A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Friday, August 31, 2007

Justice Department Investigating Gonzales


It took them long enough, but it looks like the Justice Department is finally going to investigate Alberto Gonzales. Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote Senator Leahy a letter, telling him that they are going to look into whether Gonzales lied in his testimony to Congress. Senator Leahy had requested the investigation.

Fine said in his letter to Leahy, "You identified five issues and asked that we investigate whether the statements made by the attorney general were intentionally false, misleading, or inappropriate. The OIG has ongoing investigations that relate to most of the subjects addressed by the attorney general's testimony that you identified."

I'm not going to get too excited about this though. The department is dragging out the investigation on the prosecutor firings, and I expect they'll probably do the same with this one. It's pretty obvious to anyone with ears that Gonzales lied to Congress, but Bush's Justice Department won't want to embarrass him or the Republicans before the upcoming election.

Republicans have never been too good about investigating themselves. I imagine we'll have to wait until a Democrat is in the White House to get a real investigation.

Wages In Texas Not Up To Par For Many


The federal poverty level for a family of four is $20,650. But will this meet the basic needs for a family of four in Texas? Not according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities. This Austin-based non-partisan group did a study to find how much income would be required to meet a family's needs.

They found that a family of four would need from $10,000 to $25,000 more than the official poverty level figure depending on what part of Texas they live in. A family in Brownsville would need $29,982, while a family in Fort Worth would need $45,770.

Even worse, these figures assume the families had insurance provided by an employer, paid no more in rent or house payments than what local housing subsidies would pay, never ate out and rarely ate meat. That sounds like subsistence living to me.

At least one-third of Texas families do not come up to these levels. Hell, a huge portion of our state employees don't even make those kind of salaries. This is what we are left with after years of Republican leadership. While our corporate and government leaders are doing better than ever, salaries for workers have stagnated and left them in an ever-worsening condition.

The Republicans in our state and national leadership don't seem to care about working families. We must dump these people in the next election, and put some people in office that will see that workers get their fair share of the economic pie.

Listed below are the salaries a family of four would need to meet basic needs in various Texas cities:

Abiliene - $32,674
Amarillo - $33,757
Austin-Round Rock - $43,640
Beaumont-Port Arthur - $32,499
Brownsville-Harlingen - $29,982
Bryan-College Station - $38,557
Corpus Christi - $37,429
Dallas-Plano-Irving - $43,723
Fort Worth-Arlington - $45,770
El Paso - $36,508
Houston-Baytown-Sugar Land - $43,028
Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood - $34,522
Laredo - $33,300
Longview - $34,466
Lubbock - $34,245
McAllen-Edinburg-Pharr - $34,624
Midland - $33,103
Odessa - $32,222
San Angelo - $36,527
San Antonio - $40,826
Sherman-Denison - $38,697
Texarkana - $34,313
Tyler - $36,274
Victoria - $37,026
Waco - $34,312
Wichita Falls - $33,505

ICE Trys To Deport U.S. Citizen


Americans of Hispanic heritage have been afraid that Republicans trying to whip up fears about immigration and border security would result in a backlash against Hispanic citizens. It looks like they were right.

Just months ago, ICE deported an American citizen who was developmentally disabled because he was Hispanic. It took his family three months to find him and get him back to the United States. His family says he's not the same friendly and carefree person he used to be, and they worry he'll be scarred for life by the experience.

It almost happened again this week -- this time in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Alicia Rodriguez (pictured above) is an accountant with three children. She was born and grew up in the metroplex, and doesn't even speak Spanish. No reason she should be worried about ICE agents -- right? Wrong!

She's Hispanic and has the same name as an undocumented immigrant who has been deported three times. She was arrested in Arlington a few days ago for an unpaid ticket. She and her family figured she could pay the ticket and be on her way, but it didn't work out that way.

The police computer is tied in to computers from Homeland Security, and they flagged her as an illegal alien because of her name and birthdate. Neither the police nor ICE agents (who spoke with her on the phone) would believe she was an American citizen. They wouldn't believe her sister either, who had even brought them her birth certificate.

Ms. Rodriguez spent a couple of days in jail, waiting to be deported, before a police officer realized that something might be wrong since she had a driver's license and a social security number. They finally released her and apologized.

Now some of you may be saying that it was an honest mistake. You would be wrong. This should not have happened at all. The only reason it happened is because of either incompetence or racism. Most of the police had decided she was illegal, and didn't bother to adequately do their jobs.

This could have easily been avoided if they had just checked her fingerprints against the known prints of the woman they had her confused with. But they didn't -- they already had their minds made up and didn't want to be confused with facts. After all, she was Hispanic.

Ms. Rodriguez said she's unhappy, but she's not going to try to sue. She's a lot nicer than me. If it was me, I'd be looking for the greediest lawyer I could find.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mandela Honored With Statue


Yesterday, one of the great freedom-fighters of our generation was honored. A nine-foot statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled in London's Parliament Square. The statue faces England's Houses of Parliament, and stands beside the statues of other great men, such as Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.

The 89 year-old African leader was in London for the unveiling of the statue. He said, "Though this statue is of one man, it should in actual fact symbolise all of those who have resisted oppression, especially in my country."

If anyone deserves a statue, it is Nelson Mandela. Going from prisoner to world leader, it is largely due to his efforts that there was not a blood-bath in South Africa when whites were finally forced from power.

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, may have put it best when he said, "Long after we are forgotten, you will be remembered for having taught the world one amazing truth. That you can achieve justice without vengance."

New Texas Pledge Already In Court


That didn't take long. School has been in session less than a week, and the revised Texas Pledge of Allegiance has already been taken to court. During the last legislative session, right-wing religious nuts in the Texas legislature added the words "one state under God" to the Texas pledge.

These Republican legislators said they were just trying to make the Texas pledge mirror the U.S. pledge. That's nonsense! What on earth is the purpose of making the pledges mirror one another? The only purpose is to force a belief in God on all school children, whether their parents approve of it or not. In a country that espouses freedom of religion (which must include freedom from religion), this is just wrong.

This week, David and Shannon Croft (along with an anonymous John and Jane Doe) took the state to court to eliminate the reference to God from the pledge. They argue that the new pledge discriminates against the children of atheists. They are right.

Even if the children are allowed to leave the room before the pledge is recited, the overall effect is to ostracize these children and set them up for ridicule from other children. After all, fundamentalists and their children are not know for having tolerance for differing views.

This whole new pledge is ridiculous. Texas had a perfectly good pledge that could be recited by all children. But that was not good enough for the religious right, who are not happy unless they can force their own religion on everyone else. They have now converted that pledge into a religious declaration which many cannot make in good conscience.

These people need to learn that being in the majority does not give them the right to try to force their religious views on others. One reason we have a constitution is to prevent the tyranny of the majority. In a truly free country, everyone's rights must be protected.

Many of these people say there is no harm in the pledge. They are wrong. They would be singing a different tune if they were in the minority, and their children were ostracized for not pledging allegiance to a god they did not approve of or believe in. What if the pledge said "one state under Satan"? Would they still think the words were harmless?

Words are not harmless, and no child should be singled out for refusing to pledge allegiance to someone else's god. I thank the Crofts for having the courage to fight this religious intrusion into our schools, and I wish them success in their court fight.

Even A Small City Can Have A Sex Scandal

Mention the words "sex scandal" recently, and most probably would think of the numerous high-profile Republicans who have made the news. However, even a small city can have a sex scandal. The city I'm talking about is Ennis, Texas.

Ennis is a city of slightly more than 19,000 located just south of Dallas. At first glance, it doesn't look like a city with a juicy sex scandal. But that's just what it has.

Eight employees filed a lawsuit Tuesday against local dentist and city commissioner, Dr. Stephen Craig Durbin. It seems that Dr. Durbin had his employees change into their scrubs after arriving at work, and back into street clothes before leaving each evening. The eight women walked out on the dentist after finding a camera in their dressing room.

The women took the camera to a Radio Shack, where they were told it was a type that sent a signal to a viewing or recording device. They confronted the dentist, and he admitted that he had a problem with voyeurism and pornography.

The dentist was arrested on August 17th and charged with "Improper Photography or Video Recording", a state jail felony. He is currently free on $1,000 bond. His attorney says the women are just trying to get some money from his client, and called the allegations "garbage".

But that doesn't seem likely. One of the women had worked for the dentist for 26 years, and the newest employee in the group had worked for him for three years. It seems to me that these were loyal employees who thought they had found a career post. Additionally, the women have an audio tape of the dentist admitting his problem with "voyeurism".

Perhaps most disturbing of all, with all these witnesses and an incriminating tape that will probably convict him of a sex crime, this guy is still sitting on the city commission. How can that be? If he won't do the decent thing and resign, and the city commission won't take action, maybe it is time for citizens to start a recall petition.

The women (and men) of Ennis deserve better than to be represented by this misogynist.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

We Are A Nation That Loves Guns


Personally, I don't like guns. I have never owned a gun, and I would be very happy if all the guns in the world would disappear tomorrow. But I realize that I am probably in the minority in this country.

Now I don't think all violence and murder would stop if guns were to disappear. Violence existed before guns were invented, and will probably always be with us to some extent. However, I do believe that the easy accessibility to guns causes some deaths that otherwise might not happen.

However, I can read, and it is perfectly clear that people in the United States have a right to own a gun. Our Constitution certainly gives them that right. And it looks like many Americans have made use of that right.

Currently, there are about 875 million guns of all types in the world. At least 270 million of these firearms are owned right here in the United States, giving our country the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. There are 90 guns for every 100 people in America.

It doesn't look like this will change anytime soon. Americans buy over half of the firearms made each year worldwide. Of the 8 million firearms manufactured yearly, about 4.5 million are sold here in the U.S. At this rate, it won't take too long before there is at least one gun for every person in this country.

Here is how we stack up against some other countries in the number of guns per 100 people of population:

United States..........90
Yemen..........61
Finland..........56
Switzerland..........46
Iraq..........39
France..........32
Canada..........31
Sweden..........31
Germany..........30
Brazil..........9
England/Wales..........6
India..........4
China..........3
Nigeria..........1

No other country even comes close to gun ownership in the United States. Americans do love their guns.

Another Elian Gonzalez ?


It looks like the officials in Florida refuse to learn from experience. A few years ago, they wanted to keep 5 year-old Elian Gonzalez in the United States after his mother died. It took the federal government to step in and return little Elian to his father. Now they're trying to do the same thing with a 4 year-old Cuban girl.

The girl came here with her mother. The father, Rafael Izquierdo (pictured above), allowed the child to come because he thought the mother could provide a better life for her in the United States. But things did not go well, and the mother tried to commit suicide. That's when the state of Florida stepped in and took the child.

Now Florida could have done the right thing immediately, and returned the child to his father in Cuba. That's what both the mother and father wanted. But Florida officials have this thing about Cuba, so they placed the child in a foster home. Now the foster-parents, who are wealthy, want to adopt the child, and Florida officials are petitioning the Miami court to allow them to do so.

I don't really understand how they think they have any legal grounds to do this. The only real legal ground for removing a child from her real parents, is if those parents pose a serious danger to the child. But even Florida is not alleging this. It looks like they oppose returning the little girl to her father because:

1. He is a poor farmer.
2. He lives in Cuba.

Neither of these reasons can justify refusing to return a child to a loving parent. Do we really want to set a precedent that would say a child could be taken from a parent simply because that parent is poor or not American?

Would the child grow up richer and with more opportunities if left with the foster-parents? Yes, there is no doubt of that. But that would mean she would grow up separated from her family, and that is simply wrong. In this country, we have always recognized that parental rights trump everything but the safety of the child.

There is no evidence the child would not be safe with her loving family in Cuba. To keep the child in Florida and give her to rich people who are not even her kin -- that is just child theft.

It's time for Florida to do the right thing, and return this little girl to her family.

Texas Needs Healthcare Reform


Recently, we learned that Texas was number one in pregnant teenagers. Then we found out that Texas was number one in DWI deaths. As if that wasn't bad enough, now we find out that Texas is still number one in the percentage of people without any health insurance.

According to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau, 24% of the people in Texas do not have any health insurance -- that's one out of every four Texans! But as embarrassing as that should be for our state leadership, it gets even worse.

In the entire United States, there are 45.1 million people without health insurance. 5.5 million of those people are in Texas. That means out of the entire 50 states, Texas has over 12% of the people without health insurance. All Texans should be apalled at these numbers.

It's time for our state and our nation to do something about this tragedy. There are some who say we can't afford to address this problem, but the fact is that we already spend more money per capita than any other industrialized nation for healthcare -- we just don't receive very much for our spending.

Other industrialized nations spend less, and yet still are able to provide healthcare for all of their citizens. There is no reason why we can't do the same. But first, we must get the insurance companies out of the way. We will never have the best healthcare system as long as insurance executives are in charge of it.

There are some things that government does better than the free market, and health insurance is one of those things. We must take the profit motive out of health insurance, while we encourage it among healthcare providers. We can have a single-payer government-run system that covers everyone, allows us to choose our own doctors and hospitals, and puts doctors back in charge of making healthcare decisions.

All we need are politicians with courage and foresight, who haven't been bought by the insurance companies.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

State Betrays Those Who Donated Land


Once again, the corporate-loving Republicans running our state government prove they cannot be trusted. This time it's Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson who doesn't think Texas needs to abide by agreements it has made.

Recently, several conservation groups, including the Richard King Mellon Foundation, purchased 9,000 acres of land and gave it to the state of Texas. It was their hope the land would be used by the public for hunting and other recreational purposes. In the past, the Mellon Foundation has given over 40,000 acres to the people of Texas.

When the 9,000 acres, located near Big Bend National Park, was donated, it was with the understanding that the land would be offered to the Parks and Wildlife Department or the National Park Service, and could not be sold without the permission of the Mellon Foundation.

So, what do our Republican state leaders do? They put the land up for sale. They have accepted six sealed bids, and will announce the winning bid next month. They have decided the land would be better used by some corporate entity than by the citizens of Texas.

Commissioner Patterson said that Parks and Wildlife and the National Park Service turned down the gift of land, and the Land Commission could not afford to keep it. I wonder just how much it would cost the Land Commission to hold on to this FREE land -- next to nothing I suspect. And why were the Parks and Wildlife people willing to turn it down? After years of being underfunded, I imagine they were afraid their funds would be cut again if they crossed the big-boys in Austin.

It's not like a bunch of expensive upgrades were immediately needed on this land. It could have been kept just as it is until its best use for the citizens of Texas was decided upon. But that's not how Republicans think. The only useful thing they can see is money, and evidently some of their corporate buddies saw a way to make some money off this land.

The Mellon Foundation has told the state it does not want the land sold, and if it is, they will never make another land donation to the state. I don't blame them after the way they were betrayed this time. Why should they ever trust our state government again?

Commissioner Patterson says now that the land belongs to Texas, he doesn't think anyone can legally prevent the sale. Maybe he is right about the legality, but what about the ethics and morality? What about keeping your word when you make an agreement?

Like most Texans, I was brought up to believe a man is only as good as his word. I think the same is true of governments. A government that doesn't feel the need to keep its agreements, cannot be trusted in any matter.

It is obvious that we cannot trust the Republicans currently running our state government. It is time to replace them.

Why Bush Should Be Impeached


In the right margin of this blog is a button that says "Impeach Bush". It's not there for decoration -- I honestly believe it should happen. The Republicans would say that to try and impeach Bush now would only be a political move. Many Democrats would say not to do it because it would make Cheney president (and that is a horrible thought). I believe they are both wrong.

Bush should be impeached no matter who would become president. He should be impeached because he has trashed the Constitution, and taken powers upon himself that the Founding Fathers never meant for a president to have.

To those conservative Republicans who think it would be a political move, let me ask you just a few simple questions:

Would you like to have a liberal Democratic president who could eavesdrop on any American citizen without a warrant?

Would you like to have a liberal Democratic president who could declare anyone an "enemy combatant" and jail them indefinitely without a trial, an attorney, or access to any court?

Would you like to have a liberal Democratic president who could tell you lies and start an illegal and pre-emptive war?

Would you like to have a liberal Democratic president who could attach signing statements to laws passed by Congress that say he/she doesn't have to obey that new law?

Would you like to have a liberal Democratic president that could fire competent federal prosecutors because they would not unjustly punish his/her political opponents?

Would you like to have a liberal Democratic president that would obey the Constitution only when it agreed with his/her personal goals?

You may have thought it was good to give Bush these and other powers, but you forgot that the same powers will now rest in all future presidents.

President Bush has claimed unconstitutional powers for himself. That is why he must be impeached. If he is allowed to get away with this, then all presidents in the future will be able to claim and exercise those same powers. It would not matter whether they were liberals or conservatives. It would not matter whether they were Republicans or Democrats. They all could (and probably would) use those same extra-constitutional powers. After all, when was the last time you saw any leader willingly give up any power?

Bush should be impeached because no president of any party or political persuasion should have these powers.The Congress should impeach him to make it clear to all that there are limits to a president's powers.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Thoughts On Noriega vs. Cornyn


I've noticed recently that some of the right-wing blogs seem to be uncomfortable with the fact that senate candidate Rick Noriega has a distinguished record of service in the military. It bothers them that Noriega is proud of his continuing military service to our country and doesn't mind discussing it while on the campaign trail.

Rick Noriega joined the United States Army during the Iran Hostage crises, and currently serves as a Lt. Colonel in the National Guard. He proudly served his country in Afghanistan, fighting against the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Why would the right-wingers not want a candidate to discuss his military record during the campaign? Isn't this a valid criteria to help voters to judge a candidate's qualification for office? This got me to wondering what was going on here -- after all, couldn't their candidate just counter this with his own military record? Evidently not.

I went to Cornyn's web site, but was surprised to find it doesn't even contain a biography! I guess he thinks that being Bush's lapdog is enough to qualify him for the senate. Then I went to Cornyn's page on the government web site. This site did contain a short biograpgy of Cornyn, but there seemed to be a glaring omission -- any mention of any kind of military service.

Now I begin to understand the right-wing's nervousness when the subject of Noriega's military service is discussed. It looks like their candidate is one of those Bush/Cheney type of "Yellow Elephants" -- a person who is willing to vote to send others to die in an unending and unwinnable war, even though they did not serve themselves. It must be pretty embarrassing to have your candidate turn out to be a chickenhawk.

This is just another reason I am happy to be supporting Lt. Colonel Rick Noriega for U.S. Senate. Not only has he served his country proudly and unselfishly, but that service has given him the experience and wisdom to understand what a horrible mistake has been made in Iraq.

Comparing Noriega to Cornyn is like comparing day to night. One has a proud record of service to his country, and the other has been a parrot-like supporter of Bush's most disastrous decisions.

I hope you will join me in voting for and providing financial support for Lt. Colonel and State Rep. Rick Noriega. Texas needs this capable and honorable man.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Man Beaten For Wearing UT Shirt


For over a hundred years, there has been a rivalry between the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma. For the most part, this has been a healthy rivalry that is enjoyed by the residents of both states. However, it looks like some people take the rivalry far too seriously.

Last month, a 53 year-old man in Oklahoma City attacked another man in a bar, because the other man was wearing a University of Texas shirt. The man had to be hospitalized after the beating. A witness and the bartender both said the 53 year-old verbally abused the younger man about 20 minutes over the shirt, and then launched an unprovoked attack upon him.

The 53 year-old was a federal government employee and a deacon in his church (although he doesn't seem a very good christian). I can only assume he'll lose both posts after this violent outburst -- he certainly should.

What on earth made him think it was OK to attack someone over such an insignificant thing? I was born in Texas and love to cheer for the 'horns when the two schools meet. But having lived in North Texas most of my life, I'm used to seeing OU shirts and bumper stickers. It certainly never occurred to me that these people should be beaten and hospitalized because they support a different school.

In fact, this kind of foolishness takes the fun out of the rivalry. I can only hope that this fool is an aberration, and that there aren't many like him. But I fear that there are others like him on both sides of the Red River.

What kind of society have we created where a man can be attacked over a shirt?

This Is My Country !


I was listening to Austin City Limits last night, and Cyril Neville came on and sang a song titled "This is my country". The song struck my soul. It reminded me of the times I've been told I'm not a good American, or that I don't love my country because my beliefs are different, or because I don't care to live my life as others want me to live it.

In the sixties and seventies, it was "America, Love It or Leave It". Today, they have other catch-phrases. But it means the same thing. There's a group in this country, mostly right-wing fundamentalists, that are quick to tell you that if you don't believe as they believe, or live as they live, or vote as they vote, or have the right skin color, or speak the right language, then you're not a real American. That's a lot of crap!

America was created to be a free country and our Constitution guarantees us the same rights no matter who we are or how we live. It doesn't matter what religion you believe in, or whether you believe in any religion at all. It doesn't matter whether you're male or female. It doesn't matter whether you're black, white, or any of the many other colors. It doesn't matter whether you speak english, spanish, or any other language. It doesn't matter if you're heterosexual, homosexual, or somewhere in between. It doesn't matter if you're left-wing, right-wing, or somewhere in between. It doesn't matter whether you were born here, or just naturalized yesterday. It doesn't matter how old or young you are.

If anyone tries to tell you that you're not as good an American as they are, they are wrong. They also don't understand the sacrifices that all kinds of Americans have made for more than two hundred years so that we can all be free and equal. Being free has never meant being alike.

THIS IS MY COUNTRY! THIS IS ALSO YOUR COUNTRY!

Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Regional Public Defender Office To Be Created


Texas has just executed it's 400th person. Personally, I wish we would just do away with the death penalty, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, our Death Row seems to be populated with indigent inmates. The rich and middle class are able to afford good attorneys, who either get their clients off or at least get the death penalty off the table. The poor are not so lucky.

Capital cases require a lot of time, work, and special knowledge for an attorney. Too often in our state, the poor get an attorney who is either not knowledgeable in capital cases or doesn't have the time to do the case justice. There have even been cases where the attorney slept through crucial parts of the trial. The result is that the defendant winds up on Death Row, whether he deserves to be there or not.

There is now a move to set up a Regional Public Defender's Office in West Texas. This office would have five specially trained attorneys that would handle the area's capital cases. The Task Force on Indigent Defense is approving a $2.6 million grant to be paid over five years to help fund the office. This state funding would gradually decrease over the five years, and the 85 counties in the region would gradually assume more of the cost. The cost for each county would be determined by it's population and a 10-year average of it's number of capital cases.

I don't know if this is the answer, but at least the state is trying to do something to right the current wrong. Too often in rural counties such as these, there are few attorneys with experience in defending capital crimes and even fewer who can afford to donate the time neccessary for one of these cases.

At least now, the indigent defendents will get an attorney specially trained for this kind of case, and with a small enough caseload to dedicate the neccessary time to each case. That's a start. If it works out, the concept could be instituted in other areas of Texas.

The concept is not bad. Now we'll have to see if it is properly done. It's bad enough to have the death penalty. It's downright criminal to give it to a defendant who didn't have adequate representation.

71 Year-Old Woman Busted For Pot


This is a story you don't see every day. In Greensboro, North Carolina, a sheriff's deputy arrested a 71 year-old woman for Manufacturing Marijuana and Felony Possession of Marijuana. The deputy said he was just driving by the woman's home when he saw the four-foot-tall potted plant in the woman's yard.

The lady said she had the plant there to keep animals out of her front yard, but the deputy didn't believe her story. He found five smaller plants behind a shed, and in her home she had some seeds and stems and a pop-bottle bong.

I think we may be taking our drug laws a bit too seriously to charge this lady with a felony for growing a little pot for herself. Obviously, there was not enough being grown to consider her a dealer. Personally, I think after surviving over 70 years, she deserves to grow herself a little smoke.

What do you think readers? Should she be charged with a felony? Should she be charged with anything? Should marijuana be legal?

Arpey Best CEO ? Unbelievable !!


This just goes to show that business magazines could care less how a company's employees are being treated. Both the Dallas CEO magazine and the Fort Worth Business Press have named Gerard Arpey, CEO of American Airlines, as the CEO of the Year. The said he was their pick because he took an airline that was losing money and made it profitable.

Of course they don't mention that he did it on the backs of the employees. While the airline was losing money, he talked the airline's frontline employees into taking large paycuts. Then when the airline starting making money, he betrayed those same employees.

The employees who had sacrificed believed they would be rewarded for their sacrifice when the airline became profitable. They were very wrong. Arpey did pass out several million dollars in bonuses, but only to himself and other executives.The employees who took pay cuts were given nothing.

If being a good CEO means screwing your employees, making the unions angry with negotiations coming up, and hoarding the rewards for yourself and your management buddies, then they picked the right guy.

Obviously, these magazines were thinking only in the short-term, because Arpey has created a lot of ill-feelings among the employees. And with union contracts needing to be re-negotiated very soon, this has created serious future problems for the airline. I doubt that the employees are going to want to continue to sacrifice while management is getting rich.

If this was the best CEO these magazines could find, then North Texas corporations must really have some poor leadership.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Democracy" No Longer A Goal In Iraq


Do you remember when Republican senators and representatives proudly painted their thumbs purple and declared Bush successful in creating a democracy in Iraq? Well, it now seems that "democracy" is not quite working out the way they planned. In fact, many U.S. officials are ready to give up on the idea of a democracy in Iraq.

The government installed by Bush seems totally incapable of ruling the country. It cannot control the violence. It cannot deliver basic services. In fact, the only thing it does well is argue among itself. Many U.S. officials are so disappointed that they would be happy with a non-democratic government that could offer some security.

Brig. General John Bednarek says, "Democratic institutions are not neccessarily the way ahead in the long-term future." Even Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus admit that they are "now engaged in pursuing less lofty and ambitious goals than was the case at the outset."

I can't believe they ever thought that puppet government would work in the first place. No matter how much they claimed it was, the current government was never a truly democratically-elect government. The only candidates allowed to run for office were those approved by the U.S. -- the occupying power. If all of your candidates must be approved by a foreign power, then you do not have a democracy. You have a puppet government.

The Iraqi people know this government is nothing more than a puppet controlled by the Bush administration. That is why they don't support it, and will get rid of it as soon as we leave.

But since the Bush administration has failed at installing a sham democracy, it now seems they want to re-install a dictatorship. If they is what they want to wind up with, then they should have just left Saddam in power. But at this point, even that won't work. The Iraqis will never accept any government we try to impose on them.

The only thing that will work at this point is to withdraw our troops and let the Iraqis determine for themselves how they will be ruled. Anything else is destined to fail.

Of Supreme Political Importance!

Something really big has happened. Something unforgettable. This big something requires our immediate attention.

Vladimir Putin, while fishing on vacation last week, took off his shirt.

Gasp!

Shocking, right? Who would imagine that the man could do such a thing? This obviously merits hours of discussion and speculation.

Now, if you're thinking he removed his shirt because it was a warm day, you are being simple, my friend. There must be political meaning behind such a move:

Kremlin watchers have been trying to guess what kind of political message the pictures send, given that the 54-year-old Putin has insisted he plans to step down at the end of his second term next year, as required by the constitution.

One radio talk show host speculated the photos were meant to enhance Putin's personal appeal to voters -- a strong signal that he doesn't plan to relinquish power.

Or this might be his way of silently promoting gay tolerance:

Russian gay chat rooms and blogs were particularly intrigued by the photos: Some claimed that Putin, by stripping to his waist, was somehow pleading for more tolerance of homosexuality in Russia -- where gays and lesbians are for the most part forced to remain closeted.
On the other hand, he may be trying to back up his "manly" image:


The Russian president, who is married with two daughters, has long cultivated an image of machismo and manliness. Well-known as a downhill skier and black belt in judo, Putin has appeared on national television driving a truck, operating a train, sailing on a submarine and copiloting a fighter jet.


These exploits have been widely publicized, thanks to the Kremlin's control of major Russian media.


In contrast to his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, notorious for drunken antics, Putin has established an image as serious, energetic, sober and sharp-witted. In a country that worships its Olympic and other world-class athletes, he has also taken care to stay physically fit.


In interviews, he speaks avidly about judo and athletics.


It seems that there are enough conflicting opinions over the message he wanted to send to the public to last a good long while. I can only imagine that coffee shops across the globe are buzzing with intriguing theories.

Personally, I'm just happy that he wasn't caught in a Speedo.

TXU & TPG Spend $17 Million In Legislative Session


Did you wonder why bills that would regulate large power company buyouts and force TXU to sell off power plants, couldn't get passed in the last Texas legislative session? Well, the answer is money. TXU and its proposed buyer, Texas Pacific Group (TPG), wanted things just like they are, and they were willing to spend millions to see that no changes were made to current law.

The way current laws are written, both groups stand to make a killing. TXU officials will make a ton of money by selling the company. Its CEO, who has only been in office since 2004, stands to make $236 million when the company is sold. As for Texas Pacific Group, it will get to take over the unregulated "gravy train" that is TXU. Since being unregulated, TXU has charged some of the highest electric prices in the nation and reaped windfall profits.

The current lack of regulation makes this deal a win-win situation for both companies. The only losers are the consumers, who must pay the tab after it's all over. So it's easy to see why these two groups were willing to spend a few million dollars to see that the laws didn't change.

The two groups combined to spend $17 million during the last legislative session. They spent nearly $11 million in advertising to make it seem like the unregulated buyout along with unregulated electricity would be a good deal for Texas. That kind of money can buy a lot of good publicity.

But they didn't stop there. They then hired 86 lobbyists -- TXU hired 65 and TPG hired 21. The highest paid lobbyist was former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, who was paid $351,000. That's pretty good money for a few weeks work. Since the House only has 150 members, that's more than one lobbyist for every two members (The regulation bill passed the Senate and had to be stopped in the House). They also spent $180,000 on entertainment and gifts for House members (including Spurs play-off tickets).

So if you're a TXU customer and couldn't understand why you've been paying some of the highest electric rates in the country, now you know. You're the one who gets to pay for all this. And those bills aren't going to come down anytime soon.

Last-Place Rangers Set Scoring Record


In all of the twentieth century and twenty-first century, no major league baseball team has ever scored 30 runs in a single game -- until last night. In the first game of a double-header against Baltimore, the usually hapless Texas Rangers exploded to defeat the Orioles by a score of 30 to 3.

The Rangers started out behind by 3 runs, but then scored 5 runs in the fourth inning, 9 runs in the sixth inning, 10 runs in the eighth inning and 6 runs in the ninth inning. This marked the first time since 1897, that a team had scored as many as 30 runs. The last time was when Chicago defeated Louisville 36 to 7 in a National League game on June 28, 1897.

Two Rangers, Marlon Byrd and Travis Metcalf, hit grand-slam home runs. Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ramon Vazquez each hit two home runs. David Murphy had five of the Rangers' 29 total hits.

I guess it gives the Rangers something to be proud of in an otherwise disastrous season. The Rangers are in last place in the West -- 19 games out of first place. Only Tampa Bay has a worse record in the American League.

Personally, I would have rather they spread those runs around a bit and won some more games.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Property Taxes Rising In Amarillo


Governor Perry made a big deal out of cutting property taxes during the past legislative session, even though most of the savings disappeared almost immediately through rising property values. Now it looks like the citizens of Amarillo are fixing to be hit with a couple of raises in the property tax rate.

First is the Amarillo City Commission. They just sold $25 million in certificates of obligation to fund capital improvement projects in the city. Now they must figure out how to pay for the certificates, and it looks like they will be doing it by raising the property tax rate by .02 cents per $100 of property value. This means a person owning a $100,000 home would pay an extra $20 in property taxes.

Then we have Amarillo College. The college's regents are considering the issuance of $68 million in bonds for campus improvements. They would repay these bonds by raising the property tax by .025 cents per $100 of property value. This would raise the tax on a $100,000 home by $25.

There is one entity that is lowering their tax rate this year -- the Amarillo Independent School District . They are lowering their tax rate from $1.48 to $1.17 per $100 of property value. But before you get too excited, you need to know why they are lowering the rate. It's not because they need less money. It's because the property valuations have risen significantly, so the chance is real good that even though they lowered the rate, you will be paying about the same amount in taxes.

The chances are also good that because of rising property values, the city and college taxes will rise more than just the rise in the tax rate.

Now, I'm not saying that the capital improvements are not needed for the city and the college. I believe that they probably are needed. In fact, if given a chance, I would probably vote in favor of both.

I just want people to understand that in this extremely red part of Texas, these TAX RAISES were brought to you by REPUBLICANS! So next year, when the Republicans are screaming about how they cut taxes and Democrats raise them, just remember it's not true.

Richardson Speaks Out On Iraq War


There are four major candidates in the Democratic Party vying for that party's nomination to run for president, but only one of those candidates has a coherent position on the Iraq war. This candidate was against the war from the beginning, and he wants to pull all of our troops out of Iraq. This candidate is Gov. Bill Richardson. Here is his position on Iraq in his own words:


Some say that all of the Democratic Presidential candidates have basically the same position on Iraq. I disagree.

I'd pull all of our troops out in 6-8 months. The other major candidates would leave some troops behind indefinitely.

That's a major difference -- any way you look at it.

On Sunday, at the ABC debate in Iowa, I asked the other candidates point blank: how many troops would you leave behind? 25,000? 50,000? 75,000? For how long?

I didn't get an answer.

The big campaigns, with their huge media budgets, think they can drown out our differences and control the conversation on Iraq.

The Iraqis must rebuild their own country, and they won't make the tough political compromises until they know we're serious about turning the country over to them. It is becoming increasingly clear you can't end the war AND leave troops behind. Pulling our troops out won't cause a civil war; our troops are targets in a civil war right now. We must redeploy them out of Iraq and then secure the region.

The Bush Administration has been using half-measures since this war started, and now we have to make a decision -- it is either in or out; now or after more people die. You can't have it both ways.

Saying that all Democrats have the same position because "any" Democrat would end the war eventually is a cop out. Saying there is no military solution in Iraq and then advocating leaving US troops behind to find the military solution you just said doesn't exist is nuts.

There are options. There are solutions. We don't have to choose between change and experience. We don't have to leave troops behind. There is another way.

Bill Richardson

TxDOT Might Allow Electronic Billboards


This is not good news. It seems that TxDOT officials are considering allowing new electronic advertising on billboards along our freeways. They say they would not allow the new billboards on rural roads, and that cities would have to approve any new billboards within their city limits.

They claim the billboards would be safe, because they would allow it to change only every 8 seconds, and the change must be complete within 2 seconds. They said they would not allow any constantly moving pictures.

I have my doubts as to whether a billboard that changes every 8 seconds would be safe. There are enough bad drivers on our roads already, and I suspect that this would be a distraction for many. Do we really need to take the chance on making our roads even less safe than they already are?

Of course, I understand how it might be hard for TxDOT to say no to the signs. They've put up enough of the big black monstrosities themselves. And the Republicans running our state government don't seem to have the ability to say no to any kind of business venture, no matter how bad an idea it is.

But even if the new billboards are safe, do we really want a bunch of huge new signs cluttering our roadways? I thought we had settled this back in 1965 with the Highway Beautification Act. Didn't that act limit the number of billboards allowed on our roadsides? This is just a bad idea. It would make our cities and freeways (and tollways) much uglier places. It is a failing of our modern society that we feel the need to slap an advertisement on any blank space.

It's simply wrong that only weeks after Lady Bird Johnson's death, the Republicans want to start cluttering up our landscape again.

Bush Must Share Blame For Poison Toys

Recently, the Mattel Corporation has had to recall millions of children's toys because they had been painted with lead-based paint (which has long been known to be hazardous to children). The toys were outsourced to Chinese companies so Mattel could save a few pennies on the cost of construction of the toys.

Since the recall, there has been much discussion over whether Mattel or the Chinese companies are to blame. Personally, I think each must shoulder a large part of the blame. But there is a third party that must also accept its share of the blame -- the Bush Administration.

Since taking power, the Bush administration has done everything in its power to make things easy for the large corporations, including relaxing government regulations and inspections. With proper safety inspections in place, the Chinese and the Mattel Corporation would not have been able to dump the poisonous toys on the American market.

According to safety advocates, the Bush administration has worked against product safety in two ways:

1. It has stalled efforts to provide for more rigorous inspections.
2. It has changed the focus of the Consumer Product Safety Commission from protecting the consumer to making things easier for the corporations.

The Bush administration believes that regulations are bad and cost corporations too much. And if there's one thing that Bush has been, it is a friend to corporate America -- even at the expense of workers and consumers.

For too many years, the Republicans have been pushing to allow corporations to outsource American jobs, so corporate bigwigs can reap windfall profits. The K-Street lobbyists have seen to it that the Republicans were well-paid for this effort.

But now we are beginning to see the real costs of this corporate outsourcing. Not only are American workers being put out of work, but the American consumer is being put in danger. American workers and consumers are paying a high price for corporate windfall profits.

It is time to rein the corporations in. If they want to have their products built in another country, then they should pay a stiff tariff to provide for safety inspections and worker retraining. The American public should not have to subsidize corporate wrongdoing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

British Want To Concentrate On Afghanistan


It looks like there's more bad news for Bush and his disastrous war in Iraq. At the same time that he's saying the "surge" is just beginning, the British are sounding like they may soon be withdrawing from Iraq.

The head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, says the British Army is being stretched too thin, and they will not be able to deploy any more soldiers to Iraq. They already have plans to withdraw into a redoubt at the Basra Airport, and turn over the rest of Basra Province to Iraqi control. Many believe this is a prequel to a full British withdrawal from Iraq.

Unlike Bush, who is perfectly willing to continue an unending occupation of Iraq, the British don't see what can be gained from remaining there indefinitely. The British see the Afghani conflict as the true battle against terrorism, and that is where they want to focus their efforts.

A British spokesman defended their withdrawal to the Basra Airport saying, "This is not a new plan at all. It's good for the Iraqis, it's good for us and we will eventually see here Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems and that has to be the way ahead." The British are right. No one can force a solution in Iraq. There must be an Iraqi solution for the Iraqi problem.

It's time for Bush to realize this, no matter how much he wants the Iraqi oil. It doesn't matter how long we stay in Iraq, we will not be able to solve the Iraqi conflict. They are going to have to settle their own civil war themselves, the same way we had to settle our own. The only thing we can accomplish by staying is to get more American soldiers killed.

And while we are wasting our time in Iraq, the true terrorists (the Taliban and al-Queda) are growing stronger in Afghanistan. Again, the British are right. It is in Afghanistan that the real war on terror is being fought. We should never have withdrawn the bulk of our troops from there before the job was finished.

But that is not the only bad news for Bush. The Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy Magazine conducted a survey of 100 American foreign policy experts. Most of those experts agreed that:

* The world is growing more dangerous.
* Our national security strategy is in disrepair.
* The war in Iraq is alarmingly off-course.
* The "surge" is having a negative impact on our national security.

We must end this madness in Iraq and bring our troops home immediately -- all of them.

Michael Vick To Plead Guilty


As you probably know, NFL quarterback Michael Vick was arrested for funding and promoting dog fights. He was also accused of killing dogs who were not good enough fighters. For several weeks now, he has been claiming his innocence, but that seems to be over now.

Vick's attorney announced today that his client has decided to plead guilty to charges of Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities and Conspiracy To Sponsor Dog Fighting. This will probably prevent further charges that were going to be filed soon.

The attorney said, "After consulting with his family over the weekend, Michael Vick asked that I announce today that he has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors regarding the charges pending against him. Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made. Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter."

Vick's guilty plea will be heard in federal court on August 27th. The charges could bring as much as five years in prison, but most people believe the sentence will be more like 18 months.

Whatever the sentence, this is likely to be the end of Vick's NFL career. Even if he could physically return after the prison sentence, the charges of being involved in the gambling side of dog fighting will probably result in his being banned from the league. I think the league (and probably the Falcons too) just want to put this whole mess behind them.

In a bit of poetic justice, one company is now selling a new dog chew toy. The chew toy is in the image of Michael Vick (pictured above). It costs $10.99, and can be purchased by going to vickdogchewtoy.com.

Monday, August 20, 2007

El Paso Electric Considers Outsourcing


It looks like the problem of good local jobs being outsourced may be hitting the El Paso area soon. The El Paso Times is reporting that El Paso Electric Company's CEO, Ershel Redd Jr. (pictured above), is considering outsourcing about 51 jobs in its information technology department. The IT department is currently located in downtown El Paso.

Redd says he is just looking out for the company and trying to put it in a position where it could grow. He went on to say that no final decision has been made.

But Mayor John Cook doesn't like the idea at all. He said, "At a time we're trying to recriut high-tech jobs to El Paso, it would be counter-productive to have El Paso Electric outsource out of El Paso. My hope is they stay with our local talent. We need to have some loyalty to the community..."

The mayor is absolutely right. After all, who is buying the electricity that the company produces? Wouldn't that be the people of the El Paso area? The company owes its consumers a little loyalty. They need to repay the loyalty of their customers by hiring from the El Paso area. Moving those jobs to some other area, or even some other country, is a slap in the face to the citizens and consumers in El Paso.

It's bad when any American company outsources its good paying jobs to take advantage of lower-paid workers in another country. Too many American companies think they can suck the American consumer dry, and give nothing in return. But it is especially bad, when a company makes all or the bulk of their sales in a particular area, and then won't hire workers from that area.

El Paso Electric needs to drop this silly idea from consideration. It may save them a little money in the short-term, but it will hurt the community they serve and create bad feelings among their consumer base. In short, it's just a bad idea.

Richardson Reveals Economic Plan


A couple of days ago, Bill Richardson revealed the economic plan he would pursue if elected president in 2008. While I think his healthcare plan needs some work (as do the plans of the other major candidates), I think he's definitely got the right idea with his economic plan. Here's what he had to say when he revealed the plan:

"The Bush administration's economic policies have failed the middle class, created huge deficits, and caused wages to stagnate. We have created over 80,000 jobs in New Mexico. We have balanced five budgets and offered tax-credits to pro-growth employers. My record of promoting responsible development is unmatched.

We can balance the federal budget and avoid passing on debt to our children. We can give tax credits to responsible employers who pay above the prevailing wage. We can develop renewable energy technologies to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and sustain the environment. All of this is possible. The country just needs a president who knows how to get things done."

Unlike his opponents, Bill Richardson has experience both in Congress and as the chief executive of a state. He fully understands what it will take to put our economy on the right track, and how to get it accomplished. Here are some of the highpoints of his economic proposal:

* Get our troops out of Iraq and leave NO residual forces behind.
* Repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
* Slash Congressional earmarks and corporate welfare.
* Eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax that squeezes the middle class.
* Establish a Rural Jobs Tax Credit for employers in less-populated areas.
* Give a tax credit to employers paying above the prevailing wage.
* Promote "green jobs" in renewable energy.
* Double and make permanent the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit.
* Establish an Angel Investor Tax Credit to promote investment in hi-tech industries.
* Hire 100,000 new math and science teacher's to increase our children's competitiveness.
* Build 250 Math, Science & Innovation Academies by 20012 to train the next generation of American scientists, mathematicians, engineers and teachers.
* Offer rebates to businesses hiring economically underprivileged students.
* Create incentives for "green building".
* Protect the rights of workers by defending collective bargaining.
* Index the minimum wage to the rate of inflation.

This sounds like a very good start to putting the American economy back on the right track. It not only helps workers, but it does so without penalizing small businesses. It's a far cry from the Republican program of helping only the rich.

If you're still not sure who you will support for president in 2008, I urge you to go to Richardson for President and see what this truly qualified and innovative candidate has to offer.

Rich Doing Well, Others Not So Well


The housing market is not doing too well, and foreclosures are at an all-time high in most areas of the country. Although gas prices are down a little, they are still much higher than in past years. Wal-Mart, which depends on working-class families, is reporting weak sales, and will probably have to revise downward their sales estimates for the year.

Add these things to the fact that worker's wages are stagnant, and have been for quite a while now, and it becomes obvious that the working class and much of the middle class are being squeezed nowdays. Almost everything costs more, but wages are not keeping up.

But don't worry, Bush's rich friends are still doing better than ever. The sale of luxery items rose a robust 10.7 % in July over last year's figures. The figures are expected to rise about 9% in August. Some may have thought the rich might slow down their spending after the stock market recently dropped a 1000 points, but it's not happening.

About half of the rich say they could accept losses twice that big before they would cut back on their spending. A quarter of them said they would not cut back until their losses reached three or four times times that much.

That should give you a clue as to just how good the rich have been doing under Republican leadership. While most Americans are hurting, the rich don't even blink at a 7% drop in the stock market.

Ever since Reagan, the Republicans have tried to convince America that economics works in a "trickle down" fashion. They wanted us to believe that if we let the top 5% make obscene profits, enough of it would trickle down to the rest of us so that everyone would be better off. What nonsense!

Republican policies did let the rich become much richer, but none of it trickled down to the working class, and very little made it to the middle class. These groups have less buying power than they did 30-40 years ago.

The truth is that money doesn't trickle down in our society, it moves in an upward direction -- always. The more money that working class people have, the better off everyone will be. That money will be spent and move up to the middle and upper classes.

If you still think that Republicans are good for the economy as a whole, then you're either rich or not very bright. That's why Republicans must be voted out of power in 2008.

Then we can only hope that Democrats can find the courage to begin to redistribute the wealth of the United States. We cannot afford to continue current trends.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Test-Score Based Merit Raises Are Dumb Idea


A small blurb in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram today said more and more "educators" are agreeing with the idea of teacher merit raises being tied to student test scores. I hope this is not true, because this is truly a dumb idea.

On the surface, it sounds great to the general public. People who don't think too deeply about our education problems probably think that the student's who score the best probably had the best teachers. If all classes , all schools and all districts were equal, that might be true. But they are not.

That is why the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers oppose the idea. They know that all classes and schools are not equal. It is much easier to teach in a rich school district in a safe and prosperous area with self-motivated students.

Even a poor teacher can look good (and receive merit raises) under those conditions. While a good teacher can be made to look bad in a school located in a poor and gang-infested area that doesn't even receive the proper books and supplies. The result is that teachers are going to be rewarded or punished for circumstances that are beyond their control.

Distributing merit raises this way will not solve our education problems, it will make them worse. It will draw good teachers away from poor districts and problem classes where they have little chance of receiving a merit raise. And these are the very areas that need the best teachers -- the ones who can motivate students.

Anyone can teach the motivated students in a rich district, but the poor and problem districts need the best and most creative teachers. Instead of rewarding teachers lucky enough to teach self-motivaters, we should be paying the higher wages to those teachers willing to teach in problem schools.

Sadly, those currently in charge of making the rules usually live in the richer districts, and those are the only ones they care about. That's why we get dumb rules like score-based merit raises.