Friday, November 17, 2017

BadHumanity: The ugliness of our fealty to our tribes.

Bad people do bad things, get tripped up doing it, and bad results happen.  C'est la vie.

With so much talk going on in the media now it was almost certain that someone would pen the ultimate in twisted logic pieces to justify their support of a bad person.  With that in mind, I give you...

I'm a feminist, I study rape culture, I don't want Al Franken to resign. Kate Harding, Washington Post.

In the linked piece above Ms. Harding goes on to explain that she doesn't want Franken to resign BECAUSE he's a Democrat, and Democrats are good, even though Mr. Franken might be bad his votes are good therefore his behavior gets a pass.

The piece is remarkably refreshing in it's honesty and it's total lack of self-awareness.

It also brings to light another problem, the problem that we tend to feign outrage at transgressions by the other tribe while ignoring those of our own.  For Republicans, especially ones in Alabama, the current example is Roy Moore.  For Democrats its Sen. Franken.  I would posit that it will be hard for the Senate to expel Moore would that the body had any sense of shame left in it given the Franken issue.

But I won't, because the Senate has no remaining sense of shame.

Closer to Texas we find out that ugly people sometimes do ugly things, often to their regret...

Woman with crude anti-Trump truck decal arrested for fraud. CBSNews

The woman in question placed a decal on the back of her truck saying "FUCK TRUMP, and Fuck you for voting for him." Pretty standard "I'm angry that my tribe lost the election" stuff TBH, probably more effective than screaming at the sky for instance, but probably not the smartest thing to do if you have an outstanding warrant for fraud.

Of course, the lady in question blames "Republicans" for her problems ignoring the fact that it was her stupid actions that brought all of this attention down upon her in the first place.  People with ugly attitudes are often among the more dense in our society.

The two stories, taken separately, probably don't say all that much about society as a whole but when viewed in the context of what we're currently witnessing in America they speak volumes.

Our sense of outrage is almost purely tribal today. Where before reasonable people would agree that sexual harassment is wrong and should be discouraged, today it's become a political tool whose punishment should only be doled out to the other tribe and not to one's own.  In reality, both Roy Moore and Al Franken have no place in the United States Senate.  Trump, for that matter, has displayed a litany of actions that would make him unworthy of the office of the President of the United States.

But we live in a Democratic-Republic, where the people are allowed to elect, and blindly support, a Rogue's Gallery of clowns, fools and straight-up bad people regardless of their personal failings. If you think being a bad person and an elected official is either a new or partisan phenomenon, read up on your history.

What is a relatively new thing is the curious practice of people having the chutzpah to openly admit that they're sense of justice is linked to their tribe. Winning is more important than being right, destroying the enemy (and, make no mistake about it, the greatest enemy to partisans on both sides is the other party) more important than being able to look in the mirror every morning without insulting the mirror.

American society, such as it is, will eventually crumble in upon itself as all great societies do. I've a feeling that future human sociologists will look back on the events of today and determine these were the moments that made it all start to unravel.  Once we lose the ability to police ourselves, we lose the moral authority to police others.

In an America where there is a giant leadership vacuum at every level of government I think that moral authority is gone, possibly for good.

That fact alone should be slightly depressing.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

BadMedia: The Houston Chronicle has lost it's way.

When all else fails, the media is supposed to be on YOUR side.   The private citizen, the little guy, the work-a-day person who schleps this pebble just hoping to make ends meet and pay all the months bills and possibly save just a bit to sock away for retirement or take the family on a nice vacation.

Newspapers, and all media, are supposed to watchdog the government and industry and make sure that they're not taking advantage of you, that the system is not being rigged, that the government is operating in an efficient manner, and being good stewards of your tax money, and that the government is following the regulations and laws that bind together our society.

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board has abdicated this role and should be shuttered as a result.

Revenue Cap. Houston Chronicle Editorial Board

The Chron's arguments against the cap are flimsy, at it recommends granting the city the same loose fiscal chain that got them into this mess in the first place. A mess that the same Chron Editorial Board argued FOR back when these plans were first proposed under former Mayor Lee P. Brown. In fact, it's become more common place for the Editorial Board to dismiss the rights of citizens in the face of State powers than to advocate for the very watchdog roles that the media is supposed to fill. The Chronicle is very good at glowing profiles of government officials, not so great at exposing government waste until after the fact. Typically their reporting of the same is piling on after some other outlet uncovers the issue first.

I believe that much of the reason for this stems from the Editorial Board, who set the tone for the entire paper.  It is past time for them to be shuttered, the resources then deployed throughout the newsroom under an editor whose desire is to return Houston's Middling Regional Daily to it's traditional role.

This won't happen, of course, but one can dream.  In the meantime those who understand the problems that will plague Houston if the rev cap is lifted had probably better start organizing.  Because Mayor Turner and Co. clearly have a 100,000 watt blowtorch in the form of the Chronicle that is ready and willing to produce unquestioning reporting and opinion in favor of lifting the cap.

That is going to be very, very difficult to overcome. In fact, it is probably impossible to overcome in a city that has clearly lost its way.

USLV: I am SHOCKED!! that things are not working out as planned.

After 9/11 American were told by our government that it would be necessary for us to set aside some of our freedoms in order to have security.  In light of this we rewarded politicians who voted for the Patriot Act, and agreed to have the travel experienced worsened by turning over pre-flight security to the TSA.

How's that working out?  Not well....

TSA Failure: Agency Falling Short on Most Undercover Screening Tests. SmarterTravel

A recent round of undercover tests revealed an agency that continues to fail at the most basic elements of its purpose. According to ABC News, these tests of multiple airport security checkpoints found that “screeners, their equipment or their procedures failed more than half the time.” ABC News’ source indicated that number may be closer to 80 percent.

In case you're wondering, an 80% failure rate is "not good" even by government standards. In short, after all of the freedoms we sacrificed, all of the gropings and "body scans" and strip searching of 80 year old grandmothers we're just about as secure from terrorism in the skies as we were before all of this mess.  On the bright side, a ton of people who were unemployable in the pre-existing job market are now collecting paychecks funded by you.

We gave up freedom for the illusion of security and got neither.  We also got just a little more poor as well.

Well done.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

HALV: Reminder - You Can't Raise Taxes Until You Issue those Bonds.

Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to waste no time issuing his debt.

This is being rolled out as a public safety play, instead of the two-pronged move that it really is.

First, each of these bond referendums included enabling taxation language, which I'm willing to bet you a six-pack of Dome F'auxm will be used as an attempted end-around of the voter-imposed, pillow-soft revenue cap that Turner (and others) has been aching to overturn since before he was elected.

When you've worked no job in your life that requires you to live within a budget, Turner is a life-long politician who has thrived on the patronage system, fiscal responsibility is a campaign buzz-word, and nothing more.  Turner wants his increased tax revenues to build a legacy.

Second, Turner has some campaign promises to fulfill. He needs to pay off the police and municipal employee unions that he relied on so heavily to win the election for Mayor. Failure to do so might imperil his reelection hopes.

Big infusions of cash into the pension plans will allow those who have been putting off retirement to do so.  Getting shiny new police cars will improve morale while ensuring votes in two years. That's the thinking behind this.

All politicians will talk a good game about how they're doing for the citizens and the worst of them will talk repeatedly about how they're "fighting" for the taxpayer, but what they're really doing is working to ensure they're in a place to get reelected, and that they can do some legacy assuring ribbon cuttings that will ultimately lead to having their names on plaques or things being named after them.

There's no doubt that Turner inherited a mess.  From Mayors Brown, White and Parker he took over leadership of a city that had ignored public works in favor of TIRZ and trinkets, he was saddled with a pension system that was built on bad actuarial projections and unicorn farts (some of which he had a hand in due to his position in the State Legislature) and he was smacked in the face upon getting elected by that bastard Harvey.

Give Turner this much, through it all he has kept a laser-like focus on the well being and prosperity of his political patrons.  That's both politics 101 in America today and the sign of a man who understands how American cities really work.

He's also lucky.  Lucky because Houston's civic engagement rests somewhere below minimal. People understand that there is a city government at work but what they do is nebulous and, largely, unreported.  

Yes the Houston Chronicle runs a glowing profile of some civil servant from time to time and even attempt investigative reporting, some of it can be quite good. But they bury it behind a pay wall that only around 10% of the populace cares enough to look behind.

In a low-turnout election as we just experienced the public sector can dominate. Even in high-turnout elections the scales are weighed so against the non-public sector that voting is more an exercise in insanity than it is an actual political act.  Governments are bloated, they vote in blocs, and they frequently move mountains to ensure all of their employees get a chance to vote against the citizens, and for themselves.  Psuedo government groups work hard to ensure that the message is one of spending and excess while the average taxpayer is currently working hard just to try and rebuild their homes.

You cannot beat the system, but the system will beat you.

My worry is not that Houston residents are going to find themselves overtaxed and cash-strapped, only the most poor will find themselves in that position, my concern is that this money, like so much before it, is going to be wasted on patronage and bike lanes, that real items that are needed to make a city run are going to be ignored.

Houston is very good about electing public officials who want to paint lanes of traffic green or spend hundreds of Millions on the Astrodome, not so good at electing people who want to sequence the traffic lights, fix the streets and sewer.

Right now Houston needs more of the latter and less of the former.

Guess which ones you're stuck with? 

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

HALV: The 12.5% Can-Kicking of the pension mess has been completed.

Thunderous applause today as Houston voters went to the polls last night and approved $1 Billion dollars (plus $10,000) in pension bonds.

Reforms locked in as voters approve $1B pension bond. Houston ($$$)

The article goes on to say that, if the bond failed, $1.8 Billion of the $2.8 Billion in negotiated "cuts" to benefits would roll back if the bond failed. It further explains that the "deficit" or "unfunded liability" (as people like to call it) currently sits at $8.2 Billion which means that Houston voters just agreed to refinance approximately 12.5% of the overall bill and are now having to sit and listen to what passes for leadership in Houston call the issue "fixed". Which it is, probably until current Mayor Sylvester Turner gets term-limited out of office. At which point the issue will flare up again and all of the people who are breathlessly calling this issue "over and done with" will be long gone as the community continues to deal with it.  Remember when former-Mayor Annise Parker declared that she had "ended homelessness in Houston?" 

Yeah, how's that working out.

It's as if Turner and Co. sat down with the unions and tried to determine what the bare minimum was that they could do in order to convince the public they had fixed the issue. 

"Can we do it at 5%"

"No, way to low."


"Too difficult."

"Let's call it a cool Billion and get the wordsmiths on it."


Or something along those lines.

Turner understands this, that the movers and shakers in Houston wanted this behind them, that they wanted a fix so they can move forward in 2018 to finally busting the pillow-soft, voter imposed revenue cap. The only way to do it, and keep all of the political patronage happy, was to tweak the plan around the edges, and pump a whole lot of cash into the system so that those in charge can get out on the taxpayer backs.  This bond accomplishes that.  Let future employees and elected officials, and taxpayers worry about the mess.

One note: The text of all the bond bills passed yesterday included language that authorized the city to levy taxes "necessary to pay off the bonds". My prediction is that this enabling language will be used as legal justification to circumvent the revenue cap in the way of massive property tax increases on individuals and businesses.  In other words, we're going to court over this I guarantee it.

Mayor Turner however will, rightly, consider this a political win and should start to pivot toward projects designed to establish his legacy.  Right now he's had few ribbon cuttings and his name is on no plaques. This is an untenable situation for a man whose career goal was to become Mayor of Houston and get his name put on things. I'm sure he's hoping for more than a sidewalk in a downtown dog park.

For now Turner gets to enjoy his victory lap having successfully pushed this problem to the next administration. This allows him an opening to pivot toward figuring out how to tax Houstonians until their eyes bleed.

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

BadMedia: The Death of the Critic.

Disney, chuffed about one of those "fair share" stories the media likes to run these days that placed them in the spotlight., has decided to blackout the LA Times from all future pre-screenings of their films. 

As expected, the newspaper media is freaking out over this, calling it 'an assault on journalism' and other nonesuch, none of which is going to matter all that much to the movie going public.

And none of it is going to matter.

While I respect the original news piece, and agree that corporate welfare of the type presented within the piece is a bad thing, I also think that newspapers (and especially, their opinion writers and editorial boards) had a big hand in making these deals happen and, as such, lose a lot of credibility when crying crocodile tears over the "taxpayers" getting hosed.

In every city, some of the biggest cheerleaders for corporate tax breaks are progressive opinion columnists and editorial boards. In Houston, the Chronicle has supported several public give-aways including the building of four professional sports stadiums, a full court press in favor of a wasteful light-rail system who's only role is to subsidize developers, many of whom developed in a flood zone, tax abatements to a downtown hotel (that the Mayor endorsed on city letterhead) and was all-in on creating the TIRZ system that it now opposes.

It's the same across every city, where breathless anonymous writers spent decades telling readers that these amenities were necessary to provide a city with a certain amount of world-classiness.  It's not clear what this world-classiness would provide in terms of benefits to the actual citizenry of course, but it would provide the Editorial Board and opinion writers with ample opportunity to attend cocktail parties.  The Taxpayer be damned.

But the recent wave of political populism has led to a renaissance in the newspaper's care for the little guy. Provided, of course, the interests of the taxpayer is understood to mean the fullness of the coffers of the city, county, State and Federal governments and not the pockets of the taxpayer themselves.

That's why, over the years, I've been such a supporter (and, the creator) of #ShutterTheEdBoard. I think the ancient tradition of the unsigned editorial is one that needs to fade into the dustbin of history. I feel the same way about political opinion writers, who take up valuable resources from the actual hard news reporting that actually means something.  Or at least it used to before the rise of Politifarce and news "analysis" which is really just opinion hiding as hard news.

Despite all of my pleading, I think the newspapers are about to figure out just how little attention is paid to the opinion side of their operation through this movie-review snub.  Because most people don't read a review to determine whether or not they want to see a movie. They watch the preview trailer and it either piques their interest or it doesn't. This is why the Oscar "best picture" nominee's are typically movies that you've never heard of while the ones you actually like are relegated to the "commercial break" awards.

It's the same with restaurant critics, many of whom only visit certain restaurants and, in many cases, seem to have iron palates that only respond to an abundance of salt and foams. (As a matter of fact, I blame restaurant critics for cursing us with the scourge of foam on foods, which had all of the taste and texture of spit.)

The point is that there's very little reason for newspapers to continue to employ anyone on the opinion side when it's being done better, faster, more often, and usually for free on-line.

If newspapers want to survive (something I think is very unlikely) they would do themselves well to drop the opinion-laden bloat and focus on very local hard news of the type you find in the LA Times piece linked above. Just admit that your opinions were crap, and give us the straight juice.

This will do two things: It will lower overhead in an industry that's as bloated as they come, and it will free up the news gathering organization to report the truth, even if it runs counter to the political views of the editorial staff.

In keeping with the times: Make Newspapers Great Again.  It really would be addition by subtraction in this case.

Unless you like foam, and mother! 

In which case you should probably go and get some help.

TLSPM: Still Getting it wrong.

The Houston Chronicle's new "conservative" (read: slightly less liberal but still solidly Democratic) columnist chastises the Democrats for not getting their act together on the ballot, without realizing why they won't win....

Texas Democrats need to try a little harder to put the State in play. Erica Greider, ($$$)

Most puzzling of all, though, is how little the Democratic Party is doing in Texas. Individual candidates, to be sure, are storming the ramparts; the most notable is Beto O'Rourke, the U.S. representative from El Paso, who is challenging Ted Cruz for a seat in the Senate. And some of the congressional primaries are, frankly, oversubscribed.

Beto O'Rourke is the latest, no name ID, fave-rave of Texas Democrats, whose candidacy is likely to invigorate the TLSPM and the InterLeft but will be destined to lose to incumbent Ted Cruz by double digits. As Greider notes, the slate at the top of the ticket looks grim. It's gotten so bad for Texas Democrats that they're going back to "Draft (insert celebrity name here) mode".

But the real reason Texas Democrats have no chance is in the comments to Ms. Greider's tome.  From a leftist with the nom de plume of ROBIN:

Texass is just a few years from turning purple, and then blue.

Yes, because you're going to win the hearts and minds of voters by insulting them and calling them names.  Enjoy the fringes of the political landscape folks, thank you and have a nice night.

The biggest problem that Democrats have right now is that they've become the party of relatively well-off, predominantly Caucasian progressives. Progressives who view themselves as functionally, mentally and otherwise superior to the rest of the rubes in America (and Texas) in every way. Unfortunately, for them, their political ideals are out of step with a majority of Texans and they are, almost to a person, horrible at the whole relatability thing. Mix in the fact that their entire political apparatus appears to be made up of low-functioning idiots with communication and relatability issues and you have a perfect recipe for electoral banishment.

It's gotten so bad for Democrats that they were relegated to choosing a gubernatorial candidate based on her tennis shoes.

The Texas Democratic Party is urban, in a State that's still got a sizable rural population. They still pay lip service to minority groups, while promoting progressive policies that have been disastrous for them. They have no solutions outside of "we're going to tax you until your eyes bleed" and even then they can't seem to agree on how to spread that message. They're bereft of leadership, have no bench strength and if they do eventually win it will be by default.

Because the Texas Republican Party is worse. They just have a ton of candidates with some name ID.

I gave up voting a couple of election cycles ago because I realize that it doesn't matter which set of morons we put in charge of the ship, it's still going to hit the iceberg eventually. It's heading that way because we've allowed our politics to be controlled not by the citizens, but by the politicians. And yes, the media helped get us to this point through hero worship of some pretty horrible people.

I've no doubt that a Texas Democrat will eventually win a State-wide race in Texas, at which point the TLSPM will erupt in euphoric joy. As for the rest of us?

That just means there's a new way for us to get screwed.  Hopefully they allow us the luxury of Vasoline.