Thursday, September 23, 2010

Death of the Cowboys huge exaggeration

The Dallas Cowboys are 0-2 and, trust me on this, it really isn't the end of the civilized world as we know it. Jeez, I heard one radio commentator Monday said he was completely giving up on the Cowboys, was going to focus all his attention on the Rangers' pennant chase and wait patiently for the start of the Mavericks season. And this was not some loony calling into the station. It was one of those paid professional sports "experts."

I'm betting most of those folks giving up on the Cowboys right now are those who drank Jerry Jones' Super Bowl-flavored Kool-Aid.It's no secret Jones wants his Cowboys in the upcoming Super Bowl Bowl that will be played in Jonestown. But folks who really thought the Cowboys were a Super Bowl team were deluding themselves.

The Cowboys are a fairly decent team -- decent enough to make the playoffs -- but they are not Super Bowl-caliber. I said the day NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reduced Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Rothlesberger's suspension from six to four games that the Green Bay Packers would defeat the Steelers in this year's season finale. I see absolutely no reason yet to back off that prediction -- in fact, it's looking more solid than it did two weeks ago.

Yes the Cowboys are 0-2 and they'll probably be 0-3 after this weekend, but the other three teams in the NFC Least are just 1-1 and has anyone seen one of those teams -- the Giants,, the Redskins, the Eagles -- looking that much better than the Cowboys? I certainly haven't. And the Cowboys have only played one of those other teams and in that game the Redskins didn't beat the Cowboys. Dallas got on its knees and begged Washington to win it and the Skins reluctantly accepted the gift.

So I'm convinced the Cowboys have just as much of a chance of winning its division as those three other clowns and might even win a home playoff game against a wild-card team before bowing out in the second round. It's not Super Bowl but it's not bad and certainly not worth committing sports suicide over.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The City's tax-hike debate: "It ain't over 'til it's over"

Yesterday's meeting of the Dallas City Council made for great television. We had one council member, in a moment he probably already regrets, calling some of his colleagues snake oil salesmen. We had a video tour of South Dallas. We had an impassioned speech that had more to do with the history of civil rights than it did the city's budget woes. My favorite moment was when council member Angela Hunt, after hearing colleague Anne Margolin suggest alternate ways the money produced by a tax-rate hike could be spent, challenged Margolin to vote for the rate hike if the council voted for her alternative plan. Margolin, of course, refused to accept the challenge, proving her entire charade was another example of political grandstanding that had nothing to do with solving anything.

Then council member Vonciell Jones Hill requested a straw vote on an amendment to raise taxes nearly a nickel per $100 valuation and, after a failed stalling tactic by Da Mayor, got her wish. The amendment passed 8-7. That is leaving a lot of folks assuming (1) that property taxes will go up by that amount when the final budget is passed a week from tomorrow and (2) Da Mayor is about to suffer his first major political defeat.

However, I'm betting this fight is far from over. For one thing, I'm willing to bet that City Manager Mary Suhm is not happy with the mood of the council right now or about the very real possibility that resentments will linger among council members long after this debate is over -- resentments that could make it nearly impossible to accomplish many of her objectives. For another, if you think Da Mayor is calling it quits on this issue, you don't know the man.

Neither Da Mayor nor Suhm want an 8-7 vote on this. Her goal is going to be at least 10-5 one way or another and between now and when the budget is finally adopted, she is going to be working to accomplish that. I also think she will enlist the help of Da Mayor to work behind the scenes to get that done.

How might that happen? The first convert they will approach is council member Dave Neumann who says he would support a tax increase but not one as high as the one approved yesterday. So between now and next week (there is no concrete requirement that the budget MUST be approved next Wednesday; it just might mean that no one the city payroll gets paid if it isn't) Suhm must find a compromise increase that Neumann and the other eight can both accept. If that happens, then the vote becomes 9-6. I also heard a conciliatory tone in the comments made by council member Linda Koop and I think Suhm could use Koop to persuade the eight that, in the best interests of the city, to accept a lower tax hike and, if they do, she would join their ranks. Then you have it: Suhm's needed 10-5 vote and Da Mayor can claim partial victory in that he helped lower the inevitable tax rate hike.

Now, what happens if all this fails and it remains 8-7? Back in April I predicted Mary Suhm might retire following the passage of this budget. A couple of weeks after I wrote that, I had lunch with another former city employee who knows Suhm quite well -- probably talks with her three or four times a week --who leveled me with one great truism: Mary Suhm has too much energy to retire. If she did retire, what would she do with her time? She must stay busy and active. I couldn't argue with that. She needs to be running something. But if this 8-7 mess lingers, I'm going back to that original prediction.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This time Schutze blames the wrong party

I always enjoy reading Jim Schutze's columns in the Dallas Observer. In fact, I enjoy reading them almost as much as I enjoy interacting with Schutze in those all-too-rare occasions when we are in the same zip code or when I used to receive his jocular e-mails during my tenure with the City of Dallas. I especially enjoyed his "final solution" for the homeless problem in last week's edition and his raking of council member Dave Neumann for the manner in which he handled homelessness in Oak Cliff the week before.

In the current edition, Schutze's spins the tragic story of Josh Terry, who sank over 100 large into a rehabilitation project in the Kings Highway Conservation District of Oak Cliff, only to have the rug pulled out from under him when the city suddenly revoked all the permits it had previously granted him. Schutze lays all the blame for this on the city, even  going so  far  as to suggest that's reason enough not to allow the city to  enact a property tax increase.

Here's the problem's with Schutze's argument: Even he admits the city's actions were prompted by a call from a city council  member (I'm bettingn it was Newmann). Whether Schutze realizes this or not (and I really think  he does), the city council run the city. City staff members refer to city council members as "our bosses." As in any organization, including I would presume, the Dallas Observer, if the boss says "This is the way it's going to be," it is followed by the boss saying "Those who agree with me signify by saying 'Aye.' Those who disagree say 'I resign'."

Schutze had this interesting paragraph near the beginning of his story:
"The property happens to be in Council District 3, the realm of one David Neumann. Councilman Neumann wouldn't respond to my calls or e-mails about this, as he never does, so I can't say with certainty he's the one who called. I do know he is following this case closely."
The real villain here is the council member who ordered the project squashed. The real story here was to explose this council member and find out why he or she victimized Terry. But since Schutze apparently was stonewalled in his effort to do just that and, presumably, because he needed a column for this week's edition, he went off in a different, but wrong-headed, direction. He compounded the problem by following up the paragraph cited above by writing: "But it almost doesn't make any difference who called."

Yes,  it very definitely does make a difference. And I, for one, would like that person and his/her motives exposed. Now, that's the story. And not to suggest we should close rec centers, libraries and lay off hundreds of employees because one city council member screwed over a constituent.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New York Times: President Obama's recent speeches on the economy

Wise words from today's New York Times editorial pages:

Americans are deeply worried about the economy and their jobs — and about whether their elected representatives in Washington have a real plan for digging out of this mess. They are right to be worried. But this week, at least, voters were given a clear choice about the direction the country can take in November and beyond.

President Obama — who took too long to engage this debate — gave two sensible and, finally, passionate speeches. He said that to create jobs and stabilize the economy, the federal government will have to help businesses invest more, and it will have to spend some more, for a while longer. And he said that the country will never be able to wrestle down the deficit if Congress gives in to Republican demands to extend $700 billion in unjustified and unaffordable tax breaks for the wealthy.

The speeches were a pointed rebuttal to Representative John Boehner, the House Republican leader, who has spearheaded his party’s implacable opposition. In a speech in Ohio last month, billed as the definitive Republican position on the economy, he declared that “the prospect of higher taxes, stricter rules and more regulations” was choking recovery.

The president was exactly right when he said that Mr. Boehner’s proposals were nothing more than a return to the past decade of economic mismanagement; the same policies that helped turn budget surpluses into crippling deficits nearly destroyed the financial system and cast millions of Americans into long-term joblessness.

“Do we return to the same failed policies that ran our economy into the ditch,” he asked on Wednesday.

The immediate battle is over President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of this year. Mr. Obama wants to make the tax cuts permanent for families that make less than $250,000 a year and let the tax cuts expire for those who make more — about 2 percent of taxpayers. Mr. Boehner says he wants to extend all of the tax cuts for two years — although there is little doubt that the goal of Republicans is to extend all of them permanently.

It makes good sense to extend the middle-class tax cuts temporarily because the weak economy needs the boost, but it makes no sense to extend them for the rich. Middle-class Americans spend tax breaks, while wealthy taxpayers generally save them. In the longer term, more revenue will be needed to keep rebuilding the economy and meet health care and other obligations.

We’re not surprised that Mr. Obama avoided that hard truth. But Mr. Boehner and his party’s position is an utter denial of reality. In the real world, it was lower taxes for the rich, lax rules and deregulation that hurt middle-class Americans and dragged the economy to this dangerous pass.

Mr. Boehner’s much professed concern for small businesses is misdirection. The tax cuts that Mr. Obama would let expire would affect very few owners of small businesses — how many do you know who make more than $250,000 a year? — by any common-sense definition of that term.

Mr. Boehner said he was fed up with “Washington politicians talking about wanting to create jobs as a ploy to get themselves re-elected while doing everything possible to prevent jobs from being created.” Amazingly enough, he was not talking to Republicans.

Mr. Obama did more than just rebut Mr. Boehner. He also offered some sound ideas — some that also had Republican support, at least until Mr. Obama raised them. He proposed on Wednesday to allow businesses to write off all the investments they make in 2011, rather than over several years, to close loopholes that reward businesses that send jobs overseas and to permanently extend a research and development tax credit.

Mr. Obama again called on Congress to pass legislation that would make more credit available to small businesses — legislation that Senate Republicans, for all their claims of concern for small businesses, have delayed passing.

If there is any good news from Mr. Boehner and other Republicans it is that they suddenly want to seem eager to shed their reputation as the Party of No. This week, they suggested that they might be open to some of Mr. Obama’s ideas, which include a $50 billion initial investment to create jobs improving roads, rail lines and airports — as long as those projects were not paid for by taxing billionaires, oil companies and other wealthy corporations. That, of course, is just how Mr. Obama intends to pay for them — and just how he should.

Mr. Obama’s speeches were a robust effort by the president to rally Democrats for the election. It has been a long time coming. And we wish that Democratic leaders in Congress could show the same clear thinking and the same willingness to go head to head with the Republicans. Some commentators are likely to say that Mr. Obama should not have given a national stage to Mr. Boehner, a relative unknown despite his immense power in Congress and his ambition to be the next speaker of the House. But that is just what he needed to do.

For far too long, Mr. Boehner and others have been dominating the political debate with insincere sound bites, Jedi mind games and plain bad economics. How can they claim to care about the deficit and insist on more tax cuts?

The answer, unfortunately, is that they can, and they have, because Mr. Obama has sat on the sidelines and most Congressional Democrats have run for the hills. We are glad to see Mr. Obama fully in the fight.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

First things first: Put the city employees back in their jobs

The Dallas Morning News' pair of intrepid city hall reporters,  Rudy Bush and Steve Thompson, co-authored a story that appeared on-line today which all but said flat-out the Dallas City Council will pass a property tax increase to balance the fiscal 2010-11 budget.

The two, indirectly attributing the thought to council member Angela Hunt, wrote "it's clear from town hall meetings that many people are willing to support a rate increase if the money is used for tangible services such as streets, parks and libraries."

All well and good; however, the first thing the money should be used for is re-instating the 450 city employees laid off under the budget proposed by City Manager Mary Suhm.

As any economist will tell you, a healthy economy is dependent on jobs. The more people employed, the more people there are who can spend money. The more money that changes hands, the healthier the economy. It's not rocket surgery. If Da Mayor and the rest of the council are serious about giving some kind of boost to the local economy, restoring those 450 employees to their jobs would be a step in the right direction.

Of course, restoring many of those employees will also mean the city will be able to keep rec centers and libraries open longer because they will have the people needed to staff these facilities during the extended hours. But I heard one member of a library advisory commission, one of the many boards and commissions who are appointed by city council members, stand up at council member Sheffie Kadane's town hall meeting and say the first thing the library should do with additional money is to purchase more materials.

Bullfeather. Purchasing books and magazines from some far-flung local publisher is not going to contribute dilly to Dallas' economy. Putting laid-off librarians back on the payroll will, however. If need be, have private corporations, solicited by all those folks wearing "friends of the library" buttons at various town hall meetings, pony up the funds for the materials. But putting people back to work will have a far more long-reaching and positive effect on the local economy.