Monday, April 30, 2012

Houston Metro starts framing, will the opposition be organized?

Metro in a quandary as transit funding heads to voters, Mike Morris,
The Metropolitan Transit Authority is preparing for a referendum, likely to be on the November ballot, asking voters to decide whether to put millions more of their sales tax dollars toward transit or continue diverting part of it for road projects in their cities and Harris County.
...and that's where Houston Metro would like to stop the argument, without providing voters much detail as to how they choose to define "transit".

It's light rail of course, with little or no service going to the periphiary cities in the Houston region, but taxes continuing to be collected at static rates while bus service decreases. If Metro is allowed to frame the issue in that light, and you can bet that Christoph Spieler, George "It's not child porn" Grenias, David Crossley, ChronBlog and the InterLeft will coordinate to ensure they do, then there's a very good chance this referendum is going to pass.

As with many Metro elections, it's all going to come down to the credibility and organization of the opposition.

Can they make the case that getting rid of the 1/4% diversion will LESSEN transportation for all but a few regional citizens residing within the Inner Loop? Can they recieve enough funding and support to get their message out? Most importantly, can they supporess the "UN Agenda 21" nonsense that seems to flow unchecked from their foot-soldiers?

These will be the questions in the upcoming election. Ironically, Grenias & Co. admit that the issue at hand is the issue they fear the most:
Cindy Siegel, the former mayor of Bellaire and an appointee of the 14 small cities in Metro's service area, agreed. She and Metro CEO George Greanias worried the discussion would drift into the shorthand of highways versus rail lines
Metro doesn't want that argument, because it's a loser. Metro wants to keep offering a pie-in-the-sky regional transportation system that's not on the drawing board. That's the argument the opposition should be making.

But, will they?

Corrected headline: IAH just about in middle of airport rankings.

How can we get a decent debate on the IAH/HOU question if we don't get honest reporting?

George Bush Intercontinental among worst airports in reader survey. Olivia Pulcinelli, Houston Business Journal
Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport ranked No. 9 on Travel + Leisure magazine’s first-ever list of the worst airports in America.

The magazine asked readers to rate America’s 22 major airports in seven categories: flight delays, design, amenities, food and drink, check-in and security, service, and transportation and location.
So, if it was the 9th "worst" then it was also the 13th "best" which would statistically put it in the middle-third of the data set. But that's not what's reported here. Drilling down in the data it appears that the two major strikes against IAH are its location (which is ridiculous, since most International hubs of worth are located on the periphery of their cities) and its WiFi. That second bit is a legitimate complaint. WiFi at IAH is brutally slow, when it works period. However, the same can be said for most airports.

It's also worth noting that many of the "worst" airports, are major International hubs. Given increased customer traffic and wear and tear (American airports, as a whole, are grungier than their counterparts overseas) and you have a pretty poor representation of the type.

I would argue, however, that many of IAH's former problems have been addressed. IAH has some great food offered up now, in Terminal E especially. The whole location thing could be solved by Houston Metro if they would ever come to the realization that people want to come and go from IAH to different destinations than downtown, and the upcoming renovation of Terminal B should go a long way toward improving the overall experience. At this point I'm unsure if they have any plans on tap for WiFi (the Master Plan doesn't really address this and a few Google searches just provided technical specs) but again, I could see United wanting to have something better given all of the money they're throwing at the place.

IF they keep throwing money at IAH that is. Given the current state of the UA/WN debate I'm not sure if that's the case. Ironic that many people screaming for HOU to get International service (which would certainly weaken IAH if completed under the current plan) will be the same people screaming that IAH isn't "World Class". Welcome to Houston, we hope you enjoyed your flight.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Small-government conservatism the Combs way.

h/t: Kevin on this story. agrees to begin collecting Texas sales taxes, Scott Nishimura, Fort Worth Star Telegram

I've no beef with the tax collection settlement. I think it's wrong-headed policy, and I think it makes things less economical to purchase over the web, but this is a rising tide for taxation that our ever-expanding governments can't help but try and get their hands on. What every conservative Texas should remember during Combs next election is this:
However, Congress should pass a law.....
No, Congress shouldn't pass a law. This is a State revenue issue that should be decided at the Statehouse level. If a State wants to collect Internet taxes, then it is their right to do so. If they choose to forgo the tax in an effort to increase electronic retail in their state they should have that right as well. Combs pleading to the Federal Government to bail her out of having to take responsibility for a tax increase is NOT conservative.

Remember that the next time she comes up and wraps herself in the flag of Reagan and asks you for your vote.

On another note: This "sales tax" increase is going to be regressive, so you would think the InterLeft would be against it. (After all, they're opposed to an increase in the sales tax rate.) You'd be wrong. I found this sentiment unusual however:

Negotiations are in progress to get Amazon to pay something like its fair share
I wonder if Kuffer understands that Amazon won't be paying anything? They'll add a charge to the bill for "Texas sales tax." Amazon will be passing this charge to the customers 100%.

There's no 'payment' being made by anyone other than Texas consumers at It says so in the second paragraph of the news-story from which he extensively block-quoted:
A deal would apparently end the state’s attempts to force the company to collect sales taxes.

It also appears that this deal ends the collection attempts on back taxes, with the agreement that Amazon collect in the future.  Other than being put at a slight competitive disadvantage (the argument against the sales tax was that customers have to pay for shipping. Now, on-line, customers will have to pay for both. It's a lose-lose if you shop on the Internet.) Amazon is going to pay nothing.  At least, that's how the Nishimura article makes it sound.  It's possible further details will emerge that could change that, but until then it appears that the Texas consumer is the loser once again.

You think they'd eventually be too embarrassed..... keep shovelling out dreck like this...
Sullivan for Tax Assessor-Collector, The Apple Dumpling Gang,
The incumbent, Don Sumners, served for 10 years in that politicized environment. As head of the tax office since 2008, he has been in the crossfire of ongoing disputes over his department's voter registration procedures.
That's a pretty big factual error on the part of the gang. Sumners was elected to the office in 2010. In 2008 Vasquez was appointed to replace Paul Bettancourt, who quit.

As with most generated by this shop, the conclusions are wrong-headed and the support is factually inaccurate. I've no beef with Mike Sullivan, nor do I have any beef with Don Sumners. You could cast a vote for either and do OK in my book.

Just don't make your voting decisions based on inaccurate ramblings spewed out by the worst editorial board in America.

Shutter the Ed board Chron. It's the decent thing to do for the region.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The definition of "wealthy" keeps dropping.

First it was tax increases for "Millionaires and Billionaires", then that got dumbed down to "the rich". Now the Democrat's bar for "those who aren't paying their fair share" is dropping even lower:

Boehner calls Obama's travel plans 'pathetic'. Lisa Mascaro, LA Times
Democrats want to tax upper-income earners -- those earning more than $200,000 a year or $250,000 for couples -- who are able to avoid certain taxes because they organize their income as small, so-called subchapter-S corporations. Those companies with fewer than three workers would be hit with the new tax.
This is in line with my prediction that the definition of those "not paying their fair share" will be any household with an annual income in excess $100K as the LibDems turn up the populism in an effort to convince the poor that the rich middle class is the enemy.

In this situation they're focusing on "S" corporations, small businesses with few employees. This keeps the taxes from falling on their own backs, for the most part.

Funny how that works.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It undercuts your protest when you don't know the law.

Just as much as it undercuts your reporting when you include something in your story but don't point out the obvious....

True the Vote draws Houston protest, Joe Holley,
Lucas said her daughter and granddaughter were intimidated by True the Vote-trained poll watchers during early voting in 2010 — her granddaughter because she was wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of Barack Obama
Yeah, so she was "intimidated" for breaking the law which isn't intimidation, but is a legitimate complaint of a voting violation. Joe Holley doesn't mention this, allowing the protester's accusations to go unchallenged by fact.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of "True the Vote" as I feel their tactics of targeting poor, minority, heavily Democratic districts undercut their assertions that they are 'non-partisan'. That being said I do believe voter fraud (especially on mail-in/absentee ballots) to be a bigger problem then anyone will admit. The Democrats say there's nothing to see, despite numerous stories documenting voter irregularities. The Democrats say it's only reported on by Republican-leaning news outlets. Which is a true statement, mainly because none of the mainstream Texas media have shown an interest in it.

Look at this story by Joe Holley, equating True the Vote with the vestiges of the racist South. It's an image many of them were fed in J-school, and to which they uncritically tie anything conservative today. Granted, groups such as True the Vote don't help themselves with their tactics, but the end result is that we're not getting an impartial vetting of how big the problem really is.

I've got a feeling it's somewhere between Massive(R) and Non-Existent(D) but we won't know until an election is out and out stolen and the media finally decides to take a look  and even then the thoroughness of the investigation might depend on which party is damaged most severely.

Until then can we at least get the basics of voting right? You have to be an American citizen (either through birth or naturalized) over the age of 18 and legally registered. All of the "no vote" provisions (felon, etc.) are ideally handled in the registration process, although this is not always the case. When voting you cannot campaign within a certain distance from the polling site, you cannot wear clothes, buttons, etc. that advertise a candidate and you sure as heck can't vote for someone else or intimidate them into voting a certain way.

You'd think this would be simple to report on. Obviously you'd be wrong.

Still more bad KHAS analysis

This time courtesy of the Houston Press:

White Houston's Love Affair with the Suburbs Officially Over, Richard Connelly, Houston Press
But what about all those minorities white people have to live with in the city? "Houston is now the most ethnically and culturally diverse metropolitan area in the nation," Klineberg said. "The surveys indicate a growing acceptance of this remarkable new reality.
The key word here is region As noted in this story:

Houston region is now the most diverse in the U.S. Jeannie Kever,
Two suburbs - Missouri City and Pearland - have become even more diverse than the city of Houston.
The reality is that upwardly mobile, traditional minority groups are looking outside the Beltway and into the suburbs as their historic neighborhoods are becoming more and more gentrified. You are more likely to find multi-ethnic neighborhoods in the suburbs than you are inside Loop 610. Those same suburbs that have been wrongly stereotyped (by Connelly and his ilk) as lily-white havens of sameness. At one time that might have held true but anyone living in today's suburbs will tell you that it's certainly not the case.

Not that anything was excepted of Village Voice Houston, but still, it's worth pointing out that the shoddy analysis isn't limited solely to ChronBlog.  As a matter of fact, it's spreading everywhere:

Study: Houston supports mass transit, ethnic relations. Molly Ryan, Houston Business Journal
Houston is in the midst of an idealistic shift. Significantly more Houstonians support improvements in mass transit and are optimistic about diversity levels than in the past, according to a new study from the Kinder Houston Area Survey conducted by Rice University
As my friend Kevin pointed out, the lede of this story overstates what's happening within the numbers. If anything Houston is about where it's always been, with people still liking things, and wanting other things that they don't have to pay for.  No idealistic shift there.

I would argue that, if a shift is occurring, this survey would not be the place to identify it.

Klineberg calls for big government solutions. (No Surprise)

Houston Area Survey offers good news but also suggests need for change, Jeannie Kever,

In previous posts referencing the Kinder Houston Area Survey I've written about its flaws, and warned that what was coming were some dodgy recommendations.

Well, they're here:

(S)urvey founder Stephen Klineberg added a dose of tough love during a talk to the Greater Houston Partnership, calling for investment in universal preschool and additional efforts to boost the city's environmental and aesthetic infrastructure.
In other words, massive government spending programs designed to solve problems that, according to job patterns, don't seem to exist or would be counterproductive toward the growth that the region has experienced. While cuts in pollution are noble (and needed) goals, the suggestion that ridding the area of pollution (and, by extension, its many refineries) would be good for the local job market is laughable. The fact is, most of Houston's "job boom" are created by the same. As neat as a burgeoning "iPhone app industry" sounds, it's never going to replace the good paying jobs that the oil and gas industry offers. I won't even address the environmental infrastructure until someone can clearly define what it is, outside of a buzzy-green sounding catch-all for government waste and expenditure of course. As for aesthetic infrastructure, that's code for zoning.  As much as people think they want "form based zoning" or "full on zoning" they don't. Outside of a handful of new-urbanists who think David Crossley is a Houston City Bright(!), most understand that Houston's lack of zoning is what has made it special.

Another laughable conclusion from the survey was this one:
Klineberg argued that boosting mass transit is crucial, too, even as the surveys own data showed 61 percent of people who responded said they had not taken a Metro bus or light rail in the past year. Even people who don't use mass transit support its expansion, he said. That could mean a desire for other people to use it, freeing up space on the roads, he said.
That is the desire, not to ride mass transit, but for other people to ride it. When almost two-thirds of respondents admit they don't use Metro, but support more transit, it's not because they're imagining a day that they give up their cars, they're imagining a day when everyone else gives up driving leaving a congestion free commute. As I've said with the KHAS, it's fantasy with no bearing in reality. It's a neat parlour trick that reinforces beliefs about what Houstonians think when there are no consequences to their actions. Kind of like a Houston driver saying that Houston has the worst drivers, except for themselves of course, and that most shouldn't be allowed to drive. It's also an excuse for ChronBlog, the Apple Dumpling Gang and Houston Metro to maintain the false crutch that "the people want light rail". Never mind that what the people really want is for others to use anything but the roadways they are currently using.

The good thing about the KHAS (for Statists and educrats) is that it can be all things to all people. It is both specific and vague at the same time. This is why Dr. Flores from University of Houston-Downtown can walk away suggesting the survey reveals a need to increase funding for his institution (Full Disclosure: UH-D is my alma-mater) despite the fact that higher education, and UH-D specifically, aren't given any specific attention within. To my thinking, UH-D needs to spend more time focusing on what they could be, which is a University that could do a great job serving Houston professionals who are looking to obtain a degree. That's why I, and many others, went there, because they had a very robust roster of evening classes which allowed us to earn our degrees after work. During the day UH-D is primarily the university that Flores describes but, at night, it transforms into something else entirely. The leadership at UH-D has never fully acknowledged (or marketed) that aspect.

Hopefully this will be the last post that I spend writing about what is a bad survey for policy making. The KHAS is a pretty picture and nothing else. It's a one-time grad project that has grown terribly out of proportion. Something that our lazy media and leadership has allowed it to do, because its conclusions have conveniently dove-tailed with their desires. Reality be damned.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Burger was the least of her worries

Another Heart Attack Grill Customer Collapses While Eating a "Bypass Burger", Eric Pfeiffer, Yahoo! News
A woman collapsed into unconsciousness at the Las Vegas restaurant while eating a "double bypass burger," drinking a margarita and smoking a cigarette.
Apparently the Grill offers non-filtered cigarettes as well as a plethora of unhealthy food.

The food police will go nuts over this but, once again, that burger had little to do with this ladies' collapse. Her life choices leading up to that burger were what caused her misfortune.

All that said, I am definitely getting one of those on my next trip to Vegas.....Pictures to come.

Hero Worship and the Kinder Houston Area Survey

No lack of "interesting times" in Houston, Lisa Gray,
Friday night, "Interesting Times" will be the centerpiece of a free Discovery Green party celebrating the release of this year's survey results. The mayor will give a short speech, and there will be performances by singers, dancers and bands such as Los Pistoleros de Texas and Diunna Greenleaf & Blue Mercy. Klineberg will take questions, but really, the idea isn't to do serious data analysis out there in the grass. It's to celebrate Houston, and the survey that tells us each year who we are.
Except that the survey doesn't do that. It tells us what we would want to be if there wasn't reality in the way. It's a dream, an investment with no potential risk. According to the KHAS a majority of people want to move inside the Loop from the Suburbs, yet a majority of people are moving out to the suburbs in reality. Why?

Because the cost of real estate inside the Loop is prohibitively high for most. As designed the KHAS is unable to address this. To be fair, this problem is inherent in most "quality of life" surveys you will find. People want a LOT of things, they just don't want to what is often a very high price for them.

Pollution free air?

Sure, but that would mean that a majority of people in Houston would lose their jobs, because completely removing pollutants would mean shutting down the petroleum industry, the paper industry, plastics, tech, all of the things that people like. Things that allow people to earn money, save lives, store food.

The problem with this idea is when policy makers tend to believe that people's dreams are what they want to settle for in reality. This kind of thinking leads to public policy boondoggles such as MetroRail, Houston Pavilions and Downtown hotels funded, in part, by public dollars and languishing at less than 50% occupancy rates.

This is not to say that Professor Klineburg is a bad guy, or that he's trying to lead Houston down the wrong path. I don't believe that at all. What I do believe has happened is that City government officials and our sub-standard news outlets have taken the easy route and placed too much policy-making weight on a simplistic survey that was never meant to be used in that manner.

The KHAS is a snapshot of what people dream to be. Potentially it could be the foundation for additional cost/benefit research to see if the stuff of dreams is fiscally doable, or if there are other, cheaper, alternatives that would work better and smarter.

The Survey should not be ignored, but it should not be treated as Gospel either.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Don't replicate my mistakes, learn from them.

As it stands now The Wife and either flown or booked 30K Elite Qualifying Miles for our Mileage Plus accounts. We've actually flown around 31.2K miles, but I booked a leg on Air Canada Jazz for our Paris trip that wasn't Elite Qualifying.

And that's the mistake you don't want to make. For some reason (the flights could be operated by airline A, but flying under airline B's livery, code etc.) some Air Canada flights offer 100% EQM's while some (and all Jazz flights) offer 0%. Unfortunately, with the buggy nature of post-merger what the website says is not always 100% accurate. I thought that, when I booked, the Jazz leg was showing at 100% EQM on the website, but on later bookings (one guesses these occurred after some clean-up) they appeared at 0%. Since Silver Premiers receive almost no benefits under the current system, flight change fees were in play and would make any change not worth the additional miles.

Since this is really the first year that The Wife and I have decided to buckle down and go for Gold Premier (Elite in the past) I'm willing to swallow my pride and write-off these mistakes as learning experiences. Sure, I have friends with more experience travelling who could review my itineraries, but you don't want to wear people out making sure you don't screw the pooch*. With that in mind, here are a few other things I've learned travelling with United this year....

1. Pay close attention to that booking group number on your United boarding pass

From Madrid to Newark The Wife was assigned booking group 3, I was assigned booking group 5. I did not think that it would be all that big of a deal for me to board with my wife. That would be wrong. All but called an idiot by the gate agent I was pulled out of line and required to wait my turn. Meanwhile my wife boarded and, by the time I got there, all of the luggage space above my seat was taken. I ended up finding a space 5 rows back, which meant having to wait extra time before we could de-plane. Lesson learned.

2. If you're flying coach (and, with the new upgrade rules, as a Silver Premier, or less, you'll be spending almost all of your flight time in steerage) {more on this later} it's a good idea to buy something in the terminal for dinner.

I can't say this enough: Food quality in United coach is terrible. In some cases borderline inedible. Over the first 3 1/2 months of this year I've been served chicken with a sauce that looked like vomit, rice that I had to cut with a knife, a roll that was so frozen it could have doubled as a mallet and something with pasta that I still can't correctly identify. Even my first class meal (the result of a rare upgrade), earlier documented here was almost inedible. There have been rumors that United First Class meal service is getting better, but I've yet to see it. The fact is United food is bad, real bad. Do yourself a favor and buy something at the airport before you board. Trust me when I tell you those seated around you will be looking at you longingly.

3. There's a reason this blog's called "No Upgrades".

If you are flying United, and you are a Silver Premier (as am I and The Wife) you are not going to get one. As a matter of fact, with the recent rescinding of economy plus seating rights at booking, it's questionable whether or not you're going to get out of your steerage seat. Given the new rules you're pretty much stuck with "priority" check-in**, one free checked bag and "priority"*** boarding. You can also get all of these perks with a Premier Visa card. Unless you're planning on qualifying for Gold Premier or higher, I'd apply for the card. At least then you get two Elite Lounge passes every year.

The question you're probably asking yourself now is "Why in the hell is this guy staying with United if he hates them so?"

Good question. For one, I don't hate them. I just notice them letting the little things**** slip of late.

Two, I present the following:

First, I'm staying with United because I have equity built up with them if you will. Over the last couple of years (Where The Wife and I have been serious about flying) I've built up around 200K MileagePlus miles that won't expire as long as I keep earning or using. That's real free travel for a long trip to Australia, New Zealand or somewhere in Asia.

Second, despite the merger and the paper HQ moving to Chicago, United is STILL Houston's airline. IAH is their biggest hub, and flights in and out are numerous, if not a little more expensive.

The short version of this post is to look before you book, especially with United's website and customer service being so bonkers right now. Also, verify anything that might be slightly out of the ordinary at every airport. The dual loading zone issue that was a problem in Madrid was no issue at Newark (EWR). I loaded right with The Wife and, upon saying I was with her, they didn't even bat an eye. Go figure.

For the rest of the year we have one more trip to Europe planned (Possibly Brussels) and then three up & back flights to the East Coast to top off our miles. We have 2 trips to Las Vegas & 1 trip to Puerto Rico already booked and paid for (which are included in the 30K miles number above) so the rest of the year is just going to be about reaching our goal and not spending too much more time at 43,000 feet with stale air and bad food.

*Although it's always a good idea to provide them with good deals that you've found.
**In many cases "premier" security is not. More often than not I've found myself going through the regular security line because the Premier line was too damn long. Now that almost everyone has some elite status or can get it through a credit card, the line of people not going through the Premier chutes can be much shorter. Just pay attention.
***Under the "new" booking system priority boarding can sometimes depend on the luck of the draw. As a Silver Premier I've been near the front of premier boarding and near the back end. There really seems to be no rhyme or reason to it after boarding tier two. Tier 1 is First Class, active duty military and those with young children or needing special assistance. That much is obvious. I'm guessing that Tier 2 includes Platinum Premier's and 1K. That would mean that Tier 3 should be Gold Premier and possibly Silver Premiers buying full-fare tickets. I haven't seen this. I've been slotted into to Tiers 3-5 for no apparent reason since they've gone to this and, on more than one occasion, fliers with no status (credit card purchases only) have been slotted in front of me. (On the Madrid flight I was forced out of line on, I overheard a gentleman in Tier 4 say how great the credit card was, that he got in front of someone with Premier Status despite having no status himself.) I guess it makes sense to some people, but the gate agent at Newark couldn't really explain it to me either. (All he said was that passengers were put into boarding groups according to "some sort of system"). I'm sure there's more to it than that, but either it was lost in training or wasn't effectively rolled out.
****By little things, I mean consistency of service across airports, consistency of service from plane to plane, and making sure that the in-flight entertainment systems are working. If you're not keeping track, I have terrible luck with in-flight entertainment.

Time for More Houston Area Survey Nonsense

It's the silly season in Houston as the Kinder Houston Area Survey is being released and all of the bad analysis along with it.

Mass Transit Gains Momentum in Houston Area Survey, Jeannie Kever,

This year's Kinder Houston Area Survey found strong support for mass transit and a growing number of people who say they want to live within walking distance of work and shopping, reflecting what survey founder Stephen Klineberg predicts will become a fundamental shift in one of the nation's most car-centric cities.
I agree, people DO want more mass transit in Houston. But what the survey doesn't (as a matter of fact, NEVER) asks is what they are willing to give up for it, or whether they think that "Metro Solutions" is the correct mass transit plan.

It's easy to say "I want more mass transit" and then not apply a cost. That's what the survey does every year, ask people questions with no eye on the cost of the solutions. It also doesn't ask people if the transit they want is the at-grade light-rail system that's currently being built. My guess, admittedly fueld by anecdotal evidence, is that what people are asking for is a multi-modal system that includes decent bus and rail options to get them to a variety of locations within the Houston region and not just to some aging, wheezing romaticized version of "downtown" as Houston's current brain-trust envision it.

Residents of The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Katy etc. don't want to move inside the Loop. What they want is to have workable transit options to job centers in the Metro area, then to be returned to their walkable suburbs to spend time with their kids, go to Skeeters games and generally live their lives outside of the circle of Houston Tomorrow's urban planning group. Unfortunately Metro is continuing to move forward with a plan that doesn't meet the transportation desires of the community. The result of all of this is a lightly-ridden Danger Train that's not doing anything to alleviate congestion. This, for the most part, is because Metro's current transportation design doesn't take a majority of the people where they want to go.

Finally, let's address the "congestion" fallacy: The idea that congestion will magically dissappear once Metro has put into place this great, Multi-Billion dollar, mass transit system that will instantly whisk all of us where they want us to go. This is the great lie of urban planners everywhere. Ever been to a "great transit" city say...Paris, London, Madrid, New York? Have you ever noticed that they are some of the most congested traffic cities in the world? Don't buy into the "light rail will cure Houston's congestion" fallacy. It won't, and all of the shoddy analysis of the Kinder survey won't change that fact. If anything, it's making things worse.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More ChronBlog fun with group identification.

The Daily Caller as "the conservative website". Which it most assuredly is. No beef with this one. as an "abortion rights blog for women". Which it is, from a very progressive perspective.

Not that Francisca Ortega would recognize the content on to be progressive, because it's directly in line with her progressive worldview. Middle of the road and all of that.

Obviously this I have a big problem with, because it's an inaccurate framing of a hot-button issue. A framing that shouldn't be allowed to exist in an entity that still (at least superficially) aspires to be the newspaper of record in the Houston region.

ChronBlog indeed. With this and the recent drivel from the Ed board the Chron is on a quick path to becoming nothing more than a bloated member of the InterLeft. I'm sure that's not the intended path Jeff Cohen had set out for them, but it seems to be where they are rapidly going.

Yes, it's THAT important

At lest, it must be that important to the folks over at ChronBlog.....

Why else do you insert a faith-based climate story by Eric Berger 3 TIMES in the headlines?

In a way though, I'm glad they do this. Because the more and more AGW climate true-believers try and link individual weather events to their religious beliefs the more they'll look silly as natural weather patterns take hold.

Yes, the Earth's climate is changing, as it has for Millennia. What's happening now is no different then what happened during the times of the Dinosaurs, the Ice Age, the Dark Ages, and during the Renaissance. The Earth's climate has always changed. It's just that we're more attuned to it now because we have better tools and temperature tracking.

Unfortunately, we also have computer models, which can be programmed to assume that CO2 has X effect on the climate. The result of this is that models with increased CO2 in the atmosphere show the climate getting warmer. This is "true" in the models because that is what they are programmed to do. This leads to the false hope that man can somehow control Earth's complex eco-system by just cutting back on our economic activity, preferably through government control. Al Gore and his investors made a fortune doing this, and the scientific community agreed to throw-out the scientific method to play along and receive funding dollars.

The news media went mad, and this is the result. Now the clergy of the AGW faith are going through a mini-reformation as their faith becomes shaken by fact. Not a true reformation as we saw in the Catholic Church, but a plea to the powers that be to stop saying those things which make that in which they believe seem factually shaky.

Ah, but now the PUBLIC has seen the weather reports and is starting to believe that humanity has set the global oven to simmer. We're like frogs sitting in a cool bucket of water blissfully unaware that the Cajun chef has slowly cranked up the heat. The "faith" is being widely adopted which means that we can finally take the 'needed' steps to turn off the burner before it's too late.....Except that even our best efforts won't turn off the stove will just nudge it down imperceptibly. The water will still boil.

Yet it's so vital to our future that we MUST show this story three times. Faith MUST be restored. Meanwhile we're losing time figuring out how we're going to deal with climate change in a desperate attempt to try and prevent it. King Canute comes to mind, except that the great King used his moment of helplessness to learn humility. Modern nature conquerors aren't crossing that bridge.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

At least they're tops at something.....

"Continental" and Southwest airlines share Internet site awards:

Southwest and Continental Websites Take Top Honors in Latest Study by Keynote of Air Travel Booking Websites -- Latest Trends and Success Factors Revealed in Advance of Summer Travel Season, WSJ Market Watch (Press Release)

Of course, I link to this because Continental is gone, now United, but the technical expertise of the site lives on (and it is a good website FWIW). More important are the words associated with Southwest Airlines:
More than any other site, panelists associate the positive brand attributes "Friendly," "Fun," "Good Value," "Innovative," "Reliable," and "Trustworthy" with Southwest
Words that go a long way toward explaining why the general public is more behind Southwest in the Hobby expansion debate than United.

The knee-jerk "Continental abandoned Houston" meme is another driver. Except that it didn't. Houston-based Continental was purchased by Chicago-based United. Sure it would have been nice if they kept the HQ in Houston, but United stood to lose Millions if they reneged on their deal with Chicago. Ot was a no-brainer of a business decision, one that not even Smisek the Smiling could mess up.

Not that any of this was relevant to the Hobby expansion story, I just found it interesting that the two airlines were linked in another way.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Round 1 to United

It's a small victory, but a victory regardless....

Council hammers study recommending Hobby Expansion, Chris Moran,
City Council members grilled Houston Airport Director Mario Diaz on Monday for a study from which he concludes allowing international flights from Hobby Airport would be an economic boon for the area.

“I really want to just throw this proposal out the window because, right now, when I see numbers that can’t match, it just don’t work for me,” Councilman Andrew Burks said.

The study forecasts that expanding Hobby so that Southwest Airlines could begin offering international flights would add 10,000 jobs, 1.5 million annual passengers and $1.6 billion in economic impact to the Houston area.

Burks seized on assumptions underlying the report, such as a projected $133 fare to Bogota.

“You can’t even fly from Houston to Lubbock on Southwest for $133,” Burks said.

“I feel that this report is already biased, it’s already custom-made just to satisfy the demand of Southwest,” Councilman Al Hoang said.
The "tilted toward Southwest" argument was the same one United was floating, the same one that was shut down by citizens angry with United for one thing and another.

For the rest of us, we just wanted to see what was in the report. It appears now that (at least some of) the analysis needs some work. A LOT of work actually. Think: Head back to your first assumptions and start again work. One wonders how many people have seen this report? Secondly, did any of them use it to forward their "competitiveness" argument? (I'm looking at you Steffy)

Is this a big enough snafu by HAS to torpedo the proposal? I wouldn't think so, but Diaz might want to think about procuring a second set of (non-biased) numbers post-haste, or Houston could be looking for a new Director in addition to a new long-term plan for the system.

Anybody have the number for Richard Vacar? What's his take on all of this?

Wrong on so many levels.

That this story by Richard Connelly even made it to the website should cause the on-line "editor" over at the Press to be reprimanded....

Tax Day: The 5 best things about it, Richard Connelly, Houston Press

I'm just going to point out a few things:

Today is deadline day for filing your federal income taxes.
No it's not. Tomorrow (April 17th) is the deadline for filing your federal income taxes. Today (April 16th) is Emancipation Day in D.C. so there's a one day extension. This has only been all over the news for the past month.

We've never actually heard of anyone who's been penalized for filing one day late, but the media coverage of Tax Day leads us to the only logical conclusion: Being even one minute late must result in terrible, sadistic results. We imagine waterboarding is the least of it. So enjoy a little shadenfreude today because you won't be facing all that.
Actually, you'd be subject to a non-filing penalty. Again, all over the news. You can avoid this (on the filing, not on the payment) by filing an extension.

In which case some CPA-wannabe will take joy in pointing out that if you'd filed earlier, you'd be getting interest on that cash instead of letting it sit in Uncle Sam's vault.
Real CPA's (the toughest professional certification out there) would advise you to estimate your taxes so you get the smallest refund possible. A refund is nothing but a 0% loan to the Government after all.

GE and Verizon are people too, Mitt Romney says, so we should all be happy for them that they manage to pay no federal taxes on their billions in income
No, the Supreme Court of the United States said so in the "Citizens United" decision (most recent example) but Corporations have long been held as personal entities by law in the US. Oh, and GE is a HUGE Obama supporter and benefited from many of his green tax "loopholes". So not only is Connelly wrong here, his bias slip is showing.

I understand this is just the blog of the Houston Press and that typical editing standards don't apply. Were this just a personal blog I'll admit that I'd have no problem with it and let it go. Coming from a fully staffed alt-news organization however readers have a right to expect better. This is just the latest example of sloppy journalism/writing for Connelly, who might want to think about hanging it up if his heart's not in it any longer.

Sloppy. And inexcusable from a professional organization. (Of course, by the time you read this the post might be taken down*** so don't be surprised. I did cache it on Diigo however.)

I've stated before that political blogging is a dead medium. Posts like this are prime evidence of that. Basic fact-checking (instead of fact-check journalism) would've gone a long way here.

UPDATED: Living up to media blog tradition the Press made changes with no mention of said changes. Unfortunately there's a glitch in the system that keeps me from seeing their comments, so I'm going to have to assume one of their three commenters brought it to their attention.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Galveston, worst wi-fi ever.

So the wife has a really fun penguin experience tomorrow at Moody Gardenns and I'm not allowed to go. Add to that the fact I forgot my golf clubs on this trip is not making my sunday look any more promising. We booked late so we're staying at the Super 8 on 61st. The rooms are clean and we have a microwave and a fridge so all is not lost. The wi-fi here is terrible however. Slow. Slow. Slow.

Ah well, breakfast and surf shops tomorrow while Linda feeds penguins and seals. Fun.

Friday, April 13, 2012

True and false

Yesterday, Mayor Annise Parker gave her State of the City address and attempted to put lipstick on a pig take credit for the majority of the job growth in the Houston area.

Chris Moran of the Chronicle reports:

Parker touts improving economy in 'State of the City". Chris Moran,
Saying Houston has "rounded the corner" on the recession, Mayor Annise Parker on Thursday credited City Hall with providing incentives that businesses used to create or retain 13,000 jobs and invest $1 billion locally during the tough economic times of her first term.
Tough prose aside, what the Mayor essentially said was that her corporate tax breaks, assistance and government work-arounds fueled Houston out of the current recession.

This is patently false. Later in the article:
University of Houston economics professor Steven Craig said he was skeptical of city claims of job creation.

"It's a question of relocation of jobs or new jobs," Craig said. "It's very hard for a city government to create jobs."
In reality, it's the strength of the oil and gas industry that's driving much of Houston's economic rebound. Not "progressive" fiscal policy that's more worried about regulating car repair shops, feeding the homeless, expanding service to HOU or settling lawsuits with hi-rise developers that were designed to move development to places where the new urbanists wanted development to be (That this lawsuit shouldn't have been necessary in the first place is another issue entirely). People are not moving to Houston because they have a nice downtown park. They're moving here because the energy and medical sectors are hiring in droves. There's cheap land in the suburbs, and a glut of apartments and townhomes inside the Loop for DINK's who are so inclined to live in them. While other cities have, in many cases, priced themselves out of the market, scruffy, unzoned Houston continues to be a place where people want to live and work.

Yes, our traffic is bad. And if Parker and her fellow new urban travellers get their way it's going to be even worse as time progresses. But while Parker and Co. are taking their eyes off of things people really want, Harris County is keeping its eye on the ball at least. That's the difference between trinket governance and good solid public works governance that gets things done. This is not to say that the County is perfect in this matter. There are many County projects that need to go find a good hole to crawl in. On the balance however the County is doing a much better job than the City in keeping the trains running on time.

According to the ChronBlog article the next big issue down the electoral pipeline for the City will be a new bond election. Given all of the recent, highly publicized, issues with debt service (as well as the public's general wariness of debt spending, it will be interesting to see if this bond issue can pass during a high turnout election.

Rest assured, we're going to be inundated with the usual advocacy pieces news stories from ChronBlog assuring us that there will be no effect to the average taxpayer if these bonds are passed. We might even be fed the line that they will "pay for themselves". My prediction is that the opposition to them will be too scattershot and unorganized to make a dent against the combined marketing of City Hall, the GHP and the Harris County Democratic Party (who seemingly have never met a government expenditure they didn't like). Unless Parker oversteps and decides the time is ripe to push through a huge bond issue that addresses a new urbanist laundry list of issues. Then the opposition might stand a chance.

In other words, keep David Crossley and his acolytes* from Houston Tomorrow far away from the planning of the issue and you stand a better than average chance of seeing it passed. Provided it has enough give-aways to the appropriate communities of course. Mustn't omit anyone from the free money gravy train.

*Thanks to Kevin Whited for the preceding phrase

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flawed logic

Interesting item today in Obama's (recurring) stump speech regarding his fiscal policy.....

Obama: Millionaires should pay 'fair share'. David Jackson, The Oval, USA Today
"One in four millionaires pays a lower tax rate than millions of hardworking middle-class households," Obama told a group of business executives gathered at the White House.
That's 1 in FOUR or, 25%. That means that 75% (3 in FOUR) of Millionaires and Billionaires pay a higher tax rate than "hard-working middle-class households."

Based on Obama's own numbers the majority of his campaign fiscal policy is based on an anecdotal event that doesn't even apply to the vast majority of those he's trying to demonize.

Strangely, he's not being laughed off of the public stage right now. A sure sign that the media focus for this election is (again) going to be less about fact and more about dreamy speeches given when the tele-promp-ter is working.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Emotions run high in UA/LUV dispute

Emotions on the part of the (supposedly) objective media that is.....

Gordon Bethune resorts to the `you don’t understand’ ploy, Loren Steffy,
And then, after I posted my poll on Monday, he wrote on his Facebook page that I am “a journalist who can’t grasp the devastation of the city of Houston reneging on a long term partnership with Continental.”
It's important to note that it's not "just" Continental that the City of Houston would be reneging on, but (now) on United and on the whole of the Star Alliance as well. At the risk of pulling the "condescending card" if Steffy doesn't understand why this is a bad thing then perhaps he doesn't understand the aviation industry all that well.

Because it sounds like I'm flip-flopping here I'll state my position again: I do see a scenario where an expanded HOU could work. It's a scenario where HOU works in tandem WITH IAH to provide even more access to even more destinations. What we're getting is a plan where WAN is somehow supposed to "compete" with UA, despite not flying out of the same airport and on a different route schedule. That plan, to me, feels like a recipe for disaster.

The biggest problem that Houston has in all of this is that it doesn't appear that any decision (by either side) is being made under a base of reason. There's anger with UA, that odd infatuation that people have with WN and some backlash to the two that seem to be driving everything. What we really need is more time and a lot more data to determine which path is the best to take. Instead we get Loren Steffy writing angry columns at readers who seem to be telling him the truth. The truth being that he really doesn't have much of a grasp on the airline industry.

Any agreement that damages the status of IAH long-term in return for some (slightly) lower fares short-term and a marginal improvement to HOU is a bad one. Any deal should be designed to make IAH stronger. I think there could be ways to do that, but I haven't seen anything that would make me think they are included in this debate.

All of this is independent of which airline I prefer (UA, FWIW. I only fly WN out of necessity.)

Added: Make sure to read the comments on this story. Any smart, reasoned comment is met with a flood of derision from what basically amounts to Steffy's children. Sad.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I answered no.

Despite my earlier support FOR expansion at Hobby, I'm forced to answer "no" now to Lauren Steffy's "poll".

Poll: Should Southwest be allowed to begin international flights from Houston? Lauren Steffy,

While it's true that I have expressed some support for the idea in theory, the actual application of the plan appears to be a poorly thought-out thumb to the eye of United for having the temerity to leave Houston. That's not a good way to do business. Of course, it's par for the course for Houston's current leadership so I guess we shouldn't expect much different?

It's a plan that appears to be totally unvetted by the HAS (minus to "non-released" studies that is) that doesn't take into account the future transportation needs of the region. While I don't think the proposed cancellation of United's terminal B renovation is that big of a deal, I do worry about the effect this could have attracting International carriers that are partners in the big networks. (Star Alliance and SkyTeam) If more space could be added to IAH for Trans-Atlantic flights etc. while Central and Northern-South America flights could be focused out of HOB (with the airlines sharing both) then I could see a benefit. But the plan as it's currently drawn up doesn't seem to address that. It's just designed to provide access to International markets for WN. Add to all this the fact that the usual cast of wrong-headed economic-thinkers seem to be behind it and you have the makings of what seems to be a long-term mess to me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

In which I (belatedly) admit....

....there certainly IS a case for not having International flights out of Hobby airport. However....

United says global Hobby would cost jobs, flights at IAH, Kiah Collier,
United Airlines officials said Wednesday that allowing international commercial flights at Hobby Airport would force the carrier to cut 1,300 Houston jobs and dozens of flights from Bush Intercontinental Airport, and that city-paid consultants and Southwest Airlines are using unrealistic data to support the proposal.
...I would also contend that Jeff Smisek and United are not the best parties to be making it. Certainly not when their arguments read like economic blackmail.

A better argument is made at the end of the article by former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune:
Former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune, who attended the Wednesday meeting, said Bush was always intended to be the city's only global airport. "There was a partnership that was forged on the 'I' in 'IAH'," Bethune said.

Were I United, I'd keep ol' happy Jeffery in the corner and let Mr. Bethune take the lead on this issue. It's getting to the point that Smisek is losing all credibility with fliers and Houston decision makers as he continues to run United down into the valley of airplane suck.

I would still like to see Hobby expand under the right circumstances, however, I don't think we're going to see those circumstances play out in the current political environment, especially not with the current administration who really seems to be doing this just to "get" back at United for a host of issues. Since Houston's not going to do it right, I'd just as soon it not be done at all. Putting happy Jeffery in charge almost guarantees it will get done, incorrectly.

On the other hand, you have to give a nod to Southwest, who correctly identified a weakness in the competition and is doing a good job capitalizing on it.

Also, someone REALLY needs to get their hands on those two "unreleased" studies from the Houston Airport System. Would love to take a look at those.

There will still be TSA agents for bullet trains

Judging from the comments to this story, many people seem to think there won't be:

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee pressing for bullet train between Houston and Dallas, Stewart Powell, From the comments:
As dirty as I feel for saying this, maybe this isn't such a horrible idea. Providing bidding for contracts is fair, and that the costs of building it does not make it unaffordable for ORDINARY citizens to use. Not to mention, I don't want to deal with getting molested in line by a bored, overzealous TSA goon, like at the airports......
(ughh,,,,I need a shower now)
That's a nice fantasy, except that high-speed bullet trains will have TSA security check points just as airports do. The hope that you can just hop a train and head to Dallas passing through zero hoops is a happy fiction. Even in Europe most inter-city trains have metal detectors and security checks. The Eurostar has all of these and full customs to boot. Yes, there are less security hoops to jump through on the train, but you still go through an airport-like security scan pre-boarding.

There's no way people are going to be allowed to board a multi-Billion dollar transportation system filled with dozens (or hundreds, to not start a tiff over projected use) of people without going through a security screen. Because the TSA is nothing more than a glorified jobs program they'll assuredly be the ones administering it. I wouldn't even be surprised if the makers of the full body scanners don't apply a full court lobbying press to get their expensive toys installed.

It will be the same security theater, at about the same cost (I would imagine) just slightly longer in duration.

Of course Sheila Jackson-Lee thinks it's a great idea.

All that being said, if the State would consider opening up the easements to bid and allow the system to be ran by the private market (regulated, much the way air travel is) I would support a high-speed train network in Texas. Preferably a system that connected the cities in the Texas Triangle. That way there'd at least be a profitability filter ran on the system before it got off the drawing board.

But a glorified AMTRAK system? Blech.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why Houston Metro is a failure

The screenshot above is my option for public transportation to work. If you're not familiar with my previous blogging I typically do this when I start work in a new location just to see if Metro can get me where I need to go.

So, in order to get to Greenway Plaza (on the Southwest side of Houston) from the Addicks Park n' Ride (the Northwest side of Houston and the closest to my house) I have to go downtown, change buses and then head back out to 59.

So the answer is obviously no, at least not in a logical manner. In other cities transportation systems there would be something from the Addicks P&R over to the NW transit center which would then go down to Greenway. I recently got back from Madrid, and I could get within a 1/2 mile of almost anywhere I wanted to go with a 5 day tourist pass and public transportation. The same went for London, Paris, Dublin, Seattle, Honolulu and, of course, New York.

Of course, none of these (truly world class) cities were wasting time building at-grade light rail whose primary design function was to socially engineer people toward a certain, preferred, lifestyle. Houston Metro is less about transit, and more about new urbanism and smart growth.

This is why they fail.

Creepy ads

I don't know who matches up the pictures to the ads on some websites, but the pictures are just scary.

If you click on those ads you have something wrong with you, especially the kids head and hands for learning a new language ad. Creepy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Don't miss the key point.... this story about the (revised) proposed feeding the homeless ordinance.

Scaled-back homeless feeding law headed back to council, Chris Moran,
City Attorney David Feldman said Monday that current trespassing and littering laws have proven ineffective in preventing the sanitation problems that accrue at popular feeding sites. The new rules are needed, Feldman said, because the onus is on the property owner to confront and report trespassers, and police must make the case for prosecution of alleged violations to the district attorney.
In short, there are already laws on the books that would prohibit the types of activity these ordinances are trying to police, they're just not being enforced properly.

This is typically the case in many issues, from driving while speaking on a cell phone, texting (distracted driver laws) to a host of other issues. These are solutions looking for problems that already have solutions.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Think Heathrow/Gatwick

That's kind of what I imagine that IAH/Hobby COULD be....provided Houston didn't mess it up.

Mexico flights from Hobby may not be cheaper, Kiah Collier,
The idea appears particularly appealing to travelers disillusioned by the United-Continental merger, including the carrier's decision to locate headquarters in Chicago rath
To a point, but I'd also like to see an expanded Hobby bring in Virgin Atlantic and other airlines, opening up new routes. I would hope this wouldn't just be an expanded SouthWest Airlines cattle call providing uncomfortable flights to South America and the Caribbean.

Sadly, I've a feeling this is NOT what is going to happen.

More than "showing" United Airlines, I want to see better (and more) service to Houston. If that serves to kick United in the butt and increase their customer service then I'm quite happy to play along.

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