2/29/12

Church and State

Leece makes some observations on church and state, and the current Republican buffoonery:

Church and state issue takes center stage again

2/28/12

See ya in court ...

Attorney General Eric Holder seems ready to take on The One True Church over the Obamanian contraception mandate:

"To the extent that that action is challenged in court, I would expect that the Justice Department would defend what I guess is in place -- would be that compromise," Holder told lawmakers on a House Appropriations subcommittee.

Like ... wowsers!

I wonder if Brother Eric understands that The One True Church probably has a lot more 'real' money than does the Federal government, and a lot more and much better lawyers?

That's gonna be a catfight worth watching.

Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius babbled on for awhile before confessing cluelessness:

"I have no idea," Sebelius said at the end of a lengthy answer that recited the basic chronology of the controversy. "The hypothetical -- I mean, I can -- if you want to submit that in writing, I'll get you an answer in writing."

Then Hillary Clinton got her two cents worth in:

Also weighing in on the controversy Tuesday was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, the nation's top diplomat encouraged Catholics opposed to birth control on doctrinal grounds to embrace it for practical reasons.

"I know that it is a very controversial issue," Clinton told lawmakers, "but numerous studies have shown that the incidence of abortion decreases when women have access to contraception."


She expects Catholics to ignore the Church, and embrace birth control because basically it's easier to use contraceptives than to adhere to one of the most intensely held precepts of the Church? If that ain't situational ethics and morality, I dunno what is. Right is right until it becomes difficult? Is that what she is saying?

Sounds like it to me.

I wonder how that applies to international negotiations and treaties and so on.

Holder vows court battle

2/27/12

Chicken Little was a Christian fundamentalist

We're still hearing 'The sky is falling!' hysteria from the Christian right, over the issuance of a code violation summons by the city of San Juan Capistrano, to a couple who were holding what they called 'home Bible studies'.

It seems that the couple in question was pulling in about 20 or so for their Wednesday evening studies, and 50 or more on Sunday mornings. On a regular and recurring basis.

The city has an ordinance regarding churches and other religious establishments in residential neighborhoods.Actually, it includes non-religious organizations too.

Section 9-3.301 of the Capistrano Municipal Code prohibits “... religious, fraternal or non-profit” organizations in residential neighborhoods without a conditional-use permit. The footnote on the section says it “Includes churches, temples, synagogues, monasteries, religious retreats, and other places of religious worship and other fraternal and community service organizations.”

Residential electrical, plumbing, and street and parking infrastructure is not set up to deal with recurring gatherings of that size. That's why they have the ordinance.

It has nothing to do with Bibles or prayers ... though you will never convince our 'persecuted' Christian brethren and sistren of that. They are much too busy playing the victim to listen to reason.

Couple in legal battle for hosting Bible studies at home

2/13/12

Benet Hill Monastery

Our weekend up at Benet Hill:

Benet Hill Monastery

Waivers

Here is a good commentary on The Obamanian Waivers:

Obama grants waivers to NCLB and makes a bad situation worse.

The states that won a waiver must agree to accept the Common Core State Standards, a national curriculum in mathematics and English language arts developed by nongovernment groups that has yet to be field-tested anywhere; they must agree to evaluate teachers and principals based in large part on the test scores of their students; and they must agree to intervene forcefully in the lowest-performing schools. At the same time, the Obama administration is promoting merit pay, so teachers whose students get higher test scores will be paid more.

 Check out the Teacher Incentive Fund, which Obama is pushing hard, and which doles out free Federal money create pay-for-performance programs.

And you don't think there's going to be any more 'teaching to the test?'

Here ya go:

Common Core Standards Initiative

CSAP/TCAP/Whatever on steroids.

Betcha that 'merit pay' thing has the full support of the teachers' unions, don't you think?

Teaching to the test

That's an interesting poll over on the TD website, with one of two answers to the Question about the waiver for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) seeming to mean that 'they' are no longer 'teaching to the test.' Before it was taken down, that poll was running about two-to-one in favor of that choice of answers.

I love that phrase, 'teaching to the test', when it's used to indicate the feeling that somehow, the entire system is being suborned to make the powers-that-be happy. You don't suppose it could be that whenever someone's kid doesn't do well on the test, or whenever a school district gets less-than-flattering results, it might just be the result of not doing all that great a job rather 'teaching to the test'?

One way or another, there is going to be some means of evaluating the effectiveness of The Program. If it shows great success, why then, The Test is Good. If not, then those dirty SOB's are making 'em 'teach to the test', rather than putting all their energy into the nurturing of the students embryonic sense of educational wonderment.

Does whoever comes up with those surveys not understand that CSAP has been around since 1997, whereas NCLB  is the NCLB Act of 2001? That CSAP is first and foremost founded in state law, not Federal? And that using CSAP to demonstrate compliance - or lack thereof - with Federal NCLB standards is an afterthought, squeezed in after the enactment of NCLB, and not the primary purpose of CSAP?

and ... "Since enactment [of NCLB], Congress increased federal funding of education from $42.2 billion in 2001 to $54.4 billion in 2007. Funding tied to NCLB received a 40.4% increase from $17.4 billion in 2001 to $24.4 billion. The funding for reading quadrupled from $286 million in 2001 to $1.2 billion."

Here's a question: If Colorado has received a waiver for NCLB, does that mean they no longer receive that free Federal money, in the form of all those grants and other funding? If that is the case, have the school districts quit crapping their pants yet?

And if it is not the case, how are these school districts going to demonstrate that they meet some kind of standard? Or do they expect the Feds to just dish out piles of that free money based on good looks and happy faces?

There is still going to be testing, you see.

There has to be some form of standardized testing otherwise teachers will not know if their students are learning. Nor will parents. There has to be some standard that all schools teach and expect their students to know before graduation. It used to be that one did not pass into the next grade if he or she did not pass certain tests. Standardized tests are important but when the school administrators are freaking out over them because of the money involved it becomes a ball and chain.

An argument can be made that it ain't about the kids, that it's about all that free federal money. All that government largesse. Hundreds of millions of dollars; billions of dollars. So the testing goes on ...

What's that, you ask? You mean CSAP is still here?

Ah ... it's not CSAP! It's ... TCAP!

Or has the waiver done away with TCAP? Probably not, since we are still talking about state statutory requirements.

So ... the test is still in place, and it is going to stay in place, and the teachers will still be teaching to the test. Especially if all that free federal money is tied to test results, the teachers will still be teaching to the test. If you're going to take the king's shilling, you're going to have to dance to the king's tune.

Let's look at how another state function handles this.

People who want to be peace officers in Colorado have to pass the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board's certification exam. They prepare for this by attending an approved law enforcement academy.  But the test can be challenging, and a surprising number of people don't pass it. If students don't pass the test, that makes the academy look bad, and students, who are paying customers, complain. Pretty soon the junior college hosting the academy loses those paying customers. This is not good for academy staff, full-time or adjunct. So ... one way or another, questions are gleaned from students who have taken the exam. The exam can vary, but sooner or later you'll get a pretty good collection of test questions. These can be put together as 'study guides'.  But once you start down that slippery slope of unethical behavior by gathering up test questions and collating them as 'study guides' ... well, why not start charging the students a couple of hundred bux for a weekend cram course, guaranteeing they'll pass the POST exam?

You'd think the academy curriculum and regimen would prepare them for that, wouldn't you?  And you would think that the results of the POST certification exam would give some insight into the effectiveness of the program, wouldn't you?

You'd also think there is something of  an ethical question for academy staff to pocket some extra change to do that for which they have already been paid, but why 'they' don't see it that way is for another blogpost. OTOH, you can just get in good with a friendly exam proctor and skip the whole middleman process altogether. Fortunately, as we see from the indictment, not all academy staff agree with that ... you have to draw the line somewhere, you see.

Similarly, you would think our school curricula and regimens would prepare our kids to do well on CSAP/TCAP/Whatever, and prepare them to be able to find their way through a freshman college textbook ... but it isn't doing all that great a job, is it, not when nearly 30% of the high school graduates require some kind of remediation to navigate that textbook. Of course, that must all be the fault of NCLB. Or because teachers are forced to 'teach to the test.' It couldn't be anything else, could it.

Perhaps school districts should just start selling 'study guides', and weekend cram courses guaranteed to get good scores on TCAP. Watch out for those friendly proctors, though. It's a hard stop at the end of that slippery slope.

That wouldn't solve the problem any more than the POST exam guarantees we have cops who  know enough about policing to pass a certification exam without a cheat sheet. Perhaps there's a correlation between the two?

2/9/12

An interesting dichotomy

On the one hand we have this:

Colorado receives waiver from No Child Left Behind law

wherein we find this statement:

Colorado got further affirmation Thursday of its strong education reform system when the White House announced it was among a very select few states to earn waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

and this:

“Clearly Colorado is a noted leader in the nation for making the right changes in our education system to better support student learning,” Colorado’s Education Commissioner Robert Hammond said. “Colorado’s comprehensive state accountability system has gained the U.S. Department of Education’s quality seal of approval and has become a model for other states.”

But on the other hand we have this:

Many Pueblo graduates not ready for college

Wherein we find this statement:

A little more than half of Pueblo City Schools district (D60) students who graduated in 2010 and went on to college weren't prepared for the rigor of college classes, according to a report by the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

So curiously compels us to ask ... is Pueblo the exception to the seal of approval and the model status of the Colorado education system?

So we did a bit more research. And we found this:

Graduating on time but not college-ready

Wherein we have this:

New state reports show more Colorado high school students are graduating in four years but a third of those enrolling in state colleges and universities must still take remedial classes, mostly in math. Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Education released the first “on-time” graduation rates showing 72.4 percent of the statewide Class of 2010 earned their diplomas in four years, up from 70.7 percent the year before.

and this:

Statewide, nearly a third of all Colorado high school graduates attending a state college or university must enroll in a remedial math, writing or reading class, according to a report released Feb. 4 by the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The remediation rate has changed little since 2005.

Here is the full report:

2010 Remediation Report

in PDF format.

According to Table 13, East Otero R-1's remediation rate was 25%. So a quarter of the students who went on to one of the Colorado colleges needed some kind of remediation in order to do basic, freshman-level college work.

The state rate was 28.8% If 28.8% of the college-bound students require remediation, what does that say about the ones who are just going on to the workforce?

Huh. That's really some kind of 'model' to emulate. And how much more money does the public school system want to suck out of us to fix this? But wait! It clearly doesn't need fixing! It's a model for other states to emulate!

And you thought our kids weren't lucky ...

It seems to me that when our government officials and fat cat teachers union officials and junketing school boards feed us a crap sandwich and tell us how good it tastes, the reporter could do a little better than just regurgitate the party line and feed it to the public with a bit more gravy. Like, you know, perhaps research a bit?

Or is that just us being, like,  you know ... negative? OK. Well, then, let's accentuate the positive. East Otero R-1's remediation rate was only half that of Pueblo's school districts. Yay!

"... like the worst sort of virtual reality ..."

That was from William Yeatman, who is cited in this commentary about 'the phantom carbon tax':

Phantom carbon tax still haunts ratepayers

The main article of interest today is this one:

Which Republican will crater for the carbon tax?

Which opens with this:

A bill to repeal Colorado’s “phantom carbon tax” was heard today in the Republican-controlled House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee. It’s the second time in as many years that State Representative Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial) has sponsored the pro-ratepayer legislation. Both times it was heard in the House Ag Committee. Last year, we documented how some Republicans in the committee voted to keep the carbon tax in tact, which is de facto support for the theory of man-made global warming.

The bill to repeal the tax is HB 12-1172

These guys:

House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee

had it in their grasp.

But as we see from the article, vice-chair Randy Baumgartner held it over. Are they going to play the same game our elected reps played with HB 11-1075? That's the one that would have killed the general assembly's little slush fund, drawn from those 'constitutionally protected' FASTER funds. They didn't have the balls to let that one go out for a vote, just as it looks like they don't have the balls to let this one out, either. We might actually see which of these so-called 'conservatives' are joining their tax and tax some more Democratic brethren in the fiscal closet.

Meanwhile ... how's your electric bill these days?

2/8/12

Compassion for Africa

We are working on a new site:

Compassion for Africa

which outfit was organized by Pastor Joe Gorman.

We have quite a ways to go with it, but at least it's up in reasonably presentable form.

2/3/12

A FASTER end run

If you have forgotten how FASTER came to be, here is a really good recap:

Colorado: Land of the Fee


and I asked Sal Pace about all this.

Here is a fairly decent explanation of how FASTER funds are distributed. This is from Mr. Pace's source:

Fees collected under FASTER, are distributed as follows:

The road safety surcharge, daily rental car fee, oversize/overweight fee, and late registration fee funds are credited to the Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF). Sixty percent of these funds are allocated to the State Highway Fund, and administered by the Colorado Department of Transportation for statewide road safety projects (A list of these projects can be viewed by clicking here). Pursuant to Section 43-4-206(3), Colorado Revised Statutes, $10 million of these funds allocated to the State Highway Fund are required to be spent on transit-related or bicycle safety projects.

Forty percent of the FASTER funds are divided such that 22 percent go to counties and 18 percent go to cities. The Colorado Department of the Treasury makes allocations to counties and cities each month.

Section 43-4-811(3), C.R.S. requires that $2.75 million be diverted from the county HUTF allocation and $2.25 million from the city allocation to the State Transit and Rail Fund. This amount, which totals $5 million, funds a local government grant program for local transit projects.

As you can see, $10 million is earmarked for 'transit' projects, and that $10 million is broken down into chunks to be handed out at various local levels. Our elected officials did that by 'legislative declaration.' in the FASTER bill, which you can read from that Colorado: Land of the Fee link. It was a nice end-run around what would become a part of the state constitution. It creates, - if you are a cynic - a very nice slush fund with which our elected officials can more or less pay off some of their loyal supporters with lucrative little contracts for those 'transit projects'. It may even actually be used for useful projects, though some of those titles give pause for thought, don't they? Read on, where we explain this more fully:

All revenue from the bridge safety surcharge is credited to the Special Bridge Fund, which by law is only available for bridge projects (a list of bridge projects can be found here).

A constitutional amendment would be required in order for fees collected under FASTER to be used for purposes other than the construction, maintenance, and supervision of the state's public highways.

You see that? Yep. You read it right. They cannot, under the state constitution, use FASTER funds for "... purposes other than the construction, maintenance, and supervision of the state's public highways...".

Now here is where we get into how they launder those 'constitutionally-protected' funds through that transit grants program:

Here's the set:

The Front Porch project Mr. Steeves references in his e-mail was funded through a local transit grant funded by the $10 million per year allocated to the State Highway Fund for transit-related projects. Transit grants may be used for any items defined as capital expenses by the Federal Transit Administration, for example buses, facilities, equipment, with the exception of land purchases and office-related equipment. Operating, administrative and planning expenses are not eligible for funding.

And here is the spike right down the taxpayers' throats:

During the 2011 legislative session, the House of Representatives considered House Bill 11-1075. As introduced, House Bill 11-1075 would have effectively repealed the required $10 million CDOT expenditure for transit projects and the $5 million transfer of city and county HUTF funds to the State Transit and Rail Fund for local transit grants. The bill would have also limited the use of FASTER funds deposited into the HUTF to road safety projects for state highways and city and county roads. The bill excluded bikeway or bike lane projects from the definition of these projects unless they ensure biker safety at the intersection of a road and bikeway or bike lane. House Bill 11-1075 was postponed indefinitely by the House Transportation Committee.

Wait a minute! I can hear you all saying it now ... what about that business of  A constitutional amendment would be required in order for fees collected under FASTER to be used for purposes other than the construction, maintenance, and supervision of the state's public highways.

Are these not FASTER funds? Yes. They are.

Then how can they be used for this tourism thing down at the Amtrak station?

Because whoever wrote the grant quite creatively wrote it as a 'transit project' grant. And that allows FASTER funds to be used - since they have now been allocated into another one of those 'funding streams' - for something totally unrelated to "... construction, maintenance, and supervision of the state's public highways...".

But wait! It gets even better!

From the state's guidelines on those HUTF 'transit projects', section IIB, which lists the criteria for evaluating and prioritizing the handing out of our tax dollars:

1. Criticality: What is the consequence if this project is not funded? Does it help achieve a specific objective in the Regional Transportation Plan? How important is the project to the Region? (Really ... how is a gussied up tourism kiosk 'critical' to our regional transportation plan? You can find links to CDOT's planning efforts at the bottom of the post.)
2. Financial capacity: Is there an institutional commitment, funding, financial capacity, and capability to sustain the service and project over time, given that the program will provide capital assistance but no operating assistance? (In other words, you'd better be digging deeper into your local pockets to provide the upkeep and maintenance on this thing, because once the grant money's gone, you're on your own. So what other services are going to suffer, as money is drawn off to provide upkeep and maintenance for this 'transit project'?)
3.Financial need: Is other funding being leveraged, or is the project completely dependent on FASTER funds? Have other sources been tried? (Note the up front reference to "FASTER funds". Whatever happened to that "... A constitutional amendment would be required in order for fees collected under FASTER to be used for purposes other than the construction, maintenance, and supervision of the state's public highways ..."? How does this project related to that?
4. Project impacts: Would the project reduce traffic on the state system? Would the project improve service delivery? Would it increase ridership?
5. Readiness: What is the past experience of the applicant in spending grant funds and completing projects in a timely manner? For projects proposing to use FASTER funds to match a federal grant, what is the likelihood of being awarded that federal grant (if it has not already been awarded)? Based on a staff review, are the proposed costs reasonable and appropriate?

You can read about the guidelines here.

Now here's the thing. This is a nice runaround not only TABOR, but the state constitution as well. Our elected officials, led by Bill Ritter, pushed this thing down our throats as 'fees' rather than 'taxes'.

It's supposed to be for "... construction, maintenance, and supervision of the state's public highways...".

Our elected officials stuck that little 'transit projects' thing into the bill, so despite the constitutional limitation, they still have $10 million in FASTER funds to dish out to their pals, in the guise of grants for 'transit projects.'

Someone in the state ledge understood what that was, and tried to kill it with HB 11-1075; and 1075 was killed by the Transportation Committee.

I defy any elected official to tell me how this $309 thousand and change is being used for anything remotely related to any of those criteria in their guidelines. Even with that 'legislative declaration' of theirs, this thing comes nowhere near meeting those criteria. It is not by any stretch of the imagination a 'transit project.'

And if the state has that much money to give away for projects that so clearly fall outside of the letter and spirit of the constitutional requirements on how this money is to be spent ...

Why are they screwing our kids and the schools?

Oh. Yeah. Different 'funding streams.' And some very imaginative grant writing. And some very sloppy and indifferent review of those grants.

That's how. And that's why.

Perhaps we should file a grant to build an entirely new school in Swink. We could call it "... the Support Facility and Temporary Passenger Lounge for the Swink School District public and personal transit vehicle parking facility." Yeah. That would clearly reduce traffic on the state system by providing a warehouse for all those students who would otherwise be driving around creating traffic jams.

CDOT MPO and Regional Planning Unit

Working TPR At a Glance (PDF)

"Funding Streams"

Some time ago Urban Renewal decided to back what they called "The Front Porch" project. An article ran in the T-D, but sadly, that article is no longer available online. However ...  the article contained this statement:

The Colorado Department of Transportation Faster Statewide Transit Funds will cover $309,663, or 75 percent of the project.

That's a grant. Free munny.

You may not recall what "Faster" funds are. Here's a reminder:

FASTER - CDOT

Please examine the listing of purposes of this funding program. Having done that, can you tell me how this spending of $309,663 in tax revenues comes anywhere close to meeting any of those objectives?

I'd love to read the grant application on that one.

Meanwhile, the Swink and La Junta school districts are cutting programs and laying off teachers because of reductions in state money for education.

Why is it that the state has $309,663 to fund what is essentially a tourism pimp job rather than fixing bridges, which is what Bill Ritter was touting when he signed the bill?

"With this bill, we'll be able to begin work on the many unsafe bridges and roads all across this state -- work that has been neglected for far too long," Gov. Ritter said. "And at a time when the entire country is suffering from a recession, this legislation will let us save jobs, create jobs and help us get our economy moving again."

The legislation, Senate Bill 09-108, was sponsored by Sen. Dan Gibbs and Rep. Joe Rice. It is expected to generate about $252 million annually for transportation projects, including improvements to more than 100 structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges.


When I asked why this was, I was told that the money comes 'from different funding streams.'

Well, like real streams, 'funding streams' have a source. A headwater, if you will. In the case of 'funding streams', that headwater is your pockets and mine. It doesn't make any difference what some politician says; the money comes out of our pockets. They seem to have lost the concept somewhere.

So my question is this: Why are our elected officials taking money that was supposed to be used primarily for infrastructure repairs, and using it for some tourism project, while our schools are laying off teachers and cutting programs because 'the state is short of money?' And if we want to look at highway maintenance and safety ... why have the road markings on US 50 between here and Pueblo been allowed to deteriorate to the point of uselessness?

There is more to this, of course. "The State" has a very good rationalization for siphoning this money out of your pockets into this kind of pork and bean project. See the next post.

2/1/12

Speaking of the national anthem ...

So as we all know, there has been an on-going controversy over the manner in which 'celebs' manage to botch the singing of the national anthem at major events. Usually sporting events.

Steven Tyler's screeching rendition was just the latest in a long line of embarrassments ... though not everyone agrees that the celebs are screwing the pooch.  Yeah. Well.

Last evening at the swim meet up at the pool at the high school, some of the young ladies sang the national anthem to open the festivities.

I wish I had had a video camera, because they did a really good job. Much, much better than the celebs.

From the perspective of a cranky old vet who once participated in a foreign war, it was an effort much appreciated.

WildEarth Guardians: Monkeywrenching America

It's a blogpost by Conservative Outlooks.

It's about another outfit, Americans for Prosperity - Colorado, who have awarded the first Monkeywrenching America award to WildEarth Guardians.

The AFP-Colorado report is here:

Monkeywrenching America

WildEarth Guardians are the people who, among other things, are suing ARPA over the power plant in Lamar.

ARPA has been having internal 'issues' as well, with Raton and Trinidad. But the thing here today is this WildEarth Guardians and the MonkeyWrenching report, wherein AFP-Colorado describes how WildEarth Guardians use tax revenues to attack the same taxpayers who are in part funding their protests.

The report does not seem rabidly partisan - not in the sense of a Coulter or Malkin or Beckian rant-n-rave - but it is partisan. OTOH, if WEG isn't partisan, what is?

At any rate, the report is worth a read.