Archive for December, 2009

The People’s Clubhouse

With a little time off for the holidays, I have decided to take it easy with the posts. I would talk about Mike Leach, but I don’t like getting into politics. Besides, R. Kelly has already written the seminal work about being trapped in the closet.

However, there is a local — mostly historical — subject that has been itching my brain for some time now: Lubbock County precinct clubhouses.

Precinct clubhouses are county-owned buildings that are available for community use for a nominal fee. They usually have a kitchen, bathrooms, and a nice open room or two — perfect for club meetings, community gatherings, and small-to-medium-size events. Each clubhouse has a paid caretaker, employed part-time by Lubbock County, who handles scheduling and makes sure the clubhouse runs smoothly.

Roosevelt, Slaton, Idalou, Shallowater, Wolfforth, and New Deal: these are the current locations of precinct clubhouses maintained by Lubbock County. Readers will no doubt notice one glaring omission — there is no precinct clubhouse in the Lubbock city limits.

We used to have one precinct clubhouse in the Lubbock city limits. It was near 50th and Slide Rd (5012 50th St), next to a McDonald’s for a long time. I fondly remember playing in chess tournaments there as a kid. Sometime in the 1990s, Lubbock County sold the land that the clubhouse was on. It was demolished, and another building exists there now.

I don’t know why the precinct clubhouse in Lubbock was sold. Perhaps it was a territorial issue with the city of Lubbock, perhaps it was done to save money by a penny-pinching Commissioners Court, or perhaps it was for some other reason entirely. Whatever the reason, I think that eliminating a precinct clubhouse was a mistake.

I believe we need many more precinct clubhouses, mostly within the Lubbock city limits. A precinct clubhouse provides a safe place for clubs and groups to meet and creates community pride and “neighborhood-ness” where they might not otherwise exist. They could be places for kids to go after school or in the summer; they could be used to promote the arts and as a venue for charity events. Lubbock County citizens would get a real quality of life boost for a modest investment of taxpayer money.

Thanks to Mandy Reeves at Lubbock County for answering my questions over the phone regarding the history of precinct clubhouses.

John Miller Running For County Judge

Yesterday on the Todd Klein show (KRFE AM580 weekdays 4pm-6pm), local businessman John E. Miller announced to the listening audience that he has filed the appropriate paperwork to run for Lubbock County Judge as an independent.

Running as an independent means that Miller will have to collect his signatures to get on the ballot after the Primaries are over. The time frame to collect the signatures is a short one, so his campaign will have to hustle. Anyone can sign the petition to place him on the ballot, even if they have already voted in a March Primary. To run as an independent, Miller himself will not be able to participate in either party’s primary.

Miller has previously been a candidate for County Commissioner Precinct 1 and for Texas HD83 twice. 2010 will be Miller’s first run as an independent; he ran as a Democrat in his prior races.

Health Care for Christmas?

Readers of my blog have probably noticed that I’ve been a little quiet on the health care bill as it has gone through the Senate meat-grinder. This is because I find the process depressing. Watching the will of the people get twisted, watered-down, thrown out, or outright replaced with opposite legislation takes its toll.

What the final bill will look like at this point is still anyone’s guess. But, it’s not looking good for the public option. With no public option, I believe the mandate for insurance coverage has to be thrown out as well, or we will just end up with a forced giveaway to a near-monopoly private industry. The public option and the mandate for coverage should be a package deal — lose one and lose the other.

Whatever the case may be with the public option and the mandate for coverage, we will most likely be getting some real reform out of this bill. No more preexisting conditions. No more dropped coverage when you get sick. An insurance exchange that could offer insurance across state lines and follow you from job to job. These are nothing to sneeze at.

But the Senate debate has made it crystal clear: the real danger all along was not that the government would “take over health care,” but that corporate interests would find a way to lock in a nation of customers at rip-off prices. Republicans locking in their opposition from the beginning has allowed a handful of conservative Democrats (and Joe Lieberman) to drag their knuckles and nearly derail the whole process on behalf of the interests of the insurance industry.

If we end up with a turd of a health care bill, I know right where to place the blame.

Leonard, Landtroop, and Isett — Oh My!

Today is a big day for local election news.

First, Lubbock City Councilman John Leonard has announced that he will run in the Republican primary for Lubbock County Commissioner Precinct 4, currently held by Patti Jones. Leonard’s push last week to modernize the Lubbock City Charter in a hurry makes more sense in light of this announcement: he’s trying to make it look like he’s accomplished something while in office. I believe that Leonard is a problematic candidate who has lost support even among his base, and a challenger in either the primary or the general will stand a good chance against him.

Next, Representative Joe Heflin (Texas HD85) could be facing Jim Landtroop, the guy he beat the first time around (in 2006), assuming Landtroop wins the Republican primary in HD85 (which is very likely, in my opinion). My prediction for a 2010 Landtroop/Heflin rematch is an even bigger win by Heflin, who has done a wonderful job representing his district in Austin.

Lastly, today KCBD and Pratt on Texas both broke the story that Carl Isett will not seek reelection for Texas HD84. This news is HUGE. With no incumbent, the seat is wide open. With the right voter turnout effort, this house district could turn blue in 2010. We just need some qualified candidates to run an exciting Democratic Party primary in this district to get the ball rolling. I don’t know of any Republicans who have stepped up to run in Isett’s place, but perhaps today’s official announcement will reveal someone in that role. If not, I believe that “unknown Democrat” versus “unknown Republican” in this district will make a very close race.

2010 is shaping up to be an exciting year in Texas politics.

Let’s Talk HD83

Primary season is almost upon us. Now is the time to prepare by becoming informed.

The Texas Tribune has — conveniently in one place — all the info for Texas elected officials you need to get started with an analysis of them. Check out Delwin Jones’ House District 83. Take the time to zoom in on the map of his district within the Lubbock city limits. Notice that middle-finger-looking portion running up from South Loop 289 to 19th Street just south of Texas Tech? My understanding of that funny-shaped foray into Tech Terrace is that it was a fine piece of gerrymandering to keep former Lubbock Mayor Windy Sitton from being able to challenge Carl Isett for HD84, our inside-city-limits house district.

This quirk of HD83 brings me to my three main points for this upcoming February/March Primary elections:

1) Delwin Jones will be the Chair of the House Redistricting Committee in 2011. Republican Primary voters would be foolish to vote Delwin out when he wields so much power. Delwin Jones’ primary challengers (two so far) can’t offer advantages like that for our area.

Meanwhile, I’m holding out the possibility that Delwin will use redistricting to cap his career in an honorable way by un-gerrymandering our area as much as possibile. A dude can dream, can’t he?

2) Delwin Jones is an unstoppable juggernaut of incumbency. He’ll leave office when he retires, not before.

3) You don’t need to vote in the Republican Primary to “protect” Delwin Jones against his challengers. If you’re on the fence about which primary to vote in, see point #2 — he’s whupped all the challengers he’s had over the last decade. There are also compelling reasons to vote in the Democratic Primary this time — several statewide races that are contested, for example. Also, our area’s strength within the Party is determined by governor-year turnout. If you want to see a stronger Democratic Party and a real two-party system in our area, then participate in the Lubbock County Democratic Party Primary to accomplish that goal.

I think Delwin’s got the 2010 primary locked up. Tell us what you think in the comments!

H-Town Elects Openly Gay Mayor

Congratulations to Houston, TX Mayor-elect Annise Parker!

The Third Coast has shown us that sexual orientation is no barrier to high office. Houston is the fourth largest city in the U.S., and it is now the largest U.S. city to have elected an openly gay leader.

What is especially encouraging to me is that sexual orientation only became an issue late in the race. I think this suggests that homosexuality is becoming less of a wedge issue. Voters in Houston responded more to Parker’s extensive record in handling government budgets in a fiscally responsible way than they did to last-minute attack ads about her being gay. To put it another way, “fiscal conservatives” lined up behind a candidate that “social conservatives” attacked.

I like this trend. Texas 2010 election season is going to be an exciting one!

Annise Parker campaign website

Interview with a Climate Scientist

Lately, discussions around these here parts have stalled for lack of a qualified climate scientist to articulate various points about global warming.

So, I went and found one. One of Lubbock’s treasures is Texas Tech Professor Katharine Hayhoe, an active climate scientist who was involved with the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She was kind enough to let me interview her via email for this blog.

Here is the unedited interview:

Can you explain the consensus view of climate change and humankind’s effect on it in lay terms?

Among scientists who study the Earth’s climate, there is no debate regarding the reality of climate change, and the fact that humans are the primary cause. The basic science that explains what is happening to our world has been well-established for more than two hundred years.
Our earth has a natural blanket around it—a blanket perfectly suited for life. This blanket is made up of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. Together, these gases keep our world about 70 degrees F warmer than it would be otherwise.
So what’s the problem? Well, ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have been burning increasing amounts of coal, gas, and oil. Every time we burn these fuels, we produce carbon dioxide. We can measure it at the tailpipe of any car, or the smokestack of any factory.
As a result of our energy habits, levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases have built up in the atmosphere far beyond their natural levels. Adding all these extra heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere is like putting an extra blanket around the Earth. And the Earth is starting to sweat.

Isn’t there still a big debate about the science?

There’s certainly a great deal of media hype about what is happening to our world. But we need to be careful how much we pay attention to propaganda that is not based on solid fact.
When an organization like NASA posts their climate data for the world to see, we must conclude that either all of NASA’s scientists and engineers have been duped, or quite possibly, there’s some truth to this warming.
In “A Climate for Change,” we provide evidence for the scientific consensus that the world is warming: from the National Academies of 32 nations, from every major scientific organization in the United States, and even from authorities such as the Pentagon, which views climate change as a serious threat to our national security.

Your latest book A Climate for Change makes the case that Christians should care about global warming. What prompted you to write this book?

Every time we turn on the TV, it seems, there’s people talking about climate change. But what we hear can be very confusing. One person may say it’s warming, while the next person tells us that it’s cooling. The first person tells us humans are causing this warming, the second says it’s all just natural cycles.
This book is the result of hundreds of conversations we have had with people who are genuinely curious about global warming, but who are confused by all the rhetoric flying across the airwaves these days. We know everything we hear can’t be true—but which part is fact, and which is fiction?
We wrote this book to tackle these questions head-on, and to provide simple, straightforward answers to many of the perplexing questions we’ve been asked, again and again. We hope our readers will see that we have no political agenda in doing so. Neither of us have any stake in whether or not certain policies are adopted. To us, climate change is not about politics: it is about sharing the truth of what we see happening to our world.

Can you summarize that position and describe the relationship between Christianity and science in general?

Climate change is already affecting our planet and its inhabitants. Its impacts are already being felt by the poor and the disadvantaged, who lack the resources to adapt. This is true both here in the United States, as well as in developing nations around the world.
As Christians, we are called to love God and love others. Recognizing the reality of climate change and reaching out to help our global neighbors is a tangible expression of this love.
Already, we’ve seen the first American refugees from climate change. Just this year, the inhabitants of Newtok, Alaska were forced to abandon their homes forever as warming temperatures caused the ground beneath them to flood, and melt away. And what has happened in Newtok is just a small “snapshot” of what we might expect over the longer term if we continue to bury our heads in the sand and argue that climate change is not happening.
At the same time, our book is not a guilt trip. As my co-author Andrew Farley points out in his book The Naked Gospel, as Christians we should be motivated by freedom and love, not guilt or duty. Climate change represents an opportunity, perhaps the greatest of our generation, to “serve one another in love.”

What is your opinion about the alleged stolen East Anglia University emails, commonly referred to as “climategate?” Does climategate disprove global warming?

A few emails written by several of the thousands of scientists who study climate change does not alter the fact that data collected from all over the world, for more than 150 years, shows a consistent warming.
In addition, this conclusion doesn’t just rest on one set of temperature data or tree rings. Sea level is rising; ice sheets are melting; spring is coming earlier in the year; insect, bird, and animal species are now seen further north than ever before. More than 25,000 of these types of changes have been seen around the world, all of them telling us that the world is warming.
So in assessing the implications of the stolen emails for the overall science of climate change, we need to take a step back and look at the big picture. We have to weigh those few emails from certain scientists against an overwhelming, world-wide consensus from thousands of researchers.
I’m not defending these scientists’ actions or their words, because I don’t know them or work with them at all. What I am saying is that this is no call for us to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Climate change is a very real problem, and we need to move ahead by looking for solutions, not dragging our feet every time the media tells us to.

As the Copenhagen conference on climate change begins this week, what are your predictions for its outcome?

This week, nations from around the world are meeting in Copenhagen to discuss the issue of climate change, and what can be done about it.
This process started way back in 1992, when the United States and over 150 other nations ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In this document, nations agreed to take steps to prevent “dangerous human interference” with the climate system. If necessary, these steps were to include reducing our emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Today, we have reached a point where the science tells us that the potential for dangerous consequences from climate change is inevitable, if we continue on our current pathway. So world leaders are discussing ways and means to for industrialized nations, like the United States, to reduce their own emissions and help developing nations do the same.

As individuals, what are some steps we can take to solve the climate crisis?

There are many things we can do to reduce the effect we are having on our planet. Opportunity lies in every crisis. And in this case, we have an unparalleled opportunity to re-think the way we live: to transition from the constraints of coal and oil to the freedom of endlessly renewable, homegrown solar and wind energy; to replace outdated, wasteful technologies with the most efficient state-of-the-art alternatives; and to better our environment and, with it, our own welfare.
We can start with small, simple steps. If every household in the U.S., for example, replaced one of its old incandescent light bulbs with a new compact fluorescent bulb, each of us would save $30 in electricity over the lifetime of the bulb. We would also achieve the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road.
We can do what our grandparents told us to and turn off or unplug anything we’re not using: our lights, our TVs, our computers, and even our cell phone chargers. When we make large purchases, such as appliances, cars, and even houses, we can pay attention to how much energy they use. These are just a few of the many things we can do that have the potential to greatly reduce our personal impact on the planet.
Ultimately, however, we need to implement the many technological solutions—many of these already well within our grasp—that will radically reduce our reliance on dirty, outdated, and foreign sources of energy. Protecting our environment is about living in more intelligent and more sustainable ways. The challenge of climate change calls for creative solutions and the discovery of previously unimagined ways of doing, living, and being. We already know how to do so many extraordinary things. Now we need to do those kinds of things more, and in smarter ways.

Thanks again to Professor Hayhoe for agreeing to the interview. She did say that she would respond to followup questions, so feel free to leave those in the comments.

Katharine Hayhoe website
Purchase A Climate for Change

A Tale of Two Facebooks

With the evolution of social networking websites comes a whole new set of awkward social situations.

My latest has to do with two gentlemen who are both candidates for Lubbock County Sheriff in the Republican Primary: Don Carter and Kelly Rowe. Both are capable, professional people with whom I have worked in the past. Because we were already facebook friends, I have been invited to join each campaign’s facebook presence.

What’s a well-meaning dude to do? I won’t be voting for either of them because I don’t vote in the Republican Primary. However, I don’t want to offend either person — each group I join will show up in my news feed, which all of my friends, including Don and Kelly, can see. However, if I ignore an invitation, I risk being rude.

Further complicating things is the issue of support. Does joining a group or becoming a friend/fan on facebook imply support? For example, I’m Randy Neugebauer’s facebook friend not because I support his re-election, but because I want to participate in the discussion accompanying my Congressman’s remarks on facebook. (If you’re reading this and are on facebook, you should do the same.) So, I honestly don’t think that facebook association implies support, but I can already imagine future-Rove running attack ads against future-Obama for facebook friending future-Ayers.

I’m probably overthinking this stuff, but it’s only a matter of time before online drama becomes mainstream political drama. In fact, we might be at that point already, given the Young Republicans President’s offensive facebook comments becoming news a few months back, not to mention the whole Sarah Palin “death panels” smear that began on her facebook page. Celebrity twitters and IM chats are already fodder for the 24-hour news cycle as well.

For my immediate situation, I will accept the invitation to both groups and hope that Don and Kelly don’t hold it against me. Good luck fellas; I hope you both run campaigns that you can be proud of.

The People’s Watchdog: Jeff Weems for Railroad Commissioner!

Jeff Weems announced his candidacy for Texas Railroad Commissioner today in Austin, and he was in Lubbock tonight for his very first campaign house party. I got a chance to meet him, and I am impressed.

With Jeff Weems we have a candidate who knows the oil and gas industry inside and out from the point of view of all the involved parties — the companies, the rights owners, the citizens. He is running to return the Texas Railroad Commission to its proper regulatory, unbiased role. He will make the Commission do its job.

The Texas Railroad Commission was created as a watchdog for the people (originally farmers vs. railroad companies, but now utilities in general vs. the little guy). Under Republican rule it has become a do-nothing agency that always rules in favor of the pipeline company or utility company (in that order) — 59 decisions in a row, even.

Jeff spoke passionately about the need to regulate out-of-control fracking that’s going on in Texas. Fracking is where a million+ gallons of water are pumped underground to crack underground rock formations and release trapped natural gas. (The Bluedaze blog by TXSharon is one of the best resources out there for discovering the many dangers of fracking.) This technique is used commonly in the Barnett Shale area around Ft. Worth, and it’s causing all kinds of problems — even earthquakes. The water used in fracking is so chlorinated and otherwise polluted that it can never be potable, and in fact is so toxic that it can’t even be used for subsequent frack jobs. On top of all that, eminent domain claims — which go unchallenged and unregulated by our TX Railroad Commission — are literally running allowing pipelines to run through people’s front yards in the Ft. Worth area.

Weems also talked about the epidemic of wasted natural gas caused by aging equipment in the field. Such waste is bad for the companies, bad for the environment, and deprives the State of Texas of millions of dollars in tax revenue — enough to cover all of SCHIP, in fact. This is another area where a regulatory nudge from the TX Railroad Commission could do wonders for our State.

The negotiations between cities and utility companies on natural gas prices are another area where the Commission needs to change its ways. If a municipality and a utility company can’t work out a price, the dispute comes before the Commission, which hasn’t met a utility company it didn’t like. This phenomenon explains why Houston’s natural gas costs consumers 4 times what ours does out here in Lubbock.

Another major area of reform is with the Commission itself. Texas Railroad Commissioners can accept campaign contributions any time except when the legislature is in session. They serve six-year terms. That means that they can accept money years before or after elections. I believe that it gives the appearance of bribery and corruption, especially with the current Commission receiving big donations from the companies it rules in favor of. Weems wants to make the Commission obey contribution rules like judges, who can only accept contributions near an election.

Weems took a couple of appropriate jabs at his opponent Victor Carrillo. His inaction on the above concerns was mentioned, as was his unethical use of campaign funds to travel to Israel with Governor Perry in 2006.

There is a lot of damage to be undone and positive work to be accomplished on the TX Railroad Commission. The Commission is a powerful check on abuses of power by the energy industry, and the Texas GOP knows this. They run candidates for Commisisoner who do nothing while waiting to run for higher office (e.g. Michael Williams), and they take every opportunity available to limit, shrink, or eliminate powers of the Commission. In the last legislative session, they were nine votes shy of putting a constitutional amendment up for vote that would replace the 3-member Commission with one lone Commissioner.

Jeff Weems is who we need fighting for the people on the Texas Railroad Commission.
Jeff Weems on Facebook

Rapid Fire

I’ll be blunt: there’s a lot of news I’m not happy about over the past week, and I don’t want to dwell on it. So, today I’m doing a rapid-fire blog to get through it all. We can hash it out in the comments.

Healthcare. The Senate debate is already infuriating, as Sen. Ben Nelson is offering a Stupak-like amendment to their version of the health care bill.

Governor. It looks more and more likely that Bill White will enter the Texas Governor’s Race rather than waiting (probably until 2012) to run for KBH’s Senate seat. This was always a possibility, as White’s campaign was always known as “Bill White for Texas,” keeping it flexible. White will win whichever race he enters, in my opinion. I’m not upset about that, but I am upset about losing out on Hank Gilbert, a great candidate who I believe can also beat Perry (but probably not Bill White in the Primary). If Bill White enters, I wonder if Hank will stay in the Governor’s race or switch to another. My guess right now is that Hank would stay.

“Climategate.” It’s shameful and ridiculous at the same time. It’s shameful because professional scientists should know and act better than the bunch from East Anglia. Scientific activity must withstand peer review and (informed) public scrutiny to be any good. It’s ridiculous because (1) all of a sudden those on the right decide they want to pay attention to scientific evidence (now that they have some that suits their worldview) and (2) those on the right believe that a few bad scientists somehow eliminate the mountain of evidence already out there on global warming. Man’s adverse effect on our climate is both observable and measurable, regardless.

Afghanistan/Pakistan. I’m not happy with President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops there. I think we need to get the hell out asap. His speech Tuesday night was eloquent, but could have been written by one of dubya’s speechwriters — the same talking points were sprinkled throughout.

Silver lining: would Hillary have announced a planned end to the war? Would McCain? No and hell no. So, at least we got a clearer strategy, an exit timeframe, and most likely the best result out of any of the three Presidential candidates of 2008.

In conclusion, this week is full of news that makes me grumpy, except for exciting local developments, which I will blog about later in the week.

Feel free to discuss these topics in the comments.

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