Thursday, February 21, 2008

Clinton and Obama Face Off in Austin Debate Tonight

The moment we've been waiting for has arrived. Let's get ready to rumble.

The candidates have descended upon Texas. Sen. Hillary Clinton visited South Texas yesterday while Sen. Barack Obama held a rally in Dallas. We reported that Chelsea Clinton, Hillary's daughter, attended town hall style meetings at several college campuses around North Texas.

But now it's time for the real showdown: Hillary and Barack are headed to Austin to face off in the first presidential debate to be held in Texas in over a million years. (Seriously, they're paying attention to us. They love us. Hopefully it lasts!)

Texas voters, don't forget to tune in your television sets to see the candidates square off on the issues that are most important to us. The debate will be broadcast on both CNN and Univision at 7 p.m. Texas time. And after you watch the debate tonight, make some time tomorrow to vote early.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chelsea Clinton Visits UNT Tomorrow

Omar Farid, Vice President of the College Democrats of North Texas just sent word that Chelsea Clinton will be on the campus of UNT tomorrow.

What: Chelsea Clinton Question & Answer Session

When: Wednesday, February 20, 3:30 PM

Where: University of North Texas Union Courtyard

Hosted by: College Democrats of North Texas

Click here for directions.

UPDATE: Chelsea will also be visiting other campuses in the DFW area tomorrow.

10:00 am CST
UT Dallas
Lower Level, Student Union
800 W Campbell Road
Richardson, TX 75080

12:15 p.m. CST
UT Arlington
Palo Duro lounge, E. H. Hereford university center
300 W. 1st street
Arlington, TX 76019

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dispirited Republicans Retiring from Congress

The number of Republicans in Congress who have announced that they are retiring or seeking other offices may reach a record this year. After becoming a minority in the last congressional elections, the GOP has struggled to find its message. Fundraising is lagging the Democrats, and even party insiders admit that the party once known for its incredible message unity and discipline is in disarray.

[Republican consultant David] Johnson said Republicans "haven't adapted to life in the minority" and that the party lacked a cohesive strategy to rebound. He gave credit to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who offers a very different public image from that of Newt Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman who led the House after Republicans won control in 1994. That's the last time the parties traded control.

"Part of the Republican problem right now that I see as a strategist is our communications effort," Johnson said. "We don't have any good communicators. We don't seem to stay on message. We come across as grumpy old men. I hate to say it, but that's part of the problem. We're not telegenic on TV. We're going against Nancy Pelosi, who could be damaged but — I have to take my hat off to her — she's done an excellent job with the media. Nothing seems to stick on her like everything stuck on Newt Gingrich."

Speaking of grumpy old men, it doesn't sound like the Republicans are banking on McCain having any coattails. Although McCain is considered a moderate, a sizable majority of the retiring GOP, at least ten seats, belong to the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership. The RMSP states that its mission is: promote thoughtful leadership in the Republican Party, and to partner with individuals, organizations and institutions that share centrist values.

The Partnership is comprised of party members and public officials who are fiscally conservative deficit hawks. The Partnership is working to Grow Our Party through a pragmatic approach to governing that reaches out to a broad base of Americans who share the Republican ideals of fiscal responsibility and limited government......

Well, you can certainly see why they're anxious to get outa town. Try spinning Bush's last 7 years in light of those goals.

For a list of the congressmen retiring or running for other offices, click here. No Texans are on this list.

Update: Judith at Castle Hills Democrats has a recent post that does a good job summarizing the trouble Republicans have defending their legislative accomplishments over the last few years. Yes, this is Bush's legacy, but he couldn't have succeeded without a Republican Congress marching lock step with him on every bad policy decision. We are a poorer nation now on many levels than we were when George bullied his way to the White House. The question is: Are we any wiser?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why Character Matters in Our Next President

In the excitement over the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, I have to keep reminding myself not to get too caught up in the tabloid-style coverage. Sometimes it's nigh impossible to avoid, if only because I feel a strong urge to respond to some of the more blatant hype.

And I will continue to insist that "character" is overrated as a qualification for our highest office, and that we should spend more time considering policy. Not because character doesn't matter, because character is critical to determining how a leader will respond to crisis. Will he or she reach deep within themselves and find the courage and grace to inspire us to greatness or blink once or twice and continue to read "My Pet Goat?"

No, mostly I object because what goes as an analysis of character is so subject to spin that unless a voters are paying close attention, I don't think they have a clue about a candidate's character. And in a candidate's emphasis on issues, much is revealed about their character, just as a novelist writing a book can't help but reveal himself on the printed page.

All of which is a long wind-up to say that I'm about to contradict myself and advocate that voters consider character in their choice for our next president.

The following excerpt is from Bill Becker, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, in an editorial on Climate Progress discussing the difference between transactional and transformative change.
At the transactional level, we need new technologies, new policies to spawn and deploy them, and fundamental changes in the type of energy we use and where we get it. But we also need to transform our understanding and behaviors in regard to the “higher order” issues of how we think about the human place in the biosphere, our responsibility to and interdependence with the atmospheric commons and with other species, and our obligation to one another, including not only future Americans but also the billions of people living today in other parts of the world who are stuck hopelessly at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Part of the transformation we Americans must undergo is to understand intrinsically that despite our prosperity and geographic isolation, our security is connected to the well being of all other people in all other places......

The urgent need for both types of change means we must look for the candidates who can not only transact the nation’s business but transform it, a person with sufficient charisma, intellect and moral compass to motivate, inspire and unify us so that we break through to new policies and priorities, and to a new level of ethics, a new behavior, a new definition of progress and prosperity, and a new vision for the national and global economies. We need someone who will get us excited about this journey and infused with the necessary energy and urgency......

Some suffering is unavoidable because we have been unwilling for so long to admit the liabilities of fossil fuels and climate change. The question now is much more suffering we will bring upon ourselves. We would to well to select leaders from this point forward who guide us to that sweet spot between hopelessness and happy talk — that place at which we fully grasp the gravity of our challenges but still believe we can solve them.
We live in interesting times, and the 44th President of the United States will be faced with critical challenges and choices like none other in our history. Let's choose wisely.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Christmas Mountains Will Not Be Sold to Private Bidders

Karen Brooks at the Dallas Morning News informs us that the School Land Board met today and rejected private bids for the Christmas Mountains. That decision paves the way for the transfer of the land to the National Parks Service.

Mike and Ramona Craddock, the private bidders, said they were disappointed but not surprised by the decision. They had offered $750,000 for the land, they said, and simply planned to hire a biologist to direct them on how best to preserve the land before opening it to the public for no profit.

Another bidder had sought to turn the 9,296 acres into a for-profit hunting ranch, among other uses.

There was no indication whether the second bidder referred to John Poindexter, but his name was frequently mentioned as one of the bids under consideration.

The board did not consider the NPS proposal at today's meeting, because it was submitted after the deadline for posting to the agenda. However, the decision to reject the private bids was supported by Patterson.
The unanimous decision by the three-member panel, which is lead by General Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, was a victory for advocates who had sought to keep the land next to the Big Bend National Park in public hands. The National Park Service is the only agency so far to propose a plan for managing the land. No more private bids will probably be considered, Mr. Patterson said.
Does this mean Patterson has capitulated? Maybe not.
Mr. Patterson also said he would open the land immediately to visitors and start working with state officials to open the range to dove and quail hunters.
So where does this leave us and what happens next?

The next step for the board is to either accept the NPS proposal, re-open the bidding process, or reject the NPS proposal and keep the land. They also must decide whether to donate the land to the agency or sell it. A lawyer for the board said the board would have to gain some proceeds from the land, since it belongs to a trust that funds public education.

Board members David Hermann and Todd Barth both said they would prefer the land stay in public hands, and hinted that they want it to be sold to the parks agency.

So there are still decisions that need to be made, and there is still the potential for controversy. Nonetheless, rolling back this egregious example of good ole boy cronyism sets the stage for preserving this magnificient piece of land in a manner consistent with the Conservation Fund's original intent. For that we are truly grateful that the land board yielded to its better angels.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Cornyn Weighs in on Bush's Budget Proposal

Cornyn issued a statement regarding the release of Bush's fiscal year 2009 budget proposal that said.....very little. But read this statement.

“Now that the President has proposed his annual budget blueprint, the hard work begins in Congress to make sure we fund our priorities while holding the line on spending. The American people are increasingly tired of runaway government spending.

Tired? No argument there.

Now read this statement.

“Like every hard-working American family, the federal government has to live within a budget as well. As a member of the Budget Committee, I’ll do all I can to ensure Congress sets the necessary funding levels for critical areas such as national defense and border security. These are non-negotiable items that we cannot compromise on. “

Do you see the contradiction here? The only programs in the budget that aren't getting frozen (technically a cut, since there is no adjustment for inflation) or being reduced from last year are defense and homeland security. But Cornyn tells us that funding for those programs is non-negotiable.

President Bush unveiled a $3.1 trillion budget on Monday that supports sizable increases in military spending to fight the war on terrorism and protects his signature tax cuts.

The spending proposal, which shows the government spending $3 trillion in a 12-month period for the first time in history, squeezes most of government outside of national security, and also seeks $196 billion in savings over the next five years in the government's giant health care programs -- Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor.

Even with those savings, Bush projects that the deficits, which had been declining, will soar to near-record levels, hitting $410 billion this year and $407 billion in 2009. The all-time high deficit in dollar terms was $413 billion in 2004.

Yes, we are tired of runaway government spending. Tired of an endless war that drains our coffers and burdens future generations with unprecedented debt. Tired of worrying about a future without the social safety nets that we earned through a lifetime of hard work. And most of all, we're tired of politicians who think we can't see through the hypocrisy of their self-serving spin to know when we're being played.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Question of Priorities

Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1967

Reading over Bush's latest budget proposal, I was reminded of the historic speech the Reverend gave at Riverside Church on the Vietnam war. King understood only too well that a nation that squandered its treasure on pursuit of empire could never afford to live up to its ideals of equal opportunity. And so he fought a battle on three fronts: one for civil rights, one for economic justice and another for peace.

Bush's latest budget differs little from his previous ones. The shell game over funding for this administration's overall defense programs continues, so a true accounting is probably not possible, but defense spending is up.
The Bush budget to be submitted Monday would cut the budget for the Health and Human Services Department by $2 billion, or 3 percent. By contrast, the Pentagon would get a $35 billion increase to $515 billion for core programs, with war costs additional [emphasis added.]
When conservatives say "starve the beast," they are talking about "entitlements" like healthcare for children, not toys for the military.

In terms of fiscal priorities, this administration has been very consistent, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that Bush is proposing cuts for programs that help keep the poor and nearly poor afloat just at a time when a looming recession predicts those programs would be most needed.

Democrats can take no solace in the fact that this version of the budget won't see the light of day, because regardless of how strenuously they fight to restore targeted cuts for domestic programs, their options are limited. Seven years of uncontrolled spending on a needless war coupled with tax cuts for the wealthy have left our country facing bankruptcy.

Dr. King's haunting and prophetic words ring as true about our current military endeavors as they did about Vietnam. It's time to choose: Do we continue on the road to endless war and occupation or do we begin to rebuild our own country? Here's a primer on the crisis we face, what it will mean to future generations and what we need to do to fix it.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Christmas Mountains Deal Imminent

According to Environment Texas, a decision on the fate of the Christmas Mountains is due next Tuesday. The group sent an email asking for signatures urging Texas School Land Board to accept the National Park Service’s offer to purchase the Christmas Mountains and add it to Big Bend National Park.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, the deal to be announced next week is likely to give conservation advocates their wish.

On Friday, the General Land Office, which controls the land and had put it on the auction block, released a proposal by the National Park Service to take over the land, which is adjacent to Big Bend. Patterson has repeatedly said that he opposes such a move because the national parks don't allow hunting.

The land office had received private bids last year worth $60 an acre that would have allowed hunting, although it's not clear how much public access would have been allowed by the private owners.

The NPS proposal says that the Christmas Mountains tract would be opened for day and overnight hiking. An old access route to an antenna on a 5,700-foot peak would be a "primary destination for remarkable vistas" for hikers and horseback riders. Should it be incorporated into the vast Big Bend National Park, the Christmas Mountains tract would amount to about one percent of the total acreage of the park.

The proposal pays special attention to hunting, which it says would not be allowed on the land. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a staunch supporter of gun rights, had said last year that he wanted hunting allowed on the land. But the National Park Service proposal says hunting access is difficult and that the deer population is low.

If this announcement signals an end to the wrangling over the Christmas Mountains, and places the land in the public realm as was the original intent, this is great news.

The Christmas Mountains is not the only tract of private land that the National Park Service would like to add to Big Bend. Nationwide, the NPS lists over 11,000 separate tracts comprising 1.8 million acres that it has designated for acquisition.

Unfortunately, the park service's budget for purchases is down from a high of $139 million in 1999 to $24 million in last year's budget. To put that in perspective, $24 million is about two hours funding for the Iraq war, or a little above the annual pay of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson.