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July 19, 2003, 6:45 A.M.

Oh, for crying out loud. Is it Texas all over again? Here's a link to CNN's account of yesterday's skirmish in the House Ways & Means Committee over a pension bill. Police and the sergeant-at-arms were called by the Republican committee chair, Rep. Bill Thomas, to dislodge Democrats from a library meeting where they were plotting strategy:

"When they could not get a line-by-line reading of the bill, a common parliamentary tactic, they walked out and gathered to talk in a library at the back of the meeting room. Thomas, who has a reputation for being blunt, had his staff call the cops.

Democrats said Thomas called police to get them out of the room. Republicans said the police were called because one Democrat, Rep. Pete Stark of California, got out of hand.

Stark, they said, stayed behind after his colleagues left the committee room to berate Thomas and other committee Republicans."

Here's Democrat John Lewis' view on the matter:
"We will not be intimidated, we will not be immobilized; we live in a democracy and not a police state," Lewis said."
I certainly hope he's right.

July 18, 2003, 8:45 A.M.

You heard it here first. There is a frightening story in the Manchester Union Leader this morning about a burgeoning New Hampshire court funding crisis. Here’s an excerpt:

”The Manchester site of the Hillsborough County Probate Court will close, and no jury trials will be held in superior courts in September due to budget constraints.

The moves come as court officials try to live within the appropriations of the three-month continuing resolution approved by lawmakers. . .

The court system will withhold merit increases and advancements as well as promotions, and leave vacant three supreme court clerk positions and three superior court transcriptionists.

Other measures include reducing security in the superior courts, eliminating per diem expense for probate judges who fill in for others, and the Supreme Court will delay its plan to take all appeals.

Also travel, maintenance and new equipment purchases will be postponed, and some courts will reduce hours of public access.

Remember, government today doesn’t want us to have access to the court system. We might try to hold them accountable.

July 18, 2003, 8:15 A.M.

It looks like the name that Mr. Tenet "reluctantly" gave up at the hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday wasn't such a revelation after all. This is an excerpt from a July 12, 2003 NY Times story by David Sanger and James Risen:

"Before the speech, the crucial conversations between the C.I.A and White House over whether to include the African reference in the State of the Union address were held between Robert G. Joseph, a nuclear proliferation expert at the National Security Council, and Alan Foley, a proliferation expert at the C.I.A., according to government officials."
We'll be watching this story.

July 17, 2003, 10:10 P.M.

MSNBC has named the individual that Sen. Durbin was referring to who strong-armed the CIA into allowing the uranium-from-Niger reference into the President's State of the Union speech:

"Durbin said that person’s identity could not be revealed because of the confidentiality of the proceedings, but sources, who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity, said that Tenet “reluctantly” identified the official as National Security Council member Robert Joseph. One source said that the revelation led to a series of questions about Joseph’s role."
We wonder how much of the sweater will unravel when this thread is pulled. Stay tuned.

P.S. Check out Josh Marshall's take on this story.

July 17, 2003, 11:00 A.M.

Here's an AP story with an update on how things have been going for George Tenet in the hearings on Capitol Hill:

"CIA Director George Tenet told members of Congress a White House official insisted that President Bush's State of the Union address include an assertion about Saddam Hussein's nuclear intentions that had not been verified, a Senate Intelligence Committee member said Thursday.

Sen. Dick Durbin, who was present for a 4 1/2-hour appearance by Tenet behind closed doors with Intelligence Committee members Wednesday, said Tenet named the official. But the Illinois Democrat said that person's identity could not be revealed because of the confidentiality of the proceedings."

Inquiring minds want to know. . .was it Dick Cheney?

July 16, 2003, 5:00 P.M.

This New York Times story has the first reference that I've seen by an American military leader to the current nature of the conflict in Iraq as "classical guerrilla warfare." I thought Donald Rumsfeld just told us that it wasn't a guerrilla war.

General Abizaid said they were "conducting what I would describe as a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us."
Gen. Abizaid is the Army general responsible for all military operations in Iraq. I guess he should know.

July 16, 2003, 10:50 A.M.

Let's review. . . a few months ago Governor Craig “Let’s-run-the-state-like-a-business” Benson was found to be a co-owner of a swanky seacoast golf course that needed certain state permits, which were granted by NH Department of Environmental Services. The problem, of course, was that the Governor did not disclose his ownership of the course. Although it appears that the approval sought and obtained was a routine matter, it also appears that the Governor plays fast and loose with things like asset disclosure (this was an issue during his campaign as well) and the appearance of impropriety where an executive branch state agency is approving permits on property owned by New Hampshire’s chief executive. This is not to suggest that the agency did anything wrong; it’s the Governor’s obligation to disclose his assets.

Another example of the Governor’s disdain for the rules-by-which-the-rest-of-us-live is the $2000 fine recently assessed against Benson for excavating beach sand in front of his oceanfront Rye home. The Governor coyly noted that he didn’t know that he had to get a permit. It turns out that Benson must be suffering from short term memory impairment because Rye selectmen wrote to the Governor five years ago when he had sand excavated the first time and told him that a permit is required for this work and that fines would be assessed if he did it again. He must have forgotten.

By the way, Benson has renamed the office of constituent services, "customer services." Apparently we’re customers now. I think, though, that if Benson wants to think of a clever new name for taxpayers, that “shareholders” would be more accurate.

July 16, 2003, 8:30 A.M.

Sen. Majority Leader Tom DeLay comments on the Inspector General's report of its investigation into the misuse of federal agencies in the search for the Texas Democrats who skipped the quorum call on the redistricting measure last May in this CNN article:

"DeLay said the agency used the Internet to answer his questions, but investigators said some of the information given to DeLay, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Homeland Security Department came from FAA databases that are not publicly accessible.

DeLay, in a briefing with reporters, said he has no second thoughts about his office's decision to call the FAA May 12 to locate the plane of state Rep. Pete Laney."

July 15, 2003, 10:45 P.M.

This Tapped post made us chuckle. You can almost picture Mr. Robertson pointing his staff at his enemies from his barge on the Nile, can't you?

"IT'S TIME FOR HIM TO GO. Now it appears that Pat Robertson has called on God to, er, strike down three left-leaning justices of the Supreme Court. He doesn't exactly say 'smote,' but you sort of get the idea from this: Robertson has launched a 21-day 'prayer offensive' directed at the Supreme Court in the wake of its 6-3 June vote that decriminalized sodomy. Robertson said in a letter on the CBN Web site that the ruling 'has opened the door to homosexual marriage, bigamy, legalized prostitution and even incest.'"

The same letter targets three justices in particular: 'One justice is 83-years-old, another has cancer and another has a heart condition. Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?'

And we thought the Lord only helped those who helped themselves! You know, on second thought, let's keep Robertson around. We need someone to drag out every time conservatives bring up Noam Chomsky."

July 15, 2003, 12:30 P.M.

Very clever. Click here.

July 15, 2003, 10:20 A.M.

This CNN article has the latest U.S. casualty count figures in Iraq:

"Including the latest death, 81 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since President Bush announced an end to major combat operations May 1. Of those, 33 have been killed by hostile fire and 48 were victims of nonhostile fire or accidents."
Pretty grim.

July 15, 2003, 9:45 A.M.

Here's a link to the letter from the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity that everyone is talking about. This group's members are former spooks who appear to be lining up Dick Cheney's head in their crosshairs. Stay tuned.

July 13, 2003, 10:10 P.M.

[Ed. note – this is a modification of the July 11, 2003, 5:10 P.M. post]

It turns out that Rod Paige’s “Texas miracle” is nothing more than accounting magic. You will recall that Paige was previously Houston’s Superintendent of Schools and responsible for instituting the changes in that district that serve as the model for No Child Left Behind, the federal government’s intrusion into local control and operation of public schools.

At the heart of Paige’s “school reform program” during his tenure as Houston’s Superintendent was the concept of school accountability. Schools were to be judged based on the performance of students on certain state wide achievement tests. Schools whose students‘ test scores did not improve were designated as “failing” schools. Schools in Texas are judged based on standardized test scores, attendance and dropout rates. Incentives in the form of cash bonuses and other perks are given to teachers and administrators in schools that perform well.

Houston’s high schools looked great in terms of their actual test scores, but they failed to accurately report their rather extraordinary dropout rates. What’s worse, it looks like Houston’s schools have been deliberately underreporting their dropout rates in an obvious attempt to make their schools look better under the standards set by the Texas Department of Education. A recent audit conducted by the State of Texas found that the Houston School District had failed to report as many as 3,000 students who left 16 middle and high schools. During the 2000-2001 school year (Rod Paige’s last year in the district) Houston schools reported that only 1.5% of its students had dropped out, and this number did not take into consideration students who left the district and did not transfer to other schools. In actuality, large numbers of students who dropped out were simply ignored when reports were made to the state.

As a result of the audit, the ranking of 14 of 16 schools surveyed will be lowered from best to worst according to the state’s standards. Houston is contesting this ranking, but their accounting practices would make Arthur Anderson proud. Diana Jean Schemo, in an article dated July 11, 2003 in the New York Times, reports that

“In a third of Houston's 30 high schools, scores on the standardized exams have risen as enrollment has shrunk. At Austin High, for example, 2,757 students were enrolled in the 1997-1998 school year, when only 65 percent passed the 10th grade math test, an important gauge of school success in Texas. Three years later, 99 percent of students passed the math exam, but enrollment shrank to 2,215 students.”
At the same time, the school reported that dropout figures, another important factor in determining school performance in Texas, had dropped from 4.1% in 1997-98 to 0.3% in 2000-01.

An excessive emphasis on test scores in Texas, rather than on multiple measures of student learning, has resulted in manipulation of dropout data and is creating a culture where at-risk students and students who might not perform well are encouraged to leave school, so that they don’t pull down test results. Houston school officials misreported (i.e., lied about) dropout figures reported to the State, and failed to enter proper codes on student records when students did not return to school. In one instance a Houston high school went from 1,000 freshmen to 300 seniors in four years and reported no dropouts. According to Dr. Robert Kimball, assistant principal at Sharpstown High School, within the Houston District, this was “amazing” given the fact that 74.7% of the population was identified as “at-risk.” Kimball’s comments, reported in the New York Times, come from a letter that Kimball wrote to Sharpstown principal Carol Wichmann warning her that the school was underreporting its dropout figures.

These developments come out in light of tragic stories of Houston students, such as Jerroll Tyler, who was featured in Ms. Schemo’s report, pushed from their schools by administrators bent on getting good grades and bonuses for their schools, and not on teaching kids.

The State of New Hampshire has struggled to come up with an appropriate, comprehensive test that it hopes will adequately measure student performance. The old NHEIAP will be replaced by a new test, which will attempt to take into consideration diverse learning styles, special needs, and the myriad different factors that affect test scores. The City of Laconia is already ahead of the curve in improving overall student performance with programs to improve literacy, assisting non-traditional learners and providing comprehensive in-house special education services. A review of the criteria that improperly lead to the designation of Woodland Heights as a “failing school” will result in a reversal of that determination. We are currently awaiting confirmation that, through the tireless efforts of our administrators, that erroneous finding has been reversed.

Not all school districts in this state are fortunate enough to have programs in place to set them up to meet the challenges of compliance with NCLB. My fear is that what happened in Texas can happen in those districts where pressure to meet the requirements of the law may drive teachers and administrators to leave children who don’t perform well on the test behind. In Houston thousands of at-risk kids simply vanished from school records due to their potential to negatively impact test scores. Not only were students encouraged to drop out, or more accurately, fade away, when they were likely to negatively impact test scores, Houston’s school district subsequently underreported its dropout figures, a measure of school performance under the standards set by the Texas Department of Education. No Child Left Behind will do nothing for at-risk students if the emphasis is solely on standardized test performance -- just ask those 3,000 kids that Rod Paige left behind in Houston.

July 13, 2003, 10:00 P.M.

Judge Charles Campbell of the Texas District Court has ruled that the Texas Department of Public Safety lacked the legal authority to track down Democratic members of the Texas legislature who fled the state to block a vote on a Republican redistricting plan. According to Judge Campbell, Texas law "limits that role of D.P.S. to enforcing the laws protecting the public safety and providing for the prevention and detection of crime." This does not include pursuing elected legislators at the behest of the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, the federal investigation into the roles of the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration in the search is underway. The federal investigation, being conducted at least partially at the request of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), has yielded some interesting results. The Department of Homeland Security inspector general has issued a rather incomplete report, but apparently the Department of Transportation has issued a more throrough one of the FAA's involvement in the matter and Josh Marshall links to articles in the Washington Post and Dallas Morning News that address the federal reports. One thing is clear, however, initial reports that the feds did not aid the state DPS in its illegal manhunt were, well. . .lies.

July 13, 2003, 9:50 P.M.

Hello. . .is anybody out there? Condoleezza Rice, George Bush and the rest of the administration are casting stones at George Tenet over the Niger uranium business. The problem is, the record clearly indicates that the CIA warned the British off of the Niger uranium purchase information as early as September 2002. What's more, in today's Washington Post, Walter Pincus reports that CIA Director George J. Tenet convinced White House officials to delete a reference to Iraq's trying to buy uranium from Niger from a presidential speech last October. Rice’s own agency was told of the lack of confidence on the part of the CIA in the information long before Bush used it in the State of the Union speech in January. Now high level administration officials are simply lying about who-knew-what-when. The use of the bogus intelligence on Iraq attempting to purchase yellowcake in Niger was intended to help convince Americans that the threat to us from Iraq was immediate. That was a lie, and in my book, a big one. The damage done to U.S. credibility and diplomatic integrity leading up to the invasion of Iraq is getting worse as the world sees that we will do whatever it takes to get our way.

What bothers me most is the air of moral superiority emanating from the White House. They seem to be certain that whatever they think is correct, whatever policy they adopt is right and that those who disagree are simply wrong, or worse, un-American. The result of this zealotry is a sense that accomplishing their goals, stated or not, is paramount. Whatever needs to be done to more forward with the administration’s goals is acceptable to this White House. It doesn’t matter if the means of achieving those goals is to outright lie. Bill Clinton lied about a woman and hurt and embarrassed his family. But he didn’t hurt me. George Bush’s lies are costing lives and are endangering the diplomatic, political and moral credibility of the U.S. Despite this, no one is calling for George Bush’s impeachment. Yet.

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