Tuesday, January 15, 2019

HALV: It's Election 2019 time already.

In 2019 the race for Houston Mayor should be the big story, and while it's been brewing for a while, yesterday's political announcements pretty much kicked things off proper:

Buzbee, King, call for donor limits at City Hall. Houston Chronicle.

If you're thinking you've heard similar sentiments recently, you're correct. Lina Hidalgo announced something similar just the day before. Suddenly everyone in Houston is trying to get on the "good governance" train.

Bill King, has basically been running for Mayor since he narrowly lost in 2015,publishing missive after missive against Turner in his blog and on Twitter. Some of his jabs, including pointing out that Turner's staff has ballooned to 102 since he took office and that many of them make over $100,000 per year, seem to be something that might gain some traction, were he able to get any traction in local media.

It's odd then that this is the issue that does, because this is an issue that media will fawn over, but which I don't see moving the electoral needle all that much.  Houston is basically DC at this point, through an electoral lens. Turner could shoot someone down on Smith Street and still receive enough votes to get into a run-off. Houston is a one-party town, minus the effective machine that exists in Chicago. A machine that Turner would give his political eye-teeth to develop and maintain.

King is saddled with the baggage of losing previously, and now he's faced with the fact that his signature issue, pension reform, has been effectively kicked far enough down the road that people are willing to suspend disbelief and call it "fixed" despite it being no such thing.

Buzbee is a wild-card, more of a bomb-thrower than a serious candidate at this point with very little evidence suggesting that will change.

So far, no one else legitimate has thrown their hat in the ring but, should they, you would have to think the challenge would come from the right, further diluting the opposition pool. I just can't see any serious Democrat wanting to challenge Turner. Stephen Costello is smart enough to keep his powder dry, be content to be named the czar of pretty much everything and then take that crown and attempt to parlay it to City Hall in 2023 with Turner's blessing.

Mayor Costello, THAT's a sobering thought.

Given the current state of things here are my very early odds on the race and where I see the candidates place in it:  (Odds are to make the run-off)

Sylvester Turner (-2000) The prohibitive favorite who has both the power of incumbency and the largest natural voting base in the election. It would take the presence of a strong, Democratic candidate entering the race to change these odds and I just don't see that happening.

Tony Buzbee (+500) I make his odds this long because it's highly possible he flames out. But I put him in second place for reasons that I'll elaborate more on in just a minute. He's going to be loud, he's going to be flashy, he might even provide some amusement. Will he win?  Doubtful. He's got little in the way of message and no natural base.

Bill King (+800) I've met Bill King, he's a decent man. Certainly a politician though and that's the problem. He's going to have to overcome the perception that he's a perpetual candidate after losing against Turner in 2015 and now having to reinvent himself but he does at least have a base of voter support in Houston, something Buzbee is lacking. Where I think he's going to struggle is that he has a lot of entrenched opposition as well, something Buzbee does not have at the moment.

A bigger challenge for both Buzbee and King is that, even if they are to find an issue that could be damaging to Turner, it probably is not going to matter. You'd have to have it resonate with a large portion of Turner's voters to the level that they would be willing to rethink their support for him.

Good luck with that.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The State of the HALV: January 10, 2019

Some quick thoughts on a few things that I currently don't have time to give full-treatment to.

Prop B will be fought over in the media. - It seems pretty clear that Turner is still operating under the assumption that by continuing to make the case that Prop B is punching a gigantic hole in the budget, he will win this issue in the public mind. Given that we're dealing with the Houston electorate, he could be correct.

The answer is ALWAYS more money. - Of course, there's already a gigantic hole in the Houston budget. Harvey et al. is usually blamed for this but the real reason is that what passes for leadership in Houston hasn't focused on Public Works at all for at least a decade now.

Even when money is coming, they don't know what to do with it. - It's amazing that, this long after the disaster, we're still not at a place where people can have access to needed funds. Are you surprised that many have totally given up on the process?

Give Credit to Acevedo, he knows to toe the party line - He might not be the best police chief, but he's a savvy politician who hasn't found an issue he can't try to exploit, or a TV camera he's shy to get in front of. He's also not shown an aversion to changing tack for partisan reasons. He's going to find an elected office to run for soon.  This is all groundwork.

On another note: It's time to retire "iconic" and "beloved" when speaking of shuttered businesses. - The example here is a Burger King for chrissakes.

Beware: It's almost rodeo season. - I'm planning on being out of town, a lot, during this time.

Lina Hidalgo's solution is probably NOT to hire Ed Emmett - Hidalgo hasn't done anything really wrong yet, but hiring Emmett is not some magic bullet that's going to save the county. If we cannot survive without the services of one political figure then the Houston region is in bigger trouble than we've been saying on here.  Also, Hidalgo seems to have put "equitable" on auto-repeat for pretty much every issue. I would substitute "need".

Politics as perpetual election machine is #BadPolitics - There's precious little "public service" going on, more and more "patronage payback" and way too much "running for office". On the bright side, the more they're focused on getting re-elected the less stuff they can mess up. Still, elections should only be a small part of the political process.

Lina Hidalgo promising not to take money from county contractors is a good start. - Which needs to be tempered with the realization that there are many other campaign donors who could push her to equally bad policy. It's like the "climate" politicians who propose not to take money from "Big Oil". That's OK on it's surface, but still leaves them open to accepting donations from groups that don't have the public's interest at heart.  How do you stop this?  You don't. What's needed is tougher and more public disclosure rules around campaign finance. I don't mind people having biases, just be open and honest about them. (See: Fletcher et al)

In the matter of the State of Texas vs. the Houston Region. - We're to the point that HPD Chief Acevedo says Houston is fighting a "gang war" on day and then poo-poohs the same after Abbott suggests expanding the Gang Task Force because "lines on a map" or something? It's sad to see the Jazmine Barnes tragedy exploited this way by politicians who are just looking for their moment in the media spotlight.

And finally....

Sadly, illegal tire dumping in poor neighborhoods is an issue again. - It seems that the poor neighborhoods are only issues when politicians want their votes for political office, and then they go away under a flood of world-classiness and other initiatives designed to create plaques and naming rights for prosperity.  Meanwhile, how long will it be before voters start to question exactly WHAT and who they're voting for?  Or, more sanely, to realize that voting is a lazy-man's way to participate in democracy and start taking alternative action? (And no, I don't mean vigilantism, I'm referring to civic engagement and the actual work of doing things, something our politicians have forgotten of late)

2019 is off to a heckuva start.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

BadMedia: Houston Chronicle - Last week's news, today.

Curious what's going on locally in politics in America's 4th largest city?

Believe it or not you're not likely to find it on the Politics and policy page on the website for the former newspaper of record.

As of now, 7:48 AM, January 8th, 2019 the most recent story showing up on the page is dated....

12/29/2018 (note: I wrote this story last night but verified this morning.)

Want a story from August about local leaders pushing for the $2.5 Billion dollar bond election?  You can read that, it passed in November with over 60% of the vote mind you so you're probably a little late.

Want to know that Harvey victims were still struggling back in April 2018? Covered.

How about a December 19th, 2018 about Houston struggling to expand it's sidewalk program? You're in luck.

All of the stories I linked to were penned by Mike Morris, who has either been on vacation for just over a week or who honestly can't find anything in local Houston politics and policy to write about. Even on the front page of HoustonChronicle.com the most recent story I can find relating to Houston Politics and Policy is this December 12th story on the delay of the vote for the Houston Airport System renovation contracts.  Surely something has happened with those right?  Or there's more to the story on these right?

For all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the downfall of newspaper media, and their self-prescribed "critical role" in the function of democracy the fact is you're more likely to get Twitter take-downs of the CFPI Halftime show or (from time to time) soft-core porn pictorials on Chron.com than you are actual hard news and that's too bad.

Because there are a lot of messes to try and sort out in Houston but the Chronicle has clearly chosen to feature click-bait and (erratic) editorial content over actual hard news. You know, the stuff that is ACTUALLY critical to public interaction with democracy?

Houston doesn't need more j-school grads combing Twitter, and it sure as hell doesn't need the unhinged ramblings of Chris Tomlinson, Erica Grieder or Lisa Falkenberg.

Tomlinson is a business reporter who hates actual business, Falkenberg is just special and Grieder is just....well...erratic? Oversold on her own brilliance which is really not a thing? A public meltdown waiting to happen? (again)

Judging by the stories featured it's clear that the Chron has it's priorities all out of whack, and that Houston civic engagement is suffering because of it.  Their subscription rate continues to decline, as does their relevance within the City.  We're started a new year, but we're saddled with the same old crap-fest of a newspaper.

The Dallas Morning News is currently suffering the same fate, and they just sadly laid-off 43 of their staff. Reportedly shrinking their news staff to 20 people.  Twenty people to cover all of the Dallas Metroplex.

How long before the Chron does the same?  Turning itself into nothing more than a gossip rag with a couple of political opinion writers?

Not that anyone will notice. You'll still (presumably) be able to log onto HoustonChronicle.com and view reporting that's almost a year old.


Monday, December 31, 2018

2019: Dusting Off the Crystal Ball

First off, I admit, I'm a bad blogger. I neglected to wish all of you a Merry Christmas.  I would suggest that this was due to real life getting in the way, as it does, but you may also choose to accept that I don't give two figs whether or not your Christmas was merry, happy or a giant Humbug.  We're all for happiness here at YDOP so take your pick.

We would be horribly remiss however if we failed to take a gaze into the hazy, blue future of Houston and Harris County to determine what the year ahead holds.  So, without further ado, here are a few things that might, or might not happen locally in 2019.

Lina Hidalgo will do fair.

Look, she's not going to come in and change the County overnight. I would predict that she doesn't even come in and change a whole lot that matters. Most of what makes up County politics is pretty mundane stuff. She's going to have to focus on flood control, and making things work or she's going to find herself out of a job the first time she's up for reelection.  She has to understand this. If she doesn't then she is indeed the bone idiot that many are claiming she is.

I don't think she's a dumb lady, so I think she'll pretty much settle in and be more noise than actual fury.

Bonus: I can all but guarantee you that one local, erratic political columnist will pen a column comparing her to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. For no other reason that she is also young, Hipanic, female, and a member of the Democratic Socialists.  Oddly enough, neither of these two women have accomplished anything of note in their careers as of yet, other than getting elected of public office of course.  The column in question will be gushing, and will paint the columnist as the smartest person in the room, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

Some newly elected judge is going to do something stupid.

It's bound to happen. When you have mostly new judges, many of which have no judicial experience, there will be a judge who does something that's so beyond the pale that even Democrats look at each other and cringe.  There are many candidates for this honor, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that Franklin Bynum wins the booby prize.

Adrian Garcia will mis-manage his office.

This is less a prediction than a lead-pipe cinch.  If you don't know why that is you haven't paid attention to the career of this man.

Houston Metro will still be unable to give full detail of the expenditures for their gigantic bond when it heads to election.

Nor will there be much push for them to do so. Any politician who might have asked Spieler and company to operate with any accountability and transparency at all has either retired, or been voted out of office. What remains is a political rubber stamp for the most-ill ran quasi-governmental agency in the region.

Bonus: Despite the Danger Train continuing to maim and kill people, there will be calls for more and more at-grade rail.

Sylvester Turner will get his tax-cap roll back.

It will be on the 2019 ballot, and it will pass with something like 68% of the vote. Because of this he will immediately push through a tax increase that's brutally punitive toward the poor and middle class. He will do this with a straight face, and will only partially pretend that the windfall the city receives from the tax isn't going to his political patrons.

Bonus: Stephen Costello will soon become the Czar of pretty much every issue that has plagued Houston EVER. Nothing of substance will be done to fix any of them.

The Harris County GOP will continue to shout at clouds.

The reason the city and county are slagged with such terrible leadership is because what passes for the opposition party in Harris County is pretty much an outrage engine focusing on National, rather than local, issues.  This will not change, even if the party comes to its senses and votes Paul Simpson out of a leadership position.  This is because the GOP does not, and has not, done local issues well for a while now.

Bonus: Orlando Sanchez will mount a futile challenge to Simpson for the Harris County GOP Chair. He will lose and blame his name.

HISD is toast.

The HISD board will continue to be both a source of low-comedy and high-shame to the area as the elected know-nothings on the board continue to run the district down the path of dissolution.  The TEA won't think about coming in until 2020, so that's not a prediction here, but what I can say is that the board is going to continue to be a dumpster fire for the remainder of the year.  They will, eventually, hire a superintendent, but they've so damaged the reputation of the district that whoever they end up with will be nothing more than a cypher.

We are eventually going to find the villages that are missing all of these idiots.

You cannot elect a group of low-functioning idiots to positions of power without depriving villages of their entertainment. I predict in 2019 we are going to discover where these people are coming from. Once we identify the source, we can begin to plug the leak and eventually return some sanity to Houston and Harris County leadership.

This fire-fighter thing is going to get even uglier.

Speaking of the HALV, it's going to continue to suck-up any semblance of leadership, fire men and women are going to be laid off and we just hope that some innocent citizen doesn't die because of Mayor Turner's vindictive streak.

Art Acevedo is FINALLY going to find a political office to run for.

We predict that 2019 is officially the year that Acevedo finds some favorable political slot, probably in the San Antonio area, to run for office and drop the pretense of being a first responder.

Houston will flood in 2019.

Of course it will.  And while it may not be as bad as Harvey it could be a lot worse in terms of lives lost because logistics and leadership will be lacking.  I was not the biggest fan of Ed Emmett and his Astrodome dreams but he was good in a disaster and that steady leadership will be missed.

And Finally.....

The inaugural "worst political blog in Harris County" award will finally be issued and will FINALLY be given to YDOP.

I will not stop hoping for this until it happens.

On a final note: 2019 is going to suck, as 2018 sucked, as 2017 sucked as 2016 sucked before it.

Happy New Year Everyone.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

HALV: The Growing Smallness of Boss Turner.

It is becoming apparent that Mayor Sylvester 'Boss' Turner might not be big enough to handle the challenges he is currently facing.

City Moves to Implement Prop B, Despite Uncertainty Over When Lay-offs Begin. HoustonChronicle ($$$)

If you're not at least a digital subscriber to the Houston Chronicle you might not be able to read this. If, say, you've already exhausted your reading of 3 free articles on stories about the Rockets, soft-porn slide shows or Erica Grieder trying to convince us and herself that she's the smartest, most bestest political writer EVAH and not just someone who wrote a book and then acted erratically at both her last job and on Twitter.

If you can't, that's too bad.  Because the article is starting to paint Boss Turner as a diminutive figure in a place of power during a time when big challenges are at hand.

Granted, the Houston Fire Fighter's Union SHOULD want to negotiate at this point because they would be doing so from a position of power. From that standpoint Turner the Shrinking probably doesn't want to hit the negotiating table because there is increasing evidence that he's just not that good at it.

Turner understands the potential disastrous effects of his negotiating under the looming specter of Prop B. You have to at least give him that.  But for the rest of his tactics, asking city departments to ponder budgets with cuts that are probably deeper than they should go, threatening mass layoffs of first responders, denigrating the work of fire personnel etc.  These are signs of a man shrinking away from the challenge faster than a Ford F-250 barreling along a Houston freeway without care or concern for his fellow drivers.

Here's the thing.  Houston NEEDS leadership right now. It needs a large-thinking individual with big ideas and bold solutions to a host of problems.  What it has is a diminutive cypher, a life-long politician with little in the way of career accomplishment who is now refusing to even entertain ideas for solutions. Even the bad ones.  His head could not be any further into the sand if only his ankles were still showing.

But, the lawyers are still getting paid.  As are his other political patrons. Contracts with former business partners are paying them Millions of dollars and the only argument justifying this is that they are "former" business partners. As if friendships and patronage end when professional bonds are broken.

There is waste in the City of Houston budget, of that I'm sure.  And while I have my doubts that there is enough waste to carve out to fully fund the fire fighter pay raise, fix Houston's dilapidated infrastructure, address flooding concerns, and increase the staffing levels for police officers, etc. the biggest problems for Houston right now are even deeper still, more problematic than fiscal disaster.

The biggest problem for Houston right now is that the Houston Area Leadership Vacuum seems to be centered around one very small man.  A man whose current plan is to wait and hope. Hope that they get the right judge, the right court-order, the right decision that will let him continue on his path of busting the pillow-soft revenue cap, increasing taxes and using those funds to increase payments to his patronage.

The important thing to remember here is that "Houston Mayor" has been described in the media and by himself as being Turner's "dream job" his life-long aspiration. The gold-ring in what he has imagined to be his storybook political career.

Some story books are horror stories, and they don't end well.  Unless the hero of the story has a transformative moment that provides him the courage to rise up and defeat the demon.

Right now we're half way through the Turner story and there's scant evidence that a heroic transformation is in our near future.

But he's having his in-front-of-the-looking-glass "Eat me, Drink me" moment.

Here's hoping he chooses the cake, but lately he's been drinking the potion.

Monday, December 17, 2018

BadHumanity: Our Smart Phones are Making us Dumber.

Over the weekend the wife and I visited Zoo Lights at the Houston Zoo. It's a fun little walk around part of the zoo with Christmas lights strewn throughout.  Good for either a date or family night whichever.  At least, it would have been great, if the smart-phone photo takers wouldn't have been EVERYWHERE.

It's to the point now that this mania for taking pictures of everything, regardless of how insignificant, is getting out of control. It's even worse when people have children who are involved.  Right from the jump you noticed the lines, people standing in long versions of them, waiting to snap multiple pictures of themselves and family members in "photo-op" spots, or increasingly, right in the middle of the walkways.

While I'm a fan of the occasional snap, and even do so myself from time to time, there comes a point where you're starting to miss out on life being so dead set on applying a SnapChat filter to it.

As an example of this I'll discuss the "Tunnel of lights" feature last night at the zoo.

You were supposed to walk through it, where you would be surrounded by lights on all side for about 10 yards.  It might have been kind of pretty.  The problem was you COULD NOT WALK THROUGH because, on both sides of the tunnel, there were long lines of people waiting to have someone (or, multiple someones one at a time) standing in the mouth of the tunnel to have their picture taken.  After taking the picture they wouldn't walk through, they would walk back to whoever was taking the picture and switch places with them.  We sat and watched a family do this for 10 minutes as they cycled through 5 people, taking multiple shots of each.

The thing was no one, ever, walked through the tunnel in the five minutes we were there. No one could because the entrances were blocked with the subjects of the pictures.  The entire feature was being wasted.

But it's not just that. My wife got her feet stepped on 4 times by people not paying attention and backing up into her trying to get the "perfect shot".  One family took up the entire walkway for 2-3 minutes trying to get the perfect picture of their little Honey Boo-Boo looking daughter mugging under a gorilla globe.  You.Could.Not.Get.By without causing a scene because the husband was ensuring people stopped.

Now, at this point, were I a writer for the Houston Chronicle, I'd tell you about this scene of bad behavior and make-up some scenario where the offending family acted like boobs, I acted heroically and walked off feeling smug, while they felt chastened and dumb.

But that didn't happen.  In fact, no one really challenged the guy because in most cases people just go along to get along. I didn't challenge them taking the picture. I waited patiently while they did so, and so did everyone else.  The gentleman acting as a blocker really wasn't needed because, in my experience, people really do try to be respectful to people when they're taking the memory shot.

But, it's becoming too much. We've moved from a quick, 5 second photo to elaborate posing, multiple shots all trying to catch that perfect memory and we've forgotten about our fellow humans who are trying themselves to have a good time. Our leisure time, has taken on the same qualities as everything else in our lives. We've devalued each-other to the point that we no longer feel the need to travel about this pebble giving any type of respect.

You see the same things on our roads.  Driving home from Zoo Lights we rushed up on an SUV that was doing 35 in the second-to-left-lane on the Southwest Freeway.  Were his harzards on?  Was he in distress? Did he have car problems?

No, he was talking on his phone while driving 25 miles below the speed limit in a lane that should be reserved for faster traffic.

We have lost the ability to live our lives without our smart phones, but we have also lost the ability to function properly in society with them. I'm not sure if there's a fix to this, or if we would even want it should it exist.

Friday, December 14, 2018

HALV: World-Classiness (like Evil) Always wins.

Remember the moment (a few days ago) when I opined that the know-nothings in Houston, the uncultured set, those who don't have HD Radio with 88.7.2 programmed way down the list of saved stations, might accidentally win one?

Yeah, not so much.

Houston Renews Funding for Music Program After Bitter Fight. Houston Public Media

Live music at the airport might not seem like it would be that controversial, but it took hours for Houston City Council to agree to fund the Houston Airports Performing Arts Program – or Harmony in the Air – for another three years. 
The $3 million for the program will come from airline fees, not taxes. Still, the price tag caused several council members to balk.
2 things:

1. I'm not entirely sure why they say this fight was "bitter". Granted, this is Public Media, which views any disagreement about taxpayer funding toward classical music or Rick Steves on TV to be an affront to civilized society. So take all of this with a grain of salt.  NPR, and their affiliates break out in hives when told that tax funds could be spent in some way better than a torrent of "what old white people like" programming. There was a disagreement over price, but I didn't see anything that elevated it anywhere near "bitter".

2. Council member Greg Travis actually made a salient point in this debate:

“I think when people go to the airports, they look for things like clean bathrooms,” said Council Member Greg Travis. “They look for, ‘Can I charge my phone?’ ‘Can I get the Wi-Fi?’ and ‘Do they have good restaurants?’ I think music may be up in that category, but I don’t think it’s that high up.”

This is true, and brings me to another point.  The restrooms at both HOU and IAH are foul. Even when they've just been cleaned they are nasty. Charging stations?  Good luck.  There are so few available in some areas that the ones you can find look like the power outlet at the Griswold house during Christmas. Wi-Fi? I wouldn't consider GoGo to be "Wi Fi" It's lofi for the masses and can barely function quickly enough to let you check e-mail. Good food?  Considering that most of the catering contract is awarded to one company (Aramark) you get what you can get.

There are notable exceptions in both airports. Cat Cora's restaurant is pretty good, there's a Chick-fil-a at HOU, and the Pappa's restaurants are pretty solid. But the rank & file food court stuff in both are pretty pedestrian and, in some cases, pretty foul.

Again, I'm not going to make too big a deal about this because it is pleasant to sit on the outer part of Pappadeaux's in HOU and listen to the string trio playing classical tunes while you enjoy your Bloody Mary and crab cakes while waiting on your plane.

I'm good with it.

But it's just another example of how, in times when real improvements and change are sorely needed, it's hard to get rid of a pet program in the name of World Classiness.