Tuesday, May 29, 2012

US Senate Election Day Meme:

I've seen this pop up from time to time today, most recently in the comments to this story.

Let Cruz run for some office locally and get some kind of record we can analyze.

Obama is also a baby boomer with enthusiasm. A little experience is a good thing and Cruz will benefit by getting some before he runs for a major office

I understand this line of reasoning because I've used it before.  Most notably as justification against a vote for Barbara Ann Radnofsky, Glenn Addison and Lela Pittenger.  In these cases however the candidates in question were clearly not yet ready to run, fund and be competitive in a Statewide campaign.  Unfortunately, Radnofsky overreached once too often and is now probably facing the reality that her too-high sites have ended a political career.  Any further runs draw her directly into the perennial candidate discussion. (See: Chris Bell)  Addison and Pittenger have only ran and lost (C'mon, they're not going to win) once so there's still time for them to regroup in the next election cycle and set their sites appropriately.

Ted Cruz however has held an (unelected) State-wide position as Texas Solicitor General, he's known inside Texas Republican circles and he's shown the ability to fund-raise.  All of these things the previous three candidates lacked.  In short, I don't think this attack applies here.

I realize that Dewhurst would have us believe that the commenters in question are NOT campaign staffers but c'mon.  It's a little too obvious seeing the same idea germinate independently. 

It's not as bad as his "amnesty", borderline racist attack I'll give you that, but it still doesn't make any sense.

Voting myths debunked (part 1)

"If you don't vote you lose your right to gripe."

Untrue, you have the right to gripe guaranteed by the Free Speech clause in the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.  Don't listen to the ranting of partisans otherwise.

Vote because you want to vote, not because you feel obligated to vote.  Those who vote due to obligation are typically the folks who don't educate themselves and cast "straight-party" or incomplete ballots.  I'd rather you not vote than mail it in.

You can still gripe.

Vote: Today, in Texas (one time only)

Just in case you're reading this and you haven't voted yet, here's your friendly reminder to go and do so*.

And not just because it's the day after Memorial Day and you've been deluged with "they died so you can vote" stories by bloggers and media.  Go vote because it's the right thing to do. Just because the Presidential primary has been decided doesn't mean that there aren't important issues to be voted on.

1. U.S. Senator  - The primary between David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz has been a fascinating case-study on why mud-slinging in politics still exists.  Because, on some level, it works.  You could also cast a vote for Tom Leppert (if you feel like, as does the Apple Dumpling Gang, that Republicans should be more like Democrats) or Craig James (if you feel like being a bad football announcer with severe control issues over your son's dodgy football career is good experience) if you so choose.  While it's not in this blog's nature to make predictions (although I have, in the past, endorsed Cruz and hold solid to that endorsement today) I will say that a run-off in this race is the most likely outcome.

2. U.S. House - There are too many to mention.  But redistricting has opened up some new house seats and should lead to some interesting results come returns time.  Unfortunately, for me, I'm in Ted Poe's district, so my primary is pretty blah.  (It's not unfortunate for me that Poe is my rep however. I'm fine being represented by him.)

3. Texas Rail Road Commission. - Possibly the most important state-wide race on the ballot.  Warren Chisum vs. Christi Craddick vs. a handful of 1% vote-getters.  If nothing else, this race has given us The Sledge Hammer who has created the most humorous ads this election cycle.

4. Texas State House. - Again, there are way too many races to mention.  My own personal choice is between long-time incumbent Dwayne Bohac and Democrat running as Republican Whet Smith.  Smith has used Democratic talking-points in his campaign messaging and is supported by the liberal group Texas Parent PAC. This group is a "throw more money at the problem" proponent of 'fixing' Texas schools. I agree that Texas schools need fixing, but dusting off Mrs. White's old catapult and hurling more money at them is not the answer that needs to be explored.

5. Harris County DA - I'm not going to link to either Republican candidate's website, because I'm not sure either candidate is worthy of a vote.  My friend Kevin, on his Diigo feed, suggested that the best option in this race might be the Democrat. I am in concurrence with that theory.  Therefore, the two Democratic candidates are Zack Fertitta and Lloyd Wayne Oliver (Note: Oliver does not have a campaign website that I can find)

And that's just a partial list.  There are tons of races out there where the primary is probably going to determine the outcome of the entire race.  In many cases (especially the Statewides) the Opposition party will offer up either weak candidates, or no candidate.

The short story here is that your vote matters.

Oh, while I'm not one to throw out many endorsements, those of you who can vote for 151st District Court would do yourselves a service voting for Leif Olson.

Vote early, but not often. (that would be illegal)

*The preceding post fulfills a requirement stated in the bloggers code Sec 23 sub 15 p17-2 stating that all elections must be discussed and treated as if they are of upmost importance.  There you go.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is the media a bad place for travel news?

Airlines New Reality: Fees for Carry-Ons, Pillows, Water, Once Included, Now New Revenue. John Donovan, Elizabeth Stuart. ABCNews.com

All you want to do is bring your clothing, but on United passengers will pay $100 for a third checked bag on an overseas flight, while Delta is charging $135 and American Airlines is charging $150.

Think about that for a minute.  A THIRD checked bag?

You should easily be able to pack clothes for a family of four into 4 wheeled carry-ons and two checked bags.  Easily.  I'm not sure whether the 'book your seat' fees are all that big of a deal either.  After all, unless you want to sit in Econ Plus (or whatever the equivalent is on airlines other than United) you should have no problem booking seats. 

Up until last year the wife and I had NO status.  We decided to start travelling after speaking with friends and going on a few trips ourselves, now we're hooked.  But it wasn't too long ago that we were right along side everyone else with no status and none of the freebies that come with that.

That said there are things you can do to alleviate these fees:

1. Plan ahead. - Book early, don't wait until the last minute.  If it seems that flights are always full as it gets close to departure time it is because they are. And they should be.  It's bad business to fly 1/2 empty planes.  Just last February the wife and I took my Mom, my two sisters and my brother in law to Paris.  I handled all of the bookings.  We booked the trip in December and, while my wife and I used our Elite status to get seats closer to the front, I didn't have ANY problem booking the four of them together. I could have booked my wife and I next to them had I wanted to.

2. Pack light, but smart.  You're allowed one carry on and one "personal item".  Put clothes in the carry on (which will go in the overhead bin) and flight essentials in your "personal item".  And make the personal item a backpack.  You can fit a travel blanket, headphones, .mp3 player, e-reader, liquids (in a plastic bag) eye-mask, meal and a drink bottle (both of the last, you will have to purchase in the clean zone) into a well laid out back-pack.  In the front pocket you can put your wallet, passport and other things as well. Bring a small travel bottle of Febreeze and spray your flight clothes with that once you hit your destination. Hang them up and they'll be ready to wear on the flight back.

3. Break down and get an airline credit card.   You might also think about applying to the airlines FF program as well.  If you're on a trans-oceanic flight the odds are, with the sign-up bonus and miles you receive, you'll be close to getting enough miles to score a free domestic ticket.  Say you fly somewhere else this year, that's one less ticket you have to pay for.  Also, most of the airlines credit cards allow for one free bag per ticket purchased.  On some, you get two free day passes to the airlines lounge.  You also get priority boarding with some, right behind those FF's that are getting so much negative press.

The problem is that the media isn't reporting this reality, they're taking the worst case scenario (the family with children who only travel once every X years) and holding that out as the norm.  The reality is that MOST people flying have some type of status or, now, are using the credit cards.  Yes, there are some airlines (Spirit, Allegiant etc.) who are taking the fee game to excess, but most of the legacy carriers are still offering free beverage service on most flights, free meals in economy, free blankets, free pillows and free on-board entertainment on trans-oceanic flights. What the discount airlines are doing is not the norm.

It's the exception, and it should be reported as such.

I'm no fan of State Sen. Dan Patrick

But I'm no fan of John Carona either.

Texas Republicans would do themselves a LOT of good by un-electing both of these jokers.

No matter who wins in their battle of egos, Texas loses.

Short Haul Flights (05/24/12)

Taking a broader view today....

The DMN stumps for Dewhurst, but the poll numbers aren't backing up their theory.

Burka the Clown gets the story wrong, then posts telling you that his insiders have assured him he had it wrong, which means (in his world) that he was right all along. - This is the "best political reporter in Texas"?

Headline of the day (Part 1) - Only in Texas.

Headline of the day (Part 2) - And the Dallas/Houston spat continues.

How can this be so? - After all, we're constantly reminded that Education priorities of Texas Republicans are RUINING the State. Yet more students are taking math and science?

Texas Republicans "miffed" that Romney is ignoring them. - How many of them supported him again?

Redistricting and the 2012 election. - Good read.

I'm still no fan of Internet polling. (And have doubts about the accuracy of the Trib's newsish polling above all)- But you have to agree that the phrase "Republicans have the most faith in the judicial branch" sounds odd.

Today's reminder that not everyone in the public eye with a bullhorn is worthy of listening to. - They have a right to say it, we have a right to ignore it.

What if the Republicans gain power and blow it (again)? - Does the party get another chance if Romney becomes Bush spending spree II?

Facing death, the species transportus ridiculous goes into self preservation mode. - On a local level see: David Crossley.

The definition of insanity. - Because all of the past fuel mileage boosts have done the economy so much good right?  (hint: wrong)

The White House tech people want you to interact with government like you do Facebook. - One presumes without all personal privacy information gathering?

Wait.....Dan Rather? - Who, amazingly, doesn't like the current campaign because the Republicans have been speaking too much.

The demise of the "Tea Party" congressional Freshman has been much exaggerated. - The media wanted them to suffer, they're not.

Civility. - Oh, and Obama ate a dog.....

And finally....

It will go to the voters to determine the fate of the Astrodome. - I will say "tear it down" but I've got a feeling Harris County is going to get itself obligated to spend money it doesn't have because County leaders won't make a leadership decision.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hobby to become Hobby International (Updated)

According to the Chron in a deal reached between the Mayor's office and SWA...

In a news conference at Hobby Airport, Mayor Annise Parker announced Wednesday that Southwest Airlines will pay the estimated $100 million cost for a five-gate expansion at Hobby that would provide international flights

All that remains is a City Council vote on the issue, which should be a rubber stamp since SWA is apparently going to pick up the cost of expansion and FAA clearance, which I can't see being a problem. That emphasized bit is from me, because ChronBlog's reporting on the issue was incorrect in stating that user fees would pay, at least, a portion. It now appears that SWA is going all-in.

On the final analysis I agree with Stephen.  I'm ambivalent more than anything.  It's not a financial spend of the City so I'm happy about that but I worry about the long-term viability of IAH as a 1st tier International gateway.

I still don't like the "exclusive use" agreement (which effectively eliminates competition for SWA at Hobby) and there's still the issue of those empty International gates at IAH but still, what's done is done.

And this is done.  Let's see if that $188 rate to Bogota surfaces any time soon.


Good Gawd we're using this logic as the basis of major, City altering deals?

Hobby on Hobby. Chris Moran, ChronBlog.

“Continental, or United, has been very concerned about job losses in Houston. They weren’t so concerned about job losses when they moved their headquarters to Chicago,” Hobby said.
United insists that it still has about 17,000 employees in Houston, just as the two companies did before their merger in 2010. But the merged company moved 1,500 corporate jobs from Houston to Chicago.

It’s been a sore point for Houstonians and one that Councilman Andrew Burks has called the company out on at least twice from the dais at meetings. At one point during the May 8 face-off between the United and Southwest airlines before Council, Burks barked at United executives: “Why did you buy Continental Airlines? Why did you do it?”

Houston is coming across in all of this looking like a petulant, spoiled child who's throwing a fit because they didn't get their way.  This deal has been described as Annise Parker's legacy maker.  I wonder what type of legacy it will be?

Houston to Vegas and back (UA 1st Class)

I know, I know.  The title of the blog is no upgrades.  And for most of my trips (given my dismal Silver Elite status with UA) that's going to be the case.  For some reason on my recent trip to Vegas however I grabbed an upgrade both coming and going.  It was an interesting trip because I got to compare and contrast a couple of things.

1. The older first class product on UA's aging 757 fleet.
2. The newer first class product on UA's 737 fleet.

This is also the first time I've been to Vegas post-merger, the last time I was on first class to Vegas it was under the Continental banner, so I figured that I would get to see how UA's new first class (I've heard they have been making changes) compared on almost a direct basis.

Flight 1:
UA 1640
Depart IAH: 9:10 PM
Arrive: LAS: 10:32 PM
Seat: 6B

I wish that I had more pictures of this flight, but I don't.  I was in a window seat and the under-seat storage space was limited due to odd positioning of the seat supports.  Because of this I had to stow my back-pack in the upper bin.  Not being a good travel-blogger, I also stored my camera in the bag.  There was turbulence throughout the flight, so I didn't get up to retrieve it. Unfortunately, my wife did not score an upgrade on this flight and, despite my repeated insistences that she do so, she refused to take my pass and instead argued (rightly) that me being bigger (and heavier) I would benefit more from the wider seats than would she.

Let me say this:  The interiors of these planes are REALLY starting to show their age.  The padding on the seat had degenerated to a point that even my amply padded rear-end was struggling to find a comfortable position.  That said, my wife was right, even though I'm losing weight (15 lbs since March!) I'm still fat and having the extra seat width is worth the upgrade.

On the downside was the On-board entertainment and the food.  Or should I say, the lack thereof.

The OBE was not seat-back DirecTV as it has been on this flight in the past.  We were saddled with the drop-down screens & 7 channels of audio.  We also didn't have channel 9, which is my favorite piece of on-air flight porn.  If you're not familiar with channel 9 it's very simple. It's a feed into the flight radio. That might not be a big deal to some, but I'm always disappointed when I can't hear the chatter between the flight deck and the tower.  As such, I watched some bad movie starring Katherine Heigl where she was a bounty hunter or something.  For the most part I tried to catch some sleep.

This brings us to the food.  On my United App the First Class food selection was listed as "refreshments". Having not seen this before I was curious. Unfortunately, refreshments consisted of a rather anemic snack basket that was brought around a couple of times...and that's it.  Also, about 1/2 way through the flight they ran out of vodka.  As a dedicated vodka tonic drinker this made me rather sad.

Service was typical UA service as the flight attendants disappeared for long stretches of time. I never was formally greeted (something you should expect in FC IMO) and for the most part, other than the wider seat, the entire experience felt like an older coach flight, with slightly better snacks. (the snack basket did offer peanuts, and tiny Cliff bars, Pop-chips, and tiny Toblerone bars.)

One neat fact: Across the aisle from me sat Gary Kubiak and his wife.  I guess they were headed to Vegas for some R&R before the start of OTA's.  I didn't say much to him, other than hello and what not, because I'm not a big fan of harassing the rich and famous.  He was nice and talkative however during boarding and deplaning, so there's that.

Flight 2:
UA 1402
Depart LAS: 8:20 AM
Arrive IAH: 1:20 PM
Seat: 4A

The second leg of this trip was on what appeared to be either a fairly new, or recently refitted 737-800.  The difference between this plane and the 757 is enormous.  Even though the plane is smaller the flight was much more comfortable.  It also helped that my wife scored and upgrade as well and was seated right next to me in 4B.

Fortunately, for this leg, I did snag a few images of the cabin and airport:

 Center console and headsets
 Old UA livery
View from LAS Terminal D window

As you can see, the condition of the plane was very nice. And I think the view from LAS is one of the great views of any airport.  You can see the Stratosphere and strip in the background, reminding you of money given to the casinos I guess.  It was also nice to see the old UA Express livery still around.

Overall the seats were comfortable, the OBE worked fine (a rarity for me) so I decided to watch Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows since I haven't seen that movie yet.  It was fair.

What wasn't fair was the breakfast service.  Ostensibly they had two options: Eggs and sausage or cereal, yogurt and fruit.  I say ostensibly because, by the time they got to row 3, the egg and sausage option was gone, leaving the last two rows (there were only four rows in FC) with the option of cold cereal.  Needless to say I passed as I'm not a cold cereal fan. The unfortunate thing was that I was hungry, having not eaten breakfast since we woke up at 5:30 to pack, check out, make a ceremonial last pull on a slot machine, and head to the airport.  The thing is, since we were both FC and got to go through that security line at LAS (which gets you through in about 1/8 of the time) I had plenty of time to buy something to eat to take on the plane.  This is my normal M.O. with United now since the food is typically horrendous.  I was hoping to try their FC breakfast offerings to see if they had improved, but it was not to be. I ordered a cranberry juice and waited to arrive back in Houston for some bar-b-que.

I'm not sure what your feeling is on complaining about FC service if you've comped an upgrade.  Some people feel that you should just be quiet since you're getting a bonus in the first place, but some people feel that you should complain because the airline shouldn't care if you were upgraded or if you've paid full price.

I fall in the latter category.  First Class upgrades are earned in my view, by showing loyalty to a brand in respect to your travel dollars.  While I wasn't "angered" by the lack of service and food on the flights, had I paid full price to sit in one of those seats I would be. 

What this does is confirm to me that the threads I've seen on the FlyerTalk and MilePoint forums about UA downgrading their domestic First Class service are true.  I noticed a significant drop-off in service on this same route pre-merger and post-merger, especially in the food and beverage service. To me, this is odd, especially when you consider their two main competitors, AA and Delta, are showing signs that they're bumping up the levels of service in their FC sections.*

I also am increasingly of the opinion that it's wise to try and avoid UA's 757 fleet if at all possible.  Those aircraft are really starting to show their age, while their not yet as bad as US Airways, they're getting broken down to a point that the flight experience is no longer all that enjoyable, even in First Class. 

Overall there are still a thousand reasons for travellers based out of UA hubs to stick with United. The convenience and routing are far superior to those offered by any other airline.  As a semi-frequent traveller with a home airport of IAH, UA is still head and shoulders above the competition in flight availability and flexibility.  And the Star Alliance is a huge, huge plus although it could do to take on a few new partners.

Now that UA has (mostly) gotten their computer issues fixed, they still have one of the top websites in the industry, the competition isn't even close in some respects. (Try to find miles on US Airways, it's like playing where's Waldo.)

All that being said, flying UA can still be enjoyable provided you take a few pre-flight steps:

1. Bring your own food.  I don't care if you do get an upgrade to FC. United food can be inedible at times. You've got a better than average chance of having the best meal on the plane if you purchase something in the terminal pre-flight.

2. Bring your own entertainment.  Usually I fly with my Kindle and my .mp3 player. I didn't on this flight because they're boxed up due to house renovations.  I won't make that mistake again.  I'm also bringing my iPad, with movies pre-downloaded, on long-haul flights. 

3. Temper your expectations. There's still a lot of labor strife at UA and, at times, it shows. Not that the FA's are rude, but some are clearly not happy at their jobs.

4. Try to avoid 757 routes if possible.  This is a hard one, because UA flies a LOT of 757 metal.  If you can however, my experience is that your overall flight experience will be better.

One last point:

I found it telling that, with all of the PR problems UA has had post merger, that Smiling Jeff Smisek decided to dedicate the column inches of his CEO letter at the front of Horizon's to urge fliers to chide the EU on their carbon cap and trade scheme.  To me this was a great chance to offer up a mea culpa to passengers for all of the issues that they have been going through for the past couple of months.  Instead, it's another data point in the argument that Mr. Smisek possesses a customer service tin ear.

*I realize there's no comparing domestic FC with Trans-Atlantic or Trans-Pacific FC. So in a sense the AA vs. UA comparison on the link and this trip isn't valid. The onus for the link was to drive home the point that other airlines seem to be investing in their FC service (some in an attempt to bring it up to International airline standards, or at least, closer to them) while UA appears to be dumbing it down.

Read into this what you will

According to the travel blog View from the Wing, the first United Boeing 787 flight (that was scheduled to be Houston to Aukland NZ) is apparently now going to be Denver to Tokyo.

Certainly it's political posturing by UA, but potentially losing the inaugural flight of the Dreamliner to Denver does lend some credence to the theory posited earlier by Stephen Seagraves that Denver could be the big winner if IAH is no longer being built up as a large, International gateway by the City of Houston.

Would the opening of HOU damage the prospects of an IAH-AKL routing?  No.  Not in the least.  But the shifting of the service is certainly a sign that UA is serious about their threat of pulling routes and jobs should the HOU International expansion be approved. (As it most certainly will be)

All along this soon-to-be-announced deal has been touted as a potential boon for consumers, given this new turn of events.....

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On Public Opinion and Bad Public Policy

The Story:

Agreement with Southwest to be Announced Tomorrow, Chris Moran, Chron.com

The public commentary:

PaleRider says:May 22, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Good – screw the Chicago based United!

TangoBlast says:May 22, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Exactly! That piece of you-know-what CEO from United (along with Semgma er Smisnik, ) of Continental screwed everyone over so that they could make millions. They blew Mayor Parker (who I don’t like at all) off and she is now returning the favor. I love it! 

Sheryl Mexic says:May 22, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Fantastic news! I hope United is crying in Chicago

It almost makes you think that this business deal is less about what's in the best, long-term, interest of Houston, and more about "getting back" at United.

Nah....that can't be it right?

A fallacy in the pro-high speed rail argument

Picked this up today from Kuffer while catching up on things I missed while in Vegas....

Financing the Dallas to Houston High Speed Rail Line, Charles Kuffner, Off the Kuff

Dallas and Houston are just far enough apart to make the drive unpleasant and inconvenient, but once you factor getting to and from the airport and going through security, there’s not much gained by flying. That’s the main reason why a high speed train connection has always made sense.

This assumes, of course, that there won't be security checks (there will, possibly with Metro PD playing the role of TSA in Houston *shudder*) or travel time to a train station.  The station, if Metro and others have their way, will surely be located to connect to the "transit backbone" of Houston.  That would put it somewhere downtown.  What that means is that it will be a difficult commute (especially during rush hour) for the roughly 80% of "Houston area" residents that reside outside the Loop, parking will be a disaster, and the whole logistics of the thing will be impossible.

I also take the opposite stance of Kuffer and others that the terminus should be located far away from the two major airports in each city.  From airport to airport would be the least worst option for a build.  Riders would then have the option to catch a flight, rent a car, take a cab, or a hotel shuttle to various locations in each city*. Locating withing the city centers would increase reliance on Metro and DART to get people where they want to be.  That's not to bad in Dallas but, with Houston Metro, it's a disaster waiting to happen. Another likely scenario, given the current political attitude, is that the terminus in Houston be located at Hobby.  That would be an even worse disaster. I understand the MetroRail/anti-United public viewpoints right now, I just don't think they should be the basis for financial decisions that are going to affect the region for years to come.

All that being said, the train itself is an unneeded, very expensive waste of money that doesn't need to be built at all. It's another solution looking for a problem.  It's only real draw is that it resembles something on TV that a certain group of people think symbolizes world class.  It's a shiny bauble that would serve no real transportation need at great expense to taxpayers.

Because of this, I'd give it a 50/50 chance of being built. Given the business sense of Houston's current "leadership" I'd say it's a cool 100% that Houston will buy into the financing in some shape or form. If the Parker regime has anything to say about it Houston will buy in with the least favorable terms possible.

If built, once the newness wears off, I predict less than 25% occupancy on most routes within a year.

*Not that "catch a flight" would offer much in the way of cost savings, but it could be a viable third option for route planning.  A rarely used third option however because the DFW/IAH ticket difference would have to be considerable for a train connection to make sense. I don't see that happening more than a handful of times, but it COULD happen.  The main reason for locating each terminus at the airports is because the continuing travel infrastructure is already in place.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A slight delay

Just a brief interlude before I start my travels.  Two interesting points in today's SWA/UA write up in ChronBlog.  One from the story, one from the comments:

Vote on Hobby Expansion Could be May 30th. Chris Moran, Chron.com

Although Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told council last week, “If we can reach an agreement with you, I’ll pay for the $100 million project,” he said, acknowledging later that it may be financed by passenger ticket surcharges, as suggested by Houston Airport System Director Mario Diaz.

So Kelly wasn't telling the whole truth. Not that he lied. (I'm sure SWA is willing to absorb some of the cost) but he omitted that Diaz seems willing to give it away to SWA.  One would guess Diaz is legacy hunting, he thinks he'll be seen as the HAS President who expanded the system to two international airports.

More likely, however, he'll be known for this:

yellowjournalism lives says:

Moving the hub is not an option for United. Reducing its size and moving a bunch of flights to a more profitable situation is. Reduce the number of flight out of IAH by 1/3 and you get way more negative impact than opening up Hobby Internationally so a few folk on the south side can fly easier. City council is selling out one of the largest employers in the area. Who wins? Those on the council that will no doubt profit on one way, shape, or form.

It seems inevitable that UA will at least shift some of their IAH burden to another hub should this move be approved. (Stephen Seagraves has presented a good case for Denver.) It also seems that the shifted load will be greater than the incoming load from SWA.  Houston also runs the risk of being seen as a city that doesn't honor it's commitments. (as suggested by another friend of mine) In this case Houston had, in the past, made a long-term commitment to IAH and it's growth into a large, International hub.  Now, because a bad mayor had a bad experience with United, all of that is gong to go away.

Given what I posted yesterday, there's a better than average chance SWA cost structure and industry trends don't result in lower fares at all.  And there's no way we're ever going to see the, now mythical, $188 one-way flight to Bogota.  It's just not going to happen.

A more likely scenario is that future flight traffic through the entire HAS is reduced, and Denver becomes the beneficiary of the current administration's short-sightedness.

OK, that's all....Wheels up again.

UPDATE: CultureMap provides Bethune's perspective. (Hint, he thinks Dallas and Atlanta would be the big winners)*

*This link provided due to obligation 47 Amendment B section D-4 in the part-time travel blogger code regarding requirements to link to good stories no matter how I feel about the originating outlet.

Wheels Up (part II)

Time for some time off, no posting until Tuesday.

Everyone have a great weekend.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Something missing from the SWA/UA debate

You don't see this factoid in any of the Houston media coverage on the matter:

Southwest postpones orders for 30 Boeing 737's. Seattle Times via Chicago Tribune.

The larger U.S. legacy airlines have cut their labor costs below Southwest's, threatening the Texas airline's status as a low-cost carrier
If you need to know why the "Southwest Effect" is no longer in play, that blurb should tell you all you need to know.

What we really need is a meaningful, third party study performed without interference from the two airlines in question.  Will we get that?  I'm not banking on it.  Until then, remember this when Southwest talks about how much cheaper their flights are going to be.  On labor costs, they are losing out and they don't have those fuel hedges to fall back on any longer......

I mean come on. #shuttertheedboard

Who should fill Hutchison's boots? The Apple Dumpling Gang, ChronBlog
Given a magic wand, we'd order up a replacement who would blend the skills of Hutchison with those of Lloyd Bentsen - with just a pinch of the calculated orneriness of Lyndon Johnson.
In other words, you'd order up a Democratic Senator to win the Republican nomination.

Really gang?

The killer now is that, after this paean to past Democratic Senators, they go and endorse David Dewhurst because he's....well...closest to what they think Republicans should be (i.e. Democrat lite)
Our dream resume would read: collegial, well-versed on issues foreign and domestic, a tough bargainer who keeps his word; above all, skilled in the traditional Senate ways of civil give and take, and in tune with the needs and views of the millions who make up the Texas mainstream. That's asking a lot.......(snip)  our endorsement goes to Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, with a nod of acknowledgment to Leppert's well-conceived candidacy.

OK then.  The problem the Gang, and other editorial boards, are going to have, is that Dewhurst is the likely winner, and he's shunned them (a la Rick Perry) from the beginning of this campaign.  I believe that we're going to see more and more of this, especially from Republican candidates, as editorial board endorsements mean less and less.

You know the gang wanted to endorse Leppert, but he's got as much chance of winning the primary as Obama does of carrying Texas in the general.  i.e. none.  The problem these editorial boards are currently facing is that they share little in common (other than perhaps a geographical similarity) with their few remaining readers.

The Gang is reduced to two general types of comments:

1. Readers commenting on what a bunch of liberals run the place.

2. Matt Bramanti coming in and continuously pointing out their copious factual and content errors.  It's the Lord's work, but Bramanti is tireless and has an eagle eye for finding them.

It's long past time to shutter the ed board and re-deploy the resources to local reporting.  If there's one area where the Chron could take the lead Nationally, this would be it, and it'd have the biggest (positive) impact on Houston news.

Short haul flights (05/16/2012)

So much to talk about so little time.....

Galveston bungles election. - And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Interesting that a LOT of Democratic incumbents were those that were damaged by this.)

In which ChronBlog discovers it's hot in Houston. - Sometimes there's just nothing left to say.

Mayor Parker spends it all and then some in new budget. - She wants to dip into the entirety of the reserve fund.

Today's "Pot, meet kettle" award - The idea of Village Voice Houston chastising anyone about the quality of their journalism is funny in and of itself.

Somewhere, Mostyn is crying. - This is almost like the TWIA spiking the football after a touchdown.

The REAL inconvenient truth. - Not every country is as eager to lose their economic advantages as are the US and the EU.

Ezra Klein continues to amuse us. - At some point someone is going to realize that this guy is just not that bright.

Hear! Hear! - This proposal has the No Upgrades 100% support.

Why Greece matters. - And why there's precious little the US can do about it.

What?!? You mean the Tea Party fish aren't doing what they said? - You could knock me over with a feather.

W. sounding more presidential than ever. - His (mostly) silence speaks volumes, and proves him 10 times the statesman of the current WH occupant.

How you like us now? - Suddenly the Obama administration has a come to Jesus moment on clean coal. Funny how some bad polling numbers will do that.

As goes Texas, so goes Wisconsin - Rhetoric to the contrary the DNC is going to have to pick their battles this election cycle.

Anything you can do I can do better. - Remember when Obama was bemoaning Super PAC's as the death knell of democracy?

I'm mad too Barack - Obama campaign hearing that more and more from the middle.

Here come the anti-incumbent fighters. - It will be interesting to see if this group has much success. As a whole, people hate Congress, but LOVE their Congressmen.

Nope, still not a fan of "fact check" journalism. - It's lazy, and the "facts" are often heavily weighted by the opinion of the fact-checker.  Politifarce indeed.

And finally....(probably most importantly however)

Bridgetown developer says tax abatement 'needed'. - If it truly is NEEDED, then it's probable that the entire project is not economically feasible and should be altered or scrapped.

UPDATE:  Tax abatement granted - I'm guessing this type of abatement is OK with our progressive friends. It seems the 'correct' winners are getting selected.

Please return your tray-tables and seat-backs to their upright positions and enjoy your day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Early Voting (Day 1)

According to Stan Stanart's Harris County Clerk office the early vote totals for day one came in just shy of 5,000 total. (both Republican and Democratic primaries)  The rough party split was 2/1 in favor of Republicans, which should surprise no one since a large swath of the Democratic vote takes advantage of the free stuff bus rides to polling places on election day. Another telling number are the mail-in ballots.  A record 35K have been requested (so far) in Harris County alone.  What to make of these numbers?


 - It's not been confirmed but some political insiders may have already speculated that the Statewide races are being called, in advance, for the eventual Republican nominees.

 - Fun fact: Of the nearly 5000 that voted, 25 had the first name Hubert.*

 - State Senator Dan Patrick has already declared that the election results will show that State Senator John Carona is a traditional-marriage hating poopy head.

 - In advance of the election, State Dems are saying that these early voting numbers prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that voter fraud is a fraud.

 - Yesterday marked the start of the post-election Democratic interest group infighting season.

 - Despite relatively high expected voter participation, the losers of this election will caution about "any judgments made on the public mood" based on the results.

 - No word yet when Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee is planning her first, post election, staffer purge.

 - Based on these numbers we can, fairly safely, assume that ALL of Ron Paul's supporters in Harris County have voted.

 - No voter won the "5,000th voter of the day" sack of used bumper stickers planned to be handed out by Jared Woodfill and the HCRP.

 - There was a winner of the "Hey, we got 100 voters!" stack of Obamacare waivers handed out by the HCDP.  No word on the identity of the lucky recipient.

Things to watch for in the future:

 - Big Jolly's annual "Terry Lowry's Link Letter is a rotten egg" blog posting. (c'mon Dave, we're waiting.)
 - The next attack ad in the Dewhurst/Cruz tie.
 - Bicyclist Stein's electoral 'analysis' stating these numbers are "positives" for local Democrats.

Worst Awards:

Worst Campaign slogan:  Leslie Johnson - Harris County Attorney "Not just a lawyer, a LEADER". - Um...no, what I want in this office is a competent lawyer.  We've seen enough of what happens when 'conservatives' try and lead movements instead of performing the jobs that they were elected to perform.

Worst Campaign ad: Carl Pittman - Joe Arpaio ad. Not only is it poorly produced (you can barely make out the beginning the audio quality is so bad) but Sheriff Joe sounds as if he's an automaton. It's like the computer voice in War Games.

*(OK, it's not a fact.  But it would be fun.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dead horse....beaten.

You have to give them credit, they keep trying...

Rent to ride....We like it, The Apple Dumpling Gang, Chron.com

Of course the Gang likes a bike share program in Houston.  I just can't help but wonder if they'll like it as much during July and August when the seat temps are so high they fry riders thighs?  For that matter, I wonder if we'll get any meaningful reporting on the usage levels of this when the temperature levels rise to brutally hot instead of the current hot, humid but the breeze makes it tolerable?

My gut feeling is no.  We won't.  We'll get a passel or reporting saying that while ridership is "disappointing" they have high hopes for the future.  Then they'll roll out this tired old canard:
But now, on the heels of theKinder Institute's survey, which stated that over 50 percent of area residents would prefer to live within walking - or biking - distance of work

Sure they do, if they don't have to give up anything.  But let's ask these same study participants if they'd like to do that if they live in a multi-family domicile, if they are willing to give up their cars, their lawns, their privacy and their freedom to move about.  All things people have now, and which real estate patterns are saying more and more people are taking advantage of.

The big problem with the Kinder Institute survey is that it assumes there are no trade-offs. In life, we understand that their always are.  It started as a graduate project and it never developed anywhere past that level.  It's a neat little toy to allow lazy journalists to take data that can be spun to say that "Houstonians" want the things that the Gang wants for them.

They'll then beat that dead horse into submission, until reality once again intervenes and tells them that this great Utopia is not taking place.  Then they'll spend print inches telling us why it just needs more time (and money).

It's the Houston way.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wheels down

Always fun flying around a weather front......

Quick business trip over. Back in town until next weekend when I'm off again.

In the interim, a fresh set of stuff to ponder.

Fight Brewing over O'Hare and Parallels with Intercontinental, Stephen Seagraves, badice.com - In which Stephen offers some much needed counter-balance to some of the more fanciful rhetoric surrounding the HOU/IAH issue. Good read. (Worth some time pondering because it discusses DEN, a real option that the 'm-word' pro-Southwest clan has missed.)

Former Chronicle Reporter Claims Discrimination, Chron.com - Kyrie "MeMo" O'Connor must be thrilled that this ex-employee of hers is raising this kind of stink. (Alternate headline: Former reporter/stripper accuses Chronicle of waging 'war on women')

Rumors about UT President's Job Spread Online, Joe Holley, Chron.com - The 'rumors' were started by "Texas bestest political reporter" running prematurely with an unsubstantiated rumor. As things progress it appears that Mr. Burka is going to have considerable egg on his face but, in true reporter fashion, He's doubling down. (Addendum: The question now is this: If Burka is considered the best political reporter in the State, what does this tell us about the sorry state of political reporting in Texas?)

Speaking of sorry reporting: One day after President Obama's controversial switch on Gay Marriage, The Washington Post issued an unflattering report on Romney's childhood antics that portray the candidate as anti-gay. The problem? The story is not standing up to scrutiny and is looking flimsier with each passing hour. The take-away from this is that news media outlets do work with oppo research teams and time stories to have the desired effect. Quite often it doesn't matter if the story in question is correct or not. In this case, based on what is looking like an erroneous story, Romney is already being shredded. How sad that it could be for something he didn't do. (At a minimum, you'd think the call would be for more research but, in this case, it's all hands on deck and guns ready as the Obama campaign team ramps up the troops.)

Chevron's Brazil Spill Shows Drillers Still Trip in Crises, Bloomberg via Fuel Fix at Chron.com - On the contrary, everything that Chevron did in this situation was correct, until those who aren't concerned about correct got in on the game and waged a war of environmental terror against the company. Yes, they didn't respond well to that. However, given the current mindset of global ecomentalists I would argue it's impossible to respond "correctly" to them. (The only "correct" responses being that you're going to suspend all operations, fire all of your employees and stop exploring and drilling altogether or that you're turning over all operations to the government. The problem is not oil and gas exploration, it's PRIVATE oil and gas exploration.)

Say this about Obama's Biden-forced gay marriage epiphany, It's given the Left an issue that's not the economy.

The Power of Marriage, Emily Deprang, Texas Observer
The Out Candidate, Kuffer, Off the Kuff,
 4 openly gay candidates seek Texas House Seats, Daniel Williams, Dallas Voice

The true test will not be who's running, but who wins. Is America evolved enough on these issues to actually elect several LBGT candidates to office? In Texas, I'm not so sure. (The bigger issue is whether or not this will distract enough from the economy to provide Obama with a boost. I think no, because it's all going to come down to how the economy is doing in November)

Good to be back.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wheels up.

No, the blog isn't going on hiatus (I just took it off hiatus after all) but posting could be spotty for the next few weeks due to business/personal travel. 

Until then, I'll try to keep abreast of things on my Diigo page so, if you're interested I'll be trying to keep that going.  The Diigo feed is a good thing if you're interested in short takes on a lot of articles (rather than a longer-form blog post) and it's where I try shuffle and sort most of the days news.

In the interim, it seems that the United/Southwest kerfuffle has all but been decided, if you still think there's any way the City is NOT going to approve Southwest's request here's some more of the back-and-forth: (and various and assorted other quick links)

Tori Gattis is pro Southwest.

Stephan Seagraves is pro-United

The City Attorney weighs in on Southwest's side.

Remember when correlation didn't equal to causation? - Of course, you'd also have to remember when the scientific method was meaningful in science.

The comments to this editorial are why I don't write about education any more. - Everyone thinks they know the answers and, if you're answer is different then there's they say you just don't understand the issue.  Education in Texas is rapidly turning into a circular firing squad with the children in the middle.

US SENATOR: It could be Dewhurst w/o a run-off. - THAT would anger a lot of tea party groups.

Patrick vs. Carona - You know you've failed if you've made State Sen. Zaffrini look like the calm, rational participant.  My State Senator continues to embarrass.  Unfortunately, given the political make-up of our district, there's no way he gets primaried out.

Next they'll be demanding we take off our underwear. - Just you wait.  The TSA will overreact to this in time.

Today's election tempest in a teapot. - The problem that Obama has here is that he's spent the last few months trying desperately to convince anyone that the "wealthy" (read: those making over $100K/yr) are somehow un-American.

Are Airfares getting more expensive?  The answer might surprise you.

This is a good trip report. - Keep it in mind because I'm going to try a similar trip report on a rather mundane business trip....in coach.  Not because you don't know it by now, but b/c I think it will be funny to see the stark differences.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Your question for the weekend

Why is it that European austerity measures are considered a failure just a few months after implementation but Keynesian economics is a "work in progress" almost 4 years later?  This despite similar results from both.


Have a great weekend.

Texas Senate Mash-up

Some thoughts I had about last night's US Senate "forum" on PBS....

Cruz continues attack on Dewhurst, Joe Holley, Chron.com

The Republicans:
Dewhurst, as befits the front-runner, tried in his interview segment to keep his eye on Washington, basically ignoring his rivals. The 66-year-old touted "the Texas model" for the rest of the nation.
This is what Dewhurst should have done. The only poll that I've seen is the PPP poll, that was taken at the very beginning of the Dewhurst attack ad run, and it showed Cruz closing. I'm not sure that is the case now.
Asked about an ad the Dewhurst campaign released last week questioning Cruz's connection as an attorney in a case involving Chinese copyright infringement, Cruz called Dewhurst a liar.
I've a feeling that Cruz' internal numbers are showing this attack is effective. It's very rare to counter-attack head-on if it's not.
"For too long Washington has over-taxed, over-spent and over-regulated," said Leppert, who was the chief executive officer of Turner Construction before being elected mayor.
Leppert's big problem is that his campaign message is out of sync with his record. Unfortunately, for him, it's a bad time to try and run as "the moderate Republican option."
James, 51, called for a corporate tax rate of zero percent, which, in his view, would create jobs.
Craig James.....yeah. He also called for eliminating the EPA, which is not a bad idea, in theory, but as a practical matter is impossible. The focus should be on reform.

The Democrats:
Hubbard said he was older than Joe Biden, the vice president, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate from Delaware at 29. "I'm the only one in the race who isn't a career politician or a super-wealthy person," he said.
It's like a mish-mash of Republican anti-Washington sentiment and Democratic populism. Also, a comparison to VP Joe Biden is probably not the way to win friends and influence people in a State as Red as Texas.
Sadler, an acknowledged expert on public school finance when he served in the Texas Legislature from 1991 to 2003, used his interview time to talk about education.
He spent the entirety of the debate for the US Senate, speaking on an issue that won't be directly addressed at a Federal level. This is what people mean when they say the Democrat's bench strength is weak.

Overall I didn't see anything in two excruciatingly boring hours that convinced me Dewhurst is going to lose. Cruz' hope is a low-turnout run-off and, while there's a chance that might happen, it will be telling to see what the next round of polling reveals. I just wish that someone other than PPP or The Texas Tribune's online poll would bring out some new numbers.

I've a feeling they'll show Dewhurst starting to pull away.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Quick, lunchtime question...(Updated)

How can the Greater Houston Partnership make a recommendation to support the Hobby expansion based on "a thorough review" of data from Southwest, the HAS and United Airlines if the data from UA hasn't been released as of yet?

Answer: It's the Houston Way.

Updated: We have a drive-time answer:

United says expanding Hobby would cost jobs, hurt economy, Chris Moran & Kiah Collier, Chron.com
Expanding Hobby Airport to allow for international flights will cost the Houston area 3,700 jobs and $295 million in economic activity, according to a study released by United Airlines Thursday afternoon. United's conclusions contrast starkly with the projections of a study commissioned by the Houston Airport System that an international Hobby would create 10,000 jobs and inject $1.6 billion into the local economy annually.
The study was conducted by Barton Smith, an economy professor at the University of Houston and one of the more respected authorities in the Houston area. Now, granted, I'm certain he worked with data supplied by United, in addition to other data, so it's no surprise that this data had a United slant. It also probably solely focused on the effects to Jobs AT IAH, leaving out whatever job creation would occur at HOU so there's that. However, I would imagine that the net effect of jobs (throwing out the ridiculous numbers cited in the HAS study) would a loss for Houston should this go through.

I've always thought that the idea of creating a 2nd exclusionary hub for Southwest would be a bad idea. I see a (admittedly long-shot) way where this could work where different airlines were brought in to Hobby for some routes provided they also competed at IAH (and filled the empty gates there)* but that idea was never on the table.

What is on the table is a sure loser IMO. Perhaps there's some benefit to having a neutral third-party commission a survey to make sure, but I doubt it's even going to get that far. Houston is determined to NEVER be slighted by anyone, and many view that United slighted them by "moving" to Chicago**. To quote Kirk Russell: "Son of a bitch must pay."

*The plan I envisioned was much more involved than that. I was going to go into it one day, but since it's never going to happen I'm just going to let it lie.
**Of course, United never really "moved" to Chicago, they've always been based there and had a financial incentive to stay there. People who use this argument are arguing from a position of ignorance.

A Quick Texas Political Primer

It occurred to me last night, while reading through a story on Texas Monthly, that an outsider to Texas might not understand how the politics run in this State, or what is the ideology that defines it.  I think a good way to look at this is to view Texas through it's regions/major cities and see when and where ideologies are rooted:

Let's start in the Capitol City.


Cultural identity: Stuck in the 70's.
Political identity: Rooted in the 70's.
Infrastructure: Designed in the 1890's

You hear a lot about how Austin is "Not Texas".  This is bunk.  If anything Austin is exactly Texas, if it was populated by Californians.  The problem with Austin is that they don't have the money to accomplish everything that was promised in the '70s.  So they sit in the middle of Texas wondering why all of life isn't like one of Willie's 4th of July barbecues.

The Capitol:

Cultural identity: None
Political identity: A frat party.
Infrastructure: N/A

Here's the problem with the capitol:  Because of the design of the voting system it's possible for your candidate to vote on an issue despite not being there.  One of the funniest sites during every Lege session are the attending representatives wildly pushing every vote button around them in an effort to stack the deck.  If you want to see evidence of voting fraud, look no further than our Statehouse.  The biggest challenge that our government faces is that Texas was designed to run under the novel concept that Government is, more often than not, the problem rather than the solution. This is hard for elected officials (Republicans and Democrats) who have come to view themselves as somehow bigger than the State. Considering they're surrounded by Austinites it could be a case of one-eyed men being king in the land of the blind.

College Station

Cultural identity:  Hullaballo kannick-kannick.
Political identity: Sunburned red.
Infrastructure: aTm

College Station is, as the name implies, Texas most true college town.  Except that it's one of the more conservative college towns in the Country.  Driving through College Station is like wandering into a world with a binary color palate and 50's sensibilities.  As the rest of Texas moved forward (before getting stuck in their own time-warps) College Station stayed firmly rooted in the 50's.  Sure, there are small splinter groups that try to bring them into the future in fits & starts, but they have a name for them and it's not pretty (2 percenters).  Of more concern for aTm is that their football team is standing on the precipice of one of the worst eras in school history.  Fortunately, for the fans, College Station is not dry.  Drink heavy Aggies, this'll hurt.


Cultural identity: Straight from the 80's.
Political identity: In Transition
Infrastructure: Meh.

OK, Dallas has DART, which many will tell you automatically places them at the top of Texas from an infrastructure standpoint.  They also have Fort Worth, with whom they're eternally incapable of reconciling differences.  Just as Austin is rooted in the 70's, Dallas is rooted in the 80's.  Specifically the TV show that we all grew up watching.  The typical Dallasite spends half their time coiffing and the other half wondering why in the hell they aren't JR.  Unlike some of their city siblings, Dallas is fairly confident in who they are. This gives them a big advantage in name and social ID.

El Paso

Cultural identity: Hola!
Political identity: C is for.......
Infrastructure: Let's build a wall....

Everything that is El Paso is defined by two things:  1. The shared border with our friends to the South.  2. Democratic machine politics.  Because of this some of the best political corruption scandals in recent Texas memory have sprung from the gateway to Texas.  To suggest El Paso politics has a corrupt history is to suggest that Texas is big.  It's been a mess.  There have been rumblings that, due to what passes for intense media pressure in Texas, they are working on the problem, but long-time observers think we're just in a lull.  All in all though El Paso is a beautiful city, and a nice place to visit if you have the time.  Just don't cross the border.


Cultural identity: Can we bring back the 90's?
Political identity: The Houston Way
Infrastructure:  Huh?

Houston's big problem is "Houston we have a problem".  Every since that phrase got stuck in the public lexicon it's been inexorably tied to Texas' largest city like a lasso on a calf at the Livestock Show and Rodeo.  Houstonians fondly remember the 90's, when oil was booming, the Rockets were winning and Houston was a two newspaper town.  Houston had a real, strong, mayor in Bob Lanier and hadn't yet experienced the long, desperate slog downward that was the Lee P. Brown/Bill White era.  In the 90s, Houston still had hope.  Today's Houston is a bunch of imports looking at one another and wondering why things aren't done like they were back home.  As a result of this everything in Houston is done half-assed.  From the light-rail to the downtown park to government ethics.  Everything in Houston is designed to woo the votes of one group over the other.  The result is a political game of three-card-monty where moneyed special interests understand the scam and make out like bandits.

San Antonio

Cultural identity: Don't disrespect me man!
Political identity: Some future utopia
Infrastructure:  "We have this river you see....."

San Antonio is in the middle of a cultural sea-change.  Once ringed with military bases, it existed as mainly a military town with one (pretty great) tourist attraction parked squarely in the middle. With the closing of several of said bases, and a burgeoning private sector, San Antonio now aspires to be a player at the State level.  When you hear the phrase: "Demographics is destiny" people are really referencing San Antonio, which has been the political birth-place of a string of would-be Hispanic "rising stars".  Unfortunately, there's a major issue with getting the Hispanic community to engage in the political process.  Because of this many of these "rising stars" have fallen to earth via either humiliating electoral defeats or scandal.  The result of this is a developing inferiority complex that doesn't quite rival Houston's, but is a solid contender for second place.

The Valley

Cultural identity: Tres leches.
Political identity: El Paso, but way worse.
Infrastructure: Crumbling

When you think of the Valley today you should think about one thing: The Eagle Ford Shale.  This very rich oil and gas field is providing the very poor with very well-off lifestyles almost overnight.  Vast areas of land that were once dirt farms and deer leases are now making their owners Millions of dollars a year.  For those that don't own land there is an influx of well-paying jobs that are causing great damage to the Democratic political machine in the area.  The Valley needs roads, and infrastructure badly.  The rivers and water supply that were once so plentiful are suddenly proving woefully inadequate.  The main problem for the Valley is that their political clout in Red Texas is currently naught.  They have to find a way to address this, and soon.

West Texas

Cultural identity: Wildcatters 
Cultural reality: Fading
Political identity: Big man on campus
Political reality: Fading
Infrastructure: Pipe dreams.

Of all the areas in Texas, West Texas has undergone the largest transformation. Once the seat of power in the Texas economy they've taken a back seat as the shale plays have ramped up development, and the Permian Basin has moved into its declining stage.  At one time Midland and Odessa had grand dreams of light-rail and multi-Million dollar convention centers.  Now they're just trying to keep the pot-holes filled and the water flowing as every-shrinking tax bases put a tremendous strain on a government that overspent during good times.  If anything West Texas should serve as a cautionary tail for the rest of the State.  The good times won't last forever, and expenditures kicked down the road eventually hit a dead end and have to be paid for.

Texas Media

Cultural identity: Lonesome Dove
Cultural reality: The Great Depression
Political identity: Mahatma Gandhi
Political reality: LBJ
Infrastructure: Being sold off to the highest bidder

The problem with the Texas media is that, in most cases, they're living in a fantasy land rooted somewhere between the 60's and the 90's, forgetting that things have moved forward in Texas more so than almost any other State in the union.  Too many times you hear things like "the way we do things in Texas" illustrating why the Texas media has fallen out of favor with most of us.  If they're not longing for the days when LBJ was in charge then they're lamenting the fact that Texas doesn't do things like they were done in New York, or the North East, from which most of the editorial direction is based.  The fact is that most of Texas current media don't know, and don't want to know, the political make-up of the majority of Texas citizenry.  They view themselves as guarders and protectors of what is truthful and right, and their charge is to convert the God-fearing heathens who don't see things their way.  Meanwhile the rest of the State is moving on, while the MSM in Texas continues its downward spiral into irrelevancy.

More money = education?

That appears to the the editorial stance of Chron.com....

Business group joins suit over school funding. Gary Scharrar, Chron.com
Some of the education-related parties in the litigation are not pleased that Hammond's group is trying to piggyback on their efforts to get more money for public education and more equity.
I'm guessing this is the 'official' editorial position taken by ChronBlog, that only the groups demanding more money, more equitably distributed are "education-based". That leaves open the question of what the Texas Association of Business is now, a group that's also focusing on education but also wanting a full cost analysis performed before additional funding is approved.

It's sad that it's come to this, but it's where we are in policy debate in Texas.

For the worse apparently, given how things are progressing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Think about this for a second.

$13-per-mile ambulance fee passes in Houston. Chris Moran, Chron.com
Houston dropped the mileage fee in November 2010 to make more palatable its action to raise the base price from $415 to $1,000, Councilwoman Melissa Noriega explained.

That's almost 10K per job.

Apple, World's most valuable company, to get $6.4 Million in Travis County Tax Breaks. Mike Cronin, Texas Watchdog.
So important is keeping Apple Inc. – the world’s most valuable company as of January – in Austin that Travis County officials have cobbled together a deal that would give the computer behemoth up to $6.4 million in tax rebates, the Austin-American Statesman reports today. A total of $36 million in state- and local-government incentives could be going to Apple, writes the Statesman’s Farzad Mashhood.
My 10K calculation is based on the $36 Million number, which would be the total amount of government subsidies for around 3500 35K/Yr jobs. That's almost 1/3rd of the salary that would be directly subsidized.

I've no problem with iApple paying lower taxes. As an accountant specializing in regulatory tax in the Oil and Gas industry I'm all for paying the tax that you owe, but trying to pay as little as is legally possible. What I do have a problem with is corporate welfare in the form of tax credits. Yes, I even mean tax credits to the oil and gas industry for gas production when prices are at historic lows. If anything, these tax incentives need to go away when the demand is not there. Yes, I know, this runs counter to what you normally hear from our elected officials on the Left when oil prices get high but, if anything, this is when incentives should kick in, to spur much-needed additional production. When natural gas is hovering around the $2/MCF level it's probably accurate to say that production does not need to be spurred.

Apple is a different story. They are currently receiving a premium price for their products due to the cool factor of iApple. The company has done a good job reducing their tax burden up to this point, and I see no reason they should stop trying now. I do have a problem with the State and County offering iApple a de-facto give-away that is going to place additional tax stress on the rest of the Country. A better plan would be to work with State and local business leaders to broaden the tax base, and lower the rate. This would allow the rising tide to raise all ships, not just the one from iApple.

A second problem that I have with this is inside the article (and headline) itself. I'm a fan of Texas Watchdog, and I appreciate their reporting mainly because it's typically presented accurately and without bias. The headline and the lead paragraph contain much of the language you see from the Occupy crowd, language that I feel is unecessary and serves only to bias the reader against the tax-break plan through the use of class warfare. In reality, it doesn't much matter how big, or how valuable, iApple is today. If this same deal was to be offered to a small-cap start up it'd still be a flawed plan.

One of the main arguments against the Federal income tax code is that it's an inconsistent, loophole-filled mess of a document. Given that Texas pols love to talk about "doing things the Texas way" wouldn't a good solution be to stop making Texas tax inconsistent and loophole-filled? Why not try to broaden the base and make the tax rates as low as possible for all?

And can we rid ourselves of the silly Occupy class warfare? It's bad for business. (i.e. jobs, and benefits, and people's well-being and society in general)

Short Haul Flights (05/02/12)

Today's flights brought to you by the good folks at FantasyLand.

Cities, Counties, drain on Funds. David Crossley, Houston Tomorrow - No, the reason Metro is running out of money is because they're dumping Billions into a poorly planned, at-grade, light rail system that won't serve 10% of the regions mass transit needs. He even says later in the article that people want more transit in the outlying areas and better bus shelters. Imagine the bus system we could have if Metro hadn't chased the down the rabbit hole of Crossley (and others) light-rail pipe-dream?

Rankin sues housing agency over unpaid severance. Mike Morris, Chron.com - Of course, a large part of the reason there's no money to pay his severance is due to his mis-management of the organization if the reports are accurate.

Talk show host Michael Berry won't be charged in Montrose hit-and-run. James Pinkerton, Chron.com - The key bit in this story is that the paint samples taken from the claimant's car did NOT match Berry's car.

Perry says God forgives people for "oops" moments. Will Weissert. AP via Chron.com - voters probably don't but God would have nothing to forgive.

Shumate speaks out about Polland controversy. Patti Hart, Chron.com - Meh, debates should not be moderated by party activists. Are journos any better? Probably not.

May Day protests show weak immigration movement. Kate Brumback & Peter Premgaman, AP via Yahoo! - Partly because they're so few illegal immigrants still here apparently.

Appeals court judge removes obstacle to defunding Planned Parenthood. Christy Hoppe, Dallasnews.com - You saw that coming.

Cruz drops half-million on broadcast TV ads, rebuts Dewhurst's China hit. Robert T. Garrett, DallasNews.com - He'd better, because I have a feeling that China spot is going to cut deep.

And finally, before we close the cabin door and you have to turn off all electronic devices......

Embry quits Statesman to become Straus press secretary. Emily Ramshaw, The Texas Tribune. ICBM eruptions notwithstanding, this is a good get by Speaker Straus. Embry was a solid reporter over at that AAS. Straus is going to need a strong bench this year methinks.

An odd obsession with inantimate objects.

Houston saddles up for downtown bike-share program. Allan Turner, Chron.com
"People want to live, work, play and eat close to one another and not be in their car as much," city sustainability director Laura Spanjian said, citing a recent Rice University study that found most respondents wanted to live in compact, walkable communities. "The love affair with the car is finally over, and providing alternatives to help people get around in the urban environment will be increasingly important."
I don't have a "love affair" with my car*. I'm pretty sure you don't either. It's an odd proclivity of the LibDem left to categorize public refusal to see things their way as being the result of some unusual, unnatural, unreasonable human emotion.

You see the same thing on a National level when we're told that we're "addicted" to oil. Of course, we're not "addicted" to oil. We use petroleum products because they are, currently, the cheapest and most plentiful option available for the continuation of modern society. If something more useful were to come along, we'd move to it. Because we're unwilling to play along with the LibDem's green games, where we would pay a LOT more for a LOT less, then they have to design a construct where it's our "addiction" that's keeping us from making a self-damaging decision. This also allows them to keep the intellectual high-road, lest they realize that making decisions whose sole purpose is to make life harder really only works for Trappist monks. And hell, even they make really good beer.

Why do Houstonians prefer to drive around in their cars? Because, in 100 degree heat, during the middle of Summer walking or riding a bike is not feasible. Cars have air conditioning, bikes don't. It's also more practical given the way Houston is designed. For 99.99% of Houstonians, the bike as a daily commuter is not a workable solution. It's got very little to do with "loving" one's car and more to do with wanting to get somewhere in a decent amount of time, not caked in sweat and slime, and not smelling like you just ran a marathon through a pig sty.  Don't get me wrong, the wife and I ride our bikes recreationally all the time. After which I can jump off, take a shower, and then hop in my car to go grocery shopping etc. Were another, more economical, option available (say: neighborhood circulator bus routes) then I would certainly be willing to take advantage of that. As a matter of fact, my last four vacations have been 100% car-free. I've ridden buses, taken pedi-cabs, ridden on metro systems and walked. We actually walked, a LOT. Of course, the weather hasn't been in teh 90-100 degree range at our destinations either, so walking was a workable option.

All of the previous being said, I have no doubt that this bCycle program is going to be wildly successful, once it expands. To really take advantage of the systems full potential there should be immediate talks of expanding to MidTown. As a jaunt around downtown service bCycle is a novelty, something that allows appointed Statists to say that Houston's "love affair with the car" is coming to an end. It's the light-rail of bike options, expensive, flashy, but with no real utility. It's pretty and new however so enough people that are impressed by this type of thing will ride around from bike rack to bike rack, not realizing that they're going nowhere of import.

Meanwhile the rest of us will continue to drive where we need to, in our cars, and not one man/car wedding will be on the table.

OK, Let's be fair. If I owned an AMG Mercedes CLS 55 I'd be desperately in love with my car, but that's a different matter entirely.

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