Friday, October 02, 2009

Parker County Rally features Senatorial and Governatorial Candidates

By Deb Cascino - Oct. 2, 2009
Cooks Political Report has said Texas is a toss-up as to whether we will have a Democrat or Republican U.S. Senator after Kay Bay Hutchison finally resigns. You have the opportunity to listen to BOTH the Democratic US Senator hopefuls, among others, at our rally tomorrow, Sat. Oct. 3, from 11:30 - 4, Hall Middle School, 902 Charles Street, Weatherford, TX 76086. (see John Sharp: www.johnsharp.com and Bill White: http://www.billwhitefortexas.com/ John Sharp speaks at 12 noon "sharp", followed by Hank Gilbert at 12:30, then Bill White at 1:00.

We will also host two of the four Democratic gubernatorial candidates: Hank Gilbert (see http://hankgilbert.com/ ) and Felix Alvarado (see https://www.felixalvarado.com/Home_Page.html )

Railraod Commissioner Democratic candidate Jeff Weems http://jeffweemsforcommissioner.com/and Bill Burton Democrat for Land Commissioner http://www.billburton.net/ will also be speaking. Attoney General candidate Barbara Radnofsky http://www.radnofsky.com/and Tom Schieffer http://www.tomfortexas.com/will be sending representatives in their absence to speak.

We need a large turnout so please make special plans to drop by and have some BBQ, baked goodies, and bid on silent auction items. Visit with local organizations and Dems and Indies from Parker and counties contiguous. You can get registered to vote, or you can write a letter to soldiers overseas. You can meet other like-minded individuals. You can do your own research on the candidates and not depend on what others tell you about them.

Bring your questions and mingle with the candidates and local Democrats and Independents as we kick-off the 2010 Primary Election Season.

ALL HANDS ON DECK: We still need auction items and baked goods. If you have something of value you'd like to donate to the silent auction or baked goodies, please contact me immediately at 817-657-4578. The rally costs are nearly $3,000, and we appreciate any amount you can donate to help defray our expenses. (See the figures below). Please do not send corporate checks or cash. Mailing address: Parker County Democratic Party, 107 N. Alamo, Weatherford TX 76086.

Also don't forget to drop by Weatherford College's Alkek Fine Arts Center to join us for a 9:00 a.m. send-off for 203 area National Guard as they prepare to be deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Hope to see you at one of the biggest Democratic gatherings in Texas tomorrow!

Parker County Democratic Chair,
Deb Cascino

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Slater: Matt Latimer recalls Kay Bailey Hutchison 'purse boys' in new book 'Speechless'

By Slater, Dallas Morning News - Friday, September 18, 2009
AUSTIN — Former George W. Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer admits being enamored of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison when he arrived as young staffer on Capitol Hill some years ago.
"I thought a tough-talking Texas woman would be an ideal Republican presidential candidate someday," he writes in his new book, Speechless, which goes on sale next week.
Then he met her.
In his book, Latimer gives an account of the day he suddenly found himself face to face with Texas’ senior senator and her two "purse boys" in an elevator at the Capitol. He writes that a friend got her shoe wedged in the door, delaying the elevator and visibly annoying Hutchison.
“As the elevator proceeded downward, the senator turned to her J. Crew aides. They were ‘the purse boys.’ That was the nickname staffers gave them because their job seemed to consist of carrying Sen. Hutchison’s purse around Capitol Hill. They also were known to drive her from her house to work — a distance of approximately two blocks. They were basically taxpayer-subsidized butlers.”
Latimer, who worked for Bush during his final two years in the White House, goes on write that as one of the aides quietly held her large purse, she started to fish through it. Then she issued a list of instructions.
“Now I want you to take my purse back to the office,” she said.
"Yes, senator,” the purse boy responded.
“Take the nail polish out and put it in the refrigerator.”
"Yes, senator.”
"Take the rest of the makeup out and put that in the refrigerator too."
"Yes, senator."
"Then put the purse by my desk."

The purse boy nodded dutifully, and Latimer and his friend, feeling uncomfortable, let Hutchison pass when the elevator door opened. “She did so regally, without a word to either of us, the purse boys following close behind. In those few minutes, my enthusiasm for KBH sunk to a previously unfathomable low,’’ he writes.

Hutchison plans to quit the Senate soon to run for governor against GOP incumbent Rick Perry. Her camp did not return a call Friday seeking comment.
But the book’s Devil-Wears-Prada moment is not exactly attention Hutchison needs as she combats Perry and his re-election role as Mr. Populist.
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gilbert announces Dem bid for governor

By R.G. RATCLIFFE - Houston Chronicle AUSTIN BUREAU - Aug. 26, 2009
AUSTIN – The top vote-getting Democrat from the 2006 elections — agriculture commissioner nominee Hank Gilbert — said today he plans to join the fight for his party's gubernatorial nomination.

Gilbert, 49, a Tyler-area rancher, received 42 percent of the vote in his race against Republican Todd Staples for agriculture commissioner.

In the current governor's race, Gilbert said he can bridge the gap between Democrats and moderate Republicans who are “disgusted” with incumbent Rick Perry's service. Gilbert said he does not believe U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison can defeat Perry in the GOP primary.

Gilbert's entry into the race became another potential stumbling block for Fort Worth businessman Tom Schieffer, who received endorsements Wednesday from some of the top state House Democratic leaders.

They included Reps. Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar of Houston, Jim Dunnam of Waco and Pete Gallego of Alpine. The group said Schieffer will be able to govern the state by bringing Democrats and Republicans together.

Schieffer has been struggling to win over hard-core Democrats because he was business partners with former President George W. Bush and served him as ambassador to Japan and Australia, where he had to defend the administration policy of indefinite detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Former party railroad commission nominee Mark Thompson also is in the race, and humorist Kinky Friedman is expected to join the fray.

Schieffer said he had hoped that Gilbert would run for agriculture commissioner again on a ticket with him.

“Ten days ago, Hank Gilbert talked to me about being part of the team and running the ag race. His exact words to me were: ‘You need to cover me in the urban areas and I'll cover your back in the rural areas,'” Schieffer said.

Gilbert said he had told Schieffer that at a Democratic summit in Tyler, but he said he changed his mind and decided to run for governor after listening to Schieffer speak.
“The man is very intelligent,” Gilbert said. “But he just didn't inspire me. I was looking for that spark.”

Read more in the Houston Chronicle

Friday, July 03, 2009

Draft Ronnie Earle for Governor of Texas

Help encourage Ronnie Earle to run for Governor.
Take the poll on Capitol Inside
Read more about the Draft Ronnie Earle for Governor movement:
Reclaiming the Texas Turf

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gov. Perry Signs Eminent Domain Bil

By KERA News & Wire Services (2009-06-15)


DALLAS, TX (KERA) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill today that asks voters to amend the state constitution by limiting government's ability to take private property using eminent domain authority. If approved in November, the constitutional amendment would prohibit government officials from taking property and giving it to a private developer to boost the tax base

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

US Senate Votes to Restrict Abusive Credit Card Practices

By DAVID STOUT - The New York Times - May 19, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to put new restrictions on the credit card industry, passing a bill whose backers say will make card-issuers spell out their terms in fewer words, using plain English, and treat customers more fairly

The 90-to-5 vote, following a 357-to-70 vote in the House on April 30, made it likely that President Obama will have a measure on his desk before the Memorial Day recess. The differences between the House and Senate versions will have to be worked out, but given the political atmosphere it seems likely that the House-Senate negotiations will move quickly.

“We stood up for consumers and stood up to abusive credit card companies,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said after the vote. “We said that big banks can no longer take advantage of hardworking Americans. We demanded that when Americans use a credit card — as almost everyone does almost every day — they no longer have to fear that they’ll be abused.”


The industry has asserted that the legislation may backfire, forcing banks to issue fewer credit cards at greater cost to the current cardholders and making credit harder to get at a time when many Americans need it.

Edward L. Yingling, president and chief executive of the American Bankers Association, said the bill passed on Tuesday contained provisions that were “tough, but workable.”

“It also, unfortunately, contains some provisions that will undermine the availability of credit,” Mr. Yingling said. “Credit cards are a strong economic driver and are relied upon by consumers and small businesses to make payments and to bridge short-term financial gaps.”


Most importantly, he said, “this bill fundamentally changes the entire business model of credit cards by restricting the ability to price credit for risk.”


But the tide has been running against the banking and credit card industry, with many consumers mired in debt and the public angered by the bailout of financial firms and by reports of large executive pay packages.

“Any effort to restore confidence in our economy must start not on Wall Street but in Main Street, and that’s what the credit card situation is all about,” Mr. Reid said before Tuesday’s vote.

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who heads the Senate Banking Committee, said the bill became a reality because of cooperation from Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the panel’s ranking Republican, and many other lawmakers on both sides.

President Obama has spoken derisively of the multi-page, fine-print statements familiar to millions of credit card-users. Last week, he told a receptive crowd in New Mexico that
“you should not have to worry that when you sign up for a credit card, you’re signing away all your rights. You shouldn’t need a magnifying glass or a law degree to read the fine print that sometimes doesn’t even appear to be written in English.”


Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, a senior Democrat on the finance and commerce committees, said,
“We’ve got too many hard-working families in Massachusetts struggling to keep their heads above water, and the last thing they need is to get whacked with unfair credit card fees.”


Among other things, the Senate measure would prohibit companies from raising interest rates on existing balances unless a card holder was 60 days behind, and then it would require the rate to be restored to its previous level if payments were on time for six months. Consumers would have to be notified of rate increases 45 days in advance. And companies could not charge a late fee if they were late processing a payment.

Statements would have to be mailed 21 days before a payment was due. It would be harder for companies to issue cards to people under age 21. Rates could not be increased within the first year, and promotional rates would be in force for at least six months.

Credit card debt has increased by 25 percent in the last decade, with delinquency rates up by more than a third since 2006, according to statistics cited by the White House. Americans pay $15 billion in penalty fees a year, accounting for about 10 percent of the industry’s revenues. About a fifth of those carrying credit card debt pay more than 20 percent in interest.

One amendment attached to the Senate bill by Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, would restore a Bush administration policy allowing loaded guns in national parks. That provision is not in the House version, so there may be discussions between the two chambers over the issue.

Voting against the Senate measure on Tuesday were Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Robert Bennett of Utah, Jon Kyl of Arizona and John Thune of South Dakota, all Republicans, and one Democrat, Tim Johnson of South Dakota. (The credit card industry accounts for thousands of jobs in South Dakota.)

Before Tuesday’s vote, the senators applauded their colleague Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who cast the 11,000th vote of his Senate career.
“I couldn’t think of a better bill to cast this 11,000th vote on,” Mr. Levin said.


Carl Hulse and Peter Baker contributed reporting.
Read more in the New York Times

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sen. West in homestretch on passage of his UNT Dallas Law School

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - May 15, 2009
Senator West has been working for multiple legislative sessions to get passage of a bill to authorize and fund establishment of a Law School in his district. Last session it was voted down but this time it made it through the Senate and was passed by the house with one minor admendment (change of name). It has gone back to the Senate where it should see easy passage. Will be interesting to see if Gov. Perry signs it, vetoes it, or leaves it languishing on his desk.

Dallas law school opposed by some North Texas lawmakers
By DAVE MONTGOMERY - Fort Worth Star Telegram - Fri. May 15, 2009


AUSTIN — The bill creating a new law school in Dallas met with opposition from the other side of the Metroplex on Thursday with state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, saying that the $40 million state-funded initiative is money that could be better spent on healthcare.
"Why are you prioritizing more lawyers over more doctors and nurses?" Burnam asserted before the House voted 108-35 to give final approval to legislation authorizing the University of North Texas College of Law in Dallas.

Three of the 10 Tarrant County House members voted against the bill — Burnam and Reps. Charlie Geren and Mark Shelton, both Republicans from Fort Worth. State Reps. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and Rob Orr, R-Burleson, also voted no.

SB956 had sailed through the House with no debate Wednesday when lawmakers gave it preliminary approval. But Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, the bill’s sponsor, faced spirited questioning — some of it friendly, some less so — as the bill came up for a final vote.

'Pork-barrel project’

Burnam pointed out that there are already two private law schools in the Metroplex — the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in downtown Fort Worth and the Southern Methodist University Law School in Dallas.

"They’re a little concerned about having three law schools in the North Texas area," Burnam said.

A spokesman for Texas Wesleyan, however, said that the university does not oppose the additional law school about 30 miles to the east.

"We’re not at all against it," said Dan Brothers, director of marketing. "We feel that another entity of higher education has got to be beneficial for the state."

Burnam, whose district includes Wesleyan, said in an interview that university officials have said "nothing officially" in opposition to the new school. But, he said, "I don’t know anybody in the legal community in Fort Worth that is in favor of this pork-barrel project in Dallas."

Dallas support

Branch, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, called the proposed law school a "very good value for the taxpayers" and pointed out that Texas hasn’t opened a new state-supported law school since 1967.

But Burnam, questioning Branch from the rear of the chamber, told the Dallas lawmaker that creation of a new law school undercuts efforts to construct a new medical school in South Texas.

"I just think that’s the wrong priority," Burnam said. "I don’t think I can support your bill."

Branch’s Dallas colleagues came to his support. Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, said a public institution would make an education in law more accessible to minorities and would be substantially cheaper than private schools.

Branch reiterated that Fort Worth-Dallas is the nation’s only major metropolitan area without a public law school.

The new law school would be part of the Denton-based University of North Texas System, with the first class projected to open in 2011.

At the outset, students would attend classes in a downtown academic center now shared by UNT, the University of Texas at Arlington and Texas A&M-Commerce. But the college would eventually move across the street into the Old Dallas Municipal Building.
Read nore in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

The Texas Legislature On-Line:
BILL ANALYSIS
C.S.S.B. 956 By: Sen. Royce West
Higher Education Committee Report (Substituted)


The Dallas-Fort Worth area is the fifth largest Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area in the United States and the only one that does not have a public law school. Texas' population has increased from 14.3 million to 22.5 million with no additional law schools being added, limiting the opportunities for Texans to attain an affordable legal education in Texas. With the continuing growth of the Dallas-Fort Worth region, the need for legal knowledge is increasing. Currently, Dallas must import 30 percent of its attorneys from out-of-state law schools.

C.S.S.B. 956 authorizes the University of North Texas System board of regents to establish and operate a school of law in the city of Dallas as a professional school of the University of North Texas System for five years and as a professional school of the University of North Texas at Dallas after that period. The bill grants the board of regents additional bonding authority to finance capital acquisitions, construction, and improvements for the law school, and entitles the law school, under certain conditions, to participate in the higher education fund provided by the Texas Constitution.

RULEMAKING AUTHORITY

It is the committee's opinion that this bill does not expressly grant any additional rulemaking authority to a state officer, department, agency, or institution.

ANALYSIS

C.S.S.B. 956 amends the Education Code to authorize the University of North Texas System board of regents to establish and operate a school of law in the city of Dallas as a professional school of the University of North Texas System. The bill authorizes the board, in administering the law school, to prescribe courses leading to customary degrees offered at other leading American schools of law and to award those degrees. The bill requires the board to administer the law school as a professional school of the system until the University of North Texas at Dallas has been administered as a general academic teaching institution for five years and requires the law school to become a professional school of the University of North Texas at Dallas after that period. The bill establishes that the law school, until becoming a professional school of the university, is considered an institution of higher education and is entitled to formula funding as if the law school were a professional school of a general academic teaching institution. The bill requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, before The University of North Texas System board of regents establishes the law school, but not later than June 1, 2010, to prepare a feasibility study to determine the actions the system must take to obtain accreditation of the law school. The bill requires the coordinating board to deliver a copy of the study to the chair of each legislative standing committee or subcommittee with jurisdiction over higher education.

C.S.S.B. 956 grants the University of North Texas System board of regents up to $40 million in additional bonding authority to finance the acquisition, purchase, construction, improvement, renovation, enlargement, or equipping of property, buildings, structures, or other facilities, including roads and related infrastructure, for the law school established in the city of Dallas by the University of North Texas System. The bill authorizes the board of regents to pledge irrevocably to the payment of the bonds all or any part of the revenue funds of an institution, branch, or entity of the University of North Texas System, including student tuition charges, and prohibits any reduction or abrogation in the amount of such a pledge while the bonds for which the pledge is made, or bonds issued to refund those bonds, are outstanding. The bill authorizes the board, if sufficient funds are not available to the board of regents to meet its obligations, to transfer funds among institutions, branches, and entities of the University of North Texas System to ensure the most equitable and efficient allocation of available resources for each institution, branch, or entity to carry out its duty and purposes.

C.S.S.B. 956 adds the University of North Texas College of Law to the list of component institutions of the University of North Texas System.

C.S.S.B. 956 establishes that venue for a suit filed solely against the law school or against officers or employees of the law school is in Dallas County. The bill provides that in case of a conflict between the above provision and any other law, the above provision controls.

C.S.S.B. 956 entitles the college of law to participate in the higher education fund provided by the Texas Constitution for institutions of higher education if this bill receives a vote of at least two-thirds of the membership of each house of the legislature.

EFFECTIVE DATE

On passage, or, if the act does not receive the necessary vote, the act takes effect September 1, 2009.

COMPARISON OF ORIGINAL AND SUBSTITUTE


C.S.S.B. 956 differs from the original by referring to the University of North Texas College of Law, whereas the original refers to the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law. The substitute removes a provision authorizing the University of North Texas System board of regents to accept gifts, grants, and donations from any public or private source for the purposes of the law school. The substitute removes a provision in the original establishing that the bill does not make an appropriation and that the bill takes effect only if a specific appropriation is provided. The substitute adds provisions not in the original relating to the grant of additional bonding authority to the University of North Texas System board of regents to finance capital acquisitions, construction, and improvements of facilities and infrastructure for the law school.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

News 33 Dallas on Local Option and Gas Tax



TO PARTICIPATE IN POLL:



The gas tax has not been indexed for inflation in Texas since the 1960ies. Financing transportation with an increase in the gas tax will cost most taxpayers 1/10 of what it will cost them to travel on toll roads if they commute to work 5 days a week.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Keeping the Polls Open - Why a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act should survive.

The Washington Post - Wednesday, April 29, 2009
WITH AN African American president, does the nation still need its decades-old voting rights laws?

This is one of the questions likely to animate oral arguments this morning in a Supreme Court case that could determine how far the federal government may go in policing states with histories of racial discrimination.

At issue is Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandates that 16 states, mostly Southern, obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal judge before changing voting procedures; Section 5 also applies to individual jurisdictions within those states. The section was enacted after federal lawmakers became frustrated by some states' regular attempts to evade laws meant to correct voting discrimination. Congress set a five-year term for the law but has extended it three times, most recently in 2006, when overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate approved a 25-year extension, signed by President George W. Bush.

Critics argue that Section 5 gives unprecedented and unconstitutional power to the federal government over election matters that should be the province of the states. They also argue that Section 5 is no longer needed, citing not only President Obama's election but the thousands of African Americans who serve in public office at all levels.

Section 5 is indeed a powerful and intrusive tool, and progress has been made on minority participation. Yet Section 5 is, sadly, still relevant and necessary today.

Republicans, including former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and former attorney general Richard L. Thornburgh, filed a brief that makes a compelling case for upholding Section 5. It notes that between 1982 and 2006, often under Republican presidents, the Justice Department rejected 700 requests for voting changes from covered states after concluding that they were discriminatory. The officials also point to extensive findings by the House and Senate in 2006 that showed that "voting changes devised by covered jurisdictions resemble those techniques and methods" used decades ago, including discriminatory redistricting plans, switching offices from elected to appointed positions, relocating polling places and changing elections from single-member districts to at-large voting.

No state should be punished forever for the sins of the past, and Section 5 rightly allows covered states or their political subdivisions to get out from under pre-clearance requirements by proving to the Justice Department or the D.C. federal court their faithful adherence to the voting rights laws for the previous decade. Seventeen jurisdictions in Virginia have earned such a "bailout" within the past few years.

Yet the political leaders in this country decided a mere three years ago that this peculiar and powerful federal oversight must be retained to protect what some have called the right from which all others flow. That political judgment, supported by empirical evidence of lingering discrimination, deserves great deference.
Read more in the Washington Post

Monday, April 27, 2009

Glimmers through the darkness


By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - April 27, 2009
I find watching Austin antics and regional "planners" this legislative session is a continuing saga of self-serving depression of previous disastrous Texas legislative sessions. I wonder if we could improve government by forbidding elected officials from crossing into the city of Austin. Through the dark haze of this disenchanted political junkie, two glimmers of hope elate me. One is a tidbit from the Austin Statesman picked up by Capitol Annex The word on the street is that someone I'd actually love to see as Governor of Texas, a person of proven integrity, is actually considering running in 2010. Wow! Ronnie Earle is the nemesis of George and his college roomie and their cronyies' self-serving politics and practices.

Most Texans deserve a government diametrical different from the privatization, self-serving graft of the Bush/Perry years. Perry posed as the "more professional" harder working partner to George. Seeing that the citizens of Texas are increasingly disenchanted with his consentious dedication to preserving the fortunes of a few at the expense of "the many", Governor 38% Perry has changed his tactics. Seeing that George W. got elected despite being "Bubba", he's dressing similarly to George W. on the aircraft carrier declaring the war over ten minutes after he started it. Seeing that folks "smell" him despite his expensive suits, Perry chucked them and is now making the talk show PR circuit attempting to be "more Bubba than Bubba."

Gosh, what a change it would be to actually have a solid, decent, intelligent, consistent servant of the people actually serving the People of Texas in the Governor's office. Hearing that Ronnie Earle is seriously considering it lifts my spirits.

Another ray that sliced through my gloom is the introduction of two transportation bills in the U.S. Senate last week. They were announced on my birthday and I'll consider passage of “Transportation Access for All Americans Act,” (S. 885) and the “Transportation Equity for All Americans Act” (S. 884) as the brightest birthday gift I could receive this year. They are in the Senate Transportation Committee right now. U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are the authors!

The legislation will eliminate expensive federal subsidies that now flow to privatized highways. When a state or city leases a highway, it receives significant compensation, but taxpayers always end up paying higher tolls to the private operator.
--ATA Truck Drivers News

Read more in DFW Regional Concerned Citizens

Hey, two decent Federal transportation bills and Ronnie Earle as potentially governor of Texas makes it an incredibly brighter week for this disillusioned political junkie.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Food for Thought - Food Safety

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - March 23, 2009
In the 2006 Texas Agriculture Commissioner's race, Hank Gilbert warned eveyone who would listen that lax inspections (responsiblity of the Texas Agriculture Commission) endangered the nation's foodchain. The US has stricter rules regarding pesticides and food production than do other countries who import food through the US/Texas border.

Little has improved in the Texas Agriculture Commission since Todd Staples became Agriculture Commissioner in 2007. Instead, the international spotlight has watched as the peanut industry tanked following contamination of peanuts processed in Texas and sold to industrial clients who manufactured many of the nations grocery products containing peanuts!

In Washington, the Obama administration is attempting to address some food safety issues. A Federal approach, without effective efforts on the state level on border states will not solve the problem. Hopefully, the Federal Food Safety taskforce, is a much over-due start.

Washington Post Editorial - Monday, March 23, 2009


The president appoints a working group to improve food safety.
SINCE 2006, the concept of food safety, as practiced by the federal government, has seemed oxymoronic. The recent concern about contaminated peanuts is but the latest in a series of food scares that included salmonella outbreaks involving tomatoes, peppers and spinach. With each occurrence, Congress thundered about the need to fix the way the nation safeguards its food supply, but little was done. Maybe more will happen now that President Obama has formed a Food Safety Working Group and selected a top-notch team to lead the Food and Drug Administration.

A congressional hearing on tainted peanuts last week unearthed more reasons for queasiness. The private inspection company hired by Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) warned it of impending visits, giving the company plenty of time to tidy up what federal inspectors and others found during unannounced inspections: rat droppings, dead insects and rodents, and other unsanitary conditions. The troubles at PCA are symptoms of larger problems that need to be addressed.

Aside from increasing the number of federal inspectors and the frequency of visits they make to the country's nearly 150,000 food facilities, a number of good ideas are kicking around the Capitol. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) would give the FDA authority to issue mandatory recalls for contaminated food -- no more relying on the goodwill of businesses that might be tempted to put the bottom line above the public health -- and would require it to devise a system to trace food and produce from the farm to the dinner table. Legislation from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) would require companies to test for the hazards that are most likely to occur in their products and then have the federal government devise standards for what constitutes a hazard.

The Food Safety Working Group will include Margaret A. Hamburg and Joshua Sharfstein. Dr. Hamburg, a highly regarded former New York City health commissioner and assistant secretary for health and human services under President Bill Clinton, was tapped by Mr. Obama to be the next FDA commissioner. The president nominated Dr. Sharfstein, Baltimore's health commissioner, to be the FDA's principal deputy commissioner. Congress should move quickly to confirm them so they can get to work.
Read more in the Washington Post

Federal Inspectors Often Difficult to Reach, Group Says

By Ed O'Keefe - Washington Post Staff Writer - March 23, 2009

Federal inspectors general too often ignore or discount the complaints of whistleblowers, and concerned citizens attempting to report government waste or mismanagement may face difficulty making even basic contact with the offices via telephone or the Internet, according to a new report from a government watchdog group.

The report, released late last week by the independent Project on Government Oversight (POGO), revealed vast inconsistencies in the accessibility, design and ease of use of the Web sites of the inspector general offices. "Some of the largest departments have only the tiniest, faintest link to their IG's home page, while several very small and frankly obscure agencies have easily found links that jump off the agency home page," according to the report.

Many offices of the inspector general outsource their telephone hotlines, forfeiting a good deal of control over operators and the complaints they compile. When POGO staffers called the inspector general hotlines for the departments of Defense and Transportation, the same operator at a third-party call center answered the phone. "The hotline operators -- local college students, according to one IG who uses the service -- also simultaneously handle the hotlines for several private companies."

David Colapinto, general counsel with the National Whistleblowers Center, agreed with the report's findings and suggested lawmakers need to pay closer attention to the process.

"I think that when Congress appropriates more money and they hear these reports from the IGs, they think they're supporting whistleblowers and addressing the problem when they're really not," Colapinto said. "A lot more needs to be done in this area."

Many inspector general offices may have difficulty identifying serious hotline reports of waste, fraud and abuse because they are also alerted to minor complaints they cannot address. Kenneth Mead, who served as the Transportation Department inspector general from 1997 to 2006, recalled getting calls to his office about potholes in Maine.

"It's important that people have some place to vent, but you don't want real senior-level people handling calls like that," he said, adding that hotlines need better-trained staff members to effectively process legitimate, serious complaints.
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The expanding workload of watchdogs at larger agencies may also be to blame for the short-shrifting of complaints. In addition to overseeing the work of tens of thousands of federal employees, some inspectors general are now responsible for tracking the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funding from the economic recovery package.

This is the second annual report on inspectors general from POGO, and it includes feedback from most of the federal government's 64 investigative offices. Despite its criticisms, POGO gives generally favorable reviews to their overall mission and culture.

"This is not a broken system, but we do think there are new ways of thinking about IGs," said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian. "Everyone recognizes the importance of the job."
Read more in the Washington Post

Monday, March 02, 2009

Macquarie Public Infrastructure model bleeding red ink on US Toll projects

Brisbane Times - Feb. 27, 2009
http://business.brisbanetimes.com.au/business/battered-n-bruised-20090227-8kbl.html

Battered 'n' bruised
While no one is game enough to predict Macquarie's demise, the global economic downturn is forcing the group to rethink its famed business model, writes Lisa Murray.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels basked in the applause as he entered a room full of state officials and reporters to officially announce the close of the state's $US3.8 billion toll road privatisation.

It was June 29, 2006, and Daniels had received the final payment from Macquarie Infrastructure Group and its Spanish partner, Cintra, which had taken over a 75-year lease on the Indiana Toll Road, the so-called "Main street of the Midwest".
Daniels was confident the deal would turn around the state's financial fortunes and he had big plans for the proceeds.

But he was not the only one celebrating.
In Sydney, Macquarie Group executives were riding high. Not only did its investment bankers just rake in $US32.6 million in fees but the group had also officially cracked the elusive US infrastructure market. The Indiana transaction followed deals to buy Virginia's Dulles Greenway and the Chicago Skyway, which was the first US road privatisation.

Together, the three infrastructure plays had netted Macquarie $US74.7 million in advisory and debt arrangement fees and had substantially boosted the assets under management of its biggest fund, MIG. That meant higher management and performance fees for Macquarie.
The stage was set for more deals to come. Despite a public backlash against selling off state assets, Daniels's counterparts, from New York to Alaska, were lining up to flog their roads and bridges to the highest bidder. What had started with a small motorway in north-western Sydney was working its way across the world's biggest economy. The "Macquarie Model" had arrived in the US.

It's a well-told story. Macquarie became a global brand buying up toll roads, ports, airports, car parks and water companies around the world, at times paying over a billion dollars more than the next bidder. The assets were piled with debt, often up to 85 per cent of the purchase price, and then rolled into listed and unlisted funds, which paid Macquarie advisory, management and performance fees. Yes, the group still had its traditional trading, funds management and banking businesses but it was the specialist infrastructure funds which put it on the map and drove earnings growth to dizzying levels.

However, the world changed in September last year, with the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers, which ended any hopes that the subprime mortgage crisis would blow over.
Funding dried up, asset valuations started plummeting and debt became a dirty word, leaving the "Macquarie Model" all but dead and its management team scrambling to avoid disaster.
The US roads, a cause of so much celebration 2½ years ago, are struggling to repay their debts and Macquarie's share price, held hostage to a market awash with capital raising rumours, slumped this week to its lowest level since June 1999.

It is not just day traders and rumour mongers selling the stock; long-term investors, including its biggest US shareholder, Capital Group, have been abandoning ship. The shine has well and truly come off the silver doughnut.

"The strategy of buying an asset and gearing it up to generate returns - that game is clearly up," says Perpetual Investment's head of equities, John Sevior. Perpetual does not own any shares in Macquarie or its satellite funds. "It's an opaque business and it's very hard to understand the level of gearing. The gearing in the group is above our level of tolerance."
Copycats Babcock & Brown and Allco have already disappeared under a mountain of debts. While Macquarie's balance sheet is strong - thanks to a government guarantee on wholesale funding for banks, which has allowed it to raise a whopping $12 billion in offshore markets in just over two months - its satellite funds are struggling. Macquarie's Australian-listed infrastructure funds have had more than $12 billion wiped off
their market value since the start of last year. The local real estate funds have lost a further $5.6 billion.

Total losses for shareholders in the funds over the past 12 months range from 52 to 91 per cent, compared to a 37 per cent drop in the market's main index.
MIG's chairman, Mark Johnson, a former senior executive and deputy chairman of the group, says he "can't understand why prices have been marked down so savagely".
But he acknowledges the "Macquarie Model" will need to change. "Inevitably it must change quite radically because we are seeing the biggest crisis in credit markets since the 1930s," he told the Herald.

"Investors want certainty of survival. Anything that has high leverage is seen as risky and not what investors want. The flagship funds are under great pressure to adapt and to convince investors that their survival is assured and they are appropriate investments."


It was a bad news week for Macquarie. MIG announced that traffic had slumped on the Indiana Toll Road and Dulles Greenway in the US and they were using all available cash to pay back debt. It also wrote down its investment in the San Diego South Bay Expressway from $133 million to $11.6 million.

Macquarie Airports, meanwhile, was forced to dump a share buyback so that it could tip equity into Sydney Airport for the second time in three months to ease its debt burden and Macquarie's media fund, MMG, wrote down the value of its US community newspaper group, American Consolidated Media, by $127 million. Macquarie CountryWide and Macquarie Office Trust have sold US properties to pay down debts, MIG sold part of its stake in the M7 tollway to prove to the market how much it was worth and shore up its balance sheet and MMG slashed its dividend by more than three-quarters.

All of this means fewer fees for Macquarie and more write-downs on its stakes in the funds. The group has already announced an estimated $2 billion of total write-downs for the year to March 31 and it expects to report that profit has halved to $900 million. That is not a bad result given that almost no other investment bank in the world is in the black.
Even so, these debt issues hang over Macquarie as does the March 6 deadline for Australia's short-selling ban, which many believe kept the hedge fund managers at bay at a crucial time for the group. Those same hedge fund managers will no doubt be furiously running the numbers over Macquarie in the coming weeks, ready to pounce on any signs of weakness should the ban be lifted. Even with the ban in place, Macquarie was bruised and battered this week and forced to deny it had any plans for a capital raising.

But the problem for Macquarie is that varying degrees of disclosure among its many funds make it difficult for the market to understand the businesses and their debt positions and how they relate to the group.

That allows rumours to run wild. No one really knows how much debt is held across the group, but some analysts estimate it is more than $160 billion.

Jim Chanos, the president of the US hedge fund Kynikos Associates - who became famous for his early warnings on Enron - has been a vocal critic of the Macquarie Model. He says the model gave the group incentive to overpay for assets because the shareholders in the funds picked up the tab while Macquarie's fees were based on the size of assets under management. The higher the price, the bigger the assets under management, the more lucrative the fees.

Macquarie funds and their co-investors paid over $1 billion more than the next bidder for both Sydney Airport and the Chicago Skyway.

While assets in its funds are struggling with debt payments, there is no doubt Macquarie has always been very good at protecting the bank. Debt is held at the asset level. That means it is non-recourse to the funds, let alone to Macquarie, a clever strategy that essentially ring-fences any problems.

But it is not that simple. As one insider says, if an asset were to fail, while Macquarie may not be obligated to come to the rescue, the reputation risk would be "enormous". Taking action, on the other hand, could spook investors and affect its credit rating.

"At some stage, if a significant fund was in major strife, Macquarie might take the view that they need to protect the franchise," says Sharad Jain, a credit analyst at Standard & Poor's. "That would be a change in financial policy and we would need to consider that at the time as it is outside our expectations."

Macquarie says that will not need to happen as none of its funds is in "major strife". It has already managed $3 billion of refinancing since September. And in terms of its four main listed infrastructure funds, there is no outstanding refinancing for this year and only 12 per cent of debt needs to be refinanced over the next three years. But there are clearly some assets that are stretched.

MIG said at its results this week that the Indiana Toll Road had a debt service coverage ratio of just 1 times. That means that all of its operating income is being swallowed up by debt payments and is a concern given that traffic on the road, a mostly commercial toll road that runs 253 kilometres across northern Indiana, fell nearly 15 per cent in the last half. The ratio for Virginia's Dulles Greenway is 1.1 times.

Chicago Skyway's debt service coverage ratio was a more encouraging 2.1 times. However, a look at its 2007 full-year accounts, the latest available, shows the asset had total long-term debt of $US1.55 billion.

It reported revenues from its toll roads of $US53 million for the year, operating income of $US18 million, while its interest expense was $US95 million.

MIG argues that the US roads make up just 11 per cent of its portfolio by valuation. And it is important when looking at a single asset to keep it in perspective in terms of the size of the fund and the overall group.

"A number of these roads either have already, or will shortly, introduce scheduled toll increases which will see continued revenue grow and the debt service coverage position improve," an MIG spokeswoman said.


Andrew Chambers, from Austock Broking, is less optimistic. But he says the US roads are a small part of MIG's business.
"The US assets are clearly struggling and the outlook is not good but you don't own MIG for the US roads, you own it for its toll roads in Canada and France, which are very good assets."

In the past, sceptics of the "Macquarie Model" said higher interest rates would bring it undone. But the group argued that interest rates typically rose in line with inflation and higher inflation would mean increased tolls on its roads, airport charges and parking fees. As such, the higher revenue would be a natural hedge against rate increases.
But the current situation is different.

Debt is more expensive not because of interest rates, which are falling, but because people are placing a higher value on risk. So the margin that lenders are charging on top of the cash rate, to make it worthwhile for them to take on the risk, has increased.

At the same time, the slump in economic growth means it is harder for Macquarie to raise tolls, water rates and airport charges to offset the increased cost of its debt.

MIG's Johnson says there are no "life-threatening problems" in the funds or at group level.
"Macquarie's balance sheet is very, very sound," he says.
"The question mark is over the earnings trend for the next two or three years, but I think they are very well placed to benefit from the recovery."


Macquarie plays down the significance of the specialist funds business. But it still accounted for 20 per cent of Macquarie's income in the year to March 31, 2008, and just over a quarter of total advisory fee income came from work on the funds, according to its results presentation. Some analysts claim that number might be higher, depending on what you include.
The corporate governance group RiskMetrics calculated that in the three years to 2006, Macquarie's three biggest Australian-listed infrastructure funds - Macquarie Airports, Macquarie Communications Infrastructure Group and Macquarie Infrastructure Group - handed over more than $1.15 billion in fees to the group.
So there will clearly be earnings pressure as those fees drop and in some cases disappear. Despite these concerns, no one is game enough to predict Macquarie's demise. And in fact some even expect the group will thrive in a market where almost every company in the world will go through a restructure.

They've done it before.
Two of the group's business-transforming transactions took place after times of crisis. Macquarie bought its fiercest local competitor, BT Australia, in 1999 after the Russian debt crisis. And in 2004, as Asia was recovering from its financial crisis, it picked up the ING cash equities business in the region.
"Investors will make a fortune out of the recovery and Macquarie is best positioned to do that," one former executive says.
"They have lots of capital, they're smart and they still have a very diverse business. They will ride this out."

While Macquarie's business will change dramatically, Perpetual's Sevior says the bank is unlikely to go the way of its imitators. "They have shown an ability to remake themselves in different cycles in the past but it will be a very difficult environment this time around."
Rob Patterson, the managing director of Argo Investments, a top 20 shareholder in Macquarie, says the group has "done exceptionally well relative to all of their peers in a very difficult environment".
He dismissed any comparisons with Babcock & Brown, noting that Macquarie was a more diversified business, with well-established stockbroking, funds management and private banking arms.
Macquarie's debt is also less concentrated and longer dated (Babcock was mainly relying on one single $3.1 billion debt facility.) And it is widely regarded to have better risk management processes in place.
"B&B is a one-dimensional fund manager and a very different organisation," says one former executive director. "It's like comparing a pushbike to a Rolls-Royce."
Another important distinction between the two is that Macquarie owns a bank.
That means its banking arm is regulated by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and it has minimum capital requirements. It also means that the bank has access to funds that other investment houses never had because of the government guarantee scheme introduced in November.
Basically, the Government is handing out its AAA credit rating to Australian banks in return for a fee, allowing them to raise long-term money offshore. Macquarie has raised $12 billion since mid-December in Japan, the US, New Zealand and Australia.
"Macquarie has been one of the most active users of that scheme," said S&P's Jain, adding that the raisings had allayed some concerns the agency had about Macquarie, when it slapped a negative outlook on the group's rating last September.
Macquarie's retail deposits have also benefited from the government guarantee, rising to $18.1 billion at the end of last year, from $13.2 billion at the end of March.
Macquarie executives, including the chief executive, Nicholas Moore, declined to be interviewed.
In response to emailed questions, a spokeswoman for the group said it was "well-funded before the guarantee and has continued to improve its funding position".
She also denied speculation that the group was looking at selling its underperforming property business and talked up potential acquisition opportunities, noting Macquarie's recent acquisition of the US gas trading business Constellation Energy. On the infrastructure side, Macquarie sees more growth in unlisted funds and says governments are likely to turn to the private sector for infrastructure investment in the downturn.
If Macquarie wants to get retail investors interested in listed infrastructure funds again, they would have to be radically different to the funds of old, with reasonable fee structures and transparent corporate governance guidelines.
"It's a new era where investors are much more fee conscious and much more cost conscious," says Hugh Giddy, the managing director of the fund manager Cannae Capital Partners.
"There's a revulsion against greed. The social mood has changed. Investors are saying we need independent directors to say that Macquarie doesn't get to do all of the debt arranging and corporate advice.
"This is more than a cyclical change; it's a structural change in terms of their ability to run their model."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Immigration Priorities Questioned Report Says Focus on Deporting Criminals Apparently Shifted

By Spencer S. Hsu - Washington Post Staff Writer - Thursday, February 5, 2009

As the Obama administration vows to re-engineer immigration policy to target criminals, a new report says that in recent years, a high-profile federal program shifted its focus away from catching the most dangerous illegal immigrants who were evading deportation orders.

Between 2003 and 2008, 27 percent of the more than 96,000 illegal immigrants arrested under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's National Fugitive Operations Program had criminal convictions. And in 2007, 9 percent of those arrested were fugitives from deportation orders who were criminals or were considered dangerous. That same year, the share of arrests of illegal immigrants not facing deportation orders grew to 40 percent.

The findings come as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered a review of which immigrants are targeted for arrest and as a Democratic Congress has shifted ICE money toward pursuing criminals.

Under President George W. Bush, immigrant advocates complained that armed ICE agents conducted harsh and indiscriminate raids at homes and in neighborhoods, and advocates accused the government of racial profiling, illegal searches, false arrests, family separations and other humanitarian abuses.

Authors of the report, issued by the Immigration Legal Clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City and the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, said that despite assurances to Congress, Bush administration officials changed course from trying to capture the most dangerous illegal immigrants to boosting arrest totals.

Peter L. Markowitz, a Cardozo law professor, said Bush officials approved such tactics because they were "facing political pressure to look tough on immigration enforcement." ICE, he said, "created tremendous bureaucratic incentives" for fugitive operations teams to adopt "a shotgun approach of undisciplined home raids."

In January 2006, ICE raised arrest quotas for each team in the program from 125 to 1,000 and ended a requirement that 75 percent of those arrested be criminals. Later, ICE let teams count non-fugitives toward their numerical goal. The Cardozo-MPI findings were first reported yesterday by the New York Times.

Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee for homeland security, said he was "discouraged that ICE's previous leadership misrepresented the goals of the expanded Fugitive Operations Program and chose not to use its additional resources as Congress instructed."

Spending on the program grew from $9 million in 2003 to $219 million in 2008, and the number of fugitive operations teams grew from eight to 104.

Julie L. Myers, ICE director from 2006 until last year, called the report "a work of fiction with a thinly veiled agenda" that "unfairly maligns the work Congress asked the agency to do."

Congress has mandated "that all fugitives must be identified, arrested and removed," current ICE spokeswoman Kelly A. Nantel said, not just those with prior criminal convictions.

Nantel added that ICE arrested more than 250,000 other criminal illegal immigrants last year through different programs and that so far in fiscal 2009, it has picked up 179 percent more than in the same period a year earlier.

For the first time, she said, the number of immigrants evading deportation orders fell sharply, from 634,000 in 2007 to 554,000 currently, in part through a purge of outdated records.

"To give non-criminal fugitives a pass is to send the message that a judge's deportation order doesn't matter. It is a message of amnesty for lawbreakers," said Rep. Lamar Smith (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration.

Napolitano called that message a "false dichotomy," saying, "No, it's a matter of where you put your emphasis. . . . It doesn't mean that you give a blank check to everybody else."

For example, ICE estimates that as many as 450,000 criminals being held in federal, state and local U.S. detention are illegal immigrants. The agency deported about 113,000 criminals last year.
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This year and last, congressional Democrats gave ICE $350 million and told the agency to redirect an additional $850 million to catch and deport criminals, leading to a rebound in arrests.
Read more in the Washington Post

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How would you like to have this pipeline in your yard?

A 10 inch pipeline ruptured in Franklin County, MO yesterday. The pipelines running through front yards in Fort Worth are 16 inch gas gathering lines carrying raw, wet natural gas at about 200 psi..

KTVI Fox
Part of Highway 100 reopened this morning after a propane pipeline breaks. Families evacuated can move back into their homes today The gas leak started yesterday afternoon along Highway 100 between Pacific and Washington.

Here is a list of a few pipeline explosions.

There are many, many examples of explosions and fires occurring in conjunction with natural gas pipeline ruptures. For example, the Pecos River explosion near Carlsbad, NM in 2000 created a large crater, killed 12 people, and blew a large section of the pipe 287 ft away from the crater.

An email from a resident of Missouri:
From what I have been able to gather, this is a 10 inch Conoco Propane Pipeline that was struck while workers were widening Highway 100. They did shut off the pipeline at the valves on each side of the line but it is expected that it will take all night for the broken section to empty. This is a heavy gas and settles near the ground so there is a chance of ignition if the gas comes in contact with an ignition source.
Please monitor the local news coverage of this rupture and when you watch the video of the propane spewing into the air PLEASE consider what this would do if it were in our backyards. Also keep in mind that the pipeline that sits 16 feet from my home is a 24 inch line. Just imagine!
There is more work to be done here in St. Peters. Those of us who are already within 16 to 50 feet from these pipelines need help.
Please help us! Get us out of here before an unimaginable grotesque tragedy occurs here in St. Peters.

Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted

By NINA BERNSTEIN - New York Times - February 3, 2009

The raids on homes around the country were billed as carefully planned hunts for dangerous immigrant fugitives, and given catchy names like Operation Return to Sender.

And they garnered bigger increases in money and staff from Congress than any other program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, even as complaints grew that teams of armed agents were entering homes indiscriminately.

But in fact, beginning in 2006, the program was no longer what was being advertised. Federal immigration officials had repeatedly told Congress that among more than half a million immigrants with outstanding deportation orders, they would concentrate on rounding up the most threatening — criminals and terrorism suspects.

Instead, newly available documents show, the agency changed the rules, and the program increasingly went after easier targets. A vast majority of those arrested had no criminal record, and many had no deportation orders against them, either.

Internal directives by immigration officials in 2006 raised arrest quotas for each team in the National Fugitive Operations Program, eliminated a requirement that 75 percent of those arrested be criminals, and then allowed the teams to include nonfugitives in their count.

In the next year, fugitives with criminal records dropped to 9 percent of those arrested, and nonfugitives picked up by chance — without a deportation order — rose to 40 percent. Many were sent to detention centers far from their homes, and deported.

The impact of the internal directives, obtained by a professor and students at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law through a Freedom of Information lawsuit and shared with The New York Times, shows the power of administrative memos to significantly alter immigration enforcement policy without any legislative change.

The memos also help explain the pattern of arrests documented in a report, criticizing the fugitive operations program, to be released on Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington.

Analyzing more than five years of arrest data supplied to the institute last year by Julie Myers, who was then chief of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the report found that over all, as the program spent a total of $625 million, nearly three-quarters of the 96,000 people it apprehended had no criminal convictions.

Without consulting Congress, the report concluded, the program shifted to picking up “the easiest targets, not the most dangerous fugitives.”


It noted, however, that the most recent figures available indicate an increase in arrests of those with a criminal background last year, though it was unclear whether that resulted from a policy change.

The increased public attention comes as the new secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has ordered a review of the fugitive teams operation, which was set up in 2002 to find and deport noncitizens with outstanding orders of deportation, then rapidly expanded after 2003 with the mission of focusing on the most dangerous criminals.

Peter L. Markowitz, who teaches immigration law at Cardozo and directs its immigration legal clinic, said the memos obtained in its lawsuit reflected the Bush administration’s effort to appear tough on immigration enforcement during the unsuccessful push to pass comprehensive immigration legislation in 2006, and amid rising anger over illegal immigration.

“It looks like what happened here is that the law enforcement strategy was hijacked by the political agenda of the administration,” he said.


Kelly A. Nantel, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency, defended the program. “For the first time in history, we continue to reduce the number of immigration fugitive cases,” she said, noting that the number of noncitizens at large with outstanding deportation orders, which peaked at 634,000 in the 2007 fiscal year, is now down to about 554,000. “These results speak for themselves and they are consistent with Congress’s mandate: locate and remove immigration absconders.”

Ms. Nantel said the number of fugitives with criminal backgrounds arrested in the 2008 fiscal year rose to 5,652, or 16 percent of 34,000 arrests, and nonfugitives fell to 8,062, or 23 percent.

Many Americans have welcomed roundups of what the agency calls “ordinary status violators” — noncitizens who have no outstanding order of deportation, but are suspected of being in the country unlawfully, either because they overstayed a visa or entered without one.

But Michael Wishnie, one of the authors of the report, who teaches law at Yale, said that random arrests of low-level violators in residential raids not only raised a new set of legal and humanitarian issues, including allegations of entering private homes without warrants or consent and separating children from their caretakers, but was “dramatically different from how ICE has sold this program to Congress.”

“If we just want to arrest undocumented people,” he said, “we can do it much more cheaply.”

Congressional financing for the fugitive operations program rose to $218 million in the 2008 fiscal year, from $9 million in 2003, as the number of seven-member teams multiplied to 104 from 8.

In Congressional briefings and public statements since 2003, agency officials have repeatedly said that given the vast number of immigrants with outstanding deportation orders, the program will focus its resources on the roughly 20 percent with a criminal background.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo dated Jan. 22, 2004, underscored that commitment: “Effective immediately, no less than 75 percent of all fugitive operations targets will be those classified as criminal aliens” — noncitizens with a criminal record as well as an order of deportation. It added that “collateral apprehensions” — immigration violators encountered by chance during an operation — would not be counted in that percentage.

But on Jan. 31, 2006, a new memo changed the rules. The directive, from John P. Torres, acting director of the agency, raised each team’s “target goal” to 1,000 a year, from 125.

And it removed the requirement that at least 75 percent of those sought out for arrest be criminals. Instead, it told the teams to prioritize cases according to the threat posed by the fugitive, with noncriminals in the lowest of five categories. And it repeated that “collateral apprehensions will not count” toward the 1,000 arrest quota.

But that standard, too, was dropped nine months later. A new memo from Mr. Torres said “nonfugitive arrests may now be included” to reach the required 1,000 arrests. On average, however, it said at least half of those arrested by each team should be fugitives. It also promised to “ensure the maximum availability of detention space for fugitive arrest operations.”

One result was an increase in noncriminals held in immigration detention. Another, the Migration Policy Institute report concluded, was that the percentage of criminal fugitives arrested plummeted, to 9 percent in the year that ended Sept. 30, 2007, from 39 percent in the 2004 fiscal year.

That same year, 15,646, or 51 percent of those arrested, had an outstanding deportation order, but no criminal record, and 12,084, or 40 percent, were termed “ordinary status violators” who did not fit any of the program’s priority categories.

The report said the program relied on a database riddled with errors, and that many deportation orders were issued without the subject in court, sometimes because of faulty addresses.

The looser rules were reflected in sweeps like one conducted in New Haven in June 2007. During the raid, lawyers at Yale’s immigration law center said, agents who found no one home at an address specified in a deportation order simply knocked on other doors until one opened, pushed their way in, and arrested residents who acknowledged that they lacked legal status.

Of the 32 arrested and scattered to jails around New England, only 5 had outstanding deportation orders, and only 1 or 2 had criminal records.
Read More in the New York Times

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Warm and Fuzzy Day in Austin

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Jan. 14, 2009
Yesterday was a rare day in Texas History. The opening day of the 81st Texas Legislaturerare day of amiability in the Texas Legislature was exceptionally warm and fuzzy as Democrat after Democrat seconded the nomination of Rep. Joe Strauss of Bexar County for Speaker of the Texas House. Voted Speaker by Acclaimation, Strauss, a two-term representative (R) is heralded as the conciliator, listener, get things done for the people guy for the job. His election was greeted with a standing ovation with everyone in the house on their feet. There were more "hold outs" when the crowd was urged to thank outgoing Speaker Tom Craddick and his wife for their service to the State of Texas!

Today the real work begins. As the House and Senate begin debating what laws need to be repealed and what needs to be passes, much of the warmth will probably fade. The Trans Texas Corridor has merely been rebranded -- not killed. Years of special interest bought and paid for private public partnership toll road legislation needs to be wiped from the books. Statutes which allows TxDOT or contractors on the TTC who contaminate Texas property in planning or constructing the Trans Texas Corridor to 1. perform their own environmental studies 2. condemn contaminated property and adjacent property must be wiped from the books.

Texas needs to repeal Perry's substitute for the Texas Toll Road Moratorium which requires market pricing on Texas toll roads. Hopefully, the Obama administration will repeal George W. Bush's outgoing gift to the American people - requirements of market valuation aka congestion pricing on Federal toll roads and HOV lanes. Congestion pricing does not clean up the air. It merely fleeces the least able to pay of more dollars when they have to commute during rush hour while allowing those with discretionary income or able to pass along the cost to clients, employers or the american public through expense accounts to utilize the fast lane while the rest are left in their exhaust fumes in traffic gridlock. Local townships, cities and counties eat the fruit of so-called congestion pricing as they scramble to maintain and expand local roadways to accommodate the cars which seek other routes home and to work.

Another hot topic this session is education financing. School funding has not been indexed to meet inflation. Cuts in education funding in the prior session is resulting in cuts in programs, staffing.

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