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August 31st, 2012:

Friday random ten: To the moon

In honor of Neil Armstrong, for whom Texas Liberal has a nice roundup of obituaries, here are ten songs about the moon:

1. Fly Me To The Moon – Trinity University Jazz Band
2. Yellow Moon – Neville Brothers
3. Blue Moon Revisited – Cowboy Junkies
4. How High The Moon – The Manhattan Transfer
5. Bad Moon Rising – Thea Gilmore
6. Walking On The Moon – The Police
7. There’s A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon) – The B-52’s
8. Rising Of The Moon – Maggie Drennon
9. Man On The Moon – Ferraby Lionheart
10. The Man In The Moon – Andy M. Stewart

I have many more moon songs – it’s quite a popular theme for musicians – but I thought these were a fair representation. What are your moon songs?

Challenging the interim maps

One of the questions that came out of Tuesday’s redistricting preclearance ruling was whether or not it would affect the interim maps for this year. Some of the intervenors have asked the San Antonio judges about that.

Several key minority and Democratic groups took a first step Wednesday toward challenging Texas’ interim redistricting maps, put in place for the 2012 election, by filing a request for a preliminary hearing in federal court.

The motion came a day after a federal judge panel in Washington, D.C., struck down redistricting maps passed by the Texas Legislature, citing evidence that the maps were crafted with a discriminatory intent and would illegally reduce the ability of minority communities to select their representation.

While those maps never took effect, the interim maps that were drawn by a panel of three federal judges in San Antonio for the 2012 election had to be based on the Legislature’s now-rejected maps.

“Over 90 percent of the map is the legislative map, that has been found to be illegal,” said Luis Vera, an attorney with the League of United Latin American Citizens. “You can’t have an election with an illegal map.”

He added: “That’s our objective — to get lines drawn that are legal, that are constitutional and that comply with the D.C. order.”

The filing asks the panel of three federal judges that drew the interim maps to convene for a status conference at the earliest practicable date.

The three-judge panel in San Antonio has set a status conference for this afternoon, but it doesn’t sound like they’re inclined to take action. I suppose it’s theoretically possible to do something for a couple of the districts, and Lord knows it’s galling to have to hold even one election under a map that was based on that illegal, discriminatory mess that the Lege produced, but it sure seems like a high hurdle to overcome. We’ll what the judges say, but I’m not expecting anything.

UPDATE: According to the Chron, the judges have ruled that the interim maps will remain in place for November.

Don’t forget Joaquin

You can’t have a story about one twin and not have one about the other, am I right?

Joaquin Castro

When his minute-older brother gives the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Joaquín Castro will be nearby, as he always is and has been for big moments in their 37 years as identical twins.

On Sept. 4, Castro is likely to share the spotlight if plans proceed to have him introduce his brother, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, for the prime-time speech that follows Michelle Obama’s remarks.

“We’ve been very supportive of each other, best friends, since we were young. We were competitive growing up, but as you get older, you mature and mellow a bit,” said Castro, the Democratic candidate for U.S. House District 20 and a five-term Texas House member representing Northwest San Antonio.


If elected, Castro would fill the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, who replaced his father, the late Henry B. Gonzalez, in the solidly Democratic district.

“I realize I have big shoes to fill,” Castro said. “We’ve tried to take nothing for granted. That’s why we’re still running a full-fledged campaign,” he said.

If he makes it to Congress, Castro could be one of the best-known freshmen and one of its youngest members.

“He’s already out of the crowd,” said Austin political consultant Bill Miller. “He could go far and he could go fast,” Miller said.

“If his brother enjoys greater success than he already has, that will only help Joaquín. It’s like the roads get paved ahead of you,” Miller said.

The consultant said the identical-twin novelty factor is important nationally.

“It’s a unique circumstance where you have two very talented political figures who are identical twins. Seriously,” Miller said. “Because of that, it offers a fun opportunity which they can make good use of.”

And occasionally some not so good use, though I rather doubt that will ever happen again. Here’s the interview I did with Joaquin Castro. I expect he’ll make a fine Congressman. I also expect that he will have his sights set on something higher down the line. With Julian Castro, you have to figure that 2018 is a target year for something statewide, since he will be term-limited out as Mayor of San Antonio in 2017. With Joaquin Castro, it will be more a matter of the right opportunity at the right time. But let’s get him to Congress first and worry about all that later.

Margins tax back before Supreme Court

Yet another challenge to that unloved tax.

The Texas Supreme Court [Friday] accepted a case that will decide whether the state improperly administers its business tax.

Nestle USA argues that the tax violates the Texas Constitution’s requirement that taxes be levied in an “equal and uniform” manner, as well as the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process protections.

The court dismissed a similar claim earlier this year, ruling that Nestle lacked standing because it had not yet paid its taxes. Nestle recently renewed its challenge after paying its taxes under protest.

With the legislative session set to begin in January, the Supreme Court set an accelerated schedule for the case, with oral arguments to be heard Sept. 18 – a day previously set aside for a court conference, or private meeting with the nine justices.

Last year the court upheld the margins tax as constitutional in a separate case filed by Allcat Claims Service LP. Assuming this is on the same mandated 120-day schedule as that case was, we ought to have a ruling by the opening weeks of the 2013 legislative session. That will be right around the same time as we get an initial decision in the school finance lawsuits, though those will still have to be appealed to the Supreme Court afterward. My head hurts already thinking about what next year is going to be like.

Focusing on reading

This sounds promising.

When HISD Superintendent Terry Grier took charge three years ago, he quickly latched onto a troubling statistic: roughly 70,000 of the district’s students were not reading at grade level.

Students who should have learned reading basics by third grade continue to enter middle and high school stumbling over words and struggling with comprehension.

As Houston Independent School District students return to class Monday, some of them – the weakest readers in sixth and ninth grades – will prepare for a crash course to catch them up. The students will take a newly designed reading class daily or every other day in addition to their regular language arts course.

“These children dropped through the cracks during their experience with us or with other school districts,” Grier said.

HISD’s approach, if it works, could serve as a national model for districts trying to help older students who don’t read well, said Marybeth Flachbart, president of the Neuhaus Education Center, a Houston nonprofit that specializes in reading instruction.

HISD has contracted with Neuhaus to train teachers for the new reading classes – refreshing them on phonics and other fundamentals, plus giving them tips for teaching basic skills to teenagers.


Grier and the school board began focusing on improving literacy last year, sending elementary school teachers to training at Neuhaus to try to keep future students from entering sixth grade with reading problems. Since January 2011, the district has paid Neuhaus more than $3.6 million – money Grier said is well spent.

I certainly agree with the emphasis on improving reading scores. As the story notes, students from lower income families, and there are many within HISD, tend to start school knowing fewer words than students from more affluent households. That puts them behind from the beginning, and presents increasing challenges every year. I look forward to seeing what effect this program has on the standardized test scores. I’d also like to hear from anyone who’s had experience with this particular program. Leave a comment and let us know what you think of it. Thanks!