Monday, March 31, 2008

Air Force Wants To Fly On Liquid Coal

With the price of oil over $100 a barrel and looking like it may go even higher, the United States Air Force is feeling the squeeze. In 2003, they paid $2.9 billion to buy about 3 billion gallons of fuel. In 2007, it cost them $5.8 billion to buy only 2.6 billion gallons of fuel. This year, the cost will be even higher. In fact, every time the cost of a barrel of oil rises by $10, it costs the Air Force another $600 million.

The skyrocketing price of oil and the desire to be free of imported oil, is driving the Air Force to look for alternatives. Since the United States has about a quarter of the world's supply of coal, they are looking to convert their planes to fly on a 50-50 mixture of liquified coal and petroleum-based fuel. Liquifying coal was once considered too expensive a process, but with the price of oil so high, it is now feasible to consider.

The Air Force has already tested the fuel on their big planes -- the B52 bombers and the C17 transports. Now they're ready to test it on the F22 fighters. They hope to have their 6000 plane fleet converted by 2011.

This is sure to raise some concern among environmental groups, and frankly, I'm not sure what I think about it. It would be a good idea if the fuel could be made and used without adding to the already-too-high carbon emissions. The thing is, that has yet to be proven.

Weaning ourselves off foreign oil and petroleum-based products is a good idea. We just need to make sure the alternative is not as bad as or worse than the problem.

Clinton Admits Defeat In Texas

Since March 4th, the Clinton campaign has been trying to claim that Texas was a victory for their campaign. I think they were hoping to control the County and Senate District conventions and make up the deficit in delegates -- but that didn't happen.

This last weekend, the conventions were held to choose the delegates for the state convention. It's looking like Obama at least held his own, if he didn't actually improve his delegate position. According to figures gathered by Burnt Orange Report, it looks like Obama will capture at least 55% of the state convention delegates.

That should put him in good stead to at least finish with a four to five delegate lead in Texas' national delegates. That was the lead predicted by CNN on March 4th, and it looks like it will be at least that good.

The Clinton campaign is now conceding the loss in Texas. They won't put a number on the amount of delegates they are behind, but they now know they didn't win in Texas. That's good. Maybe now we won't have to listen to anymore threats about taking the Texas Democratic Party to court.

Meanwhile, I'm still hearing some talk of doing away with the caucuses in Texas, and apportioning all delegates by the primary vote. I'm against that. Frankly, that would make the conventions and choice of state delegates pretty boring. I'm one of those political junkies that loves our process just as it is.

I know some of the conventions weren't run right and some problems existed. Those problems were not caused by the process, but by a lack of competent leadership and planning. We shouldn't throw out the system because a few party leaders didn't do their jobs right. Just replace them with competent people.

Don't just complain if your convention wasn't run right. Become more active yourself, and see that it's done right next time.

Richardson Backs Udall For Senate

During this election season, I have been wrapped up in supporting Barack Obama for president and Rick Noriega for the U.S. Senate seat from Texas. I still think both are great candidates, and I will do everything I can to see they both are elected this coming November.

But I was reminded recently that there's another senate campaign going on less than a hundred miles from where I live -- in our neighboring state of New Mexico. New Mexico has a great Democrat running for senate named Tom Udall.

Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico, has now thrown his full support behind Mr. Udall. This is what Richardson has to say about Udall:

I've known Tom Udall for more than 25 years. But more than just being my good friend, he has shown himself time and again to be a voice for reason and solid Democratic values.

In fact, he was one of the very few Members of Congress to have the courage to vote against the War in Iraq, even when George W. Bush was stampeding the entire country into an invasion that we now know was completely unjustified and ultimately deeply damaging to America. You can hear Tom talk very eloquently about his plan to end the war by clicking here.

You, I and all of America need his wisdom now in the U.S. Senate--particularly when we've seen how 49 Republicans can block the entire progress of the country through political maneuvering and threats of filibuster.

Without Tom in the Senate, along with a veto-proof Democratic majority, we cannot begin to undo the terrible damage George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Republicans have done to our economy, our environment and our future.

Millions of Americans now face home foreclosure while trillions of dollars in personal wealth have been wiped out because of Republican aversion to financial regulation.

37 million Americans face every day without health insurance because of Republican devotion to insurance company profits.

And America is hobbled by its dependence on foreign oil while the Republicans have blocked a meaningful renewable energy policy for the future.

I know that right now the media and many voters are focused on the presidential election. And there is no question that it is critically important. But it is every bit as important that we elect as many Democrats to the Senate as possible.

A Democratic president will need a Senate that will fully support the change America needs now. And if, despite our best efforts, the Republicans hold onto the White House, it will be like a third term for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney unless we have a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

Even though my own presidential bid is over, I remain keenly engaged in this election at every level of government. We have an opportunity to take our country back now that we simply must not miss.

Naturally, my first order of business is supporting Rick Noriega in his battle to unseat John Cornyn. I will keep sending him what I can and will campaign hard for him as the election nears. But I bet I can free up a few dollars to send to our western neighbor, Tom Udall. If you can, then I urge you to do so.

Our new Democratic president is going to need both of these good men to help him in the senate.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Potter County Democratic Convention

Potter County held their Democratic Convention last night to decide who would fill the 19 delegate slots allotted to the county. The convention got off to a very slow and disorganized start. The gavel was supposed to come down and start the convention at 6:00pm, but at that time at least half the delegates were still trying to get signed in and get their badges.

The convention finally got started about 6:45pm. I live in a very small precinct, and we were grouped with two other small precincts. The three precincts together got to choose only one delegate and one alternate.

When we first arrived, the Obama delegates were just hoping to get the alternate out of these three precincts. That was because Clinton had won all three precincts on election night. But after the convention started, we realized that a lot of Clinton delegates had failed to show up.

We counted several times, and couldn't believe our luck. We had 7 Obama delegates and only 6 Clinton delegates. We caucused and decided to vote as a block. We elected an Obama delegate and a Clinton alternate.

In the county convention as a whole, 55% of the delegates supported Clinton and 45% supported Obama. That means Potter County is sending a state delegation composed of 10 Clinton delegates and 9 Obama delegates.

I was thrilled, as were most of the other Obama delegates I talked with. We had showed up just hoping we could stay close, and wound up with a 9-10 split. That is very good for Potter County, and we all left very happy.

For a moment, it looked like they were going to split the delegates 8-11. But a bunch of us Obama delegates raised a ruckus and made them redo the math. In the end, we got our 9-10 split.

It was contentious and there was some arguing, but no more than usual. After all, it was a Democratic convention. If Democrats don't do some arguing, then something is terribly wrong.

I left at 11:15pm, and they were still arguing over resolutions. All in all, I think both sides went away satisfied.

Jury Nullifies Marijuana Arrest

I must admit that this trial in Amarillo surprised me. Amarillo is a place where right-wing politics and religious fundamentalism abound. It's not a place where drug offenders can expect an impartial trial normally. But that seems to have happened in spite of the ultra-conservative climate here.

Last October, Tim Stevens was arrested for possession of marijuana. He tried to explain that the small amount he had was to help ease the pain he was suffering because he has AIDS. But the County Attorney wouldn't listen.

The County Attorney says, "Every defendant wants compassion and that's understandable, that's human nature. But our job is not so much to be compassionate as to see that justice is done."

It seems that the County Attorney has a very narrow definition of justice. To him, it means convicting everyone who is arrested -- with no exceptions. He doesn't think justice has anything to do with fairness, decency and doing the right thing.

But a couple of days ago, an Amarillo jury disagreed with that very narrow definition of justice. After listening to both sides in the misdemeanor case, it took the jury only 11 minutes to decide on a verdict of innocent. They decided that an ill person using medical marijuana is not something the legal system should interfere with.

I must agree with the jury. It is not an injustice for the law to show some compassion. The law is meant to protect society from criminals -- not harass sick people.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Clinton-Backers Try To Pressure Pelosi

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is on record as saying the superdelegates should support the Democratic candidate with the most delegates earned from voters. That didn't make the Clinton people very happy, since it is virtually impossible for their candidate to finish with the most delegates.

A few days ago, 20 of Clinton's top fundraisers decided to try and pressure Pelosi to change her position. They sent her a letter asking her to "clarify your position on superdelegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the National Convention in August."

It is the view of these Clintonistas that if the voters don't choose the appropriate candidate, then it is up to the superdelegates to step in and fix things by overruling them. That is a ridiculously elitist position for any Democrat to be putting forward.

Do they really think the party insiders know better than the voters? If that was true, then why have the vote at all? We might as well just go back to picking candidates in the smoke-filled backrooms.

But Pelosi wasn't intimidated. Her spokesman said, "The speaker believes it would do great harm to the Democratic Party if superdelegates are perceived to overturn the will of the voters. This has been her position throughout this primary season, regardless of who was ahead at any particular point in delegates or votes."

She is absolutely right.

Threats Keep Rev. Wright Out Of Texas

It looks like a violent brand of racism is alive and well here in Texas. Reverend Jeremiah Wright was supposed to come to Texas. He was going to speak to a church in Houston, and receive an award from Brite Divinity School on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

A couple of days ago, TCU wussed out and asked the Divinity School not to have the award on that campus. I have been a supporter of TCU in the past, but this is very disappointing. They have knuckled under to the racist elements. It looks like even here in the 21 century, this predominately-white church university is still not willing to stand firm against racism.

So the Brite Divinity School moved the award ceremony to Dallas at predominately-black Paul Quinn College. I commend the leaders of Paul Quinn College, but evidently the threats just became too much. The Rev. Wright has cancelled his visit to Texas. He said he cancelled out of safety concerns for the churches and schools who were hosting the visit, his family and himself.

Doesn't this make you proud of our state? It is perfectly acceptable for many white right-wing preachers to spread their message of hate here, and no one complains. But let a single black minister stand up and tell the truth, and the death threats begin to fly.

Any Texan has the right to disagree with Rev. Wright, just like I have the right to disagree with the white hate-mongers. But threatening someone's life is way over the line -- no matter who they are. You'd have to be a really sick bastard to do that.

This whole incident should be an embarrassment to all Texans.

Company Abuses Foreign Workers

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Signal Corporation imported hundreds of welders and pipefitters from India. Now we know why they imported workers. American welders and pipefitters wouldn't put up with this nonsense.

About 100 Indian pipefitters and welders held a rally in Washington, and met with their ambassador, Ronen Sen. They have filed suit against the Signal Corporation, accusing it of human trafficking.

They say they paid recruiters $20,000, after being promised good jobs and permanent U.S. residency. What they got were 10-month visas and inhumane living conditions.

The company denied the inhumane conditions and said they were "shocked" that the workers had been charged thousands of dollars. Personally, I'm getting a little tired of corporations shunning American workers. If they can't ship the job overseas, then they import workers to abuse.

We need to stop this now, or there soon won't be any jobs left for Americans outside of fast-food joints.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

College Tuition Rises Again

Well, it's happening again. Colleges all across Texas are raising their tuition rates again. The colleges say they must raise the tuition to remain competitive with other colleges nationwide.

Back in 2003, the Republican leadership in Texas decided that funding a college education for Texas students was not one of their priorities. They decided the money would be better spent helping their rich corporate buddies. Since that time, state spending on colleges have not nearly kept up with the need.

Since they were no longer going to adequately fund the colleges and universities, they decided to dump the costs on the students. They removed the regulations on tuitions and fixed it so the colleges could raise the tuition when they wanted. Since 2003, college tuition statewide has risen 40%. That is a huge jump for only a five year period, and it all goes on the backs of already cash-strapped students.

Is it any wonder that even some middle-class students are finding they can no longer afford college. For the poor and working classes, this avenue to the American Dream is rapidly closing. Grants have not kept up with the rapidly riising costs of a college education, and loans can now put someone in debt for many years (and possibly ruin their credit rating in this failing economy).

The Republicans have fixed the economy to where only the rich can get ahead. But the failure to adequately fund education (especially at the college level) was particularly shortsighted. Many times, there is little financial return on government spending -- we just do it because it's the right thing to do.

However, spending on college educations for citizens is not only the right thing to do, it is also very cost-effective and revenue enhancing. When a person gets a college education, they make a lot more money than they would otherwise. That means they also pay a lot more in taxes. Over the long run, the extra taxes add up to a lot more than the money spent on educating that person.

If our state leaders were smart, they would fully fund our colleges and make a college education for students very cheap, or better yet, FREE. This would have the dual effect of bettering lives and increasing tax revenue (without having to raise taxes).

But I don't expect our Republican leadership to do this. They are far too busy filling the wallets of their rich corporate masters and don't have the time or inclination to help ordinary Texans.

The college presidents are probably telling the truth when they say they must raise tuitions to compete with other national colleges. But it's only because the short-sighted Republican leadership refuses to adequately fund our colleges.

Farmers Branch Defys Court Order

You may remember Farmers Branch. It's the suburban city just north of Dallas that tried to make it illegal for undocumented immigrants to live and work there. Their latest attempt involves making it illegal for apartment managers to lease or rent to immigrants without papers.

They have altered the ordinance a couple of times, trying to make it so it could pass court review. But several groups filed suit, and a judge issued a temporary restraining order. The order prevented the city from enforcing the immigrant ban until a trial could be held regarding the constitutionality of the ordinance.

But last week, the city did an incredible thing. They sent new license renewal forms to landlords in the city that contained a provision asking them to sign a statement saying they would not rent to immigrants without papers. They did exactly what the court order said they could not do.

The city said it was just a mistake -- they accidently sent out the wrong paperwork. But Bill Brewer, one of the opposing attorneys, has filed a motion asking the judge to find the city guilty of contempt of court. He said, "The difference hear is no small one. This is not misplaced parentheses or a date that was out of order."

The attorney is right. This was no inconsequential mistake. This was a direct and complete violation of the court order. The city should be found guilty of contempt and appropriately punished.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Incredible Incompetence

It looks like the incredible incompetence of the Bush administration has permeated all aspects of our government -- even the Pentagon. This latest example of incompetence would be laughable if written in a novel, but it's true and that makes it very scary.

Back in 2006, Taiwan ordered some batteries for their military helicopters. Instead of batteries, the Pentagon sent them four highly secret fuses for our mark-12 nuclear bomb (pictured above). It is impossible to imagine how such a mistake could be made.

The batteries and the fuses don't look anything alike and are not even close to the same size. Even more incredible is the fact that on at least 8 inspection inventories, the fuses were not even missed.

The Taiwanese told us they had been sent something dangerous instead of the batteries they ordered, but even after being told about it, the Pentagon did not realize what a horrible mistake they'd made for another year.

I don't think the Keystone Kops could have screwed up this badly. First we ship nuclear fuses instead of batteries, and then we don't know we've done it for over a year. You'd think someone in the military would have gone and taken a look after being notified by the Taiwanese -- but no, that would have been too easy.

The really frightening part is that these are the people in charge of our nuclear arsenal. I wonder what else is missing and where we've sent it? How can we demand other countries safeguard their nukes, when we cannot even control our own?

We have got to put some competent people in charge in the next election. People who will demand competence from top to bottom. You cannot have competence throughout government without competent leadership at the top.

It's Time To End This Nonsense !

It has been said that no one can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory better than the Democrats. It's beginning to look to me like that's exactly what's happening right now. McCain has already begun his presidential campaign, while the two remaining Democrats continue to fight amongst themselves. His popularity is growing, while their's is sinking.

This is the best opportunity the Democrats have had in years to win the White House and both houses of Congress. In state after state, many more voters have turned out to vote in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary. But to win, the Democrats must bring all of those voters back to the polls in November. They cannot afford for a significant block of those voters to stay home this Fall.

Recently, in an attempt to pull off a miracle and get the nomination, Clinton has employed her "kitchen sink" strategy (she's throwing everything at Obama including the kitchen sink). This strategy has two possible outcomes, and both are bad for Democrats.

1. Obama goes on to win the nomination, but is too damaged to win the general election. If this happens, Clinton will be blamed and there is no way the party will forgive her and give her the nomination in four years.

2. Obama is so damaged that Clinton wins the nomination. Many Obama supporters (especially the new voters) will stay home, considering Clinton too "dirty" to support. Again, this will result in a loss for the Democrats (and Clinton would never be nominated again).

Both of these scenarios are bad for the party and for both candidates. That's why I say it's time to end this nonsense, and there's only one way for that to happen. Clinton must realize she cannot win without damaging the party and her own reputation.

Here's what I think will be best for all concerned (although I doubt it will happen). Clinton should go to Obama and offer to run as his vice-president. Obama should take her up on the offer. Then they run as a team and score a huge victory for Democrats. This would also set Clinton up to be the next nominee, and both would be party heroes.

That would be the ideal situation. But even if she didn't want to be the veep nominee, by dropping out and giving Obama her full support, Clinton would again come out looking heroic and set herself up for the next nomination.

The only other alternative is to continue the bloodletting, and that would be bad for all Democrats. Democrats have a golden opportunity this year -- I sincerely hope they don't blow it.

Bad News For Airline Passengers

Airline passengers just got a bit of bad news last Tuesday. A federal appeals court has thrown out the first airline passenger "bill of rights" passed in the country. These rights were passed in the state of New York after repeated incidents of airline passengers being stuck on a plane for many hours waiting for take-off.

The New York law said the airlines must provide water, food and access to clean bathrooms for those people stuck in a plane that cannot take-off. That just sounds reasonable to me. But the airlines didn't like it.

The Air Transport Association of America, which is an industry group representing U.S. airlines, took the law to court and got it thrown out. The federal court agreed that the goals of the law were "laudable" and the conditions that existed on the planes during these extended periods on the tarmac were "deplorable".

But the court went on to say that states could not pass laws regulating the airline industry, because that was an area reserved for the federal government. All I can say, is it's time for Congress to act then. Airplanes are uncomfortable enough, without being stuck for hours on the tarmac without even the barest essentials.

How about it Democrats? Can you help us out here? We know the Republicans won't do it, because it would upset their corporate masters.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Is Martin Frost Thinking ?

I have always liked former congressman Martin Frost. Before he was targeted by DeLay's redistricting and lost his congressional seat, Frost was one of the leading liberal voices in the House of Representatives. But I have to wonder what the hell he is thinking with his newest proposal?

Frost has now come up with a proposal to "solve" the Democratic dilemma over Michigan and Florida delegates being banned from voting for president at the National Convention. Frankly, I don't think his idea would solve anything, but it could make things worse.

Frost says, "A small meeting of respected top party leaders such as DNC Chairman Howard Dean, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and two key governors — one committed to Barack Obama (Kathleen Sibelius of Kansas, for example) and one committed to Hillary Clinton (Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, for example) — could be convened to hammer out a compromise that then would be implemented by the DNC. A perfect chair for this meeting would be former Sen. John Edwards, who has not endorsed either of the remaining candidates."

He would then have this committee meet in private to reach an agreement whereby the delegates of the two states would be seated. This has all the stench of the old smoke-filled back-room deals of party bigshots. I can't believe that such a deal would be accepted by the millions who have voted and obeyed the rules.

Both states knew what the party rules were before they ever moved their primaries to break those rules. They were repeatedly warned by party leaders, but ignored those leaders and the rules. They evidently thought they were too "special" to have to obey the same rules as all the other states. Now they must pay the price for that disobedience.

I could possibly see letting them have a do-over -- a primary or caucus within party rules. But they don't want to do that. They want a special exception made for themselves, and that is wrong. A back-room deal would be just as wrong.

Just as the superdelegates cannot overrule the vote of the populace, neither can a back-room deal. Either one would give the perception to voters that the party doesn't care what they want, and could result in thousands of voters staying home in November.

I can't believe that Frost has thought this idea through. His rush to include Michigan and Florida, could have the effect of excluding many voters in other states.

Clinton Tells A Whopper !

Clinton has recently been stretching the truth a bit to make herself look more experienced than her opponent, such as making her part in the Irish peace talks seem a bit more important than it actually was. But her story of her 1996 trip to Bosnia goes beyond puffing up her importance. It's just a big whopping lie!

Clinton has been telling the story since late February to make it seem as though she was more diplomatically involved in her husband's administration than she actually was.

This is what she said on St. Patrick's Day, "I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia. There was a saying around the White House that if a place was too small, too poor, or too dangerous, the president couldn't go, so send the first lady. I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base."

Wow! She must be really brave! Only that's not the truth. The comedian Sinbad was along on the trip, and he says there was no running to the cars and no snipers. The military officer who greeted her also says there were no snipers.

Even worse, several news organizations have come up with film of the visit that shows a leisurely stroll on the tarmac where she was greeted by an 8-year-old girl ( and I seriously doubt the military would allow an 8-year-old to be there if there was any danger of snipers).

When confronted about this, Clinton said, "If I misspoke, it was just a misstatement." I don't even know what that means. It sounds like double-talk. The fact is she just told a big whopping lie to try and make herself look good.

The story also smacks of being a slur against her husband. Would Bill Clinton really send his wife and daughter (who was with Hillary on the trip) to a destination that was too dangerous for himself? I don't think anyone, even a Clinton-hater, would believe that.

Bush Responsible For 4,000 American Deaths

The sorry lying prick drugstore cowboy George Bush, worst president ever, now has the blood of 4,000 brave and loyal American soldiers on his hands. 97% of these deaths occurred AFTER the incompetent nut declared "mission accomplished".

But the heartless fool doesn't care as long as his corporate buddies at Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater and the oil companies can make tons of money off the suffering. He has no conscience and no shame.

Monday, March 24, 2008

HBO Is On Target With "John Adams"

Almost equaling my love of politics is my love of history, especially American history. And one of the most interesting periods of our history (and least understood by the general public), is the establishment of our Republic.

We tend to put our Founding Fathers on a pedestal, but they were just humans who were called upon to do extraordinary things. They had their foibles and faults, but were able to rise above these in a time of great need.

Two of the most extraordinary people during that time were John and Abigail Adams, and yet today they are overlooked by many in their zeal to eulogize Washington, Jefferson and Franklin. So I was excited to learn that HBO was doing a mini-series on the Adams. But I was also afraid. HBO has done some very good things, but it has also done some unwatchable tripe.

But I shouldn't have worried. After watching the first three episodes, I have to admit that HBO (and executive producer Tom Hanks) are doing a remarkable job in retelling the lives of John and Abigail Adams. If the last four episodes are anywhere near as good as the first three, then there will have to be some Emmy nominations.

The production's creators have shown a respect for our history with an unerring eye for detail and truth. They also understand that John Adams was not a solitary hero. He and his beloved Abigail were a team, and he could not have achieved the things he did without her. She was his equal, and they had one of the greatest love stories in our history.

The casting is also perfect. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail are both believable and compelling in the roles, and these roles give them ample opportunity to display their considerable acting skills.

If you have not seen this series yet, then I urge you to do so. This is one that HBO has done right.

It Must Be Spring In Texas

It must be spring here in Texas, because the beautiful wildflower we call the bluebonnet is starting to spring to life. This is the way that every true Texan knows that winter has passed. In fact, the two major strains of the bluebonnet don't grow anywhere in the world except in Texas.

Historian Jack Maguire wrote, "It's not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat. The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland."

According to the website, the Texas legislature in 1901 declared one strain of the bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus) to be the state flower. This touched off a 70-year dispute with those who wanted the showier strain of bluebonnet (Lupinus texenis) to be the state flower.

In 1971, the Texas legislature made all varieties of the bluebonnet the official state flower. This means that Texas actually has five state flowers, since the bluebonnet has five different strains. They are:

1.Lupinus subcarnosus, the original champion and still co-holder of the title, grows naturally in deep sandy loams from Leon County southwest to LaSalle County and down to the northern part of Hidalgo County in the Valley. It is often referred to as the sandy land bluebonnet. The plant's leaflets are blunt, sometimes notched with silky undersides. This species, which reaches peak bloom in late March, is not easy to maintain in clay soils.

2.Lupinus texensis, the favorite of tourists and artists, provides the blue spring carpet of Central Texas. It is widely known as THE Texas bluebonnet. It has pointed leaflets, the flowering stalk is tipped with white (like a bunny's tail) and hits its peak bloom in late March and early April. It is the easiest of all the species to grow.

3.Lupinus Havardii, also known as the Big Bend or Chisos Bluebonnet, is the most majestic of the Texas bluebonnet tribe with flowering spikes up to three feet. It is found on the flats of the Big Bend country in early spring, usually has seven leaflets and is difficult to cultivate outside its natural habitat.

4.Lupinus concinnus is an inconspicuous little lupine, from 2 to 7 inches, with flowers which combine elements of white, rosy purple and lavender. Commonly known as the annual lupine, it is found sparingly in the Trans-Pecos region, blooming in early spring.

5.Lupinus plattensis sneaks down from the north into the Texas Panhandle's sandy dunes. It is the only perennial species in the state and grows to about two feet tall. It normally blooms in mid to late spring and is also known as the dune bluebonnet, the plains bluebonnet and the Nebraska Lupine.

Each year the Texas Department of Transportation sews about 30,000 pounds of the seeds along Texas highways. Because of relatively dry weather in the past few months, only an average crop of bluebonnets is expected this year. However, a wet Spring could increase the yield.

It's hard to explain what a Texan feels when viewing a field of bluebonnets. It just seems to symbolize hope, beauty and everything that's good about Texas.

Rep. Barton Embarrasses Himself

The Politex blog of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tells of a rather humorous incident. Last Thursday, John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth unveiled their new patient tower. The five-story state-of-the-art medical center will begin taking patients in May.

One of the big-shots invited to the unveiling ceremony was the right-wing metroplex Republican and member of Congress, Joe Barton. Rep. Barton decided to use the occasion to defend some Republican-style politics. He decided to speak up for the much-maligned practice of "earmarking" (the tacking of pet spending projects onto popular bills).

Speaking about earmarks, Barton pointed at the new tower and said, "There is a reason that they're good and you're looking at it right there."

The only problem with the statement is that the new building wasn't the beneficiary of an earmark. In fact, the facility was built without any kind of federal funds. Barton is trying to take credit for something that didn't happen.

Maybe it's time for him to retire.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Homeland Security Will Violate Court Order

We have known for years that the Bush administration has no respect for the law. Over 700 times he has attached "signing statements" to new laws, saying he does not believe he and his henchmen have to abide by those laws. When a federal jury convicted Scooter Libby of violating the law, Bush stepped in and made sure he wouldn't have to go to prison.

Bush has also refused to allow some of his aides to honor congressional subpoenas and testify, while encouraging others like Alberto Gonzales to lie to Congress. He used the Justice Department to punish his political opponents, and fired attorneys who were too honest to go along with it.

Perhaps the most egregious legal and constitutional violation was when Bush convinced the telecoms to eavesdrop on American citizens without a search warrant. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that Bush's Homeland Security Department is planning to violate a legal court order.

Last October, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer issued a court order blocking the Homeland Security Department from enforcing its rule that would force employers to fire workers whose name doesn't match their social security number.

The judge said the government hasn't evaluated the new costs for employers to comply with the program, and innocent workers would be unable to correct mistakes before losing their jobs. But Homeland Security doesn't seem to care about the judge's order.

In a document issued last Friday, they disagreed with the court order and and said they were going to ignore the order and continue with their enforcement program. Is there no way to make the Bush administration obey the law?

Sex Offender Running For Mayor

The city of Wilmer has a population of about 3,500 and covers 6.3 square miles in southern Dallas County, just south of the city of Dallas. This suburban community is not a place you would expect to find a registered sex offender running for political office. But that is exactly what is happening.

James Brian Sliter, 42, is running for the office of mayor of Wilmer. He says his friends talked him into running for public office. But Sliter is a registered sex offender who is currently serving out a 10-year probation.

Back in 2004, Sliter arranged to have sex with what he thought was a 15 year-old girl. But when he showed up to consummate the illegal act, he was arrested by police. He had been caught in an internet "sting" operation.

You may ask how a registered sex offender who is currently on probation could be running for office. If he had been convicted of the offense, he couldn't. But he accepted a deferred adjudication and agreed to the 10-year probation (and agreed to register as a sex offender).

The deferred adjudication does not count as a conviction -- but rather a deferral of his trial for the crime. That means he can run for mayor, even though he is a registered sex offender on probation. Technically, he has not been convicted of a crime.

He may not have been technically convicted, but I can't believe the residents of Wilmer want a registered sex offender serving as their mayor -- especially one who must report regularly to a probation officer!

The election is set for May 10th, and Sliter has two opponents, including current mayor Don Hudson. We'll have to keep an eye on this one.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Starbucks - Just Another Greedy Corporation

I'm beginning to wonder if there are any corporations left that believe in treating their employees fairly and paying them decently. It looks like we can add Starbucks to the list of corporations who squeeze every dime they can from employees, so the owners and management can live high-off-the-hog.

Traditionally, waitresses and waiters in restaurants, diners and coffee shops are the lowest-paid employees, and their wages are supplemented by tips (or gratuities) given to them by the customers. But Starbucks devised a scheme to underpay even more of their employees.

They decided to also underpay the supervisors, and then force the waitresses (or baristas as they call them) to supplement the supervisor's salaries by making them share their tips. There was only one problem with their miserly plan -- it's against the law (at least in California).

One barista took them to court, and a California judge turned it into a class-action suit. The judge ordered Starbucks to return $106 million dollars in tips and back interest to present and former baristas in California. Starbucks has said they will appeal the verdict because "the interests of the shift supervisors were not represented in litigation".

I don't believe for a second that Starbucks is worried about the poor shift supervisors. The greedy bastards just want the baristas to pay them so they won't have to do it.

As the plaintiff's attorney said, "Starbucks illegally took a huge amount of money from the tip pool to pay shift supervisors, rather than paying them out of its own pocket. The court's verdict rightfully restores that money to the baristas."

There should be a law like this in every state. When I tip a waiter or waitress, I expect them to keep every penny of it. They're the ones who earned it -- not their boss.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Richardson Declares His Support Of Obama

As most readers of this blog know, I supported Bill Richardson when this campaign began. I continued to support him until he dropped out of the race. I did this because I like him as a person, and I was convinced he was the most qualified person in the race.

When Richardson left the race for president, I transferred my support to John Edwards (who I respect greatly). After Edwards dropped out, I wound up in the Obama camp. Although I took the long way to get there, I am very happy to be an Obama supporter.

I now believe that Obama is our best chance to change America for the better, and create a brighter future for all Americans. Obama's brilliant speech a few days ago just convinced me that I had made the right choice.

So it made me very happy and proud this morning, when I learned that Bill Richardson has now endorsed Barack Obama in his quest to become the Democratic nominee for president. This morning, I received a letter from Richardson telling me of his decision and the reasons for it. This is what he wrote:

Dear Ted,

During the last year, I have shared with you my vision and hopes for this nation as we look to repair the damage of the last seven years. And you have shared your support, your ideas and your encouragement to my campaign. We have been through a lot together and that is why I wanted to tell you that, after careful and thoughtful deliberation, I have made a decision to endorse Barack Obama for President.

We are blessed to have two great American leaders and great Democrats running for President. My affection and admiration for Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton will never waver. It is time, however, for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the fall. The 1990's were a decade of peace and prosperity because of the competent and enlightened leadership of the Clinton administration, but it is now time for a new generation of leadership to lead America forward. Barack Obama will be a historic and a great President, who can bring us the change we so desperately need by bringing us together as a nation here at home and with our allies abroad.

Earlier this week, Senator Barack Obama gave an historic speech. that addressed the issue of race with the eloquence, sincerity, and optimism we have come to expect of him. He inspired us by reminding us of the awesome potential residing in our own responsibility. He asked us to rise above our racially divided past, and to seize the opportunity to carry forward the work of many patriots of all races, who struggled and died to bring us together.

As a Hispanic, I was particularly touched by his words. I have been troubled by the demonization of immigrants--specifically Hispanics-- by too many in this country. Hate crimes against Hispanics are rising as a direct result and now, in tough economic times, people look for scapegoats and I fear that people will continue to exploit our racial differences--and place blame on others not like them . We all know the real culprit -- the disastrous economic policies of the Bush Administration!

Senator Obama has started a discussion in this country long overdue and rejects the politics of pitting race against race. He understands clearly that only by bringing people together, only by bridging our differences can we all succeed together as Americans.

His words are those of a courageous, thoughtful and inspiring leader, who understands that a house divided against itself cannot stand. And, after nearly eight years of George W. Bush, we desperately need such a leader.

To reverse the disastrous policies of the last seven years, rebuild our economy, address the housing and mortgage crisis, bring our troops home from Iraq and restore America's international standing, we need a President who can bring us together as a nation so we can confront our urgent challenges at home and abroad.

During the past year, I got to know Senator Obama as we campaigned against each other for the Presidency, and I felt a kinship with him because we both grew up between words, in a sense, living both abroad and here in America. In part because of these experiences, Barack and I share a deep sense of our nation's special responsibilities in the world.

So, once again, thank you for all you have done for me and my campaign. I wanted to make sure you understood my reasons for my endorsement of Senator Obama. I know that you, no matter what your choice, will do so with the best interests of this nation, in your heart.

Bill Richardson

Iraq War Enters Its Sixth Year

As we started the Iraq War, Bush and Cheney told us our soldiers would be greeted as liberators, and Rumsfeld said the war wouldn't last six months. Either these are the most incompetent fools ever, or they were lying to us. Probably both.

We are now entering the sixth year of the war, and there is still no end in sight. In comparison, our involvement in all of World War II was less than four years (December 7,1941 through August 15, 1945).

Around the first of the year, Bush and Cheney celebrated because only 24 United States soldiers had been killed in December. They crowed that we had turned the corner and the surge was working. Once again, they were either incompetent or lying.

In the two-and-a-half months since then, another 89 U.S. soldiers have been killed, bringing the total to 3,992 (with about 29,314 wounded). Since the first of the year, over 1,700 Iraqis have been killed. No one knows the total of Iraqis, but it is at least in the hundreds of thousands if not more.

And while thousands continue to die there, nothing has been accomplished politically -- unless you count the installation of a puppet government that can't even agree on a flag, let alone accomplish anything important.

That's because they're in the middle of a civil war. Nothing will be accomplished until they settle it. And they can't settle it as long as we keep our troops in the middle of it.

Most Americans don't want our troops to stay there, and most Iraqis would like for us to get out immediately. It's time to bring our troops home and let the Iraqis settle their problems, because we cannot do it for them.

Bring our troops home. All of them. Now.

Obama's Passport Files Illegally Breached

Are the Republicans already starting their "dirty tricks"? It sure looks that way. The State Department's passport files are confidential, and are available only on a need-to-know basis. Every regular and contract employee of the department knows this. In fact, their computers tell them that every time they log on.

But that didn't stop three "contract" employees from illegally accessing the files of Barack Obama. The files were viewed by employyees who no legitimate reason to do so on January 9, February 21 and March 14. Two of the employees were terminated and a third has been disciplined.

It is not known why the files were accessed. The State Department said it was just "imprudent curiosity" and that there was "no political motivation". I'd like to believe that, but the past history of Republicans and the Bush administration make me believe that is unlikely.

It's also strange that it took the State Department over two months from the first breach to tell Mr. Obama about it. Why on earth did it take so long? Is this just sheer incompetence, or was someone trying to hide something?

Obama spokesman, Bill Burton, was properly outraged. He said, "This is an outrageous breach of security and privacy, even from an administration that has shown little regard for either over the last eight years. Our government's duty is to protect the private information of the American people, not use it for political purposes. This is a serious matter that merits a complete investigation, and we demand to know who looked at Senator Obama's passport file, for what purpose, and why it took so long for them to reveal this security breach."

This smells like a Karl Rove-type dirty trick. It makes me wonder if it's even possible for Republicans to go through an election without doing something illegal.


Meanwhile, it looks like Clinton is again on the low road. While she has made a great show of staying above the melee about Obama and his former minister, her staff have not.

Members of Clinton's staff have been telling the superdelegates that Obama's minister makes him unelectable. This whole thing of Clinton saying one thing while her staff does something else is getting a little tiresome.

When reporters asked her about it, she didn't even bother to deny it. She just shrugged and went on to the next question. A couple of years ago, I respected Senator Clinton. That's getting harder to do with each day that passes.

Lawmaker Wants To Outlaw "Red-Light" Cameras

The city government in Lubbock recently rescinded their contract for red-light cameras in their city. These cameras take a picture of cars running traffic lights that have turned red, so the owner can be sent a civil traffic ticket for breaking the law and endangering fellow citizens.

The city said they discontinued use of the cameras because accidents had risen in their city after they had been installed.They make it sound like they had created a more dangerous situation for motorists.

I don't believe it. While there may have been a rise in rear-end collisions, I believe the number of these collisions would have gone back down after the public became used to the cameras.

In addition, the rear-end collisions are not nearly as serious and life-threatening as the side-impact collisions caused by people running red lights at a higher speed. I think the "rise in accidents" was just an excuse.

I think they had begun to get negative feedback from citizens opposed to the lights, and these elected officials began to worry about keeping their jobs in the next election. Sadly, they considered their jobs more important than citizen safety.

Now we hear from John Kanelis of the Amarillo Globe-Republican, that a Lubbock lawmaker wants to outlaw the red-light cameras all across the state. Rep. Carl Isett wants to introduce a law in the 2009 legislature that would outlaw the cameras in every Texas city.

Isett (pictured above) listed a couple of reasons for wanting the camera ban. First he says they are a violation of a driver's privacy. This makes no sense. The cameras don't take a picture of the driver, but only of the back license plate of the car. That plate is already hanging out there for anyone to see. How can taking a picture of it be a violation of privacy rights?

Isett also said the cameras were just a "money trap" for the city. I don't know how every city handles the funds raised in this manner, but here in Amarillo every cent of that money will be spent to make our streets safer to drive on. That's the kind of "money trap" that I approve of.

Isett's hometown has already banned the cameras. He should let the other cities in Texas make up their own mind. His opinion is neither needed nor wanted.

Sheriff's Trial May Be Moved

Potter County Sheriff Mike Shumate (pictured above) is scheduled to go on trial in June. He has been charged with accepting bribes from a vendor to keep the contract for the jail commissary. The vendor, who has also been charged, gave the sheriff cash, a computer, trips, and other gifts. The sheriff is also charged with violating campaign finance laws.

Now it looks like the trial may not take place in Potter County. The trial is being prosecuted by the Texas Attorney General's Office. Last Monday, the AG's office filed a motion for a change of venue. They want to hold the trial in a different county.

David Glickler, the prosecutor from the AG's office, wrote in the motion "The state believes that there exists combinations or influences in favor of the accused, Michael C. Shumate." After seeing the outcome of a recent trial involving the sheriff's office, I would agree with the prosecutor.

The chief deputy in the sheriff's office had been accused of using inmates of the county jail as his own personal "slave labor" to do work on his private property. This was clearly against the law, but a Potter County jury turned him loose. It was basically an act of jury nullification. They didn't think the crime was all that bad.

The AG's office had prosecuted that case also, so it's easy to see why they would be leery of a Potter County jury in a second trial involving the sheriff's office.

I hope the judge grants thheir request. Moving the trial to a different county would assure a fair trial for both sides.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Hate Linksys

Forgive me for not posting today. You see, we are a family basically composed of computer illiterates, but we refuse to admit it. Yesterday, we bought a wireless router and decided we'd install it ourselves. That was a mistake!

I spent several hours unable to access the internet, because I had somehow locked myself out of our wireless system (I feel stupid, and still don't really know how I did it).

My daughter finally got me back on the system, but my computer is connecting to new pages really slow now. I still don't think we got it right.

I can't post tonight. I'm so mad I can't think straight -- all I can think of is taking my favorite hammer to this new wireless system. So I'm going to go to bed. Maybe everything will be all right tomorrow.

If I can get on the computer tomorrow, I'll try to get back to posting.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Power Plants Increase Pollution Again

It is a fact that power plants, which number about 1000, produce about one/third of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, that is dumped into our air each year. That's about 2 billion tons of pollution each year. That's a huge amount of pollution for just one industry to be responsible for.

Since he's been in office, Bush has done nothing to try and rein in this pollution by the huge energy companies. In the pitiful energy bill recently passed, it called for automobiles to be more efficient, but Bush made it clear he would veto anything that called for cuts in emissions by the power companies.

The new figures show how little is being asked of these companies. Last year, power plants increased their pollution output by 2.9% (even though the demand for electricity grew only 2.3%). That's about another 60 million tons of carbon dioxide they dumped into the atmosphere, over and above the amount they were already producing.

We have reached the point where something must be done about the production of greenhouse gases. Frankly, an industry that produces one/third of these gases each year can no longer be ignored or exempted. The power companies must be forced to clean up their act.

Instead of producing an additional 60 million tons of pollutants each year in addition to the 2 billion tons they already produce, it is time for them to start reducing the amount of these gases each year.

Of course, Texas still leads the nation in power plant pollution. The top five states in power plant pollution are:

1. Texas (262 million tons)
2. Ohio (138.6 million tons)
3. Florida (134.5 million tons)
4. Indiana (132 million tons)
5. Pennsylvania (123.6 million tons)

I Didn't Need To Hear This

This last year has not been the best healthwise for this old geezer. First, I break my elbow. As they were fixing that, the doctors discovered I have diabetes. Even though the elbow healed well and the diabetes is being controlled by pills, I thought that was enough bad news for one year. Evidently my doctor didn't.

She decided that I ought to see a heart specialist. Worried, I asked what she had found. She said, "Nothing. It's just a good idea to get it checked, having diabetes at your age." So I go off to the heart doctor, expecting a clean bill of health. No such luck.

The specialist decides I need some tests (stress and echo). A couple of days ago, I get a call from a nurse. She says my tests showed some blockage and I need more tests. If those don't look good, I may need a stent or heart surgery. She certainly knows how to scare the hell out of a guy!

Now, I'm not saying this to elicit sympathy -- I actually feel fine. It's just that on the heels of getting this news, I read this article. It seems that they've now discovered that stents (a mesh sleeve inserted in the artery) may actually increase the possibility of death by an aneurysm.

Thanks MCNBC! I really needed to hear that right now. Anyone else with bad news to dump on me? Might as well do it now while I'm in a "bad news" mode. Sheesh! Getting old is no fun.