Monday, March 31, 2014

Twitter is a useful tool, but it can be a sledge hammer as well.

I rarely debate on Twitter.  I interact with people and I trade friendly barbs with them but when someone comes forward with a Twitter "gotcha" (that really isn't) my default reaction is to find the quickest path possible to the block button.

Part of this is because I view Twitter as more of a news feed/informational tool than a tool for communication. It does a great job providing headlines and links to stories, cute pictures of animals and some very, very funny snark.  However, as a forum for debate Twitter is all but useless.

The problem, as I see it, is that 140 characters doesn't allow one much room for context. The idea of a subtle argument, rather than just blindly charging forward with insults and non-sequiturs, is lost when thoughts are condensed to a blurb.  Twitter is not about communication and more about information, much of it wrong.  How wrong?  There are many Twitter accounts claiming to tweet "facts" who post incorrect information over 50% of the time. In the world of the Internet, Twitter's factual accuracy ranks right up there with Wikipedia.

Then you have the anonymous nature of the platform. I've learned that people say crazy things when they believe they're shielded behind a shroud of electrons.  A typical Twitter Argument might break down as follows:

Blogawful: 'I like the new BMW M6, looks nice and sounds awesome.'
STUD12Muffin: 'The Chevy Corvette is better, you suck asshole!'
Blogawful: 'I'm not a fan of the handling on the Corvette.'
STUD12Muffin: 'Clearly you're a ****. Tired of losing?'

 Clearly this was made up, but I've experienced much of the same on almost any issue, politics, religion, sports, betting, food you name it. Express an opinion and there's always some angry Twitter user out there ready to regale you with their broad knowledge of curse words, and slim knowledge of the English language. "You suck" is the pinnacle of witty banter on Twitter. Snark, which is a lazy-person's weak attempt at satire or actual sarcasm, makes the Twitter world go-around. Snark has given us Rachel Maddow and other faux-witty commentators and it has reduced Dennis Miller to a shadow of his former (bitingly funny) self.

Snark has always been more a tool of progressives and the Left than it has the right. In part, because snark is fairly simple, anyone can do it, and also because snark is very hard to rebut in an intelligent manner. A reply to snark begets more snark which eventually leads to name-calling or something to allow the snarky one to claim a 'victory' which they can then quantify as one more notch on their Twitter headboard allowing them to put something along the lines of "humiliating conservatives for fun" in their public profiles.

The thing is, they do no such thing. Using snark to try and win an argument is like using a chicken to travel to California.  Yes, you might eventually get there, but the chicken is going to play almost no role in the matter.  As a matter of fact, the chicken probably will make your trip harder.  The point of being snarky is to shut down, not foster, debate. People using snark are not confident in their facts, so they go on the attack. This is why snark is such a big tool for the AGW crowd, for Peak Oil theorists, New Urbanists and old media-trained Directors of Communication for local pols.

It also makes for some pretty depressing Twitter conversations.

All that said, snark does have it's place. It's very good when preaching to the choir, and it's good for short, throw-away commentary.  While it won't win you a debate, it can be useful in helping to get the message across. Rachel Maddow, while not especially informative, does a very good job on her show communicating with the true believers on the Left, just as Rush Limbaugh does a good job communicating with those on the Right. They both used assumed fallacies to make their point in a snarky manner.  The rubes suck it up, the world spins on with little accomplished.

I, for one, prefer satire and sarcasm to snark, but most of all I prefer not to engage with those whose mind has already been made up before the first word is said. If your default strategy is to belittle the credibility of your foil in lieu of making an argument?  You're probably using snark. A bigger problem is that most don't understand the difference between satire, sarcasm and snark. So, for instance, when I term the extreme green movement "econmentals" to highlight that their position is, at it's heart, anti-human, people will say I'm using snark.  A typical response might look like this:

"Yet you call the environmentalists "ecomentals" and that's OK *wink*"

This is the problem you find on Twitter all too often.  There's nowhere to go with that statement that won't devolve into a flame-fest without the first mention of the fact that, in order for the green left's ideas to truly work, Billions of people are going to have to die. When confronted with that fact the practitioner of snark is going to quickly pull back with some kind of 'I won' statement or accuse you, without a hint of irony, of wanting to kill the poor.

This is a typical Twitter debate, and it's why I will not engage in them.  As it states in the sub-title of this blog however: Your mileage may vary.

Friday, March 28, 2014

MA 370 reveals everything wrong with media today

We've convicted the pilot based on the speculation of a few "experts" who have been ran out on CNN with no specific technical knowledge of what caused the plane to (apparently) crash.

This has happened because the media, in their current rush to be first rather than necessarily right, has told us he has "political ties" to some jihadists currently sitting in a Malaysian prison.  It's gotten so bad that Shah's son felt the need to come out and defend his father despite there being no evidence to pick apart.

When looking at the situation the only "fact" evident is that there are very few "facts" to go on.  We can't even find the plane, much less determine how (or why) it turned, whether it turned or whether there was a mechanical failure that might have caused it to turn.  The "fact" is we just don't know.  Anything offered now is speculation.  Speculation, I should add, that's needed to fill a 24/7 news cycle on channels overseen by people who don't think the American people have a desire to take a look at thorny domestic issues such as government finances or the continuing tragicomedy that is the Affordable Care Act.

It's gotten so bad I'm waiting for some talking head to call this Malaysia-gate.

It's not as if the so-called "good-old-days" were any better.  The dirty little secret of the media is that they've ALWAYS been about making money and turning some type of profit.  They act as if this isn't the case and that they were, once upon a time, loss leaders but the truth is that, in order to stay a going concern, you have to make money.

From Revolutionary times where newspaper founders were often businessmen whose editorial lean just happened to dovetail with their private interests, to the modern age where sales pitches masquerade as 'news', the media has always been nothing more than a private enterprise with the annoying belief that they have a right to pry into the lives of private citizens.

When someone is injured or dies tragically, here comes the media with their cameras, recorders and microphones shoving them in the faces of grieving families because "the public has a right to know" just how bad the loved-ones of the deceased are feeling right now. I believe the vernacular is "human interest stores". Bull. Crying children and spouses are ratings getters, page hit drivers, it's why the Las Vegas Review Journal recently had a "buy me" click-link on a picture of a recently deceased former casino owner. It's why every third story on ChronBlog, and almost every story on the Houston Press, contains some type of barely-relevant-to-the-story slide show.  A reporter died, so click on this slideshow of other reporters who have left Houston?

I have no idea whether or not Shah is guilty of turning the plane and crashing it as some have speculated. I also, at this time, have no idea what caused Malaysian 370 to crash, not crash, or even where the plane might be.  The thing is, neither do any of the people coming on CNN and other networks telling you what they think happened.

It's all just guesswork, much like every editorial ever written by Mrs. White.  The only advice I can give is to just turn it off, click elsewhere or use the dead-tree edition to start your BBQ coals.  Given most of the content, that's about all it's good for anyway.  Save your energy and time for the things that matter. Ignore peddlers of the journalism equivalent of snake oil, which doesn't matter in the slightest.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sometimes vacations don't go as planned. (Las Vegas edition)

It all started with a notification from United airlines that the Dreamliner portion of our recent trip to Vegas (IAH to SFO) was delayed by 1 hour and 26 minutes.  Given that our entire layover in San Francisco was only 1 hour and 20 minutes I knew we had a problem.

This was around 4:30 in the morning.  Our flight was scheduled to depart at 7:00 AM on Thursday, the wife and I had booked a room on Wyndham points at a hotel next to the airport so we wouldn't have to drive in.  Even in my bleary-eyed state I knew we were looking at some booking gymnastics to eventually arrive at Las Vegas sometime that day.

I should have known there would be problems, after all, we were trying to get a flight on the Dreamliner, an airplane that's got a notoriously sketchy performance record as Boeing and it's partner airlines continue to work out the bugs.  Fortunately, that early in the morning, the call to United's MileagePlus service center only required about a 5 minute "hold time" before I was directly connected to an agent.  After explaining the situation the agent agreed that, yes, we were going to have to do some creative re-routing to make things work.

After about 20 minutes of searching and looking (including exploring the option of a US Airways first class indirect flight through Phoenix that departed at 5:55 AM) we decided that the best option was for us to throw away our BusinessFirst agenda heading to Las in Vegas and settle for a direct flight with United in Economy Plus.  The difference in miles was re-deposited into our account, and we eventually made it to LAS about 2 hours behind schedule.

While we weren't able to get a flight leg on the Dream(Nightmare)Liner, we did get to finally experience United's A320 economy experience with the new SlimLine seats. My overall impression of those is not good.  Not only are the seats very hard, but the armrests are not near long enough and it's almost impossible to get in a comfortable sitting position for a 3 hour flight.  Rumor is those seats will get better with time as they 'break in'.  We'll see. Right now I'd advise avoiding them if possible in favor of 739 or -8 service if available.

The A320 we were on had Wi-Fi available, but I didn't purchase it because I've heard the signal is dodgy.  This rumor was confirmed on both legs as people who did buy the system constantly had it dropped on them, forcing the purser to have to reset the signal, causing long delays in availability.

When we arrived in Las Vegas we had a quick cab ride to Treasure Island, where we were immediately placed in our room despite arriving before check-in time.  TI is a nice hotel, but very busy and they do charge a $28/day "resort fee" if you want to use any amenities whatsoever so be sure to include that in the price of your room.

Even worse, on this trip, I got hit with either a stomach bug or food poisoning on Saturday, which meant that I spent most of the weekend in my room either lying in bed or visiting our bathroom.  On a positive note: this kept me out of the sports books which is a good thing considering the state of my NCAA bracket.  That stomach ailment probably saved me a few hundred dollars in bets I would have made on losing teams.

Back among the living on Monday evening, we did get to see Mystere, which is an older Cirque du Solei show that has a couple of weak acts but some incredibly strong ones as well.  The strength and balance men in the show are amazing as is the trapeze act. It's a show I highly recommend. Obviously our food during this trip was a wash-out. On Monday I was eating bland so I don't think it's fair to say much about where we decided to dine.

On our return flight everything went as planned.  We were on another A320 flying out of Las Vegas, seated in BusinessFirst.  This was the first United flight where the purser identified us and called us by name when taking our lunch order.  Service in the 16-seat cabin was efficient.  The food was a choice between a cheeseburger and grilled chicken salad. neither are real solid menu options but both are edible. I will say this however, for some reason United has difficulty serving bread that is not stale.  Overall though it was a fine flight with good service and a staff that genuinely seemed engaged. That is not always the case with United these days.

Sickness aside, it was an OK trip and I was very impressed with United's customer service throughout in what was a difficult out-bound trip. I will go so-far as to say one of the best arguments for retaining status with United, considering all of the recent changes to MileagePlus, is continued access to the Premier customer service line.

I'd still like to fly on the new Dreamliner, but I've a feeling I will not for a while due to how unreliable of a plane it is right now. 

And next time: no cream in my morning coffee.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ah yes the good old days, too bad you couldn't afford it (and neither could the airlines)

The "History in Pics" Twitter account posted the following1960's era, economy class promotional picture from Pan American Airlines....

Tweet here:

It's a beautiful picture of people lounging with much legroom, a food cart coming by offering service to beautiful, happy group in a plane that appears to be about 3/4 full.

Before you go on to remark how big the seats are now and how much "better" things were back then keep in mind a few key facts:

1. There was no In-Fight Entertainment.
2. There was no Wi-Fi.

And finally....

3. Pan American filed for bankruptcy and is no longer a going concern.

For as much grief as the media (and people who rarely fly) give the airlines you'd think modern day economy is the worst thing in the world.  In fact, I would argue that it's much, much better these days. Fares are historically cheaper, there are more seats which means better availability and the airlines are turning a profit.

Are there things the airlines could do better?  Of course. I'd like to see improvements in timeliness and customer service, but the arguments against modern day economy class border on the ridiculous.

Also, keep in mind this: Unless you were upper, upper middle-class during that time you could not afford to fly. Now (almost) everyone can at least to some extent.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Are we witnessing "Last Vegas"? No.

Discouraging news for Caesars Entertainment.

Caesar's Entertainment reports $1.756 Billion quarterly loss on Atlantic City weakness. Howard Stutz, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Caesars Entertainment Corp. said Tuesday it lost $1.756 billion in the fourth quarter because of a deteriorating market in Atlantic City, which resulted in nearly $2 billion of noncash impairment charges to the casino company’s balance sheet.
Las Vegas-based Caesars said in a statement the company’s net revenue for the period ended Dec. 31 rose 3.2 percent to $2.078 billion,.
A year ago, Caesars’ said its net loss was $435.8 million. 


This continues a long string of losses for the big casino operators.  To that I can only say "good".

It's no secret that the wife and I love our visits to Las Vegas. I like the atmosphere, the people watching, playing poker and sports betting. I will even dabble a little in penny slots for pure entertainment, fully expecting to have fun losing $10 or so.  All that said you have to possess a pretty poor understanding of economics to not see that casinos and other gambling are a net drain on the economy. They add nothing of significant value and are more insidious than other forms of entertainment because they survive on a lie.

If you believe that you have a significant chance of wining a jackpot at a slot machine, consistently beating the casinos at poker or striking it rich at the craps or roulette table stop gambling now. In many ways those forms of gambling are worse than the lottery (which I consider to be a tax on those with poor math skills)  because the casinos pay out slightly better and advertise winners heavily. This is not to suggest that gambling should be illegal. Quite the contrary, I believe it should be very legal, and not just in Las Vegas.

It all comes down to personal responsibility, a concept that Americans (and the rest of the world really) seem to have given up on.  I like gambling because it's a form of entertainment. I also do not have an addictive personality and have no problem setting a budget and sticking to it. I also understand there are those who do get addicted to gambling and I think the casinos are being forced to do a better job at identifying them and locking them out. The thing is, if you are easily addicted then closing the casinos is not going to stop your gambling, it's just going to move it underground.

I don't think we'll see the end of Las Vegas as a tourist/convention destination just because some casinos are struggling. I do think we might be witnessing the beginning of the end of the big corporations who own multiple casinos with huge expansion and debt loads. If Caesars ever is in danger of going under there will be plenty of suitors for some of its larger properties. The future owners will probably be from Asia and will own fewer properties.  This could be a good thing in that it will bring real competition back to the city, which will improve room rates and possibly result in some of the sagging properties being forced to upgrade their amenities and rooms.

Until then, I'll continue to be their worst kind of customer. I buy cheap rooms, don't gamble much and spend a lot of my time nursing a drink and people watching. However, I do like to spend money on food and shows so they're still getting at my wallet to some degree.

The house always wins. No matter whether or not you gamble there.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kayaking Houston's Bayous: Good idea, shoddy reasoning.

Today the New Mrs. White waxed poetic about the increasing trend of kayaking Houston's bayou system.

Our Bayous. Mrs. White, ChronBlog
 The time is right to start making full recreational use of our bayou system on a regular basis, not just once a year. The Bayou Greens Initiative connecting 150 miles of trails and new Buffalo Bayou Park along Allen Parkway are great steps in that direction. In addition, the long-awaited site referred to as the Sunset Coffee Shop Building at 1019 Commerce at Main will offer kayak and canoe rentals by the end of the year. Another rental facility for boats will be located on the banks of the soon to be constructed "Lost Lake," which is at Dunlavy and Allen Parkway east of the Beth Yeshurun Cemetery. The put-in point for canoes and kayaks at Woodway near the 610 loop is set to be finished in early summer.
I think it's a great thing that Houston (along with the county and several other private and quasi-governmental entities) has taken strides to improve the water quality and recreational potential for Buffalo Bayou.  Truly this is a positive sign for the residents of Houston who might enjoy paddling down a lazy bayou on a sunny Summer's day.

As is usual, Mrs. White's problem is trying to make this something it's not.  This gem was buried at the bottom of the editorial:

Lake Austin/Buffalo Bayou. Not exactly apples to apples, but we predict that the sight of canoes and kayaks on the bayou will become inceasingly [sic] more common. People enjoybing[sic] themselves on our waterways will be an economic boost for the area and good for tourism. Skeptics may believe there is a field-of-dreams quality about the bayou as a recreation center. But 180 years ago, a dream about the bayou became the city of Houston.

Ignoring the copy errors for a minute (which runs into another theme of how bad the copy editing is at ChronBlog) the idea that kayaking on Houston's bayou system provides a meaningful economic and tourism boost is wrong-headed.  As is the idea Houston is an "indoor city".

Let me explain.

If you want to see evidence of the outdoor nature of Houstonians one needs only to visit one of Harris County's many parks on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  As I've mentioned before, I live on the NorthWest side of Harris County in the general vicinity of Bear Creek Park.  On the weekends, the park is packed with families either cooking out of playing games of soccer (organized or not), flying kites, using the jogging trails or a host of many other activities.  The same can be said for Memorial Park, Hermann Park, Disco Green, any of the multiple dog parks and other recreational areas with activities ranging from fitness circuits to disc golf.

Speaking of golf, have you ever tried to get a tee-time at Memorial Park on a Saturday?

The fact is many of Houston's residents take advantage of the great outdoors, even in the Summer when you don't need a grill to cook meat.  The problem, as Mrs. White and others see it, is that Harris County residents are not spending their time outside inside the Loop.  Outside of Disco Green, which I thought was a mistake at the time it was built but admit to being wrong about, downtown is better known for a good tunnel system, a train with a propensity of running down cars, bicyclists and pedestrians, but not outdoor recreation. Again, this doesn't mean that bayou kayaking is a bad idea, only that the image cast by the ruling class and their courtiers of Houston being a collection of sun-averse, mall shopping mole-persons is inaccurate at best, an outright lie at worst.

Yes, people in Houston shop at malls. So do people in Austin, Portland, Seattle and other cities that are considered outdoor meccas.  But people in Houston also shop in Rice Village, Town Centre and a host of other outdoor areas where you can find them walking around outside.  Have you been up to The Woodlands recently?  What the Bayou Initiative is, at it's heart, is a good amenity for people who live inside the Loop, especially in the Heights and in the burgeoning Near Northeast side. It's a great thing for residents of those areas that people who live here might drive down to (since Metro seems incapable of transporting them) during a weekend.

Where Mrs. White falls short is trying to tie this to the great white whale of tourism and the enigma that is economic development.  Houston has always been, and continues to be, a city where business gets done. It is not a tourist mecca, it is never going to be a top convention destination, although it does host conventions.  Houston is a place where people want to live because there are jobs and a relatively low cost of living.  Adding things like kayaking bayous will help increase the quality of living, but not tourism. I also highly doubt that the ability to paddle down a slow-moving estuary will be the kicker that determines whether or not people relocate here.  Economic development is driven by jobs and industry.

What worries me most when I read such ramblings is the history of Houston's leadership to listen to the unproductive class and take their eye off the ball. This proclivity has led to a crumbling infrastructure and a focus on trinkets designed to generate names on plaques which some feel build legacies.  Bayous and downtown parks are nice, as are bike trails. Modernizing and repairing the infrastructure, sequencing traffic lights, pollution control at a street level (Have you seen all of the litter strewn around Houston?) will do far more to improve Houston's reputation than a series of travel ads promoting our bayous to tourists.

That said, Mrs. White has always preferred the shiny over the practical, it's too bad there's little chance of this changing because a region that's as nice as Houston deserves better.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Want tax money? Start a project in a Houston TIRZ.

Since Monday, there have been three stories stuck behind the Chron's pay wall discussing plans to redirect tax monies to private companies.

City may help with Savoy's rebirth. Nancy Sarnoff, Houston Chronicle

City eyes tax break for razing blight. Mike Morris, Houston Chronicle

Houston's Midway to help redevelopment of Upper Kirby's Levy Park. Erin Mulvaney, Houston Chronicle 
Two of the three "investments" are being organized by Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones or TIRZ.  If you've followed my blogging for any period of time you know that I feel TIRZ are a horrible idea for two reasons. One, they (by their nature) pick winning and losing neighborhoods for development, quite often the winners are the affluent areas. Because of this there is less tax money in the till for the overall basic needs of the city. Two, they are ran by unelected boards who are making decisions regarding the use of very large sums of taxpayer money. In essence these TIRZ run with almost no oversight. In Houston, they are not audited in any meaningful way that I've ever seen, although I do presume that the City Controller (Ronald Green and before him Annise Parker) would have auditing authority so the problem probably lies with who's been in the office more than with the set-up of the TIRZ themselves.

Kevin Whited of BlogHouston has deemed these dealings "The Houston Way" and the Way appears to be on the come. In Houston (and Harris County for that matter) our elected leaders don't like being told what to do by the common class, in some cases it offends them when the citizens try.  TIRZ are a good way around that. You set up a TIRZ, place a politically connected individual as Chair, and then let them make the decisions you don't want to make lest people who aren't reaping the benefits become offended.

What this really means is that people who most Houstonians have never heard of, have never cast a ballot for, are given control over huge chunks of taxpayer money that, by law, can only be used within the TIRZ for it's "betterment" not for the good of the community as a whole.

On the surface, this would not be a bad thing. Would that the TIRZ used the money for roads, sidewalks and things that develop infrastructure I would say good on ya' and let's move forward. Unfortunately, most of the things TIRZ spend money on are either trinkets, or give-aways to private business.  TIRZ board members like art and parks and shiny things to which they can affix a plaque with their names on it in perpetuity, not streets and esplanades. And while it's true the TIRZ in the story is going to do sidewalk work, it's really just around the old Savoy with the rest of the money going to the owner of the hotel in terms of tax breaks.  The story of the Upper Kirby park is even worse.

Not that it will blunt any criticism, but I like parks.  I live near(ish) to Bear Creek park in NW Harris County and think it's great.  But these types of parks are really green spaces contained within a builder's control (in this case, in between two buildings owned by the same owner) whose sole value will be felt not by the community in the area, but by the property owner who can now charge higher rents for what are already sure to be upscale apartments. Never mind that the Upper Kirby area is thriving and there's probably no incentive needed for someone to make a go of luxury apartment living, this is a TIRZ project and has been determined to be something in-line with the greater good.

But what is the greater good?

In Houston, it's increasingly becoming a gentrified idyllic Houtopia where the poor can't get access to good public transportation where large increases in rents (which harm the poor) are seen as a good thing and where winners and losers are picked through the natural selection process of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zones.  The problem with the Houston Way, Houtopia and all of these other visions of grandeur is what is happening to the rest of the city while these enclaves of utter happiness and joy continue to insulate themselves from the rest of the city.

In some places, the road system resembles what one might expect to find in a third world country. You could homogenize milk on some parts of Navigation and other streets on the North East side. Even Richmond Ave on the rather affluent West side of Houston feels like you're driving over a moon-scape in places. Elsewhere, the city is struggling to fund the staffing needs of the fire department (whether due to poor management or a political agenda I'll leave to you) and the pension mess is looming on the horizon having been kicked down the road for several administrations now.  Houston does have the new rain tax revenue rolling in, but noises are already being made that even more tax money is going to be needed for repairs to its outdated, crumbling system.

Given all of this should spending tax money on a park and hotel in affluent areas really be the chief area of concern?  Also, how motivated are people going to be to fix blighted buildings if the neighborhoods and roads leading up to them more closely resemble a shanty-town than thriving communities? Of all of the programs above, I have less problems with the plan to redevelop blighted buildings. For one, it's going to be voted up or down by elected officials, and two, it's something that can benefit the city as a whole, not just specific regions. However, I still think a better use of money would be to fix the streets and infrastructure around these buildings, which is something Houston should have been doing all along.

Of Taxation and Corporate Welfare

Democratic activist James Moore penned a thoughtful piece Tuesday morning on taxation in Texas, how it is disproportionately allocated to homeowners, and his suggested fixes.

Taxation, Texas, James Moore, Don't Grow Texas
The people promoting Texas as a location for business constantly push the idea that the state does not have an income tax. While that has some appeal, newcomers learn that there are property taxes that are almost punitive, and that force homeowners to carry the tax burden for corporations. Not only are corporations given huge property tax breaks by municipalities when they relocate to Texas, they are also being provided millions of dollars in tax money from the state’s Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) to bring their companies to Texas. And homeowners are generally subsidizing this with outsized property taxes and valuations. 
No one in the state legislature, or running for a statewide office, is ever going to promote a state income tax to offset property tax increases. But the high taxes on homes are a direct consequence of a legislature that historically refuses to accept constitutional responsibility for funding education.

For some of the above, I find myself in agreement with Mr. Moore.  I've never been a fan of the Texas Enterprise Fund (or it's sister, the Emerging Technology Fund) and I'm not entirely a fan of providing businesses with full property tax credits considering their importance in funding basic state services.  That said, I'm not a fan of the "soak the corporations" school of thought either, understanding that any taxes levied on companies is ultimately going to be passed back to the consumer resulting in higher prices which are a burden on the poor. Nor am I a fan of "soaking the rich". The general ideal in America has traditionally been that we have the opportunity to get rich. By punitively raising the tax rates on the wealthy we remove much of the incentive to improve financially. Calls for increased taxes on the wealthy are horribly pessimistic in that they assume the poor lack the ability to improve their condition and can only be drug up through government largesse.

What I do like are consumption taxes for the simple reason that, through budgeting and sound financial planning, they can be minimized.  I'm also a fan of indexing certain tax rates to price (or CPI), especially commodity taxes.  As prices increase the tax rate would decrease, and vice-versa.  This would provide a price smoothing effect on the price which would make it easier for the end consumer to budget. It would also assure the State a more even revenue stream. I disagree with the idea that there's something wrong because a tax hasn't been "increased in 'xx' years". There's a certain negative inevitability in that thinking that runs counter to the idea of good governance.

The reality of all taxes however is that they serve two purposes, one financial and one political. Calls for blindly increasing funding in schools (In reality: Trying to solve the problem by throwing money at it) are almost purely political in nature. Neither designed to "fix schools" or "provide for the children" it's a pandering shot at voters from politicians trying to paint their enemies as heartless, vile creatures who want to return to a Victorian ideal where children work in factories or live in chimneys.  This is patently false, but it makes for good press release and provides the Texas Lockstep Political Media with a convenient narrative for political columns and editorials. It also rallies the teacher's union vote who see pay increases and bonuses in their future.

Texas made a weak effort at solving some of this problem by passing a corporate income tax in everything but name. In the race for Lt. Governor State Sen. Dan Patrick has one big advantage over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Texas Margins Tax.  That was a tax created for the sole political purpose of offering homeowners property tax relief. This savings was immediately eaten up by appraisal creep.  With that in mind I also support appraisal caps. Five percent would be ideal. I also support tying current appraised value to sales price, especially on commercial properties, but on residential as well.  Of course, to do this would require sales price disclosure which raises another thorny set of issues that might be unworkable in the current political environment. I think it goes without saying that I believe the Margins Tax should be repealed.

One item that's never given serious consideration when discussing education funding is the alarming increase in school district administrative staff.  School districts, allowed to grow unchecked, are currently very top-heavy at levels that don't directly interact with students and are remarkably free from audit requirements. I would argue, at this point, Texas is lacking a true understanding of what it costs to educate one child.  We see numbers thrown around but they have not been subject to any meaningful financial analysis.  While I agree that most education decisions should be determined at the local level I think it's a fallacy to think that every school district is running at peak efficiency.  This issue needs to be sorted out before any meaningful funding discussion can commence.  At the present time, I'm unsure where (if anywhere) audit authority lies and this might require a legislative solution.

The taxation rates at the state and local levels seem to be as fuzzy as they are at the federal level, even in Texas where we consider ourselves a financial beacon.  There is way too much corporate welfare in place, way too much uncertainty in the operational efficiency of our government entities and way too much rhetoric surrounding it all.  Just as I don't think the answer lies in a program of cut & gut, neither do I see a successful future in raising taxes just because.

To me, the answer lies in finding some sanity in our tax code and coming to grips with all of the money we are spending, determining how it is spent, and making sure that our public servants are doing their best to serve the public, rather than building power bases from which to rule.

I'm sure many local and state government officials aren't interested in the opinions of this little blog (and some have told me to not voice my opinion) but I'm concerned that the TLSPM is not offering the public a full vetting of all sides of the issue.  What we often see are news reports in the need to increase funding and raise taxes, never (except as the deranged rants of the fringe right) do we read of the need to audit and improve efficiencies. I think this is something that's been lacking in the debate to this point and it is an idea that needs wide distribution.

Will it make a difference?  I'm pessimistic. I've a feeling most of a liberal persuasion will dismiss it out of hand and the conservatives might as well. Changing tax policy is hard and it requires a considerable amount of political will.  Even mentioning the subject is enough to earn a politician a stiff primary challenger. However, in Texas I think we're nearing the limit of the amount of money we can reasonably expect to squeeze out of the homeowner and something needs to be done to both broaden the base and ensure that the money is spent wisely.  In order to forward this I'm going to look for other writings on this matter and try to publish links from this blog.  I also have more thoughts on tangential issues but, for now, I'll leave it at this.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

United expanding IAH Regional Jet Service

A story, behind the pay wall, at provides details....

United adds roomier regional jets, expands service to Atlanta, New Orleans, Austin. Erin Mulvaney,

The article goes on to say that United is adding the new ERJ-175 to cover the routes which is a big improvement over the 145 and 170's that they've been flying.

The question, in my mind, is: Why expand now?

Could it be that competition for Atlanta, New Orleans and Austin is heating up?

Possibly, but I have serious doubts that one New Orleans flight to Seattle and a British Airways direct shot from Austin to London is going to hurt business too much.  I might wonder if British Airways partnered with Southwest on some kind of feeder agreement into AUS, but I've seen no evidence of that happening.

What I see happening is an United retrenchment at IAH in an effort to stop the bleeding they've experienced of late.  A lot of my friends/acquaintances of a traveling persuasion have good things to say about the ERJ-175.  I've only flown in them a couple of times via Air Canada and found them to be rather hot to fly in.  That said, I like the way UA is choosing to configure them with 12 Business/First seats, 16 Econ+ and 48 Economy seats.  That will make sitting in them comfortable at least.  And they do have good luggage capacity.

This announcement does make me feel that IAH fits snugly into their long-term routing plans, if they would only make some sense as to what they are.  Right now UA has the feeling of an airline that's scrambling for a direction.  The rumblings of ineffective management have been getting louder and UA hasn't done much to counter them.  It's very clear that Jeff Smisek's second-tier strategy isn't working out as planned.  In addition to that, all of the incoming energy executives to the Houston area made UA's decision to "de-emphasize" IAH after the SouthWest/Hobby decision seem short-sighted. This is doubly true if the never-dying promise of PEMEX opening ever comes into being. I would think a strong UA presence at IAH would be uniquely positioned to gobble up most of that traffic.

I don't claim to be an expert in all of the minutia of running an airline (I leave that up to others) but the previous just seems like common sense. And no, I don't think that UA would ever entertain the idea of "de-hubbing" IAH as they did with CLE. IAH is too strategic regionally and they've got huge investments there. It's rare to give up a dominant position when you've worked to hard to attain it. That said, these flights do follow my theory that IAH will downsize from a strong, primary hub to a more regional hub (and gateway to Latin America) going forward.  It's very clear that ORD is now United's primary hub, this announcement does nothing to change that. That doesn't mean that it's not a positive for IAH and Houston air-travel as a whole.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why Lt. Gov Dewhurst Will Not Drop Out. (For now at least)

You can't blame State Sen. Dan (Goeb) Patrick from trying however.

Patrick Aides: Patrick's lead over Dewhurst "insurmountable". Robert T Garrett, Dallas Morning News
Dewhurst is in big trouble, chief Patrick strategist Allen Blakemore told reporters.
He noted that while Dewhurst is a 16-year statewide officeholder, 72 percent of Republicans who cast ballots Tuesday for lieutenant governor voted for someone else.
“The situation for Mr. Dewhurst is rather hopeless,” Blakemore said. 
Forgetting, for a moment, that this metric has no value. (After all a majority [58.55%] also voted against Mr. Patrick and there's little evidence that even half of these votes will fall his way in the run-off) There's little reason for Dewhurst to do anything until this:

Blakemore said Patrick is scheduled to participate in a televised, two-man debate of immigration issues with San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro in the Alamo City on April 15.

It's reasonable to think that the Dewhurst camp is hoping this debate is a disaster for Patrick, a man whose debating chops are relatively untested. Until now he's been known for brow-beating his opponents on his radio show, shutting them off when they start scoring points.  By all accounts he did not win the Republican Primary debate but neither did Mr. Dewhurst. Most non-campaign affiliated observers felt Jerry Patterson won.  Of course, Mr. Patterson ended up finishing well out of the run-off and ended his campaign in embarrassing fashion. That debate was between 4 Republicans and was lightly followed by voters in the Republican primary.  The April 15th debate stands to be much more high profile, on a hot-button topic to which Sen. Patrick has tethered his campaign. A failure here probably won't hurt him much within Senate District 7 (his base of support) but it might cause Dallas, San Antonio and other TX Republicans to wonder if they're backing the right horse in the race.

Mr. Dewhurst needs nothing short of a total disaster for this to move the needle.  Castro needs to make Patrick look small and ineffective, ignorant of reality even.  He needs to make Sen. Patrick appear unfamiliar with the basic facts.  In other words, it's going to take more than snark and pink tennis shoes for Mayor Castro to do any harm to Patrick's chances of election.  If Patrick barely loses, holds his own or wins, he's going to be your next Lt. Governor. Despite that Mr. Dewhurst should hang in until at least that debate because you never know. When it's over he's going to know whether he has a chance or if he's going to be looking for a cushy private sector position in order to cash-in.

All that being said, this debate is a silly political move by Team Patrick. He's got nothing to gain (Mayor Castro is not on the ballot) and everything to lose. There's nothing more at play here than Mr. Patrick's ego.  It's worth noting that stunts like this are why several Republicans have great heartburn about Patrick taking over as Lt. Governor.  The man is less a politician than a carnival barker whose signature legislative achievements have been getting "In God We Trust" added to the TX House and Senate tote boards and a sonogram bill that was only partially upheld by the right-leaning 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Befitting his political career, he's an empty suit.

What this means for Texas Democrats is that they are still in a deep hole. Even an empty suit will probably best Letitia Van de Putte by 30 percentage points. While a Patrick-led State Senate will certainly be further to the right (at least socially) than a Dewhurst-led one, it's not the ideology that worries me.

What I'm really worried about is that Patrick's own need to self-promote and grandstand is going to rub many independents and moderates the wrong way. I worry that, if Patrick becomes the "face" of the Texas GOP, that the fiscal good is going to be washed away with the pandering bad.

And which one do you think the Texas Lock-Step Political Media (and the news-ish agencies) are going to focus on?

Single Visit Reviews: Delta Downs Casino and Stuckey's on I-10

Last weekend the wife and I traveled, spur of the moment, to Delta Downs Race Track and Casino for a quick weekend away.  Below are some thoughts regarding the trip as well as a new format I'm going to try for reviews. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the food.  This is why I fail as a food-blogger.

Without further ado:

Delta Downs

1. The customer service is awful.  Truly horrendous.
2. The Horse betting is fairly solid.
3. The Casino is smoky.  Very smoky. Given the prevalence of modern HVAC systems in some of the bigger casinos in Las Vegas and Oklahoma Louisiana is really falling behind.
4. Tight Slots. Too tight. The secret to good slot play is to entertain you while you're losing your money. Delta Downs fails at this.

Summary:  If you're going to bet the horses, Delta Downs is a nice place.  Although the hotel rooms are over priced and the customer service is, for the most part, pretty poor you can do alright for yourself by talking to most of the bartenders.  The rooms are clean, but dated and lacking the amenities one would expect for the prices they are charging.  The food at the Vista is good. I suggest the venison sausage and chicken Gumbo.  I hear the prime rib is good but I didn't order it.  My wife said the chicken tortilla soup was good, as were the salads.  The bartender was overworked spending most of this time filling orders for people bringing in free meal vouchers.

I've always found Delta Downs to be an odd place to gamble.  Just 30 (or so) minutes down the road there are full service casinos with nicer (and, at times, cheaper) rooms and better customer service which offer table games and a wider variety of slots.  If horse racing is your draw, go to Sam Houston Race Park and save yourself the drive and very high hotel expense. If you're just wanting to get out of town, then drive to San Antonio and visit Retama or Dallas and visit Lone Star Park.

Stuckey's of Winnie

1. Cheap breakfast. (Too salty for me, but we don't cook with a lot of salt so I'm used to that.)
2. Hilariously slow service (It took thirty minutes for them to cook two eggs w/bacon and a ham & cheese omelet.)
3. Paper-thin bacon.
4. Possibly the silliest gift shop in TX.

5. Also....this:

I'm not sure who the artist is but there were about 50 of these, of differing size, hung around the store. I'm guessing the lady is his girlfriend or spouse?  I'm thinking about giving one to my brother as a gag gift for Christmas.

Despite this, it was a fun weekend.  I've found that when traveling your happiness is what you make of it, not how the places make it.  Very seldom have I had an experience so poor that it's ruined my trip.  A much better place to stop for breakfast on the way back is MOZ Grill inside the Crawdad's which you will find at the Bridge City exit off of I-10, right before you get to Vidor.  There's also a Crawdad's in Mont Belvieu that is a good place to stop for a restroom break.

For the most part, excepting a stretch just past Beaumont, the construction on I-10 is completed so the drive shouldn't take you more than 2 1/2 hours. Add 30 additional minutes if you're heading to Lake Charles.

Given that Tilman Fertitta is nearing completion of the Golden Nugget, Lake Charles, I would suggest that as the place to go in Louisiana for a quick weekend away. Despite his detractors, I'm a fan of Fertitta, especially his Nugget Casinos.

NOTE: Review based on a single-visit of each business over the weekend of March 8-9 and is not meant to be a comprehensive "food review" merely a snap-shot of our experience at each establishment. In other words: Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

I was going to comment on yesterday's TX primaries but.....

...There is already much better analysis out there than I could ever offer.

Read these:

Winners and Losers: primary night edition. Perry vs. World

Wendy Davis' primary disaster. WILLisms

The media has been all over the map on this primary, with the national scribes saying the Tea Party is dead (thus proving they know nothing about the Tea Party) and the Texas Lock Step Political media declaring Texas to be a "Tea Party State" (Thus proving the ignorance of the TLSPM about the state as a whole)

In fact, the elections were a mixed bag for both the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, revealed deep flaws in the Battleground TX strategy for "turning Texas Blue" and revealed several flaws in the methodology of the UT/Texas Tribune on-line poll.  It was a good night for Ted Cruz and the Dan Patrick results were surprisingly good (for him) but sounded warning bells regarding his base of support in Harris County.

The only person who came out definitively positive was Attorney General Greg Abbott.  90%, even against no serious competition with the largest amount of votes garnered in recent history is a huge accomplishment and demonstrates the challenges that Democrats have in beating a solid Republican candidate in what is still a fairly red state.

At some point, it might be illustrating to take a look at the vote distribution in the HCGOP Chairman's race in relation to how limited the support for the SD 7 group of 3 really is.  Unfortunately, my next State Senator is sure to be Paul Bettencourt now, which is depressing.

More on frequent flyer programs and how airlines are changing them.

I first saw this story on the PubliusTX Pinboard feed and thought it was worth expansion.

Now may be a good time to bail out of frequent flier programs. Ron Lieber, New York Times
Delta has been crystal clear about its two goals in its communications this week. First, it wants to reward its best customers. And its best customer by far is American Express, which is under contract with the airline to buy $675 million worth of Delta miles each year to give away to its credit card customers.

This dovetails with what I wrote previously on why airlines devalue their miles and what it means for the future of airline travel/status/gaming the system.  For many moves like this and, to a lesser extent, the moves by United and American to place spending minimums on their tier statuses mean the end of the end for cheap, so-called aspirational, travel.  For others, this means a full-on immersion into the world of credit card churning which carries with it high risk and high reward.  It also provides supposedly lucrative incomes for the bloggers who advertise them.

I am not a points and miles blogger so I'll leave it to you whether or not a credit card churn is a smart financial move. My concern is my travel, and using this blog to catalogue my thoughts on it.  For my level of financial risk credit card churns are not worth the bother.  Neither, at least any longer, is earning status on any one airline plan.  My "game" as it's called, is going to be to hammer discount, mistake and other cheap fares to still gain miles, forgo status, and find the best (read: cheapest) ways to pay for the things that matter to me.

In my previous post on the matter I mentioned the "most favored 3" groups of fliers that airlines are now concerned with.  I also brushed against the subject of co-branded credit cards but didn't have the space to truly flesh them out. I plan to piggyback on the paragraph above and do that here.

Borrowing an expression from politics: Co-branded credit cards are the new third-rail of travel. They have penetrated the industry to a point where they are almost sacrosanct. Any mention of eliminating them is viewed as travel heresy.  I say this not to judge against them but to point out the fact that co-branded cards will be with us for the foreseeable future.

So this gives us the Most Favored 3 AND the Credit-Card Corporation as entities receiving the bulk of the airline's attention. This is why I think that the next logical step is to eliminate the middle-to-lower tiers of elite status and replace them w/ credit card perks.  Think about it, fliers purchasing tickets on co-branded credit cards already have preferred boarding status, they already have free bags and they already, in some cases, lounge access for an annual fee.  The only thing that they are missing are mileage bonuses (coming) and inclusion into upgrade lists. I think the latter is coming quicker than people think, albeit on a much more limited basis than you see with the lower half of elites.

For this new class of non-elite, elite there will be entirely new choices to make.  Do you pay with a co-branded credit card, or is your best deal to pay with one of the many cards that offer transfers to several account options (Something like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card), a card that has it's own mileage redemption service (Such as Capitol One) or the usual co-branded card*?  Furthermore, in an unbundled ticket world which airline will truly offer the best "deal" all things considered?

These questions will be important because the new rules make miles earned per dollar spent the key metric when it comes to playing "the game".  Before the focus was on getting as many elite qualifying miles (or whatever your airline of choice calls them) for as little financial outlay as possible.  Today's rules focus on receiving the maximum amount of airline miles per dollar spent.  That might seem like a fine line, but it's a very important distinction.

Complimentary upgrades, brand loyalty and cost per mile are being removed from the game.  Added to the game are price comparisons on many levels.  Ticket price, before the determining factor in fare selection for many, is only going to be one aspect of comparison. Added to that will be baggage fees, check-in fees, food and drink fees, carry-on fees as well as carry-on baggage policy.  This United move, to crack-down on oversized carry-ons might look like a deal killer but, if you're aware of the size restrictions (and they're consistently enforced), this might mean that you have an easier time finding overhead space.  Depending on whether or not you follow the rules to the maximum (for United, one carry-on and one personal item such as a purse, backpack etc. are allowed) then this could mean much more bin space for your items and more leg-room for you.  If such things are important then you might find this to be a factor.

In the new game the good news is that there are going to be many more options available to the discount traveler.  Already we've seen a rise in business class "sales" as airlines try to improve revenue dollars per passenger mile by selling premier product at rates slightly above economy fares.  This has the potential to be very lucrative in terms of accruing bonus miles.  There is also the potential to buy up to premium economy for reasonable rates (which counts against spending requirements on most plans) and I expect that we'll start to see many more fare sales as capacity decreases. (Assuming it does decrease)

The one thing that all of these new opportunities mean is that the savvy traveler is going to have to work just a little bit harder and be a lot more budget conscious if they want to maximize their travel dollar.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, whether or not this is a positive I leave up to you.

*Notice: No referral links. I do not receive referral payments from the credit card companies, nor will I ever.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Houston's New Urbanists cry foul. Angry that New Urbanism is happening in the wrong places.

As a start, I like urban development and I think Houston should have more of it. I especially like urban development when coupled with a robust public transportation system that is structured in a way that a.) moves people from outside into the developed area and b.) makes it fairly simple to get around said area.

You see this type of infrastructure in many of the older European mega-cities. London has an extensive rail network that ends in beautiful train stations from which one can either hop on the Tube or a bus and get pretty much anywhere you want to go within the city center. Paris has a decent metro system, but shoddy bus mapping and a horrendous means of transport to/from the suburbs to the city center.  Because of this London has a relatively affluent suburban system and Paris is subject to periodical riots due to lack of opportunity etc.

In Houston, we're trending more toward the Parisian model of public transit and development, with one large twist.  The twist, as identified by Kevin Whited at BlogHouston (Note: a site where I contribute occasionally) is one of elitism, American style. In Houston, we want our New Urbanist dream but we want it under a specific set of conditions. Those conditions involve not disturbing the suburban-like development in certain key neighborhoods of a certain demographic lean. They don't involve building multi-family structures where single-family homes already exist in a very un-dense environment. The twist involves calling for more in-fill development where "those" people live so as not to disturb the idyllic environment envisioned by predominately wealthy white progressives who have decided their lifestyle choice is somehow morally superior to the rest of us.

This brings us neatly to the current outrage over a planned Olive Garden & Chili's near the Heights. It appears that these types of establishments, places where $9.99 all-you-can-eat pasta are commonplace, are not in line with the white-linen night aesthetic envisioned by the new moral minority. Hilariously, this is leading to questions as to whether or not the area is becoming "suburbanized" which is code-word for "appealing to the masses".  And as we all know the masses are not the type who would pay $35.00/lb for house-made salami.

The problem is not with Olive Garden, but with the people who would dine there. Just as the problem, for Metro, is not with busses to regions that need transportation but with who would be riding. By allowing this mentality to dominate our transportation discussions we're allowing a small group of people to effectively limit public transportation and development in Houston.

Is this really the transportation/redevelopment that we want?

It's the same story with historical preservation, where buildings originally designed to be temporary and aging unused relics draw much attention and needed funds from things that Houston really needs. Houston needs good roads, fixes to it's water system, updated infrastructure, sequenced traffic-lights and a host of other, basic, public goods and services. By catering to Richard Florida's creative class and handing over the key-decisions to the Inner-Loop set we're short-changing neighborhoods and communities in favor of playthings for the unproductive class.

These decisions were made at the ballot-box, based on campaigns that were mute on the issue or made promises of give-aways for all. Politicians and organizations who relied on the votes of certain communities wouldn't dream of telling them that they were going to do the exact opposite of what they promised.  The problem is, the voters never learned.  So we've been hammered with a Metro Board that now wants to reduce bus service to the areas that need it most, a City Council that passed a "rain tax" and is now clamoring for more funds to do the work the tax was earmarked for, a Mayor who has priorities so outside of her campaign speeches as to be almost unrecognizable and a Comptroller who does......well, nothing to be honest, unless it's campaign season.

Houston has let this carry on for a while now, content to be coddled and told stories while the city's infrastructure crumbles around them. We've been fed a diet of world classiness and new urbanism livability substituted for the nuts-and-bolts that actually improve quality of life.  Is there a way to reverse the flow?  I think probably no.  One thing is for sure, our former newspaper of record has no interest in telling the story. Neither do our TV news outlets or even our alt-weeklies.  What we're seeing is a city in decline.  I don't care which side of the political aisle you find yourself that should make you sad.

Unless you're of a New Urbanist lean however, then you're likely to be quite satisfied up to the point the redevelopment encroaches on your view.  Then you're furious.  And well funded, which means you win.

C'est la vie.

Monday, March 03, 2014

When the media gets bit by the travel bug......

...The results are typically a mixed bag.  Here's a sample.

Airline's mileage programs come up short. David Koenig, The Columbian.
Delta Air Lines Inc. said that starting Jan. 1, it will reward passengers for the amount they spend on tickets, not the number of miles they fly. The change to Delta's SkyMiles program will be great for people who buy expensive tickets in first-class, but bad for vacationers who shop for the cheapest fare.

Pretty much a shorter summation of what I previously stated here. The airlines are doing a better job of identifying the customers that they wish to keep and are focusing their marketing/loyalty programs accordingly.

Are Airlines right to change their mileage programs? Christopher Elliot, USA Today
For him, the process feels like a bait-and-switch. To avoid being wedged into a Lilliputian economy-class seat for 14 hours, Beeman says he worked hard to earn elite status on Delta. But when he tried to redeem his miles for an upgrade, the airline wanted even more.
Christopher Elliot is a known critic of both the airlines and loyalty programs. He also doesn't like mileage runners and pretty much anyone who plays the travel game. As is typically the case with him, he gets very close to making some good points here but runs a little off the rails due to his general disdain for the industry/people he covers.

Airlines to coffee shops: what's the benefit of loyalty programs? Melissa Preddy, Reynolds Center
 I was surprised the other day to receive an e-mail from the Best Western rewards program asking me to vote for it in the Freddie awards.  Yes indeed, the hotel and air loyalty programs have their own annual awards; here’s a link to the Freddie site which says this years winners will be crowned April 24 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. 
I've said it before and I'm saying it again, beware travel information from reporters who seem to lack a basic understanding of the travel game.

Do airlines face a pilot shortage or a salary problem? Hugo Martin,
The world’s largest pilot union released a statement last week, saying that the only reason pilots are in short supply is because regional airlines are not willing to pay an adequate, livable salary. Regional airlines carry about 22% of all domestic passengers.

The average starting salary for new first officers in the regional airline industry is only $22,400, according to the Airlines Pilots Assn. International, which represents nearly 50,000 pilots at 31 airlines in the United States and Canada.
The story is lacking perspective from the airlines on the issue of salaries, with the union statement allowed to stand unchallenged, but there is a good point in here that hopefully a better reporter can flesh out.

Boeing Dreamliner puts Austin on the global travel map. Ben Mutzabaugh, USA Today 
A red-carpet welcome awaits British Airways Flight 191 when it lands in Austin on Monday night, giving the quirky-but-booming Texas capital its first-ever regular service to Europe.

The flights to London — to be flown on Boeing's new-age 787 Dreamliner — will make Austin one of the smallest U.S. markets able to boast of trans-Atlantic airline service. 
This is a pretty big deal for Austin, and it illustrates the real potential of the Dreamliner.  This was covered back in September 2013 by the Austin American-Statesman but I missed it. There's no cost advantage (for now) flying out of Austin but this could make British Airways an additional option for European travel in the future.  I'll be watching this closely.

Delta Airlines and the power of great customer service. Ken Krogue, Forbes
Does lightning really strike twice? Is there such a think as Deja Vu? Can people and companies change? Can people and companies just have a bad day? Is one person’s view too limited to make judgement? Are we responsible for things we put in print for the world to see?
Just a reminder that it's unfair to rate an airline on one flight, or even a small handful of them. Things can change fairly rapidly in the travel industry and all airlines are going to have good, and bad, days.  There is no such thing as 100% customer service no matter how companies try to make it so.

Quite a run-down of stories today, some good, some bad, some "meh".  One thing that most travel writers for the mainstream media seem to have in common however is that they rely heavily on miles and points bloggers for their information. I feel that doing that, without disclosing their cozy relationships with the credit-card companies and the airlines, is doing a disservice to readers.