Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Texas Eagle Forum Weighs in on Global Warming

Maybe Cathie Adams, the President of Texas Eagle Forum, should stick to the culture wars. Her recent letter to the Fort Worth Star Telegram in support of building TXU's coal-burning power plants lends credence to the view of those who think that the term conservative think tank is an oxymoron.

More coal power? Yes.

In 2008, Texas manufacturers will need more electricity than is currently being produced. The consequence for not doing so means that we'd suffer the same rolling blackouts that California has experienced.

In view of that, Texas' largest producer of electricity, TXU, wants to build 11 coal-burning power plants, but some are worried that the plants will pollute the air -- not with black smoke but with carbon dioxide, which environmental extremists believe causes global warming.

Carbon dioxide is not a toxic gas. CO{-2} is emitted when you breathe out or when fossil fuels are burned, enhancing the growth of trees and plants that absorb CO{-2} and in turn emit oxygen. The more CO{-2} that's produced, the more trees and plants grow, and the more oxygen is released for you and me to breathe.

There's no reason to panic about global warming because there's no sound scientific evidence that the Earth is warming or that CO{-2} could cause such warming. The Earth's temperature is more affected by ocean currents, winds and sun activity than by CO{-2}.

There is only One who can control ocean currents, winds and sun activity, and let me give you a clue: It's not a United Nations treaty or even a U.S. politician, although he put them in their place, too.

President Cathie Adams, Texas Eagle Forum, Dallas

Normally, we might offer up some debate to this letter. But honestly, any attempt to parse this would be the rhetorical equivalent of a canned hunt -- it offends our sense of sportsmanship.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Map Shows Warming Trend in Texas

We know things are getting warmer, but it's very hard to visualize how catastrophic climate change might impact Texas. Last year's record-breaking temperatures, coupled with the worst drought in fifty years, gave us a preview of things to come, but dry, cracked reservoirs don't compare with glaciers melting and crashing into the sea. Dying livestock can't capture the public's attention like polar bears drowning.

The current cold snap not withstanding...

...last year was the warmest on record in the Dallas area and the contiguous United States, and winters have been more temperate as well. Eight of the last 10 years, the average low temperature at D/FW was warmer than the 30-year average. As for extremes, the annual lowest temperature at D/FW averaged 11.1 degrees in the 1980s, increasing to 15.9 degrees in the 1990s and 17.8 degrees so far this decade. Temperatures bottomed out at 20 degrees last month and have dropped to 25 so far in January.

The National Arbor Day Foundation has developed a new hardiness zone map, which divides the U.S. into regions based on the coldest low temperature for an area. Comparing the new map to the previous one, we can begin to quantify the climate trends within the state. Now we can actually visualize how the zones are clearly and steadily moving northward.

"The map shows that the winter temperatures have increased across Texas and much of the nation since 1990. For example, the map's Zone 8 now includes all of North Texas, much of which previously lay in the cooler Zone 7. Less brutal winters suggest the region is more hospitable to a wider array of plants.

Oh, yeah! We can grow bananas in Dallas. Of course, that assumes that water is plentiful. The problem is, as temperatures rise, so does the evaporation rate. Interstate I-35 roughly serves as the dividing line between the area where rainfall exceeds evaporation to the east, and where evaporation exceeds rainfall to the west. The maps show temperature changes over a sixteen year period. If the trend continues, some scientsts project a six degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature across Texas. That would require a 50% increase in rain just to maintain the status quo --a scenario that seems highly unlikely.

Maybe somebody should ask our governor how that might affect our economic competitiveness.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Burgess Explains Why He Voted Against Minimum Wage

H.R. 2, the Fair Minimum Wage Act, was part of the Democrats "100 hours" agenda to raise a minimum wage that has been stagnant for almost a decade. A previous post on this bill noted that nearly all area Republicans voted against the increase.

As noted, Burgess was among those Republicans voting against an increase. A concerned constituent recently received a letter from Burgess explaining his rationale for voting against raising the minimum standard, currently stuck at $5.15. Steve Southwell, at Whosplayin, reviewed the arguments and apparently didn't find them too convincing. Here's a sample:

[Burgess:]I was especially disappointed that this legislation did not go through the regular committee process, which includes holding hearings that allow all sides of the issue to be taken into account.

Sour grapes, anyone? MICHAEL BURGESS, THE PEOPLE HAD THEIR HEARING ON NOVEMBER 7TH. We demanded that you weaselly Congressmen quit stalling and playing politics and raise the minimum wage. When the Democrats took control, they took this issue away from your committee because you had proven yourselves useless on getting it done. In 100 hours, the Democrats got it done. You didn't get your chance to attach your neo-con anti-consumer, pro-aristocracy policies to it. Pause for the sound of me playing my violin for you.

Oh, and there's more. Go read it.

So what's next for minimum wage bill? Unfortunately, the Republicans may yet get to attach their neo-con, anti-consumer, pro-aristocracy policies to the bill. The bill passed the House with the unanimous support of Democrats, but failed so far to pass the Senate due to a backlog of amendments introduced by Republicans. The Democrats have failed to get the 60 votes needed to cut off debate. This caused Senator Kennedy to bellow at his Republican counterparts [and if you haven't seen Kennedy's impassioned plea from the Senate floor, you really must]:
What is the price that the workers have to pay to get an increase? What is it about working men and women that you find so offensive?"
The Senate now plans to add tax breaks for small business in order to pick up the needed votes to end debate. The bill would then go to conference, where the House has demanded a bill free from tax breaks. What happens then is uncertain.

Oh, and as long as the Senate debate is tied up on the minimum wage bill, the Iraq war resolution is on hold.

North Texans Travel to Capitol to Protest War

Tens of thousands of protestors turned out today to the nation's Capitol to protest the war in Iraq, including local area residents.

"We don’t want to lose any more children and grandchildren,"said Doreen Geiger, 57, a retired social worker from Fort Worth.

Geiger and two fellow activists from Forth Worth – Rose Lynn Scott, 59, who manages a non-profit organization, and Nadine Thomason, 74, another retired social worker – encamped in a hostel and then joined other Texas protesters on the mall. They hauled three banners from Fort Worth, including one demanding, "Out of Iraq Now."

The demonstration, organized by United Peace for Justice, reflected the growing disenchantment over the nearly four-year-old war, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 Americans. Smaller demonstrations were also held in other cities, including Dallas.

They joined several hundred Texans, many dressed in cowboy garb and waving Texas flags.

Leslie Harris of Flower Mound was making the trip to tell Congress to stop funding the war.
"The country voted in November and sent a clear message that they want out of the war," said Harris, 56, a retired schoolteacher. "I'm very concerned that the present administration seems to be running renegade and doing what it wants, no matter what people say.

A non-binding resolution introduced in the Senate urging the President to shelve plans for troop escalation is scheduled for debate in February.

The resolution says the Bush plan is "not in the national interest" and calls on the United States to "transfer, under an appropriately expedited timeline, responsibility for internal security and halting sectarian violence in Iraq to the government of Iraq and Iraqi security forces."

Many protestors were urging Congress to pass a binding resolution cutting off all funds for the war.

Several legislators have introduced or proposed binding legislation to cap the number of US troops in Iraq or to cut funds to force an exit, but prospects for any to be passed by the Senate are considered low when they come up for debate next month.

On Saturday a Newsweek poll suggested Americans feel Congress is not adequately aggressive in challenging Bush on Iraq policy.

The poll said 64 percent believed the legislature has not been assertive enough over Iraq, while 27 percent felt it was doing enough.

War Protest Scheduled Today

As the debate over troop escalation in Iraq continues to dominate Congress and the media, tens of thousands will gather today on the National Mall to protest the continuation of the war.

Groups including United for Peace and Justice, Win Without War, the National rganization for Women and the RainbowPUSH Coalition, have organized a rally and march around the Capitol building Saturday, and arranged a "citizen lobby" day on Capitol Hill Monday, urging protesters to target House members, senators and congressional staff in an effort to force them to do more to stop the war.

"The president is a lost cause and everybody knows it," said Andrews, a former Democratic representative from Maine.

"So we are going to push the Democrats in Congress to not just talk but act and use their power — and that power is the power of the purse," said Andrews. "It's time to stop the rubber stamp of Congress and start the accountability and stand up to the president." Andrews said congressional Democrats are in danger of spending all their time debating "toothless words." He was referring to the nonbinding resolution against President Bush's plan to send 21,5000 additional troops to Iraq, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed this week.

Locally, activities are scheduled in Denton and Dallas.

Friday, January 26, 2007

the "real" state of the union

Here's comedian James Adomian with his famous Bush impersonation and his take on the 2007 State of the Union address from last Tuesday. Make sure to stick around after "Bush" finishes for a great satire of Senators Clinton and Obama with the "Democratic Response."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More Debate on TXU Emissions

If you're at all concerned about the increasingly dire news on global climate change, rest assured. Our Republican leadership in Texas has looked into it, and they don't see much reason to worry.

Gov. Rick Perry: “I am not going to put the state of Texas in a competitive economic disadvantage on some science that may or may not be correct.”

Meanwhile, TXU is launching a charm offensive to reassure the public that they take the issue of air quality seriously.

The Dallas-based energy company is negotiating with state regulators on a binding agreement that would require TXU, over the next four years, to add pollution controls at the four plants to chemically change ozone-forming pollutants into harmless water vapor.

Doing so could cut the amount of ozone-producing emissions at each plant by at least half. The agreement would also mandate pollution controls that would significantly cut emissions of toxic mercury at each plant, state officials say.

Slashing emissions at the four plants -- all within 150 miles of Dallas-Fort Worth -- should aid regional efforts to improve air quality and bring the nine-county region into compliance with federal ground-level ozone standards by a 2010 deadline.

That's the good news. Here's the bad.

TXU has trumpeted its pledge to cut emissions by 20 percent as the answer to many of our air quality questions.....

So the revelation that the Dallas-based utility might uphold its end of this bargain and then sell the emissions credits to other polluters took our breath away.

In a deposition released Tuesday, Mike McCall, the chairman and CEO of TXU Wholesale, acknowledged the possibility of selling the credits – a move that would transfer permission to pollute to another company, essentially nullifying any improvement in air quality.

And if you think any of this means that TXU has thrown in the towel, there's this.

We are hearing that TXU, the power company seeking to build all those conventional coal-burning power plants in Texas, is going door-to-door in the Senate, trying to secure a “grandfather” status for those plants when it comes to global warming emissions. TXU wants to nuke (sorry – wrong word!) any effort in Congress to restrict free credits or allowances for those facilities. As you’ll recall, the legislation introduced last week by Senators Feinstein and Carper would do exactly that, and we expect other proposed legislation will attempt the same.

Start following the money, because you can bet those visits will be followed up with campaign contributions! (According to the Center for Responsive Politics, TXU contributed in the last election cycle to such senators as Inhofe, DeMint, Vitter, Bingaman and Thomas. See http://www.opensecrets.org/ for more. )

Meanwhile, a Waco legislator introduced a resolution Wednesday to halt the fast-tracking of permits.

State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, filed a resolution Wednesday urging the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to impose a six-month moratorium on the permitting and construction of any new power plants......

The legislation has a chance for success in the Republican-dominated Legislature because it would only urge, not require, the state to temporarily halt new plant construction, said Harvey Kronberg, an Austin political analyst.

Perry's office declined to say whether the governor would actively oppose the legislation or veto it if it is approved.

Which brings us back to that opening statement. Two guesses as to which way he's leaning, and the first one doesn't count.

Monday, January 22, 2007

TXU Coal-Burning Power Plants Face More Opposition

The debate over Gov. Perry's decision to fasttrack coal-burning power plants went national during the governor's race. This month the Rolling Stone covers the story. From the introduction, you might think that Texas is getting something of a reputation.

Like most stories about energy, corruption and greed, this one is centered in Texas. TXU, an electric-power company based in Dallas, has announced plans to build eleven new coal plants in Texas by 2011 -- a move that a trade publication calls "one of the most ambitious generation capacity expansions in recent power industry history." Texas already dumps more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other state in the nation. TXU's new fleet of coal plants would more than double the company's current pollution, spewing 78 million tons of planet-heating pollution each year -- the equivalent of 11 million SUVs.

Coal is cheap, plentiful and extremely dirty. As the article points out, when the hurricanes of 2005 damaged refineries, TXU's CEO John Wilder decided to switch from emphasizing gas to focusing on coal to generate electricity. The result has been a surge in profits for TXU, and a nice bonus to the big guy. In 2005, Wilder was paid over $55 million -- twice the executive pay of former ExxonMobil boss Lee Raymond.

But coal is only profitable because its pollution-related costs -- blasted mountains, increases in asthma and heart attacks, neurological damage from toxic mercury, environmental chaos caused by global warming -- are all offloaded onto the public. That's why TXU is rushing to build so many new coal plants: In the next five years, Congress is widely expected to crack down on global warming by placing limits on carbon-dioxide emissions, making coal less profitable. If TXU can sneak its plants in under the regulatory wire, it could be exempt from new regulations -- allowing the company to dump massive amounts of carbon for free.

We're told that the need for new plants is so pressing because demand for energy may exceed supply in the near future. But a story last year that didn't get nearly as much attention as it deserved suggested that TXU may have been manipulating supplies at the very time it was making those claims.

TXU Corp. may have manipulated wholesale electricity supplies and prices last year, according to an annual review of the Texas market. An outside company hired by the state's Public Utility Commission found evidence that a power producer shut down some of its generating capacity on certain days in 2005 in order to squeeze supply and boost prices.

The report doesn't specifically name TXU, but it states that the company in question had about 13,000 megawatts of available capacity. The only company in Texas with that much juice is TXU.

The company's plans are running into hurdles at every turn. In addition to several lawsuits, and a pending Supreme Court decision, we learn per McBlogger [warning: not for the easily offended] that a bipartisan bill was introduced earlier this month by the Senate.

"The Climate tewardship and Innovation Act of 2007" would cap greenhouse-gas emissions of the electric power, industrial, transportation, and commercial sectors at 2004 levels by 2012 and reduce them to one-third that level by 2050.

One of the bill's co-sponsors is Sen. Barack Obama, so look for this legislation to get a lot of attention this year.

And now comes news that even Wall Street is preparing to push for legislation to curb greenhouse emissions.

The coalition of industries and environmental groups -- called the United States Climate Action Partnership -- says Congress needs to establish a cap on carbon dioxide emissions, the chief man-made contributor to climate change, and mandate deadlines for power companies to install carbon emission controls on new and existing power plants.

What makes this announcement big news is its corporate members: Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar Inc., Duke Energy, DuPont, FPL Group, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, PG&E Corp., and PNM Resources. This eye-popping list of names tells you everything you need to know about the current political climate regarding global warming. The tide has clearly turned.

And now, just in time for the president's state of the union speech, Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) is filing a bill to establish a global warming task force in Texas.

“The state is like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. We need a plan to deal with this challenge. At the same time, the reality of global warming provides excellent opportunities for businesses that innovate and create solutions to these problems. My bill directs the global warming task force to investigate and prepare for the worst while seeking opportunities for businesses that do the rightthing,” Burnam said.

"I do hope, as it has been reported, that the President addresses global warming tonight. And I hope that the state of Texas will take the necessary steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for a carbon-constrained economy.”

If you want to know where TXU is proposing to build, Environmental Defense has a map showing the proposed location of some of the new plants.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Parliamentarian

John McClelland at My Little Corner of Democracy brought to our attention a video highlighting the dispute between the Democrats and Republicans last week over the "closed rule" debate in Congress.

Our congressional neighbors, Joe Barton (R-TX) and Michael Burgess (R-TX) were involved in a parliamentary lambasting by the acting Speaker of their House session, Barney Frank (D-MA) . Patrick McHenry (R-NC) was the main culprit in all of this, but it is a good example of why a representative might want to learn Robert's Rules of Order before attempting to work a debate. And just remember the past actions of the chair do not matter! :-) Watch the video by clicking here.

The controversy the Republicans were trying to capitalize on related to the fact that the minimum wage bill exempted the U.S. territory American Samoa-- a move that some suggest would benefit Starkist, a company located in the San Francisco district of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Now we all know Barney Frank isn't known for being shy about stating his mind, (and a first-rate mind at that) but there's a little backstory that you should be aware of when you watch this that goes a long way toward explaining the, well, let's say relish, with which he dishes out this particular parliamentary lesson.

You see, before the Democrats took over Congress, the Republicans had made a mockery of parliamentary rule. From the Rolling Stone's article, The Worst Congress Ever....

.....The Republicans who control this Congress are revolutionaries, and they have brought their revolutionary vision for the House and Senate quite unpleasantly to fruition. In the past six years they have castrated the political minority..... They aimed far lower than any other Congress has ever aimed, and they nailed their target.

The article goes on to detail some of the more outrageous moves by Republicans to silence the Democratic minority. Public hearings held only long enough for a five minute photo op before being gaveled closed. Votes held open long past the established time in order to browbeat or bribe some reluctant holdout. The location of conference meetings to iron out differences between House and Senate versions of a bill never shared with the Democrats.
In one legendary incident, Rep. Charles Rangel went searching for a secret conference being held by Thomas. When he found the room where Republicans closeted themselves, he knocked and knocked on the door, but no one answered. A House aide compares the scene to the famous "Land Shark" skit from Saturday Night Live, with everyone hiding behind the door afraid to make a sound. "Rangel was the land shark, I guess," the aide jokes. But the real punch line came when Thomas finally opened the door. "This meeting," he informed Rangel, "is only open to the coalition of the willing."
And then there was that controversial Patriot Act.

The measure was originally crafted in classic bipartisan fashion in the Judiciary Committee, where it passed by a vote of thirty-six to zero, with famed liberals like Barney Frank and Jerrold Nadler saying aye. But when the bill was sent to the Rules Committee, the Republicans simply chucked the approved bill and replaced it with a new, far more repressive version, apparently written at the direction of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"They just rewrote the whole bill," says Rep. James McGovern, a minority member of the Rules Committee. "All that committee work was just for show."

The Patriot Act was again in the news due to recent firings of U.S. Attorneys General by the Bush administration. Apparently, one of the little presents slipped into the act by Ashcroft was a rule allowing the forced resignation of an attorney, not due to any misconduct. In fact, the firings seemed to have targeted several attorneys, including one from Texas, who were aggressive in their pursuit of corruption. Under a new provision of the Patriot Act, the administration can appoint their own U.S. Attorney General to these vacancies for an indefinite period of time, thereby bypassing the Senate confirmation process. Something tells me Congressman Frank might have had an issue with that.

And what about those "closed rule" debates? Well, every Congress in recent memory has used them, some more than others.
To ensure that Democrats can't alter any of the last-minute changes, Republicans have overseen a monstrous increase in the number of "closed" rules -- bills that go to the floor for a vote without any possibility of amendment. This tactic undercuts the very essence of democracy: In a bicameral system, allowing bills to be debated openly is the only way that the minority can have a real impact, by offering amendments to legislation drafted by the majority.

In 1977, when Democrats held a majority in the House, eighty-five percent of all bills were open to amendment. But by 1994, the last year Democrats ran the House, that number had dropped to thirty percent -- and Republicans were seriously pissed. "You know what the closed rule means," Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida thundered on the House floor. "It means no discussion, no amendments. That is profoundly undemocratic." When Republicans took control of the House, they vowed to throw off the gag rules imposed by Democrats. On opening day of the 104th Congress, then-Rules Committee chairman Gerald Solomon announced his intention to institute free debate on the floor. "Instead of having seventy percent closed rules," he declared, "we are going to have seventy percent open and unrestricted rules."

How has Solomon fared? Of the 111 rules introduced in the first session of this Congress, only twelve were open. Of those, eleven were appropriations bills, which are traditionally open. That left just one open vote -- H. Res. 255, the Federal Deposit Insurance Reform Act of 2005.

In the second session of this Congress? Not a single open rule, outside of appropriation votes. Under the Republicans, amendable bills have been a genuine Washington rarity, the upside-down eight-leafed clover of legislative politics.
So the next time you see Pete Sessions or Joe Barton whining about how unfair it is that the minority party can't offer an amendment on the floor of the house, or some other criticism about the current rules of debate, remember who wrote the playbook.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

democrats successfully pass "first 100 hours" legislation

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, during the 2006 campaign season, promised that if Democrats were to take back Congress in the election, that they would pass a series of reforms and important legislation within the first 100 hours of convening the session. She came through on that promise.

Via Three Wise Men, we learn that the following reforms were passed under the new Democratic-controlled Congress in the first 100 hours:
  • Slap a "conservation fee" on oil and gas taken from deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico; scrap nearly $6 billion worth of oil industry tax breaks enacted by Congress in recent years; and use the money instead to fund renewable resources. Passed Thursday. Speaker Pelosi is also creating a House panel on global warming.
  • Lower interest rates on federally subsidized student loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent in stages over five years. Passed Wednesday.
  • Make the government bargain directly with drug companies with the aim of reducing prices of prescriptions for Medicare beneficiaries. Passed Jan. 12.
  • Expand government-financed embryonic stem cell research. Passed Jan. 11.
  • Raise the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over 26 months. Passed Jan. 10.
  • Bolster terrorism-fighting efforts with more cargo inspections. Passed Jan. 9.
  • Democrats also won approval of internal House rule changes dealing with ethics, lobbying and budgeting. They were passed on Jan. 4-5. (Today they also passed much-needed new rules dealing with House pages!)
NTL commends the House of Representatives for enacting these reforms, already accomplishing more in the first 100 hours than was accomplished under the previous Republican-controlled 109th Congress. Unfortunately, still according to TWM, the president "is expected to veto the stem cell research funding, Medicare Part D reform, and cuts to oil and gas subsidies once they reach his desk."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

H.R. 5 to Reduce Interest Rates on College Loans

Congressman Tim Bishop, D-New York, was on C-SPAN this morning to discuss H.R. 5, the College Student Relief Act of 2007.

As promised by Speaker Pelosi, H.R. 5 is part of the Democrats' "first 100 hours" agenda. It amends the Higher Education Act of 1965 using a "phased-in" approach to reduce the burden of college expenses by gradually decreasing the interest rate charged for student loans.

Here are some highlights of the the C-SPAN broadcast:
  • The interest rate, currently set at 6.12%, will be reduced to 3.4% by 2011.
  • The cost of the bill is estimated at $6 billion over 5 years.
  • As required by the newly passed paygo rules, the cost of the bill cannot increase the deficit. Its cost will be offset by reducing guarantees to lenders.
  • Because of the paygo requirements, the cut in rates is not permanent, but it is the intent of the Democratic leadership to make eventually make the rate cuts permanent.
  • The bill is "closed rule" meaning no amendments are allowed.
  • Bishop sees this as the first in a series of legislation designed to make college more affordable by the group most squeezed by the recent increase in college tuition costs - the middle class and upper middle class.
  • The Senate bill equivalent will be introduced by Senator Kennedy.
  • The rates do not apply to current loans. They will be in effect for loans originating after July 1, 2007.

The bill is scheduled for debate on the floor of Congress later this morning.

Monday, January 15, 2007

ntl honors the life of martin luther king, jr.

Today, Jan. 15, is the celebration of the life of a true American hero... it's Martin Luther King Day.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a political activist and Christian minister that famously led the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1955, after Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat and was subsequently arrested, King led the 382 day Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott ended with a Supreme Court decision that totally banned segregation on all public transportation.

King continued to passively lead the fight against racial discrimination in the United States for the rest of his life, leading marches and protests across the country, promoting equality, and even speaking out against the Vietnam war.

He was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

In 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his teachings of non-violence and equality. Nine years after King's death, President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, reminds us that we recently lost the beloved leader's wife, Coretta Scott King.

This is the first year that we’ll recognize Martin Luther King Day since the death of Mrs. Coretta Scott King. Mrs. King and I were friends and confidants for many years. She was an incredible woman – graceful and dignified – who showed strength in the face of indignation and tragedy.

Following Dr. King’s assassination, she continued his legacy promoting social and economic justice for all. Mrs. King was determined to make his dream a reality. And we would not be celebrating the legacy of Dr. King today without her contributions.

If you are looking for something productive and meaningful to do on this day off of work or school, Dallas South Blog has a few suggestions, including the 26th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration, sponsored by the City of Dallas, and a sermon preached by Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Area Republicans Vote Against Raising Minimum Wage

It's a little out of sequence, but among the notable bills being debated by Congress this week was passage of a hike in the minimum wage. If you missed it, it might be because this long-overdue Democratic victory was buried behind the controversy over troop surges. The Fort Worth Star Telegram put its announcement in the business section.

Unlike some of the other bills discussed since the start of this session, North Texans voted on this issue along nearly straight party lines.

On a 315-116 roll call Wednesday, the House voted to increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over 26 months.

Voted Yes (in favor of a minimum wage increase)
Chet Edwards
, D-Waco
Eddie Bernice Johnson
, D-Dallas
Kenny Marchant
, R-Coppell (Ed. note: the Star-Telegram article wrongly lists Rep. Marchant as voting against the legislation, while the official record has him voting in favor.)

Voted No (in opposition to a minimum wage increase)
Joe Barton, R-Ennis
Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound
Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall
Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas
Sam Johnson, R-Plano
Pete Sessions, R-Dallas
Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth

The minimum wage has not seen an increase in over nine years. In fact, based on buying power, it is at its lowest in over 50 years. During that same nine years, congress has voted itself $31K in pay increases, three times the yearly wage of someone earning the minimum.

So it may surprise you that your Republican congressmen and women would fail to see the benefit of raising the minimum wage standard. It shouldn't. Republicans not only fail to see the need for a raise, they fail to see the need for a minimum wage at all. Here's the quote from the Texas GOP party platform.

We believe the Minimum Wage Law should be repealed and that wages should be determined by the free market conditions prevalent in each individual market. [page 25, 2006 State Republican Party Platform]

Last year, under pressure from Republicans running in close districts, they voted to couple the minimum wage hike with an $90 billion decrease in the inheritance tax for America's wealthiest families, in what one Democratic congressman called

"the kind of cynical ploy that makes Americans lose faith in their government."

That bill passed the House, with Edwards joining Burgess, Marchant and Sessions in supporting the bill, Johnson, Hensarling and Barton opposed and Granger abstaining. It failed in the Senate.

This year, the rationale was that a minimum wage increase must be coupled, in the same bill, with tax breaks for small businesses.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said "lucky" workers would see their pay rise to $7.25 an hour, but he predicted that many more will have their hours or benefits cut or lose their jobs.

"In America we can either have maximum opportunity or we can have minimum wages. We cannot have both...."

Well, maybe you can. According to a study by a nonpartisan research group...

Some observers contend that because many small businesses are labor intensive and largely employ low-wage workers, they will experience sharp cost increases when the minimum wage is increased, leading them to reduce employment levels. However, this report examined recent state-by-state trends for small businesses employing fewer than 50 workes and found that employment and payrolls in small businesses grew faster in the states with iminimum wages above the federal level than in the remaining states where the $5.15 an hour federal minimum wage prevailed.

This report also found that total job growth was faster in the higher minimum wage states. Faster job growth also occurred in the retail trade sector, the sector of the economy employing the most workes at low wages, in the higher minimum wage states.

The simplest introductory economics prediction that an increase in the minimum wage will result in job loss clearly is not supported by the actual job growth record. Rather, faced with an increase in the minimum wage, small businesses may have benefited from some combination of higher productivity through improved worker retention and savings on recruitment and training. There may also be a "Henry Ford" effect at work: if you pay workers more, they can buy more, boosting the overall economy, especially among small retail businesses.

Here's the roll call vote. To view Congresswoman Johnson's press release on the bill, click here. The bill still needs to pass in the Senate.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

house votes in favor of stem cell research; bush likely to veto (again)

According to Friday's issue of Quick, the Democratic-controlled "House of Representatives passed legislation yesterday to lift President Bush's limits on federal embryonic stem-cell research..." The Republican 109th Congress passed similar legislation last year, prompting President Bush to use his first ever veto stamp to block it from becoming law.

With a 253-174 vote, Congress failed to pass the bill with more than two-thirds support, meaning it will be unlikely that Bush's expected veto on the new legislation could be overridden. For what it's worth, you can contact the White House and pledge your support for stem cell research. Perhaps an overwhelming show of support could convince the president to sign the legislation.

How did the North Texas legislation vote on this important issue? Find your legislator on the list below and make sure to write them a letter of either support or condemnation, depending on how they voted.

Voted Yes (in favor of stem cell research)
Joe Barton, R-Ennis
Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas
Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth

Voted No (in opposition to stem cell research)
Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound
Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall
Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas
Sam Johnson, R-Plano
Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell
Pete Sessions, R-Dallas

Friday, January 12, 2007

Congressman Burgess Votes Against Fiscal Reforms

Remember Congressman Burgess' proclamations in the run-up to the 2006 election?

I am a strong proponent of a balanced federal budget and an advocate for reducing the size of the federal government.

Well, guess who just voted against modest fiscal reforms? Last week, Congressman Burgess voted against rules that would reinstate pay-as-you-go (a policy that a bill cannot be considered if it reduces the surplus or increases the deficit) and identify all the earmarks in a bill along with their sponsors. Of the Texas delegation, 13 Democrats and 2 Republicans (William Thornberry and Ted Poe) voted in favor, and 17 Republicans voted against. The measure passed 280-152.

So let's take another look at that 2006 campaign promise.

The state of the federal deficit and debt is a sore spot for Republicans, because those who consider themselves true conservatives deplore the profligate spending of the last six years. The Bush administration, aided by ousted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, presided over the biggest run-up in government spending in U.S. history.

Does this sound like smaller government to you?
Total government spending grew by 33 percent during Bush’s first term. The federal budget as a share of the economy grew from 18.5 percent of GDP on Clinton’s last day in office to 20.3 percent by the end of Bush’s first term.
The deficit (the difference between revenues and expenditures) went from a $284 billion surplus in 2000 to a $296 billion deficit in 2006. George W. Bush has presided over four of the top five largest deficits in U.S. history. (The fifth largest came under his father's administration.)

The federal debt, the amount borrowed by the government to finance the deficits, increased 62% to a sum larger than all the previous administrative debts combined, a staggering $8.5 trillion dollars. That amounts to $28K for every man, woman and child in the U.S. Interest on the debt is now the fastest growing category of spending in the federal budget. The U.S. now spends as much just to pay interest on the debt -- $105 billion per year -- as it spends on Medicaid, which provides health-care payments for poor and uninsured Americans.

Several things account for this fiscal freefall. Funding for the Iraq war, originally budgeted for $60 billion, now stands at $400 billion and rising.

The use of earmarks to "buy" key votes has been unprecedented. The earmarks included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 amounted to $85 billion in subsidies and tax breaks, including massive subsidies for energy companies, many of whom have since posted windfall profits. The 2005 transporation bill included over 4000 earmarks, pork to prime the pump in key Republicans regions.

But more than any other policy, the extensive use of tax cuts, the majority of which went to the top one percent of earners, contributed to our financial crisis by reducing projected revenues by billions of dollars. The full effect of these policies has yet to be realized.

What role did Burgess play in this financial debacle? Burgess was elected to Congress in 2002. He was not yet serving in Congress when the Iraq authorization for military force passed, but in subsequent votes on appropriations for the war, he failed to demand accountability from either the administration or its contractors for the use of those funds. While lamenting the practice of earmarks, he nevertheless bragged at a town meeting that as long as pork was part of the process, he was not "going to unilateraly disarm." He voted for the energy and transportation bills, even sponsoring an amendment that gives states incentives to toll new roads. He voted repeatedly for tax cuts for the rich, and was one of the key backers behind repeal of the estate tax .

There is one area where spending was reduced. Due to the ballooning of government spending in other areas, Republican budget resolutions sought and received reductions in several domestic programs, such as education and healthcare. In his campaign statements, Burgess indicated he "strongly" supported The Family Budget Protection Act, which would have capped spending on military pensions and benefits and Medicare Part B, among others, amounting to a cut in these programs of over $2 trillion over a ten year period. Thankfully, the bill never became law.

So keep this in mind. When Republicans start talking about smaller government, they actually mean reducing programs aimed at helping middle and lower class citizens in areas such as health care, college costs, and retirement, in order to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest one percent of Americans, and its largest corporations. As a result, the percentage of tax burden for most of us is increasing, while the percentage of taxes paid by America's ruling class and corporations is decreasing.

We are increasingly becoming a nation of haves and have nots, with the highest income inequality among any industrialized nation. The Republican sellout of the middle class helped propel Democrats to power in 2006. The fiscal reforms proposed by the Democrats are a decent start. But no matter how well Democrats respond, we are stuck in a fiscal crisis that will demand tough choices and reduced benefits for all of us. When we're feeling that pain, let's not forget who got us there in the first place.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

flower mound democrats: january book club meeting

The Flower Mound Democrats Book Club will meet on Friday, Jan. 19 to discuss The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois. Obama is widely considered to be a potential candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

The book club will meet a member's house in Flower Mound. For more information, including directions, sign up to join the Flower Mound Democrats Yahoo! Group. Let them know you'd like to join the book club, and you'll get an evite with all of the information you'll need, including a sign-up list for the potluck dinner held before the meeting.

All progressive thinkers in the area are invited and encouraged to become members of the Flower Mound Democrats. We hope to see you there to discuss this inspiring new book!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

nominate the "texas ticket" for koufax awards

This post is lifted almost entirely from Capitol Annex. We echo their call to vote the "Texas Ticket" for the coveted Koufax Awards. Let's make our unique Texan voice heard by pitting our blogs against others in the national arena... we can do it!
Texas' progressive bloggers had a heck of a year in 2006. From TexRoots to exposing scandals like CondoGate, we "crashed the gate" and rocked the (Texas) House, helping Democrats up and down the ballot.

Now, it's our turn for a little recognition. Every year, the Koufax Awards honor work by the best bloggers of "the Left" (hence the award being named after a lefty baseball player, Sandy Kofax).

The Texas Progressive Alliance has, as a group, come up with a "Texas Ticket" that we are asking all of our readers to nominate for the Koufaxes. The "ticket" is below. Blogs with the most votes will make it into the second round of voting and we'd like to see Texas blogs up for the finals in every category of the Koufaxes.

Voting is easy. All you have to do is copy the list below and paste it into the comments section on the Koufax Awards site, which is here .

You can add additional blogs to this list as well, but we do ask, in the hopes of supporting Texas bloggers, that you vote this entire list, especially since all it requires is a "cut & paste."

Best Blog: Off The Kuff (www.offthekuff.com) , Burnt Orange Report (burntorangrereport.com , Texas Kaos (texaskaos.com) , Capitol Annex (capitolannex.com)

Best Blog -- Pro Division: The Agonist (www.theagonist.org)

Best Blog Community: Texas Kaos (texaskaos.com)

Best Writing: Charles Kuffner, Off The Kuff (offthekuff.com)

Best Post: NTL's coverage of the Ft. Worth CWA Protest (http://northtexasliberal.blogspot.com/2006/06/cwa-protest-in-ft-worth.html)

Best Series: Capitol Annex's Coverage Of The Renewal Of The Voting Rights Act (http://capitolannex.com/capitol-annexs-coverage-of-the-voting-rights-amendment-renewal-2006/); Burnt Orange Report's 40/40 Project (http://www.burntorangereport.com/tag.do?subjectId=20); Musings's Coverage Of State Rep. John Davis' $1,500 Boots (& Various ethical problems) (http://muse-musings.blogspot.com/2006/10/khou-exposes-state-rep-john-davis.html)

Best Single Issue Blog: Grits For Breakfast (gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com)

Best Group Blog: Burnt Orange Report (burntorangereport.com)

Most Humorous Blog: People's Republic of Seabrook (intellectualize.org) , McBlogger (mcblogger.com)

Most Humorous Post: McBlogger (http://www.mcblogger.com/archives/2007/01/giant_wax_cock.html, Burnt Orange Report: (http://www.burntorangereport.com/showDiary.do?diaryId=1986 )

Most Deserving of Wider Recognition: McBlogger (McBlogger.com), Musings (muse-musings.blogspot.com)

Best Consonant Level Blog: Capitol Annex (capitolannex.com), McBlogger (mcblogger.com, Musings (muse-musings.blogspot.com) , Bay Area Houston Blog (http://bayareahouston.blogspot.com), Eye On Williamson County (eyeonwilliamson.org)

Best Expert Blog: Grits For Breakfast (gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com) , A Capitol Blog (acapitolblog2.blogspot.com)

Best New Blog: North Texas Liberal (northtexasliberal.blogspot.com), Texas Kaos (texaskaos.com), Musings (muse-musings.blogspot.com)

Best Human Equality Blog: Dos Centavos (doscentavos.blogspot.com)

Best Coverage of State or Local Issues: Burnt Orange Report (burntorangereport.com), Eye On Williamson County (eyeonwilliamson.org), Capitol Annex (capitolannex.com), Off The Kuff (offthekuff.com)

Best Commenter: The Pretzel, Texas Kaos (http://soapblox.net/texaskos/showDiary.do?diaryId=2269)
We at NTL are excited and honored to be a part of this diverse Texas ticket in the "Best New Blog" category. Please consider nominating our blog along with these other greats from the Texas progressive blogosphere.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

craddick victorious in texas speaker race

Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, was re-elected today to the speakership of the Texas House of Representatives in a 121-27 vote.

While initially challenged by Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who claimed to have enough support to defeat the speaker, Craddick sailed to victory after Pitts withdrew from the race. Pitts presumably took his name out of the hat after realizing that, even after hours of fruitless debate, a blind vote would not take place.
"I do not want the members who are for me to have to put in a public record how they voted," said Mr. Pitts, R-Waxahachie. He added: "It's time to heal. It's time to go on with Texas' business. That's what Texans expected." ....

Mr. Pitts, upon withdrawing, warned that change was necessary for the House to heal. "Members, we cannot continue what we have had," he said.

Capitol Annex predicts that Craddick's victory today signals a resounding victory in 2008 for Texas Democrats, because of Craddick's corruption.

The Craddicat will not be able to change his stripes, and will rule as he always has. And, instead of the House flipping in 2010, it will flip in 2008. And, in that flip, more seats will flip than would under a Pitts speakership. Craddick remains a poison even unto his own party. His victory will cost his party 10-12 seats in 2008.

Annatopia at TexasKaos shares the shocking news that Reps. Aaron Pena and Patrick Rose, both Democrats, not only voted for Craddick but seconded his nomination. Rose even went as far as to state that Democrats should have worked better with Craddick. She demands that they, along with the other turncoat Democrats, face primary challenges.

Our final thought: In the end, our representatives were only given the choice of two Republicans. Despite what's being played out on the national stage, the Republicans still hold the majority in the Texas Lege, and this was their leadership race. Could Democrats have possibly stuck together and made a difference in the vote, causing new blood (albeit another Republican) to assume leadership? No one knew as a matter of positivity who would emerge victorious. This scared some, who would rather have seen him gone, into voting for Craddick. Because a blind vote was rejected, Craddick would know exactly who voted against him and punish them accordingly. Does that excuse the Democrats who forsook their own party to openly endorse and praise Craddick? No. But we're just glad it's all over.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Market Street project scheduled for P & Z

After a contentious debate by the town council, the proposal to bring a Market Street grocery store to Flower Mound is scheduled for another review by the Planning and Zoning Committee on Monday, Jan. 8.

We received the following comments from a resident of Flower Mound whose house is located in an affected development.

According to the February 2006, North Central Texas of Office Government report, the highest traffic count is at the intersection of FM1171 & FM2499 at 62,337 counts.

Source: http://www.nctcog.org/trans/data/tcins/cityweb.asp

It states on the Town of Flower Mound website that truck traffic is already an issue on FM1171, and building the Shops at Market Street would only further compound the traffic congestion at the intersection of FM1171 and FM2499.

Does Flower Mound want to be known for grocery store chains or that they are one of the few cities that actually have only three urban forests left in our town? Flower Mound has enough grocery stores. Why not add other retail offices that will not require parking lots that will result in decimating 150-year-old Post Oak trees, cause traffic quagmires or require S.U.P. amendments that will require removing our highly prized trees from the urban forest?

I am not against smart growth but I am against urban sprawl. I am for smart growth that makes sense for both the urban forest and the Flower Mound citizens. Please show your support to keep our neighborhoods from becoming "urban sprawl" and saving our urban forest. Just say "NO" at the January 18th, 2007 Flower Mound Town Council meeting at 2121 Cross Timbers to express your opinion or better yet send an email to


Shannon Summerlin

Not everyone sees the value of an urban forest. In an interview with the News Connection, Michelle Pacifico, a real estate agent with Keller Williams not directly involved with the proposal, offered this unscientific opinion.

“Really, the forest is not doing our town any good,” retorted Ms. Pacifico. “We're not enjoying it. You can't even see it from the road. It is just a bunch of trash and leaves. But if some developer wants to go in and clean it up a little bit, make it a little more prominent for people who shop there ... That sounds like real smart growth to me.”

Because deciduous trees are just so untidy. Anyway, back at the News Connection, Stephen Webster reports that the developer, J. C. Burciaga, is facing deadlines that make the next 30 days critical to the future of his proposed development.

Due to the council’s inaction, he has been forced to request loan extensions for the next 30 days. If the matter remains unsettled at the end of that period, barring some world-class negotiating, JCB Unlimited will no longer be part of the project.

The Market Street plan was previously reviewed by P&Z, and rejected by a vote of 3-4. The extensive minutes from this meeting are available online. The Flower Mound Town Council will reconsider the issue at its Jan. 18 meeting.