Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Showing the true side of Republican bigotry

As the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan - as vanilla a person as has ever been been put forth for the high court in the land - some of the panel's Republican mmbers continue to demonstrate their granite-head attitude towards African-Americans while, all the time, acting as if they have no clue over why the GOP garners nearly ZERO support from that voting base.
The answer is simple: too many Republican legislators, such as Senators Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn and Jon Kyl, demonstrate covert (and in Sessions' case an OVERT example) attitude of racism. It happens through stupid, critical and negative statements about iconic personalities and figures among African-Americans.
In the past, it has been Martin Luther King Jr. or others whom they view as "dangerous" or today's nom de jour "activist."
This week, it's Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court judge and lead attorney in a case considered one of the greatest and far-reaching decision in the Court's history - Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Instead of finding what cannot be found - things to criticize Ms. Kagan about (other than her living quarters and ... background, including religion although if THAT were ever made public, it would be the ruination of the GOP) - these Republican blowhard go after Marshall, one of the greatest lawyers EVER in U.S. history (who's next? Clarence Darrow?) ... and with Marshall's son sitting in the damn gallery. How rude; how ignorant; how insensitive ... how REPUBLICAN!
But all these thoughts were produced Tuesday (June 29) in the Washington Post by columnist Dana Milback:
Kagan may get confirmed, but Thurgood Marshall can forget it
Oppo researchers digging into Elena Kagan's past didn't get the goods on the Supreme Court nominee -- but As confirmation hearings opened Monday afternoon, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee took the unusual approach of attacking Kagan because she admired the late justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom she clerked more than two decades ago.
"Justice Marshall's judicial philosophy," said Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, "is not what I would consider to be mainstream." Kyl -- the lone member of the panel in shirtsleeves for the big event -- was ready for a scrap. Marshall "might be the epitome of a results-oriented judge," he said.
It was, to say the least, a curious strategy to go after Marshall, the iconic civil rights lawyer who successfully argued Brown vs. Board of Education. Did Republicans think it would help their cause to criticize the first African American on the Supreme Court, a revered figure who has been celebrated with an airport, a postage stamp and a Broadway show? The guy is a saint -- literally. Marshall this spring was added to the Episcopal Church's list of "Holy Women and Holy Men," which the Episcopal Diocese of New York says "is akin to being granted sainthood."
With Kagan's confirmation hearings expected to last most of the week, Republicans may still have time to make cases against Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Gandhi.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the panel, branded Marshall a "well-known activist." Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Marshall's legal view "does not comport with the proper role of a judge or judicial method." Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) pronounced Marshall "a judicial activist" with a "judicial philosophy that concerns me."
As the Republicans marshaled their anti-Marshall forces, staffers circulated to reporters details of the late justice's offenses: "Justice Marshall endorsed 'judicial activism,' supported abortion rights, and believed the death penalty was unconstitutional."
The problem with this line of attack is that Marshall was already confirmed by the Senate -- in 1967. He died in 1993. In the audience Monday, his son, Thurgood "Goody" Marshall Jr., sat two rows behind the nominee and listened with amusement to the assaults on his father.
"I was a little surprised," said Goody Marshall. "He would've probably had the same reaction I did: It's time to talk about Elena."
But talking about Elena is boring. Her credentials and her lack of a paper trail make her confirmation a virtual certainty. Further aiding her has been the steady flow of distraction, from the gulf oil spill to the death Monday of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). Most lawmakers, before addressing themselves to Kagan, delivered brief Byrd eulogies; Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), introducing Kagan to the panel, offered this illogical wish: "I'd like to express my heartfelt condolences to Senator Byrd and his family for the loss that they've suffered."
The lack of a coherent attack on the nominee became apparent when Cornyn began his opening statement with a quotation that he said he received in an e-mail: "Liberty is not a cruise ship full of pampered passengers. Liberty is a man of war, and we're all the crew."
"I don't know why I thought of that," Cornyn told the perplexed audience.
Kagan, who once lamented the "vapid" nature of confirmation hearings, was determined to maximize her chances by being as vapid as possible. She read her banal opening statement so slowly that a bipartisan wave of yawns and eye-rubbing hit the dais.

"A confirmation hearing," ventured Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), "has the potential to be like eating spaghetti with a spoon: It's a lot of work, and it's hard to feel satisfied at the end."
It's also messy -- as the attacks on Marshall demonstrated.
Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), at the start, recalled Kagan's clerkship for Marshall and noted that Marshall's son was in the audience.
But Republicans saw trouble in this Marshall fellow. "In 2003, Ms. Kagan wrote a tribute to Justice Marshall in which she said that, 'in his view, it was the role of the courts in interpreting the Constitution to protect the people who went unprotected by every other organ of government,' " Kyl complained.
Protecting the unprotected? Say it ain't so!
And that wasn't all. Kagan also emphasized Marshall's "unshakable determination to protect the underdog," Kyl said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) offered a Marshall defense. "Some may dismiss Justice Marshall's pioneering work on civil rights as an example of empathy, that somehow as a black man who had been a victim of discrimination his feelings became part of his passionate life's work -- and I say, thank God," he said. Durbin held up a piece of paper documenting that the longtime NAACP lawyer and U.S. solicitor general won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.
When the speeches ended, Kagan, accepting hugs and handshakes from friends, spotted Thurgood Jr. "Goody!" she called out, giving him a hug. "How ya doin'?"
Goody is just fine -- and so remains the reputation of his sainted father.
Sessions, in particular, is a creep. He cast dispersions upon Sonia Sontamoyer's background for being Latina and never really apologized. He is only supportive of white Southerners, perferably male, and his criticism can only be viewed as petty, picky and puny, not just bigoted. Rejected by the same panel for a federal judgeship (he didn't even come close to that standard), he obviously suffers from short-man syndrome and enjoys pushing people around and make them as small as he.
Ala-fucking-bama (the perfect Joe Pesci description) deserves him, but the rest of the nation does not. Sadly, the Republicans embrace him whole-heartedly which tells one a great deal about that political party's perception of others.
They deserve to be destroyed by the Tea Party and left in ruins.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Standing with the brothers of South Louisiana

With apologies to William Shakespeare:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his sweat with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in South Louisiana now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon slaying BP for that horrid day.”
I stand with the people of South Louisiana and pray that TRUE justice, not just in the way of monetary compensation, but moral and appropriate justice be handed to those insensitive, insincere and incorrect that this land and marsh is NOT worth saving.
It shall not only be saved, but, if there IS a God in heaven above, will return stronger than ever while those wishing to watch yachts race (instead of showing a thimble of real sympathy for the “small people”), will be reduced to selling poor boudin by the side of a backwoods road.
I hope BP CEO Tony Heyward’s boat finds the bottom of the sea and takes Dick Cheney with it. I hope BP crashes and burns as a company because it lacks the moral fortitude and intestinal fiber to do the right damn thing (without being forced - almost at gunpoint - into such action).
I hope that idiot Republican Joe Barton loses his Congressional seat to some unknown ... and slinks back to Ennis, Texas and must be doomed to sell dot matrix printers for Commodore 64s for the rest of his life.
Finally, I hope people begin to be heard in the halls of power instead of the lobbyists with the biggest checks. I hope the spirit of the simplest verse in the Bible/Torah begins to guide corporations instead of greed – Do unto others as you would have do unto you.
It’s that simple. When you get help, give help.
By God.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The definition of OPEN government

I wish people had the same experience I encountered in 30 years of small-town journalism when it comes to government hiding itself and its actions from the public. It happens more frequently than it should and certainly more often than it rains around here.
Very few elected officials on city councils or school boards actually know the ins and outs of the Texas Open Meetings and Open Records Acts. They really don't WANT to learn about them either and, instead, rely on "legal counsel" or city attorneys, who often don't know those laws well enough either.
In fact, groups like the Texas Association of School Boards and Texas Municipal League are usually the ones behind attempts to weaken both laws because they don't want the public to closely scrutinize what they do. All too often they campaign about "being for the people" and then hide themselves from those very people.
To boil it down in simple terms, ANYTHING discussed in open session is subject to public disclosure - if a document, such as a budget, or memo, or other items that can be duplicated, is mentioned in public, it MUST (not could be, but MUST) be made available to ANYONE who requests it.
Now, sadly the law allows for loopholes to screen government entities from complying - there is a time frame to comply and there can be a "reasonable" charge placed on making those documents available. The reasonable part is up to the entity, which is just a dodge.
But there is NO limit on the number of documents that can be requested or the number of times a request can be made. Anything to the contrary is a violation of STATE law - not a local one.
Second, there are only limited circumstances under which an entity can go behind closed doors and discuss things away from the public - contracts, land negotiations, personnel, speaking with a legal representative. AND in NO way shape or form can ANY deliberations take place AND ALL this behind closed door discussion must either be transcribed by hand or audio/video recording. That transcription must be preserved in a vault if and when a judge requests it be produced. ANY violation of that is against STATE law (meaning fine and/or prison time). Oh yeah, it MUST be posted on the meeting's agenda prior to the meeting and the EXACT purpose must be clearly stated for the public to see (the agenda's posting must be in a place accessible to the public). Generalities don't cut it; it MUST be absolutely specific.
You just cannot call for an executive session in the middle of a meeting and have it be legal. Anything transacted AFTER an illegal closed session is null and void. That's been the old standard of open government for decades in Texas.
I cannot tell you the number of times both laws get violated in communities without strong media presence. And even then it happens all the darn time. Such is the nature and automatic mindset of small town pols.
Once a superintendent of a newly-consolidated school district called for an executive session to discuss ... mascots and school colors. Afterwards I cornered him and told him he used his one "get out of jail free" card and the next time, charges would be filed against him for state law violation.
In every community, there are so-called gadflys that appear at every meeting imaginable and fact-check every word uttered. Often they are off base but often they are spot-on and are part of the checks and balances needed to keep our democracy in line. They DO self a useful purpose, despite attitudes and behavior often seen as erratic.
Sometimes, in communities I've covered, the gadflys get elected and see it is not easy on the other side of the fence. I served on a city council for 2 years in a real small South Texas town and I discovered it was a lot harder to make certain decisions from that POV.
But for cities and schools to hide behind the skirts of the judiciary simply to avoid answering questions or producing public documents they KNOW will appear unfavorable to certain positions is cowardly, and yes, the city of Plano and its subsidiaries (including the Eco-Devo people AND the Arts of Collin County folks who are playing around with taxpayer money like it's just Monopoly pieces) are guilty of it when it comes to Jack Lagos.
I've seen much of his material and as a former reporter, it is quite legitimate to at least ask for a valid explanation - regardless of which side of this debate you sit. Even ACC supporters can respect that and if the explanation is satisfactory, it ends the questioning.
But hiding and dodging just makes it appear to be smoke and mirrors...as if there IS something to hide.
Open government benefits everyone but the elected do NOT get to set the definition of "Open" - the electorate DO!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Frozen double chocolate cream pie

I've posted it on my Facebook page and now on my blog. It's low in sugar and high in taste. Enjoy.
1 graham cracker or vanilla wafer crust (store-bought)
1 (4 oz.) pkg. instant sugar-free chocolate pudding mix (Jell-o brand)
1 cup 2% milk, 2 tbsp. milk
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese (Kraft Philadelphia brand), softened in microwave
2 cups Cool Whip topping (the real deal, which is almost devoid of sugar), thawed
1 pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips (Ghirardelli is slightly better than Nestle’s)
In large bowl, mix pudding and 1 cup milk; stir until mixture is thick. Add softened cream cheese and continue to stir until thoroughly mixed.
In separate smaller bowl, add 4 ounces of chocolate chips with 2 tbsp. mile and microwave until melted (but NOT burned at all). Remove and add to chocolate pudding mixture; stir thoroughly, then add 1 ½ cups Cool Whip, stir until completely mixed and blended.
Pour mixture into graham cracker crust, smooth with spatula; over with remaining Cool Whip evenly over top of pie. Cover with original plastic lid from crust. Put into freezer for at least 4 hours.
When ready to serve, remove and thaw for 10 minutes. Serves 8.