“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"

Thursday, March 31, 2005

And they just keep comin'

Another funny. If anything about the bizarre Schiavo performance art can be.


tulia! blackburn! more!

Scott at Grits for Breakfast has some juicy details

of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing regarding HB 1239 which would end Texas' current drug task force system and require creation of regional unified drug control strategies.

Very interesting.

Sometimes ya gotta laugh

. . . 'Nuff said. (Click on the pic to enlarge)


what your former city manager thinks of you

Former City Manager John Ward (AGN, 3/31/05):

Fact is, Ward said, people rarely participate even when meetings move into the larger Commission Chambers, unless an item on the agenda directly affects them.

"I think the key is, does anybody care about what's on the agenda?" Ward said. "If they don't care enough to come to the public meeting, they're sure as heck not going to come to the work session."

It's not that we don't care, Mr. Ward. It's that we have jobs.

The Coming Dominance of Democrats

No, I haven't been dipping into the loco weed. It will take some time, but not forever. The reality of the situation is made clear from two terrific op-ed pieces from the NY Times, one by a prominent Democrat, one by a prominent Republican. I thought that after my earlier screed on the Texas Legislature, we could use something uplifting.

Bill Bradley, the Democrat and former Senator from New Jersey, rightly points out, as many others, including this writer have said on numerous occasions, that what ails the Democratic Party is our party structure, to which we have paid too little attention for about 30 years. He does not much mention our lack of communications infrastructure, but that's a big part of it too. This is true nationally, and certainly in Texas and in the Panhandle. Whether you buy Bradley's pyramid metaphor or not, it is clear that party leaders, from Howard Dean on down, all clearly understand what the rebuilding process looks like and the process has begun. We now have a broad fundraising base, we have activist organizations like ACT and MoveOn, we have a growing radio network, we have new think tanks like the Center for American Progress and the Century Foundation, and party leaders all over the country are putting resources into grassroots development. Furthermore, since we are not so far behind as the R's were in the mid-60's, it seems to me that we can look forward to greater electoral success well before that 10-year rebuilding process is complete.

On the other hand, as pointed out by John Danforth's (former Republican Senator from Missouri) piece, the R's have veered into dangerous territory from which it will not be easy to reemerge. For a conservative like Danforth to explicitly say that the Republican Party is now the political wing of a movement of religious zealots (my word, but the meaning is clear) is damning. He correctly suggests that right-wing Christian evangelicals are not merely promoting their political agenda, but promoting their religion by inserting it into public law, in opposition to the preferences of other religions and religious traditions, and flouting the Constitution. He does not say it, but there would be no reason for him to write this if he did not fear that continued promotion of religious doctrine by his party would ultimately fracture the party along sectarian lines. The evidence is all around us that this process has already begun. But the R's are electorally addicted to the activism of Christian fundamentalists. When (not if) we overcome that activism and begin winning elections regularly, whether because we have improved our infrastructure or because they are thrown out of office as corrupt or incompetent, how will they wean themselves off that drug? Call me crazy, but I don't see legions of bankers and business executives out knocking on doors.

It's hard to see sometimes, while the local crop of bumper stickers proclaims This is Bush Country, but we can win here too. The reality is that the majority of folks who pulled the 'R' lever last fall are voting in opposition to their own interests. Many of them are doing so out of the sincere, but seriously misguided belief that Republican leaders share their values. What Republican leaders do that reflects their true values is to mislead, mismanage and grandstand for political gain. And the public is catching on. We are in the vanguard of a movement that will bring truth to the misinformed, a guiding light to the misled, and comfort to the mismanaged.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

AGN admits error

The Amarillo Globe-News admitted today that the paper was "totally batcrap wrong and stupid, stupid, stupid" as reporters Joe Chapman and Karen D. Smith pounded themselves on the forehead like Chris Farley in an old Saturday Night Live sketch.

Or something like that.

Our fave newspaper reported yesterday that city commissioners' health insurance had cost the city $105,200 since 2000. Panhandle Truth Squad immediately exposed that headlie based on the Globe-News own reporting. And today the paper acknowledged that even the story itself had been wrong and that the actual figure was more like $13,600.

By the time the local newspaper is through with this story, the insurance will be uncovered to actually cost the city less than I have paid in library fines for the same period. Tell you what: I'll continue failing to return books on time, and we'll just forget the whole thing.

While it is nice that the Globe-News placed the corrected story almost as prominently as the initial stories, some questions still remain. How did this issue suddenly come up in the midst of a contested city election? City Manager Alan Taylor has stated that some candidates were planning on making this a campaign issue. Can the Globe-News assure us that they were not misled or used by any of these candidates, whoever they may be? And can they prove they did not conspire with any of these candidates to try to steal the election?


welcome back (to that same ole place that you laughed about)

Now that Blogger has apparently completed its Easter holiday feast of posts, posts, and more posts, we can get down to bidness.

First, about that conference call with Richard Morrison, the man who dared to challenge the demonic Tom Delay. Charles Kuffner sends the following note:

Both dates are now set for the Richard Morrison conference calls. The first call will be Tuesday, April 5, from 7 to 8 PM. The second will be Friday, April 8, also from 7 to 8 PM.

The ground rules are pretty simple. Richard will have a few words to say up front, as will I about the Texas Tuesdays effort, then the floor will be open for questions. We've slotted an hour for this, but if it goes
longer we can accommodate that. Similarly, if you need to drop off early, that's fine, too. You can attend either conference or both if you want. We ask that you blog about this afterwards, since part of the goal here is to get some publicity, and hopefully a little fundraising, for Richard.
We need to find a place to meet both nights. Public establishments won’t work so well for this, as we will need quiet for the conference call. Demophoenix has suggested the library or a room at the Unitarian church. We will also need a speaker phone. If anyone knows where we can borrow one of these contraptions, please post a comment.

I will not be able to attend the Tuesday night call as I am giving a presentation elsewhere, but I can help get everything set up and ready to go. If we want to participate in that call, at least one someone else will have to commit to blogging that night. I can blog the Friday night call, and of course it will be fine if more than one person feels inspired to post their thoughts.

Some of you have requested information about our stats. If you post here, I have e-mailed you graphs of our page views and visits. Basically, I think we reach a pretty good core group of local activists plus other bloggers around the state. This is okay, but we do need to move out of the choir loft.

I am going to be getting some promotional material (stickers, etc.) together in the next few days. Meanwhile, I think we should consider some of the issues that Demophoenix has raised. He says
The Globe Republican editorializes in news articles, in a variety of ways, producing a "rough draft of history" that is highly skewed. If their draft is intolerable to us, we must challenge it.
and I agree. Can we use this blog as a springboard to other media projects? Can we become liberal kings and queens of all media here on the high plains? Can we at least put some of our ideas into a print version that late-adopters might pick up and read? Here are some issues to consider:

  • Cost. Blogger is free (and worth every penny). No other media will be. We will need to figure out how to raise funds.

  • Content. Blogs specialize in short, pithy posts and opinionated rants. Print would enable longer fact-filled articles.

  • Distribution. The entire purpose is to make our views more widely accessible, so distribution is crucial.

We should also continue to look at ways to improve the blog itself. The past few days with a rebellious Blogger has been quite frustrating. Moving beyond Blogger would require us to raise money, but could also enable improved features.

We have gotten quite good at raking Amarillo media, particularly the Globe-News, over the coals. That’s a worthwhile pursuit, but as Ken Kesey said:

You don’t lead by telling people where to go. You lead by going there and making a case.

Can we got there? Can we make the case?


Pulling Your Lege

Well, if blogger is done eating posts, it's time to get down to the business of the Legislature, as only they can, er...manage it. I've put off dealing with the hot topic of the session, but it is time to finally discuss school finance.

First, let's back up and do a little history. This is by no means the first time the Lege has stepped into this quagmire. By my count, this is the fifth straight session in which they have attempted to deal with the issue. If you've been following this little gem, you know that it is largely a quagmire of their own making. The basic issue is the inequitable distribution of resources to the schools. That results mainly from the fact that Texas permits individual independent school districts to fund their schools disproportionately through local property taxes. Thus, rich districts have rich schools, and poor districts are SOL. The ladies and gentlemen of the Lege might have been just fine with that arrangement, as they've never been proponents of fair fights. But those nasty judges kept getting in the way, insisting that equity was a principle of something called the Kawnstetooshun.

Thus was born the system (and I use that word advisedly) known as 'Robin Hood'. The court mandated that the legislature devise a method of providing equity. The Lege, no fools they, knew that anything called an 'income tax' would be likely to separate them from their public positions, so after a series of attempts that were found lacking by the courts, they finally instituted a scheme in which property-rich school districts were required to donate part of their revenues to a fund that was then distributed to property-poor districts. In order to accomplish that without giving up separate pools for men's and women's water polo teams, many rich districts found themselves taxing their property at very near the state-mandated limit of 1.5% (that's $1.50 for every $100 valuation, for the mathematically challenged). Well, there are many bankers and accountants living in those districts, and they felt that such rates of taxation were downright abusive; on a $500,000 house, they would be forced to provide close to $7,500 a year for their children's education. Why, someone with a $2 million house might be forced to lay off the upstairs maid. Then the courts ruled that the state contribution to school finance was insufficient, and ordered the state to provide an additional $4.8 billion.

So, what to do for the new Republican majority? Well, let's be honest. We all know what they wanted to do. The problem for them is, of course, that they would need an excuse, because their preferred alternative would not be popular. According to Jenny LaCoste-Caputo of the San Antonio Express News (story dated March 12), Gov. Perry and Republican Legislative leaders went to the Hoover Foundation, a noted right-wing think tank at Stanford University in California, to ask the Foundation's Koret Task Force to write a report detailing how Texas' education system ought to be overhauled. The legislation that has actually been written, enshrined in HB 2 and HB 3, does not merely rely upon that report for support, but actually uses its language, often word for word. From this source come both the substance and the "framing" (Don't Think of an Elephant!) for ideas like rolling back local property tax rates, establishing a system of financial accountability for districts, freeing exemplary schools from state regulation and phasing in computer-assisted testing for state-standardized tests. Cal Jillison, professor of political science at SMU said "The think tanks and policy analysis groups are not there to do public service. They're there to push a point of view."

Both HB 2 (dealing with educational appropriations and reform) and HB 3 (dealing with the tax structure) have passed the House, largely on party-line votes. A small number of Republicans crossed over to vote with the Democrats, but overall discipline was enforced by the Speaker (Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland). A particularly revealing event occurred during a vote on an ammendment to HB 2, introduced by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). The ammendment would have changed language that empowers the state education commissioner to turn hundreds of struggling schools over to private, for-profit education companies like Edison Schools, Inc. Edison and other private education companies have failed students across the country. In fact, at least 20 school districts in Texas and elsewhere have severed ties with Edison because the company's schools performed so poorly. The vote by electronic device favored the ammendment, 73-70, but regressive Republican House leaders, taking a page from Tom DeLay, rustled up 4 Republican members whose "machines had malfunctioned" (another argument for voter-verified paper ballots!), reversing the outcome.

Following the HB 2 vote in the House, Texas Freedom Network president Kathy Miller said "Many legislators essentially admitted today that the standards and accountability they've been touting all session don't matter. The reality is that they are gutting the very standards - like small class sizes, certified teachers and early reading intervention - that made exemplary schools and their students successful in the first place." Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) noted the bill's reluctance to pay teachers more in general, but rather focuses on "... "merit" pay to teachers based on their student's performance on testing thereby increasing our focus on testing rather than teaching."

So, what about the tax side of the equation? Republicans like to tout their credentials as both budget balancers (the evidence of the ages not withstanding) and tax reducers. Surprise! HB 3 does neither. Rep. Farrar, in agreement with nonpartisan budget analysts, says that HB 3 provides only $3 billion in new funding, and that's before accounting for the cost of the new mandates included in HB 2. Last week, state comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced that the total shortfall is right around $4 billion. Craddick accuses Strayhorn of just wanting to embarrass Perry, against whom she plans to run for Governor next year. No doubt that's partly right, but the numbers don't lie.

Meanwhile, doesn't the bill reduce property taxes? Well, yes, maybe. Nevermind that the Democratic alternative bill would have reduced property taxes even more, while increasing spending on education by $6 billion in new money. HB 3 as adopted by the House reduces the state mandated limit from 1.5% to 1.0%. That means that if your school district is now near the limit, you could see your property tax reduced by as much as 1/3. If you own a $50,000 house, that translates to, at most, a savings of $250 a year. If you own a $500,000 house, however, you're looking at $2,500 a year saved. Of course, if your district is only taxing at 1.1%, your savings would be only 1/5 of those amounts.

But the Lege had to make up the difference in income to the school redistribution fund. So, HB 3 also raises the state sales tax, already the highest in the country, by 1%, to 7.25%. That tax is one of the most regressive available; it falls most heavily on those who spend a large portion of their income on goods, that is, on working folk. For someone with a $50,000 house and, say, a $40,000 a year income, of which half is spent on taxable items, that 1% sales tax increase costs $200 a year, essentially wiping out the property tax reduction. In exchange, you get kids who are more poorly educated, but, hey--the private school companies will do ok.

But that's not the end of the story. The hits just keep rolling on this sorry excuse for the people's business. In HB 3, the regressive Republicans introduce a new "payroll tax", sort of a back-door income tax. This will require businesses to pay 1.15% on each employee's salary, up to $90,000 per employee. So, relatively speaking, it would cost a business more to hire a teller than a bank vice-president, for example. The House was generous enough to amend this proposal to allow businesses to opt to either pay this tax or the current franchise tax.

So, where does this smoke and mirrors show go from here? Well, it goes to the Senate. Many have predicted that changes will be made in both pieces of legislation, and it could be that Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who runs the Senate, would like to play good cop by eliminating some of the more egregious problems. But he is on the horns of a dilemma. Already, the Senate is on the verge of passing a budget resolution that refuses to raise taxes, in direct contradiction to the House passed bills. There is much speculation that part of the "fix" could be at the expense of teachers. That should help education in Texas.

There is, of course, still time. Our Senator is Kel Seliger, the one-time mayor of Amarillo. His wife is rumored to be interested in serving on the city commission, perhaps in 2007. He needs to hear that we favor school finance legislation that actually has some hope of financing functional schools, without doing so on the backs of those least able to help. We need public education, not "public" schools run by private companies. We need progressive taxation to provide proper funding for those schools, and teacher salaries that are competitive and decoupled from testing requirements. Sen. Seliger's capitol address is: P.O. Box 12068, Austin, Texas 78711. His phone number is: (512) 463-0131. His local Amarillo phone number is: 374-8994. He can be emailed on the web by clicking here. You can also email Lt. Gov. Dewhurst.

Fortunately, even though they have no time to truly fix the school funding debacle, we can rest assured that our heroic Lege is struggling with the really big issues. While the rest of us have our minds stuck in the trivial, they have figured out how to solve the playoff system for Division IA football.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

someone to watch over you

The daily advertising circular known as the Amarillo Globe-News continues to tilt at the windmill known as city health insurance for commissioners. Today the paper informs us that the city has spent $105,200 on this "perk." Well-- as always with the Globe-News, we must read carefully. The headline says the insurance cost the city $105,200. The article begins

City health insurance for commissioners began to emerge as a political football as early as February, when City Manager Alan Taylor asked for legal guidance about the practice that has cost the city about $73,800 since 2000.

The city has spent $105,200 in premiums and claims since 2000 to insure its elected officials, their spouses and dependents.

Officials enrolled in the plan - Mayor Trent Sisemore, City Commissioners Debra Ballou McCartt, Robert Keys and Terri Stavenhagen and former City Commissioners Kevin Knapp and Dianne Bosch - in that time period have paid $31,400 in premiums into the city's self-insurance fund.

It took me a few seconds with a calculator to sort it out: the total cost was $105,200 of which participants paid $31,400 leaving $73,800 for the city to pay. That's less than $19,000 a year. So for the cost of less than one modestly-paid city employee we get four city commissioners and a mayor. It doesn't seem excessive to me, but I guess that depends on your tolerance for government spending.

It's clear that the Amarillo Globe-News headline was misleading. Their motivations for bringing all of this up are not so clear. If they're just educating the public about commission actions that are all too often shrouded in the secrecy of mid-afternoon meetings, then they're doing a public service. Of course, we libruhls think education should be reality-based and misleading headlines aren't exactly reality-based.

In any event, several questions come to mind:

  • City Manager Alan Taylor stated that
    There had already been [in February] some of the comments from some of the candidates that they were going to make this an election issue.
    Who are these candidates? Who was asking about this policy in February - immediately after Trent Sisemore announced that he would not seek a third term? How did this person or these people-- who obviously are not incumbents-- become aware that commissioners are eligible for city insurance? Why specifically are they concerned about this practice? And why did the AGN attempt to make things look worse than they are?

  • City Manager Alan Taylor also stated
    that he asked [City Attorney] Norris for the opinion about a week before the attorney issued it, and he only learned that commissioners received insurance benefits a week or two before that.
    Alan Taylor was Assistant City Manager for seventeen years before becoming city manager last year. Why did ignorance of this policy extend so high up? Why, in fact, do our former city officials-particularly John McKissack and former Mayor Keith Adams-have such bad memories on this issue?

  • According to the AGN,
    Former Mayor Keith Adams, and former commissioners McKissack, Kevin Knapp, Dianne Bosch and Kel Seliger voted unanimously to pass the risk pool resolution.
    Knapp bristled when asked about his eligibility, Bosch defended hers, and Seliger, McKissack and Adams claim they don't remember. McKissack speculates that he and Seliger were "left out of the loop." What specifically was the process that led to commissioners' eligibility? Would different decisions have been made-and would people's memories be better-if city commission meetings were held in public? (Holding meetings at 3 p.m. on a weekday is tantamount to locking the door and posting a sentry.)

As I have stated I don't care about the fact of commissioner eligibility. I don't think it's an issue at all. But I am almost always out of sync with Amarillo voters. If something was done under the radar that most voters disapprove of, that is an issue. And, frankly, commissioners' behaviour is beginning to "smell bad," as Republicans are starting to admit of Tom Delay.We at PTS renew our call for city commission meetings to be held at an hour when more citizens can attend and monitor the proceedings. Like the plans to demolish Arthur Dent's house in the late, great Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy our city commission's proceedings all-too-often appear to be

on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of the Leopard."


munch * crunch * mmm * blogger like to eat posts

Sorry for the paucity of postings lately. I've tried several over the last few days and blogger done et every one. I'll try to get caught up and post those that are still timely.


Wind Power

Saints be praised, the Ghostly Voice of the Globe-Republican has said something I agree with, two days in a row, no less (links here and here). Just like Ghostly Voice, I, too, have an interest in the proposed wind farm to be built west of Amarillo. I think it's a bit shameful that we don't have more wind farms around here already, but hopefully that will change greatly in the near future. Personally, I'd rather see the AEDC putting their efforts into more projects like these rather than Bell Textron. Tax payers would be better served by alternative energy rather than the over-priced military hardware we're financing right now. Why just build wind farms? Why not get some component manufactures here as well? If we can build helicopters, we can build wind turbines.

If there is a downside to this project, it's that Xcel Energy is stepping in to buy up the electricity the farm will produce, meaning we consumers are still stuck with one provider. I've always felt that one of the advantages to having these new producers would be actual competition that would wrest control away from Xcel and their monopoly. I have to admit ingorance to the legal ramifications of a provider coming in that might actually compete with Xcel, but surely it is possible? It may be a matter we as individuals have to take into our own hands.

A few years ago, when Enron and friends (major Bush supporters) were busy raping the Grandma Millies of California (and we were getting a good gouging from Atmos) I looked into outfitting my house with solar power. It was going to cost between $15k - $20k to buy enough equipment to run the house as is and it would have taken about 15 - 20 years to get that money back in the form of electrical savings. I couldn't afford that by a long shot. I haven't looked into solar prices lately, so I don't know if the prices have come down since then.

That's the really frustrating thing about alternative energy. It costs a lot upfront, usually more than the average Joe can shell out. Given the fact that we live in Texas in general and the Panhandle in particular we shouldn't be expecting any incentives from our hypercapitalist, corporate whore politicians. It's only a matter of time, though. Eventually the prices will come down to something we can afford and when they do, I'll be the first in line to take a small step toward energy independence.

Monday, March 28, 2005

I've been trying to tell you

You'll have seen this a million places by now . . . but it holds unique resonance for those of us who live in the panhandle d'Texas:

"We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture."

(Pastor Ray Mummert of Dover, Pennsylvania on biology textbooks.)


Saturday, March 26, 2005

insurance issue not newsy in 2005

Our fave newspaper has been pacing to-and-fro with its sandwich board decrying a sinister plot: city commissioners are eligible for the city health plan! Great Ceasar’s Ghost!-- talk about a tempest in a teapot. Some thoughts:

  1. Treating the city commission as a volunteer position that should not be compensated in any way insures that only the class that has time to volunteer will serve. So long as we do this, we have no right to moan that we’re represented by a bunch of rich slackers.
  2. Additionally, an ordinary working or middle-class person who served on the city commission might risk income—since the meetings take place at an hour when most of us are working. If you’re going to treat it as a volunteer position, move meetings to a more reasonable hour so that a larger cross-section of society could participate without risking income. Or, alternatively, find ways to compensate members for the potential reduction in income.
  3. When Robert Keys states that he is enrolled in the city plan rather than his own business’s plan, this says something about him individually as a businessman. It says something about how he treats his employees. It does not indict the entire American political process.
  4. Irrespective of what I thought of her performance at the time, Dianne Bosch was an example of a city commissioner who was also an ordinary middle-class Amarilloan. She stated that the city insurance was “a help” to her. We should find ways to encourage more ordinary Amarilloans to serve. Close the smoke-filled room!
  5. We should have universal health-care anyway in this country. Until we do, I couldn’t give two flips how people find ways to cover their families.


Friday, March 25, 2005

“Damon Killian” Hodge entertains his friends

I had forgotten about the incident, and I imagine mayoral candidate Jerry Hodge hopes that most sane Amarilloans have as well. Unfortunately for Hodge, Beth Hudson remembered and wrote a letter about it to the Amarillo Globe-News.

Here are the grisly background details, according to media accounts from the time:

In 1989 prison inmates were commonly used to train bloodhounds to hunt down, well, escaped prison inmates. In the training, inmates were released on the prison grounds with a one-hour head start before the hounds were set on their trail. The inmates who participated were referred to as "dog boys"-- a term that was not only demeaning, but had dreadful racial overtones for inmates of color held at a southern prison. As many as ten dogs tracked one man, and several of the inmates, who were not provided with protective clothing, were bitten.

At the time, our smoke-filled-room-approved mayoral candidate Jerry Hodge was Vice Chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice. He apparently decided to have some fun with the practice.

Hodge had some jackets made up with "The Ultimate Hunt" embroidered on them. He also invited some friends along on the exercises.

And he had fun fun fun till the media took the dog boys away.


Van Camp is an Idiot: Part 571 of an Unending Series

Gawd make it stop.

Having Virgil Van Camp write a column about social security with the obligatory mention of his son in germany (and that country's commie ways according to VVC) is like that episode of "The Simpsons" where Homer has a company party at the house, gets tanked, and picks a fight with an anonymous employee about an imaginary injustice.

Only without the entertainment aspect. . .

or the cops. . .

Sheesh, does Virgil Van Racist Sexist Pig Camp even READ the agn? Like maybe this CLICK HERE? John Early BROKE IT DOWN for Virgil and the theocons.

Real easy 'like.

But friends, it is not about commenting about facts and opining an opposite line of reasoning for wingnuts like Van Camp. No Sireee . . .

It is about throwing up one straw man after another and then knocking them down to show what an average everyman you are, and to leave us wondering "what the hell was his point?!?"

Things like;
"Democrats have staked out their position - the present system doesn't need fixing. Tinker with what we have and raise payroll taxes on higher income brackets. Whatever you do, don't rile AARP. " (WHOA! The AARP? Didn' they back Shrub's national medicaid fraud in 2004? CLICK HERE)


"Here at home, we also are experiencing increasing population due to unrestricted immigration. These new citizens tend to be poorly paid. Will they feel any sense of obligation to our government's Social Security problems? (Darn those brown people! Getting work and paying . . . FICA . . . and . . . Darn those brown people!)


"There never was a trust fund in the same sense bankers employ. Bring the loot in the front door; employ an army of bureaucrats to make the necessary bookkeeping entries; then out the back door for Congress to spend. " (Yeah Virgil, and just WHO ARE these people in Republican controlled congress spending this $$? Republicans maybe?)


It is the ideologically owned uninformed turkeys like VVC that make it tough for the Democratic message to get out. Why? WE HAVE TO SPEND AN INORDINATE AMOUNT OF TIME BUSTING THEIR LIES AND MISINFORMATION.

Please join me in writing the AGN and tell them to stick to the facts on Shrub's social security scheme. Write to john.kanelis@amarillo.com

Need the facts? CLICK HERE and print out.

Email us your letters panhandletruthsquad@yahoo.com and we will post 'em anonymously for ya.

-Prodigal Son

Thursday, March 24, 2005

tell your children

Paranoid hysteria. It’s not just for the editorial page anymore.

Yesterday evening I was going through the AGNs that had stacked up on my porch while I was in Austin. On Saturday, March 19 AGN editors chose to fill up most of the front page with an article that could have been titled “Meth Madness”: Women cry for it; men die for it!

This particular article was titled “Convenient Addictions,” and it followed on the heels of John Kanelis’ epic March 6 editorial “Meth plague infects everyone - everywhere .” I’ve followed the AGN for years—through wars, famine, plague, and pestilence—and I don’t remember the editorial page editor ever seeing fit to devote a whole page to one issue as Kanelis did with this one.

Don’t get me wrong. Methamphetamine is some bad stuff. It rots the teeth right out of your mouth, they say, makes your skin fall off in pieces. Some users have even turned into wingnutty district attorneys.

But a full-page front-page article warning of the dangers of such meth paraphernalia as ball point pens (“can be used as a pipe for smoking meth”) and altoids tins (“can be used to transport meth”)?

Suddenly I’m remembering those Health class textbooks that warned to stay from “Horse” and “Mary Jane”.


Maundy Thursday

As the Christian Holy Week reaches its climax, I have songs and scenes of redemption on my mind. Try to stay with me here. First, queue up some Bob Marley on the ole iPod:

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom
'Cause all I ever had
Redemption song

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Next, watch the end of Return of the Jedi:
Darth Vader: Luke, help me take this mask off.
Luke: But you'll die.
Darth Vader: Nothing can stop that now. Just for once, let me look on you with my own eyes.
Now go read today's column by Dave Henry.


The Final Straw?

Many of us have been watching Tom DeLay's ethically-challenged hypocrisy, watching Rumsfeld and Rice mangling foreign policy, insulting nation after nation, watching George hisseff dare to fiddle with Social Security while Medicare burns, and wondering when a majority will finally realize that they've been royally had. Strangely, it may be a woman who has been comatose for 15 years who will finally bring them down.

Tom "The Hammer" DeLay saw the light at the end of his troubles when the Florida courts decided that Terri Schiavo's husband had the right to decide to discontinue treatment for his wife, diagnosed by her doctors and a court-appointed neurologist as being in a "permanent vegetative state". The end result of the decision to discontinue treatment, including a feeding tube, would of course be her death, and the wingnuts in the movement that claims to revere life couldn't tolerate any death (except for all the others that they can tolerate). But that hypocrisy aside, they didn't have to work very hard to convince DeLay and Bush and Bill Frist to hold a special session of Congress on a Sunday night when they would otherwise have been in recess, just to pass legislation that would transfer the case to federal courts, a vast overreach that makes a mockery of the presumed importance of states' rights in the pantheon of Republican ideology.

So, why did DeLay et al. do this? What possible motivation could they have? While the Congressmen and President Bush trotted out their Sunday best speeches about the necessity of favoring life, ABC uncovered the awful truth: they saw the whole thing as a wedge issue! Thus the light at the end of the tunnel. But it turns out the light may have been a train headlight. It seems the public sees through this. Even a majority of Repubs, self-described conservatives and self-described evangelicals thinks Congess should have stayed out of it all. Today, as the court case wound its way up to the Supremes, and brother Jeb tried to use some dummied up 'new evidence' to get the Florida legislature to step in yet again, the news got even worse for the R's, as a new CBS poll shows both Congress and Bush at new approval lows. Hard to know for sure that this is related to the Schiavo case. It also overlaps with the Bush Social Security road show. But it isn't so far-fetched. A great many people understand the torment of having a loved one in a hospital and having to make, or watch them make, life or death decisions. That personal connection accounts for the attention so many are paying to this story. And the only thing more traumatic than having to make such a decision would likely be having some stranger tell you they were going to make it for you.

Alas, poor Tom. I knew thee well.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

conference call

Charles "Off the Kuff" Kuffner is taking a break from yelling "Freebird" at rock shows to plan a conference call with Richard Morrison, who ran against arch-villain Tom Delay in the 22nd Congressional District. Here are some of the gory details:

Morrison was very much in touch with the netroots community throughout his race last year, and as he gears up to run again, we expect him to continue to be. Along those lines, I've been asked to help him set up a conference call that will be open to all Texas progressive bloggers . . . The one thing we would like from you in all this is to write something on your blog and/or Kos diary about the call . . . the dates which work best for him are April 5 (a Tuesday), April 6 (Wednesday), and April 8 (Friday). I need to know which of these dates works best for the most people, so I'm asking for a vote. Assume that all three dates would be in the evening, say 7 or 7:30 PM, though if another time frame needs to be available I can see about that .

Charles would like to know if we can participate and which date would be best by this evening (Wednesday). We could all meet to participate in the call if anyone else is interested. Your thoughts?


Hello Stranger!

The hits on PTS have started to go WAAAY up!

Welcome visitors!

So who, what, is Panhandle Truth Squad? It is constantly evolving, but quite simply:

-Letters to the editor and phone calls to local media and elected officials to fight right wing spin and lies.
-Notices for local liberal/Democratic meet-ups, etc.

-Interviews of local pols and officials.
-Columns and commentary.
-Busting the local papers when they print misleading horse sheeet.

-Grassroots community for the Texas panhandle.
-A community where you can feel free to anonymously comment.

-For local Demo candidates. Support for Texas Demos.

Email address is: panhandletruthsquad@yahoo.com

-Panhandle Truth Squad

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

hey, who's playing the violin? and does anyone smell smoke?

This morning on Daily Kos, Last Lemming asked the musical question, "Hey, has anybody noticed we have another anthrax outbreak[?]":

I truly feel I have walked through the looking glass--nothing on TV, nothing in the press, and essentially nothing even on the liberal blogs. Hey--as far as I can tell from the few outlets that have reported it, they found anthrax in the Pentagon mailroom--shocking yes but even more shocking is that no one really seems to care
and then he referenced a few sources that do, in fact, suggest that
they found anthrax in the Pentagon mailroom.
And the indifference that Last Lemming notes reminded me of something that disquieted me when I read the AGN at 5:30 this morning. Apparently they also found white powder in Kel Seliger's mail:
The Amarillo office of state Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, received a letter Friday that reportedly was laced with powder and made terroristic threats against the senator, President Bush and the United States.
And-- like the Newsroom Neros that so upset Last Lemming-- Seliger's office seemed strangely unconcerned. They reported the incident to . . . (are you ready for this?) . . . the Amarillo Police Department.

It's hard to tell what this all means. But in an era when urban mythology insists that you can be locked up and grilled by Men In Black for joking about bombs while boarding the puddle-jumper to Dallas, it sure seems like these incidents are being treated a bit cavalierly by someone.


You Got Googled

My fellow bloggers, you will be thrilled to know that the Panhandle Truth Squad came up during a department gathering at work today. It would seem somebody Googled "hodge" and "amarillo" and our blog was in the result set. Nothing really signficant was said one way or the other. It would seem they didn't bother investigating it very far, though, or they would have discovered my alternate identity. It's only a matter of time. Anyway, it's a safe bet that other people are discovering the blog under similar circumstances.


Does a Blog Have to be On Line?

I've got nothing against this medium we're using here, but as a political forum, the objective has to be to reach the largest possible audience. I'm not suggesting we stop doing what we're doing, but I think it's time to think about the possibility of expanding our effort by putting this into print. The blog at truthout seems to be coming to that view, and I've heard this elsewhere too. Seems to me that the two media could be complementary, because people who don't know about the blog can be attracted through a newspaper, and new bloggers can also write newspaper columns. The fact is that a lot of folks will sit down and read a newspaper, but aren't used to scrolling through blogs for hours. And putting out something that competes directly with the Globe Republican is just a necessity. This is something we should talk about, in person, if possible.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Pulling Your Lege

The Texas Legislature continues its crazed run through the 2005 session, bobbing and weaving like a rodeo bull on steroids. There is a lot to talk about, and I do want to get to the big issue of the session, school finance. But first, I can't resist a few words about an issue that affects a lot of the Panhandle (though not Amarillo proper), high-speed internet access.

High-speed service is quickly becoming not a luxury, but a necessity, especially for schools and businesses. Many small communities do not have that service, however; it is deemed unprofitable by the corporate service providers. Communities all over the country, both large and small, are beginning to view this as much a necessity as basic phone service, and some have made moves to install their own systems, for the benefit of the whole community. In Texas, such moves would be blocked by HB789, written by the corporate service providers, presumably to protect their future markets. The bill was introduced by District 61 Rep. Phil King (R, Weatherford). Naturally, rural Texans have been sending letters to the Lege, wondering why they are being ill-treated. Rep. King responded to one such inquiry with the following revealing comment:

Thank you for voicing your concern over the section in HB789 dealing with municipal internet service providers. As you may know, this bill is still being debated in committee. It is of vital importance that I receive as much input as possible, so that the House Committee on Regulated Industries may make an informed decision on changes that should be made. Please try to understand that sustaining a free market in the telecommunications industry is at the root of every decision the committee makes on these issues.

Hmmm. And here I thought it just might be the interests of his constituents that was of greatest concern to Rep. King.

Blogger has been a bit difficult today, so I've got to end this here. I promise I'll get to school finance next week!


GOP....caught on tape!

What fun...to watch these clips. The musical choices are right on the money....money, money,money,money..........maaaah-neeeeeeee. Here we go.

"Caught #1"
"Caught #2"
"Caught #3"
"Caught #4"

Watch this website for more "outings" in the very near future, paired with a terrific musical score.

Military Abortion

Panhandle Truth Squad is proud to add another weekly column to our lineup. In addition to DemoPhoenix’s Monday column on the Texas Legislature, PazAmarillo, a local peace activist, will be writing a column every Wednesday. Due to Spring Break and snow, this week’s installment is a few days late. Please join us in welcoming PazAmarillo to Panhandle Truth Squad.

Military Abortion
by PazAmarillo

The unborn are being murdered.

The violence against them will not stop.

Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and National Catholic Reporter columnist has a name for this atrocity. She calls it "military abortion". And it can happen when American bombs explode in the gardens of Iraqi homes, when American machine guns indiscriminately spray buses, or when pregnant women are exposed to the mutating effects of depleted uranium dust from vaporized American munitions.

The violence of war will inevitably kill the unborn. And too many of those already breathing.

It is a question of "moral values". But we must be careful not to define moral values in too limited a sense. Here are some examples to expand the definition. It is not moral to attack wedding parties with Apache helicopters. It is not moral to drop 500 pound bombs, even smart ones, on houses filled with women, children and other innocents. It is not moral to pump seventeen bullets into a scared, lost 13-year old Palestinian girl, no matter where she is.

In my religious tradition we are taught "Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, and in my way of life." I know you have something similar in your beliefs.

It's a moral value.

We need to practice it whenever we can, to the best of our ability. Not just in a concern for what passes between a woman, her doctor and her God, or who is sleeping with whom, but wherever there is suffering. And especially when that suffering is inflicted in our names.

I don't know the answer to the question "Who would Jesus bomb?" But I know what happens to tender bodies when the bomb explodes.

They are aborted.


lessons learned, part XXXI

Lesson Learned During Spring Break #6: The global-corporate economy is profoundly wasteful. When I lived in Austin fifteen years ago, the Guadalupe Street drag was saturated with funkycool local businesses. Since that time, global chains have bought up large swaths of the drag. The venerated Varsity Theatre was sold out to Tower Records in 1990. And the University Co-op sold its general books department—where both I and Berkeley Breathed worked while nominally attending UT—to Barnes and Noble in the mid-1990s.

Both of those businesses have recently closed their Guadalupe Street locations and now the buildings sit empty on the drag like discarded Wal-Mart sacks stuck in a chain link fence. Or, for that matter, like discarded Wal-Mart buildings abandoned in favor of Supercenters.

The huge chains thought nothing of buying and “re-purposing” important parts of local history. And then they thought nothing of abandoning the buildings when they no longer served their money-grubbing needs.

Fortunately, the word is that the Co-op has leased the former Varsity space. Real estate on the drag won’t stay empty for long. But new corporate behemoths that don’t respect the area and its history aren’t the answer.

Speaking of Wasteful Global Superstuff, the SO and I fell in love with some land east of Austin. It’s countryside with a view of the Capital of Texas, a rural area twenty minutes from the drag, and it’s a great place to dream of living when the time comes to Quit the Amarillo Scene.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of the areas being considered for Rick Perry’s hideous monstrosity that proposes to pave over half the state.


even more lessons learned

Lesson Learned During Spring Break #5: Our fave local paper remains willing to allow candidates for civic office to obfuscate and equivocate. I returned this morning to a front-page headline yawping: “THEIR FINAL ANSWER!!!” (okay, sans exclamation points, but still--) The story purported to give the candidate's opinions on the smoking ban. But the candidates didn’t give “final answers”. Some were intentionally vague, as in Jerry Hodge’s

There are some things in the ordinance that just aren’t right.
Some were bizarrely ungrammatical, as in Larry McDowell’s
But I think that depends on the business owner, depending on what type of business it is . . . So therefore, my opinion on that is depending on what type of situation you’re in.
And most passed the buck, as in Debra McCartt’s ultra-strange (not to mention ultra-cynical) answer
I really believe that the voters don’t really care how I feel about the issue. I’m going to vote just like everybody else, and it’s just a private vote,
or Daniel Martinez’s
It’s not really for me to say from my position,
or Terry Stavenhagen’s
We have sent this to a referendum,
or Robert Key’s
I do neither. I do not support it – for or against it,
or . . .

None were asked to elaborate by the Globe-News.


more lessons learned

Lesson Learned During Spring Break #4: I’m still conflicted about the smoking ban. Austin is voting on a similarly restrictive ban in May. Unlike Amarillo, however, Austin already has a ban in place. The current restrictions allow smoking in bars where admittance is restricted to those over 21. Smoking is banned in establishments where food is served and/or where minors are admitted. A popular t-shirt at SXSW read “It’s a bar, stupid,” and, in Austin, the forces who oppose the smoking ban are framing it as a civil rights issue. Here, of course, it’s a business-rights issue. I’m naturally sympathetic to the civil-rights arguments, and less sympathetic to the argument that runs “It’s my right to run my business however I want!” It should be obvious why: civil rights tend to be couched in absolutes, whereas no one really has the right to run their business however they want. There are tons of laws governing businesses already, from health codes to tax codes, so the business frame is a very weak argument. It just plays better in the Republican, pro-business Panhandle area. Speaking only for myself, I would probably vote for a compromise position like Austin’s current regulations.


lessons learned

Lesson Learned During Spring Break #1: I’m still waiting on my techno-utopia. Wireless internet access, while now readily available, doesn’t help much when trying to post through a recalcitrant Blogger. And there’s little that is more frustrating then writing up a long post on a thumbnail-sized PDA screen and then having the entire thing disappear into the void when Blogger crashes.

Lesson Learned During Spring Break #2: I still have my non-technological musical utopia. If only something could be done about the traffic, South by Southwest week in Austin would showcase a perfect world. Music everywhere, all kinds, all day long. Cosmopolitan liberal internationalism in Texas: sitting in an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day next to a band from Iceland. Bumper stickers, signs and sidewalk rants expressing non-wingnut opinions. If only something could be done about the traffic.

Lesson Learned During Spring Break #3: Judging from the attendance at the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico, many citizens are willing to entertain the notion that the government has participated in a Big Lie for fifty years. Question: Why are so many of those same citizens afraid to face the actual reality that the Emperor W is without a doubt lying to them about everything?


OK folks SPEAK UP!

PTS is going to call and try to interview those running for mayor.

This is your chance to give us a question to ask 'em.

Just click "Comments" below and submit.

Or, you can email: panhandletruthsquad@yahoo.com


Dunno about you, but I have FRIGGIN' HAD IT with the 24-7 Terry Schiavo stuff, so just keep one thought in mind while listening to the main strean media and the Rethugs bloviate. . .

Shrub signed a bill as Gov kicking a 6-year old, whose mother was poor, off of life support.
CLICK HERE to read all about it.

Letter to the editor anyone? john.kanelis@amarillo.com

-Prodigal Son

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Hold on there Mayoral Candidate

PTS is going to interview the mayoral candidates.

Click "comments" below and submit some questions that you would think would be good.

-Panhandle Truth Squad


More on this in the regular Monday column, but today the Texas House of Representatives passed HB3, Speaker Craddick's tax deform law, by a vote of 73-68. All but one Dem voted against, though there are actually 2 villains. Again, more on that later. The major negative feature of the bill is that it raises the state sales tax by 1%. This is a very regressive tax that hits the poorest hardest because low and middle income people spend a much greater proportion of their income on taxable items than do wealthy people.

In exchange, the cap on school district property taxes will be lowered to $1 per hundred valuation. If your school district is already maxed out, this will lower your school district property tax by 1/3. If your district isn't at the maximum, though, the benefit will be less. Again, the largest benefit of this change will go to those with high-value property.

Beyond that, as a result of HB2, the school finance law that passed the House last week, the schools get virtually no new money (and it may soon be net negative because of inflation and new mandates). According to Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), HB2 will very likely be altered in the Senate. Meanwhile, please call the offices of Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo, 372-3327), Rep. David Swinford (R-Dumas, 374-8787) and Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo, 374-8994). Note both Smithee and Swinford supported HB2. Seliger has yet to vote on it. Please do not be rude, but tell them you do not support this change in tax policy, and that you plan to vote on this issue at the next election. Leaving your name is optional. If they give you a reason for their vote or any other response, please share it with us.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Better and Better

A quick heads-up PTS'ers. We have switched to haloscan for our comments.

It is now MUCHO easier to comment on posts, and on that note let's test it out!

Yesterday, I proposed that we interview Matt Darby for Mayor. Demophoenix had an even greater point as did Iman. . .

We should interview ALL the candidates, and we need some ideas for questions so click "Comments" below and let us know what to ask these guys when we call.

-Prodigal Son

Monday, March 14, 2005

March 19

We have all seen the bumper sticker: "Think globally, act locally." This week is an opportunity to do just that. Saturday, March 19 will be the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. This is a time for reflection upon what has transpired in the past two years and, regardless how we came to this point, what the prospects are for the future. First, let's do some global thinking.

Today, everyone can agree on some things. First, the reasons the government originally presented for the war were not true. Second, while the invasion itself was a military success, the occupation has been a quagmire in which we are unable to even identify the insurgents, and most analysts believe that our occupation is increasing insurgent numbers. Third, we have now lost over 1,500 U.S. service personnel, and the rate of loss is greater today than it was in the months immediately following invasion. Fourth, the Iraqi people have indicated a desire for some kind of self-governance, and indicated this with a strong turnout in the recent election. Fifth, Saddam Hussein is in prison, and most Iraqis consider this a good thing. The unknowns include the ability of the Iraqis to defend themselves from the insurgents without outside assistance, the nature of the government they are trying to create, and the stability of the multiethnic state of Iraq within its present borders once we depart.

I assert that there is no longer any legitimate question about whether or not we need to leave. Everyone is in agreement on this. The only remaining questions are (1) how soon should we leave and (2) what is necessary to permit withdrawal? Some believe that nothing is necessary, as the Iraqis are able to manage their own affairs, so that the time for withdrawal should be now. Others believe that, having broken the country, we have a responsibility to give the Iraqis every opportunity to develop their own security structure before we turn it over to them. Certainly, if we believe the comments made by almost all of the Iraqi leadership (both the interim government and the leading groups from the election), they do not want an immediate U.S. withdrawal. On the other hand, even if that opinion is given both credence and authority, surely there must be some limit to our occupation, and surely the success of any successor Iraqi government depends in the first place upon its independent ability to maintain security. So, at the outside, the length of our stay depends only upon the length of time required for sufficient development of Iraqi security forces.

Some might insist that part of our mission is to assure that the successor government is democratic and not antagonistic to the West. But this is foolish. We can insist all we want, but if there is no internal will to have that kind of government, it would quickly fall following our eventual withdrawal and lengthening our stay will only increase resistance. Similarly, we have no way to assure that the current state of Iraq will be cohesive enough to survive. So, we are left only with the issue of internal security. Let's say that recruiting, training and equipping of Iraqi forces should require somewhere between 6 months and, at most, 2 years. Why should we not state today, publicly, that we will be gone in no more than 2 years (and hopefully considerably less)? The objection that a date certain will provide the insurgents with a target that they can just wait for shouldn't make a difference, because by that time the Iraqi forces will be fully capable of handling that. If, given such a deadline, the Iraqis cannot defend themselves, it would be either because we were incompetent trainers, or they were unwilling trainees, and in either case success is unlikely no matter how long we remained. If the Iraqi government is able to find replacements for our troops in an interim peace-keeping role, for example from other Muslim states, then there could be a much more rapid U.S. withdrawal. So, the worst case scenario regarding our continued occupation is that we stay 2 years, and there is no reason not to announce that now.

Regardless which withdrawal plan outlined above you endorse, the time has come to clearly tell our government that they need to commit to withdrawal. This brings us to our local action. The Panhandle Peace Coalition is a group of local citizens committed to ending the Iraqi adventure. This group is sponsoring several activities you should participate in (again, no matter which withdrawal plan you favor). First, on the eve of the anniversary, Friday, March 18, you are asked to visit Congressman Mac Thornberry's office, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 906 S. Filmore, Suite 520. Please sign the guest book and spend a few minutes politely telling the staff why we need to initiate a withdrawal plan from Iraq, and which plan you favor. You might want to inquire as to what plan the Congressman favors. Second, the group is sponsoring the "Question War" film series, on the second floor of the main library every Sunday (except Easter), from 2-5 p.m. The film this Sunday, March 20, is Rumsfeld's War, a PBS Frontline documentary. Following the film there will be a discussion. That evening, a procession will depart from the library to local churches affiliated with national organizations that have publicly issued statements opposing the war. Those statements will be read aloud at each church. You are welcome to participate in all of these events.


Matt Darby for Mayor 2005!

Why? Because of this type of crapola from the AGN's ghost editorialist. Running a mayor's race shouldn't be a bad joke

Specifically this smarmy comment, "A young man is running a write-in campaign as a publicity stunt for a low-powered AM radio station. He doesn't deserve anyone's attention, let alone his or her vote."

Really? I guess we should just go ahead and vote for the candidate the AGN wants like good little unquestioning wasps . . .

Just me boolsheeting around here, but maybe we NEED to support this guy as a write in, interview him for PTS, etc.

Sisemore was not exactly a brain trust, (eh, Spacedark?) and the AGN endorsed him. Was he a more serious candidate?

Dunno about you, but I think it is about time we put up a speedbump to these "Hey lemming you should vote for this person because we are all good white Christian Republicans in Amarillo living in the 1950's and you should know that ignore Dustin camp and besides we know what is best don't question us ever we love established WASPS from the Amarillo Country Club" Automatic Mayoral Candidates or AMC's

Anyone wanna find out what Matt Darby is about? Ask him about his positions on the usual and post his responses to you under "Comments"

Matt Darby KPUR 107.1
P: 806-342-5200 ask for Matt.
E: m.darby@cumulusama.com

-Prodigal Son

Pulling Your Lege

Following the decisions of the enormous PTS meetup this week (kudos to Spacedark for organizing), I'm pleased to initiate a weekly column regarding the Texas legislature. I'm not sure this will continue to be weekly when the Lege is out of session, but we'll see. This isn't intended to be a comprehensive summary each week, but rather a special take on one or a few related issues of relevance to the Panhandle (or whatever has my hair on fire). This will appear on Mondays.

Molly Ivins has often said (and I believe this is originally a Ronny Dugger quote) "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the Texas legislature is in session." Every two years, the fine ladies and gentlemen we send to Austin gather and attempt to outdo the previous session in proving Molly right. The current gathering of the tribes is certainly no exception. The attempts of the former bomb throwers among the Regressive Republicans to provide some facsimile of governance has them twisting themselves into rhetorical pretzels trying to be antigovernment when they are the government. As an aside, for those who don't know, I'm on a one-person crusade to reframe the R's (a la George Lakoff) by calling them regressive, a much more accurate and conveniently less popular term than 'conservative', and urging you to do likewise.

The list of possible topics for this column is truly overwhelming. Should we discuss HB 2, the school finance bill that just passed the House? Well, yes, but I'll do that another day. How about HB 3, the tax deform bill that is particularly laughable coming from the party that never met a tax cut it didn't like? Very tempting, but again, I'm going to have to come back to that. Charles Kiker has given us a great summary of some of the criminal justice legislation and I hope he will update us as needed on the progress of those bills. What I want to do in this space today is to focus on several bills that relate to election reform.

A lot of folks have worked really hard over the past 4 years on the national level, since the dread Florida fiasco, to improve our elections systems and restore the faith of our citizenry in their accuracy and integrity. If you don't know a lot of what's gone on, I refer you to verifiedvoting.org and blackboxvoting.org, two really great sources for information and action opportunities. Although BushCorp fought it all the way, Congress did finally pass something called HAVA (Help America Vote Act) in 2002. In addition to providing money for states to "upgrade" their election equipment, HAVA requires that voters be able to verify their ballots before they are cast and counted, that all voting machines provide a "permanent paper record with a manual audit capacity" and that the voter must be given the "opportunity to change the ballot or correct any error before the permanent paper is produced." Senator John Ensign (R-NV), who contributed the audit requirements now incorporated into HAVA, explains that the intent of the provision was to provide a voter-verifiable paper trail. However, many proponents of touch screen voting systems are claiming that the HAVA requirement does not mean the system must allow the voter to verify the paper record. This led us to a situation in 2004 where many citizens cast their ballots on touch-screen machines bought with HAVA funds, but that produced no paper record for the voter to see. Numerous instances of machine malfunctions were reported, almost all of which benefitted one George W. Bush. Hmmmm.

So what can be done to see to it we are not slipping into a permanent state of banana republicanism, to coin a phrase? The effort is ongoing at the national level, where several members of Congress, including Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), along with Sens. Boxer (D-CA) and Clinton (D-NY) are leading the charge. A somewhat more modest, but still useful bill is backed by Sen. Ensign. All of these propose to amend HAVA to make its original intent crystal clear, and all require, among other things, that all voting machines have a paper readout that constitutes the official ballot. At the same time, state legislatures, including Texas, are still struggling with implementing the original HAVA legislation, in order to access the HAVA money.

Most Texas Panhandle counties utilize optical scan technology, which generally meets most of the requirements already, so why should we worry? Three reasons. First, if Texas gains access to the HAVA funds, counties could opt to "upgrade" to touchscreen machines, and then we'd have the same problems as many other jurisdictions. But, second, even if our machines never change, we still have to live in the same state with a lot of voters using touchscreen machines, and it's in our interest to see that those votes are properly recorded as well. And, third, even if the election recording devices (the optical scan machines) are ok, there is ample opportunity for hackery (all senses of the word apply) of the county central tabulating computers that compile all the results from each precinct, so there needs to be additional controls on those machines, including making the source code (programming) public, so that any changes could be detected.

So, what's the Lege up to? At this writing, four bills have been introduced regarding election machines, HB 166 (Pena and Hochberg), HB 1289 (Leibowitz), HB 2259 (Baxter) and SB 94 (Shapleigh). All of them require what is advertised as a "voter-verifiable paper trail". HB 166 and SB 94 are companion bills with identical wording. The key is that none of the bills makes the paper record the official ballot. This is important for purposes of a recount, since any "recount" using an electronic device without a paper record is a sham. HB 1289 and HB 2259 both solve that problem, making the paper record superior for recount purposes. But none of the bills solves the biggest problems, in that any errors, whether malicious or not, cannot be discovered unless an election is close enough to demand a recount, and none of the bills deals with the issues surrounding private companies owning the source codes either for the recording machines or the central tabulating computers. The kicker: all of the authors except Baxter are Democrats. The good news is that we can influence them. Write to Reps. Pena, Hochberg and Leibowitz and Sen. Shapleigh and tell them to alter their bills to conform to the principles of verifiedvoting.org, and preferably to conform to Rep. Holt's legislation. Without that we can get fancy new machines that Bolivia would be real proud of.

The Lege is also up to mischief regarding voting requirements. Following the lead of national Regressive Republicans, they have introduced bills to require additional forms of identification, even for voters who have their registration certificates with them (HB 516, Brown; HB 1293, Nixon; HB 1293, Kolkhorst; HB 1706, Denny; HB 2309, Denny). Essentially, all of these are Jim Crow light and should be fought tooth and nail.

At the same time, there are some bills we can support. HB 899 (Alonzo) would allow voters who are unable to find their correct voting location to vote at a central location (believe it or not, this was one of the problems in Ohio, where the Secretary of State ruled, after the fact, that votes not cast at the correct location were not to be counted; that after numerous incidents of voters being misled or not helped by county election officials). HB 963 (Gattis) would allow a voter to vote on election day even though they had requested an absentee ballot by signing a statement that the mail-in ballot was not received. HB 1382 (Jones) would require counties to inform any citizen when they were removed from the voter rolls for any reason. HB 2073 (Alonzo) would allow same day registration and voting(!). HB 1555 (Alonzo) includes a variety of protections for minority voters.

So, maybe Molly Ivins had it right. The Lege is not a place for the faint of heart. But the point of this exercise isn't to whine and encourage y'all to cry in your beer. The folks we elect, even the ones with the R's behind their names, do respond when they hear from constituents. Sometimes, it even counts when they vote on legislation. Click here for a directory of state legislators and their addresses and phone numbers and use it.

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."--Theodore Roosevelt


Saturday, March 12, 2005

Kiker: bills before the legislature

From Charles W. Kiker:

Patricia and I recently spent 8 days in Austin lobbying in the legislature and networking with like-minded or similarly minded people there. We were in Austin as representatives of Friends of Justice of Tulia and in cooperation and coordination with ACLU of Texas. . .

More of Charles Kiker's account of lobbying & networking on the flip side:

Thursday, March 10, 2005

methinks the police chief doth protest too much

Grits for Breakfast fact-checks Canyon Police Chief Bobby Griffin's "claims" of innocence against the statistics of racial profiling as measured by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

pts meetup tonight!

Don't forget . . .

7:30 pm
Starbucks in Wolfin Village

See you there!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

fun with city politics

Our favorite newspaper wants us all to know that one of the mayoral candidates isn't really taking the race all that seriously. Apparently Matt Darby, a local "on-air personality" (really, was the term disc jockey so stigmatizing?)

filed Monday as a write-in candidate for Amarillo mayor simply as a gimmick to get attention for his radio station.
That's fine with us; in fact it gives me someone to vote for. (Oh, come on. One thrown away vote won't hurt anything. You don't think the mayor of Amarillo actually does anything, do you? I mean, Trent-effing-Sisemore handled the job.)

But some folks seem to think Matt is walking on thin ice, given that he works at a radio station. Former JP and broadcaster (and we do mean broadcaster, heh, heh) Phil Woodall sez
I think the FCC rules must apply. There's probably a provision that if he continues to be on the air and still continues to be a candidate, then the radio station runs a very big risk of having to allow equal time.
Well, sure, Phil, but, uh, you not only ran a serious candidacy, but actually won, right?

Panhandle Truth Squad is going to come out in favor of letting Matt have his fun. I mean, what's this world coming to if we can't make a mockery of democracy?


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

expatriotic games

It's an open secret that the founding member and individual most responsible for getting this blog going no longer lives in the Panhandle. Prodigal Son is a Texas expatriot currently residing in South Carolina, and he promises to soon launch the South Carolina Truth Squad. While we're eagerly awaiting that, here's a lovely little quote from a South Carolina Republican called Lindsey Graham:

"We don't do Lincoln Day dinners in South Carolina. It's nothing personal, but it takes awhile to get over things."
Oh, my. I think that speaks for itself, don't you?

But, amazingly, some progressives are lining up to defend Senator Graham, most notably the formerly sane Steve Gilliard. Here's what Gilliard has to say about that ugliness:
Graham, who isn't known for playing the race card, is being unfairly attacked. He's not talking about slavery, but the burning of the state capital, Columbia, in 1865. Without context, it sounds horribly racist, but what people don't widely realize is that Sherman's march to the Sea didn't end at Savannah, but continued well into the Carolinas and ended at New Bern, NC in April, 1865. In fact, Sherman's Army of the Tennessee destroyed far more in South Carolina than Georgia. And this is what Graham is talking about. Not some longing for slaves.
And, you know what? About being unfair to Republicans? Don't care. At all. Got bigger fish to fry.

Gilliard drools and scratches himself and tries to convince the orderly that it's time for his next dose of lithium; then he adds:
. . . Union troops were far from unhappy to see Columbia ablaze, since they blamed the state for starting the war. No one in my family was all that upset about it, but I do see Graham's point. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing to apologize for, because every South Carolinian knows he's talking about Sherman's March and not slavery.
Hmph. Now I know I ain't no Steve-Gilliard-Daily-Kos-alumnus-- but I am an alum of a graduate course in pre-Civil War history from the ivy-covered halls of West Texas A&M. Okay, them halls are covered with tumbleweeds, but I'm still pretty sure that I know this: South Carolina did start the Civil War.

Even while bending over backwards to kiss Republican hindquarters, Steve Gilliard ought to be able to see the obvious. Even if South Carolina had some legitimate grievance over having their slave-owning, war-mongering state burned to cinders, it wouldn't justify a modern Senator's treasonous comments about a venerated United States president who was tragically assassinated by a supporter of the South.

As I write the last sentence, my inner straw man leaps to his feet, outraged: Treason? he shrieks. Well, now you're being really unfair, Spacedark. You're calling Graham the same vile names you get mad about Republicans calling y'all.

Well, yeah, but I have truth on my side, dude. South Carolina belonged to a confederacy which was waging active war-- not to mention unleashing terrorism before, after, and during the "unpleasantness"-- to overthrow the United States government. The bottom line is that supporters of Civil War-era South Carolina sympathize with an enemy state. And (all together now) what's the definition of treason?

So, what you think, Prodigal? We still buds?


ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

In the Amarillo Globe-News' new "Satire" section, the Ghostly Voice says this:

President Bush tried like the dickens to soothe relations with European leaders angry at the U.S. decision to take down Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

What's that you say? The Ghostly Voice doesn't joke? You mean they were serious???


Call To Action: Bankruptcy Bill

Call your Senator and demand that they oppose this abominable bill. Inform them that this has gotten little public debate and they shold vote against cloture.

Senate switchboard:(202) 224-3121

Ask whomever answers . . .

-Why are senators going after seniors with huge medical bills? This credit card bailout is especially hard on elderly Americans, who are bankrupted by huge medical bills with increasing frequency.

-Why can't the senator support our troops and their families by allowing them to declare bankruptcy if they are medically and financially busted after serving in Iraq?

-Why are senators allowing multi-millionaires to shield their assets but not average families? Under the bill, the very wealthy would be able to shield millions in assets after declaring bankruptcy by setting up "asset protection trusts." Sen. Chuck Schumer has lamented "now we have a bill that says a family won't be protected if it has $50,000, but it will if it has $5 million.

And please call Joe Biden and tell Senator MBNA to kiss his presidential aspirations goodbye.


The credit card industry raked in $30 billion in profits last year, some of which is clearly being spent to grease the palms of Washington politicians. Bankruptcy hasn't hurt the credit card companies one iota.

Revolution Starts Now

Every tuesday there will be a new dog in the fight against republican lies and deceit.


Check 'em out at noon eastern time today. More on them CLICK HERE

-Panhandle Truth Squad


Remember the PTS meetup!

Thursday, March 10
7:30 pm
Starbucks in Wolfin Village

See you there!

Monday, March 07, 2005

burning down the house

Y'all will remember recent postings regarding the Bush administration's plans to viciously destroy Talent Search and Upward Bound-- educational social programs that enable low-income and first-generation students to attend college and enter the middle class.

The Significant Other is currently attending a conference on these programs in Austin. And I'll be posting a lot more about them when she returns. But, for now, I wanted to comment on two comments made by two different academics in two different contexts.

Dr. Arnold Mitchum, President of the nonprofit Council for Opportunity in Education, raised hell-fire and brimstone in his keynote speech at the Austin conference. Mitchum commented that some advisors

say they just want to work with the kids and not get involved in politics.
But the time for such compartmentalism is past. This administration is determined to destroy the educational system As We Know It. So Mitchum concluded:
It is now imperative to get involved with politics; you cannot just work with the kids.
Another academic sees a similar line in the sand in the bankruptcy bill currently hurtling through Congress. Elizabeth Warren, said this (via Atrios) about the bill:
I never wanted to get involved in politics, but the bankruptcy bill now moving on a fast-track through Congress isn’t fair.
Obviously there's a pattern here. The academic liberal mind, trained to see both sides and hence existing above politics, tends not to want to get involved. At least not involved in a door-knocking, phone-calling sense. We want to do the real work. We just want to "work with the kids." Leave the politics to politicians.

But we no longer have that option. If we leave politics to the politicians of this selfish greedhead administration, we will end up with a politics for the politicians alone. The rest of us will be left to shiver in the cold.

And the academic ivory towers will provide no warmth, no solace; for this administration is chopping the invory towers down. If we don't come down from those towers to fight-- now-- there will be nothing left to fight for.


Saturday, March 05, 2005

Haley Barbour Says He's Against Privatization

Arch-Republican Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is apparently suddenly against privatization. On ABC-TV News on Friday he said, "State money cain't be given to private institutions no matter how good its intentions." I can't find a link, but I double-checked the quote using TiVo, and I'm pretty sure Haley said "cain't".

He was speaking, of course, of his attempt to steal $20 million of tobacco settlement money now going annually to a Mississippi anti-smoking program. He allegedly wants to use the money to shore up the state's Medicaid program, but who knows what nefarious purposes he really has in mind for the money?

The issue, as always with these Republicans, is hypocrisy. Haley Barbour says "cain't be given to private institutions" while advocating the use of private prisons and private jobs programs. And does "cain't be given to private institutions" mean that Haley Barbour is going to fight his buddy George's risky Social Security piratization scheme?

Haley Barbour's duplicitous stance on privatization needs to be highlighted by Democrats.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

What a Gal!

If you thought Elaine King Miller ran a good race, just take a look at this. (I found it on Harvey Kronberg's quorom report.com, click on Daily Buzz and scroll down to March 1st-"TOP 500 CANDIDATE/OFFICEHOLDER-RELATED PACS IN TEXAS" Link). In the top 500, Kelton was 12th, raising $991,441.00! Elaine was 471st, with a total of $20,393.00. Elaine did an outstanding job on limited resources, and showed us what we need to do - have an outstanding candidate and then GOTV (Get Out The Vote!)

The Liberalator