Texas landowners are taking a rare stand against Big Oil

Oil has long lived in harmony with farmland and cattle across the Texas landscape, a symbiosis nurtured by generations and built on an unspoken honor code that allowed agriculture to thrive while oil was extracted.

Proud Texans have long welcomed the industry because of the cash it brings to sustain agriculture, but also see its presence as part of their patriotic duty to help wean the United States off “foreign” oil. So the answer to companies that wanted to build pipelines has usually been simple: Yes.

Enter TransCanada.

As the company pursues construction of a 1,179-mile-long cross-country pipeline meant to bring Canadian tar sands oil to South Texas refineries, it’s finding opposition in the unlikeliest of places: oil-friendly Texas, a state that has more pipelines snaking through the ground than any other.

In the minds of some landowners approached by TransCanada for land, the company has broken the code.

Nearly half the steel TransCanada is using is not American-made and the company won’t promise to use local workers exclusively; it can’t guarantee the oil will remain in the United States. It has snatched land. Possibly most egregious: The company has behaved like an arrogant foreigner, unworthy of operating in Texas…

Oil and agriculture have lived in peace in part because a one-time payment from a pipeline company or monthly royalties from a production rig can help finance a ranch or farm that struggle today to turn a profit from agriculture. The oil giants also respected landowners’ fierce Texas independence, even sometimes drilling in a different yard or rerouting a pipeline to ensure easy access to the minerals below.

TransCanada is different. For one, it has more often sought and received court permission to condemn land when property owners didn’t agree to an easement.

Most pipeline projects in Texas have been completed with an average of 4 percent to 10 percent of condemned land. TransCanada, however, has condemned more than 100 of the 800 or so tracts – or about 12.5 percent – of the land it needed to complete a 485-mile portion of the pipeline that runs through Texas.

Many of the lawsuits in Texas are about TransCanada’s “common carrier” status. This allows companies building projects benefiting the public to condemn private property. The Texas Supreme Court recently ruled if a landowner challenges a condemnation, the company must prove its project is for the public good.

This part of a possible solution is problematical in its own right. Unless you think Texas courts are any less driven by ideology than, say, Congress. Unless you think Texas courts are any less likely to take sides with pipeline companies “for the public good”.

Romney’s empty “binders full of women”

Facebook page an overnight sensation with almost 300,000 likes by Wednesday morning

Mitt Romney showed up Tuesday night talking about “binders full of women” being brought to him when he was governor. Sounds kind of kinky and certainly not something you want to be touting.

The phrase was part of Romney’s answer to a question from an audience member at the second presidential debate about how he would “rectify the inequalities in the workplace.” Referring to when he took over as Massachusetts governor, he said, “I had the chance to pull together a Cabinet, and all the applicants seemed to be men,” he said. “I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”

The “binders” moment went viral immediately on Twitter, spawning @RomneysBinders and @womaninabinder Twitter handles. As of Wednesday morning, almost 300,000 people had supported a Facebook page about what a politically dumb statement it was. Romney may soon say it was “inelegant” phrasing or he didn’t finish his statement or some other excuse, but the comment shows why voters, especially women, don’t trust him and don’t believe he has their back…

In fairness, “binders” was most likely a slip of the tongue. But Romney said it in an effort to obfuscate and pivot from the issue at hand: equality for women. He avoided the real question, and that, and his remark, spoke volumes.

Even as a slip of the tongue, this odd phrase betrays Romney’s true lack of understanding, knowledge and comfort level on women’s equality.

I’m hard-pressed to understand why anyone trusts Romney. The man is a soft plastic-politician, ready to change his form and substance depending not only according to the crowd he’s talking down to; but, the year, season, and wind direction seem to have substantive effect, too.

As the Republican Party moved further and further to the Right, so did he. That is – in the primaries needed to get him the nomination. Then, he pirouettes to the center and expects the most gullible electorate in the Western world to accept his word — pressing trust beyond belief.

I hope I’m not wrong. I hope I’m not overestimating American voters.

Brothers wait almost six years to claim $5M lottery prize

Two brothers from central New York have claimed a $5 million lottery prize for a scratch-off ticket they bought at their parents’ Syracuse store six years ago…

Andy Ashkar, 34, of Camillus, and Nayel Ashkar, 36, of Cicero, came forward March 1, just 11 days before the top prize in the “$500,000,000 Extravaganza” scratch-off game would have expired, New York Lottery said.

Andy Ashkar said he bought the ticket at his parents’ convenience store in Syracuse in 2006 and decided to share the winnings with his brother, officials said.

The agency said the younger brother said he waited so long to claim his prize because he was concerned the windfall could “negatively influence” his life if he didn’t plan properly before being publicly introduced as the winner. Andy Ashkar also told lottery officials that he also didn’t want the windfall to influence his engagement and subsequent marriage…

Nayel Ashkar’s wife, Sara, told The Post-Standard of Syracuse on Tuesday that news of the winnings was spreading fast, with family and friends calling to express their surprise and excitement.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “Hard to believe. It’s still sinking in.”

The brothers’ mother, Wasa Ashkar, said her husband, Neyef, sold the winning ticket to Andy at the couple’s Green Ale Market, but she couldn’t remember exactly when. She said she and her husband were Palestinians from Jerusalem who immigrated to the United States nearly 40 years ago and have owned the store for 12 years.

“I’m happy. Of course I’m happy,” she told The Associated Press over the phone before ending the conversation because she was busy with customers Wednesday morning.

Cripes – I don’t think I could ever be this disciplined.

But, kudos to the brothers for thinking of family and a normal life. You have to respect that concern.

Homebuilders confidence continues to climb for a 6th month

No need for stock photos – to show new construction 🙂

Confidence among U.S. homebuilders climbed for a sixth straight month in October, adding to signs the real-estate market is healing.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index increased to 41 this month, the highest since June 2006, from 40 in September, according to figures from the Washington-based group released today. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for an increase to 41…

Estimates of 49 economists in the Bloomberg survey ranged from 40 to 43. The gauge, which was first published in January 1985, averaged 54 in the five years leading to the recession that started in December 2007. It reached a record low of 8 in January 2009…

The survey asks builders to characterize current sales as “good,” “fair” or “poor” and to gauge prospective buyers’ traffic. It also asks participants to assess the outlook for the next six months.

Confidence improved among builders in three of four U.S. regions, falling in the Midwest. The West led gains with a reading of 49, up from 44 in September…

Hovnanian, based in Red Bank, New Jersey, is among homebuilders seeing gains in sales this year as buyers return to the market. “We certainly believe the housing market’s recent overall strength and our significant improved sales pace this year indicates that the market for new homes has truly bounced off the bottom,” Larry Sorsby, the company’s chief financial officer, said at an Oct. 4 conference. The market “is already in a period of gradual recovery,” he said.

A last-minute addition:

New-home construction in the U.S. surged in September to the highest level in four years, a sign the industry is on the road to recovery.

Starts jumped 15 percent to an 872,000 annual rate last month, the most since July 2008 and exceeding all forecasts in a Bloomberg survey of economists, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The median estimate of 81 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 770,000.

Pretty dry stuff – unless you used to worked in construction, in home building – and you’ve been out of work for 3 or 4 years.

This is the last trade I worked in before retiring. I witnessed home prices artificially bumped in increments of 20% at a time. I listened to the sleaziest of realtors telling prospects how to lie about their income to the storefront mortgage companies they already had a sweetheart deal with. We watched the ridiculous trades based on the value of phony mortgage-backed securities. And no one in the Republican administration did a damned thing about it.

We’re slowly working our way out of that mess and it will take a fair piece of time. I don’t want to see our economy dragged back down into that rathole, again.

Priest on the run with £1million and a married woman

Franciscan priest Father Sime Nimac disappeared after withdrawing the money he had made from selling a piece of Church land near Split without authorisation from the local diocese.

“The property was sold without the explicit written consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority,” the local Catholic Church said in a statement, adding that it had filed a lawsuit to nullify the sale…

The 34-year-old priest reportedly had a reputation for living the good life, with a love of fast cars, good clothes and was often seen with a woman.

“He wasn’t trying to hide it; he went out quite openly with his girlfriend,” Lisana Ostrovickih, a resident of Father Nimac’s former parish in the town of Baska Voda, told the Sata24 news channel. “He was often seen on the beach with her. It was an open secret.”

It was also reported the priest owned several properties and a yacht called Lucky Me.

His ‘girlfriend’s’ identity is a mystery, although local reports said she is a married employee of the bank where the money was withdrawn from.

Sounds like the perfect story line for Saturday Night Live – or an endless Telenovela.

Homeless man saves newborn during delivery at truck stop

Keaton Mason with baby Tatum and the father

A homeless man “did everything perfectly right” when he saved the life of an infant born at an Oklahoma truck stop with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.

“I would describe him as kinda like looking like Jesus,” truck stop employee Waneva Morris said of the man. “He had the long hair, the long beard. Just a very nice gentleman,” she told KOTV.

Mother Keaton Mason said she doesn’t know if her baby would have survived had the homeless stranger not jumped to the rescue.

Mason and her fiancee were driving home Oct. 11 when she went into labor four weeks early. The panicked couple pulled into an Oklahoma City truck stop and called 911. But the baby girl arrived quickly, born on the front seat of their Honda.

She wasn’t breathing…

“The lady was screaming, ‘my baby, my baby’s blue … she’s not breathing,’” witness Jennifer Morris said.

That’s when a homeless man identified as Gary Wilson calmly got on the phone with 911 and executed the medical instructions. He freed the baby’s neck of the umbilical cord, tying it off and rubbing her back as she began to breathe on her own.

“He did everything perfectly right,” paramedic Sandra Lesperance told KOTV…

“He kept me pretty calm actually,” Mason said. “He said ‘everything’s OK. She’s OK, she’s breathing…’”

Wilson was gone by the next day, telling people he was making his way from Montana to Jacksonville, Fla.

My kind of hero.