A PROGRESSIVE VOICE FROM THE LLANO ESTACADO

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Science Loses In Texas - Again


Last week, the State Board of Education met to set the science standards that will be used in Texas schools for the next decade. It will also determine what goes into textbooks which could affect many other states. The argument was over language that required the teaching of "strengths and weaknesses" of accepted science.

That language was struck by the Board, and Texas newspapers hailed this as a victory for science. It wasn't. It was just replaced by language that says students must "analyze and evaluate all sides of scientific evidence". In other words, one bit of creationist language has been replaced by another bit of creationist language. That is a victory for creationism -- not science.

Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education said, "The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over science. The board majority chose to satisfy creationist constituents and ignore the expertise of highly qualified Texas scientists and scientists across the country."

Dr. Scott went on to say, "Let's be clear about this. This is a setback for science education in Texas, not a draw, not a victory. The revised wording opens the door to creationism in the classroom and in the textbooks. The decisions will not only affect Texas students for the next ten years, but could result in watered-down science textbooks across the U.S. There’s a reason creationists are claiming victory."

This may be the twenty-first century, but our state school board is determined to keep science in Texas schools firmly in the nineteenth century. Is it any wonder that our students are falling behind those in Europe and Asia?

Unlike The Republicans


Political Cartoon is by Bob Englehart in The Hartford Courant.

Judge Keller's Problems Increase


Judge Sharon Keller, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, was in enough trouble already. She left her office at 5:00pm on the day a Texas inmate was scheduled to be executed, even though it was her turn to stay late in case further appeals were filed with the court. Attorneys tried to file a last minute appeal, but could not find Judge Keller.

Her actions on that day were unconscionable, and her behavior is now being investigated by the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Her answer to the charge is to pass the buck. She blames the inmate's attorneys because they didn't contact one of the other judges. This is a ridiculous defense. The other judges were not required to be available -- Judge Keller was.

Judge Keller is also asking the charges be dismissed because the state will not pay her lawyer at taxpayer expense, and said it would be "financially ruinous" for her to pay her own legal expenses. This, even though her last filing with the Texas Ethics Committee showed an income of $275,000 and a property in Austin valued at $1 million. Sounds to me like she's in a better position to pay her own attorney than most defendants.

But it gets even worse. According to the Dallas Morning News, Judge Keller owns nearly $2 million worth of property that she failed to list on her ethics committee report. That is a clear violation of Texas law for elected officials like Keller. It looks like her problems have just multiplied.

Andrew Wheat of Texans for Public Justice called this "extremely outrageous", and said, "Is this an insane amount of carelessness year after year, in which case should this person be our highest criminal judge? Is it willful hiding of assets, in which case that person probably isn't fit to be our top criminal judge? I don't know."

I have to agree. Judge Keller is not fit to be the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Out With The Bad


Political Cartoon is by Daryl Cagle at msnbc.com.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Robot


From the excellent website Atheist Comics.

Men-Only Voting - In Texas ?


The Tigua tribe in Texas used to run a casino on tribal land near El Paso. But in 2001, then Attorney General John Cornyn sued and got the casino shut down. Since that time, the tribe has been trying to get the right to re-open the casino (which brought an estimated $800 million to the area economy and provided 800 jobs).

There is legislation working its way through the Texas legislature this year that would allow the tribe to re-open the casino. At least there was until Rep. Valinda Bolton (D-Austin) discovereda rather disturbing fact about the tribe. What she discovered is that women are not allowed to vote in tribal elections.

Rep. Bolton said the "men-only" voting concerns her, but she has agreed to meet with Tiguan women, along with other female legislators. The meeting was arranged by Rep. Norma Chavez (D-El Paso). I hope these legislators don't back down and allow this casino without first obtaining the right to vote for tribal women.

The Tigua leaders (all men) said women have never voted in the 300 year history of tribal elections. They said if the legislature called for them to change their election process (including allowing women to vote), they would consider it an insult.

I don't really care if they feel insulted or not. They should NOT be given the right to re-open the casino until all tribal members are treated equally -- including the right to vote in all elections. I have no problem with the casino, but I do have a problem with women being relegated to second-class status anywhere in the borders of Texas or the United States (and these tribal lands are within the borders of Texas).

Personally, I am shocked that there is anyplace left in the United States that refuses to give women the right to vote. I thought this was a constitutional question that had been decided years ago. These misogynists may be insulted by the constitutions of Texas and the United States, but they still should obey them.

The Texas Legislature should not allow the casino to re-open until Tiguan women are allowed to vote. This should be non-negotiable!

Evolution Of Communication

Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

Dumbest Criminal Ever ?


This criminal may quite possibly be the dumbest criminal ever. His crime was a fairly ordinary one. As a man emerged from a stall in the men's room, he stuck a gun in his face and demanded money. After receiving the money and a cell phone, he then tried to flee the building.

While the crime was not particularly bright, it was where the crime was committed that made it an incredibly dumb one. The victim was a retired police chief, and he was attending a police convention with 300 narcotics officers from Pennsylvania and Ohio. The chief and a group of police chased the man outside and apprehended him trying to get into a taxi.

Imagine robbing a police chief at a police convention and trying to get away in a taxi! A reporter asked the suspect for a comment after his arraignment, and he replied, "I'm smooth".

Smooth indeed!

The Car Trip


Political Cartoon is by R.J. Matson in The New York Observer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pakistan - Do Your Part Or Step Aside !


It was always obvious that George Bush was much more interested in attacking Saddam Hussein and Iraq than in bringing al-Queda and the Taliban to justice, even though the former had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack and the latter were completely responsible for it. That's why he left the job half-done in Afghanistan to concentrate on invading Iraq.

That gave the Taliban and al-Queda time to regroup and re-arm, and during the last few years of his presidency they began to re-establish themselves and begin their march back to power. Fortunately, President Obama knows who the real enemy is and he's prepared to do something about it.

President Obama has already told us he will send more troops to Afghanistan, but he knows that is not enough. He is also sending thousands of civilian employees as teachers and trainers and to help the Afghanis to rebuild their country's infrastructure. All of this is needed, but it is not all that's needed.

One reason the Taliban and al-Queda have been able to make a comeback, is they are receiving protection and aid from people in Pakistan. In fact, members of Pakistan's intelligence service are still passing information and arms to them. This has to stop, and the Pakistani government must root them out and expell them.

I hope the Pakistani government knows that President Obama is serious about his commitment to crush the Taliban and bring al-Queda to justice. I have a feeling if the Pakistanis don't do what is necessary, President Obama will. He has already struck across the border into Pakistan, and I don't think he'll hesitate to do it again and again.

I support President Obama in his war against al-Queda and the Taliban. As an old hippie who still believes as he did in the sixties and seventies, I generally oppose war. It is seldom the best solution to a problem. But these are the people who killed over 3,000 Americans. These are the people who believe women have no rights and would treat them as property. These are the people willing to kill numerous innocents to prove a religious point. These are the people willing to throw acid in the faces of young girls for going to school.

If there ever was a group that justified a war, it is al-Queda and the Taliban. President Obama has said these groups pose the greatest threat to America and the world. Pakistan either needs to do their part or get the hell out of the way, because the job will be done.

Colors


Political Cartoon is by Joe Heller in The Green Bay Press-Gazette.

New Record For Wind-Powered Car


Who would have thought a 30 mile-per-hour wind (and only that) could power a land vehicle to over 126 miles-per-hour? But that's just what happened last Thursday, when the Greenbird (pictured above) set a new world record of 126.1 mph on the dry lake-bed of Lake Ivanpah in California.

It's builder and driver is British engineer Richard Jenkins, and this was his fifth try at breaking the record. Greenbird is built of a carbon composite and is powered by a hard flat sail. The vehicle is so efficient it can travel at 3 to 5 times the actual wind speed.

The old record was 116 mph, set in March of 1999 by American Bob Schumacher in his wind-powered vehicle called Iron Duck.

The Overture


Political cartoon is by Patrick Chappate in the International Herald Tribune.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jobless Rate Is Still Climbing

Yesterday, the U.S. Labor Department released the unemployment statistics for the month of February. They don't look good. The national unemployment rate has now climbed to 8.1%, and most economists expect it to top 10% before the end of the year.

In January, there were four states that had already topped 10% in unemployment. There are now seven states with double-digit unemployment. A couple of those states, North Carolina and Rhode Island, have even reached record-setting unemployment levels. They are:

Michigan..........12%
South Carolina..........11%
Oregon..........10.8%
North Carolina..........10.7%
California..........10.5%
Rhode Island..........10.5%
Nevada..........10.1%

There was only one state that did not show an increase in unemployment last month -- Nebraska. All of the other 49 states and the District of Columbia had higher unemployment numbers in February than they had in January.

Things are not looking any better for March either. In the third week of March, over 652,000 new people made a claim for jobless benefits. This shows a rise from 644,000 the previous week. It was also the 10th week in a row that new claims for jobless benefits rose.

Some of the brainless talking-heads on major television media have been wondering if the economy is turning around. They base this on the rise in the stock market figures recently. Frankly, the only thing the stock market shows us is how many people are willing to gamble with their money -- not how well the economy is doing.

As long as new claims for jobless benefits keep rising and the national unemployment figure keeps going up, then the economy is not improving. I won't believe we've turned the corner on the economy until both of those figures start going down, and it looks like it may be a while before that happens.

Kettle And Pot


Political Cartoon is by David Fitzsimmons in the Arizona Daily Star.

Spring In The Texas Panhandle


This is the view out my front door this first week of Spring. They say it will snow for another several hours. Spring was never like this when I lived in Fort Worth!

Looking On The Bright Side


Political Cartoon is by Larry Wright in The Detroit News.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Do Parolees Have A Right To An Attorney ?


All of the hullabaloo over Proposition 8 in California and its denial of equal rights to homosexuals has overshadowed another proposition also approved by California voters. A key provision of Proposition 9 also concerned the rights of a segment of the population -- the right of parolees to have a state-paid attorney in revocation hearings.

Proposition 9 denied that right to parolees unless the case is unusually complex or involves an issue of mental competency. That would cover only about 15% of California's revocation hearings. In the other 85% of hearings, the parolee would not get a lawyer unless he/she had enough money to hire one (which is highly unlikely in the vast majority of cases).

But yesterday, that provision of Proposition 9 was overturned by a federal judge. In Sacramento, U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton ruled that California must provide attorneys for parolees in ALL revocation hearings.

I expect California will appeal this decision to a higher court, and unless it is overturned by the Court of Appeals, it could go all the way to the Supreme Court. That's because this California decision could affect a whole lot of states.

Here in Texas, parolees are not provided with an attorney unless they are charged with a new felony (most likely because any testimony or evidence introduced in a revocation hearing could later be used in a court of law). If a parolee is accused of a misdemeanor or a technical violation, he will not be appointed an attorney by the state. A technical violation is a violation of parole that is not also a law violation, such as failing to report to a parole officer or moving to an undisclosed address.

Right now, the ruling only affects California. But it could easily affect other states, especially if it is upheld by a higher court. In states as large as California or Texas, that could be a pretty big budget hit (an estimated $40 million in California).

What do you think? In a court of law, a defendant is entitled to a government-paid attorney if he cannot afford to hire one on his/her own. Should parolees have that same right at a parole revocation hearing?

Who's Really To Blame ?


Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

He Painted WHAT On The Roof ?


There's an eighteen year-old young man in England that's in a lot of trouble with his parents. The Berkshire mansion shown above belongs to the parents. It is valued at over one million pounds, and yes, that is a 60-foot penis painted on the roof.

The young man clandestinely painted it there about a year ago. The parents just now found out about it, and they say their son will be doing some scrubbing on the roof when he gets home. He is currently traveling.

Looks like British pilots have been having a good laugh at this rich couple's expense for a year now.

Don't Believe It !


Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Getting Into Heaven


Cartoon is from the website Atheist Comics.

13th District Is Represented By An Idiot

There are some real nuts in Congress, and many of them talk enough to be a constant embarrassment to their constituents. The 13th District of Texas is represented by a real idiot and right-wing nut -- Mac Thornberry. The only thing good about Thornberry is that until now, he has generally kept his mouth shut and stayed out of the national spotlight. I always figured it was because he understood his own incompetence and didn't want to show it to the world.

I was wrong. Ole Dingleberry has decided that he's going to fix this recession, and it's pretty obvious that he's drinking far too much of the Repub's red kool-aid. He thinks that all we need to do to stimulate the economy is to give rich people more money (and yes, that would be the same rich folks who have been making record profits each year under the current tax code, and yes, that would be the same rich folks who've destroyed our economy with their greed).

After all, if we give the rich all the money, they'll share it with the rest of us won't they? NOT! Where has this buffoon been the last few years? Bush and the Republicans did everything they could to see the rich made larger profits every year, but somehow none of it trickled down to anyone else. They just hoarded it, and whined about having to pay any taxes at all. Wages either remained stagnant or the jobs were shipped overseas.

Rep. Dingleberry has decided to do away with our income tax system and replace it with a sales tax. Never mind that the sales tax is the most regressive of all taxes. Poor and working class folks would probably wind up paying an even larger percentage of their income than they do now, while the rich will wind up paying a negligible percentage of their income. But that's OK. It's the Republican mantra to protect the rich while soaking the workers.

If he can't get that done, Rep. Dingleberry has a fallback position. He'll just lower the top tax rate to 25%. Never mind the ultra-rich have gotten even richer under the current tax rate, and control around 40% of our nation's wealth. Republicans like D-berry won't be happy until the rich control all the wealth and the rest of us are slaves.

Many of us in the Panhandle and West Texas have known this guy was a moron for a while now. It's just too bad he had to finally open his mouth and prove it to the rest of the world.

Right-Wing Dogma


Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pantex Shipments Are Highly Radioactive


This is what the B-W Pantex website has to say about it's plant near Amarillo:

"Pantex Plant, located 17 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas, in Carson County, is charged with maintaining the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. The facility is managed and operated by B&W Pantex for the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration.

Work performed at Pantex includes support of the life extension programs, weapon dismantlement, the development, testing and fabrication of high explosive components and interim storage and surveillance of plutonium pits.

All work at Pantex is carried out under these overarching priorities: the security of weapons and information, the safety and health of workers and the public, and the protection of the environment.
"

As a resident of Amarillo, I would really like to believe that last paragraph is true -- since we are talking about nuclear weapons less than 20 miles from our fair city. But it's kind of unsettling when you see mistakes like this.

Pantex has recently shipped 36 "legacy items" to Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico (about 280 miles). According to the Amarillo Globe News, "Legacy items are components or tools from dismantled weapons that are not part of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and cannot be re-used in modern warheads."

The items shipped were packaged safely according to the company, even though they were not supposed to be dangerous. However, when they were unpacked in Sandia, 12 of the 36 packages were found to be "highly" contaminated with radioactive tritium gas (which is used to enhance the explosive power of a nuclear weapon).

Pantex said they had spot-checked the shipment and found no radiation before the items were shipped. Obviously that check was not sufficient, since 12 dangerously radioactive items slipped through without their knowledge. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board said Pantex is revising it's inventory procedures. I should hope so!

There are some jobs where mistakes can be tolerated (even if unappreciated). However, if you are in charge of tons of nuclear weapons, I would hope there would be several levels of safety procedures that would catch any human errors before they left the plant or became serious.

This latest misstep does not inspire confidence.

A Good Bet


Political Cartoon is by Bob Englehart in The Hartford Courant.

S. African Peace Conference Called Off


The Football World Cup playoffs will be held in South Africa in 2010 (or Soccer World Cup as we Americans know it). The South Africans are pretty proud to be hosting it, and rightfully so. The organizing committee in South Africa decided to hold a Peace Conference in conjunction with the World Cup, with the topic being "football's role in fighting racism and xenophobia."

They got the blessing of soccer's governing body, FIFA, and invited many Nobel Peace laureates and other well-known peace activists. They were going to not only celebrate the upcoming World Cup, but also show off South Africa's commitment to human rights. There was only one problem. The South African government couldn't live up to the high ideals of the organizing committee.

One of the high-profile invitees was Tibet's Dalai Lama (pictured above). Of course, this upset the Chinese government. Since their brutal invasion of Tibet, they don't like for the Dalai Lama to appear on the world stage and will stop him whenever they can. Beijing told the South African government the Dalai Lama's appearance "would harm bilateral relations."

So what did the South African government do? Sadly, they folded like a wet paper towel. They knuckled under faster than the Democratic Congress during the Bush administration. They refused to give the Dalai Lama the visa he needed to enter their country.

When they learned the Dalai Lama had been banned from entering South Africa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former South African president F.W. de Klerk both withdrew from participating in the Peace Conference.

The grandson of Nelson Mandela (and one of the conference organizers) said, "I am very saddened today to see that someone like the Dalai Lama, who all our laureates hold highly, has been turned down on their visa application. This rejection by the government... is really tainting our own effort of democracy. It's a sad day for South Africa, and it's a sad day for Africa."

The organizers have now put off the Peace Conference -- indefinitely. This is for the best. It wouldn't have been much of a conference without Tutu, de Klerk and Mandela. And that probably wouldn't have been the end of the withdrawals.

The truth is that South Africa doesn't deserve the honor of hosting an international Peace Conference -- not if they are willing to knuckle under to China (or anyone else).

Gluttony


Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Strange Route To Justice

James Brewer recently suffered a stroke in Oklahoma. His condition was very serious and Brewer thought he was going to die. He decided to unburden his soul and asked to speak to a policeman. Detective Tony Grosso, who interviewed Brewer in the hospital, said, "He wanted to cleanse his soul, because he thought he was going to the great beyond."

Brewer told the detective a rather shocking story. He said that 32 years ago, he had killed his neighbor in Hohenwald, Tennessee. He thought the neighbor had been trying to seduce his wife, so he shot him.

Brewer was actually arrested for the murder, but was allowed to post bail and secure his release pending trial. Once he was released, he jumped bail and went to the city of Shawnee, Oklahoma. He changed his name to Michael Anderson, and with his wife, settled down and lived there for the next 32 years -- until he had the stroke.

There was only one thing wrong with the deathbed confession -- he did not die. In fact, he has fully recovered. Oops!

Of course, the Oklahoma police have notified the Tennessee police, and Brewer has been returned to his home state where he will now stand trial. I'll bet he doesn't get bail this time.

Justice will usually be served, but sometimes it can take a strange route to the truth.

Looking The Wrong Way


Political Cartoon is by John Trever in The Albuquerque Journal.

Congratulations Senator Davis

It looks like congratulations are in order for Senator Wendy Davis. The rookie senator from Fort Worth just got her first piece of legislation passed in the Texas Senate (SB576). Even better, the bill was passed unanimously. It's always nice when you propose a bill that everyone thinks is a good idea. Here's how the bill was described in a press release:

"SB 576 is a bill designed to help make Tax Increment Financing districts (TIFs) a more effective economic development tool. SB 576 would improve the economic viability of TIFs by allowing cities to use TIF funds to make infrastructure improvements outside of the district boundaries, if those improvements directly benefit the district. The bill would also improve historic preservation efforts inside TIFs by allowing cities to grant historic preservation incentives without requiring historic property owners to be "carved out" of the district."

Senator Davis said,
"I'm very proud to have passed Senate Bill 576 -- my first bill -- on the Senate floor today, and I think it is fitting that my first piece of legislation was about improving an economic development tool often used back home in Tarrant County. I am eager to continue working on the issues my constituents sent me here to address, and I look forward to passing many more bills on their behalf."

I also congratulate the people of Fort Worth. They have elected a good senator, who is interested in helping Fort Worth and the state of Texas.

Humpty AIG


Political Cartoon is by R.J. Matson in The New York Observer.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Note To Blue Dog Dems About Budget


I want to direct this post to those in Congress known as Blue Dog Democrats, or "conservative" Democrats. To those of you in Texas and those of you in other states. It's time to step up and help your president, your party and your country.

There have always been Democrats like you -- even in the 1930s. But those conservative Dems in the thirties knew there was a time to show their conservatism and a time to help save their country, and they recognized when their country needed them. They swallowed hard and voted with President Roosevelt for the good of the country.

Well, the Bush conservatives in the Republican Party have run our country into the ground and thrown us into a serious recession that could easily turn into another Great Depression if it is not handled right.

President Obama has proposed his first budget, and it is a fairly large one -- as it needs to be to cope with the serious problems facing the United States. The Republicans almost unanimous response has been NO. After years of their own wasteful budgets that resulted in enormous deficits while only helping the rich, they all of a sudden want to cut the budget.

Please don't join in this subversive budget-cutting nonsense. Before you decide the president's budget is too large and needs to be cut down, please consider the following:

*The Republicans want our economy to fail, so they can claim that President Obama and the Democrats have failed. It is their only hope of surviving the 2010 election without even further losses.

*The people and most businesses have cut back on their spending. If the government did the same at this time, it would throw our economy into an even more serious tailspin and almost certainly bring on a Depression.

*One of the reasons the budget looks so large is that this is a real budget with all the expenses listed -- not one of Bush's phoney budgets that tried to hide the expense of two wars (and many other items).

*The president has included adequate funds in the budget to start the process of weaning the country off of carbon-based fuels, decrease our dependence on foreign oil and transfer to the use of cleaner and greener fuels. Many presidents have promised this, but only President Obama has actually included funding for it in the budget.

*The president has also included funds to start fixing our broken healthcare system. Over 40 million citizens don't have any kind of health insurance, and among those that do, large medical bills that insurance refuses to pay is the single largest cause of bankruptcies in this country. A good health insurance system that controlled costs and covered everyone, would not only help the citizens but also businesses (who are having trouble competing because of government healthcare insurance in other countries).

*For the first time in many years, our educational system will be adequately funded. Without a fully-funded and functioning public education system, how long would our democracy survive?

*The budget includes some cost-cutting measures by cutting unwarranted, ineffective and unnecessary programs.

*Further cutting would be realized by going back to competetive-bidding on all contracts (unlike the Bush administration that awarded non-competetive open-ended contracts to their friends and political supporters).

*More savings would be realized by the winding down (and eventual ending) of the Iraq War.

This is a large budget, but it is also a good budget. It is also a budget that addresses America's serious needs. Don't join with those who would cut this budget and hurt the country. Your president and your country need you to help pass this budget as it is. It will take political courage, especially for you "Blue Dogs", but it is necessary.

Comrades


Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

A New Car For Less Than $2000


Today, the world's cheapest car is to be introduced in Mumbai, India. The Tata Motors car named the Nano (pictured above) will be priced at 100,000 rupees -- or $1979 dollars brand new. India's Tata Motors is the company that bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford last June. So now they have the world's least expensive car to go with their ownership of two of the world's more expensive cars.

The Nano is a whole 10 feet long, and yet it is configured to seat five passengers. But it will do so without the comforts and extras most Americans and Europeans expect when they buy a car. There are no air bags, no air conditioning, no radio and no power steering or automatic transmission. It is no frills transportation for the world's poor who until now have not been able to afford an automobile.

The price is comparable to the price of a new Volkswagen "Bug" about 45 years ago. But don't expect to see the Nano on any American streets. In addition to no air bags, I'm sure it lacks many other safety features required on cars sold in this country.

However, if the car proves to be popular in other parts of the world, they might decide to enter the American market in a few years. With the basic car priced at under $2000, they could probably put in the required safety features and a slightly more powerful engine (it's currently 33 bhp), and still sell it for quite a bit less than $10,000. That would be half the price of an American car (or less).

It just goes to show what a car company can accomplish when they put their mind to it.

The Blame Game


Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Washington Examiner.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

AIG Starts "Rebranding" Effort

I expected this to happen, but it's just happening a little quicker than I expected. AIG Corporation has decided that there's just too many negative connotations to it's current name, and they have begun a process to "rebrand" the corporation. They hope a new name will help to bring back some customers -- because who wants to say they're doing business with AIG?

Here in Amarillo, the AIG signs have already come down. If you drive by the corporation's local offices, you won't see any signs that say AIG. I expect new signs with a new name will go up in a few days (or weeks).

John Pulhowski, spokesman for AIG Retirement Services, said, "AIG announced a major restructuring earlier this month that will help position its businesses, like AIG Annuity, to run more independently and our decision to remove signage from our buildings reflects the strategy. We expect by June 1 of this year AIG Annuity will be rebranded to a familiar name, Western National Life."

Western National Life. That doesn't sound anything like AIG, does it? I expect it will fool a lot of people, especially after things settle down a little bit. Can't say I blame the company though.

Right now, I would rather do business with the Bush-Madoff Bubonic Plague Memorial House of Thievery, Scams and Pyramid Schemes than spend a penny with AIG.

Not A Fun Game


Political Cartoon is by Daryl Cagle at msnbc.com.

Incredible Stupidity Of Leo Berman


State Rep. Leo Berman (R-Tyler) continues to amaze me with his breath-taking stupidity. We already knew he was a racist immigrant basher. He has been the author of several unconstitutional bills directed at immigrants with brown skin. He has even written one that would deny citizenship to those born in the United States, if there parents were brown-skinned and born south of our border.

Then he gets into a public argument with a Asian-American journalist whose questions were evidently a little too tough. Berman basically told him to go back to China. The journalist later apologized, but Berman refused to do the same. He seemed to be proud of his inexcusable behavior. There is a movement afoot to have Berman censured in the Texas House over this incident.

Now Berman is trying to make higher education in Texas a national laughing-stock. Several months ago, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) refused to grant the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) the right to grant a Masters Degree in science for creationism. Obviously, granting ICR such a right would degrade the value of all higher education science degrees in Texas.

Creationism is religion -- not science, and those who believe in it can get all the degrees they want in theology. But that is not good enough for them. Their purpose is not to grant degrees, but destroy the teaching of real science in Texas and replace it with religion. If the state recognized a science degree in creationism, this would mean schools in Texas could hire those with the degree as science teachers.

Well, Berman got upset because ICR can't grant Masters Degrees in Science, so he has now filed a bill in the Texas House (HB2800) that would exempt them from any decisions of the THECB and allow them to issue the creationism degrees. The bill would force the state to recognize these degrees as SCIENCE degrees.

Berman told Fox News, “I don’t believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago. I do believe in creationism. I do believe there are gaps in evolution."

I have to agree with Berman about that. The salamander is far too high on the evolutionary scale to have produced such a freak of nature as Leo Berman. Slime mold would be much more likely.

The bill is currently stuck in the Higher Education Committee, and hopefully it will never be reported out of that committee. But Texas legislators have done some incredibly stupid things in the past, so a letter to your State Rep. and Senator would not be out of order.

And a note to the people of Tyler. Elect a Republican if you must, but try to find one with at least half a brain. Berman is an embarrassment to your city and our entire state.

Tallying Job Losses


Political Cartoon is by Mike Keefe in The Denver Post.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Americans Are Fickle

A few months ago, a buyer would have to wait in line to get a hybrid automobile. The automakers couldn't make them as fast as buyers were snapping them up, and some dealers were even charging more than the sticker price and selling all they could get. A dealer was lucky to have a few days worth of hybrids in stock. That was because the price of gasoline was approaching $4 a gallon.

Americans were flocking to dump their gas hog SUVs and get a hybrid or a smaller car that would get more mileage. Many found themselves paying far too much at the pump and it was seriously cutting into their lifestyle. But that was a few months ago. Things have changed.

The price of gasoline has dropped back to less that $2 a gallon in most places, and car dealers are finding that no one wants a hybrid anymore. The dealers now have a several months supply on their lots. Where they were charging above sticker price, they are now actually offering substantial discounts to get buyers to purchase a hybrid. And even with discounts, the sales are very slow.

With cheap gas at the pumps again, Americans are once more opting for the huge SUVs. While all auto sales are down because of the economy, an SUV will move off the lot faster than a hybrid these days. Americans are acting like the cheap gas is here to stay.

Of course, it isn't. As soon as they can justify it (and that probably won't be long), the oil companies will begin to creep the price back up. They like those record profits they've been making, and they're not about to give them up. One thing you can count on is the oil companies going for ever increasing profits each year. Another is that someday soon the oil will begin to run out.

Then, once again, people will be trying to dump the gas hogs (and taking a beating on them because no one will want them). Hybrids will again become the hot ticket item. It's just a matter of time.

A smart buyer would take this opportunity to buy a hybrid at a discount right now.

The Job Everyone Wants


Political Cartoon is by Jeff Parker in Florida Today.

Good News For Drinkers

All of you drinkers out there need to send a thank you to Japanese researchers -- at least those of you who drink less than 300 grams per week. Researchers from Osaka University have published a new study about alcohol use, and it's very interesting.

It has already been shown that alcohol in light to moderate use (not more than 300 grams a week) can have a healthy benefit regarding heart disease and stroke. These drinkers simply have less heart disease or stroke than either non-drinkers or heavy-drinkers according to studies. The Japanese study verified this.

It has also been shown these same health benefits show up in people who have a strong social-support system -- a lot of supportive friends and family. Those without a social-support system are generally less heart healthy. It is believed that those alone experience more stress than those with friends and family.

What the Osaka University researchers have discovered is that these two phenomena can work together for even greater health benefits. It seems that if you combine light to moderate drinking with a strong social-support network, the combination has a stronger positive effect on heart disease and stroke than either one does by itself.

However, heavy drinking (more than 300 grams a week) does not show the same benefit -- probably due to alcohol-induced high blood pressure. As lead researcher Dr. Hiroyasu Iso says, "...this beneficial effect of social support is confined to light-to-moderate drinking. Heavy drinking is risky irrespective of social support level."

Well, I've got the alcohol part right. Now all I need is some friends.

Bonuses Are A Symptom - Not The Problem


Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Does Someone Own The Rain ?


All over the United States there are people who catch rainwater in barrels or cisterns. They then use this water to water plants, wash their autos or a myriad of other uses. After all, the rain fell on their property so they have the right to use it however they want. Right?

Actually no. At least not in Colorado and a few other states (mostly in the West). In those states, if you capture the rainwater that falls on your own property, then you are guilty of stealing water that belongs to someone else. Can you believe that?

According to Colorado law, the rain that falls on your property "should be allowed to fall to the ground and flow unimpeded into surrounding creeks and streams to become the property of farmers, ranchers, developers and water agencies that have bought the rights to those waterways."

Doug Kemper, director of the Colorado Water Congress, says "If you try to collect rainwater, well, that water really belongs to someone else. We get into a very detailed accounting on every little drop."

Assistant state engineer Kevin Rein says, "If I decide to [take rainwater] in 2009, somewhere, maybe 100 miles downstream, there's a water right that outdates me by 100 years that's losing water."

I find these laws incredible. If a raindrop on your property sinks into the soil and waters a plant or settles down to the water table, then it is yours. But before it does so, it actually belongs to someone else. You can legally drill for water on your own land, but you cannot catch it as it falls from the sky. Does that make any sense at all?

When you consider that 97% of the water that falls on the soil never makes it into a stream or river, it doesn't. People downstream own 100% of your rainwater so they can eventually use 3% of it!

Personally, I believe any landowner should own not only the water under his land, but also any rainwater he is able to capture before it leaves his land. That's just common sense.

All of you people out there who harvest your own rainwater should check the water laws in your state. Otherwise you might find yourself accused by the "water police" of stealing your own rainwater.

AIG Execs


Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Van Os On "The Real Class War"


The corporate elite and their many political stooges love to scream, "Class war!" when change is demanded from the bottom up.

Their intention is to evoke in the public mind frightening images of bloodthirsty Bolshevik revolutionaries rampaging through the streets with torches and red banners, chanting "Dictatorship of the proletariat" and shooting every businessman and employer on sight.

With such propaganda what they are really trying to do is to divert the public's attention from the true fact that there really is socioeconomic class war in the United States of America, except that the aggressors are the elite denizens of the top, not the rest of us down here at the bottom.

The bailouts of Wall Street robber barons are some of the clearest manifestations of the real class war in a long time.

.For example, in an attempted defense of the obscene bonuses paid to AIG executives with taxpayers' money, the first excuse we heard two days ago was that the executives were entitled to their bonuses by contract, and we could not intrude on the sanctity of contracts.

Well, now. When the automakers asked for government assistance to stay afloat, did anybody in decision-making authority say, "We can't interfere with the United Auto Workers' contracts"? Of course not! It was presumed by all, and expected by the Congress and the President (both the former and the current), that the hourly-wage workers would give up their contractually protected benefits and wages. The Auto Workers' contracts were no less legally binding contracts than the AIG executives' contracts. In fact, it seems to me the Auto Workers' contracts carried more sanctity, in having been agreed to and ratified by many more thousands of individuals

There was one big difference between the two situations. One involved the silk stocking elite, and the other involved hourly paid blue-collar workers. One involved the aristocracy, and the other involved the grassroots masses.

And in the paneled offices and conference rooms of the Beltway elite who inhabit the political administrations (both former and current), the aristocracy protected their own. Let's make the workers at the auto plants give up their contracts, but for heaven's sake let's not interfere with the sacred contracts of our wine-and-cheese buddies.

Meanwhile right here in Texas, the Neanderthal Republican Governor and his fellow Neanderthal Republican political elite have declared that out-of-work Texans should not benefit from the extended unemployment benefits offered by the federal stimulus package. In other words, Texas taxpayers should not participate in some comeback from their own federal tax dollars. I'm talking about all Texas taxpayers, not just the unemployed. Keeping unemployment benefits flowing into the otherwise penniless pockets of the jobless puts much-needed money into the cash registers of honest local retail businesses, thus keeping more employees from falling into the ranks of the unemployed. All of us are the victims of this top vs. bottom class war that we did not initiate, are we not?

Today journalistic pundits are breathlessly announcing that populist anger is cropping up in the countryside over the Wall Street executives' greedy personal self-enrichment at the hands of the taxpayers. Well, duh!

The President and his administration have joined the outrage parade - not as leaders, but as followers of We the People when it became politically necessary. Let's keep up the "populist anger", folks. We are in the lead. And when the corporate executives and Washington politicians start talking about "class war", let's remember who has really been making war on whom for a very long time.

Sincerely,

David Van Os

Geithner's Bracket


Political Cartoon is by Nate Beeler in The Washington Examiner.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

U.S. Supports U.N. Gay Rights Declaration

Last December, the Bush administration once again proved they really didn't believe in human rights, especially if it might upset the bigots in their right-wing base. Bush made the United States the only Western government to not sign a United Nations declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality.

The declaration was signed by Japan, Mexico, Australia, all 27 European Union members and over 30 other countries, but not by the United States. Well, that is changing. Sources within the Obama administration say the United States will now sign the declaration and has asked to be added as a sponsor. As soon as Congress has been notified, the announcement will be made.

An anonymous administration official said, "The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world. As such, we join with the other supporters of this statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora."

He went on to say, "In the words of the United States Supreme Court, the right to be free from criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation 'has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom'."

Thank goodness George Bush is gone, and the United States can once again be a leader in establishing human rights around the world.

Rewarding Failure


Political Cartoon is by John Darkow in The Columbia Daily Tribune.