Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Response to MetroRail Expansion

As I read this article by Shashank Desai, I found myself unable to disagree with his position on expanding the MetroRail. Capital Metro, the company in charge of the city of Austin's public transportation system, invested a large sum of money to get the ball rolling, and they have seen little in the way of profits. Desai is right. Capital Metro needs to find a way to increase the (currently awful) rate at which citizens use the MetroRail.
As he states, the MetroRail is one of the most effective methods of getting from one part of Austin to another, because it is both energy efficient and time efficient. I agree with Shashank in that Capital Metro really needs to emphasize to the public that the Rail has stark advantages over other modes of transportation. In my opinion, one of the MetroRail's biggest advantages is that it never has to compete with traffic. The PR group at Capital Metro needs to start advertising the MetroRail's advantages if they hope to increase consumerism. I recently rode the MetroRail when I went to watch President Obama speak, and it was incredibly efficient. I went from North Austin to 4th street in about half an hour, and it was cheap. Unfortunately, it was relatively empty. We really need to encourage the increased use of this system. Another problem is that nobody actually checks a person's ticket on the Rail, so some people probably take advantage of this and ride the rail for free. With these problems fixed, the MetroRail shows an amazing amount of potential.
Desai notes the importance of the MetroRail's other advantages, such as energy efficacy and cost. He even mentions the important recent cost cut to prices in the MetroRail. He forgot the simple advantage of convenience as well. The MetroRail now allows people to park their bicycles safely at MetroRail stations. If used properly, the MetroRail could be one of the best resources the city of Austin has to offer, but the marketing and execution of this plan has been poor thus far.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Aerial spraying? Not in my state

Dallas County has just announced that it will use aerial spraying to deal with the county's recent outbreak of West Nile Virus. Nine cases (including one fatality) from the mosquito-borne virus have been reported in the county, which is the most the county has seen ever in a year. Aerial spraying is the release of chemical particles into the air with the intent to kill a particular vector. It was once a popular method of introducing pesticides and herbicides to crops, to rid them of diseases, but it is now heavily regulated and controlled. City officials were very reluctant to agree to the plan until city Judge Clay Jenkins recommended the use of pyrethrin (a mosquito adulticide). To that, I say this- Mr. Jenkins, you are advocating for an unsafe plan that ultimately hurts your county more than it does help it.

From previous encounters with aerial spraying, we know that it is not safe in general. Perhaps the best example of this is the spraying of DDT. Basically, while DDT did its job as a great pesticide, it also harmed the environment by killing many populations, which ultimately ended up causing irreparable environmental damage. Pyrethrin has the potential to also have similar effects when used in large quantities, and it could end up killing the flora and fauna of Dallas. Judge Jenkins clearly doesn't understand what he is doing to the environment, and he needs to reconsider.

Anther interesting point is that aerial spraying to kill mosquitoes has been proven by the CDC to be ineffective. This implies that not only is Judge Jenkins advocating for the use of aerial spraying, but he is also advocating for the use of an ineffective solution to his county's problem. In my opinion, the best solution would be to just wait. Mosquitoes can only continue living as long as they have still water in which to lay their eggs. There has been some rainfall lately. I think that there is no point wasting precious resources in order to accomplish absolutely nothing. Only a small percentage of these mosquitoes carry West Nile Virus, and when the rain eventually stops, many of those that do will be killed. The virus is not always fatal, and wasting resources to deal with this situation just does not make sense, in my opinion. The last point I want to make is one that I hope will reemphasize just how controversial this decision is: the last time Dallas County has employed aerial spraying was in 1966, because it simply has too many negative impacts to warrant its use.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Response to Opinion on ACL festival extension

In a post from Robin's Texas Government Blog, Robin states that we should extend the Austin City Limits music festival to a two week event. I fully agree with his assessment of this situation, despite the fact that he did forget to consider one important drawback. The overall price of tickets would likely go up since artists would now have to be paid extra to stay in Austin for an extra 7 days. It could be argued that since the price of tickets has to increase, consumers might be dissuaded from attending the event.
While Robin did forget to factor this into the equation, he did point out all of the incredible benefits that a two week festival could have on the city. His arguments are, and at the end of the day, I do not believe that the price increase would have a large enough impact on the number of consumers willing to buy tickets to the famous festival. The city of Austin would benefit from the added tourism, music buffs would have an opportunity to see every musician they wanted to, and schedule conflicts could be fixed.  When these factors are considered, it is clear to see that ACL should be extended to two weeks, just as Robin has suggested.
If critics of this plan feel that Robin's logical arguments are not enough, I would refer them to the Coachella music festival in California. Coachella has been utilizing the two weekend method for many years, and they have been incredibly successful. This should be used as a model to strongly affirm Robin's stance on this matter.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I value my education and so should you

It has become clear to everyone that during these difficult economic times, sacrifices have to be made, and people need to be held accountable for their spending. With that in mind, it needs to be said that Governor Rick Perry is making a monumental error by cutting funding for higher education in the state of Texas. The University of Texas at Austin has made a name for itself in recent rankings (ranking 29th by renown British magazine Times Higher Education in this article) , and it is unfair to its students for Governor Perry to decrease the value of our degrees by cutting funding to Texas public universities.

In the past two years alone, Governor Perry has cut 17.5 percent of UT's budget. This amounts to a whopping $92 million dollar loss over that two year span (these facts can be verified here). Texas is able to maintain its status as a top tier research institute because of funding from the state government. Governor Perry recently proposed even more cuts to funding in a year when UT's incoming freshman class is the largest its ever been. He also vowed to not allow tuition increases, despite the desperate pleas of President William Powers Jr. Powers wanted to increase tuition 2.6 percent, and was shot down by Perry's appointees on the Board of Regents (source). Without this source of revenue to help fund groundbreaking research, the overall quality of the university will get worse. Brilliant researchers will stop applying for jobs at UT, which will cause the quality of professors and of research to decrease dramatically.

 In my opinion, Texas should fund UT because at the end of the day, money is what brings people to the university and what helps make UT one of the best public universities in the nation. We need to invest more in our state's future by funding a new generations education. Governor Perry needs to find other areas to introduce cuts to, because frankly, our state's higher education system is one of the most important assets we have.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cook's take on business in Texas

In this commentary from Harold Cook in the blog Letters From Texas, Cook argues that businesses that blindly back Republican candidates are taking a short-sighted approach to politics. The author, who is most well-known for being the former Texas Democratic state party chair, is probably trying to appeal to fellow Democrats by showing them the flaws of business friendly conservatism. He is also trying to convince local businesspeople to listen to his pleas and to consider changing the way they choose political candidates.

 Cook begins the commentary by conceding that Texas businesses have had success through their support of Republican candidates in the past. He also concedes that in recent years, businesses have been able to choose the candidate that best suited their needs and that these candidates have worked to create policies that are business friendly. Cook maintains that despite the fact that businesses built the Republican stronghold, that might be their own undoing. He sites Ted Cruz as a good example of a Republican who isn't funded by businesses, but can beat his opponent, David Dewhurst (who is), for a senate seat. Despite the fact that both Cruz and Dewhurst identify themselves as Republicans, Dewhurst is the one who currently receives more support from the business community. Cook wonders what will happen to businesses after a new breed of Republicans (like Cruz) come into power and oust the incumbents. 

Cook continues by denouncing business leaders who continue to back Republicans for cutting spending and singlehandedly funding a government that has cut education and has denied affordable healthcare to a people that need it all in the name of being business friendly. Cook's final argument is easily his best. He says that we don't have to sacrifice these things in order to create an economy in which businesses can thrive. By investing in these things, and using a more long-term approach to our problems, businesses leaders can create favorable conditions for years to come. The whole article is a giant appeal to the business community to change the way that they operate.

Friday, July 20, 2012

LBJ would be disappointed...

Andy Brown, the Travis County Democratic Party Chairman, submitted a commentary to the Austin American Statesman (which can be read here) on July 8th, 2012. Brown's intent is clearly to argue that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is trying to revoke laws passed during the civil rights movement in the state of Texas. Brown's intended audience is probably people who identify themselves as Democrats and as Moderates in Austin (particularly in Travis County). He hopes to explain to them that Abbott's efforts to  repeal Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which would allow him to introduce the Texas Voter ID Law. This law would require all voters to show their photo IDs before voting, which Brown argues would disenfranchise Hispanic voters.

Brown primarily makes his point telling his audience tales of President Lyndon B. Johnson, whom he called 'a proud Texan', and by talking about how he was a champion of civil rights during his presidency. Brown hopes to appeal to his readers' sense of state pride, which is something most Texans have a great deal of. In addition, Brown mentions that the passage of this law has been referred to by Abbott as the most important issue of our times. Brown says that this is ridiculous, given Texas' economic situation and the state of its current healthcare system. By doing this, Brown makes a logical argument to sway his readers. Brown even goes so far as to say President (and former Texas governor) George W. Bush, who holds the same values as Abbott, would be disappointed in what Abbott is trying to do.

I agree with Brown because Abbott is wasting time trying to make a law passed more than four decades ago unconstitutional. That is absolutely outrageous. We really do need to be spending our resources on more important issues. Texas, which is already a predominantly red state without this law, needs to take a stand against Abbott and help ensure that he doesn't move us backwards any further.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Perry says no to Medicaid provisions

This article written by the Daily Texan details governor Perry's decision to opt out of critical provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He was the fifth state governor to opt out of the provisions. Governor Perry's decision was based on the fact that he believes that the federal government is trying to take power away from the states. In the article, Bruce Buchanan, a Government professor at UT explains that there is no middle ground when it comes to Medicaid provisions; that is to say, a person can either receive all of the benefits of Medicaid, or none of them. He believes that this will make governors' decisions difficult to sustain over a long period of time. A Republican student leader at UT believes that governor Perry has made the correct decision because he is protecting the state budget. In contrast, a Democratic student leader at UT believes that the governor is making a move that is in the interests of his career rather than in the interests of the people of Texas.

The issue at hand is an important one, because it will affect the way that we (as a state) approach healthcare in the future. The article gives both sides of the story with little bias so that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions. In my opinion, this article is definitely worth reading.