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Uber update, part 4

Here’s the last installment of the Chron/Al Jazeera analysis of how Uber is operating in Houston. Most of the story is about what parts of town have better service from Uber – short answer, inside the Loop – and how Uber is attempting to improve service in parts of town that have not been well served by cab companies in the past, a subject we have discussed before. It’s the section at the end about service for disabled riders that I want to focus on.


Uber gives drivers information about how best to serve blind and hearing-impaired riders, and it caters to people with service animals and elderly patrons with special needs. In many cases, a collapsible wheelchair can be accommodated.

Hancock, however, did not provide a single example of an Uber vehicle in Houston that can accommodate a non-collapsible wheelchair.

Technically, as independent operators using Uber to solicit rides, the drivers are individual providers, and Uber isn’t required by federal law to have wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Cab companies, however, are.

That disparity frustrates some disabled riders, who want the same cheaper and convenient options for rides.

“Let’s say McDonald’s, they don’t own any of the restaurants themselves, but they have franchises. Those franchise owners have to comply with law,” said Michelle Colvard, a Houston resident who uses a wheelchair.

City officials asked Uber to participate in discussions about how to serve disabled riders. Cab companies also had a slot on the task force, along with Lyft, an Uber competitor that remained on the task force even though it is not operating in Houston.

“We started from a difficult place,” Toby Cole, a disability rights advocate who led the task force, told City Council members in August. “There was a huge amount of mistrust between the community, the representatives of the transportation companies and a mistrust of the process.”

After months, the task force settled on proposed regulations that let cabs set a minimum number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles in their fleet, which grows over time, depending on the size of the company. Uber and similar companies, meanwhile, can elect to meet disabled access standards based not on how many vehicles are available but how quickly they can respond to a ride.

Uber most likely would provide service by contracting with another vendor to handle its calls related to disabled clients. The company has a similar arrangement in Austin.

Cole, who called the task force recommendations a “workable solution,” said having rules is just one part of a better system for disabled riders. The rules will not take effect until the City Council approves them.

“Enforcement is one of the strongest areas we need from the city,” he said, responding to a question about Uber’s checkered history following Houston’s rules. “Without enforcement, these regulations mean nothing.”

See here and here for the other installments. I did not know that there was a task force working on this issue – Uber rolled out a solution for riders with disabilities a year ago, so it will be interesting to see what these new regulations are. There’s still a federal lawsuit pending against Uber (and Lyft) over access for disabled riders. I have to think this task force had an eye on that as they crafted the new regulations. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I completely agree that enforcement is the key. That’s an issue that the city struggles with sometimes, so let’s keep watch on that.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

KTRU returns

On another frequency, with different call letters, and a less powerful signal. Other than that, it’s like it never left.

After five years off the radio dial, Rice University’s popular college radio station KTRU Rice Radio will return to FM on Friday (October 2).

Listeners located within approximately a five-mile radius of the school, stretching from 610 South to the Buffalo Bayou, will be able to enjoy the university’s station on 96.1 FM. After spending four years pursuing a new FCC-approved FM license — an effort spearheaded by Rice students, alumni, staff and community volunteers — the station will be able to broadcast on FM from an antenna placed atop Rice Stadium.

“Returning to the air is truly turning the page to a new chapter in KTRU’s history,” said one of KTRU’s music librarians, George Barrow, in a statement. “We’re returning to our roots with the on-campus, low-power transmitter.

“Not only is this an important step in KTRU’s story, but it’s also extremely important for the Houston music community, since no station on the FM dial right now focuses on exposing local and emerging talent quite like KTRU does. It’s amazing to be a part of this organization during one of its most important transitions.”

The station will also continue to broadcast live on the Internet through its website, as well as apps like i-Heart Radio and Tune-In.


The official call signs for the new Rice radio station are KBLT-LP since the KTRU call signs are currently licensed to a noncommercial station in La Harpe, Kansas, but the station will continue to be referred to as KTRU.

See here for the background. What do you think, travesty or victory? Leave a comment and let us know. The Press, the Chron, and Radio Survivor have more.

Posted in: Music.

Texas blog roundup for the week of September 28

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes that everyone made it through the blood moon apocalypse all right as it brings you this week’s roundup. (Assuming we’re all still here to read it.)

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Endorsement watch: A bad call

I’m sorry, I don’t get this at all.

Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson

The race for the At-Large 4 City Council seat offers two of the most capable candidates running this fall. Amanda Edwards, a municipal finance attorney with Bracewell & Guiliani, and Laurie Robinson, a government oversight contracting auditor who runs her own consulting firm, are thoughtful and knowledgeable about city issues. Both are impressive.


Our choice, and it’s almost a toss-up, is Laurie Robinson, and it’s a choice based on her years of experience with government-related endeavors. Although her opposition to the city’s equal rights ordinance gives us pause – she says she favors an ordinance in principle, but this one has become too divisive – we believe she will be an effective councilmember from her first day in office.

Although we endorse Robinson, we recognize that her chief opponent has the potential to be an influential voice in public affairs and public service for years to come. Whether Amanda Edwards wins or loses this time, it’s a win for Houston if she stays involved.

It’s not that I expected Edwards to get the endorsement. It’s that I expected all of the Chron’s prior editorializing on HERO to mean something. If support for HERO – which Laurie Robinson expressed in her interview with me before doing a 180 for reasons unclear – isn’t enough to serve as a tiebreaker in a case like this, then what exactly does the Chron’s stated support for HERO mean? Why say you support something if you don’t back the candidates that agree with you on it? And I’m sorry, but saying HERO “has become too divisive” is a load of baloney. It’s like saying President Obama is “too divisive” because a significant portion of the Republican Party has gone completely bonkers since his election in 2008. Over 200 cities across the US have equal rights ordinances exactly like Houston’s. It is completely mainstream. One hundred percent of the divisiveness is the fault of the extreme zealotry of people like Jared Woodfill, Dave Welch, and Dave Wilson. Shame on the Chronicle for being so gullible.

The real tragedy of this is that Laurie Robinson is a genuinely well-qualified candidate. She made a bad decision in renouncing her prior support for HERO, and she does not deserve to be rewarded for it. Again, I don’t understand why the Chronicle doesn’t understand that. The time for Amanda Edwards, whose interview is here, to be an influential voice in public affairs and public service is now. I recognize that, and I hope you do too, even if the Chronicle doesn’t.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Interview with Dwight Jefferson

Dwight Jefferson

Dwight Jefferson

We come to the end of our week of interviews with candidates to succeed term limited City Controller Ronald Green. Dwight Jefferson was appointed to the 215th Civil District Court bench in 1995, and when he won a full term in 1996 he became the first African-American to be elected to a District Court in Harris County. He has worked with multiple law firms, including one he founded, as a litigation, arbitration, and mediation specialist, and has been called upon frequently to serve as an ad litem or special master in Harris County State Courts. He was appointed to the Metro board by Mayor Parker in 2010 and served until this year. He was co-captain of the UT Longhorn football team when he played as an offensive lineman. We had a lot to talk about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

2015 Texas Lyceum poll

Issues first, election stuff to come. From the press release:

The 2015 Texas Lyceum Poll Finds: 

  • Immigration remains the most important issue facing the state and Texans support lawmakers’ increased spending on border security.
  • Texans’ views on  gay marriage are changing. Forty nine percent of Texans support gay marriage – up from 29 percent in 2009.
  • Experience with  race-based discriminationshifts greatly depending on the racial or ethnic background of the person polled.
  • Footballrules in Texas. Despite national poll numbers revealing 40 percent of Americans would discourage their children from playing youth football72 percent of Texans would encourage children to play football.
  • A growing number of Texans, 46 percent, support legalizing the use of marijuana (up by 13 percent since 2011) and among those who oppose legalization, 57 percent support decriminalization.
  • Texans are not overly concerned about climate change, but a majority (67 percent) would support new regulations on private companies.


2015 Texas Lyceum Poll Infographic

AUSTIN — An independent statewide poll conducted earlier this month (Sept. 8-21) by the Texas Lyceum, the state’s premier non-partisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group, suggests that Texans believe immigration is the state’s number one issue, continue to love their football, have moderated their opinion on the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage over the years, and support some regulation to reduce global warming.

“As the Texas Lyceum celebrates its 35th anniversary, we are proud to conduct this public service offering the media, policymakers, scholars and the general public an annual snapshot of Texans’ views on key issues,” said 2015 Texas Lyceum President Jane Cummins. “This year the Texas Lyceum held meetings focused on the Texas economy and the war on drugs, among other topics, and next year we will address the big business of football in Texas, showing our programs are on point with what Texans are talking about.”

Border Security / Immigration

Border security and/or immigration has remained one of the top three issues for Texans since the inception of the Lyceum Poll. This year the Lyceum Poll gauged Texans’ thoughts on two related policies – one state and the other federal. At the state level, a majority of Texans (62 percent) favor state lawmakers’ approval to spend $800 million on border security operations over the next two years.

Turning to federal policy, 65 percent of Texans approve of the federal government’s decision to halt deportations of undocumented immigrant youth who attend college or serve in the military while providing them with a work permit. Only 20 percent queried believe this policy did “a lot” to encourage illegal immigration.

Gay Marriage

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision over the summer that legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples in all 50 states, more Texans favor allowing same sex marriage than say they oppose it. Our survey shows 49 percent of Texans favor gay marriage, up from 33 percent when asked a similar question in 2011. However, 40 percent are opposed to allowing gay and lesbian couples the right to marry legally.

Racial Discrimination

In light of recent national and Texas race-related controversies, the Lyceum Poll asked respondents two related questions: First, was there ever “a specific instance in which you felt discriminated against by the police because of your racial or ethnic background?” Second, was there ever, “a specific instance in which you felt discriminated against by an employer or a potential employer because of your racial or ethnic background?” Reviewing the total sample with regard to police discrimination, only 17 percent of Texans believed they were discriminated against by police because of their racial or ethnic background. However, on closer inspection, these numbers shift significantly according to the race or ethnicity of the respondent. Four percent of whites, 24 percent of Hispanics and 45 percent of black respondents said they had felt discriminated against by the police. This pattern held with regard to Texans’ attitudes about employer discrimination as well. Only 11 percent of whites indicated they had been discriminated against by an employer, while 27 percent of Hispanics and 42 percent of black Texans felt they had experienced a form of workplace discrimination.

Football Reigns

Despite growing national concern that children who suffer repeated head injuries from tackle football can sustain long-term brain damage, Texans would not discourage their children from playing the contact sport. In fact, 72 percent of those polled said they would encourage children to play football while only 21 percent would discourage it. These numbers contrast with a national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken last year showing that 40 percent of Americans would steer their children away from playing football due to concerns over concussions.

Legalizing / Decriminalizing Marijuana

As more states either decriminalize or legalize marijuana – with Texas lawmakers passing limited medical marijuana use this past legislative session – a majority of Texans don’t support legalization outright. The survey shows 50 percent of Texans are opposed to legalization, while 46 percent of Texas adults said that they would support legalizing the use of marijuana. However, the numbers are breaking in favor of legalization as support has gone up by 13 points when compared with a question asked in the 2011 Lyceum Poll. Meanwhile, among those who oppose legalization, 57 percent said they would support decriminalization. Specifically, this group agrees on “reducing the maximum punishment for possessing small amounts of marijuana to a citation and a fine.”

Climate Change

Global warming is not a top concern for Texans. When asked if they personally worry about climate change, 50 percent say “only a little” or “not at all.” But when asked “would you support or oppose Congress passing new legislation that would regulate energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming,” 67 percent of Texans said they would support such regulation.

Daron Shaw, Ph.D., Professor at The University of Texas at Austin and a Texas Lyceum alumnus, oversaw the poll, which was conducted September 8-21, 2015, and queried 1,000 adult Texans. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points. Dr. Shaw and Texas Lyceum Research Director Joshua Blank, used the latest statistically-advisable polling techniques: live interviewers contacted respondents both by landline as well as cell phones (40 percent) and administered the survey in the respondent’s language of choice (English or Spanish).

The executive summary is here. A couple of points of interest:

On immigration: “The second policy that we queried asked respondents to evaluate the policy by which the Department of Justice stops the deportation of any undocumented immigrant youth who attends college or serves in the military and provides them with a legal work permit that is renewable. Despite the perception that Texans have particularly harsh attitudes on illegal immigration, 65% of Texas adults said that they supported this policy with only 28% expressing opposition. Majorities of Democrats (81%), Republicans (54%), and independents (62%) expressed support, as did majorities of Anglos (58%), blacks (63%), and Hispanics (75%).

On same sex marriage: “Majorities of Democrats (69%), Hispanics (53%), and Texans 18 to 29 years old (65%) and 30 to 44 years old (52%) said that they favored allowing gay marriage; pluralities of independents (46%) and Anglos (47%) also said that they favored allowing gay marriage. A majority of Republicans (58%) and a plurality of black respondents (45%) said that they oppose allowing gay marriage.” I would add that only the 65-and-over crowd was truly opposed (34% in favor to 53% against). The 45-64 group was barely in opposition, 43% yes and 44% no.

On marijuana: “A majority of Democrats support legalization (54% support; 42% oppose) while a majority of Republicans oppose legalization (37% support; 61% oppose). Fifty percent of whites support legalization while 51% of blacks and 56% of Hispanics stand in opposition. Eighteen to 29 year olds are the only age group in which a majority supports legalization (66%). Interestingly, when it comes to Democrats and Republicans in opposition to legalization, both groups favor decriminalization (60% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans). Majorities of whites (59%), blacks (52%), and Hispanics (56%) initially opposed to legalization are supportive of decriminalization, as are all age groups.”

On climate change: “Not surprisingly, given the partisan dimensions of this issue, 84% of Democrats said that they would support [new legislation that would regulate energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming] (60% said that they would strongly support them), while 45% of Republicans said that they would support such regulations, with 48% saying that they would be opposed. These results still display a rather surprising willingness among Texas Republicans to consider regulation to combat global climate change.”

On the Affordable Care Act: “Like in past polling, Democrats held a much more positive attitude toward the ACA than did Republicans. While 63% of the former hold a positive view of the ACA (up from 58% in 2014), 76% of the latter hold a negative opinion (down slightly from 80%). Whites continue to hold negative opinions towards the healthcare law with only 26% expressing a favorable opinion, while a majority of blacks hold a positive view (65%). Hispanics were evenly divided in their opinions of the ACA, with 42% holding a favorable opinion and 39% holding an unfavorable opinion.”

Basically, outside of that last issue, the survey respondents were a lot less in agreement with the Republicans that dominate state government than they were with Democrats. Needless to say, that discrepancy is a function of who actually votes, and increasingly when they vote; Republican primary voters are far more extreme than Republican non-primary voters. The question is when election results will more closely reflect this. Perhaps the higher turnout of a contested Presidential primary will draw some more moderate Republicans to the polls in March; that won’t have any statewide effect but it might make the Lege a pinch saner. Beyond that, all I know is that it won’t happen in its own.

The Lyceum will be releasing election poll data today. I’ll link to it later, and will have a separate post tomorrow.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.

DNA mixtures

Grits reports on the latest developments in forensics at a hearing of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, and what it means to the legal system in Texas and elsewhere.

First, a bit of background. DNA testing looks at two metrics on X and Y axes: Whether alleles are present at various loci, and the quantity of DNA available for testing at that spot. (The latter is complicated by allele drop-in, drop-out, and stacking, terms I’m only beginning to understand.) When examining the peak height of DNA quantity on the test results, DPS’ old method did not impose a “stochastic” threshold, which as near as I can tell is akin to the mathematical sin of interpreting a poll without ensuring a random sample. (The word “stochastic” was tossed around blithely as though everyone knew what it meant.) Basically, DPS did not discard data which did not appear in sufficient quantity; their new threshold is more than triple the old one.

That new methodology could change probability ratios for quite a few other cases, the panel predicted. One expert showed slides demonstrating how four different calculation methods could generate wildly different results, to my mind calling into question how accurate any of them are if they’re all considered valid. Applying the stochastic threshold in one real-world case which he included as an example reduced the probability of a match from one in 1.40 x 109 to one in 38.6. You can see where a jury might view those numbers differently.

Not every calculation will change that much and some will change in the other direction. The application of an improper statistical method generates all types of error, not just those which benefit defendants. There may be folks who were excluded that become undetermined, or undetermined samples may become suspects when they’re recalculated. The panel seemed to doubt there were examples where a positive association would flip all the way to excluded, but acknowledged it was mathematically possible.

DPS has identified nearly 25,000 cases where they’ve analyzed DNA mixtures. Since they typically represent about half the state’s caseload, it was estimated, the total statewide may be double that when it’s all said and done. Not all of those are problematic and in some cases the evidence wasn’t used in court. But somebody has to check. Ch. 64 of the Code of Criminal Procedure grants a right to counsel for purposes of seeking a DNA test, including when, “although previously subjected to DNA testing, [the evidence] can be subjected to testing with newer testing techniques that provide a reasonable likelihood of results that are more accurate and probative than the results of the previous test.” So there’s a certain inevitability about the need to recalculate those numbers.

See here for the Texas Tribune story that Grits references – WFAA also covered the hearing – and be sure to read the whole post. There’s a lot of scientific info out there if you google “DNA Mixtures”, but I’m not informed enough to point you to something useful. As noted, DNA is still very exact when comparing known samples, or in isolating a suspect from a rape kit. It’s when there are multiple unknown DNA donors that things get complicated, and there isn’t a single standard for that now. What we do know is that the method that had been used to provide match/elimination probabilities were not accurate, and some number of convictions in Texas and elsewhere will need to be reviewed in light of reinterpreted DNA evidence. Ultimately, questions about what the standards are and how the evidence should be analyzed will be settled by the courts, from the CCA to SCOTUS. This will be a long and occasionally messy process, and we’re at the very beginning of it. On the plus side, this should provide all kinds of fodder for mystery writers and TV showrunners. So at least there’s that.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

Endorsement watch: Youth wins out

The Chron endorses Philippe Nassif in At Large #5.

Philippe Nassif

Philippe Nassif

You have to say this about City Councilmember Jack Christie: He’s a conscientious public servant. Holding the At-Large 5 seat, the two-term incumbent is, in his words, “a workhorse, not a show horse,” is always well prepared and seems to get along with others on the council. For those reasons and others, we endorsed him in 2013 for a second term on the council. We cannot endorse him for a third.

Despite his work on the council and his record of service on the State Board of Education and on the Spring Branch school board before being elected to the council in 2011, we find it incongruous that a chiropractic physician who has taken a special interest in health-care plans for city employees opposes vaccinations. He contends that they jeopardize children’s health and that there are other, more effective ways to nurture natural immunity. He’s best known for his comment two years ago that “you don’t die from the flu.” In our view, opposition to vaccinations goes against the overwhelming scientific consensus and is a dangerous position for an elected official to hold, particularly one whose experience is in medicine.


Nassif is our choice for At-Large 5. Granted, the 30-year-old son of Mexican and Lebanese immigrants is young, but he’s been involved in public service for more than a decade. He offers voters detailed positions on transportation and infrastructure, fiscal responsibility and quality-of-life issues. He would work, for example, to address growing income inequality in Houston by advocating for affordable housing and providing incentives for developers to provide controlled-price rental units in developments across the city. He also supports the Houston equal rights ordinance (which Christie opposes).

I had Christie as a 65% favorite in this one, but I will note that I suggested the Chron might go for Nassif because 1) HERO 2) vaccines and 3) he’s good. So, I think I deserve a fair amount of partial credit. Good on Philippe for knocking their socks off.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Interview with Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

Next up on our list of candidates to succeed term limited City Controller Ronald Green is Bill Frazer, who is attempting to build on his respectable showing against Green in 2013. Here’s the 2013 interview I did with Frazer, and in that spirit I’m largely going to quote from what I wrote then. Frazer is a career accountant, having served as President of the Houston CPA Society, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Texas Society of CPAs for the past 20 years. He recently retired as Chief Financial Officer of CB Richard Ellis Capital Markets, and has been a board member of GEMSA Loan Services. Please note that during the interview, Frazer shows me a chart about Houston’s pension payments. A copy of that chart is here, for your reference. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Chron Mayoral profile: Marty McVey

This is the sixth in a series of profiles on the top candidates running for mayor in Houston.

Marty McVey

Marty McVey

Standing in his sparse west Houston office this summer, Marty McVey traced his route to victory across a city map hung on the wall.

The long-shot mayoral candidate began around the edges, pointing to the predominantly minority districts along the city’s southwestern border, before circling in toward downtown.

“I do see a path,” said McVey, 41, who has never held elected office and raised just $60,000 in the first half of the year, though he loaned himself another nearly $1.1 million.

In a city where the political world often feels so small, McVey is the odd exception: an investor who, when he arrived on the local Democratic fundraising scene about a decade ago, was unknown to many of Houston’s longtime political players.

His candidacy, too, took some by surprise.

“He’s been kind of a mystery man,” said former City Councilman Gordon Quan, for whom McVey previously fundraised.

This outsider status is one McVey touts, pitching himself as a businessman with the financial acumen required to spur Houston’s economic development and tackle its looming $126 million budget deficit.

“I see that we’re going to have to make some very tough decisions, and I’ve been through tough decisions,” he said in a recent interview. “I’ve helped companies to turn around and be successful, and I’ve seen the best and worst of a lot of financial situations.”

On the campaign trail, McVey advocates for filling city coffers, in part by bringing more businesses and residents to Houston, though the city’s revenue cap limits how much it can collect in property taxes from that new growth.

He supports issuing bonds to cover the city’s unfunded pension liability – a core issue in this year’s campaign – and often addresses budget gaps with vague references to getting more federal funding.
Throughout, McVey cites his experience creating and saving companies.

“I know what risk is. I know how to manage. I know how to look for opportunities,” McVey said at a recent mayoral forum.

Yet McVey declined to comment on the specifics of many of his investments and companies, saying they were private, and a recent child support case shows his monthly resources were $2,500 as of December 2014.

I’ve met McVey, but in keeping with the theme of this story I don’t really know him – I certainly don’t know him as well as the other candidates, and had never heard of him before he announced his candidacy – so I learned a lot from reading this. McVey has a lot of business experience, but it’s not clear how much any of that experience bolsters his case for Mayor. Honestly, and it gives me no great joy to say this, I don’t know what the case for McVey is. As a first-time candidate who wasn’t particularly well-known to begin with, he has no obvious base of support, and he doesn’t check off any box that Chris Bell doesn’t. He’s loaned himself a million bucks – and again, let’s be honest, that’s what separates him from the “minor” candidates – but he hasn’t spent much if any of that money introducing himself to voters. He could start spending it now, but I doubt there’s enough time to make a difference, and unlike a certain other unknown businessman Mayoral candidate who (at first at least) wrote his own check, he wouldn’t have the airwaves to himself. People run for offices for their own reasons, and in my experience most of those reasons are good. McVey’s reasons for running are honorable. I just don’t know what he expects to get out of the experience at this point.

Posted in: Election 2015.

We’re still #1!

In uninsured people.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

For the first time in more than a decade, Texas’ uninsured rate dipped below 20 percent, analysts said [recently] following the release of U.S. Census data.

Slightly more than 5 million Texans were uninsured in 2014 — a 700,000 decrease from the year before. That represented a 3-point dip in the percentage of Texans without health insurance, to 19 percent — the largest gain in health care coverage in Texas since 1999, according to the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.

The data released Wednesday marked the first government-provided snapshot of the uninsured rate since the rollout of, the health insurance marketplace created by President Obama’s signature health law.

Texas remains the state with the highest rate of uninsured people, according to the federal survey. Nationwide, the uninsured rate fell from about 15 percent to 12 percent.

And it’s not just in the rate where we lead, it’s also in sheer numbers.

Texas’ decrease was just 40 percent of the size of California’s shrinkage of its uninsured population. It reduced the number of uninsured by 1.73 million folks. That’s out of proportion to population. The bureau’s latest estimates show California has about 1.4 times as many people as Texas — 39 million versus 27 million. California has expanded Medicaid and runs its own online health insurance marketplace.

For many years, the Golden State has had the largest uninsured population. No longer. Texas does.

The Lone Star State has not just the highest percentage but the biggest raw number of uninsured — 5,047,000. In 2013, California had 6.5 million uninsured residents, while Texas had 5.75 million. But last year, California’s number dipped below 4.8 million.

“California has seen robust increases in both private insurance coverage under the [federal law’s] marketplace and public coverage through Medicaid coverage for working poor adults,” said Obamacare supporter Anne Dunkelberg, a veteran health-policy analyst at the center-left think tank the Center for Public Policy Priorities. She noted that California posted a nearly 5 percentage point decrease in its uninsured rate. It dropped from 17.2 to 12.4 percent, compared with only 3-point drop in Texas from 2013 to 2014.

But hey, at least we surpassed California in something, amirite? Woo hoo, high five!

All five of the states with the highest uninsurance rate have one thing in common: They failed to expand Medicaid. Well, two things in common, that and having Republican Governors and legislatures. But if you knew the first part, you could have guessed the second.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Endorsement watch: For Jerry

The Chron makes another easy call by endorsing CM Jerry Davis for a third term in District B.

CM Jerry Davis

CM Jerry Davis

In this race Davis is the only candidate who understands how the system functions and how a council member can pull the levers of power at City Hall to benefit his constituents.

In the private sector, Davis, 42, serves as executive director of Making It Better, a nonprofit youth program.

In his time on council, he has worked to place security cameras to catch illegal dumpers. He also successfully promoted a controversial tax incentive to encourage Krogers to expand its distribution center in northeast Houston. While we question the efficacy of these enticements, it shows that Davis uses every tool at his disposal to fight for District B.


The councilman said he supports the Houston equal rights ordinance, but only came to that position after talking with people and educating himself. It is an education that plenty of other politicians could use.


As Davis faces his third and final term, there is simply nobody else in this race who can match his knowledge and experience. Voters better start looking now for an effective replacement when term limits force him from office.

I agree on all counts. I didn’t do interviews in District B this year, but I have spoken with CM Davis twice before, most recently in 2013. The next Mayor will be glad to have CM Davis on Council with him.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Interview with Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Continuing with my interviews with candidates for Houston City Controller to succeed the term-limited Ronald Green, today’s subject is Chris Brown. The son of former City Council member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown, Chris Brown currently serves as the Chief Deputy City Controller, where he manages the day-to-day operations and leads the Executive Division of the Controller’s Office. He has previously served as City Council Chief of Staff, and worked as a trader at an investment bank and co-founded an equities trading firm. He is a fourth-generation Houstonian and graduate of HISD schools and TCU. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Bad choice, Lance

Very disappointing.


Lance Berkman, former Houston Astros star and Texas native, has waded into the fight for LGBT protections, sharing his views in a new ad campaign this week. At the center of Berkman’s concern is Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a nondiscrimination law similar to those on the books in cities across the country and the subject of an intense debate leading up to the November 3 vote.

Berkman is focused on the part of the law that applies to public accommodations like bathrooms; he echoes the anti-trans rhetoric used by HERO’s opponents as he urges Houston residents to vote against the measure, invoking his four daughters and his desire to protect them from “troubled men” going into women’s restrooms.

“Proposition 1, the bathroom ordinance, would allow troubled men to enter women’s public bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms. This would violate their privacy and put them in harm’s way,” he says in the ad, produced by Campaign for Houston.

In an accompanying video Berkman adds, “It’s crazy and it kinda makes me want to say… Wake up, America! That’s what I want to scream at people because I mean, what are we doing here? We have the potential for men going into a women’s bathroom. The very few people that this could even be slanted as discriminating against, is it worth putting the majority of the population at risk?”


Berkman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his opposition to the measure was based on the one equal-access application that would allow trans people to use any bathroom they consider to be consistent with their gender identity. He tried to walk back the reference to “troubled men,” saying it was not in reference to transgender people: “That language refers to that scenario or a voyeur — somebody who goes into a women’s bathroom and just likes to look at people. That to me is troubled.”

The situation Berkman describes is virtually unheard of, however. According to the Advocate, “although hundreds of trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances have been in force in cities around the country for several decades, there has never been a verifiable, reported instance of a trans person harassing a cisgender person, nor have there been any confirmed reports of male predators ‘pretending’ to be transgender to gain access to women’s spaces and commit crimes against them.”

See, that’s what happens when you make statements based on lies. You really look like an idiot when you get called on it. I have no idea where this idea that it’s okay to discriminate against some people, based on a fevered dream of something that might maybe someday happen, but I’m pretty sure that anyone who would say that is fully confident that he himself will never be part of any group that would ever be discriminated against. All I can say is that this attitude is exactly why we need anti-discrimination ordinances.

By the way, I don’t know if anyone has explained this to Lance Berkman, but the city Saint Louis (as well as Saint Louis County), where he played for two seasons and where he was just feted at a Cards game, has the same non-discrimination ordinance that Houston passed. Lots and lots of cities do. There’s a reason why the Houston Association of Realtors has endorsed HERO. It was good for Saint Louis, and it is good for Houston.

In the spirit of dispelling the kind of BS that Lance Berkman has unfortunately chosen to help spread, here’s the newest ad from Houston Unites:

I know that facts have limited capacity to persuade people whose minds are already made up, but they’re still the facts. Why would you trust anyone who would so shamelessly lie to you? OutSports has more.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Uber update, parts 2 and 3

Driving for Uber is a tough way to make a living.


One hundred job applications and still nothing. Jennifer Cantrell, 34, partway through a master’s degree in social work, had depleted her savings and needed a new plan. Through Facebook, she found out about someone subleasing cars to prospective drivers for Uber, the smartphone-based ride service.

It seemed promising: She had a license and was willing to learn the road. Uber offered freedom and flexibility, she’d heard, and an annual full-time income of $90,000. So Cantrell leased a car and signed up.

Yet after several months of working as much as 70 hours a week, she found herself in the red, not only with the owner of her new Toyota but with her landlord as well. Her weekly earnings statements looked decent on their face – after Uber’s cut, around $400 for 35 hours – but she’d somehow be left with just $100 a week once she figured in gas and the lease.

Uber likes to boast that its casual, affordable service is powered by part-time drivers seeking work “outside the 9 to 5.” That sounds like a convenient sideline for people like Cantrell: a cooler, more middle-class population than is usually drawn to taxi driving. For Cantrell, though, Uber became a full-time job that paid less than the minimum wage.

Other Uber drivers interviewed in Houston and elsewhere, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution from Uber, cited problems including pressure to provide costly amenities or to accept too many passengers in order to get good customer ratings. One driver said immigrants who drive for Uber tend to draw lower ratings.

Others, mostly part-time drivers with other sources of income, said their Uber experience had been positive. Uber maintains most of its drivers are part-time.

“You have to find what works for you,” said Lateefah Eburuche, who lives and drives part-time from the Third Ward, near the University of Houston.

Eburuche said Uber gives her flexibility so she can go out of town for trips related to her clothing design business.

“To me, Uber was the perfect answer for the convenience,” she said.


Uber requires drivers to get a license and to use their personal cars, so long as they meet certain minimum standards: a 2008 model or newer, four doors and under 150,000 miles.

Drivers like Cantrell can’t afford to buy an Uber-compliant vehicle and thus resort to formal or informal leases. Uber itself offers vehicle discounts and financing options. Last year, Uber was criticized for partnering with Santander Consumer USA, a leasing giant investigated by the Department of Justice for illegally repossessing vehicles from military personnel.

“I have seen [Uber] try to finance cars for other people, and I’m like, ‘That’s a disaster. Don’t do it,’ ” Cantrell said. “They offer new drivers these subprime auto loans, to pay over $200 a week on their car note while the car depreciates like crazy.”


On each ride, a passenger chooses a rating between one and five stars, with five being the best. But, drivers say, anything less than a high four average can undermine their ability to get rides.

Such basics as the cost of a fare are similarly unpredictable, Uber drivers say. One Houston driver recalls starting with the company at a rate of $2.50 per mile in 2013, “but eight months later, it was $1.89 and last November, $1.10 a mile,” said the driver, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “Now, to make $200, I need to stay on the app for 15 hours.”

Houston’s current base Uber fare of $1.10 per mile can “surge” to as much as 10 times the regular amount in certain locations during periods of high demand. By offering this boost in fares through driver alert emails and text messages, Uber nudges workers to meet the increased passenger load of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, large conventions and sporting events.

There’s another incentive: “guarantees,” or minimum hourly rates paid to drivers who meet certain conditions.

In general, these surges and guarantees pull drivers into downtown and central Houston, the eight neighborhoods identified by Uber’s technology as having consistently high demand. But when Uber vehicles crowd into these zones in search of higher pay, supply sometimes exceeds demand. A driver may “chase a surge” only to find, upon his arrival, that the area is no longer hot. And those trying to meet the requirements of guarantees may find it difficult to snag the requisite rides-per-hour.

It’s been rough on cabbies, too.

Houston and other big cities have long debated how best to manage vehicles-for-hire. Are taxis private or public transportation, free-market animals or creatures of the state?

Cabs were first licensed during the Great Depression, when thousands of unemployed men flooded the industry, spurring violent competition. City by city, regulators set qualifications, normalized rates and issued permits or medallions to limit the number of cars on the road. Some drivers became owner-operators, while others were company employees paid wages per shift.

Since the 1960s, waves of deregulation and re-regulation have buffeted the industry. Deregulation in the late 1970s and ’80s created real competition, variable fees and new services. On the other hand, deregulation meant that drivers were converted from employees to independent contractors, depriving them of the rights to a minimum wage, overtime and collective bargaining.

Many U.S.-born drivers sold their permits and quit the industry. New immigrants have since taken their place – but mostly as leaseholders. They pay rents to garages that in turn funnel money to permit-owners with hundreds to their name. A study of the Houston taxi market found that “a driver working long hours could be expected to average $210 to $240 per day driving his cab.” Nationwide, the average, full-time taxi driver earns just $23,000 per year.


In cities such as Houston, Austin, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York and Boston, taxi drivers and worker organizers are playing defense. For decades, they’ve wrangled with medallion- and garage-owners; now, all eyes are on Uber.

“Oversupply – Uber’s economic model depends on that,” said Bhairavai Desai, leader of the National Taxi Workers Alliance, an informal union.

Ebrahim Ulu, president of the United Houstonian Taxi Drivers Association, understands a driver’s desire to go with Uber and escape the clutch of traditional taxi companies.

“But what did Uber do in every city?” he said. “They didn’t improve permits or driver conditions.”

In 2013, the association sent Houston a 22-page document listing grievances – lack of time off, abuse by lease owners, poverty-level income – that it says reveals the “slavery” of the lease-to-drive structure. It proposed that the city grant new permits to individual drivers for the purpose of forming a worker cooperative that would offer protections and benefits to owner-employees.

Nothing ever came of this proposal. In taxi-industry time, 2013 is ancient history. Back then, neither the city nor the UHTDA foresaw the effect Uber would have on Houston and beyond.

See here for part one. Both stories are basically anecdotal evidence, so one should be hesitant to draw broad conclusions. The complaints about oversupply are understandable given Uber’s intent to recruit more drivers here, but if it really is the case that its drivers can’t make decent money, that’s going to be hard for them to do. As for Uber’s drivers, the best thing that could happen to them may be for Lyft to be lured back to town, as this would provide competition for their services and a catalyst for their per-mile rates to increase. What might be done to help out cabbies that are having a hard time paying their leases is a harder question, and I have no ideas offhand. Again, this is a subject that maybe the Mayoral candidates should be asked about.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: Stardig

I’m too lazy to think of a clever title for this one.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig is on the verge of completing her nonconsecutive second term as district councilwoman, and she has earned a third.

Stardig, 53, came into office with a resume impressive in its breadth and depth of civic involvement. She served on her neighborhood civic club, was head of a superneighborhood, sat on a tax increment reinvestment zone, a chamber of commerce and the Houston-Galveston Area Council. However, she was booted after her first term in a low-turnout election and replaced by Helena Brown. Rather than a constructive member of council, District A found itself with a ineffective rabble-rouser representative. Two years later, voters put Stardig back on council and she started to put important infrastructure projects back on track.


Stardig said she opposed the Houston equal rights ordinance because she believed there were other ways to address discrimination. While we believe that Stardig was wrong in her vote, she fares much better than her opponent. Iesheia K. Ayers-Wilson, a 35-year-old tax preparer, told the editorial board that she thinks businesses should be allowed to discriminate against people based on religion.

I got this one right, though it’s not like there was anything to it. I suppose we all owe Ms. Ayers-Wilson a bit of gratitude for demonstrating so succinctly that it’s always possible to coarsen the debate on a matter of public policy. Do you think it ever occurs to people like that that they could be discriminated against, or is it just the case that they think they already are by not being allowed to discriminate freely against others? And yes, I know I’m saying that about a candidate in the district that once elected Helena Brown. It can always get worse.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Interview with Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

We are coming into the home stretch for interview season. This week will be interviews with candidates for Houston City Controller, currently held by term-limited incumbent Ronald Green. First up is Carroll Robinson, who served three terms as At Large City Council member and three years on the HCC Board of Trustees, stepping down this year to mount his Controller campaign. Robinson is an Associate Professor at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and has served as Associate Dean of External Affairs there. He has a long list of board memberships, committees, and associations that’s hard to excerpt but can be seen on his HCC Board biography page, and there’s a long list of policy objectives, some of which we discussed in the interview, on his campaign webpage. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Uber update, part 1

The Chron, in conjunction with Al Jazeera Americas, gives the first of what should be a four-part look at how Uber is doing in Houson.


Less than a year after Houston began regulating so-called transportation network companies, questions persist about safety assurances from Uber, the city’s sole entrant in the field. Uber is testing local officials’ good graces by criticizing the rules it agreed to follow and lobbying for the state to supplant them. In certain instances, Uber has failed to abide by rules that Houston changed to accommodate the company.

Some drivers, meanwhile, say Uber is squeezing them, saturating the market so it’s impossible for most to make a living wage.

“They want to own Houston, and they will,” said one driver, who asked not to be identified because she feared the company would disable her account. “But those of us out here, doing the work… we won’t see a dime they don’t want us to have.”

Yet none of the company’s problems – not even the highly publicized case of a driver accused of sexually assaulting a passenger in Houston – seems to have dented its popularity.

“I use it everywhere,” said Sami Tamska, 30, who moved to Houston last year. “Here, Dallas, whenever I go anywhere. It’s all the same.”

The enthusiasm of customers like Tamska suggests that Uber is likely here to stay. What remains to be seen is how the rules of the road will continue to evolve for the company, and what that will mean for consumers.

“Innovation has gotten out ahead of the public policy environment,” said Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley. “Things haven’t changed in 100 years in this industry, and suddenly, it’s changing rapidly, and I think everyone is still figuring out what that means.”

That includes city officials in Houston, who went through a rigorous process to try to assure customer safety without stifling innovation. Rather than accept Uber’s background checks, the city demanded drivers go through the same, more rigorous process as cab drivers.

Less than six months into the new system, Uber acknowledged hundreds of its drivers were not licensed to drive in Houston and were removed from the platform only after an unlicensed driver with a federal prison record was accused of sexually assaulting a passenger.


In Houston, at least for now, Uber is undercutting cab prices. A typical ride from Bush Intercontinental Airport to downtown in a taxi could top $60, compared to around $40 in UberX, the company’s least-expensive option. Taxi fares, however, are standard and predictable, while Uber often increases its rates when demand is highest.

With Uber’s entry, on top of 2,446 permitted taxi cabs, the number of people offering rides for money is unclear. Uber, via court filings, has resisted public release of information on how many trips it has provided or its number of drivers, calling the data a trade secret.

“It’s safe to assume there are thousands (of drivers),” said Duane Kamins, owner of Lone Star Cab Company, part of a legacy industry that lobbied hard to prevent Uber’s entry into Houston.

It’s a good story, though I can’t say I learned a whole lot of things I didn’t already know. Given that this is the first part of a four-part series, here are some topics I’d like to see explored in the others:

– San Antonio has revisited its vehicles for hire ordinance, as its original version caused both Uber and Lyft to leave town. Lyft has since promised to return there, but it does not operate in Houston as it did not care for Houston’s background check requirements. Does anyone on either side regret Lyft not being here? Do any of the Mayoral candidates think revisiting Houston’s ordinance is a good idea?

– There was an effort in the Lege last session to create statewide regulations on vehicles for hire, which would have overridden city ordinances, at least in its initial form. One can reasonably expect a similar bill to be filed in 2017. What if anything did the city of Houston do to affect the outcome of the 2015 bill, filed by Rep. Chris Paddie? What if anything would the Mayoral candidates do in 2017 when the next such bill gets filed?

– How much business have the cab companies really lost, and how much of Uber’s business here in town is new users? How does this compare to other Texas cities?

– Uber drivers in Dallas recently went on strike to protest new rules promulgated by Uber about fares for UberBlack drivers. What do Houston UberBlack drivers think about this? What if any role should city regulators play in such disputes?

– Is there any local data to corroborate or refute recent claims that ridesharing companies have a positive effect on DUI homicide rates? I know it’s way too early to draw any conclusions, I’m just looking for anecdotal evidence.

What questions would you like to see examined?

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Counting the number of same sex marriages in Texas

Fewer than I’d have guessed, but still a decent amount percentage-wise.

Statewide, an estimated 2,500 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in Texas since the [Obergfell] ruling.

There is no exact accounting of how many same-sex marriage licenses have been issued in Texas or Tarrant County because gender is no longer listed on licenses.

But the Star-Telegram’s review of marriage licenses issued in Tarrant County the past two months shows that almost 9 percent of the licenses appear to have been issued to same-sex couples. Statewide, 5.7 percent of marriage licenses appear to have been given to same-sex couples.

“There are many same-sex couples who simply waited until it was legal to seek licenses,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “As a result, there have been a number of folks who might have gotten married years ago had it been possible to do so who are taking advantage of their opportunity to gain legal recognition for their committed relationship.

“My guess is that the overall percentage will shrink over time from this initial data once the ‘pent-up demand’ has been satisfied.”


Officials stress that state estimates of same-sex marriage licenses are just that: estimates.

“Since the application no longer has gender identifiers, this ballpark number is based on what we can assume from the applicants’ names,” said Carrie Williams, director of media relations for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which maintains vital records for the state, including marriage applications.

Overall, the state has received 43,522 marriage license applications since June 26, including the estimated 2,500 for same-sex couples, she said.

To get an idea of how many marriage licenses Tarrant County has granted to same-sex couples, the Star-Telegram reviewed a list of 3,427 applications from June 26 to Sept. 8.

The county does not keep a “breakdown of same-sex marriage license applications versus non-same-sex applications,” said Jeff Nicholson, chief deputy for Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia. “Since June 26, the forms and our software have been modified so there is no way to discern this. It simply refers to applicants.”

The review shows that at least 296 licenses — or 8.6 percent — appear to have been issued to same-sex couples.

On the one hand, I thought the “pent-up demand” might have been higher. On the other hand, a lot of couples in Texas that really wanted to be married went and got married in other states rather than wait. Either way, I do think the number will decline some as a share of all marriages, then level off. We’ll get a much better handle on the real numbers when the 2020 Census is done. One hopes that by then the whole subject will be considered little more than a statistical curiosity. The Current has more.

Posted in: Society and cultcha.

Endorsement watch: Our first twofer

My first clear misses, too.

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

For our next controller, voters should look for a candidate who can refocus the distracted office on the straight and narrow of Houston’s financial picture. In our current straits, we don’t have the luxury of electing a politician who wants to play public accountant. Controller has a specific job description and voters should limit their choices to the candidates who can boast an appropriate resume. This narrows the field of six candidates to two: Chris Brown and Bill Frazer.

We endorsed Frazer, 64, two years ago as a solid technician with impeccable qualifications. A retired accountant with 40-years experience as a certified public accountant, Frazer has worked as an auditor and as CFO for a series of oil industry companies. During his career he sat on the board of directors of the Texas Society of CPAs and served as president of the Houston CPA Society.

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

“The controller’s office should be one of credentials and one that has the ability to give the mayor and City Council clear and concise, understandable financial advice so they can make well-informed decisions and good decisions,” Frazer told the editorial board.

There’s little doubt that Frazer could do the job – he’s already done it for decades in the private sector.

Chris Brown, 40, currently serves as chief deputy controller under Green. He also served as chief of staff when Green was on council. While we’re wary of continuing Green’s tenure through his subordinates, Brown boasts a background in finance and experience in the controller’s office that would make him a fine fit for the job. Before he joined the ranks at City Hall, Brown worked as a trader for an investment bank and co-founded an equity trading firm, where he served as head of operations.


However, voters should avoid Carroll Robinson, a former city councilman and former Houston Community College trustee. When he served on the HCC board, Robinson was accused of redirecting a contract to an unqualified friend. In his current campaign, Robinson advocates for casino gambling – a policy far outside the purview of the controller’s office. And when he met with the editorial board, Robinson hinted at Ted Cruz-style obstructionism if elected by refusing to sign city checks.

I thought the Chron would go with Dwight Jefferson, so I whiffed on this one. In my defense, I did give Frazer and Brown some chances of being endorsed, and I predicted the diss on Carroll Robinson, so I do get partial credit. Judge me as you see fit. I will have interviews with all four candidates mentioned in this paragraph this week, so you can decide for yourself. As for the dual endorsement, this isn’t the first time the Chron has done this – remember the Parker/Locke twofer from 2009? – and to be fair, the Chron cites the certainty of a runoff (as they did in 2009) and the need to have the best choices in that race. Seeing this makes me wonder if they won’t do the same thing in this Mayor’s race as well. We’ll know soon enough. What do you think – is this feckless or a reasonable approach?

Posted in: Election 2015.

Weekend link dump for September 27

“Japan now has enough women over 100 years old to fill Yankee Stadium”.

Freedom of speech, bitches.

“In the early days of space flight, menstruation was part of the argument for why women shouldn’t become astronauts.”

Giant Arctic mosquitoes: Yet another reason to be concerned about climate change.

“If she’s strong enough to handle this, I can handle this.”

“The story reads like the most paranoid anti-corporate fantasy, until you get to the line where the firm admits what it did”.

Remember when Target got hacked a couple of years ago? Here’s a report on what their IT security looked like then and now.

“As Fiorina admits, I have been critical of her for over a decade—long before she announced her political aspirations. I have studied her business record, challenged her leadership abilities and have come to agree with the assessment that she was one of the worst technology CEOs in history. I stand by that evaluation.”

I guess it’s a good thing that George Will isn’t a Catholic, because he is a lying liar who lies a lot, and we Catholics consider lying to be a sin.

From the “Funny, he doesn’t look Jewish” files.

How to tell if that viral story is a hoax, if you are so inclined.

“Millions of Swifties and KatyCats—as well as Beliebers, Barbz, and Selenators, and the Rihanna Navy—would be stunned by the revelation that a handful of people, a crazily high percentage of them middle-aged Scandinavian men, write most of America’s pop hits. It is an open yet closely guarded secret, protected jealously by the labels and the performers themselves, whose identities are as carefully constructed as their songs and dances. The illusion of creative control is maintained by the fig leaf of a songwriting credit. The performer’s name will often appear in the list of songwriters, even if his or her contribution is negligible.”

“Welcome to the 21st century pharmaceutical biz, working hard to find new and innovative ways of gouging the most vulnerable members of society. And for once, we can truly say that this could happen only in America, since no other country would allow this.” See here and here for more on that.

The rent-seeking is too damn high.

“But it will be worth talking about particularly considering that if the Republican wins, it is highly likely that Roe v. Wade will be history. Three of the five Supreme Court justices who have voted to uphold the decision will be in their ’80s by the time the next president’s first term ends; Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be two months shy of her 88th birthday.”

How – and why – to fool Penn & Teller.

“With upwards of 800 million parking spaces in the United States, or more than 2 million acres, we’ve paved the equivalent of Rhode Island and Delaware in parking alone.”

Here’s an Insane Clown Posse reputational injury lawsuit appeal update for you.

You can’t find what you’re not looking for, and if you’re not looking for gifted and talented students among poor and minority children, guess what? You won’t find them, even though they’re there.

RIP, Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame catcher and human being. He was a whole lot more than you think he was.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear you, happy birthday to you. And screw you, Warner/Chappell.

RIP, Yongki, endangered Sumatran elephant, killed for his tusks. The pictures are hard to look at, so click carefully.

“VW sold 500,000 altered cars in the US and 11 million cars worldwide, so this extrapolates to about 170 deaths in the United States and about 3,700 deaths worldwide.”

My dad and I attended the Mass that Pope John Paul II celebrated at Yankee Stadium back in 1979. We bought a commemorative Pope pennant while there, because of course someone was selling Pope pennants. Clearly, commemorative Pope souvenirs have come a long way since then.

Kim Davis is now a Republican, which is how it should be.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Harris Health wants more people to enroll in Obamacare

Who can blame them?

Harris County’s public health care agency, responding to a budget crisis, will eliminate more than 19,000 people next year from eligibility for free or nearly free services, hoping most of these patients will obtain coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

The board of the agency, Harris Health, voted Thursday to reduce its income threshold for subsidized care from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent, saving the system a projected $21.3 million in fiscal year 2017.

Of those losing coverage, more than 15,000 would be eligible to purchase insurance plans through, the health insurance exchange created by the federal law widely known as Obamacare. Most would qualify for large subsidies that would lower the cost of their premiums, deductibles and co-payments.

“We know the seriousness of what is about to take place, but something is going to have to take place for us to survive” in the face of a $53 million budget deficit, board chairman Elvin Franklin said before the vote. “We have to make some hard decisions from time to time, and sometimes those decisions are not going to reflect what everybody wants.”

Under the revised guidelines, an individual making more than $17,655 annually or a family of four with income exceeding $36,375 would no longer be eligible for subsidized care. The change would affect an estimated 19,527 patients, about 6 percent of the 325,000 clients the agency serves.


Harris Health and local advocacy groups will have a major challenge in helping people, like Walker, understand their options and how health insurance works.

Plans sold through the exchange are arranged into four tiers – platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Platinum and gold plans generally have higher premiums but lower deductibles and copayments. Bronze plans have the lowest premiums but high deductibles and copayments.

Federal subsidies, provided through tax credits, and cost sharing help are only available through silver plans. Often, paying a higher monthly premium for a silver plan will be less expensive in the long run for an individual patient.

“We’re talking to people who have never had health insurance before,” said Tiffany Hogue, policy director for the Texas Organizing Project, an advocacy group for the poor that has been conducting enrollment outreach. “Unless they’re sick, this is not their top priority or concern. And it’s complicated to show them the value of why they need it now.”

The education effort may get a significant boost from the federal government. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced Tuesday that Houston was among the five areas the agency will target with expanded enrollment outreach because they have high levels of uninsured people.

“We’ve found that costs are still a big concern – about half of the people who are uninsured have less than $100 in savings,” Burwell said. “And people are worried about fitting premiums into their budgets. Almost 60 percent of people who are uninsured are either confused about how the tax credits work or don’t know that they are available.”

While their monthly costs may increase, patients who enroll in the exchanges will have other benefits of health insurance. For example, they can seek care from doctors and hospitals outside the Harris Health System. And their plans can provide coverage when they travel out of the area.

This has been under discussion for several weeks now, as Harris Health has tried to deal with its deficit. They could apply some of the savings they’ll get from 15,000 people signing up for Obamacare to help the 4,000 or so that don’t qualify for subsidies, and still come out way ahead. It’s going to be hard on a lot of people, and some will unfortunately fall through the cracks, but it doesn’t make sense for Harris Health to not do this. Let’s put the blame for any problems that arise – indeed, for the shortfalls that are forcing this in the first place – where it belongs: on the state, particularly Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and the Legislature, for refusing to expand Medicaid. That would have provided coverage to a large number of the people that will still be serviced by Harris Health. Medicaid expansion would also provide coverage to many people who suffer from mental illness, including a significant portion of the homeless and the people who make frequent trips to the local jails. Our state leadership isn’t interested in any of that. They want to push those costs down to the local level, where they don’t have to take responsibility for it, and they want to arbitrarily cut costs despite the huge negative effects that has. That is the root cause of these problems, and it will remain so until we have different leadership. I hope I live long enough to see it. KUHF and the Chron editorial board have more.

Posted in: Local politics.

The dark side of SpaceX

Be careful what you wish for.

People who live in Boca Chica Village, all 26 of them, knew Elon Musk’s SpaceX company would put the South Texas town on the map after it was selected last year as the world’s first commercial rocket-launch site. Now, many want SpaceX gone and their obscurity back.

The residents say SpaceX representatives told them recently they would be required to register with the county, wear badges and pass through checkpoints on launch days, which will occur about once a month beginning as soon as next year. During a 15-hour launch time frame, their movement around the village could be restricted. If they happen to be picking up groceries past a designated “point of no return,” forget about going home.

SpaceX’s proposed methods to enforce the safety rules — sweeping the beach with drones and video surveillance — aren’t helping matters. While the rules still might change, all this makes residents wish SpaceX would go away, with some even talking about acts of civil disobedience or maybe a lawsuit.

“I’m like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ ” said Cheryl Stevens, 55, who settled in Boca Chica Village a decade ago in search of quiet, rustic beauty. “It’s like Nazi Germany.”


Boca Chica Village, in one of the state’s poorest counties, sits on a dusty fleck of land between wind-swept sand dunes, emerald marshes and a desolate white beach. It’s officially called Kopernik Shores, after the famous Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, which now seems a small irony. The community of about three dozen houses, filled with mainly seasonal blue-collar workers and retirees, originally was built by a Chicago real-estate developer in the 1960s.

Experts say the safety issues are real. David Kanipe, an associate professor in the aerospace-engineering department at Texas A&M University and retired NASA engineer, said that during Cape Canaveral shuttle launches, viewers typically were required to be at least three miles away from the site. Boca Chica Village is less than two miles away. Residents could be exposed to dangerous chemicals used during launches, such as hydrazine, and falling debris in the event of an explosion, he said.

In June, an unmanned SpaceX rocket burst into flames minutes after it left Cape Canaveral. In the following days, beachgoers were warned to stay away from any toxic rocket debris that washed ashore.

“I’m not sure I’d be comfortable living that close to it,” Kanipe said.

Read the whole thing, it’s kind of an amusing story if you’re not on the business end of it. I suppose this issue will come up again, as more private space launch companies emerge and need places to do their thing. Let Boca Chica Village serve as a cautionary tale and a starting point for negotiations about the procedures for launch days. See this 2007 Austin Chronicle story if you want to know a bit more about the history of this little town.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

San Antonio implements Vision Zero

Good for them.

Tuesday marked the official launch of San Antonio’s Vision Zero, a multi-national awareness and educational initiative that calls for zero traffic fatalities. It’s a lofty goal, but proponents of the plan say these deaths, especially those of pedestrians, are preventable accidents that can be systematically addressed with infrastructure and safety education.

Last year 54 pedestrians were killed while walking in San Antonio, an average of one death per week. To pay tribute to those individuals, 54 people stood on the steps of City Hall as Mayor Ivy Taylor, Council members, and City staff launched the initiative.

“We suffer human losses because of culture and public policy decisions that have resulted in the built environment we have today,” said Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5), who has long advocated for more City investment in complete street, or multimodal, infrastructure and led the Council’s backing of Vision Zero.

According to the ethos of Vision Zero, individuals and roadway design should share the burden of ensuring safe passage. Priority is often given to vehicles, leaving pedestrians and cyclists to fend for themselves in an environment built for tires and steel.

“We have a high number of traffic fatality rates because we have a fundamentally dangerous environment,” Gonzales said.

Aside from infrastructure like better sidewalks and safer street crossings, the City is looking into reducing speed limits to create a safer environment for those walking and bicycling.

“We’ve made and continue to make policy decisions and direct City staff to construct projects that keep everyone and every mode of transportation in mind,” Mayor Taylor said.

See here, here, and here for some background, and here for the city’s official plan. The basic idea here is that the way our streets are constructed now, it’s dangerous for anyone who isn’t in a car, and this is reflected in the number of accidents and fatalities involving pedestrians and bicyclists. This doesn’t have to be the way things are, it’s the way we currently choose to do them. If we do them differently, and think in terms of everyone who uses the streets and not just the cars, we could have fewer accidents and fewer deaths. That seems like a worthy goal, no? I look forward to seeing what kind of results they get, because that is how this will ultimately be judged. The Current has more, and you can sign petitions to bring this to Houston and Austin if you are so inclined. Streetsblog has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: Let’s continue a success story

The Chron endorses CM Richard Nguyen, first term Council Member whose win was a surprise in 2013 and whose service on Council has been easily deserving of a second term.

Richard Nguyen

Richard Nguyen

A political neophyte when he stepped into office two years ago, Nguyen has supported Alief Independent School District’s COMET program, an after-school program that works with children living in multi-family housing and has secured future bond funds for District F’s first multi-service center. He’s shown that he’s responsive to the people in his district by directly funding overtime for Houston Police Department officers.

Opponent Steve Le is a physician specializing in family medicine. Although he offers an impressive resume, he’s not that familiar with city issues, and his opposition to the Houston equal rights ordinance is a mark against him, particularly in the district he hopes to represent.

A third candidate, Rev. Kendall Baker filed on the last day. His primary issue is opposition to HERO, ironic perhaps, since he was suspended as a manager for the city’s 311 customer service line after charges of sexual harassment against subordinate female employees were filed against him.

Nguyen, on the other hand, offered a passionate defense of the equal rights ordinance. (“We have nothing to lose but much to gain.”) He spent his first term learning the ropes and working with the mayor in an effort to get things done for his district. He deserves a second term.

Another one I called, though this one was no surprise. I agree with all the Chron says above. CM Nguyen has done a good job and deserves re-election. Steve Le has a good story to tell and his heart is in the right place, but like many first-time candidates he isn’t as strong on the issues and role of Council as he could be. Kendall Baker is an unworthy one-note candidate who should be avoided. Here’s the interview I did with CM Nguyen if you missed it before.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Saturday video break: Here Comes The Flood

Here comes a very young Peter Gabriel, doing a very acoustic piano version of “Here Comes The Flood”:

That was from a 1979 Kate Bush Christmas special. Who knew Kate Bush had a Christmas special? Who knew that was a Christmas song? All I know is that I’m glad this was a thing that happened.

I have a cover version by Robert Fripp, but I’d rather give you this video of Gabriel and Fripp, also from 1979:

Clearly, 1979 was a good year.

Posted in: Music.

Ogg announces for DA

Rematch time.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg, the Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for district attorney last year, launched her second bid for the office Friday, promising to pursue violent criminals, de-emphasize misdemeanor marijuana possession cases and aggressively combat prosecutorial misconduct.

Ogg took a series of jabs at how the incumbent Republican, Devon Anderson, has chosen to prioritize some cases over others, hinting that a rise in violent crime was being met with over-incarceration of low level, mostly black and Hispanic, nonviolent offenders.

Challenger Ogg said she spent the time since her last campaign researching law enforcement programs that are tested and proven elsewhere in the nation, and this time she is better equipped with programs that will turn the office around.

In her kickoff event across from the Harris County criminal courthouse, Ogg criticized Anderson for lenient handing of a misconduct case against a Houston Police homicide detective charged with failing to investigate 24 murder cases involving black and Hispanic victims.

She also accused Anderson of making a novice mistake, jumping to conclusions about the motive of an African-American suspect charged in the shooting of Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth. Without evidence, Ogg said, the DA linked the suspect to a legitimate civil rights movement.

“It’s the DA alone who determines who will be charged and with what crime. The DA holds the key to the front door of the courthouse and the back door of the jail,” she said, “a lawyer’s job boils down to judgment.”

Anderson, according to her challenger, “lacks the experience and judgment to successfully carry out the duties of district attorney.”

Game on already, it would seem. Ogg ran slightly ahead of the Democratic baseline in the dumpster fire that was 2014. A Presidential year, as 2016 will be, ought to give her a boost. Ogg hit some themes from 2014 in her announcement – it wasn’t in the story, but I figure marijuana prosecution policy will come up sooner or later. I’m not paying very close attention to 2016 just yet – we still have to survive this year, after all – but as filing season begins four weeks after Election Day – before the runoffs, in other words – it’s hard to avoid. Dems still need to fill out the rest of the countywide slate, and I’d prefer sooner rather than later. Now that Ogg has made her entry official, I hope candidates for other offices will follow.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Why Ken Paxton isn’t going anywhere

It’s as simple as one:

Best mugshot ever

In a rare public appearance since his indictment in late July, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made an appeal for more Christian involvement in politics as he addressed the congregation at First Baptist Grapevine on Sunday.

“It takes a lot of courage for believers to step into this political process,” he said. “We are in the position as the church, and as believers, we have to stand up and speak out.”

Paxton, who was asked to speak at the church by a local tea party group, made his remarks during about 20 minutes of conversation with Pastor Doug Page.


On Sunday, Paxton did not directly refer to the charges against him. He instead emphasized the importance of faith and the support of fellow Christians in his life — and listed among his biblical heroes Daniel, Paul, Joseph, and Moses who he said had stood up to unjust laws and government as Christians though they faced the risk of imprisonment and death.

“I feel like it would be hopeless if I were out there alone and I didn’t feel the presence and knowing that there are believers praying for me. I don’t know that it would be possible for me to move forward,” he said. “It makes more of a difference than you think.”

As an example of what Christians could do if they made their voices heard, the attorney general described efforts to help pass legislation known as the Pastor Protection Bill, which affirmed the rights of clergy to refuse to conduct marriages that violate their beliefs.

“That bill was dead. Then 200 pastors all started calling their state representatives and it kicked into gear and passed. That’s the power of the Christian community if they’ll get involved in the process,” he said.

The former lawmaker also credited his victory in his first race for the Legislature — where he served as a state representative then as a state senator from 2003 until 2013 — to the engagement of the Christian faithful in politics.

“One of my opponents was my senator’s chief of staff, so he had all the endorsements of the community leaders, he had all the money,” Paxton said. “What I felt God was telling me was ‘get the Christian community out to vote.’”


First Baptist is the home church for a number of prominent North Texas tea party activists, and Paxton’s appearance was advertised as a Northeast Tarrant Tea Party event. Paxton and Page never spoke directly about them, but our AG’s legal unpleasantries were a clear subtext of the talk, witnessed by a crowd of several hundred faithful.

During a 20-minute conversation on the church’s unadorned stage, Paxton and First Baptist’s senior pastor, Doug Page, placed the attorney general neatly within the history of Christian martyrs persecuted for speaking biblical truths. They warned of a dark future for America if virtuous men like Paxton are allowed to fall.

“We’ve been so blessed in America because we’ve had an unusual couple of hundred years. There’s not very many countries that have had the religious freedom, and the freedoms that we’ve had in this country, and it’s so easy to take it for granted,” Paxton said. Some of his favorite biblical figures, he said, were men who suffered at the hands of the powers-that-be for standing up for what was right.

He continued: “So it’s not that unusual, as Christians, to have to confront not only the culture, but also the government. And so here we are in America, where we haven’t really had to do that. And I think that has changed. What America was 50 years ago — even what we were 10 years ago — is very different.” Christians nowadays had to speak up more in their personal and public lives, he said. Paxton had tried to do so while working at noted den of iniquity J.C. Penney before he was elected to the Texas House, but he said it had not made him popular.

David and Jeremiah had turned challenging times into opportunities to spread the word of the Lord, and Paxton said that Christians today could take solace from these men, unafraid to speak even “at the cost of their lives.”


Attorney General Ken Paxton vowed to continue fighting against the Obama administration and “for the Constitution” during a meeting of the Williamson County Republican Leaders organization held at the Sirloin Stockade restaurant Monday night, but transparency wasn’t on the menu.

Members of the press were nearly asked to leave the meeting, claiming it was closed to the media. The group’s president, Mike McCloskey, said the meeting was for members of the organization and sponsored guests, though the group’s website implied events were open to the public.

McCloskey relented after members of the press agreed not to record the event or take pictures.

Ken Paxton knows who his voters are, he knows what they want to hear, and he knows how to give it to them. As long as they’re still with him, he will feel no pressure to resign. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it is entirely plausible to me that Paxton could be on not just the March 2018 ballot but the November 2018 ballot as well even after being convicted but still going through the appeals process. Barring a final conviction or an electoral defeat, he’s not going anywhere.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

B-Cycle expansion coming


Houston area officials are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into widening Interstate 45, and they could be paying much more for even larger upcoming projects along the corridor.

But a comparatively-paltry sum is about to boost bike sharing in Houston in a big way.

The same transportation improvement plan aiming $140 million at I-45 includes $4.7 million meant to expand the B-Cycle program in the city. The plan is set for discussion Friday by the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Transportation Policy Council.

The money, including a 21 percent match from B-Cycle, will add stations in the Texas Medical Center and Rice Village in one phase, increase density in the downtown and Midtown area from the Med Center in another, before expanding east and southeast to EaDo and the University of Houston and Texas Southern University area.

“By the time this is finished, our goal is to go from 29 stations and 210 bikes to 100 stations with 800 bikes,” said Will Rub, director of Houston B-Cycle.


Having 800 bikes at Houston kiosks would build on what supporters have said is strong use of the bikes by Houston residents and visitors. From January to July, more than 60,000 bike checkouts occurred. The theory, following on similar reaction in Denver, is more stations and bikes exponentially increase use, provided the stations are where people want to go.

See here, here, and here for some background. According to the Mayor’s press release, about $3.8 million is coming from H-GAC, and the rest is from B-Cycle, which as he story notes has generally covered most of its operating costs. Having more stations will make B-Cycle a lot more usable; I personally have had a couple of recent occasions where I needed to get somewhere on the edges of downtown from my office, but the nearest B-Cycle station was far enough away from my destination that it wasn’t worth it. Especially now with the rerouted buses and the new rail lines, expanding B-Cycle access will make transit that much more convenient as well. I look forward to seeing where the new kiosks go. The Highwayman has more.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Endorsement watch: A close choice

The Chron endorses Greg Travis in a close call in District G.

Greg Travis

Greg Travis

Attorney Greg Travis, 52, is going head-to-head against media consultant and current Houston Community College Trustee Sandie Mullins Moger, 50. Each candidate brought an excellent resume and knowledge of government to our editorial board screening. We give the nod to Travis in a race that almost is too close to call.

It was an encounter that thousands of us regularly face that served as Travis’ call to action. He hit a pothole that blew out a tire and paid more than $700 for repairs. Days later, in another auto shop, he overheard a woman who was spending hundreds of dollars because of a similar experience. “I watched her face when she handed over her credit card … she was reprioritizing. I got angry and said, I’ve got time and money. I’m going to run for City Council to stop this.”

This is not Travis’ first venture into partisan politics. The University of Texas Law School graduate missed a runoff by fewer than 100 votes in a 1999 run for Houston City Council.

Travis understands that in a strong-mayor system, “one city councilman can’t solve all of the problems.” But he promises to work tirelessly to identify budget excesses. “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” he said, as one of the few candidates to sound an alarm bell about the slumping energy market.


Both candidates oppose the Houston equal right ordinance but Travis does so on procedural grounds. Moger, however, bases her opposition on unfounded fear-mongering that lowers the standard of debate.

As for those nagging potholes, Travis says the solution will come with better management of Rebuild Houston, a task he promises to embrace.

Moger bills herself as a “motorcycle-riding, gun-shooting girl.” That may have worked for Ann Richards, but the attraction has faded.

Travis tells that pothole story – it’s a good one, and a good reason to want to run for office – in the interview I did with him. I made Travis to be a 55-45 favorite over Sandie Moger for the endorsement, so it’s another win for me, but I called it for the wrong reason. It wasn’t Moger’s involvement with the HCC Board that the Chron didn’t like, it was one part swagger and one part tone about HERO. They work in mysterious ways over there, that’s all I can say.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Friday random ten: Revisiting the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs list, part 14

Here’s their list.

1. Foxey Lady – Jimi Hendrix (#153)
2. Me and Bobby McGee – Kris Kristofferson (featured cover by Janis Joplin, #148; also a cover by The Modern Barbershop Quartet)
3. Rock Lobster – The B-52’s
4. Purple Rain – Big Daddy (orig. Prince, #144)
5. I Saw Her Standing There – The Beatles (#140)
6. Eleanor Rigby – Ray Charles (orig. The Beatles, #138)
7. Your Song – Rod Stewart (orig. Elton John, #137)
8. Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who (#134)
9. With Or Without You – U2 (#132)
10. Rock And Roll Music – The Beatles (orig. Chuck Berry, #129)

Song that is probably too inappropriate for use in a cruise ship ad: “Lust For Life”, Iggy Pop (#149). Didn’t stop Royal Carribbean from using it, however.
Song I don’t have but probably should, part 1: “I Wanna Be Sedated”, The Ramones (#145). I thought I had it from a collection CD, but I don’t.
Song I don’t have but probably should, part 2: “Kashmir”, Led Zeppelin (#141). I do have “Kashmere”, by the Kashmere Stage Band, so that’s something
Song I can’t believe I don’t have a cover version of: “Who Do You Love?”, Bo Diddley (#133). There’s gotta be a million of ’em out there. I should probably get the George Thorogood one.

It’s Joplin’s iconic cover of “Me and Bobby McGee” that’s on the Rolling Stone list. I have a version by Kristofferson, though not his original – it’s a lovely acoustic version from the “Live at KCBO” series. In my early days with The MOB, when the Rice football team was still not very good, we sometimes played our arrangement of “Rock Lobster” as a concession that the game was lost. I suspect there aren’t many people who remember that. (Why did we do that, you may ask. As Tevye sort of says, “I don’t know. But it was a tradition.”) If you haven’t heard one of Pete Townshend’s more acoustic solo versions of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, from “Secret Policeman’s Ball” or “Deep End Live” (you have to search YouTube for that), you’re really missing out.

Posted in: Music.

Get ready for the TV ads to begin

Keep that DVR remote handy, because you’re going to have to start fast-forwarding through Mayoral campaign ads on TV soon.

After nearly topping the July fundraising that put this year’s mayor’s race on track to be the most expensive in recent city history, City Councilman Stephen Costello led the pack to the TV airwaves in late August.

His debut ad focused on three broad policy priorities: infrastructure, public safety and city finances.

Thus far, Costello has spent more on broadcast than any candidate in the race – about $625,000 across KTRK (Channel 13), KHOU (Channel 11), KPRC (Channel 2,) KRIV (Channel 26) and KIAH (Channel 39), according to his campaign – with ads scheduled in two waves through Nov. 2. He also has been advertising on cable since July.

“We saw the opportunity now to break out early, and thanks to successful fundraising and low overhead, we’re in a position to go back up and go back up strong,” Campaign Manager Ward Curtin said.

Meanwhile, presumptive frontrunners Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia, who closed out the first half of the year with more than $1 million in the bank apiece, have invested about $450,000 each in broadcast TV.

A Turner ad began airing this week on the same five Houston-area channels as Costello and briefly introduces the candidate and his policy initiatives: job training, a living wage, community policing, school partnerships and filling potholes.

According to his campaign, Turner also will begin advertising on cable on Oct. 12, having spent $75,000.

Garcia has opted for a more concentrated approach, with his ads slated to run only in the final three and a half weeks before the Nov. 2 election. They will air on six Houston-area channels, including Univision and Telemundo, beginning October 10, according to Campaign Manager Mary Bell.

“The Garcia campaign is communicating to all voters, including predominantly Spanish speaking voters, and paid communication is a part of that,” Bell said, adding, “we’re not finished buying.”


Federal Communications Commission records show [Bill] King has spent nearly $20,000 for time on KHOU next week, though campaign spokesman Chris Begala said King also will be going up on three other channels.

“Our intention is to stay up on broadcast until Election Day, but it would not be a deal-killer to be off a day or three,” Begala said in an email. “We are engaged in an aggressive mail program, social media, cable and radio buy.”

King has spent nearly $300,000 on cable, beginning in May, according to his campaign.

Chris Bell also has made a nominal foray onto television, spending nearly $25,000 to run a 30-second introductory spot this week on KTRK, KHOU, KPRC and KIAH, according to his campaign.

Greg goes into much more detail on this than I could, so let me direct you to him for an in-depth analysis. For what it’s worth, so far I’ve seen a few Costello ads and maybe on Bill King ad. I’ll just add that no candidates should overestimate their name ID. Adrian Garcia, by virtue of being elected countywide twice during Presidential years is the only candidate on this ballot that can feel reasonably secure that the voters know who he is. Everyone else from the Mayorals on down needs to assume they need to introduce themselves. An awful lot of people are just now starting to pay attention, and early voting starts in three weeks. Let’s see who does what with the opportunity they have.

Posted in: Election 2015.

Council approves inmate processing center deal with Harris County

Very good news.


An end is in sight for the inefficient process of shuttling prisoners in and out of redundant local lockups after the City Council on Wednesday approved an agreement with Harris County to build a long-discussed inmate processing center.

Public officials have discussed the need for a new booking center since the 1990s, because the current facility in the county jail tends to be over capacity even when the jail population is low and booking processes are inefficient. Roughly half the inmates booked into city jails also face state charges; they end up transferred to the county jail, where they are booked again.

City leaders have been enthusiastic backers of the processing center, knowing a larger booking facility will allow them to realize a longtime goal of shuttering the two aging municipal jails. Most big Texas cities closed their jails long ago, as these facilities typically only hold those arrested for low-level misdemeanors, usually for no more than 48 hours.

“The sooner we can get out of the jail business, the better,” said Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a former police officer who chairs the council’s public safety committee. “This will be a cost savings for us. It’s been a long time coming.”

The city and county committed a combined $9 million to design the center a year ago, and they are approving their shares of the $91 million needed to build the 238,000-square-foot, three-story facility. The building will hold 552 beds, along with offices, interview rooms, DUI processing areas, evidence lockers, lineup rooms, a clinic and courtrooms.


City voters in 2007 approved $32 million in bonds to build what would have been a larger, 2,500-bed processing center, but county voters that year rejected a $195 million bond issue for the same purpose. Presented again with a $70 million bond issue for the current, scaled-back proposal in 2013, county voters said yes.

The city’s ultimate contribution to the facility’s construction, barring any cost overruns, will be $27.3 million. Some of the other 2007 bond dollars were used to open the Houston Recovery Center, which diverts intoxicated prisoners from jail and pairs addicts with social services. That center has reduced the population of city jails and is expected to do the same at the processing center.

The facility, scheduled to break ground next month at the northeast corner of San Jacinto and Baker streets, will connect to the county jail via a tunnel.

Construction of the joint processing center was approved to begin last June, after both Harris County and the city approved finding an architect in 2013. The sobering center was opened earlier in 2013. Once this new facility opens in 2017, the city will spend more than $4 million less per year on handling inmates, and will free up about 100 cops now working at the city jail to do other things. The new facility will also have mental health treatment services, which will hopefully enable more people to get the help they need and keep them out of jail in the future. All in all, a very positive step forward.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment.

No way to run a road bond election

Am I a bad person for being unreasonably amused by this?

A special prosecutor has been assigned to determine whether behind-the-scenes negotiations could void a last-minute deal struck by Montgomery County commissioners to get a scaled-back $270 million road bond package on the upcoming November ballot.

At question is whether some commissioners and a powerful tea party group violated the open meetings law. It would mark the third defeat of a road bond proposal in the past decade, with the last one coming four months ago when voters rejected a 20 percent larger bond proposal.

“We’re going to aggressively inquire into all communications and activities that led up to commissioners putting this latest bond proposal on the ballot,” said Chris Downey, the Houston attorney appointed as special prosecutor. “We need to move quickly to determine if anything criminal was done before the Nov. 3 election is held. It could be voidable.”

A Texas Ranger has been ordered to gather emails, phone records and statements from those involved in the negotiations. Downey will then use the information to determine whether a quorum of elected officials intentionally held secret deliberations with the Texas Patriots PAC tea party that decided upon the bond proposal.

County Judge Craig Doyal and Commissioner Charlie Riley have acknowledged meeting with the tea party group, but that doesn’t represent a quorum of the five-member court. However, if emails or phones were used to include other commissioners in the decision process, it could become a “walking quorum,” which violates the law.

“This can be a way for officials to avoid open discussions in a public venue. Under the law, the public is to be notified of when and where a meeting is held so that anyone can attend,” said Dan Bevarly, interim executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. “It sounds like elected officials in this case might later come together in public only to rubber-stamp decisions made earlier in private.”

On Thursday night, The Woodlands Township Board voted unanimously to withdraw support given to the November bond package in light of the investigation.

“It stinks. It’s a back-room deal that lacks transparency,” said Township Chairman Bruce Tough. “A special interest group (Texas Patriot PAC) is dictating terms of the road bond to the county. They are not elected to represent us.”

See here and here for some background. I haven’t followed the details of Montgomery County’s efforts to get another road bond on the ballot, and I don’t have anything constructive to say. I’m just laughing at the comedy of errors going on here. For a region that has so much growth and projected growth, they sure have a hard time governing themselves. You have to wonder if this inability to do anything will eventually hinder all that growth they’re supposed to have.

And then there’s this:

The Texas Patriot PAC issued a written statement: “All private citizens have a right to petition people they elected to serve them. Meeting with two commissioners is not a violation of the open meetings laws. Any suggestion that these meetings violated such laws is entirely without merit.”

Because of the fast-approaching deadline to get a bond proposal on the ballot, the organization said there was insufficient time for more input from residents.

“Throughout this process, we thought of ourselves as representatives of all the conservative citizen groups. The framework ultimately agreed to was representative of what all the groups had been proposing since (the last bond defeat),” the statement said.

However, Duane Ham, who had served on the committee that supported the last failed bond proposal, disagreed. He recently formed the Texas Conservative Tea Party Coalition that the Patriot PAC called the “fake tea party.” “It’s sad when a few are controlling and dictating what happens in our county instead of our people.”

I’m not the only one who thought of this, am I?

I don’t know what this world is coming to when tea party groups start turning on each other.

Posted in: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.