Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Blue Year!

Take a look outside tonight as you roll in the New Year.

That full moon you see up in the sky on the last day of 2009 will be blue.

It’s a Blue Moon.

But no. It will not look like the image I have posted here. No way. This image, I dare say, has been altered.

A blue moon, which is rare, which is why they say “once in a blue moon,” is the second full moon in a calendar month. The first full moon in December 2009 occurred on December 1st. The moon orbits Earth in 29 earth days, and so when it returns to its original position, on the next day, 30 days have passed and the moon’s phase is full again.

On December 31st.

It doesn’t happen that often, and it’s a sure bet that it doesn’t happen that often on the last day of the year. The last time the moon was blue on New Year’s Eve was December 31st, 1990.

That, in Half Empty years, was when the world was young.

I think that having a blue moon right now is a good omen. The moon (mostly) controls the tides and I think that the tide is turning. Things seem bad right now for Democrats, but if what is suspect is true, is true, then I think we are about to turn a corner.

I think we are now going to start filling in that hole that we have been digging for ourselves.

And I think that when push comes to shove, the people are going to see who has been doing all of the work to put this country back together, and who has been putting on the brakes all during that time.

The Grand No Party has made for us a lot of Independent voters and I don’t think they are going back anytime soon.

So that’s why I say, Happy Blue Year because I think, despite what the talking heads are saying, that is what we are going to have. Sure there are going to be knee jerk responses, and sure the Teabaggers are going to have their say, but I don’t think it is going to be nearly as bad as everyone is predicting.

I think 2010 is going to be bluer than anyone is saying.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Defending Against Terrorism

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was all over the Sunday news programs this morning reassuring the public that air travel was safe, and that the Christmas Day incident in Detroit was not an “indication that it is part of anything larger.”

A truly odd statement considering how the perpetrator apparently got his bomb materials. The explosive material, identified as PETN - Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, is the same material used by Richard Reid in 2001 when he attempted to explode his shoes.

In defending air travel security, Napolitano said another truly odd thing:

“The whole process of making sure that we respond properly, correctly and effectively went very smoothly.”
That “process” consisted of intervention by passengers who were alarmed that this guy was trying to set off his underwear. That’s right, the PETN was sewed into his underwear. Passengers apparently took matters into their own hands and subdued the potential terrorist, then the air crew helped to keep the suspect restrained by handcuffing him to a stretcher.

That is, all of the billions spent to buy technology, all of the billions spent to staff and maintain air travel check points, something one political wag called a “jobs program” this morning, failed to keep this guy off that plane.

It took individual efforts by faceless people to keep that plane from blowing up.

Oh, that and religious stupidity.

Religious stupidity because apparently the only people that terrorist organizations can coax into wearing high explosives in their shoes, or in their underwear, and then setting them off, are these one-off religious zealots. Complete idiots who have bought into a ridiculous mythology of being martyrs who are rewarded in heaven by the attentions of 72 houris, or virgins.

If anything, our main defense against fanatical terrorists with religious motivations is the very fact that these guys aren’t firing off on all pistons, are a half a bubble off, as it were. A couple of slices short of a full loaf.

Because twice in 8 years al-Qaeda has sent a couple of religious losers from rich families armed with PETN, gotten them past the checkpoints, but when they finally make their try at martyrdom they haven’t been able to pull it off. Partly, I think, because there is no way to practice it first to get it right, and partly because these guys are mentally imbalanced. They are so ill-suited to survival that Charles Darwin must be spinning in his grave at the notion that they got to this point in their lives without falling off a cliff first.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On Bolting the Stable After the Horses Have Fled

Remember what it was like to board an airplane before the first person in the world, one D. B. Cooper, hijacked one?

I don’t.

D. B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 on November 24, 1971. He had no political motive. He was in it for the money. He demanded $200,000 in ransom, received it, then parachuted from the plane, never to be heard from again.

And in doing so he forever changed air travel.

Because from that day to this passengers had to pass through metal detectors before being allowed to board a commercial aircraft.

One guy did that. That pretty much kept bombs from being carried onto airplanes.

Well until Richard Reid smuggled a bomb on a commercial flight in his shoes on December 22nd 2001.

And from that day to this passengers must remove their shoes and have them x-rayed before being allowed to board a commercial aircraft.

Then in August 2006 British agents uncovered a plot to bring flammable liquids onto airplanes to set them afire while in flight.

And from that day to this passengers are banned from bringing all liquids and gels in carryon luggage, bottled water included, aboard a commercial aircraft.

Then just yesterday a curious thing happened on a plane just as it was about to land in Detroit. The early report was that someone had set off some firecrackers aboard the plane. Now it turns out that the perpetrator, one Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, a Nigerian who supposedly has ties to al-Qaeda and was recently in Yemen, was trying to set the plane on fire as it landed. He did this by mixing what is described as a powdery substance together with some other substance and tried to set it alight.

Great, I said to myself. What are they going to do to commercial air passengers now?

Well, it only took twenty-four hours, but now I am reading that air travel passengers will be allowed only one carryon bag, will not be allowed to get out of their seats one hour before their plane lands, will not be allowed to access their carryon luggage one hour before the plane lands, and will not be allowed to have anything in their laps one hour before their plane lands.

I say why stop there? Why not just have handcuffs and leg shackles at every air passenger’s seat. Because that is the only sure way to stop air travel terrorism.

And you know, the really depressing thing is that it may yet come to that.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Feliz Navidad

What could be more fun than watching “White Christmas” played over and over again on cable television yesterday, and “A Christmas Story” played over and over again today?

Listening to gravel rattling around inside a hub cap comes to mind.

Visiting neoconservative websites is yet another alternative.

Today I broke with tradition and visited one. I don’t, as a rule, read their tripe and it makes me a better person for that. But today I was perusing Christmas articles on the web and came across a story in The Chron. Apparently someone made a parody of José Feliciano’s famous and even traditional Christmas song “Feliz Navidad.”

They called it “The Illegal Alien Christmas Song.” Catchy title, huh?

A link to the song was posted on the neoconservative website Human Events (I have not linked to it but you can find a link in the Chron article).

Feliciano heard about it and released this statement concerning this blatant racist act:

“Feliciano released a statement last week sayig that he was ‘revolted beyond words’ and that the song was never meant to be ‘a vehicle for a political platform of racism and hate.’”

“‘When I wrote and composed Feliz Navidad, I chose to sing in both English and Spanish in order to create a bridge between two wonderful cultures during the time of year in which we hope for goodwill toward all,’ the Puerto Rico-born singer said.”

The link stayed up for a couple of weeks and then the website editor, in a fit of realization of how truly nauseating the very idea of making a parody of this upbeat song that celebrates both Christmas and diversity, had a change of heart.

Or maybe he acquired one.

He took down the link and the song and issued an apology to Feliciano.

The apology is, however, not posted anywhere on the website. That would be too much to expect I think.

So that is my one foray into a neocon website for the year.

And now I need a shower.

Then maybe some eggnog while I watch Ralphie shoot his eye out for the 5th time today.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cornyn: “The Fight is Far From Over”

Commenting on passage this morning of the Senate version of the healthcare bill by the same 60 votes it received the previous evening, my Texas junior senator, John Cornyn (R – Wacko) had some bewildering words to say.

From the Chron:

“I had hoped that one of my colleagues would have a Christmas Eve conversion and give the American people the gift they really want: a vote against the $2.5 trillion Reid Bill. We lost a battle today, but the fight is far from over. My colleagues and I will to do all that we can to identify every payoff and back room deal that Democrats cut to railroad this bill through.”

Some amazing double talk, huh?

First, there’s that thing about the “Christmas Eve conversion” implying that those voting for the bill were pagans and that those in the Grand “No” Party were good Christians.

But you have to expect this from such a morally corrupt man like John Cornyn, so I’ll let that one pass.

Because what I really want to focus on is the second train of thought he offered. That the fight is “far from over.”

Actually, I think it is. The two houses of Congress both passed a healthcare bill. I have no doubt that one will emerge that both houses will pass, some in both houses undoubtedly holding their noses as they press the “Aye” button.

But Cornyn’s fight isn’t over the healthcare bill anymore is it? It’s over how the bill got passed in the Senate. It’s about how 3 senators held out for their own provincial interests and got major concessions to the benefit of their respective state’s voters.

His fight, now, is “to identify every payoff and back room deal” that took place to get those 60 solid filibuster-proof votes.

That’s what I like about John Cornyn. He is so dumb when he opens his mouth it makes be laugh right out loud.

And here’s why: when Democrats hold out against their party it is to get something for their constituents. When Republicans hold out against their party, it is to get something for themselves and theirs.

But what is most appropriate is how I can illustrate this point with some poetic justice.

You see, one of the good things that the healthcare reform bill does is that it closes the so-called “Doughnut Hole” in Medicare Part D. The hole that seniors fall into after their yearly cumulative prescription drug benefit reaches a certain amount, leaving them to pay the total cost of the meds that they need to live. A cost that is prohibitive on a fixed income.

And from whence did this “doughnut hole” come? Straight from Big Pharma. In 2003 the Bush Regime needed to buy off seniors’ votes in the upcoming election, and what better way to do that than to give seniors a pharmaceutical benefit in Medicare. Only we’re talking about Neoconservatives in their heyday now, so who do they get to draft this legislation that became known as the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act? Pharmaceutical lobbyists, of course. Lobbyists who wrote legislation to directly benefit the pharmaceutical companies represented by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Credited with the law’s passage are two people. Former Congressman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) who chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare, and my former congressman, Tom DeLay (R – Tx.).

Tauzin got his. At a cool $2 million per year, he became the highest paid lobbyist in DC. And who was his new boss? PhRMA.

On November 22, 2003 the bill had hit the House floor and it looked like it was going to go down. It was opposed by Democrats and conservative (but not neoconservative) Republicans.

Here is a description of what ensued, courtesy of Bruce Bartlett of Forbes:

“What followed was one of the most extraordinary events in congressional history. The vote was kept open for almost three hours while the House Republican leadership brought massive pressure to bear on the handful of principled Republicans who had the nerve to put country ahead of party. The leadership even froze the C-SPAN cameras so that no one outside the House chamber could see what was going on.”

“Among those congressmen strenuously pressed to change their vote was Nick Smith, R-Mich., who later charged that several members of Congress attempted to virtually bribe him, by promising to ensure that his son got his seat when he retired if he voted for the drug bill. One of those members, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was later
admonished by the House Ethics Committee for going over the line in his efforts regarding Smith.”
So really, if Senator Cornyn wants a fight, a real one against real criminals, maybe he shouldn’t look much further than his own political party. Because it’s not a crime to get things for your constituents. In fact, that is one of the reasons Texans elected Cornyn: to get stuff for Texas. But it is a criminal act to trade your vote for personal gain, or to offer someone that trade.

And what did Tom DeLay get for his crimes?

Stress fractures.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Republican Senators and Attorneys General Cry Foul

It’s all but a done deal in the Senate. The vote to halt debate and bring the healthcare reform bill to the senate floor for a final up or down vote is all but assured.

From CNSNews:

“‘It looks obvious that that's going to happen,’ conceded Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, after Democrats triumphed on the second of three 60-vote procedural tallies over unanimous GOP opposition”

So now we have senators, like my senator, Junior Senator John Cornyn blasting away at the special deal that Ben Nelson D-Nebraska cut for his state in exchange for getting his filibuster-breaking 60th vote.

From Businessweek:

“Democrats were ‘playing ‘The Price is Right’ by offering sweetheart deals’ to Nelson and other lawmakers to get their votes, Texas Republican John Cornyn told reporters yesterday. ‘The rest of us have to pay the price for these additional sweeteners.’”

Not if you don’t want to counters Nelson:

“‘It’s not a special deal for Nebraska, it is an opportunity to get rid of an under-funded mandate to all the states,’ Nelson said. ‘We’ve drawn a line in the sand and said this is unacceptable’ for all states, Nelson said.”

But this does nothing to quiet the whining in the Senate. As a matter of fact, now 7 state Attorneys General, Republicans all, are chiming in, declaring that this provision in the bill is “unconstitutional.”

Texas AG Greg Abbott being one of them. You know, Abbott, the state AG that crafted the constitutional amendment that outlawed marriage of any kind in the state of Texas?

This opinion on constitutionality, federal constitutionality no less, from this star student of constitutional issues is worth exactly what you’d think it’s worth.

Now I have perused the internet, I’ve Googled it, and frankly I cannot come up with which provision in the US Constitution forbids this kind of deal. And I think the reason I can’t find out what it is, is because the AGs themselves either don’t know themselves or won’t admit to which part of the constitution this runs up against.

I think the latter.

I think they must be referring to the limits on legislative power found in Article 1 Section 9. Where else could it be?

And this is the only thing there that even comes close:

“No capitation, or other direct, tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”

That’s pretty close. Taxing 49 states but not Nebraska is not in proportion to anything. Except for the fact that since passage of the 13th Amendment that established federal income tax, pretty much nullified any effects of that part of the constitution.

So it’s not a surprise that the Republican AGs pounce on this issue to prevent passage of the healthcare bill. Challenging the constitutionality of the “Nebraska Compromise,” as they call it, is tantamount to a challenge of the constitutionality of collection of federal income taxes.

Something that is near and dear to their hearts.

Primary Filings At a Glance

So we are 13 days away from the filing deadline for getting on the March 2nd primary ballot, and 20 days into it. With holidays ahead and post office closings that means there is really less time than that.

So I was wondering today how it was going and took a look at the Texas Democratic Party’s website. Now the listing is not numbered so I had to do a broad estimate of how many names I was seeing. With ten full pages of entries, and at a maximum of 64 lines per page, plus 25 entries on the last page, by my estimate the Texas Democratic Party currently has 665 primary candidates signed up statewide since the end of the day yesterday.

Over on the Republican side the filings are scarcer with 202 entries.

So I was wondering about this a little. According to the Fort Bend County Republican Party website they have been accepting applications since December 3rd. I could come up with only two reasons for the considerable filing gap that exists between the two parties:

  1. Republican filers wait until the last minute to file so everyone can keep guessing, or
  2. Republican county chairs wait until the last day to accept filings for exactly the same reason.

Bringing me back to the Democratic filings, 3-fold more than Republicans. Looking at the PDF that breaks down filings by county I note that of the 254 counties in Texas (a ridiculously high number in my opinion) only 95 of them have any filings at all (Republicans don’t record filings by county). Now it could be that some of these counties simply don’t have Democrats residing in them, or if they do they won’t admit to it, but I am willing to bet that like the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, filings are not accepted until the last possible day, January 4th 2010.

It is a curious thing, the way the Fort Bend County party’s website explains it all. Right on its home page, the filing policy is explained:

“Filing for Fort Bend candidates will begin on Thursday, December 3, 2009 until January 4, 2010.”

And then a little further on down the page you read this:

“We will be accepting applications on January 4, 2010 from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. at Quail Run Community Center, 16748 Quail Park Drive, Missouri City, TX”

So you can file to be on the primary ballot in Fort Bend County, only just on that one day.

So it’s safe to say that if you are thinking of running for office by filing through the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, you are out of luck if you can’t get off work and drive over to the Quail Run development (where the County Chair maintains her residence) on that Monday.

I realize that it may be a candidate’s choice to file on the last day of filing, it is a valid strategy. However, I don’t think the choice should be in one person’s hands. Dallas County has no such restrictions. Nor does Harris County. These are two important metropolitan areas that have gone blue.

If Fort Bend County is to go blue, and everyone tells me that it is a distinct possibility next year, shouldn’t the county party be helping things along and not providing barriers and hindrances?

Is it time for new county party leadership?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teabaggers Protest Vote for Defense Bill

I’ve been around awhile and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen a time when Democrats in congress finally voted to end the Vietnam War by voting against funding it any further. This was a move that took Democrats years and years to live down. Conservatives blamed Democrats for losing the war for decades.

But now the tables have turned.

Witness two key events. The first was last week’s Republican filibuster to bring the Senate to a grinding halt before it could pass a $130 billion appropriation to fund both the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Republicans, formerly and famously known as the rabid warmongers of that legislative body, preventing passage of a defense appropriations bill to support troops out there in harm’s way.

Giving lie to the bumper sticker that you see around this place all the time: “I support the troops.”

But the icing on the cake took place today at Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Austin senatorial office. Teabaggers, or more specifically, members of the group Common Sense Texans, an affiliate of the Texas Tea Party, protested the Senator’s vote to break the filibuster.

Ironically, the teabaggers held their protest because they were mad that in breaking the filibuster, the Senate was then able to proceed on to consider that little compromised-into-oblivion disaster they had there in HR 3590, the healthcare reform bill.

“We know that she is against the health care bill, but she could have slowed it down so we can spend more time talking about it and read it in the light of January.”
That last little bit, “in light of January” has to do with the stimulus bill that teabaggers all hate. You know, the one that Kay Bailey Hutchison voted for.

Hutchison cried foul, saying that she was for the filibuster before she was against it.

“‘When the votes were already there — the 60 were there, of course — then why would you walk away from having the support for the troops?’ Hutchison said Saturday during an interview with Fox News. ‘But had there not been 60 votes and we could have made this health care bill go over into next year, then we would ave certainly done the continuing resolution for the troops.’“

What Senator Hutchison is saying, of course, is that the 60 Democrats who voted to break the filibuster were enablers. They enabled Kay Bailey to do the right thing and support the troops.

What the teabaggers are saying is that they hate the fact that the 60 votes to break the filibuster enabled the senior senator from Texas to vote to support the troops.

And this could all have gone away but for the fact that Hutchison is in it neck deep trying in vain to attract Republican primary votes. And Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, who actually has some Texas National Guard troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan took her to task over her vote as well.

Doubtless we will revisit this little caper again in 2010 in the gubernatorial race.

Rick Perry and Texas Teabaggers: the gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, December 21, 2009

'Tis the Season

Happy Winter Solstice everyone.

Earth is in its closest approach to the Sun today. We are at its perihelion. Ironically, however we are now in the depths of winter. Shortest day of the year.

A couple of days hence the Sun will resume its path towards an ever lengthening day. The sun will, in essence, experience rebirth.

Sol Invictus. The invincible Sun.

Happy Birthday.

We Are So Screwed II: AMA Supports Passage of Senate Healthcare Reform Bill

The old adage “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” applies here. The American Medical Association, or AMA has just announced that it supports the apparently soon-to-be-passed Senate healthcare reform bill, HR 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

This from the group that famously opposed passage of Medicare in 1965 by financing Operation Coffee Cup, a project that enlisted then screen actor, and host of Death Valley Days, Ronald Reagan to make a record meant to be played in neighborhood coffee meetings.

This record inspired former Governor Sarah Palin to repeat Reagan’s dire prediction first made on that record about finding “ourselves spending our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children about a time in America, back in the day, when men and women were free.”

This from the group that was part of a coalition of the unwilling, a coalition that successfully shot down healthcare reform back in the 90’s when the previous Democratic president tried to get meaningful healthcare reform passed.

This from the group that has been behind “reform” of medical malpractice laws in several states with the promise that should states, such as Texas, pass a law to put a cap on what a patient can collect in a medical malpractice suit, malpractice insurance premiums will drop resulting in a decrease in healthcare costs.

An effect no one has yet seen, not in Texas or anywhere else.

So now the AMA is solidly behind passage of the Senate bill, a bill recently amended in the wee hours of the morning today. The first medical doctors were Greeks, you know.

Another quote comes to mind, the words of Mae West who was thinking in a different context when she said it, but it is nevertheless appropriate here:

“It's not what I do, but the way I do it. It's not what I say, but the way I say it.”
We are so screwed.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

We Are So Screwed

Nick Anderson gets it just right:

This was taken last weekend at East Beach parking lot, Galveston Island, Texas:

A sight that we are apparently going to have to get used to seeing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What’s in a Name Like Farouk Shami Anyway?

Outgoing Mayor Bill White is looking for a soft landing in the Texas governor’s mansion – wherever it is right now. But in doing so he has to get by two people: Farouk Shami who is opposing him in the Democratic primary, and then Rick Perry who is poised to give Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison the shellacking of her life in next year’s Republican primary.

Now I have checked, and it looks like Farouk Shami may have a name recognition problem here in Texas. But not the kind of name recognition problem that most people associate with those who run for statewide office. Shami’s problem is that too many Texans will take one look at Farouk Shami’s name and recognize that he comes from the Middle East.

Farouk Shami is a Palestinian immigrant – and a Christian.

But that doesn’t mean anything to Texans. There are still Texans out there who think that Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim.

And Texans hate, just hate immigrants.

This is despite the fact that most Texans live in houses built by Mexican migrant laborers.

Now it’s true that people who vote in the Democratic primary are mostly Democrats, and it is also true that most Democrats are not rabid anti-immigrant Muslim haters. But it is also true that Democratic primary voters not only vote for the person who best reflects their own point of view but also vote for the one that they think will perform the best against a Republican opponent.

And that’s why Farouk Shami hasn’t a chance.

Not a chance of a snowball in H-E-Double Hockeysticks.

Democrats really and truly want to rid Texas of the chain of bad leadership that they have had in Austin since 1994, and with Rick Perry catering to an ever-shrinking neoconservative minority, they see a chance for that to finally happen. But I think most will see an unnecessary risk in voting for Farouk Shami in the primary. Maybe he’s an OK Democrat, I really haven’t looked, but most Texans realize that if Shami makes it onto the ballot in November, people will come out to the polls simply to vote against “that Muslim.”

And that’s not just a possibility, that is a prediction.

And I’m not the first to predict this. Kinky Friedman, who is a friend of Shami’s agrees and has even told him so.

From the Dallas Morning News blog:

“‘I told Farouk if he's going to put 10 million bucks into a race, why not consider putting in another 200 bucks and change your name? You know?’ Friedman recalled, adding: ‘He did not find that amusing.’”
Maybe he wasn’t amused. But it was still some good advice.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Block the Healthcare Reform Senate Bill

It’s time to call a spade a spade. The senate’s version of the current healthcare reform bill is a disaster that has been compromised into a gigantic cash cow for the health insurance industry. Aspects of the reform, like guaranteeing lower health insurance premiums, are now gone from the bill in what amounts to a shell game.

Don’t like the public option, Senator Lieberman? Hey presto, it’s now under another shell only now it looks like an expansion of Medicare benefits to those 55 and older. An idea promoted by a guy named Joe Lieberman (I - Aetna). Many on the left loved this idea of Joe’s calling it a giant step toward single payer universal health care.

They liked it so much that, hey presto, it’s now gone from the bill, courtesy of one Joe Lieberman.

An interesting shell game, then, where the pea vanishes altogether.

But you have to love what they have kept in the bill all this time. The one thing that the health insurance industry wants in it: mandatory participation in a healthcare plan. Because how nice would it be if millions of their potential customers are threatened with a great big fine if they refuse to become insurance customers? It’s kind of like that city in Georgia, Kennesaw, I think, that has a municipal statute that requires all heads of households to own a firearm. Can you imagine that law passed nationally? Gun lobbyists would positively drool if that bill ever came to the senate floor for debate.

No, the senate has proven to the country what it has proven before time and time again: it is a dysfunctional legislative body that debates on an issue that anyone with half a brain can see is a no-brainer.

They have taken a perfectly mediocre bill and turned it into another bailout, this time for the health insurance industry. Liberals in the senate need to step up now and block this bill before it’s too late. We still have a perfectly acceptable bill in the House, Republicans have signaled that they are sitting this one out, and Conservidems need to be shown that their ways are out of the mainstream and do not reflect what the public wants.

We need to act on the House bill through the reconciliation process. It’s the only way to get this done without giving away the rest of the store to insurance fat cats.



Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hank Gilbert and the Kinkster in a Footrace

I noted with some relief here that Hank Gilbert withdrew from the race for the Democratic nomination for Texas governor, and left the story for awhile when it looked like Kinky Friedman, erstwhile professional comedian and campaigner, was going to follow suit but not before weighing his options on to whom he would throw his support, Bill White or Farouk Shami.

Then I sat back and watched for awhile as the progressive blogosphere went completely berserk in their condemnation of Kinky Friedman’s move to oppose the darling of the left, Hank Gilbert.

On Gilbert’s own website, he is quoted as saying “Kinky is no Democrat. If he was, he never would have stayed in the 2006 race running as an independent and denied our party’s nominee a real chance at the governor’s office.” This was echoed again and again from one blog to another.

Making me look askance at my fellow progressives.

Not because I don’t agree with them, I do. Kinky Friedman has no intention of becoming Ag Commissioner. It doesn’t serve his purpose unless an Ag Commissioner, in some way can get medical marijuana legal in Texas – something I am highly doubtful of.

Kinky Friedman simply wants to market himself, his cigars, his books, his doll (yes he sells a doll that looks like Kinky Friedman on a bad hair day).

And bottom line, and there always is a bottom line, they say that Kinky Friedman is going to cost Hank Gilbert’s campaign some money to run in a contested primary.

To which I say, yes, yes, yes and yes. All true. But I really think these people are missing the point. An uncontested primary is the most boring kind of election imaginable. Sure it’s nice not to have to bend your brain a little and choose between 2 or more people who may or may not be Democrats.

But it’s also boring.

And when it’s boring people stay away from the polls. When it is unexciting people would rather stay home and watch the grass grow.

And you don’t have to like Kinky Friedman, or agree with him, to admit that where Kinky Friedman goes, excitement follows. Newspaper articles get published. TV. That’s right, the race for Agricultural Commissioner becomes newsworthy.

Kinky Friedman will run, and he’ll get his requisite 12% of the vote from die-hard Kinkster fans that may or may not be Democrats, and Hank Gilbert will win and have a leg up in name recognition from this contested primary that was so much in the news.

If anything, contrary to how it turned out last time when Friedman cost Chris Bell the election (29% + 12% would have beaten Governor 39% if Kinky’s voters all voted the same – which is a reach), this has the opposite effect today, I think. In essence, if Hank Gilbert beats Todd Staples in November 2010, he may just have Kinky Friedman to thank for that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On Secrets and Public Education

Yesterday’s article in FortBendNow shows an interesting development in a local school district’s project to build a district science center, staff it, and use it to teach its K through 8 students aspects of science that cannot be taught in a typical middle or elementary school classroom.

And teach their teachers about science.

It seems that a local group of activists have asked the Fort Bend County district attorney’s office to look into the possibility that recent actions, or shall I say inactions, by the Fort Bend ISD administration are violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The group has petitioned the school district to present records on specific details in regard to its feasibility study and other actions taken to promote the construction of the center, thought to be costing somewhere in the $23 to $25 million range.

Things like (from FortBendNow):

  1. All documents under review by a committee the district set up to study the proposal’s feasibility
  2. All comments made about the project publicly on an FBISD website
  3. A list of “current committed companies and the amounts they have already donated to this project
  4. All communication between members of the feasibility committee, PBK architects, FBISD Superintendent Timothy Jenney, and former Sugar Land mayor and developer David Wallace, who headed the feasibility committee
  5. Any available financial disclosure statements since 2007 for Jenney.

The group claims that they have yet to receive any of these documents despite the fact that the records-release deadline has long since expired. So DA John Healey, truly a man of action, asked the Fort Bend Sheriff’s Department to look into the matter.

So that should do it. Now we’ll see some action, right?

Can anyone say “dead man in a truck in Needville?”

Now all of this took place earlier this year, but since these events, filings, and inactions the Houston Museum of Natural Science has opened its Sugar Land branch in a restored prison barracks building 3 miles from where Fort Bend ISD wants to build its science center.

It even has its own web page.

But my main point is here. They are going to be offering a wide variety of educational opportunities for the local student and teacher community.

Daytime classes ($10 per student)

Field Trips ($2.50 per student to “varies”)

Professional Development (Free - that is, sponsored - to $1250/person)

Because this makes me ask three questions:

  1. If the district wants to build its own science center, what are the chances that it will want to send a single student to the museum to take advantage of their offerings?
  2. In the absence of building the center, and in light of the same arguments that the district cannot afford a center, how much does anyone think that the district will have funds budgeted to take care of financing these field trips?
  3. And finally, if those who oppose building the science center get their way, are these self-same people willing to kick in, say, $100 per student per year to take care of the museum fees?

Because “public education,” despite its appellation, isn’t free.

Monday, December 14, 2009

GAO Reverses Army Contract

I really don’t know how unprecedented it is, not following these things too closely, but today in its decision over the US Army’s award of a military truck contract to Wisconsin-based Oshkosh, Corp., the Government Accounting Office essentially told the Army that their decision-making process was “flawed”, and that they should not have awarded the contract to the lowest bidder.

Get that? Don’t award contracts to the lowest bidder.

My question is then, what does that leave us with? Awarding contracts to the squeakiest wheel?

The second-lowest bidder, a British-owned company called BAE, with a plant in nearby Sealy, Texas, lost in its bid to renew its 17-years long lucrative contract to build military trucks, lucrative in that these need to be replaced when they get ruined by IEDs, and cried foul when the lowest bidder, Oshkosh, won.

Losing the contract would have been bad news for the British company and a blow for workers in the Texas plant. After they lost the bid, after mind you, federal legislators from the Texas delegation scrambled to get a mulligan from the feds.

They wanted a do-over.

Because, they said, Oshkosh hadn’t been building these trucks for 17 years, and the Texas plant had.

That’s all. End of story. Nevermind that the Wisconsin company underbid the British company by 10%. Never mind all of that. What matters is not how much taxpayer money gets spent, but who gets to receive the money.

I guess I am mainly amused by these two-faced Texas congressmen and senators who decry spending one dime for a child’s health insurance because that would be fiscally irresponsible, have no trouble spending billions of taxpayer dollars for military equipment as long as it goes to a Texas company (and at that, a wholly owned subsidiary of a British conglomerate).

Because when it’s money that’s doing the talking, hypocrisy can’t be far behind.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Houston Elects Openly Gay Mayor

Well you could have knocked me over with a feather. In a low turnout runoff election taking place in the midst of Hanukkah and the Christmas shopping season, Houston elected Annise Parker to be its next mayor. Or should I say the first openly gay woman to be its next mayor.

This, in a state that passed an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment by a whopping 76.25% (in Harris County, the vote was 72.47% For and 27.52% Against). This in a city whose voters voted down a city referendum to grant spousal benefits to city workers in 2001.

And yes, I remain ever the cynic that the results that Houston got were partly due to a low turnout election with 16.55% of registered voters even bothering to come out on a cold dreary day in mid-December to vote in a run-off election in an old-numbered year. Parker won by just over 11,000 votes in a city with nearly a million registered voters.

And while I am not a resident of Houston, I am nevertheless quite pleased with the outcome, as Houston has elected the best person for the job, and that’s good for people in my area. Living in the suburbs of Houston is much like what the Canadians say about being next to the United States – it’s like sleeping with an elephant. But I am also content with this outcome because of how supporters of Parker’s opponent, Gene Locke, went viral with their enlistment of anti-gay activists and evangelical crazies to help get out the anti-gay vote. How they went absolutely bat guano crazy in an effort to denounce Ms. Parker for her gayness. And about how Locke seemingly shrugged his shoulders helplessly at the anti-gay antics of his supporters, rejecting “any association with the style of campaigning”of these whackjobs, but refusing to denounce them.

Here is what he did say a month ago, from the Chron:

“‘If it's based solely on that one issue I've rejected them,’ Locke said when asked during a TV debate why he accepted Hotze's endorsement. ‘If it's based on looking at my record and seeing that I am the better candidate, I would accept them.’”
A statement that insults the intelligence. A statement as transparent as a pane of glass. We are judged not only by what we do, but by what we fail to do.

We really don’t need people like that in office. Not after the kind of homophobic behavior we saw in San Francisco city offices back in 1978 that resulted in the double murder of Mayor Moscone and City Commissioner Harvey Milk.

And in saying that I hope that Ms. Parker realizes that her victory yesterday is not, as the media talking heads are all saying, and indication of how things are changing in Texas. I think things are as bad as they ever were here and to prove my point I want to point to the number totals between the 2005 Harris County votes for Proposition 2, the anti-gay marriage amendment, and the 2009 Harris County votes for Annise Parker.

Parker netted a total of 81,743 votes in the election yesterday.

Total Harris County voters who voted against Proposition 2? 89,652.

And no, I don’t believe in coincidences.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Opening Up Medicare: A Solution for Unemployment?

Two separate issues are taking up a lot of time lately in DC. In the Senate the Public Option, a federally funded medical insurance plan that the insurance industry just hates appears to have been switched out for an intriguing plan to expand Medicare coverage for those Americans age 55 and over. Not full blown Medicare, mind you, but a plan to let sub-seniors buy into the plan.

Apparently this idea has legs, maybe because the insurance industry has been dealing with Medicare for 34 years now and this is the devil that they know.

The other thing that seems to be gaining momentum is a renewed undertaking to ease the unemployment situation, a problem that has not responded to federal stimulus like the financial sector has.

So we had an Obama “job summit” that, as reported in the Huffington Post, resulted in “a proposal for a battery of necessary and unsurprising, but probably not sufficient, recommendations.” On top of that we had a house bill proposed that would redirect unspent TARP funds to fund such things as small businesses, teacher salaries and highway construction. A direct infusion of funds to stimulate job creation.

But I wonder if anyone has yet realized that the Medicare for 55 years old people and jobs creation, seemingly two separate efforts, are really something akin to synergy when viewed in combination.

If they haven’t yet, anyone in the over 55 age group will now stop and ask themselves why they continue to work, especially if the only reason for working is to have a decent health insurance benefits package at an affordable cost. And in doing so, how many will conclude that early retirement, once a pipe dream, is now a reality.

Making their job, whatever it is, available to those under 55 who still need to work to live.

I wonder how many will jump at this chance to enjoy the fruits of their labor earlier than planned, simply because their health benefits can be switched to the government (aka Single Payer) plan?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Democratic Primary Filing: Three Days In

After only three days, the Texas Democratic Party has three pages of filers for the March 2, 2010 Democratic Primary. Look in for yourself from time to time. There are now three links to get a PDF file, one for the list by filing date, one for a list by filer’s name, and one for a list by office the candidate is running to be nominated for.

I notice that for Governor, we now have three filers: Bill White, Bill Dear and Felix Alvarado. Farouk Shami the hair care billionaire has yet to file. Nor has Kinky Friedman but we are now reading today that Friedman, who got just 9% of the popular vote in the 4-way gubernatorial race in 2006 when he ran as an Independent, is changing his mind again and might just drop out. In fact, a news conference was scheduled yesterday but the thing was cancelled, ostensibly while Kinky tries to figure out who he should support in the primary.

Felix Alvarado lists his profession as a teacher (a teacher without a phone number). He has a website and all the proper social networking in place. Bill Dear is a Private Eye, was the first to file on day one, and has no campaign website. I suspect that Dear would have a lot to say about the case against, and the execution of Todd Willingham.

I expect Shami to continue his campaigning and will eventually file as it is reported that he has opened a campaign office today in San Antonio.

So this should be fun.

A term-limited mayor of the 4th largest city in the United States, a tec, a teacher, and a self-funding businessman with a bottomless pit have filed so far (or will file in the near future).

I hope that’s not all, but that appears right now to be the case. Primaries on the ballot with a high stakes office like governor up for grabs, and no incumbencies to worry about, draw more people to the polls as it creates a little more excitement. Not as much as the record level primary attendance that we had last March when the Democratic nomination for the presidency was still up in the air, not by a long shot. But excitement is what we are going to need to carry us through to victory in November.

So anything to keep that excitement up (with the exception of Kinky Friedman who darn near single-handedly gave us 4 more years of Rick Perry) is welcome.

The more the merrier.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Pearl Harbor Day 2009

68 years ago today an American naval base in Hawaii was massively attacked by over 400 Japanese carrier-based airplanes. The result was the damage or destruction of 21 American naval vessels including several of our main line battleships and the outright sinking of two. Indeed the life lost on just the USS Arizona amounted to nearly half of the total of 2403 lives lost that day.

It was labeled a “sneak attack” in that Japan had not declared war before the first bomb fell, and American intelligence was left completely flatfooted.

Americans rose with righteous indignation and entered World War Two later that week.

Now unfortunately, all of the signs of Japanese desperation were evident before their attack was ever mounted. The Hilo Tribune-Herald, as it was called at the time, ran a front page article on November 30th that the Japanese “May Strike Over the Weekend.” The article, however, focused on Singapore – closer to Japan and a British colony at the time. Singapore was attacked as a part of their initial aggression in December 1941.

But that notwithstanding, an attack on American naval facilities by air was predicted by General Billy Mitchell in 1925. That same year a British reporter, Hector Bywater by name, published a fanciful novel called The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-1933 in which he predicted a Japanese attack by carrier-based airplanes, but not in Hawaii. Bywater predicted an attack on Subic Bay, in Manila.

Something they ended up doing as well.

Trouble is, with information like this, you need almost 20-20 hindsight to be able to divine where and when the Japanese would eventually attack.

Why dwell on this, 68 years later? Most people alive now weren’t alive 68 years ago.

Well obviously, it’s because after all this time we haven’t learned much. I still cannot believe that the warnings in the NIE that was issued to Bush a month prior to the 9/11 attacks, attacks that resulted in the loss of human life in numbers greater than on December 7th 1941 were not acted upon.

You know, the intelligence report that said this:

“Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.”

See? It was all there for anyone to see. All except for one thing. Yes, airplanes had been hijacked, but in the past, this was a vehicle of extortion. Yes, the World Trade Center was previously bombed and it was known that Osama bin Laden wanted to “follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and ‘bring the fighting to America.’” Trouble is, who could have predicted from that information that the planes would be hijacked and used as gigantic bombs to level important buildings?

Who could come up with a fantastic scenario like that?

Tom Clancy did.

And by an odd happenstance, the fictional perpetrator was Japanese.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Texas Education Commissioner Wants No Part of Federal Standards

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott has a problem with national education standards. Basically the problem settles down along these lines: if education standards don’t have a Texas brand on them, they don’t belong here.

Texas, according to Robert Scott, has education standards that far exceed national standards. No . . . really . . . he said that.

From the Austin American-Statesman:

“Participation in the ongoing common standards effort is part of the criteria for a $4 billion federal grant program called Race to the Top. Texas and Alaska are the only states not participating in the common standards effort. Scott said Texas is already ahead of the other states in developing tough standards.”

But I guess that simply depends on what your definition of “ahead” is.

“Ahead” might mean a school child’s ability at rote recollection of facts.

“Ahead” might mean a constant climb in standardized test scores year after year.

“Ahead” might mean an ability to mount an argument that Earth is a mere 6000 years old and the existence of fossils embedded in rock is evidence of Noah’s Flood.

Because if that is what Scott’s definition of “ahead” is, then yes, Texas is definitely ahead of the rest of the country in its education standards.

And yes, neither Texas nor Alaska, the latter of whom has an education system that produced the likes of Sarah Palin, are participants in the federal education standards program and as a result neither Texas nor Alaska are recipients of hundreds of millions in federal funds.

“‘Because Texas has chosen to preserve its sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools,’ said Scott, ‘the state is now placed at a serious disadvantage in competing for its share of (the grant money).’”

Am I reading this correctly? Because of decisions taking place at the highest levels of state government, Texas schoolchildren are being placed at a significant disadvantage compared to students in 48 other states?

I guess all that needs to be asked, then, is why Texans continue to suffer these incompetent fools driving the state’s education system right into the ground. Are Texans that ignorant? What made them so poorly informed?


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Republican Proposes Tax Hike

Colorado’s Republican Attorney General, John Suthers, has filed an opinion that could well result in getting more revenue in his state’s coffers: it is OK, in his book, to charge state and local sales tax on medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana is available in fourteen states due to passage of state constitutional amendments (as in Colorado’s case) or other vehicles.

Users of medical marijuana do so for a variety of health complaints that stem all the way from hypertension to HIV. This was a surprise to me. As far as I knew, it was for people who are undergoing chemotherapy because it alleviates the nausea that is a side effect of the treatment.

At first glance, this whole thing seems a little harsh but the AG has a point. While putting a sales tax on prescription drugs seems cruel and insensitive (which is why prescription drugs are not taxed), the AG points out that medical marijuana is not a prescribed drug.

Its consumption is merely “suggested” by doctors.

The potential for increased revenue is huge. This site has listed the top 10 states where marijuana is used (legally or illegally) and lists in order the potential revenues each state could garner. California (where medical marijuana is legal) leads the pack with a total projected revenue of $105 million. Texas (where medical marijuana is not legal) is in fourth place at $46.6 million.

And who knows where else this could lead.

The possibilities seem limitless.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Shocker: Bill White is Running for Governor

Well I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you. Bill White is abandoning his plans to run for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s non-empty seat in the Senate and is instead throwing his hat in the ring to vie for the Democratic nomination in next March’s gubernatorial primary.

Well, not really.

The shocker would be that he would opt to continue his senatorial campaign, which is like that bridge in Alaska: a campaign to nowhere.

Here is the email message he sent out to his mailing list today:

I want to work for you as the next Governor of Texas.

I am proud of our state, and want us to move forward as America's great state of opportunity. I'll be a Governor who challenges Texans to lead, not leave, the United States.

At our best, we nurture innovation and opportunity, with businesses small and large. At our best we take advantage of all our resources, including renewable energy, to create new jobs.

Our economy of tomorrow depends on improving educational achievement in K-12 grade levels, improving high school graduation rates, and reducing the costs of college.We cannot be the best if we're behind in the number of our citizens with a high school diploma. We cannot be the best with skyrocketing electric and insurance rates that squeeze the savings of Texas families. We cannot be the best as dead last in the
percentage of children with access to health insurance.

I don't have the polish of career politicians who have been running for office for decades. But as a businessman and Mayor, I know how to be accountable for results, not just rhetoric. I have a track record of bringing people together to get things done. Isn't that what Texas needs right now?

I won't forget where I came from. I grew up outside of San Antonio. My parents were teachers, my dad a disabled vet. They worked hard, taught Sunday school, and taught me Texas values. They dreamed that their kids could have more opportunities than they did. So do Texans today.

Join the team. Go to our website. You'll be part of a team that is not about me, not about one party, not about who should be doing what in Washington. Our campaign will be about us, the people of Texas, and moving Texas forward.

Fighting the politics of the past and special interests won't always be easy. Every Texan I meet is ready for our state to move forward. I hope you'll join me in my campaign for Governor.
Bill White is what I call a Tier 1 candidate. He has a credible warchest, name recognition (at least in the voter-rich Houston area) and a track record that will attract Democrats, Independents, and maybe not just a few disaffected Republicans who are sick of Rick Perry’s pandering to the far right.

Now it is going to be interesting to see what Hank Gilbert and John Sharp do. Well, actually that question is answered in part because the Gilbert campaign announced today that he was also shifting his campaign and is going to run for Agricultural Commissioner again.

This is a good match. Gilbert has the look, the smarts, and the cultural appeal of an Ag type guy. It helps that he is a retired high school Ag teacher, but mainly I was impressed with the way that he campaigned against the Trans-Texas Corridor when it was looking like an inevitability.

And I think Gilbert is somewhat miffed that Bill White has horned in on his turf because he has given Farouk Shami his endorsement, that despite a couple of hit pieces on Shami on his campaign website – hit pieces that are now gone from although at this writing you can still read it in cache.

Shami, the self-funded billionaire hair care products guy is probably in it for the long haul, but perhaps he ought to read up on recent Texas history, particularly the part about when Tony Sanchez thought he could buy his way into the governor’s mansion in 2002.

But we still haven’t heard what John Sharp will do. Sharp was set from the beginning for the senate seat. His website still has the “John Sharp for Senate” as its title and not something more generic like “John Sharp for Texas.”

The website hasn’t really been updated since November 17th.

I’m wondering, though, if Sharp, another well-funded Tier 1 candidate would consider running for Lieutenant Governor. What better way to sweep Republicans out of statewide office across the board than to have the Democratic slate filled with top notch candidates with name recognition and proper funding?

So who have I left out? Oh . . . Kinky. What is Kinky going to do?

Who cares?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Did the Salvation Army Drop Its "Humbug Policy?"

OK, a couple of posts back I castigated the Salvation Army for requiring that a family member who wants their needy children to receive a free new unwrapped gift from their Angel Tree program show a social security card beforehand. Today I see in The Chron that the Houston chapter of the Salvation Army has reversed itself in requiring this form of identification.

Apparently enough people protested this ridiculous politicization of a religious holiday, including immigrant advocacy groups, that they announced today their decision to rescind the requirement.

From the Chron:

“‘It was never our intention to offend anyone with our registration requirement to provide a Social Security number, or to give the impression that we were discriminating against those individuals and families who do not have a Social Security number,’ Major Chris Flanagan, Area Commander for The Salvation Army Greater Houston Area Command said in a statement.”
That notwithstanding, a bad policy it was. A very disrespectful policy.

Disrespectful that on top of admitting their indigent status to them, these people are held as suspect. Potential frauds.

Something akin to slapping an outstretched hand.

And as mentioned here, suspiciously similar to neoconservative attempts to deny people the right to vote by requiring a photo ID.

Defending themselves, the charity’s spokesman went on to say that “when people had no Social Security numbers, they still received help. Other valid forms of identification include school registration, Medicaid cards, Consular cards, food stamps cards and birth certificates.”

Begging the question then, is whether the group has altogether dropped their “anti-fraud” measures altogether or whether they are still requiring some sort of government ID as listed above.

It begs the question because nowhere in the article is it clear that they have dropped their screening process altogether, or the requirement of just that form of ID.

See, I don’t think they have altered the plan. And this is because I tend to believe that once a bigot, always a bigot.

But I would love to be proven wrong here. The problem is, I probably won’t, so I guess I have to continue with my resolution to withhold all pocket change from red kettles in the Greater Houston area.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

On Ending War in the Middle East

I started this blog a little over 3 years ago with an aim to add my voice to the growing throng who wanted to stop Bush’s illegal and immoral war in Iraq. My premise was, and has always been, that the very presence of American military in Middle East countries was reason enough for the Islamic world to take up arms against America.

Indeed, the presence of American troops in Osama Bil Laden’s own country’s capitol city, Riyadh, during the first Gulf War, was enough to set him off on a path that ultimately led to the 9/11 massacres.

We are Infidels.

To the Muslim world, we, through our troops, represent the very ideals that led the Crusaders to conquer Jerusalem and “the Holy Land.”

And the best way to recruit more devout Muslims to the cause of Islamic extremism is to continue a military presence in the Middle East. In their countries.

But here we are, still engaged in Iraq. Thankfully that seems to be winding down and I look forward to the day that the country can be turned completely back to Iraqi control so that they can devolve once again into a dictatorship.

That seems to be their comfort zone, so give it to them.

Now I think that even back then I advocated that the Afghan War was “the good war” because it was the one where we were fighting and defeating the very people who attacked us.

But that’s not the case now, is it? The enemy, al-Qaeda, is in Pakistan. And the war in Afghanistan has shifted, just as it did in Iraq. In Iraq’s case the cause for war shifted from a search for WMDs that they surely had poised to harm us, to a decapitation of their foul, foul government. In Afghanistan it shifted from a search and destroy mission to eliminate al-Qaeda as a viable adversary to a decapitation of their foul, foul government, to defending the foul, foul government that we propped up in its place.

In short, the mission in Afghanistan is now not only wrong, but more wrong than the mission in Iraq was.

These are not worldly people in whose country we are fighting. All they see is an American presence in this decade replacing the Soviet presence in the decade of the 1980’s. We explain to them that we are only there to help them. Know what the Soviets were telling the Afghans 30 years ago? Exactly the same thing.

What the Mujahadeen did to defeat the Soviet army back then is legendary in Afghanistan. Who helped them to do it is a mystery to them.

Maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan is not in our national interest. It serves no useful purpose other than to prop up a lot of greedy corrupt government officials and their families as well as the family business: the opium trade.

It makes what we did in Vietnam to prop up that corrupt government, and their opium trade, pale in comparison.

I support the troops. I want them to come home as quickly as humanly possible without the loss of one more American life.

I deplore the fact that the Obama Administration has bought into the Pentagon’s plan for peace in the Middle East.

Obama had a plan. It involved engaging with our adversaries constructively. We voted for that plan. It’s time to execute that plan.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Charity Strikes a Blow Against Illegal Immigrants

You have to love charities in Texas.

They are so . . . Texan.

Texans, you see, make a great show of being against illegal immigration. They elect state and federal legislators who make it their business to wave the bloody shirt of illegal immigration whenever possible, especially to redirect one’s attention from things that they really care about.

Really bad things that they really care about.

This doesn’t keep Texans from hiring illegal immigrants at rates far below minimum wage for unskilled labor (or what would be considered fair in skilled construction jobs) everywhere you look. Texans love illegal labor. They hate illegal immigrants.

So it comes as little surprise that a well known holiday charity whose famous logo consists of a Santa ringing a tiny bell next to a red kettle, the Salvation Army, requires a Social Security number or a birth certificate from each and every needy child who steps forward with a small hand (maybe a small brown hand) outstretched.

They claim that they are merely trying to deter fraud. Fraud in getting more than one gift from more than one outlet.

This speaks so much to the voter fraud argument of the rightwing in attempting to deny, year after year, people of the right to vote, that attempting the argument here merely insults the intelligence of most people who have a grain of compassion in them.

Really. Christmas Gift Fraud?

Where will this insanity end?

Wear Your Teabagger Shirts!!!

In a nice catch by Eljefebob at the Daily Hurricane (I don’t frequent these sites for the sake of self-preservation) the Fort Bend County Tea(bagger) Party Society wants to crash the Sugar Land Tree Lighting Ceremony this Thursday.

As if we don’t have enough party crashers out there.

Still, what has captured my attention was the fact that Tea Partiers are being exhorted by the proprietor of Sugar Land’s La Madeleine, who is also the president of that club to wear their Tea Bagger T-Shirts to the event (shirts that they no longer sell through their website).

The event starts at dusk, around 5 PM.

The high temperature is forecast to be 57º Fahrenheit on that day (3-ish) and will fall to 38º later that evening (but we all know how the temperature falls after the sun goes down).

Perfect Teabagger Shirt weather.

Well, I suppose they can wear their camo thermal underwear underneath.

And Susan’s point is well-taken. I know a little about political organizations that take money and donations in support of political causes. I just checked the Texas Ethics Commission website and searched for all registered groups with the words “Fort Bend” in their names and found 26 such groups, either political parties or general purpose PACs, and could find no record of the “Fort Bend County Tea Party Society.”

In fact, when you search on just the words “Tea Party” just three results are returned. One from Collin County, one from Houston and one from Spring.

And none of this nonsense about being “non-partisan.” When you search the Texas Ethics Commission on the keywords “League of Women Voters,” about as non-partisan as you get in these parts, six results are returned.

So while these teabaggers are getting warm, they should also get wise.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cornyn: A Few Apples Short of a Full Load

Nice headline huh? I wish I had thought of it. But no, it’s the eye catching headline featured these days on the Austin American-Statesman’ blog “Postcards From the Lege.”

“Cornyn just a few apples short.”

Well, OK, I finished their sentence for them.

It refers to coverage of a Thanksgiving story about how my junior senator, John Cornyn, found himself in a photo op session helping pack apples into 25 pound capacity crates at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.

Cornyn, it seems, erred on the side of lightness and failed to load his crates with the requested minimum of 25 pounds.

After this fact was apparently pointed out to him Cornyn quipped “Good enough for government work.”

Get it?

Cornyn, works for the government? And he’s doing some work?

And doing it rather poorly at that.

But then I think John Cornyn is rather used to performing below minimum acceptable standards. Rather than vote for historical change in healthcare reform, rather than being on the side of history, Cornyn votes NO. Rather than help thousands of Texas children get back on healthcare coverage, Cornyn votes NO on SCHIP.

It’s a pity that as an army brat John Cornyn was not subjected to the same kind of work ethic that was imposed upon me by my parents. My father had a saying that he drummed into me:

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”

I never heard the saying “good enough for government work” until I had my first government contract, and even then I had to have it explained to me.

Cornyn, obviously had different upbringing.

Different values.

And that’s what makes him a few slices short of a full loaf.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Ban on Minarets? In Switzerland?

When you think of Switzerland, as we call it, I would hardly expect the words “religious intolerance” to come up anytime soon.

Not before say, the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, The League of Nations, military neutrality and the Swiss army knife.

So it came as a surprise to me today to find that Switzerland has just voted on, and passed, an amendment to its constitution banning the construction of minarets. Minarets are those tall tapered towers upon which the muezzin stands to lead the call to Friday services or to the 5 daily prayers. So you might think that this was just a public nuisance issue, you know, like the ringing of church bells. But it wasn’t because the call to prayer in Switzerland is done inside the mosque.

I read about it here in this AP article in The Chron:

“The referendum by the nationalist Swiss People's Party labeled minarets as symbols of rising Muslim political power that could one day transform Switzerland into an Islamic nation. The initiative was approved 57.5 to 42.5 percent by some 2.67 million voters. Only four of the 26 cantons or states opposed the initiative, granting the double approval that makes it part of the Swiss constitution.”
The really odd thing is that in poll after poll the measure was seen as destined to failure because only 37% of the people polled said that they would vote for the amendment. It is as if the other 20% were fully aware of how intolerant this measure was, and therefore how intolerant the voters were, that they would vote for it, but not advertise that fact.

That is something that is so over the top it even beats Texas voters. Your typical Texas voter will turn out in droves to vote for a discriminatory constitutional amendment like the banning of gay marriage. They’ll go and vote for it and then brag about it to their neighbors.

So I find it ironic that from now on when I am reminded of Switzerland, before I think of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, or of “Heidi” or the William Tell Overture, the first thing that will come to mind is anti-Muslim intolerance.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Texas-Based Military Contractor Appealing Loss of Contract

I mentioned it here last month that a British-owned military truck manufacturer, BAE, previously known as Stewart and Stevenson, a truck manufacturer with a factory in the Sealy area, lost its bid to renew its lucrative truck manufacturing contract to Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corp.

Well come to find out today through this Houston Chronicle article that BAE is going to protest this contract decision to the Government Accounting Office.

The Chron article concentrates, as my piece did, on the political implications. On how Texas has lost its edge in its steady pursuit of a conservative perspective in a nation that has gradually shifted to the left. This loss is underlined by the article’s report of how Republican lawmakers in DC were caught unawares by this incident.
“‘We never saw this coming — we were completely blindsided,’ says a top aide to Sen. John Cornyn, R-San Antonio, a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee panel with jurisdiction over military vehicles. Lawmakers and BAE officials alike felt ‘sucker punched,’ added David Davis, a top Hutchison aide.  ‘Shocked doesn't begin to describe it.’”
So Governor Perry along with 34 federal legislators are hoping that they are successful in an appeals process to get the GAO to propose a “re-bid.” Or in common parlance, “a do-over.”

From Sealy News
“The decision to file a protest is not one the company took lightly, but the company felt it could not afford, and neither could U.S. taxpayers, to overlook what BAE Systems officials have called a flawed procurement process.”“‘What’s the impact of us leaving and the impact of people without a job?’ asked Mike Teegardin, BAE Systems director of communications. ‘It’s pretty staggering and it’s pretty stunning in this particular environment. We don’t believe we should just be given contracts because of who we are…we’re looking for a fair assessment.’”
This peaked my interest because I was unaware that the process of awarding the government contract was “flawed.” I just assumed, as did everyone else, that Oshkosh got the contract because it underbid BAE by 10% - - - and it had some influence with newly empowered Democrats who now hold key positions in the federal government.

Like David Obey (D – Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

That Republicans were ignorant of this turn of events was also news to me. But I now see how truly deluded these people must be because they think that their political clout will help BAE carry the day in a GAO investigation.

Now I started to wonder where the flaw in the bidding process lay. Was BAE going to claim it was wrongfully denied renewal of the contract because of political backroom wrangling?

No, absolutely not.

But as it turns out, maybe that would have been the shrewd option.

BAE is arguing that the decision to award the contract to the low-bidder, Oshkosh Corp., wasn’t fair because they did not take into account past performance but merely rated all three bidding companies as equals.

Further quoting Mike Teegarden in the Sealy News:
“‘That’s where our challenge comes in. Seventeen-plus years of experience, over 56,000 vehicles and trailers produced, fully up and running facility that runs 24-7 that produces over 40 vehicles a day was rated equal to competitors that have never produced the vehicle before,’ Teegardin said. ‘Oshkosh is a fine truck maker in their own right, don’t get me wrong, but to rate us equal in capability, to rate our employees…to say to them, thanks for your experience, it doesn’t really matter…we’re just going to equal you all out and judge you on price…that’s the essence of the problem that we have.’”
Essentially saying then, that the federal government should spend its money, taxpayer money, not on the lowest bidder, but on the bidder who has been doing the job for 17 years. Something our Republican delegation to DC gets right behind.

That is, it’s perfectly OK to scream and yell about wasting taxpayer money on recession recovery, but it’s not OK when the government awards a militatry contract to a the lowest bidder.

But I can concede the point if BAE, and Stewart and Stevenson, its predecessor, can demonstrate a quality product that helps to preserve the lives of our soldiers.

So I checked.

Soon after delivering its first products to the military it was noted that there was a slight flaw in their trucks’ driveline.


“The FMTV program initially experienced some bad press following 13 accidents involving A0-model trucks. One of the accidents resulted in a rollover attributed to a driveline design flaw. A March 1998 safety message to drivers noted that the vehicles can operate at fairly high highway speeds. But at the 45- to 58-mph range, they found a resonance or vibration in the engine-transmission-driveshaft combination. The vibration stressed the truck’s u-joints, which could cause the driveshaft to fail.”
As a result of there failures, the military issued a “safety gram” specifying that the trucks could not be driven over 30 mph until the trucks were retrofitted in a recall program.

The trucks, in a war zone, could not be driven faster than the speed limit in a school zone.

Now I call that “experience.” I call that “quality”. Just not good experience or good quality.

In short, if BAE wants the GAO to judge it on an unequal basis because of its previous experience in production of high quality military trucks, maybe the GAO should do exactly that.

A decision by the GAO is due in two weeks.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The US Secret Service Meet Reality TV

I never could understand what the draw was for so-called reality TV shows. Reality TV, to me, is just another oxymoron. It draws the oddest people to it. The least real people you will ever meet want to be on reality TV.

Reality TV creates nothing of value. It is the pocket lint of the airwaves.

But this time, maybe, reality TV has served a purpose.

I’ve been unusually concerned about the safety of the First Family. The level of angst and anger against them has gone through the roof, although most of these people are harmless hooligans who simply want to get some face time with video cameras so they can get on You Tube, or better yet the news.

But there are some real twisted people out there. People who really have no respect for human life and might want some notoriety for themselves. People like this are the people that agents of the US Secret Service are supposed to place themselves in front of.

But security broke down at the recent state dinner and a couple trying out for a reality TV show pulled a stunt and got through security without having shown anyone an invitation.. Without going into it, the Secret Service is now saying that their “procedures weren’t being followed.”

So not only are the party crashers getting lots of TV exposure, so is the Secret Service. The Secret Service is getting plenty of exposure for doing something wrong.

And this couldn’t have come at a better time.

My guess is that the laxity that allowed two individuals to come inside a supposedly secure area is gone forever. After being caught red-handed at not properly protecting the president, my guess is that there will be a re-imposition of security measures that will prevent any repeat of this. It’s possible that the First Family might have to suffer through a little more inconvenience as a result, but their security is paramount.

Yes security at the White House was breached and uninvited guests got in. But thanks to reality TV, this odder than odd couple were harmless aspirants of fame, and nothing bad happened.

This time.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Things I Am Thankful For

I generally detest Thanksgiving. It’s just another holiday where I can justify to myself eating too much food I shouldn’t eat at all.

Except for cranberries. Cranberries are good for you.

Still, everyone seems to set aside some time today to reflect on what they are thankful for, so I decided why the H-E-double-hockey-sticks not?

So first, let’s say I am thankful for NASA. Ever since I was a kid in the early 60’s NASA has been putting people on top of big tubes of controlled exploding gases and blasting them into space. What a time to be alive.

Next, I am thankful for teabaggers. How can progressive Democrats ever thank the teabaggers enough for doing in a few months what Democrats have failed to do for decades? The Party of Reagan will soon become the Party of Palin and Glenn Beck and will soon become completely marginalized.

And I am thankful for Teflon. Do you know how hard it was to cook an egg over easy without getting it stuck to the pan? It was a vexing problem. Teflon by the way, wasn’t a product of the space program like so many other things we take for granted every day. Teflon was an accidental discovery by DuPont whose first practical use was as a part of the first atomic bomb.

And last but not least, I am thankful for Romy Schneider. In her youth she had such a bright happy face. How could such a person with that face have come to such a sad and tragic end all these years ago?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Operation Intervention?

Has Governor Perry gone right off his rocker? Operation Intervention?

Rick Perry’s re-election campaign has launched what they term “Operation Intervention” this week. Their stated goal? Let me guess.

To use religious intervention to turn drug addicts away from their ill-advised vice?


To use involuntary intervention methods to kidnap and then deprogram religious cultists?


To use proselytizing techniques to persuade Moroccan Muslims to the way of Shi’ia?


To use religious intervention to “cure” homosexuality? To relieve, as it were, gays from their gayness?

Close, but no.

No, the intervention that the Perry campaign has in mind is to pull aside and persuade supporters of Kay Bailey Hutchison the folly of their moderate ways.

To get them to Come to Perry.

Now having watched as Rick Perry carved out his rightwing teabagger fanatic fringe secessionist niche these past few months, this comes as something of a surprise. A surprise because it seems apparent to them that there can be open courtship between Rick Perry and his base, the fanatic far right of Texas, on the one hand, and courtship of what is left of the center right Republican moderates who still haven’t realized that their party has abandoned them.

But not surprising that they should use a word like “intervention” in their plan to persuade moderates that the right wingnuts aren’t such a bad bunch after all.

It does, after all, require a “leap of faith” on the part of the Perry campaign to consider this “operation” to have the possibility of success. Much as it requires a “leap of faith” on the part of former KBHers that Rick Perry deserves their support.

Frankly, I think he will have more success with drug addicts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What You Mean We, Dick?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney can’t seem to get out of the verbal rut that he is in. He seems to have become like the proverbial scratched record where the needle used to backtrace to the previous record groove and he keeps repeating himself over and over and over again.

Today I realized something that Cheney doesn’t.

He thinks he is we.

Here is what he said yesterday to conservative radio commentator Scott Hennen over Obama’s deep bow to Emperor Hirohito of Japan last week [that’s right, Last Week!]:

“When the President bows to a foreign leader, our friends and allies don't expect it and our adversaries perceive it as a sign of weakness. I think it's fundamentally harmful and it shows in my mind that this is a guy, a president, who would bow, for example, who doesn't fully understand or have the same perception of the U.S. role in the world that I think most Americans have. What I see in President Obama is somebody who bows before foreign leaders and spends his trips aboard primarily apologizing for U.S. behavior. I find that very upsetting.”

Whose behavior do you think Dick Cheney is referring to? Whose behavior is President Obama apologizing for according to Dick Cheney? Why, ours of course. American behavior. We are Americans. Our behavior.



As Jay Silverheels as Tonto never said to The Lone Ranger when The Masked Man turned to him and admitted that “we are in a fix now, Tonto, look at all the Indians around us:”

"What you mean 'we', White Man?"

What you mean we, Dick.

American behavior, the American behavior that Barack Obama is apologizing for to anyone, everyone, who will listen, why that’s your behavior Dick.



That some Americans have taken umbrage at Obama’s bow is largely in sympathy with Cheney’s constant whine. But it is clear that their behavior is just poorly chosen in terms of their defense of the bad behavior of Cheney.

It’s all about Cheney’s behavior, not “U.S. behavior” that Obama is apologizing for.

I just love, as a result of this realization, this quote from a Western contributor to The Japan Times:

“Regarding the Nov. 18 article "U.S. conservatives: Obama bowed too deeply to Emperor": That seems to be one of the problems that President Barack Obama has to fix. American people just have to be better than others. Can't show even a speck of respect to others. Not even to an elderly Emperor who has no political power. It's our way or the highway. Time to stop acting like a high school kid. America, grow up.”

Yeah, Dick. Grow up.