Friday, August 10, 2007

The Flip Side to Toll Roads

Something struck me as odd when reading through this post. You mentioned how toll roads often use previous highways, and you explicitly cite Highway 290. I am from Houston and have traveled on this road many times, and 290 is never used as a toll road, it goes downtown from the West where it ends at the inner 610 loop, never once costing a penny.

As far as I know, Houston has 2 toll roads, the Beltway and the Hardy Toll Road. The
Beltway is just a giant circle around Houston, and the Hardy Toll Road simply runs from the North parallel to I-45 and 59 towards downtown. The reason for me pointing out the physical relation of these roads is to illustrate that these roads are not required to get anywhere in Houston. That's the point of toll roads, to alleviate traffic, but not to serve as necessary routes of transportation. The toll is an effective way of charging those who use the roads the most.

Because these roads are not used by everyone, why should everybody have to pay taxes for these roads? As we learned, the legislature is required to spell out where all state funds go, and if one were properly motivated enough, you could look up where all of our tax money goes.

In this issue, it's very important to note what our two alternatives are to not having tolls. We can either A) increase a general tax, or B) apply a gasoline tax. While I'm sure many Texans may be upset over toll fees, I'm almost positive that the last thing a Texan wants to see is gas prices go up one more red cent. Also, both of these solutions blanket citizens that may have nothing to do with the cost or usage of these roads.

One last thing to note is that toll road contracts are given out to private investors, not a public sector company. Because of this, there's a profit to be had. A great read as to why private companies win out these bids is illustrated here.

The heart of this discussion can be found here.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Since When Did Education Matter?

Oh, that's right...always. It has always mattered. Texas has seemed to catch this drift, ranking high among states in spending in education. However, it's not spending that's the problem. It's spending in the right places that's important. Is it really alright for superintendents to receive high percentage increases while teachers rates stay drastically lower? Why should only roughly 50 cents on the dollar make it to the classroom and their teachers?

Lately on the federal level education has been taking the backseat to slightly more pressing issues with the war in Iraq, social security, and health care. This means that now more than ever the states need to step up and really push for better reform in schools. Not too long ago a bill proposed to issue tax-free books failed (yet again) to make it through the legislature. Just last week I purchased books for the new school year, and I am looking at spending $500 just to buy books just for the Fall 2007 semester!

Recently Texas decided to drop the top 10 percent rule, meaning that universities will no longer be required to admit students simply because they had a high enough GPA in relation to their peers. If I had to say one thing, I would say this is a step in the right direction. I am not saying grades are unimportant, but I am saying that it should not be the only thing that matters. I recall upon a friend of mine named Mitch that always took upper level classes so he could challenge himself. Well Mitch was also a football player and a member of many student organizations, and in the end he pulled B's in these tough classes. When he barely dropped out of the top 10 percent, he was denied admittance to UT, despite good SAT scores and his extracurricular activities. One year later he is finally able to transfer from a satellite school, but he missed out on a year of a better education simply because of this shortsighted rule. Thank god for this, and I hope that we only progress our education system with more reforms such as these, taking away from the standardized nature of 'no child left behind.'

Friday, July 27, 2007

Drunk Driving Reaches New Heights

Recent news strongly suggests that NASA has allowed for astronauts to fly after the mass consumption of alcohol. NASA has denied any allegations at the moment, but says they are investigating into the matter. In the event that these stories are true, it certainly raises very important issues.

The space program has had millions upon millions of dollars invested into it. Potential astronauts supposedly go through harsh conditioning and a very selective process before even gaining the opportunity to fly in space. I really cannot believe that after all the money and all the effort put into the program that something like this would happen. It was not long ago when I was a little kid and gazed into the stars hoping to be an astronaut one day. It hurts to think that people that would finally achieve a goal would risk their lives on something as shallow as a drink.

In all honesty I am surprised of the negligence and overall lack of attention this subject may have garnered before this article. How hard would it be to implement a breathalizer before takeoff? Or how about this: astronauts are held in quarantine days before liftoff, why not just remove all alcohol the day before a launch? Would it really cause that much grief?

With all of the recent manpower that has gone behind police efforts to crack down on drunk driving, I wonder how NASA conveniently slipped through the system. More importantly, everybody knows that money has been taken away from our space program these past few years, and it just dawned on me that this is certainly not the kind of press coverage NASA could be using in perhaps its twilight years.

To read the article click here

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Virtue of Job(s) Still Untested

With an economy that has been steadily growing the past few years, speculators have to wonder when the next big dip is going to occur. Well it certainly isn't going to happen in June, as Texas unemployment rates remain their lowest in June since 1976. The lovable number (4.1%) continues to bolster Texan pride, giving those southern stalwarts even more reason to proclaim Texas could be its own d#%ned country if it pleases.

But in all seriousness, this increase can mean only good things provided the market remains at a steady increase. But remember the golden rule that whatever comes up must come down. At one point or another, if (or should I say when) the market tumbles, interest rates would currently be stuck at a value too high for borrowers to pay back their gambles, resulting in nothing but trouble.

Until then, live up that life, and for those non-Texas residents, maybe it's time to put up that GTT sign and see if the grass truly is greener in the Great Plains.

To read the article that sparked this writing in its entirety click here or the title.