A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Friday, February 29, 2008

America's Great Shame


Americans like to brag about how we live in a free country, while many people in other countries live in "police states" and are not free. But if prison population and rates of citizen incarceration are any indicator, then it may be the United States that is the police state.

A new report by the Pew Center on the States reveals some shocking numbers. It turns out that the United States has the highest rate of incarceration of any country in the world. For the first time, the U.S. now has one out of every 100 adults locked up in a jail or prison.

The United States also leads the world in the total number of people incarcerated. We have over 2.3 million adults locked up. China, which has a far bigger total population, only has 1.5 million adults behind bars. Russia is in third place with a paltry 890,000 citizens incarcerated.

Does anyone really believe that our citizens are that much worse than the people in other countries? Of course not! The problem is not that our people are more criminal, but that we have chosen a social policy that locks up people that do things we don't approve of, rather than deal with them in another way.

A huge example of this is the way we deal with drug users. In many countries, drug use is considered a health problem, and is dealt with by treatment and education. But here in America, we have chosen to deal with drug users by considering it to be a criminal problem. We have locked up huge amounts of non-violent people simply because they chose to use a drug.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with locking up those who steal or hurt other people. But why are we incarcerating people who only hurt themselves by choosing to use drugs? Wouldn't it be more effective, more humane and cheaper to treat this as a public health problem, and deal with it by educating and offering treatment to the users?

Another social decision we have made is to have much tougher sentencing laws, including three strikes laws. Our lawmakers decided, with our acquiescence, that tougher laws would reduce crime. It hasn't.

That really doesn't surprise me. I've been in one form of law enforcement or another since 1976, and I've never met a criminal that thought he would get caught. If you don't think you're going to get caught, why should you worry about how tough sentences are?

It is time for us to reconsider some of our social decisions. They are simply not working. Frankly, any country that locks up one out of every 100 adults is doing something wrong. We must admit this and change our policies.

Democrat "Goes To Bat" For McCain


Make no mistake about it -- Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) is a supporter of Barack Obama for president. She has pledged to work hard to see that Obama gets elected. But she is also a believer in fair-play.

Thursday morning, she read an article in the New York Times that said John McCain may not legally be eligible to run for president. The question is whether he is a "natural born" citizen as required by the Constitution. McCain is the son of a Navy veteran, and he was born in the Panama Canal Zone while his father was stationed there.

No one born to a military family while stationed outside the United States has ever been elected president, so the matter of what constitutes a "natural born" citizen in this kind of case has never been tested. Most people probably believe a child born to a citizen in the military and stationed outside the U.S. is "natural born", but there are some who believe you would have to be born on U.S. soil.

Senator McCaskill has decided to settle the matter. She is introducing a bill in the Senate that would remove any lingering doubt as to McCain's citizenship. She wants the Congress to go on record as saying that children born to U.S. military personnel while serving on foreign soil are "natural born" citizens. I applaud McCaskill's efforts.

I would never vote for McCain, and I hope he is defeated in November by the Democratic nominee. Like McCaskill, I will work hard to see the Democrat wins. But I want the Democrat to win fair and square at the ballot box -- not in a court battle over some arcane legal issue.

I know there are some right-wing Republicans who believe in winning at all costs, whether in court or any other way. Good examples are State Senator Kim Brimer in Fort Worth this year, and George Bush in Florida in 2000. But Democrats have always believed in fair play, and we should hold ourselves to a higher standard.

I hope all Democrats will get behind McCaskill's bill and quickly pass it. And then get down to the hard work of making sure John McCain loses in November in a fair election.

50 Years Old And Still Going Strong

It turned 50 years old this month, but it's still going strong. I'm talking about the peace symbol. I doubt if there's any country on earth where people wouldn't recognize the symbol and know what it stands for.

It didn't originally stand for peace in general. It was designed by an Englishman named Gerald Holtom. He created it as a symbol for an anti-nuclear arms group called Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War. So it was originally a "no nukes" symbol (note the rocket-like figure within the circle). The symbol's first public appearance was in a protest march from Trafalgar Square to Aldermaston (where nuclear research was being done).

Americans affiliated with the British anti-nuclear movement brought the symbol to the United States in the late 1950's. When peace activists turned their attention to the Vietnam War in the sixties, they kept the symbol and it's meaning morphed into the general concept of "peace". It retains that meaning today.

Holtom's innovative symbol was a masterstroke. It is at once both a striking symbol and a simple one. Anyone can draw it in just seconds, and everyone instantly recognizes it and knows what it means. Modern corporations would pay a ton of money for a symbol so simple, so powerful and so instantly recognizable.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the Peace Symbol! I hope it has a long life, and it's meaning takes hold all over the world.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Superdelegates Breaking For Obama


It's starting to look like the beginning of the end for Clinton's candidacy. She needs to win Texas and Ohio big to remain viable, but the latest polls show she will probably lose in Texas. Ohio still looks like it could be a win for Clinton, but it will be much closer and she won't get the big win that she needs.

That would be bad enough, but now the superdelegates are starting to declare their support of Obama. In the last couple of weeks, around two dozen superdelegates have thrown their support to Obama.

Some of them have even switched their support from Clinton to Obama -- like revered civil rights leader and Congressman from Georgia, John Lewis (pictured above). Early in the campaign, Lewis had said he was supporting Clinton, but yesterday he changed that. He is now on the Obama team.

Another Clinton supporter to defect to Obama is Texas' own longtime state legislator, Senfronia Thompson. Rep. Thompson is well-respected by her peers and her constituents. If the Democrats were to seize control of the Texas House in the next election, she would be the odds-on favorite to win the Speaker position.

These are important defections from the Clinton campaign. I'm starting to have serious doubts that she will make it to the Pennsylvania primary.

Cost Of War Keeps Spiraling Up


It's bad enough that Bush has invaded a country that was no threat to us, started a civil war with our troops in the middle, and placed those troops in a perpetual no-win situation. But now the costs of that war are spiraling out-of-control.

When he first invaded (after lying to us about weapons of mass destruction), Bush said the war would cost a few billion, including the reconstruction. The costs have gone far beyond that, and virtually no reconstruction has been done. By financing the war in bits and pieces -- $50 billion here and $90 billion there -- Bush has sort of hidden the total cost from the public.

Nobel laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz has now written a book detailing the actual costs of the war. Stiglitz says the administration has been lowballing the total war cost. He puts the actual cost at around $3 TRILLION -- mostly in borrowed money that our children and grandchildren will have to pay.

Even worse, when you account for other costs such as (1) interest on the war debt, (2) Future war expenses, (3) a continued military presence in Iraq, and (4) lifetime healthcare and counseling for veterans, the cost jumps to $5-$7 trillion. These are staggering numbers.

The whole thing just infuriates me. Republicans are willing to throw away up to $7 trillion on an unnecessary and unwinnable war (not to mention thousands of American lives). But let Democrats talk about universal healthcare, extending unemployment benefits, increasing college and educational assistance, or helping the poor to break the cycle of poverty, and the Republicans scream about "wasting" money we cannot afford.

The Republican mantra -- it's OK to spend trillions on a useless war, but it's wrong to spend a fraction of that to actually help Americans. How anyone could even think of voting Republican this November is beyond me!

Perry Tries To Help Corporate Errand-Boy


State Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) is the Chairman of a legislative committee that's supposed to oversee and propose rules for corporations such as energy companies. The problem with King is that he accepts gifts (including Super Bowl tickets) from these corporations, lets them throw him lavish parties, and accepts illegal campaign help from the corporations.

King is the very definition of a politician who has been bought and paid for by the corporate interests he is supposed to be overseeing. He has been getting away with this for years, but King (pictured above) may be in a little trouble in the Republican primary this year. He has a capable and honest Republican opponent this time. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it looks like it's true.

He is being opposed by former Weatherford mayor Joe Tison. Thanks to newspapers and blogs exposing King's wrongdoing, it's starting to look like Tison is gaining some ground. Now Gov. Perry enters the picture.

The governor's personal PAC (Texans for Rick Perry) has donated $25,000 to the campaign fund of Phil King. Perry had the choice of staying out of this race, supporting the honest candidate, or supporting the corporate errand-boy. He chose the latter.

Is anyone surprised? Given a choice between helping the consumer or helping corporations, Perry has always chosen the corporate bigwigs. He's just being true to form and helping his corporate masters.

I would have been surprised if he'd done anything else!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Church Opposes Breast Cancer Foundation


Sometimes religious nuts go off the deep end in their zeal to further their own political beliefs. That's what I believe is happening here. It just makes no sense to me that a church would come out in opposition to funding breast cancer research.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation is a leading voice in the search for a cure to a devastating disease -- breast cancer. The foundation has invested $1 billion in cancer research and outreach. A reasonable person would think this is a good thing and applaud them for their wonderful work.

But not Monsignor J. Gaston Hebert of the Catholic Church's Little Rock diocese. He has sent a letter to the parishes and schools in the diocese asking them not to support or donate to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. He is an anti-abortion nut (who evidently thinks he should have more say over a woman's body than the woman).

Hebert is angry because the Komen Foundation teamed up with Planned Parenthood to give breast exams and educate women about breast cancer. This partnership has nothing to do with abortion in any form, but has the exclusive purpose of fighting breast cancer and saving women's lives.

But rational thinking is obviously not in Hebert's repertoire. He heard the words "Planned Parenthood", and his Pavlovian response was to go off the deep end and try to hurt the Komen Foundation.

He should be ashamed of himself.

This Man Is NOT Running For Senate


You probably know the gentleman pictured above. His name is Gene Kelly, and he was a good actor and an excellent dancer. BUT HE IS NOT RUNNING FOR THE U.S. SENATE IN TEXAS THIS YEAR! In fact, he passed away in February of 1996.

The Gene Kelly on the ballot in Texas is a different person. He tosses his famous name into some Democratic race in every Texas election. He doesn't campaign, but just counts on his name to confuse voters into voting for him. Don't be fooled and waste your vote, because he is not a serious candidate.

There is an excellent Democratic candidate on the ballot this year. His name is Rick Noriega. He has been a businessman, has served in the Army, is currently an officer in the Texas National Guard and is a Texas State Representative.

He has served his country in Afghanistan. During the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, he was in charge of helping the evacuees in the Houston area. He has also commanded the National Guard as they patrolled the border between Texas and Mexico. And he has been a very effective representative in the Texas legislature.

For the first time in many years, we have a good chance of defeating one of our ineffective Republican senators here in Texas -- John Cornyn. Rick Noriega has the experience and the grassroots support to make a great senator for Texas. But first, he must win the Democratic primary.

If you haven't voted yet, I urge you to go to the polls and vote for a great senate candidate -- Lt. Col. and State Representative Rick Noriega.

Senator Dodd Endorses Obama


Things just keep getting better for Barack Obama. It looks like he has closed the gap in Texas and is on the verge of doing that in Ohio. Yesterday, he got another good piece of news. His former opponent in the presidential primary race, Senator Christopher Dodd, has formally endorsed Obama.

Dodd says Obama is "ready to become president and I am ready to support him in this campaign....(Obama) has been poked and prodded, analyzed and criticized, called too green, too trusting and for all that has already won....It's now the hour to come together....This is the moment for Democrats and independents and others to come together, to get behind this candidacy."

Obama has to be thrilled with this endorsement. Don't let the fact that Democrats didn't choose Dodd to be president fool you into thinking they don't like him. Senator Dodd is among the most respected people in the Democratic party, and this endorsement can do nothing but help Obama's candidacy.

Senate To Consider Cutting Off Iraq Funds


Finally, it looks like the Senate will be able to debate and vote on a bill to put a deadline on Iraq war funding. The bill, sponsored by Senators Feingold and Reid, would cut off all funds for the war after 120 days.

The bill was not expected to get the 60 votes necessary to bring it up for debate, but at the last minute, the Republicans changed their mind. They have bought into Bush's rhetoric about how the surge is working and we're now winning the war. They believe that since we're "winning", the American public will be on their side and demand the war funding be continued. They also think this will work to their advantage in the upcoming election.

I think they are wrong. America is sick of this war. People can see that more than one American soldier is killed for every day we stay in Iraq, and little to nothing is being accomplished. Staying in Iraq for another year will cost another 400 to 500 American lives, and the Iraqi civil war will still be continuing unabated.

The attention of Americans has been turned to the declining economy and the coming election, but that does not mean they now approve of the war. It just means they are now realizing the Republicans are screwing up the economy in addition to the war.

Of course, Bush says he will veto the bill if it is passed. He says the bill would substitute legislative judgement for the judgement of military commanders. That is an asinine and ludicrous statement. That sounds like he's trying to blame our military for screwing up in Iraq.

The fact is that the military did not choose to invade Iraq -- Bush did. The military did not screw-up the occupation of Iraq -- Bush did. And it is not the military that is choosing to stay in the middle of the Iraqi civil war perpetually -- it is Bush. The legislature is just trying to end the failed policies of a failed presidency, and save American lives.

The Democrats should pass this bill and send it to Bush. Let him veto it if he wants. It will be obvious by November that the war is still a disaster (like the economy), and the voters will take it out on Republicans at the polls.

The only question now is whether the Democrats have the backbone to do what they were elected to do -- bring our troops home.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Democrats Outvoting Republicans 3-1


It looks like the Democrats are still much more energized than the Republicans here in Texas -- at least in the 15 largest counties in the state. Here are the cumulative voting totals in those counties through the first six days of early voting (February 19-24).


COUNTY................DEM..............REP

Harris...................66,756...........23,851

Dallas...................49,485...........13,770

Tarrant.................35,144...........14,416

Bexar...................42,198...........14,033

Travis...................36,890...........7,396

Collin...................15,155...........9,756

El Paso..................23,794...........4,406

Denton.................11,180............6,348

Hidalgo.................25,564............1,494

Fort Bend..............13,581............7,344

Montgomery...........5,265.............7,165

Williamson.............8,708.............4,852

Nueces.................9,106.............2,090

Galveston..............7,563.............2,346

Cameron...............9,870.............966


TOTAL.................360,259...........120,233

Religion Is Very Volatile In America


I think most people believe that Americans tend to stay with the religion they were raised in. I know that's what I thought, but it just isn't true.

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just completed a study of religious affiliation in the United States. It was called the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, and it contained some surprising discoveries.

The most startling discovery is that nearly half (a full 44%) of adults in this country change their affliiation from the religion they grew up in to another religion, denomination, or no religious affiliation at all. It turns out that religious affiliation is as volatile in America as job or place of residence changes.

About 78% of Americans are Christians, with 51% being Protestants. But the established denominations, such as Baptists and Methodists, are losing adherents, while the non-denominational Protestant churches are growing.

The religion with the highest retention rate is the Hindu religion. It retains about 84% of those who are raised as Hindus. The religion with the lowest retention rate is the Jehovah's Witnesses, who retain only 37% of those raised in it.

But the demographic that benefits the most from this religious volatility is the "no religious affiliation" catagory. By a 3 to 1 ratio, the people moving into this catagory outnumber the people moving out of it.

I'm not sure what to make of this, but I found it interesting. Maybe it's just the nature of religion in a free society.

Woman Dies On American Airlines Flight


On every commercial flight, airline attendants give a safety speech. This speech points out safety features and details what is expected of customers in an emergency. The impression is given that the airline has adequate equipment and training to take care of things if an emergency does happen. That may not be true.

Consider the case of Carine Desir. On an American Airlines flight from Haiti to New York, Desir began to complain of being unable to breathe. She requested oxygen, and was refused it twice by an attendant.

Finally, the attendant woke up to the fact that this woman was in serious trouble. Two oxygen tanks were provided and both proved to be empty. When the woman stopped breathing and her heart stopped, an on-board defibrillator also proved to be defective.

The woman died.

This doesn't inspire confidence in the airline. Why weren't the oxygen tanks and defibrillator checked before the flight? It makes me wonder, if the cabin loses pressure will the drop-down masks contain oxygen and work properly? When were they last checked? Are there other things on-board that won't work when needed?

And why wasn't the woman given oxygen the first time she asked for it (rather than the third)? It wasn't like she was asking for an extra drink or snack. She was trying to breathe!

This doesn't make me want to rush out and buy an airline ticket.

Clinton Tries The Low Road


The Clinton campaign is starting to smell of desperation. For the first few months of her campaign, Clinton was content to conduct her campaign on the issues. But now that she is behind, it looks like she's willing to take her campaign into the gutter, and try to smear her opponent rather than debate ideas or policies.

The Clinton campaign released the above picture of Barack Obama. The picture shows Obama in traditional Somali dress during a trip to the country. But the obvious intent of the picture being released without an accompanying explanation is an attempt to try and paint him as a Muslim. This smells almost as bad as the vicious "Muslim" memo that has been propagated by the right-wing.

Obama is no more a Muslim than I am a Bush Republican (and I assure you, nothing could be farther from the truth than that). This attempt to smear Obama by inferring he is Muslim, is simply an exercise in "gutter politics".

Sadly, that's not the only smear the Clinton campaign has tried to float about Obama in the last few days. Prior to the Somali picture, they tried to paint Obama as a friend of terrorists by linking him to two people who many years ago were tied to the Weather Underground.

It didn't seem to matter to the Clinton people that one of the people was never convicted of any crime, and the other paid her debt to society long ago. Both are currently respected college professors and law-abiding citizens.

Now Clinton is accusing Obama of unfairly attacking her policies. But he hasn't sent anyone a picture of her in a "burka" or tried to tie her to "terrorists". He has just pointed out some of her well-documented economic policies.

I can see why she would not want these pointed out, because they probably won't play well in a union state like Ohio. But like it or not, Clinton is on record as being proud of her husband's passage of NAFTA. She is on record as having supported and defended corporate outsourcing of jobs. And she has received millions of corporate dollars for her campaign.

Clinton may want to flip-flop on these issues now that the campaign has reached Ohio, but it is perfectly legitimate for Obama to point out her previous positions.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Education In Danger In March Primary

It looks like the state of the educational system in Texas is in danger in the upcoming March 4th primary election. The right-wing fundamentalists already control 7 of the 15 seats on the State Board of Education, and there is a chance that they could win the District 11 seat in the upcoming primary.

The seat is currently held by Republican Pat Hardy. She is being opposed by Barney Maddox. In the past, Maddox has labeled the teachings of Charles Darwin as "pre-Civil War fairy tales". Here is how the Fort Worth Star-Telegram describes Maddox's beliefs:

"...some of Maddox's views have emerged through his public testimony and published writings. In 2003, for instance, the Cleburne urologist testified against evolution at the State Board of Education with his characterization of Charles Darwin's theories as "pre-Civil War fairy tales." He urged board members at the meeting to reject new biology textbooks.

Maddox also questioned evolution in a 2006 letter to the Cleburne Times-Review and has had anti-evolution writings posted on the Web site of the Institute for Creation Research, a Dallas organization that attempts to find scientific evidence for the writings in the Bible. In published voters guides, Maddox has reported strong opposition to replacing abstinence-only education with more comprehensive sex education, strong opposition to providing school counseling or teaching about homosexuality, and strong support for displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools."

Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network had this to say about the District 11 primary race, "This one vote would give a majority to a faction that is determined to censor information for their own political and personal beliefs. That would put at risk everything from the teaching of evolution, to how publishers approach the study of American history."

There is no Democrat running for the District 11 seat (which cover three-fourths of Tarrant county plus all of Johnson, Parker and Ellis counties). That means we must depend on Republican voters to keep our school systems from being shoved back into the 19th century. That makes me very nervous, since Texas Republicans are not known for their defense of science or separation of church and state.

I guess we'll just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Arlington Considers Banning Plastic Bags


The city of Arlington (Texas) is considering a bold move. They are discussing a ban on plastic shopping bags. Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck says the bags not only contribute to litter and make the city look trashy, but they are environmentally unfriendly. It takes a plastic bag a lot longer time to decompose than a paper bag.

I think this is a great idea and I hope many other cities decide to follow suit. In addition to the litter and environmental problems, these bags also use up a considerable amount of petroleum. If they were outlawed all over the country, it would save a considerable amount of oil.

About three weeks ago, the excellent blog bluedaze went even further, saying we should ban both plastic and paper shopping bags. She lists 5 reasons why this would be a good thing:

1.The petroleum in 14 plastic bags could drive a car 1 mile.
2.Americans use over 14 billion plastic bags annually. (That's 1 billion miles)
3.It takes 70% more global warming gasses to make a paper bag than a plastic bag.
4.Paper bags do not biodegrade in landfills
5.Cities spend up to 17 cents per bag in disposal costs. (That's $2,380,000,000.00)

She points out the Irish have already done this, and they are getting along just fine with reuseable cloth bags. There's no reason why Americans can't do the same.

The plastic (and paper) bags are a convenient way to haul our purchases home from the store, but then they just litter our landscape and clog our landfills. It is time we consider giving up a few conveniences for the good of our planet.

Nader Decides To Do It Again


Ralph Nader is doing it again. Yesterday, Nader announced that he is once again running for president as an independent. He says he is running because we must have a president who will stand up to Big Business and "shift the power from the few to the many".

I like and admire Ralph Nader. America is a much better place because of Mr. Nader. In fact, I voted for him in 2000 and again in 2004. I did so because I think he is right about corporatism being the major evil that has to be changed for the good of all Americans.

In the past few years, I did not believe either of the major parties were willing to clip the corporate wings and reduce their powerful effect of our government. It was like we had a choice between the Corporate Party (Rep.) and the Corporate-Lite Party (Dem.), and I've never cared to vote for the "lesser of two evils". So I voted my conscience and chose Nader.

But this year, we have a different situation. This year the Democrats are on the verge of choosing a candidate that understands radical change is needed. A candidate who has worked as a community organizer for the poor and downtrodden. A candidate who has not taken millions in corporate donations and is not beholden to them. That candidate is Barack Obama.

I was hoping that Ralph Nader would see what is happening and stay out of the race this year. While I still respect him, my vote will go to Barack Obama this year. I think a lot of other "Naderites" will also be voting Obama this year.

Nader got less support in 2004 than he did in 2000. This year, he will get even less. I don't think he will be a problem for Obama in November. In fact, I doubt he will even be able to get on the ballot in half of the states, because most of his former supporters have already flocked to vote in the Democratic primary.

It made me sad to hear he had once again chosen to run. I think he'll just embarrass himself this year. This is not a time for "jousting with windmills". The future is here, and his name is Barack Obama.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Obama Skips Black Symposium To Campaign


The venerable journalist and commentator, Tavis Smiley (pictured above), organized a "State of the Black Union" symposium held in New Orleans yesterday. All of the presidential candidates were invited to attend. Clinton accepted, but Obama did not.

Obama offered to send his wife, but Smiley refused. Obama then declined, saying he was busy with scheduled campaign appearances in Texas and Ohio. This has upset Smiley and some others. They say Obama needs to address important black issues and should have come.

I respect and admire Mr. Smiley, but I have to disagree with him on this. The symposium was simply scheduled at a very bad time for him to think he could require Obama's attendance.

Barack Obama has a real shot at not only getting the Democratic nomination for president, but also being elected to be the next president of the United States. He is on the verge of making history and changing America for the betterment of everyone.

However, he is not there yet. He has made up a lot of ground in Texas and Ohio, and now has a chance to win these states. If he does, it would put him in a very good position to win the Democratic nomination. But it is very close in both states, and a maximum effort is still needed.

Mr. Smiley must decide what is more important. Is it more important for Obama to attend a symposium or be elected president? I would have to choose the latter. Being elected president would put him in a position to make real changes, rather than just talk about what changes are needed.

My Family Votes


Well, we got it done. Yesterday, my two kids and I went down to the county clerk's office and voted early in the Democratic primary. Of course, we split our votes. I guess that's what I get for raising children to think for themselves. Now they just find it mildly humorous when I try to tell them who they should vote for.

My son and I voted for Barack Obama. My daughter voted for Hillary Clinton. Fortunately, by raising them to think for themselves, both of them turned out to be Democrats. I have no doubt that all three of our votes will go to the eventual Democratic nominee (and new president) this November.

As far as the rest of my ballot went, I also voted for Rick Noriega (US Senate), Dale Henry (Railroad Commission), Susan Criss (Tx Supreme Court) and Baltasar Cruz (Tx Supreme Court). Those were the only other races on the Potter County ballot in which more than one person was running.

If you haven't voted, I urge you to take advantage of the early voting opportunity. You never know what's going to happen on election day. The Republicans in charge of most Texas voting may have struck you off the voter rolls (that happens far too often).

If you vote early and find that has happened, you have time to get it fixed. But if this happens to you on election day, you'll have to use a "provisional ballot". I don't care what assurances you get, provisional ballots don't get counted.

Whoever you plan to vote for, please do vote. Your vote does matter -- even in the presidential race this year!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Early Voting - Top 15 Counties In Population


These are the cumulative voting numbers for the 15 largest counties in Texas after the first two days of early voting, according to the Texas Secretary of State's office:


COUNTY(REG. VOTERS)......DEM..........REP.

Harris(1,804,641).............19,578........8,654

Dallas(1,114,002).............18,364........5,504

Tarrant(890,412)..............13,482........5,725

Bexar(867,084)................14,486........5,260

Travis(541,315)................12,860........2,674

Collin(378,730)................5,021.........3,677

El Paso(368,579)...............9,380.........1,902

Denton(329,099)...............3,827.........2,449

Hidalgo(287,988)..............11,334.........695

Fort Bend(267,583)............3,389.........3,046

Montgomery(224,321).........1,805.........2,956

Williamson(206,334)...........2,530.........1,580

Nueces(189,534)...............3,710..........957

Galveston(180,288)............2,680..........814

Cameron(165,996).............4,449..........436


TOTAL.........................126,895........46,329

District Judge Won't Face Charges


For a while, things were looking pretty bad for 100th District Court Judge David McCoy of Childress, Texas. He had been suspended from his judgeship and was facing two felony charges. He had been accused of Abuse of Official Capacity and Theft by a Public Servant.

The state Attorney General's office was acting as the prosecutor in the case, but it now looks like there won't be a trial. They reached an agreement with McCoy's attorney that would result in the charges being dropped. The agreement contains five provisions:

1. McCoy will resign on March 15th.
2. McCoy will lose his law license and not seek to re-instate it at a later date, or seek a license from another state.
3. McCoy will never run for or serve in any public office again.
4. McCoy will pay $20,000 in restitution on or before March 14th.
5. McCoy will not be prosecuted for any charges under investigation.

I'm not sure I like this agreement. Personally, I believe public servants should be held to a higher standard, and he will receive no jail time or probation. An ordinary citizen would have at least received a conviction and some probation.

But it's over now. At least, he won't be able to abuse the public's trust again for his own gain (and if he steals again, he won't be protected by being a judge).

Bush Refuses To Compromise (Again)


Last week the Senate knuckled under to President Bush again. They passed the bill that would allow him to eavesdrop on anyone, even Americans, at any time and any place with no safeguards. They even gave telecommunications companies immunity from the law if they cooperate with the spying.

But the House of Representatives has passed a different version of the bill -- one that would not give immunity to the telecoms. The House Democrats were hoping to meet with the Senate and work out a compromise.

Yesterday, Bush dashed those hopes. He said there was no way he would accept a compromise. I would have to agree. I don't think there should be a compromise either. The House Democrats should hold fast to their position.

If Bush wants to kill the bill by refusing to compromise, they should let him do that. Frankly, the bill is not only not needed, but I believe it is unconstitutional. Our Founding Fathers believed the government should never intrude upon the privacy of citizens without a court-approved warrant and probable cause.

There was good reason for that belief. They knew if the government could perform warrantless searches, then freedom was gone. Freedom can only exist when the citizens have rights that cannot be abridged by the government.

Bush says we wouldn't be able to listen in on terrorists conversations if the bill is not passed and telecoms aren't given immunity. That is just a lie!

FISA already gives the government the ability to get a secret warrant to eavesdrop. With a warrant, the telecoms are not only protected but cannot refuse to cooperate. Our government can get the job done with the current FISA law, and protect the rights of American citizens at the same time.

I urge House Democrats to take Bush at his word and refuse to compromise. Let this bad bill die. It is not only invasive, it is not needed.

U.S. Must Respond To Serbian Violence


Yesterday, Serbian demonstrators broke into the embassy of the United States in Belgrade and set it on fire. Now this is not the same thing as attcking an American-owned business on Serbian property (although they did that too -- a McDonalds). The American embassy is the TERRITORIAL PROPERTY OF THE UNITED STATES. As such, it is a violation of international law for any Serbian to enter it without the express permission of U.S. authorities.

Where were the Serbian authorities? It took 45 minutes for Serbian police to arrive and start to control the crowd. That is inexcusable! They knew there was a huge crowd of 150,000 demonstrators (how could they not know). They also knew the crowd was upset with America (they were carrying signs that said so). Since they had to know those two things, how is it that they did not protect the embassy, and why did it take them 45 minutes to arrive after the embassy was attacked?

There is only one possible reason. The Serbian government is upset with the United States and they WANTED THE CROWD TO ATTACK THE EMBASSY! This condoning of and failure to prevent the demonstrators actions constitutes an attack on the United States by Serbia. It is the same as if they sent people to invade the American mainland.

President Bush must take action to defend the United States. If he doesn't, our embassies will become targets all over the world. I'm not suggesting military action, but he must at least take diplomatic action. I think he should:

-- Withdraw all American diplomats from Serbia, and warn other Americans there to leave immediately.

-- Demand that the Serbian government issue a public apology and pay for all damages to the embassy. They should also give us specific details on how they will prevent this from happening in the future.

-- If they refuse to do the above, he should demand that Serbian diplomats leave the United States.

-- Warn Serbia that the United States will act to defend the sovereignity of the Republic of Kosovo.

I know the Serbians are unhappy that Kosovo has become an independent nation, and I don't really care. They lost the moral authority to make that argument a few years ago, when they allowed and supported the massacres and deportation of Albanian descendants in Kosovo. Their own actions created the necessity of Kosovo becoming an independent nation. They now must reap what they have sown.

This may not sound like a "liberal" position to some of you. Think what you will, but the U.S. cannot allow another country to let its citizens attack us just because they are unhappy with us.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Those Mean-Spirited Conservatives


Once again, the conservative blogosphere and right-wing radio nuts prove just how mean-spirited they can be. Their newest target is the Global Poverty Act. The bill was introduced by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), and passed the House of Representatives last Fall.

Of course, the reason they are attacking the bill now is because the bill was sponsored in the Senate by Barack Obama. Obama is becoming more popular every day, and stands a very good chance of becoming the nation's next president. They're actually having trouble finding some way to attack Obama, so now they have latched on to this bill as a way of doing it.

Rush Limbaugh and many conservative bloggers are making all kinds of accusations. They say the bill will cost American taxpayers $845 billion years over the next 12 years. They say it will tie the U.S. to many United Nations programs and force our country to virtually become a slave to these programs, including the banning of small arms, the ratification of the Kyoto Treaty, the International Criminal Court Treaty, and the Convention of Biological Diversity among other things.

The truth is very different. The bill has no set amount of money enumerated in it. It also has nothing to do with the United Nations or any treaty or effort supported by the U.N. It is simply an effort to help the tragically poor of the world -- something a nation like ours should be doing.

The bill would require the president to develop a plan to help reduce extreme global poverty and halve the number of people who live on less than $1 a day by 2015. The bill is currently being considered by the Senate.

I find it incredible that these same right-wingers are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to fight an unwinnable war to steal Iraqi oil, but the thought of helping to eliminate extreme poverty sends them into a screaming paroxysm. They don't mind giving billions in handouts to corporations, but the thought of helping starving women and children is anathema to them.

Just how mean-spirited can they be? They might as well say "I've got mine -- screw everybody else."

Personally, I am proud of the House of Representatives for passing the bill and I hope the Senate follows suit. I'm also proud of Barack Obama for sponsoring the bill in the Senate.

It is the duty and responsibility of rich nations like ours to do something to help those who are less fortunate. It is simply the right thing to do.

Isn't it odd that these right-wing "christians" would think this is wrong? Have they never studied the teachings of their own religion?

McCain's Ties With Female Lobbyist Revealed


This has already been a very unusual campaign for John McCain, full of ups and downs. When the campaign started months ago, he was the favorite to win the nomination. Then his campaign seemed to go off the tracks and it looked like he might not even make it to the primaries. But once the primaries started, he seemed to catch fire, and now he is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.

Now, just as it seemed that everything was coming up roses for McCain, the New York Times publishes a story that brings his judgement into question. The story involves the relationship between McCain and a 40 year-old lobbyist named Vicki Iseman (pictured above). It seems that members of McCain's staff were worried enough about the relationship that they felt the need to protect him from himself. Here is how the NY Times puts it:

"A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client’s corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself — instructing staff members to block the woman’s access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist’s client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity."

Now I don't know whether this was a romantic relationship or unethical ties to a lobbyist or both, but it certainly doesn't look good. McCain has just recovered from have some questionable ties to the Keating scandal years ago. I would have thought he'd learned his lesson about putting himself in a position that has the perception of unethical conduct.

McCain may or may not be guilty of unethical behavior or sexual misconduct, but the incident does call his judgement into question. How is it that McCain could not see how the relationship in question could create the perception of misconduct on his part? His staff could see it. In fact, they were so worried that they felt it necessary to take action.

In a year when numerous Republicans have been outed for sexual impropriety, unethical conduct or criminal behavior, the Republican Party certainly did not need a tainted candidate. They needed a spotless candidate -- but they got John McCain.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Obama Still Has The Momentum


Tuesday night, Barack Obama scored a huge victory in Winconsin. The polls had told us the race was tightening in Wisconsin. They were wrong again. With 92% of the vote counted in that state, Obama has a 17 point lead (58% to 41%).

Even more worrying for Clinton is the fact that Obama continues to grab large portions of the demographics that were supposed to be solidly for Clinton -- women, those without a college education, those making less than $50,000, older voters, etc.

This does not bode well for Clinton. We are now less than two weeks away from Texas and Ohio, and voters in nearly every catagorey are trending toward Obama. The only group that is still hanging in with Clinton is older women.

Texas and Ohio are now more important than ever for Clinton. I don't really know much about Ohio, but I could easily see Obama scoring a win in Texas and coming out with at least a small majority of the delegates there. Frankly, we're beginning to run out of states, and I can hear the proverbial fat lady warming up her vocal cords for that final aria.

As far as delegates go, Obama has widened his lead in pledged delegates 1140 to 1005. That's a lead of 135 pledged delegates. I know that Clinton is counting on superdelegates to give her the win, but if Obama continues to widen his lead in pledged delegates, I believe the majority of superdelegates will probably go along with that trend. I think they know it would be a mistake to go against the will of the majority.

Once again, Democrats in general were the biggest winners of the night. After over 90% of the vote had been counted they held a 5 to 2 ratio in turnout over the Republicans. So far, this has been true in nearly all the states.

It will be interesting to see how the Democratic turnout compares to the Republican turnout in Texas on March 4th. Texas is one of the reddest states. If the Democratic turnout approaches or exceeds the Republican turnout there, it could be a very very good November for Democrats.

Clinton Flip-Flops On Job Outsourcing


This past week, Hillary Clinton accused Barack Obama of flip-flopping on public campaign financing. Then last night in Ohio, she pulled a huge flip-flop herself.

Last July, I pointed out that Clinton had taken a position in favor of job outsourcing. She had received millions of dollars from lobbyists and corporate interests because of this position, including the USINPAC group.

This group of Indian businessmen had this to say about Clinton on their website, "Even though she was against outsourcing at the beginning of her career, she has since changed her position and now maintains that offshoring brings as much economic value to the United States as to the country where services are outsourced, especially India."

When Lou Dobbs questioned her about her position in favor of allowing oursourcing, she told him that outsourcing does work both ways. She defended outsourcing and defended her husband's approval of NAFTA.

But speaking to workers in Ohio last night, she sounded like a totally different person. She told them that she would punish any company that tried to outsource American jobs.

This is one of the things that bothers me about Clinton. Exactly what is her real position on outsourcing? Does she have a real position? Or is her position dictated by who she is talking to?

Important Rights Case Starting In Houston


Today is the start of a very important civil rights case in Houston. Two brothers, Sean Carlos Ibarra and Erik Adam Ibarra, have filed suit against Harris County, Sheriff Tommy Thomas and four of his deputies. They are claiming the Harris County deputies arrested them without cause.

The whole thing started when Harris County Sheriff's deputies conducted a drug raid on the house next door to where the Ibarras lived. The Ibarras took their camera and began to take pictures of the raid being conducted. This angered the deputies, so they stormed the Ibarra home, destroyed the film in their camera and arrested both of the brothers.

The brothers were charged with resisting arrest. But when they were taken to trial, they were cleared of any wrongdoing. After being cleared, the brothers filed the suit. The civil case will begin today, and is expected to last from two-four weeks.

I believe the deputies were clearly in the wrong in this case. They had no probable cause to enter the Ibarra home or arrest them. They were not breaking any laws and were not interfering with the raid being conducted. They were simply taking pictures.

We do not live in a secret police state. All citizens have the right to document police actions with pictures (or with words). If the police were not doing anything wrong, they shouldn't mind a citizen documenting their actions. If they were doing wrong, then we should be thankful for honest citizens willing to document it.

I hope the Ibarra brothers win a sizeable judgement. A message must be sent to all law enforcement agencies in this country that this kind of rogue police action will not be tolerated. They cannot violate a citizen's rights, even when they are angry.

Letter From Castro To The Cuban People


Yesterday, on the website of the Cuban newspaper Granma, Fidel Castro announced to the people of Cuba that he will not seek or accept another term as president. He is expected to be replaced by his brother Raul (pictured above with Fidel). Following is the letter he posted to the Cuban people:


Dear compatriots:

Last Friday, February 15, I promised you that in my next reflection I would deal with an issue of interest to many compatriots. Thus, this now is rather a message.

The moment has come to nominate and elect the State Council, its President, its Vice-Presidents and Secretary.

For many years I have occupied the honorable position of President. On February 15, 1976 the Socialist Constitution was approved with the free, direct and secret vote of over 95% of the people with the right to cast a vote.

The first National Assembly was established on December 2nd that same year; this elected the State Council and its presidency. Before that, I had been a Prime Minister for almost 18 years. I always had the necessary prerogatives to carry forward the revolutionary work with the support of the overwhelming majority of the people.

There were those overseas who, aware of my critical health condition, thought that my provisional resignation, on July 31, 2006, to the position of President of the State Council, which I left to First Vice-President Raul Castro Ruz, was final.

But Raul, who is also minister of the Armed Forces on account of his own personal merits, and the other comrades of the Party and State leadership were unwilling to consider me out of public life despite my unstable health condition.

It was an uncomfortable situation for me vis--vis an adversary which had done everything possible to get rid of me, and I felt reluctant to comply.

Later, in my necessary retreat, I was able to recover the full command of my mind as well as the possibility for much reading and meditation. I had enough physical strength to write for many hours, which I shared with the corresponding rehabilitation and recovery programs.

Basic common sense indicated that such activity was within my reach. On the other hand, when referring to my health I was extremely careful to avoid raising expectations since I felt that an adverse ending would bring traumatic news to our people in the midst of the battle.

Thus, my first duty was to prepare our people both politically and psychologically for my absence after so many years of struggle. I kept saying that my recovery "was not without risks."

My wishes have always been to discharge my duties to my last breath. That's all I can offer.

To my dearest compatriots, who have recently honored me so much by electing me a member of the Parliament where so many agreements should be adopted of utmost importance to the destiny of our Revolution, I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief.

In short letters addressed to Randy Alonso, Director of the Round Table National TV Program, --letters which at my request were made public -- I discreetly introduced elements of this message I am writing today, when not even the addressee of such letters was aware of my intention. ...

Following are some paragraphs chosen from the letter addressed to Randy on December 17, 2007:

... "My elemental duty is not to cling to positions, much less to stand in the way of younger persons, but rather to contribute my own experience and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional era that I had the privilege of living in. ....

Letter from January 8, 2008:

"I am a firm supporter of the united vote (a principle that preserves the unknown merits), which allowed us to avoid the tendency to copy what came to us from countries of the former socialist bloc, including the portrait of the one candidate, as singular as his solidarity towards Cuba. I deeply respect that first attempt at building socialism, thanks to which we were able to continue along the path we had chosen."

And I reiterated in that letter that "I never forget that 'all of the world's glory fits in a kernel of corn."

Therefore, it would be a betrayal to my conscience to accept a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I am physically able to offer. This I say devoid of all drama.

Fortunately, our Revolution can still count on cadres from the old guard and others who were very young in the early stages of the process. Some were very young, almost children, when they joined the fight on the mountains and later they have given glory to the country with their heroic performance and their internationalist missions. They have the authority and the experience to guarantee the replacement.

There is also the intermediate generation which learned together with us the basics of the complex and almost unattainable art of organizing and leading a revolution.

The path will always be difficult and require from everyone's intelligent effort ... The adversary to be defeated is extremely strong; however, we have been able to keep it at bay for half a century.

This is not my farewell to you. My only wish is to fight as a soldier in the battle of ideas. I shall continue to write under the heading of 'Reflections by comrade Fidel.' It will be just another weapon you can count on. Perhaps my voice will be heard. I shall be careful.

Thanks.

Fidel Castro Ruz
February 18, 2008, 5:30 p.m. ------

Obama Looks For Office Space In Amarillo


Last week, there were rumors flying around that Obama might open a campaign headquarters here in Amarillo. Now it looks like those rumors were true. Both the Amarillo Independent and the Amarillo Globe News are now reporting that the Obama campaign is actively seeking to find office space here.

The campaign has designated organizer John La Rue to head up the campaign's effort in Amarillo. La Rue was in Childress on Monday speaking to Obama supporters, and then headed to Amarillo. He said he's holding an organizational meeting on Thursday at 7:00pm. It will be held at the Carter Chapel located at 412 SW Second Avenue near downtown.

The Second Avenue location was originally considered as a place to locate the Obama headquarters, but it looks like that won't happen now. However, the campaign will open a headquarters here as soon as they find an appropriate location.

La Rue will also be speaking to Obama supporters at the Jack B. Kelley Student Center at West Texas A and M University this coming Friday at 4:00pm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oswald/Ruby Conversation Didn't Happen


The District Attorney of Dallas County has just released 15 boxes of paperwork and other items concerning the Kennedy assassination. The items have been locked in the safe at the DA's office for more than 40 years.

One of the items that's stirring up some controversy is a transcript of a purported meeting between Lee Harvey Oswald and his killer, Jack Ruby. A Dallas attorney said he saw the two together in Ruby's strip club a few weeks before Kennedy was killed. The transcript is his recreation of what he said he overheard that night.

There's only one problem with the transcript -- it's not true. The transcript was sent to the FBI at the time and they investigated it. They determined there was no real substance to it.

Not only was Oswald a loner and a non-drinker, making it unlikely he would meet anyone in a bar, but it was definitely determined that at the time this was supposed to have happened, Oswald was 15 miles away. He was in Irving with his wife and her housemate.

The attorney who wrote the transcript was given a lie detector test, and the only truthful thing he said was that he was drunk when he overheard the imaginary conversation.

The conversation just didn't take place. There is still absolutely no credible evidence that Oswald and Ruby ever met before the day that Ruby shot Oswald (shown above).

The sad part is that there are many conspiracy theorists who will believe this and will be perfectly willing to ignore that it has been proven not to be true. This will just serve to obfuscate the truth like Oliver Stone's JFK movie. Stone's movie contained many lies, but it is still believed by many people.

Some people believe what they want to believe, regardless of any facts.

Texas Looks Like A Toss-Up Now


A few weeks ago, it looked liked Texas would be an easy victory for Hillary Clinton. She was at least 20 points ahead in a state that both candidates had pretty much ignored. But then Barack Obama reeled off 8 wins in a row, most of them by significant margins, and began to cut into some demographics that most pundits thought belonged to Clinton.

Now it looks like the race has really tightened up in Texas. A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows the race is virtually deadlocked. The poll shows Clinton at 50% and Obama at 48%. That is well within the 4.5% margin of error and makes the race a toss-up with two weeks to go.

Why is this happening? One reason is the momentum that Obama has shown. He now looks like the real deal, and many more people are starting to believe he could actually win -- not only the party nomination, but also in the general election in November.

Clinton could fix the momentum problem by winning in Wisconsin today, and at least one poll shows her in the lead there. However several other polls show Obama leading. It's probably going to be a tighter primary than the one's held last week though, and with the way the polls have been wrong this year, it should be interesting.

The other thing is the ethnic vote in Texas. It has generally been considered that Obama has the African-American vote and Clinton has the Hispanic vote. I do think Obama will get 80-90% of the black vote, but I don't think the Hispanic vote is nearly that sure a thing for Clinton. She will get a majority of the Hispanic vote, but I see Obama as making inroads, especially among younger Hispanics.

I tend to believe the CNN poll. I think it is a dead heat right now in Texas. But things have changed a lot in Texas in the last two weeks, and there are still two weeks to go. Who knows how it will stand on March 4th?

Pakistan Votes Against Musharraf / Bush


President Bush has pinned a lot of America's hopes in winning the Afghani war upon President Musharraf of Pakistan. As the results of the parliamentary election in Pakistan come in, it looks like that may have been a major mistake. Musharraf has shown that he cannot control the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and now it looks like he won't even be able to control what happens in the rest of Pakistan.

Musharraf has suffered a crushing defeat in the parliamentary election. In fact, nearly all of the leaders of his party, including the party leader, have been defeated. It looks like the party may be able to hold on to only 20-30 seats in the 272-member national assembly.

Meanwhile, both of the major parties opposing Musharraf seem to be doing very well. The party of Benazir Bhutto who was killed recently, the Pakistan People's Party, will win about 110 seats. The party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan Muslim League-N, will win around 100 seats.

This will make it very hard for Musharraf to rule in Pakistan -- maybe impossible. In fact, there are some who believe the new parliament may even try to remove Musharraf from office.

This also has to be seen as a rebuff to the policies of the Bush administration. Everyone inside and outside of Pakistan knew that Musharraf was the chief proponent of Bush's policies in that part of the world.

Even if he is able to hang on to the presidency, it is unlikely that Musharraf will be able further Bush's goals for the reason. Musharraf is now even more of a "lame duck" than Bush himself.

What does this mean for Afghanistan? Only time will tell. But right now, it doesn't look too good.