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August 13th, 2017:

Weekend link dump for August 13

The National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year contest for 2017. Go see gorgeous photos.

Donald Trump could have been president in Sharknado 3. Which would have been infinitely preferable to current reality.

“Now that the Republican Party has won the House, the Senate and the Presidency the effort it is making to Repeal and Replace Obamacare is itself a Fraud upon Republican Voters and Donors.”

“That business model and this financial trajectory suggests that MLS’s sea of red ink is either a loss leader or a Ponzi scheme, and it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two until it’s too late. Several sports economists, though, aren’t optimistic.”

How NASA will be studying the solar eclipse.

“The wall is no metaphor to Trump. He will accept no substitutes to a huge, long, physical wall, which he believes his voters viscerally want. He told GOP Hill leaders in June he wants it to be 40 to 50 feet high and covered with solar panels. Hill Republicans privately mocked that idea, but some of those same people now recognize that Trump’s big, beautiful — and in their minds, ridiculous — wall could be the thing that brings the U.S. government to its knees.”

“Despite Blum’s rather reductive use of Asian Americans as a model minority to dismantle affirmative action programs, many Asians, including myself, are actually strong proponents of affirmative action.”

“The rapid moral deterioration of Homeland Security took place during the six months that John Kelly, the retired Marine general that Trump appointed to run the vast department, was at the helm. He was not a passive conduit just following orders from the White House.”

“The criminal justice system often responds to drunk drivers by focusing on their driving, for example, by taking away driver’s licenses, restricting driving to daylight hours, or installing a breathalyzer that locks the ignition if the would-be driver has been drinking. But new research indicates that a highly effective approach to alcohol-involved crime is more direct and simple: Take away the offender’s access to alcohol.”

RIP, Don Baylor, 1979 American League Most Valuable Player and former big league manager.

RIP, Haruo Nakajima, the actor in the Godzilla suit for the classic monster movies.

David Letterman is coming back.

Good riddance, and good decision by Google.

RIP, Glen Campbell, country music legend.

They don’t make libertarian paradises like they used to

I love a good cautionary tale.

For the last few years, Von Ormy has been in near-constant turmoil over basic issues of governance: what form of municipal government to adopt, whether to tax its residents, and how to pay for services such as sewer, police, firefighters and animal control. Along the way, three City Council members were arrested for allegedly violating the Open Meetings Act, and the volunteer fire department collapsed for lack of funds. Nearly everyone in town has an opinion on who’s to blame. But it’s probably safe to say that the vision of the city’s founder, a libertarian lawyer whose family traces its roots in Von Ormy back six generations, has curdled into something that is part comedy, part tragedy.

In 2006, fearing annexation by rapidly encroaching San Antonio, some in Von Ormy proposed incorporating as a town. But in government-averse rural Texas, incorporation can be a hard sell. Unincorporated areas are governed mainly by counties, which have few rules about what you can do on private property and tend to only lightly tax. There’s no going back from what municipal government brings: taxes, ordinances, elections and tedious city council meetings. Still, the fear of being absorbed by San Antonio — with its big-city taxes and regulations — was too much for most Von Ormians.

Enter Art Martinez de Vara. At the time, Martinez de Vara was an ambitious third-year law student at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, a local boy with a penchant for Texas history and right-wing politics.

Martinez de Vara suggested a compromise of sorts. Von Ormy could become a “liberty city” — a stripped-down, low-tax, low-government version of municipal government that’s currently en vogue among the tea party in Texas.

Initially, the city would impose property and sales taxes, but the property tax would ratchet down to zero over time. The business-friendly environment would draw new economic activity to Von Ormy, and eventually the town would cruise along on sales taxes alone.

There would be no charge for building permits, which Martinez de Vara said would be hand-delivered by city staff. The nanny state would be kept at bay, too. Want to shoot off fireworks? Blast away. Want to smoke in a bar? Light up. Teens wandering around at night? No curfew, no problem.

Martinez de Vara and his mother, Sally Martinez, along with other prominent residents, started the Commission to Incorporate Von Ormy. He gave Von Ormy a motto: “The Freest Little City in Texas.”

Folks in Von Ormy liked what they heard and in May 2008 voted to incorporate. Martinez de Vara was elected mayor that November.

In a 2015 presentation he gave at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, Martinez de Vara said that a group of people with no political experience took it upon themselves to do everything a large city like San Antonio does but at a lower cost. He touted Von Ormy’s ability to provide animal control services, a 20-officer police department — a mix of paid officers and volunteers — and an online city hall.

“We were blessed with this unique opportunity to experiment with democracy,” he said.

Today, there is no city animal control program and stray dogs roam the streets. The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office patrols the town instead of city police, and City Hall resides in a mobile home with one full-time staffer — though that’s a step up from the dive bar where City Council met until the owner bounced them out. If you go to the city’s website, you’ll be informed that it’s still under construction.

If Von Ormy is a libertarian experiment with democracy, it’s one that hasn’t turned out as expected.

It’s a fascinating read, so check it out. I had no idea there was such a thing as a “liberty city”, but we do live in a strange state. No one involved in this mess comes across terribly well in the tale, but idea man Martinez de Vara ends up doing pretty well for himself with the professional wingnut crowd, because nothing succeeds like failure. And to be fair, just because Von Ormy flamed out, that doesn’t mean the “liberty city” idea is discredited. There are others like it in Texas, and for all we know (the story neither names nor describes any of them) they could be thriving. Maybe Von Ormy didn’t fail but was failed, if you know what I mean. That would make for an excellent followup article. Anyway, check it out.

Where have all the foreign students gone?

Wherever it is, it’s increasingly not here.

Students from India, China, Iran and other countries have long flocked to Texas campuses to work with top professors and to earn a prestigious American degree.

But this year, those students appear to be less enamored by the Lone Star State.

International applications to Texas’ four-year public universities have plummeted over the past year by at least 10,000, a 12.5 percent decrease from last fall, according to a Houston Chronicle review of university data. The dramatic decline is a stark contrast to the 30 percent increase in applications from 2013 to 2016. At the University of Houston, for example, foreign applications dropped by 27 percent.

Several factors are likely causing foreign students to look elsewhere, analysts and campus administrators say, noting a sluggish global economy and greater competition from other countries. Still, many bluntly point to President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric as significant, saying it is creating an unwelcoming environment.

“U.S. politics has made some international students uncomfortable,” said Jeff Fuller, a former admissions director at the University of Houston who left his post in May.

Fuller said potential foreign applicants’ questions showed anxiety. Will I be deported? Could my visa change? And, he said, they wondered, “How accepting would a campus be of an international student when everything they see on TV shows ‘build a wall’?”

The decline comes as U.S. public colleges increasingly see enrolling foreign students as important to their operations and mission. International students pay out-of-state tuition prices, an important revenue source as universities fear declining state support. Foreign students make up a significant portion of the diversity that campuses value.

Drawing students from around the globe shows prestige and reach, too. Texas universities enroll the third-highest number of foreign students in the country, according to the Institute of International Education, an advocacy group for student exchange.

“It is a cause for concern across all universities,” said Yvette Bendeck, the associate vice president of enrollment management at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. “Everybody’s talking about how to approach the shift that we’re seeing globally … interaction with people of different backgrounds is an experience people should have when they’re in the classroom.”

Obviously, federal policy is the main factor here. If SB4 is allowed to be implemented, it would not surprise me to see some second-order effects as well, so that we see states that are enthusiastically following the Trump lead seeing steeper drops in enrollment from foreign students than states like California. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I believe it could. The tuition issue exists at private universities, too, where having some number of full-tuition-payers helps stretch the financial aid budget. Basically, there’s nothing good that comes of this, and even if the travel ban is ultimately thrown out by SCOTUS, the effect could well linger well into the future.