20 December 2011
A Happy Holidays news and views roundup
The holidays are upon us, and we've overwhelmed.
So, here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Festive Kwanzaa, or whatever holiday you do or do not celebrate. We'll be taking a little break, but here's a news dump in the meantime to clear out the backlog. May Pancho Claus be good to you this year!
- Rash of improper influence over high-dollar contracts at Houston ISD -- while teachers are cut and schools are closed - Mike Cronin and Jennifer Peebles, Texas Watchdog
The needs of elites and their crony friends outweigh the needs of “the children.” You'd think liberals and conservatives alike would be outraged over this, but chances are pretty good you won't see many links to this on local blogs.
- DA's office stalling on BAT van issue - Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle
- Harris County ADA testifies "fix is in" in grand jury case over BAT vans - Ted Oberg, KTRK-13 News
Eyewitness News asked the Lykos' office for comment about a DA refusing to testify and for two days in a row now, we haven't received an answer.
Where is DA Pat Lykos? At the risk of scaring children, should we put her mug on a milk carton under "Missing!?"
Seriously, all of this looks terrible for the DA's office, whatever motivations you may think are at play (and anyone who tells you with 100% confidence they know and understand the motivations should be disregarded). Of course, it won't shock anyone that we find it entirely unsurprising that when voters choose someone whose experience and temperament for the office are suspect, you sometimes get the leadership that might have been expected.
If you're not already, be sure to follow posts AND comments on the blogs of Murray Newman, Mark Bennett, and David Jennings. You can get all sorts of theories about what's at play from players and non-players alike!
- After seasons of scandal, TSU blooms under new leadership - Monica Rohr, Houston Chronicle
The official tagline for the campaign to reinvent Texas Southern University is lofty, ambitious and, some might say, hyperbolic. The phrase - "A Renaissance of Excellence" - evokes the notion of rebirth, of a battered institution rising from the ashes.
It's also undeniably apt.
Matt Bramanti rightly described this as gushing on twitter, which drew objections from the Chron editor for the story, who nitpicked that "Renaissance" was TSU's word, not the Chron's. Except the Chron described the term as "undeniably apt." Their words. You can't make this stuff up (and because it's the Chron, don't really need to).
No doubt, there has been progress from the dark days in which there was a real possibility the state might consider stepping in and shutting down the institution or removing its independence, but Renaissance of Excellence? Just a bit over the top.
Still, we're not sure why the Chron would be so defensive when called a cheerleader. Honestly, as I've noted before, they do the genre better than anyone else I read. They should embrace this one small bit of excellence.
- Officials consider plan for convention center hotel - Nancy Sarnoff, Houston Chronicle
File this sort of sensible and sober economic analysis under "Things That Don't Matter in Houston When Public Officials Are In Hot Pursuit of the Latest World Class Boondoggle."
Despite the officials' enthusiasm to boost downtown meeting business, hotel consultant Bruce Walker is not convinced another large convention center hotel can be built in downtown Houston.
In downtown's 77002 ZIP code, he said, occupancy and room revenues are too low to justify such the development of such a large property.
And the cost to build a full-service hotel, which he estimates to be around $400,000 a room, is too high for the proposed project to be profitable.
"Those numbers don't even come close to working," he said.
- Houston airport's customized trucks raise questions - Stephen Dean, KPRC-2 News
Vacar may be gone, but a bizarre, unaccountable culture seems to endure at HAS.
- An app for Metro's bus system - Houston Chronicle
- (Still) Waiting For Something We Already Have - Greg's Opinion
This! +1 Ditto x2 or however else we can express complete agreement.
- Brenda Stardig pulling a Clinton in transition to Helena Brown? - David Jennings, Big Jolly Politics
- More rape kits than thought remain untested at HPD - Zain Shauk, Houston Chronicle
The Houston Police Department's backlog of untested rape kits totals between 6,000 and 7,000 - 50 percent more than what officials previously acknowledged, according to a memo from Chief Charles McClelland.
HPD for years has insisted that the backlog of untested rape kits was around 4,000. The details from the chief's memo confirm a Houston Chronicle report that the backlog likely was far greater.
The backlog also is likely to continue to grow. According to McClelland's memo, HPD receives some 930 new rape kits each year. HPD officials previously have said the department is able to test only 30 to 40 a month.
Of course. And we're getting further behind. Think that unanticipated $366k police bill for the Occupy Houston squatters might have been put to some better use?
- Houston VA cemetery director transfers after fallout from alleged attempt to ban use of 'God' and 'Jesus Christ' from ceremonies - Erik Barajas, KTRK-13 News
A firing would have been better, but of course bureaucrats can never be fired.
- Climategate (Part II) - Steven F. Hayward, The Weekly Standard
Reading that you'll never find on the blog of the Chron in-house global warmist, SciGuy Eric Berger.
- Another scalp for Dolcefino's wall - Harris County Almanac
Yep, even though those caught in questionable behavior are trying to spin it otherwise. Meanwhile, Undercover Man is after a few more scalps elsewhere. See below.
14 December 2011
Occupy Houston squatters have cost HPD (read: taxpayers) an extra $366k so far
So far, Houston police have racked up $366,734 in additional costs to deal with the Occupy Houston protesters, who set up camp in Tranquility Park across from City Hall on Oct. 6., HPD spokeswoman Jodi Silva said.
The amount includes $10,789 in overtime paid to officers, but does not include costs associated with Monday's protest at the port.
Those were the last two grafs of the story. Talk about burying the lede!
For a followup, it would be nice to know how much Mayor Parker's decision to give away electricity (safely!) to the Occupy Houston squatters is costing taxpayers.
Interestingly, TIME just named this drain on productive society, generally speaking, its Man of the Year. Neat, huh?!
METRO spreads holiday cheer to local hospital
METRO Blue Santa arrived by a custom-decorated Polar Express METRORail to Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital on Dec. 10, bringing bears, coloring books and cookies to young patients - along with X-boxes and Play Stations.
Siblings also received bears and coloring books.
This was the second annual Blue Santa visit to Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital - an event made possible by the hundreds of METRO employees who donated time, money, and bought barbeque, hot dogs and raffle tickets to raise funds.
Well, good for METRO for giving a little something back to the community. We do question the wisdom of letting disgraced CEO George Greanias (who was caught surfing apparent adolescent gay porn sites at work earlier this year) anywhere near children, however.
13 December 2011
McGuff: Parker Administration campaigns for KPRC reporter
Tweets started going out from Houston City Hall staffers Wednesday morning promoting a new campaign. This was not a campaign about getting out the vote for Saturday's runoff elections or a new city council proposal, it was to get some TV coverage:
jessicamichan Jessica Michan
Starting a #Twitter campaign for @KPRCLocal2 to send @MaryBenton to cover City Hall. We need her here! She gets it!! #Mary2CityHall
This is just the latest amateur move from the Parker Administration, which shouldn't be naming reporters they'd like to come cover them. However innocuous it seems, it looks bad (like the Parker Administration is playing favorites) and puts the reporter in a tough spot (to avoid the appearance of being a City Hall fav, the reporter might well feel the need to be more critical than is warranted).
Mayor Annise Parker is working on her second decade of elected service in Houston municipal government. Given her experience, it's really surprising that her mayoral administration so regularly stumbles and bumbles like it does.
12 December 2011
Runoff voters reject candidates favored by local lefty groups (or, what you don't really learn from the Chron's tired partisan "observers")
The results illustrate a continuation of a national trend of anger and frustration toward government during the worst economic stretch since the Great Depression, political observers said.
"A lot of people are angry at virtually all institutions and the government is high on their list," said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. "And these are the people in a low-turnout election that are most likely to show up because they are angry. They're agitated."
The results show clear opposition to the status quo, particularly following a general election in which Mayor Annise Parker and several council members narrowly avoided runoff elections, said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.
"It's a strong repudiation of this administration - not just the mayor, but the council," Stein said.
Where to start with this?
First and foremost, the "national trend" has not been one of anger and frustration toward government (read: incumbents), but rather anger and frustration toward liberal Democratic government. We thought most media had given up on the unsupportable "anti-incumbent" meme, but apparently Zain Shauk hasn't been paying attention.
Of course, it doesn't help that the "experts" he talked to are two professors who are also Democratic partisans/activists (though Shauk does continue the Chron tradition of not identifying these two properly). Unsurprisingly, Professor Murray wants this to be generally about dissatisfaction with institutions and government and NOT liberal Democratic government (of the sort he favors). Stein at least gets closer to an insight, which is that in the runoff, a cadre of motivated voters expressed dissatisfaction with the Parker Administration and some members of Council (either seen as enablers or buffoons). It's also worth nothing that candidates endorsed by liberal groups (and the Chron) fared poorly in the runoff, whereas the candidates favored by conservative groups fared well (see Campos for more -- one can always tell when a liberal is unhappy with voters by the number of times vulgarities are used in a post).
Perhaps Zain Shauk and other Chron metro reporters will find some new sources for their reporting on Houston politics one of these days. Cory Crow has more on this ongoing problem.
04 December 2011
More on Houston's deserts (food, mobility, and journalism)
Fresh, healthy affordable food is not something Acres Homes residents take for granted.
"We have to go all the way out to I-45 and West Road to get to Walmart," resident Julie Hobley said.
They live in what's called a "food desert," a section of the city without enough access to grocery stores. What's more is that this area is not alone.
"In Houston, food deserts are a big problem. We have more food deserts than other metropolitan cities in the US," said Laura Spanjian with the city of Houston.
What is KTRK's deal with this press release reporting on "food deserts?"
As was the case with Ted Oberg's horrible reporting on this topic, "food desert" is not defined in any meaningful sense (what is "enough access to grocery stores?" Beats me. KTRK apparently isn't sharing, other than one bureaucrat's view whose job appears to involve figuring out ways to squander taxpayer dollars on remedying this "problem").
And here's a fun stat, repeated authoritatively:
It's a big deal when you consider some 440,000 Houston-area residents don't have access to good, quality nutritious food at low prices.
Did Cerota just pull that out of his posterior, or did that number come from some big-government bureaucrat? Again, beats me. KTRK doesn't say.
Once more, there's not one voice in the story asking why in the world this is a problem for the city to solve (read: squander taxpayer dollars). Just cheerleading. And there is certainly nobody raising the "Mobility Desert" question we did in our last blog post on this topic, which brings us to this:
Commuters who ride the bus might have to find a different route to work by January.
On Dec. 5, Metro will hold a public hearing on a proposal that would eliminate several bus routes, including the 49 Chimney Rock Crosstown, the 313 Allen Parkway Special and the 35 Fairview, which goes through River Oaks on San Felipe.
The 2003 referendum promised a 50% increase in bus service. Instead, it is cut, year after year after year, so METRO can funnel more money to a tram buildout that will serve few people.
Poor people who live in "food deserts" could probably use reliable bus service to address their shopping needs. METRO instead tells them their declining bus service is a "service enhancement" and big-government pols at City Hall try to figure out ways to squander taxpayer dollars by bribing grocery stores to build in neighborhoods that otherwise don't appeal to them (with cheerleading from KTRK and the Chron). Neat!