Thursday, November 30, 2017

Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

As time goes on real life, and sports, become more and more important than this little blog in the hinterlands of the Houston blogosphere.  After years of doggedly banging away it's become pretty clear that there's little of interest in what I have to say.

Which is OK, I've always stated that I would continue to hammer away at this thing as long as it interested me.  Which it just really doesn't any more.  I'm having more fun writing sports posts and making bad sports picks than I am watching the city of Houston, the State of Texas and the United States of America slowly flush themselves down the political toilet.  I'll still follow along, but not in long form.

Should you be so inclined, you can keep up with my political thoughts on my Pinboard Feed and on Twitter. That's where I'll continue to offer up bad political takes and my odd-ball way of looking at things.

What this leaves me with is how to say goodbye.  What am I going to leave up here as a final farewell to over 10 years of truly awful political blogging.

In can think of nothing better than a listicle.  Because listicles suck.

With that in mind, here are the top things that I hope you keep in mind.

1. State's don't have "rights" they have "powers".

This is so important to remember because many a bad politician, and bureaucrat, will drone on and on about State's rights and other nonsense which is really nothing other than demagoguery in fancy dress.  Rights are exclusive to the citizenry.  And protecting those rights are our purview as well.  Anytime you hear a politicians say that the government has to 'protect the citizens rights' run and vote the other way. Or, if you're of a more reasonable disposition, don't vote.  Voting is the lowest level of participation that you can have in any society. Voting tells the politicians that you believe they, and they alone, hold the solutions.

Because it's not the job of the State to protect, or grant, your rights. It's yours. And any State powerful enough to determine your rights is also powerful enough to remove them.  The political arc of America has been one of winning hard-fought rights from a monarchy, and then slowly, inexorably, over a period of almost 300 years giving them back to a new kind of tyranny.  Every time we allow the government to grant us a new 'right' (healthcare, privacy, equality, etc) we bind ourselves more deeply in servitude with them.  America needs a good, old-fashioned Bill of Rights house-cleaning, but I don't think either the political will, self reliance or intelligence exists to conduct it any more.

2. All politicians are horrid people, even those you voted for.

Politics is about money and power.  Even those who start off with good intentions eventually become enthralled.  Today's partisan system only perpetuates that, it just changes who are the winners and who are the losers.  When a Democrat says they want "money out of politics" they really mean they want Republican money out of politics while they keep theirs. When Republicans warn about "Evil George Soros" and others they want to keep their political patrons while harming the Democrats. And that's the thing about sacred oxen. It's only an issue when yours gets gored.

The issue of campaign finance reform is the biggest political lie fostered on the American people in a decade. The idea that any politician would give up their fundraising advantage is ludicrous.  At heart, campaign finance reform is an incumbent protection program in the same vein as gerrymandering. There is no honorable stance on campaign finance regardless of what the politicians and media want you to believe. It is ALL about incumbent protection. The status quo of push-pull between the two parties works well for, the members of the two parties.  Division is tool, a feature of our current tribal system not a bug.  They are allowed to get away with this because the American citizen is complicit.  This is not conspiracy theory stuff, it's true and right out in the open.

3. The media has fallen, with few exceptions.

One side will rant about the "corporate media" while the other side wails about "liberal bias". The fact is the news has one bias and one bias only: Protecting their political patrons and sources which brings about money.  Media is a for-profit business now in most cases.  And in cases where it's not (such as John Thornton's vanity project the Texas Tribune) it is funded by ideological think-tanks and companies that pay large sums for minimal disclosure and "paid" ads.

The days of Deep Throat are far behind us. There is little interest in the modern day media in bringing the government down, in advocating for the taxpayer or ensuring that corruption is cleansed with the light of the sun. The media today wants to ensure access, as such they excel more in the glowing puff-piece than they do in outing government corruption. Sure, they can still give you a good rehashing of a corporate corruption piece after the fact, but they're not going to be the ones actually breaking the story.  In short, the media are spin-doctors for those in power. The PR reps of the courtier class.  This is too bad because there are still a few talented reporters who might be able to do good work given the chance. The rest are young ideologues and dreamers who strive not to report and uncover the news, but to enact social change.  That's a problem.

4. There are systemic problems, taxing people until their eyes bleed is not going to help.

Colin Kaepernick was right when he took a knee during the National Anthem. There IS such a thing as institutional racism in the US. Driving while black is a thing, especially in wealthy, primarily Caucasian neighborhoods. In short, the system is designed to create winners and losers. But there are deeper issues that keep the minority citizen down as well. There are politicians who act as de-facto bosses over neighborhoods whose real goal is to keep the populace poor, uneducated and (most importantly) voting for them, it's happening in the city in which you live, probably by people who you voted for. Politicians that you consider to be on the "right side" of various issues. Don't give your support, or you votes (if you vote) to one side or the other exclusively.

Again, we're given a bogeyman on which to project our hate, being promised that only by taxing "them" more can we solve the issue. Throwing money at the problem is never the answer, only in politics.  The problem with this is that the politicians know that the money they are hoping to raise is not going to go to fix the issue, it's going to be distributed among their political patrons as a thank you for getting, and keeping, them elected. After all, if the problems go away, so does the need for the politicians to solve them.

I realize that this seems like a lot of doom and gloom, and for that I'm sorry, but after over a decade of blogging politics, following issues and meeting a variety of politicians I can now safely say that I've lost any and all hope for the future of American politics should the status quo hold.  This is why I've stopped voting, stopped attending rallies and have almost totally depoliticized my social media feeds.

And it's why I'm stepping away from the keyboard.  After a decade of futile keyboard pounding it's only gotten worse, and it will keep worsening until the American people rise up and say 'Enough!'  Sadly, I think what we're going to demand is more of the same government that got us into this mess in the first place. It seems that more government is the de facto answer to everything these days, even from so-called "conservatives".

Democracy has a half-life.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Adios, it's been a lot of fun this last decade writing about Houston City, Texas State and National politics on this blog for my handful of regular readers. I wish you well and I'll see you over on The Public Money for general sports talk and some really bad betting advice.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

HALV: Brown's crocodile tears regarding SALT are all about the rev cap.

City Controller Chris Brown is flummoxed.

State, Local tax deductions are vital to Houston. Chris Brown, ($$$)

It's hard to forward a plan that's going to bust the rev cap and allow Turner, Brown and company to raise property taxes on citizens until their eyes bleed when those damn feds are planning to take away the partial tax-credits that residents can use to off-set the increases.

Damn you Washington DC!!!

It's a reminder that all politics is local, and all politicians, either federal, State or local have one end-goal in mind: Increasing takings  revenue from your pocketbook.

Financially the City of Houston is broken, spending money like a young frat boy in Vegas on his 21st birthday while TIRZ and other "special purpose" districts go around painting sign posts unusual colors in order to brand neighborhoods.  Meanwhile the city police and fire departments are woefully understaffed, the roads, despite Turner's pothole patrol, are in such a sad state 3rd world countries are pointing at us and laughing and the sewage/water system is so leaky we're probably losing almost as much water per year as we're using.

Of course, they passed the 'rain tax' which has accomplished.....pretty close to nothing, might run counter to the State Constitution and has been tied up in court proceedings since about 5 minutes after it passed.

Pensions are (still) a mess, ignoring what the courtiers in the media, and the politicians on whom they rely for patronage, might tell you.  All Houston basically did was refinance $1 Billion of existing debt and shit-hammer the fire department pension for not going along.  The system soon to be infused with cash, which will allow those that did the heavy lifting for Turner's campaign to walk-away with a nice little nest egg before they move on to private-sector jobs.

So how, in a time where decades of fiscal malfeasance are now coming home to roost, can the Federal Government stop accounting tricks designed to soften the blow of bad municipal and State policy?

Fairly easy it seems.

Because, as the folks on the left have been saying for years, elections have consequences. And if the other 'tribe' wins then it's reasonable to suggest that they're not going to pass or propose legislation that's going to make it easy for your 'tribe' to continue to cover up its warts.

This is agnostic as to whether or not the GOP tax plan is 'good' or 'bad' (hint: It's a start but, as is usual, doesn't go far enough) but solely a commentary on the piss-poor job of governing that the status-quo has provided Houston, and other cities, after several decades of what is basically one-party rule.

And, make no mistake about it, this is a bit of a problem for local leaders who have tied their version of a modern utopia to increasing taxes that are very burdensome to the working poor.  Which has flummoxed poor Chris Brown.

I'm sure Mayor Turner is flummoxed as well, and probably angry, which seems to be his Modus Operendi when things don't go his way.

The problem is not a tax increase, it's just that the wrong tribe, and the wrong level of government, is proposing it.  Don't be fooled, they want the money, they just want to have control over which level of patronage benefits from it.

Getting elected isn't cheap you understand.

Friday, November 17, 2017

BadHumanity: The ugliness of our fealty to our tribes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That fact alone should be slightly depressing.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

Revenue Cap. Houston Chronicle Editorial Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

How's that working out?  Not well....

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

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

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

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

Well done.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guess which ones you're stuck with? 

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

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

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

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

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

Yeah, how's that working out.

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

"Can we do it at 5%"

"No, way to low."


"Too difficult."

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


Or something along those lines.

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

BadMedia: The Death of the Critic.

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

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

And none of it is going to matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unless you like foam, and mother! 

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

TLSPM: Still Getting it wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

BadMedia: Yes, the Texas Tax System is broken.

But the solution is not to replace it with a punitive tax code.

I agree with the Chron's Austin-based business columnist in one area:  Taxation in the State of Texas is one of the most poorly designed systems I've come across.

Where we disagree is on the fix.

Mr. Tomlinson (From the linked article above):

Texas' tax system is as broken as the federal system and desperately needs an overhaul. We need the Legislature to stop punishing business and investment, and instead tax conspicuous consumption, bad behavior and extreme income.

OK then, what is "bad behavior"? And who defines that?  What is "conspicuous consumption" and who defines that?  And what is "extreme income" and who gets the power of defining that?

My guess is that Tomlinson believes that he is the ideal candidate to become the "Texas Tax Czar" placing punitive taxes on Wal-Mart purchases, the energy industry and anyone making more than he. Because, that is what he's calling for, selectively taxing things that he doesn't like while giving those things he does a pass.

That's not a fair and effective tax system, that's a means of punishing those with differing political views than you.

Ironically, he admits, directly above his prescription for Texas, that his system wouldn't work.

A smaller tax on more people and businesses is also better than a high tax on only a few.

Yet his prescription for Texas is more of the same of what it is currently doing, only at higher rates and more tightly targeted against those whom he feels are bad actors.  This is demagoguery at its highest, not a serious attempt to reform Texas taxes.

The best, most equitable tax code is one that is broad, flat, easy to adhere to and free of special interest exemptions. As Mr. Tomlinson points out the current Texas tax code is anything but that. The problem is, his "fix" for the situation is even worse.

He focuses on the so-called Margins Tax, which is awful, but let me give you an under-the-radar way Texas handles tax policy poorly....oil and gas severance taxes.

On it's surface the tax is fairly straight-forward.  Unlike some other commodity taxes it's a value based tax on the "Net Taxable Value" derived from the severance of oil and gas from the soil. In short, it's the gross proceeds less allowed expenses times 7.5%, for oil and produced condensate the rate is 4.6%.  Easy enough.

But then, you have exemptions.  There's the high cost gas exemption (Type 05) which allows for a reduced rate of taxation for up to 10 years or until 50% of the drilling costs are recaptured, whichever comes first. In order to qualify for this there is a lengthy, an unwieldy, application process which involves first dealing with the RRC, and then turning around and repeating the process with the Texas Comptroller.  Then you assigned a reduced rate, and can take that new rate until you meet the deadline or threshold whichever comes first.

Of course, by the time the State gets around to approving the rate reduction over a year can go by before approval. This means that you have to go back and retrospectively adjust your accounting, pay royalty owners late for their share of the increased rates they pay, and ask the Texas Comptroller's office for a refund, which is a time-consuming and expensive process, not to mention the time and expense wasted on the re-work.

Think that's bad? There's also the low-producing well exemption (Type 11) which is triggered by both price and volume. Not only that, but the State index price that has to be rolled back to 2005 equivalents, that's right, the Lege forgot to allow for inflation.  To add to that, a producer has to calculate a 3-month rolling average of production to ensure the tax criteria is met. If a producer makes an error, or uses a different production factor than the State, then the State will revoke your lower rate and charge interest on the unpaid tax.

For oil there's the Enhanced Oil Recover exemption (Type 05, for oil) which provides a rate decrease of 50% (from 4.6% to 2.3%) on all incremental barrels of production realized from secondary or tertiary recovery. In order to qualify for this then you have to initiate a project, file the appropriate paperwork (with fee) to the RRC, and then wait a year to determine if the project was successful or no.  Once it is you have to re-apply with the results to the RRC, and then take their approval over to the Comptroller's office to have them approve the credit, and tell you how long you have to retrospectively fix you accounting on the back periods before you lose the credit. All of the time you are waiting for this money has come into the State on which the are earning interest. Meanwhile, the private royalty owners (who share in the tax expense) are losing out on revenue because a company is charging them full-rate tax (by law) which reduces their income.

All of that for reporting and paying taxes in Texas and I haven't even discussed the Cost to Market deduction yet. A better way to administrate this would be to eliminate all of the exemptions, and lower the tax rates.  A flat oil tax of 2% of Net Taxable Value and a gas tax of 4% of Net Taxable value (calculated as they are currently) would be much easier (and cheaper) for companies to administer and would benefit the State as well.

You could extrapolate that to the Federal Income Tax, most business taxes and a host of other taxes as well. Any tax really where special-interest driven loopholes exist.

Unfortunately, this will never happen because both political parties and their courtiers LIKE the system we have. Not only does it wet the beaks of their patrons, but it proffers them the levers of power to punish their political opposites as well.  It's always been this way, it's just rare when one of the courtiers is dense enough to put the fact in print.

On that note: Thank you Mr. Tomlinson.  Thank you.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

BadHumanity: When we Stop Talking

Recently, in Houston, a Republican State Representative was invited to speak on the campus of Texas Southern University. Things did not go well. Missing from the KHOU story any mention of State Representative Borris Miles he of the gun-toting, shooting people persuasion was also there to prevent Representative Cain from making his speech.  Unsurprisingly, the all but worthless Houston Chronicle Editorial Board scrubbed Miles from their missive.  Of course, the useful idiots at the Ed Board sided with "free speech" because Cain is a politician, had it been a normal citizen their proclivities on the matter are not as cut and dried.

"We have always been at war with Eastasia"

The bigger problem here, even bigger than the Texas Leadership Vacuum that is ever-expanding, is that there now exists an active group of civic leaders who are openly trying to suppress speech from the other side no matter the source, or validity of their arguments against.  This is not just a Left-wing phenomenon. President Trump has now decided to attack the media. If you support this at any level I would invite you to check your "Constitutional Conservative" card in at the front desk please.

"Liberalism is a mental disease"

All of these are charges made by the sheep to try and silence, or discredit, the ideas of the other side. They do not help forward the conversation.  Yet every time a politicians says the other side's actions are "shocking" or the "worst they've ever seen" (my favorite) they drive the sheep that follow them a little more crazy and into the path of susceptibility to authoritarianism.

Bread and Circuses, peasants and sheep, to the ruling class the lumpen proletariat are feed stock used to feed the machine of politics. This is not hard because a vast, vast majority of Americans want to be led. People don't want to think, they want to be ANGRY (Dammit). And the best way to be ANGRY (Dammit) is to join a tribe.

Because in tribalism there is purity, and a certain basic instinct of thought. Your tribe helps you to dislike the other side and gives you that smug sense of fulfillment when the other tribe effs it up. You see it all the time, especially on the fetid cesspool of Twitter and other social media.  It comes as predictable as the sunrise.

1. Supposed "outrage" of the moment.
2. Spleen-venting by one tribe against the other.
3. A moment of post-orgasmic joy as the endorphins release
4. The smug smile and slow exhalation of someone who has just "destroyed" the other side.

These victories are an illusion hover because a.) no one has actually "destroyed" anything. A "sick burn" only resonates with the tribe, it has nothing to do with actually....winning the argument with logic and b.), your "sick burn" is another person's show of immaturity.  The other tribe doesn't recognize that anything was won, or that any point has been made.  In fact, regardless of which side is "right" or "burned" they are correct.

We cannot "win" arguments any longer because we have entirely lost the ability to both discuss our differences and to process information correctly. The United States has become two giant pools of cognitive dissonance running back and forth with their hair on fire accusing (accurately) the other pool to be guilty of hypocrisy.

And, this should not surprise you, this is exactly the way that the ruling class and their courtiers want it to be. The politicians use this to make breathless appeals for campaign donations and votes, the media uses it for click-bait, the Universities use it to get their names in the papers and secure funding and the entertaining class uses it to curry favor and convince themselves that their careers actually mean something.  Access to power is a bigger drug than is the truth in almost every case.

When will things get better you ask?

Here's the rub, until we stop listening to the ruling class and their courtiers......they won't.

Fixing the current political, social and economic climate is not up to the politicians, it's not up to the media, it's not up to the actors, producers and associated slime of Hollywood and it's not going to be solved by athletes taking a knee or no. It's sure as hell not going to be fixed by ESPN.

The fix has to come from you, and me, by refusing to get caught up in these games and not rewarding the people who do with our time, energy and (most importantly) money.

Give your money to charity, and I don't mean "charity" as defined by the Democratic National Committee I mean real charities that help people, not ones that only exist to help you.

When you think about it, the DNC's actions in this case are the final symptom that illustrates just how sick the patient really is.  The prognosis is not good, not good at all.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

ShutterTheEdBoard: Without oil....

The increasingly irrelevant Houston Chronicle Editorial Board has pronounced itself Pope in the issue of environmental sins.

Sins of Oil will be Shouted from the Rooftops. HoustonChronicle ($$$)

They go on to list all of the 'sins' of oil.

The Catholic Church suddenly doesn't like it and......

And nothing.  Because without the oil and gas industry you don't have the following:

Computers and the Internet
Electric Cars
Green Energy transmission systems
Mobile Phones
Busses (even ones that run on CNG)
Most medical devices
Heating fuel for the NorthEast

You name it, and the oil and gas industry probably has a hand in it. Even newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle who would be unable to print a product sans oil and gas.

Now, I'm OK if you don't necessarily approve of the industry, you're entitled to. But to cast such a wide net over all of us and term us "sinners" because we're providing a product that fuels the world (and will continue to, until a replacement for plastics and international shipping and other transportation is found) is not only irresponsible, but dishonest and clumsy as well. It's also inflammatory and (to be honest) vile to term your home cities most important, largest industry as "vile, sinful" or some other nonsense.

It's a good thing the Chronicle Editorial Board has been shoved behind the Chronicle' pay-wall.  There are a lot of good reporters at that publication who shouldn't have their good-names sullied by the increasingly irrelevant, predominantly Caucasian, wealthy and progressive Editorial board who writes decrees for Houston's most diverse city and who, increasingly, feels themselves to be God.

It's high-time for newspapers to rid themselves of the unsigned editorial board, and to redeploy the resources to covering actual news.  In fact, I would argue that most staff-opinion writers are crap, offering up partisan fodder and child-like outbursts offering no real, workable solutions other than "see things my way".

Not that there's no place for that writing, but it would be better served in an opinion outlet such as National Review or Slate not news outlets per se, but a place where people can go and be reaffirmed that their tribe is "on the right side", God-like even. (Full Disclosure: I'm a fan of the writing of Kevin D. Williamson of National Review.)

Houston residents, the few who can read this stuff, would do well to ask the Houston Chronicle why they think it's OK that the largest employer be shut down and the tax base of the city be decimated? Do they really hate you or are they just very angry that you won't STFU and follow their lead? (And, the leads of the politicians they curry favor to.)

What this comes down to is one irrelevant agency calling for the shut-down of a relevant one, and causing great pain and hardship for its customers at the same time. The customers should demand the same of the ed board.

Guess which one will be missed? (Hint, it's not the anonymous scribblers)

Las Vegas Massacre: In Defense of Video Poker

I am a video poker player.

So, apparently, was Stephen Paddock the man who you now know, unless you've been living under a rock, carried-out the worst mass-shooting event in modern American history last Sunday evening.  His choice of gaming, and lifestyle, of course has the media in a tizzy....

Las Vegas Gunman Chased Las Vegas' Payouts and Perks. New York Times

Las Vegas Shooter Lived High-Stakes Lifestyle. Chicago Tribune

Vegas Shooter's Gambling Draws New Attention to Video Poker. Yahoo! News.

Paddock's Game of Choice Allowed Him to Blend In. Las Vegas Review-Journal

It's not surprising that a person good at maths chose video poker as his game of choice. The 'house edge' or expected value of the game is among the best in the casino for the player, IF proper strategy is used. It's also a game, like blackjack, where correct decisions by the player can reduce the house edge even further.

At Paddock's playing level the expected return was probably somewhere around 99.20%.  That means for every $100 you play you can expect, over time, to lose $.80.  Factor in comps for high-end players (free rooms, free meals, shows, alcohol etc.) and you could easily realize a return of greater than 100% over time.

And the goal of any casino patron is to beat the casino right?

We have a propensity in this country to try and find evil in everything an evil person does. And that's what I think is happening here with video poker.  As we struggle to rationalize how a person could be so callous as to kill 58 people and injure 489, we start to look at the things they did in life and make them more sinister than they really are in an attempt to assuage society's blame for his sins.

We tend to find "things" that might have sparked him, and there are a ton of low-rent, headline-chasing social scientists, and so-called "experts" that will tell us whatever we want to know about these "things" to make us feel better.

"Video Poker is the crack-cocaine of gambling!" (From the New York Times Piece)

Except that it's not.  Instead, video poker is a happy-medium between playing slots, and playing on the tables.

A lot of people don't like to play table games for one reason or another. Maybe they don't like the crowds or are uncomfortable having others judge their play. If you've ever sat at "third base" (the last seat next to the dealer's right hand) at a blackjack table and made the "wrong play" and been hollered at for it you might understand why, then you could see why video poker, a game where strategy still counts but is more solitary, has an appeal.

But the main appeal, and the reason for it's popularity, is the relatively high expected value from the game and the very real chance at making some real money on an smallish sized bet.  For example, I am not a high-roller, gambling is entertainment for me but, I frequently win $500 on a $1.25 bet playing at the 25-cent level.  I've won $1683 on a Royal Flush playing the same. My biggest slot win is $2080 on a $5 bet.  Which game do you think has the better expected value?

As a regular Vegas visitor I was distraught when I first heard the news, and was even more sad when the scope of the event became fully known.  Now it's coming out that this evil man was an accountant, a frequent Vegas visitor and a video poker player, just like me.

This makes it difficult because I cannot envision a situation where playing video poker, or anything in life for that matter, would make me act in such a way. Which is kind of my point.

Stephen Paddock did what he did not because he played video poker or because he was chasing the high-end Vegas lifestyle. He did what he did because he was an evil prick.  Full stop.

Video poker had nothing to do with it.  Ask the Millions of people who do "fly into Vegas to play it" despite what the so-called "experts" tell you.  It's a great, fun game and a good way to control your losses if played correctly, much less volatile than slots.  Yes, it's less social than a table game, but so are slots.

Neither should be demonized in this.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Gun Control: Which laws exactly?

We have now reached the point where the political outrage machine gets cranked up to eleven and spleen-venting takes the place of grief and shock.  Dutifully, QuestLove tweeted out every Republican Representative and Senator who expressed condolence to the Vegas victims replete with the amount of money the NRA donated to their campaigns. (Strangely, he did not feel the need to single out Democrats thusly).  Jimmy Kimmel came on your TV, spooled up some tears, and emotionally emoted that Something! must be done.

But what exactly?

The early candidate is to outlaw "silencers" which is more of an admission that one doesn't understand guns rather than a call to do something about them. "Silencers" are actually "flash suppressors" and, unlike you see in the movies, the guns still make one heck of a noise when fired.

The second thing you hear is to "close the gun show loophole".  OK, but by all accounts Stephen Paddock purchased his firearms either from a gun store, and completed all of the requisite background checks, or we don't know where he obtained them yet. So it's not clear that that would have had any impact at all.

Limiting the amount of guns is my favorite. Yes, the man appears to have owned several guns but it's unclear that he would have been less successful with five guns than say the 23 that he had. Limiting ammunition is another bad idea, both would only encourage an untraceable black market which would result in us having no idea where the guns or bullets really are.

Finally, and my favorite, is the idea that gun owners should be forced to "voluntarily give up their guns". Nevermind that this proposal is an oxymoron, it's also impractical and will lead to only the law-abiding citizens doing the same. What this means is that only criminals will own guns, and anyone who continues to own a gun will become a criminal. It's amazing how quick our tribes are to try and criminalize behavior they don't like, while simultaneously trying to decriminalize what they enjoy.

While I'm no fan of "conceal and open carry" laws, in most cases having a gun is not going to prevent any crime, none of us are Jason Bourne after all, I don't think their repeal would do much, very few crimes are committed by lawful gun-carriers after all.

I also don't think the answer lies in arresting and incarcerating people who buy guns that are really meant to go to their criminal husbands, boyfriends, etc. Which is nothing more than a way for the Right, this time, to make 'more' illegal things, and people, they don't like.

I might get on board with outlawing bump-stocks, for which I can see no practical application outside of making the gun a more-effective killing machine, and I am on-board with closing the so-called gun-show loophole. Not to prevent criminals from receiving guns but to ensure that everyone who purchases a firearm through legal channels is legally entitled to do so.

The editors of National Review yesterday had a point when they wrote: "not every crime demands a new law" but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't look at ways to prevent them going forward. Not is it advisable to strip rights away from otherwise law-abiding citizens in a vain effort to punish the law-breakers. Unfortunately that is an action that our elected rulers always seem to take.

It is understandable that people are distraught over Sunday night's shootings, that they are angry and looking to lash out. What's not defensible is the belief that the only sane solution to the problem is revoking a key portion of the bill of rights. Especially when you consider the same people that want to repeal number 2 are knee-deep in efforts to kick the shit out of the other nine as well.

Rule of law, as messy as it may be, is vital to the health of a country.  Once that goes so do the last tools to hold back tyranny. Which, ironically, is the reason the 2nd amendment exists in the first place.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Las Vegas Shooting: The Government We Deserve

No sooner had the bullets stopped flying in Las Vegas than certain politicians and media outlets (whom I will not dignify) started firing up the political machine. It mostly came in the form of tweets, calls for the political opposition to drop their deep-held beliefs and side with them as the only reasonable course of action.  Of course, the demonization of the NRA began almost immediately as well, and while I'm not a member of the NRA, nor do I agree with some of their resistance to certain issues, I do not think they are the PR arm of a gun-toting political movement hell-bent on allowing people to shoot one another.

They are a political group, similar in nature to the Sierra Club, or any of the single-issue political groups on the right or left, but they are demonized because they a) mostly donate to Republicans and b) have been very successful in their efforts to promote legislation.

One area in the on-going game of political PR where the Democrats have most certainly won is in casting the opponents funding groups as somehow evil or a malignant force for society.  Oil Companies? Polluting the world, the NRA? Actively trying to kill you. Drug companies? Trying to make big bucks on the backs of the dying.  It's not an accident, it's a political plan by the left that they are winning in the same way they have won the culture wars.  In short: The GOP has not become the hot-mess that they are wholly because they have bad ideas, in large part they struggle because their leadership is shite and their messaging is even worse.

It has now gotten so bad that even expressing sorrow and wishing good thoughts to victims of tragedy is seen as a negative event by the left's useful idiots. While the right makes up fake-news about Islamist terrorists where none exist, or continually tries to find a boogeyman for their adherents to latch on to.

What dies in all of this is reason, and reasonable arguments. For all of the bemoaning of the depths to which our politics has fallen both sides firmly believe that the root-cause of this is the actions of the other 'side' exclusively. This is because we've elected a group of carnival barkers to rule us, with no thought given to their intelligence or ability to actually govern.  I've said this many times before and I'll say it again.

The problems in America are not caused by Trump, or by Obama or by the media, or anyone other than US.  We have allowed things to devolve this far because WE abdicated our position of power in the Republic and handed it over lock, stock and barrel to a group of low-functioning idiots with a penchant for strongman style histrionics and rhetorical flair.

In a sane world, reasonable people could disagree on the merits or extent that gun control is needed. However, no reasonable person should disagree that every legal option should be investigated when it comes to preventing mass shootings.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether or not healthcare is a "right" or a "privilege" but should be able to agree that what we currently have is irreparably broken and the entire system needs an overhaul. Reasonable people can also disagree on what exactly the overhaul should be.

Reasonable people can disagree on taxation and government revenue, on where the money is going, but should be able to agree that the current tax code is a partisan, rent-seeking mess filled with too many rules and give-aways to political patrons.

But, and this is a big, big but, we no longer operate as reasonable people in our politics, either in the murky, stupid world of social media or in the increasingly page-click driven world of actual media.

I have made no secret of my disliking of the Republican party. The GOP is a dysfunctional, anti-intellectual mess right now. And while I dabbled with independence before I believe this time it will stick because where before I still found GOP politicians with ideas, I currently find many of the ideas from both parties to be lacking in both reason and logic. I can never be a Democrat because of their authoritarianism and, frankly, pretty scary ideas about how the country should be ran, but I can never be a Republican either because of the same.

It is possible, albeit unlikely, that the current Supreme Court case on gerrymandering could help alleviate some of this by removing the incumbent protection system but I doubt it. I doubt it because we've now all firmly entrenched ourselves within our tribes and our only goal is to "sick-burn" the other tribe.  We don't want to govern, we have a NEED to win. And not just that, to humiliate the other side in large part to feel like we're something, instead of just floating along in life, accomplishing nothing and generally being......a loser.

To be honest, I'm not sure of the fix, if any exists.

And that might be the most depressing bit of all. That this cannot be fixed because most Americans, despite protestations to the contrary, don't WANT it to be.  We NEED to hate the other side because it makes us feel superior, we need to gloat, to assure ourselves through smugness that we are, in fact, the superior people. We NEED to laugh at the stupidity of our political opposites because it helps us cover up our own.

You can't fix stupid, increasingly, it seems that we don't want to.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Las Vegas: Give as you are able.

Last night at around 10PM Vegas time a very deranged man by the name of Stephen Paddock broke his hotel room window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino and proceeded to fire hundreds of round of bullets into approximately 20,000 people who were attending an outdoor country music festival.

The horrific result was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US History with a (current) count of 58 dead and 400+ wounded. It is a tragedy that knocked a hole into the collective psyche of a city that I love and, more importantly, has permanently damaged the lives of thousands due to loss of a loved one or injury.

There will come a time to discuss next steps but, for now, I would encourage you to either donate blood (if you're able) or make a donation if you can.

Until then, this blog offers up thought and prayers to everyone who is suffering from this.

Bad Humanity: Pray for Las Vegas

Horrific news out of Las Vegas:

Mass Shooting leaves at least 50 dead, 400 wounded in Las Vegas. Las Vegas Review-Journal

There will, of course, be a lot of politics that surround the loss of 50 souls as ghouls on both sides try and use this for political gain. Right now I think it's best to ignore that and just do what we can to help those who were harmed, and to thank those who ran toward the shooter when everyone else was (rightfully) running away.

I'll just leave this here as I'm very saddened this morning by a tragedy in one of my favorite places in the world.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

BadBlogging: Things I LIKE about Houston

I will admit that, from time to time, this blog can get a teensy bit negative. That's probably more human nature than anything else, we tend to focus on things we feel need to be fixed after all rather than those things that are humming along smoothly.

To remedy that, I think I'll list out the things about Houston that I like. I haven't done that in a while so this seems like a good time to do so....

1. The way people helped one another during the Harvey Floods - It was cool, when I was cooped up in my house for a week, watching normal, everyday citizens and first responders busting their humps to rescue and evacuate their fellow residents.

2. The food and restaurant scene, even in the suburbs. - While I have to fess up to not venturing 'Inside the Loop' very often except for work (and number four which follows) even out here in the hinterlands there is a large selection of good places to grab a good meal that are not chains. And food trucks. Food trucks are good, very good.

3. The energy industry and job market. - The fact is, the energy industry pays pretty well, they have good benefits and it's a good industry in which to work. You hear a lot of bad about us in the media, but I've seen a lot of good inside.

4. The Houston Zoo. - The wife and I love the zoo here. It's great. The Houston Zoo is one of the underappreciated great places to go in Houston.  People gush about the Museums and Theaters, but the truth is a lot of cities have facilities comparable to those.

5. The Houston Astros. - I don't like the Texans, I pull for the Rockets, the Dynamo (and the entire MLS for that matter) are minor league soccer but the Astros?  I'm a fan. The first baseball game I ever saw was in the Astrodome and back then I thought it was the biggest building in the world (I was 5).

And that's it.  Everything else about Houston is just 'meh' or substantially worse than other cities I've visited/lived in.  But those five things are pretty great and I will miss them should I ever leave here.

BadPolitics: The Trouble with Taxes....

Here we go again. If you feel like the show from Washington D.C. is a never-ending wheel of misfortune you'd be forgiven.  While Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands work to climb out of the muck created by Harvey, Irma and Maria the political types in our Nations cess-pool of a capital have been trying, and failing, to repeal the Affordable Care Act and are now focusing their attention on cutting taxes.

This, as you can imagine, has the usual suspects in somewhat of a tizzy. It's even got the New York Times play-pretending that they're deficit hawks again.  Of course, the Politifarce 'fact-checkers' are out in force trying to convince us that their opinions on the matter are in fact, facts, and voices from the left side of the political aisle are here to remind you that you don't NEED a tax cut at all.  All that's left is an idiotic think-piece from Vox. Wait, nevermind, they've delivered.

Winning the prize for non-seriousness however is, as is typical, the non-relevant Houston Chronicle Editorial Board, who have decided to plant their flag directly within the confines of the Alternative Minimum Tax.  Let that sink in for a minute. (Seriously Chronicle, it's past-time to shutter the Ed Board and redeploy the resources to something you can do fairly well [hint: local reporting])

Of course, there will be no shortage of opinion pieces telling you what you want and need by members of the ruling class. None of them actually touching on what could, or should, be done.

This happens because politics is a mess, the media has fallen down on the job for the last eight years and the rest of America is too busy arguing whether a bunch of Millionaire athletes protesting during the National Anthem is sufficient enough reason for them to either stop (or start) watching NFL football.

This is not to say that there are no good arguments against this tax cut. There certainly are.  Kevin D. Williamson of the National Review (and a favorite read by the author of this blog) lays out the case against fairly succinctly, and without falling into the nutty trap surrounding the 'rich'.  Unfortunately, most (if not all) of the criticism from the Left gets fixated on that and just.won't.stop.

Does America need a massive tax cut right now?  My answer is probably not.  But tax REFORM on the other hand is much needed.  Let me explain.

The current tax code contains 74,608 pages of regulation. Not only is that a draw on time, resources and energy but it creates a complex web of regulation that's impossible to correctly navigate except under the simplest of returns, or with the greatest of financial resources.  Part of the reason for this is just the nature of Federal regulation. Its designed, despite bills requiring regulation to be "clear and concise", to be complicated and vague in almost all cases. Government bureaucracies don't want things to be easy, because they always want to a) be able to come back and charge more and b) keep the option for fines and civil penalties open.

There's a reason that all guidance from Federal agencies is considered "non-binding" after all. This allows a low-level staff employee to come back on an audit and make a determination against even guidance by the organization itself. If you've ever sought guidance from the federal government at your work, and then been audited, you understand what I'm on about here.

The income tax code is no different. It's designed to do three things. First, to maximize the amount of revenue the government can extract from you under threat of force. Second, to create an unruly tax structure which increases the risk of error, which increases the government's ability to levy fines and penalties. Third (and most importantly) to reward political patrons.

Streamlining the tax code, flattening and broadening it, and reducing the gifts to political patrons should be of primacy in any reform plan. It's not entirely clear that Trump's GOP has this in mind. A secondary goal should be to reduce the number of people who are not paying in and not sharing in the tax burden with the rest of us.  Current numbers put that figure at close to 50%. This means that almost half of Americans are being subsidized by the other half. If that number gets to 50% plus one, our democracy is kaput.

This doesn't mean that the rich should get a shave, that the middle class need more heaped on them, that businesses should be punished or that the poor should be made to pay 'their fair share'.  What it means is that a flattening, broadening and simplification is desperately needed in order to knock the system back into balance.

Does the GOP plan do that?  I'm doubtful.  As a matter of fact, I think any plan that would do that would be so unpopular that Americans would fly into an apocalyptic rage were it to be proposed.  The goal in America is to see the tax cut benefit them and start to be punitive at a level that's just above what they are making. Until we change that thinking, we're going to get what we have today, which is a wonky, hard to decipher mess of a system that can be gamed providing you have sufficient money.

In short: We're getting the tax code we deserve and we're getting it good and hard.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

HALV: As Politicians do....

"Never let a serious crisis go to waste". - Rahm Emanuel

It's undoubted that Mr. Emanuel, one of the more odious people in the odious profession of politics, was not the originator of that statement, yet he's given credit for co-opting and popularizing it to a new generation. Much like failed Texas Democratic candidate for Attorney General Daivd Van Os stole "Fight 'em until Hell freezes over and then Fight 'em on the Ice a few years back.

That's important because it provides some historical context for the histrionics that are surrounding the current debate regarding relief funds for the Houston region related to Hurricane Harvey.

Career back-bench State Legislature, and current Houston Mayor, Sylvester Turner wants to use Harvey to undo the pillow-soft, voter imposed revenue cap without having to call an election that there's a very real chance he could lose.  To add fuel to the fire, he's playing dutiful partisan Democrat by following the chain all the way up to the highest Republican, Greg Abbott.

Abbott, for his part, is aping the Gipper's "fiscal responsibility" play-book and is blaming Turner for Houston's tax and spend ways.  It's all very predictable, very boring and very unlikely to actually HELP those in need.

MOST, not all most, of the clean-up and rebuilding activities that directly impact residents fall primarily under the fiscal eye of officials at the County, State and Federal levels.  Yes, the City is involved in the gigantic task of picking up the waste that resulted from the storm, but even that task is going to be primarily funded by the feds.

Buying out homeowners? County

Rebuilding and strengthening flood infrastructure?  County, State and Federal

In fact, most of the taxpayer money the city is trying to take under the threat of force is earmarked for making the city, not the taxpayers, whole.  While the County, State and Federal governments are starting to pivot to prevention the City is still looking at replacing vehicles lost in the floods and repairing city buildings.

Should the State open the taps on the rainy day fund to assist with that?  Your mileage may vary depending, in large part, on your party identification.  I tend to think there are arguments for releasing some rainy day funds but not to the city, to the county and regional flood control work but that's me.

We've entered the "great game" phase of after-Harvey politics, the point in time where the small people that we've elected to rule over us try and score political points against one another and where the political momentum for actually getting things done falls away in a frenzy of partisanship, dim-wittedness and red-meat tossed to the political bases.  After all, politicians HAVE to get re-elected you understand.

It would be great, for Houston, if there was a media organization in town who could cover all of this with a level-head and aplomb.  Unfortunately, the leadership at the Houston Chronicle doesn't comprehend the difference between charity given out of service and taxes taken under the threat of force.

Remember all of this 5 years from now when we're still discussion the same issues and nothing has been done. It will be that way because you continue to vote for the same people who aren't all that interested in doing it in the first place.

The leadership vacuum continues to suck away.

Monday, September 25, 2017

BadHumanity: Bread.....and circuses.

On Sunday we found ourselves neck-deep in yet another "worst thing EVER" regarding the Trump administration when the Bronzed Ego decided to use a speech to supporters in Alabama, and a subsequent Tweet-storm, to scold the NFL on its players kneeling or protesting what they view as institutional racism during the National Anthem.

The NFL, naturally, used the outrage over this to pump themselves up as some kind of athletic "Global Force for Good" in communities, on the civil rights front-line and (apparently) for the rights of dogs everywhere to pee.  If pressed, and they weren't by the media anyway, no one at the Shield would dare admit, even in their most unguarded moments, that they viewed this as a god-send coming on the heels of Aaron Hernandez CTE findings and during the middle of Cowboy running back Zeke Elliot's kerfuffle involving domestic violence.

Nope, the NFL is here for you, your communities and, when they're honest, for those multiple Billions of dollars that you gift them out of your pocketbooks every year in the way of tickets, merchandise sales, TV rights, tax credits, stadium subsidies, extra overtime for police to provide security for the team etc.  The NFL wants you to know that they give greatness to you and just ignore all of the other stuff.

In a way, the explosion by the Bronzed Ego was a success. It's going to suck up all of the oxygen and distract you from things that aren't going so swimmingly for him.  If the man knows anything, it's how to wag the dog.

Which brings us to my problems with all of this.  Namely, that the four groups of people who are central players in this mockudrama are the four that I'm least likely to provide any gravitas to when setting my moral compass.

Athletes: Other than playing the sport they play, I don't really want to hear anything from athletes. I don't give their political or social views any weight, nor do I care who they voted for, what their issues are, or how they think America should be ran.  You're being paid an awful lot of money to play a game. And while I respect your right to free speech, I also retain the right to pretty much ignore what you say, even if I agree with it.

Entertainers: Same as with athletes.  You can rant, rave, come up with catchy slogans, shed a tear when talking about the plight of the unfortunate (as you do) and it's not going to change my opinion one iota. If I decided to boycott every entertainer, musician or personality that held a different political view than me would be able to watch TV, go to movies or listen to music at all. The thing is though, I don't care.  Darren Arnofky's mother! wasn't an unmitigated piece of crap because of his and Jennifer Lawrence's odd politics, it was an unmitigated piece of crap because it was stupid and it sucked, was clumsily told, and was nothing more than Arnofky's hatred of religion force-fed down your throat. It lacked both subtlety and nuance, which always makes for a bad movie.

Journalists: The hot takes from the media over this have been epic. Even Politifarce is chiming in trying to convince us that NFL ratings are not way down, after two solid years of the same media (and the raw numbers) telling us that they are.  Journalists love to use breathless exclamations such as "must-read" and "powerful" and (my favorite) "important" to describe works of their peers.  When you get right down to it however those rarely apply when dealing with columnists, or opinion.  Where those do apply is in honest-to-God watchdog, investigative reporting, but you don't get much of that any more.  The journalists in this mess are just trying to increase eyes on their product, and that includes the network broadcasters for these games who are making damn sure to broadcast every detail of every national anthem, with a special focus on the players 'serious' faces while someone sings the vocal-cord strangling anthem in the background.  "Courage".

Politicians: I've said it many times on this blog, I've no use for politics or politicians. I am comfortable making the blanket statement that every politician is in it for themselves, and their sole job is to increase the power and influence of their position.  Oh sure, they'll argue this, they're scream and drone on about "public service" and that crap but when you really get down to it, when you judge their views and actions, it's very clear that they view themselves as the ruling class and everyone around them to be ruled.  this extends, for the most part, to the Federal, State and local bureaucracy as well.

So here you have an issue that bundles up the worst of societies actors, and dumps them on the public in one big disgusting opinion bomb, complete with a thorny racial issue to boot.  I've stated before on this blog, and on many different places, my belief that there is such a thing in America as "driving while black" and it sucks. I don't claim to understand or be able to truly understand how that must feel because, being Caucasian myself, it doesn't apply to me. I also get that slavery was never properly addressed in this country, and I too am puzzled with the losing side in a battle (The Confederacy) is given such a large place in writing the history of it. (you don't see plaques and statutes to Nazi heroes in Germany for example).  Part of the reason, I'm sure, is the uncomfortable position the War Between the States places us in.

Slavery was an evil institution, but does that mean, as with Nazism, that all those who fought for the Confederacy were evil as well?  And do we now transfer the sins of the forefathers to their descendants as many are wont to do in this issue?  I haven't researched it (honestly I don't feel I need to) but I'm positive that at least one side of my family owned slaves in the past (they owned cotton farms after all) but the other side I'm pretty sure didn't because they were all poor.  but does that mean that I'm guilty by association?

The logical answer is no, of course not. But increasingly society seems to say yes, you are.  And that is the crux of all of this.  These are heady issues that should be discussed intelligently, and rationally between the few remaining adults in America. Unfortunately it's being conducted, largely on Twitter, Facebook, the media (who are desperately looking to profit off of it) inside the confines of a professional sports league who's using it to distract from some very real problems and by a President who simply doesn't know any better.

In short: It's the worst sort of problem involving the worst sort of people none of whom have a vested interest in actually seeing it solved.  You can always bake more bread, and you can always build another ring for the circus.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

BadScience: The Lack of Trusted Voices Matters a LOT.

Given my history of writing, and knowing my occupation within the oil and gas industry, you might be surprised to find out that I DO believe that the Earth's climate is changing. I believe that the climate of this pebble has been changing for somewhere around 4.54 Billion years and it continues to do so today.

You may also be surprised to find out that I'm very concerned about pollution that results from modern society including, but not limited to, my very own oil and gas industry.  As you read above, I also, despite my open Christianity, believe that the Earth was NOT created 5-6,000 years ago but more like 4.54 Billion years ago and that evolution is a very real thing.

I also think that one of the worst things to happen in modern society is the politicization of pretty much everything.  This despite, for years, writing what is known by my handful of readers as being a pretty horrible politics blog.

And yes, I believe in, and appreciate, science.  Most importantly I value the scientific method and frequently mourn it's recent passing.  I mourn it because there are a lot of bad things that happen when we don't believe in science, or the scientific method, and allow our politics to dominate the conversation.

 - Vaccines (or the refusal to use them)
 - Nutrition (and the obesity epidemic)
 - Food supply (ethanol and GMO's being two examples of this)

But the things I worry most about are pollution and climate change, in that order.

When Al Gore first formed his investment group and realized that the American populace was a) sadly uneducated on the scientific method and b.) he could make a mint off of this fact, it all started to go downhill.  What followed was a movie with nine proven factual errors being given the Oscar for "Best Outstanding Documentary" and outsized influence because those of a similar political disposition liked the cut of Gore's jib.

And everyone loves a villain.

Trust me when I tell you that there is NO better villain in this world than so-called "Big Oil".  Not that they're evil, but that they operate on a massive scale, generate some fairly hefty profits at times, are primarily led by old Caucasian guys and, when accidents happen, they are whoppers.

But they usually are just that, accidents. In my over a decade working in the industry I've never heard, or been part of, conversations about harming the environment, or cutting corners to put people in harm's way.  I'm not suggesting this goes on, but most of the engineers that I've met have no desire to have their project 'in the news' or 'creating a headline'.  That's just truth.  I realize few believe it but since you probably aren't in the industry there's no way I can prove it and it probably wouldn't matter anyway.

That's because we've been conditioned, by our politicians and society, to discount information that contradicts our beliefs no matter how compelling the facts are surrounding the case.  For example:

The Climate Change Computer Models (around which there is such scientific "consensus" that they are treated as Gospel) are not accurately matching what is going on in the real world.  They neither foresaw the "pause" in heating that occurred nor are they accurately reflecting the real-world results of a decrease in carbon. This doesn't mean that human activity doesn't contribute to the change, only that it might not be the main driving force behind it.

In "scientific" circles, that makes me a "climate denier' which symbolizes my empathy and de facto agreement with Holocaust deniers according to leading scientific lights such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye (the Science Guy).  There are some who even suggest (seriously) that those who point this out should be arrested, sent to 'reconditioning camps' even.  I guess so that we can have the heresy beaten out of us?

But again, those two distinguished thinkers that I just referenced are less scientists now and more political activists. That's where the money and fame lie. There is also the problem that neither Tyson, or Nye are actual climate scientists.  That's right, the leading argument used by Michael Mann against those who pointed out flaws in his hockey stick diagram (namely, that they weren't climate scientists) can be leveled accurately against the two proponents of the same.

And this gets us to the point of this post (finally):

The biggest problems with climate change are not that enough resources are being spent, too few economies are being destroyed, too little money is flowing into the already sizable bank accounts of Al Gore's investment groups, too-little power is being handed over to the world government, that the poorer nations aren't getting paid enough money by the richer ones, no.  The biggest problem is that the politicization of the issue is preventing us from figuring out what we can do to deal with it rather then destroying society in a fairly useless attempt at stopping something that's been going on before man was even a single-cell organism.

The biggest problem is us.

Because we choose to listen to politicians who are simply trying to punish political enemies (and, in many cases, impede the other 'side' from fund-raising or rent-seeking), get re-elected and gain majorities at all levels over government in order to increase their power base and pay off their political patrons. We chose to forget what the scientific method really is in lieu of some neat Power Point slides and a movie or three with gee-whiz special effects. Think about this: It was a Democratic US Representative who stated she wanted to "Nationalize the US Oil companies" and you know what?  Once that happened the debate over "carbon-caused climate change" would disappear overnight.

We put too much power in the hands of functional idiots, and then we wonder why things are as they are.

We currently have a President who couldn't make a solid go of it as a casino owner in an industry that basically prints money.  And look at the US Senate. To quote Obi Wan Kenobi: "You will never find a bigger hive of scum and villainy."  And REALLY stupid people.  The House of Representatives is just as bad.  Even worse are your state-elected officials, and then your municipal and county politicians. It's an ever growing pile of incompetence, inability and utterly clueless people. (Not to mention, horribly socially awkward)  And, no, it's not the fault of everyone else, your elected representatives are just as bad.  You won't admit it in most cases because then you have to admit that you voted for them.

The worst thing about all of this is that not only have we elected low-functioning idiots to rule us (and, make no mistake about it, they're not public servants, THEY ARE RULERS in America at this point) but we're taking totally gormless entertainers seriously.

No, Jennifer Lawrence, it wasn't God who was punishing us for Donald Trump that caused the hurricanes, and no Neil deGrasse Tyson it wasn't climate change that suddenly caused them to appear.

It was primarily the Atlantic mulitdecadal oscillation.

That you haven't heard that term on a newscast, from a politician or from *snicker* Leonardo DiCaprio is everything wrong with the entire situation in one.neat.package.