Friday, March 03, 2006

Voucher Man

James Leininger, San Antonio’s right-wing billionaire philanthropist, had an op-ed in the local paper the other day explaining his particular passion for school vouchers.
The good doctor, who made his fortune by selling specially desinged and manufactured hospital beds, has recently poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a political campaign targeting a select group of supposedly “liberal” Republicans for defeat in next week’s primary. The unlucky lawmakers got on Leininger’s bad list by opposing a school voucher plan during the last legislative session.
While not specifically addressing his political activities, Leininger explains in the piece that his sole motivation is “to improve the lives of poor children in Texas.”
That is certainly a noble goal and Leininger comes across in the piece as being both sincere and dedicated to that long-term effort. Unfortunately, he has latched onto a program that, while possibly helping some students in select situations, would ultimately hurt all of the other students who get left behind.

Leininger explains how he got involved with vouchers in the first place:

Almost 15 years ago I read about a private scholarship program helping kids out of bad schools in bad neighborhoods in Indianapolis. I thought, "That's the answer!" That summer we offered 1,000 scholarships to low-income children in San Antonio. The first week we saw more than 6,000 applications. Because we have been blessed with financial resources, my wife and I knew we needed to help as many children as possible. With the help of other generous, caring people, we created a $50 million scholarship program in San Antonio's Edgewood Independent School District, one of the worst districts in Texas at that time.

So far this is all quite commendable, but then Leininger makes a faulty assumption:

Inspired by competition, that district, which had three failing campuses, had no failing schools two years later and the district improved to a "recognized" rating by the Texas Education Agency for the first time. This greatly benefited even students who chose to remain in the public school system.

So Edgewood ISD suddenly improved because of competition with Leininger’s scholarship program? Were there no other efforts underway at that time to improve the school district? Was more money pumped into the district at the state or local level during that time? What other factors might have contributed to that improvement?
And what about the big distinction between Leininger’s privately-funded scholarship program, and the publicly-funded voucher program that he is trying to ram through the Legislature? The first one does not divert funds away from the school district, while the latter one does.

Leininger says he wants to “give parents the option of choosing a better school.” But even if there is a “better school” available, which in many cases there is not (especially in small town and rural areas), not every child can just pick up and switch to that school.

Leininger also says it doesn't matter if it is a public or private school; “our concern should be that tax dollars are used to see the child get the best possible education.”
For an idea of what Leininger thinks is the best possible education, check out Patrick Henry College where he sits on the Board of Trustees. Especially, check out the school’s Statement of Biblical Worldview.

Leininger notes that there are “many more Texas children desperately in need of help. “And adds that he “will oppose those who force needy children to be trapped in bad and dangerous schools.” But what about the “non-needy children” who would still be stuck in those “bad and dangerous schools”? In Leininger’s ideal world, public tax dollars would be drained away from these struggling schools to send a few select students to private, religious institutions that share a Biblical worldview with Patrick Henry College.

In every other conceivable situation - if you have a military unit that is struggling or a hospital that has problems with poor health care or a police department that is understaffed and unable to control crime - the answer is never to take money away. It is always to provide more money in those instances. But for some strange reason, right-wingers believe the magic answer for education is to withhold funding as the ultimate cure-all to our educational woes.

It’s really too bad, because it is clear that Leininger has a good heart and has every good intention to help these students. He just needs to understand that there are no easy and painless solutions to these kinds of problems. If you want good schools you have to pay for them.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mutiny on the Potomac

You know that George Bush is in trouble when the rightwing pundits are beating up on him with the same ferocity as those on the left.

Last week, we had the Godfather of the far-right, William F. Buckley Jr. saying
One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed.

And then adding sarcastically in his latest column that
In four years (during WWII) we marched from Pearl Harbor to the heart of what was left of Tokyo and Berlin. In three years (today) we can't yet take a cab from Baghdad to its airport without an armed guard.

Now we have right-wing pundit emeritus George Will noting that
”all three components of the "axis of evil'' -- Iraq, Iran, North Korea -- (are) more dangerous (now) than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002...”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, right-wing think-tank guru and former Reagan administration policy wonk Bruce Bartlett has penned a book called Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.


Madla vs. Uresti

I’m being deluged with political campaign mailings and phone calls this past week. It seems I’m in the crosshairs of this Democratic primary skuffle between incumbent state Sen. Frank Madla and state Rep. Carlos Uresti.
I got two mailings just the other day, one from each side. The Madla piece, like his previous mailers, features a pouty-faced little girl on the front cover who is apparently upset by the prospect of having bad old Mr. Uresti representing her in the Senate. On the inside page , the same girl is in Mr. Madla’s arms with a big grin on her face. This is obviously the positive mailer for Madla as compared to his last one which accused Uresti of single-handedly handing the keys to the state Capitol to the Republicans.
In this flyer, Madla makes the one argument that works best for him - contrasting his years of experience in the Legislature with Uresti’s.
“This is no time to elect a rookie to the Texas Senate,” the flyer declares.

From the Uresti campaign I got one of his negative mailers that goes after Madla for his now infamous statement that “when I get to the State Capitol, I lock the Democratic Party in my trunk.” (I got one of his positive mailers last week which played up his biographical information and touted his military service.)
You can see a video clip of Madla making the statement over at Red State and also at Burnt Orange Report.
The trunk video is plaguing Madla in the same way that the picture of Henry Cuellar being embraced by President Bush is dragging down his campaign.
And Uresti continues to pound Madla for the one vote that has probably caused him the most grief - a procedural vote in which he did not block a Republican proposal to make harsh cutbacks in CHIP funding from going to the full Senate. Madla voted against the measure on the Senate floor, but by that time it was too late. It was that one vote that angered many Democrats and encouraged Uresti to launch his primary challenge in the first place.

For the record, I’m firmly in the Uresti camp. I will probably be voting later this week while early voting is still going on. One of the things that has driven me into the Uresti camp is that on my drive to and from work I keep seeing Madla campaign signs grouped with Henry Cuellar signs at places that are notorious for being big backers of Republican candidates, such as the San Antonio Board of Realtors. I wish that I could vote against Cuellar too, but unfortunately I am in Henry Bonilla’s district where there are no Democrats challenging him this year (at least none who have made enough noise for me to notice). So in that race I have committed to supporting the Libertarian candidate Cecil Lamb, who is a good guy even though I disagree with most of his stated positions.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Redistricting challenge

Here’s some good news from the Supreme Court today which is looking into the Republican mid-term re-redistricting scheme in Texas.

According to the AP:
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was the key swing voter in that (previous redistricting) case, and on Wednesday expressed concerns about at least part of the Texas map.

In that previous case, the justices voted 5-4 to throw out a gerrymandered map with Kennedy serving as the swing vote joining Breyer, Souter, Stevens and Ginsberg.
The two new justices on the court, Roberts and Alito, could only make a difference if they surprise everyone and side with the forces of righteousness and goodness. That’s because they replaced justices Rehnquist and O’Connor who both crossed over to the Dark Side on this issue.

If Kennedy’s concerns cause him to vote the same way this time it should mean that at least part of Tom DeLay’s map could be scrapped regardless of how Roberts and Alito vote.

Jeffrey Toobin had an in depth analysis in The New Yorker recently which SCOTUSBlog conveniently made available in pdf format.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Interesting admission

President Bush acknowledges in a new book that just came out that Osama bin Laden may have helped him beat John Kerry in 2004 by issuing a tape shortly before the election.

The al Qaeda leader had issued a taped diatribe against Bush the Friday before Americans went to the polls....
"I thought it was going to help," Bush said.
"I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn't want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush."

So Bush apparently thinks that bin Laden is an idiot.
Because for one to believe that bin Laden was trying to hurt Bush’s chances at re-election by issuing his diatribe when he did, one must assume that bin Laden actually thought he could influence American voters to side with him before the election.

If bin Laden were really that stupid, one would think that we might have already caught him by now. However, if he is not an idiot then he must have realized that anything he said before the election would have the opposite effect, if any, on the electorate. So perhaps bin Laden really did help Bush win the election, just not for the reasons that Bush thought.

Whether or not bin Laden’s statement really did impact the election is probably impossible to know for sure, but the fact that Bush thinks it did is very interesting and also highly disturbing.

Spoke too soon

Today is one of those days where events are happening so fast that the news you see in the morning paper is outdated before you even get in to work.
The front page headline in the Express-News today (picked up from the WaPo) says “Deadly clashes easing in Iraq.” A subhead then quotes a U.S. envoy exclaiming that the ‘crisis is over.’ I noted this as I picked the paper up off the driveway and threw it into my truck. But then as I was driving to work I turn on NPR and hear that there have been a string of car bombs and suicide bombs in the last few hours claiming more than 30 lives and injuring more than a hundred others.

Here’s the story from New York Times:

A string of three bombs went off in quick succession here today, killing at least 30 and wounding more than 130, Iraqi officials said, bringing a sudden end to the relative calm that had followed a curfew imposed after last week's outbreak of sectarian violence.
In signs that the new violence represented a resumption of the sectarian strife, two of the blasts took place in Shiite areas in the southeastern part of the city, while the roof of a Sunni mosque in Baghdad was also blown off. In the Sunni stronghold of Tikrit, the mosque built over the grave of Saddam Hussein's father was attacked, according to an official in the Iraqi interior ministry.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has downgraded the only Iraqi Army battallion that had been considered able to carry out attacks on its own:

The only Iraqi battalion capable of fighting without U.S. support has been downgraded to a level requiring them to fight with American troops backing them up, the Pentagon said Friday.
The battalion, made up of 700 to 800 Iraqi Army soldiers, has repeatedly been offered by the U.S. as an example of the growing independence of the Iraqi military.
The competence of the Iraqi military has been cited as a key factor in when U.S. troops will be able to return home.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Shades of Nixon

Via Josh Marshall, I see that one of our homegrown progressive activist organizations here in Texas was just put through the ringer by Tom DeLay’s crony’s in Washington.

Fortunately, they now have a clean bill of health from the IRS.

The Internal Revenue Service recently audited the books of a Texas nonprofit group that was critical of campaign spending by former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) after receiving a request for the audit from one of DeLay's political allies in the House.

The lawmaker, House Ways and Means Committee member Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), was in turn responding to a complaint about the group, Texans for Public Justice, from Barnaby W. Zall, a Washington lawyer close to DeLay and his fundraising apparatus, according to IRS documents.

This is an abuse of government power at the highest level. It’s even worse than when DeLay commandeered the FAA to hunt for the fleeing Texas Democrats when they were breaking quorum over DeLay’s mid-term re-redistricting scheme.
I remember reading about some of the abuses of the Nixon administration when I was in college and I always thought his use of the IRS to go after his political enemies was one of his worst crimes. Now, here it is again and as Josh notes, they are not even bothering to try and cover it up.