Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On greed, and driving the message

Two posts about sports in two days! Don't worry; it's not a trend.

-- Forbes reported earlier this week that the worst MLB franchise by won-loss record, our Houston Astros (soon to be three 100-loss seasons consecutively) are also on track to be the most profitable team ever in history.

The Astros are on pace to rake in an estimated $99 million in operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) this season. That is nearly as much as the estimated operating income of the previous six World Series championship teams — combined.

Yet the Astros are 43-86, worst in the majors. Of the 270 Major League Baseball teams who have taken the field since 2005, none have finished with a worse winning percentage than Houston’s.

The Astros trotted out their new kid, Nolan Ryan's son, to say "No, we're not" but he didn't offer any evidence to the contrary. Astros owner Jim Crane whined louder about being outed as money-grubbing douchebag, but ultimately took the Jamie Dimon approach (scroll down) with his rationalization.

"I didn't make $100 million by making a lot of dumb mistakes."

Forbes rejoined, saying they stand by their math (and their reporting). The good news here for Jim Crane is that nobody whose opinion he cares about actually thinks he is stupid. The bad news? You guessed it: he doesn't care what anybody thinks.

Update: There's actually two different Forbes bloggers arguing with each other about whose math in regard to the 'Stros' P&L is more accurate. 

-- That provides the segue to this report from KHOU about the Dome.

Harris County voters will determine the fate of The Astrodome in a bond referendum on the November ballot, a $217 million plan to convert the dome into a convention and exhibit facility. The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation put forth the proposal after rejecting a number of privately-submitted proposals that it decided weren't financially feasible.

"It would be a shame, in my mind, to see that asset go away," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. "Because ten years from now, somebody looks up and says, 'Well, if we had the dome, we could do this.' Well, this is a use for the dome that makes sense and it preserves the dome for possible future uses."

But with election day a little more than two months away, a critical component of the plan is conspicuously missing. When big bond issues backed by the county's heavy hitters appear on the ballot, political and business leaders often form committees to sell the plan to voters. So far, nobody has emerged as The Astrodome's head cheerleader.

"I think it's going to take some sort of organized effort," said Bob Stein, the Rice University political science professor and KHOU analyst. "Bond proposals of this sort usually succeed when there's an overwhelming majority of campaigning and spending on behalf of a bond."

Emmett said a number of people have talked about leading the effort, but nobody's grabbing the ball to run with it.

"Typically, right after Labor Day is when things crank up," Emmett said. "And so we don't know who all is going to be involved, frankly."

Among people who've watched with dismay as the dome has fallen into disrepair, this only fuels suspicion that a failed bond election will give county leaders political cover to destroy the dome. Even a Houston Chronicle editorial recently opined, "The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation comes to bury the Astrodome, not to praise it …We'll see it on the ballot only with the intent of it being voted down."

So the TV station riffed off this post two weeks ago. That's cool; I riff off them too. It's just nice to know that a little blog most people have never seen or heard of can occasionally drive the message.

Update: With former county judges Jon Lindsay and Bob Eckels now recruited for the effort, I would have expected Ed Emmett to show more enthusiasm. It's not showing up, though, from either him or them.

“You know, I know former Judge Eckels, former Judge Lindsay, people at the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., are talking about it,” Emmett told reporters. “Now, how it gets formed, they have to wait and see.”


“All I can say right now is we’re working on it and trying to get organized,” Lindsay, first elected in 1974, said, describing the effort as “preliminary.”


Lindsay, however, expressed skepticism about fundraising potential, saying  he and Eckels don’t have the clout that they did when they held office.

“I doubt that we’re going to be able to get any significant money to run this campaign,” he said. “We’re going to have to run it on a shoestring.”

Charles Kuffner seems impressed by this development. I am very much not.

-- Last, more from Forbes about some other local greedy bastards. This time it's a bunch of desk jockeys at TransCanada, the company building the Keystone XL pipeline. What's wrong with it, James Conca asks?

Just Greed and Politics.

Pipeline defects have been identified along a 60-mile stretch of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, north of the Sabine River in Texas (Winnsboro, Texas). 
Sections of pipe have dents, faulty welds, and pin-holes in some sections enough to see daylight through.

The installers have been digging up parts of the new southern segment of the Keystone pipeline that only recently have been installed. 
It seems that the existing leg of the Keystone has spilled more oil in its first year than any other first-year pipeline in U.S. history (HuffPost).

With the tens of billions of dollars this pipeline will make for these companies each year, you’d think they’d spend a little extra to build it right.  Or that they’d care about using new pipe that’s up to specs. We do have specs.

I can just imagine the mid-level manager’s thought processes on this. ”Hmmm…I’m making a decision on a pipeline that is involved in an extremely political battle, that may have a huge impact on the American economy, that could make tens of billions of dollars a year for my company but that could, if done badly, destroy the drinking water and irrigation supply for the bread-basket of America, and that even has international diplomatic ramifications.”

“So, yeah, I’ll save a few bucks and go with the crappy pipe.”

I understand making money. I even understand greed. But I just don’t understand the excessive super-callousness and super-greed required to make these kinds of bad decisions that risk so much just to save what amounts to a pittance on top of already enormous annual profits.

I'll have to explain Houston and Texas Republicans to Mr. Conca sometime, I suppose.

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