SocraticGadfly: 12/3/06 - 12/10/06

December 09, 2006

Mitt Romney: He was for gays before he was against them

The Massachusetts governor, already angling for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, reportedly said in a 1994 interview with a gay-oriented newspaper that he would do more for gay rights than Ted Kennedy.

He also wrote a letter to the gay-rights supporting Log Cabin Republicans stating that President Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on allowing gays in the military to stay in as along as they were “quietly passing,” rather than actively hunting them out for dishonorable discharges, was
the first in a number of steps that will ultimately lead to gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation's military.

Well, now he’s getting it from both sides. Conservative groups such as the Family Research Council are calling on him to repudiate all his 1994 statements, while gay rights groups are saying he can’t be trusted.

I think I just heard the sound of some Republican presidential timber falling in the forest.

Who’s next, Giuliani? I can’t wait for his “reverse vasectomy” of Al Gore and Dick Gephardt’s dance on the choice issue, to see Rudy try to suddenly become a pro-life candidate.

This ought to just do wonders for controlling the civil war and insurgency in Iraq

Saddam Hussein’s nephew has escaped from an Iraqi prison, with the help of a police officer. He was serving a life sentence for manufacture of explosives and other charges.

Well, Baathist Party apparatchiks and other more secularized Sunnis might have a new rallying point, it would appear.

High school orchestra in public performance for Christmas

Between stolen violins and cellos never purchased, I’m wondering just what Dec. 14 will sound like. “Children First?”

As a classical music lover, I am delighted to see the orchestral interest of young students, especially young minority students.

Too bad the program isn’t getting adequate financial support from higher up in the fine arts program or anywhere else. Bless the orchestra teachers who are trying to instill a love of fine music while continually moving the rock of Sisyphus.

Nixonian leakers witch hunt at the high school? What of the First Amendment?

If this is true, I don’t think it’s the best idea in the world to use Sam Allen and the LISD Police Department as a “plumbers unit,” like Nixon’s Watergate snoopers, to track down leaks.

Whether it’s legal or not is besides the point. It’s unethical, it violates the spirit of the First Amendment (already being violated there on church-state issues, I think) and it just sent morale nosediving into the George W. Bush popularity rating levels.

I hope this isn’t what’s happening. But, if it is, the district can’t “win” this one. Certainly not in the court of public opinion

U.S.: Yaay, we’re No. 1!

Ooops, that would be for highest incarceration rate AND most total prisoners in the world

Here’s the ugly figures.
A U.S. Justice Department report released on November 30 showed that a record 7 million people — or one in every 32 American adults — were behind bars, on probation or on parole at the end of last year. Of the total, 2.2 million were in prison or jail.


In a quick phrase, the idiotic War on Drugs.

Drug arrests account for 30 percent of our prison, parole or probation population. All that happens in prison is most of them become more addicted and learn how to be better criminals.

I’ve done newspaper columns on this before. If we are indeed fighting a “War on Drugs,” it’s a Vietnam (or Iraq) and NOT a World War II. And, like Vietnam, or Iraq, part of the price has included folding, spindling and mutilating civil liberties here at home.

Just think of how shameful it is to have the world’s most total inmates.

China has a population four times ours, and is a one-party authoritarian government. And we STILL have more prisoners incarcerated.
According to the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College in London, more people are behind bars in the United States than in any other country. China ranks second with 1.5 million prisoners, followed by Russia with 870,000.

The U.S. incarceration rate of 737 per 100,000 people in the highest, followed by 611 in Russia and 547 for St. Kitts and Nevis. In contrast, the incarceration rates in many Western industrial nations range around 100 per 100,000 people.

Specifically, how ridiculous, shameful and ineffective is this?
“The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's incarcerated population. We rank first in the world in locking up our fellow citizens,” said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports alternatives in the war on drugs.

“We now imprison more people for drug law violations than all of western Europe, with a much larger population, incarcerates for all offenses.”

I’m seriously considering, at least at my next newspaper position, not running non-felony drug arrests as part of police reports.

December 08, 2006

Batting above .500 on LISD issues again — culinary arts

I have been told by somebody familiar with school district and state finance, budgeting and accounting practices that career and technology education classes like cosmetology, culinary arts, welding and so forth are supposed to get CATE money from the Texas Education Agency, and that is supposed to be for products, such as food, or cosmetology chemicals, or welding rods, and NOT to pay salaries. Ninety percent of this state funding — which is supposed to be based on classroom figures school district officials are supposed to supply TEA — is supposed to go toward products.

So, if culinary arts in Lancaster has no budget (as I’ve heard from multiple sources; I don’t know about cosmetology or welding), where is the state’s CATE money? Smoke and mirrors?

Where’s the equipment? Faith-based equipment supply?

Right idea, wrong person doing it

Outgoing lightning-rod Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has introduced a House resolution calling for President Bush’s impeachment.

Great idea, and yes, it’s too bad the Democratic leadership won’t consider such an idea over the next two years, but coming from Miss 9/11 Conspiracy Theory, it’s the wrong messenger.

Plenty of guilt, including some Democratic, on Mark Foley not getting reported sooner

We establish the Congressional equivalent of the Mendoza line — the Hammer line

The House Ethics Committee has wrapped up a slap-on-the-wrist report on why page-stalking former Florida Congressman Mark Foley wasn’t reported sooner.

The bottom line?
“Failure to exhaust all reasonable efforts to call attention to potential misconduct ... is not merely the exercise of poor judgment; it is a present danger to House pages and to the integrity of the institution of the House.”

But, while more Republicans, such as lame-duck Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, are more guilty, Democrats aren’t scot-free.
The panel said it found that many people on and off Capitol Hill knew about Foley's e-mails, including members of the media. It said the communications directors for the House Democratic caucus and campaign committee had copies of some of his electronic messages last year.

House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi said she knew nothing of this. Well, if she’s serious about ethics reform, here’s her first at-bat inside her own party. We’ll see how serious she is.

And, most ludicrous of all, the panel said it found no violation of House ethics rules. No wonder Congress’ approval rating now sits at 13 percent, and no wonder Public Citizen’s Joan Claybrook is hopping mad.
“While the committee's investigation makes clear that no one alerted either the (page) board or the ethics committee of concerns about Rep. Foley's advances to pages, the report lets all of those investigated off the hook for this utter abdication of their duty.”

Well, we’ll see if Pelosi is serious enough about ethics reform to boost the Congressional approval raiting above 20 percent, or .200 in baseball batting terms. In honor of that magic mark, in reference to baseball’s Mendoza line, and in honor of one of Texas’ most “illustrious” bug-killing Congressmen ever

Lancaster High/LISD information panning out; information not panning out

So far, the high school theft claims has clearly panned out.

The high school keying issue has also panned out, though Lewis denies a connection between the thefts and the key situation.

I heard about both of those firsthand.

The claims about the cosmetology class did not pan out.

I heard about that secondhand.

The claims about TRS payments appear to have not panned out. I heard about that firsthand, but have seen a copy of Lewis’ e-mail response as well, and have, as mentioned, contacted TRS myself and heard back.

Claims about the South Carolina trip have been countered by someone else within the district and could be argued not to have panned out, at least as far as any legal issues.

In other words, we're playing about .500 ball right now.

Other high school design/construction allegations I am not pursuing further at this time until I hear firsthand information. In other words, if people claim they’ve heard about problems with the JROTC firing range, then get Maj. Mosley or Sgt. Hernandez to speak up; ditto on culinary arts or other things.

TRS accounts ARE being credited, spokesperson says

That’s’ according to Howard Goleman from TRS.

I quote from his e-mail reply to me:
The employees' contributions have been credited to the individual accounts for September and October. The November contributions were due to be sent to the Comptroller of the State of Texas no later than 6 PM on December 6th (due date). The contributions sent according to that timeline should be available to TRS on December 8th.

If anybody is interested, you can e-mail him here.

Now, should teachers and other staff be hearing differently from other people at TRS, I will have to have names of the TRS contacts to whom you have been speaking to do any follow-up, to find out why you have been getting one set of information and Mr. Goldman says your accounts are up to date.

Until I hear further information that I can, in fact, follow up on, this dog appears to be sleeping and will be let lay.

Journalists across the state of Texas must be “on the take”

Just think; there’s about 500 public high schools at just the 4A and 5A levels. That’s 250 football games a week. Allowing for the fact that in some cases, one person may be doing “double duty” on coverage, but that you may have three newspapers at other games, plus radio and occasional TV coverage, that’s 2.5 or more press people per game.

So, by Jeff Melcher’s brilliant insight, there must be 750-800 journalists “on the take” every week at Texas high school football games.

Jeff, here’s the website for the Texas Press Association; please do contact them immediately about the hordes of corrupt journalists.

Now that I know Dr. Lewis is reading

First, as noted on the right hand column here, this is not an official web publication of Lancaster Today/Today Newspapers.

Second, an observation. I don’t get to have everything go my way, 100 percent, all the time. Nobody does. Jeff Melcher doesn’t get to be the Messianic savior of the school district. I don’t get to make $30,000 a year. (Sorry, folks who believe in the rich liberal media, but I don’t get to make $30,000 a year.) And superintendents — or city managers, or whomever in governmental positions — don’t always get news reported just the way they want, or every employee agreeing with them.

Third, to issues of more substance.

1. I have not focused on “just the negative” regarding LISD, in my opinion.

2. Where rumored information has turned out to be incorrect, and I have found that out, as with the cosmetology class, I have said so, and here.

3. In another case, with the grant and the trip to South Carolina, before I even got around to investigating that, a new poster to this blog provided what appears to be more accurate information, that this was a legitimate grant, even if some people “rode on its coattails.”

4. I never printed anything from this blog in Lancaster Today until confirmed first-hand.

5. I have also pointed out where, in my opinion, some posters to this blog have not just had wrong information, but wrong presuppositions or philosophical ideas.

6. When other people post comments of their own on comment threads, I’m certainly not creating the message myself. I’m not even the messenger, in fact; I’m the sounding board.

7. For which, I’ve had one person claim I’m “on the take” with district money and another person on “the other side” tell me on the phone I was “lying” about content not here, but on the newspaper’s editorial page.

December 07, 2006

Kevin Drum gets in a huff when taken to task about troll-spam on Political Animal

How hard is it for a paid “professional” blogger to have a spam-controlling comments feature?

Apparently it’s just too much for either Kevin Drum, blogger of the political magazine Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog, or WM’s editorial masters.

In the last week or so, his blog comments have gotten hugely overrun by long-winded trolls and thread hijackers.

I e-mailed Kevin, and sent a separate e-mail to WM contact e-mails, requesting they install some anti-spam comments features. I said that, if not, I could delink Political Animal, one of just two high-hit liberal blogs on my linkroll. And that I could post to his blog suggesting other bloggers do the same, even if the action were nothing more than symbolic.

Drum e-mailed back in high dudgeon. When I sent a second e-mail saying it was nothing personal, but that, even as a symbol, I couldn’t think of how else to stress the issue. Ironically, Drum had a blog post two days ago about how spam volume has doubled in the last year.

Well, troll comments on posts are akin to spam.

And, he and/or his masters don’t even have to pay to fix this.

I added to my blogs the Haloscan comments software, which is free, in large part because it does give me some comments control. Haloscan has a maximum length limit on comments, and … it lets me ban posters by IP address. Enough said.

So, Kevin, if you want to get all huffy, fine. I’ll go ahead and take care of the linkage issue now.

Barack Obama: Not so pristine

Read on to see how he sounds more and more like a typical Democratic Leadership Council politician, complete with K Street help and all.
Yet it is also startling to see how quickly Obama’s senatorship has been woven into the web of institutionalized influence-trading that afflicts official Washington. He quickly established a political machine funded and run by a standard Beltway group of lobbyists, P.R. consultants, and hangers-on. For the staff post of policy director he hired Karen Kornbluh, a senior aide to Robert Rubin when the latter, as head of the Treasury Department under Bill Clinton, was a chief advocate for NAFTA and other free-trade policies that decimated the nation’s manufacturing sector (and the organized labor wing of the Democratic Party). Obama’s top contributors are corporate law and lobbying firms (Kirkland & Ellis and Skadden, Arps, where four attorneys are fund-raisers for Obama as well as donors), Wall Street financial houses (Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase), and big Chicago interests (Henry Crown and Company, an investment firm that has stakes in industries ranging from telecommunications to defense). Obama immediately established a “leadership PAC,” a vehicle through which a member of Congress can contribute to other politicians’ campaigns—and one that political reform groups generally view as a slush fund through which congressional leaders can evade campaign-finance rules while raising their own political profiles.

He may have been more progressive in the Illinois State Senate. But, he didn’t have his eyes on the brass ring — or the White House — at that point.

Harper’s goes on to get it right on this issue.
The question, though, is just how effective — let alone reformist—Obama’s approach can be in a Washington grown hostile to reform and those who advocate it. After a quarter century when the Democratic Party to which he belongs has moved steadily to the right, and the political system in general has become thoroughly dominated by the corporate perspective, the first requirement of electoral success is now the ability to raise staggering sums of money. For Barack Obama, this means that mounting a successful career, especially one that may include a run for the presidency, cannot even be attempted without the kind of compromising and horse trading that may, in fact, render him impotent.

Obama goes on to say that some progressives may “trim their sails” at times. As for his effort so far, he blames the Republican Presidency and Congress for not doing more. Well, come January, it’s a Democratic House and Senate. We’ll see if sails get trimmed or not.

But, looking at some of his votes in the last two years, I’d say that the waters he has charted have been pretty cautious.

Why would we expect more from the Iraq Study Group?

There were no true progressives on the 10-person board. Instead, it was a mix of conservative Republicans (albeit realist conservatives, not neoconservatives) and centrist Democrats.

The conservative Republicans may have hesitated to call for anything bolder for fear of undercutting Bush even more than the actual report did. Meanwhile, the centrist Democrats, if not exactly “hawkish” on Iraq, certainly weren’t doves from the get-go.

The First Amendment is not absolute

For example, there is Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr’s famous dictum about how yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater is not constitutionally protected speech.

A similar situation with newspapers might be letters to the editor, but it goes further than that. Other than not printing letters that are legally slanderous, newspapers also have the right to not print letters for other reasons. We can not print them if, even short of slander, they are abusive or otherwise not decorous.

Also, a newspaper is a business. And, unlike television and radio, it is not governed by a Fairness Doctrine on something like political advertising. If a newspaper chose to accept political ads from just one political party, it has the right to do that.

A blog is not exactly like a newspaper. But, there are analogies. Blog comments might be considered equivalent to letters to the editor.

Gallagher and LISD play at Kafka

I e-mailed Gallagher Construction Management Services yesterday for information about the doorlock situation at the high school, given that Elvin's official response is:

"That wasn't our responsibility."

Jerry Gallager replied:

"Your Request for Information is acknowledged.

"However, Gallagher Construction Services’ policy regarding correspondence or requests pertaining to School Districts is the information must be provided by the District to the requestor.

"Therefore, please contact the Superintendent of Schools for Lancaster ISD, Dr. Larry Lewis."

Well, at least I have Jerry's direct e-mail and can include everybody in the circle.

December 06, 2006

You never know who might be reading… maybe even at LISD admin?

I was down at the administration building Wednesday afternoon and ran into Larry himself, Dr. Lewis.

He said, “Boy, you’ve sure got Lancaster on the mind lately. You’re writing a lot about Lancaster.”

Now, I’m supposed to be writing about Lancaster in the newspaper, not DeSoto or Cedar Hill.

So, was he referring to this blog instead? After all, I just started blogging more about local events in the last few months.

Get rid of lead pollution standards???

You have to be kidding, right?

Unfortunately, no.

The Environmental Protection Agency has officially come out in favor of eliminating Clean Air Act lead pollution standards.

Is the Bush Administration determined to do a petulant last-minute gutting of everything it can before Democrats take control of Congress?

Public Information Act DOES allow charges for less than 50 pages

Section 552.061 states, in full:
(a) The charge for providing a copy of public information shall be an amount that reasonably includes all costs related to reproducing the public information, including costs of materials, labor, and overhead. If a request is for 50 or fewer pages of paper records, the charge for providing the copy of the public information may not include costs of materials, labor, or overhead, but shall be limited to the charge for each page of the paper record that is photocopied, unless the pages to be photocopied are located in:

(1) two or more separate buildings that are not physically connected with each other; or

(2) a remote storage facility.
(emphasis added)

So, the Act has its ins and outs.

Talking to Pat Guseman about school student demographics, etc.

Just got off the phone with her.

She said her “0.8” was for all grade levels.

So, I stand by what I posted in the post immediately below this.

As for how the school district can claim 3.0 students for Meadowview and 2.57 for Boardwalk? Simple. Each student has a home address; even this school district has that much capability to do that level of figuring. I guess they don’t need any help from Meadowview residents to put pencil to paper or keyboarding fingers to Excel.

December 04, 2006

Blogging the Dec. 4 Lancaster School Board meeting

Bulging at the seams but coming up dry at the statistics well
Superintendent Larry Lewis said the demographer the district hired as part of the run-up to the 2004 bond election had projected the average new household in Lancaster would have 0.8 students.

Well, that’s not quite the case. Everybody in north Lancaster knows that new developments are child-heavy. Lewis briefly provided detailed numbers of just how off the mark his demographers were. He said Meadowview has 3.0 students per house and Boardwalk has 2.57.

How do you get that far off??

I, a non-professional demographer, could have made a better guesstimate than that, I believe. I might well still have been on the low side, but I think I would have, at bare minimum, pegged household child growth at least at 1.0, if not 1.2, 1.3 or so.

And, WHY are you still using that during the December board meeting?

The “key” to the situation?
Lewis: “I don’t think the people of this district know how blessed it is to have someone like Philip Pape.” So, was that a blessing for high school classrooms to be unlockable for three months?

That’s not to say Phil is incompetent. (That’s not to say he doesn’t have problems, either.) I have no doubt, though, that at least a fair chunk of the problem is that he is spread too thin. (That’s assuming the fault is his, not Elvin Lotten’s.)

It’s not a question of planning…
Lewis defended the district against not planning adequately for construction inflation. I myself don’t blame him or the district; I never have.

But, that’s not the issue, for people who know better. It’s a question of design and construction quality on what was built.

Vision as faith
Both Russ Johnson and Ed Kirkland spoke about operating by faith in some way. Well, if you have a demographer who screwed up empirical statistics that badly, I guess you may think faith is the only thing left.

The decertification of Richard Gonzales

I just got the information from the Colorado State Board of Education. I have not had a chance to ask Lewis about it yet.

He was found to have on two separate occasions about nine months apart to have inappropriately disciplined students while a Denver principal.

Now, the degree of severity of the inappropriate discipline was not horrendous. But it was enough for him to lose his certification.

Sorry, but the cosmetology class hasn’t flunked anything yet

I checked with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and I have to shoot down one thing, at least in its most extreme version.

The cosmetology class at the new high school has not passed a state inspection, ’tis true. But it hasn’t failed one, either.

It hasn’t been given an inspection yet. And it probably won’t get one before the first of the year, according to the official who called me Monday afternoon in response to my e-mail.

He also explained what an initial inspection is like for a public school cosmetology classroom. He said it primarily focuses on whether there are enough sinks, etc. for all students to be able to fully participate in in-class assignments and activities.

If anybody can clarify anything from the point of view of claiming that “cosmetology can’t pass inspection” or claims similar to that. If anybody can give me more information on how this arose, I’d be interested and appreciative.