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March 23rd, 2014:

Weekend link dump for March 23

I am Locutus of WalMart. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

If you think coverage of Hillary Clinton is bad now, just wait till she actually announces her candidacy for President.

Oh, and you’d better get your Hillary Clinton-related domain while you still can.

“Looks to me like the fast food workers would benefit if their bosses could form a union, and the bosses would benefit if the whole industry (including themselves) were unionized.”

The future of the NBA is being developed and tested in Hidalgo, Texas.

Sexual abuse has become a huge problem for America’s Bible colleges.

Some police departments will now warn you on social media about where they’ll be setting up speed traps, the idea being that it’s better to have people slow down than get busted.

Meet the pygmy T-Rex, which is still a T-Rex even if it is smaller.

“There were no good arguments to be had this year because that central conflict, between the haves and have-nots, has been won by the haves for a few years running.” And at least in that respect, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a lot like life.

They are coming for your birth control. This cannot be said often enough. They are coming for your birth control. Someday, we’ll need to remind ourselves that it wasn’t always like this.

“Think of it as a video version of her Facebook page“. Or don’t think of it at all.

RIP, David Brenner, comedian and “Tonight Show” presence.

Good ideas don’t need lots of lies told about them to gain public acceptance.

“And, damn it, how dare so many of you politicians and political commentators and entertainers spit on the ashes of the earth containing the bodies of millions of the slaughtered, by making such asinine comparisons. How dare you belittle unspeakable suffering, how dare you brush aside the emotional torment of survivors, how dare you feed into the Holocaust denialism by pretending that some difference in political opinions is just as bad as the literal torture and destruction of millions of families.”

From the “Aren’t you glad you asked?” department.

Are credit monitoring services worth it?

“Democrats moderate in response to district demographics; Republicans don’t.”

Go ahead and march, Bill. Might do you some good.

State governments are smarter than John Boehner.

RIP, Robert Strauss, legendary Texas politico.

For those of you that do read it for the articles, Mark Evanier has some caveats about Stan Lee’s interview in this month’s Playboy.

What Fred Clark says about Fred Phelps. Oh, and the man who wrote that classic profile of Mister Rogers notes one lasting connection between Rogers and Phelps.

There is no evidence of voting fraud, particularly by noncitizens, on any scale even close to justifying either the imposition it places on people or the expensive bureaucracy needed to administer it.”

Drug cartels rely on big banks to launder profits.

The Seattle approach to Uber and Lyft

While we wait in Houston for City Council to take action on amending the taxi and limousine codes to deal with the entry of Uber and Lyft, the city of Seattle took a novel approach to the issue.

In a major victory for the city’s taxi cab drivers, the Seattle City Council voted Monday to place limits on the number of drivers that alternative transportation companies like Uber and Lyft can have operating at any one time — the first U.S. city to do so.

The new law would limit three companies — UberX, Lyft and Sidecar — to 150 drivers each on the road at any given time, for a collective total of 450 drivers. That’s a significant decrease from the 2,000 drivers the three companies estimate they have operating in the city right now.

Taxi cab operators have said the new services have added so many drivers to city streets that it’s put them at a significant disadvantage. Seattle has not issued a new taxi license since 1990, when the city council passed a moratorium. The new legislation would issue an additional 200 taxi licenses over the next two years to the 688 traditional cabs already in operation.

But the new companies, known as Transportation Network Companies, say adding new for-hire vehicles is good for consumers, especially those who have to wait for long periods of time before one of the city’s taxis can be dispatched to their homes.

“The host of regulatory structures or policies seek to prioritize the interests of taxi monopolies over the interests of consumers,” said Nairi Hourdajian, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Uber. “For decades, the taxi industry hasn’t evolved. They haven’t improved customer service. People who couldn’t get a ride a decade ago still can’t get a ride today.”

Seattle is the first city to impose a cap like this on Uber and Lyft. The story notes that some other cities have refused to allow those services in – it incorrectly identifies Houston as one such city – but notes that this restriction is not permanent and will be revisited.

The City Council’s taxi committee considered regulations for almost a year before Monday’s vote. But Councilmember Sally Clark emphasized at the meeting that the council has a lot more regulation and deregulation to debate.

“What we’re doing today is not a complete fix,” said Clark. “But it’s a start.”

The regulations allow for the council to reconsider driver limits — and maybe getting rid of them altogether — in a year.

Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement Monday that he hopes to phase out limits after the council approves of fair ways to deregulate the local taxi industry.

“I remain concerned about the issue of caps on rideshare vehicles, which I believe is unreasonably restrictive and unworkable in practice,” Murray said.

Council Member Clark explained her reasoning on more depth to TechCrunch.

“I don’t want to ‘temporarily’ kill innovation, but I do want to buy a year for the taxi world to adapt,” wrote Sally Clark, the chairwoman of the Seattle City Council’s Taxi, Limousine and For Hire Regulations Committee, in a post last month before the vote. “The idea seems to be that if you set the right number of vehicles, everyone gets a ride when they need it and the drivers have enough work to make a decent living.”

Clark explained to us in an interview that she’s not opposed to upending the current system of metering and supply controls, but that “it can’t happen immediately.” Instead, innovation must be studied and measured before it can be allowed to impact the economy in unforeseeable ways. “We need to measure the impact on our system and then respond accordingly.”

Clark worries specifically about wheelchair bound residents who rely on available cabs and taxi migrants who have invested their life-savings into a system they believed would be in place for the long-term.

To be sure, we don’t know whether Uber and Lyft ever cause any of these problems; the ride-sharing industry hasn’t been around long enough to know whether it will wipe out the existing system.

So why does a startup have the burden to prove it has the right to come into a new market? Describing the reason to regulate the number of Uber cars on the road, she argued, “Going ahead and doing unregulated numbers means that I go ahead and buy the cost of having to correct the problems later on.”


The disquieting realization is that there is a trade-off between financial equality and innovation. Technology does away with the inefficiencies that give people jobs. Not everyone needs to be a full-time driver, nor do we need all the human-powered dispatchers that once routed taxis to passengers and maintained an optimal number of cars on the road.

Clark maintains that the “wait and study” approach is far more progressive than other cities, which have made it far more difficult.

The upshot is that tech companies are going to have to juggle protecting the workers they displace with finding a way to be profitable. “It is pretty difficult to shift the burden over to the folks who are going to lose service,” she explains.

So we’ll see. I’m not sure I buy this idea, but it will be useful to see how it plays out. Houston will have taken action long before Seattle revisits its decision. I don’t expect us to follow their lead, but anything is possible. With our discussion about to begin, the tech media will be watching, as I’m sure will be other city councils. Wonkblog has more.

Can we really measure the economic impact of sports events?

I don’t know, but they’re going to give it a try in Dallas.

Spending in the region on mega sporting events since the Dallas Cowboys moved to Arlington could top $1 billion when next month’s Final Four and next year’s college football championship are played.

Those numbers — a combination of spending projections for eight past and future events — are highlighted by boosters and treated with suspicion by some scholars. But supporters and skeptics partly agree on the long-term benefits of events from the Super Bowl to NBA All-Star Game. They conclude it’s extremely difficult to quantify, if that’s even possible.

John Crawford, president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., said he’s certain there’s a lasting and significant benefit to hosting these mega events, one after the other. But he said the only research he’s seen focused on short-term effects.

“I’ve never seen anything to quantify the indirect returns on investment,” he said. “I don’t even know how they would go about doing that.”


Victor Matheson, economics professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., said researchers pursued these types of questions without much luck.

“A lot of people have tried to look and see whether there is any long-term impact [of sports mega events],” he said. “We’ve never been able to pick up any. … I can’t even think anecdotally of an example about a business that relocated a corporate headquarters because the CEO had such a great time at the Super Bowl or Final Four.”

Officials in Dallas and Arlington said they couldn’t point to many specifics. However, the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau hopes to fill that research gap.

Decima Cooper, a bureau spokeswoman, said the bureau is talking with unnamed Arlington partners about conducting extensive research on the impact of large tourist events. If possible, they want to look at everything from mega events at AT&T Stadium to the much smaller Art on the Greene festival and calculate the benefits beyond the initial spending.

“What we’re trying to find out is exactly the impact of the events that happen in our city, not only the obvious impacts,” Cooper said.

She said she couldn’t be more specific since this is still in the planning stages. The scope of the research is expected to be finalized this year.

The CVB previously looked at the overall economic impact of tourism on Arlington but did not specifically single out AT&T Stadium events.

Matheson said any benefits would likely be so small that they would be lost in the region’s huge economy.

“No one has been able to identify these lingering impacts, especially from these short events where you don’t build anything new,” Matheson said. “It’s bad enough when you’re trying to quantify a bunch of people coming to town for one weekend. But then looking two or three years and seeing if you can see a bump, that’s a really small needle in a really big haystack.”

As you know, this is a subject that has long been near to my heart, going back to the halcyon days of the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston. It’s easy enough to visualize what a short-term economic effect of a big sporting event is – number of visitors, money spent on things like hotels, bars, taxis, etc – even if it’s difficult to separate it from normal activity. As Prof. Matheson says, I have no idea how you’d define, let along measure, a long-term effect. But I’m glad they’re trying! More data is good, even if it’s little more than fodder for mockery. Maybe the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau will find something interesting, even if it’s not what they were looking for. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. ThinkProgress has more on a related matter.

We have our first HFD rolling brownout

And nothing bad happened.

Three Houston firetrucks were pulled from service Friday morning, the first “brownout” in the city’s fire fleet since the Houston Fire Department’s budget struggles came to light in early February.

In keeping with a plan Fire Chief Terry Garrison announced last month that called for trucks in areas with lower call volumes and more nearby stations to be idled first, department brass decided to park Engines 45, 77 and 78. In all, 15 positions were left vacant Friday, including one of the five spots on the department’s heavy rescue truck and a district chief post.

“Our firefighters will continue to do the best job they can and they’ll ensure firefighter safety and customer service to the best of their ability, but … the quicker we get to an incident, the quicker we can start stabilizing that incident, whether it’s a house fire or a heart attack,” Garrison said. “We wanted to make sure we had the least amount of impact, but there will be a slight impact.”

Mayor Annise Parker said she expects the fire department will effectively handle the situation.

“We have every faith in the Houston Fire Department that they will be able to make the necessary adjustments and handle each call efficiently and effectively,” she said.


Councilman Oliver Pennington, whose District G is home to Station 78, said he was disappointed.

“Everyone knew spring break was coming up when this agreement was made,” Pennington said. “Any time you run short of money, there’s always a chance for crisis. People really need to pay attention. Hopefully, we can plan better for the next holiday.”

When the city-union deal was approved, officials said all trucks would remain in service as long as HFD averaged fewer than 35 unexpected absences, such as sick days and emergency leave, per day. Friday, there were 42 such absences, including 28 sick days.

“We feel like people are going to think we’re browning out because too many people called in sick,” Executive Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mann said Friday. “Well, today I had 927 people that were assigned, and only 28 called in sick. That’s 3 percent. So, it’s more a factor of we’re just short-staffed. We need to get our staffing levels up.”

See here for the background. I’m a little surprised that this happened since everyone wanted to avoid it, but the personnel issue is a factor, as is HFD’s previous management of overtime. As noted, nothing bad happened, which is good, not surprising, and no guarantee of anything going forward. I hope this isn’t a common occurrence, but there’s no guarantee of that, either. Texpatriate has more.