Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year: A hopeful peek into Houston's 2015.

Congratulations Houston, you made it through 2014 unscathed except for some minor potty/religious scuffles and now you're looking down the barrel of a 2015 that appears to portend some rough times.

With oil continuing to free-fall all of the politicians who have so-far taken the credit for Houston (and Texas) economic growth are suddenly being slapped in the face with dual realities. The first is that oil is a global commodity and they have little to say in its pricing. The second is that, despite all the talk of a diversified economy, being the energy capitol of the world still means that as the price per Bbl goes, so goes Houston.

With those thoughts in mind let's take a look into the future to see what (we think) awaits Houston in 2015.

Mayor Parker: Having negotiated the Great Urinal Compromise of 2014 (and then having been struck down trying to subpoena and restrict religious speech) our fair city's mayor illustrated that she does in fact hold a grudge when she wished her Facebook followers a happy Chanukah and a joyous Kwanzaa but not (noticeably) a Merry Christmas.

Prediction for 2015:  Mayor Parker just can't help herself. At heart she's really, really anti-Christian/Conservative and doesn't like those people who disagree with her politically. She's already stated that politics is personal so why expect anything different in her last year in office?  For 2015 YDOP is predicting that, one Sunday after attending Church, Parker will announce a new city ordinance that outlaws anti-GLBT messages from the pulpit.  The penalty for violating the ordinance will be having to sit and watch Juan Carlos roller-blade for 24 straight hours. On her way out, she'll thank everyone except for those "religious nut-job poopy-heads" who stood in the way of her benefiting financially from new benefits rules for all. Juan Carlos will then file a lawsuit (aided by Chris Bell) seeking $10 Million in unpaid overtime.

The Astrodome: 2014 was an odd year for the Dome as it was jilted by the Texas Historical Commission but wooed by Judge Ed Emmett on multiple occasions in preparation for something. It was given a facelift for reasons vaguely related to the Super Bowl.

Prediction for 2015: Desperate to not be known as the "man who tore down the Astrodome" Ed Emmett will get increasingly desperate as each and every one of the plans put forward are proven to be economically unfeasible. In an 11th hour bid to save the Dome from demolition Emmett is going to announce that he and the Dome are, in fact, getting married and that any further attempts at demolition would cause him undo grief and harm. The Art Guys (aided by Chris Bell) will immediately file a lawsuit claiming Emmett stole their intellectual capital and would demand damages except that no-one remembers exactly who they are. Bell announces that he'll stay in the lawsuit because Emmett is a Republican and he desperately wants to beat a Republican at something.

Urbanization: 2014 was a great year for Houston's unproductive class as former Mayor Bob Lanier finally passed allowing David Crossely to finally say that he's hated Hizzoner for all these years.

Prediction for 2015: With Lanier's candidate vetting machine out of the way I expect David Crossley to push for his son, Jay Crossley to run for something in Houston in 2016, with the announcement coming in 2015. Expect groups like Houston Tomorrow to start putting forward candidates in each city election, not being satisfied with picking what they view as the best of the worst that were previously given the green light by Lanier. Finally, sometime in 2015 Christof Spieler's ego will finally inflate to the point that he's no longer able to fit inside the light rail system and he'll be relegated to riding in a limousine like the rest of Metro's bigwigs. On a final note, Houston will finally get its swimming hole which will immediately be closed due to blistering of swimmers caused by ground-water contamination from nearby Buffalo Bayou. Users of the Swimming hole will then file a lawsuit (aided by Chris Bell) seeking $20 Billion in damages due to their no longer being able to gain employment as hand models.

Preservation: Look, saving the soul of the city is hard. Doing it when you can't decide what is, and what isn't, historic is even harder. In 2014 the preservation movement was both maligned and joyed over many, many minor dust-ups. The biggest thing they're missing is that it's the business interests who actually create value that are really running things.

Prediction for 2015: In a desperate attempt to save the city's history multiple preservation groups will join together in 2015 and announce that everything not related to either McDonald's or Wal-Mart is, in fact, historic and demand that nothing be torn down ever. In order to facilitate this bold new plan of action a committee will be formed who will meet every Wednesday morning at one of Houston's many Starbucks for coffee and iMac blogging. The movement will then vanish in a whiff of irony. Angry at Starbucks the remaining preservationists will then file a lawsuit (aided by Chris Bell) seeking $10 Billion in damages because Starbucks did not properly disclose that they were, in fact, a for-profit corporation.

Education: HISD needs a shake-up. With Superintendent Terry Grier under increased fire for poor academic performance 2015 is sure to be one full of action.

Prediction for 2015: Understanding that, in Texas, High School football is King, Superintendent Grier will announce that former University of Houston head coach Tony Levine will be brought in as director of HISD football operations. This will have disastrous consequences as every HISD football program will lose their first game to schools that have previously not competed at the UIL level. Teacher's Union Head Gayle Fallon will eventually limit all of her responses to "Terry Grier is a wimpy putz" and will be disgraced after being seen Christmas shopping for Grier at the Galleria. Thus embarrassed, Fallon will file a lawsuit against the Galleria (aided by Chris Bell) seeking $30 Million in damages for "failing to properly protect her privacy".

Media: In 2014 the Houston media landscape saw major changes. Dave Ward finally retired from Channel 13's 10 O'clock newscast and the Houston Chronicle announced it was leaving downtown for the former Houston Post's Brutalist, military-style compound on 59.

Prediction for 2015: TV News Media will have a rough year in 2015 as it's revealed that Chita Johnson is actually a computer generated composite of Scarlet Johannson and Erin Andrews. Her voice is actually that of a 50 year old chain-smoker from Pittsburgh. The Chronicle will announce the formal splitting of Chron.com and HoustonChronicle.com into two separate entities. Chron.com will be renamed Sideboob.com and will focus on entertainment and racy pictures of Houston Texans cheerleaders with constant links to sites like Deadspin and TMZ. HoustonChronicle.com will become GreyMatters.com where Managing Director Vernan Loeb and Lisa Grey will announce that they are rebelling against the Hearst Corporation and are changing their titles to the King and Queen of mediocre blogging. The Heart Corporation will then file a lawsuit (aided by Chris Bell) announcing that they promised Jeff Cohen the title of King and that Loeb and Grey are usurping the natural order of things. They would seek damages but it's thought that the Chronicle lacks the recourses to pay much of anything.  Just in case a couple of thousand dollars is found Bell states that he's going to continue to advise.

Sports: Unfortunately, Houston's teams are a little moribund at this point and are, with the exception of the Astros, floating around the fringes of title contention. UH and Rice found themselves on the outside looking in, again, when it comes to big-time college football.

Prediction for 2015: This year will mean more of the same as the Texans see improvement in 2015 to 11-5 and lose in the first round of the NFL playoffs to a suddenly resurgent Oakland Raiders team coached by Rex Ryan. The Rockets will announce the sudden trade of their entire roster for a group of undersized power forwards that Daryl Morey will term "assets". Sports talk media will instantly say that "In Daryl they trust" and that they expect a championship soon.  The Astros will finally drop all pretense and trade away every major league caliber player on their roster for a group of prospects, all while raising prices 500% in a move Jim Crane will call "building for the future". The Dynamo will shock experts by failing to score a goal in their first 10 home games which will suddenly be explained away as a result of poor sight lines caused by protestors chaining themselves to downtown buildings scheduled for demolition.  UH and Rice will continue to find themselves on the fringes of National relevance as it's discovered that the new TDECU Stadium was, in fact, built with faulty concrete that will not accept a coat of paint leaving the interior to look perpetually unfinished.  John McClain will give everyone a grade of F-. Stung by these grades the various sports entities will file a lawsuit (aided by Chris Bell) asking for $100 Billion in damages due to McClain's "bullying".

Politics: With municipal elections looming, and a lawsuit over campaign finance rules expected to come down before year's end (in other words, sometime on Wednesday) the outlook for Houston's political landscape is promising.

Predictions for 2015:

Mayor's Race: Chris Bell will announce that he is running for Mayor and then will immediately run out of funds and will be forced to re-run his "moonshot for education" adds. The only difference will be is that he will dub out 'Texas' with 'Houston' which will make the ads sound like Die Hard when played on TNT. Sylvester Turner will come into the race as the prohibitive favorite (again) and will lose in a run-off (again). Sheriff Garcia will take one look at the bureaucratic mess that is City Hall and will realize that he's got it pretty good and back off. In a surprise move Metro Chairman Gilbert Garcia will enter the race at the 11th hour and will win a run-off against Turner by having many people vote for him thinking they are voting for Sheriff Garcia. His first act will be to decree that anyone driving a car downtown who is not either the Mayor, a member of the City Council, or a director at Metro. Violators of this rule will be forced to clean the light-rail tracks with a toothbrush. He will then declare Houston's congestion problem solved and will spend the remainder of his term on an economic junket to the South of France.

City Council: Michael Kubosh will announce that he's "running an open-ended campaign" for any race that it looks like he can win.  This will cause great consternation and will lead to a lawsuit from Chris Bell because "Hey, I need the money." In a surprise move the men's urinal from Poison Girl (now given rights thanks to the HERO ordinance) will run unopposed in District C due to everyone forgetting that Ellen Cohen is term-limited and will immediately announce that he's A-OK with anyone and everyone using him.  This will cause a great firestorm as transgender activists everywhere decry the oppressive patriarchy of urinal design. They would ask Chris Bell to sue on their behalf but he declines since urinals are not (in his mind) a growth industry.

City Finances: With the Mayor out of town and Chris Bell suing everything in sight desperately seeking a financial settlement it will go unnoticed that the pension fund has totally collapsed and the City of Houston attorney's office is totally unequipped to deal with this.  Enter Ben Hall, who will leverage his experience and horrible campaigning skills to convince Mayor Gilbert Garcia (via Skype call of course) that he's the man who can lead the City back to greatness.  Once installed as 'Guru in charge of all things Pensioney.' Hall hires former Controller and City Council member Ronald Green to take the point on these issues. Green then disappears for a full year returning right before the next round of elections saying something about his recent appearance being not related in any way to politics.  In a strange twist new Houston Controller Carroll Robinson admits that he really doesn't have any clue about how all of this finance gobbledy-gook works and announces that he will be relocating his base of operations to the South of France to 'consult' with Mayor Garcia.

Party politics: After years of infighting Jared Woodfill and his hairdo will announce a split over a disagreement regarding hair gel. It appears that Woodfill's hair prefers free-trade organic gel and not the Brylcreem that Woodfill has been using for years. Suddenly flush with green credentials Woodfill's hair is immediately elected Montgomery County Democratic Chair because no one else wants the job.  In June, the Harris County Republican Party and the various Tea Party groups will declare an impasse in negotiations with the Tea Party groups saying "At this point, any hope of reconciliation is dead" while the HCRP will announce that they have "kicked the professional dividers out of the room once and for all."  From his offices in Austin former quitter and Harris County Tax-Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt will remind everyone that "He's been watching the goings on and that the Taxman knows who's been naught and who's been nice" and that, if he has to, he'll come back to Harris County to straighten things out once he finishes this load of Dan Patrick's laundry. Later in the year Bettencourt will announce that he's quitting the Texas Senate to pursue a "too good to pass up" opportunity running a Dippin' Dots truck.  Ice Cream of the future and all.

Economy: With oil falling and screams of doom resounding it's going to be hard to predict much good for Houston.

Predictions for 2015: Having to face down the reality that many planned projects are no longer financially viable in the current environment, Houston's oil and gas production companies will accelerate the laying off of petroleum engineers and well service technicians. This will lead to a glut in the employment market which will lead to a curious increase in the prevalence of "Bettencourt's Dippin Dots" (Ice Cream of the Future) trucks circling the city on a consistent basis. Suddenly unemployed former Mayor Annise Parker announces that her new venture will be a company specializing in a more equitable design of the traditional urinal. Meanwhile, most Houstonians will tune all of this out and continue to go about their daily lives trying to make ends meet. Small business owners will still continue to try and navigate the labyrinth that is Houston City Regulation and people will continue to move into the region because it's still better than most everywhere else.



Note: There's a high probability that none of this comes true.  In the meantime, have a Happy New Year and continue to laugh.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Death to the year in review (and other stories)

As we rapidly approach the end of an utterly forgettable 2014 with our eyes firmly set on what (we hope) will be a much better 2015, there's plenty of yearning and heartbreak over the year that was. Unfortunately, it seems that those who write, either for a living (the media) or as a hobby (bloggers) can't help but force us to take a trip down memory lane, for better or worse, in a ham-fisted attempt to remind us what they think was important and how we're not placing enough weight on those items.

I'm referring, of course, to the increasingly prevalent 'Year in Review' features that every newspaper, TV Station, web-site and blogger feels the need to release. Usually, they're liberally sprinkled with content from their own organs which, in reality, means that these histograms are nothing more than some chest-beating masquerading a walk down memory lane. "Remember the time we wrote about...." and what-not.

Maybe it's nothing more than my proclivity to look-forward rather than backwards but I think we've reached the point where this tradition needs to come to an end.

Yes, it is important to understand history in it's context so that we can learn from our mistakes (and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it) but many of these year-in-review pieces discuss news items of such recent history that any context they may develop over time is stripped away in the immediacy of partisan wailing and gnashing of teeth.

While it's very easy, journalistically, to take a look back to one of Obama's many rounds of golf in 2014 it's very difficult to place any true perspective on it. It's also silly to say that the ACA is sure to be Obama's legacy when we're not even sure if it's going to survive the decade.

The same holds true for The Texas Tribunes (apparently) comprehensive and (supposedly) authoritative tome on the Perry "Legacy". In reality, this is a silly exercise in journalistic ego-building trying to set a road-map for historians who will probably ignore the thing anyway.  The fact is, it's impossible to define what is (and is not) a politician's legacy while he (or she) is still occupying the office.

Part of the problem, I think, is the inability of society to take the long view. Currently, we live in an instant gratification world spawned by the Internet and (still relatively) easy credit. It's partly the fault of the general public that we require of our media (and newsish sites) to provide us historical context now.

The truth is that whatever legacy is ultimately affixed to Perry in the historical canon will evolve and emerge over the period of many years as the full effects of his policies and leadership will be realized.

So let's call for an end to the 'year that was' stories and start focusing instead on the year that might be. We can have no effect on the events that already happened but we can influence those that will. I think the latter is a much more productive use of our time than is the former.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Houston Area Leadership Vacuum: When the last real leader passes on, the middling regional news daily struggles to encapsulate his legacy.

On Sunday, Decmber 21, 2014 Houston's former Mayor Bob Lanier reportedly passed quietly while napping after a lunch with family. It was a quiet exit for a good man and the last real leader that Houston's had in elected city government since he was term limited out of the job.

What Mayor Lanier did for the City of Houston, revitalizing her at the tail end of the oil bust by focusing on public works and public safety at the expense of trinkets, has not been duplicated by the string of empty shells that have followed. While he was immensely popular with many he did have his detractors, many of which will never forgive him for a perceived litany of sins. An example of this can be found in ChronBlog's rather weak attempts to document his time in power. Now fully immersed in the 'light rail for some' movement they can't help but quote figures like noxious member of the unproductive class David Crossley while editorially taking shots at Lanier (and allowing Bill White some odd historical revisionism) about his opposition to rail.

It's too bad that the New Mrs. White and the rest of the Chron are reduced to this because the lessons Mayor Lanier taught the city as its mayor need to be relearned.  Current Mayor Parker went so far as to praise Lanier for his commitment to public works despite the fact that she possesses no similar commitment herself. 

And while do-nothings like Crossley take shots at Lanier for his anti-Monorail and Light Rail in Houston stances, the current fiscal mess that Metro is experiencing suggests that he was correct. Certainly he deserves better than petty shots taken by a man who's done nothing to improve the quality of life in Houston outside pontificating and holding workshops about the inner-beauty of bees (or something)?

In fact, I think Lanier deserves a lot better.

Was he perfect?  No, no one is. There are real policy areas where disagreements could be had with almost everyone.  The important thing to note is this: Whether or not you agreed with Mr. Lanier on the issues, he was undoubtedly a leader.

Houston could use more like him, and less like the current crop of civic loudmouths that are currently trying to steer the ship.

God Bless the Lanier family and comfort them during this time.

Monday, December 15, 2014

BadMedia: Maybe if the Chron stopped focusing on Austin and Dallas they wouldn't get scooped so much locally?

Grey Matters, the self-indulgent, overwrought "thought blog" currently being championed at every-turn by Houston Chronicle Managing Editor (And Grey Matters Contributor FWIW) Vernan Loeb is indicative of everything wrong about Houston's middling regional daily.

Rather than discuss ideas from a diverse cross-section of Houston thinkers it chooses instead to apply a strict, progressive filter to it's classification of brilliance. This would be OK if it were a personal blog typed out by someone not affiliated with a so-called "news" source but, considering the Chron's self-identification as a media outlet, it reflects poorly on the editorial lean of the publication as a whole.

On top of all this: the newspaper felt the need to create a manifesto. Historically things (or people) with manifestos have not found good ends.

This would be OK if Grey Matters took seriously the job of reporting all things Houston with an open heart and mind.  Unfortunately, they don't.  What they do provide, at times, is a little bit of insight into the mind-set of the editorial group which has, for years now, led the Chron down a dark tunnel of irrelevance.

To whit:

The Trouble with Austin. Lisa Grey, GreyMatters @ HoustonChronicle.com

It's probable, that when Ms. Grey wrote this she didn't realize just how silly it would look coming from a newspaper in a city that cannot either pave it's roads properly or maintain it's water system. It's also probable that Ms. Grey was under orders (which I'm assuming are running orders) to increase page clicks. As a matter of fact, it feels like most items on both chron.com and houstonchronicle.com($$$) are designed with page clicks, and not actual newsworthiness, in mind. So from that perspective it makes sense that Ms. Grey would pen a story about how Austin needs to grow up. Of course, news outlet KVUE in Austin felt duty bound to respond to the story probably in hopes that Houston v. Austin becomes the new Houston v. Dallas or something.

Let's hope not, because the entire Houston v. anyone right now (save possibly Detroit) is becoming more and more one-sided against the Bayou City in large part to misguided efforts from well-meaning but Houtopian fogged thinking by New-Urbanists whose talent seems to be producing little more than neat graphs maps and reports that they banged out over a coffee session on their new iApples in an effort to impress the brunette across the way.

In the meantime, most of the real reporting on Houston issues is being done elsewhere.  Yes, the Chron has some good talent (and, some not so good talent) in the municipal reporting pool right now, but they don't have enough of it.

One wonders how much better the reporting at the Houston Chronicle could be if their increasingly limited resources weren't diverted to thought blogs, cheesy pictorials of scantily clad women, the New Mrs. White and the increasingly noxious Nick Anderson?

I propose to the Chronicle leadership a novel, or even quaint idea:

More news, less thought leadership. And quit worrying about what other cities in Texas are doing.

It would be OK with me as well (and probably many of the feminists that you claim to be in ideological agreement with) if you eliminated side-boob as a thing as well.

BadMedia: The Chron Eye for Australia

What's important to the Web-group over at The Houston Chronicle?

While Australia is working through a pretty dire situation the intrepid folks at Chron.com have decided that what we really want to know is.....


How the Australians party during the Winter.

That's not world-class.

Heck, it's even bad for a middling regional newspaper, which undoubtedly the Chron is.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Texas Politics: Why does the State have a say on the distribution rights of a private company anyway?

Yesterday (or, earlier today at the time I'm writing) the news broke that 3 Texas craft brewers are suing the State of Texas regarding a 2013 law that required them to relinquish their local distribution rights to distribution middlemen for no compensation.

State Sued for "Stifling the Texas Craft Beer Renaissance". Reeve Hamilton, Texas Tribune

Three Texas breweries filed a lawsuit against the state on Wednesday seeking to to overturn a 2013 law they say violates the Texas Constitution by forcing them to give away their territorial distribution rights for free.
In their complaint, filed in state district court in Austin, the heads of Live Oak Brewing in Austin, Peticolas Brewing Company in Dallas and Revolver Brewing in Granbury say that were it not for Senate Bill 639, they would be expanding. Instead, their plans to bring their beer to new markets around the state have been put on hold. 

For conservatives this should be a no-brainer.  However, it should also be taken further to question why the State has laws on the books regulating many private-businesses anyway.

When the bill was passed it was clear that it was a hand-out to the distribution companies, some of whom are owned or are subsidiaries of the large, multi-national brewing companies with whom the craft brewers are taking market share. For Republican legislators who campaign on the so-called "free-market" and other politically hollow terms this was an all-to-usual anti-free-market action. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the large alcohol distribution companies throw law-makers a big "welcome to the session" gala before each legislature convenes.

Of course, real reform would mean looking at a host of silly laws like this.  For example: Why must car dealerships only be open on Saturday or Sunday, but not both? Why can't liquor stores be open on Sunday?

When you hear so-called conservative policy makers talk about waste in the Government you rarely hear them mention laws such as these.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  If you look down at the municipal level you can find many ordinances in cities across the state attempting to regulate something the State has no business regulating.

In an era where the State rushed head-long to supposedly de-regulate utilities and higher education (two areas that are not really free-markets [in reality they're either regulated monopolies or oligopolies]) it's amazing that in Texas, where our politicians constantly beat into our brains that they're more business friendly than anyone else, these types of laws are viewed as solutions.

The best outcome, for consumers, would be for the courts to strike the law down and decimate Texas three-tier system when it comes to alcohol sales. Even better for consumers would be the newly (very) Republican legislature to take a look at all areas where market-stifling restrictions* exist.

Fat chance though because there's a lot of money at play in Texas' legislative system.


































































*It will be read as thus by people of a progressive bent, but OF COURSE I'm not calling for a relaxation of safety or (in most cases) environmental standards.  This is specifically related to the State interfering in legal, commercial enterprise or sales transactions.