Friday, June 30, 2006

Is the Voting Rights Act Still Needed in Texas?

The Supreme Court's decision on redistricting in Texas (see "Supreme Court Rules on Redistricting" below) highlights the importance of the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act, passed in a 1965 and amended 10 years later, targets states with a long history of racial discrimination at the ballot box and three states, including Texas, with large populations with limited English skills. The law will expire next year unless Congress votes to extend it.

Until last week, Congress was prepared to vote on the issue, and most observers assumed it would pass. But several Texas Republicans in the House of representatives balked, saying they wanted to change the law.

What kind of changes?
A rebellion broke out, mainly over two issues: the law's special requirements for certain states and districts, mostly in the old segregated South, and the law's requirements that foreign-language ballots and interpreters be provided in precincts where substantial numbers of voters are struggling with English.
So where does that leave the bill?

The vote has been indefinitely delayed, causing fear among some that Congress will drag its feet until the law expires.....

"I don't think we have racial bias in Texas anymore," declared Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

Yeah, and when a sixty-five-year-old southern white man tells you that you can take it to the bank.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Bob Ray Sanders thinks the court's decision increases the liklihood that the act will ultimately be passed:

Well, the one positive in the Supreme Court's ruling in the Texas redistricting case was that one of the gerrymandered districts -- the 23rd, which runs from San Antonio to El Paso -- must be redrawn because it did violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting strength.

I argue that the impact of minority voters was lessened in at least two other districts affected by the Republican's 2003 redistricting plan. That includes blacks in southeast Fort Worth [emphasis mine].

But the court allowed those districts to stand. The court's declaration that the 23rd District violates the law takes away the Republican argument that there are no vestiges of voting rights discrimination in Texas. Once again, the Supremes have made it official.

All of that sounds encouraging, but let's face it-- with GOP approval by the African-American community hovering somewhere around minus two percent, the Republicans aren't worried about wooing the black vote.

Originally, the Republicans thought that they had widespread support within their own party for renewal, and saw this as a chance to highlight their support of minority rights to the Latino community. It's just bad timing that almost simultaneously the Supreme Court is telling us the GOP diluted Latino voting strength to win a few seats to Congress.

House Majority Leader John Boehner says the VRA will be back.

...[Boehner] a Ohio Republican, said Congress would return to the matter after a weeklong July 4 recess. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said party members were "holding our fire and patiently waiting for the Republicans to work out their politics."

So do you think all those pundits, who spent days trying to convince us that the debate over Democratic plans for withdrawal from Iraq were signs of party disunity, will be highlighting the Republican missteps on the Voting Rights Act? No, neither do I.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

supreme court rules on redistricting

On Wednesday in a 5-3 decision (Chief Justice John Roberts abstained from voting), the United States Supreme Court decided to uphold most of the Texas congressional district map. Politicos had been whispering for days that the high court was poised to issue a ruling on the case. It's hard to decide the victor, though.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature voted to enact Tom DeLay's mid-decade gerrymandering, despite numerous attempts from Texas Democrats to block the perceived illegal action. Democratic legislators fled to Oklahoma and New Mexico while trying to block its passage, but inevitably the Republicans prevailed and gained six coveted congressional seats in 2004.

With the "new swing voter" Anthony Kennedy casting the deciding vote, the Supreme Court only took issue with one congressional district.
The justices ordered lower courts and the state to fashion a new District 23. The district takes up a huge part of west Texas, from El Paso to San Antonio, and the seat is held by Rep. Henry Bonilla, a seven-term Republican.

It is unclear whether a new map for District 23 can be redrawn in time for the November midterm elections.

Boyd Richie, Chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, considered Wednesday's ruling a victory for Texas Democrats. Because of the Supreme Court's decision, disenfranchised Hispanic voters in South Texas will now be assured that their votes really count. Mr. Richie also expressed disappointment that the entire map of Texas wasn't thrown out or revised.
Tom DeLay exploited a weak-kneed governor and compliant President to abuse voters in every corner of Texas. Republicans in the Texas legislature wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and ignored addressing important issues such as school finance and insurance prices to do Tom DeLay's dirty work.

The challenges that remain for us are to rebuild our Party and elect good Democrats to every office from the Governor right on down to our local commissioners, clerks, and judges. I urge everyone to vote a straight Democratic ticket and let's put government back where it belongs-- in the hands of the people of Texas.
Attorney Rolando Rios agreed with Mr. Richie's assessment in a CNN interview. "The federal courts have to come in and protect the rights of Latinos against the abuses of the state of Texas. [Republicans] do everything they can to keep us from having our due."

It will be interesting to see the implications of this ruling. Expect more from NTL as they unfold in the weeks to come.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ken Lay's Many Roles

In last year's movie review of Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room, David Faraci describes Enron's complicity in the California power shortages.
.....nothing...can compare to the tapes of Enron traders laughing at the misery of Californians as they earn money hand over fist from the state's energy troubles. These are played over scenes of the havoc the blackouts caused, and you realize that you're listening to the revels of soulless, evil people.....
It was a scene that reminded him of a certain comic book character.
In the mid-1980s, DC Comics restarted their universe with an event called Crisis on Infinite Earths. Out of that event the Superman comic line was subtly tweaked, and Lex Luthor, who was once a maniacal mad scientist in a ridiculous battlesuit, became a shrewd and crafty evil corporate leader, a guy who the public looked at as a civic leader but who was in fact a complete supervillain.

Lex Luthor would have been right at home in Enron.

Apparently, Kevin Spacey agreed. The new movie, Superman Returns, opens June 28th, and Spacey plays archvillain Lex Luthor. And guess who inspired his take on the character?
"There's a lot of [former Enron chairman] Ken Lay in him this time," smirks Spacey. "He is more smartly dressed than I think we have seen him looking before. I like to call the look General Rommel goes to dinner."
Ken Lay: Enron CEO, "Kenny Boy", Bush Pioneer, convicted felon, supervillain.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Republican Priorities - More Gifts for the Rich

The estate tax reduction bill that the Republican House passed on Thursday was a compromise. If the GOP-led House had its way, there wouldn't be an estate tax, as they have repeatedly proven over the years by passing countless bills to eliminate it. But after the Senate failed last week in its attempt to eliminate the tax altogether, House Republicans are trying the back door.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, explained their persistence.
"Americans are being taxed almost every moment of their lives. My goodness, when they are dead, do we have to tax them again?"
Apparently, Congressman Boehner has been channeling the deceased and is really feeling the pressure. Who knew?

By a vote of 269-156, the House approved a bill that would eliminate the estate tax on individual estates up to $5 million ($10 million per couple) with annual adjustments. Yeah, you read that right. The same Republican rubber stamps who haven't voted an increase in the minimum wage for nine years, are so concerned Paris Hilton might have to downgrade from a Lamborghini to a Mercedes, that they decided to index the exemption to keep pace with inflation.

The bill also greatly reduces the tax on wealthier estates. Estates of $10-25 million would be taxed at the same rate at those on capital gains, currently 15% but due to rise to 20% in 2011. Why the rate change? It seems an unnecessary charade when the Republicans will obviously fight tooth and nail to keep that increase from ever happening. But by inserting sunset clauses in the reductions, they can mask the true costs of these bills, chronically underestimating the size of future deficits.
Congressional tax experts estimated that if the changes become law, only 5,100 estates would face taxation when the changes are fully in effect in the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2011. The Internal Revenue Service levied taxes on more than 30,000 estates in 2004, the most recent figure available.
Okay, maybe Alice Walton won't get everything she asked for, but the legislation still means billions in savings for America's ruling class. And the rest of us?

The Joint Tax Committee estimated the cost at $283 billion through 2016. But the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, said the full cost would be about $750 billion for the first 10 years it takes effect.....

Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the top Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said it would benefit the "richest of the rich" while adding to the nation's debt and forcing deep spending cuts in key domestic programs.....
"What we're doing today is ... jeopardizing the resources to pay for health care and education, and even our national defense because some of you believe the richest of the rich should be protected from an equitable distribution of tax liability," Rangel said.

And no Republican bill would be complete without a little pork thrown to special interests, so the bill also contains a reduction in timber taxes to increase it's chance of passage in the Senate.

North Texas Congressmen will be holding town meetings this summer all over the metroplex. I think they have a little explaining to do.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

the fight for the venue, 2008

In the June 19 edition of The New York Observer, Matthew Schuerman reports on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent schmoozing with members of the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to secure New York as the venue for the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

New York is a safe bet, considering that they successfully hosted the Republicans in 2004 and have hosted the Democrats on other occasions. The Big Apple is also a liberal bastion full of Democratic donors ready to empty their pockets for a worry-free convention. Jonathan Tisch, the chairman of the city's tourism bureau, proclaims that New York City has the "track record" and that he and Robert Rubin, a Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, could raise $70 million from private contributors to foot the bill.

Schuerman notes, however, that the decision is not made by the party elite; instead, DNC Chairman Howard Dean will make the final call. Dean is a New York native, but this article reminds us that he is promoting a fifty-state strategy. Would Dean be sticking to his "No State Left Behind" values by holding his convention in a tried-and-true blue state?

Other cities that want to hold the convention include New Orleans, Denver, and Minneapolis. DNC members will visit Minneapolis and Denver next week, but a trip to New Orleans has not been planned yet. Denver is the most likely choice, what with their spacious new convention center arena and hotel. Denver also fits into Dean's fifty-state strategy. Though Democrats are making strides in Colorado, the state still went to Bush in 2004.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is the sentimental choice. The city doesn't seem to be gaining a lot of momentum with its bid, but it's most likely on Dean's shortlist considering it fits into his fifty-state strategy. It's a place where Democrats stand to do well, despite previous voting history (and the fact that Louisiana is a Bush red state).

For detailed and up-to-date information concerning the fight for the venue and any news pertaining to the convention, visit the 2008 Democratic Convention Watch blog. The blog covers and analyzes news stories on the convention as they appear.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Senator Hutchison's Plan to Get Out of Iraq

Tonight on Hardball, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison faced off with Senator Dick Durbin on the Iraq war. Senator Durbin was his usual self -- low-key, precise, if lacking passion. Senator Hutchison was a mess. On the key question regarding the Republican plan to end the war, she gave this response.

Norah O'Donnell: What is the plan to get out of Iraq? What's the exit strategy?

Senator Hutchison: The exit strategy is to see their government come together, to continue training their security forces, and to understand that they are victims, too. The Iraqi people - when they blow up a police station - it's those men who are coming in to be a part of the security force that are being tagged again and again and again by the insurgents. The insurgents are trying to keep them from having an economy, by not letting them have the ability to set up shops and start building commerce.

We've got to see it through, so that we can show there is a stable government, that America keeps its word, and that democracy can work with the three factions that are in Iraq. It has not been easy. These three factions have never worked together in the history of the world.

We can end the war by seeing it through to the end. Glad we cleared that up. Apparently, this plan requires nothing more from us than sheer determination. And anyone suggesting a proactive end to the war, you know, by actually having a plan and implementing it, is a "cut and run coward." You can catch the complete debate on video at the Hardball website, "The Senate Debate Over Iraq."

Here's Hutchison's opponent, Barbara Ann Radnofsky, on the war:

I have consistently stated that Congress needs to insist on its right to be informed fully about what’s going on. Congress must not abdicate its responsibility to obtain, analyze, and act on timely military intelligence. Congress must demand accountability from defense leaders, civilian and military. Our military officers are eager to serve the legitimate ends of Congress, are eager to provide more information, and are eager to serve their intelligence role to Congress. Rather than a Texas senator who rubberstamps failed administration policy, who displays an absence of interest in learning about the real military situation from our military leaders and coming up with good solutions, we need an earnest, thinking, committed, and responsible senator.

We should set a timetable and safely withdraw.

There is a reason why Republicans are having such a hard time articulating the administration's exit strategy for Iraq. There is none. And that's all Democrats have to say between now and November. Stop defending the plans for withdrawal. It doesn't matter whether Kerry's plan matches Murtha's plan matches Durbin's plan. The Republicans want to keep the debate on the Democrats' perceived lack of unity to hide their own vulnerability on this issue. What matters is that the Democrats have a plan to end this war and the Republicans do not. Keep it simple and hammer it home.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Starve the Beasts - The Dire Straits of the Texas Parks System

An editorial in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Sunday highlighted the chronic underfunding of the Department of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

There's nothing to celebrate about a parks system that is so pathetically underfunded and neglected.....

The system, part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, has eliminated dozens of positions from an already skeletal staff. It has shut down portions of parks and scaled back programs for children.....

How does Texas rate nationally in support of its parks?
Texas ranks 49th among the 50 states in funding for state parks. With Texas' population pushing 23 million, the state parks annual operating budget is a puny $54.4 million, or roughly $2.37 per Texan - about what you might pay for a small cheeseburger.
At a time when the Texas state government enjoys a surplus of eight billion dollars, support for the park system has gone from bad to worse.

Dabney, the parks director, said operations at 50 parks had to be cut in December and 73 staff positions were eliminated. "We came close to closing one-third of the system," he said.

Now, in addition to its other problems, the park system may have to eat the costs of repairs due to Hurricane Rita.

The reason? According to [Director of the Infrastructure Division] Whiston, FEMA officials cite the state agency's lack of flood insurance, which FEMA requires as a condition for reimbursement.

"We are trying to work with them to see if we could be exempted from that," Whiston said. "We are -- as is typical for a state agency -- self-insured in most cases. And flood insurance on coastal properties is impossible. We're unable to get it."

Since the 1990s, Texas state parks have been funded by a portion of the sporting goods sales tax. But the portion dedicated to the park system was capped, and for the last several years the parks' operating budget has been stagnant. Amid the current funding debate are renewed rumors of privatization.

Last summer, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department commissioners contemplated selling off 46,000 acres of Big Bend Ranch State Park, the largest state park in Texas, to John Poindexter, the Houston businessman who owns the nearby Cibolo Creek Ranch luxury resort. The proposed sale, endorsed by TPWD staff, was pretty
such business as usual for the department, where selling parkland, transferring state parks to counties and cities, and downgrading state parks to “wildlife management areas” are all in a day’s work. But when news leaked out that a chunk of the 299,000-acre state ranch on the Rio Grande was up for grabs, a sudden public outcry led the parks commissioners to reject the proposal–unanimously.

Gubernatorial candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn blasted Governor Perry over the proposal to sell Big Bend, but her record on this issue isn't stellar, either.

Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn recently proposed to privatize the Texas State Railroad in her e-Texas publication. Senate Bill 1260, which was filed today in the Senate, would require that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to contract with a private company. The section of the bill states "the department may not operate the Texas State Railroad."

The proposal was ultimately shelved, but funding for the railroad was never resolved, and talks of retiring the train are back on the agenda.

A Texas State Parks Advisory Committee is set to look into the funding issue. A likely recommendation is to raise or eliminate the cap on the amount of money parks can get from the sporting goods tax. The advisory committee has vowed to take their fight to the 2007 legislature, and perhaps they'll find a sympathetic ear. As the FWST editorial noted:

The anorexic parks budget should be greatly increased by the Legislature in its regular biennial session in 2007. This would enable the parks system to add employees, pay for desperately needed capital and maintenance projects, reinstate curtailed programs and buy additional parkland that would prove to be a vital asset in coming decades as Texas' population increases by 50 percent or more.

The problem is straight forward, and the cure is fairly simple, but does this mean we're likely to see a solution next year? To paraphrase the FWST editorial board, we'll believe it when we see it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

mayors miller and moncrief set love field free

"Well, we did it," said Dallas Mayor Laura Miller. "We found a way to set Love free, but we stopped and thought about it a lot."

"In my 30 years of public service, I have never been involved in more intense ... negotiations," said Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief. "All parties have what I like to say is some 'skin' in this game. I believe this agreement is one that works."

That's right... Mayor Laura Miller of Dallas and Mayor Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth have signed an agreement that will hopefully put a final end to the Wright Amendment debate in the DFW Metroplex. For those unaware of the Wright Amendment and its effects, The Dallas Morning News sums it up nicely:

The 26-year-old Wright amendment limits flights from Dallas Love Field to Texas' adjoining states for planes with more than 56 seats.

The law reflects a compromise for the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth and Southwest Airlines Co., which has its headquarters at Love Field and didn't want to move to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport when it opened in 1974.

The law limits what Southwest Airlines Co. can do from its headquarters airport because it only uses Boeing 737s, all of which are above that seat limit.

A counterpart, the 1997 Shelby amendment, allows flights to Mississippi, Alabama and Kansas. Southwest doesn't offer nonstop service from Love to any of those states.

Last year, Congress added Missouri to the permitted cities, and both Southwest and American Airlines Inc. now fly to St. Louis and Kansas City from Love Field.

Lately, Southwest Airlines has been putting pressure on Congress and local government to repeal the amendment. North Texas legislators have asked the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth to come to some sort of agreement and the result was revealed today by the mayors of said cities.

Under the accords, Southwest Airlines could begin immediate through-ticketing (meaning they could have a passenger purchase a ticket to any destination with a layover in a Wright state). Also, several gates at Love Field would be demolished or condemned, leaving only sixteen gates for Southwest Airlines, two for American Airlines, and two for Continental Airlines. Some officials guess that American would probably make a graceful exit from Love under the accords, continuing all of their Dallas area flights from DFW International Airport. All flight restrictions at Love Field would be lifted by the year 2014. Love Field would receive $200 million in upgrades and would benefit from restrictions at all airports within an eighty-mile radius, including Fort Worth Alliance Airport.

Dallas would also impose a noise curfew on Love Field, disallowing flights between 11pm and 6am. If Congress were to pass legislation inconsistent with the accords and Southwest wanted to continue with non-stop service to or from Love Field, Southwest would be forced to give up eight more gates at the airport. Also, if Southwest chose to operate out of other local airports before 2025, it would be forced to give up gates at Love Field.

Reactions from Metroplex residents are mixed. Some are grateful to Miller and Moncrief for finally moving forward on this heated issue, while others feel that one or both parties were shafted in the agreement. Most do feel that we are actually making progress on the Wright Amendment, though. Even though Southwest must endure eight more years of restrictions, we now know that Love will eventually be set free for good.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gone But Not Forgotten - Tom DeLay's Legacy

One of the speakers called it an irony of "mythic proportions" -- that Tom DeLay's last day in office should coincide with the start of the Texas Democratic convention and the official nomination of Chris Bell, the former congressman and now gubernatorial candidate who initiated the ethics charges that eventually resulted in DeLay's resignation. In his swan song last week, rather than the traditional bipartisan olive branch, Mr. DeLay took one last opportunity to stick a figurative finger in the eye of Congressional Democrats.

Pundits are still weighing in on Mr. DeLay's legacy, but judging from a sampling of the editorials published in the last few days, time alone may not be enough to burnish the reputation of one of the most controversial political figures of his era. Here's a sampling:

"In any time or place, on any issue, what does liberalism ever seek, Mr. Speaker?" DeLay asked. "More. More government, more taxation, more control over people's lives and decisions and wallets."

Yet it was conservatism, at least as DeLay embodied it, that has enacted a vast expansion of government power over the people, culminating in the utterly bizarre episode in which Congress was called back from recess to intervene in the Terri Schiavo tragedy.....

It was also under DeLay's leadership in the House that government spending -- even nondefense spending -- rose faster than it had in four decades under the Democrats, and that all controls were removed from pork barrel appropriations. In response to that criticism, DeLay actually argued that "there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget" of $2.5 trillion.

DeLay was a hypocrite who sold out "old school" conservative values of smaller government in order to spread the pork that bought the votes that pleased the lobbyists who paid for the House that Tom built.

Part of the reason that DeLay was so effective was his unwavering conviction in the righteousness of his goals. He embraced the concept of Atwater and Rove that politics is war, and in war, the end justifies the means.

Reading the list of political achievements he recited in his farewell speech to thunderous applause from his GOP colleagues, one is perplexed as to why he is walking away from it all. Surely, the FBI agents and Texas prosecutors who are hounding him following the guilty pleas of former top DeLay associates are unaware that he is doing the Lord's work?

"Mr. Speaker, as God is my witness and history is my judge," DeLay proclaimed dramatically, insisting he has at all times acted "honorably and honestly." Modestly placing himself in the company of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, he celebrated his engineering of the destruction of wicked liberalism by any means necessary.

DeLay believed in doing well by doing good, at least as defined by his donors. He brazenly and openly declared that he would not entertain lobbyists who had not contributed to Republican fundraising, and then set about changing the rules to remove any barriers to consolidating Republican power.
DeLay will be forever remembered as the political hack who melded party fund-raising, special-interest influence buying and the legislative process into a perfect storm of institutional corruption, permanent partisan warfare and astonishingly bad lawmaking. He is leaving a Congress that is held in almost universal disdain by the American people. His name will be forever linked to that of convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the king of K Street. And as he goes off to defend himself against criminal charges of his own, DeLay leaves behind a still brewing ethics scandal that may yet envelop still more of his hapless ex-colleagues.
In the end, DeLay's contempt for subtleties may be a back-handed gift. Only through such over-the-top, mouth-gaping excess, was it possible to bring almost universal contempt for his corruption of the political system. In today's world of spin, anything less would have seemed justifiable. But ethics reform has been a paper tiger, and DeLay's prodigies, although lacking his vicious skills, nonetheless constitute more of the same. It will take a coup in Washington, and a true dose of populism, to turn this tide.

We'll leave the last word to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A little partisanship is not a bad thing. That’s why we have political parties: to reflect different political values. But governance is the art of compromise in the interest of the nation as a whole, and there DeLay’s two decades in Congress were an unmitigated disgrace. ...

In the end, Tom DeLay, the former pest exterminator from Houston, himself became a human cockroach, scuttling under the door when the lights were turned on. Good riddance.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hang 'Em High

Johnny Paul Penry is the longest serving inmate on death row. Fifty-year-old Penry has spent more that half his years on death row for the rape and murder of 22-year-old Pamela Moseley Carpenter. Penry confessed and was given the death penalty, even though his lawyers maintain he is mentally retarded.

In 2000, Penry came within three hours of execution before justices halted it. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision on Penry's case, declining to reinstate the death sentence.

An editorial from 2000 gave compelling reasons why the death penalty should never apply to those under such circumstances:

The mentally retarded can never meet the criteria of extraordinary blameworthiness. People with retardation are incapable of calculated, mature evil. A retarded person is simply not the same as other adults. They are childlike in many of their limitations: their ability to reason and develop skills needed to navigate in the world are permanently stunted.

They have grave difficulties with language, communication, learning, logic, foresight, strategic thinking, planning and understanding consequences. They have problems with attention, memory and comprehension. They are limited in their ability to learn from experience, to control their impulses, to think in long-range terms or to understand causality. Children outgrow most of these limitations. Those who are retarded cannot.

Penry was physically abused as a child, has organic brain damage and is mentally retarded. Twenty-two years old in 1979 at the time he raped and murdered Pamela Mosely Carpenter in Livingston, Texas, he had then -- and has now-- the mental capacity of a 7-year-old.

Mental retardation is classified as mild, moderate or severe. Penry's IQ is considered to be between 50-60, which would rate him as moderate. How might this disability affect Penry's ability to understand his crime and assist in this defense?

Morris Mason, whose I.Q. was 62-66, was executed in 1985 in Virginia after being convicted of rape and murder. Before his execution, Mason asked one of his legal advisors for advice on what to wear to his funeral.

Penry's trial has been at the heart of the debate on capital punishment. In 1989, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor refused to grant a stay for Penry, citing that a consensus had not yet formed as to whether executing the mentally retarded constituted cruel and unusual punishment. So much for the theory of activitist judges. Instead, the American Bar Association took up the cause.

In 1989, the American Bar Association established a policy opposing the execution of those with mental retardation. The ABA held that execution of such individuals is unacceptable in a civilized society, irrespective of their guilt or innocence. In 1997, the continued imposition of the death penalty on the mentally retarded and juveniles contributed to the ABA's call for a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled to forbid the execution of persons classified as mentally retarded. That case should have resolved this issue, but this is Texas, after all.

William Lee Hon, a Polk County assistant prosecutor who has been handling the case for more than two decades, said: “There have been so many disappointments in regard to this case, you kind of become conditioned to adversity. So you take these blows as they come, and you do the best you can.”

The parole eligibility is huge, and he might very well be parole eligible,” Hon said. “Is there any guarantee to keep him in prison if we choose to seek a life sentence? I don’t know. That’s one of the big questions to resolve in the process.”.....

Why don’t they just lock me up and throw away the key?” Penry told The Associated Press in 2001. “That’s all I want.”

The Polk County prosecutor is still weighing the option of another sentencing trial. At least five previous juries have found Penry legally competent to stand trial or have rejected defenses based on mental retardation.

Twenty-five years on death row, a family history of abuse, significant mental impairment, and an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling, but Polk County believes that justice can only be served by executing a man who, according to his lawyers, still believes in Santa Claus.

Monday, June 12, 2006

state convention 2006 - saturday

On the final day of the State Democratic Convention, I arrived just in time to hear Barbara Ann Radnofsky, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, deliver her moving speech. I have had the privilege to hear her speak on another occasion, when she came to Lewisville, Texas, and gave a speech to area Democratic groups. That event was hosted by the Flower Mound Democrats in the summer of 2004. I spoke with Barbara Ann after her speech and she told me that she remembered our group. She said, “You knew me when I was a baby politician!” I told her about our groups efforts to canvass southern Denton County, and she told me to get some copies of her new fliers for any future block-walking. She also informed me that her campaign had distributed over one million leaflets during the State Convention.

We heard from several major candidates, including David Van Os (running for Attorney General), Hank Gilbert (running for Commissioner of Agriculture), and Fred Head (running for Comptroller), and Maria Luisa Alvarado (running for Lieutenant Governor). U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat representing U.S. Congressional District 30, introduced the Texas delegation to the U.S. Congress as well as the candidates, such as Tim Barnwell, who is running in the 26th District against Rep. Michael Burgess, and Nick Lampson, who is running in the 22nd District for Tom DeLay’s old seat. This led into a stirring seat by U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, who represents George W. Bush’s home district (the 17th).

After hearing the slate of candidates and office-holders speak, we began to caucus in order to vote for State Chair. We heard speeches from all four candidates: Boyd Richie, Glen Maxey, Charlie Urbina-Jones, and Lakesha Rogers. Each of the candidates designated three of their supporters to second their nomination with a short speech. When one of Rogers's supporters mentioned that Kesha was representing the LaRouche Youth Movement, there was a mixed reaction from the crowd, including some jeers. The Convention Chair stepped in and told the audience shortly that booing would not be accepted and that as Democrats we believed in the right to free speech. That received a great ovation from the crowd, and many Democrats, no matter which candidate they were beholden to, gave Lakesha Rogers a great show of support. Ms. Rogers made some good points, and her slogan - Out of the Bushes and Into the Future - was definitely one that we could all support. Maxey's supporters were the most vocal, shouting "¡YA BASTA!" to show that they had had enough of the way things were going. Because four candidates were running, it was difficult for one candidate to reach 51% of the vote. Richie nearly did, though, with about 47%. The race went into a runoff. Some delegates had wandered off by the time Charlie Urbina-Jones and Lakesha Rogers released their delegates. Neither of them specifically endorsed Maxey or Richie, but Urbina-Jones (who was popular with the Hispanic Caucus) told his supporters to "do what we discussed." I took this to mean that he wanted them to support Maxey. About half of the Urbina-Jones delegates did vote for Maxey, but it wasn't enough. Boyd Richie was elected to retain his new post as State Chair of the Texas Democratic Party.

Overall, I enjoyed myself. It was my first time to attend this sort of thing. I've always been politically active, but getting involved locally has really changed my outlook on things. After becoming a precinct chair and a delegate to the State Convention, I really feel like we have a fighting chance. If we work for it, we can change the status quo in Texas. I look forward to working with the new County Chair here in Denton, John Gossett, and the new State Chair, Boyd Richie, to finally win some elections. If anything, the State Convention ignited a fire under the bellies of the delegates, and we've left united and ready to fight it out until the end. As David Van Os says, "Fight 'em until hell freezes over, then fight 'em on the ice."

Sunday, June 11, 2006

cwa protest in ft. worth

On Friday, a group of protesters gathered outside of the Fort Worth Convention Center which was housing the State Democratic Convention. They weren't Republicans protesting Democratic presence in their city and they weren't pro-life fanatics protesting the Democratic platform's position on abortion. They were regular working people from the union Communication Workers of America.

Mike Littleton, the Southern Area Director of the CWA, said that the group was protesting the announced layoffs from AT&T. "We don't feel it's right that employees are laid off while in the meantime, the company is doing well." Over 200 people in the immediate Ft. Worth area will lose their jobs with the communications giant. Mr. Littleton pointed out that with only about 2,000 Ft. Worth area citizens actually working, 200 out of work is a big proportion. He said that most of the layoffs would affect telephone operators.

Mr. Littleton said that the protestors gathered on the sidewalk at about 12pm and planned to continue their protest until 3pm. He also said that more protests were planned across the five state southern region. Of the fifty or so protestors in Fort Worth, he figured that about half were delegates to the State Democratic Convention. Other delegates gathered around the protestors in support, joining in on their chants. McBlogger notes that several candidates, including Democratic candidate for Attorney General David Van Os, marched at various times during the protest. Candidate for U.S. Congress District 26, Tim Barnwell, also marched with the protestors and shook their hands. Barnwell would represent part of Tarrant County if elected to Congress.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

state convention 2006 - friday

Two of the four NTL bloggers were delegates to the 2006 State Democratic Convention and we were honored to attend. We drove to Ft. Worth, which is only about thirty minutes away from us (we were obviously in North Texas to begin with). On Friday, we headed to the convention center. I received a badge that declared me a Tim Barnwell volunteer and then went to sign in at the SD9 booth and get my credentials.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around the exhibit hall visiting the various candidates and caucuses at their booths. After I figured that I'd seen everything (and spent $5 on a granola bar and a Diet Coke due to a lack of vegetarian options), I went to the Grassroots Training Caucus put on by the Texas Democratic Party. It was pretty basic (I already knew most of what the lady was telling us... I learned it firsthand during our April canvass here in Denton County). I ducked out early enough to attend the Universal Healthcare Caucus. It was really interesting to learn what it was all about because, while I'm an advocate of healthcare reform, I haven't had time to research the plan for universal healthcare.

I met up with some area Democrats from around Flower Mound and Denton County at the Senate District 9 Caucus. We called the caucus to order and voted on our next SDEC Members. Marvin Sutton was re-elected as the SD9 Committeeman. As Christine Asberry is resigning from her post because she's moving to another SD, there was a contentious race for the Committeewoman position. Carol Wise, a big Maxey supporter from the Denton area, barely lost out to Susan Culp, a Richie supporter from Grand Prairie. Denton County's caucus unanimously voted for Carol Wise in the runoff vote, but Susan Culp still prevailed to become the SD9 Committeewoman. I'm not against Culp, but I would have preferred Wise simply because of the accessibility issue. I know that she attends the Executive Committee meetings in Denton so I'd have been able to contact her easily for anything I needed.

After the SD9 Caucus, we had only a few minutes to try and grab something to eat. A few of us ventured past the Iraq protestors (one woman told us that we should join the protest... when we told her that we needed to eat, she asked us to think of the soldiers in Iraq that had to face 120 degree weather and forgo dinner to protest; needless to say, we didn't) to find somewhere to eat. When we realized that the convention was going to convene in about fifteen minutes and the wait at the Hilton was twenty minutes, we headed back to the convention center. Only two of our group of six or seven braved the line at the concessions stand (including myself). I paid $10 for a burrito (rice, beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomato) and a Diet Coke.

After dinner, we rushed into the arena just in time for the invocation and the first speakers. We were very excited to hear General Wesley Clark speak. He was very charismatic and really got the convention off to a great start. Democrats all across the arena were fired up and giving him a standing ovation. We later heard from the Secretary of State of New Mexico, who was inspirational and obviously excited about being a Democrat. I was confused as to why she was there because we're in Texas, not New Mexico, but she was a good speaker nonetheless. An entertaining speaker followed in State Senator Leticia Van de Putte. Capitol Annex live-blogged her speech here and here.

It was also wonderful to hear from gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell. Many people had already heard Bell speak at his other appearances (he also went to a few labor caucuses at the convention in addition to his many campaign stops across the state). This was reflected in the fact that probably about fifteen percent of the delegates had trickled out of the arena by the time Bell was introduced by his lovely wife. The crowd screamed and applauded loudly for Bell. Many of his supporters (including myself) held blue signs that read Bell for Governor. We waved them in the air after he punctuated each of his points.

After the convention wrapped up, I headed back home. Expect a blog from TT soon, who had the opportunity to meet several prominent bloggers, including Anna from Annatopia and Vince Leibowitz from Capitol Annex, at the Blogger's Caucus. Look forward to that, as well as my upcoming post about Saturday's events. (Yes, Saturday has passed and the convention's over, but I figured it would be better to break it up into two posts. It will be better for the both of us. Expect a blog on day two of the TDP Convention tomorrow.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

blogosphere roundup

I figured it was due time for another roundup of the extensive political blogosphere. Here are some excellent and recent blogs from both a local, state, and national level:
  1. In the Pink Texas reports on the widespread hysteria surrounding yesterday's date: June 6, 2006, otherwise known as 06/06/06 (or 666, "the devil's number").
  2. Capitol Annex blogged an endorsement of Glen Maxey for Texas Democratic Party State Chairman.
  3. At Burnt Orange Report, a blogger links to radio interviews with TDP Chair candidates Boyd Richie and Glen Maxey.
  4. Right of Texas disagrees with Kinky Friedman's newest outlined goals.
  5. The Stop Kinky! blog contends that Kinky Friedman is no Jesse Ventura.
  6. Pink Dome reports that White House Press Secretary Tony Snow thinks anti-gay marriage legislation is tantamount to civil rights legislation (but he can't defend that view when pressed).
  7. The Gonzo Muckraker gives the scoop on Robert Kennedy, Jr.'s assessment of 2004's stolen presidential election.
  8. At The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington accuses the right of sweeping Katrina under the rug for political reasons.
  9. At Dallas Blog, Scott Bennett editorializes on Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and what he considers her somewhat flawed view of the city.
  10. Grits for Breakfast reports on the abject conditions of some Houston area prisons largely due to overcrowding.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

All You Need to Know About the Paris Hilton Tax Cut

The Republicans believe that there is no problem facing Americans that a tax cut for the wealthy can't cure. Any crisis, it seems, justifies a tax cut. The response to the 9/11 attacks? Tax cut. Facing war in Iraq? Tax cut. As Tom DeLay noted at the time, "Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes."

Last fall the Senate Republican leadership decided that the appropriate response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was to reward the ruling class yet again, this time by eliminating the estate tax. But public censure over such a brazen and callous move in the face of a national tragedy, coupled with general disgust at the emerging incompetence of political leadership from the White House on down, actually moved Senator Frist to reconsider. The estate tax bill was shelved, awaiting a more auspicious time.

That time, apparently, is now. And perhaps the timing has less to do with a better opportunity than the perceived lack of it going forward. What chance would such a bill have if the House or the Senate lost Republican majority in this fall's election? So, with the pending marriage amendment as cover, the Senate is considering re-introducing Jon Kyl's bill, dubbed "Death Tax Repeal Permanency Act" by it's sponsors, and the "Paris Hilton Tax Cut" by Michael J. Graetz and Ian Shaprio in their book Death by a Thousand Tax Cuts.

The Senate debate is crucial, because the measure has always been blocked by Democrats in the Senate. The House version, H.R. 8, passed with 99% Republican support, including proud co-sponsors Rep. Ralph Hall and Kenny Marchant. But no one in the House has been a bigger supporter of the repeal of the estate tax than Congressman Michael Burgess. Burgess promotes the fallacy that the estate tax is responsible for the liquidation of businesses and family farms. It would take an entire separate post to to do justice to this argument, but here's the take-away:
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 65 farms and 94 family-owned businesses in the entire country would have owed any estate tax in 2000 if the $7 million exemption level that will take effect in 2009 had been in place back then. And the American Farm Bureau could not cite a single family farm that has ever been lost because of the estate tax, according to The New York Times.
The logic of cutting this tax truly cuts at the heart of the idea of a progressive tax plan. Some of business' biggest scions are behind this legislation, including the Waltons, billionaire heirs of Sam Walton.

Eighteen families, including the owners of Nordstrom Inc., The Seattle Times Co., Mars Inc., Koch Industries Inc. and Wal-Mart Inc., that stand to save $71.6 billion in taxes are financing lobbying efforts to repeal the estate tax, according to a study by two groups....
Wiping the estate tax off the books would mean about $1 trillion in lost revenue for the government between 2010 and 2019, according to private and government estimates.

Every time the Bush administration wants to reward the rich patrons who pull their strings, they trot out tired arguments about economic stimulus and the virtues of the free market. Every time they want to cut benefits for the rest of us, they point with justified alarm to the economic state of our government.
The bottom line as far as I am concerned is that we just cut $4.8 billion in Medicaid in February 2006. The President said this just absolutely needed to be done. Yet, right after that, he signed a bill that cut income taxes by $70 billion on dividends and capital gains, and now wants to cut an additional $25 billion per year by repealing the estate tax. All of this being done at a time when our national debt is approaching $10 trillion. Who elected these people?
And if all this weren't enough to convince you of the lunacy of eliminating the estate tax, consider these facts:
House Democrats have released a report detailing the effect that a repeal of the tax would have on the estates of oil company executives and members of the Bush cabinet. According to the report, estate tax repeal would save the estate of Vice President Cheney between $13 million and $61 million, and would save the estate of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld between $32 million and $101 million. The family of retired ExxonMobil chief Lee R. Raymond would receive a $164 million windfall.
What more do you need to know?

Monday, June 05, 2006

dear mr. president

In a song from her new album I'm Not Dead, pop star Pink addresses President Bush in a gutsy voice, denouncing the war in Iraq as well as the president's views on issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage. In an interview with The Observer in the UK, Pink talks about the song and being political.
Openly political, yet appealing to the mainstream, Pink is a one-off in American pop. On I'm Not Dead she delivers another missive, an 'open letter', this time to George Bush, an acoustic number called 'Dear Mr President', denouncing US involvement in Iraq. Does she feel it's her duty to be political? 'For me personally, yes, but not as a musician,' she says. 'When I write songs like "Dear Mr President", nothing matters except I'm doing what I want to do.'
Here are the lyrics to Pink's song, "Dear Mr. President." Be sure to check out her new album in stores now, I'm Not Dead, for this song and a slew of others that make a strong statement.
Dear Mr. President
Come take a walk with me
Let's pretend we're just two people and
You're not better than me
I'd like to ask you some questions if we can speak honestly

What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street
Who do you pray for at night before you go to sleep
What do you feel when you look in the mirror
Are you proud

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye
How do you walk with your head held high
Can you even look me in the eye
And tell me why

Dear Mr. President
Were you a lonely boy
Are you a lonely boy
Are you a lonely boy
How can you say
No child is left behind
We're not dumb and we're not blind
They're all sitting in your cells
While you pave the road to hell

What kind of father would take his own daughter's rights away
And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay
I can only imagine what the first lady has to say
You've come a long way from whiskey and cocaine

How do you sleep while the rest of us cry
How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye
How do you walk with your head held high
Can you even look me in the eye

Let me tell you bout hard work
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you bout hard work
Rebuilding your house after the bombs took them away
Let me tell you bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box
Let me tell you bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work
You don't know nothing bout hard work
Hard work
Hard work

How do you sleep at night
How do you walk with your head held high
Dear Mr. President
You'd never take a walk with me
Would you
Here is a link to a video of Pink performing this song live. Be sure to check it out to hear the song and see the powerful message for yourself. It's incredible to hear. Be sure to check for Pink's summer tour dates if you'd like to see it live and in person.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

DeLay Wannabes Work the Crowd at GOP Convention

Tom DeLay did not attend the Republican Convention in San Antonio last week, and no one knows whether the soon to be ex-Congressman has put in a plug for one of the eight candidates seeking to replace him. But the contenders were all out in full force, working the precinct chairs who will choose four representatives ultimately responsible for selecting DeLay's successor.

The candidates at this point are:
State Reps. Charlie Howard of Sugar Land and Robert Talton of Pasadena, state Sen. Mike Jackson of La Porte, Houston City Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, lawyer Tom Campbell, former state executive committee member Tim Turner and retired Air Force major Don Richardson.
The Houston Chronicle has some select quotes from the contenders.

In printed campaign materials he handed out, Talton, a former precinct chairman and convention delegate, touted his A+ rating from the National Rifle Association and his standing as one of the most conservative members of the House. ''This is about relationships built up over many years," Talton said.

''I know the precinct chairs and delegates because I've been among them. Some people change their position on issues for political opportunity."

Shocking, I know. My faith in politicians has just taken a huge hit.

But Talton has some competition for the conservatives from Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Gibbs.
Sekula-Gibbs gave the Republicans red meat to chew on — telling them she is anti-abortion, pro-business, for limited government, immigration reform without amnesty and lowering crime, ''since Katrina evacuees came into our life [emphasis mine]."
While we're at it, why don't we just build a wall between Texas and Louisiana?

Ms. Sekula-Gibbs seemingly has come from left field to become a major contender in this race. Apparently, her campaign mailings claim support from money-bags Bob Perry, which makes her definitely one to watch.

Friday, June 02, 2006

remembering rwanda

Remember Rwanda? Wikipedia defines the Rwandan Genocide as "the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, mostly carried out by two extremist Hutu militia groups, the Interahamwe and the Impuzamugambi, during a period of 100 days from April 6th through mid-July 1994."

If you've ever seen the Academy-Award nominated film Hotel Rwanda, you may remember the voice of the radio station director that encouraged the killing of Tutsis while on the air. In the film, he exposes the actions of Paul Rusesabagina and as a result the militia attacks the escaping U.N. convoy. This radio director was a real person named Joseph Serugendo. Today, twelve years after the genocide, the United Nations has sentenced Serugendo to prison.

A United Nations court trying the masterminds of Rwanda's 1994 genocide on Friday handed a six-year sentence to a former director of a radio station whose broadcasts were accused of encouraging the killings.

Joseph Serugendo was a member of the governing board of the Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), and of the National Committee of the Interahamwe za MRND militia group.

The RTLM was notorious for its radio broadcasts encouraging the killing of "cockroaches," as Tutsis were called during the genocide in which 800,000 people were killed.

"He had pleaded guilty to direct and public incitement to commit genocide and persecution as a crime against humanity," the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) said in a statement on Friday.

The ICTR said that Serugendo admitted helping the RTLM to spread anti-Tutsi messages before and during the genocide.

Serugendo's sentencing brings the total number of those brought to justice to a startlingly low twenty-eight people. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is now scrambling over many cases in order to meet its 2008 deadline.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame held a news conference on May 31 reporting on progress made in regard to reconciliation of the conflict. Remembering what happened in Rwanda is imperative, especially as we watch something similar unfold before our eyes in the Darfur region of Sudan. The United Nations seriously needs to get with the program. Even the Bush administration has declared genocide in Darfur; the United Nations has neglected to do so. Now we see this sentencing: someone that incited countless deaths during the genocide is getting a slap on the wrist. Ken Lay will probably serve a longer term for his role in the Enron scandal.

Until we truly recognize what happened in Rwanda and the giant scope of it all, we won't be able to respond properly to Darfur. Failing to act in Rwanda was one of President Clinton's biggest mistakes. With the U.N. making blunders like this one (and not sentencing Suregendo to life in prison), it's sending the message that genocide in Africa is not a serious matter. When will we ever learn?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Top Ten Conservative Myths about Democrats

Today's post is by guest blogger Steve Southwell, who writes about the top ten misconceptions conservatives have about Democrats. It takes one to know one, and Steve is a reformed conservative who speaks from the heart. Steve developed these points with an eye toward canvassing. You can catch more of Steve's musings at his blog, Who's Playin'.

If you listen to conservative talk-radio, you might hear some common myths that make for good radio, but just don't bear out in light of the truth. Read on to see how we're a lot closer to what you believe than what you might currently think.

1. That we have contempt for religious faith and expression.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Democrats tend to view faith as a personal matter, and thus in order to avoid offending people, we have done a bad job of communicating that most of us also believe. While there are a percentage of folks in any party who do not believe, the majority of Democrats, like the majority of Americans, do have a religious faith. Democrats believe in freedom of and from religion, and that nobody should be persecuted or ridiculed for their faith or lack thereof. We believe the home and the church, synagogue or temple are the proper place for the exchange of religious ideology, and not the government.

2. That we are dismissive of middle-class family values.
The majority of Democrats live within middle-class family values. Though we gladly accept and welcome those who are in non-traditional families, we recognize the importance of the nuclear family unit. Parents should teach their children well, and instill in them a sense of responsibility to themselves, their families, their God, and their communities, and a sense of love for their fellow man. Hate and prejudice are not family values.

3. That we are pro-abortion.
We are most certainly NOT pro-abortion. Abortion is a sad tragic choice for many women. The goal for both Republicans and Democrats should be to reduce abortions to as close to 0% as possible. There are real policies that can work to reduce abortions by significant numbers without undermining a woman's personal choice. For instance, when Bill Clinton was president, by the end of his term, abortions had declined to the lowest level since 1974. Seven percent of American women who don't use contraception accounted for 53 percent of all abortions. The government should do more to educate, inform, and provide assistance to these women. Instead of making abortion more difficult, we should make it less necessary. Most Democrats are pro-choice, preferring abortions to be safe, legal, and RARE. There are other Democrats who consider themselves pro-life. The party line mirrors basically what the average American believes.

4. That we are anti-business.
Capitalism and democracy go hand-in-hand. Democrats believe that business should pay its fair share of taxes, and treat employees and customers right. In most cases companies will do the right thing on their own because of market pressures. However, there are times when government intervention is necessary and welcomed by business to level the playing field and force all business to play by the same rules instead of rewarding those who cheat the system, pay unlivable wages and provide no healthcare. Democrats are quite often small business owners and entrepreneurs themselves. They understand that the best way for the government to help is to level the playing field by refusing favors for large corporations who pay lobbyists to schmooze the politicians entrusted to safeguard our economy.

5. That we want to take away your guns.
Democrats support and defend the ENTIRE Constitution, including ALL of the bill of rights, of which the second amendment is a part. We are for the enforcement of existing laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, violent, and mentally ill people. Law-abiding citizens should be allowed to keep and bear arms responsibly. Background checks have worked well at keeping a large number of guns out of the hands of felons, and they don't represent a significant hindrance to law-abiding citizens. Gun safety is very important, and for this reason, we believe gun locks and education are important. Democrats who don't like guns don't own them, but nobody seriously believes we will ever disarm the public. The second amendment serves as a check against government tyranny and must be preserved while ensuring that guns do not end up in the wrong hands. Many Democrats are hunters and marksmen.

6. That we support a Gay Agenda to corrupt your children.
All that we ask with regard to gay Americans is that they be treated with dignity and afforded the same human rights that we would expect for someone with a different religion or race. All of the major psychiatric organizations believe homosexuality is a trait that is inherent in a person's personality, not something learned from the environment. It is not a disease or a treatable condition, but a state of being that cannot be changed. We are not asking for Gay Affirmative Action, or quotas or any special privileges, just the basic rights that heterosexuals have. Nobody is recruiting children to become gay. Schools that teach lessons about homosexuality do so in the spirit of encouraging understanding and promoting tolerance for the 10% of our population that is gay.

7. That we can't fight and win the war on terrorism.
There is a misconception that because Democrats regret the war in Iraq, and the passage of certain liberty-eroding parts of the PATRIOT Act, that we are soft on terrorism. As Americans, many of us veterans of the armed services, we can say unequivocally that we support efforts to seek justice for the victims of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks preceding and yet to come. However, in addition to carrying a big stick, we believe that true diplomacy and a cessation of unnecessary provocations will go a long way towards decreasing terrorist motivations to strike the US. Democrats support implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. It also was NOT Democrats that funded the Taliban, or provided Saddam Hussein with weapons. Before he left office President Clinton's staff gave the incoming team a battle plan for attacking Al Qaeda and capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, who was almost killed by one of Clinton's cruise missiles. The Bush administration ignored Al Qaeda until the attack of 9/11, choosing to focus instead on other issues, including the invasion of Iraq. We believe that war is an option of last resort, but that once committed, we should prosecute it with precision, discipline, and overwhelming force, with a clear exit strategy. We are strong and we recognize the threat, but refuse to be afraid. We refuse to trade our hard-won liberties, guaranteed in our constitution, for the temporary illusion of security.

8. That we're Socialist when it comes to health-care.
Universal access to quality health-care is a moral imperative. This is a complicated issue that will require the public and private sectors to work together to increase the health of our nation. In the face of obesity and diabetes epidemics, we believe prevention and early detection are key to lowering the overall cost. For too many people, the emergency room is their only form of health-care. This is expensive and morally wrong. We have to find a fair way to pay for universal health coverage, while preserving market incentives for health-care providers to provide their best service on a competitive basis. We will not allow the rationing of health-care under any universal coverage plan.

9. That we hate the rich.
We do not hate anyone. We are a party of Love and Hope. We see a problem with the widening gap between the working class and the well-off, and a shrinking middle class. Some of us resent that certain CEOs get new tax breaks on top of obscene amounts of salary and bonuses even while their companies fail to pay a living wage to their employees, or a decent rate of return to their shareholders. Corporate accountability and the preservation of a progressive tax system will help close the gap. We're not for a redistribution of wealth, but we are for preserving the equal opportunities for individuals and small businesses to compete on a level playing field so that the American Dream can be kept alive, and anyone can compete and possibly earn their way into prosperity.

10. That we are the party of weirdos.
Often our central message gets lost because of the one-issue groups that side with our party. Not all liberals can be pigeonholed any more than conservatives can. We believe that an essential aspect of democracy is the inclusion of those with controversial beliefs, even if we don't support them. We can be faulted for not making it more clear what our central message really is: the greatest good for the greatest number.