Monday, May 23, 2011

(Re) Defining an issue

The Center for College Affordability, working in partnership with Texas Public Policy Foundation, released a study today revealing that 20% of the teaching faculty at UT-Austin are responsible for teaching 57% of credit hours.

On the surface, the solution to this would seem relatively simple: Have more teachers spend more time actually "teaching" students.

For the State's sub-par political media however, the solution is that the issue just needs to be re-defined:

(Tweet from the Austin Chronicles LegeLand blogging team)
LegeLand: Texas conservatives tout study that minority of lecturers teach majority of credit hours: But are those mega-lectures really teaching much?
Part of this is probably just your normal, run-of-the-mill backlash that any proposal by two conservative groups would experience from a liberal media outlet. Some of it is probably much more.

So intent are the Universities, and their fellow travelers in political media, to resist any change outside of "more money" that could potentially impact their rankings on the various "higher learning institution" lists that it's easier to just keep throwing up road blocks attempting to blur the definition of what's being debated.

Nowhere in the study were large, theater-style classes mentioned, yet they were assumed by a media who is now actively advocating against the Conservative position on higher-education reform. When you're losing the debate on intellectual grounds, try and refocus the discussion on something else. It's a pretty standard play book that's playing out in Texas right before our eyes.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ahmadinejad over OPEC?

America's oil nightmare realized.

Eventually, something like this had to happen. As America has continued to dither over our energy policy, the rest of the world has noticed our lack of leadership, now Ahmadinejad is poised to take over the mosty powerful, dysfunctional economic organization outside the US.

Seems our playing politics with our oil and gas industry is just about to rise up and bite us in the.......*

*And no, I'm not just referring to the Obama administration, although they've certainly done their part to make America even more reliant on OPEC than we have ever been. This flows through several Presidencies, and the frustrating tendency of politicians to ignore the long-term financial needs of the County in the name of re-elction. An implosion of OPEC (the most-likely scenario if Ahmadinejad goes bonkers) doesn't help anyone.

Diversity Inc. (Corrected)

Take a look at the Houston Chronicle Columnists page....

Notice anything?

How about when you look through the writer bios at The Texas Tribune?


I'll give you a hint: The Dallas Morning News does a little better, but their stuff is hidden behind a pay wall so it doesn't matter to anyone outside of the MetroPlex.

Unsurprisingly the Austin American-Statesman does a pretty good job.

I'm referring, of course, to the diversity in the reporting and editorial staffs. For the Tribune and Chronicle, two major sources of political news, there is none Correction: As Evan Smith kindly pointed out to me via e-mail, the Trib has two minority members on their staff, one Hispanic reporter and an Asian multi-media reporter. To their credit that's better than ChronBlog). The perspective of both these institutions is that of the liberal-arts educated Caucasian liberal. Not that they don't have a right to hire who they want (they do, provided they're not violating any civil rights statutes of course) but it cuts into their credibility when they're shrieking about diversity (typically, of course, Republicans' lack of it). Much the same way ardent supporters of tax increases and more public transportation solutions lose their credibility when they refuse to both pay more taxes themselves, or cannot remember the last time they sat on a bus (or train).

Again, people have the right to do what ever they want. If you want to drive a car down the block to pick up some milk, go right ahead. My proclivity is to walk or ride my bike*, but that doesn't mean yours should be. The problem is that, in today's media, you only have one viewpoint represented. It colors both the writing and the narrative that surrounds Texas politics. It's also the main reason that Even, Kevin and I started Texas Iconoclast not to rail against the "evil Lib'rul media", but to offer up another perspective.....that of the Middle Class, Caucasian Conservative. The main difference is we don't screech at you for your supposed lack of diversity**. All these media outlets engage in that, which short-sells the public.

They could do better. The people of Texas deserve more. At the bare-minimum they deserve to not have their level of diversity chastised by some of the least-diverse working environments in the State.

*I'd gladly ride a Metro bus but there's almost NO service in my area. There used to be a little more, but cut-backs to push everything toward the toy train downtown have changed that. Not that I'm griping, I'm OK not riding a Metro Bus, I've still got my feet and my bike, but those of you who advocate for less Metro service outside the Loop while griping at people who live outside the Beltway are...well, you're just not thinking things through. Moving "Inside the Loop" isn't a viable choice (for me, and many others) either. Not that "viable choices" play much of a role in Houston Tomorrow Future-Fantasy Land.

**As a matter of fact, I'm willing to bet that the ethnic make-up of the authorship for the items in our link-posts are way more diverse than anything the State's rather pathetic, monochrome, political media is pushing out.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

This story brought to you by.....

.....the Houston Downtown Management District.


Never mind the faulty leaps of logic, the burying of an alternative opinion (Bill King given a small blurb 1/2-way through the story), or the too-rosy depiction of downtown living with no mention of the drawbacks (lack of access to necessities such as groceries, etc. Noise, child-unfriendly environment) what really struck me was how ChronBlog continues to blur the line between hard journalism and newsish opinion:

(Efforts to turn Downtown into a residential haven prove elusive. Jeannie Kever, ChronBlog)
But downtown remains the major nexus of commerce, housing and entertainment, and with rising gasoline prices and aging baby boomers ready to abandon their suburban yards, it will continue to grow.

Will it? Because, in the beginning of the same story, Kever has to admit that "growth" has been moving along at a snail's pace for oh...the last decade or so. (A snail's pace being approx 130 residents per YEAR in growth. Many subdivisions see that in a month or less.)

What all of the downtown urban planners miss in their analysis is that, unlike New York City, Houston is not constricted by geography. In Manhattan, there was nowhere to go but up, in Houston, the path of least resistance is OUT. That's why groups like Houston Tomorrow are never taken seriously (well, one of the reasons anyway, the other being just general moon-battery at times) except by the non-serious thinkers in the Apple Dumpling Gang.

What smart dumb-growth* proponents always forget to take into consideration is the primary function of Houston's downtown. It's not a "residential haven" (although there are certainly people who do live there, and who enjoy it -as is their right) but a place where, historically, business gets done. People come to downtown Houston primarily to work. They then might hang around to play, a little, but the late-night scene that cropped up for a little bit post Super Bowl has now gone the way of the Dodo. Workers work, head over to a trendy bar for happy hour drinks, an insanely expensive snack which probably came from a pig who's entirely against the whole urban-living concept, some light flirting, and then drive home, wherever home may be.

Increasingly 'home' is somewhere up on the far Northwest 290 corridor, or (to a lessor extent) in the Heights or MidTown, good choices all. Except to nanny-state urban planners who think that those of you choosing to live outside the Beltway are singlehandedly responsible for global warming, world pollution, autism, the general lack of creativity in Hollywood thse days, and pretty much every other calamity known to man. The great evil of our day is not, as some believe, extremist terrorists, instead it is the private automobile and those who have the audacity to drive one not powered by either flatulence or french fry grease.

Despite all of this the downtown residential movement plods ever forward, driven by well-meaning mostly wealthy, Caucasian progressives who have a pretty good idea what's best for all of us, this probably due to a degree attained years ago at some University where they spent half their time protesting the man or curled up in a corner on the wrong side of a bender. In most cases, they choose to live outside of downtown themselves, in River Oaks, Mid Town or somewhere else. Meanwhile they continue to be amazed that more of you aren't making the choices they think you should. And they're very angry about that.

*The idea being that putting "smart" in front of something makes it so. What's known now is that pretty much anything with that prefix is actually the opposite, pretty dumb when you get right down to the final analysis.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's not the partisanship that bugs me....

...when thinking about the obvious political slap the Obama administration has given to Texas.

It's that there's so little effort to provide evidence to the contrary. In the past, when things didn't go Texas' way, the InterLeft typically replied with "well, if you had voted for us this would be different." And they were right. On political decisions such as the Space Shuttle, monies to build Obama's green economy fantasy land and high-speed rail system, politics certainly played a role. Just as they always have. You don't think there was anything political behind George W. Bush's energy policy meeting with oil companies? To the victor go the spoils and all of that.

The difference here is that we're talking about people's lives and livelihoods that have been taken away due to no fault of their own. A force majeur, natural disaster, act of God, call it what you want, the wildfires were a disaster.

A disaster that doesn't differentiate between progressive or conservative, between red or blue. Our government shouldn't either.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

If this estimate is accurate......

....we're toast.

High earning households pay growing share of taxes. John D. McKinnon,
And a new congressional study concludes that the percentage of U.S. households owing no federal income tax climbed to 51% for 2009.
I've long said that once this number gets to 50% +1 it's all over. America will have learned that they can vote themselves whatever they want from the public trust at the expense of others. When a majority are paying no taxes it does not behoove them to vote against candidates who promise them more of the same. i.e. class warfare.

So any time you hear a politician blathering on about someone paying their "fair share" remember that 51% number. That's 51% of people who are not paying their "fair share" while someone else pays it for them.

Here's the scary bit: Right now we're being assured that the "rich" can handle a bigger load, with "rich" being defined as a household earning more than $250,000 per year. Eventually, as the size of government keeps growing while wealth in America diminishes, the definition of "rich" is going to migrate down to where many progressives believe to to be anyway....somewhere around %60,000 per year and higher.

I've asked this question before: How much is "enough"?

The answer? More.

What an odd editorial....

Something about today's Apple Dumpling Gang effort addressing new airline regulations struck me as odd.

On the one hand, the Gang is happy that the government is increasing regulation on airlines, ostensibly in the name of customer service, but (as many observers believe) sure to come with a raft of unintended consequences. On the other hand, they end with this:
The new rules come at a tough time for the industry, as increased fuel prices and other economic pressures are putting a major squeeze on air carriers.

For the first quarter of 2011, the newly combined United/Continental Airline reported losses of $213 million, wider than those of $182 million for the same period a year ago. Airline officials also blamed a loss of business caused by the Japan earthquake for the red ink.

Those numbers in the red affect airline employees in Houston, and the situation won't be helped by expenses incurred by the expanded regulations detailed above. That's the part of this we don't like.

It makes no sense to me that an organization could be so pro-Statist and yet express dismay that overly onerous regulations cost companies money. That's not to say that some of this is not needed. Let's face it, for the most part, airlines have done a not-so-hot job with customer service. Leaving people stuck on a plane, for hours, with no relief or information is ludicrous. Charging bag fees and then losing the bad and not offering a refund is stupid. Yes, these are isolated incidents, but when they happen you just have to wonder who in middle-management gave the gren-flag to these decisions, and to what position did his/her "outside the box decision-making style" get them promoted? Sr. Management? VP*?

OF COURSE these regulations are going to cost airlines money. That's what regulation does. That being said, I'm a firm believer that you regulate the things that people need (a very short list: power, food, water, etc.) and try to minimize regulation on things that they want. (Air Travel being firmly in the 'want' camp.) This is why I think electricity deregulation was a bad idea while airline deregulation was overall pretty good. Yes many airlines run as if the concept of customer service has been buried in Houson's gumbo soil for three months but overall they do a pretty good job of getting you from point A to point B (sometimes with a few stops in between) somewhat efficiently. Yes the food is terrible, the service mediocre and the response time dismal when something goes wrong, but the actual "getting there" is pretty solid.

Another problem with excessive regulation are the unintended consequences. Sure, it's annoying to have to wait on a delayed flight. The problem is, now that airlines face steep fines for delays, the alternative is just to cancel the flight altogether. (no fines) So now passengers are faced with the prospect of not getting there at all (or having to jump through significant hoops to do so) rather than just being late.

Finally, show me a regulation that the Apple Dumpling Gang hasn't approved of. Two months ago they came out with the position that gas-well hydro-fracking was safe and had been around for a long time. About a week-ago they came out and decided that regulation was "reasonable" and oil and gas companies should just bear the cost. Funny no crocodile tears for them. Do you think these regulation are going to hurt the bottom line?

Of course not, because the oil and gas companies will just pass the costs onto the conumer, which is the same thing airlines will do. Which is what you should not like about this regulation, what it's going to do to your travel and your pocketbook.

*Most companies won't admit it, but the hard business reality is that most VP's only function is to point fingers when things go wrong and generate paperwork. Typically, there are two types of VP, the one who was promoted because they've been around for a while, or the one that was promoted as a result of a bad policy suggestion that made the company money. There is a third type, the VP who knows their stuff, but they are so rare as to be insignificant in the conversation. The reality is most companies could decide tomorrow to eliminate the entire VP staff and profitability and company morale would improve immediately.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Play budget writer.

The Texas Tribune has an Interactive budget tool on their site that's fairly sobering. While I'm a big proponent of primarily using cuts to make Texas' biennial budget match available revenue projections, the tool does a pretty good job illustrating just how difficult those cuts will be.

That said, I'm also of a belief that funding cuts, for health care and education, shouldn't be permanent fixes. Instead they should be temporary patches while efficiencies are found that are sustainable long-term.

If you have a budget that won't survive lean times, then you really don't have a budget at all.

News-ish agencies and progressive Democrats don't really get that. Neither do some Republicans. The key is to make painful cuts now, while working to build something sustainable going forward. The second part of the conversation is notably missing from Texas Politics.

How much is "enough"?

One of the loudest critical questions used by Progressives against Republican plans to cut taxes is "How much is enough?" As in, when will we get to the point that we've cut "enough" taxes? What is the "minimum" level of funding that Government needs? In some sense, the progressive argument is flawed. It assumes that Government funding is static (it's not) and refuses to view some government programs as unessential (they are). Still, it keeps progressives from having to answer the same question about their programs, such as "How much is 'enough'?"

The reason they don't want to answer this question is the same reason Republicans don't (or can't), because it's never going to be 'enough'.

For an example of this take a look at this month's education round-table in Texas Monthly magazine. I'm referring to one small blurb that I'll reproduce here. You should really go read the entire back-n-forth to see just how far apart both sides really are on this issue. The quote I'm referring to cam from Center for Public Policy Priorities Executive Director Scott McCown:
I want to have a strong educational system that produces folks who can be entrepreneurs and small-business men and get out there and make money. If we make he wise investment now, we come out ahead. So I'd expand the sales tax base with some way to deal with regressivity. I would expand our business tax and fix the structural deficit. And in the long run we need a personal income tax in this State.
If you're not familiar with the CPPP (and if you read the State's political media there's a good chance you're not) the CPPP is a progressive organization that advocates progressive solutions to what they believe are the State's problems. Typically, in the MSM, you'll see them identified as "a think tank who advocates for the poor." That's not entirely true. The advocate for Government solutions, at taxpayer expense, that ostensibly benefit the poor (despite the fact that there's little evidence linking many of their proposals to an actual decrease in the poverty rate.)

The problem that progressives are experiencing right now is that the money well is dry. Even Texas, who traditionally has resisted big tax and spend legislative solutions to problems that may, or may not exist, is feeling the sting. The progressive answer that tax increases are the solution to Texas' many problems is not being supported by the laboratory of real life.

The big problem with both sides of this argument is that they ignore the real issue here...the fact that neither cuts or tax increases are the solution to the problem. Neither is the "balanced approach" that many are touting as some bi-partisan scheme to make things rosy. Most of the balanced approaches don't cut nearly deep enough, and they raise taxes entirely too high to cover basic needs, instead keeping several political favors to preferred constituent groups and financial backers.

Cuts are, at best, a temporary solution to a long-term problem. Belt-tightening only goes so far. The best solution is to cut temporarily while doing a top-to-bottom scrub of what's not working, what's duplicated and what fat can really be cut.

Unfortunately, when that second, most serious, option is given serious treatment the defenders of the dysfunctional status-quo throw a fit. Never mind that throwing money at a broken model is a bad idea, there are sacred cows that cannot be slaughtered.

Fixing Texas education system is going to take more than just tax cuts or increases, it's going to take serious people making serious decisions about what we're doing right and wrong. Unfortunately, if the current tenor of the debate is any indication, our current leaders are failing education reform 101.*

*This is not to say that the State's think-tanks are not doing any better. The CPPP does nothing more than provide psuedo-intellectual cover for the State's foundering progressive/Democratic, statist-solution minority, while the TPPF is frequently asleep at the wheel on large issues, and doesn't do enough to engage that a State political media that has little interest in seeking out there side of almost any issue.

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