Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Presumptuous Blogging: Things you should (Or shouldn't) read. (08/09/2017)

Yesterday ESPN changed ESPNU to ESPN 8 "The Ocho" 13 years too late.

And I missed it.

If Patrick Wants to Demonize Cities, Should he Enjoy their Amenities? Lisa Falkenberg. HoustonChronicle.com ($$$) - Where the former teen columnists makes a juvenile argument against Dan "The Man Who Would be King" Patrick.

I'm no fan of Patrick, but criticism such as this just isn't helpful.  It's clear here that Patrick's criticism is leveled solidly at the Democratic ruling classes of big cities, not the people that live in them.  Flip this around a bit and you'll see how stupid this argument is: "If Lisa Falkenberg wants to Demonize Trump's America, should she be allowed to live in it?"  These are arguments that children, not serious political thinkers, make.

Houston Should Make Batteries to Continue as Global Energy Capitol. Chris Tomlinson. HoustonChronicle.com ($$$) - It's a blessing that these are hidden behind the paywall, because there is some dodgy logic here.

With each column he writes it becomes pretty obvious that Austin-based Chris Tomlinson is not really a "business columnist", in fact he doesn't really "get" business at all.  He especially doesn't understand the energy industry and shouldn't really write about it.  1950's style manufacturing of batteries is NOT going to keep Houston at the cutting edge of energy. Nor is the oil and gas industry all that likely to go away even IF the personal transportation fleet moves to electrical.  Petroleum, lest we forget, is necessary for plastics manufacturing and natural gas, lest we forget, is key to cheap energy production.  Houston's going to be just fine.

Sylvester Turner's Salary far Exceeds Mayoral Colleagues. Charles Blain, Empower Texans. - It's GOOD to be in Houston's ruling class.

Turner, a career back-bench legislator in State politics, waited his whole life to become Mayor of Houston and his limitations are on increasing display.  Cronyism, fealty to long-time political patrons and a dearth of actual ideas are defining his administration.

Fit Mom Maria Kang criticizes plus-size model Tess Holiday on body positivity. Yahoo! - Ugly people bickering with uglier people.

We often make the mistake of judging beauty based solely on physical appearance. What we often forget is that one's attitude, and how we generally treat people is a better indicator.  From this perspective this spat is a bunch of ugly people screaming at one another for attention.  We should not give it to them. (In fact, I will not mention them again, only to point this out).  In fact, It's high-time we stop paying attention to ANYONE who is famous simply for being famous. (Good bye Kardashians, and anyone whose career is "Instagram Model")

Scientists fear Trump will dismiss blunt Climate Change Report. Lisa Friedman, NY Times - WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!

The problem with the entire climate change 'movement' is that they don't actually have any workable ideas how to 'fix' an intractable issue, they just want taxes, more money for 'research' and lump-sum cash payments to Al Gore's investment group.  My novel idea is this:  Instead of trying to figure out how to "prevent" something over which we likely have negligible control we had damn-sure better start figuring out how to DEAL with the problem.  I'll say it again: Pollution is a good place to start, because I'm more worried about it than I am Climate Change.

Lena Dunham and Google Demonstrate why our Free Speech Culture is Slipping Away. David French. National Review. - Except that neither of these issues really involves free speech.

"Congress shall make no law". Notice that it didn't say "Google" or "Very bad people who are famous for writing a television show of dubious quality".  What speech private companies choose to police from their employees is NOT a free speech issue. Lena Dunham making up a story about two American Airlines employees having a transphobic talk (as people do) and reporting it to their employer is NOT a free speech issue. Do I agree with Google or Dunham?  Of course not. Google is a damn menace and Dunham is an ugly (see above) mean-spirited liar.

and finally.....

Tillerson: Trump's 'tough talk' aims to send a message to North Korea. Doina Chiacu, US News & World Report - Fighting back against Un.

For some reason (my theory, they're functional idiots) many Democrats in elected positions have suddenly discovered the North Korea issue and are trying to erase 50 some-odd years of erratic behavior to make it seem as if Trump is the root cause of all this.  Lest we forget, Obama speant 8 years ignoring the issue and the US has been overall clueless how to deal with the world's premier "rogue state" since the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement.  Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it and all of that jazz.  We are truly governed by the least among us and I'm afraid it's going to jump up and bite us in the ass.

Then again, we get the government we deserve....


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Presumptuous Blogging (Things you should, or shouldn't read) 08/01/2017

It's been almost eight months since I've taken a deep-dive into the media of the moment. Given the amount of mis-information that's floating around right now I think it's time to, once again, cut through the clutter.

Big Oil, Houston Execs, Urge Governor to Flush Bathroom Bill. Mike Ward et al. HoustonChronicle ($$$) - This is your almost daily reminder that the TLSPM HATES Big Oil and Big Business, unless they don't.

The fact is that the debate around the so-called "bathroom bill" has become an unhealthy obsession for many. Not only are Patrick's Potty Principles probably unneeded, but they're being actively argued against by the 'other side' in dishonest terms.  I'm not a fan of the bill but I don't think it's necessarily a 'hate bill' either.  People who say that are just as silly as the people pushing the bill as some milestone of public safety.  A more sober analysis would suggest to let the bill die and allow the free market to work it out. Already there are some companies choosing to allow anyone to choose any bathroom they wish with mixed results.

What if the South had won the Civil War? USA Today - This would be the only way the South could rise again.  On television.

This is a story that I would like to be told.  I think it would be interesting and thought-provoking. Unfortunately I'm worried that both American Society and the American Ruling Class are not mature enough to have it told to them.  We already live in a world where people look to entertainers for political guidance, a move that is as stupid as many of the actors themselves.  We have a long history in this World of confusing the ability to play a role with actual subject knowledge. 


Why I will not become a Democrat. Chris Ladd, Forbes - A good piece that outlines pretty much everything wrong with the Democratic Party.

I'm not a historic fan of Ladd, who spent most of his time railing on Republicans BEFORE they went off the rails and only seems somewhat reasonable now when they've actually gone off the rails in a wave of populism and authoritarian leanings.  That said, I agree with him on two points: 1. A thinking conservative cannot, in good conscious, follow THIS GOP. 2. A thinking conservative cannot, under any circumstances, align themselves with a Democratic Party who, in many ways, is even worse.  I'm unsure where the safe landing zone is however.  So for now I'm nothing more than a non-voting observer.

Top Venezuelan Opposition Leaders Taken Into Custody Amid Fears of Wider Crackdowns. Anthony Faiola, Washington Post - This is what REAL Authoritarianism looks like.

I posted, much earlier in the year, that the USA was an authoritarian country, by that I meant that what the citizenry really wants is to have their ideals forced on others.  What we're seeing in Venezuela is real, jack-boot authoritarianism of the type the courtesan class in America only imagines for itself.  The next time you hear a functional-idiot politician screaming about American authoritarianism from the Trump administration show them this and send them back to their room.

Defund Planned Parenthood? Texas Shows What Happens. Vernon Loeb, HoustonChronicle ($$$) - That's all well and good except that the article doesn't make the case Loeb thinks it does.

All Loeb demonstrates is that Planned Parenthood is hurt when they lose Federal Funding. The "other" clinics that closed were not affected by that in the slightest, and it's disingenuous to suggest that a non-PP clinic closing is any kind of a direct result of a PP defunding.  The idea that "what's bad for PP is bad for Texas" is a tenuous theory with no evidence that has been solidly swallowed by the TLSPM.  In that vein, you have to give Cecile Richards some credit. She's successfully leveraged the outsized myth of her Mother in the minds of the TLSPM to convince them to accept her side of the story without question.

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and the Paid Pakistani IT scammers. Andrew C. McCarthy - What should be a HUGE political scandal, but isn't.

This feels like a big deal.  And it encompasses many Democratic Senators and Representatives, all who paid out-sized salaries to these people who were possibly funneling the money to anti-US interests in Pakistan, and possibly stealing US secrets to boot.  Not-amazingly, the media has gone silent on this. While the Washington Post likes to tell you that "Democracy Dies in Darkness" they've made it pretty clear that there's only one type of Democracy that they're worried about killing off. Also, in a sane world Wasserman-Schultz wouldn't be able to win an election for dog-catcher.

Metro re-thinking shared rail lanes downtown. Dug Begley, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$) - You might be about to lose even MORE traffic lanes in Downtown Houston.

On another note, it appears that Houston has officially ceded all of it's transportation planning to Metro board member Christof Spieler. This is the man that is responsible for the terrible "reimagining' of bus service that has deprived many who were transit dependent of bus service in lieu of making Metro a ride-share service for the upper-middle class. The simple fact is that Metro Houston is NOT working, MetroRail is suffering, ridership is down and now the agency claims they want to bring the same level of service to the suburbs.  Generally I approve of 'outside-in' transit service but I think new leadership is needed at this organization desperately before they mess that up as well.

And finally.....

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/sports/astros/article/Astros-down-Rays-as-early-lead-holds-up-11722095.php - Current Lead: 16 games.

While I'm worried about the pitching of the Astros I'm not as concerned, as some, about their inability to land a front-line starter at the trade deadline.  I saw a graphic last night that the team was 7-7 over their last 14 games. In my mind the goal for the team should be to get the damn roster healthy.  The best "additions" to the Astros right now would be a healthy Carlos Correa, a healthy Lance McCullers, and a healthy and dealing Dallas Keuchel.  I still think the Astros have the best lineup in the major leagues. I think they will go far in the playoffs if the pitching staff they have can round into good health by the playoffs.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campaign finance reform as an economic aid?

Please.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is sad.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

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

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

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

The responses to him doing so are...um.....odd.

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

I don't get that critique at all.

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

And this is odd to some?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that should be a bipartisan area of agreement.

Friday, June 02, 2017

USLV: We are losing our collective minds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shame on us.





































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

Thursday, June 01, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then.  Please read.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's the rub.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

TXLV: You're about to pay more for your beer and liquor, with less choices.

Hold on to your wallets, because the Texas Legislature is at it again....

Craft Brewers call Texas Legislature's passage of bill 'disheartening'. Ronnie Crocker, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$)

A bill that would force Texas breweries, once they've grown beyond a state-limited size, to sell and buy back their own beer before offering it in their own taprooms has now passed both houses of the state Legislature.

Before we go any further I want you to think about the logistics of this for a minute.

1. Texas Brewery brews beer, wants to sell some from their taproom.
2. If they are above a certain size (175,000 barrels of annual production) they cannot unless....
3. The 'sell' the beer to distributors and then buy it back at a mark-up (sometimes as high as 30%).
4. It is likely the beer in question will never leave the premises.

In other words the Texas Legislature, supposedly one of the most conservative in the country, has just mandated that Texas brewers of a certain size must pay up to a 30% tax on their wares to a private industry for which the industry does not have to offer any services upon return.

Of all the bad liquor laws in the State of Texas, including those that Wal-Mart is challenging in Federal Court and almost anything related to the TABC this undoubtedly takes the gold medal as the worst.

Imagine if you made sandwiches and wanted to sell them at a restaurant, but the Texas Legislature ruled that you could not sell those sandwiches until you paid 30% of their value to Sysco. This would be true even if you purchased your meat from a local butcher, and brought it to your restaurant without their services.

I would imagine you would feel a little bit put out by all of this.

Yet, our august officials in the Texas Legislature (with mostly Republicans voting in the affirmative) have determined that this is a very good thing and an area where government should get involved. I would say that I can't wait to hear Dan (the Man who would be King) Patrick offer up a 'conservative' argument for this but I'd be lying.  Lying because I doubt any politician is going to be asked to explain their vote, or offer justification for it. It's unlikely that they'll suffer for it at the ballot box either because, on the whole, Texas citizens don't care.

What they do care about is being able to buy beer, wine and liquor at commodity prices, whether or not the product in question is, in fact, a commodity.  While buying liquor in Houston I've, first-hand, heard customers arguing for massive discounts on luxury liquors such as Louis III, Pappy and some high-end Champagnes.  They want Dom or Veuve (more of a mid-range product but that's another post) but they want to pay low-end Moet prices. $9.99 per bottle please.

Of course, that $3.00 tap beer will now cost $4.00 despite never having left the facility. A dollar of that cost is going to a company that is doing nothing at all except collect a private tax imposed on the producer by Texas' increasingly un-conservative legislature.

I, for one, hope the breweries sue.  Because I think they'll win if they frame this as an unconstitutional taking. The argument for seems pretty strong.

I hate to say it for the small liquor stores but I hope Wal-Mart wins as well.  Texas liquor laws need to be blown up, rewritten and the ground needs to be salted where the three-tiered system once stood.

Then what is left of the GOP needs to do some soul-searching and decide whether or not they want to keep their elected officials. Increasingly, it's getting harder and harder to find ones that deserve an affirmative answer to that question.  Certainly no-one in leadership.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

TLSPM: "If I (and my friends) don't like it it must be cronyism" is a tired saw.

I have to admit to chuckling, just a bit, when I read the latest missive from the Houston Chronicle's business-unfriendly business columnist today.

Buddy System still rules in Austin, and those friends don't come cheap. Chris Tomlinson, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$)

It's the same-old, tired, Texas Lock-Step Political Media saw:  "If I don't like the bills that passed, and the things they accomplished I'm just going to bemoan special interests and call it a column."  I'm starting to wonder if these are pre-written, or if there is a form column out there somewhere?

Because it's always the same.

That is not to say that crony-capitalism is not alive and well in Texas. Of course it is. In fact, Tomlinson mentions a couple of areas where it's on full display.  Namely, auto sales and the construction industry.  He left out one of the biggest, the liquor distribution con that upholds the "Texas 3-step" to the benefit of a few and the detriment of many, but he's never seemed to really get behind issues such as this anyway.

Of course he's mad that the Texas Railroad Commission wasn't totally revamped, because his friends in certain special interest groups didn't get their way.  An argument could be made however that the voters who elected oil and gas industry-friendly representatives to large majorities in Texas are quite happy with the way things are going at the RRC right now.

The name change to the Texas Energy Commission seems like an expensive waste of time, and the proposals that Sierra Club and others are making are not to protect the environment, they're designed to cripple and industry that is one of the largest employers in the State.  People rarely vote to be unemployed. regardless of whether or not their industry makes political donations.

Yes, it would have been nice to see some real tax reform come from the Lege this year, but not of the type Tomlinson is asking for (which involves huge tax increases on everyone in case you're wondering) and it also would have been nice to see something done about roads.  Texas is currently solving it's problems via the toll road option, an option for which I'm not entirely opposed.

Education spending is a tougher hill to climb. In large part this is because our schools are doing a horrible job in regards to wise spending. It's tough to cry poor when many districts are still spending hundreds of Millions of dollars on football stadiums, or when it's reported that the administration growth outpaces teacher growth.  Also when centralized administrative staff is averaging twice the salary of teachers. In short, we have too many administrative staff on the payroll making too much per year.

Speaking of cronyism, isn't that what happens when the Texas Municipal League advocates against property tax reform? Yet the TLSPM does not treat it as so despite the fact that you have an organization seeking to protect its bottom line at the expense of consumers. The only difference being that Tomlinson and his ilk like to attend cocktail parties with elected officials, they don't get invited to the cocktail parties thrown by CEO's and the like.

Almost every bill is going to have winners and losers, and quite often the winners will donate money to politicians to ensure they stay in the W column. This is not cronyism as much as it is politics today, especially at the State and Local level where the ordinary citizen does not pay much attention to the goings-on.

I would say that it would help if columnists stopped being lazy by using the non-magical version of Rita Skeeter's auto-quote quill, but it wouldn't.  Because most people aren't paying attention anyway. Increasingly, they're just tuning out the newspapers and finding other things to do.

It's, partially, the newspaper's fault because they failed to adapt to changing times. It's also partially our fault because we haven't been paying attention. We get the government we deserve.

Blaming cronyism doesn't change that central fact, but it probably makes for quicker column writing, which allows for a writer spending more time in leisure activity.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

TXLV: Just pass the budget and call it a day.

Apparently, the Texas Legislature is getting close to being hopelessly snarled as the personal pillow fight between Lt. Gov. Dan 'The Man who would be King' Patrick and House Speaker Joe "Special Interest" Straus continues to fester.

Not that this is a bad thing. Because when the Lege gets it going, Texas taxpayers typically take a hit to the pocketbook.

So how about this then:  Just pass the budget and walk away.

It's the only thing that the Texas Legislature is required to do by the Texas Constitution, and the only thing they should do in this raucous atmosphere.  Pass the budget, leave well enough alone.  Ignore those "important" conservative issues and those Democratic plans to increase spending, just pass the budget and walk away.

Yes, there are important issues out there that need to be addressed, tax reform (especially property tax) being the most important, but do you trust this cast of clowns to pass anything meaningful?

I know I don't.

At this point it seems most prudent for lawmakers to just admit that they don't have the skill, creativity or talent to address those issues, pass a budget and fade into the sunset.  Let the voters sift through the ashes in the next election cycle.

I'm not suggesting that will change anything, because people will re-elect the same idiots back into the offices they currently hold for the most part, but maybe it will give this cast of D-list public servants two more years to talk to people who actually understand the issues and craft some legislation that makes sense.

Right now it's a clown show, a crisis not only of leadership, but of statesmanship as well.

Hit the reset button folks, pass the budget and go home.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

HALV: Turner's Running out of Time.

Before we get started on Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner's proposed budget a couple of key points need to be understood.

1. The current bill that's floating around the Texas Legislature is not "pension reform". It's a funding mechanism to kick the can down the road until more revenue can be raised.
2. The current budget is designed to make Houston residents pine for increased services. It's effects were calculated to increase the pain.

Turner to use cuts, one-time fixes and reserves to close $123 Million gap. Rebecca Elliott, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$)

The budget itself is a mish-mash of cuts and payment obligation deferments, where Turner is seeking to kick the fiscal can just a little bit further down the road until he can get his vote on removing the revenue cap.

In order to fulfill this thirst for money, the Zoo, the animal shelter and needed maintenance are going to be financially burdened, making already bad problems worse.

Turner, a life-long back-bencher in Texas politics, has a limited ideological toolbox with which to fix this mess. His one-note, unimaginative style of politics only knows "raise taxes" and that's what he's planning to do.  In fact, if you own a home in Texas you might want to be braced for your taxes to be increased until your eyes bleed.

Houston needs a LOT of money to meet current and future pension obligations and since the City of Houston generates no revenues to speak of, they can only increase their money by increasing their levels of forced takings from the citizenry. This money will then be given over to the police, fire and municipal employee unions and what's left will be distributed to the political patrons of Houston elected officials.

I expect the developers in town will continue to do OK.

Turner continues to preach about Houston being "competitive" with the local market.  He thinks that if the city raises property taxes and other fees people will still stay in the city limits because of the plethora of walking paths and parks they have built.

I've a feeling Turner is 100% wrong. Population trends are already showing people voting with their feet and moving outside the City limits to escape a high-tax environment, shoddy infrastructure and unsafe neighborhoods.  Can you imagine this will lessen once Turner pushes through his first massive property tax increase?

Hardly.

Turner is running out of time.  And he lacks the political creativity to do anything but throw up proposals to remove the very revenue caps that keep Houston's government in check, if only just.

That's not very world class Houston. Not very wold class at all.
 

TXLV: Texas is getting the government it deserves. (And it's not pretty)

I've never met a politician that I would like to join at a bar and drink a beer with.

And I've met several of them. This is probably because all politicians are not the "sit down and enjoy a beer while watching the game" type of people.  In reality they are the "sit down and enjoy a beer while watching the game only if I can see some benefit to me or my campaign" type of people.

I'm not being rude, that's just reality.

The way our political system currently operates people don't get re-elected by being a decent person, or even all that personable (i.e. Borris Myles) they get re-elected mainly through name-recognition and the fact that the power of the incumbency grants them large campaign chests with which to outspend all but the most wealthy competition.

How do they amass wealth in their campaign funds? By offering gift-basket legislation to large political donors.

Brewers Object to Beer Measure. Ronnie Crocker, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$)

The bill originally would have forced Karbach and the others to shutter their taprooms. A revised version allowed them to continue operating them, but it would require breweries above the limit to first sell their beer to a distributor and buy it back - at a markup of around 30 percent - before selling it on site.

The wholesaler's logic behind this is laughable. They are only trying to "protect" craft brewers from those big, mean multi-national beer companies.  They alone have the ability to do this you see.  All they need is a 30% mark-up on beer that never leaves the brewery in order to do so.  Never mind that some (not all) of these distributors are part-owned by the very multi-national liquor companies they claim to be so valiantly protecting the little guy against.

The thing is, there's a better than average chance that a bill this odious, so obviously an attempt to redistribute income for no work whatsoever, is going to pass because the distributors spend a LOT of money wooing politicians, throwing "welcoming" galas for them at the beginning of the Legislative session and dumping the maximum amount into their campaign chests.

When a Texas politician sits down to have a beer, it's usually to discuss what the Wholesale lobby is going to do for him/her next.  Even the ones that DO sit down with the small, independent brewers are only doing it because someone in their staff told them it's a "good look", good looks being important to those in show business after all.

The point here is that it doesn't matter which party you put in power, the levers are still the same, only the labels change.  If you think that a Democratic regime in Texas wouldn't do the same thing you're sadly mistaken. They're the ones that allowed the distributors to gain so much influence and power in the first place.  Democratic cows are no less sacred, they're just a different breed of cow.

A lot of people moan and cry over this. Functional idiots such as Elizabeth "High Cheekbones" Warren and Bernie "Three Dachas" Sanders have made a living pushing the "get money out of politics" fallacy after all.

What they all know is this:  As long as a significant portion of the American population doesn't pay attention to politics at any level beyond glancing at the occasional headline, or poorly reported story (the media in this country is just as bad as the politicians for the most part) they can go on saying one thing, doing another, and still be held up as the "hero of the little guy" while deciding which vacation home they should visit next.

The story in Texas is just the same, only the casual dress is different.  While the pols in DC prefer Cardigan sweaters the 'everyman' politician in Texas likes to be seen hunting and wearing camouflage. On dressy occasions its boots and a cowboy hat, the latter of which they frequently wear indoors.

Something no gentleman or lady would ever do.


Something to think about.


Tuesday, May 02, 2017

HALV: The road frequently traveled.

It's always cute when the local media in Houston discovers traffic.

Who is battling the worst commute in Houston? Tera Roberson & Jennifer Reyna, KPRC

Our region is growing so fast, commutes are getting longer and longer for many people. KPRC Channel 2 News crunched drive times from the north, east, south and west to find out who is sitting in traffic the longest.

My guess is that the bulk of you stuck in this morass have heard the My Metro ad for Catherine, the ballet dancer. It's a touchy-feely ad about what Metro considers to be their demographic and it's illustrative of why the agency is not a serious transit solution.

The fact is, Catherine is one-tenth of one-tenth of one-tenth of one percent of Houston's commuters. But she's exactly who Metro is targeting.  Not the 99.999% of people who need to get to/from work every day, but people who view the train as a wedding chapel or a way for tourists to go from downtown to NRG during the Super Bowl, or as a vehicle for Inner-Loop land developers to pad their pockets.

What Metro is decidedly not, is a commute solution for the overwhelming majority of Houston commuters.

Then there are the freeways themselves, designed on the "wheel and spoke" system they are hopelessly congested and becoming more and more so as people continue to move into the areas surrounding Houston. (Not the city center, which is a problem)

Of late I've been reading a lot about the problems with the US transportation system and I've come to the, admittedly somewhat radical, conclusion that our biggest mistake was turning it over to our government. In short, the government is a horrible transportation planner, because their goal is not (as they profess) to provide transportation options to the masses, but to ensure that their sacred patron cows get fed.

In that vein, Metro is not trying to serve the transportation needs of Houston, but trying to ensure that the smart-growth set has their wish-list boxed ticked. Metro wants a shiny train because a few people, often of the bat-shit crazy David Crossley persuasion, feel that having one makes a city "world-class". In fact, they couldn't be more wrong.

Metro-rail is the leading example of "world-classiness" in a city that is full of them. In fact, there is nothing with a higher "world-classiness" shine on it than the mumble-something miles of track that actually don't go anywhere.

This is because (and this is going to be hard for city "brights" to swallow) Houston is NOT a world-class city. It's a global hub for energy development sure, and a shining star in the world of medicine, but as a city Houston is decidedly regional in nature. In fact, watching government for as long as I have the only conclusion can be that both Houston, and the media who covers it, are decidedly small-town, full of cronyism and possessing an inferiority complex so-large it might have it's own gravity field.

In fact, America only has two "world-class" cities. New York and San Francisco, each for different reasons and each facing their own crisis of leadership.  Everyone else is just fighting to be the leading light of the second team.

And Houston is failing at that.

The problem with finding a solution is that neither side seems to have enough mental capacity to understand that the solution is not either a.) the Crossley solution i.e. everyone but he and his friends give up their cars, move inside the loop and survive in a ghetto-like morass of high-rises and body odor or b.) the Culberson plan where everyone has a car but insufficient, poorly designed infrastructure to allow them to move.

I would argue that the ultimate solution lies in trying to find a blend to the two, with the acknowledgement that there are some people that you are never going to convince to not take their car to work, and those who would happily do so if the Danger Train was somehow converted into a transit solution instead of a serial killer.

Would there still be congestion?  Of course, because even with the best-planned and executed transit systems people have a desire to drive.  London has a wonderful system that (most times) can get you where you need to go. When vacationing abroad I never buy a car. I walk, ride and can get wherever I need to go relatively quickly. But London is still one of the more congested cities in the world.

Nothing is going to change that in Houston, but were Metro a competent organization at least there might be an "opt-out" option, something that is lacking now.

No, SB 2190 is not a "Pension Fix"

There's joy in Mudville this morning as the Texas Lock-Step Political Media is casting joyous shouts to the tax heavens declaring Houston's coming pension disaster "fixed" with the passage of a bill in the Texas Senate that does no such thing.

Texas Senate passes bill overhauling Houston's troubled pension system. Brandon Formby, John Thornton's Tribune.

Houston is already facing a $90 to $100 million shortfall in its budget that has to be approved by the end of next month. In July, when Houston's 2018 fiscal year begins, the city will have to pay $130 million into the police retirement fund. If pension reform legislation goes through, the city plans to quickly issue its $1 billion in planned bonds to avoid draining $130 million from its general fund. If the city has to use its the general fund for that payment, it will create a $220 to $240 million budget shortfall that will lead to layoffs for city employees, including police officers and firefighters, according to Turner.

Houston Pension Reform Bill Passes Senate by wide margin. Mike Morris, HoustonChronicle

The legislation would require a referendum on the $1 billion in bonds Turner plans to inject into the under-funded police and municipal pensions, cash that also was used to bring those groups to the negotiating table for additional rounds of benefit cuts since Houston's pension crisis began in the early 2000s. If the referendum fails, the bill would reverse the groups' benefit cuts.

There are two important take-aways here that are being downplayed by the TLSPM.

First, this bill is not now, nor was it ever intended to be, a pension "fix".  This bill allows for the City to take on $1 Billion of extra debt to pay obligations without draining the general fund to cover current and overdue liabilities.  Since the overdue liabilities are, relatively, interest free, and the bonds will have interest, this is akin to refinancing your house with credit cards.  It's a dumb move but it does provide the city of Houston a moment's pause without having to make any politically unpopular cuts.

Second, Turner's "pension fix" is actually the upcoming vote on lifting Houston's pillow-soft revenue cap.  If that is successful then he can raise taxes during his "lame duck" 4-year term extensively to a point that his political patrons on the pension boards are made whole.  For as much as Turner has tried to be seen as "adversarial" to the pensions, he really has them to thank for much of his political career.

So the entire enchilada is going to be rolled up in two future votes. One addressed in this bill (the $1 Billion in bonds) and one that's out there but only being paid lip-service for the time being.  The city's hope is that the populace doesn't put two and two together, and that they're not paying close enough attention to realize what is going on.  The media can't be relied upon to report it, in part because they don't understand what they're reporting on and in part because they don't have a problem with huge tax increases to fund the pensions of their institutional sources, people they like, spend a lot of time around and rely upon to get scoops.

Another problem is that the opposition to this, although correct in their arguments, doesn't have a popular face of the franchise to lead them into the debate.  Bill King is a nice enough guy, but he was rejected by Houston voters while Bettencourt and (The Man who would be King) Dan Patrick are unlikable actors supported mainly by people living outside the city limits. It also doesn't help that the opposition has failed to keep its powder dry on many occasions in the past, instead of focusing on a few key issues affecting Houston's future.  Deserved or not, what passes for conservative opposition in Houston is widely viewed as the "Party of No" because that seems to be their default for everything. At least on this King offered an alternate plan, which is out of character for the right-leaning groups in town.

To be clear, there can be no pension 'fix' until something is done to lower the funding obligations. As long as the pension rules stay the same (and the tweaks here for "cash-balancing" plans is not enough of a change) then the city will continue to find itself in danger of perpetually under-funding, or being forced to raise taxes to a level that the population drain becomes unsustainable.

Nothing in this bill addresses that, and there's no sign that Mayor Turner understands the problem, or that he would be inclined to address it even if he did. You don't get elected Mayor by stepping on the toes of those who have carried you your entire career after all.

That sucking sound you're hearing is not just the tax vacuum being turned on, it's the continued suction created by Houston's lack of leadership.

Monday, February 06, 2017

HALV: $1.5 Billion (Yes, with a B)

As I was catching up on my Houston Stupid Bowl reading late last night and (too) early this morning my eyes wandered over to (Pulitzer Prize giftee) Lisa Falkenberg's obviously obligatory, cliche-filled "welcome to Houston column".

"Howdy y'all" and all of that.

All-in-all it's a fairly benign piece of fluff that reminds people that they are welcome in Houston, provided they behave and believe as a large slice of the ruling and courtesan classes want them to.

But then, buried within, I stumbled across this little nugget:

The bigwigs wouldn't tell us how much they spent to spruce up - it's a private NFL document! - but some officials have estimated around $1.5 billion.

That's $1.5 Billion with a capital B y'all. Money presumably spent mainly by "Houston First!" and the Super Bowl committee, with a majority of that funding coming from tax revenues. Of course, it's going to be said that this is what hotel and motel taxes are for and that the "public won't even notice it's missing" but for a city that's standing on the edge of a huge, gaping pension hole whose value determination is a little fuzzy, we might look back on that $1.5 Billion with longing eyes some day.

At this point I should mention that a real reporter (or group of them) would latch onto that document like a dog going after a T-bone steak and demand some accountability from the elected officials in City Hall, but I know they won't.  Because the heady issues in this column were an outdated ideal of holding open doors, and chastising people for the old-stereotype "Houston, we have a problem" (complete with reminding everyone that this is not what was really said).

Now, to be fair, despite my distaste for her writing, it's not entirely fair to place the lion's share of the blame on Ms. Falkenberg for this.  The editorial diktat that came down from above at the Chronicle was clearly "see no evil, hear no evil, speak (or write) no evil" about the big to do. It's very clear when  Chronicle sports dinosaur John McClain is running around on local radio shows chastising San Diego for "missing out on the Super Bowl in the future" by refusing to pony up taxpayer dollars to keep the Chargers in town that the increasingly popular idea of not providing public money to build Billion dollar play-pens for Billionaires is not something that's spread very far into the so-called watchdog press.

If newspapers want to understand, in part, why people are abandoning them in droves, they need to understand that their ideas are at least behind the time as is the technology they use to provide the news. Also, they all have people, similar to John McClain, whose careers have been so entangled in the leagues they cover that they've fully swallowed the leagues talking points and are incapable of regurgitating anything else.

The "Super Bowl is an economic shot-in-the-arm" fallacy is hard to kill. Part of the reason for that is because the NFL keeps the true expense of running the damn thing in a corporate secrets lock-box. They claim this despite having no competition that could use it to gain a competitive advantage over them.

In a time when the world is slowly coming to the realization that the Olympics are a financial disaster, it's amazing that newspapers and local TV news don't realize that the same economics apply to the NFL's cash cow.

Sunday saw the 3rd Super Bowl in Houston's history.  By all accounts the city put on a brilliant show, almost as brilliant as the game itself (which, as noted here, I didn't watch.)

Here's hoping we never have to do it again.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2017: The United States is an authoritarian country.

Americans don't like free speech, although they claim to cherish it.

This fact was driven home by all of the cheering that occurred when a Nazi got punched in the face during the inauguration. Apparently, other's right to free speech does not end where your fist begins these days.

To bolster their case supporters of l'affair de sucker punch are using old Captain America comic strips and WWII propaganda posters to support their cause.  This is OK but it ignores the fact that a.)Comic books are fantasy and b) the propaganda posters were selling war bonds, which provided the armed forces (the business end of American foreign relations) the ability to knock eight bells out of the Nazis.

These events led me to do some thinking, during which I tweeted out the following:

1. Most Republicans are not Conservative
2. Most Democrats are not Liberal.
3. A vast majority of Americans are authoritarians....PROVIDED the Government shares their values and beliefs.

By dropping the 'conservative' (corporatist/Statist) and 'liberal' (progressive/Statist) tags and viewing politics through an authoritarian spectrum what's happening right now begins to make a lot more sense.

Trump was not elected President by a conservative Republican party. He was elected by a group of people who disagreed with Obama and the Democrats trying to take away rights that they liked. It was less free-market, limited government thought than it was the thought that Trump would shut-down the crowd that they didn't like.

The media, and progressive commentators love to frame this as racism or homophobia, depending on which group is being targeted. And while there is some of that for most people it's more a desire to simply be left alone, to go about their own business and to not have to do business, or interact much, with people with whom they disagree. Their preferred method of dealing with this? Government fiat, which Trump has promised he will do.

What many conservatives really want is for progressive groups to be silenced, banned from the public square and forced to live their lives according to so-called "Judeo-Christian principles" on which they claim the country was founded.

Unfortunately, this tends to make Democrats very smug.

Democrats get that way because they've framed themselves, with ample help from the media, as the party of inclusion. The problem with this argument is that they are even more exclusionary than Republicans. Over and over in the media you see progressive talking-heads crying crocodile tears over the "death of the moderate Republican". This ignores the fact that the Democrats have long-ago shed the moderate Democrat from their party, more successfully and more completely than have the Republicans.

In truth, both parties, and their sycophants, want the same thing, just targeted toward different groups. A huge majority of Americans want the country's laws designed to support their way of life, their preferred belief system to the exclusion of everyone else. Tolerance for everyone except the intolerant is said with a straight face, and not a hint of irony.

The problem with free speech has always been that it tends to be a little messy.  True free speech means that neo-Nazis can be interviewed in the public square, that 'hate' groups are free to spew whatever vile message they want, and that around 1 Million people (mostly middle-class, Caucasian women) can gather in cities across the country and chant, scream, and ultimately litter up the place by leaving their signs behind as trash.

People are already calling this the "Left's Tea Party" which is odd because I thought that was why Occupy was supposed to be. But if this is some new-aged progressive tea party then the Republicans should be glad for this, because it was the uncertainty and political naivety of the Tea Party that led Republicans into the political desert for the last eight years. (In part, not in whole)

What the Democrats don't need right now is a political shuffling, a circular firing squad where their most moderate members (which, to be honest, is like having the most curable cancer) get picked off in primaries and are replaced with a group that can't shoot straight. They already suffer from sub-par leadership, imagine them with no leadership at all.

As the year goes on I predict that the cacophony is only going to increase in volume, will become more frequent and will suck up most of the remaining political oxygen in the country.

Because, if history has taught us anything, it's that people react the most violently when they're not exposed to differing opinions, beliefs and ideals, and begin to think that their world-view is not just different, but superior to the opinions, beliefs and ideals of "those people".

I am not optimistic that America in her current state can do much to stop this from happening.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2017: The Year of Unprincipled Opposition.

Alternate title:  Why we are stuck with Trump.

When you lose, it's never a good look to go pout in a corner. Even IF you have a blowtorch that's willing to provide you with cover.

But that's the tack that the Democrats have decided to take.

We live in a time when America could use a healthy dose of principled opposition. Instead we're being given a partisan hissy fit that's indirectly leading to the President Elect being who he is. Even the Republicans are either marching in lock-step, or going off the deep end (Hi Evan McMullin) with no seeming middle ground.

The fact is, not everything that Trump has done so far has been awful. He's been petulant with the media of course, and has all of the tact of a constipated black bear, but aside from displaying a tendency to try and bully watchdogs and silence critics he's done an OK job selecting cabinet members etc. Most of them (gasp!) have been fairly conservative.

Of course, Conservative is the rub for the Democrats. Having an EPA director that doesn't toe the Al Gore "enrich my investment groups" line is somehow viewed as disqualifying. Groups that are beholden to the Gaia lobby suggest conflicts of interest where there are none, all while ignoring the very real, and very lucrative conflicts that they carry into the debate.

So we're up to about 30 congressional Democrats who are refusing to attend. John Lewis of course, the civil rights activist who was correct on segregation, but is a little dodgy on the Constitutional process to elect a President. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) has also said he's taking his Socialist-leanings and going to spend his time playing with a "my little tractor" toy set. Or something.

Of course, almost every celebrity is sitting this one out, either because (as John Legend claimed) artistic people tend to not like hate or (more likely) because performing there would lead to severe personal cost both financially and physically. If there's one thing our progressive elite love, it's a good outrage as a chance to financially ruin or threaten physical harm toward those who don't toe the public line (It's the same for some of you Republicans, so lose that smug look.)

Of course, a celebrity-free inauguration is a good thing for the health of the Republic, something our "hee-hee" media seems unwilling to comprehend, or an angle they are unwilling to report. In fact, any lessening of the Presidency as it currently stands can only be viewed as a positive. The President is not our national daddy, despite what Chris Rock thinks.

Nor is the President a monarch or, Constitutionally, designed to be all that powerful. Our lazy elected representatives have made the office that way by refusing to worry about the details of sweeping legislation, leaving them to unelected bureaucracies operating under the Executive branch. Separation of powers? Bah. Humbug!

But what's bad for our elected officials might be a good thing for us. And no, that's not hypocritical. Because by attending the inauguration, and supporting the concept of a smooth transition of power, the Congress persons would be fulfilling a job duty essential to the functioning of the Republic. By refusing to do so they are suggesting that the very thing that makes us American, fealty and faithfulness to the Constitution and the rule of law, is no longer valued by our leadership.

Our ignoring of the hand on the Bible thing tells a different message. It tells the government that we, the people, don't give two cents worth of care about their little dog and pony show. That we are in charge and we choose to do something else why they put on airs and prance around the yard like trained monkeys barking for coins.

Mines horse-racing and college basketball this weekend then.  What's yours?


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Texas Leadership Vacuum: Patrick's Potty Principles are dominating all other issues.

At this rate, the 140-day Texas Legislature Session can't be over soon enough....

Lawmakers spend Day 2 sparring over Capitol rules. Mike Ward and Bobby Cervantes, HoustonChronicle.com

The House spat began when Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, offered an amendment to a general "housekeeping" resolution that House lawmakers take up at the start of every session to establish their operating rules. The proposal would have allowed restrooms on the House side of the Capitol to be used only by "a person based on the person's biological sex," the one on their birth certificate.
....
House Administration Committee Chairman Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who authored the rules resolution that typically passes without issue, immediately objected. He insisted that the amendment had nothing to with House operations and noted that policies governing statehouse restrooms are controlled by the State Preservation Board, of which he is a member. 
 
So the entire argument, which took over half an hour, was really involving something that shouldn't have been an argument in the first place.

This is just outstanding.

And it's only going to get worse as a certain wing of a certain party seems bound and determined to make this entire session about Patrick's Potty Principles, playing right into the hands of lefty bloggers and politicians who are obsessed with the matter and see this (wrongly in my opinion) as the opening toward their path back to majorities in the Statehouse.

The fact of the matter is that, even IF these laws are passed (and I don't think they will be), the impact on the work-a-day lives of the average Texan is going to be immaterial. There are a lot of ways in which State government can truly affect your lives for the worse, but these bathroom bills aren't one of them.

This is par for the course with politics today, given the recent allegations that President-Elect Donald Trump is a fan of the pee as well, and we're all going to be worse off for it.

Because every minute spent on this is a minute not spent addressing the real issues facing the State in terms of transportation, other general infrastructure etc.  You know, things the government should really be concerned about.

I never thought I'd say this, but save us Speaker Straus.  Either that or Texas Government is going to devolve into a small-time parody of the Federal Government.

If we're not there already.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Texas Leadership Vacuum: Patrick's Potty Principles.

The Texas Legislature begins it's bi-annual session today, and our august elected officials are going to be tasked with trying to resolve a host of issues.  Of course, there's the usual, the ONE duty that they are Constitutionally REQUIRED to perform: The passing of a budget, and then there's the usual hodge-podge of other issues for which "Something! must be done."

Education funding is always a hot topic, with the Teacher's unions and school administrators associations always promising that Texas is "just around the corner" from being "world class" if ONLY the Lege could find it in their hearts to take several more Billion from the taxpayers and place it in their care.  Roads need to be funded, bridges need to be repaired, all things we are firmly assured CAN be done with just a few Billion more of your dollars.

But Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has a different set of priorities.  Call them Patrick's Potty Principles if you will they involve ensuring that all Texans use the restroom that God intended them to, and that there be no shuck about what is, or is not proper.

My feeling is that we don't need a law.  That private businesses should be allowed to set up whatever potty arrangement they choose, that a bakery in Cleveland could have "Men's and Women's restrooms" while a restaurant in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston might opt for the gender neutral option. To each their own place to pee and all of that.

But peeing in a stall, or at a urinal with dividers etc., is a far different matter than community showers, troughs etc.  Society struggles with what to do there, especially in a public school setting. Because while we can all agree that the idea of gender neutral public showers in a High School might not be the best of ideas, it's a little harder to determine what the transgender student should do should they wish to clean themselves off after a Summer's hour of physical education. (side thought: do they even require Phys Ed any longer? Or did getting rid of sodas and bake sales in schools solve our child obesity problem?)

Is it better to force a transgendered female, who FWIW might be attracted to boys, be shoe-horned in with the male population because their birth certificate shows a certain chromosome pattern?  When framed in that manner this morality play is somewhat different isn't it?  So while there's certain to be plenty of talk about "privacy" and "perverts" it's probably better that this whole ordeal be left unaddressed right now until we really understand the reasoning behind the special accommodations we're proposing in the first place. This bill seems to be an attempt to use a hammer to remove a splinter. Perhaps an option allowing limited individual showers and restrooms would do? I'm not sure, but right now we're only being given a choice between the two extremes. Either you allow people to enter wherever they want, or you restrict them to the room that the Christian Lord intended. That's less a choice than it is a 5 year old's debating style.

Another cost?  Most of our (needed) political discussion is going to be dominated by who tinkles, and where.  This is not a good thing because, and let's face the facts here, so little of Texas' political conversation is carried out among adults (hence the 5-year old's choice).  Children obsess over potties, as well as social-conservatives and progressives obviously, and I can't see where any of this is going to do us any bit of good. Did it do Houston any good when then-Mayor Annise Parker pursued her folly to the bitter, acrimonious, divisive end?

Of course, the urban-centric progressives in Texas see this as an opportunity. They feel that business, pretty much standing against this law, is looking for an alternative and, by-golly, it should be them.  What they fail to realize is that business doesn't WANT the party of Wendy(?!?) Davis in charge, anymore than they want Dan "Potty Principles" Patrick Republicans running the joint. They want the party of Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, the (currently) Republican party of Straus. Because the Democratic party of Texas long ago purged itself of most of it's moderate wing, which has made their fair-trade, organic, munchy-crunchy, soak-the-wealthy and businesses brand of politics untenable except when identity politics are in play.

There's an old saying in Texas politics that, when the Texas Legislature is in session, Texans would be wise to "hold on to their wallets".  That's changed in recent years, for the worse.

When the Texas Legislature's in session most Texans would be wise to keep one hand on their wallets, and the other on their private parts.  Because increasingly both parties seem way too interested in either telling them what to do with them or flat-out trying to punch them there.

Meanwhile, there's likely to be less money to waste this time around which would seem, to me, to be a bigger issue than Patrick's Potty Principles.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Bad Media: Trump might bring so-called "fact-check" media to an end. (Maybe the one thing I support him on)

Ever since the news site that I refer to as Politifarce was awarded the increasingly worthless Pulitzer Prize in 2009 I've been over "fact-check" reporting.  For one, it rarely checks facts, instead accomplishing nothing more than allowing a reporter to opine on major issues of the day.  And no, this is not about media "bias" (which exists) but is more about just shoddy reporting and bad framing of the news of the day.  8 years later, in 2017, almost every newspaper still trying to claim they are relevant and significant in the national political conversation (none of them are) have aped the idea and have their own little "fact-checking" sites that use Pinocchios or some other silly measure of conveying to the reader which data-points align with their opinion.

With Trump however, things are finally starting to spin out of control.

First, a disclaimer.  I did not vote for Trump, I do not support Trump, His Presidency is not only not my monkeys, but it's nowhere near my circus. There are a ton of people who support Trump and I think that's A-OK, just as I thought it was A-OK that many people supported Hillary Clinton, despite her being just as bad as the Bronzed Ego.

If there's one area where Trump and I agree however it's where the media is concerned.

Need proof?

The Washington Post just "fact-checked" a statement that they admitted was an opinion.  A damned opinion.

Yahoo! (not known for journalism excellence) just fact-checked intentional hyperbole.

And both of these sites were serious.

So, if Trump's little four-year Presidential play-time run results in things like Politifarce and others being totally discredited than good for him.  I wrote earlier that I think 2017 might be the year that we stop treating celebrities like enlightened deities and if it is also the year that we require good, solid news reporting then that's also fine.

Here's an idea:  "Meryl Streep said this at the Golden Globes last night. President elect Donald Trump responded with this."


Period, end of story.  Trust the reader to be able to look at the quotes and figure it out for themselves. No need to "explain the news" or provide ham-fisted "news analysis" from some cub reporter with a journalism degree and little real-world experience, no reason to get "expert opinion" from carefully selected experts who will offer up the preferred narrative, just report the damn thing and walk away.


And yes, Streep IS overrated and hasn't made a truly great movie since Silkwood.

There, I said it.