Here is a picture I took at a recent lunch for Houston-area political bloggers put on by Metro.
Metro is our local mass transit agency.
Metro was engaged in public relations when it put on the lunch.
There is nothing wrong with this fact. Metro has critics and should be able to respond.
I felt that Metro said some truthful and useful things at this lunch.
Though I’m sure they also left some of the bad stuff out.
But, of course, we know that so much of what we are told in life is a facade.
Above is a facade in plain view.
It is up to each of us to sift through the things we are told each day.
I can’t stress it enough—We as individuals are responsible for seeing things as they are, for our using imaginations to help us connect Point A to Point B, and for our decision to work for liberal and progressive causes.
It is not nearly enough just to gripe.
You can attend a public meeting, attend or organize a protest, write or call an elected official, talk to friends and family, start a blog, donate money, write a letter to the editor, volunteer for candidates and causes you value, and even run for office yourself.
(Photo copyright 2011 Neil Aquino.)
I walked out of a restaurant in Downtown Houston a few days ago and saw the image you see above.
This scene reminded me of the painting you see below.
The painting is Childe Hassam’s Avenue In The Rain. It was painted in 1917.
Learn more about Childe Hassam by clicking this link from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The images are not fully alike.
But the reason we have an imagination is so we can connect things that have at least something in common.
Imagination is a pathway to seeing the world in proper context.
If you can’t connect Point A to Point B, not only will you miss out on much in life, but you’re also setting yourself to get ripped-off by folks who see the that everything in life is connected, and who will use this knowledge to get ahead at your expense.
Make the effort required to see why people act as they do. See what one thing has in common with another thing.
Make use of the abilities we all possess.
Statewide Save Texas Schools Rally In Austin On March 12—Texas Progressive Alliance Blogger Round-Up
Blogger’s Note–3/1/11–Updated post with new facts about the rally.
Here is the most recent edition of the Texas Progressive Alliance round-up. The TPA is a confederation of the best political citizen-bloggers in Texas.
On Saturday,March 12, a Save Texas Schools rally and march will be held at the State Capitol in Austin. This event will begin at noon. There is hope that this will be a good-sized protest with people coming to Austin from all over the state.
On Tuesday, March 15, there will be a Texans Day of Outrage protest at Houston City Hall. This event will take place at 4:30 PM.
Be certain to pass on word of these rallies to your friends and neighbors.
There has already been a rally at the Capitol against harsh immigration measures that some in the legislature are proposing.
I’m certain this is a very incomplete list. If you are aware of an upcoming event anywhere in Texas, please leave a comment.
It is likely the pace of protests will pick up as the legislature begins to seriously consider bills and to take important votes.
It is up to each of us to do the hard work of freedom. Do you want to be out-worked and out-organized by the Tea Party/Republican Party yet again?
Let’s get to work now. Not just for the issues being discussed in the legislature at the moment, but also for the fights ahead and for 2012.
We can flood the Capitol just like we are seeing in Wisconsin. We can fight back and make progress.
Letters From Texas reports on a note that a pregnant woman sent to Texas state Senator Leticia Van de Putte, as the Senate prepared to pass the sonogram bill, and as the woman prepared to leave for the hospital to deliver her baby. Surprise #1: the woman is against the bill. Surprise #2: so is her father. Surprise #3: her father is another Texas state Senator.
This week the Legislative Study Group released an updated version of the “Texas on the Brink”, Eye On Williamson had this to say: for Texas to get off the brink, we must fight for the impossible.
A gaggle of Houston bloggateers met with Metro’s CEO and board membersand discussed the many changes the transit authority has completed in the past year. PDiddie from Brains and Eggs was there and filed a report. Continue reading
I’m going to take an airplane trip in the next few days.
Why will I be taking this airplane trip?
Because I’ve made the call that the money it costs to buy the ticket, the time it will take to make the flight, and the time I’ll spend in the place I am visiting, are worth the costs.
This is not to define what we do with our lives as no more than mere financial transactions. The power of money should conform to needs of people, not the other way around.
A nation governed on an opposing principle is a nation governed illegitimately.
Every decision we make has some basis. We have the ability as individuals to determine why we should act in one way and not in another. We have the ability as individuals to use our resources of money, time, and energy in the way we see fit.
Yet if the basis of our decisions extends no further than our own interests, we are giving up the best aspect sof our individuality.
As individuals, we have the ability to be with others in hopeful relationships, and to work with others for shared goals.
Every action has a cost. This is good. This helps assess the value of the way we spend our lives.
There is, of course, another question. Does the trip I’ll be taking merit the impact my flight will have on others I do not know?
On one hand, my ticket will help pay people’s salaries. On the other hand, the airplane will emit pollution.
I don’t have the answer to the worth of this trip in this context.
I don’t have all the answers.
To say you do not have all the answers is not to abdicate responsibility for your actions.
Rather, it is a commitment to think life out to the extent you are able.
The things we need to assess the value and worth of our actions are all around us.
Our relationships, our thoughts, an airplane and other accessible technologies, our energy, our time, other people, our imaginations.
Let us do our best in a complicated world.
Metro Looks At Mass Transit Options For Houston And The Region—Conservatives Don’t Seem To Want To Be Part Of The Discussion
Last week I attended a lunch for local political bloggers that was put on by Metro.
The lunch was held in the big Metro train barn out near the Astrodome.
Below is a picture I took that conveys a sense of the place.
The intent of the lunch was for Metro to gain favorable attention from local bloggers. After recently writing off $168 million in worthless assets, Metro could use some good press.
This wasting of taxpayer dollars no doubt further agitated many local conservatives who have long been suspicious of Metro.
There is nothing wrong with a public agency seeking positive public relations. Metro has goals and plans. Plenty of people of all ideological views use mass transit.
Metro has a right to make their case. The public can then decide what they think and how we should proceed.
Among those from Metro attending this blogger lunch were President and CEO George Greanias, as well as Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia. Here is a list of members of the Metro board.
Metro has been pressing hard in recent years for the expansion of light rail. While construction continues, funding is always a problem. The new Republican majority in the U.S. House puts federal dollars for transit initiatives in danger all around the country. Though Houston light rail funding for the year ahead has been requested by President Obama, it seems that securing external funding for this longterm big-ticket item will be a year-to-year struggle.
My own view is that light rail is not likely ever to expand to the point where it represents an effective transit solution to the multi-county Houston metropolitan area. While Metro, at the moment, serves primarily Harris County, an important goal of Metro should be expansion of mass transit options to our full region. Light rail is a contentious subject, not just because it is so expensive to build, but also because it’s limited scope in relation to the needs of our full metropolitan area give it the feeling of a scheme more suitable to Portland or Seattle rather than a useful tool for people who live 30 miles from Downtown Houston, Texas.
If I had to pick three top goals for Metro, they would be as follows—
1. Full regional cooperation.-–The potential environmental and fuel-saving benefits of regional mass transit in an area as large of the Houston-area must be realized. People in all parts of our region merit a mass transit option. (As long as they understand that it takes money to fund mass transit.)
2. Certainty that outlying areas of Harris County that are growing have sufficient mass transit options.— Metro must adapt to where people are living in our county.
3. Operational transparency and outreach across the ideological spectrum.—Metro must have local political support to meet the transit needs of millions of people in our area.
Conservative bloggers were invited to the blogger lunch. This is what Metro asserted and I believe it. None came. If they did not feel comfortable with the idea of Metro paying for the lunch, they could have offered to pay Metro the $10 or $15 or whatever it costed per person. They could have refused the meal. If they’d been excluded from the lunch, they could ask for an invite anytime in the name of fairness.
But it seems that on the whole local conservative bloggers don’t really want to be part of a serious discussion about how Metro should serve the public.What readers of these blogs have so far instead is a post by David Jennings at Big Jolly Politics where he seemed to go looking for a conflict with Metro.
I hope Metro has another blogger function and that bloggers of all political stripes show up. Metro is a public entity and is accountable to all in our community.
I’d be happy to bring my own sandwich if that would make everybody happy.
(Below–Metro is looking for a way out from recent negative attention.)
Pygmy Sperm Whale Stranding In Galveston—Every News Story Gives You The Opportunity To Learn More And To Take Action
A Pygmy Sperm Whale washed up on the beach in Galveston early on Wednesday.
Above you see a Houston Chronicle picture of the incident.
“A vacationer from Dallas and his 11-year-old daughter discovered a pygmy sperm whale thrashing about in the surf Wednesday morning on the West End. The Marine Mammal Stranding Network came to Shores Drive and FM 3005 shortly after 9 a.m. and placed a stretcher under the whale and lifted it into a rescue truck. The animal was breathing and its eyes were open. It was taken to a holding tank at the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.”
Unfortunately, the whale has since been euthanized.
The article I link to above does not assert that these dolphin deaths have been caused by the BP oil disaster. It does say though that this is possible and tests are being done to determine the facts.
From The Huffington Post–
“Oil from the BP spill remains stuck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a top scientist’s video and slides that she says demonstrate the oil isn’t degrading as hoped and has decimated life on parts of the sea floor.That report is at odds with a recent report by the BP spill compensation czar that said nearly all will be well by 2012. At a science conference in Washington Saturday, marine scientist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia aired early results of her December submarine dives around the BP spill site. She went to places she had visited in the summer and expected the oil and residue from oil-munching microbes would be gone by then. It wasn’t.”
Here is the web page for Dr. Samantha Joye. Dr. Joye led the study about the oil at the bottom of the gulf.
The impact of the BP spill may not be as bad as some first feared. But it appears to be bad enough.
The government, academic researchers, the press, and groups such as Greenpeace should keep monitoring conditions in the Gulf.
(Below–A picture of the oil-covered bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. It seems that sea worms of some kind do well in oil. Here is a previous post I’ve written here about sea worms.)
Every news story offers the chance to learn more than we know at the moment. It is up to each of us to learn about the world. When we learn more, then we are more likely to take action to improve the world.
A great book on marine mammals is the National Audubon Society’s Guide To Marine Mammals of the World. (Books remain the strongest source on many issues and subjects. Please consider getting off the computer and reading a book.)
Here are some basic facts about the Gulf of Mexico. This site I link to here, Gulfbase.org, has far more than just basics if you would like to know more.
A useful book on the coast in and around Galveston is The Formation and Future of the Upper Texas Coast by John Anderson. This book, published by Texas A & M, has scientific value while also being accessible.
I cannot stress this fact enough—It is up to the individual to learn about the world and to take action to improve the world.
You may well decide to take that action in concrt with others. But at core—You must decide yourself to be involved.
If you want a better world, you are going to have to speak up.
You are going to have to step up to the podium.
I can go on posting here about any number of outrages. And to some extent, that is what I will keep doing at this blog.
But in the end it is up to you to attend a public meeting, attend or organize a protest, write or call an elected official, talk to friends and family, start a blog, donate money, write a letter to the editor, volunteer for candidates and causes you value, and even run for office yourself.
I can’t stress this enough.
(Photo copyright Neil Aquino 2011.)
Here are some folks in Galveston a few months ago who were going to have a good day at the beach no matter what.
I think these people have a pretty good attitude about life.
(Photo copyright Neil Aquino 2011.)
President’s Day is upon us.
Where can you learn more about the Presidents?
I have four suggestions. Two of these resources are books and the other two can be found online.
Edited by Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer, American Presidency is a collection of essays about each President up until George W. Bush.
The book offers up a small measure of biography and a larger portion of analysis. With the essays running between 10 and 20 pages, this book is a good path to a reasonably complex understanding of the Presidents in a manageable amount of time.
I’m not sure that any book has more facts about our Presidents than Complete Book. Here you’ll learn not just about the Presidents and their terms of office, but also about their cabinets, spouses and children, and various love affairs. It is one of the most enjoyable books I know.
The best online resource I’m aware of about the Presidents can be found at the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. There you’ll find biographical information, essays and a multimedia gallery. It is very well done.
Finally, C-Span offers the excellent American Presidents website. There are broadcasts you can watch showing where the Presidents lived, as well as programs where experts talk about the Presidents and take phone calls from viewers.
It is fine entertainment.
Make use of these top-notch resources, and you’ll know plenty about the Presidents and the impact they had on American history.
Even better, you can make use of these resources as a springboard to your additional studies of our Presidents and of our American political history.
The decision to learn more and understand more is up to you.
Blogger’s Note—The following post was compiled and written by top Houston political blogger Charles Kuffner at his blog Off The Kuff. I asked Charles if I could use this material here and he was kind enough to say yes. The post deals with what people can do to fight drastic cuts in Texas education being planned by the Texas legislature and Governor Rick Perry. While the post deals at first with the Houston-area Spring Branch Independent School District, it could just as easily be about any school district in Texas. As you read down the post, you’ll see it offers ways for average folks from all over Texas to fight back and win. I cannot imagine there is any part of Texas not concerned about these cuts in education. It cannot be said enough—The hard work of freedom and of bringing about a hopeful future is up to all of us. We all have the option to attend a public meeting, attend or organize a protest, to write or call an elected official, talk to friends and family, start a blog, donate money, write a letter to the editor, volunteer for candidates and causes we value, and even run for office ourselves. I urge you to consider all these possibilities as from Wisconsin to Washington, D.C, to Austin, our American values of fair play for all are under attack. Thanks again to Off The Kuff for this post.
1. First and foremost, make sure you understand the scope of the issue and how it will affect you. Here’s an email that was sent out by the Spring Branch ISD to its parents:
Why should you care about the State Legislature and how its leadership impacts SBISD students?
- In 2005, state property taxpayers were told by the Texas Legislature that their property taxes would be lowered and that the funding loss to our schools would be made up through other taxes or revenue sources, including a new business or “margins” tax. That promise to make up for the funding loss has not been kept. The Texas Legislature must honor its commitment and restore this funding.
- Reductions proposed in Austin would equate to 15% of SBISD’s current funding. This represents a reduction of about $800 per student from the current $5,700 per student allotment, or $20,000 per classroom. Pictured in another way, this is the equivalent of one full class period being eliminated from every student’s school day.
- In 2006, the state froze school district revenue at the 2006 level. Since that time, in order to fund basic inflationary cost increases, including cost-of-living increases for our teachers, SBISD has made difficult non-campus reductions and used its savings to limit the direct effect on our classrooms. In fact, the current 2010-11 SBISD budget reflects reductions of more than $8 million to make ends meet. Unless the Legislature restores school funding, SBISD will no longer be able to keep the impact of yearly budget reductions away from its classrooms.
Our Priorities:Spring Branch ISD students will graduate from high school on time and go on to successfully complete a 2-year technical degree, or a 2-year associate’s degree, or a 4-year bachelor’s degree.
To support this goal, the Legislature must:
- provide SBISD with a revenue stream that is predictable, takes into account inflationary costs, and is not less than the amount SBISD currently receives;
- exempt school districts from state mandates for which the Legislature has not appropriated funding sufficient to meet expenditures (for example, costs related to the 4X4 math/science requirement);
- restore the authority of elected school boards to raise funds locally without a tax-rate election, and eliminate the requirement that any of these additional funds be sent to the state (Robin Hood);
- return local control and responsibility over important issues, such as the school calendar, to elected school district trustees who are most accountable to the community on matters of public schools; and
- provide high-performing school districts like SBISD with autonomy and flexibility over their educational program.
As the Texas Legislature continues to meet during the months ahead, reduced budgets and associated reductions will be more clearly defined. SBISD, in the meantime, will continue to communicate with Legislators and our community about what these cuts will mean to our students, our employees and the local community.
If you’re not getting this kind of information about what’s going on with your school and your school district, talk to your child’s teacher, your PTA, your principal, or your school board trustee. You can’t know what to do if you don’t know what’s at stake.
2. Make your voice heard in Austin by lobbying your Representative, your Senator, and the members of the relevant legislative committees. HISD has a Legislative Training sessionscheduled for next Saturday to help you learn who these people are and what your best strategies are for communicating with them.
With the State of Texas facing a record-level budget shortfall, it is expected that the Texas Legislature will be severely cutting funding for public education.
To help parents, teachers, administrators, students, and other concerned members of the community understand how this could affect Houston-area students, HISD will be presenting a “primer” on how the Texas Legislature works on Saturday, February 26.
The district’s second “Legislative 101,” which starts at 9:00 a.m. at the DeBakey High School for Health Professions (3100 Shenandoah, 77021), will provide participants with an update on current legislative activity, the chance to hear from top lobbyists on the most effective ways to communicate with elected officials, and details on how Houston-area school districts can work together on legislative issues impacting their students.
For planning purposes, those who expect to attend this event are asked to RSVP as soon as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also watch a video of the first event held on January 27.
Some legislators – Republicans, for the most part – will need more convincing than others.
3. Head up to Austin for a rally and march.
We invite everyone from across Texas to join us at the Capitol building in Austin Texas on March 12th, 2011!
Save Texas Schools will hold a rally and march at the State Capitol on March 12, 2011, with parents, teachers, students, community members, business owners, and faith organizations. A list of speakers and entertainment is in the works for this historic, nonpartisan, family-friendly event. We invite everyone, from school districts all across the state of Texas, to join us in asking our lawmakers to Keep Texas Smart!
DATE: Saturday, March 12, 2011
March: 11:00 a.m. starting from 12th & Trinity (2 blocks from the Capitol)
Rally: Noon – 2:00 p.m. at the Texas State Capitol on the South Steps, Congress Ave. & 11th St.
Click the link above for a map, and click here to RSVP.
So there you have it. If we don’t fight for this, we will have no right to complain later on. And if you need a little inspiration to get into the fighting mood, read this letter from John Kuhn, superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District, in which he channels a little William Travis to the Lege.
Texas On The Brink Report Has Great Value, But Lacks Steps We Can All Take For A Better Texas—TPA Round-Up
At the end of this post is the weekly posting of the Texas Progressive Alliance Round-up. The TPA is a confederation of the best political bloggers in Texas.
With the round-up this week is a link to the fifth edition of the Texas On The Brink report.
Texas on the Brink details the social, economic, physical, and educational health of Texas. It is produced by the Legislative Study Group. The LSG is a caucus formed by Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives. Houston State Rep. Garnet Coleman is the Chair of the LSG. Mr. Coleman has been a leading voice in our legislature for a Texas that offers opportunity to all.
From the 2011 Texas on the Brink report—“Since 1836, Texas has stood as an icon of the American dream. Blessed with land, rivers, oil, and other abundant natural resources, early Texas welcomed everyone from cattle ranchers to braceros, from cotton farmers to Chinese railroad workers. These pioneers built a great state, and together we fulfilled a destiny. From humble beginnings, we built a state with the firm belief that every Texan might rise as high and as far as their spirit, hard work, and talent might carry them. With education and determination every Texan might achieve great success – home ownership, reliable healthcare, safe neighborhoods, and financial prosperity.
In Texas today, the American dream is distant. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured children in the nation. Texas is dead last in the percentage of residents with their high school diploma and near last in SAT scores. Texas has America’s dirtiest air. If we do not change course, for the first time in our history, the Texas generation of tomorrow will be less prosperous than the generation of today.”
The report details many things we know about Texas. We know Texas can be a rough place to live. We know some people don’t do well in Texas not because they don’t work hard, but because they are born into circumstances that can be tough to overcome. None of this is to suggest the report lacks value. We need to know specifics so that we can put the right policies in place for the future. The information in Texas on the Brink is essential for this purpose.
The only thing this important report lacks are suggestions for what average Texans can do to fight back and to make progress. As our legislature moves forth with planned brutal cuts in health and education, people need to know how they can effectively advocate for a better future for Texas. There is very little progressive infrastructure in our state. Many people are not accustomed to politics and protest.
We keep hearing the bad news in Texas. After a time that just wears folks down. What we also need to hear about is who to call, who to e-mail, when to show up and speak out, and when to protest.
Even in hard times, progress is always possible. It just that sometimes folks need some help and insight about how to make that progress.
Here is the TPA round-up—
This week on Left of College Station Congressman Bill Flores gives talking point answers to softball questions. Also, a look at the Republican attack on birthright citizenship both nationally and in Texas, and how Republicans are undermining Texas’ economic future by cutting education funding today. LoCS also covers the week in headlines.
Regular readers of the blog will know I often emphasize the fact that it is up to everyday people to do the work of freedom.
We are seeing this fact in full view with current events in Egypt, the middle east, and Wisconsin.
It is the responsibility of everyday people to fight back and make progress.
In Texas, as crippling budget cuts are planned for health and education, everyday people can flood the state capitol just as is going on in Wisconsin right now.
In the end, it is up to the individual to make the decision to work with others for shared goals.
You and the people who share your hopes for the future have the make the call to move ahead.
It is hard to imagine that I have written this blog for nearly five years now without ever having run a picture of the world-famous Houston Astrodome.
This was the first domed stadium in the world.
Above you see the Astrodome from the vantage point of the Houston Metro light rail train facility.
The Astrodome is indeed still standing. At the moment, it is not used for anything. The building is owned by Harris County. There are ongoing debates about whether a new purpose should be found for the dome, or if it should be torn down.
The Astrodome was opened in 1965.
I’m going to take some more pictures of the Astrodome soon and run them on the blog.
The Astrodome was once one of the most famous buildings in the world.
Though opened less than 50 years ago, the Astrodome may well be the most historically and culturally valuable building in Houston.
(Photo copyright 2011 Neil Aquino.)
Above and below are icons created by the campaign to reelect Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
You can find these icons on the Annise Parker Facebook page.
Does the Mayor’s record warrant the use of the words you see in these icons?
Of course—This is advertising. The Mayor wants people to donate and volunteer for her campaign. She has every reason to make a pitch for people to come and help her out for the 2011 election.
I’m glad that the Mayor supports fun and good karma.
I’m very sure that she supports victory. Her own victory at least.
Let’s please consider some of the other words used here—
* Grassroots— Mayor Parker gained election in 2009 by winning 53% of the vote in a runoff where 16% of Houstonians voted. Since 2009, I’m not aware of voter registration efforts the Mayor has supported. Nor am I aware of her calls and efforts for more people to become involved in the political process. I don’t see how an election won with the votes of so few people in Houston is grassroots.
* Justice– Mayor Parker has now many times demanded that our police and fire departments act in a correct way towards citizens and towards employees of these departments. She has done this despite the political risks that can be involved with taking on public safety unions. These actions should give people confidence that Mayor Parker believes in fair treatment for all.
*Community Spirit– If leading by example matters, the Mayor has been involved in public affairs as a citizen activist and an officeholder for much of her adult life. If more citizens were to follow her example in this regard, we would have a better city.
* Changing The World— The Mayor was silent on Healthcare Reform that will help so many people in Texas and in Houston who do not now have health insurance. Her voice has not yet been heard of the forced sonogram bill moving towards the Texas Legislature.
Many people in Houston need the strong bully-pulpit advocacy of someone in power. There is very little progressive infrastructure in Houston to help people use politics as a pathway towards a better life.
If the Mayor is going to talk about changing the world, than she should be ready to address issues that go beyond Houston. She should work to empower people.
* Progressive— Well.…. I’m still giving that matter thought when it comes to Mayor Parker. In her last campaign she ran as a “fiscal conservative.” Social justice and economic justice are connected. Mayor Parker should not be allowed to have it both ways in this regard.
Mayor Parker does merit credit for working to exclude city employees making the lowest salaries from the impact of mandatory furloughs.
It would be good to know what Mayor Parker is doing to address the severe budget cuts in health and education coming from the Texas legislature in 2011. If she is not able to make behind the scenes efforts to fight these cuts, than she should be working to rally citizens to fight these cuts. Some type of response from the Mayor should be offered.
Election Day 2011 is now a little more than eight months away. Mayor Parker merits strong consideration for a second term. Her 2011 opponents are not yet known. Frankly, I’m not aware of any liberal or progressive who may be considering the race.
Taking a page from the Mayor’s own record of self-starting public service, let’s work to insist that Mayor Parker both campaign and govern as a progressive for the good of our great city of Houston.