Follow the Money

June 11, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE DEALERSHIP – Oh, hi. I am just picking out what color Lamborghini I’m going to buy. You should do the same, because Big Bux are headed this way. And we deserve to get our share. The story, a scandal, really, is fairly well known. From 2006 to September 2015, nearly a decade, Volkswagen had a great way of selling more cars in the U.S. than Toyota, to become the world’s number one carmaker. Their aces in the hole were “clean diesel” vehicles. Fawning press reports stated: “About 580,000 such sedans, SUVs, and crossovers were sold in the U.S. under the company’s VW, Audi, and Porsche marques. With great fanfare, including Super Bowl commercials, the company flacked an environmentalist’s dream: high performance cars that managed to achieve excellent fuel economy and emissions so squeaky clean as to rival those of electric hybrids like the Toyota Prius.”

There was just one problem: It was a hoax, a con job. In a nutshell, VW altered its test cars to produce lower pollution and higher mileage than those actually sold on the market. The scam was discovered, VW executives – the plot was known to the highest levels – were hauled into court, and a fine was recently levelled: $2.7 billion. Texas gets about $30 million, enough to cover a pay raise for our legislators. No, the money is supposed to go to programs to improve our infrastructure with encouragement for more electric cars with more charging stations, that sort of thing. Gov. Greg Abbott chose the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) as the lead agency responsible for the administration of funds. That’s the same toothless TCEQ that has cleaned up our air so that the American Lung Association’s 2018 scorecard gave all of the big Texas cities poor marks for ozone pollution.

That’s the idea: millions of dollars to clean up our air. Good luck. We should remember the Master Settlement Agreement, or MSA. That was the deal in 1998 in which the tobacco industry would pay out $246 billion over 25 years to treat tobacco-related health issues and to prevent young people from taking up the cancer sticks. Ah, but did anyone really think Big Tobacco would shell out all that money? The entire cost of the settlement is being paid – not by the tobacco companies, but by smokers through price increases.

Where did that tobacco money go? The settlement made no mention of how the states would spend it, so you will recall from previous discussions on this matter, Michigan spent 75 percent of its settlement funds on scholarships for high school students. New York allocated $250 million for debt reduction. While only spending $5 million on youth smoking prevention, Illinois dropped $22.1 million to improve state buildings. Two Nevada PBS stations received $2 million to develop high-definition TV capabilities in exchange for airing some anti-tobacco ads. Niagara County in upstate New York spent $700,000 in tobacco settlement funds for a sprinkler system at a public golf course. The county also spent $24 million for a county jail and office building. In Wrangell, Alaska, $3.5 million of the tobacco settlement money was used to renovate shipping docks. In Los Angeles, former Mayor Richard Riordan proposed using $100 million in tobacco money to defend cops who are accused of planting drugs and guns on suspects. He was turned down.

North Carolina spent $42 million of the settlement funds to market tobacco and modernize the tobacco curing process. North Carolina also gave $200,000 in tobacco money to the Carolina Horse Park, an equestrian center near Pinehurst, N.C. The center defended the grant, saying it will boost economic development. But local taxpayer groups thought the allocation was wasteful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that states should spend approximately $3.3 billion per year on tobacco prevention and education, but the states budgeted a little less than 2 percent of that money, or less than $500 million. That means that for every dollar the states got from the tobacco settlement, two cents was spent on preventive programs.

Texas got $17.3 billion, so how was it spent? I mean, have you seen any anti-smoking TV ads? I, haven’t. It reminds us of that little box you could check on your electric bill that would add one dollar – a single buck – to help cover the electric bills of poor souls who couldn’t pay for their a/c in the summer. The Legislature took those millions, and funneled them into the general treasury. Then there were the lawyers. The national tobacco settlement was and remains by far the largest money transfer in the history of plaintiff litigation, and attorney fees just kept mounting. In Texas, five lawyers took on the tobacco industry, which until then had won every single court battle, on a contingence fee — if they lost, they got zero. The Tobacco Five, as they were known, won and received $3.3 billion, another record.

Back to our impending fortune. Texas has an unexpected windfall of approximately $30 million from VW. The money is supposed to be spent to clean up the air, including something about reducing nitrogen oxides in the environment. I have no idea what a nitrogen oxide is, but we’ve got to figure neither does the clerk at the TCEQ who is handling the millions. So we start a company called Nitrogen Oxide of the United States, or NOXIOUS. Slogan: “We clean up stuff!” How about a car company manufacturing automobiles called the Eletrix? The car runs on gasoline, but what Austin bureaucrat is going to stick his head under the hood to see?

It would be interesting to find out, in a few years, exactly where that $30 million went, and if all that money actually made even a slight difference in Texas’ air pollution. For us, this is a can’t-miss gold mine. Make room in your garage for that Lamborghini. I understand it has low emissions and is very fuel efficient.


Ashby gets rich at ashby2@comcast.net

Hoax Springs Eternal

June 4, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE WATCHTOWER – They are out there somewhere, and I’m going to do my civic and find ‘em, capture ‘em and terminate ‘em with extreme prejudice, as the CIA puts it. (This is the same government agency which refers to torture as “enhance interrogation.”) I am looking for the enemy of America. No, not the press, as President Trump calls the media, rather, I am looking for Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik. You remember them, the two Russian agents who came to Texas to check out our gullibility and paranoia. At the same time, I am keeping a wary eye on either a roundup of Obama opponents or a military takeover of Texas. And here comes the zinger: the two – Russian spies and a military roundup — are connected. Who would have thought?

But let me go back to the beginning, because this is one ridiculous story that makes Texas look, well, ridiculous. In 2015 word went out that the U.S. military was going to conduct an exercise called Jade Helm 15. Although the name sounds like one of Stormy Daniels’ co-workers, it was actually an annual maneuver taking place in several states, including Texas. But rumors spread that Jade Helm 15 was a cover for an Obama plan to round up political opponents or an outright military takeover. Gov. Greg Abbott became so concerned that he called out the Texas State Guard to monitor the military. Incidentally, this is NOT the National Guard — the governor of Texas has sole control over the State Guard because it is not subject to federal activation and thus could not be used for a military takeover.

Abbott wrote to the guard commander, Maj. Gen. Gerald Betty, “During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” As best as I can determine, Abbott’s firm action prevented a roundup or takeover, although around Christmas I did spot members of the Salvation Army ringing bells, and there is an Old Navy store in every mall. But Abbott’s actions made our state look downright stupid.

Now we drop the other boot. As you and I recall, those two Russian agents, Krylova and Burchik, the real Natasha and Boris, visited Texas in June of 2014 to gather intelligence. These were not your run-of-the-steppes agents of the Internet Research Agency, the Kremlin’s disinformation and sneaky election-changing department. Krylova was described as the agency’s third-highest-ranking agent. Burchik was described as the executive director or second-highest-ranking agent. They bought political ads under fake names and staged political rallies. The two got email servers like Yahoo, Gmail and Outlook to pass along their messages. They even set up fraudulent bank names to open PayPal accounts to pay for their work. The pair organized rallies in Houston, same place, same time. One was pro-Islam, the other anti-Islam, hoping for a fight that never materialized. The Ruskies had a false name to cover their work: “Matt Skiber.”

Texans’ gullibility and paranoia was the green light for President Vladimir Putin. Michael Hayden, a former CIA director, said the Jade Helm 15 controversy in 2015 was used by the Russians as a test to see how much influence they could exert through online means. “They took their game to North America in 2015, and I won’t belabor it here, but there was an exercise in Texas called Jade Helm 15 that Russian bots and the American alt-right media convinced most — many — Texans was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”

“It got so much traction that the governor of Texas had to call out the National Guard (again, it was Texas State Guard) to observe the federal exercise to keep the population calm. At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying ‘We can go big time’ and at that point I think they made the decision, ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.'” Hayden, our chief spy, said the Jade Helm 15 misinformation campaign was “a strategy that reports indicate they have continued to use to sow division on other issues since then, including in the 2016 presidential election.” Hayden later said he flatly believes Putin helped elect Trump.

So the Jade Helm 15 hoax in Texas was a pilot project which proved so successful that Putin ordered similar schemes to be used in the entire nation to get Trump elected. Be proud, Texas. But now we come to the next phase. As Hayden said, “they have continued to sow division on other issues since then.” This means the Internet Research Agency is still churning out misinformation, the real fake news, neatly disguised as ABC, CNN and the Washington Post, with ridiculous stories about porn stars, mass hirings and firings in the White House, even reports that Trump dyes his hair. Have they no shame?

As for Texans, given our track record, obviously we are in the crosshairs. We’ll believe anything. So, as the expression goes, “Be alert. This country needs more alerts.” With the fall elections cranking up, be prepared for an onslaught of rumors, fake news and doctored photos. Expect to see emails about a candidate’s pedophile background, his-to-her operation or tax cheating. Indeed, some candidates won’t even reveal their federal income taxes. Be suspicious of anyone who orders borscht or drinks vodka. Eastern European accents are a dead giveaway, unless she’s married to a President. We all know that Deep State is conniving to undermine the current administration, so report any politician who was secretly born in Africa or wants to pry your mortar from your cold, dead hands. Be especially suspicious of anyone named Matt Skiber. Putin wants us to be cynical, suspicious, and believe any story that strengthens our own beliefs. To avoid this, we must be cynical, suspicious and believe any story that strengthens our own beliefs. Meanwhile. I am in this watchtower guarding you against the truth.


Ashby is alert at ashby2@comcast.net

Getting Down and Dirty

May 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE YARD – OK, my last get-rich-scheme didn’t work, but how was I to know that Trump would be such unifier? This time, it’s a sure-fire bonanza. I’m going to sell dirt. You laugh, so I will explain. The New York Times runs the Times Insider, which delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at the paper. The book editor explains how her staff reviews about 3 percent of the books they receive. Covering the White House is most interesting. Often the first-person articles are very funny or self-deprecating. Recently, the paper ran a story in that series about how their science writer, who focuses on climate change (yes, with 1,200 journalists they can specialize) went looking for a bag of dirt. Not very scientific, but important to him and his family.

You see, the reporter is John Schwartz. Both he and his wife, Jeanne, are from Texas, but they were living in New York City, unable to return home for the birth of their first child, and they wanted the baby to at least be born over Texas soil. Schwartz got friends back home to send him Texas soil from various parts of the state, including his home, Galveston. One friend also sent some soil — he said he chipped a piece off the Alamo, too, but Schwartz didn’t believe him. He wrote: “It might sound like a nutty idea, but it wasn’t a new one. I first heard of it during a study abroad program in Siena, Italy, in the 1970s. The Sienese have fierce loyalty to their neighborhoods, or contrade. Since there was, historically, only one hospital in one contrada, people from the others would bring some dirt from their own neighborhood into the delivery room for births.”

The expectant father checked with the delivering doctor about the idea. She said it was fine (she was Italian) so long as the dirt was in a sealed container and placed underneath the delivery table. Alas, after all the trouble, Swartz was stuck in traffic and missed the birth of daughter Elizabeth. End of story? Not quite. Schwartz explains: “Despite the frequent characterization of people who work at The New York Times as Northeastern elites, we come from all over the nation, and the world.” He wrote that some of the journalists want to pass that heritage on to their kids, which is how a humble bag of dirt became a newsroom resource.

Other Times’ Texans heard of the bag and one by one sought out the soil for the birth of their own Texpatriates. Once Schwartz had to race downtown to greet an impending father who stepped out of the delivery room to meet Schwartz in a hospital hallway. He tossed the bag. His fellow Times’ journalist snapped it out of the air and ran back to the delivery room just in time. Last October, the Times Metro reporter, Emma Fitzsimmons, borrowed the bag for the birth of her first child, Hudson. Her dad wrapped the bag in a little Texas flag and, the new mother later related, she “touched the flag to his cute little baby toes within a few hours of his birth so that he would ‘step foot on Texas soil before any other.’” The flag remains wrapped around the bag for more births.

Swartz got resolutions from the Texas State Senate that mentioned the dirt and declared Elizabeth “a child of the Lone Star State.” (The resolution did not, alas, declare her eligible for in-state tuition.) He kept the bag for the births of their second and third children. “They got resolutions, too. Resolutions are fairly easy to get when your father is a former member of the State Senate.” His father was State Sen. A.R. “Babe” Swartz, whom I covered along with the rest of the lawmakers back then. Babe was a liberal Democrat (everyone was a Dem at that time) whom I remember because he once got in a fist fight with another senator on the floor of the Senate.

This bag of dirt story has a particular resonance with me, because I, too, worked at The New York Times, for seven years, which was too long, I should have come home before then. I worked in the Times City Room writing hourly news for the paper’s radio station. Never made it to the big time, but it was fun, and maybe I should have stayed longer. Despite what some like hear about failing newspapers and declining circulation, the Times has more readers than ever, and more than half read it on-line. Today, all those Texans working at the paper, is a big change. Back when I worked there, I was the Token Texan, the Lone Star Loner. It was a delicate time, because the Southern civil rights campaign was in full strength, and New Yorkers, having a perfect civil rights record, simply didn’t like Texans or any other Southerners. Things got really testy for us Dallasites on Nov. 22, 1963. A friend of mine from Big D was visiting a NYC office when another man ran in and shouted: “Now you’ve done it! You’ve killed our president!” I was regarded with suspicion, but no one messed with me.

This bag of Texas dirt program is actually not new. It used to be that some state office, probably the Texas Land Office, would mail a bag of Texas dirt to any former and homesick Texpatriate at no charge. They may still do it, I don’t know, but this brings me to why I am digging up dirt from my yard. It’s part of my latest get-rich-scheme: selling Texas dirt, plus smog from the Houston Ship Channel, cow droppings from the Panhandle and hot air from the Legislature.

No, I didn’t do the dirt bit. We have three kids. Two were born in NYC and live in Houston. One was born in Houston and lives in NYC. Go figure.


Ashby is dirty at ashby2@comcast.net

New Kid on the Block and Tackle

One gray winter Sunday night in the 1960s I was working at a New York City newspaper when a colleague came across the city room holding a sheet of paper. He said to me, “You think we ought to run these scores?” They were the results of that afternoon’s games played by something called the American Football League. Most New Yorkers had never heard of the AFL, or even their own team, the New York Titans, which in 1963 became the Jets. The story goes that the AFL came about because Lamar Hunt of Dallas, son of H.L. Hunt, wanted a National Football League team in his town, but was turned down. So in 1959 he called up the richest person he knew in a number of cities and asked if they would put up $25,000 for a franchise — Barron Hilton in Los Angeles, Bud Adams in Houston, and so on.

For years the AFL played before sparse crowds in lousy stadiums until it got big enough, and competitive enough, to merge with the NFL. With the addition of several new franchises, today the NFL is a billion-dollar operation. But wait. Are ya ready for even more football? There is a new pro football league shaping up, and games may be played at a high school stadium near you, or maybe Houston has finally found a use for the Astrodome. Yes, here we go again, with high hopes, lots of money invested by armatures who haven’t the foggiest idea of what they are doing. Then again, that 25K the AFL owners spent to own a team is today worth maybe a hundred thousand or so.

The new league is called the Alliance of American Football, and already has a TV contract with CBS. Plans are for the AAF not to compete with the NFL, but to give fans spring games. The season begins play Feb. 9, 2019, six days after Super Bowl LII in Atlanta. The founders describe the league as “a feeder system for the NFL,” rather like the role minor league baseball plays with its not ready for prime time players. The league will consist of eight teams, although all the teams won’t be introduced until next month. So far Orlando, with Steve Spurrier as head coach, and Atlanta, with the infamous Michael Vick as a coach, have been assigned a franchise. In order to make the game faster and fan-friendly, there will be some rule differences from the NFL. The AAF is eliminating one of the most dangerous parts of football – kickoffs. Teams will start on their own 25-yard line after a score and at the start of each half. This means no onside kicks, but instead, the team that scores a touchdown gets the ball on its 35 in a 4th-and-10 situation. There will also be no extra points in the AAF as teams will be forced to go for a 2-point conversion.

Starting a new pro football league is monetarily suicidal. Remember Vince McMahon and his XFL league? It lasted one season, although McMahon will try again in 2020. The NFL is by far the nation’s most popular pro sport, but it has taken a hit the last two seasons. There was, and still is, the dispute over players taking a knee during the national anthem. TV ratings have dropped the last two seasons. Concussions have become a big problem. And there is overexposure with games on Saturdays after the colleges have taken a recess until the bowl games, Sunday afternoons and nights, Monday nights and now on Thursdays. For some fans, a saturation point has been reached.

At this point you are thinking, “If there’s gonna be a new football league, Houston should be at the table.” Well, the Bayou City has tried it before. There have been the Houston Texans in the World Football League. They moved to Louisiana to become the Shreveport Steamer. Over the years, in pro football, Houston has had the Oilers, Gamblers, Terror/Thunderbears, Outlaws, Marshals, Wild Riders, Texas Cyclones, Lightning and Stallions. Elsewhere in Texas, there were the San Antonio Texans in — of all things — the Canadian Football League. (Incidentally, on March 2, 2000, the new Houston franchise announced that the team name search had been narrowed down to five choices: Apollos, Bobcats, Stallions, Texans, and Wildcatters. Bobcats?) Then there were the Dallas Texans of the NFL, and therein lies a story. It was the 1952 season and the NFL put a franchise in Dallas, the Texans. One sports historian wrote: “The team is considered one of the worst teams in NFL history, both on (lowest franchise winning percentage) and off the field.” It lasted one season, went 1-11, and moved in mid-season to Hershey, Penn., then to Akron, Ohio. Remember that story the next time a Cowboy fan brings up football.

When the previously mentioned Lamar Hunt created the AFL, he named his team — what else? — the Dallas Texans. At that point the NFL decided Dallas deserved an NFL franchise after all. What a sudden change of heart. So Big D had two pro football teams. Eventually, Hunt moved his team to Kansas City where they became the Chiefs because the “Texans” handle didn’t do too well. Keeping that name would have been as bad as when Bud Adams moved the Oilers to Nashville and became the Nashville Oilers, then changed it to Titans, a totally meaningless handle. Adams probably felt safer in Nashville, since he was greatly disliked in Houston. When he announced the move, there was a rally in front of City Hall demanding that the Oilers stay put. Of a metropolitan population of several million, 100 people showed up. Adams once got in a fist fight at the Shamrock Hotel bar with Houston Post sportswriter Jack Gallagher. Later, someone told Jack, “Forget it. Adams is his own worst enemy.” Jack replied, “Not as long as I’m alive.”


Ashby is a fan at ashby2@comcast.net 

Stations of the Crosshairs

April 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE TV –“We’ll be back with more shootings, stabbings — lots of yellow police tape — and apartment fires. Speaking of stabs in the back, have you noticed how much fake news there is on television, in newspapers and social media? You can’t trust the mainstream media, but you know who you can trust? President Donald Trump.”

What? In the middle of my 10 o’clock local news I’m getting this blatant sales pitch for the President? How can this be? The next night I turn on the same station. “Tired of being stuck in traffic, getting junk mail and lied to about global warming? I’m Chip Chap. We here at Channel 0 want you to know the truth instead of the fake news being put out daily, if not hourly, by the left-wing media. We feel as honest journalists that….”

“Chip?”

“Yes, Muffy?”

“Why are you reading this alt-right propaganda right in the middle of the program, and making it sound like news?”

“You didn’t get the memo? Our bosses at Sinclair Broadcast Group have sent out orders that we insert their scripts in every news show, up to nine times a week. These pieces are called ‘must-runs’ because they are not a suggestion. It’s mandated, otherwise, as the CIA says, we will be terminated with extreme prejudice. There has been plenty of grumbling from the station manager on down, some are threatening to quit, but thus far no one has, and you know why.”

So it has come to this. There has been unprecedented press bashing, particularly under the Trump administration, but this is a new, and dangerous, wrinkle in the news biz. And who or what is the Sinclair Broadcast Group anyway? I never heard of it, so I check their website and discover it is a publicly traded American telecommunications company controlled by the family of company founder Julian Sinclair Smith. Based in Hunt Valley, Md., the company is the largest television station operator in the United States by number of stations, and largest by total coverage; owning or operating 193 TV stations — including nine in Texas, but none in Houston, so far — in 89 markets.

This number may grow. Sinclair is trying to buy Tribune Media, with 41 stations, for $3.9 billion. Sinclair’s stations currently cover one-third of America and, if the Tribune deal goes through, three-quarters of the nation will have a Sinclair station. Another biased news story, but true: The F.C.C. under Trump has loosened the rules governing how many TV stations any one company can own. This allows Sinclair to buy Tribune Media. The chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, led the charge for changing the rules, but the top internal watchdog for the commission found the whole deal and timing didn’t pass the smell test, and has opened an investigation into Pai and his aides. Wonder if this story will make the Sinclair news?

But it is not a TV network like CNN, Fox or NBC. Sinclair owns or operates local stations including all the major networks affiliates, plus the CW, Univision to the WeatherNation. This allows Sinclair to control what you see on those stations. For example, the Friday, April 30, 2004, edition of “Nightline” consisted entirely of Ted Koppel reading aloud the names of some 700 U.S. servicemen and women killed in action in Iraq. But Sinclair, being an ultra-conservative voice that supported President George W. Bush and his Iraqi War, refused to broadcast that show, on its — at that time — seven ABC affiliates. So viewers in those cities never saw the show.

A week later I try to watch my Sinclair station again. “This is Chip Chap with the latest news about gun control, that commie liberal movement to take away your God-given right to own and shoot a 105 howitzer in your backyard if you wish.” Lordy, Sinclair is out-Foxing Fox. “But the mainstream media is shoveling out fake news. You can only rely on Chanel 0 for the truth.” The network has a Terrorism Alert Desk which daily carries items aimed at scaring the bejesus out of its viewers, and there is commentary by Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump spokesman. Here’s an actual must-run: Sinclair stations guard against the “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.” The anchors give no specific examples. Needless to say, Trump tweeted that it was funny to watch “Fake News Networks” criticizing Sinclair for being biased.

Deadspin Media, a sports news site, posted a video showing dozens of news anchors reading the same script about “fake stories.” It is hilarious with all the blow-dried beautiful anchors, standing in front of sets reading KAAA and WWWW reciting exactly the same words as in a chorus. The 98-second video has already been seen by millions of people. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” did a lengthy segment on the Deadspin video, showing the words being repeated by several robot-looking anchors. Co-host Mika Brzezinski said she was surprised some of the local anchors didn’t refuse to read it. “This looks like something we would mock the Russians for doing during the days of Pravda,” said co-host Joe Scarborough. Dan Rather’s website said that it was “sickening” to watch.

This just in: the network’s anchors can’t afford to quit. If they leave before their contract is up, they can’t take another job in TV for six months, face mandatory arbitration and must pay back as much as 40 percent of their annual salary. That’s practically indentured servitude. I tune in to Sinclair one more time: “You can’t believe the mainstream media, which only presents warped and biased reports. Right. Muffy? Oh, I’m being told Muffy quit because she can’t stand these must-runs from Sinclair. That’s gonna cost her a bunch.” Like the man said, there is “troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories,” and I just watched one.


Ashby watches at ashby2@comcast.net

A Moving Experience

April 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE PHONE – “Hello. I’d like to change my water bill address,” I tell the city water department. “I’m moving to a new home. Well, it’s not really new. Like the car dealers say, it’s pre-owned. Very pre. If the place was any older, it would warrant a historical plaque.”

A recorded voice speaks up: “Thank you for calling the city water department. Good to the last drop, we like to say. All of our team members are listening to other whining customers, but one will be with you when she or he gets around to your silly complaint. Until then, please listen to some of our comforting music.”

Team members? They used to be called employees, or workers or wage slaves. I hear a click and then the music. I think it’s the love theme from “Patton.” The reason I have to make this call is that after 50 years, my wife and I are forced to abandon our house in Running Rats Acres because, during Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chose to release a flood of dammed-up water into western Houston, inundating formerly (maybe forever) dry neighborhoods. My house was downgraded by the city inspectors from “not worth burning” to “uninhabitable.” FEMA came up with $45.50 to help us recover, and the Red Cross gave us toiletries, then asked for a donation. Bill Clinton said he would feel our pain, and Donald Trump said he liked to feel. So we had no choice but to move, which is far harder than one might think.

It’s a story being told maybe 10,000 times along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Harvey, but briefly it goes like this: Find a cheap hotel to stay in, file 234 insurance forms, drag what’s totally ruined to the curb and wait for the city to pick the debris or watch the vandals and rats haul it away, whichever comes first. Eventually the survivors have to find new digs, and face the worse hurdle of all: changing addresses. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Nope. You would think by now our society could handle our nomadic lifestyle. About 40 million people move annually in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population moves an average of once every 5 years. There are, obviously, many reasons: shifts in the economy, for instance, from the Rust Belt to Texas, or an unexpected visit by ICE. The doubling of the divorce rate in the last 30 years results in many moves. In my case, it was a mud line about three feet up the den walls.

Ah, someone is answering at the water department. I give her my name, age, favorite sport (mud wrestling in the den) and address of my new home. They have no record of any such place. “Give us the account number of that house.” I have no idea. The team member puts me on hold again, (“National anthems from southeast Africa”) to speak to her supervisor. She returns and takes my phone number and says she will call me back on Monday. It’s 1 p.m. on a Friday and no one works on Friday afternoons. Moving on, the gas company has me get on my hands and knees to read the gas meter’s 32-digit number. The phone company puts me on hold while playing “Choice Busy Signals” as I wait for a “happy and excited management assistant” to get on the line and inform me that he needs my Texas driver’s license number (no kidding) plus my Social Security number. No DNA sample.

Then I face the ultimate challenge: the cable company. I used Disable Cable in my old house, which has been, shall we say, a challenging experience. Surveys show that the most disliked, if not hated, industry in the nation are the cable companies, passing airlines, the Postal Service and most hit men. When your TV set goes out as the detective says, “…and the murderer is…” that can be annoying, as well as “With no time left, here’s the Hail Mary pass which zzzzzzz.” My computer goes down in storms, power outages and nightfall. If you will recall, when I changed cable companies at my lake house in Varicose Valley, the cable company’s office had a big sign at the door: “No firearms allowed!” Inside was one firearm – on the hip of a cop. Past events hinted that was not your usual business office filled with happy customers. This time it was my wife’s turn to make the call. She rarely uses profanity, death threats or wants the name and address of the team member. Forty-five minutes into her conversation with Duc Phat in Hanoi, I bring her a box of Kleenex for her tears.

I also needed to change my mailing address. OK, in this case I admit it was confusing. I had gone to the post office and filled out a long form to temporarily change my address from my old house to my lake house. Three weeks later I began receiving mail – mostly Christmas catalogues. The rest was MIA. Now I needed to change the address again to my new place. If you write me a letter, send it by carrier pigeon or use semaphores.

In the midst of this White House-worthy chaos, and this is the honest truth, someone in California started charging things on my credit card. I got a call from that company, House of Cards, asking if I frequented Chipotles in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno. No. But wouldn’t you think if someone went to all the trouble to forge a credit card he would make higher-class purchases, like opioids, or rent Stormy Davis for the afternoon? On top of all the trouble and paperwork and lengthy phone calls from moving, I had to start changing all my automatic billings to my credit card.

So my advice to you is: don’t ever move. But if you do, take along a box of Kleenex.


Ashby is moved at ashby2@comcast.net

College Dropout

Like you, I stay awake at night worrying about the Electoral College. It doesn’t have much of a football team, but it does choose our presidents, no matter which candidate the American voters prefer. As we all know, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 2.9 million votes, even counting Trump’s write-in ballots from Russia. Al Gore got 540,000 more votes than George W. “Hanging Chad” Bush. In each case, it was not the popular vote, but it was the Electoral College vote that counted.

And Texas may start counting, too, finally. Federal lawsuits filed in Texas and three other states are seeking to end the winner-take-all system that awards every electoral vote from that state to the winning presidential candidate. The lawsuits argue that the winner-take-all system violates voting rights by discarding ballots cast for losing candidates. This is a two-party argument: Democrat voters in the GOP strongholds of Texas and South Carolina, and Republicans in Democratic California and Massachusetts have no say in picking their president. So if you voted for Hillary in Texas, your vote didn’t count, thus the lawsuit. In Texas’ case, it wasn’t state officials who filed the suits. They are perfectly happy with the current system. Indeed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will defend the state’s electoral-vote system, which was filed in San Antonio federal court in late February. Your tax dollars at work.

A bit of background: In 1787, the Founding Fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution, and stuck in the Electoral College (Article II, section 1.) as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote. Another version is they decided the average citizen wasn’t erudite enough to elect a president without a filtering process. Each state receives a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. senators (two in each state) plus the number of its U.S. representatives, which varies according to the state’s population. In the 2016 presidential election, California had the most with 55 electoral votes; other less populated states, such as Vermont, had three. Texas had 38 votes, and the 2020 census should give us two or three more.

You just thought we choose our President on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. No, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, (still with me?) the electors meet in their respective state capitals to officially cast their votes for President and Vice President. These votes are then sealed and sent to the president of the Senate, who on Jan. 6 opens and reads the votes before both houses of Congress. Who or what exactly is the Electoral College? It consists of 538 electors – Washington D.C. gets three. A majority of 270 votes is required to elect the President. The winner is sworn into office at high noon on Jan. 20 before the largest crowd ever gathered anywhere. Four presidents have been elected by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote. As we have seen, two of them won in recent years.

Forty-eight states have the winner-take-all system. Maine and Nebraska have a variation of “proportional representation” that can result in a split of their electors between the candidates, which seems a lot fairer than what we have now. As for Texans: “Everyone in Texas is being ignored, because Texas just doesn’t matter to the presidential election,” said Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard University law professor who was a leading organizer of the legal effort. Almost 3.88 million Texans voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Not a single vote counted. Most black and Latino voters, who make up more than 40 percent of the Texas electorate, have not had one electoral vote cast for their preferred candidate in the past four decades. (In the 1932 election, Franklin D. Roosevelt gathered all of Texas’ electoral votes with 88 percent of the popular vote. In 1992, George H.W. Bush did the same with only 40.5 percent in a three-way race against Democrat Bill Clinton and independent Ross Perot.)

Being a solidly red state means presidential candidates don’t bother to campaign in Texas, although they come here for money. Indeed, GOP candidates consider Texas their ATM. If we give a lot of money, maybe one of us will get appointed to a top position – like Secretary of State. The candidates spend their time and funds in battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where there are a lot of Electoral College votes, as I was telling President Hillary.

The only time any money came back to Texas was in 2008 when Hillary and Barack Obama were both seeking the Democratic nomination for President. The Texas campaign was tough and mystifying to outsiders. It’s hard for missionaries to grasp the difficulties of running a state-wide campaign here. We are expensive. Texas is separated into 20 media markets, the most of any state. Former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, who was state director for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008, told The New York Times, “It’s like running a national campaign. There are no similarities between Amarillo and Brownsville and Beaumont and Texarkana and El Paso and Austin and Houston and Dallas. These are very separate demographic groups with very diverse interests.” The primary election led to the Texas Two-Step with voting, caucuses, and late-night confusion.

If Texas went to a proportional vote, like Maine and Nebraska, presidential candidates would be forced to come here to campaign, hoping to get a slice of our big-delegate pie. That means renting hotel ballrooms and suites, cars, cops, caterers, lots of ads on TV, radio and newspapers. More importantly, everyone’s vote would count. We would no longer be spectators in the sport of government. This would mean amending the Constitution, but if Americans can change the charter to prohibit alcohol and give 18-to 21-year- olds the right to vote (they still don’t), we can drop out of college. So I can get some sleep.


Ashby is electable at ashby2@comcast.net

College Humor — Sort Of

March 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Harvey Schmidt has died at the age of 88 in Tomball. No, that should not mean anything to you, although I’m sure it meant a lot to Harvey Schmidt. He was co-author of “The Fantasticks,” the Off-Broadway romance that became the world’s longest-running musical. It opened in 1960 at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village and ran for 17,162 performances. A revival that began in 2006 ran 4,390 more times. It was “very lucrative.” You may recall a song from that show, “Try to Remember.” In a 50-year partnership with Tom Jones, they wrote the Broadway musicals “110 in the Shade” and “I Do! I Do!” each earning them Tony Award nominations. And to think it all began at The University of Texas with bad jokes.

Coroner: “What were your husband’s last words?”

New widow: “I don’t see how they can make a profit on this at a dollar and a half a fifth.”

That was from the Texas Ranger, not to be confused with the law enforcement agency or a baseball team. It was the school’s humor magazine, which began publication back in the 1890s and was one of many universities’ similar publications. There was the Harvard Lampoon, the Yale Record and the Stanford Chaparral to name a few. The Ranger was published by UT nine times a year (no summer issues) and contained funny articles, cartoons, dumb jokes and the GOM. That was the Girl of the Month, the rather mild – by today’s standards – photos of a good looking co-ed.

College Humor (Popular Library): issues renewed from January 1936 (v. 1 no. 4); courtesy of Wikipedia

“Will your wife hit the ceiling when you come in this late?”

“Probably. She’s a lousy shot.”

I first became attracted to this genre when my older sister would return at Christmas and the summer from Stanford University with a collection of the Stanford Chaparrals. It turns out she was dating, and later married, the editor. The magazines were hilarious, although a lot of it was inside humor that only Stanford students would get. Later, when I attended UT, I learned of the Ranger, and dutifully joined the staff. Well, actually, as a lowly freshman I just sold copies. Each month we would get a bundle or two of the magazines and spread throughout the 40 Acres. Over the years the popularity of the mag grew to the point where we were selling one copy for every two students.

We made money this way: We would, in effect, buy a copy from the Texas Student Publications, which was the UT branch that ran the Daily Texan, the Ranger and the yearbook, the Cactus. We bought each copy for 20 cents and sold it for a quarter. We were selling thousands monthly. That way we got funds. The university had a rule that no booze was allowed at school parties, so we, as independent entrepreneurs, took our collective earnings and bought booze and had a party – really wild parties. All perfectly legal. For some unknown reason, in a campus College Bowl contest, the Rangeroos finished first. Their best category: religion.

One issue in the late 1920s or 30s dealt with the UT student body president, Allan Shivers, who was never heard of again. The Ranger ran this: “Allan Shivers gives honest politicians the shivers.” He didn’t like that observation, and had it cut out of all the copies before they hit the stands. I had heard that story, and once looked up the bound archives to see if that really happened, and, sure enough, there was a hole in a page in that issue. The Rangeroos, as the staffers were called, were made up of the wildest, most talented students at UT. Our leader was Hairy Ranger, a cartoon of a fat, drunken cowboy with a bottle of booze in one hand and the other arm around a floozy.

Many college humor magazines produced talents we know of today. Conan O’Brien was editor of the Harvard Lampoon, which at its peak spawned a national humor magazine, the National Lampoon, then became a multimedia humor brand with films like “Animal House” and all the Chevy Chase Lampoon movies. The Yale Record, the nation’s oldest college humor magazine (founded in 1872), had a cartoonist and editor-in-chief, Garry Trudeau, who writes and draws Doonesbury.

Theta 1: “Does your boyfriend have ambitions?”

Theta 2: “Yes, ever since he’s been knee high.”

After graduation, as a former editor-in-chief, I received a lifetime subscription to the Ranger, which proved to be a short life. As students, we used to poke fun at the UT faculty, administration, the board of regents was always a great target, but mostly at ourselves and our fellow students. However, by the 1960s I could tell there was trouble in Austin. That’s about when other college humor magazines hit their apex. The Ranger was running stories about the true meaning of life by some 19-year-old. The humor gave way to in-depth thoughts and lousy fiction. The Texas Ranger, which always made a profit for UT and, we kept saying, underwrote the Daily Texan, died, or rather committed suicide at the age of almost 100.

“(UT) President Logan Wilson sure has did a good job here.” His son was a Rangeroo.

Today there has been a resurgence of college humor publications, more in tune to the Daily Show, Stephen Colbert and The Onion, which started out as a college humor magazine. There are mags at SMU, A&M, the UTs at Arlington and Dallas, and the Travesty at UT-Austin. “The country’s largest student-produced satirical newspaper.” It began in 1997 and today its website is very funny. Like many others, the Travesty is online, and its staff includes video director and video staff. Times have changed. Oh, as for Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, they met when they both wrote for the Texas Ranger.

Fiji: “Say, that’s a bad gash on your forehead. What happened?”

Beta: “I bit myself.”

Fiji: “Oh, come on. How did you bite yourself on your forehead?”

Beta: “I stood on a chair.”


Ashby jokes at ashby2@comcast.net

The Spies of Texas

March 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE STREET CORNER – There are two interesting looking people standing across the street. Both are wearing cowboy outfits right out of Gene Autry or Roy Rogers, complete with huge hats, fringe vests, boots and even spurs. They approach me. “Howdy, pard,” says one. “Yippy-yi-yo and get along doggy little.”

I don’t know how to reply. The other one speaks up. “I am Billy Ralph Pecos and this is Tex Spindletop. We from Amarillo, here to learn more of your local elections. Like how to vote, who votes and how to, uh, fix ballot boxes to make it easier. We want to work with grassroots organizations.”

“You came to the right place,” I say. “Texas consistently finishes last among the states in voter participation. We don’t vote because most of our politicians are either third-rate hacks or such demagogues that they only care about their own agendas.”

One of them takes out a pad and starts writing. “You mean like Fred Cruz or Hilarious Clinton, and Little Mario Ruby? We hear the only decent politician is Donald Trump. Tell us, is Trump a great president or the greatest president? And do you think he is too hard on other countries, like Iceland, Ireland and, uh, Russia?”

“I would rank Trump right up there with James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore among our presidents. Say, if you’re from Amarillo you may know about the Cadillac Ranch.” They look at each other and suddenly say they have to leave. That night I see on TV that Russian agents worked to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. They visited Texas in 2014 to spread derogatory information against Cruz during the Republican primary, and posed as Americans while communicating with a person “affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization.” Huh? Those two strangers I met today may be the same agents who now have come back to influence the upcoming elections. The next day I see them asking questions of passersby and taking notes. I approach them. “Are you two sure you are from Amarillo? Something about you tells me you’ve never even been to the Panhandle.”

They grin. “You too smart for us. We are really exchange students from Station College. Hook ‘em, Aggies. We taking poll for Internet Research Agency, an organization in Saint Petersburg, the one in Florida, that is. Do you know the way to the local mosque? We need to visit there, preferably at night.”

Later I looked into these people a bit more and discovered that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had charged that the Internet Research Agency was “engaged in political and electoral interference operations” across the United States, especially in swing states like Florida. But a Texas organization was mentioned several times. I couldn’t find the name of that Texas group nor any person affiliated with it, but the Mueller report said the alleged conspirators created a fake American named “Matt Skiber” as their front man. So we have a Texas group that knowingly or unknowingly worked with Russian agents to help Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election, and apparently the Russians are still busily at work.

The indictment said the person affiliated with the Texas grassroots group also promised the Russian nationals he or she would pass along Facebook events to Tea Party voters in Florida. That doesn’t make any sense, but a lot of this story doesn’t. One right-wing fringe group, the Texas Nationalist Movement, which advocates for secession, put out a statement saying it “had no knowledge of nor any involvement with the Russian-led efforts to influence” the election. Of course that’s what they would say. Does anyone really expect their press release to read, “Yeah, we worked with the Ruskies to elect Trump and defeat Hillary. So, what’s your point?”

For advice, I needed to talk to my neighborhood spy, Clark N. Dagger. I found him listed in Google, and he agreed to meet me at midnight at his favorite bar, the Ode-kay Oom-ray. Dagger looked around as he approached me. “Thomas wears pink socks,” he whispered. I replied, “The ostrich awakens at dawn.” We exchanged our secret handshake and then I explained the situation. “Were you followed?” he asked. “Did anyone ask if Oscar drinks orange sodas?” I replied no. Dagger looked around, then whispered, “You are dealing with two of Putin’s most dangerous agents. They go by Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik. That’s their cover names. They’re actually Billy Ralph Pecos and Tex Spindletop, or maybe it’s the other way around.”

He paused for a moment: “Anyway, we think they traveled to Texas and eight other states in June of 2014 to gather intelligence. They bought political ads under fake names and staged political rallies. They got email servers like Yahoo, Gmail and Outlook to pass along their messages. They even set up fraudulent bank names to open PayPal accounts to pay for their work. Some of the addresses included usernames like allforusa, unitedvetsofamerica, patriotsus, staceyredneck and ihatecrime1.” It was all to elect Trump.”

He continued: “Big time operators. You don’t send them out for borscht. Krylova is described as the Internet Research Agency’s third-highest-ranking agent. Burchik is described as the executive director or second-highest-ranking agent. Your life is probably in danger.”

A few days later I spotted the two Russian spies again. They were using Facebook to push “Trump in 2020.” I approached them. “You two are the most incompetent secret agents I’ve ever seen. First, you don’t blend into Texas in those ridiculous cowboy outfits. Your back stories are unbelievable, and finally, you are wasting your time trying to swing Texas voters to Trump. Last election he beat Hillary by nine points here in Texas. Spend your efforts on purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida where you might make a difference.”

“Maybe right,” sighed Pecos. “We shouldn’t spend rubles any place where Trump is beloved and welcomed.”

“Like the White House?” I asked.

“No, the Kremlin.”


Ashby is watchful at ashby2@comcast.net

Putin’s Puppets

February 26, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE TV – I am watching a Senate hearing in which the heads of all our intelligence and anti-intelligence operations – spooks, generals and admirals with more stars than the Hollywood Walk – flatly testify that Russia had influenced our last presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. At which point Sen. Angus King of Maine, an Independent and a guy I really like, asks why our own President has never said so. Indeed, our President won’t even enforce sanctions against Russia that Congress has approved almost unanimously. An interesting question, and the more conspiratorial among us would wonder just what has Vladimir Putin got on Donald Trump? There are all sorts of rumors going around about tapes made in Moscow hotel rooms, kinky women (Trump and women? Nah!) and business deals with billion-dollar unpaid loans. I think that our President prefers to limit his anger to more suitable targets, like Gold Star parents, reporters with physical disabilities and POWs.

This is only part of an unending story we are witnessing that involves misinformation, bots (I think they are the children of bon mots), Russian agents right here in sleepy ol’ Texas, and raises the question: Is Sean Hannity on the Kremlin payroll? Let’s take this step by step. You know you are being manipulated, don’t you? You don’t? Then that’s the sign of a real manipulator, like a scam artist whose victims don’t even know they are being taken. The manipulator, in this case, is Russia which is swamping America with emails, rumors, Facebook, Google, Twitter, anything to turn us against one another. It doesn’t matter which side the Russians are pushing, Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter. Rich versus poor. Everybody against Muslims. Liberals against conservatives. The point is to keep the pot boiling. Another major disinformation program occurred in the past presidential elections when the Russians backed Trump and opposed Hillary Clinton.

Putin wants to promote cynicism against our institutions. We are so cynical that trust in the press is at an all-time low. That bastion of society, the FBI, is being humiliated, scorned, its leaders held up to ridicule. Can you imagine for one moment how J. Edgar Hoover would have responded to some Congressman’s insulting line of questioning? Trump has called our CIA officials “Nazis” and our entire intelligence leadership “political hacks.” Our justice system is “a joke.” And here’s the end game: It’s working. Every poll shows Americans are more polarized that at any time since the Civil War. Pootie must be sitting in his office laughing out loud. Stir up the pot. OK, what organization is aiding him by daily stoking the fire of divisiveness and clan warfare? Fox News. Like any good demagogue, it has to have an enemy. Sean Hannity preaches to his audiences a sermon of anger, conspiracies, us against them. Tucker Carlson is full of hateful putdowns of anyone with a different opinion. Fox and Friends wakes up the nation with despair. They keep Americans in a constant state of unrest, mistrust and fear, just as Putin wants. Are we quite sure they aren’t on the Kremlin’s payroll?

We now take up a very important matter which involves all of us. Putin, that old KGB spy, has an ocean of operations flooding social media, and a willing bunch of knuckle-draggers who believe, and pass on, every rumor. Its cover is something called the Internet Research Agency. Remember that name, although it has many fake fronts. I get this stuff all the time and you probably do, too. Each item has a slight ring of truth to bait the lie. That panel of intelligence officials I referred to above warns that this election cycle is already seeing fake news, misinformation and outright lies, and they warn that the 2020 presidential campaigns will be inundated by Moscow-generated falsehoods. Pity the poor Democratic opponent who will be facing Donald Trump in 2020. Already the nerds in the Kremlin basement are lining up their one-liners, photo shopped pics and fake news. We must be vigilant. Be wary of any emails in Russian, or maybe Estonian.

This brings us to Deep State. It means a shadow government within a government, like they have in Pakistan where the military and the secret police actually run the country. Egypt and Iran have it, too. There is a growing belief in this country among the paranoid alt-rights that we have a Deep State and it’s the former Obama administration. Yes, those Kenyan holdovers are supposedly sabotaging the Trump program. They travel by night in black helicopters.

Now to Texas. We have discussed the Heart of Texas Facebook page earlier (always ahead of the pack). It “grew into the most popular Texas secession page on Facebook — one that, at one point in 2016, boasted more followers than the official Texas Democrat and Republican Facebook pages combined.” Texas dummies (is that redundant?) believed its messages of secession, hordes of illegal immigrants arriving daily, etc. Two agents came here to stir up pro-Trump votes, but were told not to bother. Texas is Trump territory. The Ruskies even got some demonstrations going on around Texas. One was an anti-Muslim demonstration in Houston, cleverly staged at the same time and place as a peaceful Muslim demonstration. Guess what? Heart of Texas was sent to us from Russia with love. Yep, the feds traced the movement back to Pootie. And Robert Mueller says there were more dealings in the Lone Czar State, but doesn’t go into detail. Well, Heart of Texas is no doubt gearing up for the upcoming elections. Be wary of messages with y’all spelled yawl, references to the “Rio Grande River” and “Sam Jacinto.” We shall know Heart of Texas hits pay dirt when Gov. Greg Abbott calls up the Texas State Guard to spy on Operation Jade Helm II which is financed by Hillary Clinton.

If you voted for Donald Trump for President, were you manipulated? Yes. Will you admit it? No.


Ashby is suspicious at ashby2@comcast.net

A River Runs Through It

February 19, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby, Uncategorized

SAN ANTONIO – Here we are, morning at an outdoor café along the town’s River Walk. The sky is blue, the temperature is 75, the flowers are in bloom and, right on key, here come both a barge full of tourists and a waiter with my Bloody Mary. Just like Buffalo Bayou. Well, not exactly, but how many times have you heard totally clueless residents or out-of-towners say, “Why can’t Buffalo Bayou be turned into something like San Antonio’s River Walk?” Well, why can’t the Astrodome be turned into the world’s largest sauna? Just open the doors in August. Why can’t the Texans stay healthy? The easy answer is simply: Harvey, but that 500-year flood only hits every three years, right?

Let’s start here in San Antonio, or Santone. The river got here before the town. San Antonio’s history began in May of 1718 with the founding of the San Antonio de Béxar Presidio and Mission San Antonio de Valero (now the Alamo) so the city is now celebrating its 300th birthday. For the next couple of centuries the river was considered a dumping ground. If you look at some of the older building along here you will see fire escapes, loading docks and the butt-end of structures. Indeed, in the 1920s the manager of the Plaza Hotel asked the city if it couldn’t do something about “that dirty little river.” In 1929, San Antonio architect Robert H.H. Hugman developed plans for the river area including stone walkways, bridges, staircases and the vision of retail development. Nothing happened. Then the Great Depression came along, the WPA found unemployed workers willing to lay stone for starvation wages, and Bingo! The 1968 HemisFair nudged more walkways, bridges and tourists. Since then Santone has been adding on and extended the river because every hotel and restaurant wants to advertise “on the River Walk.”

The San Antonio River Walk.

A few items of interest, maybe. Santone is now the seventh-largest city in the country. (Texas is the only state having three biggest cities in the top 10, with Austin coming on strong.) The minor league San Antonio Missions are the only original member still in the Texas League. (That may change.) The headwaters of the San Antonio River are found at the Blue Hole, a natural artesian spring on the University of the Incarnate Word campus near the downtown. San Antonio is called Military City USA because for almost 300 years soldiers and, later, airmen were stationed here. If you were a career soldier or airman, somewhere along the line you were stationed here. Shake any tree and a retired general will fall out. The list of former military residents includes Robert E. Lee, Black Jack Pershing and a young lieutenant named Dwight Eisenhower, who met his future wife here. Ike also coached a college football team. Gen Douglas MacArthur went to high school in San Antonio at the West Texas Military Academy. Needless to say, MacArthur was the class valedictorian.

What kind of cash cow is this “dirty little river?” Houston, read with jealousy the following: A 2014 study found that the River Walk attracted about 9.3 million non-resident visitors whose main reason for coming to the area was to visit the River Walk. Locals made about 2.2 million trips to the River Walk resulting in a total of about 11.5 million visitors. These non-resident visitors spend about $2.4 billion each year, which supports more than 31,000 jobs. These workers earn incomes and benefits of over $1 billion. The economic impact is about $3.1 billion per year. This economic activity results in about $173 million flowing to various state and local government agencies, and almost $201 million in revenues being generated for the federal government. That’s a lot of money for this sleepy river village. But how do they keep it from flooding? Back in the 1920s, like Houston, Santone flooded awfully. Finally a series of dams and locks regulated the water level. However, the bottom depth varies, so if some Saturday night drunk falls into the river, she may be up to her waist, or 30 feet down.

This water level is obviously one of the major drawbacks for the aptly named Bayou City. After Houston’s 1920 and 1930 floods, like San Antonio, plans were made and two dams — Addicks and Barker — were built west of the city to prevent flooding. (Quit laughing.) Here’s a quick overview for real estate brokers who are using glass bottom boats. Buffalo Bayou rises west of Katy near the Waller County line in extreme northern Fort Bend County and flows 65 miles east, across southern Harris County, to its mouth on the San Jacinto River. It goes through some of the most expensive neighborhoods and winds through the downtown. You couldn’t ask for a better location for lazy boat rides, kayaking and waterside restaurants. But over the years the bayou became neglected, polluted (there used to be a boating event called the Reekin’ Regatta). In recent years some good citizens have tried to fix up the banks with jogging paths and trees, bushes, etc. But it still ain’t no River Walk.

OK, that’s the problem, what’s the solution? First, we need a major tourist attraction to bring visitors to our bayou. I suggest we buy, or at least rent, the Alamo. Hey, San Antonio has been talking a good fight for decades about how the city is going to upgrade the Alamo Plaza, get rid of the Bible thumpers and the sleaze shops. All hat and no cattle. So Houston moves in and takes charge. Then we copy San Antonio’s flood plans, with docks and locks. Houston sent men to the moon, so don’t tell me we can’t figure out how to put in a few flood-free bars and cafes. The main point is that we don’t consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, unless you want that riverside café in your den.


Ashby deposits at the Left Bank of the Bayou at ashby2@comcast.net

Over Lock, Stock, and Barrel

February 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

To our stockholders:

It is time once again for our annual report from the Sludge Energy Co., and a good report it is. As your CEO, COO and CFO, I can assure you that your investment with this firm is in good hands. Oh, sure, like every company in the oil, gas and nuclear power industry we have had our ups and downs. This past year was mostly down, but expect a quick turnaround as soon as the SEC, not to mention the FAA and FEC, complete their silly investigations. Our former treasurer has turned state’s evidence, his bookkeeper is under the Federal Witness Protection Program and our auditor has disappeared, along with last quarter’s earnings. I think we can safely say that it’s the fault of the liberal media.

This brings us to the current political situation. As you know, I have been a Trump man ever since he got elected. His administration has no greater friend than Sludge – and vice versa. The Trump Justice Department has put a brake on those ridiculous indictments left from the Obama administration over price-fixing, embezzlement and that mysterious warehouse fire that destroyed all of last year’s records. The FBI has called off its investigation since most of the agents have been fired. Then there is the IRS. As I told their top officials at a $10,000-a-plate fund-raising dinner for “Trump in 2020” at a Chili’s in League City, Trump’s new tax bill is a refined idea, especially for those of us who own refineries, as the Koch brothers say. We’ve been told that the new tax plan gives great cuts to the wealthy. And I say, “What about Hillary and Benghazi?” No, the President does not need to release his income tax forms as other Presidents have done ever since we had income taxes, despite what he promised. So what? Trump also promised to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it. Can he help it if the Mexicans don’t keep his promise?

The Labor Department has seen the light and no longer plans to take action against the company’s $2-an-hour minimum wage. OSHA is still smarting about a few accidents in the workplace, but as we successfully explained, most of our employees are healing quickly, and should be back of the job within months. As for ICE, its agents have been working overtime under this new administration, although our friends in the Deep State have agreed to give us a 30-minute notice before any raid. Our contract with the Pentagon to furnish fuel for dirigibles has been renewed, even though the backlog has been growing.

Our best news is about the EPA, those nosey tree-huggers who keep finding fault with our refineries, toxic dump sites and tar pits. Just because we are a founding member of FOS, Friends of Smog, we have been hit with meaningless fines and reprimands over a few minor acid spills plus an entire nearby neighborhood being razed after one tiny plant malfunction. As I explained to EPA inspectors over a three-martini lunch with a few going-away presents, it’s all about jobs – jobs for EMS workers, jobs for lawyers, jobs for funeral homes and the accompanying florists. They understood. Congress is also co-operating by doing nothing. The Trump administration doesn’t believe in the myth of global warming, nor do I or any other member of the tea party. The glaciers are still there. True, some are now floating just off Long Island, but they should melt within a month. And I really agree that there are too many polar bears, don’t you? Despite the Texas Congressional delegation being called “moribund,” “worthless” and “inconsequential,” by the elite news media, they are excellent in obeying our orders and receiving campaign contributions, if you get my drift. Notice how, after Hurricane Harvey, our members of Congress got FEMA to spring into action. Well, they will by next spring.

On the state level, our legislature is going to meet again next year and will no doubt be as productive as last year in supporting lower taxes, fewer regulations dealing with fracking, pay-day lending and truck safety. With that irritating Speaker Joe Strauss gone, the state lawmakers can continue to cut funds for frivolous expenses such as education, public health and clean water. Oh, and momentum is gathering to bring back chain gangs. Every poll shows most Texans are more concerned about transgender bathrooms in our schools than about the schools themselves, teacher’s pay and classroom size. The poll was taken by Every.

There has been some, well, a lot – of criticism about our jacking up the price of gas to the consumer. We had to raise prices in May and June because the summer driving season hit, with all the families piling into their gas-guzzling SUVs to visit grandma before she lost her Obamacare. Then came fall, and northerners needed heating oil for their furnaces, so supply and demand took over and we had to raise prices again. Christmas shoppers put a drain on worldwide fuel supplies, as did New Year’s party-goers. We all know how trouble in the Middle East caused a shortage of oil, then came Hurricane Harvey which ate up vast amounts of diesel for National Guard rescue vehicles. Otherwise, prices held steady.

Many of you have been wondering about the sexual harassment charges made against executives in Sludge Oil. Nonsense. I have visited our plants, warehouses and outhouses many times. If a 60-year-old, bald, five-foot-three, 200-pound sex symbol can’t get sexually harassed, who can? I have hired the Weinstein, Rose & Lauer law firm, even though those accusations from disgruntled employees leave me no choice but to have them de-gruntled. About those rumors that we are doing business with Russia despite sanctions against its billionaire leadership, they are lies. We are dealing with a reputable company in the Cayman Islands, Vodka Oil & Oligarchy. Finally, I will explain my ankle monitor in the next annual report.


Ashby’s stock is at ashby2@comcast.net

Every Fire Has Its Place

February 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE HEARTH – It has been really cold lately, which I hate. Cold weather is God’s revenge for us complaining about global warming. Cold weather brings sleet, ice, car wrecks and frost-bitten ear lobes. If there is any saving grace for a cold winter it is this: the fireplace. Don’t you just love a crackling blaze, preferably in the fireplace? Most people do. It adds to the ambiance. Indeed, a Louisiana casino keeps a big blaze going in its lobby year round. There in the sweaty, hot, humid swamps, a big blaze goes 12 months a year. President Richard Nixon liked a fire so much that on summer days he would have the a/c in his White House office turned on so he could work by a nice fire. He wrote, “When I retire I’m going to spend my evenings by the fireplace going through those boxes. There are things in there that ought to be burned.” Like tapes? Too late, Tricky Dick. On the other hand, Joan of Arc did not care much for a roaring fire.

 

But here’s the problem. In the “Manchurian Candidate,” (no, I am not talking about the current administration), Laurence Harvey says, “The world is divided into two types of people. Those who walk into a room and turn the television on, and those who turn it off.” The world is also divided into those who like a wood-burning fireplace and those who like a gas burner. We what got couth feel there is no contest. Give me a wood burner any day, particularly on a cold day. To be fair there are many problems with the wood burner. You have to get a head start by planting a tree, then wait 10 to 20 years for it to grow wood. The inner lumberjack in you can’t wait to chop the sucker down, then split it into 3-foot chunks and haul them into the house. How much fuel can you bring in at a time? This is what I call the Firewood Factor. It measures your strength. I used to bring in six or seven split logs at a time. Today I count the twigs. Next is starting the fire. This requires patience because that wood is still green. Fortunately there are fire-starters that will help you begin the blaze. Fire-starters come in many sizes and shapes, but I prefer napalm. Every now and then, like in a year that ends in 00, you have to shovel out the ashes and dump them in your neighbor’s yard at night, or find a nearby stream. One must be careful not to dump the ashes too soon or you will have higher home insurances rates.

There is the argument for gas logs in fireplaces, especially if you sell gas logs. Gas logs spare trees, but so do plastic Lincoln Logs. And they require some material of their own: concrete. Most gas logs are made of concrete, of which there is a diminishing world supply. Indeed, the Obama administration wanted to put concrete on the endangered species list, but we all know what tree-huggers they were. Unlike wood-burning fireplaces, gas logs require gas. Do you really want to contribute to the diminishing gas supply? Also, gas-burning logs always look the same, while the wood burners continue to change shapes as the logs get smaller, flicker and occasionally roll across the hearth onto the rug, or maybe onto the fire starter you left nearby. Gas logs also sound the same, while flaming wood crackles, pops and smolders. I suppose one could get a tape recording of crackling fireplaces and play it while the gas only hisses. There is a solution for those who can’t make up their minds. Get a fireplace that has a gas pipe with little holes, like a flute, that runs across the bottom of the fireplace. Put logs on top. You light the gas escaping from the holes which sets the wood ablaze. It’s half and half, the best of both, the Preise of pine, the Tesla of timber.

We now take up the matter of air pollution. This is not new. London has suffered air pollution from burning peat and coal as long ago as the 1500s and 1600s. The worst was the Great London Smog of 1952, when weather conditions and coal smoke formed a thick layer of smog over the city. Government medical reports estimated that 4,000 people died as a direct result of the smog and 100,000 more were made ill. More recent research put the number of fatalities at about 12,000. For that reason, burning peat or coal for household heat is relatively rare in Texas. However, new EPA rules do not limit the amount of pollution a fireplace can generate, nor do the new rules limit anything else, including drilling for oil in Yellowstone Park, dumping sludge in the Grand Canyon or shooting grizzles. Gas-burning logs do not cause much smog, nor do they require chimney sweeps to occasionally clean the inside of smokestacks. But this means homeowners with gas burners don’t get to see Mary Poppins’ cast dancing on rooftops while singing, “Chim-Chim Cher-ee.”

In 1742, Benjamin Franklin – the first and last rich American journalist – invented the Franklin stove. It provided a more efficient way of getting heat from the burned fuel since it does not produce as much draft as a standard fireplace, and there is less loss of heat. You can still buy a Franklin stove today, but Ben no longer gets royalties. After Napoleon conquered Moscow and confiscated everything, the residents started stealing wooden fences to burn for warmth because it was cold, an unusual situation in Moscow in the winter. Napoleon ordered that fence thieves be shot, although some residents would steal the wood and sell it to their nearby friends. This gave us the expression, “Good neighbors make good fences.” Now excuse me while I throw some more peat on the fire.


Ashby ashes at ashby2@comcast.net

When IRS Eyes Are Crying

February 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE EVENING NEWS – Here is one of Donald Trump’s daughters – I can’t tell which one, they are all beautiful – standing in front of the White House saying, “I will be traveling across America and on April 15th will be seeing how happy everyone is to have their taxes cut.” Beautiful, but clueless. This April 15th is the deadline for filing our 2017 taxes, last year, under Obama. President Donald Trump’s tax cuts don’t go into effect until 2018. Nevertheless, it is easy to get confused over the new budget and how it will change our taxes, medical coverage and coffee we drink.

It’s called America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again, and costs $4.1 trillion. Your share is every dime you’ll ever make, plus money earned by your descendants even until the fifth generation. During the last presidential campaign, it was vowed the tax form would be simpler. It isn’t. Indeed, some CPAs say the new budget is even more complicated. We were told we could fill out our federal income taxes on a post card. But do you really want your postal carrier knowing how much you make in light of that crummy Christmas tip you gave him?

Anyway, let’s look at the new Blueprint. Trump has said he wants to “re-strengthen” our military, this despite the fact that we spend more on our military than the next six nations combined, upwards of $650 billion a year. Expanding our military has more to do with air bases and naval docks in Congressional districts than defense. The Pentagon today is not so much a war machine as a jobs program. In the 2018 defense authorization bill, Congress called for strength increases including 8,500 new soldiers, 5,000 new sailors, 5,800 new airmen and 1,000 new Marines. Trump has also publicly promised a 355-ship Navy and at least another 100 combat aircraft for the Air Force. This is in keeping with his campaign promise to “take care of the generals,” General Dynamics, General Motors and General Electric. Elsewhere, the Department of Homeland Security gets increased spending on border security and immigration enforcement, and to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, despite promises that Mexico would pick up the tab. You are now a citizen of Mexico.

How will we pay for all of this? Well, we won’t. After eight years of screaming about the Obama administration’s deficits and debt spending, this GOP budget will increase the national debt by – hang on — $1.4 trillion. Assuming current programs remain unchanged, the federal debt will swell by an additional $9.4 trillion over the next decade. Our children will understand. Still, the new budget does cut some wasteful spending, like on education, pollution and the National Institutes of Health. Specifically, it includes the elimination of food for education and water and wastewater loan programs. Smokey the Bear is going on welfare: The budget eliminates over 4,000 jobs in the Department of Interior and decreases funding for the United States Forest Service by $118 million. Hey, California, you don’t really need all those trees, do you? Out go funds for 49 National Historic Sites. It cuts funds to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and programs and grants for teacher training, after-school and summer care, and aid to low-income students.

Houston, you will be happy to know the budget reduces funding for FEMA. The EPA, that pesky agency that tries to protect us from acid rain, coal sludge in our creeks and air you can climb, suffers the elimination of more than 50 programs and 3,200 jobs. It cuts funding for the protection of endangered species, like conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. The State Department’s budget is reduced almost a third — 29 percent. Here’s something we can all support. The new budget reduces funding for the Internal Revenue Service. But before we cheer too much, remember that, according to press reports, “Since 2010, Congress has cut the agency’s budget by nearly $1 billion, or 18 percent, adjusted for inflation, as the I.R.S. processes about 10 million more tax returns.” Its work force has been reduced by 21,000, or nearly one-quarter. This means when you try to call the IRS for advice and help in filing your own returns, you get put on Hold for like three days. The size of the compliance staff — the pros who go after tax evaders — has shrunk by one-third, and the ranks of criminal special investigators are thinner than at any time since the Nixon era. This means a lot of tax cheats have been getting by, and now even more will be able to dodge Uncle Sam. Guess who gets to make up the difference? I guess this also means we’ll never see Trump’s income taxes.

We are promised lower federal income taxes, but maybe not. Our first clue was the lobbyists circling above the Capitol. Stealing from other researchers, I find that a law was passed in 2004 giving companies a tax break on income that manufacturers earned from making things in the United States. Starbucks hired lobbyists to claim that it, too, was a producer, because the company roasts coffee beans. So Congress allowed coffee shops to deduct a percentage of every cup sold if it was made with beans they roasted off site. This became known as the Starbucks Footnote. Suddenly, everyone became a manufacturer. Movie studios got the break because they produced films, and tech giants won it, too, for making computer software. Construction companies got it for making buildings, and so did engineers and architects for designing them. The government initially estimated that the 2004 law would cost a net $27.3 billion from 2005 through 2014. It ended up costing over $90 billion during that period. This new budget should end that end-run. Finally, I’m all for cutting out fraud and waste, like weekly golf trips on Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago. I’ll run it by the Trump daughters.


Ashby pays at ashby2@comcast.net

What’s In a Name?

January 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE MAILBOX – Here are the usual suspects: dunning letters from creditors, ransom notes, rejections from publications (“Quit bothering us with your drivel.”). Just junk churned out by computers. When was the last time you got a real letter from someone, maybe even hand-written? I can’t remember. Most of my mail is addressed to Miss, Mrs. or Ms. Ashby. That’s the problem with having a name like mine. Lynn is a male name in the South, a female handle in the north, although it can be Lyn or Lynne. I was named for an uncle who, in turn was named for his father, my maternal grandfather, who was named for his father. That’s as far back as I can go, but I handed the name down for two more generations. The mix-up didn’t get me out of the draft, but in high school I was assigned a Hi Lite Big Sister.

I bring up this matter because the list for 2017 names for babies is now out. Americans are getting original when it comes to branding a newborn — they are all unique, just like everyone else. Gone from the most popular list are Michael (ranked (16), John (46) and Joseph (53). Mary and Judy didn’t even make the top 100. We are into Jackson, Liam and Noah; Sophia, Olivia and Emma as our top choices. Actually, every Tom, Dick and Harry is named Sophia, which is Number 1 for girls for the eighth consecutive year. Jackson also remains the most popular name for boys. Amelia, Grayson, and Logan have jumped into the top 10, while Luna and Mateo were the fastest climbers of the year. Here are some rather different top names among our newcomers: For girls, Riley, Zoe and Layla. For boys: Lucas, Aiden and Caden.

These rankings are from a company called BabyCenter, “an online media company that provides information on conception, pregnancy, birth, and early childhood development for parents and expecting parents.” So it behooves the company to keep track of newborns and their names. Social Security also keeps track of new names. Just why, I don’t know, but it’s kind of neat. As of 2016, the last time anyone counted, according to the feds the most popular names given to new babies that year pretty well reflect the BabyCenter’s list but not exactly. For boys, Noah, Liam, William, Mason and James. For girls, Emma, Olivia, Ava, Sophia and Isabella.

To no one’s surprise, Texans do names a bit differently. Noah led Texas’ new names for boys, followed by Liam, Sebastian and Daniel. Other popular male names were Elijah, Mateo and Jayden. For new females, Emma, Mia and Sophia led the list, then Olivia, Isabella and Sofia, as opposed to Sophia. Others names among the top were Harper, Genesis and Ximena. Jose is ranked ninth while Joseph comes in at 35. We also name kids Travis, Houston and Austin. For some reason, Brooklyn ranks 42 in Texas, 45 nationally. Incidentally, the late rock musician David Bowie was originally named David Jones, but changed it to Bowie, not for the defender of the Alamo but for his knife.

Other interesting names in the top 100 that Texans branded their new kids in recent years include Aaliyah, Layla, Kennedy, Serenity and Daleyza for girls. For boys, we have Jace, Ayden and Gael. Our Tejanos show their heritage in birth certificates, so among the top 100″
names for new Texans are, besides Jose, we have Jesus, Angel, Dominic, Natalia, Valentina, Juan, Santiago, Diego and Carlos. Parents, be careful if you name your daughter something that won’t go well with her husband’s name. Lady is fine unless she marries Joe Bugg. Mary is the bride of Charlie Christmas. Ouch. On the other hand, one of the most famous Texas names belonged to Miss Ima Hogg, who explained to me, “Daddy always thought I would get married.” She never did, nor did she have a sister named Ura.

In olden days, people turned to the Bible for names – Abraham, Isaac, Ruth, Eve. In my own family, they turned to the bottle. Have you ever checked given names in your own family tree? I found lots of Nimrods, an Ashby Ashby, so many Johns it got confusing, and some names are so ridiculous I’m surprised the owners ever got married and had their own children to name. Apparently my paternal grandfather was never told: “I would marry you, but I just couldn’t go through life signing checks as Mrs. Ulysses Ottawa Ashby.” A Southern tradition is to give males their mother’s maiden name, so we have a Gen. Turner Ashby – his mom was a Turner – until he got shot by a Union sniper in the Battle of Harrisonburg.

A few parents might not give their children some names if the folks knew what they were really calling them. James is Supplanter. John means God is gracious. Damon means to tame or subdue. Morgan is great circle. The meaning of Victoria is obvious: Winner or conqueror. Houston is from Hugh’s Town, as in Howard. Name your kid Dallas and it’s shorter than From The Meadow Dwelling Cowboys. The now-popular name Liam is the Irish short form of William, which is the long form of Liam. Olivia was coined by Shakespeare for a character in his comedy, “’Twelfth Night,” and he probably got it from Olive. Harper is someone who plays the harp. Scarlett is from a surname for a person who sold or made clothes made of scarlet (a kind of cloth, not a color). Margaret Mitchell used this name for Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” Scarlett’s name came from her grandmother’s maiden name. Austin means capital of Texas. No, actually it is from Augustin. Remember the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue?” It’s a great argument for not getting too cute with first names, although I think my Hi Lite Big Sister was named Brooklyn Bridge.


Mrs. Ashby is named for ashby2@comcast.net

Texas by the Book

January 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE BOOK REVIEW – It’s much easier to just read a review of a book than having to plow through the whole thing. In conversations, you can easily impress someone by saying, “It was a good read until I found out the murderer was…” That is why I am flipping through the latest New York Times Book Review. Most articles I can skip since I never heard of the subject, Wait. Here is a photograph of a cloud of dust and the cutline: “Ranch hands herding cattle in South Texas, 1970.” Ah, a book about Texas cowboys and cattle and dust. The title of the tome is: “Texas Blood.”

Huh? Is this about the Texas Heart Institute or the shootout at the Twin Peaks in Waco? Neither. It is a thorough lashing of the state. We must suspect that when the author, Roger D. Hodge, turned in his manuscript and got the green light from the publisher, a panel of editors gathered around a Manhattan office table and mulled over that title. “He calls it ‘Bad Stuff About the Lone Star State,’ which is awful.” Says another: “How about, ‘The Texas Leaf Blower Massacre’?” A long pause. “We know that ‘Texas’ is good for any title. No one would go to see ‘The Best Little Whorehouse in Vermont,’ if there is one. In the Jan. 15 issue of the New Yorker there is a short, pointless story by David Gates called simply, ‘Texas.’ It has more to do with drugs, family and self-pity, but those titles don’t ring. We’ve got to put ‘Texas’ in. The rest of the title has to grab the reader as she goes down the aisles at Barnes and Noble.” A long sigh. “Boss, no one goes down the aisles in Barnes and Noble any more. They whip out their little electric I something and go to Amazon. Still, the title has to grab them.” Another editor speaks up: “Let’s use ‘Blood.’ It conjures up violence, hatred, anger. Stick it with ‘Texas’ and you’ve got a winner.” And that’s how the book got its name.

Texas Blood by Roger Hodge.

The publication is yet another jab at Texas, which only makes good business sense. I call such works a Kick Your Mother expose. The thinking goes like this. If you write a book, “I Loved Playing for the Dallas Cowboys” only Jerry Jones would buy it for himself and his two friends. But if you come up with, “I Hated Playing for the Dallas Cowboys – the inside scoop on America’s rotten team” then you have a best-seller. No one will read a book that tells about your wonderful career as a Border Patrolman in Brownsville, how easy it was to become a movie star, or, for that matter, a tell-all about those fantastic people in the Trump White House. We want dirt, scandal, the inside skinny on household names.

So it is that Roger D. Hodge kicked his mother. He tells us he is a seventh-generation Texan, (I am only a sixth but my grandkids are eighth, so there), but left for Brooklyn when he was 18. He obviously was glad he departed, and glad he wrote this book, because he had new land to plow: “As I reread the conventional histories, I remained dissatisfied by their generalizations and hoary meditations on Texas ‘character.’ Much of it struck me as self-congratulatory nationalistic rubbish.” The Times’ reviewer, Stephen Harrigan, himself a noted Texas historian, observes that Hodge even takes on T.R. Ferenbach’s wonderful “Lone Star,” writing: “such epic histories sweep high above the hard ground of lived experiences.” Hodge’s hard ground is a Texas that is “a terrifying land of racism, violence and retrograde politics.” (That doesn’t explain why it is so much cheaper to rent a U-Haul leaving the state than coming in.) We have the Indians, who were “slaughtered” by Texans: “pale riders the color of dust swooped down and spilled their blood onto the thirsty ground.” To this we reply: But what about Van Cliburn?

No point in getting defensive about this, and not just because much of Hodge’s observations are true. Texas has long been portrayed as a place to avoid. As U.S. General Philip Henry Sheridan said in Galveston in 1866: “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.” Ferdinand von Roemer, a young German geologist, visited Texas in 1845 and observed:  On Austin – “The capitol is a log house on top of a hill. A more unpretentious building for a law-making body could hardly be found anywhere.” On Houston – “The streets were unpaved and the mud bottomless.” Of more recent vintage: Q: Why are there so many unsolved murders in Texas? A: There are no dental records and everyone has the same DNA. “Anybody who wanders around the world saying, ‘Hell yes, I’m from Texas,’ deserves whatever happens to him.” — Hunter S. Thompson. And comedian George Carlin: “You know the good thing about all those executions in Texas? Fewer Texans.”

In literature, we have seen an ocean of books about the Lone Star State. Go to any large book store and you’ll see aisles marked, Fiction, Children’s, Travel and Texana. Wonder if other states have their own aisles? Many Americans were introduced to Texas with Edna Ferber’s “Giant,” which pointed out, among other transgressions, the treatment of Hispanics. Texans took umbrage, and the joke was that Ferber, while flying over the state, told the pilot, “Fly lower. I need more research.” Larry McMurtry put Texas on the literary map, warts and all. James Michener’s epic, “Texas,” was more flattering, ending with the final line: “Never forget, son, when you represent Texas, always go first class.” And finally a wise man (me) once said: “God may be an Englishman, but when he retires he’ll move to Lakeway.” So we have yet another putdown of our state. Don’t get all twisted up about it. Some people get paid to kick their mother.


Ashby is semi-literate at ashby2@comcast.net

The Size of Texas

January 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

AUSTIN – The newspapers and local TV here in the state capital constantly rail – OK, bad choice of words — complain about the traffic, lack of mass transit and bumper-to-bumper cars on I-35 as though the People’s Republic invented gridlock. They should go to Houston and spend an hour on the West Loop traveling one block, or try Dallas’ Central Expressway. I remember when they built it, sure to whisk motorists downtown in minutes. Ha. That expressway is one long Allright parking lot. Austin is minor league when it comes to traffic, but it is bad and getting worse in our cities. Why? Because Texas’ population keeps growing while our leaders argue about transgender school bathrooms and can’t keep up with the times.

Texas needs more of just about everything – more schools, more roads, more controls on our growing pollution, more winning football teams. And, while we may not need more of them, we are getting a lot more people. According to a story in the Austin American-Statesman quoting the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 400,000 additional people called Texas home in 2017, bringing the state’s population to over 28 million. Texas continues to be the second most-populous state behind California, but last year we were first in the number of new residents. In terms of percentage growth, Texas grew by 1.4 percent, making it the seventh fastest-growing state in the country. Idaho is the fastest-growing state at 2.2 percent. Remember, Idaho has a population a bit more than half the City of Houston’s, so it doesn’t take much, percentagewise, to increase its growth.

To put this in historical perspective, the first census of the Lone Star State was in 1850, after we had joined the Union. It was 212,592, probably not counting Indians. By the next census in 1860, the headcount had almost tripled. In our last census, in 2010, we had just more than 25 million people. As a separate nation, Texas would rank 49th in population, behind Yemen but ahead of 184 other countries. State demographer Lloyd Potter explained that about half (52 percent) of the growth is a natural (more births than deaths) increase, the other half is from net migration — foreign migration accounted for almost 28 percent of the 400,000, and domestic migration (from other states) accounted for almost 20 percent. For the time between the 2016 estimate and the 2017 estimate, there were almost 195,000 deaths, which was more than offset by over 404,000 births. And they say Virginia is for lovers.

Here’s the trend: Up until 1950, Texas’s population was more than half rural. Between 2000 and 2010, during a booming growth period for the state, 78 Texas counties actually lost population. So where are the newcomers moving? Mostly to the Houston area, the Metroplex and the I-35 corridor (Georgetown-Austin-San Antonio). Not many people move to Pecos. Would you? Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the United States and the second-largest in Texas. It had a population of 6.18 million, as of U.S. Census Bureau’s July 1, 2012, tabulation. Two years later, the estimated population was 6.5 million – counting Indians. Our Latino population is growing by leaps and bounds (not to mention wading) and so is our Asian headcount. We got a quick boost in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, when some 250,000 Louisianans arrived. An estimated 40,000 still remain, giving Texas some excellent halfbacks and chefs. Houston, Austin-San Antonio, and Dallas-Fort Worth added more people in 2015 than any other state – yes, state — in the country, growing by more than 400,000 residents. It is as though every man, woman and child in Minneapolis moved here in that 12-month period, and sometimes I think they did.

Here in Austin one of the city’s biggest problems is that so many people want to live here. This is true in many of Texas’ cities. Despite all that is wrong with the Lone Star State, its heat and humidity, lack of decent public schools and, of course, our Legislature, it seems everyone wants to be a Texan. Experts say the state’s population – again, now more than 28 million — will hit between 33 million and 34 million by 2040. That’s the situation. So what’s the solution? We could simply make Texas less desirable for others to move here, with an occasional hurricane, maybe selling guns to mental cases, incompetent state school board, but that would be self-defeating. No, we need to just stay ahead of the curve.

For example, water. We have plenty, but is mal-distributed. Orange has an annual rainfall of 59.1 inches, while El Paso receives on average 9.69 inches. I suggest a big pipeline. We need more schools – our suburbs are exploding with new students — and school officials are trying to keep pace by doing what they do best: building bigger football stadiums. Texas has always had a lock-em-up attitude with crime and criminals. We need more prisons, or less crime. Transportation: There are currently 23,886,263 private and commercial vehicles registered in Texas, all trying to find a parking place at the Galleria. That’s more fumes, and our roads have long since hit their maximum capacity. Think back to 1991. Ann Richards was sworn in as Texas governor. The minimum wage was raised to $4.25 an hour, and the hit TV show “Dallas” ended. Twenty-seven years ago was the last time Texas raised its gas and diesel tax, to 20 cents a gallon. Today the national average is 31.04 cents. Maybe this is why our official State Nuisance is the pothole. Government: The 2020 census will give us three or four more U.S. Representatives, who will probably be as bad as our current members. Most of all, we need leaders who will handle these situations. Lots of luck. As for you 400,000 people who arrived in Texas in 2017 by birth or Buick, you have come to the perfect place and, to coin a phrase, don’t mess with Texas.


Ashby votes at ashby2@comcast.net

Life in the Future, Tense

January 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE CALENDAR – Oh what a year, what with competent candidates getting elected, famous people doing famous things and peace reigns. I am speaking, of course, of 1950. As for 2018, we may be in for some shocks, but at least we’ll be prepared because I shall predict the future. So stand by while I say the sooth.

Photo by U. Leone via Pixabay.

January – Three college football teams do not play in bowl games. Pointing proudly to the defeat of alleged child molester Roy Moore, Alabama enters the 18th Century. President Donald Trump tweets that he is not crazy, and demands Democrats quit hiding under his bed. Boy Scouts reverse decision to allow Girl Scouts to join after they humiliate the boys in merit badges for arm wrestling, bronco riding and heart transplanting.

February – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick changes his name to Patty Dan, explaining, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom somewhere.” Sean Hannity is officially adopted by President Trump. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Iceland to negotiate a friendship treaty. Trump Films denies its latest release, “A Valentine for Vladimir” is based on fact.

March – Bill Clinton takes over the Playboy Mansion which is vacated after male members of Congress move out. Russia denies it sponsors a new website, Krem de la Kremlin. The Texas State Board of Education votes unanimously to ban boys and girls from using the same bike racks. In an NBA game, the Rockets’ James Harden scores 100 points, but laments: “I just wish Coach would have let me play the second half.” Oscar Awards are cancelled after a sexual harassment suit is filed against Oscar by Tony and Emmy.

April – On Tax Day, President Trump is going to release his personal income taxes forms, but, he explains, the dog ate them. General Motors unveils its first all-electric car, the Shock. Unfortunately, it requires an extremely long extension cord. At a hearing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says Houston would not have flooded “if only we could have found the drain stopper.”

May – NAACP demands Dixie cups be banned as a “clearly racist symbol.” Needing a longer weekend, the Koch brothers buy Friday. A professor at Stanford University wins the Nobel Prize for discovering how to fold a fitted sheet. A federal court rules that Texas’ gerrymandering of Congressional districts by the majority Republican legislators is “outrageous and mind boggling.” The Congressman from Harlingen-Amarillo disagrees.

June – Merchants put out their Christmas decorations. Hurricane season officially opens on June 1 with the Red Cross throwing out the first doughnut. Rush Limbaugh wins first place in the annual Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Contest. He adds: “I’d done even better if I had a balloon.” War breaks out between the U.S. and Iceland. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke promises Indian tribes, “Coal sludge will not spill into your creeks and rivers as long as the sun shines and the buffalo roam. You can trust Washington.” The President’s dog dies of acute indigestion. A veterinarian observes: “It looks like the dog was force fed a bunch of papers.”

July – FEMA tells Texas, “Help for Harvey is on the way.” Gov. Greg Abbott calls out the Texas State Guard to prevent an amphibious invasion by Old Navy. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claims the DNC is “a front for baby-smuggling zombies.” When asked where she got that information, Sanders replies, “I got it straight from a reliable source, Krem de la Kremlin.” Harvey Weinstein denies he has sexually assaulted any women, that he tried to cover up his crimes and that he is Harvey Weinstein.

August – Hillary Clinton denies she is running for President again, in a press release from her campaign manager issued at a fund raiser. The Summer Olympics gives drug tests to Russian athletes after a pole vaulter vaults 45 feet – without a pole. Parts of Meyerland are inundated by a heavy dew. With great fanfare, Rachael Maddow on MSNBC announces she has a copy of “Donald Trump’s tax returns.” It turns out to be the returns for Donald Trump, Jr. when he was 8. Still, $400.000 isn’t bad. Indian tribes rise up in revolt against coal sludge spilling into their creeks and rivers.

September – NRA wants guns allowed in churches, confessional booths and concealed under choir robes. Its new slogan: “What kind of semi-automatic would Jesus own?” Houston Texans begin the season by joining Blue Cross. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opens floodgates on Hoover Dam, wiping out much of California, Nevada and Arizona. A general explains: “We had to flood these states in order to save them.”

October – The most popular Halloween costume in Washington this year is the Robert Mueller mask. An administration official explains: “When he shows up at your doorstep, you’ll treat him to anything.” President Trump fires the head of the White House Secret Service detail after finding out Trump’s code name is “Snake Oil.” New EPA director Scott Pruitt says, “Global warming is a hoax perpetrated by overly protective parents who want their children to survive.”

November – Texas A&M, going 0-11 in football, reinstates the Aggie bonfire, with Coach Jimbo Fisher on top. Also in football, Trump University qualifies for a bowl bid. After pressure from the FCC, Fox News officially changes its name to Faux News. Hillary Clinton accuses Bill of “avoiding sexually harassing me.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admits he gained most of his foreign diplomatic experience at the International House of Pancakes. Post-Thanksgiving sales are called off after NAACP objects to the term, “black Friday.”

December – The Texas State Board of Education debates whether teachers should be paid more than a manicurist. Most of Puerto Rico gets power. After a nationwide petition claiming that the name, Washington Redskins, is “insulting, embarrassing and demeaning,” the NFL agrees to change the team’s name to the Arlington Redskins. The New York Times reports that, despite his assertions, Donald Trump was not born in a manger. President Trump denounces it as “fake news.”


Ashby predicts at ashby2@comcast.net

365 Daze of Our Lives

December 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Let’s face it. The Year of Our Lord 2017 was one to remember, or forget. Politicians and TV stars crashed and burned over sexual harassment charges, but it was a golden time for late night TV comics. The Texas Legislature lived down to its name; Donald Trump did the same for the Presidency. But any year that saw the Astros win the World Series can’t be all bad, so now it is time to take a look backwards at 2017 before Texas Monthly’s Bum Steer Awards steal our ideas.

Photo from Pixabay.

Former Gov. and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry claimed the Texas A&M race for student body president was “stolen” because a straight candidate, Robert McIntosh, failed to provide a receipt for glow sticks used in the campaign, so that a gay candidate, Bobby Brooks, won. Turns out McIntosh’s mother is a GOP fundraiser. In more important matters, Texas A&M is paying new football coach Jimbo Fisher $75 million on a 10-year contract. You can rent a good running back for that amount.

A science teacher at Houston’s Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church’s elementary school was showing students different colored flames. Boom! Twelve children were burned, six were hospitalized.

The U.S. Border Patrol had a good idea: set up a recruiting booth at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Unfortunately, they didn’t do too well on Go Tejano Day.

“Houston is such a wonderful city. I can’t wait for you to finish it.” — New York Times columnist David Brooks

Hurricane Harvey came to town, and did a lot of damage, but the worst came when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the floodgates of the Barker and Addicks dams, inundating thousands of homes in west Houston. With protectors like these, who protects us from them?

Now it’s time for sports. A world-class city needs world-class soccer hooligans: The Dallas soccer team, FC Dallas, banned supporters of the Houston Dynamo, El Batallon, from bringing in flags, banners and any other signs of fandom because of “unacceptable behavior” in previous games including smoke bombs, a flair, and obscene chants.

The Houston Rockets finished off a great 2016-2017 season by losing in the play-offs to the San Antonio Spurs by 39 points (James Harden scored 10) before a home crowd and a national TV audience. The Rockets are paying James Harden $228 million over six years. That’s coming out of the pocket of new Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta, who paid $2.2 billion for the franchise.

For the first time in its history, the Houston Astros sent six players to the All-Star Game. They went 0-7, with three strikeouts.

When cancer patients complete their chemotherapy treatment, they often ring a bell at the hospital to signify a big step in their road to recovery. The bell at MD Anderson never stood a chance. When 6-foot-5, 300-pound Texans offensive lineman David Quessenberry completed his chemotherapy treatment, he stopped to read the inscription on the plaque next to the bell. “Now that you have completed your chemotherapy treatment, ring this bell to tell the world you are on your way to being well,” Quessenberry read aloud. Then, he rang that bell right off the wall.

In Austin, on the floor of the Capitol chamber, State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, Republican from a Dallas suburb, threatened to shoot Rep. Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, Democrat from Eagle Pass, in self defense after Nevarez said he would confront his colleague in the parking lot.

The Texas Senate voted to strictly inforce the ban on wearing blue jeans in the chamber.

“I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.” — Gov. Greg Abbott, while posing for a photo with a large paper target he had just shot full of holes.

Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did all they could to prevent Texas women from controlling their own bodies. And the Dynamic Duo discovered that most voters in Texas cities are Democrats. So they worked to strip cities of local control.

Austin bar owner Brandon Cash responded to negative reviews of his establishment, Unbarlievable, on Google with “since you had a towel on your head my bartender thought you were the new bus boy and handed you dirty dishes to wash.” After protesters showed up, Cash apologized.

Hypocritic Oath: “Thomas, for instance, wants government out of health care but depends on Medicare…. to pay all but $80 of his monthly $11,900 bill for his cancer medication.” — Houston Chronicle May 1, 2017

The Pearland ISD school board got a new member: Dawson High School senior Mike Floyd.

So much for a free exchange of ideas: TSU disinvited U.S. Sen. John Cornyn as commencement speaker after students objected to his politics.

Keep Your Powderpuff Dry, Wussies: The Houston Symphony Orchestra’s Fourth of July concert played the “1812 Overture” in all its glory – but used taped cannon fire because, in the past, some in the audience objected to the noise.

But our big winners in 2017 were from Washington, where Texan lawmakers and officials made for some news – of the wrong kind. Wichita Falls native, UT grad and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has been deemed “the worst Secretary of State in the nation’s history.”

Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Abbott quit bashing Washington long enough to go, hat in hand, to beg the feds for more Harvey money. It wasn’t so much an about face as red-faced or maybe two-faced.

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman was charged with bilking $750,000 in charity funds. U.S Rep. Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis said he won’t run for reelection after a photo circulated of him buck naked, and his former lovers went public. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi faced a House Ethics Committee investigation after it was discovered he spent $84,000 in taxpayers’ money to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Upon being discovered, Farenthold said he would reimburse the 84K. Certainly 2017 was the Year of the Rat.


Ashby yearns for 2018 at ashby2@comcast.net

The List Grows Longer

December 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

Shervin Pishevar is taking a leave of absence from his venture capital firm and the boards of several companies he sits on. Who exactly is Shervin Pishevar and why should we care? Because there have been reports that he sexually harassed or assaulted five women. There is a lot of this exposure going around, bringing in CEOs, TV and movie stars, politicians, and many we never heard of like Mr. Pishevar. Indeed, hardly a week, or even a day, goes by without some big name getting exposed as a sexual predator. (The latest count is 40.) This raises several questions which you and I shall answer. One question is: why now? Some of these accusations go back years and even decades. A most prominent case is Roy Moore, who ran for the U.S. Senate from Alabama, where folks go to family reunions looking for dates. (Incidentally, what were these Alabama parents thinking when they gave permission to a 32-year-old man to date their teenaged daughter?)

Photo by Mihai Surdu via Pixabay.

Let’s review the list. The movement really began with Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who was sued by an extremely courageous Gretchen Carlson for, in effect, sexual harassment. Then came another pillar of family values, God-fearing and hypocrisy, Bill O’Reilly. Buying out contracts and paying off lawsuits reportedly cost Fox $80 million. Next was Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul who apparently has no friends. When The New York Times and the New Yorker uncovered Weinstein’s kinky antics, cover-ups, pay-offs and threats, that opened the door even wider. In rapid order we have seen such icons as Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor and Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine bow out in disgrace. When Netflix cancelled two upcoming episodes of “House of Cards” starring the accused Kevin Spacey, it cost the company a cool one million. Even Dustin Hoffman has been accused and admitted his mistakes.

Politicians came in for their due. Sen. Al Franken had to resign. Texas Congressman Joe Barton of Ennis said he won’t run for reelection. Another of Texas’ own, Rep. Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi, said, only now that he has been outed, he will repay the $84,000 taxpayers forked out to cover his sexual harassment settlement. It seems you and I have paid $12 million to settle our congressmen’s sex suits, something I find repulsive. Rep. John Conyers stepped down. The list in Congress keeps growing, and it’s still early in the day. So the question of “why now” seems to be that this was an avalanche just waiting to come down the mountain. And it all started with Gretchen Carlson and Roger Ailes.

This leads us to the obvious question: Who else is there, what other well-known persons, are about to fall? Don’t you know there are a bunch bold-faced types who are having trouble sleeping at night. One clue: The faces of five women who have spoken out about sexual harassment appear on Time magazine’s Person of the Year front cover — along with a mysterious right arm. But whose is it? The next whistleblower? “It belongs to an anonymous young hospital worker from Texas,” the magazine says in an editorial. She is a sexual harassment victim, who “fears that disclosing her identity would negatively impact her family.” So we may never know her name or where in Texas she dwells, but lawyers are standing by 24/7.

What about the private sector? How many CEOs, or even assembly line foremen, now will be hit with sexual harassment suits? “Miss, Jones, I really didn’t mean to pinch your bottom at the nineteen-ninety Christmas party.” Another Q and A: Most of the public figures listed above have acknowledged their inexcusable behavior and have said they were sorry. But there may be some who are innocent. We tend to think that the accused are guilty, but how does anyone prove something untowardly didn’t happen? What if, in some cases, it’s just a shakedown? Good luck with that.

I wish news reports would be more specific in what they mean by “sexually harassed” or “abused.” (Several women’s groups are demanding that two Texas legislators resign for “flirting.”) Not to relish gory details — OK, maybe some — but those accusations could cover anything from Miss Jones getting pinched to rape. At The Houston Post, the publisher, Oveta Culp Hobby, did not want the word “rape” used in a news story. That policy changed when a victim was quoted as running down the street yelling, “Help! I’ve been criminally assaulted!” Any such acts need justice, but what kind of crime and what kind of justice? I, personally, like the legal term, “Git a rope.”

Now we come to the question: what do we call this movement? In order to last, to continue bringing attention to a long-hidden problem, we need to make sure it’s not a passing fancy. Remember last year the hot topic was bullying. Every TV newscast and newspaper edition had a story on bullies, bullying and how to prevent it. You don’t hear much about bullying anymore. Campus rape had a run, but interest has moved on to other problems. Maybe that crime no longer exists.

The term #Me,Too is a good title for the anti-harassment drive, but will it last so that future generations of males will know not to pinch, fondle or even flirt with women? The “silence breakers” is what Time magazine called the women who first blew the whistle on predatory men. That sounds like a spy novel. Years later we all remember Remember Pearl Harbor and the Alamo, while 54-40 or Fight lost its luster. So did Occupy Wall Street and Confederate statues. Maybe something like “Look, Ma, no hands” or “Harvey was not just a hurricane.” Shervin Pishevar is too hard to work into a slogan. Certainly not “Git a grope.” Perhaps #Me,Too will stick. Finally, Americans should come down hard on men who serially harass women, especially those who like to brag about it. On tape.


Ashby is harassed at ashby2@comcast.net

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