Monday, February 28, 2011

Tea Party: Let's Redistribute Corporate Wealth

Recall the photograph of the family at the Austin solidarity rally that took place last Saturday? They reminded us that not only is there a “Rainy Day Fund” to be used when funds for education are scarce, but in the next budget cycle from all accounts, funds for education are going to be scarce.

Alarmingly, the Kool-Aid flavor-of-the-day that the Tea Party is serving up to its members in the state legislature, 55 state reps and 2 state senators to be exact, is that they should keep their hands off of the “Rainy Day Fund.” And amazingly, some are saying that the state should actually return that money to the taxpayers.

And the same people are even saying that if the funds are not returned to the taxpayers they should be used only in some specific cases. And amazingly enough, one of those cases is, literally, a rainy day.

“Konni Burton of Colleyville said the rainy day fund should be set aside for coverage during a natural or other disaster, such as a hurricane, flood or terrorist attack, and for a financial buffer to allow the state to maintain a high bond rating. ‘If our elected officials believe we have more than enough for those contingencies within the fund, the rest should be returned to the taxpayers of Texas, not used to cover up past revenue mismatches or pay for recurring expenses.’” [Emphasis is mine]
And wouldn’t you know it, another case is a terrorist attack.

Ah the ignorance of these people who profess a need to follow the constitution in each and every way. Education is not important to these incredibly ignorant people. If they can do without it, everyone else can, too, it would seem.

But this sheer ignorance could not survive long. Witness the learned response today from Scott McCown, the executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. His letter to the tea party group that advises its legislator/members not to allow the use of the Rainy Day Fund almost reads like a parent disciplining a child.

The Tea Party stands strongly for interpreting the constitution according to original intent. As constitutional history shows, when Texas citizens created the Rainy Day Fund by constitutional amendment in 1988, they voted to save money in good times to pay for recurring expenses during bad times. The 1988 ballot language reads: ‘The constitutional amendment establishing an economic stabilization fund in the state treasury to be used to offset unforeseen shortfalls in revenue.’ Original intent had nothing to do with emergencies such as hurricanes or a buffer to pay debt on bonds as you suggest; rather it was about protecting Texas during economic downturns.
But wait, it gets better. That thing about the repaying the taxpayers? McCown, I think very patiently, pointed out that returning this money “to the taxpayers” would mean returning this money to oil companies. Since 1988 it was these taxpayers who forked over money for the Rainy Day Fund. Not all taxpayers. Not Konni Burton of Coffeyville.
“Every penny in the rainy day fund comes from oil and gas taxes set aside for use in an economic downturn. If you return this money to oil and gas producers, you merely increase already big oil and gas profits while Texas families suffer.”
Well, maybe not so patiently.

What makes this notion the huge joke is that should the Tea Baggers get their wish and the Rainy Day Fund gets distributed to all Texas taxpayers that would be tantamount to the socialist notion of wealth redistribution. Take it from Big Oil and give it to the little people.

Now whether McCown’s arguments gets through to enough Tea Bagger/legislators or not is a critical issue. In the State House 55 no votes would kill releasing any of these funds. They need 90 votes to do it. Losing 55 votes of the 150 state reps means that there would be only a 5-vote margin for error to release the funds.

I guess it depends on how many Republicans, and how many Tea Baggers think with that thing between their ears as opposed to that thing between their hips.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Charlie Howard Files Ron Reynolds’ Bill

I hate it when I am so right about something that is so wrong.

When I heard that freshman State Rep Ron Reynolds, whose campaign I have championed here despite the fact that he does not actually represent me by about 5 blocks, filed a bill to require ALL incoming college freshmen to be vaccinated for bacterial meningitis – not just the ones living in the dorms – I derided this exceptionally good idea.

Derided it because I knew that something like this was such a good idea that Republicans would surely vote against it. A very good bill inspired by a Democrat was going to fail as sure as the sky is blue and Texas is red.

So when State Rep Charlie Howard, R- Sugar Land, filed the exact same bill this week, I had to laugh out loud. What a snake. He knows that Ron Reynolds’ bill is a good idea, and also knows what I know, that it is doomed to failure because no Republican will give it his or her attention.

If I were to grade Charlie Howard’s latest effort, I would have to assign a zero grade to his work and write him up for plagiarism. His parents would be duly informed. Charlie Howard is guilty of intellectual piracy. Shame, shame on him.

The only good thing to come out of this is that Ron’s great idea will very probably get passed. The only bad thing to come out of this is that Ron will receive zero credit for it. Charlie Howard has seen to that.

Howard behaves exactly as a teacher’s worst student. Dumb as a stump but able to copy the answers from an excelling student’s exam to the letter.

Future students in Texas can learn from Charlie Howard. This is their future given the fact that they will be shortchanged of anything resembling a good education for the foreseeable future, given the budget cuts we are all expecting combined with imminent teacher layoffs.

You get what you vote for.

Jim Hightower Speaks to Union Supporters in Austin

Jim Hightower, former Texas Agricultural Commissioner and now a progressive populist columnist and radio commentator, spoke to a crowd of supporters of the public sector union workers in Wisconsin whose cause and plight have riveted the country’s attention for 2 weeks now. I captured the entire six or so minute speech on video.

I was well back in the crowd and getting a clear shot of him as he spoke was challenged by the many hand-lettered signs that people brought to the rally. But at least you get to hear what he said.

Yes, he did. He said “Let’s get nekkid.”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Austin Texas In Solidarity with Wisconsinites

My friends lead me where I would not myself trod. Austin is a long, long way from where I live, but organized the rally in Austin, Texas' capitol, and my friends, Don and Susan, were going come H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks or high water, and they offered me a seat in their American-manufactured vehicle.

Couldn't resist.

The rally was in support and in solidarity with the Wisconsin 14, the 14 Wisconsin state senators who have fled their state, their homes and their families so that the hated bill that would strip public sector employees of their right to collective bargaining would not pass. Not pass without a quorum. A quorum that they lack by one lone senator.

The rally was also in solidarity with the public sector union employees, of which I count myself in their number. The cheeseheads that won the 2011 Superbowl are now leading the nation in a rebirth movement to restore the middle class.

Imagine that.

I loved it that the union rally followed, and therefore included a rally in support of Planned Parenthood. Pink T-shirts blended with red ones. We were one. We are one and the same in mind, I think. Young women proudly sporting amazingly colored tatoos mingled with we unionist old farts.

It was heaven.

Fotos follow, naturally.

My favorite. Notice the sea of red. This was the entertainment before the speeches. This was taken from the south steps of the Texas capitol building. They played a lot of Woody Guthrie songs.

A sign I liked. One thing we all noticed was that not one of these hand-lettered signs had mis-spellings. We progressives, if anything, know how to spell. We even know how to turn a phrase. As one sign read, "If you can read this sign, thank a teacher."

And this seems to have been a family effort. Husband, wife, daughter all carrying umbrellas, and all bringing up the fact that Texas has a 9 billion dollar "rainy day fund" for when we can't pay our bills . . . like now. The day threatened to rain and these three were the only ones in the crowd to have a pretext to bring umbrellas.

Progressive Texans, I think, have a corner on the market in sheer smart signage.

As opposed to our opposition.

Friday, February 25, 2011

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that State Senator Debbie Riddle, she of ‘Anchor Baby’ fame on AC360, had filed yet another anti-immigrant bill. But this one, I said at the time, Republicans have no intent on its successful passage.

This is because it hits hard right at the center of the illegal immigration problem: employers actively seek out illegal aliens so they can pay them miserably and keep them under their thumbs. Big money donors to the Republican Party make heavy use of illegal labor. This is common knowledge and it sweetens the sheer hypocrisy that pervades the anti-immigrant rhetoric spewing forth out of Republican mouths.

Making it a felony that includes a $10,000 fine and jail time if an employer knowingly hires an immigrant in the country without a work permit punishes the true criminals in this issue: American citizens, not illegal immigrants who are only here because there is so much money to be made here as opposed to their own countries it far outweighs the risks involved.

I still think Republicans have no intention of passing this bill, but while there seems to be  even more reason to think so because it reeks of the hypocrisy that the bill was meant to correct, there may yet be another agenda playing out here. An agenda based on greed.

The hypocrisy is that is because, come to find out, there is one exception to not being able to hire illegal aliens, and that is that private citizens who hire domestic help can still hire illegal aliens without penalty.

This is such a glaring loophole, termed the “laundry loophole” by Back to Basics, that it clearly indicates complete insincerity. And it seems to be unconstitutional to boot. Individuals who own companies are liable for prosecution and punishment if they hire an illegal, but a private citizen would get off scott free.

So Maria would be a problem for the owner of a meat packing company, but not a problem for Debbie Riddle if she works as Riddle’s housekeeper.

That’s how you solve a problem like Maria.

But who knows. The other agenda that may be behind all of this is that when illegal aliens can no longer find jobs chopping up chickens at Tyson, they will have no problem finding a job as a gardener or a nanny. An artificial domestic labor market is created where there are no alternative jobs available to drive up the competition -  and wages. Cheap domestic labor becomes even cheaper domestic labor.

Either way. This bill reflects on the one hand Republican hypocrisy and on the other hand, Republican greed.

Take your pick.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Non-renewal Clause Tweaked by Texas Senate

Here’s the problem.  The biennial budget that the House will vote on near the end of the legislative session in early June comes more than 45 days after Texas school districts are contractually liable to notify their teaching staff whether they will be getting a contract for the next school year or not.

In other words, school districts need to know how many teachers it can afford to pay, but won’t actually know how much they will be getting to pay them until after they issue notifications of non-renewal.

So what do you do? The thought that most people would have, as I would, is plan for the worst case scenario and act accordingly. Then if somehow the budget crisis is less of a crisis than people thought it would be, school districts would be laying off more teachers than they needed to.

But you can’t do anything about the 45 days. That is already in the contract. So here is what the Senate Education Committee came up as a compromise. Currently a teacher has 15 days from getting pink slipped to file for a hearing. Fifteen days to put their case together. The Education Committee refers that period as a “cooling off period.” So here is their idea: give the teacher 30 days to mull things over before they have to file for a hearing.


You know, the only real useful thing about this tweak in the rules is the practicalities of needing more time than you usually have for arranging and then holding these hearings. If what we are all hearing in the news is the case, there could be upwards of 100,000 of these hearings.

But I think the main thing that comes out of this is exactly this: this is their little way of letting the teachers know that they’re working on this.

How comforting.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Obama: No Defense for DOMA

I was stunned and delighted today to hear that President Obama has directed the Attorney General to no longer defend in court the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA. This hateful act, an act that goes out of its way to marginalize a small sector of our society because of the religious beliefs of some people needs to be placed on the trash heap of history along with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

It signals a reversal of policy and reflects the fact that society is simply moving on with this previously controversial issue.

Basically, what is behind the decision is the fact that section 3 of DOMA seems to violate the equal protection clause of the 5th Amendment. Section 3 deals with gay couples legally married in states where marriage between gays is sanctioned.

Upon hearing of Obama’s reversal, John Boehner labeled it “bad timing.”

“While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation.”
Isn’t that just the most precious thing? All the Republicans have done since taking the House is legislate one divisive social issue after another.

And the timing couldn’t have been better. Two federal cases were all set to go to trial. This directive will save time, trouble, money, and an inevitable over-turning.

Mike Huckabee was even more outraged.
It may destroy him [Obama], may destroy his credibility, may destroy his campaign and candidacy and ultimately his term in office," Huckabee said. "It takes more than one president to destroy marriage.”
Translation: Jesus hates gays, and now He hates Obama, too.

To the extent that He will destroy my president.

Oh lucky day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Education Layoffs Begin at the Texas Education Agency

So it has begun. Texas has officially begun the process of shedding itself of thousands of taxpaying, home owning, goods and services consuming educators and associated support personnel at the state’s main campus – you could call it: the Texas Education Agency’s main office in Austin at the downtown William B. Travis Building.

The TEA has a total of 1058 employees, most of them right there in that building. While they aren’t revealing numbers, my guess is that this purge will end up being in the hundreds.

But the thing that really gets to me is that this isn’t a layoff cycle reflecting Perry’s belt-tightening request to cut 7.5% in expenses for the current fiscal year. These layoffs are “anticipatory” in nature.

That is, they anticipate that they aren’t going to have money to pay a bunch of state employees next year so the TEA is going ahead and letting them go now.

And my guess is that they won’t be laying off any of those big ticket employees at the top of the pay scale. They won’t, for instance, be laying off Debbie Ratcliffe, the TEA spokesperson who announced the layoffs. Ratcliffe pulls down over 100 large at her job.

And I doubt that Carlos Vientemillas, the TEA’s portfolio manager will get the axe. He pulls down the biggest check in the agency. He makes more than the governor.

They could probably lay off all the people that are concerned with school textbooks and making sure that the recently revised standards in ELA, science and social studies are reflected in them so that they will support the new end of course exams that will begin next year.

And I only say this since Texas hasn’t any money to buy textbooks.

That would make sense, I guess.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Property Taxes Would “Soar”

There is a short blurb in the Austin American-Statesman today about how a Texas family’s property taxes would “soar” if property taxes were going to make up the difference in the proposed $9.3 billion cut in state funding to public education. And I have to admit, when I saw the numbers that they were throwing out there, I had to wonder if the very thing that I am proposing here, that property owners will have to step up and make up the difference if the state can’t meet its mandate, is something that I can support.

They report that if a person’s property is assessed to be worth 200,000, not totally out of line in the area of Texas that I live in, their property tax would rise by $555 dollars – after the homestead exemption.

Whew. $555 is quite a chunk of change. So big of a chunk of change that State Senator Florence Shapiro calls it a nonstarter.

“Don’t even go there” is what she reportedly said.

But then I remembered that this isn’t a monthly charge. This is what you have to pay in 12 installments if you have your property taxes all rolled up in your mortgage payment as I do.

It comes out to an increase of $46.25 per month.

For $46.25 per month your child won’t be forced to sit in a classroom with 39 of their fellow students as their teacher attempts to teach the same content he or she could easily teach the year before.

For $46.25 per month your child will have a textbook for the classes they attend.

For $46.25 per month your child’s teacher will be able to make Xerox copies of tests and quizzes instead of you providing the paper that the school district will no longer be able to buy.

For $46.25 per month your school’s fine arts department will be able to remain in place and students with talent in areas other than academics will be able to excel in their areas of competence.

For $46.25 per month you will not be nickel and dimed to death by your school and your district who will find that they have to now charge you for things that were once provided gratis – you know, like bus service.

But no, according to Florence Shapiro, who was once  a classroom teacher, that is a non-starter.

Know what is a non-starter? Watching education in Texas take a nosedive. Watching the spread of ignorance in this state when education is more important than ever as our children will be forced to compete for the better higher paying jobs with countries who have a higher regard for education than do we.

All that is a non-starter as far as I am concerned, and Florence Shapiro, as a former teacher, should know better.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Texas Legislature Keeps on Fiddling

With a huge budget deficit looming on the horizon, a deficit that can mean an end to public education as we know it, do you know what our state representatives and state senators are doing these days?

Passing legislation to make women have a sonogram if they are considering having an abortion.

Passing legislation making it possible for students and professors at the state’s college campuses to carry concealed weapons.

Passing legislation to require every voter in the state to have a photo ID in order to exercise their right to vote. A requirement that will cost the state an estimated $3 million per year in money it doesn’t have.

In short, while Texas burns, the legislature is fiddling.

And really, it is small wonder. Voters, our neighbors, put these characters into office. And you do get what you vote for. Instead of going to Austin to solve what is very probably the most serious issue facing the state in years, they are going to Austin to work on high profile feel good issues that are near and dear to the hearts of their constituents.

I find it ironic that future college and university students will soon be the most unprepared generation to attend an institution of higher education due to cutbacks in public education, but they’ll be able to carry their own concealed Glock to classes.

You know, the gun industry might want to prepare its new line of carry-to-class handguns that include things like a pencil sharpener in the handle.

Or maybe include a place to keep your lunch money.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Evangelicals ‘Get Religion’ on Debt

Well it seems that the followers of Jesus have gotten religion in a whole new way: Debt is immoral.

Yes, it’s true. When George W. Bush took a Clinton budget surplus and turned it into a multi-trillion dollar deficit, and when two unnecessary and unfunded wars were waged so that we wouldn’t have to “fight them over here,” these very selfsame people looked the other way at the former, and wildly applauded the latter.

But debt, they now realize, something that happens when you subsidize corporations and wage costly wars, debt is immoral. It’s ungodly. Jesus hates debt.

So now we have Ralph Reed, you know, the guy who bilked Native Americans out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, singing sweet syrupy syllables at the Tea Party for exposing the federal government for their unholy indebtedness. 
“You can't give the Tea Party enough credit in terms of raising the consciousness about this issue.”
I swear it’s true. Ralph Reed actually said that.

And just you wait and see how these characters plan to attack this heresy, this unholy indebted blight on our society. They’ll start by defunding “Obamacare.” Then there’s that whole Medicare/Medicaid social experiment that we can ill afford. And all of that big pile of money set aside for Social Security is just going to waste in the federal coffers. They would much rather put it to work by privatizing it and letting the proceeds pay down the debt. And no more taxpayer dollars to support Planned Parenthood and pay for some silly woman’s abortion.

That’s how you end debt. Not by taking away the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy. The very wealthy need that money so they can build more McDonald’s franchises and pay minimum wage to an ever increasing supply of high school dropouts.

I have always thought it was remarkable how conservatives have made the Christian religion their own, and use it against whatever and whoever they politically oppose. But in this they have truly outdone themselves.

And hopefully, undone themselves.

Friday, February 18, 2011

When Public Employees Are the Enemy

The Republican governor of Wisconsin has declared war on his state’s public employees. Teachers, nurses, firemen, policemen. You know, those evil people.

When the governor reported a $137 million budget shortfall – that’s right, million with an “m” – he saw his chance to do what conservatives do best: go after middle class workers. Not only is he asking public employees to bite the bullet and kick in some money to help him balance the budget, he is trying to deny them the right for public employee labor unions to negotiate labor contracts.

This is akin to going after a mosquito with a baseball bat.

First, a $137 million budget shortfall is not a crisis. It is, if anything, a small inconvenience. Ask California, New York, or Texas about a budget crisis. I know budget crises, and Wisconsin's dear Mr. Governor, is no budget crisis.

Second, it would seem that the Wisconsin “budget crisis” has been engineered by the self-same Wisconsin governor. It was only last year that the governor decided to hand over $117 million in business tax breaks. Giving that kind of money to business and then asking public sector employees to foot the bill takes not just a little gall.

But probably the most infuriating thing that this governor has done is threaten peacefully assembling demonstrators in Madison with rough treatment: he has threatened to order out the state’s National Guard troops to take care of this matter.

If this isn’t retrogression at its worst, I don’t know what is.

I have signed a letter to the Wisconsin governor to knock this stuff off. You can too.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Smokin’ Rope in Austin

Now from what I hear, scoring some grass in Austin is not a difficult thing to do. And from what I hear, Austin is a central area in Texas for not only that, but consumption of the substance.

And from what I see in the Austin American-Statesman today, I can only conclude that massive quantities of marijuana are being consumed in the Texas Legislature.

Mass quantitites.

Because today we find that the Senate State Affairs Committee has passed a resolution calling on the federal government to amend the US Constitution to require a balanced budget every year.

You know, like Texas does.

Especially when Texas uses federal stimulus money that is meant to be used in addition to what Texas provides for its public schools in order to balance its budget last year.

Does that with one hand and with the other delivers a backhanded slap at the federal government for passing the stimulus bill – a bill that averted, for the time being at least, massive layoffs.

These people are real pieces of work.

But wait, it gets better still.

If the feds don’t accede to the wish of these state senators, they call on them to have a constitutional convention “on the sole issue of mandating a balanced federal budget.” And yes, that could happen if another 33 states make the same request.

But their key qualification, that the convention be limited to just one issue is naïve to the core and tells me that someone has been smoking some serious rope up there in Austin.

The only reason that a constitutional convention has never been held, even though it is provided for in the current constitution, is that anything can happen. No convention can be limited to a single issue. Once you open Pandora’s Box by holding a constitutional convention, anything is on the table.

And the way the crazies seem to be running things in the Republican Party these days, I mean ANYthing can happen.

But it’s fun to watch these people make utter ninnies out of themselves. And it reminds me of my latest favorite maxim that I am going to be repeating many times, I think:

You get what you vote for.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Some Silver lining in Those Draconian Texas Education Budget Slashings

Today, while hearing about my local school district’s plan to cut staffing by anywhere between 360 and 1098 positions, I was asking myself if things couldn’t possibly get worse for the local education delivery system (as I like to call it) in this area, and it doesn’t seem like it can, where can it possibly get better?

And later on today, looking at this piece in the Austin American-Statesman, I had my answer.

Texas is among 28 states to receive a failing grade on its U.S. history curriculum for public schools, according to an evaluation by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute being released today. The Washington-based think tank, a nonpartisan group that studies national education trends, gave Texas a D, down from a C in 2003, the last time the group assessed history standards.”
Get it? If the delivery system that is set up to emplace a flawed set of curriculum standards into the minds and hearts of schoolchildren will not be up to that task – because of layoffs and budget cuts, then I guess we win.
The study group found that Texas’ recently adopted social studies curriculum was fraught with political biases, and the whole adoption process exhibited “‘overt hostility and contempt for historians and scholars’ in considering curriculum changes.”

So it’s ironic, then, that where the State Legislature taketh away by denying school districts the funds to teach Texas school children adequately, the State Board of Education giveth by providing a flawed curriculum that the children won’t be learning anytime soon.

Don’t get me wrong. Texas school children will still be ignorant, but at least they won’t be ignorant by design.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

So Be It

Republicans must be dancing in the street.

Republicans were swept into office in 2010 with two promises, repealing “Obamacare” and restoring jobs to unemployed Americans.

So how are they doing?

Well, on one happy note, Republicans in the lower House voted to repeal the law that the Democratic House and Senate passed last year to put affordable health care out of the reach of millions of Americans . . .again.

That is, they voted to restore the old broken system that drives some Americans to bankruptcy, and other Americans to their early graves.

Not bad, not bad. All except for the fact that the same bill hasn’t a gnat’s chance in a hailstorm of passing in the Senate let alone getting a signature from my President.

And now we see that they have rolled up their sleeves to attack the number two item on their agenda: getting Americans back to work.

Oh, except if you work for the federal government. If you work for the federal government then you face a dim future indeed, courtesy of John Boehner and the Republican majority in the House. As a matter of fact, according to this story, you might as well just pack it in and get some of those unemployment insurance applications ready to fill out. Stick a fork in you, you are done.

John Boehner says so. As a matter of fact, he is quoted as saying that if federal workers are going to be out of a job, then “So be it.”

From the Washington Post:
“House Speaker John Boehner expressed little sympathy Tuesday for federal workers who lose their jobs as the result of Republican budget cutting.”

“‘In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs,’ Mr. Boehner told reporters Tuesday morning during a press conference in the lobby of the Republican National Committee, according to various news outlets. ‘If some of those jobs are lost, so be it. We’re broke.’”

Nice, huh?

And then I had to wonder where the Speaker got his facts from, from the prize in his box of Cracker Jacks? 200,000 jobs?

Figures lie and liars figure.

According to the federal government’s central clearing office for federal workers, the Office of Personnel Management, the HR Department in other words, that’s just not so.
“According to Office of Personnel Management statistics, 82,692 full-time federal workers left the federal government in fiscal 2009 and agencies added 142,687 new hires, for a net gain of 59,995 jobs.”
But mark my words you 59,995 workers, even if you are not 200,000 strong, John Boehner has it out for you. And you and your families can just kiss his orange butt. Because if you are going to get the axe on his watch, so be it.

And next time, try and vote for the party that cares about whether or not you have a job, OK?

A State Property Tax in Texas?

You could have knocked me over with a feather.

State Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) has suggested (again) that Texas solve its arcane system of taxation by instituting a system that seems to work in other foreign states: instead of having local school districts and counties see to the collection of property taxes for the purpose of local public education, why not have that function transferred to the state? Let the state collect property taxes. Education funding would then come 100% from state sources.

Gone would be the court-mandated reforms that maligned the once revered name of Robin Hood.

Gone would be the complex, some would say, Byzantine system of education finance that has resulted in the crisis in education delivery that we now face.

I guess it takes a crisis of these kinds of severe proportions to get Republicans to sit up and listen to the reformers.

Amazingly, here is an exchange between Duncan, uber-conservative Dan Patrick, and State Senate education guru Florence Shapiro:

Patrick (commenting on Texas’ system of educational fund collection): 

“This is what’s wrong with government…it’s inexplicable. It’s like the IRS code.”

“No, it’s worse.”
“There must be a simpler way.”
Duncan (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I would say):
“I’ve got it, Statewide property tax”
Tongue-in-cheek because Duncan floated that idea a year ago but if fell on deaf ears.

Well the ears have become unclogged because now we’ve got these two agreeing with him, it seems.

So Duncan seems to be again making the proposal that the constitution be amended to allow the state to be the property taxing vehicle, removing it from local authority. One result of this, you would think, is a uniform taxation rate across the state rather than some counties maintaining low rates, while others do not.

Here’s the rub: the constitutional amendment must be approved by Texas voters in off-off year elections, ones that draw only the truly concerned to the polls. All you would need is one ad campaign frightening Texas voters into thinking that they will be paying more in taxes because state government is less efficient than county government.

Or they could just blatantly lie and say that this is a new tax on top of local property taxes. Delivery of lies to effect a political agenda has been done before.

And again, not that this will matter a whit to the coming 2011-2012 school year. Even if the tax structure is totally revamped in this legislative session, the die is already cast unless someone can check the under the sofa cushions and find a few billion dollars they forgot about.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Filing Period for School Board Begins Today

It’s Valentine’s Day, the day when people show their love and affection to each other. Coincidentally it is also the beginning of the 1-month long filing period for three seats on the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees.

But love and affection, I think, will be far from the minds of any school board filers.

Three seats are up for grabs, One is currently held by Laurie Caldwell, the last of the gang of four that put the BOT on its ear for months on end, and ended in the separation of two District Superintendents. The other two are currently occupied by David Menendez and Susan Hohnbaum who were each voted in during the May 2008 election.

Now why is this worthy of attention? Well, not much, really, right?  It’s just the election that will have the most personal impact on the lives of local residents. More impact than a mid-term election that saw the installment of a super-majority in the Texas State House. More than a presidential election. And really more important than usual in a local school board race.

And why is that?

This year will be a year of angst. It will be such a contentious year that, really, I have to wonder about the sanity of anyone who would want to run for a seat on the Board of Trustees – a seat, need I remind you – where no salary is paid. You get some perks, but you also get to have your name published in the local papers when you take advantage of some of those perks.

This year’s BOT will have to deal with something like a $74 million short fall, that is $74 million fewer dollars than the state must statutorily hand over to the school district.

Because they say they don’t have the money because the money they have in the so-called “Rainy Day Fund” is not “on the table,” won’t raise taxes to get it, and will not lift a hand to allow local school districts do anything to take up the slack. Nothing that anyone is hearing about, anyway.

Very much on the table is the end of quality education in Fort Bend ISD. This is not a sumptuous spread let’s just say.

And let’s just say I am going to be very interested to see what kinds of people are going to step up and run for these three seats. Because as the district superintendent has said in the past, there are plenty of funds on hand to build and expand campuses, there is just no money to run them.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

He’ll Be Back

Not that I have been keeping tabs, and not that I really care one way or another, but today I noticed that the former governor of California, the former Republican governor of California, that is, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is going to go back to making movies.

No, really.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Riddle Me Ree: Why Texas Republicans Are Getting So Looney

So this morning, on a Saturday no less, I set my alarm so I could attend a special meeting sponsored by the Sugar Land Democratic Club and the Tejano Democrats. A meeting on immigration issues, specifically bills that the state legislature will be addressing in the current session, and things that we should really be concerned with, as opposed to things that Republicans are concerned with.

I recently wrote about new immigration legislation in a blog posting that seriously questioned the sincerity with which an anti-immigrant bill was filed recently, a very anti-business bill that Republican donors would hate to see passed.

So being up on the subject, I thought I would see what State Rep Ron Reynolds and a leading Houston immigration lawyer, Gordon Quan, would have to say on this. I was not disappointed, and I learned a lot.

Ron Reynolds was on point today. He came armed to the teeth with all of the bills that have been filed, and at one point mentioned the state rep whose anti-immigrant bills I outlined in the aforementioned post, not mentioning her by name, but everyone knew that he was talking about Debbie Riddle (R – Tomball).

A real piece of work as you can see in the video I posted on You Tube.

I had forgotten all about “Anchor Babies,” and forgotten about the famous exchange on AC 360 last year. So here. Here is Ron Reynolds introducing the subject, and then a couple of excerpts from that infamous interview.

Other countries don't allow illegal aliens inside their borders? This is someone who writes laws and votes on them. Seriously.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Facebook Liberates Egypt

Are you on Facebook? If you aren’t you are truly the exception to the rule. Facebook is a worldwide phenomenon, and it now can take credit for liberating an entire country. Egypt, a country that has been existing under a cloud of a cruel dictatorship for 3 decades is now free of its dictator, Hosni Mubarak.

In three short weeks, and coming in reaction to Tunisia’s successful removal of its dictator, Egyptian protests, at times turning violent as Mubarak sent armed thugs in to make trouble, have finally stirred the Egyptian Army to withdraw its support of Mubarak. And with no backing from the Army, Mubarak had to leave.

The Egyptian Army is in charge now.

But getting back to the central thesis, all of this came about because of Facebook.

From the Associated Press through the Chron:
“Perhaps most surprising was the genesis of the force that overthrew Mubarak. The protests were started by a small core of secular, liberal youth activists organizing on the Internet who only a few months earlier struggled to gather more than 100 demonstrators at a time. But their work through Facebook and other social network sites over the past few years built greater awareness and bitterness among Egyptians over issues like police abuse and corruption. ‘Facebook brought down the regime,’ said Sally Toma, one of the main protest organizers.”

This is remarkable. I don’t think anyone ever suspected that social networking would ever do anything more than hooking people up and passing around recipes and photographs of your kids and vacations.

If Facebook can liberate an entire country, what could possibly be next? A cure for cancer? The perfect cup of coffee?

An end to conservatism as we know it?

The possibilities are limitless, it seems.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tom DeLay Wants a Mulligan

Oh yes, Tom DeLay, my convicted felon former congressman wants a Mulligan. That’s golf-speak for a “Do Over.” DeLay, you know, plays golf, so I thought that was an appropriate application of the term.

According to UPI, Tom DeLay’s overpriced lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, has filed a motion for a new trial, a motion to set aside the jury’s guilty verdict, and to do it all over again.

In short, Tom DeLay is making it his business to make the cash-strapped state spend even more taxpayer money to put this guy away.

DeGuerin, Tom DeLay’s way overpriced lawyer, said that among other things, there were irregularities in the jury and that the DA had misapplied state law in applying its money laundering law to what Tom DeLay did, which, he said, isn’t even illegal because it’s done all the time.

That last one we have heard before.

A prosecutor for the DA, Steve Brand, who worked the case, said that these were groundless charges.

We oppose the motion and we don't think any real legal grounds are alleged to disturb the verdict and accept the motion for a new trial.”

Really, outside of the jury irregularity allegation, there is nothing new under the sun. This was exactly Tom DeLay’s entire defense, not guilty because no crime was committed. The judge and jury, however, disagreed.
DeGuerin argued that when Tom DeLay took $190,000 in corporate donations and gave it to the RNC, who in turn gave exactly $190,000 in campaign donations to 7 GOP candidates for Texas’s state house (whose names were provided by Tom DeLay), well that’s peachy keen. Even though DeLay himself couldn’t directly donate the cash to the 7 candidates because that would be illegal.

But the DA successfully argued that this was a callous disregard for the law, since you can’t take money from your left pocket, place it in your right one, and then say it didn’t come from the left pocket when you make a donation. The phrase, as I recall was “money is absolutely fungible. It’s like beans.” A phrase uttered by Judge Priest.

But the other allegation, the new one, is intriguing. There was “juror misconduct.”

That’s rich, too rich.

As I recall from the trial, there was one juror who kept coming up with off the wall questions for the judge to answer, and Judge Priest deigned not to answer them, telling the jury that they were getting off track. DeGuerin, at the time, saw the confusion as a good sign for the defense.

The juror, it has been speculated, was the schill for DeLay. He was the one trying to get the jury to believe that money laundering only took place by purveyors of illegal drugs, something that never came up in the trial.

If that’s the case, if that is the juror misconduct DeGuerin and DeLay are concerned with, then that’s a real knee-slapper, isn’t it? Tom DeLay’s amazingly overpriced lawyer is using DeLay’s own ideological supporter’s antics as the reason to throw out the verdict.

But somehow, this doesn’t surprise me at all. As a matter of fact it wouldn’t surprise me if this was Tom DeLay’s own idea.

It sounds so much like the stuff he used to come up with when he was in DC.

But you know what? I do have to wonder about this strategy. Getting his verdict overturned on appeal, in a 100% Republican Appellate Court seemed more like a sure thing for DeLay. Obviously, it isn’t. Republicans may just want ol’ Tom to just go away, so this was the next best idea.

Gee, do you think?