“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Saturday, April 30, 2005


1 country, 1 language

A couple of years ago Michael Moore gave a speech likening conservatives to dinosaurs. Moore suggested that everytime you hear a Rush Limbaugh or a Bill O'Reilly whining you are really hearing the roar of a dying species. I thought of that when I saw this defaced advertisement on a gas pump at Toot-n-Totum. "1 country, 1 language", roared the conservative vandal. Constantly fearing the future, always resisting change...

Friday, April 29, 2005

every breath you take

Isn't it ironic? No, I mean, really, it is. The phrase now eliciting more terror than any other group of words: "anti-terror law".

Coupladaysago, Wired magazine posted an interesting/scary piece about anti-money laundering (AML) software. Due to those anti-terror laws, banks will soon be throwing billions of dollars at the development of such software. AML will supposedly make "intelligent use of data" to determine when strange patterns of deposits, withdrawals, and other activity suggest that a bank customer is probably a terrorist instead of the neighborly Wal-Mart greeter you thought he was. According to Wired

Even small transactions may be flagged as suspicious. Terror funds are known to be small, as the withdrawals and deposits of 9/11 terrorists showed. Being small does not mean being invisible.

Geez. Problem is, I can't use a freakin' credit card out of town without the issuer's computers calling me to make sure that I'm really who I say I am and not an identity thief. Most of us don't complain about that minor inconvenience, maybe even appreciate it they're only "looking out for us," after all but now, like all such minor inconveniences, it's in the process of ratcheting up to a major civil rights violation. Soon, if you do something out of the ordinary, you could get locked up in Gitmo and denied due process under the Patriot Act.

I sure would feel better if Scott Henson over at Grits for Breakfast would weigh in and tell me I'm being needlessly paranoid and overly alarmist.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

is dave the wingnut the Ghostly VoiceTM?

Every once in a while you hear that some lit critic/techno geek has fed the King James Version of the Bible into a computer program and found that, based on word frequency and usage, the KJV was written by, say, William Shakespeare, and not God, as had been previously thought. But then other lit critics take the opportunity to go to war over whether Shakespeare even wrote any of his own plays and the whole thing gets bogged down in a mess of confusion and everyone pretty much goes on believing whatever they believed in the first place.

Confusion: that’s one of the reasons we’re against the anonymous editorials published by the Amarillo Globe-Republican and other newspapers. No one takes responsibility. They’re supposed to be the “historical voice of the newspaper” but we’ve never been able to figure out what the hell that means. But sometimes the Ghostly VoiceTM that causes these columns to magically appear every day isn’t so mysterious. Some days you can use a similar methodology to the litcrittechgeeks’ computers and find words or phrases in the hate-filled screeds of the Ghostly VoiceTM that sound like some or another Globe-Republican “writer.”

In this morning’s maniacal rant (insensitively titled "Bully for John Bolton: U.N. needs some tough love”), the Ghost uses phrases used all the time by (surprise!) Dave “The Wingnut” Henry. Here are some specific examples; links are to other places Dave the Wingnut has used the very same words (but there are many, many other examples; Henry has used the last three words/phrases more than 100 times each since the Globe-Republican archives went on-line in 1997. A writer of infinite variety, the Wingnut ain't).

  • the U.N. needs a kick in the pants” ("kick in the pants" is to the Wingnut what "so it goes" is to Vonnegut. Only without the surrounding talent.)

I’m convinced enough to recommend that, if you want to complain about, for example, the headline that mocks the suffering of people who may have been abused by Bolton at the State Department, you should complain to Dave Henry. If you find the concluding paragraph—suggesting that a single obnoxious individual hold the representatives of the entire world “accountable”—to be jingoistic and belligerent, blame Dave the Wingnut. If you think the Ghostly VoiceTM needs to be educated that appointing an ambassador to the U.N. who has recommended that the Secretariat Building “lose ten stories” is also an example of “foxes guarding henhouses”, well, educate Dave.


Chimpster to Speak

Monkey McCokespoon will give his first primetime Question & Answer . . . (sorry . . . spit out a little coffee over that . . .) since his re-selection tonight. CLICK HERE

It's at 8:30 ET.

He will use this to try and boost his poll numbers on his social security dismantling crapola. With his approval rating of the 'idea' (there is no "plan") now at 45% from 56% according the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll published on Tuesday, it might be interesting to see if any new poll-tested catch phrase lies will be spat out.

Shrubby's presidential job approval ratings are also now at 47% matching his all-time low in the Washington Post-ABC News polls. (2001)

Will he say that Syria has sought uranium from Niger? Or has aluminum tubes? Or maybe unmanned drones? Sheeesh. . .

Comment below if you can stand to watch.

-Prodigal Son

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Question War Film Series - this Sunday

"Hotel Rwanda"
Sunday, May 1
2 pm
Downtown Library, second floor
Always free

This is from Kris Abbey, who is organizing a special screening for the Question War Film Series.

Eleven years ago, the world watched while hundreds of thousands of Rwandans lost their lives because of genocide. Many swore then that NEVER AGAIN would such atrocities occur. But today in the Darfur region of western Sudan, Sudanese peoples are experiencing the horror of genocide. An estimated 300,000 men, women and children – most of whom are non-combatants – already have lost their lives. Acts of horrifying brutality including the systematic rape of women and girls and a scorched-earth policy engineered by the Sudanese government have caused thousands to flee, but not necessarily to safety. Starvation ultimately may claim more victims than the Janjaweed militia’s “atrocity battalions.”

Don Cheadle, nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the movie “Hotel Rwanda” and Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager Cheadle portrayed in the film, recently traveled to Darfur to experience first-hand how the horrors portrayed in the film are replaying themselves in real life. They are committed to stopping the carnage. You can help them.

The “Prevent Hotel Darfur” campaign provides individuals with tools for making change. The campaign theme, “Not On My Watch,” highlights our individual responsibility for taking action when we are able.

Please attend this special showing of “Hotel Rwanda” in Amarillo this Sunday. Learn what you can do to help halt the killing in Darfur.

friends in low places

Inspired by Demophoenix, I decided to do a little more rummaging through the list of contributors to the various city campaigns. But where to begin? Big contributors obviously are of interest: why are they giving so much money? Money coming from out of the Panhandle area might also be interesting: why are they concerned with city politics in li’l ole Amarillo? And it also seems like overtly political contributors should be looked at; if you’re in the political game you probably have some agenda.

Bearing in mind those three criteria, one name leaps off Hodger the Dodger’s list: Duncan Hunter/Hunter for Congress of LaMesa, Calif., $1,000.

Hm. Who is this Duncan Hunter from California that’s suddenly developed a $1,000 Panhandle habit? The basic bio: he has been a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1981, representing the 52nd Congressional District of California which covers northern and eastern San Diego County. He's the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services. Well, okay. Not really my type of guy, but someone has to do those dirty jobs.

Unfortunately, the deeds get dirtier. And it doesn’t really look like Hunter is doing them dirt cheap, either, but we’ll get to that. Rep. Hunter has been described as “a loyal member of Team DeLay” who supported torture by refusing to hold hearings on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. All right, he did hold one hearing; he described that one as

an appropriate amount of time,
saying his main job was to take care of troops.

In fact, Hunter doesn’t seem to have met an important recent investigation he couldn’t stonewall. He was the very first chairman of a congressional oversight committee to oppose the sweeping reform recommendations made by the Sept. 11 commission in its final report in July of 2004. At the time, he said
We are not going to be steamrollered in the Armed Services Committee.
Then when even the Emperor W and House Speaker Hastert supported a compromise bill last November to overhaul intelligence gathering in the wake of the commission's findings, he lined up with radical regressives who torpedoed the bill because they wanted it amended to deny drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Some cynics argued that much of Hunter’s stonewalling was directly tied to his own contributors—including Titan Corporation of San Diego, whose translators have been implicated in prisoner abuse. Titan did give Hunter $18,000, but surely that wasn’t enough to turn him to the dark side, not when Hunter was getting money from all over the place—including $5,000 from one Jerry Hodge of Maxor National Pharmacy Services of Amarillo, Texas.

No worries. I’m sure our local investigative journalists at the Amarillo Globe-Republican will dig and dig and dig and dig until they uncover the connection between Hodger the Dodger and Rep. Duncan Hunter.


should I stay or should I go now?

Demophoenix provides an excellent overall critique of the contemporary American media just below. He describes the failures of the contemporary journalistic grail of “balance”—which is almost a new logical fallacy. Rhetoric teachers have long taught the errors of “either/or” or “false choice” argumentation: Are you currently beating your wife or have you stopped? Do we privatize Social Security or let the system go broke in 2042? If you died today, would you go to Heaven or to Hell? Such questions imply that the truth must be one or the other in situations where other possibilities exist.

The new journalistic standard Demophoenix describes tries to split the difference between the false choices and call that Truth. But where exactly does this truth lie? What is the middle ground between beating your wife and stopping, between Social Security going broke in 2042 and privatization, between Heaven and Hell?

The Amarillo Globe-Republican provided us with an excellent local example of the specific dangers of this flawed reportage this morning. In a front-page article titled “Water issue boils over at city hall,” reporter Joe Chapman described accusations made by former City Commissioner John McKissack about water. According to Chapman, he

accused the panel of having "locked arms with" T. Boone Pickens' company Mesa Water Inc. and said the commission members should be ashamed.
McKissack, according to the article, also stated that only three candidates—Hodger the Dodger, Jim “What a coup!” Simms, and Madison Scott—had approached him, as a board member of the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District, to ask about the water situation. Of course, the current Commissioners and Sisemore all denied all these accusations and Chapman dutifully wrote up their denials. The article carried more gossipy back-and-forth about who was in bed with whom than a musical comedy about the Chicken Ranch. For once, the Globe-Republican was balanced as all hell.

But substance? Not so much. If the Globe-Republican has discussed which candidate has a history of making deals with Pickens (Hodger—Masterson natural gas), or which candidate has a history of selling off large swaths of Amarillo (Simms—the hospital), or if the local paper has evaluated the current water “plan” (thick but inadequate is what I hear)—if the AG-R has done any of these simple things, I haven’t seen it. The coverage implies that candidates are divided into two teams lined up against each other. Call them the Dodgers and the Defending Champs. But it’s not even like a real sport, where the two teams at least compete according to a set of rules to settle the conflict. It’s more like the scripted strutting braggadocio and accusations that go on before a fake pro wrestling match. Except that you don’t get to know who is the heel and who is the babyface.

If the situation were really as depicted, I’d be tempted to divide my votes between the teams in hopes of splitting up the heels, whoever they were. Guarantee that only a few commissioners who want to sell our water to Pickens get in instead of risking a whole commission full of Mesa Water toadies.

But of course that’s not the situation, and the creation of gridlock is a stupid voting goal. The truth really is out there. Some of the candidates are conspiring to sell our water to Pickens, or none of the candidates are conspiring to sell our water to Pickens, or all of the candidates are conspiring to sell our water to Pickens. It sure would be nice to have some indication of who has what in mind before May 7. Gawd, I wish local reporters knew how to do investigative journalism.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Balanced News? Bah, Humbug!

I've written before about the dumbing down of public broadcasting, especially its news and documentary work. Here's a confirmation from the commercial media. I've noticed it particularly on the News Hour, which has utterly abandoned the effort to provide objective reporting in the name of something called "balance", which long ago infected other tv news. In brief, "balance" is the mistaken notion that truth can be found by splitting the difference between two competing views. Never mind that there are often more than two legitimate views. The predominance of this kind of reporting has encouraged one side to take the extreme position that they can simply disregard reality and say whatever seems convenient, as long as they are consistent, secure in the knowledge that they will be considered at least half right. The Washington Post quoted the Republican chair of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting saying that PBS' critics are engaging in "paranoia", advising them to "grow up." "We're only seeking balance," he said. "I am concerned about perceptions that not all parts of the political spectrum are reflected on public broadcasting. [But] there are no hidden agendas."

Don't buy it. It is nothing but a hidden agenda, though it's often hidden in plain sight. The voices that have been added are not conservative voices of prudence and reason. They are shills for regressive ideology and apologists for the Bush administration. They seek not to inform, but to dissemble and confuse.

And it is all part of a much larger orchestrated attack that has been ongoing for 40 years now. First came the attacks on the supposed liberal bias of the media, attacks which continue today, when all the available evidence clearly says that exactly the opposite is true. While the bias never really existed, it was effective in getting reporters and, especially, the tv networks, to bend over backward in order to avoid the appearance of bias. Little did they know that the right wing would never be satisfied, even now when the commercial media mostly uncritically parrots their canards. Then came the "compromise" of "balance", which suited the commercial media well, because it's a lot less expensive to do point-counterpoint type interviews than it is to do actual research. Then came the reduction in news staffs in the commercial media, in response to market pressures, which left them far more at the mercy of government pronouncements that they could not independently verify. Then came Fox News, which not only combined all of these pressures at once, but blatantly broke all the rules of objective reporting, hewing strictly to one ideological line. Failure to double and triple check his sources essentially got Dan Rather run out of Dodge, but when Fox News anchor Brit Hume spoke a blatant falsehood in the midst of a Social Security "news" report and stood by it, that was just fine with Fox.

So, where do we go from here? The first thing to do is to recognize that the forces that have changed commercial media, and now PBS, are not going to go away, and the damage they have inflicted will not be reversed easily. The commercial media will respond only to the loss of market share. PBS will respond only to changes in Congress and the White House. The answer, which I will continue to repeat until it happens, is to build our own media. This does not have to be Fox in reverse; in fact, I'd argue that it shouldn't be. The truth is on our side; we just need a better megaphone. That isn't an argument that providing more facts will change people's minds, by itself. It is more of a statistical argument. Each individual is receptive and responsive to different types of information and different styles of presentation. The more different ways we have of delivering the truth, the more likely it is that some of it will seep in and alter the perceptions of enough people to make a difference.

So what are those different ways? It's one effort at a time, mostly small ones. We'd love to have a full-fledged tv network, but that's going to take time, and billions of $$$. Of course, we've got Air America radio. And for those of you with satellite tv, there is a channel called Link TV (channel 375 on DirecTV) that offers a variety of international information, and also presents a news program called Democracy Now. While Democracy Now does mostly straight news in an honest way, their editorial decisions are consciously leftist, so that it is a good way to broaden your exposure, but not a good sole source of information. There are still some good newspapers and magazines, most available via the internet, including The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, the Columbus (Ohio) Free Press, and The Village Voice. As I wrote earlier, the Los Angeles Times, in many regards a mainstream newspaper, is beginning to do a consistently good, objective job of investigative reporting. There are also a variety of local radio shows, including this one in Houston, that is also available via streaming over the internet. Ah, yes--the internet. You are reading this currently on a blog. Blogs, as Juan Cole points out, are a distributed medium not beholden to anyone. Anyone can participate, and while professional standards may be lacking, so are commercial pressures. Cole's enlightened presentation concludes with this:

"... this difference, my friends, accounts for why bloggers get vilified. Journalists can be switched to another story, or fired, or their stories can be buried on page 36. We can't be fired. So if Martin Peretz doesn't like what we have to say, he will publish a hatchet job on us in The New Republic, seeking to make us taboo. If you can't shut people up, and you really don't want their voices heard, then all you can do is try to persuade others not to listen to them or give them a platform. The easiest way to do this is to falsely accuse them of racism or Communism some other character flaw unacceptable to polite society. Because of the distributed character of blogging "computing," however, such tactics are probably doomed to fail.

We are not the mainstream media, and we are here. Get used to it."

Couldn't have said it better.


I did my time at the candidate forum

The Amarillo Globe-Republican, in a sloppy-even-by-their-standards article, incomprehensively referred to the candidate forum held last night by the Potter-Randall Democratic Club as “unusual”. My reactions follow; candidates are rated according to how they met my expectations.

Jeff Poindexter, Commissioner Place 4: (better than expected) I know Jeff from grad history classes at WTAMU. He’s a nice enough dude, but I’m not sure why he keeps running for City Commission. No, that’s not right. Modern American standards about lead dogs and views from the rest of the pack dictate that I should say I don’t know why he runs when he never wins. However, he was actually one of the few candidates who made it quite clear—exactly— why he runs. He wants the city to change to a single-member district system for electing commission candidates. A lot of folx in the PRDC agree with him. Don’t know if they’ll vote for him, but they sure agree.

Jim Simms, Commissioner Place 4: (even worse than expected) 80s kids might remember the old Blue Johnnies lyrics from the song “I Did My Time in Amarillo”:

Hey, Mr. Simms
What a coup!
You got us a prison
Now, how ‘bout a zoo?
This is that Mr. Simms. He mentioned at the forum that his “accomplishments” included getting us that prison and selling off the hospital and noted that he’d ticked off everyone in town at least once. I wasn’t going to vote for him anyway, but he certainly succeeded in reminding me how many times he’s ticked me off.

Prenis Williams, Commissioner Place 4: (every bit as good as expected) I’ve met Mr. Prenis Williams at civic events such as the recent MLK Day March. He has always struck me as a kindly older gentleman, wise in the manner evoked on-screen by Morgan Freeman. He seems like the sort of guy that you worry about being ruined by politics. But it’s only city government, so hopefully he’ll be okay.

Seth Williams, Commissioner Place 3: (met modest expectations) The whippersnapper gave a nice informative speech at the beginning of the forum and answered a few questions during. Generally, you ought to give a persuasive speech in politics and he should remember how to do that, since he’s a hella lot closer to high school and college speech classes than any other candidate. But he didn’t give the impression that he’d do any harm and his incumbent opponent—who didn’t show up—is batcrap crazy.

Paul Harpole, Commissioner Place 2: (way better than expected) Harpole scored some straight-shooter points by being the only candidate to openly admit he was a Republican despite the fact that we all know that everyone but Prenis Williams is. He talked a lot about business, but also demonstrated empathy for east-side and north-side folx that might even have been genuine. He scored the best applause of the night when he noted of the Grand Street bridge,
I'll guarantee you if that was southwest Amarillo, that bridge would've been built 10 years ago.
No one wants to hear this—least of all Mr. Harpole—but in his ability to “feel the pain” of everyone in this city, the candidate came across as a city-government Bill Clinton. And the Place 2 incumbent, Terry Stavenhagen, lost major mojo by not even showing up.

Allen Dawson III, Commissioner Place 2: (didn’t know him before, don’t know him now) He talked about his business experience. That’s all I have in my notes, and I can’t remember anything else except that I think he actually called himself the “quiet one” in his closing comments.

Daniel Martinez, Commissioner Place 1: (worse than expected) Martinez was the biggest disappointment of the evening. I find it incomprehensible to imagine that Amarillo, Texas could have a City Commission without a Hispanic member—and I’m really really really afraid that Martinez is depending on that sort of sentiment to get him re-elected. He did talk (in a very low-key manner) about his attendance rate, and gave specific examples of his advocacy for the Hispanic community and northeast-area businesses. I’ve seen Martinez around town at community events, met him, and always felt very positively toward him. But his opponent was the best surprise of the evening . . .

Madison Scott, Commissioner Place 1: (totally way awesomely better than expected, dude) Scott looked like he still reads his dog-eared Official Preppy Handbook every night, but he was the most persuasive candidate, hands-down. He has exactly one big idea (compete more actively for federal and state grants), but it’s a good idea, could work, and Scott could do it even if other commissioners were uninterested. He pounded his One Big Idea all night, relating it seamlessly to every other issue that arose. I knew for sure for whom I was going to vote for Place 1 until last night. But now I’d like to know what specific state and federal grants Scott has researched and plans to write for. Depending on what and how much money he’s talking about, it is conceivable that Scott could do more real-world good for more Hispanic and disenfranchised Amarilloans than they would receive from simply having a brown face on the commission.

Matt Thomas, Mayor: Democracy is a wonderful, heartwarming ideal, even as it begins to crack in America. At least, any American can still run for office . . .

Debra McCartt, Mayor: (worse than expected) The mayoral race is, for me, the personification of the smoking ban—except that, instead of good reasons to vote for each side, I have no particular reason to vote for either. Also like the smoking ban, I have pretty much made up my mind how I will vote—and my vote is similarly based on symbolism and relations rather than what Rummy might call “the facts on the ground.” Still, I really really really wish Ms. McCartt had done a better job at the forum. She was certainly enthusiastic. She wants the job, but was sadly lacking in specifics. Worse, she occasionally came across as clueless. When Manny Perez asked a convoluted question / made a long speech regarding an eastside bridge, she actually stated that she was completely unaware that there was a problem. She seemed sincere in her desire to get people involved in the process—but seemed frightened when her comment that people should
come to the [City Commission] meetings
prompted a flurry of hand-waving. Granted, my S.O. and I (among others) nearly jumped out of our seat wanting to ask the predictable question—but, really, she should have known that would happen.

Hodger the Dodger, Mayor: (about what I expected) Didn’t talk about water so much, though. Said what you wanted to hear. But can you trust him?

Some excellent questions were raised and some speeches were made. Major PTS props to Jim Restine, who asked an excellent question about quality of life and bus service, and Tim Hoffman, who asked if the candidates would waste city resources to fight a legal battle over single-member districts if it should come to that. These two men demonstrated how you politely ask a specific question aimed at getting the candidate to commit to a specific course of action. And it sort of worked. So much “exploration” got committed to, you’d think the candidates were Panhandlian versions of James Tiberius Kirk. But we’ll keep after them.

As for the speeches, forums like this are kinda like writing to the paper. Make your point politely and ask for specifics. No one will respond well to a rant. In other words: do what I say, not what I do.

Most importantly, most of the candidates (including both Hodger the Dodger and McCartt, as well as Prenis Williams, Harpole, Martinez and possibly others) specifically agreed to vary the times that City Commission meetings are held so more citizens can attend. I asked this question, but I was by no means the only one who wanted to. This is the single most important issue, because, if the elected commissioners follow through, we can keep after them on the other issues. Of course, it goes without saying that we’ll also have to follow through. If meetings are held when we Workin’ Joe and Jane Sixpacks aren’t at work, Panhandle Truth Squad will so be there. And we hope to see some freakin’ crowds.


Yanar Mohammed tonight

KACV-TV (local PBS affiliate) will air the Face To Face interview with Yanar Mohammed tonight at 7:30. Ms. Mohammed is an internationally recognized women's rights advocate from Iraq. She talks about how America's war on Iraq has impacted her country, and especially women. Her story is powerful and passionate. If you can't tune in tonight, the program will rerun on Saturday (5 pm) and Sunday (12:30 and 10 pm).

Pulling Your Lege

The Senate continues to try to grapple with the inherent contradiction that the House has handed them regarding tax deform. In a nutshell, acting on strict regressive ideology, the House passed HB3, intended to fund schools through a variety of other taxes, mainly a state sales tax, in order to lower the local property tax cap. Unfortunately, their plan doesn't even cut mustard with the Republican Comptroller, who says that the plan is at least $4 billion in the red. So, what's a Senate to do? The Fort Worth Star Telegram reports that this fight eerily resembles the one that occurred eight years ago with another Repub governor and another Repub Senate. Back then, the whole thing blew up, and nothing was done. And it could be deja vu all over again. The sales tax increase is bound to be unpopular, not to mention regressive. And almost half the school districts in the state, including AISD, do not tax at the state-mandated cap of 1.5%. Those districts won't see much of a property tax reduction. And, as the Houston Chronicle explains, the law as currently written doesn't mandate that any property tax reduction would have to be passed on by property owners to renters, so renters would be unlikely to see any benefit. So, here we have Repub Senators trying, some with a straight face, to develop a whole set of new "non-tax revenues" to close the gap their House colleagues wouldn't face up to. The rhetoric R's are using to describe each other would make a real conservative blush. Tee-hee. Ho-ho!

Meanwhile, R's are fighting with each other over campaign finance reform. The fuss is all about HB 1348, an omnibus bill covering various areas of campaign finance. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the bill would exclude expenditure of any money originating from corporate or union sources in the last 30 days before a primary election and the last 60 days before a general election for any communications that name a specific candidate or ballot initiative, regardless of the content of the communication. This is designed to end speculation about what exactly is currently legal, and close loopholes like advertising by front organizations with an undisclosed membership (can you say "swift boat"?). The bill would not change current law regarding contributions by individuals, who may contribute unlimited amounts, but whose identity must be disclosed. Thirty House Republicans, along with all 63 Democrats are united behind the bill, so it's going to pass, right? But the Statesman points out that several key Republicans, including Speaker Craddick, Governor Perry, and important committee chairs, are all at least incidentally implicated in the investigation currently ongoing in Austin by district attorney Ronnie Earle over Tom DeLay's political action committees. Corporations, of course, are loathe to give up their power, and are pressuring Repub leadership to stop 1348. So this one pits the leadership squarely against the rank and file.

An interesting sidelight of HB 1348 that isn't getting much attention is that it offers an exclusion for "bona-fide" media owned by corporations or unions. It defines an "electioneering communication" as one disseminated by a broadcast, cable, or satellite communication, a mass mailing, or a telephone bank. Clearly, a blog, unless owned by a corporation, union or political party, is not exempted, but internet communications as a whole are not included in the definition. Who knows what a court would say, but I'd interpret this to mean most blogs or email communications can continue to be used to do electioneering during the blackout period.

Another bone of contention has cropped up between state and national Republicans. Never mind that the former Texas Governor has kind of an important national position. This has to do with an inherent conflict between the education reform law signed in 1997 by then Governor George W. Bush and the more recent federal misnomer, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. State law mandates that essentially all handicapped students be given an alternate test rather than the TAKS test that most students take. According to the San Antonio Express-News, last year that amounted to about 9% of Texas students. But NCLB limits the proportion of students taking alternate exams to 1%. Therefore, Texas was recently fined by federal Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings almost $450,000 in punishment for exceeding the limit. Spellings contends that the state is trying to inflate it's test scores by excluding too many students from TAKS. Could be. Also could well be that the $1.1 billion the state receives from the federal government isn't enough to enforce all aspects of NCLB for 2.9 million students. That's less that $400 per student. Any of you teachers want to weigh in?

What it all boils down to is that Republicans simply cannot govern. Between the ideologs, the incompetents, and the corrupt, there is no will and not much capacity to do what the public needs. Hope y'all don't think that's too wishy washy.


Monday, April 25, 2005

DINO's On The Loose?

There's been a lot of talk lately in the blogosphere (here, here, here and here), which is beginning to leak into print, about certain Democrats who have been more or less cooperative with the Republican majority in the legislature. There have been a lot of charges and countercharges, including the suggestion that they are Democrats in Name Only (DINOs), and I don't pretend vast inside knowledge about exactly what's true, but I can say this much. There have been a number of suspicious votes and cases of certain Dems voting in ways that don't match generally accepted Dem platform positions. Chairman Soechting has openly admonished these Democrats and subtly suggested that they could face primary challenges. Click here for an article about one such Dem from El Paso. This legislator charges that there could be a racial bias involved in targeting Dems for primary challenge. If true, that would be both wrong and explosive. But I suspect there is a more routine political reason--those Dems who have been challenged represent safe Dem districts, not ones where a primary challenge is likely to lead to a Repub victory.

Here in the Panhandle, that would be a nice problem to have. But there are still general issues for us to consider, keeping in mind the difference between testing for ideological purity (which seems to me naive) and making sure that elected Dems do us more good than harm (which should only be common sense). Should we recruit and/or support candidates who through word or deed identify themselves with primarily Republican causes, just because they are willing to place a 'D' behind their names? Is the price to be paid for having a "seat at the table of power" worth the results? Not only do we need to consider these questions locally, but also in terms of the way we give advice to state leadership.

We certainly want to avoid the kind of ideological internecine battles going on in the other party, but at the same time, it seems to me we need to stand clearly for certain priorities, and it is only wise to direct our resources toward candidates who are both capable of winning and willing to advance our message.


Whack-a-Repu . . . er . . . mole!

Ever feel this way? (Click on pic for bigger view)

-Prodigal Son

AGN letter-writer's edumacashon solution

On the River Road I.S.D. bond issue:

"[G]et all the kids garden hoes and teach them how to hoe weeds."
Keep this letter in mind if you're afraid to send in your wild-eyed liberal/progressive letters to the Globe-Republican every month. Seriously, your letters can't be as a) poorly-written, b) ill-informed, or c) totally insane as the regressive wingnut letters they're all too happy to publish.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

From the Endless Wonders Department

Wow. This has been a pretty good Saturday. Not quite on a par with John Dean testifying to the Senate Watergate Committee, but still, some unexpectedly positive developments.

The Denton Record Chronicle (that's Denton, folks, not Austin) editorialized Saturday about the House-passed amendment to prohibit gay foster parents. Here's a juicy quote: "[Rep. Robert]Talton [R-Pasadena] is one of those mindless ideologues who would let the state Capitol burn to the ground if he thought a gay dispatcher might have sent the fire truck. He has repeatedly parroted the discredited argument that homosexuality is "learned behavior" and a lifestyle "choice"; now he seeks to codify the calumny that they are not fit to be around children." Hoo-boy!

The Paris (Texas, not France) News reported that legislators are beginning to hear calls for a state income tax to fund education. The report noted that while the Lege is unlikely to undertake such a move by itself, the time may be approaching when they might allow the voters to decide. And the News cited an opinion poll from last year that asked the question, "Do you favor or oppose a statewide education flat tax on income dedicated to public education which is deductible from federal income taxes?" Results: 55% in favor, 38% opposed. What? You wanted a progressive income tax? Communist! It certainly is amusing to watch the R's wrestle with the fact that their ideological budget isn't compatible with books for school children.

Meanwhile, on the national front, the LA Times is threatening to grow some actual cojones and behave like a real newspaper. In addition to a new editorial direction under editorial page editor Michael Kinsley, they have been doing some fine investigative work lately, including this piece that might put the nail in the coffin of Bush nominee for U.N. ambassador, John Bolton.

No, it isn't all sweetness and light. Happy days have yet to return. But days like this can make your step a little lighter. Make you want to find a way to nudge the process a little faster. Makes me proud to stand up, speak up and do all that one person can.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Save me, PLEASE!

When I turned to the editorial pages of the local rag Friday (April 22nd), and found myself in agreement with the VVC column, and then an editorial by the nameless ones criticizing Tom Coburn I had to look twice to see if someone had delivered the wrong paper to me! Then I began reading the Kraut ("Charlie the hammer") I was sure I was hallucinating when he began hitting on DeLay. But I was snapped back to reality about halfway through when he took a HARD RIGHT after he quoted Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Kraut, I presume with a straight face, said that following the correction of the "disenfranchised citizenry" in the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the courts' decisions on abortion rights, gay rights and "religion in the public square" were wrong because no-one suffered disenfranchisement before the rulings. WHA? How about women, gays and the First amendment?

The Liberalator

Friday, April 22, 2005

Question War Film Series - this Sunday

The Question War Film Series will screen "Control Room" by Jehane Noujaim.

The documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of the Al Jazeera television network during the first days of the Iraq War in 2003.

Sunday, April 24
2 pm
Downtown Library, second floor

It's free. Discussion follows the film.

Question War - If you don't, who will?

It starts with Sigmund Freud.

NPR aired a segment on how Freud’s ideas were transmuted by Edward Bernays into the practice of public relations, or in a political context, propaganda. The premise is that rationality is just the thin veneer of human behavior. Sex, aggression, desire, security, mommy or daddy, are the subterranean drivers of human action that PR/propaganda seeks to tap. The field has advanced beyond polls and focus groups to include MRI brain scans so that our most reptilian reactions can be gauged before product rollout.

Along comes the Fourth World War. Tom Englehardt, at the always excellent Tomdispatch, explored the neocon rollout of WWIV. Elliot Cohen coined the term in 2001 in a WSJ opinion in which he outlined the standard neocon imperial program. In true Bernaysian form, he later recognized “…the right naming of things is far from a simple task.” And that’s been the whole problem. The name just hasn’t caught on with the war-consuming public. So much so that WWIV supporter Norman Podhoretz pouted about it in an article titled The War Against World War IV (WAWWIV – for those of you with scorecards).

The Bush cabal is using the American public as the world’s biggest focus group, trying out one name after another. John Brown’s ‘Why World War IV Can’t Sell' traces the war branding campaign. How about The Global War On Terror? The Long War? The War For Democracy? The Millenium War? Any of those stir your amygdalian reactions?

Yeah, Yogi, it is déjà vu all over again. Those with memories recall the justifications for the Iraq debacle – WMD and Al Qaeda. No, wait, how about regime change and liberation? Check that, try democracy for the greater Middle East. The sad, pathetic truth is that this rape of language and minds is not done in secret mirrored rooms with demographically correct focus groups wired to MRIs, but on a national scale before our eyes. Folks still buy beachfront property in Arizona. And we are still PT Barnum’s people.

It’s enough to make me roll over on the couch, turn to Sigmund and cry “I want my mommy!”

Friday Open Chat

Share whatcha' thinkin' 'bout!

Click "COMMENT" just below, another window will open, then scroll down to post.

We wanna hear from you! (our email: panhandletruthsquad@yahoo.com)

-Panhandle Truth Squad

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Why Do They Vote Against Their Own Interests?

In an earlier provocative posting, Spacedark raised the issue of the place of religion in politics. That post covered a lot of territory, including the way the Republicans use (and I mean that in the worst sense of the word) the conservative religious community, the hostility often displayed from that community toward progressive philosophy, the deep concern of many progressives that they have a way of better communicating their spiritual and moral dimension, and the sources of the right-wing persecution complex.

The sense of being under attack (even though, as Spacedark points out, it's a straw man) is very important. It comes, I think, from what Alvin Toffler called "future shock". In essense, while increasing population and improving technology affect everyone, making our world seem "smaller", "faster" and generally more irritating, the greatest impact is felt by those who previously were relatively priveleged. Particularly in the U.S., we have been raised with the idea that the universal "American dream" was that each generation would have greater opportunity and greater well-being than the generation before. But that concept has begun to be challenged, as "productivity" has exceeded opportunity. No longer are hard work and a good education guarantees of a comfortable life. No longer is a single middle-class income sufficient to maintain a family in the expected life style. And the people who are most disappointed by that are those who were raised to consider it a given, i.e. middle class American white men. The wealthy don't feel it that much because their wealth protects them from it, both literally and figuratively. The poor are certainly affected, but having been raised with low expectations, they are not so surprised by it.

The frustration that accompanies "future shock" and its consequences send people in search of solutions, but those tend to be too systemic for individuals to successfully address. The next best things are (1) comfort and (2) scapegoats. The search for comfort leads directly to religion, among other things. The willingness of both political and religious leaders to exploit xenophobic tendencies, with little regard for their own religious teachings, is in the tradition of the traveling tent-preachers common in the depression era, many of whom were simply con artists. The logical scapegoats are those who are seen as the competitors, the threats to the unrealized expectation, including immigrants, women, minorities and companies who outsource or move overseas. These are not new dynamics. Similar relationships occurred in the late 1800's, as waves of immigration and new technology combined with the backwash from the Civil War and southern reconstruction. The rate of change is no doubt much greater today, though the perception of change is probably not much different. A terrific (and funny) example of the trauma of change in an earlier era comes from the work of James Thurber, discussing his mother's fear of electricity "flowing through the air" (I think that piece is in My Life and Hard Times). The real difference is that today there is not merely a confluence of economic power, government power and religious power; there is an active coordination of these forces.

Now, as then, we are seeing the development of a populist, progressive reform movement in opposition, and it would be tempting to believe that the outcome of that reform movement must be similar to what it was in the early 1900's. I have previously argued that such a happy turn of events is likely, as the regressives paint themselves into an unpopular ideological corner. But there is no guarantee. The forces of xenophobia and repression are not merely powerful and coordinated, but expertly organized, and utterly ruthless. As a Tom DeLay staff memo said (during the Clinton impeachment), "This whole thing about not kicking someone when they are down is BS. Not only do you kick him -- you kick him until he passes out, then beat him over the head with a baseball bat, then roll him up in an old rug and throw him off a cliff into the pound(ing) surf below!!!!!" This is their great "Christian" hero. But failing to practice his religion in his life is not limited to Tom DeLay. What it illustrates is that for the regressive leadership, religion is merely a tool which they affect in order to generate legions of political workers, and which they ignore whenever it is inconvenient.

So, do progressives need to "get religion?" As Spacedark points out, there are plenty of religious progressives, and yet a moral principle among progressives is that we don't impose our faith upon those who have differing religious views. Thus we don't seek to create law that has no basis other than religious teaching. So, we don't need to adopt the tactics of regressives. But we do need to become more comfortable with talking about our morality, which is in fact far more consistent with all of the world's great religious traditions than are right-wing principles. A good beginning can be found in George Lakoff's book, Don't Think of an Elephant. And, at the same time, we have to recognize that those who have been captured by "future shock" are not listening, because they need to blame someone for their predicament. For the foreseeable future, most of those folks are, regrettably, going to continue to vote against their own interests. Thankfully, they remain a definite minority.


that’s me in the spotlight / using my religion

Ever since the November election, progressives have been freaking the high holy freakout about religion. We’ve been talking up the “Christian left” without being really sure what we’re talking about. Jim Wallis has become a folk hero in some quarters. Yesterday, I watched a thread break down on a “major progressive blog” because a poster accused his fellow major progressive bloggacks of dissing religion. The poster claimed alienation in the wake of the Papal Conclave; s/he insisted that progressives on the blog were disrespectful and hostile to religion. We were eating our own, the poster wailed, claiming that most Christians and other religious people are “probably” on the side of progressives.

Mm. Let me just give my bona fides, because it’s evidently now required if you are a progressive and want to discuss religion. I do attend a Methodist church, a very traditional one complete with 19th-century hymns, an organ the size of a Lincoln Navigator, and a liturgy written by Moses. I am by no means hostile to religion. But I live in Texas—the real West Texas, not the place mythologized in story and song. I know that’s where I live because I brush dust out from between my teeth every night. And out here in West Texas, liberals, progressives, reproductive rights supporters, peace activists, gay people, people of color, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera: all have faced and continue to face open hostility from large segments of the religious community.

Directly from the religious community. Listen: In the fall of 2000, in the middle of the longest presidential election in U.S. history, I was “invited” to a Southern Baptist country church. For reasons that have been lost to the mists of time and the unpredictability of human romantic relationships, I attended the service. I was not unknown to the members of the congregation, nor were my politics. Nevertheless, the preacher proceeded to preach a long long sermon that demonized Gore and the Democrats as “very very bad men” who were trying to steal the election. O how I would have liked to stand and walk out—but that wasn’t really possible under the social circumstances. So I tried to daydream, tried to fill my head with television static, did everything but cover my ears with my hands and shout la-la-la-la-la. But I felt very very very alone that Sunday morning, even in a roomful of people.

Another story: I’m a teacher of a group of high school students I call the “Babies on Board.” My juniors and seniors this year were born at the end of the 1980s. I was attending Southern Methodist University during those years and I remember quite clearly that every BMW in Highland Park with a car-seat also sported a yellow Baby On Board sign. It wasn’t just in Dallas, of course; everywhere I traveled during those years, I saw these ubiquitous signs and they were also widely alluded to in the media. Apparently there were parents so overprotective that they believed that someone would actually drive into their car if they didn’t know there was a child inside. I always wondered what those kids who were protected from the world by blaring warning signs and quilted car seats would grow up to be.

Now I know.

Last year’s standardized-testing schedule at the high school enabled the seniors—who didn’t have to take the TAKS—to come to school late three days in a row. This year’s schedule only gives them two days—and my seniors have been wailing and teeth-gnashing all month long that they “deserve” that extra day.

Y'see, they still think the world needs to turn on its axis in whatever direction would make them the most comfortable. They’re still overprotected. They feel entitled—and the slightest perceived injustice leads to screams & shouts claiming victimization. I am their teacher and I love them, but I have to roll my eyes when they write in their journal that they should be worshipped as gods. Really. They write that.

I think of these particular kids when I read posts sticking up for defenseless Christians. Or when I watch television shows decrying the ways in which the faithful are persecuted. Or when a wearin’-my-religion-on-my-bumper sort says with that cute mix of outrage and righteousness: “I’m sorry, but I ain’t givin’ up my faith for no one!”

Heh. No one asked you to, dude.

Look, hyper-religious Christian fundies aren’t persecuted in this country. They’re just not. Neither are mainstream Southern Baptists, nondenominational evangelical Christians, Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or even Methodists. At least not by secular humanists. By each other, maybe. And some members of all of the above bug the Moslems, the Buddhists, the Unitarians, and the Wiccans. But Left Behind-style persecution of the religious by the non-religious—not so much.

So I know everyone’s saying we need to somehow extend our reach into the churches, and I do agree that we need to find a way to blunt the impact of the Republican lie that we’re anti-church, but there’s just two things I can’t get outta my head—

First, when someone’s lying on the ground being stomped by a mob, it’s kinda silly to ask them to stop mistreating the poor mob. And secondly, if I gave in to every student who wails of victimization in my class, I wouldn’t be a bit effective.


Pulling Your Lege

In the past week, your Lege has outdone itself. I sure hope y'all are proud. Houtopia put it well, thanking the regressive Republicans for their devotion to really important matters. Here's a sample.

No gay foster parents: The Texas House yesterday voted to make Texas the only state that bans gays from serving as foster parents. The vote came on an ammendment to a bill (CSSB 6) to reorganize the Department of Child and Protective Services. The ammendment, offered by Rep. Robert Talton (R-Pasadena) passed by a vote of 81-58. According to the Houston Chronicle, a similar law passed in Arkansas was declared unconstitutional in that state last year. Rep. Mike Villareal (D-San Antonio) called the measure "an inquisition." The measure must be reconciled with a CPS bill from the Senate that does not contain this language. Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville), sponsor of the Senate version, expressed concern that many already placed children would be displaced if the measure becomes law. No kidding. I'm sure that all the abstinence-only crowd will be more than happy to take on foster care for a physically or emotionally disabled child (snort!).

Reinstituion of Jim Crow: HB 1706, authored by Rep. Mary Denny (R-Flower Mound) requires that all voters bring a photo id with them when they vote, even if they have their voter registration card. Without the photo id, they would have to produce two other forms of id, all in the name of preventing voter fraud, a problem for which Denny produces no actual evidence. The fact is that Texas, like all states, is currently developing a statewide voter database, due to requirments of federal legislation, which, if properly maintained will reveal any instances of the type of fraud that this legislation is supposed to prevent. This bill was scheduled for a floor vote yesterday, but was sent back to committee. I'd like to think that they've come to their senses, but we will probably see it again in some form. Regrettably, I've got to disagree with Charles Kuffner on his analysis of this bill. Kuff suggests that Denny is merely ignorant, but that seems overly generous. I don't think she's actually concerned about fraud at all. It's just the excuse du jour for suppressing minority (read "Democratic") vote.

All Hail King George: The House did find time to pass HB 137, which will require new highway 'welcome' signs at Texas border crossings that include the wording "Welcome to Texas--Proud to be the Home of President George W. Bush." Huh. Maybe they'll pay for that with the new stripper tax (I gotta know if that means that "tips" will have to be $1.08 or multiples thereof).

Hot rumor: According to W. Gardner Selby of the Austin American-Statesman, House Speaker Tom Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are locked in a game of high-stakes "chicken". It seems that Dewhurst and several Senators want to make adjustments to several House-passed bills, including tax bills like HB 3 (the school finance legislation), presumably because they recognize that the House bills are irresponsible. But they want to be able to avoid being blamed for having the gumption to do some heavy lifting. So, according to these Senators, the House leaders responsible for the various bills have been mysteriously "unavailable" to meet to negotiate acceptable compromises. Selby speculates that the Speaker has muzzled them in order to try to run out the clock. The way it would work is that with the session scheduled to end at the end of May, Senators will have the option of passing a bill that would be responsible, but politically difficult, or just agreeing with the ideologically-driven bills the House passed. Failure to do either could force a special session this summer. This is an example of extremists no longer satisfied with being conservative; they are actively regressive. As Molly Ivins said in her latest column, "I like conservatives. They're opposed to all questionable adventures abroad and [are] for fiscal prudence and responsibility. It's right-wing nuts I can't stand."


Wednesday, April 20, 2005

accent hodge

I’ve been meaning to say something about the April issue of Accent West. It really is troubling, though not surprising, that editor/publisher Don Cantrell chose to use his magazine to promote Hodger the Dodger’s candidacy for mayor.

From the Amarillo Globe-Republican, April Fools Day, (Amarillo magazines enter field of politics”):

Politics is somewhat of a foreign topic to Accent West. And if you believe its executive editor, politics is removed from the factors that put Hodge on the cover at the height of the election season.

"I know no one is gonna believe me, but I've been planning on doing that story for about a year," said Don Cantrell, Accent West executive editor.

Good call, Don. No one believes you. No one at all.

I really tried to not write it where it was necessarily an endorsement or a political forum. I mean, you couldn't hardly do it. . .
What, because Hodger the Dodger is such a candidato perfecto that he can’t be mentioned without endorsing him? I can do it in my sleep: see several of my posts below. Look, Don, don’t even start because you didn’t write crap, anyway. Here’s my summary of your article: a page of Hodger the Dodger talking, a coupla paragraphs of biography, three more pages of Hodger.

Free writing tip, Don: if you want to write an article about a political candidate and “not write it where it was necessarily an endorsement,” you shouldn’t let the candidate do all the talking. Because, you see, Hodger is going to endorse himself. More than likely.

And then there are the photographs: Hodger at the ranch, Hodger with his family, Hodger with former Governor and NCAA-violator Bill Clements.

This article is free advertising, period. Why hasn’t the Globe-Republican Ghostly Voice condemned it? When the Globe-Republican pretends that there’s even a question whether the article’s appropriate, the paper betrays its own biases and lack of ethics.

The Globe-Republican article of 16 April (Toot'n Totum passes on Accent West issue”) is even worse. And either Greg Mitchell of Toot-n-Totum needs some serious PR help or he was the victim of a journalistic hit-and-run. According to the article, Cantrell approached Mitchell, brother of Debra McCartt, to give him a heads-up about the Hodge fluff piece. The article implies Cantrell did so because it was (in a Wilfred Grimley Quaker Oats voice) “the right thing to do.”

"I just felt like he (Mitchell) needed to know what we were doing and offered him the option," Cantrell said.

And Mitchell, on the defensive before he really needs to be, whineth

It looks like I'm just sitting there promoting my sister. But I think it was inappropriate for him (Cantrell) to do it regardless if it had been my sister or anybody else.
You know what? It was inappropriate. And Mitchell shouldn’t apologize before anyone asks him to.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

ratzinger is pope and bush is president

Might as well release Manson. Seriously, what more harm could it do?


extraordinary blogosphere delusions and the blogness of crowds

Jeff Gannon/James Guckert, of course, ruined it for everyone.

One day the wingnut “blogger”-slash-“reporter”-slash-“male prostitute” got caught asking a question that somehow didn’t manage to fit into the extremely stretched and misshapen standards of journalistic objectivity circa 2005. And all sorts of ugliness flew outta Pandora’s Box. Eventually, “Gannon” became the ultimate postmodern cipher, a man so elusive that any reference to him must be stuck in quotation marks. Even when discussing the issue with friends in the bar at OHMS you had to use air quotes. And bringing back that puerile conversational device was perhaps the very worst of all the evil emanating from “Gannon/Guckert”.

Another nasty bit of G/G evil was the questions about journalistic responsibility that began to be asked in his wake. Should bloggers be objective? What liability and libel issues face bloggers? What conflicts of interest? Are bloggers nasty un-American liberal hippy freaks or evil fascist un-American wingnut freeper morons?

In the microcosm, some of us at Panhandle Truth Squad have begun to face some of the same issues (though not male prostitution), and ask some of the same questions (though not “Why are Democrats divorced from reality?”). Problem is, even a single blog doesn’t always speak with one voice. A group blog like this one consists of an oh-so-democratic assortment of voices. Prodigal Son is the in-your-face founding activist. Demophoenix is the informative, detached scientist, convinced that people will see our side once all the facts are put before them. And I’m the dancing monkey, sometimes funny, sometimes playful, sometimes biting, sometimes throwing feces.

Add in the ‘rillos-- Blogarillo, Pazamarillo and whoeverillo else we can talk into posting, and you have a cacophony, a town meeting, the latest pyramid scheme to sweep across the Panhandle. We could never have one Ghostly Voice that speaks for us all like the Amarillo Globe-Republican does. And we wouldn’t want to.

As for journalistic truth-standards, try to remember, we’re just a blog. Give us resources like payroll, budget and full-time employees and we’ll meet those standards, and we’ll do it better than the Globe-Republican. For now, we’re just regular citizens asking the difficult questions our local media often refuses to ask.

Keep that in mind when you read the (very important) rumor-mongering below.


a very very very very very very very good question

G.A Roach’s last name reminds some of us who have been around this city for awhile of some very bad old days. And when the hospital's pastoral care director stood to ask a very good question at the Northwest Texas Healthcare System candidate forum he brought up another name that reminded us of those same bad old days. According to the Amarillo Globe-Republican, Roach

asked mayoral candidate Jerry Hodge to describe his relationship with the petroleum and water businessman.

"And the second part of that question is, have you already been in talks or negotiations for buying water from T. Boone Pickens?" Roach said.

Oh, snap! You got served. Hodge dodged the question, bizarrely comparing his relationship with Pickens to his relationship with his ex-wife. And then he sagely told the audience that Pickens was a “formidable opponent,” and a “threat to us.”

But older-timers than me whisper of a time when Hodge did not view Pickens as such a threat. Of a time when an older couple living near Masterson willed their gas rights to Potter County with the goal that the county would enjoy dirt-cheap heating, forever. But that particular forever was to last only a few years – only until Hodger the Dodger could find a smoke-filled room in which to meet Boone. And ever after those gas rights belonged to Mesa Petroleum.

Those of us with ex-spouses know that there are all sorts of models for that particular relationship. I’ve heard unsubstantiated reports that some exes maintain the courteous but distant relationship Hodger the Dodger alluded to, keeping the relationship businesslike and professional for the sake of the kids or whatever. But some exes suddenly briefly “reconcile” into intense dramatic flings that lay waste to all that emotional progress they have made. And some exes steal your friends, empty your bank account, and slit your tires.

Perhaps Mr. Hodge could choose a more enlightening comparison.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Welcome to the first live PTS chat!

Just hit "COMMENT" just below to join us, and scroll down.

We are discussing ideas on ramping up PTS.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Question War: If you don't, who will?

For those who weren’t able to hear Iraqi women’s rights advocate Yanar Mohammed speak last Saturday, you have another chance. Ellen Neal interviewed Ms. Mohammed for the KACV-TV program Face To Face. The interview will first air on Tuesday, April 26, at 7:30 pm, then will repeat Saturday, April 30 at 5:00 pm, and Sunday, May 1 at 12:30 pm.

The AGN covered Ms. Mohammed’s visit also with a reporter and photographer and published this well-written article on April 10. Unfortunately, the pseudo-science of the anti-evolution guy that appeared on the same page was given twice as much ink. You wanna say 'go figure', but then you remember where you are.

In the KACV interview, Ms. Mohammed emphasized that the shape of government and society in Iraq must be democratic, secular, and egalitarian. She identified three dark forces in the country; the American occupation, political Islam, and ethnic nationalism. The American invasion promised liberation, but unleashed chaos. Part of that chaos was the rise of Islamist fundamentalism into politics and attempts to impose religious law on civil society. She calls these the two poles of terrorism – US state terrorism and political Islam. She and her compatriots have admirable goals, but they are treading a dangerous path between two violent forces.

We in America must not be casual observers. We bear responsibility for what has happened to Iraq. It comes down to this unpleasant truth: We didn’t do enough to stop an illegal, immoral, and unjustifiable war. We’ve got a lot of work to do and a ways to go before we reach the tipping point that finally discredits this war and the ones who wage it.

One way to move toward that end is to offer and keep in front of our community a reality that most of them aren’t exposed to. The Question War Film Series screens documentaries and movies that, well, question war, and offer alternatives to the business-as-usual propaganda that confronts us in mainstream media. This Sunday, April 17, Weapons Of Mass Deception by Danny Schecter, founder and executive editor of mediachannel.org, documents the media's biased coverage of the Iraq War.

Join us Sunday at the downtown library, second floor, at 2 pm. It’s free. And it makes a difference.

dr. feelgood

WASHINGTON, April 14 - As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as "against people of faith" for blocking President Bush's nominees. (Kirkpatrick, David D. "Frist Set to Use Religious Stage on Judicial Issue." New York Times.)

“Dr. Frist” is a fristing nutcase. And he either knows nothing about this country’s true theology or he knows way too much and is just a cynical bastard. The only god left for the Republican base is money. If you doubt this, don’t look at what they do on Sunday morning; rather look at their behavior the rest of the time. As the greatest of all prophets (Douglas Adams) wrote
This planet [Earth] has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
These Republicans can rave & rant about Jeezus all they want but they will still drown a puppy for a dollar. They use religion as a means to gain control and consolidate their power, but what have they done with power once they have it? They sure the hell haven’t turned the other cheek. They sure the hell haven’t fed anyone’s sheep. And they haven’t loved anyone’s neighbor— unless you count those stories about Paul Wolfowitz.

Instead, they’ve lined their own pockets.

Marx— Sha la la lala lalala / Is this the way to Guantanamo Bay? — said that religion was the opiate of the masses. In 2005 he might say it was the masses' methamphetamine, but the essential point remains, perhaps more than Marx understood—and these Republicans are the playground pushers of Drug War mythology, giving voters a little bit of Jeezus for free to get them hooked-- and after that they own themselves another junky.

And what do those poor addicted voters get for their trouble? Their teeth fall out, their skin turns sallow and rots off. They’re wracked by the muscle cramps and chills of environmental destruction, they’re throwing up a bloody, phlegmy death-economy. And they run to their Republican pushers—but now the price has gone up a little: We know you used to get Feelgood Jeezus Government if you voted for nice grandfatherly Ronnie Reagan. But now it costs two Bushes and a Tom Delay. Sorry, the underground economy is always capitalist, you know. It’s the Democrats' fault, really, you know they’ve got this War on Jeezus going on—all the busts, trying to seize all the Feelgood Jeezus Government dope. We think they’re secretly using and selling it themselves.

So even though it’s written that I shouldn’t judge, I gotta say that I’ve actually read the Bible cover-to-cover (twice), and I just can’t see how modern Republican Big Business Wal-Mart Hypercapitalism has anything at all to do with Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It’s become a truism that is Jesus really did come back, we’d crucify him again. Of course, it's also a truism that these Republicans would first complain about his dirty feet, call him an anti-American hippie traitor, and—“Omigod, he looks Middle-Eastern to me!”—lock him up in Gitmo.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Are You Ready for a Brand New Beat?

Go read this great article on on the succes of local blogging from pressthink, like, right now vato! CLICK HERE

(Then come right back here)

There are some great ideas on how to grow this blog and compete with the local wingnut bird cage liner AKA the Amarillo Globe News.

This from Baristanet, a blog covering three towns in NJ:

. . . In competing with Big Media, Baristanet has the blogger's options:

"I compete editorially against five local weeklies and one regional paper. There's no way I won't get scooped. On the other hand, as a blogger I can be useful as an aggregator. So I can link to the reporters who've scooped me. I even have one category, "Scooped by Phil Read, Again." Phil Read is a very good reporter for the Star Ledger.

On the other hand, when something big happens in town, people automatically turn us on to see what's going on. They also send us tips at our tip e-mail, which goes to all three of us. That's gratifying. " . . .

I REALLY like this statement, "You don't need anyone's permission (or any capital) to become a publisher. You can create value from nothing."

OK, so how do we take these ideas and run with them?

-Prodigal Son

PS: HEEELP! Can someone send me the html to build an email submit page LIKE THIS for PTS?

Open Comment

Click "Comments" below and tell us whaddup.

Anyone know some good stuff on Hodge? Anyone attend the debate the other night?

-Prodigal Son

Monday, April 11, 2005

Pulling Your Lege

This week I'm in a reflective mood, and happened on this article. Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) introduced legislation, SB 60, to offer juries in cases involving capital crimes the option of life imprisonment without possibility of parole, in addition to the two current options, life imprisonment with possibility of parole in 40 years, or death. Now, it's not as though Lucio is trying to eliminate the death penalty. In explaining his reasoning, he said "Life without parole does not weaken the death penalty. It is tough on crime. It provides certainty to the families of the victims because they know those individuals would never walk the streets again."

Some Republicans supported the legislation also, believing that since the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down the death penalty for minors, juries needed some stiffer (!) option for sentencing such minors, and was reported out of the criminal justice committee on March 16.

Nevertheless, on the Senate floor, the bill failed to receive the 2/3 vote needed to begin debate. All 12 nay votes were cast by Republicans. Sen. Todd Staples (R-Palestine) voted no in order to avoid confusing jurors. "We need to streamline so jurors fully understand the decision they're making," Staples said. Apparently, Texas juries are unable to comprehend more than two choices. The Chronicle reported that Lucio is continuing to try to find a way to push the bill through.

All that aside, however, I'm left wondering what the actual interplay in a jury room would do with this third option. Would most Texas juries use it to reduce the number of death verdicts? Or, would "concern" for the victim just reduce the number of parolees? Never mind that a guaranteed 40-year term is effectively life, anyway, even for a fifteen-year-old.

And what is the motivation behind this legislation, really? Is it the proverbial camel's nose under the death penalty tent? If so, it's just one nostril. Does it have to do with introducing more sentencing options, in general? Or (I'll bite) is it really as Lucio described it? I'm no criminal justice expert, so I invite comments from those more knowledgeable.

In general, I've got to say that I'm a death penalty opponent, not because I find it totally unjustifiable, but because I know enough about the way the justice system works (or more correctly doesn't work for those who are poor, ignorant or both) to know that perfectly innocent people get convicted and executed, mostly just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We know this from the number of people who have recently been exonerated after serving years in prison, based upon new DNA evidence. I don't know when the regressives in this state are going to wake up to the reality that we aren't perfect. But I guess the question is, do we care about living in a society where you can be killed because you didn't know how to get a good lawyer? If we did, the Lege wouldn't be wasting time with bills that really don't move the ball.


beyond belief: my first postmodern vote

or, Why I Will Vote For the Smoking Ban

In Clintonian phraseology: It’s the framing, stupid.

As I’ve written previously, I am conflicted about the smoking ban, to the point that I have now decided that I don’t really believe one way or the other about the issue. So I have to find something “beyond belief” on which to base my vote.

I’ve also noted that the issue is framed differently in Amarillo than in Austin, where a similar ban is on the ballot. In Amarillo, the anti-smoking ban forces argue that gubmint doesn’t have the right to tell people how to run their businesses. This argument is nonsensical on its face since government does in fact impose all kinds of health regulations on the very sorts of businesses that will be affected by the smoking ban.

It is also important to note that, for good or ill, the issue was passed on to the people. So, it’s not precisely “big government,” but The People who will be regulating these businesses. The question becomes: Do The People have the right to impose restrictions on businesses? Another factor that influences my decision is that businesses in Amarillo—as everywhere—are, more and more frequently, Applebee’s rather than Roasters. More and more new bars and restaurants are anonymous corporations rather than cozy small businesses run by our local neighbors. Do The People have the right to regulate nameless, faceless, soulless corporations? Do we privilege The People over Wal-Mart?

In Austin, it’s a civil rights issue. Individuals who go to a bar to listen to a band have the right to fully participate in the bar/live music culture— a culture which includes smoking. In Austin’s system, the referendum touches on questions of mob rule. Do The Masses have the right to impose “popular delusions and the madnesses of crowds” upon individuals?

I believe the founding fathers might have answered these two questions differently. I know I do. So—in the absence of other deal-makers or deal-breakers—I find that framing is a valid basis for determining a vote. In such a situation, one is not being manipulated by the frame, but is utilizing it.

Oh, the postmodern places you’ll go! Specifically, into structuralism, which

examine(s) the underlying relation of elements (the 'structure') in [for example] a story, rather than focusing on its content.
Sometimes politics, and the power exerted therefrom, is only about relations—the “bedfellows” of political cliché. In this case, I would prefer to align myself with those who would reign in hypercapitalistic corporate power. If Amarilloans cared about civil rights, the issue would have been framed that way—and my vote would be different.


Going Down?

Is Tom "The Hammer" DeLay on the fast track to the ground floor? The evidence continues to mount. New evidence emerged last week on several fronts, merging into a pattern of ethical misconduct by the House Majority Leader distinct enough for even the commercial media to notice. Pundit Mark Shields noted that DeLay's misbehavior had become a reporting "beat", just like covering city hall. Now, Newsweek is reporting that one of DeLay's inside buddies, Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is making canary-like noises. Reporter Michael Isakoff quotes Abramoff saying "DeLay knew everything. He knew all the details." Sounds like someone who is not anxious to go down with the ship.

Even Republicans, who last week were only grousing in private, are coming out in the open to separate themselves from the once-feared House leader. Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), who faces a tough reelection battle next year, has openly called for DeLay to step down, while Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), a member of the Senate leadership, called on DeLay Sunday to make all the details of his behavior public. Even the Amarillo Globe-Republican ran an abbreviated version of the same story. Clearly, there are no Republican incumbents in swing states or districts who want to be associated with Mr. DeLay.

A strange piece in the Austin American-Statesman notes that since the House Ethics Committee is tied up by partisan wrangling, there is currently no venue for the House to investigate DeLay. They fail to note that it was DeLay himself who tied the committee up by trying to change the rules for committee decision making and by packing it with loyalists, some of whom had contributed money to his legal defense fund. Meanwhile, the grand jury in Austin continues to investigate the laundering of corporate money to Texas state legislative races, through a political action committee with very close association to DeLay.

"So what?" you may ask. "We knew he was sleazy all along." Sure, and he's only one Congressman. The Democrats will need a net gain of 12 to retake the majority next year. That's exactly the reason that other Republicans are running away from him. But the fact is that he's not the only one with the stench of corruption. This figures to be the campaign issue of 2006 all over the country. And the more widely DeLay becomes known as corrupt, the easier it will be to use him as a surrogate to make a similar case against other Republicans. Have a look at what the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has put together on several House Republicans who said one thing before the election in 2004, and another afterward, regarding Social Security. Imagine an ad that displays this contrast, adds another ethical punch or two, and then concludes with an image of the Representative morphing into Tom DeLay. There's a long way to go before the '06 elections, but I'm gonna step out on a limb here and predict that there's a lot o' sleeze yet to reveal.