Saturday, March 31, 2007

shaquanda cotton to be released from tyc

Shaquanda Cotton, the 15-year-old African-American girl from Paris, Texas, who was slapped with an indeterminate sentence of up to seven years for pushing a hall monitor at her high school, will be released from the Texas Youth Commission Saturday morning, says the Chicago Tribune.

Jay Kimbrough, the newly-appointed special conservator of the TYC, ordered the immediate release of Cotton, saying through a spokesman that he had "no confidence in the system that was in place." Creola Cotton, Shaquanda's mother, will pick up her daughter Saturday morning. She was unable to reach the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood on Friday due to severe weather.

The Houston Chronicle tells of a Democratic lawmaker that was on the case.

Rep. Harold Dutton, the Houston Democrat who chairs the House juvenile justice committee, said the newly appointed conservator of the embattled Texas Youth Commission told him Cotton was being released after 12 months in a Brownwood facility.

Dutton said she will be released Saturday to her mother, who he said was unable to pick up her daughter Friday because of bad weather.

"This is one of those cases that is the poster child of everything wrong with the criminal justice system," Dutton said.

The Chicago Tribune's senior correspondent Howard Witt, however, gets to take the credit for breaking this story and bringing it to an unprecedented level of attention, forcing Kimbrough to take quick action to avoid further controversy. Even here in Texas, his story was the first we had heard of this miscarriage of justice.
Since the Tribune's first account of Shaquanda Cotton's case, her story has been circulated on more than 400 Internet blogs and featured in newspapers and radio and TV reports across the country. Two protests demanding her release were held in Paris and a third, to be led by Rev. Al Sharpton, was scheduled for Tuesday.
Even the Lamar County District Attorney's office has had a change of heart regarding Cotton's case.

On Tuesday night, an anonymous reader left a comment on our blog about Cotton citing several "facts" about the case, including claims that if Shaquanda and her mother had only had better attitudes, Shaquanda may have received probation, and that Shaquanda's mother said she would refuse to comply with conditions of probation if Shaquanda were released to her custody (a claim the office has now backed away from). The comment ended with a link to a special site set up by the Lamar County DA that not only listed similar facts, but also aligned Creola Cotton with the New Black Panther Party and claimed that this was all an issue of "irresponsible parenting."

Now, the site is headed by the following statement: "We are happy for Miss Cotton and her family and wish her nothing but the best in the future. We sincerely hope she has learned her lesson and that we do not see her in the criminal justice system ever again."

From the Tribune: "Let her out of TYC," said Allan Hubbard, spokesman for Lamar County District Atty. Gary Young. "Hell, she's done a year for pushing a teacher. That's too long."

Friday, March 30, 2007

statement from texas bloggers concerning the texas senate race

[Original post by Charles Kuffner on behalf of the undersigned members of the Texas netroots.]

We, the undersigned, are some of the many progressive bloggers and online activists in Texas. The Texas netroots community is a large and diverse one - from blogs to Democratic Underground, from Democracy for Texas to MoveOn, and more. No one person or group speaks for it. While we often communicate among ourselves, and often agree on many points, we all have our own perspectives and preferences.

Though we are speaking as one in this post, we are speaking for ourselves. Though we are a part of the Texas netroots, we do not speak for the Texas netroots, because nobody speaks for the Texas netroots.

We are confident, however, that everybody in the Texas netroots is united behind the goal of replacing our ineffective and out of touch junior Senator, who is up for re-election next year. We fully expect to give our unqualified support to the Democratic nominee for Senate, and we fully expect the wider Democratic community, netroots and otherwise, to do the same.

While we all have our own preferences among the many fine choices to be that nominee next year, we do agree on one other thing, and that is that we intend to be a full-blooded participant in the process to choose him or her. We do not appreciate any effort by one group or another to dictate who that nominee will be, just as we would not expect anyone else to appreciate our dictating of a nominee. Some of us are undertaking an effort to draft a particular candidate to run next year, but those of us who are doing so hope to win that battle on the merits of our candidate. Others of us are not involved in any draft movements but are focusing on helping the eventual Democratic candidate. All of us expect a vigorous debate that will lead to the best choice being made, one we will all then unite behind. We are all committed to taking this seat back for the people of Texas.

We hope this clarifies matters, and we hope that you will join us in helping to elect a progressive, people-powered Senator from the great state of Texas in 2008. Thank you very much.

Charles Kuffner
Off the Kuff

Karl-Thomas Musselman
Matt Glazer
Burnt Orange Report

Texas Kaos

Vince Leibowitz
Capitol Annex

Mayor McSleaze

Eye on Williamson

Muse Musings

Bradley Bowen
North Texas Liberal

Three Wise Men

Brains and Eggs

Jaye Ramsey Sutter
Winding Road in Urban Area

Thursday, March 29, 2007

shaquanda cotton: a candidate for early release?

On Tuesday, we brought you the story of 15-year-old Shaquanda Cotton of Paris, Texas who was sent to the Texas Youth Commission for a an indeterminate sentence of up to seven years for pushing a hall monitor.

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

Today we learn that Cotton is "among the leading candidates for early release" amid the ongoing TYC sex scandal. The Chicago Tribune sums up the controversy nicely:
Texas' juvenile prison system, known as the Texas Youth Commission, was first rocked by scandal last month after revelations surfaced that two administrators at a youth prison in west Texas had allegedly coerced sex from inmates for years and that prison officials and local prosecutors chose not to pursue the cases.

Since then, the scandal has widened as reports surfaced of cover-ups and alleged sex abuse by guards and administrators at other prisons. More than a thousand investigations have now been opened. Meanwhile, Kimbrough discovered that 111 employees of the youth agency had felony arrests or convictions and another 437 had misdemeanor arrests or charges.

The top leadership of the youth commission was forced out, the board overseeing the agency resigned and Perry essentially placed the commission into receivership when he appointed Kimbrough to clean up the mess.
But back to Shaquanda Cotton. Grits for Breakfast says that even though the mainstream media in Texas has all but ignored Cotton, her story has gotten the attention of TYC Special Master Jay Kimbrough, who in an attempt to deflect even more controversy surrounding the TYC, has said that a special task force will review Cotton's case and consider her early release.

According to the Tribune, though, this wouldn't be the first time.

Cotton, now 15, has been incarcerated at a youth prison in Brownwood, Texas, for the last year on a sentence that could run until her 21st birthday. But like many of the other youths in the system, she is eligible to earn earlier release if she achieves certain social, behavioral and educational milestones while in prison.

But officials at the Ron Jackson Correctional Complex have repeatedly extended Shaquanda's sentence because she refuses to admit her guilt and because she was found with contraband in her cell--an extra pair of socks.

update your bookmarks!

NTL has purchased a domain!

Our site is now accessible at the following link:

Update your bookmarks!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

the new tyc scandal: shaquanda cotton

Via Capitol Annex we learn of Shaquanda Cotton, a 14-year-old girl that was sentenced for up to seven years in the Texas Youth Commission for pushing a hall monitor at her high school in Paris, Texas.

The Chicago Tribune broke this story nationally March 12, comparing Cotton's sentence to that of a white teenager that committed an arguably more heinous act:
Just three months earlier, [Lamar County Judge Chuck] Superville sentenced a 14-year-old white girl, convicted of arson for burning down her family's house, to probation.

"All Shaquanda did was grab somebody and she will be in jail for 5 or 6 years?" said Gary Bledsoe, an Austin attorney who is president of the state NAACP branch. "It's like they are sending a signal to black folks in Paris that you stay in your place in this community, in the shadows, intimidated."

Photo credit: Chicago Tribune
Vince at Capitol Annex suggests that this story has been underreported by the Texas media. NTL searched the websites of the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for Cotton's name and found no results.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

boxer reminds inhofe who's boss

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., tried to stifle Al Gore from answering questions before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, a committee which Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., now chairs. She reminds him who's boss.

Monday, March 19, 2007

four years

Four years ago today this travesty in Iraq began on Bush's orders. We still lack the answers to exactly why our soldiers are dying there.

This isn't a partisan issue -- our leaders have failed us. Our president and the former Republican majority failed us by rushing us into a war of distraction without the right information or intelligence and without properly preparing our troops. The former Democratic minority failed us by voting in favor of this mess and allowing the Republicans to railroad this agenda through Congress.

But the new Democratic majority is trying to make up for that. And you can be a part of the new majority: if not the majority party, then at least the overwhelming number of Americans that are ready to see the war come to a close.

It has come to our attention that the following protest events are scheduled today in the Metroplex:
Activists will have more opportunities to practice their rights on Monday, March 19, the unfortunate fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. That day, the Dallas Peace Center will host the “Oil for Blood Drive,” where donors will receive a quart of oil for donating.

Demonstrators will again meet in the parking lot adjacent to the Mockingbird DART rail stationat 4:30 p.m. From there, the group will march westbound on Mockingbird to the La Madeleine next to SMU, stopping periodically to engage drivers. This strip mall, located at the corner of Mockingbird and Airline Road, is part of the proposed site for the future Bush library, policy institute and museum.

Following the demonstration, participants will head to Potomac Park, located directly behind the strip mall. Musicians, poets and speakers will perform at an open mic block party, including Bill McDannell, a VIETNAM VET and former pastor of the UMC who is walking from California to D.C. for peace. Tables will be set up for artisans and activists to present their wares. For more information, please visit

There will also be a candlelight vigil in Denton to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on Monday, March 19. It begins at 7 p.m. at the Downtown Denton Courthouse Square.
If you can attend these events, please do. It's time to step up and demand a change.

Four years is long enough.

Friday, March 16, 2007

McClelland Targets Dallas Crime

Year in and year out, crime remains a concern for citizens of large cities. Dallas is no exception. In a recent poll, crime topped the list of issues.

As voters prepare to elect a new mayor on May 12, these factors contribute to Dallasites' overwhelming ranking of crime as the single most important issue facing the city, according to a Dallas Morning News poll.

About one in three respondents highlighted crime, and no other single issue rivaled it.

As a candidate for Dallas City Council in District 12, John McClelland knows these issues first-hand.

The City of Dallas remains at the top of the crime food chain in Texas, and even the nation. 8,624 crimes per 100,000 people. That is the nation's worst crime rate. Dallas has held the top spot for 9 of the last 10 years. Is this something Dallas should be proud of? I don't think so.

One would tend to think that the crime problem only affects the areas of blight in Dallas or lower income areas. That is one of the biggest misconceptions. In District 12, which is Far North Dallas (majority caucasion, majority conservative, with a decent median income), there were 3900 crimes in 2006. That is over 10 per day. Dallas SWAT has been in my parking lot in the last couple months. I even had checks stolen off my dining room table by my apartment complex's own maintenance people this past week.

In McClelland's view, the continuing crime wave highlights a need for more officers and better pay.

We need more police. We need to pay more to the ones we have. Dallas needs to have at least 3 1/2 officers per 1000 people. We currently stand at under 2 1/2. That means we need to hire at least 800 more officers in the city, if you go by mayoral candidate Darryl Jordan's numbers.

Of course, more police protection comes with a price tag, and McClelland thinks financing a solution is a matter of smarter policies, not higher taxes.

“It is a simple matter of common sense and fiscal responsibility. We have projects that were intended to create parks and marinas, and instead we end up with toll roads that approach $1 billion in price,” McClelland pointed out. “If we reign in the wasteful spending the current Council has seen fit to let happen, then we would have the money to give our hard working police a deserved raise in pay, as well as offer more incentive to attract new officers. We may not have to hit taxpayers in the pocketbook to achieve our goals.”

To learn more about McClelland's positions, or to donate to his campaign, visit his website.

[Disclaimer: I volunteer for the McClelland campaign. Join me.]

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Calling Elliot Richardson

If you are of a certain age, the Saturday Night Massacre is imprinted indelibly in your memory, for on that night it seemed our 200-year-old experiment in democracy was about to disintegrate.

On Saturday, October 20, 1973, President Richard Nixon summoned the Attorney General of the United States and ordered him to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Cox had been investigating the Watergate scandal, in particular White House involvement in covering up the break-in of Democratic headquarters. Once investigators learned that a taping system in the White House had recorded all of Nixon’s conversations, Cox had subpoenaed the tapes and other presidential papers, but Nixon refused to surrender them, offering only summaries of the tapes, not transcripts or the tapes themselves.

Rather than fire Cox, Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned. Nixon then summoned the Deputy Attorney General, William Ruckelshaus, who also resigned. It was Solicitor General Robert Bork, elevated to acting Attorney General, who finally did the President’s bidding. In addition to firing Cox, Nixon—through Bork—ordered the elimination of the Office of Special Prosecutor. The President, it seemed, was above the law.

This night of constitutional carnage was thereafter known as the Saturday Night Massacre. No doubt Nixon thought he had prevailed, but the incident marked the beginning of the end of his presidency. Why did Richardson and Ruckelshaus take this stand against the President? Principle. “At stake, in the final analysis, is the very integrity of the governmental processes I came to the Department of Justice to help restore,” Richardson noted. “I have been compelled to conclude that I could better serve my country by resigning my public office than by continuing in it.”

Putting the welfare of the country ahead of loyalty to the President sounds quaint in 2007. At his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed to recognize that he would “no longer represent the White House; I will represent the United States of America and its people.” In light of recent revelations, however, his words ring hollow. Does anyone doubt what Gonzales would have done on October 20, 1973, had he been in office?

Our country faced a constitutional crisis then, and it faces one now. Who will restore integrity to our Justice Department? Who will defend our constitution from an overreaching president and his enabling attorney general?

Elliot Richardson, where are you?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

introducing pete stark, the first openly atheist member of congress

Rep. Pete Stark, a progressive Democrat, has represented California's 13th congressional district in Congress for 33 years. A long-time Unitarian, Stark has finally made it clear that he does not believe in God.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Stark, often described as one of the most liberal members of Congress, said the following: "I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services."

The American Humanist Association, a network of secular humanists, has commended Stark's stance and has begun an ad campaign offering their support.

"Such an announcement by a politician wouldn't be news in Europe, where the public has embraced secularism to a degree not seen in the United States," said AHA Communications Director Fred Edwords. "Clearly, when it comes to American religious prejudice, we still have a lot to overcome."

The Jan./Feb. issue of Freethought Today, a publication of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, notes that the 110th Congress is one of the most religiously diverse in history, including the first Muslim, two Buddhists, two Unitarians, five Christian Scientists, six with no religious affiliation, six members of the "highly-liberal" United Church of Christ (including Sen. Barack Obama), 15 Mormons and 43 Jews.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

coulter's words were indefensible

Last Saturday, we told you about conservative author and speaker Ann Coulter using a gay slur to describe Democratic candidate John Edwards.

Coulter has taken a lot of flack for her comments, but an editorial in the most recent issue of Lewisville-based newspaper the News-Connection almost treats Coulter's hate speech as if it were acceptable:
Nevertheless, she has her defenders who say that liberal Democrats use hate speech all the time when referring to the president, the vice-president or others with whom they disagree.

Case in point: liberal commentator Bill Maher’s recent statement that if Vice-President Dick Cheney was dead, more people would live.

That’s pretty close to saying he wishes Cheney would die, otherwise, there’d be no point in making the statement. Consequently, if we are to make a comparison of the two comments, it would be fair to say that wishing the vice president would die is much worse than calling a candidate a name that equates with words like, wuss, wimp or sissy.
First of all, Bill Maher is a liberal comedian. He's made many references that were detrimental to Democrats, as well, and most likely considers himself an independent voter, but there's no denying he's on the left side of the political spectrum. Regardless, his comment was said in the context of an HBO show that people watch expecting to see political comedy. Maher may have crossed the line, but what does that have to do with Ann Coulter calling someone a faggot? Absolutely nothing.

When Ann Coulter made her comment, on the other hand, she was at a conference with the Republican elite, including 2008 presidential candidates. Coulter is not seen by the Republican community as a comedian: she was invited to appear as the keynote speaker for a dinner hosted by the Denton County Republican Party, where she appeared alongside Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Coulter defended her comments in the same way that the News-Connection did, according to McBlogger:
"'Faggot isn't offensive to gays; it has nothing to do with gays," Coulter said on "Hannity and Colmes" Monday night. "It's a schoolyard taunt meaning 'wuss,' and unless you're telling me that John Edwards is gay, it was not applied to a gay person."
Coulter and the News-Connection should take note: the word "faggot" is extremely offensive to gays and lesbians, and there is no excuse for using it. Using a fallacious argument like, "But look at what so-and-so said, and he's a liberal" does not excuse hate speech.

Even Coulter's explanation of her comments is offensive... using a stigmatized word like "faggot," which obviously refers to homosexuals, and saying that it means "wuss" is demeaning, let alone an invented excuse for Coulter's outrageous statement.

NTL respectfully commends Republican candidates Mitt Romney, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani for condemning Ann Coulter's comments and labeling them "wildly inappropriate," instead of making excuses for them likes others have done.

And via Pink Dome, you know it's bad when even ultra-conservative blogger Michelle Malkin finds your comments "an intentionally-tossed verbal grenade," "garbage," and worries that children that attended the event could end up "spewing... epithets."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hensarling Compares Republicans to Winos

Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, gave an interview to prior to his speech at the annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). We know that Ann Coulter upstaged him at the conference, but Hensarling's comments in his interview might raise a few eyebrows, as well.

NYSP: So, what went wrong in November?

Hensarling: I don't think it's one reason. But, clearly, a significant portion of the electorate wanted to send President Bush a message on Iraq. There was clearly frustration with the progress in our war. But that, in and of itself, does not explain to totality of the elections.

Since I've been a member of Congress, I believe three members have plead guilty to felonies and have gone off to serve in prison. I haven't found Congress to be any more virtuous or less virtuous than the population as a whole. I haven't found either party to have a monopoly on virtue. But when voters were paying attention, seemingly more Republicans got into ethical challenges than Democrats.

We went to Washington and said we'd be the party of reform. And, so, to have several high-profile cases occur was not helpful to our fortunes. And, for whatever reason, the media seemed to pay a little bit more attention to our folks who were ethically challenged than to their folks that were ethically challenged.

Finally, we went to Washington and said we're going to be the party of accountability, limited government, and fiscal responsibility. And, I think, somewhere along the way, we lost our way. Now, within the last couple of years, I think that Congress has done a lot, in the last Congress, to help reclaim that mantle of fiscal responsibility and limited government. But I think a lot of the damage had been done.

But, to the extent that there is a silver lining in the big gray cloud, I am convinced that the electorate did not shift to the left. It is still a center-right electorate. And they didn't hire the Democrats for what the Democrats believe in. They fired the Republicans, partly as a protest to the policies in Iraq, but more so because they didn't see Republicans living up to their own principles......

NYSP: How is the RCS's roll going to be different in the new Congress?

Hensarling: We're making communications instead of legislation. Listen, we're going to work with Democrats where we can. Our job is not just to say no to whatever they bring to us. I mean, we all know that a broken clock is right twice a day. And, frankly, they are right on what they were doing on earmarking. Now, time will tell if their actions live up to their words. But I complimented them. I applauded them, as did other conservative leaders, when they brought up their earmark reform rule. Now, that's probably about the only thing I've agreed with them on that I can recall off the top of my head. I don't think we'll have common ground with them often.

NYSP: What should conservatives be watching to tell if the Democrats' earmark reform is anything serious?

Hensarling: You'll know it soon when we get into the appropriations process. The Democrats already seem to be engaged in some slight of hand by saying there are no earmarks in a bill if we say there are no earmarks in a bill. Kind of like, if we say the sun comes up in the West and seats in the East it must come up in the West and set in the East.

I'm not personally religiously opposed to earmarks. I think there are good earmarks. But just like the surgeon general might have told the American populous as a whole that perhaps one glass of red wine a day can be good for your health, he really didn't mean that advice for winos. Unfortunately, too many in our conference have not shown that they can handle earmarks responsibly.

It would have been three times worse under Democrat watch, but no one expects Democrats to be fiscally responsible.

Alright, he had to say that last part, even if it isn't true. We've analyzed some of the reasons why conservatives lost control of their fiscal house in previous posts.

It's good to see some conservatives a little bit chastened by the excesses of the previous Congress. But remember that Hensarling voted against restoring pay-go rules earlier this year, along with most of the Texas Republican delegation. So take that renewed commitment to fiscal responsibility with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Toll Road Arguments Fall Flat

The debate over Texas' plans for toll roads has some recurring themes. In his rebuttal of a recent Don Erler commentary, McBlogger takes on a few of these arguments.

One argument Erler makes is how much the gas tax would need to increase to pay for the needed services. Star-Telegram reporter Gordon Dickson wrote last month, state transportation officials reject as absurd the claim of some toll critics that an 8-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax could finance regional transportation needs. The actual number, according to state officials paid to calculate these costs, is $1.40 per gallon, which would increase the price of gasoline to more than $3.70 per gallon today. How could this help the poor?

[McBlogger responds,] "Oh, yes... tolls are cheaper. This is an outright lie. For one thing, the tolls are going to run at least 12 cents per mile (as we've seen in Austin, sometimes they are MUCH more expensive). At 20 miles per gallon, that's a gas tax
equivalent of $2.40 per gallon. Even if the State's ridiculous estimate were correct, a gas tax would STILL be CHEAPER than tolls, by at least $1.00 per gallon. That's reality, and I'd like to see Mr. Erler deny that.

However, we all know that the state's estimate is way off and completely meaningless. Why? Because, unlike Mr. Erler, we actually did some research. Bottom line, tolls are ALWAYS going to be more expensive than a gas tax. Period. The State's numbers are 'engineered' to come to a preconceived conclusion. Instead of just blindly accepting them, Mr. Erler, why not actually investigate the assumptions used? Those assumptions include a PROFIT for a private contractor that is paid EVEN UNDER A GAS TAX MODEL. Why would we be paying for that if we shift gears and ditch the tolls and the CDA's?

Read the rest of McBlogger's rebuttal here. And while you're at it, check out the great links, including this one at Eye on Williamson County, which reminds us how we got here.

By our state government’s neglect of our highways a privatization scheme was concocted to save us from ourselves. Our highways have been held hostage by Republican politicians and corporations for several decades by their no-tax, free-market rhetoric. They’ve been telling us that taxes, no matter how justifiable the reason, are bad. That argument, essentially, defunded our transportation infrastructure in Texas. But whether it’s our highways, education, health care, children’s health care, or any other project that is for the publics good, that will further the “Pursuit of Happiness”, the plan in recent years has been to privatize it. But these privatization plans never turn out the way we are told and most times wind up costing much more than we were initially told. The TTC is no different.

It's obviously time to talk about increasing the gas tax. In the meantime, you can encourage your legislator to support H.B. 998, sponsored by Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, to put a moratorium on toll roads.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Constitutional Rights for Flags?

In his speech before the American Legion this morning, President Bush called upon Congress and the states to insure that our national flag has the "constitutional protection it deserves." He was referring, of course, to passing a constitutional amendment to criminalize flag burning. Apparently Mr. Bush wants to extend constitutional protection to inanimate objects, while ignoring or undermining protections citizens were granted in our Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to that same Constitution.

Over the weekend, a New York Times editorial urged Congress to take these immediate steps to reverse the President's assault on civil liberties: restore habeas corpus, our "ancient right to challenge [our] imprisonment in court"; stop illegal spying on American citizens by restoring judicial oversight; define torture and ban it, rather than leaving it up to the President to decide what constitutes torture; ban secret evidence and evidence obtained by torture, and define the parameters of classified evidence; define "enemy combatant," a designation currently determined by the Decider, through which he can imprison anyone for any length of time, with no accountability; "respect the right to counsel," rather than authorizing government surveillance of communications between prisoners and lawyers; and to regain our moral authority in the international community, halt extraordinary renditions, account for "ghost prisoners," and close CIA prisons.

Surely redressing these egregious assaults on the Constitution should take precedence over protecting the flag--and it would not require a constitutional amendment to do so, either. It would only require Congress to hold the President accountable for "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Attacking TAKS

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, have filed legislation which will replace the state-mandated TAKS test with end-of-course tests in public high schools. If passed, the bill (SB 1031; HB 2236) will go into effect starting with the '09-'10 school year. To graduate, students entering ninth grade that year would have to accumulate 840 points from twelve tests covering these core subjects: English I, English II, English III; Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II; Biology, Chemistry, and Physics; and World Geography, World History, and U. S. History. Each test would also count 15 percent of a student's grade in the course.

Other provisions of the bill include a requirement that the exams measure “annual improvement in student achievement.” While details are not yet available, this assessment would probably involve comparing one year’s class with the previous year’s class, rather than assessing individual student progress. In addition, eighth grade students would take a college readiness diagnostic test, followed by the PSAT in their sophomore year, again for diagnostic purposes. These mandatory tests would be paid for by the state, along with the SAT or ACT, which would be offered to students in their junior year, but would not be required.

Senator Shapiro’s bill contains much to support. End-of-course tests make sense for high school students, and counting the tests as part of semester grades gives students added incentive to do their best. More important, teachers might feel less pressured to spend instructional time on test prep and drill, which many feel is dumbing down the curriculum.

Still, questions arise about the costs involved. TAKS, only three years old, cost millions to develop, field test, and benchmark. If TAKS is inadequate, who is accountable for that waste of tax dollars? After all, we previously had end-of-course state exams in many high school courses, but TAKS replaced them. Which companies stand to gain from new test development? What connections, if any, do these companies have with state legislators?

Perhaps the most fundamental question, however, is this: When will legislators stop jumping from one new idea to another and stick to a course of action long enough for it to be implemented?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Texas Legislators Ranked by National Review

The National Journal has issued its 2006 ratings, ranking the U.S. Senate and Congress according to their liberal or conservative voting tendencies.

No, Texas didn't score the most conservative senator. That honor went to Jim DeMent, R-South Carolina. We came close, however, with Sen. John Cornyn at no. 4. That this loyalist to the Bush administration should crack the top ten shouldn't come as any surprise. Kay Bailey Hutchison was all the way back at no. 39.

Cornyn's ultra-conservatism may help explain why he'll be facing a serious challenger in the 2008 election. If you'd like to make a contribution to Cornyn's eventual Democratic rival, click here.

On the congressional side, North Texas Republicans are heavily weighted in the top one hundred most conservative. Two Dallas County congressmen cracked the top ten, including Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, and Sam Johnson, R-Plano. Other area congressmen include no. 22 Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, no. 61 Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, no. 89 Kay Granger, R-Ft. Worth and no. 97 Joe Barton, R-Ennis. Rounding out the reminaing North Texas Republicans were no. 109 Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, no. 132, Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall.

For Democrats, the Chet Edwards, D-Waco, ranked no. 237. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, ranked no. 333. And Texas' most liberal Democrat was Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, at no. 399.

coulter uses gay slur to describe john edwards

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter had a few choice words to describe Democrat John Edwards, former senator from North Carolina and currently a second-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, at a conference hosted by the American Conservative Union.

“I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I — so kind of an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards.”

By the rehab reference, Coulter refers to actor Isaiah Washington, who entered rehab after using the gay slur about "Grey's Anatomy" co-star T.R. Knight (once on the set of the series, and a second time while defending himself at the Golden Globes). Knight later said he was in fact gay.

Edwards' campaign manager David Bonior, in an email to supporters, said that Coulter's comments about Edwards, a married man, were "outrageous" and "no accident." He advocates using "one of the worst moments in American politics" to raise $100,000 for the Edwards campaign.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean issued the following statement:

“There is no place in political discourse for this kind of hate-filled and bigoted comments. While Democrats and Republicans may disagree on the issues, we should all be able to agree that this kind of vile rhetoric is out of bounds. The American people want a serious, thoughtful debate of the issues. Republicans–including the Republican presidential candidates who shared the podium with Ann Coulter today–should denounce her hateful remarks.”

You can see the video for yourself at Think Progress.

Cornyn Drops in on War Protesters

Via the News Connection and Gonzo Muckraker, we have details on an interesting encounter between local peace activists and Senator John Cornyn. The Senator was in Denton recently as the guest of Republican party officials, including Denton County Republican Party Chair Dianne Edmondson and Congressman Michael Burgess.

His presence was acknowledged by two area activists,
Leslie Harris of Flower Mound and Reverend Diane Baker of Denton – both claimed to be volunteers with The Dallas Peace Center, the oldest peace and justice 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Texas.
The Senator came out to greet Ms. Harris and Ms. Baker and had a brief exchange. Webster concludes that the Senator is a "straight-up diplomat."

It's too bad such personal diplomacy doesn't translate to better insight on our foreign policy. The Senator's support for George Bush's deeply flawed Iraq war policies remains unwavering.
"Our soldiers aren't defending our right to freedom of speech in Iraq," said Leslie Harris, a Flower Mound resident (wearing the large, straw hat). "Senator Cornyn likes to say they are, but it isn't true. They're fighting for reasons we have never actually been told. We are defending freedom of speech, which has been under assault since Bush took office."
We applaud the opportunity for civil discourse on this volatile issue.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

TAKS Sets ESL Students Up for Failure

As if you needed another reason to despise TAKS, consider the dilemma facing state educators concerning students for whom English is a second language.

The U.S. Department of Education demands that students enrolled in U.S. schools for more than one year take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills English exam.

When high school-age students arrive at the Newcomers center in Birdville, they typically begin working at a second- to third-grade level, Haygood said."We start with the alphabet, if necessary," she said.

During a recent lesson, the word "random" stumped the class. Yet within two years, these students will be expected to tackle questions on the 11th-grade English TAKS exit exam that compare literature and measure revising and editing skills.

How big an issue is this for Texas schools?

During the 2005-06 school year, Texas had 711,237 students with limited English proficiency, representing 15.8 percent of the state's student enrollment.

One of the consequences of pushing the students to take tests for which they are clearly unprepared is that more schools may now be labeled low-performing.

Educators nationwide have questioned whether the new federal rules will open more doors for school vouchers.

The federal school accountability system allows parents of children at low-performing Title 1 schools -- those that have a high number of economically disadvantaged students -- to transfer to other schools. Vouchers would provide public funding that would make it easier for parents to place their children in private schools.

U.S. Department of Education officials say there is no hidden agenda, however. They defend the plan for testing students with limited English skills by saying some schools take too long to get the students up to grade level.

There is another consideration for ESL students. Studies show that students who are in bilingual education do better than students who are in English immersion classes. The early push to English actually may undermine the student's ability to successfully learn, and contribute Texas' already overwhelming drop-out rate.

But surely our own government wouldn't be setting schools up for failure, would it?

Nationwide, many educators think so. Consider this letter published last year in the Washington Post regarding the Virginia Department of Education's efforts to seek an exemption from the requirement:

To the Editor:

Why are federal officials pressing Virginia schools to test English language learners in the same way they test fluent English speakers? [Metro, October 29]. Assessments with a built-in language barrier are simply not valid for measuring what these students have learned. Nobody, including the U.S. Department of Education, seriously claims otherwise.

Mandating meaningless tests will only serve to frustrate children, demoralize their teachers, and unfairly brand their schools as “failing.”

If the No Child Left Behind Act is intended to improve public schools, how does the Bush Administration foster that goal by requiring tests that generate misinformation about student achievement? If the purpose is to discredit public schools and make way for privatization schemes, then the federal action makes a lot more sense.

James Crawford, President

Institute for Language and Education Policy