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McCAIN TALKS ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS IN DALLAS
by Carolyn Barta    Mon, Mar 6, 2006, 11:36 PM

Sen. John McCain, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2008, devoted a Dallas speech Monday to the need for a human rights-focused foreign policy that includes recognition of human rights at home as well as abroad. He was here to receive the John G. Tower Center medal of freedom award.

He called actions of torture at Abu Ghraib prison a “disgrace” and said they “undermine our foreign policy. We must be more scrupulous in our own affairs.”  He also said that the U.S. should use its influence not just for prosperity in the world but also for the promotion of democracy and human rights. 

McCain sponsored a bill approved by the Senate that set standards for the military’s treatment of detainees in response to the Abu Ghraib scandal and other allegations that U.S. soldiers have abused prisoners.

The Arizona senator who was a victim of torture while a prisoner during the Vietnam War received the fifth medal of freedom given by the Tower Center at SMU at a ceremony in SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium.

McCain lauded the late Sen. Tower, noting that Tower "thought the purpose of political advancement was to become a statesman."  Tower was a mentor to McCain. In his first congressional race, McCain became the only candidate that Tower ever endorsed in a Republican primary. He also used his resources and network to raise money for McCain's election.

After the speech, some members of the audience commented on the "statesman" tone of McCain's address.

Since the 1991 plane crash that ended the life of Sen. Tower -- the first Republican elected this century in a statewide election in Texas -- his legacy has been carried on through the endeavors of the SMU Tower Center for Political Studies under the guidance of his daughters Penny and Jenne. Previous medal of freedom recipients were Gen. Colin Powell, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former President George H.W. Bush and Gen. Tommy Franks.

At a reception following the speech, a local human rights advocate commented to McCain that he is being undercut by the Bush administration, which is trying to negate adherence to the anti-torture law he passed.

McCain was introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who noted that McCain worked with former Texas Sen. John G. Tower when he was Navy laison to the Senate and Tower was chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Today, McCain is the second ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

A Washington Post online political column recently touted McCain as the leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. According to the column, McCain is ahead in South Carolina, a crucial early primary. In 2000, he beat President George Bush in New Hampshire, the first primary, although he skipped the Iowa caucus.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, introducing McCain Monday, won the laugh award when she noted that McCain has become a star of late night comedy, appearing on Jay Leno, David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. She said that when he appeared on Comedy Central’s Daily Show, he was funnier than host Jon Stewart.

“Some think he has aspirations to be president,” Hutchison said. “Wrong. He just aspires to be the master of ceremonies for the Academy Awards.”

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CDCDC WANTS CITY TO KICK IN $1.75 MILLION FOR 'HOMELESS HIGH-RISE' - WHILE KEEPING $2.2 MILLION DEVE
by Trey Garrison    Mon, Mar 6, 2006, 09:55 PM

Follow me on this one.

Central Dallas Community Development Corp. is saying it is coming up $1,750,000 short for its $19.1 million City Walk at Akard project downtown, and it wants the city to foot the bill from its homeless bond funds.

Central Dallas CDC proposes transforming 511 N. Akard into a 15-story, 209-unit single-room only project for low and no-income residents. The project would include one floor of limited retail and two floors of office space. Rents would range from $384 at the low end to a few units leasing at market rates, about $1,050 per month.

About 100 units of the 209 will be set aside for homeless tenants.

Meanwhile, Central Dallas Community Development Corp. proposes acquiring 511 N. Akard for a little more than $5 million, or about two and a half times the most recent appraisal of the property by the Dallas Central Appraisal District, which pegs the property at $2 million.

And to top it off, the developer wants a $2.2 million development fee, which is about 11 percent of the project cost. Oh, and they're only putting in around $300,000 to $400,000 of their own equity into the project.

And they want the $1.75 million in city money to come out of the homeless bond program, which can't give out grants such as this because that money is restricted to long-term assets the city would own.

And even if they can find a way around the restrictions, it would take money from the city's homeless shelter.

Seriously.

The committee’s reaction was mixed.

“I can tell you that this proposal because of where it sits…I can’t think of a more fitting location for this type of housing to take place,” said Councilman Bill Blaydes, chairman of the economic development and housing committee. “It’s a home run, guys. This is truly in the right spot.”

Council member Angela Hunt agreed.

“I feel very strongly this is a good project. Downtown has to be more than just for people who can afford to live at the W,” she said.

But Councilman Mitch Rasansky was four-square against it.

“They’re putting in $300,000 (in their own money) in a $19 million deal and pulling out $2.2 million developer fee? That’s obscene,” Rasansky said. “Eleven and a half percent developer fee is ridiculous.”

“This deal needs to be scrutinized a lot more,” he said. “I really do not want to see any money taken out of our homeless shelter downtown. I am not supporting this. It’s in the wrong place.”

Councilman Leo V. Chaney, Jr. said he couldn’t disagree with Razansky more.

“We need to move ahead with gusto,” he said. “I’m for it 150 percent. We need more SROs. About the developer’s fee, maybe we’ll get more developers down here if they feel they can make some money on it.”

Councilman Ed Oakley said he liked the project, but saw no reason to use homeless bond funds.

The city attorney’s office said that there’s no way for the city to provide the funds to City Walk at Akard developers. Because of restrictions on the homeless bond funds, the city would have to own or long-term lease these units, an assistant city attorney told the committee.

Funding for the proposed City Walk at Akard project currently breaks down as:

• $11,0480,400 from tax credit equity
• $6,276,394 from loans
• $64,622 from grants
• $1,750,000 from city of Dallas funding
• $37,500 from TDHCA Housing Trust Fund

Total: $19,176,916

Expenses for the project break down as:

• $5,052,000 for property acquisition
• $233,421 for site work
• $7,237,628 for hard construction costs
• $1,940,094 for other direct construction costs
• $984,701 for “soft costs”
• $1,529,072 for financing costs
• $2,200,000 for the developer fee

Total: $19,176,916

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POLITICAL MUTINY IN THE PHILIPPINES by Tom Pauken II
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Mon, Mar 6, 2006, 07:30 PM

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President Arroyo
A nation in turmoil best describes the political situation in the Philippines. On Feb. 24, 1986 Ferdinand Marcos, former dictator of the Philippines, was ousted by a "peoples’ power revolt" when the military and civilian protestors united against him. The same scenario played itself out when former presidents Corazon Aquino and Joseph Estrada lost their grip on power. Historically, Filipinos have assumed that if they overthrow an incompetent and corrupt president, then his or her successor will right the wrongs of the past. Instead, the replacement often turns out to be as bad as, or worse than, the previous ruler.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, current president of the Philippines, faces a similar attempt to force her out of office. On Feb. 24, 2006 the military announced they had arrested 14 senior and junior officers who had conspired to persuade soldiers to join a protest rally in Manila’s financial district which called for Arroyo’s resignation. The demonstrators accused President Arroyo of election-rigging in 2004, corruption and human rights violations such as the killings of activists by security forces. The president denies all of these charges.

The House of Representatives last September tried to impeach her, but her allies in the majority party used a technicality to block the process. President Arroyo is no innocent when it comes to holding onto power, but politics is a ruthless business in the Asia-Pacific region. Lying, cheating and stealing are common electioneering practices; and losing candidates tend to be guilty of the same misdeeds as the victors.

It is likely that stolen votes helped Arroyo get elected and that her administration has permitted corrupt activities to continue. Her opponents demand that she resign but it may be more stabilizing for the country’s future that she remain in office until the next election, rather than there be yet another overthrow of an elected President. The groups trying to bring her down include extremists on both sides of the political spectrum. In fact, about all that these varied factions agree on is that President Arroyo must go. Far right military supporters are allied with anarchists, Communists and radical left wingers in this campaign to push her out of office. They are united only by hatred of the current regime. Yet, there appears to be no formidable leader waiting in the wings who can unite the Filipino people and end the longstanding, corrupt practices of the governing elite. Instead, the protest movement against Arroyo offers few solutions to the problems facing the Philippines, with some of their proposals doing more harm than good. Most Filipinos seem more concerned with the troubled economy and question whether drastic political changes will improve that situation.

However, President Arroyo may have overreacted to the situation by declaring a state of emergency after learning that some soldiers planned to attend the political rally against her. She revoked all permits and threatened to arrest those inciting rebellion. She closed down schools and sought to get control of the media and utilities (power and water). She ordered police to raid the Daily Tribune, a Manila-based paper critical of Arroyo. She arrested peaceful demonstrators, including Rep. Crispin Beltran of the leftist Anakpawis party. By her action, she lost the support of many of her countrymen who may be unhappy with the ongoing protests, but didn’t care for her response to it.

The tension is high in Manila, and any compromise between the government and protestors appears unlikely at this time. Meanwhile, the Filipino peso and stock market dropped in value as the economy suffers due to the political uncertainity. For far too long, Filipino politics has been ruled by emotions and a selfish drive for power. Politicians on all sides don’t seem to care much about the common good, but appear more intent on gaining power and destroying their enemies.

President Arroyo is no exception to the rule, but she is the elected President of the Philippines. There may be legitimate basis to impeach her, but the consequences of yet another President being driven from office may be even worse for a country living under a persistent, unstable political environment. She is an example of the old adage about choosing between the lesser of two evils. The choice at the moment in the Philippines is between a moderately corrupt government or a government of extremism.

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LOOK FOR LOW TURNOUT TUESDAY
by Carolyn Barta    Mon, Mar 6, 2006, 04:33 PM

Texas voters will go to the polls (or not) Tuesday in what could well be one of the lowest turnout primary elections in state history. The secretary of state’s office has predicted a 13 percent turnout, saying election is on par with 2002. Chances are, however, that the primaries won’t even attract that many.

Elections officials usually forecast turnout based on early voting, which appears in Dallas County to be close to 2002 levels. Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet predicts a 10-12 percent turnout in the county. With a hot contest for district attorney on both ballots, it should be higher than that.

While the turnout predictions are pitiful, there may be a good reason for them – two independent candidates for governor who’ve made it known that Texans can’t sign their petitions if they vote in the primary. If nothing else, their status is confusing the voters, who say they may just wait until November to see how it all settles out.

I’ve always found anecdoctal information useful in writing about politics – that is, what people tell you in ordinary conversation, as opposed to what professional surveys say or what officials say. Anecdotally, people are saying, even with the D.A.’s race, there’s not enough to attract them to their usual polling place Tuesday.

At a recent lunch with some Democrat women friends from North and East Dallas – women who have always been primary voters – I asked whether they thought Bob Gammage or Chris Bell would win the Democratic nomination for governor. “Doesn’t matter,” said one. The Democrat isn’t going to win this election. Then they all agreed that they’re sitting out this primary and intend to support Kinky Friedman.

On the flip side, friends and neighbors in North Dallas who historically have voted in the Republican primary will forego the primary Tuesday because they intend to support Carole Keeton Strayhorn for governor.

The indies face a near impossible situation in both getting on the ballot and in wooing enough support to win. I''ve gotten plenty of hate mail for giving these mavericks any ink at all from people who say they're not legitimate candidates and shouldn't be treated as such. But the early vibes are that candidates this election have not ignited the electorate.  It remains to be seen whether the independents can do anything to light a fire as Ross Perot did when he ran for president and Jesse Ventura did in his Minnesota gubernatorial win. 

Turnout may spike in districts that have hot primary legislative races. But statewide, with no top-of-the-ticket interest in the Republican primary and a lackluster Democratic gubernatorial race, the primary turnout is going to be low.

Even a sunny day isn't likely to help.

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DALLAS 10 MOST WANTED
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Mon, Mar 6, 2006, 03:30 PM

The Dallas Police Department is asking for assistance from the public in locating the 10 most wanted offenders in the city.  The department released its most wanted list on Monday.

Of the Top 10 Most Wanted offenders, four are wanted for murder. Additionally, three are wanted for robbery, one for sexual assault, one for auto theft, and another is currently involved in organized criminal activity, accord to the police department.

The Dallas Police Department is asking that anyone with tips on the whereabouts and activities of the 10 most wanted call the crime tip hotline. In leaving a crime tip, the police department asks that people leave information pertinent to the criminal and the crime, such as their name, sex, age, and race. The police department also wants tippers to leaver other information such as where the criminal lives, the location of the criminal activity, and the time of the activity.

The names of the 10 Most Wanted include Catalan Hermenegildo, John McDonell, Green Ivan, Juan Rios, Timothy Wood, Anthony Stewart, John Collins, Michael Ewing, Luna Salvador, and Cesar Baldobenos.

The police department asks that people call the crime tips hotline at (214) 671-4TIP if they have any information on any of the ten. All are considered to be armed and dangerous.

Click here for the DPD 10 Most Wanted 

 

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INCENTIVE PAY FOR TEACHERS PITCHED TO SENATE by James A. Bernsen
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Mon, Mar 6, 2006, 12:40 PM

Senators looking into improving student performance were told this week that recent gains on test scores will mean nothing without improvements in teacher quality.

Dr. Eric Hanushek, a leading education researcher, said "the current level of reforms and policies in Texas...have rather plateaued in terms of the gains you can expect out of student achievement."

"The only way to ensure improvement in schools is to improve teacher quality," said Hanushek, of the UT-Dallas Texas Schools Project, and the Hoover Institution’s blue ribbon Koret Task Force on education.

Hanushek said his research, which consisted of following multiple cohorts of students from the fourth to the eighth grades found teacher quality to be the "most significant factor" influencing achivement gains.

The study, he said, used student test scores. There was evidence of good teachers and bad teachers, he said, but no common measure could easily identify which were which. The best and worst, he said, were easy to identify. Most of the teachers, he said, seemed to fall somewhere in between.

Nonetheless, the presence of good and poor teachers could have an enormous effect, he said.

"What I call a good teacher systematically will be one who year after year gets larger gains in reading or math or whatever subject matter than another teacher who gets lower gains," he said.

"Students are really damaged when they get substandard teachers," Hanushek added. "You can see that in the data, that someone who gets real bad teachers for a couple of years at the beginning, seldom recovers."

The natural conclusion, Hanushek said, was the need for Texas to implement merit pay. This was particularly necessary in some shortage areas.

"Simply increasing the salaries for everybody will not deal with any of those shortages," he said. "If you insist on paying the good teachers and bad teachers the same amount, the problem is, you will keep the same number of bad teachers as you keep good teachers."

Hanushek said one problem with implementing merit pay is that the issue is "usually talked about fairness to the teachers and the adults" when the real focus should be on the children.

Concerns

But some senators were skeptical about how accurate such data on teacher quality could ever be. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) pointed out that some students were mobile, and that it would be hard to measure their progress, and therefore the work of the teachers who teach them. Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) noted that even if some good teachers could be identified for incentive pay, districts in Texas are very diverse and taking a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t work.

Hanushek said his data took into account those issues.

"If that free and reduced lunch child has a good teacher three or four years in a row, then they can make up for the average difference between disadvantaged and not disadvantaged students," he said. "Providing a high quality teacher consistently to a disadvantaged student can make up for these background differences that we see in the data."

Sen. Kim Brimer (R-Arlington) said that he works in an industry that is merit-based, and that although he appreciates the need for merit-based pay in schools, the state should first perfect the ability to identify good teachers, so that Texas could have confidence that an incentive program could work.

Hanushek said that the key to getting that confidence is to use multiple factors to determine teacher quality, not just standardized tests. Evaluations of teachers from other teachers and principals can also help.

Hanushek said that the key to an effective incentive program works only if the pay for incentives is substantial.

"A few hundred dollars, which in effect often goes to teachers who do extra work, not for quality, won’t get you there," he said. "You have to think of much larger amounts."

Hanushek also agreed, following Whitmire’s questioning, that a top-down approach from Austin probably would not work. But he said an incentive program, in which the money comes from the state but the criteria are developed locally, would make sense.

The committee heard a number of other speakers addressing the issue.

Cynthia Lewis, a teacher at Whittier Elementary in Amarillo, who is also the Texas Elementary School Teacher of the Year, was in favor of incentive pay.

"I highly resent, when I see a teacher who is teaching in the same pay range that I am in and is a very inferior teacher, and is making the same amount of money," she said. "It’s very discouraging.

"In fact, that same teacher can continue to do a mediocre, if not inferior job and continue to make the same amount of money that I am making with all the efforts I am putting into my classroom," she said.

Dr. Abe Saavedra, the Houston Independent School District superintendent, outlined that district’s teacher incentive plan, which as Hanushek recommended, includes substantial additional pay – as much as $3,000 currently, with the possibility of increasing to $10,000 in the next five years. Whereas previous programs in HISD had been based on each school’s accountability rating, the new program is different.

"A school can be exemplary," he said, "and there’s no money tied to [that] fact...It’s based strictly on the academic growth of students. There is also a factor included for teachers who work in districts with more disadvantaged students and the campus achievement. The program is also designed to include teachers who usually fall through the cracks in performance pay – specifically, teachers of electives.

"The goal would be to keep good teachers, and as teachers retire, to recruit more of the better teachers, high performing teachers. I really feel that if we can get to that $10,000 range in five years, that high-performing teachers are going to seek out Houston, and that’s going to continue to put better teachers in the classroom."

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NO OSCARS AND THE MAVS' 'LOST WEEKEND' by The Fish
by Mike Fisher    Mon, Mar 6, 2006, 12:14 PM

Dirk Nowitzki changed into being an interior force. Mark Cuban changed into a tuxedo. But the Mavs' inability to leapfrog over West powerhouses San Antonio and Phoenix? No change there. Read more in the "School of Fish''. ...

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SO WE'VE HEARD
by Trey Garrison    Mon, Mar 6, 2006, 09:25 AM

The daily reports today that voters appear on board for a larger bond program, at least $1 billion or more.

Man. I certainly wish that we here at DallasBlog had reported this.

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OSCAR SCOOP
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Mon, Mar 6, 2006, 01:27 AM

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Reese Witherspoon
BEST PICTURE:  Crash

BEST ACTOR:  Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote

BEST ACTRESS:  Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line

For full Oscar coverage visit www.oscars.com

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A SECOND KIMBELL ON THE WAY
by Special to DallasBlog.com    Sun, Mar 5, 2006, 10:34 PM

kimbell.jpgThe Fort Worth Star Telegram reports today that the beloved Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth's Cultural District is about to get a sister.  Sixteen years ago an effort to enlarge the legendary museum died from opposition by architect Louis Kahn's family.  But now the family is on board with the idea of a second building across the street. 

Click to read more ...

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