Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Dirty Little Secret of Dukes' Delayed "Retirement"....


"So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain;
It takes away the life of its owners."
Proverbs 1:19

Yesterday, Dawnna Dukes announced her intention to retire from the legislature...in four months; what gives?!?

Consider this number: $3220.

That's the increase in annual pension Dukes will receive, for life, by retiring with 22 years of 'service time' instead of 21.

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One perk Texas Legislators receive (that they don't like to talk about) is access to the state's "judicial retirement" system.  It's a form of kabuki theater that allows legislators to vote to increase their own pension without telling voters that's what they're doing.  That's why, every session, there's always some hack who pushes bills and budget amendments to increase pensions "for our hardworking judges."

As toughnickel explains:
The short sessions that take place every other year should be remembered when considering that state legislators have linked their pensions to the salaries of state district judges who work every year for a lot more than a 140 days in most cases. By linking their pensions to the state judge’s salaries, legislators receive a raise in their pension benefits every time judges receive a salary increase (Odessa American).
And yes, it's completely legal.

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Consider the following from the state retirement system:


As it relates to legislators, they get 2.3% of a state district judges' salary (currently $140k) for every year of 'service time' they accrue in the legislature.  They vest at year 8, which translates to 18.4% and goes up from there.  Not coincidentally, this is why so many legislators have a strange habit of running for something else after their fourth session in the legislature (lookin' at you Allen Fletcher).

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In Dukes' specific case, here's the math:

Retire with 21 years:

  • 2.3% x 21 = 48.3%
  • .483 x 140k = 67,620
  • Therefore, Dukes would receive $67,620 (*) for life.
Retire with 22 years:
  • 2.3% x 22 = 50.6%
  • .506 x 140k = 70,840
  • $70,840 (*) for life.
* -- Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that a future legislature doesn't increase the payout (which, of course, they will the second they think they can get away with it).

Don'cha love politicians?!?

[Sidenote: While we're on the subject, we'll make also predict cycically that Dukes will cash in with the lobby about ten seconds after she officially 'retires.']

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That being said, the good news is that Dukes has an opponent in November.  We've known Gabriel Nila for years and have been impressed by his diligence in the district for awhile (though, we confess, we didn't think he had a snowball's chance prior to yesterday's announcement).  Learn more about Gabriel here, donate here.

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Based on what we're hearing, it sounds like former Austin City Council member Sheryl Cole would be the prohibitive favorite if there's a special election early next year; that she was a member of the old, pre 10-1, council speaks for itself.

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Bottom Line: Whatever your thoughts on the long-term future of the district, the only way to stop Dawnna Dukes from acquiring another $3220 (+) of taxpayer money every year for life is to elect Gabriel Nila in November.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Adler gives Orwell run for his money....


"But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness."
2 Timothy 2:16

Having created barriers to entry for market participants, he actually called Austin's current ridesharing ecosystem "open and competitive."

In a buzzword and cliche filled appearance at last Saturday's Texas Tribune festival, Mayor Adler made a convoluted attempt to argue that mandates and regulation have increased competition; according to Adler, "if we continue on this path, we're going to end up in a good place."

With all due respect to the mayor, Austin's current ridesharing situation falls somewhere between "substandard" and "dysfunctional"; as Matt Mackowiak explained after the first UT Football game:
Austin’s special rules received their first real stress test when Notre Dame came to town for a nationally televised game and we can finally see that the emperor has no clothes. It was undeniably an unmitigated disaster.

My wife and I tried to get a ride from the Mueller area to campus four hours before the game, and three new startup apps, RideAustin, Fasten, and Wingz, not only had no available drivers, but their apps could not handle demand and failed. And that was at 2pm. After an hour of waiting and hoping, we texted a friend, a former Uber/Lyft driver, who came and picked us up and drove us in for $20.

By the time the game began, more than 102,000 people filed in to Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium. By game’s end, many thousands of attendees were stranded when the final whistle blew. I’m sure we have all heard the same thing. It was total chaos when the game ended at 10:30pm when thousands of people tried to find a ride home.
According to Adler, that's "open and competitive."  It's also "about liberty," "innovative," "creative," and "next century" (which is odd, considering that another century won't start for 84 years).  We're surprised he didn't trot out "transformative."

In reality, the ridesharing companies currently operating in Austin are all more expensive and less reliable than Uber and Lyft...which is exactly what people said would happen if council's restrictions went into effect.

Snark notwithstanding, scaling to meet the needs of a large city was always going to be a gigantic logistical challenge.  It isn't easy to coordinate thousands of drivers with tens of thousands of riders in a cost-effective and timely manner.  Returning to Mackowiak:
I really appreciate Andy Tryba, of RideAustin, for his honesty and transparency about their challenges relating to scale. This weekend they did over 17,000 rides, a new record, but they were simultaneously unable to service over 2,500 rides because demand was outpacing the drivers on the road. It would be valuable to know when those rides were being requested, because midnight is a lot different than 2pm. Think about 2,500 people walking around looking for a safe ride!

Here’s what really struck me. Andy said that “the more friction you put on driver signup (whether that be government instituted or company driven), the longer it takes drivers to (get) on board and many drop out of the funnel.”

I think this is where the rubber meets the road. RideAustin, with all of their deep relationships at city hall and their pursuit of ‘saving rideshare in Austin’, is waving the warning flag. Getting drivers signed up and driving is a big concern.
We've never met Tyrba, but other industry sources have privately used the word "nightmare" about attempting to comply with the City of Austin's regulations.

In another act of chutzpah, Adler attempted to create a narrative for the next predictable disaster this coming weekend when he said "it wouldn't surprise me at all if we have kinks" during ACL.

He actually called stranded Austinites and tourists "kinks."

Bottom Line: Google defines newspeak as "ambiguous euphemistic language used chiefly in political propaganda."

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Revelation 13:1-10 -- The BEAST from the Sea


The Beast from the Sea
"Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name. Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”

And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

If anyone has an ear, let him hear. He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints."
Revelation 13:1-10

Pastor Danny Forshee.  Great Hills Baptist Church.  March 22, 2015:

The Beast from the Sea - Dr. Danny Forshee - March 22, 2015 from Great Hills Baptist Church on Vimeo.

Outline:

2 Thessalonians 2:8
Daniel 8:25

  1. The Ancestry of the beast (vv. 1-3)
    2 Thessalonians 2:4
    Daniel 7:7
  2. The Adoration of the beast (vv. 3-4)
  3. The Activities of the beast (vv. 5-8)
    Daniel 7:21,25
  4. The Admonition of God (vv. 9-10)
Highlights:
  • "The Devil is still God's devil."
    - Martin Luther
  • Who is the Lamb?!?
  • "This is a sermon I'll be glad I've preached...after I've preached it."
  • "No he has not come and no he is not our current president."
    • At one time, people thought JFK was the antichrist; which should give us perspective when leveling that charge against any particular American politician.
  • I don't fear evil, but I do respect it.
  • Just like the Holy Trinity, there's an unholy 'trinity.'
    • Whatever God means for good, satan tries to create a counterfeit for evil.
  • People hate Jesus because He's the real one.
  • "If you don't know Jesus, you're gonna worship the beast and you're gonna go to hell."
  • Remember the Lamb, because there's a victory coming.
  • It's going to get worse before it gets a whole lot better.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Team Straus' oddly light presence at #Tribfest


"For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light."
Mark 4:22

Greetings from this years Tribfest.  In a development that will surprise no one, we had a question we hoped to ask Joe Straus.  But we didn't see him anywhere on the agenda.

So, we decided to do a search on the list of speakers:


But when we followed the link, it turned out that it was just a former staffer of his speaking on an unrelated panel; apparently, Joe is absent from this year's event.

That got us thinking, so we did a search for another well known Straus lieutenant who never misses a Trib event:


Ok, now this is getting strange, but let's try one more:


Bottom Line: We don't know what it means, and it could be something as innocent as a scheduling conflict, but for Joe Straus and his two most prominent lieutenants to miss the biggest #TXLEGE insider-fest of the year is...unusual.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Watson lays foundation for ANOTHER Tax Hike....


"But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God."
Nehemiah 5:15

The phrase "HELL No" comes to mind:
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, on Thursday proposed creating an "MD Anderson of the brain" on the site of the troubled Austin State Hospital, a psychiatric facility that has been plagued with staff shortages, crumbling facilities and a failure to meet federal health standards.

“The state must do something about the Austin State Hospital,” Watson told a crowd of higher education leaders and health care advocates at a downtown Austin hotel. "I call being worst an opportunity."

....

The commission estimated the cost of building a freestanding state mental health hospital ranges from $300 million to $400 million, but Watson said he hopes state and local governments can work together to shoulder the costs and, in the long run, “make Austin the place where we model mental health care.”

[Author's Note: Emphasis added.]
Read the whole thing here.

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There is a lot we could say on this topic, but 2014 #ATXCouncil candidate Ed English (District 7) says it best:


Thursday, September 22, 2016

"The Grove" and Austin's disengenous NIMBY Establishment....


"And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:31

[Author's Note: The Grove is up for final approval at today's council meeting (Item 73).  According to sources at City Hall, they're expecting about 8 hours of testimony.  We don't feel like sitting through the hearing, so this blog post can serve as written testimony.]

Let's suppose you live in a city with a severe housing shortage.  Let's suppose, further, that there was a gigantic empty lot one block away from a major highway.  Would it make sense to build housing?!?

Of course it would.

But old guard Austin begs to differ.

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We discovered this issue a couple months ago when we started examining Natalie Gauldin's candidacy in district 7.  Natalie cut her teeth fighting for it.  But our thoughts today are only tangentially related to that race.

Mostly, we're incredulous that people oppose building housing on a gigantic empty lot in a city with a housing shortage.

How is this even controversial?!?

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The short answer is that it's 'controversial' because of a phenomenon called "neighborhood association" politics; as Forbes explained this past summer:
[E]xisting residents buy homes in destination cities, and then utilize land-use regulations and anti-growth public officials to prevent new construction.
In this case, the anti-growth public official is Leslie Pool.

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At this point, it's worth pointing out that we're not crazy about every aspect of this project.  As part of the political sausage making process, a whole bunch of unnecessary 'affordable housing' subsidies have been tacked on.  That being said, it's probably the best deal we can get within political reality.

On net, it moves the ball forward.

But this was never about 'affordable housing,' and now the NIMBY's are yammering on about "traffic."

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It's the subject of 'traffic' where the disingenuousness of the opposition becomes obvious.  Remember, in the first section, when we said the site was one block away from a major highway?!?  That highway would be MoPAC.

In other words, it's pretty much impossible to site a project of this nature in a location where it would have less of an impact on 'traffic' in the surrounding neighborhood.

Personal note: we frequently travel through this intersection for work.  By standards of Austin's traffic, the 45th/MoPAC intersection isn't that bad.  But, of course, this isn't about 'traffic'....

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At this point, let's circle back to district 7.  This issue highlights the single biggest difference between Natalie Gauldin and Leslie Pool.  Donate to Natalie's campaign here.

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Bottom Line: How is this even controversial?!?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

3rd Court of Appeals ABETS UT Politburo's Admissions COVER UP....


"Therefore by their fruits you will know them."
Matthew 7:20

We know (and, for the record, have voted for) each of these Justices personally, so this isn't fun.  But this is some major league bullshit.  Duly noted for the next Republican primary:
University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall Jr. has lost in court a second time, and perhaps for good, in his effort to gain access to confidential student information from an investigation of admissions irregularities.

A three-judge panel of the state 3rd Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Chancellor Bill McRaven didn’t act outside the scope of his authority when he refused to turn over unredacted records to Hall, a Dallas businessman. The UT System-commissioned investigation by Kroll Associates Inc. found that then-UT-Austin President Bill Powers sometimes ordered students admitted, despite subpar academic records, at the urging of legislators, regents, donors and other influential people.

Justice Cindy Olson Bourland, writing for the court, said it was the UT System Board of Regents, not McRaven, “who denied Hall access to the documents in unredacted form, having implicitly determined that Hall does not have a legitimate educational interest in the information and that it may be protected by other privacy laws. Whether the Board’s determination in this regard is correct is not before us, and we take no position on whether that decision would be reviewable by this Court.” Bourland added that McRaven “must comply” with board directives.
Amen:
“I think it’s troubling for UT, and really for all state agencies, that the Court of Appeals has ruled that a majority of the governing board can withhold relevant information from an individual board member,” said Hall’s lawyer, Joe Knight. “That rule seems to invite cover-ups and defeat the kind of oversight the Legislature intended, especially here, given that Kroll specifically found that members of the Board of Regents were complicit in the improper secret admissions program.”
It gets better:
The 3rd Court’s ruling, filed Friday, upholds a decision by state District Judge Scott Jenkins of Travis County, who dismissed the case in December. The appeals court said McRaven enjoys sovereign or governmental immunity that deprives Texas courts of jurisdiction unless an official acted without legal authority.

Bourland, whose ruling was joined by Chief Justice Jeff Rose and Justice Bob Pemberton, said Hall declined to avail himself of a board-approved process that might have given him access to some confidential records. She also detailed how the board changed its tune on addressing such disputes.

During an April 2015 board meeting, Hall’s request to review all Kroll materials, including information protected by a federal student privacy law, passed with a minority vote, as permitted under board rules at the time.

The board revised that rule the following month to require a majority vote and voted in July against Hall, but with a caveat: He could review redacted materials and then make his case to board Chairman Paul Foster, who could decide, in consultation with the board’s two vice chairmen and general counsel, to let Hall see some information otherwise protected by the student privacy law and other laws.
Read the whole thing here.

Bottom Line: Pemberton is up in '18.  Rose is up in '20.  Bourland is up this fall, and there's no Libertarian on the ballot, but she'll be up again in '22.

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Cynical Prediction: Keep an eye on Rose the next time a Supreme Court vacancy opens up.