Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fort Bend County’s DA is a Fine(d) Elected Official

Now this isn’t the first time that the Fort Bend County district attorney, John Healey, has been the focus of ethics. The last time it was a local TV station reporter’s coverage of DA Healey’s employee, Mike Elliott, whose unethical behavior didn’t escape the notice of his boss, who removed him from a case that he was building against 7 innocent (as it turned out) men. Then there was the other time when Healey himself requested a list of those who were pressuring a local judge in a case he was hearing, so that he could build a witness list for his prosecution of the case.

And now, today, in FortBendNow we find that AD Healey has been fined $1500 by the Texas Ethics Commission for violations in his campaign reporting. The relevant document is here.

Now the FortBendNow article mentioned that the person who filed an ethics complaint over Healey’s campaign fund reporting was an “anonymous complainant,” so we weren’t given the source of Healey’s ethical woes in that article, but I have an idea who it was. All I can say is, this wasn’t the first time this complainant has filed one of these, nor will it be the last.

Healey denies all wrongdoing, and cites errors in arithmetic among other things, as the origin of his campaign reporting problems.

But now the matter is settled, and Healey’s campaign fund is one and a half large lighter as a consequence. That’s $1500 that won’t go to 2008 Republican campaigns, nor to his own.

This is a case of Republican campaign funds that are truly well-spent.

DSCC Texas Senate: Rick Noriega Has A Real Shot This November

Yes, I am back.

Back from a frivolous time of spending too much money on food and gasoline. Back from spending too much money on traveling.

And now, as promised, I am Majorly (as my students prefer to say) Pissed Off.

I am enraged that my senatorial candidate, State Rep and LTC Rick Noriega has been ignored on the national scene. Even yes, today yes, as I watched my MSNBC feed the talking heads discussion over the “Top Five” senatorial races in the country, none of the heads would discuss my senatorial candidate, Rick Noriega. Nor would they even acknowledge the fact that we have a chance to retake the Senate by 60 seats.

Rick Noriega will definitely be one of those who retakes the Senate, a 60-vote majority that will enable a filibuster-proof majority, let no one doubt.

And in this I am encouraged by a news release, via DSCC Chair Chuck Schumer, via the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Comittee), that Rick Noriega “Has a Real Shot This November.”

It’s here at this release, on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s letter head. Read it if you don’t believe me. But let me quote my favorite line.

“This is the year. Rick is the candidate to defeat John Cornyn and finally turn Texas back from Red to Blue once again.”
John Cornyn has lots of friends and they all want him to stay in the Senate. His friends care not a whit about the average Texan. His constituency is, and has been, the lobbies and interests that have collectively contributed to our economic throes courtesy of his mentor, Phil Graham. From pain at the gas pump to sacrifice at the grocery checkout line, his friends want him to stay in office and they are willing to pay dearly for that.

Are you willing to tell them to get out of town before sundown?

Rick needs your help. John Cornyn is well-funded by lobbyists and well-coifed by personal habit. Rick is lean, mean, and has a bald bean. Can we make up for one of these three things with a toss of a few dead presidents toward his campaign fund?

Guys, it is getting down to the wire here. Time to pony up for Texas.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I’d Rather Vote for A Yellow Dog Than . . .

I am proud to say that I am a “Yellow Dog Democrat.” Someone recently once asked what that meant, and I have to admit, allying myself with a “Yellow Dog” does have its negative connotations, especially if you are an aficionado of old western movies as I am. But when I explained it to her the meaning was clear.

So the question then becomes this: what particular yellow dog would I vote for if there was only a Republican on the ballot? And up until this week's visit to Morro Bay, California, the Albertson’s market parking lot there, to be specific, I didn’t have an answer.

But now I do.

This, in my humble opinion, is the coolest yellow dog on the entire planet.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rick Noriega’s Energy Plan: Darn Near Perfect

I am struck these days about the raging controversy on energy between Texas’ junior senator, John Cornyn, and his Democratic challenger Rick Noriega. Struck because on the one hand we are faced with more of the same from Cornyn, who needs to take his head out of the sand and see what is happening in his own state. On the other hand, we have a new Democratic plan with some foresight: some actual by God thought went into it.

John Cornyn has, as his energy plan, Senate Bill 3202, the so-called “Gas Price Reduction Act of 2008.” The bill was introduced by Senator Mitch McConnell (R - KY) and has 47 Republican co-sponsors. Not exactly a bi-partisan effort to say the least.

S. 3202 is almost completely focused on a sunset industry: the oil and gas industry. It could be viewed as a complete federal giveaway program to oil companies, which already enrich themselves to the detriment of Americans and the US economy.

I would venture to suggest that this bill is an embarrassment to the oil companies in that there are too few resources out there for them to capitalize on the advantages being heaped upon them. Offers to end the moratorium on drilling in the US outer continental shelves, shelf acreage that exists beyond state waters (the old 3-mile limit) must and will go unanswered as there are a limited number of drill ships that are rated for these deeper waters – and all of them are currently locked into drilling programs for several years to come.

I would also venture to suggest that opening up all of the OCS to drilling sounds good politically, but lacks geologic credibility. Truth is, much of the promising acreage in the California OCS has already been drilled. Oregon and Washington, being regions of dominant volcanic activity for the past 20 million years, are at best areas where natural gas may be found – if it all hasn’t been cooked off that is.

Quite frankly, Oregon and Washington are better candidates for geothermal production.

The continental shelf off America’s east coast is a joke. The eastern shelf is what geologists call a “trailing edge” margin. The eastern OCS is lacks significant geologic structures, traps where petroleum collects. Indeed, the most promising structure ever drilled in the eastern OCS is Canada’s Hibernia Field, whose structure is associated with the Grand Banks – not the most widespread of landforms. Other productive areas in the Atlantic are associated with major delta systems such as the Niger Delta. No such major system occurs in the eastern US seaboard.

The US Gulf coast remains as the most promising oil and gas province. Nobody really disputes this, and emergent technology should help to discover deeply buried reserves there.

So S.3202 is just so much stuff and bluster. The words sound good but they lack substance. Not one acre additional of federal OCS land will yield the petroleum reserves that will get the United States back on its oil binge at cheap prices.

More significant measures have already been taken by an oil and gas industry that is euphoric at the historic prices they are enjoying. Go out to any established oil field in California and you will see a flurry of activity where little existed before. Pump jacks that once stood idle are furiously pumping away now. My recent visit to the Lost Hills Field revealed not only this fact, but I also witnessed two workover rigs operating within sight of each other on the same day this week in the Lost Hills Field. Workover rigs are production enhancement rigs that optimize oil production that has fallen off in a well. Workover jobs cost a lot of capital, but at current prices the decision on whether to approve these jobs is no longer a hard choice to make.

Oh, and the other part of S. 3202? Battery performance improvement. This must be an echo of John McCain’s $300 million bounty offer for new battery technology.

But not a word on what we are to use to charge up these uber-batteries. Presumably, we are to use refined products of petroleum.

Noriega’s approach is both long-term and realistic. You can find it here. Rick echoes Al Gore’s call toward 100% electricity supply from alternative sources by 2019. Wind power and photoelectric sources are chief among them. In accord with fellow Texan T. Boone Pickens, Noriega admits that this crisis is not one what we can drill ourselves out of, something that people need to believe, and something that Republicans are fighting to conceal.

But because Noriega includes relaxing the moratorium on offshore drilling in his multi-pronged approach to energy, he is being castigated by conservatives as a flip-flopper. Nothing could be further from the truth. Noriega has never, in a serious way, been opposed to oil development. It would be foolish for a Texas senator to oppose what still remains one of the state’s most vital industries. One that sends paychecks home to hundreds of thousands of Texans.

So where Cornyn favors a lop-sided solution, Noriega strikes for a bi-partisan middle ground, accepting oil exploration as an inevitable but with emphasis on development of renewables. Said he in Tuesday’s Dallas Morning News:
“Too often, Washington politicians treat energy policy as a false choice between finding new sources of fossil fuels or building our renewable capacity. I reject the either-or approach”
Notably, Noriega favors a ban on exports of new production that result from a relaxed moratorium, something that I think will be tricky to accomplish, but it is after all is said and done, a well-intentioned goal.

No, there is a vast gulf between Cornyn’s plan and that of Rick Noriega. Noriega’s approach is balanced and takes into account physical realities. Cornyn’s plan is more of the same, and more for the oil companies, who are, incidentally, very big cash contributors to his campaign.

This election, we are told, is an election for change versus a ratification of the same policies and plans that have driven this country into the ground. I think the endgame is just about decided at this point, but it is still irritating to see the same tired old solutions being given another spit and polish job, and still irritating to see Texans buying it.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Newsflash: John Cornyn Thinks America Imports Only A Third of Oil We Consume

Now I like it that my sitting US Senator from Texas is concerned about oil imports. We all are. That’s right, Democrats as well as Republicans. What concerns me, though is that my US Senator from Texas, junior senator John Cornyn, has not a whit nor a clue about how much oil the United States actually imports.

Here is a screenshot to Cornyn's web page (in case they find out about this SNAFU and change the site’s content in the future – at this typing it looks exactly as I show it - you'll need to click on it to see the small text).

That’s right, John Cornyn’s campaign website has it that the United States imports fully one third (1/3), that is one part of three, of the total petroleum that we consume.


This is yet another reason why Texans cannot continue to tolerate the presence of this man in this office of high importance.

John Cornyn can’t keep his facts straight.

He relies on the pokes and prodding of the Bush Regime to tell him what is right and what is wrong, and how to vote. The man continues to ignore his own constituents, most of whom know better than he what the import to domestic oil proportion is.

Anyone with half a brain knows that the United States of America imports nearly 70% of the total oil we consume. Here is the Reuters article, but if you just want the relevant quote I have it below:

"The United States imports nearly 70 percent of its oil and Pickens said the world's top petroleum-consuming nation would import 80 percent in a decade if it does not aggressively tap its own natural gas and renewable resources."

But this is the real kicker: Cornyn uses this in his latest hit piece on Rick Noriega, who is his Democratic opponent in November, to show why Noriega’s energy plan is wrong. Noriega, Cornyn says, wants to “increase our dependence on foreign energy sources.”

Now I have looked at Rick Noriega’s video on his energy policy, and read about it in this Dallas Morning News article, and what I see in that video are lots of wind turbines and photoelectric cells – true renewable alternate energy sources.

Not only does Cornyn get it wrong on what Noriega’s policy is, and what a big surprise that is, he gets it wrong, horribly wrong, in underestimating by hundreds of thousands of barrels the amount of oil we import every day.

Do we need this under-informed Bushite lapdog representing us in the US Senate? Or do we need a new face with fresh ideas based on facts, ideas based on today’s reality?

A vote for John Cornyn is yet another vote for Idiocracy.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Do We Still Love the Sierra? Oh Yes We Do.

One of the great things about California is that if you get tired of the scenery all you have to do is get in your conveyance and drive for an hour – the scenery changes that fast.

So yesterday, Sunday, I went up to the Sierra Nevada once more with my cousin’s spouse, Frank. We stopped in Three Rivers for breakfast, a steamy chorizo and egg burrito with a cold glass of opaque apple cider, and then proceeded on into Sequoia National Park.

Now Sequoia National Park is not my favorite. I am a Yosemite man through and through. But Yosemite lies farther off and it is absolutely jammed with holiday goers at this time of year. And Sequoia has all of these day hikes for old codgers like me who don’t get to go outside very much any more.

So my hike up to Tokopah Falls was made for me.

The hike starts at Lodgepole campground which is situated on the south bank of Horse Creek.

It is an easy ascent. The trail is simply cut through talus slopes that define the north bank of the creek.

And then there are the cool ferny respites that make all hikes in the Sierra the pleasant strolls that they are – from time to time. We kept crossing the path of a young African-American girl in braids who was a first-time visitor to the park, and who, maybe as a result, made some some wrong turns from time to time.

She was “from Philly”. Frank claimed that she was stalking us, but I didn't think so.

The falls are really glorified rapids. No sheer drop offs, but nothing you would want to take your kayak over, either.

But then getting up close, and beyond the safety signs posted at the end of the trail, you appreciate the rapid descent of the cool clear mountain water.

Frank, ever the rock-hopping jackrabbit, was all over this outcrop. I, however preferred to stay put in my perch and receive occasional blasts of mist from the falls.

And then, finally, just before returning to civilization, one last look down-canyon and its U-shape that betrays its origin as a canyon gouged out by glaciers.

The Sierra has a restoring force, just as a spring or a bungee cord does. It regrounds you into a sense of place and size.

And when comparing this place to where I live right now on the Gulf Coastal Plain, it gives you a sense of “non-flatness.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Where Milk and Honey Flows . . .

In California, they have Hollywood.

They have Disneyland and Universal Studios (the part that didn’t burn).

They have the Sierra Nevada and Big Sur (the part that isn’t burning).

They have the Golden Gate, and the bridge that spans it.

They have all of that, and much, much more.

Including the highest gasoline prices that I have ever witnessed.

Don’t be alarmed, I didn’t pay this price. I had to buy it for a dime more a gallon later on that day because they had the cheapest price between Wasco and Shafter.

Don’t get me started on those names.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reasons Number 9210 and 9211 Why McCain Would Make an Awful President.

The contrast could not be greater between our presidential choices this year. It give me the absolute hysterics seeing that there are still those on the fence over whether to go for Obama or McCain in November.


Notwithstanding the fact that they are diametrically opposed in ideology with regard to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and war in general, notwithstanding the fact that a vote for McCain is a vote to bring government interference in any woman’s biological function, they cannot be further apart on issues of education.

And McCain is clearly the clueless one, and gets a zero, on education issues.

But you have to admit it, he sure has audacity to show how badly informed he is on issues of education right in front of the annual convention of the NAACP.

That takes cojones.

As paraphrased in this MSNBC article:

“It is time, McCain said, to use vouchers and other tools like merit pay for teachers to break from conventional thinking on educational policy.”
That’s right, highlighting for us reasons number 9210 and 9211 why McCain would make an awful president.

Reason 9210. Merit pay for teachers is the biggest joke to hit the public sector since exit tests with apocalyptic consequences. Just as exit tests do not show how much or how little a student has learned in school, merit pay does not go to the teachers who impact students’ lives the greatest.

Merit pay for teachers has its roots in a fad that took root in the private sector during the 70’s and 80’s. It was called Performance Management. Google those words and you’ll see what I mean.

Performance management has to do with rewarding those who attain their professional goals. Goal setting has three basic assumptions: goals are agreed to by all parties, goals are attainable, and the employee has control over facets that go into attainment of the goals.

In the private sector, this works if the rules are followed. In the public sector, as in public schools, none of these assumptions are possible. Goals are set by the state board, and are forced on educators, whether they are attainable or not. But most importantly, educators have very little control over facets that surround the educational environment. Educators must, by law, attempt to educate all students regardless of their prior experiences, education, language/math skills, and home and economic environment.

A prime prerequisite for merit pay is controllability. If the employee has no control over quality issues, merit pay is unfair on its face.

Reason 9211. School vouchers are a formula for failure of the public school system; something that voucher supporters must know and must secretly wish to bring about.

Vouchers are a way to high-grade schools with regard to motivated students or their parents, concentrating both in localized areas, resulting in an imbalanced student population. Students whose parents don’t opt for vouchers remain in a school, or a district where motivated and talented students are selectively extracted.

Result: more schools don’t meet their AYPs, and more schools are closed.

John McCain, a former maverick politician, is towing the neoconservative line more and more every day, giving those of us with eyes to see a clear choice.

And this give those same people fits as we watch those on the fence first study a pile of stale horse manure on one side, and a bale of sweet-smelling spring-cut hay on the other side, and can’t seem to figure out which one would be better to swallow.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Little Down Time This Month

Well I put it off long enough and ran out of excuses. I’m going out on the road for awhile to reacquaint myself with family and greet my new sister-in-law. I plan on stopping in from time to time and leaving a few notes, especially if I get really irritated at something.

So stop in occasionally, my 6 readers, and you might see something new; just don’t expect anything when you do, and be surprised when there’s a new post.

To tide you over, I made you a nice little crossword puzzle to work on while I am gone. You can just click here and print this page, or click on each image to get an enlarged image you can print.

Have fun.

My Stimulus Check Finally Came In the Mail

I am one of those people who file their income taxes on the last possible day. So it stands to reason, so I thought, that my promised stimulus check was going to be among the last ones mailed.

And I was not wrong. Comes in the news today that the last stimulus checks of Bush’s economic brainchild were being mailed out today. So yes, my stimulus check, which came in the mail yesterday, was one of the last ones they sent.

What are people doing with their checks? That’s in the news, too. Retail sales, it seems, are up. Where are they most up? Who is the greatest beneficiary of Bush’s moment of genius?


WalMart is reporting an increase in retail sales.

“Wal-Mart Stores Inc. led the retailing pack, reporting a sales increase of 5.8 percent among stores open at least a year, the key comparison known as same-store sales. Broken down by division, Sam's Club saw a 4.6 percent hike, while sales at Wal-Mart stores shot up 6.1 percent.”
Well now, that makes sense. Where better go to stretch your stimulus dollar than to buy cheap Chinese imports at WalMart?

So incredibly, the main beneficiary of Bush’s $168 billion increase of the national debt is WalMart (WMT) whose stock has been rising, since January.

And by proxy, the other beneficiary is the Peoples Republic of China, the country whose people manufacture the grand majority of what WalMart puts on its shelves.

Now I object. I must object most strenuously. I thought I had a uniquely fashioned and very cool irony that I was going to carry out. No, I wasn’t going to invest my stimulus check in the stock market. Nor was I going to put it in a long-term high yield CD. I was going to squander it on a nice digital camera with killer optics, preferably made in China.

But it seems that millions of people have beat me to the punch.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

It's Out: Barbara Boxer's Email for Rick Noriega

Wow. They move fast. No sooner than I post this thing about Texas’s junior senator John Cornyn, I see that the Barbara Boxer PAC for Change has put out a plea for funds for Rick Noriega.

If you didn’t get it, well lucky you, I am going to reproduce it below, along with the links that you can click on to get to ActBlue’s “Turn Texas Blue” page. I just saw the email message and already, when I first loaded the page, there were already 19 contributions and $862 in there. When I finished dropping my Ulysses S. Grant in there, I saw that the contribution number had ticked over 3 more to 22. Just now, when I looked again, 10 minutes later, there are 31 contributions at $1232.

So go get your wallet and click on the links. Here is the email message:

Dear Hal,

SEVENTY-EIGHT TIMES. That's the record-breaking number of filibusters launched by the right-wing Republicans in the Senate already this Congress.

SEVENTY-EIGHT TIMES. And one of the leaders in these repeated cases of obstruction is Senator John Cornyn of Texas.

Health care for our kids? Filibustered. Stem cell research to cure so many diseases? Filibustered. Ending the war in Iraq? Filibustered. A plan to end the housing crisis? Filibustered. Tax incentives for wind and solar energy? Filibustered. Ensure adequate rest time for our soldiers between deployments? Filibustered.

We need to elect a Senator from Texas who will be part of the solution, not part of the gridlock and the partisanship. Rick Noriega can be that Senator -- someone who proudly stands against the status quo and for positive change -- but we need to help him, now.

According to a recent poll, Rick is running just 2 points behind John Cornyn. Now it's up to us to give Rick's campaign the resources he'll need to reach every voter in Texas. Donate to Rick Noriega's campaign through our ActBlue page today!

It's no wonder that last month, Rick Noriega won our online PAC for a Change "Choose a Challenger" contest: As a current Lieutenant Colonel in the Army National Guard and an accomplished member of the Texas House of Representatives, Rick knows how urgent it is that we bring our troops home from Iraq, enact a new energy policy, and provide real solutions to reverse Bush's failed economic policy.

Right after we included Rick in our contest, John Cornyn's campaign blasted Rick and attacked me for daring to challenge the status quo -- a status quo embraced by Republican Senators like John Cornyn. On issue after issue, John Cornyn is one of the most loyal Republican Senators to George Bush's agenda -- an agenda that after seven devastating years, we so desperately need to change. As Texas' next United States Senator, Rick Noriega will help us get America back on the right track.

Let's send a strong Texas leader to the Senate this fall. Donate to Rick Noriega's campaign through our ActBlue page today!

What a breath of fresh air Rick Noriega would be for Texas. Unlike his opponent, Rick has served working families all his life. Not only is he a current Lieutenant Colonel in the Army National Guard who was deployed in Afghanistan after 9/11, but he was also the Incident Commander of Houston's Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and coordinated medical, housing and food services for over 2,000 evacuees to support those in need.Rick Noriega has always been there to serve our country -- whether it's during a time of war, in the chaos of a humanitarian crisis, or in the Texas House of Representatives. But now he needs our help to take on John Cornyn, a well-funded incumbent who has the backing of powerful special interest groups in Washington D.C.

Rick Noriega has what it takes to defeat a right-wing incumbent -- even in a red state like Texas. But he needs our help.

Show your support for Rick Noriega -- our PAC for a Change "Choose a Challenger" online vote winner: Contribute to Rick's campaign today!

Whether you can give $500, $50, or $5, your financial support is incredibly important. Running a Senate campaign in a state as big as Texas is expensive, so every dollar counts!

Thank you so much for your help.

In Friendship,

Barbara Boxer

U.S. Senator

P.S. It's going to take a 60-seat majority in the Senate to overcome right-wing filibusters and end the war in Iraq, fight global warming, and put our nation on the right track again. And to reach that 60-seat threshold, we need to win in red states like Texas. Together, we can help fuel the Democratic wave sweeping across the country and send a Democratic Senator from Texas in 2008.
Contribute to Rick Noriega's campaign today!

Big Bad John’s Video Shot by A California Media Company

I can’t find out how they figured it out, but right here at Texas Cable News we find that John Cornyn’s introductory video, a video called “Big Bad John”, a video that ranges between preposterous and bizarre in its presentation, was conceived by “a California media team.”

To refresh your memory, here is the You Tube video (why oh why haven’t they pulled it yet?). it was uploaded by Political Realm.

But wait, this gets better. You might remember that Cornyn’s campaign reacted to Rick Noriega winning the Barbara Boxer (D-CA) “Choose a Challenger” contest. The text of the campaign can be found at this LA Times blog, but the money quote is found right at the bottom of it and I have it here:

"While Rick Noriega is counting on Californians to help his campaign, John Cornyn is counting on Texans just like you."
Yeah, well it looks like John Cornyn has had some experience counting on Californians to deliver for him. It also looks like he doesn’t trust Texans to shoot a video for him.

Hey, that works for me. The question is, how did this media firm get it so very wrong? So wrong that even John Stewart parodied it on The Daily Show?

I have two theories:

1. These California media guys are way too slick and produced a cliché that reflects how Californians regard Texas and Texans. I do have some experience with this one.

2. These California media guys are way too slick and produced a video with fringe, cowboy hats and horses because they thought Texans would eat that stuff up – and the right Texans, their clients, actually did.

It would be fun to find out if these media guys are in any way, shape, or form, related to the guys who put Dukakis in that tank.

This brings to mind the memory of another campaign, a Texas campaign, where an out-of-state media group came in to shoot a folksy down-home Texas TV spot. They envisioned a quiet conversation with the candidate relaxing by a rail fence at a ranch. Trouble is, in Texas ranch fences aren’t made of rails, they are made of barbed wire (or “bobwahr” as it is known here). They looked and looked and couldn’t find a fence. Well, eventually they did.
At a place that raised miniature horses.

But I digress.

Clearly, John Cornyn is going to have a difficult time fingering Noriega as guy backed by California nuts.

Not when he himself has been “nutted”.

The Shape of Things to Come

I was struck this morning at a news item in the Houston Chronicle, that Toyota Motors was temporarily closing its Tundra plant in San Antonio to be retooled and then it will be reopened in a move that “will consolidate all truck production in San Antonio.”

Another plant in Indiana that makes Toyota’s Sequoia truck will be retooled to produce the more fuel-efficient Highlander SUV.

But most strikingly, the same piece announced that Toyota’s hybrid car, the Prius, was to be built in a new plant being built in Mississippi. Currently, the Prius is produced only in Asia.

Times are changing and the Japanese, again, are right on top of it. But Texans, they think, will never give up the love affair that they have with trucks, and maybe that’s true. But I am thinking that at some point their adoration for all things fuel-sucking will give way to a new paradigm.

And the things we see on and along our highways now will be a thing of distant memory. Things like full serve service stations. Things like Winnebago cities in KOA Campgrounds.

The sights and scenes like this photo of rush hour traffic in Houston,

will be replaced with scenes like this, a typical day on a Singapore expressway. Is this photo actually a glimpse into our future?

It’s going to take some time, but we all just better get used to the idea of downsizing and fuel economy now. My guess is the high prices of gasoline in Singapore, currently around 6.35 USD/gallon, is hurting them, but think what that price would do to your family budget getting that big old Tahoe filled? So they are in considerably better shape to handle these prices than we are.

Medicare is Safe Thanks to Rick Noriega’s 2nd Senate Vote

Thanks, in part, to the campaign pressure of Texas Democratic candidate Rick Noriega, HR 6331, the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 passed the Cloture vote in the Senate late yesterday by a veto-proof vote of 69 to 30 (one Senator, Jammin’ John McCain, not voting).

Texas’ junior senator John “I Was Against It Before I Was For It” Cornyn voted with the majority after making a heated argument against the bill, subsequently being verbally skewered for it – something you rarely see in the Senate. Even with my 1990’s vintage TV you could see his red face clearly as it stood in contrast to his well-coiffed silvery mane.

One can only conclude, with such a violent, whiplash-inducing flip-flop, that Cornyn had a little pressure on him. That pressure, very obviously, extends from the serious problem he is having in his home state, where Rick Noriega has mounted a highly credible and damaging campaign against him this year. Not wanting to be caught with his foot firmly planted on America’s “third rail,” Medicare, Cornyn quickly reversed himself.

Recall it was Cornyn’s vote that could have seen the passage of the bill the first time around. A vote that cost him dearly among the elderly and near-elderly. With the Noriega campaign rubbing his face in it at every turn, Cornyn couldn’t help but relent. From the Washington Post:

“Since the initial vote, Republicans had come under intense pressure from the American Medical Association, which aired advertisements in states where such Republicans as Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), who opposed the provision, were facing reelection. The Texas chapter of the AMA withdrew its endorsement of Cornyn after his first vote. Yesterday, he switched sides.”

That played a huge role, but we also need to acknowledge the fact that the 60th vote entered the Senate chambers just minutes before the bill was to be reconsidered. Senator Ted Kennedy, taking a vacation from his convalescence from his recent brain surgery, entered the chambers during the FISA vote roll call with the entire Senate rising, applauding, and whooping for several minutes. Kennedy’s presence assured passage, giving Cornyn no choice but to flip over to the side of right and righteousness, along with a few of his cronies – for a net 9 aye-vote gain over the previous time the bill was considered.

The result? Medicare payments to doctors will not decrease by 10%. Doctors will not be induced to turn away Medicare patients; instead, payments to insurers that back the alternative Medicare Advantage plan will be reduced.

So well in advance of his next term as our new US Senator (Texas), Rick Noriega already casts votes in the Senate. Votes for Texans this time, instead of for corporations and special interests. His first vote, for his fellow servicemen and veterans, was cast when Cornyn flipped his vote on the GI Bill. And now, the second, for seniors with fixed income.

Not a bad start.

The beauty of the whole thing is that Texans are getting a preview of how their next Senator will be voting, and see the positive effects of his votes long before November. If they like what they see, they know what they can do on November 4th.

They can vote for the guy who is pulling John Cornyn’s strings right now, State Rep, LTC (and now “Puppetmaster”) Rick Noriega.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Senate Votes on FISA Today – Epilogue

Here is another reason why we need to elect Rick Noriega to the US Senate. Noriega stands with us, and he stands with the Constitution.

Here is Rick’s statement on the FISA vote today:

“Many times throughout my lifetime I have sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. This isn’t a part-time Constitution. We as a nation cannot grant anyone sweeping amnesty if they break the rules. It's appalling that my opponent, John Cornyn, puts his special interest campaign contributors ahead of the Constitution. Texans have had enough.

Americans will not accept an abuse of power, and they will not accept corporations getting away with breaking the law.

We already have a law in place that balances national security concerns while adhering to the Constitution. This is not the time to compromise the privacy of the American people and not the time to disregard the Constitution of United States. I regret that the Senate has voted this way.”

Senate Votes on FISA Today – Part 2: The Vote

Now after lunch, comes the FISA cloture vote, where the previous Ayes, become the Nays.

Not really.

Here is the vote on the FISA bill, a bill fully loaded and ready to take aim at all Americans’ right to privacy and against warrentless search and seizure.

69 Aye – 28 Nay

Here is the rogues’ list. Twenty-three Democrats who voted away our constitutional rights. (No, I don’t bother listing the Republicans and Independents. They can’t help being against our constitutional rights. These 23 have no excuse).

Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Biden (D-DE)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Conrad (D-ND)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lincoln (D-AR)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Obama (D-IL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

Senate Votes on FISA Today – Part 1: Amendments

Today the Senate takes up debates and votes for amendments to HR 6304, the bill just passed in the House that would, among other things, do something I haven’t really ever seen before: it provides a grant of immunity from civil suits against telecommunications firms that went along with government-ordered eavesdropping on the conversations of American citizens – orders that did not have the benefit of a warrant.

In other words, illegal search and seizure occurred. And now the Senate is in the process of placing their seal of approval on these illegal acts.

HR 6304 has three amendments to be voted on today.
Three Amendments upon which the survival of the 4th Amendment depends.

A roll call vote was requested for all three.

Senator Dole’s amendment to strike Title 2 from the bill, the part of it that grants immunity to telecom firms, came to bat first.

32 Aye – 66 Nay.

Strike one.

Then Arlen Spector’s amendment “to limit retroactive immunity for providing assistance to the United States to instances in which a Federal court determines the assistance was provided in connection with an intelligence activity that was constitutional,” came up next.

37 Aye - 61 Nay

Strike Two.

Senator Bingaman’s amendment “to stay pending cases against certain telecommunications companies and provide that such companies may not seek retroactive immunity until 90 days after the date the final report of the Inspectors General on the President's Surveillance Program is submitted to Congress.”

This is the last hope that we have for our 4th Amendment. Bush has threatened to veto any legislation that puts a delay on any telecom cases until people can see whether any laws were broken and who broke them.

42 Aye – 56 Nay

Strike Three.

On that last vote, those Aye votes appear to be 42 solid votes to deny passage of the FISA bill, don't they? Not so. Barack Obama, who voted Aye three times today, has promised to vote for the bill, as have others.

But I guess we’ll see.

After the Senators get their lunch.

Wouldn't want to yank the guts out of the 4th Amendment without a full belly.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Iraq PM Considering a Timetable for US to Leave.

What a novel thought. Nouri al-Maliki said on Monday that he would consider setting a timetable for US troops to leave Iraq. The idea was given even more intensity when Iraqi national security advisor, Mowaffak al-Rubaie chimed in that his government is “impatiently waiting” for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“There should not be any permanent bases in Iraq unless these bases are under Iraqi control. We would not accept any memorandum of understanding with [the U.S.] side that has no obvious and specific dates for the foreign troops' withdrawal from Iraq.”
What did George Bush say about what he would do if Iraq asked us to remove our troops from their soil?

“We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It's their government's choice. If they were to say leave, we would leave.”
Looks like the Iraqi government has called Bush’s bluff.

It’s obvious to me what is going on. The US and Iraq are currently in negotiations on the structure of the US/Iraq SOFA or Status of Forces Agreement. This agreement, a treaty really, sets up the nature of Iraq’s military ties to the US going into the next president’s term of office. And it sounds to me like the US negotiators are balking at including any timetable language in the SOFA, so al-Maliki and al-Rubaie have gone public with this.

As well they should. Iraq is after all their country, isn’t it?

Or is it?

US out of Iraq, now.

The Greening of T. Boone Pickens

Known for his famous acquisition attempts of the 80’s, former corporate raider and greenmailer T. Boone Pickens is now the picture of an environmental warrior. A billionaire three times over, Pickens is now leading the charge for clean renewable energy.

His $10 billion project in the Texas panhandle, in and around Pampa, Texas, is purported to be the largest wind energy project ever proposed.

On CNN, Pickens had this to say about wind power last May:

“Wind power is ... clean, it's renewable. It's everything you want. And it's a stable supply of energy. It's unbelievable that we have not done more with wind.”
As much as I like this idea, there’s something about Pickens that enrages me. Recall that this is the guy who forced massive amounts of expense and loss of jobs as he moved to take over several major oil companies in the ‘80’s. So I am not going to give him a pass on everything he says. Wind power, while an exceedingly good idea, and definitely the way to go, is definitely not a "stable supply of energy".

Sometimes the wind dies down.

Not in the “wind corridor” that stretches through the middle of the continent, you say? Yes, even in the wind corridor. Recall this story from midwinter when cold calm air settled on a majority of Texas, stilling the wind turbine blades everywhere. This tripped the alarms at the Texas grid, and power was cut to several industrial sites to avoid rolling blackouts across the state.

Don’t get me wrong, I like wind power and the benefits it brings vis-√†-vis deterrence of global warming, I just have a problem when something like this gets over sold, something that T. Boone Pickens is very good at. Wind power, yes, but it is definitely not a 100% solution.

Which is why Pickens is also for taking America off of its dependence on petroleum in its transportation infrastructure.

He goes further. By sending wind-generated power into the grid, power stations that use natural gas to generate the steam that drives their power-generating turbines could switch off the flow in their natural gas supply lines. Natural gas, then could supplant petroleum as the nation’s number one transportation fuel.

“Fueling these plants with wind power would then free up the natural gas historically used to power them, and would mean that natural gas could replace foreign oil as fuel for motor vehicles.”
Well now that’s pretty shrewd. Oil prices have skyrocketed due to speculation and war in the Middle East. Not so natural gas, which remains at a fairly steady price. Yes, natural gas prices have gone up in the past year, but not by nearly the amount that oil and refined products have.

I would hate to own an oil company right now that didn’t have a lot of oil reserves, but tons and tons of gas reserves. To stabilize costs, power companies contract for natural gas supply with long term set prices. So owning lots of natural gas reserves gets you a nice steady supply of income, but locks you out of the fun stuff like they have in oil speculation.

Mesa Petroleum, T. Boone Pickens’ company, has by far more gas reserves than it has petroleum acreage. Mesa Petroleum is one of the nations largest natural gas producers, it seems.

So it’s a win-win for T. Boone, and America goes green by sending more of its long green to Pickens.

Now that’s entrepreneurship.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Cornyn Calling Seniors; Asks For Their Thanks on Medicare Vote

I got a curious call from a friend today. Marsha wanted to let me know that our mutual senator, John Cornyn, the junior senator from Texas, had just placed a robo call to her house. Cornyn, it seems, borrowing a page out of Karl Rove’s playbook, was calling senior citizens who enjoy the benefits of Medicare, asking them whether they wanted to “Thank” him for voting the way he did on the recent Medicare bill.

Quite galling, isn’t it? That Cornyn votes against every American, every Texan on the Medicare program, then turns around and asks them to thank him for it.

In order to “Thank” our senator for voting against a bill that would have cancelled a scheduled cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients, patients like Marsha, all she had to do was press “1”.

She pressed “1,” and she was then informed that while the senator was asking for her acknowledgement of the favor that he had done her, the senator himself might not be the one picking up the phone.

She might have to talk to a staffer.

Oh well. Marsha stayed on the line because she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell someone, anyone, “that Rick Noriega was going to kick his @$% in November.”

Marsha is not your typical senior citizen.

But then, after waiting several minutes, a click was heard on the other end, and a recorded voice came on saying that the senator thanked her for her call but there was no one available to take it, and prayed that she would call again.


Now there are two possibilities in play here.

Possibility one is that John Cornyn’s campaign thought that this would be a great way to cover-up the fact that he had just voted away Medicare benefits to senior citizens in an election year, a vote that got him unendorsed by the Texas Medical Association, by convincing them that he had indeed done a good thing, a thing that he should be thanked for. Now having put this machinery in place, Cornyn’s staff completely screwed the pooch in setting up the callback system, resulting in the SNAFU that Marsha experienced.

Possibility two is that John Cornyn’s campaign thought that this would be a great way to cover-up the fact that he had just voted away Medicare benefits to senior citizens in an election year, a vote that got him unendorsed by the Texas Medical Association, by convincing them that he had indeed done a good thing, a thing that he should be thanked for. Now having put this machinery in place, senior citizens, to a man and woman, pressed “1” to give Cornyn, someone, anyone a piece of their mind about John Cornyn and how he completely ran roughshod over the entire population of people in Texas who are on a fixed income.

They all pressed “1” and Cornyn’s callback system got overloaded.

I’m going with possibility two.

Cornyn Calling Seniors; Asks For Their Thanks on Medicare Vote

I got a curious call from a friend today. Marsha wanted to let me know that our mutual senator, John Cornyn, the junior senator from Texas, had just placed a robo call to her house. Cornyn, it seems, borrowing a page out of Karl Rove’s playbook, was calling senior citizens who enjoy the benefits of Medicare, asking them whether they wanted to “Thank” him for voting the way he did on the recent Medicare bill.

Quite galling, isn’t it? That Cornyn votes against every American, every Texan on the Medicare program, then turns around and asks them to thank him for it.

In order to “Thank” our senator for voting against a bill that would have cancelled a scheduled cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients, patients like Marsha, all she had to do was press “1”.

She pressed “1,” and she was then informed that while the senator was asking for her acknowledgement of the favor that he had done her, the senator himself might not be the one picking up the phone.

She might have to talk to a staffer.

Oh well. Marsha stayed on the line because she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tell someone, anyone, “that Rick Noriega was going to kick his @$% in November.”

Marsha is not your typical senior citizen.

But then, after waiting several minutes, a click was heard on the other end, and a recorded voice came on saying that the senator thanked her for her call but there was no one available to take it, and prayed that she would call again.


Now there are two possibilities in play here.

Possibility one is that John Cornyn’s campaign thought that this would be a great way to cover-up the fact that he had just voted away Medicare benefits to senior citizens in an election year, a vote that got him unendorsed by the Texas Medical Association, by convincing them that he had indeed done a good thing, a thing that he should be thanked for. Now having put this machinery in place, Cornyn’s staff completely screwed the pooch in setting up the callback system, resulting in the SNAFU that Marsha experienced.

Possibility two is that John Cornyn’s campaign thought that this would be a great way to cover-up the fact that he had just voted away Medicare benefits to senior citizens in an election year, a vote that got him unendorsed by the Texas Medical Association, by convincing them that he had indeed done a good thing, a thing that he should be thanked for. Now having put this machinery in place, senior citizens, to a man and woman, pressed “1” to give Cornyn, someone, anyone a piece of their mind about John Cornyn and how he completely ran roughshod over the entire population of people in Texas who are on a fixed income.

They all pressed “1” and Cornyn’s callback system got overloaded.

I’m going with possibility two.

Advice to Energy Industry Recruits: Have a “Plan B”

I note this morning with wry irony that the oil and gas industry is recruiting students who haven’t even cast their shadows over a college campus. True. It’s here in a Houston Chronicle article that highlights the summer internship of a Oklahoma high school graduate who will enter the University of Tulsa this fall with an eye on their petroleum engineering program. Eighteen-year-old summer intern recruits. Unheard of.

The energy industry, it seems, is finally waking up to the fact that their aging professional staffs are nearly ready for retirement, or going ahead right now and taking advantage of early retirement.

And up to now, too few have been coming in at the entry level to take their places.

Ironic isn’t it? With oil at all time high prices, with gasoline selling for 4 plus dollars per gallon, not only is the oil industry faced with a very tight supply of drilling equipment, including deepwater offshore drilling ships, but now we come to find out that they are faced with a dearth of the kind of specialized talent that is needed to locate and develop oil and gas reserves.

I knew this would happen.

As a 22-year veteran of the oil and gas industry, this was as much a surprise to me as my reaction this morning when I saw the sun rise.

At the bottom of the Chron article, the student mentions that her father, a 20-year veteran of an oil field service company, had told her that

“He's been with the industry through the good times and the bad, and he thinks now's a good enough time to get in on it.”
Wow. History does repeat itself.

Those were the exact words spoken to me by energy industry recruiters . . . well . . . it was during the 70’s. Some of us listened and ‘signed our lives away’ (as we used to joke about it). I was also taken aside at that time by a person who was my present age, a graduate of my university. He told me another story. He told me, as it turns out, the true story.

The oil and gas industry, he told me, is a cold unforgiving business that cares not a whit about their employees or their families. As long as you are useful to them you have a job, but when there is a downturn in the industry, “and I lived through two of them,” he said, they’ll cut you free without a second thought.

If I had a chance now, to talk frankly and honestly with students who want to major in subjects that will direct them to jobs in the oil industry, those words, and more, would be the ones I would choose.

Frankly, as a high school physics teacher, I find that I have opportunity to say those things quite frequently.

Not that they listen, and I don’t blame them. I sure didn’t.

The thing is, with the industry flush with money, recruiters can promise and deliver large starting salaries, perquisites, benefits packages (killer health benefits courtesy of the OCAW Union), and the allure of advancement opportunities. It was the same then as it is now and the deal is too good to pass up.

So I’ll just say this: if this is a goal, to make a lot of money in the oil industry while it’s a “good time to get in on it”, go. Do so.

But have a Plan B.

Have a Plan B because statistically, if you haven’t risen above middle management by the time the next crisis rolls around, and it will come, you will probably need to exercise it.

Plan B cannot have anything to do with the oil industry, obviously. When a crisis comes, the first area that gets tight, in terms of employment opportunities, is the service industry. And the oil industry is not like, say, the automotive industry, where one company is suffering, but not others. When it’s bad for one oil company, it’s bad for all of them.

My Plan B was a second career in education. I led field seminars for geologists and engineers during the latter part of my previous career, and I felt I had a knack for information delivery. That has proven to be the case, but what I know now is that my present audience, eager young teenage minds, is very different than my past audience, attention-deficit geologists and engineers with a hankering for the end-of-the-day brewskies.

My choice for a second career was a good one, and I haven’t looked back . . . well, once or twice maybe.

So to these young science-oriented students, I say this: yes, the oil and gas industry has its allure. You get to play with all sorts of neat toys. And between your salary, bonuses, stock option plans, perks and travel opportunities, you live a comfortable, interesting life. You just need to know that in all probability it won’t last forever. So go for it, grab that brass ring and take the ride of your life.

And have a Plan B.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Comer: TEA’s Neutrality on Evolution v. Creationism is Unconstitutional

Former Texas Education Agency Science Director, Chris Comer, has filed suit in federal court charging that her firing was a violation of the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

I was waiting for this. This is a neatly-timed lawsuit, I think, filed just as the TEA is set to review the state’s science curriculum. The review comes in advance of Texas decennial textbook adoption process, a process that affects how publication houses present science content in their textbooks, because Texas’ adoption policy is so monolithic, it affects how textbooks are written for national consumption.

Comer was forced to resign, it will be recalled, as a result of an email message that she forwarded internally within the TEA, and externally, that announced a a talk by National Center for Science Education board member Dr. Barbara Forrest, co-author of “Creationism's Trojan Horse”, a critique of intelligent design and its roots in creationism.

Charges were leveled by Lizzette Reynolds, a recent TEA hire, who came to the TEA from an appointed position at the Bush Regime’s Department of Education, that Comer had violated the TEA’s “Neutrality Policy” regarding the teaching of the origin of life and species. Specifically, that she violated the policy by showing a preference that was against creationism and intelligent design. Comer countered at the time that by forwarding the message, she was not indicating a preference, and simply attached the notation “FYI” to the forwarded message.

At first, Comer was given a “30-day suspension,” but as we later found out, this was just to give Reynolds enough time to dredge up other trumped up but related charges, and forced Comer’s ultimate resignation.

Now Comer is back, and with all guns blazing. Gone is the excuse that an “FYI” is not an endorsement, it isn’t but that wasn’t the issue in the first place. The issue is, as stated in Comer’s lawsuit, that

“The Texas Education Agency has a policy of purported “neutrality” on teaching creationism as science in public schools. By professing “neutrality,” the Agency credits creationism as a valid scientific theory. Creationism, however, is not a valid scientific theory; it is a religious belief. The Agency’s policy is not neutral at all, because it has the purpose or effect of inviting dispute about an issue – teaching creationism as science in public schools – that is forbidden by the Establishment Clause.”
This issue has already been settled in the US Supreme Court. In Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) the Court held that a Louisana law promoting the teaching of creationism as a science in concert with the teaching of evolution violates the Establishment Clause because “it lacks a clear secular purpose.” The Louisiana law essentially placed creationism and evolution on equal footing, each with equal weight, but in doing so, the Court found that the teaching of creationism had a religious purpose, and not a secular one. In Texas now, we have a similar issue, but with a different angle: the “Neutrality Policy” at the TEA is essentially the same as Louisiana’s law that gives equal weight to both creationism (or intelligent design) and evolution.

Why be neutral on a controversy when the conversants are not considered as equals?

So Comer has a strong case, and Supreme Court precedent behind her. What I hope, and this is very much out on a limb for me, is that the lawsuit will serve as a cloud over the TEA as it takes up its reconsideration of the state’s science curriculum.

If the TEA was not aware of it before, it should be now: the world is watching what they do.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Is McCain Getting Insider Intelligence from Bush?

Now, I’m not the only one to get the uneasy feeling that John McCain timed his recent trip to Colombia on a hot tip from someone in Bush’s administration. John Ridley on MSNBC got into it with Pat Buchanan about this very thing as retold here.

I just find it a little too convenient that McCain appeared on the scene in Colombia, mentioned the hostages held by FARC, left, then news breaks that some of FARCs hostages, including those specifically mentioned by McCain, are rescued.

First, Colombia seems to be a bit off the campaign trail. Not a lot of voters in Colombia.

Second, we are now being told that the Bush administration was informed that this rescue was in the works nearly two weeks ago. We also know that the Bush administration has a difficult time keeping mum about secrets, as Valerie Plame came to find out about.

So now we know something else. John McCain is enjoying the facility of having some inside information, and this is probably nothing new. But as far as I can remember, if my speculation has any grain of truth in it, this would be the first time that a military operation by a foreign power was leaked to a presidential campaign, and that campaign tried to make political capital off of it.

This is alarming on two fronts. One, what do you suppose would have happened to those hostages if a leak about this operation got to the wrong ear? Including those who have no need to know about this operation risked the lives of the hostages. Two, what kind of person would try to make political capital out of the freeing of hostages after 5 and 6 years of captivity?

Oh, that’s right, the kind of person who makes political capital out of himself being a military prisoner.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Chris Bell Going for Texas Senate District 17?

It has been awhile since we’ve heard anything about a Democrat stepping up to run in the Texas SD 17 special election to replace Kyle Janek, who resigned from his seat after serving only 2 years of his 6-year term.

But now, today, on the 4th of July, I find in my email inbox an invitation to attend a reception at the Galveston Yacht Club that will honor Joe Jaworski, - who we all know is running against incumbent Mike Jackson for the SD 11 seat – AND Chris Bell who, it seems, has “Texas Senate District 17” under his name on the invitation.

My guess is, since I have seen nothing about this in the news or on the blogs, this is Chris Bell’s way of letting the cat out of the bag.

An interesting day to announce this. July 4th. Friday.

Oh, by the way, if you want to attend this reception, here are the particulars:

When: Thursday, July 24th, 2008, 5:30 – 7::00 PM
Where: Galveston Yacht Club, 601 Holiday Dr. Galveston [map]

My guess is that this is for high rollers only. At 150 miles round trip, that’s 21 dollars in gas alone.


Apparently Chris Bell is willing to have his name placed on the invitation for a reception in which he will appear, as a potential candidate, but not necessarily as a confirmed candidate in the SD 17 special election. He says that he will make a decision to go or to not go 4 days before the filing deadline.


What a way to begin.

Rick Noriega’s Independence Day Message

Today the Noriega campaign has a new video out. It shows Rick Noriega thanking the Netroots community for its continued support. Frankly it goes to all of his Texas supporters, as well as to all of his supporters in foreign countries like Illinois and California.

Now, I don’t know about barbecues and all that. Today the skies are gray here and it just poured down about an inch of rain in a half hour. But I appreciate what Rick Noriega says, and I thank him for his willingness to lay it on the line against John Cornyn’s supporters: the moneyed interests that got us in this jam.

If we can’t get ourselves out of this predicament that faces us: soaring gas and food prices, soaring unemployment, soaring foreclosures, by getting this man elected to the US Senate, then don’t we get what we deserve in continued non-representation in the Senate?

Back at ya, Rick.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Save Our Constitution. Sign the FISA Petition

If you haven’t gotten an email message from Russ Feingold today about signing the FISA petition, don’t worry. I have the link to it here.

And here is what was included in the message, in case you need some inducement to sign the petition:

Dear Friend,

In recent days, people across the country have voiced the opinion that the so-called "compromise" FISA bill working its way through the Senate must be stopped.

As you already know, I am working hard to strip retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that allegedly cooperated with the President's illegal warrantless wiretapping program from the bill.

But that is not the only problem. This FISA legislation gives enormous powers to the government: including the ability to read emails and text messages and listen to phone conversations of anyone communicating with their family members, friends, associates, reporters, ANYBODY who may be overseas -- all with zero court review. Nobody should be supporting this legislation.

We can defend our country from terrorists while at the same time protecting the rights and freedoms outlined in the Constitution. It's time for our elected officials to stand up for the values on which our country was founded.
We should celebrate our Constitution this Fourth of July -- and do everything we can to prevent it from being torn up when the Senate returns to Washington next week.

Progressives everywhere have already had a tremendous impact -- with phone calls, emails, and letters pouring into offices by the hundreds (in some cases thousands), but the pressure on my colleagues to give in to this so-called "compromise" and President Bush is strong.

I'm going to continue to do everything I can to stand up for the rights and freedoms we all share.

Thanks again for doing your part.

Sincerely, Russ Feingold
Honorary Chair
Progressive Patriots Fund
Oh, did I mention you can sign it here?

Drilling for Oil In North America

Today is a red letter day when I get an email from my congressman and see a piece in the Austin American-Statesman about my US Senate candidate, and both of them tell you the same thing: we should open up all of our offshore continental shelves to oil and gas exploration.

Here is what Nick Lampson (TX 22) said in his email:

“I urged (Speaker Pelosi and the entire Democratic leadership) to allow debate and votes on legislation to increase domestic energy production, including the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Outer Continental Shelf. This legislation should not be blocked from consideration in favor of harmful efforts to increase taxes and stifle production on existing leases.”
So not only is my congressman in favor of opening up all areas of our continental shelf for oil and gas exploration and development, he wants the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR, pronounced AN-wahr) opened up as well.

Something that Republicans in the House and Senate have been whining about for years.

Noriega, however, stops short of supporting ANWR exploration and development:

“Rick Noriega supports lifting the ban on offshore drilling, allowing states to decide for themselves on drilling plans, but knows that we can’t just drill our way out of this problem, because the fact is the U.S. has 3 percent of world oil reserves and 25 percent of demand.”
Now that makes sense. Texas and other Gulf states have no problem having oil rigs drill in the outer continental shelf (OCS). We have hundreds of oil and gas production platforms out there right now. The grand majority of them can’t be seen from the beach because they are so far over the horizon.

The coastal shelf and slope of the Gulf Coast, you see, is very broad. Texas and its neighboring southern states have had an affinity to offshore drilling because of that and the fact that environmental protection was a foreign concept in these states’ governments in the past.

Not so the West Coast. The west coast continental shelf is very narrow. Every single oil production rig in the western OCS is visible from the beach. And not only that, the west coast experienced an oil well blow out in 1968, a blow out caused by poor drilling decisions.

So when Rick Noriega says that each state should be allowed “to decide for themselves on drilling plans,” that sounds good.

It’s just that it doesn’t happen. California opposed offshore federal lease sales in the past, but nothing came of it.

In the case of oil and gas exploration in federal waters, states don’t have bupkus to say about it.

Never did.

Now on this ANWR stuff, I wonder if anyone knows just what is involved here. If Prudhoe Bay is an example, then 10 years is a minimum period of time between spudding in the first exploration well, and turning the valve on the first production. More likely, 15 years. So this isn’t an immediate solution to avoid 5 dollar gas, is it?

But this is exactly what oil companies and their lobbyists will tell you, and the Kool-Aid goes down smoothly for a majority of Americans.

The other thing that always gets my goat about ANWR rhetoric is that its production will go to make the US energy-independent. Truth is, it might help a bit, but only if the production is sold in the US. Truth is, it won’t be. How do I know this? Once a supertanker is loaded with Alaskan oil at Valdez Harbor it can, and does, go anywhere in the world. Alaskan oil is not reserved for American consumption.

So there’s your second cup of Kool-Aid: ANWR oil will make America energy-independent.


But, and I always save the best for last (a journalist I will never be), the best part is the world OCS hydrocarbon exploration infrastructure is totally saturated right now. Every deep water rig that can possibly make hole is out there right now, making hole. Companies are screaming for rigs and crews to explore for new fields and develop existing ones. They just can’t find any. This is driving the cost of leasing rigs through the roof. There is a massive program to build more rigs, but the point is, the infrastructure isn’t there right now.

So, sell all of the offshore leases you want, it will be years before they can be brought online. We don’t have the resources necessarily to explore for oil in additional offshore acreage right now.

I’d say that both Noriega and Lampson scored points today among the gas-guzzling public. It’s really a shame though, that this public demand is being fed by present-day economics rather than by long-term planning.

Wouldn’t it be best to keep this stuff in the ground while we develop an infrastructure based on alternative energy? Fossil fuel is a finite resource that is too precious a thing to waste on soccer moms who want 3 dollar gas to put in their SUVs again.

When it’s gone, it’s gone.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

On McCain, Cocaine, and His Diplomatic Finesse in Latin America

John McCain is on a campaign junket to Bolivia today. He flew out in his Boeing 737 “Straight Talk Express,” and is at this moment hobnobbing with Colombian government officials, talking about trade relations, talking about captive pilots, not talking about coca.

Unbelievable. In Colombia you can’t talk about anything unless you also include their coca crop. Colombia has the highest coca leaf yield in South America. And with the United States’ coca eradication program taking a back seat to Iran, Iraq, North Korea and what have you, Colombia’s “coca agricultural project” is at an all time high.

But when you read all about McCain’s trip in the news, all you read about is the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, a measure which has stalled in congress. That and how McCain wants the anti-government insurgent group, FARC, to release an American pilot that they are holding captive.

But you don’t hear much about the coca crop unless it is put in context with the free trade act. Then you do. The free trade act, you see, is going to suppress the cocaine market. If Colombian growers can’t sell a legitimate product with American supports, they will “turn to” coca.

So there you have it, the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement is all about suppressing the cocaine market and a “No” vote on this act is a vote for the Bolivian drug lords.

Speaking of McCain in Latin America, this brings up something else that I read about today. It seems McCain’s Latin America trip evoked a memory of a previous trip made to Nicaragua by Senator Thad Cochran (R - Miss), who along with John McCain, Bob Dole, and a couple of others, visited with members the new Sandinista government in 1987. Cochran recalled that John McCain and an associate of Nicaragua president Daniel Ortega were huddled together at one end of a long table, when all of a sudden McCain angrily arose, grabbed the Ortega staffer by his shirt collar, and lifted him out of his chair.

Said Cochran:

“I don't know what he was telling him but I thought, 'Good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission.' I don't know what had happened to provoke John, but he obviously got mad at the guy ... and he just reached over there and snatched ... him.”
McCain and Cochran apparently don’t have many good things to say about each other. McCain often opposed Cochran’s earmarks, Cochran responding in kind with “John McNasty” stories: Cochran was once heard to say that the idea of having John McCain as the GOP presidential nominee “sent a chill down his spine.”

But you know, we haven’t heard about McCain roughing up any Colombian officials yet. McCain was comparatively young, 50 years old, when he picked up the Nicaraguan, and now at 71, is probably a little more careful with the fights that he picks.

And that, in the end, is probably the only good thing about McCain’s age if he were, by some remote chance, to become president. At 72, he probably wouldn’t be picking up any people at a diplomatic negotiation or summit meeting.

Let alone when he is 76.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Texas Senator John Cornyn Thinks US Trades With Iran

I don’t know, this isn’t exactly a non-mainstream bit of news, but if the United States has had a trade embargo with Iran for 20 years, why then, was our United States Senator (Texas), junior senator John Cornyn moved to declare that the new Gas Price Reduction Act would reduce, by 3 million barrels of oil per day, the amount of oil that the United States would buy from “Iran and (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad”?

Oh yes he did.

He is quoted in today’s issue of the Tyler Morning Telegram . . . right here.

Iran has not sold the United States a drop of oil, or anything else since Ronald Reagan imposed a trade embargo on them. At least not legally. So it would make no sense for John Cornyn to include Iran in his short list of undesirable nations that we wouldn’t have to buy oil from if his “Oil drillin’” bill passes.

But that didn’t prevent him from saying it anyway.

Here is the Rick Noriega campaign response to John Cornyn’s latest brain fart:

“‘It's clear from his latest comments that when it comes to dealing with the energy crisis John Cornyn is running on empty. Texas families and folks across the nation are in an energy crisis and they are relying on the leaders in Washington for solutions. It's a worrisome state of affairs when a United States Senator can't even get the basic facts straight,’ said Holly Shulman, spokeswoman for the Rick Noriega for Senate campaign. ‘Texas families deserve better.’”

Despite his pile of fluffy silvery gray hair, Cornyn is only 56 years old so we can’t blame incipient Alzheimer’s as we begin to suspect a certain presidential candidate may have.

56 is too young for senility to set in.

I think it is a genuine Republican mis-read of the facts, based on past and present business practices. Fact is, Halliburton has maintained a business relationship with Iran despite the embargo. Surely, if Dick Cheney’s old company can do it through its foreign subsidiaries, and has done it with impunity, then why not be under the assumption that the US is buying Iranian oil?

Clearly this is not a miscomprehension of the facts. It is, rather, a revelation in the Republicans view of the world: if Dick Cheney can do it, then it must be OK.

FISA Senate Vote Delayed Until After Independence Day Weekend

Senator Russ Feingold (D – Wis.) recorded a video on You Tube in reply to the voter outrage over the FISA “Compromise” Bill. Feingold, along with Senator Chris Dodd have had a temporary victory this week in delaying debate on this vote until next week.

“…we can celebrate the Constitution on July 4th, and maybe when we come back we’ll decide not to tear it up.”
We are going through a rather shameful period in our history right now, as a president who twice swore to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” a president who has the lowest approval rating in our nation’s history, now seeks to gut our constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy, one of the cornerstones of freedom that makes our country the envy of the world.

This “Compromise” bill is not a compromise. It is complete capitulation to a president whose powers are on the wane. By granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that did not refuse to comply with illegal government requests, the door is left wide open to anyone in government to steal any of our rights with impunity.

The telecommunications companies that bent to the will of an out-of-control government were just as traitorous as those who demanded their compliance. They knew that they were breaking the law. They knew that their acts were denying their customers their guaranteed right to privacy. Their culpability for their crimes has precedence in the Nuremburg Trials that declared this preeminent principle: the legal defense that the accused is innocent because they were “only following orders” does not exist.

Individuals and corporations (which are recognized in our laws as individuals) are not free to do whatever if they are ordered to do so. It is their obligation to refuse these orders. As a San Francisco Chronicle reader aptly pointed out “By granting immunity to companies that follow illegal orders, the only penalty that might arise would come from resisting illegal orders.”

Freedom-loving Americans of all political persuasions are united in this effort to say “No” to the threat of tyranny. Once we start on this road toward dismantling our constitution brick by brick, our enemies and opponents to the freedoms that we enjoy will have finally won.

Here is Russ Feingold’s video.

By my own estimation, the Bush administration has brought our nation to the brink of an abyss that another nation fell into at the beginning of the last century. It is time to consider the cynical words of Vladimir I. Lenin, and wonder whether they are being prescribed to once more:

“It is true that liberty is precious – so precious that it must be rationed.”