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July 2nd, 2010:

Friday random ten: Three cheers for the red, white, and blue, part 2

Continuing with last week’s theme, here are ten white songs:

1. Angry White Boy Polka – Weird Al Yankovic
2. Dancing with Mrs. White – Great Big Sea
3. Nights in White Satin – Making Movies
4. White Boots – The Vaughn Brothers
5. White City Fighting – Pete Townshend
6. White Dove – John Vanderslice
7. White Lines – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
8. White Man – Steeleye Span
9. White Rabbit – Austin Lounge Lizards
10. White Room – The Bobs

I’ll complete the trilogy with blue songs next week. What’s whitening up your iPod this week?

Both the Entire Song List and the Ripping Vinyl reports are off this week, in honor of the holiday. I believe they’re up at the same cabin where the Car Talk puzzler spends its summer vacation. Have a happy and safe Independence Day, everyone.

HISD needs math tutors

If you’re a numbers person, HISD needs you. From the inbox:

The Houston Independent School District is seeking dynamic college graduates to provide in-school math tutoring to middle and high school students as part of the district’s groundbreaking Apollo 20 program. Those hired will receive a salary of $20,000, a generous benefits package that includes medical benefits, and an incentive award of up to $5,000 for one year of service in the Apollo 20 Math Fellows Program. The Apollo 20 Math Fellows Program is one of the largest in-school tutoring programs that has ever been launched in an urban public school district.

The Apollo 20 Math Fellows will be placed in one of nine HISD schools that are part of the district’s Apollo 20 school turn-around effort. Fellows will be placed in large cohorts to serve an entire grade—either 6th grade or 9th grade —with focused, intensive math support. Tutors will work daily with five or six pairs of students, each for 60 to 80 minutes at a time, tutoring them in math.

“We know from the research of Dr. Roland Fryer and our partnership with EdLabs at Harvard University, that intensive, one-on-one tutoring can make a difference with a struggling student,” said HISD Superintendent Terry Grier. “Our Apollo 20 Math Fellows will be able to develop a close relationship with each one of their students and have the chance to make a significant impact in their lives.”

The program is similar to Teach For America in that HISD is seeking outstanding college graduates who have a passion for helping the neediest children succeed and thrive. The program is different in that the commitment is only one year, not two, and the work emphasizes working closely with a few students rather than teaching several sections of twenty or more students.

To become an Apollo 20 Math Fellow, candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, possess strong math skills and make a commitment of ten months, beginning August 2, 2010.

For more information visit

Please help if you can.

Who wants to run the Texas Lottery?

The contract is up for a bid, and the competition is fierce.

Companies that run lotteries around the world are expected to ante up by this week, proposing how they would oversee the Texas Lottery if they were to land its lucrative operations contract. The Texas contract, currently held by Gtech Corp., rarely comes up for bid, so the stakes are high for the competing businesses and taxpayers.

It’s a coveted contract, one that could net the winning bidder as much as $100 million per year.

Three firms — Scientific Games Corp., Intralot Inc. and Gtech — will probably submit bids, according to comments and actions by the companies since the beginning of the year, when the Texas Lottery Commission issued a request for proposals.

“The Texas Lottery is a highly valued customer of Gtech’s, and we are preparing to bid,” said Gtech spokesman Bob Vincent, who wouldn’t discuss the bidding process any further. Other likely bidders wouldn’t comment last week.

Since the request for proposals, the bidding process has been caught in conflict because a consulting company the commission hired to help write the bid request had been doing business with Gtech. That led to questions about whether Gtech has an unfair advantage in the selection system.

The consultant, Gartner Inc., had its contract revoked by the commission, and the deadline for bids was extended twice to remove any doubts about unfairness in the bidding, lottery officials said. The new deadline for bids is Tuesday.

A panel of Lottery Commission officials and a representative from the Texas comptroller’s office will evaluate the bids, with a decision expected in September. The Lottery Commission hired a new consultant company, Battelle, to take the place of Gartner and help check the bids to see whether they meet all the commission’s specifications, said lottery spokesman Bobby Heith.

The bidders’ financial proposals won’t be revealed by state officials even after Tuesday’s deadline passes. Only when the winning bid is selected will provisions of the new contract be public, Heith said.

The Chron has more on the GTech conflict of interest, and a quote from a familiar source.

Dawn Nettles, who owns the watchdog Lotto Report, predicted the agency would stick with its longtime operator.

“My prediction is GTECH will be awarded the contract, irregardless of who bids what,” Nettles said. “Because there are ties. And they’re not going to be broken. … I think for the purposes of our taxpayer dollars, and the fact we’re in such dire straits for money, I believe the Texas lottery ought to go with the best price.”

I will not be surprised if that prediction turns out to be true. There’s plenty of room for improvement in how the Lottery is run, though a lot of that is the Commission’s fault. Be that as it may, this is a rare opportunity. I hope we take advantage of it.

Wasting our youth

This is just wrong.

Thousands of high school graduates like Juan are discovering the dichotomy between a federal law that ensures their education and one that prevents them from using it.

“I never saw myself as an immigrant,” said Juan, a toddler when his family brought him from Mexico. Like the other students in this story, he is being identified only by his first name.

“I’ve been a Dallas boy forever. So it’s a bad feeling, knowing 17 years of study with regular kids – doing better than them – and I can’t even go out and find a job.”

Federal law bans public schools from denying admission to illegal immigrants. Between 50,000 and 70,000 of them graduate each year from American high schools, up to 16,000 of them in Texas. No such law exists for public universities, though 10 states including Texas provide some form of in-state tuition aid to illegal immigrants.

Juan will attend the University of Texas at San Antonio. But in sharp irony to the country’s education ethos, a degree will not boost his career. Juan can’t gain legal employment without a Social Security number, meaning he can return to Mexico with his acquired skills or do the same work as his relatives here. He has decided to major in business administration because he knows a bit about mechanics from his uncle and won’t need to show papers to open a shop.

I’ve tried, but I can’t think of a single good reason why anyone would think this was an appropriate way to treat people like Juan. It seems to me that a sane society, let alone one with an unacceptably large number of school dropouts, would view him as the success story that he is and ensure he has every opportunity to maximize his talents. Frankly, I’m astonished this is even a question. I don’t know what else to say.

How to really put the unemployed to work

Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken has the germ of a good idea here. Unfortunately, he’s incapable of seeing what it is, and so goes off a cliff with it.

“Even in good economic times, there were people in Texas who saw the unemployment system as simply another entitlement program, which it’s not,” Pauken, who served in the Reagan administration, told me. “Obviously there are a tremendous number of people — they’ve lost their job through no fault of their own. They’re doing everything they can to try to find work. How do you distinguish between those who are really out trying to find work and those who simply want to draw an unemployment check as long as they can?”

Pauken suggests setting a wage of, say, $10 an hour and having people who get extended federal benefits work enough hours to cover their unemployment payment — “rather than it continue to be a drain on the taxpayer dollars.”

The appointee of GOP Gov.Rick Perry said this would weed out people “who may be gaming the system,” provide a worthwhile task for those trying their best and possibly open job opportunities.


Pauken “has it all wrong — hard-working Texans should not be required to take a low-paying job that has no relationship to their skills and background using their limited unemployment benefits to subsidize their wages,” saidMaurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project. “Unemployment benefits were created as an insurance program to help people get back on their feet, not to add insult to injury by blaming workers and their families for the devastating economic mess we’re in thanks to Wall Street.”

The Texas AFL-CIO’sRick Levy called the idea “a perversion of the unemployment system … Really what he’s proposing is a public jobs program, but instead of paying people a living wage, we would make them work for their unemployment benefits.

“In many ways, it’s an insult to working families that are doing everything they can to scrape by right now,” Levy said. “Basically, it would be putting people to work but eliminating things like minimum-wage and safety and health protections that only attach if you’re part of the workforce.”

To address Pauken’s points, there are people who believe that fluoridation of the water supply is a Communist plot to brainwash the American public. We’re not required to take that viewpoint seriously, and we’re under no compunction to do the same with those who think that unemployment insurance is a scam for lazy people, either. I’m sure there are a few folks gaming the system out there, working hard to get a meager one-third of their former salary instead of finding a job that might pay a real wage, just as there are those who commit other kinds of fraud. The marginal benefit we’d likely get from trying to root them out in this fashion is minimal, especially when weighed against the indignity and inconvenience of those who are working diligently to find employment while receiving this insurance. Putting the insult aside, what’s the point? Pauken doesn’t even suggest a pulled-from-his-ear figure of how much his silly idea might save if it were to be implemented, which is a sure sign of its half-baked-ness.

Having said that, I’m all in favor of a program to get unemployed people back to work, which we clearly need. It’s called another federal stimulus package, this one containing enough money for cities and states to eliminate the many large anti-stimulus packages that have greatly harmed the economic recovery. There’s still a gazillion infrastructure projects that can and should go forward, not to mention a lot of beach cleanup – I like the idea of making BP put up a couple billion dollars to pay for workers to clean the beaches – and of course we’ll need a lot of job skills retraining for folks who’ve been unemployed long term. That’d do the trick a lot more effectively than what Pauken proposes, and it would be a long-term winner for the federal deficit as well as all those underfunded states. You want people working, Tom, there’s your answer.