Thursday, June 28, 2012

In the place of substantial coverage.....

....on the SCOTUS ACA decision, ChronBlog decides to provide its readers with.....

an explenation of how angry Micheal Berry is...

a note letting us know that Obama really GOT texas this time....

and...a poor photoshop job illustrating a journalism meme.

It's a miracle that readership and subscription numbers are declining isn't it?

Thoughts on the SCOTUS Affordable Care Act decision.

So the SCOTUS has decided the Affordable Care Act (or, Obamacare) is Constitutional, we will now be inundated with Democratic ball-spiking, Republican hand-wringing and silly news stories about what this means for you.

While this is not a strict political blog, it's such a big decision that I felt the need to record a few initial impressions:

1. This is a big win for Obama and his campaign (one and the same I know).  Any Republican attempts to catagorize it otherwise are folly.
2. It will be fun to watch Obama praise the same SCOTUS that he chastised so strongly for Citizens United. (and vice versa on the Republican side)
3. IF (and that's a big if) this kick-starts Republican enthusiasm for Romney, then we have a race.  If not, then Obama could ride this momentum all the way to a second term.
4. The Republican response will be key.  I don't think chastising the SCOTUS is wise.  What the Republicans need to go is get very serious about how they would improve this law, either through subtraction or modification through legislative means should they receive majorities in November.  Messaging will be key.
5.  The Democratic response to this is already telling. I'm not going to link to anything but the DNC Executive Director's first response was: "It's Constitutional bitches!"  You can find that on Twitter if you look hard enough.

All in all I've never gotten too fired up about this issue and that doesn't change now.  I think it's going to be very punitive toward the poor (the new "tax" for having no health care will hit them hardest) and I think it will increase the cost of healthcare overall over time.  Your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Orlando's train: A mess worthy of Frank "Procurement Disaster" Wilson..

Thanks to a blog post by The Wandering Aramean and the following (quoted) article by the Orlando Sentinal we find out that Houston is not along in making a total rivet out of their mass-transit planning....

Orlando Airport Eyes $470 Million expansion. Dan Tracy & Sarah K. Clarke, Orlando Sentinal
Brown said preliminary talks have centered on All Aboard Florida paying for the station south of the existing terminal near what is now a parking lot for people waiting for planes to land.
The airport, in turn, would be responsible for building a mile-long, elevated monorail to serve the station, at a cost of $181.4 million. OIA also would be responsible for roads and other infrastructure costs of about $78 million
The 3,500-space garage and depot would cost $210.7 million. About 80 percent of that expense would be the garage. But who pays for what part of that bill has not been determined, airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said.
Driving part of the garage expansion is demand from rental-car companies who want more space on airport property, Fennell said. Calls to airport-based rental-car companies for comment were unsuccessful.
Financing has not been figured out either, though a variety of sources could be tapped. They would include selling bonds, seeking federal and state grants, spending cash reserves and using surcharges on airline tickets and rental cars.
If an agreement is reached and financing is secured, the station could open in 2015, Brown said. It would be built in such a way that it could expanded to serve up to four systems, including the SunRail commuter train, he said.
SunRail is set to run in mid-2014, with its closest stop to OIA at Sand Lake Road. A bus would ferry passengers from the stop to the airport.

So you have a one mile section that's projected to cost a fifth of what the entire high-speed rail line from Miami to Orlando is projected to cost? Somebody's gotten their numbers jumbled and I have a sneaking suspicion it's the train folks.  For my reader's who like to tell me to "educate myself" on high-speed rail I offer the following: High speed rail cost overruns.

If there's one thing we've learned about cost projections on rail it's that they typically aren't worth the paper they're printed on.  It is nice to see that Houston's not the only city without the foresight to plan their light-rail to connect at airports.  I'd be curious to see how many potential fliers (as a percentage of all traffic) actual make use of the bus/train/bus option for arriving at MCO. A bevvy of Google searches came up with blanks, which leads me to believe that the number is so insignificant as to not matter.

These types of systems work in Europe because A) the trains have a terminus at the airport, which can then be taken into town where connections can be made to almost anywhere and B) because they are densely packed cities with roads and traffic that make driving impractical. Neither of these situations exist in the US except for New York City.  Because of this it's just not working.

I understand the airport's desire to be included in these plans, I just wish that our transit leadership carried with them some new world horse sense.  Instead we're getting the Frank "procurement disaster" Wilson, George "A company computer?" Greainas model of fantasy Europe. Something that doesn't fit in America's car-friendly cities and never will, no matter how hard you push that square peg.  The round hole is just not malleable.

Who knows? Maybe MCO will pull this off.  Given the pass/fail ratio of other non-dense city's rail dreams I seriously doubt it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

(Still more) Adventures in BAD Journalism

This time courtesy of ChronBlog....

Things to do in Houston before you die. Francisca Ortega,

Inspired by Steve Carell’s new film, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” in which he plays a bumbling insurance agent confronting the apocalypse, the staff at the Houston Chronicle spent some time thinking about the things we’d like to do before the end of the world. You can see what we came up with in the gallery above.

What they "came up with" was a list of impossible, illegal, and downright dangerous activities that will probably mean you spend your last few nights on this pebble in a jail cell, in prison, or worse.

To top it all off, this makes Houston seem so uninteresting that the #1 comment left by people is along the lines of:

"This makes me want to leave".


A good newspaper is an asset to the community, what does it make a newspaper when it's a laughingstock and embarrassment?

What United doesn't seem to "get"... the entire concept of customer service.

Does United "get it" with social media? Seth, the Wandering Aramean
 If I had to guess I’d say that Bergsrud not only "doesn’t always get it," but that he also doesn’t really seem to care all that much. Maybe that’s ok, but it certainly doesn’t say much for vision or foresight. And that’s probably not the image I’d want to be presenting at an industry conference.
There's a larger point to be made that United doesn't really care all that much.  They seem to be happy consolidating routes into their hubs while eliminating customer-friendly policies and gutting their Premier status levels in favor of credit cards.  While this might bode well for short-term income, you have to think that, eventually, this will come back to bite them.

Then again, maybe not.  There's been a lot of babble about people leaving UA for greener pastures but very little evidence it's actually happening. Some of this is structure related (it's very hard to be an AA frequent flier if you live in Houston for example) and some of it is people not wanting to lose status.

What's increasingly clear is that, while Gordon Bethune placed customer service fairly high on the priority pole, the current UA management does not.  Until the bottom line is affected I don't expect this to change.

Hurry up and wait

Commissioners take no action on Astrodome, Chris Duncan, AP sports writer via

There was never any doubt that this issue was going to drag out as long as possible.  No one wants to be seen as "the folks that tore down the Astrodome".  I can understand that but, given the terms of the lease made with Bob McNair, there's really no other choice.

You can't have something that would conflict with Texans' games or the rodeo, so it would have to be closed on days they have events (which rules out a casino btw) and every other idea is non-sustainable.  Yes, you have some people who seriously believe turning the Astrodome into a movie studio would be a good idea but the lack of a serious financier shows that dream to be folly.

All of this brings us back to the inevitable conclusion:

Tear. It. Down.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

United Addressing Customer Service issues through Competition?

One of the trending customer complaints for the newly merged United Airlines has been an assortment of poor customer service issues.  It appears that UA is attempting to address this through competitions and rewards:

United OutPerform Recognition program.

Behind every great trip is an airline of great people. Now, when you receive excellent customer service from an eligible United® or United Express® employee, you can nominate him or her in United’s Outperform Recognition Program. If the employee you nominate is a winner in our random drawing, you win, too. With just a few clicks on the United mobile app, you could have the chance to win award miles or even roundtrip tickets.
While the program is continued, eligible MileagePlus members can nominate up to five eligible employees per nomination period by using the United mobile app, available for Apple and Android devices.

While there's cash and incentives for the employees, there's also a small fish for MileagePlus members:

The two tickets come with some restrictions (90 day advanced purchase, some blackout dates etc.) and it doesn't appear that, on the International reward, that you could use the tickets and upgrade to F but still, that's a pretty good enticement.  Overall 16 people will win something, so your odds are not that great. 

A better thing is that this seems to be an on-going program.  Which is a good thing.  For all of the customer service nightmares that you see about UA of late there are still some employees who give really good service.  My hope is that Smilin' Jeff Smisek and the rest of the executive board don't treat this like a flash in the pan and give it the support and promotion among the employees that it deserves.

Comparing Houston Flights (Part 1)

Last week I had mentioned that I was doing some comparison shopping among different airlines, flying out of Houston, to see what the price effect/advantages of Southwest (WN) over UA would be, if any.  On a lark, I decided to throw in American, when available, just to provide another pricing option.

Since it's Summertime, and I thought this might be a popular route, I've decided to start with Houston-Orlando leaving Friday August 17th, returning to Houston Friday, August 24th.  For my mock "family" I decided it would be two adults, with one kid in the 12-17 range and one in the 5-11 range.  I tried to pick tickets as close as possible on each airline in price and time.

Let's start with UA:

5 departure times (on direct flights) same price for each
Again, 5 return options at this price pont.
UA total:
$1536.40 All in.
Now let's look at WN:

Several options, some with stops some without.
Again, several options from which to choose.
WN Total:
Finally AA:

Several options, none direct
Again, many options, none direct.
AA Total:

 Surprisingly, American offered the lowest price, and had a variety of options on paper.  In reality however, if you look closely, American only offered a handful of options leaving IAH and MCO, their choice was how long you wanted to wait at DFW.  (There's a wine-bar at DFW, so all is not lost if you're not travelling with children.)

For this rate the "Southwest effect" is not in place**.  For both WN and UA the dollars per mile realized is right around $.23.  In today's market that's not low.  As a matter of fact, it's higher than one can find for Las Vegas right now.  AA (who many believe is offering an unannounced fare sale) is running at about $.18/mile.  That's not stunning, but it's at the lower end of what you can currently find on most Summer routes to tourist destinations. 

Still, you can see the advantage, in this case, of keeping loyalty to UA.  Not only is their direct route network far superior out of IAH, but their prices are in line with WN. (again, in this case, I'm not making a broad assessment and will not until I run some more of these)  If you're an occasional traveller and don't mind a lay-over at DFW for an hour or three, then AA is definitely the way to go.  If you've got equity built up with UA then it's hard to see where moving to AA would be of benefit for a temporary price decrease.  Laying over on every flight in Dallas when you fly would be an inconvenience.

Anyway, that's round one.  I've got more to come.

**As a way of quantifying that, the AA flight from Dallas to MCO is priced at approx $.16/mile (983 miles, $300).  It appears that AA is pricing IAH to MCO the same as DFW to MCO currently, so Houston is definitely seeing a sale.  In Dallas WN is more expensive than AA FWIW.  However, at $.23/mile from Houston it appears that WN is forced to match UA's price and not vice-versa.  Just an interesting aside.

Adventures in bad newspapering

Just wow.
This headline writer should be fired.
USDA releases figures on what it really costs to raise a child. Francisca Ortega,

As someone who doesn't have children I'm not pretending to speak for parents here, but I'm going to be surprised if this doesn't generate some outrage, although not an apology from ChronBlog.  Increasingly it seems that ChronBlog's business model is to do whatever it takes online to generate page-views. In a way, they're copy-catting the route taken by Village Voice Houston.

The problem here is that you have what used to be a legitimate news outlet dumbing themselves down to alt-news level.  It's gossip-rag level "reporting" with sensationalized headlines only designed to garner a response.

It's also another reason newspapers are failing.  Unserious organizations pretending to do a serious job do not get treated seriously by the buying public.

ADDED: I forgot to mention.  This ran on their "MomHouston" blog which touts itself as offering "news, tips and fun stuff for savvy Houston parents."  Think about that for a minute.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Three bad business models.

U.S. Airlines score pooly in customer survey. Susan Carey, WSJ ($)

 But air travel continues to generate low scores, and was in the bottom three among 47 industries polled, along with subscription TV service and newspapers, the ACSI said.

Of the three lowest industries, two are watching themselves be slowly unmade by market forces.  Newspapers are being (sort-of) replaced in the market by online news services and subscription paid TV's days are numbered due to new Internet options.

While finding replacements for those two will be (relatively, not for the people who lose their jobs of course) painless, finding a replacement for air-travel is going to take more than a few pie-in-the-sky longings for high-speed rail. Watching a nasally-voiced, marginal talent in ill-fitting pants trying to order paella is a poor substitute for heading over the Spain and ordering it yourself.  While net-conferencing is all the rage, there's still the intimacy of a face-to-face that holds a certain allure in business.  In short, we can't easily replace domestic and international airline service.

It may be that the powers that be behind the executive desks at domestic airlines really don't care.  Smilin' Jeff Smisek of United can tell you how much he'd like to thank you for flying all he wants but, when things go wrong, the plane is delayed and you're sitting on the tarmac sweating out your (now certainly) missed connection knowing full well that you're going to run into a customer service nightmare when you land, those assurances ring hollow.  Maybe because air-travel will always be with us change is so slow in coming.

But come it better, and soon.  We all (should) understand that running a major airline is akin to herding cats who are being chased around by a pack of dogs but that doesn't mean that airlines can't get the little things right.  Better yet, they could do a better job at them.  Stop cutting back service and start focusing on making the experience more enjoyable and less stressful, and not just for the folks in First Class.  The technology is there for on-board computers, why not use it to aid (or allow) people to handle their missed connections issues proactively? 

It's time someone at the US Airlines came up with a better mousetrap instead of trying to suck more blood out of the mice that are caught.  Innovation can save this industry, but currently it's not headed by innovators.

Examining the media/public disconnect

The news-ish site Texas Tribune and liberal political scientist Dr. Jim Henson have inadvertently ran into something.

Inside out: Insiders and voters don't see eye-to-eye. Dr. Jim Henson, Texas Tribune
Most insiders are political professionals working in the halls of government. In The Texas Tribune's latest Inside Intelligence, they seem concerned with the kinds of problems that have been the province of government: above all, public education, but also infrastructure issues, like the water supply and transportation.
Texas voters, on the other hand, have recently demonstrated both in elections and polls that they are at best skeptical of and at worst downright hostile to what happens in those hallways. The problems that most worry voters lie outside areas of proactive government initiatives. They appear more focused on broad policy areas that are either outside such initiatives or point to perceived failure: the economy, jobs, immigration, border security. Public education is growing as a concern, but only among a small group.

My apologies to the Tribune for the larg-ish block quote. However, I believe the two paragraphs above to be telling.

If you ever wonder where news (and news-ish) organizations receive their story ideas you need look no further than political 'insiders' from various parties.  This is not the fault of a liberal (or conservative) media. Instead it's the result of familiarity.

Political reporters and political insiders spend a lot of time associating with one another.  At government hearings, functions, press conferences, super-secret Wednesday evening confabs at local watering holes etc.  The fact is a political reporter for almost any media outlet is going to spend more time with politicians and insiders than the general public, by a long shot.  The same effect can be seen with new-ish agencies, news agencies, party-affiliated political bloggers, and political bloggers who put a lot of stock into Netroots Nation or Right Online.  It doesn't matter your political leanings, or (to be honest) how good/influential you are as a writer.  I'm not sure if it's genetic or what, but political writers seem to be drawn to groups like moths to a flame.

Maybe it's because political writers don't actually produce anything of value?  (And yes, I'm including all of the writing on this blog -and any of my past blogs- in that category)

Where this becomes a problem is in story selection, and the importance of issues in hard news stories.  This is why Perry's "oops" became a bigger issue than did the fact that he was actually laying out a specific plan to cut the size and scope of government.  It's why Romney's dog on top of the car, and Obama's dog in the belly, overshadowed the fact that the economy is struggling along and people really want jobs.  It also explains why the bulk of Texas political coverage is education-centric while a majority of Texans are more concerned about work, the oil & gas industry and other things that might help them feed their children.

If you want to know where the stories are going, look to what the political insiders are fretting over.

The thing is, as the newspaper business model continues to implode and more and more political writing is ceded to bloggers and partisan online sites this trend is only going to get worse.  The idea of a citizen blogger banging out "I'm mad too Eddie" copy from their home offices, leading a political revolution from their living rooms and becoming the "Netroots" of the political parties have gone the way of the dial-up modem.

Today's political blogger is more likely to get their talking points from either major party than they are to flesh out a fully developed independent opinion, and those who do manage to stay apart from the fray are so lightly regarded as to not matter.  Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats are funding groups to ensure that their bloggy messages are portrayed in the approved manner and won't come back to bite their candidates in their political behinds.  The fact is, bloggers who want the attention are likely going to get the attention, provided they play the game by the rules.

On the other end of the spectrum, the 'professional' newspaper reporters and opinion-makers are currently viewed as so out of touch by the general populace it is probable that their reputation cannot be restored.  It does not help them that the editorial direction was decided for them at an Austin cocktail party by editors in suits and hip-eyewear hob-knobbing with staffers and analysts who, for the most part, rely on government for their income.  You think the sand-lizard is endangered in Texas? How about the main-stream media POV that the government is not the solution to almost every problem?

Looking at all of this it's not surprising that cities such as New Orleans have made the market decision that a daily newspaper is not in their best interest.  Old scandals like the Houston Chron rail memo are leading Houston down the same path.  Sadly, given the editorial content of their stories, it won't be the public that misses out on anything meaningful. The real effect will be felt by campaign ad designers and think-tank marketing departments who won't be able to use newspaper "copy" in their campaign ads and sales pitches.  This brings about the sad reality that campaigns will start to tell naive, desperate for acceptance political bloggers what to say and then use those clippings in their campaign ads, pitches to make more ads etc.

That's hardly the premise on which citizen journalism was founded.  It's high time we bring it back, before it's all we're left with that is.  The alternative is a media that returns to it's roots of advocating for the people instead of shilling for its government paid friends and insiders. What the world needs now is a good, old-fashioned return to public-interest, watchdog and advocacy reporting.  I'm afraid it is probably too late however.  FutureMedia is not shaping up to be a pretty sight.

Monday, June 18, 2012

As unbelievable as this sounds....

It's time to start thinking about travel plans for 2013.

With airline prices being what they are the key to surviving next year is going to be planning, and deals.  If you don't take advantage of air-fare sales you're going to be paying almost $.12/mile.  On some routes (like IAH-LAS for example) the spend rate is upwards of $.20/mile.  This is bad for us because (as you know from reading this blog) Vegas is one of our favorite destinations that historically could be bought up at a fairly low spend rate.

Now, granted, all of this is going to change as Winter/Spring 2013 sales fares start to appear (and all potential destinations will probably change based on sales availability) but, with UA reducing service to IAH, pre-planning of travel is going to be key for the next several years.

One wildcard, for Star Alliance fliers out of IAH, is the new Turkish Airlines direct flights to Istanbul. Rumor has it some of these flights can be had for as low as $1,000 R/T.  This calculates out to around $.08-.07/mile which is not a bad gateway to Europe.  Plus, I'm expecting United to have some nice partner deals to Asia in the coming months, so the key might be to fly West (from IAH) in 2013.

I'd still like to visit Prague in 2013, but I'm not sure if route price/availability is going to let me get there.

Even if you're just a casual traveller who doesn't run down miles/points a little solid pre-planning will help you get where you need to be, cheaper.  When flying in today's market, cheaper really is better (in most cases).

For 2012, I've got 5 flights left to take and my miles should be right around 55,000.  That will make 2013 a little easier both domestically and internationally, the former because upgrades should be more likely and the latter due to club access.

One big change I am planning to make in 2013 is to move my airline spending from a UA credit card to the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  At 2-points per dollars spent and no international transaction fees it has become my go-to card for most travel-related expenditures.  What this probably means is that it is time to cancel the old Continental card and look at applying for something new.  I'm unsure what this will be right now.

Another question, one that I've been pondering for a while, will be whether or not to jump to another airline program or stay w/UA.  As time goes on UA is getting better service-wise, but they're making too many "changes you'll like" that aren't changes most of us like.  As IAH diminishes in importance moving toward 2015 these types of questions aren't going to go away.  For now, I'm still a sucker for UA's route network and Star Alliance, if things increasingly route through DEN that could change. One thing that's on the agenda eventually is a flight on the Dreamliner.  UA's got the holeshot there and, to my anyway, that's a pretty big perk.

It's been one month since I last spent time at over 30,000 feet.  That's the longest I've gone this year without flying anywhere and I have nothing on my schedule until July.

Yes, that feels odd.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Embarrassment

Why ChronBlog continues to run insipid articles such as Houston vs. Dallas is beyond me.  The only thing I can figure is that our (former) newspaper of record is projecting their own decaying husk of relevancy by trying to gin up fake arguments with our neighbor to the North.

Worrying about what Village Voice Dallas has to say about the matter is childish. (As a matter of fact, the entire thing is childish.)

If ChronBlog can't find better filler for it's news content than this, then maybe some consideration should be given to the New Orleans Times-Picayune business model?

It'd save us the embarrassment of having to explain this dreck.

One thing is certain, Dallas has the better newspaper and it's not close.

It's all about the bags really.....

On every survey that I've seen for airline customer satisfaction the results usually boil down to one key factor:

Customer ratings rise for low-cost airlines. Susan Carey,
Stuart Greif, vice president of global travel and hospitality for J.D. Power, said half of the point difference between the discounters and the traditional carriers reflected views of their costs and fees. Passengers who paid to check their bags showed satisfaction 85 points lower than those who didn't have to pay, the poll said.

It's not so much that Southwest, JetBlue or the other discount carriers are doing a better job in customer service, it's that they're not charging for checked bags.  Given that the media (and some admittedly good ad campaigns) have made this a hot-button issue, it's natural.

One question not being asked (except by travel bloggers) is whether or not the moniker "low cost airlines" even applies any longer?  Southwest probably has a cost structure that's in line with the legacy carriers, and JetBlue seems to struggle every Quarter to turn a profit.

On a lark, I've compared several domestic runs on United to Southwest over the last few days to see if any cost savings materialized.  In most cases, the price of tickets were about even.  I'm planning a larger post for this later that will detail my findings.  I would have thought someone might have done that to see if Southwest is bringing down the price where they compete now.  Unfortunately, I haven't seen that.

Friday, June 8, 2012

United in a nutshell

This is probably the most accurate descriptor of United's current flight service that I've seen in media:

United Airlines' rough merger puts passengers on a bumpy ride. Gregory Karp, Los Angeles Times.

The trip was a microcosm of what United passengers say and what the industry statistics suggest: Flights on United Airlines nowadays can go relatively smoothly, but if there's a problem, things can go very wrong in a hurry.
Agreed,  if things go smoothly, United flights are still (by and large) OK.  But if something, almost anything really, goes kablooey well....

Fortunately, except for one quick hop to Santa Barbara to top off my yearly mileage, I'm out of the flying game until the end of the Summer.  Hopefully this gives United a chance to conduct some of that training and get things back together. 

Someone also needs to give Smisek a reality check and explain to him what customer service is, and isn't.  In his first introduction to the in-flight safety videos post merger he spoke a lot about "changes we think you're going to like." So far, those changes have been mostly duds.  I've heard the new first class meal service is an improvement over what they used to serve, but I've yet to see that materialize on any flights where I've been upgraded.  Admittedly however, due to UA's new convoluted upgrade charts and my now pathetic Silver Premier status (will be Gold in 2013 which should provide some improvement) I've yet to see.

What I have seen is an overall devaluation of the brand, coupled with an overall de-emphasis on service at my home airport. (which I wrote about here and Stephen Seagraves wrote about -more intelligently and probably more accurately- here)  In addition to the quote above, I agree with this blurb from Seagraves:

I am willing to give United a little leeway but they are trying my patience and I’m sure other Houstonians feel the same way.
If you have any kind of status with United, you understand why that leeway is being given.  Every rope has its breaking point however, and I just can't help but wonder how many former Continental loyalist ropes are about to reach it?

Short Haul Flights (06/08/12)

We'll notify you about schedule changes.......

Hey Ron, and endorsement would be nice. - The lack of such would prove once and for all the guy is not a Republican.

How did he possibly think he was going to get away with this? - Especially in today's quick information environment?

I agree, the Port needs new leadership. - I admit, however, to a healthy level of unease that the Parker administration is involved.

Burka the clown just keeps getting it wrong. - Perry's been on the wrong side before (TTC) and he survived OK.  He'll survive this Dewhurst thing as well.  To Burka, it's become a fact that what he wants to happen is what political reality should be.  That's staying too long.

You have to hand it to Texas Dems. - They're going to ride that "demographic inevitability" thing until it drops.  And drop it will, as the Lib/Dems slowly come to the realization that Hispanics don't vote as a bloc (like other groups Dems rely on)

The victory of Michael Quinn Sullivan. - That Straus is target #1 speaks volumes about his influence in the Texas Republican Party.  That the media hates him is just one check mark in his pro column.

I give you the shortest speech ever. - Boyd Richie's "accomplishment" speech.

Why State Conventions? Because they fire up the base.  No other reason is needed.

This could be the truest thing Jennifer Rubin has ever written. - Obama has been a disaster, but great for Republicans.  This adds to my theory that, in America, the parties don't ascend to power because they've done something right, it's because the other party has messed things up so badly the people are tired of them.

True to form, the progressives vow to fight on. - A key marker of the progressive movement is that they are always fighting, or planning to fight, against their fellow countrymen.

Maybe Krauthammer is right and the Wisconsin recall results mean a gradual decline of public sector unions but I doubt it. In politics, bad ideas never really go away.  They're just repackaged and worsened over time.

Funny how things change. - From inevitable to fish out of water almost overnight.  It's still a long way to November.

Why, if it didn't matter in 2008, does race suddenly matter in 2012?  Searching for excuses.  Keep your white guilt to yourself Lupica.

and finally.....

Obama shows again how out of depth he really is. - There IS no 'quick fix' for Europe. Nor is there a quick fix for America.  A candidate might say there is, a leader understands there's not.  Zero is the former.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bill King on the Texas Primaries.

Bill King comes out with an odd piece of complaining today.....

The Primary System is Broken, Bill King.

If anything emerged with crystal clarity from last week's primaries in Texas it is that the primary system is horribly broken and the greatest contributor to our national political gridlock.

King goes on to illustrate the ridiculousness of the system by complaining that Ted Cruz beat out Tom Leppert for the US. Sen run-off, he also chastises the system for putting former Rep. Paul Sadler into a run-off with Gary Yarborough.

What's clear to this writer is that King is not upset about the primary system, but instead that his favored candidates and those closest to his political viewpoint did not fare well.  It's also clear that King is not planning on embracing the Tea Party movement at all when (if) he decided to throw his hat into the Houston Mayoral ring.

Look, I get not liking the Tea Party.  While I sympathize with the rank and file members of the movement the leadership has been co-opted by attention-mongers like State Sen. Dan Patrick and Americans for Prosperity.  While I'm more of a fan of Michael Quinn Sullivan than some, I do believe that he is spending too much time tearing down Republicans and not enough time focusing on winning general elections.  His targeting of Rob Eissler was just odd.  By all accounts Eissler was a thoughtful, reliably conservative representative who, by doing his job as education committee chair, drew the wrath of AFP.

I know what King was going for here, he's running to the middle faster than Bill Clinton during campaign season, trying to win some mythical group of cross-over Democrats.  The problem with this logic is that those cross-overs aren't materializing any more.

I've stated before (on previous blogs) that, after they fell out of power, in Texas the Democrats purged themselves of most of their moderate members.  What remained was a dedicated, albeit small, group of progressive true-believers.  Unfortunately, for them, the result of this purge has been a slew of sub-par candidates with no shot at winning a State-wide race given the ideological make-up of the current Texas voting population.  The Republicans are now doing the same thing that the Democrats did, but with a sizable voting bloc behind them.  What they need to guard against is an overreach, making sure they don't take out the good with the bad.

In closing, I'm not sure that I'm comfortable with Republicans attacking our democratic system just because a handful of elections didn't turn toward their preferred candidates.  It's one thing to bemoan a decision, it's another to question our governing system.  It's still another thing to chastise the electorate for seeing things differently than you.

Whatever the case, scrapping democracy is not the answer.  The answer is for the Republican party to bring forward strong candidates and let the people decide.  The Democrats just need to get their butts in gear and return themselves to a viable 2nd option.  Until then, the results could be weird.

I just can't help but wonder what replacement system Mr. King would advocate?

Short Haul Flights (06/07/12)

No carry-on fees for this blog......

I get asked from time to time why, considering my liberal social views, do I identify Republican.  The answer lies in economic policy, the answer can be found here.  "Perry, Dewhurst, and Straus can claim credit for whatever they want, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t have anything to do with putting oil and gas in the ground"  Kuffer is correct, they didn't put the oil and gas in the ground, but their economic ideology makes it profitable for companies to extract it and turn it into a marketable commodity.  The Democrats would like to put a stop to that.

Speaking of Democrats, If all of the cabinet members are out politicking, who's minding the store?  President Zero (coined by a wordsmith more canny than I) just keeps on keeping on.

For weeks, leading up to the recall election, we were told that it was very important, by each side, that the 'right side wins'.  Now that one side has lost, despite throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the election, we're suddenly told that it didn't really matter in the first place.  And so it goes.

Speaking of Wisconsin, Scott Walker is taking a (deserved) victory lap, the exit polls (from which Democrats are trying to claim some odd victory, were horribly mis-sampled, and the real big story might be out in California.  I'd link to the Piers Morgan v. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz disaster but you've probably already seen that.  Just a bad week for Dems.

Changing gears, I always worry when politicians, Democrat or Republican, try to tell the media how to do their job.

You knew this was coming right?  Spending offsets are only good for TV sound-bytes.  In reality they very seldom materialize.

The Democratic version of Jack Abramoff  Of course, the MSM is not breaking out in hives over this one.

A tale of two State parties:

The Republicans are starting up their convention with run-off juice and high hopes.  As well they should, in part because....

The Democrats are kicking off their convention with a "meh".  Can't blame them, even when they have a decent candidate (Fertita, Sadler) they can't avoid a run-off against the political equivalent of paper-mache.

In a word: Weird

And finally.......

Houston's Top 100 restaurants  As listed by Houston's only professional restaurant critic: Alison Cook.  A must read if you dine out in Houston.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to game a bad editorial board.....

Step one: have interns and staffers show up to a local event wearing t-shirts advocating policy the ed-board is on record approving of.  This works especially well when one Lisa Gray is in attendance.

Summer Fest feels like a local love letter, The Apple Dumpling Gang, ChronBlog.

And among the crowd's wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses was a smattering of T-shirts from HoustonTomorrow, advocating that transit taxes actually be used for mass transit.
Gray (she wrote this, it's pretty obvious) goes on to equate a few Houston Tomorrow staffers in t-shirts to a call for huge mass-transit expenditures by the so-called "creative class." That mythical group of hipsters that is, for one reason or another, now deemed mandatory for a community to appease to if they ever desire to be "world class".  And, as we all know, the Apple Dumpling Gang is dead-set on turning Houston into a hive of World-classiness, even if it means ensuring that the public coffers are emptied in the process.

Yes, Gray's reaching here.  In fact, while I believe that the noise ordinance had an interested audience at a rock concert, "using transit money for mass transit" (at least she got the language right) is probably not very high up on the "oh my gawd I gotta have it" list of concert attendees.  It probably ranks well below a can of PBR, and probably below a tofu salad with seaweed dressing.

The problem is that The Gang (and their friends) WANT Houston to have a fully developed light rail system, built at-grade and at the expense of a robust bus system if necessary.  They want this because they think it will somehow cause the PBR swilling, subway riding, high-cost-of-living possessed New Yorkers that they so admire to stop treating them like second-class citizens.  Let's face it, this is nothing more than a gigantic journalism crush on the Old Gray Lady.

What they don't understand is that New Yorkers treat EVERYONE like a second class citizen. In some cases even other New York residents.  While those in Houston with a perpetual inferiority complex think they're impressing our neighbors up North with our shiny 7-mile train track and plans to build 30 something more miles into the system they're actually accomplishing the opposite.

At the end of it all, New York is going to be laughing it's head off at our broke immobile asses because we've built a toy-train that doesn't move anyone anywhere of importance. What we're currently letting the Houston Tomorrow set talk us into is the transit equivalent of the guy in the engineer's cap and blue overalls sitting on the mini-train blowing the toy whistle as all the kids go "ooooooh".  It's a big kid's toy.  All it's missing are snotty noses and seats sticky with cotton candy residue.  In the meantime we will have allowed our "regional" transit authority to ignore 80% of the region.

None of this matters to the Gang however.  Gray was at the Free Press Summer Fest, and she saw some Houston Tomorrow staffers in T-shirts. Because of that this Houston treasure has now been elevated to Lover status by the same group that doesn't like you anymore for who you are.  If Houston could just go under the knife a little bit:  A nip here, a tuck there, maybe carve off that ugly bit? Yeah, that's it. If we can just copy those other places then maybe you'd be more like the Houston we want you to be.   *sigh*

Can we please shutter the ed board and redeploy the resources to local reporting?  And, for gawd's sake, how 'bout we ignore New York for a while, especially the (increasingly meaningless) Old Gray Lady?

Houston's a great city with or without her approval.

United begins executing IAH long-term plan

The question is, have they had this in the works for a while now?

United won't rule out further Houston job cuts. Olivia Pulsinelli, Houston Business Journal

Industry observers have suggested United had been planning the 1,300 cuts before the Houston City Council approved Southwest Airline Co.’s (NYSE: LUV) proposed international expansion of Hobby Airport, the Chronicle reports. But United denies those claims, saying the cuts and planned operations reductions are a direct result of the Hobby expansion.

That's United's company line, but when you look at the routes, services their cutting it's a stretch to say that any of these are even going to be remotely affected by the LUV/HOU expansion*:

United Airlines walks away the sore loser after Southwest wins International expansion from Hobby, Centre for Aviation.

United has extended its contentious logic to other routes. The carrier has previously warned that cities at risk for lost service include San Jose, California and Charlotte, NC, and reductions would also occur from Houston to Detroit and Louisville and Mazatlan, Mexico. While the Houston-San Jose flights cater to some business travellers given San Jose’s location in the technological corridor of Silicon Valley, California, there is also likely a large portion of connecting traffic on those flights from leisure travellers to Mexico and Latin America. As of 03-Jun-2012 United will offer weekly one-way seats from George Bush Intercontinental to San Jose with Boeing 737-800s/900s. Southwest does not offer flights between San Jose and Houston, which would mean all service from the tech-rich Silicon Valley to Houston would end.
Charlotte is US Airways’ largest hub, and the airline is the dominant carrier on the Charlotte-Intercontinental route. Yet as at San Jose, Southwest has no flights from Charlotte to Houston. Charlotte is likely one of the routes from Houston that United claims is unprofitable but “operates this flying relying on future growth improving the performance of the non-profitable routes”. Since Southwest is not a competitor there, United is observing other market factors but using the Hobby expansion as a scapegoat. United blaming Southwest for causing it to reduce service to cities Southwest does not serve is a significant stretch of the feasible truth.

I would urge you go read the entire CAPA study.  It makes a very strong case that UA had been planning a fleet restructuring that would de-emphasize IAH for a while now.  Many of the routes they're considering laying across the chopping block (IAH-AZN for example) will not be remotely affected by LUV's entrance into the International market from HOU.  The feeling being that this decision is going to be UA's scapegoat to execute a long-term plan that's been on the books for a while.  At least since the merger.

It appears, to my eye, that IAH is not going to factor significantly in UA's future planning. As time moves forward they appear to be poised to move more routing and resources to other hubs.  Whether or not this was in the works before the LUV/HOU decision or not is a matter of contention.  The facts however seem to indicate that, despite UA's protestations to the contrary, they certainly were.

*Thanks to Kevin for finding the CAPA survey.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pro-mass transit word play

It's an interesting game they're playing.....

Metro Chairman Proposes Freezing Mobility Payments, Renee C. Lee,

"I appreciate the difficult position they're in, but it (the mobility payments) still takes a significant amount of money from valuable, needed projects and basically puts off completion of the light rail system," Barnum said. "What we want is Metro tax dollars for transit and I think that's what we should be doing."
The pro-light rail faction has chosen to attempt to redefine "transit" as "mass transit" ignoring the fact that roads, cars, sidewalks and the other improvements are transit related.  Just not the type of transit that the smarts desire.

It's also horribly confined to areas inside Loop 610, which renders it useless to much of the area from which Metro is drawing funds.  Again, light-rail activists will call this argument a red-herring, but it's very important to the local communities surrounding Houston who are basically being asked to bankroll a service for which they will receive no benefit.  Ironically, this is almost the same argument, in reverse, that some InterLeft bloggers have made regarding City of Houston residents inside the Loop paying Harris County taxes.  For some reason that is bad, while asking others to sacrifice on a level that they're not willing.

Such is the surreal logic being used in Houston's transit debate.

It has to be understood that there are always going to be players in this debate such as Houston Tomorrow who forward the theory that the solution for Houston's future is to shoe-horn a majority of area residents into a very small geographical area with insufficient infrastructure.  There are also going to be developers whose solution is to build out in ever-wider circles ignoring potential for infill development.  It should also be understood that both of these camps should be summarily dismissed as serious players in future transit discussions.  What's needed is a future vision of Houston that accomodates all transit needs, from light rail (it's here, we might as well find a way to use it) robust bus service and automobile transit.  The debate doesn't have to be one of Inner vs. Outer Loop, or toy train vs. dirty car.  It should be about what is the best way to make all of these work seamlessly together and improve overall transit in the region.

Given the current state of vision possessed by Houston's leadership, the prospects for a real multi-modal transit system that moves people where they need to go is rapidly diminishing.  In fact, this November ballot initiative could be the last, best chance to inject some sanity back into the debate, and get Houston on the path to true mobility.

Adventures in identification

State Leaders tell agencies to ask for no more money. Robert T. Garrett, Dallas Morning News

“This isn’t that different from what they were told two years ago, and it ended up being pretty devastating,” said Eva DeLuna Castro, budget analyst for the center-left Center for Public Policy Priorities.

"Center Left"?

You'll struggle to find a policy think-tank further to the left of the CPPP. It's a Colorado Model Progressive think-tank with strongly stated leftist goals.

I say this not as a policy judgement, but as a counterbalance to some dodgy identification by a MSM outlet.  I wonder if Garrett and the DMN would consider the Heritage Foundation to be "center-right"?  Because CPPP is at least as far to the left as HF is to the right, if not slightly more so.

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