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January 10th, 2011:

The Hammer goes to the slammer


Judge Pat Priest sentenced Tom DeLay to three years in prison.

The three-year sentence was on the charge of conspiring to launder corporate money into political donations during the 2002 elections.

On the charge of money laundering, DeLay was sentenced to five years but that was probated for 10 years.

He was taken into custody but he was expected to be released as soon as he posted an appeals bond.

The judge then ordered the courtroom cleared except for the lawyers.

Prior to the sentence, DeLay spoke to the court.

He was unrepentant.

“I fought the fight. I ran the race. I kept the faith,” DeLay said.

Judge Priest said he agreed with the jury’s guilty verdict, returned in November, and would have instructed a different verdict if he did not believe DeLay conspired to break the law.

He said there is no higher principle than those who write the laws should follow the law.

Gotta admit, I didn’t expect DeLay to get jail time – I figure it’d be probation all the way. But then I didn’t really expect him to get convicted, either. I think I need to start not expecting to win the Lottery.

There’s a lot more at that link about how the day in court went. DeLay is still a long way from actually seeing the inside of a jail cell, of course. He’s free to walk among us during the appeals process, which may take as long as it took to get him to trial in the first place, and I can’t say I really expect his convictions to be held up by all of the courts that may get a chance to rule on them. But for today at least, we can all revel in the fact that Convicted Felon Tom DeLay is officially a jailbird. Sometimes, karma really comes through. And if you’re looking for a way to celebrate this monumental event, I recommend a slice of Schadenfreude Pie, with a hat tip to Linkmeister for the reference.

UPDATE: Juanita checks in.

The audit on HISD’s magnet programs

The long-awaited audit has arrived.

Students in Houston ISD’s prestigious magnet schools could find themselves shopping for new campuses if district leaders act on a critical audit that suggests eliminating nearly half the programs.

The long-awaited audit, released on Friday, proposes that the district cut 55 of its 113 magnet programs, stripping the schools of extra dollars, the coveted label and free busing for students who live outside the neighborhood.

Many of the programs aren’t drawing enough students to continue, while others should adopt new themes and get a second chance, the audit says. At some of the most esteemed high schools, such as Bellaire, Lamar and Westside, the auditors suggest ending the magnet programs because of campus crowding. Students still could try to transfer into them but wouldn’t get busing.

The auditors also recommend removing the entrance criteria for most magnet schools in favor of a central lottery to ensure fairness. But auditions for fine-arts programs at middle and high schools should remain, the report says, and students still would have to test into gifted programs.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said parents shouldn’t panic about the suggestions in the report. District officials plan to solicit community feedback in coming weeks before Grier makes a final proposal to the school board for approval in March.

“I know this could be upsetting to folks,” Grier said. “That’s why we’re going to extreme lengths to go out and listen to people.”

More from the Press.

Board president Greg Meyers also seemed eager to emphasize no immediate changes are taking place.

“The Comprehensive Magnet Program Review provides a starting point for a community conversation about how we can strengthen HISD’s popular magnet program,” he said. “Some of our magnet schools consistently rank among the top campuses not only in Texas, but in the nation. We are committed to maintaining that level of excellence while also strengthening our schools that need help.”

The following was sent by Mary Buchanan Nesbit, who was quoted in the Chron story, to the HISD Parent Visionaries group on Facebook:

I am hopeful that you have had a chance to read through the MSA magnet review without going into cardiac arrest as I have heard from many of you. If not, I hope you will find time this weekend. Most trustees have scheduled their community meetings for next week. Typically, Greg Meyers, Harvin Moore, Paula Harris and Anna Eastman hold their community meetings on the Tuesday before the monthly BOE meeting which is next week. Mike Lunceford holds his meetings on Thursday. You may want to look for such an email or contact board services.

From the HISD website, “After conducting a comprehensive audit of the district’s magnet offerings—which included tours of every magnet campus—MSA representatives suggested that several bold improvements be made to help more parents find the best schools to meet their children’s unique needs and academic interests.”

Clearly, what HISD views as “bold improvements” and what many parents, teachers, and principals view as “bold improvements” are very different things. How does denying economically disadvantaged, minority students or any students for that matter access or transportation to high quality programs at Lamar, Westside and Bellaire benefit students and our city as a whole? How does changing the theme of an existing high performing magnet benefit the students who choose the school? How does creating a diversity cap or limit of 8% white students in a magnet program create greater access for all students? How does centralizing control of student assignment to individual campuses empower parents with real choices? Lastly, why is the expectation that every magnet school represent the racial make-up of the school district as opposed to the racial make-up of the city? If the goal of this magnet audit is to reduce diversity, limit access, reduce choice and create greater inequity for students, these recommendations knock it out of the park.

I’m still working my way through the report, which you can see here. I’ll be very interested to see what feedback the trustees get at the engagement sessions, about which you can learn more here. I’m wondering if it might be a good idea to get away from the practice of magnet programs at various schools and instead just have more magnet schools, which might allow HISD to serve as many students more efficiently. At the very least, we know that small specialized high schools – like HISD’s DeBakey and Law Enforcement – tend to have better performance in large urban school districts. Why not make more of them, and redirect magnet programs there? Also, as a PTA board member at Travis Elementary, I can attest to the issue of some magnet and Vanguard programs becoming increasingly unavailable as the schools draw more students from their own neighborhoods. That’s an issue that needs some attention. Anyway, read the report, attend the meetings, and let your voice be heard.

Krugman on the Texas budget deficit

By now, you’ve probably seen Paul Krugman’s column about the Texas budget deficit. He uses it to make some great points about the failure of the conservative slash-and-burn approach, but he missed a couple of facts that make it all the more damning.

How bad is the Texas deficit? Comparing budget crises among states is tricky, for technical reasons. Still, data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggest that the Texas budget gap is worse than New York’s, about as bad as California’s, but not quite up to New Jersey levels.


So what happened to the “Texas miracle” many people were talking about even a few months ago?

Part of the answer is that reports of a recession-proof state were greatly exaggerated. It’s true that Texas job losses haven’t been as severe as those in the nation as a whole since the recession began in 2007. But Texas has a rapidly growing population — largely, suggests Harvard’s Edward Glaeser, because its liberal land-use and zoning policies have kept housing cheap. There’s nothing wrong with that; but given that rising population, Texas needs to create jobs more rapidly than the rest of the country just to keep up with a growing work force.

And when you look at unemployment, Texas doesn’t seem particularly special: its unemployment rate is below the national average, thanks in part to high oil prices, but it’s about the same as the unemployment rate in New York or Massachusetts.

What about the budget? The truth is that the Texas state government has relied for years on smoke and mirrors to create the illusion of sound finances in the face of a serious “structural” budget deficit — that is, a deficit that persists even when the economy is doing well. When the recession struck, hitting revenue in Texas just as it did everywhere else, that illusion was bound to collapse.

The only thing that let Gov. Rick Perry get away, temporarily, with claims of a surplus was the fact that Texas enacts budgets only once every two years, and the last budget was put in place before the depth of the economic downturn was clear. Now the next budget must be passed — and Texas may have a $25 billion hole to fill. Now what?

Krugman is correct that we have a structural deficit, but that’s primarily the result of the 2006 property tax cut, which he didn’t mention. He also didn’t note that the budget was only balanced in 2009 because of the federal stimulus that Perry loudly hates at every opportunity. Depending on how you looked at it – and I confess, as I go through my archives, I’m a little confused about which numbers are referring to what – you’ll see figures like a revenue shortfall of $3.7 billion and budget shortfall of $9.1 billion cited. The rainy day fund could have covered either of those, but in the case of the larger number it would have mostly wiped it out, leaving nothing for this biennium. Point being, the big bad federal government and all those evil Democrats gave us a two year grace period. Not that you’ll ever hear that from the ruling party.

Anyway. For those who like visual aids, Open Left has you covered. Forrest Wilder deals with the factually-challenged response to Krugman that Perry is pushing. Finally, Kevin Drum notes the revenue problem that all states have been facing.

Rats of a feather

My schadenfreude-o-meter goes to 11.

As convicted felon Tom DeLay prepares to find out Monday whether he will go to jail or get probation, his lawyer complained Friday that Travis County prosecutors offered immunity for testimony from two former DeLay aides who later worked for disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“They’ve offered to give immunity to two guys who admitted they stole millions just to get testimony against Tom DeLay,” said Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s lawyer. “They’ve destroyed Tom DeLay, and now they want to rub salt in the wound.”

In November, a Travis County jury convicted the former U.S. House majority leader on conspiracy and money laundering charges, but DeLay chose to have state District Judge Pat Priest , a senior judge from San Antonio, set the punishment. The sentencing will begin at 9 a.m. in the 250th District Court in Austin.

Gary Cobb, the lead prosecutor, confirmed Friday that immunity was offered to the two ex-aides, Michael Scanlon and Tony Rudy. Scanlon and Rudy pleaded guilty to corruption charges several years ago but are awaiting sentencing after cooperating with federal investigators, who are wrapping up their investigation of the Abramoff scandal that rocked Congress almost seven years ago.

Though it might be unlikely that Scanlon or Rudy will need protection from prosecution for anything in Texas, Cobb said a prosecutor would be willing to testify in the federal case, at the two men’s expense, about their cooperation in the DeLay proceeding. Cobb said such offers are routine.

I’m trying to write something insightful, but I keep giggling before I can form a coherent thought. If Juanita doesn’t make it back from Austin after this, I will presume she’s been assumed bodily into heaven. For those of you who need a few extra chuckles, read the letters of character and support that were sent on DeLay’s behalf. Don’t blame me if you injure yourself while reading them.

Steroid testing can never fail, it can only be failed

It’s definition of insanity time.

Don Hooton’s anti-steroid message aimed at young athletes has never been more in demand.

The foundation he started six years ago in the wake of his teenage son’s suicide, attributed to steroid use, has grown to a full-time staff of five. They speak at high schools and colleges across the U.S. and Canada. Annual donations from Major League Baseball and the National Football League to the Taylor Hooton Foundation are scheduled into the middle of the decade.

At the same time, the random steroid testing program for University Interscholastic League athletes in Texas is shrinking. The Legislature initially funded the effort in 2007 with an annual budget of $3 million, but the allotment for the current school year is $750,000 – after a cut to $1 million a year earlier. A total of 4,560 athletes are scheduled to be tested in 2010-11, compared with 35,077 in 2008-09.

While the economic downturn played a role in the reductions, Hooton said he believes state politicians don’t fear steroid use as much as they did when the bill was enacted. That, he said, is because the 51,635 tests done over the last 2 ½ years have resulted in 21 positive tests, two unresolved and 139 not passing for procedure violations, such as unexcused absences. Last spring, all 3,308 tests were clean. Two years ago, Gov. Rick Perry said the results to date indicated the funding might have been excessive.

Hooton said the results of the testing, done for the UIL by Drug Free Sport of Kansas City, Mo., don’t accurately measure steroid use among the state’s high school athletes.

“Those people who read the results as proof we never had a steroid problem in the first place, we just gave them all the ammunition in the world,” said Hooton, who runs the foundation out of his McKinney home. “We’re going to budget this down to defeating the purpose of the program.”

So we’ve spent millions of dollars testing thousands of high school athletes for steroids, and caught only a handful of actual steroid users. And the recommended solution is apparently to spend millions more doing more testing. For what purpose, I couldn’t say.

Delaware is one of a handful of states that considered starting steroid testing but declined. Kevin Charles, executive director of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the state passed in part because of concern about cheating.

“The cost didn’t seem to make the bang worth the buck because testing was so easily beaten,” Charles said. “We had a real good presentation by a medical intern on how easily one can beat drug testing.”

And, Hooton said, his contacts in the federal Drug Enforcement Administration say new steroids coming from China can’t yet be detected by the U.S. testing.

In good budget times, this would be at best a questionable exercise. In the face of a $25 billion budget hole, it’s completely inexcusable, even if the amount spent is tiny. Declare success and quit while we’re ahead, I say.