Friday, January 29, 2016

Tales of a Sub-Par Media Outlet: Why is this news?

In Texas, the property tax valuation system works as follows:

1. Property tax rates are set by the appropriate authorities.
2. The responsible appraisal districts provide property owners with their appraised value on which taxes will be based.
3. The property owner has the ability to appeal the appraised valuation through a process laid out via statute.

Everyone, from a single family homeowner to the biggest corporation has the ability to appeal their appraised valuation. Tens of thousands do every year.

So why is this a news story:

Exxon Mobil, Harris County engage in tax feud. Nancy Sarnoff, ($$$)

Exxon Mobil is fighting the Harris County Appraisal District over the $1.04 billion value placed on its sprawling new office complex in Spring, just south of The Woodlands.
The oil giant, which has been guarded about the campus project, would not provide its own estimation of the property's value. But its appeal claims the actual value "is substantially below" what was assessed.

There is absolutely nothing unusual about this, nothing especially newsworthy, and certainly nothing that elevates it to the level of "tax feud".

Unless that is, you're trying (through the headline) to make it seem that Exxon-Mobil is trying to be sneaky and somehow not pay "their fair share" of taxes, to take money away "from the children".  Which is what big, evil oil companies do right?

Of course, "Exxon-Mobil disputes their property taxes, as do thousands of others" doesn't make for a click-bait headline in a news outlet that's increasingly devolving into a review of social media running in between slide-shows of scantily-dressed women.

It should be noted, I don't blame the reporter, Nancy Sarnoff, for this. It's pretty clear reading the article that she's not trying to cast this as a "feud".  As a matter of fact, reading the article the entire thing sounds pretty mundane (which, it is FWIW).

But then you have to wonder what editor thought this was a good story line to begin with?

To be honest, Kate Middleton's childhood pictures are more newsworthy. At least she's got a title.

For a while it seemed that the Chron was going to be content to keep the behind-the-paywall content on their website pretty straight-forward and newsy.  After the decision was made to hide the Editorial Board however, the content bleed has slowly continued. That's a bad thing for those who would like their news straight, with little hype, but it's another bullet-point in the argument that the Houston Chronicle should drop the pretense of unbiased journalism and embrace their role as left-of-center journal.  Because big, evil oil not paying their "fair share" of taxes IS a big deal to the left after all, and a truly unbiased news source might think it prudent to mention that.

Or, at the least, not try and engage in such hyperbole regarding the same.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: Suddenly, this whole Grand Jury system is working like a charm.

In the end, I guess, it's only going to take one grand jury outcome that the courtesan class likes for some of them to declare that the system is fixed.

Amazing what can happen when a grand jury works as it should. Lisa Falkenberg, ($$$)

Her work is done here. Everything worked out as it should (In Falkenberg's mind) so justice was served and God Save the Queen.

All of the "journalism" that occurs, all of the columns second-guessing the political motivations when grand juries issue indictments Ms. Falkenberg and her contemporaries don't like?  There will be none of that here.

There will be no questioning of justice allowed because the right side lost and the 'correct" side won.  Because the people who were trying to 'buy' baby organs were guilty and the people clearly trying to 'sell' baby organs (on the full videos, which were not, as Falkenberg has erroneously claimed, 'heavily edited' at all) were not guilty of anything at all.

In other words: Pay no attention to the (wo)man behind the curtain. Nothing to see here.

Had this played out differently, had PP been indicted for attempting to traffic in human organs (as they clearly were)? Falkenberg and company would have been apoplectic in their rage against both Anderson and the system. Yes, that same system that Falkenberg is now claiming is "fixed".

At the beginning of her, now Pulitzer prize-winning (as she and the Chron will be sure to tell you every five minutes) career Falkenberg wrote a column or two about "synchronizing traffic lights". This was something that a lot of people were talking about and had worked on for a while but she wrote two columns about it and, shortly after then-Mayor Bill White, instituted the software (which "sequenced" the lights rather than "synchronized" them FWIW) Falkenberg then took a victory lap around town, took credit for it in a column, and pretty much ignored Houston traffic issues to this day.

Try to drive downtown today. The lights are currently a mess, as are the roads, as is most of Houston's crumbling infrastructure, something that Ms. Falkenberg has chosen to not focus on in her whimsical teen-beat political column.  Hey, once you declare something to be "fixed" it's best to move on. Mission Accomplished and all of that.

Now, lucky us, Falkenberg's work on the grand jury system has resulted in a high-profile decision with which she (and most others at the Chron) agree with politically. Nothing to see here, move on. Ms. Falkenberg has "fixed" the problem and has now taken a victory lap fitting of someone who's editor sat as chair of the Pulitzer Judging Panel and, basically, gifted her the award. 

For the sake of the less high-profile accused, let's hope the long-term prognosis for the grand jury system doesn't work out the same way that Downtown Houston's mobility did.  Sadly, however, given the political nature of the entire legal system today I don't see any way we're going to not puncture tires going forward.

But hey, for now the baby-part profiteers are still baby-part profiteering (although it's unclear if they ever got their Lamborghini [license plate: DED FTUS]) and that is good enough for Lisa.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: Maybe Emmett Should Punt?

Another day, another desperate attempt to not go down in history as "the man who demolished the Astrodome".

County to Consider "Under-the-Dome" Options. Gabrielle Banks, ($$$)

A dozen Astrodome enthusiasts from business and government have been meeting over the past year to hash out a plan for converting the aging landmark into an indoor park. 
As those discussions continue, Harris County Commissioners Court moved forward on Tuesday with one piece of the Astrodome revival that needs to happen whether or not the park plan is achieved, according to County Judge Ed Emmett.

The court asked for an internal cost assessment for building two floors of underground parking, or a large underground storage facility, beneath the ground floor of the Astrodome.

This is not entirely true, as these discussions would NOT need to happen if demolishing the structure was a consideration.  Since it's clearly not, Harris County is currently operating with imperfect information. When you don't have the full picture, and take into account all data points, then the conclusions you make are likely to be flawed.

Because of this might it be suggested that Ed Emmett punt on the Astrodome?

It's clear that, at this point, he's incapable of making a truly informed decision due to his increasing obsession over the bulbous structure. So, thanks Ed, appreciate your time in office, don't let the door hit you etc.  Now, will you please stop begging the question on the Astrodome and leave it to the next group?

If you're desperate for something to do you could, as my friend Tom Kirkendall has suggested, focus on the Harris County Jail.  Goodness knows it has problems.  And fixing the jail mess would create a much bigger legacy than would turning the dilapidated old girl that is the Astrodome into some kind of publicly ran indoor Main Event. (Taxpayer subsidized of course)

Just take a step back and let's handle this the old fashioned way, via election.  Whoever decides they want to run as your replacement should be able to offer two key planks in their election platform. 1. A comprehensive plan (which is political speak for expensive) to fix the jail.  2. A plan for what to do with the Dome.  One would think that, given the number of people who are expected to vie for your old office, there will be at least a couple of people who come with the idea to put the old girl out of her misery.

Until then, if you're not willing to work on the jail, just sit back, put your feet up and have a drink (or three). Go to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and help them work out the sticky issue of open carry while you judge the Bar-B-Q.  Then, late at night, after you've gorged on dodgy brisket and watered down beer you can sit in a chair and look wistfully at the Dome.

She'll probably look back at you, smile and say. "What the hell were you thinking with that whole Astrodome Experience thing?"

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: Devon Anderson vs. The Center for Medical Progress.

This is getting very close to running off the rails.....

Planned Parenthood Cleared, but 2 Indicted Over Videos. Brian J. Rosenthal,

A grand jury convened to investigate whether a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic had sold the organs of aborted fetuses on Monday cleared the clinic and instead indicted the undercover videographers behind the allegations, surprising the officials who called for the probe and delighting supporters of the women's health organization.

Already District Attorney Devon Anderson, and her supporters are heralding this as a triumph of justice over party politics.  While her detractors are suggesting that this is purely political and, at least in part, driven by the fact that Anderson is facing no electoral pressure from the Right.  In fact, Ms. Anderson's next contested election will be against Democratic candidate for D.A. Kim Ogg.

On a State level, both Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Abbott both weighed in that the State's investigation is continuing despite these indictments, something (oddly) Anderson's supporters are now suggesting IS pure politics.

There is an old saying of questionable provenance which goes something like this: "In Texas, a prosecutor could get an indictment against a ham sandwich."  With a pick-a-pal selection system (recently done away with) the odds have always been tilted in the favor of indictment, IF the DA wishes to indict. Even without pick-a-pal, the evidentiary rules are still more favorable to obtaining an indictment then not.  What this means is that the indictments that were handed down were done so because D.A. Devon Anderson wanted them to be. Whether her reasons were based on the rule of law (as supporters claim) for electoral reasons (as detractors claim) or because her and her staff are sympathetic toward (and in at least one case work for) Planned Parenthood is open to debate.

What is not debatable is that this process has played out exactly as Anderson desired. While we may never fully know Anderson's motivations, we at least know that we're going to be treated to a circus show of a trial that could potentially ask some fairly serious 1st Amendment questions. As I've stated before, many people believe that only certain (state-approved) media outlets truly enjoy free speech protection under the 1st Amendment. The question of whether or not an issues-based activist group does or no is something the courts will have to decide.

For now we wait, and see exactly how this is going to play out.  Before I end this however I have one question that I have yet to find an answer for.

If you've viewed the footage, and I have, then what you see in some cases is a negotiation over price for an illegal transaction regarding aborted baby organs.  Given that the act of buying and selling of human organs is illegal, then how can you charge the Center for Medical Progress with buying and not charge Planned Parenthood with solicitation of the same?  Going back to the ham sandwich theory of indictments I think that's a fair question to ask DA Anderson.

It will be interesting to see if anyone in the media has interest in asking it.

Texas Politics: It's the little things.

It was deemed newsworthy that a driver was ticketed going 117 MPH in Austin over the weekend. I point this out because you probably see people driving that fast every day. At least, you could if you drove on Beltway 8.

The speed limit on the Beltway is, for the most part, 65 MPH.  I would remind you that this is the posted LIMIT.  However, try driving in the left lane doing 65 during a non-peak hour and you're more than likely to get someone killed.  That's because the REAL speed limit on Houston's version of the Autobahn is actually however fast your car can go and how fast you can comfortably drive it. I've been driving at, or near, 65 on the Beltway on many occasions and have been passed like I was standing still.

So what does any of this have to do with politics?

For politicians, the little rules and inconveniences that make up every day life are the bread and butter of politics. Forget meat and vegetables, we're at a much more basic level than that. Seemingly mundane items like the setting of speed limits, the timing (or lack thereof) of traffic lights etc. don't grab many headlines, but they involve years of study and planning (in some cases).

The problems arise when many of these rules and regulations are perceived to not be based on sound reasoning but something entirely arbitrary.  Consider speed limits in the Houston region. Inside Harris County, and the counties immediately surrounding it, speed limits on Interstate Highways are typically set at 65 MPH (There are stretches of road where they are set lower, at 60 or even 55 MPH). The reason for this is not because of road conditions or driver safety or anything like that, it is because of the EPA. Because Houston has failed to meet pollution control targets a depressed local speed limit is part of the plan to remediate air pollutants. Therefore, when you drive through the area you are required to slow down by 10 MPH until you reach the county border after the county border at which point the speed limits raise to 75 MPH as they are in much the rest of the State.

When this plan was first devised the idea was that, in order to REALLY cut down on pollution (the unelected bureaucrats said) the limits would be reduced to 55 MPH, despite the fact that there was a.) little evidence this would help and b.) no additional justification for doing so.

The result?  Drivers roundly ignored the speed limits and sped about even faster, at times, then they would have under normal conditions. It was a little bit of civil disobedience on a city-wide scale. Local police officers, realizing the bowl of crap they've been handed, just punted on speeding tickets except in the most egregious of cases. Eventually, realizing it just wasn't working, the city relented and agreed to raise limits by 5 MPH within the city, and 10 MPH outside. The politicians then patted each other on the back, and went back to trying to game the system declaring the problem "solved".

Except it wasn't. And if you think it was then you haven't driven on Houston's Interstate system all that often.  Speed limits are treated as suggestions, or base-lines, certainly not limits. I challenge you to head out on a Saturday morning and try to drive the speed limit in the left lane of Houston's Interstates.  The honks and angry looks that you receive from motorists will be withering.  You will feel like you're the proverbial tortoise being passed up by so many hares.

The problem is that, as a society, we're losing our connection with both the societal contract and the rule of law. It's death by a 1000 cuts for civility.  Speeding, running red lights, cutting into lanes of traffic illegally, turning from no-turn lanes because you didn't want to wait in the turning lane line, all of these things are people violating both the law, and the unwritten social contract that we make with each other on a daily basis.

You see it pretty much everywhere, in almost every aspect of daily life now.  The common rules of law and civility are pretty much going away.  People cut in line, shoplifting is on the increase, people have no qualms about parking in handicap parking spaces when they don't have a handicap.

In part this is happening because people are increasingly selfish, in part it's because we're not only polarized in our politics, but in our private lives as well. Part of it is probably also that we're just really, REALLY bad drivers. But, most of all it's due to the fact that many people just don't respect the integrity of the system any longer.

Texas currently has an Attorney General under indictment for securities fraud, there's a member of the State Legislature in Houston who has been convicted of barratry but who is still expected to win reelection.  There is, not surprisingly, no pressure from his party to step down.  As a matter of fact, this convicted criminal is getting support.  The Houston Independent School District is in the process of rolling-back ethics reform which would allow them to, once again, receive campaign donations from companies actively bidding for contracts.  When questioned they say to trust them, that they only have the best of intentions.

The problem is, people see through junk like that and, at a subconscious level, start to lose faith in the system.  Because if the people making the rules are corrupt then the rules themselves are corrupt and so is pretty much everything that we've been asked to do.  This is why, no matter how many exemptions or tweaks are made to the ACA, there are still going to always be a percentage of people who choose to pay the fine and opt out.

Unfortunately, for the system, the answer to all of this is usually the problem itself.

"We're the Government, and we're here to help"

Monday, January 25, 2016

Texas Lock-Step Political Media: Can you imagine.....

Quorum Report (of whom I'm not a subscriber) did another hit-piece on Conservative donors and the TLSPM is dutifully playing along.

Tea Party Billionaires Pushing to Make Over Legislature. David Saleh Rauf, ($$$)

I realize that there are still many who don't believe that legacy media has anti-conservative bias. You know the type, those people who lock-on to every story that is even slightly negative toward a Democrat, or positive toward a Republican and says "HA! SEE!"  You know them as low-functional idiots mostly.

Because the bias in the media doesn't lie along party lines, it never did. It's ideological bias.  Think about this.  The Chron has done several stories about Liberal donor Steve Mostyn. In all of those stories he's seen as the scrappy underdog fighting the good fight.  The Wilks?  Or, even worse, the Evil Koch brothers?  Ripping at the very heart of our democracy.

And Texas House Speaker Straus is ALWAYS portrayed as the "Adult in the room" despite the fact that, oft times, his responses to critics are extremely juvenile.

Unlike many I'm not overly concerned by this bias. But I understand that it's there, it's a real thing, and it slants the media's political coverage greatly. My only wish is that they would admit to, and disclose it openly.

It's OK that the Houston Chronicle is a left-leaning publication. That they are not in support of most conservative ideals. We all know that the Chron is pro-higher taxes, anti-2nd Amendment and even anti-1st Amendment when it comes to the free speech rights of private citizens (The Chron clearly believes that free speech protections should only be extended to members of State-approved media). We also know that the Chronicle prefers to see huge government intervention in the private economy, are against Christian groups engaging the the political process, are for abortion on demand with no restrictions, taxpayer subsidized birth control and forced equality through the jailing of the non-compliant if necessary.

This has been established, but still they fall behind the "neither right nor left" fallacy.

How much better they would be if they just owned up to it.  They would go from a place with hackneyed political opinion to a journal of leftist thought almost overnight. We would then understand the viewpoint from which their opinion sprang and could take that into consideration. Some would accept it without question, some would reject it by rote, and some might even use it as a point in their consideration.

Instead we're given the lie of the neutrality of the media.  Can you imagine if we dropped the charade?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

National Politics: No Virginia, the GOP is not crumbling

Pundits, on both the right and the left, have taken one look at Sarah Palin's endorsement of the Donald and are stepping over themselves to declare the GOP ruin as a political force.

To borrow a word:  Hogwash.

It should be clear by now that I'm not a fan of Donald Ego, that I find Sarah Palin about as interesting a public figure as a half constructed night-stand. In short, I've got little use for either of the two. But it's important to remember that nary a vote has been cast in the primary election as of yet and at this time, eight years ago, Hillary Clinton was still viewed as the "shoo-in" to be the 44th President of the United States of America.

And even IF Donald Trump scores the nod, to run against Sanders in the general election, neither the GOP or the DEM party will be dead. Ballot access laws, incumbency protection fundraising schemes and gerrymandering almost assure it.

Suggesting that Trump (or Cruz for that matter) undermines the "brand" that the GOP has built is ignoring the fact that the GOP "brand" is currently a wheezing, rusty relic that's doing good in low-turnout elections but which struggles on the grand stage.

What's happening right now is that the people being polled (not the voters remember, we haven't gone to the polls yet) are throwing a hissy fit. A nation that has spent the last 15 years watching American Idol and other shows is suddenly realizing that the guy from "The Apprentice" is running for President and it seems kind of neat.

They KNOW him, and they don't know many of the others.  Oh sure, most on the Left and the Right know OF Hillary Clinton, but they can't get around the fact that they just don't like her all that much. Clinton is robotic, elitist and doesn't seem like a person you would enjoy sharing a beer with. As a matter of fact, she seems like the type who would order a soda water and then spend the afternoon lecturing you on why she made a better choice. Sanders, on the other hand, would have a beer but would then spend the rest of the evening complaining that the brewery is owned by rich people. Not only would this grow tiresome but, by the end of the night, you'd really wish he would find his own ride home.

Cruz looks like he might skip out on the tab, Rubio would take FOREVER trying to figure out what he wanted, Rand Paul would sit in a corner and accuse everyone of doing it wrong and Jeb? would spend the entire night telling stories about how he USED to be the best beer pong player in his frat house, back in 1985. Kasich is probably and angry drunk, as is O'Malley, Fiorina would giggle nervously all night until you wished she'd just go away and Carson would spend all evening telling you about how bad beer is for your health.  Rick Perry would have been fun, but he doesn't count anymore.  Santorum and Huckabee, of course, don't drink.

Trump, on the other hand, looks like a guy who would chug the beer, order the table a round of shots and then goose the waitress when she brought them.  Yes, he'd talk too loud and most of his stories would probably be full of shit, but he at least seems like you'd get some laughs out of the deal.  None of the other candidates are offering that right now.  Because of this, and because he speaks out of turn and seemingly doesn't care when other candidates land damaging blows, people are gravitating to him.

But this still doesn't mean that the GOP is somehow dead.

What it really means is that one reality TV star has endorsed another, and that the first reality TV star is hoping to parlay that toward a second VP nomination in hopes that she can either continue to feast at the government trough or, at least, after losing parlay that into a renewed round of interest in her TV career.

Just keep in mind, the first ballot has yet to be cast.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Presumptuous Blogging: Things you Should Read (11/23/2016)

"Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter....."

Ted Cruz and New York Values. Kevin D. Williamson, National Review Online. Yet another in the continuing list of data points that Republicans don't do urban. (And it's killing them electorally)

The Jr. scribes over at have some issues. Increasingly it feels as if their writing on social events is public therapy. Messy, hilarious, public therapy.

Democrats are struggling. The choice is between a bad candidate who struggles with the truth and a bad candidate who struggles with financial literacy. One of them will eventually win.

Speaking of struggling. "Trump as reincarnated Jacksonian populist is an interesting theory.

Slouching toward Tax Reform. Kevin D. Williamson, National Review Online Williamson is among the best political writers on the right hand side of the ledger right now. This article is one of the reasons why.

World Class Scapegoating.

Which seems to be working BTW.

It is both amazing, and sad, that we have created an entire generation of underclass who are seemingly going through life as low-functioning idiots.

Speaking of low-functioning idiots.

Even sadder, when you point this out people scream "racist!" except that it's got nothing to do with race at all.

Speaking of low-functioning idiots. We have convinced ourselves that a political plan to damage the source of fund-raising for the ruling class' political opponents is somehow good science.

The problem is the so-called "academics" are the lowest-functioning idiots of all.

Also, (read the comment on this story by TSUJones) You cannot argue with crazy. So stop trying.

Also under fire: The 'gig' economy - It's hard to regulate and even harder for politicians to figure out ways to tax.  Therefore it must be made illegal. (Oh, and it's cutting into the pockets of established donors such as hotels, taxis and other businesses, which is probably the most important thing of all)

Yes, a business HAS the right to determine the gender classification of their restrooms. They are even allowed, as is the case here, to discriminate against men by not offering them a gender-specific option. (This is because men are not a protected class.)  What this is not is a justification for Parker's Folly. Instead it's an argument against.  Too bad the Jr. scribes at ChronBlog cannot make that connection.

Get ready to pay for upgrades to NRG Stadium. It seems that Bob McNair's middling NFL franchise is no longer going to be satisfied with a middling NFL stadium.  Only the best for 8-8 mind you.

Annise Parker is off to Harvard. - One hopes that she's not teaching a class in ordinance writing.

Bernie Sanders wants desperately to raise taxes on anything, everything and everyone. - He hasn't a clue what he's actually going to do with the money, only that it should be in government, rather than private hands.

The Chron's worthless editorial board calls for Paxton to step down due to indictment, investigations. Given this same logic I expect them to call for Hillary Clinton's immediate withdrawal from the race for the Presidency.  Still waiting.........

Read this column from the Orange County (California) Register. Now try to imagine something so blatantly free-market running in the pages of the Houston Chronicle.  You can't.  Which is 100% why the Chronicle is bleeding subscribers, revenues and has not a shred of journalistic credibility remaining. Just a little balance is all it would take.  Yet the leadership is incapable of even providing that.

And finally.......

How are those minimum wage increases working out for you poor folks?  The law of unintended consequences rears it's ugly head.

Maybe the next week will bring us some better news.  I know I could use some right about now.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Election 2016: Farewell Tea Party? We Hardly Knew You.

Sarah Palin's endorsement of The Donald has been hailed as either the inevitable result of political celebrity or the death of the Tea Party political movement depending on whether or not you believed Palin to be a symbol of Tea in the first place. It was, perhaps, a watershed moment in a Republican primary race that's been more reality TV than serious politics, a symbol of the current regression that the GOP is experiencing in serious debate.

If Sarah Palin could see Putin from her home in Alaska, imagine what she'll see from the top of Las Vegas' Trump Tower?

In many ways, I agree that the Tea Party, as we know it is dead. I'll go even further. The Tea Party as we currently like to define it never really existed.  The Tea Party movement began and ended during the first set of rallies that occurred almost immediately after the Bush Administration announced the TARP bailouts.  THAT Tea Party, the angry people holding up misspelled signs and wearing gaudy clothes was a lashing out, a Right version of Occupy without all of the rape in tent cities that accompanied the latter. It was a catharsis by predominantly Caucasian self-identified conservatives that led commenters, incorrectly, to assume that a great (little l) libertarian wave was crashing on the shores of Big Government.

It was almost immediately co-opted and absorbed by other political movements looking for a ready-made base from which to draw funds.  What emerged was not the anti-government Tea Party, but a political hissy fit controlled by some formerly on the fringes of the conservative movement who understood the value of PR.

The Evil Koch's bought in, but not because they wanted to create an "Astroturf" organization (as the left claims) but because their small-government, light-regulation leanings initially identified with the movement. This has done more good than harm as groups such as Americans for Prosperity harnessed Tea Party members to promote free-market ideals in a manner which they had not been promoted before.  AFP also developed State branches which took the Tea Party limited government message, and focused it on a much more local level through groups such as Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. 

The successes of these groups have been legion, as State houses across the nation became increasingly conservative, and more and more of their governments turned red.

But the National Tea Party never really solidified. It flirted with Sarah Palin and turned a blind-eye when she went off the reservation into reality TV land. It allowed itself to be claimed, and then dumped, by a variety of National political figures who used it for money and press, and then went back to business as usual or a talking head career.

In Texas the Tea Party movement allowed itself to be hijacked by then-State Senator (Now Lt. Governor) Dan Patrick, who founded what he called the "Tea Party Caucus" despite having no real connections to the group.

Almost a decade in, and the National Tea Party is nothing more than a loose collection of political fund-raising organizations and PACs who have very little in common.  They have championed and then abandoned several politicians (Marco Rubio being the most notable) who failed to meet impossible to define purity tests only to be led chanting down the path to the next 'anti-establishment' figure.

While it's true there is still meaningful Tea Party action taking place at the State and municipal level, Sarah Palin's silly endorsement of Trump will have little-to-no effect on that.  What Sarah Palin has proven is not that the Tea Party is dead, but that what we, and the original organizers, thought it to be never existed.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Texas Leadership Vacuum: The AG decrees that Texans will now have one less option.

Scratch Daily Fantasy Sports off the list.

Texas Attorney General: Daily Fantasy Sports Constitutes Illegal Gambling. Peggy Fikac,

Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday in a nonbinding opinion that daily fantasy sports is "illegal gambling" in Texas. 
"Simply put, it is prohibited gambling in Texas if you bet on the performance of a participant in a sporting event and the house takes a cut,” he said in a statement.

For what it's worth, I agree with Mr. Paxton that DFS is, in fact, gambling.  And gambling, per State law, is illegal outside of official functions of the lottery and increasingly limited horse and dog racing options.  Also legal, that one Tribal casino,  driving on Houston's freeways, on or around the Danger train or walking anywhere near Houston's police chief.  Otherwise, gambling in Texas is illegal.

And if you don't believe that there is good money to be made on keeping it that way, Governor Abbott and (especially) Lt. Governor Dan Patrick are here to convince you otherwise. The campaign largesse provided to politicians who oppose gaming in Texas are much bigger than those that do.  And the forces in opposition to Texas gaming are winning far more often than they are losing.

So, besides the politicians, who wins from this?

Louisiana and Oklahoma (Tribal) casinos for one. They're doing so well that Tillman Fertitta is already adding a new 300 room tower to his Lake Charles Golden Nugget property. The Winstar Resort and Casino in Oklahoma is currently working on a 65,000 square foot expansion of their convention center space and the Choctaw Casino and Resort (Oklahoma) recently put the finishing touches on their own $275MM expansion.  Given that amount of money, Fertitta's $138K contribution and the Kickapoo Tribe of Texas' $125K contribution to Patrick's record setting war chest is peanuts.  Opposing in-state gaming is good not only for so-called "free market" politicians but it's good for those rigging the game as well.

People who are morally opposed to gambling win, at least on a superficial level.  Because what these laws are NOT doing is preventing people from gambling. So while those with means are certainly leaving the State to partake in gambling those without are increasingly being forced underground into the rich-target environments that are illegal, and unregulated, gaming houses.  Others are simply taking their chances with illegal, and unregulated, online casinos that operate offshore.  Neither of those options contribute to Texas tax revenues, although the former does contribute mightily to the revenues of Louisiana, Oklahoma and (especially) the Tribes.  So while gambling proponents love to rally around the flag of social Puritanism, in fact they are putting the poor and those without means into even more danger, thus bringing increased crime into the neighborhoods, rather than less as they claim.

The Texas Lottery, and the various multi-State lotteries, are profiting as well.  Because absent any meaningful competition things like low-success-rate, high-take-out scratch-offs and PowerBall drawings look attractive.  If other gambling options were readily available then those state-sanctioned monopolies would all but cease to exist.

The next important day for Texas gaming is going to be February 16th, the day that funding is going to expire for the Texas Racing Commission.  Prior to that an injunction hearing on February 3rd is going to be key.  Failing that, and given their recent failure to repeal rules regarding historical racing terminals, Texas may be one step closer to the Lottery being an uncontested monopoly in the state.

And Dan Patrick, State Sen. Jane Nelson and others will see their reelection funds grow just that much more.

Meanwhile, Texans will continue to pour across the border or engage in illegal (and dangerously unregulated) activity in order to get their fix.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

World Classiness: And so it begins.

Oh boy.....

Is NRG Stadium Already Outdated? Matt Young,

However, since the stadium opened with the glorious 19-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys in 2002, 10 more NFL stadiums have opened with three more on the way. Suddenly, Reliant Stadium sits in the middle of the pack when comparing stadiums around the league.

The influx of new stadiums could mean Super Bowl LI will be the city's last Super Bowl for a long time.

For those who currently make up the Houston Area Leadership Vacuum, Something! Must be done. And, given Houston's history, that Something! is going to involve spending large sums of money "modernizing" NRG Stadium in the hope that the NFL continues to heap lavish praise and Super Bowls on Houston going forward.

That stories of this type only reinforce Houston's reputation as a sprawling insecurity complex covered with a thin veneer of smog and humidity is totally lost on those who are currently hand-wringing. Also lost will be the fact that this story idea was probably floated, unofficially of course, by the Texans or someone affiliated with them.

In the run-up to the next Houston Super Bowl there have been many articles and statements by both the NFL and the Harris County Sports Authority concerning "upgrades" needed to NRG in order to bring it to current NFL "standards" for the championship game. In some cases these 'upgrades' are going to be financed by taxpayer money and, in fewer cases, the Texans are pitching in.

The problem is that Bob McNair and company are visiting other NFL stadiums in the interim, and they're seeing new amenities and baubles that they would very much like to have.  They understand that Houston is a.) sort-of broke right now and b.) not exactly in a giving mood toward the mediocre team on Kirby so they understand that the best way to ensure public buy-in is to start threatening folks with no more Super Bowls.

Imagine, no more "Pimp n' Ho" balls that the general public can't attend, or prostitutes being shipped into town for their industry's big game, or increased public drunkedness, or people writing bad articles about Houston which gets local media types in a lather. Imagine no traffic problems for a game that few, if any, local folks will get to attend.

Then, there's this:  NRG was never all that "cutting edge" to begin with.  Granted, the stadium itself has nice sight-lines but in all other aspects it's a fairly mundane, boring stadium, sort of like the team that calls it home.  The one thing that NRG has going for it is the retractable roof. Of course, the Texans always have that closed so it really is just a waste of money. Sort of like most free agent signings in the team's history if you think about it.

Get ready for an onslaught of musings and articles telling us that NRG must be upgraded at great expense to keep up with the Joneses. To those articles I hope the people of Houston grow a spine and say "No!".

If the gripe is that NRG is suddenly a mediocre NFL stadium, then taxpayers should remind McNair that it's fitting for the NFL's most mediocre team.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Oscars: Some of Us Have Been Boycotting them for Years.

I make it a point to be otherwise occupied on Oscar Night.  It's the same for the Grammy's, and the American Music Awards and the Golden Globes. I have, on rare occasions, watched the People's Choice awards however.

I have lived quite the happy life despite never watching the rather silly Men's Choice awards or anything that might have ever been awarded to Ben Affleck.  I do, every year, make it a point to tune in to the Tony Awards. This is primarily due to the fact that, living in Houston, it is typically a few years before any new shows come to town.

I'm not a fan of award shows, especially in the entertainment industry.  Typically all these become are chances for people to politely clap for winners that, in other circumstances, they would gladly shank, or an opportunity for someone with a Dramatic Arts degree to lecture us on International politics.

So I usually pass.

Because of that I can't really work up a can of care over this.....

Calls for boycott of Oscars grow over diversity of nominees. Jake Coyle, AP via

Not the institutional racism, Of course that's a bother. I'm referring to the entirety of the Oscars themselves. The annual beauty pageant that the movie world throws itself in a vain attempt to assuage their raging Narcissism.

I can say that it would be nice if everyone learned to ignore them, if we didn't give two-shits what the actor just out of drug-rehab was wearing, whether or not Actor X showed up with Actor Y and if the wedding is back on or even if Penelope Cruz had a wardrobe malfunction exposing herself to the pathetic people over at TMZ for two seconds.

My idea is this.

Just keep making movies where things blow up, battles are fought and the CGI is good. You can also make dramas that tell good stories, and comedies that make me laugh.  Just make sure that the drama doesn't get too much in the way of an action movie and, for the love of it all, please stop trying to lecture me on my morality in your movies. (I'm looking at you Matt Damon)

That the Oscars is a good-ol'-boys network staffed, predominantly, by wealthy Caucasian progressives should not surprise you, after all, many of those people are the same people who make up the ideological leadership of the increasingly (at the top) Caucasian Democratic Party. 

So, yes, it was silly that Straight Outta Compton didn't get a nod, or that Idris Elba (who I would like to see be the next James Bond FWIW) didn't score a nomination and, in a perfect world, that kind of thing would change. I will also admit that it's telling, after last year's debacle, they were so tone deaf that they didn't even make a nod towards tokenism, which is what I thought they would do.  Turns out, they couldn't even go that far.

But in many ways this is better, because now we have the opportunity to drop the charade that any of this crap matters. To stop pretending that the proclivities of some crusty old Hollywood insiders somehow tells us whether or not a movie is any good. To admit that, for the most part, their judgment on what's good or not really, and I mean REALLY, sucks. Ben Kingsley won an Oscar for Chrissakes and Peter Lorre never did. Neither did Edward G. Robinson which is criminal. American Sniper didn't even garner a nomination for Best Picture.  While you're at it, go look at the winners of best picture over the last 20 years and the runners up.  Then go look at the highest grossing movies of those years.  The entire Oscar process is a long-running inside joke.

Why don't we take this opportunity not to call for separate but equal (as is Jada Pinkett Smith) but to call for and end to the silliness that is award season all together. We know what good acting is, and that Will Smith accomplished it in Concussion, that Denzel Washington should have been nominated many more times than he was and Mykelti Williamson should have won for Bubba Blue. We know all of this so having these awards shows take up television time is really a waste. Then we can take up the vacant space with more shows such as Galavant.

Well, except for the Tony Awards.  Because without them those of us who don't live in New York might never get to see anything from Broadway other than Wicked and the Disney musicals.

As such, this is the last Oscar-related blog post that I hope to ever write.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Election 2016: None of the Above is looking better and better.

I have, for the last few years, made a concerted effort to vote in every election that I could. This even meant driving over to the local elementary school on a Saturday to cast a vote against a school district bond election that passed with 70% of the vote. A vote that, if the attendance when I voted was any indication, consisted almost entirely of county and school district workers.  (Example: When I was voting a group of 5 EMT's arrived at the voting place. They told the voting clerk (who worked at the school conveniently) "Since you supported us, (their bond passed overwhelmingly in a prior election) we're here to support you.")

Despite voting consistently, which is a departure from what I had done say, five years ago, I've gotten back increased taxes, crumbling infrastructure and some lectures from the PR representatives for local politicians that I have "too many opinions" and should just shut up and be ruled. I've also received condescending remarks from Austin-based political consultants, insults from local precinct chairs and subtweets and offline disparagements from low-level politicos from both my chosen party and the opposition. It seems the only thing politicos don't like is people who won't make a campaign donation voicing their opinion.

I've also gotten back-to-back "random" (*cough*) selections to jury duty.  Which is a waste of a day in reality.

During my decade plus (I started blogging on this platform in July 2004, and had a LiveJournal prior to that since 2002) blogging local politics I've been active politically to varying degrees. For a while, I left the Republican party because I just really didn't have much in common with them. Then, I reclaimed my Republican identity despite not really ever feeling welcome in a party whose "big tent" has shrunk to the size of a teepee.

Not that the Democrats are any better.  While Republicans are currently wallowing in a sea of ideological purity the party of the Donkey is fighting to see which side is the most aggrieved. The Democrats are currently a loose collection of Social Justice Warriors who go through the political process hoping to find offense. They're an endless land of groupthink, blockquoting and name-calling, of outrage manufactured to forward one agenda or another or, most probably, to get a certain candidate elected whose economic ideals advance the financial interests of the party loyalists.

The problem is that, currently, both Republicans and Democrats are being duped. Part of it is due to the unserious nature of the American Electorate, and its ability to be fooled at almost every turn. This duping by ruling class has gone on for a long time of course, typically however it's been most evident at the Congressional level, where gerrymandering and elaborate incumbent protection fund-raising "ethics" rules serve only to prop up the power of incumbency. The business of getting elected is to get reelected after all.  Because of this Americans have, for a long time, allowed themselves to be duped by do-nothing politicians which has allowed Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer and John McCain to remain gainfully employed. Hell, Strom Thurmond spent his entire life working this system.

Due mainly to term limits established under the 22nd Amendment our Presidential politics was always a bit clearer. If there were horrible actors they typically were identified within 4 years and shown the door. (Granted, this wasn't always the case)

We all realize that Obama's claims of a better nation, economic well-being and International strength are bunk, but we let him lie to us due to a variety of reasons. For Democratic Partisans, it's because admitting the man is making a hash of things means that you, and your party, selected incorrectly and the policies that you have been promoting came with a host of unintended consequences that you didn't foresee. In short: your ego won't allow you to admit you've goofed. For moderates, you can't admit that you voted for Obama because he seemed cooler than buttoned-up, Mormon Mitt Romney.  To be fair however, there's little evidence that Romney would have presided akin to Reagan after Carter, but he would have been an improvement in almost all areas.

For Republicans who oppose Obama because....well because, it was impossible to even admit that the ACA could have been improved greatly simply by adding a low-cost, high-deductible option. Granted, this wouldn't have been a cure-all, but it would have solved some of the more basic problems.

Now we get to the election for Obama's successor, and it looks like we're being asked to play a game of "would you rather".  Because we've let our expectations for the office drop so low, and because we've settled for President's Bush (II) and Obama for almost 16 years now, we have come to believe that the following group of front-runners is something to be proud of.

Hillary Clinton: A mess of a candidate who considers herself so elite that she has to debase herself to speak with the elite. A politician whose main qualification for office is that she was married to a guy.  Yes, she was Senator and the Secretary of State, positions with which she accomplished nothing of note, but even Her Holiness admits that being married to Bill is considered on-the-job training. Then there's the e-mail thing which, had it been investigated by Woodward and Bernstein, would have ran her our of office.

Bernie Sanders: If you 'feel the Bern' then you are admitting that you have zero financial literacy. His campaign is built on a financial fairy tale so vast it would cause the Brother's Grimm to genuflect in awe. If you think Obama's lecturing the country is painful, wait until 4 years of Sanders speeches really get rolling. He's widely seen as beating Clinton among the youth because he's "cooler" than her. In reality he's just promising to give them stuff with the understanding that they don't grasp the concept of "free".

Donald Trump: A reality-TV Presidential candidate for a reality-TV age. Trump is proof that there are Republicans alive who would consider voting for Benito Mussolini* if he messaged correctly.  Trump is a Statist, Elitist Democrat who has decided to run as a Republican because he realizes there is a portion of the base that can be pandered to. Some say his only conservative position is immigration. I disagree. Trump's immigration stance is Nationalistic, not traditionally conservative.

Ted Cruz: Cruz is proof that some in America will believe anything as long as the rhetoric is flowery enough.  Cruz has now famously flipped on almost every major issue except one: He has always been solidly in favor of the 2nd Amendment. Cruz is Ivy League educated, but portrays himself as a common man. Cruz was smart enough to understand the weaknesses behind the Tea Party movement and exploit them all the way to the Senate, and possibly the Presidency.

Marco Rubio: In my mind, the best candidate, and the one I would have voted for had he not suddenly gone to crazy town on the issues.  I was willing to hold my nose and ignore his support of sugar subsidies and I'm really not too far away from him on immigration. (I liked the ideas behind it but I didn't like the Group of Eight proposal itself due to many bad specifics). My problem is his support for a bill that would strip due process from a large group. I've never been a fan of "Something! Must be done." legislation and I'm not going to start now. Rubio is also a fan of invasive data collection practices. That's just a bridge too far for me.

After the top-tier is exhausted you're really stuck with selecting from the dregs. Politicians or fringe-business figures who are hoping beyond hope that they can use this run to, eventually, secure a cushy job providing TV punditry after they drop out of the race. The also-rans in this race are proof of case that there is a too-vast network of political consultants who would advise Charles Manson to run if they thought he had money.

The idea that there is going to be a winner here is laughable.  Whoever wins election to the office of the Presidency of the United States of America becomes the avatar for our collective loss.  We've lost our minds, our sense of reason and, if this group is any indication, our sense of good judgment as well.  Given the sorry state, and focus, of what passes for media these days I chalk all of this up to our reliance on common sense.

Because of all this I'm seriously considering sitting this one out. I know what some of you will say: "If you don't vote, you can't complain" to which I reply "bullshit". There's no restriction placed on the 1st Amendment. Despite the fact that many politicians would like to do away with it, and the 2nd altogether, they're still working as intended.

Thank goodness for that.  Because if our right to be offended, or to speak out against politicians, or to say "I'm not voting" goes away then it's not too long before it won't matter who we vote for because they'll all be doing nothing but parroting the same government line.

*No, I'm not saying that Republicans are fascist. They, like the Democrats certainly attract a small amount of fascist support, but overall neither party is full-on fascist. If you don't get the difference there I really can't help you, nor am I interested in trying to do so.  And if using Ol' Benito as an example offends you then I ask you to politely start reading another blog.

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: We Will Spare NO Expense on the Road to World Classiness.

After all, what's $2MM amongst friends?

Montrose Bridge Lighting Gets Chance to Shine. Dug Begley, ($$$)

Montrose officials spent more than two years working on ways to relight the bridges. After securing $1.4 million in state funds for a $1.7 million rehab of the lights, the management district opted for a more expensive plan to relight the bridges, after a presentation of options by Gandy², a local lighting design firm.

So, in total, the project is going to cost around $4MM (That's $1.7MM original cost plus an approximately $2MM "cost overrun"). Which, when you're spending other people's money, is really nothing at all. Not when you really have a chance to make the neighborhood shine in advance of the Super Bowl.

Show me ONE City that strives for World Classiness that DOESN'T have LED Rainbow Lighted Bridges I dare you.

Just ONE.

I mean, what would visitors for the Super Bowl think if they drove down the IH 69 corridor and saw just regular bridges?  That's not World Class.

Never mind that a lot of us questioned the wisdom of installing the lights on the original bridges in the first place. It seems we've flushed those worries down the memory hole. After all, lights burn out and they have to be replaced and, well, to be honest, it's not OUR money we're spending....

So now we begin the process on doubling down on the boondoggle, only this time it appears that we're picking the proposal from the highest bidder.

Maybe, in 10 more years, when we need to replace the lighting again, someone can come up with a $10-$20 MM proposal that will be needed to make Houston "World Class".

Only then will the world classiness circle be fully complete.

The definition of insanity as practiced by what passes for leadership in the Houston Area.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Shutter The Ed Board: They're not even trying at this point.

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board on the State of the Union Address.....

Challenges Ahead. ($$$)


In the final State of the Union address of his presidency, Barack Obama was eloquent, forceful, appealingly personal - and ultimately unpersuasive. Unpersuasive in large part because the bulk of his audience in the House chamber Tuesday night was unpersuadable.
As Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged years ago, he and his fellow Republicans dedicated themselves to thwarting, obstructing and disrupting the Obama presidency at every turn, regardless of whether their recalcitrance was in the best interests of the nation.


Democracy, as the president noted, doesn't require that we all agree; in fact, rote agreement is repugnant to the very nature of democracy. What it does require is what he called "basic bonds of trust between its citizens." Democracy doesn't work, he said, "if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic." 

It is possible that the two passages above were written by separate people. However, judging by the language it is highly unlikely.  This then means that the Houston Chronicle has a member of its editorial staff who doesn't have the self-awareness necessary to craft a coherent thought, that no one else on the editorial board thought this was odd, and no editor gave this a once-over and said. 'Hey, wait....'

Conflicting, partisan, cognitive dissonance such as this reveals a lack of professionalism and maturity of argument. It's binary thinking in a complex world, in the 4th largest city in America, that has no business in a newspaper of record.  Houston, for all of its warts, deserves better.

And while it's good that the Houston Chronicle has decided they should hide this behind their pay-wall (where few bother to read it) it should also act as evidence for leadership that Jeff Cohen and Company have exceeded their useful life as opinion writers and should either remove themselves, or be forcefully removed, to allow the resources to be better deployed toward the actual business of news gathering.

Since we know however, after several years of chastising the Editorial Board for their continued slide toward irrelevancy, that the Houston Chronicle leadership is not going to do this. (For some reason, newspapers consider unsigned editorials and opinion columnists to be the key to world classiness [as opposed to solid journalism, which is world class]) the only recourse is going to be to ignore this going forward.

Call it a late New Year's Resolution if you will. To not pay one iota of attention to either this Editorial Board, or any of the prominent political opinion writers at the Houston Chronicle.

Given this effort it's clear our lives will be better off for it.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: The HISD Fish is rotting from the head.

I give you, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Manuel Rodriguez Jr.....

HISD Board to consider rolling back ethics rules. Ericka Mellon, ($$$)

The Houston school board on Thursday will consider relaxing its ethics rules three years after tightening policies to curb perceptions that contractors were buying influence.
The proposal would lift a ban on trustees voting on contracts involving donors who contributed at least $500 to their political campaigns in the past year

Of course, the problem here is that the policy flies in the face of HISD's incumbent protection program:

Manuel Rodriguez Jr., the HISD board's first vice president, said Wednesday that he supports changing the policy, especially after coming off a tight re-election campaign late last year. He said some candidates feel handicapped in fundraising under the current rules

Ah, I see.  When it comes to re-election some HISD board members have heard passing mention of ethics, and then toss them in the trash when presented with a check. Of course, Rodriguez is in line to become the new board President, which is convenient, since he feels that there's NO WAY someone could "sell their soul for $2,000".  A paragon of virtue he is.

That the board is trying to roll these ethics reforms back  while there is increased scrutiny on how the District does business as a whole should not go unnoticed. HISD is currently a financial mess ran by bottom-tier trough feeders whose sole purpose in life is not teaching children, but maintaining their place in TheMachine.  They are fringe members of the ruling class who apparently simply take the worst of DC Politicians and regurgitate it:

Skillern-Jones, who easily won a runoff in December, said changing the policy was not her idea, but she supported it enough to put it on the agenda. She would not reveal which trustees favored the change.
"I have to read it in depth," Skillern-Jones said Monday.
Trustees were supposed to have a chance to discuss agenda items at a meeting Monday, but Skillern-Jones canceled the session, saying she expected to lose a quorum and noting that two new trustees would take office Thursday. Harris, the board member who had planned to leave, said she agreed to stay, however.
Not only do we have "we have to read the bill to find out what's in the bill" but we also have meetings being cancelled for indeterminate reasons.  So we have a bad bill, lack of responsibility surrounding who supports said bill, and dodgy actions leading up to the vote on the bill. It's the triumvirate of suck for local politicians. Skillern-Jones with the rarely seen triple.

Of course, the easy answer would be to encourage people who live in HISD to "vote the bums out" but there are two reasons why that's probably not going to happen.  1. All of this is happening right after an election, so by the time the next one rolls around the news cycle will have churned multiple times and people will have forgotten. 2. Most voters don't pay attention to school district elections.

Since the media doesn't want to put serious resources to investigating the school districts (or any level of local government really) there will be no real focus on the board as they continue to move forward. While this appears that it won't pass, there will be no serious repercussions felt by either Skillern-Jones or Rodriguez to make a future board President shy-away from proposing it again in the future. This is why ethics reform, in all honesty the foxes presiding over the hen-house, is often a political pipe-dream.  Even in DC we don't pay enough attention to Congresspersons to prevent them from enriching themselves in ways that would put private business people in jail.

Even more concerning is that HISD currently has people sitting in key positions on the board who consider their personal fund-raising needs to be above good stewardship of taxpayer money. In a representative government with an active citizenry this should result in angry mobs with pitchforks demanding accountability. In today's Houston it's going to result (I'm guessing) in this blog post, a couple of hot-takes on Twitter from some local reporters, and a "we'll see what happens" from the InterLeft.

And all of the players will sit for re-election, or election to higher office, in the next election cycle without a pang of conscience for what they are doing.  After all, it's only breaking the rules if you get caught.  And to have a pang of conscience you first need to HAVE a conscience.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Houston Economy: Let's talk for a minute about the Oil and Gas Industry*.

Gloom & Doom.

If you read through the pages of the media all is gloom & doom as the oil industry reels from low prices caused by supply glut caused in part by a big slow-down in the global economy coupled with the refusal of any producing bloc to agree to cut back.

The details are much more complicated than that but in general that's a pretty accurate overview of what's going on right now.

At this point you might as "We're still drilling?" and the answer to that is "Yes, we are." Although it's at much lower levels than it was in a high-price environment.  There are many reasons why a company might still be increasing production during a price environment such as this, lease obligations, sunk costs, contracts, marketing obligations, pipeline obligations etc. but a large part of it is that continued growth acts as a hedge to bottoming stock prices.

In short, market analysts expect companies to increase production at certain rates. Failure to hit these rates is generally seen as a "bad thing" in terms of market share and can result in the price of a company's stock free-falling.

The problem, as I see it, is when the cash-flow needed to continue development develops a conflict with the cash-flows needed to continue dividends to shareholders.  Some companies will kill the dividend, some companies with kill growth. Both options will have a negative drag on stock price initially, but I believe that stopping development would be more beneficial to the long-term health of the market than would ending the dividend.

Granted, there is some development that companies cannot avoid.  For example, most processing contracts with plants come with minimum volume requirements that the plants need to maintain efficiencies, the same goes for transportation contracts and pipelines.  The operators of both the pipelines and the plants don't want to see their volumes reduced because it hurts their profit margins (their profit is based mainly on fees and tariffs, not on commodity price [plants are more sensitive to price fluctuations than pipelines, due to processing allowances etc.]). Because of this they have no incentive to work with producers to cut down on volumes.

Royalty owners (private) want to see more production as well.  Already most private royalty owners are seeing their checks cut by almost 2/3rds from 2013/2014 levels. For most seniors living on a fixed income this is quite the shock to the system.  The only way to hedge against this is for companies to continue drilling on their leases.  However, owners of non-developed leases should be OK with companies waiting until higher margins can be found.

Finally, governments (yes, even the Federal Government) are pushing for increased production. State and Federal coffers are losing revenue to the point that they're seeking to re-write the rules to punish companies during market downturns and hedge their revenue from price fluctuations. In short, the Government still thinks that oil and gas royalties are annuities.  As such they're writing new rules and leases (including Texas FWIW) which could serve to further retard exploration on government lands even IF the price returns to $50-$60/Bbl since they would make other opportunities more profitable.

I've said before that the companies who did not take on a lot of debt, and who had discipline when signing leases and agreements would have the flexibility to ride this out. Those companies who lost sight of fundamentals, or who bought high and at poor terms to get into rich areas, will shortly be paying the price.  For all of the talk of bankruptcies etc. what you're more likely to see is a wave of mergers and acquisitions now that so-called "big oil" has purged it's balance sheets of non-core assets.

Yes, this will mean a loss of jobs, damage to the local real-estate markets as homes are lost and offices consolidate, but it will also mean a stronger, leaner Oil and Gas industry on the other side. While this also means that Houston Region is in for some tough times, it could be doubly tough for the City of Houston as more and more companies seek to operate in the much-cheaper suburbs.

Oil and Gas companies are currently bringing their costs in-line with a protracted low-price environment, something they have the ability to do right now because they DID learn their lessons from previous boom/bust cycles.  The companies that didn't learn will soon be gone, their assets purchased by the survivors.

Remember that when you read the gloom and doom stories and the chastisements that another boom was "pissed away" because it wasn't. Anyone suggesting otherwise is telling you a lie.

*Note: As I've stated many times before: I am employed by an Oil and Gas firm in Houston. Some might call this bias, I would suggest that it's insight.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reality Check: So you didn't win the PowerBall.

As you wake up this morning and realize that you didn't win the PowerBall lottery and that $1.5(ish) Billion is NOT coming your way. I think it's smart to sit back a minute and ponder why we thought we could win in the first place.

The idea that "someone has to win it, why not me?" is a compelling idea that has no basis in reality. It's also a fool's dream.  That doesn't mean that you shouldn't play, for fun, on a lark, because if I said that I would be pretty hypocritical considering that I too purchased two quick-pick tickets (with the multiplier) for a total expenditure of $6.

To be truthful, I'll be glad to hit enough numbers to win my money back. I think if I hit the PowerBall on one ticket I would do that (since I played the multiplier).  That's fine with me.

I don't play the lottery. The reason that I played this time is because I have always said that I would buy a ticket if the jackpot reached a Billion dollars. I played once before, over a decade ago, when it reached $100 Million for the first time. The drawing came and I didn't match a single number. As a joke I told everyone that I would play when it hits a Billion, thinking that was a number I'd never see, and I could keep my change in my pocket instead of voluntarily paying a tax.

To quote Rick Perry "Oops."

So, I've thrown away $6 which I'll never see again, with the less than an atom's width hope that I'll somehow match enough Ping-Pong balls to at least get it back. Even then, the odds are against me (and you). The problem I have with this is that people say "You can always dream." when speaking about the Lottery when it's not really a dream at all.  The Lottery acts as a government-sponsored nightmare that is, in reality, a tax, voluntarily paid by those who don't pay much attention to probability.

I don't begrudge anyone their choice of gaming. I try not to be a conservative scold (of the kind you see in news story comments that make fun of those who do) but I will point out that many people who are gaga over the PowerBall would break out in hives if you proposed slot-machines at race tracks. If you want to gamble your money on the Lottery then I feel you should have the ability to do so. On the other hand, I enjoy playing poker, and blackjack, and 3-card poker, and video poker, all games with much better odds than the Lottery and a much higher expected payout over time. Games (OK, excepting 3-card poker) where some strategy can increase your odds and give you a chance to walk away, in the short term, with some winnings. I also enjoy sports betting, another game that requires skill to do well, as well as a healthy dose of luck..

Despite the fact that I have better odds at winning at these events, the State of Texas has decided that I must leave the State to partake in them. They don't want me risking $300-$1,000 playing table games or betting sports, but have no problem with Texans spending that much for a 1-in-292 Million chance at hitting it big.

Why?  Because Texas doesn't want the competition.

Of course, we could go bet the ponies, and some do, but the State now wants to deprive us of that privilege as well.

As you get your coffee this morning (unless you're like Tom Brady that is) and get ready to trudge toward work for another day, don't head there with a heavy heart or a sense of disappointment, because this was always how things were going to be. And it may be that they were always going to be that way because the Lottery is a rigged game.  Maybe that's why States like Nevada outlaw lotteries choosing to allow residents to engage in regulated casino gaming. Gaming that, while still offering up poor odds, is a lot better than what Lotteries are offering. Give me the 0-3% house edge on blackjack any day. (with perfect strategy, using a good system)

So, this morning, we're all getting up and heading to our jobs. Some will be disappointed that they didn't strike it big, or that they didn't even match some partial numbers and win anything. I haven't checked yet this morning to see if there was a winner, although I imagine their has to be just based on the sheer volume of ticket sales.  Then again, I thought that on Saturday when the Jackpot hit $900 MM.  I was wrong then as well.

So I hereby state that I will not play the Lottery again until the Jackpot reaches $1 Trillion.

I should be safe for a while.  You might want to make the same pledge as well.  Heck, take your lottery money to the horse track and put it towards a Pick-4 if you like to gamble a little. Your odds will be better and pulling for the ponies is a lot more fun than watching Ping-Pong balls come out of a machine.  You might help save Texas racing as well. And while it's ridiculous to think that no one will play the lottery, if we could cut down on the number of people who play it then maybe we could force the Texas Legislature to take an honest look at gambling as a whole?

I know.....a 1 in 500 Million chance of that happening, which makes it less likely than hitting the PowerBall Jackpot.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

National Politics: An Unserious Speech for an Unserious President.

I stopped watching the State of the Union Address somewhere in the middle of the 2nd Bush Presidency.  Part of the reasons for that can be found in this piece on the pageant by Kevin Williamson of National Review Online the remaining reasons are that I find political speeches, almost in their entirety, boring. For many of the same reasons, I don't watch political debates. If you honestly don't know who you're voting for by this point in the game maybe you should question whether or not you should really be voting.

While debates are bad enough (Oops.) the spectacle that surrounds the SOTU address is a special kind of political stupid.  From Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee camping out for hours like a pre-pubescent fangirl trying to capture a Belieber moment with 0 to the rounds of laugh-track like cheering when a.) the President is announced, b.) when he says something regarding a policy that's never going to pass and c.) when he finally closes up shop, it's a political spectacle for low-information voters. It's the worst type of political fawning and hero worship and it needs to go away.

If blogs are an online ego-stroke, then the SOTU is a nationally televised ego-stroke for politicians who receive too many of them in the first place.  We hold up these experts in spin and obfuscation to be Gods of public discourse and then get upset when they turn out to be petty feudal Lords just trying to retain their holdings. We've abdicated rule of our own lives to the Government and are disappointed when they don't pay proper attention to the things we think they should. We've lost the ability to think critically, instead asking that a group with the intellectual ability of cheese to do our thinking for us. Then, when things don't work out (The Affordable Care Act for example) we listen to them tell us that the solution to the problem is designed by the same people who created much of the problem in the first place.

In a sane society, Nancy Pelosi ("We have to pass the bill to find out what's in the bill"), Charlie Rangel ("I laugh when people say 'have you read the bill?"), Harry Reid (“I have been a fan of earmarks since I got here the first day.”), Mitch McConnell (“The biggest hero to emerge from the hearings before the 9/11 Commission has been the Patriot Act.”), John McCain ("The problem, is that most members of Congress don't pay attention to what's going on.") and Barack Obama ('If you like your Doctor, you can keep your Doctor") would be run from the public stage in a hail of half rotten vegetables.  Yet, as media coverage makes perfectly clear our current society is neither rational or sane.

We have become the citizenry that Obama predicted, a nation of bitter clingers. Bitterly clinging to our government subsidies and the clawed hand of dependency that's there to help us in our race to the bottom. So gone are we that Obama actually spent time chastising people who dared to disagree with him that America is not still great. That he even had to defend the premise supports the case of the opposition. It also set up the election for the Democrats.

We are now a country of whiners and enablers (I write while whining) who pick and choose facts that prop up the heroes we have chosen for ourselves and we don't react well when the facts suggest that we are wrong. Our sole purpose in politics these days is to be seen as "cool". That's why Millenials flock to Democrats, because the cool sycophants in Hollywood are telling them to do so, not because they have some unique understanding of domestic finance or international geopolitics. When they're not playing on social media they probably give little thought to that anyway and wouldn't understand it much even if they did.

What is not in doubt is this: America developed the greatest economic engine the world has ever seen. It created wealth such that it's dispersion redefined our notions of empire. No longer did a Country need to invade with military force to gain influence. After the rise of America this could be accomplished through the markets. Granted, it wasn't always successful, but more often than not we got our way. However, this is a reality that's currently in decline, and the sooner we come to terms with not being the economic bully on the block, and start talking about how to deal with it, the better off we'll be.

It's much like the brouhaha over climate change.  Right now the focus of the world is on how to prevent it. This assumes that mankind has the ability to alter the climate of Gaia at all.  What we should be focusing on is how to DEAL with it once it arrives. The problem with that theory is that there's less extortion money for the ruling class to collect. Our politicians know this, but none have the courage to speak the truth.

The rub to all of this is that I'm not writing today with any solution in mind. I'm not sure how those of us who believe in free markets and reduced dependency can reverse this tide. It's one thing to say we need entitlement reform and point out, rightly, that increasing food stamps and other give-aways don't hurt the poor but make them less dependent, but it's another thing altogether to get people to see through the rhetoric that "those on food stamps didn't cause the great recession". Straw-men arguments and non-sequiturs are the norm in political discourse, not the exception. The first step, obviously, is to elect representatives who don't use this language. The problem is they are few and hard to find.

The three biggest problems that we face as a country today (domestically) are over-taxation, burdensome, complicated regulation and government scope-creep. These have led to a business environment that is unhealthy, shedding good-paying jobs and creating a permanent underclass in American society. Amazingly, you're going to hear little about this in the run-up to the election as the debate is centering on immigration, free-speech and gun-control.  Not that the latter three issues aren't important, but they're unlikely to be resolved or even, seriously, acted on. They are fodder to fire up the low-information base and deliver votes. Meanwhile, the man behind the curtain (the bureaucracy) is slowly choking the livelihood out of business.

And yet, all we heard last night was some such about cynicism, from the other side.

So I didn't watch.  We would all be better off if we gave the political class the classic middle-finger extending gesture of pointing the remote directly at their noses, and changing the channel.

Talk amongst yourselves. Let us know when you're serious about actually getting things working again.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Why I wouldn't go into Business Today. (Things I think about when Collge Football ends)

When I was younger, I didn't dream of being a policeman or a firefighter or an astronaut, I think I had a pretty good idea that I was never going to be a pro athlete, and while I considered writing as a career I soon realized that I lacked the talent to do so at a profit.

What I really wanted to do was own my own business.  That was, and in a small way remains, the dream.

It's a dream that I now acknowledge will never come close to fruition, and the following story is why....

Actress Thandie Newton calls out Starbucks for offensive coffee display.

"Pursuit of Happiness" actress Thandie Newton sparked a social media controversy with Starbucks Monday after tweeting a photo of a questionable store display.
The English actress' photo shows a black child-like figure at the counter of a central London Starbucks that was being used to display Colombian coffee beans, reports the Mirror. Along with the photo, Newton wrote, "Seriously @Starbucks? At the counter - Loin cloth and Safari hat on a black child. Happy New Year circa 19th century."
I realize that this is going to be construed wrongly, but I am NOT defending Starbucks here. Yes, I was on their side during the whole (silly) Red Cup debacle and I really didn't give two shakes whether or not they wrote "race together" on my cup.  I'm not typically one to fret about 'news' of that type.

Nor, honestly, am I really all that beat up inside over one Starbucks, in Central London, using a racially insensitive figure to promote coffee from Colombia.  Of course, as I've stated, I'm Caucasian (and therefore [according to some] infinitely privileged and don't understand the oppressive racism that people face in a Central London Starbucks)

Was Starbucks correct in removing the display?  Of course. At this point you're stupid if you use human likenesses to display anything other than clothes.... and even then.

This is not to suggest that racism, and racial oppression, is not a thing. Certainly there are, especially among the poorer class, real atrocities that we've seen are taking place within the realm of human slavery etc. We should all work to stamp that out.

But, racism from a financially well-off actress in Central London? We should all be so oppressed in life as Ms. Newton.

All that said, there is no way that I would even think about starting a business that served the general public given today's society.

Won't make a wedding cake for a Mrs. and Mrs.?  Offend the GLBTPQ movement who will then redress for supposed grievances from the Government who will seek to deprive you of your livelihood.

Will make a wedding cake for a Mr. and Mr.? Offend the Religious right. Who will then spend much time holding up signs in front of your place of business telling all and sundry that you are "going to hell" for a business decision.

You can sell an Advent calendar, a coffee named "Merry Christmas Blend" and a variety of other Christmas items but, if you pour that coffee in a plain red cup, you're committing just the latest atrocity in the war on Christmas.

If you choose to say "Merry Christmas" then you're offending the Athiests and Agnostics.

Serving cow offends the Hindus (and the Vegans, but pretty much everything offends them), serving pork offends the Muslims and the Jewish people and serving a vegetarian option offends certain members of the carnivore class.

Worst of all, any mistake your company makes (no matter how small or insignificant) will be instantly posted for the world to see on either Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. You will be instantly vilified by the perpetual outrage machine and you and your family will be held up as the "Worst Person in the World" until the next worst person comes along.

You could potentially receive death threats and threats of harm to you and yours, there will be active calls for your arrest, imprisonment and public flogging all for daring to make your breakfast scramble with eggs that are not free range.

Serve coffee that's properly hot? You can get sued if some idiot doesn't realize that they're drinking a hot product. Fail to accurately list one of 1,000,000 foods that can potentially cause allergies? We'll see you in court.

Oh, and the customer in front of me spilled his soda, I slipped on the resulting spill and hurt my pride. I'll be suing you for $1,000,000,000 in emotional damages. I'm emo you see and there's a lot to damage.

And this is just what the mob can do to you.  I haven't even gotten to the government yet.

We currently are ruled (that's not a typo, they feel that they are ruling us now) by governments who truly believe that your economic success does not spring from your efforts, but from their divine wisdom. As such, they feel that your profit and well-being is something that they have the right to forcefully take if you fail to pay sufficient tribute.

You will now be forced to subject your food to very expensive laboratory tests in order to display the calorie counts on your menu.  If the lab makes an error in an inexact science?  You will be sued for making people fat and the government will fine you and take away your two first-born children as penance. You will then be restricted to serving only bananas for the next year until you work off your caloric debit to society.

Before any of that however you have to navigate a bureaucratic maze of complexity beyond the dreams of Kafka.  By the time you finish paying all of the permitting fees, dba fees, operating license fees and various and assorted other duties to your rulers you'll have just about enough money left to hire an employee, who will then try to unionize or will demand time off to picket for a $15 living wage.

This type of treatment of private enterprise used to be called "protection rackets" and were rooted out by the very same government.  The truth is that nature abhors a vacuum and the very same regulators that were once on the side of business are now actively working against it.

We can bemoan the loss of the local mom & pop shop in the city center and blame Wal-Mart and other big-box stores until we're blue in the face.  But the fact is that we've killed those little stores through a combination of our overinflated sense of outrage and our malfeasance at the ballot box.

Where it was once the citizens vs. the "man" it's now become the citizens vs. the citizens who demand that the "man" come down viciously on that part of the citizenry currently out of favor.

In short, we're doing all of this to ourselves.

And it's not going to get better, it's going to get worse.

I greatly admire those who are willing to go through all of this and face certain financial ruin to be their own boss. I would like that very much, but I'm a realist.  You start a business today for two reasons. 1. You are young. 2. You have no prospects.  Youth and desperation are what it takes to succeed in America today.  It also helps to have political patronage, which can shelter you from bad decisions and provide income even to those with no business acumen.

The game is hopelessly rigged. And I have no desire to enter a rigged game.  At least, not right here in Houston, and certainly not right now.