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Posts from the Politics Category

An OpEd in the December 12, 2014 Houston Chronicle by a United Airlines employee really has me scratching my head. In it, Mark Segaloff posits that Emirates’s status as an airline hinges on them being state owned and that they are able to hurt U.S. airlines because of their use of the Import/Export bank to finance their aircraft. He continues, stating that state-owned airlines cause domestic U.S. carriers to lose business and suffer, costing jobs. While my heart is with Mr. Segaloff, my head is not.

Emirates A380 - Mark Harkin

Emirates A380 – Mark Harkin

It is true that there has been some concern about state-owned airlines coming into the U.S. and hurting domestic carriers. Even European carriers have stated that the Middle East carriers pose a serious risk to their business in the region. Here’s the kicker though, the European carriers are really the only ones with skin in the game. They are the ones with multiple flights to multiple destinations in the Middle East. U.S. carriers fall well behind when it comes to service to places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kuwait City and others. In fact, United could not make their Washington-Dulles to Doha, Qatar (with a stop in Dubai) route work, so they pulled that service.

Mr. Segaloff’s key point is that the Emirates flight will cost Houston jobs. I fail to see any facts in the article as to why that would happen. United offers a once daily flight to Dubai from Dulles. If they want to compete directly for those dollars from potential customers out of Houston, maybe start non-stop service? Maybe offer a product that is not being degraded by installing slimline seats, reducing seat pitch, and generally making the travel experience sub-par. I know that Mr. Segaloff would probably retort, “But they are a state-owned airline with all the money in the world to make service improvements.” to which I would simply give him a link to United making a record profit in Q3 of 2014. There seems to be some money for improvement there, yet United offers 2-4-2 seating in business class on the Dubai flight. No thanks, I would rather take the non-stop from Houston (avoiding Dulles) in 1-2-1 seating on the A380. United does offer a number of one-stop options to a number of Emirates destinations via their antitrust immune joint venture with carriers such as ANA and Lufthansa. Granted, the service standards are not the same as Emirates but there are options that make money for United and their partners.

Something that Mr. Segaloff fails to mention is that the Emirates service to Houston is not new, it is simply bigger now. Truth be told, Emirates used to offer two daily flights to Houston from Dubai and with those two flights they actually had more seats (532) flying to Dubai than they do now with the A380 (489/517 depending on version). Where were the complaints when Emirates was running that second flight?

There have been a number of announcements of service to Houston by carriers that are not state-owned and not from the Middle East but these seem to do little to upset employees. But from an airline business perspective, these new routes are the worrisome ones. Korean has started non-stop service to Seoul, which I had heard was off to a rocky start but is doing better now. ANA announced service to Tokyo, EVA has schedules loaded to Taipei, and there are rumors that British Airways wants to bring an A380 to Houston for one of their two flights a day. ANA and EVA are Star Alliance partners with United, but Korean brings a good product and a fantastic network in Asia. Where is the uproar against that?

The Import/Export Bank is actually a valid concern, especially when the money is not spent the way it was meant to be spent, helping a foreign company grow by buying American goods. However, I do not think Emirates has any problem letting that money fall away. In fact, that money is specifically for Boeing jets, not for the Airbus A380 that Emirates is bringing to Houston.

I think one place where Mr. Segaloff could apply is argument is to the new Emirates flight linking New York City with Milan, Italy. This is a city pair that is served by two U.S. carriers, Delta from JFK and United from Newark. Now you have a third foreign carrier on the route who is trying to bring down the prices but not having much success. But I do not think it’s a question of letting foreign carriers operate routes from the U.S. to their respective hubs but whether or not those foreign carriers should be allowed to operate so called “Fifth Freedom” routes like New York-Milan ad infinitum. A number of carriers do this but use that fifth freedom flight to connect to their hub at the end. Out of Houston, Singapore Airlines flies to Moscow and then onward to Singapore. They are allowed to sell tickets to Moscow or Singapore out of Houston and they fill their plane. It’s a win/win. But when do those flights become anti-competitive? That’s for the FAA and DOT to sort out.

It is one thing to cry wolf when there is a valid concern but to say that Emirates and their A380 is going to hurt Houston is simply fiction. If anything, the Emirates service is helping strengthen the Houston economy by offering one-stop service to places that were previously unreachable without 2 or more stops. It will also continue to keep prices relatively competitive, which is good for the consumer. Sure, United may not like that, but how many passengers are they really flying a day to Dubai? How many are they flying to Europe for Middle East connections? United has a choice to make, they can up their game and focus on becoming a world class international carrier or they can relegate themselves to a middle-tier domestic focused carrier with a product that just barely keeps up with the competition. That decision will dictate the fate of those jobs that Mr. Segaloff is concerned about, not a single Emirates A380 flight a day to Houston.

TSA Chief Grilled by House Subcommittee →

The committee chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., opened the hearing by suggesting the agency’s staffing is bloated and could be reduced by 30% to 40%. Referring to the Fort Myers, he asked what it takes to get fired from TSA.

“I believe you are too bogged down in managing an oversized workforce to mitigate the next potential threat,” Rogers said.

Nail on the head.

I ran across this article the other day and I can’t help but feel sorry for the woman involved. Lori Dorn is a breast cancer patient who had a bilateral mastectomy in April and, as a result, had tissue expanders inserted to make way for a later breast implant. During a TSA body scanner inspection at JFK these tissue expanders caused Lori Dorn to be pulled aside for “secondary” screening. She explained her situation and asked to retrieve the cards with the expander information. She was refused this courtesy and was told that unless she underwent the secondary screening of her breast area she would not be flying that day.

The TSA agents have a job to do, I understand that, but they should treat their jobs with the same dignity and respect that they would want to receive. It is ridiculous that this woman was not able to retrieve the card explaining the expanders, even though not being able to see your bags is a violation of the TSA’s own suggestions. There has to come a point where we say “enough” and rectify this situation.

My last few trips have shown me that more and more people are becoming comfortable with these TSA procedures, making it harder to ever change them.

 

[disclaimer] The article website contains language that is not suitable for young people and is fairly strong. [/disclaimer]

John Gruber points to Mike Arrington’s article that responds to Warren Buffett calling for higher taxes for the rich. Specifically, he points out the following:

What I really didn’t understand until recently though is why so many rich Americans seem to loathe their richness as much as everyone else does. Many in Silicon Valley want to tax the rich into the middle class and let government spend and spend and spend. The super rich tech elite flock to Obama, joining in the call to screw the rich as loudly as all the rest.

Gruber then goes into detail about how the economy was so much better under Clinton and then links that success directly to marginal tax rates. He pays no attention to spending and the increase we’ve seen lately. Sure, entitlement spending is up and in the long term we’re going to have to deal with it, but during Clinton’s presidency spending was lower. It’s easy to create a surplus when your budget doesn’t skyrocket due to increases in spending for food stamps, housing, etc. and yes, your taxes are a bit higher.

My problem with all of this is that everyone wants to focus on their brand of a “solution” rather than examining the problem for what it is, spending more than you’re taking in, and trying to solve that. If Democrats were a family and had $100k in debt, they’d get another credit card to cover themselves. If Republicans were in the same situation they’d, well, I’m not sure what they would do. Maybe stop paying into their retirement or going out to movies.

The answer really is somewhere in the middle. Maybe some short term credit (temporary tax increase) along with some significant cutting in short and long term programs. The problem is, this isn’t an answer to the economy’s problems, it’s an answer to the budget and debt’s problems.

I write about this day almost every year, but it’s a day that deserves such an honor.

My post from 2006 is probably the best reminder of that day, so I am re-posting it here.

My Fellow Americans:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

Franklin D. Roosevelt – June 6, 1944

The uncertainty of the success of the invasion and the possible repercussions if the invasion was a failure is clearly on the mind of the President. 12,000 Allied soldiers gave their lives that day, and many more did the same until the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945. Their sacrifice and the service of those who made it home can never be overstated.

Yes, I’m sure you’ve already had enough of the headlines. I just thought it was pertinent to post a few interesting tidbits that have come out of the news of bin Laden’s death.

  1. Pakistan was not informed of the raid or of bin Laden’s killing until after the raid.
  2. This speaks volumes to the amount of trust, or lack thereof, that we have of the Pakistani government. Sure, they were supplying us with phone taps and some other intelligence, but they were clearly unwilling to act upon any of it.

  3. There was intelligence in place as far back as 2007 that lead to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, most importantly, the real name of a courier that was making trips to the compound.
  4. It is not clear where all of this intelligence came from, but there are a number of places stating that it was gathered from prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay facility.

  5. Lastly, the President ordered a daring raid rather than a bombing mission against the compound
  6. My hat is off to President Obama. Rather than taking a risk of having bin Laden miraculously escape a bombing raid he made the tough decision to put American lives at risk by sending them deep into Pakistan. He certainly could have gone the Clinton route and ordered a cruise missile strike but instead made sure that the job was done right. Good job Mr. President. And good job President Bush.

In closing, I do not think that the death of Osama bin Laden will lead to less of a threat for Americans or westerners in general. The United States and other fighting forces had put the clamp on Obama’s ability to effectively wage war in Afghanistan and I think that’s why we have seen a lot of build-up in places such as Yemen. Bin Laden was a figurehead and while it is good that he is gone, we should not be eager to let our guard down.

Good ol’ Krugman,  once again leaving out important facts in order to wiggle his way into finding some Republican fiscal responsibility for any and all messes.

In his usual way, Mr. Krugman gets straight to the point with this:

And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

What he fails to point out is that the majority of the Texas budget is spent both on healthcare and education. How do I know this? Texas conveniently publishes a fact book that you can find here (2010). Page 33 is what you are wanting to read, of $77.6 billion in state revenue, 56.3% was spent on education and 22.8% on health and human services. That amounts to around $43.6 billion spent on education (higher education and public education) and $17.7 billion spent on health and human services. The next closest item on the budget is criminal justice and public safety, which received 9.4% of the state’s budget or $7.3 billion.

Krugman is insinuating that we do not spend enough and that budget cuts will have a deep impact across the state. There’s no doubt that there will be a hit on health and human services but I think the problem is how the funds are being spent within their different agencies, not in the amount the agencies have received before. A lot of mid-sized school districts are estimating $14 million to $20 million a year being cut from their budgets if the plan goes through. If 85% of a district’s money is being spent on personnel, I’d like to see who’s earning what. My money is on the admin side making a decent chunk of change. Maybe some cuts can be made in the admin buildings without making a dent in teacher numbers.

The Texas budget crisis is this, they could cut all other department funding completely and would still have to cut some out of education and health and human services. Tax revenue for the state has dropped to around 2006 levels, which begs the question, why can’t we return to 2006 spending levels? Technically we could, but it would still require personnel cuts in education. The real question is, would it have dire consequences on your children if their classroom size jumped to 30? The research says that the jury is still out on class size having anything to do with graduation rate. Krugman is simply echoing what school districts are screaming across the state which is, “Call your representative! Education is going to die in Texas!”. It’s a little extreme isn’t it? Especially since the estimated budgets for the schools would simply return to 2005 numbers. Have our graduation rates really gone up that much since then? No.

On the chopping block for education are a litany of programs, including parts of the TELPAS program, an assessment for English language learners. While I’m sure the motives behind the program were good, the program has grown to be a beast both in terms of money and in time. And it’s what we are doing with the information we glean from the assessment that is so worrisome. Rather than spending extra time specifically with students who are not English proficient, a lot of districts simply slow the entire class down, in order to avoid the student from feeling awkward. Education’s role is not keeping a student’s social life intact, it’s to educate them.

Another item that people keep insisting would help us is dipping into the state’s rainy day fund, which sits around $9.7 billion. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, knock down our deficit to $18 billion with our entire savings account, sounds like a stellar plan. Instead, let’s keep that money for a time when we really, really need it.

One of the things I am actually in agreement with Krugman on is the issue of taxes. Most of the state’s budget comes from sales tax and I would be alright with a 1% increase in the tax, taking the rate up to 9.25% (includes local and county collection). Before you tell me how I’m not conservative, let me just explain why this is an acceptable compromise. By raising the sales tax rate, you are not increasing franchise fees or “punishing” the poor, you are simply making it a little more expensive for people to consume. Since a lot of items are not taxable, people have the ability to avoid the taxes or significantly minimize them. The other plus is that sales tax is easy to roll back, while things like franchise taxes and property taxes have a nasty way of sticking around after being implemented.

In the end, something has to give. Either a slight tax increase, budget cuts, or a little bit of both is necessary to get this thing under control. Go to your school board meetings, look at their budget. If they are spending a lot more on administrators than on teachers, call it in to question. Maybe they can make cuts around your district without actually affecting the class room.

Niall Ferguson, Professor of History at Harvard University and columnist for Newsweek, spoke his mind on the foreign policy decisions by the Obama administration and it seems, took the MSNBC hosts off guard. Professor Ferguson is by no means a conservative so my guess is that the MSNBC personalities were looking at the interview as being easy going. His description of the Obama administration’s attempt at foreign policy is spot on:

As far as I can see, President Obama’s strategic concept is “I’m not George W. Bush. Love me.”

If you can’t see the video, you can visit MSNBC and watch it here.

It should be noted that the one host seems a bit disgusted with the whole interview and you can hear her choke a little after Niall so bluntly states his case.

Black Mother Jailed for Sending Kids to White School District

That link has been lighting up the internet today and I couldn’t help but address it. The gist of the article is that a black woman, Kelly Williams-Bolar, was convicted of fraud for claiming to live at a different address so that her children could go to a school in that address’s neighborhood. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail and 3 years of probation in this felony case.

Beyond that, the article goes into a diatribe of how this is an attack on blacks and that no white woman would ever be convicted of such a crime. It also makes the claim that “…it’s not like she stole $30,000 from the district…”. All of this is hyperbole with no factual basis. The woman tampered with court records. End of story. It does not matter if your reasons are noble, a crime was committed.

Since this was a felony conviction Williams-Bolar is no longer eligible to be a teacher, which is what she was in school to become. Some call this harsh and unfair but if a doctor committed a crime that affected one’s health, people would be screaming for his license.

Truth be told, I do believe the sentence was a bit harsh and I wish they had convicted her of a misdemeanor crime (or at least let her plead to one). It is tough to see someone who wants to better themselves dig the hole deeper, but we see it all of the time.

The most worrisome part in all of this is the language used by the writer of the article. It’s harsh, it’s hateful, and it’s vitriolic. The writer takes broad strokes to paint a picture of segregation still prevalent in this country without any negative regard for Williams-Bolar’s actions. Rather than admitting that what the woman did was wrong, Boyce Watkins immediately throws the blame at the courts, the country, and the educational system. The only good thing Mr. Watkins did in his write up is make sure to get his statistical terms correct, using correlation rather than causation.

*cue comments that I’m a racist*