Low regulation comes with a cost

The influx of workers, the migration of people continues apace, as does the Governors low tax, low regulation mantra.
Gov. Perry to Newsmax: Low Taxes, Less Regulation Key to ‘Texas Miracle’

The lax oversight though has direct impact on everything from fertilizer plants, to your children. Systems in place better work, there is often no fallback.

Transportation leadership failure

On Tuesday I wrote about “Austin and Alcohol tourism” and speculated on the lack of an alternative transport policy as a leadership failure. I said:

Rather than rally behind what most transport conscious users and urbanization advocates believes would be hard, but right choice to put a rail line of some sort, straight down Lamar from North West Austin, [Mayor] Leffingwell used his last state of the city to rally behind the current rail proposal.

Bml2iMaCEAAchZX[2]And today Leffingwell lived up to that speculation. The outgoing Mayor is reported by the Austin Statesman as saying in relation to making space on the vital East Riverside corridor, the 2nd phase of the current proposal he

wasn’t on board with eliminating [Car] lanes.

Susana Almanza, president of Southeast Austin’s Montopolis Neighborhood Association and a candidate for the City Council District 3 seat in this fall’s election, said:

the city, if nothing else, will need to rethink how wide to make the bike lanes and sidewalks.

What is wrong with these people? Doesn’t anyone brief them on the real world. The traffic all over the city is backed up at peak times. Offering a viable alternative transport which can make real progress is the only option to get people out of their cars.

But my post from the other day was off the back of Ben Wintles anger over the death of his friend Kelly. So, our Mayor doesn’t want to reduce the lanes for cars, a candidate for City government wants to rethink the width of bike lanes and sidewalks. For the clueless here are a few things to remember:

  • There are 4,000 pedestrian deaths every year in the USA [if anything else had death rates like that, we’d ban it]
  • In the last 10-years (2002-2012), the share of pedestrian death in the USA has gone from 11% of traffic fatalities to 14% [ie. for the clueless, things are getting worse]
  • 73% of those pedestrian deaths occur in cities [USA like the rest of the world, and Austin especially is getting increasingly urbanized]
  • Pedestrian death rates in the USA are far greater than in Europe
  • Europe has a different hierarchy of needs for streets, they put equal or greater priority on pedestrian, bikes and alternative transport than they do cars
  • Pedestrian and bike safety is not a random series of actions, it is a direct result  of policy, approach and influences
  • These combinations of policies and funding allocations, engineering and enforcement set Europe apart
  • Streets are for cars! No, streets are for the movement, delivery, transportation of people and goods

So, while the Statesman might call Leffingwell “urban rails primary political champion”, that doesn’t mean he has shown leadership. Rail or fail indeed Mr Mayor? One line going nowhere, connecting to another not getting built.

Footnote: As documented in wikipedia, Mayor Leffingwell is a 32-year airline pilot for Delta Airlines and grew up in the neighborhood where I live.

Austin and Alcohol tourism

I’m not trying to conflate two separate subjects with this post, but finally people are starting to get part of the real need for alternate transport options in Austin. Urban Rail and Drink Driving.

NPR posted a link to this KUT segment/web page to it’s facebook page today. I listened to the story as I drove to work this morning on Morning Edition. Providing additional transport isn’t enough, it will need a generational change.

However, generational change needs real leadership to solve this problem and that’s been distinctly lacking from the “Rail or Fail” Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and departing Governor of Texas Rick Perry. Perry, the longest serving Texas Governor has not only been absent from the discussion, but allowed the airline South by South West to completely derail the last serious attempt at real rail in Texas.

Remembering Kelly is a passionate and articulate argument about why something needs to be done. Ben Wintle totally nails the problem for Austin where in his blog he says

Austin is a city of alcohol tourism. We have at least three neighborhoods dedicated to the consumption of alcohol. People travel to our city from all over the world to get drunk. We need to stop burying our heads in the sand. The 6th st entertainment district over-serves their clients on a regular basis. No one should be carried out of a bar because they are too drunk to walk and that behavior is just normal for dirty 6th. The Austin bus system isn’t horrible but it’s not enough. This city desperately needs a more comprehensive public transportation network. That network should include trains, buses and contiguous sidewalks.

 

Project Disconnect
Picture taken from Project Connect aspirational web page

Our two departing “superheroes” share the blame. In addition to Perrys’ “do nothing” approach to alternate transport, Leffingwell leaves office having presided over a meandering, rudderless transport policy for the city that has had Lavaca a major road through downtown completely jammed up for the past 8-months and going to miss it’s rescheduled completion; a red line that is totally underutilized; yet self congratulating at every opportunity at an Austin that is best for this, top for that.

Rather than rally behind what most transport conscious users and urbanization advocates believes would be hard, but right choice to put a rail line of some sort, straight down Lamar from North West Austin, Leffingwell used his last state of the city to rally behind the current rail proposal.

M1EK has long been an outspoken critic of the policy, process and people involved. This blog entry contains a good summary of my feeling and it’s a re-post with some useful links in the comments.

And here is the problem. Even if this line is a success, it would at best encourage the development of a 4th alcohol tourism destination, it won’t do anything to address the ones we already have. Instead, trains will terminate a good 20-minute drive from the existing centers, rather than stopping on Lamar around 5th, and looping through downtown, perhaps as shown through the ProjectConnect screen grab shown above.

In the meantime it is hard to see how Austin will tackle the problem of drink driving for the next 5-years, what’s clear is that it is going to take more than more punishment, stiffer fines, etc. Leffingwells’ Austin and Perrys’ low regulation, low taxation dreams are starting to show their nasty underbelly.

Dead Reckoning: The TDI rules don’t quite blind the navigators

1619139_10152188985535915_241142027_nMichael King sums up how I feel about what’s been going on in Texas in relation to Womens Health, the Affordable Care act. I don’t always agree with King, but when I do it’s always the same problem.

For entirely political reasons, Gov. Rick Perry has not only opposed and obstructed the federal health care law at every available opportunity, he has done nothing to offer a usable alternative or even to maintain the entirely inadequate existing state health care programs. It has been more important for Perry and his GOP allies to fight a holy war against Planned Parenthood than to sustain the Women’s Health Program; it has been a higher priority to cut property taxes than to provide local health care districts with state assistance; it has been politically more expedient to deny millions of Texans health care coverage through Medicaid than to accept federal funding for a program that would not only save lives but expand the state economy.

via Point Austin: Dead Reckoning: The TDI rules don’t quite blind the navigators – News – The Austin Chronicle.

TEXAS Two Face

Between the Maher, Stewart and Colbert TV shows you can get some of the most biting commentary on the real America. Bill Mahers latest blog takes on Texas as a “free market paradise” and a “We’ll stay out of your hair.” kinda place, makes some very interesting points.

The contradiction between the business claims and attorney Abbotts current fight with the EPA which is at odds with the record of safety history and environmental impact; and alongside that, the rugged individualism and freedom, with what has been enacted this year over Womens health.

Double dipping, a Texas Gov. staple

Texan politicians, and many on the right often complain about the Federal government and “career politicians” in Washington, there is still much to be done here in Texas to let the sunshine in.

The Tribune has a great piece on the current practice of “double dipping” as it’s known. The British Government over the past few years has forced the funding of politicians and their outside interests into the sunlight. Often with excruciating detail on what are in many ways, trivial amounts of money. While money in politics in both countries is still sky rocketing, the direct pay of politicians has to be more transparent.

The Tribune reports:

“While Texas legislators are considered part-time state employees and make only $600 a month in salary, they have uncommonly generous pensions. A legislator can get one after just eight years and, with 12 years of service, can begin receiving a guaranteed annuity at age 50.”

And the pension is not tied to a legislators meager salary but rather to the pay of a state district judge, now set at $140,000. It gets even better for long-serving members of the elected class. Those who meet the longevity requirements can “retire” and keep their state salaries without leaving office.

That’s what Perry did, quietly, in early 2011. As a result, he immediately increased his take-home pay by $92,000. He kept his job and the $150,000 salary that goes with it.”

via Efforts Targeting Double Dipping Could Get Boost | The Texas Tribune.

For Groundwater, Political Boundaries Trump Natural Ones

For Groundwater, Political Boundaries Trump Natural Ones

The Tribune just published an interesting insight into the politics behind groundwater in Texas and how it is managed.

It includes this helpful summary of how things got the way they are “When most GCDs [Groundwater Conservation Districts] were created, they focused on making sure current and historic water pumpers wouldn’t need to change their habits, he said. Instead, they should have encouraged them to limit their pumping as much as they could, knowing that new users would be entering the picture and competing for dwindling resources. “

Abbott, leads by example

And says FU to Texas water users.

Attorney general Abbott knows the law,  if nothing else. Texas is a property rights state,  along with which come a number of other rights,  not normally recognized as either good for the Commons,  or not allowed by law in a modern democracy.

Those rights include everything under the property,  which would obviously include oil  gas shale,  but in this instance include water. Abbott must like a green lawn, we all do, but for the most part it has become impractical and should be unaffordable to waste water on a lawn.

In what are record drought conditions with numerous businesses affected, boat docks, related people and business, plus the farmers and rice fields downstream from Austin getting more and more severe restrictions, you’d think the candidate for Governor of Texas would lead by example, apparently he is, he’s drilled a well on his property and is watering his lawn from it. This article in the Texas Tribune covers the details.

Abbott Stormy waterThis letter in the current Austin Chronicle, by Philip Russell explains why Abbott is wrong, either way. Doesn’t Texas deserve better than this?

In the interests of transparency, I have a sprinkler system, it was installed when the house was built and generally never gets used. I can’t say I’ve never used it, I have, but not this year. My neighbor replaced half the turf on my lawn to stop the weeds spreading to his lawn, I’ve not watered it since. Also, since our drains run directly into the creek and town lake, I won’t use weed killer or chemicals on the lawn.

[Update: 12/2/13. I guess this is Philip Russell the letters author.]

Texas Water Wars

Image from http://sprinterlife.com/2012/10/water-wars.html

Despite the recent rain we’ve been having in Austin, and many flash floods, it hasn’t really made much of a difference to the lake levels, it will take time for the water to work it’s way through the ground and collection systems to the lakes.

This report by the Texas Tribune highlights the current tension between Texas and Mexico over a 1944 water agreement. Things were very different back then. However, many of these issues have been well understood and behind many tensions around the world. I discussed this back in 2003 in my technology trends and direction presentation. I’d been a technology presenter at a number of science related conferences and at a couple of them heard  some really good summaries of the issues, and at another geopolitical keynote where they talked about the potential world flare-up points post 9/11. Many of those were around the availability of water.

One of the things we kicked off in IBM at the time was an “Internet of things” project. Many people were doing interesting stuff around the company and this gave it a uniting theme. The ability to monitor water flows and levels would be key, and was largely similar to a recent project on oil pipelines.

Meanwhile, over the last 10-years, for the most part the climate deniers here in Texas have largely wasted their opportunities to address seriously climate change, and water conservancy. Which makes these legal maneuvers with Mexico even more important. The current ballot in front of Texans includes Prop. 6. a constitutional amendment that would take $2 billion out of the state’s Rainy Day fund to create two accounts to help fund water projects in the state. Better late than never.

The long traveled road…

to 1010 Colorado St, Austin, TX

I’ve seen it many times over the years in business. A new guy shows up, he was unexpected. He seems fine at first and then he starts cleaning house, reorganising, people get fired, departments get cut and before you know it, he is gone. Paid off handsomely, publicly, because they wanted his silence, privately because he’d done his job, he was Leon, The Professional.

What happens next is the old guard regroup, they step out of the shadows and everything goes just the way they wanted it. The hired guy was the fall guy, the one to take the heat.

image

Here in Texas we are a year out from the election for a new governor, and the race has most definitely started. Texas Monthly magazine October 2013 has a profile of who it calls unequivocally, “THE GOV*”  with the * denoting “barring an unlikely occurrence”  and it includes this picture.

In a long background piece on the current Texas attorney general,  Greg Abbott,  it says

  • “is a conservative’s conservative”
  • “has sued the Obama administration 27 times”
  • “Filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the Second Amendment provides citizens with an individual right to bear arms”

Abbott is my age, he represents and is focussed on appealing to the traditional Texas ol’ boys, guns, small government, low taxes, low regulation etc.

Texas monthly carries an article on the likely competitors to Abbott, but given Abbott resplendent with Shotgun and Wheelchair is featured on the front page, and their prediction, that Abbott will be “The Gov” barring an unlikely occurrence, you can’t take them too seriously.

Not so much what’s in, More what’s not.

More interesting, although explainable given the timing of the magazine print edition, and the announcement by Debra Medina, that she is considering a run for governor, as an Independent. Medina lost in the 2010 Republican Party Primary Election, taken by Governor Perry. Medina, had been raising money for a state comptroller bid, said, according to this Texas Tribune report, “has received millions of dollars in pledges on the condition that she instead run for governor as an independent.”. Would that make Medina, Leonora?

The Trib’ focuses on Medina ability to change the outcome of the election without either hinting or mentioning the Democratic front-runner, Wendy Davis. The Trib’ says “One way to win an election is to change the electorate. That’s not as nefarious as it might sound”.. “Another way is to split the votes among more than two candidates. In primaries, that often forces runoffs. In general elections, third-party candidates can sometimes grab enough votes to change the outcome.” And they go on to review Bush vs Clinton, and Perot.

27-wendy-davis-shoes[1]

Who ever is offering Medina millions to run as an Independent for Governor, isn’t doing it to split the vote of the Republicans, she will be a shill, put in to collect the votes of the more liberal, center leaning Republicans, especially the growing, base of GOP Women voters. Those voters, even the more christian right, must be horrified by recent moves including State bill HB2 that will have a drastic effect on both womens services as well as the ability, choice and availability of a great number of womens services.

Given an appropriate campaign by Democrat Wendy Davis, there was always the chance Davis would not only been able to muster the democratic and independent candidates, but also those of many Republican women. With Medina in as a shill, she can appeal and win that vote, denying Davis. Heck, Medina can come in and participate in an all out catfight with Davis, while Abbott et al. wait in the shadows, only to appear on election night after the “public” dismal of Medina aka The Professional.