Saturday, October 31, 2009

Evolution and the newspaper business

Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times-Union writes a guest editorial at ChronBlog's "Texas on the Potomac" sub-blog today in which he comments on the seeming inevitable collapse of the newspaper business, but like so many before him, he fails to recognize the primary problem.

There are factors that were not addressed that are major drivers for the loss of newspaper readership. The issue was briefly touched on in his mention of new technologies that are more reader friendly. But the printed page is not the only thing that is reader unfriendly. The simple fact of the matter is that the political demographic in the newsroom is vastly out of sync with the political demographic of the population at large, and especially of the demographic that has the capability and/or desire to read the news. When the editors and reporters stop trying to antagonize their readership, they might find that there is a vast untapped readership available to them.

Look at CNN vs Fox News for an excellent example. CNN actively antagonizes conservatives, whereas Fox courts them. Who is on top and who is on the bottom? Here is a hint, CNN is the one taking it in the ass without benefit of proper lubrication. Who is the "tea-bagger" and who is the "tea-bag-ee" now eh? The US is far more conservative than most polls would indicate, this is proof positive. You cannot daily demean and castigate the political and social beliefs of your readership and expect them to continue to shell out their hard earned money paying for your product. The people will vote with their wallets and get their news from other sources. Don't give me the "no bias"or that there is an "editorial firewall" bullshit line, because you know you are lying and I know you know you are lying, so let's stop lying to each other ok? Oh, wait, I haven't been... it's been you all along. How's that helping with your integrity issues, hmm? Probably not so much....

That was the problem with the dinosaurs, they failed to evolve to a changing environment and they died out. Like the captain of the RMS Titanic, Edward Smith, Hearst corp, and it's subsidiary, The Houston Chronicle, has shoved the engine telegraph to "all ahead full" despite the obvious icebergs ahead. They've been given NUMEROUS warnings of the danger that lies ahead but yet they refuse to change course or even slow down. Instead they rearrange the deck chairs. When Hearst sinks with all hands, it will not be the readers that were at fault, it will be the editors and managers that refused to see the obvious. Newspapers as we know them today will go the way of T-Rex and The Dodo. Enjoy your unemployment, you will have deserved it. If you are lucky, Trent Seibert might hire you to run the copy machine and fetch coffee.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

John O'Quinn Dies in Auto Accident

I have received reports that John O'Quinn died in an auto accident this morning on Allen Parkway. No word yet of any other injuries, I will update as information becomes available.

It is confirmed. O'Quinn and another man (most likely his driver) lost control and hit a tree in the median of Allen Parkway this morning around 8 am, killing both men (as well as the tree).

Update II:
I am told that O'Quinn was driving at the time and his driver was actually the passenger in the vehicle. Both died at the scene. No explanation has been given for why O'Quinn was driving, he usually does not drive. He is known to have his driver sit in the parking lot all day with the engine running in order to keep his black Suburban cool so that he can jump in at a moment's notice to go anywhere he liked. The speculation is that he was driving because he was late for a hearing and his driver was being too cautious for his liking.

Update III:
I have been able to confirm that O'Quinn was NOT in pursuit of an ambulance at the time of the crash. I am told that apparently moments before the wreck, O'Quinn had just gotten off the phone with Judge Benton. He had apparently lied to Benton telling him he was at Hobby Airport, when in fact he was apparently rushing to get to Hobby Airport where Southwest Airlines was holding a plane traveling to San Antonio waiting for him. I suppose however it is also possible that Judge Benton misheard him and O'Quinn was saying he was on his way there. I am also informed that neither of them were wearing their seat belts. It would not surprise me in the least if the cell phone call actually precipitated the loss of control. These factors (speeding, cell phone use, no seat belt) would complicate any insurance payouts to the families of the deceased. It would be ironic if the family of the deceased driver has to sue O'Quinn's estate in order to collect. Isn't karma funny like that?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Crowdsource resources: Unarmed Self Defense

This is going to sound conceited but it is not intended to be. My 15 year old daughter is very attractive, (blonde blue and elvish) and as such whenever she goes anywhere every guy in the place checks her out, even old men. A few weeks back she was sitting in the food court in The Woodlands mall and some old guy was sitting a couple tables away with his cell phone taking pictures of her. She is also under 5 feet tall and under 100 lbs soaking wet. she is not exactly built to over power a guy. So we are considering signing her up for self defense training. She is not exactly thrilled with the idea, so her level of commitment might be limited. We are considering Krav Maga which is geared specifically towards self defense fighting. She isn't old enough for CHL training and she can't carry a gun to school anyway, nor can she carry a knife or mace either, so it has to be hand to hand. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Missed Shot

A couple days ago, the Chronicle ran a story by Cindy George that indicates that the Swine Flu vaccine is in much shorter supply than was earlier predicted. The CDC originally promised 120 million doses would be available by now, but only 10% of them actually are. And unlike seasonal flu vaccines, it is not being distributed by private companies, it's distribution is being handled by the Federal Government. But to add insult to deadly injury Kathleen Sibelius Secretary of Health and Human Services has decided that swine flu vaccine stockpiles aren't thin enough as it is so she is going to abscond with 10% of the supply, paid for by US taxpayers, and give it away to other countries.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

No wonder....

... the GOP is limp and lifeless

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Adventures in Campaign Financing: Part 24387 in a series...

BlogHouston pointed to a instance of what appeared to be minor, but questionable, personal loans to a candidate's campaign fund, with what appeared to be rather high interest rates being charged. David Jennings researched further and found that the case was basically an instance of a candidate taking cash advances from his personal credit cards, loaning the money to the campaign, and then paying the money back (plus the interest that the card was charging) with campaign funds. In this instance, we are talking about relatively small amounts that appear to be legitimate transactions. But if this practice is legal, (which it would appear that it is.) it opens up a huge can of ethically challenged worms.

A candidate could take out a home equity loan on his house for a term of say two years (most banks require a longer term, usually 5 or 10 years, but I'm trying to keep the math within the typical election cycle) at say 6% (probably high given the length of the loan.), loan that money to his or her campaign fund, then have the campaign pay it back at say 25% APR interest and pocket the profits.
For example the total cost of a 2 year loan of $250,000 at 6% APR is $265923.60 with payments of $11,080.15 a month. A similar loan at 25% APR however would cost a total of $320,229.12 with payments of $13342.88 a month, with the candidate being able to pocket $2262.73 a month of pure investment profits. A lobbyist who wished to keep a legislator in his good graces could almost certainly arrange such a loan and then arrange to donate money to the candidate's campaign fund and use such a mechanism to launder the money and convert it to personal income for the candidate. Probably on even better terms than what I present here.

If this is in fact legal (and at this point I have no indication that it is not.), this a loophole in the campaign finance laws big enough to fly a 747 through. We need to close this loophole in the next session of the legislature.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How Not to be a Zombie Voter: Constitutional Amendment Edition (Updated and bumped to the top)

Here is the product of my research into the Constitutional Amendments for the November election, undertaken for the American Conservative Party. The following is my own opinion and is not and should not be taken to be the official position of the ACP. The ACP may or may not follow my recommendations.

I tried to answer the following questions:

1. Do the goals of the amendment match with Conservative goals?
2. Do the methods of the amendment match with Conservative methods?
3. Is the amendment in support of a good public policy?
4. Does the amendment incur a tax burden or other public cost/debt that is excessive?

Ideally the answers should be Yes,Yes, Yes and No in that order. Not all of the amendments meet those criteria.

Proposition 1

HJR 132 (History of HJR 132)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the financing, including through tax increment financing, of the acquisition by municipalities and counties of buffer areas or open spaces adjacent to a military installation for the prevention of encroachment or for the construction of roadways, utilities, or other infrastructure to protect or promote the mission of the military installation."

1. The goal of this amendment is to allow cities and counties to finance the purchase of land surrounding a military installation to prevent the encroachment onto land needed for adjacent infrastructure in and around the installation. Does it support a conservative ideal? I would say that the answer is a qualified yes, if it is used in the manner that it is apparently intended to be used. However I can see how it might be used by cities and counties to get into the land speculation business, which would not be consistent with conservative ideals. I am not aware of the specific impetus for this measure, I'm sure it was originally crafted to solve a specific problem at a specific base, but in order to achieve that end it required a constitutional amendment. The amendment could however lead to eminent domain takings if the current owners do not wish to sell. As such the answer is probably no overall.

2. Do the methods match with conservative methods? Eh, not so much, it allows for TIRZ and Bond monies backed by ad valorem taxes to be used to purchase the land, but the enabling legislation for the TIRZ did not pass so bonds would be the only available vehicle for financing at least until the next session of the legislature.

3. Is the amendment in support of a good public policy? It sounds good in theory, but in practice, it probably won't be used for good public policy, the answer is probably no.

4. Does the amendment incur a tax burden or other public cost/debt that is excessive? It does incur public debt, whether it is an excessive amount is subject to interpretation. The answer is probably yes.

I would recommend voters vote no on this amendment.

Further reading:

Proposition 2

HJR 36-1 (History of HJR 36-1)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for the ad valorem taxation of a residence homestead solely on the basis of the property's value as a residence homestead."

  1. Do the goals of the amendment match with Conservative goals? This amendment would prevent taxing authorities from valuing a residence homestead based on it's possible “highest and best use” as commercial property. Therefore it prevents the loss of homesteads to the tax collector because the house is now worth more as commercial property than it is as a house. This is certainly a conservative ideal, so the answer is yes.

  1. Do the methods of the amendment match with Conservative methods? Yes, it prevents the taxing authority from ignoring the historical and current use of a parcel of real estate when evaluating it for tax purposes.

  1. Is the amendment in support of a good public policy? Yes, it prevents tax increases on homesteads that may be surrounded by commercial property.

  1. Does the amendment incur a tax burden or other public cost/debt that is excessive? Depends on your POV. I'm sure that to taxing authorities it is a burden because they cannot levy higher taxes based on the land's “highest and best use” but it also prevents homeowners from losing their homes to the taxman too. I tend to fall on the side of the homeowners.

I would say this proposition is a no-brainer to support.

Proposition 3

HJR 36-3 (History of HJR 36-3)

"The constitutional amendment providing for uniform standards and procedures for the appraisal of property for ad valorem tax purposes."

This is a companion measure that prevents two different taxing authorities from valuating the same property differently. Everything that was said about Prop 2 applies here as well. It's a no-brainer.

Proposition 4

HJR 14-2 (History of HJR 14-2)

"The constitutional amendment establishing the national research university fund to enable emerging research universities in this state to achieve national prominence as major research universities and transferring the balance of the higher education fund to the national research university fund."

While allowing UH to join the monied elite of tier one schools is on the whole probably a good thing, I'm concerned about the costs that may arise out of it. I'm cautiously endorsing this measure, but we must keep an eye on the costs as well. I'm concerned about the unintended consequences, which there may well be many.

Proposition 5

HJR 36-2 (History of HJR 36-2)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to authorize a single board of equalization for two or more adjoining appraisal entities that elect to provide for consolidated equalizations."

See prop 2 and prop 3. no-brainer.

Proposition 6

HJR 116 (History of HJR 116)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the Veterans' Land Board to issue general obligation bonds in amounts equal to or less than amounts previously authorized."

This measure would essentially reauthorize the Veteran's Land Board program at the same or less funding level as before. While providing land financing for veterans is a good thing, I suspect this would ultimately cost the state more than we would derive from it. I'm going to say I support this measure, mainly on the basis that anything good for our veterans is a good thing and we are not discussing a increase in funding, but I'm leery of the costs that might be incurred later as well.

Proposition 7

HJR 127 (History of HJR 127)

"The constitutional amendment to allow an officer or enlisted member of the Texas State Guard or other state militia or military force to hold other civil offices."

Basically allows city and county employees and elected officials to also be members of the TNG & TANG. I don't see a problem with this in the slightest. No-brainer.

Proposition 8

HJR 7 (History of HJR 7)

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the state to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in this state."

Shouldn't this be a federal VA function? Isn't that what the VA is supposed to be doing with the billions of taxpayer dollars it receives? I love veterans, and I'm sorely tempted to endorse it, but is this a state function? It incurs costs. As much as I'd like to endorse this, I am forced to recommend voting no.

Proposition 9

HJR 102 (History of HJR 102)

"The constitutional amendment to protect the right of the public, individually and collectively, to access and use the public beaches bordering the seaward shore of the Gulf of Mexico."

This amendment arises out of a lawsuit between the estate of a family that holds an original Spanish land grant to the only private beach in the state and the Texas Land Office. It is intended to be and end run around the courts to essentially seize the beach. The existing Texas Open Beaches Act did not apply to this parcel due to the fact that the land was still owned by the decedents of the original land grant holders. This amendment would be essentially an ex post facto law, seizing the property without just compensation. I oppose this measure.

Proposition 10 *UPDATED*

HJR 85 (History of HJR 85)

"The constitutional amendment to provide that elected members of the governing boards of emergency services districts may serve terms not to exceed four years."

Term limits for ESD board members. Can't see a reason not to support it. These boards become very insular with little turnover. That is an environment ripe for abuse.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that this proposal is a sleeper amendment. This amendment sounds like it is limiting the length of terms to ESD district board members when it is in fact extending them by two years. Now I can see the argument that holding an election every two years is expensive for ESD districts, but as blogHouston and KPRC channel 2 has shown, some ESD districts need closer scrutiny. Therefore I am reversing myself and recommending that voters vote no on this amendment.

Proposition 11

HJR 14-1 (History of HJR 14-1)

"The constitutional amendment to prohibit the taking, damaging, or destroying of private property for public use unless the action is for the ownership, use, and enjoyment of the property by the State, a political subdivision of the State, the public at large, or entities granted the power of eminent domain under law or for the elimination of urban blight on a particular parcel of property, but not for certain economic development or enhancement of tax revenue purposes, and to limit the legislature's authority to grant the power of eminent domain to an entity."

Saving the best for last. Intended to combat the Kelo decision, so it should be heartily endorsed, but it has one loophole that still needs to be addressed and that is the eminent domain power to combat urban blight. We have seen how urban blight is used here in Houston as an excuse to seize land that is then redeveloped into properties with much higher tax values (by developer friends of the mayor). I'm not certain that the protections in this amendment are enough to prevent that, but it is a step in the right direction. Better half a loaf than nothing at all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is it possible for a gay man to commit a hate crime against two lesbians?

Apparently it is. In the UK, a gay man who had been having an increasingly bad relationship with his lesbian neighbors after the neighbors accused him of stealing their three legged cat. So he cooked up some curry and offered it to them as "a peace offering" which just happened to be laced with slug bait pellets. Now, personally I'm not real clear where the "hate crime" part comes into play. It does not appear to me to have anything to do with anyone's sexual orientation. It would appear to be just a sick bastard that hates cats and is willing to kill someone over it. But apparently in the UK, if you happen to be of a protected class, any attempt on your life, regardless of the reason counts as a hate crime. Let this be a warning to Congress. They are about to pass a defense bill that has had a gay hate crime amendment stuck in it.

But there is a good chance that it may be found to be unconstitutional.

H/T Linkiest

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Nasty Rumor that I HOPE is not true.

But I'm afraid it might well be...

This morning, a woman called in to Edd Hendee's show on KSEV and informed Edd that her friend's husband, who is deployed to Iraq, has not been paid in a month, and that he had been ordered not to discuss it. The wife of course was under no such obligation to keep quiet. When I heard that I thought to myself that it could not possibly be correct, or if it is, it can't be widespread. So I asked around. I discovered that a woman here at work has three cousins in Iraq, two Army, one Air Force, and none of them have been paid in over 5 weeks as well. This no longer sounds like a rumor, this is starting to sound like fact. And if it IS a fact, someone's head needs to roll. This is UNACCEPTABLE.

These men and women have signed a blank check for their very lives in service to this country. They often have spouses and families back home that depend on that income to eat and pay the rent. Soldiers are not paid a great deal for their sacrifice to begin with. To screw them out of a paycheck their families need to survive is simply unconscionable. If you know of anyone who is deployed to Iraq who has not been paid. Please let me know. I've been in contact with Congressman Ted Poe's office and they will ask around, but at this juncture no constituent who has not been paid has contacted them so their ability to look into it is limited. I urge all servicemen and women who's paycheck is in arrears to contact their respective congressmen and let them know about this.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Why the VA Hospital System is not socialized medicine.

A number of people have claimed that the VA is socialized medicine at it's best and that since everyone supports the VA system, we should support Obamacare as well. Let me tell you what the difference is. It is the word DEBT. We owe these men and women everything. They wrote a blank check for up to and including their very lives for this country. Therefore this country owes them anything and everything we can give them in return.

The Dead(line) Approches.

Monday October 5th, is the deadline to register to vote prior to the November Elections. If you were registered in Harris County and have moved and you do NOT get registered in your new precinct by the fifth, then all is not lost. You may vote early at ANY of the early voting locations, supply them with your new address and you will be allowed to vote in your old precinct as well as get registered in your new precinct for the next election.

Remember, voting is not only a right guaranteed in our democratic society, it is your duty to society as well.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Child rapist supporters boycott list.

Most are two bit "arts film" nobodies, and most are from the french film industry as well, but there are a few big names that you'll recognize. I'll update with new names and/or links as time permits.

Polanski petition signatories, as of September 29th:

Fatih Akin
Stephane Allagnon
Woody Allen known pedophile, married his adopted daughter and was accused of molesting his 7 year old stepdaughter Dylan.
Pedro Almodovar
Wes Anderson UT Austin grad, wrote and starred in "Rushmore", "The Royal Tannenbaums", and "Bottle Rocket" among others.
Jean-Jacques Annaud
Alexandre Arcady
Fanny Ardant
Asia Argento
Darren Aronofsky
Olivier Assayas
Alexander Astruc
Gabriel Auer
Luc Barnier
Christophe Barratier
Xavier Beauvois
Liria Begeja
Gilles Behat
Jean-Jacques Beineix
Marco Bellochio
Monica Bellucci Persephone from "The Matrix" sequals, also Mary Magdalene from "The Passion of The Christ".
Djamel Bennecib
Giuseppe Bertolucci
Patrick Bouchitey
Paul Boujenah
Jacques Bral
Patrick Braoudé
Andre Buytaers
Christian Carion
Henning Carlsen
Jean-Michel Carre
Patrice Chereau
Elie Chouraqui
Souleymane Cisse
Alain Corneau
Jerome Cornuau
Miguel Courtois
Dominique Crevecoeur
Alfonso Cuaron
Luc et Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Jonathan Demme director of "Silence of the lambs"
Alexandre Desplat Composer for "Julie & Julia", "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" "Syriana" and others.
Rosalinde et Michel Deville
Georges Dybman
Jacques Fansten
Joël Farges
Gianluca Farinelli
Jacques Fansten
Etienne Faure
Michel Ferry
Scott Foundas
Stephen Frears
Thierry Fremaux
Sam Gabarski
René Gainville
Tony Gatlif
Costa Gavras
Jean-Marc Ghanassia
Terry Gilliam writer/actor for many of the Monty Python movies
Christian Gion
Marc Guidoni
Buck Henry "Get Smart", "30 Rock", others.
David Heyman producer of many of the Harry Potter movies
Laurent Heynemann
Robert Hossein
Jean-Loup Hubert
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Gilles Jacob President of the Cannes Film Festival
Just Jaeckin
Alain Jessua
Pierre Jolivet
Kent Jones writer for "The Daily Show", appears on "The Rachel Maddow Show" as himself.
Roger Kahane,
Nelly Kaplan
Wong Kar Waï
Ladislas Kijno
Harmony Korine
Jan Kounen
Diane Kurys
Emir Kusturica
John Landis "Blues Brothers", "Beverly Hills Cop" series, & many many others.
Claude Lanzmann
André Larquié
Vinciane Lecocq
Patrice Leconte
Claude Lelouch
Gérard Lenne
David Lynch
Michael Mann "Miami Vice", "Hancock", "The Aviator", "Public Enemies", many many others.
François Margolin
Jean-Pierre Marois
Tonie Marshall
Mario Martone
Nicolas Mauvernay
Radu Mihaileanu
Claude Miller
Mario Monicelli
Jeanne Moreau
Sandra Nicolier
Michel Ocelot
Alexander Payne
Richard Pena
Michele Placido
Philippe Radault
Jean-Paul Rappeneau
Raphael Rebibo
Yasmina Reza
Jacques Richard
Laurence Roulet
Walter Salles
Jean-Paul Salomé
Marc Sandberg
Jerry Schatzberg
Julian Schnabel
Barbet Schroeder
Ettore Scola
Martin Scorcese "The Departed", "The Aviator", "Cape Fear", "Goodfellas", many many others.
Charlotte Silvera
Abderrahmane Sissako
Paolo Sorrentino
Guillaume Stirn
Tilda Swinton "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", "Michael Clayton", "Burn after Reading"
Jean-Charles Tacchella
Radovan Tadic
Danis Tanovic
Bertrand Tavernier
Cécile Telerman
Alain Terzian
Pascal Thomas
Giuseppe Tornatore
Serge Toubiana
Nadine Trintignant
Tom Tykwer
Alexandre Tylski
Betrand Van Effenterre
Wim Wenders
Harvey Wienstein "Lord of the Rings", "Inglourius Basterds", "Zack and Miri make a Porno" etc.
More names can be found here.