Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Sanford effect

I really, really don’t get the appeal of Mark Sanford to some libertarians. Then again, the fact that my best friend has taken a furlough (without time off, essentially amounting to unpaid labor) solely so the douche-nozzle can continue to grandstand as part of his quixotic effort to get the 2012 GOP presidential nomination might color my opinions somewhat.

The day Sanford or Sanford-lite (aka Rick Perry) identify a part of libertarianism they like other than “tax cuts” is the day that serious libertarians should to give them the time of day—and no sooner. I don’t expect that to happen any time soon.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

We're immobile

Today’s Laredo Morning Times has a lengthy article discussing the wrangling over whether or not the various local government agencies should create a Regional Mobility Authority to help advance local transportation projects in a more timely fashion. Frankly I find this passage in the article to reflect the lack of contact with reality in the discussion:

Because other cities and counties in the state have created RMAs to build toll roads, RMAs are sometimes associated with tolls, according to Jerry Garza.

“I want to stress, and I cannot stress enough that we here in Laredo, Webb County would never consider a toll road,” Jerry Garza said.

He meant turning the loop into a toll road, but added that he personally would not support a toll road in any part of the county.

I think realistically, if Laredo wants anything beyond the bare minimum of transportation improvements, it is going to have to turn to using tolls to finance them. Certainly Laredo’s experience with tolls has been mixed—the spectacular failure of the Camino Colombia under private ownership being the most obvious example—but all four international road bridges are tolled with few objections in evidence. Tolls may be the only way to ensure that truck traffic—which is the user group most likely to see economic benefits from overpasses and direct ramps along the loop—is paying its fair share for avoiding congestion.

More to the point, despite the mini-revolt over tolls in Austin at the legislature, it is highly likely that federal and state transportation funds derived from gas taxes—to say nothing of carbon taxes, or however “cap-and-trade” will be implemented for motor fuels—are going to be diverted away from road construction to other efforts such as urban mass transit and high-speed rail (projects that, frankly, Laredo will see little benefit from in any realistic time horizon, unless private investors can be conned into building a high-speed rail line from Monterrey to San Antonio and building a station here too) or general fund demands like shoring up Social Security and Medicare. Like it or not, I think more tolls are coming sooner rather than later.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Things that aren't likely to appear as Facebook quizzes

Prof. Shugart passes along news of the EU Profiler. It seems to think I’d make a reasonably good Tory if I were British (which is probably true, given my moderately Thatcherite childhood socialization) but I’d be a better fit to the Liberal and Centre Union in Lithuania or the Free Democrats in Germany.

Just what Texas needs: more elected officials

The geniuses up in Austin have diagnosed TxDOT’s problems and decided that the solution is, in part, to have an elected state transportation commission who doubtless will be high-minded representatives of the popular will rather than endless seekers of pork-barrel projects for their geographic districts. Because we all know how helpful having an elected State Board of Education has been in keeping politics out of the public school curriculum.

You can view all the lege’s sausage-making here; it’s a doozy. On the upside, at least they’re banning red-light cameras.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Melton RIP

A leading contender for the title of “America’s worst mayor,” Frank Melton of Jackson, died last night after losing his chance at a second term in office in the Democratic primary. I’ve said before—and have been proven wrong—that I thought Melton’s career as mayor was over, but his passing would seem to seal the deal once and for all.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The perennial rail discussion

Reflecting a recurring theme at Signifying Nothing, the administration’s announcement of its plans to sorta-kinda invest in high speed rail brings out the predictable reactions: Cato says it sucks, the central planning enthusiasts love it, and Prof. Karlson and John Stilgoe remind us that relatively inexpensive, incremental improvements are probably a better use of taxpayer money than flashy bullet trains over the distances Americans are likely to travel by rail.

My view, as always, is that all of these promised lines are of little value if they are not connected to the transportation system that most Americans already use: airports and their associated amenities like safe long-term parking and the rental car counter.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Thoughts on NAMUDNO

Over at OTB, I explain why NAMUDNO is not the name of Ricky Martin’s latest attempt at a musical comeback.

Update: More on NAMUDNO here for those interested in the case, which judging from the comments at OTB is... nobody.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Screw Lakoff, Orwell is where it's at

Democracy in America ponders Pew’s use of a new term for those whose presence in this country is not permitted by law:

What do you all think of the phrase “unauthorised immigrants”, which is used throughout the Pew report? It is less harsh than “illegal immigrants”, but seems to have the same logical problem, that the actions are illegal/unauthorised, not the people themselves. “Undocumented immigrants” might be better.

I think the term “undocumented” frankly is absurd; it sounds like a bureaucratic mix-up (“oh dear, I lost the title to my car, it’s now undocumented”) rather than the truth, which is that in a vast majority of cases—the unfortunate cases of those with jus soli or jus sanguinis without the proper paperwork aside—the “undocumented” have no legal permission or right to be in the United States, and often have forged (i.e. illegal) paperwork claiming otherwise, hence hardly making them “undocumented” but rather more properly maldocumented, the legal equivalent of a teen with fake ID who certainly isn’t an “undocumented adult.”

All that said, “unauthorized” (or for our Oxford-nonbelieving British cousins “unauthorised”) seems to be a reasonable compromise to me.

(And, for infrequent readers of this blog, I say all of the above as someone who generally advocates an end to immigration restrictions and the national drinking age.)

Will Texas Democrats get Kinky?

2006 independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman is apparently seriously considering seeking the 2010 Democratic nomination for said office. Given that I can’t think of a Democrat with any significant statewide stature off the top of my head (and drubbings at the hands of Rick Perry and John Cornyn generally don’t demonstrate “stature” in my book) Friedman may very well be the instant front-runner for the nomination.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Ironic Google Reader justaposition of the day

Brendan Nyhan complains about Republicans who are opposed to a “mythical global currency.”

A few posts up, FP Passport explains Special Drawing Rights:

So what on earth is a Special Drawing Right (SDR) anyway?

Basically: it’s a currency.

There’s a long way from the UNero or whatever the Paul crowd thinks a global currency is and SDRs, which have slightly more tangible existence than the Social Security trust fund (which is, literally, a stack of IOUs in a government safe somewhere in Washington). But I suppose I’m easily amused.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Must… resist… snark

von at Obsidian Wings writes:

I’m fairly confident that the US would respond with overwhelming military force if the de facto government of Mexico was randomly firing rockets at Laredo and McAllen, TX.

People in Laredo have problems dealing with such basic things as rain and temperatures below 80 degrees; I can’t imagine how they’d react to mortars and rockets.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Rushing to Judgment

Cassandra at Villainous Company points at some real data that indicate that a large chunk of Americans really, really dislike Rush Limbaugh. While perhaps this is the result of false consciousness or just uninformed judgment, my gut feeling is that it stems from Rush being a self-important, loud-mouthed blowhard who gets far too much credit among the party his continued existence on the face of this earth (or at least in the media) is increasingly a liability for due to his marginal role in rallying Republican support in the 1994 midterms that led to the GOP takeover of Congress.


I enjoy Nate Silver and Andrew Gelman’s writing most of the time… so why I am I so bored with’s content these days—to the point of having dropped my feed subscription—even when I agree with the substance of the content, even if not the aggressively Obama-cheerleading tone? (Or, to be fair, a link to a Nate Silver post.)

Maybe I’m in the minority—hell, I probably am—but I guess I subscribe to the philosophy of “dance with whomever brung you.” Silver at least has a keen analytical mind that probably would be better spent on his comparative advantage of data sifting and presentation rather than armchair political analysis from a perspective that’s available from, and done more thoroughly and thoughtfully, by folks like Kevin Drum.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The model of a modern attorney general?

Orin Kerr and Eugene Volokh are talking up the likely run for state attorney general by Ted Cruz, the state’s former solicitor general. While I can’t say I’m thrilled about all of Cruz’s political positions, particularly on the social conservative dimension where Cruz makes much of his advocacy for Ten Commandments tomfoolery and takes pride in undermining foreign relations, he does at least seem to be eminently qualified for the post.

As a semi-related aside (perhaps brought on by my learning-more-about-while-teaching Texas government this semester), while in general I’d favor taking a rather large scythe to the number of statewide elected offices in Texas in favor of more gubernatorial appointees in line with the federal model, I’d probably favor keeping the attorney general’s office a separately-elected post, mostly to better promote checks and balances on executive power in a more transparent way.


Laredo managed to wedge its way up to the trough to get $31.5 million in stimulus money (along with $57.2 million in other funds) to build the Cuatro Vientos project in south Laredo, which is basically a bypass for U.S. 83 (Zapata Highway). Hopefully TxDOT can move relatively quickly on this project, since I know based on the MPO long-range planning workshop I went to last month that folks on the south side have been looking for some traffic relief.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

DC Talk

As you might expect, I am in complete agreement with my occasional co-bloggers James Joyner and Steven Taylor that while in principle the residents of the District of Columbia ought to have the right to vote for representatives (and, for that matter, senators)*, the proposed way of doing so—by passing a piece of ordinary legislation, allegedly pursuant to Congress’ plenary police powers over the District—is so blatantly unconstitutional I’m almost surprised members of Congress can vote for it while maintaining a straight face.

While I’m not convinced that we actually need a separate capital district in this day and age—other federal republics, such as Canada and Germany, seem to function perfectly well without a distinct federal district—as long as we have one we really ought to follow the rules. And, as I’ve noted before, the rules themselves are not so onerous as to justify bypassing them—if they were, the Constitution never would have been amended to give D.C. residents the right to choose presidential electors in the first place, during an era when the idea of granting voting rights for the district’s largely African-American population was much more politically contested than it is today.

* Note that this is a subtly different statement than “D.C. should have the same representation as a state,” a dubious proposition at best; there is no reason why D.C. residents couldn’t be treated as residents of Maryland (or for that matter Virginia or Wyoming or California) for the purpose of reapportionment and voting in federal elections but not otherwise be subject to state law.

Friday, 20 February 2009

On the absence of war

Amber Taylor wonders aloud if she’ll ever vacation in Belize again. Certainly combating nacrotrafficking and human smuggling across their borders can’t be keeping all of the Guatemalan armed forces busy.

Welcome to the jungle

Nate Silver has a nice explanation of the rationale behind the “jungle primary,” which is apparently headed to the ballots of Californians as a result of the state’s recent budget compromise. While the system has its flaws—particularly for those who believe in strong, programmatic political parties, although I’d argue that the American political system as constituted really can’t deliver programmatic parties—it does seem to reduce political polarization between the two parties driven by the gulf between primary and general election electorates.

See also: Soren Dayton and Rick Hasen.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Old wine in new bottles

Apropos the recent return of debate over the filibuster, I’ll just point you to the Signifying Nothing archives for my proposed reform thereof:

What I’d do: tweak the Senate rules slightly, to require 2/5+1 to vote to continue debate upon a call for cloture, except when a unanimous consent agreement is in effect otherwise limiting the debate (this part allows for normal floor debate without gratuitous cloture votes). That would properly place the burden of sustaining the filibuster on its supporters, but not otherwise limit its use (unlike Bill Frist’s fundamentally silly “supermajority countdown” proposal).

Incidentally, the nice thing about having an ancient blog is that I’ve probably already discussed to death every topic under the sun. Now back to the dryer.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Footnote of the year

“I have witnessed members walk up to other members on the floor and simply start yelling at them for having cast a certain vote or committing some other perceived misstep.”—Rep. Daniel Lapinski, “Navigating Congressional Policy Processes.” In Lawrence Dodd and Bruce Oppenheimer, eds. Congress Reconsidered, 9th ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2009.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Stimulate this

Like Alex Knapp and Jim Henley I’m wondering about this whole stimulus thing; the more I think about it, the more I think that “recapitaliz[ing] the middle and lower classes” might actually be the more sensible stimulus. Pour $800 billion into a payroll tax holiday (probably the fastest way to inject money into the economy—it could be implemented and have money in peoples’ pockets by April 1st if passed today) of some form* and there are basically four outcomes I can see:

1. People spend the money. This stimulates the economy.
2. People save the money. This provides more money for banks to loan to stimulate the economy.
3. People pay off debt. The banks become better capitalized and less likely to go belly-up at taxpayer expense. This also provides more money for banks to loan to stimulate the economy.
4. People remit the money to relatives overseas. This improves our balance-of-payments and increases demand for stuff we export to those countries.

Then again, politicians can’t easily take credit for any of those outcomes, hence why it’s more fun to spend the money on things that we’d spend money on anyway at a later date.

* I’d exclude all income below the social security earnings limit from the “employee” contribution to FICA, Medicare, and self-employment taxes; at current rates we could have a 2-year employee contribution holiday for around $900 billion in extra IOUs for the various trust funds.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

A Republican Party That Can Say No

I am inclined to agree with Steven Taylor (and, by extension, disagree with Nate Silver and Kevin Drum) that it’s a bit early to assume that the House Republicans are just voting “no” in lockstep for the sole sake of being obstructionists.

For starters, the Republicans didn’t kill—merely delay—the ill-advised push to pretend* we’re delaying the digital TV transition. I also think this fits into the larger theme of a protest against Democratic efforts to circumscribe debate in the House; even if Senate Republicans agreed with Senate Democrats on the content of the DTV delay bill and it passed by unanimous consent (which isn’t a “unanimous vote” by the way), that’s no excuse for the House Democrats to rush it to the floor the next day under suspension of the rules—which allows exactly 40 minutes of debate followed by zero amendments—especially when there is a real consensus behind passing a “clean” bill providing coupon funding without the fake-delay provisions.

The fact of the matter is that pace Silver nobody is likely to remember either vote, particularly since the stimulus bill is going to bounce around the Hill several times, after which plenty of House Republicans will hail whatever (likely minimal) changes come out of conference as satisfying their concerns, and we’ll all go back to obsessing over Sasha Obama’s taste in hoodies or something much more important to the future of the republic.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

From the department of colossally good ideas (aka Congress)

Steven Taylor, Nate Silver, and Alex Knapp are all on-board with an amendment proposed by Sen. Russ Feingold to the U.S. Constitution to strip governors of their power to make long-term “temporary” appointments to the Senate. Since Feingold hasn’t released the text of his proposed amendment yet, I can’t consider the merits of his specific proposal, but in general I am supportive of the idea that a special election to fill a vacant seat should be held within 60–90 days of a senatorial vacancy. I’d also amend Article I, Section 2 to specify a similar, specific deadline for filling vacancies in the House of Representatives, but that is hardly a deal-breaker if omitted. Assuming there are no hidden catches, I hope Congress acts quickly to propose this amendment to the states, where I suspect it will be received warmly by the state legislatures—who, after all, do not require gubernatorial approval to ratify constitutional amendments.

At the same time, I hope this amendment (if it is ultimately successful, which I suspect it will be) helps dispel the modern myth that the Constitution is excessively hard to amend. In point of fact, throughout much of American history politically controversial amendments were proposed and ultimately adopted, including both the adoption and repeal of Prohibition, the extension of the right to vote to women, the abolition of the poll tax, the Civil War amendments (particularly the 14th and 15th amendments extending citizenship rights to ex-slaves), and the indirect taxation amendment that led to the federal income tax. Just because the Supreme Court in recent years has been willing to reinterpret the Constitution to better suit the often-evolving values of society (witness, for example, the magical constitutionalization of the Equal Rights Amendment absent its ratification*) does not mean that the document is too hard to amend and thus the Nine must reinterpret it instead, merely that it is easier to file an amicus curiæ brief than to work through the amendment process in Article V.

From the department of colossally bad ideas (aka Congress)

Our beloved Congress, having spent the last year or so steadfastly ignoring reports from the FCC regarding potential problems with the upcoming digital television transition, has finally decided to do a 180 and delay the mandatory transition date at a point so late in the process as to invite unmitigated chaos.

I’ll gladly concede that Congress needed to fix the accounting rules that made the converter box coupon program “run out of money” (on paper at least) but fixing those rules easily could have been done anytime over the last year (when Congress was doing exactly nothing worthwhile that I can remember) without any impact on the transition date. Instead, now we have a situation where a billion-dollar public education campaign—still ongoing as of today—that has been drilling into Americans’ skulls the date “February 17, 2009” for months will be rendered moot because a small percentage of the population can’t find it in their annual budgets to find $50 for a box to make their TVs still work and can’t plan ahead enough to get a coupon to shave that down to $10.

The best part of this bill, however, is that it’s going to create a 120-day “half-transition” period during which some stations will switch off their analog signals and some won’t. So the folks without boxes are still at least partially screwed, since there’s a good chance they will need the boxes anyway on the 17th, and folks with a box or a digital TV will get to play the fun game of “make the TV rescan for channels” every time over the next few months a local station decides it’s had enough of spending $20k/month broadcasting its analog signal and goes digital on its own whim.

At least there are some winners. The cable and satellite industries must be loving every single minute of this nonsense.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

On the motion to recommit

Over at OTB, I look at proposed changes in parliamentary procedure in the House which continue the chamber’s bipartisan slide towards majority-party dictatorship—or, perhaps to riff on Matthew Shugart’s observations regarding the House, irresponsible party government.