The Daily Telegraph is reporting today that Egypt's Coptic Christians were attacked in four of their churches. One person was killed, and at least 12 were wounded, according to the report. A churchgoer described one of the attacks this way: "As we were entering the church, I saw a man holding two swords who shouted at us 'unbelievers, unbelievers!'" Tensions have grown between the Muslim majority and the Coptic Christian minority (who, according to the Telegraph, make up approximately 7% of the population in Egypt) as the militant Muslim Brotherhood organization gains more influence in Egypt.
These attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt right before Easter were described by the Telegraph as the worst series of incidents (involving attacks on Christians) since a "Coptic Christian nun in Alexandria" was stabbed last October.
John SharpComptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn released her analysis of the Perry/Sharp tax reform plan today, calling the plan a $10.6 billion hot check. Not surprisingly, plan author John Sharp disputed Strayhorn’s analysis, calling her criticism “goofy.”
The current and former comptrollers held back-to-back press conferences today to debate the plan.
“Any way you spin it, this plan raises taxes on Texas businesses 200 percent; falls billions and billions of dollars short of promised property tax relief; provides a perverse incentive for school districts to eat into the property tax cuts; and takes autonomy away from local school districts,” Strayhorn said.
Strayhorn said the plan would fall $1.4 billion short in the first year – a number she predicted would rise to a cummulative $10.6 billion in five years. But Sharp pointed out that his plan envisions spending a quarter of the state’s current surplus – which he defends as a conservative, safe amount – to cover that shortfall. He said the commission worked on the assumption that the shortfall would be $1.04 billion instead of $1.4 billion, but that the shortfall gave the state enough wiggle room that the $400,000 difference would not be insurmountable.
Moreover, Sharp said the $400,000 extra amounted to an about-face from Strayhorn’s previous estimates, and said the commission made its recommendations based on numbers Strayhorn had given him in March, which differed in substantial ways from the numbers she was releasing today.
“Despite the rhetoric, the numbers match as closely as can be expected,” he said.
Sharp said Strayhorn’s numbers today differed from previous estimates by both increasing the projected loss from replacing the franchise tax and decreasing the proposed benefits of the plan by assuming local taxes would increase substantially.
Strayhorn did in fact criticize the plan’s lack of a limit on local governments’ future tax increases, but Sharp pointed out that the lack of local flexibility was at the very heart of the Supreme Court’s ruling on school finance. His job, he noted, was to come up with a fair plan that would meet court muster. If the legislature wanted to put further restrictions on it, he said they could certainly do so.
Sharp made clear what he thought was the motivation behind Strayhorn’s criticism, by making comments like “I understand this is campaign season” and “I didn’t expect her to say ‘yeah, this is great, good job, Governor Perry.”
Strayhorn, in her press conference, criticized Perry for passing a tax increase and not a real tax cut, while at the same time calling for new money for the school system. She did not elaborate on how these two mutually exclusive goals could be realized.
While not addressing the Comptroller's specific numbers, Gov. Rick Perry dismissed her criticism of his tax plan with the following statement:
“Carole Strayhorn makes no secret of her belief that the failure of the legislature to enact property tax relief would benefit her politically, and she is doing everything she can to undermine legislative success. For more than two years she has refused to release her secret school finance plan. Opposition is not a plan and criticism is not a solution. The Perry-Sharp plan is continuing to gain momentum and has been endorsed by almost every major business association and chamber of commerce in Texas .”
Comptroller Carol StrayhornTexas Comptoller Strayhorn has issued an official press release today saying that Gov. Perry's tax plan will fall $1.4 billion short of funding current education spending in its first year and $10.6 billion short over five years. She condemned the governor's plan as a "200% increase" in the state's primary business tax "without adding a single penny to education funding."
You probably didn't notice but gas prices went up last week. Actually they sky-rocketed. According to AAA Texas, the average price in Texas was a mere $2.72 per gallon. But Dallas, with the most expensive gasoline in the state, hit $2.81, up 14 cents over the previous week. If you consider cheap gas a quality of life issue then San Antonio is your place. The Alamo City boasted the low price of $2.65 but it was also up the most: 18.9-cents. The all time high in Dallas was $3.02 but analysts doubt that will last out the summer.
The Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce has joined a growing list of business organizations in endorsing Gov. Perry's plan to revamp the state franchise tax and use a portion of the state tax surplus to fund education. The organization warned against using any more of the state surplus than the governor recommends to fund education expenditures something that many Republicans favor. The plan also increases the tax on a packet of cigarettes by $1. The plan would reduce reliance on the property tax by lowering the property tax by about one-third.
The Free Market Foundation and the Plano Independent School District have been locked in a legal battle since 2003 over the school district’s refusal to allow a young boy to pass out religiously-themed candy canes at a "winter party" at the school. Apparently, all of the students gave out gifts at the Christmas party, and the student got in trouble for handing our candy canes with a religious theme. One wouldn’t think that would be all that unusual since it was around Christmas time.
On behalf of the student, the legal foundation sought to get Plano ISD to reverse course. The District refused, and the case is now in Federal Court.
A Plano taxpayer asked the District how much in legal fees had been spent fighting the case. Plano ISD refused to giver the woman that information. But, she persisted; and the AG’s office required the District to make that information available to her under the Open Records Act. It turns out that the Plano school district has spent nearly $200,000 in tax dollars to prevent one of its students from handing out the religious-themed candy canes. It seems like the District is making an awfully big issue out of this. Must any vestige of religious belief be stamped out in our public school system, even something an innocuous as the gift of a candy cane with a religious message? Does that mean students can’t hand out Christmas cards with a religious theme to one another on school grounds?
Richard ArmitageIn an exclusive interview with the Financial Times, the former Deputy to Colin Powell at the State Department – Richard Armitage – urged the Bush Administration to engage the Iranians in talks rather than to launch air strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities:
"It merits talking to the Iranians about the full range of our relationship … everything from energy to terrorism to weapons to Iraq," Mr. Armitage told the Financial Times. "We can be diplomatically astute enough to do it without giving anything away."
He said the administration could afford to be patient "for a while" on Iran because Tehran would not have access to a nuclear weapon for some time, and also because the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Russians and Chinese were all putting pressure on the Islamist republic.
Neo-conservative hawks have been pushing hard in recent months for military action against Iran. Bill Kristol, a leading proponent of the War in Iraq and Editor of the Weekly Standard, has called for bombing strikes against Iran.
The timing of Armitage’s interview with the Financial Times is most unusual. Up to now, the former Bush Administration official has been very careful not to make any public comments about U.S. policy in the Middle East since leaving the government at the end of Bush’s first term. That Armitage would go public with his call for talks with Iran suggests to this observer that Armitage is concerned about the influence of some prominent officials within the Bush Administration who are advocating a preemptive military strike against Iran.
Armitage is well-respected for his knowledge and experience in the foreign policy arena. His public comments will be read closely by those in policy-making positions. This former official is no "dove" when it comes to protecting our national interests. Richard Armitage is a graduate of the Naval Academy who served five tours of duty in Vietnam and resigned his Commission as a Navy officer over what he thought was Henry Kissinger’s sell-out of our South Vietnamese allies.
That Richard Armitage is urging caution, (rather than military action) in dealing with the difficult situation in Iran is something President Bush surely will pay close attention to as he decides what course of action he should take with respect to Iran’s development of its nuclear program.
Retired General John Batiste, who commanded the 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, joined the growing chorus of high-ranking, retired military leaders who want Rumsfeld out as Secretary of Defense. Gen. Batiste is quoted by Reuters as saying this about Rumsfeld’s leadership of the Defense Department: "You know, it speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense. But when decisions are made without taking into account sound military recommendations, sound military decision making, sound planning, then we’re bound to make mistakes."
In recent weeks, some of America’s most respected career soldiers have spoken out against Rumsfeld. That list includes Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, a leading expert on the Middle East whose plan of action for re-constructing Iraq after the war was largely ignored by the civilian planners at DOD. The Office of Special Plans was headed up at the time by a neo-conservative activist, Douglas Feith, who was in charge of postwar planning in Iraq. Conservatives and military leaders weren’t much impressed with Feith’s work at the time with Gen. Tommy Franks even referring to Feith as the "f---ing stupidest guy on the face of the earth".
I have been told by reliable sources that many active duty military at the highest levels of DOD share the views being expressed by their retired comrades in arms. Batiste is the latest military officer with Iraqi experience to go public and voice objections about the Rumsfeld-driven policy in Iraq. Gen. Batiste is a West Point graduate who also served in the previous Gulf War.
This criticism of the civilian leadership of DOD, which has been dominated by a neo-conservative clique of civilian planners, reminds me of the views of the career military leaders towards McNamara’s civilian "whiz kids" who were in control of the conduct of the Vietnam war back during the time when many of us were young soldiers serving in Vietnam.