Cruzin’ off the rails with Ted Cruz

Tribfest 2014 Ted Cruz panel reaches for water

Ted Cruz under fire at the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival. Lots of suits here but the boo’s, so far, at earlier events, were from conservatives. Cruz goes one-on-one with Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz.

Tribfest 2014 Ted Cruz panel racist comment

Ted Cruz chooses racism at the Texas Tribune Festival when he calls undocumented workers and their families “illegals” and suggests that undocumented children be denied education. Cruz is interviewed by Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz.

Ted Cruz is confident and does not lose his poise as he throws darts at Obama, at healthcare, at “illegals”, and he is happy to compare himself favorably with Ronald Reagan. If you have the time to time travel to a the Way Back Days, before Ted Cruz ditched his constituents for Cancun and callowly blamed the trip on his teenage kids, when Cruz was an integral part of the Tea Party obstructionist, here’s the entire interview. Interesting how obsessed Cruz is in the Keystone Pipeline. His claims that the McConnell and GOP obstructionist threats to cause a government shutdown was the fault of Democrat insistence on passing bills to fund social programs. GOP would destroy the federal government to increase their power on the state level and it sounds like the old Slave states and their Lost Cause whining. Southerners complain that the Civil War was the fault of the North because when the South seceded from the Union, Northern soldiers beat the South rebels back, deep into their own land.

Even in 2014, the Tea Party was in a war with establishment Republican politicians. If you weren’t paying attention in 2014, then 2016 probably took you by surprise.

Heidi quoted by Cruz, from the Tribune interview: “Goodness gracious, I never realized you were such a rotten guy.” And this is before Ted humiliated Heidi by groveling to Donald Trump after his wife was coarsely insulted during the 2016 presidential election competition.

Left of center: is there a Texas political “center” and how’s it doing?

Tribfest 2014 panel Kay Bailey event crowdshot

Can the Center Hold?

To be (in the center) or not to be? Thus is the question today discussed with Evan Smith (Tribfest) with those listed above. Quotable quotes:

The system is dominated by money.

We don’t have any idea where we are headed. Republicans are talking nonsensical garbage.

Hutchinson – redistributing and gerrymandering. The primary system. If we are going to have the current primary system as it is in Texas, you have to appeal to a narrow section of the voters, the ones who vote in the primaries. Voters should turn out and vote in the primaries instead of waiting for the main election. She compared the Texas system to the system in Louisiana, where primaries are open to all voters, regardless of political party affiliation.

Various quotes and ideas to think about

Because of social media, you now hear every insult cast by opposing candidates. Everything that used to happen behind the curtain is now out in the open. This gives more strength to [those looking for all the facts). But when the conflict plays out in public, the more anger you “perform” in public, the more likely you are to win. (Update: this was the beginning of the great polarization between parties, fed by social media bubbles.)

But the bottom line is that you must vote. If you care, vote.

Tribfest 2014 panel pol to the right

Bill Bradley  Jon M. Huntsman Jr.  Kay Bailey Hutchison  Ron Kirk 
Kasim Reed  Evan Smith (mod.)

Things are bad. Hilary Clinton: “The subheading for the US Constitution ought to be ‘Let’s Make a Deal.'” It used to be that you could make a deal and agree upon a decision, so that progress could be made. Compromise is not a four-letter word. Without the ability to compromise, America is in danger of not being considered an effective country in the eyes of others in the world.

Now, there are no more battles: there are wars. An example is the passage of the debt ceiling and congressional authority. In the past, these types of things did not blow up as they do now. Conflict is escalated.

This might be caused by the constant money chase. Reelection is always on the minds of the elected officials, polluting their minds. There is an “opportunity cost” to this, politically.

Consider what did the country responded to debts related to the Civil War. Thomas Jefferson did not want to “bail out” the “spendthrifts.” Hamilton resolved the conflict with Washington by offering to move the capital of the United States. The deal was cut and the federal government assumed the states’ debt. This is an example of compromise at a very high level and an excellent example.

Another example: Louisiana was sold, based on a deal that was struck. Now, no one can make any kind of deal, however small, these days. Compromise and “deals” are unpopular and some would claim, a betrayal of American ideals.

We’ve lost the balance of powers. The 2/3 rule, the 60% or 75 rule forced a compromise. The reduction of the voting threshold in the US Congress, and the proposed threshold reduction for Texas Lege, is a negative for compromise.

When you are in government there is no place to run or hide. If you make an error you are bounced out of your office. In every organization, you have to cut deals and make compromises. But in the U.S. Congress, there is no longer a willingness to sit down and solve problems.

So, how do you change from a culture of animosity to a culture that seeks compromise? You have to give the people who want to solve the problems something to do, instead of making them sit on the sidelines watching gridlock.

There is never an acceptable reason for not solving problems. If you fail to solve problems, you will be voted out of the Senate or the House. If there was a viable third party, everyone on this stage would be in it. This group is the center: in theory, the most liberal of the conservatives and the most conservative of the liberals.

Let there be no labels. In America, there is this belief that everything can fit into the label of Democratic or Republican.

Duck, lie, and dodge: these are not options as a mayor, because the voters see you in the streets and in a grocery store. You have to stand and deliver, be willing and able to defend your words and actions to the voters you meet.

We are a country of disruptors. None of the existing labels work to realistically cover the immediate situation we are in right now in this country. We have to throw out the labels if we want to see discussions occur and compromises made that allow forward movement.

Ross Perot’s notion of a “third party” is doomed to fail. The other parties will smash any attempts of Perot to provide an alternative to Democrats or Republicans. You can never defeat power except through power itself. There could be a third congressional party that stands for three or four key things, such as election finance reform. This group could run in selected districts and present the problem to the country: the problem is in congress. The solution would be to bring in a candidate from this third party. This could work as a six-year strategy, funded by interested parties. (I am left wondering just who these third-party candidates would exist if campaign finance reform were to take place — but of course it has not — and a third party has yet to gain traction.)

We need to have actions taken by people who are not the current “Gang of Six.”

During a spirited discussion, Kay finally interrupts one speaker to say, “May I say…may I interject and say…because I was ….there…” Yes, being there does have some weight, I hope, in this discussion about “what happened” in a political struggle.

Discussion of the Tea Party versus the President. What if we woke up tomorrow and the Tea Party was gone? Or, what if the current President was gone? Is this what it would take to get things moving again in congress?

Extremists who will not cut deals reveal themselves in voting situations when they block major infrastructure deals to move forward in congress and in similar situations. We could not come together during this very difficult, challenging time for America and this shows how serious the problem is.

The power of no – harness it for progress and not for stalemate. No, no, no, does not get it done.

Interesting that most of those on the stage are not going to run again for a political position; this might be a factor in their candor.

“I smile when I fight.” Let’s organize the angels in our fight to win for the good of the country. I love the fight, I love campaigns, as long as we do it in such a way that it leads society forward.

I’m excited about helping the next generation of leaders. Every great revolution was started by someone in their twenties. The stock market is higher than its ever been. Our economy is growing. Our unemployment rate has been cut in half. We have millions of people with health insurance who did not have it before.

Texas transportation and High-Speed Rail: more of a wish than a plan, but the money is there

Tribfest 2014 Transport Pickett 4 more

Transportation what’s next?   Robert Eckels  Clay Jenkins  Bill Meadows  Jonathan Stickland 
Marc Williams  Aman Batheja (mod.)  (speakers not seated in order of names listed)

I’m not as excited as the panelists about the “existing opportunities” for Texas transportation, as it has been implemented over the last decade. Honestly, with the demographic data in hand, and the politics imposed on what should be a clear-eyed effort to provide decent infrastructure for every citizen – not just those who can afford to pay to drive on toll roads – a fantastic amount of resources are now needed to build Texas out of the pothole it has fallen into, thanks to a lack of vision or political will for decades.

Gimlet-eyed communities who looked askance at high-speed for fifty years are waking up to the urgent need for mass transit options.

There is an interesting initiative for high-speed rail from Mexico to states above Texas. This is exactly the direction that planners should go in, as this mirrors the I-35 corridor. TxDOT should facilitate this project and stop thinking of itself as a builder of roads. TxDOT should be a provider of transportation infrastructure in whatever shape or form is needed for future travelers.

Oklahoma is now in “project-level” development with Texas on a plan to consider high-speed rail for the corridor, from Oklahoma to South Texas. Mexico is interested in building and linking a system to that proposed system.

These are some of the types of visionary ideas that should be funded. Builders and bureaucrats want this to be funded through private investment – because apparently, it is no longer appropriate or possible to get basic transportation needs funded by the United States government.

Starting with the corridor between Houston to Dallas would be an interesting direction for development.

There are scoping meetings planned for areas most tangent to the proposed route for high-speed rail. Smaller towns along the way understand that, if the train does not come near their town, it never will, so communities understand what is at stake economically if they resist the plan.

The state’s role in high-speed rail is diminished by the entry of private players. The argument is that there is such stringent opposition to the use of government funds, in part to the ongoing, toxic war between fundamental conservatives and progressives that taking the funding private does an end run over political gridlock. It is also an admission that Texas is bankrupt, as far as transportation funding for rail goes.

Get ready for roads and rail built by private companies who will be involved in making decisions that involve bulldozing areas that are in the way of the straight line needed for the rail to travel. Voters, who have not been able to see their own needs as their transportation system started to crawl, will take a back seat to the industry now –  and it’s full speed ahead for the folks with the bags of money to invest in a system that the rest of us seem to have given up on.

Weirdly enough, I feel sort of hopeful. These guys don’t want to see future failure and they seem pretty psyched about this plan.  We are at the breaking point  – TxDOT has a five million transportation funding deficit. Too bad venture capitalists are not as excited about funding high-speed rail as they are in Uber, AirB&B, and grocery delivery apps. But between the twin devils of politicians and private investors, maybe it’s time to back the player who can actually build a high-speed rail.

The future of transportation in Texas: dystopia? We need to work a 12-step on this, Mr. Wilson

Tribfest 2014 Transport Pickett 4 more

Panel Discussion: Deirdre DelisiMichael MorrisLarry PhillipsNicolas RubioPhil Wilson, with Aman Batheja (mod.)

Texas Tribune Festival has once again brought TxDOT Director Phil Wilson, along with other heavy hitters in Texas transportation to the UT Austin campus to discuss the future of Texas roads. What does our future hold? I am as curious as the next traveler to hear how exactly the state plans to manage the complex problems of funding, logistics, and implementation.

TxDOT does not appear to be doing business as usual, at least not as far as transportation research is concerned. Universities all over the state are wondering where the funding went, as TxDOT has not released research funds at this time for fiscal year 2014. Other types of funding continues, such as inter-agency contracts and funding to professional consultants.

(UPDATE: Phil WIlson said, after the event, that there will be some major surprises related to the research funding for FY 2014.  Perhaps soon the uncertainty for the UT System and A&M System research groups will be resolved. I hope so. Research centers are fragile and highly dependent upon annual funding programs such as UTC, SWUTC, TxDOT, city funding, and other federal funding. If graduate students go elsewhere for their masters and Ph.D. engineering studies, Texas will lose a lot of smart young people who spend their time at universities performing research and coming up with solutions to transportation problems.)

I personally do not understand the continued determination, in the face of a broad lack of public and legislative support, for foreign-funded toll road projects. Texas can’t seem to figure out any other way to fund roads anymore. Are TxDOT officials trendsetters —  or is this the beginning of a transport dystopia, where only the wealthy will ride the highways, while the rest of us will have to make do with gravel roads, impoverished public transit systems, and whatever roads are left that are not “privatized”? One justification is that tolled lanes will cover the cost of the maintenance of the other highway lanes. But toll roads are encroaching on the entire system. There are entire roads drivers can’t use anymore unless they pay at toll to use it.

Phil Wilson compared TxDOT to a factory doing factory production. That is not a remark that would be made by an engineer. But TxDOT no longer puts engineers at the top of the management system. The beleaguered TxDOT “factory” is now in the hands of management generalists. Mr. Wilson, as he is not an engineer, has brought a different culture to the organization. Some like it, some don’t. I admit to being prejudiced in favor of engineers and other scientific types, but some would say that TxDOT was myopic and needed a more business-centric vision. Maybe I just like men with pocket-protectors, calculators, and coke-bottle glasses.

They all look more tired than they did last year at this same event. And maybe a little beat up.

Micheal Morris wondered aloud about why Phil Wilson took this unpleasant job of running TxDOT. I’m pretty sure that TxDOT hired him at a salary that dwarfed what was paid for the last TxDOT director – who by the way happened to be an engineer with a PE license. But no amount of money can compensate for the pain of being the top target to complain to – and about – for transportation. With the economy where it is, and with funding for transportation as messed up as it is, the job of running TxDOT basically sucks. It must be even more challenging now that there are fewer engineers in the trenches to oversee the complex and demanding transportation needs of one of the largest states in the nation.

“People should be outraged,” says Michael Morris, who is a nice guy and a person I respect. He is old school and has a nice face. He says that we are not taking steps to support the areas of Texas that are bringing in the top three revenue producing endeavors in the State. Morris hopes someday that Washington will do a better job of funding transportation. But with the current situation as it is, he is a realist: local regions will build infrastructure however they can. Morris refers to a layered approach to funding which translates to making many deals with whatever devils will help to pay for construction.

Morris points that the gas tax revenue stream is dwindling to a trickle due to decades of inflation and there is intractable resistance to raising that gas tax. The increasing efficiency of vehicles diminishes the revenue still further and we now see the advent of electric vehicles beating down the same roads. How long will the Texas Lege and the feds be too afraid of the voting public to raise the gas tax?

It’s like beating a dead horse to bring this up, again and again. The U.S. used to pay its way on roads maintenance up front with a gasoline tax. It was a funding mechanism based on charging those who use the roads the most, but no one will raise that tax. If we need a new funding mechanism, what should it be?

Morris makes a lot of sense. He uses terms like engineering design standards. I like type of language better than the management buzzwords earnestly used by Mr. Wilson — or his 12-step reference to “the insanity of doing the same things over and over while expecting different results.” Is he unconsciously making a reference to our American addiction to driving cars solo down roads to nowhere?

Tribfest 2014 transport posters

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: