Monday, July 27, 2015

Presumptuous Blogging: Things you should read. (07/27/2015)

Here are some things you might have missed.....

Houston's bicycling activists are angry. - Very angry, and their answer is typically to say that all car drivers in Houston should be taken off the roads.  Well, they don't exactly say that but you can hear it in their voices.

The TLSPM obsession over Ag Commish Sid Miller is getting sad. - It reminds me, some, of the anger that built near the end of the Perry tenure as they tried, and failed, to take him down. Bag of idiots.

Mrs. White has supported TIRZ and psuedo-government groups for years. - Suddenly, with a financial cliff looming, the power brokers would have you believe that they were pro-voter, and not pro-developer lobby, all this time.  To pull this off, of course, you have to ignore almost everything they've said, and done, before.  Just a smaller bag of idiots.

Houston's budget problems make for strange bedfellows. - Including Houstonian Don Hooper, who is giving Chris Bell's zero-based budgeting proposal some praise?  Strange times.

In case you thought that Mayor Parker our Councilwoman Cohen gave a damn about rule of law or due process. - You can put that out of your mind now as these two seem hell-bent on getting HER Ordinance pushed through by hook or by crook.  Damn the torpedoes and all of that. It's the HALV on full display.

Your weekly reminder that it takes neither brains nor likability to lose multiple political elections. - I hope Bell never stops running (and losing) because he brings a certain amount of humor to the proceedings

Ken Hoffman makes the mistake of thinking that, because he's a writer, he's also a financial expert. - It's clear that, despite knowing about fast food, he has absorbed very little knowledge regarding Houston's biggest industry.

Congrats Craig.

The Texans are Houston's most poorly managed sports team. Discuss.

Possibly the worst travel article you will read all year. - From a site that often provides some quality content unfortunately.

Enjoy your week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Blame Culture: At some point, we're all going to offend.

I'm going to be honest in admitting that I've paid little attention to the bloviations of "The Donald" as he trundles along on his grand "Look at Me!" dalliance in Presidential politics.  While the National media tries to make something out of his temporary bump in the polls I still feel that cooler heads will prevail and Republicans will eventually settle on a real candidate, not a cardboard cut-out with a dead rat on its head.

I have the same feeling about Bernie Sanders, a pseudo-socialist who really wants crony capitalism and who's only in the campaign to make his friend Hillary Clinton, look moderate in comparison.  If Hillary needs cover on the left, Sanders is there to provide aid and comfort.

The difference between the media treatment of the two faux-candidates is pretty shocking however. Trump is treated as entertainment while Sanders is treated as a principled crusader who's scaring the Clinton campaign because.....rally attendance? This is the silly season in politics where the media, desperate to find a framing narrative for the entire campaign, is grasping at straws.

Are there too many Republicans in the race for the nomination?  No.  In fact, it's only an issue because that's the narrative the media wants to push. It's a joke that's told in DC pubs and restaurants while the correspondents and their contacts are dining on roast peacock and washing it down with Krug served by indentured servants in waistcoats.

Which brings me to my point.

There's been a lot of attention paid of late to so-called "gaffes" uttered by The Donald.

First he angered the immigrants, and gave liberal writers and politicians the vapors. Then, he had the temerity by doubling down and insulting the holy grail of personal politics.  Do I agree with The Donald on either of these issues?  No.  Do I think he should be vilified for it or owe McCain an apology?  No again.

But the fact is we now live in a blame culture. It's a touchy feely world with participation medals, and bullying, and micro-aggressions and fuzzy definitions of widely accepted terms. And we're all going to fall into the trap eventually.

It's impossible not to, as Donald Trump has found.

Now, don't get me wrong (although some will). I wouldn't vote in The Donald to the position of local dog catcher. I think he's unfit to be President and is a man so bereft of ideas I've all but ignored him.  But, and this is important, the man is a communicator.  And that's important when you're trying to get people to vote for you.  Do you think it's any mistake that Obama used a TelePrompTer almost exclusively prior to being elected?  Have you heard the man try to speak without a prepared speech? It's a litany of "uhs" and "umms" and it's all but unlistenable.

Trump doesn't do that, but he needs the attention so he says outlandish things.  Does he really believe any of them?  Probably, to a point. I think that he honestly feels McCain is not a hero but I doubt he believes what he says about illegal immigrants. After all, he needs them to prop up his real estate empire.

To be honest, I'm not a fan of John McCain. From what I've seen about him he's a 100% political animal, and not a very pleasant one at that. He can be abusive when people disagree with him and he seems to carry a grudge. While I don't discount his time spent as a POW that doesn't mean that he's worthy of praise in every other area of his life, or even that his military career prior to that was distinguished.

We make that mistake all the time in society, we assume that one act of valor defines one's entire existence. That in order to pay homage to McCain's greatness as a POW you have to also accept, without question, his greatness in every other aspect of life as well. We also do it with criticism of things we like. Far be it that someone offers criticism of our chosen candidate for some bone-headed decision they made. Someone! Must be blamed. And blame is really all that America excels at these days.

So eventually, in a society such as this, we're all going to offend. On a personal note, this harmless, humorous take on the debate surrounding the City of Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance was once called "the most homophobic thing I've ever read." A fact that only indicates the offended really needs to get out more. But these people are not going to get out more, and they're not going to try and see reason. In fact, reason as a concept has not only died in America, its body is being actively beaten whenever it has a sympathetic twitch.

If you issue an opinion, it's going to run counter to someone's deeply held belief somewhere and they're going to demand not only an apology, but that you be tied to a rail and carried out of polite society. You will be banished to the far corners of the country reserved now for racists, bigots and Caucasian males who still think it's OK to be well....male. (Soon to welcome evangelical Christians).

Our media and our politicians don't care about reason or truth or any concept that might interfere with page views and power, all they care about is making more money.  Add increasing their power to the politicians' tool-kit and you have America today.  Is there any fixing this?

My guess is no, because we LIKE our blame culture and our breathless news stories about how everyone is offended about everything everywhere. If we agree with the issue we get high on the outrage. If we disagree we get high on getting outraged at the outrage.  In fact, I think it's an integral part of our societal DNA.

Which might suggest that the DNA of America is somehow dysfunctional.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Presumptuous Blogging: Things you should read.

Like that headline?

I did. But then, I'm easily amused.  As I stated earlier I'm on a mock hiatus from poli-blogging for a bit, but I did threaten to try and compile some link posts from time to time.  In that vein, if you are a Houstonian and missed these stories you might want to spend a few moments catching up.....

Houston METRORail numbers are not only down, they're way down. (BlogHouston) - As Neil says in the post however the tracks are built, and to rail supporters that's all that matters.

And more tracks equals more auto/pedestrian/train wrecks. (BlogHouston) - Blog Houston DID, quite intelligently, call it the DangerTrain after all.  While the default of supporters is to blame "stupid Houstonians" there is some fault to be applied to the at-grade design itself.

So far, there are few TV ads running in Houston's Mayoral race. (Houston Chronicle) $$$ - Whether or not this is a good or bad development I leave entirely to your judgment.

Bike riders are tired of sharing the road with cars. (HoustonPress) - Maybe we should just outlaw cars? Although I doubt, given the history of bike "advocates" even that would make them happy.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Brief Hiatus: When real life interferes with PoliBlogging

There's so much going on Nationally right now that I'd love to blog about.  From the disturbing (and horrific) Planned Parenthood allegations to the World's new $100 Billion bailout to Iran to high-speed Internet getting labeled the next great human right to budget airline foibles and United's next economy seating arrangement or even ESPN proving once and for all they are full of it I could go whole hog on several issues for months.

This doesn't include what I really focus on, Houston area politics and media.

But the fact is this:

Real life, those things that involve people I care about and share my life with, is way more important than anything going on in politics or media right now.  So I'm taking a brief hiatus.

Maybe I update with some fun stuff from time to time but right now there are other priorities that take precedence over writing words.

Besides, it's Amazon Prime Day and I've got shopping to do.

If you still care to see stuff then I'll be updating the following.

My PinBoard Account

My Twitter Account

Unlike past run-ins with blogger's fatigue I'm not shutting down this blog.  For one, I kind of like this layout and second, I'm running out of names and I really like this domain.

One thing I might do, which I used to enjoy doing greatly, upon my return is to retry link blogs.

Until then have fun, don't believe anything in the Chronicle that has to do with City, County or State politics and keep paying attention to the Mayoral race.

It's a pretty important thing that.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: The Politics of Political Convenience.

This is fortuitous....

Testy CIP meeting sparks debate about equity. Katherine Driessen, ($$$)

(Pay wall protected, of course)

District C accounts for the largest share of planned projects at more than 20 percent of the planned expenditures. Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, who represents District C which includes Montrose and the Heights, said concerns around the dais were valid. But she noted that her district includes some of the oldest neighborhoods in the city.

I'm sure the fact that Mayor Parker resides in District C, that her strongest base of political support is within its boundaries, and that Councilwoman Cohen is among her biggest sycophants had NOTHING at all to do with this allocation.

Nope, nothing at all.

I would also point out this: In the ongoing debate over food deserts private grocery stores are all but being accused of discrimination for making business decisions that allocate recourses to relatively wealthy, upscale, trendy areas where profits can be made. Perhaps they should also use the "oldest neighborhoods argument to justify their investments in the same?

It's good to be in the Ruling Class is it not?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: Let's spend some more (of other people's) MONEY!!!

What passes for leadership in the Houston area is rolling out Mrs. White's catapult again.

Amid mounting budget concerns, Parker plans to push for revenue cap change. Katherine Driessen,$$$)

(Paywall protected, please read the entire thing if you can)

"I'm going to make them vote up or down," Parker said of the revenue cap. "If they want to give a pay raise to firefighters without having to cut huge numbers of programs across the city they're going to have to figure out that, you know, that's one way to bring some relief in."

In Houston, this is what passes for leadership.  Parker's tough talk backed up by.....? More rhetoric.  In fact, the only time that Parker has been anything close to tough has been when she was advocating for HER Ordinance which was, unsurprisingly, very important to her personally and probably the one thing that could be considered to truly be on her political agenda.

What the raising of the cap allows politicians to do, long-term, is avoid making tough choices and exercising fiscal discipline. When you consider that the top-tier Mayoral candidates (with the exception of Bill King) are all talking about "investments" in communities and "public-private partnerships" in lieu of fiscal responsibility you know that Houston is looking down the barrel of fiscal calamity.

Even worse is the candidate pool for City Council.  I've been following a lot of them on Twitter so you don't have to and let me assure you that Houston is paddling around in the kiddie section of the leadership gene pool.  Everyone has a plan to spend money, everyone has an idea how to increase what's being called "city revenues" (taxes and fees) and some are even worse than that suggesting that ideas from Brazil (seriously) would be good for Houston to adopt.

Another thing that I find funny, mentioned in the article, is how mercurial and quick to cower to the mayor Ellen Cohen is. Texas Monthly likes to think they rank politicians as "Best, Worst and furniture". And while they tend to do a fairly mediocre job getting the rankings correct (the lists are usually just placing politicians into the respective buckets based solely on whether or not the TM staff likes them or not) they are leaving out one pretty vital category.

The political sock-puppet, a politician who serves no purpose but to parrot the positions of someone who is either their political patron or more experienced then they. Ellen Cohen is Mayor Annise Parker's sock-puppet of that there can be no doubt.

While I make light of this situation it's important to realize that the City's finances are central to Houston's well-being.  I get that there are some who are considered serious political thinkers who think that One-bin recycling and parklets are "meat and vegetables" issues but none of that stuff happens if the plate itself is cracked.

And that's the problem in a city where there's no leadership. Trinkets, and things that wet the pants of gleeful political bloggers, get piled on plates that don't have the strength to support it. It's very much like putting too much potato salad on a single paper plate. There's no way you're making it to the picnic table before all of those "meat and vegetables" become food for ants.

So, beware pundits trying to distract from the fact that Houston's got a big budget problem, and shake your head at the media who are only just starting to figure this out. The games out leaders have been playing and the trinkets they have been buying all come with bills that are about to come due.

It might be a good idea to start asking city candidates how they plan to pay those bills instead of just letting them spout platitudes.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Tales of a sub-par media outlet: The problem is not them (according to them) it's you.

"I do not like Houston. I've never been as miserable in any other place in the world as I am here."

This is the first line in David Dorantes odd mix of a rant against Houston and a love letter to an Ex who left him and married another man.

The article, if you can read it behind the Chron's increasingly expensive pay-wall, ran earlier today on the "Gray Matters" blog-ish type piece of whimsy that serves as a de-facto editorial outlet for Chron staffers, and people that they find compelling.

It's articles like these, and prose such as this (Example: "I once had a girlfriend. I loved her very much [I still love her, she is married to another man]") that has lead me to question why I ever started paying the Chron for access to this dreck in the first place.

The problem with the Chron's in-house editorial writing is that it is both simplistic in it's logic and dismissive of other points of view at the same time. Yes, Falkenberg won a Pulitzer, but she only won it after Chron Editor Jim Newkirk was appointed chair of the selection committee for that subject. As I've previously mentioned, this doesn't mean that her columns were unworthy, but it does mean that her award is tarnished and we will never know if she did win based on equitable judging.

Of course, it's not fair to single out Ms. Falkenberg for this because it's something the media has done for years now.  The Pulitzer has long since stopped being a marker of excellence in journalism and now treated as a participation medal for the cool set.  For reference see: the Nobel Peace Prize.  Same difference.

This doesn't mean that ALL of the writers at the Houston Chronicle are bad, quite the contrary. In many cases the writing is pretty decent. I do question the ability of the editors to understand their jobs but I know of many reporters over there who hustle their asses off and genuinely try to do a good job.

For a large portion of the leadership, and some of the reporting staff, the problems behind their subscriber hemorrhage isn't their product, it's you.

From time to time they pull back that curtain and allow a peek behind what's going on in their minds, and why they hate you for not seeing the world through their lens. Not that it's fair to ask them to see things your way but, at the bare minimum, there should be an understanding that the vast majority of Houston's do not share the same Houtopian, new-urbanist dream held by the editors and their running circles.

The projection is astounding. I, and other non New-Urbanist types get accused all the time of being "angry". We're either angry that the light rail was built or angry that Critical Mass is gumming up traffic or angry that Mayor Parker is doing her level best to put a Band-Aid on the cancer that is becoming Houston's financial situation.  This could not be further from the truth. The folks that I meet with (who are, some of the biggest names in the so-called "angry opposition") are for the most part quite happy with their lots in life.

And I'm happy too.  I enjoy living in Houston, traffic, potholes, gender neutral restrooms, bad politicians, horrible media and all. I'm glad that there are organizations like Metro that are easily made fun-of, that our local politics are entertaining, that there are groups such as Houston Tomorrow and Tea Party groups that provide almost constant humor and I'm happy that the party bloggers in this town are so consistent. It makes living here entertaining and blogging about the city easy.  I have a good job that provides for my family, we spend time taking advantage of the many amenities that are available including the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theatre, golf year around, the Museum District, good places to eat, drink and generally live a fairly happy life. My only concern is that all of this gets whitewashed away by some wave of gentrification that strips Houston of all that makes her vibrant.  In short, I fear world-classiness most of all, not the people behind the movement. For the most part, among the ones I've met, them I actually like.

Yes, the weather is not the best, and yes the traffic sucks, and yes, there are many people in this City who would just as soon spit on you as give you a drink of water. Quite often however I've found those types to be the New Urbanists rather than the luddites who are continually "against progress" or "wanting to hurt the poor" (both not true in most cases*). Were money and access no object are their other places I'd rather live? 

Of course. Pamplona, Spain for one, Northern Italy for another, in America probably Las Vegas and that's about it. Although, if pressed, I'd probably move anywhere in France. (Watch the TV coverage of the Tour de France, you'll understand)

Maybe because I live in the suburbs I don't see the level of hate and threats of physical confrontation that Chron writers seem to experience. I've walked, ridden my bike, driven and rode trains and buses around Houston and I've never had anyone approach me with a tire-iron in hand threatening to beat my brains in because I was walking. And I doubt many people in Houston have either. For the most part we all get along and make our way through life in this City potholes and all. Sure, there might be the quick bleating of a horn or an odd anonymous online comment but, for the most part, the folks in Houston that I've met are pretty amicable, even when we disagree from time to time. Usually on those occasions I've found it best to just agree to disagree, and order another round.

So either the Chron is hiring a special kind of asshole or mountains are being made of molehills in their writer's minds.

Of, possibly, they're just going for page-clicks.  If that's the case then they suckered me in.  It's just these days, I exclusively take the free route in through their Twitter account.

*Hurting the poor, or evil intentions supported by bad moral arguments are not just the provenance of progressives, new urbanists and the left. If you don't think that Tea Partiers, Republican establishment writers and (admittedly) you and I fall into the trap of false demonization from time to time then you're not being fair. A reminder that this is OK when you're using a person's own words to characterize their position (as can safely be done using the prose of the linked article above, where the author clearly spells out the fact that he is, in fact, a raging asshole with interpersonal communication issues) but is usually bad when you have to project what it is that they're thinking. A few years ago I was constantly making this error when categorizing New Urbanists. I've tried to get better at that just focusing on what they are actually saying instead of what I imagine them to say. Still not perfect, but hopefully getting better.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Texas Leadership Vacuum: How many Flags Over Texas Again?

As the country attempts to unwind itself over the horrible killings that took place in a South Carolina church Texas is attempting, staggeringly, to find its way in this brave new world.

Texas Lawmakers ask Gov. Abbott to establish a task force on Confederate Monuments. Lauren McGaughy,

Five prominent state lawmakers are asking Gov. Greg Abbott to convene a task force to decide whether to alter or remove any of the many Confederate memorials and monuments on the Capitol grounds in Austin.

In a letter to Abbott sent Monday, the five Democrats asked that the task force consider "whether the monuments are historically accurate, whether they are appropriately located on the Capitol grounds, and whether any changes are needed."
The letter was signed by Sen. Rodney Ellis, Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sylvester Turner, all three of Houston, Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo.

I'm currently a little bit concerned that the washing away entirely of Confederate history is nothing more than an attempt to throw things down the memory hole. As I've stated before, the public use of the Battle Flag of the Tennessee regiment should never be condoned.  This was a flag of aggression against the United States and (to be factual) really had no influence on Texas at the time.

What the "Starts and Bars" is NOT, is the Flag of the Confederacy.

Removing the Confederate Flag, image found here. is of cultural import to Texas, as it was, and forever will be, one of the "six" National flags that flew over Texas throughout it's history.  Here's the problem, if you begin to whittle away at history because you don't like it then you might not like what you'll find.

The Six, Five, Four, Three, Two One Flag over Texas.

The Flag of the Confederate States of America - Clearly, this one poses a problem because of the slavery and active rebellion against the current nation issues.  It also flew over Texas for a (relatively) limited period of time.  If any of the Big Six had to go this would be the obvious choice because 1) they lost the War between the States and 2) It offends some.

The Flag of Spain  - Who doesn't like Spain?  I mean, it's one of my favorite countries to visit. However, the Spanish ceded Texas to France. The Spanish also gave us Alberto Contador, who was Lance Armstrong's chief rival at the end of the latter's competitive racing days.  Also, what the Conquistadors did why they were conquering the New World was genocide right?  Gone.

The Flag of France - It's France.  And Texas is not only bigger than France but they have better food, tourism and culture than does Houston.  Now, you understand with Houston that any slight generates a raging inferiority complex among both the FoodBorg and members of the Texas Media. Besides, the Spanish defeated the French at the Battle of the Fort of LaSalle (Imagine that) and, as we've demonstrated with the flag of the Confederate States we don't want the flag of a loser flying over us do we?

The Flag of the Republic of Texas - This one seems like a no-brainer, I mean, it's the current flag of the State of Texas and the same flag when it was (briefly) the Republic of Texas. The problems here are two-fold. 1. The Republic of Texas was a near-broke, deep in debt dysfunctional mess. Almost from it's inception it seemed to have no clue what to do with freedom other than pleading to the United States for inclusion. Once it became a State it wasn't long before hot-heads booted out Sam Houston and made a dash for the Confederacy.  2. This flag offends, to a great degree, our friends from Mexico who have moved here and are now making a life.  One only need look at the outrage when the (now) Houston Dynamo briefly considered naming themselves Houston 1836 to see that the Lone Star flag is also an image of oppression and (in some eyes) theft of land rightfully belonging to others.

The Flag of the United States of America - As odd as it sounds, it's sort of hard to find anyone in Texas today that this flag doesn't offend.  The Black community is offended by slavery, the Mexican and South American communities are offended by America's overreach into their respective countries affairs, the Tea Party is now offended by Washington DC, and the progressives are offended that we have not fully transformed into a worker's paradise. As a matter of fact, if the goal is to NOT offend, maybe this should be the first flag to get removed from any and all historical monuments?

This leaves us with just one flag, a great flag of historic importance to Texas, New Mexico, parts of Arizona and California.  That's right.......

The Flag of Mexico - I can't really see anyone that this offends.  Except for Caucasian conservatives and they're the only group remaining that you can offend without facing any fear of repercussion. There's no history (in America at least) of dark skinned people being oppressed by the Mexican government, a growing minority-majority group of people were either born, or have direct ties to, there. Most of the Rio Grande Valley operates as an extension of the country anyway, and their drug cartels have pretty much overtaken the gray and black markets.  As time goes on this will only become more prevalent as the Texas Legislature continues to bury it's head in the sand regarding demographic realities (and the need to address the same in a manner that allows immigrants to incorporate themselves into the non-underground economy and civil society).

So after giving around 5 minutes thought, I think the only option is to strike out all mention of five of the six flags that flew over Texas and only celebrate the one left standing.  Hail! then to the One Flag Over Texas*. The Mexican Flag.  Long may it wave.

*Of course, these means that there is going to have to be a lot of revisions done in terms of history, textbooks and local yore, but anything is possible if you only dream big enough and refuse to take no for an answer when it comes to the politically correct revision of history. Oh, and there remains that little matter of changing the name of a certain theme park.  But I'm sure they'd be willing to part ways with their moniker if the tax abatements were large enough.  Maybe, tax free for 20 years?

Just a thought.

Texas Leadership Vacuum: It's only SOME things we want Decriminalized.

Other things, we want to make more illegal than they already are.....

Child's death raises issues of gun safety, criminal prosecution. Rebecca Elliot,$$$)

I would argue that the pain of having to bury your child (or in this case, grandchild), and to live every day for the remainder of your life with that pain, is punishment enough.

But it's never enough for the "someone! must be blamed." crowd how demand that there be a criminal conviction and, even better, prison time when horrific accidents occur. Of course, only certain types of horrific accidents, those where items such as guns, knives, automobiles or other items considered 'out' by those who determine such things are involved.  For instance, you don't see an outcry to make-tougher laws against driving a train while intoxicated when a large train accident happens.

Sure, you see calls for the engineer to be prosecuted (if there's criminal liability) but no one seriously suggests that the laws need an overhaul when trains are involved.  The notable exception being oil trains, but that's more about a hatred and misunderstanding of oil which overrides any love of trains that the self-appointed arbiters may have.

I always try to default to the concept of social good.

It's fuzzy I realize this but, it makes more sense to me than some warped sense of "justice" that is always thrown around.  What is the social benefit to imprisoning someone for doing something stupid that creates a tragedy that they and their families are going to have to cope with for the rest of their lives?

This is not like an intentional murder, where clearly there is a social benefit to locking this person away, or just ending them altogether.  Or theft, or a robbery.

As America continues to increase in our incarceration rate (we're not the top like some say, because several totalitarian countries are omitted from the count) is there really a benefit to this?

I'm sorry, but I just can't see it. Just like I can't see imprisoning someone who chooses to light up a joint in their living room. (If they get out and drive a vehicle however under the influence that is, and should be, a different matter). More controversially, I'm not a fan of the new Millennial trend of criminalizing bad business decisions.  Just because the banks failed does not mean that "someone should be held responsible" from a criminal perspective.

Ironically, many of those who think so also believe in separation of Church and State. Despite this, they want to see the 7 Deadly Sins criminalized. The cognitive dissonance that you have to possess to be involved in today's criminal justice debate is really quite outstanding.

To my way of thinking, a better idea would be to decriminalize mistakes, to allow people to grieve, and figure out how, without assistance from the nanny state, they are going to live the rest of their lives under the guilt of what they have done.

Your mileage may vary of course.  Soon however they will criminalize something that you may do.

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: Realizing a Truism.

You Reap What You Sow.

You Reap After You Sow.

You Reap MORE than you Sow.

For years now, what passes for leadership in Houston has been pretty busy sowing debt and unsustainability.

Houston's Debt Outlook Downgrade a Warning Analyst Says. Katherine Driessen

The comments to this story are already a case study in why communities continue to elect societies lowest common denominator into positions of leadership.  From denial, to smug "I told you so" comments to "why suddenly is this being reported about now?" there's the real chance that 70-80% of Houstonians have no idea this is going on and the rest (many of them city employees working with municipal unions) don't care.  As long as they get theirs in the form of unsustainable pension payments and there's someone who's going to be willing to raise taxes.....

What?  You don't think tax increases are likely?

Not initially of course, first there will be an "emergency" ballot initiative on freeing Houston from the shackles of the current pillow-soft revenue cap.  Then, with a heavy heart and after deep consideration, taxes will be raised.  Sure, it will be sold as impacting people with the most the worst, property taxes being falsely sold by some as only impacting those 'wealthy' enough to own homes, and they'll make more noise about the sham that is commercial property appraisal in Texas, but despite all of this the tax increase will be universal.

Sure, people will scream for a while but this will dissipate soon. After all, those in charge can always buy themselves a distraction or three by installing more trinkets. A pocket park here, a bike trail there, even parklets were a tool that the Parker administration used to draw attention away from the fact that, as a fiscal manager, she was somewhat clueless.

If all else fails?  Just pass another controversial HER Ordinance or update the existing one to include the right of all people to have a wedding cake of their choosing.  THAT should keep the proletariat busy for a while.  Maybe keep Quannell X on speed-dial?

Or better yet, just make a bunch of noise about one bin recycling and let the useful idiots run around thinking you're addressing the "key issues" of Houston's future.

Hell, it's worked in the past.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: The problem is not revenues.

Negative Shmegative........

Moody's hands City of Houston a Negative Debt Outlook, cites Pension costs.

One of the top three credit rating agencies dinged Houston for its rising pension costs and property tax revenue cap, revising the city's general obligation debt outlook to "negative" late last week.

Moody's Investors Service affirmed the city's Aa2 rating, a high mark, but warned that the "revision to negative reflects the challenges the city faces from growing pensions costs and liabilities, which are compounded by significantly limited revenue raising flexibility, and projected structural imbalance."

In short, the City is spending too much and they don't have the potential money in the budget to address it.  The reason for this limitation is the much-maligned, taxpayer-approved revenue cap.

If you listen to political officials that is.

In reality, there are two main issues driving this:

1. For years, the City of Houston has allocated its budget spending in much the same way someone who is spending other's money with no potential consequences might.

 In most cases, these expenditures are designed to either curry favor with potential voters, or to reward selected constituencies.  These birds are now returning to roost.  The City of Houston receives an ever increasing amount of money each year. Were they a private company, with a limited budget and resources, they would be forced to belt-tighten and focus on "core" functions before going off to spend Billions on non-core services.

However, Cities and other Government agencies don't act like rational businesses and therefore there is no budget discipline. While I'm generally supportive of term limits, I'm not blind to the fact that, in Houston at least, they have lead to a dearth of long-range planning from elected officials in an effort to fill their terms via re-election and the steady erosion of public works and the pension system.

At some point, this can is going to have to stop being kicked down the road. Based on early returns on the Mayoral race I'd say the chances of this happening are slim to none.  Instead, what I do expect is that the next Mayor will push for the revenue cap to be removed, and there will be enough favors promised to key constituencies that it will narrowly pass.

2. There are political interests in Austin and elsewhere who have a vested interest in maintaining the status-quo for pension rules and laws.

This is one of those things where everyone who pays attention knows what's happening, but no one wants to commit the political suicide that it would take to call out the bad actors.  The fact is, there is a LOT of personal wealth a person could create for themselves provided they understand where the spigots are located. 

In Texas as a whole, there are politicians who have positioned themselves in the honey hole with no real challengers to knock them off of the perch, in large part due to gerrymandering.  There is also no real impetus on the TLSPM to expose this because in doing so they would lose access to the types of events where they get to hob-knob with the ruling class. For the modern day media, losing the 'in' to events of this type is often viewed as a thing worse than plagiarizing. The latter can be forgotten over time, the former is almost impossible to regain.

Before you begin to puff out your chest and reflexively slam the 'other' party for being guilty here, I should remind you that the ability to create great personal wealth off of politics knows no party affiliation and seems to be fairly dispersed among both donkeys and elephants.

Normally, I would suggest that the City be required to take a straight-razor to the budget and then make the case that, minus the Quality of Life committee, commissions for the arts and other non-core fees the revenue cap is still problematic. However, I understand that asking for an elected official to grasp the concept of fiscal restraint is akin to asking an accountant to understand abstract art. It's not in their skill set for the most part.

Instead I'll just end this by suggesting City of Houston residents grab the safety rail and hold on tight.

The ride you're about to be taken on is a bumpy one.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Texas Lock Step Political Media: "Ken Paxton is VIOLATING THE CONSTITUTION!"

A recipe for stirring up a controversy.

1. Find a controversial Supreme Court ruling

2. Wait until a prominent Texas elected official weighs in on the matter

3. Misconstrue the actual opinion and report that said elected official is "defying the American Government!"

4. Watch the National Talking heads take this incorrect reporting and run with it.

5. Double down by running partisan opinion pieces further misconstruing the argument.

6. Frame all pieces contrary to this meme in a "yeah,but" manner

When you see something that's as poorly reported as this issue has been, if you're a thinking person it should make you question why you believe the opinions and proclivities of reporters and their editors on much of anything.

In fact, Ken Paxton did NOT state that Texas could "defy" the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage at all. What he did say was that in cases where a County has someone certified and on staff willing to issue marriage licenses to all, then a conscientious objector may choose to opt out of their duties in doing so and be reassigned if necessary.  In counties where there is no other option, a person still has the option to object but they should be ready to face personal, legal proceedings but that the State will not play a role in their defense. Instead, Paxton reminded objectors that there were pro-bono lawyers available who would plea their case for them.

We've seen this play out on a smaller scale in Mississippi where a clerk resigned her position rather than perform an action that ran counter to her religious beliefs.  What Paxton's opinion stated was that, if there is another member of staff to fill the roles, that person would have, in Texas, retained employment albeit in a different role.

It's reaction to items such as this that highlights the big lie that has been the crux of the GLBT argument until this point.  In the famous "pizza parlor" case, we were told that the GLBT lobby wasn't out to ruin lives if you disagreed with them, they just wanted equal access and protection.

Now that they have that, they're moving forward to the next phase of the plan which is to have all religious objectors fired, their personal items burned and the ground salted in the wake.  As a good friend of mine says frequently "You will be made to care."

One of the problems that we're now witnessing is that, in almost all cases, those who are perpetually offended always have to have another issue to point to as causing offense.  It's not enough that equality has been granted, people have to believe in their hearts and minds that the victors are correct. If they don't, they should be mocked and ridiculed and driven from public (and private) life to live as a pariah among their peers.  Perhaps be should consider a "S" mark in black to be worn at all times signifying "straight"?

It's possible that, as a straight, Caucasian Christian male firmly rooted in what is considered to be the "historic ruling majority" that I can't work-up sufficient dander over people believing differently than I to a point that I want them to lose their jobs and their lives be ruined.  Or, it's possible that I can't work up this kind of dander because I believe in the right of everyone to disagree with me?

It's also possible that the media is choosing to report on Paxton this way because they are a part of some vast Leftist conspiracy to run the Republicans in Texas out on a rail.  Or, it's possible that they are reporting this way because they have it out for Ken Paxton?

While their might be a smidgeon of truth in both of those the more likely scenario is that they are reporting this issue this way because that's what they've been told to report by the people in Austin to whom they listen.  When they attend happy-hours and dinner socials all of the talk is about Big Bad Ken coming down on 'teh' gays and trying to subvert the will of 'Merica.

Today's media lives in an echo chamber and they are more likely to suffer from cognitive dissonance then even a conservative political blogger who works at an oil and gas company. (Hi!) The problem is that they are also less likely to understand conservative positions on issues because they rarely, if ever, talk about them with non-politicians. It's this way of thinking that results in the Tea Party becoming a cast of nutters, that pulls reporting on issues into the land of the absurd, and which dumbs down political discourse in a State which is in desperate need of it.

You may have read this and thought "good" that anyone who religiously objects doesn't deserve to be given a microphone in the public square.  You may equate them to racists, thieves and child molesters for all I know.

You would be wrong. It is vitally important that Texas, and the United States of America for that matter, continue to allow and encourage the free exchange of ideas, no matter how those ideas may personally offend.

Because free speech IS, by definition, offensive.  If you're not offended, then you're not really paying attention.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Tales of a Sub-Par media outlet: Sure, sacking the Austin-Based business columnist will sting at first, but it will help the media as a whole.

I have never thought that anyone would make me miss Loren Steffy.....

Higher wages bring indirect benefits to all. Chris Tomlinson, ($$$)

Benefits to everyone except:

1. The people who get laid-off because their businesses could not afford the increased cost and had to close.

2. Those who find themselves on the downside of the cost/benefit analysis of humans vs. technology

3. The poor, who might find that the places where they buy most things, those places most dependent on minimum-wage or exempt from overtime workers have to pass those costs on to customers.

To the other side.

It's true, an increase in take-home salary will, of course, help low-income workers purchase more over time. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm more sympathetic to not allowing companies to pay managers a pittance while working them 80 hour weeks with no threat of overtime. But to act as if there's no downside to this, that only the 'rich and middle class' are going to feel pain from it is just stupid and insipid analysis.

As with all government interventions into the market, there will be unintended consequences. To pretend like their won't be is to ignore pretty much all of history.  Of course, there are unintended consequences from free-markets as well.  For years, the American societal compact was that we preferred the unintended consequences of the latter over those of the former.  While I admit that this preference is changing (and the American dream is dying because of this change) that still doesn't mean that what Obama is proposing will be all whistle's and lollipop's for those who benefit from this rule.

My guess is that it will be a slight drag on the economy, as businesses struggle to meet America's ever changing and restrictive regulatory environment many are retrenching financially or looking at shifting operations to more secure harbors (when did you think you'd ever hear THAT line about America). The companies that stand to feel the most pain from these rules (restaurants) have already made expansion overseas a lynch-pin of their growth strategy.  Not that they're ever going to abandon the American market (no one credible is suggesting that), but they are certainly allocating their growth capital elsewhere.

This is yet another in a long-line of anti-business, business columns from the Chron's new guy and I think by now we've established a pattern.  Tomlinson is no economist yet he continually writes about the economy. He is not a businessman, yet he offers unsolicited advice to businessmen, as a matter of fact, he's shown neither insight into nor a very unique take on the boardroom at all. It's becoming more and more clear with each column he writes that he has spent very little time actually in one, making a budget, trying to satisfy investors workers and increasingly irrational customers. (often in that order).

A good idea for the Chron would be to let this guy (and the rest of the editorial staff ) go. There is plenty of syndicated business, political and arts writing out there that none of it would be missed. Instead of the Editorial Board endorsing candidates, they could offer OpEd space to both a Progressive and Conservative organization to print theirs. Instead of one member of the media opining on business, they could offer space to actual businessmen and activists who stand against them. Instead of the Chron's miserable arts critic, they could offer review space to a wide variety of individuals.

As a matter of fact, the ONLY non-news positions that I would keep there are the sports reporters, and the food critics.

Get rid of all the rest, use the newly available resources to hire news reporters for local beats and bring in a couple of editors.

Sure, it might sting at first but overall the newspaper will benefit.

(See what I did there?)

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: First, they came for the idlers.

Apparently having resolved the tough issues, underfunded pension liabilities, an infrastructure that makes Havana look modern by comparison, a budget that's grown so bloated it needs it's own zip code, Houston City Council has decided to zone in on what REALLY matters.....

City could take aim at idling vehicles. Katherine Driessen,

Houston City Council could get a look this month at an ordinance that would restrict the amount of time drivers of large vehicles could spend idling ‑ allowing the engine to run while parked.
The city's  Quality of Life committee discussed the proposal Thursday, largely offering support for the plan.

I'm not sure what the "Quality of Life Committee" is actually charged to do but, if it's a paying position, I would like to nominate it's members for whatever genius award is available.  Talk about your cushy jobs.  Of course, if it's a volunteer position then what we're witnessing is what happens when you get a group of low-functioning idiots in a room.

I mean, I could understand a proposal like this coming from a group of paid committee members.  There you've been, blowing off meetings while taking that money and improving YOUR quality of life at the golf course and spa when all of the sudden.  "Oh shit! We have to come up with something for Council to consider banning!"

There you are driving into the QoL meeting with City Council trying to figure out what you're going to say, drawing a blank, stopping off for a burger and a quick cocktail when you see it. Some poor trucker stopping a food truck to grab a sandwich and he leaves his engine idling because.....well, you don't just shut off a big diesel like that. It actually allows the engine to run MORE efficiently if it's allowed to idle.

But, you don't know that. You're driving around in your Audi A8 (with the V8 of course) cursing Houston's traffic, wondering why more people don't just ride the bus, or why the City won't spend Billions so they can ride the train, thus freeing up your commute downtown to provide your expert opinion on what's ruining (your) quality of life in Houston.  You see that truck idling there and you think "Environment!  Smog! Noise Pollution!" and you realize that you've so hit the quality of life trifecta you might be able to skip the next five committee meetings all together.

So you walk into the QoL meeting and you lay out your grand plan. The other QoL committee members seethe with jealousy and rage because they weren't smart enough to think of that and, unless they can think of something flashy to add, they will be attending those meetings that you're skipping.

Then all eyes turn to City Council, that august body of elected officials who got their jobs because A) They've been around long enough that everyone knows their name or B) because they discovered which trough to hang head in, and they say "Hey, that might be a good idea."


Of course, you own stock in a trucking company so you want to make sure that your name is kept out of the media.  But since these QoL committee meetings never draw the curiosity of local reporters that shouldn't be too hard. Now that you've done the dirty work you can get David Crossley or some other self-styled activist to bring it up and take the glory.  After all, you've got golf to play.

Good job.

The second scenario is that there are people in Houston who have nothing better to do with their time than sit around and think up ways to impose their will on other people's lives by offering suggestions to Houston's Lowest Common Denominator.

That's just too sad to even consider.