Daniel Silva: Portrait of a Spy

imageThis is a great read. Fiction that could be true life. Perhaps it is because my mother taught me to be prejudiced about Israeli superiority (a pragmatic secular observation), or perhaps it is just a sad commentary on American public policy, but Silva’s novels are all the more exciting and believable because the central character is an Israeli intelligence agent.

And the facts are quite simple. There exists in the world today an organized force that seeks to weaken or even destroy the West through acts of indiscriminate violence. This force is a part of a broader radical movement to impose sharia law and restore the Islamic Caliphate. And no amount of wishful thinking will make it go away.
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Cyberspace was like a forest in winter. The terrorists could hide there for a time, hatching their plots and organizing their forces, but they could not come or go without leaving footprints in the snow. The challenge for the counterterrorism officer was to follow the right set of tracks, for the virtual forest was a dark and confusing place where one could wander aimlessly while innocents died.

Excerpt From: Silva, Daniel. “Portrait of a Spy.” HarperCollins. This material may be protected by copyright.


Miss Manners and Tin Foil Hats

Mayor Glen Robertson believes citizens need a lesson in better manners when addressing the City Council.

Some background is in order here. Thursday night’s Lubbock City Council meeting began at 6:15 p.m. The citizen comments lasted for over three hours. It was 9:20 p.m. when Council began taking care of its regular agenda. Former Mayor Tom Martin’s position of “no citizen comment” was probably looking pretty attractive to Council members by eleven p.m. when they were still working through the agenda.

Council endured the three hour talkathon with dignity. It can’t be easy listening to hours of citizen rants, misinformation, veiled threats and simplistic answers to complex questions. One of the usual suspects pedantically lectures the group on decision making and prioritization as if he was the only one to have ever attended a middle-management training seminar. Another blends science and ignorance into a lunatic’s cocktail that leaves the listener wanting to hand her a tin foil hat to prevent (further) alien brain-washing.

Not all are rude or threatening. Property developer George McMahan makes interesting and well-reasoned presentations. We don’t often agree with Maurice the Barber but he’s ever the gentleman. Likewise, Mikel Ward may wear thin with Council members by virtue of her constant presence but we’ve not found her discourteous.

We admire the long-suffering of the City Council. And we take morbid delight watching the Reverend Pastor Councilman Jim Gerlt struggle to stay awake. If his banal contributions as a Councilman are any indication we’d guess he has probably put many a listener to sleep in his career. Paybacks are heavenly.

And while we’re passing out lessons in Council meeting etiquette, Councilwoman Mean Lawyer could use a refresher course herself. We’ve witnessed LBJ treat guests like red-headed step-children when it suited her purposes to do so. She’s not too smart but she sure is mean.

Following is Mayor Robertson’s Facebook post:

We had over 25 people speak at the citizens comment period during last nights council meeting. I am grateful to live in a country where we have the right to speak to and criticize our elected officials. However, I think that we have had several people in the last few meetings cross the line when making very personal statements towards certain Council Members. While I seldom agree with the majority of this Council, I feel it is my duty to ask people to be civil in their comments in Council Chambers. These Council Members make $25.00 per month and devote a tremendous amount of time to fulfill their duties. They were also elected by the majority of the people that voted in their prospective elections. This council has taken several measures to encourage citizen comments and participation and I am simple asking that they be treated with civility and common courtesy. Please understand, I am not asking for you to quit disagreeing or pointing out our mistakes, I just need to bring a more professional environment to our proceedings.

Now putting aside the mention of Council’s $25/month salary which carries with it the hint that they don’t get paid enough to have to listen to this malarky, the Mayor is right to make his appeal. It behooves the speakers to be polite and respectful.

In a separate Facebook post the Mayor said he has asked the city attorney to look into segregating the citizen comment and agenda portions of the meetings. That post can be found at the Mayor’s Facebook page.


Department of Justice Files Another Lawsuit Against the State of Texas Concerning Voter ID

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice announced today that it will file a new lawsuit against the State of Texas, the Texas Secretary of State, and the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety over the State’s strict voter photo identification law (SB 14). The United States’ complaint seeks a declaration that SB 14 violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Separately, the Department is filing a motion to intervene as a party and a complaint in intervention against the State of Texas and the Texas Secretary of State in the ongoing case of Perez v. Perry (W.D. Tex.), which concerns the state’s redistricting laws. The United States had already filed a statement of interest in this case last month. Today’s action represents a new step by the Department in this case that will allow the United States to formally present evidence about the purpose and effect of the Texas redistricting plans.

“Today’s action marks another step forward in the Justice Department’s continuing effort to protect the voting rights of all eligible Americans,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights. The Department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs. We will keep fighting aggressively to prevent voter disenfranchisement. We are determined to use all available authorities, including remaining sections of the Voting Rights Act, to guard against discrimination and, where appropriate, to ask federal courts to require preclearance of new voting changes. This represents the Department’s latest action to protect voting rights, but it will not be our last.”…[to read more click below]

via Department of Justice Files Another Lawsuit Against the State of Texas Concerning Voter ID.


Cutting Economic Development is Wrong Message to Send for Lubbock’s Growth

Editor’s Note: These comments were offered to the City Council Thursday evening by LEDA Chairman Mike McDougal.

Two issues have come up in recent council discussions regarding economic development programs of the City of Lubbock: (1) Reducing economic development grant funding formulas dating back to 1996, and (2) Separating Market Lubbock, Inc. (“MLI”) and Lubbock Economic Development Alliance (“LEDA”) Boards of Directors. Following are reasons both these actions are bad for Lubbock.

image1. It will increase debt. For two years, we’ve been hearing Council’s concern about the more than $1 Billion in City Debt. We share that concern! Economic Development Grant Funding to MLI is used to build public infrastructure (streets, utilities, etc.) primarily in the Lubbock Business Park. Without this funding, LEDA would be forced to borrow a projected $37 million for capital improvements within the next 6 years.

2. LEDA is currently debt free. That has taken 7 years, lots of hard work, planning, and wise resource allocation. 2013-2014 proposed operating budget for MLI and LEDA is now “pay as you go.” Changing current economic development funding formulas will put LEDA on a path of incurring debt.

3. It diverts money from economic development to administration. MLI and LEDA currently share key staff and other administrative services. If the two organizations have separate boards, this would not be possible. Duplication of services would result at an annual cost of $500,000 to the taxpayers.

4. Lubbock competes for new businesses with one-half the budget of other competing cities. LEDA operates on 1/8 of 1 cent sales tax. Virtually all other cities EDC’s operate on ½ cent. When combined with MLI’s economic development grant, LEDA has the equivalent to ¼ of 1 cent, fully ½ what our competitors have. Cutting economic development funding even further will hurt our economic development competitiveness.
Amarillo EDC’s current annual revenue exceeds $17 million.

5. Hidden transfers are not transparent. Despite this council’s call to end fund transfers that mask the real cost of government services ($29.8 million in the 2013-2014 proposed budget), recent budget work sessions have seen expressed desires to do MORE OF THE SAME — take economic development funds and use them for other things.

6. Council members say they want to develop already annexed but underserved areas of the City. That is exactly what MLI and LEDA are doing in the Lubbock Business Park and Lubbock Railport. Diverting economic development funding to other departments and adding administrative costs will hurt efforts to try to accomplish Council’s stated goals.

7. Economic Development is a net income producer. MLI/LEDA assist companies in creating jobs and adding value to the city’s tax base. Since 1996, 12,352 jobs have been created through these efforts PLUS $587 million in capital investment. That’s an average of over 700 jobs and $34.5 million in capital investment per year. MLI’s $3.7 million budget is returning net dividends at a pretty extraordinary rate.

I encourage the council to keep working and consider what other alternatives are available to balance the budget.

—Mike McDougal, Chairman, Lubbock Economic Development Alliance


Think Lubbock’s Tax Rate is High?

No one likes higher taxes. But while Lubbock agonizes moving from 49.211¢ to 50.411¢ on the property tax rate, nearby the Wolfforth City Council has proposed a whopping 6.55¢ increase.

If approved, Wolfforth’s property tax rate will be 73.410¢ per $100 valuation. This for a community with a volunteer fire department. There are reasons for this as well as explanations why this is roughly equal to Lubbock’s actual tax rate. We’ll discuss those later however we offer to stimulate your thinking.

Of course, not many say, “I want to move to Wolfforth, the town with the misspelled name.” The community doesn’t exist because of Wolfforth; rather, it coalesces around the Frenship Independent School District. Frenship schools are the magnet responsible for Wolfforth’s 44% growth in population from 2000 to 2010. And people appear willing to pay an additional property tax premium of $287.50 for a $125,000 home to live there.

Interesting.


Just Kleining Around: The Jericho Solution

image[Last updated Friday morning]
Former Democrat County Chairman turned City Councilman, Todd Klein, offers no shortage of foolishness. Now he’s calling for a citizen task force to propose a rate stabilization model and address customer service initiatives for Lubbock Power & Light.

Call this the Jericho solution. In the Bible story the Israelites marched around Jericho 13 times, blew their trumpets, then shouted with loud voices and the walls of Jericho fell. Absent divine intervention, that’s how we view most city committee work. Go around in circles for a while, trumpet what you’re doing, make lots of noise and hope that fixes the problem.

What’s wrong with this? To begin with, LP&L is already run by a citizen advisory committee called the Electric Utility Board. Klein proposes to charge a small group of citizen appointees to come up with solutions to tell to another small group of citizen appointees (the Electric Utility Board) how they ought to conduct their business.

There is no steeper learning curve for any Lubbock board or commission than the Electric Utility Board. It takes months for a new member to come up to speed. Now the Councilman wants a second citizen committee to advise the first citizen committee? I suppose we ought to expect asinine ideas from a Democrat leader and Todd has certainly delivered with this one.

Council, not the Electric Utility Board, is the source of most problems with LP&L. If Todd really cares about ratepayers he’ll abandon the three million dollar money grab from LP&L that causes you to pay higher power bills. It is smoke and mirrors bookkeeping.

And if other rate models ought to be considered, shouldn’t our duly elected officials be doing this? Did we elect them to pass the buck to a non-elected, untouchable committee or to do the job?

But if you feel Klein’s suggestion has any validity then perhaps there ought to be a citizen advisory committee to help the Council do its job. Of course, that committee might also need an advisory committee to advise it on advising the Council. And then a third advisory committee to advise the second one…you can see where we’re going.

Councilman Klein knows he’s full of hot air on this but he’s playing the retail politician again by pretending to do something and hoping you’ll be fooled. When it doesn’t happen he can blame the rest of the Council because, in the final analysis, he’s just Kleining around.

klein_media

Postscript: At Thursday night’s City Council meeting Councilman Klein’s water advisory commission rate model resolution died for lack of a second. He asked that Council take no action on his EUB advisory committee resolution. Best guess is that it would have died the same death as the water resolution had he not pulled it. But he got what he craves: media attention. And that, sports fans, is what Kleining around is all about.


The Man Who Was Treated for $17,000 Less – WSJ.com

So we canceled the surgery and started the scheduling process all over again, this time classifying my patient as a “self-pay” (or uninsured) patient. I quoted him a reasonable upfront cash price, as did the anesthesiologist. We contacted a different hospital and they quoted him a reasonable upfront cash price for the outpatient surgical/nursing services. He underwent his operation the very next day, with a total bill of just a little over $3,000, including doctor and hospital fees. He ended up saving $17,000 by not using insurance…[to read more click below]

Jeffrey Singer: The Man Who Was Treated for $17,000 Less – WSJ.com.


Jefferson on Interpreting the Constitution

thomas_jefferson4“On every question of construction (of the Constitution) let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit of the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
–Thomas Jefferson