Friday, April 26, 2013

Sequester Oh Oh: Public not buying it. Senate reacts. President's Pain Strategy Failing.

A photo from the Laredo Air Force Base (now the Laredo International
Airport) control tower in the early 1970's.  Photo courtesy of
 Frank Vida, a former USAF air traffic controller at the base.
Last night the United States Senate, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) miraculously found money to get to the U.S. Department of Transportation so they would not have to furlough air traffic controllers, thereby ending the phony flight delays the president demanded.  The bill being introduced by Reid would allow the U.S. Department of Transportation to shift $253 million to the FAA budget.

Yes folks, you read it, a budget line shift within the U.S. DOT.  It is all that is needed.  No tax increase, no borrowing, no extra spending.  Only a transfer of funds that will be taken from, obviously, budget lines that are not critical to the operation of the U.S. DOT.  

As I, and many others have said all along, the sequester, which came out of the White House and voted for by both parties, became what President Obama believed would be a wedge issue for the 2014 mid-term elections.  

The President is losing the blame game he is so famous for on this issue.  In fact, his desire to inflict pain on the American public to prove a political point and then blame Republicans is at best disgusting, and politically impeachable.  In all my adult years of living with various Presidents, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush, Clinton, and GW Bush, never did one of them ever willfully wish to inflict pain on the American people to try to prove a political point. 

Don't believe me.  Read this Washington Post article about an administration email to the US Department of Agriculture.  

I take you back to a CNN interview of Ray LaHood, the departing U.S. Secretary of Transportation.  This interview was conducted in February 2013.  These notes are from Newsbusters .  

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: As far as we can figure out, the FAA budget - we're not even talking about the transportation - is about $15 billion give or take. They’re going to have to cut $600 million, about 4 percent. Why is that enough to cause planes to be delayed for an hour and a half? There surely must be things inside the FAA budget where can you get rid of 4 percent.

RAY LAHOOD, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: And we’re going to do that, Candy. We have been spending the last several months looking at, and we will really focus on this now, every contract to see what penalties we might have to take. We’re going to cancel contracts. We’re going to look at everything we possibly can to get to where we need to be, which is about $600 million in cuts, but we can't do it without also furloughing people. And we’re going to have to, the largest number of people…

CROWLEY: 4 percent is just, that's a very big budget. And let me add something else. A Republican from Capitol Hill in the leadership office messaged and said, listen, the budget committee took a look at some of these numbers, and they found post-sequester, your post-sequester total at FAA ops and facilities and equipment is going to be about $500 million more than 2008 and the planes were running just fine. So, what's, I'm trying to figure out, as you know, people are saying the administration is exaggerating this. So, if you're going to be having totals inflation-adjusted at 2008 levels, why all of this [unintelligible] oh my goodness, all the planes are going to be late?

LAHOOD: Well first of all, we're required to cut $1 billion. The largest number of employees at DOT is at FAA of which the largest number are FAA controllers. We're going to try and cut as much as we possibly can out of contracts and other things that we do. But in the end there has to be some kind of furlough of air traffic controllers. And that, then, will also begin to curtail or eliminate the opportunity for them to guide planes in and out of airports. It's a big part of our budget.
Watch Crowley's response:

 CROWLEY: Is it true that domestic flights are down 27 percent from pre-9/11 levels and the budget at the FAA is up 41 percent?

LAHOOD: Well, look. We know that airlines have consolidated. We've approved some of those consolidations. And in doing that, you know, a certain …

CROWLEY: There's less traffic.

LAHOOD: There's less traffic, of course.

CROWLEY: But more budget.

LAHOOD: Well, look, budgets go up and down, but the bottom line here is that there is sequester required. It's required by law. It means we have to make these cuts. This not stuff that we just decided to make up.

CROWLEY: No, I understand. I guess what I'm trying to get at is that people think, wait a minute, there surely has to be money that you can take, and you say you're going to look at it, without having to have delayed flights. And the idea is that this was kind of ginned up by the administration, and not just you, but, you know, aircraft carriers can't go here and there to try to put pressure on Congress.

I believe what Secretary LaHood wanted to say was;  "Look Candy, the President does not want us to look for cuts that make sense.  This whole thing is about winning a very important election for the President's legacy.   The American people should shut up, and let this play out, blame the Republicans like they have been trained to do, and elect enough Democrats to give the President the House and Senate.  Then, the President can lead us truly to the promised land."

And, I believe, he would further state;  "So Candy, quit trying to tell the American public that there is plenty of money in our budget to keep the planes flying safely.  It does not matter that our budget is up 41% since 9-11.  It does not matter that there are fewer planes flying now than back then.  THE AMERICAN PEOPLE DO NOT MATTER.  What matters is the President's agenda." 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

CBP and Border Patrol Report Drug Seizures: Why not report the apprehensions of those trying to enter the US illegally?

Today the Laredo Morning Times, as they do often, reported that CBP had seized eight pounds of methamphetamine and 10 pounds of cocaine.

I like to see these reports, as it keeps the public up to date as to what is crossing our border.  The only problem that I have is the reporting of the "street value" of the drugs confiscated as if that was what it cost the cartels in losses.  But that subject is for another post.

What I would really like to see is a weekly, or at least monthly report, on the amount of people that were detained/apprehended/refused entry by CBP and Border Patrol who tried to enter the country illegally.  This could be segmented into those that were denied visas, and those that attempted to bypass the normal inspection process.  You know, by swimming across the river, hiding in a tractor trailer, what ever.  These numbers would certainly help the politicians in the immigration debate.  Trends would be established and the efficiency of our border protection systems could be measured.

The numbers most likely are being kept, it is time to make them public.  Most Laredoans care just as much about what is coming across our border illegally as who and how many are coming across our border illegally.

PS: I know they are all CBP, but Border Patol and Customs do keep separate metrics.

What say you?:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

West Texas Plant Explosion: Too early to assign blame

The explosion at the chemical plant is West, Texas last week is still under investigation and as of this posting, no true cause of the explosion has been reported.
Until that time when the cause of the explosion is reported, I will not speculate on who is, or is not at fault.
But, what is happening, is that the media are all looking for anything to report on this tragedy, and they seem to have landed on the failure of the plant to properly report exact chemical amounts, security measures in place at the facility, and emergency plans concerning terrorist attack to the Department of Homeland Security under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).
CFATS is not a safety program designed to make plant operations or material handling safe.  It is a program designed to allow DHS to understand threats to the security of the United States.  It is designed to allow DHS to assist chemical manufacturers, suppliers, and storage facilities to mitigate the possibility of terrorist attack.  
In fact, congressional hearing on CFATS has shown there are significant problems with the program.  And I would venture to say that a small chemical manufacturing plant located in a community of under 10,000 people was even on DHS radar as a potential terrorist target.
What the press should be asking is did the company report it's chemical quantities correctly under the Environmental Protection Agency's EPCRA reporting system.  This is the system in which local fire and public safety agencies are made aware of chemical risk.
The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 (EPCRA) was created to help communities plan for emergencies involving hazardous substances. The Act establishes requirements for federal, state and local governments, Indian tribes, and industry regarding emergency planning and "Community Right-to-Know" reporting on hazardous and toxic chemicals. The Community Right-to-Know provisions help increase the public's knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities, their uses, and releases into the environment. States and communities, working with facilities, can use the information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.
There are four major provisions of EPCRA:
  • Emergency Planning (Sections 301 — 303)
  • Emergency Release Notification (Section 304)
  • Hazardous Chemical Storage Reporting (Sections 311 — 312)
  • Toxic Chemical Release Inventory (Section 313)
If they met EPCRA standards, then the reporting should be considered adequate.  As far as I know, there has been no reporting that the plant explosion was a terrorist attack.

So, in reality, no one knows what caused the explosion at this time.  I will wait for that cause to be be declared before I rush to issue judgement.  I like everyone else in the United States benefits greatly from our chemical industry.  Without today's modern chemicals, our country and world would not be as safe, healthy, or prosperous as we are.

Of course, there are risk associated with everything we do or own in our lives.  Just being born exposes one to risk.  

It is for this reason that everyone should take a deep breath and wait for the outcome of the investigation of the cause of the explosion.  And be ready to hear that a human made a mistake that cost the lives of many people.  It is not the first time, nor will it be the last.  

The only thing we can do is look at the cause, see if there are steps than can be taken to prevent the cause, and implement them.  But we cannot chastise a whole industry or set of existing safety rules based on the information we now have.

PS.  Texas industry is required to follow EPA and DHS regulations.  No state or city has much control over the rules and regulations that the EPA or DHS has in place.  Federal regulations preempt state laws in the majority of cases regarding chemical manufacturing, storage, handling, and transportation. So those of you wishing to blame Texas, not this time.

Sequestration Update: How would Andy Griffith respond?

Opie throwing a fit on the floor in front of his father.
If you love the Andy Griffith show as much as I do, you will undoubtedly remember the episode called titled The Spoiled Kid.

Here is a quick outline of the plot.  Mayberry is having a bit of a problem with a boy who is continually riding his bike on the sidewalks and knocking people over. The boy, Arnold Winkler, has just gotten his new bicycle and for Opie, it's a beauty. Actually, Opie thinks Arnold, who has just moved to Mayberry with his family, is the luckiest kid around. He not only has a new $70 bike, but he gets a much bigger allowance and doesn't have to do chores to get it. He thinks Opie is a sap and gives him some hints on how to get what he wants out of parents, like stomping your feet, holding your breath and pretending to cry. When Opie tries it with Andy, it doesn't get him very far. When Andy and Barney impound Arnold's bike for again riding on the sidewalk, they get a visit from the boy's father who soon comes to realize just how selfish and arrogant his little boy is.

So, Tom, how is it even possible that this episode of a long gone television show is related to today's events involving sequester?

Well, here I go:  Just think of President Obama and his cabinet as the "spoiled kid."  This spoiled kid refuses to accept a small reduction in the growth of his allowance.  Remember, his allowance does not shrink, but instead of getting a $1 increase in allowance, he only gets $.95 cents.  His allowance of $250 is only going up to $250.95 instead of $251.00, a 2 percent reduction in growth.

Now, the President goes to the public and says, hey Paw (new name for voters), why are you cutting my allowance, you always gave me a dollar raise, now you are taking money out of my pocket.  Paw says, well Mr. President, I am not taking one penny from you, I actually am giving you more money, and you need to spend it wisely. 

Well, that is not good enough for the President, so he, and his gang of kids (the cabinet) decide to throw temper tantrums, not by falling on the floor and flailing their arms and legs, nor by holding their breath, but by doing everything they possibly can to make Paw suffer.  Like cutting the number of air traffic controllers hours , and reducing security at the border, and what ever else they can cut to assure pain to Paw.  The President and his gang of kids do this instead of making cuts where there will be no noticible loss of service, such as cutting travel to and from meetings, reducing wasted spending on projects like studying the sexual habits of snails, and many others to numerous to list.  

Nope, the President insist, no demands, no really, really insist that the funds for growth be added back.  Like the spoiled kid, he throws fits, and by use of the cabinet is blackmailing the American public to go along with his way, which is to continue to see government grow for the sake of growth alone.

Andy Griffith, if still alive, would tell the President; "Hey son, you can throw all the tantrums you want, but you still are not getting the extra nickle.  Even though I am giving you more money than last year, you whine like a baby.  Go ahead, whine and cry, my mind is made up.  I am the adult, you are the child, my say is final."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston Terrorist Did Not Have Proper Licensing For Guns: Ah, what about the bombs?

There are a couple of articles out there from Reuters and The Hill, stating that the two brother terrorist who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon did not have the proper licensing for the guns they possessed.

Let me repeat that, the two terrorist did not follow the very restrictive gun laws of Massachusetts.  By those laws, the younger brother, under 21 could not own a handgun, he did.  He could only have a rifle if he had a permit.  He did not.  The older brother could own a handgun, but he had no license to carry, nor a permit to even own the gun.

Yep.  There you have it folks.  Terrorist who do not follow the law.  Well ain't that a shocker?  

Of course both these news agencies wonder if there will be a call for stricter gun control.  Of course there will.  Until all guns are taken from every person and all guns are outlawed, there will always be those that want more gun control laws and bans.

The irony here is that neither news agency here ask if there will be tougher bombing legislation?  

What say you?

Internet Sales Tax: Could there be unintended consequences no one is talking about?

What may be the unintended consequences of
collecting internet sales taxes?
As early as today, the United States Senate may take up a bill (The Marketplace Fairness Act) that would allow states and local governments to collect all sales taxes due on products bought over the internet.  Today, the law allows a state (not city or county) to collect sales taxes from an internet sales company if they have a working facility in that state.Read Washington Post story here.

What is being proposed is that all internet sales, from those companies who have over $1 million in out of state sales, would have to collect and pay the sales tax due to the state, city, and county where the purchaser orders the goods from.   To comply with this bill, those affected internet sellers will  have to have some high powered sales tax figuring software, as there are thousands of taxing districts in the United States, many with odd sales tax laws that will have to be understood.  For example, Laredo has an 8.25% sales tax, other Texas cities have more or less.  Some states allow rounding up for sales tax collection on 1/2 cents, others round down.  So if I buy from Amazon, Walmart, Sears, or whomever online, my price will go up 8.25% on that sale.

Of course most brick and mortar retailers are all for this as they say the sales tax loophole provides a discount for those purchases made over the internet.  This is partly true.  And they believe that this law will make more people buy their products from local stores.  Again, this is partly true.  So, the National Federation of Retailers, including Walmart and other big box stores are all for The Marketplace Fairness Act.

Now, for the possible unintended consequences.

First off, when you buy over the internet you pay something that is not a line item charge on your product sale at the local store.  You pay freight.  That can range from free shipping for large purchases, to small dollar amounts to hundreds of dollars depending on the size, weight, and urgency for delivery.  So, while the retailer in the local store pays shipping cost, those cost are mitigated over truck load rates, not individual customer shipments.

So, there could be, as the brick and mortar retailers hope, a massive shift from internet purchases to local purchases.  If this is the case,. you will see less of the UPS and FedEx trucks in your neighborhood, less of the mailman delivering to your door.  That of course will mean job losses and spending shifts.

Or, this bill could force the online retailers (which I hope comes true) to actually reduce the price they charge for products in order to offset shipping and thereby increase their competitiveness with the local stores.

Of course this may start a price war, and everyone may reduce their cost, which will of course reduce the  total money collected for sales tax.

Another area, and I don't buy music, or rent tapes, where the tax could make an impact is on the sale of songs, video rental, software purchases, technical services, etc.  Too soon to tell.

Or, and this will be very interesting to see, it could force US internet retail purchasers to shop overseas for big ticket items like cameras, computers, etc.  I am not sure how this legislation addresses that.

Only time will tell.  But I can assure you a true winner in this whole process will the makers of the computer software that keeps track of and figures sales taxes for cities like Havana, Kansas, population 235 (on a good day.)  And of course the city, county, and state governments.

Losers, U.S. consumers who buy online, not because of price, but because of availability and choice.  Now those desires will be taxable.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

CORRECTION; I had the data wrong on the texting ticket post.

"You twinkle toed idiot, what were you thinking"
My bad drill sergeant.
Thanks to Max over at Laredotejas for catching an error I made on my previous post.

Read the Laredotejas post here.

I stated that the city had only collected $6,000 in fines in the last 4 years for using a cellphone in a school zone.  The reality is that I misread the paper and the $6,000 was collected in a six month span from Sept. 2012 to April 2012.

However, I never stated, as appears in Laredotejas, that people should ignore any traffic laws.  In fact the whole point of my post is that just writing traffic tickets is not enough.  You have to have convictions for traffic offenses and you have to collect the fines.

I need not tell you the history of Laredo and it's outstanding scofflaws who owe the city thousands of dollars in unpaid fines.

Also, I must admit, that while the fines listed are just fines, and the court cost may not be included in that number, I still am shocked that in 4 years there is an average of less than one ticket per day for cell phone use in a school zone.   Or again, is the ordinance flawed and very hard to enforce?

And if the conviction rate is not in the 75% to 80% range on these violations, or any moving violation for that matter, why do we even have traffic codes.

Max, stand there and make the argument that Laredo enforces its traffic laws.  That is a post I would love to see.

Traffic Enforcement: It's more than just issuing tickets

It takes a patrolman about 5 to 10 minutes to issue a traffic citation, more if something very serious is discovered.  And, if needed, the officer is required to show up on the court date of the ticket(s) he/she has issued.

So far, so good.

Yet, just writing the ticket itself means nothing if the tickets are arbitrarily dismissed in municipal court.

Let's take a look at today's information put forward in the Laredo Morning Times article titled "Texting in School Zones."  At the request of the mayor, new Chief of Police Ray Garner reported that there had been 570 citations issued for texting or using a handheld cell phone in a school zone since the ordinance was approved on March 16, 2009.

I took a look back, and the ordinance had no grace period, as did the other texting while driving ordinance had a 90 period where only warnings would be issued by police officer.

So, to the meat of the subject:

  1. 570 citations issued in 4 years (142.5 per year, pathetic in it's own right)
  2. Fine up to $200 per violation
    1. Broken down the fine structure is this:  court cost $88, fine $122, total $200 (from the municipal court web page)
  3. Total collected by city $6,000
If my math is correct, the $6,000 collected by the city equates to 30 out of 570 citations being found guilty and fined.  If that is the case, then 540 cases were dismissed.  That is a conviction rate of 5.3%.  

Let's look at the takeaway from this information.  

To our police officers, go ahead, write the tickets, spend time going to court, but never mind, the court will dismiss the case.

To our drivers, go ahead, get the ticket, but never mind, if you in the 95% your fine and ticket will be dismissed.  

To our community, go ahead, watch an ordinance be passed with great fanfare, see the police pull over a few folks and write tickets.  But never mind in the end, because there is no real teeth to the ordinance once it reaches municipal court.

Just writing tickets is not good enough.  I always wondered why so few officers wrote traffic tickets other than the traffic unit (the motorcycle folks.)  Now I know, it is a waste of their time to write a ticket that has a 95% chance of being dismissed.

Chief Garner, you have stepped into a mess.  Help our officers do their jobs.  Ask council to put pressure on our (remember Judge, you work for us) municipal court to convict and fine these violators.  

PS: remember a while back, when the texting and driving ordinance was up for a vote.  I wrote that the ordinance was almost un-enforceable due to search and seizure laws (texting records from phone company).  Could that be the case here?  I will await a response from someone in the know.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Naming Buildings: At least wait until they are dead....

I hate it when people who are not real hero's or
do "real" good for a community have buildings
named after them......BUT in the above case, I can
see the need for the named building....
With the old downtown post office soon to become city property, and UISD getting ready to build some more schools, possibly a new swimming pool, and the like, it is time to talk about naming buildings.

I really don't care who you decide to name a building after, hopefully they are truly deserving, but please, wait until they are dead.

And just because a person is a political figure, it does deem building naming status upon them.  They must really have accomplished something other than voting for raises or voting for increased budgets for an entity.

What say you?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What Does Laredo Need Most: Museum or New City Council Chambers

US Post Office and Hamilton Hotel
I have not seen this in the local main stream media yet, but it looks like the City of Laredo is going to be "given" the downtown US Post Office Building, which also served for many years as the US Federal Courthouse.

And my source(s) tell me that the city is planning on using the soon to be acquired building as a new city council chambers.

I don't know if that really is the best use for a really historic building in this city.  I have been saying for the last few years that Laredo needs a real museum.  One that would be a central repository of all things historical relating to Laredo.  Our current mish-mash of museums includes, as far as I know, the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum, the Border Heritage Museum, and the soon or later to be built Laredo Veterans Museum.   For more Laredo history one can visit the Webb County Heritage Foundation, and the old LCC campus where Fort McIntosh is located.

The problem is that there is very little if any coordinated effort to really enhance these museums, and actually add to them.  All of these spaces are limited and scattered throughout the downtown area.

What I would suggest is that a much better use of the old US Post Office building  would be for a real museum instead of another set of city offices.  Besides, if you are needing a new city council meeting chambers, it needs to be a modern facility with all the audio visual needs addressed and in an area where there is convenient parking.   Maybe like the new city service center off Loop 20 that has plenty of close parking and plenty of room to add a large, modern meeting room for council and other meetings.

The old post office is a majestic building that looks like a museum should.  It is downtown, a place where we want to attract tourist.  It is large, multi-floored and would be a perfect place to display Laredo's historical items and documents.

Think about it, and let your councilperson know what you think.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

City Manager's Pay Raise: To late to complain, you have had plenty of chances.

What happened last night, in awarding the city manager with a $40k pay increase, is our local government followed the established rules for awarding pay increases.  That the public now, after the fact, feels that the increase was out of touch with the local economy. A little too late if you ask me.

This is what you get when you have an electorate who can best be described as passive.  You get politicians who are not looking out for you, the taxpayer, constituent, but are looking for the easy way out in the deal making process that is governance in these United States.  An example of this is that not one council person voted against this raise.  I am not saying the raise was too much or too little, that is not the point here.  What I am saying is there was no, none, nada, descent among the council.  All seven representatives agreed that the raise was appropriate and commensurate with the duties of city manager for the City of Laredo.   The easy way out.

Our city council is not held to any standards by the community.  Don't believe me.  Ask yourself this question, and be honest:  Did I do everything I could to find out what the city council candidate I was voting for planned on doing when they got into office?  Did I know how the candidate I was voting for would represent me on different issues?  Did I demand a debate between candidates, and did I participate?  If you answered no to all these questions, then you are the problem, not the person who voted for the raise.

If our city council persons can pull the wool over the eyes of just enough people to get elected to their seat, which is not very many given the size of this city, we will never have any better governance than we have now.

You ask how a city council can give a city manager a 21% increase in pay?  Well, how can a city council allow the police and fire unions to run the police and fire departments.  How can we as a city spend over 60% of our budget on fire and police protection?  How can we allow our roads to be half completed?  How can we allow our water and sewer lines to deteriorate to where they are today?   How can we allow bid rigging?  How can we allow a person who wishes to file an ethics complaint be intimidated by the city's website?  How can we allow city council persons be allocated a "discretionary" (sluch) fund of millions of dollars to use how they deem fit in their districts (of course the expenditures are voted on by the whole council, but it is just a cursory vote)?   I am sure you can come up with a list of statements about the city that you can preface with the words, "How can we allow a city council that.......(fill in the blanks).

I will tell you how we let this happen.  Only a few people pay attention to politics when it is election time.  Then they forget about politics until something drastic comes up, like this raise.  Yet, if you followed the council and knew what they were doing full time, you would not be surprised when these type of events happen. We, with a few exceptions, ever write letters to the editor to complain about these types of issues.  Maybe that has something to do with fear of reprisal.  But still is no excuse in a democratic republic.  We have low expectations of our politicians.  We never ask them to excel.  We only ask that they do what we want done for us personally, after that, we lose interest.

You may be saying that the city council will not change, the city manager will not change, and there is nothing I can do that will fix any of this.  Well I say you are wrong.  You must stand up for what you believe and let people know how you feel on an issue.  Write that letter to the editor, call the television station you get your news from and let them know how you feel.  Check out the local alternative media, blogs, websites, talk shows and let them know how you feel.

But most important, you must let your council person know how you feel.  You can call or email them.  Their cell phone numbers and individual emails are listed on the City of Laredo webpage.

PS:  A 21 percent pay increase given that our city leadership has been cutting third party funding, and complaining about lack of funds to do this and that, is out of line with our financial climate.  And especially since the non-union employees got such a small wage increase.

Secondly, the methodology is lacking in the way the salary was arrived at.  In order to do an apple to apples comparison of wages, you need to look at the following:

  1. Talent availability
  2. When comparing city to city, you must look at ( and not limited to):
    1. population
    2. $ amount of budget
    3. median family income 
  3. Any specialized requirements for the position of manager, ie, bilingual, specific degree, specific knowledge requirements, etc.
Once you compare these things that a city requires and consist of, then you can look a comparing city A with city B and so fourth.  Any one of the listed items alone does not give you a true comparison, but in quantity they do.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A New Record At a City Council Meeting: Or as I call it: Backslappersville....

How to properly back-slap.....
Well, last night at the Laredo city council meeting a record was set.

Was it a number of good laws passed?  No.

Was it a record amount of money being spent on things we really need like roads, sewer lines, or water lines?  No.

It was actually the numbers of "thank you's" spouted in one exchange between a city staffer and a city councilman.

Shortly after a request from the city staffer, a councilman responded with thanks.  It went something like this:

Councilman:  I want to thank you and your staff, they do an excellent job.  Thank you.
Staffer:  No, thank you councilman for all the work you do to help our department.
Councilman:  Thank you.
Staffer:  Thank you.
Councilman:  No, thank you.
Staffer:  Thanks again.

I got seven or so thank you's in one exchange.  I challenge you to report more.

PS, I am not opposed to thank you's, only the overuse of the phrase.

Thank you readers.....
No, really thank you readers.......
Readers, thank you for reading, really, I mean it......
I really, really mean it, thank you.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Dan Hastings: A very good man from Laredo

Dan Hastings passed away late Friday.  I knew Dan as both a business associate and a friend.

Dan represented Laredo in a positive light at all times.  He was always upbeat and ready to take on the next challenge.

He will be missed by those that knew him.

Those that did not know him will also miss him in that they have lost a champion of Laredo.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The School Is Cheating: A result of teaching to the test.

We now have an incident where a local principle has been put on leave because of actions that could lead to a cheating scandal.  At this point, with so few details, it is kind of hard to determine what happened exactly, so I will not assume anything other than a group of kids has to retake a portion of the Stars test.

As I have said many times, teaching to a test, any test, is not teaching.  And these types of incidents just prove what I and many others have been saying for years.

If you teach the subject matter, you will then be able to measure the performance of the teacher, the students, and the methodology of the how the school district implements and guides teachers in executing their curriculum. There is no excuse of "well the forms we were using to teach to the test were not comprehensive,"etc.etc.....

I know that the high stakes placed on the test results are partially to blame, but testing is a way of life, and those are high stakes when it comes to livelihoods.  If the schools (school boards and administrators) were honest, our local kids would find out a couple of weeks in advance that on such and such a day there will be a state test.  There would be no pep rallies, not marching bands, just come in one day, pick up your pencil and show the world what you have learned up to this point.  

You cannot get good feedback on your process if all you are concerned with is how will I beat the test.  You should have your process designed so that the product you create is exactly what the customer (student) needs to succeed, not just create a product so it will pass some specific test during production.

So, Mr. Chief Administrator, Mr./Mrs. School Board Member, Mr./Mrs. Teacher, please quit teaching to the test, and remove the emphasis on the state test, and reapply those emphasis and efforts on teaching the subject matter.  The test will take care of itself.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Debate on Immigration Reform: It really is about numbers, very little else.

Every nation on this planet has the right to establish it's own rules and laws pertaining to immigration.  Every nation has the right to decide who enters, when they enter, how long they can stay, and what they can do while being in the host country.  Every nation has the legal right to determine how many may become citizens, and pick and choose who they want to be citizens.  This is called sovereignty.

The debate in the United States over immigration is labeled as "Immigration Reform."  I say that is a false statement, as very few of the myriad of immigration regulations are expected to be changed.  What is going to be changed is the number of people allowed to enter and the number that are allowed to become citizens.

A note here:  The United States, like every other nation ALLOWS entry, and ALLOWS non-nationals to become citizens.  No one, let me repeat, NO ONE, has a right to enter our country and expect citizenship just because they crossed a border.  As in every nation in the world, they must meet our requirements and follow our process.  If they do not, they are subject to penalty of the law.

The current debate is really nothing more than about the number of persons we wish to allow entry to our country every year and become naturalize (with the exception, and it is a big exception I grant you, on what to do with the millions of persons here illegally.)

The United States of America leads every nation in the world in the number of people it accepts as new citizens of the country.  Over 1 million people each year are allowed into the United States and can become citizens.  The United States of America provides more services and aide to those new citizens than any other country in the world.  The process of becoming a citizen is called naturalization.

Here are the naturalization statistics since 2001:

Total Naturalized Citizens: Fiscal Years 2001-2012

All that being said, the question is what is the new number going to be?  How many more do we allow to become citizens?

Once that is decided upon, then we can fix the issues like the kids who were brought here illegally by their parents and have no way to become citizens.  And once we know how many people we are going to allow to be naturalized, we can decide how many of the current estimated 11 million or so people living here illegally we will allow to become citizens.

The big question will still remain though, and that is how to fairly treat those who follow our process to become naturalized citizens and those who have willfully violated that policy and want to become naturalized citizens.

My position is pretty simple really, increase the number we allow to become naturalized citizens to a fixed percentage of current US citizen population.  Like, .003% would be about 1 million people annually could become US naturalized citizens.  No more.  And for those living here illegally, we can make a decision, allow the 11 million to become naturalized citizens, and stop immigration for 11 years, or allow a certain percentage to of those here already to bump a percentage of those we allow to be naturalized.

We already have work visas, all it needs is enforcement.  Employers should share in that enforcement.

But one thing that really needs to happen once the new laws are implemented, is that we need to deport those who violate our border, or over stay their visas immediately.   Or all of this is for nothing, no matter what changes are made to the immigration laws.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

HEB and Pastransa Produce: The case of the underpaid workers.

In today's Laredo Morning Times there is a front page article about some contract workers (I will get back to the word contract worker in a bit) who claim they were not being paid a fair wage.

These people worked for a company called Pastranas Produce (website).  They are located in Brownsville and Matamoros, Tam.

Being a regular HEB customer, I see these people all the time in the produce section trimming cactus for consumption.

According to the article, a group of the employees of the Pastransa Produce company have filed a lawsuit against their company, and HEB, who had hired Pastranas Produce to set up in HEB stores and sell cactus.  The lawsuit claims both HEB and Pastransa paid less than minimum wage and no overtime to the employees.  The article further defines the employees as "Mostly female, and immigrant workers."

Now I am pretty sure I understand the female worker definition, but the immigrant worker part has me wondering.  Does immigrant mean just that, an immigrant who is now a US citizen?  Or does it mean an immigrant who is working here with a legal visa?  Or does it mean an immigrant who is "unauthorized" to be and work in the United States.  With all the political correctness going on now, who knows.

So, I will assume it is the first or second of my definitions.

My question, which I will ask my lawyer friends this morning at Starbucks, is:  Does HEB have a legal liability for having a subcontractor (Pastransa Produce) who is not meeting their minimum wage, and overtime pay requirements.

I hope the answer is no.  How can a person/company be expected to monitor the payroll of every subcontractor they hire?  This seems a stretch to me.  But common sense is not the law.

But, if the answer is yes, then, look out those of you who hire local firms to do any kind of work for you. You may be subject to lawsuit if the employer is not paying minimum wage or overtime.

Oh by the way, you Fortune 500 companies who hire local warehouses to do work for you, whose parent company is in Mexico, and whose payroll is paid from Mexico, you may want to watch this case closely.

What say you?


The Public Safety and Second Amendment Protection Rights Act: Or, as I call it: Expanded Background Checks for Gun Purchases

It looks like the has been a agreement by some republicans and some democrats on legislation to expand background checks on gun purchases.

It still is not real clear how far the expansion goes, and how it will work.  But if it does the following, I believe it will pass the Senate, and maybe, again maybe the House.  If the bill requires purchasers of firearms at "organized gun shows" to produce a background check from a registered firearms dealer who is set up at the gun show, that would work for me.  I am sure there will be a price paid for that service unless you purchase from a registered firearms dealer at a gun show, in which the background checks are done for free.

If background checks are expanded to a individual seller, not at a gun show, having to conduct a background check on a buyer not related to them, then that may be an expansion that will not be supported.

And the big sticking point to any expansion of background checks will be the record keeping provisions.  No, repeat no, gun owner in his/her right mind wants any level of government to have record of the guns a person owns.  It is not the governments business how many guns I own or what kind they are.  If they suspect I have violated the law, they can follow proper criminal investigative technique and obtain valid search warrants as provided for in the United States Constitution.

For those that say the record keeping is a good idea, just look at what happened in my old home state of Missouri.  (Read full story here)

The Missouri Highway Patrol had an employee provide a complete list of those persons with a concealed weapons permit issued by the state, to the United States Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General.  The SSA wanted to run the list of concealed weapons permittees against a list of those who are listed as having a mental disorder or disability.

Do you see the problems here?

  • Government list, which all one has to do is look at the famed "no fly list," are permanent and almost impossible to refute, even if they are proven to be inaccurate.  
  • Government list have a habit of becoming "public list."  As a gun owner, I don't want my name published in a newspaper or the internet.  (I know, as a blogger, and a gun owner, I have given up that privilege, but I did it of my own free will)
    • By making these types of list available, you put families in danger, both those who are on the list as owning guns, and those not on the list who do not own guns.
      • As a burglar looking for guns, a list is perfect.
      • As a rapist, a list of those owning guns tells me where to avoid, and makes those not on the list much more appealing.
Anyway, I can't make a judgement on the act just yet.  Still too many unanswered questions.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

School Vouchers: My Rules on Legislators

This is a scene re-created in the Independence Kansas Museum.  A town with
a population of 17,000 or so has a museum ten times the size of anything
Laredo wishes to call a museum.  A story for another day.

Now that school vouchers have made their way to the debate squads in Austin, I would like to add a couple of notes of my own to the debate, and who should be allowed to debate.

1.  I am somewhat for vouchers, but not taking the total cost of educating a student and giving it to vouchers.  I still believe in public education and that it can be the best method of teaching any student.  I am for parents having a choice in putting their kids in a private school and giving them some of "their" tax dollars to supplement the cost of doing so.  Every parent should have the ability to assure their kids get the K-12 education required to compete both in college and the real working world.  No one should have to suffer poor schools.

2.  Any legislator who sends his or her children to private school should be voided from voting against vouchers.  Either they vote for vouchers, or they not vote at all.  Hypocrisy should not be allowed.  Just because they can afford to send their kids to private schools does not mean they should condemn others children to poor performing schools.

     In fact, these legislators who live in districts with poor performing schools should not be allowed to send their kids to private school.  They should suffer and do what they can to make their districts accountable.  

     PS, just bringing "more resources"  (lege speak for money) to a district would not give the legislator permission to send his/her kids to a private school.  Money does not equate to a good education in the K-12 systems.  

I am really curious to see what Laredoan's think of their legislators who send "their" kids to private school, yet will not allow poor kids the same opportunity.  What say you?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Quick Hits: Some local, some national

News that makes you cringe in disbelief.
One:  The economic numbers that were posted last week were at best pathetic.  We cannot continue to add less jobs than our population growth.  And we sure cannot say as a nation that having 1/3rd of the country on food stamps is a great economic indicator.  So, to my Democrat friends, quit sugar coating the economy, it is not well.

PS I, the stock market is now a more global market measure than a US measure.

PS II, sequester had nothing to do with the economic news last week.  To say so is foolish.

Two:  Congratulations, a few hours early, to the new Laredo Chief of Police Ray Garner.

Three:  Affordable Care Act;  as the President's one time preacher once said:  "The chickens are coming home to roost."  Enough said.

Four:  The Laredo Chamber of Commerce (LCC) is sending a resolution to Washington legislators requesting the look at sequestration and it's impact on the flow of commerce at the Port of Laredo.  I hope they included a section asking why the President and his Cabinet are cutting essential services instead of cutting waste, which there is plenty of.  But, I doubt that will even be mentioned.

Five:(This will be a full blog later this week, but here is a teaser)  Drugs in Schools, a headline in the Sunday April 7th Laredo Morning Times.  There was a list posted on the types of drugs being abused by our school kids.  What was missing though was the list of drugs being abused by our school districts and parents who want  a narcotic induced modification to their kids behavior, when nothing more than good parenting and a little discipline at school might suffice.

Friday, April 5, 2013

New Texas Budget To Be Approved, Soon: Hope we quit wasting highway dollars on maraca's.

Texas is the only state I have ever lived in that painted highway overpasses and made fancy concrete walls to hold back dirt.

Of course Texas has some great roads compared to a lot of other states.  But, the Texas Department of Transportation is always telling stories of woe that end by saying we are billions of dollars short of what we need to keep pace with growth.

I don't think we really needed these maraca's at the
83 hwy and 359 hwy intersection.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

City Halts Bids: Good job City Council and Mr. City Manager

As reported by Mikaela Rodriquez in today's Laredo Morning Times, the city manager, with city councils approval, has halted the bids for the Zacate Creek cleanup.

On Monday night at the city council meeting, Jerome Rosales of JR Landscaping claimed that the bidding process for the Zacate Creek cleanup project had been corrupted, and that he felt the bid was wrongly awarded to another firm.

City manager Carlos Villareal made the following comments:
“This formula that we have — and I’m sorry to say it’s under my watch — I need to take a look at this process again,” City Manager Carlos Villarreal said Monday when he recommended City Council table the item, referring to the point system used to award contracts. (From the Laredo Morning Times)

And when you read the article, you will see that the city has done it's job in looking into this complaint.

Now, all we await is the determination as to what will happen to the committee who was swayed into making the original bid recommendation in the first place.

Again, fast and open reaction to a complaint.  The way it should be, ALWAYS.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reporting Ethics Violations: Not difficult to do, right?

This morning while on the Jay StJohn radio show, he discussed a man who said he had been a victim of bid-rigging, or at a minimum, of an unethical act by Laredo city staff.  This man said he was the low bidder, and was not awarded a bid because those city staffers reviewing the bid decided he was ineligible because he "leased" his landscaping equipment.  In other words they changed the specifications of the bid after the bids had been submitted in a effort to change the outcome of the bid.  An ethics violation if ever there was one.

I suggested that as a first step this gentleman might take is to present a complaint to the shiny, new, never been used (that I am aware of) Ethics Commission put in place by city council last year. 

But, lo and behold, the things you have to do to even file a complaint might scare off most folks.  Below is a screen shot of the instructions on how to file an ethics complaint taken from the City of Laredo's website.

If you read this, you notice the very first thing you are told in bold red letters is that you better be sure your complaint is not a "FRIVOLOUS ETHICS COMPLAINT."  If you do file a frivolous complaint you will be subject to lawsuits, fines, criminal prosecution, stoning, electrocution, and no Christmas presents for a year.....OK, I added the last three, but you get the point.   Kind of threatening, right?

What we have here folks, is OUR (well the city council appointed) Ethics Commission, that is to be the communities watchdog in preventing unethical behavior by our elected officials and the public employees we hire at the city,  is doing everything they can to scare the citizens into not filing an ethics complaint.

How dare anyone at the city threaten a citizen into not complaining about an ethics violation, be it an actual violation or a perceived violation?  This is wrong on so many levels that it is just hard to comprehend the thinking of those that wrote this ordinance.

That the city would act in this manner is wrong.  Filing an ethics complaint should not be that burdensome or have such serious consequences for filing a complaint not found valid by the Ethics Commission.

Remember this mayor, city council, and employees of the City of Laredo, YOU WORK FOR US.
We pay the salaries, we allow you to write ordinances.  We will not allow you to create a government that will not let the people file complaints.

Monday, April 1, 2013

How to Fix Our Schools: Lower Standards?

Before you teachers get all excited and in a huff, know this.  I am not for state testing where the results determine how much money goes to a school district.  However, I am for state testing, that is challenging and measures how a student body is doing academically compared to others.

I come from a manufacturing and logistics background, so I have a very good understanding of quality control and the metrics used to measure them.  What,  you say students are not like manufactured goods? Of course they are not, but the ideas of testing and measuring the results are the same as used in a manufacturing process.

When a student takes a test, a score on that test is recorded.  That score is an accurate metric only if the test is a fair and accurate test of the knowledge that student has been exposed to and expected to learn.  For example:

  • The widget should come to me meeting the requirements I have given my vendor.  
  • I can then measure the quality of a widget only on those things that I have altered anywhere along the production line.    
  • I can measure each at step in the process, or pick points in the process that are critical and measure there.  
  • I can use any number of quality control measurements depending on the product being built.
  • I then analyze the measurements/metric and determine if my process, machinery, and personnel are working properly in building my product..  
  • The same can be done for students.

As an example, let's say we are building an electric motor shaft.

  1. First, our vendor of the steel rod must assure that they have met our standards.  Sound familiar.  
  2. When we cut the steel rod to length, that is measured to tolerances in .0001 range.  
  3. When ring groves are cut, they are measured in the .0001 range for location and depth.   
  4. Any deviation from my tolerances that I discover during testing must be addressed in the process, machinery, or the personnel manufacturing the product.
If I am having problems with the process, machinery, or personnel my inspections will tell me.  If I fail to fix either the process, the machinery, or the personnel, I will be making bad shafts that fail to meet my customers requirements.  If I decide to alter the test I use so my shafts pass, but still do not meet the requirements of my customer, I have done nothing, and am wasting valuable resources (money, materials, and personnel) in that the product is not sale-able.

In the manufacturing process there is no "teaching to the test."  You set up your process, machinery, and train your personnel to assure that when the product is tested, no matter when, or what the test consist of (as long as it is a fair measure of the process you have implemented) that it will pass.  In school teachers should teach the subject and be more concerned with the student and the process used to teach them than when or where the test will take place.  And if the teacher is assured the test is a fair and accurate measurement of the subject, they should have no issues with testing.  There is never,. repeat never, a reason to teach to the test.  There is never, repeat never, the need to have school assemblies to motivate a child to take a test.  Do you think there are daily company "assemblies" where the workforce is supposedly motivated to do their jobs?  The motivation to succeed is a daily part of the process.   Every day in the workforce is a test of knowledge.  Schools should operate under the same philosophy.

Whenever someone says we need to lower academic standards, and that is what the state is proposing to do, we will be sending kids up to a college, or job, where the minimum requirements to enter are not met.   These Texas students will be forced to compete against those outside the state, who have had to accomplish more in high school because they we forced to meet higher standards that their state/country required for completion of high school.  Lowering standards does not work.  It is the quickest path to failure.

And those that will suffer the most under lowered standards are the minorities and poor students according to LaRaza, and other groups involved with the issue.  They understand that lowering standards will only produce lower quality students.

So, we should ask:

1.  Who is calling for lower standards and why?
2.  Who does not want to measure a students progress and why?

Answer those questions and you will be disturbed.

Outstanding Letter to the Editor on Sequestration

In a letter to the editor printed on Sunday, March 31st, Nelson Balido, APR, President of the Border Trade Alliance, wrote that the U.S. Government, including the Department of Homeland security should use the sequester cuts to do a top down  evaluation of it's entire operation and take actions to reduce redundancies and increase efficiency.

Mr. Balido, you are asking an awful lot, first, because it makes sense, and second, it would require the federal government do exactly the opposite of how our legislators expect them to operate.  Mr. Balido, don't you know that those two words you chose to describe government operation (redundancy and inefficiency  are the life blood of government.  Especially the federal government.  You see, many of us have been asking that federal spending can be reduced dramatically by doing what you suggest, adopting practices from the private sector to "lean" down an operation.

But, by "leaning" down an operation, you would be asking a federal bureaucrat to "cut" employees, reduce un-needed capital (drones, tanks, etc...) and improve processes to be quick and cheap.  This goes against everything the union dominated government believes.  It goes against what our legislators have voted for.  

Example, the U.S. Postal Service is broke and outspends it revenue by billions of dollars.  The U.S. Postmaster has suggested that we end Saturday mail service for regular mail, not expedited deliveries.  This would save those billions of dollars so the post office would be solvent.  But NO, the United States Congress, both parties, said we cannot do that, it would be against the wishes of the people.  What people? Who really needs USPS mail service on Saturday?  Federal checks are deposited electronically.  So why would anyone need regular mail service on Saturday?  The truth is they don't, but the postal union is powerful and hence, we still have Saturday mail delivery.

Mr Balido, I agree with you whole heatedly,  but unfortunately our government does not.  I wish we could force these folks into efficiency.  But until we get rid of the public sector unions, get rid of the multi-term politician who believes an efficient government is one that spends money that we don't have, and we get rid of the  local and state politicians that believe we must bribe politicians above them in the money chain in order to get needed funding for state and local uses, we are doomed to a government that will whine every time anyone talks of cutting a penny from their budgets.

So, expect the same ol response to your letter Mr. Balido expect nothing, except the whine,  about spending cuts from the federal government.