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January 28th, 2011:

Friday random ten: The top 500, part 11

Continuing on with the songs in my collection from the Rolling Stone Top 500 list.

1. Train In Vain – Annie Lennox (#292, orig. The Clash)
2. Heart of Gold – Neil Young (#297)
3. Like A Prayer – Madonna (#300)
4. With A Little Help From My Friends – Big Daddy (#304, orig. The Beatles)
5. Wake Up Little Susie – Simon & Garfunkel (#311, orig. The Everly Brothers)
6. I Put A Spell On You – CCR/Pete Townshend (#313, orig. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)
7. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Elvis Costello (#315, orig. The Animals)
8. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd (#316)
9. Alison – Tufts Beelzebubs (#318, orig. Elvis Costello)
10. School’s Out – Alice Cooper – (#319)

We’ve already discussed the awesomeness of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. If you’re not familiar with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, you should be. Here’s his inimitable version of “I Put A Spell On You”:

As the Wikipedia article notes, Hawkins directly influenced performers like Alice Cooper, whose appearance in “Wayne’s World” was one of my favorite bits from that movie:

Yeah, I know, they did essentially this same bit with Aerosmith on SNL before the movie. I still love hearing ol’ Alice talking about Milwaukee.

Entire song list report: Started with “Sultans of Swing”, by Dire Straits. Ended with “Take Five”, the jazz classic from the Dave Brubeck Quartet. That was song #5200, for a total of 97 tunes this week. And we made it into the T songs at last. The last S song was “Syndicated Incorporated”, by Weird Al Yankovic, and the first T song was “T & J Waltz”, by Hot Club of Cowtown. As was the case with S, we’ll be in the T songs for awhile.

Effect of exempting schools and churches on drainage fee would be small

As we know, the drainage fee that will be collected to fund street and sewage repairs through the project formerly known as Renew Houston is intended to apply to all property that isn’t specifically exempted by state law, such as state buildings and public universities. Various entities like churches and schools and Harris County have asked for the city to exclude it from the fee, which would mean passing their costs onto everybody else, since the Renew Houston referendum requires the city to collect $125 million per year. It turns out that the cost of granting those exceptions would be fairly minimal.

A new drainage fee under City Council consideration would cost the average Houston homeowner about $5.38 per month if the city decides to exempt local government entities and churches from having to pay, officials revealed on Wednesday.

Each property owner’s fee will be determined by computer, using data from the Harris County Appraisal District and other sources, to estimate the amount of impervious surface of each residential or commercial tract. “Impervious surface” — meaning it does not readily absorb water – will include such things as driveways, decks, foundations, roofs and swimming pools.


Mayor Annise Parker on Wednesday defended her stance that everyone should pay.

“It is a relatively small amount of money in the grand scheme of things,” Parker said of the $9 million that would be paid by counties, school districts and religious organizations if they are not exempted. “If we are doing this in a fair and consistent manner, everyone should pay their fair share. People who contribute to drainage problems should pay for that drainage.”

Council members have shown little willingness to levy the fees across the board as they continue to hear objections from leaders of local governments and major churches in the city, such as Galveston-Houston Archbishop Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who publicly has expressed concerns about the impact of the fee on small parishes.

As the story notes in the last paragraph, the fee would be $5 a month under “everyone pays” rules. You know that I agree with the Mayor’s stance on this, but I’m glad to see that if Council succeeds in pushing back on her that it wouldn’t make that much difference. If it comes to that, I’d prefer to see schools and the county be given preference for avoiding the fee, since they are going to get kicked pretty hard by the Lege. As for churches, let’s just say that some are more capable of paying the drainage fee than others. You could maybe talk me into giving some consideration to the smaller ones that Cardinal DiNardo is concerned about, but I don’t know how easily one could come up with an acceptable formula to differentiate between the two. I’d rather see none of them exempted than all of them.

The firings will continue until services improve

Harris County has only just begun to fire people.

The protective net county government weaves under 4 million people — jailing crooks, inoculating residents against disease, investigating child abuse and treating the mentally ill – would fray noticeably under spending cut plans that get a hearing later this week.

With the property tax money county government relies on to cover most of its bills plummeting, the county’s budget boss has asked each department to show what the fiscal year that starts March 1 would look like with a 10 percent cut to the overall $1.3 billion budget.

The answers have come back in grim detail: fewer checks on children who are the subject of custody disputes; the shutdown of prosecutors’ units dedicated to elder abuse, identity theft and public assistance fraud; longer pretrial waits in jail as a shrunken courts staff scrambles to catch up on a backlog of paperwork.

“Public safety is the number one priority of government. That is why government exists,” District Attorney Pat Lykos said last week. In a statement issued Monday, she said, “Further reductions in force will be devastating, delaying justice and putting the public at risk.”

I guess the public will have to get used to it, because until it demands something different, this is what it will get. If you’re not affected, or don’t know anyone who will be affected, by this, you’re a very lucky person.

You know that old story about the frog and the scorpion?

From Speak South Texas, possibly the most ludicrous bemoaning of the Pitts budget of them all:

South Texas Republicans are voicing their opposition and concern to the proposed cuts. Valley Republican Aaron Peña was among the first, telling KURV Radio’s Daily Report with Colonel Ray “I don’t agree with it. I said that from the moment I read the budget. We are still dissecting it and it’s getting worse and worse.” In the words of the famous John McClane: Welcome to the Party pal.

You knew what they were when you hopped into bed with them, Aaron. If you didn’t, it’s no one’s fault but your own.

Almost as ridiculous:

Del Mar College President Mark Escamilla said the funding cuts seem to contradict the increases in student growth many community colleges are seeing across the state. The state can’t pay colleges what they are due.

“It’s a sad day in Texas when we have to start thinking about these kinds of cuts,” he said.


Rep. Raul Torres, whose district includes Del Mar College, said he has met with Escamilla.

“But I stress the budget is preliminary,” Torres said. “These Austin bureaucrats don’t take into consideration Del Mar’s growth, and I think together we will minimize the impact.”

Let me introduce you to Talmadge Heflin and Michael Quinn Sullivan, Raul. You know, the guys who have been saying that we don’t really have a budget shortfall at all, we just need to learn to live within the lessened means that we now have. I’m sure they’ll be open to hearing about Del Mar’s growth.

Rep. Connie Scott, R-Robstown, is hopeful state revenues from sales taxes will improve by the time the House votes on the budget later this year.

“I have met with our school boards and several school board members,” Scott said Wednesday. “We know cuts will come but we hope by May that the budget scenario improves. Regardless, as I have promised, a quality education system is one of my top priorities and it also is a constitutional duty for us to provide public education.”

First, any improvement in sales tax revenues will be used to pay off the $4.3 billion shortfall in the 2010-11 biennium’s budget. Second, how exactly did you intend to pay for that “quality education system” you promised? None of your Republican colleagues seem to share that interest.

All I can say is that if cognitive dissonance is something that can be detected externally, the levels of it in Texas must be off the charts by now.

If it weren’t for Obama, we wouldn’t be having this conversation

Rep. John Zerwas writes an op-ed extolling the virtues of the health insurance exchange bill he’s filed.

While it is no secret that I oppose the federal health care reform bill, if we don’t act now to create the Texas Health Insurance Connector, our state could be forced to cede regulatory control of a significant chunk of its health insurance market to the federal government. The desire to avoid such oversight has generated broad support for the connector, which I am proposing in House Bill 636. In addition to members of both political parties, a variety of groups that don’t usually agree on issues have come forward to support keeping Texas in charge of its health insurance market through the passage of HB 636. Those groups include the Texas Association of Business, Texas Hospital Association, Texas Medical Association, Texas Restaurant Association and two Texas health insurance industry groups.

Why must we do this? Among the provisions of the federal health care reforms is a requirement that an organized health insurance market known as an American Health Benefit Exchange be established in every state to provide coverage for U.S. citizens or legal immigrants who do not have access to affordable employer-based coverage. Each state must demonstrate by 2013 that it will have the structure in place to operate its exchange or the federal government will establish and manage it for that state. The Texas Health Insurance Connector, a simplified health insurance market, would serve as our state’s exchange.

Although I support the efforts by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and others to have the health care bill ruled unconstitutional, the connector proposal is more about what’s best for Texas and less about what the federal government has passed. It’s about ensuring that Texas maintains regulatory oversight over what could end up being a large segment of its health insurance market.

The exchange concept did not originate with Obamacare. The idea was first proposed in the 1970s, and the model is being used in such politically opposite states as Utah and Massachusetts. Because of the federal government’s 2013 deadline, our current legislative session may provide us the only opportunity to take action to keep the federal government out of our health-insurance market.

I’ve already said something nice about Zerwas and HB636, so I’ll just take a moment to note his almost defensive touting of his Republican bona fides in these paragraphs. It’s almost as if he’s a bit bashful about proposing legislation that would make it easier for someone to get health insurance, which is certainly understandable given the direction of the modern day Republican Party and its hostility to the concept of universal coverage. Be that as it may, if it weren’t for “Obamacare”, none of this would be a topic for discussion. In four regular legislative sessions under unified Republican control, the state hasn’t done a damn thing to improve access to health care; indeed, the two most notable achievements in that time were slashing CHIP in 2003 and settling the Frew lawsuit over Texas’ insufficient Medicaid payments in 2007. None of the bills Zerwas filed in 2009 had anything to do with insurance exchanges, which as he notes existed as a concept well before they became mandatory. It would be the same thing this year if the Affordable Care Act passed by President Obama and the Democratic Congress hadn’t forced Texas Republicans to do something. See this Trib interview with Rep. Zerwas for more.