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May 20, 2005

Some Attention for BOR

By Vince Leibowitz

Though I haven't posted here as much as I would have liked over the past couple of months (can you believe I let work get in the way of blogging?), I did want to let everyone to know to "watch out," for the Fort Worth Star Telegram this weekend.

I received a call earlier this week from a reporter in the paper's Austin Bureau, asking me about a post I'd made here a while back on State Rep. Bob Griggs. It seems the paper is doing a "report card/profile" on Griggs, and it is expected to run Sunday or later depending upon when it was finished.

At any rate, hopefully summer will be a little bit slower time--the past couple of weeks I've been buried in Lexis/Nexus searches, the Code of Criminal Procedure (actually O'Conner's Criminal Codes Plus) and the various and sundry things one must do when one works for a law firm--and I should be back with my regular musings.

In the meantime, I think I remember something about Byron graduating today, which probably explains the lack of posting today. If, in fact Byron or anyone passed up a day of revelry and posted on the day of their college graduation, I'd be totally shocked.

So, congrats to Byron (and everyone else graduating from anywhere this weekend, for that matter).

Vince Leibowitz is County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Van Zandt County. He is a guest contributor to BOR and a contributor to the Political State Report. He may be reached at Vince_Leibowitz-at-bluebottle.com

May 10, 2005

Constructive Media Criticism

By Jim Dallas

If you've been reading the blog circuit recently, you know that Doug McKinnon, a former staffer for Bob Dole, has written a stinging op-ed in the Chicago Tribune about the media fascination with missing "single white females" --

Note to the news media--with an emphasis on the cable networks: Enough is enough.

Your continual focus on, and reporting of, missing, young, attractive white women not only demeans your profession but is a televised slap in the face to minority mothers and parents the nation over who search for their own missing children with little or no assistance or notice from anyone.

The latest missing woman to dominate the airtime of the cable networks was Jennifer Wilbanks, from Duluth, Ga. Like Dru Sjodin, Chandra Levy and Elizabeth Smart all before her, Wilbanks is young, white and attractive. Wilbanks, as it turned out, ran away of her own volition from her impending marriage. As a Maryland police official told me after Wilbanks turned up in New Mexico, "the media's non-stop focus on the possible abduction of Wilbanks forced the local officials and police departments to spend thousands of dollars they would not otherwise have spent."

Define racism. One could certainly make the argument that the cable networks that continually focus on these missing white women, to the virtual exclusion of minority women, are practicing a form of racism. The racism in this case, however, while predicated on color, does not concern itself with the color of one's skin. Rather, it is based on the color of money, ratings points and competition. Would an African-American woman who went missing days before her wedding receive the same (or any) coverage as that of Wilbanks? Not likely.

The unfortunate irony being that important trends go unreported while singular, sensationalistic incidents like the run-away bride story get coverage way out of proportion to their actual relevance. Granted, such journalism appears to get the John Tierney seal of approval, but I think we can all agree with Tbogg about John Tierney.

Here at the Burnt Orange Report we like to do more than idle complaining, so here's a hot (only because it's been simmering on the backburner for about a decade) scoop for all you journalists:

The Governor of the state of Chihuahua in Mexico said recently that international attention on the situation in Ciudad Juarez is damaging the city's public image. The purpose of Reyes Baeza's comments is unclear, but such statements in the past have had the effect of undermining families and local NGOs seeking justice.

To say that it is international concern, and not the situation in the region, that is damaging the city's image is very clearly wrong-headed. Ciudad Juarez has a reputation for violence and brutality against women -- not because of international concern -- but because of the reality and the institutional failures to deal effectively with this reality.

The reality is that since 1993 more than 370 young women and girls have been murdered in the cities of Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua - at least a third suffering sexual violence - without the authorities taking proper measures to investigate and address the problem.

Thanks to the efforts of the families of the victims and local women's organizations, coupled with international campaigning by the likes of Amnesty International and V-Day, things have begun to change. In 2003-4, in the face of this intense pressure, the federal government finally agreed to get involved, with a range of measures to combat violence against women in Ciudad Juarez -- but sadly not the city of Chihuahua.

By "international pressure," of course, Amnesty International does not appear to be talking about the mainstream media in the United States. A LexisNexis search of major newspapers' full text over the last five years turns up 210 hits for "Jennifer Wilbanks", 293 hits for "Dru Sjodin", and "error, over 1,000 results found" for "Chandra Levy" (I counted 2,876 by splitting the search into about five different time-periods). Combined for three women, this is 3,379 stories over five years, or about one-and-a-half per day.

A full-text search of "'Ciudad Juarez' AND 'missing women'" returned 12 stories, four of which were printed by Canadian papers, three by Australian papers, and one by the London Telegraph. So basically, major U.S. papers have run four stories over five years. Wire services ran 18 stories; I could not find a single English-media transcript or magazine article containing those search terms.

Lexis-ing isn't necessarily the best measure of the mainstream media's focus, since it depends on the art of search-term-ing. Nonetheless, I think we can all see a pattern here.

If you've heard of this issue at all it's probably been because of human rights NGOs or Texas-based womens' issue advocates. That's how I'm aware of the issue, anyway. The media is doing a truly shameful job of addressing border issues, particularly when they intersect with the larger issue of womens' safety.

April 15, 2005

Canton School Shooting Update

By Vince Leibowitz

Several days ago, when Canton, where I reside in Van Zandt County, hit the news because of the unfortunate school shooting, I noticed that a couple of my fellow bloggers here blogged on it.

Since we're pretty much to the "aftermath" stages right now--waiting for the coach to recover, waiting to see what the judicial system will do, etc.--I thought it might be interesting to let readers of this blog know a little more about the rest of the "aftermath" of the shooting. In particular, the impact the shooting may end up having on our local elections next month.

First of all, a little background is necessary. For several years until the fall of 2004, the Canton Police Department and the city of Canton provided Canton ISD and Canton High School specifically with a "School Resource Officer." This was a police officer (in this case a very dedicated and highly regarded lady named Michelle Abio) who was basically assigned full time to protect the campuses and also work with the students so they understand that police are there to help, etc., etc.

Anyway, last year, when our police chief was unceremoniously demoted to dispatcher by the new far-radical, right-wing Republican City Manager, Charles Fenner, the new "public safety director," who now serves essentially as fire and police chief, decided the department couldn't afford to have the school resource officer. Keep in mind also that, for a town of 3,500, Canton has a fairly sizeable police department because of the fact that once a month, anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 people come here for First Monday Trade Days.

Well, when Officer Abio was being removed from the school, she was asked, at a school board meeting, what the school could do to prevent it from happening. As I recall, she basically told them they would have to make their voices heard to the city. Now, everyone can plainly see that the officer was exercising her right to free speech, so the city couldn't fire her for that. Instead, the pulled up a stupid, trumped-up "charge" up from the past that the old chief had already taken care of, and fired the officer for that. So, the school is without a resource officer.

Though our local rag, the Canton Herald, won't dare report such a controversial thing, a lot of people in the city believe the shooting would have never happened if Officer Abio (or at least another SRO) was on the scene at the high school. If you've read the news accounts of the shooting and the shooter, you can see why they may believe that. Personally, I believe if someone's dead-set to causing violence like that, they're going to find a way to do so--officer or no officer. But, there are evidently a lot of people in the city who feel otherwise, and who feel their children were placed in danger because the SRO was taken away.

For the last week, I've heard what I'll call "rumblings and rumors" that a fairly large delegation of parents would be descending upon the Canton City Council meeting next Tuesday to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting to make their opinions known. I wasn't sure it would happen until last night. Rather late last night, I recieved a call from a person I knew from my tenure at the local newspapers (back when they reported the news) who told me that, in fact, a number of parents of school-aged children are trying to make this happen and who asked if I knew anyone else in town who wasn't a parent who might join them and also speak on their behalf. Unfortunatly, I didn't, and this is one fight I plan to stay away from for a number of reasons. But, while it may happen absent the watchful eye of the Associated Press and other news agencies, I firmly believe the Canton City Council will have an interesting "Come to Jesus," meeting with some of its constituents Tuesday.

As for how this will affect the local elections, I believe that both the two-term mayor and opposed incumbents on the council will be defeated. I believe the mayor will be defeated by a fairly large margin and that one council member will be defeated by a small margin. After all, these are the folks that hired the new city manager (who was elected to the council before being named city manager and is a protegee of RPT Executive Director Jeff Fisher, former VZC Judge) who got rid of the old police chief who in turn screwed up the police department. All of this has, by the way, resulted in several lawsuits against the city.

One of the most interesting suits charges that the city couldn't hire either a city manager or a public safety director because it doesn't have ordinances in place to do so, if I remember correctly. This would make the city manager's decisions null and void (supposedly) since the Local Government Code delegates specific powers to the mayor and council unless an ordinance is adopted otherwise.

Anyway, that is what is going on in Canton right now. I just thought some of BOR's readers may find the "small town politics" angle interesting.

March 22, 2005

I Was Wrong About Schiavo

By Andrew Dobbs

After my post on the Schiavo case I read some very interesting comments and resolved to do more research into the matter. I read a variety of sources, and in the end I changed my mind- I was wrong. While I hate saying that a woman should die when so many people clearly love her and wish to see her live, I also must say that it appears that I underestimated Michael Schiavo and insulted him. I was wrong to do this.

Interestingly enough, I found the document that changed my mind from a conservative source- the National Review. The document is the Guardian ad Litem's report to Florida Governor Jeb Bush on Schiavo's case. The GAL is familiar to those of us with divorced parents, even more so to those of us who went through custody battles. It is a person, usually with a background in social work and law, who is appointed by the court to represent a person unable to speak for themselves in legal proceedings- typically children not old enough to take the stand, or in this case Terri Schiavo.

The report is tragic and heart breaking. Elements of both sides should be ashamed of themselves- the Right for defaming a man like Michael Schiavo (who is loving, yet flawed, a man who has suffered a horrible tragedy) and some elements of the Left (though not all) for defaming the Schindlers. Both sides of this battle have one thing in common- they deeply love Terri and both are heartbroken by this cruel twist of fate. The Schindlers desperately want to keep her alive- testifying at one point that they would allow all of her limbs to be amputated and for most of her organs to be transplated (were such necessary) before they would let her die. They love Terri, and the thought of her dying is unbearable for them.

Michael Schiavo, on the other hand, has been underestimated by others, and by me. He sought treatment for his wife, taking her across the country for various experimental treatments, standing with the Schindlers on all of these issues. But after four years of tireless efforts, it appears that he simply realized what many doctors had already said and would continue to say- there is no hope for Terri to recover. Even the Schindlers, in a court proceeding in 2001, admitted that she was in a PVS. He realized that what she was experiencing now was torture, being trapped in a world she could not participate in meaningfully. Perhaps he simply tired of the care, perhaps he couldn't handle the stress, the man isn't a god- he is as weak as any of us. In the end, he and others realized that Terri never sought this kind of existence and he changed his orders- he wished for her to be removed from her feeding tube.

This is where the Schindlers and Schiavo had their falling out. The Schindlers kept trying to have Michael removed as her guardian, but there were no reasons to do so. Not only had he not neglected her, but his obsessiveness over her care greatly annoyed the nurses assigned to her. In 13 years (when the GAL report was written), Terri had never had a bedsore- a common affliction for all immobilized people. Some have said, including me, that his motivation for all of this was money. But that money has now run out, and even before then Michael had offered to divest himself from the trust. He turned down the money. He just wants his wife to die peacefully.

So you have two camps who both love the same afflicted person- one wants to keep her alive and the other wishes for her to be allowed to die. Legally, Michael has the decision-making power and in Florida hea has the right to choose whether she stays on life support. The Supreme Court has upheld the right of states to make their own laws regarding these issues. Morally, even the American Conference of Catholic Bishops says that a feeding tube may be removed in the case of a PVS. Medically, the evidence was "compelling" that Terri is in a PVS and various tests to determine if she could swallow on her own concluded that she could not. The various signs of lucidity cited by supporters of the Schindlers leave out some important information- the responses Terri showed were not repetitive or consistetn. In essence, a PVS can respond to some limited stimuli, but unless they consistently do so, they are not aware of their surroundings and they are in a PVS. She was reflexive, not aware, not conscious. It appears she has not had a conscious action in 15 years. While some people in what appears to be a PVS have partially recovered, no one has come close to being in one for 15 years and then recovering. It appears that Terri will never recover, and the law grants Michael the right to end her suffering.

Her parents have said that they would keep her alive even if they knew for a fact that she said she didn't want such. This is damning for their case- everyone has a right to refuse medical treatment. Courts have ruled that Terri never wanted this kind of treatment, and when Michael realized that she would never recover, he honored her wishes. It pains my soul to have to say it, but Terri Schiavo must be let go. To not do so is to turn the oxcart of law in our country on its head and to let emotion trump facts.

In the end, you all were right- I wasn't listening to a broad enough array of sources on this matter. When I did, it changed my mind. I will make this deal with you all- I will remain open-minded and resolve never to make a judgement based on only one side of the debate if you all will promise never to bash me for disagreeing with you. Most of you all were very nice to me, but some (Kirk McPike sticks out in my head) accused me of being a Republican, which I am not. I refuse to believe anything just because a majority of my party believes in it and I will never reject anything simply because a majority of the other does.

In the end, I was wrong about Terri Schiavo, but my intentions were good. We must err on the side of life, but we also must never let our gut and our emotions beat out the often cold justice of law and order. Such is the formula for chaos and mob rule, for Jacobinism and other vile philosophies. Terri's story is a moving one, but those who value her life, her freedom and her rights must be prepared to allow her to pass away.

May Almighty God keep our eyes on the truth, and prevent us from doing any person, particularly Terri, wrong.

March 21, 2005

Slacking Off

By Jim Dallas

The left-blogosphere is abuzz with commentary on the Texas Futile Care Law. Mega-kudos particularly to Mark Kleiman (here), who's all over this. Of course, this means we done got scooped.

Of course, the fact that much of the sturm und drang in re: Schiavo is fueled by cynical politics doesn't undermine the moral/legal positions of the true believers, just as all the vicious and inappropriate attacks on Michael Schiavo shouldn't prejudice his moral/legal claims. Can we agree to a cease-fire on the politics of personal destruction....?

...Probably not, but I thought I'd toss that out there.

March 17, 2005

Update on My Moral Dilemma

By Andrew Dobbs

So my post on abortion has already received 100 comments and counting, perhaps a new BOR record. I thought that it would spur discussion, but I was really only expecting like 20 or so tops. This issue really brings out a lot of people, as well it should. This isn't tax policy or something else arcane and dry- it is a debate about life itself and whether or not we are engaged in some kind of monstrosity. It is an issue which cuts to the core of our values as Americans, an issue which we ought to keep discussing- hopefully with some honesty and respect for one another.

But I wanted to clear a couple of things up. First, I haven't quite made up my mind as to what I believe about this issue, so to all the right wing bloggers congratulating me for jumping ship, hold on for a second. All I know right now is that I really don't like the arguments extended by the two major parties. Republicans are ripe with hypocrisy when they argue that every life is sacred before abandoning children to hunger, poverty, disease and squalor. We Democrats on the other hand seem to only be concerned with what sounds good politically- they say that there is nothing wrong with getting any kind of abortion, even late term ones, but that they should nonetheless be rare. On the one hand, there are no moral consequences to abortion, on the other it seems there are. People will argue that it is a traumatic event, but so is open heart surgery or masectomies. Should these be "rare" as well? We need to pick a side.

Furthermore, for those decrying me as a Republican, I think that it is funny how my rethinking of this issue has caused me to actually become far more liberal. I had become relatively conservative on a lot of issues of social welfare policy, but if we are to end abortion in this country it must be coincident with a dramatic improvement in our spending on health care, education, housing and other social services. We also must take on the issues of low-paying jobs, high crime neighborhoods and urban decay. We must prevent child abuse before it happens, improve sex ed and provide better access to contraception. It has to be a societal change, not merely a legal one. Further, it makes you start to think about the death penalty and war. I suppose that war is for self-defense (and we don't need to get into Iraq right now- one argument at a time) and the death penalty is ending a life that is not innocent as an unborn child is, but one has to ask- who has the right to choose who lives and who dies? It seems that no mortal being has that right, and so all of these things must be called into question.

Finally, I have been looking around the web for various opinions, and I found one where someone said many of the arguments I was making (in a devil's advocate sense, pardon the blasphemy) but used one paragraph rather than several pages. Nat Hentoff has been a left-wing journalist for decades- he was friends with Malcolm X, protested Vietnam, he was basically a socialist. He is also dramatically pro-life. I found a perfect quote from a left-wing, secular, pro-life perspective in a famous piece he wrote that says:

Yet being without theology isn't the slightest hindrance to being pro-life. As any obstetrics manual -- Williams Obstetrics, for example -- points out, there are two patients involved, and the one not yet born "should be given the same meticulous care by the physician that we long have given the pregnant woman." Nor, biologically, does it make any sense to draw life-or-death lines at viability. Once implantation takes place, this being has all the genetic information within that makes each human being unique. And he or she embodies continually developing human life from that point on. It misses a crucial point to say that the extermination can take place because the brain has not yet functioned or because that thing is not yet a "person." Whether the life is cut off in the fourth week or the fourteenth, the victim is one of our species, and has been from the start.

This issue is hard to handle in a non-religious way. Life and humanity aren't things that can be considered without the influence of religion and theology. The fact of the matter is that as soon as an embryo has implanted, it has all of the genetic material that makes it a human, that makes it a unique human distinguishable from all others, that makes it a living creature. Should we consider its life any less important than that of a new born infant's or a full-grown adult just because it still requires a mother to survive? Is there a point in our lives when our rights do not include the right to life? Is one person's comfort and peace of mind worth another's life? These are tough questions, and we must answer them if we wish to be a moral country.

At this time, I have to admit that I'm leaning towards the side of life. Biologically speaking, it is a unique human life, and morally speaking it is wrong to end such a thing. Still, I am loathe to make such a big change without talking it out with people I trust. I appreciate everyone's input, and I'll keep everyone up to date on what happens with this whole line of thought.

March 13, 2005

Sunshine Week!

By Vince Leibowitz

[This post has been updated. Click on the "Read More" link for the update]

Happy Sunshine Week!

For those of you who don't know, Sunshine Week is the week where Texans (especially those who write for newspapers) celebrate and educate others about "sunshine" (aka open government) laws in the state.

In Texas, there are two main open government laws: The Texas Public Information Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act.

For those of you unaware how open government laws came into existance in Texas, the Longview News-Journal (via Cox News Service) has a great article that traces it back to the days of the Sharpstown Scandal.

As someone who has used both the Texas Public Information Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act to help gather news and information for my readers back when I was in print media, I can tell you that our state truly has some of the best Sunshine Laws in existance. But, they always need tweaking.

I can't count the times I've seen government bodies try to get the Texas Attorney General's Office to allow them to withold records they should have released to begin with, or that I've seen government bodies try to violate (or actually violate) the provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

I have vivid memories of an instance where a city in Van Zandt County refused to say anything or release any documents that would reveal why its City Secretary had resigned or been fired--at the time, we didn't know which. We believed it had something to do with financial mismanagement (it did), and ended up requesting to see so many documents they literally filled the city's small council chamber which was, at that time, a long board-room type table in a long, narrow room. Finally, as we were going through this massive mountain of documents, the Mayor came in and said, "Look, here's the deal..." and we got the story and the letter of resignation, which we'd requested to begin with but were told didn't exist (yeah, right).

In particular, I'm especially proud of one achievement for which I recieved a shiny glass award from the Texas Press Association and Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. One of the things I was cited for was securing a favorable decision from the AG's Open Records Committee regarding the release of documents containing rejected or unadopted settlement offers in lawsuits against government bodies.

I think, over the years, as a reporter or private citizen, I've filed at least 200 open records requests with government bodies.

But, what I've always wondered is why more Bloggers don't get in on the act? There are a lot of "speculative" stories we write which could be bolstered with documents we could obtain under the Texas Public Information Act. I guess that, given the "immediate" nature of our medium, waiting 10 days for documents and possibly another sixty for an AG's decision is a little too long a wait.

At any rate, it's Sunshine Week! So, let's all work to "Let The Sun Shine In"!


There is a blogger version of Sunshine Sunday and Sunshine Week, too. It's called BlogShine. Check it out.

In addition, in the spirit of shining the light, I wanted to post two links that can help you figure out how your state senators and state reps voted on various pieces of legislation and amendments, etc. The House Journal and Senate Journal are both online. They can be searched by specific bill number. Or, you can go to the date od a specific vote and just scroll through. I highly reccomend using the HTML versions as opposed to the PDF.

A Survey for You (maybe)

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

A friend of mine here at college is doing a Sociology survey on sexism and asked me to set up a web based version. Well, after all that coding (thanks Dreamweaver) I'm not going to let my time go to waste. So if you are a male (the only requirement other than being able use the Internet) please answer this short survey for him.

Tomorrow I'm headed home to spend my spring break working on my father's city council race. I sent out the first e-mails of the campaign today (to a whopping 20 people) using Constant Contact thanks to their 60 day free trial. Who said we weren't thrifty Germans?

250 Yard signs have been made, thanks to student support last Friday, and almost 10% of them have already been put up. Understand though, that four years ago, 250 votes basically won you a seat on the city council, and with 4 candidates this go round (compared to 6 then) it's still going to take 400-500 if turnout doesn't change. Of course, I'm planning on increased turnout (higher than the usuual 12% of 7000 voters). More updates soon enough.

March 01, 2005

Texas Independence Day

By Vince Leibowitz

Tomorrow, Texans everywhere will celebrate one of the most sacred days on the calendar: Texas Independence Day.

Though many of you might think I'm a bit of a sentimental sap for this very un-bloglike post, I'm going to go ahead with it anyway.

Over the past few decades, interest in the holiday seems to have waned, but for me, it is still one of the most important days of the year. It's a time for us to reflect on our unique heritage and the sacrifices of generations of Texans--not just those at the Alamo or San Jacinto--that have made our state especially great.

Every year about this time, I drag out or pull up copies of a couple of documents to read and reflect on. The first is William B. Travis' letter from the Alamo on Feb. 24, 1836. The second is the most important document in the history of our state: The Texas declaration of Independence.

Regardless of the fact that Travis does tend to use the word "I" a lot in this letter (as opposed to "we"), few Texans can read it without feeling--at least for a moment--that, if we were alive in 1836 and read Travis' dispatch, we would have hopped on the nearest horse and headed for San Antonio:

The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken--I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls--I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all despatch...

This year, though, as I was reading the Texas Declaration of Independence, it seemed to take on a new meaning to me in light of what happened in the last legislative session and what's going on in the current one.

In particular, the introductory phrase should hold a special meaning for all of us:

When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived, and for the advancement of whose happiness it was instituted, and so far from being a guarantee for the enjoyment of those inestimable and inalienable rights, becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

As I read this, I couldn't help but think: did the patriots who signed this risk their lives so, today, 150,000 Texas children would want for affordable health insurance? Did the brave soldiers who died at the Alamo die so the Legislature of the Texas they were fighting for could summarily lock its own citizens out of her courtrooms and see them denied fair and appropriate compensation for their injuries? Did the men who stormed the battlefield at San Jacinto do so in order that corrupt influence from behind-the-scenes power-brokers and millions of dollars in illegal money could help foster a partisan gerrymander resulting in thousands of Texans being underrepresented?

Could these patriots have ever imagined that the Texas they fought and died for--the Texas they put their lives on the line for by creating a revolutionary government--would be in the shape it is in today?

What would Sam Houston have to say about House Bill 2? I doubt he'd like it much. What would Mirabeau Lamar have to say about school vouchers? The father of public education is probably turning over in his grave. What would Stephen F. Austin, Thomas Rusk or Lorenzo de Zavala have to say about any number of problems facing the state today? I'd venture to say they would not have kind words for those in power in our state today.

When a government has ceased to protect the lives, liberty and property of the people...[it] becomes an instrument in the hands of evil rulers for their oppression.

I'm not sure if one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence was alive today, that he wouldn't call Rick Perry, Tom Craddick and some of their cronies "evil rulers" working for the oppression of the people.

What regime in the modern history of Texas has done more to stifle legislative debate, oppress the poor through cuts in services, or generally ignore the broader spectrum of Texans to look out for the interest of its cronies and political allies than the current one?

What regime in the modern history of Texas has gone to such corrupt lengths to gain and retain power? Even the Sharpstown scandal of decades gone by is beginning to pale in comparison to what is unfolding in grand jury and courtrooms in Travis County today.

This Texas Independence Day, as we think about all that has happened in our history and look toward our future, surely we must all realize it is time for change.

The Republicans holding power in Austin today have betrayed the trust of the people of this state. They have conducted a wholesale slaughter of much of what we hold dear as Texans. And, what they haven't already attacked, destroyed, consolidated or weakened, they are preparing to. Perhaps not this session and perhaps not this election, but surely the next.

As Texas Democrats, we have the opportunity to work to restore our government to one our forefathers would be proud of. We have the chance to undo what has been done, and make our state the brightest shining star in the union such that the corporate-owned, special-interest serving, poor-people hating majority that has us now in a legislative stranglehold can't change it back in 100 years.

There is only one way for us to accomplish this: we must work at it. We must educate and inform the people of Texas what they have been deprived of and of the corruption of our government. We must register more voters. We must raise more money. We must walk more blocks. We must make more phone calls, encourage more candidates for public office, and give as much as we are able as often as we are able--whether it is money, time or influence--to do what we can to get our state back on the right track once and for all.

More than 150 years ago, it was the "Delegates of the People of Texas
in General Convention at the town of Washington," that shaped our future. Today, it is the Texas Legislature, elected by Texans For A Republican Majority, the Texas Association of Business and Tom DeLay as sent to the city of Austin. But, for a brighter tomorrow, it must once again be a Legislature and executive elected by the people to serve all the people--and not just the special interests--and to protect all the people. Then and only then can we get Texas back on the right path.

It's time for a new generation of people like those legendary Texans Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Coke Stevenson, Lyndon Johnson, and others to return our state to its former glory. They're taking their place now. Soon there will be more Hubert Vos and Mark Stramas joining the ranks of the Pete Laneys, Elliott Naishtats, and Judith Zaffirinis under the Pink Dome.

And, this Texas Independence Day, we must remember to do all we can to help them. Then and only then will our state again mirror its former glory, and again live up to the long ago expectations of those who fought, bled and died for its very independence.

I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all despatch...

February 10, 2005

TV Time

By Vince Leibowitz

I made an appearance on "Face to Face" with Neal Barton, anchor of the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news for the Tyler NBC affiliate, KETK Region 56 this afternoon during the station's 5 p.m. news cast.

"Face to Face" is a little two-minute segment Neal Barton does weekdays at five where he basically talks current events and politics with local political peoplel.

Lately, they've had a lot of Republicans on, so I was asked to come and give a perspective from the "other side."

Sadly, since it is a live segment, there are never any snippits of it on the station's website. And, since it's only two minutes, there is not a lot you can really get in to.

I was asked about school finance and children's healthcare.

I can't remember word for word what I said about school finance, but I mentioned the VLT proposal, and that I believed it would be what the Republican leadership ended up settling for after they rejected business tax hikes. I also noted that legislators need to be careful in repealing Robin Hood because so many schools in East Texas--specifically all of the districts in Van Zandt County--benefit from Chapter 41 "recapture" funds. And, of course, I noted that the majority of Texas schools are recipient schools, while a very small minority are "donor" schools under Share The Wealth. I also think I said that VLTs were an "inappropriate" way to fund public education. I wanted to use Bob Glaze's catch phrase, "gambling has always been a sleazy way to fund education," but I thought better of it and came out with "inappropriate."

On CHIPS, I do remember pretty much verbatim one good quote I got in, which was, "There's only a small surplus this biennium, and it's not enough to restore all of the cuts the Legislature made last session. In spite of all of the outcry over the cuts--especially in the last election--I suspect the Republican leadership is going to try and see just how little they can actually get by with restoring."

Needless to say, I was honored to be asked, and hope to be asked back again sometime in the future. Hopefully, though, they'll get my name right on the overline next time though.

Right before the commercial break preceeding my segment, I was sitting at the anchor desk with Neal Barton and was actually reading his teleprompter--unaware that the camera on the far right of the studio was going to cut to me and that he was going to be voicing over a live image of me. I realized this when I looked up to the in-studio television high above the newsroom and saw my self looking up at...myself. I think I had been on screen for four or five seconds, which probably means the audience saw me look perplexed when I saw my name misspelled on the teleprompter. I think this is especially true because one of the camera men reminded me to "smile" on the break (and, of course), look into the camera if I wanted to make a point (which I did). Not sure if I smiled or not--not much to smile about regarding the Lege these days.

February 05, 2005

Because Terrorism & Traffic Tickets Are SO related...

By Vince Leibowitz

With Byron and Karl-T in the Alamo City today working for Rose Spector, I thought I'd help pick up the slack with this little post, which I'm sure to be hammered by law-and-order-types over.

At any rate, it seems that five counties along the Gulf Coast "will soon be able to share information about everything from domestic disputes to traffic tickets. Now, that doesn't sound sinister at all. In fact, I thought most counties already did that through the DPS's databases. Here's where I think things start getting "iffy:"

At a cost of $2 million, the Gulf Coast Law Enforcement Alliance Project will let authorities in Aransas, Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, and San Patricio counties compile crime data into a federal anti-terrorism database, Shelby said. [Emphasis mine]

The system, expected to be up and running by June, includes seven police departments, the Port of Corpus Christi Authority, the Texas Department of Public Safety and police at two university campuses.

Shelby said the Corpus Christi region was chosen because its three U.S. Navy bases are surrounded by miles of vast ranch land near the Mexican border. About 18,000 Naval personnel train and operate at the bases.

"Vast ranch land" is now a terrorist threat? No, really. I know what they mean, the writer of the Chron article, however, could have phrased it better. Seriously, though, it sounds like this U.S. Attorney is afraid of a terrorist threat to these bases, coming through Mexico or somewhere else, and that's legitimate. But, read on:

Shelby said the system may be expanded to the entire Texas coast and eventually across the country, with the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection also involved. Similar systems are in place near Naval operations in Seattle and Hampton Beach, Va.

The test comes amid growing efforts to share information and merge databases among different law enforcement agencies following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"We had erected these barriers between us," he said. "Terrorists and individuals who were there to do us harm exploited those barriers."

He said information deemed "critically sensitive" would not be fed into the database, however.

Several problems. First, weren't those so-called "barriers" between agencies sharing data erected for a reason? Like so J. Edgar Hoover wouldn't come tramping through your town everytime some alleged Pinko got a traffic ticket? Weren't those barriers also erected for privacy reasons? Does the federal government really need to know if a college kid got a ticket for public intox on his 21st birthday on 6th Street? To me, that much information sharing makes the system wide open for abuse.

Of course, they also say that information not "critically sensative" won't be fed into the database. Anyone who's ever listened to Donald Rumsfeld's disjointed ramblings for even five minutes anytime after 9-11 knows that what types of information that could be important to a particular case changes on a case-by-case, minute-by-minute basis. So, how does one know--and more importantly, who judges--what information is "critically sensative"? For example, is the fact that I sometimes get speeding tickets "critically sensative" information? Should your teenage son/daughter be entered into such a massive state/federal database because they were loitering outside the local Sonic one Saturday night? I don't think so.

And, though the following statement could be true, it's further alarming:

David Brant, national director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said police collect a wealth of information each day, and much of it could help solve other crimes.

For example, he said, a traffic stop in Kenedy County could provide the tidbit needed to capture a terrorist suspect.

Now, unless you happened to give a speeding ticket to an actual terrorist, someone who stole a terrorist's car, or a terrorist's relative, I'm not sure how this could be useful. It could provide this kind of information if you stop the right person, which you might do maybe 1 out of 100 times. Otherwise, is a traffic ticket now going to be like checking baggage at the airport, to wit:

Officer: Have you left your vehicle unattended in the last 24 hours, accepted strange packages from anyone, are you carrying explosives, and do you have any foreign fruits?

Driver:Uh, nope.

Officer: Great. Thanks for helping keep America safe! Here's your citation for going 74 in a 65. Have a great day, and drive safe!

Of course, this could also open up a whole new window on "racial profiling." Whereas conventional wisdom used to be that law enforcement stopped African Americans in nice cars to look for drugs, will it now be that they stop anyone who doesn't look "American," to see if, perchance, they're a terrorist, even if it's just to get them in the database?

While I grant you that my examples border on the far end of the spectrum, it is clearly obvious that there are dangers associated with this type of "information sharing," as well as benefits. After all, who wants to be in a terrorism database just for, say, getting a traffic ticket?

February 02, 2005

Movie With A Gay Character? Can't Shoot It In Our Town!

By Vince Leibowitz

I hardly ever post more than once--let alone twice--a day, and a third time is very unprecedented (and maybe not allowed), but I've been waiting for our local newspaper to update its Website so I could post about this brouhaha, which is so typical of small-town politics. I finally saw the story on there tonight.

Anyway, last week, an independent film was supposed to be shot in Canton. All seemed well and good until the Powers That Be found out that one of the primary characters led an "alternative lifestyle."

Then, all Hell broke out and the blame shifting began, to wit:

[This story is very disjointed, but keep in mind it was published in a very "conservative" paper and was probably severely edited for content without regard for style]

The independent film "Fat Girls" that was scheduled to be shot in Canton from January 23 through January 30 has been relocated to Waxahachie after the crew failed to follow proper procedure through the city and "mislead" the school district on their intentions.

Casting director for this production Katrina Cook released a statement about the move.

"The city manager pulled the plug and we have moved the entire movie to Waxahachie. His reason was because the lead character was gay. Not only is this discrimination but he has denied many local people the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (perhaps) to be in a film. Unfortunately a core group of individuals can make decisions based on their personal points of view," said Cook.

Canton City Manager Charles Fenner said the allegations that he "pulled the plug" on the movie was a false statement.

Fenner said the crew did not go through the proper city procedure to block the roads and sidewalks for their filming needs. The filming crew needed to get approval from the Canton City Council.

"Basically when I talked to the casting producer, I told her that I did not have the right to tell her she could not come to town (to film). She wanted to dwell on the issue of the homosexuality. I told her I did not have authority over the school district because the school facility was no longer available to them," said Fenner.

He explained that he heard the crew was coming to the area and were going to put up saw horses out on the city streets and the public sidewalks.

"I told her they had to go through the proper procedures and that is to petition the council to use the public roads and sidewalks. I explained to her that even our own fire department, MDA and humane society has to go through the council," he added.

"She was the one who dwelled on the fact that the issue was uprising about the homosexuality. I told her that I was sure she understood that there were principals and morals in the community," Fenner said. "I did not even know anything was going on until last Thursday that they were going to be using as much of the public property as they were trying to use... I do know that there were people concerned."

"We just told them that any public facilities that were used had to go through the proper procedure. Even if we have a restaurant owner or someone on the square that needs to use the sidewalks they have to have a permit also," he pointed out. "This is not discrimination; we are not treating them any differently than anyone else."

"They (film production team) said they had already done all of that and I told them they had not."

"The producer called me and kept hitting on the gay issue. I told her whether that was my belief or the community belief was not the issue. They have the right to say what they want to say on private property. But as far as using public property, that has to go through proper procedure" Fenner said. "I'm not sure what the city has to do with this other than the city streets, we don't have the right to tell them they can't come to Canton on private property. As far as the public facility there is a procedure that everyone has to abide by."

Canton Chamber of Commerce President Rona Watson would not comment on the film production being moved.

"We agreed to let the filming take place at our schools but we were mislead by their intentions."

"We felt like the storyline was not appropriate for our school to be involved in," Canton ISD Superintendent Larry Davis said.

Originally some scenes of the film were going to be shot at Canton Junior High.

When the project was first proposed to the Canton Chamber of Commerce the storyline was about three teenagers coming of age in a small rural Texas town.

The town was been renamed to Bloom, Texas. The basis of the story is three teenagers that are a little overweight; they are struggling with what they want to do in life.

It was later discovered by the school administrators, the city manager and the chamber that the eccentric star teen character leads an alternative lifestyle.

Now, given that Phyllis Diller and one of the Lawrence brothers were supposed to be in this movie, I find it hard to believe that the production company didn't bother to give the city a heads-up on what, exactly, they'd be doing--especially since the city Mayor's hardware store was to be one of the shooting locations.

However, in defense of the city, street/sidewalk closure does require a city permit. I've been in charge of the July 4th Parade in Canton for going on five years now, and every year I have to appear in person before the council to get approval for the street closing.

Personally, as a citizen of Canton, I think it would have been nice for a movie to have been shot here. It would have helped the economy and potentially led to more movies coming to town. Our downtown would lend itself nicely to movie filming. And, though I'm not gay and don't lead an "alternative lifestyle," I for one was not bothered by the fact that a movie with such a character was being shot here. Who cares? This is 2005, and I think we should be a little bit past that by now.

Though I'm not surprised by the city manager's reaction (he was formerly a city council member who gained his seat with the support of our former county judge, Jeff Fisher--former head of the Texas Christian Coalition and now Executive Director of the Republican Party of Texas), I am surprised by the school district's reaction. I covered Canton ISD for years and have attended at least four dozen of their board meetings, and met with the superintendent countless times. I can only assume they were bending to the wishes of their constituents and aren't so narrow-sighted to realize that, after all, it is just a movie.

Vince Leibowitz is the County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Van Zandt County.

January 23, 2005

More on the Wilmer-Hutchins ISD Saga

By Vince Leibowitz

While most of Texas is focused on what the Texas Legislature is going to do this time around to make a (further) mess of education, health care, our court system and the state in general, folks in the Wilmer-Hutchins Independent School District in Dallas are facing problems of their own.

If you've never attended a school board meeting anywhere in Texas, you know that school board politics (the trustees are elected) is as nasty, dirty and disfunctional as most other brands of local politics (water boards, city council, etc.). However, in the case of WHISD, it seems to be much worse indeed--and it's not just political infighting such as what plagued Dallas ISD during the Yvonne Gonzalez days:

Dilapidated buildings, a $3 million debt and allegations that students cheated on state standardized tests have pushed the Wilmer-Hutchins school district to the brink.

And there's more: an indicted school superintendent, local and state investigations into possible misuse of tax money and a desperate plea to taxpayers to save the school system.

"This thing's like an onion," said attorney Phillip Layer, who filed a lawsuit against the school district on behalf of several residents. But as you peel back the layers, "it keeps growing though instead of getting smaller."

Wilmer-Hutchins' survival likely hinges on voters approving a referendum, likely in May, to allow the school district to tax property owners at a rate higher than a nearly 50-year-old local law allows. The district also must restructure a $3 million loan due in March.

Taxpayers have already paid a higher rate for at least 20 years, even though school officials can't prove they ever got voter permission to exceed the 1956 local cap of 90 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Over time, the rate has gradually been increased to about $1.50 per $100, right at the maximum allowed by the state.

If the referendum fails, Wilmer-Hutchins will lose about 30 percent of its revenue, or about $6.1 million per year, interim superintendent James Damm said.

"It comes to a vote of survival of the district," he said.

Wilmer-Hutchins is located about five miles south of downtown Dallas, where gritty urban decay meets cotton fields. The district draws from the tiny cities of Wilmer and Hutchins, along with part of Dallas and the south suburb of Lancaster.

Its 3,070 students are overwhelmingly black or Hispanic, and poor — 78 percent of them received free or reduced-price lunches during the 2003-04 school year.

Eliminating about 80 jobs and closing three small schools should result in a balanced budget for this year, Damm said. But there's nothing left to chip away at the roughly $3 million fund balance deficit the district built up over the past two years.

Although I think a local tax cap of 90 cents per $100 valuation is beyond nuts, I can't figure out why the district "can't prove they ever got voter permission to exceed the 1956 local cap." Did election results magically dissappear? Was an election ever held? Did the trustees just forget about the cap? Did previous counsel tell them such a cap was unconstitutional?

This isn't the first run of trouble for WHISD. State monitors have been in and our of the district since the 1980s, and took over the district's operations in 1996 and 1998.

According to the Denton Record Chronicle, the most recent problems became apparent in August, when storm damage exacerbated years of accumulated maintenance problems and delayed the start of classes at the high school. Following that, official investigations of the district's finances resulted in corruption allegations, "document shredding, double payments for expenses and the illegal use of property tax revenue to pay off a loan. The FBI and the Texas Rangers joined the district attorney's investigation in September."

To me, though, the worst part of all of this is the move to dissolve the district all together:

Longtime resident and former school board member Lionel Churchill said he's cautiously pleased with the district's progress under Damm and the TEA team.

But, he said, "when the monitors leave, will there be behavioral modification in this district or do we go back to business as usual?

"We will, unless we see some really significant changes in the culture of this school district," Churchill said.

Churchill said his group, Wilmer-Hutchins ISD Concerned Citizens, has collected 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for the district's abolishment.

But Damm urges residents not to give up on the district as it works to boost achievement by restructuring the curriculum, renovating school facilities and raising teacher salaries.

"We can make those kind of changes here and make this a quality instructional program that everyone can be proud of," he said.

Although I'm sure most residents in WHISD are most concerned about losing their autonomy, I'm more concerned about what type of precedent a dissolution election could have on other districts across Texas.

For example, Van Zandt County has seven independent school districts--all with instruction for grades k-12. Two are very tiny, 1A schools--one doesn't even have football, the other has six-man. There are a lot of districts scattered across the state. Anti-tax advocates seem to have problems with little school districts like these because their property taxes are almost always set at the $1.50 cap (soon to change, given whatever the Lege does) for local property taxes (excluding debt service). A lot of anti-tax advocates seem to believe they'd get more for their money of operations were consolodated with nearby larger districts. What they don't seem to realize is that those districts would have to increase their tax rates significantly to pay for facilities operation, instruction, personnel, busing, etc. in the event of such a consolodation. And, if I remember correctly, voters in both the district wanting to consolodate and the district absorbing the other school have to approve of such a measure, which makes it at least a partial long-shot.

In my mind, whatever the Lege does with school finance this session, steps need to be taken to ensure the survival of smaller ISDs.

As for Wilmer-Hutchins, I don't think they're beyond help, but I do think they need some serious changes.

Vince Leibowitz is County Chairman of the Democratic Party of Van Zandt County. As a former journalist, he's covered numerous school board meetings, and was twice named to the Texas Association of School Boards Media Honor Roll for his coverage of the Van Independent School District and the Canton Independent School District.

January 16, 2005

The "Declining Sovereignty" Of Professional Journalism

By Vince Leibowitz

Guest Post By Vince Leibowitz

Via "Blogging, Journalism & Credibility," which I came across through this post by Atrios, some of Academia is hosting a conference entitled "Blogging, Journalism and Credibility," at which this paper by Jay Rosen of PressThink will be delivered.

Rather than re-hash much of the content, I just wanted to post a few interesting quotes from the paper I thought other bloggers and blog readers would enjoy.

Here they are:

And so we know they're [blogs] journalism-- sometimes. They're even capable, at times, and perhaps only in special circumstances, of beating Big Journalism at its own game. Schwartz said so. The tsunami story is the biggest humanitarian disaster ever in the lifetimes of most career journalists and the blogs were somehow right there with them.

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, like the tsunami story, and things underneath that we have yet to discern.


They all sense it, what Tom Curley, the man who runs the Associated Press, called "a huge shift in the 'balance of power' in our world, from the content providers to the content consumers." If there is such a shift (and Curley didn't seem to be kidding) it means that professional journalism is no longer sovereign over territory it once easily controlled. Not sovereign doesn't mean you go away. It means your influence isn't singular anymore.

Orville Schell, dean of the University of California at Berkeley's journalism school and a conference particiapant, told Business Week recently: "The Roman Empire that was mass media is breaking up, and we are entering an almost-feudal period where there will be many more centers of power and influence."

When 90 percent of the op-ed style writing was done on actual op-ed pages, editorial page editors had sovereignty over that region of public diaogue. With blogging and the online space generally, that rule is gone. Opinion in reaction to the news can come from anywhere, and the bloggers are frequently better at it than the sleepy op-ed page ever was. Newspaper op-ed pages can still have influence; they can still be great. But they are not sovereign in their domain, and so their ideas, which assumed that, are under great pressure.

When Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks and a figure in the news, wants to speak to fans, players or the community, he doesn't do it through the reporters who cover the Mavs. He puts the word out at his weblog. For the beat writers who cover the team this is a loss; Cuban hardly deals with them anymore. Here, however, the balance of power has shifted toward a figure in the news, once known as a source. (A weblog helped shift it.)

If my terms make sense, and professional journalism has entered a period of declining sovereignty in news, politics and the provision of facts to public debate, this does not have to mean declining influence or reputation. It does not mean that prospects for the public service press are suddenly dim. It does, however, mean that the old political contract between news providers and news consumers will give way to something different, founded on what Curley correctly called a new "balance of power."


Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between benefitting from a built-up asset, the St. Petersburg Times "brand," and building the asset from scratch. Bloggers are "building their reputations from the ground up," as Hiler said, and to do this they have to focus on users. They have to be in dialogue. The connection between what they do and whether they are trusted is much alive and apparent. In journalism that connection has been harder to find lately. Journalists don't know much about it. They do know their rules, though.


The price of professionalizing journalism was the de-voicing of the journalist. The price for having Big Media was the atomization of the audience, who in the broadcasting model were connected "up" to the center but not "across" to each other. Well, blogging is a re-voicing tool in journalism, and the Net's strengths in horizontal communication mean that audience atomization is being overcome.

In particular, I liked the comments about the "almost feudal period" of shifting influence and the "de-voicing" of the journalist.

And, for all bloggers, the discussion about building credibility is important. It's true that bloggers--unless they already come from the mainstream media or political power structure (or the power structure of whatever parts of society they blog about)--most often have to start from ground zero in terms of building credibility. I think that's done most often by breaking news first, getting the story right, with many little "exclusive," and especially when bits of well-connected "gossip," is reported and shortly thereafter comes to pass. Obviously, if the blogger was in on the gossip and trusted it well enough to report it and it comes to pass, that blogger has boosted their reputation as being "connected" and "credible."

January 06, 2005

Let Me Bump Up Our Ashlee Simpson Traffic...

By Andrew Dobbs

Interestingly enough, I used to go to the same church as Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, as they are from Richardson, TX. I never knew them, but interestingly enough their father was a pastor there (the youth minister) and he baptized me when I was 16.

That's right- the man who sired two emptyheaded sexpots who use foul language on national television was the minister who baptized me. That explains why I despise them so much- while I am certainly not a pure person, I expect those called by God to the ministry to be (as much as is possible) and when a minister who was an integral part of one of the most important decisions of my entire life turns his back on those ethics in order to personally profit off his own daughters' sexuality ("Rev." Joe Simpson is their father and manager), I take offense.

So go Orange Bowl attendees for booing Ashlee Simpson. Perhaps this turn for the worse in her career will convince her Dad of the error of his ways.

January 05, 2005

IF only I had the time

By Nathan Nance

Guest post by Nate Nance

Christie Todd Whitman's new book looks like it blasts Bush and Rove and paints the Republicans as being run by "extremists." I think it is because of the way she was portrayed in Price of Loyalty and her appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher, but I've always kind of like Whitman. Sure she's Republican scum, but that doesn't mean we can't be friends, does it.

Seriously though, I'm going to have to find some free time and read this book. Books by ex-Cabinet officials are always interesting to me and this one is not to be missed.

Via PolitcalWire.

January 01, 2005

Happy New Years (almost)

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Because I'm sure that the Burnt Orange Crew will be doing other things at midnight, and some of them may not be, um, sober enough to post, here is your New Years Greeting, dated at midnight thanks to the power of Movable Type timestamps!

Here's to a better year.

December 24, 2004

It's Starting to Look a Lot like...

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Of all the Merry Christmas greetings from every political listserv I signed up for this year starting to fill my inbox, the following picture has got to be the best one so far. I think the essance of "Merry" has been captured...

Just Look

And now that it is Christmas Eve, and I'm fairly certain that all of the Burnt Orange Report writers are doing something for the next couple of days, I'm going to go out on a limb here and ask all the rest of them to suspend posting until the 26th. Guys (and Gal!), take a break and be with your families or friends. And for our readers, know that you won't be missing anything as you make a nice face while eating your aunt's dry fruitcake for the next two days.

And if it doesn't end up snowing down here in Texas, here are some pictures of where I am right now (Fredericksburg) when it snowed in 2003. Oh, and it still took half a yard to make this snowman.

And for those of you wishing for a little seasonal humor, here is a repost of something I wrote 4 years ago in the middle of the Bush-Gore post election mess...

Twas the Night of the Election...

Twas the night of the election, and all through the states,
The results were dead even, and high were the stakes;
The campaigns were constructed by experts with care,
In hopes that the presidency would soon be theirs;

Gore and Bush were nestled, all snug in their beds,
While visions of white houses danced through their heads;
With Hilary in the Senate, and Bill in his last lap,
My family and I, settled in for a nap,--

When from on the radio, there rose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter;
Away to the living room, I flew like a flash,
Tuned the TV to FOX, and on the sofa I crashed;

The screen flickered to life, it was going so slow,
Something had happened, and I wanted to know;
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
It’s too close to call, no president-elect, oh dear;

The campaigns were awakened, phone calls were made,
I knew in a moment, it was going to take days;
More rapid than eagles the lawyers they came,
Charges and contests, suing counties by name;

“Now Broward! now, Brevard! now, Alachu and Clay!
On Palm Beach! on, Duval! on, Volusia and Dade!
In front of the judges, in front of the mall,
Protest and contest and recount them all;”

As lawyers will do, when a violation they spy,
Gather their papers, and to the courtroom they fly;
So up to the high courts, the arguments they flew,
With a box full of depositions,--and affidavits, too.

And then one evening, I heard on the news,
That candidate Gore was going to lose;
But early next morning, it was turned all around,
A court ruling for Gore was just handed down;

The ballots were looked at, in a certain few counties,
But challenges and confusion stopped much of the recounting;
Punch cards ballots with hanging chads on the back,
And overseas votes, postage marks they did lack;

Butterfly ballot designs, and dimples, how merry!
Fuel for the talk shows, the comics, and Dave Barry;
In a poll a month later, a lack of confidence did show,
And in the certified total, late results were a ‘no’;

The candidates waited and gritted their teeth,
While deadlines were circling, like a holiday wreath;
Some of the things said were actually quite silly,
None of the remarks, made sense, no, not really;

Then all of a sudden, the Supreme Court was involved,
It seemed there was hope, this election would be resolved;
A hearing was scheduled and the judges nodded their heads,
But the decision given caused Wall Street to dread;

They spoke a few words, the lawyers went straight to their work,
And filed their briefs, and all Bush gave was the ‘smirk’;
In an appeal where the Florida totals were opposed,
The state supremes said ‘yes’, and Gore’s chances then rose;

The undervotes were counted, and then they were halted,
And back to the Supreme Court, the case was again vaulted;
But I heard one exclaim, with the end not in sight:
“It seems we are back to where it was election night!”

December 17, 2004

Student protesters

By Nathan Nance

Guest post by Nate Nance

I mentioned a protest at Waco High School against a religious group handing out pamphlets "educating" teenagers about the evils of abortion and homosexuality. As luck would have it, one of the girls who writes for Teen Trib goes to Waco High. She has a column on how important she thinks free speech is and I thought we might all enjoy reading it.

Freedom of speech is very important. I can't think of a right I take advantage of more often in expressing my opinions on a variety of things. It might be just because I was raised in an era of political correctness that I think that the church group was over the line. I don't see how passing out literature full of misinformation is a good thing. I agree that they have a right to believe whatever they want and get together to tak about what they believe. I don't see how anyone has the right to just lie about something and to get together in a coordinated way to lie en masse.

I'm very torn between my own beliefs in the free flow of ideas making the world a better place and people like this who are only using our cherished rights to try to make people hate or discriminate. I guess I just have to have faith that democracy will keep on working as it has for over 200 years and that small fringe groups can't really hold any real power for very long.

This is a guest post from Nathan Nance. Nate is a sports/news clerk at the Waco Tribune-Herald and writer/editor of Common Sense a Texas-based Democratic Web log. He can be reached at nate_nance@yahoo.com

December 14, 2004

I'll never put a deadline on myself again

By Nathan Nance

Guest post by Nate Nance

From time to time I like to tell people about what it is like to work in a journalist's environment. Not only do I spend loads of my free time blogging or finding new things to blog about, but I also work at a newspaper where I regularly have deadlines to get my sports page out. In fact, last night I did some crappy posting just because I needed to rush for an early deadline for the Kid's Kopy inserts we have once a month.

Most people are surprised to find out just uptight a lot of desk people are, and how rampant foul language is in the newsroom. It turns out we are also 6 times more likely to have a heart attack because of deadlines. I thought those chest pains were just really bad Italian food that I eat in hurry to make deadline, but nope.

I just wanted to point that out to some people. I know plenty of people like to call in and complain about things they don't like; just remember it might just have killed us to try a little harder.

Guest post by Nathan Nance. Nate is a sports/news clerk at the Waco Tribune-Herald and writer/editor of Common Sense a Texas-based Democratic Web log. He can be reached at nate_nance@yahoo.com

No more late fees

By Nathan Nance

Guest post by Nate Nance

Big news for people like me who have a very hard time returning movies to Blockbuster by the due date, they are getting rid of late fees.

Apparently there will still be a due date for video games, tapes and DVDs, but there will be a one week grace period after that, then they will sell it to you minus the rental fee. If you don't want to buy that copy of CHUD II: Bud the CHUD, you have 30 days to return it and you will get store credit for your next rental. I think this is great and I can't wait for this to start January 1. I wonder if that means I'll still owe them the $7.31 for not returning Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman on time.

This is a guest post from Nate Nance. Nate is a sports/news clerk at the Waco Tribune-Herald and writer/editor of Common Sense a Texas-based Democratic Web log. He can be reached at nate_nance@yahoo.com

December 12, 2004

Oh my God, I'm bored

By Nathan Nance

Guest post by Nate Nance

This seems like an incredibly slow news night. I just spent several minutes watching one newscaster do everything they could to not mention other reasons besides his nanny for Bernard Kerik to withdraw his nomination and another explaining what children were asking for Christmas from Santa.

I've come up with a theory, it might only be true in my area, but I think that all the news people actually go to school for cosmetology. They can't write worth a damn, they dress way too fancily for local news and their hair looks like it was done by someone who's a cheerleader's mom. Not to mention they all sound like 12-year-olds from East Texas. Maybe it's just where I live.

The only exception is the Channel 10 weekend meteorologist Angela Montoya, who is as beautiful as she is smart.

I'm trying to kill time here, waiting for games to end so that I can finish and go home. I'm very tired and I'm probably not going to post again tonight. I've been having fun guest blogging at BOR and I really hate to see it end soon. I will write some more in the morning, unless a war breaks out or something. Until then.

This is a guest post from Nate Nance. Nate is a sports/news clerk at the Waco Tribune-Herald and writer/editor of Common Sense a Texas-based Democratic Web log. He can be reached at nate_nance@yahoo.com

It's the most wonderful time of the year

By Nathan Nance

Guest post by Nate Nance

I just wanted to share with everybody that I just got my Christmas Bonus at work. A full $33.67. Whoo hoo! Now I can go buy some cheese or maybe even cheese and sausage.

Really though, it's going to my mom's Christmas present, which I can't mention because she may be reading.

This is a guest post from Nate Nance. Nate is a sports/news clerk at the Waco Tribune-Herald and writer/editor of Common Sense (which hasn't been updated in days) a Texas-based Democratic Web log. He can be reached at nate_nance@yahoo.com.

December 10, 2004

Where's The Beef?

By Vince Leibowitz

I haven't posted much the last couple of days, thanks to being unexpectedly called out of town and a little swamped some work. Even though it's late and I just got in, I thought I'd give Nate a little help on the copydesk tonight. (Yes, I too, used to be in the newspaper business.'

Anyway, though it's not just the hottest news story in Texas right now, I stumbled across this tonight and thought it was worth a mention:

A food fight broke out at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, with justices considering whether the government can force farmers to pay for ad campaigns with catchy phrases like "Beef: It's what's for dinner" and billboards featuring milk mustaches on celebrities.

It seems farmers around the country--including in Texas--are challenging the multimillion-dollar beef promotion program. They say they shouldn't have to pay for ads they disagree with.

So, should the court rule for the producers, it could, the Star-Telegram notes, "jeopardize more than 100 federal and state campaigns for other products -- eggs, mangoes, popcorn and even alligators."

Ok, wait. Eggs, yes, I've seen that one on TV. Popcorn--never heard of a popcorn promotion program, but guess one could exist since it is, after all, part of corn--a vegetable. Mangoes--surely not, but OK, whatver.

But alligators? You've got to be kidding! What are they promoting alligators as? "Gator: the other, other white meat?" or "Alligators. It's what's for your briefcase." Hopefully the latter, because I'm not sure the world is ready for ads in which famous personages eat alligators.

On a serious note, the programs are supposedly designed as a way to help farmers of all sizes with generic ads encouraging the public to consume verious ag products: milk, beef, eggs, (alligators?), etc.

But, according to the paper, lower courts have already struck down the "Got Milk?" dairy promotion, advertisements calling pork "the other white meat" and the beef program.

And, Texas "producers, feedlots and auction markets paid $6 million into the $45.9 million program in 2003, by far the largest contribution, according to the Denver-based Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board. Half of the Texas checkoff funds are used to promote beef within the state," the paper noted.

Interestingly, one of the greatest complaints about the beef ads is that they don't specifically promote American beef, which supposedly helps beef importers who don't have to contribute.

The government was sued by ranchers who sell cattle in South Dakota and Montana. They won an appeals court ruling that found that the 20-year-old program violated the First Amendment.

The paper notes that a Texas law passed in 2003 allows ranchers who do not wish to support the $1-per-head fee to request a refund. Ok, they can request it, but do they get it?

I'm not quite how I feel about this strange issue. Usually, on government and legal issues, I can tell where I stand after reading a story like this and perhaps some additional information.

In this case, however, I can really see the reasoning of both sides. Those who favor the ads say they promote increased profits for the industry, including producing farmers. Those against them say general marketing like this does little good and doesn't promote American beef.

On the one hand, I think, you know, aside from Homer Simpson, I can't think of a soul who sees a beef commercial on TV and starts slobbering, "Ooohhh...Beef! And, I can't recall a single instance when I saw one of the commercials and ran out and bought a ribeye.

Also, out of all this has come a very interesting quote from Justice Scalia (I can't believe I'm quoting this man): "Every time we pay general taxes we're supporting government speech we may not agree with."

How true. I do hate that any of my tax dollars helped pay for George W. Bush to travel around on Air Force One campaigning and giving speeches.

December 07, 2004

Happy Hannukah everybody!

By Nathan Nance

Guest post by Nate Nance

I just want to take this oppurtunity to wish everyone a Happy Hannukah. Some of you may not be Jewish, but that's OK, neither am I. That doesn't mean we can't all celebrate and get presents.

Actually, my knowledge of this holiday comes mostly from little kids hustling me out of my money with a dreidel. I really need to learn what it says on that thing. This is more of a reminder to celebrate the diversity of religious convictions in this country and the wonderful seperation of church and state that allows it to flouirish.

This is a guest post from Nate Nance. Nate is a sports/news clerk at the Waco Tribune-Herald and writer/editor of Common Sense a Texas-based Democratic Web log. You can contact him at nate_nance@yahoo.com

December 06, 2004

I am "The Jesus"

By Nathan Nance

Guest Contributor Nate Nance

The story of the life-size Jesus statue fished from the Rio Grande on Aug 31 has a Christmas ending. That's not a good thing.

Apparently there is no room in the evidence locker for this depiction of Christ on the cross without the cross, so authorities have to get rid of it. City Manager of Houston, Jesus M. Castaneda (the irony is not lost on me), said the city would like to donate it to someone who could share it with the community.

There isn't a great political lesson in this story. I just thought Christmas-time is a funny time to be discussing the fate of a statue of Jesus. And the fact it was fished out of the Rio Grande and has drawn crowds of people to view it like it is an ikon or something seems ironic in a way. It was thrown away and now people are clamoring for it.

Just one of the many wacky things one hears in a newsroom every night.

Nate Nance is a sports/news clerk at the Waco Tribune-Herald. He is also writer/editor of Common Sense a Texas-based Democratic Web log.

Unholy Alliance

By Nathan Nance

Guest Contributor Nate Nance

I like reading lots of different blogs, some regularly, some every few weeks or whenever I just happen to link to them. TVNewser is one I don't go to very often, but they always have the best stories on Fox News. Today is no exception.

Somehow, Clear Channel Communications and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. have reached an agreement where Fox News would be the sole news provider for all of Clear Channel's stations. In return, Fox News Radio gets access to news and information from Clear Channel. I'm pretty sure this is a sign of the apocalypse or something.

The Wall Street Journal got the scoop, which is testament to the news section's resolve and professionalism despite an editorial page that is willing to make up stuff and sell ad space for videos about the Clinton Murders.

This move automatically makes Fox News a major competitor with ABC and CBS. For all of mainstream media's faults, they are still more reliable than Fox News and that is a dangerous thing. I really wish more people understood the problems with media consolidation and were taking steps to stop it.

I work for a newspaper that is owned by Cox Newspapers. To some extent, several publications being owned by a single entity can make news more accessible to more people.

But when some people (like Rupert Murdoch) want to change public opinion, they have the means to do it. By owning so many media outlets, Murdoch has no credible threat in the market to force him to adhere to journalistic standards. And other news outlets see Murdoch's success and they try to clone it. Pretty soon, no one is debating, they are all speaking in one voice. The absolute worst thing in a democracy is for everyone to be speaking in one voice. There must be dissension and debate for democracy to flourish.

I don't think the Republic is going to fall tomorrow. The Founding Fathers set up a pretty complicated system that has only gotten moreso over time. It will take a long time for this to become a dictatorship. But the path to it seems pretty clear and we can stop it before it ever gets that far.

Nate Nance is a sports/news clerk for the Waco Tribune-Herald. He is also writer/editor of Common Sense a Texas-based Democratic Web log.

November 25, 2004

Give Thanks

By Andrew Dobbs

Today is the national day of Thanksgiving. Peter Jennings referred to it tonight as the "singular American holiday"- the only holiday that is unique to our country and universal to all of our people. Let's keep the spirit of that holiday alive by remembering what we have to be thankful for.

We ought to be thankful, first and foremost, for the brave men and women fighting for our freedom and the freedom of faraway peoples in Iraq and Afghanistan. It saddens me that I won't see my father this year, but I know that what he is doing will make every Thanksgiving I have from here on out that much sweeter. They sacrifice everything and take a road less traveled these days so that we can all live happily. When we travel on safe roads and through safe skies, gather in warm homes, laugh and pray freely and speak openly about our opinions, let's remember that those men and women are the reason we have this freedom and comfort- because they sacrificed theirs.

Remember also that we can be thankful to live in this country. Yeah, we lost an election. But there wasn't violence in the streets, there weren't mass arrests of Kerry supporters, we are safe despite our opposition to the president. 5 snot-nosed kids can write a blog that bashes the president and his colleagues almost every single day and not one of us sleeps in fear or worries about our families' safety. Our country has been through much worse than 4 more years of George W. Bush and we're still here. We'll be fine- and that is something to be thankful for.

Finally, be thankful that God's grace gives us so much to share with those we love on this day. I hope that all of you are near the ones you love today, and if you aren't, I hope that you can find something to give thanks for regardless. We live in a place where there is so much to be had, so much opportunity, so much generosity and so much decency as opposed to lands full of want, greed and hate. Over the last 3 years, because of our strength, we managed to put 2 more countries on the road from cruelty to hope. Let's hope that we can continue to use our power, wealth and opportunity for ends as righteous as these for as long as we live.

And one last thing- I am thankful to all of you out there who read what we have to say. It gives us a way to affect our world, even when we feel small. Keep on coming, and have a Happy Thanksgiving.

November 17, 2004


By Jim Dallas

I am quite piqued by this awesome NASA scramjet that set a new jet airspeed record of Mach 9.6 today.

November 09, 2004

Not Only in Texas

By Jim Dallas

Byron was not entirely accurate in saying that the Battle of the Books is a Texas phenomenon.

There is a court fight in Georgia right now over stickers placed in high school science text books warning that "is 'a theory, not a fact' that should be 'studied carefully and critically considered.'"

I think the clear that even though the disclaimer is facially neutral, it has a thinly-veiled religious intent, and would be an unconstitutional infringement on religious freedom.

If you want to put a disclaimer on science, then put a disclaimer on the whole thing -- not on the bits and pieces you don't like. Inviting special skepticism for evolution (I doubt their putting stickers on physics books about, say, quantum mechanics) is not justified by scientific certainty alone.

Thus the legal outcome should be for plaintiff. Chalk another one for the ACLU.

But as a matter of policy, it is probably not inappropriate to encourage classroom discussion on this matter, if simply because one of the goals of education (of which science education is only one part) is to instill civic and moral virtue in the youth of America. I'd suggest that the sticker be re-worded as such:

"Evolution, as fact, and natural selection, as theory, are generally supported by the scientific community but criticized by some scientists and many non-scientists, often on religious grounds. Students should discuss the methods and philosophy of modern science, and express their opinions about the role and ethics of science in society."

October 23, 2004

To Infinity and Beyond

By Jim Dallas

I was a fan of the tragic flop game Microsoft Space Simulator (it was released at about the same time as Flight Simulator 5.0 back in the mid-1990s).

But now I've found something even better, and it's free.

Orbiter: The Free Spaceflight Sim.

We choose to go to moon, not because it easy, but because it is a Saturday, and I don't feel like doing Contracts homework.

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