Posts belonging to Category Politics

I Guess I’m With Fred

Via Crystal I was pointed to an interesting 2008 presidential candidate calculator.  I’ve liked Fred Thompson since it appeared like he was going to run.  Even so, though, I was a bit surprised by this result:

I suspect, that like all such simplistic measures, that the way the questions are weighted leads to inaccuracies.  I also couldn’t help but notice that there were two gun control questions.  The first one, about “background checks” for gun purchases had me curious, since we already have them.  Perhaps the person who created the study has been listening to the PSH after Virginia Tech and doesn’t know how these things work?  Anyhow, I was surprised that the server didn’t melt when I chose “Yes” to support for gay marriage and “No” for gun control (unfortunately there wasn’t a “Hell, NO” option), socialized medicine, and other government meddling.  I’m fairly certain that Fred doesn’t support gay marriage, although he’s intellectually honest enough to try to keep the federal government out of it. 

Additional rankings are shown in the extended entry.  It showed that my worst match was John Edwards at 10.87%.  Given my CDS, I was also a bit surprised to find that I had a 19.57% match with the Hildabeast.  Crikey!  I’d have expected zero.  Anyhow, it doesn’t really matter, because there is a zero-percent probability that I would vote for her. 

Election Thoughts

I just came back from voting, and had a few thoughts about the issues and process.

First, I got over there about 8:15 and while there were several cars in the lot at the Lion’s Club, it turned out they were all election judges.  I don’t know if I was the first voter of the day, but I was the only one at that time.  While I was there only one other person showed up, and it turned out he was at the wrong location. 

This year Tarrant County replaced the complete-the-line optical scan ballots with a new fill-in-the-box optical scan system and they also offered the Hart InterCivic (the one I call “The Etch-a-Sketch”) for anyone who wanted to use it.  Despite (or perhaps because of) working in IT, I want nothing to do with computer-based voting systems.  I prefer paper ballots, and I find that the optical scan system provides a good middle-ground between automation and creating a paper-based physical record.  My only gripe about the new system is that filling in the box (at least with the pen they provided) seems to take forever.

I noticed two R-n Pa-l (one dare not speak his name online, lest his groupies be summoned forth like lesser demons from the pits of hell) signs out in front of the Lion’s Club.  I was a bit perplexed by this, since there was nothing concerning him on the ballot.  But I suppose it was a chance to try to advance awareness of his existence.  [ Note: Should my obfuscation above fail to work, I want to make it known right now that any and all comments regarding the afore-unmentioned candidate will be summarily deleted.  My blog.  My rules. ]

Of the constitutional amendments, I voted against the $3-billion cancer research item.  Not that I don’t worry about cancer, nor is it not a worthy cause.  I just don’t see it as the business of the State of Texas to be funding this sort of research. 

Really, the only puzzler for me on the ballot was the library bond issue.  I’ve flip-flopped back and forth several times over the past month or so, but I finally decided to vote for the bond.  It will probably raise our taxes a bit (once we get to the point of considering the big infrastructure issues), but I think it’s time to get started on doing something with the library.  I’m still concerned that the whole thing was rushed and a bit too sparse on specifics, but I think that can be managed by watching the final proposal closely and making my thoughts known to the council.

For reference, my thoughts on the whole sordid library affair can be found in the Keller Library category.

Finally, I’m a bit annoyed at the City of Keller’s misuse of my email address(es).  I signed up for the Police Department’s E-SAFE mail program several years ago.  When the city created its own “enews” service, I signed up for it using a different address.  I also specified that I wanted email in TEXT format (I’m not a big fan of HTML emails).  Lately, someone at city hall has decided to appropriate Scott Bradburn’s E-SAFE list and subscribe everyone on it to the city’s newsletter.  It’s quite obvious and annoying, since I now get TWO copies of every city emailing, one in Text and another in HTML.  I should also note that their Text version looks like ASS.  It’s obvious that they aren’t paying any attention to their Text-based users.  This is related to the election in that they sent out a missive at about 6:45 this morning reminding us about the ballot issues.

For those who might be interested, if you’re on the city’s enews service and you get HTML-based emails, you are being tracked.  The city is using Constant Contact, and the email contains web-bugs (tracking images) as well as tracked links.  If your email client automatically loads images in HTML-based emails, Constant Contact will know that your email address is active, that you opened the email, when you opened the email, as well as logging your IP address.  If you click any of the links in the email (such as to get more information about the bond proposal), they will know that you did so.  There’s nothing really nefarious going on here, but I just thought I’d point it out because most people do not know it’s happening. 

Library: Remixed

I attended the town hall meeting last night to hear the proposals for expanding the library and to hear what people had to say.

There was some back-and-forth concerning using school libraries, and I can understand the viewpoint, as we pay large sums of money for our schools, and it seems like such a waste to have so much duplication.  I really have no opinion on the topic, though, other than that I expect that there would be problems trying to come up with the optimum mix of materials for each school library in order to serve the entire population without significant duplication.  That’s one area where a single, municipal library certainly has advantages.  The comment by the lady who home schools, though, did get me to thinking that there might be cause to force the schools to open their libraries to home schoolers, since despite not sending their children to the school have to still pay school taxes.  But that’s a rant for a different time.

The only two comments that had me gritting my teeth came from Julie Tandy and Gene Stockton.  First, Ms. Tandy kept referring to an “anti-library” campaign, which I find at best to be disingenuous.  Mr. Stockton somehow found it necessary to insert a reference to a “full build out library in Town Center” in his remarks, which was annoying, in that I’d hoped that we’d finally driven a stake into the heart of the Town Center foolishment.  Anyhow, Mr. Stockton’s remarks seemed to egg on the fellow who came later who said he’d vote against ANY proposal that wasn’t in Town Center.  So much for killing that particular beast, I guess…

Before I get into my thoughts on the current proposals, I suppose that I need to review my reasons for voting against the last proposal (although it’s been covered in detail previously):

  • Town Center: Bad parking, bad traffic logistics in general
  • Insufficient footprint space at Town Center seemed to be driving an unnecessary second floor, which increases costs and decreases staff effectiveness.  Experts suggest libraries should not be two stories until they reach 50,000 to 60,000 sq ft.
  • Critical infrastructure items (roads, fire stations, etc) not funded or committed by council at the time.
  • Concerns about the tax rate in relation to the unfunded/uncommitted items mentioned previously.

So, now that I’ve got that out of the way, some thoughts on the presentation.  I liked the general ideas that were being put forth, although I would have liked to have seen more specifics with regards to the layouts of the expansion plans.  If we can afford it, I’d like to see the full expansion to 37,500 sq. ft.  If we’re going to go through the trouble to upgrade the existing library (and it’s going to be a hassle while it’s happening), it seems best to go ahead and expand it to the maximum.  Although I might temper it a bit by holding back on the expansion of the collection and the automation until it’s required (unfortunately, though, these are still only a small part of the overall costs for the expansion). 

Given the above, it just leaves the question of what the city can afford.  Kevin Lahner gave us some information about how the library bond costs would impact the debt burden and the tax rate, and it would appear that we could absorb if it were just the library that had to be funded.  However, as I understand it, we will need one more fire station beyond the new one being planned for Hidden Lakes.  Also, the recent flooding has increased the priority on some significant infrastructure issues.  All of this will require significant expenditures both near and long term.  Which translates into tax rates and debt burdens.

Now one of the other things that bugged me about the last proposal was that I got the impression that people were selling us a bill of goods when they said the new library wouldn’t affect the tax rate.  Perhaps it wouldn’t, if you just considered the library.  But you can’t view the library in a vacuum.  And, from my point of view, it was this disingenuous spin over the tax rate that was worse that simply coming out and saying taxes would increase.  While I may be pretty wary of increasing taxes, I will at least consider it as an option if it’s necessary.  So, ultimately, I think the library supporters hurt themselves more by trying to steer around the issue than if they’d confronted it head on.

I’d like to see some detailed analysis done of the various options (infrastructure AND library options) showing the overall effect on debt burden and the tax rate.  Perhaps people would still choose an expanded library, even if it raised taxes, if they thought that the required items were being handled first.  I can’t answer 100% that I’d support library expansion right now, since I don’t have the kinds of numbers I’d like to see.  But I’d be willing to give a proposal serious attention, even if it raised taxes, provided it addressed my concerns.

Update:  I see that Jim Carson has taken a stab at estimating the city’s debt burden after needed capital improvements.  It doesn’t include the new drainage issues, nor does it include the library, but it’s still informative.  The drainage issues and library would be in addition to the numbers he shows, which is kind of scary, as he’s already showing payments on $50M in new debt.

Still Operating Under The Same Old Delusions

I’ve been contemplating whether to comment on the Virginia Tech shooting or not.  At times, having been doing this for about five years, you realize that you’ve probably said it all before, though.

So I’ll refer you back to what I said in July, 2003 after one city council member shot another in New York City:

The shooting in New York yesterday got me to thinking about the way our society treats guns and the crazy idea that we can somehow create a “bubble” of safety which is free from all harmful elements.

For some time now I’ve thought about violent crime in a way similar to disease.  The agents of the disease can be thought of as malevolent microorganisms that are damaging the host organism by harming the individual cells that make up the whole.  We can choose a couple of alternative ways of dealing with this problem: 1) sterilization (the boy in the bubble method), and 2) immunization (distributing the means of counterattack and prevention throughout the body).  I am of the opinion that the second option, as related to a distributed defense (i.e. a pack not a herd, to borrow a phrase) is ultimately better. 

The first option, sterilization, means attempting to prevent the disease causing elements from even getting into the body.  In real life this is manifested in airport screening, metal detectors at courthouse entrances, gun-free school zones, the federal statute against having a gun in a postal facility, etc.  From my vantage point these methods have not only failed miserably, but they make the problem worse, since they create zones of increased vulnerability.  In fact, we seem to see more cases of mass shootings in gun-free zones.  I tend to think that this occurs because the killers, while mad or insane, do engage in some calculation about the relative chances for success of their plans.  Especially when they’re trying to make a big splash.  Which would make more noise in the press?  A story about a mass murder or a story about an armed citizen stopping an attacker (no need to answer that one, since we know how the media will report each one already).  There will always be holes in the “bubble” that will be exploited by those with evil intent.  Let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that a perfect barrier is not possible (if you think it is possible, solve the problem of drugs getting into prisons first and get back to me).

Immunization is not necessarily a perfect defense.  It requires distribution of the means to respond to the threat throughout the body of the people.  It does not always work.  There may even be times when innocent people are killed.  This is comparable to real immunization, where a vaccine sometimes kills people.  Unfortunately, we live in the real world, where there are no perfect solutions.  But this does have the advantage of not having to rely on the convenient fiction that it’s possible to screen out all threats and live happily within a bubble.  While microorganisms can’t think or weigh the consequences of their actions, criminals sometimes do.  Not only does having a distributed defense allow for swift preventative action against criminals, it can act as a deterrent, lowering the chances of success and dissuading some from committing certain types of crimes.  And for those criminals who don’t get the message, it removes them from the pool of criminals, so they won’t be around to commit future crimes.

I suppose the only thing I can think to add, which I discussed with some members of our CERT class on Tuesday night, is the fact that once you’re in a situation where someone is lining you up against the wall, you should consider yourself dead at that point and you’ve got nothing left to lose by fighting back.  But this requires the right mindset, which our culture seems intent on breeding out of us.  I’d recommend getting a copy of Jeff Cooper’s Principles of Personal Defense.  It’s more of a pamphlet than a book, but it gives you a glimpse into the warrior mindset. 

The right mindset is, in some ways, probably more important than what weapons you might have.  It allows you to use what you have at hand with speed, surprise, and ruthlessness when required. 

Bribery In Poor Taste

So it appears that the City of Keller is going to be paying $290,000 in sales-tax kickbacks and impact fee giveaways to bring Stein Mart to town.  I suppose I should be used to this sort of thing by now.

But having seen the Stein Mart commercials and knowing the frou frou sensibilities of our mayor and some on our city council, I’m a bit surprised that they still approved it. 

Surely there’s some ordinance against having that much leopard-print clothing in one place in the City of Keller.

Flushing Out Problems

Eminent domain is one of those things that give me an itchy trigger finger (that’s called hyperbole for those who might be humor impaired).  And if any of the accusations floating around concerning the City of Keller’s recent use of that power to take property due to flooding on Whitley Road are true, then there are some people down at Town Hall who need to be shown the door. 

As I understand things, Jack Brock was attempting to develop a property near the corner of Whitley and Bear Creek and after trying to work with the city to deal with the drainage issues on his property he finally dammed the channel.  The problem appears to be that the city had directed runoff onto his property.  After damming the channel, Whitley Road began to flood with even minimal rain.  The city then took the property needed for an easement using the power of eminent domain. 

This has been the subject of several letters to the editor in recent editions of the Keller Citizen. 

The first letter that I really took notice of was from Lisa Harper Wood (the former library director).  I found the tone and spirit of her letter to be rather harsh and if it reflects the way she views the role of city government in relation to the rights of property “owners,” then I’m glad she’s no longer in public service.  In her view of things, it appears that the rights of a single property owner aren’t highly valued, especially if they interfere with her ability to drive on Whitley Road.  Further, she admonished councilman Jim Carson for having the temerity to speak with Mr. Brock about the issue.  I find that attitude not only perplexing, but completely unacceptable in a so-called public servant.

In the most recent edition of the Keller Citizen there were letters of response from Mr. Brock’s son and from Jim Carson.  Cass Brock made several allegations against the city I find especially disturbing, if true.

…water was deliberately channeled through manmade ditches and three 60-inch pipes under Whitley Road onto my dad’s land.

…my dad asked the TxDOT engineers why they didn’t provide underground storm drainage alongside the highway toward Bear Creek.  TxDOT said that Dresher’s staff had told them to direct it down Whitley toward my family’s land, and so TxDOT wasn’t responsible.

…City Attorney Stan Lowry informed him in a letter that the city didn’t need an easement, and if the time ever came that they did, they would just take the land from him.

Mayor Tandy and Councilmen Trine and Holmes didn’t attend, and arrogantly told Mr. Brock they wouldn’t even meet with him unless he agreed in advance to their demands.

Of course I understand that Cass Brock is the son of the landowner, so perhaps he is seeing things in a light that is unfavorable to the city.  Still,  I’d be most interested in any proof that could be provided to substantiate such charges.

Most troubling would be a city attorney who views property rights with such a cavalier attitude.  But that seems to mesh well with Mrs. Wood’s scorched earth, adversarial, approach.  Such may gratify the urges of petty tyrants, seeking to gain control over the lowly citizen, but it only engenders ill-will.  Eventually, someone will reap the whirlwind that those of Mrs. Wood’s ilk have sown.

The only person involved with the city who seems to have been willing to listen in this whole mess is Jim Carson.

In the March 20 pre-council session, Mayor Tandy insinuated that because the Council functions as a body, I was not to speak to certain people regarding matters before the Council. Balderdash.  I am certain that any remaining political problems in Keller stem from too few conversations between council members and constituents, not too many.

Mrs. Wood wrote, “Mr. Carson should never have been there,” referring to the condemnation proceeding I attended. Eminent domain is perhaps the most brutal thing a government can do to a citizen who has been accused of no crime. After I reluctantly voted to forcibly seize Jack Brock’s property,  I wanted to hear for myself how gracefully the city of Keller exercised its frightful power that I had helped unleash for the greater good. Let’s just say I was a bit embarrassed by my vote.

Indeed.  I think Mr. Carson is one of the few councilmen who get how people feel about eminent domain, and how it should be used only as a last resort.  I can’t help but think that if perhaps the mayor and some other council members were willing to discuss the issue that it wouldn’t have had to come down to putting a gun to Mr. Brock’s head to take his property (that’s what eminent domain comes down to, ultimately; if he hadn’t acceded to the wishes of the city, eventually someone with a gun would be dispatched to take Mr. Brock into custody and take the land, so let’s not pretend that eminent domain is a civilized affair that takes place only in council chambers and courtrooms).

Updated to fix the gender of Cass Brock.  You’d think that with a name like Aubrey I’d know better than to make gender assumptions based on someone’s first name.  red face

Contempt of Taxpayer?

I confess to only paying sporadic attention to KISD, but I’m starting to take more notice of things, given recent goings-on.

Today’s Star-Telegram article concerning the resignations of two high-level district administrators after violations of district purchasing policies is only the last straw in a series.  There seems to be a rather nasty feud between two factions on the school board and between one of those factions and the district administration (more on this at Keller City Limits). 

The primary problem, from my perspective, seems to be an administration that wants to “manage” the school board, rather than acknowledge the board’s oversight role.  Well before the current issue, and well before the ADA kerfuffle, I watched a school board meeting where a district administrator was presenting some portions of the proposed budget.  When asked specific questions about certain line items, he squirmed and generally had the “deer in the headlights” look.  It was obvious to me that he was uncomfortable addressing the specifics and wasn’t used to being asked these questions.

The ADA issue, though, seemed curious to me (and helped raise my suspicions further).  When the administration takes the view that it can spend $411,577 without being questioned on it by the board, it seems to me that the administration is out of control.

Now if a trustee really threatened a district employee’s job over something, then that’s beyond the pale and shouldn’t be accepted.  But I get the sneaking suspicion that it’s just smoke being blown by those who oppose trustee oversight of administration activities.

If getting to the bottom of what’s going on at KISD and exercising fiscal oversight is considered “meddling” and “micromanagement,” then I all I can say is “micromanage on!”  I can’t help but think that the administration’s contempt for the trustees transfers back onto taxpayers.  The trustees are our eyes and ears at KISD, and I expect them to poke, pry, prod, and generally discombobulate anyone who wants to obfuscate how our money is being used.

Procedural Attack

I heard on the news this morning that a Farmer’s Branch real estate agent has sued the city over the new illegal immigration ordinance.  What’s interesting is that it’s a procedural claim rather than an attack on the substance of the issue.  The agent claims that the council considered the ordinance in closed session, which supposedly violates the Texas Open Meetings Act. 

I’ve heard a lot of heat and noise from various pro-illegal organizations about suing over the ordinance (which they all claim is “blatantly unconstitutional”).  However, so far, none have actually filed a suit. 

So at this point all we have is a procedural attack.  I wonder if we’ll actually see an attack on the substance of the ordinance?  I haven’t given it much examination, but I never really saw what made it unconstitutional.

Anger Meter At 11

My dog woke me up fairly early for a Sunday morning.  For what, I don’t know, as she didn’t want out.  Since I couldn’t get back to sleep I got up and started moving around (while my dog took up residence in my spot on the bed and went back to sleep; maybe that’s what she really wanted.. ).

I turned on the TV on Fox 4 and caught the last few minutes of a local show called Insights.  This morning’s topic was the new anti-illegal city ordinances that were just passed in Farmer’s Branch.  The panel included the city councilman who proposed the ordinances, the mayor, the police chief, an anti-illegal activist, Domingo Garcia (LULAC), and some other pro-illegal activist.

The first thing I need to say is that calling people who support enforcing the law racist and saying that they’re engaging in “ethnic cleansing” (Garcia) doesn’t do much to advance the so-called debate.  What I found laughable is that after the ethnic cleansing remark Garcia said he wanted to work with the council and city to resolve the issue. 

At this point, though, being called a racist is getting kind of old-hat.  It doesn’t have the same effect when it’s abused and misused to attempt to smear anyone who wants to enforce the laws.  Kind of like the boy who cried wolf, the race card effect is (thankfully) dying out from overuse.  Or at least with me.  I know I’m not a racist, so I know that anyone who calls me one is full of crap and doesn’t deserve any further attention.

Anyhow, I have sympathy for people who want to come here to work and I’d even support some sort of guest-worker program.  But amnesty for law-breakers is unacceptable to me and there needs to be at least a passing acknowledgement of this fact from the opposition, rather than jumping up and down and screaming “Racist!”  If you support an open-border program, at least have the decency to say so, instead of hiding behind the convenient euphemism of calling them “undocumented” immigrants.  It makes it sound like they just forgot to fill out some paperwork.

But what got my anger meter pegged at 11 this morning was the other pro-illegal activist on the show (unfortunately I didn’t catch her name).  She said something to the effect that, “being undocumented doesn’t mean they’re criminals.”  WHISKEY.  TANGO.  FOXTROT.  Over?

Let’s examine that statement for a second…  Hmm…  doesn’t federal law have something to say on this topic?  Let’s see… how about Title 8, Section 1325 of the U.S. Code.

Section 1325.  Improper entry by alien

    (a) Improper time or place; avoidance of examination or inspection;
      misrepresentation and concealment of facts
      Any alien who (1) enters or attempts to enter the United States
    at any time or place other than as designated by immigration
    officers, or (2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration
    officers, or (3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United
    States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the
    willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first
    commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or
    imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent
    commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or
    imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.   Emphasis added
    (b) Improper time or place; civil penalties
      Any alien who is apprehended while entering (or attempting to
    enter) the United States at a time or place other than as
    designated by immigration officers shall be subject to a civil
    penalty of -
        (1) at least $50 and not more than $250 for each such entry (or
      attempted entry); or
        (2) twice the amount specified in paragraph (1) in the case of
      an alien who has been previously subject to a civil penalty under
      this subsection.

    Civil penalties under this subsection are in addition to, and not
    in lieu of, any criminal or other civil penalties that may be
    (c) Marriage fraud
      Any individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the
    purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws shall be
    imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or fined not more than
    $250,000, or both.
    (d) Immigration-related entrepreneurship fraud
      Any individual who knowingly establishes a commercial enterprise
    for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws
    shall be imprisoned for not more than 5 years, fined in accordance
    with title 18, or both.

Further, if someone who is here illegally has obtained a driver’s license or a social security number, doesn’t that also constitute fraud?  Let’s stop pretending that this whole situation is just some little paperwork omission.  The flaunting of federal and state laws has an overall corrosive effect on society and the laws in general and it’s irrelevant that we’ve ignored it for so long.  Just because nothing has been done in the past is no reason not to do something now.

If you support legalizing the ones who are already here, fine.  I can at least understand that as a position.  But let’s lose the racist bullshit.  It wins you no friends and just makes me more stubborn and intransigent about my position.

Subtle Influences

I commented about this topic quite a while back, after the last KISD bond election.  I thought it was vaguely improper to be holding a school bond election in a school building.

It turns out that my unease might have been justified:

Some experts say it’s time for local election officials to start considering how surroundings at polling places might affect voters.

Polling places may unconsciously influence a voter’s decision, according to a study by the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

“Voting in a school, for example, could activate the part of a person’s identity that cares about kids, or norms about taking care of the community,” said Jonah Berger, one of the study’s researchers. “Voting in a church could activate norms of following church doctrine. Such effects may even occur outside an individual’s awareness.”

Raborn said he hadn’t considered that some voters might be influenced by the place where they cast their ballots.

“I would assume the majority of voters have their mind made up when they get to the polling place,” he said.

The researchers say that may not matter.

“There could potentially be influence if particular candidates are highly linked to particular issues that are related to particular polling locations,” said S. Christian Wheeler, one of the researchers. “People can be influenced by external stimuli without their intention.”

The study by Berger, Wheeler and Marc Meredith was based on a 2000 general election in Arizona, but the researchers say the results would be comparable in any election.

In the 2000 election, more than one-fourth of the polling places were in schools. Voters who cast ballots there were more likely to support Proposition 301, which provided funding for education, than those who voted at other sites, according to the study.

The study also found that people who were shown pictures of schools or churches were more likely to support education-related issues and that those who saw church images were less likely to support stem-cell initiatives. “The influence of polling location … would be more than enough to change the outcome of a close election,” it said. “Choices of voting places can have unintended effects on election races.”

It ultimately didn’t affect me, but it still seemed improper.  Of course, logistics will likely make coming up with neutral ground nearly impossible unless we adopt a completely remote voting system (like Oregon’s vote-by-mail system or some sort of web-based electronic system).