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January 13, 2006

Houston's Homeless Problem

By Jim Dallas

Via CNN, we learn today that the National Coalition for the Homeless has ranked Houston among the top 10 "meanest" cities (# 7, to be precise). Houston is on the National Coalition's wall of shame because of ongoing efforts to criminalize of homelessness (or more specifically, enact outdoor sleeping bans). The local Coalition for the Homeless estimates that about 14,000 Houstonians are homeless. This figure was arrived at pre-Katrina. About 30,000 Houstonians will be homeless at some point in a given year. About 40 percent of those sampled by the Coalition were chronically homeless - out on the streets for three years or more.

I live in the Third Ward. Pretty much every night (except for those that are freezing cold), I can find homeless folks wandering around my neighborhood. It bothers me on two levels. The first level is my own personal security - though aside from some aggressive panhandling has never really been threatened. The second and more important level is concern for their well-being. Why are so many Houstonians homeless? The Coalition asserts that the most common reason is job loss, followed by drug abuse. My personal observations suggest that the repeat-beggers (the guys I run into pretty much every week down at the gas station) have physical, mental, or drug-related disabilities.

Look: homelessness, on many levels, pisses me off. It pisses me off because I can't sit down at the bus stop at night because somebody is sleeping there. It pisses me off because I can't fill up my car without being asked for money. Moreover, it pisses me off because I wouldn't want to be homeless, and yet so many people are - usually not by choice (although a few of the folks seem to either like it, or are too proud to accept public services, or are simply out of their gourds). At best, I have a love-hate relationship with the local homeless, and I understand why many Houstonians would support being "mean" (which I really think is the wrong word here). Nevertheless, the bleeding heart homeless advocates are absolutely correct - public sleeping bans just shuffle people around, unless you give them somewhere else to go. If homelessness pisses you off, then maybe you ought to lobby for job creation and expanded public services (particularly mental health care and drug treatment). The National Coalition of the Homeless, not being idle whiners, has listed a set of constructive alternatives to criminalization. I hope Mayor Bill will look at this issue more carefully in the future.

Meanwhile, Dallas ranked #6 (worse than Houston! I'm sure Byron will just love to hear that). San Antonio and Austin both ranked in the Top 20.

December 11, 2005

Houston wrap-up

By Jim Dallas

Sue Lovell edged out Jay Aiyer by a few hundred votes yesterday to replace Mark Ellis down at city hall. Greg is not pleased; personally, I can't complain because... I forgot to vote. And boy do I feel silly. While some may have their misgivings, here's wishing all the best to Ms. Lovell. And I hope Jay Aiyer will stay in politics, because he's a stand-up guy.

Meanwhile, Anne Clutterbuck and Jarvis Johnson won city council seats by landslides; Ana Hernandez will be rep'in' District 143 for the remainder of Joe Moreno's term (and probably longer). For more details, see Kuff.

Update: A wise and sagacious commenter notes that At-Large 2 is Gordon Quan's old seat, not Mark Ellis's. Your out-going council is listed here.

December 02, 2005

Houstonist.com - Shameless Plug

By Matt Hardigree

Ask anyone, ask former Texan editor Ben Heath, I'm a huge whore. That being said, I'm also giving it for free at Houston's very own -ist site: Houstonist.com. If you live in Houston, it's the best new way to find out what's going on (becuase, be honest, you can't navigate the new chron.com site either).

If you live in Austin you should check out Austinist as well.

SEIU Unionizes 5,000 in Houston

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

I've been slow to catch up on this one due to classes, but thanks to Kuff and MyDD for picking it up.

Janitors who clean Houston's big buildings at near-minimum wage rates have won the right to begin negotiations with their employers for higher pay and benefits.

The Service Employees International Union announced Wednesday that a majority of the 4,700 janitors who work for four of the city's largest cleaning companies have joined its ranks.

For Houston's labor movement, SEIU's Justice for Janitors campaign is its most successful organizing drive in 25 years, signaling potentially higher wages and benefits for janitors and higher costs for building tenants.

"Wages are clearly the No. 1 issue," said Dan Schlademan, vice president of SEIU Local 1 in Chicago, who was in Houston for the announcement.

...

The janitors earn an average hourly wage of $5.30 and receive no health care benefits, according to the union. The minimum wage is $5.15.

"Today, I am very pleased to say we did it, Houston janitors," Flora Aguilar told the dozens of janitors who crowded into a conference room at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston for the festive announcement that was accompanied by a mariachi band and janitors banging on plastic buckets.

SEIU officials said that with the support from the majority of janitors at the four companies — ABM Janitorial Services, Sanitors Services of Texas, OneSource Facility Services and GCA Services Group — it will represent 62 percent of those who clean the city's big buildings.

You might want to check out the SEIU of Texas website as well. Even in Texas, certainly not a Union friendly state, the movement is making progress. I think it may be more of a sign of the new labor movement though (of which SEUI is a part of) than Labor at large, but that will play out over time. I've greatly appreciated the SEIU, one for the work it does and employees in the union. Plus they endorsed Howard Dean and stuck with him even after Iowa.

November 04, 2005

Dude!

By Jim Dallas

I suppose it's a good thing I quot my job a couple weeks ago; I used to work two blocks away from the Harris County Jail. The whole Charles Victor Thompson escape thing is just so bizarre.

October 23, 2005

HD 143 Update

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

The Houston Chronicle has a great piece that looks at the candidates in the Special Election to fill HD 143. Many of the candidates, money, and consultants have ties that go back to political feuds of the past, but it's well worth a read.

October 20, 2005

I need a gibberish to English translater, stat!

By Jim Dallas

How can I express, in a short, simple way, that:

(1) As a Democrat, I'd prefer to have a strong general election contest in SD7?

(2) That, despite this hope, the election in SD7 will probably end when the winner of the Republican primary run-off is declared?

(3) That, despite the fact that Mark Ellis is carefully avoiding trial lawyers (like the plague), I sincerely hope that SD7 elects Anybody But Nixon?

(4) That, most probably, the ABN candidate will be Mark Ellis?

(5) And, that despite the fact that I'm a little irked by Ellis's attempts to make immigration an issue, I nonetheless have come to believe that Ellis's stances are somewhat more sincere and less an attempt to pander to xenophobes than I did previously?

(6) This is the closest thing I'll get to endorsing any of the Republicans in the SD7 primary?

(7) That this post is in no small part fueled by the fact that, having a chance to meet Ellis this last week, I think he's a nice guy?

October 14, 2005

HD-143 Special Election

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

DC9 gives us some interesting graphics on the Nov 8th special election to replace the late Joe Moreno in the Texas House. It's a Democratic district, but the big challenge seems to be if Moreno family endorsed candidate Ana Hernandez can avoice a run-off in the field of six. The closest challengers would be Al Flores (R- according to the HCDP) and Laura Salinas.

There's not much noise being made about the race as far as I've seen, unless of course you are reading Salinas's consultant Marc Campos's Daily Yammering. But DC9 gives us those fundraising numbers which show that Hernandez leads in fundraising and cash on hand, something that Salinas has none of which isn't the best place to be in this type of election.

Anyone hearing anything from out in the district?

October 11, 2005

Has the Man got you down?

By Jim Dallas

So... the University of Houston and the City of Houston fail to provide enough parking spots for people, and then send out friendly notices like this (not to me, but to the students generally):

We have just received word from UHPD that the City of Houston will be ticketing and towing cars that are parked on Calhoun on the theory that they are parked illegally on a city street. Several additional facts: (1) You should probably move your car immediately if you are parked there; getting towed is very expensive and no fun; (2) UHPD wants to make clear that it did not instigate this action and does not have control over parking on this public street; (3) the Law Center has zero control over this matter. Please spread the word.

Although this isn't exactly FEMA-esque, "you're doing a heck of a good job Brownie" insanity, it still is pretty upsetting.

September 25, 2005

Houston Chron Goes No on Amendment 2

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Color me suprised. The Houston Chronicle in an op-ed piece today endorses a NO vote on Proposition 2 (the discriminatory texas marriange amendment).

This November, Texans will vote on Proposition 2, a proposed constitutional amendment that would silence further reflection on these important issues. The referendum language defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Texas law already outlaws same-sex marriage. Should voters approve this amendment, it would change nothing in the law. It lacks any purpose other than to enshrine bigotry in the Texas Constitution.

But the amendment also bans the state, or any political subdivision, from creating or recognizing any legal status "identical or similar to marriage." Impeding protections for relationships that are even "identical or similar to marriage" is a crude assault on an existing truth. Throughout the state, same-sex couples are thriving, raising children, volunteering in the community and supporting each other financially. Withholding protections for these family units cruelly jeopardizes their ability to take care of themselves and their children.

Houstonians, now famous for their compassion and practicality, will have special clout on this referendum: The city is the only major population center holding municipal elections this November. Already voters under 30 have told pollsters that they don't agree with changing Texas' Constitution in order to discriminate.

Prodded by conscience, these voters could turn the tide. In the same spirit, all Texans who support true family values should vote "No" on Proposition 2 on the November ballot.

Now, I know that Houston has some city council races going on and I'll leave that to Greg and Charles to say how that will affect the Yes or No votes, but I can say that it will be one of the highest turnout urban counties simply because Municipal elections draw out more voters than drawn by constitutional ones. Austin has some environmental bonds on the ballot on November 8th which should help our turnout as well. Anyone else have some various proposals up for a vote that will alter turnout?

August 11, 2005

Houston Latinos

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Though High Powered Consultant Marc Campos seems to have gone quiet on his "run aware from everywhere" approach to winning back Texas, he does highlight an important point about two targets for the TDP. Latinos and Houston. Actually, Latinos in Houston.

You've heard it from Commentary before. There are more Latinos in Harris County (Houston) than there are in the Rio Grande Valley. There are more Latinos in Harris County than there are in Bexar County (San Antonio). Houston has 17 (at last count) radio stations that target the Latino community. We have two Spanish language daily newspapers and over a dozen Spanish language weekly newspapers. We have four local Spanish language TV stations - two of them are full service with local news staffs. Over half of the student population at the Houston Independent School District (the state's largest) is Latino.

Heck, I don't even think that the State Dem Chair has visited the Houston Latino community. Commentary has said it before, in order for Dems to start making a statewide comeback, Harris County has to be a priority. Why? Cause we're the largest county in the state, with the largest Latino population. Now that's a whole lot of Dem vote potential. Makes sense to Commentary. Unfortunately, the Houston area Latino community won't get any attention from folks like the DNC unless folks know we exist - so far, folks don't know we exist

.

Harris County has always lagged behind the other urban counties of Texas in overall turnout which is a shame as it could be a base of 100,000s of new Democratic votes that would be easier to find than say the Panhandle. Not that we shouldn't be turning them out in the Panhandle as well, but if we could put Harris County into the D column as Dallas is about to, our efforts statewide would be greatly aided.

Bell Bus

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

The Chris Bell Campaign launch is almost upon is. Sunday on the UT campus you can join over 400 other people coming from around the state. If you are coming from Houston on the Bus, here is some additional info that you might wish to read up on and pass along. Damon and I will be at the event and hopefully liveblogging it.

I'm headed home to Fredericksburg after the event that day for a 2 Week "vacation" during which I will be working on various website designs for sites I maintain and will only have a dial-up modem which is also our regular phone line. Needless to say, I won't be writing much if at all or checking in to a great degree. I'll be depending on our other writers here to carry on, though I know some of them are also in and out with various trips. Any request to me by e-mail that time will probably be ignored so just save yourself the headache and realize that they will probably be ignored unless unearthly important.

The staging point for the bus trip will be the parking lot of the Memorial City Mall, off of I-10 at the Gessner Drive exit. The buses will be in the SE corner of the parking lot, near the intersection of Memorial City Way and Barryknoll Lane behind Dillard's. The lot owners have been gracious enough to give us use of the space for the day, but please respect their wishes by parking as far from the mall as possible.

Please plan to arrive at the mall at 9:30 AM on Sunday morning. The buses will roll out promptly at 10, and we'd hate for anyone to get left behind! We'll even throw in box lunches for the ride up. You should arrive back at your cars around 7 in the evening.

And one final note: If you're planning to ride up on the buses on Sunday, please be sure to let us know so we can get an accurate headcount. Many of you checked that box when you signed up, but if you forgot to do so or if you've since decided to join us on the bus, let me know directly at tmccann@chrisbell.com. We still have a few spots left, but if there's an overflow crowd then some folks will have to caravan up with us in carpools.

August 04, 2005

Houston Area Races

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Greg has the skinny on what's happening over in the Houston area as State Reps start moving up to fill the soon to be vacant SD 7 seat of Jon Lindsay's. Rep. Nixon and now Rep. Hamric want in on the GOP primary action which means those House seats become slightly more interesting. Head on over for a good read which I'm not going to repeat here.

Also check out Greg's wrap-up and reflections on what we can learn here in Texas from Paul Hackett. I agree. I will challenge any Democrat in Travis county that whines about how corrupt the GOP and Tom DeLay are and why can't we ever win anything as a party and keep losing Presidential elections to sit their butts down on a campaign here in the County, be it Andy Brown, John Courage, or Diane Henson (all three of whom attended last night's DFA-Austin MeetUp where I chatted with them about their campaigns). That's where it starts folks.

July 22, 2005

In Houston politics, money is always in Style

By Jim Dallas

I'm currently in the market for a decent used cars with low miles and no accidents. But enough about me - let's talk about this week's edition of Houston Style, a local free publication which I was flipping through earlier on this wet and wild Friday evening. In this week's edition, Reverend Jackson asks, "would you buy a used car from President Bush?" To which the answer must surely be "no." Although the comparison makes me feel a lot better about the used-car salesman I've talked to recently.

More interesting for y'all, though, is Burt Levine's roundup of campaign finance reports for Houston city candidates. Unfortunately, Style doesn't publish it's columns online, but it's good to know some one is keeping up with the money game besides city hall bureaucrats. Moreover, Levine's column reminded me that, in fact, we are having elections in November, despite the relative lack of coverage in the H-Chron recently.

So what's up with political money in Houston? Here's a roundup:

* Despite having no serious opposition, Mayor Bill White has spent over $700,000 since January. According to Levine, this should give White well over $2 million cash-on-hand, more than sufficient for a White-out if an opponent more serious than Jack "Josey" Terence appears. Terence's only campaign expenditures so far include a $37 tab (for stamps, one would assume) at the post office and an $8 bill purchasing campaign materials at a local Family Dollar outlet. Nonetheless, BOR will be certain to count all the votes before calling this election for the Mayor.

* Peter Brown pretty much crushes the rest of the field for At-Large One. A good chunk of Roy Morales's campaign kitty (which, shall we say, is roughly the size of my car budget) comes from a self-loan. I was under the impression that the Republicans were going to be putting up a fight (this seat being currently held by Mark Ellis, who wants to be a state senator). Perhaps Peter Brown can breath a little easier? Unfortunately, I missed Brown's fundraising party this week, but he'll be speaking at the Harris County Young Democrats meeting on Tuesday of next week.

* Jay Aiyer has a whole heck of a lot more money than Sue Lovell in At-Large 2. That Aiyer would have more money doesn't surprise me. We'll have to see if money translates into votes, though.

UPDATE: Just after I noted that, in my humble opinion, the Chronicle had been awfully quiet, I got an e-mail indicating that Kristen Mack's latest column is about... campaign finance in city council races! I don't always get around to reading every page, but I feel really goofy about this.

But not nearly as goofy as "diapers" (who knows, maybe it's part of a creative strategy).

June 22, 2005

It's a war out there!

By Jim Dallas

The Houston Chronicle reports this lovely statement from Congressman Tom DeLay:

"You know, if Houston, Texas, was held to the same standard as Iraq is held to, nobody'd go to Houston, because all this reporting coming out of the local press in Houston is violence, murders, robberies, deaths on the highways," DeLay said.

Well, OK, but I don't remember this, this, or this happening in Houston recently. And I live in the Third Ward.

June 18, 2005

Al Edwards Not Alone

By Karl-Thomas Musselman

Save Texas Reps confirms a primary challenger to Rep. Al Edwards, one of Texas Monthly's 10 Worst that was floated to me by a certain state rep I chatted with last weekend.

A Young Democrat, Marlen Whitley, 29, was a former UT Student Body President and is now an attorny in the district.

Though Mr. Whitley is young, he already has a great deal of experience working with state government. He has previously worked in state government addressing issues and legislation related to higher education, and worked for the legal redress division of the Texas N.A.A.C.P. on matters involving racial profiling and employment discrimination. Mr. Whitley has also served on boards engaged in community revitalization. In 1998, Whitley was an invited speaker at the State Democratic Convention where he delivered an address on education.

I don't know the area all that well, but my primary concern is to replace Al Edwards. It's good to see that those coming out to challenge him are high quality candidates that appear to have strong ties to their community.

June 06, 2005

Affirmative, Outlaw Dave, I hear you.

By Jim Dallas

The signal is still hard to pick up, but it's good to hear Outlaw Dave again on the radio on KIOL (103.7 FM). Apparently, it's not as difficult to pick up on the east side of downtown as it is on the south side.

May 23, 2005

A Shoutout from The Commanding Heights

By Jim Dallas

This summer I have started my first downtown (OK, not downtown, but right-next-to-downtown) job and so I tend to get almost misty about the amazing potential of Houston and, more abstractly, the "modern American city" etc. etc. Cue Petula Clark.

In The New Republic (registration required), Joel Kotkin says its time to ditch romanticism and bring back realism:

Cities are not doomed, far from it; this is one point on which Richard Florida and I agree. But two major things need to happen in order for cities to be saved. First, they must undertake a CAT scan of sorts, which would reveal, underneath the glossy exterior of arts centers and arenas and hip downtowns, the reality of lost jobs, dysfunctional schools, and crumbling infrastructure. Second, they need to acquire the political will to attack these issues head-on despite the inevitable roadblocks.

What is needed is for cities to craft their own New Deal. Given their shrinking political power, they will not be able to extract resources from Washington or most state capitals. They will have to get smart about how they are run and focus their resources on basic issues, like schools, infrastructure, boosting small business, and creating jobs--rather than promoting bread, circuses, and tattoo parlors.

This will mean making choices. New York needs to decide that fixing its subways represents a more important use of its bonding authority than a stadium for the Jets. Los Angeles needs to decide its biggest priority lies in preventing the region's port complex, its largest generator of private sector jobs, from becoming hopelessly congested and obsolescent. Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, and the other hard luck cases need to focus on trying to fix their schools, transportation systems, and economies. Phoenix needs to concern itself with generating jobs and opportunities for its soaring immigrant population. Let the glitzy restaurants and rock clubs take care of themselves.

Steps like these will require a new political consensus. Much of the current progressive agenda--with its anti-growth economic bias--does little to boost the competitive status of urban centers. Cities must return to a progressive focus on fixing their real problems--that is, the problems of the majority of the people who live there--not serving the interests of artists, hipsters, and their wealthy patrons. Right now school reform is often hostage to the power of teachers' unions. City budgets, which could be applied to improving economic infrastructure, are frequently bloated by, among other things, excessive public sector employment and overgenerous pensions. In the contest for the remaining public funds, the knitted interests of downtown property holders, arts foundations, sports promoters, and nightclub owners often overwhelm those of more conventional small businesses and family-oriented neighborhoods that could serve as havens for the middle class.

Personally, I think Kotkin needs to put less blame on unions, public employees, and hipsters, and more blame on the race-to-the-bottom dynamic in municipal politics. Cities are often very hesitant to raise taxes (or raise future taxes, by issuing bonds) out of fear that it will send jobs elsewhere. The exception to this rule is when the city thinks it has something special - e.g. professional sports or culture - that it simply cannot afford to lose.

The reason why many companies are moving to the suburbs and exurbs is because they have fund municipal politics there to be more flexible to their interests. Lurking beneath the surface of all of this, I am afraid, is the bigger issue of corporate power.

April 09, 2005

Extreme Makeover, War Profiteering Edition

By Jim Dallas

I am not in current possession of a television (really), so I don't watch many TV ads. But at the HCYD happy hour last night, a fellow student expressed frustration with Halliburton's campaign to rehabilitate its image.

I'm sure this will help a whole bunch (from the L.A. Times):

The State Department has ordered a major reevaluation of the troubled $18.4-billion Iraq reconstruction effort, blaming problems on early decisions to hire U.S. firms for major infrastructure projects.

In a report to Congress this week, the department says rebuilding officials will cancel several planned water and electricity plants and shift $832 million to focus on immediate job creation and training for Iraqis.

...

The report, along with an earlier draft obtained by the Los Angeles Times, offers the most sweeping analysis to date of the failures in the reconstruction process and presents the most detailed road map yet for the future of the program.

The adjustment, the third such funding change in nine months, is the latest sign of disarray in the effort to help quell the insurgency by improving living standards and providing jobs for Iraqis.

The report lists problems with the performance of some firms, including Houston-based Halliburton Co. The report reveals that the U.S. issued a warning to KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary, in January, threatening possible termination on its $1.2-billion oil industry reconstruction contract.

Again, as Kuff once asked, who'da thunk?

February 13, 2005

Rep. DeLay in the Bedroom with a Candlestick?

By Jim Dallas

It's time to tell Reps. DeLay and Culberson to get a Clue about Houston's light rail funding needs.

(Yes, I know, I am so very punny today, har har.)

January 27, 2005

Please consult your instruction manuals

By Jim Dallas

The Houston Press has an article on courtship. Courtship, as opposed to dating. Courtship, as in, her dad is the boss.

Not that I'm about to emulate Little House On The Prairie, as one of the interviewed courtship families does. But at the very least, some tacit parental approval just seems absolutely essential to any kind of serious relationship. And it just seems that the older I get, the more "anything goes" seems to be the new rule of romance. And I find that irksome.

I can certainly identify with these sentiments:

Some courtship followers, like 34-year-old Eric Blievernicht, lead moderator of courtshipconnection.net, choose to opt out of dating and into a courtship approach. "I had always struggled with the concept of dating -- there didn't seem to be any rules or guidelines," he says. "I'm an engineer. I like rules and systems."

On the other hand, I think there's a real problem here along the blurry line between social and serious relationships. Why should a young adult, as one girl had to, consult her father before seeing a movie? As such, I give a hearty "hear hear" to the voices of sweet moderation:

Jeramy Clark, a youth pastor in San Diego and author of the Harris-rebuttal I Gave Dating a Chance: A Biblical Perspective to Balance the Extremes, says that rejecting dating altogether is "chucking out the baby with the bath water." He believes in dating -- a modest, Christian approach to dating -- and says he's seen two types of potential dangers with courtship.

One is that parental control can turn into a chokehold, driving courtship-bound children in the opposite direction. He notes one example of a closely guarded girl who veered toward extreme rebellion: hooking up, shacking up and getting knocked up by a boyfriend. The other extreme, he says, finds some girls involved with courtship deciding not to talk to guys at all anymore.

I think there's two underlying values in this courtship thing. The first is one I can endorse: that relationships ought to be taken seriously. The second is one is essentially extreme patriarchy, to the point where I think just about everybody, even most squares, is a little queasy.

At any rate, if I find that I am enamored with a young lass who's committed to this courtship idea, I'll respect that. Provided of course that her old man doesn't run my Kerry-voting, peacenik, rap-listening, baby-killing-tolerant, gay-loving, non-fundamentalist, non-church-attending rear end out the door with his twelve gauge first (not to play on stereotypes, of course, but I will take at face value the claim in the article that most adherents are socially conservative Bible literalists).

In other news, Metro Transit is gonna let us pack while riding the bus:

A showdown about the right to carry concealed handguns on Metro trains and buses appears headed for a peaceful ending today.

Metro board members are expected to vote this afternoon to repeal the restriction, which has been in effect since 1995 after the Legislature voted to allow licensed owners to carry concealed handguns in most public places.

State Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who wrote the legislation as a state senator, has been a vocal critic of bans such as those adopted by Metro and many other government entities in Texas in response to the "right-to-carry" law.

He, the Texas State Rifle Association and four licensed Harris County gun owners sued Metro in 2003, seeking to overturn the ban. Now that Metro is dropping its policy, he said, he plans to challenge similar restrictions in other cities, probably starting with Austin's Capital Metro.

"They implemented these when there was collective hysteria from detractors, who said there would be blood in the streets and shootouts at every four-way stop," Patterson said. "None of that proved true."

Dallas DART already allows concealed weapons.

I'm sure that we can all agree that this is a great victory for freedom in America; lest any tyrants have a break-down or car accident and need to take the bus, patriots will stand ready to secure the liberties of their fellow mass-transit passengers.

January 25, 2005

No on Gonzales

By Jim Dallas

First off the bat, I have to say that I find it unfortunate that I am going to have to stick it to a former Houston adjunct and a highly-respected Houston young lawyer. I know that there are a lot of professors on campus that know and think highly of Alberto Gonzales. And I don't doubt for a second that they're sincere.

That said, really, in a country which is the center of the civilized world and the nominal leader of the free world, it is simply unacceptable for the Attorney General - the top cop - to condone (or, at best) try to have it both ways on torture.

Nothing would please me more than to be lectured by (if only because disagreeing with professors is just as important as agreeing) Alberto Gonzales. Nothing scares me more than him being confirmed as Attorney General.

So it's with a somewhat conflicted gut that I must join the bloggers that are opposing the nomination of Alberto Gonzales.

November 13, 2004

Oh, my droogs and brothers...

By Jim Dallas

It's been 24 hours since we last had a real rock station in Houston and life is getting pretty f*ing miserable.

I have a plan: it involves three squirt guns, a jar of hot sauce, and possibly 10 to 20 years in a state correctional facility.

Oh, wait, they already made a movie out of it.

(But don't tell me that taking over KLOL KLTO with taco sauce as our weapon wouldn't be ironic, and, yes, cathartic).

November 12, 2004

Another sign of the apocalypse

By Jim Dallas

I hadn't realized this before reading Kuff this evening; I've been sick today, and haven't gone through my daily routine of listening to the radio.

Darn you Clear Channel, Darn you to heck!

(Even if Kuff is right about the morning show -- ick -- Dean and Rog on 93.7 are genuinely funny. Can't say that about Walton and Johnson.)

November 10, 2004

Houston Chronicle to Heflin: "Graciously concede"

By Byron LaMasters

From their editorial today:


Vo embodies Houston's open and constantly changing society. A native of Vietnam, Vo gained his education in Houston and made the most of his business opportunities. Vo's grass-roots campaign imparts the lesson that in evolving suburban districts, Republicans cannot take victory for granted.

Heflin's supporters say he has not decided whether to ask for a recount. A recount holds little promise. The electronic voting machines and hand canvassing of absentee and provisional ballots are under the purview of Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, a Republican whose office is a stranger to scandal.

Heflin could also protest the election in the Republican-dominated Texas House. The House could either seat Vo or order a new election.

Heflin has another alternative; he could graciously concede. Last week Sen. John Kerry provided an excellent example of how it is done.


Update: Another interesting read on the race from the Houston Chronicle: Heflin: an inept thief:


If I'm Talmadge Heflin, I'm wondering what this country is coming to.

ADVERTISEMENT

If you can't buy an election with the lobby's money, you ought to be able to steal it with the help of courthouse friends.

That's one of the problems with being a Republican.

They haven't learned how to steal elections — at least not west of Florida.

[...]

Heflin has predictably turned to a lawyer for help.

And not just any lawyer. Andy Taylor represents the Texas Association of Businesses, which touched off a controversy that has resulted in indictments when it boasted of electing the current Republican majority in the Legislature.

Taylor also was hired by the Texas attorney general to represent the state of Texas defending its redistricting schemes. His firm charged $735,398 for the work, billing Taylor's time at $400 an hour.

Now Taylor is talking about asking the state House of Representatives to overturn Vo's victory and seat Heflin.

I don't think it will happen because in the wake of the bitterness of mid-decade redistricting, Republican leaders won't poison the air by engaging in another naked power grab.

Unless Tom DeLay tells them to.

One of the great legal dramas of our age

By Jim Dallas

I appealed a University of Houston parking ticket today. I was pretty worried that I didn't have enough points to make, and not enough evidence (one of my key points rested on a misunderstanding between myself and an RA, and so I was hoping to get a letter from him explaining our discussion to the Student Traffic Court). Sure I had photographs and had researched several Texas statutes*, but this was surely no way to run an appeal.

I showed up and started going down the points on my legal pad, sweating.

About two minutes into it, they just sort of looked at me funny and asked me to tell them why I should "get out of" the ticket.

So I did a quickie rendition of my arguments, and I was dismissed. A few minutes later they called me back in to tell me they had found me "guilty", but that I would get out of the fee.

I swear they were reading from a script. Is this what they tell everybody who makes a case?

Well, probably, but I learned an important lesson: University parking tickets really have nothing to do with abstract principles of justice.

* For those interested, I cited Subchapter E of the Chapter 51 of the Texas Education Code, as well as Chapter 12 of the Penal Code and Chapter 14 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. All of which are relevant to school parking tickets. Maybe you should consider looking them up the next time you get ticketed...?

September 29, 2004

Thou shalt not raaaaaaaawk

By Jim Dallas

John Nova Lomax goes on a rant directed at Radio One (new owners of 92.1, formerly the classical radio station) in this week's Houston Press (not posted yet, see below). Unfortunately, it's one of those rants that everyone knows is true, and there's nothing you can do about it:

There's a killer station waiting to happen in this town, one that would make lots of money and spawn lots of copycats nationwide. Take the smarter edge of modern rock...[a]dd in the smarter edge of modern commercial hip-hop...[a]nd play the music that influenced those bands...

But no, you wouldn't ever do that, because that would be something smart, new and different, and I've just about given up hoping that you'll ever try anything like that here. You might try that in some city that your marketing wonks will tell you is "hip," some place like Austin, Portland, or San Francisco, but as for Houston? Naah. You'll just continue to give us the same stupid old tired-ass crap, because after all, we're just Houston, and Houston is not allowed to have cool radio stations. It seemed like it must be on some stone tablet somewhere in the bowels of City Hall near the "no zoning" commandment, the one that dictates the Astros will always break our hearts, and that other one that says all of our local TV commercials have to be made by half-bright orangutans.

The Astros may break their heart-breaking streak soon, though, so there is always hope. Until then, I guess it'll be classic rock and 97.9 KBXX in rapid rotation (unfortunately, I'm having the darndest trouble receiving the 80s station, 106.9, on campus).

September 10, 2004

Air America coming to Houston?

By Jim Dallas

Discussed as rumor here.

A little googling suggests that people have been bandying this topic about for a while, so I'll believe it when I see it.

Still, Air America has added almost two dozen stations in the last year...

On-Campus Diary, Sept. 10: Houston IS worth it.

By Jim Dallas

At least if you're on two wheels, going from UH Central Campus to Bellaire via MacGregor, Main, and Braeswood is a really awesome little trip. Nice corners and grades.

I guess I know how Capt. Kong felt riding The Bomb down in Dr. Strangelove. Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-(haw).

Lots of green. Frankly, as an outsider, I tended to think of Houston not being particularly verdant. Taking a cut through Hermann Park changed that real quick.

(Got a little bumpy though around the point where N. Braeswood turns into Beechnut; my scooter's speedometer stopped working, presumably because the odometer cable got jolted. Figuring out what went wrong and how to fix it is my weekend project).

Now, on another front, I've located an HEB, a Luby's, a Taco Bell, and a Blockbuster. So far, the Third Ward isn't looking nearly desolate. But I have not yet figured out where the nearest Taco Cabana is, and this upsets me greatly.

I don't want my opinion of Houston's historic Third Ward spoiled by the lack of accessibility to a Taco C!

June 26, 2004

Edumakayshun

By Jim Dallas

The New York Times does a good wrap-up on the ongoing shit-storm (oops, would poo-lution be more family friendly?) -- at any rate, on the dark and dirty truth about HISD's "miracle" under the misleadership of now-EdSec Rod Paige.

Groan. Everytime we got something good going on -- Enron, the HISD miracle, the Houston Rockets' legendary "Dream Team" -- it ends up falling apart or being a sham.

April 08, 2004

Bill White Wants to Shut Down Afterhours Night Clubs

By Byron LaMasters

I've liked Houston Mayor Bill White so far. But this is just stupid:

Mayor Bill White vowed Wednesday to shut down so-called after-hours nightclubs like the one where firefighter Kevin Kulow died while battling an arson blaze.

Kulow, 32, died about 6 a.m. Sunday while fighting a fast-moving fire at the El Festival Ballroom in the 7600 block of Kempwood in northwest Houston.

"If that place wasn't open (after 2 a.m.), I don't think I would be going to a funeral this afternoon," White said Wednesday morning before attending a memorial service.

He said he is seeking Gov. Rick Perry's help in getting a law approved, in a special legislative session this spring, to empower the city to close the clubs.

"These places stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m. but stay open till 6 a.m.," White said. "We weren't born yesterday. Law enforcement officers tell me people who are in there aren't playing bingo."

White said such establishments promote crime and harm neighborhoods. He said he believes they often serve alcohol illegally after 2 a.m.

"If people want to party, go home," he said.

James Alonso Guevara, 20, of the 4800 block of Yale, was charged with capital murder Wednesday. He is accused of setting the fire at El Festival and causing Kulow's death.

But people familiar with Houston's after-hours bar scene said White is overreacting.

"It's not fair to take (Kulow's death) out on all after-hours clubs," said Mike Snow, a Houston disc jockey who performs at local clubs. "A better solution is to make sure all clubs pass fire code.

"It's much better for clubs to stay open an hour or two more (after 2 a.m.) to allow people to get sober," he added. "It's probably a lot safer getting on the road because of after-hours clubs."


It's sad to see a firefighter killed, but it's irresponsible to lash out against responsible bars and clubs for one single unfortunate incident. The Texas law as it stands now actually makes a lot of sense (yes, we do have some sensible laws in this state). Bars and clubs are required to stop serving alcohol at 2 AM, but they are allowed to stay open and serve non-alcoholic beverages afterwards (usually until 4 AM). That makes sense. It's absolutely stupid to close the clubs right when you stop serving alcohol, especially in a city / state that has little public transportation and is spread out (meaning most people drive to go to bars and clubs). One dead firefighter is a tragedy, but and even bigger tragedy would be throwing out a bunch of drunks on the street at 2 AM. Give everyone a few hours to sober up, drink some waters and Red Bulls, and we'll all be a lot safer. The solution to late night crime in bar / club districts is a simple three-fold solution. First, require that the nightclubs that stay open after 2 AM help self-police themselves (this was the compromise that the city of Dallas made with club owners). Second, have the TABC enforce ending liquor service service at 2 AM, and punish the clubs that don't. And third, ensure that nightclubs meet the highest fire code standards, and if they don't, close them until they do.

March 23, 2004

A Reason Not to Live in Houston

By Byron LaMasters

The water there, stinks!

Blasted for its "deplorable" treatment of local residents and feeble attempts to curb air and water pollution, the Port of Houston scored an F in a review released Monday by a nationwide environmental advocacy group. It was the lowest grade given to any of the nation's 10 largest ports.

"There is a severe lack of effort on their part to control their pollution. They had to have a gun to their head to do something about air pollution at their terminals," said Diane Bailey, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which authored the report.

Of the 10 ports surveyed, the Port of Houston -- specifically the 11 publicly owned container terminals operated by the Port of Houston Authority -- ranked worst, with an F. That grade corresponds to a "reckless lack of concern for public health and the environment," according to the NRDC.


Of course, the Houston Port Authority called the study flawed. Flawed or not, I hope that Houston will see this as a wake up call to address some of the problems it has regarding pollution in their port. Or then again, the could just call on Joe Barton to clean up the mess.

March 03, 2004

The Houston Chronicle Sells Out

By Byron LaMasters

What a shame. This is crap:

In the March 9 Democratic primary for which early voting is now under way, the Chronicle recommends voters renominate two veteran incumbent lawmakers for the state House: Ron Wilson in District 131 in south and southwest Harris County and Scott Hochberg in District 137 in southwest Houston.

Wilson, first elected to the Legislature in 1976, knows the ins and outs of legislative mechanics better than most representatives in Austin, and he is a powerful voice for the interests of Houstonians. While he angered some Democrats by siding with Republicans last year on redistricting, Wilson defends his stance on the issue as strategic. The Legislature is now controlled by a Republican majority and working within that system makes him a more effective representative for his district, Wilson says, and the redrawn district lines provide an opportunity for sending another local black candidate to Congress.

Wilson, if he wins the primary, would be unopposed in the November general election.


Ron Wilson voted to end the careers of seven Democratic Congressmen. He needs to go. Donate to Alma Allen today.

January 02, 2004

It's Official: Mayor White

By Byron LaMasters

Earlier today, Bill White was inaugurated as mayor of Houston:

In a setting that emphasized Houston's diversity, Bill White took over as mayor today and urged residents and officials to unite in making the city a better place.

"We're all in this together, and that's the way we ought to approach solving the problems of the city of Houston," White said, referring repeatedly to one of his campaign's major themes.

The mayor-elect, Controller-elect Annise Parker and most City Council members had ridden to the inaugural ceremony at Miller Outdoor Theatre on Metro's new light rail line after attending a 7 a.m. prayer breakfast downtown.


Read the Houston Chronicle article for more on the day's festivities and White's plans for Houston.

December 07, 2003

A Mandate for Bill White

By Byron LaMasters

This post is mostly to just annoy Owen, but you can't really look at this any other way. Bill White won with 63% of the vote. He has a mandate to lead Houston. Also, Annise Parker won with 62% of the vote for Controller. While our own lesbian Sheriff (Margo Fraiser) may be retiring (and it's a bragging right. I always love to tell people that our sheriff in Travis County is a lesbian), it's good to see a lesbian get elected to the #2 position in Houston. Who would have thought 10 or 20 years ago that a gay person could win 62% of the vote in a city race in the largest city in Texas? It says a lot. Good news also in the At-Large 4 race where Ronald Green beat incumbent Republican Bert Keller with 53% of the vote. The only bad news is that Democrat Peter Brown lost to Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (52%) in the At-Large 3 race. Regardless, Democrats took 3 of the 4 big races, so I'll take that as a victory.

December 06, 2003

White, Parker Win in Landslides

By Byron LaMasters

I know that all we have is early vote totals, but these two races are over. We all know that Republicans are more likely to vote absentee, and minorities are more likely to vote on election day. With that in mind, there's no reason to think that White's 61-39% lead and Parker's 59-41% lead will result in anything short of a landslide.

Update: The Houston Chronicle has called it. Meet Mayor White.

December 05, 2003

White, Parker Poised to win Landslide Victories in Houston

By Byron LaMasters

White leads Sanchez 53-35% for mayor, Parker leads Tatro 46-26% for Controller. Can White top 60%? We'll know tomorrow night...

The Houston Chronicle reports:


Houston businessman Bill White holds a commanding lead over former City Councilman Orlando Sanchez as they head into Saturday's mayoral runoff, according to a Houston Chronicle/KHOU-TV poll.

City Councilwoman Annise Parker has a big lead over Councilman Bruce Tatro for city controller.

[...]

White has substantial support among all ethnic and partisan groups, including most of the African-American voters who supported state Rep. Sylvester Turner before he was eliminated in the first round of voting Nov. 4.

Sanchez's coalition of white Republicans and Hispanics has not held as strong as it did in 2001, when he lost a narrow runoff to Mayor Lee Brown, prohibited by city term limits from seeking re-election this year.

White narrowly led Sanchez in the Nov. 4 voting, 38 percent to 33 percent. Going into the runoff, White has a 53 percent to 35 percent lead, the poll shows, with 12 percent undecided.

For White to lose would take some sudden revelation about his background damaging enough to turn away his supporters, said University of Houston pollster and political scientist Richard Murray.

The Sanchez campaign had no such revelations Thursday, and negative bullets he fired previously mostly have turned out to be blanks.

"It looks like Bill White won this race in August and September, when he was moving steadily ahead and removed the presumption that Sanchez was the front-runner," Murray said. "Once it seemed inevitable that White would be in the runoff, the race was virtually over."

The story of the 2003 campaign is White's ability to bring together various factions of the city, said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, who conducted the poll with Murray.

He splits the white vote with Sanchez, the poll shows, and gets 75 percent of the black vote compared with 6 percent for Sanchez.

Sanchez has support from 55 percent of Hispanic poll respondents and 71 percent of Republicans.

But in 2001, Sanchez drew 72 percent of the Hispanic vote and more than 90 percent of the Republican vote when he lost to Lee Brown with 48 percent of the total vote.

"What this means is that if he wins, as he should, Bill White will have support from all groups, which should minimize attacks at the council table," Stein said. "This should help him govern."

Murray said that White's support among African-Americans swings the race strongly to his favor. Of those who voted for Turner Nov. 4, 76 percent now say they support White, compared with 4 percent for Sanchez.

Turner, a black Democrat, has not endorsed a candidate in the runoff. But almost all other black elected officials in Houston support White, including Mayor Brown, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee.

Sanchez started campaigning in black communities during the runoff campaign, after mostly bypassing those neighborhoods in 2001 and in the first-round campaign this year.

"The African-American bloc is what is going to make the biggest difference in this runoff," Murray said.

In the controller race, Parker, who is term-limited in her at-large council seat, has a 46 percent to 26 percent lead over Tatro, a term-limited district council member from northwest Houston.

The winner will replace Judy Gray Johnson, appointed by the City Council to fill the unexpired term of Sylvia Garcia when Garcia was elected a Harris County commissioner. Gray did not seek election to the office, which oversees city finances.

Parker leads among all ethnic groups, Democrats and independents. She picked up most of those who supported four other candidates she and Tatro eliminated Nov. 4.

Tatro holds a 2-1 lead among Republicans.


Certainly good news, here. No surprise, though. It's been conventional wisdom for the last several months that White and Parker have built the types of White Democratic and Independent, Black and Hispanic coalitions to win city elections in Houston. It's interesting to see that Sanchez only has a bare majority of the Hispanic vote and only 71% of Republicans. This race has been over for awhile now.

I'll also be looking to see if Peter Brown and Ronald Green can pull out their At-Large races. If so, Democrats could pull off a clean sweep in the run-offs tomorrow.

November 05, 2003

Is Bill White unstoppable?

By Jim Dallas

The Houston Chronicle breaks down the exit poll data and shows a very broad base of support for White, and a very narrow one for Sanchez, concluding with the observation that only a scandal could bring White down in a runoff.

The way I see it, Sanchez is going to have a heck of his time broadening his appeal to even make the runoff competitive. He can try to get those Republicans who abandoned (and perhaps a third of Republicans backed White) him back; or he can try to solidify his support among Latinos (again, perhaps a third of Hispanics backed White instead of Sanchez).

The trouble is, that reaching out to one group may hurt his appeal in the other. The article makes the claim that Sanchez lost Latino votes he received in 2001 because, essentially, he's "too Republican." But if he presses to build a Latino (or Latino-Black coalition he may find himself making promises that could draw the ire of his conservative supporters.

The article also notes that many Republicans backed Bill White because they perceived him to be the more effective managerialist, and the more competent city leader. In short, White's positives are very high, and that drove crossover voting. It will also, I think, fuel heavy African-American turnout in favor of Bill White during the runoff.

Hence, the only way I see for Sanchez to build himself up is to keep trying (despite earlier failures) to tear Bill White down. Particularly, to persuade those crossover voters that they are wrong about White's competency.

So I'd be highly surprised if we didn't see some attempts by the Sanchez campaign to try to find something -- anything -- and turn it into a scandal over the course of the next month, because thats really their only chance (if they have one to begin with).

White, Sanchez and Rail!

By Byron LaMasters

Good news from Houston.

Houston, not to be outclassed by Dallas will have light rail. It's about time...

And, Bill White leads Orlando Sanchez going into a runoff.

In the Controller race, Annise Parker leads going into a runoff (also good news).

November 04, 2003

Finally... Houston's coming in

By Byron LaMasters

And it's good news at that. White is leading by 5% over Sanchez and 9% over Turner with 8% of election day (plus early voting) returns in.

Electronic Voting Machines Crash, Burn in Houston election

By Jim Dallas

Although isolated (it appears) to one voting location, the Houston Chronicle reports that...

...[s]ome Houston voters had trouble casting their votes in the city's mayoral race and light rail referendum this morning.

Those who showed up early at the Holiday Inn at 7787 Katy Freeway to vote found that the eSlate machines that were supposed to make voting so much easier and more accurate were on the fritz. While technicians made repairs, election judges passed out sheets of paper torn in half, along with sample ballots, and telling voters to write in their votes.

David Puckett said he sat down on the floor and spent 25 minutes scribbling down his choices while other voters just took the time to write in their votes on the top races before dropping their homemade ballots into a pasteboard box. He said an election judge told him to write on the back of the paper if he ran out of room and then told him he might need to vote again this afternoon if the eSlate machines come back up. Then, Puckett said, the judges decided a second vote wasn't such a good idea.

"They're making up rules as they go," he said. " It's unbelievable."

Puckett's worried his vote won't count.

"I will come back if I need to. I want my vote to count," he said. "It's my privilege. It's my duty. I want my people to win.

The machines are manufactured by Hart InterCivic and are similar to the ones used in Travis County.

UPDATE: It's now two precincts, and both are being blamed on operator errors --

The problem at the Katy location was quickly resolved, but he said there was a report of another polling site with equipment problems. Those problems too turned out to be cases of operator error.

A volunteer working for the Urban League said voters were unable to cast ballots when the polls first opened at the Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church on Houston's northeast side, at Calgary and Bainbridge.

Voter advocate Frankie Young said some people who'd hoped to vote before work had to walk away without voting because there were no paper ballots available as a backup.

"It's sad," she said. "It can get pretty discouraging for people if they came out and the machines aren't working. They could have at least had a replacement ballot."

September 29, 2003

Overview of Houston City Races

By Byron LaMasters

Greg's Opinion has a great overview of the city races over on his blog. Greg, along with Charles Kuffner do a great job of covering city politics. Check out Charles' Local Politics section. Like both of them, I support Bill White for mayor of Houston. I don't have a good reason, really. I don't follow Houston city politics enough, but he's clearly the best choice considering that Orlando Sanchez is a Republican and Sylvester Turner sold out to the Craddick leadership team most of last session. Bill White seems like a decent guy with good stands on most issues and with a solid track record. That's hardly an analysis, rather just my view as an outsider with cursory interest in the race.

September 16, 2003

Joe Nixon For Sale!

By Byron LaMasters

Live in Texas State House District 133? Live in or near Houston? You can help defeat the biggest Insurance Lobby Lapdog in the Texas legislature, Joe Nixon, via Gregs Opinion.

Posted at 06:53 PM to Texas Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 02, 2003

Prescient or Just Plain Nuts? An indulgent Burnt Orange "Aha!"

By Jim Dallas

A few weeks ago, I posted about the danger of making false comparisons between murder rates in Houston and casualty rates in Iraq:

... the folks who got us into this misbegotten Iraqi war will make bold pronouncements like "our boys are safer in Baghdad than they are in America!" And use that line as both an apology for hawk blunders as well as a siren call for even-tougher measures in the War on Crime at home.

This week, the fine folks over at Buzzflash caught Fox News "journalist" Brit Hume employing this very tactic, earning him the number 3 spot on this week's "Top Ten Conservative Idiots" list on Democratic Underground:

Fox News anchor Brit Hume was spotted recently telling his viewers in an oh-so-fair-and-balanced way that American soldiers are less likely to be murdered in Iraq than regular Americans living in California. See? Our troops are perfectly safe! So how does Mr. Hume come to this conclusion? Why, like any fair-and-balanced journalist should - in a thoroughly scientific, common sense manner. Here's Brit's theory: since Iraq is "roughly the same geographical size" as California, and 6.6 Americans are murdered every day in California compared to 1.7 Americans in Iraq, isn't it obvious that Americans are safer in Iraq? Well sure, if you use the completely bogus "land area" argument that conservatives like to trot out at disturbingly regular intervals (see the right-wing map that claims Bush won the 2000 election by a landslide). However, since there are 38 million Americans in California and only 170,000 in Iraq, it turns out that Americans are actually 66 times more likely to die in Iraq. It's no surprise that Fox News (new motto: Wholly Without Merit) wants to downplay the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq - after all, they and their viewers positioned themselves as the only real pro-Americans in the the United States. Now it's not looking quite so pro-American to unquestioningly support George Whistle-Ass Bush, they're getting a little desperate. But Brit Hume is supposed to be a journalist for crying out loud. Fair and balanced? He should despise himself for misleading the public in such a fashion. It's hard to imagine even Rush Limbaugh sinking this low.

Unfortunately, the millions of dittoheads who don't understand high-falutin concepts like, you know, fractions, might not pick up on the nuances.

Now, what I want to know is, where are the Fox News talent scouts? I could use a cushy job in statistical manipulation and shady journalism after I graduate in December.

July 30, 2003

Crazy cool teacher tech.

By Jim Dallas

You know how your teachers in high school would drone on ominously about your "permanent record?" Did you ever wonder if there actually was such a thing?

Turns out they weren't kidding - but that isn't a bad thing.


Slashdot.org user rhadamanthus links to a Houston Chronicle article on the emergence of a new database which lets teachers tap into student records. To help them keep track of student progress and prevent dropouts.

While many paranoid cyberlibertarians (get down! black helicopter!) won't like this, I think it's about time that teachers were able to put all that information the public school bureaucracy collects to good use. You can't help kids unless you can know who they are and what they are about.

And the increase in access will help to end corrupt practices which hurt kids, such as the blatantly fraudulent misreporting of dropout rates that has burned HISD recently:

Starting with an investigation of possible dropout reporting fraud at Sharpstown High School and culminating with a state audit that may lower the district's accountability rating, HISD has come to know how badly it handles some student data.

"The dropout issue is a key battleground for our future," Stockwell said. "We must keep these students in school and learning. Failure is not an option."

The Sharpstown investigation showed that employees can and have changed student records to reflect lower dropout rates. The state investigation and one by a district task force exposed computer records managed so badly that the district has no way of knowing where students have gone.

(Incidentally, David Brin, who delivered the 2000 keynote speech to the Libertarian national convention, wrote a whole book about this debate).

And even if the idea has visions of 1984 dancing in your head, remember this. Private sector employers do this on a routine basis.

Unfortunately, putting together student records in a useful way is not at all routine in education. The system (called the Profiler for Academic Success of Students, or PASS), is the first of its kind in the entire country (HISD press release).

HISD should be commended for this innovative approach to monitoring students' needs.

July 26, 2003

And now Bill White does his Al Gore impression...

By Jim Dallas

More ads in the Houston mayoral race... more gripes from the Burnt Orange ad critic.

Businessman Bill White, who is also running for mayor of Houston, has recently started running television ads locally. They get the message across... but also seem to be a little wooden and dull.

During the spot, White (dressed in standard black business attire) stands in front of a white background and hits a few talking points without an excessive amount of emotion or movement.

The ad seems intended to introduce us low-information voters to White. Sort of like how those Matrix:Reloaded/Powerade cross-promotion ads were supposed to introduce us to green Powerade.

Publius writes:

Mainly, I just wish Mr. White could cut a television ad where he doesn't have that pained expression on his face. I mean, my gawd, do we really want a mayor who grimaces every time he deigns to talk to us voters about how brilliant he is?

My thought exactly; 'cept he'll be your mayor, not mine (but I'll spare you the standard lecture on the shenanigans at Galveston City Hall).

IN ANY CASE, I happen to like White, and his ads are at least intended for grownups (paging Michael Berry!).

July 22, 2003

Michael Berry's delusions of grandeur

By Jim Dallas

Recently I blogged on Houston mayoral candidate Michael Berry's new ad campaign which is trying to paint Berry as the populist ubermensch, fighting the "waste" in the Houston city budget.

Incidentally, Berry's attacking the same "cow that eats gold and gives no milk" budget that he voted for, but only after trying to make an eleventh-hour effort to make irresponsible tax cuts (from the Houston Chronicle, June 20, via Lexis-Nexis):

In the end, council approved the budget 13-1.

Councilman Bruce Tatro was the lone dissenter, voting against what he called "a virtual budget" devoid of true cost cutting.

"I think we just failed to address a lot of issues that were supposedly priorities going into this," Tatro said.

Council considered about 80 amendments before adopting the budget, including a last-ditch push by Councilman Michael Berry to cut the city's property tax rate.

Berry proposed shaving one cent from the city's rate of 65 cents per $ 100 assessed value weeks ago, but few of his colleagues or the administration took it seriously. But Berry's quiet last-minute lobbying forced a defensive flurry by administration officials, who whirled around the council table shoring up opposition. The amendment was voted down 8-6.

Berry said he thought the tax cut would have passed had Councilwoman Shelley Sekula-Rodriguez been present for the vote.

Sekula-Rodriguez never returned from council's lunch break. A spokeswoman from her office said the councilwoman had a "personal emergency."

Berry said that, had Sekula-Rodriguez been present and voted for the tax decrease, Councilman Gabriel Vasquez would have cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the cut.

"Vasquez was with me if he was the deciding vote," Berry said. "He said if he was casting the deciding vote, he would vote for it, so I had eight votes."

Vasquez neither confirmed nor denied Berry's claim, saying only: "It's all rumors. There was no eight votes there."

So let's get this straight. Michael Berry got his butt kicked and then kow-towed to the rest of the council by voting for a budget he is now attacking.

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