A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wal-Mart Supercenter Banned In San Diego

After opening the Christmas shopping season with disappointing sales numbers, Wal-Mart has gotten some more bad news. Last Tuesday, the San Diego City Council voted 5-3 to ban all stores with more than 90,000 square feet that use 10% of their space to sell groceries and other non-taxable items. The ban was aimed at preventing the building of huge Wal-Mart Supercenters in the city.

Art Castanares, who has long advocated for the ban, said, "The issues haven't changed. It's still about visual blight of the large unattractive boxes. It's still about the lack of landscaping and open space and acres of parking and the devestation of the local economy when you build these huge stores."

The Mayor, Jerry Sanders, has said he would veto the council's decision. Sanders said, "We would in essence be telling retailers that we don't want you here, that San Diego doesn't have a business-friendly enviornment." The mayor is just wrong. The action actually is business-friendly, and tells other retailers that the city won't let them be run out of business by a big-box retailer that abuses its employees with low wages and no benefits.

Fortunately, the mayor's veto can be overridden with the 5 votes that opponents already have on the council.

Wal-Mart says they are studying their options, and could instigate legal action. But the council's ban was modeled after a ban passed inTurlock, California. That ban has already been found to be legal by the state's highest court.

Looks like the tide may be turning against Wal-Mart.

Isn't Guacamole Made From Avocados ?

I guess I'm going to have to start reading the labels on food products. I have just always assumed that guacamole dip was composed mostly of avocados. I was wrong!

It seems that only 2% of Kraft guacamole dip is avocado. The other 98% is a paste made from partially hydrogenated soybean and coconut oils, corn syrup, whey and food starch. It gets its green color from yellow and blue food dyes.

Brenda Lifsey, from Los Angeles, said she made a three-layer dip with Kraft guacamole dip as one of the ingredients. She said, "It just didn't taste avocadoey. I looked at the ingredients and found there was almost no avocado in it." Lifsey has filed suit asking Kraft to stop marketing the dip as guacamole, and she hopes to turn the lawsuit into a class-action suit.

Of course, Kraft is acting like they've done nothing wrong. Claire Regan, vice-president of Kraft Foods corporate affairs division, said, "We think customer's understand that it isn't made from avocado. All of the ingredients are listed on the label for consumers to reference." However, she said the company was going to change the label to say "guacamole-flavored dip" instead of "guacamole dip".

I think the new label is probably also misleading. It might lead consumers to think the product actually tastes like guacamole.

There is already a law saying peanut butter must be 90% peanuts. Are we going to have to do the same with guacamole and avocados?

Justices Split Over Global Warming Case ?

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Massachusetts v. EPA. This is the case that will determine whether greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, should be defined as pollutants. If they are pollutants, then the EPA will be forced to take action to control them under the federal Clean Air Act.

After listening to the questions asked by the Justices, many observors believe the Court is split, with the conservatives believing greenhouse gases are not pollutants, and the liberals believing that they are. This is the same as the split in Congress over global warming.

Of course, trying to predict how the Court will vote by listening to the questions they ask is not foolproof. There is always the chance that a Justice is simply acting as "devil's advocate" in the questions he chooses to ask.

While not completely predictive, here are how the questions asked indicates the standing of the Justices. It looks like Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas will vote to deny greenhouse gases are pollutants. Justices Souter, Ginsburg, Stevens and Breyer will probably vote that they are pollutants.

This would mean that Justice Kennedy would have the deciding vote. Right now, no one has a clue which way he is leaning. Looks like we'll have to wait until next year to see how this one is coming out. It could go either way.

Texas Has $4.5 Billion Budget Surplus

Legislators just got a bit of good news from the Texas State Comptroller. She is predicting that when the legislators meet for the new session in early 2007, there will be a $4.5 billion surplus in the state budget.

This is quite a change from four years ago, when there was a $9 billion shortfall. How did we get a surplus? It comes mainly from a 12% increase in sales tax collections, and cuts in state services.

Some of the most serious cuts were when legislators threw thousands of children off the state health insurance program, and the Parks & Wildlife Department was seriously underfunded, resulting in deterioration of state parks and the closing of some.

The legislators probably should fix both of these problems before they find new ways to blow the surplus. Two other things that need to be looked at are school funding [yes, the new funding passed in the last legislature will probably prove to be inadequate], and salaries of state employees. When compared to other states, Texas state employee salaries rank very low.

So, there is really not a surplus if Texas takes care of the problems created by legislators in the past. I wouldn't count on a lot of new program spending, if the Texas Legislature takes care of these problems first, and these four areas seriously need to be addressed.

The legislators are being given an opportunity to correct past mistakes. Let's hope they do so.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Supreme Court To Hear 'Greenhouse Gas' Case

An important case involving global warming will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court today. It is Massachusetts v. EPA. Thirteen enviornmental groups, along with twelve states, three cities and American Somoa, have sued the Enviornmental Protection Agency, claiming it should be controlling the output of greenhouse gases in this country.

The EPA claims it does not have the authority to do so, and it is backed by 10 states [including Texas], four vehicle trade associations, and two coalitions of power companies.

The case is not concerning whether greenhouse gases are contributing to global warming or not. Even Bush admits that it does, although he refuses to do anything about it. No, this case regards the definition of a pollutant.

Enviornmental groups claim that the greenhouse gases being pumped into our air are pollutants that are destroying our enviornment. The EPA claims that since greenhouse gases occur naturally in the enviornment to some extent, they do not fit the definition of a pollutant.

The Clean Air Act mandates that the EPA control pollutants. If the greenhouse gases are pollutants, then the EPA must take action to control their production. If they are not pollutants, then the EPA doesn't have the authority to control their production. That is the crux of the whole matter.

The Supreme Court is expected to render its decision by the middle of next year. I hope the court will decide in favor of protecting our enviornment. How can the production of gases that harm the enviornment not be considered pollution?

Americans Flocking To The Internet

It looks like America's love affair with the Internet is still growing. The University of Southern California is releasing the results of a new survey today, rearding the use of the Internet.

In 2000, 67% of Americans were online and they spent an average of 9.4 hours surfing the web each week. In this recent survey, USC found there are now 78% of Americans online, and they are on the Internet an average of 14 hours a week. This means there are about 234,000,000 Internet users in the United States [out of a population of slightly more than 300,000,000 people]. Of the 22% not currently going online, 60% said they had no plans to go online within the next year.

Of course, young people are the group with the highest percentage of users. An astounding 99% of those under the age of 18 are online. In contrast, only 38% of those over the age of 66 are Internet users.

Americans are fairly evenly divided in how they are connecting to the Internet:

* 37% connect thru dial-up accounts

* 26% connect through high-speed cable modems

* 24% connect through DSL modems

* 11% connect through mobile devices at least part of the time

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. You know, if this keeps up, this Internet thing might actually become popular!

More indicators Of A Poor Economy

While Bush and his cronies tout our "strong" economy, there is now more evidence that this is just not true. Three leading economic indicators have all shown a drop this month, leading many to believe our economic growth is slowing.

The median price of a home in this country has dropped to $221,000. This is 3.5% lower than this time last year, and even Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke believes the housing slump could get even worse.

The second indicator is consumer confidence. Consumer confidence in the economy in October was 105.1, and economists expected it to rise to 106.0 in November. Instead, it dropped to 102.9. This is the lowest number since August, when consumer confidence fell to 100.2

The third indicator is durable goods [or big-ticket manufactured items]. Durable goods orders fell by 8.3%. This is the largest drop in six years.

Of course, the rich are still doing well in this economy. They're making more than ever before. But it is at the expense of the rest of us.

When Bush put through his tax cuts, he claimed it would be good for all Americans. It hasn't worked out that way. While the rich are recording record profits and income, the buying power of the middle and working classes is less with each passing day.

Raising the minimum wage would be a good start, but the Bush tax cuts also need to be repealed. It is time for the rich to shoulder their share of the burden.

Judge Says Paper Money Violates The Law

According to CNN, a federal judge in New York has ruled that the Treasury Department is breaking the law with the paper money it issues in the United States. The Rehabilitation Act guarantees "meaningful access", but since the paper money used by the United States has the same size and feel regardless of the denomination, "meaningful access" has been denied to blind and visually-impaired people.

Judge James Robertson wrote in his ruling, "It can no longer be successfully argued that a blind person has 'meaningful access' to currency if she cannot accurately identify paper money without assistance."

Judge Robertson ordered the Treasury Department to devise a method for blind people to tell the different bills apart, and has given them 30 days to begin working on the solution. The judge does not believe this will pose an undue burden for the government.

The suit was brought against the Treasury Department by the American Council of the Blind, and the ACB has offered several different solutions, including embossing, punching holes in the bills, or making the different denominations different sizes.

I believe the judge is absolutely right in his decision. There is no credible reason for this inequity to exist. To not be able to tell a one-dollar bill from a twenty or a hundred puts the blind at a serious disadvantage in our society.

The solutions are simple, and the government should choose one and end the discrimination. Frankly, I'm surprised it took the courts this long to see what is obvious to many.

But the Bush administration is a stranger to obvious truths, and I expect they will appeal the decision rather than solve the problem, no matter how simple the solution would be.

I hope the higher courts have as much common sense as Judge Robertson.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Baby Boomers Are A Force In Music Sales

For quite a while now the entertainment industry has aimed its products at the under-35 demographic. The theory is that this is the group with the disposable income, so TV, movies and the music industry do everything they can to target this group.

I suspect this idea comes from the time when the Baby Boomers [those born between 1945 and 1960] were young and made up a large part of the U.S. population. The Boomers still make up a large part of the population, but they have aged and are no longer a part of the targeted demographic.

The music industry is starting to learn that by tending to ignore the older Americans, they may be missing out on a monetary bonanza. The Boomers have not stopped buying and appreciating music just because they got older.

Recording Industry Association of America's latest figures show the Baby Boomers are still a powerful force in music industry sales. In fact, they may be the most powerful force. People over 45 years old accounted for 25% of all music sales last year. This is over twice the sales of any other age group. Even more remarkable, they accounted for 24% of all online music sales [ I guess they're more computer savvy than generally given credit for].

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which has always considered the music industry to be youth-driven. The Baby Boomers have as much, if not more, disposable income as the youth have, and they're willing to spend it on entertainment.

The music industry is starting to realize its mistake. Maybe it's time for the TV and movie industries to take stock of what they're doing. They may be missing out on this same monetary bonanza by ignoring the Baby Boomers.

Kerry Is Not Well-Liked By The Public

Senator John Kerry has been considering here lately that he might make another run for president. If recent polling figures are correct, he should probably forget about being president, and just make the best of his Senate position.

The Quinnipiac University Polling Institute recently conducted a poll of 1,623 registered voters. They asked these voters to rate a group of politicians on a scale of 0 to 100. The higher the number, the more the candidate is liked by the voters.

The bad news for Kerry is that he finished dead last in the poll. That means he is the least likeable of all the politicians rated, including George Bush. Peter Brown, assistant director of the Q.U. Polling Institute, said, "This is bad bad news for Kerry. Americans know who he is, and have pretty much decided they don't like him."

Here are the results of the Quinnipiac University polling:

Rudolph Giuliani..........64.2
Barack Obama..........58.8
John McCain..........57.7
Condoleezza Rice..........56.1
Bill Clinton..........55.8
Joe Lieberman..........52.7
Michael Bloomberg..........51.1
John Edwards..........49.9
Hillary Clinton..........49.0
Bill Richardson..........47.7
Joe Biden..........47.0
Mitt Romney..........45.9
Al Gore..........44.9
George Bush..........43.8
Evan Bayh..........43.3
Newt Gingrich..........42.0
Bill Frist..........41.5
John Kerry..........39.6

Ethics Commission Says Disclosure Not Required

A couple of months ago, State Representative Lon Burnam [D-Ft. Worth] asked the Texas Ethics Commission for a ruling on whether state officials must disclose the dollar amount of checks they receive as gifts. To anyone opposed to government corruption, the answer would seem to be obvious -- of course the amount of a gift should be reported. Otherwise, our state officials could be bought with huge gifts that could legally be kept secret.

This all started when former State Rep. Bill Ceverha, currently a lobbyist and board member of the State Employee Retirement System, received two checks from Republican fund-raiser Bob Perry [who helped fund the "swift boat" ads against Kerry in 2004]. Ceverha reported receiving the checks on the required disclosure form, but did not disclose the amount of the checks [the two checks were for $50,000 each].

In one of the most gutless political decisions I have ever seen, the Texas Ethics Commission announced its ruling yesterday. They ruled that a Texas state employee can keep the amount of gifts he receives a secret.

Rep. Burnam was quick to respond to the ruling. He said, "What the commission did was absurd. There is no way for the public to have any understanding of what sort of influence-peddling might be going on in state government."

Since the Texas Ethics Commission refuses to do its job, it now falls to the Texas Legislature to do it for them. Several bills have been put on the docket for the upcoming legislative session, that would require the dollar amount of all gifts to be disclosed.

Perhaps this mess will be fixed in the legislature. At least House Speaker Tom Craddick [R-Midland] is on board. He said, "I believe that any monetary gifts to public officials should be fully disclosed, including the dollar amount of the gift. Texas has some of the strongest disclosure laws in the country. However, it appears that the ethics law passed back in 1991 has an unfortunate loophole that has just been discovered. I am happy to hear that various legislators have filed legislation to fix this loophole."

Perhaps the legislature will have more common sense and political courage than the Texas Ethics Commission. We'll just have to wait and see.

Retail Sales Up -- Except For Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart said a few days ago that they thought their sales would be flat through this year's holiday season. But that seems to have been an optimistic projection. In last weekend's kickoff to the holiday retail season, Wal-Mart's sales were actually 0.1% below last year's same-store sales.

This caused a 158 point tumble on Wall Street, as investers feared that overall holiday sales in America might might not be as good as was expected. Retailers had expected a 5% rise in holiday sales this year.

But Wal-Mart might not be a good indicator of how sales will go this year, as it has been in the past. Malls and other retailers actually had a good weekend, posting a robust 6% increase in sales.

Just because Wal-Mart is showing a drop in sales, doesn't mean that all retailer's sales figures will be down. Maybe people are starting to tire of Wal-Mart's employee abuses and shoddy merchandise. Maybe people are starting to realize that you really do get what you pay for, and they're willing to pay for service and quality.

We'll find out in the next few weeks.

Rep. Emanuel Pushes Dems For Lobbying Reform

According to Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, Representative Rahm Emanuel [D-Illinois] has sent a memo to his fellow House Democrats, asking them to pass "real lobbying and ethics reform". Emanuel believes that ethics reform is the key to Democrats keeping control of Congress.

In the memo Emanuel said, "Failure to deliver on this promise would be devastating to our standing with the public and certainly jeopardize some of our marginal seats."

I have been critical of Rep. Emanuel in the past [preferring Dean's '50-state strategy'], but he is absolutely right about the neccessity for ethics and lobbying reform. If the Democrats fail to pass meaningful reform, they will find themselves in the minority again very soon.

In the last election, the American people voted against two things -- the war in Iraq and the corruption in Congress. People did not vote FOR Democrats as much as they voted AGAINST corruption and war. The Democrats were the beneficiaries of an anti-Republican corruption vote. Now the ball is in their court.

I have heard some Democrats say that radical ethics reform is not really needed now that the "corrupt Republicans" are out of power. This kind of thinking is a sure way to lose in 2008.

The people are not just disgusted with corruption among Republicans. They are disgusted with corruption in general, no matter who the culprit is or what party he belongs to.

Voters have given Democrats the opportunity to clean up politics, but they will not wait for long. If the Democrats will not do it, voters may vote for "repentent Republicans" in 2008. However, if Democrats do clean up the corruption in Washington, they could find themselves remaining the majority party.

The last election was not a lovefest for Democrats -- it was a demand for clean government. Rep. Emanuel is right. I hope his fellow Democrats are listening.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Should we really be collecting DNA from yet-to-be-victims?

It seems that there is a rising popularity in parents collecting their children's DNA. I'm a bit skeptical about this. Especially the reasoning, News reports about child abductions and television shows such as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" are helping drive the interest in keeeping genetic records that could be used to identify remains, hair or blood.

Okay, I won't argue that the media loves to focus on kidnappings (especially if the victims are pretty blondes), and I myself am a big fan of CSI. But c'mon. Are we going to let a media obsession and a TV show affect how we live our daily lives to this degree? What are people telling their children as they swab the insides of their mouths? "Don't worry, honey, this is only in case a bad man takes you from us. You know, just in case." That would have scared the hell out of me as a child! "But, Daddy! Are bad men after me? Can I sleep with you tonight?"

Of course, a couple of paragraphs down is this little gem, Missing kids found murdered or those who are never heard from make up only about 2 percent of the 850,000 kids who are reported missing every year, he said. Most children are found within several days or come home on their own., ultimatley making the DNA samples useless in all but 2% of the cases. And even in those cases, will hair from their brushes not do just fine? Or saliva from any letters they have closed? Or, hell, what about that spoon they used this morning eating cereal? Take one step into my home and you'll find more samples of my DNA than you'll know what to do with!

Of course, there is money to be made. The kits are distributed by private companies, police stations, orthodontists and others. Most cost from $5 to $60, Nance said, but some are provided for free. (bold mine). Yes, you got that right. We have found yet another way to sell the impression of safety, or better yet, preparedness.

Joe Polski, chief operations officer for the International Association for Identification, said he would not use the kits but he would not discourage them. "The chances are so slim that it's questionable in my mind if it's worth the work to have it," he said. "Parents would be far better off to pay attention to what their kids are doing, who they are hanging around with."

See now, this guy is making some sense to me. Kidnappings, compared with the overall population, are a pretty rare happening. A mass collection of children's DNA will largely have no use to law enforcement. Granted, I'm sure that there will be cases here and there that will find use for it, but like I said above, why can't the police just collect it when it is needed, ya know, from the victim's home, which should be chock full of samples. Why waste the time, money, and energy on something that can be easily done on a case-by-case need by the right people at the right time?

Now, this statement really blew my mind, "It allows law enforcement to use the DNA for tracking where the child has been." How, pray tell, is DNA going to be used for tracking? Without an eye witness seeing the kidnapped victim, how will law enforcement know where to take examples for DNA testing? If, say, my neighbor's kid is kidnapped, are the police going to wipe down every surface in the city in hopes that they can find matching samples to track where the child is being taken? That can be very expensive and time comsuming, especially as there is no guarantee that it will actually help in finding the victim.

I am a big fan of using DNA for solving crimes of any type, but I don't see how collecting the DNA of thousands of yet-to-be-victims is going to help. When I was a child (not so long ago), it was quite popular to take your kids to be fingerprinted for this same reason. My mom wasted no time in adding my fingerprints to that collection. Now there is a card somewhere with a picture that no longer looks anything like me and my fingerprints that, as an adult, I'd rather not be out there. I'd prefer to keep my prints to myself until the law decides that I no longer have that choice (due to my committing a crime), but my mother, scared that something bad might happen to me, took that choice away from me before it was my choice to have.

I would also prefer to keep my DNA to myself until I lose that right, and luckily my mom did not have the option of giving it out to some database. I have the feeling that some of these kids will feel the same way when they grow up, but it will already be too late, because their parents took that choice from them in the name of preparedness.

How America Treats Its Poorest Citizens

"As University of Southern Illinois researcher Alison Crane has documented, African-Americans, Hispanics, native Americans, Asians and other minorities such as migrant workers and the working poor disproportionately suffer harmful health and safety effects as a result of their exposure to various environmental hazards located near their communities. These contamination sources include toxic municipal landfills, waste incinerators, industrial dumps, chemical plants and uranium mines.

Today, in the U.S., three out of five black and Hispanic Americans live in communities with one or more toxic waste sites, and more than 15 million African-Americans, more than 8 million Hispanics and about 50 per cent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and native Americans are living in communities with one or more abandoned or unsecured toxic waste sites."

The above paragraphs, taken from a Toronto Star article, presents an ugly picture of how America treats its poorest citizens. But like it or not, the picture is a true one.

Most of us know about the poverty wages. The current wage for the poor is less than $6.00 an hour, and even if the minimum wage was raised to $7.50 an hour, as has been recently discussed, this would still leave a family of four below the government-defined poverty level.

Most of us also know about the lack of health insurance. The poor don't have access to regular health care from a doctor of their choice. They're lucky if they can squeeze into a crowded community hospital emergency room for an already out-of-control medical condition, that could have easily been handled earlier by some simple preventative care.

We also force the poor to live in substandard conditions in high crime areas, and then treat them as criminals because they live in that area. A few years ago here in Fort Worth, HUD wanted to scatter its new housing units across the city in an effort to help break the cycle of poverty. But the middle-class was incensed and quickly killed the idea. In their minds, the poor were nothing but property-abusing criminals, when the truth is that most are decent hard-working folks.

The final insult is to put our enviornmentally-suspect industries in the areas where our poorest citizens live. The above-quoted article tells of a medical waste incinerator placed in one of the poorest areas of New York after being denied a permit to operate in Manhattan. The incinerator is now causing health problems for the poor children.

But this kind of thing is not limited to New York. It happens all across our country. A plant that is considered too dangerous to put in a middle-class area, is perfectly OK for placement in a poor area. After all, they don't have the political power to stop it from happening.

It is to our shame that a nation as rich as ours has a significant poverty problem. But to compound that shame by placing enviornmentally-suspect businesses in poverty-stricken areas is criminal [and should be treated that way]. If a business is too dangerous for a middle-class area, then it is also too dangerous for a poor area.

We need to correct these problems, and see that it doesn't happen again.

U.S. Women Lag Behind In Govt. Representation

Linda Feldmann of the Christian Science Monitor details the gains American women made in the 2006 elections. She notes the following victories for women:

* For the first time, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives will be a woman.
* Congress will have its largest group of women ever -- 16 Senators and at least 71 Representatives.
* Women hold nine governorships, tying the record set in 2004.
* For the first time, the National Governors Association will be chaired by a woman.
* A record number of women [1,735] were elected to state legislatures.

Reading the above statements, you might be given the impression that women are doing really well these days in their quest for government representation. But that would not really be true.

In a country where women are the majority, their representation in Congress is a paltry percentage of the total. That sounds to me like there's still a long way to go.

Dottie Lynch of CBS News agrees saying, "By my count, if the goal of parity is to be achieved at the current 'historic' rate, the number of men and women will be equal in the Senate in 2040 and in the House in 2066. And that's the rosy view; historic years don't happen that often."

In other words, if women continue to make historic gains in every election, they can expect parity in another 60 years. Now I know some of you are saying that even though parity has not yet been achieved, the United States is still doing better than most countries.

Again, that would be wrong. Below are some numbers you need to see. Using data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the world's countries were ranked by the percentage of women in their parliament or legislative body.

1. Rwanda..........48.8%
2. Sweden..........47.3%
3. Costa Rica..........38.6%
4. Finland..........38.0%
5. Norway..........37.9%
6. Denmark..........36.9%
7. Netherlands..........36.7%
8. Cuba..........36.0%
8. Spain..........36.0%
9. Argentina..........35.0%
10. Mozambique..........34.8%
11. Belgium..........34.7%
12. Austria..........33.9%
13. Iceland..........33.3%
14. South Africa..........32.8%
15. New Zealand..........32.2%

Obviously, the United States did not rank in the top 15. Still feeling good about our "progress"? Let's look at some other countries and see just where the U.S. fits in the rankings.

16. Germany..........31.8%
20. Peru..........29.2%
24. Uganda..........27.6%
25. Afghanistan..........27.3%
25. Vietnam..........27.3%
28. Iraq..........25.5%
31. Switzerland..........25.0%
32. Australia..........24.7%
39. Ethiopia..........21.9%
42. Pakistan..........21.3%
42. Portugal..........21.3%
45. Canada..........20.8%
48. China..........20.3%
49. North Korea..........20.1%
51. Dominican Republic..........19.7%
51. United Kingdom..........19.7%
57. Venezuela..........18.0%
59. Italy..........17.3%
67. United States..........15.2%
73. Israel..........14.2%
76. South Korea..........13.4%
77. Ireland..........13.3%
83. France..........12.2%
95. Russia..........9.8%
96. Japan..........9.4%
104. India..........8.3%
134. Saudi Arabia..........0.0%

Even though the U.S. finished with a ranking of 67th, because of the numerous ties, 80 countries actually finished ahead of the United States. Are you as embarrassed as I am? It is unacceptable that women are better represented in 80 other countries, and 15.2% is a pathetic percentage.

These figures are as of September 30 of this year. Due to the November elections, the U.S. percentage has gone up to 16.2 -- still a pathetic figure. Now there are only 74 countries ranked ahead of us. Some will take solace in that several of our allies [Japan, Ireland, France, Russia, Saudi Arabia] had an even worse percentage than we did. But that's just a sad fact -- not an argument in our favor.

Can we really claim to have fair representation when over half our population only has 16% representation in Congress? American women deserve better.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Opposition Forming Against Clean Wind Energy

Texas is the largest producer of greenhouse gases in the nation. If Texas was a country, it would be the seventh largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world. To make the situation even worse, TXU and other electric producers are trying to get approval to build 17 new coal-burning power plants in Texas.

These facts have combined to convince most Texans that new, renewable and cleaner ways to produce electricity must be found before we poison our state and planet beyond repair. Clean energy became a primary issue in the last governor's race -- so much so that all four major candidates wound up supporting the search for clean and renewable ways to produce electricity.

One of the ways to do this is with wind energy. Texas currently produces about 2600 megawatts of electricity using wind energy. One megawatt is enough to provide power for around 700 homes. Texas is striving to have 5880 megawatts of wind-powered electricity by 2009, and another 5000 megawatts by 2015.

Wind energy is not going to replace all the other sources of power, but it can help the state keep to a minimum the number of polluting power plants using coal. This would be helpful not only in reducing the production of greenhouse gases, but it would be beneficial to the respiratory health of all Texans.

However, it looks like not everyone is convinced of the need for wind energy in Texas. A Houston attorney has now filed two civil suits opposing the building of new wind energy sites -- one in the Abilene area and another in Cooke county just north of the DFW metroplex.

The attorney said, "It used to be they put up wind farms in areas where very few people lived. The only folks affected out in far West Texas were the people putting them on their own property. Now, as they need other places to put them, they've started to move into more populated areas, and they're getting a very different reaction."

It seems that these opponents think the wind farms mar the landscape and could devalue the surrounding property. This is a prime example of "not in my backyard" thinking. These people are perfectly willing to use the electricity generated -- they just don't want the wind-generating towers near their property.

This makes me wonder, would these wind power opponents prefer a pollution-belching coal-burning power plant in their area? Or do they just want ANYTHING that is built to be in someone else's neighborhood?

These people are not wanting to keep the wind towers off their own land. To do that they can just say no to those wanting to build a tower there. No, they want to tell others what they can and cannot do with their own land, even though a single wind tower can produce as much as $10,000 a year in income for the land owner.

We'll have to keep an eye on these two lawsuits. There will not only be property rights decisions made, but they could directly affect the quality of our air in Texas in the future.

Only 25% Of U.S. Congress Are Veterans

"Only about 10 percent of the members elected to Congress for the first time this year are military veterans, according to a survey by the Military Officers Association of America. In all, only about one in four members of the new Congress will have served in the military -- down from half in 1991 and three-quarters a decade earlier."

"The number of veterans in the House peaked in 1977-78, when about 80 percent of the members had military experience. The peak in the Senate was in 1983-84, when 75 percent were veterans."

The above quotes were taken from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an article written by Bob Dart of the Cox Washington Bureau.

I have often wondered how our Congress could go along with Bush in invading Iraq on the flimsiest of excuses.

How they could continue that support as our effort there began to go downhill.

How they could continue to say "stay the course" as thousands of civilians died, and the death count for our own soldiers neared the 3,000 mark [most of them after Bush had declared "mission accomplished"].

Now the Democrats seem to have jumped on board the "continue the war" train, even as the public is jumping off in ever greater numbers. They talk about changing course in Iraq, but ignore the only change that makes sense -- an immediate and complete withdrawal.

The American people were not asked to share in the sacrifices of Bush's unnecessary war, but are finally opening their eyes to the truth anyway. It is time for Congress to do the same.

The numbers quoted above may have something to do with why we are continuing this hopeless cause. I suspect that it is easier to keep our soldiers in harm's way if you have never been there yourself. I suspect that you cannot really understand the terror, loss and heartache suffered not only by our soldiers, but also their families, if you have never had to share in that terror, loss and heartache.

Now I don't believe we should make military service a prerequisite to serving in Congress. But if we are going to elect a Congress that has few veterans, then we must be more vigilant as citizens in our oversight of that Congress.

War should never be used to try and spread our own beliefs. It should only be used to defend ourselves, and then only as a last resort.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Rumsfeld Authorized Abuse Of Prisoners In Iraq

The truth is finally starting to come out regarding the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. We now learn that the abuses were personally authorized by Donald Rumsfeld.

According to former Army Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of Abu Ghraib prison when the abuses were discovered, Donald Rumsfeld had authorized the civilian contractors working there to use abusive techniques. General Karpinski said she had seen Rumsfeld's signature on documents instructing the contractors to use harsh interrogation methods.

General Karpinski said, "The handwritten signature was above his printed name and in the same handwriting in the margin was written: 'Make sure this is accomplished.' The methods consisted of making prisoners stand for long periods, sleep deprivation...playing music at full volume, having to sit in uncomfortably...Rumsfeld authorized these specific techniques."

General Karpinski said Rumsfeld also violated the Geneva Convention rules by ordering certain prisoners to not be registered [to be held in secret]. She said, "We received a message from the Pentagon, from the Defense Secretary, ordering us to hold the prisoner without registering him. I now know this happened on various occasions." General Karpinski said she is ready to testify against Rumsfeld in any court proceedings.

The rules of the Geneva Convention are clear. They say prisoners of war should suffer "no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion...Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind."

It is now clear that Donald Rumsfeld is a war criminal. Those may seem like harsh words, but they are true. Sadly, these techniques were not only unnecessary, but also probably ineffective. Most interrogation experts agree that torture is a poor way to get at the truth. A tortured man may tell you what you want to hear, but it likely has little relation to the truth.

Even worse, Rumsfeld has now exposed our own soldiers to abuse and torture by other countries. The world now knows that the United States is not only willing to violate the Geneva Convention, but has already done it. Why would they abide by the rules when they know that we will not?

Only one question remains. Did Rumsfeld act on his own, or did he have authorization from his boss, President Bush? I personally think history will show that the latter is true.

Iraq Continues To Get Worse For Everyone

The civil war in Iraq rages on despite the fact that George Bush says it doesn't exist. October set a new record for Iraqi civilian deaths, and it looks like November may well top that record.

Yesterday, 215 people were killed in a string of car bomb attacks. This follows the deaths of several hundred other Iraqis in the last few days. Complicating matters further, it looks like the leading Shiite party has lost faith in the current government.

The Shiite's are now saying that if Prime Minister al-Maliki meets with President Bush, as he is scheduled to do in a few days, they will withdraw their support from the current government. That government has already lost what little Sunni support it had. If the Shiites withdraw their support, the Iraqi government will be left with only the United States to support it.

The third Iraqi faction, the Kurds, are far too interested in forming their own country in the north, to worry much about the rest of Iraq. If both the Sunnis and the Shiites abandon the government, they will not be far behind.

I'm not sure the current government ever had much support to begin with. All three factions supported the government only as much as they could use it to further their own agendas. None plan for that government to last one day past the American occupation.

In the middle of this growing mess are our own soldiers. There are not enough of them to stop the growing civil war, or even to control the rising level of violence. Their hands are full just trying to protect themselves.

There is talk of sending another 20,000 of our troops to Iraq -- a pathetic gesture. The only thing this would accomplish is to put 20,000 more Americans in the line of fire. It would take at least 10 times that number to re-establish any kind of control over the situation, and Bush doesn't have the political support or the political courage to do that.

Against this backdrop of growing violence in the country and diminishing support for the Iraqi government, the U.S. is left with only two choices. We can continue to have our soldiers killed while accomplishing nothing, or we can bring them back home.

The current political "wisdom" [or lack thereof] of most of our politicians on both sides of the aisle is that we cannot "cut and run", or Iraq would disintegrate into a full civil war. Both Republicans and Democrats need to take their blinders off. The civil war is in full swing, and will continue whether our troops are there or not.

Surely we have learned by now that we cannot impose our will on Iraq. The Iraqis are in the process of determining their own future. Will it be bloody? Yes. Civil wars always are.

It is time to bring our soldiers home and let the Iraqis determine their own future. We cannot stop them. We can only get more soldiers killed trying to salvage Bush's wounded pride. Call it "cut and run" or whatever you want. It's still the right thing to do.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thankful To Be Alive

I didn't get any posting done on this blog yesterday, because it was a pretty busy day for me. My mother is now in her upper eighties, so my son and I decided to take on the job of preparing this years Thanksgiving feast. We had the oven and all stove burners going starting at six in the morning.

This was the first Thanksgiving that we had cooked the meal, and I have to admit, it was a much bigger job than I had imagined. I truly admire those of you who take on this task every year. But in the end, it turned out pretty well. I can't say it was as good as "mom's cooking", but it was close and there were no complaints.

But preparing the food, watching my beloved Cowboys play, and taking a much-needed nap, meant that I had no time to sit in front of the computer yesterday. However, I still feel the need to list some things I am thankful for. So please bear with me while I extend my period of "thanksgiving" for one more day.

As some of you know, I was shot in the stomach last year by a car-jacker and left to die. The only reason I am alive today is because of some special people and organizations. Today, I repay a debt and give these people the thanks they so richly deserve.

I am thankful for the member of Citizens on Patrol who happened to be patrolling across the park when he saw me get shot. He called 911 and got the ambulance and police on their way. Then he stayed with me until they arrived. If not for his actions, I doubt I would be alive today. He also made a great witness at the criminal's trial.

I am thankful for the EMT's who arrived very quickly with their ambulance. They were kind, efficient, and thoroughly competent.

I am thankful for the excellent surgeon and nurses at Harris Methodist Hospital. I cannot say enough good things about their medical expertise and courteous treatment of this stranger.

I am thankful for the competence and professionalism of the Fort Worth Police Department. They arrived even faster than the ambulance and quickly got the information they needed. Then they went out and apprehended the criminal that same day.

I am thankful for the Tarrant County District Attorney's office, especially prosecutors Nichols and Tourje. They were kind to me, totally professional, and did a great job at the trial.

I am thankful for District Judge Gallagher for conducting a fair and impartial trial. Then when the criminal was convicted, sentenced him to 75 years in prison.

I am thankful for the wonderful co-workers at my place of employment. Without complaining, they pitched in and did my work until I was able to return.

I am thankful for my family who closed ranks and provided the support I needed to heal both physically and psychologically.

It is now a year later and I have completely healed. The process was made much easier by the people listed above. I will always be appreciative of their efforts.

There is one more group that I am thankful for -- the wonderful readers of this blog. You guys have made my second chance at life a much richer and more rewarding experience. I hope that all of you also have much to be thankful for.

Chavez Likely To Be Re-Elected In Venezuela

Recent polls show that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is likely to easily win his bid for a third term in the December 3rd elections. Here are the numbers from the latest AP-Ipsos poll:

Hugo Chavez..........59%
Manuel Rosales..........27%
Undecided..........13%

Even thought the American government has tried to undermine Chavez, he still enjoys widespread support in the country. According to the poll, the race is divided along economic/class lines. The rich overwhelmingly support Rosales. The middle class in pretty evenly divided. And the poor overwhelmingly support Chavez.

Here are some other interesting items from the same poll:

61% say Venezuela is moving in the right direction.
63% approve of Chavez's administration.
59% approve of Chavez's handling of international relations.
63% have a negative view of George Bush.
55% have a negative view of the United States.
79% consider Venezuela's political system to be democratic.

Perhaps most interesting is how the people split on what kind of economic system they prefer -- capitalist or socialist. The poll showed:

37% favored a socialist system.
22% favored a capitalist system.
33% favored a mixture of the two systems.

Many in the Bush administration have tried to portray Chavez as a dictator. But the truth is that Chavez is an elected leader of his country. In fact, he was elected and re-elected by far wider margins than George Bush, and it looks like that is going to happen again.

With these kind of numbers, it looks like Chavez is going to be around for a while. Maybe it is time for the U.S. government to stop treating Chavez as an enemy, and see if we can find some common ground on which to rebuild our relationship with Venezuela.

We have enough enemies overseas, without creating new ones in our own hemisphere.

Rancher Found Liable For Threatening Family

In October of 2004, Ronald Morales, his father Arturo, and his young daughters were hunting in southern Arizona. They happened to cross some state-owned land leased to a local rancher, and found themselves looking down the barrel of an AR-15 assault rifle. They said the rancher not only pointed the rifle at them, but also threatened them.

It seems that this particular rancher is an anti-immigrant activist, who claims to have captured as many as 10,000 illegal immigrants in the last 10 years. I guess he thought he was about to add to that total. But the Morales family were all United States citizens, and Morales was a Navy veteran. They claimed they were legally crossing the land owned by the state.

It is illegal to point a gun at someone and threaten them, except in the case of self-defense. But this was not a case of self-defense. It was a situation where an anti-immigrant activist was out hunting for illegal immigrants crossing the border. When he found the Morales family, he jumped to the wrong conclusion. He saw they were Hispanic, so he thought they must be illegal.

The Morales family was justifiably upset over the incident, and asked local authorities to file criminal charges against the rancher. They were just told they could not get a conviction in that area.

But the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Border Action Network saw the incident differently. They believed the rancher was a vigilante who abused the immigrants he detained. They filed a civil suit accusing the rancher of assault, false imprisonment, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

On Wednesday, a jury found the rancher liable on all counts, and ordered him to pay the family $98,000. Morales said, "We came to court and spoke the truth, and the jury heard that truth. Hopefully this sends a message that you can't point a gun at little kids -- or anybody for that matter -- and then threaten to shoot them."

Recently, in this country politicians have blown our immigrant situation out-of-proportion so they can get elected. They have succeeded in frightening many Americans. The result has been far too many incidents like this one, in which American citizens are abused simply because they are Hispanic.

We need to step back and take another look at our history and geography. Hispanics inhabitated our border states long before the Anglos moved in and took over. The border states have a long and valued tradition of a mixed culture. Here in Texas, Hispanics joined Anglos in the War for Texas Independence, and many were looked at as heroes. You just have to look at the names of many of our cities and counties to see this.

For our fellow citizens to now be abused, and treated as outsiders just because they're Hispanic is wrong. It must stop!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

New State Plan To Clean The Air In DFW Area

The Dallas-Fort Worth area still does not meet federal pollution guidelines. This year, the area had 31 ozone-alert days. While this is a small decrease over last year, there is still a long way to go before meeting the federal standards by 2010 as mandated. Now the State has proposed a new plan to clean the air.

In the past, the state plans have generally ignored industrial pollution, while punishing drivers in the area. It was expected that the new plan would be more of the same. There had even been talk of banning the use of drive-thru windows on bad ozone days to cut down on the pollution created by idling cars. But to my surprise, this time the plan is different.

The new plan hopes to cut auto pollution by encouraging more car-pooling and significantly increasing access to commuter light rail. It is hoped that measures such as these, in addition to cleaner fuels and cars mandated by the federal government, will get the job done.

But the real surprise of the plan is the demand that local smoke-stack industries [including the cement kilns that have been protected by Smokey Joe Barton] reduce their pollution by 33%. Some enviornmental groups have expressed disappointment that these industries were not asked to cut their pollution even more. I'm just glad that they're finally being asked to do something.

But the plan is not final. It must be submitted to the Texas Commission on Enviornmental Quality for approval, and then go to a 45-day period where the public and industry can comment. It must be submitted to the U.S. Enviornmental Protection Agency by June 15th.

The real question to me is whether the cuts in industrial pollution will survive and become part of the plan submitted to the EPA. After all, we know that our governor is a friend to industrial polluters. Just look at the 11 new coal-burning power plants he is trying to get approved for the area. These plants are not even required to use the latest and cleanest technology.

Area drivers are already paying ever rising costs to keep their autos running cleaner and more efficiently. Now it is time for industry to step up and do its part.

A Plea For Help For A Brave Young Lady


When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would not ask my readers for money. Forgive me, but I'm now going to break that promise. Not for myself -- for the young lady in the picture above. Her name is Leola Kinchen, and she needs some help.

Her condition is probably best described by blogger ACG over at Practically Harmless:

This is Leola Kinchen. She has Neurofibromatosis-1, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerves and produces abnormalities in skin and bone tissue. Manifestations of NF1 range from mild to debilitating; Lee's are severely so, and it's only through her own determination and the generous help of her caretaker Susan that she's been able to keep her job in retail (although she's becoming physically unable to do so) and stay clothed and fed.

The NF1, which can be a heartless bitch of a disease, has resulted in a brain tumor that is pressing down on eight of the 15 major nerve branches in Lee's brain and causing blockages and constriction in most of the major blood vessels. Lee needs surgery, and she doesn't have insurance, and the state of Louisiana, in their wisdom, has decided that she isn't eligible for SSI/SDI or Medicaid. The necessary series of life-saving operations will cost in the neighborhood of $200,000, which she simply can't afford. The only remaining charity hospital in Louisiana won't be able to take her until March or April, at which she'd probably be dead.

A.S. Coulter at Mark of the Beast has created a web site to try and help Leola [ or Lee as she is called]. The site is leola.blogspot.com. The site has a PayPal button for anyone who would like to donate online. There is also a "snail mail" address for those who prefer it:

Fund for Leola Kinchen
Bank of St. Francisville
P.O. Drawer 818
St. Francisville, Louisiana
70775

I will be sending a donation when my next paycheck comes [I would never suggest you do anything I am not willing to do]. If you can afford it, I humbly ask that you consider sending a few dollars too. It does not have to be a large donation -- ANY amount will be gratefully received and appreciated.

I promise that 100% of all donations will go to Lee to help with her personal and medical needs. No blogger or anyone else, besides Lee, will ever see a penny of any money donated.

This is an opportunity to give a Thanksgiving/Christmas gift that has real meaning -- the saving of a human life.

Here is how Coulter describes this remarkable young woman:

No picture can appropriately display the huge brass ovaries that this skinny little girl (well, she's 25, she's hardly a "girl," but y'all know what I mean) has, nothing that I can write can even begin to capture the huge heart, the wicked sense of humor, the sass, the kindness, the hardest-working-woman-in-West-Feliciana-Parish, spirit or strength of this young woman. I wish that y'all could all meet her in person, just once. You would leave in amazement, because there isn't a person on this planet who could make her feel embarrassed, or weak, or lesser-than, or anything other than the powerful, smart, sharp, hilarious little hussy that she really is. She has more self-esteem and more flat-out BALLS than any woman I've ever known.

She never even had her own BED until Helen, the assistant manager at Fred's, gave her one. She didn't even have hardly any clothes until Susan took her in. She'd already been fucked out of her SSDI/SSI, Medicare & Medicaid, and food stamps, because of her "part-time" job at Fred's, which won't even provide her with a healthcare plan until next year. If she lives that long.

And this is a girl who has never held her hand out to beg for a FUCKING thing from ANYBODY. This is a girl who's been standing on her own two feet for YEARS, and she sure as hell isn't going to become some "victim" now. I look up to her, because as many things that I have to bitch, whine, and complain about, she humbles me, and makes me realize how good I've really got it. Yeah, there are people in the world who have it a helluva lot harder than I do. There are people in the world who have it worse than Lee does, and she damned well knows it. She's grateful for every single day above ground. And she works her little ass off every single day that she's got.

But her legs are starting to fail her. She isn't allowed to use ladders at work anymore, because Susan is terrified that she'll fall again and have a head injury. The time is tight. We don't have forever to save Lee. This is a matter of WEEKS before she is either completely incapacitated or killed by this brain tumor and what it's done to the veins and arteries and nerve branches in her brain.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Regarding Anti-Immigrant Actions

It looks like Hispanic leaders are not going to take Farmers Branch's new anti-immigrant ordinances lying down. Last week the city council approved measures that makes English its official language, and would punish landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants.

The Azteca Business Development Group is spearheading an effort they call "intelligent buying". They are asking people to shop only at Farmers Branch businesses that support immigrant rights. They even plan to give out stickers that businesses can put in their window to show they support the Hispanic community.

Carlos Quintanilla, president of Azteca and a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens [LULAC], said, "We need to show them our money is important. We're basically saying if you're going to Farmers Branch, buy from businesses that support the Hispanic community and immigrant rights. I think we're going to have a lot of impact. There are a lot of companies that depend on immigrant revenues."

In addition, LULAC, the ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund are all still considering legal action against the racist and probably unconstitutional actions by the city. Farmers Branch may soon regret passing the new ordinances.

***************

It looks like the Pahrump town council in Nevada has lost its mind. They just passed an ordinance making it illegal to display the flag of another country. It is now punishable by a fine of $50 and 30 hours of community service.

The town clerk Paul Willis said, "All of the illegal alien protesters are waving Mexican flags and we just got tired of it. This is the United States, and the Stars and Stripes should fly supreme."

Where do these nuts get these crazy ideas? It may not be very smart to wave a foreign flag these days, or even very patriotic, but it is constitutionally protected free speech. I hope the courts slap this one down quickly.

***************

Sheriffs in a sixteen county area of south Texas have been given millions of dollars in federal money in a program called Operation Linebacker. Governor Perry, who funneled the federal money into this program, and the border sheriffs all say the money will help to fight drug trafficking, violent crime and terrorism.

But the El Paso Times, who obtained Operation Linebacker reports for the last six months from the sixteen counties, says the money is not doing what it was supposed to do. To date, not a single terrorist has been caught, and undocumented immigrants are being arrested seven times as much as violent criminals or drug traffickers.

Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas ACLU, said, "Money the governor is allocating is clearly being misused."

Nuclear Fusion Reacter To Be Built In France

While Texas is mired in a controversy over building old-fashioned polluting coal-burning power plants, the rest of the world is looking to the future. Today, representatives from the European Union, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States are meeting in Paris to sign an agreement to jointly build the world's first nuclear fusion reactor.

Instead of splitting the atom to create energy, as today's nuclear power plants do, the new reactor [dubbed ITER for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor] will fuse atoms to create energy, much the same as our sun does.

The reactor would provide a clean and limitless supply of energy, and would only require a tiny amount of fuel. Scientists say the energy released from a fusion reaction is 10 million times greater than that released from burning coal.

The fusion reactor is to be built in Cadarache, France. The construction will begin in 2007 and is expected to be completed in 2017. It is expected to have a life-span of 40 years.

It will cost 4.6 billion euros. Half of the money will come from the European Union. The rest of the expense is to be paid in equal shares by the other participants.

Scotland Yard Ready To Identify Jack The Ripper



Is this the face of Jack the Ripper? English police believe that it is. Laura Richards, head analyst for Scotland Yard's Violent Crime Command, has reinvestigated the case. Using modern police investigative techniques and profiling acumen, police have created this picture of the 19th century serial killer.

Police believe the modern profile they have created of the killer is the most accurate physical, geographical and psychological picture ever created. They say that if modern police techniques had been available at the time of the killings, the Ripper would have been caught.

The new profile says that Jack the Ripper was:

* 25 to 35 years of age
* between 5' 5" and 5' 7" tall
* had a stocky build
* had a large black moustache
* had close-cropped black hair
* had a pinched face & a square jaw

They also believe they know who Jack the Ripper was, and he will be named in a documentary that will air tonight in Great Britain. The name of the documentary is Jack the Ripper: The First Serial Killer.

Perhaps the best known serial killer of all time, the Ripper killed and mutilated 5 prostitutes in the Whitechapel neighborhood of east London.

Morris Dees Justice Award Goes To Texas Judge

The law firm of Skadden, Arps, Meagher & Flom has joined with the University of Alabama School of Law to create the Morris Dees Justice Award. The award is named after the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Some of you may remember Morris Dees as the lawyer who "broke" the Klan by winning a civil judgement against them. The Klan was forced to give up all the property they owned to pay the judgement. Dees has spent his life fighting for the underprivileged, and against hate groups. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that Morris Dees is one of my heroes.

Now Dees is being honored by naming the award for him. The SPLC says the Morris Dees Justice Award is to be awarded annually to "a lawyer who has devoted his or her career to serving the public interest and pursuing justice, and whose work has brought positive change in the community, state or nation."

This year's Morris Dees Justice Award is being presented to another hero of mine -- Texas Judge William Wayne Justice. Judge Justice has probably done more than any other legal expert to defend the underprivileged and uphold the Constitution here in Texas. The award could not have gone to a more deserving person.

The SPLC says Judge Justice was honored for "his lifelong efforts to protect civil rights and safeguard constitutional rights during more than 30 years as a federal district judge. His notable cases dealt with integration, prisoner's rights, procedural due process, equal access to education, treatment of immigrants, dilution of voting rights and care for the mentally challenged."

Perhaps his most famous cases are:

Ruiz v. Estelle -- This case, which lasted for a year and involved 349 witnesses, completely overhauled the Texas prison system. [1972]

United States v. Texas -- Ordered the Texas Education Agency to desegrate Texas schools, affecting over 1000 schools and 2 million students. [1970]

Plyer v. Doe -- Allowed the children of undocumented immigrants to attend school through the 12th grade. [1982]

Here is a short bio on Judge Justice written by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Born in 1920 in Athens, Texas, Judge Justice graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1942, joined the U.S. Army and served in India during World War II. In 1946, he began practicing law in Athens with his father, who was a voice for the disadvantaged. After serving as city attorney for eight years, Judge Justice was selected by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, sitting in Tyler. Judge Justice took senior status in 1998.

Thank you Judge William Wayne Justice. We deeply appreciate your service to our state and our nation.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Star-Telegram Wins Big At The Katie Awards

It looks like my hometown newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, did pretty well for themselves at the 48th annual Katie Awards. What are the Katie Awards? This is how they are described on their own web site:

The Press Club of Dallas has awarded the coveted KATIE for 48 years to the best and brightest communicators in the Southwest. The annual competition is open to all professional communicators from the states of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arkansas.

The KATIE competition is judged by teams of qualified journalists and professional communicators outside our six-state region.

The Star-Telegram won 14 awards when the Katies were given out last Saturday night, including the award for best major market newspaper. Their sister newspaper, the Spanish-language Diario La Estrella, also won two awards.

Congratulations guys! This is exactly why you are my first read every morning. I have been critical of the Star-Telegram at times in the past, but I do believe you are the best newspaper in our 6-state region. Keep up the great work!

Here is a list of the awards won by the Star-Telegram:

* Best major market newspaper

* Best business feature story [Barry Shlachter]

* Best special section

* Best headline portfolio [Dan Purschwitz]

* Best reporting portfolio [Leila Fadel]

* Legacy Award for series on Tarrant County Jail conditions

* Best newspaper feature page layout [Michael Currie]

* Best newspaper graphics [W. Matt Pinkney, Steve Wilson]

* Best illustration portfolio for newspaper or wire service [Clif Bosler]

* Best illustration portfolio for newspaper or wire service [Mark Hoffer]

* Best feature photo [Ross Hailey]

* Best general photo [Tom Pennington]

* Best spot news photo [Khampha Bouaphanh]

* Best visual content, news web site