Saturday, June 30, 2007

Cornyn Wants Courts to Decide on Subpoenas

First it was Cheney, and now President Bush, who declares himself emperor of the universe. Using the "because I said so" defense, the President has decided not to honor requests by the congressional oversight committee for documents related to the firing of nine federal prosecutors.
In a letter sent last Friday to Leahy and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), White House counsel Fred F. Fielding said that the privacy of the documents must be respected to ensure that presidential advisers feel free to provide "candid and unfettered advice."

In other words, what good are political blackmail and dirty tricks if everybody knows about them?

Earlier this year, when sponsoring the Open Government Act of 2007, our learned and erudite constitutional scholar and Senate Judiciary Committee member Senator John Cornyn posted this on his website regarding the need for open government.

Open government is one of the most basic requirements of any healthy democracy. It allows for taxpayers to see where their money is going; it permits the honest exchange of information that ensures government accountability; and it upholds the ideal that government never rules without the consent of the people......

Our government is based not on the need to know, but upon the fundamental right to know.

But now that his pals in the White House are directly defying a subpoena issued by his own committee, the junior senator seems a little more sanguine about the whole thing.

"Let's go ahead and have the courts decide it, and we'll honor whatever they decide," said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) Thursday afternoon on CNN's Situation Room program.

Oh, yeah, because they've never been wrong.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Real Reason Bush Wants to Revive the Immigration Bill

After suffering a humbling defeat only a few short weeks ago, the Bush administration is pushing a revised immigration bill like its life depended on it. Current editorials opine about how Bush's experiences growing up with Hispanics in Midland, Texas shaped his compassion for immigrants, and that he's fighting for this legislation as part of his legacy, that it will be the signal piece of legislation for Bush's second term.


There are plenty of good reasons to tackle the immigration policy and bring a sensible and humane piece of legislation to the floor. But don't kid yourself. With polls slipping, the Republicans (especially those outside the executive branch who will soon be facing re-election challenges) would like to get this issue behind them. The debate on our borders always had the potential to split the Republican Party like no other issue. You know when you hear stalwart conservatives denounce the zealots on rightwing radio that the Republican Party isn't helped by this debate.

No, the real reason is much more cynical. It's exactly because the issue is red meat to conservatives that it is important to have this debate now. Because no other issue besides abortion can so galvanize the public. And what the Republicans need now is something to grab the headlines, something that will send the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters over the deep end. Because what else could distract the public from Vice President Dick Cheney's absurd assertions that he is no longer subject to oversight or accountability?

Think this is too cynical? That risking the future of conservatives who will soon be defending their records to a disgusted public puts the stakes too high? It's as Rovian a strategy as attacking an opponents strength. Or dumping unfavorable news on the Friday before a holiday weekend.

Remember when just after the elections the Democrats were riding high on their recent election victories, and politicians like Jack Murtha were suddenly talking credibly on withdrawal plans? The administration had gone on record saying a new war plan was in the works.

What happened next? Daddy Bush brought in James Baker to craft the report of the Iraq Study Group. Bush Sr. might have actually thought he was buying his son a way out short of total capitulation, but he underestimated Dubya.

Bush grabbed onto the report and immediately challenged it. So rather than the Iraq Study Group recommendations being the compromise to begin winding down the war, it reset the debate. He also immediately signalled he was delaying the announcement of his new war strategy, which then coincidentally came out at the beginning of the legislative session. Instead of having the spotlight to themselves to highlight their agenda on popular issues such as the minimum wage, Pelosi and Reid and the rest of the Democrats were relegated to the business section while front pages and editorials debated the pros and cons of the President's new strategy.

And what was the President's new plan? A surge. In the light of almost unanimous opposition from his own military advisors, he called not for a withdrawal, but for a plan to increase troop levels. It was the most inflammatory decision he could make. Of course, it wasn't going to work, but again, it reset the debate. When was the last time you heard anyone discuss Murtha's proposals? Or even the Iraq Study Group? Yes, our brave men and women are fighting and dying every day, not for a military strategy, but a political one, not for winning wars, not even for winning elections, but simply to preserve power.

So we will have another bitter debate on immigration, one only slightly more likely to succeed than the last one. But it might still serve its intended purpose - to distract the public from the fact that our second-highest elected official has declared himself above the law.

Rahm Emanuel is introducing legislation to defund Cheney's office.

....if you really believe that you're not part of the executive branch, we should[n't] fund you in the executive branch....."

"It's not like I'm looking for this fight," replied Emanuel. "But if the vice president wants to act like he's unaccountable and above the law ... I'll meet that."

In any other presidency, in any other time, this would be the run-up to a constitutional crisis. In the Bush administration, its a good reason to whip up the immigration debate.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Op-Ed Takes a Flame Thrower to von Spakovsky

Cynthia Tucker has a column in the Baltimore Sun giving her views on the confirmation of Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Committee (FEC). It would take a rather long post just to list the scandals of the Bush administration to date (and those are only the ones we know about), so don't feel badly if you can't place the name Hans von Spakovsky right away. Here's a refresher by The Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel to bring you up to speed.

With all the brouhaha about Cheney's co-presidency, you may have missed this Tucker's op-ed, but it's too good to be overlooked.

Hans von Spakovsky is among the GOP hacks who perverted the U.S. Department of Justice - trashing constitutional principles, rewarding partisanship over competence and converting the entire machinery into an arm of the Republican Party. His specialty was suppressing voting by Americans of color, who are more likely to support Democrats; he played a starring role in a nationwide effort to disenfranchise poor blacks, Latinos and Native Americans.

Now, Mr. von Spakovsky is seeking Senate approval for a six-year term on the Federal Election Commission, which enforces federal campaign finance laws. (President Bush gave Mr. von Spakovsky a recess appointment in January 2006, but he must have Senate confirmation for a full term.) The vote ought to be easy: No, no and no way.

A group of former Justice Department professionals - including a former chief of the Civil Rights Division's Voting Section - have stepped forward to oppose his nomination. According to The Washington Post, more than half the career lawyers in the Voting Section left in protest during his tenure.

Mr. von Spakovsky's blatant disregard for the constitutionally guaranteed right to the franchise should disqualify him from even serving as a volunteer poll worker,much less a commissioner on the FEC. He is a leading light among the Republican activists who have whipped up the bogeyman of fraudulent voting, claiming that illegal ballots can only be stopped by stringent requirements, such as state-sponsored photo IDs, at the ballot box.

Actually, illegal voters are about as common as honest Bush appointees in the Justice Department.

Read the rest here. In addition to denouncing von Spakovsky's bitter and partisan role in the Civil Rights Divison, those former career professionals to whom Tucker referred in her column had some very interesting insights on voter ID legislation. Definitely worth a read.

And after all this, should there still be any doubt, read Gerald Herbert's breakdown of von Spakovsky's confirmation hearing testimony.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Flower Mound Peace Activist Dies

Whosplayin mourns the loss of local activist David Honish. Honish was a well-known member of the peace community in Denton County and a member of Peace Action Denton.

David had some advice for those shaking their heads at injustice.

People are alarmed by the massive erosion of our First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment Rights by the patriot act. Felony wiretapping by the NSA being ignored by the Justice Department is a matter of concern. And of course, the oil corporations are the ONLY segment of the economy not being crippled by $3/gallon gasoline prices.

Well don't just talk about it America.

Get off your butts and into the streets to do something about it! Call and write your representatives so often that they know your phone number and address from memory. Write letters to your local papers, so that others in your communities know that they are not alone in their disgust with the current government.

The only way that the government shills for the oil corporations will stop killing our children for their profits, is if we refuse to allow it any longer.

David Honish Chapter 106 North Texas Veterans For Peace

Outrage alone won't end this war or stop the abuses of government power. It takes individuals like Honish with the courage and the commitment to step up and be heard. The progressive community has lost one of its own. The best way to honor his memory is for ten more to take his place. RIP

Mid-Cities Drinking Liberally Chapter Featured

In case you missed it, reporter Shaun Rabb at Fox-4 News profiled the Mid-Cities chapter of Drinking Liberally on its Wednesday night broadcast. And yes, we did see a few familiar faces in the mix.

Todd Hill at Burnt Orange Report has the follow-up. And although it was mentioned briefly, we just want to point out that Addison and Dallas also have chapters.

maya angelou endorses hillary clinton for president

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

bush's "plan b" on darfur: how you can help

Last month, the White House announced plans that would impose sanctions on the Sudanese government if they failed to allow U.N. peacekeeping forces to be deployed into the genocide-torn Darfur region of that country.

"I made clear that the time for promises is over," President Bush said at a press conference. He later said that the sanctions would cut the Sudanese government off of financial aid from the United States while calling the world's attention to their crimes.

According to Colleen Connors of the Save Darfur Coalition, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will attend "a meeting about Darfur with top officials from the U.S., China, France and other key nations" this coming Monday.

The Bush administration took a desperately-needed first step last month when it announced its "Plan B" sanctions against the Sudanese government. Now Secretary Rice must use this meeting with French, Chinese and other leaders to increase the pressure on Sudanese President Bashir.

This kind of opportunity may only come along once. The United States, China and France must seize this chance to lead.

The people of Darfur have waited more than four years for world leaders to make a concerted effort to end the violence. Secretary Rice must make sure Monday's meeting in Paris marks the beginning of sustained, unified world diplomacy.

You can take action to help this cause by sending a note to Secretary Rice asking her "to use this opportunity to convince China and France to join forces with the U.S. on Darfur."

It's time for the world to wake up and we can help to make it happen. Please act now.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Perry Wants Another Decade to Solve Air Quality Crisis

Lightseeker at Texas Kaos spotlights Houston's failure to come up with a plan to meet federal air quality standards. It seems Governor Perry once again has requested a little more time to meet requirements for ozone emissions. He thinks, oh, another decade might do it.

Texas officially asked the federal government Friday for an extra nine years to meet health standards for ground-level ozone, to comply with the law by 2010, saying that it would be "practicably impossible" for the eight-county Houston-Galveston region to comply with the law by 2010.

The request marks the latest postponement in the decades-long saga to clean up Houston's smog and seeks more time than both the county and city wanted. If granted, the city would be the last place in the state and one of the last areas in the country to meet health guidelines for the lung-irritating pollutant.

Houston's first federal deadline to meet ozone standards was in 1975. The new deadline would be June 2019 [emphasis added.]

That would be the same governor who showed his commitment to air quality standards by trying to fast track eleven coal burning power plants. Like our former governor turned president, Perry believes in kicking our problems further down the road.

And lest we feel too smug about Houston's status, don't forget who's number eight on the list of worst polluted cities. How many more years do you think Perry is gonna suggest to solve our problems?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

TXU Receives Go Ahead for Lignite Power Plant

From the Burnt Orange Report, we have learned that the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) has overruled two arbitrators and granted permission for TXU to proceed with the Oak Grove power plant. It is the first plant to receive final approval under Governor Perry's previous "fast track" permitting process.

The Oak Grove plant was green-lighted for construction along with ten other coal-fired facilities, eight of which have now been withdrawn. In originally denying the permit for Oak Grove, the arbitrators had questioned whether TXU could reduce pollution as much as they claimed.

In a statement, TXU praised the decision.

“We welcome today’s TCEQ permit approval. Texas needs new sources of power and, with today’s ruling, the Oak Grove plant could begin providing power by late 2009.

The TCEQ has determined that the Oak Grove air permit will be protective of human health and the environment. This permit contains some of the cleanest emission standards ever set for a lignite power plant, and the plant will help meet Texas’ near-term need for power.”

Notice the "lignite" qualifier in that statement. What they don't tell you is that the Oak Grove facility is still the biggest and diritiest of the eleven originally proposed plants. It's actually two power generation units in one facility. While most of the electricity produced would be used in the DFW area, the city that would most directly feel the effects of its pollution is Austin. Even with all the guarantees from TXU about emissions reductions,

the Oak Grove plant would pollute more than other coal plants proposed for the area, according to the permit application. For example, it would emit 3.5 times the smog-forming nitrogen oxides and nearly 10 times the mercury as the proposed Sandy Creek plant in Riesel.

To put that in perspective, according to the SEED (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development) Coalition

If built, it would be the fourth worst plant in the nation for toxic mercury emissions and would produce the smog equivalent of 350,000 automobiles. TXU's four other lignite-burning plants are responsible for almost one-quarter of the industrial pollution in the state.

And that doesn't even touch on CO2 emissions. Coal-fired plants are among the world's biggest producers of greenhouse gases, and powering plants with lignite produces significantly more emissions than using hard coal, making it the worst of the worst.

At the hearing, several elected officials spoke against permitting. Among those testifying were Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and State Representative Lon Burnam.

Activists vow to continue their fight. They have already asked for a rehearing, a necessary step prior to taking further legal action.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A House Divided

We all breathed a sigh of relief when Democrats took control of both houses of Congress last November. Of course, in the Senate that control is tenuous: 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats. One of those Independents—Bernie Sanders—is reliably liberal. The other one is Joe Lieberman, reliably unreliable. Currently, the Republicans are down to 48 members due to the demise of Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming, who succumbed to leukemia last week at the age of 74. Wyoming law requires, however, that his replacement come from the same party, so the power dynamics in the Senate will not change.

These facts are worth reviewing in light of the harsh criticism leveled at Senate Democrats lately. Many Americans—not just Democrats—were understandably angry that Congress did not refuse to fund the war without a time-table for withdrawal. Bush vetoed the first such bill and threatened to continue to do so until restrictions on his power were removed. True, the final bill contained “benchmarks” which the Iraqi government must attain to continue to receive reconstruction funding, but a provision allows the President to waive those benchmarks, rendering them meaningless. To all appearances, Congress caved to pressure from the White House.

But without a larger majority in the Senate, there was little Democrats could do. To override a veto requires 67 votes, almost an impossibility in the narrowly divided Senate. President Bush is thus emboldened not only to veto the Iraq spending bill, but also to threaten a veto of legislation criminalizing gasoline price-gouging, as well as a bill requiring the government to negotiate lower Medicare prescription prices.

Even the Democrats’ plan to pass a resolution of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may fail next week unless they are able to garner the 60 votes required by Senate rules to end debate. Without those votes, Republicans can simply filibuster the resolution. Of course, when Republicans held the Senate, they threatened to change the long-standing Senate rules so that Democrats could not filibuster Federal Judge and Supreme Court nominees. Only the “Gang of Fourteen” compromise kept this Senate tradition intact, achieved when the powerless Democrats agreed to employ the filibuster only under extreme circumstances.

Should the Democrats change the rules now? Republicans certainly deserve such a move, but playing tit-for-tat politics is hardly good government. In any case, we are all reminded of the high stakes in the 2008 election: We must win the White House—and we must also improve our margin of power in the Senate. Until then, very little of the Democratic agenda will find success.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ask Senator Cornyn to Reinstate Habeas Corpus

Thursday marks an important milestone for Senate bill S.185, known as the "Habeas Corpus Restoration Act." The bill, authored by Senators Arlen Specter and Pat Leahy and co-sponsored by 17 senators, would restore the writ of habeas corpus to detainees held under under the Military Commissions Act. Tomorrow's vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee will determine whether the bill moves to the floor for a full debate.

It's vitally important for Texans to make themselves heard on this bill. Sen. John Cornyn serves on the Judiciary Committee. Call his office and ask him to support the bill. Firedoglake has a list of toll-free numbers for the capitol switchboard.

Don't hold your breath that Cornyn will see the light. Last fall, we witnessed what might be the nadir of his short and undistinguished tenure in the Senate, when Cornyn, previously a Texas Attorney General and Texas Supreme Court Justice, argued stridently and ultimately successfully for the suspension of one of our most fundamental rights under the Constitution. The debate on what became known as the "torture bill" drew some of the most impassioned and dramatic testimony of the session.

So make that call. And when you're done, make a donation to the campaign of his future replacement. It isn't every day you can help to right two wrongs.

Hat tip to Texas Moratorium Network .

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

NASA Chief Regrets Comments on Global Warming

The Administrator for NASA, Michael Griffin, has apologized to his staff over the comments he made regarding global warming. In an interview with NPR, Dr. Griffin indicated he wasn't sure whether global warming was a problem that needed to be solved and implied that warming temperatures might actually result in a more optimum climate than the current one.

His comments provoked a firestorm of dissent, promting a meeting with his staff to clarify his position.
NASA administrator Michael Griffin said in the closed-door meeting Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena that "unfortunately, this is an issue which has become far more political than technical and it would have been well for me to have stayed out of it."

"All I can really do is apologize to all you guys ... I feel badly that I caused this mount of controversy over something like this," he said.
Griffin then reiterated his view that NASA's role was to provide data, not to make policy recommendations.

Of course, it would be fitting if a scientific body charged with monitoring the earth's climate stuck to the facts and simply tried to carry out its mission in an unbiased manner. Unfortunately, the mission itself has become a political issue. Prior to 2006, NASA's mission statement read:
To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.

In Feb. 2006, the mission statement was “quietly altered” to remove the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet.” Even a year ago, NASA scientists predicted that because of the mission statement revision, there would “be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.” Top NASA climatologist James Hansen called the deletion “a shocking loss,” because he had “been using the phrase since December 2005 to justify speaking out about the dangers of global warming.”
In fact, in an article last year, Dr. Hansen opined that such maneuvers not only kept the public from information vital to a informed debate on the most serious issue of our time, but threatened the very underpinnings of democracy itself.

"Yet Franklin, Jefferson, and the other revolutionaries would surely be distraught by recent tendencies in America, specifically the increasing power of special interests in our government, concentrated efforts to deceive the public and arbitrary actions of government executives that arise from increasing concentration of authority in a unitary executive, in defiance of the aims of our Constitution's framers......

These incidents help to paint a picture that reveals consequences for society far greater than the simple enrichment of special interests. The effect is to keep the public in the dark about increasing risks to our society and our home planet.

As to the critical role of NASA in collecting data on climate change, that mission continues to be jeopardized by decreased funding for the satellite programs that monitor, among other things, levels of soil moisture and precipitation which feed weather forecasting and climate models.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Texas Tops Nation in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A recent analysis of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. reveal some surprising numbers. States vary dramatically in their level of emissions. The best predictor of greenhouse gas emissions is a state's use of high-carbon coal to produce electricity.

Some of the trends are predictable. More populous states, for example, emit more gases on average than less populous ones.

And to anyone with even a remote interest in the debate on global warming, it will hardly come as a surprise that Texas tops the nation in emissions of CO2. (And for once, Mississippi isn't even close.) Some of Texas' contribution can be explained by the number of energy-intensive refineries in the state. An analysis of the numbers, though, paints a pretty stark contrast.
Texas, the leader in emitting this greenhouse gas, cranks out more than the next two biggest producers combined, California and Pennsylvania, which together have twice Texas' population.
It's clear that states vary widely, not only in their level of emissions, but in their commitment to reducing them. In fact, with few exceptions, the states producing the most greenhouse gases are the ones doing the least to control them.

On a per person basis, sparsely populated Wyoming tops the list, with 276,000 pounds per person per year. With a little over half a million people, Wyoming is the least populous state in the union, but as the number one coal producer in the nation, it generates virtually all of its electricity from burning coal.

Just next door to the west, Idaho emits the least carbon dioxide per person, less than 23,000 pounds a year. Idaho forbids coal power plants. It relies mostly on nonpolluting hydroelectric power.

Texas, where coal barely edges out natural gas as the top power source, belches more than 1 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide yearly.

The top 10 ranked by total carbon dioxide emissions (in millions of metric tons) in 2003.
The top 10
1. Texas (670)
2. California (389)
3. Pennsylvania (271)
4. Ohio (266)
5. Florida (244)
6. Indiana (235)
7. Illinois (230)
8. New York (214)
9. Michigan (185)
10. Louisiana (179)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Rep. Lon Burnam's Resolution

In the waning days of the 80th legislative session, lawmakers passed hundreds of resolutions honoring fellow Texans. Most of these were hardly newsworthy, but Rep. Lon Burnam's (D-Fort Worth) resolution commending House Parliamentarian Denise Davis and Deputy Parliamentarian Christopher Griesel was an exception.

The two had become the center of attention three days earlier by resigning in protest over House Speaker Tom Craddick's contradictory interpretation of House rules. Their resignations sparked a raucous weekend in the House that some political observers say has permanently weakened Craddick.
In case you didn't follow that story, the parliamentarians resigned when Craddick asserted absolute authority as speaker to block a motion allowing a vote to vacate, which likely would have ended his reign as speaker.

Rep. Burnam has never been much of a fan of Speaker Craddick, long known for using his power to reward loyalists and punish foes. To really appreciate the context of Burnam's resolution, however, you also have to understand something of the history of their relationship. Although opposition to Craddick's leadership reached a tipping point in this legislative session, Burnam's criticism of the Speaker has been longstanding, and he paid a political price. In 2005, Burnam was one of only four Democrats who cast ballots against Craddick's appointment, which landed him on a committee most would not regard as a plum assignment.

..... two of the four Democrats who voted against Craddick ended up on the Agriculture and Livestock Committee – a reappointment for Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth (who landed here after casting the only dissenting vote against Craddick in 2003) [emphasis added] .....

But Burnam is capable of getting in a few licks of his own. Earlier this year, Burnam called for a criminal investigation into charges that Craddick had an improper financial dealings with a state contractor.

Burnam's resolution honoring the the parliamentarians was blocked from coming to the floor. 'Tis a pity. Here is the deleted text of Burnam's resolution.

WHEREAS, Denise Davis and Chris Griesel stood up to autocratic control of a democratic institution by resigning their posts as parliamentarians; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Davis and Mr. Griesel could have given in to dictatorial pressure but instead stood firm and did what they knew was right, even though it cost them their jobs; and

WHEREAS, democratic institutions depend on respect for rules and precedents, Ms. Davis and Mr. Griesel took a stand for democracy on May 25, 2007, otherwise known as the Friday Night Massacre of the House Rules; and

WHEREAS, by resigning to protest a decision that threatened the integrity of the House, Ms. Davis and Mr. Griesel showed great respect for the Rules of the House, the Constitution of the State of Texas, and the institution of the Texas House of Representatives…..

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

See also previous post: Drama Over Craddick Continues.