Sunday, April 30, 2006

texas dems propose gas tax holiday

With gas prices sitting around $3 in the Dallas area, North Texans are really feeling their pocketbooks empty directly into their gas tanks. Now, Texas Democrats in the Lege down in Austin are proposing a gas tax holiday, which would alleviate the state tax on gasoline for a ninety-day period. Combined with a similar measure circulating the U.S. Congress, Texans could see a decrease in gas prices of about thirty-eight cents for a period of at least two months.

As BOR reports, Governor Perry's team of spokespeople are calling the Democrats hypocritical for supporting this measure:
"With regards to this specific issue, I would have to question whether the Democrats are talking out of both ends of their mouths," Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said.

"Democrats say they want to better education, but this would take away from it. Twenty-five percent of gas tax is dedicated to education every year, and that could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars."

In actuality, it's Ms. Walt that's "talking out of both sides of [her mouth]." Did she forget Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn's surprise announcement of an $8.2 billion dollar surplus? If Perry's camp had taken the time to read HB 120 they would have noticed that the bill accounts for lost revenue.

The plan may have its flaws, but it's definitely better than anything the Republicans are coming up with. Unfortunately for the neo-cons, we can't drill our way out of this problem. The gas tax holiday is yet another instance of Democrats providing a clear alternative to the status quo of Republican-led government and attempting to help Texans at a level they can truly appreciate. No offense to supporters of the prayer plan, but something tells me that the Democrats' proposal is more likely to help consumers at the pump.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

DNC Canvassing - My Thoughts

It was a great day! I think about when we first came together in 2004 to campaign for John Kerry. We have gone from not only having Democrats and other progressives join us to promote Democratic ideas and candidates, but today showed how we have grown in our outreach, elevated ourselves to, in the words of Bradley, progressive grassroots canvassing. Having gotten that first canvassing experience behind us- I'd say we are now professionals and can be leaders to those who will join us in the future. We now have a base from which to brainstorm on ways to make this great experience even greater. We can continue going out door to door and inviting others to join us in taking back our country from George Bush and those Republicans who could come after George, if we are not diligent and committed. Our time is now and today we proved that we are up to the challenge. It was a great experience. We made new friends. We were able to let those "lonely" Democrats and independents out there in Texas Land know that they are not alone and we need their help. Everyone used what talents they had to make a contribution today- from verbally sharing information, to putting together the flyers (that was me). No job is too small when we work together. Thanks again and let's keep it going.

stories from a dnc canvass

All four of the current contributors to the NTL blog participated in today's DNC Neighbor-to-Neighbor Organizing Day, one of the many events planned to implement Howard Dean's Fifty State Strategy. We joined members of the Flower Mound Democrats at a local restaurant and exchanged literature and ideas before heading off in pairs to different precincts around the area. We had block-walkers from Flower Mound, Lewisville, Double Oak, Highland Village, and Grapevine; all of us were incredibly enthusiastic and ready to show other members of the community that the Democrats have an agenda and that it is a clear alternative to the Republicans. Some of us used voter rolls to target Democratic households in an effort to get the base fired up, while others went from door to door spreading information on the Democratic plan for America and handing out literature about our great local candidates, such as Tim Barnwell, the Democratic challenger for Rep. Burgess. We talked to many registered voters that were ready for a change and were excited to see action from the Democrats in what is largely considered a conservative bastion.

I'm sure the other NTL contributors will share their canvassing experiences on the blog in the coming days, so keep an eye out for our stories from a DNC Canvass. It was the first time that most of us had participated in this sort of event, but we learned a lot and are fired up and ready to do it again. We're ready to bring the Democrats out of the woodwork. We're already planning on follow-up mailing materials, etc.

Also, if you participated in another similar event sponsored by a different area group such as the Dallas County Democrats or the Denton County Democrats or one of the local offshoots in the suburbs, please share your experiences through the comment feature here at the blog! Together we can really make a difference in North Texas through a progressive grassroots movement.

Friday, April 28, 2006

texas reps vote to "sell out" the internet

Internet users in Texas should be ashamed of their delegates to the U.S. Congress. Texan members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Michael Burgess (R) of Flower Mound, Rep. Joe Barton (R) of Ennis, Rep. Ralph Hall (R) of Rockwall, Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D) of San Antonio, and Rep. Gene Green (D) of San Antonio all voted to "sell out the Internet" by rejecting the Markey Amendment, which would protect Net Neutrality.

Texans, please contact your representative in D.C. and let them now that you are disappointed in his vote that would favor the communications companies over his constituents. Learn more about how Net Neutrality affects you from a previous post at NTL.

It's a sad day when Texas Democrats will vote against the will of the people. The Democrats cannot claim to be a populist party if they vote like corporate-minded Republicans. Please take the time to send an email to Rep. Green and Rep. Gonzalez, letting them know that they have let us all down as Texas Democrats. (This vote is expected of former Democrat Rep. Ralph Hall, who became a Republican in 2004 when he formally endorsed President Bush's re-election campaign.)

Rep. Joe Barton, an Ennis Republican, is one of the co-sponsors of this bill and his mind probably can't be changed (for fear he'd be casted as North Texas's very own flip-flopper), but if enough constituents in CD 26 express their outrage concerning Rep. Michael Burgess's anti-consumer and anti-small business vote, it's possible that he'll change his mind. Democrat Tim Barnwell, who will challenge Rep. Burgess for his seat in November, has come out in favor of Net Neutrality.

blogosphere roundup - april 23-28

Let's take a look at some of the best blogs of the week, both on a local and national level.
  1. Capitol Annex reports that Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was arrested while protesting the genocide in Darfur at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Rep. Jackson Lee is a Democrat representing the Houston area in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  2. The College Democrats of North Texas detail the 2006 Texas Young Democrats Convention, during which members met statewide candidates such as Radnofsky and Bell.
  3. Burnt Orange Report tells us everything we need to know about the new $1 cigarette tax, including Rep. Chisum's failed amendment that would lower said tax to a mere 65 cents. In the Pink Texas also has a great post on this subject.
  4. Over at The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington blogs about "fearlessness, courage," and the controversial new 9/11 movie, United 93.
  5. Also reported by The Huffington Post, right-wing ideologue Rush Limbaugh has been arrested on drug charges and released on bail. Pink Dome goes in depth on the story.
  6. In the Pink Texas comments on Fox News commentator Tony Snow succeeding Scott McClellan as White House Press Secretary.
  7. Pink Dome has an open thread soliciting freshman legislators that could be candidates for the far-away 2010 gubernatorial showdown.
  8. TexasKos, a local spinoff of the ever-popular DailyKos, made its big launch on Monday. Be sure to register for a free membership over there to stay up to date on progressive politics in Texas.
  9. MyDD reminds us that the historic fifty-state canvass, initiated by Howard Dean and the DNC, takes place tomorrow. There are several local events coinciding with this initiative, including canvasses in Dallas, Denton, Frisco, Irving, and the Flower Mound/Lewisville area. For a full list of Dallas area block-walks, visit the DNC listing.
  10. South Texas Chisme reports on the gasoline shortage in the Dallas and Houston metropolitan areas.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Congress Eyes New Taxes on Energy

The robber barons of the energy industry may soon be getting a surprise visit from the IRS. In response to widespread disgust over energy profits, the Senate is considering an audit of the tax records of fifteen top oil and energy companies. The last time the Senate chose to do this was for another li'l Texas start-up by the name of Enron.
In their request, the senators noted not only the industry profits, but "an extremely lucrative retirement plan by one oil and gas industry executive, benefits which may have been subsidized in part by the taxpayers."
Now who do you suppose that could be? Can't you just see ConocoPhillips' James Mulva giving Exxon Mobil's Lee Raymond the look and saying, "See what you did? Now you've ruined it for everyone!" On second thought it's more likely he's thrilled. Raymond's excesses have set a new benchmark for the golden parachute that other CEO's can someday hope to emulate.

But this part can't make them too happy:
House-Senate conference, negotiating a large tax bill, is considering a provision that would change accounting rules for oil inventories and require the five biggest oil companies to pay $4.3 billion more in taxes. The measure passed the Senate but was viewed as essentially dead this week because of opposition from House GOP lawmakers. The White House opposed the idea, too, when it surfaced in November and threatened to veto the entire bill because of it. Grassley said Wednesday that high fuel prices revived the inventory tax plan and it "is still being negotiated." His House counterpart in the negotiations, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif., said the issue has not been decided. He denied he had rejected it. Additionally, there is broad bipartisan support for scuttling other breaks given to oil companies only eight months ago when President Bush signed an energy bill.
It's amazing what Presidential and congressional approval ratings in the low 30's and 20's respectively, not to mention an upcoming election, can do to bring out the prairie populism, isn't it?

Bush Relaxes Air Quality Standards

August, 2003- The Bush administration on Wednesday exempted thousands of older power plants, refineries and factories from having to install costly clean air controls when they modernize with new equipment that improves efficiency but increases pollution.
In a major new revision to its air pollution rules, the Environmental Protection Agency will allow up to 20 percent of the costs of replacing each plant's production system to be considered "routine maintenance" that doesn't require costly antipollution controls, according to agency documents obtained by The Associated Press.

April 2006- The President Is Directing EPA Administrator Steve Johnson To Use All His Available Authority To Grant Waivers That Would Relieve Critical Fuel Supply Shortages - As He Did After Last Year's Hurricanes. Under Federal air quality laws, some areas of the country are required to use a fuel blend called reformulated gasoline. This year, we are undergoing a rapid transition in the primary ingredient in reformulated gas - from MTBE to ethanol. State and local officials in the Northeast and in Texas worry that supplies could run low. To ensure that there are not needless restrictions to get gasoline to the pump, the EPA should be able to meet the request of officials seeking to waive local fuel requirements on a temporary basis. If Administrator Johnson finds he needs more authority to relieve the problem, the Administration will work with Congress to obtain the authority he needs.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

save the internet - support net neutrality

The Internet as we know it is in danger. Congress may pass a radical new law that would give giant corporations control over the Internet. Communications giants like Verizon and AT&T are lobbying Congress in an attempt to have Network Neutrality gutted and hung to dry -- this would allow them to purposively slow down the loading rate of certain sites, causing a bidding war between websites in an attempt to ensure a fast download rate for their viewers. For instance, Amazon and Barnes & Noble would be forced to enter a bidding war, otherwise networks like Verizon could slow down the rate at which users could load a certain site. If the website owners don't pay up to the big corporations, they risk a slow processing time for their viewers. This is a huge issue that affects every single Internet user. You can learn more about the threat here.

It is imperative that we tell Congress to vote in favor of Network Neutrality. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce will vote this week on the issue; three members of Congress that represent North Texas sit on this committee and will have a say. If you are represented by Rep. Ralph Hall of the 4th Congressional District or Rep. Michael Burgess of the 26th Congressional District, please contact your Representatives and let them know where you stand. The third North Texas, a Republican from the 6th District, is the sponsor of the bill. Joe Barton represents parts of Ellis County and Tarrant County. We probably can't change his mind, but we can certainly flood his mailbox with angry letters. Hall and Burgess are both Republicans, but this should not be a partisan issue. It will affect all of us negatively, Republican or Democrat. It is certainly plausible that Hall and Burgess can be persuaded to vote for the preservation of Net Neutrality.

Please consider joining the diverse coalition to save the Internet: MoveOn PAC, Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist), Google executive Vint Cerf, the American Library Association, the Gun Owners of America, Common Cause, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Religious Broadcasters, and the Consumer Federation of America are all teaming up to support Network Neutrality. Visit the coalition website to Save the Internet right now and find out how you can help the cause.

Flower Mound Democrats - April 29 Canvass

We have approximately ten individuals who have registered online. However, we also have an additional four commitments, which makes fourteen participants so far. Although this is our first canvassing as a group, after this event we will all be experts. At our May meeting, it will be a good time to critique how things went, what we should do differently and what things we should continue to do when canvassing. See you all on Saturday. Thanks.
DNC Neighbor-to-Neighbor Canvass
Saturday, April 29 at 11:00 AM
Hosted by: Jo Smith and the Flower Mound Democrats
Meeting Location: Landmark Grill in Lewisville
1297 Justin Rd. Lewisville, TX 75077

For more information on what Howard Dean's Neighbor-to-Neighbor Organizing Day is all about, check out our previous blog post here.

Monday, April 24, 2006

temporary fix passes the lege

The Dallas Morning News reports that HB 1 and HB 2 have passed, allowing a temporary fix by lowering property taxes by seventeen cents and using the profits from any other bills passed to help buy down the property taxes. The passage of these bills will comply with the minimum requirements of the Texas Supreme Court ruling that held the current property tax and school finance system unconstitutional. Still to be seen is whether or not Perry's controversial business tax will pass the Republican-led House.

EDIT: According to In the Pink Texas, HB 3 has passed 80-69.

Unfortunately (as we are obviously stationed in the Dallas area) none of our bloggers were able to make it down to Austin for the special session. Over the past few days, we have provided you with some information about what the special session is and what it means. If you would like to read live blogs from the floor of the Texas State House, please visit Pink Dome and Capitol Annex, both top-notch blogs that have provided excellent coverage of the special session.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Interim Chair of Texas Democratic Party Elected

Boyd Richie, a resident of Graham, Texas, just north of Fort Worth, has been named interim chair of the Texas Democratic Party. Richie will replace Charles Soechting, who is resigning early. Richie was the only nominee, although Charles Urbina Jones withdrew his name, citing the fact that he was running for the permanent position in June. The appointment is not without some controversy, as Richie is also running for permanent chair. The concern is whether holding the interim position confers an advantage in the race, or implies endorsement. The other candidates are Glen Maxey and Lakesha Rogers. The vote for chair will take place at the state convention in Fort Worth in June.

Friday, April 21, 2006

and the special session continues

The good news is that James Leininger has decided not to disrupt this pivotal special session with school voucher propaganda:

San Antonio multimillionaire and school voucher supporter James Leininger said Friday he won't push Gov. Rick Perry and legislative leaders to include a voucher program in the special session on school finance.

Leininger, who has spent some of his personal fortune into a private scholarship program in San Antonio, said he doesn't want a fight over using taxpayer money for vouchers to derail the special session.

Less exciting is the fact that professional sports team lobbyists are exerting their influence, attempting to exempt their broadcast revenue from the business tax proposed in Perry's plan. In a Dallas Morning News online poll, over 90% of voters felt that broadcast revenue should not be exempt from the new business tax.
Lt. Governor Dewhurst has launched an advertising blitz targeting Dallas, Houston, and Austin in support of the Senate's education plan, saying that he wants Texas constituents to know what their legislators are voting on. The governor is also planning a $6 million media campaign focusing on tax reform. Perry aides say they are not mad about Dewhurst's promotional campaign, but they have a different emphasis when it comes to the special session.

Here's to the hope that the Lege will get something accomplished in the twenty-something days they have left. They've got a lot of distractions, but they've also got a deadline. The Texas Supreme Court has given the Texas Legislature a deadline of June 1 to do something about the tax system as it concerns school finance.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Westboro Baptist Church

Fred Phelps is Pat Robertson run amok.

The legislation introduced this week at the Texas legislative special session by Republican State Senator Robert Duncan would make it a misdemeanor to protest at funerals. The sole reason for this piece of legislation is one Reverend Fred Phelps, minister of the incestuous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. He's on a one-way mission to save us from our misguided tolerance.

Mr. Phelps' recent headlines revolve around his protest at the funeral services of American soldiers killed in Iraq. He believes that these soldiers are dying because of America's tolerance for gays (although he would use a different word to describe them).

Although the condemnation of Mr. Phelps is universal, there is some concern that the proposed law would violate First Amendment rights. But the legislation already has the support of a Casa County Judge who witnessed a protest. Said Judge Bill Sava,
"I can't understand how organizations that are so venom-filled are allowed to demonstrate and disrupt a time when families should be afforded dignity and privacy," Sava said. "I think that the free speech that should be honored in those circumstances is the freedom of the family to express their grief."
And if you're confused about why American soldiers especially are the target of Mr. Phelps' virulent tirades, chew on this: The Westboro Baptist Church also picketed the funeral of Mister Rogers. Yes, PBS' "beautiful day in the nieghborhood" Mister Rogers. Admittedly, Mr. Rogers never mentioned homosexuality specifically, but all that feel-good talk about self-esteem and learning to accept people -- not to mention that whole weird thing with the cardigan -- and well, you know where it all leads.

Of course, there could be a more mundane purpose behind this. These folks may be less fundamentally insane (no pun intended) and more like grifters. It seems that their protests are designed to provoke, and when it gets physical, they file a civil lawsuit for hefty sums. Then they argue their own case in court. They all have law degrees.

As for that legislation,
only issues included by the governor in a proclamation calling a 30-day special session can be considered by the Legislature. The proclamation guiding the session that began Monday limits senators and representatives to specific tax policies and education appropriations, so Duncan's bill cannot receive a floor vote unless the proclamation is changed.
Several legislators are hoping that after the school funding issues are resolved, Gov. Perry will allow just that.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

special sessions can be fun

Yesterday, the two houses of the Texas State Legislature kicked off one of their famous thirty-day special sessions. Since the Texas Constitution only requires our lawmakers to meet once every two years, the governor has to call special sessions to get things done. Unfortunately, because this is Texas, the Lege still can't get anything done. Ever. As Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst called the Senate to order, his gavel broke. He remarked, "I hope that's not a reflection on the session." Inevitably, it will be.

Besides Governor Rick Perry's "tax relief" proposals, some of the interesting bills and resolutions introduced so far include:
  • A pay raise for school employees by up to $2,000, and more funding for high schools to promote graduation rates; introduced by Sen. Florence Shapiro, a Republican from Plano.
  • A law that would make it a misdemeanor to disrupt funerals, in response to the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas (operated by evangelist/freak Fred Phelps) and their vociferous anti-gay protests at funerals of fallen soldiers; introduced by Sen. Robert Duncan, a Republican from Lubbock.
  • A resolution to honor Karl Rove "as an expression of high regard by the Texas House of Representatives" for his supposed service to Texas and the country; introduced by Rep. Tony Goolsby, a Republican from Dallas.
  • Resolutions to replace Rep. Carl Isett, a Lubbock Republican, and Rep. Frank Corte Jr., a San Antonio Republican, with their wives, as they are both serving currently in Iraq; introduced by Rep. Harvey Hildebran, a Republican from Kerrville, and Rep. Delwin Jones, a Republican from Lubbock.
In other interesting news, Sen. Royce West, a Democrat from Dallas, was sworn in as President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, making him second in line for gubernatorial succession. If both Perry and Dewhurst are out of the state, West will act as governor. Also, gubernatorial hopeful and State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn made an unexpected announcement of more than double the expected budget surplus: $8.2 billion. Strayhorn's suprise announcement leads us nicely into a short discussion of Perry's tax plan. The "tax relief" legislation has been broken down into five pieces of legislation introduced by several different Republicans in the Lege.
  1. Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, Rep. Rob Eissler of the Woodlands, and Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas introduced HB 1, a bill considering tax relief by reducing school district property tax rates by seventeen cents.
  2. Rep. Jim Pitts of Waxahachie introduced HB 2, a bill that would send revenue from the five separate tax bills to help buy down property taxes.
  3. Rep. Jim Keffer of Eastland, Rep. John Otto of Dayton, and Rep. Vilma Luna of Corpus Christi introduced HB 3, a bill that would revise (read: increase) franchise tax provisions.
  4. Rep. David Swinford of Amarillo introduced HB 4, a bill that would modify (read: increase) tax on the use and sale of motor vehicles.
  5. Rep. Peggy Hamric of Houston introduced HB 5, a bill that would modify (read: increase) taxes on tobacco products such as cigarettes.
Perry has called the special session primarily to pass his tax intiatives because of a recent Texas Supreme Court ruling that made the current school finance system (Robin Hood) illegal by holding it unconstitutional. The Lege has a deadline of June 1 to pass school finance reform. Perry's plan would trade higher taxes on smokers and business-owners for lower property taxes. It was partially devised by former Comptroller John Sharp, a Democrat.

Strayhorn's "extraordinary" announcement of a surplus of $8.2 billion dollars may prove an impediment to Perry's tax legislation getting passed. As noted by Lt. Governor Dewhurst, the Republicans want "to return as much of the surplus to the taxpayers [as possible] because it's taxpayers' money." Dewhurst has commented on the heavy support of Perry's plan but has stopped short of formally endorsing it. Speculators say that many House members would prefer not to vote on a major tax bill this year, instead taking a temporary approach to fulfilling the Supreme Court's mandate.

Rep. Jim Dunnam, a Waco Democrat and the leader of the House Democratic Caucus, urged careful spending of the projected surplus. "We can do both, have meaningful property tax relief and provide more money for schools," he said.

Stay tuned. It looks as if this special session, which must adjourn by May 16, could get interesting. Who says special sessions aren't fun?

white house hustle

White House Press Secretary (and son of Texas gubernatorial hopeful Carole Keeton Strayhorn) Scott McClellan has announced his resignation from the post. McClellan has served as Press Secretary since the resignation of his predecessor, Ari Fleischer, in July 2003. Bush complimented McClellan's "class, integrity" and gestured that it would be "hard to replace Scott."

In the same vein, a senior administration official has announced that infamous advisor Karl Rove will no longer oversee policy but will move to a senior advisor post where he will be in charge of "long-term strategic planning." The deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Joel Kaplan, will take Rove's place in policy development.

These personnel changes could be those warned about by the new White House Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten. After Andrew Card's resignation and Bolten took the position, he promised to "refresh and re-energize" the Bush administration and issued an ultimatum for administration officials: if you want to go, leave now.

A HuffPo commenter from New Hampshire asks that we get the former Iraqi Minister of Information for McClellan's replacement, because "at least [Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf] was entertaining during his obvious lies." More realistically, perhaps the Bush administration will actually find a White House Press Secretary that can lie to the media without squirming.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

may book club meeting

The Flower Mound Democrats Book Club will meet May 19 to discuss Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga. Armstrong and Zuniga are popular political bloggers; Armstrong is considered to be the "founder of the blogosphere" and Zuniga created the dynamite liberal blog DailyKos.

Book Club will meet at fellow NTL blogger Jennifer's house. For directions and additional information, join the Flower Mound Democrats Yahoo! Group or email Jennifer at Please join us for food, drinks, and lively political discussion.

(Please note that the book club will no longer meet at the end of April. Please change your calendars to reflect a May 19 meeting.)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

All in a Day's Work

Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. Unless, of course, you're Lee Raymond, the Irving, Texas CEO of Exxon Mobil. Mr. Raymond is leaving Exxon and his golden parachute is worth $400 million. From 1993-2005, Mr. Raymond made $686 million, which amounts to a total of $144, 573 each and every day.

Raymond, you will recall, was one of the oil executives who may or may not have conferred with Vice President Dick Cheney on his 2001 Energy Task Force. He denied it before Congress, testimony which the Republican leadership made sure was not under oath. That same congress (whose members earn an average annual salary of $165,200) also scoffed at the concept of a windfall tax on Exxon Mobil's $36 billion profit (a profit, mind you, greater than the GDP of more than half the world's nations.) Of course, you can bet the Republican Party, and to a lesser extent the Democratic Party, too, have seen a bit of that largesse. But what's a million here or there when you have the Bush-Cheney cabal to make your dreams reality? The energy bill of 2005 was such a corporate give-away, critics have deemed it the "No Oilman Left Behind Act." That's what the board of Exxon no doubt would consider a good investment.

As far as oil dependency, Raymond has some advice for America. Better get used to it. Global climate change? Raymond is from the Ronald Reagan school of science -- blame it on the plants. Concerns over drilling in the Arctic National Refuge? See Ted Stevens, he'll be happy to explain. In a business hardly known for its tree-huggers, Raymond stands out, unwilling to concede an inch no matter how many people prove him wrong. Kind of reminds you of some other Texans we know, doesn't it?

But back to that corporate compensation package. It isn't all sweetness and light. Even though Bush's tax cuts mean that Mr. Raymond can keep millions more than he might have, he'll still need a few tax breaks. May we suggest a charity?

How about the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund? This group is building a rehabilitation center at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston to assist wounded soldiers from Iraq or Afghanistan (average daily combat pay bonus $7.50). Or maybe the Fallen Patriot Fund? Established by our own Mark Cuban-- who earned his billions the hard way, by founding a company-- this fund awards grants to families who have lost soldiers in the war. Mark will even match you dollar for dollar up to one million. Too depressing? Well, there is the Texas Military Family Foundation, run by Julie Curtis-Win, who provides soldiers departing Fort Hood things they won't easily find at the front. It would be only fair to send them a little something, considering we sent these folks to war to project our military might over the oil fields of the Middle East.

We launch an illegal war against Saddam Hussein, thousands die and oil moguls get rich. Iraq's oil production is lower now than it was before the war, Iraqis suffer, and oil moguls get rich. Bush sounds the drumbeat of war in Iran, markets get the jitters and oil moguls get rich. Obscenely rich. In today's corporate welfare system, charity begins at home.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

"the israel lobby" and anti-semitism

In March, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago's Department of Political Science and Stephen M.Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government submitted a working paper titled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." Alan Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University, was a vocal critic of the paper:
Dean Walt and Professor Mearsheimer wrote that Jews control the media and the government; that we are loyal to Israel rather than to our "host" country; and that we dupe non-Jews, against their best interests, into fighting and dying for our interest. All that was missing from the Walt-Mearsheimer screed was the "blood libel": the medieval accusation that Jews use the blood of Christian children to make Passover matzo. (They came close by asserting another blood libel - namely, that Israeli citizenship is based on "blood kinship," a claim which is demonstrably false.)
In Dershowitz's response paper, he questions the academic validity and the motives of the original working paper. Many academic journals and newspapers condemned the Walt-Mearsheimer paper, including the The Washington Post:
Inept, even kooky academic work, then, but is it anti-Semitic? If by anti-Semitism one means obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews; if one accuses them of disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions and governments; if one systematically selects everything unfair, ugly or wrong about Jews as individuals or a group and equally systematically suppresses any exculpatory information -- why, yes, this paper is anti-Semitic.
The question, however, remains. Is it correct, let alone anti-Semitic, to accuse "the Israel lobby" of being responsible for Iraq or possible U.S. action in Iran? Yes and no. Anti-Semitism from the Iranian government is at an all-time high and many politicos are worried about the situation in Israel if the U.S. took pre-emptive action in Iran. Others (namely Norman Finkelstein) call Iraq a "Jewish war" and accuse Israel of being the beneficiary in the situation.

It is not inappropriate to foster discussion of the U.S./Israel relationship. It does become an uncomfortable situation when religion becomes a matter of discussion. For example, the Walt-Mearsheimer paper brings back to the table the age-old anti-Semitic rhetoric of a Jewish-controlled media and an "Israel Lobby" of American Jews that decides U.S. foreign policy.

It is inappropriate to liken Israel to Nazi Germany or to liken former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Another problem arises when liberal critics of Israel repeat their old diatribe: "I guess you're going to accuse me of anti-Semitism because I criticized Israel." Only the fringe supporters are making those accusations; the majority of those that support Israel welcome open discourse on the subject and do not jump the gun by labeling all critics as anti-Semites. A prime example of this is available for all to see at The Huffington Post. Alan Dershowitz is a star blogger on Arianna Huffington's dynamic group blog. After every post he contributes can be found a long cluster of comments from users kvetching about Mr. Dershowitz, such as this quote from user Paul Rosen:
Stop whining Alan. Calling anybody that criticizes Israeli policy anti-Semitic is growing tiresome. Jews do not have a lock on the use of the Holocaust. It is not an excuse to bulldoze houses, steal land and shoot children. It is not an excuse for Israel to spy on other countries, as has been shown recently in New Zealand and the AIPAC scandal. Your attacks on Finkelstein serve only to show the bankruptcy of your cheerleading the extreme Zionists.
In fact, Dershowitz's blog (linked above) was about Norman Finkelstein. Dershowitz was replying to Finkelstein's assertions that Dershowitz plagiarized his 2003 book The Case for Israel. He did call Finkelstein the prime example of the self-loathing Jew, though that fact is hardly arguable. In another post that was completely unrelated to Israel, Dershowitz commented as a lawyer on the Dick Cheney shooting incident, and despite an overwhelming majority of constructive comments, was greeted with some accusing him of being an Israeli lobbyist, questioning his record as a reputable attorney, and calling into question his morals as a Jew.

Left-wing critics of Israel are so vocal when it comes to slamming Israel's supporters that they have lost sight of the real situation in the Middle East. Israel is not the enemy. Israel is a working democracy in an unstable region that happens to support U.S. interests and in turn, the U.S. has become the key ally in Israel's struggle. It is not anti-Semitic to criticize that: Americans have a priority of national security and investigating America's allies is not out of the question. But questioning the motives of Israel's supporters is out of line. Outrageous assertions of an "Israel Lobby" that controls U.S. foreign policy and the mainstream media does border on anti-Semitism. Liberals, including a large number of American Jews, should be proud that prominent Jews such as Alan Dershowitz never tire in defending the truth about Israel and anti-Semitism.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

candidate profile: maría luisa alvarado

María Luisa Alvarado originally planned to serve Texas along with her brother. Felix Alvarado, however, was weeded out during the primary season when the check for his filing fee bounced and Chris Bell was selected as the Democratic nominee for Texas Governor. María Luisa continued to pursue the position of Lieutenant Governor despite her brother's exit from the gubernatorial race. After the primary, she was forced into a runoff with her nearest competitor, Benjamin Z. Grant. On April 11, she beat Grant by nearly twenty percentage points and secured her spot on the Democratic ticket for the November 7 election.

María Luisa was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. She is one of twelve children in a family with a strong history of serving the country: all eight of her brothers have served in the military, with four serving in Vietnam and her youngest brother serving currently in Uzbekistan as a part of the Iraq conflict. Her younger sister served in the Texas Air National Guard. María Luisa is herself a veteran of the Texas Air National Guard and the United States Air Force.

María Luisa earned her bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 1988. After graduation she began to work for the National Veterans Outreach Program until funding was cut and she resumed work in healthcare and social services, with special regard to substance abuse treatment and prevention. Because of her strong Texan roots and her outrage at the incumbent, María Luisa has decided to run for office.
It is due to her analyses and critical thinking about current issues affecting Texans and the lack of appropriate response by state leaders that has challenged her to run for elected office. María Luisa believes that all tax payers have a right to expect that their government work effectively and efficiently to serve all its citizens equally and fairly.
As Lieutenant Governor, Alvarado would promote better public education and safer schools, tax relief, protecting the environment, small businesses, safe communities, and "immigration reform without concrete fences." Alvarado also wants a better healthcare system that would extend to "children, elderly, indigent, underemployed, unemployed, [and] uninsured college students."

With your help, María Luisa can defeat the incumbent Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst in the November general election. Please visit her campaign website to learn more about her and her positions on the issues. Just as importantly, please take the time to contribute to her campaign. She faces an uphill battle, but with our support and our vote, we can elect a strong Democrat like María Luisa Alvarado to be the next Lieutenant Governor of Texas.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

congratulations, barbara ann!

First and foremost, congratulations are due to the newly-anointed Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Barbara Ann Radnofsky. The Dallas Morning News and the Associated Press are calling the U.S. Senate runoff in her favor. About 60% of voters cast their ballots for Barbara Ann; 100% of precincts have reported their votes and there has been an average turnout in the Democratic runoff of 1.63%, higher than the March 7 primary.

Gene Kelly, Radnofsky's failed opponent, ran for United States Senate in 2000 after emerging victorious over Charles Gandy in a similar runoff election. He was stomped in the general election by incumbent Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Radnofsky overcame an election day obstacle when it was discovered that her name was left off of the ballot in Maverick County. Volunteers began writing her name on the ballot to benefit voters by giving them a full ballot to vote with, but this does not account for those that voted early and only had one candidate for the picking: Gene Kelly. Kelly received 70% of the vote in Maverick County back in 2000, but he barely edged out Radnofsky by a fraction of a percent in the March primary. The Maverick County Democratic Party obviously made an egregious error when validating the ballots. The Secretary of State Roger Williams (recently accused of an inability to conduct non-partisan elections by none other than gubernatorial hopeful Carole Keeton Strayhorn) is dragging his feet on this issue, but Radnofsky handily won the runoff despite these setbacks.

Barbara Ann will face Senator Hutchison on November 7, 2006, for her coveted seat in the United States Senate. You can learn more about her campaign by visiting her website and reading her article on Wikipedia.

For comprehensive election results and analysis of other runoff races, visit Burnt Orange Report. The good folks at BOR are keeping the blogosphere aware of the returns as they are made available.

election day

Well, the long-awaited day has arrived. Today we will know who the Democrats will present as their candidates for Lt. Governor and United States Senator. We at NTL have endorsed Barbara Ann Radnofsky for U.S. Senate and María Luisa Alvarado for Lieutenant Governor.

You are eligible to vote in the Democratic runoff if you are a registered voter and did not vote in the Republican primary on March 7. You may vote in the runoff regardless of whether or not you voted in the Democratic primary on March 7. If you vote in the Democratic runoff, you will be ineligible to vote in the Republican runoff which is also held today. You will also be ineligible to sign ballot petitions for independent candidates such as gubernatorial hopefuls Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman.

Vote today! Click the following links for voting information and locations: Denton County, Dallas County, Tarrant County, or Collin County.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Dallas Marches for Immigration Rights

An estimated 350,000-500,000 people marched in downtown Dallas on Sunday to protest proposed immigration reform legislation. The Dallas Morning News reports that the march "rewrote history" as the largest of its kind in North Texas. The protest was peaceful, with only one arrest.
"It rewrote history," said Roberto Calderon, a history professor at the University of North Texas who participated in the march. "There's no turning back. It makes concrete the larger demographic and cultural changes that are taking place for the community here in North Texas and Dallas."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Revenge of the Nerds

It's a delicious irony, isn't it, that the folks most defiant at being steamrolled by the Bush administration are those geeks over at the Justice Department. Not that we shouldn't expect our civil servants to stand for truth, justice and the American way. It's just that six years of the White House's war on dissent had us pretty much believing they could get by with anything. When our own citizens can be locked up without due process; when the highest-ranking lawman in the land condones torture; and when, after setting aside decades of precedence and policy to lead us into an illegal war in Iraq, the administration now has the brass to suggest they'll do it again in Iran -- well, it makes one realize the fragility of our democratic process, to say the least.

Buried in the bowels of government are everyday patriots, the career civil servants who can't be bribed or threatened: people like scientist James Hansen at NASA, who spoke out on global climate change despite pressure from on high. Unfortunately, speaking truth to power in today's political climate is usually a career ender. Army Corps of Engineers chief contracting officer, Bunnatine Greenhouse, was fired for suggesting no-bid contracts to Halliburton violated rules on government oversight. Since the Bush administration came to power, scores of our best, most experienced public servants have been culled from the ranks for presenting uncomfortable truths or opinions out of sync with the neocon cabal currently in charge.

We began hearing stories of internal critics being silenced early on in the Interior Department, when the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management came under attack. Rumsfeld's purge of the Pentagon began before the war. Lately, the axe has fallen heavily with Bolton's shake-up of the State Department, and Porter Goss' witch hunt at the CIA. The result has been brain drain and a declining morale among those who are left.

Once open disagreement was shutdown, whistleblowers began leaking to the press. The NSA eavesdropping scandal launched when an insider leaked to the New York Times. Calling the disclosure a "shameful act," the administration responded with an aggressive crackdown, asking the Justice Department to open an investigation. Porter Goss threatened employees with random lie detector tests to uncover leakers in the CIA. An investigation as to who leaked the secret prisons in Europe is on-going.

The Justice Department itself has felt the heat from this administration. President Bush was personally responsible for demoting the supervising federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Frederick A. Black, just as his investigation into Jack Abramoff's lobbying efforts on behalf of Superior Court officials in Guam was starting to yield fruit. And former Deputy Attorney General James Comey and former Asst. Attorney General Jack Goldsmith hung tough in response to pressure to approve illegal wiretaps in what Newsweek termed a palace revolt. But they paid the price. On his way out, James Comey appointed his friend, nerdy Patrick Fitzgerald, (alright, make that sexy nerd ), to serve as special prosecutor investigating the CIA leak scandal.

Since indicting I. Lewis Libby, Fitzgerald has been playing a version of high stakes poker with the Libby defense team. When Libby's lawyers asked for thousands of pages of classified material, (a tactic known as greymail), ostensibly for the purpose of proving that Libby was so distracted by his job that he forgot he talked to reporters about Plame, Fitzgerald fired back a sassy letter, calling the attempt "nothing short of breathtaking," and added that he was not required to search every government agency's files for evidence that might help Libby's defense. The special counsel also released correspondence making a tantalizing reference to missing White House emails, since rediscovered. Libby's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss, arguing Fitzgerald had no authority to conduct the investigation. Now the Justice Department drops a bomb: Bush authorized Libby to leak classified material. Well, well.

Today's revelations on the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) memo on Iraq make stark the hypocrisy of an administration that declassifies and leaks highly sensitive intel for political purposes, while aggressively pursuing whistleblowers who try to shine some light on the most secretive presidency since Nixon. The President is authorized to disclose classified information, although it's questionable whether he followed protocol, and the debate regarding the aluminum tubes has been known, although not highlighted, all along. But it is politically damning, contradicting as it does so many previous statements by the administration regarding Plamegate. Every new revelation in this case makes apparent the degree to which the administration was gaming the system, and the contempt with which they regard the public and the press.

Certainly, no one in the inner circle at the White House had reason to believe Fitzgerald's investigation would get this far. At the very least, we now have proof that the President set in motion a series of events which led to the outing of a covert agent. And the sensational nature of today's revelations make Libby's excuse that he forgot about Wilson's wife until he heard it from reporters even less plausible. It's too early to say whether Fitzgerald's investigation of Scooter Libby will lead to a conviction, much less to further indictments. And a true accounting of the build-up to the war won't come from the special prosecutor's actions. That's the role of Congress. Let's hope the Democrats are taking notes.

But watching Fitzgerald turn the tables on the Bush administration must be heartening to the unsung heroes in the government ranks. If there is anyone in a position to appreciate the fetid stench of corruption and spite that characterizes this administration, it's those on the inside. Chalk one up to the guys with the white hats (and the pocket protectors).

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Bug Man's Gone

We never thought he'd do it, but facing a strong opponent in the general election, and coming off a brutal primary fight, a chastened Tom DeLay announced he is stepping down from his congressional seat in May, acknowledged his mistakes and asked his voters to continue the fight for reform in Congress.

Okay, so I made that last part up. But he is retiring. And give him credit, at least he's consistent. Defiant to the end, DeLay told Time interviewer Mike Allen:
TIME: Do you think you did anything that made you more of a target for your critics? Do you think you made it easier for the opponents to —
DeLay: No. The opponents HATE what we do—what we have done in the last 11 years in the majority. We have built the largest political coalition of my adult lifetime. They hate that. We have been effective for 11 years going now, doing some pretty amazing things. They hate that. The reason we've been effective is we've tried to change the culture of Washington, D.C. And do it legally and ethically.
And that silly ole indictment? Move along, nothin' to see. The ethics violations? Pure partisan hoohah. Corrupt staff? Well, now, I can't be accountable for every little detail. Abuse of house rules? Those Democrats just wish they'd thought of it first. That $500,000 paid from PAC funds to his wife and daughter? Family values in action.

The Time article is worth reading just to hear his wife, Christine's, perky cheerleading. There are still a lot of unknowns concerning who will replace DeLay, and whether his seat will be filled prior to the November election. DeLay could have bowed out before the primary and allowed one of the challengers to run. Salon has some theories as to why he didn't do that:
Those who contributed to Tom DeLay's campaign may be onboard for his legal defense, too. As the Washington Post points out, under federal election law, DeLay is allowed to spend the money in his reelection coffers on attorneys' fees. "Election lawyers say one advantage of bowing out of the election now is that the campaign cash can be converted to pay legal bills immediately, instead of being drained in the course of a bid to stay in office," the paper says. (Why, one wonders, would such a law exist? Lawmakers and regulators sure do think about all the contingencies when drawing up finance rules.)
This is good news for DeLay, because although he has amassed a large legal fund, contributions had lately been declining. The fund collected $318,000 in the third quarter of last year, the Post says, but in the fourth quarter it collected only $181,500. As of the end of 2005, the defense fund contained $600,000. Meanwhile, DeLay's campaign account has $1,295,350, according to the most recent filing with the Federal Elections Commission.
Now there are some whispers that Ronnie Earle could eventually be the least of DeLay's worries. But to suggest that he stayed in the race just to raise funds for his legal defense -- what in Rep. DeLay's two decades in congress would make you so cynical? Unfortunately for us, the bug man's demise doesn't mean his legacy won't be with us for a long time to come.

Monday, April 03, 2006

early voting - primary runoff

Early voting has begun for the Democratic and Republican primary runoff elections here in Texas. If no single candidate earned a clear majority (50% +1) in the March primary, he or she will face the next highest vote-earner in that primary.

This runoff will cover two statewide races for the Democrats. First, Democrats will decide who will face incumbent David Dewhurst in November for the coveted position of Lt. Governor. Maria Luisa Alvarado and Ben Z. Grant are the Democratic nominees.

The highly-publicized race will be that for the chance to face Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison for her seat in the United States Senate. Hutchison is up for re-election this November and will face one of the following Democrats in the general election: Gene Kelly or Barbara Ann Radnofsky. Kelly is an 80-year-old retired Air Force lawyer from Universal City. He was the nominee against Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2000 and lost miserably. He refused to campaign... he has never accepted campaign contributions and refuses to speak at public events. He is what we call a "perennial candidate," or someone that puts their name on the ballot every election without giving any real effort to their campaign. Kelly has become a statewide joke. He beat an energetic Charles Gandy in the 2000 Democratic Primary on name recognition alone. Some speculate that Republicans may have crossed over in 2000 to ensure Gandy's defeat. Perhaps the same thing is happening this year. Republicans would not want Radnofsky on the campaign trail because she stands for a stronger Texas. Radnofsky is in clear opposition to Senator Hutchison's corruption and would make a refreshing change in the Republican-controlled Senate. Let's not let fools and fanatics take away our hope of putting a real Democratic voice in the U.S. Senate: vote for Barbara Ann Radnofsky! She has received endorsements from every major newspaper statewide as well as countless Democratic organizations. She is our best bet in November.

Early voting will continue through Friday. Click the following links for voting information and locations: Denton County, Dallas County, Tarrant County, or Collin County. Election day is April 11.

Tom DeLay Dodges Another Bullet

This is what passes for good news in the DeLay camp these days:
DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, 39, did not implicate him in any wrongdoing when he pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy in the case involving convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Add this to the other good news that Jack Abramoff himself appears unlikely to implicate DeLay in his plea bargain, and Michael Scanlon, Abramoff's lobbying partner-in-crime, didn't name him either. Of course, Rudy did implicate DeLay's chief of staff, Ed Buckman, in the congressional bribery scandal. Buckman was DeLay's closest aide and spiritual adviser. But just because this admission takes the scandal into DeLay's inner circle, don't go jumping to conclusions. DeLay was completely clueless and you'd better believe it hurts to know that the people he trusted so well were capable of such duplicity.

All this good news probably made him want to get up and do the Snoopy dance. But some people just can't catch a break. It seems the Hollywood libruls made a movie star of the Hammer, and he's upset they didn't portray him in the best light. Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck are releasing The Big Buy: How Tom DeLay Stole Congress, a movie about DeLay's recent, er, troubles with Ronnie Earle. As DeLay describes it:
“The same day I secured the Republican nomination to continue serving you and the good people of the 22nd District, my Democrat opponent Nick Lampson’s liberal Hollywood buddies gave me a “welcome” gift. They officially released a documentary about Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s partisan witch-hunt.”
But the documentarians have a different take:
Mark and me, Hollywood Liberals? I live in rural West Texas. I drive a ten-year old Civic. I just voted in the Republican primary. My family and I paint the town red by going to one of many chain restaurants in Lubbock. Mark is a grandfather who lives with his cat in a 30-year old middle-class home in North Dallas built by a Texas Instruments engineer.
Well, for those of you who've never been, Lubbock does have it's own special charm. Still, pity poor Tom. Everytime he dodges another bullet, somebody else has him in their sites. No wonder he wants his gun back.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

candidate profile: eddie bernice johnson

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is a proud Dallas Democrat. She currently represents the 30th District of Texas in the United States House of Representatives. Born in Waco, Johnson was educated in Texas at both Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University.

Rep. Johnson was elected to the Texas State House of Representatives in 1972 and the Texas State Senate in 1986. She was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, a position she still holds, in 1992, when she became the first woman and the first African-American to represent the Dallas area in Washington, D.C. She is also the Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. According to her official House website, "Congresswoman Johnson sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and serves as the Ranking Democratic Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. As the Ranking Texan on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, she has secured millions of dollars for Texas development, and has helped Dallas-Fort Worth become one of the fastest growing business areas in the country."

EBJ was a vocal critic of the Iraq War before it even began. In 2002, she made the following statement on the floor of the House:
"I am not convinced that giving the President the authority to launch a unilateral, first-strike attack on Iraq is the appropriate course of action at this time. While I believe that under international law and under the authority of our Constitution, the United States must maintain the option to act in its own self-defense, I strongly believe that the administration has not provided evidence of an imminent threat of attack on the United States that would justify a unilateral strike. I also believe that actions alone, without exhausting peaceful options, could seriously harm global support for our war on terrorism and distract our own resources from this cause."
Congresswoman Johnson is on top of things not only at a national level, but also when it comes to her constituency. She has been a key player in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans. She has secured extra grants from FEMA for the city of Dallas as it housed (and still houses in many cases) the majority of the evacuees. She has also brought home grants for anti-gang intiatives and the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center. Her accomplishments are numerous and too many to detail here.

During her first seven terms, Johnson has received 100% rankings from NARAL, the Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP, Planned Parenthood, the Humane Society of America, the AFL-CIO, the American Bar Association, and countless other organizations and unions.

EBJ is a Dallas favorite. We have consistently re-elected her to Congress since 1992. Let's not stop now. Feel proud and confident as you cast your ballot for incumbent Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson come November.