Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: August 2005 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Katrina, Katrina, why hast thou forsaken me?

Our prayers go out to those in New Orleans, Biloxi, Pascagoula, Gulfport and all parts thereabouts.

Having lived through floods I can relate to the life changes they produce, although I cannot begin to express my sorrow at the loss of life that's occurred in the past few days.

As for the uncertainty of those who don't know the whereabouts of their loved ones, that I can relate to also, as I have loved ones of my own in the region whose whereabouts are unknown.

Some have called this "our own tsunami". With respect to those killed in this disaster and those uncertain about their kin, I think this is arrogant self-rightousness. We lost a hundred lives, mostly those who couldn't leave, but the tsunami took hundreds of thousands of lives. We lost a small fraction of what was lost in Southeast Asia, but it was close to home, which makes it more personal.

Every one of those lives was special, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Likewise every life lost in Iraq, whether it belonged to our troops or to the Iraqi citizenship. Every life is sacred, and whether it was taken by Iraqi insurgents, friendly fire, or the forces of nature, it should be celebrated. I offer a memorial to them all. Please pray to your Deity of Choice for the peace of their souls, whether it be to God, Allah, Yahweh, or Whomever.

But what I want to know is, where are the fundamentalists claiming that this is the wrath of God, as they did after the tsunami? After all, an "act of God" causing devastation that "purges the ungodly" surely would apply here. Oops, I forgot, this is the Bible Belt. Surely God wouldn't inflict this damage on his faithful, would he?

It's all so confusing. God's beloved people have now been exposed to this kind of catastrophe. What could it mean? This time it's surely not about sinful lifestyles and beliefs, right?

His Mysterious Way must now be explained by His spiritual leaders why such God-fearing people had to die. I wish them success.

Kudos and blessings upon the emergency medical crews, rescue personnel, and utility restoration crews that are working on the problem. They have gathered from all over the country, as is their wont, to help restore life in the blighted areas to its normal modus operendi.

But can New Orleans ever get back to normal life? With the denial of global warming a major factor in their city planning, can they expect to be a player in the global economy much longer? A city below sea level when the sea level is rising cannot be a major player for long.

Again, global warming brings itself more and more to the forefront. There but for the Grace of God (and wind currents) go I. If it weren't for a high pressure front at the right time, keeping the storm heading west, it would have hit the Florida panhandle. If that high pressure front hadn't moved southeast, the storm could have hit Galveston and Houston, causing me the same problems it caused New Orleans.

But I don't want to think about that.

In our global warming discussions, we've already predicted New Orleans' demise. Let's not risk other coastal cities in our arrogance.

In short, God Bless the rescue workers, emergency medical personnel, and those working to restore basic services such as electricity, water and communications.

But God, please help us realize that we need to change our attitude on how we utilize the resources we have. If we continue on our current path, weather will get more catastrophic, and someday, after we've used up all of our resources, we'll have nothing to restore after catastrophes of this nature.


"Have Gun, Will Travel",
and other tales of Texas Justice

Okay, so the 79th Texas Legislature didn’t accomplish anything in their two special sessions this summer, but there were plenty of bills passed in the regular session which will take effect this Thursday.

For example, Texans can now carry handguns in their vehicles, as long as they are “traveling”. Actually, it’s always been legal, but the law has been clarified to state that one is “presumed to be traveling” if in a private vehicle, not engaged in a criminal activity (other than minor traffic violations), and is not a member of a criminal gang.

There’s still a lot of gray area here, folks, and law enforcement ain’t gonna be loose in their interpretation. Although this legislation was backed by both the NRA and the ACLU, it was opposed by virtually all law enforcement organizations, and for good reason. The Harris County District Attorney’s office alone handled about 5000 weapons cases last year, and there are currently more than 237,000 Texans that hold a concealed handgun permit. And this bill was designed to allow those unable to get a permit to carry a weapon in their car.

I can see the scenario now. “I was traveling, officer. Didn’t you see my wheels turning?” And the reply, “Well they’re not turning now, hotshot, so you ain’t traveling no more. Let me see your carry permit”. “I don’t have one, officer, I defaulted on my student loan." "You have the right to remain silent…”. And the ending depends on whether the cop already has his gun drawn or not. Nice society we live in, eh?

Also on the books is a law that will prohibit doctors from performing an abortion on an unmarried female under 18 without parental consent (it used to be just parental notification), or during the third trimester (with exceptions).

An interesting side effect of this legislation is that any doctor who violates this law – either by stealth or clerical error – could face the death penalty. According to the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, the fetal protection law enacted in 2003 which defines an embryo or fetus as an “individual”, combined with the capital murder law which covers the death of a child under 6 years old, would make violators liable for capital murder charges, which in Texas usually means the death penalty.

The bill’s sponsors and supporters are backpedaling furiously.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Lewisville, who pushed the parental consent measure, said in a prepared statement that her legislation was strictly limited to giving parents the right to consent when a minor is considering an abortion and to preventing late-term abortions.

"There were no discussions about the death penalty during our legislative discussions of this issue," Nelson said.


Rep. Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie, who sponsored the 2003 bill defining an embryo or fetus as an "individual," said the law may need clearing up in a future legislative session.

"I don't see the Legislature wanting to charge doctors with capital murder based on a technical legal issue over whether parental consent was properly documented," Allen said.

Other items of interest include:

  • On the alcohol front House Bill 168 allows certain venues to begin selling alcoholic beverages before noon on Sunday at festivals, concerts, etc., while House Bill 2868 holds adults responsible for damage resulting from allowing alcohol to minors.
  • And speaking of minors, HB 383 allows parents and guardians to spank their kids, legalizing corporal punishment in the home and greatly reducing the ranks of domestic criminals. Now if the just legalized marijuana, crime rates would go way down.
  • Also on the kid front, HB 2930 sets the minimum age to have a paper route all by yourself to 11 years old, while HB 183 requires children under the age of 5 years and less than 36” in height be secured in a child safety seat while in a moving vehicle.
  • Other vehicle related laws include regulation of drivers idling their trucks while in the sleeper berth in HB 1540 , and HB 1584 which requires that vehicle storage lots accept payments other than cash to release towed vehicle. Anyone who’s had to bail their car out of one of these lots on a Sunday morning in the pouring rain will appreciate this one. Especially after first trying to remember where they parked, realizing it’d been towed, and then stalking ATMs to get enough cash to free the stupid thing.
  • And speaking of stupid things, I guess Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff’s troubles are starting to make some changes in the system. HB 1508 addresses reporting expenditures by lobbyists, HB 2202 prohibits conflicts of interest by lobbyists, and HB 1664 requires reporting of contributions and expenditures of political committees.

The above referenced legislation is just a sampling of the over 700 new and improved laws on the books in Texas as of September 1. If you ever have trouble sleeping, I recommend you peruse the list. There are just a few more I’d like to point out though – some that really point out the red-statedness that we deal with here in Texas on a regular basis.

The Oxymoronic House HB 137 not only dictates that all “Welcome to Texas” signs (at all state and national border crossings) include the phrase “Proud to be the home of President George W. Bush”, but also the anti-thesis “Drive Friendly – the Texas way”.

There are also two bills, HB 540 and HB 55 that name two separate highways as “The Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway”, one in Dallas (IH-20) and one in Houston (US-290). Now I don’t want to get on a rant here, but I already have to deal with the George (aitch dubya) Bush Airport and now we’ve named a stretch of highway (on the blue side of town, no less) after a retired actor-turned politician from California who got into the game as a liberal but became as right-wing as they come, leading to the mudslide we’re currently experiencing because of his VPs ineptness and his subsequent offspring’s ignorance, ego and greed.

I don’t see why they call themselves “conservatives” anyway. Doesn’t that mean “one who conserves”? They don’t conserve energy. They don’t conserve the environment. They don’t conserve our natural resources. They shouldn’t be called “conservatives”, they should be called “consumatives”. The only one’s who are conserving are those that can’t afford to consume. We go without a vacation because of the price of gas, and they keep filling up their stretch Hummers to drive two blocks to the country club.

But I digress. The point is this: the times, they are a' changin'. The ground beneath us is rapidly shifting to the right. And, similar to the handgun bill, in the trembling someone's gonna shoot themselves in the foot (or somewhere more fatal). And we're liable to take a whole lot of other people, and quite possibly the planet, with us.

It doesn't have to be that way. We can take this country back and once again steer our society towards equal rights and opportunities for all. We can stop supporting the campaigns of religious fanatics and corporate lawmakers.

All it takes is a committment to vote en masse in 2006 and 2008, and make an effort to understand the issues and consequences of each item on the ballot. Information is the downfall of rhetoric and spin.

Be informed. Be active. Only then can we truly be proud to be an American.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sunday Funnies

via Slate

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Talk about your intelligent design theories! This one is really saucy. I ran across it in the All Spin Zone, then saw it on MeMo. This taste sensation has been sweeping the spiritual world like a garlic breath of fresh air.

I'm talking about, of course, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Based on "string theory", in which all matter is composed of vibrating "strings" (or "noodles", of you will), that makes up all subatomic particles in the universe, it proclaims that the omnipotent being, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) created man in his own image (i.e. the brain), and that there is observable evidence that the FSM created the universe.

Along with campaigns like "WWTFSMD?" and an impressive merchandising effort (a sure sign of a legitimate religious endeavor), they have petitioned the Kansas Board of Education to include their doctrine in the planned curriculum that includes intelligent design.

I am writing you with much concern after having read of your hearing to decide whether the alternative theory of Intelligent Design should be taught along with the theory of Evolution.

I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design.Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design.

I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

Among other beliefs, they express the belief that global warming, excessive hurricane activity, earthquakes and other natural disasters are the direct result of the demise of pirate activity in the past century, as denoted by the chart below.

Believe it or not, they actually received replies from some of the School Board members, as well as plenty of accolades from the scientific community. The movement has really mushroomed (if you'll pardon the pun. Or don't you like shrooms in your spaghetti?)

I'll end with a brief prayer. "O Great and Powerful Flying Spaghetti Monster! Please touch us with your Great Noodly Appendage. Smother us with Your Lovingly Applied Parmesan, and bless those who cannot partake of your Bountiful Feast. Ramen."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Light or Blight? Dwight tells it right

Ravers tell their own story in Utah

This is what it's all about.

Rave parties are designed to circumvent traditional venues in order to provide a massive party atmosphere without traditional sponsorship and oversight. And yes, sometimes those parties can get out of hand with drug use and lack of supervision.

In this case, though, any self risk was overshadowed by law enforcement's excessive response to that risk.

There was a rave in Utah last weekend that was raided by police and National Guard troops, and the stories differ depending on whether you listen to the official reports or the raver's accounts.

The official account is rendered here, while the ravers are blogging here, here, and here.

This is the internet at its finest. No longer is the public limited to the "official story". Both sides of the issue are presented, and the public can draw its own conclusions.

So, draw you're own conclusion. Who was in the wrong?

The ravers, who held their supposedly illegal party, or the authorities, who overstepped their bounds and abused their power?

Or both?

Out goes the good air, in goes the bad

City loses contract to inspect plants for bad air

Does it seem just a bit odd that now that Houston has a Mayor that is serious about protecting its citizens from industrial pollution, that the state agency that regulates air quality would yank the city's pollution enforcement abilities?

The Texas Legislature recently passed a law that requires district attorneys to obtain permission from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) before prosecuting environmental crimes.

And just this week the TCEQ declined to renew a decades-old contract with the City of Houston to monitor emissions at Houston refineries and chemical plants.

This doesn't ban the city from monitoring the sites, but it removes the funding to do so, which effectively kills the program.

Just as the momentum was building to finally address air quality issues that have long plagued the Bayou City, and evidence was being collected that points to the major violators, the rug gets pulled out from underneath the initiative.

We had a monitoring system in place, and we were just learning who the bad guys were. Now we go back to square one, and the polluters can continue to spew carcinogens into the environment without fear of prosecution.

Welcome to Corporate America. Whenever something threatens economic stability, it gets quashed, regardless of the consequences. Houston is currently ranked second in the country for poor air quality, yet now that we have a chance to reverse this trend, the industry-friendly TCEQ, who we're supporting with our taxes, slaps us in the face and says "too bad, economic health is more important than your physical health".

There's been a lot of optimism in the enviromental community here lately, with the additional monitoring sites, infrared detection in the ship channel, and other intiatives that are identifying polluters in record numbers. To have this process come to a grinding halt announces to the public that the TCEQ will not allow us to undermine their hold on the air quality racket in Texas.

It wouldn't hurt so bad if we hadn't been given hope. We had a chance to do something good, something right. And now we start over.

The TCEQ isn't elected, they're appointed and hired. Maybe if we elected someone who would hold these people accountable, hope might be restored.

I know I'll be looking over the ballot closely next November, and Googling everyone who's running. I encourage you to do the same.

Mark your calendars for November 2nd

Gay marriage proposition 2nd on November ballot

At present, Texas state law bans same-sex marriages. But on the books for the November 2nd election is a Constitutional ammendment solidifying that law, basically protecting it from judicial review and forever making it illegal for gays and lesbians to form a legal union.

Conservatives are planning a massive campaign to mobilize their political base to turn out for the election, which traditionally doesn't draw many takers because there are no big name presidential campaigns happening in the "off-season".

Anyone who feels that this is a social issue and not a legislative one, needs to mark their calendars now, and show up at the polls to let the neo-cons know that it's not up to the government to dictate how we can live our lives. If you want big government out of your homes and back into determining our national and international policies, now's your chance.

Whether or not you're gay, do you want the government to tell you what in your life is acceptable or not?

What if they decide next that Pro Wrestling should be banned (they sure look gay to me), or even NASCAR (have you seen the Garnier Fructis car?).

Or maybe legislation that regulates scientific research that suggests other than creation science?

Be at the polls on November 2nd, vote NO on the Constitutional ammendment, and breathe easier knowing that the government will not be able to dictate how you live your life.

I'll be there. Please be there too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Thou shalt not kill...
...unless it's convenient

Pat Robertson calls for Chavez's assassination

Religous leader and prominent conservative Pat Robertson firmly planted his foot in his mouth yesterday by advocating the assasination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

On Monday, Robertson said on the Christian Broadcast Network's "The 700 Club": "We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability."

"We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator," he continued. "It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Granted, Chavez isn't one of the nicest guys alive, but he was democratically elected (twice), and stands to win again in the next election. The most recent election was validated with two independent audits. While we may not agree with his politics, we have no right to attempt to assasinate him in order to maintain our supply of oil.

'Cause that's what Robertson's comments are about. He could care less if Chavez burns his country to the ground, but when Chavez' regime threatened to find other buyers for his oil because he doesn't agree with Bush's policy of 'slash and burn anyone who doesn't hold our views', the venom begins to seethe from the fangs.

Never mind how the rest of the world sees us. We don't care anyway. As far as we're concerned, the rest of the world can take a flying leap, because they don't have our "Christian Values", i.e. the God Given right to take anything we want because we're good, God-fearing rich white males and all good things are guaranteed to us in the Bible.

Of course, where the Bible tells us that is as obscure as the part of the Quran that guarantees paradise and virgins to suicide bombers.

Because that's what this is. A terrorist threat. If a Muslim extremist called for assasination of our president, wouldn't we treat it as such? So when a supposedly Christian extremist calls for assasination of a democratically elected president of another country (apparently one of our friends, since we're buying oil from them), wouldn't the same conditions apply?

Of course this is nothing new for Robertson who, after a failed presidential campaign in 1988, founded the Christian Coalition and subsequently suggested nuking the State Department.

It wouldn't be so bad if he was an obscure lunatic spouting his vehemence to the unwashed masses. But he exposes a nationwide audience on "The 700 Club", who tune in for supposedly spiritual guidance in an uncertain world. And therein lies the danger. Middle America, looking for an alternative to typical mainstream media, are mesmerized by his preaching, and are easily swayed into believing what he has to say.

Christianity in its true form is about love, and tolerance. About alleviating suffering, and helping others in need. Not about hate, or greed, or self aggrandization.

Robertson's tirade isn't about creation science or helping the poor and hungry. It's about promoting murder. And that is decidedly against Christian principles.

I hope his audience can see that. The rest of the world does.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

It may not be too late...

Yeah, I know gas prices suck. I had to fill up at the station myself this week. And I know everyone's cheering the Robin Williams comment about offering $10 a barrel, take it or leave it.

Of course, you know it's bunk (Robin never said it), and we know that if we don't buy it, someone else will.

But this isn't about buying oil. It's about using oil. Global warming is an issue that's been polarizing Americans lately, and it's not going to go away. Some scientists have predicted ecolological disasters, and other scientists have said it's bunk, just like the Robin Williams piece.

But you have to look at the data before you decide on your position.

Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases are likely to accelerate the rate of climate change.

Scientists expect that the average global surface temperature could rise 1-4.5°F (0.6-2.5°C) in the next fifty years, and 2.2-10°F (1.4-5.8°C) in the next century, with significant regional variation. Evaporation will increase as the climate warms, which will increase average global precipitation.

Soil moisture is likely to decline in many regions, and intense rainstorms are likely to become more frequent. Sea level is likely to rise two feet along most of the U.S. coast.

Average temperatures have increased over the past decade by more than a degree. That may not seem like much, but if you compare that with data from before the industrial revolution and exptrapolate the exponential increase in fuel consumption (and it's effect on the greenhouse effect), along with future industrial and transportation emissions, we're screwed.

Basically, if we continue our energy consumption at the current rate, we can expect a temperature rise, and a related sea level rise, of bibilical proportions. The Houston Ship Channel will become part of the Gulf of Mexico. The Ohio Valley will become the Ohio Basin. New Orleans will become the new Atlantis.

Unless we do something to reduce our carbon emisions, we're going to be living in a far different world than we are now. Living on the Gulf Coast, I'm concerned that my house may become a part of the Gulf of Mexico. But unless you live in the mountains, you will be affected also. Already the Pacific Northwest is experiencing an exceptionally dry summer, which is almost an oxymoron.

Hurricane season is getting worse - ask anyone that lives in Florida. Floods are affecting everyone from the midwest to the northeast. It's natural, but it's not normal. Tornado alley has expanded to parts of the country that has never had to deal with it before.

There's only one way to stop it. Reduce carbon emissions. Its not about spray cans anymore. Its about giving up your SUV for a more fuel efficient vehicle. I, myself, drive a pickup truck, mainly for utility reasons. But I've got to look for a more environmentally friendly solution, as should everyone.

If we don't, we'd better either head for higher ground, or grow gills.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Hit 'em where it hurts

Vioxx jury sends message, awards $253 million in damages

Carol Ernst, the widow of a man whose death was attributed by a jury to the drug Vioxx was awarded $253.45 million in the first of more than 4200 Vioxx-related lawsuits against pharmaceutical behemoth Merck & Co.

Of that amount, $229 million was in punitive damages, and because of caps under state law, it will have to be reduced to $1.65 million, bringing her restitution to just over $26 million. And that will likely be tied in appeals for several years.

"Ha!", you say, "that's a drop in the bucket to a company with $22.5 billion in annual sales". But if a good percentage of the future lawsuits also get favorable verdicts, the millions will add up, and pretty soon you're talkin' real money. Plus the $675 million Merck budgeted for legal services last year, and it all comes off of the bottom line, which cuts into their profits. And that's how you get Big Bidnesses attention. Take their profits, and that makes their Wall Street value go down, which minimizes the value of the stock options of those making the decisions.

That's what it's all about. The people who decided to produce and market Vioxx even though they knew it could be harmful didn't do it to benefit mankind, as they would have you believe. They did it out of greed, pure and simple. Maybe if they're hurt where it counts - in the wallet - they'll be less likely to rush harmful drugs onto the market just to make a buck or two billion.

Friday, August 19, 2005

“It's Not About Me, It's About The War..."

Courtesy of Dr. Glen Barry,
who's been blogging on site from Crawford, Texas

Cindy Sheehan, the mother who's son was killed in Iraq and camped outside Bush's ranch in Crawford - vowing not to leave until he either talked to her or went back to Washington - is back home in California today. She returned to be with her mother who suffered a stroke, but apparently she will be back in Crawford as soon as she can.

Sheehan has come under repeated attacks lately, and her mother's stroke has encouraged her detractors to make comments about "divine justice" and similar drivel.

Fortunately, her following has grown enough that her supporters are carrying on without her, and this seems to be shaping up as a real movement. What began as an impromptu outing by one grieving mother has turned into a catalyst that has galvanized thousands (on both sides of the issue) into standing up for what they believe in. This has the GOP nervous, as some are saying that dubya should have just talked to her while he had the chance.

Demonstrations are being held across the country to show support for Sheehan. Counter-demonstrations are also being organized, with right wing radio hosts renting buses to bring masses of lemmings to rallies.

But, as Sheehas says, "It's Not About Me, It's About The War...". And if we can get past the rhetoric and into a productive discussion about the war - why we're fighting it, and what we cand do to get out of it - then maybe there'll be a chance for an end to it.

Bonus Material - Pissed Off Patricia of Blondsense has penned a rather poetic account of one of the vigils in her town, Cindy’s Little Candles in Our Darkness. As usual, she's poignant, clever and imaginative. You must read it. I insist.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Good vs. Evil

The movie preview for The Brothers Grimm proclaims it as depicting the Final Battle Between Good and Evil. I mean, come on, this is a movie about fairy tales! But it's not the first time, nor will it be the last, that movies will proclaim this title.

To name a few:

  • Lord of the Rings
  • Reign of Fire
  • The Exorcist
  • Van Helsing
  • Harry Potter

And I'm sure there are others of which you'll remind me.

But there's a vast history of productions that also tout the good vs. evil theme, including such notables as:

And lately there's also the usual Armageddon crowd, and those that think that chemtrails are the sign of the final days.

And of course there's the battle between George W. Bush and anyone with actual values.

But it's not about 9/11 either, as the fundies would have you believe.

The battle of Good vs. Evil is fought every day, and it involves fighting against corruption. No matter where we find it, whether it be in the ranks of terrorists or in the ranks of politicians.

You just have to have open eyes and an open heart to see where the injustice lies, and work to overcome that injustice.

Only then can we truly win the battle of Good over Evil.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Not to make any comparisons or anything, but...

Have you ever seen them in public together...?

Politics as usual

Analysis: Unkept vows keep Robin Hood alive

Doncha just love it. The Texas GOP has the governor's mansion, the lieutenant governor, the Speaker of the House, and a majority in the House and Senate, yet they still can't seem to pass legislature that they promised to pass during their campaigns.

Most of the Republican candidates who won election back in 2002 won their seats promising either the repeal of the "Robin Hood" method of school finance, property tax cuts, or no new taxes.

Yet their proposed legislation included new taxes. Some for businesses (opposed by Repubicans) and most for the poor (opposed by Democrats). It also included tax cuts for homeowners (proposed by Democrats) that favored those with lower valued homes, and didn't benefit major contributors with high dollar first and second (and sometimes third) homes.

Gubna Rick Perry has tried to push legislation through, also because of campaign promises and his upcoming re-election bid, with his three special sessions called, and his claim that he will sign nothing into law until he has passed a comprehensive education and school finance reform bill. But the legislature has all but given up on passing a bill, so it's up to gubna Rick to sign or not sign:

  • The telecommunications bill, which will give SBC (Southwestern Bell Corporation) the ability to obtain a state frachise, bypassing all community franchise authorities and allowing them to provide video services only to the residents they choose.
  • The judicial pay raise, which will raise the pay of the state judiciary, but at the same time increase the pensions of the legislators who are voting on the bill.
  • The eminent domain bill, which will limit how the government can condemn properties for economic purposes, although there is some controversy as to how sports authorities and colleges can claim private homeowner's land for economic development.
Gubna Rick has vowed not to sign any of these bills into law until education reform has been resolved, although we all know how those vows live and die at the whim of their creators.

What's it gonna be, Rick? Do you live up to your promises? Or do you bow to political expediency and cave to the Powers That Be?

I have a feeling that question will be answered soon. And that answer will be a major factor in his re-election bid in 2006.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Another great man passes

John H. Johnson died yesterday. Okay, so John Johnson isn't a household name. But this gentleman was instrumental in the civil rights movements from the 40's up until the present.

In 1945 he borrowed $500, using his mother's furniture as collateral, to begin a publishing endeavor that is worth half a billion dollars today.

His purpose? To chronicle the success of Black Americans.

That's right, I said Black. John Johnson was promoting civil rights before "Black" was politically correct, and long after "African American" became the term of choice.

He championed the cause back when a black youth was beaten to death for whistling at a white woman. He championed the cause when no other mainstream outlets even mentioned Black Newsmakers in their publications.

His media outlets, Ebony and Jet, drew criticism that there were no counterparts in White America, and if there were, they would have incited riots, screaming epithets of bigotry and prejudice. The simple answer to that is there was no need of a white counterpart, as all mainstream media at the time touted the successes of White Americans. Newsweek, Time and and all the other major publications were full of American success stories in the the '40s and '50s, yet none of them gave homage to successful blacks.

Black youth of that era had no role models to look up to other than those expressed in Johnson's publications. The civil rights movement can be traced to this beginning.

I live in suburban America, where the high school cheerleading squad is almost exclusively white, yet my son's circle of best friends includes Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. I'm proud that I've raised a child that doesn't feel the need to associate with people exactly like him in order to thrive.

This is partly due to the influence of John Johnson and his magazines, because it gave minority Americans pride in their accomplishments and their heritage. It made them feel equal enough, as it should, to assert themselves in their academic and social lives.

And for that John Johnson is appreciated. And he will be missed.

Post-Sunday Funnies

The Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson last night produced some chuckles, namely:

  • She screwed more musicians than Napster.
  • She's written more books than she's read.
  • And how can she be for animal rights when she's tortured her own beaver?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Pre-Sunday Funnies

Why do you make time for donors and not for me?

Protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq, just wanted to meet with the Preident so he could explain to her why her son had to die, was denied her explanation because dubya felt he had already explained enough why soldiers were expected to die in the war in Iraq.

Bush drove by the protesters today on his way to a donor dinner without so much as a backwards glance, even though they wanted no more than a comment as to why he promotes war in Iraq at the cost of so many American lives.

One down, one to go...

I wish I coulda been there. I'd love to have seen Jack Abramoff do the perp walk! The only thing missing in my mind's eye is the man who calls him one of his "closest and dearest friends", Tom DeLay, walking beside him in handcuffs.

Abramoff used to be one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington, but has been caught up in South Florida's notorious corruption. Already under investigation for the swindling of Native American Tribes and his role in DeLay's junket scandal, he's now been indicted for conspiracy and wire fraud for his role in presenting a fraudulent wire transfer document to lenders for the purchase of a fleet of gambling ships.

Also in the mix, although not part of the indictment, is the gangland style murder of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, the Greek turned Canadian turned South Floridian former owner of the fleet who sold it to Abramoff and his partner, Adam Kidan.

And of course we have the confirned identification of some of the 9/11 suicide terrorists on Abramoff's gambling ships a week before the attacks on New York and Washingrton DC, which links uncomfortably to the relationship between the Bushes and the bin Ladens, but I won't go there.

Meanwhile, the DeLay camp is busy claiming that the "accidental" illegal monies spent on election campaigns were "accounting errors". Yeah, okay. Who were their auditors, Arthur Anderson?

It's only a matter of time before DeLay is indicted along with his friend, both of whom espouse religious values as their driving force. Isn't it time we stop backing criminals because of their professed beliefs? Anyone with values themselves should question the actions of those who are supposed to lead based on these values.

It's time to stop believing those who shout about their piety, and support those who live their lives based on their principles.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The rattlesnakes are beginning to commit suicide

NRA targets Conoco over gun law
NRA launches corporate boycott

I don't know how this one slipped past my radar, but I heard the basis of the story on public radio this morning. Apparently the National Rifle Association has issued a boycott on companies that deny their employees the right to carry weapons in their vehicles on company property. And the brunt of their ire is focused on ConocoPhillips, who fired employees for violating their no-guns employment policies.

In the 1988 film Mississippi Burning, Gene Hackman delivered the poignant line "rattlesnakes don't commit suicide", which later proved itself false when the forces of hatred self-destructed when faced with modern reality. A similar metaphor applies here, when two forces who have often colluded in the past meet in opposite corners to again pit the past against modern realities.

The conundrum is that ConocoPhillips' greed driven quest for profits includes the desire to keep its people alive to achieve those goals, and the NRA's desire to allow everyone to carry weapons anywhere they damn well want to is contrary to those goals.

The result: an NRA boycott.

"Across the country, we're going to make ConocoPhillips the example of what happens when a corporation takes away your Second Amendment rights," NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said Monday.

The old adage goes, "your right to punch me ends where my nose begins". Greedy as ConocoPhillips may be, they've made it clear that bringing weapons onto company property puts their employees at risk, and it won't be allowed.

"Our primary concern is the safety of all our employees," the company said. "We are simply trying to provide a safe and secure working environment ... by keeping guns out of our facilities, including our company parking lots."

Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, said companies that were fighting to keep guns out of their employee parking lots were not trying to overturn the Second Amendment or taking part in a "sneaky conspiracy to take away everyone's guns."

"Americans should be alarmed that the National Rifle Association's agenda is to get as many (guns) as possible into as many places as possible - including the kinds of places that we've all got to agree are better off without a lot of firearms," Hamm said.

When you choose to become one of their employees, you sign a statement saying that you will abide by this policy, and that the company reserves the right to terminate your employment should you violate this policy. If you're fired for violating this policy, you have voluntarily chosen to ignore this policy, which you knew would result in your termination.

Anyone who's read more than one of my posts will agree that I'm not a fan of Big Oil, but I don't think there's a question what's wrong with this picture.

First of all, the NRA doesn't seem to realize that Big Bidness is it's friend. They lobby for the same things, and a big portion of the NRAs membership and bought representatives are equally married to Big Bidness interests.

Second, they seem blind to the fact that they're on the wrong side of a a private property issue, which is near and dear to the hearts of their membership.

Third, this boycott will be a test of how dedicated their following is, which may not pan out the way they hope.

For example, if one of their loyalists is on the way to a hunting lodge, or sniper rampage or whatever, will they pass by a Phillips66 station when the guage is on E? And will this lead to cheating on their Chevron station when it's closed and the 76 station is open? It's a moral dilemna, doncha think?

And what about air travel. Phillips 66 is a big player in airline fuel. How can they tell if Phillips fueled the plane they're flying on? For all they know, LaPierre is violating his own boycott when he's traveling around promoting his boycott.

In fact, it's almost inevitable that Phillips 66 Aviation is involved in fueling military aircraft. By boycotting ConocoPhillips, the NRA could be interfering with the war effort, and therefore:

The NRA does not support our troops!

It appears that the rattlesnakes are beginning to commit suicide.

It's not storming. Really, it's not.

Bush faces challenge in selling U.S. on economy

It’s been storming a lot here lately, and between that and my schedule I haven’t been able to post much, but I’ll risk electrocution to comment on this, because it’s just so typical of how the current administration attempts to solve its problems.

Apparently, only 39% of Americans believe that Bush is doing a good job handling the economy. So how does the administration address this? By telling us how good the economy is. Again.

His advisors tell him it’s doing well, so, good ol’ boy that he is, he just has to share that good news with us. Shucks, don’t that just make you happy as flies on a heifer?

"The news at the macro economy level is generally positive," said Kent Gilbreath, an economist at Baylor University. "But, for millions of Americans, their personal economic news is threatening."

In July, nonfarm payrolls grew by 207,000, the biggest jump in three months, and wages, adjusted for inflation, rose at the fastest pace in a year.

Unfortunately, the rosy picture being painted by dubya and his gang doesn’t include most Americans. Things may look good on Wall Street, but those who live on Main Street ain’t seeing it. The fat cats are rakin’ it in, while middle America (you remember, the ones who voted Bush in on his “values” platform) is still living from paycheck to paycheck.

In Texas, which was hit hard by the recession, the job market has had a tepid recovery.

"We've seen some new jobs," said Bill Gilmer, vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. "But not what you would have expected with oil at $60 a barrel."

During the last spike in oil prices, in 1996-1998, Houston added 196,000 new jobs, Gilmer said. But in this oil boom, employment grew by only 42,000 jobs.

So while the oil companies are posting record profits, average Joes and Janes are paying record prices at the pumps, paying more for dwindling health care benefits, higher housing costs, and virtually all other costs of living because of rising fuel costs.

On Monday, Bush said, "The tax cuts are working. This economy is strong, and it's growing stronger."

Yeah, the tax cuts are working for his cronies. For most of us, the few hundred bucks we get don’t even begin to cover the higher cost of living created by his economic and foreign policies.

But tell us again and again how well we’re doing, and eventually we’ll believe it’s the truth.

Vaseline, anyone?

Friday, August 05, 2005

See Bob run. Run, Bob, run!

Inexplicably, Bob Novak up an walked out on a not-so-heated discussion on Barbara Harris on CNN Live yesterday. They were discussing how the media apparently touches up Harris' image to make her look more devious in the media, which Novak expressed that he can relate to, as they do the same to him, when James Carville interrupted him (as is his wont).

NOVAK: let me finish what i'm going to say, james. i know you hate to hear me

CARVILLE: he's got to show his right wingers he's got backbone. show them you're tough.

NOVAK: i think that's bull [didn't know automatic transcribers censored themselves!] and i hate that. just let it go.

And then, well, he leaves. Carville and Henry, I suppose to their credit, continue the interview as though nothing happened... Henry ends with this:

"Thanks, James, and I'm sorry that Bob left the set a little early. I had told him in advance we were going to ask him about the CIA leak case. He was not here for me to be able to ask him about that. Hopefully we'll be able to ask him about that in the future."

So why did Bob bolt? I thought at first he had a Depends meltdown. But it could have been photoshop anxiety, or that he chose that moment for a planned escape to avoid questions about the CIA leak.

As we know, Novak was the administration's mouthpiece who broke the news that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA agent when her husband criticized the Bush administration for fabricating evidence of Iraq's nuclear weapons capabilities in order to justify the war in Iraq, which now has dubya's advisors and cabinet members on the hot seat for potentially treasonous actions.

After his walkoff, CNN Suspended Novak Indefinitely, apologizing for his behavior.

To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, it gets curiouser and curiouser...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The beginning of the end

Got Milk?

Stymied by Congress, Bush appointed Johm Bolton to the post of Ambassador to the United Nations during the Congressional recess in an attempt to get his way without approval, as is his modus operendi on world affairs.

As we know, John Bolton, who is known for his "kiss up, kick down" style of management, has no love for the United Nations. To appoint him to the post of Ambassador to the UN is more that a slap in the face to the international community, it's a statement that we don't care what the rest of the world thinks, we're going to do what we want anyway.

This was apparent in our invasion of Iraq. Despite world opinion, we fabricated justification to bomb the hell out of a country that we just didn't like, partly because that country had the audacity to attempt an assasination on our current president's dad. It obviously didn't succeed, but that didn't stop us. We invented evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, even illegally attempted to discredit those who said Iraq didn't have WMDs, and proceeded to "shock and awe" the non-believers.

Now we're going to put someone in the UN who doesn't believe there should be a UN, and call it diplomacy.

Never mind that this guy has a history of attempting to ruin the careers of those who disagree with him. Or that he abuses his subordinates as if they were disposable.

Our president has faith in him.

Just as our president has faith in Karl Rove, who exposed an active CIA agent in order to discredit her husband who had the cojones to criticize our president's rationale for starting a war in Iraq.

Just as our president has faith in Tom DeLay who, although he gushes his Christian values while cowering behind subordinates who take the rap for illegal campaign funding violations, faces indictment himself for spearheading these crimes.

Just as our president has faith that, by waging war in Iraq, we keep the terrorists from attacking us at home. I don't share that faith, and neither do the people in Spain, England or Egypt, all of whom have had terrorist attacks on their homeland since our invasion of Iraq.

So the president's choice to represent us to the rest of the world, including Spain, England and Egypt, does not leave me with a lot of confidence in his ability to contribute to a global solution for protection from terrorism.

John Bolton is a self-serving spoiled bureaucrat. He doesn't play nice with his fellow employees, and he's known for losing it with those he doesn't agree with. Is this really the guy we want negotiating our safety from terrorism?

Becaause if I were the rest of the world, I would say to hell with this guy, let him be the target.

Nations with issues can petition the UN, but not if the US is involved.

I can't go for that. This doesn't make us safer.

But what I say doesn't matter. Bush has made his choice, and that choice has set us on a course for destruction.

I, for one, will be trying to minimize the damage. Hopefully you will be too.

Science takes one giant step backwards

Bush says all theories of life have place in classroom

WASHINGTON - President Bush is sticking with his opinion that public schools should teach the "intelligent design" theory of life alongside evolution but says it's not a federal matter.

What? This can’t be serious. Can it? One day they’re arguing that displaying the Ten Commandments in a government (i.e. taxpayer supported) courthouse doesn’t violate the spirit of the First Amendment, and the next day el Jefe de Estupido is suggesting teaching from the book of Genesis in public schools. Did I miss a decade, or did we time-travel back a couple of decades? This is beyond crazy.

I have a couple of theories. It could be the Bushites trying to toss in yet another attempt at diversion from the Plame Game, now that Condi Rice may be implicated in it as well. Or it could be that dubya just wants to see journalists use his name and the word "intelligent" in the same sentence.

But that’s all they are – theories. Like evolution, intelligent design, creationism, and most other scientific subjects. Theories. I don’t recall evolution being taught as fact even though, among the three theories, it’s the only one supported by evidence.

Before the steam starts spouting from your ears, I said evidence, not facts. Nothing that happened millions, or even thousands, of years ago can be irrevocably proven.

In my understanding, the big bang theory doesn’t preclude the involvement of a higher intelligence. And Genesis doesn’t preclude some of the principles of evolution. It’s all in how you interpret the data available to you. For all we know, our universe could have been some Deity’s second grade science project.

If so, I hope She got a passing grade.

In all likelihood, though, dubya’s comment was just a sound bite to placate his base and at the same time give us progressive pundits something to rail against besides Rove, Liddy, and Rice (and DeLay, Frist, Santorum, Tancredo, et. al).

Dubya can't do much from his cheap seat, but he can plant the thought in the fertile minds of his loyal minions. And there’s plenty of room in those minds for all sorts of mischief to grow.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Special Ed: lawmakers prove to be slow learners

School finance headed for another fall
Tax bill may fall short by half-billion, board says
Senate revises school plan in effort to save session

Well, the boys in Austin have mucked it up again. They’re no closer to a workable education and tax bill than they were three years ago, when gubna Rick Perry campaigned on a pledge to pass sweeping legislation that would provide both a good public education system and the means to pay for it while providing school tax relief. Now his re-election looms on the horizon with no rabbits to pull out of his hat, so the 79th ½ Texas Legislature sits in its second special session leaving its members scratching their heads and various other body parts.

The House bill, in its current form, would have provide property tax relief only to those whose annual income exceeds $100,000, while actually raising the tax burden of those who earned less, according to the Legislative Budget Board. But that’s not why the bill was killed. It was killed because Rep. Scott Hochburg, D-Houston successfully added an amendment that would allow for teacher pay raises, bilingual education funding, and tax relief in the form of a larger homestead exemption. For you non-Texans, the homestead exemption reduces the taxable value of your primary residence, thereby providing all homeowners the same break in school taxes, regardless of economic status.

So the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, led the charge to vote down the bill, which they did, 124-8.

Meanwhile, the Senate is attempting to salvage the education bill that failed last week. Legislators blame school officials for opposing the bill. So Senators will make sweeping changes in order to placate school superintendents, such as:

  • Not requiring a statewide school year start date
  • Not moving board member elections to November

Such heady issues are supposedly stalling the passage of an educational reform bill. Still in the bill are teacher pay raises, oversight of charter schools, and increased accountability. The Senate can’t really do anything about funding, because the Texas Constitution requires that any tax bills be initiated in the House, so Senators have to do something in the special session while waiting for the House to get itself in order.

Which will include finding a way to make up for the revenue shortfall created by reducing the well-to-do’s property taxes. Current plans are to raise the state sales tax by up to ¾% and tack another $1/pack tax on cigarettes, although the latter may net zero increase due to the people who will quit because they can’t afford the habit.

Also at issue is the "Robin Hood" system that’s currently in place, which basically makes the wealthier school districts share some of their tax receipts with poorer districts.

Texas is under court pressure to change its $33 billion school funding system, known to some as Robin Hood because it takes money from wealthy districts and shares it with poorer ones.

A state district judge last year declared the system inadequate and unconstitutional. The state appealed that decision to the Texas Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in the coming weeks and months.

This will not likely happen before the second special session’s deadline of August 19, so it’s unlikely that the House will pass meaningful legislation that will radically reform the education system in Texas. At best, we’ll band-aid the problem once again, and the rhetoric will fly back and forth in the next election cycle. Already the gubna is backpedaling in his usual incoherent way.

While signing a bill establishing new renewable energy goals for Texas, Perry was asked about rumors that legislators want to give up on school finance reform and property tax relief and just pass legislation to pay for textbooks and a teacher pay raise before adjourning.

Perry indicated he might be willing to take such a better-than-nothing bill.

"If you can get half a loaf versus a full loaf, you generally take a slice or two, if you can get that," Perry said. "We understand how this process plays out here."

And of course, if they pass a half-baked bill, then they’re free to pass:

  • the judicial pay bill, which is on hold until the education bill is passed and will provide in increase in lawmaker’s pensions,
  • a giveaway to SBC in the form of a state-wide video distribution franchise,
  • the eminent domain bill - in order to show their support of homeowners, while insuring that the new sports stadium in Dallass can condemn homeowners properties and move forward with construction.

And then they can claim another victory and get on with their vacations. After all:

GOP House Speaker Tom Craddick said the session isn't necessarily doomed, but he did say legislators — who have spent two regular sessions and three special sessions tackling school finance — are tired.

"The members are just basically worn out voting on these different proposals. I don't know where we go from here," Craddick said.

I have a few suggestions. First, stop whining. You fought tooth and nail to get where you are, ostensibly to do some good. Start doing it, even if there are no perks involved and it cuts into your valuable golf season.

Then close the business tax loopholes that let both corporations and limited partnerships avoid the franchise tax, leaving a huge burden on small businesses. Even though Perry opposes this, he’ll be forced to compromise if he wants to have a chance at re-election.

Don’t rely so heavily on property tax relief. Regardless of the hype, only a few will benefit to any meaningful degree.

And buckle down and get to work coming up with the funds necessary to provide a quality education for ALL Texas students. We can't afford the alternative.