29 September 2010


THE LITTLE BLOG is going on vacation for a couple of weeks.

Unlike earlier this summer, it's an actual vacation. Feel free to discuss local news of note in the open-comments section of the forum. I may check in from time to time if I find myself on the net... or not, so we'll close the forum to new registrants to foil spammers. Here's hoping everyone enjoys this fantastic weather (save some, okay?).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/29/10 09:11 AM |

28 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/28/10 edition)

HERE is the day's news and views roundup (the "on-the-cusp-of-a-vacation" edition):

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/28/10 11:57 PM |

27 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/27/10 edition)

WELCOME to the "CB/LST alumni" edition of news and views:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/27/10 10:35 AM |

26 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/26/10 edition)

HERE is a lazy-weekend edition of news and views:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/26/10 12:29 PM |

24 September 2010

Where are the editors? (updated)

IT'S just another Friday at a newspaper without enough editors:

Chron Blunder 1 - 2010-09-24

Hosuton Chronicle? Ummm...

This is good too (from the FRONT PAGE of the little print edition):

Chron Blunder 2 - 20100924

We think the right verb is "elicit" (hat tip to Slampo for the catch).

Meanwhile, the newspaper's erratic features editor wonders if readers have seen "any language grotesqueries lately." Gotta love that.

UPDATE: It was even worse than we thought on Friday!

Cory Crow notes that the newspaper's editorial board apparently can't even read a candidate bio and incorporate the information into an endorsement accurately.

And a correction to a candidate profile that appeared Friday reads as follows:

A story on page B1 of Friday's City & State section incorrectly identified Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson's undergraduate alma mater. He attended Texas A&M University.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/24/10 09:10 PM |

23 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/23/10 edition)

IT'S THURSDAY EVENING, and we thankfully haven't been subpoenaed by anyone for exercising our First Amendment rights, so here's a quick news and views roundup:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/23/10 10:17 PM |

22 September 2010

Millionaire trial lawyer/political activist Mostyn goes after journalism nonprofit Texas Watchdog (updated)

TEXAS WATCHDOG reports tonight that several members of its staff have been subpoenaed by mega-rich trial lawyer and bigtime Texas political donor Steve Mostyn.

Mostyn's gambit -- seemingly the filthy-rich-trial-lawyer version of a temper tantrum -- comes on the heels of a Texas Watchdog story about Mostyn's $25,000 donation to a state lawmaker who wound up mediating a proceeding that involved... some of Mostyn's clients. Although Mostyn has hurled accusations of political partisanship at Texas Watchdog, the complicating factor in that proposed narrative is the fact that the state lawmaker who received the donation is a Republican. As Texas Watchdog's Trent Seibert told the Quorum Report concerning the accusation, "If we’re a front group, we’re the worst front group of all time."

Millionaire Mostyn himself mostly backs LibDem candidates -- and in a big way. His Back To Basics PAC has been pounding Republican Governor Rick Perry for weeks. And taking a page from the Colorado Blueprint, Mostyn's PAC has more recently gone on the attack against Jim Murphy, who is taking on Democratic State Representative and progressive darling Kristi Thibaut. The crowd that sometimes bellyaches about money in politics doesn't seem to mind Mostyn's activities (to the contrary!), but of course Mostyn's on the right "team" (to use LibDem partyblogger parlance).

The filthy rich will always find a way to throw around their millions to exert political influence (even after untold campaign-finance "reforms" -- shocking, we know!). However, it's unfortunate when they start throwing around their millions in an effort to intimidate journalists. In fact, it's shameful.

We've linked many Texas Watchdog stories, and respect the work they do. They've taken on Democrats, Republicans, bureaucrats, you name it -- consistent with their stated mission. They are one of the more interesting experiments in nonprofit watchdog journalism, in a town that can definitely use that sort of journalism.

What Texas Watchdog's classy editor Jennifer Peebles didn't emphasize in the report I linked above -- but I will -- is that their organization is a small, bootstrap startup. They don't have a progressive activist's millions backing their operation. They don't have a huge staff. There is no legal department. And dealing with this nuisance lawsuit is going to cost Texas Watchdog, in dollars (First Amendment lawyers don't come cheap!) and in time (sitting in a deposition is time away from reporting).

We aren't normally big on telling people what to do with their money, but I'm going to make an exception tonight. If you have enjoyed the reporting done by Texas Watchdog and are in a position to toss a few bucks their way to help them defend themselves against a rich bully, I would highly encourage you to click on that donation button in the top right corner of their site. Texas Watchdog is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so any donation should be tax deductible. If you're not in a position to help them out financially, perhaps consider leaving a word of encouragement on their site.

UPDATE: Village Voice Houston had a post critical of Mostyn's legal intimidation tactics on their blog earlier, but just like that *POOF* it was gone, without even a google cache of the full post remaining. WEAK.

UPDATE 2: And now, HOURS later, Village Voice Houston has put the post back up, with edits and an addendum. Frankly, the updated post has become something of a butchered, incoherent mess, not unlike so much of the amateur content that is regularly posted to the publication's website now.

We may offer a more definitive post-mortem tomorrow, but the short of it seems to be that Mostyn finally called back Village Voice Houston, rattled their cage pretty good*, and scared them* into an embarrassing amount of equivocation -- so much so that they seemed to have missed what was newsworthy about Mostyn's latest attempt to bully journalists*: He's backed down from his efforts to subpoena Texas Watchdog.

We imagine they're celebrating that victory tonight over a LibDem bully and blowhard, but here's hoping Texas Watchdog will have more to say about it tomorrow as well.

BLOGVERSATION: Harris County Almanac, Big Jolly Politics.

* Our interpretation of what most likely happened. For you overly-literal readers and thin-skinned lawyers who like to take writers to court, we were not there and are merely exercising our First Amendment rights by offering speculative opinion.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/22/10 08:37 PM |

News and views roundup (09/22/10 edition)

THE DAILY DOSE of local news and views (99.95% guaranteed to offend some Sensitive, somewhere, for some reason):

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/22/10 10:19 AM |

21 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/21/10 edition)

IT'S THE GRAY TUESDAY edition of local news and views:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/21/10 08:31 AM |

20 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/20/10 edition)

IT'S a catchup edition of the news and views roundup after a weekend of travel:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/20/10 08:37 AM |

17 September 2010

Chron: "Metro’s flaunting of federal rules could cost taxpayers millions"

CHRON.COM is now touting (not taunting*) the latest big weekend "exclusive" designed to get you to purchase the shrinking, declining print product:

Chron.... flaunting?

We think they meant "flouting" of rules, but whatever.

Obviously, the White/Wolff/Wilson-era METRO's "Buy America" fiasco is a big setback for an agency that is broke and planning to cut next year's budget by a few hundred million dollars, so we sort of already know the substance of this story (although we're sure it will have some really reassuring quotes from various METRO sources).

* Sorry, we couldn't resist the little pun.

UPDATE: The story is finally posted on Chron.com.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/17/10 08:04 PM |

16 September 2010

Examiner: METRO to seek new light-rail referendum (updated)

THE EXAMINER just posted breaking news from reporter Mike Reed that METRO will seek a new light-rail referendum:

The Examiners' Michael Reed reports from Metro this morning that Metro chair Gilbert Garcia has announced the transit agency will be seeking voter approval of a new referendum to go forward with its light rail projects.

It has become increasingly clear that a financially strapped METRO simply cannot afford to build the light-rail system specified in the last referendum with the funds specified in the last referendum.

That leaves METRO in the position of either disregarding/deceiving the public and moving forward (largely the approach of the White/Wolff/Wilson-era METRO), or revamping the plan to make it realistic and going back to voters.

Rather than simply cobbling together a new funding mechanism and presenting the same flawed rail plan, we hope METRO, area leaders, and concerned citizens work together to reconsider our whole approach to area mobility/transit as well as the funding. Looking to this Tory Gattis post as a starting point wouldn't be bad, either!

UPDATE: The updated version of the story is posted here. Unfortunately, it does not appear any significant reconsideration of METRO's plans is on tap -- at least not right now.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/16/10 01:42 PM |

News and views roundup (09/16/10 edition)

THE "fall is coming, really" news and views edition:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/16/10 10:02 AM |

15 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/15/10 edition)

HERE is today's roundup, heavy on the views....

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/15/10 09:06 AM |

14 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/14/10 edition)

HERE'S a fresh dose of news and views. Please discuss!

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/14/10 07:59 AM |

12 September 2010

Weekend news and views roundup (09/12/10 edition)

HERE are a few news items that popped up over the weekend:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/12/10 08:20 PM |

More on the FTA's investigative report on METRO's CAF procurement fiasco (updated)

WE finally had some time this weekend carefully to examine the FTA's detailed, 38-page report on METRO's "Buy America" violations and irregular procurement practices.

We thought that media coverage of the FTA announcement had been fairly critical, but the report itself is even more damning of METRO's procurement mess. Here are the major findings:

We have found three substantial violations of FTA's Buy America and procurement rules:

a. METRO and CAF violated FTA's Buy America requirements. This began with METRO's release of a Request for Proposals (RFP) that stated FTA's Buy America requirements did not apply to the procurement~ continued with METRO's unsupported evaluation of the various offeror's Buy America compliance, including the Certificate of Compliance submitted by CAF; and culminated with METRO's decision not to require CAF to meet its contractually mandated Buy America obligations and to circumvent the Buy America requirements by entering into a separate, locally funded contract with CAF for the pilot vehicles;

b. METRO violated FTA's competitive procurement rules when it chose to negotiate with one of the offerors, CAF, to the exclusion of all other offerors, and allowed that offeror to continue revising its price while refusing to allow other offerors the opportunity to present their Best and Final Offers (BAFOs); and

c. METRO’s LRV procurement was flawed due to the sum of many failures, including the lack of an adequate procurement plan, the lack of an adequate source selection evaluation plan, METRO’s failure to disclose all evaluation factors in the solicitation, METRO’s failure to inform potential offerors of the relative importance of those factors that were disclosed in the evaluation, METRO’s use of undisclosed changes in evaluation factors, and METRO’s failure to perform a complete best value analysis.

In addition to being violations of the law, these findings describe an unfair procurement. METRO’s actions resulted in less than full and open competition for a several-hundred-million-dollar LRV contract.

As the heavily footnoted (nearly 200 footnotes total!) document makes clear, METRO's procurement practices with regard to CAF were deceptive, unfair, and illegal. The criticism is not directed at Frank Wilson exclusively (although his directives are cited in several spots); indeed, METRO staff, many of whom are presumably still employed by the agency, are referenced frequently, which raises the question of what policies George Greanias and the new METRO board have implemented to ensure that this sort of procurement fiasco does not occur again.

Incidentally, Frank Wilson's trip to Spain in 2009 got a bit of attention in the report (footnote 148):

Apparently, further negotiations with CAF were needed even after the METRO Board’s authorization. On March 25, 2009, METRO President and CEO Frank Wilson travelled to Seville, Bilboa and Madrid to “visit CAF Manufacturing Facility.” The documents do not further describe the activities of the trip. Metropolitan Transit Authority Expense Report for Frank Wilson. It is unclear why a visit to CAF’s rail car manufacturing facility was needed after the procurement had concluded, especially since METRO staff had visited the facility in November 2007 during Step-1 of the procurement.

The Wolff-commissioned sham "investigation" also never got to the bottom of the purpose of Wilson's trip. We're sure CAF made sure it was *ahem* a relaxing getaway for their guy, though.

Be sure and read the entire FTA report on the procurement fiasco.

UPDATE: In late August, Paul Knight posted about some of the email exchanges by METRO officials that basically amounted to collusion in the flawed (and, as it turns out, illegal) procurement practices with CAF. Those emails are cited in the FTA report. While Frank Wilson may be gone, most of those players remain with METRO today, hence our concern above about what steps METRO has taken to clean up the procurement procedures. Indeed, given the facts that some of these players are still in place, that the "new METRO" will apparently require an Executive VP of operations who actually knows something about transit operations, and that the most likely person to fill that slot is John Sedlak (a participant in the emails described by Knight), the need for METRO to clean up and make transparent its procurement process is even more pressing.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/12/10 08:02 PM |

10 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/10/10 edition)

HAPPY FRIDAY everyone! Here's today's morning news roundup:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/10/10 07:48 AM |

09 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/09/10 edition)

Here are today's morning tidbits:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/09/10 07:52 AM |

08 September 2010

FTA blasts White/Wilson/Wolff-era METRO procurement practices

FRANK "PROCUREMENT DISASTER" WILSON's legacy as the METRO chief during Bill White's tenure as mayor took another blow today, as the FTA blasted the "old" METRO's efforts to subvert "buy America" rules in signing a rail-car deal with a favored contractor. Here are various accounts of the news:

Perhaps if Mr. Wilson had been vetted just a little bit more before he was hired, this setback to METRO and area transit users could have been avoided. Two big procurement screwups in his last two transit posts are not glittering résumé items. But, he's probably enjoying the generous payoff he got upon his departure from METRO.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/08/10 10:47 PM |

News and views roundup (09/08/10 edition)

As the Hermine rains move on, reporters will be returning to actual news beats (we hope). In the meantime, here are some morning tidbits from another slow news cycle:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/08/10 10:05 AM |

07 September 2010

News and views roundup (09/07/10 edition)

THE LONG HOLIDAY WEEKEND combined with a minor storm event (rain! quick, deploy all reporters to stand out in the water!) means there's not much hard news to start the work week, but here's a little lunchtime reading:

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/07/10 12:44 PM |

06 September 2010

News roundup (Labor Day Weekend 2010 edition)

Here's hoping everyone had a GREAT Labor Day weekend. Here are some news items that caught our eye over the last few days (and a link/commentary format that we may continue to use, depending on mood).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/06/10 08:33 PM |

03 September 2010

KHOU: METRO navigates bond/funding roadblock with TX AG

KHOU-11'S MARK GREENBLATT checks in with the "New METRO" leadership on the Old METRO's questionable approach to financing its expensive light-rail buildout.

That story follows the New METRO's self-congratulatory press conference that was called earlier this week, apparently so that George Greanias could audition as the preferred candidate for the permanent job (with the reorganizational caveat that an Executive Vice President/Chief Administrative Officer who actually knows something about transit operations will be designated to.... babysit actual operations; see the slide deck, page 26. We saw no discussion of this position in local media).

Mayor Annise Parker must be pleased at the former politician's efforts to clean up METRO's terrible image so far, but the question remains whether those political skills will translate into a more effective transit agency.

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/03/10 08:15 AM |

02 September 2010

Update on the dueling vote fraud press conferences

THE CHRON'S CHRIS MORAN reports on the dueling press conferences held last week by Houston Votes, a Democratic-dominated get-out-the-vote nonprofit*, and True the Vote, a voting integrity project of a local Tea Party organization. Bottom line: Nothing all that newsworthy emerged from either press conference.

Indeed, the most damning data points in the story emerged on the day the story originally broke: The documents posted by voter registrar Leo Vasquez in support of his criticism of the Houston Votes registration efforts, and the admission by Sean Caddle (the lead "organizer" of the registration effort) when presented with some of the documents in question that yes, it does look like voter fraud (about 1:20 or so into this video).

The predictable hyperventilating about racism, voter suppression, and partisanship (!) from various Dem partybloggers in town has been more entertaining than the subsequent press conferences. By far!

BLOGVERSATION: Harris County Almanac.

* Readers of John Thornton's Texas Tribune would surely be shocked at that description, given that publication's previous cheerleading for the group and subsequent silence (UPDATE: Moran's story actually made their "brief" today. Still no update of their own on Houston Votes, however).

Posted by Kevin Whited @ 09/02/10 09:00 AM |


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