A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Will Fred Phelps Be Held Accountable ?


Fred Phelps and his followers from the Westboro Baptist Church are sick bastards. We've all known that for quite a while now. But they've found a formula that allows them to spew their hate without retribution. They have woven free speech and religion into a protective cloak.

Free speech and religion are two things that most Americans hold as sacred, and they are loath to deny either. This is true even when perverts such as the cult at Westboro Baptist use them to attack not only gays, but our country itself. But they may have finally stepped over the line.

Recently, they have been holding their vile demonstrations at the funerals of American soldiers who gave their lives fighting for this country. Regardless of what we might think of the Iraq war, the soldiers who died fighting it are brave and honorable men and women who were just doing their duty for their country.

But the Phelps clan has been disturbing the funerals of these soldiers, carrying signs that say things like "You're going to hell" and "Thank God for dead soldiers". They have been noisy, rude and shown no respect for the families of the fallen soldiers. But they may have taken their disgusting road show to the wrong funeral.

In March of 2006, the Phelps clan showed up at the funeral of soldier Matthew Snyder in Maryland. But Matthew's father, Albert Snyder, did not take the disruption of his son's funeral lying down. He filed suit in a Baltimore court, charging them with invasion of his privacy and causing him severe emotional distress.

Of course, the attorney for the Phelps clan says Snyder is trying to deprive them of free speech. He asked, "If they're not permitted to have their views, where's it stop?" But that question is a bit disingenuous. He knows very well that there are limits on free speech.

No one is denying this group the right to preach their perverted gospel. They have been allowed to spew their filth all over this country. They had the right to hold their demonstration anywhere -- except in front of this grieving family. They didn't just cross the line of common decency, I believe they crossed a legal line also. The Snyder family also has rights.

The case is now before a Baltimore jury. Phelps and his followers should be glad I'm not on that jury. It would take me less than a second to hold them responsible for their actions.


UPDATE -- The jury has returned it's verdict. They have said the Westboro Baptist Church must pay the Snyder family $2.9 million. That sounds like a reasonable verdict to me.

Did Mafia Capo Break "Mississippi Burning" Case ?


Everyone has heard of the murders of three civil rights workers (James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman) in Mississippi by the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1960's. There was even a movie made about it. In the movie, the case was broken by a Black FBI agent who terrified one of the klansmen into talking. But that may not be exactly what really happened.

According to a mobster's girlfriend, it was really a capo for the Columbo crime family that got the confession. Linda Schiro told a court this week that it was her boyfriend, Gregory Scarpa, also known as the Grim Reaper. Scarpa was suspected of involvement in 20 killings. He died in 1994.

Schiro said she accompanied Scarpa to Mississippi in 1964, where he met an FBI agent who handed him a gun. When Scarpa returned, the agent took the gun back and gave Scarpa a wad of money. Scarpa told her that he had kidnapped a salesman who was in the KKK, and shoved a gun in his mouth. The terrified klansman spilled the beans, telling where the bodies were buried and who was involved.

This is not the first time the story has surfaced. She said Scarpa liked to brag about his involvement. But its the first time the story has been told under oath in a courtroom (She is testifying in the trial of an FBI agent).

Is it true? Who knows. But it's a great story isn't it? (The picture above is of Scarpa in 1992.)

Mukasey Still Playing Word Games About Torture


It looks like Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey is still playing word games with the Senate. While he says he opposes torture, he still refuses to say whether he believes the practice of "waterboarding" is torture or not.

Now this is not a hard question. All human rights groups have classified "waterboarding" as a form of torture. Even Congress calls it torture, having outlawed it in 2006. About the only person who doesn't believe it is torture is George Bush, who authorized its use in interrogating prisoners.

Yesterday, Mukasey said he thought the practice was "repugnant", but again refused to call it torture. That's not good enough. Lots of things are repugnant, but don't qualify as torture. Mukasey is trying to occupy some kind of middle ground between the Bush administration and the civilized world.

But that middle ground doesn't exist. Waterboarding is either torture or its not, and Mukasey should know that. It is very troubling that he will not say it.

It's not enough to say torture is wrong. Even George Bush says that, while continuing to torture at the same time. You must define what you mean by torture. Mukasey's refusal to define the term makes me think his definition may be as loose as the definitions used by Bush and Alberto Gonzales.

Would Mukasey authorize the use of torture? We cannot know since he will not define the term. Until he does, he should not be approved as Attorney General.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Noriega Has The Experience Texas Needs


We're still several months away from the primary election here in Texas, but Texans already know who their choices are in the race for the U.S. Senate. And the two men could not be more different.

The Republican candidate is John Cornyn. Cornyn is a right-winger who blindly votes with the Bush administration, regardless of what's good for the country and Texas. Even though he has no military experience himself, he has repeatedly voted to sacrifice our brave soldiers in the unwise and unwinnable war and occupation of Iraq. Even though over 70% of Americans oppose the war and want to bring our soldiers home, Cornyn continues to vote against any kind of timetable for withdrawal.

Cornyn also opposes providing health insurance for for poor and working class children. He voted against the SCHIP bill which would have provided healthcare for children, and then supported Bush's veto of the bill. Once again he took this position even though over 70% of the population supported the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Instead of representing the people, Cornyn has simply been a lackey who votes as the White House tells him to vote.

The Democratic candidate is different -- a real man of the people, who's not afraid to stand up for what's right. Rick Noriega joined the Army in 1979. After finishing his term honorably, he went to college at the University of Houston, where he completed R.O.T.C. and became an officer in the National Guard after his graduation. He also earned a master's degree from Harvard University.

In 2004, Lt. Co. Noriega proudly served with his unit in Afghanistan. As Lt. Col. Noriega says, "It's time this state had people in Washington, D.C., who have the wartime experience to understand what is going on". He adds, "We need a change, and we need new leadership that has walked the walk, whether we're talking about the war or border issues or working in a bipartisan way".

And it's not just wartime experience that qualifies Rick Noriega. He has also coordinated efforts to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees, led his Guard unit at the Texas border to help law enforcement officials, and served as a state representative since 1999. He has been a school teacher and an energy executive. Rick Noriega has the broad experience that Texas needs.

Rick Noriega is also starting to get the endorsements of some Texas political veterans such as former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, former Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby and former Cabinet Secretary Henry Cisneros. State Rep. Lon Burnam says of Rick, "He is a fundamentally decent man who has the right head and the right heart to represent this state in the Senate".

If you haven't climbed aboard the Noriega Express, it's time to do so. Tell your friends and neighbors about Rick. And if you can, give a few dollars to his campaign -- any amount will help. Rick is the best candidate, but he's going to need some campaign dollars to get his message out to all Texans.

Texas needs Rick Noriega -- and Rick Noriega needs your help.

Blackwater Guards Given Immunity In Shooting

Once again the Bush administration demonstrates its incompetence. Last September 16th, Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 unarmed and innocent Iraqi civilians. Iraqi officials and others were outraged at the unjustified murders, and demanded that the Blackwater guards be prosecuted.

The U.S. State Department sent a team of investigators to find out what happened, but they instantly blew the investigation. According to the Associated Press, those investigators immediately gave all those involved immunity for anything they might say. They did this without even knowing who might be guilty of any crimes. Now, nothing they have said can be used in a criminal prosecution.

The case was then turned over to the FBI, but none of the guards will talk to the FBI. Now it looks like there may not be any criminal prosecution due to the incomprehensible actions of the State Department investigators. No one will say who's idea it was to give the immunity before any investigating was done.

I suspect we all know who is responsible. I think some fool in the Bush administration (perhaps even the head fool himself) decided they couldn't afford another scandal. This is just the kind of blunder the administration has been making since taking office.

Given a choice between being honest or hiding the truth from the American people, Bush and his cronies have always chosen to hide the truth -- even if it means lying. Now they've done it again.

I don't guess we should be surprised by now.

Pope Puts Religion Over Women's Rights


The Nazi Pope, Benedict XVI, has again shown his disdain for women and their rights. He told a gathering of pharmacists that they should have the right to force their religious views on their customers, especially the female customers.

The Pope said, "Pharmacists must seek to raise people's awareness so that all human beings are protected from conception to natural death, and so that medicines truly play a therapeutic role. We cannot anesthetize consciences as regards, for example, the effect of certain molecules that have the goal of preventing implantation of the embryo or shortening a person's life."

In plain language, pharmacists should have the right to force their own weird religious beliefs on their customers. He thinks if a pharmacist has a "moral" objection to filling a prescription, then they should not have to do it. They should have the right to refuse to follow a doctor's orders or a patient's wishes.

I could not disagree more. I don't care how many years a pharmacist went to school, or how much money they spent doing it. They knew what the job entailed before they entered the profession. If they cannot "ethically" fulfill their duties, then they should find a new profession where their religion would not interfere with their duties.

No profession should have the right to impose their own religious views on those who disagree with them. Would you want a policeman who was morally opposed to hurting a criminal that was trying to kill you? Of course not. That policeman would be asked to find a profession that did not interfere with the rights and safety of the general public.

The same should be true of pharmacists. They are being paid to dispense prescriptions, not force their religious views on those who do not accept those views. If they want to further their religion, they should become a priest or minister. But if they want to be a pharmacist, they should dispense any legal medication they are asked to dispense.

The Pope has the right to any weird religious belief he wants, but he is stepping over the line when he asks others to interfere with the rights and safety of the public by refusing to do their duty.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A.B.A. Group Supports Freeze On Executions


The American Bar Association believes there are serious problems with how the states handle death penalty cases, and these problems affect the fairness of trials and death penalty verdicts.

The ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project conducted a review of how the death penalty operates in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennslyvania and Tennessee. They found several problems, including:

* Spotty collection and preservation of DNA evidence.

* Misidentification by eyewitnesses.

* False confessions from defendants.

* Racial disparities that make death sentences more likely when victims are white.

Stephen F. Hanlon, chairman of the group, said, "After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply flawed. The death penalty system is rife with irregularity."

The problem is not whether the death penalty is right or wrong. The problem is that our system of justice cannot guarantee fairness. This fundamental problem with fairness makes the rightness or wrongness of the death penalty a moot point. Even if the death penalty can be justified on moral grounds, that justification can only exist in a fair system.

Perhaps one day we can have the debate over whether the death penalty is right or wrong, but that day is a long way off. Right now, we must have a moratorium on the death penalty until we can guarantee the fairness of our system.

Without a fair system, we are sure to execute some innocent people. The execution of even one innocent person is an unforgivable and morally reprehensible act. It cannot be defended.

Northern Border More Porous Than Southern Border


Along a 268 mile stretch of the border near El Paso, the Border Patrol has over 2,000 agents. By comparison, they have only 1,000 agents assigned to protect our entire 3,987 mile long border with Canada.

As John Cooney of the General Accounting Office says of our northern border, "That border is so long, frankly, the security on that border has really not increased too much since the French and Indian War."

Our border with Canada is twice as long as our border with Mexico. It has hundreds of small roads (as pictured above), and thousands of places where anyone can just walk across without anyone noticing. And there is no dangerous desert to cross or river to swim or fence to climb over.

This shows just what a lie the Republicans are telling us about our southern border. They want us to believe there is a serious risk of terrorists crossing our southern border, and that is why we must build a fence there. What a lie!

There is not a single instance of a terrorist crossing our southern border. Why would they cross there? It's far more dangerous to cross our southern border, and with the several thousand agents assigned there, it is far more likely they would be caught trying to cross there than the northern border.

On the northern border, they could walk or drive across unseen and then merge into US traffic within a couple of miles. That's much easier!

It just shows us that the proposed southern fence has nothing to do with national security. If it did, they would be proposing an even longer fence for our unguarded northern border. No, the fence is not aimed at terrorists, but at brown-skinned economic immigrants trying to feed their families (who pose no danger to the American populace).

It is simply more evidence of the racism and bigotry in our country, and in the Republican Party.

Halloween


Halloween is fast approaching. While I enjoy most of the holidays, Halloween is far and away my favorite, especially as it is celebrated in the United States. Halloween is a holiday just dedicated to having fun, trick-or-treating, candy, costumes and parties.

Maybe it's because I find other holidays to be too serious in nature, or maybe it's just my Irish heritage. Halloween is generally regarded as having originated in Ireland, where the Celts had an Autumn festival known as Samhain. They would light large bonfires to ward off evil spirits, because they believed the dead revisited the world on that day.

Since the division of the world of the living and the world of the dead did not exist on this night, many believed it was safer to dress as a ghost or "otherworldly creature" so as to blend in when outdoors. The children would knock on doors to gather fruit, nuts and sweets for the festival (the beginning of "trick-or-treating"). Homes would be decorated with pumpkins or turnips carved with scary faces.

Halloween arrived in America with the two million Irish that came because of the potato famine in the mid-nineteenth century. Costumes began to be worn around 1900, and trick-or-treating became widespread in the early 1950's. Halloween is now the sixth most profitable holiday for business, after Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentines Day, Easter and Father's Day.

Oddly enough, there seems to be a significant difference between liberals and conservatives over the celebration of Halloween. While over 70% of liberals and 67% of moderates will be handing out Halloween candy this year, only slightly more than half (55%) of conservatives will be doing so.

I'm told it's because many religious conservatives consider Halloween to be a "demonic" holiday. Personally, I think they're afraid someone might be having fun, and they can't have that.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Thousands Protest Iraq War


You wouldn't know it by reading the websites of most Texas newspapers, but there was a major war protest last Saturday in at least a dozen U.S. cities. Thousands turned out in the rain in New York City. At least 10,000 turned out in Chicago, and even more showed up in SanFrancisco (where 100,000 were expected).

The protests were in opposition to Bush's continuing occupation of Iraq. The protests were held on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Senate's vote authorizing the invasion of Iraq. There were also protesters in Boston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Orlando, Philadelphia and other cities.

The protesters urged Congress to use its power to cut off funds and force Bush to end the war. The American people have opposed this war for some time now. They elected a Democratic Congress in the hopes of ending the war, but so far that has been in vain.

A recent poll showed that 75% of the American people are not happy with Congress. That's probably because Congress has been too gutless to end the war as people want. They keep knuckling under to Bush and continue to fund his unwinnable and never-ending war of occupation in Iraq.

Its time to defund the war and bring our soldiers home. Not in a few months or years -- NOW.

Putin Says Missle Defense Like "Cuban Crises"


In 1962, the world was on the edge of nuclear war. Russia had placed nuclear missles in Cuba, and the United States demanded they be removed. President Kennedy put a naval blockade on Cuba, and as Russian ships neared the blockade, the world teetered on the brink of World War III. It was the closest we have come to all-out war in the nuclear age.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. An agreement was reached where Russia removed its missles from Cuba, and the U.S. removed its missles from Turkey. Now it looks like Bush is trying to create the same kind of crises.

Bush doesn't see it that way, but neither did Khrushchev when he put the missles in Cuba. The important thing is that is how Putin sees it. Bush putting a missle defense system in eastern Europe is viewed by Putin to be as dangerous to Russia as the missles in Cuba were to the U.S.

It is easy to see why he would view it that way. A missle defense system in eastern Europe could render Russia's missles useless, while still leaving them vulnerable to missles from the United States. That would upset the balance of "mutually assured destruction" and force Russia to take action to prevent it (just as Kennedy was forced to take action in 1962).

The path Bush is taking could once again bring America and Russia to the brink of war, possibly even a nuclear war. The scary part is that Bush doesn't seem to see the danger. He still thinks he can talk Putin into accepting the system. He is wrong.

Putin will never allow Russia to be put in such a compromised position. Fortunately, Putin seems to still want to be on good terms with the United States, and has given Bush two ways to defuse the coming crises. He can either not build the system, or he can build it in conjunction with Russia so that both parties will have the system.

Both of these solutions would maintain the delicate balance between the two countries, and avert the crises. Now we must wait and see if Bush is smart enough to realize this and make the right choice.

Unfortunately, he has not shown this much intelligence in the past.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Good Readin'

I'm a bit more interested in reading what other people have to say right now than I am in posting, but I don't want to be a bad blog-sitter. In the interest of keeping things moving along while jobsanger is off playing with his mates, I'm going to link to a few posts worth reading around the blogosphere.

The Rude Pundit has a thing or two to say about the comparisons between the California wildfires and Katrina.

La Lubu gives us a great post about premature birth of her daughter and how the experience helped shape her opinion of the S-CHIP debate.

Melissa reminds us once again that rape is not a compliment.

Shark-Fu ponders King George's plans for a post-Castro Cuba.

The General's inner Frenchman decides which presidential candidate he'll be supporting.

Roy explains why he's a feminist.

This is just a very small portion of the good reading out there right now. Feel free to drop a link or two to other posts worth the read.

A Small Hiatus


I apologize to the regular readers, but I probably won't be blogging for a couple of days. The boss is sending me out of town, and I won't have access to a computer I can use to blog. I don't like it, but I've gotta pay the bills.

One of these days, I'll get enough money saved to get a laptop. Until then, there will be these sporadic interruptions.

Should be blogging again by Sunday.

Southern California vs. New Orleans


Isn't it amazing how fast the federal government can spring into action when the disaster victims are well-to-do whites? Why is it they couldn't do the same when poor African-Americans were begging for help after Hurricane Katrina?

Bush couldn't even be bothered to interrupt his vacation to help the victims of Katrina, but he's johnny-on-the-spot for the California wildfire victims. I'm not saying the California victims don't deserve quick and effective help -- they do. But so did the victims in New Orleans.

The government will tell you that they've learned from their mistakes in New Orleans, but that's hard to believe. This administration has made a ton of mistakes and hasn't seemed to learn from any of them. Why should this be any different?

The only difference is the race, social and financial status of the victims.

Bush Is A Spender - Not A Conservative


Recently, Bush has been posing as a conservative. He wants voters to believe that he is holding the line against a spendthrift Democratic Congress. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The truth is that Bush has been a bigger spender than any previous president. Spending under Bush has grown at a rate of 5.3% per year (adjusted for inflation). That is only the discretionary spending, and does not count Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. This is spending that he had control over.

The fact is that Bush is a big spender, and he cannot blame the Democrats. For all but the last year, he did that spending with a Republican Congress (and never once vetoed a Republican spending bill). While Bush and that Republican Congress would love to continue their mantra of being small-government conservatives, the facts show they are bigger spenders than the Democrats ever have been.

Bush apologists are quick to point out that Bush had a war to finance. There are two things wrong with that argument:
1. The war was unnecessary -- so unnecessary that he had to lie to get Americans to go along with it. He also continued it long after most Americans wanted him to withdraw.
2. Lyndon Johnson also had a war, and the Vietnam war costs combined with a "war on poverty" still did not result in as large a growth in spending as Bush has engineered.

But the growth of spending under Bush wasn't limited to defense spending. He has overseen a growth of spending across the board.

Sadly though, Bush's massive increase in spending has done little or nothing to help ordinary Americans. The only people who are better off are the rich and the corporate interests -- they are doing better than ever. It is hard to understand how Bush can have spent so much and accomplished so little.

Bush has raised incompetence to new heights, and possibly even turned it into an art form.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thank You Mikal Watts !


Yesterday, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Mikal Watts withdrew from the race for the Democratic nomination. He said, "After spending the last several months putting everything into this campaign, I have seen the toll this effort has taken on my children. For these reasons, my wife and I have made the decision that I will not be seeking the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate in 2008."

Whatever his reasons for withdrawing (and I have no reason not to believe what he said), he has done Texas Democrats a huge favor. Although I am a supporter of Rick Noriega, I admit that Watts was a formidable opponent. Had he decided to go all out, Texas Democrats could have wound up with a candidate bruised and drained of resources after a tough primary fight.

Now that will not happen. Barring some unforseen occurrence, Rick Noriega will be the Democratic candidate. He can now spend the money he raises fighting against "Box Turtle" John Cornyn, and not another Democrat. This increases his chances of getting elected.

Thank you Mikal Watts. Although you will not be the senate candidate, you have earned yourself a lot of respect and good will among Democrats.

I had already cast my lot with Rick Noriega for this campaign, and I would not have supported or donated to Watt's campaign. But should he run for office in the future, I would have to give him serious consideration.

Another School Board Over Reacts


Once again, a Texas school board is over-reacting. The school board is in the West Texas town of Tuscola, and they are trying to engage in the time-honored practice of book banning. They want to treat a book as though it was poisonous, and the very touch of the book would cause children to become mindless murdering perverts.

The book is Child of God, written by pulitzer prize-winning author Cormac McCarthy in 1974. It is a novel of an outsider falsely accused of rape, who begins killing people and winds up living in a cave with the decomposing corpses.

The book was on a list compiled by Tuscola's English teachers for a pre-Advanced Placement class. But naturally, some parent complained and now the school board has banned the book and suspended one of the teachers. It doesn't seem to matter that most people in the town don't think the teacher did anything wrong, and want him re-instated.

School boards seem to cater to the lowest common denominator these days. They seem to want to protect our kids from the world, rather than educate them about it. They should be acting like educators, not nannies.

It's not like these were first graders. These are high school students, and whether their parents want to admit it or not, they are capable of reading about the harsh realities of our world and rationally discussing them. The world is not always a nice place, and these high school students have probably read worse in the newspapers or seen it on TV or in the movies.

Books are not the problem, no matter what their content. The problem is people who think everyone must share their own limited view of the world. The problem is those who would deny freedom of speech and thought.

Time For Puerto Rico To Choose


The House Natural Resources Committee has set the stage for Puerto Rico to decide their future. They have approved a measure that would let the citizens of Puerto Rico vote on whether they want to become a state, become an independent country, or remain a commonwealth possession of the United States. The measure still needs to pass the full House and the Senate.

Personally, I think that's one choice too many. They have been a possession of the United States since 1898 -- and that's far too long. That should no longer be an option. What is a supposedly free and democratic country doing with possessions anyway? That seems more suited to the concept of "empire".

I could understand if the citizens of Puerto Rico chose to be an independent nation. That is their right. But I hope they will choose to become our next state. It is time for that to happen. It is time for them to become full voting citizens.

NOTE -- Shouldn't the Virgin Islands be given the same choice?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Cost of College Education Is Still Rising


There's more bad news for middle and working class students. The cost of a college education is still rising in this country. Even worse, it's rising much faster than the rate of inflation.

According to College Board's survey of college costs, the cost in a public college rose 6.6% this year -- $381 over last year's cost. A year in a public college now costs about $6,185 ($13,589 for those who live on campus). The price of a private college rose 6.3% to about $23,712 ($32,307 for those who live on campus).

Over the last five years, college prices have risen 31% MORE THAN THE INFLATION RATE in this country. That's more than any five year period in the last 30 years. It's also risen much faster than the modest rises in student grants (such as the Pell Grant).

Much of this has happened since the Republicans took over the leadership of our state and country. Here in Texas, they have deregulated costs at public colleges, triggering huge jumps in college costs which seem to have no end.

It's a bit mystifying why they have done this. Republicans love to talk about government being "cost-effective". The truth is that one of the most cost-effective things a government can do is finance a college education.

The difference between what a college graduate will pay in taxes over his lifetime compared to a high school graduate, will far surpass the cost of financing a college education. It is one of the few government expenditures that results in a positive financial return.

But there's a big difference in what Republicans preach and what they practice. While they preach cost-effectiveness, they're really only interested in helping their rich buddies and corporate interests. Then they wonder why we're starting to fall behind other countries in education.

One of the best things this country could do for its future is offer a free public college education to any student who wants it.

Environmental Laws Waived For Border Fence


Bush and the Republican Party have never let a few laws get in the way of their accomplishing their political goals. It looks like they still feel that way. And make no mistake about it, the building of the fence along our southern border is pure politics.

No one who is knowledgeable about illegal immigration believes the fence will stop, or even slow down the migration of undocumented workers into this country. The fence is being built to appease the racist base of the Republican Party.

The modern Republican Party achieved their majority largely due to racist reaction to Democrats passing the Civil Rights laws of the mid-sixties. They understand that America still has problems with racism, and now they're wanting to save their party by trying to appeal to these same racist views -- only this time it's aimed at the brown people who cross our southern border to feed their families.

This time, Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff has brushed aside environmental laws to complete building a section of the political fence in Arizona (and threatens to do the same in Texas if those laws get in his way here). The Republicans will build their fence regardless of what it does to the environment.

In Arizona, a federal judge had stopped the building of the fence. She said the government had not fully explored the impact of the fence upon the area's environment. But Chertoff was not about to wait for an environmental study. This fence is too important to his Republican bosses.

It's pretty obvious that the fence will harm the border environment here in Texas if it is built. We can expect Chertoff and his cronies to show the same indifference to our environment that he is showing toward the environment in Arizona.

Now Chertoff is not breaking any laws by brushing aside environmental laws and concerns. That's because the Republican Congress foresaw the legal problems, and gave him the authority to ignore environmental laws back in 2005.

It looks like it's time for Democrats to revisit that 2005 law -- that is, if they can find the backbone to do so.

Blackwater Evading Federal Taxes


We've all heard about the problems that Blackwater is having in Iraq with its security operatives killing innocent Iraqi citizens. Now it looks like the company may have other problems as well.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) says Blackwater may have evaded millions of dollars in federal taxes. He says the company is trying to avoid paying Social Security, Medicare and unemployment taxes by classifying its employees as private contractors, instead of company employees.

This came to light when one of Blackwater's employees complained to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about being classified as a private contractor. The IRS ruled that the classification was incorrect, and said the man was an employee and not a private contractor. Blackwater agreed to pay the back taxes for this one employee, but made him sign an agreement saying he would not talk to any "politician or public official".

Waxman got hold of the agreement with a subpoena, and was incensed about the secrecy provision. He said, "The nondisclosure agreement is abhorrent on its face. It is deplorable that a company that depends on federal tax dollars for over 90 percent of its business would even contemplate forbidding an employee to report corporate wrongdoing to Congress and federal law enforcement officials."

Blackwater says they are appealing the IRS ruling. Personally, I think the appeal is just a stalling action. They have little chance of winning the appeal (barring interference from the Bush administration).

Both of the other security companies doing business in Iraq classify their agents as employees, and are paying the appropriate taxes. Private contractors are those who supply their own tools and decide for themselves when they will or won't work. Blackwater agents do not supply their own weapons and ammunition, and they must go to work when Blackwater tells them to. They do NOT meet the definition of a private contractor.

It is estimated that between May 2006 and March 2007, Blackwater has evaded $15.5 million in Social Security and Medicare taxes and $500,000 in unemployment taxes. That is just sickening. If other employers must pay these taxes, then Blackwater should be paying them also.

This is a company that seems to think it can make its own rules. They don't follow the rules of engagement that our soldiers must follow in Iraq, and they don't pay their taxes as other American companies do. For them, Iraq is not a job but a get-rich-quick scheme.

Their government contract should be voided, and they should be forced to pay their back taxes -- with penalties.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gainesville Finally Faces Its Dark Secret


For the last 145 years, Gainesville residents have not wanted to speak of the horror that happened in their city during the Civil War. It's not the kind of thing a city could be proud of. In October 1862, Gainesville was the sight of the largest mass lynchings in America's history.

Gainesville is the county seat of Cooke County. When Texas voted to secede from the United States during the Civil War, Cooke County was one of 5 Red River counties that voted not to secede. These counties voted by 61-70% margins to stay in the Union.

Over 90% of the Cooke County residents were not slave-owners. When the Confederacy began to conscript soldiers, these men were angry that the 10% who were wealthy slave-owners were exempted from the draft. Many of those who had voted to stay in the Union formed a Peace Party, angering Texans sympathetic to the Confederacy.

A couple of Colonels in the Confederate Army (and slave-owners) arrested around 150 Union sympathizers and began holding "trials", in which a majority of 7 jurors (all slave-owners) could find the men guilty. Before a stop was put to it, around 41 men had been hanged (fourteen of them in one night by an angry lynch mob), and another had been shot.

Last Friday, Gainesville moved publically to finally exorcise their secret demon. A public park with 42 crosses was dedicated to remember the 1862 deaths. I am happy that this has happened. It is time for Gainesville to remember and bury its past.

Although I was not born there, I lived and worked in Gainesville for years, and learned to love the city. Both of my children were born while we lived there, and I would love to return there when I finally retire. It's a beautiful city.

That's why I'm happy that Gainesville is finally facing its past.

NOTE - The above postcard picture is of the Cooke County Courthouse in 1878.

Dallas Rep. Tries To Kill Ft. Worth Project


Fort Worth has plans that would create a lake and park area out of the Trinity River that runs just north of its downtown area. These plans would not affect the Trinity River areas downstream. However, it would be important to Ft. Worth and would help to re-vitalize the near-Northside area of the city -- an area that badly needs re-vitalization.

But U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Dallas) seems to be doing everything that she can to kill the project in her neighboring city. Johnson heads a water resources sub-committee in the House. When that sub-committee sent the House a water bill last summer, she would not include the Ft. Worth project in the bill (even though she included a similar project planned in Dallas for the Trinity River).

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison put the Ft. Worth project into the bill when it reached the Senate. But Johnson demanded and got the project pulled out of the bill in conference. Her actions are leaving Ft. Worth officials to wonder just what they have done to justify her actions.

Ft. Worth and Dallas are only about 30 miles apart, and together make one very large metropolitan area. In the past, there has been some serious rivalry between the two areas. But in the last few years, the cities have cooperated effectively on several things important to the area, such as the DFW Airport.

That's what makes Rep. Johnson's actions so mysterious to Tarrant County residents. They know she's not opposed to Trinity River re-vitalization -- she approved it for Dallas. It's just the Ft. Worth project that she seems to be against.

Like the Ft. Worth officials and residents, I wonder just why Rep. Johnson is doing this. Do you really hate your neighbor to the west that much? Why are you not in favor of making Ft. Worth a better place for its people?

Just what do you have against Ft. Worth, Rep. Johnson?

Richardson Details Global Threats


A couple of days ago, Bill Richardson gave a speech in Iowa in which he detailed the major threats to world peace that the next president will have to deal with. There are many threats to peace, and we have seen with our current president just how badly an inexperienced leader can screw things up.

In our next president, we need someone with experience in dealing with world leaders. No one has had more experience or more success in dealing with world leaders than Bill Richardson -- even those leaders considered to be "outlaws" by most of the civilized world.

Richardson has had success as a congressman, a cabinet member, a governor, and especially as a diplomat on the international stage. After suffering through the incompetent currently in the White House, America badly needs a competent president to restore our respect and world standing, and to solve global threats to world peace. America needs Bill Richardson.

Here is some of what Richardson had to say. You can go here if you'd like to read the entire speech.

"For decades, we believed that the only apocalyptic threat to human civilization was the possibility of nuclear war. Now we know better. We know that poverty and overpopulation affect us all. Refugee crises. Pandemic diseases. Climate change. Environmental degradation. Resource depletion. Ethnic and political instability. These are not just the problems of individual nations; they are the problems of an interdependent world. We are the most powerful nation in the history of the world. Yet we are not immune to such threats. It will take vigilance and bold action now to preserve our safety for the future."

"We need to take immediate, bold steps toward clean energy. The foundation for international action will be my comprehensive energy program, which the Sierra Club has called the most aggressive of any Presidential candidate. I have learned some lessons on the way to making New Mexico the Clean Energy State. The most important one is that Americans are ready to act. All that they need is a President who is ready to lead. Once you lead, you find allies in corners whom you never knew existed."

"In these times, facing these threats, we cannot afford to have untested leadership. My colleagues in this race have my respect, but it is a simple fact that the next international deal negotiated by any of them will be his or her first."

"I rescued three hostages from Sudan; there was no time then for polls or consultants. Now is not the time for political calculation. As we gather our strength for this effort, we must remember that preserving one's popularity is no recipe for inspiring a nation, let alone the world. I owe my success in bringing people together and solving problems to risk taking. Sometimes you have to lay things on the line to get results."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chrysler Unions Not As Compliant As GM's


A couple of weeks ago the United Auto Worker's (UAW) union members working for General Motors (GM) OK'd a new contract. That contract allowed GM to dump it's responsibility for retiree benefits onto the union, allowed it to close several plants and reduced wages for some non-skilled workers.

At the time, I was mystified as to why the union members approved such a poor contract. Evidently, many Chrysler workers don't understand that either. Seeing the GM workers fall into line so easily, Chrysler tried to pass off the same kind of contract on its workers. They got the national UAW office to agree, but the workers aren't going along so easily this time.

So far, only the local in Kenosha (Wisconsin) has approved the contract. Five other locals have rejected the contract -- Detroit (Michigan), St. Louis (Missouri), Newark (Delaware), Fenton (Missouri) and Twinsburg (Ohio). A majority of the Chrysler workers nationwide must approve the contract for it to take effect. Otherwise, negotiations must continue.

Many locals have not yet reported, and the contract could yet be approved. But it certainly looks right now as if it will probably be defeated. It doesn't look like these workers want the same contract GM workers agreed to.

If negotiations are to continue, it might be good for Chrysler's workers to demand new union negotiators. They agreed to a bad contract with GM, and have recommended the same bad contract to Chrysler's workers.

Democratic Candidates Outraising Republicans


Democratic candidates continue to lead Republicans in the amount of campaign donations they are receiving. This is true for not only the presidential candidates, but also for the House and Senate candidates.

In the past few years, Republicans have outraised Democrats pretty easily, but not this campaign season. I think that's a measure of just how dissatisfied the American people are with how the Republicans have governed. Here's the breakdown for House, Senate and presidential candidates:

HOUSE CANDIDATES
Democrats.......$98,147,299
Republicans.....$66,334,161

SENATE CANDIDATES
Democrats.......$40,433,238
Republicans.....$33,054,568

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
Democrats.......$244,404,140
Republicans.....$175,336,955

When you break down the presidential race into what each candidate has received, the lead by Democrats looks even more significant. Both of the top two Democrats have raised quite a bit more than any of the Republican candidates, and five of the top eight fundraisers are Democrats. Here are the total donations for the presidential candidates:

Clinton........$90,935,788
Obama........$80,256,427
Romney.......$62,829,069
Giuliani.......$47,253,521
McCain........$32,124,785
Edwards......$30,329,152
Richardson...$18,699,937
Dodd..........$13,598,152
Thompson....$12,828,111
Paul...........$8,268,453
Biden.........$8,215,739
Brownback...$4,235,333
Tancredo.....$3,538,244
Huckabee....$2,345,798
Kucinich......$2,130,200
Hunter........$1,890,873
Gravel........$238,745
Keyes.........$22,768

Republican Party Chairman Resigns


The chairman of the national Republican Party announced last Friday that he is resigning his position as party leader. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida has only held the job for 10 months, but now says that he has accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish and its time for him to concentrate on being a senator.

Martinez says he has put the party back on a sound financial footing and, "It became increasingly apparent things were in sufficiently good shape, and it was probably a good moment to get back to my main job, my real obligation and passion".

This seems to be an odd thing to say, considering the Democrats are outraising the Republicans in donations for the first time in many years. I guess next we'll hear he wants to spend more time with his family.

The problems just keep piling up for the Republican Party, and this resignation won't help. Polls consistently show that Republicans can expect to suffer a huge defeat in the next election. Chances are excellent that after the election, Democrats will control both houses of Congress and the presidency.

I suspect that Martinez could see the coming disaster, and simply didn't want to be in charge of the Republican ship when it sinks. If the election turns out as bad as its looks like it might, they're going to want to blame someone and Martinez doesn't want it to be him.

With their president making a mess of the war and vetoing healthcare for children, not to mention the moral and corruption problems running rampant within the party, it must be hard being a Republican leader these days.

"Super-Staph" Comes To Texas


Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria that is commonly found on the skin and in the nose. It does not cause serious illness until it gets inside the body, and even then can usually be controlled by methicillin (one of the newest and most effective forms of penicillin).

But there is a new form of the staph bacteria that is very resistant to methicillin. It is MRSA -- more commonly called the "super-bug". Until recently, this "super-bug" was only found in hospital settings. But now it is being found in other places where people come in close contact.

MRSA strikes about 94,000 Americans each year -- killing around 19,000 of them. It is now starting to infect our young people through the schools. Gyms and athletic areas are particularly risky, where people share towels and other equipment.

The "super-bug" has now arrived here in Texas. At least three Tarrant County school districts have had confirmed cases, and there are suspected cases in other districts. The Birdville district has had 10 cases of MRSA, the Keller district has had 3 cases and the Southlake district has had 1 case. Arlington and Grapevine have had staph cases, but it is not confirmed if any of them are MRSA.

This is some pretty scary stuff. Fortunately, schools and health departments are doing their best to isolate and control the "super-bug". Students found to have any staph infection are not allowed at school until they have been medicated and are no longer infectious. Schools are also cleaning and disinfecting any areas touched by these students.

The Texas Department of State Health Services issued some guidelines this last week to help control the spread of the disease. Their tips include:

Good hygiene, especially regular hand-washing.

Do not share personal items such as towels or razors.

Thoroughly clean shared items, such as toys, telephones and keyboards, using a 1:100 bleach-water solution.

Cover open wounds or cuts with a clean, dry bandage.

Seek medical attention if symptoms occur. These can include a large area of redness on the skin, swelling and pain, followed by a pustule, abscess or boil.

Schools and employers in close-contact settings should create infection containment policies and provide prevention information to employees.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Phillie Scouts Can Discriminate - But Not For Free


We've known for a while now that the Boy Scouts of America is not an equal opportunity organization. They discriminate against gays. In 2000, the Supreme Court gave them the right to continue their discrimination, and they have done so.

But the city of Philadelphia does not discriminate in this way. The city has been letting the Cradle of Liberty Council of the Boy Scouts rent city-owned office space for their headquarters. The COL Council has been paying $1 a year in rent. Now the city wants to raise the rent to $200,000 a year, which is the fair-market value of the space.

The city says they cannot legally give an organization that discriminates any kind of reduced rate for rent. To do so would make the city a party to the discrimination. The Boy Scouts must pay the fair-market value, or vacate the space by May 31.

To their credit, the COL Council passed a non-discriminatory policy in 2003, but the national organization forced them to rescind the policy. The National Council said the local councils cannot decide on their own to stop the discrimination. If the National Council wants to discriminate, then everyone in the organization must discriminate.

I applaud this decision by the city of Philadelphia. Just because the Scouts want to discriminate, doesn't mean the city can or should follow suit. The city made the only legal and decent decision that they could.

It simply would not be right for the "Cradle of American Liberty" to deny that liberty to any segment of our population.

Mukasey Should Be Rejected


It looks like Bush's nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales will be approved by the Senate -- but he shouldn't be. The nominee is Michael Mukasey, and his answers to Senate questions regarding the use of torture are very troubling.

Mukasey said that the use of torture was not legal. That might sound good until you realize that Bush said the same thing. He said it at the same time he told Gonzales to write the famous "secret memo" authorizing the use of various forms of torture. It is not enough to be opposed to a general concept of torture.

For instance, if you don't think attaching wires to a person's genitals and turning on the electricity is torture, then you can do it while saying you are opposed to torture. The real test comes in just what a person defines as torture. Bush has failed that test, as did Gonzales. Now it looks like Mukasey has failed that test also.

When the senators tried to ask Mukasey about specific techniques of torture, he would not answer their questions. How hard is it to decide if "waterboarding" is torture? It would seem obvious to any decent person that it is. But Mukasey would not answer that question.

Does that mean he might agree with the president that waterboarding is not torture? Does it mean he might actually authorize its use as Gonzales did? Mukasey's refusal to answer tends to show that he thinks torture is a gray area, with some things prohibited and some things allowed.

We cannot afford to have another Gonzales. Our next Attorney General must be a man who opposes all forms of torture. He must believe there are no gray areas when torture is involved -- it is all wrong.

If Mukasey doesn't know that waterboarding is torture, he should not be our next Attorney General.

Indicted Sheriff Keeps His Job In Potter County


On Wednesday, a Potter County Grand Jury indicted Potter County Sheriff Shumate on three felony charges. He was charged with bribery and two counts of failing to report campaign donations. Shumate had taken cash and gifts from Mid-America Services in exchange for helping them get the jail commissary contract.

On Thursday, it was revealed that the Sheriff will keep his job. The Potter County Attorney's Office said they will not be seeking his removal or resignation any time soon. County Attorney Scott Brumley said, "At this stage, I think a removal suit would do little more than get in the way of the criminal proceedings."

District Attorney Randall Sims agreed saying, "Sheriff Shumate is still Sheriff Shumate". Sims doesn't think the Sheriff can be removed unless he is convicted.

Somehow this just doesn't seem right. How can a man charged with three felonies be left in charge of a jail housing hundreds of others charged with felonies and misdemeanors? Oddly enough, the man running the county jail has been charged with more serious crimes than many of those incarcerated in that jail.

If the Sheriff cannot be removed and will not resign, then maybe it is time for county commissioners to examine the issue of his TCLEOSE certification. This law enforcement certification is required of anyone who holds the office of sheriff. Can a person charged with three felonies retain a valid certification?

At the very least, the sheriff should be suspended from his duties until these charges have been adjudicated.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

8 More Guard Units Called For Iraq Deployment


We get more bad news on the Iraq war. The Pentagon is planning to call up eight more National Guard units. These units will be sent to Iraq next summer. This is just another sign that Bush is not planning to withdraw our troops from Iraq anytime soon.

There have already been 185,000 soldiers of the National Guard that have served in Iraq -- with over 28,000 doing more than one tour of duty there. They have not yet named the specific units that will be called this time, but it is known to include units from North Carolina, Oklahoma, Hawaii and Illinois.

There have already been 3,829 U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war (not counting those who died after being evacuated with serious injuries).

When are we going to stop this madness? Why must we send more of our finest to die in Bush's pointless occupation of Iraq?

Where are you Democrats? You were elected to put an end to this. Do it now! Stop letting Bush push you around. Defund this unwinnable war and force Bush to bring our troops home. You may not have the numbers to force a "timetable", but you do have the numbers to refuse to give Bush any more money to wage war with.

Show some political courage. Stop the war now.

Potter County Sheriff Indicted On Felony Charges


Last June, I did a couple of post about Potter County Sheriff Michael Shumate being investigated by the FBI. They are here and here. At the time, the Sheriff dismissed the allegations, saying it was just untrue accusations made by his wife because of their rather messy divorce. It looks like a Potter County Grand Jury didn't buy that excuse.

Yesterday, the Grand Jury indictments were made public. They have indicted the Potter County Sheriff on three felony charges -- one 1st degree felony charge of bribery and two 3rd degree felony charges of failing to report campaign donations of $750 and $500.

Robert Austin and his company, Mid-America Services were also indicted on charges of bribery. It seems that Mid-America got the lucrative jail commissary contract by bribing the sheriff. They gave him cash and checks (some of which were the unreported campaign donations), laptop computers, trips, clothing, meals and other items.

The Grand Jury also indicted former Chief Deputy Kenneth Ferren on unrelated charges. He was charged to two class B misdemeanor charges of misusing county employee and inmate labor for his own personal gain. Ferren had resigned last June, when it was learned the sheriff was being investigated, and announced his intention to run for sheriff himself. It doesn't look like that will happen now.

Both Shumate and Ferren turned themselves in to FBI agents yesterday. Channel 7 News in Amarillo reported they had posted bonds and were released.

These indictments are probably a good thing. Maybe now the voters of Potter County can elect an honest outsider who will come in and clean up the mess Shumate leaves. The Potter County Detention Center (Jail) recently failed its state inspection. The jail was cited for overpopulation, inadequate training of employees and failure to properly keep up on jail maintenance.

Maybe a new sheriff can straighten things out at the jail, and bring it up to the level of excellence shown by the neighboring Randall County Jail. There is no reason why Potter County can't have just as well-run a facility as its southern neighbor.

Laura Bush Coming To Amarillo


Is this the best we can do up here in the Panhandle? We just had a visit from Kay Bailey Hutchison, and now we're gonna get Laura Bush. Yesterday, Texas Tech University president Dr. John Baldwin announced that Mrs. Bush would be coming to Amarillo sometime in November to dedicate the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women's Health.

The Institute was actually established here in 1999 as the Women's Health Research Institute. But Texas Tech renamed it in August, so now we get a visit from Mrs. Bush.

It's not known yet exactly when the visit will be. For "security reasons" the specific details won't be released until about a week before she arrives. But it will be sometime in November.

Hillary. Barack. John. Bill. Rick. What are we going to have to do to get at least one of you guys up here! We have some Democrats up here! Really! Honest! I'm not kidding! Please!!!

I realize we're on the edge of known civilization up here, but please -- throw us a bone!