Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Houston Leadership Vacuum: Ready! Fire! Aim! (Lies, Damn lies, and statistics version)

I'm sure at least some of my reader's saw yesterday's story on the horror of increased traffic collisions since the pulling of red-light cameras.

Crashes double at Houston intersections after red-light cameras pulled. James Pinkerton, Chron.com

HPD statistics show an increase of 117 percent over the last four years. While the cameras were in operation from 2006-2010, HPD reported 4,100 crashes at those intersections followed by almost 9,000 crashes during the next four years without camera, including a 30 percent increase in fatal collisions.

However, HPD's data did not show traffic counts over time at the monitored intersections.
(Emphasis mine)

This is a case of selectively presenting statistics with the desire of attending a desired result. In this case, HPD would REALLY like to have back that $10MM per year.

The problem is that without these traffic count numbers this particular set of statistics is bunk.  Since 2010 there have been major road-works projects on area feeder roads (driven on 59 by Greenway Plaza lately?) that have impacted traffic counts and Houston's population has grown mightily since the lights were removed.

That's not to suggest that collisions, including fatal collisions, haven't increased, but a correlation does not equal causation.

One of the biggest problems that journalists have when presenting statistics is that, in many cases, they don't have the mathematical and analytical education to understand what they mean or to apply context. In this case, it appears that Mr. Pinkerton did understand the holes in the data but, either through editing or omission, did no continue the line of thinking to its logical end.

I wish he would have. It wouldn't have meant that the HPD numbers were bogus, but it might have provided a platform to start the City down the road of trying to figure out exactly WHY these collisions are happening rather than just firing a revenue cannon at the problem and hoping it goes away.

It's just another case where Houston's elected non-leadership overreacted to a problem without having a full understanding of what that problem was. As Pinkerton pointed out in the story, the unintended consequences of not taking the time to properly aim resulted in the City spending $4.8MM in settlement money that could have been used to fix some pot-holes. Too many times in Houston the government does this while the Chronicle, and other media, drop the ball in their watchdog role.

From a good governance perspective (as the InterLeft continually reminds us "we all want") this should be priority one for everyone. Sadly, it's not.

Monday, October 27, 2014

How will they govern? The Republican Majority as a whole.

The current Texas election, much the same as recent elections, is expected to be a Republican rout. The brand of the Texas Democrats is so weakened state-wide, their base of support so concentrated, that it will be a major upset should all of the state-wide races and a large majority of the State House and Senate races not tilt the Republicans way.

Amazingly, after 20-plus years of Republican rule, the question "Can the Republicans Govern?"  is still being asked by some members of Texas' Lock-Step Political Media.

Political Monsters. The New Mrs. White, Chron.com

Don't want to vote? So don't. It's the Texan way. Lisa Falkenberg, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$)

Abbott says that, as Governor he would 'be like Greg Abbott'. Peggy Fikac, HoustonChronicle.com ($$$)

Elkins' conflict. The New Mrs. White, Chron.com

UT/TT Poll: Transportation Amendment on cruise control. Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune.

UT/TT Poll: Abbott holds a commanding lead over Davis. Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune

Why Entitlement Reform isn't on the GOP Agenda. Jim Manley, WSJ

Davis ad focused on Abbott's wheelchair raises legitimate questions. Wayne Slater, Dallas Morning News

In the Valley, Van de Putte blasts Patrick, urges students to vote. Christopher Hooks, The Texas Observer


With one exception (the WSJ story) all of the articles that I've chosen carry a common theme: The questions still being raised by the TLSPM as to whether or not Texas Republicans can govern.  It was a question first clumsily asked by a then-relevant Paul Burka in 2003 and it's been repeated as accepted dogma by the TLSPM since that time*.

In 2003, that question made some sense.  Having taken over the entirety of the Texas political process for the first time there were legitimate questions whether or not this group of fresh-faced, politically inexperienced lawmakers could come together, back away from the scary rhetoric and actually create a budget, address the state's issues, and do something besides cut taxes and then wait for the furor to subside.

The good news, if you're a citizen of Texas and not a hard-core partisan, is that they did. The sky did not fall and things pretty much went on as they had for generations.  Yes there were tax cuts, tort-reform and a whole bunch of other things that made Democrats cringe, but the basic functions of government never ground to a halt. (Except for when the Democrats decided to take a vacation in Ardmore, OK)

A much bigger issue is that the Republicans, either through ignorance or indifference, have not done a very good job outlining exactly what they think good government looks like. While "cut taxes" is a mantra that's resonating at the ballot box there's not been an overriding narrative of what cutting taxes looks like in relation to things that citizens expect from their government. When you look at the current iteration of the top of the Republican ballot there's very little to indicate this is going to change.

Abbott, despite his ads speaking about infrastructure and education, has an issues page filled with National red meat for the base Dan Patrick is being Dan Patrick and while he's promoting his vouchers plan for education alongside property tax reductions, he's been off and on that bandwagon for years now and, seemingly, if it does get fixed he's out of campaign material. Glenn Hegar is saying a lot without actually saying anything. And Ken Paxton and George P. Bush are clearly already thinking about a higher office.

Before you shut this down and think that I'm suggesting you should vote against the Republican slate you're mistaken. As a fiscal conservative I think that all of these candidates deserve your vote. The narrative of the TLSPM has been that, especially in the races for Comptroller and Attorney General, the Democrats offer a slate of pragmatic, business friendly candidates who are going to govern against progressive type and not try to bury the state's economy under an avalanche of new business taxes and soak-the-rich policies to make everyone pay their 'fair share'.  This is a happy fantasy, but one that I don't share based on the candidates own statements and legislative histories.

Which brings us back to the narrative. If you only read the TLSPM and nothing else then it's amazing that Texas Republicans can fog a mirror electorally speaking. Part of this is because Republicans such as Perry and Patrick have shown that you don't need the media to win in Texas and part of it is because the TLSPM likes and agrees with the Texas Democrats more often then they like and agree with Texas Republicans. In many ways, those narratives are never going to go away no matter what Republicans do, short of turning to Democratic policies.

Even IF Texas Republicans decided to pivot and support the DREAM Act, fund education beyond the dreams of Avarice, move to change the voting laws to allow for same-day registration and do pretty much everything the TLSPM desires, they would still push for Democrats to be elected because they would still think more would be done if only the right people were in charge.

Clearly the Republican way-forward is with principle. But it also lies in defining exactly what those principles are. What ARE the things that Texas Republicans feel to be 'core government services?' In the linked editorial addressing Rep. Elkin's recent troubles it's a given that the state has the obligation to regulate and eliminate pay-day and auto-title loans.  Do they?  Is it the obligation of the State to clothe, house and properly educate every child regardless of their desire? Does the State have an obligation to provide grants and tax breaks to bring business (and, by extension, jobs) to Texas?

Unlike Lisa Falkenberg, I'm not going to attempt to sit behind my keyboard on a Sunday evening and tell you what you need to think. Nor am I going to belittle you if you think differently than I.  There are, I admit, sound arguments behind both the yes and the no's on all of these positions. Choosing to think yes or no where I think differently is not a sign of mental weakness (as Falkenberg (wrongly) suggests) it's a sign of mental strength.

What I do know is that Republicans need to start doing a better job outlining what are core functions of government and what are not. And Republican voters had better start doing a better job rewarding candidates who take the issues seriously. The second problem will be how to get this message out to the voters, because the TLSPM is not going to be very keen on putting it out there for them.

Finally, Texas Republicans need a leader who's not only solid on the issues, but able to communicate them effectively.  For all of the noise relating to 'demographics is destiny' and Battleground Texas, the sense of inevitability surrounding the two is overblown. To counter this Texas Republicans are going to have to get better at their ground game, in their communications and in controlling their rhetoric. Because, right now, the left is doing a much better job of this and what's really holding them back is a dearth of quality candidates, a national party that's doing whatever they can to blow it and some curious policy positions that are at odds with the electorate. At some point, this is going to change and Texas Republicans will have a fight on their hands.

Conservative Republicans could take huge steps toward winning this fight by clarifying the conservative position now. To do this it's time for conservatives to stop saying what they're against and start saying what they're FOR. I'm not sure if there's anyone in this crop of state-wide candidates that's able to accomplish this however.  I hope I'm wrong.





































*2003 was the first year that Republicans held all of the State-wide offices along with majorities in the Texas House and Senate. In reality Republicans had a strangle-hold on state-wide races for much longer.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Houston Leadership Vacuum: How to torpedo bullet trains.

There's a lot of news coming out today about the proposed bullet train between Houston and Dallas....

Federal officials green-light Houston-Dallas high speed rail environmental study. Dug Begley, Houston Chronicle.

While the environmental study is a first, necessary step, and all looks rosy, I still think there's a better than average chance Houston's sub-par delegation of political officials and "leaders" are going to mess this up.

There's an important take-away, hidden behind the Chron's pay-wall, regarding the investor group behind the current project.

(I'm just going to quote the pertinent quote here and encourage you to go read the entire article if you can)

Robert Eckels, president of Texas Central Railway, the company proposing the line, said in a statement that the notice begins a process, "which, true to our overall philosophy, will be funded with private dollars."
The emphasis is mine.

I've had the opportunity to speak with a couple of people associated with this project and they have all told me that the private-only funding aspect of this is a must-have for the project to go forward. The reason for this is simple: If you start accepting Federal and State funds then you have to meet Federal and State priorities, most of which are designed for political, not profitable reasons.

In business, this is a deal-killer.  Given that this train is going to have extremely high capitol costs the company is going to want the flexibility to have the most profitable route structure possible.  The feeling is the inclusion of additional stops (to provide service to those who can't drive to the train) and other foibles will take away from the utility of the project itself and kill flexibility.

Already, however, we're seeing that some of Houston's dimmer bulbs are already trying to force their way into the action.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee pressing for bullet train between Houston and Dallas. Stewart Powell, Chron.com

Jackson Lee said she had fought hard to secure $15 million in initial funding for Texas’ high-speed rail line from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The potential high-speed rail route between Houston and Dallas will include only one or two stops in between. 
“Japanese and South Korean officials both expressed interest in supporting and providing high-speed rail in the state of Texas,” Jackson Lee’s statement said. 

The lawmaker said she was working to arrange visits to Houston by the foreign officials so they could “see first-hand our needs and plans for an expanded rail transportation system.” 

No offense Ms. Jackson-Lee, but on a $10 Billion dollar project $15 Million is nothing. Furthermore it's a $15 Million dollar grant the company in charge of the project doesn't want. Unless that is Ms. Jackson-Lee is pushing to get a competing project off the ground, one funded with taxpayer dollars and that might run at a loss?  One that's funded by people that she has a relationship with?

It seems fairly apparent that Ms. Jackson-Lee either doesn't understand the current project being proposed, or she's trying to either muscle in, or muscle it out, in favor of another group of investors to which she has previous ties.

A second problem is going to be when politicians start messing with the proposed route.

Routes proposed for Houston-Dallas bullet train revealed. Dug Begley, Chron.com

Again, in conversations with people employed by the train company I've been told that routing and stops will be decided on purely profitable metrics.  If politics enters the fray and say, someone wants to build 10 extra miles of rail to service a neighborhood which makes the line unprofitable the entire thing could go up in smoke.

From the Begley article:

Looking at the southern end in the Houston area, the real decision — which could quickly get political — is which of the two preferred routes is the top contender. While the BNSF Railway option grabs a lot of Tomball area and then hooks along Loop 610 before coming south, the utility alignment connects with Cypress and follows the crowded U.S. 290 corridor in. 

If you need proof that the most destructive force in wealth creation today is politics than look no further than here.  I also question the Begley assertion that these trains will be free of lines and security.  So far we've gotten no assurances from the Federal government that the TSA will not be involved in screening. I think that there will.

All that said, as it's currently designed I approve of this project because whether or not to build it will be based on whether or not money can be made. Obviously the investors think that it can be and their willing to take that gamble.  So be it.

When I'll remove my support is if the current crop of inept Houston elected officials, at all levels, start to try and add public funding components to this which I believe would strip the project of all value and leave us with a cash-sucking boondoggle probably named the Queen Sheila express. At least she'll be able to get her seafood meal one guesses but the rest of us will get the bill for a $10 Billion boondoggle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Houston Leadership Vacuum: A return to Ready! Fire! Aim!

A few years back Anne Linehan and Kevin Whited of BlogHouston spent some time discussing the idiocy of Houston's Ready! Fire! Aim! method of finding solutions for problems that may, or may not exist.  Frequently these solutions were expensive and actually exacerbated other, far worse, problems in an bull-headed attempt to fix something of dodgy provenance.

Fast forward to today:

Officials hope downtown bike lane opens by end of year. Dug Begley, HoustonChronicle.com ($)

The article goes on to focus on the lack of availability of so-called armadillo land dividers and spends much time talking about green epoxy to coat the lanes and how wonderful everything will be once bicyclists have one road lane all to themselves.

It really is a beautiful vision of no-cars with thousands of Houston bicyclists pedaling along, although apparently without the pointy hats reminiscent of 1980's Saigon.

One tiny problem however:

(Just a quick snippet from the HoustonChrnoicle.com news story in respect to their pay-wall. Please go read the entire thing if you can)

It will take some time before officials can judge the lane's effect on cycling, however. Houston's first bicycle master plan is a work in progress ,and Payne said little data is available on Houstonians' bike habits.

"We have not been measuring cycling activity in our city, unfortunately, but we are going to start," he said.

The onus behind this dedicated bicycle lane is to allow riders to safely access and interconnect between bicycle trails on the East and West sides of downtown. The belief being that, again, thousands of cyclists will suddenly fill these lanes, cars will suddenly disappear from downtown and your morning commute will suddenly look more like this:
 
 
Rather than this:
 
 
 
Of course, Peter Brown would tell you that, without a plan, Houston is going to get stuck with this:
 

It seems however that we might end up with this:

Because, and this is typical of Houston, we don't know how much demand there is for bicycle riding in downtown, or any part, of Houston.  The City is not studying it, they aren't tracking it, in reality, they have no idea.

Of course, supporters of bicycling in Houston will wildly point at Critical Mass Houston as proof of case that "thousands" of people are dying to commute to work under pedal power and two wheels.  The flaw in that logic is this: There's a big difference between having some upper-middle class Caucasians joining in on a bit of low-level social protest than there is ditching the car and footing it into work solo on a daily basis.  Critical Mass is popular because it's developed a reputation as being somewhat edgy. The few hard-core bicyclists that made up the core of this ride go on a once-a-month power trip against cars, slam their fists on them, and stick their hands up ordering them to stop as the families, college kids and young professionals slowly meander by taking selfies and getting a tingle up their spine thinking that they're engaging in something that might, just possibly, be a little bit illegal.

I've said before that I take no issue with grade separated bike lanes which allow those who want to to commute throughout the city in spandex and awkward shoes.  I like the addition of bike trails and I think that their construction is a worthy cause.  However, we're talking about cordoning off an entire street lane and making it inaccessible to automobiles, in a city that has a notorious traffic problem and where the Danger train has already made certain areas impassable.

And Houston is doing this without having any idea whatsoever if there's sufficient demand to justify this decision.

Ready!  Fire! Oh....Aim!




Monday, October 20, 2014

Houston Leadership Vacuum: What is the Controller's Office doing?

A lunch conversation over the weekend with parties interested in City of Houston finances got me to thinking.....What's the Office of The City Controller doing lately?

The answer:  Not much apparently.

In 2014 the City Controller has released 3 audit reports and one report of a compliance review.  They have offered up an audit plan for 2014, but none of the 2014 audits have, according  to the site, been completed as of yet.  In fact, the rollover audits from 2013 (which included unfinished audits from 2011 and 2012 FY) has more items on it (Ten) than did the audit plan for 2013 (6 - not including past roll-forward items).

In fact, according to the Controller's website they have not issued and published an audit report since 11-26-2013, If you remember there was controversy surrounding the flurry of releases because of their proximity to the election.

It appears that those charges, hotly refuted by Controller Ronald Green at the time, might have had some merit since his office has released nothing since that date. It's also telling that the latest status update for departmental project is dated 12/31/2013.  This means that it's been almost a year since Green's office has even updated their current status log.

As we move to 2015 there will be a fresh round of municipal elections and rumors are that Ronald Green is considering a run for Mayor. I'm guessing this means we'll finally get some audit reports and an updated status somewhere around October 2015?

Houston has a leadership problem. It also has a fiscal watchdog problem because right now there is no one minding the store.  A City Controller who was performing their duties aggressively and completely would be on top of these audits and would not be continually adding to the roll-forward list. They would be weighing in on the coming Fiscal Apocalypse! in an educated manner and not just trying to work the angles for seemingly political purposes.

Maybe all of this is wrong and maybe the office of Controller Green really is doing a lot of work on audits. If so then they could divert a lot of this criticism by properly reporting results and statuses openly on their website.

Until then, the conclusion has to be made that they're not doing their job.  This all goes back to leadership, where Houston is currently deficient.

Looking to November: The KHOU/Houston Public Media Poll

Last night, on their 10 PM newscast, KHOU released the results of a poll jointly sponsored by Houston Public Media.

Abbott, Patrick command big leads in KHOU, Houston Public Media Poll. Doug Miller, KHOU

Full poll results can be found here including a breakdown between Harris County and Statewide.

In short, the poll has Abbott with a 15 point advantage over Wendy! Davis and Dan Patrick leading Leticia Van de Putte by 12 percentage points. 

Looking over the poll questions (and I'm assuming the questions on the results page are the only ones asked, it's fairly bare-bones focusing just on the races in question and some key issues.

One conclusion by Bob Stein, Houston's bicycling authority, and go-to guy for political analysis for the TLSPM,  puzzled me however:

(from the KHOU story linked above)
The timing of the survey happened to coincide with a period before and after the Davis campaign launched its hard-hitting "wheelchair ad" criticizing Abbott for opposing plaintiffs suing for damages while Abbott himself collected a multi-million dollar settlement over the 1984 accident that left him a paraplegic. As a result, the poll offers a clue about whether the controversial political spot influenced voters.

"It's had no impact on the distribution of the vote," Stein said. "And it's had even less impact on mobilizing people who otherwise, we think, would be supportive of Wendy Davis."
Based on the questions asked, I'm unclear with how Stein is coming up with that conclusion. There is nothing in the poll that addresses the ad, nor is there anything that might suggest the ad's impact. In short, you can't make any inferences on the ad's effectiveness in any area by looking at this poll.

What we're left with is Mr. Stein's personal opinion on how the ad has been perceived, and that's hardly an opinion coming from a disinterested source. These are issues that I have with most Stein polls, not that his methodology is flawed (it's impossible to tell without the cross-tabs and he's not the best at releasing those) but that the fuzzy nature of the responses allow him to make sweeping generalizations regarding results that aren't fully addressed in the mechanics of the poll.

In short, he's editorializing. Injecting his opinion into the poll results because that's the way he thinks things are going. Or, maybe there's something not being released, a question relating to the ad perhaps, that provide some data behind his ruminations?

Who knows?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Getting around Houston: A quick note on the proposed miracle that is Metro's reimagining

Interesting HoustonChronicle.com story today regarding how many well-paying Houston jobs are not accessible by transit:

Great jobs aren't always on the bus route. L.M. Sixel, HoustonChronicle.com($)

In keeping with the Chronicle's determination that many people cannot see their journalism I'll just take a small quote here:

Many families don't have cars and buses don't run where the manufacturing plants are located in the more remote parts of town. That inability to get around leaves many students blocked from taking the very jobs that pay higher wages and provide benefits.

In a city that is as economically diverse as Houston this is a real problem.  What's not discussed in the story, though it should be, is that  Metro's reimagining of the bus lines will make this problem much, much worse as it shunts service further away from these areas virtually eliminating bus service to the East side industrial corridors.

That this has never been reported, or openly discussed, in the debate surrounding this is malpractice.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Houston Leadership Vacuum: The definition of downtown insanity.

Houston's Courtier class, between rounds of desperately seeking attention from Ma Parker, is flummoxed.

For year's now Houston has been stumbling down the road of downtown development. The idea being that by priming the pump (in the form of TIRZ and tax abatements) the City could increase the number of creative class residents which would be a boon to those who think their social standing and party invitation counts could be increased by more exposure to the Millennials who primarily make up this group.

Despite these efforts, Houston's Downtown, urban population has not exploded as developers experts predicted they would. This is a problem for the good folks in the party scene because they feel they might just be missing out on something trendy and hip, possibly even an elbow-rubbing with BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z.  The horror.

Amazingly, the answer to all of this is MORE downtown subsidies.

So, to recap.  The Millennial groups are angry that there are not enough loft-apartments downtown for them to live and play reindeer games.  To fix this they are demanding that more City tax money be spent on developing high-end, luxury apartments downtown.

And if you don't?

Not world class.....or something.

Of course, they pay lip service to so-called "affordable housing" but in reality they only want that housing to be built in approved areas. It's just like the Ashby High-Rise folks who, while demanding urbanization for others, grouse loudly when the urban dream interferes on the wrong part of town.

Downtown Houston already has TIRZ and other mechanisms which drain tax money from the remainder of the city proper. This is done because some developers, and wealthy Millennial groups have decided that they want to live a certain way on the public dime.

To accomplish this goal they will generate maps and provide non-sequitur data from other cities to somehow show that Houston is "falling behind". Never mind that Houston's current environment generates jobs and growth.  What they really want is a gate to be built around their idea of Utopia, and some facsimile of foreign cities that never really existed.

Oh, and they want you to pay for it. Never mind that it hasn't worked historically. This time will be different.

The really sad thing is that what passes for leadership in Houston is running right along with this madness....because world classiness or something or other I'm not sure what.  Meanwhile, Houston is devolving into a pock-marked, flooded mess and the same officials who green-lighted this removal of monies from the general fund are crying poor and fiscal calamity.


Thursday, October 02, 2014

Travelog: Two tales of customer service. United vs. Avis

I had to chuckle just a little bit when I saw this story about how United Airlines (inadvertently I'm sure) treated a customer recently.

United Airlines refers to customer as "Mr. Human" in reply to complaint. Lee Moran, New York Daily News

When a Florida reporter registered a complaint with United Airlines, he may have expected a heartfelt note back addressing his gripe.

What he wouldn't have anticipated, however, is being sent this email where the airline called him the ever-so-friendly "Mr. Human" an astonishing three times.
I'm not surprised by this, not in the least.  Because, if you've spent anytime dealing with United customer service it's pretty clear that the company provides them scripts from which they are forced to follow, with no alternatives, in conflict resolution.  The solutions are in place whether they benefit the customer or not.

I'm going to provide two recent examples of (embarrassingly) identical situations and explain how both Avis and United handled them.  You be the judge.

First: A few key admissions.

1. In both of these cases the fault was ENTIRELY on me.  There was no blame to be placed on either companies.  I messed up, and I admitted as such.

2. At no point did I ever argue with either company over the eventual result of the process.

3. I do not believe that United was inherently wrong in their approach to the situation. Customer (flyer) Unfriendly?  Yes. But, can I fault them?  Not really.

Scenario One:  On a business trip in Denver I dropped off my rental car at the Avis Car Return in DEN.  I then hopped on the shuttle bus to the terminal.  About half-way to the terminal I realized that I had left my suit-jacket and tie in the back-seat of the car.

I stayed on the bus and rode back to the rental center, found a worker who pointed me in the direction of lost and found.  When I arrived at lost & found they could not find the car (it had been immediately driven to a city location for a rental). To further complicate matters, my rental agreement had the wrong license plate on it.  Sensing no hope I left my information with Denise, the very nice lost and found clerk, hopped on the bus and rode back to the terminal.

The next day I received a message from Denise.  They had found my jacket and tie and were shipping it via FedEx to my house.  I received it about three days later.


Scenario Two:  On a business trip to Midland I left my Samsung Galaxy 7 tablet in the seatback pocket of the airplane.  I had put it there to take a nap (this was the return flight) and was dead tired. I forgot the tablet and did not realize it was missing until I got home.

I immediately reached out to the best customer service outlet United has, the Twitter team.  They said they would forward my information to some people who gave me a link to fill out a claim form.  I filled out the claim form and waited.

That night, at around 10 AM, I received a call from Jerry in Florida.  It seems that my tablet flew from Houston to Corpus Christi, back to Houston and then to St. Petersburg Florida where the cleaning crew found it that evening.  I was also told at that time that the ONLY WAY United would return the item to me was for me to set up a FedEx account so they could bill me.  I was not given an option to use UPS or the USPS or any other solution that might work for me.  "This is company policy" it was explained.

Having no choice, and being the idiot who left his tablet in the seatback cushion, I set up a FedEx account (that I will probably never use again since I typically ship through UPS), which included providing credit card information, etc. and called David with United the next morning who took my information and shipped the item back to my house as I requested.  It arrived two days later and I should note that everyone I spoke to was very polite. I have no issues with how this was handled on a professional, personal interaction level.


Which leads us to the question:  What did United do wrong here?

In my opinion, nothing really.  As I stated earlier, I was the one who left my item behind (in both cases) and I really had no problem taking care of the payment to have it shipped.  I would have gladly paid had AVIS asked me to.  I don't believe that it's necessarily on the company to take a financial hit (albeit a tiny one) just because one of their customers (me) is inattentive.

That said, which policy is more customer friendly?  And which company is currently spending Millions of dollars advertising themselves as "Flyer Friendly"?

As with the 'Mr. Human' response there's a lot of evidence that United customer service is doing nothing more than reading from scripts.  This human has problem X, send them form letter X. This person has problem Y, send them instructions Y and tell them there's no other option but option Y.  Yes, this ensures a consistent response to many problems but not always the best response. 

True customer service takes work and a staff that really enjoys interacting with people and finding them solutions. They also have to be experts at informing the customer when there is no possible solution that is going to make them 100% happy.  It takes a special talent to tell a customer that, although they might not always be right, they are always the customer and there may be additional options available to help resolve their problem.

Pre-printed scripts, form letters and one-size-fits-all "solutions" are a way to ensure that no one CSR goes off the reservation, but they don't always solve the root cause of the problem or make the customer feel valued.

United was right to assume that I would pay for shipping, and I had no problem doing so. In fact, I was surprised that AVIS decided to pay for what was basically my mistake. 

So, from that perspective I guess you could say it's not that United did poorly, only that others are doing it much better and, in today's travel world, that means they're falling behind.


The 2nd thing to learn from this story is that after two solid weeks of business travel I am not operating at peak performance.  I've never left anything behind while traveling before. yet twice in two weeks I left two items of some importance.  Of course, I'm done putting things in seat-back pockets and I'm not taking the rental car to the drop-off again without making sure everything is in it's appropriate place ready to go on the plane.

So there's a lesson in this for me as well.

Looking to November: The history of the Texas Lyceum Poll

The release of the Texas Lyceum Poll is traditionally the high-water mark for Democrats in the run-up to Texas State-wide elections. This year is no different ($) as the current iteration of the poll has revealed that (Gasp!) Wendy! only trails Greg Abbott by NINE PERCENTAGE POINTS!  There is glee in all of the land and Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Will Hailer is reportedly already prepping dozens of tweets with grammatical errors to celebrate the news.

There are some problems however, as today's HoustonChronicle.com article briefly mentions....

Davis Claims Momentum as Abbott touts $30MM in War chest. Patrick Svitek. HoustonChronicle.com ($)

(In respect of the Chron's wishes for their reporting to not be read, I only take a smidgen of their work to reproduce here)

Republicans flagged a number of problems with the Lyceum poll, starting with its finding that 48 percent of Texans approve of President Barack Obama - several points above the national average in a solidly red state.

What the Republicans are saying is true.  A quick review of recent history suggests that the Texas Democrats might want to not start measuring the drapes in the Texas Governor's Mansion just yet.

Let's review:

2010 Gubernatorial Race:

Texas Lyceum Poll: Rick Perry 48%  Bill White 43%

Actual Results: Rick Perry 55%  Bill White 42.3%

In 2010 Lyceum had White close, almost within the margin of error.  There was much celebrating and mocking of Perry in Democratic circles. Talk amongst the InterLeft was of finally getting access to the Texas Governor's Mansion, maybe live-blogging a state dinner from an ante-room, possibly getting an embossed invite to White's Inauguration (but not the after party). As Perry would say....Oops.


2013 Lyceum Poll and President Barack Obama

A 50% job approval rate.

If you honestly believe President Obama has enjoyed a 50% approval rate in Texas then you're not paying attention.  Texas has long trailed the National Average in many polls and remains one of the most solidly Red states in the Country.


2011 Lyceum Poll and President Barack Obama

A 51% Job Approval Rate

It takes a special disconnect with Texas to ever think the President had a majority job-approval rating here.


Based on history I would suggest that the Texas Lyceum Poll is around 7-8% biased toward Democrats. I'm unsure whether they are over-sampling Democrats or over-weighting them to achieve an expected result but, based on the cross-tabs, I'm thinking it's probably a little of both.

For people who don't understand polls and the nature of sampling this is all just a bunch of words that have little meaning. If you do understand polling however I urge you to go look at the Lyceum cross-tabs and make up your own mind.  To their credit, they do provide them for scrutiny free of charge.

This is not to suggest that the Texas Lyceum is biased. Looking over their List of Directors, Executive Committee and Advisory Council it appears that the group is only slightly weighted toward liberal membership. Of course, this is normal of almost any think-tank group that doesn't identify as conservative.

What this does suggest is that the Wendy! campaign, Texas Democrats and the InterLeft are going to be all worked up and (in one case at least) blockquoting the HoustonChronicle.com story with glee. If history is any indication of future results however they're going to do this only to face a margin of defeat of around 17-18 points come the morning of November 5th. 


One additional aside:  One of the reasons polls like the one from Texas Lyceum and the horrible on-line poll from the Texas Tribune are given such weight is due to the fact that most media outlets in Texas aren't running their own polls any longer.  This has really led to a dearth of good polling results and makes it that much harder to identify the outliers or one's with questionable methodology.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Texas Politics & Media: Reporting on the Texas Enterprise Fund - How things are vs. how the #TLSPM wishes they are.

Most of this morning's noise related to the Texas Gubernatorial Debate between Greg Abbott and Wendy! Davis last night relates to accusations of shady goings-on in the early days of the Texas Enterprise Fund.  The audit report did not call out Abbott's office or State Senator Wendy! Davis specifically but that's not stopping the Texas Lockstep Political Media from trying to make this into a Wendy! campaign issue.

Abbott kept dealings of Texas Enterprise Fund under wraps. Wayne Slater, Dallas Morning News

When The Dallas Morning News requested, under the Texas open-records law, a copy of the application of a company seeking taxpayer subsidies, Abbott said no. He ruled that the applications for money from the $500 million job-creation fund might contain confidential corporate information.

The company was Vought Aircraft, which wanted a $35 million subsidy to expand in the Dallas area.

But as it turns out, there was no application, a state audit released last week found.
Had the attorney general responded to the newspaper’s open-records request in 2004 by disclosing that Vought — and other businesses with their hands out — were getting millions in state money without submitting applications or specific promises to create jobs, it might have been an early signal of problems bedeviling the fund.

What Slater is doing here is a classic case of wishing things were as he wants them to be rather than as they were.  In fact, during the audit period, the letter of the law suggested that applications were not required, and that their release could only be obtained under very limited terms.

In short, during the time of the Dallas Morning News' request Abbott's opinion was well within the limits of the law.  What the DMN was asking of Abbot, and wishes he had done, was to violate the law so that they could take additional shots at Rick Perry.  It's important to note that, no where in the audit, was the judgment of Attorney General Abbott questioned. 

These are the things that drive ideological columnists doubling as journalists mad.  What Slater is really trying to do here is generate an issue for his "side".  True, it was Slater who penned the scathing criticism of the Wendy! autobiography, something that he has since backed away from due to the debilitating start it created for her campaign.  I would even argue that this Gubernatorial race is not Slater's main objective.  What Slater is really working to de-rail is Rick Perry's speculated bid for the Presidency.

The thing is I think the TEF is going to de-rail Perry's Presidential ambitions without the help of the TLSPM.

When it passed in 2003 there were several misgivings among fiscal conservatives regarding the need or efficacy of such a fund.  Never mind that funds of this type are always subject to graft and fraud, the way this was set-up, with almost all power for fund disbursement residing in the Governor's office, there was going to be little that could be done (legally) to prevent fraud until well after the fact.

Fast forward 10 years and what many of us said back then is now coming true.  The problem is, most Democrats don't want to eliminate this fund (Wendy! wants to keep it but with her in control while Abbott has suggested it needs to be eliminated) but only have the purse-strings attached to their offices. In other words, keep the corruption and graft but change the name of the beneficiary.

When all is said and done I don't think this moves the needle any in the race for Governor. All of the people who are offended by this are already in the Wendy! camp and Abbott can claim enough plausible deniability to allow his supporters to shrug it off as just another Rick Perry mess that's falling down on the shoulders of good conservatives.

As a matter of fact, I think the only people who will suffer from this are the Texas taxpayers who are now going to have to shell out Millions more dollars to settle the political need for a pound of flesh.

This is just another in a long list of examples where the TLSPM cannot be relied upon to report an issue on the straight and narrow.  There are enough damning items in the TEF audit to allow scalp-takings, it's too bad we have to try and alter past reality to try and get additional scalps from those who have no real skin in the TEF game.