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Houston History Blog

Yesterday was the 170th anniversary of the founding of Houston.

It won’t surprise anyone that the initial claims of Houston as a nice place to live were somewhat exaggerated. I can’t imagine this place without air-conditioning and paved roads.  I recently came across a blog that is all about Houston’s history. You should check it out.

August 31, 2006 Posted by | Good People, Houston | Leave a comment

Leave A Time-And-A-Half Tip On Labor Day

If on Labor Day next Monday you go to a restaurant, or go anywhere a tip is expected, be certain to tip 50% over what you normally leave. Anyone working a holiday should get time-and-a-half.  This is most certainly so on a holiday like Labor Day

August 31, 2006 Posted by | Things I've Done, Tip Your Waiter Time-And-A-Half On Holidays | 1 Comment

When I Saw Cindy Sheehan In Crawford, Texas

Last year I went to the Cindy Sheehan protest at President Bush’s ranch in Crawford. This is what I saw. I wrote this a couple of months after I made the visit.  

I drove to Crawford, Texas, to see Cindy Sheehan protesting outside of President Bush’s ranch. Crawford is about 41/2 hours from where I live in Houston.  Ms. Sheehan’s son was killed in the Iraq war. She spent much of the summer camped near the entrance to President Bush’s ranch. She wanted, but did not get, a meeting with the President. Before she was eclipsed by Hurricane Katrina, Ms. Sheehan received a lot of attention and was effective in helping diminish public support of President Bush’s war.  Crawford, near Waco, is small. It has a main street, railroad tracks, a few big silos and not much else.  According to the Waco Herald-Tribune, if I had made it to Crawford a day earlier I could have seen Al Sharpton and Martin Sheen. The Monday I went was calm. Ms. Sheehan’s protest was well-organized. Someone had the foresight to buy a house in Crawford a few years ago thinking it would be useful for some type of action against President Bush’s policies. It’s called the Crawford Peace House. The Peace House is next to a vacant lot that was used for parking the many cars that were there. I saw license plates from all over the country.  At the Peace House you signed your name in a register, looked at some photos of the protest, grabbed a bottle of water and, if inclined, made a donation.  A fleet of vans shuttled visitors from the Peace House to Ms. Sheehan’s protest.  Volunteers drove the vans. The woman who drove my van was a teacher who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. A pastor of some kind was among the passengers. I’m not sure what denomination he was. But I can tell you whatever faith he holds is a more peaceful faith than that held by Mr. Bush.  The preacher flew in from Baltimore just to see Cindy Sheehan. He said he had given an anti-war sermon that was written up in the Baltimore Sun. 

An older lady sitting next to me told me about a protest she attended at the Texas state capitol building in 1944.  It was great to be with people who shared my opinions and who had gone out their way to express these views. I encounter decent people everyday. But to actually be surrounded by allies was a welcome change.  I had read Mr. Bush’s ranch is in a dismal place. I would not agree. While I’d prefer a summer beach home in Newport, the land was not entirely flat and I’m sure you can see a lot of stars at night. There are even some trees. It’s quiet and if Mr. Bush is ever so moved, I’m sure he can get a lot of thinking done.  Ms. Sheehan’s protest took place under a big white tent. The tent was needed because it was very hot. Under the tent was a kitchen, a stage and sound system, tables and chairs, supplies of bottled water and recent newspapers and magazines to pass the hours.  The Cindy Sheehan protest in Crawford had the energy and sincerity of grassroots activity and also possessed the sound logistical and organizational qualities of a political rally for Howard Dean or John Kerry.     

By the time I made it to Crawford, Ms. Sheehan had become a celebrity and it was not so easy to see her. She was living in a mobile trailer and was not always out and about.  When Ms. Sheehan began her protest she camped by the side of the road and lived in a tent. Anybody who showed up could probably speak to her.  As the protest grew, a local landowner allowed his land to be used for a larger campsite. Access to Ms. Sheehan was limited. A crew of gatekeepers kept most people from Ms. Sheehan. The only reason I saw Ms. Sheehan at all was because she came out of the trailer to greet a group of high school students. I saw her from maybe ten feet away. I was blocked from coming closer by yellow crime scene tape. I found nothing wrong with this.Once you got to the tent there was not much to do. I signed my name in a register, put a few dollars in a jar and walked around. After about 40 minutes I got in one of the vans and headed back to “downtown” Crawford. On weekends there were rallies. On weekdays you simply came and offered your support with your presence. Back in downtown Crawford I walked into a store billing itself as the largest source of George W. Bush memorabilia in the world. In front of the store was a flat bed trailer carrying a large replica of the Liberty Bell flanked on both sides by two big tablets etched with the Ten Commandments. I bought a Western White House coffee mug and other trinkets. I did not buy the bust of Robert E. Lee.  My day in Crawford to see Ms. Sheehan was time well-spent. I was with people who shared my beliefs and stuck $30 in the various collection jars. Most days should be so good.   

August 30, 2006 Posted by | Good People, Politics, Texas, Things I've Done | Leave a comment

Plenty Of Blame To Go Around As To Why Texas Is So Messed-Up

The Census Bureau has released new figures confirming yet again that Texas is near the bottom in personal income and percentage of people who have finished high school. Democrats ran Texas up until just a few years ago. They did little to address these problems. You can argue many of those Democrats would have been Republicans in most other places in America. But the national Democratic party was happy to take the support of Texas Democrats when it was offered. It is not really the same anymore. Still, we can’t always blame the other guy. Our shit stinks as well.   

August 29, 2006 Posted by | Politics, Texas | Leave a comment

Will Right-Wingers Love An America That Does Not Look Like Them?

The Houston Chronicle reports 55% of children under 15 in Houston are Hispanic and that 46% of those under 15 in Texas are Hispanic. These numbers are higher than the overall population of Hispanics in Texas. 

Texas recently was listed as just the fourth state to have a majority-minority population. Imagine that— Right-wing Texas in the same category with
California, Hawaii and New Mexico. 

Many white Southern conservatives, and many conservatives from all over the country, see white skin as a big part of what America is. Their patriotism and sense of national pride comes with the view of America as a white country. This view, I believe, is what fuels anti-immigrant anger more than concern over falling wages and lost jobs. 

These right-wingers are in for a long-slow decline of influence. Until that decline is more established however, liberals and Democrats must work hard to resist these mainstream forces of white-nationalism. Liberals and Democrats must focus more on economic progress and economic justice.  

August 29, 2006 Posted by | Houston, Immigration, Politics, Texas | Leave a comment

New York Mets First-Baseman Does Not Like Iraq War

After I make this post, I’m going to go the Houston Astros’ box office. I’m going to buy tickets to see the Astros’ play the New York Mets. My favorite player is with the Mets.

New York first-baseman Carlos Delgado once refused to stand for God Bless America at Yankee Stadium because of his opposition to the Iraq War. 

Now that is an All-Star for you.

August 28, 2006 Posted by | Good People, Houston | Leave a comment

Only So Many Republicans Out There

There is no doubt Republicans have effectively used the redistricting process to retain control of the House of Representatives. Republicans have been able to do this because they have won elections at the state level. They have earned the right to draw the lines. 

A less commented upon aspect of Republican control is how small GOP majorities have been since taking over the House in 1995.  The high-water mark for Republicans since 1995 has been 232 of the 435 seats. This was after the 2004 election.  218 is a majority. Republicans won 223 seats in 1998 and 221 seats in 2000.  By contrast, between the elections of 1932 and 1994 Democrats held 232 seats or fewer for a total of just eight years.

The flip side of skillful Republican district-drawing has been stretching Republican voters so thin that secure majorities are difficult to obtain. The good news is that, so far, there are only so many Republican voters. This fact, along with the horrible record of Republicans in government, makes the House vulnerable to a switch in party control this November.

Democrats and liberals looking for stronger showings in the next decade, should focus on races for Governor and the state legislatures in 2006 and in the two election cycles after 2006. It is these elections that will determine how district lines will be drawn after the 2010 census.  

August 28, 2006 Posted by | Elections, Politics | 5 Comments

Income Taxes—Good. Sales Taxes—Regressive

According to USA Today, some states are cutting property taxes and raising sales taxes. This is caused by the rise in home values and the subsequent property tax increases that rise brings about.

Sales taxes are regressive. Everybody pays the same flat rate. While many older people on fixed incomes can have a problem with increasing property taxes, the move to higher sales taxes shifts the tax burden downwards. The best solution is increasing income taxes on those who can afford to pay.

August 26, 2006 Posted by | Politics, Taxes---Yes! | Leave a comment

Condoms & Bikinis—The French Election Must Be Approaching

French Interior Minister and presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has sponsored the distribution of free condoms with his party logo on them to French beachgoers. 

I’ve heard of free alcohol dispensed by politicians, but not condoms. This is an excellent idea and can only contribute to the well-being of the French people. American politicians should do the same. It would reduce the level of new HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases.  

Regretfully, Sarkozy is a right-winger. TexasLiberal readers may be more inclined to support the likely Socialist candidate Segolene Royale.   Ms. Royale has not, as far as I know, handed out condoms. She was however, involved in controversy. French magazines photographed her taking a walk on the beach in a bikini and discussion ensued about an alleged trivialization of French politics.  

The French presidential election will be held in April, 2007.    

August 25, 2006 Posted by | Elections, Politics | 2 Comments

Abe Lincoln & Modern Warfare

I’ve just finished reading Upon The Altar Of The Nation: A Moral History Of The Civil War. This book was published in 2005 and was written by Harry S. Stout.

The book considers the ethics behind how the Civil War was fought. It also examines the ethics of how people back home were convinced that the savagery of the war had moral justification. Much of this persuasion took place in churches. Both North and South were told that God was on their side.

A theme running through the discussion of how the war was fought was the legitimacy of attacks and depredations inflicted on civilians. Much emphasis is given to the tactics of General William Sherman and his famous march through the South.   

Sherman, as well as other Union and Confederate generals, said civilians and civilian property were legitimate targets. The reasoning was that civilians offered material and political support to the war effort.    

Stout says this type of warfare led to new rules of combat that broadened and made more savage the effects of war.

Here is some of Stout’s final assessment—

“All too often the moral calculus perfected in the Civil War has been applied to other wars, often in cases involving nothing so noble as abolition. By condoning the logic of total war in the name of abolition—and victory—Americans effectively guaranteed that other atrocities in other wars could likewise be excused in the name of “military necessity.”……..When Grant became President , his General of the Army was William Tecumseh Sherman……..Together they would pursue wars of extermination in the Indian campaigns of 1868 to 1883, employing the same moral calculus their commander-in-chief, Lincoln, had approved in the Civil War.”

The use of civilians as shields for combatants and the launching of rockets and dropping of bombs into cities is now a routine part of modern warfare.  

Nations that engage in these strategies may feel they have legitimate reasons. Whatever their reasons, they should understand the morally dangerous territory they are entering.    

August 24, 2006 Posted by | Books, Politics | Leave a comment

A Few Things Really Count— Much Of The Rest May Get Pitched Overboard

In the 1930’s, President Franklin Roosevelt complained about conservative federal courts striking down parts of the New Deal. In response, Roosevelt proposed his ill-advised and ill-fated  “court packing” plan to align the Supreme Court in his favor.   

Today, Republicans claim left-leaning federal judges are ruining the conservative agenda. Some Republicans have taken to bullying judges they don’t like. 

In the 1940’s, Republicans worked hard to prohibit the votes of servicemen abroad fighting in World War II from being counted. They were afraid most of the troops would vote for F.D.R. 

In the Florida vote count of 2000, Republicans demanded military votes from abroad be counted even if they arrived after the deadline. They guessed most service members would vote for George W. Bush. 

In the 1960’s, liberals supported a Civil Rights movement rooted in the black church.  

Today, liberals say the church should stay out of politics. 

Very few things are core principles. Positions we may think essential to our beliefs as liberals or conservatives are, if we review them, arguments more closely linked to circumstance than to basic truths.

Liberals hold as a core principle an active government that helps those who need help. Liberals assert everyone should be treated equally under the law and, at a deeper level, that all people have equal value. Liberals believe in a balance between personal freedom and obligation to society. 

Liberals should keep in mind the basics. We can keep true to our beliefs and win elections at the same time.

August 23, 2006 Posted by | Best Posts 2006, Politics | Leave a comment

Democrats Have Strong Chance To Pick Up DeLay Seat

The race to replace Houston-area Congressman Tom DeLay is set. Houston City Councilwoman Dr. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs will be the Republican write-in candidate.

Republicans must use a write-in because of how primary winner Tom DeLay cut-and-ran from the General Election. Texas law allows no replacement on the regular ballot for DeLay.

Democrat Nick Lampson, a former House member, is the favorite. Republicans are, however, promising to spend three million dollars on the race. It would be good to see DeLay’s seat as a Democratic pick-up in 2006.

Even better would be holding the seat in 2008 and beyond when advantages gained from the write-in situation would no longer hold.   

August 22, 2006 Posted by | Houston, Politics, Texas | Leave a comment

Teachers & Mexicans—So Often Treated Like Dirt

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been reading a new biography of Lyndon Johnson. It’s called LBJ: Architect of American Ambition. It is written by Randall Woods. The following are two brief excerpts showing how little some things have changed over the years.  

LBJ’s father, Sam, was a teacher for a brief time in the 1890’s. Here is how that is described— 

“Like most teachers in Texas, he was forced to live with a family in the community. It was a life of isolation, poverty and hard work.” 

Teachers in Texas today have had to fight hard for decent pay and health benefits. Teacher turnover in Houston schools is high. Schools are not well funded. It’s the same old story. 

Another familiar story is the treatment of Mexican immigrants here in the former Mexico— 

“In the 1920’s nativists in the KKK pressed for legislation banning further immigration, but Mexicans were too valuable a labor source for ranchers and farmers, and the movement foundered.” 

In many ways life is much better in Texas, and in the United States, than it was in the 1890’s and 1920’s. Some of that improvement can be traced back to programs, initiatives and Civil Rights legislation proposed and backed by Lyndon Johnson. 

Yet it also clear that much work needs to be done and that we are often very slow to learn from the mistakes of the past.     

August 22, 2006 Posted by | Books, Immigration, Texas | Leave a comment

Another Reason I’m Glad To Pay My Taxes

The following is a letter I sent to the mayor and police chief of Jersey Village, Texas. Jersey Village is a small suburb of Houston. The services provided by the officer who helped me are yet another example of the necessity of taxes and government. In Texas we do not have a state income tax. Our taxes are regressive and mean-spirited.  Being a liberal is about paying your taxes and maybe even paying a little extra if it seems appropriate and you have the resources.     

Dear Mayor Heathcott:

My name is Neil Aquino. I live in Houston. 

On Monday August 14, 2006, I blew a tire while driving through Jersey Village on highway 290. This took place around 5 PM I was driving in the left lane when the tire popped. 290 was as busy and awful as it always is at rush hour. I pulled over on the left shoulder. I wanted off the highway before I lost control of the car.  I called 911. I needed a cop more than a wrecker at that point. 

The Jersey Village officer who arrived was very helpful. He used his cruiser to stop traffic on 290 and get me over to the right shoulder. He placed himself at risk to help me. The officer could have easily been struck by another car or truck. 

I’m sorry I did not catch the officer’s name. I’m sure you can figure it out with the details I’ve provided.  I’ve enclosed a $20 check made out to your municipal fund so that Jersey Village can recover some of the costs involved in assisting me.  Thank you.  

August 21, 2006 Posted by | Good People, Houston, Taxes---Yes!, Texas, Things I've Done | Leave a comment

Ford Could Have Made A Better Effort To Sell Smaller Cars

The Ford Motor Company announced major cutbacks today. Many people are going to be laid off. A big reason Ford gives for the terminations is the seemingly permanent high price of gas. Yet it was Ford that was at the forefront of pushing huge gas-guzzling SUV’s and huge gas-guzzling trucks. These vehicles have never been ecologically, or, as is now apparent, commercially sustainable.   

Ford pursued a rotten strategy. Regretfully, many Americans bought into that strategy.

August 19, 2006 Posted by | Politics | 3 Comments