Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Open Letter to Joe Biden and Earl Devaney

Dear Joe and Earl,

I hear that President Barack Obama has named you, Mr. Biden, to oversee stimulus spending, and you, Mr. Devaney, to be the “Stimulus Czar.” To that end he has entrusted the two of you with ensuring that the billions that were voted to stimulate economic recovery across the nation were not wasted by the cities and states.

So I just wanted to call to your attention something that my state’s Department of Transportation is planning, and planning to use about $700 million of federal stimulus funds to accomplish the plan.

It seems that the Texas Department of Transportation has a love affair with toll roads. Our governor, Rick Perry, has similar amorous feelings. They have repeatedly over the years tried to foist on Texans such projects as the Trans Texas Corridor, as well as God knows how many toll road projects (21 at present count). No one, neither Republican nor Democrat, seems to be on their side on this. Apparently the only ones who seem to be in favor of toll roads in Texas are the foreign-owned corporations who will build and maintain the roads . . . and collect the tolls.

The reason that we are given for going the toll road route is that TxDOT has no funds for construction and maintenance of needed roads. That this is largely due to the fact that state government has failed to let gasoline taxes rise with inflation, and has diverted funds that would normally go toward road building and maintenance toward other projects has not escaped anyone’s attention.

So as a result of their poor management, we are now hearing that the Texas Transportation Commission will vote next week to use more than $700 billion of federal stimulus money to build toll roads.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Devaney, this is something I think you should be looking into. In times of economic crisis, the last thing someone thinks of doing is taking the toll road. Since the local toll road authorities raised the toll rates last year, my automobile has not seen a single square yard of toll road. The only beneficiaries in this deal, as I see it, are the toll road corporations that TxDOT and our governor seem to be beholden to.

Really, in general, you have to watch out when you give any money at all to a Texas government agency. Since 2003 or so Texas has been ruled by a new order that I like to call a "Kleptocracy," government by kleptomaniacs. You need to keep a close watch whenever money goes out to Texas. You really do.

President Obama has promised that he would “use the full power of my office and our administration to stop” the waste of billions of federal funds, and I was wondering what he meant by that. I recently hit upon the fact that he is the Commander-in-Chief of all branches of the military. So I was wondering whether you could ask the President to send in the cavalry, or maybe a tank battalion, to surround the commission as they meet next week, and persuade them in the error of their ways.

White phosphorous rounds, I hear, are especially persuasive.

With warm regards,

Hal at Half Empty

Friday, February 27, 2009

You Da Man!

I can’t decide which is worse, a noodle-brained congresswoman who is under the impression that she is “down wid it” and heaps approbation upon the new African-American Chairman of the RNC, Michael Steele, by proclaiming “You Da Man!” or an African-American who wants to lead a crew of puffy old white men and manic white women as they make a bold but foolhardy tack to the right toward 2010.

As told by Keith Olbermann:

Didn’t anyone tell Michelle Bachmann that it is considered high gauche for a white woman to speak in Ebonics to a black man?

Didn’t anyone tell Michael Steele that it isn’t OK for a black man to accept this with a smile and a guffaw? Are we to expect a tap dance up and down the stairs with Shirley Temple next?

Who ARE these people anyway and what planet did they come from?

Calling the GOP Governors’ Bluff

A couple of days ago, I posted this, wondering about a CNN article on how GOP governors, that is, southern states governors, can cherry pick what has become the law of the land. As it turns out, I was not alone, and someone who has actually read at least some of the Economic Recovery Act has the answer: While state governors, apparently can accept or not accept “any division of this act,” they are also not the sole deciders in this.

Section 1607 of the act (now law) that says exactly this:

“SEC. 1607. (a) Certification by Governor - Not later than 45 days after the date of enactment of this Act, for funds provided to any State or agency thereof, the Governor of the State shall certify that: (1) the State will request and use funds provided by this Act; and (2) the funds will be used to create jobs and promote economic growth.”

“(b) Acceptance by State Legislature - If funds provided to any State in any division of this Act are not accepted for use by the Governor, then acceptance by the State legislature, by means of the adoption of a concurrent resolution, shall be sufficient to provide funding to such State.”

Get that?

If a state governor decides to give a pass to federal funds that would extend unemployment benefits to those that they do not now cover, state legislatures can override their bad decision.

See? Section 1607 spreads the wealth. Governors cannot take sole blame for their unemployed voters not getting the federal aid, blame extends to any state legislature, and their majority voting members, as well, should they fail to override their governor.

This is particularly bittersweet in that we have in the New York Times today an article that sounds the opinions of unemployed voters in affected states. Particularly interesting to me, is that the article features a photo of Governor Rick Perry top and left. Here it is at right. I would try to caption this without too much tongue in cheek, but I still can’t seem to come up with a quote that is printable on this page unless I want to forego my PG rating.

Here is what the unemployed workers (voters) are saying about their governors’ threats to reject their unemployment benefits for them:

TEXAS: “It just seems unreasonable that when people probably need the help the most, that because of partisan activity, or partisan feelings, against the current new administration, that Perry is willing to sacrifice the lives of so many Texans that have been out of work in the last year.”

SOUTH CAROLINA: “I don’t understand the whole thing, Apparently because he [S.C. Governor Mark Sanford] has money and he doesn’t have to worry about everybody else who doesn’t have money.”

GEORGIA: “I don’t think he [GA governor Sonny Perdue] truly understands the plight of his citizens. He’s surrounded by people with good jobs, who make good salaries. He’s not surrounded by people like me.”

Governors have defended themselves saying that the federal rules would mandate a changing of state law to allow the funds to flow to those who are at present uncovered by unemployment benefits, something they don’t want to have in place when the federal money dries up.

They don’t want to have to take up the burden mandated by the feds, once the fed money goes away.

And rightly so. Except for the fact that there is nothing in the law says that the states can’t revert to their old rules once the federal money goes away, presumably when the crisis has passed.

Well, then it just gets better now, doesn’t it? Not only will southern state governors have to explain to their unemployed citizens (aka voters) why they are refusing to allow the feds to help them through difficult times, the members of their state legislatures are also in the same boat.

And the sweetener is that their arguments about this law mandating that states change state law is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of Obama’s Address

Did you miss the President’s address to the joint session of Congress the other night? I didn’t and am here to tell you that sitting through 56 minutes of pure genius, pure oratory skill, was worth all of the pauses as Congress, well, most of them anyway, sprang to their feet and gave ovation after ovation to the points that Barack Obama made.

But if you missed it, never fear. Barack Obama has a 9:05 minute condensed version of the address that neatly clips the minute after endless minute of applause.

I have to say though, one result of cutting this down has an interesting effect. If you watch behind the President, you see Nancy Pelosi bouncing up and down in and out of her chair as if there was a spring in it.

That Bobby Jindal came on after Obama and delivered his sing-song, homily-filled disaster is only icing on the cake of the evening’s proceedings.

I am guessing that Jindal’s speech inspired in word if not in deed, this cartoon by Tony Auth.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Congratulations On That, Richard Morrison

As seen in FortBendNow, County Commissioner Richard Morrison is quoted congratulating County Judge Hebert for “his idea” to make Fort Bend County’s check registry available to be viewed by the public on the internet.

As quoted in FortBendNow:

“‘Congratulations on that, that’s a good idea,’ Precinct 1 Commissioner Richard Morrison told Hebert just prior to a unanimous vote Tuesday in favor of the measure.”

Well I have to agree. That is one heck of a good idea, isn’t it Richard?

80% Approval. What About It Now, Grand Obstructionist Party?

It’s here at the CBS News poll taken before (63% Approval of President Obama’s plans for dealing with the economic crisis), and after (80% Approval) President Barack Obama addressed the joint session of Congress and millions of Americans who sat there last night glued to their television sets.

80% Approval.

So what about it now, Grand Obstructionist Party? Party of “No!”? Is it time to knock off all of the political grandstanding? Is it time to stop chasing after red herrings that constitute less than 10% of the entire economic recovery package?

By my count that leaves the obstructionists with 20% (or maybe even less) who side with GOP hardliners. By my count, that means that only the extreme right wing of the GOP now go along with the Republican minority who jink and swerve at every turn to try and prevent a 3 pointer from Obama.

But I hear that Obama is a good hand at sinking 3 pointers.

Is that where Republicans want to align themselves for the next election? With the fanatic fringe?

So, obstructionist congress, partisan governors, Bobby Jindal (hey, nice work, by the way, with your rebuttal speech. I couldn’t have done a better job discrediting your party if I tried). What about it? How about it now that there are 80% of us behind Obama’s brand of economic recovery?

Wanna play ball now?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Leo Berman: Bill Will Challenge Legality of 14th Amendment

Aha, so there is a method to Leo Berman’s (R – Tyler) utter madness.

I think I have mentioned in passing that one of the matters to be considered by Texas’ 81st Legislature is the matter of HB 256 entitled “AN ACT relating to birth records of children born in this state; creating an offense,” the title of which is enough to give offense.

Authored by Leo Berman and co-authored by neoconservative colleagues Dennis Bonnen (R - Angleton), Debbie Riddle (R - Houston) and Allen Fletcher (R - Houston), the purpose of the legislation, as Berman revealed here, is to challenge the constitutionality of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

He proposes to do this by denying the issuance of birth certificates to any infant born to alien parents within the borders of Texas, a condition that is in direct contravention of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, to wit:

“Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

No where is there any reference to special circumstances, like their parents were not citizens, illegal alien or not.

Berman revealed his true intensions in a speech he gave yesterday to some of his anhängen, The Minutemen Civil Defense Corps.

From The Chron’s Texas Politics Blog:

“Berman said if his proposal to prohibit automatic citizenship for U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants passes it would undoubtedly spark a court fight that he hopes lands in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

“‘That's exactly what we're looking for,’ said Berman, R-Tyler. ‘We want to be sued into federal court where our attorney general can take this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.’”

Exactly what he wants, it seems, is to do away with that troublesome 14th Amendment. You know, the one that has guaranteed the rights of every man, woman (lately), and child of life liberty and property. The one that promises “due process.” The 14th Amendment was the crowning achievement of the Number One rated US President, Abraham Lincoln.

But Leo Berman and his sordid ilk want it done away with, and he thinks Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott (or his Republican successor) is just the man to do it.

Well I find State Rep. Leo Berman’s latest efforts to be fantastically refreshing and I want to urge that he keep it up, and propose other bills, as he has in the past and present, in the same vein.

What better way to prove a central point in my thinking, that the post Civil War Reconstruction Period ended much too soon in Texas, as it did over much of the former Confederate States of America.

The Grand Army of the Republic and the federal government back then made a classic mistake, one that was once the sole method (besides abstinence, which has since been discredited by Bristol Palin) of birth control: pulling out too soon.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Guantanamo Detainee Released: What Hath Bush Wrought?

Today’s Chron contains an article filed by AP reporter Paisley Dodds detailing the hellish 7–year existence of Ethiopia born Binyam Mohamed, who was nabbed by Pakistani authorities when, in 2002 he tried to return to England, where he was a legal resident, from Karachi using a false passport.

In the years that ensued Mohamed was

  • Strung up by his wrists with leather straps and left to hang for a week – sometimes witnessed by a British MI-5 operative;
  • Renditioned to Morocco by US agents for an 18 month long torture session, which included, it is alleged, mutilation of some part of his more intimate areas;
  • Forced to confess to “an array of charges to stop his abuse;”
  • Further abused at a CIA site in Afghanistan, where he was starved and beaten;
  • Sent to Guantanamo in 2004 where he eventually faced charges of “conspiring with al-Qaida members to murder and commit terrorism.”

Then, miraculously, all charges were dropped in 2008 after lawyers working for him in the UK filed a lawsuit seeking the release of 42 secret documents.

He is now back in the UK with his sister.

But the fun in reading the article really begins in the comments, where you get to see the kind of flora and fauna that I have to share oxygen with here in Red Texas.

“It begins. The first of many to be released so they can go back to plotting terrorist acts against the infidel”

“This will be the mastermind of the next terrorist attack on our soil. What a president we elected.”

“Remember, they don't torture our people. Decapitation isn't torture, just murder!”

Ad nauseum.

Here in Red Texas, we are more than willing to accept the notion of guilty until proven innocent. Particularly if the accused is a Muslim. Particularly if the accused is a converted Muslim (assuming from the Ethiopian flavor of Christianity). Here we have a guy who was initially arrested by Pakistanis, handed off to the Brits, then to the Americans, all of whom apparently had their ways with him.

Yielding confessions of questionable veracity or value.

But he must be guilty because the alternative is much too horrible to contemplate. That we Americans, through our government surrogates, engage in practices of medieval torture.

But I will give it to the second commenter, the one who predicts that this one will be the mastermind of the next terrorist attack. Because if Binyan Mohamed was not of the opinion that Americans are the great Satan and should be opposed at every turn at the cost of life and limb before his harrowing 7-year journey through living hell, I’ll bet he is now.

And I ask who then should we punish? Mohamed for becoming the person we have turned him into, or to punish some other to convince the world that this isn’t who we are anymore.

When will the war crimes trials begin?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How Do You Cherry Pick a Law?

I don’t get it. How can Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Mark Sanford, or Haley Barbour, Republican governors all, cherry pick the newly passed economic recovery package?

It’s the law of the land now.

How can a governor say ‘thank you very much’ when he accepts federal money to rebuild his state’s infrastructure on one hand, but then sneer at a proffered federal hand held out to help his state deal with ever-lengthening unemployment lines?

When you pass a law, it’s take it or leave it, not take the best parts and tear up the parts you don’t like. Actually, like NCLB a federal law that mandated that states change the way they educate their children, it’s “take it.” There was no “leave it”

Governor Ed Rendell pretty much sums it up when he told Fixed Noise this, as reported at CNN:

“"I'm not sure that we can, over the long run, cope with the high unemployment compensation standard that this mandates for states,’ Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, the head of the National Governor's Association, told Fox News Sunday. ‘But I don't care. My people are suffering,’ he added. ‘They need that extra money. And right now that's paramount in my mind.’”

Or as The Governator told George Stephanapoulos this morning, also from CNN:

“‘I am more than happy to take his money or [that of] any other governor in this country that doesn't want to take this money. I take it because I think California needs it.’ Schwarzenegger called it ‘a terrific package,’ and said he does not foresee a need for a tax hike in the future to sustain the unemployment provisions.”

But more importantly, it’s the law. Take the money.

Besides, it is irresponsible to slap away a bucket full of money that would help citizens, and voters, get through bad times, all to make a petty political point.

So I have a modest proposal. Let’s make this a “take it or leave it law.” No cherry picking allowed. Either accept federal money or don’t. None of this whiney ‘I like this part but I just hate that part.’

So governor whiners of the United States, knock it off. You lose any high moral ground you think you are gaining, and you ensure a successful Democratic argument that the stimulus bill is doomed to failure because Republicans refused the money.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stanford Filthy Lucre Stays Out of Democrats’ Hands

Democrats are falling over each other in a mad scramble to return Sir R. Allen Stanford’s – or his employees’ – campaign contributions. Either that or donate them to charity.

And so Senator Bill Nelson (D - Fla) announced yesterday that he is donating the $45,900 that he got to the Jacksonville charity Dignity U Wear. Then word came that the lawyers that are assigned to recoup losses from the Stanford $8 billion fraud case are asking lawmakers to return the funds to them.

Congressman Barney Frank has also pledged that he will return the $1000 he received from Stanford, but says that first he will try to return the funds directly to those who were scammed by Stanford.

President Barack Obama will donate the $4600 Stanford’s PAC sent him to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Senator John McCain, the maverick, says he is also donating all of his Stanford PAC contributions to charity.

So is Senator Chris Dodd. To the tune of $27,500.

Rep. Charles Rangel was among the high-powered recipients and promised to donate a total of $10,800 from his political action committee to charity.

But Texas Senator John Cornyn has different ideas. Cornyn, it will be remembered, received a direct campaign donation of $2000 from Sir R. Allen, and benefited from a 4-day paid holiday on Antigua, and this junket was sponsored by Stanford to the tune of $7441.

At first, the Senator wasn’t going to do anything about this tainted money. The senator sent a spokesman to tell the press that the senator still believed in the presumption of innocence. He later backpedaled, probably when he saw all the action going on across the aisle, and volunteered that he would give $4000 to charity.


OK excluding the money from the PAC, excluding the money from Stanford’s employees, the senator is still into Stanford’s pocket to the tune of $9441, more than double what he says he wants to donate.

Rep. Pete Sessions of TX-32 has no intention of returning the $41,000 he received from Stanford and his PAC and associates.

Sessions spokesperson:

“‘Pete is looking down in his palms and he sees $41,000 and he says, 'Can I put this in my pocket, or do I have to give it back?' And to anyone — including Pete Sessions — $41,000 is enough money that he wants to just think about it’”

Oh, and what about my congressman? Pete Olson? What have we heard from Pete Olson’s people regarding his retention of Stanford’s drug money?


Friday, February 20, 2009

Will Someone Please Go Buy a Buick?

Take a look at this chart. GM stock owners are well aware of what has happened to their stock over the past year. Since February of ’08 GM stock has lost 92% of its value, from $25 per share to today’s $1.77.

That, friends and neighbors, is cheaper than the national average for a gallon of gas.

Which, by the way, is no different than conditions in October of ’08 when this news clip aired on CBS.

And the guy in the video is right. Right now is not the time for GM, or any auto manufacturer to be strapped for cash, which is why they are begging for more stimulation.

They need the money to retool.

So the real problem is that GM is making cars that no one wants to buy because a) the cars use too much gasoline, b) customers can’t be certain they will have a reliable supply of spare parts, and c) everyone is waiting for American car companies to make hybrids or battery-powered cars.

And they can’t make these new cars until they retool.

It’s a vicious circle.

So everyone go out right now and buy a Buick, OK?

And I’ll go out and buy some shares of GM stock at bargain basement prices. Heck, at these prices GM is worth more as a source of scrap metal.

Coffee Today

Ok, today I’m going to do something that I only rarely do: write about something non-political. And that’s because today I did something that I never do, and that is buy a CD album directly from the artist.

And I don’t know why people don’t do that more often. It’s the same price, you know, if you buy a CD from Border’s or Best Buy. Only the artist gets to keep more of the profit.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The artist that benefited from my credit card charge is a singer/songwriter that I had never heard of before last Tuesday. When I drive home from work I listen to the local Houston Pacifica station, KPFT. They have lots of variety for people who truly like all kinds of music. On Tuesdays the format is to play the music of local artists.

And they played the track off of a CD by a local Austin artist named Wendy Colonna. It was called “Coffee Today.”

Over the next couple of days I kept thinking about it, that it was a really well emoted song, and this quality appealed to me. So I finally googled the song title and happened on Wendy Colonna's website where I saw she was selling her CDs.

So what the heck, I bought a couple of them.

Take a listen and tell me if you agree that this singer has some talent.

And the red hair doesn’t detract from anything, does it?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Judge Sharon “Killer” Keller To Go On Trial

Remember the case of the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Appeals who refused to allow a condemned prisoner to file an after hours appeal on the evening before he was ultimately put to death?

I believe the words that sealed the ultimate fate of this man, accused of rape and murder, were “We close at 5.”

And so convicted rapist and murderer, Michael Richard, was put to death by lethal injection. It was the manner of death that was on issue, not the guilt or innocence of Richard.

Well while Republicans up and down the state “praised the judge for treating Richard like the killer he was” someone filed a complaint. Actually a whole bunch of death penalty activists did.

And so now “Killer” Keller will face the state’s judicial ethics commission in a public trial that could result in her removal from the bench, a reprimand, a slap on the wrist, or complete exoneration.

In my humble opinion, someone who is condemned to death – that is the public ending of his days - deserves to be heard and does not deserve the peckish and decidedly icy response “we close at 5.” It reflects on the entire state, and deservedly so, as it was the voters that put this cold-hearted woman on the bench.

Noriega Offered Assistant Secretary Post; Declines

Former state representative and senatorial candidate Rick Noriega has revealed in a newsletter to supporters that he was recently offered a position in the Obama Administration but decided not to accept the offer.

“Last week I was contacted and asked if I would consider a post as Assistant Secretary of Defense (Reserve Affairs) with the Secretary of the Air Force. I declined the position. I remain open to a position in President Obama's administration, one that is aligned with my core competencies. I am most honored to have been called. It is hard to consider leaving my family again, and I am not yet sure what the final outcome will be.”

Rick is right. Rick is a ground pounder, not a flyboy. Rick is used to dealing with soldiers whose hands are calloused, not manicured. I agree with this and call on the Obama Administration to take note of the talents that this man offers our nation’s military.

In another statement, Noriega announced that he has accepted the position of Vice President of Community Relations at Neighborhood Centers, Inc., an organization that once helped his own family through hard times, and “includes centers such as Ripley House, Head Start programs, senior programs, charter schools and more. It is a $ 200 million operation, caring for Houston's seniors, youngsters and needy, giving folks a hand up, not a hand out.”

As I have written in other posts on this blog, public service is what this entire family is about. It’s really too bad that more Texans didn’t agree with Democrats that Rick Noriega would have made a superb US Senator, much better than the one we have saddled ourselves with for another six years, a real shame – doubly – because his former opponent continues to vote against the interests of his own state, and takes campaign contributions from crooks and drug money launderers.

But our loss is Neighborhood Centers, Inc.’s gain.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New York Post Crosses the Racist Line

I don't care what anybody says, while true progress in racial attitudes has been made over the past 50 years, the American propensity to profoundly offend through blatantly racist messages is still with us.

With a vengeance.

Stanford’s Banks Are Running; So is Stanford

There appears to be no end to the story that developed over this past weekend about R. Allen Stanford’s successful attempt to bilk his clientele for $8 billion.

There were two developments today, one reported at the Manchester Guardian, and one at the London Telegraph.

The Brits are all over this story. I think they take it a little personally when someone messes with one of their former possessions. Antigua and Baruba were once part of the British West Indies.

And R. Allen Stanford calls himself Sir Allen, or maybe Sir R. because he was knighted by the islands’ Prime Minister a couple of years ago.

The Guardian is covering the story of the run on Stanford’s Antigua bank. It seems that hundreds of Antiguans are worried about the solvency of Stanford’s bank, and lined up around the corner to withdraw their money.

“The fall-out threatens catastrophic and immediate consequences ... There is no need for panic," Baldwin Spencer, the prime minister said on television. “

“Spencer said his government was working on a contingency plan to tackle the crisis with the six-nation Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and Antigua's central bank.

“The island was in shock. "Run on Stanford's bank", ran the front-page headline in yesterday's Daily Observer. ‘I have my savings in there in fixed deposits and I want it. I need to get my money,’ said a women who identified herself as Harriet. ‘I'm stunned. I've been hearing rumours about him all the time, but I didn't want to believe them,’ said Genevieve Gore, a 55-year-old manager of N&J's Fashion and Variety Store, in St John's, the capital city.”

And the fact is, this may just be the tip of the iceberg. Governments around the world are finding Stanford’s banks in their backyards, and have launched investigations of their own.

All of this prompting R. Allen, or Sir R., to try and take it on the lam. Now he’s no dummy and knows with all of those agencies with all of their letters investigating him, they were bound to have the airports covered should he decide to take a permanent vacation to, say, Antigua. So the Telegraph is reporting that Sir R. tried to charter a private jet to Antigua, and was darned near successful at it until the charter service, no dummies themselves, decided that they didn’t want to take Stanford’s credit card.

They wanted the funds wired to them.

And unfortunately for Sir R., this is not an easy thing to do when your assets have been frozen by the SEC.

At present, the Telegraph reports, Stanford’s whereabouts are unknown.

My guess is that he is lurking around the marinas in the Clear Lake to Galveston area trying to talk yacht owners there into giving him a lift to, say, Antigua.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cornyn’s Out of Luck: Stanford Financial Benefactors Assets Seized

I mentioned this before, that Texas Senator John Cornyn was treated to a Delay-esque junket to a Caribbean paradise for 4 days just after the 2004 election, ostensibly to conduct a “fact-finding mission.” Treated to this boondoggle by Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford.

And also that three federal agencies were investigating R. Allen Stanford’s activity in his offshore banks on Antigua and Barbuba. Well, the chickens came home to roost today as the SEC has filed civil charges against Stanford Financial, freezing their assets in the bargain.

Holy Madoff.

It seems that in these times of 3% CD interest, Stanford’s two Caribbean banks were offering an 8.25% return on $8 billion worth of CDs, leading the feds to ask how the guy can possibly pay out on that.

Leading me to wonder what John Cornyn did, or didn’t do to deserve a free paid vacation. John Cornyn and his “undisclosed companion.” Because living here in the heart of Texas 22, a congressional district that returned wheeler/dealer Republican former Congressman Tom Delay for 10 terms, notions like this become second nature to you.

Maybe someday we will find out.

But today, I come to find that John Cornyn didn’t just lose a free meal ticket in the seizure of assets of Stanford Financial.

He lost a substantial source of lucre.

Last time I mentioned that R. Allen Stanford donated $2,000 to Cornyn’s campaign committee, this despite the fact that he donated to Democrats by a larger margin than to Republicans in the last cycle.

It gets better.

Because in total, between Stanford, Stanford’s executive team, and Stanford’s PAC, John Cornyn’s campaign received $19,700 from this business entity whose assets have now been frozen by the SEC.

You know, John Cornyn wasn’t even on the Banking Committee when he was given that trip. But now that he is, and into this group of people who are being accused of fraud to the tune of over $27,000, gee, I don’t know. Do you think Cornyn should return all that money? Return this money at least to give the illusion of propriety?

I’ll bet these guys could use the money right now to pay their lawyers.

Maybe buy an “Obama Effect” Glock.

And here is the bigger mystery. Most of these guys at are big players in DC. Huge amounts of influence to be gotten here. Why then, oh why, among all of these heavy hitters do we find the name of Pete Olson? Pete Olson, who never served a day in elected office in his life, somehow rated receiving a total of $14,500 from this same sorry group of people and PAC.

$2300 of it came from Stanford, himself.

For Pete Olson.

Gee, could it be that they know Pete Olson? Could it be that they know Olson through his previous staff job in DC working for Senator Phil Gramm? The same Phil Gramm that engineered the financial meltdown that we are all experiencing?

So what about it? Do you think Pete Olson should return his lucre as well?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Obama Effect

I know, it sounds like some sort of scientific principle like the Tyndall Effect (seen in gelatin). But it is anything but scientific.

And appears to me to be completely unfounded.

The Obama Effect is being witnessed in big box stores like WalMart, Academy and Gander Mountain, as well as mom and pop gun stores like The Double Shot Liquor and Guns Drive Thru in Schulenberg, Texas.

People are buying up guns and ammunition at record rates.

And guess why?

Barack Obama.

People who love and appreciate the function of firearms have become concerned since his election that President Obama is going to do away with gun ownership in the United States. As a result, they are taking precautionary steps to stock up before he takes action.

Even now in these times of economic uncertainty and tight family budgets, people are going out and buying guns, guns and more guns. Concealed weapons classes are full. Some weapons, notably Glocks can’t seem to stay on the shelves.

Now the thing is, I don’t recall ever hearing that Barack Obama has at the top of his agenda a desire to limit the rights of gun ownership. I recall the “cling to their guns and their religion” remark, the remark that got now SecState Hillary Clinton out for a photo op at the firing range.

Yes, he does have issues with assault rifles, as do I. As I also have an issue with killing Bambi by shooting him full of lead. He did support the ban on handguns in DC (a ban that was lifted by Bush’s Supremes), but on limiting ownership, while I understand he doesn’t really enthusiastically support gun ownership, he basically doesn’t think he can do anything about it. Read about it here.

Here, I think, is the bottom line statement that leads me to my conclusion that Obama won’t be doing anything about guns:

“Q: When you were in the state senate, you talked about licensing and registering gun owners. Would you do that as president?”

“A: I don’t think that we can get that done. But what we can do is to provide just some common-sense enforcement. The efforts by law enforcement to obtain the information required to trace back guns that have been used in crimes to unscrupulous gun dealers. As president, I intend to make it happen. We essentially have two realities, when it comes to guns, in this country. You’ve got the tradition of lawful gun ownership. It is very important for many Americans to be able to hunt, fish, take their kids out, teach them how to shoot. Then you’ve got the reality of 34 Chicago public school students who get shot down on the streets of Chicago. We can reconcile those two realities by making sure the Second Amendment is respected and that people are able to lawfully own guns, but that we also start cracking down on the kinds of abuses of firearms that we see on the streets. ”

Now if that means Obama wants to take away your guns, then by all means, go out and spend your kids’ college money on another “Nine.” Get one for each member of your family.

The gun industry will thank you from the bottom of its cold, cold heart.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

If price of crude oil is dropping, why is cost of gas rising?

That’s the headline of a piece in today’s Houston Chronicle. I take the Chronicle seriously on this subject because, after all, Houston remains the hub of the oil industry.

They should know what they are talking about.

Well, actually, the Chronicle was running a piece written by two AP reporters, Chris Kahn and John Porretto.

So I was wondering just the same thing the other day as I was putting gasoline in my rice burner, and paying $1.78.9 for the honor. Saving a whole 2 cents per gallon by choosing a non-major gas station.

So I looked at the article, hoping to have some answers. Here is what they said:

The price of gas is indeed tied to oil. It's just a matter of which oil.”

“The benchmark for crude oil prices is West Texas Intermediate, drilled exactly where you would imagine. That's the price, set at the New York Mercantile Exchange, that you see quoted on business channels and in the morning paper.”

“Right now, in an unusual market trend, West Texas crude is selling for much less than inferior grades of crude from other places around the world. A severe economic downturn has left U.S. storage facilities brimming with it, sending prices for the premium crude to five-year lows.”

“But it is the overseas crude that goes into most of the gas made in the United States. So prices at the pump will probably keep going up no matter what happens to the benchmark price of crude oil.

Well that makes sense. Oil is down but the oil price we track, West Texas Intermediate, or WTI, is abnormally lower than lesser quality crudes that are more likely to be turned in to gasoline.

Wait, that doesn’t make any sense at all.

Isn’t the market all about supply and demand as everyone keeps telling me? Shouldn’t a high quality crude like WTI be more likely to be turned into gasoline because it will give higher yields than heavier oil?

And in this, I was perfectly right. They go on to explain:

“Brent North Sea crude, which feeds some East Coast refineries — and therefore winds up at many gas pumps around America — now costs about $7 more per barrel than the West Texas crude. Deutsche Bank analysts say the trend should continue.”

“Historically, West Texas International (sic) crude has cost more. So nobody bothered building the necessary pipelines to carry it beyond the nearby refineries in the Midwest, parts of Texas and a handful of other places.”

“Now that the premium oil is suddenly very inexpensive, refiners elsewhere can't get their hands on it.”

Now that’s just crazy.

That’s not what Republicans are telling me. The Republicans are telling me that the we don’t have enough oil and have to import oil from Muslim fanatics because Democrats won’t let the oil companies drill in ANWR or offshore the pristine beaches of northern California.

Drill, baby, drill.

But now I’m being told that not only do we not choose to pipe WTI to distant oil refineries because it’s usually too expensive and we can get cheaper oil there instead, but also that we use the price of WTI as a benchmark price for oil produced in the United States.

Now that’s just crazy.

So I learned a couple of things today. I learned about a dirty little secret about domestic oil production that isn’t being widely shared. And I learned that when we want to know the price of oil is, we ask what is the price of the most expensive oil that most people don’t use.

So I got more curious, and wanted to know what the price of oil is in other parts of the world. What, for instance, is the price of North Sea Brent? What about Arabian Light? These crudes, they tell me, are being turned into gasoline and sold here at the pump.

And after several tries in a Google search I finally happened on the right keyword combination that found this site.

Where I did see that WTI (aka United States) is definitely about $2.30 per barrel below the world average, just like the AP article said. I also saw that the price of oil is not down.

It’s up.

OK, not up to what it was when we were paying $4.00 for a gallon of gas, but since the beginning of the year, on average, the price of oil has risen by $7.20 per barrel.

That’s a 21% increase in price.

So gasoline is up because the price of crude oil is up. Nothing new under the sun.

Now I have a new question. If gasoline is up because crude is up, why did those two AP reporters jump through so many hoops and negotiate so many tortuous curves to explain the supposedly unexplainable?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

John Cornyn, Barbuda Still My Friend?

My friend Susan has a little piece on her not-a-blog today, Valentine’s Day 2009, on our favorite US Senator, John Cornyn. Susan says that Cornyn is stepping in to fill the empty shoes left by Tom Delay, who is busy these days being an icon of rightwing uberpartisanship.

In November of 2004, it seems, John Cornyn along with an undisclosed companion, took up an offer by Texas billionaire R. Allen Stanford, Chairman of Stanford Financial Services to visit his operations on the Caribbean islands of Barbuda and Antiqua. As seen in the link provided by Susan, the 4-day trip was to conduct a

“Financial services industry fact-finding mission hosted by constituent company with substantial operations on site Notes Sen. Cornyn discloses expenses for himself and a companion, but does not disclose the identity of the companion. Total Cost $7,441.00”

Interesting and timely, I say, as Cornyn is certainly not hanging back staying hidden in the woodwork this time around. He finds himself in the news obstructing bills and visiting high roller contributors in New York rather than staying in DC to vote in this time of financial crisis.

But then I opened up today’s Chronicle and find that this is more interesting, and more timely, than I thought at first.

It seems that R. Allen Stanford has been under investigation by the SEC, the IRS and the FBI for awhile now. Investigators have been pretty closed mouth about what the matter is all about, other than to say that Stanford’s Caribbean banks are selling CDs that net the buyers higher than usual returns. From the Chron:

“The entire scope of the probe is unclear, but investigators are looking into the sale of certificates of deposit issued by the firm’s Stanford International Bank in the Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. The CDs have yielded returns higher than the average.”

Wow. The very banks that Cornyn and a companion were asked to visit in 2004 as part of a “fact-finding mission” are being investigated for some questionable business practices by 3 federal agencies whose terrible combination of letters usually spell B-A-D N-E-W-S.

I also checked the FEC, and saw that Stanford had given $2000 to Cornyn’s campaign in 2007. Interesting, because Stanford and many of his highest ranking corporate officers at Stanford Financial Services had, for the most part, maxed out for Barack Obama in the last election.

Obviously, Stanford likes to win. And this is just okey-dokey as far as John Cornyn is concerned.