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Pensions

Through two weeks, there have been around 60 triples hit in MLB thus far this season so, how many of the 60 have the ‘Stros hit?

Bill King sent out an email on pension reform this past Friday and here is his take:

150 Financial Professionals & Executives Ask Legislature to Include Defined Contribution Plans for New City Employees

In the last few days we have heard more of the same old tired, debunked rhetoric from the Turner administration that the City cannot make the transition to defined contribution plans from the defined benefits plans that have driven it into insolvency.

Well, 150 of Houston’s top financial professionals and executives disagree.  They recently sent a letter to the Legislature asking it to include moving all new employees to defined contribution plans. [Click here to read letter.] *

These individuals represent some of the finest financial minds in our City.  The educational pedigrees include advanced degrees from universities such as Rice, Stanford, Harvard and Wharton, to name a few.  Combined they have over 4,000 years of financial experience in some of Houston’s leading financial institutions and professional practices.

It should be noted that their letter acknowledges that Turner’s plans represents a significant incremental improvement in the overall pension quagmire.  But they also conclude it does not go far enough in two critical regards.  First, they believe that all new employees should only be offered defined contributions plans and that the voters should approve the issuance of any pension bonds to provide a check on the imprudent use of those risky financial instruments.  These are hardly radical ideas.

The Turner administration has tried to make the case to the business community that his plan’s “corridor” eliminates the need to begin phasing out of the defined benefit systems.  But there are several reasons to be skeptical about the efficacy of the corridor.  First and foremost, it is hideously complex and its provisions are ambiguous.  In my experience, complexity and ambiguity normally leads to litigation.  But the truth is that no one knows how it might work because it has never been tried before. 

But even if the plan works as advertised, its basic enforcement mechanism is to increase employee contributions if the plans do not make the new investment goal of 7% annually.  Even a small miss on the investment goal would subject the City employees to crippling contribution increases that could not possibly be enforced. 

To make matters worse, the fire fighters pension board’s attorney has opined that the corridor is unconstitutional and vowed to immediately file suit if it is enacted.  So it seems inevitable that we will be tied up in litigation for years, which will also mean that the bonds used to secure the benefit reductions will be as well.

Because of all of this complexity and uncertainty surrounding the corridor it is completely reasonable to provide for a back-up plan to control costs in the future, one that we know works.  And that back-up is to begin moving new employees to defined contribution plans.  We know that plan will ultimately work because the private sector has proved it works.

During the Senate negotiations on Turner’s plan, it was suggested that a “trigger” mechanism be added to force the conversion to defined contribution plans if the corridor did not work.  The suggestion was that if any of the plans fell below a 65% funding rate (a dangerously low level by anyone’s standard) new employees would automatically be put in defined contribution plans.  It was a reasonable compromise, but the Turner administration rejected it out of hand.

This should make everyone even more suspicious of the efficacy of the corridor.  If Turner is worried that the corridor will not even maintain a 65% funded ratio for the plans, he obviously has serious doubts it will work as he has claimed.

Everyone agrees that we need to deal with the Houston pension crisis in this session and not wait until 2019 to try again.  But Turner’s “it is my plan or nothing,” is a false dilemma.  There is no reason that his plan cannot be supplemented to add something we know works.

The Legislature should adopt Turner’s plan but (i) remove the fire fighters from the corridor to reduce the litigation risk, (ii) add a provision to phase out the old defined benefit plans with defined contribution plans for new employees, (iii) require voter approval on any new pension bonds and (iv) exempt older employees with lower benefits from the COLA elimination.  That would be real pension reform we could count on.

Then Kris Banks sent this out soon after:

Kris Banks‏@KrisBanks Apr 14

Bill King spent 4 months trying to get 300 people to sign his letter against the Mayor’s pension plan. He got less than half that #txlege

I get that for sure. But it is still less than half which is more than nothing.

Now the Trib has a piece on pensions today and here is a part:

Bill King, who opposed Turner in the 2015 Houston mayoral race, is among that group of Houston leaders at odds with Turner on this issue. They also want any pension fix to require that future employees be given defined contribution plans akin to 401ks instead of defined benefit plans like pensions.

King said pensions are throwbacks to a time when interest rates were higher and life expectancy was shorter. He said there are too many variables for any pension entity to accurately know how much money it’s going to need now to pay retirement benefits for the next four or five decades.

“That model just doesn’t work anymore,” King said. “The private sector figured that out two, three decades ago and got out of it.”

Here is the entire piece: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/17/spin-debates-escalating-dallas-houston-pension-woes-fester/.

Like I said, stay tuned!

Of the 60 or so triples hit in MLB thus far, zero belong to the ‘Stros hitters of course.

We start a four game homie with the Angels this evening as we hold a two and half game lead in the AL West.

 

The Missing Ted Flyers

I’m skipping the MLB question today and instead asking what do Anna, Eleanor, Julia, Lucy, Martha, Michelle, Pam, Penny, Rita and Sadie have in common? Way too easy!

How many of you have seen those “Missing Senator” flyers with Sen. Ted Cruz’s mug that are slapped on utility poles throughout H-Town? They are funny if you ask me.

The Chron has a story about them but the story is not in the front section or City/State section. It’s on the front page of the Star Living (entertainment/style) section. What is up with that? Sen. Cruz is now entertaining us.   What a joke for sure! Here is from the article:

“When people see them, either they think, ‘Ha, that’s witty,’ or ‘Ha, stupid snowflakes,’ or ‘Ha, let me go to this website and see what the deal is,’ ” said Nisha Randle, a member of Pantsuit Republic.

“As soon as you see ‘Missing,’ you stop and you try to figure out what’s missing,” she said. “And that’s what draws everybody to it. They’re like, ‘Wait. That’s not a cat. That’s Ted Cruz.’ And then they start to read the poster, and they’re like, ‘Oh, snap. Yeah, Ted Cruz is missing.’ ”

In addition to publicly shaming Cruz, the flyers also publicize a “Ted Cruz Is Missing Town Hall.” Now scheduled for Saturday at Texas Southern University, it will, in theory, operate like any other senator’s town hall – except that it’s unlikely that Cruz will be there. Anticipating this, organizers have assembled a panel of experts to answer constituent questions.

“We’re throwing pebbles,” says Daniel Cohen, chairman of Indivisible’s Houston branch. “But you throw enough pebbles and you have an impact. It’s taken thousands of us, but it’s working. And it’s a pretty phenomenal thing going on.”

Here is the entire article: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/article/Ted-Cruz-once-the-beneficiary-of-Tea-Party-11070993.php?cmpid=btfpm.

Let me just say that the posters just add to the narrative that the fella is arrogant and aloof and doesn’t feel a need to have very much contact with his constituents. It also makes him look like a political chicken of sorts for refusing to hold town hall style meetings.

More folks in Texas dislike him than like him so the flyers don’t help him out so that is a good thing. Most folks in DC don’t like him either.   I guess he has to know that he is a very dislikeable fella so he thinks he is better off ducking us. Hats off to the folks who came up with the flyer idea.

Jeffrey Lord is an arsehole pure and simple. Yesterday, he compared Donald Trump to Martin Luther King, Jr. There is nothing to say other than from the line from a story on the internet yesterday:

“Don’t be upset with Jeffrey Lord, who is a proven imbecile. Be angry with CNN for casting him in that role,” wrote Marlow Stern senior entertainment editor at the Daily Beast.

Weasels and worms have way more class than this fella.

A trustee of the Houston Community College referred to Asian Americans as “orientals” and says she didn’t know the term was offensive. Huh?

In a Channel 13 news story, Rogene Calvert, who is a board member for the Organization of Community Advocates, OCA, formerly the Organization of Chinese Americans, called HCC Trustee Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabaaz’s use of the term “oriental” “dated and reflective of a lack of basic knowledge of today’s Asian-American community. It’s a term that we regard as being very negative.”

Here is the entire Channel 13 story: http://abc13.com/news/hcc-board-member-under-fire-for-post-on-united-passenger/1870642/

I wonder where Evans-Shabaaz has been the last few decades? This is wrong and ignorant.

I told my parents I would come by on Good Friday and prepare them seafood meals on this day. My Mom said not to worry because older folks were exempt from fasting on Good Friday so they could eat anything they want.   Huh!

I checked it out and here is from CatholicCulture.org:

1) Abstinence on all the Fridays of Lent, and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

  • No meat may be eaten on days of abstinence.
  • Catholics 14 years and older are bound to abstain from meat. Invalids, pregnant and nursing mothers are exempt.

2) Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

  • Fasting means having only one full meal to maintain one’s strength. Two smaller, meatless and penitential meals are permitted according to one’s needs, but they should not together equal the one full meal. Eating solid foods between meals is not permitted.
  • Catholics from age 18 through age 59 are bound to fast. Again, invalids, pregnant and nursing mothers are exempt.

Mom was right – again.

Anna, Eleanor, Julia, Lucy, Martha, Michelle, Pam, Penny, Rita and Sadie can all be found in the titles of Beatles tunes of course. I told you it was easy.

We have three in Oakland this weekend.

Have a Good Friday and Happy Easter!

PaperCity

We were down 5 zip last night and ended up winning 10-5. When was the last time we came back after being behind by 5 or more runs?

For the most part, PaperCity is a monthly magazine for and about H-Town’s rich folks – most of them white, for the most part. Its advertisers are of the high-end variety. I don’t have a problem with that. When Anthony Bourdain came to H-Town a few months ago to film his “Parts Unknown” show which runs on CNN, he didn’t feature any of the hot spots frequented by the PaperCity crowd, you know, the fancy eateries with the high profile chefs.

New Yorker recently had a lengthy feature on Bourdain and in the piece had a brief mention of the H-Town visit in which Bourdain, a white guy, said he didn’t want to include “white people” in the H-Town shoot. A white guy who doesn’t want to include white people on his show is not offensive to Commentary who is of the Latino persuasion.

I guess that didn’t sit well with a PaperCity writer who put this out recently:

From PaperCity:

Anthony Bourdain received plenty of love for the unconventional Houston episode of his popular CNN TV series Parts Unknown. The episode’s diversity was particularly praised. It turns out the bad boy chef turned travel savant achieved that with one simple edict.

“No white people,” Bourdain told producers about his vision for highlighting Houston according to a recent New Yorker magazine profile.

As PaperCity’s own Jailyn Marcel pointed out when the Houston Parts Unknown first aired, none of the city’s celebrity chefs even sniffed a bit of air time. It turns out most of them never had a chance to get on. Foodie power players such as Chris Shepherd, Bryan Caswell and Ronnie Killen were out from the moment Bourdain issued his “no white people” command.

It’s hard to argue with the results (though when it comes to race, someone is always going to object). Bourdain’s Houston show is one of the most critically-acclaimed episodes of Parts Unknown ever. Bourdain tells the New Yorker that he wanted to look at Houston “as a Vietnamese and Central American and African and Indian place.”

There is little doubt Bourdain accomplished his mission — no matter his methods. The episode provided a fascinating look at the Houston that many of the residents populating all the mid-rises and high-rises popping up don’t even know.

Bourdain comes across as a fascinating, almost tortured artist in the beyond extensive New Yorker profile (it runs a full 13 pages in the magazine — the New Yorker scoffs at what other publications try to pass off as “long-form” journalism). The article opens with a riveting scene detailing the meeting between Bourdain and then-President Barack Obama at a barebones noodle shop in Vietnam — and gets into the dissolution of his marriage with Ottavia Busia. It also delves into some of Bourdain’s hilarious chef feuds.

But some of the most interesting stuff is how determined Anthony Bourdain is to not do what’s expected on his ever-evolving TV show. Sometimes that requires issuing a “no white people” decree.

Here is the H-Town mention from the very lengthy New Yorker piece on Bourdain

At this point, Éric Ripert observed, Bourdain’s show has “done the entire planet already!” Now, Bourdain says, the pleasure of making “Parts Unknown” lies in revisiting places to see how they’ve changed—Cuba five years ago is a different country from Cuba today—or in returning to a place with a fresh perspective. For a recent episode on Houston, Bourdain decided that he wanted “no white people,” and provided instead a look at the city “as a Vietnamese and Central American and African and Indian place.” Chris Collins suggested to me that the perpetual discontinuity of Bourdain’s life may have assumed a continuity of its own, as if jet lag were his natural condition. “I’ve often thought, How would he ever go on without the show?” Lydia Tenaglia said. “It is such an inextricable part of him—who is Tony, apart from this?”

Here is the entire New Yorker feature on Bourdain:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/13/anthony-bourdains-moveable-feast.

I guess the PaperCiity take didn’t sit well with Bourdain. Here is from the Chron:

Last summer author, TV personality, and world traveler Anthony Bourdain came to Houston in search of the best culture and food that the city could offer.

While he was shooting footage for an episode of CNN’s “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” he discovered the city to be a very gritty, multicultural and tasty place. When it aired in October 2016 the episode was just as much a revelation to natives as it was to outsiders. 

Flash forward six months later and PaperCity writer Chris Baldwin finally decides to pan it for not including enough white chefs. 

Houstonia’s Katherine Shilcutt first noticed Baldwin’s blog post and wrote her own response on Tuesday evening. 

She was confused, like many people, as to why it took so long for Baldwin to get his blood up about the six-month-old episode, not to mention at a loss as to what exactly he was offended by. Baldwin pointed to a recent New Yorker piece in which it was revealed that Bourdain wanted “no white people” in his Houston episode. 

Bourdain responded to the story directly on Twitter. 

“This is some shameful, dishonest race-baiting click bait. All involved should take a hard look in the mirror,” wrote Bourdain, linking to the PaperCity piece himself. 

Here is the entire Chron piece:

http://www.chron.com/life/food/article/Anthony-Bourdain-takes-offense-to-Houston-11069034.php.

Much ado about nothing if you ask Commentary. It is funny though. So what if the PaperCity crowd didn’t get a Bourdain shout out. It is not the end of the world.

Commentary has said it before. Donald Trump played his voters for the suckers they are. See these tweets from yesterday:

Manu Raju‏Verified account@mkraju 40m40 minutes ago

Trump today shifted positions on Ex/Im Bank, Yellen, China currency manipulation, and NATO being “obsolete.”

Pulitzer Non-Winner Retweeted

Ryan Teague Beckwith‏Verified account@ryanbeckwith 3h3 hours ago

In a single day, White House reverses on: • Janet Yellen • Ex-Im Bank • China • NATO • Federal debt • Hiring freeze

I think that Steve Bannon fella is losing the battles. Bannon got played too. What a sucker.

When writing about MLB, Commentary never mentions the name of the Cleveland team.  I don’t even refer to them with the “T” word.  It is my way of protesting the caricature logo of the Chief Wahoo fella. You know what I am talking about. So, it was good to see that MLB is taking steps to bury the Chief once and for all. Here is from a Sporting News story:

The Chief Wahoo logo was prominently displayed at the Cleveland Indians’ home opener Tuesday, but that might not be the case in the near future.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is increasing the pressure on the team to abandon the caricature, The New York Times reported, and there are signs of progress on that front.

While the logo remained on the caps and uniform sleeves of Indians players Tuesday night, the Times noted it was not evident anywhere else around Progressive Field. While the uniforms remain the most visible use of the logo, an MLB spokesman said Manfred has made it clear to the team he wants the Indians to “transition” away from the logo.

“We have specific steps in an identified process and are making progress,’’ spokesman Pat Courtney told the Times in a statement. “We are confident that a positive resolution will be reached that will be good for the game and the club.’’

Native American groups and others have advocated for the elimination of the logo for years, saying the caricature of a smiling Indian is offensive. While the team has used it less in recent years, Indians senior vice president for public affairs Bob DiBiasio said there is still a balance to be struck between the two sides.

“We certainly understand the sensitivities of the logo, those who find it insensitive and also those fans who have a longstanding attachment to its place in the history of the team,” DiBiasio told the Times.

Now that sound like a very dumbarse thing to say. If you “certainly understand the sensitivities of the logo, those who find it insensitive” then get rid of it. That’s an easy call. For those “fans who have a longstanding attachment”, give them a free hot dog with the works and a beverage of their choice, and heck, throw in some peanuts, double heck, also throw in some roasted grasshoppers if they want.

Speaking of, here is more on the toasted grasshoppers:

According to Forbes, sales of toasted grasshoppers, served up by Seattle-area Mexican restaurant Poquitos, were brisk at Monday’s home opener.

In Mexico the dish is called “chapulines” and has been available here in Houston for years at award-winning eatery Hugo’s as an appetizer next to the salsa and guacamole. 

The candy booth at RodeoHouston has also been selling ranch-flavored grasshoppers for years now.

Over 300 orders were sold at Safeco during Monday’s opening day game, according to the Mariners, which amounts to about 13 pounds of bugs. They can be served up as a stand-alone side or inside tacos for $4. The lines at Safeco for grasshoppers were longer than lines for hot dogs and beer and they were sold out by the end of Monday’s game. 

Root Sports field reporter Julia Morales took it upon herself to try out the delicacy on Tuesday night during coverage of the Astros-Mariners night game, which the good guys won 7-5.

During the sixth inning Morales tried a few of the protein-rich bugs but reported that the taste wasn’t so great. 

Forbes reporter Maury Brown said that the grasshoppers were “salty, with a good kick of Cayenne pepper and chili lime salt” and that they go well with beer or tequila.

And we all thought that weird mashed potato and chicken popper waffle cone at Minute Maid Park was wacky.

On May 15, 2008, the ‘Stros fell behind the Giants 6 zip at AT&T and came back to win 8-7 of course.

It looks like our bats are coming alive – it looks that way and we have the day off.

#SpringerDinger has five dingers and four are of the lead-off variety. How many base hits does he have thus far?

The H-Town Mayor’s office put out a press release yesterday that said pension reform has to happen or else. Check out the statement here:

Credit Rating Agency Puts City on Notice About Downgrade in Absence of Pension Reform

April 11, 2017 — Moody’s Investors Service has sent Houston a dire warning about the need for the Texas Legislature to approve the Houston Pension Solution. In its latest update on Houston’s $3 billion taxpayer supported General Obligation debt, the agency cites the “lack of a sustainable pension plan to address growing pension liability” as a factor that could lead to a downgrade in the city’s credit rating.

“This is a clear indication of what will happen if pension reform is not approved in Austin,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner.  “The city and Houston taxpayers cannot afford the increased borrowing costs that will accompany a rating downgrade.  We have presented state lawmakers with a Houston solution to a Houston issue.  Now, it is imperative that they approve it without upsetting the delicate balances we have struck.  The stability of our finances is at stake.”

Houston’s current credit rating from Moody’s is Aa3 with a negative outlook.  In summarizing its rationale for the rating, Moody’s writes, “The City of Houston’s Aa3 rating reflects a large and regional economy whose recent performance has been tempered by decreases in oil prices, and underperforming revenues, contributing to a weakened but still adequate financial performance.  Additional considerations reflect high fixed costs, large unfunded pension liabilities (among the highest in the nation), as well as property tax caps.  Also considered is the city’s current reform plan, which if approved, could positively impact the city’s long term fiscal position and stabilize the credit profile.”  Moody’s is reserving any reconsideration of the existing rating until the conclusion of the legislative session in May.

If the legislature fails to pass reform, the General fund will incur over $130M in additional charges next fiscal year.

“Our current credit outlook remains intact, but that outlook relies heavily on the outcome of the Houston Pension Solution in the Texas Legislature,” said City Controller Chris Brown.  “Moody’s most recent credit analysis reaffirms that the time for Houston’s pension reform is now.”

After receiving earlier endorsements from the Texas House Committee on Pensions and the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs, the Houston Pension Solution is now awaiting floor votes in both chambers. The reform plan eliminates $8.1 billion in unfunded liability, caps future costs, does not require a tax increase and is budget neutral. The measure has strong support from City Council and two of the three employee pension systems as well as numerous other stakeholders.

Scare tactic statement? Not really because everyone already knows this. Was the statement intended to be a scare tactic? I can’t say for sure but they obviously are ramping up their efforts on the pension reform bill.

As the Mayor starts today’s city council meeting with pension reform talk.  The Mayor said that if pension reform fails this session, Austin (the legislature) owns it.  I don’t know about that.  Is that how it works?  Stay tuned!

Commentary said before that Sean Spicer lost all credibility on day 2 – period, so I really don’t have much to say about yesterday other than to point out what CNN put out yesterday:

(CNN) White House press secretary Sean Spicer forgot the first rule of politics during a press briefing on Tuesday: Never, ever compare anyone or anything to Adolf Hitler.

Ain’t it the truth! Ain’t it the truth!

You also need to have a lot better knowledge of key events in world history if you want to be press secretary.

I have to give Spicer equal time with this from AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — White House press secretary Sean Spicer is apologizing for making an “insensitive” reference to the Holocaust in earlier comments about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

Spicer says in an interview with CNN that he mistakenly used “an inappropriate, insensitive reference to the Holocaust.” He says there was no comparison and “it was a mistake to do that.” He adds, “It was my blunder.”

Spicer said during a White House briefing Tuesday that Adolf Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” That drew instant rebuke from Jewish groups and critics who noted it ignored Hitler’s use of gas chambers to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust.

Spicer was attempting to discuss the horror of the chemical weapons attack last week in Syria.

He probably got the word that his arse is on the line so he better apologize.   Of course, the next press secretary would have to lie just as much.

Is it common for elected officials to have twitter accounts with the padlock symbol? Why be a public official with a closed off twitter account? Just saying.

From the all I want for my birthday is a bowl of toasted grasshoppers department here is from MLB.com:

The season may be young, but one thing that’s making a lot of noise already is the new concession stand fare at Safeco Field — specifically the toasted grasshoppers

Throughout the telecast during Houston’s 7-5 win over the Mariners on Tuesday, announcers Todd Kalas and Geoff Blum spent many minutes discussing the new in-stadium treat with the team’s field reporter, Julia Morales. 

Morales had promised to try some grasshopper and made good on her word in the sixth inning. She took the plunge and ordered herself a cup of crunchy cooked bugs … but she just didn’t seem to enjoy it very much.

Yummy! Happy Birthday today Julia Morales!

#SpringerDinger has nine base hits this season and five are dingers of course.

We got 14 hits last night and won and are now 5-4.

 

Support Your Local

Among active players on a MLB roster, name the player with the most career at-bats?

Commentary has said before that it is important to support your local newspaper by subscribing. Many folks don’t agree and I get that. But they do important work. Just ask the family that was put together last week with a little help from Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg. Falkenberg also had a hand in how we now select grand juries here in Harris County.

Last year, Brian Rosenthal and the Chron put out articles on how kids were being denied special education programs. The articles were eye opening, heartbreaking, and disturbing.

Newspapers help break stories on local government corruption and just plain old coverage on what is going on at city hall, the courthouse, and at our school districts. If they aren’t around to let us know stuff, who will.

So I don’t have a problem rooting for the Chron or giving them a shout out for being named Pulitzer Prize finalists yesterday. Props to Joe Holley and Evan Mintz. Here is this from the Chron:

The topic that drew the incisive focus of Houston Chronicle editorial writers Joe Holley and Evan Mintz last year could not have been more Texan or more timely than guns: Each year, an estimated 3,000 gun-related deaths occur in Texas. For their superior work, the editorialists were finalists for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Writing awarded Monday.

Art Cullen of the The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times won the Pulitzer in Editorial Writing; Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of The Washington Post also was a finalist. The Chronicle also earned finalist standing in the category of Public Service for a package of investigative stories, editorials, cartoons and multimedia work about an arbitrary statewide measure that effectively denied special education services for children in public schools.

The series in the Chronicle’s finalist entry of editorials sought to drive home the point that gun-friendly social groups have a duty to ensure that powerful and dangerous weapons are treated with all necessary caution. Importantly, the series emphasized that efforts to protect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners need not endanger the rest of us.

“These pages have consistently been concerned about the pervasiveness of guns in our culture,” said Jeff Cohen, executive editor of the Chronicle’s editorial pages. “In their editorials, Evan and Joe have consistently recognized this is a complicated topic and have argued for gradual change in laws and in society.”

Here is the entire read: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/editorials/article/Pulitzer-finalists-11064117.php.

Joe also has the informative articles on Saturdays about Texas and Texans past and present. I have learned a lot about the Lone Star State from Joe’s articles.

The Chron was also named a finalist in the Public Service category. Here is from the Pulitzer website:

Finalist: Houston Chronicle

For exposing the grave injustice of arbitrary cost-cutting by the State of Texas that denied tutoring, counseling and other vital special education services to families, hindering the futures of tens of thousands of children.

Nice going Brian Rosenthal and others at the Chron.

Maybe next year.

Let me say that a lot of folks are not fans of United. I get that. They should have given the passenger a couple of years of free business class to anywhere in the world and said we’re sorry. Instead they went stupid.

Commentary goes to Baytown a lot these days and my Mom loves for me to make donut runs for her.  I wonder if she will like this from the Chron today:

Krispy Kreme will open a location in Baytown, its third in the Houston area, at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

The first 100 guests in line at 3422 Garth Road will get free Original Glazed doughnuts, with limitations, for a year, and a t-shirt. 

The new shop, which sells more than a dozen kinds of doughnuts, contains 3,460 square feet and a drive-thru. But you’ll have to get out of the car to be eligible for the free doughnut promotion.

The chain has grown to three locations since returning to Houston in 2015 after a long absence. The new store joins 8611 Westheimer near Fondren and 5603 Highway 6 North in the Bear Creek area.

Adrian Beltre of the Rangers leads all MLBers with 10,295 career at-bats of course. Beltre is currently on the dinged-up list.

We are 4-4 and waiting for our offense to show up.

On Not Voting

Renée Cross, Jim Granato and Mark P. Jones have an eye-opening Op-Ed in today’s Chron on why some Texas registered voters didn’t show up at the polls this past November. From the Chron: Cross is associate director and Granato is executive director of the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs. Jones is Political Science Fellow at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and a research associate at the Hobby School.

This is a must read for local and state Dem leaders on how to combat low voter turnout in the upcoming 2018 general election.  Here is the beginning of the Op-Ed:

The state must do a better job of educating the state’s voters. The 2018 elections will be crucial for the state’s future, with positions ranging from U.S. senator and governor to county judge and constable on the ballot, and all registered voters need to understand the rules.

But as our study of registered voters who stayed home last fall found, confusion over the law may have kept some people from voting even though most could have complied. Latino voters were affected most significantly.

Now is the perfect time for attention to the issue as the Texas House Elections Committee on Monday takes up proposed voter ID legislation.

The University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs recently completed a report, “The Texas Voter ID Law and the 2016 Election,” based on surveys of registered voters who sat out the 2016 elections in the state’s two highest profile battleground jurisdictions: Harris County and Congressional District 23 (CD-23), which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso.

We found almost all registered voters who did not vote had a valid photo ID, and virtually no one was prevented from voting for lack of one of the seven state-approved forms of photo ID needed to vote in person.

However, these registered voters were poorly informed about the photo ID regulations, which are the foundation for revised ID legislation now being considered in the Legislature.

It’s no surprise that the Texas Secretary of State’s 2016 public education campaign left some voters uninformed about the voter ID law, given that only $2.5 million was allocated for the effort and the requirements changed just months before the election.

But legislators can correct that problem, even as they consider other changes to the law. We urge them to take that responsibility seriously in light of what we discovered.

Thirty-seven percent of registered voters in Harris County and 45 percent of those in CD-23 did not vote in November. But almost all of them could have. Altogether, 97 percent of registered non-voters in Harris County and 98 percent of those in CD-23 had an unexpired, state-approved photo ID. That rose to 99 percent in Harris County and remained at 98 percent in CD-23 when acceptable expired IDs were considered.

Lack of a state-approved photo ID kept almost no one – just one non-voter among the 819 surveyed – from voting in 2016.

Despite that, 1 in 7 non-voters signaled that lack of a state-approved photo ID was one of the reasons they did not vote. However, it was just one reason. Only 1.5 percent of non-voters in Harris County and fewer than 1 percent (0.5 percent) in CD-23 said lack of a state-approved photo ID kept them from voting.

Regardless, few actually understood the law.

Here is the entire Op-Ed that Dems need to check out: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Cross-Granato-Jones-State-should-focus-on-11059285.php.

The GOP controlled state of Texas is not interested in educating voters on how to go to the polls. Don’t expect them to cough up more dough for an education effort because the folks who are not voting are Dem voters. Dem leaders need to look for third parties to come in and expend major resources on voter education initiatives. To do nothing would be a travesty.  It certainly is fixable.

The ‘Stros are 4-3. We have two players hitting above .300. Name the two?

One reason Dems have done poorly statewide is because we stopped talking to folks in some parts of the state so it was good to see this tweet:

ANTONIO ARELLANO and 2 others liked

Beto O’Rourke‏Verified account@BetoORourke 13h13 hours ago

Beautiful evening with amazing people in Longview! Thank you for welcoming me & sharing what’s on your mind. Can’t wait to come back!

That’s Gregg County by the way in East Texas.  It is good to see Beto in Longview.

Commentary sometimes has to let you know the bad as well as the good. I saw this tweet yesterday:

FOX Business‏Verified account@FoxBusiness 2h2 hours ago

Women in Elizabeth Warren’s office make less than men – report http://fxn.ws/2nELXQg

Then I saw this Boston Herald editorial form yesterday:

Another Equal Pay Day has come and gone.

It’s the day that marks how far into the next year women have to work to match the annual earnings of men (using the Census Bureau’s annual adjusted pay gap). This year that day was April 4, just in case you missed the celebration.

Now last year Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren marked the day with an impassioned statement calling it a “national day of embarrassment.”

“By the sound of it, you would think it’s some sort of historic holiday commemorating the anniversary of a landmark day that our country guaranteed equal pay for women,” Warren said. “But that’s not what this is about. Not even close.

“The game is rigged against women and families, and it has to stop,” she added.

So this year the Washington Free Beacon had a special Equal Pay Day surprise for Warren in an article documenting that the pay gap in Warren’s Senate office is nearly 10 percent higher than the national average. By their calculation, women working for Warren earned 71 cents for every dollar paid to men during the 2016 fiscal year.

The Free Beacon’s analysis included only full-time staffers who were employed for the entire year. That meant Warren’s chief of staff, Mindy Myers, and her male replacement were not included in the calculation. But the report found only one woman,

Warren’s scheduling director, making $100,000 or more, while five men earned six-figure salaries.

It’s not that Warren’s the only hypocrite on Capitol Hill; she’s just the preachiest.

Really? Oh, well. I am sure she has a good explanation for this.

Dante and I were doing some work up in my attic yesterday and also doing some cleaning out stuff. We ran across a life size cardboard cutout of President Clinton dressed in Elvis gear with a sax hanging around his neck. I don’t know when, how or why it was acquired. I don’t know what I am going to do with the darn thing.

Afterwards we went to eat and Dante drove. Yes, Dante is now driving. He has a nice ride for sure.

The Chron’s Jenny Dial Creech has a column today that pretty much sums up where the ‘Stros are after week 1. Here is how it starts:

One week of the baseball season is done.

There have been seven games at Minute Park.

The Astros are 4-3 after their 5-4 win over Kansas City on Sunday afternoon.

With one week down and 25 to go, there have been highs, lows, questions answered and questions raised.

It’s not time to plan for a World Series appearance. And it’s not time to give up on the Astros yet, either.

They have a lot to work out, a lot of improvement to make and a lot of unexpected positives to build on.

After a week, what they also have is our attention. The Astros remain one of the more intriguing teams in the league.

This team is going to be an interesting, at times frustrating and all-around entertaining one to watch this season.

Every game last week showed something – great pitching, strong parts of the lineup, weak spots. And on Sunday, it showed grit.

Here is all of Creech’s column: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/sports/columnists/dialcreech/article/Creech-Intriguing-Astros-have-our-attention-11061856.php?cmpid=btfpm.

Evan Gattis if hitting .357 and Marwin Gonzalez is hitting .333 of course.

Today is Opening Day for the Mariners so we play at 4 pm H-Town time.

We now begin a six game roadie.

Over There

You set off missiles so now this is your mess. You now own it. F all of you for putting blame on President Obama. You guys now have the weapons so now it is yours. If you are in office, then it belongs to you. So F off.

100 years-ago today, George M. Cohan wrote “Over There.”

Over there, over there,

Send the word, send the word over there

That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming

The drums rum-tumming everywhere.

So prepare, say a prayer,

Send the word, send the word to beware –

We’ll be over, we’re coming over,

And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.

He wrote it the day after the USA entered World War One.

It worked then. I hardly think it works today. Just saying.

We are just into the sixth day of the MLB season so who are the only two MLBers with three dingers apiece?

The Trib has a piece today on pension reform and conflicts of interest so what else is news. Here are bits:

The Texas lawmaker championing a controversial House bill aimed at fixing Dallas’ beleaguered police and fire pension fund is also the father-in-law of a firefighter in that city.

But state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, is far from the only state lawmaker this session to find that bills tackling some of the country’s most financially troubled pension systems intersect with their personal or business lives. And in a state with a broad definition of what constitutes a conflict of interest, each legislator gets to independently decide for themselves whether to recuse themselves from helping shape pension bills being considered this legislative session.

Flynn said the Dallas pension’s dire financial conditions — and not the fact that his daughter married a Dallas firefighter less than three years ago — was his driving force in authoring the legislation. The bill aims to address the city’s multibillion-dollar pension shortfall by overhauling the board, changing how and when some pension funds can be collected and increasing the amount of money the city and its public workers pay into it. Flynn said the personal relationship and his legislative work don’t constitute a conflict of interest.

“That’s almost offensive that anybody would suggest that,” Flynn said from the House floor Thursday.

And:

Meanwhile, pension committee member Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, chose to skip the meeting entirely because his law firm counts the city’s police and fire pension system among its clients. Anchia said he is not going to deliberate or vote on the bill because it specifically pertains to the Dallas retirement system and not pension funds in general.

“If there is even a remote possibility that the appearance of conflict can arise, I just want to avoid that altogether,” he said. 

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, also plans to refrain from voting on the bill, a staffer confirmed Thursday. The reason was unclear. Johnson was unavailable for comment as House members debated that chamber’s budget during a marathon session expected to last into Friday morning.

And:

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, previously said that he may avoid voting on some pension matters this session because he works for a law firm that counts Dallas and Houston pension systems among its clients. But Whitmire was the sole Senate Democrat last week to break party ranks and vote for a bill that would require voters to weigh in when a city wants to take on pension obligation bond debt – a bill aimed squarely at efforts to address Houston’s pension troubles.

State lawmakers rarely recuse themselves from legislative votes because the definition of a conflict of interest is broad in Texas. Plus, there is no meaningful enforcement mechanism if existing rules are violated.

Here is the entire read: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/06/author-dallas-police-and-fire-pension-bill-apparently-has-son-law-s-fi/.

The conflicts won’t do a darn thing one way or the other.

#SpringerDinger and Yasiel Puig of course lead MLB with three dingers each.

We should be undefeated. We should have won last night. A few of our hitters are just not hitting.

The Royals are now in for three.