Monday, December 11, 2017

Who does Blake Farenthold think he's kidding?!?


"It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness,
For a throne is established by righteousness."
Proverbs 16:12

New developments over the weekend:
The new revelations, which Farenthold acknowledged to the Chronicle on Friday, bring to at least three the number of women who have complained of either sexual harassment, gender discrimination, or a hostile work environment in his office.

....

But Farenthold, 55, has since been hit with a new public account from another former spokeswoman, Elizabeth Peace, who left his office last March.

Although Peace came to Farenthold's office after Greene had left, she provided a similar account of a hostile and sexualized work environment. Neither accused Farenthold of improper sexual contact.

In her lawsuit, Greene, then 27, painted a picture of a socially awkward, hard-drinking, middle-aged man who reportedly had "sexual fantasies" and "wet dreams" about her. She also accused his chief of staff, Bob Haueter, of regularly belitting and humiliating her.

Peace, a former television news anchor, told the Chronicle in an interview this week that even after Greene had left, Farenthold "allowed the hostility in his office to continue. He allowed us to work in a place that was just emotionally damaging, and that should never be allowed in any office."

Peace, now 37, said that while Farenthold didn't sexually harass her directly, "his comments were inappropriate and his unwillingness to immediately take action to allow us to work in a safe environment is inappropriate."

Incidents of abusive behavior were not uncommon, according to another woman, former college intern Olivia de la Peña, who worked in Farenthold's office in the fall of 2015. Peña, now 23, said she experienced no sexually inappropriate behavior in the office, but instead learned to navigate what she called the congressman's "anger issues."
Bottom Line: Farenthold has multiple credible challegers. If we need to take this case to the voters, so be it.  But it sure would be nice if the Congressman would save everyone's time and leave of his own accord.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

#TXLEGE: Questions about Unintended Consequences BEFORE we eliminate property taxes


"For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—"
Luke 14:18

Last week, RPT announced the questions that have been placed on the March 2018 ballot; they include the following question related to property taxes:
Texas should replace the property tax system with an appropriate consumption tax equivalent. Yes/No
We've spoken favorably about this idea in the past. We'd still like to see it happen. But a personal experience from this past week gives us pause.

On Wednesday, this author made a small purchase on Amazon during we we remembered something obvious: STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ARE PROHIBITED BY FEDERAL LAW FROM CHARGE SALES TAXES ON A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF ONLINE PURCHASES.

That got us thinking:

  • Do we really want to move towards a tax system where the fastest growing part of the tax base is already carved out?!?

    One of the best arguments for moving to a consumption tax is that, at least in theory, it should broaden the tax base.  But the federal prohibition on online sales taxes is a pretty significant narrowing.  Furthermore, this narrowing is only going to grow over time.
  • Are we prepared to ask the Feds to allow online sales taxes?!?

    And, if so, for what are they going to ask in return?!?
  • If we carve out online sales, will the final result be a tax system that is overly reliant on rich people (with the attendant revenue swings)?!?

    The long term trend is that the middle class is moving their shopping online, while brick and mortar retail shopping is becoming a leisure activity for rich people.  Thus, any tax system that taxes brick and mortar purchases while carving out online sales will be reliant on purchases by rich people.  As we have learned from California, a system of taxation that is excessively reliant on rich people can lead to wild swings in revenue when the economy changes.
  • If we ask the Feds to permit online sales taxes, and they say yes, what shenanigans would such a move enable other states to pull?!?
  • Are the costs of permitting online sales taxes worth the benefits of eliminating property taxes?!?

    In the past, we've opposed online sales taxes.  The arguments against doing so remains strong.  Suffice to say, internet sales taxes would be a compliance nightmare for small and medium sized retailers.
  • Do we really want to make Amazon the largest tax collector in the state/country?!?

    Many people already think Amazon is too big and too powerful.  Indeed, this website has recently expressed significant misgivings about their proposed HQ2 in Austin.  If you think Amazon is too big and too powerful now, just wait until they're the largest tax collector in the country.

    Consider one example: Amazon very publicly opposed the Texas privacy act this past session; does anyone think they won't threaten to withhold tax revenue in the future?!?
Bottom Line: We're not saying no, but we are saying lets think this one through.

Friday, December 8, 2017

#atxcouncil: City that already has soccer stadium considers building TWO more....


"Every prudent man acts with knowledge,
But a fool lays open his folly."
Proverbs 13:16

In Austin's quest to act as patsies for a San Francisco based crony capitalist looking to boost the value of his Ohio-based asset, it appears we're up to two soccer stadium proposals.

Downtown:
If Austin signs off on a privately financed stadium on city parkland near downtown, the owners of a Major League Soccer team see a facility that would have a small geographic footprint yet make a giant positive impact on the community.

Precourt Sports Ventures, which operates Columbus Crew SC and is exploring a move to Austin, told the American-Statesman on Tuesday that finding the right stadium site remains the critical piece of the puzzle and that Butler Shores Metropolitan Park is the spot to beat.

The group rolled out a preliminary rendering of a 20,000-seat stadium tightly tucked into the western half of well-worn Butler Shores, leaving some parkland to the east.

....

The Precourt group rattled off several ideas to ease the strain on the neighborhood, while presenting Austin with its first major league sports franchise in what they say would be a city-owned, club-run stadium costing upwards of $200 million.
East Side:
A small local group with a big vision and political backing has unveiled plans for a wide-ranging project called the East Austin District, highlighted by a large arena and a multipurpose stadium.

Austin Sports & Entertainment, co-founded by former University of Texas swimming star Sean Foley and New England sports entrepreneur Andrew Nestor, partnering with Rodeo Austin, intends to work with the city of Austin and Travis County governments to replace the Travis County Exposition Center with a 15,000-seat arena adjacent to a 40,000-seat open-air facility.

....

The complex, designed to include office space, a convention area, medical facilities, retail and eight courtyards, could house a wide variety of sports events, concerts, trade shows and festivals.

....

The arena would be the new home of an expanded Rodeo Austin, which owns 40 acres adjacent to the Expo Center and annually pulls approximately 260,000 people to the aging facility for its two-week March run. The project is slated to be built on that land, near Lake Walter E. Long.

....

[A] public-private partnership using city-owned land at the Expo Center, which is run by the county.
Thoughts off the top of our head:
  • The idea that, just because the physical construction is 'privately financed' it doesn't still contain massive public subsidies, is laughable.  At a minimum, the project developers are getting public land for free.  These proposals would be a lot easier to swallow if we were talking about selling the land.
  • Who will be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of a potential stadium: taxpayers or Anthony Precourt?!?
  • Downtown: The lack of on-site parking is the only meritorious part of the proposal; if that could be used as leverage to nuke parking requirements more generally, it might be an acceptable trade off.
  • Downtown: "a small geographic footprint yet make a giant positive impact on the community"... sounds like typical 'grandiose promises backed by vague buzzwords' that usually accompanies publicly subsidized construction projects.
  • Downtown: "tightly tucked"...did you focus group that alliteration?!?
  • Downtown: "city-owned, club-run" = Privatized profits with socialized losses...where have we seen that before?!?
  • East Side: If you take the stadium out of the equation, this project has a certain appeal.  Even if we find the "economic development" forecasts exaggerated, it would certainly attract capital to a part of town that needs it.  It would also take development pressure off of downtown.
  • East Side: That being said, the team seems pretty insistent on a downtown stadium, and building any sort of a stadium without a committed occupant is a fool's errand.
  • East Side: If we build an arena, will UT basketball move out there as well?!?  If not, how many nights a week/year will both this proposed East Side arena and the new UT arena sit empty?!?  Is there enough business to prevent two arenas from cannibalizing each other?!?
  • East Side: If we build significant convention space out there, then there's even less reason to expand the convention center downtown.
    • Note: If this project were accompanied by having the city sell the downtown convention center, it could dramatically increase its appeal.
  • What happens to Circuit of the Americas under either proposal?!?
    • Note: For personal reasons, we loathe Circuit of the Americas, so if either of these proposals could drive those scumbags out of business, we would consider that a plus.
  • Based on our experience working in the service industry, a venue needs to have 4 to 5 events per week to have any realistic chance of creating full time jobs.
  • During the 2019 legislative session, we're going to "have a conversation" about public subsidies for stadiums and arenas; does either proposal take into account that state law on this subject is likely to change in the near future?!?
  • As we pointed out less than a month ago, Austin already has a 20,000 seat soccer stadium.  Do we need a second?!?  Do we need a third?!?
  • How does the legal action proposed by Ohio's Attorney General impact the ability of a team to guarantee they'll be ready by 2019?!?
Finally, following last month's council discussion, we put an open records request into Kathie Tovo's office [note: Tovo carried the original resolution] for all correspondence between her office and the Columbus Crew; Austin's famously transparent municipal government produced the following document:

552.137 Notice by Cahnman on Scribd


Bottom Line: While the east side proposal has a certain amount of merit, putting it very politely, both of these proposals need significantly more work before they're workable.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

#TXLEGE (et. al): Farenthold, Geren, Miles, and Uresti ALL Need to Go....


"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
But when a wicked man rules, the people groan."
Proverbs 29:2

On Monday, we held off on calling for Blake Farenthold's resignation because he was promising to release some bombshell new defense; what a week it's been since then.

Since then, we've seen:

When it rains, it pours.

But, given what we've learned in the past week, the next step is obvious: CAHNMAN'S MUSINGS CALLS FOR CONGRESSMAN FARENTHOLD, REPRESENTATIVE GEREN, AND SENATORS MILES AND URESTI TO RESIGN FROM THEIR RESPECTIVE PUBLIC OFFICES.

The links above should tell you everything you need to know about the respective conduct of the respective officials, but if you need more convincing spend some time on Google.

Bottom Line: All four of these scumbags need to follow Joe Barton's example....

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

#TXLEGE: Charlie Geren seems to miss a lot of things happening under his nose....


"While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage."
2 Peter 2:19

On Monday Bo French, Charlie Geren's opponent in both 2016 and 2018, filed a lawsuit related to actions by a Geren campaign operative last cycle.

Direct Action TX explains:
Last year Charlie Geren had his most credible primary challenge to date from Bo French for the TX House District 99 Republican Primary. It was well known that Charlie was nervous and campaigned harder than he ever had – and with good reason. Now it appears he and his campaign may have used some good ‘ol fashioned tomfoolery in order to pull off a win.

Today Bo and Sheridan French filed suit against Charlie’s campaign staffer and well known democrat, David Sorensen, in a story that is very disturbing and challenges our sense of decency.

On Friday February 26, 2016, 4 Days before the primary, CPS, along with a FTW police officer, showed up at the French residence with a complaint that their son had suffered a broken rib and allegations of physical abuse from Bo against the children. This was followed by repeat visits to the home on Saturday and Sunday. Oddly, once the election was over on that Tuesday, they never showed back up.

The Frenches have filed a civil suit against Sorensen, claiming he filed the report with CPS, with the intent to gain an unfair advantage for the Charlie Geren campaign in the final days of the primary. The suit claims: Defamation/Libel; Business Disparagement; Intrusion of Seclusion; Invasion of Privacy; and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.

According to the filing, Sorensen put his scheme into effect by supplying a false report to CPS claiming Mr. French’s youngest son had suffered broken ribs and that the son was not provided adequate medical care. It was further falsely reported that the police had responded to domestic abuse calls at the French residence in the past. CPS’s internal investigation found that the Frenches’ son never had any broken ribs and that the police had never at any time been called to the French residence. After nearly a year the CPS proceeding was closed without any further investigation of the Frenches, but not until after Mr. French lost to Sorensen’s employer in the primary election.

....

Sorensen has an interesting employment history. He currently advertises himself as a progressive liberal, but the only record of employment include liberal establishment Republican Ken Sheets’s followed by Charlie Geren’s campaign last year. After leaving Geren’s campaign, he went to work for the Tarrant County Democrat party. This further fuels speculation about Charlie Geren’s real ideological leanings and demonstrates that Charlie nor the democrats concern themselves with ideology or character.

....

It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that Charlie’s campaign was managed by Murphy Nasica, widely known to be the most unethical political outfit in Texas.
Geren predictably denies:
“If this happened, and I don’t know if it did, I was unaware of it,” he said. “I didn’t instruct anyone to do it. If I had known about it, I would have put a stop to it. I have never, in any campaign, brought up anybody’s family.”
And where, pray tell, has Charlie Geren recently had to backtrack after claiming he knew nothing about sleazy behavior?!?
Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Geren said that in his nine years as chairman of the committee he had received “a few” complaints of harassment.

Those investigations, Geren said, included addressing the complaint with the victims and the person accused of sexual harassment “to determine if there really was an issue" in hopes of resolving it “between those two people.”

Geren’s comments contrast with what he told the Tribune in November, when he refused to discuss the process for handling complaints because he said he had not received any. A request under public information laws for complaints made since 2011 turned up no records.

“There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any,” Geren told the Tribune last month. “I don’t deal in ifs. When there’s one I’ll handle it. And that’s it.”
For the sake of discussion, let's take Geren at his word: At best, he's disqualifyingly incompetent.

As to the lawsuit itself, it's well worth the 15 minutes it'll take you to read:



Bottom Line: Charlie Geren denying he knows about his campaign operative filing a false CPS report sounds a lot like Charlie Geren denying he knows about sexual misconduct in the Texas House (while having a very public sexual relationship with a lobbyist).

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

#TXLEGE: Straus' loathsome "economic competitiveness" dog and pony show wastes everybody's time


“The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’

“And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore:"
Revelation 18:9-11

[Note: There's no reason to do so, but if you're so inclined you can view the hearing here.]

The house 'select committee' on 'economic competitiveness' had it's final hearing today; we sat in on most of the first three hours before leaving because the whole thing was boring and pointless.

It was the usual mix of buzzwords, cliches, and euphemisms one hears at these sorts of events.  Centrally planned "economic development" via "incentives," "investments" in "workforce development," alongside the omnipresent "diversity" and "inclusion."  Like we said, it was a waste of time.

Chancellor McRaven spoke first.  He claimed concerns about "keeping higher education affordable."  This came from a man whose institution is currently pursuing a tuition hike despite its endowment being worth more than ever.

A lovely gentleman from the Corpus Christi chamber openly spoke in favor of local governments raising tax rates on regular taxpayers to create carve-outs for big businesses.  That was euphemistically titled "local control" and "property tax abatements."  He also called for more secrecy in corporate incentive packages.

For his part, Byron Cook was obsessed with anti-privacy act and pro-illegal immigration hysteria.  Cook asked each witness loaded questions on those subjects.  That being said, Cook did get one representative of the Houston construction industry to openly state "we need cheap labor."

But the greatest act of chutzpah came from the Texas State University chancellor.  He spoke about his "mission" to produce "qualified workers" (which, of course, required "more funding").  If this committee had any self respect, they would have asked if last week's student editorial calling white skin an abomination was consistent with a "mission" to produce "qualified workers."

Bottom Line: Today's hearing was a bastardized hybrid of the latter chapters of Atlas Shrugged, the bar scene from Star Wars, and Chapter 18 of the Book of Revelation...which is a pretty good metaphor for how the Texas house has been run in recent sessions.

Monday, December 4, 2017

#TXLEGE: Man engaged in sexual relationship with lobbyist to oversee new "sexual harassment" policy....


"The words of his mouth were smoother than butter,
But war was in his heart;
His words were softer than oil,
Yet they were drawn swords."
Psalm 55:21

SHOT:
House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said the new policy would require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training by January 2018. The training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune. But Geren said House leaders would keep records of who attended the trainings — and that those records would be subject to public information laws.

Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Geren said that in his nine years as chairman of the committee he had received “a few” complaints of harassment.

Those investigations, Geren said, included addressing the complaint with the victims and the person accused of sexual harassment “to determine if there really was an issue" in hopes of resolving it “between those two people.”

Geren’s comments contrast with what he told the Tribune in November, when he refused to discuss the process for handling complaints because he said he had not received any. A request under public information laws for complaints made since 2011 turned up no records.

“There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any,” Geren told the Tribune last month. “I don’t deal in ifs. When there’s one I’ll handle it. And that’s it.”

In a phone call, Geren clarified that at Friday's news conference he had been referring to complaints made through an informal process.

Nothing's been in writing, that’s typical in these cases. Women choose to remain anonymous,” he said. “They’ve come forward and gone through the details with me, and I’ve investigated it and we’ve resolved it."

Neither the former nor the newly adopted policy detail whether sexual harassment complaints must be in writing. And it’s unclear whether Geren or others fielding complaints are required to maintain any documentation regarding such complaints or disciplinary action that may have resulted from those complaints.

One former staffer told the Tribune that Geren handled her complaint in 2013. The staffer, who was in her early 20s and working for a House lawmaker at the time, said that another lawmaker repeatedly asked her out. She said he had his chief of staff call her desk phone to get her cellphone number and that the lawmaker would text her, inviting her to his office for drinks or out on a date. She said she always declined or did not respond, but he would approach her around the Capitol asking why she didn’t respond.

She eventually told a friend what was happening, and it got to Geren. The House Administration Committee chairman then called her into his office and, after asking her what had been happening, said he was going to take care of it. The meeting lasted three to four minutes, she said. Soon after, the lawmaker apologized and never called her again, she said.

The staffer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, reached out to the Tribune after being surprised when reading Geren's comments in November that there had been no official complaints.

“I don’t know if the House Admin keeps records on this,” she said.

Asked about the incident, Geren said he didn't have any comment on past complaints.

"That's confidential, and it stays confidential," he said.

During Friday's hearing, Geren said he was planning to ask House Speaker Joe Straus to create a working group to further review the chamber’s policies and make additional recommendations ahead of the 2019 legislative session. In recent weeks, some lawmakers have suggested the creation of an independent entity to review complaints.

Questions also remain about how members, who ultimately answer to voters back home, could be disciplined if they are found to have sexually harassed someone.

House officials can "address and discipline employees," Geren said, but have less control over disciplinary actions for elected officials when it comes to sexual harassment.
We'll get to the chaser in a moment, but first a few thoughts:
  • A policy requiring "training" is completely useless.  You can do all the "training" in the world.  Unless there are sanctions for bad behavior, nothing will change.
  • Based on everything this author has ever heard about sexual misconduct at the Capitol, the most important sanction, by far, would be loss of committee chairmanships.
    • Note: Especially Calendars.
  • Geren's already had to backtrack from his position last week, but he's still stonewalling over what he actually knows.
  • While we respect victims' need for anonymity, not requiring written complaints is a way to get around the Public Information Act.
  • Any "independent entity" that reviews complaints will have to adjudicate them very quickly to have any teeth.  There need to be immediate legislative consequences if a change of policy is going to mean anything.  If complaints aren't resolved until after the session, you can't do anything except hope the voters decline to rehire the offending member.
That being said, concerning Charlie Geren, CHASER:
On Jan. 10, 2017, lobbyist Mindy Ellmer tweeted a picture of her with long-time boyfriend Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, standing next to the Mayor of Fort Worth, Betsy Price. The caption read, “Happy to kick off the 85th with two of my favorite peeps.”

More than four months later, Rep. Geren is a driving force for a bill critics say will save the telecommunication giant AT&T hundreds of millions of dollars while taking needed revenue from city coffers in Austin and beyond.

Ellmer has an interest in the company’s success in Geren’s Texas House of Representatives. She holds a contract from AT&T worth up to $99,999 to try and influence lawmakers to vote on issues favorable to AT&T.
In fairness to Geren, he did marry the poor girl following the session.  So Charlie Geren is now merely married to a lobbyist, as opposed to living in sin with one.  But this is the guy the Texas House wants to oversee the creation of a new policy related to sexual misconduct and influence peddling.

Bottom Line: We suppose there's a romantic quality to a corrupt politician finding true love with a skanky lobbyist trading sexual favors for legislative influence, but to allow the politician in question to write a new "sexual harassment" policy seems...shortsighted at best.