Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are they trying to make Lee P. look good by comparison?

It's possible that I was mistaken when I hung the "Apple Dumpling Gang" moniker on the ChronBlog editorial board. The true gang who couldn't shoot straight appears to be the Parker administration.

It's telling how shallow the Houston political talent pool really is when you have a Mayor that's generally made a mess of everything, is more focused on her green cred than she is keeping jobs in Houston, and there's still no credible challenger that's stepped up to (at least) make her answer for these missteps on the campaign trail.

One poll does not an election make....

Case in point.

I've no idea whether Perry can compete nationally, although my early inclination is no, however, anyone seriously entertaining the idea that Obama would have a chance against Perry in Texas needs to walk down off the partisan ledge and take a couple of shots of something pretty strong. An on-going economic war by the President's party against Texas is only going to make this worse as we roll into the worst season of all*.







*For those of you not paying attention, it's pre-election season. The period of time before the campaigns get really serious and all you have are reporters and amateur bloggers speculating about who, what, why and how.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why not just wait for the final numbers?

Chron.com and Metro* are beside themselves with glee over a "study" by local Democratic activist and University of Houston Poli-Sci professor Richard Murray that suggests new members won't have to be added to the board.

(Study: Metro board not in need of new members. Carol Christian, Chron.com)
A study by a Houston political science researcher shows that suburban population growth, relative to the city of Houston's, hasn't been enough to require adding two seats to the Metropolitan Transit Authority board.
The conclusion by University of Houston professor Richard Murray is significant because if 2010 census data had met a threshold that requires expanding the board from nine to 11 members, the city's five appointees would no longer be a majority.
The emphasis is mine, and really cuts to the heart of the issue. What scares Metro to death is the prospect of losing the majority for the urban core and being forced to consider providing service to non-smart growth proponents. What this would undoubtedly mean is *gasp* NO MORE TOY TRAIN. That's something that the world-classiness crowd can't stand.

To my thinking waiting for the final census results to come out, and then taking a hard look at the final numbers, is the best way to satisfy this. In a very "old" Metro way however, Metro is choosing to get out in front of the issue by using their bloated PR department to spend taxpayer money in order to prop up 7 miles of train service that's accomplishing a lot of nothing. Not only is it bad public policy, but it's accompanied by more bad identification of local figures and will soon be followed by a bad editorial cheer-leading the results. It's the Houston Way.






*Please don't call them the "new" Metro. That's a PR ploy to cover up the fact that Metro is operating as they always have. They don't listen to large swaths of the voting public and they aren't all that interested in providing meaningful transit service to the Houston Metro area.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

If the cost of trees is so low.....

....that Chron.com can kill some to run this poorly-argued pap from the Apple Dumpling Gang.....


...then why is the cost of lumber so high right now?


Shutter the ed board, redeploy the resources to local coverage. These little pieces of anti-democratic, static, ruling-class finger wagging are getting too predictable. At least they didn't try to "build a bridge".........or something.


One note: The Chron's argument is basically that the "will of the people" from the time of the City Charter is more important than the "will of the people" now. What they also forget is that the "will of the people" back then was majority pro-segregation. Surely THAT'S not the argument they are making?

Some might say....

....that Houston's City government is slightly insane.

(Is Sundance deal good for Houston? Purva Patel, Chron.com)
The city of Houston is helping pay to remodel an art house theater in hopes of collecting a percentage of the business, even though a similar agreement with another downtown business has fallen short of expectations.
If you go read the entire article (and you should) you will see that the deal referenced in the first paragraph was Tillman Fertitta's Aquarium. I remember the howls against that at the time from the InterLeft, strange that their silent on this deal.

Of course, Sundance Theater will probably only screen "approved" films that middle-aged, Caucasian progressive's like to tell other people to attend. The Aquarium? schlock fun and food from the king of those things. Things those Republicans want to un-elect consider beneath them.

Meanwhile....about that budget...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What's not said....

....in today's San Antonio Express-News story about "clean energy" companies bringing jobs and economic manna to the city is where the profits will be found long-term?

(S.A. wins new jobs in clean energy, Tracy Idell Hamilton, MySanAntonio.com)
CPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby is expected to announce Monday the relocation of several clean-energy-related companies to San Antonio, bringing hundreds of good-paying jobs and establishing a firm toehold in the “new energy economy” that Mayor Juli├ín Castro has been pushing since he was first elected.
The article goes on to say that these companies are going to spend Millions on San Antonio education and infrastructure and are going to be giving away certain products FOR FREE!

Which all sounds well and good until you realize that pseudo-governmental agencies make up their economic short-falls on the backs of the taxpayer. Granted, free-market companies pass on their short-falls to the consumer, the difference being you have a choice in the private market, while in the regulated, government monopoly there's no relief from poorly ran companies who make short-sighted decisions partially for political reasons.

Somewhere, and forgive me but I don't remember where, I read a comment by a progressive suggesting that pseudo-governmental agencies shouldn't worry about profit at all. I can't state how much I agree with that. While agencies such as Metro and CPS Energy don't need to turn a profit because they're subsidized heavily, their goal should be to run as profitable as possible so that their impact on the taxpayer's wallet is none. Those profits could then either be sent to the general fund, or used to strengthen the infrastructures they operate.

Instead we have companies that are coming in and receiving Billions in government subsidies to do something the free-market has decided right now is unsustainable. Guess who's going to pay in the long run?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hey Paul? *corrected*

I'm guessing you're nixing that planned run for Houston Mayor now right?

(Thousands lost in tax refund scam, Cindy George, Chron.com)
The Harris County Tax Office may have lost more than $350,000 to a fraud scam in which tax overpayment refunds were claimed by people not entitled to the money.
In a letter to County Commissioners on Friday, Assessor-Collector Don Sumners reported that the potential loss to his office is $356,629 from issuing as many as 17 checks from December 2009 through October 2010. The claims were made for tax years 2006, 2007 and 2008.
I can't believe that Chron.com didn't point out that this scam occurred during Bettencourt's tenure*. I'm not sure if that was because this article feels to be hastily prepared, or that the editors just didn't feel it to be all that important.

To me, when you have a candidate whose self-professed claim to fame is running a good organization and being a watchdog for the taxpayer, this seems like an automatic. Now granted, I'm not a fan of Mr. Bettencourt, nor his political guiding light Dan Patrick. I think both of them are political demagogues who are only in it for their own egos. So I admit that I'm chuckling just a little bit with the news of this. That being said, how in the world do you not mention who was in charge at the time?

*Oops. Obviously, as Kevin pointed out in the comments, I flubbed this. The infraction actually occurred during Vasquez tenure. Not Bettencourt's as I so gleefully opined. Has it really been three years since Paul resigned?

So, change that to "how did the Chron not contact Vasquez?"

My apologies to Mr. Bettencourt.*



*That is, before he quit his position to cash in on the property tax issue which he claimed to fight all those years. His founding that company was a sign to me the Dan had given up that fight.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why do I get the feeling.....

....that today's ruling overturning the anti-red light camera election results will soon be followed by a lawsuit against the city by the RLC operator demanding the camera ticket program be reinstated?

(Judge invalidates vote ending red-light cameras. James Pinkerton and Chris Moran. Chron.com)
A Houston federal judge on Friday invalidated last November’s referendum that ended the red-light camera program, a ruling that has sent city leaders back to square one.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled the city can not reverse an ordinance except by a referendum of voters held within 30 days of the passage of the ordinance. Opponents to the red light camera ordinance, which passed in 2004, mounted the last year challenge as an amendment to the city charter but Hughes said it was essentially the same thing.
You have to think that American Traffic Solutions now feel they have a legally binding contract with the City of Houston that has to be executed.

As far as the ruling itself? Like many other bloggers, I'm not a fan of judges overturning the will of the voters in non-Constitutional matters. This isn't a case where the minority is being trod on by the majority, or a situation where the security of the union is in danger. Houston's elected officials have recently said that they wouldn't resume the program even IF a judge voted the election down.

I just can't help but wonder if they're going to, legally, have any choice?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Find the Friendly outlet.

Follow me here....


6:27 PM June, 16th, Texas Watchdog: HISD vendor state Rep. Borris Miles offered trustees all-expenses-paid Costa Rican trip, email shows. Lynn Walsh, Trent Seibert & Jennifer Peebles, Texas Watchdog.
From the article:
Phone messages left at Miles' legislative office and his Houston insurance office were not returned Thursday afternoon.

7:37 PM June, 16th, Houston Chronicle: HISD trustee confirms vendor-lawmaker set up trips, Ericka Mellon, Chron.com From the article:
Miles, a Houston Democrat, said the Costa Rican government picked up the tab for the trips, which included others from the Houston area. Miles, who also attended, did not say who else joined him, but Marshall was the only one of the seven HISD trustees he invited to accept the offer.
Miles has contracted with HISD for several years, with his insurance agency earning nearly $900,000 since late June 2009, according to the district's check register.
"We don't even have the health insurance for HISD," Miles said Thursday. "I do flood insurance for HISD. We were just trying to show them ways to cut costs."


Other than the quotes from Miles the two articles are pretty much the same. Now, I know what you're saying "he's saying the Chronicle stole Watchdog's article." No, you're wrong. I believe that the Chronicle came across this independently of the Watchdog. I also believe that the Miles camp went media outlet shopping, and chose to feed the story to a media outlet in Houston that he knew would be sympathetic. It's not illegal, it's not even really unethical. It's called spin. Politicians use it all the time to make sure their stories get spun in the best possible light. They can do this because today's MSM news outlets are two things: 1. Desperate for unique content and 2. Ideologically aligned with certain politicians (Although, it should be said, not political parties, and certainly not if they smell blood in the water.)

With declining readership and an editorial staff that's unaligned with a majority of their readers, the writing is increasingly uncritical and sub-par from a watchdog perspective. That a small, non-profit online media outlet is consistently beating Houston's former newspaper of record to stories tells you pretty much all you need to know. That Miles story is told in only one news outlet tells you more than you need to know.

Congrats to the Watchdog for a job well done.




Note: Again, because no-one is going to get this right, I'm NOT accusing the Chronicle of doing anything wrong. I'm just saying that they are not doing a good job in my opinion reporting the news.

Forward to the Past.

Much ado in Houston today about City Council offering 50+ amendments to Mayor Parker's proposed "austerity" budget. Some Council members want to cut deeper (Sullivan), some want to make sure they're not inconvenienced by all of this (Adams), some want to further cut the police force budget to fund community centers (Clutterbuck) and some just want.....well....Chris Moran of Chron.com says it nicely...

({Council}Members offer own ideas to trim the budget. Chris Moran, Chron.com)

Councilwoman Jolanda Jones proposed that the city set a goal of having minority-owned firms get 35 percent of the city's business, more than triple the current goal for purchasing contracts and well above the existing goals in construction and professional services.
OK then.

What's not made clear is how this proposal would cut spending at all?

My early guess would be no. The problem with quotas, whether real or implied, is that they often lead to a company/agency/group having to accept a sub-par offer in order to meet them. A second problem is that the Houston has long been a "majority-minority" city, with Hispanics making up the largest slice of the population pie. Unless specifically written out, Caucasian business are "minority" by definition. Of course, I realize that's not the goal here. The goal is to make sure that contracts are given to companies that are not owned predominantly by Caucasian males, and I agree that who owns the company shouldn't have anything to do with who gets the contractual nod. I also agree that, from time to time, pockets of racism show up in American society. Racism is a terrible thing, being a mix of Caucasian and Native American I have to admit that I've typically been free from it's horribleness pretty much all my life.* So I'm with you there.

My question is whether or not a quota system is the best way to address this. A better, fairer, way would be to write procurement rules that ensure in no way can a person's gender, race, creed or sexual orientation be used as a means of denying a contract. This suggests that the best offer (which, by the way, might not always be the cheapest) is always accepted, even if the owner of the company is Dennis Rodman.

The upside of this is that it assumes that traditional minority businesses are quite capable of turning out a product as good, if not better, than their Caucasian male counterparts. The downside is that the cost of equality is eternal vigilance.** There would also have to be fairly strong review processes in place, not unlike private industry FWIW.

You hear a lot from local pols about "running government like a business". Which really is code for "I'm going to bring in people I've done business with in the past." The thing is, Government really doesn't work like a business at all. Most Government procedures are designed to push decision-making authority down the ladder to the lowest position possible. Therefore you have clerks making go/no-go decisions on contracts, inspectors shutting down projects that cost a business owner thousands just because they can.

The main problem with Government isn't that it's bloated (although that is a problem) it's that it's accountability and oversight systems suck. What government, at all levels, really needs is accountability from the top. It needs managers to analyze the goings-on in the departments for which they are responsible, and for elected officials to keep an eye on the things they're supposed to be keeping an eye on. Instead we get a City contract system that still needs to be told that it's a good idea to consider minority contracts, which leads to elected officials deciding that a good way to get re-elected in the face of ethics charges is to pander to their base. Meanwhile a local business gets it's very expensive new patio shut down because some low-level inspector didn't see a patio permit on the wall.

Is this really the way you expect your government to work?




*Most of my life, except recently, where I've started to see instances of so-called reverse-racism. For instance, I've heard a minority manager for a company I worked for say they would never hire "white men" to work for them. Fortunately I was in another department so I got the job.

**Apologies to Thomas Jefferson.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Harris County Investments Under Scrutiny

I'm sure Edwin Harrison will say everything will look different, when all of the facts come out, but the facts that we do have right now are sure not looking good for him...

Bond trade fees draw scrutiny, Mike Morris, Chron.com.

Two brokers with ties to Harris County's troubled former finance chief overcharged the county by more than $900,000 on dozens of trades in the last three years, a Houston Chronicle analysis has found.

Despite the inflated prices, former financial services director Edwin Harrison funneled roughly half of $7.3 billion in county investments from 2008 through last fall to Morgan Stanley's Howard LeDet and UBS' Royce Simpson, according to a Chronicle analysis of county financial records.



The article (which you should read all the way through) goes on to provide details for both questionable personal and business dealings between Mr. Harrison and two investors from 2008 forward. It's a good piece of watchdog reporting by the Chron, something we wish we'd see more of, and not just directed at the County, but at other local government (and pseudo-government) entities as well.

I've long thought that having one person in a position of power who can make decisions involving Millions of dollars of taxpayer money is a bad idea. In the private sector there are SOX controls, and other safeguards to prevent this type of fraud. Would it be such a bad idea to implement (or strictly enforce) chain of control measures in local government?

I'm sure the powers will be will ensure us they're in place, but they're sure not being followed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jolanda Jones Ethics probe rolls on.

She still claims innocence but the OIG probe said differently.

I'm always skeptical when people speak of "all the facts coming out", that's typically attorney-speak for "I'm still working on my defense". It might not be the case here, Ms. Jones might have additional evidence on her side. Maybe she'll even make it clear why she didn't provide it to the OIG?

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