Friday, October 18, 2013

Progressive Referenda For March 2014 Texas Democratic Primary Ballot.

Two years ago I wrote an article for the Dem Blog News that said, in part:
"Perhaps the idea that the party's voter base, outside of Austin, is pervasively very conservative - an idea still active espoused by long time Democratic political strategists - is no longer right. Perhaps the idea that the party and it's candidates must continue to subscribe to conservative policy strategies, shunning all progressive/liberal policy positions, is a strategy that no longer works - even in Texas.

It is, perhaps, time for party leaders to seriously consider whether the party finds itself struggling to raise money and attract new candidates, not because it's not conservative enough, but because the Democratic Party offers Texas voters no real and contrasting choice to the Tea Party Republican brand of politics.

It is definitely time for the Texas Democratic Party to discuss within its ranks the need for the party to engage in a conversation with its base constituencies to understand how to rebuild the party from the grassroots. "
I wrote that article in Nov. 2011, after the the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC) refused to approve progressive ballot initiatives for the 2012 primary ballot. But the Texas Democratic Party has taken a decidedly progressive turn under the leadership of  Gilberto Hinojosa, who was elected chair of the state party at the June 2012 state Democratic Party convention. 

Demonstrating that Texas Democrats have a new will to offer Texas voters a contrasting choice to the Tea Party Republican brand of conservative politics, the SDEC, meeting in Galveston on Saturday October 12, 2013, approved 19 progressive ballot referenda measures for the March 2014 Primary.

The proposed referenda are expected to appear on the TDP web site in the near future for public review, and approval to be placed on Democratic Primary ballots in Texas' 254 counties.

The 19 proposed ballot referenda:

Monday, September 16, 2013

Texas Has Received Millions in ACA Grants

by and , The Texas Tribune - September 9, 2013

Despite strong opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act by Gov. Rick Perry and other state leaders, Texas has still received nearly $100 million in grants through the law. And as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz campaigns to defund Obamacare, the majority of the grants — 25 of 34 grants awarded since 2010 — have already been spent or will expire at the end of this month.

The interactive chart below explores the grants Texas has received through the ACA. Use the drop-down to sort by largest to smallest grants; grants issued to expand existing services; grants issued for innovation, planning and research; and grants focused on preventive measures.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Texas Nov 2013 Constitutional Amendment Election

by Michael Handley

The Constitution of the State of Texas describes the structure and function of government for the State of Texas.  The current Constitution, ratified on February 15, 1876, during the post civil war reconstruction era, is the seventh constitution in Texas' history. The previous six were the constitution of Coahuila y Tejas, the 1836 Constitution of the Republic of Texas and the state constitutions of 1845, 1861, 1866, and 1869.

In 1876, Texans were deeply suspicious of state government, which had been controlled by governors and legislators they considered "carpetbaggers" during the immediate post civil war period.  In framing their post civil war constitution, those early Texans sought to limit the power of the governor and legislature by writing a detailed and highly restrictive state constitution. Many provisions of the Texas Constitution, which can be ammended only by popular vote of the people of Texas, are implemented as legislation in most other states. The Texas Constitution specifies that the governor and legislature has only those powers explicitly granted by the constitution; there is no equivalent clause to the federal constitution's "Necessary and Proper" clause. To change the funding or function of government agencies, the Texas legislature, which meets during the winter and spring of odd number years, often must pass legislation to place constitutional amendment measures on that year's November General Election ballot.

Since it was originally ratified in 1876, a total of 653 constitutional amendments have been proposed, of which 474 have been approved by voters and 179 have been rejected, as of November 2011. This fall voters will be asked to approve 9 amendments to the Texas Constitution. Each of the amendments on the November 2013 ballot have been approved by two-thirds of the Texas House and Senate and will require majority approval from voters to take effect.
  1. Authorizes a tax exemption for all or part of the market value of the residences of spouses of military members who are killed in action. HJR 62
  2. Eliminate a requirement for a State Medical Education Board and a State Medical Education Fund. Neither is in operation, with the State Medical Education Board having been defunct for more than a quarter-century.  HJR 79
  3. Extend the tax exemption period on storing aircraft parts in the state and would provide more tax relief to aerospace manufacturers, which often hold such parts in inventory for an extended period of time. HJR 133
  4. Give a partial property tax exemption on charity-donated residences to disabled veterans or their surviving spouses. The amendment would strike the current requirement that qualifying residents be "100 percent" disabled. HJR 24
  5. Allow homeowners age 62 or older to use reverse mortgages to purchase residences. The current law only expressly allows traditional mortgages, which lets such homeowners borrow against the equity of their homes. The amendment would allow the prospective borrower to use a Federal Housing Administration-insured home equity conversion mortgage to help buy a new home. SJR 18
  6. "Rainy Day Fund Amendment" to create two funds to help finance key projects in the state water plan by pulling about $2 billion from the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund.  SJR 1
  7. Authorize home-rule municipalities to choose how to fill city council vacancies if the positions have less than 12 months remaining in a three- or four-year term. The amendment would remove the requirement to hold a mandatory special election for those positions. HJR 87
  8. Repeal a constitutional provision authorizing the creation of a hospital district in Hidalgo County. HJR 147
  9. Authorize the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to use additional disciplinary actions — including public admonition, warning, reprimand, or required additional training or education — against judges or justices after a hearing. The current law allows the SCJC to issue a public censure or recommend a judge's removal or retirement. SJR 42

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Congressman Marc Veasey: November Democratic Network Forum

by Michael Handley

Congressman Marc Veasey will be the Democratic Network's guest speaker for its Sat. Nov. 9th discussion on voting rights. Join us at the John and Judy Gay Library, 6861 W. Eldorado Pkwy., McKinney, TX 75070.  Coffee and reception at 10:45 a.m., with forum discussion from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Rep. Marc Veasey (D - Fort Worth) joined seven others in filing a federal lawsuit in June, asking a federal court to block Texas from enforcing its SB14 voter photo ID law.

Veasey, who represents Texas' 33rd Congressional District, one of four districts created during the latest redistricting battle, filed papers in Corpus Christi federal court saying that SB14, which requires voters to present select government-issued photo I.D. at polling places, will unconstitutionally deprive thousands of minorities of their right to vote and make re-election campaigns more expensive. 

Veasey is part of the San Antonio federal District Court redistricting case, that the USDOJ last week joined to make its VRA Sec 3 preclearance bail-in argument.

Veasey is also working with Minority Leader of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and others in Congress, on replacement legislation for Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, struck down by SCOTUS in June of this year.

The November 9th DemNet Forum, on the first Saturday after the first statewide Election Day to possibly require voter photo I.D., will be an interesting discussion. I hope you can make it!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Texas Voter Photo I.D. Law To Be Immediately Enforced

by Michael Handley  (Updated Thursday July 25, 2013, 10:08 a.m. - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder tells Texas, maybe not, on immediate photo I.D. enforcement. Update noted below.)

On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a part of the Voting Rights Act that required Texas and other states to get a federal DOJ or District Court approval before implementing any election law change.

The Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the provision of the landmark civil rights law that designates which parts of the country must have changes to their voting laws cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court. With Section 4 now invalidated, the states listed in Section 4, which includes Texas, are no longer compelled to comply with Section 5 preclearance requirements. Those states are now free to enforce laws previously blocked under Section 5 regulations.

On August 30, 2012, a federal DC Court three-judge panel blocked Texas' new SB14 Voter Photo I.D. Law, under provisions of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court. The three-judge panel found that SB 14 imposed "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" and noted that racial minorities in Texas are more likely to live in poverty.

The Department of Justice pointed out that hundreds of thousands of registered voters in Texas were without the necessary identification and were thus at risk of disenfranchisement. A disproportionate number were Latino.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting from the June 25th SCOTUS ruling, highlighted a paradox at the heart of the majority opinion: “In the court’s view, the very success of Section 5 [and 4] of the Voting Rights Act demands its dormancy”.
Ginsburg, supported by justices Sephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said it is the very success of pre-clearance that underlines why it must be preserved. “The Voting Rights Act has worked to combat voting discrimination where other remedies have been tried and failed,” she writes.

In her dissent, Ginsburg lists some of the insidious changes to voting laws that could now creep back into the American electoral landscape. Under pre-clearance, states including Texas have been blocked from racial gerrymandering by redrawing electoral boundaries in an attempt to create segregated legislative districts.
Opponents of pre-clearance under Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act say that Section 2 will be sufficient on its own as a safeguard against future discrimination. But the burden of challenging new electoral laws now shifts from the federal government to the individual voter.

Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford law school who had previously filed an amicus brief on behalf of the bipartisan House Judiciary Committee leadership supporting the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, said that by striking down pre-clearance the supreme court had “shifted the burden away from the perpetrators of discrimination and onto the shoulders of the victims of discrimination. Local minority voters will now have to find a lawyer and go to court to argue voting rights infringement under Section 2 – and for many that will be very difficult.”

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act forbids states from enacting voting restrictions that have a greater impact on minority voters than on others. There is, however, a catch. Samuel Bagenstos, who was until recently the number two official in the U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division, has said that the DOJ can't bring a Section 2 lawsuit claiming voter disenfranchisement, until after voters have been disenfranchised:
“In order to bring a Section 2 case, you’d have to as a practical matter show two things. One, that there’s a significant racial disparity and two, that the burden of getting an ID is significant enough for us to care about.

Any Section 2 case would almost certainly have to wait until after the next election, since the evidence that the laws were discriminatory “can only be gathered during an election that takes place when the law is enacted.”
Minority Leader of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Wednesday that Congressional Democrats are planning new legislation to render ineffective Chief Justice Roberts Court's decision on the Voting Rights Act. Congress must enact new Section 4 provisions that specify the states and localities that must seek election law preclearance under Section 5 requirements. But many question whether such legislation has any chance of passing in the Republican controlled House. (How to Save the Voting Rights Act)

Shortly after the Supreme Court read its decision striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott tweeted that nothing now stands in the way of the state enforcing its controversial SB 14 voter photo ID law.
“With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately,” Abbott announced. “Redistricting maps [as originally] passed by the Legislature [in the 2011 legislative session] may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”
On Thursday, June 27, 2013 the Supreme Court followed up its Tuesday, June 25th, ruling on Section 4 of the VRA, officially vacating and kicking back the DC Court three-judge panel's August 2012 ruling that blocked Texas' voter photo I.D. law.  SCOTUS' action was a predictable result of its ruling, effectively ending the federal government's oversight of elections in Texas and other states with a history of discrimination in voting. The justices ordered lower courts to reconsider, in light of Tuesday's ruling, the status of previous low court rulings on appeal to SCOTUS, as was Texas' I.D. law. Legal experts remain divided on what the Supreme Court's rulings mean for the election laws that had been blocked under Section 5 review, and it could be weeks before the district courts weigh in. The district three-judge panel courts, have several options, including restarting the arguments based on SCOTUS' Tuesday ruling, or weighing the case without additional briefing. In the mean time, Texas and other states listed in Section 4 are not waiting to start enforcement of those laws. Yet, states with a district court or DOJ judgment against them, must clear that judgment to be before the law can be enforced.

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey (D - Fort Worth) joined seven others Wednesday in filing a federal lawsuit to keep Texas from enforcing its voter ID law. Veasey, who represents the 33rd Congressional District, one of four districts created statewide during the latest redistricting battle, filed the papers in Corpus Christi federal court saying that under Section 2 of the VRA, SB 14, which requires voters to present a government-issued photo I.D. at polling places, will unconstitutionally deprive thousands of minorities of their right to vote and make re-election campaigns more expensive.

Sections 3 of the Voting Rights Act could possibly provide the same protections afforded under Sections 4 and 5. Section 3 of the VRA contains a "bail-in" process by which jurisdictions outside the coverage formula of Section 4 that violate other provisions of the Voting Rights Act may become subject to preclearance. Unlike Section 5 preclearance, the period of coverage is based on a ruling or consent decree issued by a federal court, and the scope of coverage may be limited to particular types of voting law changes. Although the Supreme Court held the coverage formula of Section 4 unconstitutional in its Shelby decision, it did not hold Section 3 unconstitutional; thus, bailed-in jurisdictions remain subject to preclearance.  Lyle Denniston of explains it saying:
"There is another provision of the law, potentially a back-up (Section 3), that allows the government to go to court to ask that a new state or local government be put under Section 5 because of its more recent history in dealing with minority voters. Two states have been brought under Section 5 that way--Arkansas and New Mexico--along with several county governments, including Los Angeles County in California. The Court's main opinion did not even mention Section 3, but the dissenters referred to it briefly as a "bail-in mechanism" that has worked. If a challenger now seeks to employ that provision, it presumably will have to show that bias is still a present-day problem there."
In a 2010 Yale Law Journal article, Travis Crum called Section 3 "The Voting Rights Act's secret weapon," one that "the academic literature has ignored":
Commonly called the bail-in mechanism for pockets of voting discrimination, Section 3 authorizes federal courts to place states and political subdivisions that have violated the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments under preclearance. Designed to trigger coverage in "pockets of discrimination" missed by section 5's formula [sic; the formula is actually defined in Section 4], section 3 was included in the original Voting Rights Act.
Preclearance under Section 3 does not suffer from the constitutional infirmity that doomed Section 4. It requires a contemporary factual finding of discrimination, either a decision by a judge or an acknowledgment by the defendant jurisdiction. That is to say that even absent congressional action, preclearance remains among the tools available to the Justice Department and voting-rights advocates. They just have to prove their case before using it. In 2012, a federal court ruling in the Texas' redistricting case and another federal court ruling on Texas' restrictive voter photo I.D. law found that Texas lawmakers passed legislation related to each case that had "the intent and effect" of discriminating against minorities.

In the VRA Section 5 review of Texas'redistricting legislation, the federal three judge panel said it was “persuaded by the totality of the evidence that the plan was enacted with discriminatory intent,” according to the ruling. There was “sufficient evidence to conclude that the Congressional Plan was motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent,” the court found. The three judges said they were overwhelmed with the amount of evidence showing the congressional redistricting plan was intentionally discriminatory, writing in a footnote that parties “have provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.” The Justice Department could refer to those two court findings to ask a federal court to "bail" Texas back into a preclearance regimen for updates to election laws and procedures.
Update July 25, 2013 @ 10:08 a.m. CDT -

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the Justice Department will invoke Section 3 of the VRA in the battle for voting rights that could block Texas from enforcing its strict voter photo I.D. law. Quote Holder, "And today I am announcing that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the State of Texas to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This request to “bail in” the state – and require it to obtain “pre-approval” from either the Department or a federal court before implementing future voting changes – is available under the Voting Rights Act when intentional voting discrimination is found. Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder – as well as the history of pervasive voting-related discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized – we believe that the State of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices."  Click here for full text of Holder's speech:

The Justice Department will make Section 3 related filings, announced by Holder, with the the San Antonio U.S. District Court three-judge panel that controls Texas' not yet concluded interim redistricting map case, that originated in late 2011. The Justice Department will likely also join the with Congressman Marc Veasey and others in their suit filed in a Corpus Christi federal court to stop implementation of the SB14 voter I.D. law. It may take some time for the Section 3 technical legal maneuvering to play out, which may or may not result in the SA Court deciding that Texas should be bailed-into the preclearance regimen under Section 3. The court may or may not decided to block Texas' enforcement of its voter photo I.D. law, while the Section 3 bail-in question is under consideration. Even if Texas is again bailed into the preclearance regimen, it would likely take additional court maneuvering to deal with the voter SB14 voter I.D. law. For now, at least, Texas can continue plans to enforce its voter photo I.D. law for the Texas Constitutional Amendment Election in November 2013 and the 2014 primary and general elections.
Originally set to go into effect on January 1, 2012, the Texas Photo I.D. Law (SB14) requires voters to present one of a limited selection of government issued photo I.D. to election Judges in order to qualify to vote. The accepted forms of currently dated photo identification include:
  • Texas DPS issued Driver’s License or Personal Identification Card;
  • Texas DPS issued Election Identification Certificate (EIC);  
  • US passport;
  • US military ID;
  • Texas concealed weapons license; or
  • US citizenship papers containing a photo.
For those who do not have an unexpired government issued photo I.D., the law contains a provision that requires the Texas Driver's License office to issue special "Election Identification Certificates" free of charge to citizens. Of course, a person seeking a free EIC at the Driver's License Office must present a state certified birth certificate and other I.D.'s.  Obtaining those identity documents, for those who don't already hold them, can be costly to a near impossibility. (see - Texas A Step Closer To Federal Real I.D. Act and War On Terror "Real I.D." Driver's License Federal Law Meets State Voter Photo I.D.)

To qualify to vote, their is no requirement for the Election Judge or Clerk to determine that the photo on the voter's I.D. substantially resembles the voter, but SB14 does require that the name on the I.D. is substantially the same name listed in the poll book 

Voters who present a driver's license, pass port, citizenship certificate or other photo I.D. to the election judge that has a different first, middle, and last name than appears on the poll list, the voter has a problem. How big of a problem depends on how much the names vary between the I.D. and the poll list. 

Only 66% of women have an I.D. that reflects their current name. Newlywed women often update their driver's license with their new married name, but neglect to update the their voter registration and other documents. Many married women use their maiden name as their middle name on some documents, especially their driver's license, and use their given middle name in other circumstances, like registering to vote, or vice versa. Some married woman adopt a hyphenated last name that combines their maiden last name and husband last name, but not uniformly on all documents.  Asian-American women who are naturalized citizens often adopt an Americanized name on many documents, like registering to vote, but that name isn't the same as on their citizenship certificate.

A mismatch on just the middle name between the I.D. and poll list will definitely result in the voter being required to complete an affidavit attesting to their true identity. A newlywed woman who presents a driver's license with a different middle and last name as printed on the poll list may be require to vote a provisional ballot at the polling place and then travel to the county elections office one to six days after Election Day to present proof of her identity.

The Texas Department of Public Safety announced shortly after the Supreme Court read its decision that starting Thursday, June 27, 2013, Texas driver license offices will begin issuing free Election Identification Certificates to anyone who doesn't already have another of the government issued photo I.D. documents. (DPS Webpage for EIC Info.)

Under the 2011 state law creating one of the state’s most strict voter I.D. laws, the certificates are free and valid for six years - which means they must be periodically renewed. However, there is no expiration date of an EIC for citizens 70 years of age or older.

To qualify for any Texas Department of Public Safety issued photo I.D., an applicant must give proof of U.S. citizenship and Texas residency by presenting identity documents. These identity documents include an unexpired Texas driver license, Texas Identification card, or U.S. Passport book or card.  For most who don't have one of those primary identification documents, already, they must present an original or certified copy of a birth certificate issued by their birth state's Bureau of Vital Statistics, along with another identity document listed under a menu of documents. This menu of documents includes a Voter Registration Card.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Texas Battle Year 2014: September Democratic Network Educational Forum

The Democratic Network Educational Forum on Saturday, September 14, 2013, will be a discussion on Battle Year 2014: Texas Primaries and Politics. Join us at the John and Judy Gay Library, 6861 W. Eldorado Pkwy., McKinney, TX 75070.  Coffee and reception at 10:45 a.m., with forum discussion from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., followed by round table discussion to 1:00 p.m.

Tanene Allison, Texas Democratic Party Communications Director, will join Judge Bonnie Goldstein and Michael Handley to discuss the statewide and county level offices up for the March 4, 2014 primary election, candidates who have announced they will file to have their name listed on the 2014 Democratic and Republican primary ballots, the ballot filing process, the party run primary election process, precinct conventions, senatorial district v. county conventions, and what happens at each party's state convention. 

The discussion will include a high level overview of offices that will appear on each party's primary ballot by reviewing the structure of Texas' elected executive, legislative, and judicial offices, and each party's statutory place in that structure and the primary election process. Tanene Allison will review what the Texas Democratic Party and Battleground Texas organizations are doing to expand the base of Texas Democratic voters.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Voter Photo I.D. Enforcement: Democratic Network Educational Forum

by Michael Handley

Join us for a Democratic Network Educational Forum discussion at 10:45 a.m. on August 10th, at the John and Judy Gay Library in  McKinney.

Collin County Elections Administrator Sharon Rowe will join Judge Bonnie Goldstein and Michael Handley for the Forum to talk about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down Section 4 of Voting Rights Act and Texas' immediately decision to start enforcement of its SB14 Voter Photo I.D. Law. Enforcement of that law had been blocked by District Court order in August 2012, under the VRA.

The forum discussion will cover SCOTUS' decision, the new Photo I.D. voting requirements, and what steps candidates, who are planning to run in 2014, and political organizations should take to prepare for photo I.D. law enforcement. That law will be enforced by election officials at polling places for the 2014 Primary and General Elections, if further court action does not block its implementation.
August 10, 2013
Judge Goldstein and Michael will also cover continuing efforts to block the photo I.D. law through court action, status of legislative efforts to reauthorize VRA Sec 4, and what Deputy Voter Registrars can do to make sure the people they register have information about the photo I.D. law. Sharon Rowe will give a short presentation on how the county election authority plans to implement the new voting requirement. 

Join us on Saturday morning at the John and Judy Gay Library, 6861 W. Eldorado Pkwy., McKinney, TX 75070.

Coffee and reception at 10:45 a.m., with forum discussion from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., followed by round table discussion to 1:00 p.m. Some may wish to adjourn to a restaurant for lunch and continued discussion after the forum.

RSVP to FaceBook event.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Presidential Commission on Election Administration Launched

The Presidential Commission on Election Administration established by President Obama after problematic 2012 elections when online this week at  Obama established the commission by executive order on March 28, "to identify best practices in election administration and to make recommendations to improve the voting experience." The co-chairs of the commission are Robert Bauer, a general counsel for the Obama campaign, and Benjamin Ginsberg, a national counsel to the Romney campaign.  First up on the new website is the following press release:
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2013 — The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was officially launched today, following President Barack Obama’s State of the Union pledge to identify non-partisan ways to shorten lines at polling places, promote the efficient conduct of elections, and provide better access to the polls for all voters.

The 10-member Commission will submit a final report to the President within six months of its first public meeting, which is expected to be held in Washington in June. Headed by Co-Chairs Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, the Commissioners are experts in election administration, policy and procedures, or leaders from customer service-oriented businesses and industry.

“The President’s expectation is clear,” said Co-Chair Bob Bauer, who served President Obama as White House counsel from December 2009until 2011, and as General Counsel to the President’s re-election committee and to the Democratic National Committee. “The Commission is charged with developing recommendations based on the best information available for administrative practices that afford voters the opportunity to cast ballots without undue delay and improve their overall experience.”

“Waiting in line and facing other unnecessary obstacles to voting is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” said Co-Chair Ben Ginsberg, who served as national counsel to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaigns in2000 and 2004, and as national counsel to the Romney for President campaigns in 2008 and 2012. “This effort is aimed at assisting state and local election officials in their ongoing work to improve the voter experience under existing election laws. With extensive input from the public and through the broad knowledge and experience each Commissioner brings to the table, we hope to make a contribution to the hard work on improving election administration in which election officials are continuously engaged.”

The Commission was created by Executive Order 13639, Establishment of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Commissioners were appointed by the President. They are:
  • Robert F. Bauer, Co-Chair and member – Partner, Perkins Coie LLP
  • Benjamin L. Ginsberg, Co-Chair and Member – Partner, Patton Boggs LLP
  • Brian Britton, Member – Vice President, Global Park Operations and Planning at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts
  • Joe Echevarria, Member – Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte LLP
  • Trey Grayson, Member – Director of the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
  • Larry Lomax, Member – Clark County (Nevada) Registrar
  • Michele Coleman Mayes, Member – Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary for the New York Public Library
  • Ann McGeehan, Member – Assistant General Counsel of the Texas County and District Retirement System
  • Tammy Patrick, Member – Federal Compliance Officer for the Maricopa County (Arizona) Elections Department
  • Christopher Thomas, Member – Director of Elections in the Michigan Department of State
Nathaniel Persily will serve as Senior Research Director for the Commission. He is the Beekman Professor of Law and Political Science at Columbia Law School, and as of July 1, 2013, Professor of Law at Stanford Law School.

The Commission was created under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, with staff and support services provided by the U.S. General Services Administration. The Commission will be disbanded 30 days after it presents its final report to the President.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

by Michael Handley

I haven't written about the status of Texas' Voter Photo ID law for some months. Here is a short update.

Recall that last August a panel of three federal judges for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found the law imposes "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor" and noted that racial minorities in Texas are more likely to live in poverty. In other words, that federal court wouldn't let Texas enforce its new voter I.D. law. Texas then started the process to appeal that court's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court - the Supreme Court has not yet accepted the appeal, pending its decision on an Alabama case.

Sometime before the end of June, the Supreme Court will decide Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder, a constitutional challenge to the "Section 5" preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, one of the law’s most important guarantees against racial discrimination in voting. Enacted in 1965 and renewed by Congress in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006, the preclearance requirement forbids governments with a history of voting discrimination from enforcing racially discriminatory voting changes.

Texas' Voter Photo ID law is on hold pending the the Court's Shelby decision. If the court strikes down Section 5, which many think is likely on a 5-4 split decision, Texas can quickly move to enforce its Voter Photo ID law. If the court upholds Section 5, the Court will then decide to take up the question of whether Texas' Voter Photo ID law is constitutional, next term, which begins in October. Stay tuned for more updates...


Monday, May 20, 2013

Intensity Of Extreme Weather - Climate Change?

By Michael Handley

Updated Monday, May 20,2012 @ 15:48
Heat records for the month of May were crushed in the Northern Plains and upper Midwest last week while Tornadoes as big as a mile wide and fist-sized hail battered states from Texas to the upper Midwest.  (Temperature map right)

Last week, triple-digit readings smashed long-standing May 14 daily records, with a margin as much as 7° at Norfolk, Nebraska.

At Sioux City, Iowa, the 106° high also broke the all-time May maximum temperature record.

Sioux City climate records date back to 1889. At both Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, it was the earliest 100° temperature on record, surpassing the previous records of 5/29/1934 and 5/24/1967, respectively.

The temperature extremes were a reflection of a strongly anomalous circulation pattern along a very strong ridge of high pressure that extend from the eastern Pacific to the Great Lakes near the middle of the atmosphere, while a deep low pressure area was located off the Mid Atlantic coast.

Last week, thunderstorms tore through northeastern Texas as the result of the anomalous circulation pattern.  Warm and humid winds blowing from the Gulf of Mexico collided with hot and dry winds from West Texas, resulting in a twisting motion of the lower atmosphere. The National Weather Service in Ft. Worth, Texas issued a report saying 16 tornadoes hit Texas on Wednesday. The tornado that struck Granbury was given the rating of EF-4, with winds estimated between 166 to 200 mph.

A massive storm front swept north through the central United States on Sunday. Nineteen tornadoes touched down hitting parts of Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and local news reports. Hail stones, some as large as baseballs, were reported from Georgia to Minnesota, the NOAA said.

Again Monday afternoon, a mile-wide tornado described by the National Weather Service as “large and deadly” touched down south of Oklahoma City, in the suburb of Moore, causing widespread destruction and fatalities. Two elementary schools were completely destroyed. Those schools are Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma City and Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore, Okla.

Scientists have long warned us that climate change would bring more extreme weather patterns, with more frequent and intense weather events. The huge tornado that tore through the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore on Monday had winds of up to 200 miles per hour, or more. Early data suggests this tornado may be the strongest tornado ever recorded - ever.  Is CO2-based atmospheric warming a factor in the latest Oklahoma City tornado?  Scientists can't say yes or no, with certainty.

Global warming is making the earth a more dynamic and violent place. The fossil fuels that human civilization burns worldwide dumps more than 35 billion tons of the CO2 green house gas into the atmosphere every year.

As the amount of that green house gas builds in the atmosphere year after year, it traps more and more of the sun’s energy in our narrow envelope of atmosphere. That increasing energy potential is increasingly expressing itself in many ways. We don’t know for sure that any particular tornado comes from climate change; There have always been tornadoes. But we do know that we’re seeing epic levels of thunderstorm activity, of flooding, of drought, of more wide spread EF-4 to EF-5 super tornadoes, of the things that climatologists have been warning us about.

Yet, Republicans continue to avidly reject the scientific evidence for climate change.

The type, frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are predicted to change as Earth’s climate changes. Changes in some types of extreme events have already been observed, for example, increases in the frequency and intensity of heat waves, droughts and perhaps even tornado swarm events. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are call tornado alley for good reason. But day after day of swarms of a dozen, two dozen or more tornadoes, some as much as a mile wide super tornadoes, seem anomalous, even for tornado alley.

In closing, we may never know whether larger global warming factors were at play in Monday's Oklahoma City storms. All we can do at this moment is react to them and give the people of Oklahoma all the help they need.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

People Know Their Place In A Democracy

Star Trek Into Darkness Movie Review

Friend and fellow blogger, Jihaan Karjeker, just published her review of the new Star Trek Into Darkness movie. Click over to her Oh My Stars blog and read her review. Go ahead and bookmark her site and like her FaceBook page, too.

Star Trek Into Darkness trailer - Release Date: May 17th, 2013

Food Supply Under Assault By Climate Change

NBC News: Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor ~ The U.S. food supply is under unprecedented siege from a blitz of man-made hazards, meaning some of your favorite treats someday may vanish from your plate, experts say.

Warmer and moister air ringing much of the planet – punctuated by droughts in other locales – is threatening the prime ingredients in many daily meals, including the maple syrup on your morning pancakes and the salmon on your evening grill as well as the wine in your glass and the chocolate on your dessert tray, according to four recent studies.

[Corn from last year's harvest lies in a wet field on Iowa farms,while fields remain too wet to plant this year's crop]. The USDA's weekly crop progress report showed that just 12 percent of the nation's cornfields have been sown.  [Like your Cheetos and Doritos, while you got'em!]

At the same time, an unappetizing bacterial outbreak in Florida citrus droves, largely affecting orange trees, is causing fruit to turn bitter. Elsewhere, unappealing fungi strains are curtailing certain coffee yields and devastating some banana plantations, researchers report.

Now, mix in the atmospheric misfortunes sapping two mainstays of American farming — corn and cows. Heavier than normal spring rains have put the corn crop far behind schedule: Only 28 percent of corn fields have been planted this year compared with 85 percent at this time in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, drought in the Southeastern plains and a poor hay yield have culled the U.S. cattle and calf herd [especially in Texas] to its lowest level since 1952, propelling the wholesale price of a USDA cut of choice beef to a new high on May 3 — $201.68 per 100 pounds, eclipsing the old mark of $201.18 from October 2003, the USDA reports.

“We are in the midst of dramatic assault on the security of the food supply,” said Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future, part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The group promotes ecological research into the nexus of diet, food production, environment and human health.

Read the full Bill Briggs article @ NBC News:

Climate Change Denial Conspiracy

Some downplay and deny that there is organized climate change denial in U.S. politics. But what the deniers have accomplished in this country is unique in the world, going far beyond the spread of disinformation. They have convinced more than half of America that there is no climate change and that there is no consensus among scientists that global warming is happening. They have also allowed fossil fuel interests to “capture” almost an entire political party.
National Journal: “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones.”

More than 97% of 4,000 international scientific papers analyzed in a peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, were found to acknowledge human-caused global warming.  [Full text PDF (501 KB) - Video]

A recent Yale study found that only 42 percent of Americans believe that most scientists think global warming is happening. A full 33 percent of respondents are convinced that there remains "widespread disagreement" among scientists on this question. Among the 10,000 individual climate scientists worldwide who have expressed a position on human caused global warming in peer-reviewed literature, 98.4 percent endorsed the consensus that humanity dumping CO2 into the atmosphere continue to accelerate global warming and climate change.
Riley E. Dunlap, a sociology professor at Oklahoma State, and Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State call it the “climate change denial machine” in their book chapter, “Organized Climate Change Denial,” for the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society.

In a note, the authors explain: The actions of those who consistently seek to deny the seriousness of climate change make the terms “denial” and “denier” more accurate than “skepticism” and “skeptic,” particularly since all scientists tend to be skeptics.

On page 147 of their book the authors chart key components of the climate change denial machine that together work to feed the American public misinformation that climate science is “all one contrived phony mess," as Texas Gov. Perry puts it.

Here is the conclusion of Organized Climate Change Denial:”:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Earth Under Water, Hell On Earth Or Both?

by Michael Handley

Human civilization has pushed atmospheric CO2 levels to near 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revised its May 9, 2013 reading at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, saying it remained fractions of a point below the level of 400 ppm, at 399.89 ppm.

The last time concentrations of Earth's main greenhouse gas reached this mark, during the Pliocene era 5.3 to 2.6 million years ago, the planet was about 3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. The Arctic was 14°F warmer allowing horses and camels to graze in lush savannas that grew at those ancient high latitudes. The Arctic and West Antarctic ice sheets did not exist and sea levels during the mid-Pliocine were about 82 feet higher than today — levels that today would inundate major cities around the world!

The first decade of the 21st century contained nine of the 10 warmest years on record. A new report from the World Meteorological Organization compares the 2001-2010 decade with the 12 that came before it in a chart that makes it hard to argue that the planet isn’t warming.

Today, with the warming atmosphere, Arctic sea ice is melting much, much faster than even the best climate models had projected. The reason is most likely for faster loss of arctic ice is unmodeled amplifying feed backs in the CO2 cycles, plus recent Paleoclimate research suggests CO2 may have at least twice the effect on global temperatures than currently projected by computer models. “Future warming likely to be on high side of climate projections,” according to a November paper in Science.  On our current emissions path, CO2 levels will continue to rise to as much as 650–970 ppm by the year 2100 -- levels last seen when the Earth was and average 29°F hotter and dinosaurs walked the earth. A 29°F rise in temperature would melt all the ice on earth, even in Antarctica, increasing sea levels by 250 feet over just decades.

More than 97% of 4,000 international scientific papers analyzed in peer-reviewed study, published  in the journal Environmental Research Letters, were found to acknowledge human-caused global warming.  [Full text PDF (501 KB) - Video]  President Obama even tweeted the study to his 31,000,000 followers.
97% global warming consensus meets resistance from scientific denialism - The robust climate change consensus faces resistance from conspiracy theories, cherry picking, and misrepresentations.

Media Still Overlooks 90% Of Global Warming, Washington Post Still Won’t Fact Check Columnists.
A new study led by Clark University and involving the University Colorado Boulder found that all glacial regions lost mass from 2003 to 2009, with the biggest ice losses occurring in Arctic Canada, Alaska, coastal Greenland, the southern Andes and the Himalayas. The glaciers outside of the Greenland and Antarctic sheets lost an average of roughly 260 billion metric tons of ice annually during the study period. "Because the global glacier ice mass is relatively small in comparison with the huge ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, people tend to not worry about it," said CU-Boulder Professor Tad Pfeffer, a study co-author. But Greenland's inland ice sheet is now beginning to melt, too. Greenland's ice sheet saw melting across nearly all of its surface last summer due to higher than normal temperatures.

Most climate scientists don't think that the Antarctica and Greenland icecaps will thaw yet this century. Many studies since 2007, including by the World Bank, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a report for the Arctic Council, put the upper limit of sea surface rise at about six feet by the year 2100. However, when 97 percent of Greenland’s ice experienced at least some melting in July 2012, scientists began wondering if it was a one-time phenomenon. Now a new study in Geophysical Research Letters indicates it is a sign of things to come and by 2025, there is a 50-50 chance of it happening annually. Some climate scientists have started to wonder whether Widespread Greenland Melting Is To Become The Norm In Next Two Decades.   Miami, As We Know It Today, Is Doomed by Sea Rise; It’s Not A Question Of If. It’s A Question Of When.

Imagine sea levels rising 82 feet higher, and more, than today... Eminent climatologists think a "Great Flood" is inevitable if current CO2 emission rates continue.

Based on research by NASA astro-biologist and paleontologist Professor Peter Ward and a group of respected American climatologists, the Earth Under Water video is an eye-opening documentary.

This BBC documentary uses scientific evidence past and present, archive footage, location photography and CGI to explore the terrifying consequences should the atmosphere's CO2 levels treble over the next 100 to 300 years, as predicted.

Step by step, the BBC documentary paints a chilling picture of the world as the sea levels rise, unraveling the science behind this cataclysm, revealing when it could strike and what its impact would be on humanity. The film also questions experts and politicians about what measures can be taken now to stop the current rise of CO2 emissions, and explores how extreme engineering will buy us time. But the message of this film is stark, spelling out in graphic detail the Earth's apocalyptic future that we have been avoiding.

God Won't Save Us From Climate Catastrophe

A nanny God, who will with a miracle grant us amnesty from our folly -- that's not aligned with either history or the text of the Bible," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) declared in a Senate floor speech after an unnamed senator said God would protect the Earth from climate change. Listen to his full speech on the Senate floor.

“I was recently at a Senate hearing where I heard a member of our Senate community say, ‘God won’t allow us to ruin our planet,’” said Sen. Whitehouse  in a Senate floor speech on climate change Wednesday. “Maybe that is why we do nothing.” "If we believe in an all-powerful God, then we must then believe that God gave us this earth, and we must in turn believe that God gave us its laws of gravity, of chemistry, of physics." "We must also believe that God gave us our human powers of intellect and reason. He gives us these powers so that we his children can learn and understand earth's natural laws." "We learn these natural laws, and we apply them to build and create, and we prosper." “So why then, when we ignore his plain, natural laws, when we ignore the obvious conclusions to be drawn by our God-given intellect and reason, why then would God, the tidy-up God, drop in and spare us?” “Why would he allow an innocent child to burn its hand when it touches the hot stove but protect us from this lesson? Why would he allow a badly engineered bridge or building to fall, killing innocent people, but protect us from this mistake?” “We are warned in the Bible not to plow iniquity, not to eat the fruit of lies.” “Where in the Bible are we assured of safety if we do? I see no assurances of that.” ~ Whitehouse said.

Hell On Earth In Texas And The Great Plains

by Michael Handley

In the coming decades, climate change will lead to more frequent and more intense Midwest heat waves while degrading air and water quality and threatening public health. Intense rainstorms and floods will become more common, and existing risks to the Great Lakes will be exacerbated.

Those are some of the conclusions contained in the Midwest chapter of a draft report released early this year by the federal government that assesses the key impacts of climate change on every region in the country and analyzes its likely effects on human health, water, energy, transportation, agriculture, forests, ecosystems and biodiversity.

The weekly report of the U.S. Drought Monitor released for May 7, 2013 didn't  show much improvement for a profoundly parched Texas.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has watched first hand the ravages of a warming climate, first as Texas agriculture commissioner, then as governor.

However, Perry and Republicans in the state legislature argue that climate science is a made up liberal lie.  Perry said it's “all one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight” in his book, Fed Up.

Republicans dismiss worsening killer droughts and record heat seen in 1996, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, with July 2011 Texas’ hottest in history, so far. Last year, Texas suffered through another historic dry spell . Large sections of the state continue to experience long-term exceptional or extreme drought. These prolonged, dry conditions put a strain on water supplies for all uses.

Texas has only received 68 percent of its normal rainfall, and reservoirs are at their lowest levels since 1990. The state temperature has increased on average by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s, and so that impacts drought through evaporation and loss of water from the ground and reservoirs.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Building A Democratic Base Audience With Podcasts

Citizen Journalism is when private individuals do essentially what professional journalists do - report and comment on the news. That news reporting and commentary can take many forms, including regular podcast programs to discuss issues of interest to a listening audience.   The emergence of social media based broadcast channels is what has made citizen journalism possible. The Internet and smart mobile devices, like iPhones and iPods, allows average people the ability to broadcast information globally. That was a power once reserved for only the very largest media corporations and news agencies.

Listen to the The Intellectual Saviors podcast "Tear Down This Myth." [01:33:50] The hosts discuss modern conservatism's legendary champion Ronald Reagan and his policies - starting at 30 min mark.
Intellectual Saviors podcasts consist of three Texas guys that consider themselves fearless truth-tellers.

The Intellectual Saviors are high-minded progressives who use their intellectual powers for good, even if they weren't asked. With logic and reason as their guide, they enlighten the masses with their blatantly honest progressive opinions, often using earthy and even vulgar language, to produce weekly podcast programs.

The Intellectual Saviors' next podcast will discuss the "media propaganda machine."

A few other podcast programs you might enjoy:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Obamacare Is Dead In Texas, Right? Think again.

Texas has the highest share of uninsured residents in the United States — about 29 percent of its adult population is uninsured — which costs Texans billions of dollars worth of uncompensated hospital care every year.  Texas Tribune: The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will help 2.6 million Texans get health care insurance.
Nearly 2.6 million Texans could qualify for tax credits to purchase health insurance in 2014, according to a report released Thursday by Families USA, a nonprofit that advocates for health care consumers.

The tax credits will be offered through the health insurance exchange — an Orbitz-style online marketplace for health insurance — that the federal government plans to launch as part of the Affordable Care Act in October. Beginning in January, families with an income of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line, between $47,100 and $94,200 for a family of four, will be eligible for a tax credit subsidy to purchase insurance through the exchange. The tax credits will be offered on a sliding scale, so that lower-income families will receive larger credits.

“These are typically the families where folks are working, sometimes more than one job,” U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said of the report. “Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I think that’s something we can all support.”

Nearly 5.8 million Texans — nearly a quarter of the state’s population — are uninsured. The Health and Human Services commission estimates the tax credits offered through the health insurance exchange and other provisions in the Affordable Care Act will lower that rate to 16 percent. If Texas also expanded Medicaid — an unlikely scenario given Gov. Rick Perry’s opposition — the uninsured rate could be lowered to 12 percent.  Perry says that Medicaid is a broken system and has called the Medicaid expansion of federal health reform “fiscal coercion.”

“Given the large number of people in Texas that are uninsured, many of whom are poor, this is an extraordinary opportunity,” said Ron Pollock, executive director of Families USA. He said it was “short-sighted” for the state’s leadership to oppose Medicaid expansion, as it would bring billions of federal dollars to the state, and increase job opportunities.
You can see the report for Texas here, and for other states here.

In Texas, Medicaid expansion would mean adding an estimated 2 million residents to Medicaid, for whom the federal government would cover 100% of that extra cost for the first three years, and then 90% after 2019. That would bring to the state an additional $13 billion a year, totaling roughly $100 billion before the end of the decade.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) doubled down earlier this month in his opposition to expanding Medicaid under Affordable Care Act, even though opposing it could cost Texas $90 billion. At a press conference Perry argued expanding the health insurance program for the poor would make Texas “hostage” to the federal government. “It would benefit no one in our state to see their taxes skyrocket and our economy crushed as our budget crumbled under the weight of oppressive Medicaid costs,” Perry said at the state capitol. Perry was flanked at  the press conference by top Texas Republicans, including rising conservative star Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn.

Republicans will, if they again gain full control of the federal government, repeal the Affordable Care Act, convert Medicare into a private insurance voucher program, and turn Medicaid into a severely underfunded state block grant program.  The Republican controlled U.S. House has voted 33 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act over the last three years and has passed multiple budget bills to convert Medicare into a private insurance voucher program.

Obamacare is dead in Texas, right? Think again.

Could Your Town Explode?

The fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, on Wednesday (April 17) is bringing increased attention to the thousands of facilities nationwide that store or manufacture fertilizer, especially ammonium nitrate, an explosive chemical often used in agricultural fertilizers. [LiveScience.comInfographic: Why Fertilizer Is Dangerous]

Ammonium nitrate is believed to be the cause of the fireball that was seen about two hours after the blaze started on Wednesday (April 17) evening. In February, Adair Grain (the owner of the West Fertilizer Co. fertilizer plant) informed the Texas Department of Health Services that it was storing up to 270 tons of ammonium nitrate at the facility.

The West, Texas, plant is just one of about 6,000 facilities scattered across the country — located in residential neighborhoods, small towns and urban areas — that manufacture, store or sell ammonium nitrate products, a spokeswoman for the Fertilizer Institute, an industry trade group, told NBC.

And most county and municipal zoning regulations don't prevent these facilities from being located near schools, hospitals, homes or other businesses. The nursing home and school damaged by the explosion in West were built several years after the fertilizer plant began operating about 50 years ago.

The explosion in West is not an isolated incident. In 2011, a chemical plant explosion in nearby Waxahachie forced the evacuation of about 1,000 residents, according to the Dallas Morning News, including people living in houses that were just 100 feet (30 meters) away.

Around the world, ammonium nitrate has been implicated in dozens of deadly explosions in recent years, including the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history when almost 600 people died in Texas City, Texas, after two ships carrying the chemical exploded in 1947.

The West, Texas, explosion points to the need for stricter regulation of plants that manufacture, store and use large quantities of hazardous chemicals.

Modern conservatives ignore the failures of their generally accepted conservative principles, like deregulation, as enacted over the last several decades. Republicans claim that eliminating government regulations will unleash business and create jobs. We did deregulate, but it didn’t create jobs. It did, however, create a worsening of our environment. Deregulation also created the worst financial disaster since the great depression. 

A View Of Government Deregulation

Tommy Muska, the mayor of West, Texas, said Thursday that 35 to 40 people are believed to be dead in a massive fertilizer plant explosion, “because they are unaccounted for and still missing.” Sen. John Cornyn, in statements on Friday, said 60 people remain unaccounted for in the small Central Texas town. Two hundred people were injured in the powerful blast.

Among those who are missing and believed dead include as many as six firefighters and four emergency medical technicians.

The explosion occurred Wednesday night, heavily damaging or destroying buildings within a half-mile radius and causing broken windows and other damage to structures up to double that distance. The factory exploded Wednesday with the force of a 2.1-magnitude earthquake.

Politic365 Reports:
The West Fertilizer Company has not been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. “Texas relies on federal investigators, and has not made its own investment at the state level to inspect facilities, to make sure they are complying with federal safety standards,” said Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, a non-partisan group that is a corporate accountability group in the state. “We believe, and have supported in the past, efforts to beef up state inspections to compliment the federal inspections.”

Since 2006, only six fertilizer plants in Texas were inspected; West Fertilizer Company was not among them. The explosion is a spotlight to lax inspection standards in Texas. Under the leadership of Governor Rick Perry, who has been visiting states like Illinois and California to woo businesses to Texas, the state has advertised its low taxes and “predictable regulations” as part of its allure, begging the question whether the state’s “business friendly climate” has taken a step too far away from safety.

Loose regulations” in Texas may be a nice pitch for out-of-state business, however, in 2010 the state accounted for 10% of all workplace-related fatalities in the country. In 2011, Texas had the second-highest number of fatality investigations from OSHA (California was first), in 2010, Texas led the nation in Latino worker fatalities.

West Fertilizer Company in particular hadn’t been inspected by any government agency in five years.  In a report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the West Fertilizer Company stated that the “the worst possible scenario” for a fire or explosion would be a “10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one.”  The second-worst scenario, according to the report, would be a leak from a broken hose that would cause no injuries. West Fertilizer Company's risk management plan, filed with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011, made no mention of ammonium nitrate storage.

At times the plant had up to 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia available at the facility. This particular compound, according to the report, is at risk for explosion when it is inside a container.
The West Fertilizer Company had informed a state agency in February that it was storing up to 270 tons of ammonium nitrate – the highly explosive chemical compound used in the domestic terror attack on the Oklahoma City federal building. The Oklahoma truck bomb used just two tons of ammonium nitrate to destroy or damage 324 buildings within a sixteen-block radius, destroy or burn 86 cars, and shatter glass in 258 nearby downtown buildings.

It's not clear whether the ammonium nitrate, which was not initially reported as being present at the site in the wake of Wednesday's massive blast, was responsible for the explosion, or whether volunteer firefighters battling a fire at the facility knew of its presence. Under state law, hazardous chemicals must be disclosed to the community fire department and to the county emergency planning agency, in addition to the state. News reports on Thursday focused on tanks of anhydrous ammonia –a less volatile fertilizer.

Adair Grain, doing business as West Fertilizer Co., told the Texas Department of Health Services on Feb. 26 that it was storing up to 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, along with up to 110,000 pounds of the liquid ammonia, according to the disclosure report. (Read the document provided by the state.) The company's disclosure was first reported Thursday evening by The Los Angeles Times.

The West Fertilizer Co. stored 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Fertilizer plants and storage facilities must report to the DHS when they hold 400 lb or more of the explosive chemical. Filings to the Texas Department of State Health Services listing 270 tons of ammonium nitrate in storage were not shared with DHS by West Fertilizer Co. or any Texas state government agency.  Gov. Perry is on record promoting Texas' lack of business regulation statutes and enforcement as a selling point for businesses to relocate to Texas.

Ammonium Nitrate is an explosive that is also useful for fertilizer. It has not been used much as a military explosive in its simple form since WWII, but when mixed with other explosives it is encountered frequently in military explosives.  Ammonium Nitrate mixed with fuel oil is typically the explosive of choice in the mining industry.

In the video below, Rachel Maddow reviews the history of ammonium nitrate as an explosive and then as a fertilizer and reports the latest details of the fertilizer plant explosion that ripped through the town of West, Texas.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday declared McLennan County, Texas - home to West, the small community devastated by the fertilizer plant explosion - a disaster area and announced that he asked President Barack Obama for a federal disaster declaration as well.

Federal disaster assistance available under a major disaster declaration falls into three general categories:
  1. Individual Assistance - aid to individuals, families and business owners;
  2. Public Assistance - aid to public (and certain private non-profit) entities for certain emergency services and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged public facilities;
  3. Hazard Mitigation Assistance - funding for measures designed to reduce future losses to public and private property. In the event of a major disaster declaration, the county is eligible to apply for assistance under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
In related news, all three members of the Congressional delegation representing West, Texas (Republican Senators Cornyn and Cruz and Congressman Flores) joined in vowing to 'assist' the people of West. What they mean by 'assist' is that they're going to do all they can to steer federal disaster aid to the city of West, Texas.

All three of them -- Cornyn and Cruz and Flores -- voted against the bill that delivered federal disaster aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy call that aid “pork” and “wasteful spending.” ~

More -> Texas Is Anti-EPA and Their Citizens Have Paid With Their Lives

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Women Organizing Women Democrats Kickoff

Plano, TX – Women Organizing Women Democrats (WOW Dems), a new North Texas-based organization, announces their kickoff meeting on Thursday, April 18th @ 6:45 p.m. The first official meeting of WOW Dems will be held at Harrington Library, 1501 18th St., Plano TX 75074. This event is not sponsored by the Plano Public Library System or the City of Plano.

Thursday April 18, 2013
The mission of WOW Dems is to expand the participation of women in politics: increasing their political engagement; raising awareness about women’s issues; and recruiting, supporting, and electing women Democrats for partisan and non-partisan offices.

After the business meeting, there will be a panel discussion on Legislative Advocacy. Panel members will include Denise Rodriguez of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and Jeanne Rubin of Equality Texas. The panelists will discuss legislative issues that affect their individual organizations, their unique involvement in the legislative process, and the process in general followed by an audience Q&A.

After the program concludes, refreshments will be served and guests will have the opportunity to join WOW Dems.

To learn more about WOW Dems, contact Amy Lawrence, President at
WOW Dems Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter

Monday, March 18, 2013

New Media For Old: The State Of American Journalism

Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism's newest annual report on health of American journalism shows a continued erosion of news gathering reporting resources in the traditional news media industry.

As the influence of traditional news media wains, Pew finds that those in politics, government, business and others are increasingly more adept at using digital media channels to directly broadcast information into the public arena and to inject their messaging into the traditional media's news narratives.

As traditional news outlets have continually cut news-gathering staff and cut budgets for reporters to find and investigate news leads, reports increasing follow and report on what news-makers themselves broadcast online.

The traditional news media industry is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands. Findings from Pew's public opinion survey finds that nearly one-third of the respondents (31%) have deserted a traditional news outlets because they no longer provide the news and information or the delivery format they want.