Paper Tigers

July 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE FRONT PORCH – Some day my prints will come, or rather my printed papers will come. But I can’t hold out much longer. Out of news, out of comics, down to my last liner for the bird cage. I need my news fix for I am out of touch. Terrible about the Lusitania. Where is the cavalry, or at least a pimple-faced newsboy? But let me begin at the beginning and see if you can identify with my plight. Having been flooded out of my home by Hurricane Harvey, with a great deal of help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which released a tidal wave of water from the dams so my neighborhood wouldn’t flood, thus flooding my neighborhood. We are now in our new digs.

Among our problems is changing addresses for our newspapers. I had dutifully stopped the papers, I thought, once the Coast Guard helicopter had pulled me and my vodka collection off the roof. But my former neighbors, still bailing, hunted me down at the Salvation Army shelter to demand that I come get 23 soggy papers off my front yard. When I moved to my new address, I called up the papers — I take both the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times — to renew my subscriptions. Of course, these days companies don’t employ humans to deal directly with pesky customers, so we get recordings, something like: “Your call is very important etc. etc. Push 1 for… push 2 for… This call will be recorded in case you are one of those malcontents who make threats, and this way we can track you down.”

I called the Chronicle. After being put on hold and listening to “The Best of Polish Polkas,” plus a greeting from the Chron “right here in the great state of Texas,” I finally got a real person. “Hi, I’m Amber, how can I help you?” I gave her my name, address, and told her I wanted to subscribe to her paper. “Certainly, can I have your name, address and why you are bothering me? We can start your paper tomorrow.” Next, I called the Times. My call was very important to them, so I only had to wait one season. “We will be glad to put you down for a subscription. Would you like the paper in English? We are an international paper, so we never know. We can start your paper tomorrow.” The next day, no papers, nor the next nor the next. I called the Chron “in the great state of Texas.” The paper’s two employees in the circulation department seemed to be busy, but eventually I got a real person. I explained my predicament. “Can I have your name, age, address and the last four digits of your Social Security number?” I am told that the Chron will be on my doorstep tomorrow. The Times also assured me that all the news that’s fit to print would be on my doorstep the next morning.

This situation goes on for a week, then two. By now I have the Chron’s number on my speed dial (713 220-7211) and am on a first-name basis with Amber. She says she will pass my complaints on to her supervisor. The Times (1-800 698-4637) tells me to “Press 1 for English, 2 for Tibetan, 3 for …”). My call is very important to them, but apparently not important enough to do anything about my complaint. A voice asked, “Now, you are at 122 Senility Circle, right?” I grit my teeth and reply: “No, I am 123 Senility Circle. That’s my address. I know where I live.” “Oh, we must have gotten it wrong. Silly us.” One morning the doorbell rang, and my wife answered. It was a neighbor, slightly exasperated. He is holding five soggy New York Times in his arms. He said he’d even called the Times to stop cluttering up his front doorway with the paper. It did no good. I made another call and was told: “I see that you have a vacation stop, with no re-start date.” Do you ever get the idea you are surrounded by below-par IQs?

At times (or Chronicle) we like to beat up on various levels of our government, and ask: “Why can’t the government be run like a private business?” We’d better be glad it isn’t. Three weeks have now passed, honest, and I finally get my Times. But no Chronicle. “Hi, Amber, I still haven’t gotten my paper. This is a recording.” I get one in return, “in the great state of Texas.” A voice eventually answers, and I ask: “Why don’t you say, ‘in the great city of Houston?’” Pause. “Because we’re in Dallas.” Maybe I’d have better luck if I subscribed to the Dallas Morning News. This may explain why, when I asked for the supervisor, I got put on hold, and heard Cowboy cheers in the background. The supervisors – I’ve talked to several – assured me that they would take care of the problem. One ominously referred to “discipline,” but it was not clear if he was referring to the carrier or that troublemaker from Houston who keeps complaining. Maybe they learned I’d worked for The Houston Post and this was their revenge. That day’s mail brought me my Visa bill. It showed a $44 charge from the Houston Chronicle.

It is not fair to beat up on the poor souls who spend their waking hours sitting in a cubicle dealing with angry customers, but it would be nice if companies trained them correctly and kept their promises. “Amber, check your records. How many times have I called to complain?” “It looks like six.” “More like sixteen.” So here I stand in my bathrobe at my front door, looking silly and despondent for my lifeline to the rest of the world. We keep hearing that newspapers are sick and dying. Perhaps it’s because of poor circulation.


Ashby is waiting at ashby2@comcast.net

Our Own Polezni Durak

July 23, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE STREET CORNER – Once again we are out here patrolling Texas to keep it safe from the Ruskies. Obviously no one else is doing it, so the job falls to us, and suddenly it is a much more important job. If you just got back from building your part of the wall on the Rio, I will quickly bring you up to speed. Everyone — except our President — knows the Russians tried to influence the 2016 President elections in favor of Donald Trump. What we didn’t know is how they operated in Texas. Top Kremlin spies, Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova and Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik, came to Texas and, using phony names, PayPal and fake emails, got Texans to fight one another, demonstrate, and counter demonstrate to help Trump. It was an easy success. The Kremlin even hatched opposition to the annual military exercise, Jade Helm 15, getting the more gullible among us, a majority, to fear Obama was going to confiscate our howitzers and militarily seize the state.

End of the story, right? Wrong. For now we must deal with the polezni durak. Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the CIA and an expert on all things sneaky and Russian, flatly says the Russians got Trump elected President. Gen. Hayden also may solve a mystery: “The most benign explanation as to why Trump seems to not criticize Putin is a phase from the Soviet Union: polezni durak, ‘the useful idiot,’ the sort of person the Kremlin secretly held in contempt but went all out to exploit.” That’s a chilling thought. We’re being governed by a useful idiot? That does explain a lot, although many Americans’ contempt for the President is not so secret. We also have a new fly in the borsht. It’s a virtual currency called Bitcoin, which sounds like a dime with teeth marks. Bitcoins leave no fingerprints, no paper trail. It didn’t take long for Russian military intelligence officials to spot this new tool and use it. So if you suddenly start getting funds from an anonymous source, do the patriotic thing: call me and we’ll split it.

What about Texas? Special Counsel Robert Mueller has charged that the Internet Research Agency – the Kremlin’s disinformation operation — is “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. We must assume that agents Krylova and Burchik are making their plans to infiltrate Texas again, if they haven’t already landed and are putting their disasters in place. (Have you checked out the Astros’ bullpen lately?) A major part of the Internet Research Agency’s M/O is the distraction. Notice how Trump keeps trying to turn Americans’ attention to something other than Russian collusion? NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem, fake news, an FBI agent’s notes to his lover, porn stars. Oh, wait, forget the last one.

Putin (“Pootie” to our President) knows his targets: someone so egomaniacal as to really believe all the flattery, promises and photo ops. Art of the deal? This is the Great Negotiator who moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv, where it had been alongside every other nation’s embassy, to Jerusalem and got zero in return. This is the same savvy deal maker who agreed to cancel the joint U.S.-South Korean military which had been held for decades and he received in return? Nothing. We got taken, snookered, conned. His next book should be called “The Art of the Steal.” Also, your useful idiot needs an enemy — someone or some group to attack and, when doing so, receives cheers from a fawning crowd. In this case, the press, immigrants, then immigrants and the press. This the Age of the Demagogue. Find a leader who appeals to our worst instincts, and don’t forget fear. All we have to fear are fear mongers themselves. “They are storming across our borders! Build a wall! They are breaking into our houses. Grab a gun! Global warming and dirty air are hoaxes. Build an ark and get a gasmask!”

Let’s put ourselves in the place of Krylova and Burchik. Which Texas leader is the Official State Demagogue? Who keeps pandering to our fears, paranoia and cynicism? The usual suspects are numerous. We have a state attorney general who keeps us occupied with local ordinances on plastic bags, constantly suing Washington to leave Texas alone, free to pollute and turn away selected voters, all the while neatly obscuring the fact that he is facing criminal hard time for fraud. Our land commissioner doled out $400,000 in bonuses to agency employees and billed taxpayers for personal out-of-state trips that included receiving a “Jesus shot” in Oklahoma. Gov. Greg Abbott is a Trump lapdog.

The Texas Legislative Study Group reported the state ranks 50th among states in percentage of high school graduates, first in amount of carbon emissions, first in hazardous waste produced, last in voter turnout, first in percentage of people without health insurance, and second in percentage of uninsured kids. Texas ranks fourth highest for teenage birth rate, the lowest in the nation for women with health insurance, and is the second lowest in the nation for percent of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in the first trimester. Texas also ranks the fourth highest for percentage of women living in poverty. We are 44th in high school graduation rates and 47th in SAT scores. In higher education, in Texas, only 51 percent of students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, meaning that only 17 percent of Texans will earn a bachelor’s degree.

So what did the Texas Legislature spend its time and our money on during this last session? Transgender school bathrooms, the good ol’ distraction. And who spearheaded this entire slight-of-hand? Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He fits all the criteria – demagoguing, egomaniacal, pandering to our fears, etc. Could it be that Dan Patrick is our own polezni durak?


Ashby is suspicious at ashby@comcast.net

Horns of a Dilemma

July 16, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

THE OFFICE – They are now hanging on the wall here, a large set of cattle horns. Having been flooded out of our happy home for the last 50 years by Hurricane Harvey, we have moved to new digs. Going through boxes, I came up with this set of horns which had adorned my old office. The brief backstory and why you should care: My mother’s grandfather was a Texas rancher, and back then the big meal of the day was lunch. So each day Oscar Jones would come in and sling his dusty, sweaty cowboy hat on the dinner table. My grandmother, a child at the time, thought that was disgusting, so she sought out the ranch butcher and they selected the cow, bull or unicorn, with the best horns. It was butchered and the horns were mounted in the ranch house’s front hall. Each noon Oscar could come in and toss his hat on the horns instead of on the cornbread, black-eyed peas and bull tongues.

I know this story because, as a child, I was forced to accompany my mother to visit relatives back in the hinterlands. It was a dreary, wet and gray afternoon and the ladies were discussing Uncle Edgar’s gout or Aunt Susie Jane Alice Maggie’s second husband’s lynching or some such thing. If there is anything a 10-year-old doesn’t want to hear, it is family tales, so I went rummaging in the garage and came upon two separate horns, and brought them in, curious. “Oh, my. Where did you find those?” Aunt Babs Sharon JennyJoan asked. And then they told me the tale. I took the horns home and the next Christmas there was this big box under the tree with my name on it. The box contained — oh, you are the sharp one – the horns all cleaned and mounted.

The reason I bore you with this family tale is that every family, including yours, has tales, objects, photos and rumors that are in danger of being lost. Tick-tock. Uncle Marvin, who knows all the inside skinny on your aunts, uncles and illegitimate cousins, is not looking well. Grand Ma keeps drooling oatmeal on her bib, so you should update her obit. But the point is, you need to get their oral history before they pass on to that Great Walmart in the Sky. My mother and her sister, Aunt Jane, were a goldmine of family tales, but I waited too late. They did tell me that their father, Lynn Cox, for whom I am named, started out as a 19-year-old railroad conductor in Texas and ended up as vice-president of the railroad. One day my mother and grandmother were riding on his train and a cowboy said he wouldn’t pay for a ticket. Lynn Cox opened a window on the moving train, stuck the cowboy’s head out the window (this was before a/c), slammed the blinds down on his neck and began to kick him, then hauled the poor guy to the platform between the cars, threw him off the train and tossed his bag. My grandmother was screaming and my mother was crying. Ah, you don’t get good family stories like that anymore.

There is a problem of recording some tales, because as the years go by, people’s memories fade and they lose, they lose. Where was I? Oh, yes. The Medal of Honor winner. I was writing a newspaper obit about a late veteran, and the widow sent in info, including that he had received the Medal of Honor. Hey, that was big news, but a quick investigation showed he hadn’t. Now, either the old soldier was stretching the truth or the new widow simply got it wrong. OK, what’s the opposite of serendipity? A friend from Oklahoma decided to look into his ancestry. “I discovered most of them were outlaws.” My wife’s father had a very interesting life. After he died she put together a book, interviewing relatives, friends, going through old clippings and photos, and handed them over to a journalist (I didn’t qualify) who wrote a fine book which will be handed down to our offspring and theirs.

We now come to an important point, and I don’t have a good answer. Like many of you, I have old photographs of ancestors. I know who they are, but if I stick a note on the back of the photograph, Scotch tape only sticks a few years, some photos are too fragile to be written on the back. My grandchildren will be sifting through pictures, unattached notes, and probably toss the whole lot. Here is my great-great-great etc. grandfather, married 1836, with a long white beard, scowling, looks like a Mormon elder with constipation. We refer to him as “Chuckles” Kuykendahl. Someday the grandkids will ask: “Who’s this guy? Looks like a Mormon elder with constipation. Toss.”

Many families have an elderly aunt who can spin tales of bygone days. Get her to talk into a tape recorder and write down her memories, which you will probably lose. Usually it’s impossible to check the accuracies, so go with the more colorful version. Here’s a last one. Euphemia Ashby (I can’t find her real first name) was standing on her front porch during the American Revolution with her two smallest children. Her husband, Capt. Stephen Ashby, “captain of foot,” (infantry) and her two eldest sons were off fighting the Red Coats. A group of British POWs came slouching by. A young British lieutenant broke away and asked Euphemia if he could have a drink of water. “Under these circumstances,” she replied, “I would gladly give a drink of water to the entire British Army.” The young lieutenant smiled at the situation, got his drink, and marched on.

I didn’t tell you about Lynn Cox conducting a train between Houston and Dallas when a drunken cowboy peed in Lynn’s coat pocket. But you can probably beat that one.


Lynn Cox is at ashby2@comcast.net

Take Me to Your Litter

July 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

AISLE 4 – Cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, kale. Why is kale such a hot item these days? Every yuppy and Gen X recipe features kale. Yuk! I’d rather suck rocks. One thing they all have in common is that customers put the veggies in these little translucent plastic bags. They are handy, and certainly beat wrapping your lettuce in a damp towel. But plastic bags can be a nuisance, or even deadly, which brings us to the Texas Legislature.

It seems that some Texans don’t like those plastic bags, and want to outlaw them, at least in their area. West Texas ranchers say their horses and cattle eat plastic bags that blow into the pastures, and die. Galveston residents who depend on tourism, say plastic bags clutter the beaches and hurt business. The endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles seem to love a good plastic bag for lunch, making the turtles even more endangered. Other towns just don’t like the clutter of bags clogging sewers, hanging from trees making their towns look blighted, or in some cases even more blighted. So they passed local ordinances banning the bags. Fort Stockton in West Texas approved a ban. The Galveston City Council unanimously backed an ordinance to ban those bags at stores. So did Laredo and Austin. Houston and San Antonio were taking steps in that direction. All told, about 11 Texas cities have banned the bags.

Statewide, they have been prohibited in places like California and Hawaii. But Texas is going in the opposite direction. Our Legislature passed a statewide law that, in effect, prohibits local governments from prohibiting the bags. Laredo merchants took note of this state law and sued. The city of Laredo argued it imposed the ban to avoid spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean disposable bags from the sewer system. Now the Texas Supreme Court has ruled Laredo can’t impose a ban on plastic bags, saying that the Texas constitution declares state law takes precedence over any local law, specifically, the ordinance violated state law that regulates solid waste disposal. The legal term for citing solid waste disposal as grounds for banning bag bans is “a real stretch.” This ruling by the Texas Supreme Court not only tosses out the Laredo ban, but will soon do the same to other cities’ ban ordinances, and end efforts by Houston, etc. to enact similar bans. Republican Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton applauded the decision and warned cities with existing bans to reconsider. “I hope that Laredo, Austin, and any other jurisdictions that have enacted illegal bag bans will take note and voluntarily bring their ordinances into compliance with state law,” he said in a statement. “Should they decline to do so, I expect the ruling will be used to invalidate any other illegal bag bans statewide.” That’s pretty clear.

Who would want to mess with Texas’ mess? Merchants, as mentioned, and Big Oil. You see, those bags are petroleum products, and with California and Hawaii already opting out of plastic bags, who knows how many other states will follow? But that industry doesn’t make state laws, does it? You must be new in town. Of course the oil and gas biz gets what it wants from the Texas Legislature. But there is another, and most disturbing, movement afoot: our state lawmakers telling local governments what to do, because our legislators know best what’s best for us. If the good people of Galveston want to clean up their beaches, what business is it of some lawmaker in Pampa or San Augustine? Why should a legislator from a Dallas suburb care about horses in Fort Stockton? Again, you must be new in town. Follow the money. Check the campaign donations of those who voted for the statewide ban on bans.

This long-distance meddling also follows a hypocritical power grab by our top state leaders. They love to exercise their power. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick got involved in a Houston referendum on gay rights (it wasn’t called that, but it still lost). Patrick also called for the resignation of the Fort Worth ISD superintendent for his stand on transgender school bathrooms that differed from Patrick’s. Gov. Greg Abbott endorsed one Republican candidate for the state legislature over a more moderate one, who won. The governor once called these local rules “a form of collectivism.” The Republican-controlled legislature has even passed laws dealing with local governments’ ordinance on Uber, Lyft and cutting trees. Remember these are the same pols who keep whining about “Washington interference.” Remember Gov. Abbott’s famous quote about keeping the feds out of Texas’ business when he was attorney general: “I go into the office, I sue the federal government, and then I go home.”

OK, all this time you have been wondering about plastic bags. The modern lightweight shopping bag is the invention of Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin in the early 1960s for the Swedish packaging company Celloplast. It was patented worldwide by Celloplast in 1965. The popularity of these bags began to snowball from the mid-1980s onwards. It is estimated that the number of plastic bags used and discarded worldwide is about 1 trillion annually, and an estimated 300 million plastic bags end up in the Atlantic Ocean alone. While the average consumer in China uses only two or three plastic bags a year, consumers in Denmark use four, Ireland: 20, Germany: 65, U.S.: about 300, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia: more than 400. Waterways and drains can be clogged by plastic bags and have been linked to severe flooding. Wonder if we should stop blaming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Oh, and the bags don’t just kill horses in West Texas. About 25 children in the U.S. suffocate each year due to plastic bags, mostly laundry bags, and almost nine out of 10 are under the age of 1. Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, especially if they are filled with kale.


Ashby bags at ashby2@comcast.net

The Born Experience

July 2, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

What do Sam Donaldson, Nolan Ryan and Dwight Eisenhower have in common? No, they were not brief members of the Trump cabinet. They were all born in Texas. So were Debbie Reynolds (El Paso), Joan Crawford (San Antonio) and Tommy Lee Jones (San Saba). Actually, the entertainment industry is filled with our former neighbors: Carol Burnett (San Antonio), Gary Busey (Goose Creek), Cyd Charisse (born Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo), Spanky McFarland (Fort Worth), Steve Martin (Waco). And what would the musical world be without Texans? Willie Nelson (Abbott), Trini Lopez (Dallas), Selena (Lake Jackson), Larry Hagman (Fort Worth) didn.t sing but his mother did, Mary Martin (Weatherford). Who can forget our favorite singing Longhorn, Janis Joplin (Port Arthur) or the Big Bopper (Jiles Perry “J. P.” Richardson, Jr., (Sabine Pass). We also have Beyonce (Houston), Ernest Tubb (Crisp) and Tommy Tune (Wichita Falls). Ragtime composer Scott Joplin (Texarkana) was re-introduced to millions in “The Sting.” Speaking of films, Humphrey Bogart never did say, “Play it again, Sam” in the 1942 film “Casablanca.” The line, “Play it once, Sam,” was spoken by Ingrid Bergman. Sam was played by Dooley Wilson who was born in Tyler. Notice that you never see Sam’s fingers on the keyboard. That’s because he was a drummer.

The military has more than its quota of Texans. While Adm. Chester Nimitz (Fredericksburg) commanded the Pacific Fleet in World War II, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower (Dennison) commanded all Allied troops in the European and African Theater. An interesting story about Ike. He thought he was born in Abilene, Kansas, where he grew up, and put down Abilene as his birthplace on his application to West Point. When Ike became a famous five-star general, a lady in Dennison thought she remembered baby-sitting littlie Ike at the Eisenhower home there. (I’ve visited the house, a tiny, humble place.) Ike was surprised to learn he was a native Texan. The most decorated soldier in World War II was Audie Murphy (Kingston). He could also be listed in the Hollywood category because, after the war, Murphy made more than 40 movies and a TV series. This military thing is traditional: “. . . the Texians being entirely a military people, not only fought, but drank, in platoons.” — Western Monthly Magazine, October, 1838. Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, in “Travels With Charley” observed: “Among other tendencies to be noted, Texas is a military nation. The armed forces of the United States are loaded with Texans and often dominated by Texans. Even the dearly loved spectacular sports are run almost like military operations….Sectional football games have the glory and despair of war, and when a Texas team takes the field against a foreign state, it is an army with banners.”

While it is interesting to learn that so many famous people hail from the Lone Star State, it is also interesting to learn that most of the founders of Texas came here from other places. Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin were born in Virginia. William B. Travis and James Bonham came from South Carolina. James Bowie was from Kentucky. The Alamo defenders came from 20 states and six countries. There were only 11 native Texians at the Alamo and they couldn’t speak English. Twenty-two of the defenders just appeared, and no one knows where they were born. At San Jacinto, the Texas Army came from 24 states, 11 countries, and Texas. The only native Texians were 30 Tejanos from San Antonio. “A scene singularly wild and picturesque presented itself to our view. Around 20 or 30 campfires stood as many groups of men: English, Irish, Scots, Mexicans, French, Germans, Italians, Poles, Yankees, all unwashed and unshaved, their long hair and beards and mustaches matted, their clothes in tatters and plastered with mud. A more savage-looking band could scarcely have been assembled.” Some things never change. All these newcomers give fresh meaning to the bumper sticker; “I’m not from Texas, but I got here as soon as I could.” This also includes Dr. Michael DeBakey (Lake Charles), Walter Cronkite (Saint Joseph, Mo.) and Roger Clemens (Dayton, Ohio).

Getting back to those who were born here, the Texans have rather dominated the evil media, especially the TV news. We have Dan Rather (Wharton). Then there are Bob Schieffer (Austin) and Scott Pelly (San Antonio). Lou Dobbs is not from Childress but from “Childress County.” When it comes to athletes, we can’t list them all. Nolan Ryan (Refugio), Ben Hogan (Stephenville), A.J. Foyt (Houston), most of the NFL, Roger Hornsby (Winters), “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias (Port Arthur) and a newly pardoned Jack Johnson (Galveston). Incidentally, Johnson fits into a sub-category: BOI. That’s Born On the Island (of Galveston). The BOIs are very proud of that, although most are descendants of Jean Lafitte.

Only two U.S. Presidents were born here, Ike and Lyndon Johnson (Stonewall). Since Jim Hogg, most of our governors were Texan-born. George W. Bush was an exception. (New Haven, Conn.) In other areas, we have Dr. Denton Cooley (Houston), former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (El Paso), H. Ross Perot (Texarkana), Katherine Anne Porter (Indian Creek), Howard Hughes (Houston), painter Robert Rauschenberg (Port Arthur) and Gene Roddenberry (El Paso). Who was the first white female to be born in Texas? It could be Mary James Long, or maybe not. On December 21, 1821, Jane Herbert Wilkinson Long gave birth to Mary James on Bolivar Peninsula, and throughout Jane Long’s life she claimed to having given birth to the first white baby in Texas, and was called “The Mother of Texas.” However, censuses between 1807 and 1826 reveal a number of children born in Texas to Anglo-American mothers prior to 1821. Stephen F. Austin is called “The Father of Texas,” and he once romanced Jane Long. Hmmmm.

Finally, also born in Texas were Bonnie (Rowena) and Clyde (Ellis County) Barrow and David Koresh of the Waco siege fame (Houston.) Let’s assume they forged their birth certificates.


Native Texan Ashby was born at ashby2@comcast.net

A Portmanteau to Celebrate

June 25, 2018 by  
Filed under Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

GALVESTON – This town has an assortment of neighborhoods such as beautiful old mansions next to pawn shops. The mansions were probably built in a neighborhood of mansions at that time. Here is one example: Ashton Villa, a magnificent home now sitting across the street from a seedy-looking loan company. Scattered around the area are equally well-worn establishments. It was built by James Moreau Brown, beginning in 1859. The family occupied the house until at least 1926. But what happened on the villa’s second story balcony changed Texas’ history and, eventually, America’s. In a word: Juneteenth.

Actually, according to the calendar, the date was June 19th, but this year even Apple added Juneteenth to its calendars under official U.S. holidays. The date was recently celebrated, but if you’re new to Texas, Pilgrim, we’ll discuss why. During the Civil war, on Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued General Order #3, better known as the Emancipation Proclamation, effective as of Jan.1, 1863. It declared that all enslaved persons in the Confederate States of America in rebellion and not in Union hands were to be freed. This order excluded the five states known later as border states, which were slave states but not in rebellion. So when you think about it, who exactly was freed? Not a soul. A noble gesture, but absolutely meaningless.


Juneteenth Emancipation Day Celebration, June 19, 1900, Texas.

Here in Texas, although most slaves lived in rural areas, by 1860 more than 1,000 resided in both Galveston and Houston. The war actually caused the number of slaves to increase in Texas as slave owners fled here from eastern states to escape the fighting, and many brought their slaves with them. At the end of the Civil War, there were an estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. (San Antonio, being mostly Hispanic, had only168 among a population of 3,436.) As for Galveston, it was the only part of Texas that was conquered and occupied by the Yankees. As part of the Union blockade of Confederate ports, on Oct. 4, 1862, eight Union warships entered Galveston harbor and demanded the Rebels’ surrender. After a brief skirmish, the Southerners, commanded by Col. Joseph J. Cook, struck a truce and left, having already sent their heavy artillery ahead. So with gunboats off shore, 264 men of the Forty-second Massachusetts Infantry, led by Col. I. S. Burrell, finally arrived on Dec. 25 to occupy and patrol the town.

Maj. Gen. John Bankhead Magruder took command of Confederate forces in the fall of 1862, and, showing far more courage than his predecessor, started planning to recapture Galveston. On New Year’s night, with a combination of armed river steamers offshore, and dismounted cavalry and infantry crossing the railroad bridge (wouldn’t you think the Yankees would have burned that bridge by then?) the Rebels stormed Galveston. In fierce hand to hand combat, the Union forces were pushed back. Their warships simply sailed away, leaving the hapless Yankees no choice but to surrender. Galveston remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war.

Now we come to Juneteenth. Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, but word was slow to get to Texas. Indeed, the last land battle of the Civil War was fought in South Texas, and the Confederates won. On June 18, 1865, Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston with 2,000 federal troops to occupy Texas. The following day, standing on the balcony of Ashton Villa, Granger read aloud the contents of General Order No. 3 announcing the total emancipation of the slaves. They were advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. “They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” Since this occurred on June the nineteenth, it became Juneteenth, a portmanteau. And what, exactly, is a portmanteau? It’s a new word made up of parts of other words. Smog was coined by blending smoke and fog, and motel, from motor and hotel.

Anyway, upon hearing the news, Galveston’s former slaves celebrated, and a year later the freedmen, as they were then called, organized the first of what became the annual celebration of Juneteenth in Texas. According to the Handbook of Texas, in some cities African-Americans were barred from using public parks because of state-sponsored segregation of facilities. Across parts of Texas, freed people pooled their funds to purchase land to hold their celebrations, such as Houston’s Emancipation Park, Mexia’s Booker T. Washington Park, and Emancipation Park in Austin.

In the early 20th century, attention flagged and Juneteenth lost some of its movement, but during the Great Depression and during World War II, many black Texans moved to the west coast and to northern cities seeking work or just to get away from the segregated Lone Star State. They took with them the celebration and meaning of Juneteenth, and soon blacks in such places as Portland, Maine, and Flint, Michigan, held their own celebrations. Oh, and in Paris, France. As historian Isabel Wilkerson wrote, “The people from Texas took Juneteenth Day to Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and other places they went.” The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s put Juneteenth back in favor, and following the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign to Washington D.C. called by Rev. Ralph Abernathy, many attendees, first hearing about the celebration from Texans, returned home and formed Juneteenth celebrations in new areas.

In 1980, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday — state government offices do not close but may operate with reduced staff, or a skeleton crew. As of May 2016, 45 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia had recognized Juneteenth as either a state holiday or ceremonial holiday, a day of observance. States that do not recognize it are Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota and South Dakota, mainly because none of them has any blacks to celebrate.


Ashby is free at ashby2@coscast.net

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

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