Saturday, March 17, 2012

International from Hobby?

It makes sense, and probably could be done, but it will be interesting to see if the plan survives United's opposition.

Plan for Hobby international flights triggers clash between airlines, Kiah Collier & Chris Moran, ChronBlog
A proposal by Southwest Airlines to offer international flights from Hobby Airport has triggered an intense lobbying duel with United Airlines, which still wields considerable local clout as the successor to Houston-based Continental.

If it gets city approval, Southwest says it would spend an estimated $75 million to $100 million to build a new international terminal equipped with full-scale Customs facilities, as well as to improve the aging airport's domestic terminals. Southwest flights would depart from the new terminal to destinations such as Cancun and the Caribbean.

But United has already broken ground on what may become another international terminal, a $700 million investment piled on top of an additional billion it has pumped into Bush Intercontinental Airport since the late 1990s.

United says this town isn't big enough for both projects.
United is most certainly wrong. Houston is plenty big enough for both projects, and they should do both of them. What's not big enough is United's hold on the market right now. Since the merger began, they've made one customer service mishap after another and are now teetering on the verge of losing considerable market share in one of their main hubs. Instead of working to solve the problem, however, their response is to attempt to limit competition. This is what's wrong with United right now, resting on their laurels they continue to think that they don't have to work as hard because they're the only big game in town.

What they really need is a second big game. I'm all in favor of Southwest becoming that second option.

Granted, I probably won't be flying much Southwest. (I'm a fairly loyal United frequent flier and they offer certain perks that Southwest does not) I'm really hoping that an increased Southwest international presence works to increase United's customer experience.

One can only hope.

Monday, March 12, 2012

On Blogging Rules

I stand w/the majority opinion....

Blogging rules a great idea but..., Jim Romenesko,

It's a nice idea, but the blogging community is, for the most part, a volunteer group with little or no income. Those who understand the concepts of correct attribution and why it's important are going to provide....correct attribution. Those who don't won't, and they really won't care.

There are big blogs in the Houston area that attribute poorly. They've been attributing poorly for quite a while, and some group offering up a "code of ethics" isn't going to make them change one iota.

Sadly, it comes down to the blog-reading public to make a stand. If you don't like people not giving correct attribution on their blogs, e-mail them and ask them to start doing so or just quit reading. Otherwise the answer is to just ignore it and move along.

As for this blog: I will always strive to fully attribute and keep blockquoted portions of posts well within the accepted standards of free use. That's about all any of us can do.

The Doonesbury Controversy

Many newspapers have refused to run Gary Trudeau's take on Texas' sonogram law, ChronBlog has decided to embrace it....

Talk about Doonesbury’s take on the Texas sonogram abortion law, Dean Betz, ChronBlog
The “Doonesbury” comic strip this week directly takes on Texas’ law requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion.

The series by Gary Trudeau features a woman who goes to an abortion clinic and is confronted by several people who suggest she should be ashamed about her decision. Among them is a doctor who reads a script on behalf of Gov. Rick Perry welcoming her to a “compulsory transvaginal exam,” and a middle-aged legislator who calls her a “slut.”
Trudeau is also going to state that GOP voters, and a doctor performing a procedure, are "raping" the woman. To me that's taking it too far, but I understand what Mr. Trudeau is going for here.

Part of the reason is that I'm in the odd position of being anti-abortion but anti-sonogram law also. I never did like this law and I feel that it's an overreach by the State into a medical decision that should be private. In my perfect world, there would be no need for abortions except for in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's health is in imminent danger. However, because of the political pressure put on by pro-choice groups we now live in a society where abortion is viewed as just another means of birth control. Once you cross that line, then the next logical step is post birth abortions which then gets us closer to the "perfect state" as described by current SCOTUS Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.
Getting rid of the "undesirables" so to speak. Ethically, morally, that's a real problem for the pro-abortion movement as we saunter towards the next-gen discussions of this hot-button issue.

Which is where the real damage from this Doonesbury comic strip lies. In much the same way Rush Limbaugh's "slut" comment changed the debate question from one of religious freedom to a mean man attacking a woman, the strip this week is going to change the question at hand from what are reasonable restrictions on a complicated medical procedure to some ham-fisted argument against GOP voters.

Whatever the outcome, the GOP is currently losing control of how this debate is framed, and they seem to have no answer to it, for fear of finding themselves thrown up against the wall and shot with accusations of misogyny. Believe me, I know, I've been there, even though what I was writing about at the time had nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with personal qualifications. These are attacks that, once they start, won't stop.

If the GOP wants to have any fighting chance in 2012 however they had better grow a thick skin and be prepared to take arrows like this that are thrown at them. They also had better circle the wagons and come up with an effective, consistent response. I'd start by publicizing post-birth abortion theory, linking it to Ginsburg's own words and tie them both around the Democrat's necks like a mill-stone.

That won't happen of course, and we'll continue to allow our abortion debate to be co-opted by the abortion industry, who stands to reap a financial windfall because of the expansion of abortion services inherent in Government Health Care. Shame on us.

Friday, March 9, 2012

$5,833 per job

That's the rate of investment, by the State of Texas, for each of the 3600 jobs that will be created by Apple.

Apple to create 3,600 jobs in Austin, Statesman Business Blog, Austin American-Statesman
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Friday that Apple will expand its operations in Austin with a $304 million investment in a new campus that will create 3,600 new jobs.


In exchange for Apple’s commitment, the State of Texas has offered Apple $21 million over 10 years through the Texas Enterprise Fund.
Granted, it's a better deal than the deal Houston made with NBC recently, it's still a bad deal for Taxpayers. Job incentive subsidies need to go. The key is to create a business friendly structure all around, and then let the market grow organically.

I'm never going to be a fan of tax breaks or pay-offs to lure companies. It's an inefficient mechanism that attempts to hide market flaws. I don't care if it's a Republican, or Democratic, plan.

Here's a project for you economics students

In an editorial Wednesday the Apple Dumpling Gang waxed poetic regarding the benefits of rear-view cameras on vehicles....

Rear-view cameras save money and lives, The Apple Dumpling Gang, ChronBlog
Our latest favorite feature? Rear-view cameras. These handy devices are proving so effective that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is considering a rule that would require the cameras in new cars.

Every year, about 228 people die and about 17,000 are injured in back-over accidents, and 44 percent of those deaths are children under 5. We like the idea that something as straightforward as car cameras can save lives. Of course, they're not free.

In keeping with the Gang's M.O. they offer up this nugget a little later:
The price is high because it would affect so many future cars. The cost per car doesn't sound as startling, adding an additional $58 to $203 per vehicle, depending on whether it already has some sort of screen. And as the technology advances, that cost should drop.

What the Gang doesn't say is that this is the latest of many "features" that they've advocated for vehicles that will just add a "small cost" to each individual car. I wouldn't be surprised if, since the current make-up of the Gang was established, they've advocated for features that would make up an increase in car prices in the 4-5 thousand range.

So, here's the assignment for some aspiring economist who wants to see the effect of Place Called Perfect economics. Round up all of the Apple Dumpling Gang's "things we'd like to see mandated for every car" and then add up the estimated increase in the price per vehicle.

When you're finished with that, take an entry-level car (say the Chevy Sonic) and see what the price would be with all of the Gang's doo-dads added on.

Then ask yourself: Would these "additions" price a large part of the population out of the car market?

And who would find this most desirable?

You can thank me for the A you'll receive later.

City of Houston has more to spend....

....which means that we'll see an increase in boondoggles right?

City finances get a boost from HCAD projection, Chris Moran, ChronBlog
The city of Houston may have $21 million more in income in the coming fiscal year than it had planned on before Wednesday. That’s when it got the news that the Harris County Appraisal District projects that taxable values in the city — and by extension, the amount of taxes it collects on that property — will rise 4.54 percent in 2012.
The article goes on to say that sales tax revenues were up 10-11% in the first half of Fiscal Year 2012, meaning another $26 Million that the City will have to play with for this year.

While I'm not opposed to the City receiving more money, I am concerned with the manner in which they will spend it. The last few days have revealed some stunning spending priorities by the Parker administration, given the current economic climate. If things start getting better (and I hope they do) who knows where Mayor Parker is going to want to direct those funds?

Given the problems the City is facing with the pension fund, police and firefighter staffing, infrastructure et al. you would like to think the money would be directed there. Given Houston's recent history however I expect it to go toward a "world class" Ugandan language and cultural center designed to bring an expected wave of Ugandan immigrants into Houston culture or some nonsense like that. After all, we do know Herroner likes the Internets, and I'm sure she's seen the Kofy video by now....

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Bad Development ideas never die.

CultureMap (presumably, using their own pictures) provides an update on Downtown Houston's latest boondoggle:

It's full speed ahead for new convention center hotel and it's going to be Texas big, Ralph Bivins, CultureMap
Plans to build a second convention hotel in downtown Houston are moving ahead as organizers have begun an official search to locate a hotel developer.

The hotel, to be built just north of Discovery Green park near the George R. Brown Convention Center, is expected to have 1,000 rooms, making it one of the largest hotels in Texas.


Officials say Houston has an inadequate number of downtown hotel rooms, so it is eliminated from consideration on the shopping list of the nation’s largest meetings and conventions.
Unwritten in the article is Downtown Houston's current hotel occupancy rate which, for '09 and '10 (the last two years with any good data) were hovering around 55% Of course, Houston's biggest 'build a hotel cheerleader' PKF consulting, guaranteed that things would be better come 2011.

Also left unsaid is the REAL reason Houston is eliminated from the largest conventions:

Las Vegas and Orlando.

Houston could have a Million hotel rooms and people still would choose to go to these two destinations for their conventions. The convention battle is over, resort destinations have won. City's that still try to chase the white dragon of large convention business are only fooling themselves, bankrupting the treasury and enriching the middle-men who facilitate these types of deals.

In other words: The Houston Way.

This was actually posted on a major market newspaper's website.

This is not a joke, a ChronBlog "reporter" actually wrote this, and it is currently on their website. (I've cached this page to Diigo just in case they change it later.)

D-Day at Taco Bell: Doritos Locos Tacos drop, Chris Preovolos, Hot Topics,
Today, after test marketing the Doritos Locos Tacos in the culinary wonderlands of Bakersfield and Fresno, the neon orange monstrosity is available nationwide.

So I guess ChronBlog is playing economic favorites now? After all, their curious habit of disguising sales pitches as journalism frequently favors companies the reporters seem to like. I guess the logical extension of that is to trash the ones they don't?

Unfortunately for ChronBlog's elevated progressive sensibilities, it appears that these tacos are going to be a huge hit. Maybe they should reserve the monstrosity tag for their in-house opinion columnists and The Apple Dumpling Gang?

Not (so) United

It appears that our friends at United Airlines are having a rough time right now....

No Answer and Lost Upgrades at United: Computer Switch Still Bugging Travelers. Scott McCartney, The Middle Seat Terminal (WSJ)
The United Airlines computer switch has continued to plague some travelers and has kept phone lines completely jammed through midweek, four days after the airline merged its reservations and frequent-flier program information onto Continental Airlines’ system.

Elite-level frequent fliers have complained they haven’t been able to get complimentary upgrades on domestic flights. Some people have said reservations have been dropped or changed, and they’ve received email notes from United to call to straighten it out. Yet some have reported waits on hold of five hours; others say they can’t get through busy signals or dropped calls.
I can attest to this. Despite being confirmed and ticketed, my United reservation says that I need to call them to "re-ticket". I tried to do so and waited on hold for 2 hours before being cut off by their system. I haven't tried again. Based on this article, I'm not going to try again. My wife's recent flight to Seattle said the same thing online. She figured she'd just arrive to the airport early and deal with it there. Despite her old confirmation number not working, there was no problem when speaking with an agent.

That's the tack I plan to take on my upcoming trip to Madrid, just arrive a little early and watch the chaos.

Another thing to watch for (not listed in this article) is that the PQM percentages are all goofy on now. If you're trying to figure out how many PQM's you're going to get for a flight don't use their estimator on individual flight details. Many of them show 0% when they're United metal.

Ah well, in the grand scheme of things the computer goofs are a small thing, but they are illustrative of the many things that go wrong, even in mergers that seem on the surface to be relatively smooth.

If anything, I think United really needs to shore up the customer service end of this mess. Right now their call-in service is a disaster. That's the kind of error that can damage a company long-term if not nipped at the bud.

More History that isn't.

First an ugly Main Street post office, now an ugly, dilapidated (possibly dangerous?) old school house.

Rufus Cage Elementary in East End designated a protected historic landmark, KTRK ABC13
The historic Rufus Cage Elementary School in Houston's East End has been declared a landmark worthy of protection by the City Council.

The former school, located in the 1400 block of Telephone Road, is one of the oldest school buildings still standing in Houston. Originally built in 1910, the two story building housed four classrooms and served students on the city's east side until 1983.
ABC really had to strain to get a picture that makes the school look in any way presentable. I've driven by it and can tell you, it's a dump. One that looks as if it's about to fall in upon itself.

The real test of historic preservation is knowing what should, and can, be saved and whether or not saving something serves a real purpose. One of the criteria is whether the attachment to the item is simply nostalgic, or if something truly historical happened there. In too many cases the City of Houston knee-jerks itself into protecting the former.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

$16,000 Per Employee

That's the expense rate that NBC is seeking to open up their new play-pen in the (struggling) Houston Pavilions downtown development.

City, NBC to announce agreement for downtown Comcast SportsNet Houston studios Wednesday, David Barron, ChronBlog
The NBC Sports Group was seeking about $2 million in city and state support for studios and office space for the network, which will employ about 125 people.
Let's be charitable and assume that the average salary for the 125 people is $80K. (I'm betting that number is high) With that math the City and State will be paying the full salaries of 1 in 5 NBC/Comcast employees.

Is it any wonder the City is studying a tax increase? They have a hard enough time meeting their own employment obligations, now they're taking on 1/5th of a private company as well.

And yes, this is the same reason I have a problem with local and State programs designed to drive "job growth", including Governor Perry's two State Lege approved slush funds. It's an ineffective use of scarce resources.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

About that road paved with good intentions.....

When I first saw this story i thought it was something that came from The Onion.

Houston's Plan to Criminalize Charity, Mark Levin, Texas Public Policy Foundation
Houston City Council will be considering an ordinance (see page 32) today which would criminalize the giving of food to the needy without permits or complying with a long list of regulations. The offense for helping others in a way that is not approved by city bureaucrats is a fine of up to $2,000 a day, with each new day of renegade charitable giving classified a separate offense.

The reasoning behind the law seems to have little sense and the enforcement mechanism in place makes even less sense. People and non-profit organizations shouldn’t be deterred from helping others due to government red tape. With no requirement of a culpable mental state for conviction (mens rea), those who will most likely suffer are those who had no idea such a statute existed or attempted to comply but made a mistake when trying to follow cumbersome regulations.

You should go read Levin's entire write-up on this, because the City is really contorting logic in an effort to create a new revenue stream on the backs of the poor and charitable.

Of course, our Prog friends would remind us that the Government should handle all charity and could afford to do so if those that were making just slightly more than they were would agree to hefty tax hikes.


UPDATE: ChronBlog chimes in. Adding another piece to the puzzle I missed above: It's about controlling the homeless and keeping undesireables out of desireable areas. If conservatives really treated undocumented immigrants 1/2 as bad as Houston's Democratic establishment treats the homeless the media would freak out.

Still. Unbelievable.

About that Diversity Thing....

Two things struck me about today's ChronBlog story on the growing diversity of Houston.

Houston region is now the most diverse in the U.S., Jeannie Kever, ChronBlog

First off, this data point:
The report also found that while residential segregation has dropped over the past 20 years, it remains highest within the city of Houston; most suburban neighborhoods are less racially segregated.

Report co-author Michael Emerson, co-director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice, said poverty, aging housing and larger concentrations of minority groups all contribute to continued segregation in Houston.
In other words, the Caucasian Progressive set, those progs who spend most of their days telling us mean suburbanites how racist we are, are actually the most segregated among us, and are less likely to have daily interactions with minorities.

If you've spent any time studying prog political philosophy, this shouldn't surprise you. "Good for thee but not for me" is not only an InterLeft mantra, but it seems to be something that dominates their daily lives as well.

The second was this:
Toni Carter was a reluctant suburbanite, moving to Pearland in 2000 in search of more house for her money. Carter had grown up in Houston and was wary of raising her children in what she feared would be an all-white enclave.

"I wanted them to be comfortable with everybody," she said. "When we were looking at this neighborhood, that was something I had my eye on."

She discovered a mix of people from all over the world.

"I didn't know much about the suburbs," she said. "I expected it to be white-bread land."
Is ensuring that a racist slur be inserted into your article on diversity taught in J-school these days? Or is this just a situation where ChronBlog, with it's skeleton staff and lack of professional editing, reveals one of their many blind spots?

Now imagine that a white resident, considering a move inside the Loop, had opined that they were concerned they would be moving into "the barrio" or "to Africa West" (among many other, cruder, examples I could choose). Do you think that would have made print?

It's one thing to hold your racial bias in private, it's another thing to publish it for all the world to see.

Friday, March 2, 2012

After all the mess and expense.... turns out the City was acting beyond their legal authority?

Mayor: Houston has no legal basis to stop 21-story Ashby high-rise, will settle suit, Michael Reed, West University Examiner
Mayor Annise Parker has sent a letter to residents of the Southampton area saying the city has no legal basis to stop developers from building the controversial Ashby high-rise as outlined in their 2009 plans.
“I am accepting the advice of city legal counsel and recommending the settlement of the lawsuit,” she said in the Feb. 29 letter.
In other words, all the City did, as the result of all of the time and expense created by their endless stonewalling, was increase the cost of building something that the developers were entirely in the right to build.

Just more of Bill White "running Houston like a business", something that we're having to pay for now that he's gone and the legal and budget issues can't be kicked down the road much further.

Good thing we're not currently looking at a White administration in Austin, and he's the best Texas Democrats have one their Statewide bench by far. This then, is exhibit A as to why Texas is currently a one-party State.

Kudos to the Parker administration for understanding when it comes time to cut bait. I know the residents of Southampton are going to be disappointed but, at least, they can remove all of those ugly signs from their neighborhood, which probably did more damage to their aesthetics than the Ashby high-rise ever will.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The power of Yellow Cab

Think Yellow Cab's not a powerful lobby within the City of Houston? Think again....

City Council approves cab fare hikes, Chris Moran, ChronBlog
City Council approved by a 13-1 vote the first rate hike in seven years Wednesday at the request of the taxi industry. A city study found the cost of being in the cab business has increased by 27 percent during that period.

Floyd Kaminsky, president of Yellow Cab, and Román Martinez, president of Texas Taxi, said after the vote that the increase struck a fair balance between helping cab drivers recover the cost of leasing and fueling cabs and protecting customers from excessive rate hikes.

So desperate was Council to grant Yellow Cab this fare increase they took a very unusual procedural step in quashing a Councilman's tag.

Granted, that tag was placed on the ordinance by Helena Brown, whose propensity for tagging just about everything is wearing thin on the remainder of City Hall, but it's telling that the first thing they break with tradition on is a price hike backed by a very, very powerful local lobby.

As my friend Kevin says: "What Yellow Cab wants, Yellow Cab gets."

Very true.

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