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Archive for June, 2017

My Mom (Services)

Alicia Campos, a beloved wife, mother and grandmother, passed away on Thursday, June 15, 2017 surrounded by her family at home. She was 91.

Alicia Campos was born May 21, 1926, in Baytown to Guadalupe Torres and Ladislao Torres. She attended Robert E. Lee High School and married her high school sweetheart Antonio Campos.

In their 70 years of marriage, the couple found common interest in teaching, traveling to visit family in Mexico, hosting numerous family gatherings, campaigning and encouraging their family to be actively involved in the political process.

After graduating from the University of Houston, she went to work as a Spanish and History teacher in the La Porte Independent School District. She was an excellent seamstress and cook. After retiring from teaching, she enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren, her great grandchildren and cheering them on at their sporting events. Her favorite sports team was the Houston Astros and she followed the team closely each season.

She is preceded in death by her son Michael Campos, son-in-law Gilbert Lafuente, nephew Carlos Lara and sisters Rachel Lara and Angelina Walmsley.

She is survived by her husband Antonio Campos, her children Aida Garza (husband Roberto Garza), Marc Campos and Sylvia Lafuente and grandchildren Rachel Campos Estes, David Lafuente, Cristina Lafuente, Enrique Lafuente, Linda Garza-Martinez, Roberto Garza, Veronica Garza, Rebecca Cuellar and Miguel Garza, 13 great grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.

A visitation for family and friends will be held on Sunday, June 18, 2017 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a rosary to be recited at 5:00 p.m. at Navarre Funeral Home. Funeral services begin at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, June 19, 2017 at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 1907 Carolina Avenue Baytown, TX 77520. Interment will be at Forest Park Lawndale, 6900 Lawndale Street Houston, TX 77023.

Pallbearers will be Dante DeBerardino, Enrique Lafuente, David Lafuente, Roberto Garza, David Walmsley and John T. Walmsley. Honorary pallbearers will be Miguel Garza, Richard Walmsley, Victor Lara and Louis Rodriguez.

To view her online obituary, or post a tribute to her family, go to http://www.navarrefuneralhome.com.

Arrangements are under the direction of Navarre Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 2444 Rollingbrook Drive, Baytown, Texas 77521, (281) 422-8111.

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My Mom

I lost my Mom last night at 7:38 pm. Alicia Torres Campos had just turned 91 last month.

I will post funeral service information later on today. I will have more about my Mom on Monday.

Thanks.

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This is in the Chron today about 41 years ago today:

The game between the Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates on June 15, 1976 was postponed after fans, umpires and other stadium personnel couldn’t enter the stadium due to flooding around the Astrodome’s entrances.

I remember that day. We were preparing for the 1976 Texas Democratic State Convention that was held in H-Town that weekend.

More importantly, DACA was announced by President Obama five years ago today. Si se puede!

More of the same. Commentary is talking about yesterday’s shootings. That’s what our culture breeds these days.

More on that dumbarse move by NBC news and Megyn Kelly:

The decision of NBC to offer conspiracy theorist and Sandy Hook troll Alex Jones a prime time interview with Megyn Kelly this coming Sunday has been met with disgust and disbelief across social and mainstream media.

Now insiders within the network are voicing their discontent with the decision to offer a platform to the full-time conspiracy theorist, who presents the web show Infowars, and professes to believe a whole range of outrageous propositions.

And:

The decision of NBC to offer conspiracy theorist and Sandy Hook troll Alex Jones a prime time interview with Megyn Kelly this coming Sunday has been met with disgust and disbelief across social and mainstream media.

Now insiders within the network are voicing their discontent with the decision to offer a platform to the full-time conspiracy theorist, who presents the web show Infowars, and professes to believe a whole range of outrageous propositions.

And finally:

Kelly defended the interview yesterday, saying: “What I think we’re doing is journalism. The bottom line is that while it’s not always popular, it’s important. I would submit to you that neither I nor NBC News has elevated Alex Jones in any way. He’s been elevated by 5 or 6 million viewers or listeners, and by the president of the United States. As you know, journalists don’t get the choice over who has power or influence in our country.”

Here is all of the story: http://www.msn.com/en-us/tv/news/nbc-reportedly-holding-crisis-meetings-over-megyn-kelly-interview/ar-BBCEGYa?li=BBnbfcL&ocid=UE01DHP.

What dumbarses for sure.

Just what he asked for. A Special Counsel investigation into his sorry arse on obstruction of justice. Well deserved, may I add. Happy Belated Birthday Investigation, Donald! Yuk, yuk, yuk!

When do you think he will order the firing of the Special Counsel? Is there an over/under on this?

We needed last night’s win. Here is from the Chron’s Jake Kaplan:

Derek Fisher will forever remember the sixth inning of his major league debut. Not only did he record his first major league hit, he had his first two.

As part of a nine-run inning in the Astros‘ 13-2 win against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park, Fisher lined a leadoff home run and a two-out single. The left-handed hitting outfielder drove in two runs and scored twice in the decisive frame, which incredibly was only the Astros’ second-biggest of the season.

In avoiding a three-game sweep by their intrastate rivals, the Astros out-hit the Rangers, 19-7. They tallied seven hits in their nine-run sixth, which came against three different Texas relievers. Seven of the nine batters in their lineup had multi-hit performances in the game.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Fisher became the first player to compile his first two major league hits in the same inning since Adam LaRoche on April 7, 2004. Promoted earlier in the day from Class AAA, Fisher was one half of a top prospect showcase Wednesday. Francis Martes showed glimpses of why the industry is so high on him over five innings of one-run ball in his first major league start.

Lance McCuller got in a good one yesterday. This tweet came out yesterday about what the Rangers skipper said on the radio yesterday:

Jeff Cavanaugh      ✔ @JC1053

“All I know is they get to put Houston on their chest, we get to put Texas on ours” – My favorite guy Jeff Banister just now on @1053thefan

And here is what McCullers tweeted in response:

“It’s because nobody knows what Arlington is. #Htownproud”

I am thinking the following is more than just a cut above dollar dogs:

Julia Morales‏Verified account@JuliaMorales 11m11 minutes ago

 

Lobster Tail Corn Dog is going to be sold this weekend at the Budweiser Brew House at MMP.

We still own an 11 game lead and have the best record in MLB. We have the day off then host the Red Sox this weekend.

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Shots, Again

Add baseball practice to the list of targets.   What else is new?

Everytime we have an event like this morning’s, it kind of dampens what Commentary wants to say.

On Megyn Kelly and NBC News from the L.A. Times:

“As an advertiser, I’m repulsed that @megynkelly would give a second of airtime to someone who says Sandy Hook and Aurora are hoaxes. Why?,” asked Kristin Lemkau, JP Morgan Chase chief marketing officer on Twitter. The company has pulled its advertising from the upcoming episode of “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly.”

They don’t get it.

Just so you know, Commentary doesn’t give a rat’s arse what Alex Jones says about the events of this morning and neither should you.

Greg Abbott is more worried about getting revenge over his pecan tree than serving the folks. See this from today’s Chron:

The Texas Department of Public Safety has reversed a controversial cutback in staffing hours at 11 of the state’s largest driver’s license offices including those in Houston, Dallas, and El Paso, according to a veteran Houston lawmaker who protested the reductions.

St. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he spoke early Tuesday with the chief of staff for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and at the end of the conversation he was told the schedule reductions were reversed.

Whitmire added that he received an e-mail from Col. Steven McCraw, the DPS director, who confirmed the office hour reductions which were instituted June 5 would be restored.

DPS reduced hours at the 11 centers and planned to layoff over 100 full-time workers to contend with a $14 million spending shortfall during the remainder of this fiscal year, as well as a $7 million cut during the next budget cycle.

The offices business times had been changed to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m, but offices previously were open from 7:30 a.m to 6 p.m.

Thanks to the Chron and to The Dean for pointing this out and then helping fix this potential mess while Greg Abbott was worried about getting even over a pecan tree. We know what is important to Abbott. I don’t know about that fella.

Yesterday’s good news from The Yard was about the All Star Game balloting. We have three players who could be selected as starters – Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer. Pretty good if you ask me.  We have not had three starters since 2004.

The bad news is we have now lost three in a row.   Our lead is now 11 games.

 

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No Balls

From today’s Chron 50 years ago today:

1967: President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall to become the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are a few stories out today about Donald Trump considering getting the Justice Department to fire the special prosecutor. A leading congressional Dem said not to worry. The Dem said that Congress would just turn around and name the special prosecutor as an independent prosecutor. Not so fast. The Dem is assuming that GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan would go along with the independent prosecutor idea.

Commentary doesn’t think these two would stand up to Trump. They have not so far. They don’t have the balls to go up against Trump’s base. As long as Trump has his base with him, GOP leaders are not going to go up against him. Trump getting rid of the special prosecutor is not a far-fetched idea as far as Commentary is concerned. It could very well happen and happen soon.

Here is from People:

Megyn Kelly is facing repercussions following her interview with Sandy Hook hoaxer Alex Jones.

Sandy Hook Promise, a leading gun violence prevention organization, released a statement on Monday that the NBC host will no longer emcee the organization’s annual Promise Champions Gala on June 14 in Washington D.C.

“This decision was spurred by NBC’s planned broadcast of Kelly’s interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who believes the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, was a hoax,” the statement read.

“Sandy Hook Promise cannot support the decision by Megyn or NBC to give any form of voice or platform to Alex Jones and have asked Megyn Kelly to step down as our Promise Champion Gala host. It is our hope that Megyn and NBC reconsider and not broadcast this interview,” said Nicole Hockley, co-Founder and Managing Director.

Dumbarse decision by NBC News without a doubt.

Then this tweet came out:

Evan liked

Mediaite‏Verified account @Mediaite 14h14 hours ago

 

JP Morgan Chase Wants Ads Taken Off NBC News Over Megyn Kelly-Alex Jones Interview http://bit.ly/2rp3Sw6

Sooner or later the newly elected mayor of Pasadena has to talk to the Chron. There is a Chron story today on the aftermath of Saturday’s election and the newly elected mayor could not be reached for comment. Come on fella, grow a set! Help put your town back together. Show folks you are not on Mayor Johnny Isbell’s leash or are you?  Talk to the Chron.

Lance McCullers, Jr. went on the DL yesterday. Josh Reddick suffered a concussion. What, me worry? Just play ball!

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Bullshitter

Ok. I wrote it. Commentary normally doesn’t spell it out completely, but since the Chron printed it yesterday in Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg’s column, I decided to print it today. She used the word to describe Donald Trump.

Here is from her column:

If you win an election fairly, as Trump did through the electoral college, why concoct a story about “illegal” voters depriving you of the popular vote? Why claim thousands in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks when they didn’t? Why say there’s no system to vet refugees when there is? Why repeat that America is the highest taxed nation in the world when anybody with a smartphone can just Google it?

And why call an intelligent, well-respected man with lots of intel on you and your associates a “nut job?”

Then, after he testifies under oath that you tried to thwart a criminal investigation, where do you get off tweeting that you’ve been “vindicated?”

We may never know the answer. The emerging theory, based on the earlier work of philosopher Harry Frankfurt, now a professor emeritus at Princeton, is that Trump is not so much a classic liar as a bullshitter. Frankfurt wrote that BS was a greater enemy of truth than lies are.

It was a darn good column and here is all of it: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/columnists/falkenberg/article/Comey-s-testimony-reminds-us-about-the-importance-11211009.php.

Commentary then tweeted this:

Marc Campos‏@MarcCommentary 1h1 hour ago

 

First time I have ever seen “bullshitter” in print in the @HoustonChron. Honest take from @ChronFalkenberg

With a link to her column and I sure did get a lot of retweets and likes – cool.

When I was reading Falkenberg’s column yesterday I kind of did a second take when I ran across the word. I can’t recall ever seeing it in print in the Chron. Maybe this was a first – maybe.

Nice job, Lisa!

Classic liar or BSer, he still never tells the truth. Those GOPers who stand by him blindly are in for a disappointment. They stand by Trump but Trump will never stand by them. Chumps if you ask me.

It looks like NBC News is in for a bad week and deservedly so. I was at my parents yesterday evening and the flat screen was on in the background. Megyn Kelly was on and I saw her promoting that Alex Jones fella from InfoWars for her show next Sunday evening. I kind of thought that Kelly left Fox news so she wouldn’t have to put up with that trash but it turns out she brought the trash with her to 30 Rock.

Here is from HuffPo:

NBC News and Megyn Kelly are under fire for giving airtime to far-right radio show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

In the past, Jones has claimed that the 9/11 attacks were an “inside job.” He also said the parents of the 20 students murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 were actors and the deaths of the children as well as six school employees were all faked.

Kelly was criticized on social media for what some saw as an attempt to normalize Jones and his outlandish and untrue claims. She defended herself by saying President Donald Trump had praised Jones and appeared on his show. She also noted that Jones’ InfoWars was given credibility when the site received White House press credentials.

Many don’t know him; our job is 2 shine a light,” she wrote.

But that didn’t slow the outrage. Some viewers even called for a boycott of the network over the upcoming interview. Here’s a sampling: 

@mattmfm @megynkelly @NBCNews My nephew survived Sandy Hook. I am not tolerating this. Will never watch @megynkelly or @NBCNews again if they choose to air this.

And:

20 children dead at Sandy Hook and @megynkelly is giving voice to the man who suggested it was a hoax.

This is beyond shameful, @NBCNews. https://twitter.com/megynkelly/status/874053387389513728 …

NBC News deserves all the bad PR in the world this week. A very dumb move indeed. This fella gives scum a good reputation.  NBC News should pull the show.

I wonder what Tom Brokaw has to say about this?

Let me give a big thank you to @evan7257 for providing us pics of the open carry folks out at Hermann Park this past Saturday. They sure did make the folks who supported open carry look real stupid.

Commentary received this on Friday:

A few points to address Bill King’s lengthy op-ed:

1) HFD’s pension board agreed to most of the cuts that were made, their biggest point of contention is that cuts went deeper than originally agreed to, both sides issuing ample press releases of questionable credibility as to the specifics. As various people have been pointing out, all the while HFD employees were denying the truth throughout the legislative session, their fund was not in as good shape as they claimed. As a result, without changes the city would have to contribute around 50% more this coming fiscal year and likely similar amounts to maintain their superior benefits, their pension board finally admitting they needed to reduce their discount rate to 7.25%. Despite the suggestion to the contrary, the “cuts” merely slowed down the growth of benefits for retirees, experts claiming nobody would get a lower check moving forward than what they were already getting.

2) As I stated yesterday, had the legislature intended that the city could not issue pension bonds moving forward, they would not have had a start date of July 1 in the lengthy bill.

3) The corridor requires three years of the pensions not making their target returns in a row, that being done to smooth out the ups and downs of the markets. While experimental, it is my understanding that the specifics were worked out by business sector experts trying to protect taxpayers, the Arnold Foundation and Kinder Institute suggested as the primary drivers of the idea. It should be noted that if the pensions do not make their needed returns, there is no specific requirement forcing employees to contribute more so much as allowing that and additional benefit cuts such as lower COLAs. I think that’s a very fair provision for employees to share the risk when their investments do not perform, not too unlike Mr. King’s desire for defined contributions where all risk is foisted upon employees. And once again, it should be noted that finance experts point out only making changes to new employees will not work given the amount of built up liabilities to date. King’s mock surprise does no one any favors but most employees working for the city right now, other than HFD of course, are under already cut benefits, this second round made as a necessity, HFD’s larger cuts only reflecting the lack of previous cuts like the others took.

4) In 2004, Houston voters passed an opt out election that specifically allowed the city to cut benefits. The suggestion some legal experts are pushing is that this trumps the actuarial assumption aspect of previous provisions. Further, since the HFD pension board is suing only regarding their own portion of the bill, a bill passed by the state and not the city mind you, the bond election shouldn’t matter since they receive no benefit from the proceeds and their cuts remain no matter the outcome while the other two pensions are no longer cut is voters turn down the bonds.

5) Mayor White’s pension reforms cut the benefits of police and municipal employees while leaving the superior benefits of HFD alone. The reason why liabilities increased is because he started paying both pensions far, far less than was needed to sustain even the lowered benefits and of course the market crash we’re all familiar with. Had he been a responsible leader, he would have set city payments to the yearly needed amount from the beginning but he was eyeing the Governor’s seat so he had to make city finances look artificially good for a short period of time. We all know how that played out. The type of benefits had little to do with the liabilities, just like any ongoing expense, when you put off paying it, the amount snowballs over time. – Steve Houston

Got it?

44-20 is not bad. The Rangers are in town for three. Get well soon, Dallas Keuchel!

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Hands down this is the dumbest thing that was said yesterday.

White House principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said:

“No, I can definitely say the president is not a liar.”

The whole world knows he’s one of the biggest liars in history. So dumb!

You know the Donald Trump team is reeling when the best they can do is send Corey Lewandowski out to do their spinning. This fella has no cred. They are hurting for sure.

I like this tweet from yesterday:

Evan liked

Kevin M. Kruse‏Verified account@KevinMKruse 13h13 hours ago

 

Odd to hear Republican senators lecture Jim Comey on how he should’ve stood up to Trump earlier and in more forceful tones.

You can say that again.  Ain’t it the truth!

On a related matter, I thought Sen. John McCain was going to pull a Sen. Birney from “The Seduction of Joe Tynan” yesterday.

Here is from Rebecca Elliott’s front page Chron story on the H-Town City Council fixing to vote on joining the SB 4 lawsuit:

Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson disagreed.

“It’s improper for the mayor or the city to pander to the Democrat base and oppose a very reasonable law – a law that just asks law enforcement officials to enforce the law,” he said.

Here is all of Rebecca’s article: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/houston/article/Turner-calls-for-City-Council-vote-on-SB4-lawsuit-11206869.php.

Excuse me? Pandering? What is the upcoming special legislative session all about anyway? Pandering? Come on!

Rebecca Elliott polled city council members and here is what she has:

How they will likely vote

How members of City Council say they likely will vote:

Mayor Sylvester Turner: yes

District A (Brenda Stardig): declined to comment

District B (Jerry Davis): did not respond

District C (Ellen Cohen): yes

District D (Dwight Boykins): yes

District E (Dave Martin): no

District F (Steve Le): no

District G (Greg Travis): no

District H (Karla Cisneros): yes

District I (Robert Gallegos): yes

District J (Mike Laster): declined to comment

District K (Larry Green): yes

At large 1 (Mike Knox): no

At large 2 (David Robinson): yes

At large 3 (Michael Kubosh): no

At large 4 (Amanda Edwards): yes

At large 5 (Jack Christie): plans to abstain

Remember a day or so ago when the Mayor floated a trial balloon of sorts saying he might issue the pension obligation bonds before getting voter approval. I guess the trial balloon was found guilty. Here is from Mike Morris of the Chron:

Mayor Sylvester Turner will ask Houstonians to vote on the pension bonds that are central to his reform deal after all, using a Thursday morning tweet to clarify an equivocal stance he had taken on the topic the day before.

The Legislature added that referendum requirement in adopting Turner’s landmark pension reform legislation this spring. The bill, however, would let the city issue the bonds without a vote if City Council approves agreements with the pension funds that will receive the $1 billion in bond proceeds before July 1, the effective date of the legislation.

Turner had said he thought it was “unlikely” that he would sidestep the referendum, but did say he intended to bring those agreements to council in two weeks.

Early Thursday, he tweeted a more definitive statement: “The city will proceed with a vote on #pension obligation bonds in November,” signing the tweet with his initials to indicate he, and not a staffer, was the author.

Yeah, that probably wasn’t a good idea.

Bill King just sent out his take of the pension bill. Here it is so enjoy:

As you have probably seen in media accounts, the Legislature has passed a bill making very substantial changes to the City of Houston’s pension systems. The bill as passed was 260 pages and mind-numbingly complex. When added to the existing statutory language, the Houston pension statutes will now run over 90,000 words, which in and of itself is absurd.

The bill follows the general outline of what Turner proposed last October, but as the result of lobbying by the business community and grass roots activists, the Legislature made significant changes to Turner’s original proposal. This is the first time that groups representing the taxpayers showed up in Austin to be heard on pension legislation. In the past, local elected officials and the employee groups would make a deal and the Legislature would rubber stamp it. That is not what happened this time. 

Let me begin by emphasizing that while the final bill moves us in the direction of solving the City’s pension problems it is far from a permanent solution. Many of the City’s claims about the virtues, like it will allow the City to pay off the pension debt in 30 years or it will save a million dollars a day, are patently false. And other than the $1 billion in borrowed money, the bill actually allows the City put less money in the plans over the next 5-6 years. Hardly a way to reduce the debt. 

So, the City will face another pension crisis. The timing of that crisis depends in large measure on how the investments in the pension plans perform over the next few years. If they continue to perform as they have in recent years (10-year average = 5.6%), that crisis will be sooner rather than later.

A detailed review of the bill is impossible here. For those of you who want to take a deep dive, you can review the bill [here]. But here is the Cliff Notes version:

1.  Pension Cost Reductions for Infusion of Bond Proceeds - The only part of the new legislation that is likely to make any real difference in the City’s pension costs and debt are benefit reductions and increases to the employee contribution in the amount of about 15% or $2.6 billion. It is important to emphasize that this reduction in pension liabilities is estimated because the actual amount of the savings is dependent on factors in the future, like interest rates. Nonetheless, the savings are substantial and will bend the cost curve down in the future.

 The benefits reductions fall into two categories.

The police and municipal plans agreed to about $1.7 billion in cuts in exchange for the City’s agreement to infuse $1 billion from the issuance of pension bonds. Some of you will recall that in the last mayoral campaign this was one of the scenarios I suggested as a tool to reduce the unfunded liability. At the time, Turner was adamantly opposed, arguing, “You can’t solve debt with more debt.” Fortunately, Turner changed his view.

There are also benefit cuts and contribution increases totaling about $900 million for the fire fighters pension plan. I have long criticized the fire fighters for being slow to accept that their benefit structure was unsustainable, but the changes to the fire fighter plan are deeply troubling to me. Unlike the police and municipal plans, the fire fighters did not agree to the cuts in their benefits and will not get any bond money. 

Also, the cuts to the fire fighters’ benefits were dramatically more severe than those agreed to by the police and municipal plans. The average benefit cut per member to the fire fighter benefits under Turner’s plan is about $150,000 compared to about $90,000 for police and $28,000 for municipal.

There is no question that the benefits for fire fighters are the most generous benefits of the three plans and were badly in need of reform. However, this plan does something that every candidate for mayor in 2015, including Turner, promised to never do – take away benefits that had been previously earned by our employees. How many times did you hear all of us who ran for mayor declare “a deal is a deal” and promise that earned benefits would never, absent an agreement, be cut. We, as a City, have now done just that and in doing so have clearly broken our word to the current and retired fire fighters. That is not something that should be taken lightly or celebrated.

2.  Voter Approval of Pension Bonds. One reform that was won by the business community and grass roots groups was the requirement that any new pension bonds must be approved by voters. When the Legislature allowed cities to issue pension bonds in 2003, the legislation was silent on whether voter approval was required. The Attorney General’s office has interpreted that silence (incorrectly I believe) to mean that voter approval is not required. As a result, the City has already issued about $600 million in pension bonds without getting voter approval.

That will no longer be the case. The bill now requires the City to obtain voter approval before issuing any new bonds. I have long said that pension bonds can be a tool to help manage our pension problems. But like any tool, they can be used properly or they can be misused. Voter approval is an important check to make sure any future pension bonds are not misused.

You may recall that when taxpayer groups first insisted on a voting requirement on bonds, Turner declared it was a poison bill that would kill the bill. But apparently after Turner saw polling that nearly 80% of Houstonians thought they should vote on any new bonds, the provision became less toxic.

3.  The “Corridor.” The third major component of the bill is a complex mechanism that is intended to limit the amount that the City will contribute to the pension plans in the future as a percentage of payroll, which has come to be known as the “corridor.” As nearly as I have been able to determine, no other entity, public or private, anywhere in the country, has ever implemented anything like the corridor. It is a completely untested and experimental model.

 It is also hideously complex and the provisions are ambiguous and in some cases internally inconsistent. That, in my experience is a recipe for litigation and I suspect you will see plenty of that in the future. You will also see the administrative costs for the plans, which are already too high, rise even more.

The real flaw in the corridor mechanism however, assuming it is actually enforced, is that it primarily relies on future increases to employee contributions if the City’s contribution rises above the limit. It is highly likely this will occur because the plans are unlikely to achieve the 7% investment target over the long run. And a small miss on the investment return equates to very large increases in the employees’ contribution. These increases will be so large at some point in the future it will not be feasible to enforce the corridor. That is the event that will likely precipitate Houston’s next pension crisis.

4.  Phasing out Defined Benefit Plans. The biggest disappointment with the bill is that there is no immediate phasing out of the defined benefit model. The bill does include a safety net of sorts that provides that if any of the plans fall below a 65% funded level, they must move all new employees to a cash balance plan. Cash balance plans have some elements of both defined benefit and defined contribution plans. Unfortunately, the bill also includes extraordinarily long grace periods (four years for police and fire and ten years for municipal) which will likely make the provisions meaningless for all practical purposes. In all likelihood, the City will see its next pension crisis long before the expiration of those grace periods.

 Nonetheless, the inclusion of this safety net is an important symbolic victory, because it is a concession that phasing out defined benefit plans is the real solution to the City’s pension problems. 

 5.  The Constitutional Question. There is one issue outstanding that may make this entire effort for naught. There is a provision in the Texas Constitution that grants the right to set actuarial assumptions to the pension boards. Of course, the entire point of the corridor is to force the pension boards to share that power with the City and the bill establishes certain limitations on the pension boards’ discretion in setting the assumptions. While there is certainly an argument to be made that the pension boards should not be exclusively vested with the power to set assumptions, that seems to be what the State Constitution provides. The fire fighter pension board has already filed suit to declare the legislation unconstitutional.

The other boards currently have no plans to sue, but may find they are forced to do so to avoid liability from their members. Also, it is possible that any member of the plans could bring such a suit. Of course, that litigation will take time to resolve. If the City implements the plan and then it is declared unconstitutional several years from now, we will have a real mess on our hands.

Notwithstanding Turner’s public confidence that the City will prevail in this litigation, the City legal staff was manic during the negotiations to get the fire fighter board to agree not to sue.  I make no prediction about the outcome on the merits, but certainly on its face, the legislation appears to violate the constitution.

There is also another practical effect of the fire fighters’ lawsuit. The Texas Attorney General must approve the issuance of any bonds by local governmental entities. Generally, their policy is to not sign off on any bonds when there is any pending litigation. Whether the Attorney General’s office would find this litigation affects the issuance of the pension bonds is an open question. But generally, that office has been pretty conservative in making such determinations.

6.  Conclusion. Shortly after Bill White was elected in 2003, he received the bombshell that the pension plans were underfunded by over $2 billion. White undertook a series of reforms that reduced benefits and he issued pension bonds to shore up the plans. But he left the defined benefit model in place. A dozen years later, our pension debt had tripled.

White’s reforms unquestionably reduced the future costs of the pension plans, but ultimately his incremental approach proved not to be a permanent solution. Such is the case with this plan. It too reduces the pension costs immediately, but instead of biting the bullet and beginning the phase-out of defined benefit plans, it relies on an untested and what will be proven to be unworkable mechanism to do what moving to defined contribution plans would have accomplished without the cost, complexity, litigation and uncertainty of this plan.  And as a result, Houston taxpayers and employees will suffer in the long run.

Commentary received this response from my take yesterday:

Mayor Turner can follow the plain language of the recently passed pension bill and still issue the bonds. Senator Huffman and others can complain all they want but they left the language open to this happening, more than a few in Austin mentioning it since the change was added. If they really wanted the preclude the mayor from moving forward, they could have easily changed a couple of words but they did not and given the collective experience of those reviewing the bill in the House and Senate, it is not believable to say it is illegal.

As pointed out previously, Houston is a far more welcoming city than most that immigrants can move to and all these changes in federal and state law do not force the city to change an awful lot to comply. The well meaning Dreamers can mix metaphors, selectively toss county events into city timetables, and otherwise distort the reality of the situation but by and large, if you live in Houston and stay out of trouble, you are left alone regarding your immigration status. Poverty is too complex to pin the blame on city leaders as is how full county and state jails/prisons are with poor people that happen to be one of various minority groups, a lot of that is currently being changed at the county level in the bail reform lawsuit of which the city has no say.

That some groups are statistically more likely to commit certain crimes or act in a manner that endangers them in their dealings with armed police is a given and needs to be addressed by communities at least as much as we expect police to confront people committing felonies or when those people are in a crisis to endanger the public. This is a golden opportunity for Latinos given both HCSO and HPD are now led by Latinos who have expressed a desire to improve community relations while state and federal lawmakers are moving in the opposite direction. Direct your wrath at those who are trying to hurt you, not those trying to help. Turner need not jump into the lawsuit to file a brief in support of the lawsuit either, letting emotions dictate how you react seems to be a bad choice for you as you are likely to alienate those who have fought for you already. – Steve Houston

We had an 8-2 roadie. We are 13 up. Now we have a 9-game homie that includes the Angels, Arlington, and the Red Sox. Let’s hope Dallas Keuchel gets well soon.

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It Worked

Commentary said this last Friday:

The City of H-Town joining the SB 4 lawsuit is next. It is going to happen. I don’t have a doubt. H-Town has the largest Latino immigrant community in Texas. We have to be in the game. We are not going to be on the sidelines.  It would not make sense.

Never underestimate the savvy DREAMers. Commentary doesn’t. Heck they took the lead in turning out Latino voters last November. They deserve the credit. Now they put the pressure on H-Town City Hall to get them to join the SB 4 lawsuit.  Here is what the Chron’s Rebecca Elliott put out this morning:

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to ask City Council to vote this month on joining lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Texas’ new “sanctuary cities” law, ending months of equivocation on the controversial immigration enforcement measure.

If City Council votes to sue, Houston would join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and several other local governments already challenging the state or planning to do so.

“I will ask this month City Council to consider and vote to join the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB4,” Turner tweeted Thursday morning, after the Houston Chronicle ran a front page story about his decision to remain on the sidelines of debate over the statute.

Turner has for months avoided using the term “sanctuary city” and as recently as Wednesday told residents concerned about the law known as Senate Bill 4 to take their concerns to Austin.

City Council is in recess next week, meaning a vote could come June 21 at the earliest.

Here is from Rebecca’s front-page story today:

Despite mounting pressure from residents and immigrant rights groups, Mayor Sylvester Turner appears content to remain on the sidelines of the debate over Texas’ new “sanctuary cities” law, even as Dallas announced plans Wednesday to join San Antonio, Austin and others in suing the state over the controversial statute.

Turner has asked the city attorney’s office to review the law known as Senate Bill 4, which allows police to ask people their immigration status if detained even for a routine traffic stop, but otherwise continues to deflect questions about whether he plans to challenge it.

That has meant carefully sidestepping the term “sanctuary city,” while touting Houston as a diverse, “welcoming city” and assuring residents that Houston police will not violate their constitutional rights.

On Wednesday, the mayor attempted to redirect attention to Austin by urging Houstonians to take up their concerns at the Capitol, even though the law has been signed and the Legislature is not slated to revisit the issue during its July special session.

Here is Rebecca’s entire article: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/houston/article/Turner-remains-on-sideline-as-cities-rush-to-sue-11203853.php?cmpid=btfpm.

The Mayor’s PR folks probably let him know about the following that came out yesterday:

From United We Dream:

To our immigrant community, women, people of color, and to people of conscience across the Houston area,

Houston’s Mayor and city council have failed in their duty to protect our immigrant community. We have marched, rallied, and spoke out at city council and at town halls. But still our leaders fail to act.

We spoke out against recent hate-filled attacks to our community fueled by executive orders, bans, and one of the most discriminatory and morally bankrupt Texas Legislative sessions in recent history. Yet our leaders failed to act. Women, people of color, students, our LGBTQ+ community, and children and families have been attacked.

But our leaders in Houston still fail to act.

Please sign this petition to demand that the Mayor of Houston and the city council take action now to protect our community and provide equal safety and opportunity to all Houston residents.

In community and power,

Adonias Arevalo

Organizer, United We Dream Houston & Statewide Organizer, United We Dream, UndocuTexas campaign

Sponsored by

United We Dream

To: Houston Mayor Turner From: [Your Name]

United We Dream Houston and partners have urged you to implement local policies to shield our immigrant and undocumented community from the aggressive attacks against us, and to hamper the mass deportation agenda of the current administration. The mayor asked for recommendations, and United We Dream Houston, along with contributors from across advocacy, criminal justice, and legal communities in Houston, provided those recommendations on January 20, 2017.

Yet you have still refused to act, even after you were provided over 100 pages of detailed plans for improving Houston for immigrants and refugees.

You must back up your words with actions to protect our communities. Houston can be a welcoming city to immigrants. Houston can be a place where we have protection from the abuses of federal and state agencies.

We demand that you act to protect our communities immediately through the following:

  1. Improve conditions in Houston for immigrants by IMPLEMENTING the recommendations provided by the Mayor’s Task Force on January 20, 2017
  2. Keep families together by CEASING all collaboration with ICE.
  3. Work to prevent the impacts of SB 4 on the Houston immigrant community by ENTERING a lawsuit against the State in response to SB 4.

We are a city of immigrants, a city of refugees, a city that endures, and a city that shines bright against that which would seek to hold us or our neighbors back. We are one Houston, moving forward. If you are not with us, then you are against us.

Then this:

Houston is not a “Welcoming City”

By Raúl Alcaraz-Ochoa

When you have a Black man, Alva Braziel and a Latino man, John Hernández executed in cold-blood by city and county law enforcement and you allow police impunity to govern, Houston is not a “Welcoming City”.

When you have a Mayor that refuses to sue the state of Texas for legalizing racial profiling through SB 4 which expands deportations and family separations, Houston is not a “Welcoming City”.

When you have 75% of the total county jail population be Black and Brown, Houston is not a “Welcoming City”.

When you have local law enforcement still collaborate with ICE, regardless of whether there is a 287(g) contract or not, Houston is not a “Welcoming City”.

When you have statistics indicating that if you are Latino or Black you are 4 times more likely than Whites to be living in poverty, Houston is not a “Welcoming City”.

When you have undocumented transgender women facing severe barriers to housing, education, health services and employment opportunities, Houston is not a “Welcoming City”.

When you have people either unemployed due to discrimination based on previous penal convictions or are employed in low-paying, hazardous, deplorable conditions, Houston is not a “Welcoming City”.

When you allow poor and immigrant communities of color to be displaced by gentrification, Houston is not a “Welcoming City”.

When you allow Valero and other oil refineries to pollute the earth and the air in the Manchester area and other majority communities of color, Houston is not a “Welcoming City”.

So Mayor Turner and the Houston City Council, your designation of Houston as a “Welcoming City” to immigrants and refugees means absolutely nothing if you won’t make that nice piece of paper and turn those pretty sounding words into meaningful action. A rhetorical designation of Houston as “welcoming” has not changed or impacted the lives of your constituents.

Racial and socio-economic disparities continue at embarrassing levels. Pride in diversity is meaningless if those populations are oppressed and subjugated.

The policies you make or not, the positions you take or not, the lawsuits you launch or not, the programs you implement or not speak louder than any rhetorical designation. Welcome us by way of action, not just meaningless pretty sounding words.

It worked.  Nice job DREAMers. You certainly know how to apply the heat. Now everyone is on the same page.

And on another front, give the Mayor credit for walking the tightrope. He is considering issuing the pension obligation bonds before voter approval and that is not sitting well with one of pension bill’s sponsors. Here is from an article today in the Chron by Mike Morris:

Mayor Sylvester Turner did not rule out Wednesday issuing the $1 billion in bonds that are central to his pension reform deal without a public referendum, a move that would sidestep a hotly debated requirement the Legislature added to ensure passage of the city-negotiated plan.

Turner said he and his staff are proceeding as though there will be a referendum, but the mayor said he may seek to issue the bonds without a vote if he can gain consensus among City Council members, state lawmakers and others that moving more quickly would benefit the city.

Specifically, he referenced the benefit of preempting an anticipated jump in interest rates. Waiting six to nine months to issue the bonds, the city finance department estimates, could cost taxpayers $135 million to $273 million more over the life of the debt.

“I find it highly unlikely that anything is going to take place other than the vote in November, and that’s how we’re proceeding,” Turner said. “If we can all agree on a certain course and it may be able to expedite things, then we’ll do that.

“I’m talking about agreement with everybody. We’ve come this far with everybody, both on the local levels as well as on the state level and my approach is to always move in collaboration with everyone. But if not, then we’ll proceed with the vote.”

That the mayor would even allow the idea of skipping a vote to be discussed drew quick and fierce pushback from lawmakers.

Sen. Joan Huffman, the Houston Republican who carried the bill in the upper chamber, called the notion “outrageous” and said the city would be inviting a lawsuit to issue the debt without a vote.

“Whether they are just kind of putting it out there to see what the response will be I don’t know, but I would not have gotten that bill out of the Legislature without the voter approval on the pension obligation bonds,” Huffman said. “The city now even thinking about that will cause ill will with the Legislature, because this is not what we intended at all.”

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Houston Republican who was behind the initial push for a referendum on the bonds, was even more blunt.

“Even by political standards, this is astonishingly stupid,” he said. “They don’t understand the fallout from this if they try it. This is an outrage. We will do everything we can to stop it.”

Here is all of the Morris article: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/politics/houston/article/Turner-city-could-issue-pension-bonds-without-11203797.php?cmpid=btfpm.

Wow!   A deal is a deal or a deal is not a deal. Stay tuned on this one.

For those of you who don’t get the Roundtable notice, here is a good one from yesterday. Hope they don’t mind. Here:

Governor Abbott Announces Special Session

AUSTIN – Governor Greg Abbott today announced a legislative special session that will begin at La Griglia at 7:00 pm on July 7th, 2017.  In his announcement, Governor Abbott identified 20 items that will be included on the special session call.   

“LMFAO, Dan Patrick!” said Governor Abbott. “I’ll show you, you washed up sports fanboy! I’ll load so much crap on the agenda not even your gunsel Allen Blakemore could run somebody to the right of me. As Governor, if I’m going to call a special session, I’m going to micro-manage every last City Hall in Texas.” 

Special session agenda items will include:

1.    Sunset legislation

2.    Elimination of all taxation by local governments

3.    Caps on spending by everybody but the governor

4.    State licensing of ice cream trucks

5.    Gubernatorial control of starting line-ups for Houston Astros and Texas Rangers

6.    Uniform typeface fonts on municipal traffic citations

7.    Legislation clarifying whether Sylvester Turner shall wear boxers or briefs

8.    Gubernatorial approval of all future deals cut by Andy Icken

9.    Legislation mandating Jack Christie receive immunization against childhood diseases

10.  Limit number of times a day city secretaries can say “your time has expired”

11.  Legislation requiring Houston police chief to act like a flaming jerk for a change

12.  Statewide time limit on pop-off remarks by city councilmembers

13.  Appointment of President Joseph Charles as University of Texas chancellor

14.  Voter ID requirement to crack down on rampant ballot fraud by carrier pigeon

15.  Requiring abortion providers to offer day care for fetal remains

16.  State control of The Orange Show and Beer Can House

17.  University of Texas System purchase of Renu Khator’s back yard

18.  Appointment of Paul Bettencourt as Free Press Summer Fest laugh track performer

19.  State control of Art Car Parade

20.  The kitchen sink

That’s funny.

I am going to have to wear some ‘Stros gear today. Maybe that will help us get a win.

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Tell Me Why

Commentary is not a big fan of Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. I mentioned a while back that he got elected in large part because of the votes of voters of color and then he goes and surrounds himself with a bunch of old white dudes to serve as his top assistants. And our Dem Party leadership apparently is okay with this. Pitiful.

Here is from today’s Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg’s column:

Are we done with excuses now?

Not on your life – or on your liberty, for that matter.

I’ve questioned before why Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, and the commissioners who hold the purse strings, continue to waste millions of taxpayer dollars defending a bail system that a Republican-appointed federal judge has found unconstitutional.

On this one, the county is on the wrong side of justice, as some county officials acknowledge. Yet, Ryan has continued to hire pricey private lawyers to represent criminal court at law judges being sued for jailing people charged with low-level crimes simply because they’re poor. And his office has denied appellate counsel to the one judge, Darrell Jordan, who conducts his court constitutionally and supports settling with the civil rights groups suing on behalf of inmates.

Ryan, an elected Democrat, and four Republican members of commissioners court – Steve Radack, Jack Cagle, Jack Morman and County Judge Ed Emmett – have supported appealing the decision even though the county is unlikely to prevail. Only Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a former Democratic state senator, wants to settle the lawsuit and adhere to reforms ordered by U.S. Chief District Judge Lee Rosenthal.

Here is all of Falkenberg’s column: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/The-judges-have-spoken-and-Harris-County-needs-11201045.php.

Now tell me why Dems need to support Vince when he runs for reelection in 2020 in the Dem Primary?

I sure hope somebody steps up soon and announces. Don’t wait for Dem Party leaders to anoint you. Just step forward and say you are running for County Attorney.

Now this tweet:

Adrian Garcia‏ @AdrianGarciaHTX 2h2 hours ago

 

Harris County needs to do the right thing, right now – Call, write and RT Vince Ryan to stop wasting our money!

How about someone step forward to run against Vince?

Greg Abbott will go down in history as one of the worse governors in Texas history. He certainly earned it.

Let’s see. We are 42-17 and have a .712 winning percentage and a plus 104 run differential – all MLB’s best, so, why am I feeling down after our loss last night?

Because we should have won, that’s why!

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D-Day was 73 years ago today. Honor and bravery!

Commentary always likes learning something new about H-Town. I did not know that the Houston Post had a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter. Did you? Thanks to the Chron’s Mike Snyder, now I know. Gene Goltz won it reporting on of all things corruption at the Pasadena City Hall. Here is how Mike Snyder’s column starts today:

In a long career as an itinerant newspaper reporter, Gene Goltz spent only about three years in Texas, covering southeastern suburbs for the Houston Post.

Yet the assignment clearly made an impression on him: Many years later, when he sat down to write a memoir, he titled it “The Pasadena Story.”

Goltz moved his family to Pasadena to begin his new job in the fall of 1962. In his book, he recalled his first sight of the place:

“Pasadena was a city of 70,000, a grubby, dismal, ugly place ringed with oil refineries and reeking of the sweet, rotten, heavy stink of oil. … The Goltzes drove up a dingy street filled with Chevies and Fords with their hoods up and grimy, greasy, bare-chested surly men with oil-greased hands tearing apart the engines, while young wives in sloppy slacks and blouses screamed at dirty little urchins running wild in the yards and streets.”

Things didn’t improve much for Goltz when he started asking about the use of $6 million in city bond funds. A whispered tip from a contractor, along with the city’s reluctance to cough up information, aroused the young reporter’s instincts.

His investigation would lead to the indictments of then-Mayor James L. Brammer, his wife and four other people on charges involving the theft of more than $100,000 – about $800,000 in today’s dollars – from the city treasury.

Goltz’s reporting drew praise from the grand jury, the Texas Legislature and the district attorney. It also won him journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize, in 1965.

Until my colleague Lisa Falkenberg won the prize for commentary in 2015, Goltz had the distinction of being the only Houston journalist to have won a Pulitzer. He would share in a second Pulitzer Prize for his role in covering the Detroit riots of 1967 for the Detroit Free Press.

Here is all of Mike Snyder’s column: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/columnists/greater-houston/article/Half-century-after-scandal-toppled-Pasadena-11197708.php?cmpid=btfpm.

How about that. Thanks for the info, Mike!

Commentary is not going to say something dumb like “you’d think Pasadena would have learned their lesson.”

I hope the winner of the Pasadena mayoral runoff will do things a lot differently so they can get off of the front pages.

I wonder if a Pulitzer has ever been awarded to two different newspapers for reporting on corruption of the same city? Just saying.

From Politico:

George Conway, the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway who was under consideration for multiple positions in President Donald Trump’s administration, mocked the president on Monday for targeting his own Justice Department.

A #ConwayTwitty so to speak.

Hee, hee, hee, hee, hee! Clowns galore!

Having the private sector handle the air traffic controllers doesn’t seem like a good idea to Commentary. If it is a Donald Trump initiative, you know it I a very, very bad idea. Bad.

Natalie Morales is 45 today! Happy Birthday, Natalie!

On the ‘Stros, check these tweets:

Jake Kaplan‏Verified account @jakemkaplan 10h10 hours ago

 

The Astros’ 14-game lead in the AL West is their largest divisional lead in club history.

And:

Jake Kaplan‏Verified account @jakemkaplan 10h10 hours ago

The Astros (42-16) are the first team with at least 42 wins in their first 58 games since the 2001 Mariners.

Chron.com has a story today on folks jumping on the ‘Stros bandwagon. Hop on!

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