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A Communitarian View of Hurricane Harvey

Guest column: Houston’s strength is in its citizens.

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Axa Alvarez (center) and her family sort through clothes as they clean out their house. Their home was inundated with water after torrential rains caused widespread flooding during Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey.
Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Narratives are built on stories, pictures, graphics, and videos. Ideally, we want them to be aligned with the facts, but that doesn’t always happen.

Here is a synthesis of some of the predictable narratives being spun in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey from such media outlets such as the Washington Post, Slate, the Guardian, Newsweek, and NPR:

Hurricane Harvey was a catastrophe of epic proportions. Floodwater is everywhere; people can only move around the city using boats and helicopters. Local officials failed to order evacuations, so Houstonians have been forced from their homes as flood waters rose. The death toll is horrific and rising.

But Houston had it coming. It is a miserably hot swamp where no one really wants to live. It embraced a Wild West approach to growth, paved over wetlands, and refused to implement zoning, which would have lessened the impact of Harvey by requiring developers to mitigate the impacts of new projects. Moreover, it is the global center of the energy business, which is the biggest driver of climate change—one impact of which is the increased frequency and severity of hurricanes like Harvey.

Look at these pictures of flooded streets; families in boats, or shopping carts, or floating on inflatable mattresses; bridges that are totally submerged and littered with abandoned cars. Check out these graphics showing how Houston has paved over much of the land, destroying wetlands and creating impermeable barriers and exacerbating the impact of major rainstorms. Read these interviews with experts who bemoan Houston’s lack of centralized planning, and who implore the city leaders in Houston to use their power to address the many failures that became evident during Hurricane Harvey.

These narratives, alas, are a combination of ignorance and arrogance that tells the reader more about the narrative spinners’ flawed view of Houston than about the city itself.

Let’s start with some facts and perspective:

  • Harvey is the wettest storm ever to hit the continental U.S. Over 50 inches of rainfall and one trillion gallons of water fell during the event. No one builds a church for Easter, or a gated community for the zombie apocalypse. It’s pretty naive to expect people to expect the unexpected.
  • So far, there have been fewer than 50 storm-related deaths. Each of these deaths is tragic, but even if that number creeps higher, it is a stunning low fatality rate for such a major event in such a large city. The Houston region has more than 6.6 million people, and every year more than 40,000 of them die—so Hurricane Harvey increased the annual death tally by about 0.1 percent. Sad, but not catastrophic.
  • An estimated 30,000 people have been forced from their homes. This is approximately 0.5 percent of the population of the Houston region. In other words, 99.5 percent of people in the Houston region have been able to stay in their homes. Unfortunate, but not catastrophic.
  • The Trump administration has estimated that 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Although it is unclear how that estimate was obtained—if 30,000 people were forced from their home, then probably 70 to 90 percent of those homes did not sustain enough damage to force an evacuation—the Houston region has more than 1.6 million housing units, so about 6 percent of homes sustained damage of some kind. Lamentable, but not catastrophic.
  • Economic impact estimates are all over the map at this point; initial estimates were in the $30 to $40 billion range, but have been rising since then. Let’s say they end up being comparable to Superstorm Sandy, which caused about $70 billions of damage in today’s dollars. The Houston region GDP is about half a trillion dollars a year, so Harvey’s economic cost would be about 14 percent of our total economic output. Expensive, but not catastrophic.

A dispassionate weighing of these facts would tell you that though stressful events always help identify areas for improvement, by and large our infrastructure and leadership performed admirably well under extraordinary circumstances.

It other words, the facts would tell you that Harvey was not a catastrophe for Houston; it was our finest hour.

But the narrative spinners have an agenda: they want to assert that this event was an utter failure for Houston, and shame our city and county leadership into embracing centralized planning, and ultimately zoning. They believe in a top-down, expert-driven technocracy that rewards current real estate owners by actions that restrict new supply, raise property value (and therefore taxes), stifle opportunity and undermine human agency. As a life-long Houstonian, I would like to politely ask the narrative spinners to please pound sand.

Peter Drucker once said that culture eats strategy for breakfast, and Houston’s culture is one of opportunity. People come to this city to build a better life for themselves, to start and raise a family, and to do so with the support and encouragement of neighbors. This culture of opportunity means that Houstonians welcome newcomers in a way that older or more status-conscious cities do not. Houston may not be a nice place to visit during the summer, but it is a great place to create a life all year round.

This culture really shines through during events like Hurricane Harvey. Despite what the narrative spinners would have you believe, we are not rugged individualists; we are rugged communitarians. We know that when times are tough, you must rely first on family, then friends, then neighbors, and then—and only if you’re one of the few, unfortunate folks who cannot rely on any of those three—on the government. And if we have family, friends, or neighbors who can help, reaching out for government support is actually taking resources away from those who need them more.

In short, the best governance to rely upon is self-governance.

When the storm hit, I saw these networks in action. People first took care of family—in my case, my five siblings and I were in regular communication, checking in on how each of us was weathering the storm. Good news: everyone came through pretty much unscathed.

Once it was clear that my family was OK, my wife and I began to focus on neighbors and friends. I spent several hours with neighbors clearing away trees that had fallen across streets in our neighborhood, making them impassable. It was hard work—lots of chain sawing and branch hauling—and we were helped by a crew that was distributing power poles in our area. But folks just driving in the area would also stop and help, doing what they could, or just providing fellowship and encouragement. One lady in the neighborhood brought us some chicken meatballs for lunch. No one asked her to do that, she just wanted to help however she could. (The meatballs were delicious—thanks, Costco!)

Also, in our network of friends, there were a couple of families who were forced from their home. We worked together to find them places to stay, and days ago a group of about 40 men, women, and children went to their house to box up and move out their valuables, throw away everything else, and tear out the damaged drywall. People brought tools, gloves, and a can-do attitude, and a job that might have taken weeks was finished in about six hours. Our friends now have their valuables with them in a rented home (found by another friend in our network), ready for the next step in returning to normalcy.

These stories are real, and not about heroes doing the unusual. They are commonplace and just the way things get done in Houston. If you have friends in Houston, just ask. They will tell you similar stories.

Of course, leadership is important, and our regional leadership did great. Mayor Sylvester Turner and Judge Ed Emmett were both calm, deliberate, and stayed on task throughout the crisis. Governor Abbott and President Trump did their parts, but this was a local challenge that required top-notch response from local officials. And they did their jobs well.

Houston was able to absorb the wettest storm on record with remarkably little loss of life and property also because of good engineering, informed by the experience of previous storms. A good engineer designs systems that won’t fail when hit with an expected event; a great engineer designs systems that fail gracefully and non-catastrophically when hit with an unexpected event. Hats off to our great engineers.

However, a focus on Houston’s public officials or public infrastructure will lead you away from the more important truth: our response was driven by thousands of Houstonians who voluntarily stepped up to the challenge, and didn’t wait for some central authority to tell us what to do. The truth is that Houston’s culture was its biggest asset, a culture of mutual support that is extraordinary in a diverse city of this size.

And this culture is not an accident; it the consequence of a system that was designed to be driven from the bottom-up, by regular folks, responding to needs on the ground rather than some kind of theoretical plan put together by experts with no stake in our future, or interest in our family, friends, or neighbors.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. By studying what happened, we will find ways to improve the system for the next storm—and there will always be a next storm. We learned a lot from Ike, Rita, and earlier storms. When I was a child, a couple of inches of rain would flood my neighborhood; today, that same neighborhood absorbed 25 inches of rain and made it through. We have come a long way.

Harvey was a difficult challenge, but not a catastrophe. However, it would be catastrophic for city leaders to accept the narrative spinners’ version of what happened in Houston. It is demonstrably wrong on all counts:

Houston is a miserably hot swamp where no one really wants to live.

It’s hot during the summer, but it is pleasant the rest of the year. As this map shows, Houston actually gets more “pleasant days” than Miami, Raleigh-Durham, Chicago, Portland, or Phoenix. Forget your preconceptions for a moment, and answer a simple question: how could a place get to a population of 6.6 million if no one wanted to live there?

It embraced a “Wild West” approach to growth.

Houston’s approach is not the “Wild West.” We have land use that is managed from the bottom up, through a system of deed restrictions that often include local homeowners’ associations to police those restrictions. What we don’t have is a top-down, expert-driven, bureaucratic system of centralized planning. As a result, it’s easier to develop real estate than most cities, which keeps real estate prices—especially housing prices—low relative to the rest of the country. It is actually a more sophisticated and economically efficient system than the antiquated politically-driven zoning system that generally favors entrenched interests over new entrants.

The city paved over wetlands.

Over an eighteen-year period, Houston lost about 25,000 acres of wetlands. But this amounts to about four billion gallons of storm water detention capacity. As stated above, Harvey dumped about one trillion gallons; so the lost capacity represents about of 0.4 percent of Harvey’s deluge. But it’s also important to understand that the streets—a huge portion of the paved area—are used as detention, places to hold storm water temporarily when there is nowhere for it to drain. Houston’s strategy for many years has been to use streets as detention and runoff channels, the idea being that it is better to flood a street than a house. And the city’s performance under Harvey confirms the wisdom of that strategy.

Houston refused to implement zoning, which would have lessened the impact of Harvey by requiring developers to mitigate the impacts of new projects.

This is the most ridiculous of all the claims made by the narrative spinners. Mayor Turner put it best: “Zoning wouldn’t have changed anything. We would have been a city with zoning that flooded.” Proof positive of this fact: one of the harder hit areas was Sugar Land, just south of Houston. Sugar Land has zoning. Alas, Harvey, clearly unaware of that fact, dropped over thirty inches on them anyway (and they handled it well, just like the city of Houston, evidence that zoning was not correlated with impact).

Houston is the global center of the energy business, which is the biggest driver of climate change—one impact of which is the increased frequency and severity of hurricanes like Harvey.

Yes, Houston is the center of the energy business. But Houston’s energy industry is as much about natural gas as crude oil, and the increasing use of gas in power generation has led to a much-improved carbon dioxide picture in the U.S. If you believe that CO2 is causing climate change, you should be thanking the energy entrepreneurs in Houston for bringing cheap, clean natural gas to the nation. Moreover, the hypothesis that greenhouse gas emissions impact Atlantic hurricane activity is controversial; an official NOAA publication stated that “neither our model…nor our analyses…support the notion that greenhouse gas-induced warming leads to large increases in either tropical storm or overall hurricane numbers in the Atlantic.”

A final point about who pays for all this.

The narrative spinners have made a big deal about how federal funds will be needed to rebuild Houston, and therefore Houston must do what they say.

My take on this is: we are going to rebuild with or without you.

Most of the money from previous Texas hurricanes has come from private insurance. And, in some ways, this process of rebuilding restores a balance in the economy. For the past couple of decades, almost all homeowners have paid for insurance but few people make a claim. Most of that money sits on the balance sheet of big insurance companies to pay out future claims, and those companies often invest those dollars on Wall Street and real estate. That’s all fine—good, healthy commerce.

Now the time has come for the flow to go the other way. Big insurance companies will be paying out money to settle insurance claims, and most of that will go to working class Americans who will rebuild damaged property. Demand for labor will rise, as will wages, as the money starts to flow. The tilting of the economy away from physical labor toward the financial sector will reverse—maybe only temporarily, but it will still reverse.

Of course, if the federal government decides to give away money, I suppose people will sign up for it. But this madness eventually needs to end. The federal government is broke, and insisting that folks in Kansas or Vermont pay for a hurricane in Houston is silly on the face of it. This is not an invading army we’re talking about here. It’s a really bad storm. The Constitution doesn’t contain the words “storm,” “weather,” or “insurance.” Why are we continuing to twist its meaning to make Congress and the president look like heroes? If they want to help, let them help with their own time, talent, and treasure. Like the rest of us.

But we also don’t want to be suckers. If Washington, D.C. decides not to help Houston, they should end it for everyone in the future. Which they should, in my opinion.

Bottom line: I believe we should celebrate the ability of the nation’s fourth largest city to absorb the wettest storm on record and bounce back with gusto. It is a testament to the culture of my hometown and the leadership that supports and nurtures that culture.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get back to work. That wet drywall won’t remove itself.

Leo Linbeck III is a husband, father of five, CEO of Aquinas Companies, executive chairman of Linbeck Group—a Houston-based institutional construction firm—founder and chairman of Fannin Innovation Studio—a biomedical startup studio—and lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business. He was also the founding chairman, and is currently the vice chairman, of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism, a Houston-based think tank. This essay originally appeared on newgeography.com.

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  • donuthin2

    Thank you.

    • WUSRPH

      Is some PR firm generating these “defenses”? This is about the third I have seen in the past few days…in places as diverse as The National Review and The Washington Post.

      • Tory

        Same thoughts at the same time. But I also think a lot of level-headed people from different perspectives are looking at urbanist left arguments trying to negatively link Houston’s development and growth success to Harvey and finding they don’t really make sense, especially the no-zoning one.

        • WUSRPH

          There are a lot of things about Houston’s controls or lack of controls that have a direct relationship to the damages caused by Harvey…Starting with the fact that much of the area’s soil is so impermeable that it probably should not have been built upon in the first place OR, if it was ONLY with accompanied by major water diversion and drainage works…

          Of course, no one is denying that is little that any one could have done to stave off the impact of the many millions and millions of gallons of water that fell on the area….There is always going to be some flooding…especially all the many bayous that run thru Harris County…BUT it would have helped if their natural floodplains have been preserved so the flow could spread out and slow down…..AND it certainly is not going to help avoid future damages if a combination of federal flood insurance payments and the dogma that Abbott preaches allows rebuilding in those same areas….Holland used to UNDER the sea an was frequently flooded…but THEY ACTED…and there problem is vastly reduced….Maybe we need to Import some Dutch leaders to replace this group of “let Washington do it” state righters we claim to be our leaders.

          .We learned in Austin—after a number of deaths—that there just some places where you cannot build….and, at local taxpayer’s expense, we have bought out the owners of properties in those areas and moved them out. Much more of this needs to done in Houston and its suburbs and all along the Texas Coast. We also need major set aside areas where water can be directed, surge barriers at the major inlets from the Gulf, deeper roadside ditches and thousands of other things….so that, when the skies open again like they did with Harvey—as we are told will happen more and more in the future—we are not dealing with Harvey ii, iii, iv and V..
          BUT, be that as it may…If you don’t think that there is a organized campaign underway to sell “The Texas Way” and dispute the need for any major changes….You are much more naïve than I thought…PR specialists (starting with the likes of the TPPF and its ilk) were generating “taking points” guidance probably before the first house in Houston was flooded. Controlling what the public hears and what it thinks is big, big business and why major changes do not happen in this country…(OMG, I’m,starting to sound like JJ).

          • Tory

            The stat I’ve seen is that the wetlands would have absorbed 4 billion gallons out of 1 trillion that fell, or less than 0.4%. I don’t think it would have materially helped.

          • WUSRPH

            Nice try….you would almost think you have a copy of the “talking points” guidance memo…but no one said that restoring the wetlands would solve the problem.. It is only PART of a much larger program that will be required..

            One notable thing about Houston is the way that the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs (built in the 1940s) helped limit the immediate flooding…for years at a time they sit basically empty–in fact I’ve been to a skeet range built on the bottom of the Addicks Reservoir—-BUT when the storm came they filled up and kept billions of more gallons out of the Buffalo Bayou system…These kinds of structures—giant detention ponds—are part of the solution…Of course, developers have eyed all that space for years.. but, fortunately, they were not able to “put all that wasted land to good use”..

            Something similar (but smaller of course) SHOULD have been required for every development built on the impermeable land, especially those near the many bayous and their flood plans…Some where on the net there is a posting of a map showing the flooded areas in Harris County…they are virtually ALL along those bayous..

            We did not plan ahead…especially since it would have required some expenditures and limits on “what a man can do with his own land”….My fear is that, as soon as the basic cleanup is over, our current leadership (sic) will let this opportunity to LEAD past…..as it has, again an again, proven that it takes the “Scarlett O’Hara Approach” to out state’s long-term needs: “I’ll worry about that tomorrow for, after all, tomorrow is another day.”

          • Tory

            Agreed – need more stormwater runoff retention infrastructure, both public and private.

          • Jed

            more concrete!

      • donuthin2

        I am impressed with the neighbor helping neighbor and the number who have taken their boats to Houston to help in the rescue effort.

        • St. Anger

          Of course. But I for one am over the notion that this is a distinctively Texan response. I’d expect to see neighbors helping each other everywhere.

          Also, too, I am over how this keep being referred to as Texan “self-reliance.” Uh no, neighbors helping each other is the opppsite of self reliance. It is reliance on the community. What these people mean is “not reliant on government.” Which of course goes without saying when your government is unreliable. It’s hardly something to celebrate.

  • WUSRPH

    As usual, I have said too much (and you’ve been spared my insightful analysis and history of the Korean situation that I inflicted on my other audience). BUT one last piece IN RESPONSE to a direct question received thru my e-mail address (which a few have):

    Someone asked what I thought was the state leaderships’ plan to deal with the impact of Harvey….

    My response:

    They are planning to try to suck Washington dry….and then only plug as few holes as necessary with the RDF but not until 2019 when the list of unfunded items has been substantially reduced.

    They are definitely NOT PLANNING to have the legislature in town while most people are still feeling the direct
    effects and there is some interest to doing something to control where you can build or rebuild and any big expenditures for long term projects to dilute the impact of future storms.

    In short, they are DELAYING AND DELAYING till the real anger has been first directed at Washington and diluted by time……They will deal with any still hot remnants of that anger with as limited as possible state action as possible in 2019, (They might even talk about repealing the “Blue Tarp Bill” but that will be nothing but show as ALL the claims arising out of Harvey will have to be settled under its terms.)

    That is how the STATE has treated every big disaster like this in my lifetime and, as best as I can figure before….IF seawalls have to be built or other projects undertaken…let the feds and the locals pay for it…..(such as the original Galveston Seawall, the walls built around Texas City after Carla, and most if not all of the other
    reconstruction efforts.)

    The State will just ride it out and let “the Texas SPIRIT” resolve all problems….After all, it seems to have
    worked in the past…

    God, I wish having dealt with these people for so many years had not make me so cynical.

  • SpiritofPearl

    “‘Most Texans believe they send more tax dollars to Washington than they receive back,’ although the reverse is true.”

    —- Robert Stein, Rice University

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/04/us/texas-storm-federal-aid-abbott-cruz.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

  • WUSRPH

    on a different note:

    Well, they did it…..Cannot defend “overreach”, etc. I guess the 800,000 DACA kids’ only hope is that
    the ICE/DOJ understand that, just because something is the law, does not mean that you have to run out and arrest every possible violator…..There are always going be laws “on the books” that, because public opinion has changed, are now considered to be “bad law” and, are such, are enforced only when absolutely necessary…

    I suspect that the Trump Administration (sic) will probably take a similar view of the idea of rounding up and deporting the DACAs UNTIL just before the next elections (maybe even till 2020) when they will feel
    a sudden urge to prove to their base that they really were serious when they promised to deport all those Mexicans. However, we can probably expect a few roundup raids just after the end of the six months extension for show.

  • WUSRPH

    Do you think anyone might take this stuff seriously if Irma follows up Harvey by first raking over Puerto Rico and Hispaniola before taking out South Florida (again)…..With the flooding problems they are already having there (that non-existent Climate Change again) a Harvey-sized deluge on South Florida could be really, really spectacular….

  • SeeItMyWay

    Very well written and researched piece. I agree with Mr. Linbeck…on this issue, but I find hypocrisy everywhere.

    Mr. Linbeck is a key TLR player; he, according to the link below, is also a big Texas Entetprise Fund recipient, and buddy of Tim Dunn’s. I’m not a fan.

    http://stoptlr.com/blog/?p=325

  • WUSRPH

    Did you see where we may get a chance to see if JJ’s theory/prediction/hope/pray and lamentation that the “moderate” “business” and “November Republicans’ will rise up and reclaim the Texas GOP has any merit with a primary battle between State Rep Cindy Burkett and TP/EP darling Sen. Bob Hall?

    Part of her theme is that she, unlike Hall, can accomplish things in the Senate…but we will have to see if that argument plays with the District 2 GOP voters…After all, they defeated one of the kinds of Republicans Burkett is trying to picture herself as being when they elected Hall. After four years of purity, it will be interested to see if they are now once more ready to think about productivity……

    Burkett, by the way, has a Empower Texas score of 48%…Hall’s is 97%.

    I suspect that he will hit her with being a “Straus RINO” since she is a committee chair in the House, but that would not really be fair as her appointment was more of a “letterhead” one that gave her a chance to hire a couple of extra staff members as it was the Redistricting Committee and she refused to call a meeting all session long.

    • SeeItMyWay

      Why don’t you “report” the salient parts of the QR piece? She is stating that the business community is encouraging her to run…and that she supports continuing the use of Enterprise Fund $ to entice new business to the area and state instead of dropping the program and losing out to the states that do continue to offer enticements.
      Burton, Hall and the rest of the Empower Texans supported legislators are opposed to the state offering any incentives. According to the piece, Hall is a wife beater and abuser; according to a Google search, Linbeck is a big recipient of state funding yet a staunch supporter of the Empower Texans agenda. These phonies wear me out. This campaign is going to be nasty, and even though Hall has tons more $ in the bank than she does, it will be interesting to see if the business community comes through for her. This is a litmus test for someone considering a similar run against Burton.

      • WUSRPH

        I am sorry if my post did not meet your high standards…But I did not “report” the “salient parts” of the piece I was referring to that ran in the Texas Tribune, not the QR, because:

        (a) I was “commenting” on a story that had been thoroughly “reported” elsewhere and, as such, there was no need for me to duplicate it;

        and

        (b) because, to perryphrase some other poster, I did not want to smother the BB with my excessive verbiage.

        What I did say—and you repeated—was that this race will be a test of whether there is anything in your much ballyhooed resurrection of reasonable Republicans and whether the gathering forces of moderate/business/November Republicans you keeping seeing somewhere out there on the political horizon exists and/or, if it does, whether they still have (or could have) any influence on the outcome of the GOP primaries next March.

        This race, the Bryan Cook race, one for Charlie Geren’s seat, if it develops, and the contests for the seats being vacated by Jodie Laubenburg and Tony Gonzales and any other races in which Tea Party and Empower Texas take a side may well “tell the tale”…..

        It would be nice—and good for the GOP, Texas and maybe even the country—if want you proclaim becomes a reality….But, if I were you, I would not count on it.

        Of course, the situation might be helped if good, solid Republicans like you would start to tell their local state representatives with whom they are so enamored that just being “a good listener” is not enough…..and that, if they want to avoid being badmouthed to the thousands on their neighborhood webs, there needs to be some change in their voting records that produces less than a 98% and No. 9 out of 150 ranking from EP…But, of course, going that might only get one “blocked” by another GOP officeholder.

        I was also going to suggest that another test of whether the GOP is going to be resurrected would be how many GOP precinct and county conventions defeat the resolutions to condemn Joe Straus and/or change the way the speaker is selected…But, I recognize that asking these “good Republicans” to do more than sign a check and, hopefully, actually vote in the primary is probably expecting way too much…..Actually getting down into the political trenches and facing down the radical right is just more that anyone should ask.

        • WUSRPH

          P.S. Not only is there good reason to at least suspect that Linebeck (and the others who have been spilling out similar pieces in recent days) are working from talking points memos in an organized effort…..but these kinds of “we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps” and heart-warming tales of neighbors helping neighbors are STOCK disaster….and appear in newspapers, columns and radio and TV reports for any such disaster whether it be in Texas or Anchorage, Alaska….

          In fact, when I was a reporter many, many years ago in Galveston we talked about doing them as part of our yearly planning for storm season…..Not being the bravest of persons I always semi-jokingly self-assigned myself to do the interviews with evacuees who had taken refugee in the Bellaire High School gym in Houston…..You know, those great tales of how they were “the last car over the causeway before the waves blocked the road” and things like that….but, unfortunately on the couple of times we had a storm scare I somehow seemed to wind up at the county’s then makeshift disaster HQ sleeping on the floor.

          • WUSRPH

            Just to show you how I am laboring hard not to “smother” you, I might note that so far today you have missed an opportunity to partake of my “wisdom” on at least:

            * two insight pieces/comments on Trump’s plan to sell more arms to South Korea and Japan;

            * an additional short aside on Ken Paxton on the DACA decision;

            * a lengthy consideration and comparison of how Abbott/Patrick may be remembered as compared to even Dolph Briscoe and Preston Smith ending with an analysis of how others have been remembered and/or arranged to insure that they would be remembered;

            * a follow-up piece on how I once tried to create a special program to study and record the history of Texas in the 20th Century; and

            * a charming story about how the Texas Prison System used PR to build an image that was far from reality….as an illustration of how PR can be used and is likely being used now to help shape the public perception of and demand for changes resulting from Harvey..

            Plus, late yesterday one of my best pieces yet on the Korean situation complete with a history of the development of nuclear and other military strategies in the mid-20th Century and how I so badly handled that history in a thesis I wrote more than 50 years ago.

            See what my restraint has saved you from..

            And, in even further pursuit of a “no smothering policy” I am now off to actually read a book for the first time in weeks….I picked a fairly light one about the trickster and gadget makers Churchill employed against the Germans in WW II…..but, just for you, I will pick something that will require more time next.

          • BCinBCS

            O.K., W, I’ll bite. What is your plan for North Korea? I see it as a no-win situation.

          • WUSRPH

            You asked, but only because you asked:

            So, smart ass, you ask: What is YOUR PLAN for dealing with North Korea?

            Well, to start…

            *I would STOP replying to everything they do. And I would especially STOP trying to sound TOUGHER and TOUGHER….They know how strong we are….They know what we can do to them…And, assuming their leadership is rational, even if Kim is a megalomaniac, they know how far they can go…..

            *And, when I did reply, I would, after stressing our concern, remember what TR said about “speaking softly” I would definitely quit raising the stress levels even if it made me feel good…I would also give some thought to what I might do if I were a small, third or fourth class nation and the last Stalinist regime in the world and were frightened by
            that situation and wanted to insure that nobody “messes with me.”

            * By all means, I would not weaken South Korea by, in the midst of this, revoking the trade deal…….even if somehow I think that, by stomping on them while they are down, I could “get a better deal”….The need our encouragement …and support…(In a subsequent piece on Trump’s ideas of milking the occasion to make a buck by selling them arms, I stressed why this MUST not include putting nuclear weapons in Korea, going on to present a short history of nuclear weaponry during the 20th century).

            *On top of that, I would do everything possible to contain and restrain them (as we are gradually doing) but I would not get cute and declare some sort of a “blockade” that might include physically blocking their receipt of oil and goods by sea, etc. That could constitute a “act of war” and could encourage them to send out of some of their many submarines to “protect” the shipping….leading to possible “confrontations”, etc. I would USE our economic muscle, even if it involves having to tell an alleged ally or other not-unfriendly nation, that: “If you trade oil and fuel (especially) with them, you don’t trade with us” but I would recognize—and say publicly– that there is– in some cases must be—an alternative to force.

            *And, most assuredly, I would accept that there are some things in this world that even “the great deal maker” and “Only I” cannot change either because the dispute is centuries old or because doing so could result in a much worse situation than the one I was supposedly trying to fix. (We ‘lived” with “communism 90 miles from our shores” and learned to recognize Red China. We can live with NK if we must.)

            *Plus, I would take a hammer to my Tweeter and/any other device that might be available to me and which, by my impulsive use, might make a bad situation worse.

            * I would also give careful thought to what Churchill said about appeasement BY THE STRONG…hoping that my personal ego (and my nation’s ego) would not stand in the way of us giving in a little to defuse a dangerous situation.

            Or, pretty much everything that president Trump appears NOT to be doing.

            And, an added thought is what makes this situation so dangerous is that you could well produce a “cornered animal” situation—such as the one outlined above in which, if we
            were to do something as stupid as trying to blockade oil, etc. shipments reaching them, would take steps to protect that shipping…..(“The Bedford Incident” anyone?)
            This is made more serious by the fact that we seem to have a situation where BOTH sides are headed by a megalomaniac who cannot abide the idea of being seen as being “a loser”….
            In situations like this you ALWAYS have to leave the other side a backdoor of some sort….JFK did this during the Cuban Missile Crisis thru the backdoor talks by his brother with the Soviets and by the then (and for some years thereafter) secret agreements to (a) remove our IRBMs from Turkey and England and (b) promise never to invade Cuban as long as it did not again directly threaten us…..The experts at the Pentagon and the State Dept. will certainly try to lead Trump to accept these realities…but I have a good deal of concern about how he may act when he gets blood in his mouth and senses the chance for a “Total Victory”. Will he understand that this is not like beating your opponent in a business deal into the ground?

            PS…An aside from the Korean War and “blockades”….There is an old story that circulates every few years about the “disappearance” on the high seas somewhere near Formosa of a ship from India that was carrying a group of doctors and other volunteer medical personnel who were on their way to North Korea to help it deal with its massive (several million) military and civilian casualties….As the story goes, it sailed but was never seen again…..One must remember back then that the Indian government was a big backer of the “non-aligned nations” movement that sought to “chart a third path” between the Soviets and the West during the Cold War…that is one of the reasons why the US consistently “”tilted” its policy in favor of Pakistan, India’s enemy, during this period.

          • WUSRPH

            PS…Out of curiosity. You are supposed to be on the DR list that received this post that way when it was first written. Have you somehow escaped my clutches and gotten off that list or is my stuff going straight to junk? It is okay with me if that is the case, but I would hate for it to be because of some screw-up at my end.

          • BCinBCS

            I checked my other e-mail account and your messages are going there. To ensure that I receive them in a timely manner, send everything to the e-mail address that begins with the letter “O” not the one that begins with the letter “B”.

        • WUSRPH

          You may have also seen where State Rep. Pat Fallon says he is going to take out State Sen. Craig Estes in March…This one probably will have little impact on your battle for the soul of the GOP as both score very high on the EP scale…Fallon is No. 14 out of 150 with a 89%…Estes has an 81…..From the reports it is more likely an ambitious state rep. who sees a chance to oust a long-serving senator who may have grown too complacent and has not been adequately “working the district”…..That kind of hubris is often the cause of an older member’s defeat.

  • WUSRPH

    The National Review, for the second time in only a couple of days, has run a piece discounting what happened in Houston during Harvey…This one is called “Pilling on Houston”. You can find it at:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/451082/houston-land-use-policies-are-not-blame-its-flooding?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NR%20Daily%20Monday%20through%20Friday%202017-09-05&utm_term=NR5PM%20Actives

    What is almost entertaining about all of this is how they somehow think we are all too stupid to notice how so many great minds from the same political spectrum all at the same time have had the same revelation.. It is almost as if there is something in the air that is producing similar thoughts in similarly politically minded folks spontaneously.. Or, could it be that the PR experts started generating “talking points” guides and fact sheets even before the first house in Houston was flooded. All-in-all, a masterful job.

  • WUSRPH

    I thought buying and selling people had been outlawed in this country….but apparently not….At least that is what it looks like when you have Republican congressional leaders suggesting that, in order to save any of the DACA children, the Democrats are going to have to give in on such things as the WALL and penalties, etc. for illegal immigration…

    I don’t think I’ve seen such a blatant “you have to buy them” policy since Fidel Castro blackmailed us into providing him with millions of dollars of food and drugs, etc. to “buy” back the Cubans we had launched on his country at the Bay of Pigs. The stink is almost overwhelming.

  • WUSRPH

    One last tacky for the day:

    Is Trump planning to release the DACAs who joined the military from the service at the end of six months from now? He can kick them out at the same time he boots the transgender service personnel. (I certainly hope none get killed in Afghanistan or some place in the meantime.)

    Actually, I think we should let Ken Paxton plan their dismissal ceremonies…..

    For transgender soldiers he could adapt the old ceremony used to dishonorably discharge deserters…First you brand them with a hot iron on the thumb with a D…That used to stand for deserter but now, ala Dr. Hotze and Dan Patrick’s definition, it could stand for DEVIANT. Then you strip them of any medals or rank markings they
    might have once earned, cut all the buttons of their uniform coat (since they said US on them), take their sword (if they had any) and break it across your knee…and then you drive them out of gate of the fort.

    For DACAs we could do the same except for the branding and, instead, of driving them out of the fort gate, we would drive them into the waters of the Rio Grande.

    t would fit right in with all that “heart” he is showing them.

  • John Bernard Books

    Another dem pedophile set to go on trial….
    “Menendez’s corruption trial is slated to begin Wednesday in Newark, N.J. He has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of fraud and bribery.”
    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/09/06/sen-bob-menendez-corruption-and-bribery-trial-begins-what-to-know.html

  • John Bernard Books

    Dems control Houston so the voters get what they voted for:
    “In a report dated May 1996, engineers for the Harris County Flood Control District concluded the area’s reservoir system was severely insufficient and imperiled thousands of properties. The report’s authors proposed a $400 million fix: constructing a massive underground conduit that would carry water out of the reservoirs and into the Houston Ship Channel more quickly. ”
    https://www.dallasnews.com/news/harvey/2017/09/05/houston-grew-officials-ignored-lifetime-chance-spare-thousands-flooding

    Instead of drainage, voters got a multi billion dollar toy train that floods when it rains……Houston of course is run by democrats…..

  • WUSRPH

    I am seeing those wonderful words “This user is blocked” on my screen again…Does this mean the Troll has surfaced? P.S. Has he found a way to blame Harvey on the Democrats yet?

    Seriously–if you can use that word when talking about the Troll—I hope his absence was not due to any storm damage or other crisis…as we are told that one should not wish harm to fall on anyone else and that we should not kick a man when he is down…

    • WUSRPH

      P.S. Did The Troll say anything about the status of his wall (or room) of pictures of himself with notables? I did a cute piece on such walls for my DR e-mail list and I’m tempted to post it here…but, that might be smothering…

  • WUSRPH

    I also see that Gov. Abbott is rolling up everywhere he can in the areas hardest hit by Harvey to express his concern and to give the locals at least a symbolic hug…..as he and other politicians learned to do after both Bush presidents seem to have suffered some political damage from their less apparent concern for storm victims. It is a nice gesture and something that I am sure the victims appreciate (other than those officials who were called away from their important tasks to greet him, etc.)…..but I hope that Abbott does not feel this is all that is required to demonstrate leadership….

  • WUSRPH

    And, last but not least as I take off to do some chores…(You have to wash clothes eventually, after all.)

    I thought I had seen about the limit of a sick mind when our own Alex Jones suggested that the people in the White Robes at Charlottesville were actually Jews trying to give Christians a bad name, but Rush Limbaugh may have topped even Alex with his new diatribe about how the warnings about Hurricane Irma is “fake news” hyped by the media to help boost reader and viewer figures and to increase retail sales…..

    I had not seen anything like it since many years ago a newspaper editor I knew who, shall we say, did not have strong religious beliefs, wrote a column about how the merchants were all marking up their prices in anticipation of their Christmas sales and suggested that might be the modern idea of what Xmas is all about…..One can only hope that Rush gets the same reaction that he did….

  • WUSRPH

    I was virtually going thru the laundry room door when:

    We have had a slew of “defending the Texas way” columns in recent days designed to head off any change “in the way we do things in Texas” but now other side is beginning to counter with reasons why because of way we do things in Texas we should have to carry some of our own burden and not expect Uncle Sam to do it for us….

    http://tinyurl.com/y8jtkj3d

    I guess when you brag so much about the “Texas Miracle” and how we are so much better than the rest of
    the country, they tend to take us at our word…..but how dare they suggest that we have the ability to go it on our own just because our leaders preach that doctrine night and day right up to the time it might actually cost us something to live up to our boasts.

  • Kozmo

    Well, there’s this view from the Realist camp (not the Cheerleaders’): “Why Texas May Not Be Equipped for the Recovery From Harvey” https://slate.com/business/2017/09/why-texas-may-not-be-equipped-for-harvey-recovery.html

    • roadgeek

      Slate? Are they still publishing? The one media property the Graham family still owns? That has to solicit donations, as they did after the inaugural? That Slate?

  • WUSRPH

    So…if you have something to say when you stumble away from the 19th Hole…let us hear it.

    By the way, which side are you resurectors of the GOP going to take in Paxton/Huffines race? I suspect you will come down on her side as she may l probably listen to you (or appear to do so) more than he will.would…Based on the last two legislators who you were so enamored, Wendy Davis and now The Great Listener, that and a smile in your direction is apparently about all it takes. There certainly cannot be any ideological or philosophical basis to your decision when one is a 98%er with Empower Texans and her last score, back in 2013 was 43%. Of course, that was the session in which The Great Listener was NO 1 on EPs list of the most conservative House members while Ms. Paxton’s husband was No. 1 in Senate with a 100% rating..

  • roadgeek

    I read this AM that 550,000 FEMA claims have been filed. It might be time for the feds to get out of the disaster recovery business, and leave rebuilding to individuals, private entities such as insurance companies, cities, counties and states. FEMA is broke, and now Irma is bearing down on FL.

    • SpiritofPearl

      If FEMA is broke, it’s time to fund it again. Climate change is the real deal.

      • Jed

        but but free market blublublu

        • SpiritofPearl

          Yeah . . . blublublub . . .

    • WUSRPH

      You might note that those applications are NOT just for federal flood insurance purposes….but include all kinds of request for disaster relief…..In fact, I saw an estimate that more than 70% of those affected by Harvey HAVE NO FLOOD INSURANCE and, unless they can qualify for some disaster aid or a low-interest federal loan, ARE ON THEIR OWN.

      As to the flood insurance broke which, as you suggest is broke (in a deficit). The federal government is in the flood insurance business simply because NO private entity or insurance company could sell a policy (and make a reasonable profit) along most of the US coast and many of our in-land waterways, etc. The premiums would just have to be too high…FEMA is indeed broke…and has been for years and will probably be broke as long as there is a need for it…..It, like the post office used to be, is there to meet a need, not to make a profit. (The same, of course, applies to windstorm insurance which is why—thanks to people like former State Sen Babe Schwartz—Texans can get coverage from a special pool.)

      Of course, this does not mean that it cannot be “reformed” or that it should not be….For example, it probably should say that there are some areas where it will not simply not cover a property built there and, especially, not pay for rebuilding one that has been destroyed. That president you hate so much (Obama) tried to do something along those lines but one of the first things the Trump Administration (sic) did was to cancel that reform on the grounds that it would stifle growth. It is now “reconsidering” that decision.

      As to cities, towns and the state taking the responsibility….They certainly have a role…but, as you may have noticed people like our governor are running away from taking any real responsibility simply because it may cost billions and/or require a state tax increase….Texas should not be allowed to get away with this….if only because we have preached the Texas Miracle and state rights for so long.

      But, again the reality is that the cost of just cleaning up after a Harvey—not including any cost of taking steps to limit the impact of future Harvey’s—is too great for local and state governments to bear….Remember, just the cleanup and rebuilding for what was there before Harvey is going to be MORE THAN THE ENTIRE STATE BUDGET FOR A YEAR. This is, incidentally, despite your objections to it, a FEDERAL SYSTEM in which cities, states and the federal government sometimes have to share the costs….Think of it as your neighbor helping you out…

      The sad reality demonstrated by events like Harvey is that there are many parts of this country where development should not have been allowed….But, it was, and we are now paying the bill. AND we will continue to do so until our alleged leaders face up to the change for major changes in “the way we do things” here in Texas and in the nation……An even sadder reality is that CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL and that it is only going to make things worse….while Trump and Abbott and their ilk for political reasons alone continue to deny it….They will be long gone, or course, but I expect their names will be cursed by those who follow us….

      • WUSRPH

        Speaking of Abbott fleeing his responsibilities….He has a press conference slated for 10 a.m. tomorrow to discuss Harvey’s impact….One can only hope that he gets some tough questions…although getting them does not mean that he will answer them.
        Now, off to finish my laundry and read some more that book.

    • SpiritofPearl

      Here’s a good counterpoint to your argument:

      https://www.thenation.com/article/natural-disasters-call-for-good-governance-not-charity/

      Clinton built FEMA up, GWB tore it down. We got “Heckuva job, Brownie!”

      I trust government infinitely more than I trust the corporatocracy.

    • Jed

      yeah the cities and states are flush with cash.

      what a jackass.

  • SpiritofPearl

    What will the GOP do after the old white Christians die off? Coming to a theater near you . . .

    https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/americas-shifting-religious-makeup-could-spell-trouble-for-both-parties/

  • WUSRPH

    Many of us who had had to deal with him over the years hoped that now that John Sharp had his dream job as chancellor of the A&M System (and especially after the fiasco that his and Rick Perry’s franchise tax reform turned out to be), that Sharp would no longer have any role that affected more than the future of A&M…At least we hoped so…BUT now it appears that Gov. Abbott is going to appoint him up to head a special commission to oversee the rebuilding of Texas……

    (You may remember that last week I suggested that one of the things Abbott might do to kick-the-can of having to make decisions farther down the road would be to appoint a special commission as doing so could easily buy him the time for the immediate pressure for the State to do something has passed..)

    It will be interesting to see whether Sharp is willing to take the commission into the mine fields of considering what changes “in the way we do things here in Texas” might be required to limit the impact of future Harvey’s….We can always hope that now that he is not trying to sell himself to the voters but to “History” he may be willing to enter those uncharted and politically dangers waters……and move up to the role of STATESMAN…Of course, as the old political slogan goes, “a statesman is a retired or dead politician.”

    • WUSRPH

      To end the day with a couple of tacky comments:

      First, one has to wonder what role Ryan & Co. will play as a special fiscal advisor to the Sharp Commission in designing and later marketing (and fiscal advising) whatever mechanism the commission may devise to pay for the rebuilding in addition to anything coming out of the Rainy Day Fund?….We know with Abbott taxes are out….but a nice large state bond issue (with plenty of opportunities for participation by all the bond attorneys and firms) could be appropriate. Maybe even a really big one that wraps a few billion in county and city bond issues together with the state’s in a big package….which, of course, can be justified on economic grounds…But just think of all the fees, etc. such a portfolio would generate….(In the good old days it would also have produced some very, very nice trips to New York to talk to the ratings firms and the big banks…but those fell out of favor once the newspapers caught on. And, darn it, I never got to take one).

      Second, in 1983 when it was clear that some major changes had to be made in public education in Texas Gov. Mark White somehow decided to reach out and appoint Dallas computer billionaire and super maverick Ross Perot Sr. to head his special commission. I doubt White–or anybody else–appreciated at the time what Perot would do with the commission or how many likely millions of his own money he would invest in it or how far he would go to shake things up.. White may have thought it might turn out like the similar Jawor5ski commission of the late 1960s-early 70s that studied education in Texas from top to bottom in great detail (its reports probably cover several shelves in the state archives) but in the end came to nothing. But, as history tells us, that was not going to be the case with the PEROT COMMISSION. Nothing in John Sharp’s long record in public life suggests that he has any Perot in him…but that is what it likely to take for the Abbott commission to have anywhere near the impact on Texas that Perot’s did….

      Speaking of gubernatorial commissions: Has anyone heard any hints about when Abbott is going to get around to creating the special commission on public education he demanded the legislature to create so he could kick the can of making decisions on what to do about our schools down the road until at least 2019? Perot is, unfortunately, not available but Abbott being Abbot probably will in any case not take the kind of chance White did in naming Perot.

  • WUSRPH

    I thought I said something the other day about why we SHOULD NOT try to put a blockade on North Korea and intercept ships heading to and from there on the high seas….Well, as usual, “Only I” was not listening.

    http://tinyurl.com/ya7ojw8b

    NK has a substantial submarine force—mostly small coastal ones–but still enough to “defend” the principle of freedom of the seas…Some of us are old enough to remember the times during the Cuban Missile Crisis when there was a real possibility of armed conflict between Soviet and US ships…at very tense moments in the crisis…including one involving a Soviet submarine…On one of those occasions it took the personal intervention of the Secretary of Defense to keep the Navy from “escalating” the crisis…..I thought history was supposed to teach us lessons….but, of course, that only works it you have read it….

    How much of our navy are we going to have to commit to this stop-and-search blockade?

    What do we do if a NK submarine shows up to escort a ship we want to stop? Challenge it? What happens next?
    Are we looking for an excuse to “retaliate” against “this open aggression on the high seas” by the North Koreans?

    But, boy, think of the TV pictures and how it will show the world how tough the US (Trump) can be…..

    As an old saying goes: People who know history are forever condemned to watching people who do not make the same mistakes over and over again.

    • WUSRPH

      NK actually is reported to have more submarines than any country in the world….It is no. 1 in the total number…We are number 2….Of course, most of its force are small diesel-electric boats and most of them are short-range coastal subs….How may it can deploy is uncertain…that would depend on how important it thought the need to be….None of them are matches for our nuclear attack subs or probably for out anti-submarine surface and air units…but sending out a group at a time—spreading out over the ocean—could easily overwhelm the capacity we have in the area. And, it only takes one with one torpedo or one missile to strike a blow that could set off something much, much bigger.

      Back before Pearl Harbor the US, although officially a “non-belligerent”, was actively supporting Britain in is struggle against the Germany submarine force—-in fact, our actions in escorting conveys to Britain half-way across the Atlantic where British/Canadian forces took over and in seeking out German subs and reporting their positions to the British—could technically be called “acts of war” .

      Hitler, not wanting to add the US to his list of official opponents, ordered his Navy to avoid conflicts with American naval units…BUT one day when the activities of a US destroyer monitoring the activities of a German submarine (sitting on top of him and openly broadcasting its location) had gone on for several hours until his battery power and oxygen supplies were almost exhausted, a German captain decided “enough is enough” and put a torpedo into our ship….Of course this was contrary to his orders…but, when pressed enough, people sometimes forget their orders. Can we expect more from a North Korea submarine commander?

      We, of course, expressed our total outrage at this brazen, unprovoked attack.. How far this “quasi-war” in the North Atlantic might have gone had the Japanese not attacked us a few weeks later is uncertain; but, the fact that the US was virtually already at war with him, was one of the reasons why Hitler decided to join in with the Japanese and declared war on the US. He did not have to do so…as the Axis Treaty with Japan did not require it…and Logic and reason should have told him that was a major strategic mistake… but, as history has told us again and again, people’s actions are often guided more by their emotions than by their mind….It is so, so easy to escalate up Herman Kahn’s ladder of conflict levels.

  • Jed

    i though you had finally had enough embarrassment and gone away.

    what would it take if literally the fourth reich marching down the street – thanks to your presidential vote – wasn’t enough?

    • SeeItMyWay

      Toughen up, Buttercup. Whining is for sissies.

      I voted for Trump. Don’t like how he’s handling many things, but, even now, I would vote for him if the alternative was Hillary. She should be in jail.

      • Jed

        you would vote for a nazi rather than a woman or a black man. in fact, you would do it twice, according to you. you continue to be an embarrassment to yourself, your family, and your country.

        not sure what of that is whining.

  • Jed

    it is interest to note how many of the critiques that the author puts up to refute are simply true.

    putting “they paved over the wetlands” or they “refused zoning” in italics doesn’t make them less true.