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February 24th, 2013:

Weekend link dump for February 24

“I asked Jack White if Jack White had met Jack Black. They had. It has been on my mind for a long time. Now I know.”

I’m not embarrassed to punctuate with exclamation points where I feel they properly convey my intentions, but I’d totally use an ElRey mark if one were available on my keyboard.

Leonard Cooper demonstrates why knowing math is more important than knowing other things.

The Google Store is coming to a mall near you.

“The thermostat is the iPod. It’s the beginning.”

The video game caricatures from “Wreck It Ralph”.

RIP, Mindy McCready. What a sad, tragic story.

When people talk about states like Mississippi joining the 21st century, it’s less of a rhetorical device than you might think.

“These days, I’ll take good news from congressional Republicans where I can find it.”

“Plus, they had these Coca Cola Freestyle machines everywhere, so I could get Raspberry Coke Zero any time I wanted. Worth the cost of the cruise, I have to say.” I’m a Coke Zero Lime guy myself, but I totally know what he means.

A big, important report about Chinese computer espionage.

A Charlie Pierce rant about media inanity is a joy to behold.

In case you were wondering, the right wing noise machine really will believe anything, no matter how stupid it is.

“Respectable centrist position agrees with Obama’s position. But to agree with one party is not a respectable centrist thing to do. And so a wide stream of coverage and commentary on this issue is dedicated to actively misleading Americans about what the two sides are proposing.”

“But if we’re going to talk about studying a potential relationship between video games and violence, we need to talk about what kind of study policymakers and the general public would find credible and authoritative, no matter its results.”

The war on yoga pants continues apace.

If you’ve made an enemy of Ken Ham, you’re doing something right.

“Quite a few American Christians who have no problem at all accepting, enjoying and celebrating Tim LaHaye’s gory Jesus in the Left Behind series nonetheless pretend to be horrified by Saturday Night Live’s spoof ‘DJesus Uncrossed'”

“If you look at other wearable pieces of functional technology, there’s a reason they’re not ubiquitous. […] Is it useful? Of course it is. Do I look like a tool? Yeah. I’m not going to wear it.”

Go, Lauren Silberman, go!

“In the real world, at least 80 percent of victims of campus rapes know their assailant. The standard strategy of rapists is not to jump a stranger who could, after all, fight back.”

“But as data mining techniques continue to evolve, and as databases become increasingly unified and tractable, and our lives are lived almost entirely online, it’s going to be harder and harder for criminals not to leave a discoverable data trail — especially opportunistic criminals, who break the law when they’re given a chance, as opposed to more considered criminals, who spend a lot of time plotting a crime before committing it.”

“Print me an ear”, and other things I never thought I’d hear someone say.

“So the next time you hear a poll about how Americans think it’s important to shrink the budget deficit, keep in mind that 94 percent of us don’t even know that it’s getting smaller.”

Along those lines, it’s simpler to just observe that David Brooks is a fool, and leave it at that.

RIP, Norma Zenteno.

The return of the day pass

Remember the day pass? One fare, and you could ride the bus and/or light rail all day? Metro is thinking about bringing it back.

After a five-year hiatus, the daypass may soon return as an option for Metro bus and train riders.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is studying what it would take to reinstitute single-day passes, either on popular Q cards or as stand-alone tickets for all of its buses and trains.

Any change in fares or creation of a daypass would need more study, Metro officials said, as well as approval of the agency’s board. Members of a board committee said Wednesday they’d like to bring the passes back.

Metro discontinued use of daypasses in 2008 to simplify fares. Many riders lamented the loss.

[…]

The plans discussed Wednesday assumed a daypass would cost twice as much as a single-ride fare.

For riders, daypasses could save costs and encourage more transit use, officials said. Someone who rides park and ride already pays twice the base fare, $2 to $4.50, depending on where the ride originates. So using a bus or the light rail line at lunchtime or to go to a meeting would be essentially free, said Metro board member Christof Spieler.

The passes would be available via the automated ticket machines at rail stops and other places that sell bus tickets. The Q card used by 70 percent of bus riders also could potentially be charged as a daypass.

Additional opportunities to sell passes also were discussed, including on buses and at hotels, where tourists could be encouraged to hop on board.

It’s unfortunate that the Intermodality archives appear to have been removed, because I know Christof Spieler was a critic of Metro’s decision to discontinue the day pass. I’d have liked to review his reasoning from back then, but alas. One of Metro’s stated goals these days, articulated as a reason for pushing the referendum on last year’s ballot, is to increase ridership. I believe this will facilitate that, and the upfront cost for redoing the fare system is relatively small ($1.7 million) and would hopefully be at least partially recouped by higher ridership. Ad revenues would more than pay for this, too. I’m not seeing any strong reason not to do this, so I hope Metro will move forward with it.

The mouth that roared

I have two things to say about Ted Cruz.

Not Ted Cruz

Cruz’s fans, and there are many, compare him to Ronald Reagan, who happens to be the 42-year-old senator’s boyhood hero. Cruz’s detractors, and there are many, compare him to Joe McCarthy, the controversial Wisconsin senator known for smearing his foes by innuendo and questioning their patriotism.

There are not many in between.

To Cruz, the swirling controversies of the past two months stem from his credo to “speak the truth,” whatever the consequences.

The Houston Republican’s first legislative proposal, as promised during his campaign, was a complete repeal of the 2010 health care law widely known as Obamacare. He was the only senator on the losing side of every key vote in his first month in office. He was one of only three senators to oppose the confirmation of John Kerry as secretary of state, and one of just 22 to vote against the Violence Against Women Act.

[…]

While assessments of Cruz’s job performance vary widely, there’s one thing all can agree on: The former Texas solicitor general is willfully ignoring the age-old adage that in the Senate, freshmen are seen but not heard.

1. Of all the criticisms one can make of Ted Cruz – and Lord knows, there are many – the one in which I am not interested is the criticism that “freshmen are seen but not heard”. For one thing, all that does is reinforce the Senate’s dysfunctional power dynamics. For another, if a freshman has something to contribute, who cares if they don’t know “how things are done around here”? I don’t want anyone telling Sen. Elizabeth Warren to sit down and shut up until she becomes conversant in Senate minutiae. Cruz is doing what he said he’d do. Anyone who’s surprised by it wasn’t paying attention last year.

The relevant question is whether Cruz wants to do more than what he said he wanted to do, which is basically lob spitballs and vote against stuff. If he wants to have a legacy beyond being flavor of the week for the teabagger crowd, at some point he will need to have some kind of positive accomplishments. If that does interest him – it’s not clear to me that it does, but I could be wrong about that – then I would suggest he study the legislative career of State Sen. Dan Patrick, who was Ted Cruz before Ted Cruz was Ted Cruz. Patrick entered Austin in more or less the same way that Cruz entered DC, as a brash loudmouth who disdained the traditions of the chamber he was about to join, didn’t know his “place”, and vowed to shake things up to be more to his liking. He spent his first session mostly making a fool of himself – remember his stunt where he had a press conference with a million dollars in cash as a prop? – and talk, both by and about him, far exceeded any action on his part. But then a funny thing happened – Patrick started taking the job seriously. He worked hard to learn about issues, he gained a reputation as someone who would listen with an open mind to the concerns of all stakeholders, he demonstrated an ability to work with others – see the CenterPoint right of way bill for an example – and six years later he’s the Chair of the Public Education committee, pushing major reforms. He’s far more dangerous now from my perspective than when he first got elected because now he’s actually effective and is in a strong position to get stuff done, and most (though not all) of that is stuff I don’t like. Depending on what he wants to do in DC, or subsequently back in Texas, Ted Cruz could choose to be Dan Patrick, or he could keep doing what he’s doing now, which would be a choice to be Louie Gohmert, or possibly something even worse.

2. The Express News puts this all another way.

True, there was no doubt who or what Texans were voting for at that time. Cruz, in fact, says he is doing only what Texans elected him to do.

But at some point, Texans are going to want Cruz to be for something rather than just against everything. Deal-making for the public good, after all, is a proud tradition among Texas leaders.

Texans might give Cruz the benefit of the doubt. Being new to a job is always tough. Wanting to prove your worth is always understandable. But there are ways of doing a good job — and standing on principle — without pushing the boundaries of civility.

The senator’s style certainly will endear him to some. Cruz will be the closing speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, a coveted spot at what is said to be the largest gathering of conservatives in the country.

Previous speakers? Last year, Sarah Palin. Before that Allen West, who lost his House seat in Florida after one term in November, and, the year before, Glenn Beck, who redefined far-out politics.

That’s some telling company.

In the long run, Cruz’s current style will make him a fringe player in his own party. And Texas needs more than that from its senators.

There was a time when bringing federal funds to Texas for various things was considered worthwhile. Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison were both well known for it. Even today at least some of that persists – witness Rep. Kevin Brady promising to work with Houston to ensure that Hobby Airport has sufficient Customs staff, even though he opposed the Hobby expansion project. KBH was a champion of transportation funds, and was considered a good friend of Metro here. What will Ted Cruz do? More to the point, what will the business interests that got used to getting stuff from KBH do if Cruz decides that teabagger posturing is more important than anything else? Maybe they’ll spend some time regretting their choice not to oppose Cruz. Barring anything strange, we’re stuck with him for the next six years. Isn’t that going to be fun? EoW has more.

I knew all this beer harmony couldn’t last forever

We have some legislative beer controversy on our hands.

Sen. John Carona

Texas brewers would lose a potential source of capital and some flexibility in negotiating sales under a bill before the state Senate.

The Texas Craft Brewers Guild immediately opposed the legislation, as did one of the state’s two major groups representing wholesale distributors – which called it “asinine” and “anti-competitive.”

The bill, authored by state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, would prohibit brewery owners from selling distribution rights for their beer and it would restrict them from selling beer at different prices in different geographic areas.

Scott Metzger, owner of Freetail Brewing Co. in San Antonio, has been actively involved in talks regarding a separate package of bills designed to help the state’s growing number of independently owned craft breweries and brewpubs.

He said the major provisions of the Carona bill were not raised during pre-session negotiations among lawmakers and industry stakeholders and he said the Craft Brewers Guild opposes all of them, whether in this bill or if they should be added later to other legislation.

[…]

Under the state’s three-tier distribution system, brewers cannot sell directly to retailers or consumers but must, with a limited exception for smaller breweries, enter exclusive contracts with wholesalers to sell the beer to retailers in designated territories.

Distributors can pay breweries for those rights, although payments are not required and can take different forms.

Donley said the practice is becoming more common as the craft segment grows. These generally smaller brewers reach a point where they need an infusion to expand, he said, and selling distribution rights is a potentially large source of capital.

Denying breweries this option goes against the charge of the pre-session working groups to stimulate economic development in the craft industry, he said.

Carona’s bill would not stop distributors from selling the rights to individual brands to other distributors.

The bill in question is SB639. Donley is Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, which represents Silver Eagle Distributing and other major wholesalers, who opposes it; Keith Strama of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, supports it. There’s no quote from Sen. Carona’s office, but he did send a statement to author Ronnie Crocker after publication. Among other things, we learn that Carona is no longer one of the authors of the craft beer bills that would finally loosen some of the archaic restrictions on microbreweries and brewpubs; apparently, he decided to go a different route. Scott Metzger of Freetail has an interesting perspective on this at his blog:

It has not gone without notice that the proponents of this bill don’t have an interest in restricting themselves from raising prices in different markets, or from selling brands rights, but that they are only concerned about what they have to pay. In essence, this bill is one step short of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code having Mandated Profits for the middle tier. This is self-serving protectionism at its most blatant.

[…]

This Legislation amounts to nothing more than a blatant money-grab by the Wholesale Beer Distributors. It distorts the free market by protecting wholesalers from paying the cost of doing business. Ironically, no one has ever forced any distributor to pay for the distribution rights of a brewer. These are voluntary private-party transactions that occur because craft beer distribution rights are actually valuable and distributors are eager to out-bid their rivals for those rights. If you don’t want to pay, then don’t.

Luckily, this proposal is likely to go nowhere at the Capitol. My contacts up there have told me the Legislature is highly unlikely to move on Legislation that most of the industry hates, benefits only certain players, and goes against free-market principles.

Lastly, I’m thankful to Chairman Carona for filing this legislation. The WBDT was trying to amend Senator Eltife’s craft beer bills with this anti-competetive, self-serving language, and were promptly told no. But I suppose everyone deserves a chance, and I’m looking forward to hearing the WBDT try to explain any shred of public interest that might exist for this money grab.

See also this post for related matters, and this post for a fuller response to Sen. Carona’s statement. Metzger makes it clear in that latter post that he is speaking on behalf of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. If they are OK with Sen. Carona filing this bill then I don’t see any reason for me to be unhappy about it at this time.

HISD cold on Patrick’s charter proposal

HISD has a bone to pick with Sen. Dan Patrick’s school choice bill.

Sen. Dan Patrick

The Houston Independent School District was charter friendly long before other school districts were, mainly due to the influence of then-Superintendent Rod Paige. The nationally known Knowledge is Power Program, for instance, probably would not exist on the scale and scope it does today if Paige hadn’t allowed the original campus to co-locate in HISD’s existing school district facilities.

Ironically, it is the facilities portion of Senate Bill 2 that have become the sticking for HISD. Under the bill, school districts with “unused” or “underutilized” would be required to notify the Texas Education Agency, which would then post excess property online for charter schools to lease or acquire at the cost of $1.

[…]

For HISD, turning over unused facilities would be financially disastrous, district leaders say. Surrounded on all sides by aging campuses, the state’s largest school district has turned to selling off excess property to fund the construction and reconstruction of schools around the district. Last year’s $1.6 billion bond package, in fact, pledged to replace Condit Elementary School and The High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice through sale of surplus property.

When The High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice sits on land near the prime intersection of Memorial and Shepherd drives, it’s not just an inconvenience to give up the land to others. It’s probably a $35 million loss.

Spokesman Jason Spencer notes HISD has recouped $32.4 million in taxpayer money over the last five years through the sale of property, money that is being reinvested in Houston schools. At this moment, HISD still has 10 properties posted for sale, with proceeds earmarked for facility needs.

“Any legislation that would hinder HISD’s ability to continue recouping taxpayer assets by selling property and reinvesting those tax dollars back into Houston schools would add to the financial burden on HISD taxpayers at a time when the Texas Legislature is failing to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public schools,” Spencer said in a rather stiff but clearly unhappy statement from the school district. “It is HISD’s position that the state does not have legal authority to require a locally controlled independent school district to essentially give away facilities that were approved by voters and funded by local taxpayers.”

That’s a pretty strong critique. It was also apparently an effective one, because according to the Trib, Sen. Patrick proposed an amendment that would raise the cost to market value, which seems like a reasonable alternative to me. It may make the charter schools unhappy, however, since one of their main complaints is that they don’t have the same capacity to raise money for capital expenditures as school districts, since they can’t float bonds. I suspect that will be addressed in some other fashion, so it probably isn’t an obstacle. We’ll see what the bill looks like when it emerges from committee. See also the TSTA, which observes that the reason why “some new buildings, particularly in fast-growth districts are empty [is] because school districts couldn’t afford to staff and open them” after the $5.4 billion budget cut from last session that Patrick continues to support.

One more thing, via the Statesman.

At the onset of the hearing, Patrick said he expected opposition from school district officials, but warned that his primary concern was for students and parents who want an alternative to traditional public schools.

“I want you to understand that when you testify, you’re not testifying against a bill,” Patrick said. “You’re testifying against 100,000 families who are are on the wait list who are desperate for their children to have choice.”

Sen. Patrick has made some variation on that statement throughout this process, to emphasize just how much he cares about the children, and how those who oppose him are standing in the way of his coming to their rescue. It’s all very touching, but you know what else many parents – a lot more than 100,000 of them in this state – are desperate for? Affordable health care, and access to it. To say the least, Sen. Patrick is notably less concerned about that. If he were concerned about it, he’d be out there leading the charge to expand Medicaid, since children are among the main beneficiaries of Medicaid. I guess there’s only so much concern one can have about the welfare of children before one starts to get worn out, or something. Suffice it to say that Sen. Patrick’s pleadings don’t impress me very much.