith as a source of your values. Rather than sounding like a compassionless scientist in arguing for stem cell research, remind people about the compassion of religious figures throughout history who helped the ailing and handicapped.

Democrats must no longer be viewed as the people who disdain religion. This is especially true in Texas. Democrats of faith must convince those with strong religious beliefs that their political opinions and beliefs are faith-based. Only then will we find common ground and put Texas back on the right (that is, left) path.

Democrats who disdain religion just need to sit down and be quiet for awhile.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Why A Part-Time Texas Legislature Is Out-Moded and Promotes Corruption

I almost fell out of my chair when I read today Chris Bell’s article posted a couple of days ago at ExaminerNews.Com. Bell says that the idea of a Texas legislature being comprised of citizen-legislators is out-dated and invites personal use of campaign funds as well as influence peddling on the part of lobbyists.

I couldn’t agree more, and have made several postings on the subject.

Of Texas low-paid Texas legislators, Bell wrote this:

“Unless they’re retired or independently wealthy, they’re in a tough spot. There aren’t a whole lot of jobs that lend themselves to a legislator’s schedule, so those in office become prime targets”

The answer, Bell writes, is to raise the pay that Texas legislators receive, and he suggests raising it to $100,000 per year, and reduce the amount of outside income that they can receive.

Why do we pay our legislators at a level that is sub minimum wage? Well for one, they only work 140 days per year every other year. We have a part-time legislature so they are paid for part-time work.

Why does the second most populous state in America have a part-time legislature? I checked and it’s because of the reaction to Reconstruction. I found this here:

“Harvey Tucker, a political scientist at Texas A&M University and an expert on the Texas Legislature, says that Texas biennial sessions and low pay for legislators date to the post-Civil War era.”

"’It has to do with the time period when the constitution of Texas was written. It’s a post-Reconstruction reaction. Southerners viewed Reconstruction as a foreign army,’ he said. ‘When they got control, they said 'never will we have state government -- Yankee or Texan -- with that kind of power again.'"

That Texas needs a full-time legislature is obvious as evidenced by the fact that special sessions have been called more often than not lately. There simply isn’t enough time to get done all that needs to be done. The most populous states in America have discarded their citizen-legislator systems. Check it out here.

And there is some evidence that a full-time well-paid legislature is freer of potential conflict. From the same article:

“Full-time legislators may be less inclined to be swayed by special interests and be accused of a conflict of interest because they are more likely to be paid a decent wage, they say”

Robert Stern, former general counsel on the California Fair Practices Commission (equivalent to the Texas Ethics Commission) says this of his state’s full-time system:

"We don’t see examples of outright conflicts in California, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. My feeling is, California legislators have less time to have outside income than obviously the legislators in Texas."

Bell also has this to say about reporting about ethically challenged legislators:

“I would also like to read fewer stories about the conflicts of interest and ethical challenges faced by lawmakers because of the obvious need most have to supplement their income.”

This is a very telling statement in my opinion. What it tells me is that not only is this citizen-legislator system a system of institutional corruption, but that because they have no alternatives to corrupt practices, we should all turn a blind eye to the processes and practices.

In other words, it’s a devil’s dilemma.

And it’s a dilemma that legislators themselves are supportive of. Despite the low pay, there are lots of perks to being in the Texas legislature. Read about them here. If we are to make real ethical reforms in our system, the perks would have to go.

And they like their perks.
It’s so obvious. The old system has got to go. Texas has become too big in population to have a part-time legislature. Time demands on legislators are much higher now than in the past, legislator schedules no longer allow a citizen-legislator to hold down a full-time full paying job. The result is that Texas has an out-moded citizen-legislator system whose very construct invites corruption and influence peddling – even to the point that legislators cannot live at standard subsistence levels without bending the rules.

I’m with Chris Bell. Let’s let sanity prevail. Let’s have a full-time high quality legislature that is well-paid and limited to other outside sources of income.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Spoke Too Soon: It's Melissa Noriega and 12 Others in the Houston City Council Special Election

As the story goes, there are now a lucky 13 candidates running for the Houston City council seat vacated by Shelley Sekula-Gibbs. And that is all there are going to be, because yesterday was the deadline for filing.

So I need to finish the story, right? After all, yesterday there were 8 candidates, now there are 13.

The Roy Morales story needs to be updated. According to the Chronicle article, right at the bottom, Roy Morales failed to file the correct papers and was not going to be included on the ballot. Now THAT would change the dynamics of this election, wouldn’t it? I just don’t see how anyone who would show up to vote for Morales would show up to vote for any other candidate on the ballot.

Except for, maybe, the only other Hispanic surname on the ballot, Noriega. I guess some people still vote like that.

Anyway, late word is that the problem has been cleared up, according to Kuffner, and he’ll be on the ballot after all.

Of the ones I was not aware of, only one has a website. Sara Owen-Gemoets. Finding it via Google is like looking for rat feces in a pepper mill, so that explains why she was under my radar yesterday. Maybe someone other than I and some other guy who provided the link will be able to see it. Sara Owen-Gemoets is an ex-minister who is running on a platform that ordinary people who are not politicians can play leading roles in decision- making.

Anthony Dutrow is not new to Houston city politics. Dutrow, a meat packer, ran against Bill White for Mayor in 2005. He has three campaign expenditure reports here. Dutrow has an interesting way of reporting the names and addresses of contributors: (“Contributor 1, Contributor 2, etc.”) and vendors (“Vendor 1, Vendor 2”). All in all, Dutrow spent $1517.29 on his run at the mayor’s office, and had a total of $1425 in campaign contributions. While the city council seat is non-partisan, it is interesting to note that Dutrow is a Socialist. He occasionally writes for an online newspaper called “The Militant”.

Alfred Molison is another guy with some varied interests. The Chronicle reports that he is “co-chair of the Harris County Green Party and an employee of the Social Security Administration”. He has a “Meet-Up” about what is going to happen after world peak oil production occurs, and the inevitable production decline produces new pressures on society.

The guy plans ahead.

He is also involved in a “Fight Big Media” Meet-Up, whatever that is.

But he has no campaign website that I could find.

Greg Locke is a mystery for now. He also has no campaign website that I could find.

Darryn Call has a unique enough name that you should be able to pick up something. But all I could find was that he was paid $145 by the Katy ISD last January.

The Chronicle is predicting a run-off in this special election because of the broad field, but that Melissa Noriega is the recognized leader of the pack, and that implied that the run-off would be between Melissa and someone else.

My bet is still on Morales. And I think there is enough overlap in interests among some of the also rans that Melissa will get more votes in any runoff.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Texas House and Senate Vote to Make My Social Security Number Public Record

Now if it weren’t for the fact that the Social Security Administration’s 9-digit number gets permanently attached to every American, and that it’s used not only for the SSA’s records but is essentially a personal identification number that is used in all sorts of record-keeping, including banking, and if it weren’t for the fact that identity theft is the newest form of grand theft being conducted on the internet, well, I wouldn’t be concerned at all about the Texas legislature’s latest blunder.

The legislature is supposed to serve the people, not serve them up.

I wrote about this before, and about HB 2061, Jim Keffer’s way of fixing the problems pointed out by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. So I am not going to repeat myself.

I want to point out something else.

We have the technology to remove easily these sensitive bits of information from public records. One bit of technology is a system being sold by Hart Intercivic – you know – the one that sold 94 Texas counties their voting machines? It’s called “Anthem”. It does a lot, and one thing that it can do is redact social security numbers from any public record – and it’s automated. I’ll bet there are other systems out there, but I heard about Hart Intercivic’s system from FortBendNow.

You see, it seems that in the wake of Greg Abbott’s opinion, Dianne Wilson, the County Clerk of Fort Bend County shut down public access to internet records that include individual social security numbers. When Abbott suspended himself, the county went back online, but Wilson, secured a bid from Hart Intercivic to buy and install “Anthem”. She took a $48,000 request to the commissioners’ court and was just about to get the nod to buy the equipment when news came down from Austin that Keffer’s bill had passed in the House. So rather than do the right thing and authorize the purchase of a system that will keep the personal records of every resident of Fort Bend County secure, Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert took the item off the agenda. He wanted to wait a week.

Heck, why spend $48,000 if you don’t have to? Better to spend $56,000 on the inflated rent of a county judge’s house while it is used as temporary office space to staff members of the Gus George Law Enforcement Academy.

Incidently, an amendment to Keffer’s original bill makes it possible for individuals to contact county offices and request that their social security numbers be redacted, all but the last 4 digits that is. I suppose this was added to make the bill palatable to those who were anticipating public outcry over this. What I don’t like about it is that while it is a compromise, it puts it all on the individual. Why not just get the automated redaction system in place?

Heck, you know, just maybe Hart Intercivic will get so much return on this product that they won’t have to sell their voting machines any more to stay in business.

And there can’t be anything bad about that.