Archive for September, 2009

A Carnivorous Conservative

I started out for the meat. I ended up with the plants. That’s how my day went Saturday. A massive hamburger’s picture graced the cover of August’s Texas Monthly. I noticed it then (how could you miss it?), but failed to realize that we both were Kendall County residents! After a friend dispelled my ignorance, a relaxing 29-mile back-road drive landed me at Alamo Springs Cafe, next to the bat cave (Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area) 15 miles northeast of Comfort.

Texas Monthly ranked the Caf©’s green chile and avocado cheeseburger (now known by locals as “cover burger”) third best in the state. I didn’t need a menu, only about 45 napkins.

The plastic basket in which the masterpiece arrived doubled as a grease trap. While I ate with my hands, I did use a fork to leverage the burger out of the basket following each bite and subsequent hand wipe (one industrial strength napkin required per hand per wipe).

I got up from the table tipsy, and not because of my IBC root beer, as enjoyable as it was. Combined with the hand-breaded French fries my waitress had upsold me on, the burger’s transfats pulsated through my veins. I was happy.

After lunch and an angioplasty, I toured the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Its centerpiece: a railroad tunnel abandoned by humans in the 1930s and inhabited by 3 million Brazillian free-tailed bats today.

Though the smallest of the state’s WMAs, Old Tunnel’s 16 acres of wooded trails and viewing areas make it a prize of Kendall County. I couldn’t stay for the dusk bat show, but I hear the barber bats can give you quite a haircut.

On the way back south, I visited for the first time Kendall County’s 24-acre James Kiehl River Bend Park east of Comfort. The peaceful waterfront tract was appropriately named for the 22-year-old Army specialist whose convoy was ambushed during the 2003 coalition invasion of Iraq. All gave some. He gave all.

Under the leadership of Judge Gaylan Schroeder, the county has embarked on an ambitious parkland acquisition and development initiative. In four years, the county has gone from owning no parkland to nearly 550 acres today. That’s a liberal conservation agenda this conservative concurs with.

With child development experts lamenting the lack of time kids spend exploring nature, the parks could not have come at a better time.

Together with City of Boerne parks, Cibolo Nature Center, Guadalupe River State Park and the aforementioned, Kendall County is teeming with outdoor opportunity. Take advantage of the adventure before Nintendo releases a hiking game for the Wii. I’ll need more than a Wii to work off that cover burger!

The Garden Spot of the World

An original Tennessee volunteer, Davy Crockett, observed that “Texas… is the garden spot of the world. The best land and the best prospects for health I ever saw, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here.”

Others after him have agreed. Bud Light salutes “Mr. Way Too Proud of Texas Guy” this way: “Men from lesser states may know their state’s capital, but you know your state’s bird, tree and even reptile. You display your pride with your Lone Star tattoo, Native Texan bumper sticker and contempt for any state that doesn’t start with Tex- and end in –as.”

Of course, most Texans would say being too proud of Texas is categorically impossible. Like a mother loving her child too much.

Texans are proud of Texas. And should be. Now more than ever.

Texas’ unemployment rate sits 2 points below the national average. Its gross domestic product sits 3 points above. Its state government is $9.1 billion in the black. More Fortune 500 companies call Texas home than any other state (64).

Texas has substantial human resources. It is the third fastest-growing state in the nation. It has five of the nation’s twenty most populated cities.

Relatively speaking, Texas’ state legislators work together toward common sense solutions. They live within their means like in 2003 when they trimmed $12 billion of spending to avoid raising taxes.

This year, thanks in large part to the leadership of Republican Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio, all 150 members of the Texas House voted in favor of the state’s $182 billion biennial budget.

Even in this economic downturn, Texas is fundamentally healthy because of the lessons it learned in the 1980s.

Its conservative home equity lending laws prevented the residential real estate overheating that left many homeowners across the country underwater. And for the most part, its commercial real estate lenders maintained disciplined underwriting standards that have limited foreclosures.

Once predominately dependent on the oil and gas industry, Texas’ economy has become more diverse. It now includes significant sectors of high technology, telecommunications, wind energy, medical research, banking, aerospace and distribution.

Texas’ business-friendly regulatory environment and no state income tax have prompted such expansion.

While I’m a Union defender in the line of Lincoln, it’s understandable why the Texas secessionist movement is gaining steam. Texas seems to be one of the last bastions of America as it was meant to be. Not without challenges, not without issues, but also not without the determined spirit that derived the Union.

Like Davy Crockett, I was born in Tennessee, but he and I both got to Texas, that garden spot of the world, as fast as we could.

The Character of Our Country

Barack Obama campaigned for president as a “post-partisan.” His mascot should have been the unicorn.

It was a smart setup. Now, President Obama can propose the most liberal expansions of the federal government and call any opposition “partisan bickering.” His tactic sounds believable until one remembers how innately restrained conservatives are.

Tea parties, town halls and other political protests come no more naturally for conservatives today than revolution came for colonial Americans nearly two and a half centuries ago.

The colonists were tough, rugged, hardworking people, but they came to America to be left alone, not to pick a fight. However, the overbearing meddling from London compelled them to act.

President Obama is doing some meddling of his own, seizing an opportunity afforded him by a populace that thought “change” sounded exciting. (Undoubtedly, he was more invigorating than a post-prime McCain or his pre-prime running mate.)

With a perceived mandate in hand, the former most liberal U.S. Senator and the farthest left leaders of Congress are now giving the nation a deluge of politically charged, ultra-liberal, hardly “post-partisan” proposals.

In fact, the electorate was not demanding billions in spending or universal health care. They were simply seeking some life, some emotion, something to believe in.

A good theme song might have done the trick. Bill Clinton’s reach-across-the-aisle style would work, too.

After a failed attempt at universalizing health care in 1993-94, President Clinton worked with Republicans to balance the federal budget, fix welfare and deregulate telecom and financial services. He governed from the center as he had in the conservative Southern state that gave him his start.

The hubris in President Obama’s speech Wednesday night was strikingly less balanced.

“I am not the first president to take up [health care reform], but I am determined to be the last.” As if the world were that static. As if one man or one government body could usher in such finality to such a dynamically complex issue.

From President Obama’s wealth-redistributed, government-equalized, utopian worldview, it must be possible.

President Obama spoke Wednesday of the “character of our country.” He pulled on heartstrings (“large-heartedness – that concern and regard for the plight of others – is not a partisan feeling”). He cited the initiations of Social Security and Medicare – two programs driving us bankrupt – as examples of government’s rising to the occasion.

The character of our country, however, is not our country’s providing for every character. If it were, our nation’s founding documents would say so. Rather, the Bill of Rights can be summed in this: Government will not get in your way. Intrinsic in that truth is this one: Government will not give you your way. America is a place to pursue your desires freely. But they will not be given to you.

Expanding social entitlement programs misaligns the incentives that do constitute the character of our country.

The most bothersome aspect of the president’s health care push is not that everyone may have insurance, however anemic that coverage may be. Most troublesome is the citizenry’s growing dependence on its government.

Dependence on a taxing, rulemaking authority could not be further from the original character of our country. The founders would have chosen desperation and destitution over it.

Labor Dazed in California

The heated discussion in my childhood home each August was predictable. Should my mother renew her membership in the National Education Association? A lifelong teacher, Mom felt obligated. Dad considered it a waste of money.

I don’t recall a year Mom didn’t win. Neither do I remember a benefit Mom received from her membership. (Perhaps the benefits were muted by stories of her progressively unrulier students!) Nevertheless, she paid in to her union. Millions of Americans do. But what does America get out of them?

Undoubtedly, labor unions had a meaningful role in the developing U.S. economy. Are American workplaces safer and more rewarding for workers because of them? Definitely. Are unions outstaying their welcome? Probably.

Earlier this summer, after helping drive General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy with their unsustainable benefit packages, United Auto Workers was rewarded with ownership stakes in the two car companies. Only in Washington, D.C.

With examples like this, it’s not surprising what Gallup found in June. In a poll measuring Americans’ confidence in various national institutions, only 19 percent of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Big Labor. Unions ranked just a few percentage points better than HMOs and Congress.

Once a part of the proverbial solution, unions seem to be more and more a part of the problem. Nowhere is this more apparent than in California, where public sector unions are helping transform the Golden State into Pyrite Place.

California’s woes are well-documented and Californians are fleeing from them. Case in point: The Economist noted recently that it costs nearly three times as much to rent a one-way moving truck to go from San Francisco to Austin than the other way around.

Legal emigration, illegal immigration, unemployment, budget shortfalls and heavy tax burdens are casting long shadows on California’s clement climate. The exception: California’s public sector. Employment there has never been more profitable.

Labor-friendly laws dating back to the ‘60s (e.g., collective bargaining and no-secret-ballot voting) have prompted local government unions to expand widely. A 2008 UCLA study that found that 57 percent of California’s government workers were union members, compared to 37 percent nationwide.

As a result, California teachers and prison guards are among the highest-paid in the nation, a fine honor badge if its education and criminal justice systems were the envy of states nationwide. They are not.

Union-driven local governments are paying ever-higher wages and benefits to workers providing mere basic services. They are funding plush pensions and salary boosts with oppressive taxes and fees. Building permits can cost as much as the construction projects they authorize. No wonder individuals and companies are moving east in record numbers.

There will be a day of reckoning in California like there was at GM and Chrysler. Public sector unions can’t bargain themselves spoils from the public largesse in perpetuity. The goose can only lay so many golden eggs before it gives out.

But will California be salvageable by the time it does? And will California’s enterprise-dampening, labor-friendly model sweep the nation before then?

Hopefully, California will sober soon from its labor daze and America will learn some labor lessons from its left coast.

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