Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Noise Machine (2/24/11)

Cuts are cuts....

              "Studies" of this type are so stupid.  People want almost anything if they're not faced with the realities of trade                  offs.

              tags: Ecomental

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

As you may have noticed....

...blogging is a little light right now.

Chalk it up to interference of the real world.

Regular blogging will resume one of these days.....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Noise Machine (2/17/11)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mobile blogging

Finally HCA has joined the 21st century and purchased decent smart phones for our staff of one.  Sure, we're not brushed metal stylish like our iApple friends over at Chronblog, but we do now have a device that allows for the download of the Blogger app.  Just wait until we switch this sucker over to WordPress.....  you've been warned.

The Noise Machine (2/16/11)

It's not as bad as it seems.

              If Texas Monthly knows about it it's not a secret, it's common knowledge.

              tags: Texas

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Noise Machine (2/9/11)

Heavy on the news-ish, light on the news. (Much like Texas political reporting)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

I guess they'll choose for you?

So much for not liveral or conservative.

The last vestiges of "we connect with our readership base" got tossed out the door today as the Apple Dumpling Gang openly calls for the nanny state.

(The fat factor, The Apple Dumpling Gang, ChronBlog)
Worries about a "nanny state" intruding into traditionally private decisions seem to us to be far outweighed by the risks to our children's lives posed by all those extra pounds. The nominally libertarian view that this is people's own business is trumped by the costs of these poor choices just over the horizon for our already overburdened health care system.
Got that? Your right to choose what you want to eat is secondary to what other people think you should eat. Expand this to what you drive, what you say and what others think you are thinking and you have yourself a good, old-fashioned, non-free society.

I wonder if they'd be open to changing the National Anthem? That "land of the free" bit is a little troublesome. Might have to tear up the Constitution as well. Who needs it though, I'm sure the Apple Dumpling Gang can author a new National framework possessing only a few factual errors and arguments needing correction.

I sure hope none of them are pudgy. That'd be awkward.

Saying it again: Disband the Apple Dumpling Gang and redeploy the resources to local reporting. It's really the only sensible option.

Can we force them to stop?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Well knock me down.

Didn't see this one coming....

It appears that Charles Kuffner and partisan fellow travelers weren't enamored with Rick Perry's State of the State speech. The news-ish groups didn't like it either, neither did ChronBlog's Austin bureau (in a piece that read more like an editorial, than a hard news piece on a State speech.)

As hard as it is to believe I don't think ANYONE on the left side of Texas politics really liked anything Perry had to say.

And after all that talk from the Left about bi-partisanship and changing the tone.....

One thing all partisans have in common is a great bit of difficulty having their moderating rhetoric stifle their real anger toward the other side.

Monday, February 7, 2011

OK My Progressive Friends......

This one's for you.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to use this article in your criticism of Texas Republicans. Since the article is entitled "Texas finances not as rosy as they seemed" this should not be very hard. I'd like to thank Evan Halper of the Los Angeles Times for writing this piece, as it gives us all something with which to bash Rick Perry over the head.

Let's get underway.

1. The Texas budget sucks.
The Lone Star State is facing a budget gap of about $27 billion, putting it in the same league as California among states facing financial meltdowns.
Got that? Texas is BAD, and all of this is the fault of Rick Perry. Not only did he create this dysfunctional mess, but he also....oh...wait....hold on...Texas budget shortfall is based on certain spending protections that may not be true while California's deficit refers to funds already committed and is twice as large as Texas. ($28 Billion over one year vs. a projection of $25 Billion over two years.) That won't work. Certainly, there's fertile ground to be plowed on the structural deficit Texas has created in education funding, but picking on Texas voters for being smarter during fat times than California is probably not a winning strategy. OK, scratch this one.

2. Here's one....
In a place where government is already lean, there aren't many areas to make up that kind of cash.
Got that Texas?!? You didn't waste Billions of dollars during the boom years as did California so now you're looking WORSE than them when the global econ......

No, damn, that doesn't really work either.

3. Ooooh.....
As if to punctuate the point that Texas has found itself in a California-style mess, a power-grid problem caused rolling blackouts statewide Wednesday
Ah Hah! Our power grid is a mess. Why we've got rolling blackouts like.

No we don't, never mind. California had rolling blackouts because their power grid is an aging, wheezing relic. Texas had rolling blackouts because of an extreme weather event. One day later, everything was fine.

4. This might work:
Texas lags far behind California in major research universities, patents produced, high-tech infrastructure and venture capital investment, according to the Missouri-based Kauffman Foundation. The foundation's 2010 ranking of states in "movement toward a global, innovation-based new economy" put California at No. 7. Texas was No. 18.
Ha! Take that Texas! You stupid Texans don't have near the economy California does....Oh, wait, except for the oil & gas industry, health and medicine & (increasingly) manufacturing. Granted, California leads in a few areas, but in other areas (high-paying areas) Texas shines. Also, this Kaufman "study" ranks Texas higher than California in respects to Entrepreneurial activity. So basically what this says is that California has a slight lead in one area. So you have to cut the pie pretty thin for this to work.

5. Well finally there's this:
For all the talk of Texas being a high-tech state, they have never really caught up to California.… Look at the big new growth companies. Where is Facebook? Where is Google? Are any of these companies in Austin? No."
That's right Austin! Suck it right?

Wrong. Again, it depends on just how thinly you slice the pie. Yes, California has some very big computer companies that are doing well, just as Houston has some very big oil companies that are doing well, and some very big medical companies that are doing well, and on and on and on....again, it depends on how thinly you slice the pie.

6. OK, get away from the article for a minute....that article is crap. If you want to ever get back to relevant in Texas I suggest you fire all of your California consultants post haste.

Instead try this: You can make political hey over what Republicans are cutting and their reluctance to cut things that need to be cut. You also have the opportunity to make your case for the short-comings of the Texas margins tax, and to offer up your vision for the Texas budget and see if Texans agree.

IF you can keep from calling those you want to vote for you "a bunch of stupid, mouth-breathing idiots" that is. That's probably not a winning strategy.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Poor, so poor.

One of the more amusing political parlor games during the early part of the 82nd Lege session has been watching group after group cry poor and shortly before announcing some huge expenditure.

Houston Metro has said they're reeling. They're going to have to cut expenditures and possibly cancel bus service to the poor and needy because they have to give back a sliver of their sales tax revenue to the City of Houston to fund general mobility projects. One would think it's a miracle they have enough to fuel their feet of buses without resorting to stealing cooking oil from KFC.

Of course, this is the "new" Metro, not those old sneaky guys who didn't shoot straight with the public. Today's Metro is a 100% above-board group whose fiscal conservatism is a beacon of hope in the raging sea of psuedo-government spend-thrifts. Because they're so thrifty they're going to spend Millions of dollars that they don't have to continue to build a toy train that doesn't do anything in terms of mobility. Oh, and they're going to pay Jerome Gray $170K per to tell you how fiscally prudent they've become.

Then we have the City of Houston, with a budget hole that's constantly expanding to a point that furloughs and layoffs are inevitable finds $3 Million they can give to the Dynamo. Plus, they can afford to run a farmer's market in the dead of winter and pay graffiti artists a bunch of money to do something they'd do for free eventually anyway.

Finally, we have the State Government. If you follow the news you know that State's budget woes are legion. Gasp! We're going to grandma out of her rest home! We're going to cut education to the BONE! It's a DISASTER!

Except......It's not really.

Yes, if Texas Republicans cut the things above there will be some pain. But there are more reasonable things that can be cut. A $60 Million High School Football stadium for example. The Texas Enterprise Fund, that bastion of corporate welfare and political payola guarded by the Governor (and rightly so, since it's a huge base of his power). How about cutting steroid testing in Texas High School Sports? Yes, we understand that this is a David Dewhurst favorite and he's going to push it heavily in ads for his upcoming Senate run but, even if it is repealed can't his campaign consultants earn their money and come up with something else?

The point is, unlike The Apple Dumpling Gang and various bloggers (who call for property tax increases while silently protesting their own) we think that there are things that CAN (and should) be cut by the Lege before they even seriously LOOK at raising revenue or cutting into the rainy day fund. That doesn't mean that it's a good idea to cut education, or that you can cut TXDot to the point that roads aren't built, but do we really need to be providing a sliver of arts funding in EVERY building project?

Start by cutting non-essential add-ons and then make deep cuts (or eliminate) corporate welfare. When you're done with that......then let's talk about tapping one-time funds to cover on-going budget needs. Or (gasp) raising taxes on EVERYONE to cover needs. It's a better idea than creating a false class war against people who choose to live in gated communities (The Apple Dumpling Gang) or calling for increased taxation on everyone making a little bit more than you (progressives) or buying your head in the sand and pretending there's not a problem knowing full well that other's are going to have to clean up the mess you left because of unfunded mandates. (Texas Republicans)

A Menu for the rest of us.....

As the Let's move! Eat Healthy campaign, spearheaded by FLOTUS Michelle Obama, ramps up it's illustrating to take a look at the Super Bowl food menu recently released by the White House:

– Bratwurst
– Kielbasa
– Cheeseburgers
– Deep Dish Pizza
– Buffalo Wings
– German Potato Salad
– Twice Baked Potatoes
– Snyders Potato Chips and Pretzels
– Chips and Dips
– Salad
– Ice Cream
– Beverages including the following beers: Hinterland Pale Ale & Amber Ale (from Wisconsin), Yuengling Lager and Light (from Pennsylvania) and White House Honey Ale.
(Courtesy of White House Superbowl menu, Political unit)

Good. They should eat nothing but junk food and beer if they want to. This is (still) America after all and nothing is MORE American than having the freedom to grill some fatty sausages, hot wings, and junk food in advance of the big game that are designed to be washed down with a couple of unhealthy beers.

Would that our political types not forget this when passing restrictive food legislation designed to prohibit others from having the same right in the name of fighting "obesity".

Friday, February 4, 2011


If you believe the State's news-ish sites, and certain members of the InterLeft, Rick Perry's facing all kinds of heat for his California trip as flash-frozen Texans everywhere wave their icicle-encrusted children angrily in his direction. Oh the humanity! How did this former yell-leader generate the synapses to even spell governor, much less win it with 54% of the vote?

Except, upon closer examination, you realize that it's not "rank n' file" Texans who are angry about Perry heading out to California to meet some businesses, try on an old pair of Ronald Reagan's underwear and work on his tan. It's the Texas Democratic Party that's angry, and that's not news. They're ALWAYS angry.

And doing a mighty fine job of making themselves perpetually irrelevant.

You see, there are plenty of things that Texas' minority party could choose to be angry about: That they've being ignored during budget discussions, that their popularly elected President is being continually rebuffed by the State, that Aaron Peña jumped ship and has since seen his public profile INCREASE, that even Texas Monthly had to look hard to find a handful of them to put on their "power" list. Or even that there's not enough of them left in the House to generate a good tug-of-war match. When your leader in the clubhouse is Rep. Harold Dutton, you've got a lot of mad to vent, I understand that. What I don't understand is why it's being focused in directions that haven't been paying off for you?

Remember the chicken suit?

When some Demo rally-type person dressed up and feathers and made it their personal statement to call Rick Perry out for not debating Bill White the dye was cast. This was then followed up by Steve Mostyn's group who spent a lot of money trying to paint Rick Perry as a "coward". What Democrats didn't realize is that, after hearing Bill White speak a few times, many Texans thought Rick Perry was doing the State a public service by keeping the debate off the air.

"Heat" in political terms means that there's going to be a political price to pay for one's actions. When a politician feels "heat" we typically expect censure, a humiliating primary loss or a tearful apology to follow. None of this is in the future for Rick Perry no matter how hard Texas Democrats, news-ish sites like the Tribune and the InterLeft tap their heels together and wish it were so.

The only heat Rick Perry is feeling is that of the sun as it further bronzes his skin. The Colorado model is a failure in Texas because the candidate roster for its chosen party is weak. No amount of wailing or foot-stamping is going to change that.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It's a good idea until you think about it.

Who's against walking and biking right? Oh sure, building roads that are designed for cars, bikes and pedestrians sounds like a good idea on it's face, and why SHOULDN'T TxDOT be required to build roads of this type?

There's no reason that I can see......Except one.

That's right, the one that makes you wonder if some elected officials think that all road construction is identical, and that all roads are the same. Except of course they're not, and pressing a bill to make "smart roads"* the norm in Texas has "Frogger" written all over it.

Bikes on Kriby? Brilliant.

Bikes on the 610 Loop? Bicycle blini's anyone?

To make this sporting there'd have to be a point system.

10 pts for a Huffy
20 pts for a Trek
Bonus pts if the bike rider is wearing the kit of a professional cycling team.

100 pts if they're wearing a yellow jersey replica.

Any program of this sort would require a large, unwieldy, inefficient government program to set and establish daily bag limits. You know, to keep the denizens of College Station from running away and hiding with a huge lead. This program would have to be promised as "revenue neutral" to be funded through application fees for bike and pedestrian hunting. It wouldn't be (of course) after the same people who sponsored the bills suddenly decided that expensive new trauma centers are needed to handle all of the new injured bikers and pedestrians these new roads would create. To fund these trauma centers 10% of licencing fees would be siphoned off and fed to these units, leading the elected officials responsible for this mess to suddenly claim there's a hole in the budget that can only be filled by a monster tax increase or thousands of injured bicyclists and walkers will be forced to use the normal emergency centers (which, as we all know, are the sole medical domain of the poor and migrant, if you listen to the doom-sayers).

As with any poorly thought-out piece of legislation trotted out more with the idea of garnering votes than passing good policy, the danger is in the (lack of) details.

*As we all know, if you want to guarantee something will be dumb, have some new urban think-tank put the word "smart" in front of it.

The Noise Machine (2/3/11)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The best government...

Is a government by social contract, that sweet spot where the people give over certain rights and privileges in return for a modicum of safety and security. Whether you subscribe to the (more conservative) view that elected officials are there to do the bidding of the people, or the (progressive) ideal that elected officials are entrusted by voters to "use their best judgement" on issues of importance, there's no doubt that a Democracy is healthiest when all parties are reading from the same play book.

What never works out well, is government by threat. To whit:

(Houstonians could lose water if drainage fee not paid, Bradley Olson, ChronBlog)
"If you owe money to the city of Houston, it's going to be much easier if you just pay us now, because I'm going to be coming to look for the money," Parker said. She noted that council would be presented with a tentative plan to overhaul how all delinquent city fees and fines are collected next week.
Pardon me if the idea of an infuriated Mayor Parker, angrily fist-shaking at scofflaws in one of her many pant-suits, fails to inspire a sense of awe. Instead I can't help but think: "Wow, this has been a REALLY bad last few months for Herroner hasn't it?"

Perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned here is that things work best for politicians when they tell the truth. And by truth we mean the whole truth, not the $5 per household/non-intrusive "happy" drainage fee fantasy that was fast-tracked to the public, swallowed without question by the media and InterLeft, Despised by the Bloggers O' the Right, without allowing for a full vetting of the plan by both friend and foe.

Oh, and threats always, ALWAYS sound silly coming from public servants. Unless you're LBJ (and have Hubert H. Humphrey's pecker in your pocket) leave the threats at home.

A use for Houston's 7 miles of light rail

Another day, another Apple Dumpling Gang editorial boosting Houston MetroRail.

You can go read it if you want. I'll spell you the trouble and let you know that, according to the Apple Dumpling Gang, MetroRail will cure Houston's congestion problems (despite official Metro statements admitting that it will INCREASE congestion along the route and do nothing to alleviate highway congestion), clean the air (even though the electricity it uses is primarily generated from coal), eradicate childhood obesity, cure cancer, and finally....FINALLY make Houston a World Class City....until the next toy is desperately needed.*

The problem now is that we're stuck with 7 miles of toy train that does nothing more than hurl itself (slowly) back and forth from the Reliant complex to Downtown. It's singlehandedly killed off more bus routes than easy car credit, and it's displayed a maddening tendency to take out pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists (including, police & emergency vehicles). Metro's answer to this** is to wrap one of them in a red condom with 'SAFETY' emblazoned down the side in a style reminiscent of a Communist work poster. (Hard Work, and riding light rail, is good!)

Rail supporters, of course, think this is swell. Especially if other people can be convinced to hop on the new expanded light rail thus making their commute into their communal work spaces flow more smoothly. Rail opponents think this is all just so much tree-hugging nonsense and are suggesting that Metro rip up the seven miles of track, mothball the train-car fleet or convert them into buses so that other people can ride on them, thus making their commutes downtown to the buildings housing their cubicles less congested. Metro and its board are just happy that they can keep throwing money down a hole like a drunken sailor on shore leave in Singapore. That they have no real oversight from Houston's former newspaper of record, or the City and County Government only fuels that drinking binge.

What all sides are missing is a great money-making opportunity. Money the City can desperately use now that the City Controller has suddenly found a $23 Million "oops" love letter to pass along.

My plan, and I'm being serious here, is two-fold....

1. Charge the City's professional sports teams to use MetroRail as the official team transport on game-day. Instead of riding to the park in their Range Rovers, BMW's and Mercedes, gauche in these days of financial belt-tightening by the fans, all of the athletes will hop onto light rail and be forced to ignore the fans while wearing their iPods leaving the job of handing out photo-copies of their autographs to Houston's traffic ambassadors (it's not like they're working anyway right?) I know, I know you're thinking "You can't force teams to ride on the danger train can you? That's un-Constitutional. To that I say "bah". We live in an age where the President forced the American public to pay Billions in buy outs so that a few auto-unionists (and Democratic donors) don't have to face a renegotiation of their pension, and the Republicans destroyed an entire country just to make sure Big Oil has access to some camel breeding stations otherwise known as "pipe-lines". Don't worry about the Constitutionality of the whole deal. It'll work itself out.

2. On non game-days, lets drop the fantasy that MetroRail is in any way something resembling a "transit solution" and start treating it with a dose of reality. It's an amusement park ride, and Houston should treat it as such. Here's the idea, sell rides to the stadium in the very seats that athlete's sit in. You charge for the seats on a sliding scale depending on the demand. (Ex: Texans Defensive Secondary seats: $2, Carlos Lee's seat: $20, the seat for Carlos Lee's 7 pre-game snacks: $40 (and you get to check the cushions for sandwiches that fell between the cracks). The financial opportunities are endless here, so are the promotions. You can have a drawing to see who gets to sit in a seat occupied by a life-sized wax model of either Bob McNair or Drayton McLane. After the ride the winner gets a flamethrower and five minutes of fun, sub-letting allowed.

The good thing about both of these ideas is that the only people who pay are teams (which nobody likes anyways these days) and the rich who will pay big bucks for the thrill of giving McNair and McLane the ole creme brulee treatment. (which provides a side benefit for on-lookers if said rich person doesn't know how to work the flamethrower and top-brown themselves.)

To make this strike-proof the City could charge 'lockout rates' to fans allowing them to hurl water balloons at the stadium doors as they ride by. The Houston Aeros would be allowed to moon the picketers since they're minor league and unlikely to go on strike anyways. Meanwhile all the City has to do is sit back and let the money roll in. Metro, which would be freed from it's past mobility-fund payments to the City in return for surrendering rights to MetroRail, would then be free to focus on bus service, and moving people efficiently from point A to point B, as they should have from the beginning.

Of course, to pull this off we'd first have to get rid of the Metro board, and 3/4 of the current staff.

Maybe they could get jobs as Traffic ambassadors?

*OK, the last one's were a joke. Still, I wouldn't put it past the Apple Dumpling Gang in trying those arguments

**Since calling Houstonians idiots didn't work out so well

The Noise Machine (2/2/11)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


When people say something is not going to cost the City anything. It is. In this case, it appears that, in addition to funds for infrastructure and other development, the cost of the land, and maintenance costs, the Dynamo stadium is going to cost the City a cool $3 Million in the form of sales tax rebates over the span of 30 years. On a yearly basis, that's $100,000 per.

Compared to the City's annual budget, forecast to be $120 Million in 2011, supporters would say that's small potatoes. Considering that the City is looking down the barrel of a severe budget deficit, critics would say that any expenditure of this type is unwise. Since neither side is willing to bend on this, opposition to the Dynamo Stadium being compared to the severest form of racism toward the Hispanic population (which is odd considering the Euros are MAD about footy as well), it falls to the casual footy fan to find a compromise solution.

Fortunately, I have one*. And I think it's a winner. It's worked for our school teachers, it's being proposed for our community colleges so why shouldn't it work for our professional sports teams? I'm referring to Pay for play. Which is something I think would work well for our sports franchises, and allow the City to get out from under dog stadium deals for under-performing teams. (Yes, I'm looking at you Texans)

Here's how this would work:

- The team gets back nothing unless they actually make the playoffs. If they miss the playoffs then 100% of sales taxes revert back to the City plus interest. Given the recent records of Houston's sports teams, Houston stands to gain from this agreement.

- If the team finishes the season with a sub-.500 record, they have to pay interest plus penalties. The calculation for this could be modeled on the State's Oil & Gas penalties as calculated by the RRC or the GLO. Trust me, those are fairly stout (despite anti-oil and gas folks trying to say they're not. Go look them up online some day.) With the Texans alone it's quite possible that this whole Public employee pension mess could be fixed, plus a rainy day fund.

- If the team makes the playoffs, they get 1% of sales taxes refunded to them. This would be in play for the Rockets, occasionally, and probably the Dynamo, but after that it's pretty much a wash. The Texans? Nope, the way I figure it they won't be in line for this until at LEAST 2020. The Astros are right out as well. The Aeros don't count, let them get their own stadium.

- The Sales tax bonus would increase as the team moved forward each round in the playoffs, increasing 1% as the teams moved forward. Winning a League Championship would qualify the team for an additional .5% bonus that could be rolled-forward at the teams discretion to cover future losses due to bad management, etc.

The feeling behind this is as follows: If the team is doing well then more games are played, more sales tax is charged, but the City feels better about the team and is more willing to see them get a little back. Since, in Houston, playoffs are something rare, I see the City doing well with this agreement. Plus, the teams now have an incentive to do well, sparing us the Bob McNair "well at least we're still selling out" mentality. Losing will have a cost to the owners, not be a method of cost control. (bonuses, stadium salary etc.) It will also work to spare Houston the seventh circle of Hell feeling we've had with Kubiak. If Kubiak is costing McNair interest plus penalties, he's finally gone.

It's a win/win.

And the HCA consulting fee for implementing this would be pretty low as well. Don't mention it Houston.

*OK, not a serious one, but I've seen worse floated

The Noise Machine (2/1/11)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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