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February 8th, 2014:

Saturday video break: The Acid Queen

Not many rock groups could pull off the “concept album” without it descending into a morass of self-indulgence and wretched excess. The Who was one of the bands that could get away with it, because Pete Townshend was such a genius. Here’s The Acid Queen, from their rock opera “Tommy”:

Did I mention that adding in a layer of psychedelia makes it that much harder to achieve? Because it does. And if very few artists can do this sort of thing, even fewer can cover them successfully. Needless to say, Tina Turner was one such artist:

Don’t even try to touch that. You just can’t.

This week marks the kickoff of a new project in Saturday videos, similar to the one I did with that Popdose Top 100 list, but with songs from my collection. I may or may not have all the versions for which I post videos, and in some cases I may do a “same name, different song” post. Should be fun, let me know what you think.

Abbott’s border surge plan

A whole lot of not much here.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said Tuesday he wants to nearly double state spending to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border, proposing a “continuous surge” with 1,000 new boots on the ground and millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment.

The proposal, dubbed his “Securing Texans Plan” and unveiled Tuesday in Dallas, would also include tougher laws against sex crimes, gang activity and domestic violence.

At a cost of more than $300 million over two years, the proposal represents the largest government expansion he’s proposed as a candidate for governor. The border security package would entail the hiring of 500 new Department of Public Safety officers over four years — plus additional overtime and support staff — to help create what he called a “permanent border shield.”

“We must do more to protect our border going beyond sporadic surges,” Abbott said. “As governor I will almost double the spending for DPS border security. I’ll add more boots on the ground, more assets in the air and on the water, and deploy more technology and tools for added surveillance.”

Abbott would not specify any existing sources of funding to pay for the new programs. He said only that it would come from existing general revenue dollars.

“These are going to be budgetary priorities that must be paid first,” Abbott told reporters after his speech. He said seized dollars and asset forfeiture programs eventually would help pay for the border security portion, which exceeds $292 million over two years, but he wouldn’t say how to pay for it before that money kicked in.

Asked if there were any programs that would have to be cut to pay for the dramatic spending increase, Abbott said, “I couldn’t identify them.”

“It would be whatever legislators may come up with they want to have funded. That is left to the ideas that will be articulated by the 150 state reps and 31 senators,” he said.

Abbott said he would not rely on “any new form of revenue,” including taxes or fees, to pay for the proposals.

“To be perfectly clear right now and forever: absolutely no tax increases whatsoever for any of my programs,” he said. “The Abbott administration will not have any tax increases.”

The first thing you need to realize is that there’s absolutely nothing new here. Remember Operation Border Star? Or Rick Perry’s border cameras? Or how about the fact that President Clinton sent the Marines to patrol the border in the 90s, as a commenter at BurkaBlog pointed out. That ended after 17-year-old Ezequiel Hernandez, Jr was shot and killed. I wonder if anyone in the media will remember any of this and ask Greg Abbott about it.

Beyond the un-originality of the idea is the unlikelihood of it doing anything. The Texas-Mexico border is really long; adding 500 agents means one more agent every two miles or so. The refusal to say how he’d pay for this little scheme is typical Abbott hand-waving. Does anyone really think these 500 new agents could collect $300 million in asset forfeiture funds per biennium, more than what the entire border patrol collects now, without the entire operation turning into Tenaha? It’s a scandal waiting to happen.

There is a way forward here, and that is for Greg Abbott to call on his Republican colleagues in Congress to quit screwing around and support comprehensive immigration reform. You know, like the plan that the Senate passed but the House refuses to vote on, with the explicit blessing of Abbott’s former employee Ted Cruz. The Senate plan is hardly the end of the rainbow, but it’s a big step forward. If Abbott wants to push for a better plan than the Senate’s, one that fetishizes the shibboleth of border security less and seeks a realistic and compassionate way to let more of the many people who really want to come to the US but are being kept out by our broken and byzantine process, then more power to him. I expect to be appointed to the board of the Koch Brothers’ evil empire before that happens.

Abbott isn’t actually interested in solving the problem, though. He’s just throwing red meat to his base, despite having the primary in the bag. As much as the locals didn’t care for his “Third World country” rhetoric, I doubt he even noticed, or cared if he did. He knows who he’s talking to. It’s what he does.

One more thing:

Abbott also proposed introducing the so-called E-Verify system, used to determine whether a particular employee has legal status, in state government.

Even though he said the system was “99.5 percent” effective, Abbott said he would not apply that new enforcement program to the private sector, where the vast majority of undocumented immigrants work.

The big-business lobby, representing many companies that have for years relied on cheap immigrant labor, has long resisted increased worksite enforcement in Texas and elsewhere.

“I think that Texas should establish the leadership position by employing this first as a state body, show that it works, set the standard for what it should be, before the state goes about the process of imposing more mandates on private employers,” Abbott said.

I’m just curious here, but how many undocumented immigrants does Abbott think are currently working undetected in state government? If this is a problem, why wasn’t he calling for E-Verify to be implemented before now? Surely Rick Perry and the Legislature wouldn’t have opposed the idea. And suggesting that maybe private businesses might consider voluntarily adopting it if he sets a good example for them is just too precious for words. If the system is so damn effective – not an incontrovertible claim, of course – and if undocumented immigrants are such a huge problem, why wouldn’t you push to make it a requirement? Burka is right, we don’t have policy in this state, we just have ideology. And it’s just insane.

HISD proposes closing five schools

Not sure about this.

Houston ISD officials are proposing to close five small schools at the end of this academic year, a move likely to set off protests from parents and alumni.

Some on the school board – which ultimately must approve the plan – already are expressing concerns about the closures, which would affect more than 2,000 students.

The campuses slated to close are Jones High School, Fleming Middle School, and Dodson, N.Q. Henderson and Port Houston elementary schools, according to Houston Independent School District spokeswoman Sheleah Reed.

The district posted news of the potential closures on the schools’ websites Wednesday, saying that they were “part of a plan designed to address fluctuating enrollment and changing demographics across the city.”

The schools each enroll fewer than 500 students, according to 2013 district data. In many cases, numerous students who live in the neighborhood transfer to attend other HISD campuses or leave for charter schools.

Jones High School in southeast Houston, once a thriving campus that launched the district’s Vanguard program for gifted students, enrolled 440 students last year, according to district data. More than 900 students zoned to Jones, however, left to other HISD high schools, with about half attending Milby and Chavez, each about 7 miles away.

“Something needs to be offered at that school. If it can be offered at Chavez, it can be offered at Jones,” said Cheryl Diggs, a 1988 Jones graduate who owns property in the nearby South Park neighborhood. “Give the students a reason to stay. It makes no sense.”

See School Zone and Hair Balls for more; the latter provided this link to HISD’s campus demographic and enrollment report. I get the rationale behind this, but it’s not clear to me that having a few smaller schools in a huge and diverse district like HISD is a bad idea. Maybe offering some kind of specialized programming at these campuses is a superior alternative to closing them. Closing schools can have a profound effect on a neighborhood, which is probably why at least three trustees so far – Paula Harris, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, and Juliet Stipeche – have had negative reactions. Whether this proposal ultimately makes sense or not, this is going to be a tough sell for HISD. A press release panning the idea from Working America is beneath the fold.

(more…)

More on the audit letters

The Chron asks some outside experts to go over those recently released audit letters.

BagOfMoney

Houston leaders appeared to have ignored the significance of recurring accounting and management problems or did not have the resources to fix them, according to accounting experts who reviewed 11 years’ worth of audit letters released by the mayor’s office last week.

“It really affects the ability of the government to manage its activities well,” said Douglas Carmichael, a professor at New York’s Baruch College with decades of experience as a CPA and writing accounting standards. “There seem to be errors permitted that a good system would prevent or detect.”

Carmichael and others noted, however, the number of weaknesses that could lead to inaccurate record-keeping or fraud had decreased in recent years.

The public release of the audit letters comes as the city’s Finance Department is readying a proposal to analyze accounting and financial procedures throughout every city department with an eye toward resolving persistent problems and preventing new ones.

The goal, Finance Director Kelly Dowe said, is to get department directors to consider financial transparency and accurate bookkeeping as important as the community services they provide.

[…]

The letters by the city’s outside auditor, Deloite & Touche, identified bookkeeping problems and areas with little oversight that could be tempting targets for fraud.

They noted millions of dollars’ of inaccuracies in financial statements that needed to be corrected before the city could issue its annual financial report. The auditors found that although money did not appear lost, it sometimes was not moved to the correct account on time, or financial statements did not reflect the true balance after a review of debits and credits. The auditors attributed some of those problems to inadequate communication from departments and a limited finance staff.

The letters also highlighted management deficiencies, such as failing to adequately track inventory or failing to require a collections contractor to provide documentation that it had properly billed for its services.

Some years, auditors suggested dozens of fixes, and some problems were identified repeatedly over the years before being addressed.

“It sounds like they just tossed it to the auditor and said, ‘You fix it,’ ” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, founder of a firm that performs the same kind of audits.

Whitley and other auditing professionals noted that Deloitte confirmed the financial statements as “clean” every year, despite the problems found. They said it also was promising that the most recent letter listed just four deficiencies, two of which were “significant,” rather than dozens.

The auditors probably would not have OK’d the revised financial statements if they had found actual wrongdoing or grave errors rather than just the potential for them, said Jacqueline Reck, past president American Accounting Association’s Government and Nonprofit Section.

See here for the background. Again, it doesn’t look like there was anything major in these letters. The bigger problem was in the city’s inability to address the issues in a timely fashion, though clearly progress was made. The bigger question is why City Controller Ronald Green thought they shouldn’t have been released. He had an AG opinion saying they didn’t have to be released, but against that there was the standard practice of other cities to release them, and the lack of any apparent cause for concern. He hasn’t had anything to say about it so far, which is too bad because I’d really like to understand his thinking. I hope he breaks his silence and tells us why he did what he did.

Reintroducing the jaguarundi

Cool.

Jaguarundi (source: Wikipedia)

The federal government has established a recovery plan for the jaguarundi, almost four decades since the small wildcat was listed as an endangered species and almost three decades since one was confirmed in the U.S.

But don’t expect to see the reddish brown or grey feline returning to what remains of the thick brush in South Texas anytime soon. The plan recently approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is heavy on additional research and habitat restoration but is not especially optimistic about its prospects for success.

The jaguarundi, a bit bigger than the average house cat, had much of its preferred thorn scrub habitat cleared long ago in Texas for agriculture and more recently for development in the rapidly growing border region. The cats still prowl in northeast Mexico, where much of the research would take place.

“There’s just not a whole lot of information on the jaguarundi,” said Taylor Jones of the nonprofit WildEarth Guardians, which sued and reached a settlement with the government that called for the recovery plan. She hopes the plan will spark new research, and in the near term contribute to additional efforts to conserve and restore the cat’s habitat. “You certainly couldn’t bring them back if they didn’t have any place to live.”

[…]

It’s not clear how many jaguarundis existed when the species was first listed as endangered in 1976, but it was determined they were in decline because of habitat destruction. The last confirmed sighting of a jaguarundi in the U.S. was a dead one on a road outside Brownsville in 1986. Before that, the last was seen in 1969.

Lesli Gray, a spokeswoman for the federal wildlife agency, said there is no guarantee funding will exist to meet the agency’s goals, but at least a plan has been developed that outlines what is needed to delist the species or at least improve its population.

The plan calls for spending more than $7 million in each of the first two years. Under a fully funded plan, the jaguarundi could be downlisted by 2040 if three or more established populations are found with a total of at least 250 cats. The species could be delisted 10 years later.

I have no idea how well this will work, but I wish them the best of luck. Loss of habitat is a tough thing for a lot of species to overcome. The Center for Biological Diversity has more.