Thursday, June 30, 2016

TCRP makes Lemonade....

"In the day of prosperity be joyful,
But in the day of adversity consider:
Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other,
So that man can find out nothing that will come after him."
Ecclesiastes 7:14

For obvious reasons, we've refrained from discussing the Robert Morrow/TCRP situation; that being said, we attended Morrow's swearing in ceremony and the subsequent business meeting and we think they've handled the whole situation about as well as they could have.

The most important takeaway is that the executive committee approved changes to the party bylaws that remove all powers from the chairman that can be removed under state law.  The executive committee created a new "executive vice chairman" position to oversee the party's day-to-day operations.  They also elected a steering committee to assist the executive vice chairman.

As for Robert Morrow: Morrow was Morrow.  During his 27 minute inaugural address, he outlined the crimes of which he accuses the past half century of senior American political leadership.  He specifically discussed Lyndon Johnson's role in the Kennedy assassination and George Bush 41's pedophilia.

That being said, following his inaugural address, Morrow called the meeting to order and presided over the bylaw changes without incident.

Truthfully, this incident reveals a shortcoming in state law.  Regardless of how we got here, it's absurd that there is no path for a county party's executive committee to remove a chairman for cause.  The legislature really should act next session.

We spoke last night with steering committee member T.J. Scott who asked "for every precinct chair to pray over how they could best serve their party"; T.J. called the current situation an "all hands on deck" moment.

Bottom Line: This too shall pass....

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Straus (again) claims credit for others' accomplishments....

"He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck,
Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
Proverbs 29:1

[Author's Note: For a deeper examintion of Joe Straus' history of claiming credit for the accomplishments of others, see here.]

Joe Straus' latest newsletter contains this little bit of LOL:
Fortunately, the Legislature left about $4 billion in the bank when we last met, and that will make it easier to balance the next state budget.
This is laughable.  During the 2014 campaign, Dan Patrick repeatedly pledged that he would not allow a budget to reach the governor's desk if it grew faster than population plus inflation.  Thus, unless he wanted to write the budget in a special session, Straus had lost this battle before the 84th #TXLEGE gaveled in.

But, since he brought it up, let's take a look at what happened the previous session when Straus had the most direct control over the budget process:
Those numbers understate the blowout because $4 billion more was snatched from the state's rainy day fund. Add various accounting stunts and the Texas Public Policy Foundation calculates a 26% spending increase for the biennium. A broad coalition of taxpayer and tea-party groups is urging Mr. Perry to veto. … 

Republicans defend the budget by noting that Texas has urgent public-works needs. Two years of droughts make new water projects a necessity, and with nearly half the new jobs in the U.S. over the last four years springing up in Texas, roads and school funding are priorities too. But the Houston Chronicle notes that nearly everything from mental health to family planning to Medicaid to Mr. Perry's pet corporate welfare program-the Emerging Technology Fund-won fat funding increases. 

This may be the first time in history that a state experienced a rush of new tax collections and lowered its reserve fund. The supplemental spending earlier this year also allowed an end run around the state's constitutional spending cap. (Expenditures can't rise faster than the rate of personal income growth.) By spending more in 2013 the state can now appropriate more in 2014-15, because the baseline for calculating future expenditure growth is ratcheted upward. This is the kind of stunt one would expect from Nancy Pelosi. The budget contains a roughly $1 billion tax cut, but for every $1 of tax relief, $19 in new revenue will be spent.
Fun Fact: As a Senator, Dan Patrick voted against the 2013 budget.

At this point, it's par for the course for this crowd to claim credit after the fact for accomplihsments that were forced upon them by others, but it's still worthwhile to note when they do so.

Bottom Line: Team Straus remains incorrigibly wicked, they likewise remain irretrivably predictable.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The 85th #TXLEGE and a "Conservative Texas Budget": Open letter to Texas Legislators....

"There is desirable treasure,
And oil in the dwelling of the wise,
But a foolish man squanders it."
Proverbs 21:20

Dear Legislators,

This morning, TPPF released the latest from their "Conservative Texas Budget" series, this time for the 85th legislature; long story short, the magic number is 4.5%. (*)

As long as you keep budget growth under that target, you won't have any trouble with this webstie.

To be fair, you not only stayed within the target last session, you actually stayed two points underneath it.  Do it again.  Feel free to go A LOT FURTHER....

But as long as you stay under  4.5%, we won't complain about the budget.

However, understand this: A two year budget that stays under the 4.5% inflation+population target is the absolute bare minimum of what voters expect from the 85th #TXLEGE.  Voters should reasonably expect a lot more.  Property tax appraisal reform, eliminating taxpayer funded lobbying, and constitutional spending limits would be a good place to start.

We gave y'all a "B" for the budget last session (alongside an "F" for structural fiscal reforms); as long as you stay under the 4.5% target, we will give you at least a "B" next session.

But we'd really like y'all to put yourselves in a position to receive an "A"....

Adam Cahn
Austin, TX
June 28, 2016


* - TPPF can explain their report better than we can, but the short version is that holding total spending under the 4.5% target means we're holding it constant per capita.

Monday, June 27, 2016

SCOTUS makes #TexIT case that much stronger....

"And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord."
Levitcus 18:21

By now, you've heard about this morning's decision by the U.S Supreme Court; there's a lot we could say, this point...why are we wasting time and energy to prop up this sinking ship?!?

We first entertained seriously the idea of #TexIT last summer, when the Planned Parenthood expose was released.  Where Texas pounced, everyone else collectively shrugged.  Today's SCOTUS decision merely continues that trend.

Who wants to be part of that?!?

Does anyone actually believe some corrupt reality TV harlequin will improve anything?!?  Please.  We don't doubt he's the smallest turd in the punch bowl, but we'd prefer to flush and do the dishes.

It's no longer just about New York and California.  If there's one thing we've learned from this Presidential election it's the degree to which, outside Texas, even Republican primary voters have their heads up their backside.  Why do they get to veto Texas?!?

An independent Texas would be far from perfect, but at least we wouldn't murder babies.

Bottom Line: This wicked nation has made its bed.  It can lie in it.  But that's not anything with which we want to associate....

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Revelation 7:9-17 -- A Great Revival in the Great Tribulation

A Multitude from the Great Tribulation
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,  saying:
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?”

And I said to him, “Sir, you know.”

So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.  They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat;  for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 7:9-17

Pastor Danny Forshee.  Great Hills Baptist Church.  October 12, 2014:


Matthew 24:21
  1. Praise - Said "NO" to the anti-Christ (vv. 9-17)
  2. Persecution (all will be) (vv. 13-15a)
    - Titus 3:4-7
  3. Promise (vv. 15b-17)
  • "Never compromise with the Gospel.  Never quit preaching on Hell.  Cause it's True!!!"
  • "Hell is real but more important, Glory to God, Heaven is real."
  • "The blood of Jesus is the divine detergent that washes away our sin."
  • Jesus first used the phrase "Great Tribulation."
    • See the verse from Matthew linked above.
  • Revival frequently accompanies times of financial difficulty.
  • White Robes = Virtue and Victory.
  • The best thing we can do to get ready for Heaven is to worship God here on Earth!
    • "This is a warm-up for what we get to do for eternity."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cassidy identifies the real Fischer case outrage

"For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,"
2 Timothy 3:2

We haven't paid particularly close attention to the Fischer case.  While affirmative action is a counterproductive and obnoxious policy, it's also a low-value political minefield where you can't accomplish much even if you're successful.  If you want real change in higher education, go after the money and the political favoritism.

Speaking of political favoritism, however, the indefatigable Jon Cassidy has a must read piece in the American Spectator about the Court's ignorance of the admissions scandal during it's Fischer ruling:
The Supreme Court upheld affirmative action at the University of Texas in a 4-3 decision Thursday by openly ignoring the facts of the case.
In his opinion for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy dismissed a bombshell report on admissions corruption at UT as mere “extrarecord materials” which “the Court properly declines to consider.” The excuse would have been a lot more convincing coming from anybody else.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing the dissent for himself, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Clarence Thomas, found those records not just worthy of consideration, but devastating both to UT’s argument, and to Kennedy’s rationale for accepting it. They prove that UT’s official story about how race is considered in admissions is little more than a cover story. For more than a decade, the school has been running a backdoor affirmative action program for the wealthy and politically connected.

That’s hypocritical, of course, for an institution that opposes privilege with such sanctimony, not to mention self-defeating, but it’s also directly relevant to Kennedy’s given standard. “Racial classifications,” he has written, “are a last resort.” If that’s true, and if UT’s backdoor program has been contributing to classes that are too rich and white, then shouldn’t the first resort be to stop doing crooked favors for rich white parents? Wouldn’t a level playing field produce more diversity?

The answer is obvious, which is why Kennedy averted his eyes.

We know that the University of Texas lied to lower courts about how it conducted admissions, because that lie was exposed, in stages – by a board member named Wallace Hall, by reports in, by a whistleblower in the admissions office, in an investigation known as the Kroll report, in further reporting on the truly damning material left out of the Kroll report, and finally, perhaps one day, when the Texas courts force Chancellor Bill McRaven to turn over 25,000 pages of investigatory records he has hidden from his own board.

The legal principle the Supreme Court decided Thursday is whether UT’s defense of its affirmative action would survive “strict scrutiny.” But considering UT’s own board is blocked from scrutinizing admissions, it’s not clear what the court thinks it was scrutinizing. A bunch of decade-old legal fictions, I’d say, fictions exposed by the Kroll report.


The court knew nothing about them, and of course nobody knew anything about the students admitted through the secret admissions program set up by disgraced former president Bill Powers. We know now that from 2009 to 2014, at least 764 applicants who were initially denied admission were ultimately admitted through Powers’ secret back door, some with grade point averages below 2.0 and SAT scores in the 800s. The Cato Institute, citing my reporting for, argued that it’s likely the secret backdoor program “results in more admissions than… (the) ordinary ‘holistic review’ process” that the court was reviewing. In short, the actual admissions operation bore little resemblance to the decade-old record assembled in lower courts.

Kennedy’s reason for ignoring the reports on admissions corruption was that they “are tangential to this case at best.” He insisted that the university hadn’t had “a full opportunity to respond to” them. The weasel word there is “full,” as the university did respond to them in two briefs. Alito pointed out that six briefs in all referenced the admissions scandal, and even cited three passages in them that cite my own reporting.

Then Alito dropped the hammer: “the Court’s purported concern about reliance on ‘extrarecord materials’ rings especially hollow in light of its willingness to affirm the decision below, which relied heavily on the Fifth Circuit’s own extrarecord Internet research.”
Seriously, do read the whole thing here.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Notes on Yesterday's #ATXCouncil Meeting....

"There are many plans in a man’s heart,
Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand."
Proverbs 19:21

[Author's Note: The full agenda for the meeting can be viewed here.]

We attended a substantial chuck of yesterday's uber-marathon Council meeting (14 hours and counting when we left at midnight; ultimately 16 hours).  Our thoughts are in the order events occurred.  For those only interested in the transportation bond, that discussion is at the end:

  • Item 79: They actually approved approximately $275k per year to build 2 luxury public bathrooms on street corners downtown.  This despite the fact that every downtown hotel already has bathrooms that any member of the public can use as long as they don't make a scene while doing so.  Kathie Tovo justified this project on the grounds that the homeless would relieve themselves on the street if the city didn't provide facilities.  Passed 8-2-1 with Zimmerman and Troxclair voting Nay and Gallo abstaining.  We can't prove it at this point, but we strongly suspect someone's getting paid.

    In addition, during later public testimony over the bond package, a female firefigher testified that there are numerous fire stations around Austin that don't even have male and female bathrooms despite the fact that a previous council moved seventeen years ago to provide them; for council to move forward with taxpayer funded luxury bathrooms at a time when city owned firestations have been waiting almost two decades for sufficient facilities seems...odd.
  • Item 56: The ball appears to be slowly moving forward on APD's plan to buy license plate readers to scan citizens' vehicles.  We're not a lawyer, and we haven't reviewed the relevant jurisprudence, but this strikes us as one of the most blatant violations of the fourth amendment we've ever seen.  Making matters worse, the vendor will be allowed to keep data from license plate scans as long as it "has commercial value."  So it's both unconstitutional and a special interest boondoggle.  In addition, one of the members of the public who testified in opposition raised concerns over whether such a proposal would turn APD into "mobile debt collectors" for things like traffic tickets.  Thankfully, they at least dropped the civil asset forfeiture component.  Council voted 6-5 (Zimmerman, Troxclair, Casar, Houston, Garza, and Kitchen voting AYE) in favor of Zimmerman's amendment to restrict APD from "executing" the contract and merely allow them to negotiate it.  This will be back in front of council in August.
  • Items 57/58: Unfortunately, council went ahead with their poorly conceived APD body camera policy and contract.  First things first, between the cameras and iphones being purchased to play the footage, we're talking about $17 MILLION.  Council went forward with using Taser (yes, THAT Taser) for the cameras at a cost of $12 million despite the fact that another vendor (Utility) was offering a technically superior product at a fraction of the price (Author's Note: We apologize, but we didn't write down the number of their asking price).

    Leslie Pool initially moved to postpone consideration of the contract to August, but she later pulled the motion after asking questions of APD.  Kathie Tovo called now a "time for action" following a "deliberative" process.  Keep in mind, they tried to ambush us with this contract 6 weeks ago.

    More troubling is the incomplete policy council pushed forward related to body camera footage.  While Kathy Mitchell of the Texas Criminal Justice coalition cited "incremental progress" in terms of allowing public greater access to body camera footage, there are still numerous hurdles to public access.  A representative from the Electronic Frontier Foundation urged caution because whatever policy adopted by council would subsequently become subject to typical governmental inertia; specifically, "we should be very careful about a cobbled together system."  Everybody supports police bodycameras, but there's no reason council couldn't have taken another month or two to get the policy right.  Council will rue this day whenever the inevitable dispute between an officer and a citizen provokes outrage that this policy proves insufficient to quell.

    Item 57 ($12 million for body cameras) passed 9-1-1 (Zimmerman voting Nay, Houston abstaining); Item 58 ($5 million for iphones) 7-3-1 (Zimmerman, Houston, and Pool voting Nay; Troxclair abstaining).
  • "Special Called Meeting" -- Council also considered Ellen Troxclair's proposal to expand the city of Austin's homestead exemption to 14% from the current 6%.  For obscure legal reasons, this had to be considered as part of a "special called meeting" instead the regular agenda.  Council watered Troxclair's proposed 8% expansion (to 14%) all the way down to 2% (to 8%). We had actually left the meeting at this point so we missed the discussion, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out why the current council would water down a tax relief package.

    [Author's Note: Community Impact has more here.]
  • Item 83: This was the discussion of the Transportation bond.  We left following public testimony, so we didn't see much of the discussion between council members.  Something eventually passed 8-3, but we aren't familiar with the details and will refrain from commenting further until we digest said details.

    That being said, we are going to re-iterate the concern we expressed in our public testimony and in our open letter to the mayor: Does the city bureaucracy have the capability to execute this plan in anything resembling a competent or timely manner?!?  $720 million is a lot of money, and this package has a lot of moving parts.  As the female firefighter testified, the city still hasn't been able to produce male and female bathrooms in fire-stations despite having promised to do so seventeen years ago.  If they can't deliver bathrooms, are they really capable of successfully executing a major transportation project?!?

    [Author's Note: The firefigher's testimony is at the 17:35 mark; our testimony is at 23:30]

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Rinaldi pushes envelope on Local Government Accountability!!!

And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Luke 20:25

Lookin' good Rinaldi:
AUSTIN, TEXAS – On Tuesday, Rep. Rinaldi, joined by 19 House and Senate Republicans, filed an amicus curiae brief in a lawsuit challenging Laredo’s bag ban ordinance. In the brief, Rep. Rinaldi supports the argument that the City of Laredo’s plastic bag ban ordinance is void because it contradicts § 361.0961 of the Texas Health and Safety Code.

The Laredo Merchants Association brought suit against the City of Laredo in March of 2015, challenging Laredo’s city ordinance that prohibits retailers from providing or selling plastic bags to customers. The 341st Judicial District Court ruled that the ordinance does not violate state statute. Oral arguments will be made in the Texas Fourth District Court of Appeals on June 28th. The Court will then determine if the lower court’s decision will be overturned or upheld.

“Cities need to understand that the Legislature can and will step in when authority delegated to them by the sovereign state of Texas has been abused to restrict liberty and constrain the free flow of commerce,” Rinaldi said. “In this instance, the Legislature anticipated these types of power grabs by local municipalities and passed a peremptory state statute that trumps Laredo’s bag ban ordinance.”

Paxton secures victory for Rule of Law/Separation of Powers

And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Luke 20:25

This morning, the United States Supreme Court sided with Texas over the Obama administration in the lawsuit related to the President's unilateral alteration of immigration policy in 2014.  We don't particularly care about the policy or political implications, but the legal and constitutional ramifications are huge.  This is the biggest restraint upon the executive branch, at least on the domestic side, we've seen in a long time (possibly in our lifetime).

The crux of the matter is that the president cannot make unilateral changes to any aspect of domestic policy without the approval of congress.  This is a universal principle, regardless of the identify of the President or the members of Congress at any particular moment.  And Ken Paxton's Attorney General's office was the one to secure the ruling!

As Paxton explained in an e-mail to supporters:
I want to let you know that within the past hour, we have won a major victory for the rule of law. In April, my team and I were at the U.S. Supreme Court leading a 26-state coalition to fight President Obama's unconstitutional push for amnesty — an unlawful act which defies the rule of law and bypasses our elected officials in Congress. I’m pleased to report that our efforts were successful.
As the Washington Post reports in the story below, “The action deals Obama perhaps the biggest legal loss of his presidency…..”.
Today’s decision keeps in place what we have maintained from the very start: one person, even a president, cannot unilaterally change the law. This is a major setback to President Obama’s attempts to expand executive power, and a victory for those who believe in the separation of powers and the rule of law.
Bottom Line: There's a reason why, in both the Texas and U.S. constitution, the legislative branch appears before the executive; kudos to Ken Paxton for securing this ruling.


Now that we think about it, there actually is one political point worth making: There's no way in heck this happens if Dan Branch is Attorney General.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Yet ANOTHER Infuriating Budget from Austin ISD....

"There is desirable treasure,
And oil in the dwelling of the wise,
But a foolish man squanders it."
Proverbs 21:20

We can't even, from the Austin Monitor:
Trustees with the Austin Independent School District approved a $1.3 billion operating budget for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year in an 8-0-1 vote Monday night, with District 1 Trustee Edmund Gordon abstaining. It is the largest budget AISD has ever considered, yet board members continued to call out the state’s public education system for its unfairness.


The district approved approximately $1.2 billion in general fund expenditures, which is a $162.7 million increase compared to last year’s general fund revenue. The largest voluntary budget increase stems from a 4 percent raise for all full- and part-time employees, which equates to about a $20 million spending increase.


Other notable expenditures included AISD’s decision to raise the minimum wage of its employees to $13 per hour — an additional $1.2 million expenditure — and put in place a new teacher compensation program. The new program, Professional Pathways for Teacher Compensation, allows teachers to qualify for salary increases through continual education and performance-based measures, among other means. Board members put aside an additional $3 million for the program.

[Author's Note: Emphasis added.]
Keep in mind, this is in a district where enrollment has now declined four years in a row.

That being said, for those of us who successfully opposed their bond three years ago, there was this one modest piece of good news:
Due to debt-related savings, AISD is lowering its tax rate by 1 cent this year, to $1.19 per $100 of assessed property value.
Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Quorum Report projects their mendacity onto Paxton

"The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian."
Genesis 39:2

Quorum Report is a corrupt, low-circulation, publication that acts as glorified stenographers for Team Straus and their lobbyist cronies.  We don't read them often, but occasionally they provide unintentionally revealing glimpses into how the business as usual crowd thinks.  Yesterday was one such occasion.

First, some background: Last week, Byron Cook requested an Attorney General opinion related to eminent domain in his district.  We didn't read anything into it because incumbent legislators ask the TXAG's office for opinions related to any number of subjects all the time (and, silly us, we actually thought Byron Cook might have renewed interest in representing his district after only winning his last election by 225 votes).  Nevertheless, yesterday Quorum Report used Cook's request to conjure up palace intrigue where none exists:
June 20, 2016      4:45 PM

SB: Cook request for AG opinion on eminent domain puts Paxton in a difficult situation

Some Capitol observers wonder if the AG will help Chairman Cook block eminent domain powers in similar fashion to how he helped Gov. Abbott wrest more power from appropriators – especially given that Cook was a complainant in the criminal case against Paxton
Texas House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook last week looked to the Attorney General’s Office for help in shoring up the rights of property owners as a company prepares to build a bullet train from Houston to Dallas – with the proposed corridor cutting through Cook’s rural district.
“It would be problematic if a company that does not have the power of eminent domain was entering or directing others to enter upon property it did not have the right to condemn,” Cook wrote to Ken Paxton’s office. “Thus, this issue is of great importance to Texans, especially rural Texans, whose property is already being entered upon in preparation for the initiation of eminent domain proceedings.”
Putting aside for the moment the question of whether the rail line would be good for the state and its thousands of “super commuters,” Cook’s request raises another topic of discussion at the Texas Capitol: Will Paxton issue an opinion helpful to the very member of The Legislature who was a complainant in the felony case against Paxton on securities fraud?
By Scott Braddock
We will detail the multiple levels on which this is asinine below, but first one obvious point: The Attorney General's office, under Ken Paxton just like it would have done under Greg Abbott, will issue an opinion related to Cook's request that is consistent with whatever the law says as the law is currently written.

Returning to Paxton: Ken Paxton is going to continue to do the job for which the voters hired him for as long as it remains his responsibility to do so.  That's just who he is and that's what he's been doing since these charges emerged.  The fact that Byron Cook is the guy requesting the opinion isn't relevant.

Furthermore, it's not a secret that Ken Paxton is a Christian, and there's a Bible verse that's relevant:
Vengeance is Mine [God's], and recompense;
Their foot shall slip in due time;
For the day of their calamity is at hand,
And the things to come hasten upon them.’
Deuteronomy 32:35
In other words, from Ken Paxton's perspective, vengeance belongs to God; vengeance doesn't belong to Ken Paxton.

Finally, if you really want to look at this from a political perspective, is the completely obvious fact that being magnanimous to Cook only helps Paxton.  There's a thing in life called being the bigger man and Byron Cook just handed Ken Paxton a golden opportunity to do that.  This isn't even politics, it's human psychology.

We didn't think about it until we started working on this post, but one final bible verse:
On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
Romans 12:20
Bottom Line: That Ken Paxton's antagonists could misread Ken Paxton's professional, spiritual, and political interests this spectacularly tells us far more about them than it does about Ken Paxton.

Monday, June 20, 2016

TPPF helps STR users DEFEND THEMSELVES from City of Austin!!!

"A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor,
But he who hates covetousness will prolong his days."
Proverbs 28:16

Last winter, the Austin City Council banned a popular type of vacation residency ("Type 2" Short Term Rentals or "STR's"; aka. the anti-AirBnb Ordinance) within city limits. In so doing, they violated the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution, but they didn't expect anyone to fight back. This morning four STR owners, with assistance from the Texas Public Policy Foundation, fought back.

The lawsuit, Zaatari et. al vs City of Austin et. al, challenges the constitutionality of the city's regulation.  Specifically, by giving the Austin code department (yeah, THAT Austin code department) unlimited jurisdiction to perform warrantless searches on private residences to enforce the ordinance, the city violated the fourth amendment's provision against unreasonable searches.  In addition, by drawing an arbitrary distinction between residential leases under 30 days ("short-term") and leases over 30 days ("long-term"), the city violated the fourteenth amendment's equal protection clause.

The anti-AirBnb ordinance was part of council's bizarre campaign against innovation and the sharing economy.  Not that it's relevant to the underlying privacy and property rights issues, but fewer than 10% of all complaints ever filed against STR's have been related to noise or other 'bad neighbor' issues and there have been literally zero citations against STR's for those issues.  Readers are welcome to speculate about council's underlying motivation, but doing so is beyond the scope of this report.

In addition to a media conference call this morning, TPPF also helped arrange a media availability at an STR property owned by one of the plaintiffs this afternoon.  The property, located in Ann Kitchen's (yeah, we know) district, is owned by Ahmed Zaatari.  Zaatari, who immigrated from Lebanon in the late 1990's, converted the property to an STR about a year ago after he was laid off from an energy industry related job following the downturn in oil prices.  Zaatari typically rents the property in increments of two to four days.  In addition, Zaatari pays both property taxes and the City of Austin's 15% hotel occupancy tax.  To illustrate to absurdity of the ordinance, consider this: at the peak, between three media camera crews, this author, Zaatari, and four TPPF staffers, at one point there were 13 people on-site, which actually violated the ordinance (*).  Look at the picture above: Does it look like the property was overcrowded in any way, shape or form?!?

Most chillingly, Zaatari pointed out how the ordinance is "reminiscent of the system in Lebanon" where economic opportunity is doled out by political connections instead of merit.  In Lebanon, "what matters is who you know" and "you had to put yourself in servitude to some political boss."  Speaking of political bosses, Zaatari described a meeting he had with Ann Kitchen where she promised that council wouldn't attack "the good actors" (ie. the ones who actually follow the law and pay the city's taxes); we can see where that led.

We realized one final absurdity while we were at the property.  The city of Austin has more restrictions on STR properties than it has on frat houses.  Considering that the whole justification for this ordinance was cracking down on "party houses," that seems odd.

The city of Austin does not have authority to restrict private property rights in this manner.  Doing so violates, at least, the fourth and fourteenth amendments.  They weren't expecting anyone to fight back; they were wrong.


* - It wasn't planned that way, and there were 13 people on-site for less than ten minutes, but the fact that accidentally violated the ordinance during the media availability illustrates the silliness of the whole thing.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Revelation 7:1-8 -- In WRATH remember MERCY!!!

"After these things I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, on the sea, or on any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed:

of the tribe of Judah twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Reuben twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Gad twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Asher twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Naphtali twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Manasseh twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Simeon twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Levi twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Issachar twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed."
Revelation 7:1-8

Pastor Danny Forshee. Great Hills Baptist Church. October, 5 2014:

In Wrath Remember Mercy - Dr. Danny Forshee - October 5, 2014 from Great Hills Baptist Church on Vimeo.

  • 10% of the United States was saved during the third great awakening.
  • Temporary suspension during the tribulation.
  • Before you face the wrath of God for eternity, would you place your faith in Jesus Christ and bypass His wrath?!?
  • "I don't believe the Church replaces Israel."
  • "Most Jews today are atheists."
  • Martin Luther's dichotomy of the Bible: Law AND Grace!!!
  • "To stand for Christ and to preach Christ and to live for Christ; in certain parts of this world that is the most dangerous thing you can do."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Austin's uninspiring Uber/Lyft alternatives make pitches....

"Through wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;"
Proverbs 24:3

On Thursday afternoon, Capital Factory hosted an event for the new ridesharing companies that have emerged since the failure of Prop. 1.  We appreciate the work these companies are doing and think some of them (Luxe and Wingz specifically) have long-term potential.  Nevertheless, the notion that any of these companies can fill the void created by council's ridesharing restrictions in the short to medium term seems ambitious at best.

The six companies that presented were: RideAustin, Wingz, Arcade City, GetMe, Luxe, and Fasten; a few of them office at Capital Factory.

The most important takeaway is that every single one of these companies costs more than Uber and Lyft.  The price differential ranges from approximately 10% for Fasten to 20% for Wingz to essentially the same rate as taxis for GetMe.  Arcade City allows drivers to charge whatever they want to which the customer will agree; while that's great for the cause of decentralization, the fact that they couldn't even provide a range of prices was perhaps more revealing than intended.  (Of course, this is important because the appeal of Uber and Lyft has always been that their convenience is accompanied by a reasonable price.)

Unfortunately, several have technical issues that illustrate the challenges they will have becoming viable: RideAustin doesn't have an Android version of the App, Arcade City doesn't even have an app, GetMe has done 15 server updates since May, and Wingz requires you to book a ride at least an hour in advance.

By far, the most interesting company present was Luxe.  Their objective is to re-invent urban parking.  Luxe has valets drive your car to parking lots away from the urban core.  In other words, they're parking your car where land is cheaper than downtown.  By using land more efficiently, they probably have a very viable business model.  For example: parking in downtown Austin during the day ranges from $7 to $20 per hour; compared to that, $15 or so for Luxe is a bargain.  We also want to put in a good word for Wingz, who can probably find a profitable niche as an alternative to SuperShuttle type companies.

It's here that we must make an obvious point: Uber is actually a seven year old company.  They were already five years old when they came to Austin in 2014.  Thus, they had already smoothed out most of their technical and logistical issues before they scaled nationally.  Lyft is even older than Uber (though it operated under a different name until 2012).  Bless their hearts for trying, but all of these newer companies have more in common with Uber and Lyft circa 2010 than either of them today.

Bottom Line: This whole situation was completely avoidable and is completely depressing.


Watch the event for yourself:

Friday, June 17, 2016

UT's "Venture Fund": Guess how much the director is making....

"There is desirable treasure,
And oil in the dwelling of the wise,
But a foolish man squanders it."
Proverbs 21:20

LOL, $285k plus moving expenses:

Bottom Line: The open records process has its shortcomings, but sometimes it yields very useful information.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

About Streamlined Corridors: An Open Letter to Mayor Steve Adler

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."
1 John 4:1

Dear Mr. Mayor,

As I stated in my testimony Tuesday, I find your corridor proposal intriguing.  I think there could be a lot to work with in terms of applying the Pareto principle to Austin's mobility challenges without busting the budget.  I have one major concern and one piece of political advice that, if addressed, could lay the foundation for a diverse coalition of Austinites to support your idea.

First, my concern: Is the city transportation department capable of actually executing this plan in anything resembling a competent or timely manner?!?  It looks great on your website, but translating a plan like this into the real world is difficult for anyone, and the City of Austin's bureaucracy doesn't have a history that inspires confidence.  Absent a credible plan for execution, it's very difficult to say yes.

A corollary: If taking on five of these project at one time is biting off more than the city transportation department can chew, might it make more sense to select one corridor and use it as a model to prove the concept works?!?  If the city could prove the concept works, there would be a lot less opposition in the event y'all were to come back to us in a few years to request the funds to complete the project citywide.  Starting small would build credibility and trust.

The political advice: drop the word "smart."  With all due respect, citizens have seen politicians telling us how 'smart' they are since time immemorial.  For me personally, the word "smart" is one of three words ("bold" and "comprehensive" are the other two) that instantly set off my BS detector; changing that one word (ie. 'streamlined' instead of 'smart') could go a long way towards alleviating the cynicism that understandably accompanies most governmental requests for money.

I congratulate and thank you for presenting an idea that, at a minimum, cannot be dismissed out of hand.  That's already light years better than the dopey proposal with which the old council presented us two years ago.  While it's a start, I need to see how the city will follow through.

I look forward to watching how the full council and the city manager pursue this process.  I'd love to support it, but the devil with projects like this is always in the details.  Time will tell.

Adam Cahn
District 3
June 16, 2016

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

#ATXCouncil Mobility Bond hearing doesn't completely suck....

"And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."
Galatians 6:9

[Author's Note: The Austin Monitor has more here.]

Yesterday's council mobility committee hearing about a potential November transportation bond...was substantially less terrible than it could have been.  We suppose one benefit of low expectations is that they're not impossible to exceed.  We came into the hearing expecting to have guns blazing and to be a solid "Hell NO"; we are pleased to report that, at least for now, that attitude is premature.

If you're looking for takeaways, here's two: the mobility committee cut the price tag from the Mayor's proposal into less than half AND Don Zimmerman voted "AYE" on Council Member Kitchen's (yes, THAT Ann Kitchen) proposal.

[Note: Our testimony can be found at the 68:15 mark.]

We encouraged council to "think small" and to use this process "to build trust."  It doesn't take a genus to realize that, between the 2014 rail bond and the recent Prop. 1 debacle, relations between council and the citizenry are (to put it mildly) frayed.  We believe a small proposal can allow tangible progress to be made in some areas while simultaneously lowering the temperature in the room as we discuss longer term solutions.  We also support breaking any potential bond package into its component parts, giving voters a diverse mosaic of a la carte options and allowing them to direct council.  We were pleasantly surprised that several other speakers, who might not share our philosophical outlook, also encouraged Council to break any potential bond package into it's component parts.  We fear a big, clunky, bond package with lots of moving parts will be as divisive and noxious as the two previous referenda mentioned above.  If there were ever a time for cautious incrementalism over "boldness," a November 2016 transportation bond is it.

As to substance, we remain intrigued (though far from sold) by Mayor Adler's proposal to streamline major city corridors.  Between the bus 'queue jumps', the left turn 'bays', and the traffic signal timing improvements there could be a lot of low hanging fruit that could substantially improve mobility on major city streets without busting the budget.  Done properly, streamlining major city corridors could encapsulate the Pareto principle.  That being said, we have little faith in the ability of the city's transportation department to implement the corridor proposal in anything resembling a competent or timely manner.  Depending on the details, we are also open to discussing a modestly sized package that could begin to address Austin's woefully inadequate sidewalks.  We are open to a modest amount of highway expansion, though we doubt there's time to do anything effective in time for November.  In many ways, highways are similar to rail in that right now probably isn't the time to do something that divisive.

The crowd that testified ran the gamut.  Many supported the corridor plan.  Some supported rail.  Some supported bike paths.  Sidewalks seemed to be almost universally popular.  Listening to the diverse array of preferences solidified our conviction that any transportation package should be broken into its component parts and presented to voters a la carte.  One personal note: We were astonished by the number of people who used their opportunity to testify to espouse vague gobbledygook yet were unable to ask council "we would like you to do x, y, or z" regardless of whatever x, y, or z might have been.

Council member Garza probably captured the sentiment in the room best when she voiced her concerns about "bond fatigue" and wondered whether "it's too soon" for another major transportation initiative.  The committee voted to move forward a placeholder proposal to enable discussion at the full council.  In the event a bond proposition does move forward, we will know the details by August; we (really, really, really) hope it doesn't come to this but, if necessary, that's more than enough time to mount an opposition campaign.

Bottom Line: Yesterday's hearing epitomized the best of what 10-1 is supposed to be.  The process was open, inclusive, and fair and we commend Council member Kitchen (*) for diligently allowing everyone to express their views without it turning into a logistical cluster[you-know-what].  Time will tell....


* - Betcha didn't see that one coming!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

WillCo residents file lawsuit to remove Duty....

"For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful
Have opened against me;
They have spoken against me with a lying tongue."
Psalm 109:2

Two Williamson County residents sued District Attorney Jana Duty on Monday, seeking to force her out of office after she was sanctioned this month by the State Bar of Texas and served jail time last year for violating a gag order.

The Texas Constitution provides that county officials may be removed for incompetency and official misconduct, the lawsuit says.

“Duty’s serial violations of court orders and the laws of the State of Texas, her history and pattern of dishonesty and untrustworthiness, and her dereliction and abandonment of her responsibilities of the office of the District Attorney have compromised the integrity and the effectiveness of the office … and the Williamson County criminal justice system,” the lawsuit says.


The suit asks that a district judge temporarily suspend Duty and appoint another person to serve as district attorney until Shawn Dick — who beat Duty in the Republican primary in March — takes office in January. The lawsuit requested a jury trial.

[h/t: Lawerence Person's Battleswarm Blog]
Then there's this (we know we shouldn't celebrate it, but this tactic has been used so many times against our guys that's it's hard to not indulge a little shadenfreude seeing the shoe on the other foot):
Duty is responsible for paying her own legal fees
Read the whole thing here.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Villalba's doing...WHAT?!?

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction."
Proverbs 1:7

What could POSSIBLY go wrong?!?
Rep. Jason Villalba is helping launch LightSwitch Solutions, an Austin-based public relations and consulting firm with plans to shape opinion about local policy, mostly on behalf of businesses and other private entities.

“Whether you are seeking to marshal to passage a controversial school bond package, shape public opinion on an important initiative, effect a change to the county’s rules for online cab service, or amend the city’s charter,” the company’s website said Friday afternoon, “LightSwitch is uniquely qualified to get you the results that you seek.”

Villalba was listed as the firm's CEO.

That and all other information was scrubbed from the website shortly after the Tribune interviewed the Dallas Republican and one of his partners at the company: Trey Newton, a longtime political operative and former chief of staff to Land Commissioner George P. Bush.


The biography that initially appeared on the scrubbed LightSwitch website said Villalba has a “peculiar understanding of and ability to shape public opinion. That is an asset that Jason didn’t learn in business school, but in the rough and tumble works of Texas politics.”

Smith said he found the salesman-like description of Villalba's public office job problematic.

“He’s using his position as a state legislator as part of the reason why you should hire him, which raises both eyebrows,” he said.
Read the whole thing here.

McRaven rearranges deck chairs on the Titanic....

"For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,"
2 Timothy 3:2

As part of what Chancellor Bill McRaven is calling an "organizational assessment," the University of Texas System has implemented a "soft" hiring freeze and is considering layoffs., according to a memo obtained by The Texas Tribune.

About 50 jobs that are currently vacant will be eliminated, McRaven wrote, and the system is developing a voluntary buyout program for employees who are eligible for retirement. In addition, some employees could lose their jobs, the memo indicated.

"I want to be very candid with all of you," McRaven wrote in the memo to staff. "We are also looking at a Reduction in Force [RIF] that may occur after we determine the extent of the voluntary separation. If it is determined in September that RIFs are necessary, we will work extremely hard to ensure those being considered are notified as soon as possible and treated with the dignity and respect that is the hallmark of the system."

The cuts would apply specifically to the system offices, not UT-Austin or any of the other member universities.
Oh, wait:
A portion of the money saved will go toward a list of major projects that McRaven has proposed, which he calls "quantum leaps." Those projects include efforts to improve literacy among school-aged Texas children, build a leadership program available to all UT System students, open a new system campus in Houston and create research networks devoted to national security and brain health.

The Houston project in particular has generated some controversy. Leaders of a task force designed to come up with a plan for the site are expected to update the public on their work next week.

[Author's Note: Emphasis added.]
In other words, they're taking money out of one pocket to put in another and trying to pass it off as some sort of  "cost savings."

Also, the Trib article contains this gem:
At the same time, the system plans to start implementing a 2 percent merit salary increase program that will be available to top employees within the 600-person system offices.
  • This is actually window dressing to grease the skids for a pay increase "to TOP employees" (ie. senior management).
  • 600 employees in the system office alone; let that one sink in.
Bottom Line: No matter how hard Chancellor McRaven urinates on our leg, it is not raining.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Revelation 6:12-17 -- The Seals Are Broken (Part 3)

Sixth Seal: Cosmic Disturbances

I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.  And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.  Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place.  And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains,  and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
Revelation 6:12-17

Pastor Danny Forshee.  Great Hills Baptist Church.  September 21, 2014:

The Seals Are Broken, Part 3 - Dr. Danny Forshee - September 21, 2014 from Great Hills Baptist Church on Vimeo.

  1. The Devastation of God's Judgement (vv. 12 - 14)
    A. A Great Earthquake
           Psalm 68:8
           Haggai 2:21-22
    B. The Sun is Black
           Isaiah 13:10
           Joel 2:31
    C. The Blood Moon
    D. The Stars of Heaven will fall
    E. The Sky recedes like a scroll
    F. ?!?
  2. The Determination of the Earth Dwellers (vv. 15 - 17)
           Romans 8:31, 35, 37
           Romans 10:9, 13
  • "You will know Him as Judge eventually" if you don't get to know Him as your savior first.
  • Those who spit in God's face will eventually face the day of God's wrath.
  • You would think people on Earth, as the events of the Tribulation unfold exactly as the Bible says they would, would repent and follow the Bible; but they do the exact opposite.
  • You HAVE to face Him.  He's everywhere.  Whether you like it or not.
  • Either the world is right or God is right.
  • You will either be saved or you will be damned; "if there was a third way I'd be preaching it."
  • "Aren't you glad Jesus Christ took the wrath of God so that we can go eternally scott free?!?"

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Byron Cook, Dubya, and the Crawford Ranch

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”
1 Corinthians 15:33

While working on our piece about the Paxton case yesterday, we decided to look into connections between Byron Cook and the Bushes.  We we're not prepared for what we found.  From the 2008 book Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (via Google Books):
"Find me a ranch," Bush had ordered a Texas developer and politician named Byron Cook during the summer of 1998, after the governor had cashed out his share of the Texas Rangers.
 From the 2009 book The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney (via Google Books):
Crawford was a somewhat random location -- it had been chosen by Byron Cook, an Austin developer -- and the location had little connection to Bush's family or friends.  Bush had asked Cook in 1998 to find a large site for a home that he wanted to build for his retirement.  Money was no problem, since Bush had built up a reserve of funds from selling his ownership stake in the Texas Rangers.
Free Republic preserved this 2002 DMN article:
Deep in the heart of the Texas ballot, GOP state House hopeful Byron Cook of Corsicana uses his Web site to tell voters how he helped President Bush find his Crawford ranch.
Bottom Line: This really isn't surprising, but my goodness does it explain A LOT!!!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Former SEC Chief Council calls BS on Obama Administration's anti-Paxton pile on....

"Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."
2 Timothy 3:12

Well, well, well....

A lawyer who previously served as the chief litigation counsel in the enforcement division at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), filed a motion to dismiss the SEC civil lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday. He writes, “In short, the SEC’s claims against Mr. Paxton are a dramatic overreach and lack any basis in law.”

The 29-page pleading filed by Paxton’s defense urges that the SEC does not claim that Paxton ever lied or made a misrepresentation, and that no one has alleged they lost money in any of the transactions involving Paxton. The motion also states that the SEC’s argument that Paxton failed to disclose that he could receive a commission for touting securities, and that he had not investigated the company, runs counter to decades of case law precedent that has never required such discussions or actions.

Paxton’s lead counsel in the civil SEC case served as the Chief Litigation Counsel for the Division of Enforcement at the SEC, and he clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. He also served as lead counsel for the SEC in its highest-profile enforcement case arising out of the 2008 financial crisis – the case against former Goldman Sachs Vice President Fabrice Tourre.

Ken Paxton has hired Matthew T. Martens to represent him in the civil securities fraud lawsuit filed by the SEC. Martens filed a motion explaining why the federal lawsuit against Paxton must be dismissed with prejudice.

The SEC filed the lawsuit against the Texas AG one week to the day before he was to lead a coalition of 26 states at the U.S. Supreme Court in the executive amnesty case against President Obama.


The claim that Paxton’s “introduction of several acquaintances (all of who were experienced accredited investors) to Servergy over a three-week period almost five years ago somehow rendered him a professional securities broker” is “nonsense,” they write. The broker registration requirements apply only to individuals who are “in the business of effecting transactions in securities for the account of others.”

Martens, Paxton’s lead counsel, managed the SEC’s enforcement litigation unit. The unit included 40 lawyers in the SEC’s headquarters in Washington, and lawyers in all of its eleven regional offices. He supervised the only three litigated Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cases ever tried to date. He counseled commissioners in complex SEC enforcement matters and former SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro told Reuters, Martens has “this extraordinary ability to, in a very cogent, concise, logical way, pull all the information together that was necessary for us to make a decision.”
Read the whole thing here.