Wednesday, June 21, 2017

BadPolitics: What we think moves the economy really doesn't.

I've got one more thing to say about the Chron's business columnist in regards to his column today, and then we'll mention him no more in the pages of this blog.

Indignation over economic conditions is righteous. Chris Tomlinson, ($$$)

Destroying economic blocs, canceling trade agreements, erecting border walls, sparking class wars and stoking tribalism will not improve the lives of Americans. Making imported goods more expensive, cutting exports, reducing immigration and waving the flag will not create jobs, improve our schools or make retirement more comfortable.
But neither will maintaining the status quo. Rather than ridicule the righteously indignant as ignorant or xenophobic, smart leaders must address their legitimate complaints about unresponsive government, worsening standards of living and an exploitative economic system. We need better schools, higher wages, affordable health care, campaign finance reform, more job training and greater opportunity for all.
Otherwise anger will rise, revolution will come, and the losses will be profound.

Of course, he writes all of this after ridiculing the righteously indignant and ignorant and xenophobic so there's that.

There's also the fact that none of his policy proposals is going to help.

The two states most often scrutinized in the Petri dish are Texas and California. For a few years, when oil and gas was booming, Texas had the marked advantage and the myth of the "Texas Miracle" was born. It allowed politicians of middling ability to rise to national prominence, made cultural rock stars out of middling-to-sub-par opinion writers and gave us Rick Perry, for better or worse depending on your view.

For years politicians would jump up and down and comment on "The Texas Way" and how we were successful not because some companies were finding new, inventive and relatively cheap ways to pull oil out of rock, but because politicians in Texas basically set back and let business work. It was Obama's "You didn't build that" from the "conservative" aisle.  And it was wrong.

Because now the world has more oil supply than demand and the oil business is struggling. On the flip-side California was struggling for years as their big industry (tech) struggled through a tough period of their own. California took the opposite tack and raised taxes on the middle class, basically taxing them out of the State.  Many went to Texas, and now find themselves unemployed.

What California did was maintain their upper class, who are largely employed in the tech industry and who are dragging the State along for the ride as innovation and sales are booming.  Suddenly it's the California politicians who are geniuses while the leadership in Texas is being painted with the moron brush.

Whatever your opinion of Dan "The Man who would be King" Patrick, the idea that his ham-fisted leadership in the Senate, his bathroom politics or his sanctuary cities bill has somehow led to the current financial downturn in the State is to give him too much credit.

There is no "correct" way to govern. From a pure policy perspective. The brilliant thing about America is that different states are allowed to govern in different ways and people can pick and choose where they wish to reside.  Granted, for many, the choices are somewhat limited (you don't see too many poor, minority people in the People's Republic of Vermont for example) but they are there.

Texas decided to offer a relatively light tax burden initially (something that has changed over time with the increases in fees and property taxes) which allowed for those in the lower-middle class to purchase things they liked, cars, homes, smart-phones, while California expanded the safety-net for the poor on the backs of the middle class, but left its influential upper-class relatively unscathed.

Despite what you might read, both States have a lot of poor people that reside within their borders. None of them, are doing "well" despite news that in California they are all getting a puppy and a BMW.

What we do know is how NOT to run a State. Example A is Illinois who is so broke they cannot pay attention right now.  In so-called "well-governed States such as California and Texas, the dire governance can be found at the municipal level (see Houston or Dallas as an example of this).

To my mind how each individual state sets their tax policy is somewhat irrelevant. What business wants is a clean, fair and simple regulatory system, and an easily implementable tax system that they can pass on to consumers. Outside of this they want the taxes on individuals to favor their chosen worker pool. This is the case in both California where highly skilled engineers do the heavy lifting and Texas where workers out in the field drive the economy.

Everything else is just whistling at a hurricane. Sure, the tune you are whistling might be the prettiest thing ever, but it's not going to make a dent in the power of the storm.  What California needs is for the tech industry to keep booming, what Texas needs is $60 oil. One of these is more likely to happen in the short term than the other. No government expenditure or restriction of rights is going to change this fact.

Campaign finance reform as an economic aid?


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

ChronBlog: It's getting pretty close to unreadable these days.

I'm becoming less a fan of the Chron's anti-business columnist Chris Tomlinson every day. Today's missive is a big reason why.

U.S. Economy fails to deliver on social progress. Chris Tomlinson, ($$$)

In the piece he goes on and on about healthcare (which he clearly confuses having access to with having insurance for), income redistribution and a host of other progressive wants.

He also ignores some pretty big pluses.  This is not to say that everything is perfect, of course it's not. The US economy is too ensnared with politics and the cronyism that it inevitably produces, and the markets are not entirely rational, but to say that the US is 'lacking in the social contract' is just not accurate.

We currently live in a country where the 'working poor' have smart phones, automobiles, housing and access to a wide-variety of goods and services that the poor do not enjoy in many areas of the globe. Is it hard to be poor?  You bet.  And increasingly, due in large part to unintended consequences from bad regulations and other factors, it's becoming increasingly difficult for the poor to be upwardly mobile financially.  The US infrastructure is crumbling due largely to government neglect (public works is a long-game that doesn't fit the political goals of politicians focused on trinkets) and their are some, not all, corporations who are (quite frankly) bad societal actors.

These are things that should be discussed, and are being discussed at length by better writers (including Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review who is Houston based) than Mr. Tomlinson.

America's economy has needs, and things that need to be fixed. Raising taxes and increasing entitlements is not the answer.  but Mr. Tomlinson continues to beat that dead horse over and over again.

As such, I recommend you don't pay much attention to him, and find different sources for your economic continuing education.   You'll be better off for it, trust me.

As a matter of fact, I'm to the point that I'm checking in on what the Chron has to say less and less. I've been hard on them for years, wishing they would do more local reporting and continually being disappointed by the content they produce (with the rare exception).

At this point I think it's time to let my subscription lapse. Except for Sunday coupons and BBQ grill kindling I really see no use for them.

Which is sad.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

TXLV: Odd Responses to Abbott's Call for a Special Session.

So, Greg Abbott has decided that the Texas Legislature needs to come back and try again on some of the many things they didn't get accomplished the first time around....

Abbott Pleases Conservatives with Wide-Ranging Call for Special Session. Mike Ward. ($$$)

The responses to him doing so

House Democrats echoed the sentiment that the governor is trying to appease conservatives who criticized Abbott's performance in the regular session. "I'm not sure why we need a Governor Abbott when we have a Governor Patrick," tweeted state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston.
"After providing zero leadership and interest during the regular session, the governor is clearly panicking and trying to shovel as much red meat as he can to his right-wing tea party base," said state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. 
What the Dems don't make clear here is why it's OK for them to march in some kind of odd ideological lock-step but it's not OK for the Republicans to do so?

I don't get that critique at all.

Here you have Abbott, who campaigned for Governor as a conservative-type and who beat the pink tennis shoes off of progressive wunderkind Wendy Davis calling a special session over the Summer that's going to first address some key business, and then address issues important to the GOP base who elected him.

And this is odd to some?

Rep Gene Wu, who's alleged antics were discussed here. Has positioned himself as the Texas Democratic clone of Donald Trump on Twitter. No issue is too small, no take too bad for him to opine on. He has no filter, and to be honest, not much of a clue regarding voter preference in a solidly red State.

"Why do we need a Governor Abbott?"  Because he campaigned on a platform that the voters overwhelmingly accepted. That he is now making that platform a priority should not surprise. Nor should it be treated as a "gift to 'ultra-right wing' activists" in Texas. (In reality, issues such as the bathroom bill and abortion restrictions, while infuriating to the left, are not all that controversial on right side of the political aisle.

Just because you don't agree with something doesn't mean that it's controversial, the TLSPM would do themselves a favor by remembering that.  As a matter of fact, ALL media would do themselves a solid by remembering it.

Think back to the Affordable Care Act.  It was passed on a 100% partisan vote and signed into law. Lawsuits were filed against it, many bills were filed to repeal it, yet it was never called a "controversial" act at almost any level of media. That word is only reserved for issues which the progressives and their courtesan class cronies deem 'evil'.  The bathroom bill is certainly partisan, and I've no doubt it will pass under partisan pretenses, as will abortion restrictions and, for that matter, property tax reform.

But when the Texas GOP is winning state-wide elections by 60% or more I hardly think the issues they are running on are all that 'controversial'.  Whether I personally agree with some of them or not.

On this, and other blogs, I've long bemoaned the horrible state of both the media coverage in Texas, and the lack of ideological depth possessed by the minority opposition party.  Sadly, over the 15 plus years that I've been tracking it it's only gotten worse, not better. The Lock-Step media is more homogeneous and smaller in influence, than ever before, and the Democrats have devolved to the point where their ideological North Star is a State Representative from the Houston area whose Tweets more closely resemble "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy" than they do any coherent political ideology.

How bad are things?  It's still considered OK to quote Molly Ivins for Crissakes. One of the most overrated political writers that ever put letters to paper.  When your coup de grace is calling George W. Bush "Shrub"?  No.

Lastly. There's going to be some talk about the "cost" of this session and hand-wringing and crying from both the TLSPM and the Left.  Don't buy it.  The same people who are bemoaning this cost will in the next breath try and argue for a full-time legislature that would be almost exponentially more expensive to the State.

The less these idiots are hanging around Austin the better off we all are.

And that should be a bipartisan area of agreement.

Friday, June 02, 2017

USLV: We are losing our collective minds.

If I've said this once I've said it a million times.

I did not vote for Donald Trump, I'm not a fan of Donald Trump and I don't support a lot of what he's doing while President.

If you're on the left side of the political aisle none of that is going to matter to you because of what I'm about to say.

What Kathy Griffin is going through right now is not a violation of her free speech rights, nor is it "bullying" nor is it some type of artistic crisis.  Nor should anyone feel any special obligation to defend her. 

We've known for a long time that the media has a tenuous relationship with free speech. (Many, not all, of them view the 1st amendment as applying to the press ONLY and not to the cattle-class) And we know that politicians of all ideological stripes tend to agree with political speech that defends their political aims while supporting the silencing of speech that runs counter to their platform.

So it's not a great surprise that the courtesan class is starting to rally around Ms. Griffin.  Good for them.

Nor should Ms. Griffin be thrown in jail, or otherwise punished by the government of the United States of America.  THAT would be a violation of her 1st amendment rights* (which the media will deem she has as a comedian) which should not stand.

You don't punch Nazi's, you don't ban rallies by the Alt-right and you don't arrest comedians for doing stupid things that aren't funny.

But that doesn't mean that said speech comes without consequences.

And Ms. Griffin is feeling those consequences right now.  In short, she has committed temporary career suicide. For a time she'll be a pariah unable to do much in the way of productive work while she, and the left-leaning media, work overtime to try and rehabilitate her image (ProTip: Keep Jim Carey far, far away from your defense).  

Once some time has passed however the left will forgive, as they do, and she'll be back doing whatever it was she did before, but there will probably be a much, much smaller audience for her. Think of the Dixie Chicks, post Natalie Maines England melt-down, except with even less talent.

The problem is that a very large part of humanity thinks that free-speech is the exclusive providence of their side.  You can't offer an opinion if you don't believe in anthropogenic climate change and you can't have a say if you don't think the Catholic Church should have to offer insurance plans that cover abortion. If you believe in a deity you are not allowed to speak in the public square etc. From the other side everyone from Planned Parenthood should be arrested, the GLBTQ community should zip it and anyone who does not speak English should "leave America" (never mind that America doesn't have an official language, but that's another post)

And yes, each side can list a litany of offenses, while ignoring the offenses of their side, usually on Twitter, which they think is proof of case that the other side is 'in the wrong' while they walk the pristine path of free speech righteousness.  This is a lie, of course, because both the left and the right suffer from the same version of selective speech suppression as the other.

Most of us will go back to work on Monday and this will be just a small diversion in our daily lives. Probably more than anyone has thought about Kathy Griffin in a long time.  The politicians and their courtesans in the media and 'activist' groups will continue to go on and on about the stupid 'artistic' decisions of a Z-list comedian who most people couldn't pick correctly out of a police line-up.

The United States is being led off the cliffs of insanity by a rather small group of low-functioning idiots whose only talent seems to be to get the screaming horrors every time they see something coming from the other side.

The best solution to this:  Change the channel, mute all mentions of them on Twitter, don't comment on your friend's Facebook post and, should you see them in person, turn around and walk away.

You can't reason with them. It's like explaining physics to a pig.

Goodbye Ms. Griffin, don't feel the need to notify me when you emerge again on the public scene. Truth be told I didn't really pay attention to you before.  As a matter of fact, most Americans didn't.

It's to our shame then that, from that perspective, you actually might have won this round.

Shame on us.

*although a cursory investigation by the Secret Service would not be. Provided they don't arrest her.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

A Must Read: Crony capitalism and other tales related to the #HALV

I found this on a friend's (Kevin, from BlogHouston) Pinboard feed and wanted to make sure that it received the widest distribution possible.

This is a case study in how local, elected officials conspire with local "civic leaders" to thwart economic development in a specific area to the benefit of certain political cronies.

Civic Club leaders, Government officials attempt to block restaurant shopping center redevelopment efforts. Jim

Civic Club leaders, Government officials attempt to block restaurant shopping center redevelopment efforts. (Part II)

The author, the former president of the Sharpstown Civic Association, details the behind-the-curtain alleged dealings between Democratic State Rep. Gene W (HD-137) and various donors to his campaign who are attempting to use all levels of Texas state and local government to thwart the business plans of one, non-donor, small business owner.

It's a cautionary tale about the dangers of crony-capitalism, and evidence that the system itself needs a gigantic overhaul.

It also sheds some light on the alleged bad-governing of a local State official who gets a pass, and is generally treated as the smartest guy in the room, by local media due to his marriage to Miya Shay, City Hall beat reporter for KTRK (Channel 13).

Rep. Wu was allegedly so intent on killing this business that he was willing to pass a bill relating to open containers that could have been potentially damaging to both craft-breweries and certain stores in Texas that fill beer growlers and how close you came to breaking a new law should the bill have passed.

If you wonder why certain areas are blighted, this is a good read.  It also illustrates the danger of not knowing the real politics and goings-on of your local elected officials, and the danger of the local news not following local politics at all (which is the case in Houston).

It should be noted that, while the politician in this case is a Democrat, shenanigans of this type occur at all levels of Texas government regardless of party affiliation. It also is further evidence of the continuing existence of the Houston Area Leadership Vacuum.

I'm sure Mr. Wu and the other primary actors in the case have their own side of the story, and should I see it published elsewhere I'll be sure to link to it here.

Until then.  Please read.

Trends: "Why Can't Houston be more like the Failed City that I Moved From?"

Gray Matters, the (sort of) "blog" compiled by Houston Chronicle columnist/reporter/editor Lisa Gray has yet another article from yet another recent transplant to Houston bemoaning that our city isn't like the place that he left.

Levy Park shines, and Houston struggles to keep up. George Ristow, ($$$)

Unfortunately, much of Houston lacks the redevelopment authorities that can piece together private and public money like Upper Kirby. And political gridlock is formidable: Had a light rail line or bus rapid transit been built down Richmond from the Wheeler Transit Center to the Galleria, we would be celebrating the reopening of Levy Park as part of a grand transit-oriented transformation.

We've heard this song before.  A recent transplant comes to Houston from a Northeastern city that's been struggling and lectures Houstonians that they don't have zoning, massive, debt-riddled and crumbling, public transportation systems and vibrant, walkable inner-cores that really only exist in the minds of the authors.

In fact, there are plenty of walkable neighborhoods in Houston, and many in the suburbs, they're just not where the upper-income Caucasian progressive community in Houston would like them to be.

IF ONLY we had built a toy train, at-grade, down Richmond Avenue (one of the busier automobile corridors in Houston) we could increase the rate at which the Danger Train was taking cars off the road (via collisions) with only an incremental increase in bicycle and passenger deaths.

This is not to suggest that ALL public transit is bad.  In fact, much of it in other cities is quite good. Houston's public transit suffers from the fact that it's primary goals are not to move the populace from one place to another (i.e. where they live to where they work) but to forward the NewUrbanist/Crazy Crossley agenda that all people must move inside a super-heated dystopian inner-loop.

You really do want to live in an efficiency high-rise apartment asshole-to-elbow with your neighbors all packing in to a train until it bursts before being shuttled off to work downtown.  You just don't know this yet.  And you don't know because there are not enough "development authorities" to tell you that, and Crossley and others haven't been able to convince you through constant lecturing.

Of course, what they don't say is that you wouldn't get to live in the nice areas. If you've been following along recently it's only important to build high-rise living quarters for the poor and middle class in undesirable areas.  Keep your unwashed/non-progressive living standards out of the Upper Kirby district for example.  And don't even think of encroaching on River Oaks.

Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America. It is also one of the most segregated.  Do you ever stop and wonder why that is?

Hint: It's not because a lot of people choose to move outside the city limits to the suburbs. Those are actually fairly integrated.  It's where most of the central planning by NewUrbanists has taken place that the segregation is occurring.  This is a trend we're seeing replicated in cities across the country.

Think about that. Because I would argue that central planning carries with it more unintended consequences than many would acknowledge.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

TXLV: The lie of tax cuts and government fiscal restraint.

The Texas Legislature has (finally) reached Sine Die.  This means that it's time for the Texas LockStep Political Media and other groups to start spinning their fantasies about what it all means.

Money Grab. The Increasingly Irrelevant Chron Editorial Board. ($$$)

In what is really a love letter to local State Senator Sylvia Garcia (who has been a progressive fave/rave in the area for some time now) the bi-annual unsigned editorial bemoaning Texas relatively low tax system takes a new tack this year.  Suggesting that high property tax values are due, in whole, to the lack of other taxes at other levels.

One thing that never changes at the Chron is the desire to have large wads of cash thrown into a catapult and hurled at the problem.  Of course, those taxes are best when paid by other people than them.  In an attempt to seem bipartisan the Chron lists one "solution" as being a tax proposed by a Republican (Ed Emmett's proposed County Sales Tax) and one from a Democrat (Fort Bend County Chairman Ben Brown's proposal for a State income Tax).

In reality neither of these would put much of a dent in property taxes.  The idea that government will enact one tax while lowering, or eliminating another is a false promise placed in front of gullible voters which has historically never come to fruition.  Remember when the Texas "Margins" Tax was supposed to lower property taxes?  How did that work out for you?

The problem, although it won't be admitted to publicly, is that there are too many organizations with too many hands reaching into the taxpayer pie, each with different agendas.  Let us say, for grins, that the County gets a sales tax of .05% and decreases their property tax burden proportionately. OK, but the City of Houston is already pushing to raise their property tax rate due to pension under-funding and the fact that the past three mayors have acted in fiscally imprudent manners, so Houston will raise their share of the takings until resident's eyes bleed.  This will lead to more people moving out of the city and into the county, who will then be forced to re-raise property taxes to keep up with infrastructure demand.

So now, especially if you live in the city, you're saddled with higher property taxes that are still increasing due to appraisal creep AND you have to pay more in sales tax and a state income tax to boot.

Even Steve Radack's idea to "expand Medicare" to cover costs is not the bag of free money that's being promised.  Medicare is nearing insolvency, and to make up the loss the United State's federal government is going to have to get serious about fixing their tax system soon. Also, there's a 10 year limitation in what's left of ACA for "free" access to those funds. Eventually, the bill comes due and the State has to start covering those costs. There is not now, nor has there ever been, any such thing as a free lunch.

Here's the rub.

Things (stuff, trinkets, etc.) have to be paid for, political legacies have to be enshrined and no one wants to have their name attached to the phrase "tore down the Astrodome".  In order to continue to bribe the electorate the government has to figure out a way to increase tax burdens while convincing a majority of the citizenry that they're doing it to "the other guy". People are more likely to accept a small tax increase on themselves if they think those slightly more well off than they (or even better, evil "corporations") are shouldering a much larger share of the version. Politicians, who are rational actors despite being (for the most part) functional idiots, understand this and have done a great job convincing most of academia and the media that this is a swell way to run a country.  How else do you explain a man who owns three homes running around suggesting that he's a 'man of the people' and really only wants healthcare and higher education to be "free" not being laughed out of the building?

Even though the ideas are wrong the country still has to run, things need to be purchased, the general security provided for and debt service paid.  What this means is that serious, meaningful tax reform has to be broached at every level of government. The goof-balls in Washington D.C. could do a lot worse than simplifying the tax code to the point that the IRS is not really needed while the pugilists in Austin (and other state-houses) should start by figuring out what NEEDS to be done, fund that and then do those "nice to have" things based on remaining money.  Counties and Cities just simply need to go on a diet. Public works is a must, of course, as are policing and other emergency services.  But after that?

Yes, I get it that you feel you really NEED that $100K per year from the County to hold your civic club's annual garden party but the facts are that you don't. If the business community feels that parks and green space is vital to their ability to attract talent than allow them to underwrite the cost. If nothing else it will save us from having politicians gloating that their legacy is a sidewalk on which dogs pee and poop. (The Bill and Andrea White promenade at Discovery Green in case you're wondering).

A trap that conservatives (including little l libertarians) fall into is the fallacy of "no".  You cannot run a government simply by shouting that and hoping for the best.  Because things have to be done.  The biggest issue for what's left of the conservative movement is not sanctuary cities, or bathroom obsessions, it's making the case for real, meaningful tax reform for all. And doing a better job explaining to the family of four making $45K per year why it's a boon for them.

The alternative is in the link above, an asinine argument that by failing to increase taxes sufficiently the government has failed to cut them.

To be fair, there is one thing on which the Chron and I agree.  In order to get nice things from our government we're going to have to elect new, serious people to do the governing.  This might come as a shock but I am referring to your elected representative, including the one in your district that you like.  They need to go. (as do mine)

Until that happens we're just whistling past the graveyard.