Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Why Bernie's Lack of Superdelegates is a Good Thing

Recent articles have touted Secretary Clinton's endorsements from Super-delegates as another indicator of why she is guaranteed to win the Democratic Party nomination next year.

As stated by Jonathan Bernstein in his August 28th op-ed for BloombergView,
"Super-delegates were added in the 1980s for two reasons. One was practical: It was the only way to ensure that those party leaders could get to the convention, at least as delegates. The other was political: Democrats were concerned that their new system didn’t place enough weight on electability, and believed a larger voice for politicians and formal party leaders would tilt the nomination in that direction."
There is at least one reason why Senator Sanders has not received as many Super-delegate endorsements, which I would like to briefly elaborate upon here.

Super-delegates consist of United States Senators, Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Governors, and national Democratic Party leaders. When making the decision regarding their endorsement for president, their primary consideration is the amount of money a candidate can raise throughout the campaign. It's been noted as the deciding factor in 91% of Congressional elections, and Bernie Sanders has overtly made it his campaign's policy to reject campaign financing from corporations. Overall, for Super-delegates it's a safe bet.

That said, the reason most Super-delegates have endorsed Hillary is the same reason Bernie is gaining in the polls. It's not that Sanders supporters hate Clinton. In fact, the recent "Des Moines Register poll of Iowa Democrats revealed that 96% of Sen. Sanders’ supporters are not anti-Clinton. Only 2% of Sanders supporters are doing so because they are anti-Clinton." They just want to elect a president who actively calls for the end of unregulated campaign financing which has definitively biased the legislative and budgetary outputs of Congress and state legislatures.

Your Friend & Ally,

Michael Messer
Friendly Neighborhood Democrats

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Talking The Talk On Internet Talk Radio

In early June this year I teamed up with cohost Rheana Piegols to broadcast our "Eyes Wide Open" progressive talk program on BlogTalkUSA Radio every Tuesday evening 8:30 PM to 11:30 PM CDT.

We've had a few interesting guests on our program lately who have given us some very interesting views on Texas and national politics. Here are four program podcast recordings we hope you take the time to enjoy.

This week on BlogTalkUSA Radio, "Eyes Wide Open" program cohosts Michael Handley and Rheana Piegols welcome fellow Texan and dedicated public servant, Mike Collier. In 2014 Mike threw his hat into the ring to run for Texas Comptroller.

After the election, Mike embarked on a 2015 Texas "listen tour" talking Democrats across Texas for Texas Democratic Party Chair, Gilberto Hinojosa. Mike shares his experiences with Texas politics and his thoughts on the issues and candidates for the Texas and National Election in 2016!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Of Professors & Prisons

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)

You might not recognize the name, but it is “the largest private corrections company in the United States.” Have you seen the third season of Orange is the New Black? CCA is the real-life version of the corporation that takes over management at Litchfield Penitentiary and cuts down on cost in overtly stupid ways. It’s a multi-billion dollar behemoth, recognized for its extensive lobbying efforts at the federal level to boost immigrant detention, and in states like Texas to ensure that drug laws remain strict.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Why do #BlackLivesMatter?

I dropped my 7-month old baby son off at daycare this morning. Before I left I watched for a moment as he slowly crawled on the mat toward the only other baby in the room. The other boy was black, with curly hair and inquisitive eyes that followed me for a while as I spoke with the early morning teacher, a wonderful Indian woman who adores my son. After handing off all the bottles, diapers, wipes, and changes of clothes, I turned to find both children locked in a deep gaze. My son was wobbling back and forth on his knees as the other boy lounged in one of the bouncers.

My son's face cracked wide open with a dimpled smile. Babies aren't born racist.

Babies aren't born racists, but over their lives they come to perceive differences and learn biases which will shape the way they interact with the world. Some of those biases will come from their parents. Others might come from their friends or the media they watch.

It's been a little over one year since the death of Michael Brown, and in that time, "nearly 30 unarmed black men were killed in police shootings," including Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy. We've seen the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, bringing with it an incredibly important conversation. With every death our people grow weary and cynical. We desperately need open dialogue that promotes meaningful and significant action.

Radio and talk-show pundits loudly adulate trigger-happy vigilantes for what they consider to be righteous justice. They tell minorities that if they don't want to be killed, they shouldn't act up.

"Innocent until proven guilty (in a court of law)" is beyond them.

Gnashing their teeth over the music and culture of the recently deceased, they purposefully ignore and marginalize the overt and entrenched injustices faced daily by almost anyone who isn't white. Pointing at the president, they proclaim that racism is dead while scapegoating various minorities for everything from increased drug use to the decline of public schools.

They are paid well to promote these ideas. To tell us that we, as "upstanding, hardworking, and white" citizens, shouldn't care about what happens to people of color.

They are paid to sell that line of thought by billionaires and corporations which gain profits through highly unethical machinations of law in both Congress and our state legislatures. They tell us to focus on the fraud and abuse of the welfare system instead of questioning how "liar's loans" were targeted primarily toward poor ethnic communities before the 2008 crash. They swamp the airwaves with fear over immigrants while promoting the defunding and privatization of our schools, starting with those in predominantly black and Hispanic areas. They attack African American and Hispanic single mothers hoping that we will ignore for-profit prisons full of fathers thanks to officials elected with corporate money. We are told that the poor have chosen to be poor while they are inundated with advertisements on every corner for payday loans with ridiculous interest rates. They tell us that they should just go to college, but unaccredited for-profit universities with huge ad budgets made billions in student loans which often end in default because those degrees are worthless.

They keep us divided with these prejudices and conquer us all by spreading fear and ignorance. Subjugating huge portions of our population to a minimum-wage (aka, "starvation wage") existence, without much hope of betterment, has effectively decimated the American Dream. In 2013, a study found that the United States came in last in economic mobility amongst the 13 rich nations in the OECD. In layman's terms, that means that in America, if you are born poor, you are likely to be poor your entire life. If you are born wealthy...

So why do #BlackLivesMatter?

Black lives matter because they are people, and by ignoring the manner in which they have been treated by our economic and justice systems, we have created a trap for ourselves. With our eyes shut, our government defunded their schools, and we remained blind to the negative effect it had on our own children. As their pleas for justice fall on deaf ears, we subsidize a for-profit prison industry that charges us twice as much for an inmate than what we currently pay for a student. Without speaking up for a living wage and for all workers and gender pay equity, we sacrifice our future earnings to pay for the effects of starvation wages used to bolster profits.

President Lincoln said it best:
"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free... It will become all one thing or all the other."
He was speaking about the states in our union which allowed slavery and those which didn't, and it was a prescient statement about what was to come almost two centuries later. As middle-class and poor children are forced to take on more and more student debt, we have become a nation of indentured servants. Nominal wages have declined for decades, making it harder to pay back that debt, and laws have been passed to prevent them from being dissolved via bankruptcy. Companies now use credit checks in the hiring process, a practice which demonstrably favors the wealthy. Usury has been revived in states like Texas, where loan sharks received Governor Abbott's stamp of approval to charge up to 1,000 percent interest.

We ignore the treatment of black people by the justice system at our own peril, for when finally feel the financial noose tighten around our own necks, our protests will be cut short. When peaceful white members of Occupy Wall Street were maced, tased, beaten, shot with rubber bullets, and killed, some black people could be heard welcoming them to the club. We may never understand how centuries of such treatment has impacted their lives and their families, but some of us are starting to awaken to the shared reality of our future.

Your Friend & Ally,

Michael Messer
Friendly Neighborhood Democrats

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Texas’ Voter I.D. Law Discriminatory, Rules U.S. Fifth Circuit Court

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans unanimously agreed with U.S. Southern District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos' October 2014 finding that Texas’ SB14 photo voter ID law has a discriminatory effect on black and Latino voters, and therefore violates section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

After a two-week trial on the constitutionality of Texas' photo I.D. law in September 2014, Judge Ramos struck down Texas' voter photo I.D. law with a 147-page finding issued on October 9, 2014.

Judge Ramos found the law had been adopted “with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose,” created “an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote” and amounted to a poll tax.

The state of Texas petitioned the Fifth Circuit Court to stay Judge Ramos' order, pending the appeal. The stay was granted and the the Fifth Circuit three-judge panel heard the appeal on April 28, 2015.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Friends, Lay Down Your Weapons

With the constant drone of the media covering the 2016 presidential race, it is easy to see why it is at the front of so many people's minds. That said, this post is not about whether Bernie or Hillary is the better candidate. I'm also not going to discuss the individual actions of the overt clowns crowding the Republican Primary arena. Right now, I am worried about one thing.

I am most concerned that the displays of hateful rhetoric between supporters of Hillary and Bernie will damage any chance of us electing a highly-effective president. People have lost friends over these intensely heated debates. They've quit attending Democratic club meetings over them. They've tuned out and turned away from politics because so many of us seem to have trouble arguing for our candidate without personally attacking supporters of the opposition.

I'm writing today to implore everyone to lay down your weapons and start talking to each other like adult and rational human beings. Calling your fellow activists "stupid," "bots," or "undercover Republican trolls" only shuts down the conversations that we so desperately need right now. It effectively marginalizes your friend's feelings and current understanding of the political world. As an acting representative of your candidate in that conversation, you are also showing others how they will be treated if they disagree with you.

Whichever candidate wins the nomination will likely take President Obama's place as scapegoat for the (in)actions of a purposefully stagnant Congress and hyper-conservative state legislatures. While our attention is decidedly focused on the presidential race, the Tea Party is focused on winning local and state elections. Here in Texas, they control our capitol and the actions of our governor.

Meanwhile, we are so up-in-arms over this primary that few are actively searching for or considering running as a candidate in any of the races lower on the ballot. It's like we've collectively fallen for the myth that the United States President is somehow omniscient and omnipotent. In reality, no candidate& can successfully represent our interests if they are constantly shut down by Congress, and the president has little power at all over actions by the states. You might not be aware, but the majority of laws passed each session happen in our state legislatures.

You want laws which enhance the safeguards for gender pay equity, support LGBT and minority rights, and invest necessary funding into our roads, schools, and health care? Focus on changing the partisan demographics of your state's legislature. Organize and find candidates who will actively represent your ideals, and then work hard to make sure they can win in 2016.

Because the president sure as heck isn't omniscient and/or omnipotent, regardless what the conservative pundits and shock-jocks say. Our next president will need all the help they can get, which won't happen if we shun the next generation of activists and/or disregard the experience and knowledge of our elders and peers.

For that reason, I ask that you join me in pledging the following:
"I pledge to promote my chosen candidate in a positive manner, without the use of slander and/or profanity, and to support my stances when necessary with sources that are as unbiased as possible. I pledge to listen as much as I speak, to moderate the tone of my speech, and to apologize and disengage from debate when things get out of control. I pledge to find peace of mind through community service, exhibiting our party's ideals in direct actions and strengthening our shared future. I pledge to focus on state and local politics, and to seek out high-quality candidates to run in the next election."
If you agree with this and wish to publicly take the pledge, please comment below and share this post with your friends. Thank you.

Your friend,

Michael Messer
Friendly Neighborhood Democrats

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Evolving Role of Twitter and Facebook For News And Politics

Social media will be more crucial to 2016 candidates than past election cycles. A new study conducted by the Pew Research Center, in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, found voters rely more than ever on their favorite social media platform(s) to keep informed.

The study found 63 percent of users on each of the Facebook and Twitter social hubs consume most of their news on those sites. These numbers are on the rise from 2013, when 52 percent of Twitter users and 47 percent of Facebook users reported finding their news on the sites. The increase was seen across all age groups.

Politics was the most prevalent of all the news subjects that users reported they came across on social media and a growing roster of 2016 candidates are taking advantage in the shift in how people consume news. Many have wasted no time this election season establishing a social media presence.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

No Texas Two-Step For 2016 Super Tuesday Primary

Seven years after Barack Obama earned the majority of Texas' presidential delegates, despite losing the primary vote count to Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2008, the Democratic National Committee put an end to the Texas "two-step" primary vote then "caucus" delegate election process. The DNC said the Texas two-step "had the potential to confuse voters" for the 2016 primary.

The 2016 "Super Tuesday" Texas primary will allocate the largest slate of delegates up for grabs on that election date for Democratic presidential contenders vying for the party’s nomination. With Bernie Sanders increasingly looking like a primary contender against Hillary Clinton, the DNC does not want repeat of the 2008 delegate allocation controversies caused by the two-step process.

Texas delegates will be allocated to each 2016 Presidential candidate based solely on the number of ballots cast for each candidate in March 1, 2016 Democratic Primary election. Presidential candidates must receive at least 15% of the vote in a Texas Senatorial District to receive a district delegate and must receive at least 15% statewide to receive at-large delegates.

The Democratic National Committee long ago adopted a rule specifying presidential delegates must be allocated based solely on the count of primary ballots cast for each candidate. The Texas two-step has been grandfathered by DNC waiver for every presidential election cycle since the DNC adopted that presidential delegate allocation rule.

At its June 26th meeting in Washington, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee unanimously rejected the Texas Democratic Party's 2016 primary two-step waiver request. Texas was long the lone remaining state to have continually been granted a waiver to allocate delegates through a two-step primary and precinct convention "caucus" process. Texas Democratic Primary voters WILL NOT return to precinct "caucus" conventions after the polls close on Primary Election Day.  Election Day precinct "caucus" conventions are a thing of the past.

Marco Rubio: Women's Right Of Privacy Decision "Egregiously Flawed"

GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) said the historic Roe v. Wade decision that "women have a right of privacy" to make personal reproductive decisions is “historically and egregiously flawed.” Rubio made the statement in a speech Friday before the National Right to Life Committee’s annual convention in New Orleans. Rubio promised he would fight to restrict women’s right of privacy to make personal decisions “at home and around the world.”

At the time Roe v. Wade was decided in 1972, most states, including Texas, severely restricted or banned the practice of abortion. Texas' law banned all abortions except those necessary to save the life of the mother.

In 1970, lawyers Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington brought a lawsuit on behalf of a pregnant woman, Dallas, Texas area resident Norma L. McCorvey ("Jane Roe"), claiming a Texas law criminalizing most abortions violated Roe's constitutional rights.

The lawsuit was filed against Henry Wade, Dallas Country District Attorney, in a Texas federal court. The federal court ruled Texas' law violated the U.S. Constitution. Wade appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reviewed the case through 1971 and 1972.

In the 7-2 Roe v. Wade majority decision, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote, the Texas law banning abortion violated Jane Roe's constitutional right to privacy to make personal reproductive decisions concerning her own body.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Jeb Bush Says American Workers Must Work Longer Hours And Years

If you’re in the American middle class—or what’s left of it—here’s how you probably feel. You feel like you’re struggling harder than your parents did, working longer hours than ever before, and yet falling further and further behind. The reason you feel this way is because most of you truly are falling further behind. But during an interview with The New Hampshire Union-Leader editorial board, GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush said, "people need to work longer hours."
“My aspirations for the country, and I believe we can achieve it, is for 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see, which means we have to be a lot more productive. Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we are going to get out of this rut that we’re in,”Bush said.
Wealthy GOP politicians want all of US to work harder, when they have hardly every spent an hour of work at hard labor. Jeb Bush wouldn't last an hour pouring asphalt in the hot sun, but some people do that all day.

For the over 109 million Americans in full-time jobs, work weeks often are longer than the 40-hour standard. According to a Gallup poll conducted last year, full-time salaried employees reported working an average of 47 hours a week, without overtime compensation. Many salaried employees are forced by their bosses to work 60 to 70 hours a week for a 40 hour based salary.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Is Our Nation's Breadbasket Contaminated?

I read a report from Bloomberg this morning which detailed the fracking industry's problem with wastewater in California. Anybody else concerned that they are selling wastewater to farmers in the state where the vast majority of our vegetables grow?

"In central California’s San Joaquin Valley, Chevron piped almost 8 billion gallons of treated wastewater to almond and pistachio farmers last year. California Resources Corp., the state’s biggest oil producer, plans to quadruple the water it sells to growers, Chief Executive Officer Todd Stevens told investors at an April conference."

I understand that the farmers are desperate for water, but how in the world is this not an insane idea? According to a study done by the Environmental Working Group, fracking wastewater is a "toxic stew of chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive harm."

"In 2014, the first year of California’s groundbreaking fracking disclosure program, more than a dozen hazardous chemicals and metals as well as radiation were detected in the wastewater, some at average levels that are hundreds or thousands of times higher than the state’s drinking water standards or public health goals."

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Investigation of Texas Attorney General Paxton Going To Grand Jury

UPDATED - Wednesday, July 8, 2015 1:30 PM - Texas Tribune Reports:
The name of Attorney General Ken Paxton, facing potential indictment by special prosecutors in Collin County for first-degree felony securities fraud, has surfaced in a federal probe of a company in which he is an investor.

The investigation, first reported late Tuesday by The Associated Press, centers on whether McKinney-based Servergy defrauded investors with false claims about the sales of its data servers and their technological capabilities. According to court filings by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company is suspected of "potential misstatements" about having pre-orders for the servers from the online retailer Amazon and the semiconductor giant Freescale — and in assertions that the product needed up to 80 percent less cooling, energy and space compared with other servers on the market.

Paxton's email address appears with about 70 other contacts in one list of search terms in a subpoena of Servergy from the SEC. His name is also included in an October 2014 letter from Servergy to the SEC describing the search terms used to produce the documents the company turned over in response to a subpoena.

Texas Public Radio -  MP3 - Tx AG Paxton’s Legal Challenges Grow
Original Post Thursday, July 2, 2015 2:00 AM

WFAA 8 News Dallas reports Texas Attorney General Paxton faces first-degree felony indictment.

What Texas Should Learn From Greece

The Lone Star State is world-renowned for its pride, and with good reason. We have what is arguably some of the world's best food, a heritage chock-full of eccentric and successful individualists, and a land rich with resources. In the minds of many, Texans are a special mixture of luck and self-determination, stubborn as the long-horned cattle raised on our farms, and as kind as a cool breeze on a hot summer's day.

Texas is also well-known for its anti-tax approach to big business. Whether a tax-free weekend to temporarily boost sales, franchise tax breaks to corporations, or the tax break granted to the fracking industry, our legislators are overtly keen on cutting taxes. With one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, you might assume that this approach has obviously worked.

But here's the thing. While our unemployment rate is low, our poverty and uninsured rates are incredibly high. Our schools are overcrowded, emergency services are overburdened, and our roads are literally crumbling before our eyes. The infrastructure we have depended on for so many decades is falling apart, and thanks to our elected officials, we don't seem to have the funds necessary to fix it.

Unlike the federal government, our state's ability to provide necessary services to our people is dependent upon the amount of taxes raised. Much like Greece and the euro, Texas does not have the ability to create its own currency. In 2011, as Greece was cutting funding for education and closed or merged over 1,000 schools, our elected officials were cutting $5.4 billion from our state's anemic public education budget.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Sen. Sanders Draws 9,000 To Campaign Stop In Portland, Maine

Addressing yet another record crowd -- this one at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Maine, with an estimated 8,000 people attending -- Sen. Bernie Sanders suggested why he draws record audiences at every campaign stop.
"The answer, I think, is pretty obvious," Sanders told his overflow audience. "From Maine to California ... the American people understand that establishment politics and establishment economics are not working for the middle class."
In recent weeks, Sanders has drawn 13,000 people to Madison, Wis.; more than 5,000 to Denver, and about 3,000 to Minneapolis. On Friday, he also attracted more than 2,500 people to Council Bluffs, Iowa -- record turnout so far for the 2016 cycle in the nation's first presidential caucus state. A portion of the Council Bluffs audience came from just across the river in Omaha, Neb. (UPDATE: Late report is Cross Insurance Arena was filled to capacity. Seating areas they had not planned to use had to be opened to accommodate all who filed into to venue. The arena seats up to 9,500 for concerts, which is the configuration finally used.)

In an hour-long address that was streamed live on YouTube, he promised his audience that he would bring about "real change" if elected president. That includes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making college tuition-free and guaranteeing workers family leave, vacation time and paid sick time. And it would mean higher taxes for corporations and the wealthy.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Texas Republicans: Divorce Government From Marriage

Rather than accept the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that state bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional, Texas' social conservative Republicans want to transfer the authority to issue marriage licenses from county clerks to church clergy.

Texas State Representative David Simpson (R-Longview) is urging Gov. Abbott to declare a special session of the Texas Legislature to consider a bill to do exactly that.

Under Simpsons bill, couples would no longer go to the county clerks office to obtain their marriage license. Rather, they would go to their choice of church to ask the Priest, Pastor, Minister, Rabbi, etc. permission to obtain their marriage certificate. Rep. Simpson writes in an editorial in TribTalk,

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Bernie Sanders Draws Record Iowa Audience

The biggest Iowa crowd so far for any presidential candidate turned out on Friday night, July 3rd, in Council Bluffs, Iowa to hear Senator Bernie Sanders speak. At least 2,600 people filled the 2,300 chairs at the Mid-America Convention Center and stood at the rear of the convention hall.

The crowed cheered when he called for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. They applauded when he said it’s time to break up the big banks on Wall Street. They shouted approval when he credited Pope Francis for his call for bold action to prevent catastrophic climate change. They rose to their feet when he said the United States should join every other major country and provide health care as a right of citizenship.

The issues Senator Sanders talks about appear to resonate with voters, capturing their mood be the issue financial reform, income disparity, health care policy, jobs, affordable college education, expanding Social Security, foreign policy, economic policy, climate change, environmental protection -- even on the so-called wedge issues such as gay marriage, abortion etc – for the most part the majority of voters agree with Bernie:

Friday, July 3, 2015

Pres. Obama Speaks At University of Wisconsin

President Obama delivers remarks on the economy at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, WI. July 2, 2015.

President Barack Obama took a jab at the rapidly expanding field of GOP presidential candidates, comparing the 14 declared Republican hopefuls to “The Hunger Games.”
“They’re going to be making a whole bunch of stuff up, and when I say a lot of stuff, I mean a lot of stuff,” the President told the University of Wisconsin audience, Thursday.

“You know, we’ve got some healthy competition in the Democratic Party, but I’ve lost count on how many Republicans are running for this job. They’ll have enough for an actual ‘Hunger Games,'” Pres. Obama joked.
Pres. Obama then compared the “bus full” of candidates to your crazy “Uncle Harry” at Thanksgiving who says stuff “that makes no sense. You still love him,” the president said. “He’s still a member of your family. Right? But you’ve got to correct him. You don’t want to put him in charge of stuff.”

Pres. Obama compared the recent economic performance of Wisconsin under Mr. Walker with that of its neighbor Minnesota, where Democrats have been in charge. He pointed out that Minnesota had raised taxes on the wealthy, increased the minimum wage and expanded its Medicaid program to offer health insurance to more of the needy — none of which has happened in Wisconsin. Minnesota’s unemployment rate is lower, he said, and its median income is higher. “Minnesota’s winning this border battle,” Pres. Obama said.

Complaint Filed Against Tx AG Paxton For Same-Sex Marriage License Letter

Former State Representative and current Texas Democratic Party County Affairs Director Glen Maxey, Texas’ first openly gay legislator, filed a complaint against Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton with the State Bar Association.

The complaint comes after Attorney General Paxton issued an opinion in a letter on June 28th -- requested by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick -- advising Lt. Gov. Patrick that Texas County Clerks may — on religious grounds — ignore the U.S. Supreme Court's order that they must issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Solar Electric Production In U.S. Higher Than Estimated

Actual solar photovoltaic electricity production in the United States is 50% higher than previous estimates, according to new analysis by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and kWh Analytics.

All told, analysts found that solar energy systems in the U.S. generated 30.4 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity in the 12 months ending in March 2015. Three states - California, Arizona, and Hawaii – can now say that solar provides more than 5% of their total annual electricity demand. (ScientificAmerican.com)

Use Of Public Funds For Private Schools Is UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Colorado’s Supreme Court struck down a private school voucher program that redirects to private schools public taxes dollars collected to fund public schools.

The New York Times reports:
The split decision to throw out the voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado’s third-largest school district, was a blow to conservative education advocates and those who want to redefine public education to funnel tax dollars directly to families who then choose the type of schooling they want for their children.

The state’s Supreme Court ruled against the district’s voucher program, which was passed in 2011, saying it violated a plank of the State Constitution that explicitly prevents public money from going to schools “controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever.”
“This stark constitutional provision makes one thing clear,” Colorado chief justice Nancy E. Rice wrote in the court’s opinion. “A school district may not aid religious schools.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State notes that the U.S. Department of Education reports 76 percent of private schools have a religious affiliation, and more than 80 percent of students who attend private schools are enrolled in religious institutions. 

To read more about public school privatization in Texas, click Private School Vouchers Rob Public Schools.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sen. Bernie Sanders Draws Record Audience In Wisconsin

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke before the largest crowd drawn by any candidate in 2016 at a rally in Madison, Wisconsin. Sanders announced at the beginning of his speech that they drew the most people to a rally of any candidate this year.

PoliticusUSA reported a record-breaking crowd of 10,000-13,000 filled the venue to capacity with an overflow crowd outside the venue. The Sanders campaign reports it received over 13,000 RSVPs for the event.

Veterans Memorial Coliseum holds 10,000 people inside, but the crowd was so large the audio of Sanders’ speech was piped outside to the people who  couldn't get in.

The event was live streamed on YouTube which drew more than 7,000 online viewers:

Sen. Bernie Sanders campaign Rally
Madison, Wisconsin, July 1, 2015

The Madison rally set the record for the largest crowd at a campaign event by a 2016 candidate in either party. Hillary Clinton’s rally in New York City drew 5,500, and no Republican has drawn an organic crowd that is close to the thousands Bernie Sanders consistently attracts on the campaign trail. Bernie Sanders’ economic message about inequality and the need to take the country back from the billionaires has resonated deeply with millions of Americans, and those voters are coming out by the thousands to support their candidate.

Photo credit Dan Merica

Those in the media who dismiss something happening among the nation's electorate should find a wake-up call in the Madison rally turnout, and Sander's regular strong turnout numbers for his campaign stops.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hillary Clinton at the 2015 U.S. Conference of Mayors

Hillary Clinton spoke at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors on the need to address systemic racism in the wake of the shooting in Charleston.

Why It's Okay for County Clerks to Quit Over Gay Marriage

When I hear about county clerks who have decided to quit over their bigoted objection to gay marriage, I don't find myself getting upset.

In Texas, County Clerks are elected and serve 4-year terms. They must be at least 18 years of age and they don't need a college degree. In cities with a population of 100,000 or more, their salaries range from $55,826 per year (Kaufman County) to $143,634 per year (Tarrant County).

Teachers in Kaufman County make $38,248 per year as a starting salary, and $44,361 per year after 10 years of experience. Teachers in Tarrant County make $41,083 per year starting out, and $50,272 after a decade of work.

Teachers can be, and often are, fired for publicly stating their positions on political and social matters. They can be fired for being seen by parents while having drinks after work. They can be fired for their students not performing well on the STAAR tests. For the most part, Texas teachers do not have contracts extending more than 1 year, which in reality is a contract binding them to the district rather than preventing the district from firing them.

Oh, and public school teachers typically have to have a college degree, and all the student loan debt that comes with it.

So when I hear about county clerks who have decided to quit over their bigoted objection to gay marriage, I don't find myself getting upset. I find myself smiling. Someone will be willing to step up and do the job. Heck, any 18-year-old is qualified.

Michael Messer
Friendly Neighborhood Democrats

Click to read more about the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Marriage Equality.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Fires At 6 Black Churches In 5 Southern States

Since nine people were killed in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, allegedly by a 21-year-old white man tied to white supremacist groups, there have been a string of arson attacks on other black churches in the South.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least six predominantly black churches in four Southern states have been damaged or destroyed by fire in the past week. While some may have been accidental, at least three have been determined to be the result of arson.

Black churches have frequently been targets of violence. Since 1956, there have been by most counts about 100 incidents of shootings, bombings, arson, or vandalism against black churches. One particular incident stood out during the Civil Rights Movement, when four young girls were killed and 22 were injured at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. That, however, is likely a significant  under count.

Spikes in violence rise and fall with white supremacist rhetoric, with more than 30 black churches burned within 18 months in 1995 and 1996. That led to the passage of the Church Arson Prevention Act in 1996, which gave federal authorities more oversight of such crimes, increased sentencing, and reauthorized the Hate Crimes Statistics Act.

The Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston has its own long history of violence. It’s the oldest A.M.E. church in the South, dating back to 1791 when it was formed by free blacks and slaves. But in 1822, it was burned to the ground after one of its founders attempted to plan a slave revolt.

Listen to a NPR report: Investigators Probe Fires At 6 Black Churches In 5 Southern States

Friday, June 26, 2015

SCOTUS Strikes At Prison Industrial Complex Profits

The other SCOTUS decision handed down on Friday, June 26th, is on “three strikes incarceration sentencing minimums” for felons on their third conviction.

The Johnson v. United States case challenged the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which mandates a 15-year sentence for any federal firearms offender with three prior (residual) convictions for a felony. This was the fifth time since 2007 that the Supreme Court had to issue an opinion on the constitutionality of the residual clause.

This case arises out of the Armed Career Criminal Act, which imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years on a federal firearms offender who has three convictions for a felony. In the Johnson case, the government used the “residual clause' to enhance Samuel Johnson’s prison sentence because of a prior conviction of possession of a sawed off shotgun.

The question before the Court was whether possession of a sawed-off shotgun constitutes a felony. Johnson argued that he shouldn’t be subjected to a harsher sentence, because the definition of what was considered “violent” was unconstitutionally vague. SCOTUS agreed with Johnson and issued a 7-1 ruling in his favor.

President Obama Gives Eulogy at Clementa Pinckney Funeral Service

President Obama delivers a eulogy for state Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was one of nine victims in the June 17, 2015, shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.


Marriage Equality

UPDATE 11:00 PM July 1, 2015

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling shortly before 5 p.m. on Wednesday finding that the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges overrides state laws and constitutional amendments limiting marriage to couples of one man and one woman.

The federal appeals court directed the district courts in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas to issue final orders ending enforcement of the states’ respective bans on same-sex couples’ marriages. Part of the 5th Circuit's order for Texas in the case reads:
While this appeal was under submission, the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, No. 14-556, 2015 U.S. LEXIS 4250 (U.S. June 26, 2015). In summary, the Court declared that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this lib- erty be denied to them. Baker v. Nelson [, 409 U.S. 810 (1972),] must be and now is overruled, and the State laws challenged by petitioners in these cases are now held invalid to the extent they exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage on the same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples.
UPDATED 4:20 PM Wednesday, July 1, 2015: The Texas Attorney General's office has conceded a separate legal challenge to the state's ban on same-sex marriage brought by two same-sex couples last year.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals took up the case in January, almost a year after U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia of San Antonio ruled the state's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional because it “violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights.” The state's appeal to the 5th Circuit had been left pending.

Scott Keller, Texas' solicitor general, wrote in a letter to 5th Circuit Justices the appellate court should affirm Judge Garcia's ruling against Texas' ban on same-sex marriage. The letter responds to the appellate court's request that the state and plaintiffs advise the court on their planned next steps in the Texas case, after the higher's ruling.

More than 100 of Texas' 254 counties are now confirmed to be issuing or prepared to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The DMN has an interactive map of counties issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Glen Maxey, Texas Democratic Party Legislative Affairs Director, has been listing counties issuing licenses on his personal Facebook timeline – here.

UPDATED 3:30 PM Sunday, June 28, 2015

State Attorney General Ken Paxton tells County Clerks they may refuse — on religious grounds — to issue same-sex marriage licenses. As reported by the Dallas Morning News.

UPDATED 1:30 PM Friday,  June 26, 2015

As of 1:30 PM Friday, June 26, 2015 - The Office of Collin County Clerk says the County Clerk is currently seeking legal council on the question of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. They have no estimate on when they might reach a decision on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The official statement from the Collin County Clerk further states that if the decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses is reached, it may take some time to implement changes to computer data bases and systems and office procedures to be able to actually issue those licenses.

County Clerks across most Texas counties, today, offer a similar statement on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

10:45 AM Friday, June 26, 2015

The Supreme Court today ruled in favor of marriage equality when Justice Kennedy handed down the 5-4 majority opinion in the in the Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage case. The ruling makes same-sex marriage immediately possible in all 50 states, even states like Texas that outlaw same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

When oral arguments were made before the Supreme Court Justices, Chief Justice John Roberts seemed surprised to find out religion and the First Amendment religious establishments clause in the U.S. Constitution have nothing to do with the legality of marriage.

Friendly Neighborhood Democrats

Who are the Friendly Neighborhood Democrats?

This is the most common question I have been asked since the Facebook page was created. The answer is simply, "Anyone who wants to help redefine the Democratic Party through direct advocacy." We are a loose-knit group of liberal and progressive activists who believe that action speaks louder than words.

What do the Friendly Neighborhood Democrats do?

We engage in local community service to actively demonstrate our values in a tangible way. We publicly brand these actions by wearing one of our inexpensive "Friendly Neighborhood Democrats" t-shirts.

When do the Friendly Neighborhood Democrats work?

We encourage you to find charities that are local to where you live and to offer assistance whenever possible. While we will have a monthly event posted on our Facebook page, we hope that you will take it upon yourself to find ways to be involved in your community.

Where do the proceeds from the t-shirts go (and where can I buy one)?

The money raised from the t-shirts goes to local charities, not the Democratic Party or any of its affiliates. You can purchase one by going to the link pinned to the top of the Friendly Neighborhood Democrats Facebook page.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Texas Young Democrats 2015 Convention - June 26-28

Join the Millennial Texas Young Democrats Convention in Austin this weekend - June 26-28 - for their 2015 Biennial Convention.

The America of the near future will look nothing like the America of the recent past. We see a generational transformations of our political and social values, our economic well-being, our family structure, our racial and ethnic identity, our gender norms, our religious affiliation, and our technology use.

Today’s Millennial Young Democrats are well-educated, tech savvy, underemployed twenty and thirty somethings at risk of becoming the first generation in American history to have a lower standard of living than their parents thanks to the conservative political agenda of the Republican Party over the last 35 years.

Millennials are the largest voting generation in American history. Born between 1979 and 1998, they are 95 million strong, compared to 78 million Baby Boomers. They are independent—politically, socially, and philosophically—and they are spearheading a period of sweeping change in America.

Click Here for more information on the Texas Young Democrats Convention in Austin this weekend - June 26-28 - for their 2015 Biennial Convention.

So You're a Texan for Hillary...

First and foremost, I want to thank you for your interest in politics. Believe it or not, it's a rare thing right now in our nation for people not only to care enough to vote, but to also research candidates and make an informed decision. With your help and a decent strategy, I believe we can turn the political tides in favor of a strong middle-class.

For those of you who have yet to determine which presidential candidate would best represent you, here is a link to a detailed questionnaire on ISideWith.com. Many of the questions have links for further information.

If after you take the quiz you find that Bernie Sanders is your best option, click here.

Alright. Now that you've decided on Hillary, let's go over five things you can do to help her win.