Monday, October 20, 2014

Critique of Common Core by Dr. Duke Pesta


Don't Eat Your Dog: The Surprising Moral Case for Free Enterprise


Kotkin, Gattis: Economic diversity helps Houstonians live well


Kotkin, Gattis: Economic diversity helps Houstonians live well

Lower costs help middle- and working-class residents enjoy higher standards of living

By Joel Kotkin and Tory Gattis | October 18, 2014
   FIle Photo.  The downtown Houston Skyline from the Rosemont Bridge spanning over Buffalo Bayou, Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, in Houston.  ( Michael Paulsen / Houston Chronicle ) Photo: Michael Paulsen, Staff / © 2011 Houston Chronicle                                   
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Over the past decade, we have witnessed the emergence of a new urban paradigm that both maximizes growth and provides greater upward mobility. We call this opportunity urbanism, an approach that focuses largely on providing the best policy environment for both businesses and individuals to pursue their aspirations.

Although contrary to much of the conventional wisdom about cities and regions, this is not a break with traditional urbanism, but instead a reinforcement of old traditions. Long ago, Aristotle reminded us that the city was a place where people came to live, and they remained there in order to live better. "A city comes into being for the sake of life, but exists for the sake of living well." In the end, opportunity urbanism rests on the notion that cities serve, first and foremost, as engines to create better lives for the vast majority of its residents.

The Houston and luxury models

The Houston metropolitan area reflects the idea of opportunity urbanism more closely than any major metropolitan area. Across a broad spectrum - income growth, new jobs, housing starts, population growth and migration - no other major metropolitan region in the country has performed as well over the past decade. This was among the first major metropolitan regions to replace the jobs lost in the recession and has experienced by far the largest percentage job growth since, with Dallas-Fort Worth second.

In many ways, opportunity urbanism contrasts with the prevailing urban planning paradigm - variously called new urbanism or smart growth - which seeks to replicate the dense, highly concentrated monocentric city of the past. This approach posits the notion that policies of forced density, through regulatory mandates and often subsidies, are critical to attracting both young, educated people and the global business elite. This approach describes the successful city, in the words of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as "a luxury product."

This notion of the "luxury city" worked, at least for some, in well-appointed older cities such as New York, San Francisco and Boston. Unlike most American cities, these boast long-established dense cores and transit-oriented areas where residents are employed. They possess great amenities tied to their pasts, from world-class art museums and universities, to charming historic districts, parks and public structures.
 
But this model of urbanism does not fit the profile of most American metropolitan regions, which tend to be far more recent in their development, more dispersed and overwhelmingly dependent on cars in terms of commuting. Indeed, most of the fastest-growing regions in this country - Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Raleigh and Nashville - function in a highly multipolar model that contrasts sharply with that of cities like New York, Boston or Chicago.

Prospects for upward mobility

The luxury paradigm has worked for some in some cities, but has failed, critically, in providing ample opportunities for the middle and working classes, much less the poor. Indeed, many of the cities most closely identified with luxury urbanism tend to suffer the most extreme disparities of both class and race. If Manhattan were a country, it would rank sixth-highest in income inequality in the world out of more than 130 countries for which the World Bank reports data. New York's wealthiest 1 percent earn one-third of the entire municipality's personal income - almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country.

Indeed, increasingly, New York, as well as San Francisco, London, Paris and other cities where the cost of living has skyrocketed, are no longer places of opportunity for those who lack financial resources or the most elite educations. Instead, they thrive largely by attracting people who are already successful or are living on inherited largesse.
They are becoming, as journalist Simon Kuper puts it, "the vast gated communities where the 1 percent reproduces itself."

Not surprisingly, the middle class is shrinking rapidly in most luxury cities. A recent analysis of 2010 Census data by the Brookings Institution found that the percentage of middle incomes in metro regions such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago has been in a precipitous decline for the last 30 years, due in part to high housing and business costs.
A more recent 2014 Brookings study found that these generally high-cost luxury cities - with the exception of Atlanta-tend to suffer the most pronounced inequality: San Francisco, Miami, Boston, Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. In recent years, income inequality has risen most rapidly in the very mecca of luxury progressivism, San Francisco, where the wages of the poorest 20 percent of all households have actually declined amid the dot com billions.

Like other large cities, Houston also suffers a high level of inequality, but its lower costs have helped its middle and working class populations to enjoy a higher standard of living than their luxury city counterparts. The promise of the opportunity urbanism model also can be demonstrated by smaller income disparities between racial groups, higher GDP growth, less expansion of poverty and the greater production of high-paying mid-skilled jobs. In these aspects, opportunity cities like Houston greatly out-performed their often more celebrated rivals.

But for this model to continue to succeed, Houston must confront many challenges, some of which are a direct product of its successful growth. Opportunity urbanism is not a libertarian fantasy; government must and should play an important, even expanding role. There remains, as we spell out in our report, enormous need to expand the region's infrastructure, and, most important, to improve the educational institutions of the region, from the troubled grade schools to expanding vocational programs and building up the area's still inadequate higher education.

How to measure 'living well'

The one statistic that best encompasses the success of the Houston opportunity model and exposes the weakness of smart growth is the cost-of-living adjusted average paycheck (see chart on page B13).

Despite the assertions of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, among others, that the Texas urban economy is based on low wages, Harris County's average household income is above the national average; close to that of Boston. But once the cost of living is factored in, Houston does far better for its citizens compared to any of the legacy cities.

Houston, with Dallas-Fort Worth a strong second, is able to provide its citizens the highest standard of living, as measured by average annual adjusted wages, of any major metro area in America. This is different from subjective "quality of life," but includes such basics as jobs, housing and overall cost of living.

In the end, the key advantage and promise of opportunity urbanism lies in finding ways to help residents fulfill the basic aspirations of citizens. Far more than glittery events or celebrity culture, what really matters is whether a city helps improve the often mundane conditions of life. "Everyday life," observed the great French historian Fernand Braudel, "consists of the little things one hardly notices in time and space."

This approach follows Aristotle's notion of the ultimate purpose of cities - about serving as an engine for improving lives.

It is a great thing that America continues to boast some of the most luxurious, edgy and attractive urban districts in the world. But we also need cities that can nurture new and innovative businesses, while accommodating families, middle- and working-class people with a high standard of living. Opportunity urbanism, and cities like Houston, provides that option.
Kotkin is an author, executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University. Gattis writes the Houston Strategies blog.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fable: The Fox and the Stork


One day, Mister Fox invited Miss Stork for dinner.
Miss Stork was very pleased with the invitation and accepted.
However, Mister Fox only pretended to be a gentleman and had a very sly personality.
He thought about how he could deceive Miss Stork.
Mister Fox prepared a delicious soup. He arranged the food on flat plates.

stork&fox1.jpg
It was impossible for Miss Stork to eat from the plate with her long beak.
Any effort from the stork to try to grip some food was useless. Miss Stork was so very sad.
Mister Fox could easily finish his plate with his lapping muzzle.

A few days later, Miss Stork returned the invitation from Mister Fox.
Without a moment of hesitation, he replied that he would go to Miss Stork’s dinner party.
He hurried to be right on time.
Mister Fox praised the politeness of Miss Stork for the re-invitation.
Miss Stork was preparing wonderful meat. She cut the meat in bitesize pieces.
The appetizing smell made his desire for the food irresistable. Mister Fox was very hungry.
But Miss Stork had made her plan how to serve dinner.
She had thought about how she could torture the fox.
She arranged the food into tall and slim vases.

stork&fox2.jpg

For the stork, it was a convenient way of eating.
Her long beak could go in and out the vase easily.
By all means, the snout of the fox wouldn’t enter the vase.
Mister Fox left the dinner party with drooping head and tail,
The hungry guest had to leave without having any food.
Miss Stork had her revenge on Mister Fox.

 

Moral of Aesops Fable: "One bad turn deserves another."

 

Socialism is the Philosophy of Failure.


Dick Spotswood: High court ruling on Fair Housing and zoning could hit home

Dick Spotswood: High court ruling on Fair Housing and zoning could hit home

Marin Independent Journal

Shaun Donovan, Former HUD Secretary



 



After long deferring the issue, the U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to accept a case which will determine the definition of housing discrimination. The implications for Marin are huge.

The high court took on appeal Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs vs. Inclusive Communities Project.

It emanates from a New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court decision which summarized, "The primary issue on appeal is the correct legal standard to be applied in disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act."

Since the Obama administration's advent, the Department of Housing and Urban Development holds that what must be proved to find racial discrimination is that some government action creates a "disparate impact."
Essentially this doctrine says that if any laws, especially zoning ordinances, are instituted and thereafter results in what HUD determines as racial imbalance, the law is deemed inherently discriminatory even if that's not its intention. Actions are then mandated to remedy the alleged discrimination.

This aggressive stance contrasts with the once widely accepted notion that discrimination findings require a "specific intent" to discriminate.
 
It's what the fractious litigation involving HUD and New York's suburban Westchester County is about. The federal agency claims that prosperous Westchester's utilization of single-family-home zoning is, by definition, racially discriminatory. As fewer so-called "protected class" members live in single-family neighborhoods, zoning should be changed to multi-family.

Texas vs. Inclusive Communities involves a state of Texas appeal of a judgment approving a "disparate impact" claim. There it was claimed that housing grants, including Section 8 funds, were directed exclusively to minority-majority areas and not into middle class majority-white neighborhoods.

With much of Marin zoned for single-family homes and open space, the ramifications to Marin, similar suburban communities and elite urban neighborhoods are obvious. If HUD prevails it can mandate multi-unit housing in historically single-family and rural communities nationwide.
Marin's potential consequences substantially increased after its Board of Supervisors in 2010 unanimously approved a "Voluntary Compliance Agreement" with HUD. That pact is similar to the one enabling the federal no-holds-barred enforcement action against Westchester. It requires placement of multi-unit low-income housing within upper-middle-class communities.

The Marin-HUD agreement partially explains the county supervisors' consistent advocacy for more Marin multiunit housing designed to facilitate racial and class diversity.

HUD and housing activists maneuvered to settle two similar suits before reaching the justices. Their concern was the top court would decide actual discriminatory intent was required to justify findings of discrimination.

Appellant Texas is betting on a Supreme Court significantly more conservative than circuit courts.
The nine justices will decide if the "disparate impact" doctrine applies to the federal Fair Housing Act. That law makes it illegal to "refuse to sell or rent ... or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin."
The congressionally written ill-defined phrase "otherwise make unavailable" is at the crux of the argument. Congress itself could redefine the phrase but Congress is incapable of any action.

Housing advocates contend that even absent actual discriminatory intent, current zoning laws create patterns of discrimination that facilitate deplorable living conditions plaguing "protected classes."
Texas will assert, as did the Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court when ruling in the "Arlington Heights" case, that "not every action which produces discriminatory effects is illegal."

There's little incentive for hard-nosed Texas to settle. The court will resolve the long-running dispute once and for all, probably on a 4-5 vote.

Which way the wind is blowing is likely known only to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the tribunal's usual swing vote. Expect a ruling by June.

Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley shares his views on local politics every Sunday and Wednesday in the IJ. Email him at

Ocean Thermal Energy: New Green Energy


Saturday, October 18, 2014

New Breakthrough in Fusion promises a new era of cheap, green energy.

Lockheed Martin Promises to Deliver Fusion Reactor in Just a Decade

Editor's Note: It looks like we won't be needing that high density housing after all.
 

By on October 18th, 2014 03:45 GMT
There's a lot of talk about going green energy-wise these days, chiefly because piles and piles of scientific papers are constantly reminding us that climate change and global warming are having their way with our planet.
The thing is that, of the folks who like to refer to themselves as supporters of clean energy, some are in favor of mainstream green power sources such as wind, wave and sun.

Others, like the folks behind technology company Lockheed Martin, have something entirely different on their mind. In a nutshell, these people strongly believe nuclear fusion is the future of energy.

What the heck is nuclear fusion?

For those unaware, nuclear fusion is all about getting atoms to come together, cuddle up to each other and fuse. More precisely, it's about figuring out a way to compel two light atomic nuclei to get together and birth a heavier one.

As explained by scientists, such a reaction – which, by the way, is the same one that fuels our Sun – releases massive amounts of energy. It doesn't, however, produce any radioactive waste or greenhouse gases.

Because of this, there are some people who very much like talking about nuclear fusion as if it were no more and no less than the holy grail of energy production.

What does Lockheed Martin have to do with it?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Thus, it was earlier this week when the company issued a statement saying that, having taken its time to research the ins and outs of nuclear fusion, it was confident that it would deliver a compact fusion reactor in about a decade.

What's more, the technology company maintains that the compact fusion reactor it has in the works will be comparable to a Class 8 trailer tractor. Simply put, it will be way smaller than most people would expect it to be.

“Skunk Works team is working on a new compact fusion reactor (CFR) that can be developed and deployed in as little as ten years. Currently, there are several patents pending that cover their approach,” Lockheed Martin says.

“While fusion itself is not new, the Skunk Works has built on more than 60 years of fusion research and investment to develop an approach that offers a significant reduction in size compared to mainstream efforts,” it adds.

Interestingly enough, the company swears to it that it will be done building a prototype of this compact nuclear fusion reactor in about 5 years. Besides, it argues that, once all the details get sorted out, it will only take it a year to build the actual reactor.

The thing is that, up until now, the company has failed to publish any scientific papers detailing its approach when it comes to using nuclear fusion as an energy source. Hence, it might be wise to take its announcement with a grain of salt.

To learn more about what nuclear fusion is about and how Lockheed Martin believes it can forever transform the world we live in, check out the video below.

High Speed Train Boondoogle.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Night Music: Police Greatest Hits.


Why the poor pay $4,150 for a $1,500 sofa

Rental America: Why the poor pay $4,150 for a $1,500 sofa

No credit, no cash, no bank account? There’s still a place to go shopping, but it comes at a price.

 
October 16 at 7:56 PM
CULLMAN, Ala. — The love seat and sofa that Jamie Abbott can’t quite afford ended up in her double-wide trailer because of the day earlier this year when she and her family walked into a new store called Buddy’s. Abbott had no access to credit, no bank account and little cash, but here was a place that catered to exactly those kinds of customers. Anything could be hers. The possibilities — and the prices — were dizzying.
At Buddy’s, a used 32-gigabyte, early model iPad costs $1,439.28, paid over 72 weeks. An Acer laptop: $1,943.28, in 72 weekly installments. A Maytag washer and dryer: $1,999 over 100 weeks.
Abbott wanted a love seat-sofa combo, and she knew it might rip her budget. But this, she figured, was the cost of being out of options. “You don’t get something like that just to put more burden on yourself,” Abbott said.
Five years into a national economic recovery that has further strained the poor working class, an entire industry has grown around handing them a lifeline to the material rewards of middle-class life. Retailers in the post-Great Recession years have become even more likely to work with customers who don’t have the money upfront, instead offering a widening spectrum of payment plans that ultimately cost far more and add to the burdens of life on the economy’s fringes.
The poor today can shop online, paying in installments, or walk into traditional retailers such as Kmart that now offer in-store leasing. The most striking change in the world of low-income commerce has been the proliferation of rent-to-own stores such as Buddy’s Home Furnishings, which has been opening a new store every week, largely in the South.
In some ways, the business harkens back to the subprime boom of the early 2000s, when lenders handed out loans to low-income borrowers with little credit history. But while people in those days were charged perhaps an interest rate of 5 to 10 percent, at rental centers the poor find themselves paying effective annual interest rates of more than 100 percent. With business models such as “rent-to-own,” in which transactions are categorized as leases, stores like Buddy’s can avoid state usury laws and other regulations.
And yet low-income Americans increasingly have few other places to turn. “Congratulations, You are Pre-Approved,” Buddy’s says on its Web site, and the message plays to America’s bottom 40 percent. This is a group that makes less money than it did 20 years ago, a group increasingly likely to string together paychecks by holding multiple part-time jobs with variable hours.
It’s a group whose jobs, not so long ago, were more secure and better-paying; they could pay cash at Wal-Mart and had access to more affordable credit. But today, with the excesses of the subprime boom leading conventional banks to stay away from low-income borrowers, it can be their only option. Compared with pre-recession highs, the riskiest borrowers have been all but cut off from access to big loans, like mortgages, experts say.
“Basically, the market pulled back from all low-income borrowers instead of trying to figure out how to serve them,” said Michael Barr, a University of Michigan law professor and author of “No Slack: The Financial Lives of Low-Income Americans.”
Nobody wants to buy items for amounts two or three times what they’d cost at a retail store. But when Abbott did her shopping in February, she didn’t have the money to make even a small lump-sum payment for anything of decent quality, even on Craigslist. She couldn’t buy via a layaway plan; Wal-Mart offers that option only during the holiday season. Perhaps she could have saved up the money on her own, but whenever she has tried to do so, her stash has been wiped out to handle daily needs.
“Rent-to-own was basically all we could do,” Abbott, 33, said.
So Abbott and her husband walked into Buddy’s this past winter, hoping to replace the old sofa in their trailer, six years old, its wiring poking through the bottom, cutting gashes into the living room floor.
Their decision to spring for a new sofa set was, if anything, a bet on the most optimistic arc for their family. Donald was getting regular work, sometimes making $500 in a week, paid by the load to haul pureed chicken guts — used for pet food — to factories across the South. If he could keep up the pace, they’d be okay.
Inside Buddy’s, Abbott walked over to a brown Ashley Furniture model, something she and her husband agreed would fit the colors of their Buccaneer trailer. The love seat had a cup-holder console in the middle and the cushions were plush, and when they took turns testing the feel, they realized it could pivot like a rocking chair.
“I about died when I saw that,” Abbott said months later.
By the next day, the Abbotts had a remade living room, two companion pieces, both of the same blended material, 17 percent leather. The love seat and sofa retailed, together, for about $1,500. Abbott would pay for hers over two years, though she still had paying the option to pay monthly or weekly. The total price if paid weekly: $4,158.

‘I’ve never seen a customer base or an economy like this’

A rent-to-own store provides a front-row seat to observe the bottom of the economy. It is here, at the Buddy’s in Cullman, where customers first gamble that they can handle the payments, even as the new weekly or monthly installments lessen their slack. And it is here where those gambles play out, as customers persist or falter in keeping up with what they owe.
Some persist. The Iraq war veteran who comes in — walking past the camouflage armchairs and bank of flat-screen TVs — with envelopes of cash. The hairdresser who says that if it’s a bad pay week, “I give Buddy’s what I have.” The 37-year-old grandmother who says that pretty much everything in her house comes from this store.
Most falter. At the Buddy’s in Cullman, some 75 percent of items are returned or repossessed within weeks of the transaction, store manager Angela Shutt says. And nationally, the percentage of returns has been gradually ticking upward — a sign of growing struggles for lower-income workers, said Joe Gazzo, the president of Buddy’s.
“I’ve never seen a customer base or an economy like this,” Gazzo said in a telephone interview from the company’s headquarters in Tampa. “You may have five people open an account in a day, but five people return in a day. You almost become like a Blockbuster.”
Buddy’s and its larger competitors, Aaron’s and Rent-A-Center, are criticized by some consumer advocates for predatory strategies. Items are labeled with a buy-at-once “cash price” and an installment price, the weekly payments given the largesttype size. In Cullman, Buddy’s employees pinfliers — “Own it faster for less!” — inside the doors at trailer parks and government housing complexes.
But those in the industry say they offer a legitimate service to an easy-to-overlook customer base. Customers who can’t make the payments face no penalty; because they start out as renters, not owners, they don’t face debts or credit damage if they make a return.
The Cullman store is one of Buddy’s best performers, and the five employees there empathize with their customers. Derek Bland, who drives around the county repossessing items from derelict renters, just left a job at Papa John’s. Brandy Day, one of the saleswomen, winces when talking about the jewelry that Buddy’s keeps near the register. “Take away a 42-inch TV from somebody, that’s one thing,” Day says. “But a wedding ring?”
Buddy’s rapid expansion was rooted in the economic crisis. As recently as 2007, Buddy’s — private, family-run — was essentially a Florida-based company. But as the first mortgages starting going bust, Buddy’s saw 6,000 products returned over several weeks, Gazzo said. The initial goal of expansion, Gazzo said, was less about domination than survival: Buddy’s wanted to get away from Florida, the epicenter of the real estate bubble.
The company found itself with a thriving strategy almost by accident. On a Web site for potential franchise owners, Buddy’s says that many customers who had access to subprime loans before the recession now are “unable to obtain traditional financing and therefore remain within the [rent-to-own] customer base.”
In 2008, Buddy’s had 80 stores. Now it has 204. By 2017 it wants to have 500. Gazzo said that company revenue is rising at double-digit levels annually, even as it contends with a new wave of rent-to-own Web sites.
“The industry as a whole is in the biggest fight we’ve had, because we have to compete with everybody,” Gazzo said. “And the customer doesn’t have as much money as they used to.”

‘I don’t know how we’ll make it’

Abbott has spent eight months now with the sofa set, and some days, she can shrug off the costs. She’ll sink into the cushions just before her kids get out of school and say she wouldn’t trade the feeling “for a million bucks.” Normal families have sofas, she says, and you’ll do what it takes to feel normal.
But other days, like this one, a recent Thursday, the trade-offs felt more intense. It was a payday, and Donald called a toll-free number before sunrise to see how much was left on the family’s prepaid H&R Block debit card.
“Two hundred and thirty dollars,” he heard the automated voice say , and that number represented his latest weekly paycheck — the family’s total balance, and all they’d have for a week. Abbott and Donald smoked a cigarette in the bathroom and sorted through the grim math. It was less than they were used to, but sickness and an oversupply of drivers had left Donald with the shrunken paycheck.
Already, they’d taken out their last $1,500 in savings, putting two-thirds toward a new fuel pump for their sputtering Ford and one-third to Buddy’s for back payments. Some weeks, they couldn’t pay their cellphone bills. They hadn’t eaten out in two months.
They were perpetually behind with their Buddy’s installments and had taken to skipping one week and then catching up, with a $5 late fee rolled in. To make matters worse, those payment trips to Buddy’s put them eye to eye with more temptations. One week, they added a smartphone to their order. Another week, some Samsung speakers. And suddenly, the weekly payments to Buddy’s were $110.
And on weeks such as this, those payments had become unimaginable, especially with the $598.99 monthly mortgage payment on their trailer.
“I don’t know how we’ll make it,” Abbott said, and every solution came with a problem. Return the sofa? Sure, but she’d burn the money she’d already put into it and leave her living room with a hole. Find work? She’s tried, but neither Wal-Mart nor Jack’s nor the nursing home cafeteria have shown interest in an applicant with psoriasis and a ninth-grade education. Hope and wait? Maybe Donald could get more work driving his “gut truck” — say, two cross-state hauls in a day, rather than one — but that was up to his employer.
By midday that Thursday, $51 of the $230 had already vanished, used for gas and cigarettes, and Abbott headed to Wal-Mart looking to spend as little as possible on groceries. She grabbed a 12-pack of ramen, some hot-dog buns and bumped into a friend, Rachel Bryant, in the Halloween aisle.
“You look tired,” Bryant said.
“My sugar levels are out of whack,” Abbott said.
Bryant nodded and then Abbott went quiet, dabbing her eyes.
“I’ve held it in all day long,” she said, choking out the words.
She got out of Wal-Mart having spent just $11.18 and headed back to her car, still with several more hours before she had to pick up her kids, make dinner and think about how to stretch her money for another six days.
“We’ve always talked about the benefits and costs,” she said on the drive home. “Because with a family you can’t just say, ‘I want this, I’m going to get it.’ But growing up having the chair, the recliner, the love seat, the couch and everything, you just get used to the normal stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to break from the normal stuff and get to reality.”