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October, 2005:

AstroWorld turns out the lights

And so it ends: After 37 years, AstroWorld is closing its doors for good. While we wait to see who buys the land it sits on and what they decide to build there in its place, here’s a one last visit story, with pictures, for your entertainment.


The Texas Lottery Commission is set to take action on the recent sore spot of overinflated jackpots by passing a rule to guarantee prize amounts.

If the proposed rule is adopted, the grand prize winner will be paid either the advertised jackpot or the jackpot based on sales, whichever is greater. The guarantees would apply to jackpots paid with the 25-year annuity, not to winners who choose the immediate cash-option payment.

The proposed rule also would require lottery officials to make a “fair and reasonable” estimation of potential jackpots. If the jackpot falls short of the estimate and ticket sales, the lottery would be allowed to pull money from other lottery funds to cover the difference.

What to do when those other sources of funding run dry is apparently a discussion to be held on another day.

In all seriousness, I think this is a good and necessary step for the TLC to take. If we’re going to have a lottery, we may as well be able to have faith in the fantasies that it’s selling. As long as they’re sufficiently conservative in their sales estimates and thus in their advertised prizes, this ought to go a long way towards fixing the problem.


As was the case with Harriet Miers, I’m not going to have too much to say about the current SCOTUS nominee, Samuel Alito. We’ll all be up to our collective clavicles in commentary on this one, so I see no reason to add to the clutter. I would appreciate it if someone who’s smarter than I am could explain in simple words why President Bush didn’t just nominate this guy from the get-go. What was it that made him look at Harriet Miers and say “She’s the one”?

Finally, since poor Harriet is about 95% of the way back to the obscurity from which she came, I’ll nominate the Pink Lady for offering the best parting shot:

In this morning’s announcement, Bush praised Judge Alito as the nominee with “more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in more than 70 years, calling him “brilliant.” Harriet Miers, meanwhile, has been holed up in her apartment listening to “Killing Me Softly.”

My apologies to those of you who now have that stupid song stuck in your heads. You kids who didn’t grow up in the 70s being forced to listen to your parents’ radio stations have no idea how lucky you are.

UPDATE: And the “Thank you, Captain Obvious” award goes to the nimble thinker at the New York Times who gave us the headline Nomination Likely to Please G.O.P., but Not Some Democrats. Because this would be the first time that ever happened with this crowd.

Another quality committee from Governor Perry

Grits tells the sad yet predictable tale of what happens when Governor Perry convenes a panel to identify flaws in Texas’ criminal justice system and suggest possible reforms “from the initial stage of investigation into a crime to appellate and post-conviction proceedings.” I suppose we should all be happy that at least this committe has more than one member on it. Check it out.

McMartin student apologizes

This is fascinating. Remember the McMartin Preschool and the intense national hysteria that followed accusations that the owners and their employees spent the days molesting their young charges? It all eventually fell apart as the extremely shoddy interviewing techniques, coupled with the increasingly bizarre and hard to fathom allegations and ultimate lack of physical evidence led to recantations and vacated convictions, but not before many innocent people had their lives ruined.

Anyway, the LA Times magazine has printed an apology from one of the kids who was supposedly molested to those who were accused of the crimes. It’s compelling reading, so go take a look. Thanks to Kevin Drum for the link.

RIP, Richard Smalley

Richard Smalley, a professor at Rice who shared in a Nobel prize for his co-discovery of buckyballs, died last week at the age of 62.

Born on June 6, 1943, in Akron, Ohio, Smalley’s childhood was one of middle America and middle class. As a youth he spent hours with his mother, Esther Virginia Rhoads, collecting single-celled organisms from a local pond and viewing them under a microscope.

After earning his chemistry doctorate from Princeton University, Smalley accepted a job as an assistant chemistry professor at Rice in 1976.

At Rice, Smalley’s research group set about building a series of beam-and-laser machines that could vaporize material, leaving individual atoms in the residue. By vaporizing different materials, and cooling the resulting atoms to very low temperatures, the researchers could study and manipulate how the atoms clumped together.

Jim Heath, now a professor at the California Institute of Technology, joined Smalley’s lab in 1984 as a graduate student. Heath recalled his first day on the job, when Smalley patiently explained the experiments he wanted completed, and demonstrated how to operate the equipment.

There was just one problem: at 3 a.m., when he had finally finished the day’s experiments, Heath realized Smalley had forgotten to tell him how to turn off the machine. With trepidation, Heath called the senior scientist at his home and woke him up.

“He was actually delighted that I was still there working that late,” Heath said. “That was the sort of environment he created. He pushed people reasonably hard, but he balanced that by being a very compelling, almost Moses-like teacher. He knew what he wanted. You’re unlikely to ever meet someone who had a more intense and focused mind than Rick.”

A year after Heath began working in the lab, Smalley, along with Robert Curl at Rice and Sir Harold Kroto of University of Sussex, discovered a new form of carbon. This fullerene, or buckyball, contained 60 carbon atoms arranged in a perfect sphere.

Few scientists had expected to discover a new arrangement of carbon atoms because the element already was so well-studied.

“It was an absolutely electrifying discovery,” said James Kinsey, then a chemistry professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who later became dean of natural sciences at Rice. “Within a year or two, you couldn’t pick up a chemistry journal without one-third of the articles being about fullerenes.”

The new carbon material proved to be surprisingly strong and lightweight, and had almost magical electrical properties. The buckyball’s discovery helped fuel today’s explosion of nanotechnology research, in which scientists are racing to exploit the unique properties of myriad nanomaterials, with applications for everything from medicine to bulletproof vests.

Eric Berger relates a few more anecdotes about Smalley, including that he was elected Homecoming Queen at Rice in 1996 as tribute for his role in earning the Nobel. He was obviously quite a guy. Rest in peace, Richard Smalley.

(Shameless name-dropping aside: I never knew Dr. Smalley, but I am acquainted with his co-laureate Bob Curl, who is a longtime fixture in the local tournament bridge scene.)

Zogby fills in the blanks

Following up on my post about the Zogby Interactive poll from last month, we now have a full report of all the matchups they surveyed, which fills in a couple of blanks from the report they made available to the Wall Street Journal Online. Two items in particular of note, starting with this one:

Governor Perry* (R) 40% Bell (D) 27% Friedman (I) 18% Perry* (R) 41% Sharp (D) 26% Friedman (I) 19% Strayhorn (R) 35% Bell (D) 26% Friedman (I) 17% Strayhorn (R) 32% Sharp (D) 26% Friedman (I) 18%

I believe this ought to put the final nail in the idea that only John Sharp could take out Rick Perry. Not that it matters, since Sharp now has other things on his plate, but as of last month at least, he was polling slightly worse than Chris Bell in this matchup. He does do a little better than Bell against Comptroller Strayhorn, but only because Strayhorn’s numbers dip slightly.

What this says to me is either that Sharp’s name ID isn’t appreciably better than Bell’s, or that being known to more people isn’t the asset for Sharp that one might have thought it would be. Whatever the case may be, I say it’s time to stop wasting time on what isn’t going to happen – and that includes the current wishcasting of Bill White announcing for Governor five minutes into his inaugural address as a second-term Mayor – and start focusing on what is. Rick Perry is polling at 40% of the vote, which is less than his combined opposition. This is a winnable race if Democrats can pull themselves together. It’s time to get going on that.

Item two is from the Senate race, where the published reports were all about various fantasy football matchups. Here’s how the real race compares to them:

Senator Hutchison* (R) 52% Radnofsky (D) 34% Hutchison* (R) 50% Kirk (D) 37% Hutchison* (R) 51% Sharp (D) 36% Hutchison* (R) 52% Watson (D) 36%

Barbara Radnofsky fares a little worse than the others against KBH, but not by much. All things considered, it’s about what I’d expect. She’s obviously got a lot of ground to make up, and she’ll have to chip away some of KBH’s current support, something which may be made easier by Hutchison herself and her recent penchant for stupid statements. That said, given KBH’s status as the Great Exalted Popular Moderate, I’m not displeased with her topping out at 52%. It’s still a mountain to climb, but at least it’s not K2.

So much for the bounce

Rick Perry’s approval numbers are back in their usual state of negativity after a one-month bounce from Hurricane Katrina, according to SurveyUSA. You can see the trendlines here. Basically, after recording September numbers of 49% approve/45% disapprove, October checks in at 43/52. That’s still his best approval number going back to at least May, but the disapproval number is also one point short of the highest it’s been. Compared to his peers, he’s 36th in approval total, and 39th in net approval.

The demographic splits yield some interesting data. Compared to September, when he was in net positive territory for just about every group, Perry has lost significant turf among Hispanics, independents, and (surprisingly) regular churchgoers. He’s actually doing worse among men than he is among women, which is something I’d frankly never expect to see – it was like that last month though it didn’t register with me, but in July he was doing slightly better with men. I might think it’s possible that since September he’s taking the brunt of some frustrations with the Hurricane Rita evacuation, except that he’s doing as well in Harris County as he was before – indeed, it’s one of the few places he’s still in net positive terrain. He’s a little worse off in East Texas (41/55 compared to 43/50), but not nearly enough to explain such an across-the-board decline. Without anything else to go on, I think people have simply gone back to feeling about him as they have been for awhile now.

I’ll keep an eye on these monthly checkups, as I’m sure Team Bell will, too. My guess is that if we see any motion in these numbers, it’ll be a further erosion – another special session on school finance would do the trick for that. We’ll see.

Endorsement watch: HISD

The Chron puts what I believe are the wraps on its endorsements for 2005 by giving its recommendations in the HISD trustee races, choosing Richard Cantu in HISD1 and challenger Daisy Maura in HISD9. They did the one contested HCC trustee race yesterday, endorsing Richard Schecter for Position 5. I still don’t know what happened to City Council District A, not to mention several ballot propositions, but who knows, maybe they’re still to come.

Today’s profile is on the Mayoral race, in which some interesting numbers get tossed about:

Some political analysts say he could exceed the re-election margin of former Mayor Bob Lanier, who won his second term in 1993 with 90.8 percent of the vote, at the time the highest percentage in nearly 60 years. Lanier, like White, was popular and faced little-known challengers.

“I predict White will break 92 percent,” said Dave Walden, who served as chief of staff to Lanier and campaign manager to White’s 2003 runoff opponent, Orlando Sanchez. “All the stars are aligned for him.”

He noted that Lanier was under constant criticism from then-Controller George Greanias, while White has mostly kept cordial relations with other city officials. “What I didn’t expect was White’s ability to move things through council as smoothly as he has,” Walden said.

Ninety-two percent is pretty audacious, even more than Greg‘s 90% guesstimate and my downright pessimistic-by-comparison suggestion that the floor starts at 75%. Let’s make a contest out of it: What do you think Bill White’s election day tally will be? Go all the way down to the hundredth of a percent so we can more easily break a tie if we have to. I’ll put myself down for 82%. Leave your guesses in the comments and we’ll see in ten days who’s the closest.

Ah, here I’ve finally found the right index page with all the race profiles and Chron endorsements – note to whoever from the Chron is reading this, it would be nice if the Politics index page had this link. They’ve written about Props 1, 2, 5, 7, and 9, endorsing all but 2. For the rest, plus City Council A, you’re on your own, at least so far.

Endorsement watch: My turn

At long last, here’s my list of recommendations for the 2005 elections. I’m only going to make choices for races that will be on my ballot, and as James Campbell wrote today, these are just recommendations, not commands.

Mayor – Bill White

City Controller – Annise Parker

At Large #1 – Peter Brown

At Large #2 – Jay Aiyer

At Large #4 – Ron Green

District H – Adrian Garcia

HISD trustee position 1 – Natasha Kamrani

Ballot propositions:

Prop 1 – NO
Prop 2 – NO
Prop 3 – YES
Prop 4 – NO
Prop 5 – YES
Prop 6 – NO
Prop 7 – YES
Prop 8 – YES
Prop 9 – NO

Most of these decisions are fairly easy, since many races are not contested or not seriously contested. I can’t think of any scenario in which I’d be likely to change my mind, however – these are all high-quality people, and I’m very happy to be voting for them. The two with real choices are At Large #2 and HISD1. While there is more than one worthy candidate in each of those slots, I believe that Jay Aiyer and Natasha Kamrani represent the best of those choices. I think Jay has the strongest credentials in that race, and I’ve been very favorably impressed by Kamrani’s overall vision and plans for HISD. If you have the chance, in the waning days of the campaign, to meet either of these folks, or any of the others for that matter, I think you’ll understand why I feel as I do about them.

I’m not offering any recommendations in At Large #3 and #5, but for different reasons. There’s no one in #3 that I think is worth a vote. I wish there were someone running against Shelly Sekula Somthingorother that I could support, but the only thing that her opponent has done that I’ve noticed is leave spam comments on at least three different blogs, mine included (you didn’t see it here because I deleted it). I realize that I myself floated the idea of spoofing another candidate’s site in spam comments as a new-wave dirty trick, but I don’t see that happening here. Frankly, if I thought Somethingorother were smart enough to do that kind of thing, I’d have a whole new respect for her. So feel free to skip that race.

At Large #5 is a little different. I’m definitely more in line with challenger Mike Stoma philosophically than I am with incumbent Michael Berry, and that’s a consideration that normally carries a lot of weight for me. This is one of those times where it’s not so clear-cut. I believe that Berry was uniquely qualified this term to lead any organized anti-Bill White effort, since he had spent a fair amount of time on the Mayoral campaign trail with White in 2003 and he certainly has his own vision of what Houston should be like. He also has more gravitas and experience than the other At Large members who might have acted as a counterweight. Finally, we all know he wants to run for Mayor again some day, right? Well, not only did he not do that, but right from the very beginning he was publicly appreciative of Mayor White’s priority initiatives. Whatever you may think of the Boy Wonder, I feel that at some point, one must at least consider voting for someone who’s been supportive of things you favor. For that reason, I say make your own choice and feel good about it either way.

As for the ballot amendments, the two I feel the most strongly about are #1 and #2. Beyond those two, there isn’t much to get me all riled up. I’ve noted before that some people are advocating a blanket No on these propositions. Obviously, I think some are worthy of consideration, but none of them will break my heart if they don’t pass. Vote No on the first two and you can do what you want with the rest as far as I’m concerned.

Kaplan’s followup

Today’s Chron has a fuller story on the closing of longtime Houston Heights department store Kaplan’s-Ben Hur, which I noted last week. It’s mostly a nostalgia piece, with quotes from the currnt owners and several faithful customers, but what caught my eye was this:

Closing the store allows the family to sell the property. Greenwood King real estate agent Erik Fowler, who is not involved, estimated the land alone, about 85,000 square feet, could be worth from $1 million to as much as $2 million.

The question is what would be built there to replace it. Here’s a map to the location of the store. On the one hand, it’s well situated for some kind of high-end retail. Yale is a busy street, the area is close to many residential neighborhoods, and the many antique shops on 19th and 20th Streets already bring in a stream of people with some disposable income burning a hole in their pockets. The main problem is parking. Kaplan’s doesn’t have much, and spots on the nearby streets go quickly. I don’t know that any business which would have to rely heavily on the residents who will mostly walk there, as Kaplan’s did, will be able to generate the kind of cash flow necessary to cover its monthly note or lease. Maybe a strip center would be able to do it if it had the right mix of shops in it. It’s not a slamdunk is all I’m saying.

Residential property is a possibility. You could fit quite a few $300-500K homes on those 85,000 square feet. The main problem is that, well, it’s in a mostly commercial area fronted by a busy street. I just don’t know how appealing that would be to too many folks who are in the market for a three-bedroom house. I don’t think there’s no buyers for what would go up there, but I do think it’s a smaller segment.

What would be interesting is if someone decides to go for a mixed-use property like you now see in Midtown: a multistory building with shops or eateries on the ground floor and apartments or (more likely) condos above it. You’d still have to solve the parking issue, but depending on how you design the place you might be able to tack on a small garage on the back, for use by both residents and customer. It’s all a pedestrian-friendly area, so that would work in your favor as well, and the benefit of condos over larger houses is that it’ll be more attractive to the single and childless couple buyers who’d have fewer objections to living near traffic than parents would.

Anyway. Worth keeping an eye on once the Kaplan family officially puts it on the market.

Poor, poor pitiful Tom

Poor, poor pitiful me!
Poor, poor pitiful me!
Oh, these boys won’t let me be
Lord have mercy on me!
Woe, woe is me!

— Various artists, including Terri Clark, Linda Rondstadt, and Warren Zevon

It just breaks my heart to see a man brought low like this.

U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay sent constituents a letter Thursday calling the prosecution against him the “politics of personal destruction,” and said he has come under attack because he’s been a strong advocate of conservative causes.

The letter is the second the Sugar Land Republican has sent to supporters since he was first indicted in Travis County on election law violations last month. DeLay has repeatedly said he is a victim of political persecution by District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat.

“Because of their decade of defeat, Democrats have now dropped to the least common denominator — the politics of personal destruction,” DeLay said, using the same defense mounted by former President Clinton during his impeachment.

DeLay said the prosecution against him is part of a larger pattern of “liberals” using the criminal justice system against conservatives.

“What we’re fighting is so much larger than a single court case or a single district attorney in Travis County,” DeLay said. “We are witnessing the criminalization of conservative politics.”

That man sure does know how to throw one heck of a pity party, does he not? He’s even got people at the Austin Chronicle shedding tears for him.

I’m sorry, I’m getting all verklempt over here. Talk amongst yourselves.

(AusChron link via The Stakeholder.)

How long must I wait?

Since I’m not feeling like writing much about politics today, I thought I’d take a look at the question of how long baseball teams have waited to win their first pennant and World Series, and how long it’s been since their last one. We all know that the Astros won their first pennant in 43 years of existence this year, while the White Sox ended a 46-year pennant drought and an 88-year titleless streak. So who else has had it so bad?

Using the Baseball Reference leagues page as my guide, I put together two lists, one which sorts teams by length of time before their first pennant, and the other which sorts them by lenght of time since their last pennant. Anyone who watched the National League Championship Series saw the oft-displayed graphic which stated that the Rangers (44 years and counting) have gone the longest among the expansion teams without a league title, followed by the Astros (43 years before the first one), Expos (36 and counting) and Mariners (28). The Angels came on board in 1961 and won their first crown in 2002. Of the original 16 franchises, the Saint Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles had the longest dry spell; they won their first pennant in 1944, 43 years after they were founded and 41 years after World Series play began.

That’s nothing compared to World Series frustration. The Philadelphia Phillies are the reigning champions of championshiplessness. They didn’t win a World Series until 1980, 77 years after the first one was played. It’s even worse when you look at the overall history, as Rob Neyer did during the 2002 season.

Since 1901, there have been exactly 200 league championships available; 100 for the National League, 100 for the American League. The Phillies have won five National League pennants since 1901; every other “original” eight National League team was won at least nine pennants. Over that same span, no circa 1901 American League franchise has won fewer than five pennants (thanks to the Yankees, who can fly 38 flags, the Indians and White Sox are still stuck on five).

The Phillies have won exactly one World Series; each of the circa 1901 major-league franchises can claim at least two World Series (yes, even the Indians and White Sox).

From 1916 through 1979, the Phillies won exactly zero World Series games; each of their peer franchises won at least eight World Series games during those 64 years.

See, Astros fans? It could be worse. Joining the Phillies in their start-of-life futility are the Browns/Orioles, who took 63 years to win the Series, and the Dodgers, who needed 52.

Of course, the mother of all streaks, wihout peer now that the two Soxes have put their demons to bed, belongs to the Cubs: 60 years since their last pennant, 97 years since their last World Series title. You could come up with some pretty evil marketing slogans for the 2008 Cubbies if present trends continue. Of the 25 other franchises which have won a pennant, every single one of them has claimed at least one since 1979. There are still two teams who can moan about longstanding Series frustrations, the Indians (last title in 1948) and the Giants (1954), plus eight expansion-era clubs led by the Rangers. But nobody can hold a candle to the Cubs. Who knows, maybe 2006 will see a third consecutive curse-busting postseason. Stranger things have happened.

See beneath the fold for the complete lists.


Merry Fitzmas!

Indictment city.

The vice president’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., was indicted today on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in the CIA leak investigation, a politically charged case that will throw a spotlight on President Bush’s push to war.

Libby, 55, resigned and left the White House.

Karl Rove, Bush’s closest adviser, escaped indictment today but remained under investigation, his legal status casting a dark cloud over a White House already in trouble. The U.S. military death toll in Iraq exceeded 2,000 this week, and the president’s approval ratings are at the lowest point since he took office in 2001.

Today’s charges stemmed from a two-year investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald into whether Rove, Libby or any other administration officials knowingly revealed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame or lied about their involvement to investigators.

The grand jury indictment charged Libby with one count of obstruction of justice, two of perjury and two false statement counts. If convicted on all five, he could face as much as 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.

Vice President Dick Cheney was mentioned by name in the 22-page indictment and several officials were identified by title, but no one besides Libby was charged.

You can see the indictment here.

For more reaction, you can click on just about every blog link under the sun. I’ll give the last word here to Barbara Radnofsky:

Texas Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Barbara Ann Radnofsky called on her Republican opponent to renounce perjury now that I. Lewis Libby has been indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Kay Bailey Hutchison called perjury a technicality on “Meet the Press.” On Monday, her spokesman said, “Senator Hutchison was not commenting on any specific investigation. She was expressing her general concern that perjury traps have become too common when investigators are unable to indict on any underlying crime.”

Her spokesman followed that pronouncement with a letter to the Houston Chronicle on October 26, claiming that prosecutions based on “finding any shred of inconsistency” do not constitute perjury.

Radnofsky insists, “Lying to a grand jury is a crime.”

“Now we have a sitting U.S. Senator saying that perjury is a technicality, then through her spokesman dismissing perjury,” says Radnofsky. “No elected official should tolerate or excuse perjury. I call on Kay Bailey Hutchison to renounce perjury. She should resign if she tolerates it,” Radnofsky said.

Let the games begin.

HISD1 interview: Natasha Kamrani

Today I present the second Q&A session with a candidate for HISD trustee in position 1. My first such interview, with Richard Cantu, can be found here. Today’s subject is Natasha Kamrani. Early voting has already started, so if you haven’t cast your ballot yet, I hope these articles will be useful in helping you decide for whom to cast your ballot.

Without further ado:

1. Tell us about yourself – your background, your experience, your qualifications for the job.

I graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 1990 with a degree in History and a minor in Chinese. Upon graduation I applied to and was accepted into Teach For America, the national teacher corps of recent college graduates who commit to teach in inner-city and rural school districts that suffer from persistent teacher shortages. I was placed at the Houston Independent School District’s Edison Middle School to teach English as a Second Language to recent immigrants from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.

Upon completing my commitment to Teach For America, I spent the following four years as the local Executive Director of Teach For America where I was responsible for the training and placement of over 200 teachers and raising funds to sustain the organization.

I left Teach For America in 1997 and, upon completing my studies at the University of Houston Law Center, I have practiced civil litigation at a private law firm for the past five years.

In 1998, I married fellow Teach For America corps member, Chris Barbic. My husband is the founding head of schools of the YES College Preparatory School District. We are the parents of three-year old Tatiana and twenty-month old Ramiz.

I currently sit on the Advisory Board of Teach For America, the Houston Heights Association’s Education Committee and was a member of the task force which helped establish HISD’s Wilson Elementary Montessori School.

2. If elected, what would be your top priority? What is HISD doing that you would most like to see changed, and what is HISD not doing that you would most like to see them take up?

My top priority would be middle school reform. Simply put, the only true method to address failure in high school is to address the widespread failure in our middle schools. The strategies that our district is employing at the high school level are worthy, but what’s the point if widespread failure in our middle schools isn’t addressed at the same time? Some of the approaches that HISD is currently using to address failure in high school such as: creating smaller learning communities, and using student support to remediate and then accelerate instruction so that learning deficits are caught much earlier, are common sense ways to address middle school failure.

Students who are achieving at low levels in high school arrive in high school with major deficits. Students should not leave 8th grade unless they are on grade level and prepared to take a Distinguished Diploma track. Children who have been socially promoted through middle school don’t have the skills to successfully handle high school academics.

This leads to the “ninth grade cliff,” in which these unprepared and overwhelmed students end up in high school where they must now earn credits in order to advance to the next grade level. When children who don’t have the skills necessary to pass classes don’t, they become part of our horrifying high school drop out statistics.

Currently, great attention is being paid to making changes at the high school level; however, I believe this attention is misdirected. To address the very real problems we face with our high schools, we must focus our energies on creating excellent middle schools. Excellent middle schools will, in turn, address the issues we’re currently facing at the high school level including our high drop out rate.

3. The Texas Legislature has tried several times to change the way public schools are funded. What is your opinion of the things they tried to do? What should they have done, and what should they not have done?

Bottom line is that our state must be providing a larger share of public school funding. No two ways about it. The amount of funding we currently receive from the state, as opposed to the funding currently provided by our tax payers, is appallingly miniscule. Robin Hood, while an approach that on its face appears to provide positive solutions for many struggling districts, is simply a stop gap (and temporary) answer. We must call upon our state to step up to the plate and provide its fair share of school funding.

4. How has the No Child Left Behind legislation affected HISD? What can HISD do to better comply with NCLB’s requirements? What should be done with the schools that failed to meet NCLB goals this year?

Since HISD, under the leadership of Rod Paige, was the birthplace of the efforts now named federally as “No Child Left Behind,” our district has not, in any substantial way, been affected by this legislation.

Schools that fail to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress goals set out by NCLB must be reformed with a great sense of urgency. Failing schools must not be tolerated. However, what leads schools to fail may vary drastically school by school. Our district must make an effort to put in place an evaluation method which will determine why each school is failing. Based on this evaluation, the district must then devise a unique plan for each school–with the input of the community–for determining how to address the causes for failure and to then to implement a plan, including measures of success upon which the school can constantly be evaluated for improvement, to ensure that the school is taking the steps necessary to operate well for

5. HISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra has promised policy changes that would lead to a reduction in the amount of classroom time students spend on testing. What is the right amount of time for this? What changes would you like to see made?

NCLB mandates testing at certain grade levels. To the extent that this testing is mandated, our Superintendent’s hands are tied in reducing the amount of time actually spent taking tests. Where the district has room to move is in the amount of time spent PREPARING for tests. Since the test is a minimal skills test, the key to ensuring that “test prep” time is cut to a minimum is to ensure that the curriculum taught in our classrooms is of such a rigorous level that children will have no problem acing a minimal skills test. In addition, we need to have programs in place which remediate learning for children who arrive in school behind grade level and then
accelerate instruction to ensure that all our students leave performing on grade level–another important criteria in ensuring that children can take, and pass, tests without months of preparation.

6. What distinguishes you from your opponents in this race?

I am the only candidate for the board seat who has worked directly in
education–as a teacher and as executive director of Teach For America, an education non-profit. During my tenure as Executive Director of Teach For America, I visited every school in the district, I worked first hand with teachers, school administrators, district administration and board members. I am the only candidate who has this breadth of experience in and knowledge of our public schools In addition, my husband is also a former teacher and now head of schools. Public education is what my family has developed a
unique expertise in and it is our true passion.

In addition, my work as a lawyer involves countless hours of negotiation, mediation and settlement of cases. The skills I’ve developed working with people whose interests are sometimes in direct contradiction of one another will serve me well as I sit at a table with my eight fellow board members while we work together to negotiate strategies for improving our schools.

Thank you, Natasha Kamrani.

If anyone from Anne Flores Santiago’s campaign is reading this, I would still like to get and print her answers. Send me an email to kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com if you have any questions.

SCOTUS to review Texas redistricting

It’s still not over yet.

The Supreme Court will consider Travis County, Texas, et al. v. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, et al., along with several other related Texas redistricting cases, during its private conference on Friday. They are among dozens of cases the Court will review at the conference to determine if they should be added to the Court’s docket for argument.

In October 2004 the Supreme Court remanded the Texas redistricting case back to a three-judge federal panel, which then rejected, for a second time, legal challenges to the new Texas congressional map, passed in 2003 and followed in the 2004 election.

The appellants, which include elected officials and special interest groups, are asking the Court to throw out the new map in favor of one drawn shortly after the 2000 census. They also want the Court to explicitly define what constitutes partisan gerrymandering — an act the Court last year deemed unconstitutional. If the Court agrees to hear the case, opening arguments could begin next spring.

You can reinstate the 2001 map if you want, but I say once the 2004 election occurred with the present map, it became impossible to redress the wrongs. You can’t give Frost, Lampson, Sandlin, Turner, Stenholm, Bell, and Rodriguez their incumbency and seniority back. The best you can do is to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. For that reason, I could see the court ruling that mid-decade redistricting is illegal, and I could see them coming up with a new standard for partisan gerrymandering, but I can’t see them throwing out the existing map and ordering the previous lines to be reinstated. At this point, it just doesn’t make sense.

In June a three-judge panel unanimously rejected the appellants’ claims, ruling the partisan gerrymandering did not rise to a level it could deem unconstitutional. Judge John Ward, in a separate, concurring opinion, expressed concern that the map possibly violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, but that there is currently no constitutional test for excessive partisanship.

In making his point, Ward cited Vieth v. Jubelirer, a Pennsylvania gerrymandering case the Supreme Court decided in 2004. The 5-4 decision said that partisan gerrymandering should be illegal, but the Court did not define what constitutes legal redistricting.

The appeals panel split on whether a state can redraw district boundaries when a plan already exists.

Loyola Law School professor Rick Hasen, an election law expert, says the Court’s failure to agree on a judicial test for gerrymandering and the question of redistricting mid-decade may be reason enough for the Court to hear the Texas case. The swing vote on the Pennsylvania case was Justice Anthony Kennedy, who agreed gerrymandering violates the Constitution but was not prepared to author a test.

“Kennedy said he wanted to keep the issue open for another day,” says Hasen. But he also warns that the Court’s liberal camp may be wary of using the Texas case to write a test to distinguish redistricting from gerrymandering. “In terms of the unfair partisan gerrymandering, the facts are not as extreme as they were in Pennsylvania.”

Given how utterly illogical our boundaries would be if partisanship were not the consideration, that’s saying something about Pennsylvania.

I got it all right here

Elmo in one hand, a cellphone in the other. What more could a girl want?

(Picture taken in Dallas while we were on the run from Rita.)

Complaint filed against Save Texas Marriage

I’ll say this for Save Texas Marriage: They’ve stirred up the pot something fierce.

An organization of heterosexuals opposed to amending the Texas constitution to ban gay marriage is accused of using automated phone messages to mislead voters.

In tape recorded messages sent to a million homes in Texas a group called Save Texas Marriage says that amendment is so badly worded it would nullify common-law marriages.

Wednesday the conservative Liberty Legal Institute filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission. Acting for the group supporting the amendment the institute claims the phone ads were designed to “confuse voters that favor the amendment using deceptive practices.” and argues the calls illegally went out to people who had registered for the National Do Not Call list.

Late Wednesday the FCC dismissed the complaint saying it does not regulate the content of political advertisements and the Do Not Call list does not apply to political campaigns.

Liberty Legal has also filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission, and The Federal Trade Commission.

Don’t forget the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, and FEMA, just in case. You know how sneaky those gays are.

I remain skeptical of the strategy that Save Texas Marriage is employing, but I cannot deny that it’s generated a lot of coverage. If local Happy Talk TV News around the state does teasers for it with one of the breathless blowdried anchorpeople saying something like “Could your marriage be outlawed in the next election?”, then I’d have to admit that they’ve hit the center of their target.

And two can play at the complaint-filing game. In response to a report that Rep. Warren Chisum sent out a pro-Prop 2 press release from his office in Austin, which could violate the statutory ban on the use of public funds for political advertising, BOR’s Karl-T filed a complaint and “request to investigate” these actions with a special prosecutor in the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. I’ll be very interested to see how that turns out.

In my opinion, No Nonsense In November founder Glen Maxey epitomized class when he gave the following statement in a story about a pro-Porp 2 rally thrown by the KKK:

Glen Maxey, who heads anti-proposition group No Nonsense in November, said it would be unfair to assume those who support the proposition also support the Klan.

“It just ticks me off that people like this purport to speak for anyone, including people on the other side of the debate,” said Maxey, an Austin Democrat who served several years in the Legislature as its only openly gay member.

“It’s certainly not helpful,” he added. “As a political consultant, I’d be drinking a stiff one right now if I had to deal with these people articulating my message.”

The next time one of our friends on the Right uses the actions of some isolated knucklehead to make a claim about “the Left”, show him this quote.

Finally, a little setting of expectations about the outcome:

State constitutional elections typically are low-key affairs, drawing fewer than 10 percent of voters to the polls. And because it is widely assumed the amendment will pass easily, apathy also could supress turnout, said state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, the author of the ban.

For Chisum, winning with less than 70 percent of the vote would be a disappointment.


Most states that have approved gay marriage bans have done so by overwhelming margins, including 86 percent in Mississippi. The closest outcome was in Oregon, where gay rights advocates outspent their opponents but still lost 57 percent to 43 percent.

Because turnout will be low, their superior grassroots organization favors amendment opponents, said Glen Maxey, director of the Austin-based No Nonsense In November.

“Whoever has the best ground game in this election wins,” Maxey said.

Even matching Oregon’s result would be a political triumph, Maxey added, creating what he called a “Paul Hacket moment.”

Hacket was an anti-war Democratic candidate in Ohio who stunned the political establishment earlier this year by nearly winning a staunchly Republican congressional district.

“If we even come close, that changes people’s perceptions about Texas,” Maxey said.

Seventy percent versus fifty-seven percent. Who’s going to come closer? Leave your guesses in the comments.

DeLay’s defense fund mistake


Rep. Tom DeLay has notified House officials that he failed to disclose all contributions to his legal defense fund as required by congressional rules.

The fund is currently paying DeLay’s legal bills in a campaign finance investigation in Texas, where DeLay has been indicted, and in a federal investigation of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The lobbyist arranged foreign travel for DeLay and had his clients pay some of the cost.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

DeLay wrote House officials that he started an audit and it found that $20,850 contributed in 2000 and 2001 to the defense fund was not reported anywhere. An additional $17,300 was included in the defense fund’s quarterly report but not in DeLay’s 2000 annual financial disclosure report — a separate requirement. Other donations were understated as totaling $2,800 when the figure should have been $4,450.

House rules require quarterly reports of donations and expenditures by a lawmaker’s legal defense fund. Donations exceeding $250 also must be disclosed on annual financial disclosure reports.


On Oct. 13 DeLay wrote the clerk of the House, Jeff Trandahl, that the first inkling of inconsistencies in his disclosures came last February.

“I brought this matter — which I discovered on my own — to the attention of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to alert the chairman and ranking member,” DeLay said in his letter. “Upon learning of these accounting irregularities, I immediately requested that the trust undergo a full and complete audit.

Remember, kids, Tom DeLay has a crack legal staff which has assured him that all those corporate contributions to TRMPAC were just peachy. That’s the same crack legal staff which failed to catch donations to his defense fund from lobbyists as well as reporting violations by ARMPAC. Just so you know.

Endorsement watch: Council Districts H and I

After a two-day hiatus, the Chron gets back in the endorsement business, as they recommend incumbents Adrian Garcia and Carol Alvarado for City Council Districts H and I, respectively. Garcia’s a slamdunk, as Alvarado would have been prior to the diploma controversy. Here’s how the Chron dealt with that:

Her opponent recently pointed out that Alvarado had not received the degree she claimed to have from the University of Houston, but this should not be disqualifying. University officials determined that Alvarado had earned the degree and promptly awarded it.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this whole thing was no big deal. The fact that all it took for Alvarado to become official was to fill out some paperwork means to me that she was a graduate all along. Had she been short of credit hours, then I’d agree that she lied. If you could prove that she knew about this deficiency beforehand, it would still be a lie, but a relatively small one. As it actually is, I think the most she can be accused of is carelessness or maybe indifference to detail, and neither of those qualifies as a mortal sin in this context. Barring any subsequent revelations, I call this one a closed matter.

Back to the Chron, there’s still the curious omission of City Council District A from their endorsement list, plus of course the remaining ballot propositions and the HISD/HCC trustee races. On that last score, the HISD1 race generated some news today with the following story of another candidate’s carelessness.

Houston school board candidate Anne Flores Santiago told state ethics investigators last year that she helped falsify financial records to make it look as if her mother’s campaign for the Texas Senate had more supporters than it really did, records show.

Santiago’s mother, Yolanda Navarro Flores, agreed to pay a $1,000 civil fine to the Texas Ethics Commission in July 2004 to settle the case, according to the commission’s records.

Flores, a Houston Community College System board member, took out a $35,000 loan to finance her losing 2004 Democratic primary election against Mario Gallegos, the commission report says. Santiago and a campaign volunteer, however, reported that the money came from several campaign donors, including $9,000 from young members of Flores’ extended family.

The report made it seem Flores had collected nearly $57,000 from donors. A corrected version later filed by Flores put the figure closer to $17,000.

“The daughter states that she filed the report electronically with the commission without telling her mother of what she and the volunteer had done,” the report said.

Santiago, 38, and making her first run at elected office, said she had a limited role in the incident.

“I was simply the typist,” she said, explaining that the other volunteer “gave me instructions.”

“I entered data, and that was the extent,” she said.

Santiago said she was unaware at the time that the information on the campaign finance report was wrong.

“I did not know,” she said.

Santiago declined to answer further questions about her role in the ethics violation. She and her mother did not respond to e-mails or phone calls seeking the identity of the other campaign worker.

I have to say, I never find the Ken Lay defense strategy to be appealing. It’s also mighty convenient to be able to blame the screwup on an unnamed and unavailable-for-comment campaign volunteer. Maybe Santiago was “just the typist” as she claims, which would make her sin more venal than mortal, but it’s still embarrassing.

Santiago accused her political opponents — Natasha Kamrani and Richard Cantú — of leaking the Ethics Commission report to the media.

“I can sum it up in two words: dirty politics,” Santiago said. “I’m the front-runner in this race and my opponents are getting desperate.”

I find the TEC website to be almost unusably bad, so I’ll just ask: Is this sort of report public information? If it is, then one could claim that any enterprising reporter could have found it and written about it unbidden by another. Can one truly “leak” data that’s in the public domain?

If it’s supposed to be sealed (and to be honest, I can’t think of a good reason why it should be, not that this matters in Texas), then Santiago has a legitimate beef. But if it is out there where anyone with an Internet connection and/or some spare time can find it, then I say that had there been a greater interest by the press in this year’s elections we might have already known about this by now.

She then leveled some accusations of her own. Of Kamrani, she said: “I didn’t just register to vote 30 days ago like one of my opponents.” Of Cantú, she added: “Nor did I just pay my taxes right before I signed up to run either.


Kamrani said she has voted in previous Houston Independent School District board elections and in the 2004 general election last November. Her voter registration lapsed during changes in residency between 2001 and 2004, she said.

“I just moved into a new house,” Kamrani said.

Cantú acknowledged that he and his wife missed the deadline for paying their property taxes, but he said they paid before any lawyers got involved.

“Occasionally we’ll pay during the penalty period,” he said. “Like most middle-income folks living paycheck-to-paycheck … (But) I always make sure that our taxes are paid up.”

Harris County property tax records show Cantú paid the taxes on his home by the January deadline but waited until June to pay taxes on two other pieces of property. That cost him more than $200 in penalties and interest, but he was never considered delinquent. Cantú began collecting political donations a month later, records show.

Not being registered to vote is an unflattering thing for any aspiring candidate. When or if Kamrani voted between 2001 and 2004 should be verifiable – the Vo and Heflin attorneys certainly knew who to interview earlier this year for that race’s election contest – as should the date that her registration lapsed and how long it took to get fixed. Without that information, this strikes me as a pretty weak charge.

Likewise, if Cantu was late but not delinquent, then this too is a relatively minor thing. Color me unimpressed at Santiago’s counteraccusations. I can be convinced that she was an unwitting wrongdoer for the TEC thing, but this doesn’t enhance my opinion of her.

Harriet, we hardly knew ye

Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination for the Supreme Court.

In her letter dated today, Miers said she was concerned that the confirmation process “would create a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interest of the country.”

She noted that members of the Senate had indicated their intention to seek documents about her service in the White House in order to judge whether to support her nomination to the Supreme Court. “I have been informed repeatedly that in lieu of records, I would be expected to testify about my service in the White House to demonstrate my experience and judicial philosophy,” she wrote.

“While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain Executive Branch materials and information will continue.”

All I want to know is, will the Senate be as adamant about asking the next nominee questions as they were Miers? Because if they aren’t, this whole thing was a complete waste of time.

A few stories from Father John

Father John has a number of links to stories about the current state of Health and Human Services privatization in Texas and how the influx of Katrina victims has affected their delivery of services. Two items to highlight, the first from Carlos Guerra:

Texas “point-of-time” enrollment figures for children receiving Medicaid indicate that almost 17,000 fewer children were covered in September than in August.

How is this possible, I asked José Camacho, head of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, whose 52 member groups serve 560,000 people.

“Yes, we started getting reports of folks that had been on Medicaid, and they reapplied and got a rejection letter,” he said, before explaining that for children to be “recertified” for Medicaid, their parents must go through a face-to-face interview conducted by a certified state worker.

When the throngs of temporary Texans arrived, each of them also had to undergo a face-to-face interview, as required by law, to receive food stamps, so the remaining state eligibility workers were dispatched to help them.

The result was that when many parents seeking to renew their kids’ Medicaid applied, they were, of necessity, put off. “Even if they filled out the form, if it wasn’t entered (by a state worker), they didn’t reapply,” Camacho said.

This result of having fewer workers is, of course, a feature and not a bug. Fewer workers means less throughput on Medicaid renewals, which means the state has to spend less on this costly benefit. Say what you want about HB2292, there was a certain logic to it.

Item two is from the Austin Chronicle:

Based on a job-recruitment advertisement placed by one of the companies sub-contracted to provide a telephone eligibility “call center” in Midland, the prospective operators would be paid a starting wage of $8 an hour. At that rate (about $1,280 a month, gross), a single parent with one child, or a single-income family of three, would be eligible for food stamps. And should the company not provide affordable health insurance (as is likely), their new employees would also be eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.


Under this new system, the new state workers hired at these sub-living wages will themselves be able to administer their own applications for food stamps, Medicaid, and CHIP. They can interview themselves, review their own meagre pay stubs, determine their own levels of eligibility, and sign and hand-deliver their own approval letters – saving an envelope and a stamp in the bargain.

Now that’s what I call eliminating the middleman!

Like I said, a certain logic.

On a semi-related side note, a task force of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Joseph Fiorenza, Archbishop of the Houston/Galveston archdiocese, has called upon federal leaders to not give aid to Katrina victims at the expense of existing services for the poor.

“It would be wrong to cut essential food, housing and health care for the poor while the rest of us make no real sacrifice and, in fact, benefit from recent tax cuts,” the letter states.

The letter noted the role of Catholic organizations and other non-government agencies to house, feed and provide medical care to victims.

But it also emphasized that these groups can’t fix the problems alone.

“The efforts of those motivated by compassion and charity in responding to the hurricanes’ devastation, while essential, cannot take the place of a strong federal commitment to just public policies and wise public investment,” the letter states.

Their letter was sent to every member of the US House of Representatives, but I think there’s a pretty clear relationship to what’s going on with THHSC as well.


What a bummer. I’ll have more later, but for now, there’s no definition of the word “unsuccessful” that accurately describes this season for the Astros. They have nothing to be ashamed of, and they have every right to be proud of themselves no matter how badly they may feel now. Until the day that they do win a World Series, 2005 is and will be the best year in their history. Congratulations to the White Sox for their historic win, and congratulations to the Astros for their historic season.

Sheryl Swoopes comes out

Houston Comets star Sheryl Swoopes has outed herself in a magazine article.

“My reason for coming out isn’t to be some sort of hero,” Swoopes said in an interview that appears in the current issue of ESPN The Magazine. “I’m just at a point in my life where I’m tired of having to pretend to be somebody I’m not.

“I’m tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about. About the person I love. Male athletes of my caliber probably feel like they have a lot more to lose than gain (by coming out). I don’t agree with that. To me, the most important thing is happiness.”

In the ESPN magazine article, Swoopes said she has been involved in a same-sex relationship with former Comets assistant coach Alisa Scott since shortly after divorcing Eric Jackson, her high-school sweetheart and husband of three years, in 1999.

According to the ESPN article, the 34-year-old Swoopes is the most recognizable athlete, male or female, to come out in a team sport. In September, Swoopes became the first WNBA player to be named MVP for a third time.

According to this AP wire story, Swoopes has denied that being gay was the reason for the breakup of her marriage. Though she certainly is the highest-profile team sport player to come out, she’s not the first such WNBA player; to the best of my knowledge, that would be former New York Liberty center Sue Wicks.

Comets coach Van Chancellor said he had been aware of Swoopes’ impending announcement for several days. He refused to comment or speculate about how the announcement might affect Swoopes’ future in the WNBA.

“I’ve coached Swoopes for nine years for the Houston Comets as well as with the (USA Basketball) national team,” Chancellor said. “What she does in her personal life is her own decision.

“I respect everything about Sheryl, how she’s handled herself on and off the court. To me, she will always be one of the greatest ambassadors for the game of women’s basketball and as a person has helped me win four (WNBA) championships and two gold medals.”

Speaking as a five-year Comets season-ticket holder, I predict Swoopes will get a big ovation the first time she steps on the court next year. The fans love her, and I just don’t see too many of them objecting to this. And yes, the gay and lesbian community of Houston makes up a sizeable portion of the Comets’ fan base. She’ll do just fine here.

An interesting question will be how her revelation will affect any endorsement deals she currently has.

She was named [NCAA] National Player of the Year [in 1993] and became the first female to have a basketball sneaker manufactured (by Nike) under her autograph.

The things that made Sheryl Swoopes attractive to advertisers before she came out are still true today: Great athlete, respected by all in the game, star-power personality, and good looking to boot. I don’t know what kind of endorsements she’s doing these days, but I’ll be very interested to see if any companies drop her. She’s apparently added at least one new deal, a lesbian cruise line (whose name makes me chuckle), according to Women’s Hoops.

Mechelle Voepel has a long and thoughtful piece about what Swoopes’ announcement may mean for other, currently closeted, athletes and coaches. The whole thing is worth your time to read, but I found this at the end to be especially poignant:

[T]here is the question of how Swoopes’ story will be received in Lubbock, Texas, home of Texas Tech and some of the most loyal and knowledgeable women’s basketball fans in the world. It’s just as dumb to suggest that everyone in Lubbock has a problem with homosexuality as it is to say that everyone in New York City has no problem with it. However, Lubbock is a place one would describe as conservative, to use, admittedly, a stereotype.

Swoopes is a legend in Lubbock more than anywhere else; she brought the university national recognition and always will be one of the most important people in the school’s history. Texas Tech fans genuinely love her, though some will feel very conflicted about her story.

But I think most of them, even if they don’t understand or totally accept Swoopes’ story, are people who believe we should live and let live. They might still vote for any and all measures to ban gay marriage, but they’d give Swoopes a sincere hug if they saw her.

I’ve got no business turning Sheryl Swoopes into a rallying point for a political movement. I do hope, however, that a few of the people who love her for what she did for Texas Tech in 1993 will be thinking about her as they step into the voting booth next month.

A committee of one

Hey, remember that blue ribbon panel that Governor Perry announced last month to figure out what to do with school finance? It’s been five weeks since John Sharp was named its chair, and he’s hard at work talking to editorial boards around the state. What is it that he isn’t doing? Holding meetings with the other members of the panel. And why is that?

Sharp, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, emphasized that he wasn’t yet speaking for the committee, whose other members still haven’t been named but may be announced this week by the governor.

Well, that would be an impediment, though on the bright side it ought to make booking a meeting room easier. One does wonder why Sharp is so lonely these days, since it’s not like Governor Perry hasn’t had time to do other stuff.

Since Rick Perry has named John Sharp to the school tax panel, he’s made a ton of other appointments:

  • He’s appointed 7 members to the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy.
  • He’s appointed 5 people to the Texas Medical Board.
  • He’s appointed 2 people to the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation.
  • And he’s appointed people to the Texas Growth Fund Board of Directors, the 11th Court of Appeals, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, the Texas Small Business Industrial Development Corporation, and the Texas Economic Development Corporation.

Ah, it’s just school finance. No big deal. And you know, I remember a Dilbert cartoon in which Scott Adams postulated that the collective IQ of any committee drops five points for each additional member. So maybe I’m just not thinking outside the box here.

Sharp said the committee, which will include about 12 members, both Republicans and Democrats, and mostly from the business community, won’t try to write a new school finance plan or tell the Legislature how much to spend on education.

Oh, well.

A little piling on Kay

Another month, another fifty-state report by SurveyUSA on Senator popularity. Our senior member stays in the top half of the Senate with a 58% approve/35% disapprove tally. You can see her tracking numbers here, where the most notable thing is a slow but steady climb in her negatives, and the population splits here. Note that she’s a fair amount more popular than John Cornyn, and notice also that both of them are in negative territory among Hispanics. Just a guess here, but I’d say that KBH’s recent silliness on immigration has taken a toll on her, with perhaps a spillover effect onto Cornyn, who has publicly distanced himself from her idea of using local police as volunteer immigration enforcement.

On that score, it’s a few days old, but this op-ed in the Marshall News Messenger is pretty cutting.

While we agree with most of what Sen. Hutchison proposes, this is one of those ideas that sounds good, but is actually terrible.

We hope she takes a second look at the pitfalls and decides to pull it back for further review. Then maybe it will get lost in a desk drawer.


[O]ur police are busy enough. Period. While we acknowledge that there are not enough INS agents to keep out the flood of illegal aliens, asking already over-worked police officers to do the job isn’t the answer.

Not only that, but it heaps the cost of such enforcement on local governments. Much of this cost would be “unseen,” but it would still be there.

When an officer is doing the work of the INS, he isn’t doing the work of guarding against crime that endangers our citizens.


Then there is the question of just where the illegal aliens would be kept while we are waiting for them to be picked up by INS.

If every police force in the nation were to begin arresting these people, the back-up would be tremendous.

We could wind up holding deportees for days, weeks or even months before they were taken from us. And just who would pay for those medical bills while in our custody?

It is possible that the INS would reimburse the counties for holding the prisoners (we wouldn’t suggest counting on that), but that would not help us in Harrison County where our jail is already so overcrowded that we have to send our prisoners elsewhere.

This is a bad bill that many will support for emotional and pure political reasons, but when logic is applied, it simply doesn’t make any sense. It should be disposed of as quickly as possible.

Via the ACLU Liberty blog and Grits.

She also gets deservedly slapped around by the Chron for her idiotic perjury isn’t really a crime remarks.

One cannot pick and choose when a charge is justified. Lying to investigators and grand juries is not a technicality. Our system of law depends on the ability of law enforcement to get at the truth, both in interviews with investigators and in sworn testimony in court. The penalties can be personally devastating and often do not hinge on other crimes. Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros continues to be dogged by a decade-long investigation set off by his admitted lies to FBI agents vetting him for a Cabinet post about how much money he had paid a former mistress, an act that was not a crime.

If Hutchison found perjury and obstruction reason enough to throw a president out of office, surely those offenses would be sufficient cause to charge people if they obstructed a probe of a potential violation of national security laws. The unmasking of a covert CIA operative can have life and death consequences for previous associates met over the years in countries around the world.

Public officials such as Sen. Hutchison do not enhance their stature when they seem to support one standard of justice for officials of the opposing party and another for their own. What was good for the Democratic goose in the Clinton impeachment trial should be good enough for the Republican gander in the Plame investigation.

And today the Express News joins in.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, speaking Sunday on “Meet the Press,” appeared to offer a preview of administration strategy if indictments come.

She said, “I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment … that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality.”

That is extremely disappointing coming from Hutchison because perjury is not a technicality. It is lying under oath.

It also sharply varies from her comments in 1999 when the topic concerned perjury and testimony by then-President Bill Clinton.

According to the Washington Post, she said, “I don’t want there to be any lessening of the standard (regarding obstruction of justice and perjury). Because our system of criminal justice depends on people telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Hutchison was right then. She is wrong now.

Nice to know that some people haven’t forgotten all the high dudgeon they got themselves into back in the late 90s.

I sometimes think that the main reason Kay Bailey Hutchison is so widely considered to be a popular moderate is because for the first eight years of her career she had Phil Gramm out in front of her hogging up all the spotlight. The more we see, the less there is to like.

Two side notes to mention: Eye on Williamson on how KBH gets treated differently in the media, and a little press coverage on Barbara Radnofsky, who critiques KBH’s immigration plan.

Endorsement watch: Is that all there is?

For the second consecutive day, there are no endorsements in the Chron’s op-ed pages (though there is the anticipated Rosa Parks obituary), which leads me to wonder if they’ve done all the endorsing they plan to do. Why that would be, and why they’ve skipped these particular races and propositions, are mysteries to me.

For example, the Express News has offered a recommendation on all nine propositions – you can see seven of them here, with the two others here and here. The Morning News has a concise summary of all of its recommendations here. The Statesman did an all-in-one piece almost two weeks ago. That’s not so hard, is it? I mean, sure, there’s city elections in Houston and not in these other places, but Dallas has over a dozen city propositions on its ballot, and the DMN has reviewed all of them by now. So where is the Chronicle?

Well, at least we’re still getting race coverage. Today’s piece is on the two contested HISD trustee races, one of which will be on my ballot.

Trustee Karla Cisneros’ decision not to seek re-election in District 1 set up the three-way match for her seat, and the outcome could change the board’s ethnic makeup.

A win by Anne Flores Santiago or Richard Cantú would give Hispanics three of HISD’s nine school board seats. More than half of HISD’s 210,000 students are Hispanic. Cisneros is Anglo and married to a Hispanic.

The current board comprises four whites, three blacks and two Hispanics.

Cisneros has endorsed Natasha Kamrani, a 37-year-old lawyer who came to Houston from Ohio 15 years ago as a Teach for America corps member teaching Spanish-speaking students at Edison Middle School.

Her husband, Chris Barbic, runs the YES College Prep charter schools.

Kamrani said she would push to improve HISD’s middle schools and support policies aimed at preparing all high school graduates for college.

Santiago, 38, wants to expand an HISD partnership with the Houston Community College System that allows high school students to earn college credits. Too many HISD students are graduating without basic skills, she said.

“We need to make sure our students can read and write when they graduate from high school,” Santiago said at a recent candidates’ forum. Santiago owns a private ambulance service and her mother, Yolanda Navarro Flores, is a member of the community college board. She is endorsed by HISD Trustee Diana Dávila, the wife of HCCS board member Abel Dávila.

Cantú, 36, runs Mayor Bill White’s Citizens’ Assistance Office and is the only District 1 candidate who has sought a school board seat before. He has promised to make teacher pay raises and HISD’s high dropout rate his top priorities.

He is endorsed by HISD’s main teachers union, the Houston Federation of Teachers.

Cantu said he supports HISD’s partnership with Project GRAD, a non-profit group that promises $4,000 college scholarships to graduates from certain low-income schools. The organization requires the schools it supports to use its teaching methods and strict disciplinary practices. HISD trustees this year cut Project GRAD’s budget by $1 million amid concerns from some administrators that the organization hasn’t delivered strong enough results.

Cisneros has endorsed Kamrani, who is definitely the favorite choice in my neighborhood. I’ll have more on this shortly, but in the meantime I’ll point you to Kamrani’s website so you can learn more about her, and to my previous Q&A session with Cantu.

Finally, the tireless Sal Costello has a pointer to more video of him disputing pro-Prop 1 assertions. Eye on Williamson has more on yesterday’s Costello video, plus a plea to help No Nonsense In November in that county.

UPDATE: Forgot to note that BOR has some information on statewide coverage of the Save Texas Marriage effort, and that Jonathan Ichikawa was way ahead of the curve on this one.

My question for Bill

This article on Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson is interesting, but ultimately doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the famously publicity-shy cartoonist that we haven’t read elsewhere. With one exception:

Bill Watterson, 47, hasn’t made a public appearance since he delivered the commencement speech in 1990 at his alma mater, Kenyon College. But he recently welcomed some written questions from fans to promote the Oct. 4 release of the three-volume “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes,” which contains every one of the 3,160 strips printed during its 10-year run.

Among his revelations:

• He reads newspaper comics, but doesn’t consider this their golden age.

• He’s never attended any church.

• He’s currently interested in art from the 1600s.

None of those facts are particularly compelling to me, but I can’t tell you how much I wish I’d known about this in time to submit a question of my own. What I’d have asked him is “Are you aware of all those damned peeing Calvin stickers out there, and would it have killed you to have done something to protect your copyright?” Because I’d sure like to know the answer to that.

UPDATE: According to two commenters so far, Watterson has said that he’s aware of the peeing Calvin stickers and has made some efforts to stop them, but as they’re made and sold by a zillion tiny distributors, there’s no easy way to do that. Fair enough. I think what I wanted from him as far as protecting his copyright goes would have been to actually take a louder and more public stance about this phenomenon. Use the fact that he’s the creator of one of the best-loved comic strips of all time to tell everybody that he doesn’t like these stickers and wished people wouldn’t make, sell, or buy them. Who knows, maybe doing so early on, especially when the likeness of Calvin in these things was so apparent you could tell which individual strip it was taken from, would have killed this industry in its infancy. I guess what bugs me is that I’ve never seen a direct statement from Watterson about this, and I’ve always interpreted that as indifference on his part. I’m glad to hear that he really does care, but I sure do wish that fact were more widely known.

Game Three notes

Crap. Only good thing I can think of to say is that I gave up and went to bed after the ninth.

One question: I know she was cute and all, but why did the Fox cameras keep focusing on that one brunette White Sox fan? Or did I just answer my own question?

Last chance tonight, Astros. Nothing to lose at this point, so let it all hang out.

Behold my power!

If only I had such sway over the Chronicle’s editorial page! Thanks for the egoboo and all, but I’ve never even gotten them to print one of my letters to the editor. Believe me, if they were taking orders from me they’d have finished all of their endorsements by now.

Sedosi’s complaint here is that the Chron doesn’t have an op-ed on the passing of Rosa Parks. Far as I can tell, the editorials there generally lag the news cycle by a day or two. While I agree that it would be nice to see them be more on top of things, I think it’s a little unfair to single them out without at least a cursory check of what the other major papers are opining on. With that in mind:

– The top editorial at the Morning News has to do with sanctions on Syria, with secondary pieces on Ben Bernanke and teaching kids about the evils of drugs.

– At the Star-Telegram, they’re weighing in on cancelling proms, a tax increment financing district, and more kudos for Ben Bernanke.

– The Express News tells us to support the McCain anti-torture bill and to vote for Prop 7, while also counseling NBA players to accept a dress code.

– Last but not least we have the Statesman, which turns out to be the only paper eulogizing Rosa Parks on its editorial page. (They also lionize Ben Bernanke, which makes me wonder who all these papers have been listening to and why the Chron didn’t get that particular memo. I will admit, though, that “Bush hires competent non-crony for important job” is a topic worth remarking on.)

So five major papers, and one editorial obit for Rosa Parks, with many other pieces commenting on older stories. I feel certain that by Thursday, at least four of the five will have said something about Ms. Parks. As well they should remember a true American hero, who deserves to be commemorated from coast to coast. All I’m saying is that if it’s a crime for the Chron not to have done it today, they had their share of accomplices.

Toll road privatization followup

Last month, the idea of Harris County selling off the financial interest in its toll road network to a private firm was first publicly floated. At the time, a feasability study was proposed, with an October 25 deadline for Dick Raycraft, director of county management services, to report back on just what would be studied. Well, today’s the 25th:

Commissioners Court is expected today to give the go-ahead to a comprehensive study that will determine whether it is in the public’s and the county’s interest to fully or partially privatize the toll road. The plan calls for the county to ask selected investment banks to submit proposals about the toll road’s future.

The court also will consider whether it should create a working group that will help review proposals about the toll road’s future.

The study will consider which of the following options is best for the toll road users, the county and its long-term financial stability.

The county could:

•Keep the toll-road authority as is.

•Sell parts or all of the system to a private firm or to a partnership between a private firm, the county and a newly created regional mobility organization. Such a sale might net $2.7 billion to $4.4 billion, concluded First Southwest Co., the county’s financial adviser.

•Or it could lease the right to operate the system for 50 to 75 years to a private firm or to a partnership between a private firm, county and the regional group. Such a deal could net the county $2 billion to $7 billion, according to investment banks.

Under a public-private partnership, the county could hold no more than a 49 percent interest. A private firm and a regional mobility organization would control the remaining 51 percent.

The organization, [Harris County Judge Robert] Eckels said, would include members appointed by Harris County, surrounding counties and Gov. Rick Perry.

Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said, “The study will explore our options and look at what the future of the toll-road authority ought to be. We would be remiss in our responsibility not to look at this.”

Robin Holzer, who outlined the reasons why this is a bad idea when it first came up (there’s a lot more discussion on that link after her piece, so do click the link and read it all), explains it again in shorter form:

“Many, many members of our organization are concerned the accountability will be less if the toll roads are run by a private company,” said Robin Holzer, chair of the Citizens Transportation Coalition.


Holzer said private firms want to operate the toll road because they know that they can make money on top of whatever was required to be paid to the county. She wondered why the county just doesn’t make the money itself rather than give a private firm a cut of its take.

“I am skeptical that the deal makes financial sense. Some people will be tempted by the thought, ‘Hey, we can have money now instead of later,’ ” she said.

The subsequent discussion of Robin’s initial analysis of this led me to this interesting perspective on what may be to come:

County Toll Road Authority director Mike Strech tells us impetus for the study comes from an unsolicited offer by Goldman Sachs to the county received about a month back. Goldman Sachs have proposed a longterm franchise in return for a franchise fee of $7b.

Goldman Sachs made a proposal about five years ago which was rejected by the county.

There’s a report in Bond Buyer magazine quoting Edwin Harrison, the county’s chief investment officer as saying that Lehman Bros, UBS and Citigroup have also said there should be no trouble getting a sum like $7b for a toll franchise.

First Southwest in a preliminary report for the county is reported in the local press as saying a franchise could bring in a net $2b to $5b after defeasing county debt of $1.8b.

However a First Southwest guy told us that so far all they have had is general conversations with Harris County officials. Any numbers they have given were very rough back of the envelop calculations of the order of magnitude. To get a good grip on the subject they would need to do a proper study. He said there are many alternatives that could be considered:

* sale to another government agency

* formation of a regional mobility authority

* an initial public offering in which the authority is converted into a publicly held and traded company

* a longterm toll concession granted after competitive bids

“There are a lot of options,” he said “and obviously we hope we will be hired to help the county explore them. We have a lot of experience here and we know these toll roads.”

Yes, I’m sure they’re oh so eager to help the county out. Someone remind me to look into recent campaign contributions made by whoever wins this consulting gig once it happens.

Finally, since the article mentions “Spanish toll company Cintra” (also known as a main player in the Trans Texas Corridor), here’s just a little reminder of what meeting the new boss may mean:

In Chicago, Cintra took over the Chicago Skyway, a 7-mile bridge, late last year. The city, which built the bridge in the 1950s, was paid $1.8 billion for 99 years.

Before the documents were signed, Cintra and its partners, doing business as Skyway Concession, announced that the $2 toll would increase to $2.50 for cars and up to $11.80 for trucks.

“Everybody agrees the tollway needs money for repairs … but to increase it by that much is shocking,” said Bob Stranczek, president of Chicago-area Cresco Lines, which specializes in hauling steel. “Most of us operate under 1 to 3 percent profit margins. We don’t have the money to pay these fees.”

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Would you like that roof open or closed?

Tonight will feature the first World Series game ever played in the state of Texas, and what is Major League Baseball talking about? Whether or not the Astros must open the roof on Minute Maid Park.

Major League Baseball officials say they, and not the Astros, will have final word on whether the retractable roof at Minute Maid Park will be open for tonight’s Game 3 against the Chicago White Sox.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Monday the league will have control of the roof and prefers keep it open, weather permitting. Forecasters are predicting clear skies and 62 degrees at first pitch, with temperatures falling into the mid-50s during the game.

“MLB controls the postseason, certainly the World Series,” Selig said. “We really haven’t gotten heavily involved in the debate. Our position is that we want teams to do what they do during the regular season.

“If, say, 80 degrees is the cutoff during the regular season, that’s what it should be in the postseason. I don’t want it to become a farce. Let’s say it’s 72 degrees. Why wouldn’t the roof be open? Why do you have a retractable roof in the first place?”

Because it’s their stadium and they have the final say over it for every other game, including games in the first two postseason rounds, which MLB supposedly controls? Because the Astros are 36-17 with the roof closed but only 15-11 with it open, and when you’re down 0-2 you need all the home-field advantage you can get? Because they may possibly know more about what their fans would want than you would? I’m just saying.

Rob Matwick, the Astros’ senior vice president for ballpark operations and customer service, said the top concerns during the regular season are the threat of precipitation and the temperature.

“The No. 1 decision-maker probably ends up being the chance of rain in the summer,” he said. “If the rain chance is 60, 70 percent, we’ll err on the side of caution and stay closed. From there, heat and humidity and the heat index-type numbers are the criteria we would look at.”

Matwick said the typical rule of thumb during the summer is the roof will be closed if the temperature is 85 degrees or above at scheduled first pitch for a night game.

“Our only experience with cold is during the College Classic (a baseball tournament in February), and we’ve played Classic games in the bright sunshine and roof closed just because it’s too cold,” Matwick said.

For what it’s worth, I attended a College Classic game a couple of years back, on a night that dipped into the low 50s or maybe high 40s. Since the day had started out as sunny and warm as today’s is now, I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to bringing sufficiently warm clothing for the game that night, and as a result I was not as comfortable as I would have liked. Any fans who are going straight to the game after work and who didn’t think to bring their sweaters will regret it. Maybe that would be their fault for not thinking ahead, but especially if they assumed the roof would be closed as it usually is it would also be a shame.

Meanwhile, the Chron recalls the referendum that led to the construction of EnronMinute Maid. I supported this at the time, based mostly on a belief in the economic power of new stadia which I now know to be almost completely false. I do think there was and is value in building this stadium, and I agree with Mayorbob Lanier when he says that there’d be a lot fewer opponents of its construction, at least if you were to do a poll right this very minute. That said, I couldn’t recommend these deals with a straight face any more. Maybe a partial public funding arrangement – it would depend on who pays how much and what the public got back out of it – but on the whole this wasn’t worth it.

I did get a chuckle out of local gadfly/stadium opponent Barry Klein’s demonstration of how not to win hearts and minds:

[I]sn’t he excited that the Astros are in the World Series?

“I’m entirely ambivalent,” Klein said.

“I’m pleased when the team is doing well, but I’m content when they lose because I know the local establishment is gloating, and I’d prefer they not be in that mood.”

Boy, that’ll sure get the masses flocking to your side.

Finally, the Orange Show notes that the traditional intra-city bet on the Series outcome has a distinctly Houston twist to it this year. From a press release I received:

As Mayor White continues his tireless work to keep Houston moving, he is including an official entry in Everyones Art Car Parade, the world’s largest and oldest Art Car Parade, in the traditional bet between the two cities participating in the World Series. Mayor Daley bet some of Chicago’s signature items such as hot dogs and a giant cheesecake. Mayor White is offering an experience that no other city can offer – an official entry in the city’s proud display of mobile works of art produced by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, Everyones Art Car Parade!

The Houston Astros play the first ever World Series game in Texas on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005. A grand collection of Art Cars will drive around Minute Maid Park beginning at 4 pm to celebrate this historic occasion.

“While we are always rooting for more entries in the world’s largest and oldest Art Car parade, this is one entry we are rooting against with all of our collective might,” said Susanne Theis, Executive Director of the Orange Show Center for Visionary. “We’re confident that the Astros will win the World Series and ensure that Chicago does not have an official entry in Everyones Art Car Parade. Houstonians will be overjoyed to see Art Cars welcome the World Series to Texas and even more excited to see a Houston Astros World Series Champions Art Car rolling in the parade on Saturday, May 13, 2006!” added parade director Kim Stoilis.

Many Houstonians remember the playoff wager that involved David Letterman and then Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire during the 1986 playoffs against the New York Mets. The Astros lost the hard fought series forcing Kathy Whitmire to display a giant photo of Mets leftfielder Mookie Wilson in her office for an entire year.

Mookie Wilson! Man, I’d forgotten about that bet. Bet that pic would be worth a few bucks on eBay now.

Council race news

There may not be any endorsements today, but there’s still some local election news, starting with this piece on City Council At Large #1 and its frontrunner, Peter Brown. I just want to point out this bit of muddled thinking from candidate Roy Morales:

Morales said he doesn’t support the position of Mayor Bill White and the Police Department that immigration enforcement should be handled by federal authorities. He said the city should work with them to enforce the laws, including detaining undocumented people to await deportation, but it shouldn’t use racial profiling.

“We’ve got to think all this out,” he said, adding that the city should seek solutions with county and federal authorities. “We owe it to our citizens to try,” he said.

You could start by telling us how you would pay for all this extra police work as well as the facilities needed to store the undocumented folks they pick up. Adding in a little bit about how a cop on the beat can tell who’s a legal resident and who’s not without harassing a bunch of citizens and documented visitors would be nice, too.

Over in District I, the Alvarado Diploma Dustup gets a second day in the news cycle.

UH Communications Director Eric Gerber on Monday said he was prohibited by privacy laws from providing detailed information about Alvarado. But he released a statement saying that in 1999, numerous UH requirements for a bachelor of arts degree were revised. The writing proficiency exam was dropped.

“Since that time, students who had enrolled under earlier degree plans have been allowed to petition to waive this obsolete requirement,” Gerber said in the statement. “Such requirements are routinely approved.”

I presume he meant “such requests are routinely approved”, but whatever. There’s nothing in here that alters my belief that Carol Alvarado could plausibly have thought she’d jumped through all the hoops to get her diploma. Perhaps she should have known, and perhaps she should have been more careful, but completing the coursework for a degree and claiming to have one is still in my book not the same level of offense as not completing the coursework but still claiming the degree. Voters can certainly see it differently, but to me this is not a resignation-worthy infraction. Greg and Dos Centavos have further thoughts.

Endorsement watch: Nothing new

For whatever the reason, the Chron has taken the day off from endorsing anyone or anything today, despite the fact that there are still a handful of Constitutional amendments, three contested City Council races, and HISD/HCC trustee races to be discussed. I really really wish I knew what their schedule was for all this.

So we’ll look elsewhere today, and a good place to start is with the Swanky Conservative and his principled reasons for voting against Prop 2. I don’t share all of the tenets that brought him to his decision, but when differing perspectives lead to the same righteous conclusion, it shows the strength of that conclusion. Check it out.

I see that the announcement about Save Texas Marriage is in the news. I’ve said about all I have to say about this tactic, so I’ll just note how painfully amusing it is to see Kelly Shackleford, who hasn’t uttered one honest word during the entire debate over Prop 2, complain about deceptive practices. If there’s one person in the state of Texas who’s qualified to comment on deceptiveness, it’s Kelly Shackleford, who adds to his legend in this piece by falsely accusing some Save Texas Marriage proponents of being phony clergy members.

Well, there’s also this:

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who authored the amendment, called the group’s assertion “ludicrous” and said no legal scholar could possibly agree that Proposition 2 could negate traditional marriages.

“It’s just crazy,” said Chisum, who has long championed measures to block same-sex marriage in Texas. “This is politics at its lowest level here. They’re just trying to scare people.”

That would be the same brilliant legal scholar Warren Chisum who claims that not adopting Prop 2 would lead to legalized polygamy. As with Shackleford and baloney, if there’s a Grand Poobah of Invoking Boogeymen For Political Gain, it’s Warren Chisum.

On other subjects, David Van Os has joined the “just vote No” coalition. I expect to vote No on most of them, but I’m still working my way through it all, and while I can’t think of any amendment whose defeat I would mourn, I’m not prepared to say they should all die just yet.

Toll road opponent Sal Costello has a story with video in which he argues against Prop 9. He also points to two editorials that advocate No votes on Props 1 and 9.

Finally, I promised to give my own endorsements today, but I’m not ready yet. Hopefully, I’ll have them written by tomorrow.