Archive for the ‘Accountability’ Category

Randy Neugebauer Yacht

Want to see modern campaign image control in action?

It looks like some internet hired guns have been set the task of burying the story of Congressman Randy Neugebauer’s yacht. Do a google search for “randy neugebauer yacht” and see for yourself. (And DON’T click on the links that look suspicious, unless you want to tempt malware and viruses.) You’ll get two screens full of bogus websites loaded with keywords to bury.

About this time last year, Randy Neugebauer filed to use a yacht (owned by a family-run LLC) with campaign funds.

Let’s do our part with this blog post to make sure that TX-19 voters remember that Randy Neugebauer wants to live it up on his family’s yacht with campaign funds.

Power to the People?

It’s been another one of those weeks where I get caught up with my life. Most notably, West Texas Comic Con came and went and was a great success.

In the meantime, some nut shot up Fort Hood, health care reform passed the House, and another crooked Republican Hale County Commissioner got arrested. Also, Lubbock Power and Light bought out its only remaining competition in Lubbock, which is what I want to talk about today.

I didn’t comment as the power grab was happening, but I did spend some time listening to other media commentary about the issue. The reaction to the Lubbock Power and Light (LP&L) deal from the talk radio crowd was pretty fierce — I even got to hear Robert Pratt hang up on Gary Boren* over this issue, which is something you don’t hear every day. (*correction — I have been informed that Gary Boren said he would call back, but never did. I distinctly remember Boren’s mic / phone volume being cut, however.) Meanwhile, LP&L is running ads promoting the deal on the very radio station that expresses outrage at the deal, while newspaper and TV were mostly silent about it. Huh.

The thinking seems to be that, without competition, LP&L’s rates will go up and quality of customer service will go down — maybe not right away, but within a few years.

I agree, but not for the same reasons as the right-wing radio hosts in town.

I believe that utilities can run just fine if they are government-owned in a democratic society. Government-run utilities are even fine as a monopoly if the utilities are accountable to the people directly. (Privately owned utility companies in competition with one another are okay too, although in practice they tend to carve out little anti-competitive fiefdoms rather than compete with each other directly. So, I would rather see a government-owned utility run kinda like a coop instead of a few big corporations gouging customers whenever they can get away with it.)

However, the problem with the current LP&L deal (and it IS a done deal, announced conveniently after the November bond election) is that the structure of LP&L does not make it accountable to the people, which is necessary if you are removing private competition. LP&L is a public utility run like a private company. None of the LP&L board are elected; they are appointed by the City Council. It is more insulated from the will of the citizens than a coop, a private company (maybe), or a publicly traded corporation.

I believe there is an easy way to address this problem. Let’s start electing LP&L board members directly. We could even have a mix of appointed members and elected members, but if LP&L is going to be the only game in town while calling itself a public utility, then it ought to be more democratic.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how we got to this decision, remember back to the 2006 election:


One not-so-secret reason for the buyout is that it simplifies downtown redevelopment for private developers. Don’t get me wrong — I do want to see downtown Lubbock get redeveloped, but not at the expense of affordable/accountable/responsible utilities.

If I may misappropriate a quote from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, remember who drives the bus of civic activity in Lubbock: developers, developers, developers.

For FOX Sake!

If you only have time for one Daily Show clip this week, then make it this one from last night’s show:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
For Fox Sake!
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

FOX fans out there should take ten minutes to watch the above clip as well; the payoff is understanding why most of the country sees that FOX News certainly isn’t “fair and balanced.” The only people propagating that claim are those that watch FOX News exclusively.

Jon Stewart nails the main point:

The FOX Opinion Guy’s outrage becomes the “some say” source for the news side. It’s a perpetual revulsion machine.

In other words, deciding what is newsworthy at FOX is done by the FOX pundits. The FOX news anchors then chatter about whatever the pundits have put on their agenda for the day.

Also, FOX fans: no one is talking about censoring or shutting down FOX News, especially not the White House. All the White House did was identify the network for what it is: the propaganda wing of the GOP.

Alan Turing Apology

I love it when a plan comes together. Or, in this case, an online petition accomplishes something.

(Honestly, I don’t want to see statistics on what percentage of online petitions result in action… I bet it’s a low number.)

Today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the British Government’s treatment of science hero Alan Turing in the 1950s. From Gordon Brown’s statement:

Turing was a quite brilliant mathematician, most famous for his work on breaking the German Enigma codes. It is no exaggeration to say that, without his outstanding contribution, the history of World War Two could well have been very different. He truly was one of those individuals we can point to whose unique contribution helped to turn the tide of war. The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely. In 1952, he was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ - in effect, tried for being gay. His sentence - and he was faced with the miserable choice of this or prison - was chemical castration by a series of injections of female hormones. He took his own life just two years later.

AlanTuringThis news is exciting not only because a war hero and scientific giant (you’ve probably heard of the “Turing Test,” for example) has finally been exonerated, but also because of the manner in which it was done. The British government maintains an online petition system as part of its website, and 10,000+ British citizens signed this one, moving it up the list quite rapidly. I first found out about it via Facebook last week.

Online activism is still evolving a great deal, but I believe that this is a successful form of it. It used social networking sites in conjunction with an established infrastructure for online petitions that someone somewhere with some amount of authority or influence looked at. It’s great that the UK government has embraced online petitions in this way. Given the overture toward online openness for which the Obama administration is already known, maybe we’ll see something like this soon in the States.

For now, as someone who spent a significant amount of undergraduate classroom time proving that this-or-that algorithm is reducible to a Turing machine, and as someone who wants to see an end to homophobia, I call today a good day.

Friday Rally: Photos and Video

I did not attend the Friday rally on the courthouse lawn to protest the controversial courthouse postings of County Judge Tom Head, but my friend Leo Flores attended and took some pictures and video, which I present here.

Here is a video of some of the speakers:

This is easily my favorite photo of the event:


Other photos of those attending the rally or speaking:










Tom Head supporters counter-protesting:








And that’s all I have. If you have additional photos of the event, contact me and I’ll put them up as well.

A-J coverage of the rally is here.

Randy Neugebauer Town Hall Tuesday

It’s time to let our representative know that the time for real health care reform has finally come. Congressman Randy Neugebauer is having an August recess town hall meeting on Tuesday, August 25th here in Lubbock.

Note that the location has changed to First United Methodist Church:

Lubbock Coffee
Tuesday, August 25th
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm CDT
First United Methodist Church
1411 Broadway Avenue, Great Hall
Lubbock, TX

These events are called “Coffee with the Congressman,” which has a folksy charm I would normally admire; but, the name doesn’t make any sense for what will likely be a very large meeting in a church. Oh well.

I hope that you, dear reader, will make an effort to attend and let your voice be heard — especially on the health care issue — in spite of the inconvenient time of the meeting (middle of the work day, right when it’s time to pick up the kids from day 2 of school, etc). The media will almost certainly be there in abundance to cover the event, so even if you don’t get to ask the Congressman a question directly, you might get the opportunity to let the world know how you feel on the airwaves. Honestly, the chances of Randy changing his mind from “NO!” are slim to none, so the real debate is in the public sphere.

And oh yeah, don’t be town hall crazy like the FreedomWorks gang.

See you there!

Tom Head Does the Right Thing

Most likely in response to a press conference given at Southwest Digest on Friday afternoon or the recent Associated Press coverage of the controversial postings, last night County Judge Tom Head apologized for his political courthouse postings.

For me, the concluding section of his apology addresses the main issue:

“I would like to restate, for the record, that there are many forums available for political material, but the courthouse should not be one of them … I was wrong and I will never do so again … I hope one day I can regain your trust and not just as an elected official, but as your servant, friend and neighbor. Again, I would ask your forgiveness.

“May God bless this community and our country.”

Word is that a peaceful assembly is still planned for 1:30pm Friday 8/21 at the Courthouse. Personally, I believe that Judge Head’s apology and his promise not to post any more politically charged material at the Courthouse settle the matter for now. However, having a County Judge that believes even a fraction of the wild things posted in those materials is a matter that can only be settled at the ballot box next November.

More local coverage:

Blackwater Enters Stealth Mode

Via the design blog Brand New, the notorious mercenary company Blackwater is changing their image:

Xe (pronounced “zee”) is the new Blackwater. And, all of the Blackwater subsidiaries are getting the makeover treatment too:

The Blackwater name has being expunged from all of its business units: Blackwater Airships (which offers surveillance services for intelligence gathering) has become Guardian Flight Systems. Blackwater Target Systems (the unit that develops and builds targets) is now being called GSD Manufacturing, and Blackwater Lodge and Training Center has been named the U.S. Training Center.

There are appropriate roles for private industry to work with government, but, as we learned from the Nisoor Square shooting in 2007, providing military personnel is not one of them.

This Blackwater rebranding suggests that they are trying to distance themselves from the cowboy foreign policy of GW Bush as well as from their own mistakes. Changing the name of a mistake… well, it’s still a mistake. Perhaps also they are trying to fade into the background of our national awareness so that they can re-emerge later without objection. It’s our duty to keep an eye on these accountable-to-no-one private armies and keep them away from our military and our military interests.

Private mercenary companies simply shouldn’t be allowed to exist. Blackwater in particular is approaching the scary point of being “too big to fail” (they even have their own air force, for crying out loud), which, if wall street is any sort of harbinger, is a sure recipe for catastrophe. I don’t want to live in an age of corporate war, where businesses have greater powers to make war than nations. We’re a long way from that terrible place, but the Blackwaters of the world — or whatever they want to call themselves — exist to drag us there.

The Worst Editorial

When it comes to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Editorial Board, sometimes I agree and sometimes I disagree. However, Friday’s A-J editorial is without question the worst editorial I can recall.

The argument for torture is a losing argument at whatever level of detail you care to examine it.

At a conceptual level, it’s simple. Torture is morally wrong. Torture is illegal — not just in the US but all over the world and in agreements between nations. Torture is a criminal act.

This is not even a debate we should be having in modern society — the belief that torture is wrong should be assumed as a pre-condition of being “civilized.”

The nuances plied by the right in their argument for torture don’t stand up to scrutiny either.

“We torture because it’s effective.” No, it isn’t effective. We get more and better results through other methods.

“We torture because it gets results.” (1) Yeah, right. (2) If there are good results, they could be had by other means. (3) It’s not worth becoming bad guys to get what we want. “The ends justify the means” does not exactly embody high moral fiber.

“”We only torture terrorists.” Well gee, with no due process at Gitmo or anywhere “enemy combatants” are held, how can we be sure that we got the right guys, much less that they are evil men?

“The atmosphere of the time made it ok.” Try that one in a court of law or with your family.

I don’t mean to be stuck on this awful subject, but I was so infuriated when I saw my hometown newspaper endorse acts of evil that I had to write something.

A-J Editorial Board, you ought to fire yourselves over this one.

Was US Torture a Nixon-like Conspiracy?

While talking to students at Stanford University on Thursday, Condoleezza Rice may have stepped in it by admitting to conspiracy.

Here’s the crux of it:

In a video that surfaced Thursday, Rice said, “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligation, legal obligations under the convention against torture… I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

(emphasis mine)

I was not alive for Watergate, but this sure does sound like Nixon when he said, “When the President does it, that means that it’s not illegal.”

I hope serious, independent investigations start soon. As the rawstory article indicates, inaction itself may be a crime under the Geneva conventions. More importantly however, I believe that America’s national conscience will not be at peace unless we figure out who authorized torture and hold them accountable for it.

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