Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Texas Democratic Congressmen Cry Foul: Texas Misusing Stimulus Funds

The Texas Democratic delegation to the United States Congress, upon learning that the Texas legislature intends to use the billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds that were allocated toward the state’s education to prop up its “Rainy Day Fund,” currently pegged at $9 billion, have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan arguing that these funds were intended to go directly to school districts – not the state. And surely, not to go toward the state’s “slush fund.”

From the Austin American-Statesman:

“‘We believe that the (stabilization funding) was not intended to allow Texas to maintain its Rainy Day Fund, but rather to immediately invest in our schools to strengthen education and improve student achievement,’ wrote the Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin.

To which State Rep Florence Shapiro responded (as this is her little hobby shop that she mismanages on a term-by-term basis):

“Easy for them to say. The last thing we want to do is take money out of the rainy day fund. The fear is we haven't seen the bottom yet.”

The idea is that the Rainy Day Fund will provide this funding for education anyway.

But from past experience, seeing how these people rob Peter to pay Paul, making funds jump from one place to another, these Democratic Congressmen know whereof they speak.

Sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors prevail when the Republicans get their hands on new found money. The Democratic congressmen are correct, and no education stimulus funds should be released to Texas until they are properly assigned directly to the school districts.

John Cornyn Votes “No” on Public Service

Breaking with his fellow Republican, the junior Senator from Texas, John Cornyn voted with the radical rightwing conservatives in the Senate to oppose public service in the United States.

Cornyn voted NO on March 26th on S. 3487, the Serve America Act.

The “Serve America Act,” sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy and cosponsored by a bipartisan array of 19 other senators, the act amends the National and Community Service Act of 1990 by upping the numbers of volunteers to serve their country under several programs, from 75,000 to 250,000.

Gee, Senator. Voting against public service? Nice job.

Fort Bend County Signs Accord to Observe Voting Rights Act

A pair of interesting and related pieces appeared today in the online newspaper FortBendNow. One was a review of a longstanding dispute between the Department of Justice and Fort Bend County, specifically how the county conducts its elections for people who are not native English speakers. The other was subsequently filed about how the county commissioners finally agreed to sign a “consent decree” that will bring the county into alignment with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, an act originally passed in the 60’s, pushed by the Johnson Administration.

An act that subsequently surrendered The South to the Republican Party to this day.

The original dispute came from elections conducted in 2004 and 2005 where complaints were lodged, and Justice Department personnel observed individuals being denied their rights under the VRA, rights that guaranteed that a voter who does not speak English well has the right to have a bilingual ballot, or have one translated for them.

According to the first article filed, “the proposed settlement involves a long-running effort by the DOJ to make certain that all Asian and Hispanic voters in Fort Bend County have the same ability to cast ballots and obtain election information as residents whose first language is English.”

The matter remained closed to public view, but later in 2005 the truth was revealed.

“But FortBendNow learned in late 2005 that DOJ’s Civil Rights Division had crafted a memorandum of understanding, and that Justice officials had asked the county to sign it earlier that month. Commissioners Court members did not sign it - and neither county nor federal officials has ever made the memorandum public.”

[Emphasis mine].

Part of the problem, as revealed by County Judge Hebert, was the vast volume of languages the county would have to cover.

“‘You can’t say “let’s just have a Chinese interpreter available.” There are over 300 Chinese dialects,’ Hebert said in November 2005, just after Commissioners Court voted to hire Austin law firm Allison Bass & Associates to assist the county in the Justice Department dispute.”

Giving me pause.

300 dialects?

Where do people pull these numbers from? A hat?

300 dialects?

Sure there are some "regional language usages", but 300 is a might overestimated. Twenty-one dialects is a more accurate estimate.

But really, it doesn’t even get that tough, because the dominant language, Mandarin, is not only spoken by many Chinese, it is a common second language for a majority of Chinese (Mandarin was adopted in the last century as the ‘national language’). Worldwide, 836 million people speak Mandarin.

So you would think that having one person standing by who speaks Mandarin, and maybe Cantonese, too, would do the trick and give Fort Bend County a leg up on being at least compliant with the VRA.

An E for Effort.

But no. Instead we have these numbers cast about making the whole thing seem not only impossible but an impractical imposition on the county.

Then, upon reading that the final settlement was signed today, we find that Asian languages were not even the real issue in the first place. Or maybe in the last place.

It was all about the Mexicans again.

It seems that there were some county poll workers who were “stubborn,” otherwise known as “inadequately trained” in dealing with Hispanic non-English speaking voters. The DOJ felt that the county had not done due diligence in guaranteeing that Spanish-speaking voters have the same rights in casting their ballots as English-speaking voters.

And now the county agrees.

And will do something about it.

The task is apparently a daunting one though.

“By signing the DOJ consent decree, ‘we’re agreeing basically to do those things that we try to do every election,’ Hebert said."

“Among other things, the decree includes ‘a forumla determining the number of Spanish-language precinct interpretors’ who must be hired and present during elections in Fort Bend County. The formula also determines in which precincts those interpretors must be located, Hebert said.”

“In order to follow that forumla, ‘any name that can be construed to be Hispanic, you count it,’ he said. ‘If it’s in a gray area, you count it.’”

“Hebert said that in past primary elections, which are run by the two major political parties, 'they’ve had great difficulties getting Hispanic volunteers.'”

Gee, do you think?

Do you think it is that difficult to find people who speak English and Spanish, and are willing to sit indoors all day translating at the going rate of $9.00/hr?

Has anyone even asked around?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cornyn Cuts Up: Coleman/Franken Contest Will Take “Years” to Resolve

What a guy our US Senator from Texas is. What a cut-up.

Today, not only did John Cornyn predict that it will take “years” to resolve the Coleman/Franken Minnesota senatorial contest (that guy . . . what a jokester), but he predicted if in the meantime, it doesn’t take years, and the victorious Democratic Senator-elect is finally seated, World War III will erupt.

No, really, that’s what my senator said.

Now, as I recall, World War I started when an anarchist set off a bomb that killed Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. That and a bunch of secret mutual defense pacts. And World War II began when Hitler and Joseph Stalin played a little “one for me and one for you,” splitting a sovereign Polish state between them.

World War III, in John Cornyn’s opinion, will break out when Al Franken takes the seat awarded to him by 254 voters.

Or maybe he is just speaking figuratively, do you think?

As in World War III is an unthinkable proposition and we just don’t want to go there.

Well I can tell you that unlike the real World War III, John Cornyn’s make-believe World War III is far and away long overdue.

I would love it if the Grand Obstructionist Party screamed bloody murder when Minnesota’s Supreme Court comes to its final, and also long overdue decision that Al Franken won the November senatorial election.

Just think of the imagery. The Grand Party of NO brings the government to a screaming halt in protest over this seating. The government stalls, Wall Street tanks, and the economy augers into the ground. Net result? Republicans elect dog catchers and that is all for another 200 years. Or better yet, failing to ruin this country the GOP tries to grab another federal office by having the whole thing decided in the US Supreme Court. A thing that Cornyn hopes . . . er . . . thinks will take years. Just lay back and think on it. What an opportunity to show that once again Republicans cannot pull it off in a contested election, and run to their 4 sure-thing Supreme Court justices, hoping against hope for yet another coup d’état.

Because we now have an 8-year long perspective on how well it turned out the last time they did that.

World War III? To quote the former president, bring it on.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

SB 220: Texas Senate Gets Punked

When the Texas Senate sat down to consider Senate Bill 220, a bill “relating to the conversion of a nontolled state highway or segment of the state highway system to a toll project” you have to wonder what they were thinking.

Clearly from the wording, this bill seeks to create toll roads out of roads that were built with taxpayer dollars, and used by the taxpayers for free.

But that’s not what its author, Texas State Senator Robert Nichols claimed.

In fact, Nichols claimed the bill would do just the opposite, which would allay the fears of Texans that “the roads they drive on this year will not have toll booths on them next year.”

Not true, says TURF, or Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public on Texas’s new shift to tolling. TURF is one of the organizations that stood up and educated the public on the evils of the Trans Texas Corridor, a project that has since been killed by an almost universal public loathing from folks of any political stripe.

From TURF’s website:

“SB 220 authored by Senator Robert Nichols actually opens a NEW loophole that would allow existing highway lanes to be tolled and the free lanes to be subsequently downgraded to access roads. This bill would legalize the conversions of at least three highways: 281 N and 1604 in Bexar County and 290 E in Travis County. SB 220 passed the Senate 31-0 despite citizen concerns, TURF testimony, and our action alert notifying EVERY single senator of this problem.”

“‘It's an outrage that the author of this bill, Senator Nichols, is out there touting that he's ended the tolling of existing highways, and he knows his bill does just the opposite! He's an ex-Transportation Commissioner who not only was involved in writing the first bill to address tolls on existing highways that had the original loopholes back in 2005 (SB 2702), but also he was present when Governor Perry signed the contract with Cintra for the Trans Texas Corridor, and he has plenty of ties to and funding from the highway lobby. He knows exactly what he's doing. The leopard is showing his spots,’ explains Terri Hall TURF Founder.”

So all 31 state senators swallowed Nichols’s story hook, line and sinker and voted for it after having considered it for all of 2 minutes.

And you thought the scammers were all on Wall Street.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


“Shovel-Ready” is Not “Shovel-Right”

Part and parcel, and some would say “central to” the president’s economic stimulus plan is the funding of “shovel ready” public works projects. Projects involving the rebuilding of our country’s crumbling infrastructure. Projects that bring jobs to people and bacon to the breakfast table.

But now, we are starting to see how and where the federal stimulus funds are being spent. We are starting to see public works projects being queued for commencement. And in seeing these projects unfold one after the other, one has to ask “is shovel-ready, shovel-right?”

In part, one must ask this question because of near term vs. long term goals of the Obama Administration. In the near term, we need to repair or replace the things that have served us in the past. No one needs to be reminded of the lives and property lost when the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota failed and took rush hour commuters to their deaths a year and a half ago. That bridge became a poster child for the aging of America’s infrastructure even though it was later revealed that the failure ultimately stemmed from an undetected design flaw in the bridge.

But in the long term, we need to address energy and environmental issues that have only now begun to plague our society. Our infrastructure has been built without taking into account the energy that will be consumed as those projects start serving society. Without taking into account whether that project will increase or decrease greenhouse gas output. President Obama said it best earlier during his town hall meeting in Florida:

“‘The days where we’re just building sprawl forever, those days are over,’ he said, urging officials to employ ‘innovative thinking’ when deciding how to spend their transportation money”

This is the vision as expounded by White House spokesman Nick Shapiro in speaking to the New York Times:

“A White House spokesman, Nick Shapiro, said that the stimulus bill would promote ‘long-term sustainable development’ by spending billions of dollars on renewable energy, mass transit, rail service and urban development, and he added that the choice of most transportation projects was left to states.”

And therein lies the rub. While there is nothing wrong with the vision, a view from the White House “bubble” (as our president calls it), there is something wrong with letting the states decide which project will benefit from this federal stimulus.

State have shovel-ready projects. Projects that have been formulated, plans that have surveys and schedules. Plans for projects that are ready to go, but just don’t have any funds to launch them.

The trouble is, the states have plans that are all ready to go, but these plans are from a vision that looks backward to a time when energy was something you just bought, and greenhouse gases were things that made your tomatoes grow.

Projects that are ready to go are yesterday’s projects, for yesterday’s needs.

Witness the plans to use these stimulus funds in New Hampshire where they will widen I-93, a corridor that delivers New Hampshire residents to Boston, where they work.

Witness the plans to use these stimulus funds in North Carolina to extend I-295 to Fayetteville, a move to benefit its big cash cow, Fort Bragg, but will be built at the expense of projects in already established cities.

Or far more closer to home, witness what Texas Department of Transportation wants to do with $181 million of the funds sent to them from the stimulus plan: extend an established roadway, The Grand Parkway, through an undeveloped area west of Houston, and build it as a toll road (that’s right, tax dollars to build a toll road) so that developers can build on land even further away from the Houston metropolitan area.

A plan that would warm the hearts of the Saud family.

The point is, “shovel-ready” is not “shovel-right.” The long-term vision is correct, but the reality is that shovel-ready projects are projects developed in the past. Projects envisioned by the myopic.

And for those who are ready to consider what kinds of infrastructure transportation projects in and around cities fit the bill here, I have just two words:

Light rail.

Friday, March 27, 2009

SBOE Religious Reactionaries Lose Another Vote

It’s nice when truth and goodness wins out over darkness and ignorance, isn’t it?

Today, coming off of the 7-7 tie that dealt a death blow to the “strengths and weaknesses” phraseology that would require biology teachers to ask students to evaluate evolutionary theory based on observations and evidence, its kindred, the “sufficiencies and insufficiencies” phraseology met with a similar fate.

So it would appear that Texas was ready to go full speed ahead toward adoption of state curriculum standards for the next 10 years, and adopt them they did, with a 13-2 vote.

Honestly, from all of the attention that it got, you would think that biology, and the unit on evolution, was the only science taught in Texas. They spent that much time on this. That despite the fact that standards needed to be adopted for a whole host of other science disciplines.

But then, no one is challenging any of Newton’s Laws. That despite the fact that Einstein poked huge holes in these “Laws of Nature” a century ago.

But since the Genesis story did not deal with quantum mechanics, or so I hope, the Texas State Board of Education won’t be going there any time in the near or distant future.

So now that the state school board has acted, and will now move on to social studies (do rightwing evangelicals believe that the Holocaust occurred? I forget) we will now watch the drama transplant itself in the Texas Legislature, that august body of experts in the area of population genetics and speciation.

Because now that the SBOE has failed to carry out the neoconservative evangelical agenda, it falls to State Rep. Wayne Christian.

A man who takes his surname far too seriously.

State Rep. Christian has introduced HB 4224, a bill that does the work of what the state school board just voted to omit. The bill amends Section 28.0037 of the Texas Education Code to read, in part, like this:

“(b) Instructional elements for scientific processes: the student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.”

It goes further, of course.

“…no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses.”

Now this sounds all well and good to religious evangelicals, who don’t want Johnny to get a bad grade just because he mouthed off in class that what teacher just said about fish crawling out onto the land was all wrong.

But perhaps Rep. Christian didn’t quite think this completely through, do you think?

After all, there is no wording to the effect that the position that the student ascribes to must specifically deals with Darwinism, speciation or the descent of man, or whether the student ascribes to a position antithetical to specifically those ideas.

In fact, the sky is the limit on what scientific theory the student may ascribe to, and in no way may the teacher give the student a failing grade because of that.

So this means that a student may ascribe to the position of Aristotle, that an object that is placed in motion by violent force remains in motion by the impetus that the violent force invests in the object, and that the object comes to rest in the object’s natural place when all of the impetus in it is used up.

What the heck, what was good enough for 1800 years’ worth of scholars should be good enough for Texas’ science students, huh?

The heck with Newton and Galileo, what did those guys have that Aristotle didn’t?

Oh, Newton invented calculus?

Heck, forget that. Calculus is hard.

Hats off to State Rep. Wayne Christian, our Texas Science Scholar of the Century.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Evolution Issue in Texas Education Gets a Preliminary Vote

As advertised, the Texas State Board of Education met today, and will return tomorrow to finalize votes on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills document for science instruction in that state. In a preliminary vote, a vote to see where everyone is on returning the “strengths and weaknesses” terminology in the state’s science curriculum, the motion to add the language back in failed in a tie 7-7 vote.

The rules call for a simple majority. Lacking that, the motion failed.

Video is courtesy of KXAN.

Now one thing that the video did not explain was where that 15th vote was, who it is, and what will come of the final vote tomorrow. That information can be found at the Dallas Morning News.

To wit:

“A final vote will occur on Friday, but the outcome is not expected to change. One board member who was absent – Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi – will participate in Friday's meeting by video conference from Houston. She has already stated her opposition to the requirement backed by social conservatives.”

Now it is my tradition not to hope for too much, especially when it comes to going up against the rightwing religious evangelicals in Texas. But did I just glimpse a dim light at the end of a long, dark tunnel?

Moderate Senate Democrats Threaten to Derail Obama Budget

Democrats are quite often their own worst enemies.

Witness a new coalition of 16 moderate Democratic senators headed by Indiana Senator Evan Bayh. This group threatens to undo the progressive budget supported by Barack Obama’s administration as well as the Americans who support Obama in his efforts to put America back on the track to economic recovery (64% last time I looked).

This group sees itself as the group that can provide a path toward bipartisanship. They can, they say, bring Republicans back to the table for some serious negotiations.

Obviously they haven’t checked with their Republican colleagues, who to a man and woman stand in firm opposition to anything that the Obama Administration proposes, has proposed, or will propose anytime in the near or distant future.

They say that they support President Obama and his effort to pass a budget and can bring the 60th vote in this budget deal.

They oppose, however, the tactic currently under consideration in congress, to use the “reconciliation process” to get the budget passed. A process where only 51 votes are necessary in the Senate in order to pass the budget.

Now why in H-E-double-hockey-sticks would they say that they support Obama’s budget, but oppose a tactic that would get it passed?

Could it be that this gang of 16 see an opening to take the power away from the majority, and become the power brokers in congress? What other reason do they have to oppose the “reconciliation process?”

If so, these conservative Democrats need to take measure of themselves and their positions, and ask whether they want to go down in history as the ones who drove their country over the economic brink. The ones who are responsible for millions of Americans being put out of work with no health insurance. The ones who condemn another generation of children to a life without hope of attaining a college education.

All for the purpose and the hope of getting more political power for themselves.

And here I thought this was something that Republicans were especially good at.

Will the Brawl Brewing in Fort Bend ISD Be Defused?

If you are even mildly interested in local Fort Bend County school board politics, or in science education in general, your attention must have been drawn to an item of discussion that has cropped up in the run-up to the May 9th elections where all too few voters will decide who will fill two seats on the Fort Bend ISD School Board.

While policies in tax dollar expenditures are a common topic in school board elections, the issue has become focused on the proposition to build a Global Science and Technology Center whose construction has been recently proposed, and whose feasibility is currently under study by a select group of individuals who represent the district and the local community.

Position 2 on the Board of Trustees is currently held by Sonal Bhuchar who is running for re-election. She is being challenged on the ballot by oil and gas industry consultant Carlos Cain who opposes construction of the center. As outlined in this article, and in a previous posting of mine, the issue of whether or not to build this centerpiece structure in Fort Bend ISD has become the central point of contention in the Position 2 contest, and has also been addressed in the Position 6 race, currently an open seat, that is being sought by three individuals, two of whom, have also come out against the construction.

FortBendNow focused on Position 2, due to the presence of an incumbent I imagine, and due to the obvious differences in the opinions of the respective candidates on whether this science center should be built.

From FortBendNow:

“‘I am in favor of anything that will help our students academically,’ Cain said recently. However, ‘I can’t in good conscience justify spending $40 million or whatever when we don’t have enough copy paper for our teachers, when we’ve got kids sharing textbooks and we’re telling principals we can’t make all the building repairs that are needed.’”


“‘How can you oppose something if you don’t know all the facts?’ Bhuchar asked, noting that a district-appointed feasibility committee, chaired by former Sugar Land mayor David Wallace, has just begun the first of several community meetings seeking comment on the proposal. ‘Everyone has tremendous concerns over the financing of it, myself included. But let’s see what they come back with,” she said of the feasibility committee.’”

Both candidates exhibit legitimate concerns on expenditure of public funds. Bhuchar, however, hints around something that I think is almost assuredly in the mix: the fact that the center will not be financed by public funds.

In the reality that is Fort Bend County, taxpayers are irate over their property taxes and school taxes which are collected at the same time. Some of these are legitimate concerns, and some of these concerns, in my opinion are knee jerk reactions from people who don’t know, can’t know, and have little appreciation for how much a quality education costs in this day and age. They just don’t want to pay anything of any real substance for education and view all calls for additional educational funding with a venomous eye.

And given past practices in the district, they generally expect that they will also be asked to foot the bill for this project in Fort Bend ISD.

And therefore think they have a point to make and can take issue with this new construction project.

But what if Bhuchar’s words “…let’s see what they come back with,” referring to the feasibility committee’s work, means that there is a concerted effort underfoot to line up a collection of corporate sponsors to privately fund this project? Really, there are lots of science/technology-based corporations in the immediate area, not to mention the corporate employers of many of the parents of Fort Bend ISD students.

My question, then, is this: if the funding is found, and the Global Science and Technology Center is planned and built with this private sector funding, is there any further objection to the project? Private sector funds in this case would never be used to buy textbooks, copier paper, or pay salaries of teachers. These funds are donated with the express purpose of seeing this thing get done.

I wonder about this, because I wonder what happens if, down the road, the feasibility study is completed, say one week before the election, and all of the objections of the candidates who opposed the project dissipate with the news that $25 million in private funding have been lined up.

That is, if this is what happens, having all of your eggs in one basket seems like a very bad idea because the whole issue could become moot.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obama Budget Gets Push-Back By Moderate Dems

Moderate Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing back against Barack Obama’s record $3.45 trillion proposed budget. Wincing at the proposed $1.4 trillion deficit that the budget would generate, they seek to reduce it to a $1.2 trillion deficit by proposing, among other things, cuts in Obama’s Treasury Department bailout program.

The thing you have to laugh at, is that $200 billion is still considered to be a significant amount of coin, but what they propose is a 5.8% reduction.

The fact is, these numbers are astronomical, but counter proposals are equally astronomical.

It’s just a whole new world where we actually get to see how much government costs us these days. It has been, remember, 8 years since we have had this. The previous administration preferred to hide government expenditures, keeping things, like wars, off the books.

Also in the news today is that there are plans afoot in the House to do unto the Republicans what they did unto the Democrats during the Bush Regime. The House proposes a “reconciliation process” that President Bush requested in order to pass his budgets during his terms. This tactic would be used “in the Senate as a way of preventing a Republican filibuster of major bills such as health-care reform.” See, including all of these things in a budget bill allows the House to pass the budget, and then meet with Senate members later in the spring to hash out a budget they can both get behind. That is, without having to worry about the 60 percent rule in the Senate.

This procedure was used to good (that is, bad) effect by Bush and the Republican majority to pass the Bush tax cuts in 2001and 2003 as well as two budget acts passed in 2005.

But New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, who had no problem with Bush’s move to steamroller his budget through Congress back then is screaming bloody murder over this proposed move:

“That would be the Chicago approach to governing. Strong-arm it through. You’re talking about the exact opposite of bipartisan. You’re talking about running over the minority, putting them in cement and throwing them in the Chicago River.

Interesting thought . . .

Now whether Democrats finally resort to this tactic, and I am wildly enthusiastic about even the prospect that they could, no one yet knows. All I know is that this partisan move is just what Republicans have been asking for in their stonewalling tactics.

Maybe that is what the GOP in Congress need right now.

Pundits suggest that this could spell trouble for Democrats as Americans react to an overtly partisan move, something they did in reacting to the partisanship of Republicans during the Bush tribulations. They could be right.

But then again, what if things get better? What if Democrats get this shoved through over the objections of the Republican Party in a process that sidesteps them entirely, and things get better?

Is that a gamble I would be willing to take?

Geez, how can it get worse than it was?

Geez, what are they going to do, bring back Bush?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fort Bend CAD: Only Katy Area Will See Property Taxes Go Up

You have to hand it to the folks down at the Fort Bend County offices. They have their fingers on the pulse of the county. Coming hard on the heels of County Judge Bob Hebert’s predictions of “good values” in county real estate tax assessments we saw frenzied backpedaling as it was pointed out that these “good values” was based on used Kleenex and pocket fluff.

Things you find at the bottom of any Republican’s statistical basis once you remove all of the valid data.

Now, the latest entry in this saga is the prescience of Fort Bend County Central Appraisal District’s chief appraiser, Glen Whitehead, who now says that most of the county’s real estate prices will remain flat or go down.

Except for the areas around Katy.

Katy, part of which overlaps with northern Fort Bend County, is a “kind of anomaly” according to the appraiser. Whitehead sees Katy area real property as continuing its increasing trend unabated and unaffected by any national or regional downturn.

I guess that’s good news for most of us here in Fort Bend County. Our property values will not be inappropriately assessed based on data of questionable legitimacy.

That’s bad news, however for Fort Bend County residents of the Katy area.

These people in Katy, you know, with some few exceptions, have another demographic trend on top of their skyrocketing house prices.

They are what local Republicans refer to as “our base.”

Good luck on that Mr. Whitehead.

Next: Denude Our Borders

Not such a long time ago, the United States was engaged in a ground war against a brown people of diminutive size who refused to come out into the open and fight.

They would hide in the bushes. In the jungle.

Out military happened upon the obvious answer: get rid of the jungle. Denude the rainforests of eastern Southeast Asia. That way the small people would have no where to hide and shoot our soldiers.

They adopted a chemical herbicide that was called Agent Orange, to effect this, and got maximum returns for their efforts. The forests disappeared.

As a side effect, both the Vietnamese who lived there and the American soldiers who fought there started exhibiting long-term effects of exposure to Agent Orange.

Long-term effects that included cancer. Agent Orange was a carcinogen.

Today, Agent Orange is no longer used.

However, the need to keep diminutive brown people from hiding in the bushes has apparently not waned. Today, small brown people continue to hide in the bushes in their attempts to evade capture as they illegally cross the border in the Rio Grande Valley, north to America.

Today, thick carrizo cane (Arundo donax L.) occurs on the banks of the Rio Grande, up to 1.1 miles thick. This cane was planted there hundreds of years ago by Spaniards. It is not native. But it is a good cover for the small brown people.

Enter stage right a plan to denude the banks of the Rio Grande, thus depriving these people of places to hide.

There are three options in this plan”

  1. Cut the cane by hand and “paint” the cane stumps with an herbicide called Imazapyr, a product of chemical giant BASF.
  2. Bulldoze the cane, digging up the cane roots as well.
  3. Spray the Imazapyr herbicide from helicopters. Spray it directly on the cane repeatedly until all of the cane dies.

Of the three options, the last one is obviously the most controversial. Followed by the first one. It isn’t clear whether the 2nd one includes an herbicide.

Now I have to wonder about the sanity of wholesale spraying an herbicide, one that is non-specific and will kill anything classified as a plant. Especially adjacent to a river that forms an international border. Where the other country on that border uses the river water in its water supply system.

While Imazapyr is listed in chemical data pages and on its MSDS as non-toxic to animals, it is an irritant if inhaled or comes in contact with the skin. It is also known to cause irreversible sight loss.

It also hangs around in the environment for an awful long time, up to months, and can get into the groundwater. The only good news is that if it gets into the river, it will break down in sunlight in only two days.

But that doesn’t help Nuevo Laredo, a city that sits on the river bank opposite a targeted “cane forest”. Two days is not long enough to break down contaminants in water when they are introduced right there in front of them.

A final plan on cane removal has not materialized. In the meantime, let’s hope that sanity prevails and no one adopts the least troublesome “Final Solution” to the “Cane Problem,” the one that would be most beneficial to the corporate profits of BASF.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Energy Independence: Why “Drill Here, Drill Now” Is Not an Option

President Obama’s budget, submitted this week, contains within its $3.6 trillion price tag something that will finally put the United States on the path of energy independence.

Obama’s budget makes a provision for tax credits for research and experimentation by making it a permanent fixture in tax law.

“Overall, the budget would invest billions in research designed to reduce climate change and guarantees loans for companies that develop clean energy technologies.”

This is brilliant. It takes R&D out of the hands of the government, where it has shifted in recent years with government funding of private research firms. As anyone who has dealt with government funded research, this is a virtual bottomless money pit with no formalized objectives, no measurement of performance vis-à-vis attainment of objectives, and no mechanism for implementation of results.

But that system does have an endless paper trail of requests for more funding.

Instead, energy companies are again given tax incentives to run their own research and development. Granted some of the above still occurs, but with accountability measurements in place, there are fewer places to hide excess.

In this research effort, emphasis will be on research to reduce climate change (i.e. reduce emissions of greenhouse gases), and on development of “clean energy technologies.”

Obama realistically expects failure. That’s my kind of guy.

“Sometimes you have to fail before you can succeed. And often it takes not just the commitment of an innovator, but the commitment of a country to innovation. Often what’s required is the support of government.”

Noticeably absent from his budget is the emphasis on current energy technology. That is, exploration and development of oil and gas, or the funding of such.

In actuality, as reported at USA Today, Obama’s budget calls for the ending of numerous tax breaks that the oil industry has enjoyed in the past, and penalizes oil companies for sitting on their proven reserves without developing them.

“President Obama's proposed 2010 budget takes pointed aim at oil and gas companies, eliminating myriad tax breaks and proposing new fees on the providers.”

“The plan put out Thursday would repeal tax breaks intended to spur oil and gas exploration and penalize companies that don't develop wells on land leased from the government. It could raise tens of billions of dollars the next decade.”

In other words, we are finally ending the insane policy of paying oil companies to explore for their own oil reserves, and giving tax breaks for sitting on their proven reserves.

And why not? Weren’t we last year beset by Republican chants of “Drill, Baby, Drill” and “Drill here, Drill now”? These aspects of the budget provide just the carrot, and just the stick, to get that done, right?

So now, all we need to wait for are the shrill cries from the sunset oil industry that the government is doing all it can to drive down domestic oil and gas production, driving up the rate at which we import oil.

OK, for those crying shrilly, I’d like to post this table of the 17 most prolific oil and gas producers, in the world. Here it is, read it and weep.

The United States has 21 billion barrels of domestic oil reserves and 3.3 billion mcf of gas reserves, enough for a reserve life of 8 years.

Contrast that to Canada and Saudi Arabia. If there were places to drill, baby, those are the places.

This table screams to those who want to listen that the United States should take itself out of the business of drilling until there’s no tomorrow, because tomorrow will come sooner than we think. It roars that we should invest full bore in alternative energy sources.

Which is exactly what the Obama budget it targeting.

Now, what were the objections to Obama’s budget again?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

National Center for Science Education Has a You Tube Home Page

This is an appropriate time to spread the word that the National Center for Science Education, an organization that has been at the forefront in defending the teaching of evolution in public schools, now has a You Tube home page.

An appropriate time because starting on Thursday, March 26th, the Texas State Board of Education will meet once more to finalize the Science TEKS that will govern how science will be taught in Texas’ public schools, and more importantly, what demands will be delivered to the publishers of science books so that Texas, a huge school textbook customer, will adopt their textbooks in the upcoming adoption cycle.

To what end you would ask. Why would the NCSE do this just now?

Well, for one thing, I as an interested party in science education have had to depend upon the kindness of strangers to provide first- or second-hand coverage of what transpires at these board meetings. People who “live-blog” the meetings. People who provide snippets of conversation through audio recordings.

But at the NCSE’s You Tube home page, you have one-stop shopping.

The NCSE has a very complete recording of the testimony of one of their own at a recent SBOE meeting. Dr. Genie Scott gave testimony on inclusion of the “strengths and weaknesses” argument in the Science TEKS, especially as found in the Biology curriculum vis-à-vis the teaching of evolution. It also shows her fielding questions from creationist and non-creationist board members alike.

It also shows Don McLeroy’s comments at the meeting, showing how by waving publications about, shouting who cites whom in them, McLeroy arrives at disingenuous conclusions that no one but another creationist would come to.

One part of this last set of videos has been “pulled” by You Tube, leaving the rest of us to speculate on whom had it pulled and why.

So if you want to go and watch our state school board in action, I suggest perusing the small library of videos there.

I, for one am enlightened, but not really surprised.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

On Spending $3.6 Trillion

While everyone is still grinding their teeth about how some corporate pigs are having their latest repasts at the taxpayers’ trough, out comes Barack Obama in a media blitz including a night with Jay Leno, finishing with a whopping $3.6 trillion budget placed before Congress for its consideration.

No! will cry the Republicans. No, no, no, no, NO!

But that’s OK. We all expect that. That is what a minority of Americans will say as well.

Let’s make that abundantly clear. A minority of Americans would oppose this budget on philosophical grounds, let alone economic ones (but let’s be honest here, one hand does wash the other here). And they convey their thoughts and feelings to their representatives, who vote accordingly.

That’s how representative government works.

But this time, we have a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress elected by Americans of all political flavors. People who feel a little differently than those who elected those from the Grand Obstructionist Party. People who told all of our countrymen last November that what they wanted was fundamental change.

Well, change is here. No more hiding the costs of war on another set of accounting books. No more avoiding the issue of getting proper healthcare in America in a world where healthcare is becoming less attainable and more costly. No more throwing our tax dollars down oil wells. The oil and gas industry is in its sunset years. Now, after all this time, is the time to steer our tax money (and tax breaks) toward the energy sources that our children and grandchildren will be depending on 50 years from now.

On his radio message today Barack Obama said this:

“I realize there are those who say these plans are too ambitious to enact. To that I say that the challenges we face are too large to ignore. I didn’t come here to pass on our problems to the next president or the next generation — I came here to solve them.”

You don’t have to agree with Barack Obama. All you really have to do is take a look around. Do you know someone who was laid off? Do you know someone without health insurance or someone who can’t afford the healthcare they need to stay alive? Are you willing to surrender to corporations who demand the right to continue to pump greenhouse gases into your atmosphere? Are you tired of the ruling class in your country taking more and more for themselves, leaving less to you and yours?

This budget isn’t a be-all end-all. It will not fix the monumental problems we face. It is only the beginning. There is more to come and always more to do.

This budget will be uniformly opposed by the shrinking monolith that represents what is left of the Republican Party. Opposed not because it is wrong, but opposed because if this budget is allowed to pass and allowed to succeed, the party of the Dark Side has no hope of making a comeback any time in the foreseeable future.

I know, I know. We Democrats are a fractious lot, each with our own agendas. The last thing we want to do is stand in some darn fool line. The last thing we want to do is speak with one voice. The last thing we want to do is spend $3.6 trillion.

But now more than ever, the times demand that is just what we must do.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fort Bend County Sheriff Just Doesn’t Have Enough Time

Last Tuesday the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court voted on Judge Hebert’s drafted “non-binding resolution” to the state legislature voicing their opposition to Dora Olivo’s HB 1184, a bill that would allow counties whose populations exceed 190,000 to form civil service commissions.

And they voted 4 to 1 for the resolution.

The one hold out? Richard Morrison. That’s why voters voted for Morrison, and that’s why others of us asked them to. The people needed a voice on the commissioners court, and now we have one.

And we’re waiting patiently for the other Democrat, or shall I say alleged Democrat on the court to come around and vote with the people.

Now what reason did Judge Hebert give the legislature to have this much-needed piece of legislation put down? Well, it seems that the county sheriff, Milton Wright, has complained to the judge that there isn’t enough time between now and September for him to get his department in compliance with a new set of rules governing how sheriff’s deputies are hired, paid, promoted, disciplined and fired.

It’s just not enough time.

OK, I think it is time for a lesson in English.

Here is what the bill says:

"SECTION 1. Section 158.002, Local Government Code, is amended to read as follows:

Sec. 158.002. ELIGIBLE COUNTIES. (a) A county with a population of 190,000 or more may, in accordance with this subchapter, create a county civil service system to include all the employees of the county who are not exempted from the system by the express terms or judicial interpretations of this subchapter or by the operation of Subchapter B."

[Emphasis is mine]

I think Sheriff Wright spent most of his time looking at that population number. 190,000. Because if memory serves, the most recent census records shows that Fort Bend County’s population exceeds 190,000.

So automatically, Sheriff Wright must have looked at the third and last section:

“SECTION 3. This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect September 1, 2009.”

Sheriff Wright must be a Half Full type of guy, because he assumed that the bill wouldn’t get a 2/3rds majority vote, and would go into effect, if at all, in September.

Now the English lesson:

Sheriff Wright may not know the difference between the words “shall” and “may.” This is ironic because in law and legalese, they are two really important words.

“Shall” refers to the fact that one has no choice but to act. It is the word that legislators use mostly against teachers when they want them to do something, or when they want them to be punished for some new infraction.

“May” is a much friendlier word. It refers to the fact that the affected one has an option. They can do the thing . . . or not. If they do it or don’t do it, it’s all copasetic. “May” is a word that you almost never see used in legislation regarding the education profession.

So I think that the sheriff protests too much. Too much hand wringing at what a county “may” do. Calm down, Sheriff Wright. Just because the legislature clears the way for the county to set up a civil service commission doesn’t mean that it has to do it.

That’s just common sense.

It is also common sense to wonder what Judge Hebert and what County Commissioner Patterson will have to say to the county electorate from this September until this November when they have failed to form a civil service commission.

Oh, is that what this is all about?