July 14, 2012

Bastille Day: What we could learn from France

Rouget de Lisle, composer of La Marseillaise, sings it for the first time./Wiki
KMFA, the classical radio station in Austin, reminded me it was Bastille Day today by playing a stirring rendition of La Marseillaise. This one was by Hector Berlioz, with  soloist and chorus, even a children's chorus for the "children's verse," and is simply excellent.

Has there ever been a modern national anthem quite like it? Yes, The Star Spangled Banner can sound more martial, God Save the Queen/King more stately and O Canada more ... "spiritual"?

But, none of them is as stirring as La Marseillaise. And none tells the story of creating a modern republican nation.

The call to "citizens." The resistance to invasion and monarchs/tyrants.

And, the French Revolution's background of "liberty, equality, fraternity."

The U.S. Founding Fathers, certainly those of the Constitution, focused on only the first of those three words. Even Jefferson, with his Jeffersonian yeoman farmers, wasn't exactly interested in too much fraternity, and certainly not in equality for non-white folks.

Indeed, for those whites, even (and just males at that, of course), the first real de facto nod toward equality and fraternity had to wait until the time of Andrew Jackson.

And, the legal nods toward that, and for blacks, at least (Indians still not in the mix) had to wait until Lincoln and then the three great post-Civil War amendments.

However, equality and fraternity still have a sometimes precarious purchase in the American social psyche.

Many Americans deny the existence of socioeconomic classes in our country,  even as study after study shows less social and income mobility exists here than in old Europe. Fraternity? An Ivy League degree sets you apart, no matter your political leanings. (That's not to say that France and Britain, at least, don't still have some issues with this today, too.) We're well behind Scandanavia, Holland, and some other European countries on these two issues.

And yet, the myth gets peddled, in part as part of the larger myth of American exceptionalism, that we're doing just fine on these two words, to the degree we think about them at all.

We're not.


Golden-cheeked warblers - endangered or not?

Austin American-Statesman pic
The colorful Texas Hill Country songbird has been listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act for years, but a new Texas A&M study claims they've been grossly undercounted.

Some environmetalists say the A&M method lends itself to overcounts, but even if it does? I think the totals are still going to rise. After all, there's a huge difference between 9,000, the low end of environmentalists' and others' old estimations, and the new count number of 263,000.


I agree they're not likely to be delisted. But, given this is Texas and oilmen got the feds to cave on listing the sagebrush dunes lizard, don't you think that Rick Perry's best bud, homebuilder Bob Perry, would like to get a bunch of residential developers to fight on this issue?


That said, there is another issue.


Environmental groups have worried about their habitat. For the unfamiliar, they nest only in Ashe junipers (the same ones that trigger allergies from midwinter through early spring). But ... Ashe junipers, in high profusion, are one of the top signs of cattle-overgrazed land in Texas. (In the Hill Country, too many prickly pear is No. 2; that "iconic Western" scenery of the southern Hill Country wasn't that, 150 years ago.)


So, maybe cattle ranchers altered their environment for the better 100 years ago? That, in turn, points out some of the issues with things like "wilderness" or semi-wilderness today. A lot of land requires human management to look pristine.


That said, a cute and lovely bird like a GCW makes a great environmentalist selling point, just like polar bears, pandas, and other "charismatic megafauna." And, I'm not against that, to some degree.


But, at the same time, let's be realistic on how non-pristine much of our environment is.

July 10, 2012

Lies about the gummint from the real estate world

I came across a story on MSNBC about cities either never really hit by the housing bubble, or now in an all-clear situation after earlier concerns, such as San Jose, Calif.

And saw this comment, among those from real estate people there interviewed about that "all clear": 
“We would be in the clear if the government got the heck out of the (real estate) business,” said Bob Stewart, the broker at Coldwell Banker, The Real Estate People, based in San Jose.
Would that be the feds getting out of the way by Fannie and Freddie not buying up loans, no veterans' loans, no FHA, or what? 

We all who know history know that things like veterans' loans helped boost the housing industry after World War II.

To be fair, here's why Stewart said what he did:
Under federal initiatives like HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program – during which 400 cities and counties have received billions of dollars to slash housing blight in foreclosure-ravaged neighborhoods – “speculators” have shoved local “investors” and Realtors aside, Stewart said, gobbling up distressed San Jose properties and re-selling them on the cheap.

“Speculators went out and got their (real estate) licenses and are targeting underwater properties, getting them listed at a very low price and submitting an offer immediately to the lender. If the lender accepts it, they’ve made $300,000 to $400,000 (per house),” Stewart said. “There are enough of those here getting accepted that it’s keeping our prices” lower than they should be in San Jose.
However, Mr. Stewart, it was those same "speculators" that fueled the housing boom of the previous decade, before the bubble burst. You can't logically, rationally, have it both ways.

Beyond that, somebody has to buy underwater homes. And, per conservative business lingo, isn't another phrase for "speculator" simply "venture capitalist"?

It's all part of doublespeak we often see from conservative businesses. Government is supposed to "get out of the way" except when it's supposed to "help" businesses. Such help is never called "socialism," even when it is.

When the government helps a business competing with you, then it's "in the way," but when it helps your business, then it's just "stimulating the economy."

More lies from Rick Perry's Texas miracle

Per a new study from Pew, economic mobility in Texas is worse than the national average.


Of course, it's not just Rick Perry's lies. Every state at the bottom is a "red" state (it will take more than Obama 2008 for me to relabel North Carolina), and with the exception of Utah, every state at the top is "neutral" at least, if not "blue."


That's despite the concentration of finance and related industries in New York and Connecticut. And, it's not a "rural" thing with the red states; Florida, like Texas, is highly urbanized, and North Carolina fairly so. And, it's not all about illegal immigration, which is pretty low in Mississippi and Kentucky.


So, with the outlier of Utah, one could reasonably wonder if it's larger red-state vs. blue-state policies that make a difference. You know, things like a better safety net.

July 09, 2012

Texas Dems leader talks tough

I don't know how many Texas bloggers saw the AP interview with new Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa.

But, if he can deliver on half his ideas, and reach half his goals, then he's the real deal.

Basically, he says, this is not going to be the Bill White (2010), late to the party with Chris Bell (2006) or Tony Sanchez (2002) party of moderate stances, pandering to indepenedent voters.

Hinojosa says it's not worth it, that most of them have gone Republican and can't be swayed back, and ....

Here's the key ...

That many liberals, especially minority voters, have gotten turned off, or at least numbed out, as a result.

Hinojosa says there's more future in building up a liberal base rather than pandering to the "center."

And, he's honest enough to admit that he once thought the moderate route was the way to go, himself.

And, can you get some candidates with dynamism? I mean, an old gym sock had more dynamism than Chris Bell, and as much as Jim White.

And, can we get at least one black statewide candidate along with whites and Hispanics?

That said, if Gilberto is hoping demographics is going to "turn Texas blue," he needs to start with some GOTV among his own fellow ethnics.

You see, it's true that on turnout, the old story of 1 Anglo = 2 African-Americans = 3 Hispanics is no longer true. At least not for black voters, who surpassed whites nationally in percentage of turnout last year.

Hispanics, though? They still trailed by a fair degree.

And Texas Hispanics? They were an additional 10 percentage points behind the national average. Nationally, 48 percent of eligible Hispanics voted. In Texas, just 38 percent. And, no, this isn't an "illegals" issue; the graphs are all based on Hispanics who are U.S. citizens. So, Gilberto? Before relying on demographic assumptions that are undercut by other demographics within your ethnic group, you might want to first get your ethnic group to actually show up at the polls.

#Water: Desal is not the Texas answer

Oh, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is trying to make it the answer, sure. Sounds need. Tap a brackish Hill Country aquifer and desalinate it.

Just one problem: "new" water from desalinization costs three times as much as "saved" water from conservation. Or more.

But, desal is a fancy, techie approach, so let's do it. Jerry Patterson's reading from the Dick Cheney Playbook.

As for allegedly improving the value of the Hays County land, this will be done only if an eventual private purchaser isn't billed for the cost of the desal facility.