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October 28th, 2005:

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.

(more…)

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
children.

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.