Here’s the thing about real heroes: they never think they’ve done anything heroic.
AL KISIK, Iraq — The camp was still on edge from a suicide bomb attack that morning.
The bomber had targeted an Iraqi army recruiting drive at the combined Iraqi and American forces base here in northwest Iraq. Although no U.S. soldiers were injured, soldiers from the 2nd, or “Gunners,” Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, out of Giessen, Germany, dealt with the aftermath. [...] So it was with no small amount of suspicion that Staff Sgt. Martin Richburg observed an Iraqi civilian pacing nervously near the camp’s crowded Internet cafe that same evening.
It was around 9 p.m. on March 27, and Richburg was sitting behind the wheel of his “bongo” flatbed truck in the parking lot, talking to his wife on a cell phone.
“I saw this guy duckin’ and peepin’ outside the Internet [cafe],” said the 44-year-old Baltimore, native. “I said, ‘Let me keep an eye on this guy.’ ”
Unknown to Richburg at the time, the man was an insurgent who had managed to get a job at the camp’s Iraqi army noncommissioned officer academy. Part of a cell that had planned a series of attacks, the insurgent had constructed a bomb within the camp after smuggling components in piece by piece.
Richburg, a heavy-vehicle mechanic assigned to the 142nd Maintenance Company, grew increasingly suspicious as the man peered into the cafe window, walked away, and then returned with a plastic chair and a package. [...] The package looked like something bulky wrapped in a blue plastic shopping bag. Richburg’s suspicion grew to alarm when the man stepped onto the chair, placed the bag on top of the window’s air conditioning unit and then took off running.
Throwing down his cell phone — his wife was still on the line — Richburg dashed after the man and brought him down with a swift kick to the back of his legs. By this time, Richburg had drawn his 9 mm pistol and, holding the man down, called for another Iraqi he knew to translate.
“I asked him if he knew who this guy was and he said, ‘No,’” Richburg said. “I told him I saw him put a package on the air conditioner and asked him to find out what was in it. Then I charged my weapon to scare him.”
The man answered back quickly. He said he had placed a bomb on the air conditioner. Richburg asked how much time they had before it exploded. “Five minutes,” the man said.
Dragging the insurgent in one hand and waving his pistol in the other, the burly mechanic rushed to the cafe entrance and began shouting at everyone to get out.
Shocked by the sight of Richburg waving a pistol and swearing at the top of his lungs, a dozen soldiers and five civilians piled out of the cafe. The mechanic yelled at them to take cover behind a line of concrete blast barriers.
The soldiers braced themselves. After roughly 15 minutes, the package exploded with the noise of an artillery shell. The windshield of Richburg’s truck “crystallized” by the blast, and a Porta-John was flung into a nearby meadow. The window of the Internet cafe was destroyed, driving glass and shrapnel deep into the walls and computer booths.
Since the cafe had been cleared, nobody was injured. [...] Richburg has since been awarded the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device for valor, and has been nominated for a Bronze Star for his actions on that evening.
“I suppose anyone else would have done it too,” Richburg said of his actions. “It was the way the guy moved. If he walked away normally I might not have done it.”
Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) Superintendent Edwin Diaz, sounding coincidentally like fellow PUSD Board of Education member Ed Honowitz, continues to appeal for a school parcel tax in this week's Pasadena Weekly after the defeat of Measure CC on May 4 (“Upping the Ante: California must lower the bar for parcel taxes to pass for public education to survive in hard times,” read here:) http://www.pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/upping_the_ante/8796/
Ed, Honowitz, er....., Diaz, bases his appeal mainly on a purported $25 million loss in unrestricted funds over the past two years. This requires further scrutiny especially in light of a new study on School Finance and Flexibility by the California Legislative Analyst's Office that refutes PUSD’s claim of decreasing unrestricted funding – read here:
We must first respond to the un-sourced statement that PUSD has fallen to 41stamong 47 school districts in L.A. County in unrestricted state funds when the state legislature has expanded unrestricted school funding despite a cutback in overall state school funding. Certainly, a loss of a $7.1 million annual parcel tax is not the culprit for such an alleged funding loss, especially while other school districts have presumably also suffered state budget cuts evenly with PUSD and unrestricted funds have been quietly increased to PUSD by the legislature.
Under State Assembly Bill ABX-4-2 (Evans, 2009) as part of the state budget reconciliation for 2010-11, 40 of the former 60 “categorical” or “restricted” school programs funded by the state have been converted into a “flex” fund that can be spent either on the old “restricted” programs and/or diverted to core curriculum classroom expenses.
In other words, state school funds that were formerly dedicated to special interests (library improvement, arts and music, professional development, deferred building maintenance, physical education, American Indian Education Centers, oral health assessments, school safety, adult education, etc.) can now be spent more flexibly based on what each school district decides after a mandatory public hearing is held.
Stated more bluntly, the state budget crisis has forced the legislature’s hand so that buying the votes of school librarians, phys ed teachers, art and music teachers, American Indian educators, school dentists, school building maintenance personnel, has had to come to a stop just like in the game of musical chairs. This is apparently what PUSD’s Measure CC school parcel tax was all about – backfilling possible lost funding for special interests (school librarians, arts and music teachers, etc.).
According to the California Department of Education, 60% of the former restricted State school funds have been shifted by local school districts away from funding special interests to funding direct K-12 classroom instruction (both Measure CC proponents and opponents should cheer!). For example, PUSD has spent $590 million (or about $1 billion with interest) in Measure Y and TT bonds in the past several years to renovate all its school facilities to almost new condition, even five or more schools that are indisputably surplus to its needs due to declining enrollment. So PUSD does not so much need to fund “deferred maintenance” of its facilities as much as it needs to fund core classroom teacher’s salaries. With the budget reforms under ABX-4-2, PUSD no longer is required to waste state funds on building maintenance and can divert the money into the classroom (again: both sides cheer!).
According to the state Department of Education, about 80% of surveyed school districts have continued funding for arts and music and 90% have continued funding for school library improvement under the new more flexible school budget reforms despite overall school funding cutbacks. This is hardly the catastrophe described by PUSD’s Measure CC parcel tax proponents.
Moreover, under ABX-4-2, the amount of “unrestricted” funds each school district gets is “locked” at the 2008-09 level. This benefits school districts with declining enrollments, like PUSD, at the expense of growing districts (in red county areas). So liberals who typically like equality should be displeased but PUSD advocates should be pleased because PUSD is “making out like a bandit” with a larger share of “unrestricted” school funding contrary to PUSD's claims.
The state LAO study has recommended that the amount of “unrestricted” funding for public schools be expanded by the following further reforms:
1. Relaxing the cap on the number of students in grades K-3.
2. Shiifting Transportation funding for the Hard to Serve program from "restricted" to “unrestricted” because it is based on a “use-it or lose-it” rule that discourages cost-effectiveness. Last year, the HTS Transportation program was provided for by special funds (Federal stimulus funds?) and could not be converted into discretionary funding. The state LAO “sees no reason to continue” this program as “restricted.”
3. Amending Prop 49 for After School Education and Safety (ASES) programs by a ballot measure so that school districts are not forced to increase class sizes and decrease instructional days (furloughs) “while supplemental after school activities remain untouched.”
4. Consolidate the five “fractured” Career Technical Education (CTE) programs comprising $427 million by “eliminating” most program requirements (again serving special interests?).
5. Removing contracting out restrictions. Under existing rules (quote): ”contracting for services cannot be done solely for achieving savings…and cannot result in the lay off or demotion of existing district employees.” (more special interests and vote buying).
6. Remove restrictions that force school districts to pay former teachers their pre-layoff salary rate if they serve as a substitute teacher for 20-days in a 60-day period. PUSD’s revolving door of using temp teachers while core teachers are sent out of the classroom undergoing “professional development” is ripe for this abuse.
7. Reduce the “programmatic overlap, confusion, and administrative hassles” between the state Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA, SB 1133, 2006) and Federal School Improvement Program (saving over $700 million over 3 years).
8. Eliminate 40 mandates imposed on K-12 “restricted” funding programs “many of which do almost nothing to benefit students and educators.”
Measure CC’s opponents have mainly focused on PUSD’s “culture of corruption” without understanding the state legislature’s complicity in creating an incentive system for it to flourish. Measure CC proponents have fallaciously focused on cutbacks in “unrestricted” school funding while not divulging that such funding has been liberated for core classroom use and teacher’s salaries. PUSD core classroom teachers may have been hoodwinked into erroneously believing that the continuation of former “restricted” state funding programs with budget "lock-ins" for special interests would undercut their salaries. Apparently, everyone was mostly wrong about Pasadena's Measure CC school parcel tax and its ramifications including this writer, despite that I was the only person to have raised the question of the implications of ABX-4-2 (resulting in criticism by both sides).
PUSD’s Mr. Ed (the talking horse, whoever he is) has come this close to lying to the public and the proponents and opponents of Measure CC. The District and the community can no longer afford to be kept in the dark by the Board of Education, the PEF, advocacy lawyers, and the negligent media, about the real situation with public school funding especially with ABX-4-2, as if we were all still living in Plato’s ancient cave. Our community can no longer afford to be divided by apparent intentional efforts to keep everyone in the dark.
Do you remember the exaggerated parable of the fish and the loaves in the Christian religious scriptures where a famous religious person redistributed two fish and five loaves of bread to feed 5,000 people for Jewish Passover? ABX-4-2 has done something like this by relaxing the earmarks for special interests in the state budget for school funding. Those who believe in true just redistribution should cheer.
PUSD needs to drop its incessant demand for school parcel taxes and stop lobbying to lower the majority vote from 65% to 55% for school parcel taxes. Instead it should lobby the legislature for more school budget reforms further reducing the budget featherbedding of special interests per the recommendations of the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The lesson of the defeat of Pasadena School District's Measure CC school parcel tax and the cutback of state school funding is sometimes less school funding is really more, and is fairer.
The Orange County Register has a possibly misleading headline today
purporting that residential properties are shouldering more of the tax burden
than commercial properties since 1975 when Prop 13 came into effect. The news coverage reads like a press
release from the California Tax Reform Association (CRTA) without
interviewing any other sources to rebut it. According to the CRTA, residential
properties are shouldering 19% more taxes than commercial properties since
Newspapers are mostly for the mathematically illiterate. The CRTA study is bogus unless it
adjusts for any change in the proportion of residential properties over
commercial properties since 1975 in Orange County. It is conceivable that since 1975, and especially during the
Real Estate Bubble, that the development of residential subdivisions was
greater than commercial. Unless we know that the CRTA study is meaningless.
Go to the link above and read the stupid comments. It seems that the idea to revoke Prop
13 for commercial properties resonates mostly with stupid people. Here are some
things to ponder before considering revoking Prop 13 for commercial properties:
It is an urban myth that Disneyland still pays the same property tax
as it did in 1973. Its base assessment is frozen at 1975 level but law provides
for a 2% upward adjustment each year. That equates to 70% more taxes paid for
Disneyland than in 1975. Also, since 1975, Disneyland has added many new
improvements, including a whole new theme park called California Adventure. Those
improvements are taxed at their full value as of the year of improvement. So
Disneyland’s base property tax is likely over 100% of its 1975 base assessed
value; maybe 200% to 500%, or even 1,000%, more for all I know, to say nothing of the sales tax and hotel
occupancy taxes it generates and the golden goose of jobs which generates
Also, if you revoke Prop 13 for commercial properties it would cause
a Tsunami of loan defaults on residential properties statewide. How so? Well,
SBA loans are secured by loans on homes. So if you revoke Prop 13 and property
taxes go up by, say, ten times their current assessment, many small owner-occupied business properties would end up in default on their small business
loans and the collateral for the loan, their home, would be foreclosed on by
the bank. This would might fall more into the category of the unconstitutional confiscation of property without just compensation than it does mere fair taxation.
Also, if Prop 13 is revoked, do you think that most small businesses
that lease their retail or industrial building space could withstand the
landlord raising the rent to pay for the increase in property taxes? We would
have a wave of more small business closings in a recession. It is conceivable
that the actual taxes collected might decline if you revoke Prop 13 on
Then there is the phenomenon of what is called “tax capitalization.”
If you raise the property tax to reflect current market values, the market will
start adjusting property values downward to compensate for the higher taxes. So the tax
base actually erodes. It is not inconceivable that commercial properties could see
a 50% decline in market value ovenight if Prop 13 is revoked.
You also have to remember Prop 13 works both ways. It also protects
property taxes from falling too much. It serves as a circuit breaker. So fine,
revoke Prop 13 for commercial properties and when there is a recession there
will be greater losses of property taxes to the state, counties, cities and
school districts than there is now because of the volatility. You can’t have it
Revoking Prop 13 is fraught with what are called "Black Swans" - rare and unpredictable events with many unintended consequences. The gap between Market Value and Assessed Value of homes is probably highest with older properties in older communities. If Prop 13 were revoked on apartment properties this would likely drive out of California low income immigrants who could not afford the rent increases to compensate for the higher taxes. Landlords could not absorb the tax increases. So the enrollment for the Pasadena Unified School District for example with its high proportion of Hispanic students might plummet overnight. "Es stupido!"
The consequences to revoking Prop 13 on commercial properties would
be catastrophic and not only to property owners but to government. How's that saying go in the movie Forrest Gump? "Stupid is as stupid does." Intelligent people who do stupid things are still stupid.
Ed Martin, Altadena - via email Re "MWD approves rate increase:"
This article explains that the MWD will raise water rates by 15 percent. Water conservation has been emphasized for some time now, many years. This is nothing new.
We all receive notices these days from our water companies to conserve water. Many of us, both business and residential, have done so responsibly though some of our neighbors have made little or no attempt. I continue to see a few neighbors washing down their driveways and sidewalks or watering their grass daily during the hottest hours of the day.
Personally, my water usage has decreased some 21 percent since 2007. It is possible that my water consumption will decrease a bit further this year, though I'm about as low as I can go and my family's water consumption is far below the "average consumer" usage.
So, my point is, those of us who have conserved are to be penalized by the MWD for those who do not. The MWD intends to raise my rate by 15 percent though I have reduced my consumption by more than 20 percent in the last couple years.
This article states that "(MWD's) water sales tumbled unexpectedly and conservation during the drought was compounded by the recession." Hello! Was water conservation not the point of MWD's "mandatory" conservation requirements in recent years? If MWD has a revenue problem then do as the rest of us do - cut back on overhead and profit! That is exactly what I have had to do with my company. If I raised rates in this down economy for my customers I would be out of business.
So MWD and local water suppliers ask us to conserve and then raise our rates for complying. I see no advantage in the future to acquiescing to their conservation requests. Damned if I do, damned if I don't.
Although Greece’s output is just three percent of the European Union
economy, its financial collapse roiled continental markets and required an
international bailout package. Imagine what would happen to U.S. markets if
California, which is 17 percent of the national economy, experienced a
Far-fetched? Consider the similarities.
California and Greece have roughly similar GDP output ($333 billion and
$343 billion, respectively), as well as similar debt levels ($500 billion and
$552 billion, respectively). But that only includes state debt for California.
When you factor in California’s 17 percent stake in the U.S. economy, which is
saddled with $8 trillion in debt, the state’s total debt liability is over $1
In many ways California as a state has bigger problems than
Greece as a country. The unemployment rate in California is higher than that of
Greece. And California spends more on many government programs. For example,
the 167,000 inmates in California prisons occupy 11 percent of the budget, or
$8 billion. By comparison, Greece prisons hold only 12,300 prison inmates.
Both California and Greece suffer from a huge number of unionized
government employees accustomed to large defined benefit packages, including
annual salary increases and lifetime pensions. Much has been made of the
ability of Greek government workers to retire at the age of 53. In California,
government workers can retire at 55. As Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg
Whitman has noted, the amount California spends on its pension programs has
increased by 2,000 percent in the last decade to over $7 billion annually.
The Greek unions took to the streets when asked to contribute to minor
austerity programs. California’s 350,000 government employees are also likely
to resist any effort to cut their entitlement packages, much less their jobs.
The best scenario political leaders plan for is modest attrition.
California’s problems are being compounded as businesses leave the
state. Last month’s announcement that Northrup-Grumman was shifting its
headquarters to Virginia followed HP’s announcement that it was also moving
out. Maybe these departures have something to do with Chief Executive naming
California as the worst state in which to do business, and with the Tax
Foundation ranking California as the 48th worst business tax
climate in the nation. California also insists on its own rules for gas
mileage, silly ubiquitous pregnancy warnings and even its own TV energy usage
standards. The message California sends to businesses is clear: Stay away.
In 2011, California’s new Governor will face bigger challenges. By then,
most of the nearly $300 billion given directly to the states in cash as part of
the 2009 stimulus package will have ended. California’s new Governor will
likely ask the feds for more money. But it may be that the new, and possibly
Republican, Congress will be less willing to bail out states which managed to
avoid necessary spending cutting cuts.
What will happen? States cannot go bankrupt under our law. They can just
stop paying debts owed. If things get worse, bond ratings will continue to
drop, payments will not be made, and the new governor will have to choose
between paying government pensioners and cutting services and government
We saw what decades of fiscal irresponsibility have led to in Greece:
Fiscal collapse, billion-dollar bailouts and violent riots. In late February,
the Telegraph reported that JP Morgan head Jamie Dimon said that California is
a bigger risk than Greece. I think he is right.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics
Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing some 2,000 consumer
Note: During the recent highly contested campaign for a school parcel tax in the Pasadena Unified School District no mention was made that the California legislature collapsed 40 previously categorical programs into a "flex item" that can be applied at the discretion of each school district to "core" classroom spending. This freed up 38% of the previous categorical or restricted funds for flexible use (see list below of permissible "flex items"). Local school districts, however, are required to hold a public hearing about which "flex items" will be funded with this new "flex" fund.
What we were apparently not told during the Measure CC campaign was that the previous categorical block grants for "school and library improvement" and "music and arts" were folded into a larger flexible fund along with 38 other previous categorical budget items. According to the California Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) about 20% of school districts have eliminated arts and music programs but 80% found a way to retain them.
The Ed-Data website of the California Department of Education indicates PUSD was allocated $40,861,827 in "restricted" state funds for the 2008-09 budget year. This is an indication of the possible magnitude of the new PUSD "flex fund," although the precise state flex fund allocation to PUSD could not be determined.
Funding for K-3 class size reduction, child nutrition, and English Language Acquisition remain protected. Read excerpt below from LAO:
February 2009 Budget Package Suspends Many Categorical Program Requirements. Prior to 2008–09, the state separately funded approximately 60 K–12 categorical programs. For each of these categorical programs, school districts were required to use program monies to meet associated program requirements. Chapter 2, Statutes of 2009 (ABX4 2, Evans), essentially combined approximately 40 of these categorical programs into a “flex item” (see Figure 1). That is, a single statutory code section referenced all 40 programs and allowed school districts to shift funds among the 40 categorical programs or redirect the funds and use for any other educational purpose. (Colloquially, these programs are sometimes referred to as Tier 3 programs.) Local governing boards are required to discuss and approve the proposed use of these flexed funds at a regularly scheduled open public hearing. From a fiscal perspective, the flex item effectively converted $4.5 billion, or 38 percent of all categorical funding, from restricted to unrestricted monies. School districts are granted this flexibility from 2008–09 through 2012–13. The state continues to separately fund the remaining approximately 20 categorical programs (see Figure 2)—reflecting $7.5 billion, or 62 percent, of all categorical funding. (Colloquially, these programs are sometimes referred to as Tier 1 programs, if they were not subject to funding reductions in recent years, or Tier 2 progams, if they were subject to reductions.) Funding for these excluded programs remains linked to all associated program requirements.
Brill believes that Federal Race to the Top program plus charter schools is reaching a tipping point for widespread
improvement in public schools. If true, this is great news and could only be
pulled off by Democrats, as all anyone would do is resist and ridicule reform
efforts under any Republican administration.
What Brill concludes is
that the quality of school principals and teachers counts. He does a paired
comparison of a public school and a charter school housed in the same building
in New York (P.S. 148 with 438 K-8th graders and Harlem Success
Academy with 508 K-4th graders). He found a significant difference.
Brill concludes that the difference was attributable to three factors in the
charter school: the absence of a teacher’s union, no administrative bureaucracy
concerned with jobs programs and consulting contracts, and high expectations
placed on disadvantaged students which entails studying more days and hours than
typical public schools.
On the public school
side of the same building students on the same day are found wandering the
hallways and watching a video in the school auditorium. On the charter school
side of the same building the students are hard at work, dressed in school
uniforms, and self-disciplined.
The Charter School
teachers are paid about 10% less, are expected to work longer hours, and are
required to be available on a pre-paid cell phone for conferences with
parents.Teacher’s union labor
agreements limit working extra hours without extra compensation as well as
being available on cell phones for parent contact.Pay had nothing to do with it as the public school teachers
were paid about $1,000 more per student which mostly went toward larger teacher
benefit packages. Class sizes of public and charter schools were roughly the same.
And what was the
academic result?The Charter had
72% reading at grade level compared to 51% in the public school. In the Charter
5% were reading below grade level and 23% were reading above level compared to
the public school where 49% were below grade level and zero were reading above grade
level.The Charter third graders
were tied for the top in math in the state.
Brill doesn’t tell us if the students in the
Charter were from those parents who were more involved or not. Brill does
indicate, however, that in some cases the same parents have children in both
the Public and Charter schools. But if his comparison is valid, it indicates
why no large public school district in the U.S. has found any magic formula for
improving school performance of disadvantaged students: the presence of teacher’s
unions and their insidious influence on school boards.By the way, in New York
they spend $18,000 to $19,000+ per student with no better results than in
Pasadena for about half the unit cost.
Maybe the magic formula for public school
achievement is becoming more apparent: school discipline, longer hours in the
classroom, more parent contact made easier by cell phones, teachers willing to
work past typical school hours and on weekends without additional pay.
This isn’t the formula that teacher’s unions,
school boards loaded with members selected for spreading the wealth by jobs
patronage, university departments of education, state departments of education,
or legislators want you to hear.But it is staring us in the face at P.S. 148 and the Harlem Success
Pasadenan Ross Selvidge who successfully defeated
a school parcel tax (Measure CC) on May 4 has called for a change in the organizational “culture”
of the Pasadena Unified School District.That can only start by getting the teacher’s union and the school board
elected on the basis of patronage out of the way.
Can it happen? Yes. Will it
happen? Doubtful in Pasadena as long as the amount spent per student is the
only measure of reform. In Pasadena, one would have to reform the entire city governmental mindset and cultural values in both City Hall, the Board of Education, all the non-profits and consultants which are dependent on governmental largesse, and the party of government that sustains it, an unlikely prospect. Even liberal Common Cause couldn't reform City Hall.
What we can look forward to in Pasadena is some well-choreographed and Astro-turfed fake efforts at reform by A.C.T. and the PEF using churches for moral legitimacy. That is the problem with tying any school tax increases to change in the corporate culture of PUSD. The establishment can always construct some phony reform program that can be legitimated by the local newspaper media and local "feel good" churches, both liberal and conservative, as real reform. We now know what works. Anything less is not reform and should be rejected by the taxpayers and those who really want better for our children.
This E-mail sets forth my comments on the proposed new water ordinance which is Item 14 on the agenda for the May 24 City Council meeting. I request that it be provided to Council members at the meeting and be given the same consideration as a presentation before the Council.
From my quick review of the agendas for the last couple of months of Council meetings, I find no indication that there has ever been a Council meeting at which a public hearing was held on this matter. Apparently there were two public workshops, attended by an aggregate total of six members of the public. Obviously there has been essentially no public discussion of this matter.
The 36-page ordinance is complex. It will have significant impact on many Pasadena residents. It is deserving of public scrutiny and discussion. I would therefore plead with you to schedule a Council public hearing to be held after there has been adequate time for interested members of the public to properly evaluate the proposed ordinance. At the very least, action on the ordinance should be deferred, and should not take place at the May 24 meeting.
"We see [health care reform as] a bill that says to someone, if you want to be creative and be a musician or whatever, you can leave your work, focus on your talent, your skill, your passion, your aspirations because you will have health care. You won't have to be job-locked."
- Nancy Pelosi, speaking to musicians and artists, in Washington, D.C., May 15, 2010