Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chupacabra Report

News that Gets My Goat

The Chronicle ran an op-ed this week from John W. Fainter, president and CEO of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, titled “Facts show electric competition works in Texas.” Incredulous, I read the piece and thought it sounded reasonable..

“Texas legislative and regulatory leaders - as well as an independent market monitor overseen by the PUC and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas - have proved effective at policing our competitive electricity market. “In short, I respectfully submit that returning to a regulated system would not benefit consumers. Electric competition, in fact, is working in Texas, and the numbers show it.

“Here are some numbers for those who buy electricity in CenterPoint Energy's service area: Last year it was common to find a one-year fixed price offer for electricity from a retail provider at 9 cents per kilowatt hour; variable price offers were as low as 5.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

“Prices are low in Texas' competitive market even though the Henry Hub spot price for natural gas is about 40 percent higher in January 2013 than it was in December 2001. “The regulated price per kilowatt hour in CenterPoint's service area was 10.4 cents then. Factoring in inflation, the equivalent today would be 13.6 cents. Essentially, consumers today can buy electricity on a fixed-term contract for 44 percent less than the prices of 2001.”

-Wow, the December ’01 spot price was cheaper than today? Guess what; at $2.20, December’s price was the cheapest of that year. The average gas price in 2001 was $3.90/million btu; in 2012 the average price was $2.70, a decrease of over 30%, roughly equal to the 30% rise in the Consumer Price Index since then. But the Texas average today is 11.6 cents per kilowatt, just above the national average of 11.5 cents, and higher than the 10.4 cent price he cites from 2001.

Fainter cites price offers of 9 cents per KW for a one-year contract, and variable rate contracts as low as 5.2 cents per KW. What he doesn’t mention is that if you are unfortunate enough to let your contract lapse that you will fall into a ‘sucker contract’ as high as 15 cents per KW until you re-sign with somebody; a trap for the unwary.

He takes issue with a “Chronicle editorial claiming that municipally owned utilities in Austin and San Antonio have lower rates. Yet there are offers in competitive areas of the state that are lower than what Austin Energy and CPS customers in San Antonio pay. This is despite the fact that these municipally owned utilities avoid many of the costs that the competitive suppliers face.”

I’ve been looking at what residential customers in Austin and San Antonio pay. It’s not a simple comparison because their prices vary by usage, season and in some cases time of day. Austin Energy customers pay from 1.8 cents for those using less than 500 Kilowatt Hours during the months of October through May, to 11.4 cents for those using over 2,500 Kilowatt Hours from June to September.

San Antonio’s CPS charges 9.2 cents for 1000 KWHs, 11.1 cents for 1200 and 13.7 cents for 1500 KWH. At these rates, big users could pay more than the state average, but at least they have the incentive right: people that get their energy usage under control pay the lowest rates.

Here in Houston they practice the perverse incentive system, where the biggest users pay the lowest rates. This is wrongheaded because the cheapest Kilowatt Hours are the ones you don’t use. Utilities ought to reward customers for cutting their usage and for shifting their demand to off-peak hours. Instead; along with their accomplices in the State Legislature, they practice their traditional business model of ‘screwing people.’

Monday, January 21, 2013

President Didn’t Use Bible When Taking Take Oath of Office

Is this any surprise? Maybe you’re wondering ‘did he use a Koran?’ Well, it’s not like you may think. The President I’m referring to was John Quincy Adams. Adams was a Unitarian. (We’ve had more Unitarian presidents than those of any other faith) Adams was sworn in using a book of law, the idea being that he was swearing on the Constitution. There was also Theodore Roosevelt, who used no book at all in 1901. Roosevelt was a prolific author, and a world-class egotist, maybe he didn’t want to plug the competition. And there was Lyndon Johnson, who used a Catholic missal to take the oath on the plane in Dallas because there was no Bible at hand.

President Obama, like some other Presidents, was sworn in with two Bibles; one once owned by Abraham Lincoln, the other belonged to Martin Luther King Jr.

The Constitution does not require that the President swear an oath on the Bible. Article II requires that he take the following oath or affirmation: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The word “God” nowhere appears in the Constitution, and the only reference to religion is in Article VI: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

I Want to See a Flying Saucer

There have been several UFO sightings in Texas recently. Last July and again last week over oilfields in LaSalle County, glowing spheres over Katy Texas on Nov. 3rd, and a yellow ‘prismic’ craft over Houston Nov. 23rd. UFOs have been reported to be seen over Texas for at least a century, but what’s new to me is that two people that I’ve actually met, and that seem to be of sound mind have seen strange lights in the sky this month.

First from Sandy Weinmann, deejay of KPFT radio’s popular DeadBeat Show. This from Sandy on January 13th: “did anyone else see the lights over houston tonight. dozens of solid orange lit crafts flying nne to ssw - changing directions and then vanishing... I have never seen anything like this”

And then this on January 18th from Max Martin, last year’s Democratic candidate for Texas’ 36th Congressional District: “I just saw three UFOs in the sky just south of my house. Krista saw them first and there were six. She came in to get me and by the time we made it back outside, there was only three. I came in to get friends that were over for dinner and by the time me returned they had left. Krista said they just shot away. I'm a life long pilot. These were not airplanes.”

Blogger Charles Kuffner, writing on the subject had this comment: “I don’t think there’s any immigration reform proposal comprehensive enough to cope with that.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be looking up now at every opportunity. Some of these sightings were in daylight. “I want to see a flying saucer” is no longer just a cool song by Brave Combo!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dear "Right Wing Extremist"

Just a check for common ground here; I’m pro-gun in my own way, but I favor background checks for buyers, even at gun shows. Also I think that ATF should be allowed oversight over dealers, including inspection and inventories. Congress banned these at the behest of the NRA, as they prevent research by the CDC and others into things like child shootings (in which we lead the world.)

And ‘pro-life;’ I support Planned Parenthood and sex education because I believe that education and birth control do more than anything to prevent abortions, legal or otherwise (the nasty kind we had before Roe v Wade.) I wish every child was wanted. Prisons are full of ones who weren’t.

And does pro-life include opposing war and capital punishment?

As for President Obama’s “unwarranted spending:” When the President took office the US economy was in freefall. My study of history tells me that Keynesian stimulus brought America out of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and eased a lot of human suffering while doing so. I think stimulus spending and (hold your nose) bank bailouts after the crash of 2008 saved us from another depression. Hell, I think we should have done more. Millions of Americans didn’t have to lose their jobs and homes. Banks are awash in cheap cash these days and still aren’t lending as we had hoped. In the 30s, when banks wouldn’t refinance mortgages or lend to struggling businesses, Jesse Jones made those loans out of the treasury, and we turned a profit doing it.

Were you a deficit hawk when it was Reagan building a 500 ship navy to be mothballed? When George W. Bush was invading countries on the credit card while he cut tax rates on the top brackets? Much, if not most of this deficit spending happened under Republican administrations.

Border enforcement: You know of course that President Obama has deported more aliens than any other president.

And socialism, we are not a socialist country and probably never will be. In our economy, business is regulated somewhat, by government. This is a balancing act, necessary if you consider the evils of letting business run the country. Under such a regime we would still have sweatshops and child labor. I’m more concerned about corporations co-opting our government than I am about our going socialist. As for sucking? Norway is a welfare state and they are richer than we are. Sweden is socialist in many ways, but they have a stable economy, their people are free, and they are nearly as prosperous as we are. If America were to become socialist, it would probably be because of abuse and over-reach by capitalists, who occasionally need to be saved from themselves.

Constitutional originalism? I think it’s a question of how many founding fathers can dance on the head of a pin. In practice more a slogan than an ideology, that gets applied when it fits and discarded when it doesn’t. The Constitution is inscrutable and incomplete: It was written for the ages. Like scripture, it should keep scholars bickering for centuries.

 And last, the marriage thing. Not all families look like ours. Many same-sex couples have families and children to take care of, and without legal recognition have to make extraordinary arrangements for ordinary things, like picking up the kids at school or making medical decisions, hospital visits, etc. They are disadvantaged in areas like taxation and insurance coverage. Gay-bashing legislation in Texas has made such things even more difficult for people in this position. Sad and unfair.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New York State Mental Health Initiative Signed into Law.

Chupacabra Report

The new gun control law signed by N Y Governor Andrew Coumo today contains requirements that mental health professionals report to authorities when patients who are legislators make it known that they are supporting ill-conceived or counterproductive legislation.

“This measure will protect the public when therapists and counselors become aware that their lawmaker clients are supporting bills that are a threat to public health and safety. Authorities need to know when public officials are crazy enough to confess to thoughts and impulses that could result in their institutionalization,” said N Y Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ben Luney.

-Seriously, this section of the New York’s new gun-control law sounds like a threat to Doctor/patient privilege; the confidentiality that encourages patients to be frank with their caregivers. This brings to mind Bush-era gag rules that prohibited doctors from discussing abortion with patients who were pregnant, offering only information on pre-natal care and delivery. Another example of legislators trying to practice medicine.

Some say that Psychiatrists and counselors will ignore this rule and continue to use traditional treatment methods, but this leaves the question of whether patients will trust them to do so; people are scared enough of doctors already.

Back in the sixties, before no-fault divorce laws, the only grounds for divorce in New York State was adultery. At the time Woody Allen said that “The Lord sayeth ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery: The State of New York sayeth ‘Thou shalt’.” What’s that got to do with this? Just a caution about trying to legislate morality, and a reminder about the law of unintended consequences and the odors emanating from the sausage factory.


Monday, January 07, 2013

Chupacabra Report


News that Gets My Goat

Heard an alarming story on Marketplace tonight. If you’re like me, you see a lot of things on the web and in your inbox about how welfare mothers, SNAP recipients, retired people and foreigners are living so large on our tax dollars that the whole country will soon be bankrupt.

This is about the real culprits.

After the crash of 2008, banking regulators wrote new rules requiring banks to increase the reserves they must keep to cover potential losses and prevent bank failures. The Basel Committee of the Group of Central Bank Governors and Heads of Supervision today released revised rules on their Liquidity Coverage Ratio requirements for banks in the world’s twenty largest economies to hold cash or liquid assets in reserve to respond to future crises. In a victory for bank lobbyists worldwide, the new rules phase in the 2015 reserve requirements so that they will not be fully funded until 2019, and allow stocks, bonds and mortgage backed securities (!) to be held in lieu of cash.

Again, that was mortgage backed securities, the Thing that Ate the World Economy.

Time for me to start a new string of “Lazlo Letters.” I have a new congressman now, a right-wing gun nut, probably pro-catfood. I know that his party was the biggest obstacle in the way of financial reform after the crash, and that they were the biggest recipient of campaign money from the financial industry in the last election cycle, but I will remind him that millions of Americans lost jobs, homes and financial security in the housing crash, and I’m going to ask him to hold Wall Street’s feet to the fire.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Chupacabra Report

Well, last night the House of Representatives passed the Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, averting for now the artificial “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts they created by failing to act as required by their Budget Control Act of 2011.

I was surprised to see that four Texas Republicans crossed the aisle to vote against the majority of their party to pass the measure. They are Kevin Brady from District 8, Pete Sessions from District 32, Lamar Smith from District 21 and Mac Thornberry from District 13. These are not moderate Republicans, there’s no such thing anymore, but they are all entrenched incumbents from safe districts, all with about twenty years in the House. I couldn’t say whether this is a show of statesmanship or just four guys who couldn’t bring themselves to inflict a big hurt on their own stock portfolios, but I’d say they done right this time.

My Representative, District 22’s Pete Olson, voted against the measure. This is what one would expect after seeing him stammering pole-axed in front of a town hall meeting full of restive teabaggers. Olson isn’t afraid of Democrats tossing him out of office; he’s in Tom DeLay’s old redder-than-hell district where the Democrats have been unable to run anything but a nutty no-name LaRouche democrat against him the last two elections. But he’s petrified that some raw-meat wingnut with out-of-state moneybags might knock him out of a Republican primary.

As for the bill itself, it falls a little short on the global leadership scale, but does a few good things. It raises income, capital gains and estate taxes on high-income taxpayers. As the great Juanita Jean said:

“We’ve had the lowest tax rate on the rich for twelve years now and where the hell are the jobs? Where the hell is the trickle-down? These guys did not create jobs, they created Swiss bank accounts.”

The two-year-old payroll tax holiday will end now, costing most workers about $20 a week, but this measure has been a drain on the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, which only encourages those who would eliminate these vital programs.

Other measures in this one one-hundred and fifty-seven page bill would prevent a cut in Medicaid payments made to doctors, continue unemployment payments to some long-term unemployed and extend the expiring Farm Bill to prevent the price of milk rising to twice that of gasoline. The deadline for yet-to-be-specified spending cuts has been kicked two months down the road so the Congress can play monkey knife fight with the White House again as the latest debt ceiling limit runs out. Buckle your seat belts.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Ask Congressman Steve Stockman

-Dear Congressman Stockman,

We are among the millions of families praying for Senator Patrick and Dr. Leininger to prevail on the legislature to send us the $8,500 we need to send our child to a Godly private secondary school. Meanwhile he is compelled to attend the local secular humanist government school in our neighborhood.

We are gravely concerned about some of our son’s teachers there. His dance teacher seems to ‘have a little sugar in his tank,’ and his theatre teacher is obviously a fudge-packer. How are we to prepare him for his college career in his chosen field of study (dance/theatre with a minor in interior design) when the public schools are a haven for sodomites and degenerates?

-Mr. and Mrs. Onan P. Stonewall; Montrose, Texas

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Stonewall,

I suggest that you consider home-schooling, or apply for a scholarship for your son at one of the fine Christian schools in our area to prepare him for entry in the Kirk Cameron Acting Studio.

-Dear Congressman Stockman,

Who will be our congressman after you are taken up in the rapture?

Creslo Hagee; Pasadena, Texas

Dear Mr Hagee,

National Rifle Association board member and awesome rock star Ted Nugent has agreed to represent those left below in my absence.

-Dear Congressman Stockman,

Where can I find large-capacity magazines for my AR-15 rifle?

Elisha Rimfar; Piney Woods, Texas

Dear Mr. Rimfarr,

I assure you that the Diane Feinstein assault weapons ban will never pass the House of Representatives, but, you can certainly purchase all the guns and accessories you desire at one of our many local gun shows, no background check required. You might also try the Saturday swap meet at the Nine mm Baptist Church in Conroe.