Thursday, March 31, 2005

"TRMPAC, in its own words"

The Texas Observer has the story, with screen shots of emails, brochures, checks, and memos detailing the election law violations, as well as the PAC's cozy ties to La Cucaracha Grande:

Maloney also relates in his e-mails that he will be delivering "2 checks from Reliant" to "TD" (Tom DeLay). The circumstances under which DeLay sealed the Reliant deal earned him a rebuke from the U.S. House ethics committee in 2004. In early June 2002, DeLay held a two-day golf tournament at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. The cost of attending the event was a corporate contribution of $25,000 to $50,000. Five energy companies were invited by Maloney to attend: El Paso Corp., Mirant, Reliant Energy, Westar Energy, and Williams Companies. (DeLay's dealings with Westar would earn a separate rebuke from the committee.) The golfing took place just before a House-Senate conference on an omnibus energy bill. (It's understandable why, four months later, Maloney would complain about Reliant's tardiness.) The Homestead event was supposed to benefit equally TRMPAC and DeLay's Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), according to an e-mail from an ARMPAC staffer to TRMPAC's accountant.

The Majority Leader has insisted that there was no relationship between the solicited money and any actions to influence the legislative process in Congress. Furthermore, DeLay has claimed while lashing out at Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle that he had no more than an advisory role in TRMPAC. Still, it's not hard to see why the Williams Company might be confused about where to send the check and who was in charge.

And Republicans are beginning to acknowledge in unnerved tones that maybe it's time for King Cockroach to go.

Damn, that dripping is getting faster...

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Independent Media in a Time of War

Last evening a group of us went to see Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! speak at the River Oaks Theater here. Over 500 people were in attendance; the event was sold out and it was SRO in the back of the theater. Also speaking was Javier Couso, brother of Jose Couso, the Spanish cameraman killed when a US military tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad nearly two years ago, who is in the United States to call for an independent investigation into the death of his brother and the prosecution of those responsible. Amy was also preceded by a short documentary with the title above, and the film consists of one of her speeches illustrated with US media coverage of the Iraq war, and occasionally juxtaposed with some rarely-seen footage from independent and foreign reporters in-country. You can see it here if you have RealPlayer and a broadband connection. It's about 30 minutes. There's also a transcript here, along with a link to the video for those on dialup.

I'd like to summarize my thoughts from last night, but it's difficult to do so. You see, things are much, much worse than I thought.

Now most of you reading this are fully aware that the corporate media (sometimes referred to as the MSM, though there's barely anything mainstream remaining about it) has gone bad. In fact it's soured. Curdled. No, come to think of it, it's worse even than that. It's growing black, moldy, fuzzy lily pads. It's gone so bad that it's almost completely worthless. Oh there's a few things worth saving, but we'll talk about those later. For now, we're going to focus on the negative.

And some of you reading this have started to curl your upper lip into a sneer. That's OK; if you can make it to the end of this post it means your mind is still open to the possibility that something has gone seriously wrong in this country, and it's actually not all the fault of the neoconservatives currently in control of all branches of our government. Keep reading, please.

In the documentary, Amy asked the question (in reference to the coverage of the Iraq war): "If there was a state-run media in this country, what would be the difference?"

And after watching Sheperd Smith say "Stay brave, stay aware, and stay with FOX", and Paula Zahn say "We're savoring these pictures" as bombs explode in downtown Baghdad on the first night of 'shock and awe', and a parade of retired generals talk about "rolling up the Republican Guard" and "We're coming, and there's nothing you can do to stop us" as pictures of warplanes and battleships and missles flying into their targets in grainy black-and-white video play, and breathless embedded reporters say, "It's just like a video game"...

... I have to answer, "yes, what would be the difference?"

Javier Cuoso revealed data relating to the attack on the Palestine Hotel, where his brother and hundreds of other journalists -- unimbedded -- were staying (this information being well known to US and coalition forces). For example, I was not aware that there are very specific rules of engagement associated with firing on a known and obvious civilian facility, even if the soldiers perceive a threat. There are high level chain-of command authorizations which must be secured in advance of any action. The military will prosecute harshly breaches in those rules of engagement and breakdowns in the chain-of command.


Cuoso said (through an interpreter):

"The recent attack on the Italian journalist shows yet again that the US military has decided that journalists are fair game in Iraq. The Bush administration agreed to a full investigation of the attack on Giuliana Sgrena, so we believe that a full, independent investigation is long overdue into the attack which killed my brother. Then, those responsible should be brought to justice."

Wasn't Eason Jordan fired for saying something like that? Oh that's right, he resigned.

And Amy Goodman spoke for about 45 minutes, keeping the crowd hushed with the story of her experience in East Timor at a protest and subsequent mass execution of the protestors by the Indonesian army in 1998. But she also mentioned the experience of Phil Donahue, whose MSNBC program was cancelled at a time when it was one of the channel's highest rated programs, on March 19, 2003 -- the eve of the Iraqi invasion. (Of course you already knew that MSNBC's parent company, GE, is one of this country's largest defense contractors, right?)

Donahue, one of the few anti-war broadcast voices prior to the beginning of the war, has kept silent about the dismissal for the past two years, but no longer. He related to Amy the gist of the memo he received at the termination of his program two years ago: essentially it said that since the US was going to move ahead with the invasion, that it was important to 'speak with one voice in support of the country'.

If we had state-run media in this country, what would be the difference?

Aaron Brown was asked, in an interview aired on Democracy Now!, why the pictures of the blown-to-bits Iraqis weren't being shown by CNN; his answer was, "They're tasteless." Well, war is tasteless, said Ms. Goodman, in reply. No response from Brown.

Wolf Blitzer, when asked by Jon Stewart if he had any regrets about how the runup to the war was vetted by his network, said: "Haven't you ever made a mistake?"

At one of her speeches in New York, Amy related that al-Jazeera regularly showed pictures and video of Iraqi casualties, and a German journalist approached her afterwards and said, "It's not just al-Jazeera that's showing these. All over Europe we see them day and night. It's just here in the United States that you don't see them."

You see, it's much worse than we thought.

Then again, some people actually like buttermilk. It's simply unhealthy, of course, to drink it every day.

Update: Lyn at the Houston Democrats blog has a take, including pictures.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Whoever did this is going to Hell

This blog is kinda sick, but I must confess that I L'dMAO. So maybe I am, as well.

Chris Bell is THE MAN

The Austin American-Statesman (reg. req.) interviewed potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell; here's some of what he said:

Q. How much money should a Democrat expect to raise to be competitive with the eventual Republican nominee?

A. A lot. Actually, an obscene amount, but let me put it in perspective. We think we need to raise far less than it cost Texas hospitals to provide basic health care in ERs to the uninsured, and about 40 times less than the amount in federal matching funds for children's health insurance we have turned away. It will cost 45 times less than Texas would have saved by reimporting prescription drugs, but almost twice as much as drug companies spend a year for Texas lobbyists. Perhaps worst of all, it's less by a lot than the tuition increases that UT students paid.

You want an exact number? We figure it'll cost as much as the amount of CHIP money that the state auditor said Gov. Rick Perry lost through mismanagement. And I'll wager the governor has no idea how much that is.


The ice is spring-thaw thin, but he's still skating

"If you've seen a chicken in the barnyard get a peck on his head so a little blood is showing, then the other chickens all rush in and peck him to death, that is the danger for Tom DeLay right now. He's got a little blood on his head, and sometimes that is enough to get you killed."

-- Charlie Wilson

Charlie Wilson was my congressman for 25 years. He represented the 2nd district of Texas when it still represented the southeastern counties of the state. I mean deep east Texas, where the piney woods still hide moonshine stills and the most fun a teenage boy can have on a Saturday night is to go hunting deer with a spotlight in his pickup. You may remember him as "Good Time Charlie", who usually had a bottle blonde on his arm and a cocktail in his hand. Or as the saviour of the mujahideen, the Afghanistan rebels who kicked the first leg out from under the Soviet Union.

Charlie's a lobbyist now, has been since he retired from Congress in '97. Which means he's plugged snugly into the rumor mill. Republicans always liked him because he was a staunch anti-communist; Democrats because he was liberal on domestic issues like fiscal and social policy (more so even than the rest of the Texas delegation, which once upon a time was as overwhelmingly Democratic as it is Republican today). So he's in an enviable position in that everybody talks to him.

If the Wall Street Journal and Charlie Wilson say Tom DeLay's in serious trouble, you can bank that.


"My conservative colleagues rely heavily on the Wall Street Journal, but recognize the paper has an agenda different than social conservatives," said Richard Viguerie, a pioneer in conservative political direct mail and founder of the Conservative Digest magazine. "The Journal is concerned about stable leadership for big business," said Viguerie. "But for (social) conservatives, DeLay is one of our own. He walks with us."

And there's also this:

"He can raise money for them, he can get them important leadership assignments, he can help them get re-elected," said Michael Franc, a government expert for the conservative Heritage Foundation. "In return, there are about 200 members of the House who are willing to lay their bodies on the line for him."

Emphasis mine.

I'm pretty much convinced at this point that until those 200 Republicans feel it necessary to make a change, there won't be a change. And they probably won't feel it necessary unless there is an indictment.

And if that drags all the way out to the 2006 elections, that might be a very good thing for Democrats.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Irresponsibility generating chaos

This post is cogent. I'm going to sample a couple of pieces of it, but please go read the whole thing:

Over the last three days or so, however, the coverage on the Little Three news networks -- Fox, CNN, MSNBC -- has ceased to be humorous. There is a difference between bad coverage and willfully irresponsible coverage, and another line between willfully irresponsible coverage and dangerously irresponsible coverage. In the last three days, those lines have been crossed. Repeatedly ...

Against this background of exploitation and misinformation, the usual bevy of archconservative media pundits has in the last several days begun to increasingly endorse a premise that is, to any rational mind, remarkable: the notion that because the courts have ruled in this particular fashion, it is now time for individuals and government figures to disregard the courts, and take matters into their own hands ...

Unless you are deeply stupid, you can see where this is leading. There have now been about a dozen individuals arrested for trying to enter the clinic to give Terri food or water, an action that (because she cannot swallow) in and of itself stands an excellent chance of killing her. Both Judge Greer and Michael Schiavo are under police protection; Florida lawmakers are finding their pictures on "Wanted" posters; home addresses of Greer and other judges are being distributed ...

Now, there are times when the news media is simply sloppy; there are times when journalists simply get stories wrong, and there are times when, as in the trials of Michael Jackson, Kobe, O.J., Martha Stewart, etc., the news channels are simply swept away by their natural tendency towards low-cost voyeurism. But this isn't one of those times. This isn't petty irresponsibility or sloppiness, to be chalked up to the dwindling resources of corporate newsrooms.

This is a decision on the part of producers to willfully bend the lines in a manner that promotes sensationalism and potential violence, by intentionally tossing known-false information into a wire-taut public conflict to enhance the "ratings value".

That's it, exactly.

William Randolph Hearst would be so proud.

Steve Gilliard reaches a similar conclusion, with Bush the president, Bush the governor, and DeLay and Frist taking the blame. And yes, they most certainly are at fault; but there'd be no grandstanding without a grandstand to stand on.

This charade is right on the verge of turning violent.

Friday, March 25, 2005

CNN declared brain-dead

by James Wolcott:

Two prominent neurologists who have asked to remain anonymous have examined CNN behind closed doors and determined that the network is irreversibly brain-dead, as flooded with cerebral fluid as the hull of the S.S. Poseidon. It still retains some primitive reflexes and signs of animation, but a brain-scan revealed the sort of minimal activity usually associated with punch-drunk prizefighters condemned to a flophouse cot, or a broken toaster. "CNN barely has two brain cells left to rub together," one doctor said, lacing up his tennis shoes for a quick getaway.

Yes, my advice is to pull the plug. DNR.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Kinky in town tomorrow

Kinky Friedman, the erstwhile novelist/musician/2006 Texas gubernatorial candidate will sign & discuss his novel Ten Little New Yorkers on Friday the 25th at 6 pm at Murder By The Book (2342 Bissonnet, Houston TX 77005, 713-524-8597 or (888) 4-AGATHA).

"The professionals gave us the Titanic, amateurs gave us the Ark. Career politicians are ribbon cutters. They see the governor's office as a job; I see it as an opportunity to make that Lone Star shine again. I'm an Independent, which is the party of George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Sam Houston, and Davy Crockett."

Yes; well, he's nuts, but that's never been a disqualification to stand for political office in Texas ...

I just posted my first riff

over at the Houston Democrats blog.

Some of us will be Drinking Liberally this evening. You're invited.

Update: Lisa in the comments corrects me about the official DL meeting. Some of us will carry on the tradition anyway and you're still invited. Post if you need more info.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

More upward pressure on gasoline prices coming

The refinery explosion which occurred today at the BP Amoco facility in Texas City (near Galveston, south of Houston) claimed at least 14 lives and sent nearly one hundred people to the hospital.

Terrorism has been ruled out, according to the FBI.

This refinery, the third-largest in the nation, produces 3% of the nation's daily gasoline supply.

Without demeaning those of my neighbors who lost their lives or were injured today, one of the significant impacts of this event will be an immediate spike in the price of gas, perhaps as much as 10-15 cents per gallon. That's depending on how long this refinery's gasoline production is interrupted. "Immediate" can be defined as within the next few days. That will occur at your pump, wherever it is you happen to live in the United States.

I believe the price of gasoline, already steadily escalating, will begin surging. I think $3.00 a gallon, here in Texas, by Memorial Day, is a distinct possibility. I hope I'm wrong, because the impact of such a circumstance on the economy -- locally as well as nationwide -- will be severe.

And now back to your Terri Schiavo/Michael Jackson/steroids-in-baseball regularly scheduled programming.

Update: Perhaps I was Chicken Little in my prediction:

Other than the unit affected by the blast, the rest of the refinery was running normally, said Hugh Depland, spokesman for BP, formerly British Petroleum.

He declined to answer questions about the capacity the refinery was running Thursday or how production would be affected.

Gasoline prices could rise slightly because the plant is such a large gas producer. In afternoon trading Thursday in New York, the price of unleaded gasoline for April delivery was up less than a penny at $1.583 a gallon.

One of my favorite times of the year

...and not just because everything's greening out.

No, the true joy I feel is related to college hoops, MLB spring training, golf tournaments, and the NBA push for the playoffs.

Last night the Rockets threw a net around Shaquille O'Neal and the Heat, the best team in the East and derailed their 12-game winning streak. That capped a couple of weeks of dominance over their Western conference opponents -- except for the Timberwolves. That hiccup aside, the Rockets seem to be peaking at the right time; I think they could go far in the playoffs, especially if some key cogs on their rivals stay injured (Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, etc.)

I'm still favoring one of those Tobacco Roaders -- UNC, Duke, or Kentuckaay --for the NCAA championship. Though it's nice to see Bob Knight having another little moment. I really think that guy has mellowed out at last.

I also like Ezeqiuel Estacio for the fifth spot in the Astros rotation and Willy Taveras in center. Now rather than later, please, Phil Garner. And maybe go ahead and get Bobby Higginson.

The Shell Houston Open is next month and I already have my tickets. And a few opportunities to play on the board.

Hope you're enjoying your spring as much as I am.

It's like living in a real city

blogHOUSTON, by way of Pegasus News, links to the Dallas Morning News for some coverage, including a nifty little pocket guide in .pdf format, enabling one to utilize and enjoy the Houston light rail line and the stops along it.

(Though it's not without their daily snarky potshot at the Chronicle -- which must be the staff's prime directive -- I read blogHOUSTON regularly, despite their much-too-conservative bent.)

Here's my humble O about the light rail:

We live within walking distance of the Smith Lands station and have been taking the train downtown for Astros games, Rockets games, and Main Street Square for dining and entertainment. We took a self-guided Art Deco tour of buildings along the line last fall, and two weeks ago went to the Cartier exhibit at the MoFA. I've been riding the rail to my doctor's appointments lately, saving me the hassle and expense of parking.

Nothing has transformed my experience of living in Houston to a greater degree than this train coming by my house.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Houston Democratic events for March

Not all of it, just what's left of it...

(I usually put these calendars of events up at DU; Lyn at the HoustonDems blog asked me to put it here so she could link to it:)

-- Rep. Alma Allen's staff will give the Meyerland Democratic Club a legislative update at their monthly meeting on Monday the 21st at Poblano's Mexican Grille and Cantina, 9865 S. Post Oak Rd. (Meyer Park Shopping Center), S. Post Oak and W. Bellfort. Meeting begins at 7 pm; come at 6:30 for dinner and socializing.

-- also today, the Area 5 Democrats get our future governor, Chris Bell, as guest speaker. They meet at the PACE Union Hall, 302 Pasadena Blvd. in Pasadena from 7:30 to 8:30. It's not too late for you to get there...

-- Tuesday March 22nd, the Harris County Young Democrats will screen "Mass Media in Times of War" , a documentary featuring Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! which takes the media to task for their too-compliant treatment of the Bush administration's justifications for the Iraq invasion. Following there will be a panel discussion led by Dr. Bob Buzzanco, professor of history and Dr. Garth Jowett, professor of media studies at the University of Houston, and Harvey Rice, a Houston Chronicle reporter who covered the war for the newspaper from Iraq. The meeting begins at 7:30 pm. at the Artery, 5401 Jackson (at Prospect). For more information visit or email .

-- KANDO (Katy Area New Democratic Organization) will host US Senate candidate Barbara Radnofsky on Tuesday, March 22 beginning at 7 pm. They meet in the downstairs meeting room at the Cinco Ranch Library, 2620 Commercial Center Blvd., in Katy. Contact Rhonda Coleman at 713-304-2975 or visit the club page at

-- the West Houston Democrats have their weekly Legislative Lunch on Wednesday the 23rd (and the 30th) at Sandy's Produce Market, Katy Fwy. between Dairy Ashford and Kirkwood (on the south side) from 11:30 until 1 pm.

-- the monthly Environmental Initiative for Houston Region Democrats will be Monday, March 28 from 6-8 pm at the Harris County Democratic Party Headquarters, 1445 N. Loop West, Suite 110. Contact Stephanie Hrabar at 713-683-0638 for more information.

-- Amy Goodman will be the guest lecturer on "Independent Media in the Time of War", Tuesday March 29th at the River Oaks Theatre, 2009 West Gray, beginning at 7:30 pm. Tickets online at are $12 for members, students, seniors, and those on a fixed income and $15 for others ($35 is the cost for a basic membership). If lack of funds are of concern, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities. Call 713-526-4000 for details on volunteering. Amy's book, Exception to the Rulers, will be available for purchase. For details about the pre-lecture benefit reception, call Donna at x315 (reservations available for a higher donation - call for details).

-- and Jay Aiyer will kick off his campaign for Houston city council (At-Large Position 2) at the Four Seasons Hotel on Wednesday, March 30th from 5:30 to 7:30. Contact Sondra Haltom for more info:

That's me, top left, in the red shirt, waving at you. See me?

And here's more Sunday funnies (even though it's Monday...)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

By the way, sorry been gone for awhile

I'll post a picture of us on spring break as soon as I can remember how...

DeLay: Could we change the subject?

America's Most Wanted Pest Exterminator, floating toward the career equivalent of Niagara Falls, has spent the last few weeks thrashing about for something, anything to distract the American Idol electorate from his numerous ethical dilemmas. Sadly, a woman in a vegetative state came to his rescue, and La Cucaracha Grande latched on to her as if she was a life ring. Of course it took about thirty seconds for his hypocrisy to bubble up again:

ABC News obtained GOP talking points explaining why they should intervene in the Schiavo case. Among them, that the "pro-life base will be excited", and that it is a 'great political issue .'
-- ABC News

"I don't know where those talking points come from, and I think they're disgusting."
-- Tom DeLay, asked about the talking points.

I know where they come from, Tom. Outta your ass.

Now would be a great time for Howard Dean to remind everyone that the Party of Intrusion has discovered a new portal into your private life.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Death of a thousand cuts

As a result of reading this article and learning that my local energy provider had contributed to La Cucaracha Grande's legal defense fund, I wrote the following e-mail to the directors of investor relations at Reliant Energy, Inc., this morning and thought I'd share it with all of you:

Dear Ms. Slavin and Mr. Barber:

I cancelled my Reliant Energy consumer electric service this morning, and on its quarterly anniversary at the end of this month, I will be trading out of my mutual fund that holds Reliant stock, and I thought it would be important to let you know why I made those decisions.

I learned yesterday that Reliant had made a contribution to Tom DeLay’s legal defense fund. As a customer and stockholder (albeit one of the smallest), and despite your spokesperson Pat Hammond’s comments that new Reliant executive management will be “conducting its business with integrity and putting some of the matters from the past behind”, I find that decision to be untenable as regards continuing my business with your company.

It’s not important that you respond, as my choices have and will be finalised, but you might consider giving my concerns a wider audience with those who will be responsible for making political contributions on behalf of Reliant Energy, Inc. in the future.



And just now I found this:

"If death comes from a thousand cuts, Tom DeLay is into a couple hundred, and it's getting up there," said a Republican political consultant close to key lawmakers. "The situation is negatively fluid right now for the guy. You start hitting arteries, it only takes a couple." The consultant, who at times has been a DeLay ally, spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he could not be candid otherwise.

That drip, drip, drip you're hearing?

It's blood.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Shine the light

Better late than never to acknowledge today's efforts to advance open government.

Though Texas has some of the toughest open records laws in the nation, there are still those who would prefer to conduct the government's business in the shadows. And though the US is a model for the rest of the world, it bears repeating that the Bush administration and their lickspittles operating the Mighty Wurlitzer would rather have us moving in the wrong direction.

And from a purely bloggist's viewpoint, as long as there are incoherent ramblings, it's a good thing we can bear left to the nearest oasis.

And perhaps sometime in the not-so-distant future, if we're persistent and vigilant, a new day will dawn and Robert Novakula will be caught scrambling too late back into his coffin and spontaneously combust.

Blogging vs. Journalism

Bloggers vs. journalists is over, says Jay Rosen:

And so we know they're journalism-- sometimes. They're even capable, at times, and perhaps only in special circumstances, of beating Big Journalism at its own game. ... The question now isn't whether blogs can be journalism. They can be, sometimes. It isn't whether bloggers "are" journalists. They apparently are, sometimes. We have to ask different questions now because events have moved the story forward. By "events" I mean things on the surface we can see ... and things underneath that we have yet to discern.

I have been an observer and critic of the American press for 19 years. In that stretch there has never been a time so unsettled. More is up for grabs than has ever been up for grabs since I started my watch. ... For this is an exciting time in journalism. Part of the reason is the extension of "the press" to the people we have traditionally called the public.

By the press I mean the public service franchise in journalism, where the writers and do-ers of it actually are. That press has shifted social location. Much of it is still based in The Media (a business) and will be for some time, but some is in nonprofits, and some of the franchise ("the press") is now in public hands because of the Web, the weblog and other forms of citizen media. Naturally our ideas about it are going to change. The franchise is being enlarged.

I was invited to participate in a local discussion of this very topic next week; unfortunately I'll be out of town. But the conversation has been going on, in various contexts, for quite awhile.

About twenty years ago the CEO of a large media company I worked for referred to it as "bypass". He used the word to refer to the ability of advertisers to reach their consumers without going through the middleman; that being the magazines and newspapers his company published and the television stations and media production companies who also relied on advertising for their livelihood. He was -- is -- a prescient man, but he never foresaw the impact of the Web on his newsrooms.

And so as the definition of media transmogrifies -- I selected that word specifically as a tip of the hat to Jeff Gannon and Talon News -- some still have questions about our official uniforms.

That judge needs to be reminded that pajamas are actually the latest in courtroom attire.

Is it still impolite to call it fascism?

The New York Times has a lengthy expose' on the Bush administration's extensive use of taxpayer-financed propaganda to advance its agenda.

As if FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Robert Novak, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Neil Boortz, NewsMax, Townhall, the Weekly Standard, the Washington Times, and the legions of local talk radio bloviators across the country weren't getting the job done.

Lots to talk about

This is the first of a handful of posts today on the sea changes buffeting our media. The Online Coaliton has written a letter to the Federal Election Commission over possible regulation of blogs and websites. You should read the letter and add your name.

Friday, March 11, 2005

That's the new blog started by the Harris County Democratic Party to keep us up-to-date on topics of interest locally. I'll be linking to them often.

Last night at the weekly Drinking Liberally I met the new organizer of that group; congratulations, Adrian. She takes over for Eddie Rodriguez, who's relocating to San Antonio, where I suspect we'll see a new chapter shortly. Eddie's blog needs to be in your bookmarks.

And Bean at Prairie Weather has the skinny on "Blogshine Sunday":

On March 13, 2005, news organizations across America will participate in "Sunshine Sunday" by running stories supporting access to government information. This freedom of information is vital to our democracy. That's why has organized "Blogshine Sunday" on the same day: to ensure that government remains accessible to tomorrow's journalists.

We recognize that technology is changing journalism. On Blogshine Sunday, we affirm:
  • In an increasingly wired society, government documents need to be digital and online, not just buried in archives.
  • "Professional" journalists are not the only people who deserve access to our government -- everyone does.
If these topics mean something to you, please join us on March 13. Write in your blog about how they've affected you.

And here's more:

Have something to say? Want to play a role in Blogshine Sunday? Here’s how.

Pick a topic and your perspective. Do you have a story to tell, or are you just speaking your mind? Remember when you tried to look for property records for that big house on corner to find out how much it’s worth? Or when you found out your Uncle Joe had a CIA file in the ’60s, and wanted to look at it? Or when you wanted to know the phone number for that guy running for the city commission? Or would you rather write from a more philosophical standpoint, about why access to information is important? Maybe there’s something specific you’d like to write about, like the OPEN Government Act?

This will be coupled with your choice of topic: are you writing about the need for digital access to government records, or about the need for equal access for non-traditional journalists?

If you have a blog, then post your column there on Sunday, March 13.

And Gavin posted this there:

Bloggers-as-journalists seems to be gaining acceptance, judging by some recent news:

  • On Monday, the New York Times reported that Garrett M. Graff of fishbowlDC “may be the first blogger in the short history of the medium to be granted a daily White House pass.”
  • On Tuesday, the Online Journalism Review from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California announced it was making available three tutorials for bloggers without journalism experience. The tutorials are wikis which anyone can edit, and are licensed under a Creative Commons license.
  • Sen. John Cornyn’s press secretary told me last week that the OPEN Government Act will likely have its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committe in mid-March. The act, among other provisions, would charge bloggers and other Internet-based journalists lower fees for information requests, a privilege currently based on institutional affiliation.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ceci n'est pas un Ambassador

What do you do with a State Department official who says things like "There's no such thing as the United Nations?"

Why, you make him ambassador to the United Nations, of course.

The problem with this isn't that the US will have to get by with fewer friends in the world. Bush has effectively demonized international cooperation anyway, so what does it really matter if he adds another ignorant, arrogant schmuck to the gaggle of fools representing all of us?

No, the problem is that at a time when the United States is fighting a two-front war (and possibly opening a third or fourth front shortly), we have fewer and fewer allies. We have very little significant combat help, very little logistical help, and it's our soldiers that are the ones paying the price. Even staunch partners like Italy, with a few thousand troops in country, are insulted by insinuation -- "she's a communist; she writes for a communist rag" -- after a tragic friendly-fire mistake. (The tragedy of course is that Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence officer who freed insurgency hostage and Il Manifesto reporter Giuliana Sgrena, died shielding her from bullets fired by American soldiers. Even if we wanted her dead -- and I'm not certain we did -- we couldn't have wanted him dead. And another thing: "Friendly fire" must be the most rancid oxymoron imaginable.)

Why must this administration make enemies everywhere it goes? Why do they look for new ways every day to piss off virtually everyone in the entire world?

Bush should have nominated a UN ambassador that would be capable of rebuilding burned bridges with alienated allies; someone who could help deliver the international help our troops need.

Instead they give yet another middle finger to the global community.

And while conservatives snicker behind their hand, content in their clever "message" to the world, US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to die. No pullout in sight, despite the singing and cheering and dancing associated with Iraqi election day last month.

John Bolton isn't going to be accomplishing much in the way of international cooperation, and more importantly, he probably contributes indirectly to more of our brave men and women dying in the desert for years to come. What a nice legacy that will be.

Update: I see there is news that his confirmation will be opposed. How vigorously and successfully...well, we'll see.

While we wait...

..for Judge Joe Hart to issue his ruling in the TRMPAC case, let's catch up with what people are saying about "The D.A. and Tom DeLay".

The first block quote below is from the CBS transcript of last Sunday's 6o Minutes piece:

DeLay’s fellow Texan, Republican Rep. John Carter, says whether the law was broken depends on what your definition of “administrative” is. "No court has actually defined clearly what administrative purposes is," says Carter. 60 Minutes showed him TRMPAC's brochure with the statement of how the corporate funds would be spent. "Active candidate evaluation and recruitment. Message development. Market research and issue development," says Stahl. "I mean, how is that administrative?"

"Active candidate evaluation and recruitment, that’s a party of administrative procedure," says Carter. "That’s a party function."

"I thought administration was the running of the office. The Xerox machine. Paying bills," says Stahl.

"This is what the court has to rule on," says Carter. "If they find all these things are administrative, there’ll be no convictions in this case."
And here's Charlie Kuffner's take:

I'd like to propose an alternate explanation to the question of why no court has ever ruled on what constitutes an "administrative purpose". There's no case law because no one has ever come anywhere close to violating this century-old law before, and the reason for that is because anyone with two brain cells to rub together can plainly see that "administrative" means "non-political". When you have a law that is crystal clear, and that draws a very bright line, as this one does, it seems to me that you should expect there to be very little case law because there should be no confusion about what the law says. Nobody's been brazen enough before to claim that confusion was even a plausible explanation. If they get away with it now, then this law never actually meant anything.

Norm Ornstein's clever quip about Mother Teresa getting caught turning right on red in a state that doesn't allow it is spot on. This isn't an honest mistake, it isn't a testing of boundaries, and it isn't a case of the law not keeping up with new technologies. It's shameless pettifoggery, and it deserves to be slapped down.

It's this kind of duplicitous bullshit and slavish toadying performed by footlickers like Carter that makes me despise the Republican party. DeLay ought to be tarred and feathered, and all of his minions in the House know it, and they just don't have the stones to do so, much less speak up about it. They continue to vouch for him, cover for him, run interference, and punish those who dare stand up and speak out.

Tom DeLay is precisely the reason why the GOP invites comparisons to the Nazis.

If they know what's good for them, they'll get rid of him. I ain't counting on the Repubs to take out their own trash, though. And if Joe Hart doesn't oblige, and Ronnie Earl gets derailed, well, there's another opportunity for Richard Morrison in a bit less than two years.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Deal with it, you whiny xenophobes

I'm always bemused by xenophobic conservatives who, when confronted with negative opinions of the United States voiced by those living in other countries, sniff indignantly that they don't care what foreigners think.

Usually they resort to the childish name-calling ("Old Europe", "freedom fries") but mostly it's the hypocrisy exhibited that smells so ripe. These whiners are taking advantage of a technology -- the Web -- that makes the world smaller, yet they complain when they hear a differing viewpoint that might have originated in another language.

We should care what everyone thinks of each other when the world is this small -- and shrinking. And that's why sites like Watching America are so cool.

Watching America translates news stories about the United States from foreign newspaper Web sites into English, and also provides links to the native-language version. For example, a March 2 story that ran in Spain's El Mundo tells of that country's help in alerting the U.S. to al-Qaida plans to attack Grand Central Station in New York. You can read the English translation, the original Spanish version and a machine-translated rendition of El Mundo's home page.

I found WA at Bob Harris' blog, and his comments are worth repeating also:

To those of you not yet in the habit of reading the news as it's written overseas, the selections might seem biased, or even bluntly anti-American. Which, um, is the thing. After reading local papers during my own recent bounces around the planet, I can't say this is particularly unrepresentative. In any case, if you're interested, the bottom of the front page also provides a ton of links to the home pages of media from across the planet, so you can easily do your own digging and think for yourself. Bush really has alienated vast swaths of humanity, and the only place that isn't screamingly obvious is within these very borders.

It's a bit like having to live in an alcoholic household, really. Inside the house, Dad's really a good guy who just needs us to love him a little more and work a little harder and meanwhile the "good" kids are the ones enabling him and the ones who actually see that he's just a selfish f***ing drunk are very, very bad.

I suppose this puts people like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh in the enabling-mother role, unable to see the faults in the man they love, no matter how obvious, and willing to lash out at anyone who asks why he's picking fights, not taking care of the house, and running up enormous debts.

Seems about right.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Not a tasseled Gucci loafer in the whole bunch

This is what lobbyists really look like.

That's nearly eight hundred volunteers, posing on the Capitol's south steps, after a hard day of advocating our government on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

People who took a day off to travel, people who took the time to visit their representatives to say, "Please don't abandon poor women."

See, it's not about 'killing babies'. It's not about abortion. It's not about ending pregnancy.

It's about preventing unwanted pregnancy, so that abortions become rarer.

Who's against that?

You see, Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured women in the United States, acoording to the August, 2004 US Census Bureau. Over 1.5 million Texas women have no health insurance. For them, the subsidized family planning visit is the only medical care they receive. These aren't abortion services, either: the program includes breast and cervical cancer screenings, diabetes, hypertension, anemia and sexually transmitted infections in addition to contraceptive methods and counseling.

And guess what? Family planning is extraordinarily cost-effective. The Texas Department of State Health Services (DHS) estimates that it costs less than $150 per client per year for preventive family planning, whereas it costs $8265 for the first year of a Medicaid pregnancy.

Every public dollar spent on preventive family planning saves $3 in Medicaid costs for prenatal and newborn care. And all of the women served by Texas' family planning program would have been eligible for Medicaid-paid prenatal care, delivery, and newborn care if they were to become pregnant.

And finally, the lobbyists pictured above represent a vast majority of Texans and their viewpoint. An August 2004 Scripps Howard Texas poll found that:

-- 80% of Texans favor increased funding for family planning, and

-- 79% of Texans agreed that Planned Parenthood should continue to provide family-planning services to low-income women.

So the next time you see someone screaming (or writing) "it's all about killing babies", remember these statistics.

And ask yourself: "Who's being extreme in their opinion, again?"

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Even Republicans agree: TRMPAC broke the law

A lot has been written about Tom DeLay and TRMPAC, so if you need backstory go Google around. There's a trial underway, and yesterday a well-connected GOP hack disclosed what most of us already knew:

A former chairman of the Federal Election Commission with deep Republican roots testified Tuesday that Texans for a Republican Majority violated state election laws by failing to report the corporate money it spent during the 2002 elections.

Five Democratic candidates who lost that year are suing Bill Ceverha, the political action committee's treasurer, accusing him of illegally using corporate money for political activity and then failing to report it.

Trevor Potter, a Washington lawyer with ties to former President Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., appeared on behalf of the Democratic candidates.

Potter testified that Ceverha should have reported the corporate money spent on the 2002 elections and disputed the contention that state election laws are unconstitutional because they are vague.

He also said the political action committee's $190,000 contribution to the Republican National Committee raised questions about whether the corporate money was laundered into noncorporate donations for Texas candidates.

Go read the whole thing.

Here's your pop quiz. Which of the following statements is the most plausible?

(Merriam Webster defines 'plausible' as 1 : superficially fair, reasonable, or valuable but often specious; a plausible pretext 2 : superficially pleasing or persuasive; a swindler..., then a quack, then a smooth, plausible gentleman -- R. W. Emerson 3 : appearing worthy of belief; the argument was both powerful and plausible)

a) -- Tom DeLay and his cronies didn't know they were violating campaign finance law when they solicited contributions from corporations;

b) : Karl Rove was completely unaware of the gay hooker who for two years masqueraded as a journalist in the White House press room;

c) : Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; it was necessary and proper for the US to invade and disarm them (too easy; pick another. Really. This is the answer for those of my readers who get all of their news from FOX. You're smarter than this.) ; or

d) : the Attorney General of the United States is a firm, forceful advocate against the torture of 'enemy combatants' at Gauntanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere.

Acknowledging that "all of the above" is the most correct answer, that's not one of your choices. Pick one and post it in Comments. If I get a statistically valid sample -- oh hell, even if I don't -- I'll post the results.