Beyond here there be dragons, or at least the most interesting articles I’ve read this week by other writers.
By Jim Malewitz
When I was a child, I had a thing for dead-end streets. I’d make my parents drive me around to find dead-ends. There was one in Shreveport that was particularly fascinating because there was a dead end on either side of a bayou and only needed a bridge to connect the roads. Near my house in Dallas, there was a street with two dead ends, separated by about a fifty-foot copse of trees. So what is the next best thing to a dead end? A big hole. How could I resist sharing with you a story about a big hole that wastes tax dollars.
PECOS COUNTY — The rusty pipe poking up from desert scrubland just south of Imperial would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there. But the once-forgotten water well — a reminder of ranch life here decades ago — has developed an almost magical power: No matter how many taxpayer dollars the state throws into it, it threatens to suck up more.
Little by little, the long-abandoned well has dramatically altered the surrounding landscape. This land used to be flat. Now, it’s fissured, it’s sinking — and it has cost taxpayers more than a million dollars and counting to repeatedly repair a two-lane road near the well. If the state has to re-route the road, the cost could rise to $15 million.
By Ross Ramsey
Having worked for several years with Ross Ramsey, I can tell you the banker’s son is about as mookish as you can get. He lines up paperclips in his desk drawers by their colors. But that auditor’s eye of his also helps him capture details of the state budget that may easily pass by others. In this story, he tells us about the secret budget cuts that the Senate wanted us to ignore.
Texas senators diligently assembled a proposed state budget over the last six months, and then finished off their careful work with a chainsaw.
For all of the care put into the $213.4 billion plan by Sen. Jane Nelson and others, the budget delivers one big spending cut with a broadax instead of a scalpel.
After pages of detailed spending suggestions, this item — shown in full so you can savor the Legislature’s poetic prowess — appears in a section titled Agency Non-discretionary Transfer Provisions.
By Lisa Falkenberg
At the risk of turning this into old home week, I also have to note the inauguration column written by my former colleague Lisa Falkenberg. She went to a Houston restaurant party to join some local Republicans in watching the swearing-in of Donald J. Trump as president.
“Go somewhere else. This is our Friday spot,” said the 30-something woman who declined to give her name.
When I told her that Mama Ninfa was a longtime Republican, she shrugged. It wasn’t about party – she had voted Republican, worked for Republicans, she said, but Trump is no conservative. She wasn’t sure what he was.
None of us are. For many, that’s part of his allure. He doesn’t fit into a box. He promises to put people before party. He says what he thinks. He doesn’t adhere to precedents, or the rules of political correctness. He appears to be his own man.
That’s also what scares the hell out of others. We’re off the grid here. Solid, time-honored boundaries defining civility, discretion and conflicts of interest are suddenly made of grape jelly. For anyone who’s ever read “Thirteen Days,” Robert F. Kennedy’s memoir of the delicate, patient decision-making that saved the world from nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Trump’s Twitter fits are terrifying.
Colonel Steve McCraw, Director
Texas Department of Public Safety
There is a temptation to call this: You’ll never be safe; give us more money. This report is not a traditional piece of journalism. In some ways it is propaganda as the Texas Department of Public Safety makes a pitch for $1 billion in funding for its role in securing the Texas border with Mexico. (State leaders want to cut that down to about $800 million.) But for anyone looking for information about crime on the border and the threat of terrorism by extremist or drug lords, it is an interesting read. Just put salt on it first.
Texas faces the full spectrum of threats and hazards. The globalization and convergence of crime and terrorism; an unsecure border with Mexico, powerful and ruthless Mexican cartels, violent transnational and statewide gangs, and serial criminals; worldwide terrorist organizations and lone-offenders; cyber intrusions and threats; the unpredictability of catastrophic natural disasters and pandemic diseases; the high loss of life from vehicle crashes; the large amount of nationally significant critical infrastructure in Texas, and the dramatic and continued increases in the state’s population – all of these factors have resulted in an asymmetric threat environment in our state that requires constant vigilance to minimize the danger to our citizens and their families.
By the time you’re done reading the report, you may find the dust bunnies under your bed are your best friends. It is full of statistics and anecdotes, though that will give you something to think about.